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Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online Chap 7

Translator’s Notes:

Sword Art Online Volume 18 is the final main volume of the Alicization arc. It consists of Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, an Epilogue, and a Prologue.

Translation Credits:

Translation – defan752

Proofreading – defan752, Gemyma

Scans – 

Illustration Editing – Mttblue2

Consultation – SAO Wiki

Prologue III Star World Calendar, 582 "This is Blue Rose 73. Confirm atmospheric escape. Switching to interstellar cruising speed." Integrity Machinist Steeka Schtrinen declared into the speaking tube at the corner of her mouth as she pushed forward the control stick with her left hand.

The mechadragon's silver frame began to shudder. Its fully expanded wings glowed light blue, absorbing the scant resources of outer space within a wide radius and feeding them into the propulsion mechanism.

The eternal Thermal Elements encased in the heart of the apparatus reacted with a shrieking roar and white fire shot from the main propulsion exhausts on either side of the lofty tail assembly. Then came the sensation of her body being pressed hard into the cockpit seat. The violent acceleration that she had little hope of experiencing within the planet's atmosphere brought a grin to her face.

"Blue Rose 74 copies."

A short response traveled out of the hearing tube. A glance into the reflective disc on her right revealed the blinding light from Craft Two's burners as it gained on her at an angle from her rear right.

Having been appointed simultaneously with Steeka, Integrity Machinist Laura'nei Arabel was the navigator of Craft Two. She was normally a girl of few words and seemed even frostier when flying a mechadragon.

However, her love for speed ran even deeper than Steeka's. Steeka smiled wryly and gave her a gentle prod.

"That's too fast, Laura."

"You're too slow, Stee."

What did you just say? She thought.

The Underworld Space Force was required to follow rules and regulations to the letter, but even their spartan instructors would be unable to monitor outside of the atmosphere. Plus, the three-hour journey to their destination, companion star Admina, meant that minor mishaps were well expected.

Steeka pulled the stick down a level and left Craft Two slightly behind her, then settled into the backrest, grinning.

Her upwards gaze was drawn towards the exquisite relief inlaid on the narrow cockpit's ceiling.

Two swords of black and white; vertical and abreast; roses of azure and fragrant olive petals of orange surrounding them. This was the emblem of the «Star King», who was slowly beginning to achieve legendary status.

It had been more than 30 years since the Star King and Queen had departed the royal palace of primary star Caldina: the Central Cathedral.

Steeka and Laura'nei had been Integrity Machinists for four years but were both 15 years of age, so, naturally, neither had ever met them before. Throughout their childhoods, however, they would hear anecdotes from their parents, also Machinists. Their parents had likewise heard a great many tales from their parents.

Schtrinen House and Arabel House both boasted uninterrupted history of serving the Star King throughout his nearly 200-year reign, ever since the time of the Royal Guard Machinists — who were apparently once called «Knights».

Seven generations ago, their ancestors Tiese Schtrinen and Ronye Arabel had protected the Star King, who was yet to assume his position at the time and carried out military achievements in a war with the four imperial families who wielded power on the first land of Caldina. The Emperor's and great noble families' domineering power was done away with and the oppressed peoples of private territories were liberated.

Later on, the Star King had developed the first mechadragon and crossed the «Mountain Range at the Edge» that encircled the land and towered all the way to the highest point of the atmosphere.

With venerable patience he negotiated with the divine beasts who had rampaged unrestrainedly throughout undeveloped territory since ancient eras, sometimes battled them one-on-one and emerged victorious, then brought to life fertile colonies and bestowed them upon the Goblin and Orcish races, who, at the time, were discriminatorily termed «demihumans», and allowed them to build their own nations.

Finally, having treaded all of Caldina, the King turned his attention to the vastness of space.

Repeated improvements upon the mechadragons finally enabled them to escape the atmosphere.

Near Solus, he discovered another star that formed a pair with Caldina, and christened it Admina.

After creating a periodic route for interstellar large mechadragon transit, and not long after establishing the first Admina settlement, he was elected first Star King of Underworld.

Under the rule of a King and Queen with eternal Life who never languished, the two stars would continue to flourish — or so everyone thought, but at a certain point both King and Queen had, as prophesied, abdicated and entered a long sleep. Finally, 30 years ago, they never appeared before the public again and departed this world.

