“Akira? You don’t look like you got any sleep.” JoyJoy said as she kept her hand on her sword’s pommel. Kirastar gripped his own sword’s pommel tighter as he turned to her with bags under his eyes.
“…Joyce, I don’t belong here. We both know that. I’m about to be a part of an attack on a boss room. And I’m scared. I’m… so scared…” Akira said as he shook. The players involved in the upcoming attack had gathered outside of the boss room, preparing for the attack. JoyJoy looked at Kirastar in surprise before replying to him.
“But… I need you here. I can’t do this alone.” JoyJoy replied weakly.
“Yes, you can. You’ve always been the braver of the two of us. I’m just carrying extra potions and a sword that I barely know how to use! We’ll die if we get this wrong! I don’t wanna get you killed just because I was too useless to do anything about it!” Kirastar exclaimed. JoyJoy remain silent for a moment before tears began to fall from eyes.
JoyJoy suddenly slapped Kirastar across the face. Kirastar was knocked backward; to shocked to keep his balance, causing him to fall on his backside. He blankly looked up at JoyJoy, wide-eyed and frozen, stupefied.
“…Why do think I can be so brave, huh?” JoyJoy said angrily through her tears. The sound of the slap had reverberated off of the walls and caused everyone to look at the two players in confusion, shock and interest.
“Why do you think I can have so much strength every time we do something? Answer me!” JoyJoy yelled, still crying, causing Kirastar to flinch.
“I… I don’t…” Kirastar’s words died in his throat as he couldn’t think of an appropriate answer.
“It’s because of you!” JoyJoy screamed, causing everyone to freeze. JoyJoy stormed forward a few steps and gripped Kirastar by his shirt, lifting the taller player with her superior strength.
“It’s because I know that you’ve got my back! When you’re not with me, even IRL, I can barely do anything myself! I could, but I’m just too scared! Why can’t you see it, you moron! Why can’t you see that we can solve any problem together?!” JoyJoy continued to scream as she continued to uncomfortably lift the boy. The rage on her face slowly began to ebb away as she slowly put Kirastar down only to tighten her grip on his shirt.
“You keep saying that you can’t do this, but neither can I… Not without you…” JoyJoy said before she pushed her face into his chest, her tears still not stopping.
“You were never just a cook. You were never just another player to help me. Without you, my skills could probably help me survive in this world… But, without you, I wouldn’t want to…” JoyJoy’s voice grew steadily softer until she was practically whispering. A small gasp escaped JoyJoy’s throat as a status effect appeared near her health and two arms wrapped around her body. She looked at her health to show that her defences had temporarily risen through the use of an item, meaning she wouldn’t take as much damage from attacks. She then looked up to see Kirastar hugging her tightly with the same effect on himself as well.
“Believe me, with the way I fight, we’re gonna need that.” Kirastar said softly but playfully, his voice filled with emotion that he was clearly trying to hold back. More tears flowed from JoyJoy’s eyes as a smile found its way to her lips and a small giggle escaped her throat.
“Yeah… I haven’t whipped you into shape yet. I’ll have to do that when we get outta here.” JoyJoy said, her voice mirroring the softness of Kirastar’s. The two released from each other and turned to the boss room door in synchronicity as they both walked towards it, the ignored players behind them, following in shocked silence.
“Here we go. Break a leg, Akira.” JoyJoy said as she unsheathed her sword.
“Not if you break them all first, Joyce.” Kirastar replied with a smile as he unsheathed his own sword.
“Hehehe… You know me so well.” JoyJoy replied with a smile as the two of them opened the doors to the room, causing all of the players to prepare themselves.
“Joyce! To your right!” Kirastar yelled out to his friend as more Kobold Sentinels began to spawn to assist Illfang, as was expected from a boss fight. JoyJoy turned her head to the right to see a Sentinel ready to strike her, causing her to block the strike and counter it with a strike of her own. The Sentinel screamed as it shattered in the normal death animation.
“Thanks, Akira!” JoyJoy called out as the both of them returned to the battle. They had been fighting the Sentinels along a large number of other players as a smaller group of players were focussing on Illfang. Suddenly, a loud clattering filled the air as they dealt with the Sentinel. JoyJoy and Kirastar turned their attention towards Illfang only to see that it had thrown its sword and shield away, ready to pull out another weapon.
“Looks like the guidebook was right.” Kibaou said.
“Stay back! I’ve got it!” Diabel said as he ran through the group, charging towards the injured Illfang. JoyJoy and Kirastar looked at the charging man in shock. They knew that he was either very bold or very foolish.
“Wait, stop!” A single player with black hair shouted. Diabel didn’t stop charging as most of the other players looked at the player in confusion.
“It's no good! Get out of there!” The player yelled again, only to be ignored by Diabel. Illfang suddenly leapt out of range and jumped between the large room’s pillars with blinding speed before hitting Diabel with a devastating hit. Before he could recover, Illfang landed and hit him again, just as hard as the first time, launching him away. There was no way he had enough health points to survive those attacks and everyone knew it.
“Diabel, no!” Kibaou exclaimed before Illfang leapt into the centre of the group and roared in their faces. JoyJoy screamed as she tried to scramble away, her health too low to last against it. Unfortunately, the scream attracted Illfang’s attention and it raised its sword, ready to strike JoyJoy dead. Time seemed to slow down in JoyJoy’s eyes as the beast began to swing the blade. Tears leaked from her eyes as she realised that her body was too shocked to react in time. She was going to die. Suddenly, her vision was blocked by another player. Kirastar primed his blade and thrust it forward, hitting Illfang, before its attack made it to either player. Kirastar’s attacks barely damaged Illfang, as his level and strength stat were far too low to do any real damage. However, as the attack connected, the words: ‘Critical Hit!’ appeared in bright green letters and an effect icon appeared by Illfang’s health.
