As the last of our party climbed out of the rope ladder passage and returned to the 7th level of the Catacombs, Camilla waited for me to signal that the immediate area was clear, and then asked, "Where do you want me to start?"
That was an easy one. "Well, I'd love to know how you survived that fiasco in the puzzle room. That was a sub-boss with seven adds. It would've picked its teeth with both of us."
"Ah," she said, grinning and unsheathing her sword, miming the motions of one of her Arts without actually activating it. "I'd like to say that I valiantly fought them off, but the truth is… I panicked and did something incredibly stupid out of desperation."
I raised my eyebrows and nodded for her to continue, stepping around a pile of something unmentionable that lay in our path.
Camilla nodded, miming the same motions again with her sword. You know, that dashing slash that-"
"I know what it is; I've seen you do it enough times. But I don't get how it would've helped in that situation."
"Well, you know how you don't necessarily have to have a target for most techniques? You can perform them anywhere, anytime. You won't gain skillups from slashing at empty air, but you can do it."
This wasn't getting me any closer to knowing what happened. I could tell she was enjoying drawing this out. "And?"
"When I saw you teleport away, I put both boots in the chest of the roamer that had tackled me and kicked it off. By that point, almost every mob in the room was about to tear into me and there was a single gap between them that I couldn't run through in time. So I activated Horizontal and used the system assist to dash through the gap."
I had to hand it to her. "That was clever."
"Too clever by half. As soon as I activated the skill, I had no choice but to wait for the system assist to finish moving me. It shot me right past the named… and over the side of the pit."
"Whoops," she echoed. "To be honest, it probably saved my life-and even if it hadn't, I think I'd almost rather die from falling damage than get hacked to pieces by a room full of zombie minotaurs."
"So why didn't you?" I asked, glancing around at the other players. Klein was grinning, as if he knew something I didn't. "Die, I mean. We couldn't see the bottom of that pit when we went through there the first time."
"Sheer luck. First of all, the pit wasn't what we thought it was. There were only two torches lighting that entire room, and we couldn't really see very far down. I was able to shed some momentum by stabbing my sword into the side of the pit; it wasn't solid rock. But I'd only fallen for maybe a few seconds before I hit a slanted surface, and found myself sliding downward through a slimy, winding tunnel in pitch darkness."
I tried to imagine it. Scenes from various movies popped into my head, none of which probably compared to how scary that fall must have been.
"I'm not sure how long I was on that ride, and I couldn't get my map window open to check where I was. Eventually the slope leveled out, and I smashed through a metal wall grate that was rusted through, landing in a room I'd never seen before."
"On me!" Klein put in, right as several of his guildmates said roughly the same thing, laughing.
Camilla smirked, poking him in the arm. "Poor Klein. First time in this game that a girl jumps on him, and it has to be a married older woman in full plate armor."
"Hey, who said it was the first time?"
She stuck out her tongue at him and pulled down one eyelid. "So anyway, I go flying out of this sewer grate, covered in God-only-knows what kind of muck, and land in a heap right on top of their Fearless Leader here. And talk about your shitty timing-right in the middle of a battle."
"Nothing bad about your timing," Klein protested. "We were getting creamed by that thing."
"Named Lurkwing," Camilla explained to me.
Klein then began filling in what had led up to that point on his end. His party had been part of the raid group we'd been following, and while we were off getting lost in side passages they'd made it to the final boss room of this dungeon and cleared it. Instead of porting back to town with the rest of the raid group, though, they'd decided to spend some time leveling and farming mobs on the way back up. Camilla's uncontrolled slide through the drainage tunnel had actually carried her down to the 43rd level of the Catacombs, which was where she-quite literally-ran into Klein and his party. The named Lurkwing had just stunned several of them with its sonic AOE attack, and the fight had been starting to go really badly.
"So we're getting our asses kicked," Klein said, whacking Camilla on the back with the palm of his hand, "and all of a sudden this knight in shining armor-"
"Shining, my ass; it looked even worse than it does now."
He ignored the interjection. "-comes flying in to save the day."
"By which he means I went 'oh shit!' and started fighting for my life."
