The Wind-clad Archer

A SAO side story

Chapter 1: Wait, what?

I don't fight bosses! This isn't my territory! Dammit! I mentally cursed as I hid behind another huge boulder, only to be blasted away a second later by a huge fireball. My HP bar dropped a little bit due to the splash damage from that fireball.

In this Death Game, I'm perfectly fine with the others clearing the game, I'm just going to do everything at my own pace, and if I "happened" to clear the game, then all the better, but one ground rule that I laid for myself, was NEVER fight a boss monster.

This monster, «The Scarlet Deathbringer» was actually just a giant firebird, but the fact that it has "The" in front of its name means that it's a boss monster.

"Tch," I grimaced as I jumped out of my now useless hiding spot and threw another throwing pick at the boss monster, dealing minimum damage at best.

The firebird screeched and gained some altitude, oh shit— I recognized that attack pattern! It's going to—!

Dive-bomb.

As the firebird itself turned into a giant meteor crashing right into me, I wondered how I got myself into this situation in the first place.

As a fresh graduate from the Tokyo University, I couldn't believe my luck as I was scouted by a gaming company, or rather, a section of the company focusing on publishing a gaming news magazine of sorts, and I was being interviewed for "In-game Journalist", whatever that meant. The interview was amazingly simple, the only question was: Are you good at MMORPGs?

My answer was, obviously, yes.

"Okay, Akira-kun, you're hired!" My interviewer extended his hand over to me for a handshake, "I hope we get along."

"T-that's it?" I raised an eyebrow. I honestly thought it's going to be way tougher than that, heck; I even prepared a whole list of interview questions for this.

"Yes! Unbelievable, right? I couldn't believe it too when I was asked that exact same question a few year ago, but you'll be surprised at the number of people who would answer no to that."

"Right…" I shook his hand, "I hope we get along too." I managed a smile.

"Now for your first project…"

My first internship project was apparently to do a follow-up of a new and upcoming game, "Sword Art Online", by follow-up I mean actually record every single bit of the game over the course of the entire history of clearing the game, and do a weekly article on it. I just couldn't believe my luck when I heard that, it's like "For your job, play this game!"

That and the fact that it was the first Virtual Reality(VR) game with only 10,000 copies released, basically a dream come true for all online gamers, feels so dream-like that I wouldn't be surprised if I woke up half-way during all of this, find myself in my college dorm and looking at my half-finished graduation paper.

It went downhill from there, starting right from the magical words: "LINK START!"

You see, I created a female character just to test out how "real" it felt, all for the sake of the article I was supposed to write. It felt real alright, right down to the wind blowing between my legs and, well, the … missing body part. I wanted to log out, delete this character and make a new male character to start proper, but I couldn't find the "log out" button anywhere, even the "call GM" function didn't work.

You can say I freaked out right there and then.

Right after that, the blood-soaked GM announced that this was a Death Game.

Death game.

It was not a phrase with a precise definition. If it were to be considered as a «match involving bodily risks», that would include martial arts, rock climbing and such, even to the extent of motor sports. What separates those dangerous sports with death games is probably just a single condition.

That the penalty of death is clearly stated in the rules.

Not as the result of an accidental incident. A coerced death, served as the consequence of the player's mistakes and defeat, or punishment for the violation of rules and other reasons. In short, murder.

The game's developer, and as such, the ruler, Kayaba Akihiko, had personally made that clear declaration without the slightest hint of doubt, a mere minute ago.

That if the HP were to reach zero—that is, on «defeat», they would be killed. Or if the Nerve Gear were to be removed—that is, to «violate the rules», they would also be killed.

The only way to log out, to escape from this "game" would be to clear it, but that is no mean feat, the Floating Castle Aincrad is formed by floors, reaching up to a hundred, narrowly piled atop each other.

To clear it would mean defeating every boss monster, get up to the next floor, defeat another boss monster, get to the next floor, the cycle continues for a 100 times.

It just felt so… unreal.

On top of that, from the reports I've read while waiting for its official release at 1 PM, during the two month of beta testing, they only made it to the eighth floor. To be honest, I was glad when I read that, it means that this project would continue for a long long time, but not so much now.

You could say that I'm praying for myself to wake up in my dorm room right now, with a half completed graduation paper right in front of me.

