Disclaimer: I do not own Sword Art Online.

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Chapter 4

The Boss

When Kei was first released from Kayaba's world, he felt lost. He'd gone from being a member of a small time guild that was steadily working their way toward the frontline to a hospital patient who could barely lift his arms from the bed. It was . . . hard.

The world was forgin, different. It felt like being trapped inside of SAO all over again, except this time it was real. The real world held him within its grasp, and there was no escape. Sure, he and his guild had dreamed of finally beating the game, of hugging their family members again, and of finally being able to rest from the constant knowledge that death could strike at any moment. But that was all that it had been, a dream.

And then someone had beaten the game. 75 floors ahead of schedule.

Kei . . . honestly hadn't really been sure what to think. He was grateful, of course, that they weren't just going to quietly pass away in some hospital while trapped in another world, but he also missed his friends, his freedoms, and the strength that he'd had in Aincrad. His family was nice, but they just didn't understand the frustration that he felt.

It didn't help that everyone was treating those two years that they'd been trapped as just a hole in their lives. As if they could just wake up and continue where they left off as if nothing had happened. The survivors were expected to just move on and forget.

Like half of them hadn't seen a close friend die. Like half of them hadn't stared death in the face and spat in it. Like they hadn't spent two years of their lives fighting.

The doctors and government officials were treating the survivors like victims of some terrible tragedy.

What they didn't understand was that the survivors were warriors, above all else. They had trama, they'd faced death, and they lived to tell the tale. There was no forgetting it. There was no moving on.

But . . . who was going to listen to a boy barely out of his teens? It doesn't matter that he had been out fighting monsters for two years. It didn't matter that he knew what it was like in the game and they didn't. It didn't matter, because he was too young to make his own decisions.

In SAO they'd dreamed of home, of warm food and a bed that you can return to every night. They'd dreamed of their parents, siblings, and friends welcoming them back.

Now . . . now he dreamed of returning. Returning to SAO, to the struggle and the fight and the survival, because the world was a cage, and he'd never realized it before. He dreamed of fighting for his friends, of growing old there, where his only worry was his life and happiness, of maybe finding his own family, and finally passing away without ever having to worry about the real world.

Because the real world wasn't everything that he'd dreamed, and he was only just starting to see it. Maybe that is what Kayaba had meant, all along, when he'd created Aincrad. It was a place of escape, a place where they didn't have to worry about life. A place that they could stay, permanently.

And then one night he'd gotten on the forums for any new of his friends from the game, and he'd found The Rat.

He'd never been in contact with her, but he had heard of her. Who hadn't? She was the Info Broker. When she spoke, people moved mountains to listen.

And so he read what she wrote, and sat back in shock.

He'd never really been one to keep up with the gosup about the frontlines or the clearers, but there were several names that everyone had heard at least once.

Asuna, the Lightning Flash, second in command of the Knights of the Blood Oath, one of the strongest players in the game. Healthclift, leader of the Knights of the Blood Oath. Klein, frontline clearer and leader of Fuurinkazan.

Kirito, the Black Swordsman. The Beater.

We were betrayed.

In a fight between his own life, and the lives of everyone in Aincrad, the Black Swordsman defied all of the odds and defeated the final boss, Kayaba himself, 74 floors early.

Kei hadn't ever really had an opinion on the Black Swordsman. Sure, if the rumors were right, he was a selfish player so advanced and dangerous that if you try and take him on even as a large guild it would be suicied. He was like a level boss unto himself, and the other players knew it. Kei hadn't really thought a whole lot about it, because he never thought that he would actually meet the guy.

But if what Argo the Rat said was right . . . he'd died to save everyone.

Someone like that . . . couldn't be as bad as the rumors said. Oh, Kei didn't doubt that he was dangerous, but second in evil only to Laughing Coffin? No.

And even if Kei hated living in the real world now that they were free of SAO, even if he wanted to go back to Aincrad, he couldn't help but feel respect for the man who had sacrificed everything for people who had come to reveal his name.

Less than two weeks later, Kei joined thousands of other SAO survivors as they came together to save the one who had freed him and the three hundred still trapped in the game.

The Black Swordsman had, in the beginning, shown them the way. He'd drawn their hate so that they didn't turn on each other, and he'd forged the path ahead of them so that they didn't give up. He didn't ask for anything, didn't try and clear his name. And, in the end, he'd given everything for them.

The least they could do was give a little bit back.

0~o~0

"You know, that Black Swordsman was terrifying. Like a Level Boss, really."

