The Hunter Chapter 10
The House of Glass
Disclaimer: I don't own anything, Sword Art Online and Naruto belong to their respective creators and I am just using that, illegally, without explicit permission. Sue me. The only things that are mine are the ideas that I introduce in this fic.
Huh, I don't think we've mentioned this, what an oversight, thank you random Guest reviewer for asking. Anyway, the way we're going about skills is based on Dragon Quest 9 and Star Ocean 2's levelling system; two of the few games that Kur0 can actually tolerate long enough to finish it. Equip Daggers and as you level it by using it in battle, in this game the max is 1000, you get more and more Sword Skills as well as some passive bonuses. For example, a dagger user might get + 10 to AGI every 100 levels while a Spear/Halberd user might get + 10 to CON every 100 levels. A sword User however might lean towards + 5 STR and + 5 DEX every level.
So if you can mix and match properly, you are not restricted to the typical character classes like Knight or Thief etc. Somebody with enough skills in Dagger(Light class weapons) would naturally gain enough Thief-like skills and lean towards the faster, swifter side of things with less damage but more skills in disabling traps etc while a sword user (Middle class weapons) would be more balanced and offensive orientated while Halberd/Axe(Heavy class weapons) users would be geared towards damage mitigation skills and Hate generation with some heavy damagers thrown in for good measure.
The same applies to equipment (levelled by taking damage) and the craft skills, Shields and Armour give + 5/10 to HP/CON/STR etc. I'm sure I don't need to go into specifics, while the craft skills don't actually give any bonuses or active skills, which is why they are regarded as a waste of time particularly at the beginning of the game where every little extra stat counted. The only benefit levelling them would give is access to higher level materials and a higher chance of success in crafting. Naruto being Naruto depends more on his own wits and using/combining the skills that he does have in an unorthodox manner.
Incidentally, all weapon classes have an ultimate skill that is unlocked at max level, that mechanism is one that I'm basing from another game.
Immediate Music –The Reluctant Warrior
Linkin Park – BURN IT DOWN
Two Steps from Hell - Jump
Linkin Park – Castle of Glass
Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – Libera me from Hell
Blazing blue eyes looked up as Naruto set his jaw, "HEEEEATTTHHHCLIFFFFFFF!"
The brown haired man smiled viciously as he gave an answering challenge, "JOOOOOOOOOOOOOKERRR!"
Time almost seemed to slow for the two fighters. Their gazes were so focused on each other's eyes that the world seemed to melt away as Naruto slowly drew his last spear.
Kirito looked around in a semi detached daze as he sat alone in a corner of the room. In his current state of haziness, the raven haired boy seemed to barely register anything as his eyes swept around the 25th floor's Boss Chamber.
Right in the middle of the large and well lit room was a ton of rubble, a crude make shift tomb stone that proudly declared the defeat of the monster that had taken the lives of nearly 50 people and one that Kirito knew would only last for a few more minutes at most.
It seemed fitting.
Blearily, he looked up at the ceiling. Cold black iron spears poked out of the stone in a rough circle that surrounded the gaping hole in the rocky incline, denoting the exact where the manic blond had been aiming the entire time before weakening it enough for the ceiling to drop like a fist from the Heaven's itself.
Offhandedly, he could see Argo; her expression was a strange mix of nervous fear and sick curiosity as she talked animatedly with a rotund player, his white and red armour flapped agitatedly as he seemed to be trying to persuade the smaller girl about something. Though he couldn't hear their conversation, it was clear that the boy's argument was failing miserably if Argo's irritation progressively overshadowed her curiosity. The male player wasn't familiar to Kirito and since they had never been in the same party, much less the same guild, the player's name looked like little more than a bunch of green gibberish to Kirito. The only reason he even knew that the messy haired boy was from KoB was because of his distinctive uniform.
His eyes moved onto the next small group. A small congregation that consisted of a sad looking brown haired man in silvery grey armour while a foreign woman with silver hair stood behind him, frowns as they talked to a blond man in a white cloak, a red haired man in burnished bronze armour and Asuna. Every single one of them wore sad frowns as Naruto laid one hand on the man's shoulders while he bowed his head with a bitter expression, and Kirito knew exactly why.
The maximum amount of individuals allowed in a party was 6 people, while a raid party consisted of 8 parties. Group A had been one of those Raid Groups with 4 or 5 tanks to each party and the remaining slots filled with Medics. Each party in the Tank Group knew what to do; the first two parties to attack first would take the brunt of the damage until it was too much, then they would Switch In with two of the other six parties, allowing them to take a minor break. Group B had been built along similar lines, only with a greater emphasis on Sweepers while the third and last Raid Group was separated into smaller and more balanced versions of Group A and B to deal with the three sentinels. The Second Battalion contained another three Raid Groups and divided along the same lines would wait outside until someone needed to rest. That was the basic setup they had for almost every Boss Fight since the Second Floor and it usually worked, with that many Tanks in one Raid Group cycling between parties, the chances of any Boss taking them out so easily had been close to nil, with the greatest casualties usually coming from the softer targets like Sweepers or the Medics.
The Archers usually didn't die at all since they were almost exclusively from KoB and the first thing Naruto always taught them to do was to run like rabbits.
As the Chamber slowly cleared, several people threw the black haired boy sitting in the corner sympathetic looks before exiting. Kirito himself wrapped his cloak around himself a little tighter with a bleak expression, easily ignoring their attempts to console him with a frosty glare.
In total, there had been more than 250 players actively present at the Boss Fight, with nearly a hundred reserve Clearers waiting back in town. Kirito used 'had' because Group A had been decimated in one strike. As one of the longest standing Tank Groups, it had been made out of some of the strongest Tanks in SAO, and a hefty number of them had come from MMO Today, particularly since MMO had been amongst the first few guilds to be created and properly organize a resistance.
With Group A completely decimated, MMO Today had lost more than a third of their fighting strength, resulting in one of the single biggest losses since the tenth floor.
And it had all been his fault.
He couldn't even say with any certainty that Naruto would have done just as bad or worse.
The blond was a minimalist even at the best of times but given the White Archer's almost borderline obsession with sending in Parties bit by bit to test the waters and as a result, reduce any risk of being surprised, Naruto would have most likely been able to handle this setback with lower losses. It was also significantly slower since the blond almost absolutely refused to commit everything in the first blow. At best, he would compromise with an extra party or two to keep his detractors quiet but if anyone could agree on one thing, it was that his way was almost always safer. Much safer.
This brought Kirito's thoughts full circle. Jet black eyes stared at the ceiling again. Already, the ragged blue edges were already patching up and the rubble was visibly fizzing out of existence.
Most people knew that the White Archer was good at a bow and even better at cheating or finding loopholes to abuse, something he did with a comedic flair to amuse people and divert attention away from what he was actually doing, but that was probably all they knew.
Kirito however, had spent nearly a month watching the blond for incongruous behaviour and the raven haired boy knew that beneath all the flair, the White Archer had an almost pathological aversion to revealing his tricks unless it was necessary or if it would serve a greater purpose….
….Or if he was simply pushed too far, in which case the correct answer would be to run like hell in the opposite direction.
