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[OP-F22] Paradise Lost

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"Huh. So it's true. This floor really is just a big ol' campground, huh?"

Kyo turned on the spot, surveying the smallish village that comprised the main "city" of Floor Twenty-Two. She'd emerged from the Teleport Gate just ten or so minutes before and had spent that little bit of time strolling around town. Rumor had it Floor Twenty-Two was so tranquil and calm that even low-levels could spend time here... though Kyo wasn't yet ready to test that by stepping outside the Safe Haven. With her still being a level-one scrub, even a sufficiently aggressive bunny-rabbit mob could probably tear her to shreds. Dying like the victim of a Monty Python skit was not exactly how Kyo wanted to go out.

She put her hands on her hips, though, standing at the edge of town and looking out over the scenic pine-forest expanse, and the sparkling lakes...

Man, y'know, if this weren't a death game, what would players've thought of this floor...? It'd be like having a vacation you can just dive into every day after work, wouldn't it.

Not for the first time, she muttered the worst curse she could think of at the absent Akihiko Kayaba. What had the man been thinking when he turned this game into a deathtrap, anyway? Some nonsense-trash about making the virtual world more "real," probably. What a shitshow. The man had probably tanked the potential of wonders like this for decades to come...

Two years. Had it really been two years? Kyo wasn't so sure. She looked up at the ceiling above, the under-side of Floor Twenty-Three, and smiled wanly. If it really had been two years, some government official on the other side would probably decide to pull the plug on the SAO server and hope for the best, before the player-base ever reached Floor One-Hundred. She didn't expect that they would ever make any headway in actually finding Akihiko Kayaba. Probably the man was living in the mountains somewhere, off in bumfug rural nowhere. He didn't need the kind of uninterrupted Internet connection the rest of the players did... God, just the idea that her NerveGear's connection might lag at a bad moment gave Kyo the shivershakes, sometimes.

But this floor...

Man, it would have been great if this were just a game. You didn't even need to make real progress in the game to access the areas that other players had unlocked the Teleport Gate destinations for. Kyo could totally imagine a bunch of tired salarymen from Tokyo logging into SAO just for the flippin' fishing floor, beelining it to the quest to snag the relevant profession and then fishing to their hearts' content, never touching the PvE content. She could also imagine the inevitable tide of player-killing griefers logging in specifically to ruin that, but eh, you take the rough with the smooth.

Now, though, Kyo supposed that a lot of the clearers probably didn't give a place like this a second's thought, and a lot of the people too scared to be clearers did what she had done, and just... hid away in the Town of Beginnings.

She sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"Akihiko Kayaba, you flamin' idiot," she said out loud. "A floor like this only even makes sense in a game that's an actual game. The flippin' hell were you smokin'?"

She did not expect anyone to hear her. In point of fact, she expected the odds of meeting another player on this floor were a million to one or so... come to think of it, did this place even have anything worth doing on it, now that the labyrinth boss was long dead? Good hunting for Cooking ingredients, maybe? The image of a bunch of anime-ass-looking fantasy warriors heading out into the woods to shatter deer like glass for the venison drops made her snort.



Kyo | Level 1
HP: 20/20
EN: 20/20
DMG: 1
MIT: 0
EVA: 1
ACC: 0 [Keen]
LD: 0

Equipped Weapon:
Leather Whip | [Whip, Uncommon] [Keen I]

Equipped Armor:
Boarskin Jacket | [Cloth Armor, Uncommon] [Evasion I]

Battle-Ready Inventory:
Starter Healing Potion (x5) | [Heals 50 HP]

«Whip» Weapon Skill | Rank 1

Edited by Kyo
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His return to Coral was an accident more than anything. He often mixed up the twenty-second and twenty-fourth floors. They were both beautiful in their own ways and started with the number two. It would have been perfectly acceptable too, if he did not live on the latter floor.

It took him numerous steps into the town to realize that he was in the wrong place. Raitoborou Bay shared no likeness to the forests outside of Coral and his beach house looked far different from the cabins that surrounded him. While not home to him, the twenty-second was rather nice during most times of the year. He was in no rush—perhaps a walk through the woods was what he needed.

Before he could even begin, he found himself distracted by a nearby voice, disgracing the would-be god of Aincrad. He was intrigued. He had not heard the name in some time and had almost forgotten about the man entirely. He noticed that he had been forgetting more and more lately. Gaps in his memory, left by the passing of time and the existence of his new life had overtaken much of the old. He could recall the important things, of course; his parents and his work, primarily. There were a few obscure ones as well, like his favorite books and films.

Many other things were fuzzy or blank. He did not remember the name of his first crush or his best friend's cat. He did not remember the vacation he had taken with his family when he had turned fifteen. He did not remember the argument they had had right before he had entered the game.

Some things were better off lost.

It was not all bad, though. His friendships were no longer value-oriented and had become meaningful. He had seen more things than most would see in a lifetime. He also walked a lot more, although he was unsure whether that was a pro or con.

Most importantly, he had learned to follow whatever was most interesting to him. This lead him to approaching the green-haired girl. He adjusted the beige sweater that he so often wore and cleared his throat.

"Do you think he heard you?" Morningstar asked.


[ lv. 44  ->   l. 33 / p. 11 ]
MORNINGSTAR | HP: 760/760 | EN: 108/108 | DMG: 23 | ACC: 4 | MIT: 122 | EVA: 1 | LD: 6 | AA: 1 | VO: 125 | STK: 40/24 | BH: 25 | Stealth Rating: -5

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  • soulcursed blade
    VO II, AA I, STK I
  • armor of fallen radiance 
  • sapphire

battle-ready inventory

  • n/a


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mod count: 3/5

  • 2HSS | RANK 5/5
    • precision, stamina, ferocity
    • shift: tech
    • impetus, iron skin
    • night vision, detect




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  • n/a


  • n/a


  • Lv. 5 | Gain additional col equivalent to 15% of EXP earned in that thread.
  • Lv. 10 | +1 LD


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en cost matches multiplier unless stated otherwise. shift underlined.

