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Due to the attack by Kanamoto Atsushi (Johnny Black), Kirigaya Kazuto (Kirito) suffered brain damage and was hospitalised in a comatose state. However, the boy suddenly vanished while en route to a different hospital for better care. With the help of Yui, Asuna traced his position to a mega-float known as the Ocean Turtle. Enlisting the help of Koujiro Rinko, the former lover of Kayaba Akihiko, managed to infiltrate the facility, where she discovered that Kazuto had been abducted by Kikuoka Seijirou and Higa Takeru, the men in charge of the Soul Translator project, in order to use the device to stimulate the boy's recovery via his Fluctlight.
Meanwhile, Eugeo and Kirito journeyed south from Rulid Village to the town of Zakkaria, where they worked on a farm outside the town for several months before competing in the Norlangarth North Area Swordsmanship Competition. After winning the tournament, the two were accepted into the town's garrison. Eventually, the two earned the right to enroll into the Sword Mastery Academy in Centoria, taking their next step towards their goal of becoming Integrity Knights and gaining entry to the Central Cathedral.
Chapter 2 - Project AlicizationEdit
Two days after Kanamoto Atsushi's attack on Kirigaya Kazuto, Asuna, Leafa and Sinon met in ALfheim Online (ALO) to discuss the situation. Kazuto had been transported to a hospital in order to receive emergency treatment for the drug that was injected into him. Although the doctors succeeded in restoring his cardiac activity, the boy remained unconscious due to brain damage. His doctors soon ordered him transferred to a different hospital for magnetic resonance imaging, but the ambulance carrying him disappeared.
Considering that Kazuto's area of expertise was virtual reality games, the three girls concluded that his disappearance was related to his work with Rath, meaning that Kikuoka Seijirou was responsible for the abduction. As Seijirou worked for the government, the girls requested Yui to search the national budget for grants related to artificial intelligence, which led them to discover an allotment for the «Ocean Turtle», a large, offshore mega-float that bore a strong resemblance to the fictional creature that served as the basis for Rath's name.
With the help of Koujiro Rinko, Asuna infiltrated the Ocean Turtle, the main site for Rath's Soul Translator technology that Kazuto had been secretly transported to by Kikuoka Seijirou. The two women found Seijirou and Higa Takeru, the primary developer for the Soul Translator, in the mega-float's main control room, where Asuna revealed her identity to them and demanded to know what they had done with Kazuto. From the government agent, Asuna learnt that while Kazuto had recovered from Atsushi's attack, the brain damage inflicted by the attack could not be treated through the means available to modern medicine. For this reason, Seijirou orchestrated Kazuto's abduction in order to place him into a Soul Translator, which could promote the recovery of his neuronal network via the stimulation of his Fluctlight. Although reassured by this knowledge, Asuna and Rinko demanded to know why Seijirou needed Kazuto at all. Relenting, Seijirou agreed to disclose the true purpose of Rath, as well as why Kazuto was necessary to their plan.
Seijirou began his explanation by revealing that the Soul Translator was capable of making copies of a user's consciousness. To demonstrate this function, Takeru loaded a copy of his own Fluctlight, which self-destructed in dramatic fashion after a few minutes of existence. According to Seijirou and Takeru, every Fluctlight copied from an adult individual had collapsed in a similar fashion, due to the Fluctlights' inability to comprehend that they were not the original individual. Rath had circumvented this issue by using the prototype Soul Translator housed at Rath's facility in the Roppongi district of Tokyo to replicate the Fluctlights of infants, creating a generic template for the human soul. As the template was completely empty of memories, the Artificial Fluctlights created using it were not as prone to collapsing as Fluctlight duplicates of already mature individuals. Upon being transferred to the Ocean Turtle by satellite, the template was used to create artificial people whom they could raise in a virtual environment to fulfill Rath's ultimate goal: the creation of a highly adaptive artificial intelligence to replace human soldiers in warfare. The process of developing the artificial intelligence was accelerated through the use of the Soul Translator's Fluctlight Acceleration function, which allowed altering the Fluctlights' perception of time and thus made it possible to have one hour in reality span over forty-one days in the virtual world.
