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[F07 - PP] We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle. - Mahatma Ghandi

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  • LEVEL: 42
  • HP: 860 | ENERGY: 84
  • DMG: 15 | MIT: 54 | ACC: 4 | EVA: 3
    SKILLS 3/7 | MODS 3/5

    » RESTED
               COOLDOWN: 3 TURNS
               COOLDOWN: 3 TURNS

    » PARRY
          POST ACTION
               COOLDOWN: 2 TURNS
               5 ENERGY CONSUMED ON USE

     +18 MIT 

     +1 DMG
          +20 HP
               COOLDOWN: 3 TURNS
          +1 ACC

    » [X2 AOE] BLAST
     [X2] STRAIGHT
     [X3] SCOOPED
     [X4] CYCLONE
     [X5] BACK RUSH

      +3 EVA

      +36 MIT
      RECOVERY 1

     ➥ +6 DMG
     ➥ BLEED

     ➥ +3 ACC

Floor Seven. Why Floor Seven ? Nobody knew. Certainly not Bahr.

But for whatever reason, Oscar had asked to meet with Bahr here. The Crimson Marauder had a feeling that he knew what this was about. Oscar had been climbing through the ranks with velocity similar to Bahr's when he first started. And while Bahr had slowed down a bit in recent memory, Oscar seemed to still be going strong. He had been starting to get a bit cocky as of late, and Bahr had a suspicion that this was a challenge for a duel.

"Alright, I'm here," he announced gruffly, facing the Azure Crusader down at their designated meeting spot. "Better be important. I was sorta in the middle of something when I got your message. Everything okay?"

An empty platitude. Bahr knew what this was about. Already he was sensing the violent atmosphere vibrating all around him. His friend and rival who stood before him, Oscar, seemed to have gone through a bit of a makeover. No longer adorned in blue and now sporting a different weapon - a battle axe. Certainly he hadn't only prepared these to fight Bahr, but he couldn't help but feel like that was a part of it.


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Oscar awoke that morning ready for action. It wasn't every day that you got to beat the snot out of the man who you found the most kinship with. While Oscar and Bahr hadn't exactly spent inordinate amounts of time with one another, they had found a sort of unspoken bond. Even when Oscar was still a low-leveled noob, he felt his soul resonate with the man who called himself "Bloodedge." And though he worked to catch up with the crimson-clad man, it seemed Bahr was always just one step ahead of him. Not that he really minded. Aincrad was a rich world with much to offer besides the mindless grind for exp. And Oscar had never been one for level grinding anyways.

He stepped out of bed and grabbed his axe from his bedside. He began the day with a brisk workout at his Mega Slime Farm. As he cleaved through the masses of harmless enemies, he began to wonder just what exactly he was getting himself into. It would be just like him to bite off more than he could chew. But then again, what was a friendly duel among friends? With his workout done, Oscar headed for the entrance to his manor grounds. It was then that the reason that Oscar called Bahr to Floor Seven would become obvious.

Leeroy & Jenkins bounded off ahead of Oscar just as he rounded the corner to step off the boundaries of his property. It was then that he saw the Bloodedge cresting the hill in front of his home. Oscar set the butt of his axe against the ground and leaned against it as Bahr sauntered over to him. They would fight in the shadow of his manor. Oscar didn't call Bahr to Floor Seven for any reason beyond the fact that he didn't want to wander too far from home in order to have this duel. Besides, they could enjoy the amenities of his manor after their little brawl. Oscar greeted Bahr with a smile. It was plain as day that Bahr knew why Oscar had called him here. He opened his menu and fiddled with a few options before pressing the big green confirmation button. He wasn't one to waste time, but he also wasn't one to pour an inordinate amount of resources into something. A simple 50% duel would suffice. It would certainly be more entertaining than the constant grinding.

"You ready?" Oscar's question was simple. He wouldn't mince words with the Bloodedge. He didn't need to. This day had long been approaching. From their very first meeting until now, both of them had to have known on some level they'd cross blades eventually. It wasn't about determining who was better. It was merely about the thrill of battle. He could forget himself in the heat of the moment. His demons wouldn't claw at his mind. Their grip would lessen. And Oscar would be able to truly feel alive.

