Feeling the weapon in his right hand, he was surprised at how 'real' it felt, the weight, the balance... they were all familiar.

Looking around for a suitable player, he met clear blue eyes who looked back at him arrogantly.

"Hey, want to duel?"


Kirito nervously glanced around the circular table. Looking around at the players that sat with him, he made sure not to make eye contact lest he invoke their wrath again. Really, how was it fair that he was punished when he was the victim of the misunderstanding. Girl logic was quite scary.

Sitting to his left was a grinning Argo, who was engrossed in a conversation with Silica. He deeply hoped she wasn't corrupting the younger girl, but judging by the look of awe on Silica's face, his hopes were quickly dashed.

To his right was where Lisbeth sat, the pink haired girl already connecting with the newcomer; a rather pretty girl much like herself. The solo player that Kirito had met yesterday had agreed to come with them after clearing up the misunderstanding. He was truly happy that she seemed to have opened up, if the small smile on her face was any indication.

Asuna.

That was her name, and Kirito felt oddly satisfied knowing that she had broken out of her depressive shell. After taking off her cloak, she was rather dazzling to look at, and Kirito felt nervous at just how much attention he had attracted, traveling with the four girls. Though he would take the attention of the crowd any day over the judging stares from the girls in his company. They seemed to be giving him slight looks every now and then, and Kirito was scared to find out what each of them wanted from him. He was of course quite experienced in the art of caving to the whims of women, a sentiment shared by his father.

There was a sudden lull in the conversations around him as the NPC waiter arrived with their drinks. As the rather life like NPC left the table, Kirito gulped as the girls focused their attention on him. Argo smirked as she felt his discomfort. After the new girl had explained what Kirito had done for her, the other girls had all laughed in unison as they knew Kirito's personality. That didn't stop them from teasing him relentlessly though.

"So, Asuna-chan." Argo began, already laughing inwardly as Kirito twitched. "What was it that you wanted from Ki-bou here?"

The group turned towards the brown haired girl who was sipping quietly at a glass of iced tea.

She blinked at Argo's unique form of addressing Kirito before speaking. "He said that we could beat this game if we worked together... I want to see that." Seeing Kirito look at her with a faint smile caused her to look away, embarrassed.

"...Me too." The voice came from the youngest person at the table, causing Kirito to look at her in surprise. "I'm sick of doing nothing but waiting... If I can do anything, anything at all to help, then I want to try.."

"Silica..." Kirito felt the helplessness in her voice and couldn't help but feel sad for her. She must have been thinking about this for awhile now, and Kirito knew how it felt to be powerless in a situation.

Argo reached a hand out to pat the smaller girl on the head. "Don't worry Silica-chan, we will definitely help you out. Ki-bou will too."

Kirito nodded firmly at her questioning look. "Of course." Even if he didn't want the younger girl to risk herself on the front lines, helping her gain inner strength was important. It was that feeling of helplessness that had caused over a thousand people to take their lives after all.

Seeing that Silica no longer seemed sad, Argo moved onto the last member of their group with a smirk. "So that leaves our favourite blacksmith-chan."

Lisbeth blushed as everyone turned their heads towards her. "I..uhm of course also want to see this game cleared..."

Argo didn't think that was her only reason for being here but let her thoughts be unvoiced.

"Then its settled." She said aloud, causing the group to look at her. "We will be helping Ki-bou defeat the first floor boss!"

Kirito blinked as everyone took up a resolute expression on their faces. Even if he wanted to object, he knew that this wasn't just about him and his ideals. It was about the future of everyone in this death game.

This was no time to be selfish.


The group made for quite a site traveling through the market district. An effeminate looking guy leading four rather cute girls. Two of the girls were rather well known, one being the infamous information broker and the other being the only female blacksmith. The last two girls, one who simply radiated beauty was unknown but was attracting a large amount of attention and the last one was a twin tailed younger girl who walked shyly beside Asuna.

All in all, the group made for a very interesting sight, especially to the front liners who had never seen them before.

Kirito ignored the piercing stares from his fellow players as he steadily lead the way to a merchant he knew. After the girls had decided that they wanted to help in clearing the first floor boss, he immediately assessed their equipment and levels and had found that all of them barring Argo needed some upgrades. Silica who of course was only in the starting gear would definitely need armour and weapons. Lisbeth and Asuna only needed some new armour since their main weapons were quest rewards.

Since they had a week before the inevitable boss fight, he had decided to help them level, especially in the case of Silica who needed at least 4 more levels. It would be easily doable in a party of course, but making Silica ready mentally would be a whole different question.

He suddenly stopped near the end of the district where a merchant's stall was set up at a good distance away from everyone else.

Seeing the merchant in question Kirito raised a hand in greeting. "Yo Agil-san."

The merchant was an incredibly intimidating figure at first glance, and Silica hid shyly behind Asuna. Standing tall over the younger players, he was clearly an adult at first glance. Bald hair, with sharp brown eyes and a short beard, he was a well known merchant amongst the clearers.

"Kirito-san." He muttered in greeting, taking in the strange entourage around Kirito. "When I told you to relax several days ago, I didn't mean this..."

Laughing awkwardly, Kirito shifted slightly away from the girls' questioning glances. "Erm... anyways, I need some help from you.

"Oho, you needing my help? Well, I guess I have to hear this out then."

Agil was someone Kirito had bumped into during the first week, and was someone that had made quite an impression. While trying to sell his numerous amount of drops, he had wandered around the market looking for a reliable merchant. His hopes were dashed when he noted that most of the merchants besides the cosmetic ones tended to ignore the 'weak' looking players, and wanted to deal only with the stronger ones.

The reason he wanted to sell his equipment to a player-merchant was that he thought the drops could help the newer players. If he truly wanted to he could have just sold his drops to a NPC at a small loss, saving him the trouble of interacting with the merchants. Yet, he wanted a way to help the newbies who were afraid of venturing out without a full set of gear.

