Integrity Knight Alice
Translation of Sword Art Online’s volume 13, chapter 9.
Integrity Knight Alice
5th Month of Human World Calendar 380
My heart flinched slightly each time that faint noise rang out.
The noise came from the tip of the «black sword» yet to be named. Somehow buried a cen into a tiny gap among the white marble blocks that built up the outer wall of the Axiom Church’s Central Cathedral.
My right hand that grasped the black sword’s grip was damp with sweat, with my elbow and shoulder joints unable to bear the weight, and threatening to let go even now. That was only natural—the weight of two humans, one longsword with super-high priority, and one set of armor were hanging off my right arm that couldn’t even be considered muscular.
There weren’t any handholds on the wall, as smooth as a mirror, and I couldn’t stab the sword in any further. Below my body was nothing more than the never-ending empty sky. Moreover, my right hand, gripping onto the sword, wasn’t all that was reaching its limit; the same went for my left hand that had a female knight clad in heavy golden armor hanging off it.
Physical fatigue in the alternate world, «Underworld», differed a little from its equivalent in the real world. Like reality, walking long distances, running with all your might, undergoing intense practice, or carrying heavy objects would tire one out, but the problem laid in how that fatigue was treated the same as injuries, reducing «Life»—the lives of Underworld dwellers, rendered into numerical values, essentially their hit points.
Dying from exhaustion probably hardly happened in the real world. Normally, one would be unable to keep up the activity that caused the fatigue before it could inflict any severe damage to the body. However, willpower breaks through physical limits at times in this world. To state an extreme example, even continuing to run while enduring fatigue and pain until one’s Life hits zero, then collapsing and dying instantly in that moment would be possible.
I am currently supporting a ridiculous weight with nothing but my own body. Thus, my Life value must be reducing at a steady rate. Even if I continue tightly gripping my right and left hands with spirit and guts, my Life will eventually become zero and I will die. In all likelihood, this female knight will crash down onto the ground another few hundred meters below and die when my right hand leaves this sword in that instant.
In addition, I am not the only one receiving damage. My beloved sword, too, was supporting an enormous load beyond its limit with its tip alone. And that was after activating the extremely Life-draining «armament full control art» a whole two times in the battles thus far. I can’t open up the Stacia window and check the value in this situation, but it wouldn’t be strange at all for it to reach zero within several minutes. The sword would then break and couldn’t be repaired simply by storing it in its sheath.
The sword would be too pitiful, breaking without its name even decided, and besides, I would have fallen onto the ground and died already. As such, I had to do something about this situation as soon as possible, but hanging on alone took up all of my strength and in addition to that—
“That’s enough, release your hand!”
The woman dangling below me—the golden integrity knight holding onto the sacred tool, «Fragrant Olive Sword», Alice Synthesis Thirty, shouted out yet again.
“I have no intention of having my life saved by a major criminal like yourself and live in dishonor!”
While swaying her entire body in an attempt to extricate her gripped right hand. Damp with sweat in my hand, the gauntlet grew a little slippery.
I somehow suppressed the swaying while incomprehensible sounds escaped from me. However, the tip of the black sword, dug into the wall, got drawn out by a mil by the shaking. I desperately regained a stable posture before glancing down and screaming out loud.
“Don’t move, idiot! If you’re supposed to be an integrity knight, then realize that nothing will be solved if you just give yourself up to despair here, idiot!”
The white face that peeked out from under my feet quickly blushed red.
“And… and you dare to make a mockery of myself again! Retract that this instant, criminal!”
“Shut up! I’m calling you an idiot because you’re an idiot, idiot! Idiooot!”
Unaware of whether I wanted to draw her into negotiations through provocation or if blood was just rushing up to my head, I cried out loud once more.
“Got it!? If you fall and die all by yourself here, Eugeo who’s still left in the tower will go straight to the highest minister, you know! And yet, it’s supposed to be your duty to prevent that! Then shouldn’t it be most important for you to stay alive by all means now, as an integrity knight?! It’s because you’re an idiot who can’t understand such a rationale; that’s why I’m calling you an idiot!!”
“Kuh… s-so you even dare to voice out that humiliating insult eight times, don’t you…”
Likely never been called an idiot ever since she woke up as an integrity knight, Alice’s cheeks blushed and the corners of her eyes lifted in rage. The glistening Fragrant Olive Sword in her left hand lifted up a little and a chill ran through me, afraid that she might be thinking about cutting me and causing both of our deaths, but it seemed her reason scarcely surpassed her impulse, as the sword hung down powerlessly once again.
“…I see, your words do make sense. However…”
The integrity knight’s teeth, much like pearl beads, gnashed firmly together and she rebutted.
“Then why will you not release that hand!? If the reason is not pity, against which I would find death more tolerable, how could you possibly prove it!?”
Pity—wasn’t the reason. After all, the act of rescuing Alice itself was precisely half of the reason why Eugeo and I set this Central Cathedral as our aim.
However, I didn’t have anywhere near enough time to leisurely explain that from the start. And before everything else, the one Eugeo wanted to help was technically not Integrity Knight Alice Synthesis Thirty, but his childhood friend who got kidnapped form Rulid Village eight years ago, Alice Schuberg.
I tried my hardest to rack my brain, almost overheating from the excess load, searching for any excuse at all that could satisfy Alice. But there was no way I could come up with such a thing on the spot. With things at this point, I had no choice but to state a part of the truth.
“I… Eugeo and I didn’t climb the cathedral all this way because we wanted to destroy the Axiom Church.”
Looking straight down at Alice’s blue eyes, exuding an intense light, I frantically forced my words out.
“We’re the same too, in how we want to protect the Human World from the Dark Territory’s invasion. We even fought with a group of goblins in the mountain range at the edge two years ago… even if I say so, I guess you wouldn’t believe me. That’s why we can’t have you, known as one of the strongest even among the integrity knights, die here. Your strength’s essential.”
It must have been outside of her expectations as Alice knitted her brows in silence, but immediately gave a barbed reply.
“Then for what reason have you swung that sword at another human and broke the worst taboo of making another shed blood?!”
The sentiment of genuine righteousness—even if that had been warped by the highest minister to suit her purposes—flared up and burnt in her two eyes as Alice shouted.
“For what reason have you hurt all of those knights, starting from Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-one?!!”
There were unfortunately no words within myself to refute the girl’s enquiry. In the end, though the lines I spoke to Alice about wanting to protect the Human World were my true feelings, they were also a great deceit at the same time.
If I reach the highest floor of the cathedral, then fight and win against the highest minister, Administrator, the hermit, Cardinal, would recover all of her authority. And it was likely that girl would try to reset the Underworld to its original state in order to prevent that disaster soon to come. I have absolutely no idea on how to avert the end where everything returns to null at the present moment.
However. If Alice and I were to both crash and die here, the tragedy befalling the world would be on an even larger scale.
