Sugary Days 9
Translation of Sword Art Online ME 19, Sword Art Online Sugary Days 9.
“«Marriage», huh…? To think SAO had such a system… I’d forgotten after all those many battles… ya know…?”
The katana wielder muttered while staring off into the distance, and I scrutinized the ripostes I could pick from before speaking.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
“Small stuff, you say?!”
“I get it, I get it, I’ll explain properly the next time we go for drinks or whatever.”
I patted his back, covered in Japanese-style armor, and Klein winced as he nodded with a “no helping it, then”. Sitting across the table, Asuna let out a giggle at our exchange.
This was Aincrad’s 22nd floor, in a corner of the teleport plaza in the main town, Coral. The refreshing morning light shone upon the simply decorated open-air cafe. Aincrad’s NPC eateries generally allowed outside food and drinks, and the bottle of brandy Klein brought over as a gift adorned the table, but as we were in no mood for heavy liquor under this morning sun—even if we would not get drunk—we instead ordered the
When I first saw the name on the menu, I wondered if that meant it was
Its price was nothing to scoff at either, and I sipped it before opening my mouth once again.
“Come to think of it…”
Then realizing it would be unnatural diving straight into the main topic, I instead engaged in some gossip first.
“…We heard from Agil, but it looks like the 75th floor’s conquest is quite a tough one, huh?”
Gulping down the rather expensive tea, Klein nodded.
“We started clearing the 75th floor, erm… it’s been a week already? And it took all the way ’til yesterday before we finally broke through the last field boss. It’ll be tomorrow at least before we reach the labyrinth, and from the way things are going, it’ll be another week before the boss room.”
“Nah, we may not even get through the labyrinth with just a week. I mean, it looks like that one guy great at mapping just went off and took a break for his honeymoon~~”
Leaning back into my chair to dodge the deliberate side-glances he shot at me as he spoke, I put on a nonchalant face as I advanced the conversation.
“It’s not all that bad, the boss for the 75th floor will be pretty strong since it’s the quarter-point. Taking some time to level up in the labyrinth and digging up those rare items won’t be a waste.”
“Ooh, look at the amazing Unikie talking all relaxed.”
“…What’s that Unikie supposed to be……?”
“Like I have to explain. It’s short for Unique Skiller. Christened by a great man: me.”
“Hey, don’t you dare spread that around!”
“Heh, too late! I’ll make you Unikie-sensei instead of Blackie-sensei by the 80th floor!”
“Seriously, don’t! In the first place, does the word skiller even exist?!”
Our conversation developed, just a little bereft of intelligence.
It was then that Asuna burst out into laughter in a rare, unguarded manner, reaching her limit after apparently having held it in until now.
“Ahaha…… geez, the two of you never change, do you?”
Klein and I shifted our hands behind our heads at once and curtly bowed.
“There’s no need to apologize.”
“Nah, that was a conditional reflex from you flaring up at all of the clearing meetings…”
“It’s not like I wanted to, either.”
With her laughter dying down, Asuna slightly puffed out her cheeks before turning a somewhat sober expression towards Klein.
“…If reaching the labyrinth is taking over a week, the field bosses and normal monsters must have been strengthened as well?”
“Aah, well, there’s no mistaking that. Feels like a step up like the 25th and 50th floors, maybe even worse.”
A faint shadow of gloom crept over Asuna’s face as she nodded. She must have felt guilty after supporting the clearing group for so long.
I quietly reached out under the table and touched Asuna’s right hand with my left. Klein, too, shook his head in exaggerated motions while speaking.
“No, really, you don’t hafta worry. His Excellency, the leader of your place, is leading the 75th floor’s conquest himself, so…”
Neither Asuna nor I could hold back our surprise upon hearing that.
The leader of Knights of the Blood, «Holy Sword» Heathcliff, had basically never participated in anything aside from floor boss clearing battles ever since KoB became known as the strongest guild, and him not showing up unless necessary was only par for the course.
Taking part in the field conquest from the very beginning ought to be to make up for the absence of the sub-leader, Asuna, but that hardly seemed to be all to it. No, that might be my prejudice talking after suffering a magnificent loss in a duel against him before a grand audience.
I took another sip of the lindera umbellata tea in my left hand, parted from Asuna’s hand, and then spoke.
“That’s sure a surprise… Then yesterday’s field boss battle too?”
Klein nodded and raised the menu board on the table like a shield as he rattled on.
“No, seriously, I mean, I knew, but he’s rock-hard. He tanked the boss solo and not one time did he have to swap out for pots or even to call for a switch. And it didn’t feel like he was depending on his armor’s specs, ya know? He had godlike reflexes against those super-subtle pre-motions and held back every last one of those skills the boss attacked with.”
