This article, SAOK: Roving Rovia, is the eighth chapter of Sword Art Online (Kenji).
I should be happy. It was December 24th -- Christmas Eve! Yet I wasn't feeling it this year. It might have something to do with the fact that I was trapped in the worlds very first VRMMORPG and had been for around a month already. Or it might be because I was a guild leader now and suddenly had a degree of responsibility I hadn't before? When it had only been Arashi and myself our time had been spent making ourselves stronger. Then Asuka, Jiro, Shiro and the twins came along.
"Hey, earth to Kishi!"
I nearly leapt out of my skin. Standing to my left and blended into the stone of the cave immediately at her back was Asuka. Her light-brown eyes where quick and incisive as she studied my expression.
"Sorry," I muttered back. "Feeling kinda out of it today."
"We can head back."
Shiro, having dropped back to see what was wrong, asked. His tone was neutral but I could tell from his expression that he was concerned. I was heartened he did ask though -- even if we were close to the end of the dungeon with over 90% explored, I was happy that I'd found comrades who put safety over recklessness.
"We can do «Retrieving the Key» tomorrow." He followed.
His big hand grasped my shoulder in a supportive manner and his brown eyes, which where barely visible behind the T-visor of his «Helm of the Exile», searched my own aqua-green.
"... Cheers, but I'd like to continue. Arashi messaged me a while ago. They've just accepted the final quest on this floor too. Besides, the «Fallen Elf Commander» has nice loot."
"... Okay, but don't push yourself."
And he slapped me gently on the shoulder and ran ahead to take point again.
Since my little experiment two days ago we'd been hitting the Dark Elf quests in earnest. We didn't fly through them like our lives depended on it, of course, but rather we took our time. Very different from Arashi's outlook. When we found efficient hunting spots we hunted. When we needed to rest we rested. And when our gear was beaten and battered and needed some TLC we returned to the Dark Elf camp and availed ourselves of Elise and Sheila's services. While we quested they stayed in the camp though their names where still listed on my display because they had never actually left my party.
The strange thing?
They'd reported the completion of at least eight quests in the vicinity of the Dark Elf camp. They hadn't appeared for Asuka, Shiro or myself, which meant they where visible only to crafters. Indeed that was what most of them entailed -- one NPC had requested that Elise repair his leather armor, which had been shredded. He went on to detail their own blacksmith was swamped with work. None of the quest details included anything of significant note regarding Floor Bosses or even mobs, but they provided safe EXP and relevant gear. Which for Elise and Sheila was very welcome.
"There were so few crafters in the beta that I can't even be sure these repair quests existed then." I thought as we quickly dispatched two «Fallen Elf Guards». "Or is someone on the outside watching our progress and adding relevant content? Or is the system itself managing that? Is that even possible? Then there's also the question of patches for bugs."
I groaned quietly.
No point thinking about things beyond my control. Right now I was a prisoner and my job was to see my friends and myself out safely. Best to keep my head in the here-and-now.
"Hey, you said this commander had good loot. What kind we talking about here?"
My beta brain went into overdrive.
"Boots; the kind that muffles footsteps. There was a belt as well; plain, with average stats below the standard of the floor, but it did allow you to equip three Throwing Picks and attack with them without entering an «Irregular Equipped State». I used it in the beta."
"Wow. So it's like my armor and cloak? It gives you the «Blade Throwing» skill?"
"Not exactly. Your armor is a buff that infers a temporary effect. Anyone can throw a pick or a pebble. Difference is you won't do much damage if it isn't a Sword Skill, and the «Throwing Blade» is best used as a distraction tool with its various mods rather than as a main weapon. If you could somehow apply the paralysis that Jiro's Crimson Tide has to the picks though, then we'd be having a very different conversation and that belt would be worth its weight in gold."
Especially to someone like Loki who likes to rob other players.
I don't know where that thought came from. But to be honest the thought had been playing about in the back of my mind ever since Jiro had received that spear. In a death-game like SAO movement-impeding effects like stun or tumble where dangerous but avoidable. Even for a solo-player the risk could be mitigated. Paralysis was an entirely different animal. Even in a party paralysis was deadly. Especially since we couldn't fully protect against paralysis right now. Shiro's «Suit of the Exile» resisted paralysis but it didn't outright negate it and we hadn't yet tested whether that gave diminished returns against paralysis of higher levels.
"Shhh, we're here." Shiro signed for quiet with a finger pressed to his lips.
The Commander we had been looking for was decked out in Medium Metal Armor and had a wickedly serrated curved-sword with an oily sheen strapped to his waist. Descending down his back to roughly the base of his shoulder-blades was a simple cloth cloak. If I had to guess I'd say his sword was coated in poison of some kind. There was an unnatural sheen along its edge; and it wasn't a trick of the light sadly.
