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[OP-F1] Forever Fall


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Another day was passing in a hazy blur. How long had it been since she'd been trapped here? Since they all had...?

Autumn—no, Ayaka, she hadn't yet earned the right to think of herself as "Autumn"—had finished her food run. She had an arrangement with a local low-level, female player: she would take care of menial tasks like shopping for food, and in exchange, she would get to eat with the household. A middle-aged mother had logged on with her two rambunctious sons on launch day, kids that couldn't have been older than eleven or twelve, and she had her hands full just keeping an eye on them. Though it seemed like their attempts to go out into the fields and fight boars and wolves had petered out since the news that their long-time neighbor, a player who made their living teleporting up and down the floors of Aincrad and utilizing his Cooking skill to sell fine cuisine to players of all levels, had been killed while on the hunt for rare ingredients with a pick-up group.

Finally hearing that someone they knew had lost their life to the death game... it brings it home in a way nothing else does, I suppose...

Well, it couldn't be helped. It was sad, and no child their age should have needed to deal with such grief, but at least they would be smarter from now on. Which was heartening to know, but also left Ayaka with no more excuses.

No excuses to avoid the death game herself...

She felt her avatar's jaw clench as SAO's emotional expression system kicked in, and closed her eyes as she walked. She knew these streets as well as she had known her little slice of Tokyo on the other side; she wasn't about to bump into anyone, and the shopping—bought with her roommate's Col, of course—was all packed away in her inventory to be traded away when she got back. She wouldn't be dropping anything. That was one good thing about virtual reality: no shopping bags.

No more excuses. I have to try again. T-to try, and...

To try fighting. To try pushing back the fear that had held her back before. She knew, she just knew, that if she could master that, if she could get used to the death game and begin accruing experience points and gear... she was a skilled gamer with a good sense for the ebb and flow of even the most hard-core RPGs! She could do good here, she knew it! But until she conquered this crippling terror that kept her cowering in the safe zones, she would forever remain Ayaka, the victim. Calling herself by her character name, "Autumn," whenever she introduced herself... it would always be a twisted joke.

At last, she opened her eyes turned a corner, and knocked on the door of a small, cheap player home that had been claimed by the mid-level player that her roommate had fallen in love with. The breadwinner of the household she was about to leave behind. As she traded away the groceries to her friend, Autumn wondered if she had been a single mother in the real world or if, perhaps, the hopelessness of the situation had driven her into the arms of one of Aincrad's male players, seeking comfort without regard for the reality that waited if the clearers ever finished the game...

She didn't ask. Instead, she explained her plans and said her farewells. Ayaka left with a promise of welcome should she ever return, but knew that she never would. If she did, she would never work up the courage to leave again.

---

The fields outside of town stretched out forever, it seemed. Though in truth, the First Floor of Aincrad was only around six or seven miles in diameter—large enough to fit the whole of Tokyo's Setagaya ward inside of it, but hardly endless. In the early days of the game, the fields around the town had been hunted clean daily, beginning players scrambling for all the EXP and Col they could get. When the first labyrinth tower had finally been conquered and the second floor opened, the thousands of surviving players had finally had room to breathe. The ungodly congestion and conflict over hunting grounds that had characterized those early days had faded as one floor and then another was opened to player exploration and exploitation; gradually the mobs, quests, and loot to be found on Floor One was freed up as power-gamers forged ahead and the mid-levels spread out between multiple floors.

Now, the most frequent players to hunt the boars and wolves outside the Town of Beginnings were players who only wanted enough Col to afford their endless succession of nights at the inns, or food and drink from NPC vendors. If they were really daring, sometimes they farmed for boar meat and harvested local herb ingredients and paid players with the basic Cooking skill to cook it up for them...

The second-most-frequently-seen players in these fields were people like Ayaka... characters like Autumn. Players who had gotten fed up with their own cowardice, and had decided to do something about it.

