Phantom Bullet (ファントム・バレット, Fantomu Baretto?) Part 2 is the 6th book in the Sword Art Online Light Novel series, published on December 10, 2010.
Kirito entered the finals of the Bullet of Bullets (BoB) tournament to find the truth about the mysterious Death Gun. Assisted by the sniper Sinon, he fought for his life and others to stop a mysterious but lethal force.
Kirigaya Kazuto was eating his lunch when his sister Suguha began interrogating him about a new competitor on the Bullet of Bullets competition named Kirito. With clever maneuvering, she caught Kazuto in his lies and told him that she knew that he had converted his ALfheim Online (ALO) account into Gun Gale Online (GGO). She then confessed her worries about Kirito going away, but Kazuto reassured her he would return. Kazuto was unable to tell Suguha about his real reason for converting to GGO - he had some unfinished work to be done, especially since he had met a survivor from the Player Killing (PK) guild Laughing Coffin from Sword Art Online (SAO).
Later that day, Kazuto traveled to the hospital that he was assigned to during the Sword Art Online incident, all the while pondering on the dream he had the previous night about the Laughing Coffin members he had slain. At his designated room, he found nurse Aki Natsuki waiting for his arrival. Seeing him in distress, she offered him counsel, and thus Kazuto confessed to her that he had killed people in SAO and felt guilt because of that. In response, Nurse Aki assured him that, at times, a minority had to be sacrificed to save the majority, and that the fact he felt remorse over the matter meant he still remembered what he did. Thus, she believed that he did the right thing in protecting others and had a right to consider the people he saved.
While spending time with Shinkawa Kyouji at a park, Asada Shino angrily reminisced about the preliminaries the day before. Kirito, an absolute amateur to Gun Gale Online, had surprisingly reached the finals and, moreover, had actually beaten her. Shino was irritated by everything that Kirito had done: his mannerisms, the fact that he pretended to be a girl, and how he asked her to resign, claiming that he did not want to slash a girl. In response, Kyouji remarked how she was uncharacteristically focused on someone else and offered his help in retribution, but Shino, who nevertheless admired Kirito's style and skills, declined and vowed to defeat him in a fair fight. To her surprise, she found herself imitating a gun with her hand, even though such an action would normally have triggered a panic attack. After she quickly desisted the action, Kyouji grabbed her right hand and declared his admiration of her strength, both in the real world and in-game, expressed his desire to help her, and embraced her. Shino instinctively repelled him and apologised. She stated that she had to resolve her problems by herself and asked Kyouji to wait for her until then.
After Shino and Kyouji left the park, Shino returned home and logged into Gun Gale Online to prepare for the upcoming tournament. In-game, she was approached by Kyouji's avatar Spiegel. At the end of a short chat, he asked her to confirm her promise that she would wait for him and tried to express his feelings for her, but Sinon interrupted him by stating that she had to focus for the tournament. After leaving Spiegel and entering the Governor's Office, she pondered on how the bank robbery incident might have given her an apprehension of men. As she headed to the elevators, Sinon heard Kirito calling her from behind, to her irritation.
In Gun Gale Online, Kirito recalled the events of previous day, including his meeting with Sinon, the preliminaries for the Bullet of Bullets, «Death Gun»'s appearance and the revelation that he was a member of «Laughing Coffin». After he spotted Sinon in the Governor's Office, he further recalled how, during a tournament in the beta of Sword Art Online, a person that he respected deliberately lost a match with him to earn some money, thus showing the same disrespect to his opponent that Kirito showed to Sinon in their match during the preliminaries the day before. Kirito had even rebuked his acquaintance with the very same words that Sinon used to scold him during their fight.
After some hesitation, Kirito approached Sinon and persuaded her to explain the rules of the tournament, to which she reluctantly and irritably agreed. Sinon disclosed that the map for the main tournament was ten kilometers in diameter, with each participant starting at least one kilometer away from each other, and the goal, naturally, was to fight each other and be the last one standing. To discourage players from hiding in one spot for the whole tournament, a satellite in the air would conduct a scan every fifteen minutes to map the location of each contestant. When Kirito remarked the last rule was not favorable to snipers, Sinon declared that fifteen minutes was enough time for her to shoot and kill her target before moving to hide in another location.
When Sinon finished explaining the rules and was about to leave, Kirito stopped and asked her which participants in the upcoming tournament she had never seen before. Sinon identified three such participants: «Jūshi X» (銃士?), «Pale Rider», and «Sterben». After pondering on the names for a while, Kirito hinted to Sinon about his previous life in Sword Art Online and about the «Laughing Coffin» guild. As they travelled to the waiting dome to prepare for the tournament, Kirito promised Sinon that he would stay alive until they had their fight.
