A/N Hello, everyone. After that long hiatus, I promise to try updating more consistently. _ I need a bit to get back into the swing of things. Thanks for all of you who still follow or are beginning to follow this story. Mhmm well, now to address the story. Unfortunately, I can't appeal to everyone's tastes, so you'll have to go along with what I come up with, but I will keep an open mind as always to what people say and try to make changes where it's applicable. Anyways, there's not much to say right now except enjoy this new chapter. I'll see you all at the end note. Happy reading~
A newly made scar crept its way along my face.
I'd been fighting for a good fifteen minutes with Violet against several members of Laughing Coffin. It was an even fight, with little damage, but many blows traded between us. I suffered a scratch on my left cheek. As for my partner, her hair just got disheveled. Wow. What a tragedy.
I was not expecting to encounter Laughing Coffin this late into the day, but nonetheless I responded quickly enough to their surprise attack. But something was off. I just didn't know what...
I caught a glimpse of White Death staring at me. Was he smirking? Bastard. I was about to wipe that smug look off his face when-
"That's quite enough boys, let's fall back. The rest will be taken care of..." he called out and that caught me off guard. All around me, black figures disappeared into the night via teleporting with crystals. Why the sudden retreat? Unless...
A sudden sound of stampeding footsteps.
"THERE HE IS! HE'S TRYING TO GET AWAY! GET HIM!" shouted a random stranger.
Following that voice were about four dozen other players in a frenzy. As soon as they spotted me, I finally pieced together White Death's plan.
I had no choice but to run. Violet fell in tandem and led the way.
"Let's not waste a crystal here, run into the forest! It's too thick for them to keep up!" She said and I relented to her newly improvised plan.
It was a good ten minutes of running, and I nearly collapsed at the end.
I nearly lost track of her but I managed to keep up. We almost did get caught, but luckily I found cover.
Pushing aside prudence, I shoved Violet into a tight crevice and went in after her. She started blushing as I was pushed up against her, which was evident in the increase of heat radiating from her. I deliberately tried to ignore our awkward predicament. Literally, it was me and her, stuck between a rock and a hard place... umm, yeah I could've phrased that better...
Nevertheless, thanks to the «Hiding» bonus of my 3rd Gen Midnight, and the lack of lighting in the forest, we heard footsteps bounding past us and the noise soon receded into empty silence. At last we were in the clear...
So I thought.
"Umm, you can get off me now," Violet suggested with a hint of mockery. I bit back my embarrassed retort and did as she requested. I said nothing as I looked the other way pointedly.
"You know, most guys would buy the lady a drink first, but you're pretty confident, huh?" She smirked and I rolled my eyes.
"Don't. Ever. Tell. Asuna." I said vehemently and she merely smiled. I hoped that was a yes.
"Of course, Alpha," she replied innocently but I frowned.
"I'd rather you didn't use that nickname..." I muttered to myself. I don't know, but somehow it gave me a bad feeling of trepidation rather than pride.
"Well, do you have any ideas on how to dig yourself out of this mess?" She inquired of me. Truthfully, I wasn't sure. But there was at least an obvious end goal.
"Well, I'm a fugitive now. I have to clear my name... without getting caught..." I said stating the painfully obvious details but I couldn't think of anything else at the moment.
"Hmmm... well not exactly 'fugitive', per se. Rather, they want you for questioning first... and then after they condemn you and you run away again, then you'll be a fugitive," Violet corrected me and I scoffed my distaste.
"Thanks for that. I feel loads better. What I hate the most is that these people are so... impressionable. It obviously wasn't me..." I spat out resentfully. Violet patted my shoulder lightly.
"I know," she said sincerely. "But you can't win your innocence with just words. These are less... civilized times. You need real proof," she stated and I assented with her sentiment. But how do I get evidence?
"What would you have me do? I can't go back into town or in public right now..." I asked of her and she pondered this problem for a bit. In retrospect, I bet the fight with Laughing Coffin just now was a distraction while they murdered more unsuspecting people. Using the attracted attention as bait, they lured in witnesses and brought them to me. Now that it was supposedly confirmed I was the true murderer, there'd be little doubt on other possible suspects.
"You'll have to lie low for a while. I happen to have a place for you. If you want to come, that is..." she trailed off with a slight trace of... hopefulness? I shook my head.
"Better than nothing," I accepted and followed her lead. We had to sneak back into town. Fortunately, I still had the «Cloak of Midnight». We headed to the first floor.
Under normal terms, this was like a sleepover. A prolonged one. But, I brought Kirito-kun here for safety and business. Nothing more, nothing less.
I revealed to him my secret hideout, but besides that, I refused to explain any further. He seemed sharp enough to notice my expression and held back his questions.
I led him to his bedroom. Nothing special, as a matter of fact, there was just a bed with simple white sheets and two pillows. No windows, and one couch. I know, full of grandeur, right?
It was going to be tough for the next few weeks at least. But hopefully that's all the time we needed to revert things back to how they were.
When the morning rose, I shook Kirito into waking up.
"I'm afraid you can't really move about too much. I seriously doubt you'll listen to my advice, but try to stay in the house," I pleaded lightly. He frowned a bit but responded with, 'I'll try'. I guess that would have to do.
"I'll try contacting Asuna and Argo to help sort out this mess. No doubt they'll be busy as well, but leave this to me. If you get hungry, there's a kitchen down the hall. If you feel the need for fresh air," For whatver reason... I thought to myself. "Try to stay around this area."
"Yes, mother," he replied sarcastically. I could tell already he wouldn't heed my words but I felt the obligatory need to say so anyway.
"I'll try to wrap this up quick. Have some patience," I asked of him gently and he blinked in acknowledgment. I left the vicinity, deciding to contact Argo first.
It was easy enough to find her at a local bar. Before leaving, I asked Kirito to send a message asking where she was. At first she was suspicious of me turning up in his place, but soon enough, I alleviated her wariness and assured her Kirito was alright.
