FSN + SAO

daniel_gudman

KING (In Land of Blind)
Staff member
#1
You know that SAO / FSN cross I was talking about?

This is it.

Index

Chapter 1: Prologue
Chapter 1: Kayaba's Welcome (+TD1)

Chapter 2: First Week
Chapter 2.1: Asuna and Ilya
Chapter 2.2: Shirou and Kibaou  
Chapter 2.3: The Deal
Chapter 2.3.1: The Deal (rewrite)
Chapter 2.4: Diabel and Shirou (+KC4BD1)

Chapter 3: Illfang
Chapter 3.1: 1F Boss Meeting
Chapter 3.2: VS 1F Boss
Chapter 3.3: After 1F Battle (+KC4BD2)

Chapter 4: Saving People
Chapter 4.1: Ilya, Shirou, and Heroism
Chapter 4.1.1: Ilya, Shirou, and Heroism (rewritten)
Chapter 4.2: Argo and Kirito Rock Out
Chapter 4.3: Johnny Black
Chapter 4.4: Asuna, Ilya, and Those Three
Chapter 4.5: The Good Samaritan (+TD2)
Chapter 4.5.1: Rewritten Ending

Chapter 5: Blacksmiths
Chapter 5.1: Griselda, Inspired
Chapter 5.2: Asuna and Kirito and Elements
Chapter 5.3: 2nd Floor Boss
Chapter 5.4: Shirou and Liz and Friends (+LD1)

Chapter 6: Start of Growth
Chapter 6.1: The Forest Goblin
Chapter 6.2: Call me Mistress
Chapter 6.3: Quest for Steel
Chapter 6.4: The Evil Eye
Chapter 6.5: Hammer Time (+KC4BG3)

Chapter 7: Curiosity
Chapter 7.1: Curious Rat (Shirou, Kirito, and Argo)
Chapter 7.1.1: Curious Rat (Kirito, Argo, and Shirou)
Chapter 7.2: Shirou, Argo, and Kirito
Chapter 7.3: Ilya, Silica, and Shirou
Chapter 7.4: Vs. 3rd Floor Boss (+LD2)
Chapter 7.4.1: Vs. 3rd Floor Boss (Expanded)

Chapter 8: Slimes' Floor
Chapter 8.1: Welcome to Slimes' Floor
Chapter 8.2: Shirou, Argo, and Kirito
Chapter 8.3: Ilya, Asuna, Silica, and Those Three
Chapter 8.3.1: Ilya, Asuna, Silica, and Those Three (Revised)
Chapter 8.4: Vs. 4F Field Boss (+KC4BG4)

Chapter 9: Reunion
Chapter 9.1: Johnny Black and Red Eyes XaXa
Chapter 9.2: Vs. 4F Floor Boss
Chapter 9.3: Kirito
Chapter 9.4: 5F Boss Meeting
Chapter 9.5: Vs. 5F Boss (+LD4) (+ID1)

Chapter 10: Zolgen
Chapter 10.1: Asuna, Liz, Silica, Itagaki
Chapter 10.2: Diabel, Shirou, and Heroism
Chapter 10.2.1: Diabel, Shirou, and Heroism (Revised)
Chapter 10.3.1: Itagaki and Silica
Chapter 10.4: Kirito, Shirou, and Argo
Chapter 10.5 10.4: Vs 5F Boss (Real)  (+KC4BG5)
Chapter 10.4.1: Vs 5F Boss (Real) + ASB1 (Revised)

Chapter 11: Construction Mod
Chapter 11.1: Vs 7F Boss
Chapter 11.2: Buildings and Boundaries
Chapter 11.3: Griselda, Recruiting (1st Half)
Chapter 11.4: Silica and Ilya +ID2

Chapter 12: Black Cats
Chapter 12.1: After 8F Boss
Chapter 12.2: Meet the Black Cats
Chapter 12.3: Asuna, Kirito, and Argo (9th Floor)
Chapter 12.3.1: Asuna, Kirito, and Argo (9th Floor) (Revised)
Chapter 12.4: Griselda, Recruiting (2nd Half) +ACA1

Chapter 13:10th Floor
Chapter 13.1: Black Cat Party
Chapter 13.2: Housekeeping with Laughing Coffin
Chapter 13.3: Vs 10F Floor Boss
Chapter 13.4: Argo, Liz, and Ilya
Chapter 13.4.1: Argo, Liz, and Ilya (Revised) +KC4BG5


Chapter 14:Growth
Chapter 14.1: Lessons with Kirito-sensei
Chapter 14.2: Recruiting
Chapter 14.3: Diabel and Thinker Sasha
Chapter 14.3.1: Diabel and Thinker Sasha
Chapter 14.4: Griselda and Friends (Day in the Life of Mid-Liners)
Chapter 14.5: ACA2

Chapter 15: Swordtopia
Chapter 15.1: Fake Tyrfing
Chapter 15.2: Kuradeel
Chapter 15.3: Cats' Claws
Chapter 15.4: Klein Lind Argo
Chapter 15.5: LD3

Chapter 16 : Day of Demon
Chapter 16.1: Laughing Coffin
Chapter 16.2: Hexi, Ilya, Silica
Chapter 16.3: Black Cats
Chapter 16.4: Fallout
16.5: ID3 New!

Chapter 17: Beach Episode
Chapter 17.1: Griselda and Hexadecimal
Chapter 17.2: Ninjas on the Beach
Chapter 17.3: Kuradeel vs. Silica
Chapter 17.4: Beach Party
Chapter 17.5: ACA3

Chapter 18: Darkness
Chapter 18.1: Scouting (BSM)
Chapter 18.2: To Walk with Death
Chapter 18.3: Scouting (Black Cats)
Chapter 18.4: Land of Evil Men
Chapter 18.5: Midnight
Chapter 18.6: ASB2





Other Projects
Fanfiction written by other authors in the same continuity as this one. I encourage you to check them out!

Tales from the Mid-Liners (and on ffnet) by Leidolf
Not all Players stand on the Front Lines. But in a [Death Game] they're also betting their lives on their efforts.

A Mirror's Honest Reflection (and on ffnet) by Hardcore Heathen
Not everyone trapped in the Death Game could be a Hero. Could you do your best, even so?

FRO - At the Dusk of Knowledge by Mokofooja
For something as groundbreaking as the first VRMMO, of course people outside Japan would try to play. Some succeeded. Now, trapped in the [Death Game], isolated by the language barrier and having only each other, how will they survive?


Forum Game
You're trapped in FRO!
What if you were one of the Players trapped in the game? Go tell us what you would do!

External Links
Other things to check out.

Fanfiction.net Link
Probably easier to read in one go than then thread. Since I do complete chapters all in one go, it's usually behind.

TVTropes page
I encourage you to go see what kind of tropes other readers saw in this! And also to edit it! (Be warned, it's almost as Spoilers as the Idea Thread though).
 

daniel_gudman

KING (In Land of Blind)
Staff member
#2
Chapter 1
Start


"Come on come on come on!" Somewhere in there, the words of Ilyasivel von Einzbern crossed a line from "demanding" to "whining", as she impatiently tugged him along. He hadn't even finished saying "I'm home!" before she had latched on to his left hand and started dragging him away. Fortunately he had anticipated this and taken his shoes off first.

"Yeah yeah." Shirou agreed with the good nature of an adult granting the whims of a child. "There's no need to rush so much, Ilya."

"Mou!" Ilya blew air out of her mouth, forcing her bangs up as she pouted. "It's already five minutes to one, niichan! If you hadn't wasted your morning on unnecessary things then we wouldn't be behind schedule!" With that, Ilya grabbed his arm, and tugged him around the corner of the entrance hall and past the dining room.

"Welcome back!" Taiga shouted, without getting up or even turning from where she was slumped over the table. Because it was a school break, she had been spending the majority of her time lounging in front of the television rather than doing anything productive.

"Welcome back!" From the kitchen, came the echo of Sakura's voice. Shirou felt a pang of guilt that he hadn't come back for lunch, but he'd properly called and let them know that he would be eating at the Copenhagen, because the restocking was going to take an unexpectedly long time. But, he also felt aggravation that Ilya and Fujinee had once again allowed Sakura to prepare the food, serve it, and now were completely allowing her to do the dishes by herself.

Well, Shirou felt annoyed with himself for letting Ilya be spoiled so much. He had already given up on Fujinee as a fundamentally lost cause, in many ways.

"Ilya," he began, but he was completely overruled before he could actually start scolding.

"Never mind any of that!" Ilya declared, accelerating in a last spurt before hitting the brakes and smoothly sliding to a stop right in front of his room.

Shirou stumbled. Because he wasn't a child anymore, his skill at sliding around on the hardwood floor in his socks had degraded, compared to Ilya who sharpened her natural talent with daily practice.

Ilya flung aside the door to his room, and Shirou winced as it nearly jumped off the slide track. Ilya was the kind of person who demanded three times as much home maintenance compared to a regular person.

The partition between his room and what he still considered Saber's room was completely opened, with a futon on either side. It had seemed inappropriate to him to have both set up in the same room. Normally he definitely would have lost to Ilya in an argument like that, but he had received some unexpected support from Sakura when he insisted that Ilya and him be in at least these technically separate rooms.

So now the stuffed lion shared his desk with the computer that Ilya had received as a present from Grampa Fujimura, as well as the new one that had been specifically purchased for him to use today. It was also built with equipment and cards specialized for running games, although its specifications were not as high as Ilya's top-line machine. There was only one monitor, keyboard, and mouse on the desk. Since they were only necessary for starting up the software, Ilya had just used a KVM switch instead of bothering to lug duplicate interfaces into the room.

And, of course, the NerveGear helmets that were attached to each machine, resting prominently on the pillows that were placed at the head of each futon.

While Shirou took in the changes to his room in one glance, Ilya latched on to his hand and once again insistently tugged him forward. She pulled him over to his own futon and patted his shoulders. Bemused, Shirou obediently kneeled, and allowed Ilya to reach up and pull the NerveGear onto his head, tugging it into place, and then closing and adjusting the chin strap.

"There!" She announced. Her voice was slightly muffled because of the heavy construction, and there was a slightly distracting whirring sound because of the electronics. In terms of vision, he could still see through the visor, although his peripheral vision was obstructed, which made him slightly nervous. In the upper right hand of the visor's HUD he could see the lighting-and-rectangle logo for a fully charged battery with an external power connection. In the upper left hand was a digital clock with anachronistic block numerals displaying "13:58".

