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The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO] 
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
I just finished reading up until now. You're doing an amazing job with telling the story. Keep up the good work!

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Sun Jan 03, 2016 2:31 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
Splendid! I've been trying to catch up for a while, and I just managed to. o-o

Hope to see more from you when I can. Although I don't know what will happen with my story now...might go in the dead fanfiction category...but since it was connected with Sparky's story, I guess there is still an ending for it. ^^

Great writing!

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Sun Jan 10, 2016 10:51 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
-The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite-

=Chapter 10 - Silver Bells=


Fighting monsters and mapping the labyrinth. That’s exactly what the usual routine was for the clearers on the front lines, and the mere one hundred players--give or take--who worked hard to keep their levels and spirits high. It was almost as if those things were the only pieces keeping the inhabitants of the floating castle of Aincrad at the very least moderately sane. Eat, sleep, and fight (and the occasional ounce of fun). Breaking the cycle either meant one of two things. The first was that you were absolutely insane and were held up in the starting town, waiting endlessly for this blasted game to end. Or the other option, you were dead. Dark, as it were, but it was the truth.

That being said, it was only natural that we as players had started to take on our avatar’s being as if we had ourselves lived in this game since birth. The sheer thought of home and our past selves beyond the confines of Sword Art had almost started to become a distant memory to us. Our families, friends, neighbors, all just starting to slip gracefully away as if we had imagined it from a mystical dream; a dream that I only wished that I could have forever. But, nevertheless, we still fought against this castle and its digital residence regardless of how ‘normal’ this place was. It wasn’t real. It was a complete fantasy. Ones and Zeros. Just code that a programmer forged from their own work computer and despite what Akihiko wanted us all to believe when this death game officially began. Real was far from the truth.

The fact that we were constantly reminded that this was only a video game--the monsters, the menus, ‹‹Cardinal››, the very concept, and the floating castle itself--made us only wanting to fight even harder to reach our goal; at least from point of my own perspective. The other side still yearned for us. It was the thought in the back of our minds to push us further along the path to the palace.

If I had to be honest, I hated that game, the false life of mine that wasn’t even mine in the first place. In that world I was controlling a digital entity that hailed from a far off and distant place who was adorned with my name and looks. Even after the perfect replication of my body inside the VR title, that avatar was not me, but then again, when is any online avatar the real version of the one controlling it? Normal was far from what this game was.

At one time I would have called Aincrad ‘my home away from home.’ After everything? Not a chance.

Normal... The sheer mention of the thought made me laugh. A normal life… that was the real kicker in SAO. After a year of fighting and leveling, I found that people and pets started to nestle into their lifestyles that they had put so much time into forging (like any other RPG).

I recalled a player that I visited for their excellent skill in creating weaponry, a blacksmith. If my memory wasn’t so poor, I would have been able to remember the exact name of the girl who forged one of the best sword in my arsenal. She was the one I went to if I wanted repairs on my weapons and gear. Even Avery couldn’t match her finesse with a hammer. It was if she put his entire soul into her skill and the weapons she created.

This life that we as players called ‘normal’ was all we had to hold onto besides our avatars and gear. The daily grind of clearing a floor seemed standard for the average clearer, as does collecting ore and forging weapons to the average blacksmith.

I would have been lying as well if I didn’t succumb to the mindset too, for a while anyway, and it was very difficult not to. But, with so much riding on my survival I had to keep reminding myself of our end goal. My family, my friends, my neighbors, and the other team members that worked alongside my dad were all riding on our success, waiting for us to come back to them.

The stress itself would have, and even should have killed me. But, we fought like heck. And we even got to sneak in a few enjoyable moments from it all.


--

FLOOR 49 - MYUJEN

December 24th, 2023 - 4:28 AM (AST)

--


My avatar suddenly snapped out of its dream and jolted from its slumber in a panic. My eyes stared aimlessly at the door of our rented out inn room, the sharp exhale that lead to of many rapid breathes bounced off the walls. I watched the wooden door closely, waiting for any change at all; the position, a turn of the knob, even a sound. I kept my fingers in their position to access the menu at a moment’s notice, unknowing of what could potentially waltz through. I waited…, and .waited… But, after a while all that could be found was my own paranoia among the silence. The door stared back at me with the same look I had always seen before, closed and well-lit thanks to the lights from the holiday décor directly outside.

The fake body that belonged to me continued to shake uncontrollably, unable to cease. The feeling of fear was unmistakable. How could I not recall? It was that very fear that had plagued me more than a year ago, the kind that had almost lead me to my own demise. The mere thought of that very day made my eyes well up, my face hiding itself into the protection of my avatar’s paws. The dream that my mind had conjured up months ago had once again appeared to rear its ugly head.

It was the night after I had almost killed our ex-guildmate, Hopson, that I had first had this dream. I could have never imagined that my own mind would turn on me, even after I redacted my mistake in its final moments.

Why would I be punished for doing the right thing in the end? In the heat of the moment I only grasped only the physical outcomes of what I would have done. What I didn’t take into account was the mental strife that would follow.

That begged the question; would I have been able to handle the sheer burden of taking another player’s life? If I had felt that terrible then, how magnified would that have been if I had gone through with it? That frightening vison was the answer.

My dream would normally start the exact moment when I lunged at him, the moment when I was finally tipped over the edge. However, in this revision I would never cease my attack, even after my love’s desperate cry. Instead, my sword dug straight into the human’s heart directly in the center of his body as soon as his pleading shriek had begun to rock the entire town.

A pixelated orange spray would cough up from his mouth and he would look at me with pure shock and disbelief. At that moment he knew that his life was taken from him, never to see the light of the other side with his own family and friends. He would never utter another word to them. Not even a single goodbye.

When his HP finally reached absolute zero, with an agonizing scream he had finally perished and had turned into a plume of blue pixels, his very being erased from both here and on the other side.

Hopson’s scream alone rung my eardrums to their core. Even the most hardened of K-9 forces would have trembled at the tone and pitch. It was almost as if his yelp was the noise a dog whistle makes, only ten times worse. And that portion wasn’t even the worst of it all. The next part easily took the cake.

When I had brought my weapon back down to my side I stared outward toward the Forest almost as if I were lost, attempting to piece together where I was and what exactly had happened to the player I had once knew as a Knight. Then my face turned dark and glum. I had realized what I had done. My eyes were fully exposed when I turned to the group standing behind me, completely afraid of the reactions that I would witness.

The first face I saw was Ghost’s, the only face that mattered in this entire world. When my eyes had finally met with his, I could only see the one and only emotion that was completely plastered all over his face; disbelief. A sword seemed to take a direct hit through my soul, unable to comprehend that what I did--or would have done--could have impacted him so harshly and so negatively. It was his turn to let out his own blood-curdling cry as his eye looked above my head, directly where my green player cursor was supposed to be. Except, after that moment, there was one thing different about it.

I was now considered an enemy player by the system. An Orange player, marked by death.

Helplessly, I watched Vivy pull my boyfriend into her arms, comforting him as I would have myself if I hadn’t have killed Hopson. Just as his eyes left mine I could tell, he didn’t want to be anywhere near me. I was a murderer. As far Is I could have guessed, he hated my very guts. I couldn’t blame him. I would have hated them just the same.

Guren simply gave me a blank stare, his emotionless gaze only adding insult to injury. I couldn’t know the disappointment that he would have been feeling. It was like I was staring my dad square in the face after I had done something terrible.

I wanted to apologize for what I had done, to rectify my cruel judgement that I marked on the fallen player, but the harsh reality was that what happened could never be taken back. It could never be forgiven. A player was dead by my own sword. There was no justifiable reason I could give to explain his death. It was out of spite and rage. I deserved no pity, and no love. I was a murderer.

The dream continued and changed its setting to the inn me and Ghost had shared back at Mishe. The air felt shockingly cold despite the warmness the inns were preset at, and even so with Ghost laying directly next to me that night. I hadn’t even spoke with him as far as I could tell.

The only reason that he would be in the same bedroom as me could be one of two things. One, all of the rooms were rented out that night and I was the one who bought the room during our stay on thirty-five. In SAO, rooms could only be bought by one player. So, the simple fix was that one player would buy the room and the other would buy the next.

Another reason for his presence was that he simply took pity on me. He had nowhere else to go considering our entire guild was staying at that inn, so it made sense for him to be in the same room as me. Our accompaniment was simply pragmatic at that point. It was only a matter of time before we parted as a couple, bound to be just simple guildmates until the end of our days in the realm of Aincrad.

In my dream it was only natural that I would have been wide awake, more than likely because of the guilt. If I had to compare the life I was currently living with the dream world it would almost mirror what I could have imagined happening. I almost said ‘real life’ there.

Outside my-- our room, I could hear creaking footsteps from the hallway that slowly lurked, originating in the corner of the right wall.

From where the bed was situated, Ghost’s back was against the right wall--looking into the room. Past the front side of the twin bed was a rocking chair and the window, a table being the centerpiece to complete the room.

I stared in the direction of the footsteps until my gaze finally reached the foot of my door. From the space in between the floor and the entryway a dark shadow stretched ever so slightly past the protection of the seam between the floor and the door.

I waited for whoever was standing outside to leave, but soon realized that he was stagnant, the only movement being the light of the candle that hung on the wall opposite of the room. Whoever was in the hallway was directly outside the door, waiting. “What was he waiting for,” I spoke to myself. The answer soon revealed itself through a simple touch of sound. The quiet noise barely filled even the corner of the room with a treble tone. My detection skill was high enough to notice the noise from my position, but it took every ounce of my concentration. It was a common sound effect that played when a player used a specific skill. There was no questioning… it was the lockpick SFX.

The air suddenly became thinner. I held back a scream. Someone was attempting to break into our room.

My heart began to pump and each beat starting to pulsate faster and faster, my breaths beginning to follow suit as the situation fell out of my favor. I began to shake uncontrollably. A wave on anxiousness fell over me like a tidal wave, leaving me motionless, unable to move a single muscle to plan out a countermeasure. Why would someone want into this room in particular? What would breaking in here do for them? Could it be that the ominous looking shadow held the answers I sought?

The answer was a heart-wrenching yes.

Back on the other side, there was an instance where I experienced a similar ordeal when robbers had entered our home and attempted to take my family’s lives.

Because of the area we were living in at the time--midtown Detroit, albeit a margin safer than the bowels of the now thriving city (thanks to the new version of the old Hudson’s building, the M1 Rail project, and the lively Red Wings Stadium), my father, mother, and I took extra precautions to make sure our home was safe. The crime rate was steadily decreasing over the years, but there was still the worry of break-ins in the midtown/downtown areas, and my parents did not take any chances.

It was only after a few months after we installed our home security system that we had our first attempt at a break in. Three robbers armed with guns had entered our house in the cover of the night. They somehow got passed the door and into the house with ease without triggering the alarm that we had set only hours before, making their way into the living room. It seemed our veil of safety wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

Being in the room next to the thieves, I was the first to be found, but was able to warn my owners before they put a cold metal pistol up to my head. My eyes had met with the man’s, barely noticeable under his black ski mask, and I listened to his barking orders. I remembered thinking to myself as they brought my parents out from the back of the one story house that we were going to die.

The same fear that I had years ago had come back to haunt me. This player that was outside my door had intent to kill me. And I was frozen.

A loud clunk filled the inn’s room. The door was now open and I was exposed. To make matters worse my back was against the wall, making escape completely futile; the player blocked my only way of fleeing. Creaks from the door filled the desolate air as light from the hallway poured into the room.

When the door had finally opened fully I got to see the tall hooded figure in its entirety. The shadow of the player in the doorway stretched outward toward the wall our bed was. Inside the depths of its hood were two bright red lights for eyes that could make even the robbers from long ago weary. The player had its weapon drawn and ready to strike me down at a moment’s notice. From what I could tell it was a rapier, a dark steel build that could have been as thin as a piece of paper.

After just a second of standing at the door the avatar of the other player began to step forward. By the look of the shadow from that distance, it seemed despite the darkness he sported a wickedly devilish smile among his red glow. A chilling cackle made the fur on my body stand on its end. The darkness made its way around the right of the bed where I was, watching helplessly as he raised his sword up in the air.

I closed my eyes and waited for my death. There was nothing left to do… or was there? A quick thought popped into being remembering one crucial detail. Ghost was right beside me. If there was anyone that could help me in that instance, it would have been him. My eyes shot over in the direction of my boyfriend, hoping to find him lying there unaware of the situation that was unfolding. I stared at the spot where he’d be laying. But, I began to tear up.

He wasn’t there.

I looked back at the silhouette to find his sword glowing a bright purple. I screamed. The sword had nearly struck my neck before I finally woke up from the nightmare, more paranoid than ever.

My face lifted up from my slightly wet paws and faced the door of the room. I waited for the moment when that dream would become reality. I waited every night, every time I had that vision just anticipating anything to walk through that door. However, a voice managed to break my concentration with the door.

“Hon?”

The sheer sound of the voice next to me made me freeze and tense up. My head shot in direction of the sound only to find my boyfriend just starting to sit up. Both of my glossy eyes had met with the tired eyes of Ghost, his bare fur like a glow contrasting against the dark dye of the beds top cover. Usually he wouldn’t ever wake up to see me like that, he would continue to sleep and I would just wait for my avatar to either pass out or wait until dawn.

The Terrier’s paw came to rub his eye and continued to speak.

“What’s wrong?”

I slowly opened my muzzle to respond.

“Noth--“

“Don’t you dare tell me it’s nothing. I won’t believe you. I want to help you Luck, don’t push me away.”

His firm response managed to shut me up entirely, I was almost shocked by his strength. He inched closer to me and placed his paw onto my own that was clutching the dark bedding in a tight ball. My eyes shot back toward the door to watch for any change to occur.

“It was that dream again, wasn’t it?”

His question sharply pierced my mind, my ears pressed against the sides of my head. Tears had begun to well in my eyes and onto my fur, the game’s emotional perimeters not allowing me to hold in my saddened state any longer. The Terrier pulled me into his arms as a round of sobs escaped me and started to talk in a loving tone.

“Its okay hon, I’m here. You’re okay. There’s no one outside, no one out to get you, Hopson is still alive, and more importantly, I love you so, so much. The game prevents players from entering the rented out rooms in the inns even if someone tries to use a lockpick, remember? I even tested it out myself during the beta. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

I didn’t want to believe him. I simply couldn’t. That dream seemed deathly real, and real enough to make me believe that he was wrong. He had to be.

Ghost started to pet the top of my head as he continued.

“I know you know that deep down, I’m right. The devs, and even Kayaba, wouldn’t let the game be that unfair, even under our circumstances. That would be cruel…”

My boyfriend pulled me tighter into his arms.

“You’re strong Lucky. I know you are. You can’t just let one thing eat at you like this. It will kill you.”

I could feel my eyes water up again as I pulled away from Ghost.

“But… but…”

I grabbed his shoulders and stared directly into his eyes. My voice rang through the room as I pled my case.

“I almost killed him, Ghost!! There’s no forgiving what I could have done! If you wouldn’t have said anything, all he would have been was a pile of pixels! I hate myself for even trying! The fact that I didn’t even feel a thing… I’m just a monster--”

He quickly reeled me back into his embrace, a kiss landing softly on the top of my head. I gave a slight jump, my eyes wide open as I let him heal me with the simple touch of his lips. His head then rested on top of my own, buried into the bare fur on his chest. Then I could feel the rumble from his vocal chords over the sound of his calming heart, his words ringing in my mind like a bell.

“You’re not a monster, Lucky. You wouldn’t be feeling this bad if you were a red player, let alone a monster. You’re a kind, strong soul who protects the people around him, even when they don’t deserve it. The moment you stopped, showed that very principle. It was a close call, but it had nothing to do with me. Stopping that attack, that was purely your own will. I had nothing to do with it.”

There was a brief pause between his words that filled the room with utter silence. From that span came the sound of a minute gust of wind that hit our building with a pint sized whirl, the shimmer of the holiday lights that hung over the paths and partially lit up our rented out room, swayed in the night. I almost didn’t expect him to continue.

“But, even if you would have gone through with it, I would have stood by you every step of the way. If you thought in your mind that was correct course of action, I would stand by your decision one hundred percent.”

I had almost thought I misheard him with my ears clasped to the top of my head. I almost didn’t believe it at first. The last thing that I would have expected was that he’d respect and stand by my choice, not by a long shot. The first outcome that I would have expected was that he would hate, leave, and despise me (in that order).

All he could have provided me was reassurance, and that was exactly what I needed.

The nightmare seemed all but pure fantasy now. All at one I felt as if the weight of what seemed like an entire Aincrad was lifted off of my shoulders.

“I love you Luck, and I always will, so don’t you forget it.”

Although it took a couple seconds to completely realize myself, a smile had finally made its way back onto my muzzle. His words were almost like magic at times.

A part of me almost felt at ease. I wrapped my arms around him and nestled further into his fur, letting out a muffled response.

“I won’t. I love you too Ghost.”


--

FLOOR ONE - TOWN OF BEGINNINGS, INSIDE BLACK IRON PALACE

December 24th, 2023 - 12:52 PM

--


“He’s gotta be alive Riko, he just has to be.”

A voice caught my attention as a pair of shadows stretched into the room. Another voice was insistent, the other shadow interjecting his own claim into the mix.

“It’s been two days Yosh. We’ve got to accept the possibility that he may be gone.”

“You don’t know that! Maybe that quest took more time than we thought… that’s gotta be it. Michiko’s out there somewhere.”

The two players strolled past the entranceway of the ginormous cathedral like space. Their faces were fixated toward the Monument and all its glory. A shiver ran down my spine. That was the last word I would ever use to describe that place.

At first glance, their matching armor suggested that both were a part of the same guild, the Divine Dragon Alliance specifically. The only piece of armor that they were missing, however, was their signature helmet that covered almost the entirety of their face, the bottom of the nose to the chin exposed for all to see. Without the helmet, the shoulder-length lime green hair of the younger looking guy and the short brunet hair of the older looking fellow shone in the dim light.

The worry-wart facing the obelisk on the left was about an entire head shorter than the player to his right. Though he would tower over me, he was short compared to most humans in this world.

Besides the height, I had taken into account that they were the only players in sight besides me that had even thought to visit this hallowed ground. Everyone that I knew would more than likely be out with their friends, exchanging gifts, or just going about their usual routines and continuing to level up to advance to the higher floors. To see them in the palace was honestly surprising for me, considering their place and stature amongst the clearers.

Based on their presence alone they were there for only one purpose, and that purpose was around thirty meters in front of them.

The two hastily walked towards the dark grey stone in the circular center of the building. Once they had stopped in front of the inscribed wall, their heads had finally risen back up to normal levels, looking towards what seemed like the ‘M’ section.

