I don't own any of the original materials used & published by the following franchise on this material.
Aria of Fate -A Fate/stay night and Sword Art Online Crossover
Chapter 3: calibrate Sword... Weiß/shattered Blades... Blæk
(Aincrad 74th floor, Kamdet; October 18, 2024)
"I'm surprised you're late."
It was a hot six o'clock morning, despite the season. The heat had been draining my patience for tardiness.
"You're too early! I ran into a minor nuisance on the way." She retorted.
The person I've been waiting for is garbed in a thick, brown cloak, that looks uncomfortably warm.
I didn't bother to ask her what she meant by nuisance, so we simply bickered at each other; similar to how siblings would, while we walked away from the «Teleportation Gate» located north of the town's square.
"Don't you feel hot in those clothes, with this weather and all?"
It's a fact that, while there may not be any oil and sweat exuding from our skin, the feeling still existed due to the system's artificially generated environmental effects. It's like a permanent Area of Effect spell, tailored for the location and its theme.
The younger player beside me, who had a lethargic posture, replied in a dry, contemptuous tone. "I don't want to hear that from someone who wears hot red clothing most of the time. Besides, it'll be a lot cooler when we reach the dungeon."
I know it's hot. But this is the best armor I have, or more like one of the few «Armor» in my inventory.
"Look, I didn't choose this color in the first place. I'd prefer a cooler hue, like the color blue or even white. Oh look, there they are." While she and I decided to meet at the teleportation gate, the other group we contacted on short notice met at the town's central plaza instead. They coincidentally, had originally planned to go hunting in the same dungeons today, but decided to help us out instead.
"Ugh, more red… What? Are all of you going to perform some Kabuki play in this Arabian themed city!?" The cloaked player voiced out her frustrations sarcastically to the group.
"Hey! Just because «Fuurinkazan» equipment is mostly based on ancient Japanese weapons and armor, doesn't mean we are stage actors!" One of the members, named Dale, retorted.
"Calm down Dale,. It's been a while Argo. Your news articles sure are popular, seeing as you are one of the few remaining informants still active." Klein, their leader interjected.
"Well, it's not like I have anything else better to do. I might as well do something worthwhile from my skills."
While the previously aggravated member named Dale, simply slumped as he let go of Argo's little jab. I greeted the samurai wearing a red, strangely fashioned bandana. "Good to see you're doing well Klein. You're no longer visiting my shop as often though."
"Yo. It's been a while Shirou, feeling lonely already? We've been busy lately. Some of our members were lagging behind in EXP since they could only hunt in smaller numbers, so we had to take turns whenever we go hunting." Klein greeted me back with a friendly gesture.
While I returned his greeting with the same gesture, I proposed that we talk in a different location.
"By the way, what's with the early schedule? Lil' miss here looks like she's not much of a morning person, judging from her off-character remarks." Klein gave a crooked smile which indirectly points behind us the person in question.
"I've had to go through a lot of trouble since last night. You know, customers first." She added a hint of annoyance in her voice.
"Sorry for the trouble, as always." I apologized.
"No, it's fine. Besides, I have other customers who are quite the busybodies."
"Oh? Look who's been busy lately. You really are kind, aren't you? ―despite your job's reputation." It was the samurai leader who gave out the loose praise.
It felt like Argo wasn't the only person he was referring to though. The praise had a bit of aloof tone mixed with it. While I thought about who else Klein could be talking about, we arrived at the exit of the town.
We wandered a bit, before finally deciding on a place to discussing strategies. Before everyone was able to take a seats, I decided to ask the group about a certain topic that caught my curiosity last night.
"Before we start, can I ask everyone about something first?"
They all looked at each other in confusion, not because I was asking something from them, but because I was being so formal.
"Have all of you heard of the rumored «White Swordsman»? I heard quite a few things about him from some acquaintances of mine last night, and I was told he would appear in the next boss battle."
Almost everybody paused at the question I casually landed on them. Only Argo seemed indifferent and if I didn't know any better, it almost looked like she was looking away. I expected this kind of reaction from «Argo The Rat», since she was an information broker, but the people from «Fuurinkazan» seemed skeptical about the question at hand.
The friendly samurai in red, which was their leader, cleared his throat to break the awkward silence, and crossed his arms before replying. "Ahem… Why the sudden interest?"
I continued on with my query by answering Klein's question.
"Last night, a couple who entered my shop were looking for a distinct player, with some absurd rumors about him. It seems that the player plays solo and goes around saving other player in trouble in most cases... but the one thing that got me curious was how this certain player fights, especially his fights against boss monsters."
My discussion about «The White Swordsman» with the players, Kirito and Asuna from the front lines, who were looking for that certain person for several reasons had to be cut short last night since they still had plans today. They only gave the necessary information but they said they will discuss more details when we meet again tomorrow afternoon.
What I had gotten mostly from the couple was; One, to seek more information on his absurd abilities.
His skills went beyond the common sense of battles fought here in Aincrad. It's normal to see players mix and match different abilities into strange combinations, and the rumored unique skills that haven't been claimed yet, there's also the possibilities of system glitches. We doubted the last one since from what Kirito could tell, the A.I. governing this world automatically detects and adjusts any kind of loophole or balance issues if there are any.
Two, was to recruit him for the front lines to lessen possible risks in player deaths.
It's clear for almost any players who saw him that he probably had high enough stats to do all these ridiculous stunts by himself, so adding him to the front lines wouldn't just lessen deaths but also hasten in finishing each boss battle so everyone can leave this world sooner. The problem is that he never shows himself.
Three was for a personal request they wished to keep private about.
The couple last night mentioned that they had some personal questions they wanted to ask, so I didn't ask any further to respect their privacy.
Lastly, was for myself. I was happy to hear that there are still people like him around, so I'd like to get acquainted with him at least.
The information about the rumored swordsman possibly appearing at the next boss battle was acquired last night, through a trusted source the young boy in black messaged during our discussion.
While I recalled the objectives for their search, I was brought back to my senses when I felt that the entire group would've face palmed, except one of them reacted with confusion.
"Wait. You mean you don't know?" One of the members of Klein's guild asked me in bewilderment.
I also replied in confusion. "Don't know what? What are you talking about?"
"Ah, never mind. I thought as much" Issin, the one who was confused decided to retreat from the question, just like everyone from his group.
"It's cause you don't read my news articles as much yuusha-bou. I'll answer that question of yours." Argo, who had kept quiet only moments before had suddenly decided to cut in, to keep me in the loop.
"I do read them, but there wasn't anything about some vigilante dressed in white on the loose. Oh and don't call me that! I thought you grew tired of using that name?"
"Hihihi, old habits die hard. So what are you asking about him in particular anyways? Though, the answer might be one of the ridiculous rumors going around at the moment."
"Ah, it's nothing really. I wanted to help that particular couple in their search for him, so it's just natural that I should look for more information right?"
The members of Fuurinkazan were a bit shocked by my reply. Their leader on the other hand, figured out what was going on though. It looks like other than Argo, I need to pry him for some information later. Sorry for the trouble Klein… was what I was thinking until he stood up with a proud look on his face.
"Hm hm hmm! If you're curious about that guy's three sizes lil' rat here has the hots for…" was the last he could voice out until Argo, swiftly brought out her blade claws and stopped them short, millimeters away from his crotch.
"Ah… ahaha! I was only joking! Please spare my family jewels!"
Everyone winced and laughed at the samurai leader in red for his misfortune, as he let out a scream of anguish.
These guys did a ridiculous job in trying to divert my attention from the topic, but of course I won't be mislead so easily. I didn't want to force them to answer my questions though so I'll wait till they give me the answer themselves unless the situation calls for it. They have their reasons after all.
Deciding to fall for their skit while ignoring the fact that what Argo had done, is really painful in our minds, I brought back part of the reason why we met in this floor in the first place to calm them down.
"The rumored vigilante of Aincrad can wait then. Going back to our main topic, I wanted to discuss the strategies we'll take for searching in this floor's boss room." I started in a stern tone to get everyone's attention. "Other than mapping out the area we are in, I'd like to plan which areas are best for hunting spots, and gather some information about any rare or powerful equipment that could be used for the upcoming boss battle."
Klein then interrupted with surprise. "Wait, so you're finally going to join with the raiding parties?"
"Look, what happened back then during that strategy session doesn't really bother me anymore. It was just a slight misunderstanding after all. I just didn't actively participate due to… other reasons." The bandanna wearing samurai in red was skeptical of my claim. "And since this mysterious swordsman is going to show up, I wanted to take a look at him myself as well."
