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Lessa

[PP - F23] Beady Eyes & Thunder Thighs

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Ugzeke The Mighty

The door to Oscar's Hot Dog Stand opened, then closed again. In the brief seconds it stood open, the sounds of the Town of Beginnings flooded in like water through a burst levee. But once it was shut, the shop was again plunged into soothing silence. At the moment, no other patrons occupied the booths, with their chrome polished to gleaming. That was fortunate. Well, fortunate for Lessa, but perhaps not for Oscar's business. The empty shop ensured that Lessa was less likely to be interrupting something. Had the shop been hopping with other players, she might have turned around and walked right back out. As it stood, she felt a little awkward.

Shuffling to the front counter, the blonde dubiously eyed the tiny bell. Would it be obnoxious to ring it? No, of course not, that's why it was there in the first place. But Lessa was also the only guest in the establishment, from what she could gather. Should she just call out for Oscar? Would that be less formal? Was less formal even what she was going for? Why? She'd only met the guy once, and that interaction had been as embarrassing as it was brief. So should she not ring the bell?

Indecision led to inaction, and Lessa simply stood there, unmoving.

Spoiler

Level: 46 | HP: 950 | Energy: 92 | Base DMG: 16 | Base MIT: 89 | Acc: 4 | Thorns: 2 | Heavy Momentum: 1 | Bleed: 1
2HSS [5] | Heavy Armor [5] | Protector Familiar [3] | Survival | Howl | Precision | Ferocity | Athletics
Scarecrow Sickle [+3 DMG/+1 BLD] | Rose Gauntlets [+2 Thorns/+1 HM] | Rosebud Charm [+3 ACC]
Teleportation Crystal

Housing
Rested: -1 energy cost for the first two expenditures of each combat.
Relaxed: Increases out of combat HP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.
Clean: The first time you would suffer DoT damage in a thread, reduce damage taken from DoT each turn by 20% (rounded down).
Col Stash: +5% bonus col from monster kills and treasure chests.
Multipurpose: Gain +1 to LD, Stealth Rating, Stealth Detection, or Prosperity to one post in a thread. Can be applied after a roll.

 

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Spoiler

Oscar - Lvl 48
980 HP
96 Energy
2 Accuracy (+1 Weapon +1 Precision)
3 Evasion
16 Base Damage - (1 Base +7 Skill +1 Ferocity +6 Familiar +1 Athletics)
61 Mitigation 

Items
Chaos Eater ............ // Bleed, Bleed, ACC
Librarium Overcoat ................. // +3 EVA
Plated Azure Tights ............... // +36 MIT, +3 Recovery

Leeroy & Jenkins - Familiar ............. // +3*Tier DMG


Battle Ready Inventory
Teleportation Crystal .............. // 
3 Healing Potions   ............ // +30 HP Recovery
3 Healing Potion of Healing Healingness ............ // T2 HP Recovery
Empty Inventory Slot ............. // 
Empty inventory slot ............ //
Empty inventory slot ............ //

Buffs
Rested ........................... // -1 energy cost for the first two expenditures of each combat.
Filling .......................... // Increase the effectiveness of a single food item consumed in a thread by +1 T1 slot.
Relaxed .......................... // Increases out of combat HP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.

Skills
2HBA                      | Rank 5: +8 Damage
Light Armor                | Rank 5: +12 Damage Mitigation
Concentration                   | +1 to your BD (3 turn cooldown)
Survival                   | Heal 15*Tier HP when out of battle
Parry                        | 2-turn CD, 5 EN Half damage of next attack and remove Stun/Paralysis effects

Skill Mods
Ferocity                   | Increases Base Damage by 1
Athletics                  | Increases Base Damage by 1, Max HP by 10*tier
Precision                 | Increases Accuracy by 1
Justified Riposte      | Successful Parries Stun Opponent

If one truly wanted to track down Oscar, they would find him in one of two places. They could look for him at home or, more likely, the would find the Weiner Guy toiling away in his shop in the Town of Beginnings. Given that not very many people knew where Oscar rested his head at night - at best a rough approximation of the Floor he called home - the go-to location to seek him out in was, in fact, his meticulously kept shop. From the back of the house, the presence of a visitor would escape his notice thanks to the chorus of bubbling grease and the loud sizzling of the grill. The scent of quintessential Americana permeated through the entire restaurant. The smell of beef searing upon the grill, of onions and tomato, and a hint of fresh-baked bread would be Lessa's only company until such time as Oscar had reason to extricate himself from the kitchen.

That reason soon came when a pair of youths entered into his shop. They weren't a day over 9 or 10 - Aincrad would make sure of that. Without even regarding Lessa's presence, they rang the bell and waited patiently in front of the counter. In short order, the door to the backroom opened and Oscar made his appearance. The red sleeves of his button-down shirt were rolled up and his tie hung loosely around his neck. Ordinarily, one probably shouldn't run a kitchen while wearing a silk tie. But given that he couldn't possibly catch himself on fire, Oscar simply liked to look good while he worked.

