This article, SAOK: Unexpected Meetings, is the opening chapter of Sword Art Online (Kenji). It features Kenji Hiroshi, Kusaka Kori and Airi Natsume, under the online names of «Kishi», «Arashi» and «Asuka» respectively.
"Kishi, over there! Trouble."
My current companion and party member was a dark-haired fair-skinned man comparable in age to me. I wasn't one-hundred percent sure but I think he was only a few months older than me, and I was twenty-six. In the real world he and I had gone to the same school once-upon-a-time but we hadn't been anything more than casual acquaintances at best. We both enjoyed running, I recalled, but that was about the extent of our shared experiences.
It was amazing what Sword Art Online changed. That casual acquaintance had become a life-line to the real world.
His name was Kusaka Kori but his online alias was «Arashi» and his build was a solid Two-handed Sword user with heavy armor. A Tank in every sense. My eye followed his pointing finger and I momentarily caught a glimpse of his HP meter, which was sitting steady at just over 70%. In comparison mine was full; Arashi done his job very well. A number -- 12 -- sat near his name and indicated his level. High for the time we'd spent in the game but our EXP meters had slowed to a crawl since we hit it.
I looked off towards the right and immediately sprang into action. Near the base of a tree a green cursor caught my eye. The player was down, likely having suffered the tumble status, and a single larger-than-usual Dire Wolf appraoched with barred fangs.
"On it!" I called back.
Reaver may have been the most basic of the One-handed Curved Sword skill-tree but it was a skill that one could initiate on a charge, and that was exactly what I did. Given my level -- also 12 -- and damage-focused build, my target exploded into thousands of polygonal shards as the curved edge of my Scimitar +4 struck home! Good thing it did too. The large Dire Wolf in question had just about been ready to take a nice meaty chunk out of some poor sod.
Arashi, as a tank in heavy armor, took about as long as it took me to kill the monster and get through my post-skill delay just to catch up to me. By that time I was turning around to see who I'd saved.
"Ummm... thank you."
I said "You're welcome," as I hauled the player -- a dark-haired girl -- to her feet. "My names Kishi and the guy sweating into his armor is Arashi."
"... I'm Asuka."
It would be later, much later, before she told me her real name was Airi Natsume and that, at the time I met her, she was 17 years old. But that's a story for another time. Right now I was standing in the open fields between the Town of Beginnings and Tolbana looking at a petite girl with short-cut black hair and a frightened expression on her face. Then Arashi opened his big-mouth.
"Look," Arashi began, "I'm not trying to be rude, but you shouldn't be out here alone. Tolbana is the closest area to the 1st Floor Labyrinth. This place is dang-!"
I cut in smoothly.
"Arashi, this isn't the time or the place. Asuka," and I made sure I was pronouncing that right before continuing, "you're welcome to join us. While I don't agree with his delivery Arashi is right. You'll be safer travelling with us."
I could understand why she suddenly started crying. And so it transpired that, roughly four weeks into this game of death, Arashi and myself found ourselves with a new companion. When we got to Tolbana she asked to stay with us and very nearly tripped over her own mouth as she explained that she was tired of being alone all the time. She joined our party and a third name appeared in my eye-line: «Asuka» and the number beside her name was 5.
Keeping her around and helping her out certainly slowed our own progression but we didn't care at that point. Asuka was a breathe of fresh air. Arashi and I had been beta testers. What we saw as old she saw as new and refreshing and it lifted our spirits immeasurably. I can honestly say that meeting Asuka was what first got me thinking about forming a guild. But sadly that was only possible on the 3rd Floor and given the current state of things within the player-base that was a long way off. But we had farming to do before that.
"Come on, I know a mob that drops a nice pair of claws." I called.
"I bet this is going to be one of those infuriatingly low drop-rate things." Asuka answered quickly.
"You'd be right." Arashi chimed in. "Monster dropped or treasure loot is the most effective at the minute. But I'll let you two handle that. I've finally tracked down my cousin."
It took seven hours of tedious farming. But in the end Asuka got her claws. Given the floor they where a nice pair with a +3 boost to agility and a percentage chance to inflict a bleeding damage-over-time effect. The one downside was that it could only be enhanced up to five times. Still it would reliably serve her to the beginning of the 4th Floor. Assuming we reached that far.
"Shall we head back?" Asuka asked.
"... Yeah, I'm curious to know how things went with Arashi." But I hesitated. "But before we do I'm famished! What'll it be tonight?"
"We haven't tried that expensive fish dish yet."
"Fish it is!"