My final statement had calmed Klein's surprise. "I see, so that's how it is huh?" He mused while looking at the girl with painted whiskers.
"Well other than me being surprised at your final return to the front lines," Klein then opened his map of the currently revealed dungeons he and his guild had acquired and pointed out some points for everyone to see. "we mapped out this part of the dungeon yesterday and were about to continue heading out in this direction today."
"Then let's discuss more on what direction we should take then shall we?"
It took us about half an hour to reach the labyrinth from this floor's settlement. Rather, an hour and a half including the delays we had beforehand. The meeting took longer compared to our past discussions that a duel even started near the «Teleportation Gate» when we were about to leave, which also added to the delays since Argo couldn't resist mining for information during said duel.
Klein and the rest, including me, didn't pay any mind to the duel since we weren't really interested.
She'd make one heck of a reporter, if she ever became one in the real world though.
When we arrived at the entrance of the labyrinth after going through the forest, we had split into three groups as we originally planned.
I proposed to go by myself, but everyone else insisted for me to have at least one companion with me, especially Argo.
"We encountered mostly «Lizardman Lords» during that time and well... there were a lot, until this part of the dungeon." One of Klein's friend from his guild that wore blue covered in green armor pointed out a part in the map they got from their previous exploration.
They mentioned that the usual number of monsters are the same as any other MMO game. The closer to the boss room, the more encounters you make, but eventually you'll reach an area devoid of monsters.
"There were some «Demonic Servants» which had higher stats around here so we might be heading in the right direction, but we haven't mapped out the other side of this passage as well so we might have to split up here." Their bandanna headed leader pointed out during the meeting.
I took the route where we were supposed to meet those 2 meters tall skeleton warriors so our maps which only had blanks before, revealed a long winding passageway that stretched for several kilometers.
"Ugh. This is going to be a pain to explore. Look at all those criss-crossing pathways." My teenage partner insisted on forming a party with me along with a member of Klein's guild, but they insisted that they leave her safety solely to me.
"And geez, how hard is it to get it in their thick heads that I'm not interested in anyone. Hey Shi-bou! Shouldn't you be worried about being mistaken for a pedophile! No, wait, maybe this will be good for an article… the girls will love it."
I didn't really quite get the last part since she started snickering to herself, so I decided to point back to her earlier statement instead.
"At least you don't need to find a way to pay for the mapping here. I do think though that we should have one more person on the team, but seeing as they are short handed as it is, it's quite understandable for their reluctance."
"Well that's true. I get more good material if I'm around you. You're almost like a gold mine of info since you get into trouble so much."
There were only six allowed in a party so the other four members of the samurai based guild are mapping another location.
While we encountered the expected humanoid lizard creatures, we were now facing several «Demonic Servants» and «Lizardman Lords» mixed together. Even with me and Argo fighting side by side, there were just too many so we ended up in one of the «Safe Zone»s to rest within the dungeon.
Several hours had passed since our strategy meeting but this really is taking us a long time to map out. Like what Argo said, there are just too many long winding passages that cross each other to add confusion.
While we were taking notes of the time and location of monster spawns, the info house decided to alleviate her boredom first. "Hey Shi-bou, how long have you known Klein-shi?"
"Hmm? You might already know but it was around the time when I first actively took part in the Field Boss Strategy meeting on the 49th floor then."
A lone «Lizardman Lord»'s spawn silhouette appeared several meters ahead of us. I left the safe zone's border and bombarded it with a flurry of slashing attacks the moment it appeared, which just took a few seconds before it burst into pixels again.
Despite that spawn which had made me pause from my story for a moment, I continued to answer my companion's question. "Klein chased after me when I was disappointed with how the guilds, who I had assumed to be responsible people, spouted nonsense about honor and glory when they know nothing about it in reality. They started to forget that lives were on the line there."
Several of the skeleton based monsters spawned from behind us. We simply continued to take them out. "It was also when I was careless enough to actually step in the boss room. Man, that surprised me. I was surrounded by the minions immediately so I didn't have any other choice other than to fight at that moment. I was pretty grateful for Klein and his team though, they took care of the minions so I could focus on holding off the boss."
"Oh that snow queen rip off huh? Nobody even knew the name except for you and Klein. The boss died unexpectedly fast that everybody else doesn't even know what it looked like." Argo replied while activating a «Rapid Bite» on a remaining skeleton giant which she then shouted "Switch" to allow me to deal major damage to it.
"Hey, despite being weak for a boss, it had that iceman thing that had Jack in it's name as a mid-boss to support her. Never really got to fight it properly since Klein and the rest were the one's fighting that ice thing and the snow minions it summoned. Switch."
Argo then used a combination of single strikes and a throw as a follow up, which finished off the thing.
As the dead, uhh… undead(?) now dead again skeleton's corpse burst into pixels, I suddenly received a 'ping' sound similar to glass cracking inside my head. I almost mistook it as a message or a call due to SAO's system, but how I wished it was.
Argo noticed my awkward reaction so I covered the right side of my head in a familiar fashion to imitate the system movement for taking a call. "Oh sorry, but I gotta take this privately."
"Don't worry, I just received a message from Klein-shi as well." We both took several steps apart facing each other's back with enough distance to be out of earshot to answer our calls.
"This isn't a good time. I have a party member with me today." I responded first lowering my voice in a secretive way.
Oh? That's what you say to me after we haven't spoken to each other all this time?
"Look, I'm sorry. Just tell me what you need right now. You're calling since you've made progress I believe?"
I haven't found him yet if that's what you meant. I already scryed more than half of the Japan you know? I had to go through all the bullshit you had to leave behind just so that I can cover for your ass in the Clock Tower. Fooling them while looking for the bastard while also tending my own business from my master is no easy feat you know! I may be a prodigy but I'm only one person!
*Sigh* I'm honestly surprised I haven't been screwed by the Queen or better yet the Headmaster yet but this kind of thing won't last long. You should be glad my master may be strict but a kind person.
Sigh. Irritable as always. But it is true. Her master may have this oppressing aura but he is kind nonetheless, which is rare within the Association.
"Well, what is it you wanted to tell me then?"
It seems this Kayaba person isn't alone like how the news says he is. And It's not just about one more lackey. I considered the possibility that he's directly connected with people like 'us' but I have doubts on that. If he was using anything that resembles even the slightest bit of magic, then we could've spotted him a long time ago due to the rarity of practitioners in Japan.
"Hmm… I also have my doubts but the possibility of being connected with our side is still there huh?"
I can't say for sure yet. It is technology after all. With the kind of pride most of our kind lives in, I doubt that they might get something from him. At best, they'd take a look at his work and brush off this person's innovations like how everyone else did.
It also looks like the government couldn't track his location despite only being confined within Japan. But even if they did find him, I doubt they wouldn't make any risky moves since we are practically his hostages. We already came to this conclusion long ago so there's no point in dwelling on this at the moment.
"Then, still no luck in trying to sever my connection without any damage then?"
Aozaki-san said that it's still too risky. She couldn't find a way to outright cut you off while disabling that bomb of a battery thing on this helmet you're wearing. The science he used is too sophisticated to override with her level of technological applications over thaumaturgy and there's this black box thing that she couldn't open and identify.
"She did mention about her knowledge no longer matching the technology today." From what I could make out, it's similar to having an expert skill in switch based keyboards then being suddenly asked to make to the modern touch screen interface of today.
There is some pretty interesting news from Sion-san though.
"Oh? What is it?"
Remember how we were able to connect to your thoughts at first? We found a way to improve that like how I can contact you at this moment without any setbacks. It seems she had a theory of allowing us to make a pseudo spirit medium there. I didn't understand most of all that jargon she mentioned but Aozaki-san said it's like generating a familiar and possess it temporarily.
"Generating a familiar and possess….?" I was a bit confused but quickly realized what Aozaki-san meant. "Oh, you mean an avatar?"
Call it whatever you like. In any case, we'd like to make a schedule where you can find a location to try this out. This will take us several days to perform, but I'm sure you can hold out long enough.
"I doubt that's going to be easy. Isn't there some kind of defense system that detects and sequentially protects the mainframe from intrusions and possible threats? If it wasn't for that, then Atlasia-san's current level of hyper computing would have been able to bypass all of them if she used her etherlite."
That's why I'm helping her find ways to get her previous level of ability back using my gems, and the avatar thing I mentioned earlier is still a proposed experiment. I don't have to mention that you have to be alone when we do this do I?