We briefly discussed plans to persuade the other players that Kirito was free of guilt. It would be difficult, but I trusted Argo's judgement. She had a very good way with words.
Now onto the next meeting...
Let's just say it wasn't as easy.
Recently, the sub-commander of the KoB was getting a lot of heat and pressure from her guild. They were convinced she had misplaced her faith in the 'filthy beater' as someone delicately put, and had a waning sense of judgement. She was suspended of her duties temporarily, which had been transferred to some guy named Kuradeel.
Needless to say, she was not a very happy camper right about now.
I located her venting out her feelings in the field. It was best to approach this situation carefully. I waited until she had exhausted her breath from exerting force upon NPCs.
"Asuna, I need to talk to you," I called out formally. She whipped her head around and faced me. Now that I had a closer look, I saw that we were about the same height... except I was more gorgeous with the better looks and figure. Probably talent-wise too, but that was irrelevant.
"It's you..." she stated coolly. I wondered if she still held a slight grudge for my last encounter with her. Not exactly a great first impression.
"Yeah. It's me," I restated trying to keep my tone professional.
"What do you want?" She asked with her guard up. As expected.
"To discuss plans. Including Kirito," I answered her and she narrowed her eyebrows in a wince. No doubt that she was very sensitive about that subject.
I felt kind of bad for her. That all this criticism and doubt placed upon her was because of the aforementioned subject. But at the same time, she loved him, and of course, was still certain that he was innocent. Admirable qualities.
"Is he... alright?" She hesitated in asking. I gave her the most straightforward answer.
"Of course, and he wanted to send his regards to you," I responded and her expression lightened.
"I see... that's just like him," she said to herself and smiled slightly. I decided to get back on point.
"We have a problem. Well, more specifically him, but it can't be solved without our efforts. We have to find proof and try to convince the general public that he's not responsible for the recent killings. I'm sure both you and I have already come to the same conclusion..." I trailed off waiting for her response. She nodded slightly in reply.
"This is easier said than done. Now with my tarnished reputation and apparently 'faulty' judgement, they'll be less inclined to listen to me now," she explained and it was clear she was uncertain of a way to work around that. I had a plan, albeit, it wasn't fully developed. Actually, that was the wrong way to put it. It was developed, it was just... crude.
"I have a proposition," I told her and she raised her eyebrows in question.
"Oh really? Do you now? Then let's hear it," she said with more than a teaspoon of skepticism. Yeah, she definitely still hasn't gotten over it...
"We both know who the real culprits are. Now all we need are their confessions," I stated and her expression showed a hint of surprise.
"You mean?..." she asked waiting for confirmation.
"We need to track down Laughing Coffin and bring them into custody for a testimony," I explained and now it was all clear. Asuna seemed to agree with the plan, but she pointed something else out.
"And exactly how do you plan getting our evidence out of them? It's not like they'll just give in so easily..." she asked quite annoyingly at me. Wasn't the remedy to that obvious?
"You're a bit slow, princess," I said with heavy sarcasm. "Isn't that part easy to answer?"
At this point, I realized that to make a good plan, it had to work. So I made sure it would.
"Torture. We extract the answers out of them. By any means necessary... Besides," I added darkly. "We only need one alive to testify anyway..."
Asuna gave a slightly appalled look but her silence meant that she didn't disagree. I turned to leave, taking this absence of objection as confirmation.
"I hope you know what you're doing," she called out to me with a neutral tone. I paused for bit, but continued on.
I always know what I'm doing, I thought to myself.
The 38th floor was cleared a few days later. Kirito, being the stubborn person he is, refused to stay behind and felt the need to contribute somehow. With his darts and cloak, he shot from afar without being detected. A rather subtle way to make a difference.
The boss was called «Royal Pain». A rather fitting name for it.
The battle started with a slight struggle. The boss was equipped with an abnormally long golden sword that had a treacherous range of attack. Add to that, it stood above us a good ten feet from the tallest person in our group which happened to be Agil.
As a result of that, a few players got beheaded for forgetting to duck. A poor choice of words, but to win this fight, we would have to cut our losses and battle on.
For the next 6 floors, I essentially took Kirito's lead role in the boss battles. Can't say he was too happy with that.
However, he had his own way of taking the spotlight outside the boss battles.
While I took on bosses, he went out of his way to take care of... other business.
The 39th floor had an eclectic design, compiled of all kinds of terrain that had been seen thus far. It was akin to taking all four seasons and fusing them into one. Nothing near an apocalyptic level, but it was a mess. There was however, a nice countryside. I heard small talk that the KoB located their base somewhere there. How quaint.
Just short of a week later totaled at 6 days, we cleared this floor.
Many things of course, were happening at this time.
Recently, the Army had started building strength in numbers and momentum in success. The 39th floor was majorly dominated by the Army guild with their basic but effective attack patterns of brute force and rapid transition in ranks. I guess here, quantity gets one victory over quality.
The boss's name was «Phantom Swiper». True to its name, it managed to steal our weapons and use them against us. It was annoying, but eventually I ended the fight with Dark Infernal Embers.
The 40th floor was a physical embodiment of ruined status. Tall white marble buildings marred by decay and grinded dust lay upon the dusty floor.
The geography was evenly leveled out, but there were a few points of interest. An old abandoned amphitheater lay north to the main town, and a ring of columns lay to the west of that. It appeared to be of some ancient place of ritual processions.
The boss we met was identified as the «Leecher». A very simple, yet highly accurate name for this boss. It had the appearance of a long black cloak and nothing more. I couldn't see anymore features under the hood. The arena was rather dark, with a rugged stone battlefield centered roughly in a clearing. There were nests in the ground, similar to the 10th floor with the basilisk.
The algorithm for this boss was rather unique. This would be one of our longest fights in SAO.
It would also be the first time I came very close to death.