"You don't have to worry about character design at all." Ilya declared. "I imported one of my beta alts, so all you have to do is click [accept] at the prompt to import the beta account details, okay?" Of course, her question was merely requiring a response that he acknowledge what he'd heard. Inside Ilya's head, there wasn't even one thought that considered whether Shirou would be interested in designing his own character instead of the one she'd prepared for him. That was the level of imperiousness that she had.

Thinking like that, Shirou indulgently said "Yeah, yeah" even as he shifted around, sliding forward to lay down on his back on top of the futon, resting his head on the pillow. He could hear rusting from beside him as Ilya stuck her own helmet on and laid down on her futon at his side.

"Link Start". Ilya commanded.

"Link: start." Shirou intoned. Unwittingly, he said it with the same cadence as the self-hypnosis that he used when he activated his magic circuits with Trace On. But that thought was pushed aside as his senses dissolved into a white nothingness. Sight was blanked out. Sound was reduced to zero. Touch was absorbed into absolute numbness. Smell was gone and so was taste. When he thought of that, he realized that the numbness prevented him from even touching his teeth with his tongue.

But after only an instant like that, pillars of color drifted past him, and he arrived before holographic blue gears labeled in English. Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell, and Taste were each in turn synchronized. He could feel his body again, but intellectually he realized that it was all virtual sensation from the software being directly injected into his brain by the electromagnetic waves of the NerveGear, while the signals going from his brain to his body were interrupted by the artificial activation of his brain's sleep mechanisms.

A pop up prompted his thought processes and set the system interface language to Japanese based on his defaults. He had considered setting it to English as foreign language practice, but rejected it as a mediocre way to practice in exchange for constant annoyance. Besides, it wouldn't even impress Fujinee. While he was thinking about that, another prompt appeared, two fields for his user name and his password. Shirou was briefly struck by the absurdity of the characters being displayed as asterisks inside a virtual interface where it was absolutely impossible for someone to be spying over his shoulder.

And then the system prompt: would he like to import the beta character data? Briefly, he paused. It wasn't something he'd ever brought up, but if he had simply chosen for himself, then it would have been a choice between a simple copy of his own natural body, or to crossplay as a shorter blonde girl. Being honest with himself, it was a question of whether that would be disrespectful or not.

No, that was too heavy for what was really just a game to play with Ilya. He selected the "yes" in his mind and the system responded, importing the character data that Ilya had prepared for him. The text prompt disappeared and a swirl of electric blue lights converged at the center of his vision and dispersed, and with a sensation like falling, he landed in a crouch.

Emiya Shirou looked up. He was standing in a wide stone plaza. It was a circular space surrounded by tall buildings, with the appearance of Rome in the architecture of the marble columns standing out from the walls. A tall castle with a dark color stood at the north end of the plaza, with a staircase leading up to its gates interrupting the magnificent pillars around it.

The air smelled like spring, with the faint hint of grasses beyond the city pulled across the smell of earth and oils that typified a city. He could hear the hum of voices especially from the plaza, where it was interrupted by the near-constant convergent sound of the teleportation effect as players logged in.

He was short. He blinked, looking around, and then down at his body; his hands had a slightly pudgy look and his proportions were not lanky. He felt a moment of vertigo because of how alien the proportions were. His arms and legs were too short. His torso was too short. His limbs were too thin and lacked the muscle he needed to move the ways he would need to move in an emergency.

Instantly, he forced himself calm, feeling slightly ridiculous over his own disorientation. Remembering the advice Ilya had given him, he swiped at the air to open his menu, and calmly navigated to the character description page, where he read the statistics of the avatar Ilya had made for him. Hair color was set to Red (Auburn highlights). Eye color was set to brown as primary color with gold as a secondary color. His height was 127 cm. His mass was 31 kg. His character name was simply his given name, albeit written in all capital letters as if for emphasis.

As one final check, he placed his hands on his cheeks, determining that yes, they were round, perhaps even pudgy. This character avatar called SHIROU was definitely built on the concept of looking like 10-year-old Shirou.

With a put-upon sigh, he turned and jogged around, deciding to look for Ilya.

"Kyaa!" Even as he heard that, he was swept up over two meters over the ground, swamped by a hug. "You look so cute onii-chan!" With that kind of declaration, Shirou decided that he had probably found Ilya, or rather, that Ilya had found him. Well, that made sense, since she would have already known what his avatar looked like.

A pop-up menu prompt at the left side of his field of view caught his attention. With some difficultly, he reached out and dismissed the harassment notification. "Ilya", he calmly requested, "please set me down".

When she did, he looked at her avatar.

The character Ilya chose was a giant. 253 cm tall, massing 411 kg, without even a single gram of fat on those vast muscles like slabs of stone. The skin hue was set to dark gray, the face was like chiseled rocks, and the eyes and hair were both set to black. The starting equipment of the chest guard looked vaguely ridiculous, an unnecessary effect on the vast monster before him; because there was no shirt item equipped under the armor, Shirou could clearly see that Ilya had set the slider for muscle size all the way to the maximum. In terms of the remaining visible items, Ilya's avatar was barefoot, with a kilt-type equip instead of pants. With an excited appearance and a delighted smile that was both extremely incongruous and deeply unsettling, the giant before him was manipulating a menu he couldn't see.

[Accept friend request from Berserkah? Y/N]

Shirou sighed as he toggled the yes button on the floating prompt. "Did someone already take [Berserker] on you, Ilya?"

With a petulant frown, the giant before him nodded. "Yes! Even all the way back at the very beginning of the beta, it was already taken by someone else!" She (he? it?) crossed those vast arms across that vast chest and pouted.

Shirou could not handle this.

"Let's just go." Shirou said, sighing.

"Okay!" Ilya cheered. "Don't worry, with my help we'll definitely grind all the way to level five before the end of the day!" And after saying that, Ilya seized his hand exactly as she had not even fifteen minutes ago, and started dragging him away. Nearly dangling instead of walking because of the huge difference in height, Shirou sighed patiently even as Ilya started babbling excitedly about what he should equip and what his build should be.

I I I

"Alright!" Ilya announced, pointing at the blue-furred pig-type monster. "You're going to start by hunting this boar mob, Shirou!"

Shirou nodded, before responding seriously. "There's only one. Is that really something you can call a mob?"

Ilya pouted. Shirou estimated it would take him at least two months before he would be able to accept that kind of childish look on that kind of terrifying face without looking twice. "That doesn't matter! Just use a Sword Skill on it! You've got the basic one-handed curved type equipped, so just activate Horizontal or Reaver on it!"

Shirou felt slightly foolish, but he casually walked up to the boar, which was contentedly ignoring him and plodding around. He unsheathed his sword with his right hand, raised it carefully, and stepped forward with his leading foot as he slashed his blade down.

With precision and confident speed, the tip of the sword cut down into the neck of the boar deep enough to sever the spine, while the following edge going down far enough to cut through the jugular vein. When the sword cleared, Shirou stepped back as the smooth follow-through brought the sword around to the far side, as he calmly reset his stance.

[Critical Hit!]

Following that cheery announcement, the boar gave a dying squeal as the floating status bar immediately emptied, passing from green, through yellow, to red, before completely emptying out. With the signature futuristic sound, the boar wavered and burst into blue-green pixel fragments which evaporated.

"I've never even heard of someone getting a [Critical Hit] on an attack that didn't use the System Assist." Ilya said, with some amazement in her voice.

"Really?" Shirou said, glancing over his side. "This is almost too easy." Casually he relaxed from the wide stance until he was standing normally, glancing around as he scanned for other monsters, before turning his attention back to Ilya. "I mean, a straight cut with such a light sword against an opponent that's moving so slowly and ignoring you?" He shook his head.

"That's the point!" Ilya protested. "This game is aimed at people who haven't ever even held a sword before! These monsters are just vendor trash for noobs to grind Sword Skills on." Ilya crossed those vast arms again. "Just pretend you're a normal civilian."

Shirou sighed. "Yeah yeah." He conscientiously put a smile on his face and looked up at Ilya. "So how do Sword Skills work in this game, Ilya?"

Ilya nodded vigorously, and drew her own sword, which was the basic one-hand straight sword. She had already explained to Shirou that she wanted to build this character as a strength-oriented two-handed sword user. But for right now, her character looked ridiculous because that initial equip weapon was about the same length and width as her avatar's pointer finger.

"The Sword Skills in the game Sword Art Online are all based on the System Assist for Command Inputs." Ilya proudly said, regurgitating information from the game manual in her own words. "What you do, is hold the sword and take the stance. It's like your body is compressing a spring, and then when you coiled up to the right compression, the system automatically releases the pent-up power and launches the Attack." To demonstrate, Ilya struck a pose, and raised her sword before her, slowly pulling it back as the blade hung parallel to the ground. When the hilt was nearly touching her cheek, a charging sound effect began, and the sword's blade emitted a yellow glow. When the charge sound had stopped changing pitch and become stable, the light effect had also become constant; then, Ilya nodded, and her body moved automatically. She moved forward over four meters in a single step, swinging the sword in a combination attack that began as a cut but finished as a forward thrust. When it was complete, Ilya dramatically held the end position, before standing. "See! Now you try!"

Shirou nodded. He emptied his mind, and calmed his breathing. Even if the breathing was a simulation, he synchronized it with his motions. He raised the sword, adjusting his grip with his fingers. The sword began to glow red. The distinct whining sound effect of the charge animation started up. His body was like a finger threading into the trigger guard and gently resting on the trigger, carefully adjusting to exactly the right position. The red light was stable. The noise was constant.

Shirou pulled the mental trigger. The Skill was the firing pin, the shell, and the gunpowder; his sword was shot without any further requirements from him. His body responded automatically like the mechanism to eject the spent case and reload the next round. His body was like a machine that moved as a programmed result of his input, rather than adjusted by his control.

The sword flashed out, and Shirou felt his body stand motionless for less than a heartbeat when he was finished. That moment of automatic weakness bothered him; even if it was a fraction of a second, it was designed to be make him a target. If there had been an enemy around, it would have terrified him instead of merely bothering him. That moment definitely convinced him that Sword Art Online was a game, not a training simulation. However....

