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Back in the Game: Chapter 8

[Chapter 8 -o0o- Start]

A tantalizing scent filled the night air. It melded with the smoke that drifted skyward from the clearing, an alluring aroma that teased the senses. Irresistible to all those caught within its expanding web as it wafted on the breeze that whistled through the clearing, those whose noses it graced could not look away from the origin.

Their eyes were locked into place. Their mouths watered uncontrollably. Gnawing hunger clawing at their stomachs as it glistened off the firelight and embers that rose through the grate.

It was the scent of cooked meat, and it was easily the most magical thing that Kirito had smelled in his life at that very moment. Just watching as the shimmering heat left the cubes of meat, neatly-cut between vegetables on skewers, glistening with juices that added to the glaze, left him unable to contain himself anymore. He had to have a taste!

So he cast his dark eyes around the camp to see if there was anyone watching. Most of the attention was on the Chef of the Crescent Moon Alliance, Girov, as he worked his magic on preparing another delicious-looking meal.  The guild was relatively small, with only around nineteen players active and only four of them Level 90. But the Chef had valued experience IRL and was using it to chop up bamboo shoots to go along with the meat to the amazement of his Guild Master, Monk, Summoner—Maryelle, Violet, and Meifa respectively—and the others.

Now was his chance. He reached out for a skewer like it was sacred gold that he was pillaging from a trap-laden temple on the South American server. It couldn’t hurt to just have one skewer to soothe the ache in his stomach, right?


He was merely inches away when something hard caught the back of his hand, forcing him to pull back. He sucked a sharp breath and nursed the spot with his other hand, giving Klein a side-glance in annoyance. “Did you have to use your sheathe?”

“Yes,” Klein said bluntly, tapping his sheathed sword on his shoulder. “Yes I did. You can’t eat before everyone else.”

“It’s not like we don’t have extras left over,” Kirito said as he tilted his head over to where the rest of the ingredients were. They had split into groups once the Crescent Moon Alliance had arrived with their members and they’d exchanged greetings. The mobs they’d harvested weren’t strong in particular and were rather large, so they’d hunted down more than enough for this little experiment, after ensuring that each group had at least one member who could harvest the meat through either the Chef or Forager sub-class.

“Extra or not, you should eat with the group rather than on your own,” Klein said. “You’re not running Solo anymore, and you don’t see any of the others lacking in self-control, now do you?”

Thwack! “Ow!”

They turned at the sound of someone else having their attempt rebuked and turned to see that Soujiro was cradling his hand as well. His second-in-command, Nazuna, was looking at him with a slight pout as he apologized. She then looked up to Klein and sent him a look that expressed the same frustration that he did before the pair guided the two dual-wielders over to where the rest of their collective groups were gathered until everything was done.

N’awww, you’re a little cutie, aren’t you?” Maryelle said as she stroked Pina’s head gently. The Waterfowl Dragon Pup preened under the attention, much to her delight as she looked over to Kirito. “Your guild is lucky to have such a cute Pet and Summoner.”

“Ah… we aren’t actually a guild,” Kirito said. “We’re just friends who happened to have logged in at the same time and we stuck together for our own safety once the chaos began.”

“Then you should consider starting one if all of you will be staying together,” Soujiro said. “Having a Guild Hall is one of the few ways to ensure that everyone will be able to rest without fear at night and at least in some comfort.”

“That would have actually made things easier last night,” Suguha said, rubbing her shoulder as she recalled sleeping against the wall of the ruined building only to wake up and find that Kirito had gone missing. “You should start a guild, Onii-chan.”

Kirito shook his head slowly at the suggestion, eyes never leaving the crackling flames of the Salamander that Silica had summoned as it sat beneath a grill perched on two stones. “If we’re going to start a guild, Klein would be better suited for that sort of thing, given he managed a front-line guild without any casualties.”

Being put on the spot, Klein blinked in surprise before clearing his throat. “Well, I don’t mind since it would basically mean handling room and board for Silica and your sister. But didn’t you shoot down the suggestion a bit quickly?”

“It’s not that I have anything against guilds. It’s just that…” The first guild I joined was wiped out and their leader committed suicide while blaming me. “I spent most of my time in SAO playing alone, so I don’t really know how a guild would function beyond a basic-level. I’d rather leave it in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing and who I can trust, and that’d be you in this case.”

“That’s high praise coming from you.” Klein seemed abashed at the praise honestly, rubbing the back of his head. “So, does that mean you’ll actually accept a guild invitation from me this time?”

Kirito gave him a side glance and smirked, but said nothing as Girov announced the food was done. They all grabbed one of the wooden skewers lined with meat, vegetables, and the assorted additional foods. A sauce of some kind was spread over it to add to the already scintillating scent. Then they took a bite and joyous cries filled the clearing as flavor filled their mouths.

