Officially, magic was a forbidden component of Sword Art. Magical skills, item stats, criticals, and ability leveling may have elements beyond the typical diagnostic expertise of the players. Yet, enchanted items, durability, and other components of the material realm of Sword Art have mechanics of randomness, high-level crafting, beyond the scope the typical player will invest into the game. Additionally, defensive and offensive techniques also have randomness and executional nuance beyond the scope of most players’ level of interest. The code of the game actively encourages this obfuscation to provide a simple experience for the players, and even goes so far as to encode a level of instinct that Kirito granted Cline in the West Field. The user interface and neurological link was indeed part of harnessing full potential in the battlefield, involving physical, mental, and psychological nuances. The West Field had reminded him of other MMO’s he had played online; a pointless grind for experience and loot, almost deliberately trivial in comparison to the dungeons and party mechanics. Sure the social components of the game were important, but you never know who’s going to fail to support your flank and ensure survival. Since Kirito was a solo player, it had always seemed easier to grind in the fields so he had something to bring to the table when he actually joined a party.
His failure to form a friendship with Cline, or the way events transpired in the dungeon… were onerous reminders of his solo tendencies, and failures of teamplay. The summoning in the town center had made the situtation much more grave, with the loss of 213 souls of other gamers. The game design encourages players to take risky adventures into the dungeons early, to clear the best loot, hoarde information, and form allegiances, benevolent… or otherwise. Without the benefit of the respawn mechanism, the level of seriousness of the game escalated from a passtime he would devote nearly no seriousness or effort, to one of such grave importance, he could take no commrade for granted, no matter their intentions, experience, or build type. Instead of his normal warrior build, and cautionless style, he would need to be much more calculated about preserving his own life, honing his skills, and being there to decide what to do amongst allies and enemies alike.
He was approaching the game with anger, but his heart was dripping fear through his veins more than any proper basis for anger. The betrayal of Akihiko was almost trivial in contrast to the other more permanent flaws, self-destructive tendencies, and issues he was displaying in his gameplay. A strong denial is the only predictable response when confronted with a grave situation. His quick progression to the first village had reeked of his desire to be ahead when he was needed and his rejection of teamplay. It had always been his style in the virtual world, but was it strong for his spirit? He would need a more calculated approach this time, clarity of spirit and of intinct to identify and fight his real enemies. The biggest risk was not always the enemies, but the self… and the other players.
On December 2nd, 2022, everything had changed. The meeting with Diabel had at first seemed like an appeal to spirit and courage, instructing the amphitheater to communicate to the more cautious players stuck in the Town of Beginnins to quest and progress towards the second level. In hindsight, had he been saying something different? Was the meeting’s purpose to tell everyone how easy the first level is? Or to encourage caution in those that had not even left the first town? He had taken a risk asking Asuna to join his party in the first place, another solo player without courage or instinct for social behavior, or an understanding of how weak their party would be, should they make it to the boss room. She had accepted his invitation with hesitation, and that was perhaps the only redeeming quality he had seen in her at that time. Her hooded cloak and serious attitude made him recoil for reasons he couldn’t quite tell. He would have preferred to partner with Cline, had he been able to make it there, but he wasn’t looking to babysit anyways.
Asuna had said she wanted to keep sight of who she is, that she would rather be out fighting a fight as who she is than locked in a room at the town of beginnings. Was she seeking her death? Or by honing her skills, making the bargain? Either way she was a liability and a risk at that point… he just stuck with her because she was being honest. Behavior he admired, even if he couldn’t imitate it very well. It was the first time she had been in a party, afterall. “I wouldn’t want a party member dying on me… so try not to die tomorrow.” He didn’t plan on seeing that solo player ever again. Afterall, she would find a guild and make friends, just like he had. It was right for the two of them to part ways and integrate independently.
