Rainbow Bridge 4

Markup explanation:
  • Itallics mark text that was written in katakana English (I only highlighted the cases where the author uses both English and actual Japanese equivalents for the same thing, or when I needed to emphasise that an English word is used there).
  • Full-width text indicates non-Japanese text that was written in the Latin/English alphabet, rather than katakana. Basically, what you see is exactly how it's written in the raw.
  • Courier font indicates that the original word was written in kana for emphasis (when such a word usually isn't written in kana)
  • Single quotation marks (') are quotes that weren't in the original text but were added for the convenience of English speakers to mark implied quotations. I used it mostly to separate Kirito's internal monologue from his narration, as well as mark sound effects and so on. Actual dialogue lines or quotations (with 「」 punctuation marks) within a narration line are indicated with the usual double (") quotation marks.
  • Comic sans indicates emphasis added by myself when I needed to stress something to get the meaning across properly.
  • In some instances, the original text used furigana. In cases where the furigana wasn't exact match for the underlying text (usually when the author uses furigana to translate or describe foreign words in Japanese), I maintained the furigana format. Furigana text should be read as follows: #Japanese translation/description of what the term/name means#(What was actually said) (e.g. #shadow fairy race#(Spriggans) - "Spriggans" is what was actually said in text, while "shadow fairy race" is just a brief description of what Spriggans are to help differentiate between the different fairies.
  • In some instances, the author decided to use both English and Japanese equivalents for the exact same word one after the other; in such cases, I marked the English variant in itallics, while the Japanese variant will be emphasised with furigana like this: #Translation into English#(Japanese word) (e.g. #long hair#(chouhatsu) - "long hair" here is a translation of the Japanese word, while "chouhatsu" is a romanisation of the Japanese word in the original text to emphasise that this specific word is in Japanese).

Credits

Raw: Takazuki
Translation: Gsimenas
Editing: Gsimenas, M. Oosting




Rainbow Bridge 4


Three months ago──in April(1) 2025.

A large-scale update was performed on the VRMMO-RPG 《ALfheim Online》 by Ymir, the new company managing the game.

The implementation of the floating castle Aincrad. The integration of former SAO accounts. And finally, the elimination of the flight time limit.

Having been incapable of reaching even the lowest branch of the World Tree by themselves till now, fairies could now fly even to Aincrad in the distant reaches of the sky. However, the first goal sought by these fairies with their newly-acquired ability of infinite flight wasn't the new floating castle, but rather the highest place in Alfheim──the topmost part of the World Tree.

In the end, however, they couldn't even get to see it, let alone reach it.

The reason for that was the fact that the apex of the World Tree was concealed by a cumulonimbus cloud, within which violent storms and lightning consistently disposed of any and all intruders. Climbing the tree yielded the same result; several seconds after anyone entered the clouds, one of two possible outcomes occurred: either the player was electrocuted to death, or hit by a squall and thrown back out into the empty sky.

Daredevil adventurers with the gall to challenge the #giant cumulonimbus cloud#(supercell) that players have dubbed as the《Lightning Dragon's Nest》, probably based on a certain masterpiece anime film(2), have long since dwindled away……

"……Say, Kirito-kun."

Said Asuna standing next to me as she looked straight up at the sky.

"Remind me again, how many times have you died by plunging into that cloud?"

"Ehm…… my death count hasn't reached the tens yet… probably……"

"Then remind me again, who was it that had to recover your Remain Light with magic every single time that happened?"

"That would be Asuna-san……"

"Then, who was it that had to accompany you on farming runs to recoup your losses from the death penalty?"

"That would be Asuna-san……"

"Oh good, so you do remember."

As the #water fairy race#(Undine) #recovery magician#(healer) gave a sweet smile, I responded with an awkward smile of my own.

"'C-course I do. The number of times I've thanked you, Asuna, exceeds the number of all the suction cups on Kraken's eight tentacles."

"……That's not a very pleasant metaphor, you know……"

Muttering this with a complicated expression, Asuna once again looked up at the sky.

26th of July, Saturday, two o'clock in the afternoon.

On a viewing platform at the southern edge of Yggdrasil City, a newly-established city in the sky at the center of the World Tree, there was no sign of any other player aside from us. Previously, many people wishing to challenge the cloud would start their journey from here, but nowadays, the supercell surrounding the top of the World Tree was considered an impassable zone, akin to the Guardian Knight dome that once existed at the base of this same tree.

The difficulty level of the dome in question was set unreasonably high by the former manager of ALO, Sugou Nobuyuki, in order to conceal a personal appropriation of server resources, as well as illegal experiments that were being conducted on the server. Though surely, that didn't mean Ymir, the new company managing the game, was imprisoning someone at the apex of the World Tree in the same manner.

The reason why we can't break through the cumulonimbus cloud has to be because we haven't fulfilled some kind of requirement for it yet…… putting it the other way around, wouldn't a path through the gale and raging storm of violent lightning open up if we were to just set off the right flag(3)?……

"Soooorry for the wait!"

Suddenly, a cheerful voice came from below; just a moment later, a green figure crossed our view, grazing the handrail of the viewing platform.

The figure somersaulting through the air before landing in front of me and Asuna belonged to a speed-a-holic Sylph swordswoman. It seemed she had blazed through the sky at full throttle to get to Yggdrasil City here from where she had logged out yesterday in Swilvane.

