Kirito was expecting many things when he woke up the day of the First Floor Boss Strategy Meeting.
Finding Tolbana suddenly FULL of players wasn't one of them.
Shocked, the wide-eyed boy had to stop himself from gaping at the sight of the dozens of people going through the streets, most of them chatting with each other, and even some of the first, most simple types of player-handled 'shops' (Barely a mantle on the ground with the goods over it) filling the main street.
It seemed as if everyone who was actually doing SOMETHING in the game currently (Be it try to fight on the Front Line or other 'minor' things) had gathered there for the event. He didn't remember ever seeing the city as full and lively as it was right now, with people moving left and right, all of them with purpose on their eyes.
And among all those players going everywhere around, he obviously…still stuck out like a sore thumb.
Okay, maybe that was exaggerating a bit, but he certainly drew way more attention than he liked while walking through the crowd. Then again, he was very sure that it was more because people were either staring at him in disbelief or trying very hard not to laugh because of how 'weird' (Stupid) his 'costume' looked.
The only ones who could be TRULY able to tell that there was something stranger to his clothes than their silly looks at first glance would be other Beta Testers, and if any of them had seen him and suspected something, he couldn't tell. Again, he wasn't omniscient.
Still, he had to accept it was curious on its own way, to see so many people gathered there, even if probably only a few of them were really going to participate in the supposed Raid against the Boss. The mere fact that there were so many people curious or brave enough to come here despite not going to fight meant that there were HOPEFUL enough to do so. It meant that utter despair or resignation about dying in the game, like what that girl he met yesterday (Whose name he never asked, now that he thought about it) felt, hadn't taken root in as many players as he thought.
That realization brought a small, almost non-existent smile to his face…and it also distracted him enough to not get out of the way when a hurried girl of shoulder-length bluish-black hair crashed onto him.
The obvious result was…him blinking in confusion even as the girl squeaked and fell down on her ass, as if she had run into a brick wall. Thankfully, no damage to her HP was done, seeing as they were inside a Safe Zone, but that didn't stop Kirito from feeling awkward and offering his hand to the stunned girl.
"Ah, sorry about that, I was kind of lost in thought. You okay?"
"N-no, I-I'm the one who should be apologizing!" the words rushed out of the girl's mouth even as she did several hasty bows towards the black-clad boy, who sweatdropped at that. "Ple-please, forgive me! I'm just in a hurry and I didn't want to lost sight of my frie…!"
"Sachi!" a sudden voice calling out through the crowd made the girl squeak again and Kirito to look towards the brown-haired boy that had called out to her, other 3 boys looking their way too, though the gamer couldn't tell if they were looking at their friend or at him and his ridiculous attire. "What are you waiting for? We need to hurry!"
"Ye-yes, I'm going guys, sorry!" quickly replied the now identified Sachi before bowing one last time towards the blinking boy. "So-sorry again, goodbye!"
"Ah, goodbye then. You and your friends take care." muttered the boy even as the girl smiled awkwardly and rushed towards the rest of her friends, who quickly assailed her with questions about the 'weird guy with the cape'. With a sigh, Kirito just turned around and kept walking down the street, not really bothered by it.
It wasn't as if he was going to see those guys again…
They say that you don't really appreciate what you have until you lose it. Kirito could testify that a truer thing hadn't ever been said.
In the first place, for him, it was his sister. He felt even guiltier at thinking that, if it wasn't for the random event that led both of them to watch One Punch-Man together, he wouldn't really have even spent any time with Sugu before getting trapped inside this deadly virtual world, too focused in getting more info about SAO. Only now, after having shared those joyful moments together and reconnecting with her thanks to that strange but great show, did he realize how unfair and distant he had been with the girl and his parents since he discovered he was adopted. It made him miss the smiling visage of the girl calling him out to breakfast more than anything.
In second place, though…was A FIGHT. A real one.
As much as it pained him to once again to accept yet another parallel he now seemed to share with Saitama, and even if it went against all logic to wish for things to be HARDER when trapped in a game where dying was for real, it didn't change the fact that the boy, at his core, was a gamer, and one who had enjoyed the exhilarating world of adventures that was Aincrad during the Beta Test, before Kayaba turned it into a deadly trap.
And as such, he missed the rush of actually FIGHTING the mobs with his own efforts and Skills of those old days too. Mainly because the 'awesomeness' of punching monsters into nothing and see them flying through the air after you rushed at them at superhuman speeds became REALLY boring after doing it more than a thousand time.
Even running through the Floor at an inhuman pace or jumping higher than a building to orient himself after getting lost on the deeper parts of the forests lost its charm after having been doing it for almost a month.
In the end, however, what he missed the most of that was actually wielding a weapon. And it was exactly that what had led him to wander around and vaguely look towards the few blacksmith players that had set their impromptu 'shops' on the street, hoping to sell something to the coming Front Liners or at anyone else who wished and could afford for either a weapon or an Enhancement to their current ones. Even though Kirito knew that nothing really 'rare' would be on display (Not only you could only get the most basic ingots in the 1st Floor but there was no way for anyone to have gotten their Blacksmithing Skill too high in just a month), the weapons made by players were still generally better than the ones dropped by monsters, so anyone looking for a good weapon (Except him) that wasn't a Beta Tester would probably get something useful here.
