- Not to be confused with Murder in the Safe Zone (Episode 5).
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Early and Late (アーリー・アンド・レイト, Ārī ando Reito?) is the 8th book in the Sword Art Online Light Novel series, published on August 10, 2011.
Sword Art Online Light Novel Volume 08 is a collection of three side stories:
- A Murder Case in the Area
- First Day
A Murder Case in the Area
On April 22, 2024, Kirito, overwhelmed by the unusually favorable weather settings that day, decided to take a short nap in the fields within the main town of the 59th Floor. There, he was found by Asuna, who scolded him for not actively assisting the clearers in conquering the Labyrinth. In response, he offered her to rest beside him to understand his appreciation of the pleasant morning. Upon awakening, Kirito noticed that the vice commander of the Knights of the Blood was sleeping beside him. Sensing that she was exhausted due to her duties, the solo player decided to guard her while she slept to protect her from being killed in her sleep. When Asuna finally roused from her rest several hours later, she managed to suppress her embarrassment over her realization of the situation and offered to treat the Black Swordsman to a meal as thanks for his action.
After the two entered a restaurant in Marten on the 57th Floor and ordered their food, Asuna repeated her thanks to Kirito. While the two discussed how their meals could be improved with the addition of some ingredients, they suddenly heard a terrified scream from outside. The duo rushed to the source of the scream in the town square, where they found an armored player hanging from a window of the second floor of a church, with a black barbed spear impaled into his chest. Before anyone could help him, his avatar disintegrated. Convinced that the player was killed in a duel, Kirito and Asuna quickly searched for a duel winner notice but to no avail.
At the church, while examining the rope to which the recently deceased player had been fastened, Asuna theorized how the player killer could have executed his opponent and set it so that everyone could see the spectacle. However, Kirito reminded her there had been no winner notice for a duel, despite duels being the only known method for reducing a player's hit points within a town. Knowing disaster and panic would result if there was a method to kill players within a safe zone, the two agreed to investigate the matter together.
Back at the plaza, Kirito and Asuna found that the first person to witness the incident was a woman named Yolko. According to her, the victim was Kains, one of her former guildmates with whom she had dinner just before the incident. However, she claimed to be unaware of the murderer's identity or motives.
Having escorted Yolko to a nearby inn, Kirito and Asuna decided to examine the rope and spear used in the incident for any leads to the killer. As neither of them had a sufficient Appraisal skill and Asuna's blacksmith friend who had the skill would be occupied with business at the time, Kirito elected to contact Agil for his help.
The two travelled to Agil's Shop in Algade on the 50th Floor. Although the shopkeeper complained about Kirito's impromptu message, he quickly changed tone when the sub-leader repeated their request for his assistance. After being informed about the incident, Agil inspected the rope with his Appraisal skill, revealing it to be a mere store-bought item. However, he was able to determine that the spear, named Guilty Thorn, was crafted by Grimlock, a player he had no knowledge of.
Having teleported to the Town of Beginnings, Agil, Asuna, and Kirito travelled to the Black Iron Palace in order to investigate the Monument of Life. There, they confirmed that Grimlock was still alive, while a player named Kains had indeed died at 18:27 that day. After returning to the Teleport Gate plaza, Asuna and Kirito agreed to resume their search for Grimlock the next day, while Agil returned to work, leaving the investigation to them.
Upon teleporting to Lindarth, the town he was residing for the time being, Kirito was surrounded by several members of the Divine Dragons Alliance. Schmitt, the leader of the group, questioned the solo player about Kains's death and demanded to be given the murder weapon. Resignedly acquiescing to Schmitt's demand, Kirito stabbed the weapon into the ground and shared the name of its maker, which elicited shock from Schmitt. Having stored the spear in his inventory, the lancer enjoined the Black Swordsman to not probe into the matter any further, before using the Teleport Gate with his fellow members.
At 09:00 the next morning, on April 23, Kirito and Asuna met on the 57th Floor, where they discussed Schmitt's actions from the previous day at a cafe. They doubted he was the culprit but agreed that there was a link between Schmitt, Grimlock, and Kains. As Asuna was interested in how Damage over Time would work for a player who entered the Inner Area with the status effect, Kirito proposed an experiment while they waited for Yolko. They travelled outside of town, where Kirito stabbed himself with a Throwing Pick, before re-entering the Inner Area. As the damage was nullified at that moment, this proved that such a trick could not be used for the murder.