Within the first 30 minutes, 8 players had been eliminated from the tournament. After defeating «Shishigane» as her second target and the ninth casualty, Sinon checked the «Satellite Scan Terminal» to find «Pale Rider» chasing «Dyne». As they were closer to her position than «Lion King Richie» and since the latter was in a highly defensible position, she decided to move after the former two. When she had reached the bridge over the river dividing the area, she settled down to a sniping position, and as Dyne made his way to the end of the bridge and moved into a prone position for Pale Rider, she prepared to eliminate her former squadron leader. However, Kirito snuck up on her while she was distracted, but instead of killing her, he requested her to wait and watch what happened, to which she grudgingly agreed.
When Pale Rider appeared on the far end of the bridge, Dyne opened fire, but the new player, lightly armored and with high strength and speed stats, dodged all the bullets and defeated Dyne. As Sinon turned her targeting sights towards him, Pale was suddenly hit by a Stun Bullet and immediately paralyzed. Shocked by the unexpected action, as they hadn't noticed any other enemies near the area, Kirito and Sinon began speculating on how anyone could have accomplished such a feat and how they managed to get close without being detected. Suddenly, «Death Gun» stepped out of the shadows and walked towards the immobilized player, carrying a «Accuracy International L115A3», also known as the «Silent Assassin». As the cloaked player switched out the sniper rifle for an ordinary handgun, pointed it at Pale Rider, and made the sign of the cross, Kirito urgently ordered Sinon to shoot the former. However, Death Gun managed to dodge the bullet and fired a single round into Pale Rider's body. As the status effect finally wore off, the latter leapt to his feet and aimed his «ArmaLite AR17» at the former, but suddenly collasped and convulsed before being forcibly disconnected from the system. After Death Gun pointed his handgun at the video cameras broadcasting the tournament for a while, he returned to the shadows and disappeared, both from sight and the Satelltie Scan.
Confused at how the cloaked player had managed to cheat his victory, Sinon was stunned when Kirito announced that Pale Rider had been killed both in-game and in real life, and that the rumors about Death Gun's power to kill players in the real world were true. As Kirito headed off to find and stop Death Gun, Sinon chased after him and reluctantly proposed a temporary alliance to chase after the murderer, to which Kirito also reluctantly agreed to. Immediately afterwards, they were ambushed by «Kakouton», and the duo focused their efforts on defeating him.
Asuna, Klein, Lisbeth, Yui, Silica, and Leafa were spectating the game from Kirito and Asuna's rented room in Yggdrasil City in ALfheim Online. As the girls speculated about Kirito's true motivations for converting his account and why he hadn't appeared on the cameras yet, they witnessed Pale Rider's victory in his fight with Dyne as it was being streamed live, then his paralysis and disconnection by the apparent hands of a cloaked player who appeared out of nowhere. The new player, identifying himself and his weapon as Death Gun, made his proclamation of power in front of the cameras, ending his speech with the phrase «It's showtime», a catchphrase frequently used by the leader of Laughing Coffin, PoH. A shocked Klein immediately realised that the mysterious player was a former high-ranking player from the Laughing Coffin guild. After Silica explained the history of Laughing Coffin to Leafa, Asuna realized that the possible presence of a Laughing Coffin survivor in GGO was the reason behind Kirito's conversion, and immediately left ALO to contact Kikuoka Seijirou.
After a brief inner rumination on the nature of stats and character builds in GGO, while Kirito effortlessly parried Kakouton's «Norinco CQ311» assault rifle barrage with his «Kagemitsu G4», Sinon noticed a longing to understand Kirito's strength that transcended the virtual and real worlds. After finishing Kakouton with a single shot from her «PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate II», Sinon hypothesized that Death Gun would be moving to the abandoned city north of their position.
When they reached the outskirts of the city ruins, having seen no trace of their target, they realized they still didn't know Death's Gun's actual character name. As they pondered over their remaining suspects, «Jūshi X» and «Sterben», Sinon theorized the former to be Death Gun, as both names had the character for death, reversing the pronunciation of one name would make it sound like the other, and the X vaguely resembled a cross. With no other suggestions, Sinon and Kirito decided to target Jūshi X first if both suspects were in the city. Checking the Satellite Scan, they found Jūshi X in a stadium but no sign of Sterben, seemingly confirming their suspicions. Kirito decided to rush directly into the stadium and draw Death Gun's fire while Sinon would provide cover and snipe their target.