Glancing at her time display, Leafa said, "So, I couldn't make it in forty minutes, huh", with regret in her voice. Since the distance she covered had to be seventy kilometers or so, she would have had to keep up a speed of a hundred kilometres per hour to make it within that time.

"Wow, that's just like you, Leafa-chan. And yet it took me and Kirito-kun nearly an hour."

Said Asuna with an expression of surprise, prompting my simple-mannered sister to puff her chest out with an 'ahem'.

"There is a knack to it. As the direction of the wind changes with altitude and time, you have to subtly adjust your course in order to ride on favourable winds as much as possible."

"So you've memorised all the wind directions. How amazing…… meanwhile, Kirito-kun plunged into a group of Silas Medusas as he was kinda dozing off while flying"

Just then, giving me an intent stare all of a sudden, Leafa said.

"It seems this guy did something in Swilvane when he logged back into the game by himself in the middle of the night yesterday. It also looks like his sudden interest in taking on the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》 once again out of the blue came from him procuring some new intel, but he will not tell me any details about that."

As even Asuna's expression became sceptical at that moment, I had no choice but to evade the question with a forced cough.

The reason why my midnight Dive was known to Suguha was because of my constant, long yawns during our general cleaning of the kendo hall this morning. Of course, I haven't said a thing about my adventure last night ── trespassing into the lord's mansion, though I've got a feeling that she'll find out about that sooner or later.

However, braving that great danger did pay off. If I hadn't met with Sakuya and had her show me the highly-classified world map, there's no way I would've noticed the possibility of the 《New Mimuro》being located at the apex of the World Tree.

And so, now that I'd noticed the connection, I couldn't possibly just stand here doing nothing. Once the general cleaning was done, I called out to the usual party members── though, it's still the middle of the day, thus Agil and Klein were, unfortunately, unable to participate── and we met up on this viewing platform.

'Can't Liz and Silica hurry up and get over here', with this thought in mind, I was pointlessly gazing at the flowing clouds when the goddess of salvation suddenly sprung out from my breast pocket.

After stretching her small arms and giving a lovely yawn, she flew up with a bell-like sound. Upon landing on Asuna's left shoulder, she greeted us with a smile.

"Good morning, Papa, Mama, and Leafa-san! I overslept a bit."

Although she was my daughter, I do have to say that her bashful 'tee-hee' was truly adorable. Even the two women who had been in probing mode softened their expressions.

This lead to a reminiscent talk about yesterday's whale adventure until Lisbeth and Silica eventually arrived from the south-west as well. Now that all of our members were gathered, we moved on to the strategy meeting.

"……Though, there ain't much to the plan…… I'm just going to charge into the 《Lightning Dragon's Lair》, so recover my Remain Light with magic if I die, please; that's about all there is to it……"

The Remain Light left behind after a player's death can usually only be moved by their party members if they're grabbed directly by hand, but it was possible to retrieve it from long range with the use of some high-ranking magic or rare items. If they were to try to recover my Remain Light from the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》 directly, there was a rather high chance that our number of casualties would increase, thus it was essential to have it pulled out from outside the cloud with magic.

Of course, after a certain amount of time had passed, a player would automatically be revived at their save point, but the death penalty would be drastically more severe compared to being revived by someone on the spot. Although I do have the resolve to die once or twice, I had no reason not to minimise losses.

──Having heard this attack plan of mine, the women exchanged glances among themselves, before Lisbeth opened her mouth first.

"Ehm, I'd like to see if got the basic things straight…… so the reason why you want to go to the apex of the World Tree is because you think that that huge pearl, I mean, 《The Child's Egg》 could be there, right?"

"Yeah."

Once I nodded, it was Silica's turn to ask a question, her triangular ears slightly moving as she did.

"Though, Kirito-san, if you do find the egg, what are you planning to do with it? You're not actually thinking about stealing it again, right?"

"Y-yeah."

Nodding again, I supplemented my response with an explanation.

"I was wondering whether the egg…… or more accurately, the 《Deep Sea Plunderers》quest we did yesterday, has a continuation that we can take on. I just can't bring myself to believe that it was a mere self-contained quest……"

Just then, Asuna's water-coloured hair swayed as she gave a pensive look.

"That could be the case…… though, don't questlines usually have some geographical link between each part? The direct distance between the underwater temple from yesterday and the apex of the World Tree is over a hundred kilometres. Even if the words 『All the sea and air』 were some kind of hint, aren't you making too big of a leap in logic?"

It just goes to show why she used to be called the 《Demon of Clearing》 in the old Aincrad; that was indeed quite the logical argument.

Among all the unique points in Alfheim, the deepest location is the underwater temple from yesterday, while the highest location is the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》──is a counterargument that I would like to share, but due to it being based on confidential data from the Sylph administration, I'm not supposed to actually know that.

Just when I began to hesitate over whether I should confess about sneaking into the Lord's mansion last night──

"…………Say……"

The one who timidly spoke up was Leafa, sitting on the railing of the viewing platform.

Observing all four of our reactions, she began her speech with another interjection.

"Say, yesterday I had a dream. A dream about a rainbow bridge descending from waaay up in the sky. When I hurriedly climbed up the bridge, I was able to see an awfully large and very beautiful gate up ahead……but, before I could reach it, I woke up."

