Black Leaves

Chapter 1 - Apocalypse

'Recklessness is the way of the young, and tolerance is the beauty of adulthood.'

- Nyanta, Log Horizon

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Londinium- Safe Half
Northern European Server
Ulster Knight Sword Alliance/Londinium
City/ No Monsters present
No PvP
Entry Restrictions/ None
Exit Restrictions/ None

"What's gonna happen to us?"

"We're screwed, man! Royally screwed!"

"What if we die? Do we stay dead?! What happens to us!?"

These were some of the few worried shouts which echoed across the ruined city, its buildings looking more suited to a modern setting than a world of swords and sorcery. But everyone recognized the moss covered buildings and the large tower in the distance, along with the houses of parliament... They were in London, but in the game it was known as 'Londinium'.

One of these ruined buildings had a gaping hole in its side, probably to help the setting appear more post-apocalyptic but it also served as the spawning point for a hooded, cloaked green figure with a bow strapped across his back and a pair of daggers hung across his front. Moss stretched along the walls and claimed it like a green plague but a few beams of light came in through the fissure, still providing illumination for the rooms on the upper floors.

The figure stood silent for a few minutes, but on the inside, his mind was racing.

'Where am I? Is this the game? I was just sitting at my desk a few minutes ago, playing... Elder Tale.'

'I can't believe it... But this is my gear. My bow, my daggers, my cloak. How is this possible? I feel different... Christ, I can't think with the sun in my eyes like this.'

A hand, clad in a glove that didn't quite reach his fingertips but made a valiant effort to, emerged from the cloak and hovered just in front of his eyes to cut off the sunlight. Before he could be startled at his apparent change of clothes , a black menu with green borders popped up in front of his eyes, with a list of options – apparently the in-game menu still existed.

'Huh... Guess I could start with this.'

So he did, lowering his hand and clicking on the most promising button.

Options.

And there it was, the logout button. So he could get out of this odd world before things got odder. The Ranger clicked the button labelled 'Logout' only to have a red light blink at him accompanied by a soft beep.

Plan A just went out the window.

'Right... Looks like I'm stuck here. This is pretty disturbing… but now isn't the time. I need to meet up with-'

His inner monologue was cut off by the sound of a telephone ringing, complete with a screen popping up in front of him and an image of a phone off its hook.

Algar!

He raised his hand and pressed it to his ear, similar to how he had watched his own avatar do when he had been playing the game through a monitor.

Doing so, he heard a very welcome voice, "Yo! You there, Cap?"

"Algar, nice to hear your voice."

"You too, buddy, but now we need to link up and figure out what the hell is going on. Send me your location and I'll meet up with you, bud."

The figure paused, raising his right hand and dragging his minimap from the edge of his vision, bringing it to the centre. The map showed him the imminent area and all he saw was rows upon rows of streets, all with their own separate names.

"King's street. Building with a massive hole in the side. Get here soon."

"Roger."

Now all he had to do was wait. And think about what was going on, the current state of things, how he'd get back home, and how he'd survive in the meanwhile. Really, he had quite a lot to do other than wait.

Clancy Ebonleaf was the Elven leader of the Black Leaves guild, comprised of a group of friends who decided to make a name for themselves in their server's raiding scene. After a year or two, they became infamous as the only major role-playing guild that had the gear and numbers for raid dungeons, much to the chagrin of the other large raid guilds. They weren't restrictive in recruitment in any way, but they still somehow managed to get more Elven members then they did any of the other races. Algar, the max-level Bard, was one of the exceptions, being of the Wolf Fang race.

Maybe they should have been more careful in planning, or maybe they should have just logged on the day after the expansion was released, but in their haste to get an early head-start on the other top guilds, now found themselves in what looked and felt like a whole new world. Some of their other guild mates had thought the same at the time, but looking down his friends list, he wasn't feeling confident about that guess.

It was just the two of them out of every- Wait.

Neria

The Druid? She hardly ever spoke to him but was a natural at the druid class for when they went out adventuring and was perhaps one of the most valuable healers they ever had the pleasure of meeting (and recruiting). She wasn't an Elf, being one of the other exceptions in the guild as one of the rarest races in the game - The Race of Ritual.

Due to their ridiculously low health, they were one of the least popular races among players. Their saving grace came from their abnormally high magical stats, but few casters were willing to sacrifice that much survivability for relatively low gain. Clancy had never taken much interest in the race since he had had known what he would be from the start, but that didn't stop him from admiring the odd tattoos and runes spread across her body whenever he saw her. Well, her avatar's body. There was something to be said for taking an interest in pixels, but maybe now...

He shook his head to clear those kinds of thoughts from his mind. 'Here I am, alone in what looks like a whole new world, and the first thing I think about is a girl.' He allowed himself a rueful smile and hit the button to call her.

