The ALfheim Assassin

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Abel O'dell, Nov 17, 2014.

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  1. Chapter I

    Darien sucked in a breath as he lifted his arms in a stretch. Only partly succeeding due to the relatively small confines of the plane’s seat, it could be worse, he told himself; at least I’m in first class and not in the coach section. The cabin was dark, save for a few lights scattered around, people who couldn’t sleep, weren’t tired, or reading he guessed. To his right his parents were sleeping soundly, to his left, a window. That didn’t give him much to go on as far as time goes, nothing but rolling black clouds. He could safely assume it was late evening or around midnight. Squirming, he managed to get his phone out of his pocket. The time zone had changed… again. Checking a geography app showed they were flying over Africa, though they still had a layover station in China or Korea or something before they reached Japan.

    When he thought about the move, it gave him mixed feelings. On one hand, he’d be in video games and VRMMO central. The creators of the Amusphere and Nervegear were from there. Ever since he had tried Virtual Reality, he was hooked. Even over something as a language program. It had been an exhilarating experience for him. On the other hand, he had left the few friends he had in the States. And if experience is half the teacher people say it is. Then they wouldn’t keep in contact like they had promised. Sure, they’d try for a couple of weeks, but after that… It’d slow down and then stop altogether. The face he was making must have made one of the flight attendants concerned because she came over with her cart.

    “Is there anything you need?” She asked politely, keeping her tone hushed. Darien held up a hand and shook his head, which she replied with an encouraging smile. He returned it amiably, in an attempt to get his mind off everything he reached under his seat and scrounged around for his laptop. It was a little difficult to do without moving around too much and waking his parents. His ‘clothes’ didn’t help much either, the black satin cloth coiling around his arms, confining his movements. The suit had been fine during the services when he was standing. Though it was becoming clear that these aren’t things you wear for a long time.

    He was starting to regret saying he was fine when his mother asked if he wanted to change at the first layover station. Too late now, he’d have to wait until the next stop. As he opened his computer a familiar blue light enveloped him. While he was in America he had been saving up his allowance and he knew the perfect thing to spend it on. He used Google to try and find places that sold Amuspheres near his new Japanese address. Entering a few different key words and phrases he found a shop nearby and their hours. Then he pulled out the pocket book he had in his shirt pocket and started writing down directions. It was Fall break in Japan, so he knew how he’d be spending his time in the days before high school.

    He figured he had enough money to be the gear, one game, and enough left over to do minor character changes. Finally able to play a game of this generation made him giddy. For the longest time his dad had only let him play games on the older consoles that he had maintained through the years. So he would learn to appreciate the new games when he got to play them. Maybe there was some truth to his words. Maybe diving would help with jet lag, you never know. The game he had most wanted to play was Sword Art Online. Swords or magic was more his style, not shooters. The less modernized the better. Though only ten thousand copies were sold the first day and he didn’t have a Nervegear.

    Then it became the SAO incident, thousands dying in that death game. He still got shivers when he remembered the news coverage, watching emergency personal carry limp bodies with the devices on their heads to the hospital. Darien still didn’t know if, given the chance, whether or not he would have gotten a copy knowing what would happen. The new Amusphere, though had apparently made it impossible for such a thing to happen again. And while skimming through some of the reviews he found what sounded like a good game. ALFhiem Online, it even had SAOs sword skills and floating castle in the newest patch. The section about skill based gameplay sold him on the idea. There are apparently no ‘levels’ in the game per say.

    You just had to keep using the same skills and your ability to use those skills would increase. It also encourages PvP, something he enjoyed in the few PC games he got to play. Then he wiki’d the game, it had exchanged hands or a leader stepped down or something. He learned the game's races, what kind of skills it had and started thinking of the character he’d make. He didn’t get very far however as the pilot's voice came over the intercom, announcing their decent into China. Putting his laptop back in the bag he shook his parents awake, his plans put on hold for the time being. They landed in some city he didn’t hear the name of and grabbed the spare clothes bag he had and asked his mom to hold his laptop.

    She was pretty he guessed, as far as moms went. Dark brown hair and sky blue eyes. Though as her son, he knew how tough she was. A regional Taekwondo champion in the States and a self-defense instructor, she also wrote novels in her spare time. She was trying to look calm, probably for his sake, but he could see the weariness in her eyes. She was suspicious and alert for any signs of a threat. She probably put too much stock in those stories about muggers and thieves in airports. Not that he could blame her, that’s part of the reason why she held the computer instead of his dad.

    His dad was twisting and turning, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. He was tall and probably thankful for the chance to stretch his legs. The man’s messy dark hair swayed as he moved, as he finished this exercise, he straightened and readjusted the glasses on his nose. His stance shifted into a relaxed posture, as if he was completely at home. Though his dark green eyes were as piercing as ever, as they were probably his most noticeable feature. His dad's career of choice was computer and electrical engineering, which was why they were going to Japan in the first place, someone had given him an offer he ‘simply couldn’t refuse’ according to him. Once Darien completed his own stretch, he turned to his parents.

    “I’m going to go change before we board again.” His mother turned her gaze toward him and gave a knowing smirk. He waved her off before she could start. “Yeah, yeah mom, you were right. Now gloat silently.” He said with a smile. His dad shook his head in mock disapproval and waved him off, fighting a grin of his own. It shouldn’t take him too long to go into the bathroom and change before they had to get back on the plane. Going into the stall, he quickly tore off the expensive clothing he wore and tossed it into the bag before changing into a normal pair of jeans and a red shirt. As he left, Darien kept a tight grip on his bag and walked purposefully toward the door. Paranoid or not, it was better to be safe than sorry when it came to places like this.

    If he remembered things right, they would be at this station for about an hour. In theory that would give him enough time to think about and plan out his character, skills he would focus on and weapon types he would use. He always preferred the roguish type of play style so hopefully he’d be able to find something like that. The more he could plan out how he would make his character, the more time he’d have to play once they landed in Japan.

    Making his way back to his parents they got some food from the café in the station. So he did what every gamer has done before him, he multitasked, eating and reading up on ALFhiem at the same time. He made a few notes on his computer, picking the few things that interested him. For starters, he wanted to be a Cait Sith, second he wanted to use one-handed straight swords, daggers and throwing knives. Dark and fire magic also caught his eye, so he jotted that down as well, then for some added flavor and something to do besides fight, he added armor crafting. Darien loved customization and making his avatar have his own unique look was something he enjoyed.

    “Some kind of game?” His mom asked, looking over at his computer to see what he was reading. He nodded, taking a bite of his burger.

    “Yeah, called ALFhiem online, it looks really good.”

    “Says there, it’s about fairies.” She pointed out.

    “Yeah, and?” Darien asked, “Still fantasy. And I love fantasy settings.”

    “I’ve heard about that game,” His dad commented. “It has a mostly female player base from what I’ve read.”

    “Ooh.” His mom said in understanding. “I see.” She gave him a wry look.

    “What?” He asked, his tone slightly annoyed.

    “Darien you aren’t going on this game just for the ladies, are you?”

    “What?” He said again, though this time less dignified and more out of shock. He felt a rush of head in his chest. “No! It has skill based combat and magic and a whole slew of customization. I’m not going there just for girls!”

    “My, my Darien, you’re getting quite defensive there, did we strike at your hidden motive?” His dad asked with a smile.

    “I’m ignoring you two now.” He said as they both started laughing, figuring they teased him enough; they left him alone to continue his vitally important research. Darien found out what starting weapons there were to choose from and how the skill progression system worked in more detail. Though there was only so much he could learn from a wiki and he didn’t want to spoil any of the quests either. It might even be a good idea to look into finding people that knew what they were doing and give him some pointers.

    Or at least some basic knowledge on how some mechanics worked that the NPCs wouldn’t be able to tell him, with that in mind, he decided to look up some forums to see if there were any key players he might be able to find. Someone known for their skills in a fight or their skills in a craft, there was the salamander military commander and a few more but none of them really stuck out to him. Maybe he’d have better luck asking around in the game, though he doubted anyone would give away their combat secrets. So he might be better off trying to become an apprentice to a blacksmith or something.

