Just a reminder that Sigsawa likes throwing in sentences without any punctuation. These are indicated by capitalising the first word of what should have been another sentence but not adding any full stops.
Full-width text (Ｌｉｋｅ ｔｈｉｓ) is emphasising that the original text is written using the Latin alphabet. Note that most abbreviations that are not in italics are written using the Latin alphabet as well. Italic text is Engrish (English written in katakana). Abbreviations in italics means that the Japanese version used some shorter form of an English word, but in katakana. Comic sans font is for words written in an unusual way (e.g. English words in hiragana or Japanese words in katakana). In cases when I needed to emphasise that the word is Japanese (or when the text specifically commented about it being Japanese), I added the Japanese version as furigana.
Any feedback is appreciated.
SECT.3 - SAO Loser
“Have you heard of, 〝Sword Art Online〟?”
In response to Goushi’s question,
Karen immediately replied. There was no way she could have not heard of it.
Sword Art Online. Abbreviated to SAO.
It was the world’s first VR-MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) that launched its official service 4 years ago, on the 6th of November, 2022.
It was a fiendish game that imprisoned approximately ten thousand players, who dived to play on that day, in the game’s world.
Due to the work of the genius developer Kayaba Akihiko, SAO was turned into a horrifying trap.
The players’ ability to voluntarily log out was blocked, and if their characters died in the game, or if someone attempted to forcibly interrupt the dive from the outside──
The players would have their brains fried by powerful electromagnetic pulses from the first-generation VR game machine for home use, the 《NerveGear》, which was fastened to their heads, and thus die. It was a literal death game.
Kayaba Akihiko provided but a single way to escape. To clear the game.
Karen did know the details, but after a long period of two years, SAO was cleared and the people trapped in the game returned to the real world.
However, that did not apply to everyone. She heard that nearly four thousand players had lost their lives as a result of the incident.
The remainder of the player base were equated to 〝survivors〟 of a grand incident or a large-scale disaster── in other words, they were called 《SAO survivors》.
A genuine death game where the player themselves would die if their character died in-game. That was SAO.
‘Why did Goushi suddenly ask about that…”
A hypothesis came to Karen’s mind.
Could it really be── that Pitohui, whose mind was captivated by death, and who desired fights where she could unnecessarily put her life at stake……
However, in that case, everything would make sense: the reason behind her strength, and why she is so captivated by death.
Pitohui had once said 〝I have been playing VR games before the SAO incident was resolved〟; could she have been referring to SAO?
“Hey…… be honest with me…… Could Pito-san…… be an SAO survivor……? Did she have some horrible experience during the 2 years in the game…… and it ended up leaving a thorn in her heart…… and she still can’t forget putting her real life…… on the line……?
Karen timidly enquired,
But saw Goushi firmly shaking his head.
“No, that’s not it. Pito is not an SAO survivor.”
‘What? So she wasn’t burdened by cruel fate?’
Karen felt relief from the bottom of her heart, but she could not help tensing up again after hearing Goushi’s following words.
“It’s the opposite. Completely.”
She did not understand what he had in mind. So, she had no choice but to ask.
“What 〝opposite〟? What do you mean?”
“Pito is the opposite of an SAO survivor── I’m not sure such a term exists, but, so to say, she is an SAO loser.”
Goushi nodded with a serious look. And then, with a look that could adorn the cover of a fashion magazine, he threw Karen a question.
“It’s a bit off topic, but Karen-san, are you aware of the terms 〝beta version〟 and 〝beta test〟?”
“Ehm……, I’ve heard of them somewhere.”
“Then, I’ll explain that first. A beta version, crudely put, is 〝a software that is under development, but finished to some extent〟. The trial of such a version is called a beta test, and the people who try it are called beta testers. During the beta test, the software’s issues are checked, and this influences the official version.”
“Even SAO had a beta test before its official service. A mere thousand players, selected via raffle, could play the world’s first VRMMO before anyone else. Also, they could get priority on purchasing the official version during its initial distribution, thus they could easily enter the ranks of the ten thousand players.”
