Aincrad Floor 2 Fields
I could feel my body. It felt like a trillion nerve endings had just come to life, elevating my kinesthesia to a level that could only be termed as absurd. It was an excessively strange feeling, but not a feeling one would think particularly impressive.
But I knew exactly where I was, and I could see all his movements. To put it bluntly, I was now able to differentiate between an attack that would hit me, and an attack that would miss me by a tenth of a millimeter.
As I focused on the strange feeling, my mind started to fog over. It felt like the world was slowing down and fading. Everything but my opponent blurred and faded into the background as I focused the hardest I had in the past 3 years.
Shift my center of gravity to the left four inches and take half a step back.
Tilt my head one and a quarter inches to right.
Jump to avoid the low kick.
Duck my head by 3 inches and take a step to the right.
Blackness surrounded me. All I could sense was the old man in front of me.
I had to fight.
I had to win.
For the first time in my life, I enjoyed the thrill of fighting with my life on the line. Yes I would fail the quest if my HP bar dropped to the yellow, but that did not by any means mean that my life was safe.
In quests, or even duel mode, if damage greater than the total of a player's HP was taken, they would zero out regardless of the limitations of the quest/duel. The only exception is a duel in a safe zone. Safe zones were the only absolute in this game. It was entirely impossible to die in a safe zone, even if you tried your best.
Of all weapons, fists dealt the lowest damage possible, seeing as they barely even qualified as a weapon. The weapons of martial artists were either claws (think wolverine), armblades, or similar weapons. Fists were only used in training and sparring.
So why did I think my life was at risk in this duel?
Nothing but pure instinct.
There was no logic to it, I just instinctively knew that as soon as one of his blows connected with me, my HP bar would zero out.
And I would die.
I had no hope of winning, all I thought of was surviving. I was able to dodge each blow by a hairsbreadth, but all my concentration was dedicated to keeping myself alive. There was never a single opening in which to counter.
I opened my eyes wider, trying to catch every single movement. But finally, the moment that I knew would come, came. I barely managed to catch his movements with my eyes, but my body wasn't able to react fast enough. Three attacks came at me with terrifying speed, cutting off my paths of retreat and forcing me to block one.
A blinding pain shot from my wrist to my brain, breaking my trance as I felt my right hand bend in a direction no one's hand ever should bend.
[Critical damage taken! Right wrist status: Broken. 80% decrease in movement of the body part.]
Even though I redirected his strike, just the force from redirecting had been enough to at least dislocate my wrist, possibly breaking several bones in my wrist and hand. Notifications popped up in my field of vision, but I ignored them, knowing they were simply stating what I could already feel.
Although my right hand was next to useless, the man didn't let up, confirming my thoughts that him holding back earlier was just a one time thing.
I realized it a while back. He was teaching me in this fight. The inheritance of his skill was this fight itself, not a reward if I win this fight.
I learned his skill. I was using it to fight him, but I was still unable to beat him. I was unable to reach his standards.
I knew that if I couldn't beat him after learning his skill, he'd have no need for me, and he'd kill me.
I knew it. I could physically feel his will to kill me, the so-called "killing intent". This wasn't something that should show up in any game, but anyone who still said SAO was just a game would be labeled as either an idiot or a raving lunatic.
Suddenly, the man came to a dead stop. He stood there silent for a few moments and allowed my breathing to stabilize.
"You're not responding as you should. I can tell you can't pull out your full power. After all, you're not a martial artist, are you."
"No, I'm not. But this is a test of martial arts so I can't say anything, even if I'm outside of my area of expertise. I knew what I was getting into when I accepted the quest."
The old man just smiled at my words and walked over to a corner of the room. "First orbit 50cm, second orbit 130cm. Am I correct?"
My eyes widened at the man's words. From a spar of martial arts, he had somehow managed to figure out the orbits, or effective ranges of my sword style. My already wide eyes widened even farther as i unsheathed the object he threw me. A short katana, just barely over 60 cm long, simple but well made. I lowered the sheath to my left side, and it fastened itself there with a soft *shhng* noise.