It was by coincidence when he saw the intimidating merchant speaking to a newbie player. He had at first thought that it was a scene of bullying, judging by the tears in the younger players eyes. But as he came closer he overheard the true situation, of the new player getting scammed out of all of his col and items in order to join a new party as a sign of trust. He had been ready to assist the unfortunate soul when Agil did something which surprised him. He simply offered a full set of gear to the crying player at no cost, simply telling him to be more careful from then on.

Kirito decided then and there to sell all of his drops to the kind-hearted merchant. He had learned that Agil was someone that constantly looked out for others, judging by his insanely cheap prices in comparison to the other merchants. He was obviously not seeking to profit from anyone during this period of depression.

"Well, I need you to gear these three up." He said, gesturing to Lisbeth, Asuna, and Silica. "Only Silica will need a full set, and only armour for the other two." Looking at an expectantly smiling Argo, Kirito reluctantly added. "And something for Argo..."

Argo raised an eyebrow in question. "I can do that... who will be paying though?"

"Put it on my tab..." Kirito sighed, It seemed like his hard earned col would be disappearing faster than he had thought.

Smirking at the boy, Agil motioned for the girls to join him. "Very well, come along girls, my inventory is right over there."

Watching the girls follow the tall man, Kirito made to follow but has halted. "Oh and you won't mind watching the front will you Kirito?"

Sighing dejectedly, Kirito headed towards the stall. He hoped that he would atleast have some col left over for some food, a fleeting dream it seemed.

The girls had followed Agil to three large tables that were placed a short distance from his stall. The tables were filled with an assortment of neatly arrayed equipment, ranging from light armour to heavy chainmail. One table held only weapons, which caught SIlica's eye as she was still unsure of which weapon to take.

"Well, feel free to take whatever you girls want since this is going to be all on Kirito." Agil said while smirking. "I would recommend you take advantage of this, since my selection is quite expensive today."

Argo smiled happily as she scanned the tables for an expensive upgrade. The rest of the girls reluctantly joined her, as they were quite inexperienced. Scanning the large assortment of armour, Lisbeth picked up a chain mailed vest while Asuna seemed to be staring at a light-blue cloth armour.

"Uhm..." The girls turned to stare at a nervous Silica. "I don't know what to get..." She muttered, wishing Kirito were beside her.

"Ah sorry Silica-chan." Lisbeth said apologetically, moving besides the younger girl. "For now... I think we will get you a full set of the 'warrior' armour." She picked up the pieces of a dark red looking armour set, and pushed them onto Silicas hands.

"UWAH~"

The girl fell onto the floor as the rather heavy equipment overwhelmed her pitiful STR stats.

"Oops..."

The group watched in amusement as Lisbeth tried to appease the pouting girl on the ground. Asuna smiled slightly before going back to her selection, picking up the cloth armour she moved towards weapons section where Argo was. Agil was also there in a discussion with the mousy girl who was gesturing wildly with her hands.

"And I'll have you know that Claws are so much better than crappy axes!"

"As if! Claw weapons are for sneaky rogues who can't fight directly!"

"Thats why you don't have claw weapons? How rude!"

"I only stock useful things here, you mouse!"

Bewildered at their bantering, Asuna made to interrupt. "Ah..."

Twin blinks answered her as they halted their argument. Seeing the equipment in her hands, Agil smiled. "Made your selection?"

At her nod, he opened up a trade screen. "Very well, here you go."

Completing the trade, Asuna immediately equipped her newly acquired armour set.

"Oooh." Argo scanned the girls body with an expert eye. "Now that's a very cute looking outfit Asuna-chan. Are you trying to attract somebody?"

Asuna blushed. "N-no! I just like the colour." Light blue, with white stripes, the cloth armour was stylish while offering some protection at the same time.

"Sure sure~ Now I'm going to help Silica-chan since there's obviously nothing valuable to upgrade from here."

Agil growled as Argo skipped her way back to Lisbeth and Silica. Asuna smiled awkwardly at her retreating form.

"That girl..." He muttered to himself. "Such a bad influence, I wonder why Kirito-san hangs out with her so much."

At his words, Asuna blinked in surprise. "Do you know Kirito well?"

He looked at her in surprise before smiling. "Well, I wouldn't say well since we mostly just talk business, but Its hard to not want to get to know him with his personality."

Asuna knew that feeling very well, for one of the main reasons she had sought him out was to find out more about him. About how somebody could be so strong in the face of this situation, she wanted to know what drove him.

"Kirito-san... He is somebody special thats for sure. Even if I have only known him for a week or so, I can already tell, he is somebody that's going to go far." Agil looked away in thought. "He also has a flaw you know. He tries so hard to help those around him he usually forgets about himself."

"...I see." She had wondered about that part of him. The side that seemed to look out for others had a cost it seemed.

"Even now, I see that he has made a connection with you girls. Likely helping you out at some point in time without a regard for himself. I really worry about the guys future."

Putting others in front of himself at all times was a sure way to get yourself killed in this game.

"...But really, If anyone can do that and survive in here. Its that boy."

Asuna smiled in agreement.


Walking outside of the town was a relief to the boy, who had to deal with stares all throughout the day. The afternoon sun combined with the soft breeze made for a rather relaxing type of weather, which made Kirito want to take a nap. Of course, one had to have priorities in this situation, and he couldn't afford to slack off, not with lives on the line.

Eyeing the group of four girls behind him as they conversed with each other. He was glad that they connected with each other, as he knew that each of them had to have been lonely during the stressing week. It also helped that each of them were the same gender, as he knew that girls tended to connect with each other more easily.

