Sugary Days 7
Translation of Sword Art Online ME 16, Sword Art Online Sugary Days 7.
It may be good to read up to SAO Progressive v3 before this.
Aincrad’s 4th floor, main town, Rovia.
The «capital of water», with an elegant townscape resemblant of Southern Europe and waterways boasting of clear water, had stayed as the most popular sightseeing spot for some time after the opening of its teleport gate. Visitors would form long lines at the docks for gondolas handled by NPC gondoliers, and there would even be congestion in the main canal on days with clear skies.
However, that was a thing of the past—
Barely any players were at the teleport gate plaza Asuna and I descended to. Even if it might be now known as no more than a town difficult to get around in, with its catchphrase as the Town of Water stolen by the main town of the 61st floor, Selmburg, this fall in population felt rather bleak. Though the 3rd floor’s Zumfut, where we visited in the morning, felt desolate as well, that paled in comparison, strangely enough.
“…It’s a little cold, isn’t it?”
I held Asuna’s hand tightly after she offered it with those words. It was 26th October, 2024, and despite how it should have been colder on 21st December, 2022, when Asuna and I activated this town’s teleport gate, I could not recall it being so. In the first place, we came to this town by swimming through the river with just a swimming ring from where that staircase led. And yet, for it to be so chilly when it was still the latter half of October, it might have been due to Aincrad turning colder over these two years, the scenery supporting that thought—or that one sorrowful memory that still remained in my chest.
I turned and scanned through the plaza once more with our hands still linked. However, my hopes were dashed.
“There’s not even a single player stall, huh…”
I muttered and Asuna nodded along.
“And there were lines of stalls selling the materials for gondolas back then too, weren’t there?”
“If only we could move the gondolas to the floors above, that stubborn old shipwright would still be making a killing too, though…”
At my comment, Asuna looked towards the north-western block of the town. She must have been thinking about paying another visit to the workshop of that old shipwright, Romolo. But she soon shook her head lightly and looked into my face.
“If there aren’t any stalls, it looks we’ll have to get the drops on our own.”
“Aah… that’s true, let’s pay that fire-breathing bear a visit for the first time in a while.”
Exchanging nods, we began our walk towards the wharf on the western side of the plaza.
Asuna and I came all the way down to this 4th floor on a request from the grandmaster wood-crafter, Mahokl, to gather various materials. The list included eight «Legendary Bear Fats» which also served as materials for gondolas, but without any players to purchase them from, we would have to go for it on our own as Asuna mentioned.
Wharfs were built in all four cardinal directions from the square teleport gate plaza: the north and south were for shared gondolas with NPC gondoliers while the east and west were exclusively for those owned by players. During the 4th floor’s clearing, the east and west wharfs would have been mostly occupied by the large ships constructed by the two large guilds—come to think of it, the term, «clearing group», hadn’t yet been established then—of that time, but all that were there now were numerous small boats wavering on the ripples.
Asuna and I came to a stop before a gondola for two, quietly moored on the northern end of the east wharf.
Its hull, painted ivory-white and forest-green, was still as beautiful as a gem despite the damage it had previously received from surface combat. Its name, “Tilnel”, was marked upon its side, gleaming in the lambent light glancing off the water’s surface. Our beloved boat that we had the old Romolo construct after frantically gathering its materials roughly two years ago, Tilnel.
We had it in the custody of the dark elves’ fortress, «Yofel Castle», built on the southern side of the 4th floor’s lake, but that exquisite castle was now an uninhabited ruin. My memories, from when we sailed aboard Tilnel with the castle’s children on the lake, surfaced and provoked a terrible, squeezing ache in my chest.
Standing by my side, Asuna suddenly turned around and buried her face into my shoulder. I softly drew closer the fencer whose shoulders slightly quivered as she gripped tightly upon the fabric of my undershirt with her two petite hands.
A hushed voice echoed close to my ears before long.