Mmm…I-It’s so tasty!” Maryelle said, holding her cheek as she savored the rich flavor filling her mouth.

At the same time, soft, grateful cries joined the tears in Klein’s eyes as his wolf-ears rose the moment he bit into the mushroom and grilled meat kebob. “I never thought I’d be so happy to eat real food again.”

“Me too,” Silica said as she ate her own as well. Pina watched curiously with its bright red eyes as she ate with a zeal that was seemingly unmatched until she took off a cube of meat and held it out in her palm. “Here Pina, you try it too.”

The young dragon sniffed at it a bit before nipping it out of her hand and chewing it. A happy chirrup left its mouth and it leapt onto her lap to beg for more. She obliged it happily, which put a smile on Kirito’s face since he was worried that she had been taking it the hardest out of their little group of four.

He then turned to Girov, who was watching with a sense of pride as they ate. “Thanks for doing this.”

“Not a problem. There’s nothing better for a chef than knowing that his food is appreciated after all.”

“Believe me when I say it is greatly appreciated,” Nazuna told him. “Is it possible for us to bring some back for the others at our guild? It’ll make them feel better about everything so far.”

“You guys gathered plenty for me to work with, so there’ll be more than enough for everyone to take home some,” Girov assured them. “It’s lucky that we met you guys since my brother and I will be able put our skills to good work now.”

Maryelle nodded enthusiastically. “Shiroe-kun really made things easier for us all by having us meet up like this.”

“That’s Shiroe-senpai for you,” Soujirou agreed.

So they’ve all got a high opinion of him, Kirito thought to himself as he listened to them. He still wasn’t fully sure about the guy with glasses just yet. He wanted to chalk that up to him just being overly-cautious though after everything he’d gone through.

Either way, he’d still have to tell Asuna that it works and they’ve solved the food issues. That was a progress, but they still didn’t have a clear goal and that worried him. People need to have a goal to strive for so they could keep going.

If there was a way in, there was a way out, he reasoned silently. They just needed to get behind the mystery of it. But first everyone needed to adjust to the circumstances so they didn’t panic, and if Shiroe could do this much in an evening then maybe he was their best bet of doing so for now.

So he’d go along with the Enchanter’s suggestion and see how it unfolded.

 [LH -o0o- SAO]

With Galantine

Galantine sat on a piece of debris that was thick enough to serve as a seat, opposite of Miss Asuna and with Mina next to him. Similar to when he was at Branch’s home, the Paladin had removed his armor and remained dressed in his casual clothing.  There was a small fire between them, being used to cook the Crab Meat that they had gathered from assisting the farmers along the coast.

It was a temporary measure at the moment though. The Ascot Crabs would surface again over the course of the season and they would be in trouble again unless measures were taken. That was a problem that Miss Asuna was hoping to rectify, apparently.

That was why she invited them over to the building she was using at the moment, ruined like the rest but not to an extent that it was unusable. There she gave them the highlights of her past while she prepared the meat for them to eat—namely of how she had been a Clearer in Sword Art Online and the Vice-Leader of one of the most prominent guilds—and her plans for Nakasu.

It made sense. She was very forward because she was in a position where giving clear and confident commands would be a necessity on the battlefield, as well as managing others. Her disdain for those who refused to act if they could and relied on others came from the fact that she was the one putting her life on the line when others wouldn’t, fighting for their freedom while they stood aside despite being able to function.

“So, what do you think?” she asked at the very end.

“…I can see you viewpoint on things as they stand,” he said after he complied his thoughts. “Having access to actual food would be an immense boon, if only because it fulfills the basic human needs. It could be used as a powerful motivation tool, so may I ask why we should keep it a secret from others?”

“Because they haven’t earned it,” she said bluntly. “We and Branch were the only ones fighting while everyone else was huddled away, waiting for someone to come and rescue them despite being capable of acting. We did the work, so why should we share the fruits of our findings freely when we had to earn it?”

“Well, I can’t argue with that logic,” Mina said. “But what if we sell it to the pansies and make a nice and tidy profit? We’d be rich within a day.”

“Because money isn’t a priority right now,” Asuna said. “Everyone has it in spades and everything they’d need for daily living is relatively cheap compared to anything else, so they’ll just sit down and eat when our priority is getting people to do something. Even if we could help Branch and his family this time, things are liable to be a nightmare elsewhere.”

“That seems to be the case.” Certainly, from their talk they’ve established how things worked back when the Adventurers were autonomous from their point of view and NPC’s were from the players. Whatever happened has torn that system apart and it’ll take them some time before they can adapt from it, which will affect their community as well. The fact that the markets were empty was proof of that.