Mega Slime Farm Used


Oscar - Lvl 32
640 HP
64 Energy
3 Accuracy
3 Evasion
15 Base Damage - (1 Base +7 Skill +1 Ferocity +6 Weapon)
44 Mitigation 

Armads ............ // +6 DMG
Librarium Overcoat ................. // +3 EVA
Plated Azure Tights ............... // +36 MIT, +3 Recovery

Leeroy & Jenkins - Familiar ............. // +3 Accuracy

Battle Ready Inventory
Teleportation Crystal .............. // 
Empty Inventory Slot   ............ // 
Empty Inventory Slot ............ // 
Empty Inventory Slot ............. // 
Empty inventory slot ............ //
Empty inventory slot ............ //

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.

2HBA                      | Rank 5: +8 Damage
Light Armor                | Rank 2: +8 Damage Mitigation
Concentration                   | +1 to your BD (3 turn cooldown)
Survival                   | Heal 15*Tier HP when out of battle
Familiar Mastery: Accurate | Rank 3: +3 Accuracy

Skill Mods
Ferocity                   | Increases Base Damage by 1


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As the panel populated in front of Bahr, he silently selected the option for a Half Loss Duel and hit accept, not taking his eyes off of Oscar the whole while. A moment later, a timer appeared suspended in the air between them, starting a sixty and working its way downward. "Always am, buddy. Just hope you are, too." There wasn't a coldness or bitterness to his tone, simply an acceptance that this had always been an inevitability. He had known from the moment they fought against Pinball together that Oscar had the fighting spirit. And he couldn't be upset with the guy for working so hard to catch up - after all, it would have been a shame for the equipment he had handed off to the Azure Crusader to have gone to waste. 

It also meant Bahr wouldn't need to pull any punches.

He slowly unsheathed his blade from the small of his back, crimson and verdant hues still coolly affixed to the pupils of his adversary. He did not assume any particular fighting stance, keeping his posture rather open and gripping his massive sword backhanded as he usually did. A simple nod indicated his readiness as the timer continued to tick downward.


Roll for duel initiative.
ID: 126038
LD: 17


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The timer had begun to count down. Oscar readied himself for the fight ahead. This wouldn't be like any of his other brushes with PVP. No, Bahr was very much an opponent on par with him. Even moreso, if he were being completely honest. This wouldn't be like those fights with those low-level PKers and their "friends." It would be much more intense. Oscar watched the timer tick down in his periphery as he met Bahr's steely gaze. 

Nine... Eight... Seven... Six...

Oscar had to fight to keep his hands from trembling. Not out of fear, but with anticipation. Up until now there had never been a battle that he took part in that would make heart race. Sweat lined his palms as his pulse quickened. It soaked into the wooden handle of the axe as he gripped it tighter. His knuckles grew white as he strained every muscle in his hand to grip his weapon. Face remained deadpan through all of this, his gaze icy. 

Five... Four... Three...

The numbers continued to tick down. Just a moment more and it would begin. Time seemed to slow. He became keenly aware of his surroundings. This was his time. The thrill of battle, the rush of blood. Living in the time between the seconds. He spun his axe deftly, allowing the handle to roll over the back of his hand as he dropped down into a fighting stance. The blade of his axe gleamed in the morning sunlight. The rays of light refracted in all directions, shining brilliantly upon the dew-covered ground.

Two... One...

This was it. This wasn't about proving himself better. It wasn't about proving himself inferior. This was merely about the fight. Two peers standing against each other, testing themselves against a fleeting enemy. Such a crucible would temper the bonds of kinship. They would find their friendship strengthened after passing through the forge of battle. But that would be a consequence for later. A thought for minds more suited to emotions and complex thought.


The dirge of battle resounded. The only thing that would occupy his mind would be how to defeat the man standing before him.


ID: 126039 LD5

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Milliseconds after battle start notifier sounded, Bahr had closed the distance between them. His crimson eyes peered into those of his opponent's as the distance between their faces closed to mere inches, the sudden displacement of air accentuating the brisk approach with a turbulent burst of wind. But it was a feint, and just as quickly as his figure had appeared before Oscar, it vanished. Standing right where he had been moments before was Bahr, stance seemingly unchanged, pupils still steadily studying the movements of his rival. It had been a scouting maneuver.

The Disguise Skill. A wondrous thing. There was a seemingly infinite number of ways to deploy it, but this was the favorite that Bahr had found. An apparition sent to scout the response time and techniques of the opponent. It also allowed Bahr the time to set up other skills, such as the Parry that was now active. His eyes had remained affixed to the man before him throughout the whole ordeal. Oscar's response to the Disguise, his response to it fading into oblivion, all of it. He felt all the more confident in his ability to supersede the actions of the Azure Crusader with predictions of his own moving forward.

