October 1st, 2024
Aincrad, 50th Floor: City of Algade
A sigh escaped your lips for the tenth time that day. You really should've taken into account how bad business could be sometimes. Hardly anyone visited your shop in Algade lately. For the second-biggest city in Aincrad and the most populated, you figured you'd get more business here. You really should've taken into account Algade's maze-like alleyways and the type of business you were running.
Yup. You were a vendor. Trapped in Sword Art Online until you died or it was cleared, whichever came first, you were one of the players to go into business. From a simple Vendor's Carpet on the 2nd Floor, you worked your way up to eventually purchase a building in Algade, the city on the 50th Floor. It was hard to find one, though. An item merchant like Agil could choose any old building for sale in a town, but for crafting vendors like like you and Lisbeth, you needed a building with the proper facilities.
Your shop was in an alleyway which, while fitting the theme of your products, made it a bit hard to find, something Agil down the block also had some issues with. You tried to help each other out by pointing customers in each others' direction. The first floor was the store itself, shelves lined with your products. Second floor was your living quarters with two bedrooms, a bath, and a kitchen. The back of the first floor had your workshop, while an NPC store-tender named Sebastian could make transactions when you were working or out collecting ingredients.
What did your shop sell? Sign out front... wasn't too obvious unless you knew your English, sadly. Which, for a lot of Japanese players, was a problem. [Username]'s Apothecary. Yup. When it came to player vendors, Lisbeth may have been top blacksmith, Agil top item merchant, Argo top information dealer, and Ashley top tailor, but you? With your Drug Mixing Skill at a Complete rank, you were the best brewer of potions and poisons in the entirety of this cursed death game. Or... so you liked to think.
Sadly, what you failed to realize getting into this business was just how limited Potions would be on the later floors when Crystals became more available from treasure chests and NPC vendors. Compared to Crystals, Potions took time for their healing or antidote effect to manifest. They were also less effective than Crystals, not healing as much or providing immunity as long. Now that the 73rd Floor was almost cleared, players tended to have pretty good access to Crystals. You didn't have as many customers as you did back on the lower floors when Potions were the only real way to heal, but you did have some things keeping you in business.
Potions were cheaper and easier to get than Crystals, so they were useful in non-critical situations to conserve Crystals. Potions also were fully capable of being used in an Anti-Crystal Field, so anyone hoping to take on a Floor Boss needed a big supply. With your Complete-status Drug Mixing Skill, not only were your Healing Potions and Antidote Potions just as good as Crystals, a single bottle fully healing even a high-Level player's HP or providing them immunity to status effects for hours, but they even tasted good! Most high-level Potions tasted sweet, like a mix of lemon juice and green tea. You, however, found ways to achieve flavored potions in anything from cherry to lemon-lime! Plus, you could still make poisons. A single application and a player's weapon would deal a status effect to an enemy for hours. Limited usefulness, though. Common mob didn't really need status effects and most Bosses had immunities, but they could work wonders in the right situations. Business was... okay. But there was probably one other factor keeping your sales high enough that you could make a profit.
Sighing for an eleventh time, you gazed down at the counter. Or, rather, what was currently resting atop the counter you were leaning over. Let's just say that when Kayaba Akihiko reverted everyone's avatars to their real world appearances, you were pretty pissed about the change to your breast size. And not for the reason most girls would be.
Don't misunderstand. You enjoyed having these things. Sometimes you could spend hours in the bath, distracted by them. It's just they had their downsides. You were called funbags, boobzilla, busto, and quite a few other immature names. Decent bras were hard to find and you lived with frequent back pain. It was hard to find clothes that fit because most blouses wouldn't fully button and the cutest clothes were just obscenely tight. You promptly made your in-game avatar flat as a board to make it easier to fight in this game but... Well, let's just say you had a bit of a personal grudge against Kayaba Akihiko for undoing the hours you spent on avatar customization, and not for the reason most people got pissed when their hour-long character creation work was lost.