“I’m not waiting for someone to rescue us and let things get worse,” she continued, eyes narrowed with determination as she stared unwaveringly into his. “We have to save ourselves, and to do that we need to start acting and not letting people who are capable of doing something coast freely.”

“…May I be frank with you?” Galantine asked. When she nodded her head in consent, he continued. “You carry yourself as someone who is prideful and strict, fixed on a goal and doing what it will take to achieve it. However, I feel that you come off too strongly. At the rate you’re going, you’re likely to inspire animosity with others and that will discourage them, or make enemies.”

And you talk about my manners,” Mina muttered.

“Don’t be mean to her,” her daughter said, fluttering over to him. “Mama is trying her best for everyone’s sake!”

“It’s fine, Yui. I appreciate his honesty since he pulled his own weight,” Miss Asuna said to her kindly before turning back to him. “I have my own set of circumstances that have led to my current stance, and I know that it will offend some people. That’s why I want you both to assist me like you did with Branch and his family.”

“You mean to act as your right and left hands with this?”

She nodded. “You’ve proven yourselves to be more than just talk, and I respect that you came over to help. You’ve got a way with words as well that I just don’t have the patience for anymore with someone who doesn’t show me respect. I think that with you two we can make it so that everyone can carry themselves until we can find a way out.”

“I’m only good at smashing stuff,” Mina said. “But if Galantine here agrees and you keep floating food my way, I’ll be glad to throw my axe at whatever you need.”

Galantine gave it some more thought. He had nothing against the idea, and really they did need some unifying force. At least if Mina was working with her food wouldn’t be an issue, and keeping busy would deal with her rampant boredom. Besides, he genuinely did want to help and if she’s the spark to set the fire under Nakasu, he could keep the fires of her determination from being snuffed out or going wild and burning them all.

“Very well,” he said. “If you’ll take our council to heart, we’re gladly assist you.”

Miss Asuna smiled. “Glad to have you both onboard. So, any ideals on where to start while we’re all here?”

Galantine nodded. “The first measure I would suggest is that we attain a Guild Hall tomorrow, if not for just shelter and for the sake of our own protection, but to present a unified and professional front. You’ll be able to cook in private and maintain the secret easier as well.”

“Okay, we’ll handle that first thing in the morning,” she said. “We’ll need to use all the meat we’ve obtained before it goes bad too, and we can’t eat nearly everything alone before the Ascot Crabs returned. We’ll have those two stall-girls help us distribute the food, at a modest wage of course, and use it to recruit help for the next wave.”

Galantine rubbed his chin in thought. “A taste of real food will get them interested to do that much and we can offer it in exchange for services rendered—fighting monsters or gathering ingredients based on a quota. And if we offer more in exchange for filling out a flyer with their username, class, and sub-class, we can use that information to help find others willing to help in the long run, such as chefs.”

“Most people don’t take a sub-class like that though,” Mina chimed in. “Most choose sub-classes that are immediately useful for gameplay, not role-playing. Stuff like farmers, accountants, and the like are among the lowest for a reason.”

“That will make it difficult to find many who have classes needed for certain fields,” Galantine admitted. “We’ll need a way to rectify that as well.”

“That’s easy enough,” Asuna said. “We just find anyone who has the real-world skills and then have them switch their sub-class over to it. Or we can have others act as Apprentices to the natives who have the appropriate sub-class so they can learn. And if they don’t want to do that, we can have them keep the farms safe, help them with harvesting, and escort their shipments.”

Galantine shook his head. “That’ll be like a dictatorship if we force it, providing we’re in a position to do so. However, if we can find volunteers on a small scale, maybe a small guild’s worth of individuals to test it out, they can help get others interested. Regardless, it’ll only a temporary measure. The secret will come out eventually and the food will lose its worth, so those that aren’t interested will stop.”

“As long as we actually get them moving and learning, it’ll be fine for short-term,” Asuna said. “In the long-run though, I’m hoping that the connection we’ve made with the farmers can help with learning more about this world and creating a rapport with the natives. Things are going to be hectic for a while and I believe that we can learn a lot from each other.”

“I still kind of wanted to punch that farmer’s face in though,” Mina admitted.

“That’s not nice,” Yui said from her perch on her mother’s head.

Mina just shrugged. “It’s true though. They guy was an ass, and I can’t tell you how many times I see player’s taking a swing at him on the monitor only for it to go through him.”

Galantine crossed his arms in thought at that. “He never mentioned that, so perhaps whatever filter was in place stopped players from actually doing it on this side. That restriction no longer applies and even if they can be seen as our equals in intellect, our levels make a world of difference. We won’t be able to make peace with them if someone starts abusing that because they feel as if they’re gods among men.”

Asuna sighed at that. “Yeah, someone’s going to start taking advantage unless we have people willing to keep the peace. That’s why we need to get started on this as soon as possible and take the reins. We don’t need psychopaths like Laughing Coffin starting to show up again.”

