Side Story: Twisted Fates
Volume One - The Dragoon
Chapter 1: The Casual Gamer
Coming to Japan was nothing more than a spark of immaturity that was lit within me right as I graduated from college. I came from a mediocre university with a mediocre degree sporting mediocre grades. Before losing myself in the torrent of the office world and a maze of cubicals, I wanted to see a world completely different than my own. That's when I proposed the idea of teaching English in Japan to my parents. There were many different companies that would sponsor college graduates and link them up with a sister company in Japan. My parents were hesitant at first, but when I informed them that it would look good on my resume, they swiftly agreed. Little did they know, my main aim was to make it over the seas in time to beta test this new state of the art game that was being released.
It was called Sword Art Online.
I always addicted to MMO's growing up. Before that I loved old console RPG's from the time when gaming was still in its infancy. A friend in Japan let me use his address to sign up for the beta. Luckily, I actually was accepted. I figured some time in a new land experiencing some new technology was just what I needed before condemning myself to the office worker's life here in America. I already spoke a bit of Japanese, and coming here and learning the language first hand could help me secure further jobs in an international sector. So even though I was coming here to play, I justified it with the fact I would be improving myself in a marketable way. Thus I made the trip after applying with a certain company.
The beta was stunning, unlike anything you could imagine. I could smell, touch, taste, and feel everything in the game. I am pretty sure I spent the first few days of beta doing nothing but testing what I could do with the system. I don't think I killed a single monster till day three. The beta ended quickly from my perception. Every day between the beta and the release of the game felt increasingly longer. The students I had to work with were all elementary students, so it wasn't like they had anything interesting to say. A particular brother and sister group always seemed to fight and be mean to each other, but those were the only ones who stood out. Ah, but I guess in my current situation that doesn't matter much anymore if what I was just told was the truth. Because today is the release day for SAO, and there seems to be a large data corrupt GM claiming to be the games creator over us explaining something with overly complex Japanese terms that I'm not quite familiar with.
Earlier, I said I came to Japan to see a new world. I guess those old cliché terms of "Be careful what you wish for..." could never be truer. I knew something wasn't right when my logout button disappeared after a few minutes into the game. It was frustrating because I wanted to remake my character. You see, I made a female character to see just how realistic the system was... it was detailed much to my surprise. But I didn't want to play one as my main character. But that wouldn't have mattered anyway I suppose. Because, at that moment the large blood soaked GM told us to check our inventory. Small mirrors began to appear in everyone's hands and reverted our shapes to those as our true real life selves. Everyone was panicking at this revelation. More so than the dastardly plot the corrupt GM outlined earlier, which I was still unsure of what that was exactly, but from what I could gather, we weren't allowed to log out.
As I looked down into the mirror, green eyes and brown hair with blonde flaxen hints gleamed in the sunlight. It looked liked my real face if not slightly exaggerated on some details. But it was eerily close to the real deal. I thought for sure my height of six feet and my difference in ethnicity would draw more attention as we shifted to our previous guises. But I was completely over shadowed by a very large black man. While still reeling in shock over the his size, I noticed out of the corner of my eye as a two particular players, one young and dark haired and the other older lighter haired but scruffy get drug off by the younger darker haired boy as if in a rush.
Everyone else slowly began to descend into panic soon after. A few people started to lash out at each other in anger. They swung their swords wildly, attacking each other. But they were in town, so nothing happened. There were safe guards on in the town to prevent PKing.
"It's your fault!" One player in the distance screamed in Japanese, "I should have never joined you in this horrible game!" I could understand all of that. Normal phrases I picked up just fine, but when the words became complex... well there were some I just didn't know.
While everyone slowly descended into a terrified madness, I noticed the large black man was suspiciously calm. He rested his hand on his chin while he seemed to be lost in deep thought. I could only think of the "Thinking Man" statue that was famously displayed as I looked at him.
"Uhm..." I stammered caustiously at first, "Do you speak any English?"
The large black man turned towards me a bit surprised and nodded, "Sure do."
"Ah, the thing is, well... I speak some Japanese, but more complex words are..." I scratched the back of my head, "What I am asking is, I don't think I really understood everything the GM was saying... don't laugh but I think he said something about us dying if we die in the game?"
"That's what he said." The black man replied hesitantly but still in a mildly tranquil way.
"He's not serious is he?" I asked with mild disbelief.
"Who can say for sure, but..." He was interrupted.