After a short ringtone, he heard the sound of shuddering breaths and some panicked shouts in the background. Was she crying? "Neria. Are you there?"

"Ranger-Captain! Where are you?!"

She sounded worried, panicky, even. Heh, just like a healer to grow attached to the people she had been looking after - or maybe it was just the fact they were all stuck here in a strange place that looked exactly like a game they had been playing. He couldn't blame her for breaking down like that; he felt oddly detached right now, like the reality of it all hadn't sunk in yet.

"King's Street. I'm in the building with the massive hole in it."

"On my way!"

Well, at least now they would have a healer to survive in battles, even though he took it upon himself to make a single rule for being... well, himself. 'If I get hit in a battle, something has already gone wrong.'

With the call ended, Clancy was left alone in the silent, sun-streaked room. Realizing that he still felt calm, the newly incarnated Elf decided to take advantage of his composure and raised his arm to call out the menu again. He looked through his Skills menu to find that everything was where it should be, along with his status and inventory screens. Briefly, he wondered if he'd have to dress himself using the menu – that'd certainly be convenient.

He paused at that thought. Once more, he considered the situation – here in what looked, felt, and even smelled like the real world. He rubbed his fingers along his leather bracers, noting that the slightly rough texture actually felt like authentic animal skin, complete with the telltale scent of cured leather. He considered the possibility that he was dreaming, but dismissed it after pinching himself and feeling the physical sting. This obviously wasn't just a game anymore, even though some odd things like his HP/MP bar and menu still existed, he felt like he could be just standing outside on a nice summer afternoon at home.

Speaking of home, with the unresponsive logout button, he was left without an easy way back. Maybe he could try to find a GM, if they still existed, to forcibly log him out and send him home. Or maybe he just had to die and he'd wake up in his room, like in some cliché movie.

Once more, he was surprised at his nonchalance. He had just considered killing himself to see what would happen. He guessed that he was taking the situation better than most would – maybe being the leader of a role-playing guild helped him to adapt to new situations? Was he getting too into his character? Given how he'd kept his cool so far, was that really a bad thing?

Indeed, never before in his life had he felt so strong. The Elven body of Clancy Ebonleaf held a deep strength and agility that he'd never had in reality. He felt like he could do a hundred push-ups and not even get tired. In retrospect, he was glad that he'd modelled his in-game avatar roughly after his real body. Granted, he was a bit taller and obviously much stronger, but those didn't seem to affect him except for some minor disorientation at first. Overall, he felt good.

The sound of boots crunching against pebbles brought him back to reality. The Ranger-captain turned his head slightly and spotted a man wearing the same cloak and hood that he had, but with bushier hair and a pair of canine ears poking out. The hood was pulled back, but even when it was up, it couldn't cover his head due to the competition with his wild hair. Despite that, the man never seemed to be bothered by it at all, even when it did seem to get in the way.

Long, black hair swept down to his upper chest and pooled in his hood whilst a pair of soothing brown eyes met the green eyes of the Captain. "Nice to see ya, Cap. Wish it were under better circumstances though."

Idly, Clancy noticed that the other man seemed a bit stressed. It looked like he was trying to be calm, his face was schooled into a confident expression but his fists were clenched and even through the nondescript brown leather armor he wore, Clancy could tell that his muscles were tensed. The Elven man wondered what he looked like in turn.

He already knew who it was, but Clancy double checked the nametag that appeared when he focused on the larger man anyway:

Algar
Race/Wolf Fang
Bard, Lv. 90
Black Leaves

Clancy just nodded in response, still staring out at the city of Londinium and spying a few flickers of light as people made torches or cast spells. After a few more moments of crunching pebbles, he felt, rather than saw, the tall wolf fang standing next to him, easily on par with his height, complete with a slightly worried look on his face. "So, you know what the fuck is going on?"

Silence was the answer to that question, Algar just chuckling lightly before drawing an elaborate halberd with strange runes on the pole and a jagged metal axe head from the holder on his back and giving it a few test swings in front of him. Clancy recalled the dungeon in which that weapon had dropped, as soon as he saw it, Algar had immediately claimed it, daring anyone else to try and take it. Thankfully, he was the only halberd user in the group at the time, so no argument broke out.

"Anyone else coming?"

"Neria."

"The Druid lass? She'll be useful to have around," All he did was nod, but that seemed good enough for the Bard who just went back to testing his weapon, swinging and thrusting it about experimentally before he abruptly stopped. "How're we meant to use abilities? Surely it'll be too troublesome to open up the ability menu in mid combat, click on the skill and all that... Maybe there's a trick to it?"

Nothing was certain right now, the only answer for that question being more and more questions on top of it. Still, it was a logical query, how would they do things now? As a long range fighter, he could still quite easily stay at range and shoot enemies from afar, but it'd take so much longer to kill them without using skills.

