第13話 奈落の淵 ／ Edge of Hell’s Abyss
[—November 5, 2024 Floor22: Lake Outside Coral City—]
Nishida: You catch anything?
Nishida: Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that. My name’s Nishida. And I’m a fisherman… in a game anyway. Back in Japan, I was the head of network security for a company called Toto High-Speed Internet.
Kirito: I’m Kirito. Wait. Wasn’t Toto the company that…?
Nishida: Yup. We were the folks in charge of network security for this game.
Kirito: It’s a big one!
Nishida: Yeah. But I’ve caught bigger…
Kirito: Whoa, whoa. Awesome!
Nishida: Thanks. I’m good at catching them but cooking them, yeah, not so good. I’d love to make sashimi or nice stew out of them. But what’s the point when I don’t have any soy sauce. I could go for fish baked with soy sauce right now, or with radishes and soy sauce, yeah…
Kirito: Hey uh, if you won’t mind, I just might be able to help you out with that.
Nishida: Wait, say whaaaaat?!
Nishida: That was an amazing meal. I had no idea you could get soy sauce in this world.
Asuna: Actually, I made it myself. If you want, you can take some home with you.
Nishida: Really? Man, my taste buds bow down before you.
Asuna: Glad you liked it. By the way, how high is your fishing skill? I’m asking because Kirito hasn’t been able to catch anything yet.
Kirito: Yeah, well, maybe for the lakes on this floor are so hard.
Nishida: Well, actually that’s not true. As far as fishing goes, the only lake that’s tough to catch anything in is the big one you were at today.
Kirito: What? Why would someone design it like that?
Nishida: Yes, good question! That lake is the home of… the king of all fish.
Kirito and Asuna: Seriously?
Nishida: Yup. We’re old pals. I’ve had him on the end of my hook quite a few times. But he’s so strong, he yanks the pole right out of my hands every time. I was wondering — do you have any plans for tomorrow?
Kirito: I don’t mind helping the old guy out. But how am I supposed to do a switch move with a fishing pole?
Asuna: You’re the only one I know who can figure it out. What if you catch it? Will you keep it?
Kirito: Is that even possible? He is pretty cool though, don’t you think?
Asuna: When you both showed up, I was like “who is this person? “Isn’t it funny how people are living normal lives in this world? And since we’re the ones on the front lines, their lives have sort of become our responsibility, haven’t they?
Kirito: For me, I wasn’t getting stronger for anyone else. It was just about me staying alive.
Asuna: Everyone expects great things from you now. And guess what? So do I. Talk about pressure, huh?
Kirito: Yeah, I promised I’d save everyone. Hell of a thing I live up to.
Asuna: Oh well, they’ll understand he’ll take tonight off.
Kirito: Oh, my god…
Asuna: Can you believe all the people who showed up?
Nishida: Well, here we go! Thanks for your patience, everyone. Here comes today’s main event!
Guy: It’s about time!
Nishida: Kirito, let’s catch us a fish.
Kirito: Yeah… How big’s this thing supposed to be anyway?
Nishida: Okay, here goes nothing!
Kirito: Um, shouldn’t you reel it in?
Nishida: No, not yet.
Kirito: Uh, Nishida?
Nishida: Hang on. Not yet. Now! I got the sucker! Here!
Kirito: Uh… switch. Damn you! Come here, you bastard!
Asuna: Look! It’s coming up!
Kirito: I think I tired him out! Wh-Where are you going? Hey! Aw! No, no, no, no!
Asuna: Kirito! Look out!
Kirito: Wh-Why? You run away. You left me there to die.
Nishida: Here it comes!
Kirito: Wow, it can run? It’s like a crazy lungfish.
Nishida: Kirito, this is serious! That thing is coming for us! Hurry do something!
Kirito: Yeah… I’m still thinking.
Asuna: Guess I’ll take care of this.
Nishida: Run while you still can!
Kirito: Nah, she’ll be fine.
Nishida: Save your wife, Kirito! No, watch out!
Guys: Wow… That was badass! You’re Asuna, right? What are you doing here? Man, this is awesome! I’m a big fan. Can I shake your hand?
Kirito: Nice job, honey. Uh… Heathcliff.
Asuna: Come on, you’ve moped long enough already.
Kirito: I know… but it’s only been two weeks.
Asuna: If he needs us on the front lines, then something must have happened. Why else would he interrupt our vacation?
Kirito: Yeah… but still…
Asuna: Let’s at least hear what he’s got to say. Come on, time to go. We’ll take care of this, then come back.
Kirito: You got it.
[—November 7, 2024 Floor 22: Coral Teleport Gate Plaza—]
Kirito: Thanks for seeing us off. I know we didn’t get to spend much time together, but it was fun.
Nishida: Oh well, it was an and a privilege. Actually, before I met the two of you, I couldn’t imagine what the folks working to clear the game are like. You might as well have been from another planet. Being trapped in here for the past two years, uh… Even if I made it out alive, I don’t know if I can go back to my old job, my old life. Maybe deep down inside, I’ve given up hope of ever getting out. I figured spending my time with the fishing pole between my mitts was the… best thing for me. Pretty sad, huh.
Kirito: Uh-uh. That isn’t sad.