From the distance between the stone and myself--leaning against a stone pillar near in the middle of the hall--it was tough to make out exactly what the two were looking at exactly. But, from all the times I had visited this place, I almost memorized the locations of the different sections of names.

After a few short moments the shorter, younger player dropped to his knees, a quiet ‘oh god,’ echoing throughout the large open chamber. The other guild member released a sigh, crossing his arms, his low baritone words flawlessly projecting across the walls. I could sense a touch of a tremble in his voice.

“I told you he was dead, Tsuyoshi. If he never would have gone for that rare item he would probably still be here. That longsword wasn’t worth the risk alone. We should have gone as a group, then maybe he would have lived. He was a great fighter.”

Then came the treble tone of the player, his disbelief painful to hear.

“What am I going to tell my mom when I get out? That I couldn’t protect him? That I couldn’t protect the only brother I’ve ever had? How do I even explain this to her?”

I looked at the defeated player with shock. If I were in this situation, how would--or even could--I be able to break the news? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

The leader-like player turned his head to the teen. His firm and caring response gracefully hitting his ears.

“Tell her he fought well. That he didn’t stop fighting until his last moments, and that he was working his butt off on the front lines, and that he was amongst the best of the best. Not to mention he had his big brother almost every step of the way. Now…”

He quickly navigated to the mannequin on his menu, and equipped his helmet, turning his comrade’s direction.

“Up on your feet. You know that we’ve got that mission on thirty-five, we can’t spend that time sulking. We can even go for some drinks afterward, my treat.”

There were about six seconds of silence, then the clanging of the older brother’s armor as he stood up from his defeated position. You could still hear the obvious lump in his throat.

“Okay. Thanks, Riko.”

The two slowly walked toward and out of Black Iron Palace with their heads held high. Even if the younger player was simply acting as if he were strong, he was doing a wonderful job at that. I wished him the best of luck when he made it out of this world. But, there was something that I couldn’t help but overlook. After quickly thinking over what was mentioned about the little brother’s death, I did see a noticeable flaw in this situation.

Why would that player risk his life for a rare item that could have easily been obtained with a small party? The clearers know especially that delving into quests alone, especially ones that are insanely hard to complete, is incredibly dangerous alone. Even the solo players stock up heavily on supplies before delving into a quest that could benefit them, taking extra precautions along the way to ensure that they live to tell the tale. I surely wouldn’t go running blindly into a dangerous situation no matter how good the item was.

That being said, if this player were in one of the top guilds in SAO and if he had lived this long, surely he would have known his odds of living if he were to go it alone in a difficult quest were slim to nothing at best. A single item couldn’t have been worth a penalty such as death. It seemed ludicrous.

At almost a year and a month of fighting, there was no need to risk lives for anything that wouldn’t benefit the push toward the top floor, period. Some would argue that strong items are a necessity for clearers. Our gear needed to be perfect in battle, even if the enemy is just a common monster found on the field.

We couldn’t slip up. Even if the essence of perfection wasn’t ever obtainable, we had to strive for that goal.

Eventually my curiosity led me over to the stone wall that had this players name and laid my eyes on the writing written in the wall. With exact precision, I was able to locate the name.

The first thought I could muster even before I could read his name out was, ’so how did this player die?’ A cold question, but a valid one. The dark pit in my stomach requiring me to at least give thought to this situation rather than leave his case unanswered.

Michiko - Impaled in combat, December 22nd, 2023…

This was all that remained of the little brother. A crossed out name and a bitter memory. I spoke a silent prayer, wishing almost desperately for him to receive my wish, and continued to stare at the single name in front of me.

I tried to imagine what he must have gone through in his final moments. I could see the player fighting a powerful monster, then a sword flawlessly striking through the player’s armor. A common end for most inexperienced players.

However, this player was, again, was amongst the best of the best this VRMMO had to offer. He would have surely known if he were in danger or not. So why did he die?

After that thought the machinery started to work its magic and it conjured up another turn of events. A theory soon followed. I spoke to myself, thinking that I was deliberating with the ghost of the man, “what if it wasn’t a monster… but a player instead…”

Before I could get any further, I felt a tap on the tip of my avatar’s shoulder. I turned to the player behind me. Her pink hair blinded my eyes for a tiny moment, but subsided as I continued to smile at her. Her eyes were focused on the ten meter wide wall behind me.

“You had to pick one of the most depressing spot in this whole place, didn’t you?”

A smirk shone bright at the girl who had forged my favorite weapon. In an instant I remembered why I teleported to the Monument.

“Hey, Liz.”

Lisbeth the Blacksmith. One of the best weapon crafters in all of Aincrad. She stood before in her usual red dress and white apron, her pink hair as bright and fluffy as a ball of cotton candy.

On her back was the entirety of her mobile shop packed into one cylindrical container. This item was the vendor’s carpet, an essential tool for any merchant. This carpet was a storage item, meaning that the merchant--who was the only one who could access it--could place and store items on it without having to worry about thievery. The only downside was the certain conditions of the carpet itself that the vendor would have to worry about.

These conditions were as followed: The item could only be placed within the safe zone of towns or villages, and that it had to be carried at all times rather than sit in your inventory. If the second condition never existed, the carpet could have acted as its own inventory inside of an inventory, and could be used outside of the mercantile scene. But alas, that’s where the second condition came in. And the testers were all to blame for that.

In the beta, a player figured out how to place furniture on a carpet and came up with the brilliant idea to block certain paths and roads to make them inaccessible. I had to admit, it was really humorous. I would have never thought of that myself and had to tip my hat to the testers.

But, the GMs soon figured out what was happening and quickly released a patch to fix the problem, creating the rules and limitations on where exactly a vendor’s carpet could be placed.

I put a paw to my hip and stared at the vendor.

“So, how’s business? Getting some good sales down on thirty-five?”

She shrugged her shoulders and glanced back over at me.

“Could be worse. I might be moving up soon. Maybe into an actual shop if I’m lucky. But…”

With her mouth closed a few deep, audible giggles surfaced. She had a wry look on her face.

“Let’s get back to the topic at hand! Looks like somebody’s got a big day ahead of them.”

Her teasing sing-song voice made me blush. I smiled and forced the meeting along.

“Yeah, yeah. Can I have my rings, please?”

“Aw, you’re no fun Lucky… you gotta lighten up! You’ve got a great life ahead of you! But, I guess we could hurry it up.” Lisbeth opened her menu and navigated to her inventory, materializing two objects in the palm of her hand.

“Two silver and sapphire rings, just as you requested.”

I held out my paw in her direction. She dropped two circular metal rings onto the palm of my paw. I held them up closer to my eyes to get a better look, and I was not disappointed.

The pair shone bright in what little light there was in the palace. Blue light poured out of the crystalized centerpiece and onto my fur and made my eyes grow wide.

When I looked down inside the depths of the sapphire, it was if I was looking into infinity. I couldn’t even measure the quality of the product that was given, the only word I could muster was the word magnificent, or perhaps stunning. I’ve never seen rings in Aincrad that looked this beautiful before, so when I started to tear up I felt it was completely justifiable.

Its finally happening. It’s happening. I can’t believe I lived to see this day.

When the first tear rolled onto my fur, Liz put a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to her and smiled. She was grinning too amongst the tear that was forming in her own eye.

“He’s going to love it Luck. You and Ghost deserve each other.”

It was if there was a minute amount of retention in her tone, but quickly dissipated while the conversation flowed onward. Liz let out a giggle and placed her hands on her hips.

“Another satisfied customer. Thanks for choosing ‘Lisbeth’s Blacksmith Shop!’”

“No problem Liz. As always you’re the best blacksmith in all of Aincrad.”

She put her fist up in the air and flashed a smirk.

“Knock ‘em on his feet.”

I grinned as we bumped fists.

“Will do.”


--


FLOOR 49 - MYUJEN

December 24th, 2023 - 6:37 PM (AST)


--


The lightness of the town’s orchestral tune filled my ears with Christmas joy and pulled me into a relaxed state of mind. Air in front of my muzzle fogged and dissipated, the cold nipping at the very fur on my face. The winter was beginning to take full effect. January would soon bring more snow and freezing air, factors that I simply hated outright.

One of the only factor that made the weather bearable was the presence of Ghost, his fur and armor shining brightly against the glow of the themed lights hanging above in-between the buildings. He looked as stunning as ever. How’d I ever get this lucky to meet and to have someone like him in my life?

In my paw was the Terrier’s as we strolled down the streets and alleyways of the various markets and restaurants this town had to offer. From what I could tell the nicer food joints were jam-packed with avatars of all ages, shapes, sizes, and species. There was practically no way of getting a seat in these circumstances, so walking around with Ghost was the next best thing. The brightly furred Terrier pierced the chilly air with his voice.

“I didn’t expect it to be this busy tonight. I was going to ask if we wanted to go somewhere near the square to eat, but looking at all of the nicer places busy as ever, there just seems like no way we could get in.”

I giggled at his statement.

“Well, it’s Christmas hon! It’s one of the busiest times of the year! All of the stores are sold out, the restaurants filled to the max… I’d really hate to be the one to get that last minute gift today of all days.”

“Well at least it’s cheerier then last Christmas by a mile.”

My laugher made a couple heads turn our direction, but disregarded their presence entirely as we continued to casually make our way to the center of the town. What he said wasn’t wrong though, this day was actually one of the more delightful in terms of mood. I almost was tempted to sing a holiday tune, poorly that is.

After our shared moment of fun, I breathed a sigh of relief. My plan was working almost flawlessly, and my boyfriend was none the wiser. I was surprised he didn’t see through my very soul to see what I had in store.

The idea that I had for today was that after four-plus hours of leveling we would walk around Myujen and take a look at a few of the shops and their wares. Unfortunately, around two-thousand others beat me to it by about an hour. Ghost and I held no chance to browse and dine the lavish food this town had to offer.

To say I was disappointed was a huge understatement. If only we had agreed on an hour less of what we planned, we might have stood a chance against the swarm of avatars.

There was no use dreading about what could have been, however; it was a beautiful night and I was with the dog of my dreams. I had a quest to complete, and I was nearly finished with it. I was at the final leg. All I needed was that final push.

“I heard that we’re going to be opening up to new members soon.”

I looked over at him with shock.

“We are?”

“Yeah. From what I remember, Guren is going to have Vivy go to the lower floors and recruit players that she thinks are capable of fighting on the front line. I don’t know the exact details, but I think they’re going to do an eval before they even get to us, ever since…”

He stopped his muzzle outright, leaving the unfinished sentence hanging in the air. I already knew what he was going to say, so I filled in the blanks with my monotone, the feeling of a dagger piercing me with sharp intensity.

“…That moment with Hopson?”

“Yes,” he uttered hesitantly.

Just from what I knew, I already had a personal quarrel with the idea. Something about it just didn’t sit well with me. It wasn’t the fact that we wouldn’t know who exactly we were bringing in, since it was already taken into account based on what he told me, and it wasn’t about the skill of the people and pets.

It certainly wasn’t the smaller issues, like, ‘what we would ask,’ ‘what would we test them on,’ or even ‘how would we even conduct this operation.’ This elephant in the room regarded the first simple step. Leaving the sanctity of our little assembly we called the Knights.

There were so many red flags that popped up in my brain that couldn’t simply be ignored. With this uncertainty I refused to make assumptions nor did I want to. So, I asked him the very question:

“Are you sure that Vivy is going alone?”

He raised an eyebrow, but shrugged it off. The answer to his question came next.

“From what I know? I can’t tell. As I said I didn’t get a good listen so I’m not entirely sure…”

Dang it.

With so much uncertainty, this plan was anything but sound. In all of the time I’ve been alive this plan made me the weariest. Why would we risk her life for this?

Back on the other side, our base of operations--Argus AM--was in the heart of Detroit, Campus Martius. The company was set up in the One Campus Martius Building on the third, fourth, and fifth floors out of the seventeen it had and was one of the more beautiful buildings in the bunch that surrounded the park.

Inside the glass atrium of this building was a fourteen story fountain with ‘floating’ colored triangles that, if seen from below, looked as if you were looking directly into a rainbow. It was magnificent.

Whenever I stepped through the rotating doors a smile creeped up onto my muzzle. Even the best video game couldn’t even compare to the beauty of that building, and at the time not even SAO. But this building and its location held an issue held and issue that couldn’t be overlooked.

We were in the motor city. I’d hate to be the stereotype that bashes on the city that I love, but I couldn’t overlook the crime. No one can. Even the robbers that broke into our house showed that.

Why did this matter? Because it’s the same fear that fuels the uncertainty of this world and its inhabitants. Us. We were the wild card.

In other games, players had the option to play on one of two sides, good or evil. There were no ramifications to follow if you played the villain. So, why wouldn’t you appeal to your darker side to play as something you normally wouldn’t? Plus there was the chance of trolls, so playing for fun was an option too.

Sword Art Online was different (what a shocker) from the everyday video game. Death was permanent. There wasn’t any reason that this game wouldn’t hold some of those people, some that would still take these roles and dismiss this world.

I had only heard rumors about PKer’s--player killers--from guilds and others. I didn’t want to believe them, but, I would have been stupid not to consider it a possibility. Considering Guren, Vivy, and Shadow were based in Detroit, they should have already known what could happen. If they didn’t, then this plan had merit to go south.

“You okay hon?”

I felt my ears perk up as I looked at him innocently. I hardly noticed my eyes were cast onto the paved ground below. A quick response attempted to dismiss any doubts he might have conjured.

“I’m fine. Just thinking that’s all.”

He stared at me for a minute a simply sighed. I could see his own smile slowly starting to take form.

“Sure hon, sorry for interrupting.”

I had to let out a chuckle. A quick thought of another version of myself talking and arguing the different facts humored and lightened my mood.

Again, this was a happy occasion. I forced the thought into the back of my skull and saved it for a later date.

“No, you’re fine Ghost. It’s just my brain doesn’t know when to stop worrying.”

“Well, I wouldn’t argue with that. You tend to put yourself in a tizzy more times than not over the silliest things. But…,” his arm wrapped around my shoulder, “It’s perfectly fine. It show’s you’re careful. Worrying isn’t a bad thing. What’s bad is worrying about things that don’t make a difference.”

The topic seemed to quickly resurface as fast as I pushed it away.

“…True. But sometimes it does make a difference, and in here, we have to always be on our toes. We can’t be too careful…”

We take our first steps into the square and put a pin in the heart of our dreary conversation. Ghost didn’t have any time to respond before I spoke.

“… Because the mobs aren’t the only thing we have to worry about.”

I looked at the center to find the central market surrounded around the ginormous fern that towered over us. Again I pushed the thought of Guren’s plan aside and focused on the night that was wasting away. I wouldn’t let this moment be ruined by this world. It should at least give me this one chance to be happy. Just this once.

I grinned my hardest as my cheeks started to burn up, leading--more like tugging--the Terrier towards the tree.

“Come on! I wanna go see the tree before everyone else gets there!”

“Geeze!... Alright! I’m right behind you!”

He struggled a bit, but managed to keep up with me just fine after recovering from his stumble that didn’t involve me in the slightest. I merely lead him toward my location, it was his fault that he tripped and stumbled (it was totally me.)

We passed by the different shops the town center had to offer, some weapon stores, potion shops, and even some with miscellaneous goods. Something else that caught my eye when getting my quick glance was that some of the merchants running tents weren’t NPCs at all, but rather actual players who gathered up all of their things and made this town their home.

I still found it foreign that some people gave all of their time towards building their haggling skill rather than focus their weapon and fighting skills for obvious reasons. It held no purpose in this game, so why even bother with leveling it up? Despite my biased opinion I did understand why they would though.

Some people just didn’t want to or didn’t have the will to fight constantly. It sounds a bit mean and inconsiderate, but it was the truth. Walking away was absolutely an option.

Other than the living avatars standing selling their wares, there were the countless groups, couples, and solos hanging around and conversing with one another. Out of everyone, there were only a select few that I recognized, such as Kirito and the best information broker in Aincrad: Argo. The Black coated swords man had his head low. They were both in the middle of a conversation. Considering that he was with the whiskered youngling, he must’ve needed some kind of information.

But, it didn’t matter. It had nothing to do with me as far as I was concerned. I turned my muzzle and went about my night, pulling my boyfriend until we stopped near the base of the tree. A heavy breath rushed over me. I turned to face the ghostly pet before me, looking at me with a smile. With my own smile conjured up I rush over to him and wrap my arms around his waist. My head nestled into his armorless tunic and closed my eyes, savoring this wonderful moment between us.

When I opened my eyes, in the distance I could see the majority of our guild, laughing about as Guren looked to the other members. They paid no mind to either me or Ghost, almost as if they didn’t even notice our presence.

I thought to myself, “well, at least they’ll have a show.

Our avatars separated as I took his paws into mine. I could feel my heart start to race. It was time. I took a deep breath to calm the majority of my nerves then let my mind take over.

“Ghost,” I started, “the day I first laid eyes on you, I had this feeling that we would be a couple. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but now I can clearly see why I chose you. You are the most caring dog I’ve ever met. You keep your friends and your family close and protect them at every turn. You keep me safe when I need you the most. You are my best friend. No one can replace you because you are simply one of the best things that’s happened to me in my entire life, that’s a fact.

“Every time I look at your beautiful face, I get this sense of belonging that I’ve been yearning for my whole life. I never want this to go away. What we have… I can’t even describe how special it is to me. You mean the world to me Ghost…

I could feel each and every pound in my chest as I reached into my back pouch. I grabbed one of the rings and let out a silent breath. My knee dropped to the ground. His paws were covering his muzzle as a tear of joy streaked down his fur. I presented the sapphire ring. The stone gleamed with the glow of the different themed lights hanging from above as well as the metal. They looked magnificent.

I started to tear up as a grin pushed me to finish what I started.

“Ghost?” I asked, “Will you marry me?”

It took him a few seconds to come back down to Aincrad, fully realizing what was happening. Then came his breathtaking response, the moment I’ve been waiting for since this game began.

“Yes.”


TO BE CONTINUED

(A/N: WOW. That took so much time to make. But, it was soooo worth. Can't wait for the next one. <3 )

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Thu Feb 04, 2016 4:26 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
This is a really nice followup! I can't wait for the next chapter.

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Thu Feb 04, 2016 4:29 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
Amazee Dayzee Wrote:
This is a really nice followup! I can't wait for the next chapter.


Thanks for reading! I'm glad to see someone so avid to read this.

But, with the end of this chapter the story arc "Housepets Unite" is done and over with, and ended on a very touching note at that. I'm excited to start working on the next chapter--and arc--for you guys. This next arc is where things start to get awesome. ;)

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Thu Feb 04, 2016 9:44 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
Great work. The bittersweet-but-more-sweet-later feeling that this chapter gives is very well done. I'm looking forwards to the next one!