    So he would be focusing on; One-Handed Sword, Light Metal Equipment, Parry, Blade Throwing, Martial Arts, Dark Magic, Fire Magic, Sprint, Hiding, Acrobatics, Searching, Metal Refining, Slash Weapon Forging, Light Metal Armor Forging, and Battle Healing. Now how good that carried over from paper to the game was a tough call, but it was something he definitely wanted to try.

    He wanted to stick with his rogue idea, he might remove a couple here or there in place of another thing, but he couldn’t fully plan things out until he got in the game. He needed to know how much light metal gave him compared to just wearing normal clothes and that would make the difference between learning Light Metal Armor Forging and Sewing. If he could find someone he could count on to make his weapons for him, which would free up more space as well. It looked daunting all written out though… Darien took a deep breath and erased all he had written about skill focuses.


    Let’s just see what happens
    , he told himself, no sense in doing all that yet. I do that and I’ll lose focus, besides, it’s just a game, it’s supposed to be fun, not to min max everything. Part of the problem of getting someone else to make my gear is I have to pay them. But on the other hand, I don’t have to do it. It was a hard choice, so instead he just struggled to put it out of his mind. Good thing too, because after finishing his meal, they had to get back on the plane. It wouldn’t be too long before he would get a taste of the game, and then the choice would be much simpler. Hell, maybe he’d make new friends in the game.

    Darien went to sleep as soon as they got on the plane, now able to sleep in relative comfort. At least it would catch him up on the couple hours of sleep, he lost and he would be refreshed when he dove into the game. The cab ride to their new home was nothing special, the moving guys his dad had scheduled to come in should be setting everything up that they had brought from America and the house was already furnished, so they wouldn’t have to worry about that. Overall his dad had gotten a pretty sweet deal from the company that wanted to hire him. The sun was out by the time they reached the house, but it was still fairly early in the morning.

    “I’m going to go to the game store, just put my stuff in whatever room you want to be mine.” He said, his mother rolled her eyes but nodded.

    “Just be careful Darien.” He nodded and walked down the street. It took him roughly an hour to find the store and fight through traffic. For the most part Darien avoided talking to people, he already stood out a bit for being American and he didn’t want undue attention. Truth be told, he wasn’t an overly talkative or social person to begin with. Except maybe in small groups, but Japan is just a sea of people. What he did find interesting though, was when there was a rumbling roar in the streets and he saw someone on a real combustion engine motorbike. The rider was thin and looked male, but more than that he couldn’t say because of the helmet and clothes.

    His trip to the store was thankfully simple; taking those Japanese VR classes had really helped. Darien could barely resist running all the way home. The excitement was building in his chest as the bag with his purchase crinkled in his hand. His hand clutched the bag like an iron vice, keeping it closed. If anyone even thought about taking this from him, he would make them regret that decision very thoroughly. By the time he got back his mom had left to go to the store, probably to get things for dinner. His dad had already gone in his new study room to get everything set up to work from home so now was the perfect time.

    He found the room that had his stuff in it, dashed inside and locked the door. He inserted the game, plugged in the power, and connected it to the wifi. First, he had to calibrate it, which didn’t take too long after following some simple instructions. Then he had to make an account for ALFhiem. He went with the usual username and password he used for most games like this and accepted the terms of service without even looking at it. Lying on the bed, he settled in for his first VRMMO experience.

    “Link start!” The world around him vanished as his senses were transmitted to the game world. Darien was now in a room where he saw all the different races in the game. He followed through with picking the Cait Sith, and then came the one thing he had completely forgotten about. “Crap! I need a name!” After several failed inputs due to it being taken, finally, out of frustration, he put in his real name. It was accepted, “Oh, you have got to be-“

    Welcome to ALFhiem Online!
     
    #1 Abel O'dell, Nov 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  2. Chapter II

    Polygons flew past him as if he was falling down a long tunnel before he ‘landed’ in a sparsely populated area. It took him a moment to orient himself properly, it was weird how real things felt, but he guessed that was the point. Looking around, he discovered he was in fact in a room, but it didn’t look organized in any particular fashion. It was like everyone was trying to shove as many things as they could into their respective spaces without really thinking about how much room they had to work with. He examined the layout, particularly in the portion of the room where it looked like it had been blown out, leading to the outside. A girl approached him shortly after and gave him a pleasant smile, spreading her arms. She was cute in a way, friendly, white hair, blue eyes, short, along with the Cait Siths usual features.

    “Welcome to ALFhiem Online, this is Butterfly Valley’s tutorial area. The people here will help you become accustomed to the game mechanics and interface.” Ah, an NPC, now it makes sense. He thought and nodded to the girl. So he probably spent about an hour learning the game mechanics, fighting system, weapon types and how each weapon felt along with how to use sword skills and magic. He even learned how to fly with the flight controller fairly well. The only thing Darien didn’t like too much was how the flight controller took the use of your hand. However, he had seen screen shots of people flying without the use of the controller, so he would have to figure that out somehow.

    Darien spent most of his time on the training dummies, while they gave very little in the way of skill progression. They were still very helpful in getting to know how everything felt; he discovered fairly quickly that his martial training in weapons did carry over. Which was very helpful as he knew all too well, especially with these types of games, the tutorial would only tell you the most basic of the basic. Everything else he would have to learn on his own. Eventually it came down to his starting equipment, there was one of every weapon type and either leather or light metal armors to start with.

    He took leather armor without even thinking about it, in his opinion, it was better to be lightly armored and be able to move more freely and start wearing heavier stuff for protection later. Rather than doing it the other way around. As far as weapons went, he was stuck between a straight sword and a curved sword. Both offered distinct advantages and disadvantages. His first choice was of course a straight sword, it had the longer reach of the two and reach was a great advantage to have. Where as a curved sword had more cutting power for the length of the blade and a sturdy spine to block and parry with. The spine was also useful to grab and maneuver with to get in close, if that was his game.

    Darien decided, on a whim, to branch out and take a curved sword. He could always change later and besides, it’s a game and is supposed to be fun, may as well branch out of his comfort zone a bit. After equipping all of his gear, he was all set to leave. However, the same girl at the start came over and directed him to a mirror, which also happened to be connected to your account should you choose to alter your appearance. Sly dogs. He looked similar but different enough that he didn’t automatically recognize himself in the mirror. His tall and lithe build was still much the same, with high cheekbones, slim jaw line and stubborn chin. His mischievous features were accented well with the cat like appearance of the Cait Siths.

    However, instead of the wavy mess of dark brown hair he had in the real world, his hair was straight, perfectly messy to give him the roguish look he was going for and was stark white. His eyes were different as well, going from the deep forest green to a bright, feline gold. His skin was a little more tanned than normal, giving him a more olive complexion. Darien decided to spend a little more money on one small adjustment and added a triangular black stripe to both his cheeks that curved down and ended at his neck. As far as his gear went, his plain brown leather armor was unassuming and the sword sheathed on his hip didn’t look like much either.

    With that he made his way to the exit and stepped out into the heart of Cait Sith territory. The Capitol of Butterfly Valley, Freelia, currently lead by, Alicia Rue. The sound hits him first; the place was packed by players and NPCs alike. It wasn’t the biggest gathering of players he had ever seen, but there was enough there that you could clearly tell this was a major city. There were a few other races that he managed to pick out of the crowd, but they all seemed to be partying with the majority race. For equal parts being friends and protection he assumed. The second thing he noticed was the time in-game, the sun had begun to set so the sky was dyed in various different hues of crimson and orange.

    The city itself was what you’d expect from a fantasy world. High walls, statues of various people of importance, fountains and shops. Though to avoid looking like the local new guy, he kept his eyes down and blended in with some of the people browsing the shops. He had some basic starting Yrd so he may as well see what the city had to offer. Freelia had a variety of items and actual players were also trying to sell custom wares, but most of them were out of his price range for the time being. Darien, eventually found his way to one of the cheaper shops; looking at the prices he guessed these are wares for new players. Still, it’d be a good opportunity to try out some of the gear that he hadn’t gotten in the tutorial area.