Silica in particular had connected rather well with the others, smiling more today, than he had ever seen. Equipped with red armour and with her uniquely twin-tailed haircut she made for a rather adorable sight. He eyed the weapons she had chosen; a short sword and a shield, and decided that it fit her small figure rather nicely. The shield would enable her to block rather than dodge, and the short sword would let her swing much faster given her smaller stature.

Lisbeth was finally equipped with something other than her legendary apron, choosing a grey and silver coloured vest along with a skirt. She would have looked like a «Knight» class, if she didn't have a rather intimidating two-handed mace strapped to her back. He was rather surprised at her choice of weapons, but decided not to comment until he had seen her fight.

Argo had chosen very light cloth armour similar to Asuna, along with a pair of low-cut shorts that showed off her shapely legs. She already had her claw weapon equipped and together along with her odd makeup she looked like a hidden class. It suited her image very nicely, and Kirito refrained from commenting on her toned body.

Asuna looked formal in her chosen outfit; a blue and white striped cloth chest armour, and a skirt. Along with her rapier and long flowing hair, she looked like some sort of noblewoman. Kirito thought she looked rather like the beautiful elf NPCs had seen in the beta, something that he would never voice aloud of course.

"Here we are." He called out. The field he was in was familiar to the girls but was rather new to Silica. This field was only level three and was populated by the boar type mobs, mostly «Blue Boar». At this point in time everyone had mostly outleveled the area and there were no more newbies setting out which made the area completely empty. It would be a perfect area for Silica to grasp the basics.

"Alright, have you girls formed a party?" He asked to which he received nods. At level 9, he would impede the amount of experience gained by a rather big factor, therefore he opted to not join the party. "Asuna and Argo will clear that group." He gestured to a large clump of the boars. "Silica and Lisbeth, we will clear that one." He pointed to a much smaller concentration.

He knew that Asuna and Argo were quite experienced already with leveling, both being at level 6. Silica who was at level 1 and Lisbeth at level 4 would need some help and tutoring.

Watching the the girls all agree, he stood back and watched as Argo and Asuna dashed towards their targets. This was more than just a leveling party for Silica of course, as he needed to know what each of their individual skills were in order to be ready for the boss fight.

Seeing Argo arrive at her chosen target, the two girls and Kirito were rather surprised at her style of fighting. Simply put, it was the most vicious way of fighting he had seen. The claw weapon allowed her to swipe with extreme speed, and as he watched her activate a sword skill with the claw, he suddenly felt bad for doubting her capabilities. She cleaved through the boar with her red sword skill, and Kirito noted the very small downtime for her particular skill set. Immediately throwing out a needle with her offhand, she attracted another angry boar to her location.

Surprised at Argo's effectiveness, he turned to Asuna to see her dexterously manipulating her rapier to pierce through a boar mid-jump. Much like how he had been when he had first seen her, he was astounded at her speed. Usually one could not make rapid pierce type moves with a sword that fast, but Asuna seemed to be stabbing so rapidly that her sword was a blur. He noted that Asuna seemed to be tunnel-visioned on her current target, a potential mistake that was saved by Argo coming in from beside her.

"Lets go." He said aloud, startling Lisbeth and Silica from their awe. They both gulped as they followed Kirito to their targets, they felt particularly inadequate compared to the Asuna and Argo.

"Come on, Lisbeth take care of that one." At Kirito's expectant tone, Lisbeth equipped her two-handed mace nervously before walking towards the boar. Taking a deep breath, she charged and activated a sword skill «Heavy Strike». Her weapon glowed blue before it struck the boar with incredible force, causing the boar to fly away comically, skidding along the ground in pain. The cost of the heavy damage was noticed right away when Lisbeth remained rooted to the spot, unable to move her weapon. She recovered just in time as the boar reached her and she destroyed it with one more hit.

She blushed as Silica cheered from her position beside Kirito, who was smiling. "Not bad Lisbeth, that was quite powerful." The heavy impact of her skill was something that was quite useful because it allowed her to interrupt a monster that was preparing a skill or for last hitting due to its damage. "You shouldn't open up with a sword skill though, you left yourself open for a good while. We are lucky that the boars are not aggressive types."

Lisbeth nodded thoughtfully, she had never considered that and had always used her sword skills right away in order to deal the most amount of damage. Of course she had also never partied with anyone before.

"Silica, your up." Kirito said to the girl beside him, causing her to lock up in fear. Looking worriedly at the girl he patted her shoulders lightly. "Don't worry Silica, your equipment is much stronger than it usually would be at your level. Plus, me and Lisbeth will watch out for you."

At his words, Silica nodded slowly before bringing out her sword and shield. "Okay..."

"Now, that boar right there." He gestured to a lone boar that was lazily sleeping on the grass. "I want you to run up to it and use a sword skill on it, when it wakes up you need to bring up your shield as it will likely charge you."

Maneuvering the girl so that she faced the sleeping monster, Kirito pushed her lightly in the direction. "Go for it SIlica!"

The girl ran towards the monster reluctantly, but steadily. She raised her short sword in the air, and to Kirito's shock, she lightly slashed at the boar with a normal strike. Of course, the boar woke up angrily at the light amount of damage causing Silica to squeak as it struck out at her with its tusks. Her shield flew through the air, not because of the boar, but rather because she threw it away in surprise.

"KYAH~"

The situation turned humorous as Silica screamed and ran away from the smaller monster. Her hands raised in the air as the monster charged at her, slowly gaining on her. Kirito would have laughed if not for the fear in the younger girls eyes.

"Calm down Silica!" He shouted, but it had no effect as the girl continued to run in circles.

Unsheathing his sword he dashed towards the girl in a burst of speed, and faster than Lisbeth could keep up with his sword blurred and the boar exploded into polygons. Silica fell onto the grass in relief. Kirito crouched down so that he could be eye level with the girl and tried not to laugh at her scared expression.

"That was so scary!" She exclaimed, causing Kirito to chuckle. "Its not funny Kirito-san!"

