Sugary Days 5
Translation of Sword Art Online ME 14, Sword Art Online Sugary Days 5.
As the numbers had run out in the «home in the forest» series that had continued from “Sword Art Online 16.6” to “16.9”, I have officially given it a title from this time onwards. The story is a proper sequel, so please do treat the prior four chapters as “Sugary Days 1 ~ 4”.
“…Three, two, one…”
Asuna began a sudden, unexplained countdown while looking at the main menu’s time display.
I ducked with a jerk at that, but nothing happened even after a five-second wait. The mellow atmosphere permeating the log house built near the edge of the twenty-second floor lingered as its always had. It seemed this was no prank with the sofa Asuna and I sitting upon suddenly springing upwards or the house itself blowing up.
“…W-What’s with that zero?”
I nervously asked and Asuna wiped away the window with a smile.
“It has just passed into five-nineteen p.m.”
That time was neither here nor there to point out as a time that has just passed. I pondered upon what it signified before realizing.
“Ah… so that’s it. A day just passed since we married…”
“Correct! Though it hasn’t been a year, it has been a day.”
With a crooked smile, I drew closer to Asuna who said so happily.
“I suppose we’ll have to celebrate, then.”
As I swept away the long hair covering her cheek with my fingertips, Asuna lowered her eyelids as her face grew red. I placed my mouth over her petite lips.
Our long kiss ended and Asuna asked in a small voice.
“Is it still a day… or already a day?”
It seemed she was asking whether the twenty-four hours we had spent in this house felt far too short or long.
I answered after some thought.
“Both, I guess… The day felt so complete, spending it and talking so much with you, Asuna… but I do feel like that one day passed too quick as well.”
That thought must have been from my feeling that our days at this log house could not continue for long.
Asuna and I had left the clearing guild, «Knights of the Blood», announced our temporary withdrawal from the front lines, and descended down to the twenty-second floor here.
Of course, the frontliners would, by no means, pause the clearing simply because the two of us left. They must be still fighting, aiming for the seventy-fifth floor’s labyrinth even now: the KoB, led by Heathcliff the invincible swordsman, the «Divine Dragon Alliance», the largest guild among them, the «Fuurinkazan», where Klein, my old friend, served as leader… and the many other players outside of them.
The frontliners were certainly not monolithic, but if I were to state what joined them together, it would be a common understanding—that they had all put their lives on the line, fighting on while shouldering the risk of death.
SAO lacks magic. As such, there are no healers or buff-based classes to be protected more than the others like in other games. Though there are roles assigned such as tanks, damage dealers, and scouts, each and every player among the frontliners had to stand before the monsters and fight while suppressing their fear.
That was exactly why players like Heathcliff, who exuded an absolute sense of ease, and Asuna, who could cut down monsters with overwhelming power, could garner a level of respect akin to worship.
However, turning that around, that meant those who do not fight lose their place among the frontliners.
Though few, there were cases of players among them who fell victim to their fear and lost their ability to stand before monsters. Though it did not matter much in battles against weaklings, those who ignore orders to switch when clearing the floor boss could bring about the collapse of a party… or even the raid group. Hence, it was normal for those players to signal their withdrawal from the frontliners through their speech or behavior and disappear without much notice.
Asuna’s and my withdrawal was basically not much difference from that either. There must be some with bitter emotions over our sudden withdrawal among those players fighting on the seventy-fifth floor—especially those in the guild, KoB. This momentary respite would likely only last until the seventy-fifth floor was cleared at most.
No… the seventy-fifth floor, in particular, would be the third quarter in Aincrad. There was a chance the floor boss would be strengthened to a dire extent, similar to the twenty-fifth and fiftieth floors. If that turned out to be true, they might request for us to return upon discovering the boss room.
“…It’s already been a day, huh.”
I muttered once more and hugged Asuna’s slender frame closer.
If we returned to the front lines, we would have fewer opportunities for contact like this too. Or rather, that would be an understatement with Asuna being reinstated as KoB’s sub-leader; it might be tough for us to even meet.
As though sensing my unease, Asuna whispered at my ear.
“It’s okay, it has only been a day.”
“Besides, the day isn’t over yet. There’s still much more stuff we can do, isn’t there?”
My avatar twitched at those alluring words. Asuna blinked in that instant before her entire body became dyed in crimson.
“T-That’s not it, I didn’t mean that when I said that.”
I placed my lips on her nape as she quickly spoke. Tasting the sensation of her warm skin, smooth as silk, I recall what Asuna had asked in the afternoon.
She said she liked power lines as a child. That she felt fascinated by the data incessantly transmitted through the power lines.
Asuna’s shudders and panting that I now sense were sent from her brain as she laid down in a place far away in the real world, making their way to my NerveGear through the massive web of fiber cables and the SAO server. I felt that fact to be both a precious miracle and a vexing obstacle.