  • ST | x12 -> x15 | x20
  • AOE | x11 -> x14
  • TECH-A | x16 | STUN | 13EN
  • TECH-B | x16 | DELAY
  • TECH-D | x16 | SHATTER


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  • Rested | -1 energy cost for the first two expenditures of each combat.
  • Clean | The first time you would suffer DoT damage in a thread, reduce damage taken from DoT each turn by 20% (rounded down).
  • Filling | Increase the effectiveness of a single food item consumed in a thread by +1 T1 slot. This can exceed normal Cook enhancement caps. Ex: A perfect T2 MIT food gives 35 MIT instead of 30.
  • Tasty | Turn 2 identical food items (same quality, tier, & enhancements) into a Lesser Feast. A Lesser Feast contains 4 portions of the food items sacrificed. Lesser Feasts created this way cannot be used outside of the thread they are created. Limit 1 item created per thread.
  • Relaxed | Increases out-of-combat HP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.
  • Basic Training | +5% EXP to a thread. Limit one use per month. Must be used on a player's first post in a thread. Cooldown begins counting down when used in a post.


  • n/a



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pixai-1683501265382980914-3.thumb.png.7aec948c9a54dde6f94aa22ecd119391.pngRadiant sunlight streamed through the broken canopy of the sparsely grown trees in the Forest of Memories.  Freyd had finished collecting his daily reports, assigning agents where and as required to deal with the doldrum affairs of Firm Anima's routine management.  Things were much quieter than in the past, or so it seemed, and so the Captain had selfishly assigned himself the duty to patrol the shores of the Lake of Reflection.  As trivial a task as it might seem, there was a time during the wrath of Skalaugh and assault of the Sundered Spire upon Coral when the threat was unavoidably real.  Today's armaments were considerably more benign, however, as he summoned to hand his grandfather's fishing pole, or at least the best facsimile that he'd manage to conjure purely from age-tainted memory.  Passing through woods, Freyd likewise recalled an epic chase where his defeated gemini had somehow burst free from within him and run amok, wreaking havoc in this place and summoning a horde of doppelgangers as distractions.  All had perished, in the end, but not without inflicting some degree of trauma along the way. 

The Whisper, as he was sometimes called, spared a glance towards the void-like wraps wound tightly about both hands - weapons born of that hunt and aptly named in its aftermath.  How ironic that they'd dropped as loot from the incarnation of his first and most lonely friend at the time.  Marv had always remained the strong silent type.  Shifting from shadow to shadow, as if by nature rather than deliberate intent, Freyd's appearance gradually changed  with every stride.  Black on black everything gave way to the most unlikely garb that few had ever seen upon him.  Even the trademark cowl gave way, replaced by a sweat-stained beige bucket hat that might have once have pretended to be white.  His clothing morphed from the standard garb of the stereotypical edgelord to be replaced with a scarlet Hawaiian shirt strewn with patterned white palm tree print and a pair of black rimmed shades neatly tucked in his breast pocket.  A flick and they were donned, wide smile beaming at the ridiculous attire completed by torn and stained khaki shorts, white tennis loafers and slightly less pale and pasty skin than used to be the case.  Progress.  Maybe.

The locals waved or nodded, calling greetings to him by name.  He'd grunt or mutter theirs in return, having burned them into memory after the tragedy at Tanabata.  A few beckoned him to make purchases, which usually garnered taunts or jibes about the quality of their wares and tenuous promises to return once the day's work was done - by which he meant hours wasted wiling with nothing at the docks.  It was a rare treat, and he wasn't about to sully it by actually thinking about anything of consequence, or getting distracted by inconsequential jabber.  Universe triggered.

"Akihiko Kayaba, you flamin' idiot!"  The call was female and reminded him too much of Quip, laden with casual indignation. "A floor like this only even makes sense in a game that's an actual game. The flippin' hell were you smokin'?"

"Do you think he heard you?"  A more familiar voice with matching familiar face.

"Morning, Morning," Freyd mumbled, pulling a full honey bun out of an undersized pocket and stuffing half of it in his gob.  "Who's the genderbent @Hirru making all the ruckus, and why does she look like a punk version of @Hidden?"  His cheeks puffed like a squirrel's mid-prepping for hibernation, beaming a goofy grin at this recent raid companion while simply basking in the glorious absurdity of the scene.


Freyd | HP: 1180/1180 | EN: 152/152 | DMG: 23 | MIT: 103 | EVA: 3 | ACC: 4 | BH: 64 | LD: 5 | FLN: 16 | HLY: 16 | REC: 8

Note: CS (Shades of the Gemini) is in use.  If any other player objects to this, please state in first post and it will be considered inactive.


Freyd, The Whisper in Shadow
Level: 33
Paragon Level: 122
HP: 1180/1180
EN: 152/152

Damage: 23
Mitigation: 103
Evasion: 2
Accuracy: 4
Battle Healing: 64
Loot Dice: 5
FLN: 16
HLY: 16
REC: 8

Equipped Gear:
Weapon: Samael's Pride | T4 MA | FLN 2 | HLY 2
Armor: Fallen Angel Garb | T4 LA | MIT 2 | REC 2
Misc: Fight O'er Flight (ACC 2 | EVA 2)

Combat Mastery: Damage R3
Combat Shift: AOE
Familiar Skill: Grappling Familiar
Custom Skill: Shades of the Gemini

Martial Arts R5
Battle Healing R5
Light Armor R5
Searching R4
Quick Change
Extended Mod Limit
Extended Weight Limit
Fighting Spirit

Active Mods:
Night Vision
Emergency Recovery

Inactive Mods:

Focused Howl

Active Extra Skills:
Forgotten King’s Authority

Inactive Extra Skills:
Frozen Hide
Hiding R2

Battle Ready Inventory:
Teleport Crystals x7
Mass HP Rec [Inst] (+10% HP) x7
Mass HP Rec [Inst] (+10% HP) x7
Crystal of Divine Light (Reusable) x1
Rhino's Horn (Reusable) x1
Hmr.Pk: Hope's Covenant - Resolve +4 (T4 Demonic Weapon (MA) - AA, Phase, Frostbite, VO) x1
EWL: The Thing Behind All Lies (T4 Demonic MA, AA, Blight, Static, Para.Ven (Off)) x1
EWL: Dagan Crystal-B (Reusable) x1

Housing Buffs:
Rested: -1 energy cost for the first two expenditures of each combat
Clean: The first time you would suffer DoT damage in a thread, reduce damage taken from DoT each turn by 20% (rounded down)
Hard Working: +2 EXP per crafting attempt and +1 crafting attempt per day
Filling: Increase the effectiveness of a single food item consumed in a thread by +1 T1 slot.
Item Stash: +1 Battle Ready Inventory Slot
Delicious: Turn 3 identical food items (same quality, tier, & enhancements) into a Feast. A Feast contains 6 portions of the food items sacrificed.
Relaxed: Increases out of combat HP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.
Skylight (Searching): +1 Rank to the Searching skill.
Angler: +2 Fishing EXP per attempt
Practiced Angler: +2 Fishing EXP per attempt, addition +1 LD/CD to fishing attempts
Advanced Training: +10% Exp to a thread. Limit one use per month [1/1]
Multipurpose: Gain +1 to LD, Stealth Rating, Stealth Detection, or Prosperity to one post in a thread. Can be applied after a roll
Decor [Potted Tanabata Bamboo Tree]: This buff affects the player and their choice of up to two party members.

Guild Hall Buffs:
Lucrative: Reduce LD needed for Salvage by 5 (10+ for Alchemist crystals, 6+ for everything else). +2 EXP per craft. Rank 9 crafters receive +1 crafting attempt per day. Rank 10 crafters receive +2 crafting attempts per day.
Col Deposit: +5% bonus col from last-hit monster kills and +10% bonus col from treasure chests.

Scents of the Wild:
Tanos Statue: +25 Mitigation for a thread.

Wedding Ring: n/a

Fishing: Level 4 | 461XP


Edited by Freyd
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Kyo turned a surprised look in the direction of the voice that responded. For a moment she narrowed her eyes—the idea that Kayaba might masquerade as a player had occurred to her more than once, when she was planning the initial stages of her path to the frontlines of clearing—but the suspicious look passed as quickly as it came. While she expected Kayaba would be living in a place like this in reality, she didn't think he'd be loitering around here when there were so many more interesting things to observe on higher, more player-dense floors.

So after a moment she said, "Nah. Stupid jackass prolly doesn't even know he'd have a reason t' keep an eye on me yet..."

Her eyes darted to the player cursor hovering about Takeo's head, as if double-checking that he was, in fact, not an NPC. Then another voice interjected, and her eyes went a strange sort of flat, speaking louder than words ever could that she found the situation too stupid for the Japanese language to express.

"...Don't tell me players actually do come here," Kyo said waspishly, turning a sharp look on Freyd. "Progress clearin' floors's been slow enough as is, ain't it? Or is there somethin' actually worthwhile on this floor that I don't know about. Seriously, I thought I'd be the only one here."

She looked around dubiously, nose scrunching up in dislike. Folding her arms over her chest, she snorted, and turned her attention back to the two male players.

"...And the reason I look like this is 'cause I look like this IRL," Kyo stated matter-of-factly, for all the world as if talking about the real world didn't bother her one bit. But a moment later, Freyd's goofy act seemed to crack her grumpy attitude; as she looked at his puffed cheeks her lips twitched up and she sighed.

"Eh, sorry, don't mind me, it's just... my first time outta Floor One, gettin' a feel for what the other floors're like, y'know how it is... the name's Kyo, by the way, Kyo Morina—"

Abruptly she cut herself off, winced, and corrected herself:

"Well... the character name's just 'Kyo,' but t'hell with it... Kyo Morinaga's my name. I don't really give a boar's ass about anonymity in here."

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                                   Any day that is a random day has the potential for some kind of shenanigan. That's how it was in this game, even on a floor like this.

       For such a peaceful floor, he'd found plenty of things that had beef with him for existing around here, and with the intel on the floor he'd bought from Akudo, he now knew a rumor or two having to do with this floor, located around the same general area where he'd been last time he'd gotten into a shenanigan on this floor. Thankfully, at least that time he didn't have to deal with an oversized koi trying to eat his left arm. Hopefully some other player had encountered and killed it.

      So then, why was he here on this floor again, climbing a tree?

 Ah, right, he was trying to get back something that was taken from him.
                                   Upon reaching the treetop, Vigilon was face to face with a Goose, one that had a large gemstone in its beak. 
"...Give that back, ya feathery butthole." He blurted out after a few seconds of awkward staring with the bird. The goose tilted its head, and then walked to the right, where a nest of a more flight-inclined bird would be. The goose then dropped the gem into the nest, and a bird of prey would swoop down and snag the gem from the nest. Now Vigilon had no way of getting it back. "...You have got to be kidding me..." He said, deadpanning. The goose then moved towards Vigilon, stepping onto the branch he was holding onto. The goose pecked at his forehead. Once, twice, thrice, and when Vigilon tried to stop the advance of the beak as he backed slightly, snap.
                  The branch he was holding onto couldn't keep him up anymore. The goose backed away as the branch began to sink below the treetop. 
"Ok, screw you." Vigilon remarked just before the fall. The goose simply honked. Perhaps it enjoyed Vigilon's present suffering.