With a bit of an embarrassed smile, she turned her eyes to the blue sky.

"I am quite certain that the reason why I had such a dream was because we had talked about the Aesir at the beach in Sylph territory yesterday…… In the myth, the Aesir lived in a realm called 《Asgard》……"

"Is that a 《realm》 in the same sense as Alfheim and Jotunheim?"

When I cut in to ask this, Leafa nodded while looking at me.

"Yeah. In Norse mythology, the world is divided into nine realms; there were more realms that we have mentions, like 《Vanaheim》, the realm where the Vanir lived, and 《Niflheim》, the realm of ice…… And also, there was a rainbow bridge that spanned from Asgard waaay up in the sky to the ground. That bridge was named 《Bifrost》."

The Sylph magical swordswoman once again looked up to the sky, her golden ponytail swaying.

"……Ever since the first time I saw the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》, I have always imagined. That perhaps inside that cloud lies a rainbow bridge, connecting to Asgard……"

"Wow……so romantic!"

Shouted Silica with sparkling eyes while Pina sat on her head.

"If that's the case, I definitely want to see……no, cross it myself as well!"

Liz, Asuna, and even Yui nodded with a smile.

On the other hand, I delved into deep thought.

Judging from Kraken and Leviathan's conversation, there's a high chance that Aesir NPCs can be found somewhere in the world of ALO. In that case, their realm of Asgard existing……was a possibility, but knowing how MMO games work, it's very hard to imagine a new, large-scale map being implemented without any sort of announcement.

In fact, when the underground world of Jotunheim was opened up, they had apparently provided extensive coverage of it on the official site, as well as various news sites, and even had a commemorative event for it on top of that. For starters, considering that they had to have devoted not so small a budget and not so little time to create a new map, what was the point of creating an unbreachable storm to hide the gate leading to it, thus preventing anyone from using it?

──No.

There was no point in making pessimistic conjectures here and now. Whether there's a rainbow bridge, The Child's Egg, or both on the other side of the cumulonimbus cloud……all would be made clear by passing through the cloud.

"Well then, I'm going to go see it with my own eyes and…"

"Which means, I'm going there too!"

Leafa instantly raised her left hand, interrupting my words. Then, even Yui, not to mention Asuna and the others, thrust their hands upwards just like her.

"If that's how it's gonna be, how's about we all go together!"

"Let's go!"

As the girls got fired up, I called out hastily.

"H-hold it, hold it. If we get wiped out, who's gonna retrieve the Remain Lights?"

"Even I want to be the forward of the team, instead of being the backup, every once in awhile."

When Asuna said this in a slightly pouting tone, being a guy who benefited from her combat support so many times, I had no words with which to respond to her.

Immediately returning to her smile, Asuna cheerfully said.

"If we end up being wiped out, we can all just go farming together after we get back to town. With party members such as these, I believe we'll recoup from the death penalty in no time."

──Indeed, calling them out here, only to plunge into danger by myself while asking them to wait on the sidelines was awfully self-righteous of me. One thing more important than solving the mystery of this quest── was for us to enjoy the adventure together.

"……You're right. Well then, shall we all go together!"

As I nodded, the four of us, as well as Yui and Pina, shouted out energetically at the same time.

"Yeeeaaah——"



After checking on our equipment, we took off from the viewing platform.

Breaking through the gaps between the large leaves and branches, intertwining as if they were a maze, we headed towards the sky. We entered a V-shaped formation, with me in the lead, and ascended in a straight line.

The weather in the Alne plateau was good today; there was not a single scud(4) cloud in the sky around us. However, following several minutes of flight along the slope of the World Tree, we began to see a whitish haze lingering in our way. Straining my ears, I heard the low rumbling of distant thunder.

"We're going to reach it in just a few!"

Shouting to my comrades, I reduced my speed. Once we came out of the layer of thin mist that served as a warning zone, a giant, pure white mass──the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》 filled up my view. The sharply extending tip of the World Tree was concealed by the likely-over-five-hundred-meter-wide-and-tall cumulonimbus cloud, preventing us from getting any glimpse of it.

Spreading out my wings to apply a brake to my speed, I hovered mid-air.

A supercell in the real world is apparently ten kilometres-wide and 2-3 times that in height; looking up at the virtual cumulonimbus cloud at such close range and feeling that this one was no less imposing, I trembled with excitement despite having gone into it umpteen times before, when───

Having stopped right next to me, Silica said in a merry tone.

"Wow, amaaazing! It kind of looks like whipped cream and seems tasty!"

That impression earned a followup from Lisbeth.

"Yooou're right, I want to put it on some pancakes with syrup splashed on top and just eat it all."

Next up, having stopped to my right, Asuna laughed as she said,

"Ahaha, well then, shall we go eat some when this is over? Apparently, a store that makes really tasty pancakes opened up in Ygg City.

"Is that true!? I just love pancakes!! I'm going to eat ten of them!"

Leafa ended the conversation with these words.

Should I expect great things from their lack of fighting spirit, or feel uneasy about it? Hold on, what happened to going farming to recoup from the death penalty?

Wait wait, that's only relevant if we get wiped out. We are definitely going to break through the cloud, find the continuation of the quest, as well as the rainbow bridge, and have a toast with pancakes.