I mumbled as I hugged my beloved tight.
However, I could speak no further. After all, that future felt far too distant, too precarious. I still lacked the courage to wonder what lay beyond the completion of this death game.
Even Asuna with her astute, telepathy-like ability to read my thoughts chose to keep her silence this time. Instead, her two hands firmly returned my embrace.
Eventually, she vocalized a single word: my name.
Her voice seemed as though soothing a young child, saying that everything would turn out okay.
The menu for dinner was savory fish and bread, baked in the oven, potato potage, and green salad.
As expected of a maxed out cooking skill, the white fish’s skin was exquisitely charred and I stuffed it into my mouth with a herb sauce, chewing and swallowing it before making an inquiry of the chef.
“Is the fish the one we bought at the village earlier?”
“That’s right. …Is it not to your taste?”
“N-No, it’s super good, really!”
After shaking my head in a fluster, I added on.
“It’s just, since there’s that soy sauce you spent so effort on, Asuna, I thought making it sashimi could have been great too.”
“Aah, sashimi does sound good…”
Asuna stared off into the distance in a daze, imagining that dish that would never be served in an NPC restaurant in Aincrad, but immediately showed a somewhat bitter smile.
“But you see, though I may be overthinking this… there aren’t any refrigerators in this world, are there?”
“T-There aren’t, are there?”
“And the fishmonger puts them on display in a case at room temperature, right… there’s just, this hesitance to eat the fish raw after buying it in that manner.”
Technically, in this world, even if you were to drop the fish onto the ground and leave it there, as long as it existed as an object—that is to say, as long as its durability remained, there would be no difference in its quality (and of course, taste). Though it would get a dirtied effect three seconds after dropped, that would fade after it’s washed in water.
Still, on the other hand, I did understand Asuna’s hesitance. When it comes to sashimi, freshly fished ingredients would definitely make for a better tasting dish, or feel that way.
“Then, maybe we should raid the fishmonger right after it opens in the morning and dash back… no, we still wouldn’t know when the fish is from, huh… —ah, that’s it.”
With a thought coming to me, I opened the skill tab on the main menu.
I possessed 12 skill slots at my current level of 96. The skills set there are «One-Handed Sword», «Dual Blades», «Two-Handed Sword», «Martial Arts», «Blade Throwing», «Parry», «Battle Healing», «Searching», «Hiding», «Sprint», «Extended Weight Limit», and «First Aid».
Among those, the one with the lowest proficiency and usage was unmistakably Two-Handed Sword. Though I had taken it up, thinking to try equipping a somewhat rare two-handed sword I obtained long ago, I ended up barely making use of it in the end.
Then again, looking into the Two-Handed Sword skill played its role in duels against two-handed sword users in the future, so it wasn’t a waste—but there was no purpose in letting it remain in my slots.
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking of changing your skills?”
Asuna who stood behind me without my notice peeked into the window I displayed and spoke. I gave a deep nod and answered.
“Yeah… I’m thinking of discarding Two-Handed Sword and becoming a fisherman.”
“I know what you want to say, but don’t stop me, Asuna! This is for the sake of having fresh sashimi!”
Asuna returned to the other side of the table and nodded without hesitation at that.
“It’s not like I’ll stop you, though.”
“I mean, with you having Dual Blades, it’s not like you’ll ever use two-handed swords now. Besides, I’ve always thought it would be good for you to have at least one Life-type skill.”
“Also, I want to have some tasty sashimi too. Do your best with the skill levelling!”
All I could do against such encouragement was to thump my chest with a “Y-Yeah, leave it to me!”.
After clearing the dining table together, we sat on the rocking chairs in front of the fireplace while drinking coffee before Asuna suddenly spoke.
“That’s right… this came to me after you mentioned about Life-type skills, but we went to look at furniture in Coral Village in the afternoon, didn’t we?”
“There was that simply lovely table in the shop, wasn’t there?”
That slight mumbling was due to the slim chance of her suggesting we buy that seven hundred thousand col table. However, Asuna smiled as though to deny that and continued her words.
“I wonder, can we find that wood crafter named, «Mahokl», who made that table?”
“Eh… hmm, I wonder? I guess we could stake out that NPC shop… it should be quick if we count on Argo instead. Why?”
Asuna’s cheeks redden for some reason then.
“I was thinking about ordering a custom rocking chair.”
I could only blink. After all, we currently were sitting on matching rocking chairs in this moment. It was something ready-made from the NPCs, but it wasn’t bad in terms of comfort.
“W-Why that out of the blue?”
Placing her coffee cup onto the side table before standing up, Asuna tottered to me and sat down on my lap without warning. I put my cup down as well in a panic and supported Asuna from behind with my right hand.