However, as Sinon was heading into sniping position, all the while contemplating her fight with Kirito after they eliminated Death Gun, she suddenly was hit in the upper left arm by a stun bullet from her blind spot. Bewildered by what and how it happened, Death Gun suddenly appeared in her sights, revealing himself to have been wearing a «Metamaterial Optical Camouflage mantle», which explained how he was able to hide from the satellite probe. As Death Gun, now confirmed to be Sterben, walked up to Sinon's prone form and wondered aloud if the Kirito he was facing in GGO was the same Kirito from SAO, he switched out his Silent Assassin for his handgun and pointed it at the downed sniper, declaring that the real Kirito would be enraged by the death of a comrade. Sinon managed to pull out her «MP7 sub-machine gun» sidearm but froze when she noticed that Death Gun's handgun was a «Type 54 "Black Star"», the gun that she had used five years ago to kill the bank robber, triggering a panic attack. At the last moment, Kirito fired several shots from a sniper rifle to drive Sterben away, then threw a smoke grenade to create some cover before jumping in to carry Sinon's petrified avatar and equipment away.
After a few seconds of frantic running, Kirito hurriedly found a buggy and horse rental point and commandeered the only operational buggy. Driving a short distance from the rental point, as her paralysis finally wore off, Kirito ordered Sinon to destroy the only functional mechanic horse to prevent Death Gun from catching up with them. The sniper took aim with her Hecate, but to her shock, she found herself unable to squeeze the trigger. When Sterben appeared, Kirito held onto Sinon and raced the buggy away; to their surprise, Death Gun began chasing after them on the mechanic horse, expertly utilizing it without any of the difficulty other players experienced, even for those with horse-riding experience in the real world. While Sinon begged Kirito in terror to accelerate, Sterben, due to the lighter load in passengers the mechanical horse had, closed the distance between them and began firing at the pair with the Black Star. Sinon, completely overwhelmed with fear, was unable to respond to Kirito's pleas to snipe their pursuer, but when Kirito then suggested shooting Death Gun himself while she drove, her protective feelings of ownership and identity over her sniper rifle spurred her to attempt aiming again. As she was still unable to exert force on the trigger and the aim was too unsteady for an accurate shot, Kirito reached back and grabbed her hand before driving up a car as an impromptu ramp. Realizing that Kirito strength came from his attempts to do his best, to fight with his full ability despite his fear, Sinon managed to fire a single shot. She missed Sterben but hit the fuel tank of an oil tanker behind him, triggering a large explosion and destroying the horse.
After driving for some time into the northern desert, Kirito and Sinon encountered a cave where they could hide from the Satellite Scan and avoid Death Gun, as his camouflage cloak could not cover his footsteps or footprints in the sand. As Kirito began using a first-aid kit to recover his lost hit points, he regretfully told Sinon he saw Sterben abandoning his horse just before the explosion. He also explained his quick assistance to her aid when he had seen that Jūshi X, who preferred to pronounce her name as «Musketeer X», was a genuine female player. After quickly killing her, he had taken Musketeer X's «Mk 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle» and smoke grenade and rushed back towards Sinon, realizing that she was in trouble when he saw her lying on the street. Humiliated at how her rival was comforting her like a child over her momentary lack of alertness and how he said he could have suffered the same fate, she was confused when he announced his intention to fight Death Gun despite his fear, because now he had things to protect in the real and virtual worlds, and did not want to risk other players dying by letting Sterben win. Unwilling to continue living in fear, even desiring to die alone after the death she had caused five years ago, Sinon refused to remain behind. When Kirito protested and claimed part of him would die with her, Sinon snapped and demanded him to protect for the rest of her life, asked if he would really be willing to touch the hand of a murderer, and declared her hate for him, despite his attempts to console her.
After crying her tears dry, Sinon rested her head on Kirito's lap and confessed her role in the bank robbery incident five years before in the real world, and how she killed the robber with his own gun to protect herself and her mother causing her her fear of guns. She went on to explain how she was able to avoid that fear in her avatar persona, how Death Gun's appearance had relapsed her personality back to her real one, and how she could not run away without confronting him and her weakness. To her surprise, Kirito explained his own situation: how he and Sterben were SAO survivors, the raid on Laughing Coffin and the lives he was forced to take in that event, and the reason he was in GGO and why he had to defeat Death Gun. When Sinon inquired how he had managed to overcome the memories of the people he killed, Kirito clarified he had not overcome or truly forgotten them, but perhaps it was supposed to be that way; accepting the weight of his memories and actions was the least he could do to atone for them.
