“Aunt Stheno.” A bare whisper. “It’s a – it feels like-”
“Shh.” Stheno crouched to block the youth from Yui’s sight. “Kirito wouldn’t hurt you. He wouldn’t ever harm a child.”
Right now, Stheno was more worried he might harm himself. He’d somehow snuck into her garden without setting off her alarms, and certainly without sending a polite message to ask if she wished a visit. If she truly were the AI-monster he thought her, breaking either of those patterns could have set off an automatic assault by every creature the Cardinal system could summon into being. Kirito was skilled. He wasn’t invincible.
And he knows it.
So. What did she do now?
If he were youkai, what would I do?
“Stay back, little one,” Stheno murmured. “I’ll deal with this.”
One wide-eyed nestling huddling behind a sugar-suckle bush, Stheno advanced on the pile of feathers, and clucked softly. Enough cockatrices scattered after grain to reveal a dark head; black eyes blinked at her….
Shut again, resigned.
Stheno sat next to that grim silence. “I’ve meant to ask for some time. Why did you never bring your guild here?”
“…I didn’t want them to know.” Halting words, as if he had to drag them up from lightless depths. “If they knew I was the Beater, if they found out how I failed against the Vampire Lord….”
The twenty-fifth floor. It made her want to throttle Beniryuu with her bare hands. So many deaths.
And well and fine for Beniryuu to say there would be no wasteful deaths. Years ago, when the youkai lords had first entertained the red dragon’s offer, she’d taken that to mean there would be no true death in Beniryuu’s net of magic. That any humans who could not thrive in Aincrad, would be released. But after hearing Beniryuu’s promise to the players from Kirito’s own words, that they would return to their proper world–
Dragons lie with truth. And it is lies, all the same.