                          He would plop down onto the ground, face first. He would then get up with some difficulty, only to realize he'd landed near an active conversation between players, three of them to be exact. He recognized one of them, one looked familiar yet unfamiliar, and then there was the green haired girl he did not know at all. He blinked awkwardly. "...I'm not interrupting something important, am I?" He asked sheepishly.


Stats and Equipment:


Main Stats:


Level: 33
Paragon Level: 30(paragon stat bonus totals: +120 HP, +12 EN, +30 SP)

Paragon Rewards:

Lv. 5 | Gain additional col equivalent to 15% of EXP earned in that thread.
Lv. 10 | +1 LD to loot and chest rolls


Battle Stats:

HP: 820(Base[780], Resolve[40])
Energy: 116(Base[96], Energist[20])
Base Damage: 23(SS R5[7], Combat Mastery: DMG[12], SS Ferocity[2], Meticulous[1])
Mitigation: 78(Silver Night[+48], Light Armor R5[+30])
Accuracy: 2(SS Precision, Dragon's Eye)
Evasion: 2(Silver Night, Dragon's Eye)
Loot Die: 6(Searching R5[+5], Dragon's Eye[+1])
T4 Blight: Inflicts Blight on BD 9-10
T4 Burn: Inflicts Burn on BD 9-10
Fallen Damage: +16 DMG on BD 6-8

Additional conditions:
-2 on all stealth rolls(Light Armor Rank 5)



[T4]Kyrkuran(Straight Sword, Fallen II, Blight, Burn)[Equipped]

[T4]Silver Night(MIT II, EVA)[Equipped]

[T1]Dragon's Eye(ACC, EVA, LD)[Equipped]



Teleport Crystal x1[Battle Ready]






Straight Sword Rank 5(30 SP)

Light Armor Rank 5(30 SP)

Searching Rank 5(30 SP)

Extended Mod Limit(10 SP)

Charge(10 SP)



Extra Skills:

Combat Mastery: Damage Rank 3(13 SP)

Familiar Mastery: Rending(10 SP)





Meticulous(4 SP)

Night Vision(3 SP)

Detect(4 SP)


Shift: AoE(10 SP)




Resolve(6 SP)

SS Ferocity(6 SP)

SS Precision(2 SP)

SS Stamina(4 SP)


Profession(Crafting): Blacksmith
Profession(Gathering): TBD


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"Morning, Morning," came the one and only, Freyd.

Morningstar waved in return. "Good to see you're still alive."

If he recalled correctly, the boss raid was the last time they had met. "I like the shirt; it's very Tom Selleck."

His attention returned to the girl who, as the Whisper had put it, looked like a concoction of Hirru and Hidden. Her remark took him by surprise. Why would people avoid a place as lovely as the twenty-second?

"Of course people come here," Morningstar said, "it's brilliant. There's only a handful of livable places and this is one of the nicer ones."

Kyo Morinaga was quick to introduce herself. Star thought she might follow up with her old postal code or credit card number next but they never came. He liked her style. There was a bit of brashness mixed in with the confidence but it appeared to suit her.

"Morningstar. Nice to meet you, Kyo Morinaga."

He refrained from identifying himself further. He quite enjoyed his newfound anonymity. People rarely recognized him anymore (the hair probably played a role in that).

The next face to enter the gradually growing crowd was oddly recognizable. Short brown hair, dressed in silver; Morningstar tried to picture where he had seen the man.

"Not interrupting anything at all," Morningstar assured. "Have we met before?"

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"Kyo, huh?  Nice to meet ya."  Freyd saluted with his semi-free hand, or at least with the two fingers not currently holding a pastry.  "Good of you to make it out of the old T.O.B. and join us in the fray.  Once more onto the breach, and all that."  The uppermost tip of his antique fishing rod twirled about as he spoke, like some sort of makeshift battle standard.  With him, who knew?  It might actually have been one.

 "Good to see you're still alive. I like the shirt; it's very Tom Selleck."

"THANK YOU," the Whisper blurted, agog, as if Morningstar had just cracked the Enigma code and revealed it to the world.  "You have no idea how long I've waited for someone to make that connection.  Do you think I should add the mustache to the mix, or would it be a step too far?  I'm not sure I could really pull it off without his jaw line."  The lanky man stroked his chin with long, slender, spidery fingers as if the tactile sensation might help his pondering of the possibility.  Scarfing down the balance of the bun, he nodded his agreement with Morningstar's assessment of the floor.


"Our guild hall's nearby," he added, wiping his lips on a stained palm tree that had clearly served this purpose before.  "Firm Anima.  We're, uh..." he looked down at the rod, "...crafters."


Looking down at the suddenly fallen mass at his feet, a singular dark eyebrow rose in the narrow gap between his shades and bucket brim before Freyd turned his gaze upward again in search of the source of raining players.

"Vigilon?  Dude, seriously.  We need to stop meeting like this, for the sake of your concussions. Did you piss off a squirrel and lose a fight over an acorn or something?"  Blinking at the sudden gathering of players in Coral, Freyd suddenly found himself siding with Kyo's original assessment.  "What the heck are you all doing around here?  Did I miss a memo about another festival?"

Edited by Freyd
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"Well, thanks for the warm welcome, I guess, though I'm a long way off from properly joinin' the fray—"

Kyo heard a honk. She looked up, and saw the tail-end of what could only be described as "a very sad story." A branch cracked, and the protagonist of said sad story fell out of the tree, onto his face. Well, at least it had happened in a safe haven, Kyo reflected.

She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes.

"Trapped in a death game by a madman, only a quarter o' the way through after two years..." she muttered, "and this is what I find when I leave town at last. Well, that's where we're at, gotta roll with it..."

She opened her eyes, but kept on pinching her nose as if suppressing a headache.

