This article, SAOK: The Moneymaking Crusade, is the sixth chapter of Sword Art Online (Kenji). This chapter formally introduces Ino Choyo, under the avatar name «Ryne», into the story. Her first documented appearance was a reference made in the accompanying SAOK Timeline.
December 19th, 2022.
The morning rays of a warm sun blinked in through gaps in the massive baobab trees to penetrate the windows of the inn -- aptly called "The Lofty Perch" -- where Arashi, Asuka, Shiro, Jiro, Elise, Sheila and myself sat at a rectangular table eating our breakfast.
The moment the girls finished eating they disappeared out the door with carpets held tightly against their chests.
"Watch those edges!" I shouted after them. "We're seventy-feet from the floor up here!!"
"SAFE-ZONE!!" Came their reply.
"... I think my chances of dying from heart-failure in this game has become more likely than me dying from anything monster related."
"You may be right." Asuka answered.
Our arrival on the 3rd Floor had come with some commotion. Elise and Sheila where to thank for that -- the girls had slaved over quests and their respective crafts since the 8th of December in a concentrated effort to reach their 4th skill slot as quickly as possible. Whilst they advanced their level -- and I had to admit that they pursued their shared goal with more fervor than we grown-ups did -- the rest of us had been gathering materials for them in the background at the expense of dedicated level-grinding or monster farming.
Our encounter with «Zagan the Exile» had been a happy mistake.
So how did the girls contribute to a fan-fare of commotion when we stepped through the teleport gate into Zumfut? There were three main factors.
The first was our armor. Every single one of us sans Arashi had our various material drops from «Zagan the Exile» converted into high-end gear. I myself was sporting a gladiatorial-like suit called the «Cardiophylax», Asuka had both the «Exiles Threads» and «Exiles Cloak» equipped to show for her materials, whilst Jiro netted himself a chest-piece called the «Exiles Cuirass». Perhaps the most noteworthy advancement in gear was Shiro. Our second tank had obtained a four-set piece consisting of upper-body, arms, legs and helmet aptly dubbed the «Suit of the Exile». He'd also scored the LA Bonus on «Zagan the Exile» and got the «Bull Hoplon».
Excepting that shield all of that gear had been crafted either by Elise or Sheila.
The second factor? Our weapons. Asuka and myself had finalised enhancement on our Dire Wolf Claws and Scimitar to +5 (4S1A) and +8 (5S3D) respectively, whilst Shiro had powered up his «Anneal Blade» to +5 (4D1S). Jiro had netted himself a new spear dubbed «Crimson Tide» using his materials from «Zagan the Exile», which had a frightening Paralysis effect of Level 2. What made it frightening? We didn't yet have the potions or crystals to safeguard against a Paralysis of that level. If I'd had that in the beta, hoo-boy. I'd have done some damage.
In terms of statistics and special attributes our new gear, on a whole, was far superior to some of the gear I'd seen on higher floors in the beta and our weapons shined with the luster of successful and high-level enhancement. Elise and Sheila had certainly outdone themselves and all our shining weapons and impressive-looking new armor was an advertisement of the twins' skills.
Now what was the third and final factor? The girls had met and befriended a business-savvy player called Ryne. For the last two days she'd been spearheading an effort to increase the girls customer base. They where offering repairs, appraisals, and custom orders at a reduced price. Given the fact that resources -- especially loot from treasure chests -- was finite, player-made gear would soon become the go-to. Of course there wasn't a scam involved. I still remember paying Argo for information regarding the so-called Blacksmith Scam.
People trusted the twins because they did good work and right now we were advertising the pinnacle of their crafting endeavors so far.
"Oi," I was snapped out of my prideful and almost parental musings by Arashi's gruff sound. "You gonna spend the whole day staring off into space?"
"Sorry, Arashi. Was just takin' it all in." He looked at me quizzically but I didn't offer an explanation. "When did Ryne say she was going to be here?"
"Just after 8:00." Asuka provided. "She said she wanted to buy up a few materials for sell-on before the window closed, whatever that means."