"But this is the fourth or fifth time I've decided to 'do something about it,'" Ayaka said bitterly to herself, hearing her voice quaver. "And here I am, trembling like a leaf before I even see my first damn boar. Ugh, I'm such a..."

Ayaka hadn't even detoured to the Teleport Plaza to grab the first tutorial quest before approaching the north gate of the Town of Beginnings. Here she stood, staring out over the sunlit fields as if they were the darkest, most barren of World War I's barbed-wire minefields, certain agony and death no matter where one stepped. There weren't even any mobs in sight of the gate; probably they'd been hunted by one of the locals for Col within the last ten minutes, their respawn timers ticking down even as she stood just inside the gate. Shaking, gritting her teeth, virtual body unwilling to cross the invisible barrier that marked the division between safe haven and outside field...

Oh, for the love of... you were a Tekken 7 regional semifinalist! You aced the most chaotic songs on the highest difficulty in Hatsune Miku Project DIVA Arcade! You almost made it into a frickin' Magic: The Gathering World Championship! You're a gamer among gamers! You're not gonna die to some low-level slimes, so what are you so damn scared of?!

But scared she was, and SAO's emotional-expression system was making sure to telegraph that so loudly it could probably be seen from Tolbana! She was shaking, hunched up, lips pressed together eyes watering with unshed tears, virtual lungs gasping in and out with the short breaths of hyperventilation; she looked for all the world like she was having a PTSD panic attack right there in the open arch at the edge of town. And she hated it. She hated it so damn much.

"Damn it!" she half-snarled, half-cried, one of those virtual tears sliding down her face in spite of herself. To galvanize herself into motion, she jerkily yanked the Kobold Skirmisher's Sword out of its sheath and gripped it tight in her hand, holding it in a ready position off to one side. "This is stupid! They're just boars! You can do this, so move!"

Ayaka forced one leg to lift itself, pushed it over the invisible barrier, and stepped forward onto the dirt-and-gravel road that led away from town. Then took another step. Then another—

—but she was still shaking, and in rebellion against her false courage her body gave a great heaving lurch, sending her falling face-first into the road. The sword, at least, remained clutched tight in her hand, and her HP was undamaged... but boy, did her pride feel all kinds of sore.

Ayaka blurted out a string of words in English that any sane MMORPG would have filtered out by default, and scrambled to push herself up.

---

CHARACTER STATS:

Autumn | Level 1
HP: 20/20
EN: 20/20
DMG: 2
MIT: 0
EVA: 0
ACC: 1
LD: 0

Equipped Weapon:
Kobold Skirmisher's Sword | [Straight Sword, Rare] [Damage I] [Accuracy I]

Equipped Armor:
[None]

Battle-Ready Inventory:
Starter Healing Potion (x3) | [Heals 50 HP]

Skills:
«Straight Swords» Weapon Skill | Rank 1

Edited by Autumn
Forgot to color some text.
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                     Now that there was no more need to always be stuck in the town, Almina had more places where she could go to take a look at the digital horizon while getting lost in thought. For example, a nice, tall tree just outside of town. The digital horizon was different here, because there was less "town" to be seen, and more of the first floor's wilds in view instead. It was a nice change of pace.

            Almina snapped back into reality(or, more accurately, the game's reality) at the sound of someone struggling. She looked to her left, then to her right, and then looked down from the tree she was at the top of. She could barely make out the visage of someone down at the road, with the distance and all those branches of the tree. Almina decided to get down and see if any help was needed. This may have been very near the starter settlement, but this was still outside the safe zone. Not only did this mean there might be some help needed, but it also meant that Almina would need a way to soften her fall when she reached the bottom, since fall damage was a thing.

           "You all right?" She called out. Then she began shuffling her way down the tree, before stumbling and fumbling nearly the rest of the way down, managing to grab hold of a lower branch, in which she'd hang down from the tree by her arm, her hand still grasping the branch. Well, at least she was out of the tree now. She then spotted the red haired player. "Ehehe, hi." She greeted, somewhat sheepishly.