"Y'can't get a concussion in VR," Kyo said blandly. "And the system doesn't simulate pain, so I think the only thing ya'd have t' worry about with that kinda fall's your HP and gettin' dizzy for a while."

She let her hands drop at last, grinning a relaxed, sardonic grin, and looked down at the player who'd crash-landed into their midst.

"Given we can't lose HP here, how's your inner ear? Can ya walk in a straight line or do ya needta sit down?" she quipped. "And what were ya doin' in that tree, anyway?"

She looked up, eyeing the Goose curiously, and blinked. Did geese even fly into trees? Kyo didn't think they were supposed to do that...

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                            Figures, his less than graceful fall lead to the opposite of a good first impression on the active conversation, not that falling in front of them or disrupting their talk was his intention at all.

        First, was the voice he ended up recognizing from the player who looked familiar yet unfamiliar. It was Freyd. "Who said I was getting into this on purpose?" He pointed out. He intended none of what just happened. The green haired girl that Vigilon did not recognize put on a sardonic smile as she asked him how he was feeling and what he was doing in the tree he'd fallen from. "Ah, I'm fine," Vigilon answered. "Regrettably, stumbles and incidents happen for me a lot, even in combat... Like, what is this, D&D? I've never had nearly as many problems like these before this game." He added.
                  He then looked to the only person he'd recognized on sight, as Freyd was wearing a bunch of attire unexpected for someone like him. 
"I think we have met before, actually." Vigilon said to Morningstar. "I think we were both there for the boss raid meeting, then we were both at the raid against that Wushen, though we were in different parties...unlike what happened directly before the raid...yeah, that's right, we thwarted that little plot by the Knights of Cinnabar, 'Operation Pompeii', I recall them calling it..." He explained as he both recalled and thought aloud.

       Now then, back to the present situation. "As for why I was dealing with something in the tree..."

As if on cue, the goose atop the tree honked. Vigilon let out an agitated sigh. "Was because that damn goose up there stole a gemstone from me. I chased him all the way to the tree and up the tree...unfortunately for me, he dropped it right into a nest on the treetop, where a bird of prey swooped down and took it, so the gemstone's gone now." He explained.
                      The goose honked a few times. Was it just being a goose, or was it "laughing" and mocking Vigilon's current situation? Sometimes Vigilon understood little about his own luck, considering that a goose was able to get to the top of a tree. Hopefully it wouldn't try anything else...right?
"At any rate, I could use something else to do, assuming that goose doesn't try to play pickpocket again..."

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"Grow out the mustache," Morningstar said to Freyd, "live a little."

Those who had stayed in the Town of Beginnings for the majority of their time in the game were always the most interesting to Morningstar. So much had happened since opening day and he could not help but wonder how much of it they were aware of. 

Vigilon reminded him of the many times they had been in the same vicinity. Of course he knew about the Knights of Cinnabar. He was there, of course. Operation Pompeii sure was crazy.

"I was on my way home," he explained with a shrug, "I'm here by coincidence. Either that, or the four of us being here is an act of God."

Under the impression that he would no longer be going home, he found himself with an unprecedented amount of free time. He took a look at the motley crew before him and then to the edge of the forest. Freyd's fishing rod reminded him of the Lake of Reflection. It was not so far from them, he thought. If the new girl steered clear from swimming in the water, he was certain she would be safe.

"Whaddaya say? Lake day, anyone? Surely we could all use a break."

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"Y'can't get a concussion in VR.  And the system doesn't simulate pain, so I think the only thing ya'd have t' worry about with that kinda fall's your HP and gettin' dizzy for a while."

Freyd just chuckled, a grin growing about Kyo's ironclad certainty.

"Uh-huh.  Sure. You keep telling yourself that.  Pain suppression has its limits.  And while you might not suffer a true and proper concussion, having a mutant troll toss you across a cavern to smash you face first into the far wall does tend to discombobulate a bit.  Also not too sure about your notion of not losing health just because it's a safe zone.  Fall far enough or eat the wrong thing and you could still land yourself in trouble.  It never hurts to be wary."  Palm-spangled shoulders shrugged while Freyd refocused on Vigilon's plight.

"Did you piss off the golden goose?  Why's it nattering after you like that?  Can't say that I've ever seen one of them in a tree before, either, but whatever.  Stranger things, and all that.  Watch it turn out to be a dungeon boss."

"Grow out the mustache," Morningstar said to Freyd, "live a little."

"Tempting," came the admission, at Morningstar's urging for boldness.  "Not sure if Elora would appreciate it." The Whisper wiggled his nose a bit, triggering his most familiar skill to sprout a flush of shadows that swiftly gelled into a proper Selleck 'stach.  It didn't look right.  Not even a little, but he was proud as punch to portray it in its full and furious ridiculousness.  "Shit.  Now I might catch babes instead of fish."  His neck swiveled wide as if searching for offended ears.  "Just don't tell her, m'kay?"  It looked slightly better when he grinned full of mischief.

"I was just heading down to the end of the docks to try my luck.  I'm not sure what you came looking for all the way up here, Kyo, but this is as good a way as any to get to know the lay of the land."  Light dawned on his mustache.  "Oh, and I'm Freyd, by the way.  I should probably mention that.  We could also try our luck at goose-wrangling, if Vigilon needs a hand, but feel free to ask for anything you might need.  Mi casa es su casa, etc., not that I own the place.  And if there's an alternate plan for Lake Day, I suppose I'm game.  Taking easy for a change today, either way."

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"That's your inner ear goin' wibbly, not a concussion," Kyo stated matter-of-factly. "A concussion is a physical injury t' the brain. It might be possible for Full-Dive t' simulate the symptoms of a concussion, but I don't think SAO was made t' do that. It is true that if we go through too much stress in here too quickly, it'd probably have a backlash o' some kind on our real bodies, though..."