Heading in first, I delivered the first strike with a clean cleave to its head. A mere 1.5% of damage was inflicted. Beneath the hood, I thought I caught a glimmer of teeth. Sharp teeth.
I retreated back to fall into position with the others. We managed to chip away its health to 40%, but it was far from over.
The harder we fought, the more the boss came back with increased vigor. Using a smokescreen ability, we were blinded as it snatched players into its jaws and leeched away their health, simultaneously absorbing their digital matter, and devouring the last of their essence. The sound of breaking glass rung morbidly in the air.
With nothing to lose, I decided to use Dark Infernal Embers to light my path, find the boss, and put it down before it killed anymore of us. However, due to that miscalculation, I forgot that through the light, it could also find me.
I'm not the type of girl to scream, but when it clamped its jaws down on me, I almost shouted in pain. It started dragging me by the leg. Looking for an instant back I realized it intended to finish me off privately in its den. Well, this certainly wasn't the time for a trip down the rabbit hole.
I used up almost all my health to burn the boss and sever its grip on my leg. My health?... 6% left...
I don't remember much after that, except the looming jaws above my head. But I recall overexerting my muscles, and with painful strain on my arms, I raised «Black Luster» at a sufficient angle to plunge the sword into the boss as it came for me. It was all black after that.
I awoke with wavering eyelids. It was dark, and I was tired. I remembered that, but I didn't remember how I returned to my bed. How?...
"Hey sunshine," called a welcoming voice. Or at least familiar. Welcoming was debatable...
"Did you carry me here?" I asked and Kirito stepped forward to examine me.
"Very astute of you," he said and sat down next to me. "How are you feeling?"
"Worse, now that you're here..." I joked sarcastically at him. He rolled his eyes but smiled at my response.
"You seem normal. For someone who almost died..." he pointed out and I scoffed slightly.
"Yes, well. Almost. Sorry if I disappointed you," I accused playfully and he winced pretending to take offense.
"Wow. How dark of you..." He responded feigning the state of being aghast.
"You didn't... did you?..." I said touching my face.
"No. I kept your hood on on the way back," he assured me and I relaxed. I don't know, but I just didn't feel like revealing my face to him yet. And... well, a hood helped me hide from the world when it got too much for me to handle. Not to mention, no one sees how you're feeling under a shadow.
"I see... thank you," I said giving my gratefulness and he nodded slightly in acknowledgment. Then he threw something at me. A bag. I caught it, wondering what was in it.
I spilled out its contents and saw it contained, I suppose you could say, 'capsules', in all different sizes and shapes but relatively the same weight. I recognized it immediately and felt immensely grateful and surprised.
"You did all this for me?... I don't know what to say... but thank you. I appreciate it," I thanked him in earnest trying not to sound overly cheesy. He dismissed it but with evident gratification.
"It's nothing, really," he said to me and it was endearing to see him be modest for this once.
"But why?... You could've told me something before now..." I asked of him curiously. He mulled over his thoughts thinking of the best way to explain his acts of consideration.
"If this world goes to Hell, it doesn't mean I will. If I can help others, then I will try. As long as it's convenient of course," he added as a humorous afterthought which I laughed lightly at.
"How typical of you. Well, keep up the good work," I called out and went back to sleep. I distinctly heard him mutter, 'Wow. No manners at all', before leaving my room. I smiled.
I frowned. Violet, or whoever she was, had suggested such a direct strategy as a means to get our evidence for Kirito. I can't believe we would have to stoop to such a low level, but I couldn't disagree with her. Especially if it was for Kirito-kun.
I organized party members to search for Laughing Coffin. I expected the endeavor to take a while before we found them.
I was proven wrong. Almost too easily, several members were caught in the span of 3 weeks. Something felt off, but I continued on with the plan. I locked up the criminals in an underground cellar, in which the location was only disclosed to a few people.
Personally, I didn't go through with the torture methods myself. Being heavily preoccupied at the time, I had to leave the matter to Argo and Violet.
Instead, I proceeded to lead the next 3 floors.
The 41st floor was very thorny. The shrubbery and other plants were especially sharp. The forest was dense and the skies were a mix of ash grey and rusted iron.
It took careful navigation to reach the boss's dungeon. To say the least, band aids didn't really help here.
The boss was named the «Witcher». This battle would be a testament to its name.
Rather than fighting us directly at first, it chose to summon dozens of skeletons to attack us. Even top guilds such as my own and the DDA were having trouble fending off unending waves of enemies. The hordes of hostiles slowly decreased but were immediately replaced with new reinforcements. Steadily we staggered back and were barely keeping them at bay.
It felt like we had been fighting forever. About 15 of our numbers had been eviscerated. The situation was grim and within a deadlock.
Shields and weapons laid about the floor. This boss was smart. There were various classes of its skeleton army. Swordsmen, archers, armored brutes, and berserkers. The rising masses were getting more than just overwhelming. We might have had to concede this battle.
In desperation, I used consecutive sword skills to clear a pathway to the boss. Cutting down about three dozen in a diagonal sweeping, I was left with a lengthy cooldown period. Before the oncoming threat could reach me, I felt a swift presence past me by. But I couldn't see anything, only feel it. It was all too obvious who it was. I hoped he had a plan.
I recovered from my disabled state and fell in line with everyone else. The tide of battle seemed to edging closer against our favor.
The heat of battle was evident in our staggered breathing, and our reflexes were slowing down. The difficulty wasn't in strength this time, but rather in endurance. I could only reminisce about the 25th floor, and what a disaster that had been.
This fight had little to absolutely no moments in which our morale was restored. I could barely distinguish ally from foe at this point. My body had fallen into an autopilot mode of swinging and turning, watching my blade cut through my enemies, only to realize it was for nothing. Truly, this is the point where you question all you have done, and why exactly you're still doing it...
I would like to say we persevered, that all good things come to those who wait. Well, in that respect, we tried at least. But finally, after all that struggle and pushing our limits against this ordeal, we managed to catch a break.
