This is the first part/chapter to SAO: SB Snow Bells Arc.
Claire, the Winter Fox, and the Laugh
Floor 1, Starting City, February 20, 2024
My life in SAO has taken a turn after completing his mission on passing down Dual Blades. I've been dragging down from boredome, and without a goal. I only have the Front Lines to go to.
On my way to my favorite restaurant, I tried to ignore everybody gazing at me.
"Oh hey, that guy is the Winter Fox..."
"Are you sure? He doesn't look like anything I've heard about the Winter Fox..."
"Yeah, it has to be him. Those red eyes...white clothing...can't be wrong."
I sighed and wondered why people always gossipped about every high leveled player that walks by them.
But then, something in an alley way caught my attention. A person sitting on the ground, but, a bit too small and short to be a player.
But it was. The green little icon above its head proved it.
I walk towards the small player. It looks up and he finds himself face-to face with a young, blonde girl. How...what? I don't understand my current situation.
"Are you....uh...lost?" I ask pathetically, but urgently.
"No...", the young girl replies quietly, looking depressed.,"I'm not lost."
"Oh, so you must have ran out of stamina?"
"That's not it either...."
I should've saw this coming.
"...where's your parents?"
"I....don't have any."
"Then I assume you've been alone all this time?"
Damn it all. Kayaba, that idiot! This young girl has been stuck in this hell because of you! Getting mad obviously won't get him anywhere, though. He was getting enough hate mail already.
I thought about what to do next. I should probably buy her breakfast, to begin with.
I reach out for her hand and kindly ask her,"Would you like to come with me for something to eat?"
Her face lights up,"Really?"
She ecstatically grabs hold of my hand and squeals,"Yes! Oh, my name's Claire, by the way."
"That's a pretty name. I'm called Snow."
"I can see why. You dress up in a lot of white."
"You're quite smart, aren't you?" I say while rubbing her head,"Let's go, shall we?"
I order a nice, large plate of strawberry danishes and some orange juice for the both of us. No one can compete with me when it comes to strawberry danishes. It was his thing.
"In real life,"I begin with a mouthful of danish,"what was your life like? You know, before....this."
I want to get to know this girl better. She spent nearly two years alone, and no one has decided to raise her. How depressing.
"I was an orphan."
"An orphan? How did you get SAO then?"
"I stole it. There was also a Nerve Gear at the orphange, so I just used that."
"Unfortunately, this game was cursed.... Anyways, I suppose we can get you a better change of clothes, a better way to defend yourself, and increase your level by today."
"Really? You'd spend that much Col for me?"
"Yep. You can buy whatever you want, no matter how much.
Really, with all the Col he has, he can probably buy three villas with it. I guess with all the free time he has, it was possible.
I, and the little girl, Claire traveled to many different Floors of Aincrad for shopping.
First, we entered a weapons store. A good variety, indeed, but just by looking at some of them, they were decorated with too many jewels, thus, lowering durability.
"Hey", I began asking the clerk,"Do you have anything...not as flashy as the rest?"
"Hm...well, it's not me who's the expert in this stuff, but I'll look into it."
About ten minutes have passed until the clerk found something. He brought out a short blade with a crescent moon shaped handguard.
I examined it. The durability is most likely decent because there isn't as much jewels. The blade is probably light, due to its size, which will be helpful for the small girl.
"I'll take it", I tell the clerk. "Also, can you max out its stats?"
"Eh?! Are you sure you have enough Col for that?"
"Oh, yes. This won't even make a dent."
I was right, there wasn't much of a Col difference even after I bought her the other essential items she needed. Clothes, Teleport and Antidote stones, and other items.
She had a new outfit composed of a white button up shirt, boots, and a skirt, as well as holsters.
But something was missing....
On a outdoor street store was a red, silk hair ribbon. I beckoned Claire over and asked her whether she liked it.
"Yeah...it would help my hair not be in my way."
"I know what you mean."
Before I actually paid for it, someone pushes me out of the way and knocks me down. I look up and sees some jerk wanting to pay for that ribbon.
"Hey, I was here first, you piece of-"
I stopped himself, scrolled through his inventory, took a pair of white earmuffs out and placed them on Claire.
"You piece of shit." I finished.
"What'd you say?"
"You heard me. I was here first and so you just want to pick a fight with me because I look weak."
"And if it's true...?"
"I'll give you all my Col, if you win."
"Piece of cake."
And from the tip of my lips, I smile insanely.
[...sends you a duel request of: Half-Loss.]
Bad choice. I know that this guy is going to bite the dust. I press the blue accept button and the duel begins to countdown.
Another couple seconds and....[DUEL START]
I unsheathe my chain whip, Providence, a useful tool in fighting, and launch it at the other player. My opponent blocked it easily, but I did that purposely. Before my opponent even recovered from his block, I was already in front of, about to strike. Noir, my primary weapon, was unsheathed and I impale it inside my opponent.