The green-haired girl scratched her chin as she considered this, then shrugged her shoulders. She remained silent while the others talked about things that were obviously outside her sphere of experience, but glanced back up at the tree while Vigilon explained the tragic events of his last five minutes. Weird that birds would do that, and in town, too... was it some kind of event? Would they find something interesting if they tried to track the second bird wherever it had flown off to...? Not that Kyo, at level one, could do much to help in that event. But it was a helpful reminder to Kyo not to get too comfortable with the game logic of this place.

Kayaba didn't make this place to be a game, after all, she told herself. He made it to be a world... he made it a place where his captives would write their own stories. What was that famous quote o' his? "This might be a game, but it's not somethin' you play?"

"Anyway..." she said, shaking herself out of those thoughts. "Gettin' the lay o' the land is actually what I was here for. I'm about t' start levelin', but I figured it'd help t' at least get a feel for what's waitin' on the upper floors. Only meant t' explore the main towns, but if y'all don't mind me taggin' along, then I'm game for whatever. Just don't let any killer rabbits bite my legs off, yeah?"

Kyo strolled back to where she'd been standing when the impromptu gathering had formed, shading her eyes with one hand and squinting out into the distance.

"What're the mobs like on this floor, anyway? I heard a rumor that Floor Twenty-Two is s'posedta be, like, the safest place in Aincrad, but I'm not too sure about my source on that."

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                              Morningstar suggested that all four players here could use a break. Oh, if only he knew...
          When Freyd asked if Vigilon pissed off the golden goose, there was a bit of an...obvious answer... Vigilon blinked, looking somewhat confused. 
"...I don't see any beanstalks here, nor do I know of any bunches of clouds up in the sky populated by giants or birds...suffice to say, I highly doubt that the golden goose is here on this floor." He remarked.
                      Freyd admitted that he came here to try his hand at fishing. Vigilon needed to get the fishing profession, not only for the occasional loot and rare materials...but due to the fact that fish materials, as well as other food items, were in high demand in a place where ore was a common resource...floor nine. He then considered the other options available. 
"I'm not too sure I wanna deal with that feathered fiend any further." Vigilon noted, his expression irritated. "It's currently a beautiful day here on this floor...but that is one horrible goose."
                              Once again, as if on cue, the goose above honked.

              The green haired girl seemed to be thinking aloud to herself, but from what Vigilon could make out from the muttering, he ended up in the thinking position as he dwelt upon what words his ears caught. "Write their own stories? Not something you play?" He repeated in his mind. "I mean, if that encounter with...them...was anything to go off of in relation to this, well..." His thoughts took his focus for a hot minute. He didn't knowingly meet or recognize the individual he'd met, not that he ever got to see their face...not that it really mattered, given who that figure truly was, which he'd only realized some time after he'd "ascended" in his mindscape after battling that...thing, "The Meta"...it still haunted him, the sight of those eyes...
         Vigilon shook off the thoughts before he could break down once again into an inner, mental conflict over whether the Meta's eyes were Vigilon's, or if Vigilon's eyes were the Meta's. He didn't need that, not today, not ever...

               The green haired girl then explained that despite her level, she was here to get a lay of the land, due to the floor's reputation for being peaceful...oh, how little she knew. The girl then wondered aloud of what the floor's creatures were like, as well as the claim that this floor was the safest around, from what she'd heard. That...was only partially true. "In terms of monster spawning, yes, this floor is the safest...as long as you don't go to the wrong places." Vigilon answered. "Typical animals are what you'd find around most of the floor, just endemic life and animals with passive or neutral temperaments. The exceptions are usually event or quest related...like the times where the floor had a Tanabata celebration, but was disrupted by monster activity...this happened twice, actually. First it was some kind of aquatic race led by a huge raid monster, then it was a faction of NPCs and monsters that kinda went rogue from the system itself for some reason. Thankfully both disruptions have been dealt with and we shouldn't need to put up with them again..." Vigilon explained. "On top of that...the Forest of Memory? I wouldn't recommend going. I've heard some rumors about the place, some say a quest can trigger there, some have claimed that you can briefly see the shadows of your past...there's that one tall tale about hostile entities looking like players you've met in the deeper reaches of the forest, not sure where that one came from..." He added.
                    He took a deep breath before he continued. 
"And at the deepest reaches of the forest, there's a citadel, nearly hidden away by plantlife. It's a really odd place, everything in there is white in color, the rooms, the objects, and more...not to mention that there are various rooms that not only appear and disappear periodically, but can change their interiors, are bigger on the inside, and...well, I was there, so I guess I should be the one to say that there are strange entities that take on the form of fallen players... Dazia was searching for a missing person, and I was just investigating a rumor. We encountered something that took the form of a player she'd fought to the death with. The battle was won, but I'm not sure I'd want to come across anything like that." He rambled, placing his hand on his forehead and his other hand on his side whilst leaning his head downward slightly as he recalled the events of that day. "We actually found the missing person, but there was this thing that was basically gatekeeping things from going downwards from the citadel's central tower. We killed it, but we also ended up learning that...it kinda also was a living seal for two monster factions that lived in the citadel, meaning that they're now in the citadel as well and it's kinda our fault, but at least we rescued a missing player. The two factions we unwittingly released are known as the Ivory Clan and the Ebony Clan. Based on the members of the clans that we fought as we made our escape, they seem to resemble chess pieces."

      A few seconds of awkward silence from Vigilon passed as he realized how much he'd prattled on. "So, uh, yeah. Floor's mostly safe as long as you steer clear of the Forest of memory and its depths." He added sheepishly with an awkward smile and a nervous chuckle, scratching the back of his head as he did so.

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"There's definitely some level of pain here. Catch fire a few times and you'll see," Morningstar chuckled.

He had been through the ringer as of recently and was, frankly, tired of it. He had been beaten, stabbed, and burned; usually, it was a combination of at least two. They hung around him like they were his friends. They weren't his friends.

