“It sounds too crazy to be true,” Kirito said into the numb silence. “A real Aincrad. Dragons plotting with youkai lords to force human gamers to… what? Learn to live in their world?” He paused; Klein saw him swallow. “But if it could be true… there’s one thing I’ve never been able to figure out.”
Fuurinkazan glanced at each other. “What?” Issin prompted.
Kirito drew his knees up to his chest. “What happens to an infected player?” Black eyes were distant, numb. “Why do they turn on us?”
“System takes ‘em over,” Klein shivered. “Makes ‘em an NPC….”
His guild was looking at him. Partly worried glances, as if to reassure themselves that yes, he was still alive. But the way those glances lingered just a little too long, with subtle nods of respect- weird. “Um. Guys? Clue me in. I was kind of tied up at the time.”
“You fought it,” Kunimittz said quietly. “You failed the save. You turned. But you didn’t attack us.”
Klein had to look away. “I was trying not to,” he said thickly. Oh man, he did not want to remember that. “Everything was all blood and fire and wanting to kill… but I knew it was you guys. I had to fight it. I couldn’t… couldn’t just let it use me to kill you.”
Issin’s hand from one side. Kirito’s, tentative, from the other.
Like cool water for a parched spirit. Klein took a deep breath, and let the fear out with it. “You’ve got to teach us that trick, buddy. You’re like the best fluffy blanket ever.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kirito turn red.
Harry One snickered. “More like one big black ball of fluffy yarn… ahem.” He straightened his face, eyes still dancing. “Leader, he’s right. You fought it. If the system just took you over as an NPC, there’s no way you could have.”
Because when you came down to it, SAO was a computer program. At its base, it was all about numbers. There were no coincidences, no last-minute lucky breaks, no heroic saves from pure willpower. Just numbers.