"Hope that didn't startle you," he mused with a grin, relaxing his stance a bit. "Something I've been meaning to try out. This seemed as good a time as any to shake things up with a new technique. Feel free to try it yourself, provided you have the Disguise Skill."


Bahr: HP: 860/860 | EN: 84-4=80/84 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 54 | ACC: 4 | EVA: 4 | BLEED 1

FREE ACTION: Disguise activated, +1 EVA

POST ACTION: Parry: Justified Riposte activated, next successful attack against Bahr has final damage reduced by half-4 EN ("RESTED" HOME BUFF REDUCES EN EXPENDITURE BY 1)

Oscar: HP: 640/640 | EN: 64/64 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 44 | ACC: 3 | EVA: 3


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Oscar: HP: 640/640 | EN: 51/64 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 44 | ACC: 4 | EVA: 3

Free Action: Concentration +1 ACC until the start of the next turn.

Explode Catapult [x14] vs Bahr. ID: 126063 BD6+4-4. Deal 210-54=156 DMG CD9 - Recovery Activates

Bahr: HP: 860/860 | EN: 84-4=80/84 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 54 | ACC: 4 | EVA: 4 | BLEED 1

Oscar's eyes narrowed as Bahr rushed forward. For the briefest of moments, their gazes locked with one another. Oscar stood motionless as he was buffeted by the gust of wind triggered by Bahr's rapid acceleration. The first impulse was to strike, but the outcome of a battle like this would be adversely impacted by impulsivity. So, Oscar quelled the urge to attack. He needed to take a more measured approach. His eyes widened and his pupils narrowed. Time seemed to slow even further. For a brief moment his sight would be keen enough to discern between real and fake at a glance. He had to suppress the urge to chuckle. Bahr war trying to see if he could provoke a sloppy attack from Oscar. He should have known better. While Oscar didn't display a large amount of restraint out of battle, he wouldn't be easily baited once his switch had been flipped.

The switch, in this case, being the Concentration skill.

Seeing the apparition for what it truly was, Oscar rushed forward. The head of his axe blazing with a blood-red light, Oscar dashed straight through the phantasmal manifestation of the Bloodedge. In an instant, Oscar was upon him. He raised his axe above his head and brought it straight down towards Bahr's head. He would slice through Bahr's face and chest, leaving a nasty red behind that traced the path of his weapon. His axe would bury itself in the ground. Not exactly the best thing to have happen in a fight like this. But, the end result was still the same. Oscar had claimed first blood.

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As quickly as Bahr's mirage had approached Oscar, Oscar himself closed the distance between the two, flashing before Bahr with his axe raised above his head. It seemed that Disguise hadn't been enough to throw the youth off balance. Not that that was a problem.

Bahr's open stance may have been a sign of confidence, but it had function as well. The moment he saw Oscar approaching, he firmly planted the tip of his sword into the soil and timed his Parry, shoulder checking the flat side of the blade at the exact moment the axe came for his head. The reverberation of the planted sword against the sharp edge of the axe sent a piercing twank! sound through the area as it displaced Oscar's attack just enough to avoid Bahr's head, carving into his shoulder and then burying itself in the ground below.

He had seen this Parry deliver stuns to various opponents in a variety of ways, but having their weapon buried into the ground was simply a treasure. Bahr planted his foot against the staff of the axe right beneath its head, pivoting around his planted blade before reaching his arms over his head and wrapping his fingers around the hilt behind him. He then ripped the weapon forward and downward, tearing a wide diagonal gash across Oscar's body before finally removing his boot from his opponent's weapon.


Bahr: HP: 860-78=782/860 | EN: 80+1-12=69/84 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 54 | ACC: 4 | EVA: 3 | BLEED 1
CD: 3 (No extra energy recovered this turn)

Disguise cooldown: Turn 1/3

Parry: Justified Riposte cooldown: Turn 1/3
Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-12 EN ("RESTED" HOME BUFF REDUCES EN EXPENDITURE BY 1)

Oscar: HP: 640-151=489/640 | EN: 49/64 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 44 | ACC: 3 | EVA: 3 | ID: 126080 | BD: 3+4=7, Hit for 15x13=195-44=151 DMG | STUNNED


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Oscar had been fully prepared to be punished for his overzealous attack. What he hadn't been prepared for was to be stunned and then struck with one of Bahr's most powerful Sword Arts, all because the head of his axe was stuck in the ground. Only one word came to mind while Bahr was delivering his merciless punishment of Oscar's misstep.


