第5話 圏内事件 ／ Murder in the Safe Zone
[—March 6, 2024 Floor 56: Pani—]
Asuna: Lure it to the village. That’s how we get the Boss.
Kirito: Wait! You can’t be serious! If we do, the Boss’ll go after the villagers.
Asuna: Yes, that’s the idea. And while the Boss is busy killing NPCs, we can attack it, and kill it.
Kirito: But they’re not just objects. NPCs are different than rocks and trees. Look, they’re…
Asuna: Do you think they’re alive? Really? In this game, they are just objects. And unlike us, if they are killed, they can always respawn.
Kirito: Sorry, but I’m not cool with that plan.
Asuna: I’m running this operation, okay? In case you forgot, I’m still second-in-command of the Knights of the Blood Oath. You’ll obey my orders, like it or not.
Agil: Hey! What’s with you guys?
Agil: You and the second-in-command… You’re always get into it, and not in a good way.
Kirito: I guess we just don’t click, Agil. You can become powerful here on your own. But if the day comes when someone you trust invites you to join a guild, don’t turn it down. Well, she took my advice, but who knew she’d join the top guild, and be a floor-clearing badass.
[—April 11, 2024 Floor 59: Danac—]
Asuna: What are you doing?
Kirito: Huh? Oh, hey. What’s up?
Asuna: Everyone in the Assault Team’s working their butts off to clear the dungeon. And where do I find you? Out here, taking a nap. Even if you’re a solo player, you should take this more seri…
Kirito: But you didn’t know this is Aincrad’s nicest season. Today’s weather is at its optimal setting.
Kirito: It’d be a waste to have to go to work on a day like this.
Asuna: Whatever… I can’t believe you. Do you even understand what’s going on? Every day here is another one lost in the real world.
Kirito: Yeah, but right now, we’re not in the real world, are we? We’re alive in Aincrad. See? Doesn’t that breeze feel good? And the sun.
Asuna: Oh, come on! The weather’s always the same here.
Kirito: If you lay down on the grass for a little bit, you’d understand.
Guy1: Oh damn, would you look at that?! Taking a nap in the middle of a day.
Guy2: Some people’s sure got it easy.
Guy3: Couple of lazy losers, man.
Kirito: I can’t believe she fell asleep.
Kirito: Good morning! You slept like a rock!
Asuna: You get… one meal.
Asuna: One meal! Oh, you can eat my treat. Then we’ll be even. Deal?
[—Floor 57: Martin—]
Guys: That’s Asuna from the Knights of the Blood Oath. Really? Yeah, they call her the Lightning Flash. Who’s the shady looking guy dressed in black?
Asuna: Well, anyway… Thank you for today.
Asuna: For keeping an eye on me.
Kirito: Oh, sure.
Asuna: The towns are supposed to be safe zones, and unless you’ve agreed to a duel, a player can’t attack or kill you. But when you’re asleep, you’re vulnerable.
Kirito: Yeah. Now we’ve got player killers who can cheat the duel system. Duels are normally supposed to be tests of strength, not a fight to the death. But even if you duel in a safe zone, your HP is still gonna go down based on the damage you take.
Asuna: All a sleep PKer has to do is manipulate a sleeping player’s finger to click the okay button. The duel begins like normal, but the sleep PKer’s doing all the attacking. God knows how many times it’s happened. So, anyway… Thank you…
Kirito: Uh, sure, anytime! Well, you’d do the same for me.
Kirito: Hurry! Pull it out!
Asuna: I’ll cut him down, you catch him.
Kirito: Got it! Help’s on the way! Damn it!
Kirito: The only way he could’ve died in a safe zone is if he was beaten in a duel. That means…
Kirito: Everyone, look for the player with a winner icon!
Asuna: There’s no one here, the room’s empty!
Kirito: So, any idea how this could’ve happened?
Asuna: Well, there’s always the obvious. There was a duel, and the other guy impaled the victim with that spear. Then, he put a noose around his neck and push him out the window. Wouldn’t you say that’s about right?
Kirito: Yeah, but… I couldn’t see the winner icon on anyone.
Asuna: It had to be a duel. It’s a safe zone and a player died. A duel is the only thing it could’ve been. Or, maybe not… Either way, we can’t ignore this.
Kirito: I know.
Asuna: As it is, a player takes huge risks going outside the safe zone. But if someone’s found a way to PK inside, no one’s going to be safe in the towns either.
Kirito: Yeah, you’re right.
