Disclaimer: I don't own Sword Art Online or Code Geass. Say, if this is a site dedicated to Fanfiction, why do we need to put disclaimers? Isn't it automatically assumed that we don't own these things, since we're on a fanfiction site? I always wondered about that.
Anyway. I'm still trying to get better on grammar/spelling and such. I'd honestly rather not have a beta, after thinking about it. I dunno, I'm just weird like that. Anyway, characters are introduced. The "main cast" you could say.
Once all the characters are introduced, I can start getting a bit deeper into them. Interactions with Asuna are non-existent at this point, but rest assured she'll be back. Her and Kirito will get their screen time at some point, along with certain other characters...
Also, there's just a really nice feeling looking into your reviews and seeing an author who's stories you've read and enjoyed. (Here's lookin' to you, Thanathos.)
"Wow, Wain. Just wow." Argo gaped. "You've got the craziest luck." This was the reaction Argo had upon being told just who Lelouch was introducing her to. While she had been somewhat skeptical for a few moments, she soon realized that the woman before her was either Jiang Lihua or a long lost twin. Argo recalled watching a documentary of China's recent years, after the reign of the Demon Emperor, and the Tianzi was featured prominently, alongside Li Xingke. While Jiang had grown into a beautiful and confident young woman, thanks to Xingke and her most loyal followers, Li Xingke had unfortunately died four years ago. His illness had finally caught up to him, tearing a good man away from the world before his time.
Long story short, after listening to the white-haired beauty in front of her, Argo could say without a doubt that she had met the Empress of China. "I mean... wow." She was, understandably, quite shell shocked. After all, unlike Lelouch, she was a simple school-girl with a photographic memory. Famous people were a big deal to her, since she had never been one.
Lelouch wished he could tell her about just how much of a pain in the ass it really was, but then he'd have to explain just how he knew. And, well, that was a conversation for another day. Or never. Yeah, never sounded good.
Lihua frowned slightly. "Uhm, Gawain? I think we broke her?" She wondered, leaning in slightly to rest hand on the girl's forehead. Subconsciously, she knew that it wasn't really going to tell her anything, but she had picked up the rather blunt habit from Kaguya. "You dont have a fever..." She pointed out the obvious.
Argo batted her arms away gently, blushing. "I'm fine, it's just... you're just like you were in that documentary." She admitted. "I'm just shocked to see someone like you had decided to play this game... even if it's not much of a game anymore." The girl muttered the last part a bit bitterly.
The albino woman blushed, covering her mouth her her hand. "Well, it get's tedious being in charge of a country. While I live like royalty, there is a lot of work to do that comes with it, especially now. Keeping the peace is hard." Seeing the stare of the girl before her, and hearing the hooded boy snicker, she shook her head and got on with what she intended to say. "I needed a break, but I couldn't just leave for a few weeks because I had responsibilities. So Kaguya suggested I try this game, she even offered to play it with me." She paused, hearing Lelouch make a choking noise. "Ah! Are you alright, Gawain?" She asked, placing a hand on his shoulder in concern.
"I'm fine, don't worry." He replied, perhaps a bit too quickly.
Jiang blinked, before deciding to continued her story. "Uh, right. I managed to get two of the Nervegears, and had the good fortune of my schedule being clear after an economic meeting. Kaguya had told me she couldn't make it for opening day, so I and Lin, my personal attendant, went into the game by ourselves..." She trailed off sadly. "Lin didn't make it far. We hadn't spawned together, so I'd been looking for her. But just last week I saw her name crossed off of the Monument of Life. She was killed by Kobolds in the floor one dungeon within the first month." Jiang sighed. "I'm just glad Kaguya didn't get sucked into this mess." The woman whispered.
So was Lelouch, though he kept his sentiments to himself. If Kaguya and Jiang were both here, and he had simply not run into Kaguya, then he would have been in quite the predicament if the Tianzi attempted to introduce them. Kaguya, having been one of his most dedicated admirers during his run as Zero, having lived in the same household with him, and having seen him unmasked, knowing he had been Zero... well, he felt he could say she knew him pretty well. Well enough to pick out the subtle gestures and movements he made unintentionally, which was in turn enough to spark her curiosity. And a curious Kaguya was a bad Kaguya.
He actually recalled an extremely awkward situation her curiosity had brought upon him when they had both lived with the Kururugi family. Having been curious about the difference between boys and girls, after a conversation with Suzaku's mother, she had waited until they were alone and dropped his pants when he wasn't paying attention, leaving the ten year old Lelouch standing with his pants and underwear around his ankles for the second it took to realize what just happened, at which point he furiously yanked the clothing back over himself, giving himself an extremely uncomfortable wedgie in the process.
And, of course, Kaguya had to comment. "Oh, so boys have a trunk like an elephant!" She had announced gleefully, before running off. It was after that incident that Lelouch had begun to take great caution whenever Kaguya was involved in something.
"Oh man, I just realized. China is going to be a mad-house right now." Argo stated bluntly.
Jiang flinched, having been worrying over that factor for quite some time. "Y-yes... hopefully Zhou and Hon can keep the peace until this is over..." By "Zhou and Hon" she meant Zhou Xianglin and Hon Gu. (In no way related to another Zohan we may know of...)
Lelouch gave Argo a look, and even though it remained hidden beneath the hood, she could tell he was chastising her for her bluntness. "The two of them are both competent military commanders, with many years of experience behind them. I'm sure they'll be able to handle things until this is fixed." He reassured her.
A grateful, if nervous, smile came to her lips. "I can only hope."
"Well, enough of that. Wain, I got news that the clearers found the second floor boss." Argo announced. "The fastest of the group ran in, got a look at the boss, and then rushed out. It's still the Minotaur." She scoffed. "Doubt anything else is the same. That'd be too easy for Kayaba."
"Or maybe he'll have left it the same to mock us." Lelouch pondered. "It seems like something he'd do, considering he's trying to assert the fact that he owns this world on us."
"Either way." Lihua cut in. "We've got to defeat it." She crossed her arms resolutely.
Lelouch chuckled. "Yes, we do. Argo, are they calling another strategy meeting? Or is there only confirmation of the boss-room location?" He asked.
"Yeah, the meeting is tomorrow at five. They'll be leaving at ten the day after, just like the last one." Argo confirmed.
"Good." He said. "I assume we'll all be attending?" He asked, glancing pointedly at the mousy information broker.
She sighed, before nodding. "Fine, fine, I'll show up."
"Wonderful. It's... " He quickly checked the clock on his menu. "Six. Not much left to do in Starter city now that we've visited with Sasha and the children." Argo had come to greet them just after they had finished their visit.
While Lihua and Lelouch actually visited with the woman, exchanging pleasantries and condolences, Argo decided after her first visit to simply drop off the donations she made and leave quickly. That whole incident was best kept buried, and if Lelouch had his way Kibaou would be buried with it. While he may have meant well, the man took rumors too seriously, and held grudges with people he knew only by ear.
With that in mind, he asked his next question. "Who found the boss room, if you know?"
She cringed a bit, and Lelouch knew just who it was. "Kibaou." She answered, more for the sake of Lihua, who tilted her head questioningly.
"A man with a spiny hair-style, and light brown hair. Hazel eyes. Two handed sword, pretty basic heavy-leather armor set. Visit's the church every week." Lelouch listed off his attributes, shrugging as the woman's eyes lit up. "He's a real ass to some people, friendly to others, and holds grudges against people based on rumors. Still, he and his are among the few that actually grouped together to defeat Illfang. Were it not for his party, we wouldn't have had enough manpower to kill the boss. He has his own sense of honor, twisted though it may be, which he upholds with a fierceness akin to a wild beast. While I can admire some of these traits, I still don't like him." He finished.
"I... see." Lihua muttered. "So... um... I guess this will be goodbye until tomorrow..." She bit her lower lip, nervously.
It was quite clear to Lelouch that she didn't want to be alone, especially not so soon after meeting new friends, but it wasn't like he could do much. While their home had an extra room, the only person in this game who knew that he vastly resembled the Demon Emperor would be Argo, who had no personal qualms with the reign of the monster known as Lelouch, having lost no relatives to his war.
The Tianzi, however, had some traumatizing memories he was sure. Being captured after held at the point of the VARIS, shoved into a small cell with only Kaguya beside her, and the days of waiting for her execution, followed by the parading her and the others down the streets like felons... yeah, she'd probably have some foul memories of him.
