[Cordial Chords] Part 6

As some of you may have heard, today marks the 9th anniversary of the Sword Art Online light novel series. To commemorate this occasion, we're releasing the final chapter of Cordial Chords! (It's totally not just a coincidence that we happened to plan out a release for today). Anyway, this chapter marks the end to Eiji's story (and finally has some Yuna deban) and I hope you've enjoyed this little short story. I may eventually compile the whole story into a full-text version... if I ever find the time for that.

On a side note, you may or may not want to avoid playing smile for you while reading this story, especially in the later half. Just a suggestion.

Full-width text denotes text that was written in the Western alphabet in the original text. Italic text is Engrish (English written in katakana) or Eiji's in-game name, because it's hard to tell the difference in translated text otherwise and there's several instances where his in-game name is used instead of his real name.

Any feedback is appreciated.

-Gsimenas

Credits

Raws:: Mttblue2
Translation: Gsimenas
Editing: Pryun
Tiebreaker: ZeHaffen



N/A


6


Running. Earnestly running.

Having rushed out of the inn located downtown in the Town of Beginnings, he ran through the streets populated by no one aside from NPCs towards the plaza in front of the Blackiron Palace. He jumped into the Teleport Gate that flickered blue, teleporting him to main town of 《Jaileum》.

Once again running through a town devoid of players, he arrived at the plaza of the western gate.

He was about to run out into the field from the gate, but an open cafe facing the plaza caught his gaze.

Naturally, it had no visitors. But as his eyes were caught by one of the tables, Eiji stopped.

As he continued staring at it, two players appeared there like a mirage.

Sitting on one of the chairs was a boy wearing a red-on-white mantle with a silver breastplate. On the other side - a girl wearing a white hood. While eating pancakes and some croque-monsieur, they had a friendly chat.

When Eiji took a step forward, the two figures disappeared without a sound.

"…………Yuna…………"

Muttering this, Eiji took a step closer to the cafe.

On the store's window glass, he saw the reflection of his own avatar. The exact same appearance as that of the illusory boy he had just seen. He was shorter than Eiji in the real world by ten centimetres, and his face looked younger too.

His other self that he never wanted to see…… Nautilus.

Having grit his teeth, Eiji turned around and once again began running.

This time, he did take a step into the Outer Field through the western gate. A field that was as complicated as a maze due to the walls of steep boulders; to the west, to the west he ran. At times he saw the red cursors of monsters appearing, but he took detours to avoid battle and continued running.

It was a road that he had only taken once over two years ago. But strangely, he did not hesitate on which path to take.

If Yuna were asking for help from this world, there was only one place where she could be located that he could think of. The field dungeon at the western edge of the fortieth floor. The place where Yuna had died.

It's not like the words of Kirito, the man who thwarted their plan to bring back Yuuna, were all believable to him. But that man went out of his way to meet Eiji, a person whom, by all rights, he wouldn't ever want to even see again. Solely because YUNA's desktop mascot had told him to "save" her.

If Kirito had appeared at the same place as him, perhaps Eiji would have taken the guy to the place where Yuna had died. But he was nowhere to be found. And Eiji currently did not have the mental fortitude to just wait until they regrouped.

Running. Running.

Before long, a half-collapsed ruins-like structure appeared up ahead. Thus far, he had been able to avoid monsters, but this would be difficult to do in a field dungeon with confined passageways. While on the run, he pulled out a one-handed sword from the left of his waist.

Nautilus's level had not increased since the day Yuna died. This means that his stats were just barely suitable for fighting on the fortieth floor. Yet that didn't mean that he could just stop.

The moment he set foot in the dungeon, three cursors were displayed in his path. Their formal name was 《Harsh Tormentors》. They were the typical small fry monsters you could find on the fortieth floor, but they always operated in groups, thus you couldn't let your guard down with them.

However, Eiji shouted while readying his sword.

"Out of the way!"



Fifteen minutes later.

A huge, familiar gate appeared ahead. Raised up to the top of the high gatepost was a portcullis of sturdy-looking iron bars.

Eiji stopped and leaned against the wall, breathing erratically. He opened his window and objectised his last healing potion. He drank it all in one go, but it was not nearly enough to heal up completely; he had lost so much of his HP during his battles thus far that it had reached the red zone.

He threw away the empty bottle and approached the gate.

Beyond the gate was an oblong chamber; and beside the farthest wall imposingly sat a gigantic figure. It was the boss of this field dungeon. Once he reached a line past the gate, the boss would operate the lever behind it, causing iron bars to descend.

In order to have the bars rise once again, your only choices were to either defeat the boss or have it move away and once again operate the lever, but it would indeed be difficult to win against the boss on your own. Moreover, a large number of henchmen monsters would appear in this chamber.