After that, political matters were decided through conferences comprising military and citizen representatives. With no more enemies, ground and space forces began slowly diminishing in size, but still obeyed the Star King's prophecy by sustaining stern traditions in their Machinist training.

The Star King's prophecy had gone like this:

—One day, a gate to another world, the «Real World», will be opened once more.

—When that time comes, both worlds will be shaped by a vast revolution.

Steeka didn't really take these words seriously, but it was said that once the gate to another world was opened, then an age would arrive during which the continued existence of Underworld would come into question. The prophecy warned against merely anticipating integration and compassion; the people must continue to hone their strength with pride and independence, or else the five human races of Humans, Giants, Goblins, Orcs, and Ogres will be struck again with tragedy of even greater misery than the «War with Another World» 200 years ago.

But Steeka was not afraid.

No matter what world or age was coming for them, she could fight valiantly as long as she had the wings of a mechadragon.

—Because I'm a member of the glorious Integrity Machinist Order, and we have traditions dating back to the age-old creation of this world.

She murmured, then looked again towards the ceiling emblem—

Next moment.

Vermillion light appeared below the main imagepanel, as letters and a warning tone simultaneously signaled the detection of an abnormally-sized Element aggregate.

"Wha… What?!"

She had just yelped and leapt up when Laura'nei's anxious voice traveled over the hearing tube.

"Blue Rose 74, I'm reading the approach of an enormous Umbral Element being! Element density…  2700?!"

"It's a Legendary-class Space Beast… the «Abyssal Horror»…"

As she muttered the creature's name in Sacred Tongue, a blotch of pitch-black void was already reflecting off the right side of a sea of stars covering the main imagepanel, like a splash of ink.

The uniquely-named Abyssal Horror was the most vicious of confirmed space beasts. As many as 12 giant tentacles on its globular body stretched 200 mel in diameter when fully extended. Its was 20 times larger than a single mechadragon fighter.

And since its enormous frame was formed entirely from pure, high-density Umbral Elements, attacks of almost any type did nothing at all. But that was not the reason it was called the most vicious.

Unlike most other Legendary Beasts, the Abyssal Horror utterly rejected human attempts at communication. It seemed to be constituted solely from an impulse to kill and destroy; as soon as it saw her mechadragon currently in interstellar travel, it would make a beeline and devour her completely.

Even the Star King, who was known for treating the Legendary Beasts with respect, seemed to have attempted to eliminate this space beast after enduring the tragic destruction of several large civilian mechadragons heading for Admina. But this king, whose power was said to outstrip a whole army, had been unable to fully eradicate the Abyssal Horror.

According to observations conducted later, after patrolling back and forth between the two stars at the same speed and on the same route and then considering the matter for a while, the space beast decided to allow all mechadragons to undergo interstellar travel under the condition that they would avoid times in which they would come into contact with it.

Steeka and Laura'nei had, of course, chosen to take off from Caldina at a time and on a day which the space beast ought to have been flying behind distant Admina.

—However.

"Why?… It's too soon for it to appear…"

Steeka muttered, her trembling hands resting on the stick.

But she immediately pulled herself together and screamed shrilly into the speaking tube.

"Yaw left 180 and retreat at full speed! Pull back within the Caldina atmosphere!"

"Roger that!!"

Laura'nei replied, her voice also nervous.

Steeka banked the mechadragon left while pulling hard on the control stick. Long white flame shot from the flight control thruster exhaust and her body was shoved into the seat with suffocating weight. The stars on the imagepanel drew long arcs and slid away to the lower right.

She finished the turn and the imagepanel was once again filled with Caldina's blue light, where she had left the ground just ten minutes ago. It looked just within reach, but in reality it was despairingly far away.

Almost praying, she accelerated to maximum speed. Screaming roars issued from the Eternal Thermal Elements.

But the speed gauge's needle reached five levels before its upper limit and stopped there. The Abyssal Horror was stealing away resources within an ultrwide radius, preventing the resource collectors in the mechadragon's wings from performing to their usual standards.

The space beast's jet-black frame was growing even larger than it was before through the rear view of the sub-imagepanel. She should already see its incessantly wriggling tentacles.