At 10:00, Kirito and Asuna met with Yolko at her inn and escorted her to a restaurant. The two informed Yolko of their verification of Kains' death and inquired her of any association between him, Grimlock, and Schmitt. As Yolko's disclosure that they all had once belonged to a guild named Golden Apple prompted the question whether any incident in the guild could be related to the murder, the girl consented to explain the story behind the guild's dissolution, despite her reluctance to relive that particular past event.
About six months prior, the Golden Apple had been hunting in a sub-dungeon on the middle floors when they acquired an agility-boosting ring from a rare lizard monster. Although divided on what to do with the drop, the eight guild members eventually voted to sell the ring and split the profits. As the item was too valuable to be sold on the middle floors, their guild leader journeyed to the frontlines to sell it at an auction.
However, the leader did not return on schedule and no one in the guild could find or reach her. Thus, they visited the Monument of Life, which informed them that she had been killed at 01:00 the night she arrived on the higher floors. As whoever killed the guild leader had to have known of the ring, the remaining guild members began suspecting each other of being the killer, leading to the guild's collapse.
When asked at the end of her tale, Yolko revealed that the three members who voted to keep the ring were herself, Kains, and Schmitt. She added that Grimlock was the guild's sub-leader, as well as the guild leader's husband, but they had lost contact with him after the leader's death. Yolko could not deny the possibility that Grimlock was responsible for Kains's murder and thus expressed her fear that he would target her and Scmitt as well.
After accompanying Yolko to her inn and securing her stay for several days, Asuna concluded that searching for Grimlock would be too difficult with just the two of them, thus they opted to investigate the method used to kill Kains. As they wondered where to find a trustworthy player well-versed in Sword Art Online's system mechanics, Kirito suddenly thought of such a person.
Thirty minutes after Asuna messaged him for help, Heathcliff met with the two in Algade, where he was led to a restaurant deep within the mazelike city. While they waited for their lunch, the guild leader was informed of what had transpired since the previous day and scrutinized Kirito's theories of how the Inner Area murder could have occurred. At the end of their discussion, Heathcliff recommended not to rely on secondhand sources of information, namely the motives behind Golden Apple's dissolution over the rare ring. Therefore, Asuna proposed questioning Schmitt for a second opinion on the incident in hopes of him divulging something new.
At around 14:00, while en route to Algade's main plaza, Asuna and Kirito decided to question Schmitt, concluding that he would be hiding in the safety of the Divine Dragon Alliance's headquarters on the 56th Floor. Having persuaded the heavily armored lancer to speak with them, they enquired the whereabouts of Grimlock, the main suspect for Kains's murder. Schmitt revealed that the blacksmith used to regularly frequent a NPC restaurant; however, he requested to speak with Yolko in exchange for the establishment's name. The duo reluctantly accepted the demand when Yolko agreed via friend message.
Escorted to Yolko's inn by dusk, Schmitt began speaking about Griselda's and Kains's murders as Yolko sat on the room's windowsill, her back facing the window. She speculated on the culprit's identity, thinking of Kains's murder as revenge for the guild members' selfishness regarding the ring. Just when Yolko was about to respond to Schmitt's protest on the issue, a black, barbed throwing dagger suddenly appeared, buried in her back. Kirito rushed to her side, but before he could reach her, Yolko's avatar fell through the window to the street below, where it disintegrated.
After a few seconds of horrified shock and disbelief, Kirito spotted a figure in a black hooded robe standing on the rooftop of a building two blocks from the inn. Outraged, he leaped from the window to the next building and recklessly jumped from rooftop to rooftop towards the figure. As he drew closer, however, the assassin suddenly prepared to use a Teleport Crystal. Frenetic, the Black Swordsman hurled three Throwing Picks at the figure in an attempt to delay his escape, but the hooded assassin remained unfazed as the Inner Area protected him from the projectiles. When the town bells began ringing 17:00, the robed figure activated the crystal, the name of his destination obscured by the loud tolling as he disappeared before Kirito could reach him.
