Here is part 18. Next part should be out... I dunno. Next year?(It all depends on my free time, really.)
Rondo of the Transient Sword: Part 18
I endured the urge to throttle forward with a dash, but even then we walked quite briskly and arrived at the square shortly, and I stood for a moment as I saw the sight that I had expected.
A two tatami sized carpet overlaid with neatly arranged steel weapons, and a simple wooden signboard. A portable forge and anvil. Sitting on a folding chair, the profile of a small framed male player was swinging his hammer intently, it was definitely the blacksmith Nezuha. A member of Team «Raging Braves», Aincrad's first «Strengthening Scammer».
"……How bold of him. Yesterday, we had just spotted his scam, but he has still opened his shop the front lines like normal."
As soon as we moved to hide in the shadows of a pillar at the edge of the square, Asuna whispered angrily. I tried to nod in reply, but midway doubtfully changed the angle of my movement.
"No……. Isn't coming to Taran Village the result of him being wary? If he continued on the other side, we would wonder why he didn't come together with us here. He is probably avoiding the possibility of the scam being found out in Urbas, while temporarily doing business here."
"Even so, it does not change the fact that he's shameless. After all, he set up shop after moving to this city…… that would mean he intends to continue, right? The switching of weapons."
As the last of her words came out of her mouth quietly, Asuna bit her lips lightly.
Her face was obviously filled with anger, but there seemed to be another emotion mixed in there as well. My facial expression reading skills' skill level was equivalent to zero, so there was no way for me to find out what the girl was thinking. However, for some reason, I saw a colour similar to grief from the faint shine from the eyes from within the hood, which took my breath away.
My vision went back to face where Nezuha was, twenty meters away, and said.
"Let's…… Do it. Although we will have to choose our opponent……"
"……? What do you mean?"
"The purpose of Nezuha being a part of the «Raging Braves», is to join the frontline players in one swoop, so he shouldn't be targeting people from the front lines for scamming. The team's trustworthiness would drop, it's like getting their priorities backwards."
The stuff that came out from my mouth, was a possibility that was in my brain that I murmured.
――Orlando's group, Nezuha's friends are a different story altogether.
This was because even though they were close comrades the system did not yet allow the creation of guilds, so the color cursor of the shared emblem could not be displayed. There is no evidence that Orlando and Beowulf are comrades of Nezuha's, the enemy could be frontline players who do not care about the weapon scamming, and by the time the trust has been completely tarnished it was possible that the team would cast him away.
"……No, That's impossible……"
At my gloomy conjuncture, I sighed and denied it.
The atmosphere of the six people at the bar of the I had followed Nezuha to yesterday, was unbelievably close for a net game's population. I felt that it was possible that they were close friends even in the real world.
Which was why it was impossible…… no, such a thing wouldn't happen.
Feeling my cheeks was being looked at, I turned to look, and saw Asuna in the thick hood watching me with a stare. She might have overheard my previous muttering, and wanted to know more without removing eye contact.
"……Then, you don't consider me in their midst, as a front line raiding player. Because my sword was almost deceptively taken from me"
At those words, I realised that they were a response to my words two lines ago, and quickly shook my head.
"N,Not that, When I said front line players earlier, I was referring to those people in blue and green. I can't claim to know information I do not see with my own eyes…… Which is why even if it was me, Nezuha's team wouldn't recognize as a member of the front line raid. Well, I guess it's a reality of being a solo……"
"What do you mean, you participated in taking down the Floor boss, right?"
under her glare, I nodded in reflex ―― but, I said in an inevitably ambiguous tone
"W,Well, There's that…… But Lind or Kibaou will probably say "There is no need". Frankly speaking, there's a very high possiblilty……"
In a moment, Asuna's eyebrows raised to a dangerous angle, but fortunately it returned to the normal line. With a somewhat discontent filled calm voice,
"Anyway, besides Lind-san, Kibaou should understand. In a boss raid, your strength and knowledge is absolutely necessary"
"Eh, you think so?"
"Those people specifically sent me a message after we defeated the kobold king after all. "Thanks for your help today"."
