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Published at 18th of March 2018 10:46:58 PM


Chapter final: final

[Clover's Regret] Final Chapter - Nayuta's Tears

With this chapter, we have finished the first volume of Clover's Regret (excluding the afterword and various bonuses that we'll release at a later date) . I hope you've enjoyed this story and while I had kinda guessed most of the revelations in this chapter, one specific one really caught me off guard . Anyway, this series is going to have a second volume released in January (possibly a compilation of the side stories published with the character books?) . If there is interest, I may take up the second volume as well . Though, at the moment, I still don't really have any active editors interested in working on the series . . . neither have I had anyone to edit this chapter, so do let me know if you spot any issues . I gave it a quick lookthrough, but I could have missed a random brainfart, not to mention any issues with readability . Out of curiosity, I figured I'd make a poll to gauge interest in the series .

How did you like Clover's Regret (v1)?


— Gytis Ignas Simenas (@gsimenas) Thanks to all of those who contributed to the for helping us get the raws . Any feedback is appreciated . P . S . "Nayuta" in the chapters title is written in kanji (那由他), rather than kana .

Credits

Raws: SAO Scans Project Translation: Gsimenas

TBA

Final Chapter - Nayuta's Tears

At the end of March, around the time when the sakura buds had finished opening up in the Kantou area . The death of Yanagi Teiichi, the chairman of the confectionery store named Yanagi-ya Ryuuzen-dou, was announced . He died at the age of eighty-one . Although a small article about this appeared in every newspaper, it didn't become much of a topic in society, his death being accepted calmly . That day, with some Yanagi-mochi bought from a department store in an underground shopping centre as a present, Detective Clevel visited the office of his friend 《Thinker》 . The man who managed the game info site called MMO Today was also an SAO survivor who had once led the 《Aincrad Liberation Force》 . While giving a prudent look at his terminal, Thinker sighed rather deeply . "So Chairman Yanagi has passed away, huh…… you going to the funeral?" Detective Clevel── Kurei Kaisei cast his eyes down and nodded . "Of course . I want to pay my respects to the wife; we do have a strange relationship after all . " Yanagi Teiichi fell into a coma not long after the 《Phantom Orchestra》 was cleared . A mere few days after that── he was finally summoned to heaven . While operating the terminal in his hands, Thinker picked up a mochi . "We, too, have received courteous thanks from his wife . We were right to introduce you to them . " Thinker was the middleman between Yanagi and Clevel . It seems that while looking for someone to help him with the quest, Yanagi had consulted his acquaintance who had put up an ad on MMO Today . This led to Thinker, who fired a white arrow-feather at the roof(1) of the tour-guide-and-detective Clevel . Thinker and Clevel had once been part of the Liberation Force together . That doesn't mean they had a long relationship . It was only to the extent that he had helped Thinker and Yulier late in the game; in fact, they had more opportunities to keep in touch after being liberated from SAO, due to mutual interests between Thinker, who was managing and info site, and Clevel, who had started a new network security company . Like in this case, when a request was passed on to Clevel by Thinker; they maintained such a friendly give-and-take relationship . "However, about that 《Phantom Orchestra》──was it a quest created by a member of the Sleeping Knights? Have I told you about 《Absolute Sword》 in ALfheim before?" "Yeah . I've heard he's remarkably skilled swordsman . Seeing as you brought up the story of Absolute Sword here…… is he also…?" Thinker inclined his head ambiguously . "Not he, but she . But, as you've guessed, the girl is also a member of the Sleeping Knights, and their second leader at that . Her name is Yuuki and she is a friend of a friend, but…… she passed away just the other day . She was still in her mid-teens . " Clevel closed his eyes . He had never directly met the player named Yuuki . For starters, their primary place of activity was different . Although it had become easy to convert character data among all sorts of games since the dissemination of The Seed, her primary battleground was ALfheim after all, while Clevel was practically a permanent resident of Asuka Empire . "And having never heard of the 《Phantom Orchestra》 by then, it seems…… perhaps Kiyofumi-kun never informed his partners about his quest having been accepted . " Clevel replied with a sigh . "I feel like I can understand him . It was hard for him to bring it up…… or more like, he must have never thought of bringing it up . Even if it were accepted, it was unclear when it would be implemented . If he were still alive at the time and could bring his partners along to show them around, it would be one thing…… but if that weren't the case, things would become complicated . If some of his mates died while waiting for the implementation, it would be all the more difficult to speak about it in the future . " Actually, at the moment, the 《Phantom Orchestra》 was temporarily suspended for adjustment . Its reopening time was still undecided; at the earliest, it could drag on till May or even more . He could think of even several more reasons why Kiyofumi never informed his partners about the quest . From his own position, all Clevel could do was making vague and arbitrary guesses, but, for