He beamed down at the children, a smile stretching from ear to ear. "Michael, Sarah. I was wondering when you'd be by. The usual?" The children excitedly nodded and Oscar let out a slight chuckle as he retreated to the back. He was gone but a moment, quickly returning with two brown paper bags in hand. He doled both of them out with confidence. After all, these two were clearly regulars. "I'll see you two tomorrow, alright? Don't get into too much trouble." The children giggled and beat a hasty retreat from the shop. The curious thing about the whole exchange was that Oscar didn't accept payment from the two of them. Once they had made their exit, Oscar turned his attention to Lessa who, at this point, had been waiting ever so patiently off to the side. "Can I help you?"

His tone was guarded, cautious. He wasn't outright rude, but neither was he particularly welcoming to the blonde's appearance in his shop. His spine was straight, his muscles were half-tensed. It was almost as if he were a coiled viper, trying to decide whether he should strike. It was at that moment, an excited bark broke the tension. There was a pitter-patter of nails upon linoleum and his familiar came zooming out from his spot in a corner booth and ran straight up to the woman's familiar. Confusion flashed in his eyes upon seeing his familiar trying to play with hers. The confusion quickly gave way to recognition and in that moment, he allowed himself to relax. How could Oscar have forgotten the woman that totally carried him through the Sand Shark fight?

"Lessa! It's been too long. I hope you can overlook my demeanor earlier. I got a lot on my mind. What brings you to my neck of the woods?"

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Just as she mustered up the courage to ring the bell, the front door burst open. Two children scampered in, already engaged in a lively discussion. Smoothly, Lessa sidestepped, providing the pair with easy access to the front counter. Without hesitation, they smacked the bell, which clanged loudly in the nearly-empty shop. Well, leave it to a couple of kids to simplify things. 

Feeling a bit like an awkward lurker, Lessa averted her gaze as the shopkeeper emerged. He was just as she remembered - tall, blonde, and handsome. Genuine good humor radiated from his smile as he beamed down at his patrons. The warmth disappeared, however, when he looked at her. As if the door has been thrown open to the icy fourth floor wind, a chill filled the space between them.

Ah crap, Lessa thought, dread settling heavy in her gut. Was he really so upset to see her? True, he had completely carried her through their previous quest, but did that offend him so badly? Or was it because of Bahr? Was this a case of the best friend hating the girlfriend?

As Lessa toyed with the idea of simply running away, Oscar’s familiar loped toward her in a chorus of eager yips. Riker, immediately recognizing a friend, dropped into an excited crouch. His bushy tail wagged like an overworked windshield wiper as he greeted the other creature. And when Lessa noticed the change in Oscar’s demeanor, some of her own anxious energy ebbed.

”No worries,” she answered easily, emphasizing the point with a wave of her hand. “I know how that goes.” She offered the taller player a smile. “It has been a long time. I hope you’ve been well?”

Her expression turned sheepish, and Lessa’s hand moved to rub at the back of her neck. “As for why I’m here, it’s kind of weird. There’s this quest I’m interested in taking. Naturally, I asked Bahr first, but he’s too busy to go with me. He suggested I ask you.” The woman loosed a small shrug. “So if you’re not too busy, and you’re up for it, maybe we could go? I can share the quest details with you, and I’ll definitely do my share of the work this time.”

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Oscar clicked his tongue. "Ah, damn."

Lessa's proposition came at a poor time. He was already neck deep in errands for the day. If he flaked, there would be more than a few disappointed people. Much of his free time went to providing for the denizens of the city. Things had become a little hectic recently. One, the sudden boom of commerce down on Floor 1 had caused more and more people to migrate down here. Most of them could fend for themselves, but a good chunk of them didn't have a Col to their name and were unwilling or unable to go out and grind up more. When it came down to brass tacks, Floor One was home to the only Grandmaster Blacksmith - Macradon - and the only high-ranked Tailor and Cook - Bahr and Oscar respectively. Sometimes it was as if he had bit off more than he could chew. Today, he was due at the Orphanage - which nowadays functioned as more of a halfway house for the absolute lowest levels. Hence his busywork in the kitchen.

He checked his watch and sighed. He was already running late. He didn't want to be on the receiving end of the ire of a bunch of hungry mouths. Charity or not, people got cranky when they were hungry, children more than others. There was no way he was going to make it on time without some help. What he wouldn't give for another active cook around here. Even if he had to pay them, at least he could shunt some of his work onto them. Then there was always the pressure from Tyson's gang further complicating things. He doubted that even if there were another cook that they'd be willing to work with him after Tyson's goons paid him a visit.

Like a bolt from the blue, an idea occurred. Lessa's timing couldn't have been more fortuitous.

