Foreword: Chapter 12 has been updated with an expanded conversation between Haseo (the real one) and Kuhn. If you've been following this story for a while, you might want to go back and brush up on that scene before continuing on. Thanks for the reads and especially the feedback.
. . . Fights a Million Foes
Warp-in rings fade away from the trio of PCs and the twin-tailed kitsune character straightens his maroon, robe-style sleeves before looking over his would-be compatriots. Asta doesn't look like much more than a thin-as-a-rail girl, her purple hat likely heavier than she is, but without being able to scan her character he doesn't have any idea what her class or level is. Her partner, Iyoten, appears more average. Another human-type PC, he wears casual-fitting black clothing and has white hair that covers the upper half of his face.
The darkness of Delta server's Submissive Tragedy's 1000 Oaks makes it difficult to pick out anything in the distance, but he thinks he sees a dark player with slim white clothing dash behind a hill before Asta strides out like a good little guide. She turns around with a smile reminiscent of a low-paid Japanese announcer desperate to keep her job in front of a bunch of tourists, then proceeds to explain the basics of the game.
The beastman-type PC, Reynart Azu, follows the trio in a walkthrough that has more than a few shades of being rehearsed or practiced several times. Still, he's unfamiliar with the dancer class and accepts a fixed agenda for short-term gain. Reynart thinks he spots another person moving around the beast temple, but with his low level and the scant abilities unlocked so far he can't see anybody outside his own party. Shrugging it off as unimportant, he follows Iyoten and Asta inside the temple.
The twin fans inside the temple treasure look laughably weak compared to the equipment he's used to using, but he reminds himself that it's better than what he started with. When he turns around, both human PCs have their weapons drawn.
The fact that his half-lidded stare doesn't even blink makes them falter a moment. Asta steps forward, a gargantuan greatsword in her hands with toothed wheels built into both sides. "You don't seem to realize the trouble you're in, little cub."
Reynart crosses his arms a moment in thought, then uncrosses them and looks her straight in the eye. "You two aren't very smart noob scummers. Didn't either of you consider the fact that your hits learned how to switch the camera out of first-person mode to watch you leering behind my back for the past ten minutes?"
Iyoten takes one long step forward, snapping up a blade like the bastard child of an overly-styled European rapier and a Japanese katana. His eyes remain hidden, but the lips alone are enough to display his distaste in a grimace. "Look at the pot calling the kettle black. You just lost your one slim chance of running away."
Reynart smirks along his player behind the controls, though the gesture is faintly harder to make out with his canine snout. "Oh really? I see you're not up on your Japanese folklore. Kitsune are notoriously hard to pin down. You may notice that I can see you both brandishing your swords and I'm still not worried."
Now Asta scoffs, resting her angular, oversized greatsword on her shoulder. "You're not a physical fighter class. You're not even a pure class, you're just an Adept Rogue. What could you possibly do to us? I know you didn't miss the fact that we one-shot every enemy on this level."
"There are more ways to handle looser PKers than fighting you toe-to-toe on your own terms," he answers with a clear smirk this time. "You must be used to idiots who haven't even figured out the interface yet. Remember that you asked me to invite you two? Party leader. I know your elemental resistance is nonexistent."
Iyoten and Asta share a long glance between each other before they look back at Reynart. The "players have left the party" popup is hardly necessary before they heft their weapons back into combat poses that only make the kitsune chuckle. Iyoten takes a step closer, blade now reaching all the way to the beastman's neck. "I'll admit, I'm impressed at how much a noob like you has figured out. Especially for how much you're missing. Really? What could you possibly do?"
Reynart only smiles before holding out one hand, fan gripped loosely. "Ani Zot." Lacking the spell proper, he unleashes the item that triggers essentially the same effect, and a pool of dark roars open, throwing Iyoten up and away on the expansive pedestal space.
Asta laughs cheerily at her compatriot as he pulls himself up. The damage was negligible, but it's enough for her to take notice. "I guess this isn't going to be as boring as the other noobs. Most are falling over themselves scrambling away and begging for mercy." An almost imperceptible click, and the toothed wheels in her sword begin rotating, sparks spitting out. "Not that you'll get any."
Reynart scoffs like a man who's just been told the world is hollow. They've never PKed a man who's been in a real street fight. "Really? You've been PKing for how long and that's the best line you can come up with?"
Asta's eyes narrow, but then she starts striding towards him. "You've got quite a mouth on you. Pity you're still not worth the SP that an arte would take to cut it off."
