I'm terrible. Despite neglecting all my other stories, here I am throwing out yet another one that will likely sit abandoned for a long time, seeing maybe one or two updates. Quite the depressing concept.
I don't own Code Geass or Sword Arts Online. If I owned either, I'd be rich and you wouldn't be reading this.
Frankly, if I owned Code Geass then it'd probably gone past fifty episodes simply because I have such trouble ending things.
It had been nearly a decade since the death of the Demon Emperor, Lelouch vi Britannia. Nearly ten years of uninterrupted peace, treaties held firm across the world. Any attempts to instigate unrest were dealt with swiftly, lest they grow out of control and disturb the most prosperous era the world had seen. No one was willing to let another Demon Emperor rise up and demolish millions more lives.
While a natural dislike based on cultural differences, previous encounters, and land disputes cropped up, no one allowed themselves to act rashly. Diplomacy solved problems before they could even begin. Nations that were formerly in bitter wars, ceased. The occasional incidents that terrorized the good people of the world were few and far apart, none of them any threat to the peace of the world as a whole.
In short, the reign and subsequent death of Lelouch vi Britannia was the best thing to happen to the world in quite some time. Just as he had planned. However, not everything went according to his masterpiece of a plan.
The Zero Requiem was fool-proof. A master work of planning, of scheming, of distancing himself from those he knew, of setting the stage for the perfect moment. It simply could not fail. Kururugi Suzaku, disguised as Zero, would narrowly avoid death at the hands of Lelouch's guards, and run him through in a feat of near superhuman prowess. Lelouch would fall to his death, the world would rejoice, and he and Suzaku could repent for the sins they had committed. He, by dying, and Suzaku by living forever more as a symbol, rather than a man.
His ultimate repentance, however, was denied to him. Through sheer luck, Lelouch vi Britannia had survived that day. Upon waking, hidden quite thoroughly by a coalition of the few who remained on his side to the end, and beyond, Lelouch had been shocked. Almost hysterical. He was terrified his plan had failed, and that it was all for naught. He calmed quickly upon being told that his "death" was still set in stone, and that he had succeeded. However, Lelouch fervently believed that he should have died upon that gaudy float. He had berated his trio of saviors, much to their exasperation and annoyance. Lelouch had insisted he was supposed to die. He had to die.
Sadly for him, C.C. had been around to explain just why he had survived the fatal wound. Unnoticed by Lelouch or the other two supporters, a symbol had carved itself into his lower back, just above his tailbone. The symbol of Geass, and the Code. When he had destroyed Charles, his bastard of a father, it seemed the Code had lied dormant inside of Lelouch. Upon his death, the Code activated, preserving the life of one who sought to die. Lelouch had laughed bitterly, impressed with Fate's sense of irony, and annoyed with it's sense of humor. And yet, as he knew, one with the code could not die. He was stuck living in the world he had sacrificed millions to create. A world that lacked many people he had cared dearly for, their lives taken due to his own machinations. A world in which his face was a sight more offensive than Satanic symbols painted on a wall in the fresh blood.
Needless to say, Lelouch did not appreciate fate toying with him in such a way. But, again needless to say, he would have to deal with it. It wasn't as though this was the first, last, or worst time one of his plan's had hit a snag.
And so, Lelouch had lived on, changing identities whenever needed, or when the urge hit him. He kept contact with the trio who had saved his plan from failure, which they had done by hiding the fact that he had survived from everyone. Sayoko had made it seem almost easy to do so, with help from Jeremiah and C.C. it was probably one of the easiest "missions" Sayoko had undertaken. Lelouch's body was not, after all, well looked after. No one cared what happened to trash, so long as it didn't pollute their world anymore.
Lelouch had gotten a kick out of that.
Jeremiah had gone and started an orange plantation in Florida. His parents had owned an orange plantation before their deaths, and so he had taken up the family business. Somewhere along the way, he had decided to adopt Anya Alstreim after freeing her from the effects of the Geass that haunted her. Lelouch had decided to visit Jeremiah once without having known the girl was there, which had led to a very awkward situation, and Lelouch being shot several times.
Seeing as how Lelouch now lacked his Geass, not that it would've mattered since Jeremiah was adamant that Anya never have to deal with the accursed power again, the only option was to let Anya in on the secret. Which led to Lelouch pretty much retelling his entire rebellion, start to finish, with only minor breaks for refreshments inbetween. After the story was over, which took a good many hours since he had gone into great detail, and answered any of Anya's side questions, the pink haired girl had shrugged and decided that Lelouch being alive really didn't matter, seeing as how the world was well on it's way to becoming a much better place at the time. Over the years, he had grown on her considering Lelouch often visited Jeremiah, frequently with C.C. in tow. By the end of the first year, they were pretty good friends. It amazed him how different the girl was now that Jeremiah had cleared her system of any Geass intrusion.
Sayoko had decided to live a nice, quiet life out in the country of Japan. Lelouch actually visited her more than Jeremiah, considering he had decided to stay in Japan himself. After living there for the best years of his life, and suffering through the worst years there aswell, Lelouch felt he was more Japanese than Britannian anyway.
C.C. did what she had been doing for years, wandering in and out of society. She stayed close to Lelouch more often than not, only venturing off on her own every once in a while for whatever reason.
In the end, despite his failure to commit assisted suicide, Lelouch was happy. Occasionally he felt guilty that he hadn't gone through with his end of the deal, while Suzaku remained hidden permanently behind a mask, but he couldn't do much about it lest he created a contract with someone, allow them to advance their Geass, and pass off the Code.
Obviously, that was NOT an option. A Geass user running around in a time of peace simply could not end well, nor was Lelouch keen on the idea of forcing the Code onto someone after all of C.C.'s experiences.
Regardless, ten years had passed, and Lelouch was currently living as a single, young man in a decent apartment complex. He had a job working at a large daycare center, something C.C. never failed to tease him about.
"Oh the things people would say if they knew that the Demon Emperor was watching their children." She would say. Or maybe "If you were looking for someone to play chess with, you could have just asked." Yes, he had gone about teaching a few of the children the game. A few had a passing knowledge of the game, so Lelouch decided to give them a few lessons to pass the time. He played a few games with them every day he worked, now.
His current identity was a favorite of his; Alan Spacer. A pair of blue contact lenses and hair that fell to his upper back hid his true appearance from the world. He had very few friends outside of C.C., Jeremiah, Sayoko, and Anya, limiting his interactions with people so that he didn't give himself away. After all, while living in Japan was a decision he had made and intended to live with, so many people who had known him were high in rank in the country. Several times he had seen people he recognized, and he made sure to make himself inconspicuous.
And so, Alan Spacer was a bit of a recluse. And as many a recluse had done before him, he got into online games. He never got too deep into them, mind you, but he did quite enjoy his new hobby. Anything from First Person Shooters to Real Time Strategy games (A personal favorite of his. He was quite the formidable opponent, boasting a very nice win-loss ratio on most RTS's he played.) After all, how were most random folks over the internet supposed to deal with facing down the Demon Emperor himself in a simulated war?
It was because of this hobby, Lelouch found himself in a major crisis. Along with nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine other unfortunate people.
Sword Art Online was the first MMO of it's kind, linked to a VR system that was impossibly advanced. It literally put people into the game, and made it seem real. Like, really real. You could hear sounds of everyday life going on around you in towns, taste food that you had bought or cooked, smell the flowers blooming on the ground, and feel the hilt of your blade in your hands. It was a masterpiece.
Lelouch had been extremely lucky, or so he thought, to receive a beta pass to this game. After learning as much as he could about everything in the game, he felt he had the knowledge to become a very accomplished player in this game, though balancing the game with his job was a bit disorientating considering just how real the game was. Were he not as clear minded and level headed as he was, Lelouch may have mistaken Sword Arts Online, and Aincrad, as reality.
It was actually a bit frightening.
Of course, not nearly as frightening as the very real situation he and many others found themselves in on this day.
Lelouch looked down at himself with a smile and a shake of his head. "It's so strange. No matter how many times I log in to SAO, it still impresses me just how real it seems." He smirked. "Well, no matter. I've places to be."
He looked around himself, noting that he had spawned in the City Square of Starter City. Just like when he had first logged in to the beta. He took off, jogging past the crowds of people that were just as excited, many even moreso, to be here for the first time. Or to return, as the case may be. He saw many people exchanging pleasantries, looking at merchant's wares, looking for friends they knew or just looking for groups in general, or just drinking in the impressive sight that was Aincrad.
Lelouch had no time for that, however. You see, many beta testers had found various things that were quite rare. These things ranged from secret dungeons, to secret items, to hidden shops, to quest giving NPCs who only gave so many of their various quests before disappearing or moving. One such NPC was Lelouch's target today.
He dashed outside of the city, running into a wooded area. He ran deeper and deeper into the woods, until he came across what appeared to be a campsite. A tent was set up a few yards away from a campfire, upon which a rabbit was being roasted on a spit. Various targets, some looking like scarecrows and others like archery targets, were set up in the forest. In them, you could spot what appeared to be throwing stars. A small weapon rack set beside the tent, holding various swords.
A man dressed in black hakama pants, a robelike top of the same color, and with bandages wrapped around his feet in place of shoes sat tending the fire. His hair was scraggy and dark, his eyes a bright green, and he had a rather laid back smile on his face. Upon noticing Lelouch, dressed in his purple newbie wear, the man waved lazily.