Kirito stood at the entrace to the magic guild in Tolbana. The entrace was a large curved oaken door, splintering and old, with one or two runes carved into the 3rd panel. The handle was cast iron and remarkably heavy. Above the door was a sign jutting from the building with a picture of a jester on it being transmuted into something else. The sign read ‘magicka’ in plain olde typeface. As Kirito placed his fist firmly around the handle, he imagined the wares, accessories, and expertise of the mages sitting inside. Some were likely NPCs designed to demonstrate the maximum abilities possible for mage/’mancer builds while other were likely already hoarding expertise, equipment, and rare magics inside.
After the calamitous introduction to their situtation, it was clear that they only had a very short time before everyone would begin questing and dying in-game. His party would be counting on him to have a strong command of magics, both offensive and defensive. Most players find the magic system incredibly intuitive and don’t stress about the nuance of mana/mp, cooldowns, and memorizing spell synergies for timely casting. In a battle, casting time differences of mere milliseconds can mean the difference between life and death. Mastery of the system and the defensive/offensive dichotomy… should be simple, right? After all, it was just a location in the UI to memorize.
With some effort from his thumb, grimacing slightly, the door opened inwards, revealing a dimly lit amphitheater of maybe 3 feet down beyond the entrance lined with cloak racks and literature. As he stepped down into the amphitheater towards the reception, he imagined the mages demonstrating other nuances of spell casting in doors, recoiling at the thought of beginner mages practicing control of their fireballs before letting them release and disappear properly. One mistake and too much energy could mean the amphitheater’s observes could be scortched heavily. He approached the reception area on the other side of the first level of the 3-story corner slice of this block, hiding entrance to a vast library on the first floor and trap-door to a cellar beneath. An old hag lay waiting over a tome at the desk, bubble protruding from her nose. Was he the first inexperienced that had entered the guild today? Placing his palms gently on the 4 feet tall maple desk, he pressed down lightly and closed his eyes, summoning a gentle breeze to tickle the grey hairs falling over her ears, hoping to stir her gently awake.
Instead his targeting was quite off and managed to rattle the candleholder next to her. Surprised, and struggling to readjust his aim, he managed to blow out the only candle in this section of the foyer. She did not stir. Readjusting again, he manage this time to blow her entirely off her chair, the rattle of pages of the tome in front of her gentle enough to keep the book in tact. The old lady continued to sleep.
“Ma’am?” he spoke gently. In a flash she was up, yelling in a liquid, willowy tongue he was not familiar with, resetting her chair and closing the tome. Embarassed, Kirito decided to avoid his first instinct to light the candle again, of fear that he would torch the library and its elderly keeper, bringing gendarmes from the constabulary and studious high-level mages from the floors above. After a minute or so of struggling to right herself, the candle flickered slowly to life, sputtering and crackling so gently as the cooling wick was brought up to temperature, feeding oils to the flame hovering just above the dripping wax. Her appearance had changed from a decrepid old witch to a boisterous middle-age lady, plump and round and donning a witch hat, chin turned proudly upwards, eyes looking down over her long nose towards him. Was she smiling or frowning at him? Her purple dress was billowy and curved, a charcoal shawl hanging over her shoulders inscribed end-to-end with runes, and a silver belt-buckle in the middle of her black and purple ensemble.
“Welcome to the guild of magiks,” she said, half-heartedly. She began introducing herself as the mage Yasmeen, caretaker of the guild’s entrance and educator of young NPC seeking to learn magics for their families and modest medieval technology. “Magic is more than just toolks of convenience and automation,” she said, “it’s an ancient art practiced since the dawn of time by animals and men alike. More recently it has become a respected profession and the principle goal of this guild is to protect and maintain its knowledge, not to pass it on to youngsters.” Kirito blushed mildly and his eyebrows dipped slightly. “Behind you is our amphitheater, where the youngest of this town come to sit patiently and learn simple, trivial magics handling water, fire, and air. Telekinesis is stricly reserved for the 10+ age group, and the next non-arcane magic learned is telepathy at the age of 25. You may feel that you know the magics of this realm because you spawned as an 18 year old, but you do not have the experience of the youngsters that can simply and gently conjour flame for the candle on this desk.”