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - Housepets Unite [HP/Sword Art Onl
I can't wait to see how you make the last arc awesome then!

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Fri Feb 05, 2016 1:45 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Seige [HP/SAO]
-The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege-

=Chapter 11 - The Nail in the Coffin=


FLOOR 50 - ALGADE

January 3rd, 2024 - 8:00 AM (AST)

--


Would dying in this world mean that you would die in the real world?

This question pricked the Bombay’s mind as he rested against a stone wall in an alley. His whiskered muzzle was pointed towards the paved road staring into space. In actuality, he was only buying himself a little time to ponder.

His question was normal at a certain point in time in this world. However, now that a year has gone by that question has long since been answered, or rather, assumed and taken as fact. There was no concrete evidence to support anything regarding this “fact,” so technically it was still up in the air. Some still say it’s all a joke, that dying in this world didn’t actually kill you. Others took this very seriously and always took this factor into account day after day. So where did the feline fall?

To him, death in this game was real. There was no denying Akihiko’s claims. What he claimed at the beginning of Sword Art is, and still remains, fact. Flash couldn’t shake it.

But, there was more to this than anyone would realize.

This game was about the survival of the fittest. Only the strongest players in this world would make it out on top and thrive. The weak would only serve to fall, to hinder the success of the strong and get in the way.

Although that thought could have been taken as incredibly blunt to the thousands still roaming the floating castle today, the Bombay saw truth to this that players and pets didn’t fully understand.

If the weak were to cling onto the strong, the feeble would only slow the skilled down. This mindset is the one that Shadow held onto the most, and the very mindset that provoked very thought of the action players in this game found deplorable: Murder.

Shadow was reminded of the moment that one of his “Knights,” Lucky had almost removed a player from this world. He nearly drove a man straight to the other side out of spite. When the feline separated the two via Guren’s hasty orders, he saw the rage in the dog’s eyes. It came as no surprise to him, it was in the Akita’s nature. What did shock him was the fact that he didn’t go through with what he intended.

He thought he was stronger.

Lucky had every right to cut Hopson down to size, but he chose to spare him at the last second. He decided mercy was the correct path. Questions of what could have happened after that fatal moment probably didn’t even fully process in the canines mind. What if Hopson drove his own katana through the dog’s chest? Or, what if he were to come back with better gear and finish what they started? What if he contracted an orange player to finish the job for him?

All of these questions poked at the feline’s curiosity one way or another, but decided it was best to forget about them entirely. It meant nothing to him in the long run. Besides, Shadow’s thoughts never became reality, so any thought about retaliation has long since passed. There was no use crying over spilt milk, so it’s best to just forget it even happened.

The term Sword Art refers to the light and sound of the clash of sword skill on sword skill--a concerto of life and death.’ This was Akihiko Kayaba’s response to a simple question in one of the many articles he was interviewed for: What is Sword Art? This was a brilliant definition of this world in his eyes, even now. It perfectly described any battle in this world, whether or not it came down to a monster or a fellow player. It was a true clash of will and might.

Whether it was a duet or a full on ensemble, each battle was its own beautiful arrangement of skill and sword, and never ceased to amaze. He almost commended Kayaba from creating this world at times for the simple fact that he could be a part of it.

Maybe…,” he thought, “I could meet him one day…

“Hey.”

The familiar monotone of the Rottweiler made Flash’s head turn toward the other cloaked player, snapping him out of his short thought.

The Bombay scanned this figure and slowly stared back at the wall, allowing the pet to near him. His demeanor remained calm and collected just as the other hooded player. He already knew who exactly this pet was and his intentions. This was true even before he became a ‘Knight.’

He stopped just beyond the limits of Shadows peripheral vision. The ends of his cloak swayed past his legs and into view, the being leaning against the wall almost instinctively looking in its direction.

An s-class rare drop, the Hood of Reverberation. This black long cloak increased his already maxed out detection skill a point over the games limits while giving a slight buff to his search skill; the same cloak the Rott had. A quest on the forty-fifth floor allowed him to gain this item, and was almost impossible to complete alone. Almost.

Frankly, the feline felt that the quest was easy; although, it was persistent. There were a series of tasks that he had to complete to obtain this article, such as ‘remain hidden and steal this apple from a pedestal.’ Each task required all concentration and skill--specifically agility--and wouldn’t let up for even a second.

After the fifth and final task, Flash was able to finally obtain the item and go back to his mind-numbing routine as a guild member.

Now he lurked in the shadows with this pet, this player that undoubtedly had shared the same mindset as him, his eventual superior.

This player was a member of the guild known as Laughing Coffin. This ‘guild’ prided itself on PK-ing and were the ones who took part in the New Year’s Eve massacre that wiped out an entire guild in a single night.

It was a pixely blood bath for the weaker guild, but for LC they had done their job and did it effectively without casualties. Their mission was to make themselves publicly known to all of the living inhabitants of SAO, after New Year’s, players knew them as a living nightmare, casting their shadow onto everyone.

And their reach was only growing.

More and more people were being recruited each day and their power only intensified. This interested Shadow greatly, causing him to look into this matter further. This was also when he found out that the Rottweiler Revel was a part of that organization, and the true intentions of joining the ‘Knights.’

His mission was to infiltrate a small guild, enter their ranks and gain their trust, and get away with at least one murder--if not, all of its members.

Shadow was shocked at their optimism. They went for a small clearer guild that had shown their sheer power on the twenty-seventh floor, though they weren’t exactly as apparent or known among the other top guilds. The Knights of Argus were obscure enough to take on, but their strength was another issue entirely.

That’s what was on Shadow’s agenda today.

He had crucial information that would help the advancement of Laughing Coffins mission, and he was willing to help. In exchange for the information, however, the feline wanted something they couldn’t refuse.

His skill. Shadow knew for a fact that they wouldn’t turn down an opportunity such as having a clearer in their ranks. Why would they? The more skilled fighters they had, the better off the guild would be in the long run. It was a logical call.

He wanted to become stronger; to not be bound to the weak. By joining this guild--severing his ties with the only players he fully knew--he would be part of the coalition that would push the strong to new heights.

Flash let out a silent breath. He stared at the brick wall in front of him before taking a quick glance at the time. 8:03 AM. A pet peeve made his eye twitch.

“You’re three minutes late.”

“Well, my apologies for keeping you waiting then. If I knew you were a stickler for time I would have been here earlier. That stupid Akita stopped me in the inn.”

The feline stayed silent. He knew how Lucky could be sometimes. Somedays he would be as perky as a cheerleader, or as glum as a depressed teenager. If it weren’t for the slight constancies and the slow changes in his mood, he could’ve marked him as bipolar.

“Anyways…”

He pulled his head up and towards the dog and allowed his eyes to finally see the player in the shade of the alley.

“…What information do you have for us? I sincerely hope you aren’t playing around. You wouldn’t like to mess with Laughing--” A knife flew with brilliant speed to the tip of the canine’s nose, pausing before it could activate the anti-crime parameters. The pet didn’t flinch at the sight, but stared directly at Shadow. “--Coffin.”

“If I were fooling around, I would have never spoken with you in the first place. And if you would have tried anything, you would be a cluster of shards before you could get a hit in.”

The member of the Red Player guild pushed the knife away with a light touch and placed his paw on his hip. As Flash lowered his weapon and put it back in its sheath, he continued. “Besides, considering the terms of our agreement, I think that my information is more than enough to appease your task.”

There was a short moment of silence between the two, but ended as quickly as it began.

“Very well. Tell me what you’ve acquired for us.”

Shadow quickly noted how similar the dog was to him before laying out the details.

“Here’s what I’ve got: The five main members of the guild, Guren, Vivy, Lucky, Ghost, and myself, took a vote last night on whether or not to accept new members into the guild from the lower floors. It gives players on lower floors to help out in the front lines, while giving the guild a chance to grow. There would be extensive screening with these new members and would require them to be judged by a member of the ‘Five,’ as they called the small group. However, there was a slight problem that arose with this and messed with the first vote, Lucky and Ghost being the deciding factors.

“Each poll that’s cast at any point in time needs to result in a unanimous decision or the notion fails. Normally this issue would just fall and life would resume as it was, but, in this situation, Guren pushed this plan again rather than letting it just simply pass, causing a minor debate between him and Lucky. The main concern was the fact that Vivy would be alone and unprotected. But, after a quick word with the Akita, she was able to reason with him and Guren. They laid out a condition that there would have to be two members present, one to protect and assist if needed, and one to assess and take in new members. It was determined that I would be the protector in this case.”

“So you and the Retriever are the only ones going out and assessing, correct?”

The Bombay nodded. “Yes. We head out at ten in the morning after a short meeting with the rest of the guild. We’re heading to a town outside of Floria.”

“I see…” The dark paw of the Rottweiler covered his muzzle. “In that case, I’ll simply give you a small task as a representative of LC…”

Flash was fully prepared to hear the next set of words to come out of the canine’s mouth. He kept his demeanor calm and collected, his arms still crossed as they were before the early morning meeting began.

“Kill Vivy. Leave no witnesses. Report back to me once the task is complete via private message. Once that’s done we’ll work from there.”

After this there would be no going back, and the cat knew it. Once they both adjourned their meeting he had to go through with it, or face the murder guild head on. A bold and foolish move that only the insane would take on.

If he refused or blatantly disregarded his task he would certainly face their wrath. They would come after him relentlessly without end. He would be constantly fleeing from them for as long as this game was unbeaten.

Fortunately, he had no intention of deceiving the red player faction. He would take on this task wish open arms. Although, this came at a small price.

He would have to sever his bonds with the other four that stuck with him through the alpha phase, his only friends. He would never speak with them again unless it was in combat. A small part of him wished he didn’t have to fight them. But, the larger part of himself wanted this chance to fight them head on. The challenge almost excited him.

“Consider this your initiation into the guild.”

With the turn of his cloak the canine finally started to leave, but not before giving one last trivial statement.

“Good luck to you.”

He quickly marched away and left the feline to his own devices. A thought had entered the confines of his brain as he released a sigh into the chilling air; the other pair of paws calmly marching down towards the exit to alley.


Let the mission begin. May the strongest player survive.


TO BE CONTINUED


(A/N: Sorry about the re-post, I had to change a few things that I felt weren't clear enough. Hope you enjoyed.)

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Thu Feb 18, 2016 1:08 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Well, I certainly didn't expect this. I tip my hat to you. *tips hat*

I don't know if I've mentioned before, but your writing style flows very well. Though I must admit that the exchange about the Hood of Reverberation is rather confusing to me. Did Shadow/Flash obtain the cloak and give it to Revel?
Definitely an intriguing chapter. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

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Fri Feb 19, 2016 11:31 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Obbl Wrote:
Well, I certainly didn't expect this. I tip my hat to you. *tips hat*

I don't know if I've mentioned before, but your writing style flows very well. Though I must admit that the exchange about the Hood of Reverberation is rather confusing to me. Did Shadow/Flash obtain the cloak and give it to Revel?
Definitely an intriguing chapter. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out.


Hehe, Thanks Obbl! And no, he got it and took it for himself. Revel also has the same item, and is fixed to say this. ^e^

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
-The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege-

=Chapter 12 - Thinking Ahead=



FLOOR 50 - ALGADE, BLADEMIRE INN

January 3rd, 2024 - 7:57 AM (AST)

--


I begrudgingly let out a sigh and filled the small rented out space with harsh sound. The upper half of my body was resting on top of the freshly made bed, my feet dangling comfortably off the bedside.

The memory of yesterday felt so good at the beginning of daylight. I woke up next to my lovely husband--a title that I never thought I would live to even think of--and went through my daily routine; leveling and mapping with the small group, having lunch, doing more of the same things, then ending the day with a nice dinner. There was this great place down the road past the inn we were staying at that had the best noodles.

But before I could have that lovely bite of food, the Argus Five was call for something I dreaded. A Meeting. A Boring, mind-numbing, awfully dull, meeting.

If I had the option I would skip the meeting or play hooky and pretend to be sick. Unfortunately, my procrastinating tendencies were ruined with my presence in this game.

There was no way I could miss this meeting. Unless I was poisoned, there weren’t any sicknesses in Sword Art. I couldn’t skip the meeting because they could IM me and tell me to get over there, not to mention my status in the guild at the time. As long as I was still breathing and apart of the Knights of Argus, I had to attend.

Back when I was one of the first to even be in this world, or essentially an alpha tester, we would have to report to meetings to discuss problems, glitches, and bugs in the system (including sensory data) so that my father’s division could get to work fixing them.

Similar rules applied as they did in the game--phones in place of the IMs, our positions and stature in the division--except I had to stay because my father was the lead. I was forced to stay until he was wrapped up completely.

Anyone could probably guess how bored and annoyed I would have gotten on both sides. But with this particular assembly, it proved to be quite the emotional ride.

When we began the meeting, Guren started out with his opening statement:


--


“We need to get more players into the guild.” He paused and looked at the four of us. We all had his attention in his inn room. “I’m sure you’ve all heard about the loss of the players on New Year Eve… very tragic, but it gives us some very dire information. There is an active murder guild in our midst. From what we know, they are plentiful in numbers and they are relentless.”

At the time we were flying by the seat of our trousers. We didn’t know exact numbers or their exact attack methods, and worst of all they weren’t even registered among the active guilds in the game so we couldn’t even attempt to get this information if we dared to try.

To me, even thinking about any attempt on the guild would be absolute and unnecessary suicide for anyone remotely involved. Considering that, even thinking about anything regarding this case was as good as judging the book by its cover. Hasty thoughts could lead to dead ends, and dead ends were detrimental in regards to information.

But did we want to go down that rabbit hole?

The topic of this meeting was to increase our defense in response to the threat rather than investigating it ourselves. So it seemed that we were in the clear… for now.

Laughing Coffin frightened me. I wanted nothing to do with them if I had the option. The clearer life was definitely a stressful one.

“If we don’t build up our numbers we won’t stand a chance against this… Laughing Coffin ‘guild.’ Our guild has the least amount of players among the other clearer guilds, which makes us an easy target.” He looked at Vivy. I was able to guess the exact words he would say before they had a chance to flee from his mouth. “This is why I’m proposing that we recruit players from the lower floors into our guild.”

I could feel my fists starting to clench in my lap. He still continued explaining this plan to the group as my annoyed state ate away at the Manx’s words.

“We’ll have a member of the five--Vivy specifically--go down to the lower floors and start to ask around if people are interested in joining the guild--“

I finally interrupted, “Why are we only sending one player down? Doesn’t this seem counterintuitive that we are trying to defend against the threat by only sending one of our members out there to build our numbers when our guild is the prime target?”

The look of irritation on the cat’s face was unmistakable, I touched a nerve. “Because we need more skilled fighters. If we don’t have the numbers we will lose.”

“I understand that, but why are we sending only one member? I’m not trying to say that Vivy isn’t skilled, but if she gets attacked, it’s pretty much over for her.” I kept my gaze locked onto Guren. A thought crept up and lit the light bulb hovering over my head.

“We shouldn’t be taking this big of a risk. If we need to build up our numbers we need to send all of us. This is a group effort, Guren. If it means that we have to leave the front lines for a short while then eventually return, then that’s how it’s going to be--“

“No.”

Shock shot through my avatar, my mouth completely agape with his sudden response. I couldn’t believe he would blatantly ignore this obvious problem. I simply had to ask, “What?”

“I said no, Luck. I’m not taking our forces away from the front lines. They need us. Our help has always been needed there and we’ve gone so far with the K.o.B and the Dragon Alliance. We can’t just abandon them now. Even if we leave together that murder guild can still ambush us and kill us outright.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Why would he even risk anything on this plan? Based on what we’ve heard on this issue, there was a great chance that this could fail. My mind was running a million miles a minute, but my heart finally spoke up.

“Do you even understand how this plan could end?” He remained silent; his calm demeanor making me even angrier. “You are putting your sister’s life on the line! My friend! We shouldn’t even be talking about risking anyone’s life here, but you are so adamant on pushing this plan further that we are forgetting the BASIC ironclad rule! ‘Never risk the life of any player if it can be helped--‘“

“I KNOW THE GOSH DARN RULE, LUCK. How do you think I feel?!” My tense face was reforming into scared look. The apprehension in this room was near its breaking point. “I don’t like this plan either, but what choice do we have?! No one will be willing to travel away from the safety of the towns and villages to come to us! THEY DON’T WANT TO DIE! So our only choice is to go to them! Don’t you understand? They are scared as much as we are.

“We have to take this risk. We have no say. If we don’t do anything now we are as good as dead.” He took a breath. “I’m pulling this into a vote. All in favor of this plan?”

The paws of Guren, Vivy, and Shadow took their place. Both of my paws were clasped firmly in my lap, with one of Ghost’s paws around my shoulder with the other in his own lap. The two paws that were needed to make this thought into a reality refused to go up.

Our leader looked at me with an unsatisfied look. “Guys…”

“I’m sorry Guren,” I sincerely apologized, “I’m not saying yes. Morally, I can’t agree with this. It’s too risky, plus I can’t just disregard the first rule of any strategy.”

I had never seen such a disappointed look on the felines face before. If that were any other situation I would have just gone over there and comfort him. However, I needed to be firm with this. He needed to know this was too reckless to put into action.

“Can we at least talk about it?”

“There’s nothing to talk about if we’re discussing the same plan. The vote died Guren. Didn’t we agree on letting settled plans die?”

This was a jerk-ish move on my part, and I regret saying it, but this was true. Early in the game we decided that if a vote were to fail, it wouldn’t be brought up again unless the idea were to be reformatted.

His fingers gripped the bridge of his muzzle, covering his eyes. Guren was on the brink of a breakdown.

“Lucky,” the Retriever finally asserted, “Can we talk outside for a minute?”

At first I hesitated, almost caught unawares. But, I silently agreed and walked outside with her.

When we closed the door to the room, I was completely silent. I didn’t know what to say to her that wasn’t already said in the other room. So when commenced the conversation, she had the entire floor.

“Do you know why we even had this meeting today?” This was a hypothetical question. I kept the thought of a blatant answer in the confines of my head. “One is because he’s scared. He doesn’t want to see anything happen to any of us.”

“Then why did he--“

Her interruption struck my question down. “The second point is that I agreed to it.”

My eyes grew wide. She took my breath away “You… agreed…?”

I recounted the tally of the votes in my head. Guren… Flash… and finally Vivy. She shot her hand up with her brother. But… why?

“I did.” She put her paws on her hips. “I did it because I knew that someone had too, and that I was the right pet for the job. My knowledge on how to talk and persuade is the most valuable thing in this situation, so I volunteered. Besides, I can’t let you, Ghost, and Guren have all the fun.”