Well, that might be a poor choice of words.
An explosion of purple flames happened somewhere past our line of vision. Suddenly, all of the skeleton army started dissipating into thin air. We caught a glimpse of the vanishing boss, its black cloak fading and its spiky crown falling to the floor in forcible submission.
Immediately in tandem, the ceiling started cracking and blocks of debris started raining. We had no choice but to rush to doors and head up the stairs. I hoped that he was alright, as I pounded up each step.
I moved into the 42nd floor's town and proceeded to continue my duties.
The 42nd floor was very wide with lots of open space, but it was at night when its true form emerged. The land looked as though it was at peace. The starry, astral skies and the soft breeze. But there was also a mysterious quality of hidden things lying under the surface. We would have to keep on guard just to be careful.
It looks like I should've been a bit more careful.
I did not expect for the ceiling to cave in. I also did not expect for the cloak to fit both of us under it. The third thing I did not expect was to escape with minimal injury. But fortunately, Kirito still retained his «Mecha Exo» ring.
We had to excavate ourselves out of the rubble and continue on. I heard him mumbling something about having tact. Pshh. Like he was one to talk.
We caught up to everyone and settled into the 42nd floor. We both felt quite tired so we retired to my secret domain to rest up for the next few days. Before the boss battle, we decided to see the sights and to explore a bit.
"We're really close," Kirito said and I turned my head slightly to show my attentiveness while continuing our stride across the countryside.
"To what, may I ask?..." I replied to his statement.
"The halfway point. It feels like forever since this game started..." He elaborated to my question. "Now it'll just take another eternity."
"So to speak," I answered in return. "Don't get complacent..." I warned him mockingly with feigned severity. He scoffed humorously and walked on. Surprisingly, he held his fist out, expecting a fist bump.
"I can- I mean..." He paused for a bit but bit back his pride. "We can finish this. All of us."
I smiled endearingly at him and returned his offered fist bump.
"I guess you do learn... every once in a decade," I added afterwards and he rolled his eyes.
"Haha very funny..."
Four days later we fought the boss on this floor.
The boss's name was the «Demented». A dark arena to match its name. It was difficult to see, with the area barely being lit by torches on the walls. The boss would only appear under the right angle of light. A vague shadowed cloak, like a dementor. Fear induced our numbers and that wasn't all.
The boss's special ability was «Phantasm». A perception-warping skill that confused its opponents and deceived you by twisting your senses. It didn't help that the whole place was as dark as night. Another hazard was that its movements were very slight in volume.
I could literally hear everyone's heartbeats in the vicinity. We paced the area deliberately slow, and sometimes, we saw things that weren't there. The worst part was, I couldn't tell whether anybody had died yet. Never mind knowing where they were in first place.
It seemed like this could last forever. But it wouldn't. Either we all die, or we managed to kill it. One way or the other, it would be a difficult ordeal to live through.
Somehow, we were all separated into our own personal walls of shadow. I didn't dare speak for risk of attracting the wrong attention or by giving away my position.
Suddenly I saw Kirito. I rushed over to him.
Or so I thought.
Suddenly I was caught in a suffocating vortex of black swirling death. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't call out for help. I became desperate for a second time and used DICE (Dark Infernal Combustion Embers).
The force of the pointblank explosion knocked me out of its grip roughly as though I broke through five doors in rapid succession while being pancaked by a moving steam engine.
I saw the boss coming towards me. I had 6% health left. Damn it...
From behind, a knife cut through its cloak. The boss disappeared, and so did some of the darkness. Not entirely, but enough for us to discern direction.
Kirito retrieved his «Amazonian Ballistic». He offered me a hand up which I took gratefully.
"Couldn't reach you in time. So I had to extend myself somehow," He explained and I smiled slightly.
"Quick reaction," I praised him and thanks to the cover of darkness, we left without running into anyone. I would count the casualties later.
The 43rd floor was shaped like a giant racetrack. There were multiple lanes of varying terrain and elevation enclosing the area. It was an interesting place to observe.
After mapping out the area, we proceeded to lead an attack on this floor's dungeon. Our raiding party would be in for a workout.
The boss was named «Accelerator». It doesn't get much clearer than that.
By the end of the battle we were exhausted. Its speed was simply very difficult to keep up with.
However, with the combination of Kirito-kun's cloak and my «Black Luster», I managed to stab it through the chest and incinerate it into ashes. Despite the victory, we all needed a break from fighting however. Never had I experienced so much strain on my muscles. We all took a good few cheap shots from the boss with its breakneck speed falcon punches. I was glad that battle ended.
During the recovery state, I restrained myself from exerting too much effort. The fight had taken it out of me. Even Kirito couldn't mask his lack of vigor.
It was a quiet few days waiting until the next assembly to discuss strategy on the oncoming 44th floor battle. Sighing, I closed my eyes in thought. I noticed that Kirito was already asleep. I was informed by Asuna that she had managed to capture several members. I would question them tomorrow. For now, though, I leaned to the side and slept on Kirito's shoulder.
I definitely hoped Asuna wouldn't hear of this.
I spotted a straggler in the distance.
"This one's mine..." I hissed to my comrades. They grunted dissatisfaction but I had spotted the kill first, which lent me the rights to finish off the victim.
"I don't see your name on it..." Spat one of my colleagues. But I was already gone.
After paralyzing the unsuspecting player, I forcibly stole his valuables and then stabbed him through the head. He burst without a trace. I smiled maliciously. Clean and precise.
"Got anything good? Too bad it wasn't a girl..." Commented one of my allies and the rest laughed along at the crude and vulgarly implicit idea of the victim had it been a female.
"Nothing to write home about. Let's head back to the boss. He'll tell us of our next move," I commanded and they fell in behind me without much question.
We returned to a dark cave on the 13th floor. One of our various hideouts spread throughout the game. We gathered around a man-made stone circle which was our makeshift conference table. Our leader soon stood forth.