Getting fired up again,

"Well then, I'll eat a hundred!"

I made such a proclamation, before conveying a sort-of-a-plan to my reliable comrades again.

"Speaking from my experience of dying ten times here, it's impossible to dodge the lightning. We'd best just think of a faster way to cross it than bother changing our course randomly every time, which only results in losing time. Seeing as we won't have a clear view inside the cloud, let's form a 《star》 to fly straight through it."

"Roger!"

Once Asuna and the others nodded, Yui plunged into my breast pocket, while Pina adhered to Silica's back like a booster.

The five of us formed a small circle; I joined hands with Asuna and Silica in front of me, rather than with Leafa and Lisbeth on either side of me; the others then followed suit, our ten hands crossing to form a star. It was a group flight technique called the 《#star-shaped binding#(Star Bind)》; its use was limited to five people, but it allowed for binding to one another far more firmly than in a horizontal or circular bind, as well improving our speed and stability while going straight.

The problem with it was that at least two people would end up flying upside down when flying sideways like this; as this required practice, Leafa and I were the ones to take up this position. Maintaining the formation, we began advancing slowly; upon reaching the altitude of the cumulonimbus cloud, Asuna chanted a spell that increased our resistance to lightning just in case──or perhaps for mere peace of mind.

"Alright……I'm starting the countdown. Five, four, three, two, one……"

At the last word, all of us exclaimed,

"""""Go!!"""""

As our five pairs of wings surged with the radiance of five different colours, we accelerated as if having been fired out of a cannon.

After a three hundred meter approach, we reached our maximum speed and plunged into the supercell. Initially dyed in pure white, our view suddenly became dark. The atmosphere became denser and damper, reducing our flight speed.

"……Here it comes!"

At practically the same moment as I shouted this and clenched my teeth.

'Gagaaaaan!', with such a tremendously loud roar, a very large bolt of purple lightning pierced the air a mere three metres away. I could hear faint voices escaping the mouths of Liz and Silica, who had never entered the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》 before, but they did not slow down. Tightly grasping each other's hands, we pushed our way through the area as dark as the darkest night in a straight line.

The next attack to come at us was a squall that struck us from the side. I would have probably been violently shaken up by the wind and lost track of my direction if I were alone, but we were able to hold out due to the combined weight and thrust of five people.

Another dazzling flash of lightning at point-blank range. And again. And yet again.

The trajectory of the lightning appeared to be random, but that was probably not the case. After all, every single one of the likely thousands of people who attempted to pass through the cloud were struck down without exception. Anyone who entered this cumulonimbus cloud would inevitably be struck by lightning directly and die within one to ten seconds. Both evasion and defense were impossible.

But──if my guess were correct.

If the 《New Mimuro》 that Leviathan had mentioned exists on the other side of this cloud.

We can break through this storm. Although I have no grounds for that assumption, I do believe it to be the case. I'm certain that we'll be able to experience 《something》 that transcends even the system-regulated death zone……《something》 that brings forth a genuine story in an artificial virtual world……

'Gagagaaaaan!!'

The purple lightning assailed us for the umpteenth time from the front, twisting like a dragon as it grazed us, before fading to the rear. As our view continued to be dyed white while all sounds faded away, we continued flying at such high speed that we even left our fear behind.

Have the ten seconds yet to pass? Or have they already passed? How far does this lightning cloud continue……?

At that moment, soaring to my right, Leafa shouted loud enough to surpass the thunder.

"One heck of a gust is coming from right below us! Let's ride it instead of avoiding it!"

Below──that is to say, behind me from my perspective as I was flying upside down. Just as I realised this, a fierce squall struck. Gripping each other's hands forming a Star Bind tightly, we endured the violent jolt.

"…………Here!"

The moment Leafa said this, I shook my wings with all I had.

Due to the sudden turn, our horizontal flight turned to ascension. Although the vibration abated, in exchange our flight speed accelerated to a never before experienced level. From the direction of our goal, numerous lightning dragons descended upon us. We'd surely be struck by them if we slowed down in panic now.

"G……ooooooooo!"

I cried out, straining my voice.

In a Star Bind, our arms intersected firmly with the arms of those two people whose hands we were grasping directly of course, but this also applied to the other two whom we weren't grasping directly. I felt the courage of my comrades through our touching skin.

Having turned into a comet, leaving behind a trail of five colours, we pushed our way through. Four bolts of lightning pierced the sky in all directions, once again dyeing our view in bluish-white. This time, the visual effect didn't seem to be disappearing. On the contrary, our surroundings rapidly became whiter and brighter───.

The next moment, even the sounds disappeared.

The roars of the storm, the flashes of the lightning dragons… all of it faded away. In this unbelievable silence, I fully opened my nearly-closed eyes.

The first thing I saw was a white, towering wall. Reflected on this amorphous screen were our still-rising figures.

I turned my eyes towards Asuna and Silica, whom I had linked hands with, in front of me and saw that both of them had wide-open eyes. I was curious about what they were looking at, but I couldn't turn my eyes behind me while in the Star Bind.

"……I think it's okay to dissolve our formation now."

Whispered Asuna, thus I gently released their hands while continuing to slow down. The moment the star broke up, I turned around just as Leafa and Liz did the same.

There, I saw a huge, pure white, spherical space.