And it was looking at swords with melancholy what led him to the second 'curious' event of his day: a clearly worried girl that looked no older than 12 was standing in front of one of the 'shops', her pig-tails and big eyes making her look incredibly cute even as she looked from a One-Handed Sword to a Dagger, as if trying to come to a very difficult decision. Looking awkwardly at her, the blacksmith (Who was also the first girl the Beta Tester had seen of said profession), scratched her brown hair while closing her dark pink eyes and offering the younger player a hesitant smile.
"So…come to a decision yet?"
"Hauu…I'm sorry, it's just that I'm having troubles with this…" muttered the younger girl in an extremely cute tone while looking from a weapon to the other and biting her lips. "Even though I decided to fight, I'm still not very familiar with the game a-and I'm not sure if I should start using a dagger or go with a sword like most people do…"
"Well, if you want my opinion, I think the dagger suits you better." both girls blinked at the unexpected voice, the pigtailed one looking to her side and trying to hold back a squeak at the unexpected appearance of the black-clad boy, who was looking from the weapons on her hands to the few others that were 'exposed'. "Stats and game-style aside, SAO is mainly a game where we play with 'our' bodies (Now more than ever), and you would be less-pressed in a fight and having an easier time dodging and counterattacking with a smaller weapon…"
"E-eh, re-really…?" muttered the young girl, her shock overcome even as she stared hard at the dagger, blinking at seeing Kirito kneeling down to grab the sword and looking it over, even opening the status-window of the weapon with a slightly impressed look.
"Woah, it's a very good piece, especially when you take into account we're still in the 1st Floor." commented the boy while the blacksmith girl smiled with pride. And he wasn't kidding, no other sword that could be obtained on the Floor (Except for the Anneal Blade, but that one was the best and the most difficult to obtain in there) was as good as the one he was looking in that moment, even if only by a small margin. "You have a talent for this…"
"You really think so?" the girl seemed happier at the idea, the smile on her face widening at the words. "Because I was kind of thinking about dedicating seriously to this! I'm not really much into fighting, but I think I really like working with…"
Kirito forced himself to smile and nod as the girl continued talking, biting his tongue about how he was 'joking' because you couldn't really have 'talent' for a Skill that could be simply leveled-up and done through pre-set motions and random chances of success based on percentages. He wouldn't be able to look himself in a mirror if he crushed the sudden good mood of the newbie blacksmith.
Suddenly, the younger girl seemed to finally arrive at a decision after hearing what the blacksmith was saying, her eyes wandering one last time at the weird-looking boy before nodding to herself.
"Okay, I'm taking the dagger!"
"Oh, really? Okay then, that will be…!"
Just as the girls completed the sell, Kirito suddenly felt a chill run down his back and looked behind him.
No one was looking at him and everyone seemed busy with their own business…at least as far as he could see.
What had THAT feeling been about, then…?
"Well, thanks for buying, Silica-chan!"
"A-ah, no, thanks to you for your hard work, Lisbeth-san!"
"Heh, you can just call me Liz, if you want. We're friends now!"
"Yep, you're my first client, after all!" suddenly, the girl's gleaming eyes turned towards the distracted boy in black. "And what will you be getting, mister superhero?"
"Wait, what?!" asked Kirito while turning his heard so fast that it seemed to blur at doing so, making both girls blink. "Ho-how did you call me…?"
"Uhm, well, that equipment you're wearing isn't supposed to be some of superhero-joke?" questioned Lisbeth with a raised eyebrow, looking the boy's clothes up and down. "Though now that I look closer, does that thing even protect better than light armor or…?
"I-I will take, uhm, that rapier you have there, hahahah!" quickly laughed the boy to try and stop the conversation he had been dreading to have with anyone, throwing down the sword and grabbing the modest-looking rapier farthest from where he was standing to try and get the girl's attention away from his silly and 'locked' costume. "How much for this?!"
"Ehm, 600 Col, but…"
"Here you go!" quickly traded Kirito, giving the girl a thousand of the currency instead of what she had just said, eager for getting out of there. "You can keep the change; consider it my contribution to a future impressive blacksmith! Bye!"
As soon as he had finished those words, Kirito quickly ran away from the two blinking girls, still holding the rapier by the edge and being careful to not go 'super-speed', but still fast enough to turn a corner and get out of sight in less than 5 seconds.
"…what a weird guy." muttered Lisbeth before looking back at her recently acquired money with a smile. "But I guess this is a sign that I will be a great blacksmith!"
"…I think he looked cool in that costume." shyly muttered Silica while the other girl deadpanned at her, making the younger player blush.
The blacksmith was unable to contain a chuckle at the adorable sight and, still smiling, stood up and looked at her with crossed arms.
"Hey, want to go eat something? My treat, I got money to spare!"
"A-ah, yeah, thank you!"
And that was the beginning of a beautiful…and veeery dangerous friendship…
Not that Kirito knew that, though. He was currently too busy sitting against a wall on an alley and STARING at the rapier that he couldn't equip and didn't even LIKE as a weapon.
"…what the hell do I do with this now?"