    He bought cloth wraps for gloves and some throwing knives. Those items alone nearly cleared out his wallet, so he wouldn’t be buying anything else for a while. Weaving his way around the flux of people he made his way to the front gates of the city and within a couple of minutes he found his way to the small village just outside. This was likely the quest hub he was supposed to do first and then from there he could plot his next course of action. Plus the quests here were probably designed to give him some decent upgrades over his current gear, or at least lead him to monsters that would. Overall it gave him a very medieval Europe feel. Wooden homes built out of the forestry that stretched for miles, various farms populated with cattle and chickens. Farmers going to work in the fields and still others tended to their gardens.

    The first quest Darien came across was called Scaly Vermin. Large reptiles were causing trouble in the local farms, eating everything in sight. Besides him there were a few different players doing quests of their own. It wasn’t too hard to pick out who was actually a new player and who wasn’t. There were even a few parties here and there. Then there was the steady flow of people entering and leaving Freelia. Returning his attention to his quest, he picked a field to go in. It was a simple, kill an x amount of creatures quest. There were also other options to complete the quest faster, from smashing eggs to vanquishing the brood mother. While killing the brood mother sounded really cool, there was apparently only one and she was hard to find. So he just focused on killing the normal lizards.

    He found out fairly quickly that surprise attacks and back attacks did more damage. Especially with smaller weapons like knives and daggers. Activate a sword skill and it did even more damage. So he could throw them normally and save the sword skill delay or be guaranteed a hit by the system. The Cait Siths enhanced vision came in handy for the long throws. He barely used his sword simply because the enemies were somewhat small and annoying to hit. It was more effective to use his throwing knives. Which he could retrieve after he threw them or wait for them to reappear which took about ten or more seconds for each knife.

    Darien was about midway through the quest when he jumped on a mound of dirt and threw two throwing knives and killed some unsuspecting lizards, it was quite satisfying to throw more than one at once. He was even starting to unlock some sword skills for his knives and was getting small amounts of progress towards the Dagger skill. Suddenly the mound beneath him started moving. On reflex he leapt from it, throwing three knives that sunk solidly into the rising mass. It shook the dirt from its hide to reveal a rather large version of the lizards he had been fighting, it didn’t look very happy about the knives he had struck it with. Its scaly back was brown and a large wrinkled pile of flesh massed around it’s throat. It looked like an overgrown komodo dragon.

    An adult one, he thought, and about the size of a large dog too. He drew his simple curved blade and readied himself for its attack. It charged, swiping at his left side with its claw. He back stepped smoothly, and countered with a slash to its forearm. A dark red gash of data marked where the creature had been cut as it retreated with a hiss. Darien pressed the attack and clipped it on the muzzle before it got too far out of his reach but his basic sword was too short. He pressed forward again, trying to keep pressure on the thing, but it was a fast and lithe creature.

    Its chest swelled and Darien skids on his heels to a halt to leap away as a cloud of green gas spewed from its maw. His vision of the lizard was cut off, he had to think, it could be approaching him from any angle. But it would have to move through the cloud to get to him so he focused on the lingering fumes for signs of movement. To the right! Something shot out of the cloud at lightning speed, Darien managed to twist so the blow mostly bounced off but he still took damage. It shot out twice more, both narrow misses and that’s when Darien realized it was the lizards tongue!

    As the gas cleared, he saw it more than a dozen feet away and cursed. No way he’d be able to get close enough without taking at least one or two more hits and if he wasn’t lucky, those hits could take him out. His armor wasn’t the best, nor was his weapon. He had to get in fast and hit it hard with a sword skill. Speed and power… He needed both in equal amounts, if only he had a better sword! Sword… He managed a quick glance at his weapon. Curved, sabers were curved. Sabers, horses, cavalry sabers! A toothy smile made its way onto his face, there was a way. He summoned the flight controller and his wings flickered to life.

    He crouched like a cat preparing to spring, its tongue rocketed forward again and he dashed, keeping his head low as the appendage sailed over his head. It came out again, clipping him in the shoulder and leg. He saw the next attack coming and ducked to the side and followed through into a roll before launching forward in a burst of speed with his wings. Darien banked low, his nose nearly touching the ground as the tongue sailed overhead. As he sped towards the overgrown reptile he activated a sword skill, the simple curved blade glowing a fierce red light.

    Dariens sword slashed a bright red line down the length of the reptile's body, it wobbled, then fell, exploding into polygons of various colors and he was met with a reward screen.He got quite a bit more money for defeating an adult one, giving him enough credit to finish the quest, and he got a piece of armor. A random drop the adults have a chance to give. Light metal bracers, no fancy name but it was armor he didn’t have which counted for something in his book. Getting a new piece of gear always felt nice and this was the first of many. Putting the bracers on he realized that they didn’t get rid of his gloves, so he decided to try something. By wrapping the cloth over the armor, you couldn’t even tell that it was there. Perfect, he thought, I’m loving this game already.

    With that, he returned to the village and claimed his reward. For killing an adult, he also got a sword made by the local blacksmith and got to choose what it would be. He chose a cutlass called Scale Shaver, it had a scale pattern on the false edge and a short edge near the tip of the blade. Now we’re talking, a pleased smile touched his lips as he replaced his modest curved short blade. He knew very well that this wasn’t a huge upgrade, but, a journey of a thousand miles and all that. Now that I’ve gotten a feel for the combat, exploring may be a good idea. The Sylph territory should be a good start, with our alliance there shouldn’t be any trouble going that way.


    He briefly checked the world map and found a path that would lead him to the south. Checking the clock, he saw he had already been playing for quite a few hours. Time does fly, that’s for sure. He should be fine playing for a few more yet, he did get an early start. I’m getting a little hungry but I should be fine for a few more hours, right? The thing Darien enjoyed the most about ALfheim so far was that he wasn’t confined to a single area. Sure the monsters were tougher the further you got away from the capitals, but if you were good enough it didn’t matter. High level gear was an advantage, a reward for skilled play. It complimented your abilities, and wasn’t the sole factor for survival.

    Granted, it would be more effective to fly there, Darien decided to make the best of the time and work on his sprint and acrobatics skills instead. Can’t work on those if I’m just flying everywhere, he told himself. It felt absolutely riveting, slowly but surely gaining speed as he dashed down this forest pathway, he could never run this fast in real life, even if he wanted to. So this is full dive technology, I can see why it's addicting. Just to add in some fun, he added in some acrobatic tricks to dodge some of the random obstacles and monsters along the path. The wind howled in his ears and blew out his hair behind him as he became a flash of silver through the forest.

    After about thirty minutes of running he slowed and came to a stop, leaning his shoulder against a tree to catch his breath. In the forest the sun had already sunk below the horizon and the stars had come out. Though he couldn’t see the moon through the surrounding trees. A smile played across his face as he panted, he never would have dreamed that running would have been such an experience. I made the right choice; checking out this game, now how much further do I-, he stiffened. His ears shot up in alarm, tail twitching. What was that noise? It sounded like… There it was again! A metallic clashing sound. Someone, he was certain, was fighting. Not too far away either. He only pondered the situation for a few seconds before his curiosity got the better of him and he tracked the source of the noise through the thick foliage.

    It didn’t take Darien long to find the skirmish. It was a woman, a sylph by the looks of it, or at least she was wearing the typical green sylvan colors, she had pale skin and dark hair but he couldn’t gather much else from this distance. Her opponents where dawned in the red and black of the Salamanders, with a couple of remain lights scattered about. Under normal circumstances she would have been winning but they out-numbered her eight to one. They were slowly forming a half circle around her, backing her into a corner and there wasn’t much she could do about it. If she took off then they’d have a clear shot with some fire magic, but if she stayed put she’d be boxed in. Either way it didn’t look good.

    “Come on lady, there are eight of us and one of you. We’ll get the items no matter what, do you really want to take a death penalty?” He heard one of them say.