Its diameter was three hundred meters or so. Its center was pierced vertically by a green pillar. The bottom of the pillar disappeared into the white wall, while I could see its sharp tip close to the ceiling.

There was no doubt about it. That pillar was──

"The apex…… of the World Tree……"

Leafa muttered in a hoarse voice.

Meaning, we broke through. The 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》 that had driven away any and all players. We were currently inside the gigantic cumulonimbus cloud that enveloped the tip of the World Tree.

"No way……"

These words slipped out from Asuna, who was covering her mouth, her eyes still wide-open. We exchanged glances with each other; seeing smiles slowly forming on our faces, we took in a deep breath in order to shout "We did it!" simultaneously.

However.

Just a moment before we could do so, a small fairy flew out of my breast pocket, before shouting in a tense voice.

"Papa, something is coming!"

"…………!"

All of us quickly went on guard. I drew out my sword from behind, my eyes flicking in all directions.

The cloud dome was almost entirely engulfed in silence. Not even a sign of the thunder that should have been roaring inside the cloud behind me reached my ears. The only thing that I heard was the quiet sound of the leaves of the World Tree, swaying in the gentle breeze inside the dome……

──No.

'Katsun', 'katsun', a sound suddenly drew near us out of nowhere. It wasn't a metallic sound, but rather a sound that felt at once both hard and soft, like someone hitting a thick plate of glass with a wooden pole.

"Ah……over there!"

Lisbeth pointed her finger obliquely skyward.

Although the sun couldn't be seen, the top of the dome was filled with a white radiance, forcing me to squint my eyes. Inside the light, a small silhouette was approaching us. It wasn't a monster. Wearing a loose #long clothing#(toga) was a fairy just like us…… no wait, a human……?

Descending through the air despite not having any wings on his back, with heavy footsteps, as if he were walking down an invisible staircase in the air, was a tall and slender young man. His bluish-silver hair stood up behind him and there was a thin circlet on his forehead.
Although he didn't seem to have a sword or staff on him, we were assailed by so much pressure that we forgot to breathe and slowly backed away.

Facing us, the young man descended to the exact same altitude we were at without the slightest change to his pace, stopping mid-air just a mere five metres away from us. On his bright, beautiful face, his golden-brown eyes cast a sharp light.

The same moment as the young man spoke up, a cursor appeared over his head.

"Sheathe thy swords, fairies."

It was a beautiful voice, reminiscent of honed steel. The name displayed was ──【Hraesvelg the Sky Lord(5)

"#The lord of the sky#(Sora no Ou)……Hraesvelg……"

Murmured Leafa at my right.

I felt like I had heard that name somewhere before, but before I could dig through my memories, I jabbed my dumbfounded sister in her left side with my elbow.

"Ugu……t-the heck are you doin'!"

"Your sword, put away your sword!"

Ordering her in a whisper, I myself returned the sword in my right hand into the scabbard on my back with god-like speed. Leafa, Asuna, and the others, also got out of their battle-ready state.

Setting aside who he actually was, this Hraesvelg-san was undoubtedly in the same league as Leviathan.

Meaning that he should have such high stats under his sleeve that he could blow us away with a single swing of his finger if we engaged him in battle.

Having put away my sword, I once again gazed above the young man's head. However, only the cursor with his name noted down could be seen; the golden【!】mark──the symbol designating a quest initiation NPC was nowhere to be found.

So this wasn't the place for taking up the second chapter of the campaign questline? However, why did Hraesvelg show up in that case?

As I continued to be tormented by this question, the young man calling himself the lord of the sky, being probably over a hundred and ninety centimetres tall, looked down at me and gave a slight nod with a ‘hmm'.

"I see. I was wondering how some small fairies could have passed through my barrier of storms, but thou appear to have the divine protection of the lord of the sea."

"Eh……by lord of the sea, you don't happen to mean Leviathan……would you?"

Perhaps due to me tacking on a polite copula(6) at the very end of my sentence as an almost-late afterthought, the lord of the sky nodded at my impolite question without a change to his expression.

However, while that huge gramps did send us to the continent by whale, I don't recall him having cast some sort of spell. When did we get some sort of divine protection…… or perhaps, that itself is proof of the quest continuing?

"However, oh fairies."

Suddenly, Hraesvelg's voice became slightly stricter.

"No matter how you received the favour of the lord of the sea, I shall not allow you to approach the 《Sky Mimuro》. Or perhaps you are thieves allied with the lord of the abyss?"

"That is not the case!" "That's preposterous!" "No way!" "Doncha joke around like that!" "That is not the case, you know!" "Kyuruu!".

The six kinds of denials that were uttered simultaneously seemed to have, luckily, been recognised by the lord of the sky, as he once again nodded with a 'hmm'.

"That so. In that case, you best take your leave right away."

"………………"

This time, everyone sunk into silence simultaneously.

Just now, Hraesvelg did indeed mention the name 《Sky Mimuro》. That, undoubtedly, was the 《New Mimuro》 that Leviathan had mentioned.

Meaning, 《The Child's Egg》 that Kraken was after was currently being held somewhere in this dome. When I again gazed at the trunk of the World Tree with that in mind, I saw some structure that looked like a gate in its lower part. Most likely, the inside of the large trunk was a dungeon on the same level as the Undersea Temple.