With Cardinal still deprived from her authority, the «final load experiment phase»—the invasion from the Dark Territory in other words, will begin and the integrity knights Eugeo and I fought and injured would likely be crushed along with Administrator, with the humans massacred amidst their agony and sorrow without a single person remaining.
What I couldn’t bear most was the fact that I would simply awaken inside a «Soul TransLator» somewhere in the real world even if I lost my life in this world. The Underworld people would die at the end of their hellish anguish while I return to the real world alone without a single injury— No matter what, I definitely cannot accept such a development.
I wonder what could I impart to the current Alice, a guardian of the church and order, even with all of this insignificant time I had left. But even if those words do not reach her, I have no means left aside from talking about that with all my heart.
“Eugeo and I slashed Raios Antinous and Humbert Zizek because the Axiom Church and the Taboo Index are flawed. Don’t you understand that just as well deep down? The Taboo Index doesn’t forbid it, so the upper class nobles can do as they please with girls that didn’t even commit a single crime, like Ronye and Tiezé… do you honestly believe that’s forgivable?!”
The scene I caught sight of two days ago in a room of the elite swordsmen-in-training dormitory—of Tiezé and Ronye who had their entire bodies mercilessly bound up, their cheeks damp with tears, came back to me in a flashback and my whole body shook violently. The sword point thrust into the wall creaked once again, but I shouted with hardly any care for that.
“What do you think! Answer me, integrity knight!!”
My raging emotions became a single tear that fell from the corner of my eye, hit Alice’s forehead as she dangled below, and scattered. The golden knight drew in a sharp breath and opened her two eyes wide.
The voice that soon leaked out from her slightly trembling lips seemed to have lost much of its earlier rigidity.
“…The law, is the law… and crimes, are crimes. How could order be maintained if the masses are permitted to arbitrarily decide on them?”
“Exactly who’s to decide whether the one who made those laws, the highest minister, Administrator, is just or not? The gods of the Celestial World!? Then why haven’t I incurred divine punishment, getting hit by lightning and burnt to death right this moment!?”
“The gods—Stacia-sama’s plans are naturally made clear through the actions taken by us, her attendants!”
“Eugeo and I climbed all this way in order to make that clear! To defeat Administrator and prove that it is a mistake! And for that exact, same reason…”
I glanced upwards and confirmed that my beloved sword wedged in the wall was finally reaching its limit. The tip would break or slip the next time Alice moves, no, the next time the wind decides to send a gust this way and we will likely crash down together.
“…I can’t have you dying here!!”
Taking in a deep breath and putting it all into my abdomen, I gathered all of the energy I had left.
All of my spirit surging out, I hauled up Alice who dangled off my left hand. A violent pain ran through the joints at my arms and shoulders, but I somehow brought Alice up to the same height, then shouted out with the rest of my strength.
“Get your sword through that seam…! I can’t hold on anymore, please!”
I stared hard at Alice’s much distorted face right beside me with a frantic look.
After an instant of silence, Alice moved her left arm and the Fragrant Olive Sword deeply stabbed its point into the gap between the marble with a sharp noise.
The black sword drew out from the stone wall’s seam at nearly the same time and my left hand separated itself from Alice’s hand as well, having lost its grip.
Amidst the panic shooting through me from head to toe, I fell down a long, long distance and «Death» approached me in the end within my mind for an instant.
However, what I actually felt were only a moment of weightlessness and a sudden shock. Alice’s right hand that flashed like lightning seized my coat’s collar from the back.
After affirming that Alice’s sword and arms were firmly supporting both of our weight, I let out a deep breath. My heart, beating at the rate of an alarm clock, gradually slowed down and I finally felt at ease.
I looked up at the one with whom I had traded places with, both physically and mentally, in a mere one second in silence.
Appearing as though she was being tortured by the entire variety of contradictory emotions, the golden integrity knight had her teeth clenched together hard. Signs of the clenched hand holding me by the scruff of my neck slackening and tightening repeated over and over again right behind my neck.
I didn’t know of anyone from the Underworld capable of hesitating in such a perilous situation aside from Eugeo. The rest of the humans—the artificial fluctlights were blindly loyal to their standards for good and evil, unfaltering over important choices. To say it in another manner, their important decisions were constantly made by something else, or someone else.
In other words, I could understand that a «humanity» exceeding many others from the Underworld hid itself in Integrity Knight Alice’s psyche from this single incident. Especially so, considering the alterations the highest minister, Administrator, had committed on her soul.
I couldn’t judge how much conflict there must be in Alice’s mind. However, after several extremely long seconds, my body was easily pulled up to my previous height.
Unlike the girl, I had no need to hesitate. I immediately thrust the black sword into the marble’s seam, even after all it had been through, and let out yet another deep breath.
The moment my stance stabilized, Alice drew back her right hand and even averted her face in a huff. Her voice, delivered by the wind, was feeble unlike its tone.
“…I wasn’t helping you, I was merely returning the favor… besides, I have yet to reach the conclusion with your swords.”
“I see… We’re equals with this now, then.”
Taking caution with my words, I moved my mouth.
“And so, I do have a proposal… as things stand, we have to return back into the tower at any cost. So, wouldn’t you consider a truce for the time being?”
I could sense a really suspicious look directed at me from her face, slightly inclined towards me.
“Yes. It’s no longer possible to break the cathedral’s outer wall and it’s no easy task to climb it either. Our survival rate should increase if the two of us work together, rather than going through it alone. Of course, things would be different if you have a convenient method to return inside.”
Alice chewed on her lips in chagrin but immediately replied in a murmur.
“…I would had used it already if I had such a method.”
“That’s true. So, can I consider you agreeable to the truce and cooperation?”
“Before that… you mentioned cooperation, but what exactly does that refer to?”
“Helping out each other if the other seems to be falling, just that. We could hold on better if we had a rope or something, but I suppose that’s asking for too much.”
Not looking at me any longer, the integrity knight sank into another long silence, but eventually nodded slightly in a nearly imperceptible motion.
“It is a reasonable proposal… I have to admit. There’s no helping it…”
As a replacement, Alice continued while giving me one final glare.
“I will cut you the instant we return into the tower. Be certain not to forget that one point.”
“…I’ll keep that in mind.”
Nodding once more to my reply, Alice cleared her throat as though to shift her thoughts.
“Well then… you required a rope? Are you not holding on to any unnecessary cloth?”
I looked down at my body, but thinking about it, I didn’t even have a single handkerchief in my pockets. I could have taken out piles of spare clothes or mantles from my storage if this was the Alfheim I dearly missed, unfortunately, that convenient function didn’t exist in the Underworld.
“…Even if you ask, there’s nothing more than this shirt and these trousers. I’ll strip if I need to, though.”
When I shrugged only my left shoulder as I replied, Alice made her most profound grimace yet and shouted.
