Kirito wasn’t really sure what it was, but something seriously set him off about that particular player.
Perhaps it was his smile. Or the way he held those knives he seemed to prefer over other weapons, like he really knew how to use them, not just in the game but outside of it as well. Or maybe it was just his way of acting, how he seemed to analyze Kirito as they conversed, almost like he was looking for a weakness.
Saint did say once that he was a priest, outside. The image did fit, with how he styled his armor to look like a priests’ cassock, even with the plating covering his chest and arms. Kirito asked once if Liz knew who made his armor like that, and she said that Saint told her once it was a rare drop he found then customized himself. Kirito didn’t doubt it, even if the information was suspect.
One just…didn’t really doubt most of the things Saint tended to say. Even if the words were kind of off-kilter like that. He was proven to be right more often than not, after all.
Saint didn’t belong to any guilds, often joking that he only served one person and one person only, left unsaid that that person was probably God or something like that. Even so, his skills as a fighter were quite good, allowing him to actually be able to solo like Kirito did. The brown-haired man still teamed up more often than Kirito did though.
Something that tended to be odd, though, was that the parties he was known to have joined up with often separated quite often, after he left. The members of those parties afterwards always claimed personality conflicts and internal struggles as the reasons, but sometimes Kirito wasn’t sure whenever he heard news of a new group breaking up like that. Even if Saint wasn’t involved.
There was just something weird about him. Everyone was drawn to him like a moth to a flame, because of his natural charisma. He was a born leader, and Kirito grew ever more confident that he really had been a priest, once. Before SAO. Before the Death Game. With the natural ability to speak to people like that, to guide them, to lead them…Kirito told him once that Saint should form a guild of his own, he was already a well-known front-liner, after all.
Saint laughed. “I’m afraid that’s just not my thing. I like my current way of doing things—joining up groups here and there, then leaving after I’ve accomplished my current goal. To lead a group of people who depend on me, that’s something only a proper King could do. Should do.”
“A king?” Kirito asked, quizzical. Saint smiled, in that way that he did.
“Yes. A King. Only someone with that sort of Charisma would be fit to lead. I…suppose if you put it in video game terms, a rank B in the skill would suffice.” He laughed, as if there was some sort of inside joke that he just made that Kirito wouldn’t get. Then, his laughter quieted, and he looked at Kirito seriously. “Say, Kirito, what’s your ideal?”
“My…ideal?” Kirito asked, before pausing and holding his fist to his mouth in thought. Finally, the black swordsman sighed, and lifted his head again. “I suppose maybe just getting out of here would be it. Making sure no one else has to die because of this game, because of what Kayaba did. If we can clear this game, if we can get to the hundredth floor, and go back home, to our families and friends…” Sugu. “…then I think I’d be able to die happy.”
Saint grinned. Kirito flinched, and he felt in the back of his head that there was something wrongwrongwrong about that smile—
“Rejoice then, Kirito. Your wish shall be granted. We will make it to the hundredth floor, and clear this death game.”
Kirito suddenly wished he had said nothing at all.
Saint messaged him just as he realized what had happened to Caynz. Kirito paused in his explanation to Asuna, holding up a finger as he navigated his menu to see what the message was all about.
Subject: I found something interesting
Message: It appears someone decided to visit my Church on the 19th Floor. They ended up confessing to something *quite* interesting. Why don’t you come pay a visit? I think this may be of help to your…“investigation” that I hear you’ve been doing.]
“What is it, Kirito?” Asuna asked, and Kirito swallowed.
“I think Schmitt may have had something to do with Griselda’s murder after all,” The black swordsman said, standing up as he dismissed the PM. “Come on, we’re going to Saint’s Church.”
After a short trip using a teleport crystal, they arrived.
“I don’t like that man, Daddy.” Yui said, after they had left Sasha’s Orphanage. Kirito instantly knew she was referring to Saint, who they had encountered inside, helping out with the kids as a volunteer. Kirito bit his lip, casting a glance at Asuna, who was frowning as well.