example, it was possible that he "didn't want to brag about his results" . Compared to his companions, all about to die young, him alone being able to leave something behind could have felt painful . Depending on the point of view, displaying such visible fruits of his labour to his close-to-death companions could be considered cruel . On the contrary, considering the precious memories he had with his comrades, the results of his quest application were likely overshadowed . Or, perhaps── There was the possibility that the member Kiyofumi wanted to share the joy with had already died before him . On top of that, why did Kiyofumi leave behind traces of the Sleeping Knights within the quest? Was it for the survivors or his kouhai who may possibly stumble upon it, or was it because of a pure desire to leave some records of them behind, or was it a memorial for the companions who had already died before him── either way, anything further on this topic was already appropriate to be called groundless speculation, rather than conjecture . Though, there was one thing clear . In the end, to Kiyofumi, the 《Phantom Orchestra》 was not "a creation to brag about to someone", but the realisation of his own desire "to simply create something" . On top of that, Kiyofumi presuming that his grandfather Yanagi would play it was simply the result of him having noticed the deeply-ingrained guilt Yanagi was harbouring . 'Not being to do anything for his grandchild, who was dying young'── that's what Yanagi had been convinced of . No matter what words the boy used to deny this misunderstanding, it would only end up sounding as an attempt to comfort the old man, thus it was quite hard to resolve . That's why Kiyofumi presented Yanagi with visible fruits of his labour and used it as proof to break his misunderstanding . The collection of quests for the《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》, and the 《Phantom Orchestra》 were materials by which Kiyofumi could achieve several of his desires all at once . The figure of Yanagi as he broke down crying at the last words from Kiyofumi was even now burned into Clevel's mind . It seems that Yanagi's expression at death was so peaceful that it even surprised the doctors . If clearing the 《Phantom Orchestra》 served as repose for his soul, it was honestly delightful . With a sidelong glance at Clevel, silently in thought, Thinker picked up a mochi . "I don't know what you're thinking about, but…… you're as prone to overthinking things as always, it seems . Should I provide some advice?" "……Did it seem like I was deep in thought? I was just dazing off a bit though . " Ending the conversation, Clevel left his seat . Being falsely accused of something was a bit bothersome . "Well then, I've finished covering the details about Yanagi-san's case, so I'll be excusing myself . This time, I also got to make a profit . Let me know if you get anything else . " "I'm asking just in case, but it would be bad to turn that story into an article, right?" At Thinker's question, Clevel replied with a faint smile . "Give me a break . It's a matter of confidence for us . In the near future, I have an arrangement to meet the director of Yanagi-ya . I was called on because he 〝would like to hear the full story〟 . I'll confirm with him at that time whether it's a story that can be released . " The current director of the confectionery store named Yanagi-ya was Yanagi's son and Kiyofumi's father . Regarding his own son, he had been unable to do much of any fatherly things, and in regard to his own father, he had been unable to show that much devotion; he had revealed these regrets of his to Clevel by phone . But from Clevel's perspective, a certain extent of that felt inevitable . As a practical issue, it was by no means easy to maintain his father's business and sustain his family and employees financially . It would have been problematic if he abandoned his employees at the roadside for his son's cuteness, and devotion to his parents would be the last thing on his mind if he destroyed the company he had inherited . As time was limited and people only had a single body, there was a definite limit to what a person could do . Just when he was about to leave Thinker's workplace, Clevel was given a paper bag . "Here, a souvenir from Canada . Take it with you . " Despite not being big, it was quite heavy . "Thanks . Maple syrup, huh?" "Yeah . You could use it to bake scones, for example . It's the one thing I can't pass on in-game . " It seemed that he had remembered something from the past . "If it's too much for you, give it to that high school girl from that part-time job . You do seem to be infatuated with her . " At Thinker's teasing, Clevel replied with a snicker . Speaking of the infatuation, he couldn't reject that idea, but he had told no one the reason why . At the very least── it wasn't something that he wanted to make public that much . Along the way back to his own workplace, Clevel once again got lost in thought . The player-tester, employed part-time for the aforementioned quest, Nayuta── Clevel harboured somewhat conflicting emotions about her . Of course, it wasn't a case of falling head over heels . Just yesterday, he heard from Torao, who was making progress on inspecting the 《Phantom Orchestra》, a peculiar fact . 