Back in the Game: Chapter 2
[-|Back in the Game|-]
Author’s Note: You can thank Souls Art Online for the inspiration for what happens in the end.
[Chapter 2 -o0o- Start]
Klein found himself fixated on the [Ansyn Blade], having drawn it from its sheath entirely to stare at the reflection of his own eyes. He knew it was improper etiquette for a Samurai. After all, in the days when the warrior-class still held meaning, the only time a blade was fully unsheathed was to kill an enemy or to clean it.
The SAO veteran had been changed during his time in the Death Game compared to how he had been before. It taught him responsibility that he hadn’t known prior to the game, having to weigh the lives of those around him with every decision. It taught him that a leader had to remain calm and in control, so that those he led wouldn’t panic as they looked to him to lead them.
He had honed his swordsmanship in the game in order to keep them all alive as they took to the frontline, and he had succeeded against all odds. However, the lessons he learned there still remained with him after the Death Game had ended. It was one of the few things he was grateful for from that experience. Now, finding themselves in what appeared to be a similar situation as SAO, it was the only the experience he had and friends he had made that served as the reason he was able to remain as calm as he was.
That being said, he couldn’t help but sigh. This happened when he had an interview only a few days from now for a new job. He had lost the old one courtesy of being trapped in the game.
Things had gotten… complicated on game release. They ended up waking up in the hospital, but they awoke to a world that seemed almost foreign to them after two years. Not to mention just about every adult had lost their jobs, and a few had lost their homes. Hell, he had lost both his job and apartment since he couldn’t technically pay rent in a coma.
The landlords couldn’t be blamed, nor could their bosses. What happened may have been an out-of-context problem, but the world kept spinning while they were in Aincrad and they had to accept that fact. Not that a lot of them were happy about it. His friends were just getting back on their feet and managed to get work, though most of them had to move to get it.
Thankfully, the bill for the hospital stay and basic physical therapy had been covered by the Government, so he didn’t have the astronomical debt that two years of constant care must’ve entailed, and his belongings had been sent to his parents’ home. He wasn’t proud to have to go back to living with them after moving out into his own place, but at least he had that safety net. That was more than most adults did.
A chirruping sound drew his gaze from the blade to the dragon pup. It was nudging Silica, who was lying down on the floor with her back to the wall and her head perched on Suguha’s shoulders, trying to rouse her awake. It succeeded as her eyes slowly fluttered open.
Klein sheathed the sword. The blade beneath the hand-guard sank into the scabbard and was sealed with a soft click. “Sleep well?”
“I was hoping it was all a dream, but….” She looked down at the dragon tiredly, bringing her hand up to its head and gently caressing its plumage. “I’m sorry. You’re hungry, aren’t you?”
As she materialized some meat for the dragon to munch on happily, Klein idly wondered if being an NPC native to this world made it so the food didn’t taste horrible to it. How he envied that little monster, gorging himself on delicious meat that would taste like ashes in his mouth.
Truly, the orchestrator of this mess was a devil to deny them the pleasure of eating.
“Mm…hmm…” The thought passed as Kirito’s cousin-sister stirred awake as well. She rubbed her eyes as she rose to her feet, looking around blankly. A frown formed on her face. “Where’s Onii-chan?”
“He went out for a bit,” Klein said. “How are you feeling?”
“I… I don’t know.” She looked down to Silica, who refused to look up from her pet dragon. It was the sole good thing she could derive from their situation. “Has anyone learned anything about how to get out?”
“There hasn’t been any grand announcement or anything, if that’s what you mean. I’ve been here the whole time, but maybe Kirito learned something new…” Klein opened his menu and pressed the button for Kirito. ‘Kirito, you there?’
‘A little busy,’ Kirito responded, his thoughts hurried and ragged. It made Klein frown, even more so after his next outburst. ‘Ow! Damn, I wish I wore heavy armor!’
‘What exactly are you doing?’
‘Fighting a Boss.’ The sheer casual way he said it left Klein unable to stop himself from bringing a hand up to massage the creases forming in his brow. He’d expected him to go fight a few mobs or something, but a boss?