As years passed in Underworld, Seijirou and Takeru observed that the Artificial Fluctlights were absolutely obedient to the Taboo Index, a series of rules created by their own ruling organisation. The inability to break any rules was detrimental to Rath's goal to create highly adaptive artificial soldiers, thus they had to investigate the cause of this blind obedience. To this end, they had a number of Rath employees raised alongside their virtual subjects in the world, leading to the observation that they all succumbed to law-abiding behavior to the point of becoming reclusive. Theorizing that the employees were simply unfamiliar with their foreign environment, Seijirou had Kazuto, his acquaintance with years of FullDiving experience, inserted into the simulation and raised alongside the Artificial Fluctlights. To their pleasant surprise, subsequent observations of Kazuto revealed that his influence had caused one of the two children he had befriended in the world to violate the Taboo Index: the very behavior they were seeking. However, before Seijirou and Takeru were able to retrieve the child's Light Cube, the world's authorities captured her and reprogrammed her Fluctlight, returning it to its state of unconditional obedience.
After Seijirou finished his explanation, Asuna and Rinko were escorted to the mega-float's central core by Aki Natsuki, a nurse in the Self-Defense Force working under Seijirou who had cared for Kazuto's body during the Sword Art Online incident and had thus been stationed on the Ocean Turtle for the specific purpose of being Kazuto's caretaker. Within the core's upper half, which housed a lesser control room and two of the facility's four Soul Translators, Asuna and Rinko were allowed to observe Kazuto as he lay comatose in his Soul Translator.
Several hours later, Rinko visited Asuna's quarters, where they discussed the effect Kayaba Akihiko had had on their lives. Although Asuna had heard from news reports that Akihiko had implanted a microbomb in Rinko's chest to force her to care for him during the SAO Incident, Rinko revealed that the man had never intended to actually detonate it; instead, he used it as a way to absolve her of any wrongdoing in the wake of the game's resolution. Continuing with her recollections, Rinko disclosed that when the SAO Incident began, she had attempted to stop Akihiko herself but was ultimately unable to do so, resulting in her feeling remorse about failing to stop the incident ever since. Rinko's admission of guilt was met by Asuna assuring the woman that she felt no bitterness toward her or Akihiko over what they had done, as she herself held conflicted feelings about Akihiko: while he may have trapped her in his game and nearly killed her, she would never have met Kazuto without it.
Later that night, Rinko's dreams were interrupted by a voice resembling Akihiko's in her room. In a panic, she searched the room and hallway outside her door for an intruder. However, as she found nobody there, she was unable to determine whether the voice was real or imaginary.
Chapter 3 - Zakkaria Sword Arts TournamentEdit
Under orders from its master, a small, sentient observer had begun secretly traveling with Eugeo and Kirito ever since their departure from Rulid Village. Throughout its observation of the two boys on their journey as they began working for the Woldes, a family of farmers living outside Zakkaria, while waiting for their opportunity to take part in the Norlangarth North Area Swordsmanship Competition, the observer came to understand the reason for its master's interest in the boys, as Kirito had an abnormal proclivity for rule-breaking to the extent of nearly violating the Taboo Index.
Now 163 days into the observation of the two boys, on the eve of the tournament in Zakkaria, the creature watched as the boys sleet in the farmers' stable, ruminating on its own unusual attachment to them. While it was not intended to feel emotions of any kind, it nevertheless desired to stay with them as long as possible. To that end, it used a small wind element to blow a clump of hay over Kirito's body as he slept to prevent him from potentially catching a cold, which would have rendered the boy unable to enter the tournament and thus effectively brought the observer's task to an end.
The next morning, while working in the stable, Eugeo and Kirito were brought breakfast by the farmers' twin daughters, Telin and Telulu. After finishing their chores, Eugeo and Kirito left for Zakkaria. As they approached the town's western gate, they were nearly trampled by a panicking horse, ridden by a Zakkarian sentinel. As Kirito grabbed the horse around the neck, Eugeo removed something from the horse's hind quarter, causing it to regain its composure. The thing in question was revealed to be a swampfly that had been biting the horse, a finding that Kirito found to be suspicious, as there were no swamps for several kilolu in any direction. Thus, the boy encouraged Eugeo to be prepared for surprises as they entered the town to purchase some food before entering the tournament.