Lisbeth joined them shortly, donning a rather large smile. "Good one Silica."

"Really Silica, you should have just told us that you didn't know how to use sword skills." Kirito told the pouting girl. Getting up and offering a hand to the younger girl, he fetched the fallen shield and handed it back to the girl. "Here, I'll show you."

He brought his sword up slowly. "To use a sword skill you simply have to start its required motions and the system will automatically finish it for you." Raising his sword in the air, he made a diagonal cut and Silica watched in surprise as his sword glowed red. "That was «Slash, a rather simple sword skill that can be done with most weapons."

"Oh." The girl muttered, staring at her short sword. She had of course not known anything about the game before joining as it was a spur of the moment decision. Raising her sword in an attempt to copy what Kirito had just demonstrated she was surprised as her sword glowed red and did exactly what she had seen. The feeling of her body moving on her own had surprised her though.

"Good job." He praised her. "Ready for another boar?"

She nodded firmly, determined to get this down. "Yes."

He pointed at another boar that was further off the side, and Silica let out a loud cry as she charged. Seeing the boar notice her arrival and tense in preparation, Silica prepped her sword in the same position and was filled with relief as the system took over and executed the sword skill. The sword sliced neatly through the air and left a large red scar on the boars face, causing it to let out a cry of pain.

"Ah!" Silica flinched as the boar leaped at her, instinctively brining her shield up. The boar bounced off the shield and Silica almost fell backwards in shock. Her HP gauge fell just a little and she tensed as the boar got ready to charge her once more.

"Block and stab!"

The boar squealed loudly as it charged towards her, and as it met her shield Silica deftly struck out with her sword, piercing through its hide. The shattering of polygons sounded through the area and Silica let out a loud sigh of relief. Finally defeating a monster on her own was invigorating, and she felt exhausted yet oddly energized.

"Great job!" The voice came from Lisbeth as she and Kirito walked up to her. "Much better than my first time actually..."

"Yep, that was great Silica." Kirito smiled, feeling the need to pat the smiling girl on the head. Silica beamed at the praise, finally feeling somewhat good about herself. "Now lets go clear the rest, you too Lisbeth."

At his words, Silica groaned softly into her hands while Lisbeth smiled.

It was a good while after that Kirito found himself simply watching as the four girls went about clearing the area. Lisbeth and Silica had found a tempo that seemed to work as Lisbeth would start the fight with a large attack and SIlica would step in to attract the mobs attention, blocking when needed. They would alternate every time Lisbeth had her sword skill up, creating an efficient farming method.

Asuna and Argo on the other hand... was simply a sight to see. They had apparently, in the short time that Kirito had left them alone, created a pace that would have been terrifying to most players. Argo would throw her needles out at a rapid pace, attracting multiple boars that zoned in on her location. Meeting the first one, she would deftly exchange blows with her claw, before breaking off and starting onto the second boar. The first boar would be taken over by Asuna who would finish it off rapidly, then switching to the second boar that Argo would eventually leave wounded.

Their pace was simply astounding, as the general area around them was completely empty, and Kirito couldn't help but be impressed at their teamwork. Smiling as the the two girls cleared another large group, he felt that the chances of them clearing the first boss with no casualties was much higher than he had ever thought. He would still have to watch over Lisbeth and Silica though, as he felt that they needed more work.

Seeing that the skies were rapidly turning dusk, already bathing the area in an orange light, he gestured for the girls to gather. Lisbeth and Argo noticed him right away, and the girls steadily made their way over.

"I think we should go back for today, its already getting dark." He said to the group, noticing that they all had signs of exhaustion from the rapid training session.

"But we can still go on." The voice came from Asuna, who he noted wasn't showing as much exhaustion as the others.

Looking around at the other girls he was surprised to see the determination in each of them, even from Silica who looked utterly exhausted.

"Don't worry we will train more tomorrow. But for now, I think you could all use some rest, especially Silica." Indeed the younger girl seemed to be swaying on her feet.

Seeing their slow agreements, he gestured them to follow him.

"Uhm, Ki-bou. The boars have respawned."

Kirito frowned briefly as he scanned the area, already noting that their path was blocked by a large amount of the monsters. It was supposed to be a high respawn area after all, but he was surprised at just how many had spawned at the same time. It must have been due to the extreme speed in which Argo and Asuna had cleared them.

"Its alright, I'll clear the way." He said firmly, surprising the girls.

Equipping his main hand, and manipulating his inventory for his left hand, he surprised them as two swords appeared in his hands. He manipulated them expertly in his hands as he swiftly dashed forward. The first boar exploded into polygons the moment Kirito came into range, causing the other boars to gather into his area. It was to be expected simply because monsters became more aggressive at night.

If Asuna was a graceful dancer, and Argo was a lithe assassin, then Kirito was both of them combined and more. Immediately from the start, the girls could tell his stance was more than just for show as he expertly slashed with both swords. The speed in which his swords came raining down on the mobs he encountered was staggering, and the fact that his body danced around the incoming attacks like it was nothing made him an incredible sight to see.

All of the girls watched in awe, including Argo as she had never seen him fight in person. Slowly following the sound of exploding polygons, they watched him clear his way through the boars like they were bugs. Clearing the way faster than they could as a group, and with no sword skills had cemented a fact in their minds.

Kirito was strong.

So much stronger than any of them had had thought possible, and as they watched on as he finally finished clearing the way, they wondered just where his strength came from.


"Ooooh!"

Loud gasps came from behind him as he arrived at their destination. The western styled house was an oddity, being situated a short distance from the city. Having been sleeping here since the start of the game, Kirito smiled fondly as he entered the house. For a very moderate price, one could rent the house from a quest NPC, but only after they had completed his hard quest. One had to wonder why Kirito went out of his way to acquire this house, but that question would be immediately answered as they saw the inside of the building.