She comes within swinging range and brings down her greatsword in a chop that could have split steel plates. Having dodged hundreds of pipes and other similarly clumsily-wielded weapons in his youth, he sidesteps only enough to let the massive blade crash into the stone beside him, coming so close he can feel the wind and sparks in its passing. As soon as it connects with the floor, he surges forward, bringing up both of his fans in a rising cross that slashes across her face.
With the massive level and equipment difference, the attack doesn't even deal damage, but the surprise that he would try something so direct at all still causes her to take a step back. Gritting her teeth with a snarl that sounds more like a banshee than human, Asta hoists her sword and powers a wide chop. Reynart drops into splits, leaning back and letting the sword pass over him before he nimbly springs back to his feet.
I'm glad that's easier in the game than it would be in real life, he internally notes before letting loose an earth item spell on the Edge Punisher and takes off towards the door. Even if Iyoten wasn't in his path, he knows he'd never escape, but taunting them is too fun to pass up and keeping moving is the only thing that will keep him alive against players well over a hundred levels above him.
Iyoten, taking his much more nimble blade in hand, makes a far faster horizontal swing aiming to chop through the kitsune's neck. Reynart dives into a roll under it, but before he can gain any real distance, his swordsman opponent chops his blade through Reynart's path towards the door. Dodging to one side, he narrowly parries the follow-up slice, then dodges the next by a hairsbreadth.
The dark spell item that slams into Iyoten gives Reynart enough time to snicker and dodge back out of his enemy's reach even despite the artificial sluggishness from his low agility stat. Asta doesn't give him any time to throw out another taunt, powering a diagonal chop that sends chips of stone flying but still doesn't quite connect with the nimble kitsune.
She hauls her sword out of the stone, angling it to try to make her rising sweep pass through the twin-tailed beastman. Reynart rolls out of the way, only to have to reverse his dodge immediately to avoid Iyoten's slash. It's rather obviously a move to herd him, but given that even a grazing blow from these players would instantly kill him he has no choice but to let himself be directed right back to Asta.
The girl first chops high, then low, each time seeing Reynart narrowly dodge the path of the blade. However, both of them can see that she's coming closer each time. She's about to make a faster slice when the doors open and a new player strides in.
"Hey, do you guys how to make the Sign here do anything?" the moderately dark-skinned female in white asks, trailing off at the rather obvious situation in front of her.
Asta barks out, "Back off, gaijin, this one's ours!"
The blond-haired PC brushes her bangs away from her right eye, a rather pointless gesture with the bandage passing over it. Her visible eye narrows and the lightly-armored woman takes a single, defiant stride straight towards the PKer. "You did not just call me a foreigner."
"I think she did," Iyoten remarks with a confident swagger towards her. "So why don't you go get lost—"
The white-clad player surges into a Razor's Edge, sending the black-garbed swordsman crashing backwards. He doesn't hesitate to spring up, powering a slash that the swordswoman blocks with her own straight-edged blade. The two push against each other, blade to blade, neither making ground, before she snarls, "Don't pass me off or you'll find out why they called me Maniac Helluger."
Iyoten's eyes aren't visible, but the drop of his jaw is enough to imply the wide-eyed shock of his player. The distraction may be cheap, but Helluger is still angry from being called gaijin and as soon as her resistance lightens up she brings back her sword and begins to slash into the PKer.
Seeing the trouble her compatriot is having, Asta finally abandons Reynart in order to rush at Helluger's back. The still ajar doors beckon the woefully underleveled player, but he doesn't give them more than a glance. He's not going to just sit back and let these two scum gang up on another player like they were prepared to do against him. Almost out of attack items, he still throws out a Light Arrow.
The brief lance of gold and silver energy slams draws peripheral notice from Iyoten and Helluger, still focusing on each other. Asta however is enraged, and finally casts off her reservation against using skills on lowly prey. Armor Pierce is wholly overkill, applying four nines of damage on its first impact, but Asta doesn't have time to smirk. Shortly after her feet return to the ground, hinges creak and a new PC strides into the open doors. Slightly shorter than the average player, her varying shades of light and modest green identify Saburou even before she casts Rip Maen to restore the kitsune. Asta snarls at the new entrant, brandishing her greatsword in threat. Saburou gives her an appraising glance with one raised eyebrow, then crosses her arms. She looks over each of the players present before stopping back at Reynart. "You're lucky I responded when you said you were heading to an area with a couple of thugs."