Still, though, they had their advantages. It took time in this game to access one's inventory, so you could usually keep an emergency crystal between them if you wore cleavage-baring armor... which you usually did for just that reason. These things were also surprisingly easy to use to distract Orange Players. Violence and sex were two of the more baser instincts, after all, so Orange Players likely had plenty of the other if they had one. Oh, and since Sword Art Online had all five senses but removed the ability to feel pain, you really didn't feel any discomfort even when they bounced like two molds of flan during the middle of an epic fight with a Field Boss. Plus, these things really helped draw in some customers and kept them from realizing when you charged them a few extra Cor for that Paralysis Venom.
Hey, it wasn't your idea, it was Lisbeth's! She had her blacksmith shop two floors down. She said a friend of hers convinced her to dress like a waitress and dye her hair pink. Doing so made her sales increase twofold! Being no slouch in the chest department herself, about a D-cup, she encouraged you to flaunt what you got, and hooked you up with Ashley, the top tailor in the game. You had to admit, you found this maid uniform... kind of embarrassing at first. It was too low-cut, even compared to most clothes meant to bare cleavage. If you ever selected "Moral Code Remover" in your options menu to turn off the in-game censor, you swear, your breasts would fall out of the top. The shoulders were bare, the skirt was dangerously short, the heels were too high. Good thing you didn't wear this into battle or around town. Still, having roughly 50% of your melons on full display certainly kept the male, and some of the female, customers distracted enough, and even drew some in who'd heard about the potion and poison shop run by the buxom girl dressed like a maid. Some girls even stopped by not for you, but because your NPC store-tender was pretty dashing and dressed like a butler. The maid uniform may have been Lisbeth's idea, but the butler uniform on your NPC store-tender was your idea. Hee hee hee!
Leaning against your counter, your ample bosom sitting atop it, you sighed for the twelfth time that day. With one arm resting on the counter and giving it a bored tap, the other twirled a strand of your hair. Maybe you'd put Jeeves in charge for a bit and head out to gather some ingredients and fight some mob? Been a while since Karakonpeki tasted pixelated blood. You didn't want the old girl to get rusty... not that Lisbeth couldn't take care of that. Heh! You swear, that blacksmith saw you as a fellow working girl or something. She sure did give you a good deal of free or discounted equipment maintenance. You tried to return the favor by slipping her some Potions or poisons when you could. Really, you, Argo, Agil, Ashley, and Lisbeth all had each other and a lot of the other top player vendors on your friend lists. You should start up some kind of Guild for player vendors, or something.
The bell of your shop dinged. Probably another one of the players come to ogle your cleavage or dashing NPC butler. You were about to give them a generic welcome but when you looked up, your words got stuck in your throat. You crouched low behind the counter, wincing as your breasts slid across the surface and caught a bit on the corner. With two hands grasping the surface and your eyes peeking out over it, you watched your customer peruse the shelves of bottles in all colors of the rainbow.
He was hot!
Okay, okay. He was scruffy, yes. But as odd as it may sound, you always did like 'em scruffy. His chin fuzz, his messy hair tied up in a bandanna. Wow. And that Leather Armor... it made him look like one of those honorable samurai in the anime, manga, and video games you loved.
Yeah... Despite your figure, you were actually kind of a shy nerd in real life. Heck, maybe even because of your figure. Most girls of slight build assumed that boys were only interested in a huge pair. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Either you were attracting the wrong men in your life or most men really were into legs, ass, or the delicious flat chest. The few boys who liked your breasts were either too intimidated to ask you out or assumed you were one of those girls. When all the cutest and most fashionable clothing off the rack became tight when worn by you, a lot of people assumed you were intentionally dressing to show off or entice men. You suppose it was only natural that you ended up gravitating to nerdy hobbies just to avoid people's judgmental eyes, but even then, any nerds in real life took one look at your boobs and reacted in all kinds of embarrassing ways. It was all enough to make you really self-conscious. Then again, maybe they reacted that way because you were a girl. You know how nerds can be. You're one, after all. And hot guys were downright terrifying, so you could only imagine how bad it was for a nerdy boy and a girl.
Speaking of hot guys, was that a katana as his waist? That was a Unique Skill! Only a little over ten players in the entire game could wield Katanas! He didn't seem to notice you yet, though. Normally you'd clear your throat for any customer who didn't notice you, but... Hey, this was a game world of adventure and death. YOLO, right?