Equipped with western styled furnishings and a variety of rather nice interior decorations, the house made for a rather nice resting area. The fact that it was equipped with two bedrooms, each with very fluffy beds was a bonus. The extra cost of renting the house was immediately looked over when you noticed that their was a bath. Something that he knew a lot of players, especially females would kill to have.

It was actually for this reason that Argo had constantly pestered him over the week to let her stay at his house. He had of course rejected her at every turn simply because having a guy and a girl alone in a house would be inappropriate in his opinion, and highly awkward - something that Argo obvious didn't care about.

When he had suggested to the group to sleepover at his place Argo had immediately countered with: "Ofufufu~ already trying to get us to sleep with you Ki-bou?" To which he had to deal with rapid blushing and awkward eye contact.

That all changed when he mentioned the bath. Asuna had gotten a dangerous gleam in her eyes, along with Silica and Lisbeth. Argo, who had already taken advantage of his bath numerous times, simply smirked as she watched him squirm under their stares.

"Bath. Now."

Nervously pointing towards the direction of the bathroom, Kirito let out a sigh of relief as Asuna led the girls away from him.

"Don't peak now Ki-bou~" Argo shouted as the girls all went through the door. Kirito shuddered as Asuna turned her head back to glare at him one more time before entering. Girls could be incredibly scary sometimes.

Deciding to rest on the sofa, he sighed in contentment as he lazily stretched out on the comfy furniture. He could have fallen asleep right then and there if it wasn't for the sounds...

"Ah! D-dont touch me there Argo!"

"Fufufu~ You have such smooth skin Asuna-chi, are you like this in real life too?"

"EEP! Where are you touching now!"

"KYAHH~"

Kirito hastily jumped off the sofa and headed to the second floor, where he opened the door to the balcony. The night air helped cool his blushing face, but did nothing to stop his imagination from running rampant. He should have expected this from Argo, and he felt somewhat sorry for the girls that were now under her touchy hands.

Sighing softly, he smiled wryly when he thought back on Argo's personality. Even though she loved to tease him, he noticed that she only played around with those that she liked; probably only him. She obviously seemed comfortable with the other girls, and that was something he was happy for. Argo was a person who kept her true feelings inside, something he could relate to, but the fact that she was likely lonely was also something that he knew.

Leaning over the edge, he saw the clear night sky, and wondered at how well the game simulated the stars. He was reminded of an old memory, of being young and playing in the countryside with Suguha.

"Suguha..."

The thought of his sister brought a painful feeling to his heart. She would have undoubtedly been crushed by his current situation, as he knew that she tended to be extremely affectionate towards him. Something that she had always done from childhood, always staying by his side and always searching for his approval or happiness. At this rate he would be missing her national championships, and he deeply hoped that she would not underperform due to his situation.

But the situation was not helpless, not anymore. With a clear goal in his head, Kirito could put his entire being behind it. And with the help from his current party members, he felt that they had a good chance.

"Wait a little longer Sugu."

A short while later, he heard the voices and footsteps of the girls as they walked up the stairs.

"There you are."

Looking back, he let out a sigh of relief as all of the girls seemed to be properly dressed, even Argo. She had from time to time, teased him by walking out of the bath in only a towel or very skimpy clothing that he had no idea where she could have gotten it from.

"Hey. Had a good bath?" The girls all nodded, although Asuna glared lightly at Argo, clutching her hands to her chest.

"It was amazing Kirito, I've never felt this clean in my life!" Lisbeth glowed in happiness, basking in the afterglow of a bath after two weeks without one.

"It was so good..." Silica mumbled from her spot, and Kirito noticed that she seemed to be swaying on her feet.

"Uhm...Silica, would you like a bed?" The girl nodded sleepily at his question, and Kirito smiled. "Its over here, theres only two bedrooms so you girls will have to share."

Walking a short distance to a western styled door, he opened it, receiving wide eyed stares from the girls. The room was furnished rather nicely with a dresser, mirror, and walk-in closet, but what caught their immediate attention was the large queen sized bed. It looked so large and fluffy that Silica immediately headed towards it in a daze. Collapsing onto the bed, she let out a loud sigh of contentment as she snuggled cutely into the sheets.

"You've been holding out on me Ki-bou..." Argo muttered, sending a suspicious glare his way.

"Ahaha..." If he was to be truthful, the beds were one of the main reasons he had rented this place immediately, being the same level of comfiness as in the beta.

Seeing Asuna looking longingly at the bed, Kirito chuckled lightly. "You can join her if you want Asuna, two to a bed should be enough. I'll take the couch downstairs."

The girl nodded in a daze, walking towards the bed and collapsing in the same manner as Silica. Watching their dozing faces on the sheets, Kirito wished he had some sort of recording device as the scene was simply adorable.

"I wouldn't mind sharing a bed with you Ki-bou."

Kirito felt a sudden chill down his spine as Lisbeth sent a glare at him. Even more nerve wracking was that Asuna opened one tired eye to stare at him judgingly.

"...I'll take the couch."


It was much later into the night when everything had settled down that Lisbeth found herself staring at the ceiling. After the excitement from today, she found that she couldn't sleep even after the warm bath and the extremely comfortable bed that she shared with Argo. She would never have expected all of this to be a result of deciding to help Kirito.

Kirito was a boy that had been frequent on her mind lately, someone who had stood out to her ever since their first meeting. He had visited her constantly during his short breaks, but each meeting, no matter how short, seemed to bring joy to her. Soon she found that Kirito's visits were often the highlight of her week. He seemed to know exactly what to say, usually listening to her ramble about a particular annoyance or customer with no complaint. Always with a small smile on his face, he was a large reason why she could continue looking forward to each day in this death game.