“…I’m sorry… I thought I would be fine… but it, still, hurts…”
“Aah… —I’m sorry, too, for not thinking about your feelings. Maybe we shouldn’t have come here after all…”
I whispered back, and Asuna shook her head slightly, side to side, still sunken in my shoulder.
“No… I am somewhat glad, too, that this pain still remains with me… —Still… if only… if only we could, have another……”
Asuna closed her mouth there, but my heart had received her words loud and clear.
Asuna and I had met on the first floor’s labyrinth, and though it was due to a series of coincidences after that, we did team up as a combination for a not-too-short period of time. What left the most vivid impression from the early days of the death game was the «Elf War Campaign Quest», spread throughout the lower floors, that we took on as a pair. Tilnel’s blemishes were suffered during those quests as well.
Back then, even if we held special feelings for each other, our obstinacy would not allow us to show that openly. As a combination that could be said to be on both good and bad terms, we often squabbled with me pulling various pranks on Asuna and her hurling various objects at me, but still, those days were lovely. However, irrevocable regret and melancholy accompanied the end of the Elf War quest—and that contributed to us walking our separate paths in the end: Asuna, towards that of the «Knights of the Blood», and I, back down that of an independent solo player.
—If only, if only we could have another chance at that campaign quest.
Asuna was likely about to say that and I thought the same too. However, if we were granted the authority to turn back time, we should return to the beginning of this death game and put our all into reducing the number of casualties among the players to zero… in the first place, we would be able to prevent this major incident from even happening. Even if it meant Asuna and I would have never met.
“……If we return to the front lines, let’s put our all into clearing the game. I am sure that, too, is what Kizmel wishes for…”
Asuna nodded, strongly, at my words despite her soft sobs.
The gondola for two, Tilnel, glided through the waterway with that same agility from before. Exiting the town from the southern water gate, we went through the large river for some time before landing at the forest area where the fire-breathing bear, the named monster, «Magnatherium», lived.
Though less so than the 3rd floor, the forest of aged trees was splendid and gleamed a pale hue of gold in the afternoon light filtered through. Most of the trees were gnarly and broad-leaved, exhibiting a charm different from that of the 22nd floor’s coniferous trees.
“Now then, the bear’s…”
I turned about, taking a look around, while leisurely walking across the mossy ground. There were neither the bloodthirsty atmosphere from the Magnatherium scramble from back then nor the sign of any players aside from us. As long as we found the bear, it would be fine carrying out the hunt at our own pace.
—Or so I thought.
“Hey, Kirito-kun… did you hear someone speak…?”
Asuna, having regained her mood after sailing for the first time in a while, placed her hands behind her ears. That gesture, which seemed to possess no more than a psychological effect in reality, actually had a hearing bonus effect in SAO. I did so too, and focused my ears on the sounds around.
It was several seconds after that when an extremely soft sound, like the tail-end of a player calling out, provoked my hearing.
Nodding along with Asuna, we ran towards the north-eastern side of the forest.
Numerous springs dotted the ground and we had to detour around them whenever we encountered any before, but a single jump now could get us over them. It took a mere thirty seconds, dashing through the cluster of trees like ninjas, landing on tree trunks at times.
An enormous silhouette could be seen before us, charging from the right towards the left. That was unmistakably our target, Magnatherium, even without hearing its “zugyarooon!!” roar that hardly sounded like a mammal.
However, that was not all we found.
Two players desperately ran on, practically a hairbreadth from the tip of the fire-breathing bear’s nose. Upon focusing my sight, the faintly red cursor appeared for the bear with green ones for the players. The HPs displayed were at ninety-percent for the bear and fifty-percent for each of them. I wouldn’t know their levels, but for them to lose that much against a fourth-floor monster, even if it was against the named Magnatherium, they must be around 10 to 15?
“They look like they’re in trouble, huh…”
Asuna replied my words with a short “They do”. Confirming her intentions as our eyes met, we accelerated.
To assure the fleeing pair that this was not a PK, I shouted out “We’re backing you up!!” before they noticed and ran into the charging Magnatherium’s path.