Kirito and Sinon began discussing Sterben's actions and motivations in GGO. As they wondered why Death Gun had switched to his sniper rifle instead of his handgun against Kirito back at the stadium, the reason behind making the sign of the cross before shooting, and why he did not use the handgun on Dyne back at the bridge, Kirito asked Sinon for details on any possible connections between the victims. After Sinon elaborated on the tournament prize system and how it offered rewards in the real world, Kirito deduced the secret behind Death Gun. There had to be two people behind the killings; one attacked the target in-game at the same time the other killed the character in the real world, likely with a lethal drug. He further postulated that by using the invisibility cloak, Death Gun could have waited at the BoB registration place and stole character information, such as their street address, and later gave the address to his accomplice, who would infiltrate the target's home, bypassing outdated electronic locks, and kill them. When Kirito voiced his suspicion that the real world accomplice had already snuck into Sinon's apartment and was waiting for the right moment to strike, Sinon began suffering another panic attack and almost involuntarily logged out, but Kirito calmed her down and assured her that the accomplice would not do anything until she had been struck by the Black Star and that they would be forced to abort if Sterben was defeated. The two decided to have Kirito lure Death Gun into range and reveal his position before letting Sinon finish him. After noticing a live camera feed following them, indicating the low number of players left in the Bullet of Bullets, and then vanishing, Kirito headed outside to check the next Satellite Scan.
After Kikuoka Seijirou logged into ALO as Chrysheight and reached the other players at Agil's cafe, Yui explained the origins of the Death Gun incident, upon which he further revealed to the group of the speculation and conclusion he and Kirito came to while discussing the validity of Death Gun's claim. Asuna revealed their discovery that Death Gun was a member of Laughing Coffin and that they should use that knowledge to determine his identity from among the SAO survivors, but Seijirou protested that the only information the Virtual Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications had on SAO players were their real names, character names, and final levels, thus Death Gun's real name and address were indeterminable. Upon learning from Seijirou the coordinates of the hospital that Kirito had logged in to GGO, Asuna immediately rushed over to his location, where she would wait by his side until he woke up.
Kirito stood outside the cave to access the Satellite Scan and check the number and location of participants remaining in the tournament, and to his surprise noticed no one within five kilometers of the cave. Upon closer examination of the map, he was stunned to see that out of the thirty original finalists, only twenty-eight were visible on the screen, regardless of whether they were active or had been eliminated. He deactivated the Satellite Scan Terminal and returned to Sinon to report that only four people were left: themselves, Death Gun, and «Yamikaze». Sinon elaborated on Yamikaze's skills and history as the runner-up from the previous Bullet of Bullets, then suggested using Yamikaze as an alternative for bait. Kirito declined as he explained the missing players and his suspicions: Since it seemed awfully convenient for Sterben's accomplice to kill Pale Rider and manage to arrive at Sinon's apartment to do the same to her in thirty minutes, there might be another accomplice, probably another Laughing Coffin survivor, preparing to kill Yamikaze. Shocked at how the Death Gun conspirators could want to continue killing people after being released from SAO, Sinon denounced their actions, declaring that even Dyne and his player killing squadron had standards. The pair decided to stick with their original plan and additionally take out Yamikaze before Sterben could kill him himself.
On top of a hill just above the cave, Sinon watched through her rifle's scope as Kirito drove the buggy into the center of the desert until its fuel ran out, then got out to use it as cover from attacks from the north. Coming in from the east and west were Death Gun and Yamikaze, respectively. She quietly pondered on Kirito's chances against Sterben, as the latter had a camouflage mantle, a powerful sniper rifle, and the ability to fire the first shot without a Bullet Line, but remembered the former's accomplishments and confirmed her faith in his abilities. She briefly reflected on her motivations when joining GGO to overwrite Asada Shino's weakness with Sinon's strength, and how Death Gun and his Black Star had nearly demolished her pride. However, after meeting Kirito, she had realized the player and the character were the same, and resolved to face her own fears and memories the way he did. She quietly waited and prepared herself, drawing strength from her Hecate; if she missed, Sterben and Yamikaze would both defeat Kirito, and then there would be nothing to stop Death Gun from eliminating Yamikaze and Sinon.