"I'm due at the Orphanage in about an hour. I cover their dinners on Fridays. Everything's ready, I just need to assemble it all and pack it up. If you can give me a hand with that, I can make my deadline and we'll have time to knock out this quest. Sound like a deal?"

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"I'm due at the Orphanage in about an hour."

Of course. Disappointment flared, but it quickly cooled to simmering as she plastered on a smile. It could have been worse, right? He could have flat out denied her. At least he had the decency to offer up an explanation, which may or may not be true. 'Helping orphans' was a pretty safe excuse, as she'd look like a complete monster if she pushed the issue further. So that was a no from Bahr, and a no from Oscar. Baldur? No, he'd been pretty busy lately. That left her with... uh...

"If you can give me a hand with that, I can make my deadline and we'll have time to knock out this quest. Sound like a deal?"

"Oh." The word came on a startled stutter, and she blinked up at the tall man before she was able to formulate a response. When her brain finally caught up, she offered him an enthusiastic nod. "Yeah, I'd be happy to help." He had mentioned that everything was ready, but perhaps she should say something, just in case. "Just as long as I don't have to cook. I'd rather not burn down your shop and/or kill anyone today." The fake smile she'd originally donned softened into something more genuine, and a tad bit self-deprecating. She shoved her blonde hair back from her face with both hands, then planted them on her hips. "Just show me what needs doing, and it's a deal."

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Oscar clapped his hands together and exclaimed, "Wonderful!"

Usually, Oscar had pretty high standards for anyone that entered his kitchen. Those standards, of course, being "do not enter my kitchen." But, exigent circumstances called for a slight loosening of the rules. She would literally be assembling hamburgers. Without her aid, there was no way he was going to meet his deadline. So he really didn't have any room to be particular at this point. Plus, there was the fact that they currently resided in a video game in which a projection of their minds were constructing digital food for the consumption of other mental projections. Ergo, standard food-handling practices did not apply.

That being said, the first thing Oscar did upon entering the kitchen was wash his hands. More out of habit than necessity, there was simply something fundamentally abhorrent about touching food of any type without "clean" hands. As he dried them with a kitchen towel, he let out a chuckle at the absurdity of it all. "I know these aren't my actual hands and that there're no germs I can infect the food with, but I still wash my hands anyway every time I step into the kitchen. You ever do anything like that? Something that serves a function in the real world but is an absolute waste of time here?"

His mind hearkened back to that timeless scene in The Matrix where Cypher was speaking with Agent Smith. Such a cheesy movie, but Oscar could definitely draw parallels between the humans' plight in that film and his own. It was almost amusing to him that he'd given the exact same speech that Cypher had to Lessa. Best not to get all philosophical.

Oscar's kitchen was well-equipped, but slightly cramped. Oscar didn't have a team of executive chefs at his command. Most everything was done by his own two hands. So, the kitchen was set up so that most every station was within arm's reach of Oscar if he stood in front of the grill. Behind him was a large, rectangular table. Burgers and buns were piled high on trays, steam billowing off of the meat and rising into the air. To the left was another, smaller table lined with toppings and condiments. The close quarters didn't exactly lend itself well to two people bustling about. What was more, the heat from the grill made it almost unbearably hot. However, this was one of the few times Oscar could deal with the heat.

"Alright, so let's divide and conquer. I'll slap the condiments and veggies on one side of the bun and you put the patty on the other. Then, once both halves are built, we'll slap em together."

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Without thinking, Lessa filed behind Oscar, washing her hands as soon as he'd vacated the sink. The ridiculousness of the unnecessary gesture never even dawned on Lessa. In fact, even when he brought it up, it took a few seconds for the woman to understand. "Huh," she breathed, holding her hands up in front of her. As she examined them, her head tilted quizzically. "Yeah, I guess you're right. It's just so ingrained in me that I don't even think of it." His follow-up question gave her more to think over, and she finally answered, "Well, there's all the energy saving stuff? There's no reason why I can't just leave my lights on all the time. I don't pay an electric bill, and I don't think we need to worry about the environment here. But I still do it."

The woman took her up position in front of the trays, watching the steam spiral toward the ceiling. The burgers smelled absolutely divine, and catapulted Lessa into memories of baseball games and pool-side parties. How many summers had been spent chowing down on burgers just like these? Her stomach clenched at the thought, but the sensation was fleeting. Reminders of home still hit hard, but they weren't as debilitating as they had once been. Why was that?

"Smells great," Lessa commented, slamming the door on the line of memories and focusing fully on the task at hand. She tossed Oscar an easy smile, then plucked up a spatula that lay nearby. With extra care, she eased the utensil under the top patty. "So, were you a cook outside of the game, then?"