"So what's your plan for the guild?" Another serious question came from the Wolf Fang's mouth that sent Clancy's mind off on a tangent. What would he do? What would they do? With just the three of them, the smartest thing to do would have been to go out and recruit, but right now it was smarter to link up and discuss their next course of action, seeing as he doubted the rest of the players in Londinium would be amenable to blatant guild recruitment right now.

"We wait."

"Always the man of few words, 'ey cap?"

Algar chuckled as an evil glare was sent his way and silence soon reclaimed them. As they waited, they heard the shouts of alarm and cries of panic rising from the distant city below. Normal people might have felt pity for the Adventurers down there or even tried to help them, but Algar knew better than to expect that of the Captain. He'd learned the hard way what the Cap would do in a situation that required something more than frenzied panicking. It was better to take their mind off the current situation or try and figure out a way to survive for themselves.

It took a few more minutes for Neria to arrive. When she did, they were alerted by the sound of fast footsteps on the pebbles causing the crunch to practically echo through the desolate building. This time, Clancy did turn around, meeting the azure blue eyes of Neria with his own emerald green; spotting the tear tracks indicative of the panic that so pervaded the city. He was right – she had been crying.

The Druid was wearing an armour set that looked more fitting of a real life shaman, with a mixture of bird feathers and animal hides scattered across her body. One shoulder was covered by multicoloured feathers but the other was bare, the only visible flesh on her body aside from her face and hands. The feathers were colored a mismatch of tan, brown and black, clearly from different species of bird with chief among them being raven feathers. She held a gnarled wooden staff with a luminescent green crystal at the tip; several shades of dark-colored feathers were tied to the haft, adding to her feral spellcaster theme. Seeing the two familiar faces, she dropped her staff and brought her hands to her face, crying out, "Captain! Algar!"

More out of habit than anything else, Clancy checked the nametag that popped up when she entered the building:

Neria
Race/Ritual
Druid, Lv. 90
Black Leaves

And that was all it took for the girl to collapse to the ground, only stopped by the warm embrace of Algar who managed to catch her. Clancy didn't move, only staring at the girl as she wept into the arms of the Bard before he turned back around to stare out at the city.

"I... I..."

"Shh, shh... Calm down lass..." Algar soothed the girl, moving a loose strand of that wild brown hair of her eyes and giving her a small wolfish grin. Neria's avatar was about the size of your average teenage girl, making her the smallest of the three but by no means making her small out of all the people in the guild. She was in fact, quite tall by teenage standards but still had some time to go. The tattoos on the sides of her face marked her as one of the Race of Ritual and made any would-be assailants target her ahead of the others but they always regretted it in the end... Nobody ever got away with that attitude when Algar and the rest of the guild were around.

"Calm down... Yeah... Calm..." Neria mumbled, fiddling with her hands for a few moments before looking up at Clancy and seeing something that was familiar and comforting in a weird way but it still sent a warm vibe through her body.

Clancy Ebonleaf
Race/Elf
Assassin, Lv. 90
Black Leaves – Guild Master

"Sorry... Sorry about that, Captain... I just... Just..." Her bottom lip was trembling again as Algar tightened his grip on the girl, pulling her in for a closer hug whilst quietly shushing her.

"Don't worry lass, the Cap understands that not everyone is a heartless bastard like him," A small smile appeared on Neria's face and Algar broke out in one of his own to match. "There ya go! Good as new. Now, the Cap has a plan since he always does. Right, Cap?"

The two became silent as Neria clawed her way out of Algar's embrace. She remained on the floor with her eyes glistening slightly as she gazed up at Clancy's back. His elven ears made his hood widen on each side of his face, making it look like someone had stuck a probe through his head. Apparently it wasn't uncomfortable in the slightest, or so he had told her.

The Bard stood up the moment Neria was free of him, turning to face the back of their captain with a small smirk playing across his lips. For his part, Clancy was deep in thought, trying to figure out a way to appease their worries.

'Will they accept this plan? Will they like it? Probably not, unfortunately. But it'll answer a few questions about the current state of things whilst also keeping the image of a strong Ranger. I can't afford to fall apart, especially now and not in front of them.'

"How much gold did you two have in the bank before... this?" Each word was calculated and seemed to have some implied meaning. Neria and Algar glanced at one another before looking back at Clancy.

"I had one hundred thousand gold... Had to play the trade for a few days after that successful week of raiding but what else was there to do?"

"I have... Last I checked - Seventy thousand, not including items and ingredients I have stored away." The Druid looked thoughtful for a few moments, lifting a hand to support her head as she thought. Her messy brown hair seemed to frame her face perfectly in that moment.

"What's your plan, skipper?"