Memories of the other day’s duel where my flurry of strikes was stopped, one after another, came back vividly as I listened to the katana wielder’s explanation, and my face winched into a bitter expression. Seeing that, Klein grinned while hiking up the intensity of his retelling of the leader’s valiant deeds, so I had to interject in a hurry.
“Nah, let’s keep it at that. Well, if that’s that, the great leader’ll do his magic in the floor boss battle too, so I guess extending our break should…”
“I knew you would say that.”
As Asuna was the one to interrupt this time, I turned towards her before the young wife prodded at my left shoulder with an admonishing look.
“We can’t, Kirito-kun. If a request for our help for the floor boss battle comes, we have to join in. Regardless of how we’re on a break or how we’ve left the guild, we are still part of the clearing group.”
“I-I get itt.”
My childish reply was greeted by Asuna’s brilliant smile and Klein draining his tea while making tremendous noise.
Not letting that pause get away, I cleared my throat before diverting the topic towards the main one.
“By the way… Klein, when did you first meet Agil again?”
“Nnh? What’s with that all of a sudden?
Filling up the katana wielder’s emptied cup with lindera umbellata tea once more as he showed a distrusting look, I dodged the question with a “no, well, just wondering”.
Though still curious as ever, Klein turned his eyes upwards and let out a short groan.
“Uh~nn, right… it was right after Fuurinkazan caught up to the front lines, so that’s pretty long ago. He was a great help with restocking consumables and trading off drops… the prices he bought and sold at were so extreme that I had to wonder how he was profiting back then, but I can’t help but think he’s just ripping us off lately…”
I was of the exact same mind, but both Klein and I knew that was because Agil was no mere merchant. He would pull off strategic trades with the higher levels in his main store on Algade, the 50th floor, while returning those profits to those players starting off or in the middle via his branch stores on the lower floors. That knowledge was why many with high levels continued business with Agil despite their verbal complaints. All the more so with him unaware that he had been exposed.
However, the issue laid with when Agil, that gung-ho axe warrior at the start of the death game, awakened to the path of merchantry… and whether there was a link to Mahokl, that mysterious grandmaster wood crafter.
“…Erm, Klein, you knew Agil better than me for some time, didn’t you? That’s why I’m asking, but any inkling why he went all-out into business?”
The «for some time» referred to July 2023, when the guild «Moonlit Black Cats» was destroyed, until Christmas that same year. Realizing that, Klein’s brows twitched under his bandana as Asuna caught her breath softly at my side.
The brief silence was yet again shattered by the katana wielder’s groan.
“Nn, nnn~ ……Doesn’t feel like there’re any lightbulbs going off in particular or anything… Didn’t he just gradually find business more fun while doubling as an axe warrior and merchant? Besides…”
His eyebrows started squirming there, and he turned an intrigued look at me.
“…Why are you asking me? Why not just go up to him and dig out the answer for something like this straight?”
“Nah, I mean, I know I should… but there are reasons…”
With Mahokl making the effort to hide herself, I could hardly throw her name out here, let alone launch a direct assault on Agil. That was exactly why I requested Klein’s presence.
Despite showing no sign of accepting my answer, Klein gave only a soft snort before advancing the conversation.
“…There oughta be something that made him go for being a merchant, yeah. Look, axe warriors raise their logging skill too, so ain’t their builds most suited for becoming merchants?
“Though that may be true, I do believe the opposite applies instead, normally.”
Klein and I turned to look upon Asuna’s first words in a while.
Re-manifesting just partly the presence of her esteemed-sub-leader-ness, the young bride expressed her reasoned opinion in a fitting tone.
“I would understand if merchant players select the axe skill when they decide to pick up a weapon skill for self-defense. They can increase their proficiency without entering combat, and they can put up the logs they accumulate for sale. However, that in no way implies that players who were previously axe warriors would aim to become merchants, would it? Fighting normally would be much more efficient for increasing their level of proficiency.”
“Besides, it would be more profitable aiming for monster drops rather than collecting logs.”
Asuna curtly nodded at my words.
Emptying his second cup of lindera umbellata tea, Klein let out a dull “fnmmm…” with his arms crossed, but vaguely retorted once again after some time passed.
“But still… I definitely do recall him putting his all into lumberjacking back then. Whenever the clearing activities ended in the afternoon, he would be off chopping after taking a break. That’s right, pretty sure he said that was for levelling up the skill and gathering funds for opening a store when I asked.”