"Don't worry, I think around the end of October or early November I'll be free. We are in the middle of preparing to take on the next boss, that might happen in a couple of days or maybe even longer." The pattern we noticed is that every quarter floor the bosses are twice as strong and unpredictable so it'll take some time to prepare. But I'm sure that the group of female magi will take even longer before they can prepare the experiment. In the mean time, I can join in the expedition to reach the 75th floor.
November? I'm not sure if that's a good time. It's the month where we need to make our annual report for our research to the Clock Tower. I'll try and come up with something while we make a schedule for those days then. The problem is what kind of excuse will I give them this time.
"Sorry for the trouble Rin-sama."
Hmmph! Well, you suck at making reports anyways. But I can't cover for you always as to why you can't go back to the tower yet. They'll think something suspicious is going on for me being so lenient to my appointed apprentice.
"Ugh. By the way, regarding our earlier discussion, you're going to dive into this world then?"
No, not me.
"Wait, what? Isn't you're mental link strong enough for this? I mean, we do know that the more attuned the mind is, the better. So who is it? Sion-san?"
Are you an idiot? Saber is.
My thoughts stopped for a moment from her brief but blunt answer.
I know I'm used to Rin's 'isn't that obvious, you dimwit' remarks but this just got me wondering what kind of absurd experiment they were doing in front of my comatosed body..
"Umm... isn't that… you know, dangerous? What if they found out that Saber is a Servant from this?"
Don't you think I already know that? Only a handful of magi knows what Saber actually is and they are all from the top brass of the ClockTower. They'll have my head if they find out that I'm in contact with someone like Aozaki Touko.
I'm just honestly glad they weren't able to tell that Saber is a specifically a Servant, but I'm sure that they can tell that she may not be human either. Aozaki-san even casually pointed out that generating and possessing a familiar is similar to some of the mechanics of summoning a spirit.
"Then what led to her to be the one diving in? Did she perhaps volunteer by herself?" I asked the prodigal magus nervously.
At first we were against this idea.
Rin paused for a moment to allow the weight of the discussion to be passed on clearly.
To avoid potentially dangerous questions, especially from Aozaki-san, we all mutually agreed to the conditions that everything that happens here will stay here and will stay that way until the situation regarding you have changed otherwise. She is crafty, that woman, but it doesn't look like she has any interest in our secrets despite her probably being vaguely aware of what Saber might actually be.
We then agreed that she should be the most likely candidate. Saber did acknowledge she is a type of spirit after all and she believes the role fits her. Technically speaking, the one who is most 'attuned' of us here is Atlasia-san but they can't perform the experiment if she goes in. Same applies with Aozaki-san. So the only ones left would be either me or Saber.
"If that's what you says so, I'll go with it then."
Oh and one more thing.
How is that little experiment you and Atlasia have been going?
"Ah?" I dropped an imaginary sweat. She's gonna kill me when she hears this.
"Sorry I took a while." I came back apologizing to the only other member of the party.
"We have a problem Shi-bou." I was greeted with a serious look.
My mind immediately shifted to battle mode with a sound of the gun cocking after her declaration of 'a problem'.
"What is it? Is one of Klein's teams in trouble?"
"You could say that. We need to catch up with them and fast." She instantly replied while walking to the direction we first came from. I simply followed suit until she continued.
"It seems Klein met with one of my clients..."
We hastened our pace of walking through the dead looking forest within the labyrinth while she continued.
"But shortly after they spotted and chased after the «The Army»."
"Huh? You mean the «Aincrad Liberation Force»? What are they doing here? Isn't Thinker still reorganizing while maintaining order similar to a police force?" Sure, they are the largest guild today with more than 4000 members at their disposal, but after that huge blow back in the 50th floor battle, they decided that a reorganization was in order.
"The answer to the first question is yes, the largest guild. Second, I'm gonna tell you now, but the third is a no. I'll explain to you about it later." Argo answered without a single pause in her words.
"But that's not the problem. The thing is right now, they're trying to get the information of where the boss room is from my clients, the ones who discovered it. Of course, anyone has to share such relevant information to the clearing guilds, but the problem is that those egg heads are rushing in to the boss room immediately."
"What's wrong with them going to the boss room by themselves? They must've prepared a pretty good raid party if they're that confident to go there now."
"There's an estimated 18 from «The Army», and Klein-shi's party of six plus my two clients are the only one's that can, either stop them or help them, so that makes 26 in total. The other group that split up is too far to catch up, so it's only us that can reach them before they can do something stupid." She grimaced.
Raid parties are restricted to 8 parties while there are only 6 players allowed in each party, making the maximum 48. That had been the standard number everyone followed since the 2nd floor boss battle to prevent any losses from what I've heard.
It's common sense to have as many positive factors as possible when trying to achieve a victorious outcome, but even if there were 48 players, they would still experience losses sometimes. So what more if there's only as little as half of those players going in without any preparation, what would happen?
As our minds raced, and we pushed ourselves faster than our legs could allow us, we were suddenly surrounded by an army of lizard men, twice as much as what we fought earlier.
"Their numbers doubled. Is it because we cleared them in a short amount of time, or is it because we ignored the spawns?" I asked, both to myself and the info house behind me while we stood back to back.
"It's probably because we miscalculated the spawn rates. I just received a message. It's probably Klein." The small player behind me didn't bother opening her message window due to the situation we were currently in.
We could both tell that even if I was powerful enough to beat them all, Argo would take major damage or worse. The only solution was to punch a hole through their line up. The monsters will indefinitely chase us due to their aggressive behavior patterns, which would instigate a train of monsters that could lead to accidental «monster Pking» if we weren't careful.
It would be too late by the time we got there, if we stayed here too long as well. Time is of the essence so fighting all of these monsters is pointless.
I whispered to Argo. "On my signal."
Immediately after I said those words, I sprinted while Argo followed, towards the general direction of Klein and the rest.
We both spared no words and struck the two «Lizardman Lords» in front of us towards their allies. Our strikes didn't finish them off, but it gave us the opening we needed to escape.
Like how we imagined, the small army of virtual monsters chased after us, I could see the blood-lust in their eyes despite knowing they were only A.I.s.
As we dashed and dodged attacks from behind while catching more unwanted attention from aggressive monsters we passed by, Argo opened a message showing the data between Klein and our current location.
We then stopped as a new monster, a tall 3 meter stone giant with the name «High Granite Lord» spawned in the path we were supposed to take.
Something on it's tattooed head then generated a purple orb of light as it turned in our direction.
"Shit! Argo! We're gonna have to take a detour!" My instincts screamed to run and fast as I yelled, suddenly grabbing Argo by her waist and carried her as I jumped into a passage we hadn't explored yet.
A screeching sound emitted from what looked to be laser, as it instantly sliced through where we previously stood, its path trailed by explosions, but despite seeing something so absurd, I didn't stop running as we were still chased by a horde of monsters.
"And we had to encounter the ones that shoots lasers?! What is with our luck today!"
The female teen yelled out in frustration, not paying mind to how I was carrying her from my side inappropriately. Noticing shortly after the inconvenience, I promptly fixed her posture by placing one arm around her back and swiftly moved my other arm underneath her knees to lift her, as I was about to take some extreme measures.
"Hey! What are you doing?!" yelling as she was surprised from her sudden change of position.
"Improvising!" I yelled back, as my instincts told me to take the initiative on the next corner we were about to pass through.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN IMPR―?!"
Argo's question was suddenly cut short as we ran around the expected corner; what we saw were several intertwined wall-less pathways within a large cone-shaped dome of dead roots and dirt. The pathways are formed by several large dead branches and trunks from the Labyrinth. Trying to ignore the wondrous sight, I had to take a guess which way was the correct route.
"If we reach that passage with the door on the other side, then we might be able to catch up with Klein-shi and the rest!"
"Got it!" I dashed to one of the large steep branches and quickly ran upwards with while I carried her, leaving the directions to Argo.
Shortly after I climbed up, the horde of monsters roared around the corner where we came in from.
The fast ones at the front, namely the reptiles of the group used their speed to try and catch up to us as they screamed and hissed. Suddenly from our flanks, flying insectoid type monsters appeared, blocking our only pathway towards the exit near the dome's wall.
I no longer bothered to look at their names and HP bars. It was getting ridiculously dangerous the more I ran through the passages.
Seeing that the exit was only a few meters away, I gathered all my strength and ran at a breakneck speed towards the edge of the pathway.