"Mou! First try!" Shirou didn't know why Ilya was complaining about that. Because he was thinking so hard, he wasn't focused on what she was saying. He was thinking: However, even if the step went ridiculously long, even if the swing went cartoonishly wide, even if there was that opening labeled "please counterattack me" enforced at the end, there was certainly something serious at the foundation of the System Assist. The adjustment of grip strength in each finger before, during, and after the cut; the moment when the muscles dynamically flexed to maximum exertion after moving the sword at maximum limberness; even the way the path of the edge, and of the sword's centerline, was kept perfectly aligned along the imaginary plane of the sword's motion: if the basic silhouette was cheap theatrics, the details were murderously realistic.

"Ilya," he began, "How was the System Assist designed?" Shirou asked quietly.

"Eh?" Ilya blinked. "There was a magazine article about that. Kayaba hired all kinds of martial artists and fencers and tournament fighters and blew a medium-sized fortune on motion capture and interviews to revise the motion data. Then the capture data set from that was integrated into a motion-library that the Argus' company programmers used to build the Sword Arts out of. Supposedly Argus is going to license the motion-library to anybody that wants to build a fighting game with the NerveGear." Ilya tilted her head to the side. Seeing that kind of cute motion on that kind of intimidating body still bothered him. "Why do you ask, Shirou?"

Shirou shook his head. "I was just a little curious, that's all." Honestly, that sounded like a perfect explanation for the sensation of the Sword Arts. Realistic details from professional fighters used to assemble unrealistic attacks by professional game programmers. But it was strange that Kayaba could have talked Argus into spending so much money on making those details so perfect.

Well, it wasn't something that concerned Shirou in the end. "Ilya," he said, "let's keep playing."

"Yeah!" Ilya said, punching the air in enthusiasm. "We're gonna farm mobs like crazy!"

Shirou understood the meaning of that sentence, but he would estimate 50% of the nuance went over his head. Still, even so, he simply agreed, saying "Yeah yeah" with the same good nature he always had.

I I I

Shirou shook his head, even though he knew the disorientation of the forced teleport effect would be unaffected by that. Still, he glanced around casually, seeing as more and more players were teleporting into the plaza. They all milled about, looking impatient and annoyed. Probably they were all offended that something as basic as the [Logout] command was broken on the first day of the launch. Shirou didn't mind the inconvenience for himself, although he hoped they solved it soon. Because if he was still here in an hour or two, then Sakura would start dinner, and cooking both lunch and dinner was simply too unfair to her.

The bell in the tower in the center of the plaza stopped ringing. The sky went dark as red hexagons spread out, popping into existence one after another across the air above the central plaza of the Starting City. A hush fell over the crowd at the theatrical effect; even if the people gathered here were generally annoyed by the bug, the grandeur of the effect mostly replaced the annoyance with a pleased sense of awe.

Blood poured from the gaps of the hexagons. No, it wasn't blood, not really. The virtual fluid, with the same red color as blood, the same viscosity as blood, the same texture as blood, poured out from between the hexagons, it gushed downward and gathered unnaturally. The clot grew as the virtual blood smoothly poured into it from the sky effect. The clot grew, and pulsed, and throbbed as lighting effects arched across it, and twisted around once.

Shirou's gaze didn't break when he sensed the vast hand reaching down. Calmly he simply raised his own arm above his shoulder level and held out his own open hand. When that hand as wide as his torso closed around his own left hand, he could only wrap his grip around the pointer finger, so he did, and gave Ilya a reassuring squeeze.

The twist completed, the virtual blood clot solidified, morphed, changed into a giant figure completely obscured by a thick red robe.

"Game Master?" Ilya murmured. Since the unsettling blood effect had finished, she didn't sound hesitant, but rather just confused by why such a huge effect had been animated.

The Game Master avatar hung in space, suspended in the air above the gate to the huge castle at the north of the plaza. After a dramatic pause, it began to speak. The voice was not especially loud, but it resonated widely so that every player present could certainly hear it.

"Attention Players.

"Welcome to my world.

"My name is Kayaba Akihito.

"As of this moment, I am the supreme entity in control of this world.

"I'm sure you have already noticed that the [Logout] button is missing from the main menu."


The right hand of that floating giant rose with ponderous slowness, and then tapped the air in front of it, calling the menu exactly as if it, the GM, had been a normal player. The menu was scaled proportionate to the GM, and set to global visibility, so even if it was backwards, everyone there could see as the GM navigated to where the [Logout] command should have been.

"But this is not a defect in the game.

"I repeat, this is not a defect in the game.

"It is a feature of Sword Art Online.

"You cannot log out of SAO yourselves.

"And no one on the outside can shut down or remove the NerveGear.

"Should this be attempted, the transmitter inside the NerveGear will emit a powerful microwave pulse, destroying your brain and ending your life."


The GM allowed another dramatic pause. Shirou took the chance to quickly glance around him; the expressions on the faces around him were like beaches with waves of horror crashing onto them. No, they were like the faces of people standing on the shore, watching the ocean withdrawing and building into a tsunami, knowing that there was absolutely nothing they could do to prevent the incoming disaster. Voices were filled with that horror. Several tense conversations whispered around him verified that the NerveGear was technically capable of what the GM was describing.

"Unfortunately several players' friends and family have ignored this warning, and attempted to remove the NerveGear.

"As a result, 213 players are gone forever, both from Aincrad and the real world."


Again the GM navigated his menu, although it had automatically reset to private visibility, so that his motions remained inscrutable until various browser holographs became visible, the floating rectangles displaying various news threads, television news programs, and live videos of involved people.

But while he was doing that, a sensation like a cold blob of iron entered Shirou's chest. Even though it felt like it sat right under his diaphragm, it didn't interfere with his controlled breathing. The iron was heated by his outrage until it was hot. It was shaped and sharpened by his anger at the senseless deaths of 213 people.

"As you can see, news organizations across the world are reporting this, including the deaths.

"Thus, you can assume the danger of a NerveGear being removed is now minimal.

"I hope you will relax and focus on clearing the game."


Although it had been delivered with the same simplicity as the rest of the announcement, as if up until now had been a formality that simply had to be gotten through, it was only now that something like real intent crept into the voice of the floating GM. The outrage in Shirou was forcibly cooled. The iron was hardened. Getting too emotional in battle was a mistake.

"I hope you remember this clearly. All methods to revive someone within the game have been removed.

"If your HP is reduced to zero, your avatar will be lost.

"And simultaneously, the NerveGear will destroy your brain."


Shirou clenched his jaw tightly. It was too early to move, but he imagined that his soul inhabiting this virtual body was ready to launch that sword of anger out of his chest and destroy the GM avatar, to destroy this scenario that Kayaba had created, that had already killed people!

"There is only one means of escape."

The menu was manipulated. A vast cylindrical hologram sprung up, stacked plates. The virtual world of Aincrad.

"To complete the game.

"You are presently on the lowest floor of Aincrad, floor one.

"If you make your way through the dungeon and defeat the floor boss, you may advance to the next floor.

"Defeat the final boss on floor 100, and you will clear the game."


There was another pause. Shirou kept the GM avatar in the field of his vision as he swept his gaze around. He analyzed the people around him. Compared to the horror of inevitable drowning, the expressions were like people that realized the one boat remaining was just a rusty fishing dingy. The chance of survival was above 0%, but it was still so low that it was more like mockery than a real possibility to salvation. The horror evolved into anger at such mockery.

"Finally, I've added a present from me to your item storage.

"Please see for yourselves."


Shirou simply kept staring. He was like a lump of steel shaped like a human. He had no intention of making even one unnecessary movement. Even if it was pointless, he had no intention of cooperating even that much. Still, his menu opened automatically, and navigated through to his item inventory. It scrolled down past the "boar meat" and other bits and pieces that had accumulated over his afternoon. At the very bottom, a new item had been incremented into his inventory. It was a single non-stacking consumable item. It was automatically activated.

The item was called [Magical Mirror] and it materialized as a circle of glass before shattering into pixels. The cold expression on his childish face was apparent to Shirou for only an instant.

There was a flash of blue light, and a pulse of nothingness exactly like he had experienced during character creation, when the sensations from his real body turned off but before the sensations of the avatar body were routed in.

No. It was worse. This dangerous warmth that saturated his brain and spread down his spine, then radiated until it felt like needles piercing the tip of every finger and toe.

That heat was definitely from prana running through him. If it was something that he could feel with every single body sensation interrupted, then that simply meant he was detecting the interference with his circuits. He hadn't been running them, so he wasn't able to scrub the enchantment out of his soul by circulating prana.

Even as the warmth completed flowing leaving only the phantom sensation of heat behind, like stepping out of a too-hot house into the fall air in front of an instantly-closing door, all other body sensations returned from a rebooting avatar. He blinked. His perspective was approximately 40 cm higher from the ground while standing. He glanced down at his body, and felt the most complete sense of déjà -vu he'd ever experienced when he recognized his own body from the inside after operating that childish form for several hours. He glanced to the side, where Ilya looked similarly disoriented. And it was definitely Ilya; the short, pale girl was standing there. The contrast between the mountain-like giant and the fairy-like little girl was extreme. Her equipment had also changed scale, although the lack of shirt under her chest protector now looked indecent rather than absurd.

People were screaming and shouting. Shirou ignored them as he made eye contact with Ilya. His intense gaze asked the question without any need for words. With a solemn expression, that had a hint of embarrassment, Ilya nodded. Compared to the expectations even these previous five minutes have given him, the situation has already gotten much worse than Emiya Shirou had expected.

"At this time I would like to announce the first content expansion for SAO.

"The system for simulating Thaumaturgy has been enabled.

"That is to say, the skills of manifesting mysteries and wonders, individually called [Spells], are now available.

"It is complete and accurate to the best of my ability as a simulator.

"Please note that the item selection and Equippable Skills have been updated to eliminate ambiguities and overlaps with magecraft. [Items], such as [Teleport Crystals], and [Skills], such as [Night Vision], that produce supernatural effects have been removed as redundant and unnecessary.

"I highly encourage you to develop your skills as a magic user. They will be indispensable in clearing the game."


The precision was more disturbing than the content of those words. Shirou pursed his lips, and when Ilya tentatively moved her arm, he reached out to take her hand again. Kayaba Akihito was definitely a magic user. For exposing the secret truth that [Magic is Real] to these 10,000 people gathered here, even if it was in virtual reality. He would definitely be Sealed as a Philosopher and hunted down as a threat to the most important treaty item agreed upon by all true practitioners of the Great Crafts.

More importantly, in doing so, he had made these 10,000 people accessories to his crime. Whether they would be brainwashed with memory alteration or simply executed depended on the skills and inclinations of the investigative body. But with this many gathered witnesses, they would definitely prioritize expedience and thoroughness over smoothing it down, let alone something as useless to them as mercy.