Hopping up from your crouched position and ignoring the resulting jiggle to your lady lumps, you skipped over to the samurai-esque customer, tapping him on the shoulder.
"Welcome to [Username]'s Apothecary. I'm [Username]. What can I help ya with?"
The guy turned to look at you, a pleasant smile on his face. At first. His eyes gazed downward, nearly bulging out at the sight of your cleavage. You could only imagine the thoughts going through his bandanna-clad head. 'That cleavage must be a foot deep! And a foot long!' Hee hee! To your surprise, he bowed, holding his hand out to shake. You took a step back to avoid his head hitting your breasts (they really tended to get in the way).
"G-G-Good afternoon! K-Klein, 24 years old, single, looking for a girlfriend!"
You brought your hand to your mouth, giggling. He was just so awkward... You weren't much better, but... something about the way he did it made it cute and, to be honest... you couldn't help feeling the urge to tease him.
"Well, nice to meet you, Klein. [Username], [age] years old, single, and play your cards right and I'll give you a discount on a Healing Potion," you retorted, twirling a strand of your hair around your finger while the other reached out to shake.
"I'll take it!" Klein replied, standing up straight.
You giggled again, the motion sending a trembling motion through your anatomy. "So, what can [Username]s Apothecary do for you, honorable samurai?"
Something about you calling him that seemed to light his face up like a kid having his chuunibyou delusions acknowledged. He quickly composed himself and turned back to the shelves of vials, crossing one arm and bringing the other to his chin in a thoughtful pose. Urge to tease him more intensifies.
"Well, I've actually been dealing with more PKers lately and... well, I don't really wanna sink to their level. Was hoping to pick up something to give my Karakurenai a paralysis effect in case one tries to attack me. Ten minutes before it wears off should be enough time for me to escape, right?"
You took a few half-steps closer to him, sliding up next to him to follow his gaze to the shelves. Doing so, your breasts pressed against his arm while your hands found his shoulders. He visibly tensed and even seemed to get warmer. Hey, in the real world, you were a shy otaku and video game nerd. In this world? You were a sexy potion master with a heroic samurai come to your shop on a quest... Wow, you needed to lay off the fanfiction.
"Well, you came to the right place. I'm the best mixer of Potions and poisons in Aincrad. I can probably hook you up with my top quality Paralysis Venom."
He swallowed hard, likely because he felt the very edge of your breath near his ear as you gazed up at the shelves with him. Hee hee! He was a fun one.
"How long does it last?" He asked.
"Well, Paralysis usually lasts about ten minutes regardless. But due to having a Complete Drug Mixing Skill, a single bottle will keep your sword coated in paralysis venom for a good two hours," you explained.
"Wait, two hours?" He exclaimed.
You giggled, reaching up to adjust the glasses resting atop your nose. "I'm very good at what I do."
He turned to look at you, his nose almost touching yours. You felt your breath hitch in your throat at how close he was. Roleplaying was one thing, but a virtual world of adventure and death could only do so much for social anxiety. Swallowing hard, you unlatched yourself from the noble samurai and thought of the first thing that came to mind.
"You want an Antidote Potion with that?!" Of course the first thing you think about is a sales pitch.
"I've got plenty... Why?" Klein asked, cocking his eyebrow.
You managed to compose yourself, though your hands fidgeted a bit as you spoke. Darn nerves. "You mentioned you're fighting PKers lately, right? They tend to use paralysis, too. A good Antidote can keep you immune for hours. My Antidotes not only can last up to six hours, but I can make them in a lot of different flavors."
A lightbulb seemed to go off in Klein's head. You could've sworn your could hear the gears turning. "Pizza?"
That word caught you off guard. You hadn't heard the word pizza since before you first logged into this game. "You're... asking if I have pizza flavored Antidotes?"
The samurai nodded excitedly.
You couldn't help giggling at that. Crossing your arms under your breasts, you shook your head at him. "I can make some good mixtures of flavors, but so far pizza is beyond me. I could go for a slice too, actually."
The dejected look on his face was downright comical. You brought your hand to your lips and giggled once more. You worried he might get hurt that you were laughing, but he seemed to take it in stride. "Well, got anything cherry-flavored?"
A small smile graced your features. "My best-selling flavor."