Well, at least he could be glad that he probably wasn't going to see those two girls ever again…
Hours later, at 17:30, a resigned Kirito walked towards the amphitheater-like area on the center of Tolbana, having stored the useless-for-him rapier on his inventory and then stayed out of the city until the moment for the meeting arrived.
He was vaguely aware that, besides the almost 50 people gathering and sitting on the meeting area itself, a significant amount of 'watchers' were around, probably players that wanted to know what was going to happen but weren't actively participating in the fight.
Kirito didn't really pay much attention to it and just sat down on one of the higher rock 'benches', resting his shoulders on his knees and putting his chin on his crossed hands while looking at the gathered Front Liners, his eyes wandering especially at the blue-haired guy near the center of the gathering.
He was idly wondering WHY a Front Liner would waste any time in looking for the materials needed to create an item to change your hair color when a familiar hooded figure sat at his side, serious hazel eyes staring at him in silence.
"Yeah, it's me." muttered Asuna while staring at the weird boy that had saved and helped her the day before, as if trying to solve a difficult puzzle. "Why do you look so bored, Hero for Fun? Didn't get to save more damsels in distress before coming here?"
Kirito ignored the frankly childish jab in favor of sighing and looking down, seeing how the guy he previously noticed, Diavel, started to give some sort of speech.
"You wouldn't believe the real reason about why I am bored…"
"What?" the surprised girl blinked, not only at the lack of reaction from the boy but also at his cryptic words, vaguely aware of how the guy declared how he and his party had found the Boss Room and how they should organize for it. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Wait a moment, please!" someone suddenly said while standing, catching both teens' attention in time to see an annoying-looking guy with the WEIRDEST hairstyle they had ever seen (It looked like a fucking cactus, for God's sake!) jump down at the center of the area. "I want to say something!"
What followed was a very stupid and hate-filled speech in which the guy, named Kibaou, basically blamed the Beta Testers for all the deaths and problems everyone else had had since the game began, and also ORDERED them to stand out, apologize and give out any valuable things they had.
At least that's what Kirito more or less got. He honestly started to tune out the guy's voice after his first 20 words, in favor of trying to count how many non-Front Liners were there.
All the while, Asuna observed his seemingly uncaring attitude from the corner of her eyes, only seeing a small chuckle escape from his lips when an imposing bald man called Agil basically put the annoying hater on his place by showing him the 'Game Guide' that was distributed for free by practically all NPC shops on the Floor, and that had apparently been made by the Beta Testers (Kirito knew that Argo was the main person behind it, though, and that she herself had been the one spreading the latest 'Update' that included info about the Boss).
Finally, after the somewhat tense and awkward moment was over, Diavel called out to everyone to get organized in parties for the Raid, and that they would gather there tomorrow to go and face the Boss.
It was at that point that Kirito seemed to return to (Virtual) reality, looking around at how everyone started to get together in groups, pointedly ignoring the strange (And weirded out) look that Diavel sent his way.
"…eh, well, it's not as if was really expecting to work with anyo…" the sudden feeling of a hand on his shoulder made him look to the side to see Asuna looking seriously at him. "…something wrong?"
"…how do you form one of these 'Parties'?" at the boy's deadpanning look and ensuing silence, Asuna was forced to look to the side as an embarrassed blush appeared on her face "I don't know anyone else here but you."
After suppressing the urge of facepalming and vaguely wondering why he wasn't as opposed at the idea of forming a party with someone he barely knew as he would have been a month ago, Kirito calmly opened his menu and invited the hooded girl to join his party.
…well, at least now he knew her name was 'Asuna'.
"Okay then, guess I will see you tomorrow." declared the boy while standing up and stretching, seeing how everyone was already leaving and many excited chats had started between the onlookers. "Maybe I should take a bath tonight to be relaxed enough for the battle…?"
Sure, he wouldn't be able to take off his thrice dammed 'clothes', but even with that, it seemed like a waste to keep not using the full bath that the room where he was staying ha…
A new, much stronger, grip on his shoulder forced him to shift his full attention to the girl at his side, an unnatural gleam in her eyes as she seemed like a hungry predator that had suddenly found his prey.
"Did you say…BATH?"
Less than 20 minutes later, Kirito was sitting on his bed with a blank look on his face, Asuna's sounds of relaxed bliss at finally enjoying a proper bath since she got trapped in that world somehow echoing through the room for a moment. Which should have been impossible, what with the door to the bathroom closed and the partially sound-proof property that all doors in SAO had.
Several minutes of absolute silence passed for the unmoving boy in black.
"Well…" muttered the boy for no one while, for once, trying his best to imitate Saitama, or at least his usual 'No Fucks Given'-face. "At least there is no way this can get any more awkward."
Of course, it was in that moment that the door to his room was kicked open and a grinning girl with whisker-like marks on her face and a grey hood appeared there.
"Hey, Kii-bou!" the amused Argo greeted her wide-eyed friend/client, the self-proclaimed best information broker in SAO entering the room as if she was on her own home. "I hope you didn't REALLY think you could fool me with false excuses forever, ri…? Wait, what the fuck are you wearing?" the girl interrupted herself with utter confusion at seeing the 'costume' of the boy.
"…there is a perfectly good explanation for both things." swore Kirito while slowly standing up.