Argo didn't seem to stop to think of this. "You'know, you could always stay with Wain and me." She offered. "Our place has three bedrooms... and only one is being used." A sly grin slipped onto her partially visible face, as she threw and arm around the statue-still figure of Lelouch.
'Shit, shit, shit. If I tell Argo we can't do that, Lihua will be suspicious of what I'm hiding, which simply cannot end well. I'll need to be extremely careful to always wear my hood... which will also draw her suspicion...' He paused in his thoughts, a tired groan echoing through his mind. 'And she implied we were sleeping together in a notably less innocent way than we are.'
"A-ah, I'm not s-sure if I could intrude on you l-like that..." The Empress stuttered, ruby eyes wide. She must have been away from Kaguya for too long, she hadn't been getting her daily dose of innuendo... Argo was going to build back up the tolerance she had for it.
Argo was suddenly before her, hands clasped and eyes wide and hopeful. "Pleeaaaaaaase?" She begged, eyes sparkling.
The woman blushed, and began trying to stutter a coherent response. "Aaahh, umm, a-alright, I suppose I c-could..." She replied, trying not to gush over how adorable the younger girl looked. Why was she so good at that?
Lelouch would have snarled in frustration, had he less control of his emotions. 'Damn it. There's nothing I can do about this now without drawing untoward attention on myself.' He realized he would simply have to deal with it. He was going to get Argo for this one... somehow.
"Well, let's head to the cottage then. It's a ten minute walk and it's getting late." Lelouch suggested.
"Alright, but first I got a gift for you Wain." Argo announced, opening a trade window with speeds that displayed a great deal of dexterity and knowledge of the systems.
Lelouch looked the item over, making a small snort of amusement. "Really, Argo?" He asked, looking over the item, now a trio of items, on the panel. Was she being serious?
"Yeah, really. You always complain about your hair being too boring, so I got'cha some dyes from the market for cheap." Argo responded.
Dyemaking was cheap, required little output of effort, and was safe considering most materials were found off of grinding mobs on floor one, none of which presented any threat to all but the weakest of characters. And as such, it ran rampant, custom colored clothing was easy to spot, people had odd hair colors, and so on.
However, the colors that were available through this skill were somewhat random, seeing as certain ingredients could produce several different colors, and mixing them all together could create a different color each time. As such, many colors were quite rare. Those that weren't rare tended to be the brighter, more exotic colors, along with the duller tones such as brown, dark greens, and so on.
Lelouch had been avoiding the use of dyes, because he didn't want some gaudy, bright hair color, nor did he want such a small change it would be meaningless. He figured hiding his hair beneath his hood was good enough, since there would be no dealing with the issue of finding a color he didn't despise. Argo, however, was basically forcing him to pick one, because she had invited a third person to the house they shared.
... She planned this, he knew it. She had to have planned this, there was no way it simply worked out so well for her. In the end, holding in a sigh of defeat, Lelouch chose the color he could deal with best. Amusingly enough, this would be a silvery white color.
He accepted the trade, having taken the dye he wanted, leaving Argo with a small, sincere smile. 'She's trying to get me to open up to other people. It'd be sweet if I weren't trying my hardest to keep a secret.' He noted.
Seeing her eagerness to get him to use the dye, Lelouch rolled his eyes and activated the item. A small selection panel appeared.
He pressed the Hair tab, and in a splash of blue pixels his hair had become a shocking, cloudy white. He sighed. That was going to be hard to get used to.
Argo, and Lihua to a lesser degree, pouted. "I can't see. Your hood is up." The information broker complained.
"I'd like to see, too..." Lihua muttered, a small, embarrassed smile on her lips.
Lelouch shrugged. "Fine. I'll show you when we reach the cottage." He announced. "Speaking of, let's go. Monsters get more aggressive at night and I'd rather not be swarmed by Wasps." Which were another monster introduced on this floor, hidden in the dense mountainous forest. Not terribly dangerous, but fast and annoying. At night their numbers seemed to double, and they multi-aggroed. Not fun at all.
As they began their journey to the cottage, Lelouch couldn't help but recall the last time he had seen Jiang Lihua in person, before this entire mess had occured. Eight years before.
Soft footsteps echoed down the halls of the prison, as a boy garbed in white and gold arrived before a glass door, startling the occupants of the cell.
The older of the two within fixed him with a frosty glare, as the younger cowered in her arms. "What do you want, Lelouch?" She asked, bitterly.
He stared at her, his face an emotionless mask. "I want you tell me everything you want to. Curse me, condemn me to the deepest pits of hell, I want to hear everything you want to say to me." He replied, still an unreadable book.
Kaguya frowned, looking him over. Beneath his eyes were dark bags, indicating a lack of sleep, and he looked practically malnourished at this distance. Most definitely not how someone of royal stature would look... He looked defeated, even though he had won. While his face was unreadable, his body language painted him as being bitter.
"You've done all this. Why?" She surprised him by asking a question, rather than threatening his life. She seemed so calm, too...
"I asked you to tell me what you wanted to say. Never did I say I would answer your questions." He replied, stoic.
A sad smile made it's way to her face. "It's like that time back at the shrine, isn't it?" She asked.
As his mind processed what she meant, his eyes widened marginally before he could regain control. So she knew after all... he hated when he was right.
Kaguya pressed her advantage, clutching the Tianzi closer to her, the young girl simply hiding in her embrace. "I knew it. Just like back when you made Tohdoh angry at you to get Suzaku out of trouble. He had you doing push-ups for three weeks." A small, fond smile made it's way to her lips, before being replaced by a bitter look. "But this time it's not going to just be push-ups, is it, Lelouch? That's why you wanted to talk, isn't it?"
"You never cease to over-estimate you knowledge." Lelouch's stoic act broke, suddenly haughty. "What makes you think this is anything like my childish decisions, made nearly a decade before? I'm the ruler of the world, what do I care if I'm hated? They can hate me all they like, so long as they follow my orders I've no concerns. And I assure you..." He grinned widely. "They will follow my commands."
The head of the Sumeragi House was having none of that, which she made clear with her next words. "Cut the bullshit, Lelouch!" She shouted. "I know what you're going to do." A few tears leaked from her eyes. "Is it really worth it? Do you really think that what your doing is worth everything you've done? All the people you've killed, the lives you've ruined, the hearts you've left broken? Is this scheme of yours worth that? Was it all a part of your plan from the start?" Kaguya nearly broke down into sobs. "Were you using us this whole time, just to get here and kill yourself!?" She yelled.
Lelouch smiled sardonically. "No. I never planned this. I wanted to die that day, when the Black Knights betrayed me. Schneizel had won them over and I didn't have any reason to carry on." His smile, self mocking though it may have been, dropped in an instant. "I was done. Not only had I thought Nunnally to be dead, not only had I disowned Rolo, I was nearly gunned down by the army I had raised, because they had allowed an enemy commander to sway them under his banner. Watching them preparing to fire on me, the one who had created the Black Knights... I gave in. I forced Kallen away with hateful words, and prepared for death... and then Rolo saved me. I had to watch yet another person I had cared for die, because of my mistakes. It's funny how I only realized how much I cared for Rolo after he died. First Euphy, then Shirley, and finally Rolo. Two of them died in my arms, and one I had to leave in a road covered in blood that wasn't hers."
Kaguya, having heard from the other members of the Black Knights just how the SAZ Massacre was supposed to have went down, grit her teeth. "The massacre. Did you or did you not cause it with you Geass?" She asked.
"I caused it, unintentionally." He laughed a bitter, self loathing laugh. "My greatest weapon turned on me at the worst time possible. If only it had happened just a few minutes before... If only I had kept control for a scant few more minutes, this world would be so very different..." He shook his head. "Either way, it doesn't matter. All that matters is the now." And then he smiled sadly, his tone warm and sincere. "Thank you, Kaguya. I'm sorry that the two of you have to go through this. You'll be free soon, and I'll be gone..."
The glass of their cell fell suddenly, and though Kaguya figured out what was going to happen, she was a moment too late to break the trance. The Empress had been caught aswell, having glanced towards the noise.
"You will forget everything I have told you today." Lelouch commanded.
"Understood." They replied in unison.
Lelouch was gone before the trance wore off, meeting half way down the hall with C.C., who had been in the security room operating the cell door. The witch spoke softly. "I'm glad you found a way to keep yourself sane, Lelouch."
He laughed bitterly. "Sane is the last word I would use to describe myself. I'm simply keeping my conscience from killing me before Suzaku does." Lelouch replied. "Perhaps one day Jeremiah will return Kaguya's memories to her, and she'll recall this conversation. Perhaps she'll forgive me after my death. Who knows? It won't matter, so long as the Zero Requiem is complete. I've taken and lost too much to give up now."