At this, Iyoten and Helluger pause in their clashing of blades to glance back over the others.
The kitsune uses a healing potion on himself, then shrugs, still responding mostly to Saburou. "It's a long story."
The short girl in the lime green dress shrugs, gives a brief glance indicating usage of the player scan function, then stops at Asta. "I'll tell you what I see: you came in trying to PK one level one player. He's still up and there are now two players who have been killing things stronger than noobs for most of our careers." She shares a stare-down with Asta for a few moments before slinging out her own greatsword, a weapon with a finish more like ceramic than metal and shaped more like a lengthened axe than a real-world sword. "I'd say your chances are better if you leave."
Asta's eyes narrow even further in a glare. Iyoten hovers indecisively for a moment, and finally Helluger makes the telling move. Bursting into a Disaster Sword, her last blow sends Iyoten to the ground in monochrome. Asta glances between the three players, then takes off running.
Helluger kneels down next to the fading image of Iyoten, then puts away her sword and holds up her hands with a smile at a window on her screen. "Hey, not too shabby." The dark-skinned, white-clad player puts away whatever item she found and looks back at the twin-tailed kitsune player. "Say, blue kitsune guy. Why didn't you take off when I appeared? You could've made it if you left when I came in."
Reynart tilts his head in a motion that somehow says 'why ever would I do that?' He straightens a moment later, tugging his robe-style sleeves. "I don't like abandoning people. Besides, you helped me, even if it wasn't entirely by choice." He pauses and looks carefully over the human-type PC.
Her skin tone reminds him of Bordeaux, though her height is closer to 'average' and her build much more slim and less imposing. She wears gold-edged pauldrons and the rather typically non-conservative white garb that exposes her midriff. She doesn't have headgear besides the cloth covering her right eye like a bandage. He remembers seeing her before. "Maniac Helluger . . . you used to be a Chaotic PKer."
Her posture remains confident, but her eye casts down for just a moment, like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. "I used to be. PKed whoever because I liked finding rare items and that was one of the easiest ways to do it," her voice quiets momentarily, "but my friends said it was changing me, and not in a good way."
Now she looks over the kitsune Macabre Dancer. His dark-maroon robe-styled tunic opens like a wide slash across his torso, and is shoulderless but continues with detached sleeves on his lower arms. It extends into a split skirt with a styling that looks more Scottish than Sengoku, with close-fitting black leggings that stop just above his knees and somehow give an impression of an impoverished beastman. The canine feet lack shoes, which doesn't surprise her. Looking back up to his sapphire-blue eyes, Helluger speaks up again. "I'll say this much: you know how to hold up in a fight."
Saburou gives a half-smile and puts away her greatsword, reaching one hand towards Reynart. "It looks like everything's okay here, so if you don't mind, I'll head out. Here's the key to Canard, make sure to stop by Gaspard soon."
She promptly turns around and strides out, but pauses at the doorway. "And you better tell me next time you go to Fomoraig." She gives a thumbs up with a smirk. "I'm not getting left out of an adventure again."
Reynart doesn't even have a fraction of a second to respond when a member address pops up on his screen. Helluger is doing a good job of excitedly filling the space behind the pop-up. "You've got access to the waterways? Oh, man, those must be awesome! I heard there's sweet loot there!"
"Whoa!" Reynart holds up his hands in warning, fans still out. "I only had access there on my old . . . account . . . which I'm . . . not using anymore." His ears droop and he snaps the fans shut, flicking them into his sleeves.
"You didn't get account banned, did you?"
"What?!" Reynart yelps with a momentary angry tone before fisting his furred hands and making himself hear the question for what it was. "No, I just . . . it was kinda from a friend who didn't play anymore, but it's not right to ride on another's coattails, so here I am with a fresh account. I'll have to earn my way back up, but everything will be . . . mine."
Helluger looks over him for a few moments, and Reynart begins to fidget under the scrutiny before she leans back into a more relaxed posture. After cracking a smile, she says, "You know what? Keep my member address. Send a text if you come across anything interesting." She scans his character and he's pretty sure she pauses at his status stub. "Just . . . do a little leveling up before you send an invite."
Author's Note: Now that I've fixed the rather important detail of why Haseo's not around. To be honest I was dallying with whether I wanted to pick the most likely relationship he'd pick or whether I wanted to dance around the girl so the audience could continue to imagine their own. It took a while and a direct question from a friend before I finally settled with "I'm the author, so I'll just pick the girl who seems most likely" and get a move on.
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