One thing positive about that announcement would be that I got my real gender and looks back, but that's just trivial when you compare the pros and cons of that system message, right down to the panic that soon followed. I noticed out of the corner of my eye as two particular players, one young and dark haired and the other older and scruffier, the older one gets drug off by the younger darker haired boy amidst the chaos.

Three weeks into the game, I'm starting to regret my AGI build, it's just that AGI, in every other game, represents speed, reflex time, and all the speed related stuff, of course in SAO, it's the same, however, the damage from AGI types, or rather my gameplay style, in SAO, are really low, when the damage number pop up, I could just feel all the stares of my party members, and a giant banner hanging over me.

NOOB

With these painful experiences, I gradually went solo and do my training at night, where the number of players, and therefore the chances of being KS-ed, is noticeably smaller. Why not changing builds? You may ask, because AGI is the primary stat for the «Knife Throwing Skill» I've been relying on as my primary skill. Right after the system announcement, I found out that there are no magic in this game, that doesn't really concern me though, "The mage" is not what I usually choose, however, any ranged type weaponry, like say, a crossbow, or even a slingshot, is unheard of, even the beta tester I got a hold of, Diabel, have no idea of any ranged type weaponry other than throwing picks I'm using right now. So as a "ranged-only" kind of player, I chose to get familiar with this only ranged option in the game.

"Why not just use sword skills?" Diabel asked while using a sword skill «Horizontal» to slash at a boar.

"Ah well, melee was never my strong point in any MMO, and this is a death game, right? Being close to a monster means the possibility of being damaged, so I'll rather not risk that." I smiled sheepishly while activating the «Single Shot» skill at the boar, with system assist, the throwing pick flew accurately at the boar.

Critical hit!

The system message announced that the pick dealt 4 times the normal damage, which still didn't match up to a normal damage from a single «Horizontal».

I mentally sighed.

On top of everything, I'm still a journalist of sorts, so you could call it an occupation hazard that I chose something different from everyone else to get "fresh stuff".

"It's alright, AGI types are mostly late-game types, right?" Diabel came up to me with an understanding smile and patted my shoulder, completely misreading my earlier quietness as "sulking over low damage".

"Thanks." I faked a smile, "I'm taking a break Diabel, thanks for the party."

Swiping my fingers to open the menu, I disbanded the party and went my own way, ignoring Diabel's calls of protest, I walked away.

Thanks for the party Diabel, but I'm dragging you down, lowering your chances of survival.

Okay, depression was expected, but to sulk this long? Wow, I even surprise myself, I thought as I walked endlessly through the hunting fields dotted with players. The first floor of Aincrad, where the «Starting City» was, spans 10KM, but with ten thousand or so players, it means that it's really densely populated as of now, and being an anti-social guy, I normally shy away from the crowds.

I need to get away from the pack, find somewhere clean and start grinding.

I sighed and stared at my HP bar, 368/425, Lv. 4. EXP to next level: 2567 out of—

"Excuse me, could you help us?" I looked up in surprise. In front of me was an old man, an NPC? I strained my eyes, his cursor has a NPC mark beside it and something peculiar, a question mark, meaning that whatever he asked just now would be the start of a quest.

"Yes," I answered, registering the start of the quest, quests are something else that gives experience points in the game other than killing mobs, which I though is quite useful for me since I can't even effectively kill any monsters.

"We are a peaceful village, living on farming; we have a small population…." Blah blah blah blah, the NPC continued with the backstory of the quest, "But lately, our farm was burnt and livestock eaten by unknown monsters, so please, kind adventurer, would you please help us?"

Quest start?

YES NO

I shrugged and pressed YES, not noticing the earlier request.

The old man immediately smiled, wow, just how much emotions are these AIs supposed to have?

"As you can see, our farm was burnt several days ago," the old man pointed at the fields, I raised an eyebrow, and since when did I wander into a town? Besides, why is this place so… empty?

"We tracked the monsters to this location on the map," He pointed at a location in my map, the beep sound waking me up from my daydream, "But they proved too powerful for us, we would supply you with anything we can, so please vanquish these monsters and save us from our plight!"

I blinked, wait, what? Kill monsters? My eyes twitched, "Erm—"

You are fully healed!

Item received: Fire resistant coat x 1

Fire resistant pants x 1

Protective head-band x 1

Icicles x 500

Healing crystal x 15

Burn heal x 25

Map data updated!