And so, with some of his bottled emotions released, Lelouch trudged down his path, littered with bodies and soaked with blood. Soon, it would all be over... he, and the world, would be free.
Of course, he had not died. That was certainly a monkey wrench in the works. His short recollection had ended just as they reached the doors of the cottage, Argo ushering her new companion inside. Lelouch followed at a steady pace.
"C'mon, Wain, show us your hair now." Argo demanded, impatiently. She was giggling like a school-girl, eager to see just what he looked like with white hair.
Lihua, not knowing just what color he had chosen, was even more eager to see. She hadn't even seen his face yet, so it was quite exciting for her. She was feeling like a kid all over again.
Lelouch picked up on these things, chuckling inwardly as he realized that sometimes you just had to make your own fun. And so, with a flourish of hands, the immortal scrolled through the menu and unequipped his hood, revealing the clothing he wore beneath.
His upper half was garbed with a semi-loose violet shirt, with wide sleeves that came to his wrist, where they were tied with dark purple bandages. A black, leather bandoleer crossed from his right shoulder to just above his hip, lined with pouch after pouch.
His lower body was covered by a pair of black hakama pants, and he wore a pair of black tabi socks. For footwear he wore what seemed to be a pair of black, straw zori sandals.
And, of course, his face remained the same, save the silvery white hair that closely resembled that of the Empress. "Happy?" He asked.
"Yes!" Argo squealed with joy. "I've finally gotten you to take your hood off in front of other people!" She exclaimed, giddily.
The Empress was slowly looking him over, having had to force down a slight sense of deja vu`. She knew she'd never met this boy before, but he seemed so familiar. When she noticed his eyes, she realized what it was. 'Ah. The eye color. It's been a while since I've seen eyes that shade of purple.' Yes, his eyes were a stunning shade of violet that looked as though they could see into the soul. And, of course, it dredged up memories of Lelouch vi Britannia and his own eyes.
Lihua had been shocked when Kaguya had told her just who Lelouch was, how he had been Zero, how he had lived with her and her cousin in the Kururugi Shrine, how Kaguya had gained a crush on the boy, and how they hadn't met again until she had gone out of her way to meet the masked man Zero.
How Zero had a power called Geass that allowed him to manipulate the minds of anyone who made eye contact and how he had used it, liberally. Even going so far as to cause the SAZ Massacre, having manipulated Euphemia into the entire ordeal.
Of course, she was even more surprised when Kaguya had contacted her suddenly, years later, in tears. She had told Lihua about the incident in the prison, which only Kaguya remembered. Kaguya and Lihua had become extremely close over the years, with Kaguya having been the Tianzi's first friend her age. They kept in touch constantly and were very dear to one another. That was why Kaguya was so quick to share the truth of Lelouch vi Britannia's plans with her, after forcing her to swear that not another soul would learn of it.
In thought, the actions of Lelouch vi Britannia were noble. To draw the hatred of the entire world upon himself, before dying and leaving behind peace under fear of another tyrant rising up. While she didn't like it, Lihua couldn't deny the effectiveness of his plan. And if the Black Knights hadn't mutinied after Schneizel came to them, perhaps things would have been much different and Lelouch vi Britannia would be regarded as a hero. History could change so easily based on decisions made by certain people.
In short, after knowing what she did, memories of the Demon Emperor weren't very jarring to her. "You have such pretty eyes." She noted.
Lelouch shrugged. "Thank you." He replied. Well, that went over well. "Most people don't care for my eye color much."
Argo glomped him, nearly sending them both to the ground. However, Lelouch managed to remain upright this time. "Awww... he didn't fall over." The girl was not pleased with this.
"So I was right!" He exclaimed, outraged. "You ARE doing this just to knock me over."
The girl cackled, still firmly attached to his side. "Of course! I know you like it when I'm on top." She announced.
"A-aah!" Lihua gasped, a pink tinge crossing her cheeks. She shook her head, trying to get the image of the two of them doing that out of her head. Kaguya was not a good influence at all.
"Damnit Argo, you're such a pervert." He muttered, patting her on the head, much to her satisfaction.
"And don't you forget it." She practically purred.
Lihua couldn't help but giggle, the two of them just looked so cute together. "Uhm, are the bedrooms upstairs or down? And which are you two using?" She asked.
"Oh that's right, I didn't tell you about the best part of this house." Argo exclaimed. "C'mon, follow me!" Not giving any room for an answer, Argo quickly grabbed the Empress by her arm and spirited the surprised woman off.
Lelouch shook his head with a small, tired smile. "This has been a long day." He announced, falling into a chair. "With Kibaou leading the next raid-group, I'm uncertain as to whether or not we'll succeed. Hopefully he can lead the group effectively. If not, we're going to take a lot of casualties." He frowned. "Hopefully someone will step up and lead them. If not, it will fall to me... and I would rather not bring that kind of attention onto myself. Perhaps if I used Argo or the Tianzi as a proxy leader..." And so he was left to scheme, as Argo showed Lihua the hotspring.
"A-ah!" He heard someone yell. "A-Argo, what are you d-doing!?"
... There went that plan. He decided, rather than allow his mind to wander, he would simply try to tune out the surrounding noises.
"Awww, but you look so pretty when you blush!" Argo's voice called.
And with that, Lelouch stood up and walked outside.
"It's frightening to see just how real this world seems..." Lelouch muttered, looking out into the treeline. "Had Kayaba never trapped us here, he would be praised world-wide for his masterpiece." He shook his head ruefully. "Now he'll just go down in history as creating the first crisis related to VRMMO's, killing thousands for no good reason." An exhausted sigh escaped his lips. "Even moreso, the Empress simply cannot die here. The fallout it would cause could threaten the peace of the world as a whole... I can't let that happen..." He grit his teeth, fists clenching by his sides. "Too much was sacrificed for someone to destroy it all on a whim."
His head snapped towards a sound in the trees, and he quickly readied a shuriken. "Now, now, no need to go all Sayoko on me." His target replied, walking out of the brush. "Honestly, if getting into this world wasn't such a pain, I'd be less opposed to being killed. Wouldn't be the first time, after all."
"C.C.!" Lelouch shouted in shock. Why was she here? How had she even gone about finding him? How long had she been here? So many questions ran through his head all at once.
"I like your hair, Lelouch." She replied, nonchalantly. "It works on you. Charles always looked silly, though that was more due to the ridiculous style."
After assessing the situation, Lelouch quickly calmed himself and supplemented a cover story. "Alright. You're here. That's not a bad thing. You and I are former classmates, with yourself having just graduated. Currently Argo, one of the two I'm currently staying with, believes I'm a Britannian boy who spent a good portion of his schooling being bullied for having the name "Lelouch", which is why I go by my middle name "Alan". While in this world, I go by the name Gawain."
She gave him a dull look. "Oh, hello C.C., you look ravishing today. Why thank you Gawain." She replied snidely. "Honestly, we've not seen each-other for months and this is how you greet me? I'm disappointed."
Lelouch rolled his eyes, well used to C.C.'s antics by now. "You know I'm glad to see you." He said.
She surprised him slightly when she walked closer, suddenly grabbing his collar and pulling him into a quick kiss. "I'm glad to see you too." She responded, after disconnecting their lips.
She had a habit of giving him these quick kisses every once in a while, with no real pattern. After so many years of it he had simply gotten used to it. She'd never bothered to go any deeper in a relationship, so Lelouch hadn't either. And why would he? This worked just fine for him. Besides, it wasn't like they didn't have time to pursue a relationship later. He was willing to bet it would happen at some point. After all, forever is a long time to be alive.
He shook his head. "Right. So, when did you decide to buy SAO? You always seemed disinterested when I brought it up around you." Not that he'd done it often, mind you. But honestly, it was worth bringing up every once in a while.
C.C. shrugged. "I'd planned to surprise you. It's not like I've got anything better to do. Immortality is boring." And then she threw her arms up in exasperation. "It's such a pain that this kind of situation arises when I'd wanted to do something relaxing. You can't seem to keep out of trouble."
Lelouch frowned. "Speaking of trouble..." He pointed to the cottage behind him. "The Empress of China is in there right now."
"... You're kidding me." C.C. replied. "I knew she had been caught up in this, but you've actually managed to run into her? Seriously?"
"Do I look like I'm joking, C.C.?" He replied. "Wait, that reminds me. Is anyone else of note trapped in this game?"