“What’s wrong with him, kiddo?” Kirito asked, taking it upon himself to comfort the small girl. Yui scrunched up her face in thought, clutching the ends of her dress in her hands.
“He’s…abnormal. He seemed happy to be here. That the children were here. That everyone is here. It reminded him of…of something bad. Of something really, really horrible. And he was happy.” She said, her voice starting to rise in pitch as she went on. Kirito cast a look at Asuna, pleading for her to help, and he sighed in relief as she took over.
“Yui, don’t say things like that. Saint is a good man, he’s a front-liner after all, just like us. If he wanted to be here, if he was happy with the way things were, why would he be working to clear the game. And besides, how would you know what this reminded him of?” Asuna asked, brushing a strand of red hair out of her face. Yui looked at her, biting her lip, and lowered her head again.
“I…I don’t know. I just know that there’s something wrong with him. And it scares me.” She whispered. Shaking her head, Yui smiled brightly, all traces of previous emotion gone. “I guess it doesn’t really matter though. Come on, Daddy, Mommy, I want to explore!”
Kirito smiled, glad that whatever had come over their (unofficial?) daughter had passed. He turned to Asuna, but found her frowning still, staring off at the doors of the Orphanage. Kirito’s expression faltered, before Asuna caught him looking and shook her head.
“It’s nothing. Let’s go, Kirito, Yui.” Asuna smiled, grabbing onto Yui’s hand and walking off.
Kirito pretended to forget the conversation after that, even as Yui revealed her nature as an emotional support program. But the night after, as he lay awake, curled up by Asuna’s side in their bed, he thought back to what Yui said, and replayed it over and over in his head.
Of course she would know what he was thinking, wouldn’t she? Kirito thought, closing his eyes. But…why would something so horrible make him happy? He’s a man of God after all, isn’t he?
Kirito fell asleep soon after, too tired to think too deeply about it. By the time morning came, he had forgotten about it completely.
It had only taken a couple of months for him to completely recover from having been bedridden for two whole years, but to Kazuto the entire process felt like years upon years. The physical therapy sucked, having to be fed out of a tube for a good while sucked, and all Kazuto really wanted to do was see Asuna. Finding out that she was still mysteriously comatose was a pretty big blow to his morale after all that.
So, then, getting that e-mail with that picture of her was a good surprise. After months of waiting during his recovery process, Kirito was glad for some news on what could be causing Asuna’s condition.
It also came as somewhat of a surprise, when he visited Agil (or Andrew, as his real name was) at his bar, that Saint had been waiting there, talking with Andrew over a glass of beer. There was another man with Saint as well, with golden hair and red contacts in his eyes, wearing some very-expensive-looking clothing. The golden man raised an eyebrow at Kazuto’s appearance in the establishment, and the black-haired teen felt his heart skip a couple of beats as a feeling of pure dread washed over him.
He didn’t know why, but he was absolutely sure that man could kill him if he wanted to. Very, very easily. Would kill him, in fact. He was going to die. Kazuto felt his fingers twitch for his sword, only he didn’t have a sword to defend himself with. The man smiled, almost cruelly.
The feeling washed away, and Kazuto stumbled in place.
“Ah, Kirito, so nice of you to join us. Come, sit down. I was just introducing Gilgamesh here to our mutual friend.” Saint finally seemed to notice Kazuto’s presence, and motioned him over, while Agil snorted at the mention of Archer.
“The man’s an ass. Don’t talk to him if he decides to bother you, Kirito. Whatever he has to say isn’t worth your time.” Agil commented, focusing on polishing a glass. Kazuto hesitantly sat down at the bar, casting a glance at the golden-haired man—Gilgamesh, as it apparently was.
Gilgamesh tapped his fingers on the bar table, his head resting in the palm of his other hand. A frown was on his face. “And as I keep suggesting, mongrel, you shouldn’t be taking such a tone with me. All I said was that this swill you call alcohol is hardly suitable for someone of my tastes. It’s a wonder that anyone decides to drink it at all, given how disgusting it is.”
Kazuto immediately decided he did not like Gilgamesh at all.