‘If a player had the enthusiasm to apply for the test version, then they’d definitely play the official version the day and moment the service began’, Karen thought.
“What if I knew about SAO beforehand? Then, I think I’d have got it no matter what, and would have definitely played it the moment the service began. Scary, huh.”
That Miyu had once told her this.
“But, among the ten thousand who got their hands on the official version, there were people who had important affairs in RL, and could not play on the day it started, the 6th of November 2022, no matter what. Tearfully, they had to give up playing on that day.”
Hearing this much of the story, and the term ‘SAO loser’, the answer came to Karen’s mind. She asked Goushi to confirm it.
“Pito-san is of those beta testers, and got her hands on the official version, but couldn’t play that day……”
This time, Goushi firmly nodded.
“That’s right. Pito was an SAO beta tester. She was one of the lucky thousand, so she’d put on her NerveGear and continue to play SAO like mad. Naturally, she also planned to play the official version just as it began.”
“But, she couldn’t do that……”
“Yes. Perhaps because of some prank of fate, some business that she absolutely could not ignore came up. The business was so important that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to determine her future. After thoroughly weeping her eyes out, she made the wise decision to put her future first. She decided to play SAO the next day.”
Weeping one’s eyes out just because of not being able to play on the first day gave the impression of a game addict, but, honestly speaking, Karen could not understand it.
‘Also, if Goushi knows so much about Pitohui’s circumstances, does that mean that he’s been with Pitohui since then?’, Karen considered unnecessary details.
With some effort, she drove such thoughts to a corner of her mind,
“But because of that, Pito-san…… continued living without being trapped in SAO, right?”
Karen asked sincerely.
“That’s right. Because no one could log in to SAO as of the moment the incident began”
“Isn’t that…… really lucky……?”
“Normally, one would think so. But, Pito is different. She has always had a yearning for death that she can’t hide. What do you believe a person like that would think, if they were forced into a game that decided whether they would live or die?”
Karen knew the answer, but still did not say a thing.
“Do you believe that they would suffer from intolerable fear like a normal person would?”
“No, that’s not the case. It’s the opposite. They would probably think 〝I can play the best game in my life!〟, with delight from the bottom of their heart. ──And then, what if they knew that they most likely missed their once in a lifetime chance to play it?”
“That night. When she returned home after finishing her important business. The moment she found out that SAO had become a genuine death game, via the news, Pito went into a fit of anger. She cursed her fate that she could not participate in it, then shouted, lamented, cried, and raged. She inflicted self-injury, and when I tried to stop her, I was blown away, and broke three ribs and three finger bones.”
Karen did not have the capacity to throw in the appropriate words in this conversation.
Pitohui’s actions were obviously frightening, but Goushi, to whom these memories should have been considerably painful, yet he had still talked about them disinterestedly without showing any change, was scary too.
“But, nothing could be done about it at that point. Because joining SAO was impossible from then on. Having cried, shouted, and raged for some time, perhaps her feelings cleared up at least a bit, as after that, Pito put in great effort in her work. Probably in an attempt to subdue her anger of being an SAO loser. The job she began went on track immediately, and she has achieved considerable success now.”
“Is Pito-san a company manager or something……?”
Probing into others’ RL was against the rules, but Karen unintentionally ended up asking such a question. With some surprise showing on his face, Goushi,
“Yes, that’s right. She’s a female company manager. And I’m one of the company’s executives.”
‘Please don’t say that you’re lovers or something while you are at it.’
Perhaps Karen’s telepathy went through, as Goushi did not reveal any further private details.
“After VR games returned but before the SAO incident was resolved, Pito, with me being forced to accompany her without having a say in it, spent all her time which wasn't dedicated to work playing games all day. Pito, venting her anger of becoming an SAO loser, instantly became as strong as a demon no matter what game she played, but 〝games where one didn’t really die〟 could not make her blood boil from the innermost depths of her heart.”