Oscar was unable to move as he watched his health bar get chunked by what amounted to a free setup. Honestly, he probably could have played that better. He didn't know how, but he was sure that he could have played it better. Thankfully, the stun would wear off soon and he would be able to get back into the fight. But boy did he have a lot of ground to make up in this bout now.

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Bahr's eyes remained unchanged as Oscar's expression adopted a flicker of shock - a mixture of confusion and surprise riding his visage as his health bar plummeted from Bahr's attack. But he wasn't done yet.

With Bahr's boot now removed from the axe and pressure applied to his opponent, it dislodged itself from the ground and sent Oscar double backward awkwardly as his legs scrambled to adjust to the various forces at work that were moving his body. Bahr took advantage of this by stepping forward briskly and placing a boot behind one of Oscar's ankles, causing him to topple backward toward the ground.

As his body fell, Bahr chased after it with the tip of his blade, vibrating with the crimson energy he had poured into it. Oscar's back hit the ground, and then the Scarecrow's Sickle pierced through his chest and skewered him in place. An indicator flashed into existence next to Oscar's health bar as it dipped impossibly close to the halfway point - the Bleed symbol.

"You've got all the grit, determination and unbridled power necessary to carry you as far as you want to go. But I'm not gonna lie - I'm a bit disappointed to see how much you rely on raw damage. There will be times when your opponent has a trick up their sleeve and brute force won't be able to cut it. You need an ace in the hole as well."


Bahr: HP: 782/860 | EN: 69+1-13=57/84 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 54 | ACC: 4 | EVA: 3 | BLEED 1
CD: 1 (No extra energy recovered this turn)

Disguise cooldown: Turn 2/3

Parry: Justified Riposte cooldown: Turn 2/3
Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-13 EN 

Oscar: HP: 489-164=325/640 | EN: 50/64 | DMG: 15 | MIT: 44 | ACC: 3 | EVA: 3 | ID: 126594 | BD: 9, Crit for 16x13=208-44=164 DMG | BLEED INFLICTED | BLEED INFLICTS 24 DMG AT THE BEGINNING OF OSCAR'S TURN


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  • 2 weeks later...

"Aw hell."

Upon seeing his health bar plummet as a result of Bahr's critical hit, Oscar was about to double down and try to go for a comeback victory. But then he noticed the Bleed icon on his status bar. He corrected his posture and spun his axe over his head before slamming the head of the axe into the ground. As his health was reduced below half thanks to the bleed tick, Oscar placed his foot on the underside of the axe blade and leaned against the staff. He'd lost. To the outside observer, the fight had been over pitifully quick. But it had never been about winning. This fight had always been about getting his blood flowing. Oscar waved Bahr off as he attempted to preach at him with a post-battle coaching. He'd never thought he'd be able to win anyway. Certainly he'd hoped to land more than a single blow, but the difference in their levels was quite staggering. This was probably the best he could have hoped for. That being said, Bahr wasn't wrong. Oscar had a plan in mind, but he just didn't have the SP for it right now.

"Eh. Give me a few levels and I'll have somethin' special for ya. Besides, you didn't really think I was tryin' to win? You're level freakin' forty something."

Oscar wrenched his axe from the ground and shouldered the weapon before turning on his heels and strolling back towards the house. It took a few steps before he noticed that Bahr wasn't actually following him. He sighed and turned his head back towards the Bloodedge.

"So you eatin' lunch or what?"

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"Eh. Give me a few levels and I'll have somethin' special for ya. Besides, you didn't really think I was tryin' to win? You're level freakin' forty something."

Ah, backpedaling. Bahr could respect it - after all, nobody liked to lose. He wouldn't draw attention to it.

With a nod, he released his grip on Scarecrow's Sickle, the weapon instantly vanishing in a ribbon of light and returning to his inventory. "Always. What are we having?" Probably a stupid question. Hot dogs, no doubt? It was actually the only thing that Oscar had ever made for him. Did the young cook have another trick up his sleeve that Bahr wasn't considering?