Kirito briefly reminisced on the existence of «Outside System Skills» back in SAO that were utilized by the Clearing Group. Among them was «Hypersense», which allowed the player to sense the presence of another before actually seeing or hearing them, or their «Killing Intent». When he had brought up the subject with Yui earlier in the year, he theorized that players could sense the «Killing Intent» because the focus of the ambushing player on their target would increase the status signals' access, slowing system processing and slightly delaying transmission to a detectable degree, which she admitted was not impossible. Back in the present, as Kirito cleared his thoughts to sense the «Killing Intent», he remembered faintly about the night of the assault on Laughing Coffin, when he felt an ill feeling and turned around to see shadows moving towards them. He remembered that the player who led the counterattack, and who might be Death Gun, was an «Estoc» user, a piercing-type weapon, and that he reduced the player killer's hit points by half before the latter retreated and swore in a stuttering voice that he would kill Kirito. Suddenly, Kirito sensed a painfully sharp, icy cold sensation - a «Killing Intent» - and barely dodged as a bullet flew past him.
At the same time, Sinon had located Yamikaze and decided to wait to snipe him until he slowed down to attack Kirito, as his current speed and shifting route made it extremely difficult to make a clear shot. As Death Gun's bullet missed Kirito and landed near Yamikaze, the latter reflexively slowed down and crouched behind some cover, allowing Sinon enough of an opportunity to shoot and defeat him. Then she turned her attention back to Kirito, who was rushing towards Sterben's position and using his photon sword to deflect all the bullets fired his way. After finding Death Gun beneath a cactus plant, she pointed her Hecate toward him and prepared to shoot. With her Bullet Lines now visible, he quickly reacted by turning his Silent Assassin towards her, and they both fired simultaneously, with Sinon moving her face to the side to watch the trajectories of the shots. His bullet destroyed the Hecate's scope, but her bullet in turn destroyed the Silent Assassin's main body. Unable to do any further sniping from her position without the scope, Sinon watched as Sterben stood up and moved toward Kirito. To her shock, from the remains of his sniper rifle he pulled out a weapon that resembled a sword; to her knowledge, the only metallic swords in GGO were combat knives. Kirito quickly unleashed «Vorpal Strike» against Death Gun, but the latter evaded the attack and stabbed his opponent in the left shoulder, prompting Sinon to scream Kirito's name.
Meanwhile in the real world, Yuuki Asuna paid the fare for the taxi and worriedly entered the hospital. After checking in at the reception desk, she immediately rushed to Kazuto's room with Yui, who was connected via phone. Upon arrival of her destination, she found Natsuki keeping watch over Kazuto's body and was concerned to see the normally unfazed Kazuto's heart rate was abnormally high. Yui operated the monitor on the wall and connected it to «MMO Stream»'s live feed on the Bullet of Bullets, where it showed Kirito's petite avatar facing off against Sterben's mantled avatar wielding an estoc, similar to a rapier. As Asuna puzzled over the correct spelling of Sterben's name, to her concern Natsuki revealed that it was the German medical term for "death."
Back in GGO, after a brief monologue on the «Pain Absorber» settings in games based on The Seed, Kirito, now certain that Death Gun was the Estoc-using leader of the Laughing Coffin counterattack, commented on his enemy's weapon. Sterben did the same before taunting Kirito on growing weak since SAO and on forgetting the deaths he caused. Momentarily stunned, Kirito revealed to Death Gun that he had solved the mystery behind the in-game and real world killings, and once the Ministry of Inner Affairs knew Death Gun's SAO character name, they would be able to track him down. However, to his shock Death Gun informed Kirito that he would never remember his name; in SAO, just prior to being sent to prison after the assault on the Laughing Coffin headquarters, Sterben had offered to tell Kirito his name, but the latter refused, stating he did not want to see him again. After a final taunt on how Kirito could only watch while he killed Sinon, Death Gun suddenly moved to attack him. Kirito tried to block the strike, but was stunned to see the estoc pass through his photon sword. Sterben revealed that he had used high level knife and weapon creation skills to craft the weapon from galactic warship plate armor, a material strong enough to withstand Kirito's light sword, then unleashed «Star Splash» against him.
From her position, Sinon helplessly watched as Kirito desperately struggled against Death Gun, backflipping away and retreating with his hit points low. While the Laughing Coffin survivor closed in on his prey, Sinon racked her brains for a solution, unable to snipe Sterben without risking hitting Kirito. As she thought about how he fought to protect others and how their troubles were similar to each other, an idea suddenly occurred to her.
In Kazuto's hospital room in the real world, Asuna could do nothing but scream out Kirito's name as she saw Sword Skills from SAO being used against him. When Natsuki saw how much Kazuto's heartbeat had increased, how cold his skin had become, and how much he was sweating, she suggested logging him out to prevent dehydration, but Asuna informed her they could not directly contact him or know how to log him out in the middle of a player versus player tournament, so they decided to observe a little longer. Then Yui told Asuna to grab Kazuto's hand, hoping that even in-game, Kirito would be able to feel her radiating warmth.
