Prologue:

"Shiroe, where do summoned creatures come from?"

Shiroe paused his work, looking up.

Minori met his eyes from across the room, her own stack of paperwork somewhat obscuring her face.

"I… don't know. Maybe Regan has something on it? I can try asking him the next time I see him."

Minori tilted her head back, pursing her lips, then nodded. "Okay."

Shiroe returned to his work.

~oOo~

Log Horizon © Mamare Touno

This work provided under section 107 of the copyright act of 1978

Chapter 1

~oOo~

Roderick had to admit- taking orders from a little girl half his age would have been weird even outside of Elder Tale, back in Japan. Now, as the guild leader of one of his own self-titled crafting guild, it was downright bizarre.

But because that girl was politically well connected and the apprentice to strategist Shiroe himself, he swallowed his pride.

And it wasn't like he could deny his own fascination with the topic.

He fiddled with his pen and clipboard, marking off results.

Fading afternoon sunlight filtered through the windows of the warehouse. The corrugated walls had yet to be painted, and reflected the light for better illumination.

"Horse talisman, level 5, open doors, wolf tribe, summoner!" Minori barked out her order.

His employee cast the spell, and within seconds, the sound of hoofbeats could be heard echoing through the warehouse. The horse that came galloping towards them was the same speckled white and brown mare that had appeared every other time that specific talisman was used, materialising somewhere out of sight beyond one of the open doors before making its way inside.

"Direction?"

The reply was barely audible in the cavernous warehouse, but after a few miscommunications early in the tests, the experimenters had taken to remaining on raid chat with each other.

Minori looked at him, and said "West entrance."

Roderick nodded, and wrote down the result.

The horse was dismissed, and trotted off.

"Horse talisman, level 5, obstructed doors, wolf tribe, summoner!"

The dull scrape of metal against concrete came from each of the four sides of the warehouse, as metal grates were pushed in front of each of the doors.

Again, Roderick's subordinate used the talisman. Again, the same horse appeared.

"Direction?"

"..."

"Disturbance?"

"..."

"West side, undisturbed grates."

Roderick filled in the final box on the page. "Thank you very much, everyone. That concludes testing for today. I'll contact you if we make any immediate breakthroughs, or when need more testing, but you're free to collect your payments from my second in command."

One by one, everyone disconnected from raid chat.

Once he was sure his employees were out of the site, Roderick groaned, placing his hands on his waist and cracking his back. Standing for hour after hour sucked, even with his physiology drastically improved by the transition into elder tale. Still, the only things that held guilds as large as his together were respect of leadership and inertia, and without one the other usually ceased. And if the price to pay for that was standing for hours, then so be it.

"Can I see the notes?"

Roderick handed the clipboard over. This was largely a formality, as they'd been pretty sure of their conclusions by the end of yesterday, but it always paid to have a second eye check over the data.

Paper rustled.

"That seems to confirm it, then. The user doesn't matter to the operation of the talisman, and talismans have to be tied to specific creatures in particular, which get teleported in, always from the same direction relative to the talisman."

Roderick nodded. "With some more experimentation, we may be able to tie talismans to people, so we can teleport them around without having to worry that Plant Hwyaden will shut down the inter-city gates again in a power play."

"But still…"

Roderick grimaced. "I know. We're still no closer to knowing where summons actually come from. But at least we know a lot more about how talismans work. We can still try varying mana input, activating them in magically active areas, having People of the Land use them, seeing what happens when we activate a talisman without tying a summon to them, and that's merely with equipment we can acquire from stores…" As he spoke, Roderick grew more and more animated, the fire in his eyes rekindled.

Minori laughed, cheer returning to her face. "Don't lose too much sleep, though. Shiroe's told me how you get fixated on your research."

"I'm an adult, and can handle myself." Of course, his white hair belied the fact that he was actually in his twenties, but he didn't need to advertise that.

