Chapter 1: Indesicion
Ugh, his breath was awful. I shook my head and focused on the massive silver blade flashing towards me. I was probably screwed, no one had ever taken on a boss fight single-handed. Not even me.
I crossed my two swords in front of myself in an attempt to block his attack, but even just the force of the attack was enough. My HP bar dropped a noticeable amount as I staggered backwards. This wasn't working; I had to go on the offensive.
My right arm swung, Elucidator biting into the demon's side. Continuing the motion, my left hand brought Dark Repulser to meet it as well. Right again. Then left. Not fast enough. Right. Left. Right. Left. Black. Blue. More, faster, FASTER! I put everything into it, my entire being. I was taking hits too, even my continuous attacks weren't enough to prevent that.
Why... won't you... just... DIE!
Fifteen hits. One more thrust and the combo was over. My hand sped towards him, and I saw his blade rushing to me at the same time. I felt my sword hit my opponent's leg, and then...
CONGRATULATIONS! The word in front of me meant something, but I somehow couldn't recognize what it was.
"Is it... over?" I finally asked, before collapsing onto the ground.
I opened my eyes slightly. I could see something... blue hair? Could it be...? No, it was Asuna, bent over me, holding my shoulders and wearing a terrified expression. I sat up, rubbing my head.
"How long was I out?"
"Only a few seconds." Asuna was crying now. "Stupid! That was crazy!" She jumped at me and hugged me tightly. Why was she hugging me? Wait, could it be that she... no, it was impossible. Not me. I had to get out of this situation and clear my head.
"Um, Asuna? I'm going to be okay..."
She pulled away slightly and looked at me. "Yeah, I know."
"Can I, you know, stand up? I need to heal..." She got up and pulled me to my feet, but didn't let go. I opened my storage and activated a healing crystal, watching with relief as colour returned to my health bar.
Klein and the others were still standing there watching us. Eventually he took a step towards me. "Corvatz and two others were killed."
I grimaced. Of course there would be casualties, they ran in completely unprepared, but the loss still shook me. "We haven't lost anyone to a boss fight since floor sixty-seven."
Klein's face looked the same as I felt. "Corvatz was a dumbass, thinking he could take that thing." He stopped, and his expression changed. "Anyway, what was that?!"
And here we go. The secret I had carefully guarded for months. While the group stood dumbfounded, I explained how six months ago I had discovered a new skill in my menu, nestled casually between "One-handed Sword" and "Thrown Sword." An extra skill – Dual Wielding.
"So that's how it is. If I knew how I got it, I'd tell you, but I'm just as confused as you about that," I finished.
"You know, a lot of people would be really envious. Especially because..." Klein glanced at Asuna, who was still clinging to me, her face buried in my shoulder. "Well, suffering builds character, young man."
Oh great. Now I was going to have to deal with this misunderstanding before it got out of hand. Not now though, I had to figure out my own feelings first.
"We're going ahead to activate the warp gate." Klein started walking to the far end of the room. "You coming?"
"Yeah, just give me a second," I called back, before glancing at the redhead STILL clutching my arm. "You're going to have to let go eventually," I said to her gently.
Asuna let go suddenly, and I saw her face go red. "I'm sorry..."
I smiled and patted her head. "Come on, let's go see."
She looked up and smiled back. "Yes, let's." No one could resist stepping onto the next floor for the first time. I myself was pretty tired, and for a second had considered just going home, but quickly dismissed the thought. It would be worth it.
The scenery wasn't anything special. Some floors were exceptionally spectacular and beautiful, like the crystal mountains on floor 43, or floor 18's glowing lake. There were others which were less appealing, like the cold city of Grandzam where the KoB was based, or floor 32. People didn't talk about floor 32...
Ignoring that unpleasant thought, I returned my attention to the sights around me. The town we had appeared in was, like the floor itself, pretty average. It was getting late, and I could see NPCs starting to pack up their wares, and the occasional empty store waiting for some lucky business owner with enough col to open up shop on the new frontier.
"Aww, come on..." I sighed and turned around. Klein was looking unusually disappointed for someone who was one of the first humans to ever walk around this place.
"And what's your problem?" Asuna was looking equally displeased, but not, it would seem, with the view.
"Well it's the seventy-fifth floor. Ya know, we're three quarters done" My spiky-haired friend glanced around, waiting for someone to acknowledge how incredibly intelligent he was for making that observation.