〝Knowing my position, I shouldn't really tell you this, but…… when I checked on the system logs before and after the test play, I found something a bit peculiar regarding the traces of the young lady's login and logout . And when I investigated the matter further, I found that it happened practically each time……〟 . According to Torao, Nayuta seemed to be always logging into Asuka Empire from "a different server" . The same took place when she logged out - she didn't return to the real world directly, but through a particular server . If she were playing another game as well, going back and forth to that server was a possibility . Though, in that case, the server displayed in the system logs would belong to the respective game and the administrators would have a rough idea of what game she was playing . Apparently, that was not the case with Nayuta's logs . 〝She is probably using a personal server at home, or perhaps a rented server for personal use, to log in and log out . I don't know what purpose that serves and it's not really a violation of terms of service, but…… I thought I'd let you know . 〟 In short, it was baffling that she took such an unnecessary measure before playing the game and before returning to the real world . But then, Clevel could think of a reason for that . Nayuta's surname, 〝Kushiinada〟 was rare as it is, but Clevel knew of two people other than Nayuta who held such a surname . The first was a contemporary from the police, his comrade-in-arms 《Yakumo》, Kushiinada Daichi, who seemed to be Nayuta's elder brother . He had lost his overly young live within SAO . The fact that he was unable to stop him from going into battle could be said to be Clevel's biggest regret . The other was a technical officer of the National Police Agency's Telecommunications Department, Kushiinada Kimihito── he was Daichi and Nayuta's uncle . After returning alive from SAO, Clevel was visited by him at the hospital and told he wanted to hear the details about his nephew's death . The organisation known as the police had a lot of talented people with blood ties . It wasn't purely a case of getting employed through personal connections; in the first place, having a relative in the force gave one the advantage of a clear background . Taking it to extremes, a person harbouring antisocial thoughts had the risk of being a foreign spy or something like that trying to slip into the organisation, and thus background check for the police was far stricter than for a civilian enterprise . And, if a relative is an official within the force, you have the chance to know the state of affairs inside to some extent, thus making it easier to be picked for the career . From Daichi's uncle── Clevel heard what had happened in the Kushiinada household after the death of his bosom friend . Daichi's death and the whole story of what happened afterwards had become gossip even within the police force and his uncle Kimihito became the focus for pitying looks . Nayuta's mysterious login record was probably related to these circumstances . Having shamelessly survived, Clevel also assembled inquisitive looks from his coworkers, but after recovering, he immediately resigned from the police . He made up some appropriate ostensible reasons . He lost confidence in living his life as a police officer; he wanted to reconsider his way of living; he was shocked by the death of his bosom friend── All of them were lies . Clevel did not have such an admirable personality . The real reason he retired from the office of a police officer, started a tiny security enterprise, and took on the job of a detective-like tour guide was more foolish than these made-up ostensible reasons . At least, that's how he thought of it, so he hasn't told anyone other than a very, very small number of people about it . Meeting Nayuta, Daichi's younger sister, when his company was finally going right on track felt too much like fate to be brushed off as a mere coincidence . Despite the bright spring sunlight, he was gloomy . His mobile phone vibrated in his pocket . The name 《Nayuta》 was displayed on the incoming call . Feigning a calm state of mind, Clevel came to a halt at the edge of the street and answered the phone . "……Hello?" 『Ah, Detective-san…… sorry for the sudden call . This is Nayuta speaking . Can you talk on the phone right now?』 "Yeah, I don't mind…… you're here for Yanagi-san, I guess?" It seemed he hit the bullseye, as Nayuta was at a loss for words . That was the only conceivable reason why she'd call him right now . Clevel continued speaking calmly . "If you want to come to the funeral, I shall contact you when I get to know the details . Since it'll probably be a company funeral, there will be a lot of attendees . There should be no problem in us slipping in . " 『Y-yes…… Umm, I know this is late, but I'm surprised you were able to tell, you know? Detective-san, do you read the hearts of others? I kind of feel like you have gone beyond mere insight, acquiring supernatural powers……』 At the bewildered Nayuta, Clevel gave an unnatural sight as a reply . "Actually, that's the case── Allow me to guess what you're thinking right now . 〝This person really is not right in the head〟……am I right?" Nayuta fell silent for a few moments . Finally, he heard her shocked voice . 『……Masochistic, or rather, how should I put it…… first off, that was unfair . Anybody would have that kind of thought . 』 "How rude . My guess should have been correct . Well then, I'll call you later . " Promptly ending the call, the detective once took a deep breath again . ──'She shouldn't have noticed my uneasiness . ' 〝Kaisei, do you read the hearts of others? You've gone beyond mere insight, acquiring supernatural powers . 〟 Each time Clevel expressed a trifling conjecture while Daichi was alive, he'd frequently say that in a shocked voice . When both the brother and the sister used similar phrasings, he of course couldn't stay calm . Under the clear, blue spring sky, Clevel was, in contrast, harbouring gloomy emotions as he quickly walked through town .