And, of course, it was in that moment that Asuna exited the bathroom, a blissful smile on her face and touching her hair as if she thought it could still be wet (Which wasn't, because, you know, virtual world).
"Ahhh…Kirito, thanks for letting me use…uh?" the chestnut-haired girl blinked, frozen mid-way to open her menu and reequip her hood at seeing the other girl in the room, who was looking at her open-mouthed. "Uhm…hi?"
"…that…also has a perfectly good explanation…kind of…"
"…woah, Kii-bou, you sly dog." mirthfully muttered the info broker while crossing her arms. "I have to said, I didn't expect you to be 'busy' in THIS way."
Kirito vaguely wondered if it would truly be too stupid and/or pathetic if he revealed himself as the Black-White Blur by running out of there at super speeds just to get away from that mess.
When Asuna's face burned crimson, exploding in utter denials while Argo started openly laughing, he settled for simply facepalming with both hands.
𝗗𝗲𝗰𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗲𝗿 𝟰𝘁𝗵, 𝟮𝟬𝟮𝟮. 𝗕𝗲𝘁𝘄𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗧𝗼𝗹𝗯𝗮𝗻𝗮 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝟭𝘀𝘁 𝗗𝘂𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗼𝗻, 𝟭𝟬: 𝟯𝟬…
"So…did you and Argo become friends?"
And with that, Kirito once again was reminded that his people Skills still sucked, Saitama-powers or not.
Even so, the boy still wanted to try and say SOMETHING to the girl, if for nothing else than to make the atmosphere less awkward, even as both of them walked at the back of the group of Front Liners.
After all, it would take the group a bit more than TWO HOURS to reach the Boss Room, give or take, and he was discovering that he no longer liked walked absurdly long distances without using his equally absurd speed. He wanted to talk with the girl if only to kill the boredom.
Sadly, Argo's attitude and over-the-top jokes the past day had apparently annoyed Asuna a bit too much and she didn't seem to be in any mood to talk. As if that wasn't enough, the Rat had clearly told him that, after the Boss Battle, she wanted a COMPLETE explanation about WHY he had been avoiding her and about his strange equipment. He wasn't looking forward to having that talk.
…at least the surprising cheering that the group had received when they departed from Tolbana half an hour ago had been something good. It had not only raised the morale of the Clearers but also given them all the Hope that they could REALLY clear the game. And if they won this battle, that same hope would spread to everyone else, even those that still didn't come out of the Starting City.
He was going to make sure that they won, of course, and without any casualty, if he had any say in the matter.
He had taken the decision of, at least, trying to hide his 'identity' as the anomaly of Aincrad unless it was strictly necessary. His and Asuna's 'assigned job' as a group that would deal with the Boss' Adds actually helped with that. He had no delusions of being able to One-Punch the Floor Boss, and even if said craziness was possible he sure as hell didn't want to try it out in front of the clearing group.
Well, it didn't really matter at all. Unless something unexpected or catastrophic happened, he wouldn't really need to reveal his 'unnatural nature' as…
"Why are you here?"
The unexpected question made the boy blink out of his inner thoughts and look at Asuna, who wasn't facing him but still talking his way.
"…to help to beat the Boss?"
"No, I mean, WHY are you here?" the girl's eyes seemed to have some deeper meaning hidden in them as she turned to face him when asking that question. "Are you really just here to 'play Hero'? Are you going to fight in this battle for 'Fun'?"
Her words said, Asuna glared at him, as if expecting him to just ignore the question or simply answer that yes, he was.
She wasn't expecting the boy in black to suddenly gain a melancholic look on his face as he stared forward, his eyes wandering towards the fake sky of the Floor.
"No, I'm not."
Those simple words, despite not explaining anything, had such weight behind them that Asuna couldn't keep looking at him. Staring at her own feet as they kept walking at the back of the group, the chestnut-haired girl suddenly found herself talking to the strange boy with a slightly cracked voice.
"I…I have an older brother. The game, the Nerve Gear…there are his. He was the one who bought them, the one who was interested in this. But…he had a meeting from work the day of the launch, and so he couldn't use it." Kirito's face was totally blank as he stared at the whispering girl, as if to remind her that talking about the Real World was a kind of 'taboo' in there, but she didn't seem to care. "It's…it's stupid, you know? I have never liked this kind of things…games, meaningless 'fun' like that…my mother taught me that was a waste of my time, that I could spend it doing better things, like studying…but, that day, I felt kind of…curious…and, in an impulse, I put on the helmet and decided to try out how it was." a mirthless chuckle escaped from her throat even as she clenched her fists. "If I hadn't been stupid enough to try this…'waste of time', then maybe I wouldn't be…!" all strength seemed to fade from her already low voice. "I wouldn't be…"
"Yeah, maybe you wouldn't be here." the 'strange' and sudden tone on the boy's voice made the girl look at him with surprise. "Maybe you would still be studying or doing something else…but we can't live thinking about 'What Ifs', you know?" suddenly, Kirito's gaze seemed to wander beyond her, at something only he could see. "…I have a little sister myself. And for…personal reasons, I have been being a horrible brother with her for years. Five days before this happened, we…reconnected, you could say. I realized how much of a jerk I had been to her, and even to my parents to an extent. I…wanted to make it up to her for all the lost time, wanted to get to know her better again…but now I'm trapped here." his eyes returned to her, a strange 'flame' seeming to burn deep within them. "The reason I was 'playing hero' was for 'fun'. The reason I'm HERE today and why I'm going to fight is because I want to get out of here and hug my little sister, then go out and eat some ice-cream with her." his gaze once again becoming blank, the boy walked forward a bit faster, making Asuna realize that they had started to get a bit behind the main group. "Instead of wondering about 'What Ifs', you should be wondering WHY are YOU fighting here today, Asuna: Only to survive? Or for something else?"
