Kirastar was launched backwards by an incredible force, causing him to land roughly on his back, his sword somehow remaining in his hand. He struggled to get to his feet, only to fall to his knees as his opponent walked up to him. With her trademark smile present on her lips.
“You’re getting better, Akira.” JoyJoy said cheerfully as she held out her hand. Kirastar grabbed it and JoyJoy pulled him to his feet.
“Thanks. So, our stats naturally increase with each level?” Kirastar questioned as he sheathed his iron sword. JoyJoy nodded as she sheathed her steel one.
“Yup. Have you been training like I told you? What level are you now?” JoyJoy asked as she and Kirastar started walking back to their apartment from the fields they were training in.
“I’m just a level 6. I managed to level up my luck stat, though.” Kirastar said.
“Akira, luck is practically useless. You just have a better chance for critical hits and better item drops. The chances are still reeeeeeeeeeally small. You really are a newb.” JoyJoy said as they reached the town.
“Hey, leave me alone. You may be a level 13, but you don’t have a single cooking skill. Unless you want to lose your roommate and more importantly, your cook, you’ll not use the ‘n’ word around me and just help me get good.” Kirastar threatened jokingly. Not hearing the sarcasm, JoyJoy’s face turned white before falling to her knees and wrapping her arms around his waist.
“I’m sorry! Please, don’t leave me! I don’t wanna eat my cooking!” JoyJoy wailed. Kirastar let a single chuckle out of his mouth before pulling her to her feet.
“Joyce, I’m never actually going to leave. I wouldn’t last a day without you. Don’t worry.” Kirastar said with a soothing smile. When JoyJoy didn’t move, her arms still wrapped tightly around him, his smile faded.
“Joyce?” Kirastar asked softly.
“I don’t wanna be alone.” JoyJoy whispered weakly. Kirastar froze at the words, causing him to slowly reciprocate that hug that Joyce had trapped him in. He realised in that moment that while it was true he needed Joyce in order to survive SAO, she needed him just as much. Maybe she didn’t need him in the same way, but she didn’t need to. They needed to balance each other out.
“You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone again.” Kirastar whispered back as he held her and tears began to stream down JoyJoy’s cheeks.
JoyJoy played with a spoon as she sat at the dinner table while Kirastar was cooking dinner. A small chime filled the air, causing JoyJoy to jump slightly. She flicked her hand and opened her menu to see that she had a notification. Clicking on it, a message opened in front of her.
“Hey, Akira?” JoyJoy called out.
“Yeah?” Kirastar replied from the kitchen.
“Did you get this message? A meeting for players to attend in an hour?” JoyJoy called out again. Silence fell as Kirastar walked into the room, looked over JoyJoy’s shoulder to look at the message.
“Hmm… What do you suppose it means?” Kirastar asked.
“I don’t know. Why would a meeting need to be called? …Well, it looks like the meeting place isn’t far from here.” JoyJoy said as Kirastar walked back into the kitchen.
“Well, we can eat first, then we’ll decide whether to go or not.” Kirastar called out.
“’Decide’? You know you can’t talk me out of anything. I’m going.” JoyJoy said with a smirk. Kirastar walked in with a large container of stew in his hands. He rolled his eyes as he approached the table.
“Okay, okay, we’ll go. But, you need to start thinking before you decide on something.” Kirastar said as he set the pot of stew down. JoyJoy removed the lid as a large amount of steam rose from the open pot and she began to salivate slightly at the sight of the stew.
“And how do you plan on making me do that?” JoyJoy asked as she raised her spoon and readied it to dip into the stew. Only for it to hit the air as the pot moved from under her hand. JoyJoy looked around to see Kirastar holding the pot again with an evil smirk.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to eat this stew all by myself, then.” Kirastar said. JoyJoy jumped out of her chair and slumped down to her knees in a begging position.
“I’m sorry! I’ll do whatever you want! I’m gonna start wasting away if I don’t eat! …Come on! That stew smells too good, don’t tease me like this!!” JoyJoy wailed. Kirastar let out a single chuckle before setting the pot down on the table again. As JoyJoy started to get up again, Kirastar dipped a ladle into the pot and poured it into JoyJoy’s bowl, before repeating the action a few more times to fill the bowl completely.
“Well, then. I don’t want to see a drop of that stew left in that bowl.” Kirastar said faux-sternly with a sweet smile as he began to pour some stew for himself. JoyJoy quickly sat straight in her chair as her eyes shined with gratefulness.
“Itadakimasu!” JoyJoy said excitedly. Kirastar rolled his eyes with a small laugh.
“You’re such a weeaboo.” Kirastar said humorously. JoyJoy pouted as she looked back at Kirastar.
“Okay, if I can’t use the ‘n’ word, you can’t use the ‘w’ word.” JoyJoy said with a pout as she pointed her spoon at him. After he nodded with a small laugh, as they sat in silence and both placed a spoonful of stew in their mouths. They both began to smile in silence as they continued to eat.