Upon reaching a large plaza in the center of town, Eugeo and Kirito registered for the tournament. During the process, the elderly man in charge of registering entrants informed them that all the competitors would be sorted into two separate blocks, which implied the possibility of the two boys being sorted into the same block. While they contemplated the possibility of having to fight each other, Kirito surveyed the waiting room, appraising the other entrants. Upon returning to Eugeo, he warned his partner to be wary of an apprentice boy with sandy-colored hair, as the boy seemed similar to Eugeo's childhood bully, Jink.
When the selection began a few moments later, all the entrants were prompted to draw red or blue balls from within a box to determine their block assignment. Deciding to ensure that Eugeo and Kirito were placed in separate blocks, the observer jumped from the latter's bangs into the box when the boy reached out his hand to draw the first ball. Since Kirito drew a blue ball, the observer lifted a red ball into Eugeo's hand, thus protecting them from encountering each other during the tournament. Just as it was about to leave the box, it recalled Kirito's assessment of the sandy-haired apprentice. Deciding that it would be better to pit him against Kirito than Eugeo, it waited until the apprentice's turn to draw and gave him a blue ball as well.
The first stage of the tournament began at noon and consisted of each competitor executing ten sets of forms before a panel of judges. While Eugeo performed his styles in an orthodox manner, Kirito raced through them in an attempt to keep the judges from potentially noticing mistakes in his forms. Having observed the performances from its perch in Kirito's hair, the observer was relieved to discover that both Eugeo and Kirito advanced to the second stage, despite the latter's unusual performance.
When the bracket for each block of eight was drawn, Kirito was paired against the sandy-haired boy, Egome Zakkalight. The moment their duel began, Egome lunged at Kirito, who easily parried his incoming swing. As they stood with their swords locked, Kirito disclosed that he had smelled the scent of tanglevine on Egome's clothes during his appraisal of the entrants in the waiting room. As tanglevine's only use was for paralyzing insects, Kirito had concluded that Egome was responsible for planting the swampfly that bit the horse outside the gates. With his plot now exposed, Egome admitted to using the swampfly to circumvent the Taboo Index in order to injure Kirito and his partner before they could register, as he loathed the idea of commoners participating in the tournament.
As Egome pressed his blade down on Kirito's, the Durability of the latter's sword began to dwindle at a sharp rate, leading both Kirito and the observer to realize that Egome's blade had a much higher level than his. Assuming that the noble must have conspired with one of the sentinels to receive the overpowered sword, Kirito slid between his legs to gain some distance from his opponent. Recognizing the man's following attack as the Slant Sword Skill from Sword Art Online, Kirito used a two-part skill named Snake Bite to destroy his opponent's sword, immediately ending the duel. Following this victory, Eugeo and Kirito defeated every other duelist they faced in the tournament as well, earning themselves admission into Zakkaria's garrison. In the following spring, they were awarded recommendations for entry into Norlangarth's Imperial Sword Mastery Academy.
Chapter 4 - Sword Mastery AcademyEdit
Upon their admission to the Imperial Sword Mastery Academy, Eugeo and Kirito were selected by senior students to be their valets: Eugeo was chosen by Gorgolosso Baltoh, the academy's third-ranked senior student, while Kirito was selected by Sortiliena Serlut, the second-ranked senior. On the 6th Day of the 3rd Month, 380 HEC, a year and seven months after the Zakkaria tournament, Kirito engaged in one of his usual practice duels against Sortiliena. During the sparring session, Kirito's mentor shared her observation that he was refraining from using the full capabilities of his style.