I muttered as I exchanged looks with Asuna.
Halfway through 2023, Agil was still serving as the leader of that exceptionally muscular guild commonly known as «
That said, it still felt out of place. Logging was fundamentally done while dedicated to some specific part of some forest. One would research the locations of rare trees, the timings for them to regenerate after being gathered, and chop on without breaks after determining the most efficient path. He would hardly be able to afford the funds for a shop otherwise. There was no need to collect «all sorts of logs» in «some random forest».
Agil would have never missed that with his lengthy history as an axe warrior, so there must be some reason for those actions beyond levelling his proficiency and gathering funds.
Asuna nodded slightly in agreement with me, and I spoke after turning to Klein.
“Thanks, Klein. You were a great help.”
“Huh? T-That’s it?! No, I mean, I do have to get back up soon or later, but… d-don’t leave me hanging! Just what are the two of you looking into?!”
While that reaction was only natural after being called to the 22nd floor, only to be asked about how he got closer to Agil, I dropped a hand onto my old friend’s shoulder and spoke with a smile.
“I’ll tell you what I can when it’s all over, okay?”
On the other hand, Asuna bowed with an understandably apologetic expression.
“I am very sorry, Klein-san, but to be honest, we hardly know what we are getting into ourselves. It just so happened that something on our minds cropped up…”
Not even Klein could remain stubborn in the face of an apology from the former «conquest demon», and he nodded with a truly complicated expression.
“W-Well, if you say so, Asuna-san… —That aside, once again, con… congratulations on your marriage.”
“Thank you very much.”
Asuna’s smile, like the blooming of splendid flowers, held might equivalent to that of unique skills and melted away the katana wielder’s expression in an instant.
“No, really, how do I put this, all the best.”
“We do plan on inviting everyone who had lent us help once we clear the 75th floor, so we do hope you will come as well then, Klein-san.”
“O-Of course I will! I’ll be there even if I have to rush over from the ends of the world!”
While listening to Klein’s nahahaha laughter, I could only shiver with an “Eh… a party? Who else are we calling over?”.
Asuna whispered, barely audibly, while sitting alongside me on the rocking chair set before the log house’s fireplace.
Assailed by the sandman after lunch, I lifted my heavy eyelids before replying in a whisper as well.
“You see… I was wondering… if we should stop looking any further into it…”
Turning herself around a-hundred-and-twenty degrees from leaning against the right armrest, Asuna laid her face on me before continuing, her fingertips toying with a tuft of her chestnut hair.
“…If Agil-san’s nightly logging had anything to do with Mahokl-san… that would mean Agil-san kept it from even Klein-san despite how well they got along. There must have been some deep reason… so I was thinking we had no reason to uncover it now of all times…”
“Nn… that may be true… But…”
Nodding, I lowered back down my eyelids before speaking, feeling the warmth, softness, and palpable weight of the avatar in close contact.
“…Mahokl said she had to hide her entire store and herself on the 3rd floor because she found the ballista recipe. But she had us gather those materials, probably for the ballista, as the condition for making this rocking chair… That’s clearly a contradiction, and she may be mixed up in some sort of trouble. In the worst case, if Mahokl makes the ballista and tries something silly… if she truly ends up in any danger…”
“It would be our fault as the ones who had gathered the materials, wouldn’t it…?”
Asuna finished in a quiet voice, trailing off in a sigh.
All technologies related to bow weapons were lost through the «
Hence the possibility that the ballista was overlooked by accident could not be discounted. Of course, the administrators would patch it immediately when they noticed, but Mahokl could get herself into a lot of trouble before that… the risk was definitely there.
“…Before gathering the requested materials, I did say, ‘If Mahokl does anything dangerous, we’ll just have to put a stop to it when we find out’, after all. I can’t allow those words to become a lie. I thought it would’ve been for the best to look into it before asking her directly, but that doesn’t seem possible… about all we can do now is to go back to Mahokl’s atelier in Zumfut and actually ask her. Whether she intends to create the ballista, and why.”
Asuna lightly nodded her head, still atop my chest, yet switched to shaking it softly immediately after.
“…But in my experience, players capable of completing production skills tend to be rather stubborn. They hardly ever change their mind after deciding on anything… Let alone someone like Mahokl, who not only completed Woodcrafting but even advanced Sewing and Polearm Weapon Creation to master class as well.”
I gently stroked the long hair flowing down Asuna’s back as I nodded. Though it appeared she had forgotten, she, too, had persevered until the completion of her Cooking skill. And that she, too, would obstinately accomplish anything she set her heart on.