He could still remember tracking the blond to an empty field on the 15th floor the day after Serah and Tamamo had found him, where he basically began slacking again. Lying down on the grass with a completely carefree expression that annoyed the Black Swordsman, Naruto began fiddling with a piece of wood for no reason whatsoever.
Almost two entire hours passed and his muscles had almost given up from sheer boredom before the blond suddenly stirred and slowly stood up again with a stretch, as if he had finally gotten bored of slacking and was going back home.
Up in his hiding spot, he had shrunk back into the shadows again, making use of the Hiding Bonus his cape granted him and watched with interest as a stranger appeared on the edge of the field directly behind Naruto. Instinctively, he had known that the strange man had been watching Naruto as well since he had materialized out of nowhere, a telling sign that the man had an advanced level in Hiding, especially if Kirito had not noticed him either.
The Black Swordsman half thought that they had arranged for a meeting when the man suddenly began dashing forwards, his feet barely making any sound at all despite the tall grass. The deep orange gibberish that appeared above his head when Kirito focused on him almost certainly made it clear that the man was not here for a nice chat and the Black Swordsman felt a surge as panic as a dagger surged towards Naruto's undefended back.
The blond on the other hand seemed as carefree as ever, almost stupidly so, and simply stepped aside with a polite leer, sticking out his foot as he did so, causing the Orange Player to trip and go flying, "It took you long enough. I almost thought you were just another of those fanboy stalkers wanting to kill me for being so friendly with Asuna and Lightning."
The nonplussed man with his head half buried in the ground blinked at the blond's conversational tone, "…What?"
Naruto squatted with a friendly smile plastered to his face, "Do you know how long I've been waiting for you to make a move? It's pretty damn annoying you know, having to wait out in some low level field just because idiots like you like to PK low levelled players." His smile turned horrifyingly sweet, "So how do you plan on compensating me for all that lost time?"
The speechless man stared at him as if he couldn't believe that he was being shaken down by some random person that had been slacking on an empty field day after day, which was pretty understandable as far as Kirito was concerned. He had wondered if the blond was going nuts a few times himself.
Naruto rolled his eyes before rubbing the armour with a keen eye, his voice floating over to Kirito's sharp ears, "Hmmm… this is pretty good leather armour, level 30 or thereabouts, I'd say. Definitely not NPC bought, which means you're probably some idiot who couldn't keep up with the frontlines and dropped out. Feeling a little depressed and useless, you probably took to killing low level players because it made you feel powerful." Naruto half asked, half stated to himself, "You liked the rush of bullying and killing poor little defenceless idiots, realizing that there was no consequences as long as no one caught you. The ones who tried couldn't match you, and the Clearers couldn't care less." He grinned again, "Am I right so far?"
"You missed one."
"I'm not alone." The orange player smiled as a shadow loomed behind Naruto.
Blue eyes narrowed dangerously as he dove to the side, barely avoiding a large two handed sword that cleaved into the ground.
Naruto calmly stood up and began dusting his cloak, discretely keeping an eye on them. The orange gibberish above their heads hid their identity from the blond, "So two? No other people?"
"Maybe. What's it to you?"
The blond shrugged and Kirito wondered if he even had any common sense rattling around in that golden haired head of his, "Professional curiosity mostly."
The larger one who had attacked him from behind shrugged callously, "Never needed more than two to be honest."
Up in his tree, Kirito's blood boiled at the shaggy haired man's words.
A red comet blazed past him, blowing a hole in the side of his head, causing the PKer to go wide eyed and curse loudly.
"Oh trust me, you're definitely going to need more than two." Naruto noted grimly. Above his head, his username remained a peaceful green since the system considered it as self-defence. Had Naruto attacked them while their names were green, his own name would temporarily gone Orang for 10 minutes at most, assuming he didn't go any further. The penalties for killing another green player however, were somewhat heavier and the Orange stain would remain for at least a day, increasing incrementally with each crime.
The two of them shared a look before they darted away in the opposite direction. Crystal blue eyes narrowed to thin slits as the blond fired spear after spear, his foot working rapidly beneath him to avoid getting flanked by either of them when the smaller one abruptly changed direction and shot straight at the blond with his dagger primed while his partner continued to circle around Naruto.
The White Archer jumped and fired a spear at the Orange Player beneath him. The lithe man dodged it with a grimy grin and signalled for something before the blond landed a few feet away. Crouching immediately, Kirito could almost see the massive sword slice ruffle a few strands of golden hair with the force of its swing before the Archer dove away again from another dagger slash.
"You're not bad." The big man huffed and Kirito half wondered why this two Pkers hadn't recognized Naruto if they were really former Clearers. Sure they probably wouldn't see his username as anything other than a bunch of random green letters, but his white cloak was fairly distinctive.
"Out of shape?" Naruto questioned calmly as he shot another spear at the large man.
Stepping in front of his friend, the larger man hefted his massive zanbatou, allowing it to take the hit instead of him. The spear crashed and broke on it uselessly before the man peeked out with a smug grin and gestured at the smaller man beside him, "My friend here would usually poison them before we let them run and between the two of us, we'd hunt them down like animals." The two of them laughed cruelly, "They generally don't get very far with the pain and paralysis."
"Like you said, it was fun. We're all going to die anyway, might as well enjoy it while we can."
"….. Why?" Naruto asked quietly with an obscure pain in his voice, "Why? Why are you making me do this?"
Play Immediate Music –The Reluctant Warrior
His blue eyes instantly turned as cold as chips of ice as all emotion drained from his face.
Without any further words, both of them shot forwards and Naruto notched three spears at once. They began to glow a vicious red before the blond released them simultaneously when the large man suddenly stepped in front of the spears, letting it thud against his barrel shaped chest while he flung his sword at the wide eyed blond, Naruto barely managed to heft his bow in time for the steel blade to crash against him, shattering the bow and sending the White Archer seemed to stumble over backwards with the force.
"Can't do ANYTHING without your Bow now, can you?" He declared triumphantly, "Looks like the celebrated White Archer is nothing if he doesn't have any tricks up his sleeve left."
So they DID know that he was the White Archer, which meant the reason they took so long to take the bait was because they were checking to see if they could catch him at his most unprepared.
Cackling loudly, the smaller man took advantage of his friend's move with a cruel leer, the glinting edge of his dagger hurtled towards Naruto's defenceless chest.
Kirito was almost half way out of his tree when he heard the blond's growl.
"Thank you for coming so close."
His white cloak flared and black eyes widened incredulously.
Forget putting a trick up his sleeve; the blond had somehow managed to stuff an entire freaking armoury into his cloak.
Row upon row of gleaming blades hung from the inside of his cloak, forming a formidable wall of cold steel. His hands dipped into their folds and two gleaming hunting knives emerged from their depths before he struck like a snake.
Like the last time, he didn't have decency to hiss. However, unlike the last time, he certainly wasn't aiming for the base of the dagger.
In one smooth twirl, the blond simply sliced off the man's wrist.