"Hold on tight!"
Before the teenage player in my arms could reply, she instinctively grabbed me by the neck and held tightly, due to my suddenly powerful jump from the edge of the pathway.
The distance to the other side of was about sixty meters. If this was the real world, I wouldn't be able to pull this off without using Reinforcement. But since the game is heavily reliant on the player's stats, even a child with a high enough level could easily pull off this jump.
Unfortunately we were starting to fall midway as it became clear that the force of the jump, from the weight of carrying another player, had lack for a better term, was slightly miscalculated.
Without thinking, I threw Argo towards the edge of the cliff which was only a few meters away from the door. To my surprise, she knew exactly that I would instinctively try and save her and brought out what looked like a kusarigama. I heard of these weapons being available in SAO's floors above 50, but it was my first time seeing one.
The moment Argo was near enough to the edge of the cliff, she threw the fundo on the chain's other end towards me. As if in practiced motion, the chain wrapped around my outstretched arm and swung me towards the cliff's wall, due to the my descending momentum. I bent my legs in order to soften my landing and quickly drew out my sword to fix me in place on the cliff's wall, which was made of dead trees. Even if the sword could only penetrate the dead tree's trunk a little, it was fine as long as it acted as a support; like how ice picks are used in rock climbing.
I briefly glanced down and estimated a hundred foot drop from here. I then checked above, only to see a struggling Argo holding her breath before me.
"H-heavy..!" was the only word she could let out before I decided to quickly sprint in a vertical direction despite breaking the law of physics to climb up as soon as possible. If it wasn't for my players stats, then it would almost be impossible to pull off such a move in the real world unless you're level is similar to that of a first rank combat mage or even a Servant. There were still those flying insectoids, they might attack Argo so I shouldn't delay any further.
As soon as I was able to climb up the cliff with Argo letting out a gasp of relief, several of those insectoids landed near the exit.
Argo tried standing up with battered breath, while I took the initiative for the attack. These insect like things named «Adze Drake», had transparent wings and a glowing abdomen similar to fireflies and had the several mantis-like appendages while it's head and torso a mix of both types.
I immediately activated a «Vorpal Strike» on the one nearest to the door. Apparently it's level of armor and hp wasn't enough to take my strike's damage, but it's speed was no laughing matter as the two others beside me, to my surprise were now close enough to slash me with their claws.
While I somehow parried and blocked most of their attacks, Argo desperately called my attention as she was now waiting for me on the other side of the exit, with the door only a quarter open.
"Hurry up and get in here Shi-bou! Otherwise you'll have a harem of monsters arguing over you!"
"Now isn't the time for jokes!"
I created an opening for myself and leaped with all my strength towards the exit. As soon as I was on the other side, I immediately dropped my sword and helped Argo close the large stone door.
A loud rocky echo, reverberated briefly as a sign that the door was now completely shut.
Right after we confirmed briefly that the door was secure, both Argo and I immediately opened our windows and linked the data on the paths everyone had mapped out earlier. We didn't bother to catch our breath, and continued on the nearest exit point we could see.
What we had entered though was a dense forest of more dead white trees, and as we ran forward for a few seconds, we quickly noticed a stone arch close by. The entrance was similar to a medieval archway, reminisced from the Gothic churches of Europe.
We immediately dashed inside, instinctively knowing that it must be the path leading to the boss room. As soon as we ran inside the long and wide hallway, blue flames started to light up in the direction we were heading.
"This must be the right place," I ominously commented as we headed deeper and deeper into the eerie dungeon. This only helped in keeping our guard up as we kept searching for the people we were originally looking for.
After a minute of running, we could see in the distance two large opened doors and some people inside slowly retreating out. One of the few I could tell was Klein, with his distinctive red and black bandanna and samurai armor while wielding his trademark katana, kneeling down to support one of his team members.
"Klein!" I ran while shouting to get their attention. Thankfully in this world, your breathing won't affect your movements much due to the system parameters for the body, so my voice echoed greatly through the vast corridor for everyone to hear.
The samurai in red noticed my shout. I immediately dashed towards them while bringing out a healing crystal for good measure while leaving Argo behind. But as soon as I got in and gave the most critical player the crystal, Klein immediately informed me of the situation.
"Crystals won't work here! This Boss Room is also an Anti-Crystal Field!" I paused at his words and was immediately caught at the fight in front of us.
What seemed to be a large, blue colored demon, similar to a Satyr from Greek mythology, was carrying a massive broadsword with one hand and fighting a small black-clad player that was only a third of the monster's size. The player was using two swords, one white and one black.
The boss's name was apparently «The Gleam Eyes» and was being held down by that single player, with what seemed to be dual-wielding «Sword Skills» while the rest, including Asuna the KoB player with Kirito last night, were paralyzed.
I immediately understood that this was a fight nobody could interfere in due to the intense exchange of blows being dished out in mere seconds by both sides.
The fight was clearly a win for Kirito skill wise, but the amount of damage both could take was vastly different. «The Gleam Eyes», clearly had more HP with what looked to be two and a half life bars away. Kirito on the other hand was already in the red zone. Other than their glaring difference in HP, Kirito was also affected greatly by the elements of fatigue, which was adding up to trimming his own HP more.
The main problem was that the boss was obviously agitated, and had attacks with higher than average «skills» and techniques, it went beyond the average A.I.'s algorithm. If the difficulty level of the floor boss was this high starting from here, then it would obviously be harder in the next floor where the patterned difficulty would rise by 50% along with the room's Anti-Crystal effects.
It was a now or never scenario. If I fight that monster normally, I might not be able to match it if I went solo. Seeing that these players are having a difficult time here, even if half of us with good enough skills attack it, we still couldn't beat it without receiving any casualties. Depending on which action I take would also spell what kind of victory and loss we would receive.
I pondered for a brief second for the solution and came up with only one thing. The answer was simple. It's always what I had believed in doing throughout my life despite the circumstances.
After thinking the obvious answer, I ignored the others stares as I stood quickly to initiate my on-the-fly plan.
With all these witnesses, especially with Argo watching, I'm going have to make a pretty damn good excuse to get out of this.
As I shut my eyes, the world seemed to go silent. As I concentrated, the familiar sound of an imaginary hammer clicked at the back of my mind.
(Aincrad 74th floor, Boss Room; October 18, 2024)
I'm not sure how I got into these kinds of situations. My life had been one misfortune after another.
From an simple adventure to an unexpected fight to the death with a floor boss.
The day was supposed to start with a day of partying with the famous princess of Aincrad and temporary on-leave sub-leader of «Knights of the Blood», Asuna «The Flash».
Starting with her late arrival on the 74th floor's town Kamdet, which was apparently due to her self-appointed bodyguard/stalker, Kuradeel, that lead to a duel that I shortly won after.
We then explored a few hours into the dungeons and came across the Boss Room accidentally due to our carelessness. After we escaped (more like ran for our lives), despite the boss itself not chasing us outside it's own room, we encountered Klein and his team while only minutes later, the surprisingly prideful group leader, Kobatz and his team from «Aincrad Liberation Force».
There wouldn't have been problems then and there if they only didn't probe from us the newly discovered location of the Labyrinth's Boss Room. Knowing it wasn't a good idea, me, Asuna, Klein and the rest of his team couldn't help but follow and support them just in case things went wrong.
As expected when we encountered the boss shortly after, they had already suffered casualties.
It wasn't because of the lack of high leveled skills and equipment, but the necessary experience and dedication fighting a Boss Monster. Those from «ALF» had only been hunting and training in the lower floors while keeping the peace among players since their stepping down at the 50th floor battle.
Despite being close to thirty of us here, we were severely outmatched along with the handicap this place gave us. While it really was a saving grace that this boss had no minions, the whole room was an «Anti-Crystal Area» which negated all instantaneous means of escape!
Due to the overwhelming strength and skill the demonic blue monster displayed, who killed over 6 players already, including their leader Kobatz, I couldn't help but bring out my greatest trump card to prevent more from dying and save us all. While Asuna and the others were stalling and taking the damage, I then prepared my secret weapon to turn the tables around.
When I intervened with my now revealed «Unique Skill», «Dual Blades», I countered and parried it while actually damaging the blue behemoth. But despite my overwhelming advantage in skills over it, the blows I received from the blue behemoth despite my parries and blocks, already took my HP down to only a small dot.
When I tried to ignore the fatigue getting to me with pure adrenaline, I couldn't react in time to see an incoming side slash.