The interior of Oscar's home was immaculate. Just what had the Azure Crusader done to amass enough wealth to afford a place like this? Bahr had been proud of his two home property on the tenth floor, but this was something else. Allowing his eyes to shift around and marvel at the architecture, Bahr followed Oscar through a series of rooms until it appeared that they had reached their destination.

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Oscar placed his axe in an out-of-the-way corner of his dining area and removed his long coat. Underneath the long overcoat, Oscar wore a rather dapper-looking black suit with a striking red shirt underneath. The jacket also came off, hanging next to his overcoat on the wall. Oscar began rolling his sleeves up and leaned against the wall, watching Bahr look around his fairly opulent estate. He let out a wry grin. "Smart investments and hot dogs, in case you're wondering how I snagged this place." He chuckled and dismissed himself to the adjoining kitchen. He didn't feel the need to tell the Bloodedge to take a seat because, well, he had invited the man into his home. What was he gonna do? Make him stand off and brood in a corner? As much as Bahr probably would have liked that, Oscar didn't really think that he needed actually verbalize that the man was welcome to make himself at home. On the counter there was a decanter filled with a caramel-colored liquid, along with several glasses. Whiskey, clearly. Though they couldn't get inebriated in Aincrad, sometimes you just needed a taste of home. And being such a highly-skilled cook within this world meant he could brew some very tasty booze. From his kitchen, Oscar truly hoped that curiosity would get the better of Bahr and he would give it a taste. He hadn't had anyone judge his brewing abilities as of yet.

Meanwhile, Oscar was hard at work preparing an actual meal for the two of them. His home wasn't exactly a place where he went out of his way to serve hot dogs. How out of place would that be? Sitting in an opulent mansion, chowing down on a pile of hot dogs? Though such a meal would probably suit the both of them just fine, Oscar had a tendency to really get into it when he was entertaining guests in his home. Whether in the real world or not, his hospitality was legendary. And with the skills and the ability to make literally any type of food he wanted here, he could truly make this a meal to remember. Also, if he were being completely honest, he was getting tired of being thought of as the hot dog man by all of his friends. Yeah, he was showing off a little, but maybe it would stick in Bahr's mind that hot dogs weren't the only things he could cook.

The first course was simple. A light French Onion Soup to help shake off some of the chill from the early morning air on Floor Seven. Not hearty enough to set them off their appetite for the main course, but definitely enough to warm their insides. The main course, however, was the real showstopper. An absolutely massive cut of beef, grilled to perfection and seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, and butter. Prepared in a well-season cast iron skillet, it would truly be a mouth-watering creation. He plated their steaks, along with some grilled corn and green beans pan-seared in the remnants of the recently-prepared steaks. Then, he ladled out some of the soup into two bowls, set it on their plates, and brought it out to the dining room.

"You were probably expecting hot dogs. Not gonna lie, I do hot dogs in my shop mostly for the memes. But don't be too disappointed now, I think you might like this a little better." Then, he placed the plate down on the table, allowing Bahr to get a look at what Oscar had concocted for him. He set his own plate and disappeared inside the kitchen for a bit. Moments later, he returned with two more slabs of raw meat that he set in his familiar's bowl. Leeroy & Jenkins wasted no time tucking into their meal. Before sitting down he poured a glass of whiskey for himself and brought the decanter to the table for the two of them to enjoy as they ate.

"Go ahead, Mister Bloodedge. Take the first bite."

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Was that-?

It was.

Bahr had immediately gravitated toward the decanter that rested upon the counter, picking it up and observing as the amber fluid within sloshed lightly around. Upon removing the glass plug and raising the vessel to his nose, the liquid was instantly identified. Whiskey. Good, from the whiff of it. Bahr didn't hesitate to pour the beverage into a short tumbler that rested nearby, carrying it over to what looked like the most comfortable seat in the room. Despite knowing it was a bit rude, he didn't feel compelled to wait until Oscar returned to sample the spirit. He rose the tumbler, rolling the liquid around for a moment as he allowed its sharp scent to permeate his nostrils. After a moment, he touched the glass to his lips and allowed the drink to slide into his mouth, where he rolled it around on his tongue to savor the flavor. It was delicious.