"Hmph. We're moving to the guild building - Store all your goods that you aren't going to use there," Clancy paused, whipping around and causing his cloak to spin wildly, kicking up a cloud of dust in the process. But then a thought crossed the Ranger's mind and he couldn't resist it... maybe it would work? Bringing up his inventory screen, he scrolled down for a few moments whilst the other two looked on in confusion. To them, it just looked like he was flicking at mid-air but Neria let out a soft gasp when a wooden flute appeared out of nowhere and landed in the Ranger's waiting palm.

'A Flute of Hippogryph Summoning!'

"So those still work, aye?" Algar started to go through the same motions, albeit faster since he wanted to see for himself. Sure enough, a few moments later, a similar flute landed in his open hand and then Neria followed suit with her own. They, along with the rest of the guild, had earned these as a reward for a rather difficult raid quest some time ago. Apparently, it was a sign of a powerful group, as only the top guilds on the server had them, making them one of the elite few.

Now the two watched their leader for the next thing to do, only to see him slot the flute into his belt before seemingly disappearing in a green blur as he strode in between them. Algar and Neria exchanged a confused glance before following Clancy down the many floors of the building and out through the main entrance and then into the streets.

The road was quiet, but the further they went, the louder the distant sound of other Adventurers met their ears. It took them only fifteen minutes to reach the ruined Houses of Parliament. In-game, the palace was known as the 'Guild Building' since any player-formed guild could buy a Guild Hall here and Adventurers could store their items in the bank attached. The three of them walked among other players clad in a myriad of different armors and weapons.

Clancy ignored all of them, resolutely striding past many a desperate soul. Algar just followed suit, trying to ignore them similar to Clancy but only succeeding to a point. Neria was torn between wanting to help the other people and following the other two. She was, in fact, so torn that Algar had to lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry lass, the Cap may be a dark, soulless bastard, but you know he's got his heart in the right place."

So she sighed, since that was all she could do. After all, she didn't really have a way to help the other despairing Adventurers; she was the one being comforted not twenty minutes ago! She let Algar lead her to the Hall where they stored anything that was not absolutely necessary, along with Clancy's bow, much to the strange looks she gave him. Apparently, he felt that his main weapon wasn't something he was going to use right now – just what did he have planned? The three of them talked to one of the clerks who was strangely calm, given the situation, about their stored goods before departing just as quickly as they had come. They kept their flutes with them, tucked in secure places. For Algar, that was the top of his collar with some of his hair tied to keep it in place. For Neria, It was at her waist, securely tucked within her belt.

But that wasn't the end of his plan, as Clancy led the way back out of the building and made for the main avenue. They knew that this road would lead to the first zone 'outside' of Londinium where you could fight monsters. The three of them stood on the edge of the bridge that marked the border of the city, beyond which was the first monster zone. The city was separated in two, with the 'safe half' surrounded by a thick wall on three sides whilst a river guarded the fourth. In the real world, it was the river Thames, but here it was known as the 'River of Diligence'. Only the creators knew why. The other side of the city was known as the 'Infested Half,' part of a low to mid-level event where players must cull the growing goblin army before they attack the safe half of the city. For Clancy and his max-level companions, it would be a good place to test out how actual combat felt.

A few other Adventurers looked at the three like they were insane whilst others just watched with a mixture of interest and irritation written clearly in their features.

"Are those idiots so eager to die?"

"So brave yet so foolish..."

"Who the hell are they?"

"Seems we gathered an audience, Cap." The Bard muttered, pulling out his polearm and swinging it experimentally before bringing it in front and holding it there for a few moments, looking ready to charge forward into battle.

Clancy, in his typical fashion, didn't reply. Instead, he kept his eyes fixed on the bridge ahead of them.

"We can do this... We're the Black Leaves, after all!" Neria declared, slamming the end of her stave against the ground to solidify the statement.

"Let's go."

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Londinium - Infested Half
Northern European Server
Ulster Knight Sword Alliance/Londinium
Field/No monsters
Demihumans present
Entry restrictions/None
Events/None currently

It took several minutes to cross the bridge. As they walked, the cold air harassed them and the sun began to make its descent in the sky. Getting closer, a smell gathered and slowly intensified and it wasn't just because they were entering a zone with enemies. Once the three reached the far side of the bridge, they spotted something they had only seen through their monitors but now... It hit them like a ton of bricks.

A pair of carved stone heads fixed on a crude and bloody wooden spike, with crudely drawn expressions of agony on them. A warning to any who entered... The only warning before they came.

Even now, the three of them stiffened at the sound of a crow cawing in the distance. Gathering their courage, they continued on deeper into the ruins. All three were on edge and the dull chill which had begun to settle did nothing to help them as the trio made their way down the first street. Whilst in the 'safe' area of Londinium there was simply moss everywhere, here things were different. Dilapidated buildings crushed by boulders filed along either side of the thoroughfare and loose pieces of stone were strewn across the streets. Perhaps most eerily, small, red eyes stared at them from within the alleyways between buildings.

