Nikaho, Akita Prefecture, February 17th, 2022
He wakes up slowly from the bed in a room of the hospital placing his hand on the back of his head.
It still hurted a lot. He didn't remember anything about how he was brought that place, but right on that moment, he did not care about it. The only thing he remembered is that Sakura's heart stopped. He gets up and grabs his jacket from the bed getting ready to get out of the room and find her when the door opens.
It was the doctor from the day before.
“Ah, you woke up!”
“How is Sakura?!”
“Relax! She's fine. But she needs resting, no visits right now.
“Can I still see her?”
“Go, but from outside of the room and make it fast.”
He nods his head and gets outside the room. As soon as he way out, he can see that he was near her room. He looks through the window on the door how she calmly and beautifully slept.
He places his hand on the window.
“Get better; I'll do my best here.”
He removes his hand, and walks out of the hospital, not without, in the way, looking towards Shun’s room.
He gets out of the hospital, and as soon as his left feet is out of the building, his friends run towards him. They'd been waiting there since yesterday's accident.
They started asking questions.
Ikuto: “You're alright?”
Yamato: “What happened?”
Tai: “Where's the couple?”
Izumi: “How did the fire started?”
Daisuke: “Why were all of you there?”
They all shut up.
“They're both alright. I'm also. But they'll may be a bit more here. Shun can go back today at the afternoon. Sakura's worse than him and she'll remain here.”
Tai: “But how this happened?”
“I've not been entirely truthful with any of you. The truth is, I kissed Sakura.”
Dead silence and surprising shock among all of them, but he continues.
“It happened on the festival that we went together. Since then we have been hiding it from Shun and from you also. Afterwards, Kirei discovered me on the day the games were stopped by the police. As punishment, he decided that if I defeated Shun and Ovan afterwards, we could go back together to Tokyo. But I lost. I'm sorry for keeping things from you. And I can understand any of your anger towards me. I'll go for a walk around the city. Alone.”
He walks passing the round formed by his astonished friends, but stops after three steps.
“Just one question. What happened to Miya?”
"They didn't find his corpse."Tai answers."He wasn't seen nearby. It's likely that he died, but not sure.”
He resumes his walk.
Tai and the others enter the hospital and they all go to see Shun.
The sunset could be seen upon the horizon.
He'd walked through the city the entire day. Crossed nearly a thousand stress and walked even more blocks trying to clear his head. Trying to find a way to solve the problem. Nothing of this helped him to achieve this goal. He finally decided to go back to the dormitories.
He enters his room, or rather what was left of it. The place had been burned almost entirely and most of it was colored or covered by black and grey ash. Few of his belongings were left usable. Someone had placed them on the floor, near the end of what once was his bed. He sits down on it and starts checking what was left. His cellphone, some books, his IPod, other school things, both his and Shun’s shinais. He rapidly finishes the small pillar of things without finding many important things for him at the moment. Tired, he closes his eyes places his back against the wall and sights.
He was actually glad that some things had survived. But at the moment, he didn't care much for them. His head was still focusing on other things. He opens his eyes and sees something he hadn't seen before. A small golden metal cage was still on the metal book shelves. It hadn't been burned since it was made of metal. He gets up and got the box down from there, sitting back down on the bed to check things inside.
Almost instantly, he finds the letter from his dad. The one he had not opened still. He looks to its back and reads his father’s condition for another time.
“Son is sent you this letter not to respond it neither for you to read it. Just for you to know that you must not lose hope and keep on advancing. And if in any moment you do so, just open the envelope.”
Upon reading the message, he noticed that he had arrived to that moment conditioned by it. He could open the letter. Moving his fingers, he opens the letter and takes the white and folded paper. He reads it:
“Son you don't have to respond thi letter. Just for you to give you a message: that you don't have to lose hope and keep on advancing. And if in any moment you do so and refuse to advance, just open the envelope.”
He takes out the letter and starts reading
If you opened this, it's because you are on the situation the message told you about. Whatever is your problem, know that I and your mother stand with you, and will never leave that place. This are words that have supported our family for generations and I hope they serve your as well. My father, your grandfather, told me them when I was your age. I hope they will have the same effect as they had with me:
Why does it hurt?
So we can learn to adapt and overcome.
Why do we fail?
So we can learn how to succeed.
We do not learn from our victories.
We learn from our fears.
From our worst failures.
It is in our darkest dreams we are at our best.
In our lowest moments that we feel true strength.
For when we can go no lower and all that remains is hope, we ASCEND.
