This article, SAOK: New Year Resolutions, is the tenth chapter of Sword Art Online (Kenji). It is the final chapter of the aforementioned work to take place in 2022, with subsequent chapters taking place after the New Year. It likewise served as the final chapter of Part I.
After our exertions clearing out the «Dead Woods Mausoleum» you’d have thought it a good idea for us to stay in our beds for a while and recuperate, though you know us well enough by now to know that just isn’t how we roll. Resting was the farthest thing from our minds. It was late morning, just past 10:00 o’clock, of the 31st -- New Year's Eve, but celebration or yearly reflection was right up there with relaxation on our priority list. You see, it was finally time for me to see my weapon slot upgraded. Following yesterday’s dungeon run I was in dire need of an upgrade; my «Pale Edge» had been shattered like a piece of glass, and given how my «Scimitar» was statistically similar to it at their respective stages of enhancement, it may not have fared much better at all had it been in my possession at the time.
No, it was time for me to lay down the «Scimitar», faithful servant it had been. My trusty «Bronze Sabre» too. The strength of my «Scimitar» and the soul of my «Bronze Sabre» would continue in a new blade. You can call me corny or sentimental: I don’t care. What I was, however, was scared. Perhaps Sheila sensed my apprehension? Her little hand found mine and the smile she gave me was encouraging.
“Are you sure?” She asked me. “We could find you another weapon. You’ve had this since before-”
I stopped her with a gentle nod. Since before I met her, though that wasn’t what she was about to say. I had wielded this particular «Scimitar» the day I fought Loki and welcomed Sheila and her sister into my company. And now I couldn’t imagine this game without them. They had more than repaid whatever debt they thought they owed me and here she was about to help me yet again.
“... Okay, here goes.”
Creating weapons in Sword Art Online fell under the umbrella of the «Blacksmith» Skill, which of course Sheila possessed. I hit the CREATE WEAPON option, followed by ONE-HANDED WEAPON and ONE-HANDED CURVED SWORD, before finally settling on SELECT MATERIAL. She had already broken my «Scimitar», «Pale Edge» and «Bronze Sabre» down into their constituent parts; the «Scimitar» yielding to me a «Razor Ingot» whilst the ingot from my «Pale Edge» and «Bronze Sabre» was further broken down into usable ores. These would be combined with the various ores and material gathered over the last few days using the «Razor Ingot» as the core.
In essence, this meant my new sword would be built from the materials of my primary and secondary swords thus far, plus the weapon that had carried me through my first hectic battles. I choose the necessary materials, having already made up my mind about this, and selected the core last. With a satisfying swoosh two sacks of assorted materials and a metallic, almost blood-red ingot materialized on Sheila’s workbench. Sheila took these materials with almost exaggerated care and placed them in the fires of her small portable forge. I watched the ingot heat, eventually glowing red, until Sheila removed it with a gloved hand and transferred the heated ingot to her small anvil. There was a Dark Elf on the 3rd Floor who could do this as well, of course, but Sheila was every bit as skilled as he was, if not more so. Besides, I trusted her.
Still, it looked rather strange. Sheila was a kid -- only 12 years old! Yet here she was heating metal in a forge. It looked rather comical. She was the exact opposite of what you’d expect a blacksmith to be.
“Good luck!” I heard Elise chirp.
She’d been so quiet I almost forgot she had been there.
It was impossible to fail at weapon creation. There was no outcome where you wouldn’t end up with a new weapon. So at least from that viewpoint I was guaranteed at least something for my time and effort, not to mention the effort being put forth by Sheila. The chance, however, was the quality of the created weapon. Basically, if Sheila didn’t smack that ingot about twenty times, then the weapon I’d end up with would be inferior to the one I started with. So you can imagine my apprehension. You could even say my fear. You lived and died by the quality of your equipment; the fact I had managed so long with my «Scimitar» had a lot to do with the fact I hadn’t been doing much questing solo, coupled with my beta knowledge.
Thankfully, this fear was quickly eclipsed; she was still hitting that ingot after thirty swings!
“Pinch me, please.” I exclaimed, but not really being serious. “Ouch!!”
Elise was trying to look innocent but was failing miserably. I’d have to have a gentle word with Ryne; she had really been a bad influence on young Elise.