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Yanagi Teiichi's funeral service was grand . Starting with Yanagi-ya's employees and clients, the service was also visited by a large number of other people, such as representatives from other companies Yanagi had interacted with, officials from the confectionery school that he had worked as a director at, and acquaintances from haiku poetry gatherings and tea ceremonies; all of them came to see off the man who had lived to a ripe old age . Clevel and Nayuta had also slipped into the line, finished burning the incense offering, and were now standing in a corner of the precincts in mourning dresses . In order not to impede passage, the two took shelter under a tree within the grounds, and Clevel slightly loosened his necktie . "It sure has become hot . It seems it's about time to put away the kotatsu . " "……You have not put it away yet?…… Incidentally, you use a kotatsu? It really does not go with your appearance . " Clevel laughed scornfully . "I have no intention of deciding my lifestyle based on appearance . Kotatsu are nice . They'e cheap, have good heating efficiency, and you can both sit and sleep next to them── if you take off the futon, you could also use it as a low table in summer . It's wonderful . " Nayuta lightly burst into laughter . "Detective-san, such words filled with livelihood coming from your kitsune face only feel out of place . You give off more of…… an impression that you'd be drinking white wine or something in a stylish, pure white room in some high-rise condominium . " He accepted the small number of thorns in all of her words in a positive manner as her way of letting her guard down . "For some reason, I get told that often . Though, I don't happen to have such a financially-heavy taste . If pushed, I'd say that I'd prefer old-fashioned stuff, whether it's Japanese or Western . The interior of my detective office feels like that too, don't you think?" Nayuta nodded . "Yes . I do relatively like the ambience of that office . "I haven't shown it to you two, but I actually have a tatami-matted kotatsu room inside . It sure is easy to remodel a room in virtual space . " Nayuta smiled . Although this wasn't an appropriate expression at a funeral service, she did seem to be relieved . "I know . I also occasionally……" Having begun to say this, Nayuta suddenly hesitated . "That reminds me, Detective-san . Speaking of virtual space, just a while ago, the topic of the Bakeneko Tea House came up in the emails with Yanagi-san's wife . At that time, she said she would definitely want to visit it── how about we invite her when things have calmed down?" Clevel unintentionally replied with a forced smile . Perhaps being on the same wavelength, Yanagi's wife was quite fond of Nayuta . He could roughly guess how the topic of the 《Bakeneko Tea House》 came up in the email . After the success in clearing the Phantom Orchestra── they couldn't just leave Yanagi, who had broken down into tears due to the last words from Kiyofumi, thus the group held a minor closing party at the Bakeneko Tea House . Yanagi was surprised by craftsmanship of all sorts of sweets, but it seemed he had some thoughts about the mamekan in particular . The Bakeneko Tea House's mamekan used special, vanilla-flavoured beans . While being wagashi, it was also Western-styled, thus it could be called heresy, but Yanagi enjoyed it as innocently as a child . Around the time they left the store, Yanagi said "Next time, I'd like to bring my wife along" with a smile, having completely recovered his spirit, and then logged out . ──This was their final parting with Yanagi . All people someday arrived at the end of their life span and died . Clevel, Nayuta, and Koyomi would all certainly die within another several tens of years, thus it was by no means someone else's problem . There were people who died young, like Kiyofumi, as well as people dying every day from unforeseen incidents . People, who died peacefully and without leaving any regrets when death was close at hand, as was the case with Yanagi, could probably be called a lucky, rare occurrence . Pressing down on the skin around her eyes with a handkerchief, Nayuta gave a tough smile . "Before he fell into a coma, it seems that Yanagi told his wife about the Bakeneko Tea House very cheerfully…… 