Minori rolled her eyes, but left him in peace. With a quick goodbye, she left for the Log Horizon headquarters.

Left with his thoughts, Roderick casually strolled towards his favorite coffee place in Akihabara. "Hmm, what does happen when we try to use a talisman with nothing tied to it?"

~oOo~

Testing continued for the better part of the month. With no early breakthroughs, Roderick couldn't justify spending all his time on the summoning experiment. Still, a summoner himself, he couldn't fully restrain his admittedly self-interested curiosity.

The preliminary results for testing summon-less summoning talismans didn't seem to do anything, but after testing varying mana input with regular summons, he rapidly returned to testing the unbound talismans.

It had been fairly easy to overlook, really. It was possible to put more mana than necessary into summoning, but because that didn't have any effect on the strength of the summoned creatures, Adventurers simply didn't.

But with some simple observation, it was easy to spot how the more mana was placed into a summon, the greater the glow surrounding it.

From there, it was a short step to conclude that the ineffectiveness of applying more mana into unbound talismans wasn't due to the lack of summon, but due to a lack of mana.

And if there was one thing a guild of one thousand, eight hundred and eighty one people had in abundance, it was mana.

It wasn't long before people started volunteering to help him out. More and more people showed up. Talismans began burning out, but were rapidly replaced.

Visual effects grew more and more pronounced, as the effect of the talisman grew from a brief glow in the air to larger and larger circles, to what could even be referred to as portals.

It took weeks of gathering more and more volunteers, and constant research and development to get more and more durable talismans, but eventually the portal grew to such a size that someone's head could be put through it.

That is to say, the portal grew to such a size that someone put their head through it.

Roderick jerked forward, an aborted motion to stop his guildmate.

But the portal held, and the lab-coat clad dwarf pulled his head back just in time to avoid the abrupt close of the portal as the mana supply went out.

Nearly two hundred Adventurers promptly slumped to the ground, as their mana depletion hit home.

But one look at the dwarf's face, and Roderick was back on his feet, already running towards him.

"What. Did. You. See."

"Cars! A man in a business suit, streetlights, and asphalt instead of cobblestones. I can't tell you what city, but it's definitely Japan!"

Roderick found himself mirroring the dwarf's infectious grin, even as the cheering of his guild nearly deafened him.

~oOo~

Marrielle didn't bother trying to look guarded, like the other guild leaders. As Roderick explained his plans and schematics, she practically bounced in her seat, really more of a throne.

The swankiness of the massive, round meeting hall, with its soaring arches and statues carved into the walls, had taken some getting used to.

She wasn't excited for herself, per se- having been a NEET back in the real world, she had to admit the respect she got in Elder Tale was markedly superior. Still, even the possibility that she could re-unite her young guild mates with their families had her ecstatic.

…"and that's why each talisman will cost about 22 million gold, not including wages for whomever actually assembles them."

Wait, what?

"Excuse me?"

Roderick gave an exasperated sigh, but by now he was more than used to her antics.

"Creating a portal large enough to cross worlds takes a lot of mana, which takes a durable talisman, which takes high level equipment, which takes high-level quests and high level players which themselves need equipment, which requires more quests, etcetera. And of course, getting enough mana to power the talisman will require paying a lot of mages."

Marielle's face fell.

"If it costs that much for a one way trip, it'll take years to get everyone across." Isaac didn't look happy either; his arms were folded across his chest, and in his massive black armour he cut an intimidating figure.

"The situation isn't as disagreeable as you're claiming," Roderick interjected. "I believe we can lower the cost as we research better ways to manufacture items, and it's not exactly single-use: once we have a talisman, simply gathering up enough mana to use it will be considerably cheaper than manufacturing a new one. And I've been discussing this with Shiroe-" Shiroe nodded "-and he says we can tie a sort of reverse talisman to a specific person. The specifics of why it works are beyond me, but they'll be able to move back and forth between the worlds, although their time will be limited."

The other ten guild leaders of the Round Table Alliance digested his words.