           *Snap*

   Almina looked up to see that the branch she held onto had just broke. "Uh oh..."
                    She proceeded to fall and stumble onto the ground, but at least the distance wasn't enough to result in fall damage. She then got up, and shook herself off, before looking back to the red haired player, asking "So uh, how are you? Is there anything you need?" With a cheerful, casual smile without a care in the world about what just happened.

 

Stats and Equipment:

Spoiler

Level: 1

HP: 20
Energy: 20
Base Damage: 7(SS Rank 1[3], White Blade[3])
Mitigation: 6(Blossoms' Blessing)
Accuracy: 0
Evasion: 0
Regen: 4%
Loot Die: 3(Fuzzy Beanie)

 

Additional conditions:

[None Yet]

 

 

Skills:

Straight Sword 1(4 SP)

 

Equipment:

[T1]White Blade(Straight Sword, 3 DMG)[Equipped]

[T1]Blossoms' Blessing(Cloth Armor, Mitigation, 2 Regen)[Equipped]

[T1]Fuzzy Beanie(3 LD)[Equipped]

 

Consumables:

Starter Healing Potions(Restores 50 HP) x3

 

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"You all right?"

Ayaka froze in her clumsy attempt to stand, looking up just in time to see a young woman—around about her own age—partly-climbing but mostly-falling out of a tree not too far away. When this woman caught herself on a branch, Ayaka blinked and stared.

"Ehehe, hi," said the woman, and Ayaka winced a beat before the crack sounded; she was genre-savvy enough to know that came next. And familiar enough with the durability of the trees to be found in the Town of Beginnings to guess that the ones outside of town wouldn't fare much better.

So the woman took her tumble, and Ayaka was left feeling guiltily grateful that at least she didn't have much more reason to want to disappear into the virtual floor than the stranger over there did. Without thinking about it, she stood and jogged over to the girl; still pale and a bit shaky, but not as consciously-aware of the panic she was still coming down from. She had thought to help the girl up, but with the distance between them, the stranger had already gotten to her feet on her own by the time Ayaka reached her.

Already up and asking if there was something Ayaka needed, even. Slowing to a stop a few yards from the stranger, Ayaka grimaced, looking around. Suddenly she tensed a little, realizing how far from the safe haven border she'd run; but this time she managed to shove down the thrill of fear (though this didn't stop her virtual avatar from paling again), and looked quickly back to the stranger to distract herself.

Belatedly, she wondered just how long this person had been watching her before her fall and the stranger's... sympathetic fall? ...maybe it was best not to ask.

"...It's nice of you to ask, but I just... tripped," Ayaka lied. "It's my first time out of the Town of Beginnings since Launch Day, so..." Also a lie. "I guess I got a little overexcited, hehe..."

Well, that last one was true. From a certain point of view, as a Jedi Knight might say.

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  • 2 weeks later...

                            "Oh, so you're a first timer?" Almina asked. "I was one myself, just a day or two ago. Pretty sure I'm still around your level, though..." She added. With a cheerful grin, her hands behind her back, she'd continue. "The first battle is bound to be a nerve wracking one, no matter how prepared you are...after all, I kind of jumped at the first quartet of boars I saw when out venturing with my cousin yesterday, and...hoo, boy, I might have misjudged the capabilities of the big one in the group." She'd chuckle awkwardly, but keep her smile going regardless. "I mean, we killed it, sure, but it took more than I was expecting to get the job done." She added while smiling sheepishly as she scratched the back of her head. "At least not all of the monsters are like that, though!" She remarked, in hopes of leaving room for encouragement in this situation. She then nodded her head. "Well, two players are stronger than one, so if you feel like hunting anything today, I can help! I'm sure we could both use the Exp, after all, right?" She asked, as she offered her hand to shake. "Oh! Where are my manners, I'm Almina!" She added with a gleeful smile.