Just when I had grit my teeth for the attack that would take my life, the incoming slash was diverted, by an equally fast strike that hit the monster's sword arm.
What seemed to be a spear that lodged itself into the boss' left arm, which held the large weapon, while a curved blade with a short hilt impaled itself on the boss' right cheek.
Due to the attack, the monster's launched slash «skill» was redirected, slightly grazing a few pixels from my black hair as I ducked.
A large painful roar then followed after.
I was in utter awe.
I know I might be exaggerating but given the situation, I was suddenly saved by a something incomprehensible just seconds before death would have taken me within its grasp.
While the gigantic blue demon was trying to remove the two weapons embedded in it's body, a tall hooded man in a familiar red coat skidded to a stop by my side while tossing me a healing potion.
I had caught the potion from reflex while trying to analyze the situation only to be bombarded by more surprises.
One thing that caught me off guard was his name.
Maybe I was mistaken. I thought I was. The name floating with the life bar I saw was quite unexpected after all. He was also one of the last people I listed in our search but, somehow it didn't feel impossible that it's him of all people.
The name over the player's «Life Bar» was so simple and distinct that it was hard to forget if paired with his personality. We only met for an hour or two but he easily left a lasting impression. But at this moment, compared to the one who we met with kind warm eyes, his eyes now had a sense of piercing justification.
Without a single waste of movement, without a single moment's hesitation, without a single word said— the young man clad in red named «Shirou», apparently known otherwise as «The White Swordsman», threw two glowing short swords that seemed to appear in his hands.
The boss monster named «The Gleam Eyes» blocked the generic looking swords with it's left arm only to add more impaling steel on itself. It seemed the weapons our saviour threw weren't strong enough since they were only able to deal a small amount of damage to it's 3rd HP bar. Ignoring the fact that he threw the sword, there were small «DoT» effect for being impaled by the weapons but it was so miniscule that the boss even dismissed it to find out who interrupted it's attack.
"Tch. Looks like I need something more stronger." Shirou clicked his tongue then looked around only to stop when his sights landed in my direction. No. He's not looking at me but at… my weapon? Is he asking if he can borrow them?
He simply stayed quiet and seemed to concentrate on the weapon for a brief moment. Before I could say anything to him, he turned away and calmly closed his eyes, raising his left hand while muttering a few words.
After barely hearing him say some sort of english phrase, he swiftly pulled out a familiar white sword, similar to the one «The White Swordsman» had carried when we first met him. While I reminisced about our first encounter, he ran towards the large blue beast without a hint of hesitation.
I could vaguely tell that everyone behind me trying their best to stand up and join the fight, only to be paralyzed again as we witnessed the next few surprises our apparent hero had pulled out.
Just as he was closing in, the floor boss reacted by activating a slashing «skill» that was aimed towards Shirou's unguarded flank, in a fraction of a second, before the blade could reach his side, a glow of pixels started to form around his open left hand only to burst afterwards.
By the time the gigantic blade reached Shirou, the trailing burst of pixels revealed a smooth black sword. As Shirou was moving at high speeds, I couldn't get a clear image of what the sword was but it exuded a familiar feeling, making me feel that it was something I've already seen before. And as expected of the widely acclaimed vigilante of Aincrad, before anyone could realize what the sword was, he lowered himself into a crouching position and was able to deflect the attack by having the demon's sword graze against his own blade.
Just as sparks and pixels were flying everywhere, he leapt from his crouching stance and charged the two blades, each with a different color, indicating different skills. The strange thing about this was that they were completely different «sword skills», a blue hue indicating a «One-Handed Sword Skill» while the other, a white hue indicating a «Rapier Sword Skill»; to use each of them, one should have the necessary build and equipment match accordingly. One other factor that shouldn't apply with this is that he is carrying two one-handed long swords.
The ridiculous utilization of techniques was unheard of! Sure, people had tried to wield two different weapons, me included, but until I acquired my «unique skill» just last year, the stat trade-offs for dual wielding had made it unusable. So how come he is capable of doing all this without as much as a hint of apprehension? Did he somehow find a loophole in the system?
While I was still trying to figure out his techniques, he launched the rapier-based «skill», which made him leap forward with absurd speeds similar to Asuna, then a vertical slash following after it to deal more damage. The damage «The Gleam Eyes» received from those two consecutive strikes had only lowered it's HP gauge slowly to two clear green health bars.
The red cloaked hero landed then immediately after, kicked off from the beast's arm and skidded a few meters away to draw some distance after his critical strikes. Seconds after his landing, he then swiftly turned around and threw the black sword, which spiraled towards the monster. In this moment the behemoth unwittingly turned its head towards its attacker, the sword then embedded itself in one of its ominous eyes.
The monster reeled back from the attack and covered it's impaled face while letting out a loud roar of pain. Despite all that, perhaps due to it's anger level increasing, «The Gleam Eyes» quickly recovered itself and leered at Shirou for his notoriously unorthodoxed attacks.
My eyes were then fixed on the now-clear black sword that's skewered on the monster boss' right eye.
A slight pang of nausea came as time froze, forcing my mind to register what the hell was going on. It's only a miniscule amount but what is this nauseating feeling? I know for sure it's due to the sword but why is it so familiar? I may have seen it somewhere before but why do I feel disturbed by it?
Is it because― I know what exactly that weapon is…?
It lead me to questioning how can that sword be there when it's still tightly gripped by my hand? It's only supposed to be a rare drop from a monster and not only that, it was…
― it was my one and only «Elucidator».
The tall blue monster named as «The Gleam Eyes» immediately gouged out the similar looking sword that's impaled in it's right eye and threw it aside with angered force. The thrown sword was caught by Shirou, who without anyone noticing was now standing in the opposite direction of where he had been moments ago. It was as if he teleported, but it was only because he was always on the move as his long range attacks distracted his enemy.
Shortly after catching his own «Elucidator», in another surprising move, he threw both swords this time, aimed towards the beast's limbs once again. After the boss realized that it had been flanked and saw the new attack, a desperate move to protect itself was made by using it's own «sword skill» aimed at the two incoming weapons, it only managing to block one.
The sword that evaded the counter, the black sword that looked similar to mine, struck and pierced the foot of the beast. While the floor boss was distracted by the new impalement made by the red coated player, the attacker in question then prepared a new set of blades, not in the sense of equipping them, but rather it was similar to the strange way his «Elucidator» had appeared earlier.
It was now a pair of curved broadswords to which I could only identify as a Chinese broadswords, colored from its tip to its guard in plain black while some red linings decorated from the flat of it's back to the blade's ridges; and the other sword known as the «Arridi Broadsword», a silver-grey colored blade that was designed similar to a scimitar except with a larger and heavier pommel with golden patterns, that can be only be forged by gathering items through a quest in the 49th floor.
This time, the familiar hum of a powered «skill» was heard from the two blades as he charged towards the beast once again. Without pause, Shirou laid down a series of attacks that even I couldn't pull off with my «Dual Blades».
The series of attacks looked extremely difficult to comprehend. Maybe a part of why the rumors were so ridiculous. What you'd need to follow his attacks was a skillful eye. I could barely keep up, but from what I could gather, what seemed to be impossible moves, were simply precisely timed combinations of different «skills». What's making them almost impossible to comprehend is that they were utilized so efficiently, with combinations of various «skills» and swiftly shifting to another pose shortly to launch another volley of attacks to cover for each of his after-strike's lag.
The swift blue, red and silver gale of blows were so intense that it was as if he was standing on the same level as the boss since the successfully continuous attacks kept him in mid-air. It was only short lived however, when the monster suddenly stopped recoiling from Shirou's attacks.
Like all boss monsters in Aincrad, they would at one point or another suddenly become immune to knockbacks so the regular «Flinching» effect would disappear.
«The Gleam Eyes» suddenly struck back by swatting Shirou with it's sword-less right arm. For a moment, it seemed our apparent hero was about to be thrown to the side only to realize that two charged «skills» sliced off the boss' arm. I knew you could cut off limbs from monsters, but with an opponent that large, I simply didn't think it was possible. What Shirou pulled off was another one of those hard to accomplish feats. By effectively using the momentum from his earlier strikes, he permanently slashed off one of the arms of the boss, leaving him in a position to freely activate his «skills».
The multi-hit combo our red cloaked hero used to attack utilized a «curved slashing skill» that allowed him to strike the same spot multiple times by spinning, in a fraction of a second. This still didn't stop the creature however. It reared back briefly to fire what seemed to be a bright purple beam of energy from it's mouth.