It was his kindness that brought her to join him at his meeting, as she wanted to be there to give him support. He hadn't needed it of course, but along the way she had met with Silica, a girl she had met once before with Kirito. They had become friends quickly, both seeing similarities in their situation.

His speech... was moving to say the least. He seemed to command an unique aura that had made Lisbeth shiver in awe. Even with his feminine looks and relatively slim body figure, he gave such a commanding aura that she was sure wouldn't be out of place in the military, or even in an army.

Sighing lightly into the pillow, she wondered what her friends back at school would say. They would most like tease her about Kirito, but then that was to be expected since she was usually the one to tease her friends. Boys... they never really interested her as much as they interested her friends. She found most of them to be crude and annoying, with the popular ones only being remarkable due to physical appearances. She briefly wondered what made Kirito so different from the others, but couldn't come to a conclusion - there was simply too much to list.

"Lisbeth-chan?"

The voice of Argo caused her to nearly fall off the bed in surprise. "Wah!"

"Hehe~ So you were awake Lis-chan."

Turning her body around so that she could face the smiling girl, Lisbeth tried to slow her rapidly beating heart. Pouting at the mousy girl, Lisbeth raised an expectant eyebrow.

"Couldn't sleep?" Argo was dressed in a light brown pajama with a hoodie that came with two mouse-like protrusions. Along with her whisker marks and grinning face, Lisbeth could see why she was known as «Argo the Rat».

"Yea..." She muttered softly in reply.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Argo asked softly, and Lisbeth blushed lightly.

"I-its nothing, just too excited to sleep I guess..."

Lisbeth simply did not want to reveal the person in her thoughts that had kept her awake. It wasn't that she disliked Argo, quite the contrary as they sometimes met with Kirito, but It was simply because of the awkwardness that would surely ensue. She didn't know what Argo's feelings were for Kirito, but she knew that the girl was overly affectionate for a reason.

"I knew it, we should've had Ki-bou sleep with us." Seeing Lisbeth sputter incoherently along with a bright red blush, Argo laughed. "So that's what you were thinking about."

Amidst her stuttered denials, Argo simply shook her head wryly. "Its fine Lis-chan. He is a pretty fine subject isn't he?"

Silently agreeing but not voicing it aloud, Lisbeth was confused at the tone Argo was taking.

"You know how special Kirito is don't you?" At her questioning look Argo elaborated. "How he cracks through the walls you build around yourself like nothing. Doesn't matter if you've had that wall since forever... He somehow finds a way to get inside, and before you know it, its like he was always there."

Lisbeth knew of course. Kirito had come along so suddenly and as someone she would have disregarded easily if he did not initiate the conversation. She did indeed have walls around her person ever since the start of the game, a necessity given the situation. Wary of the other players, but wanting to help, she really had no one to rely on in the beginning. Yet he came to her, and after the first day he was already at the forefront of her thoughts. Someone who she knew could be relied on without fail.

"Yea. I know." Lisbeth muttered. "That boy is truly something."

"Quite dense though, hehe." Argo shared a quiet laugh with Lisbeth. "He was actually the first person to try and get to know me..." Argo thought back to their first meeting, when they were both beta testers. "Didn't really care about the few information I had gathered, but wanted to know why I was an information broker rather than a player."

Lisbeth suddenly looked ashamed, as she had often conversed with Argo but it was only about business. "I'm sorry, I wa-"

"It's okay Lis-chan, I don't blame people for not wanting to know me. My personality can be a bit daunting I know." It was an understatement of course, as her personality had made her quite a bit of enemies during the beta. She was often brash and unyielding, seeking to make a profit on what others thought should be free. "I have a good memory, one of the reasons why I enjoy being an information broker. Being able to remember precise numbers has always been one of my specialties... but its hard to connect with people when they only know you for your memory." Argo remembered how often people in her class simply used her as a calculator or often disregarded her as a normal student. People always envied those with talent of course, and that was the main reason she had developed her brash and chipper personality; as a way of brushing off the hate and envy or her peers.

She didn't know why she was telling Lisbeth this, but seeing the understanding in the other girls eyes gave her a sense of relief.

"Kirito... he was different." From the moment she had met his eyes, Argo had known there was something special about him. Not in a physical sense of course as his Avatar was some generic model, but in his aura. The way he held himself and regarded others was something that she immediately felt a connection to. "When he asked me why I was an information broker, I simply gave him an excuse that I wanted to make a lot of col. But when I looked into his eyes I could tell he didn't believe me."

Lisbeth listened with rapt attention, she felt touched that Argo would choose to share this with her of all people.

"So he came back... frequently too. After each boss fight or when it was convenient, he visited me. Sometimes he required a service, other times he didn't, but every time he made sure to just talk to me." She remembered back then, she had thought he was just an annoying boy that was probably attracted to her avatar. "Before I knew it though, I started to look forward to his visits. Even getting sad when he was gone for a week." She remembered that week vividly, of looking forward to logging on and seeing that strangely unique boy. "I was even mad at him for apologizing when he came back on, saying he had to attend a special event out of town."

Argo closed her eyes in deep thought, fondly remembering the apologetic face on Kirito. Even though he had used a different avatar, the expressions were the same as his real face.

"When the beta was nearing the end, and he had become my only friend in that game, I asked him... 'Why?' 'Why did you befriend someone like me?'" Argo smiled at the memory. "He looked at me, and without a single moment of hesitation simply said. 'Because you were lonely.'"

Lisbeth smiled widely as Argo finished her story. It sounded so much like Kirito, yet she found the story sad in a way. Regarding the girl in front of her, without her excitable exterior and constant teasing, she realized that Argo was just another girl that kept all of her troubles inside.

Reaching out with one hand, Lisbeth grasped the other girls hand firmly in a reassuring grip. "Argo-chan..."

"Thank you for listening to my story Lis-chan." The mousy girl was giving her a friendly smile that she returned. Lisbeth decided from then on to do her best to become her friend, something that she should have done from the start.