Quest Status Window updated!

Kill 400 «Lava worm»

Completion:

0/400

The system message interrupted my speech, and I gawked at the amount of items I was given. Wow, with this much stuff, I probably can kill the monsters, whatever this «Lava worm» is. One thing in the items given caught my eye, Icicles x 500? What in the world? Judging from the sheer number it came with, it should be a throwing type equipment to be used with the «Knife Throwing Skill». I took one out, activated «Single Shot», the icy-cold icicle gave off a blue aura and shot off. So my guess is right, it is a kind of a throwing pick!

Icicles x 499

Great, I just wasted one.

Apparently, these "unknown monsters" lived in an active volcano. Why didn't I see anything like that on the map data that was given in the «Starting City»? I wondered as I threw another Icicle at the quest mob, «Lava worm». It died in one hit, these guys apparently are weak to ice-type weaponry like this Icicle, they gave a lot of EXP too, but no items or Col, which was disappointing, but nevertheless, I gained several levels from them.

Completion:

223/400

Although I'm just about half-way through the quest, the entire mountain path seems to be void of anymore of these Lava worms, with a sigh, I continued walking ahead, I stared at the map data, what's ahead is a giant plateau, an open space with lots of boulders.

Nice, another spawn area.

I hesitated as I walked up to the rocky plateau, this plateau felt ominous somehow, but then it didn't felt threatening enough to stop me.

I was so damn wrong about that.

The plateau was, as expected, a big flat place with lots of boulders, what's eye-catching is the mouth of a volcano that's still smoking.

Where are all the worms?

I half-wondered as I looked down at the mouth of the volcano.

And immediately pulled back and ran behind the nearest boulder.

With an ear deafening screech, a monstrous firebird burst out of the volcano, spread its wide wings, and screeched again.

«The Scarlet Deathbringer», four HP bars, everything about it completely overrides what I've seen so far.

It's…. a BOSS monster?!

Quest status updated!

Side quest activated!

Boss event triggered!

"Oh shit! You have got to be kidding me!" I screamed out as I hopped out of my hiding place and rushed to the mountain path I came from and started to put some distance between the firebird and myself.

Only to find the exit is blocked.

Shit.

As I looped around frantically, dodging the fireballs the firebird is shooting at me, I cursed my impatience, why can't you just wait for the monster respawn!?

I rolled out of the way of another fireball, AGI types have the advantage of speed, this was the one time that I'm glad that I focused on AGI.

The shriek that made people quiver uncontrollably resounded once again.

I activated «Single Shot» and threw an Icicle at the firebird. Its HP bar didn't even drop.

"Tch, how am I supposed to—!" I rolled out of the way of another fireball.

Strangely, facing death didn't make me all frozen and unable to do anything, it made me strangely calm, I quickly realized that the only thing that it does was shoot out fireballs while hovering in the sky, and the fireballs follow a certain pattern.

"—There!" I shouted as I dashed out of my hiding place and threw three Icicles at the firebird, this is a more advanced version of «Single Shot», «Triple Shot», the damaged dealt by the individual throwing knife is lower, but the overall damage is higher.

This endless cycle should have continued till I kill off the boss—or so I think.

When the firebird's HP bar dropped to last red, it gave another shriek and climbed some altitude.

Huh? What's going on—?

And dived straight down like a crashing meteor.

My eyes widened, I made a bee-line for the nearest cover, and gasped for breath.

And was immediately knocked back due to the splash damage from a fireball, the boulder took most of the damage, and shattered.

If that was me…

I activated another «Triple Shot» skill, it's all down to this! I felt the skill activate and—

No Icicles flew out.

I stared bewildered at my hand, what—?

Icicles x 0

No freaking way, at this critical moment?

Without these Icicles, this thing is way out of my league!

I mentally complained and dashed behind another boulder. I pulled out my equipment window and chose my old "Steel Throwing Pick", well I just have to try my best now. I calmed myself mentally.

The firebird climbed again, with three throwing picks in my hand, I dashed out of my hiding place and activated «Triple Shot», the throwing picked glowed a deep red and flew off to the target, which dive-bombed down at that moment.

With another ear-wrenching screech, the firebird stopped mid-dive.

What?