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"Right? It's weird as hell," Oscar retorted. In voice had risen in pitch just a could of notches, signifying his happiness at the fact that there was someone else who "got it." Certain actions were so ingrained into ones mannerisms that not doing them left a void in the mind. Indeed, it was more difficult to undo such a deep-seated habit that it bordered on foolish to even attempt to do so. "But still, I think those little quirks we have help us to remember that we're human. Here in SAO, we're a little more than your average joe. We can run without getting tired, hit harder and jump farther. I think we gotta remember where we come from, or else what's the point?" The biggest struggle Oscar found was was the fight to remember what life was outside of the game. Thus, moments like this were very welcome indeed. It forced him to devote brain power to it. Which, in turn, helped him remember.

His hands worked quickly and deftly. Lessa had the least complicated job out of the two, but Oscar was keeping pace with her. He made it look easy, the way he assembled each and every ingredient on the bun without a single item being even the slightest bit out of place. No glob of mayonnaise running down the side of the bun, no lop-sided cheese or veggies. He was almost robotic in his motions. 

So were you a cook outside the game?

Oscar didn't skip a beat as a loud "Ha!" filled the air. "Not even. I was a therapist specializing in youth mental health. Though I suppose I have options now don't I? I wonder if my cooking ability here will translate into real life when we get out of here. If it does, I wouldn't even be mad about getting stuck here. I could actually serve dog food and you'd think it was prime rib. I think we might be looking at a career change."

A few final touches later and he had managed to finish up his half of the task. He looked over to Lessa to see where she was at. "You ready for phase two?"

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"Agreed," she said simply. She didn't look at him, remaining hyper-focused on the task at hand. But she still nodded along as he spoke, tossing in an occasional 'mhmm,' or similar sound of agreement. "I'm a big fan of anything that humanizes us," Lessa confessed, easing another burger onto a prepped bun. "So many people have just been consumed by the bloodlust, and the need to clear the floors." She paused, partially to concentrate on the job, partially to organize her thoughts. "I can't really fault them. It's easy to get sucked in when everything revolves around combat. And if you let your life become an endless cycle of fighting..." She gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Well, I guess you might start to lose sight of who you used to be. There's a balance, I think, between wanting to get out of this place and trying to enjoy it while we're here."

Then she paused, blinked, laughed. "That was oddly philosophical." Her hand moved to rub at the back of her neck, but she fought the urge. Just washed my hands. "Sorry for the mini-rant."

She was down to her final few patties. "I'd have guessed you were a chef," she answered. "I know the game gives you the skills, but you just seem to know your way around the kitchen." Her eyes brightened as she finally glanced his way. "Youth mental health sounds super fascinating. I was doing my student teaching before I got stuck in here, so I've spent a lot of time learning about childhood development." She grinned at him as the final burger came together. "I bet we could have some pretty interesting discussions."

The concept of a 'phase two' might have freaked her out once. But the easy conversation, and Oscar's faith in her abilities, made Lessa feel far more confident. With a nod, she answered, "Yeah, absolutely."

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Oscar chuckled and shook his head. "With the way you talk, I would have pegged you for the modern, female Socrates." He smiled as he playfully nudged her with his elbow. Engrossed as he had been in his task, he let things lie as she continued talking. When she mentioned her prior occupation, however, he let out a knowing nod. He'd worked closely with teachers in his line of work. After all, both of their goals were the same: helping the children succeed. Perhaps that was why the two of them got on so well. On a subconscious level, they seemed to be wired closely enough that it facilitated a rapid growth in their friendship. Either way, clicked his tongue and belted out a boisterous bark of laughter. "Looks like I was close. The old philosophers were just pretentious teachers, no?" He raised one finger as if to stop her retort. "Yes, I'm well aware my field was fathered by a guy who wanted to sleep with his mommy. Equally pretentious, infinitely more disturbing."

But Oscar wasn't here to debate the merits of Sigmund Freud. He was here to feed hungry children. And to that end, he would need to wrap this up quickly. With phase two ready, he moved the trays closer together and gestured for Lessa to take a step back. "I do apologize, but this part takes a little finesse. So I'm going to construct and you'll wrap em up." Oscar gestured to the fresh box of deli paper to his left. He took a deep breath, clearing his mind. It wasn't that much of a big deal, but he definitely didn't want to get showered with veggies in the process of getting this done. Therefore, focus was his friend. He abruptly dug in, his hands moving at lightning speed. With no wasted motion, he placed the two halves of the burgers together and slid them over towards Lessa. Not a single scrap of food was left behind in the process, despite his breakneck speed. It was at this point that his skill with the cooking profession came into play. He moved with a deftness that a lower-ranked Cook would scarcely be able to accomplish. When all was said and done, his tray was empty. He cast his gaze over to Lessa to see how she was doing.

"Need a hand wrapping up?"