"Yo." The man, an NPC, waved. "Don't suppose you heard the rumors I was looking for an apprentice?" He asked.
Lelouch smiled. Upon accepting this quest, one would gain basic knowledge of a few skills.
First, Exotic Weapon Mastery. While wielding an "Exotic" weapon, stats were boosted depending on the rank of this skill. Exotic weapons include, but are not limited to, shuriken, throwing daggers, claws, kama, kusari-gama, and so on. There were more, but these were the ones Lelouch would be interacting with most, since this questline rewarded these weapons aswell as blacksmithing manuals on how to make them.
Martial Arts, an extra skill that is normally unlocked on the second floor, can also be gained from this questline.
And Acrobatics, which allowed for increased balance, speed, and flexibility.
While these were the only skills from the questline, it opened a secret shop that allowed for the purchasing of basic Ninja Armor, basic weapons such as curved one handed swords (Which one needed to level up extensively to gain the Katana skill), throwing weapons, and claws.
Despite the rewards from the questline, it was just that. A questline. It was by no means easy to complete, and had killed Lelouch several times in the beta. Hopefully he would perform better this time, since he knew how it went.
"Yes, I've come to seek your training, Ranatsu." Lelouch replied.
Suddenly, the ninja stood up. "Alright. First of all, you're going to need the proper equipment. So, what'll it be, a sword or a claw?"
The blue eyes of Lelouch's avatar gleamed. "Claw." He replied. The basic claw was pretty much just three single sided daggers arranged in a claw pattern, mounted on a bracer. The starter was a bit bulky, but reliable. Further up, in the dungeons, there were some that were as thin as needles and stronger than steel.
Ranatsu nodded, tossing a basic Iron Claw towards Lelouch, which he proceeded to equip. "Get good enough with those claw skills, then we'll see about getting you to use two claws without killing yourself." He pointed off towards the beginner city. "Back in Starter City, you'll find a blacksmith named Nide. Hand him this." The dark haired man tossed an envelope towards Lelouch, containing what Lelouch knew to be a letter to Nide asking to start producing shuriken for Ranatsu's new apprentice. "Once you're done, I'll leave you to train on your own for a bit. Meet me a week from now at this location." He marked an area on Lelouch's map.
"Understood." Lelouch bowed lightly, before turning and walking off. 'This is the most annoying part of the questline.' He thought to himself. 'Having to grind to get your skills up to snuff before your next meeting with Ranatsu. It's not as though I can play this game constantly.'
Fate seemed to love proving him wrong.
Lelouch looked around the town square, brow arched as more and more people were forcibly teleported into the square. Lelouch wondered what it was about. Suddenly, his attention was drawn to a red box in the sky. It was flashing rapidly, and read "Warning!" in bold.
Within moments of Lelouch noticing, it began to multiply rapidly, until it covered the entirety of the sky. It dyed the world a bloody red, unsettling many players. As if that wasn't disturbing enough, what looked like blood began to drip down from the sky, forming into a large, bloblike shape. "What is that?" He heard a man ask, nearby.
"I'm scared..." A girl muttered, holding onto the arm of a boy she had been teleported in with. He assumed they were in a party.
After a moment, the blob formed into a humanoid shape. A large, faceless figure in a blood red robe, accented with gold, appeared. A voice rang out, as though from a P.A. system. "Attention players. Welcome to my world."
""My world"?" Lelouch quoted, along with several other players.
"My name is Kayaba Akihiko. As of now, I am the sole person in control of this world." He lifted his hand, holding it before himself. "As many of you have surely noticed, there is no logout button. This is not a defect in the game." As he said this, he brought up the menu to demonstrate. "I repeat, this is not a defect in the game. It is an intended feature of Sword Art Online."
Lelouch got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What is he playing at, here?" Lelouch asked, aloud.
"You can not log out of SAO by yourselves. Nor can anyone on the outside remove the nerve gear from you." The large, robed figure of Kayaba Akihiko said. "Should this be attempted, the nerve gear will release a microwave, which will destroy your brain. Thus ending your life." As he said this, people began to murmur to one another in concerned, hushed tones.
Lelouch's eyes went wide. "No..." He muttered to himself. He was fully aware of the fact that the nerve gear COULD do such a thing, had someone the mind to do it. "He wouldn't have..."
"Unfortunately." The spectre continued. "Several player's friends and families have ignored this warning, and removed the nerve gear. As a result, two hundred and thirteen players are gone from both Aincrad and reality. Forever." As he made this grim statement, screens appeared dictating that, as he said, several people had been killed by the microwaves emitted from the nerve gear.
His teeth grit. 'No no no no... Ten years of peace, and this man used it to do THIS?' Lelouch yelled in his mind. 'He has decided to condemn, at maximum, ten thousand people to their deaths. Why? What is this man's reasoning?' He calmed himself, glaring at the avatar of this horrible man.
"As you can see..." Kayaba said, the screens rotating around him. "News stations across the world are reporting this information. And the deaths. Thus, you can assume the risk of having your nerve gear removed is null. I hope you will relax and attempt to clear the game."
"There's a catch. Always a catch. He can't simply want us to clear the game. What else has he got in store for us?" Lelouch muttered to himself.
And leave it to Kayaba to deliver. "However, I want you to remember clearly. There is no longer any method to revive someone in this game. And when your avatar's health bar reaches zero..." He paused for a moment. "Then your avatar is forever lost. And simultaneously... the nerve gear will destroy your brain." He allowed that to sink in to the crowd.
'I see...' Lelouch thought to himself rapidly. 'So we must clear the game, and keep from dying even once. Or, rather, everyone but myself must. While I will remain alive, my avatar will be deleted, thus rendering me unable to further progress the game. Kayaba has likely hidden himself too well to be located, and even if we did find him, we couldn't be certain there is a way to safely end this game. So, then... the only surefire way to get as many people as possible out of this hell is to progress to floor one hundred, and defeat the final boss.' Once this was over, if no one else had done it, Lelouch was going to kill Kayaba Akihito.
During his thought process, the floating spectre had told the players that in order to escape, they must clear the one hundredth floor. Everyone was in shock.
"Finally, I have added a present from myself to you. Check your inventories." Kayaba suggested.
Lelouch did so, frowing when he located it. "A mirror?" He asked, opening the item. As it fell into his hands, particles began to fly off of him and into the air. Much like the rest of the players, Lelouch soon found himself staring into his reflection. HIS. REFLECTION. He quickly ducked his head, making himself look as if he was looking down in fury or depression, much like many others as they came to realize the situation in full detail. 'Damn it damn it damn it.' Lelouch thought to himself. 'I can't believe this. The nervegear... it scanned me. Any official searches would match the face and name to Alan Spacer, however...' The nerve gear had pierced through the contacts he wore. His eyes were their normal shade of amethyst. With his hair as it was now, he could pass himself off as an unfortunate look alike, but he would rather just hide his appearance to lower the risks of being called out as the Demon Emperor. That simply couldn't end well for him.
"I'm sure you're all wondering "Why? Why would Kayaba Akihiko do all of this?" In truth, my goal has already been accomplished. I created this world... solely to intervene in it." He announced, before saying his parting words. "And so ends the tutorial for Sword Art Online. Good luck, players."
Lelouch snarled. "He wants to play God, does he?" Well, if Kayaba wanted to play God, so be it. Lelouch had stood before the closest thing this world had to a God. He had killed the Emperor of Britannia, at one point nearly a God on Earth. He could handle Kayaba and HIS god complex.
Without a word, Lelouch walked to the barrier. As it fell, he was the first to leave.
"I need to get to the next village. The fields outside will be picked clean soon." Lelouch said as he sprinted out of Starter City. "Kayaba, I am going to end this game if it's the last thing I do!" He yelled. He didn't start a war that spanned the entire world, bring hatred to his face and name, and sacrifice his chance to live a peaceful life with Nunnally for no reason. This madman was going to kill innocents for no reason other than his own sick amusement.
Lelouch had ruined the lives of millions. He had done so to wipe the slate clean, and the world was finally recovering. A tragedy like this was the LAST thing they needed!
And so he ran, slicing his way through the minor opposition of wolves. As another of the virtual canines dashed towards him, Lelouch's claw began to glow a light purple color. As he ran, he extended his right arm to the side, lowered his body stance, and leapt past the beast, slashing as he went. He continued running, leaving the beast to explode into particles.
A sudden thought hit him. What if someone he knew was in this hell? It was a possibility. Many adults had been in the square, and his youngest friend would be only 26.
He grit his teeth and pressed on. He would have to deal with it as it arose, if it arose.
For now, he would grind until he was a higher level, then he would seek out Argo. While the mirror incident would likely make finding her a pain, he was sure she wouldn't be too difficult to locate. After all, she was the most well known information broker during the beta.
During the one month period between the beginning of Sword Art Online and now, several things have happened. Lelouch had ground his way to the higher levels, as had many a beta tester.
He had reconnected with a friend from the beta, Argo. Between the two of them, they had further updated Argo's guide book, which could be obtained from general store NPC's free, to include various safety concerns with mobs that were often used to grind to higher levels. Such as the Dire Wolves deep in the forest, which grew stronger if they saw you kill a packmate.
Despite this, two thousand people have died.
It infuriated Lelouch. Argo was quite distressed when she gave him the actual body count.