It looked stunned for a while, then, the firebird, still higher than its usual hovering position, fully expanded its wings. As its wings beat forward, a loud *bang* sounded. A giant heat wave surged towards me, deflected the throwing picks and engulfed me, throwing me off balance.

"Uwaaaa!" I noticed my HP dropping into the red zone with a warning beep, that, from just a single direct hit?

While the firebird seems to be recuperating from that heat wave attack it did just now, I opened my inventory and took out the healing crystals that I was too occupied to use. While using them, something else caught my eye.

Fire resistant coat x 1

Fire resistant pants x 1

Protective head-band x 1

I'm such an idiot…

I should have immediately equipped them when they were given to me for the quest, but as they offered even less protection than my current patched up armor gotten from the boars, I regarded them as "just useless NPC equipment". However their names seem to suggest otherwise.

With the newly equipped gear and refreshed HP, I turned to face the firebird again.

"Let's finish this." I stared at the giant firebird, its HP bar has just a little bit left, while I had full HP all over again, there was no way that I can lose this one.

I focused on the climbing firebird while charging up «Triple shot», it seems that it would be stunned the moment it was hit when it is in dive-bomb mode.

I felt my pupils dilate, and the firebird seems to be doing everything in slow motion.

The firebird stopped mid-air.

Not yet.

It started dropping, gaining speed.

Not yet.

It gained even more momentum, looking fully like a crashing meteor.

NOW!

My right hand threw off the «Triple shot» that I was charging, while in mid-motion of that throw, my left hand grabbed another throwing pick, seemingly sub-consciously, and threw it along with the three picks.

All of them hit the firebird straight on its head, the firebird stopped mid-air like I expected it to, it gave off another shriek.

Then its body froze, and as soon as I noticed that—

«The Scarlet Deathbringer» shattered into countless red shards. Fragments of red light rained down, looking like red snow.

Critical hit!

Fatal Blow damage bonus!

Critical hit!

EXP 213000

Col 12400

Items 6

As I stared disbelievingly at the system messages and the item distribution table, more messages came in.

New skill learnt!

Quest Status Window Updated!

Level Up!

Level Up!

Level Up!

I blinked several times in surprise when lights danced around me, indicating gaining of three levels, and then quickly checked the items I got from this firebird.

Other than a "Phoenix Egg" with no options around it whatsoever, the others were all quest items, my shoulders fell in disappointment.

I checked my skill window, where the NEW! Popup is flashing.

«Fatal Blow»

Chance to deal instant death effect while the enemy's HP is below 5%

Effect increases with level.

So… that was Fatal Blow? That last throwing pick my left hand threw. I had never been so thankful of a new skill activating than this one.

"Thank you master adventurer, now our village would be safe again." The old man said joyfully.

I have no idea how I staggered back to the village, half dazed from the boss fight, half dazed at the awards given.

Really, you could give me something better than just a mere 4000 Col, I risked my life, you know.

And what's with that side quest!?

As if reading my thoughts, the old man grabbed my hand, "Oh yes, you seem capable, follow me." He started dragging me to some house in the village.

I swear if it's another quest…

Turns out, it was an altar of some kind, and in front of me now, is a statue of an elf holding a bow, yes, a bow. Seemingly mocking my desire of wanting a strong ranged type weaponry.

"Master adventurer, it seems that you did more than just vanquish the Lava worms, you even calmed the death phoenix, you meet the requirements to be our village legend's inheritor, do you accept?"

Accept skill upgrade?

YES NO

Upgrade? Why not?

I pressed YES without hesitation.

WARNING

SKILLS TO BE REMOVED: ONE HAND SWORD SKILLS

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO UPGRADE?

YES NO

That got me, although I mainly use my «Knife Throwing Skill», I did charge some mastery into that skill on the first day, so deleting it now seems like a waste, and if the new skill is some complete crap, I can't just start all over again right?

However, looking up at the elf with the bow, maybe it was just my inherent defiant character, I pressed YES.

CONGRATULATIONS!

New skill branch unlocked!

New skill slot unlocked!

«Path of the Wind Archer»

Sub-skills:

«Sharp eyes»

Passive

Gives an additional chance to deal a critical hit (CRIT+5%)

Increased search range

Increased Spatial awareness

Effect increases with level

«Bow mastery»

Passive

Increased accuracy (ACC + 5%)

Increased base bow damage (+5%)

Effect increases with level

«Blessing of the Wind»

Passive

Increase STR and AGI parameter (1%)

Effect increases with level

«Double shot»

Active

Shoots two arrows at 80% of original damage.