"What? You've met him?"

"He saved me and several members of my guild when our leaders led us into a Boss room unprepared. I will never forget what I saw that day. The monster never stood a chance."

"Really? Who was with him?"

". . . in the end, it was just him and the Boss."

"So . . . he soloed it?"

"Yeah."

". . . I am glad he wasn't Kayaba. The guy must have been as strong as a Boss all on his own."

"I know, right? It's kind of funny though . . ."

"What?"

"We keep saying that he was good enough to be a 'Boss'," here he chuckled slightly, "and here we are taking over the Tokyo underground. Even if Argo is our phantom leader, who do you think is the person really in charge?"

"No way . . ."

"Think about it, who would she drop everything to help?"

"You have got to be kidding me."

"Who else would we follow? Who else could bring everyone under one banner with just his name and reputation?"

"You're not kidding."

"Nope."

There was silence for several minutes and then they both burst out laughing, one in terrible realization and the other in delighted glee.

"You know what this means?"

"What, that out little 'criminal famiglia' is run by the most feared player in all of Aincrad?"

There was a flash of a white toothed grin, "Even better. The Black Swordsman is a Boss, both in and out of the game."

". . . I can't believe I decided to go along with this. This is stupid."

"Can't deny that it's hilarious, though."

"Don't care." A groan, "Oh, man, we work under the Beater. Do you know how terrifying that thought is?"

"More than you could ever know. I met him, remember?"

With a week, Kirito's now nickname spread through the entire Organization, spreading terror and thoughtful contemplation in equal measure. By the end of the week, everyone knew who their real 'Boss' was, even if he wasn't directly involved. Yet.

0~o~0

Hiroshi Goro wasn't a big shot by any means. He was a high school drop out that had joined the closest gang that would accept him as soon as he could get out of the house and had been peddling illegal products around their territory for almost three years now. He had no ambitions and no delusions about his life. He was, and would always be, a low level flunky to the next big shot that came into town.

When his gang had been . . . taken, it had happened almost without him even realizing it. He'd noticed, of course, the strange people hovering around the edges of their territory and reported it to the leader. It might have been another gang encroaching on their territory, even if they didn't have any of the typical physical signs of one.

In any case, Hiroshi had been on a supply run the day that it all went down. One minute he'd been dropping off a package to one of their outer bases, and the next he gets a call that they are under attack. By the time he makes it back . . . it's all over.

No one is dead (unusual), no one is panicking (odd), and the strange people hovering around every corner are chillingly unreadable as they halt him at the front door and strip him of every hidden weapon with expert precision.

All it takes is one look in their eyes to know.

These people . . . they weren't normal. And not the abnormal that came with being in a gang, but the odd that came with the supernatural.

"Is the eyes that give them away. Never look them in the eyes, for when you do, it is Death that looks back."

The line from on of the light novels that he'd been reading hovered to the front of his mind, and Hiroshi couldn't help but sudder.

He found out later that they'd descended upon headquarters like a squad of nina, dropping from the rooftops and knocking out gang members with precise hits or tranquilizer darts. When they'd found the Boss, everything had gone silent for a few hours, but when they came back out Boss Rendo had looked . . . defeated. Not beaten, defeated. As if they had dropped the weight of the sky directly on his shoulders.

Hiroshi . . . still wasn't clear on exactly what had happened, but he did know that these people were dangerous. He'd heard from a few of the other gang members how they just seemed to know things, communicating with a glance, walking like trained soldiers, and commenting on things that they shouldn't know about the gang.

All in all, the transition of power from one person to the next was . . . underwhelming. In the end, Hiroshi simply traded on master for another. He was still a supply runner, he still was told nothing, and he still knew nothing about what was going on.

It did spike his curiosity, though.

Boss Rendo was gone (where, Hiroshi was pretty sure he didn't want to know), so who was running everything now?

A few weeks later, he got his answer when he overhead two of the new members sent to oversee the gang talking. And what he heard . . . terrified him.

"So," the one closest to Hiroshi started with a slow, rolling drawl as he leaned against the mat laid out on the floor of the room. "You've met the Boss, right?"

The other snorted into his drink and pulled back slightly, rubbing the back of his head, "Uh, yeah, didn't talk to him, though. We were just in the same room. It was one of those strategy meetings, you know? Lots of people packed into a tiny room, not a lot of light, and a lot of people talking over each other. I didn't even realize that he was there until he spoke up."