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Modern female Socrates? With a pointedly unladylike snort, Lessa shook her head. “Not all that close at all,” she answered, though her blue eyes danced with humor. “Nothing I do in the classroom is especially profound.” Once the woman had set aside the spatula, she had a free hand to motion to herself. “Middle school teacher, which means poop jokes and telling 12 year old boys to ‘stop doing that.’” Despite the eye roll, the former educator let loose a quick laugh. She laughed again when Oscar prodded her with his elbow, and her cheeks flushed with embarrassed pleasure. Their friendship had advanced so quickly, and in truth, Lessa was still getting used to it. After years spent in near-self-isolation, she’d never expected to be joking around in a kitchen with a blonde giant. Not that she was complaining, of course.

”No need to apologize,” Lessa assured her companion. She actually took a step back and held up her hands in surrender. He worked with such speed and expertise, a well-oiled machine that never missed a beat. No doubt, she would only get in the way. Her cooking skills was in the negative, after all. By the time she stepped up to begin her new task, Oscar was nearly finished. Holy sh*t.

Keeping up with the neck-breaking pace he set was completely out of the question, so she simply did the best she could. Sure, she wasn’t as useless as a screen door on a submarine, but Gordon Ramsay still would have called her an idiot sandwich. Not much she could do about it. At least he hadn’t made her use the oven or the stove. Or a knife. Could you chop your finger off in Aincrad?

A hand wrapping up? Oh yeah. “That would be great,” she admitted, shifting to make room for him. “Thank you. I’m really looking forward to delivering these.”

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Oscar surmised that he might have gone a little to hard with slapping the burgers together. To her credit, however, if she was flustered at all, she didn't show it. When she answered him, he wordlessly nodded and grabbed a new package of paper from one of the higher shelves that lined the wall. After tearing it open, he was ready to go. This time, he was slow and methodical. Time wasn't so much of an issue at this point. In truth, her help had allowed him to get himself ahead of schedule by a major degree. It was amazing what an extra pair of hands - trained or no - could do in a kitchen. The kitchen was filled with the sound of rustling paper. Oscar, for his part, enjoyed the silence for the moment. He could cook up a storm. But his finesse began and ended with things tangibly-related to cooking things. It took a good deal of his focus to make sure that the burgers were wrapped properly. It wasn't so much of a struggle as it was clearly something that wasn't second-nature.

Finally, the finishing touches were put on the burgers. Each one had been individually-wrapped and placed delicately on several large platters. Oscar stepped back and surveyed their work, a sign of relief escaping his lips. He crossed his arms over his chest, as he turned to Lessa and gave her a wide smile. "Well I think that puts us officially ahead of schedule!" Oscar snapped one of his fingers and the piles of hamburgers began to shimmer. Space around them warped as the food was compressed. Folding in on itself, the previously mountainous piles of food were reduced to a selection of small spheres. Oscar opened his menu and added the now-finalized items to his bag.

"I really hope you didn't think we were going to lug those all the way to the Orphanage," he said with a smirk. Another few menu clicks later and his coat manifested upon his body with a glimmer of light. Oscar adjusted the buttons, making sure everything was fastened properly. "You ready to go?"

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Awe shimmering in her blue eyes, Lessa watched the food neatly package itself into perfectly inventory-sized pieces. A beat of silence passed after Oscar stashed the items away and asked his question. Then the woman barked a short laugh. "Y'know," she began sheepishly, "yeah, I kind of expected us to be hauling big boxes across town. I was just thinking to myself that I'm glad I'm feeling strong today." She patted her bicep, then flashed him a grin. "So I guess that's just another example of the old world sticking with me. This," she gestured to the space where the orbs had hovered, "makes a hell of a lot more sense."

When he asked if she was ready, she responded with a quick nod. Then she rode his heels as he exited the kitchen, then the shop, and emerged into the busy street beyond. "Seeing you in there almost makes me want to start crafting again," she mused aloud, dropping into step beside the other blonde as they navigated the crowd. Considering he was significantly taller, Lessa's legs worked double-time to keep up. "I haven't done anything in my shop in... geeze, a couple years? It just sort of lost it's appeal. Plus, business boomed, then died as everyone found weapons they were happy with." Loosing a quick shrug, she added, "I'm a little envious of you consumable crafters. I bet the need never goes away."

The sun shone in the robin's egg blue sky, and Lessa tilted her face to it like a flower seeking light. With a contented hum, she finally turned back to her companion. "I'll be honest, this isn't quite how I pictured my day going."