"That's what I said," Klein replied breezily.
"Anyway," Camilla went on, "once we defeated the named we realized that we all had a better chance of getting out alive if we partied up. We didn't want to try going back down to the boss room to use the return portal there; too much risk of him repopping. So up it was."
Silence fell as she finished the story. I stared at my wife as we walked, taking her hand again. "You are the most amazing woman I've ever met. Will you marry me?"
She laughed, eyes twinkling. "I don't know, Kadyn. I think maybe you've got some competition now."
I looked over my shoulder at Klein, who seemed a little bit uncomfortable, like he wasn't quite sure how to take the banter that was passing between my wife and I. "I could take him," I said, grinning. "Two out of three, maybe."
As his guildmates howled with laughter, Klein puffed up his chest. "In your dreams, buddy." Then he caught my eye and answered my grin. "No really though, you're one lucky dude. Badass tank for a wife, and she's a foreign chick with a cool accent too."
"I do not have an accent," Camilla protested with an affected pout. She was very proud about her fluency in Japanese, which she'd been studying since high school and immersed in even before we moved back to Japan together.
"You do too," I teased. While I was from Chiba and spoke fairly generic "standard" Japanese, one of her teachers had been from the Kansai region and it had rubbed off a little on her. "It's kinda hot."
"Aho," she retorted, the insult triggering another wave of laughter through the party.
As we drew nearer to the surface and left the areas I'd more recently fought through, there was less and less time for conversation, and more battle. Between the eight of us, though, we blazed through the trash mobs and even managed to take out the named Growler I'd carefully avoided earlier. It was an anticlimactic end to a night that had overstayed its welcome, filled with far too much drama for my liking. We were all ready to collapse where we stood when we finally returned to Gilthac.
We stopped before the entrance to the inn where Asuna and Rigel had taken me earlier, dead on our feet. "This is where we're staying," Klein said, looking about as wiped out as I felt. "You guys got a place?"
"Yeah," I replied, an arm around Camilla's shoulders. "We're renting the second story over the blacksmith's shop. And if we don't get there soon, I think we'll be sleepwalking the rest of the way. Before we go, though…" I stuck out my hand, and the other man immediately shook it. "Thank you, Klein. For what you did for my wife. For us. It was great fighting at your side."
Klein rubbed the back of his head again, ruffling his hair in what I recognized now as a nervous gesture. "Hey, don't mention it. Like I said, she pulled our fat out of the fire down there too. Far as I'm concerned, we're all even." He stopped and looked around at his guildmates. One by one, they nodded.
"You guys ever think about joining a guild?"
Camilla and I both blinked and looked at each other. We'd actually thought about forming one before, just for the two of us… but there really wasn't any advantage we could gain by doing so that we didn't already have from being married. But someone else's guild… especially a guild full of people who'd already known each other a long time...
As our gazes met, my wife and I held another conversation that consisted of nothing but the most subtle changes of facial expression and years of shared context. Finally, Camilla looked back at Klein and gave him a proper bow. "We're incredibly grateful for your generous offer, and for everything you've done this evening. But I think we'd prefer to remain as we are."
Bowing as well, I nodded in agreement, and then smiled at Klein. He had a look of mild disappointment on his face until I spoke. "But if you guys ever want to party up again…"
Camilla finished my sentence. "We'd love to." We both opened our menus and sent him a friend request.
Klein tapped the air twice in front of him to accept both requests, and gave us a thumbs-up. "You got it."
With the touch of a fingertip on the lamp's pop-up window, all illumination within the room ceased, leaving only a faint red light coming in through the window as the sun began to slowly rise above the artificial horizon. The room was filled with quiet chiming sounds as both of us manipulated our respective equipment windows to remove all of our gear and clothing. The rustle of fabric was the only remaining sound as we both slithered beneath the covers, overcome with exhaustion.
I felt Camilla's welcome warmth as she cuddled up next to me. "Tired," she murmured.
"Too tired?" I asked playfully, partially serious despite my own state of exhaustion.
"Too tired," she replied, eyes half-lidded as a smile touched her face. "Ask me again when we wake up."