While trying to find a opening, Kirito pondered on how his relative unfamiliarity with GGO's weaponry and desire to leave SAO behind had put him at a disadvantage to his opponent, how Death Gun had become stronger since his capture and imprisonment by practicing Sword Skills over and over again. After Kirito's hit points had nearly been reduced to zero, as Sterben prepared to deal the final blow, his avatar's glowing red eyes prompted Kirito to remember the meeting the Assault Team had prior to the raid on Laughing Coffin. The memory finally granted Kirito the name and epithet of the Estoc user, «Red-Eyed XaXa», momentarily taking Death by surprise and causing him to miss. At the same moment, Sinon aimed a Bullet Line at Sterben, making him instinctively move to avoid it. Realizing he had fallen for a bluff, Death Gun prepared to activate his optical camouflage mantle and disappear. At that moment Kirito felt warmth enveloping his hand, reminding him that he still had his «FN Five-Seven» gun by his side. He quickly pulled the handgun out and used it alongside his photon sword to mimic «Double Circular», a Dual Blades Sword Skill he had mastered in SAO, and fired a bullet at Sterben, interrupting the mantle's invisibility effect, before slicing Death Gun in half. Before his avatar could be completely disabled, he told Kirito that it was not over and his partner would not let it end. Kirito quietly refuted his words and declared that his accomplices would be found before moving to rejoin with Sinon.
The sniper and the lightswordman met and congratulated each other other on their victory. After a few moments of silence, Kirito suggested to end the tournament and satisfy the audience; with Sterben defeated, his accomplice should have been forced to abort their plan, but nevertheless Kirito ordered Sinon to immediately call the cops when she exited GGO, just to be cautious. He would contact Kikuoka on his end after logging out and tell him to send police immediately over to Shino's home, since they would naturally be skeptical of Sinon's story. After exchanging their real names and addresses, with Sinon assuring him that she had a friend who could take care of her if necessary, Kirito proposed ending the Bullet of Bullets by settling their rivalry with the duel promised earlier, but Sinon declined, deeming a fight with him in his current state to be an unsatisfactory victory; she would be willing to wait until the next tournament. When Kirito wondered how else to finish the match, Sinon recalled the first Bullet of Bullets, when the first winner was forced to share their victory with another player after the latter used a «Gift Grenade» on him. When Kirito inquired what that was, Sinon answered by handing him a «Plasma Grenade» she had scavenged from Yamikaze's corpse after Death Gun's defeat and set it to detonate. Realizing what she was planning, Kirito tried to throw the grenade away, but was prevented by Sinon hugging him. The consequential explosion killed them simultaneously, allowing the both of them to be crowned as the victors of the third Bullet of Bullets.
While waiting to be logged out, Sinon checked the tournament rankings and confirmed that two players - Pale Rider and «Garrett» - had been disconnected from the system and thus had been killed by Sterben's accomplices. After returning to her room in the real world, Shino laid motionless for several minutes before getting up from her bed and examining her room for any intruders or any sign of their presence, and found none to her relief. She had just finished drinking some water when she was startled by the doorbell suddenly ringing, but relaxed when she saw Kyouji outside the door, holding a cake box. Surprised at how quickly he came after the end of the tournament, Shino let Kyouji inside to allow him to congratulate her on her victory.
However, as Shino was considering informing him about Death Gun's involvement in the Bullet of Bullets, Kyouji revealed he saw Kirito and Sinon very close together in the desert cave and assumed that Kirito had threatened her to cause her breakdown. Shino denied it and explained she was just venting her anger on Kirito during one of her panic attacks, but Kyouji began acting strangely and reminded Shino of the promise she made him swear to wait for her. Declaring that her championship in the tournament meant the conditions of the promise were fulfilled, Kyouji suddenly hugged and pushed her onto the bed, confessing his love for her like a curse. Stunned by his actions, Shino managed to exert enough strength to push him back. Shocked by her refusal, Kyouji moved towards her again with a dangerous glint in his eyes, prompting the thought he was going to rape her to flash through her mind. However, he instead withdrew a needleless syringe from his pocket and pressed the tip to her neck, explaining that it was filled with «Succinylcholine», a poison that could paralyze her muscles and stop her heart if given in generous amounts, and that he would make the ordeal as painless as possible.