“Little devil,” I said.
There was a new tension however. You see, Sheila was still hammering away! The apprehension I had felt earlier was quickly replaced with excitement. How many strikes? The higher the better, after all. Her final blow came on the stroke of forty-five and was followed by a brilliant white flash! The ingot morphed, revealing my new sword. Sheila took the weapon in her hands like one might a newborn and carefully handed it over to me and I immediately drew it from its sheath. The first thing I noticed was the weight; it was easily twice the weight of my old «Scimitar», with a long thick blade with a noticeably weighted tip. I could tell even after only a few practice swings that this thing could easily cut through plate-mail -- the weighted portion of the tip lent weight to the swing, and judging by the width it certainly wouldn’t possess the durability issues of my old sword. There was also the minor fact that the handle felt like it was made to fit my hand.
“Razer,” Sheila said. “That’s what its name was.”
Its name was the last thing I was interested in. You see, a weapons quality was directly proportional to the number of swings required to make it, as I had already said. The fact it had taken forty-five swings to make «Razer» meant that it was roughly three times as powerful as my old weapon had been, and I hadn’t even upgraded it yet! Excitement gave way to awe. You see, what I didn’t know is that there had only been one weapon created in all of Aincrad at this particular point in time that had been forged for a player that was superior to my «Razer», and that was the «Chivalric Rapier» currently wielded by Asuna the Fencer of the front-line group. As far as I was concerned, however, this was the current mack-daddy of weapons. It would even give Arashi’s «Xiphias» stout competition!
“Sheila, this is awesome. Thank you!”
“Heh, you’re welcome!”
With my weapon created whatever plans we had for the day other than enjoying the eventual festivities concluded. That said, other than Sheila, Elise and myself the inn in Karluin that served as our current base was decidedly empty.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Ryne rounded everyone but Asuka up for boat escort.” Elise answered.
“Is money all that girl thinks about?” I shook my head. “I’m going to find Asuka. You two coming along or…?”
Sheila practically jumped to her feet.
“We’ve got plans with Raixas!”
They bolted out the door before I could even raise a complaint. I was left standing in the inn room with my left eyebrow raised in a manner near-identical to Dwayne Johnson back when he was still on WWE.
“Who the hell is Raixas!?”
Raixas, as you know, was the young white-haired teenager who had been partying up with the twins when Kishi and company were otherwise engaged, and of course Kishi knew this too. The boy in question was standing outside the inn, his back leaning against the wall nearest the inns front door and what appeared to be a juice box held towards his lips, when the twins suddenly exited.
“Ah, there you are!” I greeted, the juice box quickly being hid. Image and all that. “I take it things went well with the sword?”
“Really well!” Sheila answered. “Sorry for making you wait!”
“Can we go now!?” Elise exclaimed. “I really want to see everyone planning the party!”
Was it strange that I had got quite used to being swept up in their inexhaustible energy? I didn’t even attempt to argue and simply ran off after them. The plan of the front-line group was to hold Aincrad’s very first New Year’s party at nine o’clock. Apparently, there was going to be fireworks. When we made it to the scene of the proposed party there were members of both the DKB and ALS running from here to there on any number of errands. One of them, whom I thought was a member of the DKB, stopped and asked Elise if she didn’t mind helping prepare more food. There was more interest than they accounted for, she said, and of course Elise was only too happy to help.
“And there she goes!” I said. “Now what? It was Elise’s idea to come here.”
“Yeah,” Sheila answered. “Hey, we should go. Before someone recruits us for something.”
I could scarcely contain my joy! As I had already said, I was content being swept up in their pace. I would never outright tell them I hated doing some things they liked -- like running through market-places filled with actual people, for example -- but I had to admit being delighted that Sheila had suggested that we head somewhere else.
“I’m so happy you said that!”
She grabbed me by the hand and pulled me back in the direction of the inn! I could barely explain how that made me feel. Such friendliness had escaped me in the real world though this came with its own set of challenges that I wasn’t wholly prepared to deal with just yet. Once again I was the socially awkward and bumbling Fujimaru; the confidence of Raixas had vanished like a snow cone in Phoenix.
If they had known I had seen them disappear around the edge of a crumbling wall, hand in hand to boot, they would have been very embarrassed. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Don’t be mean.” Asuka warned. “They’re only kids.”