"Anything to report?" He asked affably. I shook my head.
"Nothing noteworthy, my lord. I assume we'll mobilize soon?..." I asked of him and he gave no answer back. That I had come to understand was 'yes'.
"Confirmed. The rest of you, get back to hunting. And inform your cellmates to be prepared for any changes in plans," I dismissed them formally without expecting much of a response and turned my back to them. They left leaving me with our leader. We had much to discuss.
"How goes our main operation?" He asked of me. I couldn't hear it, but whenever he asked me a question, it was more like a passive demand for an answer. He seemed to always resonate such an aura. I never questioned it, knowing where I stood.
"It's gone without a hitch so far. I will continue to maintain surveillance on the public," I responded tersely.
"Hmm..." He voiced aloud. I wondered what he was deliberating about.
"Then it is of no matter. Carry on. I will call you back in due time," He said, and I took my dismissal promptly. As I left to continue my duties, I reminisced on how I came to be here.
I remember being one of those 'people'. Naive and overly trusting. Now all my friends were dead. How could I not change? But looking back, I realized that as grim as it seemed, losing my friends was just a catalyst for me to become stronger. To make better decisions. To survive. If nothing left, there was still one thing I wanted.
I joined Laughing Coffin after I turned over a new leaf. But it wasn't just solely for simple revenge, it was to leave a mark upon the people that had marked me. And my deceased acquaintances. And what better way to do that, than completely disrupt the natural order of things?
In the end, I really didn't care if Laughing Coffin survived and defeated everyone else, I just cared about making an impression that would not be forgotten. I would show everyone how I felt. Now... I smiled sickly.
Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.
It would be about a month before the true spectacle took place upon the stage. I was patient. It would be worth waiting for. And I would remember his broken expression. Then I would prove that I was right.
I was always right.
I continued to defile his name and I enjoyed the vilification that other people spoke in their words when I heard mention of him. This is how humanity works. I'd been using it to my advantage. This plan of mine was full-proof. It was almost a shame that I couldn't have convinced him to join us. But the end result would be a decent alternative. Maybe even better than my original plan to convert him to our side.
Over the past few months in SAO, I had killed more than 60 people alone, and assisted in at least a dozen others. At first, we did more intimidation than actual killing, but that left us with such an incomplete feeling. The only way to fulfill that desire for satisfaction, was to go through the operation completely. And you know what?
We took pleasure out of that. It was laughable to see someone's life in your hands, and the ridiculous things they would say and do to live. I remember the first time, was the best time.
To be accepted into the fold, I was ordered to prove my willingness to serve and be loyal to our creed. I had the choice to either kill someone in cold blood, or torture them into the point of insanity. Or both, if I was feeling a little extra zealous. That option was also temptingly amplified by the promise of an automatic promotion.
Within the menu, there is a tab to view your overall statistics. So far, my PK count was zero. I would have to change that.
Due to privacy reasons, you were not obligated to share these personal pieces of information. By default, you couldn't publicly display them, but you could converse your stats through chatting.
Of course, that doesn't mean you had to tell the truth. And the person you're talking to, may not believe you.
These settings did not change, even if you entered a guild. However, there was an option to compare stats only if both players gave consent. Also, to counter sleep-methods or any other forcible means, an update was put into the game, so that particularly sensitive actions required a password of sorts, whether it be characters, a pattern of swiping, et cetera.
I never intended to reveal my stats anyhow, but I didn't have to. Sometime later on in the game, «Record Crystals» were introduced. This newly unlocked crystal type was convenient to aurally record messages or take screen recordings on what was happening around you.
I stole one from a store and after dark, I went searching for a victim. Nightfall was my best friend.
I scaled upwards to high ground. Looking down from above made it that much easier to find a victim. It only took about fifteen minutes to find someone foolishly wandering home after dark.
First, I shot a dart dipped in paralysis at the neck. I immediately scrambled over to cover their mouth with a gag. Then I dragged them into the forest. This would be an all too easy initiation.
I bound their hands behind their back, and their feet together. Tightly, so that there was no possible escape. Then I disarmed them completely, taking all their valuables. Finally, I took out my «Screen Record Crystal».
In my absolute focus to accomplish my objective, I didn't really take notice that my abducted victim was a girl. No older than sixteen. The moonlight cast a bright ray over us and I saw her face as she saw mine.
It was in that moment that I changed. Completely.
And... I had absolutely no regrets.
Her expression was mingled with shock, apprehension and pleading. But of course I didn't listen. Inside, I was no longer one of 'them' I was a member of Laughing Coffin. The most infamous yet most logical guild this world was ever going to see. Because we played by the rules that were meant to be followed.
Pure human instinct and desire.
We were far out from the range of society. I removed her gag and she whimpered. She was apart of that guild that left me for dead along with my friends when we were attacked oh so long ago. She didn't harm me specifically, but because she did nothing to help, this was all justified in my eyes. She couldn't stop me, because they may have left me, but in reality...
I had left them.
I hoped the crystal was recording this in high quality, because I sure was. Physically.
I laughed mockingly at her screams as I broke her apart. I completely turned into an animal. No thoughts about retribution or anything outside the immediate spur of the moment. My body, after about 3 hours, memorized every part of her.
Three hours. After three hours, her eyes were completely blank and I had extracted the last of her sanity. For the first time in my life, I had absolute power and control over someone else. No wonder such societies such as Germany with Stalin, promoted fascism, totalitarianism or authoritarianism. Because they all make so much sense. Who cares about what other people want?
The only people who deserve to have their cravings satisfied, are those we have the stronger will. As for me... yes. I wanted it that badly.
I killed her with no remorse. When I came back to Laughing Coffin, I presented my initiation offering. They were all impressed by my lack of humanity and I delighted at being accepted. No one raised an objection when I was subsequently advanced to lieutenant. I quickly gained respect and recognition by my peers and since then, everyone accepted me as the effective second leader of Laughing Coffin.
