Lily and I thought it was a bit amusing to emulate some of Viper of KHR! fame's utterly mercenary outlook on life through Argo, and how Kirito fully accepts this because she is a practical woman after all. Likely a major reason Argo was so keen on being her friend, acknowledging what many would consider a social foible and accepting it without word, pragmatist and all.

Sorry this took so damn long, SAO has to be one of the only worlds I play in where I actively have to work against the cannon protagonists actions to make a compelling story and damn if that doesn't just get exhausting at times. Honestly I really wonder if those involved with the original work actually ever had to deal with real human interaction before.

Well, anyway, three months late but my cohort Lady Lily Anne and I humbly present the newest chapter, please enjoy and if you have the time, review.

One of the downsides to being Sword Art Online's premier information broker was the simple fact that you were an in demand commodity that was in turn afforded no personal privacy what so ever. Now, normally this didn't bother Argo all that much, it was her chosen profession after all and she rather enjoyed being recognized as the best of the best in her field.

That being said there were times when your most interesting friend asked you to do something for her that was quite out of character that ran against your own plans. Such as requesting an audience with the top four potential future guild leaders later that afternoon and wishing you to be present for it. This kind of request made said already interesting friend even more so, which created problems for the spy the short term at least.

The current turn of events of course demanded investigation, unfortunately being a premier commodity as stated meant Argo had to deal with well paying idiots like this blockhead, before she could do something that was actually much more interesting and undoubtedly far more entertaining.

If slightly less profitable really, but when it came to Kirito's antics it was usually worth it in the end regardless.

"I know he's doing something to the items! He has to be swapping them or something! But how!? How can he consistently upgrade gear up till the point it's about to be maxed and then fail every time destroying the item in the process?! He has to be duplicating them or stealing them or something! I know he is up to something!"

Argo was once again grateful for the deep shadows of her low slung hooded cloak, since the ensemble did a rather fine job of hiding her eye roll as the man continued to rant. The sad part of this encounter was that he really didn't even want answers at all. No, he just wanted to rage at someone who may possibly understand exactly what was going on with a shady weapon smith, and to agree with his ranting and raving thus proving him to be in the right.

Humanity really was doing its best to present itself as a write off as far as she was concerned, but they compensated for it with loose purse strings at the very least so Argo tended to look at these situations as just a matter of course.

As it ended up the smith in question was actually, undoubtedly, shady as hell, but none of Argo's friends had done business with him, that she was aware of at least, thus she really didn't care one way or another.

It wasn't like anyone had paid her to investigate him after all, and she most certainly did not run a charity.

If the smith was really determined to commit suicide via stealing the best gear off of people who killed monsters for a living, it was on him, she wasn't here to protect idiots from themselves after all. Some might call this sort of thinking cruel, she personally felt that she was following the spirit of natural selection and left the morality of it all to the philosophers.

The worst part though was that she had to settle down for the long haul as the man continued to babble, he had paid quite a bit for the privilege after all, and she was sure Kirito would understand. The girl had a good business sense like that, she just hoped her raven haired friend could keep her patience for a bit longer because really, whatever she had planned had to be good.

Antisocial types typically didn't invite company to their homes without good reason after all.

Keiko was, to put it in simple terms, mildly annoyed at the moment.

It wasn't an all encompassing seething rage, or an unbearable roiling burden or anything that needlessly dramatic. It was just simple annoyance, which was irritating to the extreme regardless because anything you said about it just came off as whining.

Keiko had a policy, somewhat following the infamous Evil Overlord's list of things to do when taking over the world, and on top of that list of policies was 'Do not make those around you suffer from your temper when they hadn't actually earned your ire.'

Said ire was, unfortunately, bundled with the previously lamented whining leading Keiko right back to square one which left her to brooding silently. Ugh.

Hell, while Argo was running late and thus stalling this meeting the informant hadn't really earned any heated anger over it honestly, she had called ahead and told Asuna and Kirito she'd be late after all. Argo had been considerate but still the delay was annoying, especially since Keiko really had not wanted to do this to begin with.

Ok, entirely because she really had not wanted to do this, but the decision had been made and as they say 'Alea iacta est.'

Ugh. Screw her life.

So she now found herself staring blankly at Klein, Lind, Thinker, and Diavel as she tossed a throwing knife into the air and caught it by its tip over and over again while she waited for her friends arrival. Still, the young lady had something to distract her mind with at the very least.