“But what about your safety?”

She heard the pain in my own voice. Her paw came to my shoulder. “If you’re that worried about me then I’ll have Shadow come with. That way if we get ambushed at least he’ll be there to help me out.

“I know the risks and I’ve already made up my mind. My heart is set on this, Luck. Trust me that I’ll be okay, okay?

I just stood there for a minute, processing her words and etching them into my long term memory drive. Just as I could start to feel my vision starting to blur, I rushed to hug the Golden Retriever, my muzzle only just able to reach over into a comfort able position. I them gave her an ultimatum.

“Just promise me that I’ll see you again.”

Her arms wrapped around me. I knew she had a smile on her face. “Now you sound just like Guren… I promise Luck. I will come back.”

We broke away and I wiped away a welled up tear. I was smiling “Good. I’d hate to lose an awesome friend.”

She laughed. “Let’s get back inside and finish this meeting, okay?”

I agreed. “Okay.”


--


Admittedly, I was surprised that she handled our situation so peacefully, I didn’t expect it to end the way it did. I was almost glad that she was going; however, there was this dreadful feeling that still loomed inside me. Were we making the right choice?

In a typical RPG, the player had all the freedom in the world. From the weapon he or she chose to the very look of your avatar, there was always a choice. This plan was no exception. It was if we were delegating how we wanted to branch off in a certain quest-line.

I just wished that we were making the correct one.

Another loud grunt filled the room as my inner turmoil reached its max.

“I’m sensing that you are very annoyed, hon.” Ghost moved into view over my head, hovering just enough to where our muzzles could touch.

“A little bit.” I answered before we exchanged a small peck.

We sat straight up again and he took his place beside me. He had a question already lined up for me to answer. “Was it the meeting last night?”

“…Yeah.” I hesitantly replied. Wanting to lean back, I placed my paws in back of me for support. I looked into space to explain. “It just how it went down, you know? I was concerned for Vivy. With all of the recent events and news going around, we can’t be too careful. I wouldn’t want any of my friends dying if I could help it.”

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to go grim.

“If anything happened to Vivy…”

Ghost turned his body and put his paw on my own. I turned my head to face him. “Nothing will happen to Vivy, hon; she’s a strong fighter, and you know that. And with Shadow by her side? They’ll be unstoppable.”

“You mean that?”

He smiled at me. “Absolutely.”

A blush crept up onto my muzzle. I gave him the greatest hug I could provide, him returning the favor instinctively. “Thank you.”

“Anytime my beautiful husband.”

The title made me blush even harder an even produced a single giggle. I still wasn’t used to it yet. Nevertheless, I took his loving words with pride as I jumped off the bed. I faced him. “Well? Let’s go get some breakfast! I’m starved.”

He let out a laugh of his own. “Sure.”

I opened the door to leave and took my first step out of the door. It was almost if I was rushing over to the dinner part of the inn as if it were a race.

But, there was something traveling out of the corner of my eye in my direction, traveling at almost the same speed. “Oh crap!! Too late to stop!” I thought to myself before I collided with the player. We both took a tumble to the floor as our gear clacked and clang through the hall. “Ow…” I whined, rubbing my lower back. Quickly I looked over to see whoever I ran over was okay, realizing that it was none other than our fellow guildmate, Revel.

It took no time for an apology to break the ice. “Sorry about that Rev. Didn’t see you there!” I tried to laugh it off as I helped him up, but he seemed nonchalant about it. I wiped away some of the dirt particles from my outfit. “I was on my way to eat some grub before I bumped into you…”

A memory made me jump as I snapped my fingers together, audibly announcing my thought. “Oh yeah! Now I remember!” I looked at the initiate. “There’s a meeting at ten in the morning at the towns square near the teleport gate, be sure to not be late!”

His slightly monotone voice accepted this information. “I won’t be late. Thank you for the heads up.”

“No problem Rev!” He quickly took his leave and practically ran down the steps of the inn, heading to the front doors below. “He seems to be in a hurry today, I wonder why…”


TO BE CONTINUED

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Sun Feb 21, 2016 10:57 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Wow. The plot twist in chapter 11 has me floored. No other way for me to put it. :?
You're doing an amazing job with the story!

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Wed Feb 24, 2016 12:31 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Update Time!!! [This post is also on Home Stories as well, so if you saw this post already, please disregard this post! <3 )


t.K.o.A: Currently I'm in the middle of spring break, so I may put this off to the side while I enjoy my limited time off, but know that I have Chapter 13 in the works! I will attempt to pick it up this week, but expect the chapter not to arrive for about two. Thanks guys for reading!

Housepets! Home Stories: After a day of thinking it over, I have come to the decision to abandon this fic outright. It's been sitting on my computer for about seven months and... to be honest, I grew tired of writing for it. When I picked up the concept for the SAO fan fic (around the same time I posted the A Pedal for Your Thoughts arc), I was absolutely thrilled. I adored even the idea of having the Housepets! Universe inside the SAO universe, and it has flourished into something that I care about and avidly write for. When I finished the first arc of Home Stories, I was completely burnt out. After multiple re-writes of the first three chapters alone, I pretty much lost all hope in terms of story. Chapter 4 just had so many plot-holes and the sheer length of it made my want to pull my hair out, I never got around to fixing and re-writing it; however, I'm not saying that I hate it or regret it in anyway. In fact, I think its one of the best stories that I attempted to write ever. I'm proud of this series and how far it went, and I'm hoping that my other project will be even better. Sparks and Tera will always hold a place in my heart and that Wolfgun song will always remind me of that very tale I crafted. Who knows, maybe I'll pick it up again and re-write it some day.

Thank you all who contributed to creating the universe and reading my first ever fan fiction. You guys and gals are the best. <3

[The story-line I had in mind will be on another post on the Home Stories thread, if you all are interested. Mods, please give me a 48 hour leeway for when Home Stories goes into the Abandoned Fic thread starting 3/14/16 at 12:00 AM. Thanks!]

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
-Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege-

=Chapter 13 - Curiosity and the Cat=


FLOOR 50 - ALGADE, TOWN SQUARE

January 3rd, 2024 - 9:57 AM (AST)

--


Flash slowly strolled toward the small gathering of players in blue, silver, and black. A quiet steady exhale escaped his nose. His gaze seemed to be lost in space. The feeling of weight from the conversation prior gently subsided into a blissful tension. Constant vigilance, thought the cat. The mission was still on. He had to remain alert.

He snapped his gaze forward, locked on to the teleportation stone. A couple of players had appeared from the base of the slab in the middle of the square and quickly strode towards the northern entrance. They were front line players, more specifically K.o.B..

Both clearers passed out of Shadow’s vision. When they did, his attention called upon to another object--rather, a passive creature. He managed to spot a single bird resting on top of the top of the thin stone spire. It’s blood red feathers shone amazingly in the light of the nearly mid-day sun. For being an NPC, it seemed very much alive to the Bombay. The animation and level of detail on the winged creature was stunning to say the least.

As it hopped and looked around, the gaze of the mob looked into the eyes of the shadowy dagger wielder. They stared into each other’s eye for what seemed like an eternity. He noted every detail about the bird; the texture of every feather, the build of it, the scrawny feet, and its onyx colored beak.

It was the perfect model of a bird, as expected from a VRMMORPG such as Sword Art. There were little inconsistencies when it came to modeling and the actual engine the game ran on, but when there were, they would hardly be noticeable.

For example, the Pet integration and recognition system and the protocols that accompanied it. A pet could act as a human and do anything--to an extent--a normal player could do inside the game such as drink alcohol and become the owner of a property. The only flaw in this system is that the pet would have to act as though he or she was human, due to the nature of SAO and the multiple anti-protocols that prevented players from being too mischievous in the false world of Aincrad, before everything went wrong.

Shadow looked closer at the bird. A disappointed sigh escaped him. A texture on one of the feathers was partially pixilated. As soon as he spotted the error, the game must have sensed that someone had finally noticed and cleared up the color. Close enough, he thought.

He stored the information away for safe keeping. A quick memory of the past surfaced as the feeling of home sickness almost moved him. I wonder if she could recognize it? This sensation only lasted a mere half a second before the dark colored creature daintily flapped its wings and flew across the square. He pushed the thoughts and feelings away from his avatar and proceeded to the meeting spot. A curse slipped from his muzzle. He’d just lost focus. His claw pierced his own flesh--or fur, rather.

He finally stopped behind his guildmates. Immediately, the pointless banter coming from Alanna and Flare was shut out from the feline’s ears. Every morning they would discuss news and events from the ‘Weekly Argo,’ a newspaper created by Argo the Infobroker--the best of the best in finding information about the game and the events that happen practically anywhere--and just go on and on about every single detail, regardless of how minute it was.

Only a couple times had he required her services, and only supplied her with information regarding his status with the K.o.A., not to mention the occasional item sales to boost her income. Argo was essential to many players, and she made a hefty living just off of her living as an information dealer. She had a motto that described her business to the letter:

Apparently the topic of the day would be partly more information about the mysterious Laughing Coffin murder guild. There was no new information in this editorial, however. Because of how recent the New Year’s massacre was and the lack of leads, there wasn’t anything to go on according to the writer.

In other news, a group of music enthusiasts had recently recreated one of Mozart’s symphonies and were performing it on the thirty-fifth floor in the town of Pedale, just southeast of the main town of Floria. Their performance apparently had a violin solo like no other, completely differing from the score. There was also an extra excerpt that contained some advice for players on the other floors, but Shadow paid no mind to it.

He crossed his arms and shut his eyes. It was clear that Laughing Coffin was one of the biggest mysteries since the beginning of SAO. They kept their operations and guild in the dark just enough to make themselves the talk of the players--a living nightmare in and of itself.

And in the matter of days he would be among their ranks.

“I still don’t know about this, Vivy.”

The familiar voice made the ears of the Bombay twitch. He honed in on the conversation, instinctively knowing the topic at hand.

“Maybe what Lucky said is right… maybe this isn’t such a great idea…”

Movement on behalf of the Retriever made Shadow’s line of sight turn their direction. Flash rolled his eyes. Vivy had given her brother a hug. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

The leader’s eyes looked glossy, a break in his next line of whispered dialogue clearly unconvinced. “Are you absolutely sure?”

Looking only at Guren, his posture seemed forced. Usually, he would be calm and relaxed; the occasional crack of a joke and lighthearted nature sparking his crowd with spunk. Today, however, he was the exact opposite. He looked frightened, as if he had seen a ghost. It was as if he resorted back to the very mindset that plagued him on the very first floor of the game.

Vivy was what he wasn't, relaxed. She had a warm smile on her face, like a mother. She looked at her brother with caring eyes and responded, “Positive. When have I ever been wrong?”

He left the question unanswered. She gently took her brothers paws and gave him a smile. The eavesdropper looked away and aimed his ears towards the two ‘siblings.’

She pulled her muzzle close and whispered, “I know you’re afraid. I know that this world scares the living daylights out of you. Trust me, I’m scared too, but, this is something that I need to do; for the sake of guild and this world. Makes me feel kinda important, you know?”

“…If anything happened--“

“Nothing is going to happen, Guren. I’ve got Shadow going with me,” she smiled, gesturing the Bombay’s direction, “So I’ll have backup if I need it. I’ll even message you every day if that’ll make you feel better.”

“Not gonna lie, it will.” They exchanged a quiet chuckle. A short pause left the brother with a wide open muzzle, attempting to find the words to say. “Just… be safe out there, okay?”

“I guess...” Vivy turned away sarcastically. Her brother frowned. She smiled, her joke obtaining the desired reaction as he crossed his arms. “Of course I will! Geeze, I wish you’d have more faith in me.”

“I do! But--”

“’But’ nothing! As long as you have faith in me, that’s the end of that.” Her eyes glanced upward and to the left. “Looks like it’s about time.” Vivy playfully punched his arm, the blow just soft enough to not set off any anti-crime code. “Break a leg.”

Her brother simply nodded and stepped forward a couple steps. But, suddenly, he stopped. He just simply stared at the empty space in front of him. Shadow looked at him in question. Guren quickly turned back and asked Vivy, “What should I even say?”

She replied with a simple answer. “The truth.”

He looked at her with perplexity. She wanted him to speak his mind. Shadow placed his paw under his chin. Even he had serious doubts about the situation. It concerned him now as well. The Knights of Argus leader was practically the wild card that could threaten the nature of the Bombay’s quest. How this sentence could be perceived could branch off into any path.

Would Gruen crack under the pressure? Would he spew lies to his followers? Would he even go back on his word? Would he tell the truth and allow both him and Vivy to leave? Every possible outcome played out in Shadow’s mind. If the Manx were to choose any of the latter--the desired outcome being that the plan that the Five agreed upon staying the same--the plan that Laughing Coffin had given him would have to be changed drastically.

Starting with his choice on how this whole meeting could possibly play out, if Guren would choose to not go with the agreement, Flash would have to go completely undercover and tell the Manx that he’s leaving the guild temporarily--or entirely if it came down to it, since it didn’t matter in the end anyway. If it came down to his leader making him leave, then he would have to make a scene in front of the guild and make it so that he would accompany Vivy. If she left and then Shadow made a scene, she would surely be notified right away of his departure and therefore raise a few red flags. However this depended on how the meeting would play out.

If he had to go undercover, he would wait until the time was right and make his move. Time would still be on his side in any case and he had full authority on how the mission would be conducted. As long as Vivy would die at the end of the quest, he had full rein. However, there would be technical implications aside from the end-goal.

Sleep and nourishment would have to be regulated accordingly. He would likely be forced to go out and buy food for the trip, not to mention plan where he would lodge. The first two nights of the journey would have to be spent tracking her movements, keeping a mental schedule of her exact day. That would mean at the very least forty-eight hours without sleep. If she were to change her schedule at all--even the slightest tweak--he could miss a potential window and end up involving another useless death.

In his own quest log, this would mean an absolute failure. To the red-player guild, their log would read otherwise. They would shower him with praise. But that meant nothing to him. He didn’t want their praise.

He wanted to rid the world of the weak players to help the progression of the game, albeit on his own terms. Wasting potential on players handpicked by even a beta tester was trivial. If players had gotten past Vivy’s judgement, an alpha tester, then they would have a right to serve their place on the front lines.

If it came to it, he would spare any player that would be picked out to take his and the Retrievers place.

Shadow felt his nose twitch. At the same time a part of his brain had stopped his train of thought. A pang of regret perhaps? He delved inside his digital brain to find answers for this unwanted sensation. The very first memory that managed to surface was of year’s long past--

His teeth bore down harshly on his lips, the playback stopping in its tracks. A past promise renewed its vow on the spot, to not let his past delude his mind.

Cast off into nothingness was his train of thought as Guren took the stage. The eleven players that adorned the title of ‘Knight,’ wrapped up their conversations and patiently waited for their leader to begin the meeting, their day of leveling and mapping awaiting its launch. The leader took a second to breathe and observe the crowd. Looking at every single face, including Shadow’s. The Bombay saw it in the Manx’s eyes; he was ready.

“Last night, I called a meeting with Vivy, Ghost, Lucky, and Shadow to discuss a topic that’s been the talk of Aincrad recently… Laugh…”

One could clearly hear the tremble in his tone. The anticipation of the crowd fueled the empty air that Guren’s voice was supposed to fill. His wide open muzzle made it abundantly clear. He couldn’t say the guilds name. Why, the feline asked himself? He could clearly say the guilds name less than ago, why not now?

Another round of a slow inhale and exhale filled the leader’s lungs. “We all know who they are. I won’t say their name, nor the things they’ve done. Glorifying it won’t do anyone any good.

“In response to this, I pulled the Five together to see what our stance on the situation was as a guild. After about an hour of deliberation, we came to a conclusion--or rather, a couple.”

A couple? If Shadow wasn’t mistaken, the group only had one conclusion to this issue; the inevitable targeting of their guild and its downfall. He looked at the Manx’s face.

His eyes grew wide. The leader’s stance and composure did a complete one-eighty. His arms were crossed; a confident smile plastered on his muzzle. He had a gleam in his eye that wasn’t present a moment before. It was almost mesmerizing.

“Because we are a part of the front lines--actively leveling, mapping, and questing, not to mention gaining and forging powerful equipment--we unintentionally gained a major layer of protection. What we figured is this: Because we are constantly at work advancing ourselves and reaching new heights of this castle, we assume that they wouldn’t attempt to target us. They wouldn’t put all of their eggs into one hand-basket unless they were completely sure they could wipe us out. It would be trivial.”

Surprise was the only word Flash could possibly come up with. Guren managed to come up with a completely different response to the situation without making it seem like it was completely hopeless--as they originally planned. This twist could make the guild unafraid of the looming threat and have their priorities set on the task at hand, clearing the game. Worry would be far behind.

“However…”

However indeed.

“…Take this information with a grain of salt. There are some things that we don’t know about this ‘guild,’ as you may have expected. What we don’t know is their numbers, their members, the location of their headquarters--if any at all--or even the skill of their fighters. They are a mystery. So, in spite of this information, we came up with our second conclusion…”

Now their point. The reason they were there. The moment of truth. Flash listened close.

“We need more fighters. Again, we only have twelve players in the guild today. Vivy, Shadow, Ghost, Lucky, Vlain, Alanna, Flare, Sammuel, Theta, Avery, Revel, and myself. Our skills and abilities on our own will only take us so far.”

He gestured at his sister and she took to his side.

“That’s why we’ve chosen Vivy to go out and start recruiting new players.” A collective gasp chilled the air. Then, silence. The sound of the crowd buzzed over the guild. A gust of wind blew gently through the square. Guren was just about to continue.

“But…” A voice echoed from the silence. Everyone’s attention was on the Akita. “Wouldn’t it be suicide, just sending her alone? You just said--”

“I’m getting to it Luck. Please, let me finish.”

The canine nodded and gave his leader the floor.

“Yes, what I just said contradicts with what our plan is. I know that. So…

He held out his hand to the cloaked member of the Argus Five, the dagger wielder. At first, he hesitated. It was his turn to walk up and stand by the two siblings. He took the stage and turned toward the flock of Knights.

“…we all agreed that Shadow would be going with her as a backup. After this meeting is finished they will depart and head for their first location, which we’ve already selected as a starting point. As for how we will be grouped in their absence; Ghost, Lucky, Avery, Revel, and Vlain will be the first party, and Theta, Sammuel, Alanna, Flare, and myself will be the second. We’ll be mapping and leveling for the time being, as usual. I wish both Vivy and Shadow the best of luck on their mission and hope they bring some real talent to our guild!”