And why do we fall?
So we can learn how to RISE once again.
Good luck, Son.
He smiles for the first time in weeks.
“You haven't lost your faith in me. Right, dad?”
He looks down for a moment, thinking of all what had happened over the last few days. He'd never got so down on a hole and by that moment he had already reached the bottom. That could mean just one thing: there was just one way left to go and it was going up. He'd never given up on anything ever before.
Neither would he this time.
He gets up from the bed and grabs both his sword and Shun’s before going out from his room. Right outside the dormitories, he finds all his friends.
“What're you guys doing?” He asks disconcerted.
Yamato: “Table with nine legs. Remember that?”
Daisuke: “If one falls, the other nine support each other.”
“We're eight now.”
Percival: “Then Sakura can join the team. We need some feminine spirit inside the group, after all.”
Tai approaches his old friend.
Tai: “We stand with you. As always. There must be a way for you to come with us back to Tokyo.”
“After all what has happened?”
Izumi: “Miya always said that brothers protect each other. We've got to honor his memory.”
Tai: “We've been with you in the past. We're here with you now. And we'll continue.”
He smiles to them for the first time after all what had happened.
“I don't deserve friends as you.”
Daisuke: “Well. What is the plan, captain?”
“It's still forming in my head. Tai will come with me. The rest of you, go with Kirei. Tell him I'll see him in an hour or maybe an hour in a half. I want to speak to him and to Ovan.”
Izumi: “What of you two?”
“We'll go with Shun. And see if he agrees to this idea I just had. If he does, we may remain together. No...We'll remain together.”
Yamato: “Alright. Come on we're going!”
They all run to the entrance and take different directions.
The duo arrives to the hospital. They encounter the doctor that helped him to find Sakura and Shun the day before and he tells them that they can go to see Shun, as he was ready to leave the establishment. They run to his room, but before they enter, he stops Tai.
“He won't be happy to see me. Whatever happens, don't interfere.”
“Alright...” Tai replies.
They open the door. And the second afterwards Shun turns his sight to them.
“The hell you're doing here?!"
“I'm not here to fight Shun.”
"Since you're here, I don't think so.”
“We've had our differences. I…”
“Differences?! You betrayed your best friend and kissed his girlfriend twice! That a difference?!”
He looks down for a moment, but then looks to Tai on his left.
“Leave us, would you?”
“Fine.” Tai says reluctantly, though he know they'd to settle their argument alone.
He turns around and closes the door behind him.
“I image how you must be felling right now, with me.”
“You have no idea!” Shun says angrily.
“But place that out from your head for a moment. Think about your battle in two days. You think you can defeat Ovan? Alone.”
“What's your point with this?!””
“Yes I know I can defeat him.”
“Your still damaged foot won't help you.”
“Many things have changed.”
“True. But still you haven't always fought alone. In the arena we fight side by side, back to back, supporting each other. Remember?”
“A long time ago...”
“Yet still. Even with your high level, Ovan's way beyond it...and beyond mine as well.”
Shun turns around, giving his back to him.
“What do you want? After all what has happened? After what you've taken from me?”
“By the situation now I wo't go back with you. I have but an idea. If Kirei agrees, we'll fight together against him and win.”
“Tell me, after all what has happened, why I'd help you?”
“I'm not doing this for me Shun. I'm doing it for you. I'd remain here, alone, without any of you. It would be what I deserve after all I have done. But still, that'd mean leaving all of you and turning my back again. I promised myself to never repeat that. We're brothers.”
“No longer! Not since you betrayed our brotherhood. The trust I had on you, was just lies and deceit.”
“I know you can't forgive me. But that isn't what I'm asking from you, Shun.” He turns to the door. “The choice is yours.”
He leaves the room, closing the door behind him.
Shun turns around, walks few steps and notices the wooden blade left on his bed. His Shinai. He had fought some many times, both in the arena and on the dojo. The blade he had used to fight all his adversaries across his life, including Ovan and him.
He thinks for a brief moment, but at the end he grabs the blade and straps onto his back and runs outside of the room, following his friends.
He rapidly approached them.
“I'm doing this form me, not for you just know that.
“Well. Now, what's your plan?” Tai said.
“We're going to see Kirei and Ovan to tell them about this. They still have to agree.”
The three of them arrive to the dojo. Kirei and Ovan were waiting. It seemed, that they'd been for a long time. Kirei looks to his students. Ovan tabbing the pommel of his blade pointing to the ground. He was looking to the opposite side, towards the sakura blossom garden outside. He still notices their arrival.