The two girls fell into companionable silence and Lisbeth almost fell asleep when she heard Argo's last murmur.

"...still not giving up on Kiri-bou..."

She sighed in exasperation, a smile on her sleeping face.


"Oh my..."

"Fufufuu~"

"Oooh~"

"Awww, look at how his mouth is slightly opened!"

There was one flaw in SAO that was relatively unknown for the moment. It occurred when a user went to sleep, and was likely not even thought deeply upon by the creator. When a player slept, their in-game body was effectively dead to the world. No physical or aural senses could reach the player unless it was pre-programmed by the player in a way such as an alarm clock or system warning. A flaw that would surely be exploited by malevolent players, but in this case it made for a humorous situation.

Kirito had fallen asleep on the couch utterly exhausted, stopping only to change into more comfortable clothing before falling asleep with no blanket. Using his arms as a pillow case, he had fallen asleep curled up. His sleeping face made quite an innocent expression as his mouth hung open slightly, and as he muttered something incoherent in his sleep the girls let out a collective 'awwww'.

"Is there anyway to take a picture of this?"

The group of girls all turned to stare at Asuna, who blushed brightly under the intensity of their stares. "F-for blackmailing purposes!"

Nodding sagely, Argo decided not to tease the girl further. "There is, but its quite expensive, and won't be available until floor five or so."

The girls let out sighs of disappointment as they could not capture this incredibly adorable moment. None more so than Argo, who was already thinking of all the money she could receive from selling such a picture. Kirito was particularly popular amongst the ladies after all, if only for his pretty boy looks.

It was a very short while when the clock suddenly hit 8:00 am that Kirito suddenly jerked up, surprising the four girls who were examining his sleeping body rather thoroughly. Rubbing his eyes to get the sleep out, he blinked once, then twice as he took in the sight of four girls looking everywhere but at him.

"What is it?" He yawned aloud, tilting his head to the side as they avoided his stares.

"Um, breakfast?" Offered a timid Lisbeth.

"Oh." Kirito blinked before gesturing to the kitchen. "There should be some food in there by default, although I don't have any in the «Cooking Skill» so it will be just toast I think."

The girls bid a hasty retreat into the kitchen area, and as Kirito continued to rub sleep out of his eyes he wondered what had happened during his sleep.


"Ready?"

After eating the rather hearty breakfast of eggs and toast that could be prepared with no cooking skill, the group had geared up to go for another training session. Kirito had decided after the progress from yesterday, that the group was ready for something harder.

In a typical MMO, the majority of the experience came from quests, and in SAO that would be correct. However, given the situation the players found themselves in, most found it easier and safer to avoid questing altogether given the unknown variables that typically popped up. For example, the two most rewarding quests on the first floor required the players to venture off into a zone and defeat the boss there. Being at level 6, the mini-boss would usually not be hard for a normal party of 6, but even with the information available from beta testers, the risks were not worth the reward.

With Kirito being at level 9, Asuna and Argo at level 7, Lisbeth at 5, and Silica at 4, he was confident of their success rate. The girls, barring argo, were rather unsure, but decided to put their trust in Kirito and Argo; the two beta testers that had mastered the first floor easily.

"Yeah."

"Yep."

Receiving confirmation or nods from the girls, Kirito led the way to the entrance of the particular quest that he wanted to attempt. Located at the very edge of the map, the dungeon was called «The Viridi Forest», a forest dungeon that required a quest and a party to enter. In the beta, Kirito had done this particular dungeon rather easily with a group of randoms and was rather sure of their success if it was the same during the beta.

"Did you girls have a good sleep?"

His seemingly innocent question seemed to bring blushes on both Argo and Lisbeth's faces, causing him and the rest of the girls to stare at them in question.

"Y-yea! The beds were really soft." Lisbeth squeaked.

"Yup, really soft, would have been better if I had another pillow." Argo smirked, which Kirito pointedly ignored.

Asuna and Silica shared a smile as they had connected during their stay, Asuna seeing the younger girl as a cute sister that she never had, and Silica looking up to the graceful fencer.

"Very good, best sleep I've ever had"

"Yea! way better than the beds at the church."

Kirito smiled, as he had hoped his sacrifice would not be in vain. He missed those beds rather dearly, having taken to taking naps in them during the beta despite the fact that it was quite unusual to sleep in a VR game.

"I'm glad... I wished I had a bed too." He muttered.

The girls all pointedly looked away from him, as they did not want to swap their beds for lumpy couches after the amazing night they just had.

Kirito sighed sadly.


"Keep your eyes open!"

"KYAHH~ I CANT!"

Kirito watched on as Silica ran away from a rather large beetle in a familiar comical fashion. She had closed her eyes and seemed to abandon all form as she ran for her life. He palmed his face in exasperation as she seemingly tripped on a root and fell to the ground. Silica had been doing wonderfully along the way, destroying the stump type mobs with ease, but as soon as they ran into the «Forest Beetle», she had frozen up at the extremely large bug.

"KIRITO~"

Stepping directly in front of the frightened girl, his hands moved in a familiar pattern as he executed a sword skill; «Amplifying Strike». His sword glowed blue as it struck the beetle directly between the eyes. The large bug flinched back, and made a chattering noise as it readied to strike him with its large horn.

"Switch!"

Instantly, the lithe figure of Asuna leapt in front of him and her thin rapier flew into the air with a practiced motion. The strike pierced the same area he had hit, and the bug exploded into polygons, causing Silica to sigh in relief.

Since the «Forest Beetle» mob was unique to this dungeon, they received a buff that made their armour especially hard to pierce, making their monster level of 5 into a more realistic value of 7. During the beta, everyone had noted that they took extra damage when struck directly between the eyes. Kirito took advantage of this by using a party-type sword skill; «Amplifying Strike» which weakened the area he struck considerably. By doing this, the next blow would effectively be tripled, if not quadrupled in damage.