Recalling what Kirito said about Sterben's victims possibly having been injected with a lethal drug, Shino realized to her horror that her friend was one of the people behind Death Gun. Impressed that she had deduced the secret, Kyouji admitted to controlling Sterben's avatar beforehand but had decided to switch roles for the tournament with his brother, who was the Laughing Coffin survivor XaXa, so he could be the one to administer the drug to Shino, and that initially he did not want to inject the drug into her until he saw her with Kirito, and then explained his intentions to kill her and himself so they could be reborn in another world. Attempting to stall for time, Shino tried to persuade Kyouji to abort his plan, pointing out that Death Gun's reputation would be weakened if she died in real life without her avatar being shot in the game first and his brother would have difficulty trying to uphold that reputation without a partner, and reminding Kyouji of his exams and his aspirations to assume his family's business and become a doctor. However, he revealed that his brother had brought another Laughing Coffin survivor into the Death Gun conspiracy, then showed his poor test scores to Shino. Furthermore, he expressed dissatisfaction with the real world and hatred at «XeXeeD», the winner of the previous Bullet of Bullets, for deliberately spreading misinformation on the strength of agility-type characters and ruining Kyouji's avatar; for that reason, he killed XeXeeD and the others to create the legend of Death Gun being the strongest character in all of virtual reality. He also revealed he had fallen for Shino ever since he heard of the bank robbery incident she was involved in and admired how she killed a person in real life, hence he had chosen the Black Star to be Sterben's ultimate weapon.
Paralyzed with fear and despair, Shino's mind sank into herself and prepared to accept her death when she remembered that Kirito would be coming to her apartment to check on her and thus put himself in danger for her. With that thought, in her mind she saw her avatar Sinon encouraging her to fight to protect others. Returning to her senses, Shino tricked Kyouji into losing his control over the syringe long enough for her to break free of his grasp and grabbed the «Procyon SL» model gun that had fallen out of her drawer. Managing to resist her phobia of guns, she exploited Kyouji's delusions and bluffed shooting the model gun at him before racing for the door. Unfortunately, she tripped just before reaching it, knocking the model gun out of her hand and giving Kyouji enough of an opportunity to grab her leg and drag her towards him. As Shino continued to struggle for freedom, Kazuto suddenly burst through the door and attacked Kyouji, ordering Shino to run away and get help. As she was about to do so, she remembered about the syringe and tried to warn Kazuto, but Kyouji, enraged by Kazuto's appearance, overwhelmed him before stabbing him with the syringe. Shino ran back inside, grabbed a stereo from off a table and swung it to knock Kyouji unconscious. She then fearfully checked Kazuto's condition, but found a small metal plate stuck to the part of his chest where Kyouji had attempted to inject the succinylcholine. After she wiped away the drug from his chest with tissues and checked his heartbeat, Kazuto realized that he had accidentally forgotten to remove one of the electrodes attached to him and used to monitor his homeostatic levels while at the hospital, which blocked the syringe from piercing the skin. After reprimanding Kazuto for scaring her, Shino checked Kyouji's condition and thanked Kazuto for his assistance, but he apologized for his tardiness and inability to protect her. As she watched Kyouji's body and began to weep for all that happened, she could hear police car sirens in the distance.
Less than two days later, while Shino was looking at the sky, she heard Endou and her associates walking towards her and reprimanded them on their lateness after they invited her, whereupon they demanded 20,000 yen from her. When Shino refused, Endou revealed that she brought a model gun from her brother and extracted it from her school bag. Shino began suffering another panic attack but mustered enough self-control to resist. Somewhat surprised by Shino's unexpected reaction, Endou threatened to shoot her unless she begged for forgiveness and proceeded to squeeze the trigger, but became frustrated when the gun failed to fire. Shino quickly grabbed the gun from Endou's hand and revealed that the gun's safeties were on, then turned them off before successfully using it to hit a can not far away. Shino placed the gun back into Endou's hand and walked away while the shocked trio remained speechless. As soon she was out of sight of the three, Shino nearly collasped, but caught herself and resolved to continue moving forward.
As she drew close to her school's entrance, to her shock she found Kazuto was waiting for her in front of the gate, with several other female students wondering about his presence. Reluctantly admitting to them that she was the reason he was there, Shino moved past them to greet Kazuto and scolded him on his actions before getting on his motorbike. They then drove to a restaurant in Ginza to meet with Kikouka Seijirou and to be debriefed on the case. Upon arrival, after they introduced themselves to each other and while waiting for their orders, Shino recalled the events immediately after Kazuto's entrance, when the both of them had been examined for injuries and then investigated by the police. After their orders arrived and they briefly sampled them, Seirou began explaining the details of the report.