Needless to say, the three were now on guard. Clancy unsheathed his twin elvish daggers whilst both Algar and Neria held their weapons aloft in readied positions.

'The Goblins... They're amassing. We need to make our move before they make theirs.'

Clancy formulated a plan quickly. These were comparatively low leveled monsters; three max-level players should have no problem taking down a group of monsters from this side of Londinium. They didn't have a heavily-armored tank with them, so they would probably have to juggle aggro. Even then, dungeon mob or not, a level 25 had no chance against a level 90, much less three of them. Excepting Neria's racially weak constitution, their natural stat differences should prevent any major damage.

Somehow, that thought felt hollow to his mind.

As he pondered, a group of five goblins, all similarly armed with basic curved swords and slabs of metal for shields, stalked from a nearby alleyway towards the party. From behind the safety of a monitor, they merely looked gross, but seeing them in person carried a different feeling. With his excellent eyesight, Clancy could see the green, mottled, leather-like skin of their faces, contorted into bloodthirsty smiles or angered snarls. In person, they didn't look just gross, they looked terrifying.

He shook his head to gather his wits; Algar and Neria were looking at him, no doubt expecting some sort of plan from the ever-plotting Clancy Ebonleaf. Thankfully, this was something he was good at.

"Algar, use Ballad of the Gullible Snail to slow their movement speed. None of us have the durability of a tank, and since you have a weapon with long reach, you can kite the group around while we deal damage."

"Aye, Cap. Count on me." The Bard smirked, raising his weapon and opening his skill menu, ready for the advancing group.

"Neria, we'll need you to help take them down as well. Use one of your Servant Summons and basic attack spells to keep up your MP. You've been pretty good in the past with managing HP recovery - you need to both keep up the damage and save your MP for emergency heals, got it?"

Somewhat stunned by how calm her leader was, Neria nodded despite her shaking hands. Healing people was something she liked doing and was good at, but that was when this was just a game... How was she supposed to use all those spells in the menu when the goblins were right there in front of her? What if she messed up and someone got hurt? A gnawing feeling deep within her told her that this wouldn't be anything like the game was.

"What about you, Cap? Ain't gonna ditch us and run, right?" Algar grinned at the ranger - friendly banter before a battle was a staple of much of their roleplaying. Neither of them questioned whether this was an appropriate time to fall into old habits.

"Only when you turn tail and scream like a little girl, Algar," he drily replied. The other man guffawed loudly and Clancy continued, "I'll set up Poison Fog in the center of the road, you'll have to kite them in and around it without going through yourself. Once it's dissipated, I'll move in with Accel Fang to keep up my damage. Let's do this."

They nodded at him, one eager and one nervous. Seeing that they were as ready as they'd ever be, Clancy charged forward, manipulating his menu to bring up his skills. The group of goblins saw the green hooded man rushing forward to meet them and began a disorganized charge to clash halfway. Their shrill cries of battle tore through the air, no doubt alerting their hidden brethren that intruders were afoot.

Just before he was in range of the first enemy, the Ranger-Captain released the ability and a smog of green poison gas spread outwards from his position, wavering in the air. Taking advantage of the goblins' sudden halt, he surged forward to get behind the group and yelled, "Algar, now!"

Still on the opposite side of the toxic cloud, the canine Bard quickly hit the button on his menu corresponding to the skill. Immediately, a great purple shockwave tore through the air, radiating outward from where he stood. Reaching the goblins, they shook slightly as if in pain and shifted their focus from the Assassin behind them to the Bard in front of them. Their steps were uneasy and slow, as if worried about losing balance and falling over.

Before Algar could charge in to attack, he saw a flash to his right and a great bear materialized in front of Neria, the spell Servant Summon: Forest Bear. When the bear roared mightily and charged, Algar grinned and charged alongside it, moving to meet the approaching goblins just outside of the poison cloud's range.

Clancy, seeing that the enemies were not focused on him after a few seconds, quickly scrolled down his skill menu and selected Accel Fang, a multi-hit Assassin physical skill that increases attack speed dependent on the number of times the target is struck. It was rather awkward to do, since after the skill was activated, he had to then move his hands and close the menu with the daggers still equipped - an action that took a few precious seconds. 'There has to be a better way to do this...' Mentally preparing himself, Clancy moved to strike once his summoned fog evaporated.

Despite his frustration, he managed to score a double hit on an unarmored goblin's back, who whipped around to face him in a fury. He idly noted that his knives were dripping black blood, not a feature he explicitly remembered from the game. The goblin, realizing that the man behind it was more of a threat than the Bard in front of it, swung its curved sword toward the hooded elf's midsection.

For his part, Clancy saw it coming and stepped backwards, out of range for the strike. Thinking it safe out of the goblin's reach, he took a second to catch his breath, underestimating the monster's dexterity. After missing with the sword slash, the goblin stepped forward and bashed its crude shield into Clancy's gut, knocking the wind out of his lungs.