Kirito began reciting his quest and within milliseconds her mind was elsewhere, finding her comrades and the time of day, thinking about her lesson plan, and completely ignoring the arrogant boy stirring her from her tasks. He paused mid-sentence for her to refocus on him. Slowly her eyes drifted down over her considerable schnoz over his jet-black hair and towards his fair-skinned face and coddled, handsome appearance. After a pause, his eyes drifted downards, muttering “if you had to guess my level of skill and what remedies or equipment…” she interrupted “12-year olds, but I’d have you sit in with 9 year old given your aim.” His eyes widened quickly and she immediately returned to the clattering above of staves and staffs, moving and whirring with the practice of intermediate magics, as his mouth flung wide and she simply tuned him out. Eventually he simply closed his mouth and asked about guild enrollment, dues, and she simply “40 cor a day for our magik school, and 10,000 cor per annum for guild dues, with no guarantee of mastery fo your desired magics, just the mentorship and ecosystem of the mages.” His eyes widened again, this time keeping his mouth firmly sealed.
A coldness and emptiness grew in his chest, confronted with the cost of learning something… intellectual, powerful. Feeling like he would never be understood by this woman and the mages. They make the art look so incredibly easy. He’d have to grind for hours in the fields to find enough income for his room and board and the cost of tuition. Suddenly, smacking things on the head with a heavy hammer seemed much much easier, or taking for granted the simplified interface he was used to for casting magics, without the refinement, accuracy, efficiency or purity he would be able to learn from the mages guild. But sitting in with 9-year olds? Really? Was she being sarcastic? Surely his magical accuracy and mana efficiencies weren’t that awful.
“It takes many years to master the art of harnessing spiritual energy, Kirito,” she said. “This is why our guild exists, to protect the modern state-of-the-art craft that magic has become. Plenty of questing parties and companies have need for mages and will pay top dollar for experienced ones.” The pit of his stomach spasmed, as he realized how steep the investment would be. Frankly fierce and violent behavior had always been much much easier for him to do than to invest so heavily into a mature discipline. It got him so far in the demo, why was it seeming like less of a viable option now? Is there survivorship bias in the warriors who are able to just invest in some simple equipment? Their physical training doesn’t seem more excessive than most, at least in his party, the Moonlit Black Cats. Or maybe it is just his ignorance of their training, financial struggles, and desired build.
Was this really the best option for his current perspective, or what he wanted to show others about himself? Or was this just the first option that seemed reasonable? Yasmeen had blinked several times, then adjusted some things on her desk before mumbling something about boys and how they’ll feel better around peers. With a deep gulp of air and a stubbornness in his mind, he announced “I’ll need some time to consider the guild, collect finances, and consult with my party.” She rolled her eyes as he bowed to her, flipping through the pages of her tome telekinetically before pulling her chair into place and sitting, arms folded on top of her belt buckle.
He stepped backwards slowly, and proceeded through the amphitheater towards the large oaken door. Effortlessly, it swung open before him. A brief pause and a glance over his shoulder before he adjusted his eyes from the dim light of the candleabras to the blinding summer heat, seagulls, and pace of the side street outside of the market district. He thought he could find his way back if need be, but perhaps this wasn’t the only option for him. Regardless of the type of training he would invest in to, he decided to set off for the inn for a nap before leaving for dinner at the tavern with the party.
Yasmeen’s eyes held at the door as he set foot out into he clamor of the street, closing the door with a little more force than she normally would do, her frown relaxing slightly as she did, resuming her reading of the empathic telepathy text… or was is telepathic empathy? She was happy she had turned around another would-be-mage so eager in his quest for power, without respect for the forces at work subverting her field, bastardizing its more profound conclusions, and the little monsters pulling time away from the guild’s top consultants. After all, she had a library to tend to, secrets to keep, and a sick partner to care for. She let it out of her mind as she resumed her own studies, forgeting, even for a moment, the long road she had gone down and how it had changed her from the young woman she was before.