C.C. put her hand to her chin, as though sorting out information. "Well, for starters Kaguya dived into the game a week after the fact."
It was his turn to be shocked. "You're serious? Damn it all to hell. I knew she was impulsive, but this is just ridiculous. No one else?"
"No one important enough to make big news, and I checked on your friends from Ashford specifically. None of them are here."
"Good, having the empress and Kaguya both here is bad enough, I don't need anyone else who poses a threat of recognizing me. So far Lihua shows no signs of suspicion. Kaguya would call me out within a week, maybe sooner. Uhhhhg... we're running out of time to chat, either way. The Empress could recognize you, as close as she and Kaguya are I'm certain a green haired woman named C.C. has come up. Especially considering her former obsession with putting together a harem..." He chuckled a bit. It was actually pretty funny looking back on it.
"Right. Either way, the name I've chosen for my Avatar is Cecilia." At his questioning look, she shrugged. "The box wouldn't let me use symbols, and my name had to consist of more than two letters. So C.C. wasn't possible."
"Alright. We'll need to "meet" one another in town at some point, tomorrow would be good. Starter City is probably the best place. I'll work from there." He grimaced. "Sorry, but it would look too suspicious if I suddenly met up with an old friend in the woods."
She shrugged. "It's fine. I'll look forward to our meeting tomorrow." And with that, she was on her way back to town.
Lelouch sighed. "This is getting too complicated." He didn't like complications unless he intended for them to occur.
The next day, a meeting was held. After the success of the first boss clear, with only one casualty, they had drawn nearly twice as many players for the second floor boss.
The meeting was being held in the town square, where the large group wouldn't be cramped. "Alright! Let's get this meeting started." A gruff voice shouted.
The attention of the murmuring crowd was drawn to Kibaou, who stood before his party. All members of his group were well outfitted with the best weapons they could get ahold of on this floor, and made for a very inspiring sight. "My name is Kibaou, for you newcomers." He gestured out to the crowd. "I'm going to be leading this raid, and my party and I are among those who defeated Illfang. We've got the right to be in charge." He chuckled a bit.
"Our goal, is the defeat of Minos, the Golden Bull. The information we have on the boss states that it is mostly a brute, and has very few special characteristics. The most dangerous part of the fight will be whenever the boss's horns glow gold. When that happens, he'll smash the area around him, knocking anyone close to him away. He'll then pick someone and charge them. To combat this, we will have a group dedicated entirely to stopping him mid charge. To do this will require a lot of strength, so anyone with that quality would be an asset. Volunteers?"
A member of Kibaou's party stepped forward, wielding a sword and shield. "My name is Katsu, I'm the one who will be leading the group intended to halt the boss's charge." He was a tall man, and while he didn't look particularly muscular, it didn't mean anything in this fantasy world. He could be the strongest person in Aincrad for all they knew. His hair was dark, short, and looked rather unkempt. Aside from that, nothing set him apart.
The towering form of Agil made itself known. "I volunteer." He stated simply, looking around the gathered players with a smile. He was obviously pleased with the amount of people who had turned up this time.
Four more people volunteered for the position, before Kibaou announced that they should have enough. "Good! Now, divide into groups and get ready for the fight tomorrow. Tonight is yours to do whatever you want." His grin turned sour. "The last boss fight, we lost a good man. I want everyone here to get out alive. Be careful tomorrow, don't let yourselves get caught off guard. Our info was wrong last time, and we got this info from the same person. It might be wrong, but it's what we've got."
In the crowd, Argo the Rat flinched.
A hand settled itself on her shoulder, and she smiled weakly at it's owner. "I know, I know... but it still hurts. Way to salt the wound..."
Lelouch, hooded once more, simply sighed. "Kibaou is the type to keep a grudge. With Kirito playing the part of the Beater, he'll keep from singling you out personally at the very least. And if he doesn't, I'll simply remind him where his priorities lie." He had no intention of elaborating how he would do so.
"I'm confused... Argo is the one that the information on the bosses came from?" Lihua asked.
Argo chuckled. "Yep. I've got a reputation among the beta testers for being the one who knows anything you want to learn."
"And the nickname "Argo the Rat" due to those oh so adorable whisker marks on her face, and her tendencies to swindle you out of your Col for info." A male voice cut in.
The boy who had cut in was about Lelouch's height, with shoulder length blue hair and golden eyes. He was garbed in simple clothes, with a leather chest piece for protection. He wore a long-coat, which fell to his knees and partially hid his weapon of choice, a rapier. He had a mischievous looking face, as though he had some great prank in the works that no one else knew about. His long coat was a chalky white, and the clothing beneath was colored different shades of blue, the pants darker than the shirt. His feet were covered by a pair of leather boots.
"Pollux." Argo replied dryly. "Good to see you're alive. Your brother nearby?" She asked.
"Yes, I'm here." A softer voice replied. "Good to see you, Argo." Castor looked quite similar to his brother, but with a gentler face and blue eyes. He was garbed in a full set of chainmail armor, a dark greyish color. A short blue cape fell from his left shoulder, covering the arm down to the elbow. Slung over his back, attached by a leather harness, was a large warhammer. It looked almost out of place on the gentle looking boy.
"You guys weren't there for the first boss, I was hoping you hand't been caught in this mess."
Castor frowned. "It took us a bit longer to get over the entire ordeal than some others. By the time we had resolved to clear this game, we were terribly underleveled. Neither of us looked forward to risking our safety by leaping into dangerous situations without being adequately prepared, so we grinded for a long while to reach a decent level and get our hands on some good equipment." He sighed tersely. "To think that we had looked forward to this game."
Pollux shrugged. "Honestly, Cas, this world isn't too bad. If it wasn't for the looming threat of death I'd be perfectly content with being stuck here until we clear all hundred floors. But the whole dying thing kinda kills the mood."
Lelouch furrowed his brow. Castor? Pollux? Blue hair, fair skin, gold and blue eyes? Why was this so familiar?
He looked closer at the two, noting that he had picked up a faint accent in their Japanese, which was the primary language spoken in SAO. While copies had been available to certain parties outside of Japan, I.E. those with enough money to ship it without problems, it was still sold primarily in Japan and marketed as a Japanese game.
Yes, the duo had a distinctly Britannian accent, slight though it was. So a pair of twins with blue hair, mismatched eyes, and fair skin, who hailed from Britannia.
If these two were who he thought they were, he could honestly say he had the most ridiculous luck. Since having the misfortune of entering Sword Art Online, he had encountered the Empress of the Chinese Federation, ran into C.C., been informed that Kaguya had also entered the death-game, and possibly found two of his half-brothers.
Either way, it didn't matter. They were born a year and a half before his exile, so they wouldn't know of his mannerisms. Aside from his brief reign, during which the duo had been under the influence of Geass, they had no contact with him. Even if they were his half-brothers, the two of them had little to no chance of recognizing him.
"Argo?" Lihua asked. "Who are your friends?"
The girl shrugged. "Just another pair of beta testers I met before this whole thing went to hell. Castor and Pollux." She gestured to them respectively.
"Ah. Hello, my name is Lihua." While the woman wasn't extremely secretive about her position as the leader of a country, neither did she spread that information around needlessly. Why she had been so open about it to Gawain was a mystery.
"My name is Gawain." Lelouch greeted. "It's nice to meet you."
"Good to meet you too." Castor replied with a small smile.
"Nice makin' your acquaintance." Came Pollux's response.
Lelouch nodded. "Argo, I'm going to go for a walk." And with that said, he hopped onto a nearby overhang, leaped once more onto the top of the building, and began jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
Three of the remaining quartet blinked. "Some walk." Pollux muttered with a snicker.
"Wain likes doing stuff like that." Argo muttered offhandedly. "Anyway, do you two have anyone to party with aside from eachother?" She asked the twins.
"No, we're just a duo at the moment." Castor replied. "Are you offering us a spot in your group?" He asked.
"Yeah. We could use someone tanky, since none of us are. Wain and I use claws, and Lihua has a... chain whip."
"Jiujiebian." The Chinese woman offered helpfully.
"Yeah. That." Argo had problems pronouncing that.
"... Right. I can see why you'd need someone who can take a hit. And if there is anyone I know who can take a hit, it would be my brother. After all, he's been my punching bag for years." Pollux announced, earning him a smack to the back of his head from afforementioned punching bag. "OW. Those gauntlets are metal you ass."
Castor rolled his eyes. "You and I both know you can't feel it. Melodramatic."
"Ass." Pollux, obviously, was not one to mince words.