    “I’ll take at least half of you down with me, so come get me.” She snarled. Darien balled his hands into fists, his jaw clenched. This was like elementary school all over again for him. He hated bullies, especially when they ganged up on a single person like this. He wouldn’t allow himself to sit by and do nothing, even if he went down, he’d take the rest of them with him. Darien climbed a tree behind the group, he saw the woman flick her eyes up in his direction and he put a finger to his lips. Then be brought out six throwing knives, three in each hand and activated a Sword Skill <Death Lotus>. His knives began to glow a dark purple as he leapt into the air, using the branch as a spring board. The large moon behind him cast a large shadow on the ground below. The back attack and sneak attack damage, combined with the sword skill meant two swift deaths.

    Before he hit the ground, he summoned the flight controller and turned his momentum forward, drawing his cutlass as his third victim turned to meet his demise head on. He barely got out a surprised gasp as the slash came, removing his head from his shoulders. After the fatal strike the Salamander burst into flames. Dismissing the flight controller and his wings, Darien spun around, digging his heels into the ground. The long skid brought him to the Slyphs side, leaving a contrail of dust in his wake, he brought his sword up in a ready position.

    “Who the hell are you?” One asked, the tone was heated but tinged slightly with fear.

    “I’ve come to deliver some bad luck.” Darien said, his expression cold; words dripping with scorn.
     
    #2 Abel O'dell, Dec 1, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  3. Chapter III

    Standing next to the mystery girl he finally got a clearer look at what they were up against. Five guys, two with shields and lances, two with shields and sword, the last in the back held a staff. Glancing over to the sylph, she had a buckler and a long sword and her gear looked a lot better than his, so they might have a fair shot. The Salamanders shook off their shock in the few seconds it took for him to take a look at their equipment and began to size him up. Theoretically, their team had a better composition; Darien knew he would lose in a prolonged battle. Going to have to end this quick, he bent his knees in preparation for a lunge, waiting for an opening as the enemy ranks closed in on them. They had gone from confident to cautious, slowly making their way forward with their shields raised. He got the feeling they had done this before, or at least worked together enough to know how to work as a group.

    As the two spearmen closed in on them, the mage began casting a spell. The swordsmen fell in behind the spearmen and began to flank around, that’s when he saw his chance and sprinted forward. He could feel the sylph woman following close behind him. The defensive line of spears began to glow as sword skills were activated. Darien weaved to the right. The lance grazed his left shoulder. His opponent still had his shield raised, poking from behind a shield was often a decent strategy, it kept you safe from most counters with a blade. However, the stall from the sword skill left the man’s arm extended. So instead Darien grabbed the Salamanders arm with his free hand. Then jammed the guard of his cutlass under the spearmens arm and used the leverage to maneuver his body. Simultaneously he pulled the curved blade downward, severing the limb.

    A swift kick to the still raised shield sent the screaming fairy into his ally that had been trying to flank. From the sounds of combat behind him it sounded like the sylph woman was holding her own, so Darien grabbed the last throwing knife on his left side, activated a sword skill and threw it at the unsuspecting mage. It impacted with a satisfying thunk and a spray of red polygons. The enemy spellcaster was knocked flat from the impact and his concentration on the spell was lost. It wouldn’t kill him, but it would take him out of the fight for a few precious seconds as he gathered himself back to his feet. Darien then turned his attention back to the other two.

    He barely had time to put his sword in between him and the fireball hurtling toward him in meager defense. The teeth rattling explosion threw him backwards and tore the cutlass from his hand. Darien pivoted in the air and dug his heels into the earth, skidding to a halt and landing on all fours as the armless Salamander rushed him with just a shield. He drew the last knife he held in his belt and charged to meet him, keeping low to the ground. Smoothly dodging the kick aimed at him, Darien maneuvered to the supporting leg and dug the knife into the back of the man’s heel.

    With a yelp, the enemy dropped as his leg was taken out from under him and Darien finished him with a swift stab through the forehead. He looked up to see the swordsman conjuring up another spell to finish him off. Damn, I took too long. Sucking in his breath he gritted his teeth and tensed, expecting a full blown fiery death. Both he and the Salamander were surprised when a gale of wind and lightning tore through the area like a cannon ball. Destroying both the swordsman and the spell he had been casting. A nearby rustle told him that the battle wasn’t over yet as he saw the enemy mage was trying to make a run for it. His last throwing knife began to glow a dark purple as he charged it with a sword skill. He aimed and with a swift flick like motion, he threw the blade. It arced towards the back of the Salamander, striking true and he too burst into a flickering flame; soon after the flame died.

    Darien stood still for a moment, watching and listening for any signs of additional threats. Once he confirmed it was only the two of them, he relaxed, his breaths coming in heavy pants. Then he stooped over to retrieve his sword only to feel cold steel against his throat.

    “Who are you?” The woman asked, “And why did you help me?” She kept her tone cold and neutral. The question itself though rubbed him the wrong way. He had just helped her, did it really matter?

    “Isn’t the ‘why’ kind of obvious?” His voice was dark and rumbled with barely contained violence. It took him a few heartbeats to realize how angry he was, his breathing was shaky and it felt like there was fire running through his veins instead of blood. That same heat roared in his ears and his vision swam for a moment. Had he been fighting like that too?

    “Because I’m a woman? Maybe I can’t handle myself? Or maybe I need a knight in shining armor to come save me?” She pressed the blade closer, giving him the barest of cuts. It took a small amount of HP, then again, he didn’t have much left. Another couple of inches and he’d be suffering a death penalty of his own.

    “Oh, give me a break, lady.” He sighed, falling back on the grassy forest floor with a wuff. He closed his eyes, taking a few deep breaths to calm his nerves. The forest chirped and hummed with life around him as he let his mind wander. His muscles slowly relaxed and his heart rate became even again. There was one sensation that was missing just after a big fight, the smell of blood and sweat. Thankfully those particular smells didn’t make it in game, that would be a little morbid. Shaking off the unpleasantness of those thoughts, he sat up, the woman still hadn’t moved, but her expression had changed from hostile to curious.

    “I’m nowhere near that chivalrous. The Cait Sith and Sylph are allies right? So why wouldn’t I help?” He met her gaze. “And since you asked so nicely, my name is Darien, pleased to meet you…” he trailed off.

    “Lindelle.” She provided, “You know, you’re pretty weird. Most players wouldn’t help someone just because of an Alliance unless the odds were in their favor. Or at the very least they expect a reward from it.”

    “Well weird is definitely one of my traits.” He mulled over her words for a moment. “But now that you mention it, I would like a reward.” Placing a hand on her hip she let out a small sigh.

    “What is it?”

    “Information.”

    “Information?”

    “Yeah, I need to get better, so I need names of people that are better than me, where to find them would also help.” She nodded and chewed on that for a bit.

    “There may be someone. They came to ALO not too long ago. People call her Zekken, I could take you there.”

    “Alright, that sounds like a-“ Dariens stomach clenched and reverberated loudly around them. “Uh, could the reward come with a meal? I’m starved.” Lindelle opened her mouth, stopped, then started laughing. Darien tried to hold the stinging embarrassment in his chest so it wouldn’t rise to his face. He was only partly successful. “What are you laughing about?”

    “Nothing, nothing, but sure.” She said, summoning her wings and hovered slightly off the ground. She didn’t need a controller…

    “Could we walk?” He asked.

    “It would be faster-“ She stopped, studying his face. Darien quickly tried to mask his expression with neutrality. “You can’t fly without a controller, can you?” He clenched his jaw and shook his head. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of.” She said with a smile. “Though that does tell me you’re new and not a smurf account.” Darien rolled his eyes, he hated having the title of noob but everyone started somewhere. Instead, he let the silence speak for itself. “I’ll teach you, it’s not that hard and the extra time will be worth it.”

    She instructed him to stand up and turn around, then placed her hand in between his shoulder blades. “Imagine bones and muscles sprouting from here and taking the form of wings.” He closed his eyes and began to think. Darien had a fairly active imagination and with it constructed wing bones sprouting from near her hand. Muscles binding them, strengthening them, large white feathers sprouting the muscle and spreading outward to the full wingspan. “Yes, just like that.” She encouraged. Darien gave his wings a mighty beat and launched himself skyward. His heart nearly leapt out of his chest and stayed on the ground instead and his eyes shot open in sudden rush of panic.