I wished he would just get to the point. "And? So what?"
"I just thought it would be more... awesome?"
"Moron." Asuna rolled her eyes and started off away from the group.
"Hey! Wait up!" I ran after her. "Where are you off to?"
"Hmm?" She thought for a moment, and then shrugged. "Nowhere in particular. Want to come?"
"Sure." I looked behind us and saw the others starting towards us. I grinned. "Think we can lose them?"
Asuna seemed confused for a second, then feigned insult. "You mean to say you think I can't outrun them?" Then her face lightened. "Unless you mean to say that you can't."
"Oh, I've been beating that idiot at everything since this game started."
"That wasn't very nice!" I turned; Klein was closer than I thought he had been. I waved to him affectionately. "Ready?"
"You bet," Asuna replied. "Aaaaannnd... NOW!"
I am quite fast. With the exception of strength, agility was my highest score by a long shot, and I was one of the top players in the game. This added up to an impressively high movement speed.
So when I say that I was barely able to keep up with Asuna, I want you you to get my full meaning. She is really, REALLY fast. I knew that she was nicknamed "The Flash" for a reason, but seriously, this was even beyond what I had expected.
We ran for maybe five minutes, and in that time we had gotten a significant distance from the town's edge and out into the gently rolling hills of the floor itself. We were both starting to run out of steam at this point, so I figured it was time for a break.
I stopped and bent over, putting my hands on my knees. "Don't you think we're far enough by now?" I asked. Asuna, who hadn't noticed I wasn't still running, turned and walked back to me.
"Can't keep up?" she teased.
I punched her playfully in the shoulder. "Oh, don't pretend you're not tired too."
"Okay, maybe a little." She sat down on the grass, then pointed at me with a stern expression on her face. "But just a little."
"Yes, ma'am." I sat down next to her, then let my body fall back onto the ground. It was springy and comfortable, and the grass smelled nice. My eyes wandered around for a few seconds before settling on Asuna.
She was looking up at the sky. "Hey Kirito," she said, pointing up at something flying above us. "What do you think that is?"
I sat up and shrugged. "I have no idea. My guess is that we'll find out for ourselves sooner or later. Hopefully later."
Asuna smiled at me, then her expression changed into something I couldn't recognize. "Hey, um, Kirito..."
Oh crap. Was she actually going to confess? To me? No, it couldn't happen. But it was. Wait, just back up a second, let's stop her here and get some more time to think. Yeah, okay, that's good.
"Um Asuna? You know, I don't know that this is the best thing right now. I mean, we're both... uhh... we're both in the clearing group and we need to focus on getting out of here, right? And anyways, I want some more time to think about it, okay?"
Asuna gave me a blank stare. "Excuse me? What are you talking about?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I was going to say that you have grass all over your head and you look like an idiot..."
Ah. I see. Not good.
"Anyways, your turn. What were you going on about?" she continued.
"Nothing really. Just, umm... yeah, nothing."
Asuna looked at me carefully. "Are you sure? You made it sound like I was about to confess to you or something."
At first I thought I was out of danger, but as we headed back to the town and apologized to Klein and the others for abandoning them, I remembered something.
When Asuna had said that, she had looked away from me. And she was blushing.
I lay in my bed, looking up at the ceiling. Why was this happening? First Lisbeth, now Asuna, I wasn't ready for this.
I swung my legs off the mattress and stood up. Opening the menu, I equipped my gear and headed out to the fields for some fresh air.
I was there for maybe an hour. It was actually pretty relaxing, almost like meditating, ignoring everything but the swinging of my sword. It gave me time to think about that.
The monster I was currently fighting looked like some sort of half-frog, half-ant thing with a bit of lizard thrown in for effect. I blocked its swing and counterattacked with a quick thrust. As I saw the last few points of its health vanish, I remembered the same sight from a year ago. A small empty rectangle, that burst of light, and four words. Thank you. I'm sorry.
I watched the blue shards of light fade into nothingness. No. This game, this life is too dangerous. In a second, any one of us could be injured or even killed. How could you risk loving someone when you could lose them in an instant? No, it wasn't going to happen. Even if I did have feelings for her, I couldn't let myself realize them. I just had to continue on like this, alone. It was the best way.