Kirito woke up to see a plain white ceiling.
...No. Not Kirito.
Kirigaya Kazuto blinked, and his surroundings slowly came into view along with the memories of what he had been doing.
Kazuto had once again travelled to the RATH laboratory to learn more about the latest FullDive technology. It was almost routine these days, and he was more of an honorary member of the development team than a part-timer like he was when he first tested the experimental quantum machine.
"Ah... something like this happened the first time too, didn't it?"
When he had first tested it, he had ended up in a battlefield facing off against a silver warrior that could fly without penalty. The battle had finished without a conclusion, and because of that Kazuto thought it was just a dream. But what he had just experienced... and the clarity of it...
Higa Takeru. The man responsible for this project, and the one who had a large role in Project Alicization, called out to him, an apologetic smile on his face. "It looks like there's been some technical difficulties with the machine today."
He sighed, an exaggerated gesture that only emphasized his eccentric nature. Rather than the lead researcher and developer he was, Takeru looked more like an otaku just back from an anime convention, with messy hair and dressed as he was in a shirt with video game characters and a geeky pair of glasses.
"Oh right. Did you see another ghost, like you did the last time it happened? We've spent countless hours trying to replicate that bug, you know, and we're still not sure what occurred. Maybe it has something to do with the hour of the day...? Nah, the last time was an hour earlier, so it's not that..."
Kazuto left Takeru to his ramblings and gathered his things. The eccentric man didn't notice, lost in thought, and Kazuto quietly exited the room, making his way out of the building.
Once outside, he hopped on his bike and muttered, "Emiya Shirou... are you real?"
Kazuto sighed and leaned back in his chair, staring at the wooden ceiling of his house.
Emiya Shirou, and the Holy Grail War. It was far too elaborate to be just a dream made up by his mind. And it was too real to be something like the UnderWorld.
In his time as a swordsman in training with Eugeo in that world made of FluctLights, Kazuto noticed the difference between that world and reality. For one, it was too pure, too idealistic. Water was crystalline, the air was almost sweet, and the sunlight too warm.
Even after visiting it countless times, both alone and with his friends, that never changed.
But Fuyuki City... it was exactly like the real world. The buildings were the same, the current events matched up, and the people Kazuto met were flawed as any other person.
In fact, if Kazuto hadn't woken up, he would have thought that was reality, and he really died.
Yui's voice chimed from his speakers, and he turned his attention back towards it. She had taken on the appearance she had back in SAO, and sat on his desktop, shaking her head. "I couldn't find anything about Fuyuki City or an Emiya Shirou on all the major search engines and a dozen minor search engines."
"...That's alright Yui."
Kazuto sighed again. "I didn't really expect you to, but there was always hoping..."
Did Magic really exist? Did he really get summoned across time and space to fight in a war with other legendary heroes?
It seriously bugged Kazuto, but it looked like there wouldn't be a way to confirm it.
Of course, if it did exist, there wouldn't be any proof online.
An alarm went off. Noon. He was supposed to meet up with Asuna for a picnic at half past noon.
Kazuto got out of his chair and grabbed his coat. "I'll be back later, Yui."
He walked towards the door, but then turned back and stared at the camera allowing Yui to see into their world."Try not to get into too much trouble while I'm gone, alright?"
She nodded and gave him a bright smile. "Bye Papa! I'll see you soon!"
"...uto. Hey, Kazuto!"
Kazuto snapped out of his thoughts to see Asuna staring at him with a concerned face.
Since it was a 'date', she was wearing a white blouse and matching skirt with red highlights, an outfit reminiscent of what she wore back in SAO. Something about it not feeling 'right' unless she did.
Kazuto himself was wearing all black, as usual.
Asuna had insisted on a picnic for nostalgia's sake, and so they had agreed to meet up at the park today. There were some people around, but for the most part they had the park to themselves, and reserved a small part underneath a large tree for their picnic.
He shook his head and gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Asuna. Did you say something?"