The blade in his other hand cleaved away his knees in a show of almost elegant brutality. Shifting his weight Naruto surged forwards and the two blades were plunged into the PKer's armpits before stabbing into his neck. Stopping mid charge abruptly, his momentum changed again and he back flipped before the surprised PKer even had the time to realize that he missing three limbs. The tip of Naruto's boot collided with his chin, sending him hurtling upwards when the blond landed in a semi crouch.
Kirito faintly heard a low growl coming from the blond's throat as he flowed from his crouch into a powerful jump. Rocketing into the air, he grabbed the airborne man by the neck and stabbed another two daggers into the sides of his head. Using the handles for support, he flipped again and sent the PKer hurtling downwards with a powerful axe kick where he collided with his gaping partner.
Blue eyes flashed coldly as a black spear that almost seemed to radiate coldness appeared his hands. Twirling it above his head once, the blond plummeted through the air with an audible whistle before he rammed the entire spear through both of them, skewering them like a kebab.
By the time the smoke had cleared, the field was dead silent and Kirito's jaw had dropped.
The White Archer had all but dissected two men in less than ten moves and all he had to say was; "Oh Kirito, I didn't see you there."
Kirito boggled at the blond's eerily nonchalant greeting despite the fact he had two men skewered from head to foot lying by his feet.
"You were a little late though. The party already ended."
The two defeated men stared at him; their eyes were wide and stark with utter fear, silently begging Kirito to save them as their HP bar slowly depleted. The blond loomed above them, his amiable smile was paper thin and only served to make the icy look in his eyes even more bloodthirsty, savouring the sheer panic etched on their faces as they watched what remained of their pitiful lives slowly drip away before their very eyes.
Back in the present, Kirito heaved another heavy sigh.
The two men had survived, narrowly, if only because he had insisted, but the absolutely ruthless look in the blond's eyes had shaken the Black Swordsman. He couldn't even tell if the man had enjoyed decimating them or hated it.
Secretive Archers aside, for some unfathomable reason, he had suddenly chosen to reveal not one, but two cards; his wired daggers and a honking huge hole in the ceiling, something that was supposedly impossible because the terrain was supposed to be an Immortal Object.
Not even the Blacksmith, with all his strength and his massive Hammer had managed to put a tiny crack in the marble floor, and yet Naruto managed to poke a hole in the roof with a few spears? Something was seriously strange here.
Black cloth rustled as Kirito glanced around the empty chamber one more time and slowly stood up. Reaching behind him, he unsheathed his one handed sword and gripped it tightly. Yelling angrily, he slashed the wall with a Sword Skill. Sparks flew everywhere as the steel edge of the blade rasped against the black rock wall uselessly; there wasn't even a scratch on the wall. His eyes swept along the wall as he began to inch his way around the room, methodically striking the wall every few steps with a mid level Sword Skill and nothing to show for it.
His eyes slowly rose up the wall and he put one booted foot a rock and used it to boost his powerful leap. The black blur rapidly rose into the air, accompanied by a silver glow of his flashing blade as it barely crashed against the ceiling.
Landing with a thud, his jet black eyes narrowed at the light scratch he had gouged in to the ceiling. Flicking his blade again, the Black Swordsman began to methodically repeat the manoeuvre all around the room until he had cut out a series of small gouges in the ceiling, vaguely the shape of a cube situated directly in the middle of the Chamber.
At first he had thought it might have been a mistake, or even an oversight on Kayaba Akihiko's part to ensure that every inch of the Terrain was impenetrable, but the perfectly cube shaped structural weakness above him made it very clear that there was someone else who had been messing with the game's coding.
Panting lightly, he drew open his interface and glanced at the time. Seeing that it was a few hours before dinner, Kirito cocked his head and sheathed his sword before he began taking long loping strides towards the stairs.
He had 24 other Boss Chambers to check and he hoped that someone would leave some food for him.
11TH Floor: Taft
Play Linkin Park – BURN IT DOWN
"What's wrong? You've been pretty tired the whole time." Her bob cut bounced a little as the dark haired girl gave him a concerned look.
It had been late at night after he had ran through the entire 24 floors of Aincrad when he had encountered a rather strange sight on his way back home for the night.
After saving the entire group of frazzled low-level players who had been accidentally caught up by the more aggressive monsters that usually came out at night, the understandably grateful leader had insisted that Kirito let them treat him to dinner. One thing led to another and the Leader, Keita, had cheerfully invited him to the Guild.
Since the Clearing had pretty much dwindled down to crawl ever since MMO Today had lost over a third of their battle strength, the raven haired boy didn't see anything wrong in accepting the Leader's invitation to Black Cats of the Full Moon, especially with Sachi egging him on.
Of course, that wasn't the only reason, even if the frontlines was barely edging forward at a pathetic rate, the real reason, Kirito admitted to himself was the crushing guilt. Thinker had adamantly refused to place any blame on Kirito, but the dark haired boy himself couldn't bring himself to look the man in the eye even a month later. Seeing the man walk away with Naruto's hand on his shoulder only reinforced how isolated he really felt deep down inside on top of the crushing guilt. He was at least honest enough to admit that was part of the reason that he had finally accepted the invitation. The family like atmosphere that the closely knit group of friends was just another bonus.
Another reason of course, was that joining the guild gave him the chance to keep a low profile, away from the other Clearers, as he investigated the quirky instances that seemed to surround the White Archer.
And so, he had officially joined the BCoFM, a group that consisted of only five members, all of them were computer enthusiasts from the same Computer Club in real life. Among the five, he had developed a peculiar friendship with the only female of the group, Sachi, probably because he spent the most time with her, teaching her how to use a sword and shield.
In fact, the two of them had gotten close enough that they regularly shared the same bed at night in a platonic manner, much to Ducker, the Guild's thief's jealousy and everybody else's amusement.
For an entire month, he more or less ignored all the messages that his friends kept sending him, only replying with vague assurances that he was alright. His main focus was on keeping himself too busy to even think about his failure. In the mornings and afternoons, he would spend time with the Black Cats of the Full Moon, pretending to be a slightly higher level player than them while he taught them the basics of staying alive in Aincrad when he wasn't following his friend around. At night, he would slip out to train alone on the front lines when he knew there would be far fewer Clearers. At this point, he knew he was but a shadow of his former self.
The raven haired boy paused his thoughts with a humourless chuckle and corrected himself.
Maybe he wasn't a shadow of his former self; maybe this was just how he would have been if he hadn't ever met Naruto. His melancholy was something that Sachi noticed all too easily and he knew that it really shook the girl up to see someone she looked up to appear so weak.
Even though Sachi had taken it onto herself to keep her Guild members' spirit from flagging with her dry humour and good cheer, the spear user herself had confided in Kirito that she was deathly afraid every time they left the safety of town. The same fear that locked her limbs every time she had to face a monster and hindered her levelling progress.
Black eyes slowly rose and he gave her an uncomfortable look, "It's nothing…." Kirito looked around the table where the rest of his Guild were talking and cheering.
Her dark eyes seemed uncertain, "If you're sure…"
"I'm really alright," Kirito assured her with a watery smile, "I just haven't been sleeping enough."