'An unexplored dungeon! I wanna go inside! To be specific, I wanna go inside to go on a chest opening spree on all the untouched treasure chests!'

This concern of mine wasn't shared by my sister, apparently.

Suddenly, having quietly come to the front, Leafa shouted to the lord of the sky.

"Umm! Umm… before we go back, please tell us just this one thing!"

"What would that be, oh fairy maiden?"

"Is the bridge……is Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connects to Asgard, not located here!?"

That very moment, the golden-brown eyes of the lord of the sky glistened with a sharp light, reminiscent of some bird of prey.

"Why do you want to know that? Are you trying to imply that you want to cross the bridge and have an audience with those Aesir scum?"

Despite having my breath taken away, I again realised something.

The conversational capabilities of the sky lord Hraesvelg were far beyond those of a simple chat bot.

Just as I thought, he… Kraken and Leviathan, too, were probably AI with pseudo-consciousnesses. Beings that were similar to Kizmel, the dark elf I had once encountered in the floating castle, or Yui, who had concealed herself up to her eyes inside my breast pocket.

So, were they developed and introduced to ALO by Ymir, the company managing the game? Or……was this the work of the true god that controlled this world……?

Having fallen into momentary silence for reasons different from my own, Leafa slowly shook her head.

"No, it is not because I wish to meet the Gods. I just…… wish to know. Whether this is the end of the World Tree……or, does it still continue beyond this point."

Such an abstract answer, I wonder how it was interpreted──.

The lord of the sky unexpectedly gave a faint smile, as he said.

"That is quite the grand desire for a fairy as small as thyself, maiden. Even I, the lord of the sky, have never seen the end of the nine realms, after all."

"……I see……"

"Though, I shall tell you just this one thing. The rainbow bridge Bifrost does indeed begin from Asgard, but its end is not in thy realm.

"Wha……?!"

At this, not only Leafa, but the remaining four of us as well opened our eyes wide. Although he's referring to a different realm, the only other realm currently implemented is Jotunheim, the underground world. He can't possibly be implying that it just skips over Alfheim and connects the sky to the depths of the ground directly.

However, the lord of the sky apparently wasn't going to give us any more hints; he took a step backwards, still having a wide, enigmatic smile on him.

"Well then, you'd best return to thy town."

"Err……d-do we really have to go through that storm again……?"

Spoke Silica feebly. Just then, the lord of the sky once again gave a stern expression,

"Did you really try to pass my barrier with such a lack of resolve?"

'Indeed we did', with this thought in mind, all of us ducked our heads, though luckily, his lightning of anger did not befall on us.

"……Out of consideration for your friendship with the lord of the sea, I shall escort you outside just this once. Hear me, oh fairies. Never again come hither without bearing a righteous cause."

"Yes, sir!"

When we all gave such an obedient answer in one voice, the lord of the sky gave a faint, wry smile──or so was the impression I got.

However, the next moment, he regained that same rigid expression, as his right hand came out of the sleeves of his toga and rose high upwards.

Oh, could he by chance be summoning us a taxi home, just like Leviathan had? If so, will we get a huge bird, or dragon, or maybe even a flying saucer this time──

My hope-filled guesses were quickly betrayed.

"Farewell, oh small ones."

When his voice, brimming with dignity, announced this, the lord of the sky Hraesvelg gently waved his right arm.

The transparent wings of a bird of prey could be seen in that direction──or so I thought, but the very next moment, a violent tornado surged up and engulfed us.

"Uwa, wa, waa~~~~!"

Such screams were, luckily, not limited to me. As the four women also let out high-pitched screams of their own, we were blown up, turning round and round. Instinctively, I spread my wings and tried to slip out of the tornado, but I just couldn't squeeze any propulsion out of them.

The lord of the sky suddenly faded away; in his stead, the ceiling part of the dome drew near. 'Ain't we heading for that one big ass storm, spanning all over the place no matter where I look'… the moment such a thought crossed my mind, a small hole opened up in the ceiling. I couldn't tell from just a glance whether beyond it was a safe passage, or an instant death zone of purple lightning.

When it seemed like Silica was about to be sucked into the hole, Liz grabbed her left hand. Then, Leafa grabbed Liz's hand, while Asuna grabbed Leafa's,

"Kirito-kun……!"

And with my right hand, I grabbed the left hand Asuna had extended towards me.

Unfortunately, the chain ended with this. Since there was no sixth member I could grab.

However, not knowing when to give up, I swung my left hand and touched something.

I grasped it reflexively. As I continued to be swung around by the squall, I shifted my eyes towards the object and noticed that it was a thin, vertical branch. At its tip were two lovely leaves── it was the actual tip of the World Tree.

"N-nnnnn……!"

I gripped the branch tightly with all that I had, resisting the tornado created by the lord of the sky. Right above me, Asuna, shouted.

"Umm, Kirito-kun……!"

"It's alright……! I'm definitely… not letting go… of this hand……!"

"That's not what I mean…… you're just kinda asking for divine punishment or something right about now……

"Huh……?"

When I looked up, beyond Asuna, showing a complicated expression, Leafa also shouted.

"She's right, Onii-chan, you're probably not supposed to grasp that branch!"

"Let go of it, Kirito, you're going to get on the lord's nerves!", said Liz.