He had completed the first few quests in the Shinobi Questline, gaining the martial arts skill. He was still garbed in the newbie armor, but wore a black, hooded cloak atop it. Within the next week, he would likely have opened the secret shop to gain the basic ninja armor, which had better stats than the newbie wear by a large margin, and was quite cheap to purchase.
He had opened the secret shop for the Starter City Blacksmith, Nide, and now he could purchase Shuriken from him for a very good price. He had been training his Throwing Item skill since. His Claw skill was also coming along nicely. He also made certain to train his Sneak skill. All in all, he was doing well for himself at the moment.
And speaking of the moment, he was currently in the town closest to the dungeon, attending a strategy meeting for the first boss. He refused to miss this.
The attendees sat in an old, outdoor theater of sorts. Those who were partied with one another seemed to form their own little groups, leaving a few odd ones out. Lelouch was one of them. Another was a boy in a blue set of newbie gear, a single sword sheathed on his back. And yet another was a person in a dark red cloak, with the hood up.
Down in the center stage, a blue haired man in a rather nice looking uniform sat, wielding a shield and sword. "Attention, everyone! Thank you for coming today." The man announced. "My name is Diabel, and I like to think of my "job" as Knight." He said job in a light hearted manner, causing a bit of laughter. He was rather charismatic. Good. He spoke again, this time his voice tinged with seriousness. "I have called this meeting because today, my party has discovered the boss room." Many people gasped. "We need to defeat the boss, and advance to the next floor, so we can tell those in Starter City that this game CAN be beaten! We need to give them hope!" He shouted. "Everyone present here shares that duty. Do you not agree?"
Upon asking this, someone began to clap. And soon, most of the audience was in applause. The blue loner was smiling ever so slightly, and Lelouch himself had a small smirk. This Diabel certainly was charismatic indeed.
"A normal party cannot defeat this boss. We will need to form a raid group out of parties. Everyone, party up please." Diabel said.
And then the blue clothed loner began to look nervous, before noticing the other hooded loner. He scooted over to them, and began to try and break the ice. The deadpan response he got made Lelouch snicker. He walked over to the duo as they began to form a party.
"I apologize for interrupting, but would you be willing to allow one more? I also find myself alone for the moment." He asked, walking up to them.
The blue garbed boy looked up at him, and then towards the red hooded girl. "Do you mind?" He asked her. She shook her head quietly, and a party invite was sent to Lelouch. He accepted.
His display name, Gawain, became visible to the duo, though only Kirito actually looked. 'Kirito? He sounds familiar... Ah! That's right, I met him through Argo. He and I both went to visit her at the same time during the beta.' Lelouch thought to himself.
As the parties were formed, Lelouch sat down on the seats above Kiroto and Asuna.
Before the planning could begin in earnest, a man yelled out "WAIT!" From the top seat, seemingly he had just arrived. He had light hair, styled in spikes, a small goatee, and hazel eyes. He leaped down three sets of seats, before doing so again, and again. He wore a pair of tan, loose pants, had a sword upon his back, and seemed quite angry. "There are some people who need to apologize!" He shouted, confusing the audience. "For the two thousand who have died." He proceeded to exclaim that the beta testers had ran off and allowed the beginners to fend for themselves, thus killing them.
Lelouch noticed Kirito seemed quite anxious, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Calm down." He said, softly.
Kirito flinched, before nodding, evening his breathing out.
Lelouch stood, drawing attention to himself. Much like the man from before, Lelouch leaped down to the center. However, he had cleared double the amount of rows the man from earlier, Kibaou, had. "You claim those who died are the responsibility of the beta testers, and ask that they prostrate themselves before you, provide compensation, and apologize. Am I correct?" He asked.
Another man, a large black fellow who was easily the tallest person at the gathering, had made his way down aswell. He reached the floor just as Kibaou answered "Yes!"
"My name is Egil." The black man said as he entered the dispute, holding a book. "You received one of these books, correct?" At Kibaou's shaky nod, the man continued. "The information compiled in this guide book is gathered from the combined efforts of several beta testers." Egil revealed.
This caused a wave of startled reactions, and Lelouch smirked. "Indeed it is." He turned on his heel. "Everyone had access to this information. People died, and that is a simple, unavoidable fact. People will die. We must make sure that their deaths aren't in vain. Our purpose here, today, is to do just that." With that said, he walked back to Kirito and Asuna, before taking a seat.
Egil and Kibaou sat on the first step.
"Very well then, can we resume?" Diabel asked, continuing at the consensus agreement. "The latest version of the guidebook is out. It contains information on the boss fight."
Everyone seemed to be in good spirits that night. A celebration was held in the square. All but a few of the attendees of the meeting were drinking and eating, sharing stories, playing games, or throwing good natured jabs at one another. All in all, it was the first time such a sight was to be seen in Aincrad. It was a historical moment, you could say.
Lelouch leaned up against the side of a building, looking over the procession. A small smile traced his lips. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we march to hell." He muttered aimlessly.
"Well well, isn't someone depressing?" A voice drew his attention. He looked over to see a girl in a tan hood waltzing up to him, her hair a light brown color. Upon her cheeks were six purple whisker marks, three on either cheek. This was Argo the Rat, infamous information broker, and author of the guidebook. Also the only person from the beta who Lelouch had added to his friends list.
Though, he wasn't certain how wise that was. While she was incredibly useful to have around, and a pretty good friend, the girl had a knack for teasing people. Namely, him. "Hello Argo. How are you?" He asked.
"I'm fine, thanks for asking." She replied. "So, when do we leave for the boss tomorrow?" Asked the girl, giving Lelouch an impish grin. She hadn't wanted to deal with the meeting, though it shouldn't matter considering she knew the insides and outs of that boss fight quite well.
He gave her an arched eyebrow. "You do realize that the meeting is when everyone formed their parties, correct? Were you to come along, either I would have to ask Kirito to add you to our party, or you would have to go solo." Lelouch explained.
"Ne? You and Ki-bou are in a party? Now you gotta let me come along!" She exclaimed, giving Lelouch a pouty face.
"Fine, I'll ask. It'll have to wait until tomorrow, though. He and the other member of our party both left as soon as the meeting finished." Lelouch replied.
"Ah, I see. Ki-bou always did like to be a loner." She pouted a bit. "He was always visiting me about business, never just to say hi. Such a workaholic."
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, because so many people liked to be teased and taunted relentlessly while you hassled them out of their Col." He joked. "You are the reason information brokers even exist in the game, Argo."
Her pout transitioned into a suggestive smile. "You must have liked it, you were one of my most frequent visitors. Half the time you were giving me information rather than looking for it."
Lelouch shrugged, a soft smile coming to his lips. "I can't wait until we defeat the boss. Once we do, I'm certain it will inspire more players to join in."
Argo hummed in agreement. "I'm more excited about the cottage for rent on floor two. You remember it, right?" She asked with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "The one with the big indoor bath?" She continued. The girl smiled wide as she caught a tinge of pink beneath the boy's hood. "Yeah, you remember alright~. You never could seem to stop walking in on me." She sang.
"You always left the door open. And I never actually walked in, I just walked past the open door." Was his quick response. The cottage in question was Argo's home during the beta. She frequently used the indoor onsen when she had a free moment. Coincidentally, whenever Lelouch visited it seemed like she was bathing. Frankly, the cottage was the nicest house for the next couple of floors, with a very reasonable rent price. A price that was easily payed by Argo, considering she hoarded money. Selling information was quite cheap considering you needed very little in the way of Col to get information, if you knew where to look.
"All this brings us back to is the fact that you visited me often. So sweet of you, even if it was to try and catch me in the bath." Argo just loved to tease people.
He gave and exasperated sigh. "Yes, sure. I was so eager to catch you bathing that it prompted me to visit you often. Why not?" He threw his arms up in the air.
"Anyway!" Argo exclaimed. "It's late. I'll stick with you till we find Ki-bou. Do you have a room at an inn?" She asked.
"No, I haven't gotten one yet. I just arrived in town today for the meeting." He replied, a bit worried by the way Argo suddenly perked up at this revelation.
"That's great!" She said, a big smile on her face. "I got a room at the inn when I first got here, you can stay with me." She looked up at him with big, innocent looking eyes. "It's not a problem that there's only one bed, right?" The girl asked, hands clasped before her, taking on the posture of a naive young girl.
Lelouch gave her a flat look. "Yes." He replied in a deadpan tone. "I'll go rent a room." He turned, beginning to make his way to the inn to do just that, but he didn't get far before Argo hopped onto his back.
"Onward!" She shouted, wrapping her arms around his neck.
He stood there for a few moments, standing in the middle of the street with the girl hanging off of his back. Upon seeing that she wasn't going to remove herself from his back, and lacking the will to throw her off, Lelouch sighed before he continued on his way to the inn, giving Argo a piggy-back ride. He ignored her smug statement of "I knew you'd see it my way.", and her nuzzling his neck affectionately, and the curious stares of the various people who saw the spectacle.
His final statement on the matter was simple. "You are so lucky I like you, do you know that?" He asked, walking into the inn.
Lelouch and Argo had arrived to the meeting point long before anyone else had, simply deciding to chat with one another until the others arrived. The third person to show up was Diabel, who seemed surprised to see them. "Wow, you got here early." He said to Lelouch, glancing at Argo as he did so. "And you brought a friend?" He continued.