"I guess we've been running you a little ragged huh?" Sachi smiled apologetically, "The guys are really quite excited about you joining us. Even through you've only joined us for a month, we might actually be able to finally join the Clearers." She tried to reassure the dark haired boy enthusiastically even though she wasn't sure why he looked so down.
Kirito's vague smile only got weaker before he shrugged off the depressing thoughts off like he would a dirty cape, smiling tightly; he picked up a glass, "Cheers to our new Guild Headquarters. We're finally one step closer to the front lines!"
All around the tables, face splitting grins appeared and the four boys returned his toast with a rousing cheer.
To be specific, they had finally gathered enough Col to properly afford one of the smaller buildings on the eleventh floor, it wasn't much, but it was something that they could finally call their own instead of resting at inns the entire time. As soon as the sun rose, Keita would leave to properly make the purchase.
Kirito smiled tightly, it would also be the day that he finally settled everything with Naruto. He wanted to properly join the Black Cats of the Full Moon with a clean slate. He would do everything he could to help raise them into proper Clearers and then they join the front lines triumphantly.
When morning actually came and Kirito found himself standing outside the balcony of his little rented room in the inn, he suddenly found himself wishing that he had given his meeting with Naruto a little more thoroughly.
The blond Archer had given the request to meet the same amount of thought he seemed to give everything else, which is to say none. The reply had been quick and cheerful; asking Kirito to name the place and time as well as asking if he was feeling better, the dark haired boy couldn't help but feel guilty.
"Kirito-kun?" A familiar soft voice rang in his consciousness. Turning around, he glanced at the girl who had just gotten out of the bath room with a wet towel draped around her shoulders, her dark lustrous hair was wet and steaming in the cold morning air.
A little shiver ran down his back at the way she looked, "What is it, Sachi?"
"Ducker sent me a message earlier," the girl replied in her customary gentle tone, "He wants to buy some furniture for the new Guild Home as a surprise for Keita but we already spent everything on the Building, so he wants to go to the frontlines and try to gather enough Col for it before Keita-kun comes back," She continued running the towel over her hair carefully, "It would be a pretty nice gift wouldn't it?"
"I…." Kirito hesitated, should he go?
Noticing his hesitation, her dark eyes gazed at him curiously, "Do you have something to do? It's alright if we go alone you know. We're level 30 already."
"Normally the suggested level is ten levels higher than the current front line," The boy standing by the window remarked with his arms folded.
"That's 38, it's just eight levels so we should be fine." She assured him with a gentle smile, "I'd feel bad if you had to cancel your meeting with a friend just for us. You need to have a life outside the Guild as well, unless… you're not going out to meet another girl and you don't want us to know?" Sachi countered with a teasing smile.
"Do you really think so little of me?" Kirito asked her with a mock injured look.
Sachi sighed theatrically, "Oh I don't know. You keep drawing all these girls to you because you have to go and be nice to everyone, even a random little low level that you knocked down into the mud."
"She's not so little anymore," Kirito reminded her with a faint smile, "And you can rest assured, it's a guy. I'll let him know to meet us in the Dungeon and come with you. If anything, introducing him to the rest of the Guild might even help us later down the road."
"Oh?" She gave him a look that clearly told him to elaborate.
"He's pretty influential amongst the Clearers," Kirito admitted, "And if anyone knows how to help BCoFM become Clearers, it will be him."
The lukewarm winter sun rising behind him had nothing on her gentle yet brilliant smile, "I'm looking forward to meeting someone you respect so much."
"If only it was that simple."
"Nothing. Did Ducker say why he wanted to head to the front lines so fast? If it was just Col, we could always go somewhere safer."
"He said something about trying out the monsters there; we're not going in that deep, just around the entrance. Besides, the drop rate there will be much higher than the ones we've been visiting anyway."
"He's probably right." Kirito admitted although he also had a sneaking suspicion that the thief had an ulterior motive in mind. He had known Sachi for far longer than Kirito had and all of them that he was attracted to her. Even though he only laughed about it, Kirito had noticed him getting more and more reckless as his confidence increased, mostly by trying to show off his new Thief skills that he had gained from the Dagger class weapon.
Shrugging on her leather armour with a cute toss of her hair, Sachi smiled at him, "I'm done. Shall we go?"
It was only a short trip from their inn to the teleportation gate in the center of town, where Kirito watched as the rest of his Guild members dissolved one by one into a sprinkle of bluish white lights before disappearing entirely. Stepping into the Gate himself, he selected the 28th floor on the menu. There was short pause as the system registered his orders before his vision was slowly obscured by the same white lights that had taken his friends away.
A hooded blond stood outside the 28th floor's dungeon which only had been cleared last week. The blond scuffed his boots in apparent boredom as he waited for his friend to come out while he stared at the undecorated gate. The dungeon itself wasn't very impressive and the entrance only consisted of a simple wooden door that seemed to lead into a winding underground maze. In the deepest part of the maze, the Boss Chamber awaited along with the typical upwards spiralling stair case that led to the next floor even though it wasn't visible from outside.
Shoving his hands into his pockets to shield them from the cold air, Naruto breathed out a visible cloud of condensation and wandered in with a resigned expression. At least it would be warmer inside. Kirito had sent him a message asking him to wait for him outside when he came out with a few friends, but the blond was bored, and Kirito was already a whole hour late.
His footsteps echoed loudly in the maze, white cracked walls of stone stretched as far as he could see before it was abruptly cut off by a sharp turn. Technically, while the Labyrinth itself had been cleared, it's winding and twisting tunnels had been a continuous headache to every single person on the front line, so they had moved on as soon as they found the Boss Chamber. Getting lost in here for a trinket or two simply hadn't been worth the trouble. Even he had to regularly take stock of his position on the meagre map that the Clearers had compiled in order to navigate the long white columns in case he lost his way.
Again, if he might add.
People coming in here and getting lost for days on an end wasn't an uncommon story.
As his footsteps carried him down meandering hallways, the sound of a pitched battle reached his ears.
Clear blue eyes blinked somewhat slowly, while he couldn't claim to know everybody's schedule, it certainly seemed weird that somebody was in here while the rest of the Clearers were just only beginning to map out the 29th floor.
Curiously, he began walking into an unmapped part of the labyrinth with smooth loping strides, his bow held at the ready just in case. The closer he got, the more desperate the battle was beginning to sound as someone screamed in fear.
That last one sent him rocketing up the last flight of stairs. Skidding around a corner, he almost ran by the room without even realizing it.
Its door was hidden in the shadows of two jutting outcrops and made out of the same uniform, cracked white stone that made up the entire labyrinth. The only reason he didn't entirely miss it was because of the sounds from inside the room.
His ears perked, listening to the sounds of steel sparking against stone along with a strange wailing klaxon that immediately alerted him to a siren trap. It was one of the worst kinds of traps a player could encounter; if it wasn't disabled properly by a sufficiently high level thief it would set off a screaming signal that teleported nearly every monster in the dungeon to its vicinity.
The only hope of escaping that kind of assault was a teleport crystal, or if they had enough manpower, brute force. Given the amount of time they had been fighting, Naruto figured they had gotten careless and hadn't brought enough teleport crystals along.