“Now, now, Gilgamesh, you can hardly fault the man for being upset. This is his establishment, after all, and he has been trapped in a digitally-induced coma for several years, unable to work as he pleases. His skills are, perhaps, simply rusty. Even if he is able to pick his skills back up rather quickly, it may very well be some time before they could ever compare to what you’re used to.” Saint smoothed things over, but it didn’t feel like that at all, from the way he said it. Agil noticed it too, from the twitch in his eyebrow, but didn’t say anything, simply letting the potential insult hidden in those words slide off his back.
“Anyway, Agil,” Kazuto interrupted, deciding to change the conversation’s tracks before they got too derailed, “The e-mail you sent me. You implied you might have information on why Asuna won’t wake up?”
Agil seemed grateful for the change in topic, setting down his glass and reaching under the counter as he spoke. “Ah, yes. You see, while we’ve all been asleep in SAO, it seems the world didn’t want to give up on VRMMO technology, and so a safe alternative to the NerveGear was produced, as well as several games for it. The one I sent you that picture of is this…” a box was placed on the counter. “…ALfheim Online.”
As Agil relayed the information to Kazuto, the black-haired teen was vaguely aware of Saint listening intently to their conversation, although his attention seemed to be on quietly conversing with Gilgamesh as to not interrupt the two. Once Kazuto got all he needed, he thanked Agil, and slid out of his seat to move towards the door.
Saint’s call drifted over to Kazuto, and he turned, looking into the priest’s eyes. Those eyes were dark, and endless, and a pit began to gnaw at Kazuto’s stomach as he held his stare.
“I know, perhaps, the outcome wasn’t exactly the same, but did you get what you wished for?”
“Rejoice then, Kirito. Your wish shall be granted. We will make it to the hundredth floor, and clear this death game.”
That’s right, back then… Kazuto thought, and swallowed. Exhaling a breath he didn’t know he had been holding, Kirigaya Kazuto met Saint’s gaze and nodded, his face hard and determined.
“Yeah. I think I got what I wanted, in the end. Maybe…maybe not completely, but….it was close enough to what I desired that…I think I’m happy with the results.” He said, with finality. And, deep in his heart, Kazuto realized he really believed those words. After all, if they had been forced to continue, if they had been forced to fight all the way to the hundredth floor…there would have been so many more dead than there had been at the end.
With all those lives saved from ending the Death Game early, what right did the swordsman Kirito, as a hero, have to complain?
Saint nodded once, and turned back to his drink. Pausing for a moment to see if there was anything else that needed to be said, Kazuto finally turned and walked out the door of the Dicey Café.
He never saw Saint or Gilgamesh again after that.
“I’m a little surprised, admittedly, I would have thought Saint would show up.” Asuna commented, sipping from her glass of tea. Kazuto nodded, glancing around the room. The reunion party was in full swing, and although many of the survivors had shown up, there were several who hadn’t been able to come. Kazuto hadn’t guessed that Saint would be one of them, given that the priest had been a front-liner during the game, one of the clearers in fact, but nobody had received any word from the man.
“What, did you want him to show up? I don’t know about you two, but he honestly gives me the creeps.” Klein replied, taking a swig of his bourbon. “Like, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but…there’s just somethin’ weird about him, ya’know?”
“I suppose…” Asuna said unsurely, before trailing off. “That reminds me, though. Kirito, do you remember what Yui said about him that one time?”
“Huh? Ah, you’re talking about when we ran into him at Sasha’s Orphanage, right?” Kazuto asked, taking a drink of his oolong tea as he thought about it. Yes, after all, Yui had been the one who brought up some things that made Kazuto question Saint’s motives for a while, and for a while Kazuto had even thought Saint was Kayaba for a while, at least potentially, although that guess ended up being absurdly wrong. But, that didn’t really have anything to do with anything, did it?
Kazuto said as much to Asuna, and she frowned, thinking it over as well. “Well, yes, I suppose it doesn’t…but what Klein said just happened to remind me of it.” She replied eventually, her voice still a little unsure. Klein looked between Kazuto and Asuna, a questioning look on his face, before shrugging and letting it slide.