After saying those words, Kirito quickly opened a Trade Window and, without hesitation, put the rapier that he had bought the last day there before continuing on.
Even as the boy clad in black kept walking forward, the chestnut-haired girl's eyes never left his white-capped back.
For a moment, she stopped, thinking about his words. That 'depressive' idea of her had almost fully vanished since she met him. She no longer was as hopeless about their possibilities of actually surviving this madness, sot hen…
WHY was she really fighting for?
Suddenly, Asuna's arm rose and she pressed the 'Accept' button of the window, quickly equipping the new rapier and giving the weapon an unreadable look.
'Something' seemed to start burning in her eyes too before she hurried after him.
𝗜𝗻 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗻𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝟭𝘀𝘁 𝗕𝗼𝘀𝘀 𝗥𝗼𝗼𝗺, 𝟭𝟮:𝟰𝟬…
"Okay then, here we are." declared Diavel while staring at the massive and unnecessarily dramatic door that separated them from the Boss Room. "Everyone, remember your roles…and above all that, let's win this fight without a single loss!"
The cheers of the Front Liners were a good distraction for Kirito, who was frankly wondering if he should be worried about Asuna's silence for the last two hours or if Kibaou's 'sinister' threat of some moments before was REALLY worth worrying for.
Honestly, he had totally forgotten about the Last-Attack Bonus until the cactus-headed jerk threatened him about it, he had been too busy thinking about many things and trying to not go insane this last month to care much about that. HOW the idiot knew that he was a Beta Tester was something that should have worried him more, but being honest he couldn't care less about it at that moment.
He had no real intention of facing the Boss himself in the first place, unless something improbable that forced him to test his 'crazy' nature against it happened. He was only there to make sure they WON and that NO ONE fell.
It was with those thoughts that he faced forward, looking at how the gate opened and let them see into the, now that he really thought about it, exaggeratedly dramatic Boss Room. An even more theatrical animation of the torches on the walls suddenly turning on and illuminating the darkness also allowed them to see as their enemy materialized, a familiar visage greeting him once again.
The 1st Floor Boss.
Illfang the Kobold Lord.
And with an unholy roar, his first wave of three 'Ruin Kobold Sentinels' also materialized, the armored beasts rushing forward to aid their leader in battle, the 4 HP bars of the imposing beast filling even as it raised its massive bone-axe and leather shield.
Diavel's shout marked the start of the deadly battle, even as the players rushed into the fight. Everywhere in the room, even as the main group crashed against the imposing beast, one could feel the deadly tension and the brutal seriousness with which everyone faced the battle…
Except by a certain black-haired boy, who seemed more concentrated in looking from a part of the battle to next, trying to judge and analyze if he would need to move to try and help someone.
Asuna's shout at his side made him fully aware that, as he had vaguely noticed, one of the Sentinels was rushing at him, swinging one of his very stupid-looking weapons.
The boy dodged it with no effort, even as the girl that was rushing to help him froze in shock when he proceeded to grab the monster's weapon, take it out of its hands and then slam the beast with it, throwing it backward and against the totally bewildered Asuna.
"Asuna, Switch." he simply declared, not seeming really worried even as the girl impaled the mob with one of her deadly 'Linears', the monster bursting into polygons as if it already had been about to die before she attacked.
"…HOW did you do that?! And now that I think about it, WHY don't you have any weapon?!" demanded the girl with a tone that he couldn't know for sure if held anger or worry.
"That's just how I fight. Don't worry; I know what I'm doing."
Kirito really hoped that his voice when saying that sounded as confident as he thought it did.
Because really, it was SCARING him how easily he was becoming utterly bored and nonplused while in the middle of a fight where the slightest mistake could mean someone's death.
Asuna didn't have enough time to even mutter an answer to his words, because at that moment the first HP bar of Illfang vanished and 3 new Sentinels spawned, rushing in to help their fellow Kobolds.
Without any hesitation, Kirito shot forward. After less than an instant of doubt, Asuna followed him.
This was going WAY better than Kirito had expected.
Not only were they winning, but they were also almost DOMINATING the fight, and he hadn't even needed to do anything that would 'reveal' his 'secret'!
Between the flawless way in which Diavel organized the teams and how easily Asuna adapted at him restraining any Sentinel that came their way with no effort while she finished them off, the 3rd HP bar of Illfang was about to vanish, and not only had no one hit the red in their HPs even once, but the morale of the group couldn't be higher.
Certainly, he was sure than more than one had already noticed the 'silly-dressed guy' was fighting weaponless and holding back the Adds without apparent effort, but as long as he didn't try to truly punch any of them he should, after the fight, be able to downplay what he was doing with an excuse and say that it was Asuna who was truly dealing the critical damage.