    As such, he suddenly lurched sideways. Gritting his teeth, he gathered his concentration and slowed to a stop. Calm down, keep the image in your head and focus on the feeling. For the next few minutes he tested his range of motion, what imagery worked best for him and how mobile he could be in little ways while also trying to pivot and move in different directions. There were many games his dad let him play and among his favorites were aircraft simulators. This was a vastly more complicated machine and how the system worked so he wanted to make sure he had everything figured out before going anywhere.

    As he was testing out the mechanics of the system and taking his time to learn, all Lindelle did was watch. Finally, Darien spoke.

    “Quite the sensitive system is isn’t it?”

    “Of course, if you’re flying without a controller. No, on second thought even with one, it’s sensitive. You learn pretty quickly.”

    “Yeah, I’ve always been a fast learner.” He said, now comfortable with his flying ability and turned to face her. “Alright, where to?”

    “Ascantha, it’s a neutral town and isn’t too far if we fly there. It’ll also get us pretty close to where we need to go.” She explains and began to fly eastward. Darien followed close behind. At least I’ll be getting some food now; I don’t think I’d be able to ask any good questions while hungry anyway. It was at this moment, flying over a vast moonlit forest, that Darien realized how beautiful this game was. He was so excited just to get out here and start playing that he never stopped to look around and take in the sights. The air was crisp and cool against his skin as he accelerated on his very own wings. Perhaps he had been too quick to in his judgment in being labeled as a new player. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

    The forest below him was lush and green, mixed with the subtle blue of the night. The stars overhead shone brighter than anything he had ever seen. The moon, so big and brilliant, it made everything glisten with a silver sheen. In the distance was the great World Tree, its presence like a silver monument to the sky. Overall, it made him feel entirely relaxed. This day was truly unforgettable. So this is what it feels like to fly in a fantasy world. The wind playfully tousled his hair, never before had he felt so free and content.

    “Wonderful, isn’t it?” Lindelle asked.

    “Yeah.” Darien replied with a small sigh, she probably knew exactly what he was feeling. He flew closer to the Sylph and asked. “So why were those Salamanders after you anyway?”

    “Well, Salamanders and Sylph have always had a rivalry. To be more specific though, they were after my items.” Darien frowned, chewing over her words.

    “Items? All that for items? Can items even drop in PvP?”

    “A portion of a players items and Yrd are dropped upon death in PvP, yes. For the past couple of days I’ve been farming some pretty rare items and materials for a custom commission.”

    “By commission do you mean a Blacksmith to make your gear?”

    “Yes, they are probably someone that I haggled with and felt they got a raw trade, but I’m not about to give up these items freely. I worked hard for them and I need all the materials gathered today. Since she’s a fairly well known crafter, her work is sought after by a lot of people. If I don’t have it in by today there is no guarantee that a spot will open up again anytime soon.”

    “Do you think I could go with you to see the Blacksmith work? I’m curious about how the crafting system works in this game.”

    “That’s quite a bit for just one repayment, but I’ll tell you what, while we eat, I’ll consider it.” Well, that’s all he could really hope for. Even after this, there was no guarantee that he’d see Lindelle after they separated; sometimes that’s just how players are. “Here we are.” She announced, descending towards the town called Ascantha. It was a large settlement but not big enough to be considered a city. It had an old rustic feeling: gray stoned buildings, simple log houses, several farms and a few npcs with quests. It was a homey place. There were a few players milling about, but it wasn’t too crowded.

    They entered a small restaurant and Darien copied Lindelles order, it was easier to try food that way rather than get indecisive over the menu. The two ate their meals in relative silence; Darien listened to the sound of the surrounding patrons. Lindelle stirred her drink absently, her eyes unfocused. Now that he had the time he got a good look at her appearance since their first meeting. Looking at her now he got the impression she was a gentle person and more mature than most. Well, gentle until she’s pressing a blade against your neck. He guessed she was a bit older than he was. Her deep purple hair was pulled back into a pony tail and her eyes were colored a saturated green. Her armor had the same green and white colors of most sylphs and seemed to mostly consist of light metal rather than leather. While she was pale, her skin had a more olive complexion than anything.

    His eyes lifted from her and wandered around the room. The Tavern, as Darien had decided to call it, was filled with wooden tables and stools along with a bar at the end, leading back to the kitchens. NPCs came and walked around, taking orders for the food and bringing it out to the individual customers. Darien discovered that, barring a few exceptions, there weren’t many player icons. So he assumed this wasn’t a well traveled location. Maybe she chose it to avoid coming across more group PvPers. After about ten minutes, Lindelle finally spoke.

    “Alright, I’ve made my decision.”

    “About what?”

    “You coming with me.” She said, giving him a serious look. Darien gave her his full attention. “I think me teaching you how to fly and treating you to a meal is enough of a reward for helping me out. Instead, let’s make a deal. Zekken doesn’t get to the twenty-fourth floor until three. So that gives us about three hours. Help me gather the rest of the materials I need and I will not only show you where to find Zekken, but also let you watch my gear get forged. As a gesture of good faith, I’ll give you some of the gear I’ve gathered from farming these materials so you’ll actually be able to help. Do we have a deal?”

    That… Wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but she made a compelling argument. He wasn’t big into farming but he knew it was a necessary part of many games. And while it wasn’t something he wanted to get into right now, the gear improvement by itself would make it worth his while. It would also allow him to further his skill progression and learn some valuable farming spots for later. Truthfully it was a really good deal, but he had one thing that would make the deal even better.

    “Do you have a duster to go with that?” He asked while a catty grin touched the corners of his mouth. She returned it and opened a trade menu. In five minutes Darien was decked out in new gear. His starting brown leather was replaced with a much nicer leather set, dyed white with black accents around his shoulders and under his new silver bracers. He also had a chest plate and leggings that protected his shins made out of a light, silvery metal. He also had a new sword, a scimitar called <<Wind Sheer>> made out a light speed metal with a green spine. It even had a short edge near the point of the blade. She did give him a second blade and a buckler if he decided to use something in his off-hand and a new knife-throwing set.

    The last thing he got, which he specifically requested was a long sleeved leather duster, silver and trimmed with black with a v cut near the legs in the back. It even had a mantle which he loved. Using a mirror that Lindelle let him borrow he looked himself over.

    “Now this is what I’m talking about.” He said with a large smile.

    “Well you better put it to good use, come on, we need to get going if we’re going to get the rest of the materials on time.”

    “Alright, let’s go.” For the next two hours Darien and Lindelle flew from location to location, constantly killing a very specific group of mobs in a set location where respawns were at a high enough rate to farm easily and quickly. Lindelle had obviously planned a route because they progressed deeper through the territories of the game. I’ll have to come back here when I have more time and just take in the sights, Darien thought to himself.

    He suddenly stopped when he spotted something in the sky, he recognized it instantly. The floating castle, Aincrad. So they implemented it in this game huh? Interesting, very interesting. I’ll get to play through the castle after all! His grip tightened on his sword and he fought with more ferocity. A land where a single blade can carry you to limitless heights, where skill in battle determined the victor, not stats and special items. That was what he had longed for and he finally found it. Hours felt like minutes and before long they were heading towards the castle in the sky, their sights set on the twenty-fourth floor.

    The floor in which Zekken had set her stage was a place of many islands connected by various bridges. It was a flat place, mostly dominated by water. Though some islands were significantly larger and held buildings and towns, it seemed most people were funneling into one place. An island mostly dominated by a large tree. Beneath the tree was a large, shaded patch of dirt and in a loose ring; several dozen players gathered. He gave Lindelle a questioning look and she answered him with a nod. The two of them descended as a small imp woman, held up her hand in a V symbol as she had won yet another match. Those gathered erupted in a chorus of cheers and applause. So that’s Zekken…
     
    #3 Abel O'dell, Dec 10, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  4. Chapter IV

    Zekken, the absolute sword… He didn’t know what he had been expecting, but this tiny girl hadn’t been it. Lindelle had mentioned Zekken was a she but he had thought that an older, warrior looking woman would have held the title. But taking a closer look at her, she had to be younger than him. Which meant she was far more skilled than her appearance portrayed. You can’t judge a book by its cover and after all, she had created an eleven hit OSS, which was an incredible achievement. Darien took a moment to look her over. She was short, shorter than most of the people here he was sure. Her hair was a deep purple and was long with bangs falling on either side of her face. Her gear was colored purple, accented in red and trimmed in gold.