The bear roared at that same moment.
It came to an abrupt stop using its four burly limbs and lifted its upper body all at once. The bear that measured over eight meters tall raised the horn protruding from its head up high and bared its gigantic jaw before wildly sucking in air like a vacuum cleaner. The red light shimmering in the depths of its throat quivered. The indicator for its fire breath.
To avoid this breath two years ago, we had to jump into the many springs in the forest. However, this time, I drew my beloved «Elucidator +45» from my back at last and stood straight with it brandished.
Flames burning crimson breathed out fiercely from the boar’s throat. I rapidly spun my sword in that moment and activated the sword skill, «Spinning Shield». Though its activation was difficult, entering the motion only after dexterously using my five fingers and spinning the sword twice, like twirling, it was a useful skill capable of blocking flame and ice breaths (though unfortunately ineffective against lightning and poison).
Elucidator’s blade, rapidly spinning within my hand, blew away the bear’s flame breath as a shield gleaming white. I called out to my bride some distance away while keeping up the skill.
“Asuna, counting on you for the counter.”
“Okay, I’ve got you.”
Asuna drew her rapier, «Lambent Light +32», from her waist with a refreshing shing. Deftly stepping into the bear’s side, she activated a four-hit «Quadruple Pain» the instant its breath attack ended.
The four thrusts, faster than the eye could follow, carved a red cross into the bear’s flank. Its giant frame gleamed blue as it swelled out and I watched it explode into countless scattered particles as I slightly twisted my neck.
With Asuna’s current attack power, it should be possible for a single basic, one-hit «Linear» to down the bear. Hence, why would she go for an overkill, using that four-hit skill—?
That doubt cleared away upon hearing the players who were fleeing from the bear.
“Th… thank you very much!”
After returning my sword into the sheath on my back as I turned around, I saw the ones standing there were a man and a woman, a combination like us. Both had the orthodox one-handed sword and shield, and the man was equipped with light metal armor while the woman was equipped with reinforced leather armor. They certainly were around level 15, judging from the grades of those. Though that was within the safety margin for fighting on the fourth floor, there were no absolutes in combat in SAO. All the more so with a named mob as an opponent.
“Hey there, we’re sorry too, for deciding to cut in on our own.”
The pair started head-shaking exercises with complete synchronization at my reply.
“No, no, really, don’t be, it really helped us out~~”
The female player replied this time round with a cute voice. Asuna walked to us from my back and the pair deeply bowed to her as well.
The male player sprung back up and let out an enthusiastic voice towards Asuna.
“But still, that was amazing! Bringing down that tough Magnatherium with a single four-hit sword skill!”
Yes, Asuna must have wanted the pair to think that «a four-hit attack was necessary». If she downed the bear with a single Linear, they might recognize us as from the clearing group and if rumors of that reached the front lines, our break might just get canceled with a “You call bullying the weak monsters around the fourth floor resting?!” from someone like the prim and proper Heathcliff.
That said, it was clear finishing it off with a four-hit skill meant we weren’t at the proper level for this floor, so Asuna gave a modest reply.
“No, its HP was reduced by a little beforehand, so…”
“That really was just a little! Besides, that skill to block its breath was amazing too… so there are sword skills like that too, huh…”
The emotional male player looked to be around twenty years old from the appearance of his avatar. He had brown hair, tinged red and curled backwards, with a rather manly face. On the other hand, the female player had almost-white platinum gold hair in a billowy ponytail with somewhat soft facial features. She seemed younger than her partner too.
Deciding it was best to avoid dragging this talk about ourselves on any further, I threw out a question for the pair.
“And you are on the «Shipwright of Yore» quest?”
The pair replied with a “Yes!” in concert and I could only grin as I spoke.
“Must be tough dealing with that stubbornness of old Romolo.”
“Yes, it sure is~~ We had to go through so much before he would even accept our request~~”
The female player vigorously nodded and Asuna giggled. It appeared we had found out why they were battling with the fire-breathing bear for now, but that brought up a new doubt in itself.