The chestnut-haired girl would probably demand a real explanation and maybe one or two of the Beta Testers that he was sure were fighting there too, but he wouldn't really stick around to answer them once everything was over.
All in all, it seemed that things were going to go perfectly and without complications…when Illfang's 3rd bar totally vanished, leaving him with only one left, and also making it roar and throw his shield and axe away, the animation that indicated he was about to swap weapons.
That was when shit hit the fan.
"Stay back, I will finish this!" suddenly shouted Diavel to his group, grinning with confidence as he charged past the confused players and rushed to the roaring Kobold Lord while charging a Sword Skill.
If he had bothered to pay attention to Diavel's face, Kirito would most likely had realized that, besides being a Beta Tester (something he had already deduced without much effort), the guy had also been planning from the beginning to get the Last-Attack Bonus and had most likely been the one to warm Kibaou about him to make sure he didn't get it.
But his gaze was currently fixed over the handle of the blade that Illfang was starting to unsheathe, quickly realizing that something was WRONG.
Not even a quarter of the sword had been pulled out when his mind let him realize that it wasn't a Talwar, the Indian curved-sword that the Boss had possessed in the Beta Test and against which everyone had prepared.
He could recognize the weapon too easily, maybe faster than anyone else, because, besides being Japanese, he had seen THAT exact type of blade several times in those happy days he spent watching the crazy anime that started it all with Sugu, on the exact same position and (He dared to think) being unsheathed in the exact same way, by a certain super-fast ninja.
It was a Nodachi. A katana-type weapon.
Which meant Katana Skills. Skills which, unlike the Curved-Sword ones, were much faster and deadlier.
"SHIT!" he screamed out loud while Asuna finished the latest Sentinel they had been 'fighting', the girl turning to look at him in confusion even as the last 3 Adds spawned and, to Diavel's shock, Illfang wielded the now shining weapon and started to jump around the Boss Room like a fucking kangaroo. "GET OUT OF THERE!"
Even so, Kirito knew it was already too late. Everyone was frozen in horror by the sudden and totally unexpected movement of the Boss and, even as the wide-eyed Diavel looked how the massive beast fell down at him, no one would be able to reach him in time to save him.
No one except…
"…damn it all."
What happened next would spread through the whole of Aincrad like fire in the following days, would be told out loud, whispered with skepticism, laughed at with disbelief and spat out with hate, each one that told it twisting the exact events that happened more and more, for no one on the room could be sure of what EXACTLY happened…
Except for the rapier-user called Asuna.
In an instant that seemed much longer for her than it really was, 'something' seemed to change within the boy she had been fighting with. Suddenly, his 'weird' and 'silly' clothes stopped looking like that, gaining an impressive and almost otherworldly look to her eyes and (Something that she would repeatedly wonder if it had been an illusion or not) seemed to highlight impressive and toned muscles that she was sure the boy DIDN'T HAVE a second ago, his face seeming to be covered in shadows as his eyes became nothing more than two white spots of Nothing.
And then, he MOVED.
Asuna wasn't an expert about anything game-related, nor was she especially prideful, but she had been aware of how much faster she had been than everyone else in the room.
So when Kirito shot forward so fast that his image literally BLURRED out of sight and the floor where he had been standing showed the 'Immortal Object' display, she had been SO utterly shocked that she didn't even notice that her hood was blown away and destroyed by the sudden rush of air, letting her long chestnut hair free.
The rest of the players weren't able to properly understand what was happening when the boy ran like a missile through them, several people still falling to the ground from the rush of speed even as he reached the charging Ruin Kobold Sentinels.
With barely a thought and less than a second, his fists shot around him three times, not stopping his advance at all.
The Kobolds were still flying through the air while the Cardinal System realized they were already dead when he reached Diavel's side, the self-proclaimed 'Knight' starting to turn from the incoming death incarnated that was Illfang to look at him when the boy JUMPED.
His fist shot forward in front of him, PUNCHING.
Illfang's Nodachi didn't so much as explode as it disintegrated, the polygons of data that made up the weapon being unable to conserve their form after impacting against the incoming impossibility.
The boy's fist impacted against Illfang's head, smashing it into as much 'gory'-look the game could allow before the rest of the body flew backward, all momentum it had not only lost but inverted several times over as its arms crumbled like tissue paper into red-angry stumps of damaged data.
The mighty beast that had been the Kobold Lord crashed against the ceiling of the room, caused the 'Immortal Object' message to pop up once again and, finally, fell down with a massive 'BAM!'
All of this had happened in less than 3 seconds.
It took two more for the game to give up in showing the depletion of Illfang's last health bar and simply let the monster explode into polygons.
Even when the 'CONGRATULATIONS!' message and the victory music celebrated their victory, none of the shocked players made any sound, all of them STARING at the crouched boy of the white cape.
Slowly, he stood up, still giving his back to them.
Then, after what seemed like an internal debate, he turned around…and glared at Diavel.
"That…was something VERY stupid." declared Kirito while pointing at the blue-haired man with an annoyed tone. "Next time you want to try and 'look cool', think about the risks to your life first, okay?"
"…uh?" was the intelligent answer that Diavel gave.