Not long after, Oscar rejoined him, placing a soup in front of him before taking a seat of his own at the table. Bahr rose his glass and clinked it against that of his companion's before taking another savory sip of the whiskey. "Brilliant whiskey," Bahr admitted with a content sigh as he placed the tumbler on the table. "It's been far too long since I've had the pleasure of enjoying some. Too bad we can't really have fun with it, but I'll take what I can get."

A short slurp of the soup revealed that it, too, was scrumptious. "So you can cook more than just hot dogs. I was beginning to wonder," he teased with a grin, setting down his spoon.

"Say, Oscar... You're a licensed therapist, right? Out there, I mean."

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"Yep," came Oscar's simple reply. He was rather busy at the moment. Was it egotistical to enjoy his own food so much? Probably. But it didn't change the fact that his food was delicious. He was, indeed, the best cook he knew. Of course, he was the only cook he knew, so that leveled the playing field a bit. After swallowing a massive bite of steak and washing it down with his home-brewed whiskey, Oscar wiped his mouth and looked towards Bahr with a puzzled look. "You need some help in that arena, then?" Was the mighty Bloodedge coming to him for help with mental health? It seemed a bit ludicrous at first glance. Bahr was a stoic man who seemed like he had everything well in hand. But it was probably that same stoicism that worked against him in this respect. No one, not even Bahr, could keep things bottled up forever. Either you dealt with it constructively, or you exploded. And given the man's temper, he was a gentle nudge away from exploding.

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Bahr cut a piece away from the tender slab of meat, piercing it with his fork and swiveling it into the bister liquid that had escaped the steak before raising it to his lips and peeling it away from the metal. Delicious, as were all of the foods that Oscar curated. He chewed the bite of meat thoughtfully, slowly indulging in the juices squeezed from the perfectly sauteed muscle fibers as it rolled over his tongue. After his teeth had shredded the selection to an agreeable extent, he swallowed, the texture of the meat as it slid down the back of his throat agreeing with every notion he had ever had of what a good steak should be. Even in real life, Bahr could never hope to create a hunk of meat so immaculate. He would need to seek Oscar out on the other side of the veil and see if his skills in real life lived up to the name he had made for himself in Aincrad.

"Best steak I've ever had," he mused with a smile, setting down his silverware. "And, yes, I've been running into a bit of a problem recently." He rose his tumbler of whiskey back to his lips and took another sip, the austere oaky flavor cleansing his palette before washing down his throat. "I'm not really sure how else to put this. I love combat. Like, too much. To the extent that I almost got someone killed recently," he admitted for the first time to anyone other than the very woman who had almost died. "It's a completely different mode. It feels like it isn't even me. You caught a glimpse of it during our fight with Pinball. I didn't even care if I died. I didn't even care if you died, even if that's what set me off in the first place. The only thing I cared about was winning."

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Oscar listened intently to Bahr's problem. It really took him back, being able to do his old job that he spent many years in school for. This was right in his wheelhouse - even more than Cooking in Aincrad had become. He slowly ate his food as Bahr explained the situation. Once the Bloodedge was done, he took a long, thoughtful sip of whiskey and then cleared his throat. He had some obvious bit of advice that he wasn't sure if Bahr had considered. With a contented sigh, he placed the glass down on the table gently and leaned forward in his chair, lacing his fingers together in front of his face.

"Have you tried redefining what you would consider 'winning?'" Oscar let that statement hang in the air, giving it ample time to sink in. "Your hyperaggression could be your survival instinct kicking into overdrive. Your fight or flight response is less flight and more grinding the threat into dust to neutralize it. That isn't inherently a bad thing. But if you change your definition of 'winning' from neutralizing the threat to protecting others from the threat as efficiently as possible, then you can put that side of you to better use."

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Bahr rolled the remainder of his whiskey around the tumbler he was holding before downing it. It wasn't that Oscar didn't understand the situation, just that he hadn't been given enough context. "That's what I've been trying so far," he began, setting the glass down and picking up the cutlery. "It is more productive when I apply it toward something else. But I'm afraid that the further I slip down this rabbit hole, the harder it will be to claw my way out of it." He pierced the steak with his fork and began carefully cutting another square from it. 

"It probably sounds ridiculous, but I'm pretty sure it's this sword. Ever since I got my hands on it, I've been sinking further and further into this bizarre bloodlust." He took the freshly squared off piece of meat and plopped it into his mouth, chewing for a moment before swallowing. "The strange thing is, apparently it once belonged to a man who wreaked havoc on this floating hell. They called him the 'Berserker of Aincrad.' His bloodlust grew and grew until the Frontliners had to put him down. I keep telling myself that it's just a fragment of data. That it shouldn't and couldn't have this sort of influence on me."