“Err… judging from your equipment, the two of you aren’t crafters but fighters, aren’t you? If your aim is to level up, instead of clearing that bothersome quest… or rather, why not skip this troublesome floor? I personally think it’s more effective, in terms of both cor and experience points, if you ignored this place and farmed at the 5th floor’s underground burial grounds…”
When we first came to the 4th floor, we had no choice but to clear the labyrinth and defeat the floor boss before heading up to the 5th floor by the stairs. As such, we need our own gondola for moving throughout the floor, but with the teleport gate now unlocked, it’s possible, or rather, standard, for players to level up solely at the «best farming spots» if they were aiming to head up.
The pair exchanged looks at my question before the man displayed an embarrassed smile and answered.
“No, well, actually, we’re on the Elf War campaign…”
It seemed only I could hear Asuna softly catching her breath. The man continued on, his expression unflinching.
“We initially planned to stop after receiving the quest rewards on the 3rd floor. The walkthrough book did write that the 4th floor’s event quest was rather tough too.”
“But you see~ it really bothered us wondering how the story was going to go~”
The female player followed up while beaming.
“We’re on it from the dark elves’ side~ and we really, really wanted to take a look at the queen’s castle on the 9th floor~ So, we thought to do what we could~ And still, we fell flat on the very first step on the 4th floor~”
The woman laughed with a tehehe and the man opened his mouth once again.
“—We hunted down boars and worms around the borders of Starting City until just recently, earning enough to cover the cost of the inn and food. But after keeping that up for over a year, we got above level 10… and when the «Army» found out, they told us to enlist. We wanted none of that, so…”
“That’s why we left Starting City~ And so, we figured, why don’t we get stronger for real~? I guess you must be thinking, like~ why now~ being so strong already and us focusing so much on the elf quest is totally what some casual would do too~…”
Asuna yelled out the moment the female player giggled once more.
“That’s not true at all!”
Taking a step forward, she stared at the two swordsmen with an earnest look.
“Trying your best, aiming for some goal… I believe that is all that’s truly important in this world. It doesn’t matter when or why… I believe all of the players are doing their part against this game, be it someone who left the city wanting to grow stronger like the both of you, or someone who trained their Life skills… or even someone who simply lived on, day after day, in Starting City.”
The pair widened their eyes at Asuna’s words for a moment but eventually nodded gently as though understanding.
As six «Legendary Bear Fats» dropped from the Magnatherium Asuna defeated, we gave them the four needed for the ship building quest, conveyed warnings regarding the fallen elves they would encounter from now on as a side note, and parted with the two players at the forest’s entrance.
Asuna and I waited for the fire-breathing bear’s respawn and defeated it again—finishing it off with a single «Vertical» from me this round—and returned to Rovia by gondola.
Anchoring Tilnel on the west wharf once again, we went up the stairs towards the teleport plaza. We took a look around just in case, but the pair were nowhere to be seen. They must be awaiting the gondola’s completion in the old Romolo’s workshop by now.
Asuna muttered as we walked towards the gate.
“Those two… I wonder if they saved that dark elven knight at the start…”
That must be impossible, I thought to myself. I had looked into it afterwards, but it was confirmed that even after reaching level 50 and becoming strong enough to defeat the enemy elite knight normally, both knights would die without fail at the opening quest for the campaign. All aside from that one irregularity Asuna and I encountered.
However, I gripped Asuna’s hand while I answered.
“They might have, huh? Seeing as they’re on the elf quest now of all times.”
“Nn… that’s true.”
Looking at each other, we both laughed softly.
Our hands remained connected as I opened our inventory window with my spare hand and withdrew two plain, grey, hooded mantles. Passing one to Asuna, we both put them on. We pulled the hoods down deep and stepped into the teleport gate, flickering blue. Taking in a deep breath, we called out as one.
50th floor, main town, Algade.
The town I made my home until Asuna and I purchased the log house on the 22nd floor and began our life together. I still kept up the rent for the room I called my sleeping place, but I wouldn’t be returning ever again—or so I hoped.