Frustrated, Kirito paused to retrieve the throwing dagger before returning to the inn. While Schmitt was now entirely convinced that the murderer was the ghost of Griselda, Golden Apple's deceased leader, based on its appearance, Kirito, believing otherwise, reminded the lancer of his promise to give them the name of Grimlock's frequented restaurant, as it was their only remaining clue, and also asked for a list of names of the former Golden Apple members, planning to check who of them were still alive. Although still agitated, Schmitt complied with the requests. After escorting the frightened lancer back to the Divine Dragon Alliance's headquarters, the swordsman and the fencer headed for the restaurant in hopes of unravelling the mystery.
Having located the restaurant in a secluded area of the 20th Floor's main city, Kirito and Asuna rented a room in a nearby inn to observe the bar, hoping to spot the assassin. As they lacked knowledge on Grimlock's appearance, Kirito planned to challenge any potential suspects to a duel, prompting the system to display the suspect's name. Sometime past 18:40, after thirty minutes of surveillance, Asuna offered Kirito one of her home-made baguettes. Following the meal, the two began discussing ways of handling cases of rare drops in Sword Art Online, as the lack of logs tempted players to keep their drops a secret from their party members. For this reason, Asuna believed marriage in the game to be more meaningful, as the shared inventory between spouses made it impossible to hide things from each other.
Captivated by the thought that the player who had initially received the ring could not have been the killer due to not keeping the ring a secret, Kirito glimpsed through the list of names Schmitt had written. However, just as he was about to return the parchment to his inventory, a particular detail caught his eye. After a few moments of shock, he suddenly proclaimed they had misunderstood the incident entirely, as there never actually had been a method to commit murder within an Inner Area.
Meanwhile, within his room inside the Divine Dragons Alliance's headquarters, Schmitt nervously contemplated on how his defensive capabilities could do nothing to protect him from a killer who could bypass them. Fearing Griselda's ghost would kill him in his sleep, the lancer believed the only way he could escape her vengeance was to plead her forgiveness for the one peccadillo he had committed against her.
Past 22:00, Schmitt used a Teleport Crystal to travel to the 19th Floor, where he visited the makeshift memorial for Griselda, erected on a small hill outside of the main town. Kneeling at the gravestone, the lancer profusely apologized for his act of misconduct towards his former guild leader, pleading he had no idea it would lead to her death. At that moment, Schmitt found himself surrounded by a female and a male in hooded black robes, the former wielding a barbed estoc, who demanded to know what he had done.
Convinced that the hooded figures were Griselda's and Grimlock's ghosts, Schmitt confessed having found a Corridor Crystal and a piece of paper in his belt pouch, instructing him to infiltrate Griselda's inn room and set it as the destination for the crystal, before leaving it in the guild's shared storage, for half the selling price of the ring as a reward. The day after Griselda's murder, he found the reward money on his bed. At the end of his admission, the figures, revealed to be Yolko and Kains, declared that they had recorded his confession.
Back on the 20th Floor, Kirito declared that Yolko and Kains had been alive the entire time. He explained that though the Anti-Criminal Code prevented hit points from decreasing inside towns, the protection did not extend to the durability of objects, while the special effects for player death and item destruction were extremely similar. Kains and Yolko had made use of this by stabbing themselves through their equipment outside the Inner Area, before moving to town and using a Teleport Crystal at the exact moment their armor or piece of clothing disintegrated, creating the illusion of being murdered.
Kirito also revealed that the name of Yolko's partner was actually spelled as Caynz, rather than Kains; the latter was the name of an entirely unrelated deceased player whose name could be pronounced identically to Caynz's. Having discovered an entry for such a player on the Monument of Life, Yolko and Caynz had utilized the fact that the year of death was not displayed on the monument to help fake Caynz's death convincingly. In this way, they created the illusion of a phantom avenger in order to frighten Griselda's murderer into revealing themselves. The one to react to their trap was Schmitt, who was also their primary suspect due to joining a high-ranking guild after Griselda's death.
Determining Schmitt would be driven by fear to seek clemency at Griselda's memorial, Kirito began to worry that Yolko and Caynz could decide to execute the lancer, until he realized that Yolko had allowed herself to register as Asuna's friend, despite the possibility of this ruining their plan, as a gesture of apology for manipulating him and Asuna. After Asuna used her friend menu to confirm Yolko's presence on a hill outside the main town on the 19th Floor, Kirito and Asuna concluded that neither Schmitt nor Yolko and Caynz would kill each other, and thus decided to not interfere any further.