“I'm sorry for the arrival so late. We had to pick up Shun first.” He's the first to talk.
Ovan: “Why did you call us here?”
Shun: “We want to make an offering, if both of you agree to hear it.”
Kirei: “Go ahead.”
“Shun and I shall fight you in two days, Ovan.”
Ovan turns around.
Kirei: “What do you seek with this? What do…”
Ovan: “Let them continue. With all due respect Sensei, but it's my battle against them. After all, I have to agree terms with them.”
“All of us know that not Shun neither myself could stand chance against you . But if we fight together it's a balanced match.”
Ovan: “I accede. But what do you have to offer instead?”
“The only thing I have and can offer: an entrance to the Alpha Testing of an upcoming virtual reality Sword Art Online.”
After saying this words, both Shun and Tai were surprised, yet he seemed to not care about the Alpha Testing anymore.
Ovan: “Why'd I care for a Virtual Reality Game?”
“There'll be 10000 players inside. Perhaps, you can find someone worthy of fighting against you. Maybe someone with enough potential that one day, give you the battle that I know you seek.”
Ovan turns around and thinks for a moment with tabbing the bokken. He walks from left to right for what seemed a minute after he stops.
“Your terms are agreeable. In exchange, if I lose, you can go back with your friends.”
Kirei: “Alright then. In two days you shall face. You two, against him.”
The trio nods head.
“Now if that is all...”
“No.” He interrupts. “Yamato, we've known each other for many months and had a rivalry with each other for the same time. But I've never had a serious and respectful conversation.”
Yamato was surprised; it was the first time he'd called him for his first name.
“No conversation with you can change this now.”
He takes out the shinai strapped to his back, what Ovan responds by grabbing his bokken’s handle with his right hand. Afterwards Shun grab his own from his back.
“But I want to have it, reagardless of what you think…”
He lets the wooden sword a bit up in the air and grabs it from the blade, giving it to Tai on his left.
Ovan grabs his bokken, and doing the same, gives it to Kirei.
“Leave us.” Tai looks at him surprised. “Trust me.”
Tai nods his head, the looks to Shun and makes him a sign to leave. Both of them leave the dojo as Kirei did the same.
Ovan walks outside giving the back to his rival. He soon approaches walking next to him.
He didn't know why exactly he was doing what he was; speaking to the man he would fight in two days. Yet, he had the feeling he had to. He wanted to understand why Yamato was as he was, what happened to him to become this, a man so attached to fights and training. The truth was, even with all their differences in ideologies, principles, ideas and after all what had happened between them, Yamato had his respect.
He gets to Yamato’s left and crosses his arms.
Yamato speaks first.
“I must say, that over these two weeks I've seen you change a lot. You ar n't the man you were. But still, you do know that you can't win this?”
“I've never believed in impossibilities. And I've proven many people that thought the same as you wrong.”
“Katou among them.”
“I can't say that I regret to give him what he deserved.”
“He assaulted Sakuya Sakura, one of my best friends, and attempted to rape her. I did what I had to do to save her.”
Yamato remains silent for a moment, but at last he speaks.
“I would've done the same. But even still, that was also your vengeance, right?”
“Somehow, it was one.”
“Vengeance's a stupid path, especially for a warrior like you. Hasn't Kirei told you that?”
“That's one of the many things we disagree. Sometimes it's the nearest path to justice, when none actually achieved. Specially on a world where justice doesn't exist.”
“One day, those ideas may drag you to your doom...if your fate is written like that.”
“Whatever happens to me, it happens because I choose it. I DECIDE MY FATE. Not you. Not anybody else. Not even God, if he exists.”
“And will that serve as a balm for our upcoming battle? If the so called Blue Ronin and his best friend are defeated by me. What'd you do, to remain with you friends?”
“Nothing will see me far from any of them. Nothing in this world.”
“Well, at long last...” He says nodding his head. “...something we share: the love for our friends.”
He extends his hand to him.
Yamato looks at him with his deep sky blue eyes before extends his own hand and grabs his forearm. They share a hand shake, similar to the one he used to have with Shun, Miya, and his other friends.
“When we see each other again, I'll defeat you.”
“You shall try...” Ovan responds.
“That's all what I can do after all.”
He leaves Yamato, walking back to see his friends. He couldn't fully understand him on the conversation, but he learned that he had a dark past. And that was what made his personality.
Some things are best not to be asked.
Yet, he had also now learned that whatever had happened to Yamato Ovan in his past, he was a good person.