‘Well, it doesn’t have to boil It’s okay for it to be normal It would be bad if you died. And in the first place, you can’t play anymore if you die!’
Karen furiously thought, but kept quiet.
“And so, 2 years of her living on work and VR games passed, and the SAO incident was resolved──”
Goushi continued with words that seemed like a report.
“When Pito heard details of the in-game situation leaked by SAO survivors, she once again exploded. Officially, this is an entirely unrecognised rumour, but it’s 〝almost certainly true〟 information. That there were player killers who intentionally killed characters in the game. And that there were even guilds for that.”
Karen’s brain was momentarily stunned, unable to understand the meaning behind Goushi’s words.
Her thought process, as if untangling itself, slowly restarted.
In Sword Art Online.
Even though a player actually dies if their in-game characters die, yet PK happens.
Namely, that is──
“Isn’t that actual murder!”
Having her words, which were shouted with the desire to have them denied, affirmed without any concern,
Karen was at a complete loss for words.
Goushi’s ear-pleasing voice spoke about dreadful things unconcernedly.
“It seems that there were some players in SAO who did not consider banding together to survive or clearing the game as soon as possible to escape── and among them, some found their purpose in life in killing other characters. Including both the people killed by them, and those among them killed in 〝legitimate self-defence〟, a considerable number of players were killed by other players.”
“I... can’t……., believe it……”
Until now, Karen had thought that all the casualties of the SAO incident were killed by in-game monsters. In other words, the developer who devised this incident killed them.
And yet there was murder among fellow humans.
‘What on earth could the SAO survivors who killed someone with their own hands, even if in legitimate self-defence, be feeling?’
Karen was on the brink of thinking about it, but forcibly stopped her train of thought.
“I questioned the sanity of these 〝murderer players〟as well, but Pito was entirely different. Hearing this news, she had a great explosion similar to the one 2 years ago. She went into a fit of anger, breaking everyone’s belongings, including mine.”
“In…… what sense? I don’t really want to ask, but I will.”
“You sure have grown used to it, huh. Karen-san.”
“Stop it. So?”
“In both ways. She had the regret 〝I could have become a murderer player like that if I played SAO!〟, just as well as the regret 〝I could have killed those guys in the name of justice!〟.”
In response to Karen’s honest thoughts,
“Haven’t I said so before?”
Goushi gave a smile, the first that looked genuine. If they were in town, his expression would look like he was inviting a girl he chose based on appearance to come with him.
“Thereafter, Pito’s mental state wasn’t healthy for a while, but── highly ironically, as her work schedule got really hectic, at least she didn’t cause any problems for others. Although she was out of her mind, she did have common sense and sociality. She wasn’t a person who'd commit crimes like hurting others in RL. Well, she beat the hell out of me, as I was close, every day though.”
Of course, Goushi said this with a smile, thus,
Karen gave up on giving a reply.
“As I said during SJ, even now that woman has her heart captivated by that crazy game called SAO. Even so, for some months, I had believed that she had come out of it…… Having begun playing GGO, she should have had a good way of letting off her steam, since she could kill other characters with guns and knives…… But perhaps it suddenly became the trigger for a relapse when she could not participate in SJ……”
“Is that…… so.”
Karen said, even though she honestly did not comprehend it, nor did she want to, but she did understand the story. Of course, as the story had no proof, the possibility that Goushi was full of lies was not zero, but, based on her experience thus far, Karen decided to drop that idea.
And she clearly recalled. That Pito said this when inviting her to SJ.
“Say, LLENN-chan. In my opinion, LLENN-chan has a lot of problems in real life, right? IRL, something is making you gloomy, right? So, putting it nicely, you came to GGO to vent your anger. Putting it bluntly, you came here to run away. You're making a 〝How did you know〟 expression, but it was simple to comprehend. ——I’m the same after all! There are far too many times when I get angry and feel like I can’t do anything, so I go wild. And thus, I shoot with my gun to kill monsters and people to my heart’s content.”
‘I see. I see.’
Karen recalled the gentle smile that Pitohui gave then.