“Sorry, it’s just that that kid has got it into his head that I’m their older brother.” I answered, my smile showing well how hilarious I thought that was. “According to Shiro, he thinks I’m going to bite his head off or kick him up the arse. Or maybe both. I’ll be shocked if there isn’t a puddle at his feet when they finally introduce him to me.”
“... You’re evil, you know that?”
“This coming from the painter?”
I was, of course, referring to the incident which saw good old Arashi splattered in pink-coloured paint.
“Point taken.” She conceded.
“What was his name again?”
“The kid? Raixas, I think.”
Sheila and Elise hadn’t told me a great deal concerning their new friend. They had spoken about him a little, sure, and when they did speak about him in my hearing, what they said about the white-haired kid was high praise indeed. It was only a matter of time before they introduced him to me properly. Unbeknown to me this would be tonight: Shiro and Sheila had already extended an invitation to him to join us for our New Year’s celebration.
But I had a few more new faces to meet before then. It turns out Asuka hadn’t been taking it easy this morning as I initially thought. She had actually been helping another guild clear out the «Dead Woods Mausoleum».
The guild in question was called «Last Remnant» -- no doubt named for the role-playing game of the same name developed by Square Enix back in 2008 -- and consisted of five members. Going by what Asuka had already told me they had carved out a niche for themselves by writing up detailed dungeon guides and selling them to the player’s trying to catch up to the front runners. You see, if a dungeon had little to do with the final labyrinth or the clearing of a Floor, then the front runners tended to leave them alone, and «Last Remnant» had apparently noticed this trend too. I was also aware of an arrangement between the DKB and ALS that they would avoid the «Elf War» campaign quest in the interest of avoiding dangerous competition. There had already been one incident that had almost come to player on player violence. That, at the very least, had to be avoided. That did, however, mean that dungeons belonging to the campaign quest had barely been touched upon by Argo’s guides.
I had to admit to being impressed.
Our meeting place was a small restaurant closer to the outskirts of Karluin, to avoid the crowd of party planners milling about the teleport plaza.
When we stepped inside my eyes nearly popped out of my skull!
“Meian Tadaoki, you old bugger!”
“Kenji Hiroshi! This is a turn up for the books!!”
Asuka didn’t know where to look! I was suddenly shaking hands with a grey-haired male just slightly shorter than myself with a wiry frame. He was dressed in a western-style suit complete with dress trousers and a top hat. To be honest he looked rather out of place. We were in Karluin after all; the place was a crumbling, dusty old ruin, yet the man I identified as Meian looked like a stereotypical gentleman. The fact he wore a red overcoat and a rapier at his waist gave him an appearance not unlike the British redcoats during the American Revolution.
“This is awesome!” I said.
“So, it’s awesome that I’m stuck in a death game, is it? Careful, Kenji, old boy. I might take offence.”
“Umm, Sasakibe, you know each other?” Asuka asked.
“Oh, my apologies, dear girl!” Maybe now would be a good time to explain that Meian -- or rather «Sasakibe», which was his in-game name -- was fascinated by British culture. Even out-dated British culture. “Old Kenji here is just a turn up for the books, is all. We go way back, he and I.”
“We used to work together.” I revealed. “But we’re being really rude right now, Meian. Who are your friends?”
He introduced me to four individuals in turn. The first was Rika Hirata whose in-game name was «Alisaie». She was a woman whose height and weight was slightly shorter and lighter than Ryne. Her weapon of choice, a mace, coupled with her lightweight studded leather jacket, skirt and leggings, identified her as a damage-dealer. The mace appeared to be a unique design; probably a monster drop, but I had to admit to being overall unfamiliar with the category, so I couldn’t even make an educated guess as to its quality or attributes. Her armour was unremarkable but consistent with the Floor. She waved at me cheerily whilst her other hand fiddled with her black-rimmed glasses.
“It’s nice to meet you!” I greeted.
“Likewise, though I must admit to being surprised. Meian described you -- and I quote -- as a ‘decidedly cheeky fellow’.”
“He’d know, the old fool.”