“We will not stoop to that! …Goodness, it’s shocking how you thought to go into battle with merely a sword on you.”
“Hey, hey, the one who rounded up Eugeo and me from the Sword Mastery Academy with only the clothes on our back was you, wasn’t it?”
“And you broke into the cathedral’s armory after that, haven’t you. There should have been bundles of high quality rope over… aah, that’s it, this is a waste of time.”
Alice flicked her head away with a hmph and raised her right arm clad in a golden gauntlet. But she apparently realized she couldn’t take her left hand off her sword’s grip there, as she scowled. Jerking her arm in front of me, she ordered.
“Unfasten my gauntlet with your free hand.”
“And pay extra attention to not touch my skin. Hurry up!”
According to Eugeo’s recollections, Alice was apparently a cheerful and energetic girl, more gentle than anyone else, when she lived in Rulid. If that was the case, where exactly did her current personality that seemed the polar opposite sprout out from?
While thinking about such things, I brought up my left hand that finally regained its sense of touch, then unfastened the gauntlet’s clasp. Alice, who made me hold onto the gauntlet, quickly pulled out her right hand and brandished her pale, slender fingers while shouting out.
Following the opening phrase for sacred arts, she rapidly chanted an unfamiliar, complex art. The gauntlet in my hand let out a dazzling light and its shape began to change at a noticeable rate. Within mere seconds, my left hand held a neatly bundled golden chain.
“Were you not listening? Or perhaps those aren’t ears on the side of your face, but holes infested with insects? That was merely transformation of its form, arts capable of changing the properties of its material cannot be used by anyone aside from the esteemed highest minister.”
Upon apologizing with a “sorry” to Alice, who apparently had no intention to change her sharp tongue even after consenting to the cease-fire agreement, I tested the chain’s toughness. My teeth felt like they were going to fall out when I held its end in my mouth and pulled, so I relaxed my mouth in a fluster. I had no qualms, since it seemed to be tough enough despite being thinner than a little finger and even had sturdy-looking clasps at both ends to boot.
Firmly fastening one end to my belt, I offered the other end and Alice took it with a tug and kept it into her sword belt’s metal fittings. The length of the dangling chain was about five meters. For the time being, we should be more or less safe even if our hands slip, unless we both fall.
Scanning the surrounding again, I confirmed the situation we were in.
Judging from the direction of the sun, we were dangling on the Central Cathedral’s west wall. The sky overhead was in the midst of turning from blue to violet with the sun coming from behind dying the tower’s white wall a bright orange. Guess the current time was around three in the afternoon.
Hesitantly gazing downwards towards my feet, I could see pale, hovering clouds passing by, the miniature-like garden, the stone walls encompassing that, and even the streets of Central Centoria split into four by the «immortal walls», making me ascertain just how ridiculously tall the cathedral was once again.
Each floor of the tower should be around six meters, inclusive of the floor’s thickness, so the eightieth floor, «Cloudtop Garden», where I fought with Alice would be at a relative height of four hundred and eighty meters—no, adding on fiftieth floor, «Grand Cloister of Spiritual Light», with its abnormally high ceiling, about five hundred meters, huh. Our Lives would definitely vanish in an instant if we fall. In addition, this body would turn into fine dirt without even leaving a corpse behind, probably. The wind was calm now, but I didn’t know how long that would last.
My back shuddered before I gripped my sword again with my right hand and wiped the sweat running over my left palm on my trousers.
“Ermm… just checking, but…”
Alice, also peeking at her feet beside me, raised her face when I called out. It might just be my imagination how her complexion seemed worse than earlier, but her tone was curt as always.
“No, well… I thought a grand knight like yourself, capable of using advanced sacred arts like changing the form of objects would know some art for flight… or not, huh, sorry.”
Despite my prompt apology at her sharply raising eyebrows, Alice berated me without mercy.
“Just what did you learn in the academy? Even the youngest ascetic apprentice would know that the only person capable of flight arts in the vast Human World is the esteemed highest minister!”
“That’s why I said ‘just checking’, right?! You don’t have to get that angry!”
“It’s due to that strangely insulting way you put it!”
It gradually appeared clear that this Integrity Knight Alice’s personality had a conclusively horrible affinity with me, without even considering our respective standpoints, but I continued my questions while restraining the urge to retort.
“…Then, I’m just checking this time too, but… how about calling for that huge flying dragon I hung off all the way here?”
“Your suggestions are becoming increasingly foolish. Approaching any flying dragons is only permitted on the thirtieth floor’s landing platform. No ridden dragon will go close to any higher, not even oji-sama… no, not even the Knight Commander’s.”
“Th-There’s no way I would know of an arrangement like that, right?!”
“You should have realized it when you knew the flying dragon landing platform was built on the thirtieth floor!”
I had no idea how many times had we done so already, but we glared at each other for another three whole seconds before I swallowed down the anger directed at the great integrity knight’s irrational remark and turned my head back, speaking.
“…Then there goes the path of escaping by flying… I guess.”
Alice, on the other hand, seemed to have taken another two seconds before she regained her cool, but her blue eyes glanced this way and she nodded.
“Not even birds approach the upper floors of the cathedral. I do not know the specifics, but I have heard a unique art wrought by the highest minister’s hand is at work.”
“So that’s it… that’s meticulous.”
I surveyed the surrounding again, then saw that although there were bird-like silhouettes extremely far away, they certainly showed no sign of approaching. This could be said to be the embodiment of the transcendental magic ability and unhealthy wariness of the most influential being, Administrator. On that line of thought, the abnormal height of this tower, too, seemed to be a symbol of her authority while being an expression of fear towards unseen enemies.
“In that case, there are three choices remaining… to descend, to ascend, or to break through the wall again, huh.”
“The third will likely be difficult. Like the «immortal walls», the cathedral’s outer walls should endowed with practically infinite Life and the nature to repair themselves. The same applies to the glass on the lower floors.”
“Then, that makes descending to the windows pointless too, huh…”
When I muttered so, Alice lightly nodded before she spoke.
“…In the first place, I find it hard to believe a hole could have opened up in the wall from within the tower earlier… there is no way to think about it aside from it being an one-in-a-million stroke of misfortune caused by that abnormal power released when our armament full control arts combined. My goodness, what a meaningless deed you’ve done.”
We would get into a spiral of quarrels if I retort here, I thought as I held it in, getting it to settle down after merely heavy breathing, before I asked.
“…But in that case, wouldn’t it be logical for the wall to break if we bring about that same phenomenon again?”
“The probability is not a complete zero, but… it would be difficult to return inside in the few seconds before the hole automatically repairs and there’s one more thing to note, that I have already used this child’s… this «Fragrant Olive Sword»’s full control art twice. I cannot use the art unless I allow it to bask in plenty of sunlight or let it rest in its scabbard.”
“That’s true, it’s the same for me. I’ll have to put it in my sheath… or rather, there’s quite a lot of stress being placed on it just by dangling like this, right? It’s best to get a move on soon, regardless of whether we’re descending or ascending.”