That was absurd. ‘And you went alone?’
‘Not alone, exactly,’ Kirito replied.
[SAO -o0o- LH]
Kirito had to admit the Enchanter lived up to his word when he said that he had experience in managing. They were doing well for the most part, with the group having only sustained a little damage. True, part of it was because the four of them were stupidly OP compared to this zone—all of them were three times the level of the Field Boss, decently equipped, and had an assortment of skills they could call upon.
But when you took into consideration that they lacked a dedicated healer and didn’t have the usual party arrangement to clear this sort of challenge, it spoke volumes about his ability to coordinate. The Field Boss was usually fought via AOE spells and attacks from a distance, having Sorcerers spam spells and Summoners buffet the minion-ranked adds with Elemental Shots before the sheer numbers could overwhelm the party. All of them were melee characters besides the Enchanter, and his class was considered underwhelming damage-wise compared to the other mage classes.
‘The fourth wave is descending,’ the Enchanter warned. ‘Total count is sixty of the same minion-ranked mobs as before, but an additional four of a stronger variety that will descend roughly three-seconds after the normal swarm. I’ll reapply the Gain Immunity spell on Naotsugu first and then follow with a Nightmare Sphere to slow down the majority of them when they’re lured in as before. Miss Akatsuki, Mister Kirito, you should be able to take care of the four higher-level adds left behind within five seconds of each other, and then start on horde from both sides in a pincer attack.’
‘Yes, My Lord!’ the Assassin replied dutifully, brandishing her blade in a reverse grip and lowering her stance. Kirito had to admit she was fast and ninja-like, despite being so tiny and young. He wondered if she was closer to Silica’s age or younger, so she had an easier time slipping into the role of her character.
Then he shifted his attention to the Guardian as he took a deep breath and raised his sword-bearing arm. His armor suddenly shone with a blinding green light while his eyes were like burning gold. Kirito gritted his teeth and braced himself.
“ANCHOR HOWLLLLLLL!!!” A tangible wave of force and flaring viridian light billowed out from his stalwart figure along with his voice, washing over the area surrounding them with an almost irresistible pull. Kirito felt it passing through him, shaking his teeth and bones, but he wasn’t the target and wasn’t as heavily affected. The same couldn’t be said for the minion-ranked adds, which began to target him instead.
It was followed by a sphere of purple that expanded and encompassed the horde of adds centering around their tank, leaving them sluggish. It made them more manageable for the Guardian, who unleashed a Cross Slash and began to whittle them down. From the last few waves they learned his armor soaked the damage and prevented the fangs sinking into his skin, but his health still decreased a sliver. Kirito presumed this meant the health system still registered the damage on-contact, if not the pain.
When the larger spawns dropped down, Kirito rushed forward as the Assassin pulled ahead of him on the right. The new adds were twice the size of a horse, but their levels were still lower. They wouldn’t be able to hold up against his blades, and he knew it.
The white blade was swung down, smashing through the exoskeleton of the arachnid and into the innards. Before he realized it, he twisted the blade, adding to the damage as it widened the wound, and then pulled it back out at an angle, as though carving the letter ‘V’ into its body. It seemed even months after his escape he still knew the motions of the Snake Biter Sword Skill from SAO.
Running through the spray of coins and vials of poison, he brought the dark blade around in an arch and tore through the second’s head. He twisted his body, coat billowing as his feet left the ground, and brought the ivory-white blade with him to cut it down the center. Landing fluidly in a crouch, both targets slain, he then looked to his swords to find they were smoldering where visceral fluid lingered.
‘Be cautious,’ the Assassin warned, even as she spun on her heel and ran towards where the Guardian was being slowly swarmed. ‘The larger ones seem to have poison that eats away at weapon durability.’
‘Got it!’ He flicked his blades to get off as much of the fluid as he could before going back to assist with the small fry.
[SAO -o0o- LH]
Light glinted off the rapier that felt wrong in Asuna’s hands as she thrust it forward for the thirtieth-time. She and her daughter were in what amounted to an empty park, rife with trees and butterflies but devoid of other life. The city was slowly stirring, but not many people were out. They were waiting for answers; much like the rest were in other places she was sure.