"It's just past 7:00 now." Shiro noted. "If its alright with you guys Jiro and I are gonna hit the Forest. We found a nice farming spot near this one gnarled tree that looks like an old oak."
Something about that description set my beta-brain off. A quick look at Arashi, who tensed visibly, brought the knowledge back.
"There's a reason that place is quiet." I interjected. "Its one of the few places on the floor where the Fallen Elves from the Elf War quest-line can spawn. If they're unchanged from the beta then they're called «Fallen Elven Ambusher». They aren't dangerous on their own but they do use weapons with Level 1 Paralysis, so if you see a group I'd suggest a retreat."
I saw Asuka noting stuff down and when I raised a quizzical eyebrow she smiled, mouthed "for Argo", and went right back to typing. Should I point out that Argo was a beta tester like myself and probably already knew this? I decided not to.
"Cheers for the heads up." Shiro answered. "We'll be back for the guild quests by 12:30."
They didn't leave the party and their names where still visible on my display. I just hoped I didn't see a lightning icon in a field of yellow appear beside their names.
It wasn't too long after their departure that Ryne herself appeared. Ryne sported shoulder-length blond-hair and wore a pink neckerchief. She was almost an entire head taller than Asuka, possessed a generous bust, and had an hourglass figure. When I looked at her I didn't see a gamer but a model. So how did she come to be playing SAO? I'd need to ask that question sometime down the line.
For now I offered my apologies and told Ryne and Asuka that I'd be finished with Arashi in just a moment.
Arashi and I where busy discussing the finer logistics of our goals here on the 3rd floor, so Asuka got Ryne and herself refreshments whilst Arashi and I finished up. Thus far we'd come to a rough outline: establish the guild and then begin the Elf War in earnest. Our plan for the latter campaign was to split off into two groups. I'd lead Team A, which would comprise myself, Asuka and Shiro. Arashi would lead Team B which would comprise Jiro and Ryne alongside Arashi himself. We'd tackle both sides -- the «Forest Elves» and «Dark Elves» -- concurrently and hopefully gain a wider spectrum of quest rewards and loot drops.
"Good morning everyone!" Ryne exclaimed cheerfully once Arashi and I signalled we where done talking. "Where's my girls?"
I smiled. "Off mimicking you. Said something about 'making bank' and ran out the inn door. Barely saw them for dust."
"Children say the strangest things, don't they? So, what have we agreed?" Straight to business. I liked her already. "'Cause time is money, after all."
"We've timed our window not to clash with anything the front-runners are doing so at 12:30 we'll be hitting the guild quest. We'll track down our randomly generated dungeon and do our thing. Once that's done we'll pick up the Elf War quest. The twins said they'll join me on the «Dark Elf» side so they'll stay here until we return and then party with Team A up until we hit the Dark Elf Camp."
"You plan to have this done today?" Ryne asked.
"Yeah," only it was Arashi who answered. "There'll be a bit of overlap and running to-and-fro but this way we'll get to fight and loot «Nephila Regina» three times."
Ryne's eyes practically sparkled.
"I love an efficient man. But doesn't that big spider drop webbing as a loot item?"
I didn't see the significance, hence my less-than-enthusiastic answer.
"Yeah? But why? It was useless in the beta."
"Aincrad's just a mishmash of myths, legends, and obscure real-life stories." She said in a very matter-of-fact tone. I nodded. "Spider webs where used in Europe once upon a time to treat injuries. Specifically bleeding wounds."
I finally saw the connection.
Ryne continued to drive the point home.
"Little Elise has a good proficiency in «Mixing». She could probably craft up a few curatives to counter a bleeding debuff. Don't some of the stronger Fallen Elves use attacks and weapons that cause bleeding? Even on this floor? When do potions curing that kind of debuff start showing up in shops?"
Right now we had access to antidotes capable of treating level 1 poison. That was about it.
"... We started seeing stronger potions near the end of the beta." The implications indeed. "Holy shit. Given the scarcity of crafters it isn't a jump in logic to say that Elise is probably the only mixer in SAO at the minute. Those webs sell cheaply too. Even if we don't get any as loot we could probably just buy them. Nice catch, Ryne!"