I tried feeling over the marble wall with my left hand as I spoke, but the number of bumps and dips was a hopeless nil. Blocks, with sides of roughly two meters at least, piled on forever neatly, without even a window visible on this west side. Breaking it apparently wouldn’t be possible either, even if there was one, according to Alice.
As for a method for moving across the wall, there probably weren’t any aside from preparing something like a piton* used in rock climbing and driving that into the seams between the marble. There wasn’t any great difference in effort between ascending or descending, so I would rather set the floors above as my goal, but the problem with that would be that—
I stared at Alice on my left with the most serious expression I could muster and asked, resigned to the low chance of getting a reply.
“If we were to head upwards… is there somewhere we can return into the tower from?”
Alice showed a hesitating expression as expected and chewed on her lips at that. If we could enter the tower by climbing, that would indeed be extremely close to the highest floor where Administrator resides. Guiding an enemy of the church to such a place would be nearly the same as committing a taboo as an integrity knight, a guardian.
Alice drew in a deep breath, then put strength into her gaze and nodded.
“There is. On the ninety-fifth floor, a place called the «Morning Star Lookout», should be entirely see-through, with only pillars for its four walls. We should be able to easily return inside if we could climb up there. …However.”
A remarkably strong gleam resided in her two blue eyes.
“Even if we reach the ninety-fifth floor, I will cut you there without fail.”
Taking on the integrity knight’s gaze, filled with enough resolve to cause a prickly numbness on my nape, head-on, I nodded in return.
“That’s our agreement from the start, after all. Well—you’re okay with climbing the wall, then?”
“…Very well. It is more pragmatic than descending to the ground from here. However… despite how assuredly you said it, how do you intend on climbing this vertical wall?”
“Well, obviously, we’re going to run vertically… no, that’s a joke.”
After clearing my throat in a bid to escape Alice’s glance that had rapidly froze down to below absolute zero, I swapped my sword to my left hand, held out my right palm, and chanted an art.
“System call! Generate metallic element!“
A metallic element, shining like mercury, was instantly created, so I altered its form with a supplement art and the power of my imagination. Pulling it out to a length of around fifty centimeters and sharpening its point to the shape of a thin blade, I made an impromptu large piton which I firmly held onto.
Looking up at the stone seam my black sword was thrust into overhead, I swung my right hand with force.
Upon driving in the piton with as much strength as I could muster, fortunately, the blade portion stabbed into the narrow gap without breaking. I tried to pry it out, upwards and downwards, but it seemed like it would stay fixed without issue even if my body weight hung off it.
The Lives of objects created through sacred arts were exceedingly low, vanishing in a few hours even when left alone. Hence, the lifeline connecting Alice and myself wasn’t used in the end, but it would suffice if it was strong enough to support us as we climbed the wall.
While sensing Alice’s usual suspicious look, I firmly gripped the piton with my right hand and drew my black sword that had been abused to its limit with my left. I stored that into the sheath on my waist, then dangled off the piton extruding around forty centimeters from the wall with both hands and treated it as a horizontal bar as I did a kip*.
Although my physical ability in the Underworld didn’t reach mine at the end of the SAO period that would make a B movie’s ninja ashamed, it still far more nimble, yet brawny, when compared to the real world. Placing my right foot on the bar, I steadily placed my left hand onto the wall while lifting my body up in a single stroke and succeeded in standing atop the thin, metallic rod.
“Are… are you all right?”
After lowering my sight at that hoarse voice, I saw Alice gripping tightly onto the golden chain with her free hand and looking up at me with a somewhat pale face. That expression gave off an unexpectedly childish impression and made me want to pretend I was falling against my better judgement, but killed that thought, knowing this wasn’t the place for it.
“I’m fine… I think.”
Casually giving a signal with my right hand, I chanted the art again and brought forth a new piton. Driving it into the next gap I could see overhead with plenty of strength, I climbed up with the same process as earlier. While embracing a modest sense of accomplishment over finally advancing, though it was merely two meters, I called out to Alice below.
“Alright, looks like it works! Like what I did, come up that first piton… no, that metal rod.”
However, the integrity knight remained still while looking up at me. Her lips made a small movement before long and a faint voice reached me.
“Hah? What did you say?”
“…I can’t, that’s what!”
“No… no, you can. With that strength of yours, pulling your own body up would be…”
“That’s not what I meant!”
Alice strongly shook her head and repelled the encouragement I crudely gave her.
“…As it is my first time stuck in such a situation… i-it might be a disgrace, but it’s already taking everything I have to hang off like this. An unspeakable act like climbing onto that thin foothold would simply…”
I was briefly rendered speechless at Alice’s fragile voice that again seemed as though it would vanish.
In general, the people of the Underworld tended to react poorly towards situation beyond their expectations or common sense. Their adaptability towards «originally impossible circumstances» was especially low, with extreme cases like the elite swordsman-in-training, Raios, whose two arms were severed by my sword, getting his fluctlight crumbling away his Life extinguished—or so I conjectured.
I suppose not even an integrity knight should be capable of dealing with this situation of getting hurled out into the empty skies from a huge hole opened up in the tower’s wall, that should have been unbreakable, and stuck dangling from a super high area without a single foothold where even flying dragons did not trespass. Or possibly—Alice Synthesis Thirty, who boasts of boundless skill with the sword, was just a single girl at heart too.
Whichever it was, hearing this proud integrity knight plea for help would probably be strictly restricted to a situation like right now. Having judged that, I shouted.
“Got it! I’ll pull you up to the foothold with the chain, then!”
Alice chewed on her lips with a look that appeared like she was weighing her pride against her fear when I did, but apparently had no intention of reversing her previous order of priorities as she gripped the golden chain with a very mild nod.
“…I’ll be in your hands.”
While enduring the impulsive urge to tease her incensed by her nearly mute voice, I caught hold of the chain as well.
“Right, I’ll lift you up slowly, then. Here I go.”
I cautiously pulled up the chain after that single line. My foothold, the piton, creaked softly, but it seemed it could bear the weight of two if it was for a short time. Taking care not to jolt it, I lifted the great golden knight a meter before holding the chain still for the moment.
“…Alright, you can pull your sword out now.”
Alice nodded and delicately extracted her Fragrant Olive Sword from the stone wall it had been thrust into. The chain weighed down anew in that instant, but I kept it under control somehow.
Upon confirming she had sheathed her sword, I continued pulling up. I called out once more after Alice’s boots got onto the first piton.
“Hold onto the wall with both hands… yeah, alright, I’ll be letting the chain go.”
I couldn’t see her expression from this angle, but Alice desperately tried to stick onto the wall and haphazardly shook her head. While imagining her expression likely present below her golden hair, fluttering in the wind, I gently lowered my right arm. The knight ended up reeling a little atop the thin piton, but immediately regained her balance.