If he only knew. The Bombay thought.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Lucky turn tail and started up towards the northern entrance of Algade. It was obvious from the way each step attacked the ground that he wasn’t happy about the situation, even if the plan catered to his suggestions.

On many levels, Lucky was right to think that this plan was doomed. Besides the deception on Flash’s behalf, there was the obvious issue that Laughing Coffin wouldn’t care about anything skill or level related.

They simply wouldn’t care. In their eyes, they only to do one thing and one thing only: murder. The dark and twisted minds of the murder guild would find a way to complete their goals, no question. They had no morality, no justification, and absolutely no clear conscious.

Insanity would describe their guild to the letter, even in Shadow’s eyes.

The one feature that he disliked the most was that they had no honor in the lives they took. Even if the skill level wasn’t exactly equal, he still wanted a fight that both players could be proud of; a testament of their skills and abilities, a true concerto of life and death. He wanted to join so that perhaps he could inspire others to take the honorable route instead of merciless killing, to ultimately help other players get even stronger for the fight to get to the other side--the real world.

Guren decided to wrap up the meeting with a smile.

“With that, this meeting is finished! Let’s get to work!”

Everyone in the crowd slowly turned away from the three pets near the teleportation stone and began their journey to the labyrinth. The leader stayed with the two players beside him. A sigh released before his knees started to shake.

“It never gets easier.” He said to the stone floor. He stepped forward and turned our direction. “Your first stop is Pedale right? Then you guys are heading back up to our level?” The feline conferred in a soft hushed tone.

“Yep!” His canine sister beamed. “That’s where we’ll be!”

“Good.” With a smile, he gave them his final farewell. “Be safe out there.”

“We will.”

The two looked at the Bombay with a hint of shock as the words finally embezzled into their ears. He turned away from Guren and marched up the small steps to the slab that was the teleportation stone. Vivy was not far behind.

“So.” She began. “I guess we should form a party up before we go.” With a nod the two faced each other, quickly navigating through their menus and formed a party. The menus disappeared and she giggled. “Awesome. Once we get to Pedale, I was hoping we could take a day and enjoy the scenery! There’s a concert going on and I wouldn’t want to miss it!”

She must have noticed his disinterest when his eyes rolled blatantly off to the side. He never liked being in a crowd let alone with another player. It seemed unimportant to him. But when she clasped her hands together and gave him an unbelievably charming expression, he found that he couldn’t take his eyes away.

“Pleeeeeease?” She whined. “I love Beethoven! I haven’t gotten to listen to him in over a year! I’d kill to see it!” She stepped closer. Shadow stood his ground. “So pleeeease?”

At this point his muzzle was burning like a fire. He couldn’t resist her face any longer. An irritated groan filled his throat.

“Fine.”

Cheers made the Bombay increasingly more cross, until finally she took his paw shaking it up and down.

“Thank you Shadow!!” Then a giggle emerged. “Looks like you’re now my date!”

As soon as she said those words, the feline immediately uttered the command to take him too Floria. This is going to be a long mission… is it too late to back down? He didn’t want to hear the unfortunately blatant answer.


TO BE CONTINUED

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Love it! Keep up the good work! :D

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
-The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege-

=Chapter 14 - Guardians=


DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DETROIT MEDICAL CENTER - ICU

Monday, January 3rd, 2024 - 3:26 PM (EST)

--

Sounds of distant hospital beds echoed through the pristine hallways. Nurses were speaking a couple of rooms down. The faint chorus of heart monitors singing their grim tune. The Bright florescent lights bore down on his eyes, a headache pulsing even harder against his forehead.

He recalled the setting well.

A slow stare made its way down the hall to a room five doors down and to the right. In that room used to hold a piece of his fragile heart, a piece that was undeniably taken so soon—Lilly…his wife.

A couple of years ago, he dreaded every visit to the DMC. The hard facts pressing against his mind; the sliver of hope that perhaps one day she would get better, that she would roam around the house in her perky can-do attitude and her brilliant smile, not to mention her spirt. If anything it shone brighter than the sun. Nothing could tarnish it. Not even death itself would be able to wipe away her elegance. It were those qualities that he loved about her.

An invisible force pulled away at Erin’s heart. Memories began to relay in succession—the good and the bad.

The birthday parties, Family gatherings, the chemotherapy sessions, surgeries, and the mountain of bills that threatened their livelihood at a certain point. He was fortunate enough to have the job at Argus to afford the medical bills. If he couldn’t help his wife though it, he wouldn’t have known what to do.

There was also the fragmented moment of that day. He was outside with her and Lucky. It was cold. A casual snowfall sprinkling on top of the frosted ground. The trees were bare and frozen, icicle formations on almost every branch. Lucky was in the process of rolling up a head for the snowman he was making. Lilly was standing next to him, watching as he was finishing making Frosty.

Then, out of nowhere, she collapsed. A trip to the hospital and a few hours later, she was gone.

Not a word. Not even a goodbye. She was gone.

He couldn’t come to terms with her death. It wasn’t long before his mind finally succumbed to the depression that manifested inside of him over the course of his wife’s treatment.

Everything became dark. The world was seen as monotone—it lost its color, its brilliance, its radiance, in the blink of an eye. Nothing interested him anymore. His work meant nothing. Friends who he had come to know were shut out.

But there was one thing that managed to pull him back to the light. One someone. He tightened his fists harshly, the nails on his fingertips bearing into his own skin.

He cast this pain aside. Today, he was here for another reason. Where he stood, a door stared back at him menacingly. Erin shut his eyes and tilted his head downward, afraid to look at this first obstacle head on.

Just thinking about his condition seemed futile to him. He already knew what awaited him beyond this first agonizing step, and with every visit a chill seemed to freeze every vein in his body—his heart started to race.

What he walked into could very well be the last visit. The thought of just watching as his own family die right before his very eyes. The stories of the other players in their final moments once they had perished in the game were countless among the staff.

In a sudden burst he felt his body start to shake uncontrollably. His stomach contracted.

The moment his pet would die… would be the final time he would be able to see him face to face. No other words exchanged. No chance to word a goodbye.


Don’t think about that. He’ll be fine Erin. He’s got her spirit, you know?

“But, he’s trapped. He’s stuck in this world of death…and I’m to blame.”

Stop blaming yourself. You couldn’t have known this would have happened.

“But I should have… I wish I could have done more”

…believe me. I know exactly how you feel.


His heavy eyes looked through the glass. A curtain hung from the ceiling, partially blocking his view of the two beds normally stationed in the room. He could just see the ends of the farther bed, and the medical cabinet, on top of it a bouquet of snow white flowers that added a splash of color to the room. In the far corner was an uncomfortable chair that some nights became the man’s cot if need be.

He recalled the time when he passed out after days without sleep.

“That was back when it all began.” He spoke to himself.


* * *


When he woke up the morning after Lucky and Ghost’s date, he had no idea that his pet was trapped inside the game. He started the morning making breakfast for the two of them. He thought that with smell of food flooding through the house he would come running down the stairs like he normally did.

Food was placed neatly on the dining room table and the man sat down with his tablet and morning tea; a refreshing chai with a touch of sugar and milk. As he loaded his news app, he checked the area for his pet. Disappointed, he looked down at his tablet and took a sip of his tea. But, what he saw made his eyes do a double-take. The wind was knocked straight out of his body. The first article that appeared had made his heart beat faster and faster.

It read: Sword Art Online Incident: 10,000 Trapped in New Japanese VR Title.

“LUCKY?!”

The scream filled the entire house. He practically threw both his tablet and mug on the table, the sound of shattering glass to follow rattling stomps as he ran up the stairs to Lucky’s room. Before he could walk through the door, his cell phone rang and vibrated, his business instincts answering it without question.

“Hello?” He yelled, practically breaking through the door. To his displeasure was Lucky, still wearing the special VR headset given to him by Kayaba. He pressed the speaker button on the touch screen.

“Erin, its Reed,” he started, “Have you seen the news?”

“Yes,” He panicked, rushing over to Lucky. A hasty solution attempted to resolve the situation. “I’m gonna pull him out!”

He grabbed the Ethernet cord and followed it up to the port on the headset. If I cut the internet feed to the server, it should disconnect him out of the game and bring him back.

Just as he was about to unplug the device from the realm of swords, he heard the pleading cries on the other end of the phone line.

“No! No, no, no, Erin, stop what you’re doing and listen to me! Do not take his headset off or unplug anything!”

Confused, the barking order stopped him in his tracks. He noted the tinge of dread in Reed’s tone. The first thought he could muster was already replaying itself to the talking machine.

“What? Why not? If I disconnect him from the servers, then I should be able to take the Gear off... Right?”

“It should, but…” His friend paused mid-sentence, “You didn’t hear the news entirely, did you?”

“No, I didn’t…”

He could barely recognize that he had bolted up the stairs without even reading the article itself. Instead he threw it on the table haphazardly, worrying about the only living thing that mattered in this world. Then, he got curious at how he said his question. A bad feeling loomed overhead.

“…why? Is there something I’m missing?”

There was a pause. Nothing audible came through the phone. His bad feeling quickly moving to DEFCON 1.

“Reed, please,” he begged, “tell me!”

Again he waited, although, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear his friend’s explanation. A shiver rode down his spine. His skin was icy, the chill making his body shake in its place. In five minutes, his mood turned from good to bad, and seemed to only be getting worse.

Finally, his co-worker started his reply. Erin listened carefully.

“Erin…this isn’t going to be good to hear…if you even attempt to move the Gear or even disconnect him…”

He felt the world collapse beneath him.

“…Lucky will die.”

His heart skipped a beat. A whisper barely escaped his lips.

“…What?”

He didn’t want to believe what he had heard. It couldn’t have been true. There was no way that Lucky could die like that, it was impossible. He sat down beside the resting dog, a hand petting the stomach of the blade wielding warrior. Tears welled in his eyes as his friend continued.

Reed continued, “In the last six hours, we’ve lost over 300 players. From what I hear, most of the deaths have been loved ones trying to remove the headsets, apart from other dark rumors…” He paused, but quickly picked up the conversation again. “Just know that this isn’t our faults, Erin. I don’t want you to go blaming yourself over this.”

“…….Is there anything I can do?” He cried, his vision became completely blurry.

“Actually, yes. Around 217 players out of the ten-thousand so far are confirmed to be US based and the government is providing hospital care for those effected. They’ll even close off roads to get players to medical care.”

“Will they take pets?” He uttered gloomily. Perhaps it was only open to human players? However, a silver lining offered the latter.

“Yes. Several pets have been admitted and are getting treatment by vets, including Ghost. Call 911. If you can, get Lucky to Detroit Medical, room 294. We’ve got a bed waiting, but it won’t be open for long.”

It was his only shot. If he wanted to save his pet’s life, he had to take this. He sniffled and wiped away the remaining tears on his face. “Alright,” he agreed, “I’m on my way.”

“Good luck.”

“You too.”

After ending his call, he quickly dialed another to get his pet the proper care he needed. It only took the officials ten minutes to arrive to his house; one ambulance and three police cars made the foggy air burst with flashing light.

Erin opened the door and directed the medical staff to his pet’s room. The police remained outside, talking to their radios. He stood at the top of the stairs, watching four humans flood the space with a portable stretcher and medical equipment.

“I feel so…helpless…” He whispered to himself.

All he could do was stand by and watch as staff examined his pet. They moved about with such finesse it was almost mesmerizing. He watched the team move and communicate around, prepping for the trip to the hospital.

The first of the four medical personal dropped his bag on the ground. As he reached into the bag, a question was raised.

“Is the headset plugged into the internet?”

“Yep.” A girl confirmed.

“Power cord is in too,” Another added.

It was the thirds turn to ask a question. “Vitals?”

A stethoscope placed itself onto the fur of the canine, the first listening closely, there was utter silence. Time stood still.

“Crystal clear.”

“Alright, prep the stretcher…”

Before he could see any more, a finger tapped down on the man’s shoulder. Startled, he quickly wiped away some of the access tears from his face. He turned to see a human standing at the top of the stairs—a woman, clad in suit and tie decked out with technology. She looked at him with a warm smile.

“Excuse me,” she started, “are you Mr. Thornbow?”

He nodded, a gloomy tone following. “Yes. That’s me.”

“I’m Jessica Townly, part of the newly created United States Virtual Telecommunication Task Force, Michigan Division. I’m with the government.” She looked into the room and watched the workers handle Lucky. “I’m so sorry,” she said in a hushed, caring tone, “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now…”

He took a deep breath. “Yeah…”

There was a moment of silence between the two of them as they watched the four lift the dog up and slid a portable stretcher under him. They stood and waited.

“Let me fill you in on what we’re going to do before we take your pet to the hospital. According to findings and other sources, once we unplug your pet...”

“Lucky.”

“…Once we unplug Lucky from the internet, were doing to transfer him to the DMC. After the cord is disconnected, we have exactly two hours before we lose him. We’ve got a lane on the freeway cleared and ready for transfer so we don’t waste a second. From here it should only take thirty minutes, but we’d rather keep it safe. At the hospital, we have accommodations ready for his arrival; top of the line internet access only for the players, constant power to their rooms at all times, and top medical staff—including vets in your case—to keep an eye on him and make sure that he’s getting everything he needs. He’ll be in good hands.”

She handed him a tablet and a stylus, the screen at a document with a box ready to gain his signature. He looked at the document.

“This right here is the agreement stating that he’ll get all care through us and the DMC, the bills being paid in full by the USVTTF for as long as he needs—”

A quick scribble and an accept button later, he handed the equipment back over to the black haired woman. She took her tablet back with a smile.

“Thank you. Lucky will be in good hands.”

Hopfully. He thought to himself. She nodded to the people in the room and they quickly started their two hour countdown. The cords were practically ripped out of the NerveGear as they lifted Lucky up and out of the room. As one worker collected the power cord the stretcher creaked and moaned as it moved down the steps.

Jessica turned and began her decent to the front door. Erin stood at the top of the steps as the medical team quickly passed through the archway with Lucky in tote. After a silent prayer, Erin saw the official turn back towards him.

“Before I go, I have to ask…”

She paused. Erin waited in suspense for her to finish. Her cut off seemed almost abrupt, as if holding back the words in her throat.

“…I looked into the case, and saw that among the people working at Argus, you were one of the first names to come up.”

A feeling of dread completely washed away his depression. He attempted to remain calm and let her continue.

“According to what we have, you were the leader of the best team in the division, and your team also worked diligently on the production of the game alongside the Japanese. Not only that, we know that you also had direct contact with Kayaba throughout the entire development process via email.”

Kayaba…

“In our investigation, we want to make sure that we don’t miss any crucial details. The reason I’m here today—besides seeing you and your pet off—is to ask you a simple question: What was your involvement in the creation of SAO?”

The question repeated itself like a broken record in his mind. He knew this answer already, and was prepared to answer it to the fullest. However, there was one issue. Standing before him was a government official. If his story wasn’t appealing to her or that the answer he gave implied some diabolical involvement with this plot, he would more likely than not be thrown in Jail.

Kayaba had direct contact with him and his team throughout the entire making of the VRMMOPRG, any person would have waved a red flag on the spot given the situation.

The man who led this technological feat had taken control of the game at the end of the beta, leaving him and the division to wait for the game to finally drop. This detail would be the deciding factor—among the fact that his own pet was affected regardless if he had been involved with this entrapment. He couldn’t possibly imagine intentionally sending his own family to die.

Questions of his own began to take root as he thought more about the situation. Perhaps Kayaba intentionally let the American Division off of the project to cut ties? Maybe he wanted to protect the families from having them get sent to jail? And speaking of the mad scientist, where was he now? What about the Japan Division? Were they involved with the final moments of development?

The questions would have to be put on hold, he had a government officer waiting for him to finally answer. Quickly hatching up a thorough explanation, he decided it would be for the best to just come out and tell his side of the story with utmost honesty.

“I was the Head of Development for the finer details of the SAO project—balancing, bug fixing, as well as throwing out ideas to the Japanese and American Divisions to implement into the game. While we began our push into Alpha, we needed to test out the game environment, so—with permission from our Boss and Kayaba—we got five pets and two human testers to help out and search for bugs, all children and family from the head development team, my team. They were the first players to ever set foot in the game. Lucky was among the seven Alpha testers for the American site. He was so happy every time he got to dive in…”

He cleared his throat and stopped his straying thought. A frog in his throat halted his answer, another wave of tears sweeping over him. He managed to stop his tears before he could go into a full-on sob in front of the official. The wall provided support as he leaned back.

“Just as the Beta test was ending, I got an email from Kayaba stating that he would be taking over development of Sword Art when the beta concluded. In addition, our Alpha testers got a copy of the game as well as a complementary NerveGear. The pets received a modified version of the device to accommodate their ears—a common complaint from our players.”

Wondering if she was still listening, he turned his head to Jessica. She stared at him, as if there was more to be said. So, he continued.

“My team and the division waited for work to come in from Argus headquarters like DLC or additional bug fixes, but after a month… nothing came. We kept getting paid for our hours so we just continued to sit around at the office until we finally decided to take another month’s vacation. Now that I think about it, I even sent an email to the HQ. I still haven’t received a reply.”

“Suspicious.”

“Indeed. I was supposed to go back to work today as a matter of fact. I guess… that’s not going to happen for a while. This incident will probably kill Argus’s business entirely, people will ditch VR for a while.”

A sudden fire began to burn in his heart. Tears began to well in his eyes.

“Akihiko, you mad fool.” A fist slammed into the wall with full force. A weak voice cracked. “Why did my pet… no… ten thousand innocent souls have to be involved in your death game? We slaved to create your world, and now…now you’ve taken mine...”

All at once, he lost control of his emotions. Tears began to fall down his face like a waterfall. Both his knees began to shake, finally giving way as he plopped to the floor. He took off his glasses to cover his face, shielding it away from the official. Devastation seemed like an understatement in his eyes.

A hand placed itself on Erin’s shoulder.

“Erin…” Jessica sighed. “I promise you that we’ll get to the bottom of this, I swear. But… right now, I think you should make your way to DMC. I think being there will help. It’ll help both of you.” He looked up to see a bright smile. “What do you say?”

At first he didn’t know how to take the question. A part of him felt obligated to be by his side, to keep the Akita company. But, in a way, he couldn’t help the feeling of being responsible for putting Lucky in this situation. He worked on the game heavily in its development process and helped push the game out of Beta. It was his fault that he was trapped in SAO.

What if he came back feeling resentful towards him? Would his own pet be able to look at him once he came back? Or would he be able to face Lucky?

A sigh broke up this thought. He glanced over the details one more time.

There was a light that still shone in his darkness. There was one truth that had to be addressed. Lucky was still alive, and he had to be there to support him, even if he couldn’t hear or see him.