“Mama, what’s wrong?” Yui asked, nestled on top of a low-hanging branch of the tree Asuna practiced under.
“It’s nothing, Yui,” she said, the lie stinging her mouth as it flowed into the ears of her adoptive daughter. It was a lie born of pride that she tried to soothe immediately with a half-truth. “I’m just a bit uneasy with everything so far. I need to get back in practice with using a sword.”
She wasn’t relying on outside help to save her this time. SAO and ALO had both left her unwilling to rely on those outside the situation to resolve it. No, whatever this game or world they found themselves in was, she was certain it was something that would have to be resolved by them. And that meant she had to re familiarize herself with how to move, how to fight, how to think like the Clearer she had once been.
Not like a victim. Not like someone who could only beg for him to stop as he—
“Someone’s coming!” Yui said, snapping her out of her thoughts long enough to realize her hand was trembling. “There’s two guys coming. One of them looks like a knight, but the other is dressed weird.”
Asuna kept her blade drawn, but pointed low to not offend anyone without leaving herself defenseless, while Yui lowered herself with her wings until she landed in her mother’s hair. Of the two who approached, one dressed like a white knight with a blade and shield on his back, and the other was dressed like the modern-romanticized Viking, complete with the horned helmet, axe, and red beard. It qualified as weird for the server, she supposed.
“Well, haven’t we found a fine thing this morning?” The Viking chuckled, rubbing his beard as he looked her up and down. “And what’s a lass like you doing out so early?”
Her sword arm twitched and rose a few inches, the blade’s point angled so that a thrust would connect with him. “If hitting on me is the only reason you’re here, I’d advise you to move on.”
“Touchy.” The Viking tilted his head in amusement, a glint in his eyes. “But you should be more careful with that blade, lass. I’m Level 90. You aren’t dressed in what looks to be gear for someone higher than half that, at best.”
She shrugged her shoulders and held the sword up, pointed straight towards his face. “A sword in your eye will hurt all the same, I bet.”
He barked out loud laughing. “I like her. A spine of steel, this one.”
The white knight held his hand out at his side, in front of his comrade, before he gave a slight bow of his head towards Asuna. “Forgive Varn, please. It’s…his way of coping. We’re just a little confused at the moment, and his reaction to our circumstances is to immerse himself in his online identity… badly, at that.”
“…Keep him on a leash,” she warned, after a pause. “I’m really not in the mood, and my patience is limited. The last thing I need to deal with is someone who finds this situation ideal for acting like that.”
Hypocritical, a darker part of her mind whispered. Isn’t that what you’re trying to do? Slipping into the confident person you were in SAO. And yet you broke so easily, your heart—
“Mama?” Yui called.
Asuna’s eyes snapped forward, having apparently drifted to the ground without her realizing it, to see her daughter was floating in front of her with eyes downturned in worry. She could spy the knight looking at her carefully as well, especially how her hand was noticeably tensed on the grip of her sword. She took a deep breath. “I’m okay.”
The Viking looked at her funny. “Why did that fairy call y—”
“Enough, Varn!” the Knight hissed after seeing her eyes narrowing. A sigh slipped out of his mouth and he extended a hand for her to shake. “Let’s try this again, my name is Galatine. I wanted to talk to you about the situation we’ve found ourselves in, if possible. ”
She looked at it for almost a solid minute. Then she switched her sword to the other hand and cautiously shook his. “Asuna. I’m Asuna, and this is my daughter, Yui.”
“Interesting,” he mused, looking at the pair. “Judging from your equipment, I’d say you were a Swashbuckler, but a sub-class of Beast Tamer?”
She gave a short shake of her head. “It’s complicated, but no. I’m a Swashbuckler with a Chef sub-class. Yui is… she was watching me play the game, but ended up in this state when we were pulled into it. She didn’t have an avatar to inhabit.”
“Given the strangeness of how we all ended up in what appears to be the world of Elder Tales, I can understand how something like that would happen. It makes me grateful my little niece wasn’t awake when I was playing. She loved standing by my chair and telling me where to go, pointing at the screen.”