Argo sauntered up to the man, waving jovially. "Yep. Don't worry, I know the mechanics of the boss." She neglected to point out that she had written a book on the subject.
"If my party leader allows her to join, then she'll be with myself and the other two. If not, we'll simply form a party of our own." Lelouch shrugged. In the end, it didn't matter too much. He'd be sticking with Argo since he knew her. Should something go wrong, he wanted to see her health bar in case he needed to step in.
Diabel smiled. "That's good. We can use all the help we can get. By the way, your group, or groups as the case may be, will be handling the Ruin Kobold Sentinels since you're the only party with less than six. Any objections on your part?" He asked.
"No." Lelouch replied. Diabel nodded, walking off to greet the next arrivals, which happened to be Kibaou and Egil. "At any rate, Argo, I don't think I've ever seen you fight before. In the beta, you spent most of your time gathering information and hoarding it. Or bathing."
The girl nodded cheerfully, her hair bouncing with the motion. "Yep, you haven't seen me fight. All you need to know is that I use claws. Anything more'll cost you, but don't worry, you get a discount. I'll give you a complete rundown of my fighting style for the all time low price of three hundred Col!" Lelouch's deadpan stare let her know that he wasn't buying. "Mou, you're no fun." She pouted, crossing her arms.
"And here I thought I was the only one who actually used claw-type weapons. You're the first person I've seen who uses them, other than me." Claw type weapons weren't considered viable by many. They had low base damage, but high crit chance, short range, and blocking or parrying with them was more hassle than dodging outright. They were used, mainly, by PK guilds who harassed other players during the beta. Without those guilds to worry about, claws and daggers went pretty much unused.
On the topic of PK guilds, Lelouch wasn't sure whether or not any would crop up. He dearly hoped not. As if people needed worries like that in a world like this. It was fine, if annoying, back during the beta. All you had to worry about was respawning then. Now, if a player chose to kill another, things were much more serious.
"Fufufu~, do you really think I would be doing anything other than hopping around enemies like a flea with a sugar rush?" She asked, giggling into her hands. And, as she had so eloquently put it, dodging and pestering opponents with constant strikes from odd angles was the only real way to fight with claws, as they needed to hit weak points to put out their highest amounts of damage. While poisons could be applied to claws and daggers to great effect, a good amount of bosses were immune to poison. A rare few were extremely susceptible, however. Lelouch recalled that the fourth floor boss had an extreme weakness to poison, enough to make the fight a cake walk for anyone who was informed.
Lelouch spotted the familiar blue gear of Kirito, and waved him over. Once Argo saw him, she instantly glomped him with a cry of "Ki-bou!", knocking them to the ground, her straddling him. The black haired boy grunted as he hit the ground, sighing as he tried to sit up, which Argo made quite difficult. "Ne, ne, Ki-bou, how've you been? You haven't come to visit me once! It's cruel to keep a girl waiting like that." The girl said, hugging the embarrassed boy.
"Urk... Uh, hello Argo. I'm fine, I guess." Kirito replied, rather surprised to see the mousy girl here. "What are you doing here?" He made his surprise apparent. He hadn't known Argo to actively seek him out, so he didn't think that was it. He didn't know if she knew anyone here, so he supposed she may have been chatting with a friend. Or maybe she'd shown up to help fight the boss? Eh, he didn't know her to fight much either. He didn't even know what weapon she used, since she didn't keep any equipped at most times.
Argo hopped of of him, performing a showy back-flip in the process, before landing in front of the cloaked player who Kirito had partied with the day prior. A few of the spectators clapped jokingly, and Argo bowed to them as though she was a performer in a play. "Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. Well, actually, no I won't. Once we clear the boss I'm gonna explore floor two..." Of course, by explore, she meant "Rent out the cottage in the mountains.", but they didn't need to know that. That was one secret she was quite certain to keep.
"Argo. Are you going to tell him why you're here or not?" Lelouch asked, shaking his head in exasperation. That girl was so peppy it was odd. Though the comment on clearing the boss had actually given a little morale boost. He wasn't sure if she did it on purpose or not.
Argo snapped her fingers, as though she had just remembered something, before replying. "Oh yeah! Ki-bou, can I join the party too? I was a little late to the show." Of course, it was by her own choice, but why did Ki-bou need to know that?
Kirito blinked. "You're... you're helping us fight the boss?" He asked, a bit stunned. As said earlier, Kirito didn't even know Argo COULD fight. She never told him her level either, always demanding outrageous amounts of Col for the information, so he assumed it was a lower level.
"Yep!" She replied with a chipper nod. "So invite me please~" She clasped her hands before her, and gave Kirito her best impression of a kicked puppy.
Faced with such an overwhelming amount of "AWWWW" Kirito had no choice but to comply, sending the invite request once he managed to tear his eyes away from the ridiculously adorable sight. "You are far too good at that..." He muttered in defeat.
"Yes, she is." Lelouch agreed from his position, leaning against the wall of a nearby building.
"Wait." Kirito started. "You two know one another?" If so, then either this Gawain guy was an information broker, or he was a beta tester. Come to think of it, the name did sound familiar.
The purple eyed boy nodded slightly, so as not to show too much of his face to Kirito's inspection. "Yes. We met in the beta." He revealed, loud enough for Kirito to hear, and quiet enough to keep from being overheard. "That means, out of our group, there is one who is not confirmed as a beta tester." He eyed Kirito for a moment. "Would you happen to know whether or not Asuna is a beta tester?" Lelouch questioned.
Kirito shook his head for a moment. "I don't think she is, but I could be wrong." He shrugged. "Not like it matters too much."
Argo butted in to the conversation... by leaping onto Lelouch's back, and nuzzling into his neck affectionately. "Awww~ Wain is trying to get info for his dear Argo-chan!" She exclaimed joyously. "So considerate." Argo had a habit of being extremely affectionate with damn near everyone she met. If she liked you, even a little bit, you would be constantly showered with hugs. She really liked hugs. And subjecting her closer friends to awkward situation after awkward situation. Innuendo and Argo walked hand-in-hand. "Still trying to repay me for walking in on me bathing?" She asked quite loudly, drawing attention to their group.
Lelouch blushed beneath his hood. "Damn it Argo..." Did she HAVE to keep bringing that up? She gave him permission to visit whenever he pleased, was it really his fault that she spent most of that time in the onsen? And even moreso, why the hell was she always in there? People didn't need to bathe in SAO, even now, but it was regarded as a massive comfort. Back in the beta it was just somewhat relaxing, but most people spent their time in Aincrad leveling, and bathed, ate, and slept in the real world.
A lot of people snickered, assuming that either the duo knew one another in the real world, or that they had been using lakes to bathe like the others who had felt they needed to be immersed in water. Diabel, however, smirked. Argo knew the value of information quite well, and she also knew just how to distribute it in the best way possible.
Diabel, as a beta tester, was aware of the fact that public bath houses didn't start appearing until floor two, and homes with baths built in didn't appear until floor three and up. Basically, letting this info slip had the intent of telling Diabel that they were beta testers, assuming he, too, was one. Lelouch's sharp eyes caught his smirk, bringing a smile to his own lips. 'Argo is far too good at this to be a normal person.'
"So... she calls you Wain, and me Ki-bou. Wonder what she'll come up with for Asuna." Kirito idly wondered, waiting on the arrival of the OTHER cloaked member of their group. Really, what was up with all of these cloaks? Was he the only one in the party who DIDN'T like them?
"Probably something along the lines of "Suna-chan"." Lelouch offered, waving his hand dismissively. Argo wasn't happy with this, and made it abundantly clear by reaching forward, under the hood, and pulling on his cheeks. As he attempted to fend her off, causing yet another spectacle, the final member of their group arrived.
"..." The red hooded girl said nothing, before looking to Kirito. "You invited someone else to the party?" She asked, considering she was able to see a green bar hovering over the head of the girl who was still tugging on the hooded boy's cheeks.
"Yes. All the other parties are full, and she needed someone to group with." Kirito responded.
Asuna nodded. "I see."
It was 9:45 now. Fifteen more minutes until they set off. It seemed as though everyone had arrived, though Diabel held firm about waiting until 10:00 sharp to depart. His exact words were "If we left early, then any stragglers like the one that joined our effort today would not have a chance to help. And we need all the help we can get." He had smiled jovially after saying this, before continuing with "And, besides, we should take the last few minutes to relax. It wouldn't do for us to be all wound up when we fight Illfang." The group had gotten a chuckle out of that, and morale was quite high.
A sudden, loud, "OOOF!" drew everyone's attention back to the two who had been bickering, only to see them on the ground in a heap. After a moment, the pile-up suddenly ended with the mousy girl sitting cross legged on the stomach of the hooded boy. "I win!" She exclaimed loudly, a smug grin on her lips. Lelouch grunted, having been unwilling to just throw her off, which lead to this situation.
"Yes, you win, now get off of me." He stated simply.
She tilted her head cutely, an innocent look on her face that left Lelouch horrified, knowing exactly what was about to happen. "But... I thought you liked it when I was on top? You never seemed to mind before..."
Absolute, utter silence fell over the group, all of whom had been paying attention to the scene. Many had their mouths agape in shock.
"... I hate you sometimes." Lelouch muttered quietly.
Argo's clever response came a moment later "But I love you all the time, Lulu." She whispered, using the nickname she had given him upon learning his real name.
Lelouch recalled the incident that had given her that piece of information.