I ended my reverie. Somewhere out there, was a potential threat. But, being as crafty as I was, a potential opportunity at the same time. I would just have to play my cards right.
But that would be easy, because I held all the cards.
I remember the moments before he had gained noticeable attention and every moment after. In my heart, I despised him. Why? Because he couldn't have helped me before I lost everything. Afterwards, I still hated him. But in my mind, I acknowledged that he had great potential. Potential enough to save everyone... or just break them apart.
I knew that he would get in my way, so I tried unsuccessfully to convince him to change sides. Due to his 'morals', he refused. I was not too disappointed. I would have been surprised actually if he had agreed.
But either way, I would get what I wanted. Even he couldn't see that far ahead into the future, because his head wasn't clear. He was too focused on helping other people, rather than helping himself. I started detesting him even more for that. What a pointless display. It would all be for nothing in the end.
The thing I hated most was that I was beneath him. That's why pulling the rug out from under his feet would be all the more satisfying.
The 44th floor was quite intriguing. The design was very symmetrical and the buildings were very shiny in luster. There were more windows than usual, giving off a reflective look all around. The sky was a clear blue and the sea moved fluidly with glimmering lights cast upon by the sun. The reflections people saw made them all the more aware of their surroundings and opened up their minds to clear thinking and observation.
Recently, I had managed to prove Kirito's innocence. I didn't present the proof publicly, but Asuna did. Using a record crystal, she obtained a testimony from the Laughing Coffin prisoners. After Asuna regained her tarnished status, accusations dropped against Kirito and things more or less went back to how they were before.
However, there was an awkward tension between Kirito and the general public now. There were of course, those who still doubted him.
A month elapsed and it was eerily... normal.
As a matter of fact, since the last floor no one died. Everyone seemed to be taking things much more cautiously. Due to this exceptional wariness we got through the next six floors, including the current one, quite successfully.
The boss for the 44th floor was called the «Masker». This fight was quite unique, as was the battlefield.
The whole arena was entirely made of glass, but durable. It was kind of trippy to see so many versions of yourself in the mirror.
The area continuously shifted like a living maze. I wanted to stay next to Kirito, but I got separated. I sighed lightly. No matter. It was time to focus on the matter at hand.
I heard sporadically from time to time, glass breaking. I couldn't tell whether that was a good sign or not. Usually, broken glass was bad luck. I just hoped I was wrong.
It was like chasing a squirrel. The boss was always a bit faster than I was, and was always prepared to give me the slip. I grew frustrated and started breaking mirrors in my increasingly waning patience.
In response, the boss suddenly jumped through a mirror like Portal and took a stab at me from behind. I managed to retaliate with a cut on its shoulder before it disappeared again. This would be a very tedious fight.
It took about an hour to significantly do any damage. 'The boss's cloak shimmered with faint traces left behind in its wake. A rather translucent appearance. When I at last managed to get a hold of the boss, I smashed its head in with the blunt end of my sword. I expelled out an exhausted breath. At least that was one less floor to worry about.
The 45th floor was a very windy floor. The weather seemed eternally turbulent and the wind kept on changing direction. The trees bent to the wind's will, and lighting and thunder played a loud, crackling melody with a light show accompaniment.
The rain fell with no end. This floor appeared to be modeled after London. The scenery wasn't all too upbeat.
Grey skies and a dark, gloomy atmosphere. But I'm sure London had nicer days.
The 45th floor's boss was designated as the «Cyclonic».
It was no easy feat to defeat this boss. It beat its wings energetically which conjured up a tornado tossing us around. Nevertheless, we persevered.
The first challenge was to regain my balance. It was difficult, but I used two knives and slowly clawed my way closer to the target.
A sudden ferocious wind whipped me into the air again. However, Kirito caught my hand while being anchored to the floor with his «Queen's Knightsword» dug into the ground. He projected me towards the boss with a strong thrust and I impaled the boss with my «Black Luster» while igniting him.
The wind died and we were able to stand up normally once again. We proceeded to the next floor.
The 46th floor was akin to a living, breathing floor. The color scheme was very verdant, and the forests were thick with all kinds of plants. Some the vines even seemed to be moving. Or perhaps they were snakes.
The design was also quite sinuous and everything seemed to overlap. The pathways were equally as confusing to follow, but there were a few landmarks from time to time.
The ambience was filled with wild life. Most were unable to be detected by the human eye. There was a river which served as a threshold for the deeper part of the forest. No one so far, had dared venture beyond the line of safety. The boundary remained untouched. For now.
To reach the boss's dungeon, we had to hack our way through multiple obstructions. Our group was mainly packed tight together. I split off a little ahead to scout with Kirito however.
We kept up a casual conversation while making our way to the dungeon.
"How are you feeling?" I asked of him. We maintained talking while cutting through vines and the like.
"Tired. What's new?" He responded in a lackluster voice. I smirked a bit.
"From what? I've done most of the work," I replied sassily and he shoved me lightly with his shoulder.
"Yeah okay... we should spar sometime," He added on, sparking my interest. "I've seen you fight, but I don't really know how skilled you are, so it'd be good practice."
"I bet you would lose..." I sung loftily and he rolled his eyes.
"We'll see..." He muttered challengingly and we kept silent until we reached our destination. Somewhere beyond the «Ant Hill».
The 46th floor's boss was known as the «Omniscisor». A hybrid monstrosity that was a part mammal, part fish, part insect creature of sickening appearance. I lost count of how many eyes it had.
Never mind that, it had razor-sharp claws and jaws, accompanied by a thick exoskeleton and a long thorny tail. It had fins on its back it seemed to possess multiple mouths and sets of teeth. The head resembled that of a hammerhead shark and pincers like a cross between a lobster and praying mantis.
It was difficult to attack it from any direction because it was all too aware and had almost no blind spots. We took cover under the vegetation and moved strategically to chop down its health.