"Yuna…………"

Shouting the name of his childhood friend in a hoarse voice, Eiji stared fixedly at a single spot within the chamber.

This was the place where Yuna, having attracted all the henchmen with her 《Chantskill to serve as a decoy, died. He had somehow managed to arrive at this place, believing that if Yuna were still around somewhere, it would be here.

However.

Inside the chamber paved with gray stones, only a dry wind blew through, with no sign of Yuna showing herself.

'Do I have to enter and stand at the place where Yuna died?'

That moment was still etched in Eiji's mind even now. The place where Yuna fell after being surrounded by numerous monsters was quite a bit closer to the gate than the chamber's midway point. If it was so close, the boss shouldn't go on the move even if he entered the chamber.

Having come this far, there was no option to run back. Right now, even if Eiji died, his real life wouldn't be taken from him.

"Yuna."

He muttered once again, before stepping through the gate.

The boss monster, the 《Feral Warder Chief》, was still sitting on the stone throne alongside the farthest wall without moving. Eiji moved forward bit by bit towards the place where Yuna had died.

There were no traces or landmarks to follow, yet Eiji could see that very spot as if there was a faint light shining upon it. It wasn't dyed in the colour of blood by the rays of the evening sun coming from outside the farthest wall; he felt as if a pure, white light had formed there.

Five more metres. Three metres……

"Durururu…………"

A grotesque roar resounded, causing Eiji to quickly move his gaze.

Deep within the chamber, a dark shadow, with light shining behind it, slowly stood up. With its left hand, it lifted the two-handed axe, which looked like the blade a guillotine, that had been set against the throne——

With its right hand, it pulled the lever sticking out from the wall.

"…………!!"

As Eiji took in a sharp breath, the iron bars behind him fell with a fierce crash. With this, he could no longer escape from the chamber without defeating the boss or raising the lever.

Eiji was currently using an AmuSphere, so his brain wouldn't be destroyed even if he died. This much was certain but——what would happen to Nautilus? There was no revival function in the original SAO, thus, in the worst case scenario, weren't it possible for all of his character data to be purged?

A purge of data wasn't scary. However, if he were killed by the boss and his data were deleted, he would not get a second chance to meet Yuna as Nautilus.

The Warder Chief stepped onto the floor, raising tremors.

Bearing its ridiculously gigantic axe on its shoulder, the boss took a step forward, then another. There were no signs of the henchmen appearing, but they should begin surging up one after another sooner or later once the battle begins.

As his path of retreat was cut off, he no longer had any choice but to fight. But Eiji's chances of winning against the boss while solo right now were exceedingly close to zero. Even that day, Eiji——Nautilus wouldn't have been able to fight it properly if the members of Fuurinkazan hadn't been there with him.

Yes……thinking back upon it now, thus far has Eiji ever once defeated a formidable opponent using only his own strength?

After becoming trapped in SAO, he devoted himself to practicing Sword Skills in the training grounds within the Town of Beginnings, and raised his level by only farming safe monsters. After joining the Knights of the Blood, he had only ever fought monsters as part of a group.

The same applied in Ordinal Scale. He climbed all the way to rank 2 solely thanks to the battle assist tool equipped on his Augma, as well as his exosuit, rather than because of Eiji's own strength. That's why once the suit was destroyed, he was at his wit's end and lost against Kirito.

Yet, now. At least now.

"Yuuna…………"

Muttering a single word, Eiji readied his sword.

His memories from this world should have been buried so deeply within him that he couldn't even find them himself, yet his body moved on its own, starting the motion for the Sword Skill 《Sonic Leap》.

His blade shined blue. With his right foot he kicked off the floor with all his strength, the system assist fiercely accelerating his avatar.

Eiji's charging skill… was taken in by the Warder Chief's now sideways two-handed axe. As a metallic sound and sparks were released, the blade nearly half-sunk into the handle of the axe while trembling violently——when the light effect disappeared.

The Sword Skill ended there; during the time Eiji's body was rendered rigid mid-air, the boss used the butt of its axe to strike Eiji hard.

"Guah……!"

The moment he was knocked onto the ground, a pathetic sound escaped his mouth. His body bounced time after time again as he rolled on the ground, and when he finally stopped, his HP bar took a sudden dip. A terror as if the blood in his entire body had frozen still.

The bar stopped just as it plunged into the red zone. No more potions left. The boss's two-part HP bar was still full.

Yet, he couldn't give up now.

Having stood up while staggering, Eiji once again brandished his sword and attempted to step forward.

Yet, his right leg… became fixed to the ground as solid as a rock, so much so that he could even hear a thud.

He thought perhaps he had fallen into a trap, yet he saw nothing wrong with his leg when he looked down. At this point, he finally realised.

This was the same as that time…… the avatar stiffening phenomenon that had Nautilus expelled from the First Army of the Knights of the Blood, and was also the cause of Yuuna's death.