That seemed to be the cue for all hell to break loose.
"WHOA! What the hell?!"
"Di-did he really…?!"
"He's not even using a weapon! How…?!"
"Did any of you see him MOVE?! It's him, the Black-White Blur!"
"No shit, for real?! I thought that was just a rumor!"
"Amazing, it just took one punch from him to send that thing flying and…!"
"YOU!" Kibaou's angry voice seemed to break through the shocked and excited voices of the Front Liners, the cactus-headed man walking past the still dumbstruck Diavel to glare at the boy in black. "Why didn't you do that before?!"
Kirito stared at him with an impassive look, arms crossed over his chest as if he had been waiting for that question.
"I saw how you were stopping those Kobolds before, and we ALL saw how you effortlessly killed those last three! If you could do something like that since the beginning, then WHY didn't you do so?!" not even giving him time to answer, Kibaou pressed on, seemingly getting angrier by the second. "And HOW are you able to do THAT in the first place, for that matter?! It's some kind of secret from the Beta Test, right?! You're a Beta Tester, and you have played around all month with that crazy power without sharing how to get it with others!"
Confusion started to give way to realization, and several distrusting and doubtful stares were now aimed at the still silent boy.
Kirito could have said many things, at that moment. He could have talked about the weird and unexplainable Bug affecting his avatar. He could have told them how he had no idea how it had happened and as such he had no way of showing anyone how to attain a similar state. He could have tried to explain to them that he had been scared by countless uncertainties about the limits of his 'powers' and that's why he hadn't tried directly interfering with the battle and that that was also the reason why he had been avoiding people despite going around saving them.
He also knew that it would be a waste of time and that most of them would probably not believe him. Especially if he mentioned the part that his clothes and 'abilities' seemed to come from an anime that he had watched just some days before getting into the game.
So, instead of trying to do any of that…he once again decided to do what seemed like the 'easiest' route.
Do what Saitama would.
"No, not really, this isn't a trick from the Beta. In fact, I'm pretty sure that any Beta Tester could tell you that." the boy shrugged without any apparent care, not letting the taller man say anything else even as he LOOKED at everyone there. "In fact, I think that Beta Testers should be more careful from now on. After all, Illfang's last weapon was different than in the Beta, and that almost lead to someone dying today. Next time, things may not go as good as today."
Even though he seemed to be telling that to everyone, Diavel just KNEW he was specifically referring to him.
"Wait, are you saying that you didn't obtain that ability with some knowledge from the Beta?!" Kibaou now seemed to be torn between anger and greed, as if wanting to know HOW to become as powerful as the boy in front of him. "Then how did you do it?!"
The entire room seemed to hold their breath…and the boy simply shrugged once again.
"I just trained really hard."
Utter silence was the answer to his words.
And then, the expected explosion.
"That's total BULLSHIT!"
"Yeah, do you take us for fools?!"
"No amount of leveling up could have made you like THAT, much less in the First Floor!"
"Don't tell me…he somehow hacked the game?!"
"Really?! Then he's not only a Beta Tester, but also a Cheater!"
"Yes…he's right! This guy is a Beta Tester and a Cheater!"
"He's nothing but a dammed Beater!"
"How can you act so carefree when people are DYING and others are risking their lives, Beater?!"
"I bet he isn't even worried because he thinks himself about everyone else with that damn power of his!"
"GO TO HELL, BEATER!"
"…you're all wrong." everyone once again fell silent at his words, many glaring at him with a mix of rage and hate, only a handful of them actually seeming worried. "I'm not a 'Beater'…"
A lazy smile appeared on the boy's blank face.
"I'm just a Gamer playing as a Hero for Fun."
Shock, confusion, and bewilderment seemed to be the answer to his words.
Then, he turned around, his cape flapping epically behind him as he calmly started to walk towards the other end of the room, even as more angry shouts as his seemingly 'sarcastic' or 'uncaring' words started.
"HEY! Where do you think you're going?!"
"To the 2nd Floor. Someone needs to open the Teleport Gate to let people know the Boss is dead, and seeing as no one else here seems too worried about that…"
Kirito didn't even need to turn around to know that Kibaou was running towards him, sword drawn, shouts of shock and surprised gasps erupting from the crowd.
"STOP LOOKING DOWN ON US, BEATEEEERRRR!"
The boy in black closed his eyes. His hands shook slightly, a part of his mind idly noticing that Asuna was shouting for him to move. It would be pretty easy, really. He could dodge the attack and then run out of the room and into the 2nd Floor before anyone even realized what had happened.
That was what Saitama would most likely do, not even bothering with a loser like Kibaou was unless he had no option…
Yes…that was what Saitama would do…
𝘚𝘶𝘨𝘶'𝘴 𝘴𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘥 𝘰𝘯 𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘥.
…but he was NOT Saitama.
The boy stopped.
More than one screamed or closed their eyes when Kibaou's 'Vertical' Skill slammed against his head.
The sound of virtual metal breaking echoed through the room.
The cactus-headed man blinked, confused, then looked down at the handle and half blade on his hands. It quickly broke into polygons, vanishing.
Slowly, the unharmed boy turned around, his eyes and upper face covered by ethereal darkness as he raised a hand towards the suddenly wide-eyed and terrified man.