〝Since he talked about it so boastfully, I, too, would like to visit it〟 she said── although Suzuka-san does not have an interest in games as she does not like fighting against enemies and wandering about, she does love amamidokoro cafes, it seems . Detective-san, be sure to join us at that time, she said . " "──Well, this time, I got a generous payment for my services, so such an after-service won't be a problem…… but, the nuisance is that the lady is brimming with the idea that there's something between us . Please be sure to rectify this misunderstanding . If I'm arrested, my company will sink . " Of course, he was joking . But, Nayuta did not look like a student in her mourning dress, thus it wasn't quite funny . "If you are fully aware of that, Detective-san, I do not think there will be anything to cause such a misunderstanding, though… . . do I look that attractive to you?" In response to the detective's joke, Nayuta retaliated with one of her own . It was clear from her tone that she didn't mean that seriously, but the devilish danger in her words couldn't be denied . "That question is quite fiendish; no matter how I answer it, I'll have an unfavourable outcome . If I answer yes, I'll be treated as a dangerous man, if I answer no, I'll end up with a reckless remark that would be rude to a woman . Thus, I shall exercise my right to remain silent . " Shocked, Nayuta put away her handkerchief into her bag . "Haah…… being a man sure is tough . I do believe it would be fine to just be more frank and say something like 〝I have no interest in kids〟?" It seemed that Nayuta still intended to be seen as a child . Clevel subconsciously pressed on his eyes . "Let's stop . This topic isn't going anywhere no matter how we go at it…… Hm . They're carrying out the coffin, it seems . " People standing in a line carried out a coffin from the funeral hall and delivered it to the hearse . Clevel and Nayuta followed the procession and saw off the car with their hands in prayer as the funeral bells resounded . Aside from very close people, beginning with the elderly man's relatives, nobody would be accompanying him to the crematorium . Clevel and Nayuta's plans for today ended here as well . "Well then── how about we have lunch on the way back?" "That is a good idea as well, but…… do you have any plans after this? If not, I'd like to talk to you for a bit and there's a place I'd like you to visit with me . " Clevel showed his car keys . He did presume that Nayuta would refuse to be alone with him, but Nayuta nodded without delay . "I do not mind . It is probably── about my 〝elder brother〟, right?" Inside, he was startled . He shouldn't have given her any hint about that in particular . "That's a surprise…… when did you realise that?" Nayuta gazed at the detective with a clever look . "──At the time I heard that you were an SAO survivor, Detective-san, I thought 〝perhaps he knew my elder brother in-game〟 . Afterwards, when you saw my real name on the part-time job contract, your complexion changed, you know? Because of that, several days later── I took the business card I got from you to my uncle in the National Police Agency . 'Kurei-san would have been a very great police officer', he said with regret . " The detective could only shrug . It wasn't like he hasn't taken her seriously, but the girl possessed a sharper intuition than Clevel had expected . Clevel had frankly spoken about a lot of things with her uncle . In other words, he could safely assume that she had heard about a lot of things from the mouth of her uncle . "Your uncle's words were probably dipped in honey, but…… if you already know my background, our conversation can go quicker than I had expected . In the 《Phantom Orchestra》 the other day, what I saw── was your brother, 〝Kushiinada Daichi〟 . Although that wasn't a ghost, it did provide a kind of incentive . I would like to go to his grave; would you go with me?" Nayuta meekly nodded . During the car ride that followed, the two had practically avoided talking . It wasn't an awkward silence . On the contrary, it was a silence that neither was bothered with, as they understood each other's circumstances . They didn't even need to look for what they should talk about── The car driven by Clevel steadily approached the cemetery where Nayuta's brother slept .

