It was like surfacing from deep water.
Throat feels… lousy. Kirito blinked, feeling what had to be a crust of sleep-sand thick as a silver coin crack and stick. Scrunched his eyelids shut at the sting, letting new tears wash some of it away; a habit learned hard from too many encounters with swamps, slime, and dragonbreath ashes. Everything feels lousy.
And heavy. Lifting a hand felt like trying to drag himself onto the deck after half a day lost at sea and treading water. Which had only happened once. Once was more than enough.
Everything feels… empty.
No animals. No youkai. No wild. Just his own breath in his ears; his own heartbeat, drumming away in a rhythm he hadn’t felt in two long years.
Earth. We’re back on Earth….
Get the damn NerveGear off!
He forced shaking hands to move; to lift, grip painted metal, and pull. Because everything was empty and it hurt so much but they were back. They were back, they were on Earth with his family, and he was not giving a damned backstabbing dragon any chance to have vindictive second thoughts with a brain-frying helmet.
Damn you, Beniryuu!
The NerveGear thumped onto the mattress beside him, curve bumping against his side as the cable bunched up white sheets. It hurt.
Sheets, no tiger blanket… someone’s house of healing? No. Wait. Earth.
Translucent panels set in the speckled white ceiling, light glowing through. Plain white sheets on a Western-style bed. Japanese voices drifting from the walls, businesslike and formal with an odd edge of hurrying. A lack of green scents, almost covered by tangs of soap and bitter and possibly one faint wisp of coffee.
Hospital. This has to be a hospital. Kayaba – Beniryuu – said he’d give the government time to move us. Guess he had to make sure our bodies stayed alive long enough to snatch them.
Kirito made himself take a deep breath, hackle-raising scents and all. He lost. We’re alive. Asuna’s alive.
Alive, and he was going to find her. And his family. First step, get up….