"How utterly pedestrian of you." Castor quoted something their late brother had said many times. Clovis always had amused the duo with his flowery speech and flair for dramatics.
"... Ass." Pollux, however, was still not one to mince words.
Lihua watched these happenings with a deadpan look on her face. "Are they always this..." She paused, searching for a word to described their childish behavior without offending them.
"... Immature? Childish? Stupid? Yes to all three. Castor's not that bad though." Argo, quite obviously, liked to poke fun at the golden eyed boy.
"... Asses, the lot of you." Pollux muttered angrily.
'Ah. Just who I was looking for.' Lelouch smiled to himself. "Hello, Kirito." He greeted, hopping down from the rooftop of a single story building. "How have you been?"
The boy, garbed in his now iconic coat, waved slightly. "I'm fine. You?"
"Well enough." Lelouch replied. "You were at the meeting today, correct?"
"Yeah. Made sure Kibaou didn't see me, though. He'd throw a fit."
"Indeed. I'm hoping the man has enough tactical knowhow to keep casualties low. He seemed quite determined not to let someone die under his watch." While Lelouch didn't like the man for personal reasons, he realized Kibaou served his purposes. After all, someone as brash as him made for a decent leader of the people. The masses liked to believe they were similar to their leaders. Diabel had gone about making himself seem down to earth, on their level, and so forth. He'd done it with that specific purpose in mind.
Kibaou was just another man with a sword placed in his hand, hoping to get himself and his friends out of this hell. Everyone could relate to that. So, yes, Kibaou served a purpose. He made an easy figure to rally behind. Hopefully he wouldn't make anyone regret their decision to follow his lead.
"That's what you're here about, right?" Kirito asked knowingly. "In case the boss does something odd that I might recognize, like the katana techniques Illfang pulled?"
Lelouch smiled lightly. "Yes, somewhat. You and I both know what the boss is supposed to be capable of, and what bosses above him are capable of. Should something go awry..."
"You want to make sure I'd help anyone who could be taken by surprise." The dark haired loner finished.
"Exactly. While Kibaou may mean well, I don't trust his ability to give level headed commands under pressure. And so if something comes up, someone better suited should take over. After your little Beater stunt, the clearers at least recognize that you know things they don't. If you warn them, they will listen."
Kirito shook his head ruefully. "At least it served a purpose. I'll be sure to warn everyone if I recognize something odd with the boss."
"Excellent. It's been good talking with you, but I'm certain you've other things you want to do. If what Argo says about you is true, you probably intend to grind the rest of the day away. Right?" Lelouch asked.
The Beater chuckled. "She knows way too much." He announced.
"That she does. Goodbye Kirito." And with that, Lelouch was off again.
'Next stop, Starter City.'
The city was bustling as usual. A great deal of players had decided to simply give up once they realized the severity of their situation. Thus, civilians had to find something to keep themselves occupied. Many of them took up the various professions of Sword Art Online, from smithing to tailoring to woodworking and so on.
Believe it or not, this was a good thing. If everyone rushed out, leveled up, and attempted to clear the bosses then casualties would absolutely skyrocket. There would simply be too many people to manage, and someone would die each and every time a boss was encountered. And moreso, if no one leveled their professions and lived like a simple civilian, then the clearers would have to rely on NPC smiths and armorers... which was not good. They simply didn't compare to a player at all.
Lelouch suspected Kayaba had done this on purpose. Maybe he assumed there would be those who weren't willing to risk themselves, and decided to give them some purpose. Maybe he wanted to force players into breathing life into the world of Aincrad by creating it's economy from scratch. Maybe it was simply a whim.
Either way, it was because of this that people actually took up their crafting skills, which is the reason for such hustle and bustle in Starter City. It was simply the largest city they had access to at this time.
Ah. There was his target now. Dressed in her usual smithing uniform and sticking out like a sore thumb due to her pink hair. "Hello again, miss Lisbeth." Lelouch greeted the idle smith.
"Oh! It's you." She replied immediately. "I didn't catch your name before." Best to get that out of the way first, lest something happen to distract her from it.
Lelouch blinked. "Ah, I'm terribly sorry. I don't know how I could have forgotten something like that. My name is Gawain." How had that not come up during their last chat? Odd.
"Gawain." She tested the word. "Like the knight from the Arthurian myths? Or the Knightmare frame?" Lisbeth pondered.
"A bit of both." Was the response from the immortal.
"I see. So, what do you need? Or did you just stop by to chat?" Lisbeth asked.
"The latter. I'm just roaming the city for the moment." He sighed. "Tomorrow, we'll be confronting the second floor boss. I'm just relaxing until then."
"Oh. I suppose that's good. Is your equipment in good condition?"
"Well over half durability. It'll last another week or two." Sixty percent durability and up was considered a safe zone. If any piece of equipment was below sixty percent then there was a slim chance of it being destroyed upon being damaged, which was not good at all. Many an embarrassing situation had cropped up on the beta forums about that.
"Good." She shook her head sadly. "I wish I had the courage to help out there, but... I'm scared, you know? One slip up out in the field when I'm gathering materials and I could die. How much worse would it be in a dungeon made specifically to kill you?"
Lelouch smiled lightly beneath his hood. "It's fine. A lot of us are scared. One slip up and we'll never see our loved ones again. It's a lot of pressure." His expression hardened. "But we are going to get out of here. No matter how long it takes, those of us trapped in this world will not just lay down and die." They didn't have much choice but to complete the dungeon. It was only a matter of time before the medical facilities the comatose players must currently be in will have to pull the plug.
Either the floors are cleared and those remaining escape, or they die after the resources sustaining them can no longer be given.
Lisbeth smiled back. "I'm glad people like you are out there." She giggled airily. "You make it seem like there's no way we'll be trapped here forever. It's very comforting."
Lelouch chuckled. "Hopefully others take up a similar attitude, then. If there's anything we need, it'd be positivity." He opened his menu, noting that it was 3:30. The rush would occur soon. "It's about that time, Lisbeth. I'll leave you for now so you can tend to your customers."
She blinked. "Oh, you're right. I'd nearly forgotten I actually had work to do! Haha, see you around Gawain. Good luck tomorrow."
"Goodbye for now, I'll visit to tell you when we've defeated the boss. If I recall correctly, floor three is where players can begin to rent property for stores. I think you'll like that, having an actual store rather than using the smith's forge here."
And then he was off again, taking to the rooftops via a series of acrobatic leaps.
Why did Kayaba HAVE to turn SAO into a death game? This was such fun and he couldn't even properly enjoy it because lives were on the line.
Putting that aside, he continued to bound from rooftop to rooftop, searching for his target. He dropped down into an alleyway, before walking out and looking around the various stalls set up in the vicinity.
Ah, there she was. Dressed in a set of light mail, and carrying a shield on her back. At her hip rested a short sword. "Cecilia?" He asked, feigning surprise. Best to put on a small show.
"Hm?" She replied, turning to look him over. "Do I know you?" She asked, squinting at him.
"It's me, Alan." He announced, removing his hood.
Her eyes widened, and she yelled in joy. "ALAN!" She exclaimed, launching herself at him and wrapping him tightly in a hug. "I can't believe you found me! I'm so happy you're alright!"
And after a few moments, she released him. "Good enough?" She whispered deviously.
"Wonderful." He replied in a whisper of his own. And now should Argo snoop around she would hear of this scene, which will quell her suspicions. Information brokers were everywhere, and they had eyes and ears in more places than you could count. While it made gaining information quite simple, it was also easy to take advantage of the system if you had the brains to do so.
Needless to say, Lelouch had the brains to do so.
"I'd been looking for you for months, Alan. How have you been?" She asked.
He laughed dryly. "Fighting giant kobolds, golems, and tomorrow a giant bull. I suppose I could be worse off." He frowned. "It's crowded here."
C.C. mimicked his expression. "Right. We should go somewhere more private and you can catch me up on everything."
Lelouch nodded, turning to leave. "I know a place." He offered, gesturing for her to follow. "Follow me."
Shrugging, the green haired woman did so.
In the crowd, a man in a set of leather armor grinned. He subtly signaled to two others, a man in plate mail and another wearing a cloth outfit. The trio followed after the departing pair, having heard the conversation clearly via their Listen skill.
"What's the plan, Boss?" The largest, the plate wearer, asked the leather clad man.
"Wait till they're outside of city limits and jump'em. Once they're down we'll lay low in the cove and let Rosie know we'll be down for a few days."
"Got it." The other two replied in unison.