"If it snaps, it will be your fault, Kirito-saaan!", said Silica.

"Kyu~~~~!", said Pina.

"B-but……I'm just trying to save every……"

I tried to object with a pitiful voice, when it happened.

Far below the thin branch that I was gripping. From a corner of the World Tree's trunk, a figure flew out with great force.

It wasn't the sky lord Hraesvelg. It was far bigger than a human, had two wings, a long neck, and a long tail; it was a monster of the strongest class that I hadn't managed to catch sight of in all of Alfheim──a dragon.

When the dragon with countless scales glistening like sapphires turned around, it looked up straight towards us, unleashing multiple thunder-like roars. Violet sparks coiled around the sharp fangs that it had bared.

"Se-see, it's angry, Kirito-kun!"

At Asuna's voice that came from above, I could only nod.

"A-a-alright already, I'm letting go on three! One… two…thr……"

'Pokiiiiin!'

With such a truly crisp sound, the branch that I had been gripping completely snapped.

Unleashing a literal thunderous voice, the thunder dragon soared up, flames of anger burning in its blue eyes. However, luckily──if I should call it that, having lost our lifeline, we were sucked into the hole in the ceiling with extreme force.

Still linked together in a line, we plunged into the dark and small tube-shaped space at ultra high speed. I wasn't even sure whether we were going up or down anymore. Each time we turned right then turned left, I felt like my soul would pop out of my avatar at any moment.

"Kyaaaaa!"

While I couldn't tell whom that scream belong to,

"Yahoooooo!"

That shout of joy had undoubtedly come from Leafa.

After being at the mercy of the unexpected thrill ride for thirty seconds or even more, the path ahead finally became brighter. However, our speed still showed no signs of slowing down as we plunged into the white light.

'Supopopopoon', having been thrown out, we found ourselves in the middle of the infinitely continuing cobalt blue.

No matter where I looked: sky, sky, sky. After spreading my hands and wings, stabilising my posture, I looked right below us and saw the pure white cumulonimbus cloud floating a considerable distance away from us. Further below, I saw the foliage of the World Tree veiled in light blue.

"Kirito-kun!"

Since I heard a voice calling me from the front, I resolved myself for additional scolding to come, before I looked up, finding Asuna's sparkling smile there.

Responding with a smile of my own, I grasped the left hand extended to me with my right hand. With Leafa gripping Asuna's right arm, as well as Liz and Silica also being connected, the five of us floated in a line. Lastly, having slipped out of my breast pocket, Yui sat down on Asuna's left shoulder.

A super-high air current blew close to my ears. The downpour of sunlight made everyone's hair and equipment glitter.

For a short while, no one said a thing.

I'm pretty sure that everyone was reminiscing about the strange experience we had endured in the 《Lightning Dragon's Nest》.

In the end, we were unable to get a quest that would follow the 《Deep Sea Plunderers》 storyline. However, at parting, the lord of the sky did say something.

'Never again come hither without bearing a righteous cause.'

That implied that we could revisit whenever we are entrusted with a righteous cause to be there……I think. Perhaps, we didn't have enough quest flags covered. The continuation of the story was waiting for us somewhere in this world. In that case, we'll surely be able to find it one day.

That wasn't limited to just the quest. Even 《Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge》 that Suguha thought she had seen apparently existed somewhere, even if not here, according to the words of the lord of the sky.

I turned my eyes to my right and called out to the Sylph swordswoman, whose ponytail was gently fluttering.

"Leafa, it's a shame that we didn't find the rainbow bridge. Though, I'm sure that someday……"

"Ah……about that."

After blinking, as if she had been aroused from a deep thought, Leafa looked at me as she said.

"Hraesvelg-san did mentions this, didn't he. That the rainbow bridge began from Asgard, but its destination wasn't Alfheim. After hearing that, I remembered. If I recall correctly, in the myth, Bifrost had connected Asgard and Midgard."

"Mid……gard?"

At the mention of a name that we had never heard before, the four of us aside from Leafa inclined our heads in sync.

Leafa smiled and answered in a single phrase.

"The realm of humans."

"……Humans……"

Having parroted her words in a mutter, I was about to say, ‘Isn't that referring to the map we are currently in?', when I realised something. Alfheim was, of course, not the realm of humans. Because both the players and the NPCs, without a single exception, were pointy-eared fairies with translucent wing.

However, in that case, there was no place that could be called the realm of humans in ALO──equals, there is no way the rainbow bridge would appear anywhere either, right? I exchanged glances with Asuna, Liz and Silica, who had apparently arrived at the same conclusion. However, standing in the centre of the group, Leafa did not stop smiling.

"Ah……I see now!"

Shouted Yui, sitting on Asuna's shoulder.

"What did you realise, Yui-chan?"

"Where the realm of humans could be!"

Having risen from Asuna's shoulder to a place where she could face all of us, the pixie puffed her chest out with an 'ahem' and pointed to a corner of the sky.

All of us looked at that direction in sync.

Only the dark blue sky stretching out as far as the eye could see. The lack of a rainbow bridge was a given, but even flying-type monsters couldn't be found at this altitude.

Wait, that's not quite right. Far away in the sky, at around the same altitude, there was a small, floating figure. Its sides were a slightly curved #circular truncated cone-shaped#(frustum).