“So, this is Tolbana, huh?” Kirastar said as he and JoyJoy walked through the town towards the meeting place.
“It’s a way away from the Town of Beginnings, isn’t it?” JoyJoy replied. Kirastar nodded as they started to follow a number of players to some kind of small amphitheatre. They both took a seat as a player stood in the centre.
“Okay, people! Now that everyone's here, let's get this meeting started. So anyway, I want to thank everyone for coming. Good to see you. My name is Diabel, and in this game, the job I rolled is knight!” Diabel announced.
“Dude, there's no job system in this game!” Someone called out from the groups of gamers.
“You guys want to hear this or not? Right, anyway, here's the deal. Our party found the boss room at the top of the tower today. First, we need to defeat the boss and make it to Floor Two. The next step is we have to tell everyone waiting in the Town of Beginnings that it is possible to beat this game! Fact is, it's our duty as the most capable players here! Do you agree or not?!” Diabel said. Kirastar looked nervously at JoyJoy and leaned to whisper in her ear.
“If this is for the most capable players, I don’t think I should be here.” Kirastar whispered.
“Come on, you’ll be fine. Besides, we’ve got each other, don’t we? We can do this together.” JoyJoy whispered back before returning her attention to Diabel.
“Okay, glad to hear you're all with me on this, now let's figure out how we're going to beat the boss. First off, we'll team up into parties of six. A typical party doesn't stand a chance against a floor boss. We need a raid group made up of multiple parties.” Diabel continued. Without moving her head or her line of sight, JoyJoy linked her hand with Kirastar’s.
“All right. Looks like everyone's teamed up. Now then...” Diabel began, but was suddenly cut off.
“Hold up a sec!” A player shouted from the back of the amphitheatre. As everyone’s attention shot to him, he leapt to the centre.
“My name's Kibaou, got that? Before we take on the boss, I want to get something off my chest! We all know about the two thousand people who died so far, yeah? Well, some of you need to apologize to them right now!” Kibaou announced angrily.
“Kibaou, I think I know who you're referring to. You mean the ones who were ex-beta testers, right?” Diabel asked, keeping a calm tone.
“'Course I mean them! The day this stupid ass game started, the beta guys just got up and vanished, right? They ditched all us beginners! They snagged all the good hunting spots, and they grabbed all the easy quests too! They were the only ones getting stronger in here. This whole time, they've ignored us like we were nothing.
“Hell, I bet there are some of them here! Come on out, beta testers! We should make them apologize to us, and we should make them all give up their money and the items they got! They can't expect the party to trust them when they don't trust us! Why should we?!” Kibaou replied.
“Can I say something?” A voice called from the crowd as another player stood. He was a well-built tower of a man. All eyes were on him as he calmly walked towards Kibaou.
“Hey, my name's Agil. Kibaou right? I want to make sure I'm on the same page. You say the ex-beta testers should be blamed for the rookies' deaths because they didn't help them, and you want them to apologize and give up their winnings. I leave anything out?” Agil said.
“No, you didn't.” Kibaou replied.
“The item store hands these out for free. It's a guidebook. You got one, didn't you?” Agil asked as he pulled out a small brown book.
“Sure, I got one. So, what about it?” Kibaou replied.
“You know who was handing these out? The ex-beta testers. Listen up! Everyone had equal access to this information. Even so, lots of players still died. I didn't come here to point fingers at anyone. I'm here 'cause I want to learn from those players' deaths. I'm here because I want to find out how we're gonna beat the boss.” Agil finished speaking, causing Kibaou to frown and sit back down as he pouted like a child. Diabel cleared his throat as Agil sat down as well.
“Okay, can we get back to the meeting now? For info on the boss, it's all in here -- the latest issue of the guidebook you just heard about. According to the book, the boss's name is Illfang the Kobold Lord. Also, he'll be surrounded by his minions -- the Ruin Kobold Sentinels. Illfang carries an axe and a buckler. He has four health bars, and when the last one turns red, he switches to a curved sword type weapon called a Talwar. He can change his patterns of attack, too.
“That's it for the briefing. As for the distribution of loot, money will be divided equally among everyone. The party that defeats the boss gets the EXP; and whoever gets an item, gets to keep it. Any objections?” Diabel asked, to which no one responded.
“Good! We leave tomorrow at ten in the morning! Meeting adjourned, people.” Diabel finished, causing everyone present to stand and to disperse. JoyJoy turned to Kirastar with a beaming grin.
“We’d better get some sleep tonight, Akira! Tomorrow’s the day that we start the quest to get outta SAO! Whoo!” JoyJoy cheered as she began to walk to the exit, Kirastar silently following behind.
‘I can’t leave her to do this alone. But… If I try to help… I’ll die for sure.’ Kirastar thought with dread.