"D.D.D. can provide ten million gold immediately, and more given time." Everyone blinked at Krusty's words, not expecting the leader of the combat-focused guild to have so many resources on hand.

"Ha!" Isaac was once again grinning. "We'll match you. We've been looking for this since we got into elder tale, I'm not going to lose out because I was a cheapskate."

The other guild leaders practically fell over themselves volunteering their reserves, and even Marrielle got a little carried away, offering all of the few million Crescent Moon had in reserve, or at least all that Henrietta let her offer. For a second in command, sometimes Marrielle felt Henrietta had more power than she did!

~oOo~

Akihabara's crafting guilds were used to dealing with nearly excessive quantities of money, but even they didn't quite know what to do when handed what amounted to a blank check.

Adventurers asked for tax increases to fund development. People of the Land with too much time on their hands from the introduction of mechanized agriculture found themselves hired in droves just to perform arithmetic and help move crafting equipment around. Dozens of Plant Hwyaden spies were ferreted out, until they were offered the chance to simply invest in the project directly, at which point they funneled a truly staggering quantity of gold into Akihabara's coffers.

Of course, not everything went according to plan. The requisite materials for a talisman powerful enough to transfer an entire person turned out to be even more expensive than expected. Entirely novel mana storage methods were developed in order to obviate the requirement for hundreds of mages to be present at the same time to activate a talisman.

Even Akihabara's internal mana transport system was co-opted.

And as expected of a consensus-based political apparatus, there were politics.

Even gathering the thousands-strong defense force against the goblin king had been less a less contentious question than "who should we send over first."

Lander nobles constantly meddled, attempting to secure their own passage to see the fabled homeland of the adventurers.

Eventually, however, compromise was reached.

The talisman needed to be tied to a specific person, so they could move between realms to facilitate communication.

The ambassador would be a trusted member of one the Round Table Alliance's guilds, as they had provided the bulk of financing for the project.

The ambassador would be female, because Adventurers were scary enough for being immortal and imbued with magical power; hopefully, a woman wouldn't be seen as as much as a threat.

By the same token, the ambassador would be (or at least look) young.

And finally, because they were relatively neutral, the ambassador would be from Log Horizon.

Minori repeated these reasons to herself in a sort of mantra. She was the obvious choice. Among other things, she had the original idea that sparked the portals, she wasn't a combat class, so she could show off without being threatening, she was well-respected among Adventurers, she was- she was-

Minori's breath caught. She was completely and totally unprepared, why did she agree to this instead of insisting Akatsuki or Tetra do this, this was a terrible idea, why why why-

Shiroe held out the contract, and, with shaking hands, she signed it. Why couldn't she focus! She had fought monsters with more composure than this. Why was she so anxious about returning home temporarily?

Why was she so anxious about seeing her parents again?

She really hoped the observers packed into the small room, kept as a rarely-used ancillary meeting place by log horizon, didn't notice her all but quaking in her sandals.

"There, it's done."

Huh? The contract was torn apart- and some part of her brain reminded her of the rather obscure bit of trivia that that had been done in the past so that two people could each keep one half, which could be compared in order to determine validity. Which didn't make sense in this case, because she wasn't making a contract with anyone else, just-

Minori squeaked as the lighting changed from the lanterns of the guild building's bowels to the blinding intensity of midday sunlight, and she fell on her butt in the middle of a crowded shopping district.

~oOo~

A/N: Thanks to egolagoon, for betaing this chapter (and giving me the impetus to help fill up the LH section), as well as the reddit users ulyssessword, gommm, and PeridexisErrant for helping me polish this chapter.

A brief note on Japanese customs: because I'm writing for a western audience, I'm not going to include honorifics, except in tangential references. I'm also leaning on the side of not enough bowing, because it slows down the text. Japanese turns of phrase will also be avoided.

I'll be releasing chapters weekly on sunday, at least until my backlog is exhausted.