‘Being too tall is tough?’
‘Honestly, that’s not really that big of a worry.’
Karen faced the man sitting in front of her, bent forward, and enquired.
“As Pito-san can participate in SJ2, she’s planning to play a death game with her life at stake, right?”
“And you, Goushi-san, want to stop it, right?”
“Then I’ve got a question. ──Why didn’t you try to stop it by going to the police, or making use of psychosomatic medicine, or telling your story to someone else? That would have been much, much more beneficial to Pito-san than relying on someone like me, wouldn’t it?”
Those words were not something that she wanted to voice out, but still had to do it.
It was obvious that Pitohui (IRL) had sunk into madness, but how could Goushi, who knew that better than anyone else, leave that alone? Karen could not understand it.
Goushi answered in the same tone as before.
“No matter how much something is beneficial to Pito, I don’t wish for anything that Pitohui doesn’t want.”
Karen needed several seconds to understand the meaning behind his words.
She understood what he had said, but now needed to confirm whether he was really fine with it.
“Say what……? So, you’re saying that, in the end, you decided to 〝respect the person’s will〟?”
“Even if it’s something insane? Even if it’s the worst case── suicide?”
“………… I can’t understand you at all.”
‘This is hopeless.’
She knew that Pitohui was weird, but this man named Goushi was just as crazy.
Karen finished up the now completely cold black tea which was on the table.
Wanting to quickly throw the empty can away, Karen stood up.
‘At this rate, I want to get out of here.’
With this thought in mind, she stepped towards the trashcan next to the vending machine that stood alongside the wall, and threw it in.
As she turned around, she saw Goushi, who perhaps thought that Karen was running away, right in front of her.
And then, his large right hand grazed Karen’s head as it extended to the wall, and she heard *don* as his hand struck the wall.
“Ah, eh? Ehm…… Err…. err, ehm…… that is……”
Looking at Goushi’s face that had a sharp glint in the eyes──
‘Aah……, is this….. the so-called…… 《Kabe-don》? ……
In her confusion, Karen was somehow able to understand that much.
Giving Karen a sharp look, Goushi shouted.
“Have you ever seriously loved someone? Have you loved someone so much that you’d be willing to devote your life to them?”
Still confused, she did not have the time to make up a lie.
Karen answered honestly, as if she had been given a truth serum.
And then, the man shouted once again with an expression filled with sorrow, pain and anger.
“Then, you absolutely don’t understand how I feel right now!”
Still pressed against the wall, Karen looked down at the man in front of her.
“Goushi-san…… you…… like Pito-san?”
“I love her!”
This was her first time experiencing a Kabe-don, but who would have thought that, in this state, she would hear a confession of love to someone else.
‘Life is full of surprises, huh.’
“For now…… sit down. I’ll still hear your story out. And, I’ll have you listen to my questions as well.”
After saying so, she added this.
“Do you want anything to drink? My treat.”
After picking a highly carbonated drink, thinking that it might be invigorating, Karen bought Goushi the same black coffee that he requested.
“Here you are.”
“Thank you very much. I’m not good with coffee. Especially black. My stomach becomes irritated when I drink it.”
“Ain’t Japanese strange?(1)”
“There’s still more to it. But, Pito loves coffee. Especially black. So, I drink it as well.”
‘Love is scary.”
Karen thought, but kept quiet.
After both of them sat at the same place as before,
Karen decided to ask what was on her mind bluntly.
“Goushi-san, you were that scared of dying IRL during SJ. I do think that it was a normal response and I can understand that now. But, for someone like that, you don’t seem to be scared about participating in SJ2 that could similarly lead to 〝IRL death〟. Isn’t that strange?”
“It’s not strange. Since dying after Pito has died isn’t scary. Only dying alone first and leaving Pito behind is really scary.”
‘Ah, you’re both really weird. Is that what they call a mended lid for a cracked pot?(2)’
Karen thought, but kept quiet.
‘Still, I guess Goushi, who’s still seeking a solution, is slightly better? I don’t really know.’