"Great!" His grin was infectious. "I guess I'll take three of your cherry Antidotes and five Paralysis Venoms."
"I'll ring you up then, Samurai." You sashayed your way over to the counter, making sure to put a bit of a sway to your walk. Hopefully he was watching. When you reached behind the counter to grab what he asked for, you chanced a quick glance over your shoulder to see his eyes enraptured by your rear. Heh! He was so easy to tease...
You rang up what he wanted, the Cor amount showing up in the menu.
"Okay, that's three Antidote Potions and five Paralysis Venoms, adding up to... 16,000 Cor." You reached up, lowering your glasses a little to shoot him a look and a grin. "Would you like fries with that?"
He chuckled, rubbing the back of his head. "Well... Actually, I was... curious about something."
You pushed your glasses back up. "You wanted something else? Maybe a different kind of poison?"
Klein looked downright uncomfortable about what he was saying. His lips curled in an awkward smile. "I'm... not really sure how to phrase this..."
Now you were just getting curious. If he didn't tell you this, it might keep you up tonight. "Well, as long as it's potion-related, I can see what I can do. What is it?" You gave him a warm smile. "You can tell me."
The samurai brought his hands together in front of his chest, tapping his fingers together. It was... actually cute, in an awkward way. "I was wondering if you made, um... love potions?"
That took you aback for a moment. What would a cute, scruffy, funny samurai want with a love potion? It was... tempting to tease him about it, but the look in his eyes showed you this was something it took quite the amount of courage to ask. Being afraid to say what you wanted to say was something that was just all too familiar with you.
"I hate to break it to you, Samurai, but love potions just aren't possible in this game. I have a Complete in Drug Mixing, so I'd know better than anyone."
Klein rubbed the back of his head again, looking away with a blush on his cheeks. He seemed downright embarrassed. "Oh, I... I see..."
Awww... You couldn't leave him humiliated like this. Nothing worse than when you finally work up the courage to say something and it turns out it was stupid anyway. "Why do you ask?" You hoped it was phrased neutrally enough. You didn't want him to think you were judging him.
"Heh... It's kind of a silly story... But I know I dress like a samurai in this game and lead one of the top guilds, but... I'm not as cool offline. I'm just a loser gamer, really," Klein explained.
That... sounded familiar... You bit your lip, feeling sympathy. You certainly weren't a sultry potion maker offline. Before this game, you were in your room, on your computer, reading fanfiction online.
"I've got this buddy in this game, though... He's pretty popular with girls and... Well, I guess the green-eyed monster was getting to me." Klein looked up to meet your gaze, a softness in his eyes you weren't expecting. "So... sorry about asking such a dumb question. I must sound pretty pathetic."
You sighed, but it wasn't a sigh of boredom like so many today. His story just hit too close to home for your conscience. Klein's eyes followed your hand as you reached up and into your cleavage, fishing out the vial you kept there. When you held it up to the samurai, he was a little dumbstruck at what you just did.
"I promised you if you played your cards right, I'd cut you a deal on a Healing Potion, right? This is the best Healing Potion I ever mixed. It'll heal even the highest Level player in this game to full HP and has a chocolate flavor. I've yet to be able to recreate it. You can have it, but only if you do one thing for me..." You explained. You couldn't believe you were doing this...
Klein looked deeply confused. "Do... what for you?"
"I'm heading out tomorrow to fight some mob and get some ingredients for Potion mixing. It's an area I haven't been in yet and I could use another player to help out. Interested?" Your throat was getting dry. Who knew asking a guy out could be so nerve-wracking?
The samurai's face lit up a bit. "Is this... a date?"
"No!" You smacked your hand over your mouth so fast that you nearly dropped the Healing Potion. Gazing downward with one hand still over your mouth, you tried to salvage your outburst. "I... The beautiful potion maker could just use a brave samurai to be her bodyguard... Th-That's all..."
His face fell a little. Biting your lip again, you pulled out your menu, sending him a friend request. "But... who knows where it might go from there if you play your cards right... ya know? Heh!"
Gazing at the friend request, Klein looked up to meet your eyes. A warm smile gracing his scruffy face, he reached his finger for his menu.
Looks like you've got a date tomorrow! Yay!
To be continued...