I let a deep breath escape.
I had no idea how many meters away was that «Morning Star Lookout» place, said to be on the ninety-fifth floor, but anyway, we should eventually reach there if I repeated this process. The problem would be how it would likely turn night before we got there, at the rate we climbed a single block, so we should get mentally prepared to settle down for the night while dangling off the wall.
“I’ll be climbing up another, then.”
After I declared downwards, Alice glanced up with a rigid face and replied with a barely audible whisper mostly swept into the noise from the wind.
“…Please be careful.”
I made a distinct thumbs-up with my right hand—though that gesture wasn’t used in the Underworld—then chanted the system command to create a third piton.
Despite how Centoria should have been closing in to midsummer, the sun mercilessly sank quicker and quicker once it got started.
The white wall glowing with the setting sun’s orange shifted through a fiery vermillion, then violet, before it settled on indigo, and I could see the mountain range at the edge cutting a lonely horizontal line far-away in the west when I swept through with a glance.
A multitude of stars had already been flickering into existence overhead, but our climbing progress was by no means fast. An unforeseen limit in the system had been tormenting us since an hour ago or so.
Scaling up had been simple indeed. Creating a single piton with sacred arts, securing that in the gap between the marble blocks, and clambering atop it. Followed by pulling Alice up by the chain and placing her onto the piton I stood on earlier; that was all to it. Each set was reduced to below three minutes after repeating it over ten times.
However, the problem laid with creating that crucial piton.
This world had no equivalent for that parameter called ‘mana points’ in ALO. Any variant of the magic here, named ‘sacred arts’, could be repeatedly used without cease, as long as the user’s system access authority qualified for it.
However, that didn’t mean that it could be used infinitely, anywhere and anytime. The rule of this world, that each and every act of creation required resources, applied just as strictly to sacred arts. Usage of the arts must consume precious catalysts, the Lives for living beings, even humans, or the «space resources» stored around the user.
This space resources thing had no numerical value to go by and was truly a troublesome matter to deal with. Basically, it was supplied through the sunlight or the fertility in soil. A place with fertile soil and basking in sufficient sunlight would be rich in sources, enough for even continuous casts of advanced sacred arts, but on the other hand, space resources would be rapidly depleted in the room the sun cannot reach, of a building made from stone, requiring a long period of time before the resources would be recharged.
And abiding by the rule, Alice’s and my present circumstances—stuck five hundred meters above the ground and the sun sinking into the horizon, were close to the worst possible conditions. To sum it up, the surrounding resources would be exhausted by the sacred arts I had repeatedly chanted and we would fail in creating those indispensable pitons for scaling the wall.
“System call! Generate metallic element!”
Atop my palm, stretched out straight and seeking the dim afterglow remaining, drifted desolate beads of silver light which vanished in a puff of smoke.
I sighed and Alice spoke in a voice just as worn-out from two meters below.
“…Creation of those apparatus must have greatly drained the sacred power in the area… We could even consider ourselves lucky if we could create one every hour after Solus sets… —How much have we climbed thus far?”
“Erm… I’m pretty sure we’re almost done with the eighty-fifth floor.”
“It is still far until the ninety-fifth floor, isn’t it.”
I stubbornly gazed at the vanishing shade of violet in the skies, then nodded.
“Yeah… one way or another, it’ll be too dangerous to climb when it’s completely dark. Still… we can’t exactly rest in this situation even if we were to settle down for the night…”
If worst comes to worst, we would have to rest while dangling off the chain, but with how we couldn’t make any pitons and how they vanish after tens of minutes, we could only resort to our swords again as the support. But it was questionable if our swords’ Lives could even hold until morning.
In hope that I could find something to hang the chain upon, like some protrusion, I glared at the wall overhead, unwilling to give up. And—
There were elaborate silhouettes sticking out from the wall, spaced out regularly, just around eight meters above, weren’t there. It appeared the mist coiling around the tower disappeared upon sunset and revealed the hidden objects’ visages.
“Hey, over there… do you see something?”
After I shouted out while pointing, Alice, near my feet, raised her face as well. Her blue eyes squinted and she answered.
“I do… could those be statues or something similar? That said, why would they be at such a high… There wouldn’t be anyone around to look at them.”
“It doesn’t matter what they are as long as we can sit on them and rest. Still, there are still eight met… eight mel before reaching there. I could climb up there, but I guess I’ll need another three metal rods…”
“Three… I see.”
Alice could be seen pondering for a moment before she immediately nodded.
“Understood. I had planned to save this until it truly came in necessary, but… it appears now would be the time.”
She leaned against the wall the moment she said thusly and removed the gauntlet equipped on her left hand. Staring at the armor that radiated a faint, golden light even in this shadowy darkness, she chanted the starting phrase for sacred arts.
A fleeting flash of light shot out as the chant, done several times more fluent than I could have, ended—the gauntlet had already changed its form into three pitons before I could process that. Perhaps Alice’s form transformation art had been more cost-effective than element generation arts, for it bore fruit even in our surroundings’ scantiness of resources.
“Do use these.”
Alice fully extended her right hand, gripping onto the pitons, towards me who was two meters higher. I leaned my body over the foothold and received those precious tools with caution.
“Thanks, those’ll help.”
“Should the need arise, I do have some armor remaining, but…”
I gave the gorgeous breastplate covering Alice’s upper half a glance and shook my head.
“No… let’s keep that in reserve until the very end. Never know when we might need it…”
Slowly standing up, I stuck two among the three pitons Alice made for me into my belt and firmly gripped the last one.
The golden stake I drove in with a shout pierced deep into the gap with an entirely different level of tenacity compared to the ones made from metallic elements as expected. Climbing atop it via the horizontal bar exercise I’d gotten rather used to, I pulled Alice up with the lifeline.
Repeating that process yet another time, I could clearly recognize that mysterious object even in the dim light upon getting within four meters of it.
It really was a stone statue. A narrow terrace stretched out left and right, as if surrounding the cathedral’s outer walls, and several quite large statues lined up atop that.
However, those were no divine figures like the goddesses and angels I’d seen countless times within the tower.
They were shaped like humans, but their posture, with their legs crooked in a squat and their arms folded onto their laps, had no association with chasteness. Rugged, boorish muscles bulged on their limbs and wings, sharp as knives, extended from their backs.
And the statues’ heads could be described as nothing other than grotesque. A rounded mouth was carved into its front at the end of a long arc. Their heads alone bore a close resemblance to weevils or something similar.
“Ugh… that’s one gross design.
“Eh…!? Th-Those are… the Dark Territory’s…!”
and Alice let a surprised voice escape before that moment.
The crouching stone statue directly above me swayed its head left and right, and its circular mouth, that brought lampreys to mind, opened and shut bit by bit. It was no mere ornament carved from stone. That was—living.