For all the times he was there when Lilly passed there was no way he could repay him; until now. This was his chance to finally do what he could to keep his pet alive. He meant the world to him. No matter how much pain he was in, he had to help him.

Erin stood back on his feet. A sniffle escaped him before he could talk. “Thank you, Jessica, for everything.”

“It’s no problem.” She grinned back.

He jogged down the stairs and snagged his keys and jacket, the sound of sirens rushing down the foggy street pulling on his broken heart. Before he closed the door, he remembered the other person still in his house, his female guest. Opening the door, he called out to her.

“Be sure to lock the door when you leave, okay?”

“I will.”

“Thanks.” He spoke in monotone.

With that, the door slammed shut and he flew to his car.


* * *


A steady inhale and exhale brought him back from his grimly nostalgic thoughts. He attempted to cast off these feelings and emotions and bury them entirely. He stared through the door that was still gawking at him and back into the room. Through the window, sunlight poured into the cleanly space and lit up the pale flower until it shone like gold.

“It’s time.”

He looked down at the metal doorknob and grabbed it. Slowly twisting his hand he easily pulled the door open and—with slight hesitation—finally walked through the archway.

Instantly he felt a completely different vibe from the one he had just seconds ago. This was normal, and although showing no reaction, it felt almost ghostly. There was only the constant beeping of the two heart monitors and nothing more.

It was absolutely silent. He pushed out another breath of relief.

They’re still here.

Erin stepped forward toward the cloth divider and pushed it aside. When he was finally through he stopped and stared at the two bodies lying on the beds.

On the left was Lucky, the sleeping knight of the ‘Argus 5.’ At just the first glance he looked sickly. His coat of brown fur had lost its sheen, and he looked to be almost completely malnourished, his bones protruding under his fluff.

Laying on the bed to the right a foot apart from Lucky’s was his pet’s boyfriend, Ghost. Other than his snow white fur, he was in the same condition as the Akita.

He sat down on the chair in the corner and stared in the direction of the two patients. Bright light brought his attention to the tops of their heads .The devices flickered and flashed like fireworks inside the NerveGear. As long as those lights were on, his pet would be connected to the realm of Sword Art Online and alive in the real world. That’s all he could ask for.

The chair creaked loudly as he sat back in his chair. He took a moment to take everything in. Lucky was still alive. Ghost was still alive. Everything seemed normal.

He closed his eyes and let out some air. If it were any other day he would just sit and keep watch over the two of them--the nurses would come and chat with him occasionally, some of his co-workers would come visit, it helped him burn time.

Today, however, his co-workers wouldn’t be popping by today. Only the nurses would be present today, and he hoped to not come across one. He didn’t want to break down in front of them.

An hour before, he and his co-workers were all congregated at one place they never would have expected or hoped to be for many years.

He broke his trance and looked at Ghost with apologetic eyes. Then his mouth started to move.

“I’m……I’m so sorry Ghost. Reed…couldn’t make it today. I only wish he could be here with us.”

Heart monitors beeped and the NerveGear Flashed. The two laying down didn’t move a muscle, but the human kept going.

“He was always there for us, Ghost. For you, for me, and the team, their families included. Reed was kinda like the high school counselor. He always had our backs and kept us going in the right direction.” He smiled, remembering all the times he had gotten the team through jams at work, even making the days at the office fun and enjoyable.

As soon as these memories faded away, his somber tone made an unwelcome return. “They say that the driver of the semi would be tried in court. Apparently he fell asleep at the wheel while driving and…”

A pause broke up his line of dialogue. “He… he would have wanted to say goodbye. He loved you Ghost. Bethany too. They both would have hated to leave you behind like this. They loved you so much. So… I hope you don’t mind being a Thornbow from now on. I think Reed and Beth would agree that taking you under my wing would be for the best. That way you have a place to live once you’re out of there, and you get to be with the love of your life.”

Joy lit up dimly on Erin’s face a very light chuckle. With this whole fiasco, he realized he had forgotten to visit the duo for a few days. One simple sentence filled the room.

“Happy New Year’s fellas.”


TO BE CONTINUED

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Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:09 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
This is really touching D3ath_0ps :(

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Looking great. Look at you, pulling my heart strings over there. >->

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Thanks for reading guys! Means a whole lot! Working on the next chapter as we speak. :P

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
-The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege-

=Chapter 15 – EXP=


FLOOR 35 - YVAN RIVER, SOUTH OF PEDALE

January 4th, 2024 - 11:34 AM (AST)


--


Waves of the river gently hit the wooden gondola as it flowed with the current. Their speed was sluggish, even with an oar pushing them along. The wind was barely over a knot, the digital incarnation of Mother Nature (RNG) handicapping their progress even further.

On either side of the banks were colors of all kind, the different flowers, trees, and foliage, brightening the river’s path. There was a generous gap on either side of the vessel, but it stayed dead in the middle of the river.

Inside the small boat were two pets. One a Bombay clad in dark light armor and black cowl, the other a Golden Retriever decked with a shortsword, a K.o.A. shield, light silver breastplate, and stunning blue and white outfit. The canine was on her back with her head up towards the light blue ceiling of the thirty-sixth floor--the one thing close to resembling a sky besides the atmosphere beyond the castle. Her paws were behind her head. She looked relaxed.

If he wasn't wearing his hood, she surly would have seen his scowl. The feline was tasked with keeping the vessel on course to their destination, the northern town of Pedale--the island village located on the outskirts of the floor. Various markets, inns, and restaurants had drawn in players from all floors once upon a time. The setting was truly enchanting, even to Shadow. The buildings there looked medieval and clean, cobblestone marked the various pathways and roads, and the land was a bit slanted compared to the flatness of Algade or the Town of beginnings giving it a San Francisco-esqe feel.

Out of all the locations in Aincrad, if he wasn't fighting on the front lines or delving into the darker side of the game, this was where he would be. Unfortunately, he was too busy clearing floors and defeating bosses to even think about making the trek.

For now, he would let the river guide the boat to the lake. After that, it would be a straight shot to the town.
The water splashed and sloshed about, but the boat itself and its occupants remained as silent as it had been since the river ride began. Perhaps Vivy finally decided to ditch the idea of talking with the Cat entirely...

"Hey Shadow," The Retriever finally piped up.

A small curse flickered in his mind before his inevitable reply. "Yes?"

"Doesn't it remind you of home?"

His lips remained shut, knowing the answer full well. He hoped his silence could send a message to her to end the conversation there.

She elaborated anyways. "You know..., the warm air, the pool parties, the fresh air... Summer. This floor is so beautiful."

She smiled and closed her eyes. She took in the river air in and let it out with a gentle sigh.

He wanted to say that she was right, but unfortunately, he couldn't say that he felt the same way. Summers back in the real world were quite dull in his eyes, in fact he never liked summer in general. It was too hot, too loud and hectic, and it just made him resentful. It brought about feelings that he tried to forget long ago, but always seemed to come back every year.

What he could agree with was the appeal of the season. This floor brought something within him out to soak up both the fresh air and the sun’s digital rays.

He answered with a bland reply. "Sure."

She sat up and looked at him with a puzzled stare. His tone must’ve sparked her change in attitude. "You know, it wouldn't hurt to have a little bit of fun once and a while. You're always so... dark."

Her words barely computed in the cat’s brain. It wasn't anything he hadn't heard before, so he automatically just drowned it out with the serene setting. He stared ahead and maneuvered the boat around the final bend of the river. The voice then made an unsurprising return.

"Do you even care at all?"

He kept a straight face. "About what?"

"The mission. The guild. In general."

"..."

He thought about each for a nanosecond.
For starters, he didn't really care for the mission, for he had a completely different task to complete. He could care less about the guild and his guildmates, not to mention the newcomers were quite annoying, Lucky and Ghost were weak, Guren just as much. Vivy was really the only one that appealed to him as strong. She kept the Guild in check and the morale high. She should have been leader of the Knights as far as he was concerned.
In general, he really only cared about his own mission and his own limited desires. Other than that, he didn't pay any mind to anything else. He was the bodyguard until the time was right.

So, he answered truthfully. "...Not really, no."

She wasn't satisfied. Her face looked cross. "So you could care less about our mission... am I right?"

Shadow nodded.

"Why then?"

"I'm essentially... no... I'm literally the bodyguard. And, to be honest, other than protecting you, I'm not really that important to the mission. That's my only task."

His half-truth rang over the waves. The boat straightened out and positioned itself towards the lake. The town was in view.

Almost there.

"You don't just have to be a bodyguard, you know." She smiled. "You're a player, and as a player you're entitled to enjoy yourself. We're in one of the most beautiful floors in Aincrad and your all doom and gloom. Open up a little! Who knows, maybe you'll enjoy yourself…” Her last sentence trailed off as she went silent. Instinctively, Shadow looked down at the boat in the space that his companion occupied. It looked like she was conjuring up some sort of devious plan. Then, a light bulb flashed above her. “Mr.... Snoodipants!" She crossed her arms and looked at him smugly with her tongue was sticking out of her mouth in what appeared to be an act of defiance.

A nerve pulsated against his temple. Out of all that time, instead of making a solid counter to his statement, she… stuck her tongue out. The paw that held the oar creaked in his firm grasp. The rowing ceased as the gondola coasted slowly into the lake.

"I'm not 'doom and gloom' or 'Mr. Snoodipants,' I'm simply stating the facts."

She shot an immediate response. "Facts are boring."

He glanced at her. She remained firm, keeping her grin.

"Why don't you ditch the uptight tude and come out of the dark? Or... are you chicken?"

Something in him snapped. The fact that she was staying so easily calm and his points just not even registering in her NerveGear. T-tude?! Chicken?!?! I’ve had it!!!

Just like that, his temper reached its peak. A paw left the wooden oar and pinched the top of his hood. He pulled back on the cowl to reveal his face full of pure anger. But, before he had a chance to do or say a word, a gust of wind blew back the remainder of the hood as the sunlight blinded his eyesight. He put his arm up to block this sudden burst of light. Once his eyes adjusted to the sunshine, it was at this moment that he had lost his train of thought.

He stared into the blue ceiling of the floor above. A cool wave of air washed away part of his rage as a breath of fresh air entered his lungs. The sound of the water hitting the side of the boat, the distant song of the shoreline, and the soft tune of the BGM made this whole setting come to life.

A voice brought him back to Aincrad and into the vessel. "There you go! Look at that cute mug... Was that so hard?"

The Bombay looked back at her with a flustered look. The sides of his muzzle felt as warm as the sun that was hitting it.

She... tricked me? Again?

An odd cold feeling had fallen on his right paw. His fingers moved about to see if they weren't frozen and unknowingly found the source of the sudden chill. It was the hilt of his beloved dagger. As soon as he retrieved his bearings, he calmly and nonchalantly let loose of the weapon. If it weren't for his cloak, she surely would have seen this act of aggression.

"It's nice to finally meet you Shadow, I'm Tsunade, but in this world I'm known as Vivy."

Flash looked away bashfully and grabbed the oar sitting at the bottom of their small boat. As he continued to oar towards the town, he didn't dare respond to her. A lighthearted giggle broke the misty air. In the corner of his vision she was looking forward along with him.

How could she manage to trick me so easily?

He looked up to the bright sky once again. It was as if he hadn't fully regarded how amazing this scenery actually was. This time, he relaxed and took it all in.

I guess it does feels good...

"Hey... Shadow?"

He sighed, his trance broken.

"Yes?"

"Do you mind making a promise to me? Just for this mission. You don't have to accept it if you don't want to."

"...It depends on what you're asking."

"I..." She paused and chuckled. "This probably sounds silly and totally sudden, but I kinda want to get to know you. Other than Your name, your family, and where you live, we haven't really talked or gotten to know each other. So, uh… maybe during the mission, could we just... talk? Could be about anything, the real world, Aincrad, yourself, anything. I think it could do us some good."

With a single question he was taken aback. He couldn’t possibly have predicted this would happen. He was unable to make a direct response.

But even with the randomness of the question, it did have some merit. Perhaps Vivy thought that she didn't really have the full picture when she pointed out that he was all 'doom and gloom?'

Another theory he could conjure would be that she just simply wanted the information. He was the scrambled Rubik’s cube and she was the one trying to solve it.

Then again, maybe it was just honest talk? For years his mother and father--his human family--had joked about how he paralleled an angsty teenager or even a lost puppy, did she see him in the same light?

Inevitably, it all came down to the question of, 'why would he even care?' Of course he could agree and finally open up for the first time in years, but he also had the option of saying no and forgetting about the entire scenario like it never even happened. It would be the easiest route to travel and would finally let him be for the time being just as he wanted; although, there was a small part of him that was starting to fight his better judgement.

Why? Was it intuition? Or was it because he was fighting the thought of making connections with someone?

What about the mission? If he were to open up, how would it effect the mission and its likelihood of success?

He could see it going one of two ways. The first hypothetical that came to mind was that if he did agree to it the probability of the mission being emotionally compromised would skyrocket. There would be an additional emotional baggage that could get in the way. Could he take the risk of tarnishing his mind further or botching the mission from Laughing Coffin entirely? If he failed, it would surely be his death sentence.

The latter was the option of lying. He could completely fabricate an entire story to just make the topic go away, then it would only take remembering the lies of hand. Again, it would be easier than telling her the truth, and it was heavily appealing. He wouldn't have to worry about the thought of failing LC's mission and he wouldn't have to compromise himself or his past. However, in choosing this path would effectively tarnish his own morals and beliefs, and would leave Vivy with the final thoughts of everything they shared during their time together being a lie. In the feline’s eyes, that was absolutely cruel.

If he was going to fight her, it needed to be completely fair and just. No tricks. No foul play. Even if it meant his life was out in the open, he would have to take the emotional risk. That way, it would be a true testament of their skill as swordsman.

One life or the other. That was the name of the game...

"I guess not then." Her voice broke the silence. He was so caught up in his own thoughts, he completely forgot about answering her question. "I can't say I blame--"

"Fine."

Her face lit up like the sun. "R-really?"

The feline let out a defeated sigh. "Yes."

"Yes!" She fistpumped. He rolled his eyes. "Thanks Shadow."

"No problem." He shrugged.

At a glance, the distance between the boat and the island town's port was about a mile, and considering the wind, oar, and current, it would be nearly an hour until they finally reached landfall. If Shadow were to paddle perfectly without stopping, he would be able to make it to the town in forty-five minutes. He carefully timed his strokes, angling and pushing the boat forward straight for the docks.

One, Two, Stroke. One, two Stro--

"I can't wait until we get there." She uttered blissfully. "The symphony is supposed to be really good. Plus, they have this really killer violin piece in the middle that’s accompanied by a piano. I never thought that they'd actually have real instruments in SAO, but I guess I can't be too surprised. I bet the concert will be exquisite."

The waves and breeze took over the conversation for a couple seconds without interruption. Vivy turned to the cat, "I wanted to ask… while we’re out, did you want to do anything before we start?"

"..."

"Oh come on! You have to want to do something while we're there!"

He caved. ".......I guess... I was actually thinking about buying a townhouse in the town."

"Really?" She chuckled, "I never would have thought you fancied a place like this. I would have expected you to buy a place on a floor like twenty-seven."

"I aim to please." He snarked wittily.

"Jokes too? Well, color me impressed."

They exchanged a smile, then Flash continued, sensing an explanation might be needed. "This floor is honestly very peaceful. The bright color, the warm air, and the river rides, it felt like I was living my own little fantasy world free of worry--and you were right, it does feel like summer... I just don't...really enjoy it as much as others do."

Instantly he regretted speaking that last line as she responded, "Any particular reason?"

A memory fluttered like an insect in his head. Unsure if he needed or even wanted to delve into previous affairs and unwilling to even attempt to, he shot down her question. "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."

She grinned and understood the context. "That's fine."

He continued. "When… when we were clearing the labyrinth, I spent a couple nights exploring the floor and what it had to offer. I was feeling tired of doing the same thing over and over again, but I couldn’t stop our advance, it would be going against our role as front liners. I do want to get out of here too.” Stopping his tangent, he brought himself back to where he was. “But, anyways…, because of the third floor and its mostly watery terrain, using a gondola to navigate the rivers felt like nothing more than child's play. Then I came across this lake and the town. I docked at the port and took a look inside to find this... stunning town. The architecture of all the buildings was absolutely spot-on. For a medieval based MMORPG, it looked a tad modern for the era, but it worked surprisingly well. I was sold. So, when I found out that they had a few places up for sale in the town, I walked over to check the price..."

"Too expensive?" She cut in.

"About a million short."

"Wow! How much is this place?"

"I think it’s at... 2.5M, including furniture."

"T-two... and a half... million?! For a home?!"

It was no surprise that homes in Aincrad costed an arm and a leg. Even some of the cheapest homes on the lower floors costed 275,000-300,000 kol a piece, some even reached 4M and continued to rise as higher floors were unlocked. Some players called the idea of buying a home for that price tag insane at best, which is why inns are usually the way to go.

"Two million." He confirmed. "Now that I've waited, I have enough kol and then some to buy the house and upgrade my equipment. I've actually been waiting since the beta to get to this point."

Others, like Shadow, lavished the thought of owning a piece of property all to themselves. On the other side, pets were unable to purchase anything other than material possessions. The thought of owning something of that caliber, it filled one with pride. Knowing that one could finally be in charge of something for once felt liberating.

"But enough about me," he chimed, his straight face hiding his surprisingly light mood, "what about you? I can't do all of the talking here."

"Aww, but I like listening to you talk. It's so weird hearing you for practically for the first time." A harsh stare and a giggle were exchanged across the boat. "Well, if you must know, I actually wanted to do some shopping, maybe even check out some of the food they have before the concert tonight."

"Sounds like a fun time."

"Yeah. We're gonna shop till we drop!"

"Yeah... Wait, what? We?"

She smirked, "Don't think you're going to be sitting on the sidelines, bub. We're going to visit every single store even if it kills you! And you're getting a new outfit. No excuses, its happening whether you like it or not! You've been wearing that same outfit since the twenties! Your huge cloak and armor aren't fooling anyone."

"What's wrong with what I've got on? It's not like it can get dirty or anything."

"It's sooooo boring," She groaned, "Plus I think a little bit of change is overdue." He attempted to argue against the thought, but as soon as his mouth began to part, she shot him down. "You'll love it, trust me! For now..."

She turned back to the town.

"Let's get to that town! We've only got until 7:30 to get everything off of our lists, so we've got no time to lose!"

The time was now 11:58. Seven hours.... While she wasn't looking, he looked into the blue of the lake. ........I wonder how deep the water is...