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Oscar let out a bark of laughter as Lessa flexed in front of him. "Well, it's a good thing it won't go to waste. We still have a quest to knock out after this yeah?" As they dipped out of his shop, Oscar quickly grabbed Chaos Eater from the corner next to the door and slung it over his back. It dawned on him just how much he'd changed since he'd last interacted with Lessa. Back then, he was still using a katana and she couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. He chuckled and paused for a moment as she spoke. "Speaking of consumables, you sure you won't need any Accuracy food before we leave?" He gazed at her with a deadpan expression, making his best attempt to appear absolutely serious. Then, his mask began to crack and the corner of his mouth began to twitch. Before he could even stop himself, he found himself grinning blithely at the blonde. "I'm sorry. I was just thinking about how long it had been since the two of us had done a quest together," Oscar said. "I had to take the shot." Without giving her the opportunity to smack him with her powerful arms, Oscar headed off towards the Orphanage. Mercifully, it seemed she wasn't in the mood for smacking the fire out of him at this current moment. 

"I'll be honest, this isn't quite how I pictured my day going."

"Wrist-deep in spider guts slowly going insane and wondering about whether or not they have pockets? This is a significant upgrade if we're being completely honest," Oscar said flatly. Grinding mobs took him to a very dark place. Thought crossed his mind that should have never been roused from their eldritch slumber. "How do they hold all of that loot if they don't have pockets, Lessa?" And just like that, she had been infected with the madness. The obstinate question that every person who plays video games asked themselves: how do they hold all these swords? "Honestly, I've become rather disenchanted with grinding and quests. It's just so damn boring when you're by yourself. Like I know I can slaughter mobs by the dozens, but is it worth feeling like I'm applying a cheese grater to my face?"

They soon arrived at the Orphanage before they really had the opportunity to go down this whole spider-pocket rabbit hole together. A mercy, truly. It was rather innocuous in and of itself, but when you started scrutinizing everything about the game, everything just started coming apart at the seams. Ignorance, here, was a good thing. "Well, here we are. Hopefully this will be a quick in-and-out, but somehow I doubt it. You ready to get mobbed by a bunch of munchkins?"

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Instinctively, Lessa opened her mouth to politely reject the accuracy food, and thank him for the kind offer. The words were nearly formed, perched on the tip of her tongue, before realization struck. Her jaw clamped shut, lips smacking with an audible slap before pursing with distaste. "I see what you did there," she muttered, only partially feigning insult. She had made an absolute fool of herself the first time she'd met Oscar, allowing the far lower-level player to carry her through a pitifully simple quest. Even more upsetting had been the performance itself. How many times in a row could one person whiff it? Slipping on the sand might have been an okay excuse once, but good lord, she'd practically made failing into an Olympic sport. But Lessa wasn't the sort to hold onto those negative emotions for long. At least, not anymore. So she loosed a casual shrug, and shot back, "Apology accepted, but there will come a day when I save your ass, and I reserve the right to give you hell for it afterwards."

For the second time in nearly as many minutes, Oscar left Lessa speechless. Spiders? Pockets? "I- I guess I'd never really put that much thought into it," she confessed. "No, not even 'that much' thought. I've committed exactly zero brain power to where the mobs keep their loot." Reaching up to rub at the bridge of her nose, Lessa added, "But now I figure I'll be asking myself that same question every time I kill something. So, yeah, thanks for that." She grinned over at him. "You're an odd one. I see why Cordelia enjoys your company so much."

At his mention of grinding, the blonde nodded her agreement. "I'm honestly way behind when it comes to quest completion. Most level fives have done more than I have, and its for precisely that reason - it's boring alone. I hardly ever solo anything, because it just puts me in a bad mood. I'm really glad I have people like you to run through things with."

"You ready to get mobbed by a bunch of munchkins?"

Though it hardly seemed possible, her smile grew. "Absolutely."

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Oscar threw open the door to the Orphanage. The foyer was clear. To be expected, honestly. He ducked his head as he entered, making sure that he didn't smack his noggin on the door frame. He led Lessa down a side hallway and stepped into the kitchen. In stark contrast to his first visit, this kitchen was as immaculate as the one in his shop. He'd given the cook a stern talking-to about the abysmal state of his food prep areas on one of his earlier visits. It wasn't the kind of talking-to that could have been easily ignored. Oscar didn't anger easily, but having food meant for children prepared in absolute squalor had been his tipping point. Since then, however, everything was kept up to his exacting standard. It wasn't like they were in a position to argue with him, but still. It shouldn't have taken him screaming up and down the halls for the message to sink in.

A metal table rested in the center of the room. Trays and plates had been arranged prior to his arrival, with a large empty spot in the center of them. He produced the items from his inventory and activated them. The mountain of burgers they created winked into existence in an open spot. Oscar cast a glance over to Lessa with a smile. "Help me divide these up real quick?" There were a lot of children and thus a lot of tables. It was difficult to wrangle children at the best of times and even moreso when they were hungry. Thus, for logistic's sake, it was easier to have multiple staging areas for the food throughout the dining hall instead of concentrating all the kids to one large mound of food. When the mountain had been evenly divided among the five trays, Oscar grabbed a cart from the corner of the room and set them on the multi-tiered shelves. "There should be another cart for the plates if you wanna grab that one. I gotta figure out what I'm going to do about the fries though."