The reborn Aincrad.

"Ah……s-so that's it……!"

I shouted, opening my eyes wide.

A countless number of NPCs lived in Aincrad as well. They had neither wings nor pointy ears. The same applied to the players that had once fought in that world.

"……Aincrad is #the realm of humans#(Midgard) in this world……?"

Murmured Asuna.

"I presume so!"

As Yui declared this conclusively, Leafa also gave a deep nod.

"That's what I think too. Of course, there's no rainbow bridge in Aincrad yet, though……I'm sure that one day, perhaps when we clear up to Floor 100, Bifrost will appear from the sky……"

"She is right, I am sure that's how it is!"

Shouted Silica, while Asuna and Lisbeth nodded energetically as well.

In my mind, I couldn't help but think "Floor 100, are you serious!", and yet, I pointed the item I was holding in my left hand straight at Aincrad as I said.

"All right, let's be the first to reach Floor 100!"

'Yeah!'

Was a shout that I didn't actually get from the others.

'Huh', I turned to look to the right, where I saw that the four girls, as well as even Yui and Pina, were giving me complicated looks in return.

"……D-did I say something wrong……?"

"……You didn't, but……Kirito-kun, you took that with you……"

After Asuna pointed that out, I looked at the item I had been pointing towards Aincrad.

A long and narrow wooden stick, probably about one and a half metre-long. It had a fine, white bark, forming a dainty helix near its tip, further down which glistened two large leaves.

The highest branch…of the World Tree.

"Ah…………I-I ended up taking it with me……"

Panicking, I looked down at the cumulonimbus cloud below me, but there was no sign of a mad lord of the sky or dragon coming after me at the present moment.

"……Ehm… what should I do with this."

"Don't look at me. You're the one responsible, so do what ya gotta do! I'm not gonna get myself dragged into your divine punishment!"

Told off by Lisbeth, I began considering various ways how I could do what I had to do, though I couldn't help getting the feeling that regardless of what I picked, be it throwing the stick away, burning it, or eating it cooked, I'd still end up with divine punishment.

"Then……how about I force Agil to buy it and have him take over the divine punishment……"

"……So you're going to sell it to him instead of giving it away……"

"Well look at it, it's a branch from the apex of the World Tree! You can't just get your hands on one that ea-……"

Answering by momentum, I nonchalantly tapped on the area around the centre of the staff with my index finger.

Just then, a property window opened up with a light sound. Its name is just going to be 【Branch of Tree】 or something anyway──or so I thought, but…

"Huh……the name here is kinda long. Ehm, 《Crest of Yggdrasil》……? Its category is……a Two-Handed Staff……!?"

When I suddenly raised my head, I saw that Asuna and the others all had wide-open eyes. Raising the tree-branch-turned-#long cane#(staff), I elaborated in a high-pitched voice.

"It seems… this…is a weapon……what's more, the specs are simply awesomesauce……it's probably #weapon of legend#(legendary)-class……"

"I-I've never seen such a staff before either. So, that means that there's only one of it in the world……I wonder, if we were to put it up for auction, j-just how much could we get out of it……"

When I exchanged glances with Lisbeth, whose business senses were suddenly tingling──

'Ahem', I heard a cough. Next to Liz, Silica said in a chiding tone as her triangular ears moved slightly.

"Kirito-san? Seeing as there probably will not be any divine punishment if it is classified as a weapon, wouldn't you agree that it is obvious what you are supposed to do with it?"

"Kyuuuu!"

Pina also bobbed its head atop her head.

"O-o-of course I know that."

Nodding, I let go of Asuna's left hand, which I had been gripping the entire time.

I slid a bit forward, turning around when I was next to Yui. I gazed straight at Asuna, standing in front of me with a blank expression.

Perhaps having guessed my intentions, Leafa, Liz, and Silica also moved to my left and right.

Correcting my posture, I presented the #branch of the apex of the World Tree#(Crest of Yggdrasil) held reverently in my hands to Asuna, who had yet to catch on to what was going on.

"This is for you, Asuna. I'm sure that it'll help you out."

"Wha……f-for me, are you sure……?"

When I nodded with an 'Of course', she timidly held out her hands and accepted the staff.

Though still just a wooden branch outwardly, yet giving off an impression of elegance for that very reason, the staff quite suited the Undine healer.

After winking to Leafa and the others to my left and right, I synchronised our timing and said in a loud voice.

"Asuna, thanks for always supporting us!"

"""Thanks!!""

Hearing this chorus──

Asuna gave a radiant smile as she embraced the World Tree staff to her chest.




Notes

1. ^ Previous publications claim that the update took place in May.
2. ^ Seems to be a reference to Laputa: Castle in the Sky
3. ^ In games, a flag (フラグ) refers to a condition (e.g., an action, a choice etc.) that causes a variable to change, prompting some kind of event to take place, or changing how some character or thing acts (e.g., unlocking new dialogue options, causing a character to move, unlocking an area etc.).
4. ^ Scud clouds, a type of fractus cloud, are low, detached, irregular clouds found beneath nimbostratus or cumulonimbus clouds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scud_(cloud)
5. ^ The word "Lord" was misspelled as "Load" in the original text.
6. ^ After the word "Leviathan", Kirito made a short pause, after which he added ですか (desu ka), a polite way to phrase a question.

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