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Standing stock still in front of the rectangular gravestone, Nayuta muttered just a few words . "I do not come here that often . Only during the memorial service . " "That's fine . Frequently visiting a graveyard when so young wouldn't be too tasteful . " Lighting an incense stick he had brought with him, Clevel put his hands together in front of the grave . He didn't believe in ghosts and spirits . But he did happen to have affectionate feelings for the departed . Without putting her hands together, Nayuta stood behind Clevel, absent-mindedly gazing up at the spring sky . There were no sakura trees in sight, but perhaps some were blooming nearby, as flower petals had fallen here and there . "……First, I have to apologise to you . I── was unable… to bring Daichi back to the real world . " Nayuta smiled faintly . There was no vigour in her expression and her eyes were blank . "Onii-chan… was stubborn, you see . No matter how much you tried to stop him, Detective-san…… your words did not reach him, right?" "……He was stubborn and energetic, so I would be the only one there to stop him . Tying him up, setting up a trap to send him to jail… there were ways to go about it, I believe . Or perhaps, if I had only overthrown that idiotic superior of his before it could happen──" "……Please stop . " Behind him, Nayuta squeezed out a cracking voice . "I beg of you, please stop── what happened to my brother was an inevitable accident . Talking about how there was a possibility of avoiding it now of all times…… that is more cruel, don't you think? Even though…… even though I have finally accepted that 〝there was nothing that could be done〟……" ──In fact, there was nothing that could be done . Clevel wasn't a man with precognition . He didn't know the fate of men and it wasn't the kind of problem that allowed him to lament on what could have been done after the fact . Clevel and Nayuta faced Daichi's death their own way . Clevel's was to resent the mastermind of the incident, 《Kayaba Akihiko》, and avenge his bosom friend's death by regarding Akihiko with hatred . On the other hand, Nayuta deceived the sense of loss of her relative by 〝paralysing〟 her feelings . The emotions of the girl who felt not even a bit scared during the 《Hundred and Eight Apparitions》 were half-broken . If acknowledging something scary as being scary and then facing it head-on was courage, then not feeling something scary as being scary and brushing it off as ordinary was inertia . Yet── At times, such inertia could be considered as anesthesia to protect one's mental state . Nayuta's mental state was in need of anesthesia . Clevel exhaled deeply, then turned around to face her . "Sorry . For saying something so insensitive . But── I didn't want to let Daichi's death end as 〝something that nothing could be done about〟 . For you, that is enough . After all, you were not at the scene, so you couldn't do or say a thing . But I── was at the scene . That doesn't mean that I was present on the battlefield he died on, but, at the very least, I was in the same world and was able to meet with him frequently . My conditions were different from yours . At the very least── I had a choice to take action and have regrets about the matter . " Nayuta, wearing a mourning dress, stared fixedly at the detective . "……No matter how much you talk about choice of action…… or what and how you regret it, you cannot change the results now . My brother is dead . No matter how much you think about it, you cannot bring him back . " Her voice trembled . Rationally, she also understood that . But her emotions lagged behind . After her brother's death── What she felt was far too unreasonable . Specifically because he had fragmentary knowledge of this and was aware that he couldn't do a thing, Clevel couldn't keep silent . "……You're right . Indeed, the results won't change now . The dead won't come back to life . I truly dislike saying something that may stem from my own self-interest, but── death visits everyone . Yanagi-san, Kiyofumi-shi, as well as Daichi and other people, faced death in the end . Even you and I will someday exhaust our lifespan, or, speaking more ominously, we could end up in an unfortunate accident one of these days . That is specifically why─ I have chosen to live my life in a way to not have any regrets when I die . Quitting the police and starting a company was also part of that . " Keenly sensing the echoes of confession in Clevel's words, Nayuta stiffened . In front of his friend's grave, the detective continued speaking unconcernedly . "Because VR technology and environment based on FullDive is developing too rapidly, legislation on it is lagging behind . In the current conditions, the police have a hard time even inspecting the situation, let alone intervening . Having said that, it was impossible for me to do that while belonging to the police . From an outsider's point of view, it looked like we were just playing games and, aside from special cases, our undercover operations haven't been acknowledged sufficiently . " Nayuta nodded vaguely . It wasn't strange for the girl, raised in a family of police officers, to understand such a situation . "In the first place, even the police is still lost on how to handle VR space . Additionally, ever since《The Seed》 was disseminated, we got glimpses of various kinds of innovative crimes: prostitution without the use of the body, cyber drugs that stimulate the secretion of endogenous opioids, not to mention the illegal casinos . To make matters worse, terrorists and new religions are recruiting talented people, training them to become soldiers, and even brainwashing them…… all of that can serve as source of funds and talent for antisocial organisations, but with the current state of legislation, it's difficult to even conduct investigations on the matter . Our company── is collecting info on such criminal acts in the place of the police and, as civilian collaborators, we're reporting them to the authorities; our hidden goal is to lend support to investigations . This role of ours doesn't provide decent payment, so we have to get our earnings from a different kind of work though . " Nayuta frowned . "So, you lost hope in the police…… and went out of your way to start a vigilante corps in VR space?" "That's not quite it . Vigilante corps also resort to the use of force, while we have taken a mere support role of gathering intel and offering advice . It's not like we've lost hope in the police either . We do rely on their organisational capabilities . Though── it was an obviously unsuitable place for someone who's taking things into his own hands, like myself . Clevel cast his eyes down . "……As a matter of fact . This is something that Daichi and I have talked about, partially joking, when we were in Aincrad . If we get sacked from the police after just starting work because we had been shut in this space and were thus absent from work without notice, we should start our own company, we used to say…… That bastard forced the main work onto me while he's living comfortably in the other world himself . Someday, I'll complain to him on the other side . " Putting an end to the talk about the good old days, Clevel passed on his position in front of the grave to Nayuta . "──You should also talk to him . I'll take a lap around the area . Let's have lunch on the way back somewhere in the neighbourhood . " Carrying the suit he had taken off on his shoulder, Clevel began walking without turning around . Behind him, Nayuta was probably crying . Leaving the role of supporting her to his bosom friend right now── The detective continued walking through the forest of gravestones alone and without a goal in mind