Kirastar had managed to stun Illfang with his attack. A feat that only a very lucky player could pull off. The player with black hair and his hooded partner suddenly appeared and began using their switching strategy that they had been using for the Sentinels on Illfang. Unable to fight back due to the stun, Illfang took blow after blow from the two players as everyone else watched. After a number of powerful strikes, a blinding light burst from Illfang before he shattered, signifying its death. No one immediately reacted. Only when a large sign saying ‘Congratulations!’ appeared to everyone begin to cheer. They had won. They had beaten the first floor of SAO! JoyJoy and Kirastar turned to each other with large smiles and practically threw themselves at each other, clinging to each other as if for dear life.
“Remind me to never badmouth the luck skill ever again.” JoyJoy said playfully into Kirastar’s chest, her voice filled with relief and happiness.
“Remind me to stick to cooking.” Kirastar replied, mimicking JoyJoy’s playful tone, causing them both to start laughing. After everyone stopped cheering, they looked over to see the black-haired player crouched down with the robed player, now with her hood down, revealing her long, ginger hair standing next to Agil.
“Nice job.” The robed girl said.
“That was some fine swordsmanship. Congratulations, today's victory is all thanks to you.” Agil added.
“No.” The crouching player replied, however the other players present began to cheer for him. JoyJoy and Kirastar began to cheer for him too. JoyJoy was less enthusiastic with her cheering, however, due to no one cheering Kirastar for what he did.
“Stop cheering!” Kibaou yelled, causing everyone to fall into silence.
“Why'd you do it, huh? Why'd you let Diabel die?!” Kibaou shouted, causing JoyJoy and Kirastar to scowl at him.
“Let him die?” The black-haired player asked.
“That's what I said. Admit it! You knew the technique the boss was gonna use. You could've told us! Then Diabel would've stood a chance... He wouldn't have to die!” Kibaou screamed.
“Ugh, I’ve enough of-.” JoyJoy suddenly stopped talking as Kirastar walked away from her and up to Kibaou. They stared at each other for a moment. Before Kirastar punched him in the face, causing him to fall backwards.
“I’ve had enough of your whiney bull! It seems you didn’t notice a couple of things! He did try to warn Diabel! Didn’t you hear him call out to him?! Besides, Diabel was an idiot for trying to kill that thing on his own and endangering us for screwing up the plan! Besides, that guy saved our lives! I don’t care how he knew it! The point is, we’re alive because of it.” Kirastar shouted before he turned away and began to walk back to the crowd.
“Damn you… you damn sympathiser! Why would you defend the damn beta-testers! That's the only way he could've known the attack patterns!” Kibaou shouted from behind Kirastar, causing him to turn back.
“Or maybe he assumed. Or maybe he knew that what Illfang replaced his axe with wasn’t a Talwar like the guidebook said.” Kirastar said, causing a number of players to freeze slightly. Even the black-haired player looked surprised that Kirastar knew that.
“What?” Kibaou asked in surprise.
“It’s true.” JoyJoy said as she walked to stand next to Kirastar.
“I’ve been interested in swords ever since I got into fantasy. I know a bit about swords and that was an Odachi. So, even if he did know the attack patterns, they were different than from the beta.” JoyJoy explained.
“Why’re you defending those damn beta-testers?!” Kibaou roared.
“They’re still people!” JoyJoy yelled.
“They’re trapped. Just like us.” Kirastar added.
“But, they’re just cheaters! They’re Beaters!” A voice called out from the crowd, but a lot of the crowd didn’t share the enthusiasm for hating the beta-testers. Kibaou simply growled at the two players. Kirastar sighed as JoyJoy pouted dramatically as they both started to walk towards the exit, heading straight to Floor 2, ignoring all of the other players as the black-haired player and his robed colleague began to follow suit. As they walked out of the door, Kirastar was stopped by the black-haired player, now sporting a black coat.
“Thanks for back there. Not just for sticking up for me, but that stun really made things go a lot smoother. How’d you do that?” The player asked.
“Uh… Just… a lot of luck.” Kirastar uncertainly replied.
“Seriously. He’s not kidding. He levelled up his cooking and luck skills before anything else.” JoyJoy said teasingly, causing Kirastar to glare at her and the other player to laugh.
“Well, best of luck in the future. What’re your names?” The player asked.
“You can call me JoyJoy!” JoyJoy replied cheerfully.
“And you can call me Kirastar.” Kirastar said, holding out his hand. The player met his hand with his own and shook it.
“Kirito.” Kirito said, introducing himself before starting to walk away. Kirastar turned to JoyJoy.
“What now?” Kirastar asked her.
“…Let’s look around before this place gets swamped and then head back to Floor 1. I just wanna sleep. …And cuddle you. I wanna do that too.” JoyJoy said as she started to walk towards the new town.
“Wait, cuddle me? Why?” Kirastar asked as he followed her.
“It’s your own fault! You jump in front of a big monster holding a sword and save me, you have to deal with me hugging you all night. Deal with it!” JoyJoy said, not turning back. Kirastar stopped to let out a lone, tired chuckle before picking up the pace to keep up with her.
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