The door to the Dicey Café opened shortly after, though, and Kazuto turned to greet the newcomers as part of the party, but…
It wasn’t anyone he knew.
“Ah…” The red-haired boy said, rubbing the back of his neck embarrassedly at everyone’s attention. The long, dark-haired girl next to him huffed, crossing her arms and glancing about the room.
“You’re all of Kotomine’s friends, then? Those people who got trapped in that game.” The dark haired girl said rudely, and the red-haired boy shot a looked at her, frowning.
“Tohsaka-san, there’s no need to be so rude. Saying stuff like that is a bit…” The boy cautioned, but ‘Tohsaka’ flipped her hair over her shoulder, ignoring him.
“Doesn’t matter, Shirou. I say we just deliver the message and go. I don’t want to associate with anyone who is somehow friends with that fake priest.” Tohsaka said rudely, and Kazuto picked up on a certain word.
“Excuse me,” Kazuto spoke up, coming to the front, “But, by ‘fake priest,’ do you perhaps mean Saint? Uh, tall guy, brown hair in a mullet—”
“—Kind of a creepy ass? Yeah. I don’t know if any of you have been in contact with him consistently, but I’m sure that those who have noticed that he’s dropped off the radar a little bit. We’re here to clear things up, since it would be troublesome if any of you started poking into his business.” Tohsaka finished, and Kazuto furrowed his brow.
“‘Creepy ass’ isn’t exactly how I would have put it, but…” the black-haired boy muttered under his breath, before directing his next few words at her. “Well, what did you need to tell us?”
Shirou, who had been quiet for the past few moments, was the one who said this. His delivery was void of emotion, although his expression darkened briefly as if remembering Saint’s existence at all had left a sour taste in his mouth. The room instantly quieted, and Silica covered her mouth with a gasp.
“Wh...what?” someone choked out, and Tohsaka continued where Shirou left off.
“He’s dead. Died in February. I figured you all should at least know, since I doubt that fake priest would have considered setting things in place to inform anyone he knew from the SAO incident in case something happened to him. I don’t know how close all of you were to him, or how well any of you knew him at all, but it’s the least we could do since we know he was involved in all of that too.”
“Wait, how do you know he’s dead anyway? What’s your relation to him?” Klein was the one that spoke this time, his shock at the news leaking into his voice. Tohsaka got quiet, before looking to the side as she spoke again.
“He was my guardian after my parents died. Shirou spoke with him a few times as well, and he’s my friend, so I had him come with.” She said quietly, and another hush fell over the group. Shirou shifted in place, seemingly uncomfortable.
“Admittedly, the two of us weren’t exactly fond of him at all, him and I especially didn’t get along, but we figured that you guys at least deserved to know, so…” The red-haired boy spoke up, finally. Sasha came over, rubbing one of her wrists with a hand, expression unreadable.
“Well, for what it’s worth, thank you. Admittedly, none of us were really close with Saint, I don’t think, but he helped clear the game. I remember, he also helped out at the Orphanage I set up for child players, and I never got to thank him for that. So there’s that, too.” Sasha said, and Tohsaka and Shirou went pale at the mention of the Orphanage, Shirou looking a little bit sick on top of that.
Kazuto was about to question their strange reaction, but Tohsaka cleared her throat, her color slowly returning to her face as she spoke again.
“Well, uh, that’s all we had to say. We should be heading off, so…” the black-haired girl trailed off, before shaking her head and tugging on Shirou’s sleeve. The latter murmured a half-hearted “goodbye,” before the pair turned and walked out the door.
The party continued, although the mood was a lot more somber after that piece of news. The chatter had died down somewhat, and everyone’s joy at the reunion seemed muted. Everyone’s energy for festivities seemed snuffed out. Kazuto thought it was fitting, for Saint to have indirectly left such an effect on everyone, long after he had already been gone.
It was Saint, after all. Kazuto had long come to accept the man was just like that.