She had only recently been made aware of the minor lag between the Nerve Gear and her thoughts by Heathcliff, and while almost minuscule enough to not be detectable, it could be if you were made aware of it.

That being said, she noticed it now that it had been pointed out, and it was annoying her so much that she was going out of her bloody mind testing all the variables.

Grimacing she muttered a few colorful expletives under her breath as she increased the speed of her tosses, eyes narrowing as she calculated the blades balance, speed, and drop rate. Seriously she could have done this in her sleep in the real world, but it was taking her ages to figure it out digitally; ends up terminal velocity wasn't properly calibrated into the system of all things. Her slightly OCD tendencies railed at this but she tried to push that out of mind for the time being.

How incredibly... irritating.

Her lips contorted into a snarl as she increased the speed again, this time adding a second knife to the exercise as she silently did her counts, still too slow. Still fast enough for the game though, just not for her personal prowess, grandfather would be disappointed in her.

How wearily...vexing.

She'd have to work on it some more, perhaps have Asuna cover her while she worked over some trash mobs? It was a thought for later at least.

Asuna for her part watched the others in the room as her partner fumed to herself, torn between two rather extreme emotions. Pity for the boys sitting there watching Keiko idly toss knives up and down while giving a murderous glare in their direction, or laughing hysterically at how Keiko was scaring them without even meaning to. Argo was going to be sorry that she missed this, that at least was for certain.

She'd spent enough time around the dark eyed teen to realize she was well and truly deep in thought. She had gotten the look about her a few times when they had been attempting to kill rocks for that mind numbing quest to earn the Martial Arts skill after all. It was kind of...well...disconcerting at first, but once you learned all the twitches and tells you could read it well enough, and it was fairly obvious to her that Keiko was not paying any attention to the boys in the slightest.

This, honestly, only added to the amusement factor.

Klein, obviously, got this as well. He had known Keiko far longer than Asuna and had spent a significant amount of energy keeping her safe, very much earning himself the big brother title from said girl. Honestly, as much as it pained her to think of him, she thought Kou would approve of the young man's behavior towards the scowling swordswoman.

Thinker was hard to read, he was exchanging nervous glances with Lind every time Keiko made a grunt of displeasure or one of the knives looked to twitch towards them. Yet he retained his cool, that was good, quite good really since it implied an ability to stay calm under pressure.

Diavel, well, he'd pulled Keiko into the leadership role against the last floor boss to begin with so he seemed to be retaining his calm rather well, Asuna personally felt that he was simply giving the young girl the benefit of the doubt really. He did wince every time Keiko snarled out a curse in French or English though, so he was a bit nervous at least.

Lind was...well... He was an unknown factor which concerned her quite a bit. He wasn't a bad leader per say, just inexperienced, and his stubbornness could really be beneficial if properly wielded. Though according to Argo she'd picked him because he ran in the same circles as Kibaou while having the extra benefit of not being Kibaou. She would have to hold a wait and see policy on him till he had proven himself adequate.

Further thoughts were cut off as Thinker let out a choked cough while pointing towards a darkened corner followed with a startled, "How long have you been there!?"

Asuna glanced to said darkened corner and once recognizing the figure in question simply sighed as she shook her head in exasperation. Keiko for her part only rolled her eyes as she pocketed her knives while standing from her seat.

"Hello Argo," the Black Queen began, "have we supplied enough free entertainment to announce your arrival or shall I get Klein drunk and have him dance for your amusement instead?"

Klein's "Hey if you're offering princess-" was cut off by Argo's snickering as she stepped out into the open while tilting her head to the side, silently assessing the pair of young women.

Eventually she spoke up sounding slightly intrigued, "How did you know it was me?"

Asuna moved first as she shrugged while snaking to the space at Keiko's right shoulder, coming to a stop she leaned into the shorter girls side as she hesitantly stated, "She's an observant sort?" trying to sound helpful and failing hilariously.

Argo's eyes narrowed slightly at that statement as she drawled out, "How observant are we talking here?"

Keiko for her part really had no patience for this sort of posturing and simply stated, "I have a proposition!" Which caused any further arguments to stall while gaining the boys full attention. Good, it only took a week of failed attempts to progress to earn that, moving on.

"Look, what's been stalling us is frankly everyone wants to be the leader of the Raid right? No two people can agree on who is in charge and when we group up it turns into a... well..."

"Colossal cluster-fuck?" Klein offered up with a tentative shrug, Keiko could only sigh and nod in return.