The second person whom Sasakibe introduced was also female. Unlike Alisaie, however, this woman was taller than I was! In fact, she wasn’t much below Shiro. Senka Hase was her name though in-game she was known as «Risa». She went very opposite to my expectations because she was decked out in «Medium Metal Armour» -- the «Tortoise Shell» upper-body set if I was not mistaken -- and had a sword sheathed at her waist and a shield strapped to her back. The sword was an «Elven Stout Sword» though the shield was unremarkable. She shook my hand firmly and nodded at me in greeting.
I’d soon learn that she was an intense woman of few words.
The final two were male.
The first of the two men was an absolute giant! His height was matched only by his circumference; he stood at 6-foot 10-inches, which is just over 2 meters, and weighed approximately 150 kg. He neither shook my hand or inclined his head, but rather wrapped me up in his big arms and hugged me tightly! I was somewhat shocked when the system didn’t interpret this as a violation of the anti-criminal code, so there I was getting squeezed to death by a giant of a man who smelled vaguely of maple syrup. Shinrei Musashibō was his real name though in-game he was known as «Benkei». He was the first person, player or NPC, whom I had seen wield a «Flail» alongside a shield. Like spears, they had greater reach than traditional weapons, but suffered from the same potential weaknesses. Still, they were a niche weapon category, and considering he was obviously a Tank, I found the combination intriguing.
His silence was soon revealed to me.
“Please don’t take his silence the wrong way.” Alisaie said. “He’s a very sensitive man, and hasn’t said a word since the announcement on the 1st Floor.”
Rather than speak to me the big man shot me off an instant message:
«Nice to meet you.»
I replied with «You too» in the same manner.
The second of the two men was of considerably more standard stature, albeit lined with hard muscle. Sasakibe said that he was a bodybuilder and looking at him I could believe it! He had arms as thick as my thighs. Fujimoto Fujiwara was his name though his in-game name actually made me burst out laughing! «Johnny Bravo». For the unenlightened this was the name of an American cartoon character with a yellow-coloured pompadour-hairstyle who was a complete -- and wholly unsuccessful -- womanizer. Johnny was exactly the same way; he had spent his time flirting with Asuka, Alisaie and Risa, and had just recieved a sharp elbow to the ribs, courtesy of Asuka. Go on, Asuka! That’s my girl! He had even seemingly modelled his appearance on the character he named himself after too. He sported a black-coloured pompadour and a crescent-shaped scar -- probably a tattoo like Arashi had -- around the outside of his right-eye.
Johnny showed me little interest, claiming that I wasn’t a woman, and went right back to talking to the girls.
“And you had the brass to call me a cheeky fellow.” I said to Sasakibe.
“Don’t judge the bunch by one bad apple.” He quipped.
We caught up over food and drink and I finally learned why Asuka had been asked to tag along with them earlier. You see, the «Dead Woods Mausoleum» had been the first dungeon-style location to feature traps that could be fatal to a player. It was quite possible that Asuka was one of a rare group of players who could identify and disable these traps without incident or harm to her group.
We eventually said goodbye to Sasakibe and crew but not before Asuka and I had every single one of them registered in our respective friends list. By the time we left it was already dark out, so we headed back to the inn where we planned to have our own subdued New Year’s celebration away from the hustle and bustle that was Karluin’s teleport plaza.
Waiting for me was another introduction.
“It’s very nice to meet you properly. I’m Raixas.”
“Kishi,” and I took his hand and shook it firmly.
Asuka looked proud, especially since I managed not to embarrass either Raixas or Sheila. And oh how I wanted to; I swear I did. But in the end I didn’t and instead we filed neatly into the dining room of our current inn in Karluin and waited patiently on whatever big surprise Ryne and Elise had cooked up between them for us.
“My money’s on an idea to make more money.” Shiro said.
“... She’s went bankrupt.” Arashi added.
“Somehow I doubt that.” Jiro answered crisply.
“Want to bet?”
“I’ll take a slice of that action.” I provided.
Before long we had a prize pot of 10,000 cor. Arashi, Shiro, Jiro, myself and young Raixas. He wasn’t the age to gamble -- technically he wasn’t the age to be playing Sword Art Online either -- so we said nothing on the matter when he politely asked if he could participate.
“So, Raixas.” I said. “You haven’t told us what you’re actually betting on yet.”