 [SAO -o0o- LH]

In Minami

Had Girasol heard Asuna’s proclamation, she would have cursed her for jinxing them.

The building in front of her was on fire, burning brightly in the night like a beacon that drew in people like moths. It was done intentionally, carefully, ensuring that each and everyone one of them could see the symbol painted onto the ground in front of the building. It was a symbol she recognized very well, a coffin that had a face on it with broad lips upturned in a smile—a laughing coffin.

She sucked in a sharp breath at the thought of one of their number slipping in and already leaving a mark. People knew that emblem and would react poorly. They’d panic and the chaos would be just what the one responsible for it wanted. That was the last thing they needed.

“First thing first, I need to put out this fire.” Wiping the sweat off her brow from the heat, she tossed back the hood of her robes to reveal tan skin emblazoned with the tattoo from her chosen race—the Race of Ritual. The tome she carried floated in front of her, pages flipping until it came to a picture of one of the spirits under contract with her.

Call Servant…” She extended her hand towards it and a cerulean magic circle formed. The sensation of her MP dwindling tickled her mind and the warmth from the tattoos glowing still took some getting used to. “Undine!

Water pulled from the air condensed into a blob around the circle and then began to take the shape of a curvaceous woman as the spirit inhabited it. Flowing hair, water woven into strands, spilled down her backside as dark eyes took in their surroundings and the fins acting as her ears shifted. Fully-formed, the Undine circled around its Summoner, swimming through the air, before coming to a stop in front of her and waiting for a command with a placid expression.

“Douse that fire,” Girasol ordered. “Take as much time as you need, but make sure it doesn’t spread.”

A smile spread across the Undine’s face as it consented with a soft sound that played on its Summoner’s ears. Then it flowed upwards and around the building, calling forth water to enclose it and work from the outside inwards.

Girasol pulled her hood back on as stray drops splashed against her face and looked around in search of anyone suspicious among the gawkers. She suspected that the one responsible for the symbol of Laughing Coffin would be watching, observing the reaction to their handiwork. Let them see this then—let them see her putting out the fire and washing away the symbol of their madness.

She refused to let another murderous group gain ground here. Just because they couldn’t die, didn’t mean they couldn’t do worse things. She wouldn’t let them put fear into everyone just to make them happy.

Three other Undines soon joined hers, courtesy of a trio of Summoners some distance away from her. They were being led by a Fox Tail woman with long black hair who watched the fire burn with her fan covering her lower lips, and a purpled-haired Elf woman with a stern expression. She gave them a nod in thanks and was met with one in return by the elf.

Once the fire was out, the elf approached her to question what she knew. It was very little, but she would find out more. That was her specialty after all.

She wasn’t once known as Argo the Rat for nothing.

 [Chapter 8 -o0o- End]


Name: Level – Class (Species – Build) and Sub-Class

Maryelle: Lv. 90 Cleric (Elf – High Healer) with Woodcrafter sub-class.

Girasol (Argo): Lv. 55 Summoner (Race of Ritual – Eclectic Supporter) with Tracker sub-class.


Back in the Game: Chapter 7

[-|Back in the Game |-]

[Chapter 7 -o0o- Start]

Soujiro Seta, guild-master of the West Wind Brigade, strode through the dark woods with three of his companions at his side. The soft glow of Nazuna’s Bug’s Light spell, which drifted around his party like fireflies, shrouded them in an almost teal aura. It glinted off the polished steel of his samurai equipment as they proceeded to the designated meeting location.

They were supposed to meet with two groups of players that his senior in the DTP had recently met, to further experiment with the game system. The three would work together in order to test the possibility of there being a way to attain actual food with flavor, something that would ease the weary and worried members of his guild and bring them a measure of peace.

Still, Soujiro had trouble believing they were in the actual world of Elder Tales. That was something he’d dreamed of after he heard about Sword Art Online—at least before its launch. He had even been in line for the opportunity to play it then, but he didn’t get a copy of the game before all of them were sold out. Then came the news that 10,000 people had been trapped inside, and he could only think about what a waste it was that things ended up like that.

The news had almost been enough to deter him from participating in Alfheim, but he gave it a try. It was a great experience, especially the flying. But then came the news that the creator had done something similar to SAO, and the game was shutdown after rumors of someone having finally reached the Floating City—an unaffiliated Spriggan of all races.

It was a shame that the creators of both games were so willing to ruin what should be a grand experience for everyone for selfish reasons. Now that it was happening a third time, to a classic game at that, leaving him wondering if the creators once more decided to forsake their fanbase for the sake of some selfish goal.