After being released from SAO, Eiji finally discovered the cause of this phenomenon.

FNC——FullDive Non-Conformity. It was a condition where a malfunction occurred in the transmission between the cerebrum and the EF matrix panel, limiting his actions in the virtual world.

——Move! Move move!!

Shouting the exact same words in his mind as at that time, Eiji desperately attempted to move his right leg.

The trigger for the FNC, in Eiji's case, was his fear of death. When trying to evade danger, his instincts overwhelmed his ability to reason, freezing his avatar. Professor Shigemura, who had explained this logic to him, had said that this was a flaw on the device's side, thus it was an issue that Eiji couldn't do anything about through his will and thoughts.

Yet, that man——Kirito made the impossible possible.

He defeated Eiji, who had been assisted by both software and hardware, and even crushed the final boss, which should have been an absolute existence even on the Cardinal System. Eiji was sure that Kirito himself was not endowed with any special power or anything. If forced to say, it was because of his strength of will…… the mental strength to face any hurdle no matter how hopeless the situation without giving up, unlike Eiji.

The reason why Eiji became unable to move due to FNC, was because the desire to run away lurked somewhere within his heart. The professor called that desire an 'instinct', yet a man should have the capability to cast away his instincts.

In front of him, the Warder Chief absentmindedly turned his body, facing Eiji to head towards him. In the surroundings, three blue lights began flickering like the heat haze. The effect for the surging of the henchmen.

Scared.

Nothing could be done about feeling scared. Yet he was unable to avert his eyes from that emotion and pretend not to see it. No, that wasn't true; he accepted his frightened self…… his weakness, and turned it into faith in himself. He could move. He could overcome his weakness and move forward.

"————I said mooooooove!!"

Straining his voice to its limit, Eiji shouted.

*Bakin*, he felt as if something broke when his right foot stepped forward.

He kicked off the floor and ran. The Warder Chief brandished its two-handed axe high, while the henchmen tormentors that had appeared raised their thorny clubs.

Even if he didn't even have a one in ten thousand chance of winning, Eiji was still alive. In that case, he would fight until the last of his final moments.

At that moment——

"Eiji! Use this!!"

With that shout, something glittered in the air.

Spinning as it flew towards him, shining in gold as it reflected the rays of the setting sun, was a surprisingly enormous sword. Looking more like some sort of device rather than a weapon, it had a strange shape.

His subconscious at work, Eiji's right hand sheathed his sword into his scabbard, while at the same time his left hand extended towards the large, golden sword. The moment he grasped the handle made of a transparent material, countless buff icons lit up under his HP bar, and his HP suddenly began to go up.

"Dyurudoraaaaah!!"

The Warder Chief raised a cry as its two-handed axe slashed at him with great strength.

At the same moment, Eiji also swung the large, golden sword in his hands straight down.

The moment both weapons made contact, the Warder Chief's axe crumbled into countless fragments with barely any resistance. The large sword continued along its path, bisecting the large body of the boss monster and instantly wiping out its two-part HP bar.

Just as the Warder Chief broke into blue particles and disappeared, the three tormentors stopped moving for a moment. Not letting this opening slip, he slashed with the large sword horizontally. Having had their bodies bisected, the three little ones disappeared before they could even let a scream out.

With the golden sword having eliminated the boss and henchmen in merely three seconds, Eiji stared at it with dumbfounded eyes. He heard the sound of the lever next to the throne moving, causing the iron bars at the entrance to rise.

Rushing into the room was Kirito, with two long swords equipped on the back of his black long coat, as well as a young girl wearing a white one-piece dress.

"…………Kirito……you, how did you know that this place…… ——What's this sword……who's this child…………?"

Without answering any of Eiji's three questions, Kirito asked back.

"More importantly what about Yuna!? Is she here!?"

At that point, even Eiji finally remembered what he had to do. Having pushed the large sword onto Kirito, he ran to the south-eastern corner of the chamber——the place where Yuna had died.

"Yuna…………Yuna!"

Shouting, he stepped into the place where faint light had gathered; at that moment.

The light gently focused, clumped together, and formed a single figure.

White long hair. A black one-piece dress and thigh-high socks. Her eyelids closed.

It wasn't Yuuna——White Yuna. It was YUNA——Black Yuna, who shouldn't have existed in this world.

"Yuna……!?"

Shouting, Eiji reached out for her with his hands. Having materialised and being unable to stand straight, Black Yuna collapsed into Eiji's arms.

He kneeled to support her, but he couldn't feel any weight at all. On the contrary, her avatar was riddled with blockiness and even now it looked like it could crumble at any moment.

"Yuna……what's going on, Yuna!!"

When he shouted out to her desperately, her eyelashes trembled slightly as her red eyes slightly peeked out.