The Black Cats were out of contact with each other that day. Kirito left a message on the board outside the tavern, hoping one of them would stumble by it this afternoon.
M00ndoods I visited the guild today, can't believe the tuition cost. I need a moment to think, so I'm taking the afternoon off from raiding to try to reflect on my build. My equipment is halfway there for some basic dungeons, but I don't think I should jump in yet. I might have to put off level one for a few more months to gather resources and begin training. At this point I'm not even sure of what support magics I could even offer you guys. How can I predict what spells would be useful if I don't even know all of the available techniques to begin with? Maybe I should just join the gym like Keita and train to be a paladin. Why would we need such strong healing if we have great armor and defense, right? - X_TheRealKiri_X
This was the first time he had voiced doubts to his group, or seemed shaken. After all he was a level 40 playing with newer players. Maybe he would feel more confident for their stories and trivia if he had some R&R. He decided to pick up some froglegs on the way back to the inn, and he ate them slowly, the cramps in his stomach still subsiding. He lay down in the cool room to the sound of seagulls as his eyes closed, forgetting the feelings of confusion and thinking instead of some cartoon he had watched in the waking world.
As his mind faded from consciousness, he recalled how he had reitemized a short stocky melee character in another microrpg. This macrorpg style gave him considerable anxiety about how his choices would affect the success or defeat of his group. He recalled the first time he prioritized magic immunity and attack speed with the character’s considerably high armor… movement speed had always been an issue. He felt fast for his age but had always despised his physique and very modest muscularity. Should he prioritize agility or strength for physical survivability? How would that change if he did choose an intelligence build. Teamfight or support spells? Mana efficiency? And what about the equipment?
In another world, that girl he had raided the dungeon with… Asuna was it? … was off on her own, leveling and fighting. He hoped she had found a guild or a reliable teammate. He wondered how he could send a message to her briefly as he drifted out of his body, beyond his clothing, beyond his appearance, and into an ocean of aether, where he lay suspended collected and confined by the user interface of his subconscious, the very thing that would spell his success or the doom of his allies, depending on how he approached that friendship. The thing that needs the most re-specing is often the most ingrained part of our behavior, but in that ocean it felt familiar, recursive, and accepting.
He awoke to a knock on his door, a short woman in a long gown with a candle. The sky had turned a darker royal blue as the daylight waned. His eyes drifted from the window to the gentle smiling hostess at his door, asking if she could fetch information for him about local dinner accomodations. His savings from the beta could stretch him so far, but not enough to keep the rent and make tuition. He decided to ask her about her business at the inn, and if she was aware of any part time work in the area that she could connect him to. His savings were sitting idle, and he’d need to find a way to invest in something directly to make the most use of it.
She mumbled something about keeping the noise down and his room neat, but mentioned there was a restaurant on this street that she has a good relationship with, looking for help. Kirito rose from his bed, donned his cloak, and approached the woman slowly before handing her a week’s rent with a smile. He would need more time to find more permanent accomodations and time to earn money for tuition and his info-broker. He decided to go out for a walk in the town, stopping at a tavern to pre-game. The night was cool with 2 lamps lit per block. In the alleyway the light bounced across clean cobblestones where a cast iron lantern hung from the brick face on that side of the block.