His thoughts turned to the people they would be meeting. The Crescent Moon Alliance and his West Wind Brigade were to bring one Cooking or Harvest-capable member, the guild-master or their representative, and two others to help with the fighting. The third party at the gathering would consist of survivors of SAO, acting as consultants or such.

He had decided to bring Nazuna and Isami as the two to help with the gathering, since they were dependable, but cooking was a bit of an issue. Dolce was his first choice, being a good cook IRL. But he didn’t have the Chef subclass, so he decided to remain behind to console the members of the guild who were in the middle of a panic over the circumstances. Sandy came along instead since her Farmer subclass could be used to help with the gathering, and the Crescent Moon Alliance would bring a Chef.

As for the survivors, Shiroe stated that their leader would be fairly forward when it came to answering questions about the event and their experiences, unlike most that were traumatized from the experience. And, as terrible as it was, he had to admit that he was morbidly curious what it was like to live with a sword in hand the majority of the time. He hoped he could have a chance to speak with the man without offending him.

He was brought out of his musings when he felt a slight tap on his shoulder. He turned to see that Nazuna was looking off to the side, further into the distance. “What’s wrong?”

“I hear fighting coming from that direction.” Her fox ears twitched a few times. “At least two people.”

“Really?” Isami stepped towards that direction, her orange hair rustling as a gentle breeze flowed. She tried to peer into the darkness, but it was to no avail. “I thought they weren’t gathering yet.”

“I don’t think they’re hunting,” she said, her ears leaning forward. “It sounds like steel clashing, sword against sword.”

“Hmm…” He rubbed his chin in thought for a moment before snapping his fingers. “Let’s check it out!”

“Shouldn’t we—ah, wait Director!” Isami called as he abruptly took off, leaving her reaching out for his fleeting figure. She groaned and then looked to Sandy, who was silently observing things from beneath the rim of her hood.

Leaving behind the Bug’s Lights, he rushed towards the sound of battle with the enhanced capabilities of his body. He couldn’t fly like when he was in ALO, but he was fast enough that he could feel the wind rushing past his face as it had when he soared the skies on emerald-green wings.

The sound of steel clashing grew tumultuous, and a faint light grew brighter as he neared the source. Soujiro stopped his agile gait at the edge of a clearing, and found that it had been turned into a makeshift camp. There was a fire off to one side, where a small girl with a dragon on her head and a samurai were quietly observing what was happening in a section further out. He turned to follow their line-of-sight and found himself just as captivated as they were.

The tips of two blades crashed into one another and left a spray of sparks that briefly lingered in the air as their owners broke away from one another. They both leapt back, covering a few meters so that they stood on the fringes of the circle of light cast by a Magic Light spell. The living sphere of light shifted its gaze back and forth between them with unblinking eyes and an intrigued smile.

The black-haired Kannagi—evident by her clothing and katana-class weapon—was panting, her chest rising and falling. Sweat glistened off her forehead as she held a formal stance he witnessed in Kendo demonstrations he found online. Her blade was at the front, centered on her opponent and ready with both hands on the hilt.

The black-haired… Swashbuckler, Soujiro realized as he focused on him and his health bar appeared with the double-sword icon next to it, was panting as well. But he took deeper breaths at a slower rate, eyes never leaving his opponent. He only had one of his two swords drawn, which he held in a non-standard pose by holding it behind him with his right-hand, while his empty hand and left feet were forward.

Strictly speaking at a glance, she probably had an advantage against him with that unorthodox pose. His front was wide-open, and the time it would take for her to cross the distance and bring her sword down would be more than enough to do some serious damage. Yet, she wasn’t capitalizing on it for some reason.

Instead, she shifted her stance so that it was lower and angled her blade to pierce rather than slash as befitting the weapon. The grass beneath her sandals shifted as though a spring breeze rolled around it, and a pair of small, ethereal wings appeared on her ankles. Then the air shuddered and popped as she kicked off the ground, spearing towards him at a heightened speed courtesy of the Ritual of the Tensokuhou skill.

In an instant, he slid his rear-leg further out in the angled direction and pivoted on it. Not only would it bring his unguarded side to the rear and get him off-line, but he’d be able to bring the blade down in an arch that would cut her down while she was coming in. She’d be unable to bring her sword around to defend and stopping short would still put her in harm’s way.

Perhaps realizing this, she didn’t stop. Instead, she stomped her foot down and pushed off to get airborne and flip over his head. Her sword became a silver streak at the same time as she swung it for his unprotected head.

Black strands were severed as he ducked his head down in time to avoid getting it sliced open, spinning around on his pivoting foot and carrying the downward momentum of the sword around into an upwards diagonal like a pendulum. The heavier blade met hers as she brought it into a guard position, birthing sparks as the still-aerial young woman went flying further back.