He wasn't ready for the pain that accompanied it. For some reason, he was still treating this as a game, like he wasn't actually there, fighting against a creature that meant to hurt him - meant to kill him. Before they left for this half of Londinium, he thought he was prepared to fight, thought he was better than the other Adventurers in the city, too scared to venture forward. It was the entire reason he had them come out here, to get an edge over the rest by getting a taste of the real combat he knew they'd eventually be forced into, but he was wrong, he was far from prepared for actual combat. His body somehow knew the correct way to wield his daggers, the exact moment to dodge a strike before moving into counterattack, the right moment to parry a strike and riposte… but his mind was still the same eighteen year-old Orion Smith, who had never held a knife for anything but slicing food, never even been in a fight before this! His mind was spinning in a frantic whirl. Clancy doubled over, out of breath and out of time to dodge the goblin's follow-up, which neatly cleaved through his light leather armor and carved a ragged, bloody slash across his chest.

The ranger screamed out in pain as he stumbled back - compared to the shield bash, the feeling of cold metal slicing skin was unmatched in intensity and his mind crashed to a halt.

"Captain!" Neria, who until now had been focusing on the same target as Algar, cried out in alarm. Before she even realized what she was doing, she pointed her staff at Clancy's bloody form and called out, "Heartbeat Healing!"

She blushed in embarrassment for accidentally yelling the name of her spell, but she was shocked to see her weapon covered in a shimmering green light, followed by Clancy's body doing the same. Slowly, the party leader felt the pain ebb away in time with his heartbeat, the wound miraculously knitting shut.

Algar, who had had watched the exchange, came to a wide-eyed realization, "Cap! Get up and move! Call out your skill names!" Looking toward the nearest goblin, the Bard followed his own advice and howled "Resonance Beat!" slashing diagonally with his halberd's axe just after the demihuman began to glow softly. The goblin, unaware of what the skill meant, deflected the very obvious attack away, and upon impact, causing an intense vibration to spread from his shield to his arm to the rest of his body. Seeing his hypothesis proven true, Algar shifted his grip and thrust the polearm into the dazed monster's chest. The Bard's skill, which only truly takes effect when a second strike is landed, doubled the vibration in the goblin's form, causing it to screech in agony when a grotesque amount of black fluid erupted from its ears, eyes and mouth. Thoroughly disgusted, Algar withdrew his weapon, causing the goblin to fall to the ground, still writhing during its final choking breaths.

Acutely aware of the injured goblin that struck him about to finish him off, Clancy rolled to the side, lashed out with one dagger and yelled "Sweeper!" to use an Assassin skill excellent for finishing off weakened single targets. As his arm moved, the knife shone with a red light and he somehow knew where to strike to kill the goblin. Slightly changing the trajectory, he plunged the blade of his dagger into the side of the goblin's neck before brutally sweeping it across to the other end. A torrent of blackened blood surged out of the wound as the goblin gurgled out its death throes and fell to the ground, lifeless.

This was... This was nothing like the game, Clancy realized. He could still feel the phantom pain from his chest wound and the sensation of slight resistance when he ripped out that goblin's throat hadn't left his hands. He found himself frozen, nailed to the spot as the reality of what just did struck him.

However, the same could not be said of the three remaining goblins. Seeing two of their number cut down threw the rest into a blood frenzy, apparently shaking off the earlier debuffs and, with an uncoordinated screech, causing them to charge directly for Neria, who had apparently stolen aggro with the emergency heal.

Her summoned bear intercepted the first with a great roar, biting out its throat even as the armed goblin struck it through the heart, ensuring a mutual kill. She panicked as the other two ran forward heedless; seeing the suddenly very real and bloodthirsty monsters getting nearer sent her thoughts spinning. Without preamble, she shrieked "Hail Wind!" buffeting the charging enemies with icy winds and razor hail, but not doing enough to stop their mad charge.

She stumbled backwards to the ground as the second one drew near enough to strike when, with a great bellowed "Stay away from her!" Algar body checked the demihuman, suddenly overcome with an animalistic urge to tear his foe to pieces for threatening his friend.

However, by then the last charging goblin was upon her, raising its jagged curved sword high above its head, poised for a deadly strike. With no way out of this, she cried out for the only hope she could see, "Captain!"

Time seemed to slow for the dazed Clancy, who was feeling like a puppet with cut strings. This didn't feel like a game anymore, this was far too real. He was shaken out of it when he heard Neria's desperate plea, 'She needs me. I need to save her.' He tried to move his feet, but they wouldn't listen, like they had a mind of their own. If he didn't move now, he wouldn't be able to save his guildmate. He had to move. He had to save her.