"Watch that sword." I whispered to Shiro. "See how it reflects the light? Keep your antidote potions close to-hand, though it could just as quickly be paralysis poison. Remember what Ryne said about certain Fallen on this floor wielding paralysis level 1?"
"Got it. You got a plan of attack?"
"... Yeah," and I looked over at Asuka, "I need you to keep hidden alongside me. Shiro will draw their attention. See the two guards flanking him? As soon as they close on Shiro we'll ambush them. Good?"
"I'll keep an eye for reinforcements." Shiro answered.
"I'm ready!" Asuka whispered.
Shiro sprang into action. His «Howl» was effective even without the buff from his «Bull Hoplon» and his Mod «Wide-area Howl» allowed him to tag multiple targets at once and force them to target their aggression on him. As I had hoped the two guards advanced first. Minimalist leather gear and simple swords; Asuka and I would cut them down with ease. Our levels where far above the safety margin of the 3rd Floor; even considering that this was the final chapter of the Elf War on this floor. I was sitting at level 16 whilst Asuka and Shiro were sitting at 14. On the reverse Arashi was 15 whilst Jiro and Ryne where 13.
Shiro swung powerfully with his «Anneal Blade». Given its enhancements to Durability he might as well have been swinging a second shield. Both guards fell on him with attacks but his defences held firm. The first, having been knocked back by the weight of his swing, was intercepted by Asuka. Acute Vault -- a charging Claw-attack. Her «Exiles Threads» increased her critical chance and the final upgrade to her «Dire Wolf Claws» had gone into Accuracy. I saw the trajectory of her claws shift by a slight margin -- the system assisting in the deliverance of a critical hit -- and the guard was cut cleanly in two. Both halves of his body exploded into polygons.
The second guard turned his attention to Asuka but in that moment he turned his back to me. I disengaged my «Hiding» Skill and quickly propelled myself towards him, and immediately stopped when I was standing in the space between the second guard and his advancing commander. I unleashed Fell Crescent, my spinning motion encompassing three metres in every direction, and I heard a gargled groan and the distinct sound of a body shattering into polygons. The Commander blocked the majority of my attack on the edge of his blade and immediately sped towards me with his own Reaver.
I was prepared though. Before my delay could kick in I readied Crescent Moon and back-flipped. My foot impacted the edge of his sword and we both went skidding backwards. Unfortunately for me I landed hard on my back and fell into a tumble status for my trouble.
Shiro, however, picked up my slack. His shield glowed momentarily and he smashed it right across the Commander's face: an offensive shield Sword Skill called «Shield Bash» that dealt bludgeoning damage. Given that five of the six members of «Brightscale» used slashing-type attacks and only one used piercing, Shiro's «Shield Bash» was currently our only means of causing bludgeoning damage.
Its effect sent the Commander skidding backwards where he collided heavily with the wall. This served to knock him off balance and in that moment Asuka closed the distance between us and hauled me to my feet, which ended my tumble status a little quicker than it should have.
"He's recovering." Shiro noted.
"One more push."
Shiro was the MVP. He deflected every Sword Skill aimed our way with one of his own and whenever he couldn't he literally interposed himself in-front of that poison-coated blade. As I thought his armor resisted the poison, meaning it was paralysis, and it became a battle between a boss-mob and a sword-and-board tank. Although Shiro was level 14 the Commander was a Boss mob with heightened stats. He and Shiro where essentially equal; the sole difference was skill, and thankfully Shiro was superior in that regard.
The reinforcements Shiro had been concerned about before where appearing at regular intervals from behind. But I played Tank with them and Asuka dispatched them easily. Shiro soon whittled away at the Commander's health and dispatched him with a well-timed Sharp Nail.
"I've never focused so much in my entire life."
It was my turn to clap him on the shoulder.
"You did awesome, buddy. He didn't touch us once."
We recovered the key and got some nice drops. Asuka got the belt I talked about before -- a «Sheath Knife Belt» -- and I grabbed the sound-muffling boots I had also mentioned. Those I would likely give to Ryne assuming she didn't get anything of equal worth from the Forest Elf side. For his trouble Shiro netted the Commander's cape: «Swordsman Short Cape». He'd have to have Elise appraise it because I hadn't seen it drop in the beta.
"I'm hitting the bath as soon as we get back," Asuka yawned as she stretched her arms.
"I need a pint." Shiro added. "Even if it doesn't get me drunk I need to unwind."
"Agreed," I said with a grin. "Let's take it easy for the rest of the day. It is Christmas Eve after all."
And Asuka stopped dead in her tracks. "I completely forgot! There's a party in Rovia!!"
"Awesome! We can see the key to the Spirit Tree tomorrow afternoon and take it easy for the rest of the day. Sound like a plan?"
"Works for me."
"Guess its time to rove all over Rovia."
No one laughed at my killer joke.