Cursing once, he briefly tried the door the usual way before its unyielding stony face confirmed his fears. Heaving back, he before kicked it once but it didn't even budge. Taking a few steps back, the blond surged forward, putting all his strength and weight behind it, he kicked again with all his might and the door slammed open with a massive bang.
His eyes widened at the pitched battle on the inside, and he took stock of the situation with a swift glance, barely catching glimpses of coloured fabric between the flailing white rocky limbs. Seven feet tall monsters made of the same white rocks as the labyrinth seemed to be moving about the room like an overturned nest of ants. The creatures were uncannily shaped like humans but lacked the facial features, their arms ending in sharp jagged rocks that could be used as spears or blades.
Because of their texture and appearance, the blond almost thought that the labyrinth itself had come alive and was attacking whoever was stupid or unfortunate enough to get trapped inside.
His quiver dropped with a clank as he automatically began pelting the monsters with his spears, "WHO'S IN HERE?!" He thundered loudly, "WHY AREN'T YOU USING YOUR TELEPORT CRYSTALS!"
"We can't!" Someone called desperately, although there was a note of relief in his voice that help had arrived, "The room won't let us!"
"NARUTO? IS THAT YOU?"
Naruto cursed again before shouting as loudly as possible to make himself heard over the sound of a desperate battle, "KIRITO?! THE HELL YOU DOING IN HERE?!"
Clouded blue eyes swept the room again as he desperately tried to think of a way to save everybody.
The room was a simple and plain 10 by 4 feet narrow corridor and there were a total of three exits, one situated directly opposite him and the last and largest door was on the far right of the room. On his far left, a group of 4 four boys were desperately trying to stay alive against level 30 monsters. To get to them, he would have to fight his way through almost three quarters of the room by himself before making his way back through the horde.
On his far right, he glimpsed Kirito fighting with a mad glint in his eye, protecting a dark haired girl who fought her own battle not far away from him but the two of them were facing a horde of monsters that stopped them from using the exit behind them, and evidently the one they had come in from. Even now, monsters continually poured in from the largest door. The density of monsters between him and Kirito was a little lower since they were closest to his position but it was clear that they wouldn't last too long.
Play Two Steps from Hell - Jump
He could either help Kirito and his friend who were closer to the door or dive straight for the boys, but not both. Kirito might have been able to deal with a small group, but this many was suicide and in the long term, he was more important.
Making his decision, Naruto's bow snapped into overdrive by flinging spear after spear. The closest monsters that were of a normal human immediately found six spears sprouting out of his back.
It let out a strangled, "Oh," before pitching forward. Blue eyes narrowed as Naruto moderated his spears, the room was filled with monsters that impeded his sense of distance, he couldn't take the chance that he might hit Kirito. Slowly, the monsters turned around and realized that there was someone standing outside the room taking pot-shots at them. Lumbering slowly, the six feet tall abominations began to file out of the room, making it even harder for the spears to penetrate.
He briefly glanced at the four boys guiltily as one of them died with a horror filled scream. While he was distracted, a huge brute of a rock monster lumbered into him, slashing Naruto's chest with one arm as he let out a pained grunt.
One quick look told him that he had lost at least a quarter of his Health Bar.
Maybe he shouldn't have abandoned his Armour skill that fast.
Kicking the monster away, he shifted his stance, clear blue eyes thinned into slits as he cocked a number of spears at once. His stupidly large bow began to creak under the amount of force he was putting on the bow string, "Original Skill: Lunar Fang!"
The widespread spears blew away whole chunks of monsters, giving him some space to fluidly flow into his next blow as well as their full attention, allowing him to use the Crescendo.
The rapid stream of spears rammed against the wall of living rocks, digging a trench straight towards Kirito's left while the unscathed ones on the left and right began advancing again.
The moment the road was clear; he abandoned his bow and darted into the room. Leaping up, his hands dipped into his cloak and a pair of long hunting knives flashed in the dim light. His white cloak flapped violently as the blond landed on the first monster's chest, feet first, knocking him down before two blades sunk into its neck and twisted before he catapulted himself off the monster with a furious spin that decapitated an entire row of monsters that were surrounding him before he back flipped again to avoid the sword arm trying to remove his head.
In mid-air, the blond twisted and a rain of steel erupted from his cloak, spraying the line of monsters with various blades before he landed in a crouch next to his Bow, he fired another volley that penetrated enough monsters for him to see that Kirito was fighting beside a girl he did not know.
Without any hesitation whatsoever, he flicked his wrist, sending four daggers flying towards the last row of obstacles, lashing around their necks before Naruto heaved.
Swinging them around like weights, the blond threw them towards the group of monsters, knocking them like bowling pins before another set of daggers flickered out of his cloak and wound themselves around his target's torso.
Heaving on the thin but durable wire, he heard a scared yelp and braced himself before both of them crashed into him. Throwing them onto his shoulders, he immediately began sprinting the impossibly long six metres before the path he had cleared vanished.
Leaping clear of a low swipe, the three of them crashed outside the door with heavy pants before Naruto felt himself being shoved off Kirito, "Why didn't you save them?!"
A tortured yell tored itself from his throat as Kirito tried to run back in but a pair of daggers encircled his arms again and somebody pulled on the wires, trussing him up helplessly, "That's enough, Kirito, we can't save them!" somebody roared angrily before it softened.
"They already died before I got to the two of you…. "
Play Linkin Park – Castle of Glass
Asuna, Serah and Lightning crashed the doors with panicked expressions, only to be met with a stifling atmosphere.
Sitting on opposite sides of the square dining table, Kirito had his arms folded as he glowered at the blond's completely emotionless expression.
"You could have chosen to save them instead of us. I could have handled it!" Kirito growled in what seemed to be part of an interrupted conversation, completely ignoring the two females.
"What's going on?" Asuna asked carefully, wary of the strange hostile air between her two oldest friends in the game.
"I'm sorry, Asuna." The blond replied quite calmly, "Kirito and I are having a little disagreement."
"Disagreement? Is that what you call it? Three people died and you can only call it a disagreement? Then what are fifty people to you? A minor setback?"
"You know this," Naruto growled in reply, "I couldn't have saved them. With the numbers they were facing, they would have died before I got halfway there. Heck they DID just that."
"How could you have NOT saved them?" Kirito slammed the table as he shot upwards with another angry yell. Deep down, he knew that the blond had made the most logical and efficient decision but he would not, could not, bring himself to accept it, and he needed a target to lash out at, "Weren't you fond of saying that you'll save everyone?! That you'll sacrifice yourself even if it meant saving others?"
The blond winced, "That was a low blow, Kirito."
"Even if that wasn't possible, didn't you have some sort of secret? We both know that you have been doing those little so called experiments of yours on the game's systems for nearly a year now, so don't tell me you have nothing. Another set of blades hiding up your pants? Or maybe even another weak point in the ceiling?"
Cloudy blue eyes narrowed, "That was a once off thing. I couldn't do it again even if you asked me to."
"Why not?" The gaze was penetrating, "Because Kayaba Akihiko finally got tired of you disobeying him and showing off without his permission and stopped helping you?"
