Part 2 As she was falling to the dungeon floor, a prosaic thought drifted through her mind. 'How is it possible to faint in a virtual space?' Loss of consciousness meant the brain's normal blood flow was momentarily delayed, and its functions stopped. The reason for this ischemia could be a malfunction in the heart or blood vessels, anemia or low blood pressure, hyperventilation or many other reasons; but while FullDiving in a VR world, the physical body is resting on a bed or reclining chair. Furthermore, the physical bodies of the players imprisoned by this death game «SAO» were probably currently placed in a hospital; their health would obviously be checked and continuously monitored, and if necessary, even medicine would be used. It's hard to believe that loss of consciousness would be due to some physical abnormality—. After she thought that far within her fading consciousness, at the end she thought, 'That kind of thing doesn’t matter.' Yes, nothing matters to me anymore... Because, she will die here. Fainting in a dungeon full of violent monsters, there was no way she would be unharmed. There was another player nearby, but she did not think he would go so far as to endanger his life to help another who had fallen. Anyway, how could he help? In this world, the maximum weight a single player can carry is strictly limited by the system. In the depths of a dungeon, everyone carries medicine and extra equipment to their weight limit, leaving space for monster drops such as gold and items. With all those combined, the act of carrying a whole person is absolutely impossible. —Upon thinking to this point, she finally realized something. What she thought as she was hit by a strong sense of dizziness and she fell to the ground was, 'Finally, I can relax without thinking for a long time'. The hard stone floor of the dungeon was what should have been under her body, but somehow, the feeling against her back was curiously soft and fluffy. Her body felt warm, and a light breeze caressed her cheek… She opened her eyes with enough force to make a sound. She was no longer in a dungeon lined by thick walls. She was in a clearing in a forest, surrounded by old trees covered in golden moss and thorny brushes with small flowers. At the center of a round space of about 7 or 8 meters in diameter, she seemed to have been lying on a soft carpet of grass while unconscious…no, asleep. But—why? How had she, who had fallen in the depths of the dungeon, been moved to this far away field? The answer to that question was found when she turned her view 90 degrees to the right. At the edge of the clearing, there was a grey silhouette crouching over the root of a particularly majestic tree. He held a somewhat large one-handed sword both arms, and its sheath was propped up under his lowered head. Long black hair covered his face so that it couldn't be seen, but judging from his equipment and physique, there was no mistaking that he was the male player who had spoken with her before she fainted in the dungeon. Most likely, that man had used some kind of method to move her out of the dungeon to this forest after she had fallen. She quickly looked past the grove of trees forest in the background.
On the left side, about 100 meters away, a huge tower reaching up to the sky—the First Floor Dungeon of Aincrad stood towering above there in deep black. She returned her gaze to her right again. Sensing her movement, the man's dark-grey leather coat covered shoulders shook and he lifted his head slightly. Even in the bright midday forest, the man's two eyes were black, like a starless night. The moment her eyes met his dark-colored eyes, she felt small fireworks exploding in her head. From between her grinding teeth, Asuna—Yuuki Asuna, forced out a low, hoarse voice. "Unnecessary…effort."
After being imprisoned in this world, Asuna had asked herself hundreds and thousands of times. Why, at that time, did she touch a new game machine that was not even hers? Why did she place it on her head, lie down on the mesh recliner, and issue the start command? The dream VR interface and cursed killing machine, «Nerve Gear», and the game disc of the prison of an immeasurable number of souls, «Sword Art Online», hadn’t been purchased by Asuna, but by her older brother Kouichirou. However, even for her brother, things like MMORPGs or anything with the name of 'game' had been unrelated to his life since his youth. Born as the first son to the president of the huge electronics-manufacturing company «Recto», he had grown up while receiving all the education and training needed for him to become his father’s successor, and at the same time being excluded from everything unnecessary to that. Why that brother of hers would be interested in Nerve Gear…no, in SAO, was something that she did not, even now, understand. Ironically however, Koichiro would not be able to play the first game he bought in his life. On the first day of game's official service, he was sent on a business trip overseas. On the day before his departure, when facing her from his seat at the dining table, he had complained about it jokingly, but she sensed that he genuinely had regrets about it. Though not as extreme as Koichiro, the only experience of game playing that Asuna, a thirdyear middle school student, had previously had up until now were free games on her cell phone once in a while. She knew about the existence of net games, but with high school entrance exams closing in, she had no reason or motivation to be interested in them—or that was how it should have been. That’s why even she couldn’t explain why, on that day one month ago, on the afternoon of November 6, 2022, she had visited her brother's vacant room, taken the fully set-up Nerve Gear from the top of his desk, placed it on her head, and said «Link Start». From just one action, everything changed on that day…no, it could be said to have ended. In the beginning, Asuna had locked herself within an inn room in the Starting City to wait for the incident to end, but after two weeks passed with no word from the real world, she gave up hope on being saved from outside. Also, having learned that the number of player deaths had already reached over one thousand at that time and yet in spite of that even the first dungeon had not been broken through, she realized that waiting inside for the game to be cleared was useless. The only remaining choice was therefore «What kind of death?». Staying in the only safe city for months, no, years like this could be one way. However, no one can be sure that the rule of «Monsters cannot enter cities» will continue forever.