My health dropped drastically, but I still wasn't done with him.
"EHTHTHTHTH!!!" I laughs as he tosses his opponent across the ground.
My opponent's health was still dropping and I sheathed my weapons. But I wasn't done yet. Walking towards the crippled opponent, I use his hands to rip the wounds apart. I hear a scream in terror and people started freaking out. The duel had already ended, but everyone was outside a safe zone. I still wanted more of this close-to-bloodshed feeling.
"You know, I could kill you if I wanted to."
My beaten opponent didn't say anything because of fear of dying. How predictable.
"But, I'll let you go."
I find a dagger in his inventory and hung my opponent on a tree by impaling him in his arm. Amused, I laugh.
This....this is the work of the Winter Fox. The bloodlust personality and epithet of Snow.
"I know what you did..."
I hear the little orphan, Claire, say this to me. I supposed that she must've watched me fight, even though I had told her not to. It's because my fights...are not the most admirable.
"But", she begins to say,"it's okay, because you didn't kill him."
I was quiet for a moment. Did a little girl just say it's alright to strike fear into people? But I didn't have a chance to bring it up because Claire kept going on.
"And...it's also understandable that the strong prey on the weak. That's how life is."
The comment took me off-guard. She speaks wise words. I guess her past must be rather unpleasant.
"You know a lot, for a young girl. Although, I don't prey on them. I'm the prey that repels the predator,"I reply.
I look at the blonde girl. It was obvious that she was deep in thought, though, I decided to listen to it another day.
"Let's start leveling you up, shall we?"
Claire and I had traveled to Floor 22 to fight monsters and level her up. I had sent a party request to her so that if anything happens, I'll know what's up. She accepted, obviously.
Once we found a place with a stable spawn rate, I began teaching her the basics of SAO gameplay. Weapons each have Sword Skills of various kinds, but they control what you do. There's always free-handing sword combat, which is probably the best way during PvP.
But because Claire is very young, she'll have to learn Sword Skills first. At the moment, Claire only has the default Sword Skills. She'll have to unlock the others as her Double-Handed Sword skill gains experience.
Two monsters then spotted them. They ran their way and I told Claire to use a sword skill on them.
As they neared, she raised her sword and her blade glowed. A sign that she had activated her skill. She sliced the first one by hitting its chest, then she twirled around it and slit its back. It then burst into polygons.
Her second target came full speed at her. It had headbutted into her. Her health slightly dropped, but I didn't worry.
The girl recovered and used a three hit combo on the monster, which had also burst to the colorful, small pieces of data.
"Not bad. Let's continue your training."
"Ugh...I'm tired!" Claire says as she collapses on her bed. I had rented a room in another higher Floor to spend the night in. One of the reasons, her level increased by a couple of levels. And her Skills have gained 3% more.
"Well, at least you can't feel drowsiness as well as the real world. In here, it's forced onto you for realism."
I smile and pat her head, which she enjoyed. Then, I go into the hotel room's kitchen and pulled out whatever ingredients I could find.
"I hope you like to eat, because that's one of my skills!"
"So, anyways, Claire, there's friends that I'm going to meet tomorrow. Would you like to join me?" I offer. My friends will hopefully not act strange when they visit. It's rather annoying sometimes.
"Alright! Tomorrow is a new adventure!"
The next day, I had cooked breakfast for for both Claire and I and we left to my weekly meetings with my IRL friends. Our meeting place was a small bakery owned by the Eli and ReK, both are tsunderes and two of the small amount of IRL friends I have here. The bakery was located on the Town of Beginnings. The obvious choice for half the shops in Aincrad.
From the hotel, we walked to the teleport gates.
"Teleport! Town of Beginnings!" Claire and I said together. Next came the blinding light.
The next moment, we were surrounded by a large marketplace swarming with players and AI. Players buying new equipment, and captains from the biggest and bossiest guild, the Army, yelling at their platoons. Then came the stares and gossip.
"Is it....is it him? The one they call the Winter Fox?"
"Has to be....all the traits match him..."
"Don't get near him...he might kill you..."
"But....his icon is green..."
"That's part of his nickname...Fox....he's sly. He could've cheated the system."
"I thought the 'Fox' part of his name was because he has a foxy face...."
At that point, I just wanted to facepalm, but Claire just tugged at my coat to beckon me on.
"Hahaha....foxy face..." the orphan giggled.
"Sometimes, I wonder if they're scared of me, or they just wanna have sex with- nevermind."
The whole way to the bakery, we kept talking about what stupid gossip we've heard about me.
When we finally arrived, which wasn't too long of a walk, I stopped to warn Claire.
"Before you enter, be wary of the fact that they are all Americans, and all different personalities. Are you ready to take it in?"
"Yes!" she cheered excitedly, "I hope."
I laugh, my normal one, and burst the door open. There's we were met by "yo"s and "sup"s and fist bumps.
"So, who's the girl? You overly sociable and naughty player with a lazy attitude?" Eli jabbed at me.