However, there was a critical prerequisite to that situation occurring. Shirou's mind raced as he calculated. Because silencing Kayaba required that the Enforcers become aware of his words in the first place. The announcement was made to 10,000 people, but those 10,000 people were completely cut off from the rest of human civilization by the [Death Game] settings. This situation was like a sealed room murder before the first witness discovered the corpse. Right now, the only people that even knew the crime had been committed were the ones that were directly involved as the sinner and the victims. By the time the room was unlocked, it was already too late to save anyone.

No. The absolute worst case scenario was, that by the time the sealed room was unlocked, by the time the crime scene was found by the Enforcers— they would see only criminals, without any victims. They would simply execute everyone involved without a shred of hesitation.

"Right now, you're probably wondering why.

"Why would Kayaba Akihito, the developer of the NerveGear and SAO, do all of this?

"I will respond without answering by way of an old saying: 'To be a magus is to walk with death.'

"If you wish to uncover my motive, struggle to clear the game.

"I hope that you will endorse my objective when it becomes clear.

"But no matter what, I will be pleased if you all develop into excellent magic users.

"In the meantime, please consider this mystery as the central plot of the game SAO, and endeavor to solve it."


There was a pause as the GM avatar finished delivering the speech. The emotions that had excited the voice as Kayaba described his logic while still leaving his reasons opaque were completed with that paragraph. The following words were delivered as a necessary formality, a ritual that required calm delivery on his part without particular excitement.

"This ends the tutorial for the official SAO launch.

"Good luck."


The avatar slumped midair. Strange vapors escaped from the hood and sleeves as it deflated and began to fall. Before it could fall even ten meters, though, it dissolved into nothingness. It did not shatter into the blue-green triangles and dissolve; it simply faded transparent until it was invisible and presumably gone. Compared to the normal logic of Aincrad, it was definitely an unnatural way for the GM avatar to go.

It was quiet.

The air was thick with tension. It was pressure. It was pushing everyone down. The tension was squeezing everyone like the air was winding into straps around them. No one dared to move. It was like everyone stopped breathing and didn't start up again because it was unnecessary for these virtual bodies.

And then someone screamed.

It was the starting gun at a track meet. People instantly began running, pushing around, wearing among each other and knocking over and about other people without any consideration. Shirou was relieved that it was impossible to lose HP inside a [Safe Zone] because that meant at least no one would be trampled to death or even injured in this riot.

"Shirou." Ilya said. Her voice was uncertain, and tense. Rather than worried about death, he could tell that she experienced the same emotion he did right then: profound uncertainty. Compared to the Grail War that had shaped both their lives, the immediate threat of death was much lower, but the goal of Kayaba Akihito was completely unclear. Even if the method of winning the game was obviously announced, the true nature of the Grail that Kayaba sought was totally inscrutable.

"Shirou," Ilya began, "what should we do?"

Kayaba Akihito had trapped thousands of people in a virtual world for ultimately unknown reasons. They were trapped in a death game. When the game was completed, everyone left over would be tossed out of this tiny pond called Aincrad into the vast ocean called the real world, where they would be devoured for knowing too much.

What should Emiya Shirou do? Like he even needed to ask himself such an obvious question.

"Ilya", Shirou began, "during the beta, where were the starting quests with the highest failure rates?"

Emiya Shirou would save as many people as he could.

The first battle was always the most dangerous, that was a general rule across all warfare. There were differences in the danger of any conflict, due to tactics, asymmetrical preparation, and geography; but for an individual, the first battle, when they completely lacked experience, was by default the most dangerous. In a virtual world like Aincrad, that was even closer to absolutely true than in the real world. When the relative threat could be so easily and accurately assessed with a level mechanic, there was no excuse for getting into a fight you couldn't win. Just put those convenient numbers on a scale, and if it tips against you, retreat. But the exception was level one. Even at level two, it was possible to develop a margin of safety by fighting down. It was manifestly impossible to do so when there was nothing below you. Combining the psychological lack of battle experience with the game mechanic lack of XP: according to Emiya Shirou's estimate, the most dangerous period of the [Death Game] was about to begin.

Disregarding his own loss and gain, he wouldn't seek any XP or items for himself. Rather he would interfere in battles that other people were in danger of losing.

Even if she didn't precisely follow his thoughts, Ilya could understand the general direction. So, she groaned theatrically and puffed her cheeks, frowning as she knit her brows together. "Why can't you just stay with me, Shirou?" There was a plaintiveness, there was a heaviness in that question that deeply underlay her childish antics. "Why do you have to go and save strangers instead?"

Shirou blinked. "Ilya, I can't do this without you."

The darkness evaporated as Ilya's expression cleared. "Eh?"

Shirou frowned slightly as he explained the obvious. "Your experience as a beta tester is a vital tactical edge. I need your knowledge if we're going to prevent people from dying in the early part of the game. I need you with me, Ilya." Shirou pursued his lips. "I'm frustrated at myself for having to put you in danger, but I can't see a better path than this. Just pretend I'm the Servant and you're the Master, and support me with tactical knowledge without entering battle, okay?"

Ilya stared. Her face was slack and her gaze was amazed. Then, like a sunrise, she smiled. She leaned forward and slammed her shoulder into Shirou's belly, wrapping her arms around his waist in a fierce hug. She didn't say anything. It was unnecessary for her to agree or disagree when her endorsement was so clear. She simply hugged Emiya Shirou. Carefully, he patted her on the head with one hand, and dismissed the harassment query with the other.

With the world screaming around them, with people collapsing in despair, screaming in fear, and raging in fear, there was this one island of happiness, where Ilyasivel von Einzbern was hugging her oniichan, Emiya Shirou.

Chapter One
End


I I I

"Shirou?" A feminine voice called out, and there was a soft sound of pad-pad-pad from her feet.

Then, the door of his room in the house was slid open.

With a dissatisfied scowl, Tohsaka Rin frowned as she looked down at the boy.

"Mou, Shirou, it's already time for you to make dinner." She complained. However, her eyes did not stray from the appearance of the boy laying peacefully on his futon. Even with that big stupid helmet, even if he was still wearing his jeans and long-sleeve t-shirt, and even if that pale girl was curled up on the futon right next to his, the completely helpless and sleeping Shirou in front of her—.

Rin shook her head, before kneeling beside him. "Come on, Shirou, it's already past six."

Hesitating only a minute with her fingers over his face, Rin undid the clasp on the helmet, and pushed it off Shirou's head.

At the same instant, a powerful electromagnetic pulse was emitted from the helmet, and the brain of Emiya Shirou was totally cooked by microwaves.

With a grunt and a flop as his muscles were involuntarily stimulated by the indiscriminate electric flow in his brain, he became instant still after that.

"Shirou."

"Shirou?"

"SHIROU!"

As Rin began to panic, the screen faded to black and a logo appeared on the screen with lazor sounds.

(FISSION MAILED)

— (click)

TIGER DOJO

Take the strange advice? Y/N

Y (click)

"HI HI!" With a cheerful wave, Fujimura Taiga, wearing the traditional white kimono and blue hakama of someone who practices kendo, smiled happily with her eyes closed. "It's this early, but already we achieved a Dead End!" After finishing that sentence, she could only shake her head in dejection, making a face like "tsk tsk" at the same time. "What do think about that, First Student!"

Appearing beside her with a fade effect rather than walking on from offstage of anything like that, a new character appeared.

With an uncomfortable blush, squeezing her legs together even as she pushed the hem of her shirt down with her hands to cover her thighs, Saber still struggled to maintain her dignity. However, because of how tight that pulled the shirt down, the little square logo labeled "1-A" was pulled taunt against her chest. "W-well, it's important to keep your guard up, even before the battle begins. If you don't you can lose to an unexpected surprise attack."

With a superior nod, Taiga agreed. "That's right! Don't make such a dumb mistake like testing Kayaba's seriousness! Just assume it's another fight to the death and stupidly charge forward!" Having said that, she exaggerated her exclamation point by thrusting her shinai into the air.

"Now that we have resolved that." Saber said, squirming uncomfortably, "Taiga, I demand to know why I have to wear such shameful clothing."

"Tradition!" Taiga roared. Even as she pulled the guts pose with clenched fists radiating out from elbows tucked at her sides, the sound effect of a tiger roaring was accompanied by the background changing to a fierce-looking tiger's head.

Like that, Taiga continued needlessly shouting. "Because it's the Tiger Dojo we have the Master and the First Student! And the Master is me, Fujimura Taiga, while the First Student is the Heroine from the impossible Route! And the First Student wears bloomers!"

With a serious nod, Saber took that in. "I see. So all I have to do is-"

"Wait," Shirou said, "there's nothing I can do about that."

"S-s-Shirou!" Completely interrupted, Saber returned to tugging the shirt down past the indecent bloomers that were ostensibly her pants.

"That's right!" Taiga roared. "Shirou-kun can never go against me!"

"No," Shirou instantly dismissed her. "I mean, there's nothing I can do about Tohsaka pulling the NerveGear off my head."

"Oh." Taiga said. "That." After a short pause, the irrepressible spirit of the one called things like "the human jet rocket" ignited. "Well just do what you do best! Plunge in with guts and when those guts get splattered all over the sidewalk just let Avalon fix you good as new! Banzai!"

"Shirou." Saber hesitantly began. "P-please stop staring."

"DON'T IGNORE ME!" With such a petulant demand, the bloodthirsty Tora-Shinai was unleashed and howled through the air.

[Critical Hit!]

"Blarg!" Shirou made a stupid sound as he spun through the air and slammed into the wall behind them.

Taiga once again turned to address the audience. "Right! The important thing is to just keep trying! Actually since this is even more old-fashioned than a visual novel, it's completely linear without you having to do anything other than just clicking forward or scrolling down or whatever! Yosh!"

And the doors closed on the strange advice corner.

Tiger Dojo One
End


End Notes

(1) Recently I've been trying to sound more like Nasu when I write because I was deeply impressed by his skill. Well, I'm trying to throw out the parts that ended up being just affectation and aspire to the most important thing he impressed me with: excellent metaphor.

(2) If there are parts where characters are supposed to be thinking logically, let me know if they are jumping too far between steps until it begins to sound like Super Friend Logic instead of actual intelligence.