Muffled violet-blue light began to concentrate at the front of two particularly long tentacles.

"Stee, he's preparing to attack!"

Steeka immediately responded to the voice from Craft Two.

"I see him! Put up a Luminous Element barrier behind us!!"

She shouted, punching a button on the instrument panel with her left hand. The armor around the mechadragon's middle opened with a thunderous rumble. Steeka drew a deep breath and concentrated—

"System call! Generate Luminous Element!!"

She bellowed, sending ten or so Luminous Elements traveling through the communication channel built into the control stick clutched tightly between her hands and out into space from two places on the mechadragon's middle.

Acting on Steeka's thoughts, they changed shape and transformed into a circular barrier.

Next moment.

The space beast's tentacles lobbed forward a globule of dazzling violet-blue light, as though it were tossing a ball.

With an echoing bang like tearing metal, the dark shot hurtled through space.

In three short seconds or so it would impact the Luminous Element barrier—

"…Eeyaahh!!"

Steeka couldn't help but shriek as the mechadragon was buffeted by violent shaking. At the same time, she heard Laura'nei's voice over the hearing tube.

Two shots had torn easily through Steeka's barrier as if it were paper, shearing deeply through the craft's rear armor.

Several instruments turned instantly red. The resource communication channel began to malfunction too; her acceleration grew sluggish.

Through the sub-imagepanel, Steeka was certain that only the amorphous, black Abyssal Horror was split into a grin.

She looked at the image of her side and realized that Craft Two's single wing had been destroyed, and its speed had taken an enormous hit.

"Laura! Laura!!"

She screamed her name, and fortunately heard a hoarse reply.

"…Don't worry, I'm fine. But..  this kid can no longer fly…"

"…We'll have to eject. Think of a way to reach Caldina with the thrusters on the Machinist uniforms…"

"That's impossible!… No, I mean, I don't want to do that!! We can't leave him and run away by ourselves!!"

Hearing Laura'nei's shriek—

Steeka could not articulate a reply.

To a Machinist, a mechadragon wasn't just a manmade object of steel; it was an irreplaceable partner whose spirit interlinked with yours. Just like the dragons ridden by the Integrity Knights of ancient times.

"……That's right. You're right."

Steeka murmured, and silently covered the control stick with both hands.

She took a deep breath, smiled, and muttered:

"Then let's fight to the end together… Yaw again, and attack with full strength with your main cannon. Is that okay, Laura?"

"…Roger that."

Her last communication was as usual: a single, cold sentence.

Still smiling, Steeka slowly pulled up the control stick and turned her injured, beloved dragon 180 degrees.

OOOOOOO——…

The Abyssal Horror roared, or laughed; it was uncertain.

—At least we'll teach him a lesson before we die. Do our best to make him wait just a bit longer before attacking this route again.

Determined, Steeka pressed down the red button on the top of the control stick by half.

The main cannon equipped at the front of the mechadragon clanked open. Usually at this time one would generate the most effectively typed Element, but for the Abyssal Horror that barely had a physical body, even polar oppositely typed Luminous Elements wouldn't be able to harm it that much.

In that case, she would attack with Cryogenic Elements, something she knew well, Steeka thought as she began reciting the incantation.

Clear blue light appeared on the mechadragon's chin.

She glanced to her side and saw Craft Two's main cannon bursting with red light. It looked like Laura'nei had chosen to attack with Thermal Elements.

Only 1000 mel away now, the space beast threw open eight tentacles in preparation to attack.

Steeka drew in a sharp breath, ready to call the order to fire.

But—

"Wa… Wait, Stee!! What’s…!?"

Laura'nei's shocked voice split her right ear in half.

What do you have to say at this point… Steeka thought, and at that moment.

She saw it too.

Stars were descending.

A dazzling trail of white light was approaching directly from above her main imagepanel at astonishing speed.

A mechadragon?! She thought, but immediately refuted herself. The light was too small from this distance. It was about two mel in size and about as small as a human—

No.

It was a human.

They only resembled a star because of the light coming from a spherical barrier of Luminous Elements around them. The dark figure of a person was clearly visible within.

The figure came to a stop about 100 mel ahead of the two mechadragons.

Almost simultaneously, the Abyssal Horror let out a deafening howl and fired eight shots of light.