Vigilon's knowledge of the floor was more than adequate, he thought, and included things that Morningstar had not known of. It was perplexing to him—he took pride in his awareness of the secret little locations that were scattered around the virtual world. The existence of a citadel somewhere beyond the vast forests was exciting to him. He would have to ask Vigilon to show him someday.

"I will add that in addition to fish, some people believe that the Lake of Reflection has it's own "Loch Ness Monster". I've never seen it but, y'know, could be true. The photos look pretty fake."

He was the first to start moving towards the tree line, assuming that if they were interested in Lake Day they would join him. It was loud in the woods, but the source of the sound was almost always birds chirping from high above. The deer and rabbits that he loved so much were far more common on this floor than others. Large predators were nowhere to be seen, so the rest of the animals could live peacefully.

He returned the topic of conversation to Kyo, curiously prodding her for information about herself.

"So, Ms. Morinaga," he began, "why the change in heart? What's brought you out of the Town of Beginnings? It's not often I see people leave, these days. It's a comfy place."

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A plastered smile planted itself on Freyd's face while Kyo regaled them with her knowledge of medical conditions, and their applicability in a world she had yet to explore.

"Oh, you're gonna fit in just fine around here," he conceded, laughing while choosing not to engage in a distracting debate.

It is true that if we go through too much stress in here too quickly, it'd probably have a backlash o' some kind on our real bodies, though..."

"That's the catch, isn't it?  There's no way for us to know if much or any of what we've been told is true.  Given the scale of Kayaba's deceit, I can't say that I'm inclined to believe him about much of anything.  All we really know is that we're stuck here, so we make the best of it that we can."  Looking down at his fancy duds and gear, he flashed her another mustachey grin.  "And I don't mind going walkabout, if that what you all prefer."

A verbal barrage of exposition was his reward, as Vigilon unleashed what was surely the entire wiki entry for the floor.  "Erm.  Yeah.  That.  And the Forest of Memory definitely has... stuff," he replied, deadpan.  "Wasn't Dazia the player-killer that Krysta wanted to hunt down?  The whole episode has gotten kinda hazy."  Floral shoulders shrugged once more.  He'd never heard of the Citadel in question, which was odd given that this was his own back yard, but player experiences could vary so drastically in the forest that he chose to simply file it away for future investigation.  

"Head down to Tomoika, on twenty-one, Kyo, if you need some better gear.  There's a do-gooder down there named Ren, who runs The Knight Shift.  He'll hook you up for free.  And if not, tell him to put it on my tab.  He owes me change for some apples."  No further explanation was forthcoming.

Morningstar's mention of some celebrity monster in the lake made Freyd laugh aloud, probably because it was true.  

"Oh yeah.  The King of the Lake.  I nearly forgot about him.  It's been ages.  There's also always the chance that you could fish up a greater mimic that will try to eat you, but that hasn't happened in ages.  A friend of mine once had it happen three times in a row.  She wasn't too happy and needed a bit of rescuing in the end."  A tiny wistful smile perched itself on the man's lips as he gazed into nostalgia with glazed eyes, or at least so it appeared thanks to his glasses.

"So, Ms. Morinaga," Morningstar continued, "why the change in heart? What's brought you out of the Town of Beginnings? It's not often I see people leave, these days. It's a comfy place."

A fair question.  Freyd leaned back against a set of nearby market crates to better listen, his fishing rod dismissed and soon replaced by a steaming cup of vanilla-scented coffee.

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At Morningstar's mention of there being some level of pain here, Kyo's eyebrows went up. She wondered if that were really true, or if it was a case of the human mind filling in blanks with what it expected to feel. In the early days of NerveGear software, before Sword Art Online had been anything more than the unprecedented publicity leading up to launch, she had kept her finger on the pulse of Full-Dive technology for her own reasons. She knew, for example, that the NerveGear could simulate pain. That was something mentioned in a think-piece about VR's potential for military and law-enforcement training, and it had cited an independent tech-demo as its source. For obvious reasons, it hadn't been tested much, but some interesting data had been collected on the subject... such as the residual pain the programmers had still felt for quite a while after leaving the dive.

She also knew that all of the information that translated into pain-sensation was pure software, and that Sword Art Online had undergone a patch or two in the time since the death-game's launch. Had pain sensation been added in, at some point? If so, why only some pain sensation? Then again, it was possible the pain-sensation itself was used as a base for the peculiar, tingling numbness that SAO employed in place of pain to let players know when they had taken damage, and that all it would take to make a player feel pain was a tweak to an associated variable setting.

"Interestin'..." was all she said out loud, her eyes narrowed in thought. But including pain on purpose would be counterproductive to Kayaba's game, wouldn't it? It was too likely to have a negative impact on the real-life body... a bug, perhaps? Or...

Freyd's words about trusting Kayaba brought her out of her thoughts. "Oh, I don't trust the guy any further than I could suplex the subway train he rode inta work on," she said. "But I did a lotta research on Full-Dive before SAO came out, for my own reasons. There weren't much more than smaller games and more tech-demo-y type things out in the early days, but as for the capabilities o' the machine, I know a thing or two... you better believe that when the NerveGear hit the market, there were a lotta tech nerds chompin' at the bit to experiment with all sortsa things. Mostly it was fringe knowledge, and inconclusive as hell. Not a lot of it's useful t' any of us in here, either."

Well, Vigilon was a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of information about this floor, huh? Kyo turned her attention to him and tilted her head to the side, seeming unintimidated by the volume of intel he was dumping on her. She seemed to tense at the mention of the Forest of Memory, and even more at the mention of fallen players.

She looked down, eyes half-lidded, and when he was done she simply murmured, "So not a good floor for me, then..."

If the mention of a Loch Ness Monster had eased her tension levels at all, it sure wasn't visible.

The question about her reasons for leaving the Town of Beginnings brought a sour expression to her face. She paused in her walk, then started moving again.