A black haired boy garbed in a dark pair of hakama pants, a robelike top tied with a dark purple sash, and a simple pair of leather boots walked down the streets of Urbus, the main town of the second floor. His green eyes darted around, looking for something that didn't seem to be there. Upon realizing that his target was nowhere in sight, the boy frowned. "Where could she be?" He muttered to himself. Eventually deciding to visit another moderately well known information broker, an unofficial type of merchant that was pretty much pioneered by his target, he nodded before running off.
He reached his destination, bolting down the alleyway he knew this particular broker liked to hang out in. Upon spotting him, the boy called out a greeting. "Ursal. How are you?" He asked the man.
The man was tall, and lanky. He had long, spindly arms, covered almost entirely by the large cloak he liked to wear. His face bore a laid back grin, long blond hair falling behind him. His cloak had no hood, unlike most. He waved at the newcomer with a jovial smile making it's way onto his face. "Gawain. Been a while, usually you run off to see Argo. I've been getting jealous." He joked.
Gawain shrugged. "Hey, it's not my fault she finds juicier info than you. Maybe you should step up your game, huh?" He responded teasingly.
"Hah! As if I'd be able to match her. She's basically the most reliable source of info in the game, save NPCs. But her prices are pretty high, y'know? I'm just a cheaper alternative with the generic info." He shrugged. "But, still, it's income. Quests and grinding only give so much." Ursal was, mainly, a clearer. He had a decent knack for digging up info, always made sure his sources were reliable, and was quite cheap, but he never really found anything too terribly useful. Just little things, like certain attacks monsters could use if certain circumstances were met, semi-rare item drops from random mobs that normally didn't drop anything of worth, and so on.
Argo had info on pretty much everything. Like, legitimately everything. She was a font of knowledge, but she was damnably expensive, and unmoving on her prices. It had caused quite a bit of grief and several PKing threats towards her. She would always shrug and respond with the obvious fact that you couldn't PK in safe areas. And it seemed as though she never left them, leading many to believe she was low level and thus an easy target. She never confirmed nor denied these suspicions to anyone.
Gawain chuckled. "Yeah, she is rather high-priced. And speaking of her..." He paused for a moment... "Have you seen her at all? I know she's online, but I can't seem to find her. It's a bit concerning, since we arranged a meeting for today in the square. I'm willing to pay, of course."
Ursal's grin went south, and he shook his head. "No need to pay for this one. I was actually gonna tell you one way or another. I got it from a reliable source that she was seen running off into the mountains in a rush. They tell me she seemed upset, crying even, but I can't confirm it myself. If you know where she may be, I'd suggest checking up on her." He gave a small smile. "If anyone can find her, I'd bet on it being you."
The dark haired boy nodded. "I'll go see if I can find her. I've an idea of where she may be. Thank you, Ursal." He suddenly smirked, dropping a black, spherical object on the ground. Ursal's eyes widened as smoke blasted out, coughing by habit despite knowing he didn't even need to breath. He shook his head as the smoke cleared.
"Damn that sneaky bastard and his smoke bombs. He dresses like a ninja, but does he need to act like one too?" Frankly, Ursal was a bit jealous. Gawain had told him about the ninja questline, saying that the NPC would probably appear again somewhere along the line, and that information like that would be a goldmine if he timed it right.
The way these "Limited NPC" quests worked was pretty simple. Some only gave out so many of these quests before stopping altogether, others gave one and disappeared, reappearing later to hand out another, and continuing this pattern until either they stopped giving quests, or not stopping at all.
The Stationary Limited NPC Quests were always the same level of difficulty, always gave the same reward, and oftentimes the reward was a skill, so that they never got outleveled and thrown away.
The Mobile Limited NPC Quests were almost always questlines that lasted for long amounts of time. As in, from level one to level fifty long. Some may even span the entire game. Gawain had told him that the amount of secret shops opened by this questline was ridiculous, and that it was almost definitely an "entire game" line. These shops sold soul-bound items that were always a few stats above what other NPCs sold of the same. However, they were pretty much outclassed by most rare monster drops.
Ursal chuckled a bit to himself. If he ever found this Ranatsu NPC, he may take the quest himself. He always did want to be a ninja. He blinked, noticing a small brown pouch on the ground. He picked it up, warily, and proceeded to open it. Inside was a total of two hundred Col. He rolled his eyes, chuckling a bit. Seems Gawain payed him afterall.
About twenty minutes later, Gawain had reached a rocky clearing surrounded by cliffs, a mountain spring in its center, fed by a large waterfall. A single tree rested on an island in the center of the lake, beneath which a hooded figure sat.
The tan hood and small stature of the figure were dead giveaways as to the person's identity, especially considering how few people knew of this particular SLNPC Quest.
Getting to the island consisted of either a swim, or leaping off of the stones that made a loose pathway towards the island. While the stones were small, only about a foot in diameter, and somewhat far apart, Gawain cleared the distance with no effort at all. He landed silently, though the figure should have known he had arrived. The look of shock on her tear streaked face was a clear indicator that she had not, infact, noticed him.
"A-ah! G-go away!" She shouted, pulling her hood down deeper over he face, trying to make herself as small as possible.
Gawain didn't go away. He sighed, before sitting down right beside the crying girl. One of his arms wrapped around her shoulder, pulling her closer to him. He knew, from previous experience, how to act in this situation. "You don't have to tell me what's wrong, but I'll listen to anything you'd like to say." He told her.
"I l-logged in to ge-hiiic-get away from it a-all..." She muttered, leaning on him. "Everyone in class m-makes fun of me. Nanako and Miyaki are the meanest." The girl continued, her breathing calming. "T-they say such terrible things ab-bout me. I try to ignore it b-but I just couldn't today." Her sobs started all over again. "Th-they were mak-making fun of my mom! Saying she deserved to be s-sick because she g-gave birth to me!" She yelled.
The boy's eyes widened, and an angry frown made it's way to his face. Argo sometimes talked about her mother, and her condition. Her steadily deteriorating health.. and how it began after a very straining birth. Her birth.
He held her a bit closer, shushing her comfortingly. "It's alright." The situation wasn't too uncommon. Quite a few of the beta testers had used SAO as a place to vent their feelings without anyone knowing. Since any signals sent to the brain were intercepted and replicated on the virtual bodies, it made it quite possible to have an entire emotional breakdown in Aincrad and come out in the real world with a much better outlook.
However, the specific cause of Argo's emotional trouble angered him. Why the hell would some high school kid say something like that to someone else? It was sickening. Were people really that cruel in public schools? Asheford had it's share of assholes, but none of them were that hurtful... except towards Suzaku, but that was a very specific circumstance. You'd think people wouldn't be as bad as before, since there were no world conflicts going on.
The duo sat beneath the tree for an hour, before Argo had calmed down enough to simply sit and savor the warmth of the embrace they found themselves in. The girl was always affectionate, often hugging people she liked even slightly, but no one really ever hugged her save her mother and father. She liked the feeling of being hugged, rather than being the one to hug someone else.
"Wai..." She suddenly began, breaking the silence. "Do people ever say such terrible things about you? Or is it just me, and not them?" She asked.
The boy sighed. "People have said things much worse then that to me, Argo. I'm not very well liked in the real world." He replied.
She looked up at him with wide lavender eyes. "Wh-what?" She asked, in shock. "B-but your so nice! Why would anyone hate you?"
The boy contemplated telling her, before deciding on just what he would say. "I was born eighteen years ago, back before the Demon Emperor was anything more than a prince of Britannia long thought dead. My parents were Britannian, and quite fond of Marianne the Flash. And so, they named their only child after her only son." Argo's gulp let him know she had figured out just what he meant. "Yes, my real name is Lelouch. If that alone wasn't enough, I had the misfortune of being stuck with eyes the color of amethyst, and hair like a raven's wings."
"You're kidding..." She muttered. "You basically look like a clone of the Demon Emperor?" That was bad. Like, beyond bad. That was the kind of thing people could get killed over, even in times of peace like this.
Gawain shrugged. "Pretty much. I bought a pair of contact lenses, decided to go by my middle name, and grew my hair out a bit, so now I'm in a much better condition than my school years. I graduated early." He chuckled. "It was either that or stand another few years of getting locked in lockers and beaten up by everyone and their mother."
"It isn't funny." Argo muttered. "Just because you looked like him doesn't mean people should hate you like they hated him." His luck must have been horrible. Had he been born and named a century before or after the entire ordeal with Lelouch vi Britannia, then he would have been considered quite handsome if his story held true. But within a decade of the reign of the Demon Emperor, looking as he did was the worst curse one could receive. "You're probably thinking I'm so weak for breaking down over the words of some stupid schoolkids, huh? Especially when you've got real problems..." She sighed, depressingly.
Seeing that she was about to begin understating her problems, Gawain stopped her. "No, I don't. Your problems are just as important as mine. No one should ever have to hear the things that have been said to you. If your classmates insult you like that, and the teachers won't do anything about it, go to your parents. Or the principle. Make your voice heard."
"Thanks..." Argo sniffled. "I really feel better now. Really, thanks..." She paused for a moment, and he saw the spark of devious intent behind those lavender eyes once more. "Lulu~."
"Urk..." He grunted, as though someone had punched him in the stomach. Was that nickname going to follow him everywhere he went?
He was glad Argo had the good sense not to spread that name around. Now that he actually had his true appearance, he wanted to distance himself from that name as much as possible.