--


Nearly four hours had passed since the two animals docked at Pedale's port. The moment Vivy had walked through the towns castle-like walls, excitement was the understatement of the century. She pulled Shadow along by the arm to the very first shop she could see--a weapons and armor store by the name of Sterling Ironworks, owned by a player--unsurprisingly--named Sterling. He kindly upgraded Tsunade's armor and sword by a handful of points, putting the successful attempts in speed and durability respectively.

After she finished, Shadow put in his own dagger and armor on the chopping block. Fortunately he had all the components he required for the upgrades and only had to pay for the handling rather than paying for the materials in addition. For his armor, he put two points into durability. The bland, rare steel dagger 'Grey Widow' received three points in speed and another three in durability. When they finished, Vivy said her goodbyes for the two of them and they exited the store.

They strode down the street and looked at a couple of the other stores and what they had to offer. They had entered around five other stores since the blacksmith, two among them being a potion shop and a food store.

Within seconds, their next stop was already in front of them. This time, it was a clothing store owned by another female player. She had a plethora of fancy looking clothing that sat neatly on dark brown tables, accenting the light brown walls and wood floors. Just based on the designs and look of each article it was clear that she had put an incredible amount of effort into her tailoring skill, perhaps even maxed it out.

Vivy instantly fell in love with a few pieces of clothing laid out in her section of the store. She proceeded to try on at least seven different outfits of various colors and designs. In the meantime, Flash was told to wait in the chairs outside of the fitting rooms and wait for her to finish. If it weren't for the safe zones that protected players within towns--not to mention his morals--the entire scenario would have been played out in an entirely different way.

So he crossed his arms and waited, quietly keeping to himself. He nearly nodded off a few times while he was waiting. To keep himself awake he had to think about other things, such as ‘why do pets care about clothing so much if they don’t even need it anyways?’

"Hey Shadow?" a perky voice called out.

Both eyes rolled back inside his head. He made no attempt to hide his sour mood. "Yes?"

"Could I get your opinion on this dress?"

Fighting back the option to say no, he agreed for the sake of the mission. "Sure."

"Great! Gimme a sec.."

The sound of a paw brushing against fabric reached the feline's ears, then a sigh.

"Alright..."

She opened the door. The clothing and the pet came into view. Flash looked in awe. His heart skipped a beat.

What she had on looked partly casual and formal. The dress was nearly all a dark shade of blue with white accents to compliment the dark colors. It looked stunning against her golden fur. The hue of the fabric made her bright blue eyes seamlessly pop. The design almost mimicked ones on some of the lowest floors of Aincrad, and still suited her very well.

His heart started to beat faster. Until now, he hadn't really looked at anyone fully before in such a way. What should he say?

"So, what do you think?"

At first the words didn't couldn't form in his brain, as if the NerveGear failed to process what he was feeling. Although, he hardly knew what exactly he felt at all. This experience puzzled him. Finally, he coughed away his anxiousness and gave her a straight answer.

"It looks good."

"...Good?" Her smile swayed.

Sensing her disappointment, he attempted to do some damage control. "N-no! That's not what I meant! I meant that you... you look... stunning. The dress looks great on you."

After the words left his muzzle he became warry. His cheeks burnt like fire as he waited patiently for her response. Did he say the right thing? Would she become upset?

Quite the contrary--she turned away with a smile, crossing her arms. "T-thanks." He had made the right choice. His heart slowly started to slow down. "I was thinking about wearing this for the concert tonight. I wasn't sure if I liked this one or another that I picked out--"

"Nonsense," his voice boomed, "This is the one. It's perfect."

"Really? Well, in that case..." She opened up the shop window and tapped it a few times. On the grey window was a list of around eight items, below it the amount of kol for the transaction and a green accept button. She looked over her items and nodded, accepting the deal. That window quickly disappeared and another showing the items she just bought transferred to her item storage. "Done. Give me a sec and I'll let you look for stuff."

He nodded and she turned back into the small space, closing the door behind her. A sigh was released into the air.

"Oh, and by the way, you have a really cute smile."

Again for the second time today, she left him flustered. Was he smiling? He had to go back and check back in his memory drive to double check. To his dismay, she was indeed right. It was like she was able to get through walls upon walls of defense over years of isolation with relative ease. His embarrassment turned to frustration.

Why did she even care about some silly dress anyways? It would only be worn for tonight then just be another useless item in her inventory, so why even care about it? A good question is why did he care for it. Nothing made sense to him.

Once again the door opened to reveal the Golden Retriever, only this time in her usual attire. "Well, I guess you're up next! Go and pick out some things. I'll just wait over by the counter. Call me over if you want my seal of approval!"

She turned tail and strode away, leaving him to his own devices. A small puff of air was released into the atmosphere while he tried to forget what just happened. He started to walk around the male section of the store, looking at all the items and fabrics laid out before him, when he began to think about how his guildmate was able to irk him so easily.

A burst of giggles brought him back to 'reality.' Instinctively he attempted to tune into the conversation, but both the dog and human were talking in whispers, so he couldn't pick up on what exactly they were talking about. He thought about moving closer to get an idea as to what they were talking about--being mostly concerned that he was the subject--but thought that it would look incredibly suspicious. For obvious reasons, he cast away the idea and focused on his task.

If he didn't start picking out things he liked soon, he would probably have to face her wrath. He started on the far reaches of the male section of clothing, near some long sleeve medieval looking shirts. His paw held the sleeve of a dark purple fabric and stared at it. He sighed, then picked it up.

There had to be at least one hundred clothes on display. Just imagining the amount of time it took to fold and place each and every one seemed daunting--if this case was a real world scenario. Players that owned stores in Aincrad were able to put items in a special inventory only available to them to sell items to other players and also placed the items according to the layout of the room. In addition, they were also able to set the permissions for players to grab and try out items for free similar to the clothing stores on the other side and the use of fitting rooms. The only downside to owning a store was that one could not edit or change the room at any time aside from furniture and decoration.

Given that information, the original store owned by an NPC must have also been a department store, given the fitting rooms were built into the walls. She got very lucky finding this place, and with the concert that was happening later that day, it would bring many more to the area and give this place more business. The outfits were waiting patiently for customers to come by and purchase them, and only time would tell if they would be chosen or left behind.

He picked up a two pairs of trousers, one a tan color and the other a dark grey. With these he grabbed a black belt with a solid rectangle silver buckle. Lastly, he spotted a dark black vest, emblazoned with light purple accents and half collar. It was layered, and it reached to the tips of his shoulders with a white soft fur being the seam. There were also no button to connect both sides together so armor could be worn underneath. The fabric felt rough against the pads of his paw and was almost too thick for him to consider. However, off his body, the piece looked fantastic. He placed it on his arm with the other clothes and kept moving.

Once he was satisfied, he brought himself into the fitting room and shut the door behind him. After locking himself in he set the clothes down on the raised wood slab behind him and stared at them loathingly. He unequipped both his cowl and armor, placing them in item storage. His finger slowly hovered over the first article and tapped the button that had appeared over it, and opened a prompt to try the piece of clothing on. With a click of the accept button the undershirt magically spawned on him.

It took a second from him to process the change fully. Twisting and turning around to check his new look, he was pleased with the result. Next came the vest. When it spawned on him, he was unsure how to feel at first. Even looking in the mirror didn't sway him. Ultimately, he shrugged his shoulders and moved on to the last piece of the puzzle, the pants. He tried the grey pair first, which went perfectly with the shirt and vest. The second pair of pants he tried however, didn't meet his expectations, and put back on the smoky ones.

He looked into the mirror on the wall and stared at his reflection. It's good enough, he shrugged. He was about to bring up the menu to purchase the outfit when another round of giggles pierced the air. As he thought about it, she would probably want to see the new outfit in its entirety before they left. Against his better judgment, he complied for the sake of the mission.

"Vivy," he called out, "I think I'm done."

"Okay! Come out and let me see!"

The door unlocked and opened, revealing a bright room and a smiling dog waiting in the chair he was in minutes ago. He bmved a couple steps forward and out in the open, and awaited her response with a blank stare. She flashed an interesting smile.

"Ooooooh." She slowly stood up and walked towards him, then began to circle him. "New colors...new look..." The dog stopped in front of him. "You're looking very nice. Less dark than usual."

Teeth gritted harshly inside his mouth, but his reply was smooth and emotionless.

"Thanks."

He went ahead and bought the clothing he selected and decided to keep it on for the time being, with the exception of his old silver colored armor that was now equipped underneath his vest. Although he was in a safe zone, the armor felt natural. The cloak would remain in his inventory for the time being in compliance with his guildmate.

"So," she began, "now that we've done some shopping, did you have anything in mind? Didn't you want to go see if that home was for sale?"

He nodded.

"Then let’s go! We've still got... four hours until the concert, so we have some time and then some. After that we could get some food."

"Sounds like a plan."

They thanked the store owner and left with their new wears on their avatar and in their inventory. Shadow was glad to finally be out of there. They spent way too much time in the market district alone. The two of them would have to traverse the streets until they got to the part of the residential district that contained the home Shadow desired, which would in turn take around ten to twenty minutes of their time.

The town was bigger than one would think. It was around a third of the size of the Town of Beginnings and bigger than Algade, and measured around two and a quarter miles long. The town could only be accessed by using ferries that traveled from one end of the lake to another for a small fee, or by gondolas which were riddled throughout the Northern end of the floor. The 'port-only' access to the town was caused by the thirteen foot high stone walls that surrounded the entire town until the edge of the floor, and even that had walls of its own that prevented any players from getting in.

Inside, the town was divided into three districts: The first was the Market district, the very first one players see when they enter the town from the port. It had all kinds of markets and stores for anything a player could possibly need or want with some stores available for purchase for all player vendors alike. That district was surrounded by the larger second district, residential. The shape of this section of town was like an hourglass--both market and community districts on the north and south ends--and spanned the entire width of the town. In this district were all of the housing, inns, and smaller tier restaurants of all kinds around two to four stories tall. Lastly was the community district which had a small arena for dueling tournaments and events, a stage for performances, and the town square. Not only was this district almost the same size as the market district, it also hung over the edge of the world. The stage was located right at the edge of the district and the floor itself, which made for an incredibly scenic setting.

The clouds soaring through the endless sky that surrounded Aincrad, the gusts of wind that cooled the warmth of the sun, and the soothing sounds of music to bless the ears of the listener is what awaited at the concert.

They rounded the final corner and ended their seventeen minute tour at the town home with a sky blue aura shooting up from the ground and surrounded the home like a forcefield. In front of it was a wooden sign with the words "For Sale" written in clear English.

It was waiting for him. Luck was on his side today.

Shadow stopped in front of the sign and took it all in. He was about to buy the home of his dreams. It was probably a fickle endeavor in the long run, since their time in this game was limited, but that didn't matter. They were in Aincrad, in a video game. Luxuries such as rare items or homes were not that common in MMOs or even in RPGs, and were precious to the user in that it took a lot of time just to obtain them. This instance was no different. Although there wasn't the burden of paying taxes, utilities, and rent, he was paying a onetime fee for something that he would cherish for as long as he was inside the game.

"Well?" the knight asked. "What are you waiting for?"

A charcoal colored paw pressed the button that appeared above the sign, another one taking its place. It asked him if he wanted to buy the home for the small price of one million kol. This of course didn't include the furniture. He would have to order it as soon as possible in order for it to arrive by the time the concert was over. He would have to look at the walls and floors before he could buy anything, but it wouldn't take long. All he needed to do was order the furniture from a catalog inside the house.

He accepted.

Flash was the owner of a brand new townhome.


TO BE CONTINUED

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Last edited by D3ath_0ps on Tue Sep 06, 2016 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Jul 20, 2016 7:47 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
I wonder how the next chapter will turn out. Great suspense!

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Tue Aug 09, 2016 2:05 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Hey guys! I just finished editing the last chapter that was posted. I wasn't to happy with what I had posed originally, but now that it's all edited and polished I feel that it's up to the standards that I was aiming for. So, if you want, give it a reread! There's some new information and some that was taken out, so keep an eye out for it!

As always, I can't wait to post the next chapter, and I hope you all are enjoying the fic as much as I am. <3

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Tue Sep 06, 2016 1:34 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Hey guys! Little update on the story, been a crazy week and I'm not really in a good mindset right now, but I would like to bring you up to speed with what I've got completed so far.

As far as the newest chapter for the Knights of Argus is concerned, I've got a total of ten pages and counting. I haven't been able to write that much lately, so I'm getting as much done as I can.

In other news, I also got to write a little bit of a Zootopia fanfic and I'm hoping to start that up once I have solid footing here in the KoA world. The goal is to finish this work before I start with another fic, so don't expect me to stop anytime soon. If any one is curious about reading this, the link is right here.

Thank you so much for being patient with me. Now, back to studying!

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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
ATTENTION ALL WHO HAVE READ/ARE READING THIS FIC: This fic is taking an indefinite hiatus until I find the time or the mental energy to start it back up again. I apologize in advance if this angers or upsets anyone, but I can’t focus on two projects at the same time. So, I made the decision to write my other project on Fan Fiction, a Zootopia fic under the name of The Fall. Again, I’m truly sorry that I set this off to the wayside and I hope that I can come back to it In the near future.

This chapter is in its roughest form. It has no editing, has missing parts, no title, and is probably really clunky.

Cheers~


-The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege-
=Chapter 16 - =


FLOOR 35 - RIDGESIDE AMPHITHEATER, PEDALE
January 4th, 2024 - 7:20 PM (AST)


--


“Wow, look at this line! It’s huge!!”

Vivy was standing on the tips of her feet to get a better look at the orderly crowd ahead of them. Even Shadow couldn’t believe that this kind of thing was that popular among players. With the current events going on, he didn’t expect this event to be as popular as he thought. In a game of death, one would think that something as trivial as a concert would strike players as crucial.

Then again, they were in a game of death. Besides the front line players, enjoying the time they had in this world was the only thing players on the lower floors could do besides completing quests and living a ‘normal’ life. Being a VRMMORPG, there isn’t much else to do other than the normal leveling, questing, or dueling that happened daily. If they were forced to remain in this world, and they might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Thinking of ‘last,’ Shadow tapped his foot against the cobblestone flooring. “We should have got here earlier. There’s got to be a hundred people here…”

“Who cares? This concert is gonna be so awesome!”

Her excitement and optimism was confusing to understand. Who could be excited about not having a seat to see the show in the first place? And if they even managed to get a seat, how good would it be? Just as he was about to make his brilliant counterpoint, she looked over the heads of the other players in her stunning blue dress. Any thought he may have had disappeared in that exact moment. She had on this brilliant smile filled with whimsy that even he couldn’t ignore.

It was like she wasn’t even in Aincrad anymore. Whether that was a blessing or a curse was up for debate.

After a few seconds, he took another look at the crowd along with her. It seemed that every player attending this event had on these great outfits that must have cost them an arm and a leg--yet another thing Shadow couldn’t believe players put even a single thought into.

Of all the players present, most were couples. They had their hands and arms locked together in a typical display of affection and had this bubbly personality that somehow managed to irk Shadow in some way. Riddled throughout the couples were groups of three or four, and then the occasional single attendee. Among all of the faces he could see, past all the smiles and giggles they forced out, each and every player had this half grin about them that couldn’t be overlooked.

Well. Looks like you achieved your goal PoH...

“Hey look,” Vivy grinned, pulling him out of his short thought, “they’re letting everyone in!” She let out a high pitched noise that nearly burst the feline’s eardrums and started to pull him by the arm with the line. “I can’t wait! I wonder which of Mozart’s symphonies they managed to crack… Have you ever heard anything by him?”

Her rapid-fire sentences caught him off guard. He grumbled, “I thought Q & A was over when we left the restaurant?”

She stared back at him with a sly grin and a light chuckle.


--


-TWO HOURS EARILER-


“Good luck finding a seat,” Shadow snickered as they walked through the doorway.

The sounds of clattering silverware and glass echoed throughout the dimly lit dining space. If he hadn’t been here before, he would be able to tell that the quality of the food would be superb. It was if every tabletop was perfectly set. Each and every cloth, every plate, and every piece of cutlery had been meticulously cared for with uncanny precision.

Each step made the floorboards creak and moan over the heads of the customers and staff, and food was flying out of the kitchen as fast as they were receiving orders. Just watching the flow of it all was mesmerizing to Shadow to say the least.

Every second or so, a door next to the lobby would open to the kitchen and spew out a waiter or waitress holding a tray of food.

Not bad looking--

“Hello,” a voice to his right announced, prying his attention away from the dining room. His eyes met another human player clad in lightweight black fabrics similar to that of a server. He looked to be around seventeen to eighteen years old as far as he could tell. He had a scruffy beard and long hair that created a ponytail at the back of his head and had a muscularly thin appearance. If it weren’t for his Japanese looks, he would be the spitting image of a classic southern American.

“Table for two?” Vivy gave a nod. With a smile he stepped slowly into the dining area, waving at us to follow. “Right this way.”

Both Shadow and Vivy complied with the waiter and maneuvered through the aisles. They passed by several large six player tables and smaller two to four player tables pushed against the wall, all of which were filled to capacity. Out of all the spots he could see, in the back of the room was a table sitting close to an architectural pocket in the space. What made him notice was the clear lack of any players. The silverware and cloths were not even touched. If he had to guess, this was where he was taking the two of them.

“Busy day for you guys?” His companion spoke up.

The waiter chuckled, “You wouldn’t believe it. We’ve been working our butts off for the last hour or so trying to get used to this rush. We haven’t had a crowd like this before.”

“Really?”

“Sounds like you should have expected it.” Shadow grumbled.

“I know,” he agreed with a smile as he sat them down in the exact spot Shadow pointed out, “I told them that this would happen, even with what’s going on with Aincrad. But, you live and you learn, right?”

He dropped two menus in front of both Vivy and Flash, and returned another smile.

“I’ll let you two look through our menu. In the meantime, I’ll get you some tea.”

The server scurried off towards the front of the building and inside the kitchen. Flash picked up his leather bound menu and began to analyze what he would eat for the evening.

On their menu were several different kinds of noodle recipes that he couldn’t even pronounce, and other miscellaneous types of fish and meat that he could at the very least recognize. They even served ‘Boar Stew’ of all things, a favorite from the earlier floors. The last time he was here he had some kind of fish and noodles that were extraordinarily great, but didn’t exactly meet his certain expectations. Perhaps now would be the perfect time to see how ‘Cliffside,’ squared up.

As fast as he had the list in front of him, it was placed back down on the table. Across the table, Vivy was hard at work trying to decipher the menu she had in front of her. Just looking at the dedication in her face just made her look ridiculous in a way. As soon as the thought crossed his mind her eyes shot up at him for a split second. His body got tense for a few moments and quickly turned his glance towards the scenery outside in hopes of not sparking some unnecessary conversation.