The silence was almost deadly as the blond instantly went ashen and that was more damning that anything else the raven haired male could have said.
"You don't even have to try and defend yourself because I can prove that you just lied. Something you've probably been doing to us from the very beginning." The raven haired boy struggled to calm his breathing, "I checked you know, I ran down every floor and scaled the walls myself just so that I could hit the ceiling. I found the same cube shaped weak point that was on the twenty fifth floor in the fourth, tenth and seventeenth floor's Boss Chambers, that means you could have just finished those Bosses off without losing anybody doesn't it?" He said with a heated look at the blond before it swept over to the stunned girls, "Then, for a solid month, I spent nearly all my free time tracing down your little experiments to see if it was possible to do without reasonable prior knowledge. Knowing that those things were there simply wasn't possible unless you knew beforehand. You KNEW they were there, even BEFORE we began playing this death trap!"
The wooden table under his fist began creaking as he exerted even more force to stop his fist from trembling, "When you exploited the Crafting Skills to make your bow and explosives I thought it was just simple experimentation. After all, combining several elements of the game in ways they were not meant to be used in order to seek an advantage is fairly standard behaviour for any good Player. When I realized that you had a modified Nerve Gear, again I figured it was just a coincidence, but when I put everything you've done together, I realized something. It was given to you by Kayaba as a reward wasn't it? What is your role in this game? Are you a Game Sage that tests the game's loopholes before reporting to him?"
"If I was, those exploits would be instantly closed, why would I go and publish them instead?" Naruto growled.
"Then tell me. Does it feel good? Acting the White Knight in front of all us all the while you and Kayaba snicker behind our backs?"
Naruto drew a deep breath, "I won't, can't, deny that Kayaba sought me out to help him with the programming in exchange for an irresistible reward," He ignored the sound of Lightning dropping her sword and shield in shock, "But I never knew what he planned to do with the game… If I knew…"
"The thing is, Naruto, you've always tried to present this rational, kind, leader-like aura to everyone around you to draw people to you and help them work together." There was a slight hint of regret in the dark haired boy's words, "I won't say it didn't work, the fact that we have a workable system going on while we try to get out of this god forsaken place is proof enough, but the longer I knew you, the more I was certain that it was all a simple façade. The man I called my friend never really existed in the first place. Your words right now, are worth less than nothing to me."
The dark haired boy shoved the chair away from him and stalked to the room where an unconscious Sachi was resting. As he slammed open the door, Tamamo who had been sitting at her bedside and watching out for her jumped and glared at the raven haired boy. Kirito simply ignored her stare. The moment he had set his eyes on Sachi's sleeping face; a ball of utter dread filled his throat.
How could he face not just her, but Keita when he had failed to rein Ducker and the others in?
If they had known his true level, would they have accepted him anyway?
If they knew that he had been responsible for the deaths of more than 50 people because he had been careless, wouldn't they have shunned him?
He chuckled humourlessly, not that that last point would have mattered. Now that he had let Ducker, Sasamaru and Tetsuo die, they were going to shun him anyway. Silently, he glided over to the sleeping girl and slipped his hands underneath her, hefting her up with ease.
As he exited the room, unaware that Tamamo was following him, and back into the dining room where the four of them were still standing like statues. He gave Naruto's downcast expression one last look, "That's about as far as it goes for a friendship built on lies, Naruto."
He resolutely turned around and left the small cottage on the seventh floor permanently.
Serah gave the three KoB members a worried glance before she hurried to follow Kirito, as far as she was concerned, Kirito needed more help dealing with everything than Naruto.
"Was what Kirito-kun said correct, Naruto?" the auburn haired girl who was leaning on the wall in shock asked feebly, "You really helped program this place?"
Play Limp Bizkit – Behind Blue Eyes
"Only the basic parts," Naruto admitted just as softly, his shoulders sagging heavily, "He didn't trust me with the more complicated parts and for good reason. I had the feeling that he was hiding something from me and I knew that he would detect any back doors I programmed into the system, so I only changed marginal values that anyone would overlook. Small tactical points that would give me an advantage as well as an understanding of the underlying principles that Aincrad operated on. At first I did it because I knew it would give me an advantage in the game, so that I would be exactly what Kirito said, a white, shining leader to the other gamers. But that was while I still thought that it would be a normal subscription MMO... By the time I realized what was happening, it was already too late."
"How could we trust you?" Lightning finally spoke hoarsely, trying to come to terms with the feeling of utter betrayal, "When you basically just admitted that everything Kirito said is right?"
The blond lowered his head with a truly injured expression. Every single one of her words hit him like battering ram, "If I could let you and Serah out of the game right now, I would do that in a heartbeat." His voice was so weak it was barely a hoarse whisper.
"I don't know Naruto, I honestly don't." She had a troubled look on her face, "I always thought it was out of sheer coincidence that you had such an eclectic set of skills that suited for everything we've faced so far. Your grandmother taught you how to use a bow, your sister taught you how to cook and clean, you worked for a wood carver and some nice friendly couple taught you how to use a sword, but right now, I'm wondering how much of that is true, and how much of that is pure bovine droppings that you dreamed up to cover the fact that you helped make this damned cage and already had the skills to take advantage of it. Kirito has a point, even if you don't seem like the kind to enjoy something like this; you might be in this entire thing, getting off on being able to play Hero with a wannabe God's permission." She drew in a deep shaky breath to strengthen her resolve, "If it was before this, I would say that the Naruto I know isn't that sort of person, but it seems like that person wasn't real to start with. Even then, you put my sister in jeopardy, that's not something I can forgive, ever."
He looked the two of them in the eye, his mouth opened and closed weakly, but he didn't know what to say.
"Why did you hide it, something huge like this?" The agitated Lightning massaged her temples, "Sure I can understand wanting to lie about your looks or something but the fact that you were the maker of this prison? This isn't a crack in a house of glass, Naruto, this is a freaking wrecking ball."
"And die without a chance to heal my sister?" the haggard looking blond retorted with a dry snort, "You've seen how the idiots treated the Beta testers. Can you honestly see me go out there and tell everyone that I helped make this place? I'd get stoned within seconds."
"Your sister?" Asuna who had been deathly silent the entire time looked up as she realized something, "Does this have something to do with the offer that you were talking about?"
A boy was soaked in what seemed a sea of blood, cradling his adopted sister's body with a frighteningly broken smile on his face crooned a few sentences over and over again as he stroked her hair.
"It's alright nee-san." As they approached the 5 year old carefully, they heard him whispering a few words again and again like a mantra, "The dogs aren't barking anymore."
Behind him, the dismembered corpses of two men lay in several pieces.
The blonde was quiet for the longest, most drawn out minute that Asuna had ever experienced and when he finally spoke again, there was obscure of utter pain and longing in his voice, "My adopted sister was involved in an… accident. Because of the trauma, she had to be put in a coma to heal. But she never woke up. By the time the year was over, the doctors had all but given up hope on her ever waking up. Kayaba came to me and offered me a way to get my sister back. By placing an A.I. to observe and gather the emotions and circumstances, it would arrange those experiences into a neuro structure that most closely resembles my sister's personality before we mapped it into her brain using a high intensity Nerve Gear. That was why I wanted to be the best, most upstanding and noble person in the game… "
"So that the A.I would pick up the positive emotions and record it accordingly?" Lightning deduced seriously, "And the only place it would have been possible is Sword Art Online because we're all linked in directly, along with our emotions."