Oscar searched through the cabinets. They didn't have any container large enough for the fries he'd prepared earlier. He clicked his tongue. He rifling through one cabinet after the other until he finally found something that would work. Some medium-sized platters. It wasn't ideal, but he could make it work. He added those to his cart and headed for the door, beckoning for Lessa to follow. It was good fortune that they had been able to do the remaining prep work in peace. Oscar knew it would all be over when they stepped into the dining area. He headed back down the hall and made a right when they reached the foyer again. He stopped just shy in front of the swinging doors and took a deep breath before plastering a smile on his face.

Let's do this thing.

He pushed through the doors and stepped into an open, well-lit dining hall. The eyes of a few-dozen munchkins and their caregivers were upon him. With a playful smirk on his face, Oscar asked a simple question:

"Now who ordered the hamburgers?"

The room filled with the raucous cheering of the children. The younger ones bounced up and down in their seats while the older ones maintained a more reserved level of excitement. Oscar wasted no time making his rounds around the four stations - tables - in the corners of the room. He loaded them down with a tray of burgers and a few platters of fries. As Lessa would walk into the hall, she would find herself mobbed by children trying to get their plates. After he made his lap, he stopped at the carer's table and dropped off the last tray and the final platters of fries there. He gave them all a bright smile and a nod before making a beeline back to Lessa to try to give her a hand. "When I said 'mobbed' I meant it."

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"Oh yeah, sure." Lessa was so intrigued by the clean, industrial-style kitchen that she nearly missed Oscar's question. Whirling back to him in a cloud of blonde hair, she shot him a quick smile. "I'm digging all of these non-cooking jobs," she stated conversationally. "Fewer opportunities for me to mess up, and potentially poison children. I mean, I don't want to poison anyone, but especially not kids." Shifting wrapped packages from one pile to another was a mindless enough task that the woman could continue watching Oscar. Once more, she was struck by how comfortable he looked in the kitchen, even when it did not belong to him. He demonstrated a clean, crisp confidence even as he shifted through cabinets, as if everything came so easily to him. Perhaps it was an odd thing to notice, but Lessa admired that quiet assertiveness.

Once the burgers were perched in pretty pyramids atop the platters, and the fries were nestled nearby, Lessa looked to Oscar. She watched his quick mental exercise, and the smile that he painted on before shoving through the door. The display reminded her of the actors in the wings, at ease until seconds before walking onstage. What kind of a production was she walking into? Should she put on a brave face, too?

Lessa peeked around Oscar, but felt herself relax as soon as she saw the children. They were kids, not hyenas - she had nothing to worry about. As her nerves fled, and a genuine smile warmed her heart-shaped face, she moved up alongside her friend. When he grabbed the nearest platter, and began to distribute the food, she did the same. The kids swarmed like moths to a flame, and she nearly tripped over one boy in his haste to snag dinner. "There's enough for everyone," she assured him, though not unkindly. The reminder, it seemed, fell on deaf ears as another boy swooped down on her.

"You definitely weren't kidding," Lessa stated, plopping her last platter of fries in the middle of a table. Like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, the children practically fell atop the food. She followed a single fry as it arched through the air and over their heads. "They're like sharks. Do they get fed once a week or something?" But the blonde was grinning, and laughter bubbled just below the surface. When she looked up at Oscar's face, her eyes shone with happiness. "Thanks for taking me here."

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The expression on Lessa's face spoke volumes. She clearly held a special place in her heart for children. It wouldn't be much of a leap in logic to say that being able to work with them again brought no small amount of joy to her. Oscar, for his part, was just glad that he was able to bring her along to be a part of this. Chaotic though it was, that was simply the nature of working with children. Oscar returned her smile and nodded slightly. Their part in this whole thing had concluded but given the sudden shift in her mood, Oscar didn't want to end this prematurely. And so he stayed, ate, and mingled with the children and their caregivers. The children regaled him with stories about the games they played and the mischief they got into. In the case of the latter, Oscar would respond with a disapproving look before patting them on the head. They were good kids. And childhood was the time to get into mischief, after all. He felt rather guilty about leaving Lessa on her own in the crowd but something told him that she would get much enjoyment out of it.

Eventually, all of the food was eaten and full bellies led to the children sluggishly retiring to their rooms to play and rest. Oscar helped gather up the dishes and headed to the kitchen with Lessa. Usually, he left the clean-up to the caregivers but - although he and Lessa worked with children - Oscar was prone to tiring out after prolonged exposure with them. Adolescents he could handle. Grade-school kids? Not so much. Something mind-numbing and droll like washing dishes was just what he needed to decompress. He wondered if Lessa would need such a cool-off period. But he definitely wouldn't ask. He doubted it would go over well. Hey, Lessa. You know what drains my batteries faster than anything? F*cking kids. Yeah, that was not a conversation he was going to have. Though that wasn't to say he wouldn't make light of it a bit. With the dishes quickly being wrapped up, it was time to shift focus back towards the quest they were supposed to be doing.