She fell into a roll as she landed, but got back onto her feet after the first rotation. It was just in time to intercept his blade as he rushed in. Her non-dominant hand braced the back of the blade, near the top, in an irregular guarding position to hold it steady as they locked together again.

The Swashbuckler grinned and said something to her. It was too far for Soujiro to hear, but whatever it was put a spot of crimson on her cheeks. The faint scent of apricots thickened in the air as she vanished and then reappeared some distance away, leaving only apricot flower petals where she had been, pulling out a piece of paper that was shaped like a person with writing on it.

The moment she threw it into the air and called out a name, the paper burst into countless scraps that reformed into the shape of a featureless human. Ghostly features set in over it, cladding it cheap armor and giving it a worn katana. The ill-equipped samurai stood in front of her as though to protect her.

“Souji, you shouldn’t run off like that.” Soujiro turned to see that Nazuna was approaching him, the others a few feet away. Her eyes shifted to the battle. “Is that the Ochimusha?”

“Is that the name of that?” he asked.

She nodded after giving it hard look, and then scratched her head in thought for a moment. “It’s been years since I’ve done the quest, but if I remember right, it’s supposed to be a warrior that fled from battle dishonorably and was struck down for his cowardice by an angry farmer, who lost their own son honorably on the battlefield. The ghost wandered around looking for a master to serve in hopes of redemption, and by finding the makeshift grave-marker and praying in front of it with a slip of Talisman Paper, the name of spirit would be etched into it and you can call it forth to serve you.”

“That sounds like a Kannagi-exclusive quest,” Isami said as she looked over his shoulder at the fight as well.

“In game terms, it’s a Rank 2 shikigami that you can obtain once your level reaches the 20s. It’s basically a brief attack buff that lasts for about five minutes and does additional damage attributed to the player—overlaying them like a ghost. It’s nothing special really since, if you’re a Kannagi, then you’ve got your own buffs at that level and there are better ones later on. In general, shikigami were simply added to the game content for role-players.”

He turned back to look at the Ochimusha as it tried to cut down the Swashbuckler from the front, while the Kannagi came in to strike him down from his other side. “The fact that we’re in the game seems to have changed the mechanics to where it fights alongside of you instead.”

The black-clad swordsman focused on the girl, seeing her as the greater threat. Rightfully so considering the sharpness of her strike as she cut through the air with a horizontal slash towards his chest. He blocked with black sword in his hand, the ringing of their blades loud and clear, leaving his back to the shikigami.

The Ochimusha immediately stepped forward, swinging the sword down in an arch towards his unprotected neck from the rear. The slash would surely hurt, even if it didn’t take off his head… unless it was a lucky critical. Could they still function without a head?

The unasked question went unanswered as he brought his other hand to the hilt of his sheathed sword and pulled it from its scabbard. The ivory-toned steel intercepted the shikigami’s katana with ease, stopping it short of his neck. Then he spun, unleashing a Whirlwind that released a shockwave that blew both of his opponents back.

Obsidian steel and ivory blade in hand, lightning crackled at his feet as he kicked off the ground towards the shikigami and lunged. As he did so, he spun in mid-air to turn himself into living saw that carved through the shikigami. He slid to a stop some distance away courtesy of the momentum and looked to see that the paper composing it burst into flames, and the ethereal features dissipated.

But he’d lost track of the young woman in the process, sucking in a sharp breath as he noticed that she had taken the momentary distraction to vanish from his sight. He clenched his teeth and then jerked his head up to see that she was coming down, her sword once more attempting to impale his head from above. Too fast to dodge, he resorted to crossing his blades and attempting to parry it.

Steel grated against steel as her blade was barely driven off its mark, slitting the side of his neck and shoulder as she came crashing down upon him. The landing left them on the ground, her mounting his stomach, and her blade pinned into the ground next to his head. There was a confident grin on her face as she looked down into his eyes, her mouth moving.

“‘I win, Onii-chan,’ is what she’s saying,” Nazuna said.

The Swashbuckler smiled… and then he planted his feet on the ground, bending his knees, and grabbed her by the lapels. In a single motion, he pushed off the ground and thrust his lower-body and torso upwards. That pushed her forward while his arms jerked her to the side, putting her on the ground and him on top of her.

The Swashbuckler mouthed something, and Soujiro looked to his second-in-command.

“We didn’t say swords-only,” she parroted as the Kannagi struggled against his weight upon her, but stopped after a moment. She closed her eyes and sighed, her mouth moving and Nazuna providing the words. “Fine, I give up. You win this time.”

Their spar finished, Soujiro found himself clapping as he walked forward while the Swashbuckler helped her up. All eyes fell onto him but he pressed on. “That was an amazing match between you two. I’m impressed.”

