Warm feather in hand, Suguha ducked past the nurse stalling her mother, and dashed into Kazuto’s room.
Just a thin line, trickling down her brother’s pale cheek from under the Nervegear. But she could almost smell it.
“Miss, I’ll have to ask you to get back- assist on room 1515!”
“Great. More people who can’t do anything,” Suguha muttered, trying not to cry as she dabbed at blood with a wipe from a box near the bed.
Her mother was right behind her, white-lipped. “You said you saw him bleeding.”
“He wanted to prove it was real. He wanted me to believe.” Down seemed to twitch against Suguha’s hand; she opened her hand to look at the green-black feather, as stark against her brother’s skin as blood. “Like I could ever not believe you, big brother-”
Down and vanes twitched. Curled away from her fingers, bloody quill questing over her skin like the head of a snake. Purple-black sparked along its length, raising answering sparks of blue and violet from the trail of blood.
Falcon-swift, the feather swooped off her hand, and dove under the helmet.
One hand fumbling blindly alongside the bed, Suguha tried to sit down.
Midori caught her before she tumbled, tugging her over to the visitor’s chair to collapse. “Have you seen… that… happen in ALO?”
“I’m not sure,” Suguha started. She’d seen some monsters regenerate a little like that, once or twice. But her brother wasn’t a hydra or a troll-
Swarming nurses shoved them both out of the room.
Suguha wanted to cry. Or scream. Or grab a bokken and just-
A hand closed on her shoulder. “Getting mad at them won’t help, Kirigaya. You know that.”
“Nagata.” She blinked at him; glasses, shy brown eyes, and all. With all the faces ALO could generate, why did Recon’s look so much like Shinichi’s? “He was with you.”
“He disappeared a minute after your avatar did,” Nagata told her. “I just got to an inn to log out, and – never mind. He said don’t give up. That he’ll find a way back.” He looked up, and gulped. “Mrs. Kirigaya. It’s nice to meet you with good news. Well, kind of good news….”
“You saw my son in Alfheim Online.” Midori gave him a considering look, as the noise in Kazuto’s room died down to confused murmurs. “Tell me everything.”