Having sensed that Kirito's hidden talent might be related to his confidence in his abilities, Sortiliena expressed a desire to witness her disciple's hidden potential, as her own lack of confidence in her own abilities was the only thing preventing her from defeating the academy's first-ranked senior, Volo Levantein. Since the training hall's generic wooden swords were incapable of executing his higher-level skills, Kirito promised to show his mentor a powerful technique on the following day, as this would provide him with time to borrow Eugeo's Blue Rose Sword. When Sortiliena reminded her valet that all training the following day would be forbidden due to it being a day of rest, Kirito requested her to regard the skill as a gift rather than a task, in order to circumvent this rule. The duel resumed seconds later, ending with Sortiliena swiftly incapacitating and defeating Kirito.
Kirito planned to ask Eugeo for his sword, but when he got around to that, he was reminded that the Gigas Cedar branch should be carved into a sword by the next day.
Early the next day, the duo went to Sadore's shop, the man who they were told by Garitta to take the branch to. The previous year, they had left the branch with him to make it into a sword, and since that day, Sadore had completed the one-handed straight-sword at Kirito's request. He allowed him to keep it for free, with a custom name of his own, and told him that he intended for the sword to be his shop's signature.
Later that day, Kirito decided to travel to a secluded area in the woods near the school, and attempted to see how many consecutive strikes he could manage. He discovered that like with Eugeo's Blue Rose Sword, he could only make 4-hit moves successfully. When he attempted to exceed that limit, Kirito's pose was thrown off balance, and the sword struck the ground, sending mud flying in Volo Levantein's direction, who had been standing there the whole time watching. Volo, being the head student of that year, told Kirito that he would be punished for staining Volo's uniform, but rather than forcing him to clean on a rest day, he said that they would spar in the practice arena.
Upon reaching the arena, about 50 students had gathered and Kirito's senior, Sortiliena, told him that she believes in him and told him to win. The spar began, and the two exchanged blows, but before either could hit the other, Miss Azurika, the dorm supervisor, halted the battle with the authority of being the first Swordswoman Representative of the Norlangarth Empire, a title earned at the Four Empire Unity tournament 7 years ago. Volo told Kirito that his punishment was complete, and left the arena.
Later, Kirito, Eugeo, and both their seniors went to Sortiliena's room and celebrated. After taking Eugeo to their shared room, Kirito went to water the Zephyria Flowers that he had been attempting to grow the whole year, in order to prove that The Underworld had parameters guided by "imagination". Upon arriving at the garden, he spotted two boys, Raios Antinous and Humbert Zizek, nobles whom had harassed Kirito and Eugeo for most of the year. He discovered that they had cut away all the Zephyria flowers he planted, and realized that though the Taboo Index protected property, the law did not claim these flowers as his property, due to being grown on soil that "belonged to nobody." However, a voice in his head told him to ask the Sacred Flowers in the garden, to help revive the life of the fallen Zephyria, and just like that, they grew before his eyes.
In the graduation test of the Academy, Sortiliena finally defeated Volo, graduating as the best student of the year. During the final graduation of Kirito's senior, Kirito gave her the pot of flowers as a gift, which she happily accepted.
Kirito and Eugeo were now Elite Swordsman trainees with their own valets. Ronye Arabel, with tea colored hair, was Kirito's valet and Tiese Shtolienen, with red hair, was Eugeo's valet. Tiese informed Eugeo that she had finished cleaning and Eugeo was about to dismiss her, though he wondered where Kirito was, since Ronye had finished already but couldn't leave until Kirito dismissed her. In that instant Kirito entered the room through the window, carrying a bag filled with honey pies. He took one for himself and gave one to Eugeo, giving the rest to Ronye and telling her to share it with her roommates.
Then Eugeo asked Kirito if he remembered what their goal was, the latter reassuring that they would defeat the other 10 elite swordsmen in the academy, become Integrity Knights, and continue to move forward to achieve their goal of finding Alice.
- Much of the events within Volume 10 were not present within the web version of the story. All of chapters 3 and 4 were only added within the light novel adaption.
- In the web novel, chapter 2 is the first time Yui and Sinon met, and prior to this meeting, Sinon had only heard of her. In the light novel, the two both participated in the group quest for Excalibur.