If this was a quest set up in a VRMMO game in the real world, this was naturally the scene of an assault.
However, in this case, the scenario writer must have had quite a sadistic streak or was a complete novice. After all, we, the players, were on top of pitons that extruded less than even a mere forty centimeters from this perpendicular wall and couldn’t take a single step.
An unwinnable event—those useless words scrolled through my mind, but immediately shook them off. I had absolutely no hope for the development of some person dashingly saving us even if we were to fall. We would have to rack our brains and avert this crisis with our own strength. Otherwise, both Alice and I would die.
As I steeled my resolve, the winged stone statue began to change the tint of its entire body while trembling. Its skin, originally grayish-white like the wall, started changing into a viscous coal color from its tip.
Basaa! Without waiting for its black wings that caused that loud noise as they stretched out, I drew my sword from my waist. With my sight trained onto the winged monster, formerly a stone statue, I called out to Alice two meters below.
“Looks like we’ll have to fight here. Prioritize not falling over everything else!”
However, I didn’t hear any immediate reply from the integrity knight. Upon taking a brief glance below, I saw nothing show up on Alice’s pale face, standing out in the twilight, except astonishment. How could it be, why are those—that murmur reached my ears via the updraft.
Why was the integrity knight, who should have known everything about the Axiom Church, this shocked? I knew nothing more than hearsay, but the highest minister, Administrator, apparently had a predisposition towards vigilance to an eccentric extent. It wouldn’t very much of a surprise for her to deploy guardians to repel intruders forcibly climbing the walls, not gaining enough calm of mind by simply setting the upper portion of the tower as an area beyond flight.
That guardian—a monster that resembled the «gargoyles» that frequently appeared in games of the real world, if ignoring its head, grasped the terrace’s edge with its clawed hands, then expelled air from its circular mouth with a loud “bushuu”. I noticed the gargoyles on the left and right of the first one that began moving were changing in body color as well, making me shiver. If those were to be stationed across all four sides of the cathedral’s outer walls, it wouldn’t be strange if their total numbers exceed a hundred.
After turning my body while cursing, I brandished my sword with my back leaned onto the wall, which already made me lose much of my balance. Well, my foothold was only a single, thin metal rod. I had no experience of fighting in such conditions, even when considering my old SAO days.
What do we do—I heard the flapping noise of wings without even given the time to ponder on that thought. I looked up and there the gargoyle hovering with the dark blue skies as its backdrop was, glaring at me with the round eyeballs attached to the sides of its long and narrow head.
The monster was large beyond expectations, likely close to two meters, from head to toe. In addition, its tail with a length close to its body was languidly stretching out from behind its waist.
I stared fixedly at the gargoyle that let out a bizarre voice like steam escaping a valve and closed in with a backwards nose dive. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to possess long range attack potential, so its attack should be any of its four clawed limbs. Right, left, up, or down—
What soared this way while growling like a whip was its tail with the tip sharpened to a knife-like point. Caught completely unguarded, I screamed while twisting my head. The sharp pointed end made a shallow tear in my cheek, but I somehow avoided a direct hit.
However, with my balance lost from that excessive motion, my body lurched atop the piton.
Targeting me, desperately trying to brace myself, the gargoyle still hovering before my eyes thrust its tail forth continuously.
I supported my body with my left hand and guarded the tail attacks with the sword in my right, but it took my all just to raise it as a shield’s substitute. I didn’t have the composure to swing my sword and sever the tail at all.
I concluded this was no situation to hesitate and took my left hand off the wall, then pulled out one of the pitons stuffed in my belt. While making a mental image of the throwing skill’s motion I trained back in SAO, I threw it with the gargoyle’s core as my target.
I hadn’t put that much strength into it, but it appeared the piton made from Alice’s gauntlet possessed quite a high priority as the short javelin drew a golden arc in the dim light, stabbing deep into the gargoyle’s abdomen.
Dusky blood spewed out from its round mouth and scattered, and the monster unsteadily flapped its wings, taking a higher position. It seems to have dealt a moderate amount of damage, but unfortunately, that was not enough to make it retreat. A hint of rage mixed into its pitch-black simple eyes, heavily resembling those of insects, and the gargoyle glared at me.
I understood this wasn’t the time for it, but the thought unconsciously came to me at a corner of my mind. Was it a program manipulating that grotesque monster? Or perhaps, that, too, was an artificial fluctlight like the people of the Underworld…?
The new, strange cry threw my thoughts into disarray. Two new gargoyles leapt off the terrace and were flying around in circles as though they were awaiting a gap in my guard.
“Alice! Draw your sword, those monsters are going for you too!”
I glanced straight down while crying out, but the knight apparently had yet to recover from her distress of unknown origin. She would either be skewered on a tail or fall off the piton if she were to get attacked as she was now.
Should I climb up to the terrace four meters above while the gargoyles observe the situation? However, there was only one piton left in my belt. It would probably be impossible to ask that enraged gargoyle to return the one stabbed in its stomach.
Perhaps the three monstrosities trying to intimidate me with their strange spewing noises had finally decided to resume their offensive, but noticeably shrill screams surged out from them.
Now that it had come to this, I could only remove the lifeline and jump at any enemies targeting Alice.
Thinking thusly, I searched for the chain connected to my waist with my left hand. And my two eyes opened wide with realization.
The chain was approximately five meters long. The terrace overhead was four meters—
While sheathing my sword, I shouted as loud as I could.
The integrity knight’s body trembled with a start and those blue eyes finally looked in this direction.
“Grip onto the chain tightly!!”
Just what are you thinking; Alice frowned as I grasped the chain attached to her sword belt with both hands. I pulled it hard and Alice’s body floated off the foothold. Catching hold of the chain in a fluster, the knight let a hoarse voice escape.
“…Don’t tell me you…”
“I’ll apologize as much as you want if we both live through this!!”
Inhaling a deep breath, I mustered all my strength and pulled up the chain, that the magnificent knight was dangling off, with it—no, I flung it straight up. Her golden, long hair and pure white skirt fluttering, Alice soared while following the trajectory of a semi-circle.
A surprisingly girlish shriek rang out as the integrity knight passed in between the gargoyles and landed on the terrace four meters above. To put it more accurately, perhaps I should instead say that she crashed. Maybe I should take it as if I hadn’t heard that “mugyuu”, unappropriate for a cultivated female knight, that came before the shriek ended.
My body was thrown off the piton, my foothold, by the recoil from the overly drastic throw. If Alice didn’t support me from the terrace above, we would both be diving down to the ground far below.
As expected, my courage froze over immediately after falling, but the integrity knight responded to my hope, getting up on the narrow terrace and holding the chain with both hands. Her two legs stood firmly and stopped my descent before
She pulled on the chain with all her strength while shouting out in a voice filled with anger.