Two popups came in rapid succession, so fast I was barely able to read them.
[Error: unable to equip item in current zone]
[Overwrite: item equip request accepted by quest administrator]
I looked at him curiously as he dropped into a fighting stance.
"Aren't you going to use a sword?"
He smiled and shook his head. "Unlike you, this old man is a martial artist. Using a blade would limit my ability, rather than bring it out. But, that isn't to say I won't use a weapon."
He deftly slipped on gloves made from some unknown material before lunging at me, as if to take my life.
I lowered my body, taking an entirely different stance than I had previously. I stepped into the oncoming attack with my right leg while sliding my left behind me. Then, without the telltale light that preceded a sword skill, my figure suddenly transformed into a blur. The strange thing was, with how fast I was moving at that moment, there was no sound at all.
That is, until the blade that had invisibly left its sheath collided with the old man's fist.
There was a loud crash when the two objects met, proving that his glove was in no way less durable than my sword. The shock from the impact should have broken my arm, but instead of trying to absorb the shock, I leveraged it.
Using the momentum from my strike, I did a full 360 degree spin faster than you could blink.
For the first time, the old man gave a reaction. My blade had cut into him as I spun past him. The cut was barely an inch deep and nowhere fatal, but it showed that something had changed.
I finally managed to land a strike.
I couldn't help a small smirk from forming on my face as I muttered to myself, "Heh, never thought I'd actually be thankful for this skill."
I loosely held the short katana by my side and closed my eyes. "Thanks for this opportunity, Old man."
"Oh?" he raised his eyebrows at my words, "So you really did realize. I hope you'll give me a better performance now that you have a blade, swordsman. "
For the third and last time, the battle began again.
But this time, it hadn't even begun before it had ended.
A screen appeared in front of me, but I dismissed it without even looking at it.
I glanced over at Sinon, who was standing there with a terrified look on her face, an expression that quickly morphed into one of confusion as she checked my HP bar and realized it hadn't budged a centimeter.
I smiled at her. Of course, her worry was totally understandable. From her perspective, it looked like his fist had gone through my stomach while my attack had entirely missed. But this couldn't have been further from what actually happened. The proof was that my HP bar was untouched, while the old NPC had a red line across his throat and his HP bar had dropped into the red.
"Interesting… A style of martial arts that is pure as the sun, yet a style of swordsmanship that utilizes the shadows. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't pick someone as sneaky as you to inherit my skills, but these circumstances are far from normal."
He stepped forward and placed his hand on my head, and simply spoke two words.
I almost lost my balance and fell over as I was struck by a strange feeling, a feeling similar to a violent bout of seasickness. This quickly turned into an intense headache, the pain forcing my eyes shut and almost causing my knees to buckle.
"Gah! What the-!?"
But suddenly all pain fled my mind as I heard a shocked yelp come from Sinon. I managed to open my eyes, and my heart skipped a beat as a crimson cloak entered my vision. A small figure, one barely 150 cm tall, stood in front of me.
The figure's face was entirely obscured. I couldn't even tell the gender. But I recognized that cloak…
"A GM…" In a hushed voice, Sinon murmured the words that were at the forefront of my mind.
Wordlessly, the figure stepped forward and raised its arm. Although the sight of a short person in a robe at least 5 sizes too large for them would be funny in most circumstances, laughing was the thing that was furthest from my mind at this moment.
A burning flame leapt from from the upraised hand.
As if in response to the flame, my headache intensified many times over.
"Damnit! Just a little..!"
The old man in front of me spoke in a voice that expressed more emotion than I've heard since getting trapped in this death game.
The flames emerging from the hand formed a column before dispersing into the surroundings, leaving nothing but a red sword the color of flames in their place.
A neutral, monotone voice came from the depths of the cloak as the sword was swung down.