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Autumn rubbed at her arm, trying to drive down the anxiety that being out in the field brought. She glanced around, as if expecting a boar to charge out of a random bush right for her... despite knowing in her head that boars didn't have much of an aggro range; not as much as the wolves, which she was pretty sure wouldn't spawn so close to town...

When Almina admitted to jumping into a group of four of the things, though, Autumn's wide eyes snapped to her.

"That was dangerous!" she blurted, clear panic in the high note of her voice. "You could've died! Even if you have back-up, you need to know what the enemy can do before you commit, or—!"

At this point Autumn bit her lower lip to stop herself from talking, snapping her eyes shut. She took a breath, and reminded herself that it wasn't her place to dictate what other people did... even if just the mental image of being dragged by her own faceless, imaginary party into such a dangerous situation made her want to run screaming back to her friend's house and hide under the bed.

She took another breath and opened her eyes.

"Sorry," she said. "A-anyway, it would probably be better to hunt together than alone... I would have asked someone, except... well, most of the people still down here don't want to risk their lives, you know...?"

Autumn chuckled uneasily, looking around.

"...So do you want to invite me to a party, or should I?" Autumn said. "I don't have any quests running right now, so I can just help you with something you're after, if you want. A-as long as it's safe for me at Level 1."

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  • 4 weeks later...

      Upon Almina speaking of the incident with the boars, the redhead seemed to unleash a panicked outburst. Almina blinked. She had nearly had similar treatment by others in regards to certain things Almina had almost gotten tangled into back in real life before this game. "...Everything I do is a risk to take. At least, that's how I'd put it for myself." Almina responded to the outburst. "I mean, of course it would seem like a dangerously excessive risk, but I guess I'm too used to dealing with dangers and potential situations, or, more accurately, attempting to dodge them, on a regular basis...How many times would a girl need to cross the street at top speed because a truck was coming her way, anyway? Then again, I kinda lost count myself...and to think it started happening since I was eighteen? Like, I kid you not, I'd only have to step on the crosswalk and there's a truck on the horizon coming at me at top speed!" She added, prattling on with a chuckle at the end.

                    The player suggested that the two go about their day in a party. Almina nodded in agreement, with a cheery smile and her eyes closed. "Sure! It doesn't matter who the party leader is to me...besides, while I'm definitely getting stronger, we're about the same level, if I recall correctly, so if we end up hunting anything something small near the borders will easily do." She explained. "I'm Almina, nice to meet you!" She greeted, as the player would need to know her username in order to invite her to a party, if she wanted to lead.

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  • 1 month later...

"You're really brave..." sighed Autumn... no, Ayaka. She smiled a bit and said, "I don't know if I'll ever have the nerve to take risks that big, yet. But you never know, I guess? Maybe I need to get used to it."

As for the apparent non sequitur about being struck by what Ayaka could only think of as the Isekai Truck, she opened her mouth—and right on the edge of making a quip about how Alfina had actually skipped that step by logging onto Sword Art Online, snapped her mouth shut. Good sense had caught up with her; she didn't even know this player's name yet. It would be tactless to bust out that kind of dark humor so soon.

Of course, Almina fixed part of that problem promptly. She opened her mouth to introduce herself in turn, but hesitated. Instead she swiped her hand through the air, opening the player interface, and after a few taps, a window opened in Alfina's view:

Autumn invites you to join a party.
ACCEPT?
[Yes] [No]

"It's good to meet you, Alfina..." Ayaka said, a bit dejectedly. Introducing herself as Autumn out loud... it didn't feel like she'd earned that yet. She wasn't sure if she'd ever feel she had.

Glancing back toward town, she looked around. She was through the gates... the realization hit her like a brick to the face, and she tensed. She was through the gates, and in her distraction she'd been talking like this, not thinking about it...

She drew in a sharp breath, and forced it out slowly.

I can do this. I just need to keep it together when I see an actual mob.

Schooling her face into neutrality, she look back to Almina and said, "Well, I might be 'party leader,' but you have more experience than I do... literally and numerically, so, lead on!"

 

Edited by Autumn
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