Soaring through the air like Alice did earlier, I had the air knocked out of me the moment my back crashed into the marble wall, but nothing felt more reliable than this terrace I groveled upon now. I wanted to throw myself down on this nostalgic horizontal surface forever, but Alice kicked my flank and I reluctantly lifted my body.
“Wha… what were you thinking, you great fool!!”
“It’s not like I could help it, I could only… no, leave the talking for later, they’re coming!”
I drew my sword again and pointed its end at the three gargoyles in their sharp ascent.
Making use of the meager time before launching into battle to check the surrounding terrain, I briefly swept my sight left and right.
The terrace we clambered onto through a circus-like stunt had a width of roughly one meter. It lacked decorative features, being nothing more than a simple marble platform jutting out vertically from the tower’s outer walls. No, it probably wasn’t anything more or less than a shelf. It was something solely meant for the practical use of setting the gargoyles on it.
Alice didn’t know about the existence of this terrace, so I held a minor hope that a door or window might be set in the outer wall behind us, but unfortunately, there wasn’t a single opening. All I could see was the view of the silhouettes of the monstrosities yet to come alive lined up in a row until the far-away corner. Knowledge of their numbers from the repeated affirmation inspired fear, but fortunately, the only ones moving seemed to be the three that could be seen flying high.
Perhaps she finally got a hold of herself after securing a reliable foothold, but Alice, too, slipped her Fragrant Olive Sword out from its scabbard with a “shing”. However, the doubts in her heart apparently hadn’t been resolved yet as a hoarse murmur reached my ears.
“…There is no mistaking it… Why… would they be in…”
The gargoyles that ascended to the same altitude as the terrace might have been wary towards the two brandished swords, as they showed no sign of swooping in immediately. While gazing at the monsters, lazily swaying in midair, I asked Alice a question.
“Something’s been bothering me since earlier. You know about those monsters?”
“…Yes, I do.”
Surprisingly enough, Alice immediately replied in the affirmative.
“Those are made by the darkness arts magicians of the Dark Territory, the wicked demons they employ. Following their example, we call them «minions». I believe that is Sacred Tongue for «underlings» or «subordinates».”
“Minions… I can agree that they’re from the Dark Territory, judging from their appearance, but why would something like those be lined up along the entire wall of the most sacred place in the Human World?”
“That is what I would like to know!”
Screaming that as though she was wringing the words out, Alice tightly bit on her lips.
“…I understand this would never happen without you telling me. I can hardly imagine that minions could slip through the integrity knights’ observation and cross the mountain range at the edge, trespassing all the way to the capital… and to such a high location on the Central Cathedral too. Let alone…”
“Let alone someone of high authority in the church intentionally setting them here… an act that would be definitely impossible…?”
Alice scowled at me, half-consciously filling in the words cut short, but made no attempt to rebut. Returning my sight to the three gargoyles, the minions, who were still hovering, I questioned once again.
“Tell me one more thing. Do those minions possess intelligence? Do they talk like humans?”
Alice, who returned her sight to the front as well, appeared to have shaken her head quickly.
“That would be truly impossible. Unlike the goblins and orcs living in the land of darkness, the minions are not alive. They are soulless familiars created from lumps of earth by the magicians serving the god of darkness, Vector… they only understand some simple orders from their masters.”
I hid a soft, relieved breath from Alice.
I was well enough aware that this was nothing more than postponing the problem at hand, but I still feel a strong hesitation against killing existences possessing the same fluctlights as humans, even now.
Babies in this world are born between only male-female couples who became married with recognition from the Axiom Church—a system command exclusive for that likely exists—or so the recluse, Cardinal, had said. Those who dwell in the Dark Territory were no exception. In that case, minions created by the not-sacred-arts darkness arts would not possess fluctlights, but programmed code like wild animals.
Looking at it from that perspective, the hostility emitting from the minions‘ insect-like simple eyes had the distinct digital stench common to the mobs of monsters I fought back in SAO. Their status might have switched from «watch on» to «attack», as the three beat their wings strongly simultaneously and soared up high.
I shouted and brandished my beloved sword once again. The one who flew in straight away was the one with a golden piton still stabbed into its abdomen, perhaps due to the hate earned earlier.
This time, the claws on its two arms made a consecutive assault instead of its tail. It couldn’t be said to be fast, but I had difficulty getting the right timing, being in a fight against monsters for the first time in a while. Devoting myself to repelling the claws with my sword, I awaited an opportunity, then saw a fleeting image of the unhurt pair rapidly descending onto Alice on my left in a corner of my vision.
“Pay attention, there’re two of them!”
Despite my warning, made in genuine worry for the female knight, the voice that came back was utterly indifferent.
“Who exactly do you think I am?”
Nimbly lowering her waist, she brandished her Fragrant Olive Sword flat on her left.
Dobaa! With that tremendously hefty slashing sound, the golden shimmer from her sword flash brightly enough to blind even in the dim light.
A single, mere middle slash without feints or linked techniques—it was what would be called a basic technique in the «Aincrad style», «Horizontal». However, its speed and weight were enough to make cold sweat gush out from me just by gazing at it from the side. What cornered me without difficulty in that battle on the eightieth floor was the overwhelming degree of completeness in that single strike that forgave neither evasion nor defense. It was a might that easily pulverized my belief in the excellence of consecutive hit skills that I held throughout my long years of living in VRMMOs.
Before Alice, still after having swung her sword, the four arms of the two minions fell. Following that, despite how they should have been beyond her reach, their torsos split apart around their chests without a sound.
Dusky blood heartily spewed out from the monsters that crashed without letting out a single scream. Naturally, not a single drop came into contact with Alice.
The integrity knight who roused her body as though nothing had actually happened turned to me, still stuck in a one-sided defensive battle, and spoke in a vaguely sarcastic tone.
“Would you require any assistance?”
“…N-No thank you.”
After politely refuting her proposal with the minimal of obstinacy, I evaded the consecutive attacks from the minion‘s two arms, two legs, plus its tail, that I finally saw the pattern for, with a step. Turning towards the enemy that tried to regain its distance, I released the consecutive hit skill ingrained into my body.
I had thought for a long time that it was strange the same sword skills as the world of SAO would exist in the Underworld. I went through multiple conjectures over these two years, but had yet to reach a perfect answer. An engineer at Rath might have made use of the «The Seed» package to construct the virtual world, but as far as I knew, the sword skill system hadn’t been included in The Seed. If it had, I should have been able to activate sword skills in Gun Gale Online back when I converted.
There was a possibility that the wise sage who stayed hidden in the Great Library Room, Cardinal, would know the truth, but I hesitated in asking the girl for it. Cardinal was aware that all of the Underworld’s inhabitants, including herself, were existences brought to life for an experiment by a corporation in the real world, Rath, and felt agony over her own fate. I couldn’t bear to thrust a question that implied this world was in any way fictional without the girl’s assent. In the first place, with things progressed this far, the reason behind the existence of sword skill was certainly not important. If it served its purpose and granted me combat potential, that would suffice.