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When she returned home, Nayuta felt no one's presence in the one‐room condominium she was living in . Her uncle had lent her this flat close to her high school, promising that she could use it till her graduation . She did intend to some move to some student dormitory if possible in university, but this depended on her results . Her uncle said that there were no problems with renting a different flat, but she wanted to avoid the trouble . As the detective had treated her to lunch, she changed from her mourning dress to a dressing gown, set the timer for the bathtub, and instantly equipped her 《AmuSphere》 . She lay down on the bed that was easy to notice in the cramped room, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath── Finally, electric signals were transmitted to her brain and her consciousness was linked to a virtual room . 《Asuka Empire》── was not there . It was a familiar, plain, and tidy white and black bedroom . The huge black cat plush toy placed on the bed was her beloved object from childhood, but the real one became old and was thrown away . She had always regretted that, but she was now able to reproduce it in virtual space . The wall bookshelves were crammed with all the ebooks she had bought so far . The PC on her desk was there to allow various work from within VR space; Clevel also used the same system in his detective office . It seemed that Koyomi wasn't aware of its existence, but it could be called a practically essential handy tool in order to pleasantly use 《The Seed》 . Having risen from the bed, Nayuta moved into the living room as usual . There she found her father playing shōgi with her elder brother . It seemed that her older brother was dominating today . It was a scene that she saw about twice in the tens of times . “Onii-chan, are you off-duty today?” Nayuta uttered the keywords . “……It’d be bad if I was playing shōgi with the old man when I wasn’t off duty . ” Her brother replied with the predetermined words in a shocked tone . Along with a lonely smile, Nayuta relived the conversational pattern she had created herself . Her mother, peeking out from her kitchen island, chimed in with a cheerful voice . “Playing shōgi with your father instead of going on a date despite being off-duty isn’t a bad thing on its own, I wonder? Father would probably faint if Yurina brought a boyfriend home, but if her brother brought a girlfriend home, he’d give a warm welcome, you know?” “……Yurina . I’m asking just in case but, you don’t have anyone like that yet……right?” “She wouldn’t be wasting her precious spring break on a game if she had someone like that . Hey, dad . Checkmate . ” “Aah……hey you, there shouldn’t have been a knight there…… ugh, did you swap it with the rook……” ──Nayuta remained silent as she gazed at her moving album-like family . She didn't quite remember how her parents died . Her parents, exhausted by the long anxiety, were plunged into even further despair at the death of her brother, who had been imprisoned in SAO . While preparing for her brother's funeral, her father, overwhelmed by exhaustion, caused a major accident while driving the car, with her mother on the passenger's seat, and Nayuta on the rear seat . Her father and mother died instantly, while Nayuta herself escaped death, but fell into a coma for around a month; when she woke up, the funeral for her parents had already been finished . Her uncle, seen for the first time in a while, was awfully worn out . As for anything before or after that, she truly couldn't remember a thing . ──'I think my brain rejected reality' . Still without any feelings for the death of her parents, Nayuta was left alone . There had been a proposal for her to live in her uncle's house, but there weren't enough rooms and she had a male cousin close to her age, thus she couldn't cause them any trouble . But most of all, she didn't think she could bear seeing another family so close to her for a long time . Sitting down in the living room constructed in virtual space, Nayuta absent-mindedly gazed at her fake family . They could only respond in set patterns . Though, the majority of her family's daily conversations surprisingly consisted of just that . 'Have a good day', 'I'm off', 'I'm back', 'Welcome back', 'Good morning', 'Good night', 'The bath is ready'── She had linked her mother's remark to her bath timer in her real room, and she had added more detailed configurations . There were some repetitions, but right now, she was practically able to reproduce her former daily life . All of them were not even ghosts, but virtual images── the one who made them was the most aware of that . Nevertheless, at times that Nayuta was mentally strained and about to crumble, this room had undoubtedly lent her support . If she hadn't had this contact with her family, she would have taken her own life by now . It wasn't an issue of right or wrong; people had times when they needed a place to escape to . Nayuta closed her eyes and took a deep breath . ──Clevel was probably already aware of this circumstance . When he brought her to the grave where her brother, as well as her parents, slept, Nayuta felt as if he were implicitly saying 〝This is where your family is〟 . And yet, Clevel didn't press Nayuta about it . Nayuta thought about the reason for that . She felt that it was not out of concern . Deceiving her without conviction… also didn't seem to be the case . Most likely, there were other people besides Nayuta who made such use of 《The Seed》 . And Clevel himself was unable to conclude what the pros and cons of this were . It was hard to call it healthy . Yet, there actually were people who had need of it . The degree differed, but people were living beings that depended on something . Depended on their family, depended on their friends, depended on their workplace, school, country, depended on food, depended on the air, depended on the Earth . Virtual space was just another thing added to the list of dependencies; in the end, it was only a question of degree . A message arrived at the tablet-shaped tool placed in the living room . The sender appeared to be Koyomi . 【 Nayu-san, how was the funeral? You weren't teased by Detective-san, right? I have overtime today, but if you are free around night tomorrow, tell me all about it at the Bakeneko Tea House! 】 Nayuta let out a chuckle . Koyomi's cheerfulness had saved her before . She had told Nayuta 〝let me spoil you more〟, but hadn't realised that Nayuta was already depending on Koyomi quite a lot . It probably wasn't in a visible form, but this truth couldn't be denied . 【 I have already returned home . Some things happened with Detective-san, thus…… I will tell you all about it in-game tomorrow .  】 She felt like she could now tell Koyomi about her brother and family . Having finished the reply to her message, Nayuta closed her eyes . ──There were a lot of thoughts on her mind . She had been undoubtedly saved by this virtual family thus far . Yet── she didn't think that things could stay like this forever . Nayuta took a big, deep breath, and turned her back at her family . (I should…… be fine right about now, I guess──) Thanks to the detective, she was able to visit the grave of her parents and brother . "Yurina, are you going out somewhere?" Her AI mother spoke out . "……Yeah . For a bit . " Giving a vague reply, Nayuta turned around . The figures of her family were slightly blurred . "Mother, father, Onii-chan…… I'll try to avoid coming here as much as I can . I can't have my real mother and the rest of the family worry too much about me──" Her finger slid from the tablet-type tool to the logout button . Just before she could press it, she hesitated for a bit . Her mother, her features blurred, nodded . "……I see . Well then, have a nice day . Take care of yourself . " Her father timidly smiled . "……If you're ever down, feel free to come back . " Her elder brother Daichi, having stepped up to her, pressed down on the hesitating Nayuta's hand from above . "Since we will always── be here . " At the end of his gentle mutter, her vision was cut off . ──The link to the virtual room was severed and Nayuta opened her eyes on a small bed in her one-room condominium . The evening sunlight coming through the window dyed her ceiling in vivid orange . While taking off her AmuSphere absent-mindedly── She gazed at her ceiling for a bit, as if her soul had left her body . The final words her virtual family had uttered──