“Goushi-san, you said it a while ago, right? That I can save Pito-san. And that you wanted me to do it.”
“Yes. That’s the main topic. And the reason for me being here.”
“Then I’ll ask. ──How am I able to do that?”
“Please participate in SJ2 as LLENN. And then, during the tournament, please have a serious, direct match with Pito, and defeat her.”
“Defeat Pito. With LLENN’s hands, please mercilessly kill her. If you do that, Pito will be saved. She definitely will not commit suicide. And I’ll probably be able to live through this too.”
‘Mercilessly killing a person during SJ2 who insists on committing suicide if she died during SJ2 is the solution?’
‘Goushi-san, did you drink too much coffee and go mad?’
Thought Karen, but,
“Goushi-san, did you drink too much coffee and go mad?”
She was unable to keep it to herself. She ended up voicing it.
“I know that I’m not exactly sane. However, I don’t think that’s the fault of the coffee, probably. I don’t think something like that was added to the coffee.”
‘Well, you don’t really need to answer me so seriously.’
Karen thought. Goushi continued his speech.
“But, this is the one and only solution. So, please, participate in SJ2 as LLENN, somehow find our team, and defeat Pito. Naturally, Pito, me, and the other team members will fight with all we have to stop that.”
Hearing those words, Karen was confused.
“Huh? Huuh? ──So wait, you’ll be my enemy all the way? Shouldn’t you as M-san spread negligence among the team to set the tables for me defeating Pito, or something? Am I wrong?”
As she thought that this was a given, Karen enquired, without considering that it would cowardly or unfair at all.
“In that case, it wouldn’t be a 〝direct match〟, I believe. It would be cowardly. Unfair. That’s why we can’t. I too shall fight with all I’ve got again.”
This is what she got after he suggested a solution.
‘Is this man, Goushi, a faithful dog or something?’, Karen felt that love encouraged lots of mistakes.
Perhaps her shock showed on her face,
“Please don’t give me that look.”
As he told her this with his handsome face.
“I am humbly sorry. But all of this is beyond my grasp.”
Beginning her reply in sarcastic keigo,
“So, Goushi-san, persuade me. How, why, due to what reason would Pito-san not commit suicide upon me killing her, enlighten me!”
Goushi answered that in about 30 seconds. Or rather, responded to the order.
Having heard the answer, Karen thought.
‘Ah, so that’s it.’
And then, she spoke.
“Okay…… I’m gonna participate in SJ2! And so── I’ll be the one to defeat Pito-san!”
With a gentle smile, Goushi
“Thank you. You are our only hope.”
Said such words that set one’s teeth on edge, and, after leaving an email address to contact him without Pitohui noticing, left the observation room.
“Ah, that’s Karen-oneechan! Yahou!”
“You’re right. So Karen uses this place too, huh.”
Karen’s four year old niece, and her mother, Karen’s sister, entered the room.
It was great timing, as Goushi should have just passed them at the elevator. If they had arrived just 20 seconds earlier, they would have probably seen that Karen and Goushi had been here alone.
Had her blood run cold deep down as she answered. And, she was thankful that Goushi’s personality ensured that he threw away the empty can of his coffee.
Karen’s sister’s room was above this room, thus Karen did not understand why they bothered to come all the way here, but...
Seeing her niece going towards the vending machine, she understood why. This was the closest place for it.
Touching the vending machine with her mobile phone, Karen’s sister asked her.
“Say, how’s the remainder of your spring break looking? We’re planning to go spring skiing this time, how about coming with us?”
“Come with us!”
Karen was glad to get an invitation from her sister’s family, but right now, Karen had tons of things to do before the 4th of April. That’s why, she could not waste even a single day.
“Ah, sorry. I kinda decided to read a ton of books during spring break……”
Karen made up a silly lie, but it seems that it was not seen through.
1. ^ Japanese as in the language. Most likely referring to an expression Goushi used for stomach ache.
2. ^ An expression for “there is a suitable spouse for everyone”.