One of the people in the crowd suddenly shattered into polygons. After a bit more, another one sharded like glass as well. Then several vanished from the world in tandem. Their guardians or friends were forcibly logging them out, killing them. Mass panic erupted and everyone in the center of the Starting City scattered to the four winds.
Over the next two days I sat around and spoke with the huge black man I met during the first day, his name was Agil. Despite his fearsome visage, he was quite friendly and had a joking manner to him. Most of our conversation on the first day was philosophical in nature. The discussion focused on whether we would really die and if there was any truth to it at all. Then as no one came to our rescue, we realized there may be a bit of truth behind the man's claims. Our talks then shifted heavily to what would be the best course of action to survive in the world.
Being a gamer from America, my first instinct was to worry about PK, but Japanese gamer's mind set was quite as PK focused in this MMORPG games. It wasn't a prime feature on their games like was in America. When playing MMO's in America, World PVP was always my focus. You could say I was a casual player due to the fact I was never on the cutting edge of game play. I always cleared dungeons behind everyone else and my gear was always a step behind everyone else. I enjoyed MMO's, but my actual life had some meaning too. I wasn't a hardcore addict like a lot of these players were. But very few people could match my skills in tracking down players and finding the best way to take them down... or conversely escape them when I was the one being hunted.
But now, I was in a game where death meant true death in all sense of the meaning. This time I had to play like an addict to even survive.
It was the fourth day in when I finally decided I had to start hunting monsters and prepare myself to survive in this world. I was already four days behind the more intelligent players. As I stepped out of the Inn and bid my goodbyes to Agil, he threw a small pouch of food to me.
"Stay alive, I expect you to pay me back for the food with interest." He grinned.
"So, I'm your first investment in this big financial plan you have?" I grinned back at him.
"Something like that." He smirked, rubbing his hand across his bald head.
With a few button presses on my HUD, the small pouch vanished into my inventory. Then after a deep breath and a nod I bid farewell to my first friend in this brave new world. Though I felt hopeful in my efforts, the starting city outside the Inn was wholly depressing. People were crying in the streets bemoaning the fact they were trapped in the game. I suppose people just gave up, you can't really blame them. It's been four days and we are still in this game. I'm just now getting the drive to go out and potentially risk my own neck. But even in the beta, I didn't die until I reached the fifth floor.
Things didn't get better as I got out of town. The starting newbie garden was packed shoulder to shoulder with players arguing over kills. Every plot of grass seemed to be picked clean the moment any herbs or mining nodes appears on the ground. Multiple players would dog pile any boar that spawned in the area.
"Stop kill stealing my boars!" A player cried out in anger.
Lashing back, the other player screamed, "I was here first, go find your own area to hunt!"
Unfortunately, during their intense argument, one of the players wasn't paying attention to his HP gauge, which was already in the yellow. Instead of healing between fights, they were rushing to the next kill. Then a boar spawned directly behind; then the system rolled the dice and the boar struck him, landing a critical hit. A surprised look over came his face, then he shattered into countless glass like polygon fragments. The player arguing with him screamed in panic, then started to dash towards the starting city. All the players in the area shook with momentary fear as they witnessed the scene, and then frantically rushed to kill the next boar.
Then I realized, no one in this area were using Skills. They were all waving their weapons wildly in an uncouth manner. But things were too hectic here, I needed to get away from the pack. Well, that's what I thought, but no matter where I went on the first floor, all the monsters weak enough for me to kill were being farmed heavily. I was never going to make any progress at this rate.
Parking my rear underneath a tree I began to look around lost in thought. Around that time I noticed that up on a high plateau there were monsters that no one was killing. But why? As my eyes focused on the monster, I could see they were of the appropriate strength once the indicator appeared above them. Hopping to my feet, I made my way over the plateau and walked along its base. There was no way up. It was one of those locations that players were meant to see but never go to. The steep base around the plateau was practically impossible to scale.
A large grin came to my face as I spoke aloud to myself, "It's no different than other MMORPG's I've played."
As a casual player who spent all of his time hunting other players in open world environments, knowing the land and locations of ambush and safety were key. Even when those locations were not really meant for players to use. In the old days they called us "Explorers". The players who found gaps in walls or ways to scale to impossible heights to reach areas developers never meant for us to find. Sometimes players would find easter eggs(things developers placed in the game as an inside joke) the developers left behind, while others just found unrendered planes of nothingness. If I could do that here and reach these places that other players couldn't...
Then a dread overcame me as I continued down that thought process. Frequently, when you entered areas you were never meant to explore, there would be holes in the world. You'd fall right through the game. If I did this, I'd need to be cautious. But if I didn't do something soon, all these panicked players would be higher level than me, and I stand out enough already.