He looked towards the floor, obviously unsure, but when he did eventually look up at me there was a glimmer of mischief there. Heh, maybe I was going to like this little guy after all?
“Could I write it down?” He asked. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”
And he handed me a folded piece of handwritten parchment.
With some fanfare Ryne revealed the big surprise: alcohol! This, of course, didn’t go down as well as you would have thought. That was because one could not become drunk in Aincrad no matter how much of the stuff you drank. Down keg after keg, pint after pint, bottle after bottle. You could drink yourself to the point of ridiculousness and not get so much as a slight buzz. We knew very well; Shiro, in particular, was very annoyed about this. So you can imagine Shiro, Arashi and me retreating to our seats with very sour expressions, feeling more than a little cheated by our Treasurer. Young Raixas, however, tapped me on the shoulder.
“Can I collect my winnings now?”
I unfolded his parchment. He was spot on!
“Please forgive me for being forward, but you should take a second look. I’m underage, so I’ll be over here.”
Before he left however he stopped in front of Shiro and split the prize pot with him.
“You did say it’d be something to make money on. You weren’t wrong.”
Yeah, it was safe to say I liked the kid.
“... Come on, you two. Let’s give this a try.” I said.
By the time the clock struck midnight the only people in that room who weren’t “drunk” were Asuka, the twins, young Raixas, and the assorted NPC’s in the background. You couldn’t really call it alcohol that Ryne and Elise had brewed up however. Poison was a more fitting description. In small quantities, say in a glass, it did next to nothing on its own. But it was cumulative! And amazingly it provided a series of negative status effects, amongst them a «Balance Down», «Dizziness», and «Nausea» effect that grew the more you drank. Combined with what could only be attributed to a placebo effect and the people drinking it experienced most of what being drunk entailed.
Ryne had named the stuff «Pigeon Ruby». When the bottle was manifested from the inventory it was contained in a bottle reminiscent of a whiskey bottle, had a distinct ruby colouring, and tasted vaguely of bourbon with a slight hint of apple. Quite sweet, but very nice, all being said.
It was quite brilliant.
“That’s where I remember you from!” Shiro suddenly exclaimed. “The 1st Floor. You were in the bar!”
“... Correct!” Ryne answered. “It only took you over two weeks to realize.”
Asuka, meanwhile, was speaking with Raixas.
“So, what do you think of our mad-house?”
“I think I’ve found my place.”
“Don’t you worry. I’ll speak to Kishi. He’s actually quite sweet once you get to know him a little.”
“HEY!!” Kishi roared. “We need music!”
Which, it seemed, was some kind of code for the twins to start belting out Disney songs, as Raixas soon discovered. As before, Let it Go and How Far I’ll Go went through several renditions, though this time they added more: Colour of the Wind, The Circle of Life, and I’ll Make a Man Out of You, to name a few.
Raixas was about to get up to dance, but I dropped into the seat to his immediate right and stopped him with a raised hand.
“Welcome to the guild.” I said. “We’ll sort your uniform tomorrow.”
His eyes nearly popped from their sockets!
“And to commemorate the occasion, I want you to have this. Consider it a thank you for what you’ve done for the twins.”
I materialized a thinly edged curved sword with a notched hilt, circular guard, and an oily sheen along its edge. This was «Shmargor’s Crescent», which you’ll remember as the sword I looted from the «Fallen Elf Commander» back on the 3rd Floor. Considering when it was available it had actually been superior to my «Scimitar» at the time, though I hadn’t used it out of concern of returning to my player-killing beta routes. In addition to its paralysis effect it boosted Strength by +2 and Agility by +4. Sadly, it had languished in my inventory since then, but young Raixas had proved himself to be mature. Sheila and Elise attested to that.
Thus, could it finally be put to use.
“Careful, that things got Paralysis Level 2.” I noted.
“... This’ll let me protect them much easier.” I heard him whisper. “Thank you, Kishi.”
“You’re welcome, kid.”
It was our first recruit. As things turned out, it wouldn’t be our last. Though a lot of heartache lay between now and then, though I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself again? 2023 lay before us along with many more Floors to clear.
There was just one rule -- a New Year resolution, if you will -- that I had to make young Raixas aware of:
“You are forbidden to die.”