    “She’s calling for more fighters, aren’t you going to challenge her?” Lindelle asked, he shook his head.

    “No, not yet. I want to see her fight first.” All around him were players who probably PvPed on a regular basis or those who enjoyed watching PvP. So if he got to watch a fight first it could prove to be a good learning experience. That and… something unnerved him. Her gear, while it looked nice and he assumed it was decent equipment. It wasn’t on the same level as the Demonic Sword Gram who was wielded by Eugene, largely considered on forums as being the strongest player in ALO. He had only been defeated a handful of times. This girl, who had never lost, was supposedly stronger.

    Yet, unlike Eugene, she was as likeable as she was formidable. Her name was spoken with reverence and no one seemed to mind losing to her. He had to see it with his own eyes. A woman stumbled forward. She had blue hair and her armor was white like his but accented in blue instead of black. An Undine then…

    “Miss, wanna fight?” The imp asked.

    “Um… Okay, let's.” She replied, Zekken snapped her fingers.

    “Okay.” She said in English and beckoned the woman closer. The Undine took a deep breath and stepped forward.

    “Can we use the standard rules?”

    “Of course, use all the magic and items you want. I’ll just use this though.” Zekken replied, placing her hand on the pommel of her sword. Interesting, Darien thought, is she purposefully limiting herself to her sword to show her confidence? Or is she not good at magic? Or does she find items and magic unfair?


    Granted items and magic won’t guarantee a victory, but they do give certain advantages. You don’t go undefeated and stay that way if you limit yourself. Unless… This isn’t about being the best. It’s about skill. A gauntlet. There was a hidden agenda behind it all. Looking at the Undine, he saw her place her hand on the grip of her blade. The look on the woman's face said she was going to play it as straight as Zekken was. There was a measure of pride in these gestures. Their pride as swordsmen overshadowed their desire to win by any means necessary.

    “Oh, right, do you prefer ground or aerial fights?”

    “Is either okay?” The imp nodded, “Ground fights then.”

    “Okay. Jumping is okay, but no using your wings.” Zekken said, her wings disappearing. The duel request was sent and the timer began as they drew their swords. Judging from their stances, they weren’t martially trained. Though he was about to find out how much that actually helped. They were in a game after all. The buzzer sounded and the Undine rushed forward, unleashing a flurry of quick thrusts. Zekken however, was very nimble, dodging and parrying all of her blows. On one of her sidesteps she leaves herself exposed, a confident smile on her lips as the Undines sword extends towards her. Zekken parried at a distance Darien was sure should’ve gotten her. She was fast. Another clash of blades followed.

    The blue haired woman thrust again, but over extended her attack and the imp ducked inside of her guard. The woman backpedaled, scrambling to dodge. Zekkens sword lashed out and grazed the woman's chest as she backflipped out of range. An attack like that wouldn’t have caused much damage, was Zekken just playing around? The imp had also overswung the blow, her sword kept going instead of resting in a guard position. So, it seemed that you were faster and stronger in the game than you were in real life, which included combat. It made sense, if they could make you fast enough to not know proper sword fighting techniques than you wouldn’t have to learn, you could just play. However, if you did know sword fighting, then that made you just that little bit faster.

    The theory stood up too, as earlier he ran much faster and for longer than he ever could in the real world. In terms of speed and strength, however, it looked like Zekken was on a whole different level. Which meant, in order to beat her, you had to compensate your timing to match her speed. Which took a lot of experience and skill to pull off. This was proving to be very good information, he had been trying to stick to his grounded rules of fighting while in a world where those rules didn’t matter as much as he believed. Now he had the opportunity to change his fighting style to something completely his own like the two duellists had done.

    The blue haired woman was panting, but smiled, though it seemed a bit nervous. Doubt seemed to flicker across her face for a moment and she looked over to the ring of spectators. Darien couldn’t see who she was looking at but she seemed to be thinking about something. Then she closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. She changed her stance, her left leg taking the lead and she held the sword higher, parallel with the ground. Her mood seemed to change as she opened her eyes, Darien could feel the tension around her building. Zekken felt it too, her shoulders stiffened and she prepared to meet the coming attack with her own. They rushed each other, swords clashing in the middle and the Undine forced Zekken back. Their blades rung like a bell. A strong gust of wind rolled outward from the impact and the scene resonated with Darien, a rush flooded through him as he balled his hands into fists.

    A smile curved his lips. “That’s more like it.” He muttered, his eyes locked on the spectacle unfolding before him. His tail flicked from side to side and his ears were pointed forward, though he wasn’t conscious of either of those things happening. The two exchanged a flurry of blows, moving from one spot to the next in an impressive display of speedy footwork. The Undine pressured Zekken, taking advantage of her rapier class weapon with several high thrusts and speedy parries. The imp spun, her sword glowing a deep purple as she unleashed a powerful sword skill. Her opponent blocked, catching the swing with her sword as the shock wave of force traveled along the ground, sending dust and dirt flying. The woman countered by carrying the momentum around and activating her own sword skill which she hit the imp with point blank. Sending up another cloud.

    The fury of the blows sent a gasp from the crowd as another rush of wind blew around them. The clash of steel on steel was music to his ears. The Undine didn’t relent, leaping into the air and slamming her blade down. Zekken blocked with a high horizontal guard and pushed her back. Their blades met once more as the imps counter was blocked. They raced ran sideways, lashing out at each other as they did. Both caught glancing blows from the other before their swords kissed in a bind, the two duelists pressing against the each other. The Undine used her free hand to punch her opponent in the stomach in a surprise attack, forcing her back and out of the bind. Then activated another sword skill.

    Just as the blow was about to land, Zekken recovered and managed to block the attack with lightning like reflexes. Though he couldn’t see the attack, he counted four consecutive blocks. That’s… The air left him in a gasp. He wanted to say it was impossible and yet he just saw it happen. It made the fight all the more interesting as the imp charged with her blade glowing yet again. Though this time the Undine couldn’t react, frozen by the sword skill delay. Darien saw all five of the purple womans thrusts land, hitting from top left to bottom right. Zekkens opponent, however, didn’t relent. Grounding her feet, she charged her sword again. Both combatants received five consecutive thrusts from the other.

    However, as the smoke cleared from their clash, Zekkens sword was still going. The sword skill hadn’t ended yet. That’s the Eleven Hit Combo! Darien sucked in a breath as the blow struck home with a flash of light, rocking the area with a loud boom and another shockwave. The gust of which made Darien take a step back and raise an arm to brace himself against the wind. When he lowered his arm and opened his eyes, he saw that Zekken had stopped the blade, which one have been the eleventh and most likely final thrust. The Undine had been just as stunned as he was as her opponent straightened and placed a hand on her shoulder.

    “That was great. I pick you miss.” She said simply.

    “Um, what about the duel?” The Undine replied, looking a little confused and shocked. A valid question, but if Darien had seen through this gauntlet correctly, the duel didn’t need to continue. Zekken appeared to be satisfied with their duel and that’s probably all that mattered. Besides, had the last blow landed, the duel would’ve been over anyway.

    “Fighting this much is enough for me. Do you want to go all the way?” The Undine shook her head. “I was looking for someone who seemed just right. And I finally found them.” Zekken explained and sheathed her sword. Then held out her hand. Her opponent put her blade in its sheath and took her hand. They shook, then Zekken did something Darien hadn’t been expecting. She summoned her wings and began to pull, lifting the Undine off the ground and flying away with her looking back. The woman looked unsure of what to do as her friends called out to her in confusion.

    “Asuna, huh?” Darien said to himself. Thank you, for such an exciting duel.


    “Looks like you missed your chance to fight against the best this game has to offer.” Lindelle said, watching the two fly into the distance.

    “Doesn’t matter. I learned a lot just by watching, besides, I might be able to talk her into a duel in the future. I need to get better first.”

    “Oh?” She asked, arching an eyebrow.

    “What?”