A wooden door with a plain handle let patrons flow freely to and from the tavern. He opened the door, eyes turned down towards the floor as the noise of the fiddle and the mumbling of patrons tickled his ears. He was comin here to regain his composure, to rest his attitude from the ledge of anxiety he had left it on. Weaving between round tabletops, he approached the modest bar, rimmed with moulding and shiny with the rag the barkeep used to polish it. The walls were an eggshell color that looked much more yellow and red in the candlelight, with 4x4 support struts scattered throughout the tavern. A lone chandelier spread light and the smell of oil through the bar. The barkeep was a man in his late 20s, overalls, no facial hair, trim, and smiling. He was serving patrons, mostly men, passing them ales from the tap or pricey bottles of wine imported from the countryside. The bar smelled faintly of pipe tobacco and body odor, but the bubbly freshness of beer hung heavier in the air, and the smell was quite pleasant. He approached the barkeep, sat on a stool and wondered what he should choose. There were 3 beers on tap and many bottles of wine to choose from. He picked the amber ale and took a sip, the bubbles restorative and pleasing his his nose.
Thanking the barkeep, he began asking about the area, the economy, and the government duties. The barkeep admitted it wasnt normal pubfare, but kindly let him know what he wished before mentioning he should join a group and talk about something else. With another thank you, he turned with his back to the bar, arms up on the countertop. He grinned a bit, the people happy and boisterous, friends laughing and connecting, a shy couple on a date, a few friends playing a mild card game in the corner. He sipped his ale briefly and noticed his stomach was getting there. He took another sip and decided to sit down with the people playing the card game.
“Hi, whatcha playing?” It’s poker they insisted. Were they NPCs? “We’re normal questers. Wanna play?” He had some time to kill before his friends return from their travels and want some food. He announced he should watch instead of playing, he was familiar with the rules of the game… “what are you playing for”. “For money,” they replied. Gambling was not something he was familiar with or understood well enough to feel confident partaking in. He had always… found relief in playing games, and when he was younger there were no stakes. Games are something to waste time, not understanding the social nuance and graces of sport, at his age. He would need to be less revealing, in the wake of how the group had turned on him after Diabel’s death. Watching them play, stoic and silent, he decided the environment was too dull and dark. After the second game, he thanked them for letting him spectate, finished his ale, and headed for the Pavillion.
Walking towards the inn, he felt more anxious than he had ever felt. He couldn’t let it turn bad like it had gone down before. The path to mastery was incredibly steep, and even at his level, it didn’t seem like he would have what it takes to generate any significant amount of spell control or purity. He shuddered at the thought of a well timed barrier or a decent healing to protect one of his teammates. His arrogance hadn’t made him any headway in the past, and what’s worse, he didn’t have a strong connection to any of them at this point. They seemed… expendable, artifical. His afternoon nap had brought back a dream of home, his youth, his friends, and the fun he had found making progress in his training. Afterall, he had been a disruptive child and it had never made any sense that he should actively try to remember the positive in himself. It was a new behavior to start recalling some of those things. He didn’t like it.
As he entered, the coldness didn’t leave his body. The anxiety, fear, and distaste lingered around, heavy like a cloak. They were all there… his friends. Laughing, joking with each other about their day, a day he had not shared with them. He approached cautiously, without a smile, and sat quietly. To his dismay, they cheered and waved, asking him to share. He mustered a smile and a wave, but refused to launch right in to it. He waited for a lull, and turned to Tetsuo. He dared not talk to Sachi, the young and impressionable girl, surrounded by good commrades. He wasn’t that type of guy who could give her the brotherhood she deserved. He began telling Tetsuo about his encounter with Yasmeen at the inn. Thankfully, the conversation remained between the two of them. He was able to be a little more direct and honest about his goal. Instead of talking about his anxiety or confusion, he opted instead for a frank discussion of the benefits of rounding out his role for the team. Tetsuo cut him off there and insisted that they turn the discussion to merriment and leave business for another time. He smiled in relief… was he that transparent?