She frowned and leaned closer to him, placing a hand on his forehead. "Are you alright? You're not sick, are you?"
Kazuto's smile widened at her concern, and he removed her hand, placing it back on her lap. "I'm fine, Asuna. I was just... thinking."
It had been a week since the strange dream he had after testing the FullDive machine at RATH. He'd finally resorted to asking Yui earlier, but there had been no traces at all on Fuyuki City, or Emiya Shirou.
To be honest, he was probably obsessing about it a bit too much, but he felt that he had to find out if it was true, one way or another.
"Mm... if you say so, Kazuto." Asuna smoothed her skirt. "It's just that you've been so distant lately... are you sure everything's alright? You haven't even logged into ALO for a week now. They're worried too, you know?"
"Yeah... sorry about that. Something's just caught my eye recently, and I haven't had much time."
"Something like that..."
There was a moment of comfortable silence between them, and Kazuto reached out to eat one of the sandwiches Asuna had packed.
"Are you sure we got the right place, lady? I don't see that guy anywhere around here."
A gruff voice, and slightly irritated.
"Shut up, Lancer. I'm sure we've got the right place!"
A feminine voice, elegant and also sharp.
Kazuto's eyes widened, and he quickly scanned his surroundings. Maybe he was just hearing things...?
"Kazuto? What's going on?"
Asuna's worried voice, but he held up a hand for silence. He had to confirm it, had to make sure.
"Heh. That's what you said about the last three worlds, Rin."
A snarky voice, one all too familiar.
"Onii-chan! You shouldn't tease Rin like that! She's worked hard, you know!"
A childish feminine voice, though it sounded older than he remembered it being.
Kazuto turned his head, looking all over. Still, he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. But that couldn't be... the voices were too clear for just hallucinations.
"That's right, Archer-san. Nee-chan's done a lot of hard work. Besides, I haven't seen you doing anything to help..."
A calm feminine voice, softly chiding.
"Ka-zu-to! What's going on?"
He turned towards Asuna to see her sending him a harsh glare. It softened when she saw his expression. "Kazuto...? You look like you've seen a ghost." She grabbed his hand. "Your pulse is racing..."
Kazuto let out a deep breath. "Sorry, Asuna."
It was a ridiculous thought. They weren't here. That was just a dream. Besides, he was worrying Asuna. So he should relax. They were on a date, the first in a while, and he should treasure this time with her rather than chasing fleeting images from a dre-
"Hah. You call reading a book working hard? Shirou's the one who's been doing all the heavy lifting!"
Someone's teasing voice.
I'm not hallucinating.
"Hey! Why is everyone-"
Kazuto turned around to see a group of people standing a short distance away. Three men and four women at least in their late twenties, dressed casually. All of them were familiar faces, though they looked older than he remembered them.
"Hm...?" Asuna followed his gaze. "Do you know them, Kazuto?"
Before he could respond, someone from the group walked towards him, a man with silver hair that was almost shining and eyes the same color.
"It's been a long time, Kirito."
He nodded, and then gave a slight bow towards Asuna. "You must be Asuna-san."
"A-ah. There's no need for that... Shirou, is it?"
Shirou straightened, and gave them both a wide smile. "That's right. I've had the fortune to be under the care of Kirito -or should I say Kirigaya-san?- some time ago. It's a pleasure to finally repay it in person."
Asuna tilted her head to the side at his words.
Kazuto, meanwhile, was staring at them all, trying to wrap his head around the fact that, no he hadn't been dreaming, and yes Magic was real and he did in fact fight in a war for the Holy Grail.
"Ah, but there'll be plenty of time for catching up later. There's someone I want you to meet first. The both of you."
Light footsteps, tentative and awkward. A young girl with long raven hair and simple white dress...
"Papa, Mama... I'm home."
Those peaceful days wished for, a dream hoped to be made into reality. Bonds surpassing even time and space.
I believe the place I'll reach with the strength I chose to be paradise. A bond called hope connects us to the future. The prayers that well up simply wait for dawn, without fearing they'll be diminished.