"Deal." As I waited for sleep, an uncomfortable thought crossed my mind and demanded to be voiced. "Rebecca…"
The sound of her real name forced her eyes back open. She looked the question at me across the few inches that separated our faces. "Hm?"
I hesitated, choosing my words carefully. "I didn't really have to come all the way down there after all, did I? All the risks I took, the money I spent… none of it was really necessary. You guys had already cleared close to thirty of the deepest levels on your own in the hours that I was gone; you would've been fine without one more DPS-"
A pair of fingers touched my lips, stopping me. They caressed my cheek as my wife leaned over and kissed me sleepily, her lips lingering there as we lay face to face even after the kiss ended. "No, you didn't have to come for me," she said, her breath a light breeze across my face. "I would've been okay."
I didn't have time to think about how I felt about that before she finished her thought.
"But I'm very happy that you did."
It was the last thing I heard before sleep welcomed us both. Nothing else mattered.
Character Name: Kadyn (ケイディン)
Real Name: Seiji Midorikawa (緑川誓地)
Birthplace: Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture (Japan)
Main Equipment: Agile Vengeance (One-Handed Dagger)
Skill Slots: 7
One-Handed Dagger (511)
Leather Equipment (304)
Dagger Defender (61) (Extra; granted by Agile Vengeance)
At age 16, Seiji was accepted as an overseas exchange student in a Los Angeles high school. While studying there he met a young girl named Rebecca Riley, who was in need of a Japanese conversation partner for the class she was taking. The two quickly discovered that they shared a mutual enjoyment of the same kinds of video games, and long before they graduated they had become an inseparable couple. After high school they moved to Seiji's native Japan together and married, spending their free time immersed in online games together and always playing as a team—to the point where they called each other by their longtime character names as much as or more than their real names. When Sword Art Online was announced, they tried and failed to enter the closed beta, but succeeded in becoming two of the unlucky ten thousand who were trapped in the Death Game on launch day.
Seiji prefers to play stealthy DPS classes, using tactical positioning and Rebecca's skill at tanking to flank the enemy and deliver critical blows at the right moment. In SAO, he found himself more dependent than ever on his wife's tanking abilities until he acquired his current weapon, which gave him some rudimentary defensive abilities that he struggles to level up.
Character Name: Camilla (カミーラ)
Real Name: Rebecca Midorikawa (緑川レベカ)
Birthplace: San Francisco, California (USA)
Main Equipment: Northwind's Edge (One-Handed Straight Sword); Verdant Crusader (Kite Shield)
Skill Slots: 7
One-Handed Straight Sword (533)
Heavy Metal Equipment (592)
Medium Shield Equipment (625)
Battle Recovery (370)
Extended Weight Limit (424)
Fighting Spirit (506) (hate skill)
Rebecca had been an obsessive online gamer since she was old enough to go on the Internet by herself, and when she met Seiji in high school she was serving as the main tank of a weekend raiding guild. She recruited her future husband to play an assassin class, and as the two spent more and more time playing as guildmates in the game and as conversation partners in real life, they knew that they were meant to be together. Sword Art Online was to be like a dream come true for her; she had always yearned for the day when technology would allow gamers to live in the worlds they played instead of just watching them on a screen. Instead it became a nightmare in which she and her husband were trapped.
With her aggressive nature and nobility of spirit, as well as years of experience playing tank classes, Rebecca found her calling in SAO as Seiji's sword and shield. She relishes her role, bearing the brunt of enemy attacks and hate while her partner cuts them down from behind.
Thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed this short SAO side story! These characters and the story surrounding them popped into my head more or less fully formed, and I'm happy that I was able to complete it without being too tempted to drag it out longer than it needed to be. As anyone who looks at my older fic can tell, that's been the death of many a potential story of mine.
I would be extremely grateful if you would take the time to leave your thoughts in a review, and let me know what you think of the characters and their story. I cannot promise to continue writing stories with them, as that depends entirely on what inspiration seizes me-but if nothing else I would like to think that they fought and survived until the end of Aincrad, and woke up one day beside each other, reunited in the real world.