"Really?" the first spoke with a frown, "I'd think that someone of his reputation would have been front and center."

The second shuddered, "Oh, he was up front, all right, but he's worse than a ninja, I swear. If he doesn't want you to notice him? You don't. Blended right in with the shadows in that cloak of his. I could have been standing right next to him and never even realized."

"That bad?"

"Yeah," the second guy chuckled slightly, "I didn't really put a lot of stock into the rumors, of course, but you know what they say. He's always been the most dangerous of us all."

A snort, "Yeah, I've heard the stories."

"Oh?" The second perked up, "Which ones?"

Blue eyes flicked around the room before the other leaned in close, "You ever heard of the Beater?"

Darker brown eyes narrowed, "Of course I have. What do you take me for, a Slime? It was the first time I'd ever heard about him."

"Yeah, well, do you know how he gained that name?"

"Wait . . . you mean that time on the first floor when he . . ."

"Yeah."

"Man. That's cold. I still can't believe that he did that."

"That's not even the craziest part. You know the lady that worked with him?"

". . . No? I thought that he worked alone."

"Not that time. He was accompanied by Asuna, the Lightning Flash."

"Wait, they knew each other that far back?"

"Hard to believe, huh? Of course, she's almost as terrifying as he is."

"Tell me about it. I heard that she took on entire dungeon when she first started out."

"Don't forget the time that she burned down an entire village to get to her target."

"Or when she used her own men as bait and took down a legion of scouts."

"What about the time she foiled an assassination attempt by simply looking at the assassin and he just turned himself in."

"You know," the second chuckled, "When we lay it out like that, it's no wonder he married her. They are made for each other."

"Yeah. The Boss is still more terrifying, though. I got a job to lead my group against him once. You know what I did?"

"No, what?"

"Spat in my employer's face and told him to go on his own suicied run, but don't drag me and mine into it."

"Ha, sounds about right. He's only gotten stronger since then, too. Just a few weeks ago he took on an enemy commander and defeated him in single combat. There wasn't even anything left for the soldiers to bring back once the Boss was done with him. Intimidated the army so but they turned tail and went home."

"Yep. Still terrifying."

"I guess we should just be grateful that we don't have to deal with him on a daily basis."

"That whole side of the family is a little crazy, though."

"Yeah," they laughed together for a minute before going silent for several seconds. Then the one closest to Hiroshi sighed, "Reminde to to write my Dying Wish down if I ever have to fight him."

A snort. "Will do, friend. Will do."

There was some shuffling as the two stood up and stretched to get back to work. By the time that they made it to the door, Hiroshi was already long gone.

Long gone and terrified, but not stupid. He carefully spread the word to his coworkers.

The Boss is so powerful that his own subordinates fear him. He'd squash us like insects.

Needless to say, the underground became even more uneasy. Who, exactly, where they following? Who was pulling the strings?

Who was The Beater?

0~o~0

As a police officer of nearly twenty years, Officer Gin had seen a lot in his life, but the last few months had given him a run for his money.

He groaned as he stepped out of his car and found another person knocked out and tied up against the front door to the police station. Sorrowfully he looked down at his cup of hot chocolate and then plopped it back into the cup holder in the car.

It had started out as a few of the criminals they had under observation just up and vanishing a few months ago. No trace, no trail, just gone. Then, a few days later, they would pop up at the police station with a whole list of crimes they had committed and begging for the police to grant them protection from them.

Who they were still wasn't clear to him or the station, but they weren't the only one getting these reports.

With a sigh and the cracking of knees, Gin crouched down and lifted the unconscious man's head up slightly so that he could ID him before bringing him in. The man's head fell through his slack fingers, however, as soon as he caught sight of his face.

Yaku, leader of the largest Yakuza family in Tokyo. Yaku, who had been untouchable because of his connections with powerful people in the government. Yaku, who was currently passed out on their front porch, tied up like cattle and with a list of information that could get anyone locked away for life.

Gin couldn't help but feel a headache press down on him.

Oh, this was going to be so much paperwork.

0~o~0

Well, that's it for this chapter. I hope that you all enjoyed. Please let me know if there are any requests for what you want to see in future chapters and I will see what I can include.

A little while ago, I asked if anyone wanted to see which story I should post or update next. I have a poll up on my profile if anyone wants to vote on it. I have also posted the stories Chat in New York (Avengers crossover Miraculous Ladybug) and Puppet Strings (Darker than BLACK), if anyone wants to check them out.

Anyway, have a good week!

(Updated: 8/30/2019)