"That," she said in a clipped voice, "ain't somethin' I'm talkin' about with a buncha strangers. I had a really bad launch day but I've finally gotten outta my funk. Let's just leave it at that."

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                         "There's definitely some level of pain here. Catch fire a few times and you'll see," Morningstar chuckled.

         Vigilon let out a short sigh as he raised his hand. "I have the Blacksmith profession, I can attest to that." He remarked. He might have not necessarily "Caught fire" just yet, but he'd felt himself get nearly burned and was frozen once or twice. Temperature makes a gosh darn difference...but no form of simulated tingling could compare to actually feeling pain in the midst of battle, that Vigilon somehow ended up feeling during that time on the strange floating isle in his mindscape, where he fought strange entities tied to him, odd monsters, a humanoid creature, The Meta... He didn't want to feel that pain again, and he wasn't sure why he was able to feel pain in there in the first place. Was it a bug, perhaps? Had to be...

               Freyd brought up the conflict between Krysta and Dazia. "Oh yeah, that. In all honesty, I haven't lost hope for Dazia just yet. While I agree that her first kill was indeed a malicious one, her other three kills were justified enough, from what little I know. Heck, there was actually a witness for the second kill, as she saved a child's life by taking her place in that duel. Does that make her a good person? No, but she has a personal drive that keeps her going...now if that drive could just be put in the right direction..." He trailed off at the end of this half of the explanation. He then sighed. "I've kinda managed to stay neutral in the conflict between Krysta and Dazia so far, and while they understand my reasoning, they each clearly hope that I'll take their side in the conflict soon. Dazia's my cousin, and Krysta's my girlfriend. I'm not about to give up on either, but that's proving to be harder and harder of a choice, as they're both putting a lot of pressure on me in the form of personal hope and expectation, and I can't blame either of them for that." He added solemnly, his hands in his pockets as he explained. Conflicts like these were serious things.


               The green haired girl, who Morningstar addressed as Ms. Morinaga, seemed disheartened over Vigilon's explanation of the floor and what he'd seen. She was also unwilling to answer Morningstar's question, but she did have a valid reason though, as she had indeed only met the three other players in the vicinity. Vigilon nodded in understanding. "We all gotta start somewhere, but I dare say nearly all of us had a rough start." He remarked, remembering the times he tried fighting a boar with no enhanced gear. He fled both times because he was such a damn noob.

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Morningstar thought back to his own start. Rough was one way to put it; although, he would have described it as shocking. He thought that he had transitioned quickly enough, considering the circumstances. Fourteen days of grief followed his entrance into Aincrad and then, off he went into the fields of the first floor.

"Yeah," he started, "I suppose it's a touchy subject for most of us. I don't blame you."

His hand moved to his inventory. He scrolled through it, looking to see if he had any items to offer Kyo. Instead, he stumbled upon a granola bar, got distracted, and summoned it instead. He took a bite, continuing through the tall forest.

In between bites, he spoke. "You stumbled upon the right people, I'd say. Well, Freyd specifically, really. He's probably the strongest, period. Plus, he's going to teach us to fish today. Brilliant, yeah?"

"He's also my competition though, so come to me for your appraisal needs," he whispered to Kyo just out of earshot.

Morningstar had forgotten how pretty the lake was in the earlier hours of the day. The sun hit it at just the right angle, causing the ripples to shimmer like crystal. A flock of birds flew overhead and a pair of fish leaped out of the water in the distance. The air was filled with a refreshing crispness, carrying the gentle scent of pine trees that lined the lake's edge. Flowers, recently bloomed, mingled all around them.

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"I know a thing or two... you better believe that when the NerveGear hit the market, there were a lotta tech nerds chompin' at the bit to experiment with all sortsa things. Mostly it was fringe knowledge, and inconclusive as hell. Not a lot of it's useful t' any of us in here, either."

Kyo's words perked Freyd's interest, a single brow raising to attention.

"A fellow techie?  Good for you.  You'll likely have a good mindset for survival and learning the system.  I'd done some research of my own before linking on.  It helps shape your perspective on what you encounter in here, though the goal posts always seem to be moving.  Life as a lab rat doesn't stay dull indefinitely.  And, if you're interested in joining the front lines at some point, you'll run up against all the newest, coolest ways the system has developed to try and kill us all."  A goofy yet wistful grin spread across his face, like one might expect to find on a stranger dreaming of their favourite memory.  In Freyd's case, he just looked more awkward.  The man wasn't the most socially adept, preferring to vanish into crowds rather than be part of their social scene.

Listening to his fellows' exchange about their first experiences beyond the walls, he recalled his own in a very different light, but chose to keep those details private.  Kyo's point on the subject was taken to heart.  Vigilon's explanation of Dazia's complicated ordeal was more difficult to decipher.

"So, you agree that she killed with intent, but argue that she's redeemable?"  He looked about to object when his features shifted towards surprising consideration.  "I suppose it would be inappropriate of me to judge without more details.  I felt Mari could be saved, even if she struggled with the notion herself.  Too much guilt.  That doesn't quite seem to be Dazia's problem.  Fair enough, Vig.  I'll give that some extra thought.  Thanks for sharing your perspective.  Oh, and could you nudge your girlfriend about a job I left with her a few days ago?  There's been no word since."

A simple, gracious and humble nod of thanks was offered to Morningstar for his praise until the other shoe dropped.  "What?  Fishing?  Like hell I am," he laughed.  "You can all go suffer through the quest like the rest of us!  Although... maybe?  I'll... think about it."  The thought of passing on a skill and passion he'd been gifted by his grandfather held some deep-seeded personal appeal.  "And please, go bother him," he added in jest, throwing a thumb back in the blonde's direction with another widening grin about his friend's growing talent with appraisals.  "The poor guy could definitely use more practice."

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