The White Archer nodded slowly, "Of course, at the time, I only thought that this was a normal MMO. At the time, I swore that I would spend all day in the game to make sure it was a good place…." He chuckled wryly, "Who knew I would get my wish in the most horrible way imaginable."
He blinked, "Wait, you believe me?"
"I… want to believe you," Éclair said softly as she gingerly wrapped one arm around a catatonic Asuna's shoulders, "I'm sorry… but we need some time."
A long time after the two of them had left; the blond stayed at the dining table slumped in his chair as he stared out the window with dead eyes. When Tamamo whimpered at him the blond only smiled weakly and reached out to gently grasp her hand and kiss it softly before he went back to his contemplation of the window.
She had never seen him look so frail.
The two of them sat like that in silence until someone knocked on the door.
Mechanically, he slowly got up and stiffly walked to the door.
"Ruto-chan, you HAVE to help me! That crazy Guild mate of yours won't leave me alone," Argo's hair was messy and her eyes wildly looked around the forest, "The crazy bastard keeps saying I'm the most beautiful woman he's ever seen goddammit!"
The blond blinked and forced a smile onto his face, "Gui? Why don't you just accept it?"
Argo shot him a dry look, "I'll pay you."
"Now we're talking." Naruto noted as he made to close the door when another person hurtled into him.
"Gah! Get off me Kline!" Caught in a bear hug, all the blond could do was wriggle uselessly as Argo stared at them incredulously.
"I broke up with her, him! I don't believe I did that!" the red head keep sobbing in the archer's vest.
Naruto sighed as the man's clamp on his ribs got almost painful, "Why don't you let me go, Kline. I'm going to cook something for all of us, and then the two of you can tell me what's going on."
"O-Oh… I'm sorry." Hastily, the katana user drew back with a sheepish look.
"It's alright. Why don't you go to the hall and play with Tamamo?"
Even if he was falling apart at the seams, he still had something to do and a promise to keep.
Even if the persons he made the promise to currently wanted to use his guts as a trash bag.
Naruto stood alone in a clearing. The sun had long since set and only the dim light of a flickering fire filled the clearing, but the blond mechanically slashed a tree with a chain whip. He ignored the chips of wood that flew from the ever deepening gash he had just made and listlessly repeated the manoeuvre with no energy whatsoever.
"Would you care to have a spar with me?"
"No thanks." Naruto said bluntly as he continued to mindlessly whack away at the tree.
"There's a saying that I'm quite fond of, 'In order to examine your foundation and propel you to greater heights, destruction is necessary.'"
"I have a saying for you too, 'fuck off.'"
Heathcliff sighed dryly, "I don't understand you. You knew from the beginning that there was always the risk of them finding out and abandoning you, that's why you kept away. So why are you faltering now?"
"Which part of Fuck. Off. Did you not get? Was it the Fuck, or the Off?"
The man in the red robes examined the White Archer with keen eyes, "Ahh… I see. You didn't expect it to be quite this painful in practice did you?"
"You want to know what painful is, Heathcliff? Cos I'm THIS close to murdering you right now, and if I know my brother, he's already told you what I'm capable off."
Heathcliff laughed, "You haven't fallen that far yet, Joker. Not nearly far enough. Fall until you can't fall anymore, Joker, then and only then can you stand back up again."
Heathcliff quite calmly withstood the whip that violently lashed out at him, cutting a deep scar in his cheek. Without waiting for a reply, the man shrugged of his robe and burst forward, his sword immediately scoring a deep gash in the blond's chest before he swung the shield.
"You are slow, Joker. In here, the mind reigns above all but yours is clouded."
Naruto staggered backwards, barely avoiding the shield bash and lashed out with his whip again but Heathcliff danced aside and knocked the whip out of the blond's hand before smashing him on the chin with his shield.
The blond sailed through the air before he landed on his back with a grunt.
His shield and sword barely came together in time to catch the curved sword, the steel sparked violently between the two of them. Grunting, Heathcliff kicked him backwards and the blond hit the ground again. His legs wobbled as he slowly got up with a growl, "What do you want, Heathcliff?"
"I want to understand you, or rather the change in you. From what I've heard about you, you were practically one step short of begging everyone to like you, just so that you didn't feel like air. Work as underpaid wood carver? No problem. Entertain a lonely couple even if your sister was in the hospital? No problem! As long as they put up with your annoying existence, you would do anything with that stupid smile on your face! So why is this so different?"
Play Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – Libera me from Hell
Heathcliff spun and slammed his shield into Joker's chest, sending him flying again.
This time he crashed and didn't move again.
On his back, the world seemed to spin as his brain burned as if it was being filled by liquid fire. A throbbing pain pounded behind his eyes and there was a sour taste in his mouth. He had never felt so raw and beaten in his entire life.
"You were one of the most passive, kindest, biggest pushovers your brother knew, so utterly willing to sacrifice yourself as long as it meant another person wouldn't be hurt and yet here you are. You actually lost your temper when Asuna-san was endangered, enough for you to unveil your trump card a little too early, at the wrong time and to the wrong people no less. How are you changing when your Soul isn't here?"
The blond twitched and he slowly began to crawl up again with a titanic effort and the White Archer began to fight back.
"It's the same, either way, I am a selfish bastard, only now, I'm using that selfishness in a different way,"
Heathcliff blinked as a large scythe materialized in the blond's hands with a shower of pink lights. Its ragged edges gleamed in the dim fire light, with one mighty swing and a defiant roar, the edge bit in his shield. The strike was so powerful that Heathcliff had to brace himself with both his sword and shield as the Archer growled at him, "Even if our souls are back where our bodies are meant to be, every experience we have had here is etched into our personalities. Shaping our neural pathways, these circumstances, they are what shapes our souls. And our Souls are here, in this game right now, and you can't quantify that with programming."
"You are Changing, putting your own needs above others, planning and executing. I need to know, what sparked your drive?"
Heathcliff lurched forward as the blond suddenly let go of the huge scythe, daggers appeared his hands, and shot forwards at the unbalanced Heathcliff.
"I was changing even before I came here, you fool." Naruto spat, clearly he had overestimated his brother's power of observation, "That's what it means to be human, to change and evolve, bit by bit every day. I have so many things that I desire, but right now, the thing I desire most IS YOUR HEAD!"
Heathcliff baulked as the daggers came dangerously close to severing his neck, only his shield saved him as he smashed it into the daggers before they could decapitate him, snapping the blades with a screech.
They were instantly replaced by a pair of katanas, and the air around them almost seemed to blur with grey steel, a deadly dance that was barely visible to the naked eye. Before his very eyes, the blond's sagging and drained expression slowly vanished under a red hot fury as he pushed the sword and shield user back.
"How much will you change? Can you exceed even the programming that limits us? That stops your brain from overloading and burning out?" Even under increasing pressure, he still sounded so innocently curious.