    “Oh nothing, was just expecting you to say something else.” Lindelle said and turned to look around the dueling circle. Most of the people were starting to disperse, wasn’t much point in sticking around. “If the Berzerk Healer was here, maybe her friend is too.”

    “Berzerk Healer?”

    “The Undine that fought with Zekken, she was talked about for a while too. Though, once Zekken showed up her name dropped off the map for a while. Let’s see… Ah, there she is!” She said, walking towards a small group of four. “Come on.” Darien followed, curious, how did Lindelle know these people and the Berzerk Healer in particular? Was it similar to how the two of them had met, through random chance? Or was it something more common? Granted word got around and people forged alliances and made friends from other factions, but this group seemed pretty diverse. What brought them all together he wondered.

    “Hi guys.” She called as they drew closer. They turned, one of them smiled and called back.

    “Hey Lindelle, if you’ve come all the way here to find me I’m guessing you have all the materials?” She asked, so this was the craftswoman Lindelle had mentioned. She wore a red outfit with gold lining along with a white breastplate, left pauldron, and a belt that had a drape which covered the sides of her legs. Her hair was a light pink where her eyes were a darker color that he couldn’t quite make out. Well, she’s cute if nothing else, Darien thought, the outfit suits her.

    “Yes and no.” Lindelle said. “I do have the materials. I didn’t know you’d be here, but when I saw Asuna fighting I thought you might be around.”

    “Ah, I see. Anyway, who’s that you’ve got with you?” She asked, looking at Darien.

    “Yes. I was getting to that. Lisbeth, this is Darien. Darien, that’s Lisbeth, Kirito, Silica and Leafa.” She said, pointing to everyone in turn. Darien was pretty sure Kirito was a Spriggan, black hair, dark eyes and a black coat with white trim. He also carried a sword over his shoulder, he didn’t look very imposing, though that might be the point. Silica was the shortest among them, a Cait Sith like him. Though she had tamed a small dragon creature which was draped across her light brown hair. Her eyes were a clear red color and her outfit was dark blue with a lighter blue color for her breast plate.

    Leafa was easily another Sylph. Displaying their usual white and green colors, along with some golden trim. Unlike her companions, she didn’t wear a breastplate and seemed to prefer lighter equipment. Though both Lisbeths and Leafas boots looked similar, he wondered if they were both made by the same person. As he quickly scanned the group over, he could feel the same being done to him. The whole process didn’t take very long. Three pretty girls and an unassuming but slightly feminine looking guy, pretty diverse group as far as races go.

    “Nice to meet you all.” Darien said finally with a small smile, his tongue felt a little dry and his muscles locked up. Though he kept it from showing on his face, he hated first impressions and talking to people for the first time was never his strong suit.

    “So, if you brought him all the way here… Did you want to fight Zekken?” Leafa asked him. He shrugged in response.

    “Not really, I just wanted to see what PvP looked like on a few levels above me. Though if I got the chance I wouldn’t pass it up.”

    “Oh? Does that mean you think you could beat her?” Lisbeth asked, she seemed genuinely curious.

    “Maybe, though I’d have to watch her fight a few more times first.”

    “Why’s that?”

    “Well, she’s fast and strong. But I can tell she’s never been trained to wield a sword so if given time I could learn to compensate for her strength and speed.”

    “You’ve been trained with a sword?” She asked doubtfully, to which he simply replied with a smile. She didn’t have to believe him, even with training, he still wasn’t sure he could win. To beat someone who’s faster and stronger than you, you have to be skilled enough to level the playing field. However the mount of skill required is exponential even for slightly stronger or faster, so there was such a thing as too strong or too fast.

    “Anyway, Lisbeth, can we take this to your shop? I have to get off to go to work soon.” Lindelle said. Lisbeth turned her attention back to the Sylph and nodded with a smile.

    “Sure, we’ll head to my shop and get your gear made. I’m sure Asuna will contact us soon.” With that and everyone summoned their wings and leapt into the air, with Lisbeth and Lindelle leading the way towards the shop of the pink haired blacksmith.
     
    #4 Abel O'dell, Dec 18, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  5. Chapter V

    With the town teleporters in Aincrad, it didn’t take long to reach Lisbeth’s shop. From the front it looked inviting, open. Made of warm wood but here and there he could see metal support lining the structure, giving the place a solid and unique appearance. Five wide wooden steps lead to the porch that overlooked the street. Beams around the porches rail supported the small roof above. Attached to that was a sign, depicting an armored knight. Darien could also spot a chimney stack jutting out of the building’s roof. Ascending the stairs, Lisbeth opened the door and a small bell chimed.

    One by one, they made their way inside. As he moved past her into the doorway he caught a small whiff of her perfume. It was just the barest hint of vanilla. Pleasant but not overpowering. Moving inside there were many display cases and wall racks, displaying merchandise and their prices. Just by looking at them he could tell they were all high level, high quality items. Wow… If I could make stuff like that. The possibilities were endless and seeing all of the gear really made him want to pursue this idea of becoming a smith.

    “I know you’re new, but I don’t think Lisbeths ego can take any more stroking.” Lindelle said, snapping him out of his reverie. He looked back, everyone had varying degrees of amused and curious expressions on their face, save Lisbeths who’s was smug.

    “At least he recognizes talent.” She said, her chest swelling with pride.

    “Just hope he doesn’t break one of your swords.” Kirito remarked though there seemed to be more behind that statement because the blacksmith deflated.

    “Shut up, Kirito!” She glared daggers at him while both he, Leafa, and Silica laughed. Darien smiled, thankful for the shift in attention. He still didn’t know what to think of this group yet, but they seemed like good people. He wouldn’t mind getting to know them a bit better, maybe even being friends. After all, that was part of the reason he was here, wasn’t it?

    “Anyway Lisbeth, shouldn’t we get started?”

    “Oh right. Is your friend coming along?” Dariens eyes moved to Lindelle, she shrugged.

    “It was part of the deal.”

    “Deal? What deal?”

    “I’ll tell you when we get started.” She said simply and Lisbeth nodded, leading them towards the large store counter. Lifting the hatch in the wooden section they made their way down a hallway. Along the way, Darien saw stairs leading upwards. That was probably the living area of the house with a bedroom and a kitchen or something similar. This back part of the shop was lined with stone and metal, probably to keep anything from catching on fire. There were also weapon designs and various implements scattered in organized chaos all over the room. There was a large anvil in the center and a furnace behind that with enough room in between for one, maybe two people.

    Lindelle opened a window and selected a number of icons while a second window appeared in front of Lisbeth. Since he helped farm the materials, he knew what a few of them where. He was interested to see just how much would be crafted.

    “So a full set of light metal armor, a longsword and a buckler, correct?” Lisbeth asked and the Sylph nodded.

    “Also, could you give a rundown of how all of this works for Darien? He’s thinking of taking of smithing.” The Blacksmith turned her attention toward him and he returned the gaze. After a few moments, Lisbeth turned to Lindelle and asked.

    “I’m guessing this is also part of the deal?” She simply nodded and the pink haired woman sighed. “Just don’t go giving out any of my secrets.”

    “Well I wouldn’t know if you do anything different because this will be the first time I see a player crafting something.” He explained.

    “Then don’t go using my methods at public crafting stations.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Lisbeth is well known because she has tinkered with the system enough to have an idea of what materials she needs to make an item the way you want it. The normal smithing part is fundamentally the same but not many people are allowed back here.” It didn’t take much for Darien to put two and two together. If he used her techniques at a public forge then everyone would be able to see it and she’d lose business. Her abilities wouldn’t be unique anymore. In other words…

    “You’re taking a risk bringing me in here.” He thought aloud. “Why?”

    “Because Lindelle trusts you and her business is important to me. I’m not the only one that can influence the system, but I’ve put the most time into it. I don’t want my competitors getting a leg up. If you want to work on smithing just come by the shop and ask. I’ll let you use the forge for a little while. That way you can practice and you won’t go around giving people new ideas.” She said simply, taking out some of the metals Lindelle had brought. That brought another question to mind and his attention flicked over to Lindelle. Why is she so important? And to who? He wondered.

