Title: The New Level
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Kirito and Asuna.
Summary: The latest floor of Aincrad is one of those levels.
Disclaimer: They belong to Reki Kawahara. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Written for the prompt word "New" at Fan Flashworks. Of all the vague ideas I had for the theme, nothing would stick, so I tried to think of uses for it in fandoms I write less often. I'm not sure exactly where this came from… but clearly, it has something to do with memories of the video-game levels I always hated the most back in my teens.
Kirito didn't know what to expect upon reaching Floor Eighty-Three of Aincrad, but the one thing he was sure of was that he hadn't anticipated anything quite so… colorful.
With the unique exception of a few eggshell-like domes in the distance, the buildings featured the same basic architecture as the lower floors of Aincrad. However, they were painted in bright bold hues. Many of them sported broad, wildly clashing vertical stripes, or wraparound candy-cane swirls. They were also rather sparsely spaced around the town square Kirito and Asuna first arrived at. Indeed, the solid structures were outnumbered by canvas tents; constructs designed to fit with the vaguely medieval fantasy aesthetic of SAO, but also more garishly colored than anything on previous floors.
More curiously, the square was embellished with various statues of animals. They represented not only mythical beasts native to Aincrad, but also real-world species Kirito had never before seen referenced in SAO: tigers, elephants, camels. Yet the shapes of both sorts of creatures were oddly exaggerated. The heads and paws were disproportionately large, and again, the practically neon colors of their paint jobs were all wrong.
Strangest of all, though, was the stillness. On the surface, this town looked as if it was dressed for one big, never-ending festival, like a theme park in the real world… but it appeared to be completely deserted. Shreds of ribbons fluttered from crooked maypoles. Weeds grew tall from the cracks between the paving bricks. Broken windows were flanked by shutters hanging halfway off their hinges.
At Kirito's side, Asuna shifted uneasily, her hand creeping toward the sheath of her sword.
"So does this place creep you out as much as it does me?"
Before either of them could say anything else, a door creaked, somewhere ahead and to their right. Turning sharply toward the sound, Kirito saw the movement of a human-like shape emerging from a crumbling tavern.
His hope that it might be a fellow player with more experience on this floor, or even an NPC designed to provide useful information, was quickly dashed… because what began to approach with a slow and shuffling gait was definitely not going to be friendly.
On second thought, the being's form was not very human after all. It was a bulbous, waddling thing, with a round body and short limbs. The loose billows of clothing were even more loudly hideous than the buildings, a polychromatic jumble of stripes, plaids, and polka-dots—stained down the front with smears and dribbles of a greenish-black slime. The yellow shoes were absurdly long, and bells dangled from a floppy pink hat, jingling with every step. A shock of frizzy, cherry-red hair stuck out in all directions from under the hat like straw.
"…I would really like to wake up now," Asuna murmured.
It was a sentiment Kirito passionately agreed with—even before the abomination raised its head.
The pasty face and huge red mouth were predictable. Somewhat less so was the fact that the fat, lumpy features appeared to be halfway melted, distorting a visage that was disturbing enough by nature into something even more nightmarish. Waxy white strings of skin hung off the face, fringing scars and gashes in the flesh. Within the gaping jaws, multiple rows of sharp, oversized teeth like a shark's were visible.
Movement in the near distance behind the thing caught Kirito's eye. He watched dumbly as, with low groans and growls, more of the monsters began spilling out through the doorways of tents and buildings.
"They," Asuna hissed between her teeth, her voice trembling with the wrath of an intense moral outrage she normally reserved for player-killers. "Are zombie. Clowns."
Of course, she was stating the obvious; but honestly, Kirito couldn't muster up a more witty reaction himself. The mouthy part of his mind was too busy wishing for Akihiko Kayaba to suffer new punishments of hell that even he hadn't thought he could will upon anyone.
Like zombie clowns, for instance.
Heaving a sigh, Kirito drew both of his swords. With a swift glance at Asuna to assure that she too was ready, he braced himself for battle.
"Why does every game have to have one of these levels…?!"
2017 Jordanna Morgan