Surprised, the red headed hero exclaimed "more beams...?!", and at the same time somehow miraculously dodging the beam of concentrated destruction, a flicker of pixels on the side of his coat was evidence enough of his narrow escape. While Shirou softened his landing by tumbling over to the side in a crouching stance, the boss lowered itself in a pouncing position despite missing an arm.
The two stared down at each other for a brief moment; both clearly strategizing the most appropriate method that would determine the outcome of the battle. Considering «The Gleam Eye's» intellectual capacity would be on the level of a responsive «Transductive Inference A.I.» if my observations were correct, our red cloaked hero would definitely win from this if he keeps up with his unorthodoxed fighting style. The problem here is that despite his advantage, there is still the overwhelming power and speed the behemoth could muster up with it's currently buffed status.
There's also the fact that regardless of Shirou's upper hand by using feints and traps, due to it's limited sentience, it will simply plow through without holding anything back, which might backfire if our red cloaked hero prepares the wrong move to trick the beast. This is a battle that is too risky to fight by yourself but it's not like I'm one to talk since I did so earlier. Maybe this is what they meant when they say you can't just charge in in a heated battle between two powerful beings.
Shortly after the brief silence the two exchanged, each took a step that surpassed their own speeds.
Shirou sprinted with each of his blades charged, ready to strike head-on. As soon as he got near enough, he launched both «skills» simultaneously while the blue beast simply continued towards him without a hint of even stopping.
Shirou's attacks are faster but it'll be useless if he's aiming to disrupt the blue beast's attacks with powerful knockback strikes. Just after our red colored hero launched his attacks, suddenly the beast's snake-tail that did nothing earlier, took action and caught the incoming «skill» from it's right, causing Shirou's attack to stop.
Shirou then immediately readjusted himself so that the charged «skill» on his left would still continue, but unexpectedly the beast caught the blade with it's mouth, leaving our red hooded hero in a strange position. The blade was torn from Shirou's grasp and a sound of grinding steel was heard from the beast's mouth with the sword breaking into pixels shortly after.
As if he knew the exact timing of the attack, the now unarmed Shirou jumped away, barely dodging «The Gleam Eye's» powerful «Tsunami Flash», a horizontal version of an «Avalanche» that the 40th floor's crescent bladed monsters used. Shirou's jump wasn't that high, but stepping on the beast's blade and using it's momentum allowed Shirou to reach the same height as the monster's head.
Somehow in between, the red cloaked hero once again called upon a new set of blades that were eerily similar to his earlier weapons. They looked, from what I could briefly tell, like the Chinese sabers from the lower floors, but their strange designs gave a feeling like they weren't made for «Aincrad».
The two blades had contrasting colours similar to the previous pair. The black sword had red hexagonal patterns covering the entire blade while the white sword had a pearl-silvered hazy shine. Both also had a distinct yin-yang symbol in the center of their guard while having a short grip and pommel.
Right before I could finish analyzing the two new blades he brought out, two quick slashes were made to the boss monster's neck area. While doing so, I could see him mumbling something until he made his next move.
It seemed the crossed slashes were only the start of his fury of attacks. Despite getting the color wrong, this is probably where his infamous title, «The White Swordsman» truly came from.
It was as if the swords themselves were dancing to Shirou's will. The «Sword Skills» wasn't what's ridiculous, but rather the sword skills being used, it showed how outclassed we were. I stopped practicing kendo years before, but even an amateur like me can tell that his strikes were unrefined, instead of having finesse and grace, his techniques were what you would call cold and practical, having a clear indication to not only strike, but to kill their targets.
After his first few strikes, I could hear his muttering much clearer, as his hood fell back from the intensity of his assault. His attacks didn't do that much damage even with the strength behind them. But the strikes weren't all about the difference in stats, rather, the placement of the blows greatly affected the boss, despite not doing any real damage since he wasn't using any kind of «skills». This just showed how much each blow clearly reflected the true weight of his real skills and that was enough to hold the beast down.
"Spirit and technique [Gengetsu], crossing the Yellow River [Slant]..."
His words were a bit clearer, but faster paced now. This only served as a distraction from what he really is doing. With an untrained eye, all you would see would be blurs of red, white and black surrounding the beast but for us who had faced against death daily for almost two years now, he was clearly using a combination of simple «non-skill» based slashes once again.
"Name [Cyclone], ending in a different heaven [Parallel Sting]..."
The beast blocked most of Shirou's attacks by endured with it's last arm. But while the attacks were barely damaging the creature's remaining life points, the gauge itself had at least a fourth of it gone by now. Now clearly seeing the barrage of attacks slowing down, I took it as a sign that Shirou is near the end of his combo and is readying up to deal the final blow.
"Two rivals― two great men [Vertical], sharing a life [Hiougi]...!"
When his last «non-skill» based strikes had hit, the beast mistakenly took Shirou's lowered guard as an opportunity to strike back. Taking it as a signal, our red cloaked hero's black sword glowed blood red while the other gave off a brighter white, indicating this would undoubtedly be his final attack.
The voice of Shirou― no, «The White Swordsman» encompassed the room as he roared at the top of his lungs, his final attack.
"CRANE WING THREE REALM [DEMON'S/ANGEL'S EDGE]!"
In accordance to his last two synchronized strikes, the beast was covered by a large 'X' like explosion of red and white light, causing the monster's HP gauge to rapidly decrease. I realized that the amount of damage in that instant was greater than what I'd presume it would have been.
But even with that level of attack, the boss quickly recovered, but it was swaying from the effects of the attacks. Still having what looked like a small percentage of it's HP still left, with great rage, «The Gleam Eyes» raised it's sword towards Shirou for what looked like one last desperate attack.
Shirou simply stood there, looking at the beast with what reminded me of a reminiscent but sad eyes.
Just when we expected the beast to swing it's massive sword and squash our hero, the boss suddenly stopped midway and started falling its grip on it's sword loosening. What surprised us more was the monster's earlier miniscule HP was now completely gone, not knowing what actually happened to the small percentage Shirou left earlier.
As we all silently viewed the monster's Life Bar fade away, the large blue monster, the 74th floor boss, «The Gleam Eyes» then finally fell near Shirou, surrounding the area with shattered blue pixels.
Accompanying the effects of the slowly dissipating pixels, the sound of clattering weapons reverberated throughout the room, despite the large «Congratulations» sign hovering with the trumpets of accomplishment over the apparent victor's now yellow colored life bar.
Seeing as the sign for victory was now clearly displayed, Shirou fell on one knee and let out a huge sigh, his breathing ragged from exhaustion. The black sword he carried, the «Elucidator» in his right hand broke into pixels at the same time, as did all the other weapons that were scattered everywhere. The only weapon left visible was his own white sword that was embedded to the beast earlier.
As if a heavy weight was released from his shoulders, he seemed to struggle against what looked like a fading consciousness, using the one remaining sword near him as a crutch to stand back up.
Before we could recover ourselves from the amazing sight that had happened earlier, a sudden blur passed by, only for me to realize that «Argo The Rat» somehow reached and grabbed the hero by the collar and was now bombarding him with demands.
"SHI-BOU! WHAT THE HECK WA― No... what have you been keeping from me all this time?!"
"Eh? Ahh… er, what do you mean by…."
"Those «Skills»! I knew you had some sort of «Unique Skill» but I seriously want to know now! Tell me every single detail ON. THE. DOT." Argo ignored Shirou's resistance by taking out two crystals and tried activating them while eying him with an ominous glare that spoke obviously of money. With seeing her taking out the crystals and the two items didn't react or do anything in particular brought us back to reality.
An «Army» member slowly stood up, trying to recover himself. "We― we're alive... We're alive―! No wait! What the fuck was that?! A «Unique Skill»?!"
This time Klein moved in and commented but in a less bewildered voice. "I'd like to hear what the heck you pulled out earlier Kirito, but what I'm wondering more was Shirou over there. That was the first time I've seen him do moves like that."
"I'd like to know that too Klein. And it seems you and Argo here know the guy."
The question didn't surprise him, but rather sheepishly answered, as if expecting the question. "I'm not gonna lie to you Kirito, I knew he had some amazing and absurd skills, but that just now was just… y'know. Wow."
"Yeah that was pretty amazing, but I'm surprised that you're friends with someone this absurd."
"Hey, we're frontline fighters. We're surrounded by celebrities! It's not like you and your partner here aren't famous yourselves."