The two katanas shattered with a loud wrench of steel and the archer's hands almost automatically dipped into his cloak again.
Almost instinctively, Heathcliff readied himself for a blade of some sort when contrary to his expectations, Naruto suddenly jumped and simply jack knifed him in the chin in a classic feint.
Landing on his back, Naruto groaned before he began to stand up again with heavy pants, "This is an online game, no one ever really trusts one another here, even if we're all wearing our own faces, we all still have our own secrets that we don't want anyone to know and most importantly, we're all still watching out for ourselves but we can't stay that way. I've already seen what these lies can do, and I will atone for them."
Heathcliff landed just as roughly, his eyes spun a little at the impact to his chin, "Tho-those are just words, you know as well as I do that if you tell everyone right now, you WILL die by the time the sun rises. That's why this entire time you've tried to stay away, you knew what would happen. You prepared yourself to be hated." Both of them were already at their limits as they stood up again on opposite sides of the clearing, "You didn't care if you were burnt to ashes, as long as you atoned for everything you have done. They have already left you, how are you going to get them back?"
Naruto grinned, "I don't know, but I do know I have to do something."
"What's wrong Na-chan? Why are you sitting in the dark like this?"
"… Nii-san said I didn't belong here…"
The girl sighed, "What did that idiot say now?"
"…. He said I was pitiful. No matter how I try, I'm always going to be a blank canvas and I would never belong anywhere… He's going to send me back to the orphanage again. "
"Ignore that idiot. He's just jealous I've been spending more time with you."
"But I'm scared that he was right… I am a weak person Nee-chan, I've always been. My life so far has been like blank canvas. I don't have a proper start like you or the other kids at school. I don't even know who my parents were and there's nothing to look forward to. I am and will always be a blank canvas unlike you two."
"That's fine too, Na-chan. All you have to do is stand in the middle and smile. Even if you only have a blank canvas, as long as you keep smiling that bright smile will draw people around you, and everyone you meet will be a splash of paint on that canvas. Even if it is filled with bleak colours, it will mix with the bright colours and slowly become a work of art."
"Will I really?"
The older girl smiled, it was a faint smile but to the small flaxen haired child, it seemed like her smile could match the beauty of the stars above them, "I know you will. In fact, I'll be your first splash of paint, I'll be white."
The small child wrinkled his nose cutely, "What's the difference from that and a blank canvas then? Why not orange? Orange is good."
"Maybe you'll understand in time."
Blazing blue eyes looked up as Naruto set his jaw.
The brown haired man smiled viciously as he gave an answering call, "JOOOOOOOOOOOOOKERRR!"
Time almost seemed to slow for the two fighters. Their gazes were so focused on each other's eyes that the world seemed to melt away as Naruto slowly drew his last spear back and took a stance.
The Paladin's shield hit the ground with a loud rattling clank as Heathcliff summarily dropped it to pull every ounce of speed that he could afford and hurtled towards the blond.
The stance that Naruto was taking was familiar, if it hit, it would guarantee his death.
His muscles seemed to tense as the world narrowed down to one point and he put all his strength behind his sword.
It was powerful, but a Spear Skill like that obviously came with a long charge time, even now; his sharp eyes absently noted the red wisps of energy that seemed to coalesce around the spear.
It came down to which one of them was faster.
Would Naruto fire first, or would Heathcliff reach him first, but he had an advantage.
Naruto had miscalculated something, because he was using a spear as an arrow, Heathcliff didn't need to reach him, just get near enough to stop him from readjusting his unwieldy spear-arrow's aim.
Brown eyes narrowed triumphantly as Heathcliff saw the glint of realization dawning in his sky blue orbs.
The spear flew, a little earlier than expected.
Almost in slow motion, Heathcliff threw himself at the blond as the rocketing spear slowly grazed his cheek before flying away uselessly while Naruto stood there helplessly, frozen by the cool down time.
A hint of hesitation flashed across Heathcliff's expression as he realized that despite his helplessness, the defiant spark in those clear blue eyes had not dimmed.
If anything, they burned even brighter and it…. scared him.
Surging forward with a raging battle cry as if challenging the indecision within him, the point of his glowing sword plunged into the Archer's left eye.
Before Heathcliff could complete his victory, a tree fell on him with a massive crash.
Naruto, ignoring the sword in his eye, glanced at his Guild Leader who was squashed underneath a tree, with an amused smile. A few yards directly behind Heathcliff, the smoking spear that he had avoided had pierced the trunk of a large tree, hitting the deep gash that Naruto had cut earlier dead centre before shearing the rest of the way through, and as a result, the spear had torn the rest of the way through, sending its top heavy half onto the hapless Paladin.
"You weren't aiming for me were you? You never really were."
"I was looking beyond you."
Post edit, Kishi: Phew, long chapter.
Game Sage – Community Volunteer to monitor the players, usually one step below an actual Game Master that directly works for the company.
A muffled voice asked from underneath all the leaves, "That's why you were using something that took so long to charge. I thought it was weird."
"Something like that." Naruto admitted as he pulled the sword out of his head.
"This entire time…" Heathcliff spluttered as if he had just realized something, "You've been moving us into the perfect position so you could hit it while I was so focused on you and drop it on me."
"I knew I couldn't beat you in an even fight," Naruto shrugged, an ugly red scar filled with swirling blue lights ran from his temple to his empty eye socket, "Now; you were saying something about winning?"
"The rules are clear, I hit you first." Heathcliff protested with some embarrassment. "Besides, you didn't beat me, the tree did!"
"Of course it did…. But are you sure you want me to tell everyone that you lost a fight with a tree?"
"That's blackmail!" He growled.
"You can call it that if it makes you feel better. I'm sure you're going to need all the comfort you can get under that tree when the rest come back."
"…..Fine… now can you get me out from under here?!" The brown haired man demanded gruffly.
"Not until you tell me what you learnt today." Naruto replied in an insulting sing song tone as if he was talking to a child.
"…What more do you WANT?!" Heathcliff rasped, "You already have my dignity!"
"It's getting dark…." Naruto idly selected something from his inventory, "I wonder what's for dinner."
Then just to make it even more insulting, Heathcliff could hear the blond munching on his thrice damned peanuts.
Swearing under his breath, he groaned quietly and surrendered, "I learnt," Heathcliff bit out, "that if you start a fight with Joker, he's going to cheat unless everything around him is nailed or bolted down, and even then, he's STILL going to find a way to drop something unpleasant on you."
"I was actually thinking something along the lines of; I will not let my guard down before I am sure that Joker will not ram another long, hard and phallic object up my behind again," Naruto said with a mischievous gleam in his eyes as he patted the downed tree, "But I guess that will have to do."
"Thank Kami there are no steamrollers in this game." Heathcliff groaned, "I wouldn't put it past you not to find a way to drop it on people."
"I'm sure we can improvise if you really want to experience it. It might take a while, but I'm sure I'd be able to carve one made of wood."
"Just get me out of here." Heathcliff sighed.
At least the blond wasn't depressed anymore, although the brown haired man wasn't entirely sure the humiliation was worth it.