"AHEM!" Diabel cleared his throat loudly. "It's 10:00! We move out now!" Everyone picked their jaws up off the ground, and fell in place behind Diabel. "And march!"
With that said, the group departed from Tolbana town, and began making their way to the dungeon. It would be a thirty minute walk that was spent idly conversing, killing the occasional monster, and playing rock-paper-scissors.
As they walked, Lelouch performed a quick inspection of his inventory, making certain he had all the necessary items. 'Health potions, spare cloak, claw. Three hundred Shuriken, two hundred throwing needles, and ten smoke bombs...' Smoke bombs were ridiculously difficult to get on floor one, requiring lots of time and effort to make. And you had to make them, as they were not for sale.
An NPC in Starting City gave a quest that gave the skill required to craft them. The quest simply sent you out to gather ingredients in the most dangerous area of the floor, the dungeon. And so, Lelouch had to run about the dungeon collecting herbs and minerals and so on in order to put together ten smoke bombs. He'd have to do so again for another ten, and so on and so on. Thankfully, as the content became outleveled, it would be trivial to procure them.
Until he needed to get upgraded smoke bombs, that is. Those were used almost exclusively for soloers, since they blinded all but those who had trained in order to resist them. Some even had status ailments attached to them, which didn't effect the user if they had the specialized training. In other words, you couldn't buy them and expect to use them effectively, you had to make them to negate the status effects, and the blind. Regular smoke bombs just gave an in combat version of "hide" to the user and, to a lesser extent, allies, and were usable by anyone who could get ahold of them.
Argo carried ten or more on her aswell, he knew. He had seen her gathering the materials aswell, though he hadn't known it was her at the time.
Seeing the dungeon entrance closing in on them, Lelouch equipped his claw. The claw itself was a rare-drop from a moderately powerful rare spawn, the Green Reaper. The creature had resembled a giant preying mantis, with four arms tipped with three scythe-like claws. The weapon was a dark green, nearly black, gauntlet, with three sickle-like claws protruding about eighteen inches from the knuckle area. The entire gauntlet actually looked rather organic, disturbingly enough. It was as if he had torn the arm off of the Green Reaper and made the gauntlet from that.
It had a unique effect, which increased the speed of it's wielder for each critical strike made on a weak point. This included speed while moving, and speed while attacking. The effect lasted for five seconds, reapplying if the effect was triggered again. The duration stacked as many times as you could crit a weak spot. It was one of the better claws on this floor, on par with the Dire Worg Paw, which had a strong bleed effect, ridiculously high base damage for a claw type weapon, and a sword skill all of it's own.
Argo had told him something extremely interesting back during the beta. There were certain sword skills that could only be learned by equipping a certain, named weapon. Once learned through this weapon, the skill could be used indefinitely so long as a corresponding weapon was equipped. Each of these named weapons could only teach the skill once, however. It was a very interesting addition to the game, at the time. Now it was something that could save someone's life in a dire situation.
Argo looked over to Lelouch, noticing the sudden change in posture that suggested he had a weapon. Smirking, she equipped her own claw, knowing he could tell she had done so.
The group entered the dungeon through a massive doorway, which lead them to a dark series of tunnels, lit by glowing green moss that grew on the walls. As the large raid group proceeded through the tunnels, it was inevitable that they would attract the local mobs. Soon, a squad of Kobold Swordsmen stood before them, backed with a three man cell of Kobold Archers.
While Archery was not available to players in SAO, the monsters had no such restrictions.
"Group A, shields up, be ready to block those Swordsmen. Group F, focus those archers ASAP!" Diabel shouted, knowing the very real threat that those archers posed. While their arrows were generally weak, a lucky shot for them could result in a one-shot crit kill on the level five-seven players that made up most of the group.
Amusingly enough, the members of group F were all at or above level seven, with Asuna being the lowest level, and Kirito the highest. Sprinting past the swordsmen, Kirito and Asuna each targeted an archer, making quick work of the small HP pool of the monsters. Lelouch and Argo both ran their target through with their claws, piercing it's hide at exactly the same time. Had one been looking from behind the archer, it would have appeared some demonic bastardization of a wolf and insect had shoved both hands through the rodent-looking creature.
The swordsmen had been defeated easily. It had only been a group of five mobs, excluding the archers, and the raid group consisted of thirty four people. They made swift work of all the dungeon mobs, one lucky fellow even leveling up from the effort, before reaching the boss room.
Diabel walked forward, leaving only a foot between the door and his person, before turning to adress his cohorts. "Let's win. Here we go!" He turned, pushing the large door open with one hand. It made for an inspiring sight, a lone man pushing open a large, black, skull riddled door with only his right hand. The image was somewhat ruined to the beta testers of the group, however, since they knew it was a pre-programmed response to the door being interacted with. Still, though, Diabel had used his charisma and the atmosphere to raise morale to an all time high.
He would've made a brilliant commander, Lelouch thought to himself.
The blue-haired knight walked into the darkened room, sword and shield before him defensively. The rest followed, group F taking the rear. "You know the drill, Argo. Hit them hard and fast, don't let them land a hit on us." Lelouch said, looking around the room cautiously.
"Yep, I got'cha Wain." She replied, eyes peeled for any movement. The duo instantly locked in on the first motion of the boss, seing a shadow stand from it's throne.
The room brightened, taking on eye opening colors of whites, blues, pinks, purples, and so on. Ivory pillars surrounded either side of a massive stripe of colored marbel, decorated with an odd pattern, which lead to a throne, before which stood a giant red being.
The creature, Illfang, was a dark red color, with a leathery hide. He wore no upper clothing, revealing a rotund but muscular physique, and his nethers were covered by a light purple loincloth. At his back was a sheathed blade, likely the Tulwar he would swap to once his final health bar reached red. He wore a skullcap that covered his scalp, revealing the rest of his marsupial-like features to the group. Equipped, currently, were his axe and buckler shield.
Illfang roared, revealing his four bars of HP, and summoning three smaller kobolds before him. Each was equipped with a two handed mace that looked as though it had been created by tearing a large chunk of rock from a mountain, and mounting it upon a shaft. They wore armor that vastly resembled olden knight armor, including a visored helm. With another roar, the Kobolds charged.
"ATTACK!" Diabel shouted, swinging his blade forward as a signal. Twenty nine brave men raced forward to defeat the foe before them, pushing on with their desire to win, to return home and see their friends and families, and to end this death game.
Behind them were five others. Diabel who remained out of combat in order to guide the remainder of the group, a sound decision since he had a perfect view of the battle from his position, continued to shout orders to the parties, telling them when to switch out, when to strike heaviest, and when to block the bosses strikes. The group was making quick work of the bosses health bar, with no one falling below half health.
The Ruin Kobold Sentinels continued to spawn, currently four were out on the field. Diabel nearly called for group D to go and aid the other four, but his words caught in his throat as he saw the destruction the quartet continued to rain down upon any kobold foolish enough to try and aid their lord. Diabel smiled widely, before continuing to redirect the attackers. Group F would be just fine.
And fine they were.
Asuna and Kirito worked surprisingly well with one another, like a well oiled machine. Kirito would bash away the Sentinel's mace, leave a slash across it's body, and dash off to another. Asuna followed quickly behind, landing a veritable hailstorm of stabs from her rapier into the monster, easily shredding it's health bar. One Sentinel spawned directly beside Kirito, and it looked like he had been caught off guard. That illusion was shattered when he shoved his blade up and under the Sentinel's visor, landing a massive critical hit and dropping almost all of the creture's health. He swiftly leaped back, replaced just as swiftly by Asuna, who's rapier pierced the monster's head, finishing it off.
"Good work, keep it up!" Kirito shouted to Asuna, as he shoved another Sentinel's mace away.
"Same to you!" Asuna shouted, lunging in through the opening Kirito had made, killing yet another kobold.
If one were to inspect Lelouch and Argo, they would compare them to a well oiled machine... that was on fire. It wasn't that the two were doing poorly, or that their teamwork was off, but it was simply how hectic the fight looked. Neither Lelouch nor Argo stood still for even a second, constantly tearing into one Sentinel or another. Often times they would release both release sword skills on a Sentinel, causing it to stumble, before dashing off to another and performing the same act, alternating between the injured and fresh Sentinels and picking off any in critical condition in a single strike.
It was a deadly dance, as frightening as it was mesmerizing. The duo were a veritable twister of claws, needles, and shuriken.
"All enemies below twenty five percent health!" Lelouch shouted. "Move in for the kill." He continued, dashing forward to do just that. The Sentinel he had targeted was the highest HP percentage out of the group of nearly seven scattered about Argo and him. While they hadn't taken a single hit from any of the kobolds, the enemies HP had slowly been picked off by basic attacks and sword skills. The second group of Kobolds to spawn on Lelouch and Argo were all still alive, though easily within "oneshot" status, unlike this one which was still "fresh". He deftly avoided it's clumsy swing, performing a devastating kick to it's head, rattling it's brain for a moment. While it was disorientated, he launched into the most damaging sword skill he had available, Dance of Death. Despite it's name, it was not even among the top tier of Claw skills that were unlocked through extensive training.