Instead of continuing to huddle in a small dark room while fearing for the future, it's better to go outside. Use all her ability to learn, train, and fight. If she ended up dying after using all her strength, at the very least she would not need to lament whims of the past and regret a lost future. Run. Charge forward. Then disappear. Like a fleeting shooting star burning up upon entering the atmosphere. Holding onto that single thought, Asuna had left the inn, and stepped out into the wilderness of the MMORPG world, of which she didn't know a single piece of terminology. She chose her own weapon, and relying on the one skill she learned, reached the bottom of the dungeon that no one had been to before. Then today, Friday, December 2, at 4 AM. Asuna had fainted due to, most likely, a natural neural reflex from the fatigue of continuously fighting, and her path should have come to an end. In the Starting City's «Black Iron Palace», near the left side on the «Monument of Life», the name 'Asuna', run through by a horizontal line, should have been neatly inscribed, and everything would have ended—is how it should have been. And yet.
"Unnecessary……" Asuna again squeezed out that single word again. The dark haired, single-handed sword user crouching four meters away from her lowered his night-colored eyes. Her first impression of him was that he was a little older than she was, but that unexpectedly naïve gesture made her furrow her brow slightly. However, a few seconds later, the man's mouth formed a cynical smile that overwrote her previous impression. "I didn't save you." A low quiet murmur. It sounded youthful, but something in it camouflaged his age this time, too. "……Then, why didn't you leave me there?" "What I saved, was the map data you have. If you secluded yourself near the front lines for as long as four days, you should have mapped a considerable amount of unexplored areas. It would be a bit wasteful if it disappeared along with you." With this logic and pragmatism pushed onto her, she took a deep breath. 'The importance of life' and 'How everyone should team up and work together'; up to now, when people in the city had told her such things she had immediately cut them down—with words only, of course—and she thought of doing that now, but couldn't come up with any reasonable responses. "……Then, just take it." With a low mutter, she opened her main window. Navigating through the tabs with a hand motion that she had finally gotten accustomed to recently, she accessed her map data and copied it all to a parchment item. She turned it into an object and took it out as a small scroll, and then tossed it near the man's feet. "With this, you've achieved your objective, right? Then, I will be going." Pushing on the grass with her hand, she stood up but wobbled slightly. Judging from the window's time display, she calculated that she had slept for seven hours since she fell, but it
seemed that she had not fully recovered from her exhaustion yet. However, she still had three spare rapiers left. She had decided earlier that she would not leave the tower until the last rapier had only half its durability. She had many unanswered questions. Through what kind of means had the grey-coated onehanded sword user moved her from the depths of the dungeon to the forest clearing? Even accepting that he had moved her, why had he especially gone to the trouble of moving her outside, instead of a safe area in the dungeon? Even so, she didn't think it was something that she needed to turn around and ask. Therefore, in order to return to the dungeon that towered darkly from above the tree grove to the left, Asuna tried to take a step forward. —But, just before she could. "Wait, Fencer-san." "……" Asuna ignored it and took a few steps forward, but the speech that followed after made her feet stop. "You, too, are basically working hard to clear the game right? Not just to die in the dungeon. Then, wouldn't it be better if you show your face at the «meeting»?" "...Meeting?" After she murmured that with her back still turned, the swordsman's voice reached her in an altered tone over the gentle breeze within the forest. "This afternoon, in the town of «Tolbana» that is the closest to the dungeon, the first «First Floor Boss strategy conference» is supposed to be held."