    “The first part of crafting is selecting the materials you’re going to use and making them into an ingot if they aren’t already one.” Lisbeth explained, grabbing three metals and splitting them up into varying quantity then placing them into a furnace. While they heated, she grabbed a scroll from the bench and rolled it out across the anvil. Darien realized it was a weapon pattern. The scroll itself was a dark brown, almost leather looking while the weapon outline was drawn out of something that looked similar to chalk. It took the appearance of a simple and elegant longsword, with a slightly longer handle and a small circle on the end of the pommel. “These were implemented in one of the newer patches; they help influence the shape and appearance of a weapon. Though the system doesn’t always follow it, they are very useful. The pattern is usually used up when the item is created which is why you should write down the schematics.”

    Turning, she brought the ingot from the furnace and placed it on the brown parchment. She pressed a few buttons on a popup window and then raised her hammer.

    “Then you select the weapon type through a window before you begin forging.” She continued, hitting the metal with a firm tink. “You have to hit the metal a certain number of times before it takes the form of the weapon type.” Tink, tink, tink, tink. “The weapons strength is also based on how many times the metal is struck.” Tink, tink, tink, tink, tink. He could see the sweat dripping off Lisbeths brow as she focused on her work. “On average, player created weapons are stronger than weapons dropped by monsters.” Tink, tink, tink tink. The ingot began to glow and lengthen when Lisbeth lifted her hammer. “When you’re done, the system assigns the weapons appearance, stats, and name.” She finished, whipping her forehead.

    The heated metal lengthened into a fully fledged blade. The blade was a pale blue color and tapered down to a triangular point. It gleamed with a wicked edge and the blue became more saturated as it ran down the length of the blade. The cross guard was long and silver, made of coiled metal with small upward facing spikes toward the tip. The handle was also twisted silver before ending with a jeweled pommel. The crystal itself was dim so Darien couldn’t quite pick out the color. Lisbeth wrapped the handle in white dyed leather with a blue trim and handed Lindelle the weapon. The Sylph took it, giving it a few test swings as it left blue like contrails and smiled.

    “It’s perfect.” She said and Darien once again saw the Blacksmiths eyes sparkle with pride. It continued like that for a while as she made a set of armor and a shield. Darien just watched, transfixed by the whole process as the pieces came together. Once it was completed, Lisbeth offered to let Lindelle change into her new armor upstairs. To which she agreed. While she was gone the blacksmith leaned back against the work bench.

    “She always orders in bulk, nearly kills me every time.” She said softly, shaking her head. With shaky hands she whipped the sweat from her brow again and turned to Darien. “So what was this deal you guys had anyway?”

    “Yeah, I’m curious about that too.” Silica added.

    “It’s hard to believe she would have even made a deal with a new player.” Leafa agreed. He looked over in her direction and all three of them were staring at him, waiting for an explanation.

    “What do you mean? Is she someone important?” He asked.

    “You mean she didn’t tell you?” Darien shook his head and Leafa sighed. “She’s one of Sakuyas personal bodyguards.” He blinked, and then it all started to make sense. All this farming for a full set of gear she needed right away. These high grade materials and asking for help from someone who had no outside affiliation. That’s also why the Salamanders were stalking her and maybe that’s how they found out about the materials she had. Taking out one of the rival lords bodyguards and getting a good deal of loot for it? That’s probably something to brag about. She must be expecting trouble to get all those mats together on what he guessed was a short notice. That also explained why Lisbeth was willing to go through such lengths to keep her business.

    “Oh…” He said. Yeah, eloquence, that’s my middle name. What stunning piece of knowledge are you going to impart on them next? “Well… I mean, all I did was help her in a group pvp. She was being attacked so I gave her some back up.”

    “In starter gear?” Kirito asked. Darien nodded.

    “Against Salamanders?” Silica questioned another nod.

    “How many?”

    “Five. Previously eight. I just got the drop on them.” Darien supplied, though now he wasn’t sure if he wanted to keep talking. He wasn’t that great, after all, she did most of the work. He just surprised them.

    “Well that explains a lot.” Leafa said, nodding to herself.

    “I don’t see how. Like I said, it was mostly surprise on my part. After that she did most of the work.”

    “Even then, Lindelle repays debts. That’s part of who she is.”
    “So in exchange you asked to be tutored?” Lisbeth asked, lifting an eyebrow.

    “Not exactly.” Lindelle said as she walked into the room. “But close enough. You know most of it now.”

    “Somehow I don’t believe you.” Lisbeth replied with a grin, Darien turned to look at Lindelle’s new set. He had to struggle to keep his jaw from hitting the floor. She still wore her green clothes under the armor, but now she had a full chest plate and shoulder pauldrons, with smaller pauldrons covering her upper arms. Her arms were protected by bracers and full gauntlets. Cloth flared out around her hips in a long skirt with the middle and back cut out of them. The cloth was green, trimmed in gold while two large oval pieces of metal on the cloth protected her outer thighs. Her legs were wrapped in leather, while her shins and boots were covered by more metal. The metal itself was silver, with an elegant gold design. Her sword hung at her hip, sheathed in a brown and gold scabbard. Her shield was clipped on just above the blade, sporting a very similar design to her armor.

    The craftsmanship was incredible. Darien secretly wished he was a fan of having that much metal, if he was he would kill for a suit like that.

    “Good work as always Lisbeth, you can use the old gear as materials.” The pink haired blacksmith nodded and Lindelle looked towards everyone else. “Alright, well I need to go to work. I’ll see you guys around some other time.” With that she turned and opened the player window. Darien stifled his desire to ask to friend her and instead just watched her fade out of the store.

    “I think I’m going to log off too guys. I need to go make some food. I’ve been playing for a while.” Darien said, opening his own window and hit the log out button. He left determined that the next time they met; he would friend one of them. The moment he opened his eyes his stomach cramped and growled. Sighing he took the Amusphere off his head and placed it on the nightstand beside his bed and sat up. Rubbing his eyes he opened the blinds in his room to let in some of the late noon sunlight. His attention wandered to his desk where a single white envelope lay.

    Making his way over, he picked up the letter. It was slightly crinkled from the trip but it still looked pretty new, though unopened. Turning it over, it read. To: Darien, From: Rachel. He felt a sharp dagger dig in his chest. Biting his lip he placed the letter in the top drawer of his desk and tried to put it out of his mind. He instead focused on something else. After a trip across the hall to the bathroom he looked around. To his right was his parents room, they were probably sleeping right now. Trying to recover from jet lag. Making his way to the kitchen he decided just to make a sandwich with plenty of salad dressing. It took him a minute to recognize some of the packages but the transition from English to Japanese wasn’t too bad.

    He grabbed a bag of chips and sat at the kitchen table, before he could start eating however, his mom came into the kitchen. Turning he saw she had dark bags under her eyes and was in her pajamas. She rooted around the fridge and pulled out something that looked similar to iced coffee.

    “Trying to fight sleep?” He guessed, she nodded.

    “Have to adjust to the time zone, your dad didn’t make it though.”

    “Figures.” Darien said, they both smiled.

    “Just make sure you get plenty of sleep tonight. You’re going to need it.”

    “Why?”

    “Tomorrow is your entrance exam into high school. It was hard to get you in during the middle of a semester, but there was one willing and it’s not too far from here. Gotta love the foreign exchange program, but you have to pass the exam.” Ugh, of course, how could I forget? You have to do exams to get into high school in japan.

    “What time do I have to be up?”

    “Probably around five or six.” She said, before coming over and giving him a hug. “I know you’ll do fine.” Then she wandered back into the bedroom with a yawn. Darien continued to eat his sandwich, though it didn’t taste as good now. His stomach was doing little flips at the thought of a test determining his ability to get into high school. He grabbed a training sword and went outside. Making his way to the small back yard they had he did some simple weapon drills to calm his nerves. It also allowed him to think more clearly while he was busy doing repetition. Having a good idea of what he’d be tested on, the usual: math, science and reading. He started going through the formulas he remembered. It went on like that for two hours.

    By then the sun was starting to dip below the horizon. Heading inside he made another sandwich and took a shower. It didn’t take him long to drift off to sleep after that. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
     
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