The three kept decent distance between their targets and themselves, succeeding in drawing no attention to themselves. Soon, their targets left the city... and the trio lost sight of them.
"Boss, where'd they go?" The man in the hood asked, clutching his sword.
"I dunno. Damnit. They looked like promising marks too." The leather clad man growled. "Fuck it. We'll just hit another group." He decided.
It was then he felt a figure drop behind him. "No, you will not." Lelouch announced. His eyes were cold as he looked at the trio of what he assumed to be bandits. "I'll assume that by taking us down you intended to kill us, which is why you were going to hide out afterwards." He frowned angrily. "I'm willing to bear an orange cursor for a few days if it means you don't hurt anyone else." It'd certainly be difficult to explain tomorrow, but the dungeon was not a safe zone. A quick explanation and he would probably be fine. Probably.
"HAH! We've go the numbers here boy. Your little girlfriend isn't even here now." The leader of the group pointed out.
Lelouch simply shrugged. "You think I care? We left the city specifically to draw you out of hiding." He chuckled at the surprise evident on the face of the leader. "Yes, I knew you had been watching us the entire time. I would never have suspected a meeting with an old friend would lure out scum like you..." As he finished the word "scum", he dropped a small orb which promptly burst into smoke. His figure faded instantly in the dark veil.
"BOSS!" One man yelped in fear. "I can't see anything! OH GO-" His voice was cut off by the sound of broken glass, a shine in the darkness coming from where he had been.
A powdery substance. Pixels... The sword wielder shrieked in horror as he realized that his companion had been slain before anyone could react. He swung about wildly with his blade, hoping for it to find purchase. The sound or ripping cloth was like a godsend to him, as he began ferociously slicing in the direction of the sound. Soon his already murky vision was covered completely by a piece of cloth. 'The hood!' The swordsmen wailed in his head. He quickly tore the cloth from his face, only to gasp as something pierced his back.
Looking down, he saw three golden, serrated claws sticking through his chest. With a harsh jerk, the claws dove upward. This reduced his life to zero... eliminating him.
The final man, clad in the leather armor, stood fearfully with his ax in hand. The smoke was beginning to clear, soon he could fight the bastard... "AH!" He screamed, dodging several dark purple blurs. "Throwing stars?" He asked, looking around the haze. He saw a figure within the smoke, a silhouette with three claws jutting out of it's right hand, which was held up before it's face. It's other hand was drawn back, more of the dark purple blurs held in it. Not a moment later the hail of metal commenced as shuriken after shuriken pounded into the body of the leader. He attempted to run, knowing he was outmatched. "P-please, leave me alone! Get away from me you monster!" He was terrified. This thing had killed his friends instantly, and now it was toying with him!
"Hahaheheh..." A horrifying laughter reached his ears. It was nothing but malicious intent wrapped in dark humor. The owner of that laugh wanted nothing more than to end his pitiful existence. "How ironic that someone like you ask for mercy from me." His laughter erupted from it's quiet chuckles into a full blown maniacal cackle. "Is it frightening to you? That you're going to die here as nothing but a worm crushed underfoot? Because, to me, this is the most fitting end someone like you could have."
The laughter of this demon still chased him as he ran away, or rather attempted to. His attempts were ceased by a well placed slice from a claw... which severed his left leg at the knee. "AHHH! GOD NO, MY LEG!" He screeched in terror. "PLEASE, LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE!" He screamed.
"No." Came the simple reply, as a blade plunged into the back of the fallen man. "Lelouch vi Britannia commands you to die."
And die he did, finally recognizing the malicious laughter from his nightmares. It was the laughter of the Demon Emperor.
"Wain! What happened to you, why do you have an orange cursor?" Argo spouted off immediately after the arrival of the mentally exhausted Gawain and Cecilia. Of course, the green haired girl (Why did Wain keep picking up random girls?) could wait. Certain matters took precedence.
A tired sigh came from the white haired lad, his cloak long gone. "Wannabe bandits." He replied. It had been four hours since that incident, and it had been a long and tiring trip. The reason for this being that Lelouch couldn't enter cities at the moment. He had to go around Starter City, enter the Dungeon, defeat any respawns, exit the dungeon, take the long route to the cottage via the forests, all with C.C. along so that he couldn't simply speed up...
Such a pain in the ass.
Lihua frowned, eyes narrowing slightly. "You killed them?" She guessed.
"Yes." He replied simply. "Had I simply left them be they would have attacked another group, likely a less capable group."
Argo cut in. "How many?" She asked.
Lelouch blinked. "Three. Why?"
"Ten days ago, a duo left starter city with three others in tow. They'd intended to grind up in a five man party. Three of them came back, the duo died. Did the three who attacked you have an ax, a sword and shield, and a short sword respectively?"
"Yes, the leader seemed to be the ax wielder." He replied. So he had avenged a pair of unfortunate souls? Brilliant.
The information broker sighed. "I can't believe people would want to kill eachother now of all times. This is..." She was at a loss for words. Why would such a small group of people, only eight thousand, have so many human beings willing to take the lives of others? Was it simply because they had no fear of consequences?
She looked towards the silent figure of the green haired girl Gawain had arrived with. "Hiya." Argo greeted cheerfully, her mood having done a full 180.
"Hello." C.C. replied. "You're Argo, right?" She asked.
"Yeah." The mousy girl answered. "Who're you?"
"I'm Cecilia. A friend of Alan's." The utterance of his "real" name caught the attention of the smaller girl. "Yes, I know him from reality." She clarified. "We were friends, and we've kept in touch since his graduation."
"I see..." Argo pondered this for a moment. "A friend of his is a friend of mine." She announced.
Lihua had been looking Lelouch over throughout the entire conversation. 'He had the posture of someone who's killed before. He's completely calm, no signs of repressed stress... either he's much better at hiding his emotions than most people, or he's already made his first kill.' Watching him simply talk about killing the trio as one would talk about the weather, this was all but confirmed to her. 'But was his first kill inside the game, or in the real world?' In the end, she realized, it didn't matter. He had acted out in self defense, after all.
But something was just odd about it all. Lihua gave up after a few moments of trying to figure out just what was bothering her. She was familiar with death, so that wasn't it. Gawain was stable after ending the lives of three pkers, which was a good thing in the long run. And he had also reaquainted himself with a friend from the real world.
And so she simply smiled and ignored the little voice in her head that was mumbling something unintelligible. If she couldn't figure out just what it was, it probably wasn't that important. Or so she told herself.
"So you two have been sleeping together?" C.C. commented with a devious smirk after Argo had let that little fact slip. "Oh, Alan, I'm so proud of you. But isn't she a bit young?"
Argo snickered as Lelouch's face lit up. "It's not like that." He replied, voice holding steady. "It's completely platonic."
"Until I get bored and finally decide to make a move." The girl in question announced with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
"Not happening." Lelouch responded blandly.
"It probably will." C.C. teased.
Lihua spoke up. "You'd be cute together, even if there is a bit of an age difference." What was Gawain again? Eighteen? Argo was fifteen or so she believed. She had heard of much larger age gaps between significant others. After all, it was only eight years ago she had nearly been forced to marry a man nearly three times her age. Even less time had passed since her crush on Xingke, and the man's unfortunate passing. Age differences had never really been too much of a problem.
She supposed, since Britannia had been so willing to marry their Crown Prince off to a little girl, that country had no real qualms with it either. And she was certain that Gawain was a Britannian. He carried himself like one, his extremely minor accent pointed to it aswell, and he simply had that look to him. Of course, she could be wrong, but it wasn't likely.
As Lelouch tried to get over the fact that everyone in the house except for him seemed to want to get Argo into his pants, Argo agreed to let "Cecilia" stay with them. After all, any friend of Wain was a friend of hers. Not to mention all the fun things she had to know about him.
Information was Argo's drug. She loved to know things, especially things others don't know. And especially things she could make a profit from.
And if Argo could get ahold of any embarrassing stories about Lulu, then she could certainly profit from them in some way.
The snowy haired boy shivered inexplicably.
Thankfully Lelouch had kept his dignity throughout the night, much to C.C.'s chagrin. The witch was simply trying to get under his skin.
He wouldn't tell her this simply because then he would have to hear her reply with something along the lines of Argo trying to get under his clothes. That wouldn't do at all.
Seeing as how Lelouch couldn't enter the city, he had opted to wait at the dungeon entrance after asking Lihua to explain the situation to Kibaou. He would have asked Argo, but... well, Kibaou had a bad habit of cutting her down whenever he saw her. Bringing up the fresh wound of Diabel's death, blaming her faulty information as a major contributor to it... he was a spiteful man to those he didn't like.