They talked about a loose stone in the road that Sachi had tripped over and scuffed her knees. He didn’t find it an amusing anecdote. Guess he must have been there for it to seem funny. Keita praisd the team on defeating the enemies and working together, and the beasts that they fought had seemed fierce. He actually listened to them talk about item repairs they needed, gentle asides that he hadn’t noticed before. The team laughed at Ducker, grabbing a pint from a nearby table in between stories. Kirito smiled a little at this, and decided to fetch himself one at the bar. The barkeep asked what she could get for him, and remarked how she liked his cloak. He hadn’t changed into a more neutral appearance since he had left the floor 1 boss. He thanked the keep and decided for a moment to chat her up. She had smiled when she was serving him, but looked quite busy when she turned. “Is it normally this busy?” he remarked. “Yeah, more so since the next levels have been opened up. Folks are starting to progress into this town and it feels much safer with more people around.” He wondered for a moment if the Laughing Coffin and other guilds had made their way through previously. “I’m glad business is good, at least,” he remarked before turning. He left her a modest tip and turned towards the table. “Enjoy yourself,” she muttered as he left the bar. He paused, turned his eyes down briefly, and blinked several times before approaching his friends once more.
Reminding himself he should be having fun, he decided to relax. Sipping his beer, the first story passed by in a blur. He wasn’t putting in much effort, and he knew that was aggravating the group. As the exchaned remarks about each other’s clothing, he decided to make a playful jab at Sasamaru’s turtle neck being bigger than most bosses they’d fought. He offered a nice laugh in response and returned to the conversation. Kirito smiled, adding that he hadn’t seen so many birds in the city, remarking that they must be picking up a trick or two from Ducker with all the business flowing into the city. They laughed out of courtesy, but the pace of conversation slowed. Tetsuo added that Ducker likes to hide snacks in the folds of his beanie. He didn’t find it funny, but he smiled in response. Kirito mentioned that he’d be able to bring him a buscuit for his journies from breakfast at the inn. Instead of talking about tomorrows plans, Keita replied that they needed a day to resupply in town and Kirito should join them to walk about town. Kirito’s eyes zoned off, imagining what it would be like to join the group, strolling about town, enjoying lunch together, and maybe not feeling so afraid to make plans with them in the future.
He mouthed to Sachi “are your knees okay?” She smiled quickly, eyes closed, and nodded once. He reminded himself that young girls were such clutzes, at least when they’re surrounded by such decent guys. There it was, the jealousy and bad attitude. How could he shake it? He reminded himself to ask about a topical ointment for her tomorrow. To keep things topical, he decided to mention that his friend Cline had messaged him briefly about a good restaurant in the previous town, if they ever decided to go back and visit, while the group was still thinking about the nice day ahead. Tetsuo added that he would need some medicines and they should visit the apothecary tomorrow. Sasamaru rolled his arms behind his head and wondered out loud what he wanted to eat tomorrow. Ducker was waiting for a specific sandwich shop and seemed to be hoping Sasamaru would mention it. He chuckled at their closeness, and reminded himself that he could be friends to them if he could just spend more time relaxing around them.
He started to feel a buzz going on, and decided he shouldn’t be so shy. He asked if they wanted to hear about the first time he got drunk. He told them he had found a 6 pack in his sisters room back home, and decided to sneak a few off to his room. He’d stayed awake playing video games and calling people buttheads the whole night, and since then he’s realized that his sense of humor was pretty juvenile, and he’s afraid to express himself, flirt, or even talk about his interests when he’s drunk. He’s more of a ‘dare’ guy then a ‘truth’ guy by nature, but he’d rather be a more honest person instead of easily influenced or taken advantage of. That was one of the first honest things he had said to the group. “I realize it’s much harder for people to bring out the good in you than to get you to do something dumb, but I guess I’m just scared of you guys dying out on a quest somewhere not knowing I would have wanted to have your back.” The group stopped for a moment and a few glances were exchanged. “But I’m also pretty arrogant and overconfident so I could use a little bit of shittalking to keep me in check. Thanks.” He sipped his ale again before saying, “I know that’s probably what you wanted to hear, and a little too direct, but it’s what I think I should say about myself since I’m not expressing my interest or feelings of discomfort sitting on the outside like this most of the time.” Ducker stood up, pulled his eyelid down, stuck out his tongue, and went to the bar. Maybe that last sentence had been one sentence too far.