He put it on his shoulder and softly 'pushed' him back.
The screaming Kibaou was sent flying backward, crashing into the slowly standing Diavel, a quarter of his HP vanishing from the impact.
"That was an utter waste of a perfectly useful weapon." deadpanned the boy as he looked at them, the hate and rage replaced mostly by fear, the small gesture having suddenly put back on their minds that they were in front of a player with the power to send something like Illfang flying like a ragdoll without effort and move faster than a speeding car. "Now then, if that's all, I'm going to the second floor. I'm tired, hungry, and I REALLY want to get out of this unnecessarily dramatic and over-the-top designed dungeon."
With that last jab at Kayaba said, Kirito turned around and started to walk to the stairs. No one said anything else to him or even muttered a sound as he did.
He was halfway through the stairs, not bothering going faster than a normal person just for the heck of seeing if anyone really tried to follow and attack him, when a shouting voice made him blink and stop.
Turning around, the surprised boy watched as a panting Asuna stopped just behind him to try and recover her breath. He refrained from telling her that she didn't really need to do something like that in a virtual world in favor of asking something more important.
The fierce look on the girl's eyes truly surprised him.
"I'm coming with you."
"…what." repeated the boy, but this time more of a statement than a question.
"What you told me before. You told me to think about WHY I was fighting." she looked from her hands to him, determination filling her. "I want to survive, yes. But I also want to get back home…and I want to change things. I want to be able to look at my mother and not be afraid of talking with her. I want to apologize with my brother for grabbing his stupid game without asking him…and I want to choose my OWN life by myself."
The dramatic speech seemed to be highlighted when she pointed at him, her hair somehow flapping behind the girl at the same time his cape did…despite being no wind in those stairs.
"And I just KNOW I can do that by following you!"
"…so, uhm, didn't you hear the part where everyone accused me of being a Cheater bastard?"
"Are you?" shot back the girl with a raised eyebrow.
"Of course not, for fucks sake. Probably the greatest minds of the country, and maybe the world, have been trying to get us out of here without success for almost a month. I'm just a 14 years-old boy who likes computers and videogames. HOW in Hell's name would I be able to hack a game that can manage THAT?"
Down in the Boss Room, several people wondered why they felt as if their intelligence had been insulted.
"There you have it! So, what do we do next?"
"…you…I don't even…" Kirito sighed and facepalmed, turning around. "Fine, follow me if you want, but don't expect for me to wait for you if you get left behind. Me? I'm going back home to share that ice-cream with my sister." his fists slammed against one another as he said that, sending a small shockwave around him. "Even if I have to punch a hole through this Floating Castle to do so."
That said, he started to walk once again, debating if he should really try and left the girl behind when they reached the next floor or…
"…hey, I have been wondering. How did you KNOW my name? I never told you."
"…really? I mean, are you REALLY telling me that you haven't seen that 'small' new part in your vision where the status and names of the members of the Party are shown since YESTERDAY?!"
For all answer, Asuna just stared a moment to the corner of her vision before her eyes widened.
"Oh, so your name is Kirito!"
"…this is going to be a LONG Death Game to be trapped in…"
"Hey now, don't say that!" joked the girl while they finally arrived at the end of the stairs. "You will see, I'm going to show you just how much determined I am with this, Sensei!"
The boy froze, standing stock-still, as if someone had just thrown a lightning bolt at his head. Slowly, he turned his head to look at the confused rapier-user, a nervous tic having appeared on his eye.
"How…did you just call me?"
"Uhm, Sensei? It was, you know, kind of joke, seeing as how you literally taught me how to really play and whatnot…"
"Just…don't call me that again, please. Like, ever."
"Aww, what's wrong? Don't like being treated with even a bit of respect, Kirito-sense…HEY! Where are you going?!"
Kirito would end up stopping half a kilometer later and waiting up for the angry girl, still too scared/shocked to care for her shouts…but yes, that did it.
If Asuna suddenly showed up with robotic limbs or if he saw someone riding a bicycle around, he was throwing himself off the edge of Aincrad.
There was just SO MUCH shit his sanity could take before he gave up.
𝗡𝗘𝗫𝗧 𝗘𝗣𝗜𝗦𝗢𝗗𝗘 𝗣𝗥𝗘𝗩𝗜𝗘𝗪!
"He-hey, hello there everyone! This is Diavel and MAN, for some reason I feel REALLY grateful to be alive! But, ehm, anyway, let's go with this preview quick…and that's not because I want to go find somewhere to curl myself in fetal position for hours from the fear, of course not!...ANYWAY! Next time on 'One Punch Gamer': 'The Value of my Punches!' Will Kirito finally take the decision of taking the game head on?! What will be the consequences of doing so?! And what's going to happen with his new 'disciple'?! And also, in answer to his actions, the Creator himself makes sure that…! Wait, what, this guy got a 'disciple'? What the hell does that mean? I mean, what is he even going to teach her that-!"
𝗘𝗡𝗗 𝗢𝗙 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗣𝗥𝗘𝗩𝗜𝗘𝗪!
Not much to add in this chapter, except for some minor canon-background-changes (Like Blacksmithing not being available until the 2nd Floor). Also, Kirito finally starts accepting what he has 'become'...