Lelouch roared, his claw taking on a dark purple glow as he began his attack. First came a horizontal strike across the beast's abdomen, which curved back around into a slanted strike that tore through it's chest. The claw, which was now by the Sentinel's head, cleaved directly across the skull, critting and dealing massive damage due to the weakness of the area assaulted. The finisher of the combo was shown when Lelouch performed a full three hundred and sixty degree turn with the momentum of the horizontal cleave, thrusting the claw directly through the kobold's helmet, ending it's life. As the body of his recent kill deteriorated into particles, Lelouch noticed another Sentinel charging him, mace held high in an attempt to crush him. He kicked off of the body as it burst into particles, locking on to the exposed neck of the roaring Sentinel rushing his way with reckless abandon. Three shuriken seemingly materialized in his hands, before he launched them into the abnormally long neck all Kobold's shared as a racial feature. The trio of throwing stars fit snugly, all three critically striking and dealing double damage from the massive weak point. The Sentinel fell on it's face before dying, leaving three throwing stars that Lelouch collected quickly before rushing off to finish yet another Sentinel.
Argo was much more brutal in her methods. She fired off needle after needle, seemingly carrying and endless amount, into every inch of exposed skin on the Sentinels before her, bringing three of them down to critical condition in a matter of seconds and a storm of metal. She licked her lips in a manner that resembled a predatory animal spotting injured prey, before dashing off at speeds that would be a blur to most of the "normal" members of the raid. Her claw, which was a glove that had a trio of thick, long, solid black claws, and was decorated with ivory fur, found purchase within the neck of one Sentinel, ending it's life in a burst of pixels. Before it had deteriorated fully, Argo launched herself off of it's body and shot at the second Sentinel like an arrow, tucking into a roll as she came close to the creature, which had caused it to miss it's heavy swing, unbalancing it. Her roll ended with her springing back to her feet, tearing the green-glowing claw across the neck of the Sentinel, ending it's existence. She jumped high into the air to avoid another heavy swing from a Sentinel which had tried to attack from her blind spot, which was ineffective since the girl could hear it's clanky armor from a mile away. From above, she activated a sword skill, her claw taking on a brilliantly bright green. "Pounce!" She yelled, dive-bombing the Sentinel.
Wolf Pounce, the hidden sword skill of the Dire Wolf Paw. Simple, brutal, effective. Basically it was a massive heavy hitter, guaranteeing a crit and multiplying the base damage of the claw by four. The drawback of the skill was that it, unlike most claw-related sword skills, had a decent cooldown time. Which would leave Argo vulnerable to counter attack if the enemy survived...
Luckily for her, the weakened kobold stood no chance against the blitzkrieg, amplified as it was by the sword skill and gravity. It dispersed instantly into particles, and left Argo crouching for a few moments where it had once been. Another Sentinel, one of two remaining, ran at her with it's mace held far out to it's side, aiming for a horizontal strike. The moment of vulnerability from he attack was over, however, and she ducked beneath the swing, plunging her glowing claw into the creatures throat.
She looked over to see Lelouch had finished off his last Sentinel aswell, and that no more seemed to be spawning. Ki-bou and Susu had finished theirs off sooner, and had managed to catch the entire spectacle. Both of them looked quite impressed.
As they should be, considering the time between Lelouch ordering to finish them off and now equaled about twenty seconds.
The four members of group F regrouped, noting that she kobolds had stopped spawning. The reason why was shown as they heard a horrendous roar. They turned to see Illfang throwing his shield and axe away, and placing his hand on the hilt of his sheathed tulwar.
"Stand back, I'll go!" Diabel shouted, rushing forward, seemingly intending to finish the boss on his own.
"What is he doing?" Lelouch questioned. "We were all supposed to surround it!" It was then that Diabel glanced back at their group, giving a knowing smirk.
"He's going for the LA bonus." Argo muttered. Well if that didn't confirm his beta status, nothing would. "He knows the fight, he should b- Wait!" She cut herself off, a sudden panic reaching her voice.
The cause for her panic was revealed as Illfang removed his secondary blade. It wasn't a tulwar, but a no-daichi. While Diabel's rush attack may have worked on a tulwar wielder, as the blade was slower to swing than his own, and possible to avoid with some caution, it would have no effect on something wielding a blade as fast as that no-daichi. This was something that Kirito, Argo, and Lelouch knew since two had been above this dungeon floor and seen wielders of katana-type weapons, and another had done that and made it her job to know as much about any in-game aspect she could learn.
Even so, they were helpless to stop what happened next. The trio rushed forward as quickly as they could, but even Argo and Lelouch, who made speed a top priority, couldn't reach Diabel in time to save him from his mistake.
Kirito still screamed at the top of his lungs, praying that he would be heard and his warning heeded. "NO! LEAP BACK AS FAST AS YOU CAN!"
While Diabel heard nothing, another man saw the frantic boy rushing forward, and heard his warning.
Illfang leaped backwards, rendering Diabel's sword skill useless as he retreated from it's range, incurring the cool-down associated with heave strikes such as the knight's attack, before bouncing off of the pillars in the room, building up momentum before he dived directly at Diabel, who had just regained his ability to move freely, a second too late. The giant blade cut him from shoulder to hip, flinging him away. Had it ended there, he would have gotten back up, shaken, but able to continue fighting.
It didn't end there. Illfang dashed forward at speeds a being like him should not be able to reach, cleaving Diabel once more, sending him flying behind the group. Kirito changed directions, rushing towards the injured man in an attempt to save his life. As he ran, he quickly pulled out an extremely valuable item. A full heal elixir, something only attainable by completing a ridiculously difficult quest that required the killing of two hundred and fifty dire wolves.
"Why would you do that?" Kirito asked, pushing the potion towards the mouth of the man, who's health was rapidly vanishing. He gasped in panic as Diabel grasped his hand, preventing him from using the potion.
Diabel knew just what was in Kirito's hands, having intended to come back once he had leveled up a few times and completing the quest when it was trivial to do so. "You were in the beta. You know what I was doing." He said, giving a sad smile. He had been so arrogant...
"You were after the last attack rare item bonus..." Kirito muttered balefully. Was a rare drop REALLY worth his life? Was he insane? Why wouldn't he take the damn potion? Kirito tried to push it towards his lips once more, but Diabel's grasp held firm.
The man shook his head pitifully. "Please... protect them. Defeat the boss. I know you can do it. Don't let them down, give everyone hope. Please." He begged, his health dropping to zero. He smiled bitterly. "I was such a fool..."
Those were the last words of Diabel, the knight who had united the first raid group of Aincrad. As his body disappeared, and his name was crossed out from the Monument of Life, Kirito felt his resolve strengthen.
While he had thought only of surviving in this death game, Diabel had racked up the courage to bring together thirty two other brave souls, had the knowledge to lead them to the boss, and the confidence to assure their victory. He had been in the beta, and yet he had tried so hard to help everyone clear the game.
No more. Kirito would not allow his sacrifice to be in vain. Illfang died today.
He saw the main group fearfully fending off the boss as it roared at them, and hear Asuna step up beside him. "I'll go too." She announced.
Lelouch and Argo ran up behind the duo, their intentions obvious. "Give us an opening and we'll rip these thing to shreds." Argo growled, fury overtaking her.
The hooded boy nodded in agreement, the event having struck a chord in him due to it's similarity to Urabe's death. "His death will not be in vain." Lelouch said, simply.
"Thank you." Kirito said to them, before leading the charge. The other three easily kept up with him as he ran. "We'll do it just like the sentinels!" He shouted. "I'll make an opening, capitalize on it!" He yelled.
The rest of the raid group all watched in awe as the blue-garbed Kirito and the three hooded fighters dashed forward, at speeds that left their mouths agape.
Illfang was less impressed, simply charging up a sword skill. Kirito wasn't phased, matching it with his own. The force of the two meeting sent Kirito flying back several feet, and made Illfang stumble. "SWITCH!" He shouted, as Asuna dashed in to rain strike after strike upon the lord of kobolds. Much to her surprise, not that she let it show, the other two hooded fighters had reached the boss before her, raining vicious combos upon his back and sides. With the assault up as it was, Illfang didn't even have a chance to counter Asuna as her rapier struck him time after time. Kirito rushed back to join the fray, only to be launched back alongside the other three as Illfang displayed an aoe knockback skill, sending the quartet into a tangled heap of limbs. The sheer force of the skill had managed to tear apart the cloaks worn by Asuna, Argo, and Lelouch.
Before they had a chance to right themselves, Illfang was upon them. Lelouch and Kirito, who had landed in such a manner that they were infront of the girls, quickly threw their weapons up in a half-assed attempt to block, that would most certainly get them killed. Be that as it may, however, they were willing to face the consequences to protect the two behind them, who had no time to dodge or throw up a defense.
"Haaaaaahyaaah!" A deep voice roared, as a green blur passed above the heads of the downed players. Illfang's pink sword skill was stopped mid strike by the furious strength of their savior, Egil. The four of them watched in shock as the rest of the raid ran forward, their confidence and vigor renewed. "You guys recover for a moment, we'll hold him off!" The broad man shouted, moving in to help the rest of the group.
Kirito's relieved look was replaced by determination as he saw Illfang use what seemed to be a watered down version of his previous knockback, before hopping into the air with intent to finish the devastating combination. "I'll get you first!" He shouted, charging up a blue sword skill and leaping into the air, countering the strike of the boss by going directly for his belly, drawing a clockwise cut into his flesh as they tangled into the air, before launching the kobold back to earth in a heap.