Tetsuo switched seats and began to talk with Kirito while the rest went back to their normal conversation. Kirito blushed a little bit.. had he scared them off? Been too direct? Tetsuo asked him about his previous experiences partying up with people, asking if he had made any enemies or if he had always just been quiet and reserved. “I’m a pretty selfish player, I share loot and everything, but I don’t really feel comfortable enough with most friends online to make it an actual party.” Kirito felt exposed and confused among the silence, a pause as Tetsuo was reading him. “I don’t even want to be in this party that much for fear of disappointing people, or for getting them hurt. I need to just get a job and study on my own for a while.” Tetsuo’s smile faded, “Go on. What do you think this would accomplish?” “I think I can learn how to support myself and pay for the guild I’d like to join. In the past, I’ve always just collected high value loot and fought solo. The last person I was in a dungeon with… died so I could get the high-value item of the last boss. He was struggling to lead a group of people through the floor one boss, and died to an unpredictable move. We trusted each other, and I was fighting low-level enemies to make space for the squad’s fight against the boss. I should have been front-lining against the boss instead of protecting their flanks. Afterwards, a few in the squad blamed for his death… and they were very right about it in a way. He should have never died for my sake or for theirs. If I had been as brave or as skilled as I think I am in this game, I would have been front-lining with him.” Tetsuo listened to Kirito whispering about his unintentional betrayal of Cline. Kirito slowly raised the beer to his lips, eyes thoughts racing about his new obligations to the team. “How am I supposed to contribute to this team, when I don’t have anything beyond sword skills to offer as teamfighting abilities? You haven’t delegated work directly to me and asked what would be… my role. You’ve been patient enough as a leader to let me find my own role, and I think some time away from the team is the best thing for my maturation before I get into the field again.”
Kirito finished his ale, excused himself, and returned the mug to the bar. He had felt confident in being direct, but deceitful because he wasn’t sure that he wanted to pull them closer. He had always thought that their lower levels had bought him some breathing room to express himself… but he had managed to avoid them and behave more like he was shadowing the team than being a fun or dependable teammate. He had managed to fight the will or suggestions of those he had teamed up with before, and paid more attention to what was being asked of him than the mood or attitude of the groups, or the things the leaders were doing to improve morale. He had more to learn, and how far would his own confidence and loner attitude take him towards actually enriching the team instead of lining his own pockets.
He approached the table again, and Tetsuo turned back to the group. The rest of the group seemed to still be in good spirits, and he couldn’t afford to bring the mood down anymore. He decided instead to return to his room and reflect on the fact that he was lucky enough to have a team. He wasn’t listening to his heart anyway, the nervgear was on his head. On his way, he drafted a message to Tetsuo requesting for his leadership to extend towards giving a few more orders in the group. A list of supplies would be helpful while they were in town, so he could perhaps support their efforts out in the dungeons. He hadn’t received a message from Asuna in weeks… she wasn’t exactly the type of person to offer to communicate regularly. He managed to send a message to her saying that he missed his old group, but he would need to solo a little bit more before he gets back to a place where he could give her any more information. His relationship with the info-brokers had stagnated, and he felt confused to what job he would be comfortable doing in exchange for a temporary place to stay.
As he finds his way out the door in to the lamp-lit evening, he found a momentary relief at the warm and safe mood of the streets before his anxiety and confusion set in. The streets of Tolbana were echoing a muted yellow, driven by oil lamps bouncing a dim yellow off of the plaster buildings. Split into panels by 4x4s, the yellow peeled away into cooler ochre colors towards the edges of buildings, near windows, and highlighting other deliberate and structural features of the buildings. The streets were paved in a dark grey cobblestone, almost-rectangular and chipping every which way, the streets have been fielding the commerce of the town’s trade routes during the day, and the merriment of its resident’s passerby patrons by moonlight. Our hero glances left, seeing through night owls and social groups into the silence of the town, some windows still sending dinnertime candlelight through in the waning hours of the evening. Kirito was drawn towards the edge of the town, where he could see long uninterrupted stretches of the placid streets, signage, and murmuring oil lamps.