As she unexpectedly managed to repeat the words in the Kansai dialect with her mouth, I endured it too.
"But, the words should be this. "You should care only about yourself. My way is mine……"
"'The aim is to clear'. If that is his final aim, isn't the floor boss battle a boring dragged out one due to pride?"
"……If that is so, isn't it fine?"
In my mind, the image of the noisy «Bullbous Bull» raid that I had seen this afternoon came up, and I nodded.
I had talked with the scimitar user who lead the green team Lind-san once, during the Kobold King raid ―― although I could consider it was a one way condemnation, even so, I imagine his aim to be quite clear. To raise himself and the players who are comrades of the knight Diavel, to become the strongest raid group. Even though they failed to get the LA bonus on the middle boss, their will remains strong. Surely on the third floor he will immediately challenge the quest to be a guild leader, making a guild wearing the Diabel-like image of silver and green.
It would be rather complicated, a topic he would have discussed with Kibaou since the first floor.
There was no doubt that there exists a hatred for original beta testers in him. Therefore, he was hostile towards me as an original tester from the beginning, as he believed that Diabel who lead the raid group was a non-tester. If that was the case, I think I would have joined his group during the first floor raid.
However, even if Diabel was still alive, that dream could never be fulfilled. This was because, Diabel was also an original tester. On the other hand, Kibaou probably noticed Diabel's actions such as his forceful attempt to get the first floor boss's LA. Furthermore, even though I say it myself, during the turn-around of the battle that nearly wiped us out, he knew about Kirito's «Dirty Information», my status as an original tester.
Which was why Kibaou, with his own belief of «Don't rely on original testers», did not join Diabel's old group ―― which was now Lind's group, and instead started his own. And thus, the moss green vested party. They must have worked hard, as in the battle seen earlier, there was not much difference in strength compared to Lind's group. However, while that was true, those two groups were in conflict.
The top two groups, no, perhaps they should be called guilds, two large guilds opposing and competing against each other would cause all the raid players' battle strength to rise quickly, but at the same time it would prevent cooperation when a raid group is formed. This development can be both both good luck and bad luck. Then there is a third group, «Raging Braves»lead by the Paladin Orlando, what role will they play on the front lines……
"Ah, speaking of which……"
Suddenly curious, I asked Asuna who was was looking at the blacksmith's stall.
"Of Lind and Kibaou's party, do they have any names yet?"
"Umm……I don't know about Lind-san's. But I've heard about Kibaou-san's."
Giving off a very small smile, the rapier user told the name.
"It's pretty good. It's «Aincrad Liberation Front»."
"Somehow, it seems like he has a great plan."
"I-Is that so?"
"He aggressively recruited members while on the base of the first floor «Town of Beginnings», from the few thousand players who stayed behind. Supplying them with Armor and Weapons, and also training them in group combat, to increase the number of players on the front lines……"
"…… I see. 'My way is mine' huh……"
I nodded, and continued thinking once more.
It was true that his «way» did exist. The number of front liners continuously increasing would theoretically increase the pace of a raid. However, at the same time a large dilemma could appear. If the number of people increased, the probability of the increased death toll would definitely increase as well…….
"Still, That's not all there is to it."
Asuna suddenly said that, causing me to blink.
"Eh? What is?"
"It's the name. Whether it is «Foremost Raid Players» or «Front Line Group» or «Raiding Team», they can call themselves whatever they like. the name should be conveyed appropriately too. Some of the people from Lind's Group are calling themselves «Top Players»."
"A-Ah…… that's true. That Argo's «Front Liner» or whatever she calls it……oh crap"
I quickly opened the window, to check the time. I'm supposed to meet the informant, Argo the rat in less than two and a half minutes.
"Eh, Umm … … Even Asuna, you're going, right?"
"……I'm going. What about it?"
She asked in return calmly, compelling me to nod.
I gave a final look at the small built blacksmith continuously swinging his smith hammer, and said.
"Make the meeting with Argo as short as possible, I want to observe Nezuha a little more. I think I've understood the trick used for the scam."