"D̶̹̣̲̬̫͂̐̏̃̽̍̽̈́͜a̴̩̮̠͕̩̞̬̘̋̔̆͠ḿ̴̫̣̑͠ͅň̷͍̳̮̭̳̖̕ ̴͓̲̠́̈́̕ÿ̵͉̥͍͉̥͈̆̓ŏ̸̤͓̘̥̹̝̫͆͋̕͜ṳ̴̀͌͝ ̴̧̝̜̭̀͂͂̃̔͊́͝c̶͕̣̝̔̈́̂̊̂̇͠ā̸̤̤̜̭̰̋͒.̶̛̞͊̄.̶̨̪͓̲͕̲̣̯̯̋̿̄̀̓̐͗̀̕"
Flames erupted from the blade, forming something like dozens of arms or tentacles that wrapped around the old man in front of me. As the flames started to consume him, I was surprised. Not by the expression of pure hatred on his face, but by the sense of loss I could feel from him. As he disintegrated into particles that looked oddly like ashes, I faintly heard a garbled voice speak. One so filled with resentment and hatred that even I shivered slightly.
The strange thing was, even though flames consumed the hand that rested on my head, I couldn't feel the slightest heat. The only thing I could feel was the hand slowly disintegrating.
I stood there frozen as the same neutral voice spoke two more words before dissolving into a liquid that looked disturbingly like blood; the same way that Kayaba had disappeared after he finished with his speech in the so called "Tutorial".
"K-Kirito?" I heard a worried voice call to me, and quiet footsteps start to run towards me.
I raised my hand in response to the girl. "Don't worry, I'm fine."
Her response was cut off by a strange noise. Both of us reflexively jumped, still on edge from the strange series of events that had just occurred.
In front of me, an unfamiliar notification window popped up.
[Transfer interrupted. Complete information salvaged. Incomplete information deleted.]
The text in the window was certainly something I'd never seen before, but the strangest thing was the window itself. Unlike the usual light blue and white windows I was used to, this window was red and gold, the color of a burning blaze.
[Skills updated. Check skill list for more information.]
I had a strange feeling of vertigo the second the notification window popped up, but it disappeared almost as soon as it begun, so i brushed it off and followed the instructions of the popup window.
I scrolled down and I saw 3 extremely out of place skills. ?, ?, and ?.
I shook my head to clear it and closed my skills window, choosing to ignore the weird skills with no description. I involuntarily shuddered as I unconsciously glanced at the spot where the GM had appeared and erased the existence of an obviously unique NPC.
I grabbed Sinon's hand and started walking towards the exit. "Come on Sinon, we have to get out of here."
"But what was that? Can't we look around and try to figure out what was happening?"
I shook my head with a dark expression on my face. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious, but we're way out of our depths here. Remember what Kayaba said back in his so called 'Tutorial'? 'I hope you all will be able to learn what I've created this world to teach you, a concept that few in the real world ever have the pleasure to comprehend.' It was obvious from that moment that SAO wasn't anything close to a simple game."
I recalled the sight of the NPC, no, the man, being not just killed, but entirely erased from existence. That was the fate that was in store for many of the players here. Not a fight to the death where strength could save their life, not a gamble with their life on the line, but a senseless death where a person could be just deleted on a whim.
"I think I'm starting to realize what Kayaba wanted us to learn."
Sinon gazed calmly at me. I could feel the trust she had in me, and it just made the weight of my realizations even heavier.
'You want to show me hell, Kayaba? What a pity. I've already seen it.'
"Don't worry, whatever this world throws at us, we'll break through it. I plan on getting out of here alive, you know. And of course I plan on getting you out of here alive, too."
Author's note: Hello again peeps! sorry that it's been months since my last release, but I hope you've enjoyed this chapter. I've been looking back through the past chapters and I realized something. Holy crap I am a bad writer. So sorry to anyone who enjoys this fic, i kinda sorta hate it lol. However, this does not mean i'm dropping this.I really like the concept for this story, so i'm going to be rewriting it from the beginning. I'll aim for a chapter of at least 5,000 words every 2 weeks, but we'll see how it goes.
Thanks for reading, hope to see you in the rewrite!