“It was more of a test of how PvP would work if our levels were about the same using the Teaching Function,” the Swashbuckler said as he sheathed his blades with a flourish. “Judging from the Samurai-attire, you must be the West Wind Brigade?”

He nodded. “And you must be the SAO survivors that Shiroe-Senpai mentioned.”

“I actually only played ALO,” the Kannagi admitted as she dusted herself off. “Onii-chan played both.”

“Is that so?” If that was the case, maybe they’d met some time before the game closed. “What race?”

“Sugu was a Sylph for over a year,” he said. “I picked a Spriggan because I liked the color scheme and didn’t really pay attention to anything else. I was just in a hurry to get to the World Tree at the time. The game shutdown after that, so I didn’t have a chance to enjoy it longer.”

“A Spriggan…” A passing thought occurred and he grew excited. “Wait, were you the Spriggan that made it to the top?”

The Swashbuckler scratched this cheek. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“What was the Floating City like?” he asked, a tremor of anticipation in his voice. Because of how quickly the game was shutdown, he was always left wondering what was up at the top of the World Tree. Was it everything they hoped to see in the end?

The swordsman winced. “How do I say this…?” He sucked in a sharp breath and scratched the back of his head. “You understand that they shut the game down because several of the players in SAO had been trapped inside of Alfheim due to Nobuyuki, right?”

Soujiro nodded. While the game had been shutdown, not much information had been released to the public beyond the government issuing their statement. “It was something involving unethical testing, right?”

He tilted his hand back and forth. “Close enough, I guess. The point is that I had it on good authority that they were being held there, so I spearheaded the effort to confirm it. Once I got to the top of the World Tree, I found that the entrance was sealed off entirely because that was where he was carrying out unethical experimentation on those hostages. Players were never meant to be able to access that floor, so there was no need to code in what they told the general public. If I hadn’t gotten my hands on administrative clearance through some… dubious means, then I wouldn’t have been able to proceed further.”

The realization made Soujiro’s shoulders sag. “That means it was all a lie.”

“Yeah, it was.” There was a note of distaste in his voice as he confirmed as much, bringing his hand to his chest as though he had been wounded. “He was worse than Kayaba in that aspect, though they both ended up destroying the foundation of what could have been something great for the sake of their egos. They betrayed everyone who believed in them.”

Then the Swashbuckler sighed, letting the tension flow out of his body as he put back on a smile. “Anyway, let’s get the introductions out of the way. I’m Kirito, a Level 90 Swashbuckler-Sword Saint.”

“Soujiro Seta,” the guild-master of the West Wind Brigade offered in turn, giving him a slight bow in respect. “I am a Level 90 Samurai-Sword Saint as well.”

“I go by the name Leafa,” said the Kannagi as she sheathed her own sword. “I’m a Level 25 Kannagi-Acrobat. I look forward to working with you.”

“And I’m Klein,” announced the red-clad Samurai as he came up to them from behind. He stood in front of Nazuna and offered her his hand. “I’m a Samurai-Rune Knight, only Level 37 at the moment.”

She shook it briefly. “Nazuna, a Level 90 Kannagi-Gambler.” She placed her hands on her hip as she looked down to the young summoner with fox-ears similar to her own, lingering a little further away from her. “And who do we have here?”

“Silica,” she said, keeping her eyes to the ground between giving brief glances towards the older woman’s breasts. “I’m a Level 24 Summoner, with a Beast-Tamer subclass. I’m just keeping the fire ready with my Salamander.”

Her pet dragon made a low chirruping noise perched on her head. It instantly charmed Isami, who crouched down and reached to pat it on the head. “Aren’t you a cutie? Do you have a name too?”

“This is Pina,” Silica said, a little more animated. “I just tamed her before the expansion pack came online because she reminded me of a dragon I had in Sword Art Online.”

“Well, I’m Isami, a Level 90 Samurai-Accountant.” She nodded to the girl behind her, who gave a slight wave. “This is Sandy, a Level 90 Cleric-Farmer. Though she doesn’t say much, she’ll be handling the harvesting.”

The Samurai-Rune Knight, Klein, chucked a bit. “Well, I’m feeling a little inadequate around so many high-level players, but I’ll do my part with hunting once the other group arrives.”

Nazuna tapped her cheek in thought as she looked him up and down. “Well, you seem dependable enough. And I don’t think level will be much of a factor for this.”

“Should we take a seat around the fire?” Soujiro asked Kirito. “We can talk while we wait for the Crescent Moon Alliance to arrive. I don’t think it will take long.”

Kirito nodded. “That would be best.”

[LH -o0o- SAO]

The straw broom dusting that hardwood floor stilled in Serara’s hand when a ping reached her ears and her status screen popped up. Her Housekeeper level had ascended to Level 44, despite being two levels lower yesterday. Had she really been doing so much cleaning for that to happen?