“Look, if we were to sit on this chair together, I’ll be completely on top of you, Kirito-kun, won’t I?”
“…Y-Yeah, you would.”
“With a little more sitting space, we would be able to sit side-by-side, won’t we?”
“Y-Yeah, we would.”
“Also, I was thinking it would be nice if the backrest angle was a little more gentle and all.”
“Y-Yeah, it might.”
My left hand moved along onwards even as I answered, but Asuna pointed a slight glare of disapproval at me before standing up. Returning to her own chair, she brightly opened up a window.
“Then, I’ll send a message to Argo-san. If she finds Mahokl-san, let’s head there together tomorrow?”
A thought came to me as I nodded. Wood crafters should be able to make fishing rods too. It would be all «a good angler never blames his rod» for fishing in the real world, but the quality of tools affects the results in Aincrad. Raising the fishing skill was considered a chore, so being able to fish some would make it more enjoyable too.
I thought while gazing upon Asuna’s earnest profile as she tapped away at the holo-keyboard.
True, there were still many more fun events to come. Instead of thinking about how this would end in a few more days, I should live each day to its fullest. That was no different from the days on the front lines.
Turning my eyes towards the window that was still open, I touched the slot the Two-handed Sword skill was set in with my fingertip. From the submenu that popped up, I chose to erase the skill. While reading the warning text about how my proficiency would fall to zero if I did so, I murmured in my heart.
—Sorry for not making use of you much.
After pressing the OK button, the slot turned empty with a somewhat forlorn sound effect.
25th October, 2024, was bright.
Having eaten breakfast, Asuna and I passed through the teleport gate at twenty-second floor’s main town and descended even farther down, to Aincrad’s third floor.
The main town, Zumfut, was a town constructed by hollowing out three monstrously gigantic baobab trees. Upon exiting the teleport gate, Asuna looked up towards the short and stout giant trees and whispered with her eyes narrowed.
“…It’s been a while, huh?”
We immersed ourselves in those memories from long ago as we stood side by side.
The one who first spoke was, once again, Asuna.
“Now, let’s go. Mahokl’s workshop is in… this tree, huh?”
Our hands hooked up despite neither in particular initiating it and we headed towards the south-eastern baobab.
The information dealer, Argo, had hounded down where the wood crafter, Mahokl, stayed in just a single night. I had thought the shop would be opened on some floor far above, considering that craftsmanship with a maxed out skill level, so it came as a surprise it hear it was on the third floor.
Still, it seems understandable after actually visiting like this.
What a wood crafter needs, most of all, would be high-quality lumber. Aincrad’s third floor is a «forest» floor and its surface area was wide too with it being among the lower floors. In addition, few players would pass by now of all times, so it would be uncommon for any disputes over rare materials with those in the same trade to occur.
Crossing through the quiet—or rather, utterly devoid of other players—teleport gate plaza, we entered the baobab building and climbed to its third floor. The workshop was beyond the circular path.
A small signboard hung beside a small door. [Mahokl’s atelier] was written on it.
“…No one would be able to tell what kind of shop this is from that alone…”
Asuna nodded to my opinion as well, but it appeared we were at the right place, judging from the name.
I approached and knocked, but with the lack of response, I gently pushed the door open. A loud gikogikogiko blared out right after and I unconsciously leaned back.
The atelier spanned much larger inside than it appeared outside—that said, huge logs, square lumber, and planks were piled up anywhere possible, so it turned out like a maze with only parts of the room visible. The gikogiko noise seemed to be coming from the center of the room.
Navigating through the lumber, turning left and right, we somehow reached it—a log almost a meter in diameter and three meters long being cut along its length into two with an extremely large saw manned by a truly petite player.
That height was likely two or three centimeters shorter than Argo the «Rat». The sight of that avatar who looked practically like a child, possibly smaller than the deftly handled huge saw, cutting the log which was over two times as tall into two looked as if it was some sort of artistic performance.
The saw, where the earlier noise came from, cut a straight line through the gigantic log without pause and flashed brilliantly in the instant it touched the floor.
Within the light, the log transformed into numerous planks. Come to think of it, this would be my first time watching a wood crafter’s technique in person.
After they turned into objects, Asuna and I gave a synchronized round of applause.
The player with a small frame spun about towards us with that saw against her right shoulder and spoke in an adorable voice while her round glasses, adorned with a texture resemblant of classic manga, gleamed.
“—What business do you have with me?”
(To be continued)
Kunori here! Thank you very much for buying and reading this! The deadline’s really, really closing in, so I’ll keep short!
The “16.x” series, or rather, the “Sugary Days” series finally feels like it has started moving. This will be leading to some sort of adventure from now on with the new wood crafter character, Mahokl, mixed in. It seems to be becoming an unexpectedly long series, but I’ll be glad if you accompany me from now on too!
- Translation – Tap