And this is where we find the white-haired beauty now, standing before a party of six men in the middle of a crowd comprised of nearly seventy. The spiny haired brunette grunted slightly. "So, your friend was attacked by a group of PKers and was forced to kill them. And now he's got an orange cursor and is waiting outside the dungeon. That the gist of it?" He asked.
"Yes." Lihua replied. "He was a bit torn up about it, but it was him or them. They had made that quite clear before he dispatched them. Moreover, the three who attacked him matched up with the group that was suspected of killing a duo they had partied with, about ten days ago."
Kibaou growled. "Good. Taking advantage of numbers to prey on weaker players is disgusting. I'll give the group fair warning not to harm your friend, just confirm he is who you think he is before we get into the dungeon. I can trust him not to harm our group members, right?"
She nodded firmly. "He wouldn't harm any of them. He wants to get as many people out of Sword Art Online as possible. He's a very driven person."
The leader of the raid nodded. "Alright. I'll make the announcement ASAP. Thanks for telling me, wouldn't want your friend to be attacked on sight. What's his name?"
Lihua grimaced. Players who had an orange cursor were forsaken, basically. Killing them yielded a shorter period of Orange status, a day at most, and most people associated Orange players with PKing, which of course led to indiscriminate killing of anyone with an Orange cursor and no justification for having it. "His display name is Gawain."
With that done, Kibaou made the announcement that a member of their raid group was attacked by a group of PKers. After playing up the crowd by revealing the three as those responsible for the deaths of two players only two weeks before, he announced that their raid member was alive and well. The confusion spreading amongst the crowd was cut short when Kibaou told them that the player, Gawain, had slain all three of his attackers after they gave him an ultimatum. (Though he didn't actually use the word ultimatum. Probably didn't even know what it meant either.) After this statement, the reactions of the crowd were somewhat mixed.
"He killed three people? How could he do that?"
"Hey, it was him or them. He did what he had to do."
"Yeah, he's right. Those guys were PKers in the first place, everyone is safer with them gone."
"I don't like it, but you've got a point."
As the reactions settled down, the general consensus was that Gawain had made the right decision. Thankfully that was settled without incident.
A few moments after the announcement, Lihua arrived back with the group she had left. "There." She announced cheerfully. "Gawain is welcome in the group."
Argo let out a breath she had been holding. "Phew... I'm glad that's done. Thanks for doing that for me... Kibaou has a bad effect on my mood." She frowned.
"It's fine, Argo." Lihua assured her. "He's rash and impatient, quick to judge, and wouldn't stop staring at my chest, but he's decent enough as a leader."
C.C. snickered after her response. "Men are all the same." With that, she gave a not-so-subtle glance to the newest members of their party, Castor and Pollux. Specifically Pollux who had been discretely checking her out throughout their first meeting. He had stopped since them, after determining that it wasn't worth the trouble of dealing with her scathing wit and deadpan personality.
"Hmph." Pollux grunted. "I'm not blatant about it, at the very least. Some people ogle without even trying to hide it."
He had a point, actually. Pollux, while he still ogled suitably pretty women, did not do so blatantly. He was actually pretty discreet and otherwise somewhat gentlemanly. Until you pissed him off and heard him launch off a stream of curse words that would have made Tamaki blush. It was tolerable with him simply because most of the time girls weren't aware he was checking them out. And, of course, he stopped doing so after a bit.
Other men she'd come across didn't even bother trying to hide the fact that they were staring at her, still others making an absolute spectacle of themselves while drawing the attention of their friends to her. So, yes, in comparison Pollux was not that bad.
Still, teasing people was one of the few things C.C. got a kick out of after her many years alive, so she would never let the bluenette learn of her thoughts on the matter. "While you may not be blatant about ogling women, you're blatantly honest about telling us you do."
"Because I don't care. I keep my hands to myself, and if I just so happen to see something worth looking at? Then I do." Well well, this one had some bite to him.
"And what if you happen to see something you just can't keep your hands off of?" She asked in a sultry tone, moving towards him with a sway in her hips. Something she noticed his eyes following easily.
"You're underestimating his self control, miss Cecilia." Castor responded for his brother, who was too busy trying to keep from making a fool of himself in public. "While he is an unrepentant pervert-" "Hey!" "- he still handles himself with some modicum of restraint."
... Well Castor was just no fun at all, was he? Maybe C.C. could get him to loosen up? Or just drive him insane via pent up urges. He didn't seem like the kind to partake in temptations of the flesh, so teasing him would be fun. A bit like Lelouch when they had first met, before he built up a resistance to her taunts.
Any plans she had for the gentle looking twin were cut off as Kibaou announced that they were moving out. 'Ah well. There's always later.'
Lelouch sighed to himself, cutting down yet another Tauru which had strayed close enough to aggro him. What annoying creatures. That was like the fifth one. Annoying monstrosities indeed.
His brooding was cut short as the clearing group came into view, moments later Argo made herself known. "Hiya Wain. They're not gonna kill ya'." She announced cheerfully.
"Good." He chuckled. "Trouble seems to follow me, doesn't it Argo?"
The girl shrugged. "Yep. You're a magnet for trouble. It seems like everything that can go wrong does specifically to mess with you."
Once the group reached the dungeon entrance, Kibaou walked up to the hooded boy. "So you're the one that ended up killing off those three? I thought I recognized the name from somewhere." Kibaou was much less abrasive when he didn't have any negative information on people. Considering all he knew about Gawain was that he had been with them for the fight against Illfang and that he had killed off three pkers, the man had no real reason to be a dick to him.
"Yes. I had intended to just avoid them, but I heard them saying they would just find another small group to target. I knew I could deal with them, but I wasn't sure if their next targets could." He shrugged. "I could have just left them be and hoped no one else was killed, but I wasn't willing to."
The spiky haired man frowned. "I get where you're coming from." With that, he turned to the group and announced, once again, that Gawain was not to be attacked by anyone.
"Let's move on out!" Kibaou yelled, his group leading the march into the dungeon.
Lelouch made his way to the back of the crowd, linking up with his group plus Kirito. After the stunt he pulled on floor one, no one was willing to party with him. He was a solo player in the middle of a raid group. But, still, the seven of them stuck together. Castor and Pollux were idly bantering with one another, Argo cutting in at random times to bug Pollux. Kirito walked along silently, constantly alert. It was like he was afraid something was going to jump out of the walls and attack them.
Lihua was chatting with Cecila idly, though one could tell she was also peering about to locate any threats. Seventy people walking through here at once was pretty difficult. Those in the front and back were the only ones who were really able to do anything about the dungeon mobs, as the center of the group was pretty much a crowded mass of humanity with weapons they couldn't use without fear of hurting someone they didn't intend to.
A breath of relief passed through the group as they reached the doorway, emblazoned with skulls and fangs and claws. Much the same as the last door, though this one had a symbol that resembled a bovine skull with four horns.
"Alright. This is it." Kibaou announced. "Everyone remembers the plan? Group A is in charge of stopping Minos' charge. There shouldn't be any trash mobs, but if they do spawn then groups B, C, and D will deal with them while the remaining groups fight the boss. Group E will initiate on the boss, drawing aggro. Once they need to back off to heal, group F switches with them. We'll keep this rotation going. Everyone else will be DPSing the boss, including A, B and C if our info is right." He nodded. "Let's go!" He shouted, pushing open the door.
A large golden figure sat in the center of the room, eyes glowing a menacing red. It stood from it's hunched position and revealed itself to be a giant, larger than Illfang by a great deal. It's head bore two sets of horns, one pointing upward and another framing it's face and pointing directly infront of it. The hands of the creature were enormous, with the potential to crush boulders. A bovine tail sat at it's lower back, lazily waving behind the behemoth. As group E reached aggro range, the creature roared to life with a powerful battlecry.
"MOOOOOOO!" It roared, rushing forward with it's hands clasped above it's head, intending to crush them. It's attack was blocked by a man wielding a shield and a lance, his strength and defense stats keeping his health from falling too fast. With that first blow caught, the fighting truly began.
A nondescript man with blond hair grinned, seeing the bull stopped from it's assault. "Alright chums! Let's do this, LEEEEROOOOOOOOOOOY! JEEEEEEENNNNNKIIIIIINS!
"Did he seriously just say that?" Lelouch asked himself, slicing at the boss's ankles repeatedly. He jumped back as Minos raised his hoof in an attempt to smash him.