(3) That part at the end where Shirou picks the conversation option that yields like +100 Ilya_Affection_Points... I felt like that was maybe too heavy-handed, and I'm sitting too close to the screen to accurate judge. Let me know if you think it was just... too much.

(4) This is Fate-route, like I'd intimated in the Idea Thread. I'll be dropping more concrete hints when Shirou actually starts doing magical stuff, but for now I just don't want to contradict that. Again with that Ilya scene, I feel like I was going too much into UBW!Shirou than Fate!Shirou, but at the same time, I still kinda want Shirou to have Ilya 100% on board with him. I will definitely be ship-teasing Ilya/Shirou, let me put it that way.

(5) If you have other comments, lay 'em on me!

EDIT: Fixing the character screwups from the migration.

EDIT 2: Fixed Kayaba AkihiKO's name like Shadow Zeranion pointed out. I copypasta'd into MS Word, used Find/Replace, and then copypasta'd back, so lemme know if you catch a double screw up where I misspelled the wrong name.

EDIT 3: Fixed typographical stuff. Again.

EDIT4: Continuity Fix: I had Shirou's character name written in katakana when SAO used the English character set. So it's SHIROU written in ALL CAPS now. Also I made GM!Kayaba's speech italic.


Mod Edit: Text encoding cleanups due to forum migration -chronodekar
 

Kibbles

Well-Known Member
#3
I, for one, approve of this fic.

Spotted no real issues or OOC moments. Quite the opposite, the style and characterization is very much in line with the novels, what I remember of them, since it's been awhile since I last touched them. The metaphors are going well, just ... try to avoid the sea-food references, 'kay? Beyond that, I'm looking forward to see where the plot goes. Not too big of a fan of SA:O, but that's not an issue this fic would have, I think.

Finally, about the titling comment, yeah, that's something of a problem I have. I have the rare distinction of a professor demanding that I write down the proposed title of the term paper and give it to him, since it was too long and overly complicated.
 

BloodRevan

Well-Known Member
#4
It's alive!

YES!

Edit: Since Kayaba has a reason beyond playing God, do Unique Skills still exist? Or are they available to anyone via training or quests?
 

zeebee1

Well-Known Member
#5
I'd approve, but I don't think you're going to write enough to approve of.
 

Prince Charon

Well-Known Member
#6
zeebee1 said:
I'd approve, but I don't think you're going to write enough to approve of.
On the bright side, we don't know that he won't, either.
 

seitora

Well-Known Member
#7
Finally, a story where Ilya route isn't impossible (nay, it's basically the ONLY available route unless you decide to pull on a character from SAO)

The people demand Ilya route!
 

EagleCeres

Well-Known Member
#8
Why is it whenever I hear Berserker Ilya...
I think of:


Anyway, I'm enjoying the read and linking how you are merging both worlds... Aincrad with Magic is a novel Idea and hope to see where you take this.

Keep up the good work!
 

seitora

Well-Known Member
#10
Also, if the Taiga Dojo is going to consist basically of characters that will get little screen time otherwise, you can simultaneously troll/head off Mike by putting Sakura in as Taiga's next assistant!
 

Get-lost

Well-Known Member
#11
Goddamnit! Now you've got 2 really good FSN crosses that will hardly every get updated.

-Posted in the attempt to use the fact that I'm always wrong for good. :p
 

Ryune

Well-Known Member
#12
Well this is certainly very interesting. The only real complaint I can field is the removal of magic skills. I can't really see anyone learning magic to any kind of acceptable level without either instructors or system assisted magic. Acceptable meaning they don't just outright kill themselves. Maybe give them the skills and then lock them at level1? Give them an example to work off of or something.

On Kayaba being a magus... Well, I can't help seeing the entire thing as being a ritual similar to heavens feel. I mean here you have an assload of "champions" working towards a goal and what happens to the souls of the people microwaved? Are they NOMed by cardinal? What about the magic use? Would that also be sucked up by it too? And now you have at least two years of accumulated power from 10K people for something.

I certainly look forward to any more you might post.
 

daniel_gudman

KING (In Land of Blind)
Staff member
#13
Ryune,
Welcome to nTFF!

Most of your questions are in the Ideas thread... well, if you don't mind major plot twists getting the bajeebus spoiled out of them, that is.

I went and fixed the character recognition problems from the migration, and I've started updating the links in the title.

That leads into a general question for you all:

I really like the flavor of indicating that a menu popped up, but the double < and > characters I used confused the heck out of icyboards, so instead they vanished. Right now I replaced that effect with [brackets]. I'd kind of like to use Guillermets, but I don't know the syntax to display them, and anyway I'd rather not be slapping a piece of code in the middle of my writing, especially if it's something ffnet's mediocre word processor will just discard anyway.

I'll turn it over to you: how should I punctuate a pop-up box inside the game???

While I'm bothering you about syntax, how do I post a link to a specific post in icyboards? I looked around for like 20 minutes and I've concluded it would be easier to poll the audience first, and then consider round 2 of googling.

Also,

I wrote an "Interlude", that is a bit of the story about how Kayaba got to be what he is (ie, different than canon). I dunno if I'll stretch it out into a fully-written mini-arc or just directly deliver it to you in a narrative. I'll post that later tonight, once I get home and, um, figure out where I saved it.

Cheers!
 

daniel_gudman

KING (In Land of Blind)
Staff member
#14
Interlude (One)
Start


This is a story from several years ago.

There was a boy. He was exceptional, but not really remarkable. He was an excellent student and possessed high intelligence, but he wasn’t someone who especially tried to accomplish anything with his talents. He was simply a regular boy who was living a regular middle school life. He was quiet, but since he put the amount of effort into his relationships that society expected him to, he got along with everyone without any problems. Although he enjoyed playing video games a regular amount, it would be more accurate to say his hobby was the computers themselves, especially the software. Well, he was diligently learning to program, but even then, his capacity with software wasn’t really anything unique.

If there was something remarkable about him, it was a secret, simply because he never bothered to talk about it: The recurring dream that haunted him. If he was interested in computers, it was because he wanted to recreate the thing he dreamed about.

There was an iron castle floating in the sky. The sky was broad and filled with thin clouds, and it was the flat red color of evening. Because the setting sun was behind it, the castle was only a silhouette. It was simply a black-iron shape that defied logic by floating unsupported in the air. Even if it was only an outline, he decided the castle was beautiful. That was what he always thought; he was completely enamored by that supernatural vision.

Sometimes, when he had been awake for too many hours because he was putting off going to bed, even though it was a school night, or when he was staying up late at night, frustrated by a problem or an exercise that he didn’t understand, his mind would drift to that vision, and a completely different tension would build inside him. He felt like the contacts of a switch were getting infinitely close, but they weren’t quite close enough to complete the circuit.

Once, when he was playing with a pirated professional 3D modeling suite that he had downloaded, he felt a sensation like an arc jumping across the switch. It happened when he had gone nearly cross-eyed struggling with a badly-designed user interface to recreate the floating iron castle of his dreams, even if it was only a wireframe.

There was a game. It was a completely new kind of MMO, that was built around the common sense of a Tower Defense game rather than a role-playing game. It was an attempt to compete by creating a new niche.

Well, it flopped after only four months, but when it was released, the boy was one of the few people that attended the launch event. Frankly speaking he wasn’t that interested in the game itself, but it was the best chance he had found to reproduce the castle he dreamed of somewhere that other people could interact with, and he wanted to maximize the time before the game collapsed. He was rational about the quality of the game.

When he received the physical copy of the game, he was stopped by a journalist. That journalist was simply putting together a simple story about the people that were interested in the game. When the journalist asked the boy why he wanted to play the game, the boy responded very simply: “There is a castle I want to build.” It was the first time he had concretely spoken of his dream to someone else, and the instant he said the words, it finally flipped the switch inside him.

The name of that journalist was Matou Kariya.

First, he pulled the boy aside and scolded him for activating his Circuit so foolishly. When he realized the boy didn’t understand anything, the journalist grimaced and pushed his hair back with his hands in a frustrated expression, and explained only the most basic of basics. That magecraft is real, that it is accomplished by opening a human’s magic circuits, and that magecraft must absolutely be kept secret, because that was the decree of the Association. He highly recommended to the boy that he ignore the evil world of magecraft, leave his circuit shut, and live peacefully.

Although the boy was definitely convinced that the secrecy of magecraft was a serious matter, he decided that he would investigate. He searched online, but it was like sorting through tons of wheat chaff just to find a single nail. He didn’t have the knowledge to know what was real, what was garbage, and what was a trap to catch outsiders like him. He was confident in his ability to obscure his search, but not confident that it could defeat national-level resources. Frankly speaking he was worried that he would be silenced before he even got to learn anything of value.

Ultimately, he decided to just find out more about the journalist. That guy was probably uninterested in teaching him, but the boy thought perhaps he could at least get a little bit of guidance, since he had been kind enough to give the boy at least enough knowledge to live carefully. He decided it would be best to be prepared, so he accessed as much data about the man named Matou Kariya as he could. He found something weird, which was that someone named ‘Matou Zouken’ had been the head of the family as far back as the records were kept, starting in the Meiji era. Certainly there were repeated birth and death records, but it was that, whenever a man named Zouken in the Matou family reached old age, a boy named Zouken was born, and exactly 18 years later the boy became the family head, and shortly thereafter the old man died.

When he was in high school, eventually he worked up his courage and simply called the main house in the city of Fuyuki. A man named Byakuya answered the phone, and he was belligerent and drunk. However, when the boy asked to speak to Zouken, the man’s resentment was plastered over with respectful language. After a long pause, an old man with a dry voice came on the line, and asked, “to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?” Then, the boy introduced himself.

That is the story of how Kayaba Akihito met his magecraft instructor, Matou Zouken.

Interlude (One)
End


Basically I'm torn because:
1) I feel like it would be better to just do the "launch of the game" as a complete scene and deliver the rest of the content to the reader obliquely during dialogue with Kariya, but,

That might be overselling this. In some ways, it's better to just throw this out there and get on with actual plot, you know? In that case I might want to load this up with a little more subtlety, I'm not sure.

2) But either way, I thought, it's thematically appropriate for things to go completely the opposite of how Kariya wants them to. Being Kariya is failure~.

3) I wrote this when the draft of chapter two was supposed to start with Ilya waiting for Shirou, but after like a thousand words, it had turned into a boring infodump. So I'm not 100% what I'm going to do for chapter two, but my real point is, I think I might shuffle stuff around to put it in the "right order" because it might be too soon for this wad. Well, I wrote it though, so I figured I'd post it.
 