Walking on the outskirts for what seemed like a whole hour, he passed through side streets, main roads with drunken couples plodding home from their evenings, the breeze cool and gripping in the autumn weather, sparkles of white starlight piercing through the dark sky, sparkling and distracting from the oil lamp atmosphere that held the town lower and lower to the ground. He found a biscuit in his pocket that he had kept from dinner and began to chase his beer down with the earthy and lightly toasted flavor of the biscuit, cold and unsatisfying in contrast to the beer and merriment he had enjoyed earlier. His thoughts wandered through the fall air, finding their way to the warmth and heat of the restaurants kitchen, anticipating how sore his feet will feel after working days and nights at the restaurant, the running around, the weight of the stocking labor, the anxiety of the overloaded restaurant chefs serving their customers, barking orders at the waiters and kitchen assistants. The calmness of his walk floated into the foreground of his thoughts, relaxing and amplifying some nervousness about his classes when he would be able to afford the extra pressure of school. He hadn’t reviewed or written on the subject of his theory on magics in months. His pace slowed and he let the chill of the evening continue to amplify his anxieties. His eyes turned forwards towards the drunken townsfolk walking towards their homes on the outskirts of the city. He decided that tonight he would simply walk home and find his way to sleep so he could stop by the restaurant before the lunch rush.
After a several minutes of the cool evening surrounding him, pulling the warmth from his bones, he found his way back to the inn and opened the door delicately. A few candles were lit in the foyer, bouncing a gentle muted glow off of the wood paneling. He passed the entrance to the office and crept up the stairs, the wooden steps announcing his arrival to the deaf, catatonic house awaiting the dawn. He snuck into his room and quietly slipped into his bed.
He hadn’t worked many day-jobs in the waking world… what would it be like working for the restaurant? Would he be content, competitive, friendly, diligent, forgetful? How would his personality change… or would it? In this environment, boys who are not sociable or friendly don’t keep their friends, stay employed, or attract many customers. Would he be bullied at work into doing boring tasks to lighten the load on a colleague? How should he choose when to enjoy such easy work given from a colleague, or when to reject it? He stepped his heel down into a rock on the pavement firmly, lamenting the next steps he’d need to take to become the intelligent mage he’d always wanted to be. The front-line warrior role had been to much hostility, aggressiveness, and risk of death. And in the past, it hadn’t even saved his friends from uncertainty, death, and the burden of supporting his combative choices.
He went to the book store, grabbed a few things in preparation for his next encounter with Yas, and then went to a sandwich shop to find something to give to the owner. He could hardly stand the thought of the awkward conversation he had just had with Tetsuo at the table in the bar. He returned to his room, his anxieties, and the uncertainty about the next stage of growth he was interested in. His money would stretch him so far to rebuilding his stature in his social circle, but it seemed like he would be facing the people in the town and compelled to effectively communicate what he could bring to the table. Should he go into a food service industry for a time to save money?
He walked past reception in the restaurant, approaching the kitchen, observing the clamor of chefs, frying, and food preparation… feeling slightly younger. As he backtracked from the kitchen, he was greeted by the restaurant manager. She said that the fare was nothing special, but that business had been reasonable for this time of year, and added that they were looking for help if he was there for that purpose. She added that most of what was needed was cleaning help and some simpler food preparation in the kitchen, away from the customers. He was familiar with washing dishes and felt comfortable responding that he was very interested, and what information could he provide to get the job? The owner scratched her back, shouted something back to the kitchen in a language Kirito didn’t understand, and told him “you can have the job, if you can work night shifts.” After discussing the hours and pay, he accepted, shook her hand, thanked her for the opportunity, and retired to his quarters to continue reading his texts.