"I think he did." Argo confirmed, having been doing the same thing to the other leg. "At least he's motivated."
The bosses health dropped steadily, and upon reaching about 90% health it smashed the ground and knocked everyone back. The knockback did minor damage, but the charge it was preparing could kill if it wasn't stopped.
Minos roared in exertion as he dashed forward, head down and horns ready to run through the blond man who had shouted earlier. "HRAAAAAAHHH!" Agil roared, slamming his ax into the face of the bull with enough force to send them both flying, Agil moreso than Minos. But still, the charge had been halted.
Soon, the boss was down to half health, the battle going smoothly. They simply had so many fighters this time, it was difficult not to have someone moderately fresh attacking the boss. They couldn't even all surround it at once.
Excluding Argo and Lelouch who were simply agile enough to weave between the crowd and land their attacks on the boss, aiming specifically for the joints of it's knees and it's ankles. Weak points were scarce on this boss.
Which is why we find Lelouch analyzing the boss from a short distance. "Alright. Here goes nothing." With that said, he ran forward and leapt onto the back of the boss, driving his claw into the flesh between Minos' shoulders. The bull roared in anger and attempted to shake him off, being unable to reach his back. Lelouch chuckled, before pulling out three shuriken and planting them firmly in the back of the boss's skull. Minos roared, before using his knockback once more. 40% health left.
However, rather than charging, the bull leapt high into the air. Much higher than something it's size should be able to. He had positioned himself so that he would fall directly onto his back, crushing the annoying gnat that had been attached to him.
Of course, this served to accomplish nothing as Lelouch had wisely chosen to leap off of the boss as soon as he realized what was happening. He sustained a bit of fall damage, rolling on impact and dashing away from what was soon to be ground zero. The massive creature landed back first and created a massive crater in the ground, shooting debris into the air and managing to hit a few unfortunate players who hadn't reacted quickly enough.
While none were killed, being caught flatfooted like that had given those rocks a decent amount of damage. They would have to heal up before going back in.
"Well. That was new." Lelouch muttered. While the boss hadn't done that during the beta, it wasn't too unpredictable. "Good thing no one was under that."
Nearby him, Lihua nodded her head. "I'm surprised it can jump that high. Be ready, it's getting back up."
Though, something was off about the boss. Minos snorted, crossed his arms over his chest, and began to glow green. Kirito reacted instantly, shouting to the crowd. "It's healing! Make it stumble and it'll stop, otherwise it'll go straight back to full health!"
Luckily, there was an entire group dedicated solely to interrupting the boss's charge. And as such, they had no qualms with interrupting the boss while it healed. Agil and Katsu reacted instantly, dashing forward and slamming the boss with an ax and a shield, respectively. It stumbled backwards, only having healed about five percent of it's missing health. An angry snort followed as Minos slammed his hands down in another hammer pound, aiming to crush Agil and Katsu. They blocked it easily with their combined strength, allowing the fighting to begin anew.
While it took nearly an hour, the group finally managed to drop the health of the boss to about fifteen percent. Minos only used the leap to counter people landing on his back, which Lelouch was smart enough not to do a second time. His heal, however, he used alternatively with his charge. That is to say, right after his knockback. So each time it was used, Minos regenerated about five to seven percent of his health. It was an extremely annoying ability that was tedious to deal with.
But, in the end, it was still dealt with and the boss was still dying. Almost ten percent HP left. "BE CAREFUL!" Kibaou yelled out. "WE DON'T KNOW IF THIS BOSS WILL ENRAGE AT TEN PERCENT, SO STAY SAFE!"
The health of the boss chipped further away, and further... soon it was obvious Minos wouldn't enrage at ten percent. Only a small chunk of the final bar remained...
The bull went through another knockback, and was about to start healing again.
However, something unusual happened. Castor lost his temper. "ENOUGH OF THIS IDIOTIC HEALING!" He shouted, running forward and ramming his hammer into the belly of Minos, stumbling him and allowing Castor to continue wailing on him in a fury. "DIE YOU OBNOXIOUS COW! DIE!" And as he continued to smash the boss, people noticed that the boss was being stumbled on almost every strike.
Those who were in the know realized that this was because Castor simply wasn't giving it enough time to properly recover from the first stumble. The small stuns kept landing on the monster one after another, chained in perfect succession. At this point there was a dark blue glow surrounding his weapon as he continuously pounded away at the boss.
As soon as the clearers got over just how amazing this was to look at, they rushed in and began pounding on the monster themselves. Which broke the continuous chain Castor had managed to keep up throughout the entire ordeal.
The problem with the "stun barrage" Castor was landing on the boss was quite simple. If someone else hits the target and offsets the rhythm of the attacks, it's disrupted and the target is broken out of it's CClock. (Crowd Control lock.) While it wasn't a big deal here, since Minos was dying quite nicely, it would be a major issue if someone was distracting an enemy specifically to provide safe escape for others.
Minos groaned in anger, hands raised over his head for a final smash in an attempt to heal. Castor was having none of that and simply slammed the head of his hammer into the falling hand's of the giant, knocking them away. His momentum kept going and his hammer smashed directly into the face of the crouching minotaur.
In a shower of pixels, the creature was no more. Small white panels appeared before each member of the clearing team, indicating they had leveled up. It would be common for this to happen on the lower floors, where EXP requirements to level weren't too high. Later on, however... not so much.
"Wow, Cas. I haven't seen you that pissed since..." He was cut off by a frosty glare from his brother. "Ah heh heh... I'll not bring that up again."
"A wise decision, brother. My disposition is far less pleasant than normal today." Castor sighed. "I apologize. I've had a bit of repressed anger that needed to be loosed upon something."
"Yeah, well you sure did loose some anger on that bull. I didn't know you had managed to get the timing on that stun storm of yours working." Pollux complimented.
Castor chuckled a bit. "Nor did I, brother."
Pollux's golden eyes widened. "No way..." He burst out laughing. "That is RICH! You seriously didn't stop to think about whether or not it would work?"
"Yes, I let my anger get the better of me. I'll be sure to keep a tighter reign on my emotions lest they get me killed." Castor assured him.
"That's good. I actually like you. Your brother? Well, the less said, the better." Argo called as she sauntered up to the duo. "Good job on the boss by the way, Castor. You got the last hit incase you didn't realize."
The bluenette blinked. He actually hadn't realized at the time. "I... did?" He muttered. "Oh. I did." Yes, apparently he had been awarded... a hammer. Happy coincidence. "Equus." He muttered. Upon equipping the item, which had much better stats than his old hammer, he couldn't help but be impressed.
She shaft was a pure black color, and about four feet in length. Dark blue cloth was wrapped around the metal shaft to improve grip and for decoration, a short tassel at the bottom. The head of the hammer was a dark stonelike material, shaped like a pair of cloven hooves attached to one another at the top. Various carvings were etched into the stone, detailed carvings of horses running.
"I like it. It'll be a shame when I need to replace it..." He muttered.
Lelouch, not really wanting to get involved with the crowds, decided to backtrack out of the dungeon. He lightly tapped Argo's shoulder as he passed. "I'll be heading back to the house."
"You sure? You don't wanna go see.. oh, right." She'd forgotten about the cursor.
"Yes. It'll take long enough to backtrack around Urbus, I don't want to put any more distance between myself and home." He replied. "I'll see you in a bit."
As he made his way out, Argo noticed that Lihua and Cecilia had both followed after him. "Huh." Argo pondered. 'I can understand Cecilia, they're friends from real life after all. She probably wants to spend time with him more than roaming Aincrad. But why is the Empress of the Chinese Federation so interested in him?' Argo's curiosity was peaked, but it would have to wait. There were things she needed to do on the third floor.
While it may not have been the nicest thing to do, being the first person to get to certain resources was still good business sense. Something Argo had in spades.
Alright. Authors note time.
As some of you may realize (Especially since Thanathos pointed it out in a review, and I'm not the only one who reads those. I think.), I've messed up the way PKing and Orange cursors work. While originally this wasn't intentional, I'm going to roll with it. After all, you've gotta flex the rules a bit sometimes for the sake of plot. It may seem like a cop-out, and in some ways it is, but I'll make it into something. Just trust me on that.
Anyway. Stuff happened this chapter, lots of stuff. Since I'm sure we're all getting bored of these floors, don't worry! We'll be having a time skip soon into the next chapter, where we get to some of the floors that went unvisited... which means I can have some fun with them.
Oh, by the way. While some people may be wondering if the title of the story is just a random, it's not. Don't worry, it'll make sense eventually.