A few close calls came to pass but nothing too serious. Eventually, we managed to dismember it, limb by limb. But it was not fun getting within range to do it.
We angered it by severing so many body parts, that it started dragging people into the water. We managed to save them from drowning after I launched a wave of fire to burn its eyes. Or at least some of them.
I myself was subsequently targeted and dragged through the water. With a few well-placed shots, Kirito managed to slow down the enemy, giving me the chance to separate the pincer holding onto me. Afterwards, I paired up with Kirito to fend off its numerous attacks and at last I came close enough to stab it in its abdomen. I ripped it apart with a clean fire swipe to the sky. Despite this, I was soaking wet, and Kirito was quick to comment.
"Getting excited much?" He stated sarcastically and I was anything but 'excited'.
"Shut up and help me dry off," I said bitterly punching his shoulder. He tossed me a cloth towel, and we left.
The 47th floor was kind of oriental in appearance and was designed very modestly. But there was a floral aura about it. There were many flowers in bloom and abundance. This seemed to be the ideal place for couples to have escapades and trysts about.
The main town was called «Floria» and there was a rare flower located at the «Hill of Memories» called the «Pneuma Flower». I didn't have any particular interest in it, but it might've been worth noting for later.
The walls of the main town consisted of white marble and gilded tiles matching them. Various flower fields added to the soft serenity this floor gave off.
But there was no time to enjoy the sights for too long.
We found the dungeon located in an opening, on the side of a majestic mountain. It seemed to descend into darkness, so we decided to bring torches.
The boss was found at withered field of dead flowers. Its name was «Poisoner». A mutant plant with a single eye and an unknown amount of tentacles protruding from its body. We were careful not to get ensnared by it.
An easy break from all the previous battles, the boss's attack pattern was simple enough to counter since it was rooted to the spot. Eventually, Kirito tossed a bottle of oil which shattered against its eye, causing it to bleed. The protective coating around it momentarily lifted, and immediately after, I burned it with DIE.
The 48th floor was medieval-themed with fairly furnished housing and large trees. There were many buildings with waterwheels, some had even more than one. There were many canals and streams located throughout this floor. It would be the ideal place to settle down and have a business.
The main town was named «Lindas». The area seemed peaceful enough, but I could not afford to regress into a lesser state of awareness. Any moment that you slip up, could result in a harder fall than you expected.
The next day, Kirito was called by an associate to help settle some matter that he refused to tell me about. I let him go grudgingly. I suppose that I trusted him that much, at least.
I entered the store. It was reminiscent of the first place where I met her. Of course, by now much had changed since those times. I had changed as well. But all things do eventually as long as the world kept spinning.
"KIWITO-KUN!" Cried an all too familiar voice followed by a rib-breaking hug which I delicately returned.
"Ashley-san..." I addressed formally and she snuggled into the crook of my neck. She finally let go afterwards.
"Well, I've decided that this is where I'll reside! I'd thought that this would be the ideal place to settle down my business and you're going to help me unpack! Exciting, right?" She told me and I faked enthusiasm.
"Woo..." I raised a fist in halfhearted agreement. I guess it could be worse.
'We' started unpacking and did so for about an hour. I said nothing even though I was pretty sure I got a cramp in my back. Ashley continued all the while to carry on a conversation to catch us both up to speed. I responded with simple nods, gestures, and brief answers.
"Well, thank you very much, K-Kun. I'll see you around. Anything I can do for you though?" She asked me before saying goodbye. I wasn't sure about that, but I figured why not ask.
"Did you believe those accusations?..." I inquired quietly not sure what kind of answer I wanted to expect. She stayed silent for a moment and then embraced me once again. I was surprised and looked up to her.
"You know, you might be brave, strong, clever, and admittedly very cute, but you're pretty dumb sometimes, Kirito-chan..." Ashley told me with an endearing smile and laugh that I couldn't help but interpret as slightly patronizing.
"Of course I didn't believe them. Fear clouds people's judgement. Fear instills doubt, and doubt creates more fear. But you know what the opposite of that is?" She asked of me, and I took note that is one of the few moments she was serious.
"What?" I questioned her playing along. He bopped my head lightly.
"Faith. It might seem naive, but if you really trust someone, and actually know them, that's enough reason to believe in them. Right? Sometimes it not about what other people think, it's about what you think. I personally was angry when I heard they turned on you so quickly, even though you've done so much for them. Maybe that's just me, but I think that if everyone's faith was that weak, then we've already fallen deep into Kayaba's trap. The NPCs of this world are not our biggest enemies. We are. I believe that faith can define people, no matter the situation. If they believe you're a horrible person, let them. That's not what I believe in. I believe in you. And against all reason, I'll keep believing that, because that's what faith is. I may be proven wrong, but that is my choice. My faith is stronger than theirs at least. Because think about it: how would I ever know that my faith in you was right or wrong in the end, if I kept on changing my opinion? I don't believe in going halfway, so I believe that no matter, you, Kirito-kun, will stick it out until the end and finish the game. If no one else, you're at least my hero, because I always believed in you."
I felt emotionally relieved and moved by her encouraging words. I allowed a single smile to grace my expression and to show gratitude. My head was cleared, and I could face the dangers that loomed ahead.
"Thank you, Ashley-san," I expressed to her and she waved it off like it was nothing.
"I'd wish you would drop the honorific... makes me sound old..." She laughed and I smirked slightly.
"Force of habit..." I admitted sheepishly and she pouted like a child.
"Oh you..." She stated exasperated and cuddled up behind me. I was suddenly very self-conscious.
"It's no fair... Asuna gets all of this..." She murmured into my ear and I tried but failed in fighting down the rising blush in my cheeks.
"I-I-I have to go, it's pretty late..." I stuttered and attempted to escape her clutches. She let go without much fight, but perhaps that was because she already got what she wanted.
"Fine. But it's not midnight yet, Cinderella..." She teased me and I left with a wave of goodbye. Man, she was trouble... but the 'good' type of trouble I guess...