Cooldown: 2 seconds

«Wind Piercing»

Active

Summons the power of the wind into an arrow that does 150% of original damage, hits multiple targets in a straight line, damaged decreases with each target hit.

Cooldown: 5 seconds

«Wind Walk»

Active

Becomes invisible for a set amount of time. (10 seconds)

Effect increases with level.

Cooldown: 10 minutes

I looked at my skill window with my mouth wide open, there is such an awesome skill branch for the «Knife Throwing Skill»?

"Sacred Bowmaster, please check your inventory, with a little help with the town blacksmith, the remains of the death phoenix you brought back was made into a Bow and supportive equipment."

Town blacksmith? But I haven't seen anyone other than you—! Wait. A. Minute.

I practically dragged my inventory out of the menu and materialized the bow that suddenly appeared in my inventory.

The Phoenix Wing

Two handed long bow

Range: Medium-Long

Item Level: 1

Item EXP: 0%

ATTK 50-100

Once again, I'm amazed at the intricateness of the game, if it weren't a death game, I would gladly pour hours each day into this, but then again, I'm doing the exact same thing.

"Sacred Bowmaster, with our town's legend, please, save everyone in Aincrad!" The old man gave off a prediction-like speech.

I'm sure that's just a part of the quest…I hope?

"So… Now what?" I asked him, fully expecting a 'now you have to do this!' kind of thing, but the NPC just gave a puzzled look.

Right, almost forgot you were just a NPC.

"Don't…move… now…" I muttered as I aimed the targeting reticle at the boar, as elated as I was, I couldn't just brandish this newfound skill while everyone is around as it definitely will attract unwanted attention, there was even an incident where a player was challenged to a duel just because he unlocked a new branch of sword skills, there's no telling what would happen once people realize that I'm an archer. So in the end, a few weeks after I acquired the skill, I'm still stuck being a nocturnal solo player.

The phoenix egg I've acquired seems to be another quest item though, because there's a new icon near the bottom part of my screen showing an egg symbol and a green bar, currently it's only about 25% full, I wonder what will happen if it maxed out?

The awe-inspiring bow that I got, «The Phoenix Wing», is an item that grows with the player, I don't really understand how it works, but currently its weapon level is 2, EXP 3%, its attack bonus seems to rise with each level, so I probably don't have to worry about changing gears anytime soon.

Which brings us back to the main topic, dammit don't move you boar! I silently cursed when another arrow missed, when not using the bowman skills, system assist won't help your attacks to hit, but this way, I won't attract any attention to myself, as each active skill (I tested them out thoroughly) is amazingly flashy, the «Double shot» skill shoots two arrows that shines purple, the «Wind piercing» activates with a sound of a huge gust of wind, and with each target it hit, it gives off a loud bang. Well, another reason, although not too important, is that system assist makes it too unreal, I've seem a «Double shot» turning ninety degrees just to hit a moving target.

Critical hit!

While I was daydreaming, my brain actually automatically did something useful, the boar died under the single critical hit arrow. Being unusually high-leveled from the EXP I got from that firebird boss monster, this boar didn't even register 0.01% of my total exp. I sighed again, this is going to be a long night…

"So… Tired…" I moaned as I lied down on the inn's bed, another advantage of a nocturnal solo player is that the inn never runs out of empty rooms during the day, my eyelids immediately felt heavy the moment I fell on top of the bed, I'm glad that there wasn't a need to bathe in here.

A sudden beep woke the half-asleep me up.

Diabel has added you as a friend, Accept?

Just let me sleep… I randomly pressed a button.

On the other side, Diabel smiled as a system message appeared.

Kira has accepted your friend request

[END]

A/N: I loved SAO right after watching the first episode of the anime, after that I dived straight into the light novel, reading up to Vol 10 as of now. Then I thought, it's strange that a MMO only contain swordsmen/melee users. And I, for one, really love ranged attacks, so I thought what would have happened if I happened to play SAO, and well, this is the result of my daydreaming. Might or might not continue this, for now, this is just a one-shot. Well, the name for my character is the common name I used for my fanfics, anyway, my character was supposed to be a girl at first, right? So Kira does fit in here unlike my other story.