If I remember correctly from the beta, the high hill behind the plateau was a level 5 area. The monsters might be tough, but I could run around them easily enough. Maybe I could find a safe way to drop down. That cold sweat caused me to shake again. I can't count the amount of times I died trying to drop down to areas. Falling damage was a problem, but I had to resign myself to taking some risks.
Climbing up and around to that higher level area, I sprinted as hard as I could past all the monsters. I attracted quite a load of them. I believe the the term used in the old days was "training." Not training in a since of improving yourself, but like the vehicle, a train, due to the fact you had a long line of mobs following you. Then as I got to the edge of the cliff that looked down on the plateau, I realized there was no turning back.
"What the hell was I thinking!" I cried aloud.
In front of me was a cliff and behind me was a large mass of tree ents rushing to clobber me. With mild hesitation, I began to slide down the incredibly steep cliff. I instantly lost my balance and began to roll and bounce. Each heavy bounce I lost some HP. Hurriedly, I pulled my spear from my back and dug it into the side of the dirt cliff. While in town most objects had the "Immortal Object" flag and could no be damaged, some of the environment in the fields were somewhat destructible. It was mainly for skills that caused ground impacts to show a disturbed ground effect. Such as a heavy great hammer swing striking the ground, cracks would flux through the ground. But any damage to the environment quickly was patched.
Then I struck the ground. HP: (3/425)
"Ahaha... ha..." I laughed.
But then I screamed loudly. All the monsters chasing me tumbled over the cliff after me. I covered my head and cringed as they began to strike the ground around my general vicinity, shattering into polygons as they struck the ground.
I peeked out from under my arms which were clutching my head and saw that none of them survived, then a deep sense of regret over came me, "Ah damnit! I should have at least poke them or something, the amount of exp I would have gotten from them dying would have pushed me up a few levels easy!"
You can't gain exp from a monster dying unless you damage them in some way first.
As I pulled myself upright, I summoned the pouch Agil gave me earlier, and began to eat. The taste was incredibly bland. Once I finished my small meal, I hoisted myself up with a spear and noticed my HP was back to full. I then lunged forth and began to stab the over sized birds that called this plateau their home.
Over the next few hours I reached level 5. It was a lot easier to level without people screeching at you and fighting over kills. I stayed away from the outer edge of the plateau to avoid being seen. I didn't want other players attempting this. It might cause unwarranted deaths. However, as I reached level 5, a new Spear Skill appeared.
It was one of the rarer spear skills. I was surprised to see it this early on. I know the skills were somewhat random... But basically this ability was a powerful forward thrust that knocked back enemies a good 10 meters.
"That... that's it!" I clamored myself together.
Quickly, I slid down the plateau back down into the newbie garden where people were still fighting over boars. A few people saw me, but nothing was said, they were too focused. But I didn't have time to waste. I sprinted back up to the level 5 area where the tree ents were. My plan was simple, but I wanted to try it out on a single one first. Slowly, I crept up on a tree ent near the edge of the cliff and activated Gale Thrust.
The system assist kicked in and with deadly precision I propelled my spear forward. As it struck the tree ent, it launched off the cliff. After a few moments, my TNL bar(experience till next level) increased by a fair amount.
"It works!" I hurled my fist in the air triumphantly.
Next, I rounded up a huge pack of the tree ents. Thankfully, they were incredibly slow and easy to lead around. I ran to the cliff and waited for them to get close, then activated a basic AGI type spear skill, "Flanking Strike". With an incredible swiftness, I felt myself swoop around behind the large pack of ents, and my spear propelled forward to strike the one I targeted.
"Skill Chain: Gale Thrust!"
The last hit on my flanking strike combo(or first one really) became Gale Thrust. The force of the thrust pushed every single ent off the cliff. Lights danced around me as I gained two whole levels.
"Eh...heh... heheh..." I was thrilled with myself.
I continued to execute this tactic until I found myself far above the levels of everyone else in the area, and moved along, staying ahead of the pack in unpopulated areas where my tactics couldn't be viewed. I got to a level where the mobs on the first floor were giving such little exp, that to even see a noticeable increase, I'd have to lead a massive pack of them to the edge of the first floor and push them off. Then one day, monsters on the first floor stopped giving exp all together. I was too high level to receive it. It was around that time I heard a small group of people cleared the area and the first boss was defeated. Slowly yet surely, people continued to clear each floor with increasing speed.