Claire looked at me with a puzzled face and I shrugged. "That kinda summarizes how I am. Minus the social part."
"Hey, ReK, I see you. Come out and give me some strawberry danishes."
ReK was trying to avoid me. She knew once I came, I'll be asking for thousands of strawberry danishes.
"I hate you, Chris" she said with a disgusted tone.
"I love you, too." I replied in a sarcastic manner as she served me a plate full of my favorite pastry and dish.
Claire looked at me with a raised eyebrow, probably wondering how I can eat so much without hurting my fatigue.
2MNSTRM, aka Brandon, who I would call one of my closest friends, just nodded his head.
"It takes a lot of mental capability to understand his way of things." Brandon noted to Claire.
"What are you saying? That I'm not normal?"
Lupe and Nikolas, two more friends, and everybody else stopped their conversations and looked at me.
"Yes," they all said.
"Ouch," I said, pretending to be hurt.
Everybody in the room laughed. Seeing everyone like this....it was completely different when I first spotted them in the hell I helped create. Brandon was the only one that looked calm. But he just always looks like that.
Some of them were relieved to see me. I've always carried their weight on my shoulders. So, they ended up following me around the first month or so in SAO, unaware of my original status for this game. Of me being a programmer.
So, in that one month, I carefully explained how to play this game to them, explaining that the handbook that the "beta testers" has taught me and should teach them.
Now, here we were. Laughing. No hint of stress.
"Hey guys...we should start a guild."
Snow, Bells, and Nightmares
When I blurted out the idea, everyone looked at each other. Some shrugged at the idea and some looked puzzled.
Brandon is the first to speak.
“So, say we do form a guild. None of us are ready for the front lines or any hero-related work.”
I sigh and reply,”You know, forming guilds isn’t all about fighting. We can have different rolls. You know, like we do now. Bakers earn money, Blacksmiths earn money. You and I make money AND fight on the front lines.”
“I suppose that sounds reasonable…”
I look past him and stared at everybody else in the room.
“Anybody else have a question or any objections for that matter?”
Claire tugs at my white coat and I look down to see what’s up.
“What will the name be?”
“Ah….probably the Snow Bells.”
“I can see why you put ‘snow’, but why ‘bells’?”
“Because bells were the first thing we heard when we started this death game.”
About a month has passed since then and things were working out quite smoothly if I do say so myself. We had all put our savings and secret stashes into a single building which composed of work area and sleeping areas. Kinda like a family business of sorts.
Our “base” was located on the 35th floor in the town of Mishe. A medievaly type of place. It has a good lob of shops around and isn’t too crowded.
In our home, it’s a bit like a cosplay cafe. Except with real(or virtual?) weapons. Then on the upper floors are our rooms. Pretty simple set up.
And while we were settling in, I’ve been training Claire, helping her level up. I’ve even gotten friends(well, more like mutual trust) to help her. She’s been focusing primarily on attacking speed and leveling up the necessary skills she actually needs.
Occasionally, Brandon and I would take her higher level quests just for the hell of it. She’s been progressing quite well. I guess the only problem is is that she’s scared to be alone in the dark. Thus, she sleeps in my room. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re off on your own with a higher chance of death than reality.
Then one night, she hops into my bed from her own crying from a bad dream.
“Eh? Claire? What’s wrong?”
She clings onto me and literally digs her nails into my skin. I'm surprised a harassment warning didn't pop up.
“I...I had a n-nightmare. It was...it was you. You were tearing innocent people apart and you started coming after me next.”
“Wait….then why would you come to me if you were scared of me?”
“Because I know you would never do something so terrible.”
To be quite frank, I’m not even sure if I can hold back any longer from killing people. When I’m in my zone, everything’s….just a blur. I just tear through anything in my way.
After a moment of not talking and Claire bawling, she hugs me as tightly as she can. I embrace her and stroke her hair.
“Do….do you think I can call you ‘Daddy’?”
“Eh?” I said in a way where I sounded like an idiot. It couldn't be helped since it came out of nowhere.
Claire looked down, as if she were ashamed and explained in a tiny voice,”I know it sounds weird because I would be more of a little sister because of the age difference….but...I never had a father...or a mother….and I think you’re the closest thing to a father I have…”
Our age difference is definitely short. She’s 11, and I’m 17. But even so….it was heartwarming. Heck, I feel even more obligated to take care of this very clever girl named Claire. It touched my heart.
I pulled her closer to me and rested my head on hers. We stayed like this for a good while and then I finally spoke.
“Yes, I’ll be your father as of today.”
Claire’s eyes lit up.
“Really?! Really really really?!”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. That reaction was adorable. Like something out of an anime of sorts. “Of course.”
And I decided to add a bit of my own humor. “But I won’t promise to be motherly.”
A burst of laughter from the both of us. We calmed down and Claire went back to sleep.
You know…speaking of women...I wonder if she is still alive. The thought has never passed since it all started.