He had a point although mine was more on the infamous side.
Asuna having recovered now immediately went to my side with a relieved expression. "Kirito… I― I'm just glad you're alright. We should thank Shirou for all this."
"Yeah, but to think the guy last night was really the guy we were looking for. The only question I want to know now is why Argo wanted us to meet him." More like I had a vague understanding but the adrenaline is preventing me from piecing together the situation.
Continuing to where everybody was gathering, half of them are now filled with questions while the rest are in disbelief. This was a very familiar sight that I had experienced first hand since we were trapped in this death game.
An unbelievable force, absurd strength, unparalleled speed and incomprehensible skills. Elements of jealousy and source of scorn. Instead of being thankful that someone like that exists to save us, they fear and judge him for what they can only see.
I thought these kinds of thoughts would only come out during the lower floors due to the friction of beta testers and new players, but to have something like this late in the game, where the dangers increase every level, where players could die in any minute, when there were so many sacrifices on the battlefield, even I would really ask "where the hell have you been, hero?"
A little part of me wants to see someone else to take the blame for once, reminding me to question the lack of brains of the kind of people who liked blaming others for their own incompetence. While another small part of me wants to see this guy get out of this predicament with praise for his valiant efforts, the reality is, everyone wants to see him suffer one way or another. Worlds like these ...virtual, digital or make believe worlds... they are all simply one of the many worlds made to have your ego and vanity disguise itself in a temporary body. So any kind of negative emotions you carried would really come out in full color as long as you are with other people.
Noise started to pick up from all the murmuring within the room. Shirou, who everyone now unmistakably believes as «The White Swordsman» ignored all the glares and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck, giving me a victorious but tired smile.
The hero then suddenly stiffened as he looked towards the entrance, showing a bit of surprise on his face.
From his sudden reaction, everyone naturally turned towards the direction he was looking at only to see a large group of people.
A familiar red armored man that looked to be in his thirties, carried a matching large red shield embedded with a white cross was standing at the front of a group of players. The group with him was an army of white and red, with what looked to be the colours of other major guilds mixed in to the left and right.
"Ah, it seems like we were late? We rushed to aid our Vice Captain from an emergency message only to find the famous Kirito and... you must be the rumored «White Swordsman»?" The man identified as «Heathcliff», the leader of the most famous guild in all of Aincrad, «Knights of the Blood», stood with an inspired and excited expression. Due to his appearance, the tension thankfully dispersed since the attention was now to the knight in red.
The apparent leader took a quick glance to Shirou's upper left and added finally "...or more like «Red Swordsman» for that matter. I could see why your alias was mistaken as it was now."
The famous leader paused for a moment before giving his congratulations to him ...or so I thought. "Regardless! I'd like to offer you and your famous counterpart «The Black Swordsman» a place in our guild!"
"Haah?" Both me and Shirou reacted at the same time.
Shirou, a.k.a. the rumored «White Swordsman» (who ironically wore red and black) was the first to question what the leader of «KotB» had just pointed out. "Wait, what? You're the famous «Black Swordsman», Kirito? And you've got to be mistaken. I'm the rumored «White Swordsman»? I don't even look remotely "white" you kno― oh the name..."
Everyone's deadpanned from his very obvious conclusion.
"W-what? Not like my name was written in kana or something so how could people mistake the romaji written characters?" The red cloaked player retracted a bit from our unexpectedly dubious reaction.
Disregarding the fact he only recently heard of the moniker he carried, did he seriously not see the connection?
There's also the fact in his earlier introduction inside his store, he added the classification swordsman to which nobody probably corrected him. And if it's about his name, he most probably introduced himself with the hood on to which his user name wouldn't show and just left which would be the best reason why people misinterpreted his introduction. But with his hood down now which plopped down during his earlier intervention, you can clearly see his romaji written name over his life bar.
Ugh my head hurts. This is unmistakably Argo's work, seeing as she is one of the most informed in Aincrad. She did keep warning me that most of the claims and rumors were out of control, but to think that she manipulated her answers to leave the part about why he named himself such is quite sneaky of her. While I couldn't help but feel that the information Shirou received were somehow controlled as well, since it would most likely be because of his trusting nature.
«The Rat» snickered with an amused but crooked smile from the side, the one most likely the reason «The White Swordsman» got out of control. "No wonder my horoscope today said my lucky color was red! With this much treasure in front of me."
More than half the people within the room let out a big sigh at the same time. I don't know where this is going anymore.
I sighed with them as well, but not sure if it was in relief or annoyance.
"This is going to be a long day."
Omake [It's not a real thing!] Please note that this excerpt is modified from the original deleted scene for comical relief. Enjoy.
Deleted Scene #02.112: Cat Bait
(Aincrad 45th floor, Ahnenerbe; October 2024)
After being introduced to the owner of the establishment who we know now as Shirou, Asuna and I started choosing our own orders from his menu.
I shortly realized that the place was bustling with players finishing their meals while some still waited for their fill. And to match the happy atmosphere of the place, what I didn't notice at first was that the interior's design made the place all the more relaxing. The interior was actually designed similar to a brick built European café compared to the outside's contrasting modern Japanese-styled design. Even the furniture and pottery that decorated the place had an old western feel to it.
While I questioned and admired the structure's design that melds with the cheerful and ceramic environment, I felt a strange presence that approached me from my left side.
"Have you made your choice young one?"
The one who asked me had a deep sounding voice. "Huh? U-um..." I panicked, thinking how I should respond to the sudden question. Wait, what the? Did a monster just ask me a question?
"Oh, I'll take care of it from here. You can go help with Scilica-chan and the others." Shirou interrupted the small creature and gave the batch of orders he was making a while ago to the strange phenomenon beside me.
"Hmm, very well master Shirou~." After nodding, it took the batch of orders of what looked like ramen and shortly ran with a pitter patter towards the table to the far right corner of my vision. Shortly after, a customer called out to it. "Excuse me! We'd like to have three orders of Yakisoba please!"
"Ah yes, I will serve to you shortly." After giving the last bowl of food to the table it just served, the thing quickly ran towards the customers who just called for― them? This was when I realized that there were actually more of these things. There were around four different kinds of them. They all looked the same except they all came in different colors trying to match their highly expressive personality. One of them didn't talk but was just nodding at everything he was told, then one of them was more feminine since 'it' talked with a deep womanly voice, the one that approached me earlier was black and had its eyes closed and a yellow haired one gave the most eh, um "normal(?) feel" compared to the rest of its companions.
While my eyes followed one of the strange aberrations, I later caught myself looking at Asuna's angry face. I instinctively ducked my head since she looked very annoyed again for some unknown reason. I first thought it had to do something about Shirou's challenge, but in the end I just don't know what I did to make Asuna mad once more. It could be about Scilica's strange reaction earlier, but I don't think that's entirely it either.
"So, what kind of order would you like?" Shirou cheerfully interrupted our sour silence. Asuna quickly made a bright smile towards the player in front of us as if nothing was actually bothering her. She continued in choosing an order from the menu and finally decided on something.
"Maybe something we haven't tried yet. Oh, there are different variations. I'll take the Beef Ra―" Asuna suddenly stops midway and quickly changed her order. "Ehm, I'll take the Okonomiyaki Special." I think I was seeing things but it looked like she eyed her previous order in surprise and instinctively switched to something else. I decided to drop that thought completely since I might accidently increase the wrath of an angry sub-leader again.
I immediately went back to the problem I had earlier. "U-um…" I thought for a while, if what I'm about to say would be inconvenient for him. Shirou just smiled and waited patiently for me to say something.
While I was pondering if I should order first or just ask him anyway, I scratched my head in annoyance and had decided to just go for it. Shirou tilted his head in curiosity while Asuna just lifted one of her eyebrows, wondering what's wrong with me.
"M-may I ask something first?" I asked before continuing.
"Hm? Sure, go ahead." Shirou crossed his arms to ready himself for the question I was about to give.
I breathed slowly before I continued on. After I briefly relaxed myself, I finally asked. "Are those cat-like things your familiars or are they NPCs that came with this place? How were you able to tame all of them?" The strange looking creatures had some kind of intelligence with them. This was the first time for me to encounter an AI based monster that could actually converse at a certain level despite the fact that they were made from the system in this death game called SAO.
Asuna who sat beside me, revealed her previous sour expression yet again, suddenly eyed me with disbelief from my question. We didn't notice them at first when we arrived so I couldn't help but ask about it. I was curious as to how these many creatures were possibly tamed and could actually have a proper conversation with players.