"Those little guys make quest bosses look like teddy bears sometimes," he said, his voice lilting into a half laugh. "Even still, I enjoy the limited time I get to spend with them. It's important that the higher level players don't forget about what we're fighting for." He went from being wrist-deep in soapy water to leaning back against the sink and drying his hands with a towel before draping it over his shoulder. "I must confess. There's times that I get the jitters. I'm not a bad fighter by any means. But sometimes I take a hit I wasn't expecting or miss on a dangerous target and I start to panic. At that moment, as cheesy as it sounds, I think of the children. I think of what I've built in this town. It helps me keep my focus and keeps me alive." He chuckled and dropped a small stack of dirty plates into the water. "Even if I know I'm gonna be stuck washing dishes. Do you have anything that keeps you moving forward, Lessa? I know it's a rather personal question but I figure we're that type of friend now."

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Like the eye of the storm, the kitchen provided quiet stillness amid a flurry of chaos. Their small oasis, Oscar and Lessa shared the task of cleaning up after the meal. They worked in companionable silence, the clatter of plates and the rush of water the only sound in the clean, organized space. Though she found Oscar an endlessly fascinating individual, Lessa was perfectly happy with the working arrangements. After so much talking, so much noise, it was a relief to simply decompress. Before Sword Art, Alyssa's commute to her internship had taken nearly a full hour. At first, that fact had struck her as an inconvenience, but she had grown to cherish the time to think, to exist all on her own. While she absolutely adored kids, they also zapped batteries faster than the flashlight plugin on her Gameboy Color. 

Just as she wondered if Oscar felt the same, he spoke. "Those little guys make quest bosses look like teddy bears sometimes."

Something akin to relief washed over her. No need to feel guilty, then, for being glad the meal was finished. "You're not kidding. They wore me right out. The players that run this place have all earned their way to sainthood, as far as I'm concerned." Carefully balancing a stack of cups, she slowly picked her way toward the closet, stowed them in it's depths. When she emerged again, she smiled at the other blonde. "You know, you might be onto something. It might be worthwhile to show the Frontliners around this place. Or, at least, the ones who are willing. Sometimes we get stuck in our own heads, and we forget how many people are depending on us."

At his question, her smile faltered. "Oh yeah, no, it's fine," she stammered, waving her hand dismissively. "We're definitely friends, so no worries." But she suddenly found it more difficult to draw forth the happiness the children had brought her. Shoving her hands deep in the pockets of her pants, she propped herself up against the counter next to Oscar. "There are a lot of reasons why I get up every morning. The main one is still to get out of here. I want to see my family so badly. I want to see my house, and my horses, and my cats, and dogs, and just everyone." Quiet again, her jaw worked, blue eyes fixed on the opposite wall. "But there are other things, too. I want to get these kids back to their parents. I want the people I love to be safe. I'm so tired of waking up every day and checking my friends list to see who made it. I want a world where I don't have to do that."

"So I guess it's the fear that motivates me," she concluded finally. "The fear I won't get out. The fear these kids will forget who their moms and dads. The fear I'll lose the people who mean the most to me."

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Fear.

The most inconsistent of emotions. For Oscar's part, fear was the enemy not the motivator. People driven by fear are unpredictable - more wont to bring down a meticulously-laid plan than they were to go along with it. Fear led to panic, which led to poor decisions. Oscar understood her fear, but he refused to let himself be swallowed by it. And he for damn sure wasn't going to let it be his main drive. And yet, what didn't work for him might be exactly what was necessary for someone else. He didn't need years of education and work experience to understand that people were multi-faceted individuals and no two were exactly alike. He couldn't very well cast aspersions on what got her out of bed every day. He might have had some comment about the dubious healthiness of it all, but he would keep those to himself. It was a pot-meet-kettle situation. 

Somehow, he doubted that blindly clinging to hope despite all that suggested the contrary was any better. So he merely nodded in agreement and returned to his work.

They finished their tasks in relative silence. The heaviness of their conversation sapping life away from any desire Oscar had to probe further. With the final platter cleaned and the entire kitchen basically glistening in the artificial light, Oscar let out a sigh of relief. "There," he said with finality. "Next person who comes in here should be good to go." A slight grin stretched over his features as he donned his coat once more. He checked his watch. It was half-past this-doesn't-work-o'-clock. More out of muscle memory than any real function, Oscar's eyes flicked from the non-functioning accessory on his wrist to the digital clock that displayed the time in the upper left corner of his field of vision. That was definitely something he'd miss. This overlay had crazy real-world functionality. Much to his pleasure, they still had plenty of time left to romp around on a quest.

"Alright, you indulged me. Let's go knock this quest out. Remind me, did I ask what quest it was?"

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