Arashi laughed as he looked at me. "When you told me that Elise and Sheila had found a woman who wanted to take them on a 'moneymaking crusade' I thought they where exaggerating. Glad they weren't."
"Ryne, from this moment on you're our very scary Treasurer." Asuka supplied.
And I had to agree. The woman had her head screwed on.
We set out at 12:30 as planned. We found our randomised cave just before 14:00 and dealt with «Nephila Regina» in under a minute. Considering our equipment that didn't shock me. What did was Ryne's fighting ability. She wielded a «Chakram» -- a ranged weapon whose earliest availability was as a rare drop within the 2nd Floor labyrinth -- so at the very least she had «Throwing Blade» and «Martial Arts» slotted. Before she partied up with us she had been a solo player, meaning she had managed to get herself the «Chakram» with nothing but low-level throwing weapons and close-quarter martial arts Sword Skills.
Given her business sense I had to admit to being very impressed by her.
When we returned to town we met up with Elise and Sheila. The twins had set up shop near the teleport plaza and each had a Vendor's Carpet laid out with an assortment of items.
Elise, as an aspiring cook and alchemist, had various food items and healing pots laid out on her mat front-and-center. Arranged in neat piles towards the back where various cloth and leather-based armors. «Cooking» and «Mixing» aside Elise also had the «Sewing» skill. Most of the gear she laid out was an improvement over the ordinary shop-bought gear available on this floor and, at Ryne's suggestion, she was selling at a price just slightly higher than the NPC vendors. Her ability to «Appraise» struck home the superiority of her wares. Her food was quite tasty too and more importantly different from the NPC vendors. And she was in her element! Elise was naturally energetic and fun-loving. Every dish had a story, every garment a history -- even if it hadn't been worn a day in its life and the punters loved it.
Sheila, meanwhile, was no less busy than her twin. Every time I looked at her forge it was shining and her hammer was rising and falling. She could handle repairs and enhancement easily and was offering a special price on those exact services per Ryne's suggestion. I stopped to watch her enhance a customer's «Scimitar» and stayed silent for the moment.
"Four enhancements please, for the time being. I have the materials. All to Sharpness."
I wanted to speak-up. I ran a «Scimitar» as well and I'd dumped three points into Durability. Under stress the blade was prone to breaking. But Sheila spoke up and my chest swelled with pride.
"Well, «Scimitar» is virtually identical stat-wise to an «Anneal Blade», with eight strengthening attempts." She answered crisply. "Putting your materials into Sharpness is fine though I would recommend at least one attempt be used for Durability instead," she answered. And she then swept her hand over towards me. "This man is Kishi. Like you he uses a «Scimitar»." I drew the blade and held it out for the player to inspect. "I've been repairing his gear for a while now and the blade appears to be prone to damage along the edge."
"She's right. I've dumped 3 into Durability."
He looked momentarily dejected before answering with a quiet, "... I don't have the materials for a Durability enhancement."
Sheila smiled warmly.
"That's fine. Perhaps we could trade? I have spare materials here; enough to cover your Durability upgrade. You cover my materials with your own and we'll call it even?"
Enhancement itself was a tricky proposition and I thought it smart for the player not to go beyond 4 at the moment. This early the percentage chance of successfully enhancing the gear after the fourth attempt was much more difficult. Impressively she succeeded on all four and the customer left very happy.
"I'm impressed. Very nicely done."
I saw colour rise in her cheeks and gently ruffled her dark hair.
"We got back a little earlier than expected." I saw from their signage that they where intending to close-up shop at 16:00. It was 15:23 right now. "We'll hold off on the guild until you two finish-up. We'll be loitering till then. And Elise! Save me one of those tasty jelly-looking tart-things you made. My stomach's saying 'FEED ME'!"
"Okay!" They answered together.
By the end of the day there was new guild in Aincrad. «Brightscale» was born and our abbreviation -- «BS» -- spoke of Ryne's marketing intent. All I saw was a tongue-in-cheek ice-breaker when recruiting new members. But right now we where golden. Six combat members and two crafters? Yeah. I think that was pretty awesome.