The strange situation I was in had already turned my switch for curiosity. I had noticed briefly that everyone including Asuna didn't bother to ask questions about the strange creatures' presence as if it were only natural. It felt like I was the crazy one in here since I asked what seemed to be a no-brainer question to them. Am I the only one who thinks that this place was actually strange or am I just crazy who thinks I'm too much of an idiot?
I paused at that last thought. That last one just now means that I must be out of my mind already.
"Oh? Them?" The owner raised one arm pointing his thumb to one of them. "I'm not exactly sure. They all followed me in here when I bought this place. They seem to be harmless though." So I wasn't crazy after all... wait, what did he mean that they followed him?
"T-then doesn't that mean you were able to tame those, those― things? There aren't any indicating cursors or HP bars whenever we're inside a building, so I was just curious of what these things actually are." The «Color Cursors» clearly indicates what your status is in the game. A player's cursor is colored green while monsters are colored red and an NPC would just clearly have «NPC» written near its HP bar.
But there are of course different situations that would change those statuses. If a player successfully tamed a monster, then they become your «Familiar» and their cursor changes to a yellowish green color and their HP bar shows up next to yours. If a player have ignored the warnings of the «Ethic Code» or committed a crime, then their cursor changes to an orange hue, sadly to what we call them now as orange players. And NPCs would have exclamation marks floating over their head if a quest or trigger has been set. And since we are inside a building, those indications disappear so that it won't annoy players to every direction they look.
"Like I said before, I didn't really tame them. They just appeared through that door on the right and started helping me run this store even before Scilica-chan came here." The red headed man just rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. Even he wasn't sure if it's an NPC or someone's familiar.
"Hah- Is that so? Then do you know what are they called at least? This is my first time seeing those things." I continued to rain down questions of disbelief.
"Hmmm... From what I know, they're generally called «Neco Arc»s. You can clearly see each are different so their names may vary, though I'm just as stumped as you are when it's anything else about them. Even the best information broker out there doesn't have any clue as well so we simply dismissed them as NPCs." So he tried asking other informants as well. Maybe he didn't ask either Argo or even Heathcliff yet. I'll ask Shirou later if he already tried those options.
I started pointing out other possible options rather than the last two in my mind. "Did you try asking them yourself? It looks to me that they can at least answer quite a few questions but I'm not sure if the system has set them to answer those."
"Yes, I thought of that option as well and still asked them but they just replied me with a..." Shirou stopped halfway, raised his hands and gave a crooked smile, giving the impression of an 'I-have-no-idea-either' kind of way.
"Hah..." I gave out a big sigh as I relaxed my shoulders and dropped my elbows to the counter. Shirou just crossed his arms again and gave a crooked smile. While I was reflecting to how much of an idiot I was just now, the princess in white interrupted my doubtful thoughts.
"Kirito-kun," Asuna eyed me with the same look she had earlier. "I don't know what you two are talking about but I'm sorry to interrupt because you are disturbing Shirou-san's work. He still has customers to serve so could you just choose an order already so he can start with the rest?"
Huh? She didn't know what we were talking about?
I shifted my focus to Shirou and answered my questions with another smile.
Ah. So he also has this kind of problem huh? I'm guessing it's the same thing with Scilica if that's the case.
After deciding my order and waited a bit. We had some pretty amazing reactions to say the least with Asuna claiming to be his apprentice and such. But most of all we simply enjoyed our meals and waited for the owner to close shop as he requested. After more or less an hour of waiting, the place was now empty of customers, save me and Asuna.
"Myaster Shi-rou nyaa~, we'll be myaking our leave nyow. Thyank you for everythying as olways nyaa." What seemed to be the leader of the group bowed with its fellow brethren(?) in unison and marched out through the other door, leaving a trail of nyaa sounds with them.
I just stayed quiet and watched as those strange creatures nyaa'd themselves outside. What those things were is still bothering me. Maybe Shirou wouldn't know what they actually were since they go out first before he does. I guess I'll have to investigate them next time when I have the chance.
"Thank you as always as well. Take care." Shirou waved good bye while putting away all the ingredients and kitchenware he used earlier.
"Hey Shirou, mind if I ask another question?" I leaned in a bit and whispered to the red haired shop owner. Shirou paused a bit but smiled after.
"You mind we investigate that door after we're done with our own investigation? The curiosity is killing me."
Shirou rested his back at the counter then crossed his arms. "Hmm, it's not like I didn't try investigating it myself but I only reached the end of the hallway and went back shortly after. I felt… something. Something that's telling me that going any further by myself without preparations would be dangerous so I dismissed the thought until now."
Shirou then leaned forward and whispered to me in a careful voice. "Wanna go with me next time? I'll bring one of my best informants to join us as well."
Both of us grinned at the same time.
I had the feeling this is going to be one heck of an adventure.
-To be continued?-
References and Fun Facts:
NonCanon Monsters, Weapons & Skills:
-The «Adze Drake» is inspired from the creature, Adze. A vampiric being normally in the form of a firefly in Ewe folklore.
-The «High Granite Lord» is a monster inspired from one of the lower floors. Remember those things that killed Sachi? Yeah. Only bigger with lasers
-«Arridi Broadsword» The design and name is inspired by the «The Ranger's Apprentice» novels. I simply saw the image in a wikia by chance.
-Argo's unnamed kurasigama weapon
-Shirou's several unnamed swords spammed here
-«Tsunami Flash» As explained, is like the sword skill, «Avalanche», only in a horizontal angle of attack.
-Demon's/Angel's Edge is an effect skill according to the weapon's affinity. Judicator=Angel's Edge, Elucidator=Demon's Edge
-The Neko Arcs as obvious as it is.
Canon Monsters & Weapons:
-«Lizardman Lord» they obviously look like tall humanoid lizards.
-«Demonic Servant» the typical skeleton warrior.
-«The Gleam Eyes» the Baphomet looking boss except blue with a snake-tail
-"kana" are the traditional syllabic Japanese writings while "romaji" uses English characters to read their syllables.
eg. kana: しろう; romaji: Shirō or Shiro or Shirou
-Hearing Shirou's name sounds a little like "shiro" due to the silent "u" sound at the last part. This in turn could also mean "white" in Japanese if pronounced improperly.
Well... at least I released one after a few months compared to years. A lot of eventful days went by. We're having regular blackouts ranging from 1-4 hours and twice daily so it's kind of hard to update with my already restricted schedule along with the immense gap in time zones between me and my beta. I am also planning to go back to school but that won't actually slow down my progress. Rather, it's the opposite since I finally get my own PC again soon!
On the other side of things, my beta had come back a month-ish ago that's why it was (a bit) faster! A lot of good summer movies came out too! Welcome to mah garage sweet T57 Heavy and T32! Holy f*ck my external 1TB was stolen (there goes my collection of prawn)! Sexy Asses Online 2 will be out on July 5! SAO LN vol 1 (eng) get! Yen Press, you lack artistic sense! and why the fuck is vol 13 (eng) estimated release schedule by 2020!? (Seriously the irony of the date), FSN reboot anime is gorgeous! I seriously want a Vita now..., PC and net first you idiot! Priorities. Priorities.
As for the story, how was it so far? I'm sure you noticed that there was a lack of portrayal with Shirou fighting monsters. The boss battle was something I was really looking forward to write when I started this fic, especially when the anime came out since it's the only time when you get to see «The Gleam Eyes» in full form and color. Even though this was Kirito's perspective, it won't be long till it'll be Shirou's, so explanations for the most parts of the sword throwing (and magic perhaps?) will be explained. As for the Omake, I simply didn't want it go to waste and asked my betas if this was a good idea to be made as one. The omake won't have consistent releases though.
Rin's chapter might come out at the same time as the 4th chapter so look forward to it. Don't forget to review and look at the FAQs pages for questions you might want answered!
P.S.: Developing a Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei crossover fanfic or manga. I want it to be a manga but the LN is influencing me to go with a fanfic style. Not forced PoV btw so no worries there. Working title is "Heaven's After Days" (Plot, outline, etc. is already in progress. It's so organized it looked like I was making a wiki except in docs lol. Will come out maybe when I'm at better conditions. Est. 4-5-ish months for the 1st chapter. Also looking for a beta for this as early as now.)
Thanks to my betas: archerreborn2, Menurolla Sanchez & Mr. Skippy
Special thanks to:IAmTheOneWhoThinks/The Walking Man & DeathAdder47117