But he was afraid. Even now, the illusory pain of his healed chest wound haunted him, and he unconsciously grasped at it. When he got hit, it felt like he was going to die - like his heart would burst and he would bleed out on the ground. If he ran forward to engage, he would be hit again, injured again, and he might actually die this time.

Clancy was frozen, but the rest of the world didn't seem to care.

He watched in slow-motion as the goblin brought down its sword.

'If I don't move, Neria will die.'

More than anything, that thought chilled him to the bone. He was the leader of the Black Leaves guild, even if he was faking it most of the time. He didn't have the charisma that Algar had, only a strategic intelligence suited for a game, not for real life leadership. He had been feigning his earlier confidence, because that's what was expected of him. Orion Smith, the shy, withdrawn teenager, was not a leader. Everyone thought that Clancy Ebonleaf was a leader, so he became one. He had to be a leader because Clancy Ebonleaf was a leader. Orion Smith was Clancy Ebonleaf, but Clancy Ebonleaf was not Orion Smith.

He could not be both, and everyone else wanted him to be a leader, so he would just have to discard the frightened kid named Orion Smith and become the leader called Clancy Ebonleaf instead.

And Clancy Ebonleaf would be a poor leader if he let his guildmates die while he stood idly by.

So he ran towards her, dark green cloak whipping behind him. With a yell borne of the anguish and despair in his soul, feeling as if he was discarding an important part of him to survive – to ensure his friends survived - he charged toward the goblin with reckless abandon, whose sword was plunging downwards.

His lungs burned as he sprinted as fast as his legs would take him; the pit in his stomach deepened - he wouldn't make it to her in time. Orion Smith was weak, and his hesitation would cost the life of his precious guildmate.

With a triumphant cackle, the goblin brought down its curved sword, piercing through the lightly armored Druid's gut. At the same time, he entered into range and crossed his arms in front of him. Powered by anger, despair, and grim determination, he shouted "Assassinate!" swinging his glowing-red daggers forward like a pair of macabre scissors, neatly severing the grinning goblin's head from its shoulders. The resultant spray of blood was akin to an overflowing fountain.

Clancy stood there for a moment, panting desperately for air as the headless body tumbled to the side. Below him, Neria looked up in wonder. Before she blacked out from the blood loss, her only thought was about how safe she felt, under that cold gaze. Her HP was halved and dropping steadily, he realized.

Before Clancy could utter a word, Algar was upon her with several bloody gashes on his face and arms. "Cap, we have to get out of here now, she's not going to make it if we can't find a healer pronto!"

Once again, he was shaken out of a daze. He nodded and made to pick her up, but Algar was already a step ahead, taking her into a bridal carry. Clancy shook his head as if to ward away the haze on his mind and said, "Let's go," before pulling out the flute tucked into his belt. He was glad that he'd had the foresight to prepare the Flute of Hippogryph Summoning before they left, just in case they needed a speedy getaway. Not wasting any time, Clancy brought the instrument to his mouth and blew, emitting a tone that echoed through the skies. Seconds later, the summoned hippogryph flew in from the distance, landing in a great cloud of dust in front of the two men.

They didn't mince words as Clancy shuffled onto the saddle, holding an arm out for Algar to climb up behind him. Shifting Neria in his arms, the dark-haired Bard pulled himself up and signaled for Clancy to fly. He was only mildly surprised that he instinctively knew how to ride a hippogryph, but decided that getting back to town was more important than idle musing.

Thankfully, with the flying mount, it took scarcely a minute to reach the bridge over the River Diligence and even less to cross it. Clancy was still in a strange haze and before he knew it, he had landed the great black beast in the middle of the main square of Londinium, amidst the many frightened and confused eyes of the Adventurers still lingering about.

For a moment, he was at a loss for words – how would they find a healer willing to help when everyone was still in panic? Clancy sat silently, thinking of the best plan for getting immediate medical attention for their fallen comrade. However, it was for naught when Algar merely leaped off the winged creature in the middle of the gathering crowd.

With Neria cradled in his arms and losing HP rapidly, he cried out, "Healer! We need a healer!"

The hushed murmuring of the crowd dissipated after that declaration. There were many players in varying degrees of armor and all in varying states of grief, but only one stepped forward, a woman in a bright white robe and red vest with matching silky white hair that seemed to shine in the ... moonlight?

They'd been gone that long… So much time had passed since they had arrived and Clancy hadn't even noticed how dark it was in his haste and alarm.

The new woman calmly walked forward and with a cool voice asked, "What's the diagnosis ?"

Out of habit, the ranger glanced at the woman's nameplate to ensure she could help.

Hayley
Race/Human
Templar, Lv. 48

"She was hurt bad in a fight against some monsters on the far side of the city, can you please help her?" Algar asked. The panic that he seemed to have reigned in earlier was now running wild and it practically screamed for release, his eyes already moistening for fear of what might happen to the girl in his arms.