The 48th floor's boss was named «Synchrome». An enemy composed of immaculately sharpened disks attached to its arms, and extremely flexible body, wrapped in stretchable chainmail.
We managed to scrape pass without any losses. Well, mainly without losses.
Fortunately in SAO, severed limbs regenerated, as was the case with several of the attack party. It was just painful to lose a body part. But I suppose that depends on which body part.
The 49th floor was mainly a regular looking town. The marketplace seemed busy, and there were many gift shops. There was a church and the urban buildings generally composed of three-story premises.
There were cables connecting certain buildings to others, to be used for drying clothes and such. The main town was called «Myujen».
I planned to prepare here for a while before the infamously mentioned 50th floor. By now, rumors had spread of its unknown properties and the NPCs gave intriguing mentions of it from time to time.
Supposition had risen about, passing through players in record time. The 50th floor. It was the halfway point between the beginning and end of this game. This was where we would truly be tested.
I watched from the sidelines as Alpha eliminated the 49th floor's boss. A specimen known as the «Seventh Fiend». A predatory beast of dark purple and black complexion that had sharp claws and could maneuver about the walls and ceiling with ease. The jaws were a center of everyone's focus, since it would be rather unpleasant to be caught up within those teeth.
I watched as he struggled. I watched his pitiful efforts at being the hero. It was distasteful to see one waste so much potential. Nonetheless, I left after the coast was clear.
Finally, a month had passed since our original plan had been concocted. By now, the infrastructure would've been mapped by our scouts, and all the pieces fell into place.
Ever since I had joined Laughing Coffin, I had yet to fail at executing any goals beset by our leader, or myself. This would be no exception. I would achieve my goal, just in a different way than I had speculated from before.
I returned to receive a final confirmation from our leader before proceeding.
Our leader was known as the Prince of Hell. PoH for short. This nickname never seemed to bother him, as a matter of fact, he may have welcomed its presence and acknowledged it. No matter how brutal I was, I paled in comparison to him. He was truly a devil incarnate.
"You are prepared, I take it?" He called out to me from his seated position in an abandoned church we had taken as base and turned it into a place of unholy gathering.
"Absolutely. All that is needed is the right time and the precise execution. There should be no hindrances in our way. May I have permission to lead this operation thoroughly to the end, my lord?" I responded respectfully. He gave no sign of acknowledgment, which once again, meant 'yes'. I readied myself to exit the premises. He stopped me for a short inquiry.
"What do you suppose will happen after this?" He asked me genuinely curious. "Moreover, what exactly do you plan to gain from this?"
I was silent for a moment, mentally sunk into introspective thought. Then I answered with no trace of uncertainty.
"I'm just planning to make a point. As for the 'gain'..." I smirked darkly. "Nothing literal, just satisfaction at being right. I know more about Alpha than he thinks I do. He's as predictable as any other, to a certain degree..." I added on in retrospect.
"And to what extent is that, may I ask?..." My leader pursued of me.
"He is restricted from the inside. I plan to change everything using him. Truthfully, I've gotten bored. There's been too much of a linear path of events so far. And more than anything, I want revenge still, even now. I will disrupt what's he's tried to build. And I will watch him 'turn'..." I ended on an ambiguous note.
There was an encompassing air of savage desire emanating from me. My leader and I could sense this. Rarely did I lose my cool, and express such visceral feelings. He asked me one final question.
"If you fail, can you defeat him?"
He was not doubting me. He was not suggesting I was weak. He wasn't even aiming it to be an insult. It was just denoting a possibility. Of course I was prepared for this occurrence if it did come to pass. But I didn't plan to fail. I was absolute in my belief. My faith would not be shaken. You can call it right or wrong, but I don't give a fucking damn what you think. Your opinion and everyone else's is shit, and it doesn't count. I just cared about what I wanted. And I would prove a point, because I believed in it no matter the opposition.
Alpha was still just human.
"No. I most likely can't defeat him. But that doesn't matter... because he's not invincible," I stated simply to PoH.
I was not given the moniker 'White Death' just because it sounded impressive, or some kind of glorified title. It was because it described my true nature. And I couldn't think of a better pseudonym for myself.
I was called 'White Death' because I enjoyed breaking people's humanity, before I finally killed them. So to speak, I wiped their minds using torture, destroying their faith and I reveled in seeing the life leave their eyes. Nothing left, but a white, blank, empty void.
"He's just another human being... for now. I want to see him truly become Alpha. I want him to realize, that I was right. That me and him are exactly the same..." I paused dramatically, relishing in the upcoming event.
"We may want different ends, but it'll be by the same means. I know deep down, he wishes to be the best. If he refuses to abandon his humanity, I'll just take it from him."
A/N We once again reach the end of another chapter. What'd you think? Feel free to leave a polite review of today's chapter. I changed my plans slightly. I meant to make the next chapter include 7 floors, but instead due to a sudden idea, I've decided to cram 12 floors in this one chapter. The next one will be exclusively the 50th floor, maybe just a mention of the 51st. The next chapter will be called 'Reversion', if you were curious to know. Anyways, thanks again to all those who are following this story and are actually interested in what happens. You've heard me mention it, but starting with chapter 13, there will be a departure from certain conventions you've seen thus far in this first arc. Not sure what I'll call it, but maybe you guys can suggest something. For now, I guess I can classify it as the 'Intro Arc', or 'First Arc' or something. In the next arc, I will try to present a new type of narrative and fix a few issues that were not all too 'delicately' addressed against this story so far. In the end, I hope it doesn't deter most of you and that you will continue to enjoy reading this fanfic. I hope you all come to like the next set of chapters in the new arc, which arguably begins with chapter 13. Also, how did you guys feel about the guest POV in this chapter? Interesting? Dislikable? Feel free to express your opinion, I only request that you do so maturely. Until next time. Please R & R~