Before she was struck by the shock of how a real live human had appeared in deathly cold space, Steeka was screaming:

"What are you doing?! Get out of there, now!!"

But the person made absolutely no response.

As the hem of their long coat flapped, they stood with arms bravely folded, suspended at a point in midair.

Such a thin protective barrier would have as much effect as a piece of paper against the Abyssal Horror's shot. Steeka could almost picture the sight of blood and flesh exploding in all directions the instant one of the light shots impacted, accompanied by a low roar.

"Ruuuuuuuuun!!"

"Run away!!"

She shrieked again at the top of her lungs simultaneously with Laura'nei.

Eight shots of violet-blue light, looking to be three mel in diameter each, all came screaming with metallic howls.

And then, as though they collided violently with a transparent wall, they stopped in midair and ricocheted in different directions.

The universe trembled.

The innumerable stars reflected in Steeka's widened eyes shook like ripples on water. Next moment, a shockwave roared past her and rumbled the mechadragon's enormous body.

At a complete loss for words, Steeka noticed that the needle in the miniature instrument on the right side of her imagepanel swung straight up in an instant.

"You're… joking… that's impossible…"

Steeka had never seen the instrument, called the «Incarnation meter», move up 20 percent like this. Her ears filled with Laura'nei's awed voice.

"…I don't believe it… Such powerful Incarnation… It's like the entire universe is trembling…"

But the reality before their eyes was undeniable.

The indisputable reality that one tiny human, without using an Element barrier, had deflected a space beast's attack with Incarnation — a secret technique of the ancient Integrity Knights.

Ooo…OOOOOOOO—………

The faraway Abyssal Horror roared.

A roar of rage, or horror?

Perhaps understanding that its dark shot attacks had no effect, the space beast extended countless tentacles ahead and thrusted them forward.

The minuscule human figure opposite it reached their outstretched arms behind their back, and drew out two longswords equipped there in one go.

"He's… not thinking of fighting it with swords?!"

Steeka couldn't stop herself from leaning forward, hands perched on the imagepanel.

The Abyssal Horror was more than 200 mel long in total. Its frame was constructed from an aggregation of amorphous Umbral Elements. Metal blades less than a mel long had no hope of vying against it.

However, the mysterious swordsman pointed the white sword in its left hand with an effortless motion.

Then he shouted.

Even in the void of space, and through the thick armor of the mechadragon, Steeka heard the swordsman's clear voice.

"Release recollection!!"

Blinding light burned the imagepanel stark white.

When the image immediately returned, at its center it was possible to see several streaks of bluish-white light shooting from the blade raised by the swordsman and rocketing towards the Abyssal Horror.

Those lights were as thin as fibers compared to the space beast's gargantuan form, but when they struck and wrapped around it, the beast's speed of assault became visibly attenuated. The frantic motions of its freely wriggling 12 tentacles became stiff. Almost as if they had frozen.

But that was impossible. The Abyssal Horror was a creature acclimated to the extremely cold environment of space. It was impossible to create a chill colder than the temperature of space.

Steeka's stupefaction was immediately blown away by Laura'nei's murmuring in her ear.

"That's… That's the «Armament Full Control Art»… No, the «Memory Release Art»…?"

"What?… Only highest-level Machinists can use that!"

"But… that technique just…"

Their hesitant conversation was interrupted by a third roar from the space beast.

O… OOOOOOORRRRRRR!!

All of a sudden, the enormous trapped body trembled and three new tentacles erupted from it. They formed giant jet-black spears and lunged towards the mysterious swordsman.

But this time, the swordsman raised the sword in his right hand with a lazy movement.

Then, he shouted again:

"Release… recollection!!"

What came shooting out was darkness, deeper, heavier, and denser than the tentacles of the space beast.

When they touched each other, it created a shockwave that almost warped the entire vicinity and the mechadragon shuddered again. Violet-blue electricity crawled within the void, reflecting dazzling rays of light on the imagepanel.

Steeka's own shock had reached a level difficult to describe with words.

How was he producing multiple iterations at the same time of a secret technique that only seven of the highest-level Integrity Machinists were capable of? Moreover, not even a formation of destroyer-class mechadragons were able to deal with the Abyssal Horror's full-power attack, but this swordsman had blocked it by himself.