Three members from the killing guild «Laughing Coffin» showed up at the deceased guild leader's grave and attempted to kill Schmitt, Yolko, and Caynz. Kirito stepped in to save the day.
Asuna caught Grimlock, the spouse of Griselda, hiding in the bushes. He admitted to being the mastermind behind the death of his wife, but explained that he did not have her murdered to steal the ring. Instead, he did it because he did want her personality to change from what it had been originally in the real world. After Schmitt, Yolko, and Caynz left with Grimlock to settle matters with him, what seemed to be Griselda's ghost appeared to Kirito and Asuna to thank them for uncovering the truth behind her death, and the two promised to her that they would clear the game.
The quest to retrieve «Excalibur» from the base of Jötunheimr was revealed to the public. However, unlike how Kirigaya Kazuto (Kirito) and Suguha (Leafa) expected, it was not a quest to clear the Inverted Ice Pyramid, but another quest to slaughter all beast-type Evil Gods and the sword had yet to be obtained. After Kazuto and Suguha called Yuuki Asuna, Asada Shino (Sinon), Tsuboi Ryoutarou (Klein), Ayano Keiko (Silica) and Rika (Lisbeth) to form a party of seven to attempt raiding the ice pyramid again, they gathered at Lisbeth's shop in Yggdrasil City to prepare and then came to Jötunheimr via a secret passage that Kirito and Leafa had found nearly a year before.
There, they called Tonky to transport them to the dungeon, but the creature instead took them downwards, until they were able to clearly see what was happening on the ground, where they saw players cooperating with the humanoid-type Evil Gods to wipe out the beast-type Evil Gods. At that moment, an Non-Player Character calling herself «The Queen of the Lake», Urðr appeared. She told them of a once beautiful Jötunheimr where the roots of the World Tree touched the floor and the endless void in the center of the land was filled with water of the purest quality. The Frost Giants had used the «Holy Sword Excalibur» to cut off the roots of the great tree and this resulted in Jötunheimr turning into a frozen wasteland. After telling that the quest to slaughter the beast-type gods would result in the humanoid-type Evil Gods to invading Alfheim and would reward a «Fake Sword Caliburn», instead of the real Holy Sword Excalibur, Urðr requested the fairies to enter the inverted ice pyramid dungeon, called Thrymheim, and retrieve the real sword from a plinth to return Jötunheimr to its former state before the beast-type gods were all slaughtered.
The party then entered the upside-down pyramid to clear its four floors and obtain Excalibur.
Along the way, at the end of the third floor, they encountered Freyja, a captured beauty, and rescued her. During the battle with the final boss, Giant King Thrym, Freyja transformed into the God Thor after retrieving his weapon Mjölnir, the lightning hammer.
After defeating Thrym, the group headed into a narrow staircase and found «Excalibur». After much effort, Kirito pulled the blade out while the fortress began to collapse. While falling, Tonky saved the group but to Kirito's dismay, «Excalibur» was lost. Suddenly, Sinon sent a Retrieve Arrow towards the blade and made Kirito swear that he would think of her every time he used the sword before giving it to him. They were then met by Urðr and her sisters Verðandi and Skuld to receive the reward for completing the request.
The group was rewarded with treasure, including Excaliber, who then decided to log out and have celebrate their success at Agil's cafe.
After the Sword Art Online death game began, Kirito rushed to the village of Horunka to get a head start on the quest which would reward him the «Anneal Blade» which was strong enough to last him for the first three floors. During his quest, Kirito found another beta tester like him. Coper, who proposed that they try to complete the quest together to obtain the quest reward. However, once Kirito acquired the item needed to complete the quest, Coper purposely activated a trap which released a horde of monsters, in a bid to claim the quest item for himself. Kirito realized that Coper was trying to kill him. After a tough fight, he managed to escape but Coper died. This heavily affected Kirito as he realized he could die in this game. Kirito returned and completed the quest, but stayed at the house of the quest giver and watched her tend to her daughter, which tearfully prompted him to remember Suguha.
- This book claimed that Kirito formed a party with Asuna for the first time during the murder in the Area incident. However, this was retconned in the Progressive series where they had first formed a party over a year before the murder incident.
- There is a non-canon ending of the Calibur side-story, called Calibur SS.