We were on the thirty third floor now. It was reminiscent of a tropical paradise. Islands dotted a sea like area and the main island was home of a very dangerous jungle. In my usual manner I was in a high place that I probably was never meant to reach, but over the past few months I've learned ways to get up steep locations and enter areas that I liked to call "Fluff Areas." They were areas in the game players weren't suppose to be able to reach that usually had some monsters there. It was to give an illusion of "off in the distance" it was a place to be viewed from a distance but never reached. To give the game a back drop of sorts.
From these heights, I would watch players and monitor groups and their progression. I guess it was a habit from my PK days. But now, there is no way that I could do something like that. Their real lives were at stake. It would be no different than murder. But still, it was some form of entertainment, and the information brokers paid well for updates on certain groups. Mainly a guild called the Knights of Bloods. It was an up and coming guild. They didn't have many members, but the ones they had were strong. Their leader was pretty radical. I never could find his hunting locations, yet he still remained higher level than me most likely from what I could tell from the ease at which he was dispatching monsters. Another player of interest was Kirito, the Black Swordsman. He was a somewhat infamous player among the front line. He was a known beater, someone who played the beta. Like most net players, they will whine about anyone with an advantage. That is why I have always kept my methods a secret. Though I realized that my Gale Thrust skill shouldn't be my only means, and I have started leveling normally in my own isolated areas. But back to the topic at hand, he seems to be on friendly terms with Agil, who is a good friend of mine. So I have been hesitant to sell him out. That Kirito, he's far above most of the other players he moves around with. He may be a well known beater, but I think a lot of those hot blooded meat heads who call him that knew how strong he really was... well, I am just surprised Kirito hasn't put them in their place. I would have.
After lounging a bit, I decided to make my way up a bit higher in the fluff area that I was exploring. Carefully I poked my spear into the ground ahead of me feeling for world holes. After confirming the area was safe, I peeked over the zone boundary and saw something I wasn't expecting. On the over side of the cliff face was an island with a small bridge going out to it. It looked like an entrance to a dungeon was on the island. But we already found the dungeon entrance in another location.
"Secret Dungeon." I murmured, "So there are secrets hidden deeply just like any other game.
But on the other side of the cliff face where most of the players were, there was no way to get to that bridge. I saw something that I wasn't suppose to see. From above I spotted a secret dungeon entrance before it was even revealed. Eagerly, I slid down the cliff face towards the secret dungeon. Not to go into the dungeon myself, I avoided those places. Too many guaranteed death traps for my taste as a soloer. But selling information on a secret dungeon would give me that money I needed for a house.
When I go all the way down, I reached the bridge quickly. Looking over to the island, I could see some monsters gathered at the cave entrance that went down into what was probably an ocean caverns type dungeon. On the other side of the bridge was the cave which was probably the exit of the secret entrance to the area. That's where I headed. Winding down the cave, I killed a few easy monsters. Glow Grubs, nothing special about them other than the fact they give light to dark caves with their bio luminescence. As I reached the end(or the beginning depending on how you look at it) of the cave, there was a rickety wooden door. I gave it a good shoulder bash, and it crumbled. Pushing out of the door only lead to thick vines. As I pushed through them I stumbled out into a familiar area, almost colliding with another player.
"Whoa!" He shouted, "Watch where your go- Where did you come from?"
"Uh..." I hesitated.
"A secret passage?" He asked?
It wasn't long till the frontlines players arrived to investigate the Secret Dungeon. It was a new concept. A secondary dungeon located on a floor was unheard of. The scouting party went in first. It wasn't even ten minutes before they came rushing back out.
"DRAGON!" The first one shouted.
Everyone was a bit shocked, and battle plans were immediately being drawn up on the small island outside the dungeon. However, much to everyone's surprise, Heathcliff announced that the Knights of Blood were not to take part in this dungeon, and he quickly excused himself. A chestnut haired girl that was accompanying him seemed to protest greatly as she followed him away from the meeting.
The first attempt began, but they quickly retreated. Many claimed the dragon was invulnerable. Only Spear users could damage the dragon, but they did so little damage that there was no way even with a full force of 49 Spear users to actually beat it. While usually all this would interest me, I was still pouting over the fact that I didn't get to sell the information.
After a few more attempts and retreats, most of the front line players decreed that a special item was needed to beat the dragon or they needed to come back after becoming much stronger at higher levels. The front lines dispersed. Eventually all the stragglers left as well. Around that time I slid down from my high perch in the fluff area and made my way to the cave entrance. From what the front lines were discussing, the dragon doesn't attack unless you get too close. So I decided to take a peek. Maybe I could find SOMETHING interesting to sale to the information brokers.