Asuna: I guess we won’t be going back to the front lines anytime soon. Listen! You’re going to work with me until we’ve solved this thing. Until we do, there won’t be any time for napping, okay?
Kirito: Okay. But you were the one who was napping. Ow!
Kirito: Listen up! Did anyone see what happened before that player died? If someone did, please speak up!
Asuna: Sorry, I can imagine how frightened you are. Could you tell us your name?
Yolko: Sure. My name’s Yolko.
Kirito: Was that you? I mean, were you the one who screamed?
Yolko: Uh-huh. I-I knew him. His name was Kains, and the two of us used to belong to the same guild. Anyway, we came here together today. We were going to have dinner somewhere in town. But we got separated in the plaza. I looked around for him, then I saw him hanging from that balcony and…
Asuna: Was there anyone else up there?
Yolko: For a second there… I’m not sure… But I think I did see someone standing behind Kains.
Asuna: And this person, had you seen him before?
Kirito: Um, I know this is hard for you but… think back and try to remember. Could there be someone, anyone, with the reason to kill him?
Yolko: Thank you for walking me back. Sorry if it’s out of your way.
Asuna: No worries. But we’d like to talk to you again tomorrow, if you’re feeling up to it.
Kirito: So, what’ll we do?
Asuna: Simple. We follow the only solid clue we have. If we can find out where that spear came from, it might lead us straight to the killer.
Kirito: We’ll need find someone with an appraisal skill. I mean, it’s pretty obvious you don’t have one.
Asuna: No, I don’t. And neither do you. Oh, and by the way, try not to be so rude when you’re speaking to me?
Kirito: Oh, okay. Should I call you “Ms.” next time? “Second-in-command”? “Lightning Flash”?
Asuna: Oh, never mind. Call me Asuna.
Kirito: Okay, sure. Back to the appraisal skill though. Do you know anyone who has it?
Asuna: Hmm… I’ve got a friend who does. She’s a weapon’s merchant. But she’s really busy these days, so I don’t think she’ll have time to help us.
Kirito: No worries. I happen to know an item merchant who might be able to help us out.
Agil: Thanks, my man! Come back anytime!
Guy: Yeah, whatever…
Kirito: Looks like you’re still running all the suckers down with those hard deals of yours.
Agil: No way. Kirito! Buy cheap and sell cheap. That’s my motto. I’m a business man, you know that.
Kirito: That “selling cheap” part’s a lie though.
Agil: Don’t go slandering my good name, brother. What the hell’s gotten into you?! You’re supposed to be a solo player, man! What are you doing hanging out with Asuna?! I thought you guys hate each other’s guts, straight up! What’s the deal?!
Agil: His HP dropped to zero in a safe zone? You sure it wasn’t a duel?
Kirito: Well, no one saw a winner icon.
Asuna: We can also rule out the murder being a sleep PK. He was walking with Yolko before it happened.
Kirito: And besides, his death was too elaborate to be some random duel. The PKer who did this had it planned out. We’re pretty sure of that. And then, there’s this.
Agil: Hmm… A player made this.
Asuna: Who was it? Can you tell?
Agil: Grimlock. Never heard of that name before. It’s not worth the top blacksmith. That’s for damn sure. As far as I can tell, there is nothing special about this.
Asuna: Yeah but, it’s something to go on, right?
Kirito: Mmhmm. Is there like an item name listed?
Agil: You’ll love it. Guilty Thorn. There’s a name for you. It kinda fits though, don’t you think?
Kirito: Seriously? Guilty Thorn? Here goes.
Asuna: Wait! Stop!
Kirito: What’s the matter?
Asuna: What do you mean “what’s the matter? “Are you out of your mind?! That thing’s already killed one person!
Kirito: I know. But we need to find out what the thing’s capable of, don’t we?
Asuna: Would you stop being so reckless?! Agil, would you please hold on to this for us?
Agil: Oh, yeah…
Asuna: So, uh, Yolko, we uh… we were wondering if you’ve ever heard the name “Grimlock”?
Yolko: Yes, I have. Actually, until a few month ago, he was in a guild with me and Kains.
Kirito: Listen, we took this spear that impaled Kains to an appraiser. We had him go over it pretty carefully, and we found out Grimlock made it. Can you… think of any reason why he did?
Yolko: Yes, I can… I should have told you everything yesterday. It’s just… I couldn’t. It’s something I’ve been trying very hard to forget. But now, I have no choice. I should tell you about how my guild… was destroyed.