Deathwings

Well-Known Member
#15
I agree, it's too soon. That's the kind of info you want to deliver around the middle of the story, when the readers are hooked, desperate and WANT to know as much as they can get.

Delivering such a major bit of backstory so early feels like blasting your wad before any stimulation was even applied at all.

And nobody want that.
 

Muramasa

Well-Known Member
#16
Such a flowery way of describing it Deathwings -_-;

But yeah, way too early to be looking at Kayaba's motivations. The most interesting part for me is seeing more fallout from the now less than 10,000 players being trapped in a magecraft simulator and Shirou/Ilya making a name for themselves 'for better or worse' during the most chaotic months in the game... and reactions from the SAO cast when applicable.
 

lethum

Well-Known Member
#17
The content of this Interlude I'm fine with, except for one thing: Kariya doesn't feel IC to me. He comes off as more...cynical and jaded rather than idealistic manchild. Specially since he is interacting with a kid. It is, perhaps, a matter of wording, since Kariya may end up doing essentially what you wrote but with different spoken lines, but it irked me. Take that as you will.

And Zouken... his civilian charade seems somewhat paperthin. Perhaps changing the ages of his "death" and "taking over as clan leader" within certain boundaries, and having his name change every so often -the family had to end up changing names for a reason, after all-. Nothing particularly supernatural about it, but still enough to peak Zouken's interest in Kayaba more than what you have here.
 

zeebee1

Well-Known Member
#18
Yeah, considering how long he's been alive I doubt he would be found out so easily.
 

Cherry_lover

Well-Known Member
#19
I doubt Zouken cares, honestly. He can just use magic to get rid of anyone normal who looks into it, and magi living hundreds of years is not that uncommon.
 

zeebee1

Well-Known Member
#20
A reporter tells his boss and the article make front page new and is seen by over a hundred thousand people. He can't erase that.
 

Garahs

Well-Known Member
#21
How about Circuit Forger Online as a title?
 

Cherry_lover

Well-Known Member
#22
The impression I get of the Magic Association is that they have enough influence over the government to prevent stuff like that getting published. They managed to explain away the disappearance of two fighter jets and Cthulu appearing in Fuyuki, after all.

Plus, what proof do they have? They could take it to their editor, yes, but without doing enough investigations to alert Zouken and probably get theirselves killed or mind-wiped, it wouldn't get published.

Also, it's pretty clear that Zouken did not change his name at any point. Plus, it's not like naming a kid after their grandfather is all that odd, it could easily be explained as a family tradition. Hell, my family has a tradition like that.

Changing the timing would make sense, though, at least. But, I'm not sure anyone normal would look into it closely enough to be worried. And, even if they did, I'm not sure that it is not possible it could just be a statistical fluke, given the number of families in Japan.
 

daniel_gudman

KING (In Land of Blind)
Staff member
#23
Well, just remember that was basically pseudo-canon.

Ah, the following is "actual content" though. Here's 5000 words of Ilya and Asuna hanging out.

I I I

2.1 Asuna and Ilya

It had already been two weeks.

In the time since Kayaba Akihito had announced they were all participating in a mandatory [Death Game] with no other way to escape, that time had already been two weeks. And, the number of lives that had been claimed by the Game's [Death] parameter had just crossed 300 people earlier that day.

Certainly, it would be possible to just wait in the starting city until computer scientists from the outside, supported by the national security agencies, were able to hack into the servers and log everyone out.

But that might take weeks, months, or years. To simply wait, holed up in a dark room in the Starting City for as long as that took, spending that span of life without gaining anything, that was just too miserable for her. And besides, there was an important psychological component as well: if people did not participate in the [Death Game], then that guy might simply change the rules so they were forced to play.

And so, after two weeks of simply hiding in the darkness like a mole, the player designated [ASUNA] stepped out into the virtual sunlight, determined that if she was going to die pointlessly in the game, then at the very last moment, at least she could be content that she had done everything in her power first. Burning up like a meteor fighting against the atmosphere was better than being a comet orbiting the sun forever without accomplishing anything.

With thoughts like that, which sat halfway between courageous resolve and suicidal despair, she had bought this item called [Heavy Wool Cloak] and then spent the remainder of her money on as many copies of the [Bronze Rapier] as she could. From now, the limit of how many times she could use the [One-Handed Light Sword Skill: Linear] was measured only by the cumulative durability of her stack of sword items.

Turning half a step away from the vendor, she swung her hand and opened the menu, navigating through and equipping the cloak and the first sword. With a dramatic swirl, it appeared above her shoulders and fell across them with an effect similar to a curtain falling over the stage.

Like that, while she was hardening her heart, she heard a scream.

"Kyaa!"

It was the voice of a little girl. Asuna turned automatically to look over her shoulder. The sound had come from behind her. At the end of the twisted alley she was in, there was a T-junction where her current position joined with another alley. The scream had echoed from that direction.

Crouching with her feet crossed, she watched as a pale little girl, so pure white she could have been an albino, years younger than her, without any weapon equipped, ran across the T-junction. And, following her, were three adult men, with scruffy appearances and ragged clothing like thugs or bandits, with weapons drawn. If she had to describe it in game-like terms, than it would be something like "a fairy chased by three orcs" or so.

The NPC item vendors stood without reacting. Well, that's something that should rationally be expected. However, she was not an NPC. She was a real human, with regular human morality.

She ran, chasing after the girl who was being chased by those three bad guys. She sprinted at top speed, and because it was a game, there was no sensation of exhaustion, she didn't become winded; there wasn't even something like a stamina bar that decremented when she moved. This was fortunate in its own way because the absolute worst case scenario had occurred.

When she crossed the T-junction, that pale little girl had been trapped in the alleyway's dead end. She was standing with her back to the wall, looking back and forth as those three guys advanced menacingly towards her.

"Stop!" With a desperate shout, Asuna whipped her sword out, pointing it at the villain in the middle of the trio.

They turned. Frankly speaking, compared to the red icons floating over their heads, the absolutely cold expressions on their faces were much more terrifying. Asuna frowned, clenching her teeth, clenching her sword in her hand. If she gave up her, she failed. She would not lose the death game, but rather, she would lose as a human. So even though her legs were trembling, she firmly stood her ground.

"This has nothing to do with you." The first bandit said. In his right hand he had the basic [Bronze Curved Sword] equipped; in his left hand a [Wood Buckler] was firmly held. "Just walk away." He ordered.

"No!" Asuna announced. "I won't let you!"

"Then," the bandit replied, taking another step forward, "die." That right hand holding that sword came up.

Without thinking about it too much, Asuna altered the tension in her body from rigid fear to a bowstring getting pulled back, and then released her sword skill.

The downward swing was completely interrupted. The [Bronze Rapier] in her right hand had already jabbed into him, forcing him back. Just like that, his HP bar was forced into the Yellow. She had done it. Using her sword just once had chopped off more than half his life. She could win. She pulled the sword back and loaded it. She could kill him ifâ€"

And she paused, the light of the [Linear] disappearing like a candle snuffed out by cold wind. Yes, if she used that skill one more time, she would kill someone. They would die, not just in the game, but in the real world as well. She hesitated because she asked herself: could she really do that to someone? Even if they deserved it, could she kill someone?

"You!" The bandit sneered, recovering his balance. He raised the sword again, this time more wary. Beside him, his two companions fanned out, to surround her. Asuna, locked in place by her own uncertainty, was in no position to win.

"Ah- You're kind of weak, huh?" Saying that, with a soft, light voice appropriate to such a little girl, the child she had come here to save from these guys, was casually navigating a menu. With a decisive motion, she tapped a button.

That pale little girl equipped the [Bronze Two-Handed Sword]. She reached back and with just one hand, moved it from the [Carry] position to easily hold it before her in the [Active] position. That piece of sharpened metal looked like a vast slab. That girl looked ridiculous holding such a big weapon with such small arms, but the size of the body was irrelevant compared to the Strength parameter. The sword began to glow with a terrible red color.

Without any warning, the sword dipped and swung around as the [Two-Handed Sword Skill: Broad Horizontal] was activated by the player. A vast flat arc flashed, instantly cleaving the guy that Asuna had stabbed. It was complete overkill. He wasn't just slashed, but totally cut in half.

Without any hesitation, while everyone stared in shock, that pale little girl simply raised her sword one more time. Another sword art charged. The bandits reacted, stiffening into guard positions as they fell back, but by then it was simply too late. Even as the first bandit dissipated into pixels, that little girl was moving again.

[Big Diagonal] was launched, and that huge sword whipped out and down, the edge cutting into the right shoulder of the bandit. It simply bypassed the sword that had been raised in desperate defense and cut into him. The tip was completely clear of his back as the Sword Skill kept going, emerging from just above the left hip, barely clearing where the hipbone would have been in a real person.

As the second bandit was ripped into two pieces, the third cried out in horror and turned, running away.

That huge sword was raised into position a third time. The cute little girl sank into a wide stance with her left foot forward. Her arms were crossed over and out from her left shoulder, left hand supporting the leading right hand. From that classical position, with a half-circle of twist in the blade, one last skill was launched. Compared to Asuna's, this [Linear] was slower, with a shorter range despite being a bigger weapon, but the bigger damage potential combined with the [Back Attack] bonus meant that the third bandit was also completely obliterated.

With a tiny giggle, the girl turned to face Asuna with a warm, unsettling smile. "Still, that kind of sincere effort in a weakling is just so cute!" With that kind of disturbing proclamation, she cocked her head. "What's your name?"

Asuna swallowed. "You-" she shook her head. "You just killed three people!" It was a stray thought, but as someone who excelled in academics, it was an appropriate piece of trivia that crossed her mind: in the original mythology, fairies were definitely scarier than orcs.

With a confused expression, the little girl tapped her chin with one finger. "But they were just NPCs, you know?"

"NPCs— those guys?" Asuna asked.

There was a pause while she considered the real depth of the ignorance of the older girl in front of her, and then with that same warm, unsettling smile the girl nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! Didn't you notice the red cursors? Only NPCs get red, even [criminal players] never graduate past orange. They were the mobs from the special female-PC-only quest, [Damsel in Distress]. In the beta it was the number-one most popular way to flirt with other PCs." With that kind of ridiculous comment about the culture and logic of video games, the girl nodded. "Since it's a combat quest in a safezone it doesn't award any XP or Col, but I've been grinding it because it's the fastest way to farm RP-related items in the [Starting City]." With one last nod, the little girl couldn't resist adding a finishing blow. "Ah, having said that I'm flattered, but I'm not into Yuri. So in that sense you wasted your time doing the other half of the quest."