Algade was the largest city in Aincrad even now, nearly ten months after the 50th floor was cleared, and there was an absurd number of shops around, whether they were set up by players or NPCs. Naturally, it was not uncommon for even the top players to come shopping, too, hence the reason for hiding our faces with the hoods.
We walked through the squalid streets, strangely enough nostalgic despite being less than a week since I moved, for a bit and slipped into a certain player shop.
It could not be more chaotic inside the shop with its weapons, armor, materials, potions, and various other goods of various categories; and fortunately, while it was filled with numerous customers, there were none who turned their attention away from the goods. Approaching the counter further inside the shop, I quietly greeted the shop owner who had a window open and a difficult expression on.
“Yo, I’m here.”
The skinhead giant looked up at that, and his mouth bent along with his beard as he let out a groan.
“What do you mean, I’m here?! At least contact me an hour in advance!”
The giant’s name was Agil. The manager for this general store and a cunning businessman, as well as a two-handed axe veteran among the clearing group. Asuna and I had known him ever since the floor boss clearing battle on the first floor.
Grinning from within the hood, I rapped his burly arm.
“Well, that’s just how much trust I have in your capabilities, see.”
“How am I supposed to fulfill an order that demanding on such short notice…?”
Looking at Agil complaining away, Asuna giggled from my side.
“We are sorry, Agil-san. Sorry for requesting something so difficult out of the blue.”
“No, well, it’s not like that matters. It’s my motto to stock up everything from potions to full plates and to offer them at a fair price.”
The effects of a beauty’s smile were immediate; the wrinkles on the shop owner’s brow vanished and he voiced out his shady slogan as he scrolled through a window. He tilted his head even while deftly getting together the items for a trade with me.
“Thirty solidite ingots, twenty acutite ingots, ten aged teak logs, eight greatrock dragon tendons… exactly what are these materials for? As far as I know, there’s no such recipe like this, though.”
—There should have been eight legendary bear fats added in there too, I thought to myself as I interrupted with a shrug of my shoulders.
Among the five material items requested by the wood-crafter, Mahokl, I had requested the four that were in frequent-enough circulation, though costly, from Agil. I hadn’t asked for the bear fats because I had predicted no player would be selling the material needed exclusively for the ship-building quest on the 4th floor in their shops now of all times, and I had no desire to expose the entire recipe to any outsider. It wasn’t like I didn’t trust Agil, but at any rate, it was best to have some insurance, considering what would be made from these materials.
Checking the contents of the trade window from Agil with care, I confirmed the items’ names and quantities before nodding.
“Okay, no problem here. How much are they?”
“It would go for several times the market rate if it was a one-time customer, but… well, eighteen thousand col will do.”
This would be where our unscrupulous haggling war would start if this was our usual barter, but out of respect for Agil in gathering these rare materials within just two hours, I decided to yield to his price. Entering the digits into the window, we both pressed the OK button and the window disappeared with the successful trade sound effect.
“Thank you, Agil-san.”
Asuna and I expressed our gratitude in unison and the big man answered with a “Thanks!” before grinning.
“That’s that, and now to the both of you, how’s the newlywed life going…”
“Aah, oh, right, how’s the 75th floor’s clearing going?”
Forcing that question in and shutting down Agil’s probe, I heard out his reply of “That would be about half done.” before beating a retreat from the shop with a “Right, then, see you around!”.
We went through the teleport gate once again, this time moving to Zumfut on the 3rd floor. Exiting onto the silent plaza, an utter change from the hustle and bustle of Algade, we removed our hooded mantles at the same time.
“…Agil-san has become completely at home as a merchant, hasn’t he?”
“No kidding… I couldn’t even have imagined him buying his own shop back when I gave up the «Vendor’s Carpet» to him…”
We turned our sight towards the gigantic tree towers after some brief laughter.
“…Now then, it’s about time.”
(to be continued)
- Translation – Tap
- Editing – ZeHaffen