“I don’t know anything about how we got in here, if that’s what you want to ask.” Asuna shifted her legs and crossed her arms. “Neither do the people on my Friend’s List in Akiba, so I won’t be of any help to you. We’re all in the dark.”
“I see…” He looked crestfallen somewhat. Asuna assumed he was one of the ones holding out hope that someone knew something. “If you learn anything new, would you please inform me? The sooner we have a solid grasp of what’s going on, the sooner we can get home… hopefully.”
He sent her a friend request. She stared at it for some time, mulling over the decision. She had a grasp of what it did, and she wasn’t really sure she would like having a stranger being able to monitor her through his map while they were in the same area. On the other hand, he seemed genuine about his concern.
Then again, she had been lied to before. She trusted her Commander in the Knights of the Blood. She respected him, and it turned out the one who trapped them all in his wish-fulfillment fantasy was that very same man. Maybe she was jaded after all she went through, but she didn’t want to be that type of person. She didn’t want to be someone who let her fear of what happened in the past drive who she became.
Asuna accepted with a press of the button, but stared into his eyes doing so. “Information only, no social calls.”
“Understood,” he replied.
“Share it with me too,” said the Viking.
Her response was blunt and to the point. “Not on your life. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to be alone.”
She twisted on her heels and walked away, sheathing her sword but keeping her hand on the hilt so that she could draw it in a flash. The few times she glanced over her shoulder they were talking to one another, with Galatine looking upset and the Viking looking chastised like a child being told off. There didn’t seem to be a mirror device like what Kayaba had used, so chances were that he was younger than his avatar looked.
“Should we tell Papa about those two?” Yui asked, floating down and resting on her shoulder.
Asuna shook her head. “No, your father doesn’t need to know. I can take care of myself.”
“Okay….” Yui looked up for a moment and then rested her hands against her stomach. “I’m hungry.”
Asuna resisted the urge to wince as her stomach silently agreed. “Mmm… I am too, but the taste engine leaves a lot to be desired.”
“Maybe if you try cooking it?” Yui mused. “You did something similar in SAO, right?”
Asuna crossed her arms in thought. She had picked up the Chef sub-class, but she wasn’t sure the effect it would have here. On top of that, she didn’t know too many recipes. Most of the time she spent since getting out of ALO had been in rehabilitation and speaking with Kirito, trying desperately to grab hold of the good parts of her life in the last few years and become independent again.
“I guess we can give it a shot,” she finally said. “But it took me a long time to get things working in SAO. I can’t promise anything right away.”
[LH -o0o- SAO]
The silvery, argent mist of the Astral Chaff spell seemed to wrap Shiroe like a flowing curtain, preventing him from being targeted as the Boss above warbled at the last of its spawn being killed. It was a precaution he had to take given that the number of adds had exceeded his original expectation, bleeding out past their expected range, but the cost was acceptable.
Regardless, with all the minion-ranked enemies dealt with, the Field Boss for this zone shifted phases. It descended with a thunderous crash, kicking up loose dirt and grass. Its mandibles clicked and vibrated, spewing droplets of deep purple venom that made the grass it came in contact with smolder as it died.
‘Naotsugu, the boss seems to produce acidic venom from its mouth.” Shiroe warned, casting another Keen Edge of the two attackers of their group. ‘Try to avoid letting it snap down on your shield or armor, block at an angle if you have to.’
‘Got it.’ The Guardian advanced towards the target while the other two circled around with their blades at the ready, right and left. The Boss seemed unperturbed by his presence at a glance, instead warily eyeing the Swashbuckler. Then it moved.
You didn’t really know how fast a giant spider was until it decided to pounce. It was in the air, higher than they could jump unenhanced, positioning its massive bulk as it descended to land on the Swashbuckler. Whether on instinct or a knee-jerk reaction, he rolled out of the way of the attack in time to avoid being crushed.
Miss Akatsuki used the lag after it crashed down to swipe at it with blade, leaving a tinted fluid seeping from a weeping line that was little more than a paper-cut. Mister Kirito, having recovered from the attack before, leapt forward and spun with both blades to cleave a parallel set of diagonal lines in its abdomen. It had roughly the same level of effect.