Clancy, who stared at the bloodied robes of his companion from atop his mount felt regret and fear… Emotions not befitting of the façade of the leader he had to be. 'I have to be stronger… This must never happen again. Never again.'

The woman named Hayley leaned forward as Algar carefully placed their unmoving companion on a nearby bench. Clancy dismounted from his hippogryph, allowing the beast to fly off. He didn't much care for the crowd, so he turned and shot a glare that sent the remaining Adventurers scurrying away. The Templar carefully stared at the injury before bringing her hands forward, opening up the skills window and moving down to click on the button that, for her, would be labelled Heal but for the other two was just empty air.

"Cap…"

The two of them had founded the Black Leaves together and had built it up to be something strong and recognised. But now… They were practically alone again, forced to start from the ground up for a second time, but now the stakes were higher.

Clancy forced his roiling emotions down and spoke coldly, to project the image that he knew the others relied upon, "…We need a tank and another damage dealer."

Algar nodded in agreement but said nothing, staring at the immobile figure of Neria whilst the Templar repeatedly used the same healing spell on her. With the only light being the occasional flash from the spell and the street lamp across the street, none of them noticed the small tear slowly rolling down the cheek of the Bard, who raged within, 'God damnit… This was my fault. If only I had been faster, I could have saved her.'

The white-clad woman abruptly stood up and spoke to slender man in green, "Done… It was close, but my healing outlasted the bleed debuff. She'll be fine, but it's not a good idea to leave her out here in the cold. I'm afraid I don't know if these new bodies of ours have any weakness to infection or illness, but considering her racially weak constitution, it's better to be safe than sorry. Do you have a place to stay, Mr…?"

She could obviously see his character name and that he was the leader of the patient's guild, but it was more polite to ask, she felt.

"Clancy."

"Well, Mr. Clancy, I advise you take her to your Guild Hall and – with respect – I'd like to come and monitor her condition."

"I thought you said the healing was done?" Algar broke in, a certain rough tone entering his voice as his fingers clenched into a fist.

"Don't misunderstand, in terms of game mechanics, she has full HP, but she clearly hasn't awoken. I want to observe any correlation between old game mechanics and physical effects in this world."

She didn't leave much room for argument, this Hayley… She was suspicious, but she did save Neria, so her heart seemed to be in the right place. Clancy nodded and began to walk away, "Let's go."

-0-0-0-0-0-0-

Guild Building
Northern European Server
Londinium
City/No Monsters
No PVP
Entry Restrictions/None
Exit Restrictions/None

With a scoff that could be described as insulting, Hayley muttered "Impressive," and crossed her arms.

It was just three rooms. One of which was the sitting room, kitchen and dining room combined whilst the other two led off into bedrooms for male and female respectively. Everything was made of a simple material; they had chosen this style of room specifically for its inexpensive price. The only luxury was the dark green banner over the fireplace mantel with the black leaf of their guild sat resolutely in the centre.

The Bard and Assassin exchanged looks, the former chuckling quietly whilst the latter remained impassive. Clancy strode forward into the first of the two rooms, closing the door behind him. Neria was still being carried by Algar; he had been very insistent on carrying her to the building and refused to set her down during the process of buying the hall.

"What do you think he's doing?" asked Algar, feeling worried about the leader of his guild.

"Why are you asking me? Aren't you the one who knows him?"

As the door closed behind him, Clancy couldn't help but drop the façade and let the collected sadness, sorrow and weakness spill out. His body began to yell at him to get some sleep, exhausted from the stress of the day. He sighed and began to unequip his weapons and outer-armor, thankfully taking his mind off his inner weakness to investigate the room... In front of him was a pair of single beds, each with their own footlocker and bedside table. Candles were lit on each of the bedside tables, providing the only light for the room, meaning that they'd easily be enveloped by darkness when the candles were put out.

'Those goblins... They were scary. Should I admit it? No, I faced the fear and we managed to escape to safety. It won't happen again. But Neria...'

The Ranger let out an exasperated sigh, beginning the subconscious action of removing his inner clothing by hand to get ready for bed. The oddity of getting ready for bed in what still felt like an online fantasy game did not cross his mind; he was too tired to comprehend what it meant. Needless to say... Things were just getting started.

'I made a mistake; I charged in alone and got injured. I let Neria get hurt even worse than I did... Never again. We need a full party and then we should regrow Black Leaves. But, one thing at a time - We need a tank and another damage dealer, preferably a mage.'

Before he realized it, he was in the bed, mentally preparing himself for the next day and the challenges it would bring. There was a lot to do, and if they wanted to survive – to thrive in this world, they would have to be ready for anything.


I do not own Log Horizon.

Edited by the amazing Mark Slender.

The remaining chapters of Black Leaves will be posted at intervals (Hopefully we'll get into the planned pattern) however this chapter should give you a good idea about the story and the characters; like a taster. Enjoy!