"E……Ei…………ji."

The voice, created from a sampling of Yuuna's voice yet having a slightly different ring than Yuuna's, called Eiji's name.

"You came……for……me…………"

Having voiced just that, she closed her eyelids again.

Eiji looked up at Kirito standing beside him, and shouted feverishly.

"Kirito, what's going on……! Yuna…… Yuna, what is happening……!"

The one to answer was not Kirito, but the black-haired girl standing next to him.

"Yuna-san's AI module has begun breaking down."

"Wh…… what do you mean!? Yuna's out there in the real world as an idol, even now……"

"Currently, operating as an AR idol is a copy of the original Black Yuna-san that they have there. At minimum, it seems there are at least five of them operating simultaneously."

The girl's words were calm, yet her expression was tinged with pain. Kirito shouted in astonishment.

"C…...copy, you said!? B-but, if you did that……"

"……Yes. All of us AI based on SAO are created on the foundation of our uniqueness. We are unable to bear the recognition that there are duplicates of us, and errors will thus accumulate in us."

"So…… the copy Yunas who are working as idols will also one day……?"

"Yes. I fear that there are probably some copies of Yuna who have already collapsed. The original Black Yuna is also continuing to accumulate errors, though…… another one…………"

The girl closed her eyelids for a few seconds and, after frowning as if she were looking for something, she continued where she left off.

"……It seems another, higher-ranked AI module is performing some error corrections and has somehow been able to halt her decay."

"A higher-ranked…… module."

The one to mutter that was Eiji.

The language engine module on the SAO server had three levels. Black Yuna should be using level 2, the engine for care support AI. Above that was only one module, level 1. The language engine for last bosses……

"The higher-ranked module is using its own data to halt the decay; however, it seems to be lacking a piece of information…… a memory core. If it only had that, it seems that it could completely repair her……"

"A memory core…… what's it like, specifically……"

At Kirito's muttering, the girl raised her small hands in a gesture as if she were holding something.

"Data that would symbolise the most precious memory of Black Yuna. Even I am unaware what specific shape it holds. Even the higher-ranked AI who is trying to repair Black Yuna is in the process of losing her personality and is currently unable to respond to requests."

——The most precious memory… of Black Yuna.

Eiji had no idea what that could be. Black Yuna, or YUNA, was created with only the desire to sing. Speaking of precious memories, he figured it could be her final stadium live concert, but there was no way he'd know what shape that memory had taken.

In his arms, Yuna's right hand, riddled with noise, abruptly began to move. It moved as if she were holding something between her fingers and was holding it out towards the light.

————Have you grown to like them that much, Yuna?

Inside his ears, his own voice resounded faintly. Followed by the answer.

————Yeah, they are pretty after all.

"…………!!"

Gasping, the entranced Eiji opened his storage. As if guided by something, he switched tabs, and objectised a single item.

A spherical, glass bottle, stuffed with multi-coloured pieces of candy. The sole momento that Yuna——Yuuna had thrown over to Eiji just before she died.

"Yuna…………"

Calling out her name, Eiji had Black Yuna grasp the bottle.

In an instant, all the pieces of candy inside the bottle shone in the colour of a rainbow.

The bottle itself disappeared as if melted by the light. Yet the light didn't disappear and instead lodged itself in the broken parts of Black Yuna's avatar, beginning to blink gently.

And so, Eiji saw.

A white-hooded girl, kneeling beside Black Yuna and stroking her cheeks with a gentle smile.

"…………Yuna."

As he whispered out to her, the girl raised her head, looking straight at Eiji. That smiling face, for a moment, overlapped with the face of another girl, wearing a feathered hat.

——Eh-kun, you've kept it with you all this time for me……

The voice resounded in his head, as the girl turned into countless beads of light and disappeared.

"Eiji…………"

Having his named called again, he turned his face down.

With all the noise having disappeared from her body, Black Yuna's ruby-coloured eyes were gazing intently at Eiji.

Atop her chest, clear drops dripped down one after another. The fact that these were his own tears… eluded Eiji's senses for few moments.

"…………The higher-ranked AI… has completely vanished."

Muttered the black-haired girl, yet Eiji slightly shook his head as tears continued to drip down.

It wasn't like White Yuna…… Yuuna had disappeared. Inside Black Yuna, as memories…… as recollections, she continued to exist. She was still alive.

Firmly embracing Black Yuna, Eiji let out an unbearable sob. Indefinitely, indefinitely he continued weeping in a voice like that of a child.

(The End)



N/A

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for translating the side story! Really appreciate all your hard work :D

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It would be great to see this properly animated one day, one can only hope.
    Anyway thanks again for your work, it was a great story, as someone who very rarely in his life reads for fun, you made me go and buy the progressive LN's and am looking forward to read them

    ReplyDelete