“…True, Mahokl may not heed our words, having met us for the first time just yesterday. If only we knew who her partner in the past was, that axe warrior… —I would bet fifty cor that it’s Agil, but asking him straight up’s just…”
“Though I wouldn’t mind putting down seventy-five cor myself, we can hardly drop Mahokl-san’s name anywhere unless we know why is she secluding herself on the 3rd floor.”
“If only we had some evidence of Agil being the axe warrior in question…”
Muttering that, I collapsed backward onto the rocking chair. The exquisite length and arc of its legs easily supported our combined weight and it rocked gently like a see-saw. The huge table made from a single slab, set in the middle of the living room, entered my sight as the chair inclined back. When looking at its sides, which still remained as rough bark, I could practically see how splendid it must have once been as an imposing figure in the forest…
I stopped the chair’s rocking with an abrupt, subdued shout. Asuna shot a questioning gaze over from atop my chest.
“No, well… Mahokl did say the raw wood for that table was gathered from here, the 22nd floor, didn’t she?”
I nodded and leapt to my feet from the rocking chair. And caught hold of Asuna, who was lying on my chest, with my two arms.
“Kyaa… h-hold on, what is it?!”
“I’ll explain soon!”
I dashed towards the pantry in the kitchen with Asuna tucked under my arm. Though this was a one-story log house, there was a ladder with roof access in the pantry. Coming to a stop before that, I lifted Asuna from my arms and made her hold onto the ladder.
“First, get on the roof!”
“Geez… fine, I get it.”
Sighing, Asuna began climbing the ladder. Restraining myself from staring at her fluttering skirt, I charged up myself only after hearing an “I’m out” from her.
I exited through the double-paned window onto the shingled roof, and despite that, Asuna was missing. I slowly edged across the roof, slanted at a rather precarious angle, while harboring skeptical doubts of her actually having fallen.
The foot my weight laid upon slipped five centimeters due to that explosive shout from behind.
My two arms spun about as I desperately attempted to regain my balance, but my torso continued leaning away from the roof little by little. Naturally, my health would likely suffer no damage with a fall from the second story with my level over 90 now, but my pride was a different issue.
Accelerating the rotational velocity of my arms as I grunted, I achieved victory in the arduous battle for my balance through the gyro effect—or whatever it was called—and panted hard before turning behind.
“N-Now you’ve done it!”
“Ahaha, as expected of your agility, to not fall from that!”
Molded into the embodiment of vengeance, I approached Asuna, guffawing while holding her stomach, at a deliberate pace.
“Agility isn’t all I have… how about I show you my strength too?!”
Bending down as I yelled, I pulled Asuna’s legs into a tight hug.
Not heeding the young bride’s shriek and her incessant flaps at my head, I lifted her up vertically with a “Here we go!”, spun her about, and firmly sat her two pale and slender legs onto my shoulders. Her skirt fluttered onto my head.
Asuna’s screams carried on even after her posture stabilized.
“W-What, what are you doing?!”
“Why, I’m just giving you a ride on my shoulders.”
“I can see that! I’m asking you why!”
“That would be because it’s necessary.”
I replied firmly and dashed up the roof’s slope, standing still on the ridge at its top.
Though the log house had only one story, it was rather high on a hill from the lake shore, the base level for the 22nd floor, and one could enjoy a pretty good view at its height. All the more so for Asuna, sitting on my shoulders.
That was perhaps why Asuna had finally calmed down, and I directed a question towards her.
“Hey, you said the raw wood for that table was from some ancient walnut, didn’t you?”
“…I did, but?”
“That means it’s from a broadleaf tree, right?”
“…Sure, it is?”
“Then, those ought to be quite eye-catching on this floor basically filled with needleleaf trees. Look around the field from there and see if you can find any like that!”
“……That’s all fine and dandy…”
Asuna’s legs strangled my neck after that reply.
“…But after trying something like this out of the blue, you are prepared to let me ride on your shoulders wherever I ask, aren’t you?”
(To be continued)
Kunori here. Thank you very much for reading ME19!
I wrote “ending in another two” in 18’s afterword, so that would make the next, 20, the last chapter… but h-hmm, maybe?! No, I mean, I’ll put in my all to make it happen!
It was fun writing Klein for the first time in a while. Heh, back at this time, Klein still used polite speech when talking to Asuna, didn’t he? I believe I’ll be able to eventually write about him catching up to the front lines in the Dengeki Bunko “Progressive” series, so look forward to that, too!
Now then, let’s meet again in the next book!
- Translation – Tap
- Editing – ZeHaffen