Yolko: When we formed it, “Golden Apple” was the name we chose. Six months ago, we killed a rare monster. It dropped a powerful ring that raised player’s agility by twenty. Some of us wanted to keep it for the guild. Others wanted to sell it and split the earnings. We couldn’t agree and in the end, we put it to a vote. It was five-to-three in favor of selling it. Our leader, Griselda, took it to a large town on the front lines. She was going to sell it to a broker and was staying overnight. We waited and waited, but she never came back. It was until later, we learned our worst fears have come true; Griselda was dead. To this day, I still don’t know how she died.
Kirito: No one’s gonna leave a safe zone with a rare item like that. Too risky. You think someone could’ve pulled a sleep PK on her?
Asuna: Not if it was six months ago, that method’s still sort of new.
Kirito: You’re right. But she wasn’t a random victim, either. No, the killer was after the ring. It has to be someone who knew she had it. Which means…
Yolko: The killer’s one of the seven others in our guild. Yes.
Kirito: We have our suspects. Now we just have to figure out who didn’t wanna sell the ring.
Asuna: I double the killer waited till after Griselda sold the ring. She was killed before she sold it. That’s my guess.
Kirito: Probably. Tell us what you know about Grimlock.
Yolko: Well, I guess for starters, he was Griselda’s husband. Oh, but not in real life, just in the game. Griselda was a powerful swordswoman. She was beautiful… and smart. Grimlock was kind and I can’t remember a day when he wasn’t smiling. They made a great couple and got along as husband and wife. If Grimlock is really the one who murdered Kains yesterday, then… he’s probably going after the three guild members who voted against selling the ring. Kains was one of the three who wanted to keep the ring for the guild. I was the other one.
Kirito: Then, who’s the third person?
Yolko: The other’s a tank named Schmitt. And he, the last I heard, is on the front lines now with the Holy Dragon Alliance.
Kirito: Schmitt, huh? I’ve heard that name before.
Asuna: He’s the leader of the defense unit of the Holy Dragon Alliance. He’s an exceptional lancer.
Kirito: Oh yeah, him.
Yolko: Wait. Do you really know Schmitt?
Kirito: Well, I’ve run into him a couple of times we were clearing bosses, so…
Yolko: I need to see him right away. Could you please take me to him? If he’s on the front lines, he probably hasn’t heard about the murder. He needs to know. Before what happened to Kains happens to him…
Asuna: We’ll help you get in touch with Schmitt. I know someone in the Holy Dragon Alliance. He’ll help us out. We’ll visit their HQ.
Kirito: Okay. But first, we should make sure she gets back to the inn. Yolko, you have to stay there, okay? Seriously, don’t go anywhere until we get back.
Yolko: All right.
Asuna: Okay, so… how do you think a murder like this happened in a safe zone?
Kirito: I can see three ways it could have. Right off the bat, it’s possible was a fair duel. Or maybe, someone took advantage of a bug that combines a bunch of different kill methods.
Asuna: Yeah, I can see that happening. And the third?
Kirito: Use something to bypass the protection of a safe zone. Some kind of skill or maybe an item. No… on second thought, the third idea is impossible.
Asuna: What do you mean?
Kirito: Because it’s unfair. I kind of hate to admit it, but it’s true. The rules of SAO are essentially fair for every player in the game. So, there is no way the game would allow murders in safe zones.
Asuna: I see.
Schmitt: So, that’s what killed Kains. And you’re sure about the spear. Was it really Grimlock’s?
Yolko: There’s no doubt.
Schmitt: But then, why would he wait six months to kill him?! Unless… wait, could he have stolen the ring?! Do think it’s possible he killed Griselda after all?! Does Grimlock want to kill the tree of us because we didn’t want to sell the damn ring? Is that why he’s after you and me now?!
Yolko: Maybe Grimlock made this spear for someone else from the guild. And maybe they are the ones who killed Kains. Or maybe… Griselda’s come back from the dead to get her revenge.
Yolko: A player can’t kill another player inside a safe zone. But something else like a ghost could. I couldn’t sleep at all last night, so I stayed up thinking… It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Anyone in the guild has guilty! Her blood is on all our hands! Her fate was sealed when that ring dropped! We shouldn’t have voted! We should’ve done whatever Griselda told us to do!
Yolko: Grimlock was the only one, the only member of the guild, who said we should leave the decision to Griselda. You see, he’s the only one of us who can avenge Griselda. He’s the only member of our guild who has the right to avenge her.
Schmitt: You’ve gotta be kidding. You’ve gotta be kidding! Why now… after all this time?! Why kill us now?! Y-You can’t be okay with this, Yolko?! How can you accept being killed over some stupid vendetta?!