"Yeah pretty much. Look, what it comes down to here is aside from Klein who is all kinds of willing to go with the flow-" said man saluted in reply- "every one of you wants to be in charge. This has gotten us nowhere at all since you're not willing to play nice with each other."

Taking in a deep breath Keiko sighed as she let her shoulders slump, "So this is my proposition. Form up guilds, lead your people as you see fit to level up and progress, while...putting me in charge of the raid groups."

Looking up to meet the men's eyes Keiko continued before she could be interrupted, "The fact of the matter is, I do not want to be in charge. Not in the slightest. That being said, I also happen to be an effective leader despite my lack of interest in the field."

Klein and Diavel both spoke out a 'Hear Hear!' which caused the teen to blush slightly before regaining her composure, stupid supportive boys...

"So I suggest putting me in charge of the raids, and having Asuna as my partner since well...she's the strategist and I'm the tactician. We both work incredibly well together and at this point we've kinda learned to anticipate what the other is going to do mid combat, which can only work in our favor really. If one of us is incapacitated like during the last floor boss battle-" Diavel silently winced at that,"-then there is no breakdown of our formation. Less panic means fewer dead players after all."

Scratching the back of her head in embarrassment Keiko glanced away as she asked, "So...what do you think?"

The room was full of silence for a time before Thinker sighed, turned to Diavel, and opened a trade window, "You win, I honestly thought she could hold out a few more days."

Klein broke out laughing as he shook his head slowly, "I toldya little sis would lose her patience sooner rather than later, I blame Asuna keeping her temper in check for making us wait this long."

"Hey!" Asuna shouted out as a very perplexed Kirito played with her hair a bit trying to understand exactly what was going on here.

"Don't worry your majesty it was only a gentlemen's bet on how long it would take for Kirito to snap and take charge, no need to protect your 'partner' it was all in good fun." Asuna blushed brightly at that as Keiko pinched the bridge of her nose while shaking her head slowly, this idiocy, seriously...

"Anyway," she spat out tersely, "Are you all in agreement?" Lind for his part looked like he was about to explode but Thinker, Diavel, and Klein all nodded as one.

"Honestly princess? The three of us had been talking beforehand, and had pretty much come to a consensus."

Diavel nodded at that while continuing on for the red haired man, "Basically everything went to hell when you and Asuna walked away from the Raid group. We all came to the rather humbling realization that without you...this was going to take a very long time to get through..."

Thinker laughed while sweeping the bangs from his eyes as he met Kirito's confused gaze, "Nothing was progressing without you getting on our cases to move forward, it all boiled down to posturing. Effectively without your prodding we had stalled out as a movement. We had made a gentlemen's agreement that should you offer to take control of our little coalition we'd agree to it, we simply took bets on when you would agree to it..."

"I won," Diavel stated smugly as Klein and Thinker both rolled their eyes opening trade windows with the blue haired man. Lind glanced to the pair of teenage girls and scowled before sighing and shaking his head slowly as he came to a decision that obviously didn't sit well with him.

"You two are in charge, we agree, Kami help us all but you're our best hope..." Keiko blinked in surprise as Klein, Thinker, and Diavel all nodded in agreement.

"We came to a consensus beforehand anticipating the nature of this meeting," Thinker stated with a shrug, "You two are natural leaders and really we couldn't ask for more. So we'll follow your lead until you get yourselves killed or we find someone better suited for the job."

It was an incredibly cold comment but Keiko perked up slightly as she cocked her head to the side, "Robert Heinlein?"

Thinker grinned brightly as he nodded once, "Their ain't no such thing-"

"-as a free lunch," Keiko finished with an equally bright grin. "Ok So here's the deal, we go kill the field boss, once we make it our bitch we gather our minions and take out the floor boss post haste, thoughts?"

Diavel snorted as he shook his head, "Seriously you call your followers minions?"

Asuna, rather than Keiko replied with an indignant huff, "Do you honestly think of them as anything else in your own mind?"

As Keiko bumped her partner's shoulder affectionately Diavel let out a bark of laughter, "Fair enough! Ok, so shall we take on the killer cow?"

Keiko drew her sword and smirked at it darkly as Asuna and Argo stood at her shoulders, "We shall..."

Alea iacta est- Attributed to be from Suetonius on Julius Caesar as they invaded Italy in the late 49 B.C's. Literally, 'The die has been cast,' meaning they have reached the point of no return. Keiko cannot be friends with a bro like Klein and his history nerding without picking a few things up despite her disinterest in the subject after all.

Please review!