She didn’t know whether or not to be pleased with that as she went back to cleaning up the place, wondering why she went with such a role-playing class in the first place, rather than something in production. At least then she could have focused on crafting something while she waited in boredom for the team that was supposed to help her get back to her guild.

Then again, rather than being a skilled housekeeper, she could be considered a housewife instead, since she was doing it to make the man that called this place home happy as well. She could just imagine her kitty-husband coming home and praising her in a deep and smooth voice that made her shudder in glee. The thought excited her so much that she began sweeping frantically and wantonly, a smile on her face and a giggle on her lips.

“Keep it down with the daydreaming a bit, will you?” said the other house guest in the corner. She was sitting at a table, her gloved hands handling a sheet of folded paper that she tilted the end over a small bottle of some chemical solution. Light-blue, fine grains flowed from the end like tea from a spout into the bottle. “It’s distracting, and neither of us wants a repeat of the last time I got distracted, do we?”

Serara chuckled nervously at that, rubbing the back of her head. The last time she’d gotten distracted, they tipped a few bottles of stabilized potions over and they vaporized on contact with the air, leaving them stuck in the room and unable to speak from the Weak Silencing Gas. Even when it wore off, the effect would be reapplied from the gas being confined and not dissipating quickly. “Ah, sorry Lisbeth. I was… just thinking about something.”

“It’s not like I don’t get it, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up so much like that until you know more.” The Monk-Blacksmith named Lisbeth pulled her goggles from over her eyes and left them to rest on her bed of pink-hair. “Trust me when I say that I know what it’s like to fall for someone who saved you, only for it to end poorly and you end up crying under a bridge or something.”

Serara owed Lisbeth of sticking up for her when she had been cornered, despite being even lower leveled than her. Things would have gotten hairy if Nyanta hadn’t showed up when he did, but she was still grateful that another girl was looking out for her in this place. So she considered her words a bit with a small frown.

Lisbeth winced. “That isn’t to say you can’t hope or go for it. Just be prepared for the worst and hope for the best when you eventually do confess to him.”

C-Confess?” Her blush returned, even brighter than before. “What are you suggesting?”

A sly grin came across Lisbeth’s face upon seeing the girl’s reaction. “You’re looking pretty red there. If he walks in, I wonder what he’ll think.”

Desperate to change the subject, Serara pointed to the small batch of potions piled up on the table behind her. “Do you really need to make so many Status Effect gases?”

Lisbeth had a subclass cross-skill in Chemical Synthesis that a number of subclasses had, but it was mostly used by Alchemist, Poison-User, Pharmacist, Herbalist, and Salve-Maker subclasses, who used it to make items that fell into those categories. Blacksmiths could use it to enhance metals through alchemical solutions they made, though it was more practical to buy said solutions instead. She said that she dedicated mastery points towards a [Beginner] rank for some variety, mostly on a whim, and was now using it to create a simple alchemical potion that could be bought at an atelier—if they could leave the private property without being hunted, anyway.

Last Serara counted there were at least ten of them, but they couldn’t do any real damage—just inflict minor status effects that wouldn’t last more than five seconds, released thorough vaporization once they came in contact with the air once they stabilized… though the effect would be reapplied if the vapor cloud didn’t properly ventilate, as they learned.

“Even if help is on the way, I don’t think we’ll be getting out of this without a fight,” Lisbeth said as she pulled the goggles back over her eyes. “If that’s the case, I’m going to make them work for it. After all, I didn’t spend two years in a Death Game to get pushed around by some beef-headed jerk.”

That being said, Lisbeth got back to work and Serara went back to cleaning. While the latter did so, she had to wonder just who it was that saved the former, only to break her heart in the end? Who could have made someone willing to stand up to thugs larger than her bravely fall to tears beneath a bridge?

[Chapter 7 -o0o- End]

[Character -o0o- Status]

Name: Level – Class (Species – Build) and Subclass

Soujiro: Lv. 90 Samurai (Human – Iai Style Counter) with Sword Saint subclass

Nazuna: Lv. 90 Kannagi (Fox-Tail – Prayer Shrine Maiden) with Gambler subclass

Isami: Lv. 90 Samurai (Human – Standard Katana) with Accountant subclass

Sandy: Lv. 90 Cleric (Race of Ritual – High Healer) with Farmer subclass

Serara: Lv. 19 Druid (Human – Witch Doctor) with Housekeeper subclass

Lisbeth: Lv. 17 Monk (Human – Fortifying Smith) with Blacksmith subclass

[End -o0o- Notes]

End Notes: I needed someone on the production side of things to cover the changes there, so I decided to include Lisbeth. Also, the website I was using for information on LH stopped working, so now I have to rely on the wikia, which is under-developed compared to LH-Sub. So things will be a little slower.