The sword in my right hand was tinged with a blue gleam and I initiated the horizontal four hits skill, «Horizontal Square».
The slash released with a somewhat uncouth shout wasn’t meant to oppose Alice, but it slashed away the minion‘s two arms and tail, smoothly severing its torso horizontally in the end. Bracing myself to not leap off the terrace with the excess momentum, I looked on at the remains of the monster, now in pieces, as they fell and sank into the sea of clouds far below.
If those lumps didn’t vanish in midair and fell before some ascetic or anyone else taking a walk around the cathedral’s inner court, there would be a huge uproar… while thinking about such things;
Alice briefly muttered with a tone like that of a mentor looking onto a disciple’s skills.
Sweeping the black sword left and right to clear it, I put it back into the sheath at the left of my waist—I actually wanted to equip it on my back, but there weren’t any sword belts of the shoulder harness type in the armory—as I looked at the knight from the side.
“No, I was merely thinking that you use strange skills. About how it might draw some guests if you were to perform it at a theater during the midsummer festivities.
After making a wry smile at the grand knight, using sarcasm on every single little thing, I looked at Alice’s face from the front. I voiced out the question that suddenly surfaced in my mind.
“…Have you ever seen Centoria’s midsummer festival? If I had to describe it, I would have to say it was mainly a festival for the masses, with barely any of the students born as upper class nobles in the Sword Mastery Academy going for it…”
Of course, there were exceptions, like Sortiliena-senpai, who I served as a valet for, looking forward to it each year. Those nostalgic thoughts came to me before Alice snorted.
“Please don’t associate me with those upper class nobles who put on airs. Of course I’ve… went……”
Those scornful words gradually slowed down and eventually cut off.
The knight frowned with her lips still slightly opened and cast her eyes down as though she was searching for something. Bring up her left hand that lost its gauntlet, she pressed her finger tips against her smooth brow. Alice shook her head countless times in that manner and slowly raised her face, then murmured in a tone that seemed somewhat vague.
“No… I heard of that festival… from some ascetic. Integrity knights are… forbidden from mingling with townspeople aside from during duty, so…”
That was only natural. The integrity knights believe themselves to have been existences summoned from the Celestial World by the highest minister, Administrator, but that was actually false. Administrator had taken humans of exceptional wisdom and might from the Human World to the cathedral, then built them up to be knights with their previous memories sealed away with the «Synthesis Ritual». Hence, it would be terrible if those knights visit the lesser world more than necessary and unexpectedly meet with their former family.
Alice’s number was thirty, which meant she was the «newest» knight after Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-one who just became an integrity knight this spring. She was likely synthesized within a year from now and the girl was taken from Rulid Village eight years ago, so she actually had a blank span of over seven years.
How exactly did Alice spend those days in the cathedral… I didn’t know she learnt the sacred arts as a sister, or perhaps spent it «frozen» by Administrator. However, maybe she had visited Centoria’s midsummer festival before she became a knight? Could it be that the memory, that should have been sealed, revived for an instant due to the earlier conversation—?
In that case, if I were to continue asking about the midsummer festival now, the «piety module» sealing Alice’s memories could be removed like what happened when I fought against Eldrie, couldn’t it?
Having thought of that, I started to open my mouth once again. However, I clenched my teeth tight after taking in a breath.
Cardinal had said it. That to turn Knight Alice to Alice Schuberg, Eugeo’s childhood friend, taking the piety module out wouldn’t be enough. That the «most important memory fragment» stolen from Alice by the highest minister was definitely necessary. Hence, if Alice’s module were to be removed now, the girl should lose her consciousness in that instant and become immobile. I would rather avoid that in the present circumstances where we didn’t know when our next enemy would appear.
First and foremost, Alice showed no sign of distress at all when she saw Eugeo whom she had got on well with for several years back in Rulid. In other words, that was how strong the seal on Alice’s memories was. The chance of removing the module with a topic like the midsummer festival was slim and on the other hand, it might even cause her wariness towards me to increase.
Alice suspiciously gazed at my face as I went through those thoughts in silence, but soon scowled as though she had noticed something again.
“The minions‘ blood bring about illness. Clean it off properly.”
I noticed for the first time that several drops of the blood spurted out from the demon had showered onto my left cheek Alice pointed it out. In the moment I tried to wipe the pungent fluid away with my shirt’s sleeve, a stinging reprimand came flying.
It must have been years since someone got angry at me in that manner… Alice glared at me, who was dumbfounded, with a truly frustrated expression.
“Aah, that’s enough, just why are men so… Do you not carry around even a single handkerchief?”
I fumbled around my trousers’ pockets, but the right was empty and the left had something that wasn’t a handkerchief stuffed in it. I answered softly with my head lowered.
“…Alright, fine, use this.”
Alice pulled out a handkerchief from her long skirt that was just as pure white, then held it out to me with a look that showed abhorrence coming from the depths of her heart.
The thought of lifting up the grand knight’s skirt and rubbing my cheek on it, if she was going to treat me like a kid in primary school, flashed through my mind, but I stopped as it would simply end in my death.
Borrowing the handkerchief with intricate hems that didn’t have a single stain on it with thanks, when I wiped my cheek with it abashedly, the minion‘s blood was practically absorbed into it, cleaning it up completely, as though some art to clean up stains had been cast on it.
“Thank you very much.”
Sensei; I held back the urge to add that while trying to return the handkerchief, but the grand knight quickly averted her face and said a single line—
“Wash it and return it before you get slashed by me.”
The future looked grim indeed. How could I persuade this grandiose knight to avoid the battle after we return into the tower and to meet up with Eugeo?
An image of my partner, who was probably climbing up the stairs in the tower about now, went through my mind as I looked around, and noticed the afterglow in the sky had completely disappeared without my notice and several stars were already blinking away. We managed to drive away the minions somehow, but the moon had risen and an extremely slight bit of space resources had been restocked, but that was unlikely enough to make new pitons with.
I thrust Alice’s handkerchief into my right pocket and scanned the narrow terrace from left to right this time round. The petrified minions lined up in a row from a few meters away to the wall’s corner seemed like they wouldn’t come alive if we didn’t get any closer. It might be possible to crush them before their petrification was lifted if we dash in and slash at their vitals with our swords, but I couldn’t think of any merit in testing that risk.
As a result, we could only meekly wait here for a few hours until the moon rose.
Honestly, I would warmly entertain the thought of sitting down and resting now, but Alice would likely be offended greatly throughout that whole time. I held back a sigh while thinking about how I should initiate a talk with the integrity knight who had her face turned away.
Piton – Pitons are metal spikes used in climbing stuff, by driving them into holes or gaps. However, the original word used here was “haken”, a German word commonly used in Japanese to refer to that, rather than an English word.
Kip – A manoeuvre used in gymnastics.
- Translation – Tap