Naotsugu moved to draw its aggro with an Anchor Howl while it whirred around with an inhuman quickness and lashed out with its two legs at the Swashbuckler. “Anchor—”
The spider sought him out before he could let loose the cry. It fired a thick stream of webbing from its rear at him, and the spout nailed him dead on, clinging to him like a great weight as it bowled him over and anchored him to the ground. He was trapped, and it was coming around to sink its acidic fangs into his stalwart armor.
The Swashbuckler was on the job, rushing in front of him and planting his feet as he raised his swords in a cross to block the damage. The swords ended up between its mandibles, letting the venom dribble down on the white and black steel. It trickled further onto the grass, right next to the sticky spider silk holding the Guardian tight.
Shiroe took a gamble and saw that he had a status effect that indicated he was bound, so he cast Dispel Magic and hoped it would do the trick. The colorless wave passed over Naotsugu and the bindings that pinned him place dried and shriveled, falling to pieces and removing the movement debuff that kept him in place. It gave him time to get back onto his feet and counter-attack.
His shield glowed with a luminous green hue and he pushed, letting the Shield Bash activate and socking it in the face. It freed the swords from its mouth, even if it didn’t stagger the thing back far. Akatsuki followed up by jumping on its back and slashing at it from a blind-spot.
The Boss clearly came prepared for a counter to that. It dislodged her by curling its legs and then rolling around. She was thrown off as it continued to roll about in a circle around the attackers.
‘It’s lost about a fifth of its health,’ Shiroe broadcasted as it rose back to its feet at a distance. ‘If I remember correctly, it should start spraying webbing in a wide-pattern once it hits a quarter and further it would produce more adds. The game classified the webbing as an Area-Of-Effect binding spell, so try not to get caught when that happens since I can only dispel in a limited range.’
‘Can you bolster my speed?’ Mister Kirito asked. ‘Not just movement, but everything so I can blitz it. You have a spell for that, right?’
Shiroe nodded. It was a toss-up between using Haste or Infinity Force. Given they weren’t aware of the effects the latter would have once it burned out, he decided on the former and then pointed his staff at the Swashbuckler. “Haste!”
The head of the shaft shone with argent light before the spell streaked out as a shimmering-gold bolt and struck him. What looked to be a clock appeared at his feet, the hands of it speeding up as they moved clockwise. They circled faster and faster, encasing him with a sort of distortion around his body, and then the Swashbuckler exploded forward while screaming.
[SAO -o0o- LH]
Kirito felt the world around him slow down in turn. His heart was racing, his head throbbing from the speeding thoughts, and he felt the wind howling past his ears as he ran towards the boss. A fleeting thought had occurred after he had performed the Snake Biter. Could he meld the techniques of old into something new?
This was the chance to find out. This fast, he was sure he could do it. He could overwhelm the boss with a brutal blitz and continuous combination—Starburst Stream.
His body remembered what he needed to do. He had went along with the motions for months on end during SAO, going along with the System Assist to familiarize himself it—becoming one with his sword, as the saying would go. It had been engraved into his muscle memory, and he knew the steps by heart.
Driven by that thought, the Keen Edge allowed for a tail of light to follow the strikes. The right sword was swung from left to right and the left came in for an upwards slice. It was when he was in the middle of his spin that the Boss lashed out, un-staggered. A sickening violet fluid seeped from the point of its leg and it shot the limb forward like a spear right when he jumped to bring down both his swords again.
And thus, Kirito learned the true meaning of pain as it speared through his abdomen and impaled him upon the limb, a scream of pure, unadulterated agony involuntarily clawing out of his throat as the poison ate him alive from the inside….
[Chapter 2 -o0o- End]
Notes: Because I don’t feel like dealing with accusations later on about rape being used as a backstory mechanic, I’ll come right out and say it now. The fairy moron turned his mental manipulation on Asuna after she got caught snooping around and tried twisting her emotions towards loving him. It was partially successful and, as you can imagine, this was not pleasant and had consequences that will be explored in the story.