Shinkawa Shouichi, Kyouji's older brother, had always been a sickly and frail child, which prompted his father to turn the succession of the family business over to Kyouji, an action that deeply affected both brothers. Nevertheless, they remained close, and Kyouji held his brother in high esteem after Shouichi, who had turned to MMORPGs, returned after being trapped in SAO. When Shouichi began playing GGO on Kyouji's suggestion, he took to observing other players and fantasizing methods of killing them. However, after he used a «Real Money Transaction» to purchase the Silent Assassin and the optical camouflage mantle, he became inspired to use the cloak to spy on other players and steal their personal information. When Kyouji came to him and expressed anger over XeXeeD and how his deliberate misinformation had ruined his avatar, Shouichi remembered that XeXeeD was one of the players he had spied on, and the brothers began discussing how to kill him, jokingly at first but more seriously as time went on. Kazuto interrupted to refute XaXa's claim that their budding plan to gather personal information on their targets and resources for their attack was no different from what police did in real life, stating that XaXa only chose to believe what he considered was real. Shino rebutted by claiming that to a virtual reality gamer, the true reality was whichever reality they were in.
Seijirou resumed by explained the details of the brothers' assault on XeXeeD; Shouichi used a master electronic key from their father's hospital to enter their target's home and injected him with succinylcholine at the same time Kyouji shot XeXeeD's avatar from inside GGO while in his brother's avatar. However, due to the lack of people taking serious interest in Death Gun, both brothers decided to kill more players during the Bullet of Bullets to garner more attention. To accomplish such a scheme, and to accommodate Kyouji's wish to perform the injections this time, Shouichi invited another member of Laughing Coffin into their plan: Kanamoto Atsushi, also known as «Johnny Black» the poisoned dagger user, who was still on the run. Seijirou concluded by summarizing how both brothers had been taken into custody and revealed that due to their ages, they would likely be sent to a juvenile mental facility. Kazuto and Shino remarked on how Kyouji abandoned the real world for virtual reality, to become stronger like other VRMMO players. Shino expressed her desire to see Kyouji once he was permitted to receive visitors, hoping to discuss the whole matter with him and reach out to him. Before leaving, Seijirou remembered Shouichi had written a confidential note to Kazuto, and with the latter's permission read the contents, which stated that "it" was not over and Kazuto would not have the power to stop it.
As they left, Kazuto revealed to Shino his suspicions about Seijirou's true identity and intentions; after Seijirou had requested Kazuto's assistance in the case, he had followed him not to the Ministry of Internal Affairs' location in Kasumigaseki, but to the Ministry of Defense's place in Ichigaya. After a brief discussion on the usage of virtual reality in military training, Kazuto asked Shino to come with him to Dicey Cafe to clear up a few misunderstandings with his friends over his interactions with Sinon, which she complied. There, he introduced her to Asuna, Lisbeth, and Agil, who were waiting. After they finished explaining the events in GGO, Kazuto explained how Asuna's actions had reminded him of his sidearm during his fight with Sterben, and also how he was alerted when he learned Sterben's meaning and exclusive usage in the medical field, and connected that with Sinon's revelation that her friend was a doctor's son. Although Shino had secretly growing feelings for Kazuto, she suspected that Kazuto and Asuna were a couple and decided to keep them to herself. Asuna offered to become friends with Shino, which momentarily hesitated but finally accepted.
Kazuto confessed to her there was another reason they invited her and that he had explained Shino's past to Asuna and Rika. Shocked, Shino tried to leave, but Asuna and Kazuto stopped her and further revealed that they traveled to Shino's hometown to contact someone Shino needed to see. Then Rika brought out a middle-aged woman and her four year-old daughter to sit across from Shino. The woman introduced herself as Oosawa Sachie and her daughter as Mizue, and revealed that she used to work at the post office where the bank robbery occurred; Sachie was pregnant with Mizue the day the bank robber threatened to kill her. The former worker apologized to Shino for not attempting to find and thank her while trying to forget the whole incident, and thanked her wholeheartedly for saving both of them. Kazuto told Shino that regardless of whether her actions were wrong, she also had a right to think about the lives she saved, to forgive herself. Then Mizue walked over to Shino and gave her a handmade picture of herself with her parents addressed to Shino, and thanked Shino for saving her and her mother. As Shino began crying, and as Mizue held her hands, Shino finally began to believe she could find the strength to accept her past and move forward, no matter how hard or long it might be.
- In the web novel, rather than ending the Bullet of Bullets in a tie, Sinon instead managed to beat Kirito in a duel, using a hidden Photon Sword to block Kirito's strike as he came at her, repelling both of their blades apart, giving Sinon time to shoot Kirito with her Hecate II at point-blank range.