Asuna was flummoxed. She was confused in at least three ways, but she focused on the one most critical to her mental wellbeing. "So, those guys were NPCs, huh?" She smiled. "That's good."

Then, Asuna blinked, because in her field of view, an icon popped up.

[Quest Complete!]

Meanwhile, across from her, the little girl also reacted to the same dialogue, a delighted smile quickly collapsing into a mighty frown as she read the results. "Mou! Another miss!" She looked up. "Did you get anything?" The little girl demanded.

With a beat of hesitation, Asuna clicked the [OK] button on the icon, and read the results. Just like the girl had said, the Col and XP were both zero, but in the item field, there was a resultâ€"

"Name tag?" Asuna read aloud.

"Ah!" The girl stamped her foot, petulantly. "No fair! That's the item I've been trying to farm!"

"-Would you like it?" Asuna asked, since that was the socially obvious response.

With an excited agreement, the girl quickly flipped through menus that Asuna could see, and then a new dialogue popped up.

[Trade with Berserkah?]

Listed in the [Offer From] box column was 1,000 Col. Was this item really worth that much?

No, other than that, there was another question. "Berserkah?" Asuna asked. The incredulous tone might be considered rude if you were someone that worried about that kind of thing.

Once again, the little girl petulantly stamped her foot. "Well it worked when I designed the avatar, but now it doesn't match at all!"

With a hesitant nod, Asuna navigated her [Offer To] dialogue box, and deposited her new [Name Tag]. Before she could click [Accept], however, there was something else Asuna had to address.

"This much money, isn't it too much?"

It was tempting, but in the first place, she had been motivated by her sense of morality, and even if it turned out weird, it would be a little sad to quickly abandon that.

"You're stupidly honest, huh?" The little girl replied.

"Hauh?" Asuna asked in amazement. Because, without any exaggeration, and not just from her pride, but speaking objectively, that was the first time in her whole life that someone had called her stupid even obliquely.

"Well, it's not like I hate that, since it's cute in its own way." The girl mischievously added. "Still, if you won't except that kind of direct equivalent exchange-" The little girl paused.

There was an uncomfortable feeling. Asuna met the girl's eyes. Just like that albino appearance suggested, they were a pure red color. However, it wasn't the color that made Asuna feel uncomfortable. It was the way it felt like they weren't looking at here, but rather, looking through her to the reading being displayed on a scale that was measuring her in some way.

And then that strange pressure was gone, because the girl was smiling with her eyes closed. "In exchange, let's grind the [Circuit Activate] quests together, okay?"

The [Circuit Activate] quest tree-

To begin with, the mobs directly outside the [Starting City] offered only a pittance of Col, XP, and the items were something you could call [Just Garbage] instead of [Vendor Trash]. The reason for this was that the boar mobs were easy to defeat. They were designed as sacrifices for the players to practice their [Sword Skills] on, rather than as anything you'd call a serious opponent. From a gameplay perspective, you'd have to be a total noob to lose even a single HP to one.

Compared to that, the quests inside the [Starting City] had the same logic. Rather than challenging the player to a game, they were simply tutorials to teach players how to navigate all the menus. From there, rather than teaching how to use basic combat skills with the [System Assist], the quests in-city taught when and how the non-combat support skills like [Cook] and [Haggle] could be used. Since they were easy by design, naturally the reward was always a pittance. Because they were intended to teach everyone how to play, they were exempt from the competitive nature of regular quests as well. Rather than getting locked while a player performed them, these kinds of quests were available to every player.

However, a caveat was introduced with the [Thaumatergy Patch]. That caveat was the category of quests that were bunched together and referred to as [Circuit Activation]. They were offered by many sage-like and wisdom-type characters all over the city, and each one was different in the details, but the general arc of the quest was always the same. After some introductory dialogue, and perhaps a perfunctory fetchquest as a subplot, the player had a temporary [Spell] added. It was unusual because you could rename it whenever you wanted, unlike a [Skill], but the default was [Circuit Activation].

The result of using the skill was turning on your MP bar.

However, compared to using the [System Assist] to activate a [Combat Skill], the difficulty of even synchronizing with [System Assist] was three times greater in [Circuit Activation]. Even with the [System Assist] reaching into the player's brain and forcing the correct hypnotic state of mind on the player using the NerveGear's interference, the Player couldn't resist the assistance at all or the skill would fail. They had to completely accept the hypnotism, and once there, strongly imagine a metaphor like a switch flipping or a gun firing.

The difference between each version of the [Circuit Activation] Quest was always the language and metaphor that the quest-giver used to describe the situation to the player. Some were monk-like, some were gypsies sitting in a smokey haze, some were cold academics like a wizard from a fantasy novel, but each one explained it in a different way, explicitly so that there would be "something for everyone", so that every player could find the best fit to their own mentality.

Well, that meant, the chance of failure was really high. Even if you sincerely did your best and gave it your all, the probability of receiving the [Congratulations!] dialogue box at the end was still only 10%. Well, it had been closer to 1% during the first few days, according to rumors, but the rumors continued on to say that those quests had been continuously patched, so the success rate had been incrementally going up.

But, if you sincerely tried, the game could tell. So, rather than receiving the normal [Quest Failed!] message, instead you would get the [Bad Luck! Quest Failed!] dialogue box. In that case, you would receive an appropriate consolation prize of Col and XP. Well, if you were just half-heartedly farming them the game could also tell that, too, and would even deliver a penalty of severe HP damage in the case of a player who put in zero effort. Therefore honestly trying to complete it each and every time was mandatory.

-Compared to field mobs, the [Consolation Prize] was appropriate for a second or third level character.

"I see." Asuna nodded when Ilya finished her explanation. "So the [Circuit Activation] quests are the safest and quickest way to level up right at the beginning."

"That's right!" Ilya nodded, smiling back as she skipped ahead. "Since you only fail horribly and die from your own laziness, you can't blame anyone but yourself if your brain gets melted."

"—These quests, they can't really kill you, can they?" Asuna hesitated to ask. Because she had paused before asking that question, it was therefore necessary for her to jog to catch up to Ilya again.

Ilya hummed. "Maybe they do~!" With that sort of carefree sing-song, she looked up at the other girl walking beside her. Well, even if Asuna was looking a little sick, Ilya's teasing was a kindness in its own way. After all, hadn't the [Death Game] explicitly included Thaumaturgy in the [Rule of Death] during Kayaba's announcement? So it was really in her interest that Ilya properly impress the danger on her, wasn't it? Ilya nodded to herself, impressed with her own benevolence.

Asuna nodded back, and mentally readied herself. "So, where do we start?"

"Right here!" Ilya announced. Since she had already decided on the most appropriate one right before she had even begun her explanation, she hadn't wasted any time and multi-tasked by leading Asuna while talking.

It was like an [Item Shop] from a game that uniquely fused the horror and RPG genres.

The room was long and narrow with a low ceiling, and haphazard shelves that weren't parallel at all jutted across each other. The shelves were covered in strange and macabre things, like a whole entire wall full of [Dead Reptiles in Formaldehyde], while beside it were rows and rows of [Strange Books], and further along was [Mushroom Cross Sections Between Glass Plates], and abruptly the theme switched from biology to geology with a shelf full of [geodes]. Ilya's natural sense as someone who consumed a lot of appropriate media was that it should all have been dusty and poorly lit, but although it was dark, it was ascetically clean. Frankly speaking, that touch made it seem more professional, which was terrifying in its own way.

It was a pretty good workshop, so Ilya dragged Asuna along while the taller girl's head whipped back and forth as she queasily took in every sight.

"Hey gramps!" Ilya shouted.

The NPC looked up from where he had been lounging behind the desk, closing the inscrutable ancient tome that he read as his idle animation. "Can I help you?" He asked.

Ilya waited while Asuna examined the NPC. Since she had already seen him so many times, he wasn't that novel, but she still thought he had a good character design.

The guy was impossibly old. His skin was like parchment that had been dried out in the desert sun, but his complexion was pale. Even the liver spots on his perfectly bald head were pale. Watery green eyes peeked out of drooping eyes from behind thick square-framed glasses. Despite that, they were still sharp, without any cataracts at all. Even his hooked nose was wrinkled, and his ears were almost comically tiny. His hands were like eagle talons, long, thin, dried-out fingers splayed from rough hands, sticking out of the heavy black robes that were draped over his formal shirt. His tie was striped gold and crimson.

Asuna looked from the NPC, to Ilya, and back again.

Ilya nudged Asuna, and then gestured impatiently at the NPC with her head.

"O-oh! Right!" Saying that, Asuna turned to the NPC waiting with the appearance of patience for one of them to address him. "Hello." She began, bowing formally. "My name is [Asuna]. What's yours?"

Ilya sighed, even as the NPC replied, "My name is [Ancient Harry]." Since one of the [Introduction] dialogue paths was completed, a holographic menu popped into existence in front of him.

"Just navigate the menu." Ilya said, pointing at the floating [Item Vendor] menu in front of the man. It listed three options. [Buy] and [Sell] were both obvious, but compared to that, the meaning of [???] was deliberately obscure.

With an unsure glance to Ilya, Asuna simply pushed the [???] button. Ilya felt like she wasn't grateful enough that Ilya had helped her successfully circumvent one of the infamously unskippable quest prompt dialogues. In that case, they would have had to sit through the same content that Ilya had explained to Asuna on the way over, buried under dialogue that was intended to render the content of the message "in character" or something. This was doubly serious because the extraordinary length of the dialogue was acknowledged as the cost of starting this quest, in lieu of a nested fetch quest. Truly, Asuna should be feel so fortunate that someone like Ilya who could substitute all inputs just by throwing her power around, was on Asuna's side. Of course, the fact that Ilya hadn't explained any of this to Asuna, who had no idea what she should have been grateful for in the first place, that wasn't even acknowledged by that girl.

"-So, even so, you wish to open your soul to the grand truth?" The old man said, which sounded like a non-sequitur to Asuna because Ilya had brilliantly allowed them to skip the set-up speech.

With another hesitant glance at Ilya, Asuna looked back at the old man. "Yes?" she said. Well, even though it was pronounced like a question, the NPC accepted it with a nod expressing 'I see' as if Asuna had made a confident declaration.

"Very well." The old man said. "Then, if you are willing to walk with death beside you, you can definitely travel towards the Root."