The inside was a tidal cave like dungeon just as suspected with a sleeping dragon at its center. Large spiraling stone path ways went all the way up to the ceiling of the surprisingly well lit cave. Phosphorescent glowing moss gave the cave an impressive ambience.
I kept my minimum of 30 meters from the dragon as I edged around, getting a better look at him. He had a deep blue sheen to his scales that made me envious. I always used scale armor. I loved it's flexibility and durability. It had a high protection against slashing and piercing attacks, but it didn't absorb blunt strikes as well. But few monsters didn't use sharp teeth or claws. Swords were the prevalent weapon of choice among players anyway. Not many people uses maces or great hammers.
"If only I could get some of those scales..." I day dreamed.
Slowly, I approached one of the stone pathways that led up to the ceiling. The moment I set foot on the path, the dragon rose it's head.
"So you wish to take the trial?" It spoke in an overwhelming voice that shook the cave.
The front lines never mentioned quest text! What is this? Did I meet some condition that they didn't?
"No, I don't wish to take the trial, I will leave." I spoke back.
"You cannot back out now!" The dragon's voice roared out.
The entrance to the cave slammed shut and the dragon charged me.
"Oh shit! You have got to be kidding me!" I screamed out as I hopped over the stone path way and started to put some distance between the dragon and myself.
I don't fight bosses! This isn't my territory! Damn damn damnit!
As I looped around the stalagmites the dragon swiped furiously at me. He moved in quickly and snapped at me with his row of razor sharp sword like teeth. I lunged backwards and activated Gale Thrust, plunging the spear into his face. Now, Gale Thrust wouldn't work on boss monsters the same way it did on normal monsters, it would only unbalance them and leave an opening.
As the Tidal Dragon staggered back slightly, I screamed in half shock half terror as I activated the Hexagram Heartseeker skill. It was suppose to be a 5 hit combo that repeatedly jabbed the enemies vitals(i.e. it's heart) but all that was in front of me was the dragons heads. Three beautiful hits landed on its right eye and then two on its left. The dragon collapsed and roared as it shook it's head back and forth. I began to climb the spiraling stone walk ways that lead to the ceiling hoping there was a secondary exit. But all it did was lead to the ceiling.
"What are these damned things here for then?" I screamed angrily.
However, when I looked down, I spotted a large red gem implanted into the dragons back. He was a good three stories below me at this point despite being two stories tall.
"A weak spot?" I asked myself.
I didn't have time to think about it, as soon as the dragon recovered his sight, I was toast. With a great jump I careened down towards the dragon. I lowered the trip of my spear before I landed, and it thrusted straight down into the red gem like scale on it's back. The dragon screeched out in a horrible pain, then shattered into polygons. LEVEL UP! Jumped in front of me. I was in utter shock.
"I made it..." I sighed heavily.
After taking a moment to collect myself I looked down at the loot window for the dragon. There was only one item, a quest item: "Ethereal Dragon Heart."
I looted it and looked at it in my inventory. The lore text simply said: "The remaining essence of a dragon." And it had the option: "Use" I considered selling it, but this isn't something you could find everyday. Besides I think it's probably character bound.
With little hesitation, I hit the use command. A light jumped out of my inventory and surrounded my body. With a bit of surprise, a secondary skill slot bar appeared but was grayed out. There was also a new skill in my window. A toggable passive much like other unique skills that popped up that let you equip certain weapons or perform a certain set of skills.
It was called: "Sky Siege"
Upon activating it, my slot bar for skills faded and the greyed out bar over took my previous bar. In the top right of my vision, opposite to my health bar, a spiraling loading symbol appeared and loaded from 0 to 100% over the course of 10 seconds.
"Sky Siege Mode activated." A sterile female voice range out in my head as the same words appeared in the middle of that spiraling load symbol.
I had a new skill active: "Jump"
"What kind of lame excuse of an ability is that?" I griped, "I don't need an ability to-"
Then it hit me. That old rpg class trope. The Dragoon had jumping abilities. Lancers or Dragoons were a somewhat popular theme back then weren't they? What if...
I bent my knees slightly to jump and the system assist took over, and the next thing I knew I was flying at a high rate towards the ceiling with little effort.
"This... is AMAZ-"
THUD! My head struck the ceiling. I completely blacked out.
END CHAPTER ONE