The first thing he could notice clearly was the amphitheater and the few groups of people standing in front of it. He felt his fingers tapping away at his leg. The time in the upper left-hand corner of his HUD showed a time of six o’clock. Further along the path were various buildings and décor such as trees and benches that filled the town’s community district with life.

His sight scanned the perimeter of the square, looking at the quarter wall gardens that surrounded the park.

“That took no time for you.” Vivy snickered, the cat’s concentration taken once more. Plastered on her muzzle was an incredibly sly grin, Flash waited for the inevitable cheeky remark. “Since you’ve been here before, surely you can tell me what’s good around here.”

“I couldn’t tell you,” he shrugged. He stared back out toward the square. “The only time I ate here was when I visited this town for the first time.”

“Well, You’re no help.” A couple of laughs broke up her next question. “Can you at least tell me what you’re having? You know, to make it easier?”

Before he could answer, their waiter reappeared in front of their table, now with a gorgeous metal tray that held a clear glass kettle and two ceramic tea cups.

“Alright, you two,” he started as he put the tray down onto the table. He placed the two cups down in front of them and poured their first glass of green tea. “Here you go.” Flash noticed the man’s eyes stare down at his menu and the one in Vivy’s paws. “Are you guys ready to order, or do you want to wait another minute?”

“Er…”

She looked down at her leather bound parchment. With the question wavering and the server waiting, Shadow took it upon himself to reply as he refused to wait any longer.

“We’re fine.”

“Alright then,” he wavered. Both his pointer and middle finger swiped down at the air and navigated his menu screen to his messages. “What will you two be having this evening?”

“The Boar Stew.”

The server’s eyes lit up like a light bulb. “Ah, great choice. One of my favorites out of our entire selection, to be honest. Can’t go wrong with an Aincrad Classic.”

“Indeed.”

A sigh escaped his lips. He entered in the item in his text window. “Two orders of our Boar Stew?”

Shadow nodded.

With a smile his menu interface disappeared and took both the menus and the tray back into his arms. “Well, flag me down at any time if you need anything.”

“Thank you.”

After a bow he left both Vivy and Shadow alone to their tea. He was the first to take a sip, bringing both the cup and plate up to his muzzle. The tea had a refreshing flavor of mint and felt incredibly soothing to drink. He looked down at the liquid sloshing around in the cup.

From what he knew about the cooking skill and just cooking in general in SAO, it was as ordinary as any other RPG. The player obtains ingredients from killing monsters and collecting various items from flora and wildlife, then attempts to learn recipes through books, NPCs, and trying out different combinations of ingredients. Flash had never put any effort nor time into the cooking skill of SAO--and had no intention of ever doing so--because of the sheer amount of dedication one would have to have. He was ultimately a frontline player. What he accomplished at the end of the day was another step towards escaping this world for good.

Vivy picked up both her plate and cup, bringing the drink up to her mouth. Her eyes were shut as she sipped at the drink. As soon as she stopped, her voice touched both of his eardrums.

“Thanks, I guess.” She spoke softly, keeping her smile.

She set the drink back down on the table and looked at it with a strange look. It was like she was deep in thought. Instead of answering with a ‘you’re welcome,’ Flash instinctively looked outside the window, thinking that she wouldn’t want to be disturbed.

Outside was the same old setting. There was the theatre, the square and the various light posts that shone in the night. The line outside the venue for the concert was steadily growing larger by the minute, and there was a fifty minute gap between then and when the concert was set to start. He only wished that the meal would go quickly so that they wouldn’t have to wait to get in.

A gust of wind blew through the town. The bushes and flora rustled inside the walls surrounding the park and the light poles gently swayed back and forth. The whole scene felt soothing in a way.

“Hey, Shadow,” his companion finally called out. When he looked back, she looked different. On her face wasn’t the bright and perky version that plagued him since the boat ride. This version was the other side of her; the calm collected look of a leader or even a detective. She looked serious.

“Remember what I said back on the boat, when I said that I wanted to get to know you?”

Immediately he could feel his paws and body tense up. Of all the places that they could have had a conversation, this conversation, it had to be in a place where she’d have the upper hand. She could easily cause a scene if he were to refuse, probably resulting in yelling or fighting that would stir the minds of everyone in the restaurant. In normal circumstances it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as far as altercations go, but with the murder guild right up his tail and his mission still in full swing, being known was a no-no for obvious reasons.

But there was another issue entirely that he would have to take into account. What exactly would she ask and what would he tell her? On a personal level, there were some topics and information that were absolutely off of the table. How deep would she delve into his personal life?

He rested his back on the wooden chair and crossed his arms and legs. She had chosen the perfect time and the perfect place to start picking away at him, and she held all the cards. There was no escape. Another sip of tea entered his system.

Well played.

“Yes,” an answer finally came.

“Even though I know you, I still feel like we haven’t really had the chance to get know each other at all. In fact, I don’t think anyone knows you at all, really.”

“Perhaps it was intentional?” He nipped.

“Perhaps,” she countered, sensing his sass, “but considering that we’ve spent years together without even the slightest ‘hello,’ you start to wonder.”

Her golden paws grasped the cup and leaned forward on the table.

“The first time I saw you I didn’t know what to think. You looked so secluded… so… alone. I didn’t even get your name until I asked around for it.”

“If you’re trying to make a point, could you skip the fluff and make it?”

“…The point is… I just simply want to get to know you. If we’re in the same guild, and practically family considering our background, I think we could at least be acquaintances.”

“……”

He picked up his own teacup, looking inside to find that his drink was nearly gone. The pitcher sitting in the middle of the table was finally able to be useful. The feline poured himself another cup.

“What exactly do you know about me?” he pondered quietly.

Her head gave a slight tilt as she adjusted her ears. “Excuse me?”

An uncontrollable urge to giggle put a smile on his muzzle. She looked ridiculous. He set the pitcher down and leaned his arms against the table then repeated the question louder. “What do you know about me?”

“Oh…” She said, understanding his question. A smile of her own crept on her muzzle. “Well, knocking the obvious out of the way, you’re the fastest player in the guild! Your favorite weapon is that steel dagger you carry around all the time, and you tend to clear and grind for levels on your own.”

He took a swig of his mint tea. Everything she listed was pretty much well known among everyone in the guild at this point in the game, so it was no surprise at all that these were the first things she would remember.

“Speaking of ‘on your own,’ and pardon me for saying this, but I don’t think you’re really that close to anyone either. Other than the ‘Five’ and the guild, you don’t really interact with other players.” She looked at him curiously as he took another drink. “Now that I think about it, when my parents talked with your family, even they were pretty distant when you came up.”

Flash nearly choked on his minty beverage at the mention of ‘his family.’ Of all the things she could list, that single detail entered the fray. He tried to play it off as nothing, but he was almost certain that she was able to catch it simply by the way she smirked at him.

“Very interesting…”

This conversation was treading into very treacherous waters. The last thing he wanted was to look back into the darker points in his life, especially with someone he didn’t even consider to be an acquaintance.

“Do me a favor and keep my family’s business out of our conversation.”

“Okay……” She said innocently, “I’m sorry. It just seems weird to me, you know? It’s like they’re trying to hide--”

“I said drop it.”

This time he was near the point of yelling. A couple heads were focused on their location, any more noise could draw more attention to them. She crossed her arms.

“You’re not making a good case either, Shadow.”

He had enough. It was time to nip this topic in the bud.

“Stop!” He nearly screamed. Both of his paws were clenched into tight fists. He could feel the parts of his palm starting to numb as his nailed dug into his avatar’s skin.

“Shadow…” she began lightly, “I didn’t--”

“No, no. I get it. You want to get to know me! Everything’s on the table right? Well since you want to know more about me so bad, I’ll give you the scoop.”

Their gazes locked onto one another. Shadow’s lips began to move on their own.

“I think that every single one of you are all weak, spineless, idiots who can’t even fathom what kind of situation they’re in. In case you’ve forgotten, we’re inside a video game where death is an actual threat. We don’t have the luxury of worrying about relationships, or stupid trivial skills. This is a game where survival is the top priority. Only the strongest players will be able to beat this game. These… weak players will only slow the strong down.”

His leaned backward into his chair. “We should be on the frontlines right now. We should be working to clear the dungeon and defeat the boss like the other guilds, but no. We’re stuck here of all places. You can make the case that our ‘numbers need improvement’ all you want, but It won’t change the fact that whoever we pick up will be just the same as the rest of these buffoons; weak and foolish. They will only get in the way, even die if it come down to it.”

When he finished, he waited for that quick witty joke or her bubbly laugh that fanned the flames of his anger even further. He could feel his blood pressure sky rocketing. However, she remained silent. Soon five seconds passed. Then ten. He started to get curious.

Is she lagging or something?

He finally looked back at the canine to find that she was staring out the window as he was before. Only this time, she adorned an uncomfortably blank expression. A small part of him was tempted to say something to bring her back to reality.

Then, she began to speak in a low monotone.

“Do you think that these players deserve death?”

This out of the blue question stuck with Flash for a moment, but was able to provide a simple reply.

“Only if they didn’t fully understand or accept the risks of playing this game. As I said before, we’re in a video game where death is a common concern. If you can’t accept the risks that come with it, then you might as well stay in the Town of Beginnings.”

A breeze rustled the grass and flora outside, drawing his attention as he moved to his next point.

“We can’t take any chances here. Our job as members of the assault team is to evaluate and execute, to strategize and learn. You know how the frontlines operate as well as I do. We can’t take chances. Now with this New Year’s debacle, players on the lower floors can’t take that chance either. They’ll have to keep getting stronger if they want to match this threat, otherwise just hold up in some town until this game’s finally beaten. I guess in that sense Guren picked the best time for recruitment…”

Tea slurped quietly into the feline’s muzzle.

“Regardless, I still think that we shouldn’t be here. We’ve been doing just fine with the players we’ve got. It’s not our problem that this Red Guild whacked the hornets’ nest.”

“So you think that we should just let them do what they want?”

“It’s not our problem,” He repeated.

“Are… are you okay with this… guild… killing people?” She sputtered.

“…I tolerate PVP, if that’s what you’re asking. It was built into this game for a reason, and it’s no surprise that a guild like Laughing Coffin exists. It just presents yet another challenge to overcome. What I don’t tolerate is mercilessly killing players in cold blood. That’s inexcusable and disgraceful. They should have a chance to show their strength in battle at the very least.”

She looked back at him with a rattled look. He leaned back onto the table.

“This game is all about survival, just like the real world. If you want me to feel sorry for the people who’ve died at the hands of other players, you’re talking to the wrong cat. I’ve been surviving my entire life. If others decide to not take this game as serious as they should be…” He shrugged coldly.

“That’s… that’s…” There was a sharp pain in her tone.

“Awful? Horrifying?” He finished for her. “You wouldn’t be the first to call me either. At this point I could probably say I’ve been called everything in the book, and honestly I could care less.If you’re wondering how I ‘got this way,’ just save it. You will never know--or understand--and I will never tell. And speaking of never tell, don’t bring up my family again.”

After he finished speaking, their table became silent. They both sat in their chairs as they drank the remainder of their tea. Neither one of them spoke a peep of dialogue.

“Alright you two,” their waiter finally chimed. The first bowl of stew left the serving tray in his hand and in front of Vivy. “Two Boar Stews. Fresh out of the oven.”

The other bowl of stew made its way to an open area in front of Flash. Warm meaty steam rose up from the thick liquid and through the sensors of his nostrils. If he could judge a dish based on aroma alone, this meal would immediately top anything he’d eaten before in Aincrad.

“I’ll just take this and refill your tea really quick. Enjoy the meal.” He bowed his head and turned tail as quick as he arrived.

Upon their waiter leaving the table, Flash took the napkin sitting comfortably next to his silverware and placed it flat on his lap. He took his spoon into his paw and looked down at his dish. Inside the bowl was a hearty stew, boar meat and diced potato mixed with the local vegetables of this floor. The presentation alone was perfect. He couldn’t wait to dig in.

His spoon hovered over a perfect clump of stew…

“Before we dig in…” he set his spoon back down on the table and looked up. “I didn’t mean to be so pushy. I meant to say that before you went on your little tangent, but I felt it wouldn’t really do any good at that point.”

“If you’re looking for an apology--”

She shook her head. “No, no. I’m not. Honestly, you were totally justified. I shouldn’t have pushed it, it was rude. I’m sorry.”

He was caught off guard. Of all the things that he didn’t expect her to say, an apology was the last thing on his list after that rant.

“Thank you.”

He picked up his spoon again and scooped himself a nice bite of stew. He analyzed it for a brief moment, then took his first taste of the reiterated Aincrad Classic. A satisfied Mmm silently put him back at ease as his taste buds went wild. Was it the savory meat, or the richness of the thick sauce? Whatever the cooks did, Shadow was glad to have ordered it.

“So, I guess Q and A is over then?”

Her voice filled the air, pulling him out of his trance and back to their topic. He finally swallowed his food.

“Only if you stray into things you shouldn’t be.”

She grinned. “…I didn’t hear a yes.”

Flash rolled his eyes at her singsong voice and continued to eat. Her emotional distraught seemed to vanish in mere seconds. Her own first bite entered her muzzle.

“Woah,” she beamed, “this food is amazing!”

(Insert more content and conversation here, apologies)

“We’d like to thank you for attending the concert tonight, and we hope you enjoyed Mozart’s fifth symphony.”

The man turned his head to what was on everyone’s mind, the empty chair in the violin section. He looked into its emptiness for a moment with a dark expression.

“As you may have noticed, our first chair violinist is not here with us tonight.” A sharp breath and a voice crack accompanied what was about to come next. “Unfortunately, A few nights ago, she and her party were ambushed by the guild of ‘red-players’ that’s cause quite a stir as of late--Laughing Coffin.” He faced the crowd once again. “To honor Oliva’s memory, our last piece is dedicated to her and her guild. Our pianist, Xaid will be performing this song as a solo piece. Enjoy.”

“Wait…” Vivy whispered, “The newspaper said that this was a duet…” She grabbed his arm. Her eyes went wide. “She must’ve been the other half of the song! Oh god…”

The presenter left the stage. Silence filled the auditorium. The orchestra stayed in their seats and waited along with the audience for the final movement of the night. All eyes were on the soul sitting behind the shining grand piano. His back was hunched. His hands were resting on his wooden bench. More apparent was the fact that his head was downcast, his face just a mere foot away from the black and white keys.

A big inhale entered his body and fixed his poor posture, then let out a calm exhale. His hands left the bench and hovered over the keys of the piano. The crowd waited.

A low bass note filled the auditorium, gradually getting higher in pitch, then settling into a mysterious minor.

Then the defining chord.

Vivy’s shoulders shot up. Her paw on tip of her muzzle. The song’s name quietly finally came to fruition.

“Liebeslied…” she whispered weakly. Loves Sorrow…

A couple of the orchestra members shut their eyes. Some had tears streaking down their face. The pianist kept playing, a light, yet dark progression moving the song further.

The song then picked up the pace. Notes were flying everywhere, and the man’s fingers were flying across the keys effortlessly. Sounds were bouncing in every direction, it was like a musical bomb went off.

Then, as his long hair moved away from his face, he could see one interesting detail.

His eyes were closed.

Every strike of the keys shook the very air around them, blessing the listener with what seemed to very well be his entire soul.

Almost suddenly the piece came to a very lighter tone. The tempo slow, and a more loving sound. There was no doubt that this player was absolutely gifted at playing. At that moment, that piece was his, and he had every intention of showing it. Though, whom it was meant for was entirely different. It was obvious. This piece was for his partner, the violinist who would never get to hear or play that final piece.

The song finally slowed down entirely. Notes were repeating themselves like a heartbeat. It sounded alive, but barely. It started getting louder, and louder, and louder. The climax.

Then something miraculous blessed the air.

A loud and lovey tone of another instrument joined in with the lonely piano. A member of the orchestra was standing tall, her ponytailed hair swaying back and forth as tears fell from her face. Both of her eyes were shut tight, and her bow making the violin in her arms ring with pure joy.

She turned to him as the song started to pick up speed, then looked at each other with kind eyes. With each and every entry, every transition, every beat flowed through them both. It was if they weren’t even in Aincrad anymore.

They shared a brief smile as she plucked away at the violin. At last, pure joy amidst all the pain in the air. Members of the orchestra smiled back at the two of them. Tears were still streaming down their faces.

Flash felt warm… the sweet sounds of the violin, and the tenderness of the piano… a feeling he hadn’t felt… in…

Years…

You didn’t have to this…

It was the voice. The voice that had evaded him for nearly five years. Her voice.

“Belle…”

Then, slowly, after blessing the crowd with their strange and powerful duet the notes and tone started to dwindle. Soon enough, the violin’s pitch began to soften, a low hum resonating from the wooden string instrument.

It was only the piano now. The girl sat back down, setting her instrument down on her lap as she began to weakly and silently sob. Others were beginning to comfort her.

The male sitting and playing on the large grand piano wasn’t fairing much better as his playing started to become louder. His own tears were falling onto the keys of the piano. Soon enough his hands were flying across the keyboard once again. It was as if the song had demanded for its other half to return, to finish what she had started, begging, pleading.

But, that moment would never arrive.

The song faded into nothing.

No…. please… don’t go… I can’t lose you too…

A few of the same chord played again. Notes scurried upward and downward in pitch. A loud and final chord hit the audience like a wall.

The end of the song had finally come.

Silence.

Drip… Drip…

“Flash?”

The sound of his name startled him at first. He slowly brought Tsunade’s face into view. It was vaguely blurry, and he could barely bring himself to move. His face felt like a furnace. She wasn’t crying, but he could still see the glossiness in her sad and confused expression.

Drip…

Something fell on him. He looked down at his exposed arm. A part of his arm was wet. He slowly put the pieces of the puzzle back together. He was shaking. ’I’m…’ Another droplet of water fell from his face onto his lap.

’Crying…’


TO BE CONTINUED?

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Last edited by D3ath_0ps on Tue Mar 14, 2017 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Mar 14, 2017 7:08 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
I tried working on two different story lines once, and i couldn't quite focus on the second one. Well at least this gives me time to catch up before you come back.

Hope all goes well with that second Fic of yours

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Tue Mar 14, 2017 7:46 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Sometimes things happen that keep you from your work. Understandable. Good luck sorting it out.

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Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:31 pm
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Noooooo! You're not allowed to leave me hanging on such a beautiful note! :cry:
Hope your other fic goes well. We'll miss this one, but if you ever do get the inspiration to finish it, let us know :D

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Mon Mar 20, 2017 3:36 am
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Post Re: The Knights of Argus - A Game Under Siege [HP/SAO]
Shame this never got finished. It was a good read though, and I miss it and the author ;w;

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Wed Aug 23, 2017 7:02 am
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