Asuna had a confused expression as she mumbled "sure", but even after hearing him say that multiple times, Ilya still frowned a little bit at the unnecessary precision of detail that Kayaba had put in the simulation.

Asuna blinked at the [Update!] announcement that appeared hovering before her. Carefully she clicked the only button underneath it, labeled [Ok], and it auto-navigated from her base menu and down, the cursor stopping on a new tab. Underneath the [Skills] submenu, a new option had been inserted, called [Spells]. Asuna clicked it open, and in the completely empty list without any upper limit, there it was--"

[Circuit Activation].

Rather than having to equip it from the [Known Skills] list onto the [Active Skills] list, there was just a button next to it that said [Inactive]. With an encouraging nod from Ilya, Asuna pushed the button and it toggled to [Active].

Asuna didn't feel any different, so she asked, "Now what?"

Ilya hummed. "I know you already know how to use the [System Assist] to activate [Sword Skills], so for now, why don't you put the spell [Circuit Activation] in the front of your mind and imaging it switching from [off] to [on] somehow?"

Asuna raised an eyebrow. "Just do it somehow, huh?"

Ilya frowned. "I already said it should be something unique to you, so pick a good image." While the other girl closed her eyes to start thinking, she casually jumped up to sit on the counter in front of [Ancient Harry].

Asuna closed her eyes, breathing in and then letting it out slowly, even though that was strictly meaningless inside the game. An image- trapped in this [Death Game], she had decided it was better to live brightly, even if she burned up, rather than to simply let herself slowly dissolve into meaninglessness while surviving. Just like she had imagined earlier that day, she would rather be a meteor. Yes- Asuna sank into herself, letting everything fall away, all sensory data guided from her mind with help from the [System Assist]. Her breathing and heartbeat, even outside the game, were both regulated and slowed as she entered the meditative state. Her thoughts quieted as she imagined herself as a simple lump of silicate rock floating through space. [Asuna], or rather, "the girl named Yuuki Asuna", submerged her identity in that simple image. Definitely she received help from the computer wrapped around her head, but she was a genius at accepting the [System Assist], much like someone who could instantly balance on a bicycle could be called a "genius bike rider".

[Asuna the Comet] was her concept of existence. And then-"

From a comet's perspective it wasn't moving, but compared to the Earth, the relative motion was really large. So, crashing into the atmosphere was practically instantaneous. Air friction instantly boiled off all ice layers and the rocks burned. The [Comet] was ignited into a [Meteor]. The nature was flipped in a [Flash] just like a flash of light like a flash of heat. It was fire it was light so bright it was pressure it was blazing hot it was burning it was radiation it was light it was pain it was PAIN-"

With a gasp, Asuna's eyes snapped open, and she collapsed to her knees, gripping the counter of the [Desk] so tightly that it displayed the [Immortal Object] dialogue. She shivered, she pulsed, she would have been sweating profusely from every pore if the game simulated that.

"Wow!" Ilya said, exited. "On the first try! That's really impressive!" Ilya's smile was complicated. Although she truly was impressed at someone that already had the mental discipline to achieve activation on the first try, even with the [System Assist], there was a bitterness to that smile.

Their plan had been simple. After interfering in many battles where people were losing, Shirou had decided it would be more efficient to keep unsuited people from fighting. Therefore, whenever he saved someone from imminent danger of [Death from zero HP], he advised them to grind the [Circuit Activation] quest as a fast way to gain XP. Meanwhile, Ilya would act as a sort of [Quest Meta-Guide] inside the city, receiving the people that Shirou sent into the [Starting City]. Well, honestly, his reasoning had been more like, "Since Ilya always makes the delicate conversations worse, I might as well put her in a [Safe Zone] where killing each other is literally impossible", but that part had not been explained to his sister. Conversely, the novelty of [Saving People] had worn off after less than three hours for Ilya, because in the typical situation of helping people that had started a fight they couldn't actually handle, the two of them were usually treated like kill-stealers, not saviors. It was annoying that she couldn't be right beside him, but on the other hand, the constant PMs back and forth was romantic in its own way. And, since the so-called "exploit" of the [Circuit Activation Quests] was already well-known, she could usually get by with an absolute minimum of effort without any negative consequence.

Well, the complexity of Ilya's smile was lost on Asuna, who was trembling so severely it was like she was having a seizure. "Why does it hurt so badly?" She managed to ask. "Why doesn't the pain stop!?"

"Ah", Ilya lightly explained, "That's just the sensation of your [Circuits] opening up. Since it's like exercising muscles you've never used before, the pain is really severe until you get them into a normal state." Ilya nodded lightly. "For now, you can complete the quest by successfully turning them back off, and the more times you switch them, the less it will hurt." To a limit, Ilya didn't say. There was always a minimum amount of pain with circuits, but somehow saying so always seemed to discourage people, so she just left that part off the speech now.

Asuna nodded with an unsteady, jerky motion, and closed her eyes, her face screwing shut with tension as she concentrated.

Yes, what was definitely unexpected in their clever plan, was how many people could [Complete] the quest. Actual possession of Circuits was vanishingly rare in the normal population. As a basic rule, if someone didn't actively promote the appearance of magic circuits in their offspring, then their child wouldn't have magic circuits. Many kinds of exceptions existed, but those were just that: exceptions, usually rooted in some fact or condition that made the basic rule more complex.

So what bothered Ilya was that, in a [Virtual Reality] where Kayaba had already demonstrated great precision as a Magic User, why had he overturned such a basic rule? In [Sword Art Online], the average success rate of any given [Circuit Activation] quest was 10%. If someone failed, they could try again, and again, and again, until eventually they activated their Circuits. Rather than people continuously grinding the quest until the boredom of repetition overcame the fear of dying like the two of them had expected, everyone succeeded after enough attempts. Any exception to "everyone" was a result of unlucky statistics needing more attempts; she hadn't heard of even one person receiving a dialogue box that indicated [You don't have Magic Circuits]. Well, "Berserkah" had a certain reputation during the beta, but with that out of the way, Argo's information shouldn't be exorbitantly expensive anymore, so that avenue of research became available.

Ilya kicked her legs idly, nodding and frowning to herself as she thought.

Finally, she smiled down as Asuna's shoulders collapsed, the taller girl relaxing as she managed to close her Circuits. "Congratulations!" Ilya said with a perky voice, and Asuna looked up with a half-hearted smile. The floating dialogue box that announced [Congratulations! Quest Complete!] verified what Ilya thought. With a trembling sigh, Asuna stood up. She opened her mouth to speak to Ilya, but--"

"It was a painful step, but you've completed the first step on the path towards the truth." The NPC [Ancient Harry] began his scripted monologue to someone that completed the quest. "Practice diligently and your new legs will support you without trembling. And then-"

"So what are you going to do now?" Ilya asked, interrupting the programmed speech. When Asuna glanced at the NPC, Ilya just frowned imperiously, as if to say, 'just ignore him and talk to me instead'.

Asuna glanced over one more time, but finally said. "I- I don't want to stay in one place without moving, so, I thought I would go fight."

"Hmm." Ilya nodded. Shirou would probably try to talk her into being safe, but that sounded kind of annoying, and anyway Ilya was getting a little bored. So, with quick motions, she navigated her menu.

Asuna looked down at the dialogue box that appeared before her.

[Accept Friend Request From: "Von Ilya"?]

Asuna's gaze simply slid up to meet the eyes of the little girl sitting on the counter in front of her, who instantly started pouting for some reason. "What?" The girl demanded. "If you have any complaints about my name, I absolutely won't entertain them."

Asuna just sighed and let it go, hesitating for a moment before clicking the button [Yes]. Carefully, she stood up, and turned to walk out the door.

"Hey", Ilya called out from behind her, "He will probably scold me if I didn't say anything, so I will finish by saying just this: don't get killed like an idiot, alright?"

Asuna paused, frowning at such a blunt and morbid way of asking, but at the same time, appreciating the sentiment of someone who didn't want to hold her back. Without turning to look back the way she came, Asuna simply replied, "I will definitely survive". No, rather than a reply to Ilya, it was announcing her goal to the [World]. Just like that, Asuna walked out the door before Ilya could get another word in.

Ilya sighed, and jumped off the counter. "I guess I'll go bother Shirou." She decided for herself, and she also chased after the girl.

"...And with that inside you, you can definitely obtain Truth." Even though no-one was listening, the NPC called [Ancient Harry] finished his programmed speech with a solemn nod. So saying, he picked up his book and returned to his idle animation, waiting for the next person to walk in the door.

2.1 end

I I I

1) How can I put it? Just looking at the word count of "5,486" in the word processor before I copypasta'd, I feel like this got to be too long, but on the other hand, I don't think anyone really considers "too long" a sin in fanfiction.

2) Ilya is kind of hard to write, but at the same time, I'm having a blast. Somehow, when I thought, "Ah, I bet she's a griefer in games", I instantly wasn't willing to surrender that idea. Other than that, I hope she was casually hilarious.

3) Since "Kirito/Asuna" was a critical plot to SAO, maybe even the most critical plot, that ship must sail, that much is mandatory. But, as you might have already guessed, my ambition is to zig-zag across the "boy saves girl" trope much harder and more frequently than canon SAO ever did.

4) As always, let me know what you think!!!

EDIT: Fixed a few "Akihito"s, also some minor changes to the very beginning.

EDIT 2: Fixed typographical stuff.


Mod Edit: Text encoding cleanups due to forum migration -chronodekar
 

Ryune

Well-Known Member
#24
Honestly, the length felt just right for me. Other than that you nailed Illiya pretty well. My only complaint is a lack of Shirou but I suppose he will show up later.
 

Avider

Well-Known Member
#25
Certainly, it would be possible to just wait in the starting city until computer scientists from the outside, supported by the national security agencies, were able to hack into the servers and log everyone out.
Narration is out of place for Asuna. Suggest replacement of specific named groups with more generalized entities. (This sounds like author exposition, and since the next paragraph after this is Asuna's thoughts, it feels out of place.)

Burning up like a meteor fighting against the atmosphere was better than being a comet orbiting the sun forever without accomplishing anything.
First impression on this sentence, "Er...oddly specific sentiment eh?"
Then you wrote the trigger, "Oh, so that's why that was there."

But that just makes the foreshadowing feel too blunt and forced. Suggestion, perhaps the prose may be too purple and out of place.



Just two places that jumped out when I was reading it.
 
Top