"One last strike, together!" Kirito yelled, the others falling into line behind him. "YAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" He roared, slicing across Illfangs stomach, followed by Asuna landing several strikes to his abdomen, soon replaced by Argo shoving her claw into his gut, seemingly running up his body dragging it along, making a massive jagged cut. This was followed by several glowing blurs as ten shuriken lodged themselves into the boss, followed by another Dance of Death from Lelouch, before he leaped away, leaving Illfang low enough for a final, terrifying slice from Kirito, who cleaved the boss in half.
As Illfang burst into a shower of brightly colored pixels, which fell across the room like confetti before dispersing, a stunned silence fell over the room. It was broken by an ecstatic yell of "YES!" Followed by rousing cheers from all but one man. All around him, Kibaou saw the members of the raid cheering over their victory, praising one another for their excellent work, stating their relief at finally defeating the first boss...
It made him so angry... Did none of them realize just what a hollow victory this was? The room darkened, and it was as though his mood darkened more to match it. He stared hard at the panting figure of the blue-garbed boy who had killed Illfang. His blood boiled as he heard people congratulating him, when he knew the truth. He had let Diabel die! He knew beforehand the boss would use that blasted no-daichi rather than a tulwar. He knew and he kept it to himself! Kibaou would NOT let this stand! He stood up, shouting at the top of his lungs. "WHY!"
Everyone stopped, their celebrations and congratulations ceased. "Why did you let Diabel die?" Kibaou asked, his voice quiet, but it carried in the large room.
Kirito's eyes widened. "Let him die..." He repeated, as if confused.
How dare he? How DARE this bastard pretend he didn't know. Kibaou roared in fury. "OF COURSE! You knew about that technique the boss used, if you had told us up front, then Diabel would still be with us, HE WOULD BE CELEBRATING, AND THERE WOULD BE SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE ABOUT!" Tears streamed down his eyes. While he and Diabel had met only a day before, they had hit it off and become good friends overnight. Now that friendship was gone before it could come to be.
Another man, one of Kibaou's friends if the way they had all sat back was any indication, yelled with his finger outstretched. "He must be a beta tester! It's how he knew the bosses attack patterns!" And another thought hit him. "There must be other beta testers here. SHOW YOURSELVES!" He shouted.
Tensions built up quickly, everyone looking around the room, seeking to glare at anyone who they suspected of being a beta tester. Needless to say, Argo and Lelouch made themselves as unnoticeable as they could, both leaning against one of the pillars. Lelouch's head was down, letting his raven hair fall over his face. Argo was also looking at the floor, though for different reasons than Lelouch.
'It's my fault... I published faulty information... that's why he died.' The girl thought to herself, tears welling up in her eyes. Her sniffles attracted attention from the boy beside her, and he quickly determined just what was going through her mind.
"It isn't your fault." He whispered.
She looked up at him, eyes watery. "Why not? I'm the one they got the boss info from, and it was wrong. Diabel died because he thought he knew what would happen. He died because my information was wrong Lelouch." She whispered back heatedly.
"He died because he was arrogant." Lelouch whispered, knowing it would sound harsh. But he felt it was the truth. "He threw caution to the wind and ended up dying for it."
"He didn't feel like caution was needed because I had written exactly how the boss would act!" She replied, her whispers getting steadily louder.
Lelouch quickly reached out, hugging her to his side as he had before. "Would you have done that, Argo?" He asked, soothingly. "Even with all the information you had, would you have rushed out alone to fight a boss, knowing your life was on the line?"
The girl shook her head, small sobs wracking her frame. "N-no, but he did. And now he's dead." She whimpered.
Lelouch sighed, deciding to just hold her until she calmed enough to see his point. He knew she would. She was just stressed right now.
As the first signs of shouting accusations broke out among the raid group, Kirito began laughing. Almost hysterically. "A beta tester?" He asked, rhetorically. His sudden laughter and statement made everyone in the room go quiet, as the blue-garbed boy began walking through the parted group. "Don't insult me by comparing me to those newbies." He exclaimed.
"WHAT!" Yelled Kibaou, the unofficial spokesman for the group of dissenters.
Kirito began to walk towards him, speaking as he went. "Most of the thousand beta-testers were utter beginners. Many had no MMO background before this. Some didn't even know how to level properly. Had SAO been what it is now, back then, they would have been the first to die." The morbid statement sent shivers down the spines of many of the gathered men. "Everyone in this room is better than the average beta tester."
Argo felt Lelouch stiffen, as though something said had struck a chord within him. She looked up through her teary eyes to see Lelouch's own were beginning to water.
'... To bring peace, he will make himself the target of their hatred. I see. Kirito... you have my respect.' Lelouch thought to himself, memories of that ill-fated encounter on the Ikaruga taking over his mind. How he had laughed... insulted them. How he had tricked them all into believing that everything he had done for them was a lie... all to protect her. How he begged Rolo to stop, after having denounced him as his little brother... how his resolve, nearly broken, had reforged itself.
Yes, Kirito was going to be a force to be reckoned with. He was well worth respect. He felt the tears fall from his eyes, quickly wiping them away lest someone see. Argo, however, had noticed far too long ago not to bring it up at a later date.
Kirito continued his speech, his posture and tone dripping with arrogance. "I am infinitely better than them. I made it further in the beta then anyone else." He shrugged, switching to a more conversational tone, though still reeking of self-worth. "I knew about the bosses skills because I had seen monsters with katana skills high above this floor. While the information on this boss and those above it a surely changed, I'll have no problems with them. I'm simply a cut above. I know a lot. Way more than any information broker."
Had Argo been in any condition to dispute that, and had she not realized what he was doing, she would have been outraged. 'Ki-bou is clearing my name...' She thought to herself. "Why is he doing this..." Argo whispered to herself.
"You know why." Lelouch replied. "He is going to unify them in their hatred of him..."
Argo couldn't help but shiver, something disturbing having reached her thoughs. "Just like the Demon Emperor did..." She realized. However, Ki-bou and Lelouch vi Britannia were two infinitely different people. While the Demon Emperor had unified the world though hatred, he hadn't done so with benevolent intentions... or had he? Her thoughts jumbled as she tried to stop thinking about something as terrifying as the thought that Lelouch vi Britannia had forced the world to hate him with the sole intent of bringing peace after his death.
"No, Lelouch vi Britannia had no intention of uniting the world under any banner but his own. He was a tyrant. While he may have intended to make the world better in the long run, he paved the roads with blood. He was scum." Lelouch couldn't help but want to hurt himself for denying his own plan so fervently, but thinking along the lines Argo was treading was far too dangerous for him to let her do so. To even suggest that the Demon Emperor was anything but just that, a demon, was blasphemy at this point. Perhaps in a century or two, he'd see just how his reign was viewed by individual parties. But for now, he was a cold hearted scoundrel who wanted to watch the world burn. "He and Kirito are nothing alike."
It almost pained him to say that, when he had been comparing similarities just moments ago in his head.
Kibaou had snapped out of his stupor, declaring Kirito worse than a beta tester. He had said that he was a filthy cheater. Another man in the crwd had come up with the term Beater.
Upon hearing this, Kirito grinned. "Beater, eh? I like it." With that, he equipped the Cloak of Midnight, a rare drop he had received for killing Illfang. The coat was dark, and covered his body. It flowed as if blown by the wind. He looked down-right sinister as he walked off. "Yes, that's right. Don't confuse me with those other testers." He scoffed. "I'm better than that."
And with that said, he walked to the staircase, leaving a stunned group behind him. Asuna chased after him.
Moments later, the party that Lelouch and Argo were in was dissolved by Kirito.
Minutes later, the raid members began to clear out, some heading for the second floor, and others heading back to declare victory over the first boss.
An hour later, Lelouch still held Argo, the duo both seated by a pillar. "Ne... Lulu." The girl said.
"Yes?" He asked in reply.
"Wanna spend the night with me in that cottage?" She asked, completely seriously. "T-theres more than one bed..." She quickly added, recalling how he had reacted the last time. "I just don't wanna be alone for a while..."
Lelouch's hand moved, soon finding a spot on her head as he ruffled her hair. "Yeah, that's fine." He said. "We better hurry before someone else gets it."
Argo giggled. "You, me, and a few others know it exists. Out of all those people, we're probably the fastest, and can get around easiest on floor two." She nodded, hopping to her feet. "But, just in case. C'mon!" She shouted, grabbing his arm and pratically dragging him with her as they ran up the steps.
Lelouch laughed. "Glad to see you're feeling better."
"I'm glad to feel better. You've got that effect on me Lulu, maybe I'm in love." She teased.
"Let's hope not. I've been told I'm not easy to love."
And it seemed like everyone who loved him got the short end of the stick at some point. Shirley was proof of that.
Hopefully this was just more of her teasing, because he really didn't want yet another incident in this death game bringing up painful memories from the past.
'Oh well.' Lelouch decided. 'For better or worse, I'm stuck in this world if I want to get everyone else out. May aswell make the best of it.'
And honestly, a hot bath and a soft bed were a few comforts he could really use right about now.
Though the bath would be waiting until after Argo was finished, because frankly he was not going to get in between that girl and her bath time.
And he'd probably have to deal with her trying to get him to join her in the onsen anyway, which was going to be awkward as hell for him, and funny for her.
... And he was actually a bit iffy about sleeping with her nearby, come to think of it.
Why did he agree to this again?