Not even her own parents in Centoria would believe the existence of this swordsman.

However—

The truly shocking scene was still awaiting her.

"Stee! There's… another swordsman!!"

Her eyes searched in all directions at frantic speed and spotted a new human figure streaking down from the same direction that the mysterious two-bladed swordsman had come from.

This new figure was of smaller stature. Even through the Element barrier, she could see their long hair and skirt billowing. Her right hand was grasping a rapier that looked extremely fragile.

The swordswoman raised her right hand straight up—

Then brought it swishing down forward with a fluid motion.

Steeka saw a streak of variegated light appear in pitch-black space, shaking. At the same time, there came an incredible sound, like countless members of a harmonizing choir.

Laaaaaaaaaaa.

The Incarnation meter's needle trembled nonstop as it pointed up.

A star…

A meteorite of scarcely believable magnitude appeared out of nowhere and shot past above her head, wrapped in flames.

Every asteroid on the route connecting Caldina and Admina had been destroyed many tens of years ago. But the weighty sensation making her entire mechadragon's body vibrate was most definitely not her imagination.

Perhaps noticing the gigantic rock heading straight for it, the Abyssal Horror shrieked.

It grew two new tentacles and brandished them, as though attempting to block the star.

There was no sound upon impact.

The front end of the fiercely burning meteor instantaneously disintegrated the space beast's tentacles.

Then it burrowed easily into the center of the gigantic body—

And shattered the enormous beast of concentrated Umbral Elements in one shot.

OOOOOOOOOOoooooo———……

A shriek of death throes overlapped with the meteor's explosion, echoing throughout the whole universe. The vast release of Resources bleached Steeka's eyes pure white, then bright red, and finally violet.

"They… defeated…… it…? That… monster……?"

She murmured in a trembling voice.

But—

"Ah… It's… It's not over!!"

The pilot of Craft Two who was normally slightly calmer than Steeka was the first to notice what was happening.

The fragments of the Abyssal Horror that were blown in all directions and what they originally thought were burned up, began to move.

Each piece of faint Umbral Element was only tens of cen long and completely incomparable to the immense size of the original body, were wriggling irregularly like a swarm of flies and attempting to flee.

Records indicated that in the past, the King had once also pushed that beast to this extent.

But the Abyssal Horror had ultimately avoided destruction after being reduced to thousands of fragments, finally escaped to the edges of the universe, healed its wounds, and attacked the route once more.

In that way, this would only be repeating that legend.

"No… Don't let it get away! You have to burn them all!!"

Steeka couldn't help but scream.

But the two-bladed swordsman and the rapier-wielding swordswoman seemed unable to make any immediate moves. She could hardly blame them; they had let loose such massive Incarnation after all.

The fragments of the Abyssal Horror drew crooked paths and gradually flew away, as though they were mocking them.

——Then.

The swarm of flies was suddenly thrown into disarray.

It moved irregularly, as though dispersing and not knowing which direction to flee in.

Steeka held her breath and poked the imagepanel with her fingertip, enlarging a portion of the image.

She saw golden light.

She continued to enlarge the object that was blooming pure light, almost like a miniature Solus.

"……A person……"

A third swordsman.

Hair like molten gold. Armor that was equally gold. A pure white skirt. Eyes of sky blue that stared towards the enemy with resolution.

……I know her.

"This swordswoman… No, this knight… I know her."

Steeka murmured. Immediately she heard Laura'nei reply, "Me too."

Every feature of this golden knight was exactly the same as the gigantic portrait hanging in the throne room on the 50th floor of the Central Cathedral. She had earned many military achievements in the War with Another World an age ago yet legendarily disappeared in battle, the most powerful Integrity Knight in history. It was no mistake; her name was—

"…Alice… -sama…?"

As though she had heard their voices, the knight's right hand moved.

With one fluid movement she drew out the longsword from her left waist.

The golden blade reflected Solus's light, giving it an intimidating shine. The many fragments of the space beast went into disorder as though in fear, and fled pell-mell in every direction.

The knight raised the longsword ahead of its body.

The voice that then came from her mouth conjured thoughts of a wind that blew through the entire universe. The mechadragon's Incarnation meter shattered with a faint explosion.

"Release recollection!!"