Asuna: I get what you mean. I used to feel the same as you at first anyway. I felt lost and hopeless. Every night I cried myself to sleep. It felt like each day that went by in here was another day lost from my real life. So, I cried, and afterwards, I’d go and fight as hard as I could. All I cared about was winning, getting stronger and getting to the next floor. Then, I was walking alone and I saw someone taking a nap in the shade. I was so mad. I told him he shouldn’t waste his time like that. And then he said, I’ll never forget it, “This is Aincrad’s best season and today’s weather is at its optimal setting. “He said it would be a waste to go into some dungeon on such a beautiful day. So I tried lying down too. And you know what? I slept like a baby. When I woke up, it was evening and he was giving me the weirdest look. Anyway, we formed our own party, and that’s when I realized something. Even in a world like this, he was really living. He wasn’t losing a day in the real world. He was gaining a day here. I learned so much from him. And by him, I mean Kirito. When I thought about him before falling asleep, I noticed I wouldn’t have nightmares. I began looking forward to seeing him again. It was like… at the first time, I was glad I was here. Kirito was everything to me. He’s what the last two years we’re about. He’s proof that I’m alive. Why did I put on the NervGear that day? It’s obvious, so I could come here and meet him. You’re still alive, right? You must have something to live for, too.
Nishida: Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Life isn’t so bad here. No, it’s actually pretty damn good. I wish there was something I can do to help, but well, there it is. Good luck and be safe.
Kirito: Don’t worry. We’ll go fishing again.
Asuna: Take care, okay?
Kirito and Asuna: Teleport: Grandzam.
[—November 7, 2024 Floor55: Grandzam—]
Kirito: The recon team was wiped out?
Heathcliff: They were scouting for the upcoming boss fight. It was a party of twenty members taken from five different guilds. Ten of them reached the center of the room, then the boss appeared. That’s when the entrance closed, cutting them off from the rest of the party.
Kirito: They walked into an anti-crystal zone.
Heathcliff: Precisely. And it couldn’t have been more than five minutes or so, when the door finally opened. The room was empty. There wasn’t any trace left behind of the ten soldiers or the boss.
Kirito: You’re kidding…
Heathcliff: Now more than ever, clearing the game should be everyone’s number one priority. We’re going to launch an attack with the largest group we can assemble.
Kirito: You can count on us to fight with you. But… this needs to be clear: Asuna’s safety is my priority. If things start to get hairy in there, I’m gonna protect her. That’s not negotiable.
Heathcliff: A person with something to protect is a strong ally to have. I’m expecting a good fight from you.
Asuna: Three more hours of waiting. What should we do? What’s wrong with you?
Kirito: There’s something I have to ask you. But I don’t want you getting mad at me. Instead of going to the boss fight, could you please stay here?
Asuna: Why would you ask that?
Kirito: We won’t be able to use teleport crystals, so there’s no telling what could happen. I’m scared. If anything happen to you, I…
Asuna: So, you wanna go to some place dangerous alone. And you expect me to stay here, where it’s safe. You know, what would happen if you didn’t come back? Huh? I’d kill myself! I’d never forgive myself for staying behind, so what would be the point in living?
Kirito: I’m sorry. I guess I’m losing my nerve. All I wanna do is run away with you. I don’t care if we never make it back to the real world. I just wanna live with you… in our little house in the woods.
Asuna: It’d be nice if we could do that. Be together… every day… forever… Have you ever thought about what’s happening in the real world? And what’s happening to our bodies while we’re in here?
Asuna: A few weeks after the game was launched, do you remember what happened? Most of the players suddenly went offline and stayed that way for a few hours. My guess is that’s when all the players’ bodies were being moved to hospitals in the real world. That’s where we all are right now — in hospitals, barely being kept alive by machines. It’s hard to believe we’re gonna survive like that for much longer.
Kirito: So that means, it doesn’t matter whether we clear the game or not anymore. Everyone here’s on a time limit. And once that’s up…
Asuna: I… I want to, to stay with you forever… I wanna us to go on real dates… And to really get married… And for us to grow old together! That’s why… That’s why…
Kirito: We don’t have a choice. We have to keep fighting.
[—Floor 75: Collinia Teleport Gate Plaza—]
Kirito: No way. You guys are coming too?
Agil: That’s the best you got, “no way"? Hey man, I shut my shop down to come out here and help get this done. Brother, you’re looking at the player who’s bad as philanthropic as they come.
Kirito: Then, seeing as how you’re so philanthropic, you’re not gonna mind if we take you off the drop list.
Agil: Wait now, let’s not be too hasty, man.
Heathcliff: Corridor: Open. Now, here we go.
Asuna: Feel that? There’s a bad vibe in here.
Heathcliff: Everyone, ready? The Knights of the Blood Oath will be out in front distracting the boss and blocking its attacks. In the meantime, the rest of you have to stay sharp and try to figure out its attack patterns. I won’t lie, this battle will be hard. But I have faith that we can and will prevail. For our day of liberation!
Asuna: Everything’s gonna be fine. I won’t let anything happen to you. Promise. Make sure you protect me too, okay?
Kirito: Yeah, you know I will.
Kirito: Don’t die, guys.
Klein: Ha, same to you, buddy.
Agil: I’m gonna make a fortune off today’s drops. No way am I missin’ out on that.
Heathcliff: Forward to battle!
Guy: Nothing’s happening. Where is it?
Asuna: Up there!
Klein: Is this Skull…
Kirito: … Reaper?
Heathcliff: Stay away from it. Right up!
Kirito: This way! Hurry, run!
Klein: That was one hit!
Agil: Man, we are so dead. We can’t even get in close enough to hit the damn thing.
Kirito: Watch out! It’s too strong!
Asuna: If we block it together, we have a chance. Come on, we can do this.
Kirito: Me and Asuna will deal with the scythes! Everyone else, flank and attack!
Agil: You heard the man!
Agil: Hold still, baby! Damn you!
Asuna: Ready, Kirito?