"But before it was given to me, I had a different sort of fun while fighting. It was fun because it was so akin to a game. It felt good to slay a monster, get the experience and loot, and then go along completing quests and whatever else I had planned for the day. Now the pleasure I derive from it is of a bloodthirsty beast that ravages his opponents until they need to be carried away in a dustpan."

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Oscar laughed at the mere mention of a weapon in a video game causing a psychological issue. He never pegged Bahr for the superstitious type. It was, at its core, a bunch of ones and zeroes. It was completely ludicrous and almost a little insulting. Oscar shook his head and went back to his meal. He took one small bite and pointed his knife at Bahr as if it were a laser pointer. "I can promise you it's not the sword. At least not in the way you're thinking. A bunch of binary code isn't going to infect your brain and make you act out of character. If that were the case, what's my excuse?" Oscar placed his knife and fork down on the plate and took a long sip of his whiskey before continuing.

"I've found myself acting out of character as well. One would think that caution would be at the forefront of everyone's mind after being armed with the knowledge that if you die here, you die out there. But I've been taking huge risks simply to level up. Undertaking quests that, honestly, I have no business trying to do by myself. There's something to be said with how addicting the combat is. I think the reason I do most of it alone is because I don't wish to be in a position where I'm putting someone else's life at risk by doing something dumb."

Oscar's eyes snapped up to meet Bahr's gaze. He didn't realize just how alike the two of them were until now. Sure, their personalities were quite different, but all roads lead to Rome, as they say. "So again, it's not the sword. You're using it as a scapegoat. This game is messing with your head like it's messing with mine."

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Bahr rolled Oscar's contention around in his head as he chewed on another cut of steak, trying to decide if he believed him or not. Oscar was, after all, the expert here, and Bahr had sought his experience regarding his recent acting out. Everything that he had just said made sense, also. But Bahr just couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more to it than that. It had relentlessly picked at his superstitious bone until it had broken through and to the forefront of his thoughts. Though, that may have very well been the problem. 

It was nice to hear that he wasn't the only one, though. Oscar had turned out to be born of the same flame Bahr was. It was no wonder they had bonded as quickly as they had.

"You've given me a lot to think about. Thank you," was all Bahr could manage, still unsure what to make of the situation. "But so you know, you don't need to jump into the abyss alone. I'm only a message away if you're thinking about going up against a tough boss. I've ran solo most of the way up to this point as well, so you don't gotta worry about me eating it. I'm a big boy, I can hold my own."

A grin to break the tension. But as soon as it had gone, Bahr found a way to reel it back in.

"Don't know what I would do if I caught word one day that you'd gone and gotten yourself offed by some brainless whackjob. So don't, alright?"

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"I should say the same to you there, Mister Bloodedge. You might have a few levels on me, but we're about the same level when it comes to slaying monsters," came Oscar's chiding retort. It was true though. As far as the monsters and quests on Aincrad were concerned, the two of them were about on even keel. There really wasn't much sense for either of them to be going it solo anymore. Other than some contest of masculinity to see who could solo the most quests or risk their lives the most killing bosses. As much as Oscar loved the thrill of putting his life on the line like that, he definitely had a better hold of himself than Bahr did. Though, in that arena, he had the advantage. He knew all of the mental exercises to trick himself into being safer. Exercises that Bahr was simply ignorant of by merit of not being formally trained in them.

"Listen man. You're done with this solo bullshit. Only way you're gonna get better is if you teach yourself how to party with people. To that end, the next time either of us go on a quest, we need to take the other along. Keep each other safe from ourselves and all that."

He didn't doubt for a minute that Bahr wouldn't be doing any of that nonsense. He knew this because - even though he suggested it - Oscar wasn't about to start leaning on others when he felt he had things handled. Perhaps his pride would be the death of him. But man is nothing if not prideful. The trick was avoiding the fall. They finished their meals in relative silence, enjoying the quiet of one another's company and the good food before them. After they had finished, the two parted ways. Oscar cleaned up his kitchen, content with the day's adventure. He wondered if he had managed to be of any help to Bahr. He certainly hoped so. He couldn't bear to lose a friend, especially one he resonated with so profoundly.

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