The sword flashed even more intensely.

With a metallic clang! the blade disintegrated into countless splinters.

The knight slowly moved the hilt with her right hand.

Whoosh. The splinters expanded into space as though they were flower petals blown by a breeze.

The golden meteor shower flew outwards all at once.

Every tiny light penetrated the fragments of the space beast flying every which way with spine-chilling accuracy. The pierced pieces of Umbral Element were burned up by golden light and evaporated.

"……Such power…"

All Steeka could do was mumble.

Not even every single mechadragon in the Integrity Machinist Order all firing their main cannons at once could display such accuracy and strength.

The Abyssal Horror, the most vicious space beast in Underworld that terrorized the populace let loose the most bizarre roar yet at the instant its final fragment was run through by the golden sword.

GEEEEEEEEEeeeeee………

When the noise died down, the space beast was finally vanquished.

Dazed, Steeka stared as the golden meteor shower concentrated towards the knight's hand and changed once more into the form of a longsword.

Even if this golden knight was the ancient Integrity Knight Alice, then who exactly were the other two?

On the imagepanel, the golden sword returned her sword to its sheath, then flew quickly across space and approached the swordsman in black and the swordswoman in pearly attire.

The three of them conversed briefly, then turned as one towards Steeka and Laura'nei.

She couldn't make out their faces. But she knew that all three of them were smiling.

Just then, the two-bladed swordsman returned his white and black longsword to his back, and waved his right hand gently.

In that instant—

Something immensely deep within Steeka's chest was impaled by immense emotion.

It was a personal pain that nearly stopped her from breathing.

"Ah… Ahh…"

Laura'nei's quiet voice in her ear and and her own exhaled breath caught together.

"Stee. I know him. I know this person."

"Yeah, Laura. I… do too."

Steeka nodded two or three times.

It wasn't a memory of knowledge, like of the portrait in the throne room. It was different from that sort of recognition.

This was a definite remembrance felt by her heart, her fingertips, and her soul.

All of a sudden, her nose was struck by the sweet aroma of honey pies.

The coolness of a breeze across a grassy plain. The warmth of sunlight descending steadily downwards.

Faint laughter traveling from afar.

Trancelike, Steeka donned her airtight helmet, and pulled down on the handle to the right of her pilot's seat.

The insulated air rushed out with a whoosh. The armor plates protecting the mechadragon's cockpit spread open, and a sea of stars unfolded overhead. Craft Two's navigator entryway was also open.

Standing from her seat, Steeka fixed her eyes on the three swordsmen standing in tandem, waving continuously to her from roughly 30 mel out.

No.

Another person—

Steeka's maple-red eyes clearly captured a fourth swordsman materializing before her.

A boy wearing a sensible smile, standing to the right of the swordsman in black. Like warm air, his illusory, transparent, wobbling figure, looked ready to disappear the instant she looked away.

The flaxen-haired boy nodded slowly and deeply at Steeka.

Tears came to her eyes.

Warm tears flowed steadily down her cheeks inside her airtight helmet.

Page 423 Finally, the figure of the boy vanished, as though he were melting into Solus's light as it emerged from behind Caldina.

And the young Integrity Machinist understood.

This was — this moment was the unveiling of the new age that the Star King had prophesied about.

They were the envoys from the past, come to open the gate to the future.

From this moment on, the world was going to change.

The gate to another world would open, and the current of the new age would come flooding through with a roar.

It was absolutely not the declaration of paradise's arrival. An age of unimaginable revolution and tempest was upon Underworld.

But Steeka was not at all afraid.

Because—

Her heart was simply jumping for joy.

She had been yearning for this encounter, enough to shake her soul.  

Blinking away the tears, Steeka looked straight ahead of her.

Still standing, she silently pushed forward the control stick with her fingertips.

Traces of blue light appeared on the mechadragon's injured wings.

Eternal Thermal Elements blew, creating a tiny thrust, moving the craft.

For an instant, she exchanged glances with Laura'nei beside her, and both nodded fervently.

Integrity Machinist Steeka Schtrinen, a girl born in Underworld, gently piloted her mechadragon.

Towards the swordsmen waving at her from far away, whom she did not know, but who brought memories to her.

Towards the gate to the next age.

Towards the future.

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