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(……Those lines……Have I……ever entered them, I wonder……?" If she had entered them, she couldn't have forgotten about them── nevertheless, she had no recollection of them . Before her confusion could disappear, her mobile phone beside her pillow began ringing . On the incoming call, Koyomi's name was displayed . "……Hello, this is Nayuta . " 『Nayu-san! Are you okay!? Did that foxman do anything to you!?』 Koyomi's first words were uttered in a shrill, panicking voice . It seemed that the message she had sent moments ago caused some kind of confusion . "E . Err, Koyomi-san……" Without waiting for Nayuta's explanation, Koyomi blazed away through the phone . 『I dunno what happened, but I'm on Nayu-san's side! If need be, I can excuse myself from work and head to your place, or, vice versa, you could come to my place! Either way, you can rely on me for anything, so tell me the details of what…… wait, what? ……Na-Nayu-san…… Are you…… crying……? 』 ──Without her realising, tears dripped along Nayuta's cheeks . Having sensed hints of this through the phone, Koyomi plunged more and more into panic . 『W-what happened!? What on earth!? Do I need to wipe the floor with Detective-san? To rip him to shreds? Behead him and display his head on a pike in front of a prison? A-at any rate, don't cry! I'll leave work early, so can you come to the Bakeneko Tea House in thirty minutes! Chief, sorry but I can't do overtime after all! I'm going home!』 Hearing Koyomi's frantic yet calming voice, Nayuta was now finally facing the 〝death of her family〟 . Holding back her overflowing tears with her sleeve, she let out a soundless sob── Finally, she began sobbing like a child . A matsuribayashi she had heard in the distant past, suddenly . Grazed Nayuta's ears before disappearing .

End

TBA

Notes

1 . ^ An expression for "being selected from a group of people" . The expression originates from a tale where a white arrow-feather shot at a roof indicates that the family's daughter was chosen to be a sacrifice for a god or monster .



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