The only drawback was that you had to take into consideration the skill of your teammates, since if they couldn't hit the same area as you, then the attack was wasted. The effective area was also quite small for the next strike to count. Therefore, he was training Asuna who had a pierce type weapon to follow up his sword skill, making a rather effective combo.

Looking on as Asuna comforted the distressed younger girl, he was surprised at just how talented the girl was. Even though she said she had no MMO or fencing background, she still wielded her weapon with a familiarity that many experts would envy. It seemed that he had an incredible amount of talent in this party.

Slightly off to the side was where Lisbeth and Argo were in tandem, seemingly dancing around another «Forest Beetle». It was an interesting sight to be sure, Argo dashing in and out of the beetle's attacks while Lisbeth charged up a rather devastating sword skill. She brought down her large mace in a fury and smashed the beetle directly on its horn. The dazed beetle barely had a chance to recover before Argo used a claw sword skill «Dark Fury», a 6-hit combo that destroyed the monster with ease.

He smiled as the two girls cheered and gave each other a high five, silently wondering when the two had gotten so close.

-CLICK-

An ominous sound rung through the small forest clearing, causing the group to grow still. Staring at the source of the sound they found it coming from the abnormally huge tree that was in front of them. The tree was a dark green, and was mostly dead, but a short distance from the ground was a rather large hole, indicating that the tree was hollow. Kirito and Argo shared a look, and immediately knew that was where the boss would be coming from. It had changed slightly from the beta, as the boss was previously simply sitting in the middle of the clearing.

-CLACK-

Multiple sounds sounded out of the hole in the large tree, sending shivers down Silica's spine.

"D-don't tell me..."

A tremendously large horn popped out of the hole first, causing Silica to squeek. Following the horn, was the chitinous body of the boss, «Lituus the Forest Demon».

"Calm down Silica." Kirito whispered softly to the girl as the rest of the group assembled around him. "Remember what we planned."

The small girl gulped, bringing up her shield and short sword, ducking her head behind her shield. Even though they had discussed in length all of the potential situations involving the boss, they hadn't told her how scary it looked. Towering at the height of a small house, with the horn forming a good amount of its weight, the gigantic boss beetle was a scary sight to the younger girl.

All of a sudden the boss roared, and dashed towards them.

"Scatter!"

With a loud "Eep!" Silica was tugged along with Asuna as they jumped away from the area the boss was charging towards.

Kirito stared down the ominous horn that would have crushed him with a single strike if this were anything like reality. Instead, a direct hit would bring him down to low health and send him flying... If he got hit that is. Waiting until the last possible moment, Kirito leaped over the boss, clearing the large body in a single jump. The boss skidded to a slow stop, barely avoiding crashing into the trees.

"Now!"

At his call, the girls rushed under the boss and unleashed a fury of attacks on the unprotected underbelly of the beetle. It screeched a terrifying tone and tried to retaliate to no avail - it's large horns could not reach the girls underneath him. As it swung its horns around in desperation, the girls continued unleashing their arsenal of attacks, even the terrified Silica who followed their lead despite her fear.

"Stop!"

At once, the girls stopped their attack, running away from the beetle and back to Kirito's side. In the beta when the health bars of the beetle was depleted, it unlocked the ability to snap its horns at the players, as well as a small jumping ability. The players would then have to take turns dodging the fast horns while having the others slowly chip away at its health.

"Ki-bou..."

The beetle decided to cruelly mock their supposedly advantageous knowledge as its back suddenly opened revealing a pair of smooth wings.

"Uhm..."

The girls all looked up in fear as the boss rose slowly up the air, screeching all the while. They all widened their eyes in shock as it suddenly dove towards them.

"SCATTER!"

His words shook them out of their shell-shocked state and they scrambled out of the path of the dive. Kirito as always stood resolutely in the path of the boss, attracting its attention. He suddenly cursed the creator of this game.

"What's the point of being in the beta if nothings the same!"

Even as he cursed in his mind, he readied himself for the boss. At this angle and speed, there was no way he could simply leap out of range in time. Therefore he ran with all his might to the edge of the trees. He couldn't simply leap into the treeline as that would leave the girls open to attack. A plan quickly formulated into his mind as he ran to a particularly tree.

When he had entered the area, he had immediately noticed something had changed, the clearing retained the same shape with the addition of one thing. Spread near the edges were «Dead Trees», a particular type of tree that had very low durability and was cuttable. Although gathering wood wasn't valuable, there was still some use in professions. The fact that you could cut down certain trees was something many beta testers had felt oddly out of place in the game since you could just buy wood off npcs at a marginal price.

Durability in SAO was simple, once an item fell to 0 durability it would break, and SAO had entire fields that were breakable much to the delight of the playerbase. Many were excited for the potential feature of building up your own area for guilds or making your own towns. Seeing as SAO was now a death game, the durability of everything was just another feature that players glimpsed over.

Rapidly reaching the rather large tree, he climbed it through sheer speed alone before reaching the halfway point where he stabbed his sword into the tree, gripping onto his position desperately.

"KIRITO!"

Multiple voices of concern screamed through the air, and Kirito hoped his idea would work. Not a moment later, the boss came screeching towards his position on the tree, and at the last second Kirito let go of his grip on the sword causing him to drop down.

-CRACK-

The sound of breaking wood along with the a screech of pain from the boss met Kirito's ears and he let out of sigh of relief as he jumped away from the rapidly falling tree and boss. The boss had fell onto its back, legs in the air waving helplessly as it continued to screech. The tree's momentum had tipped the flying bug to tip over onto its back.

Meeting the eyes of his shocked party members, Kirito rose an eyebrow as if asking 'what are you waiting for?'.

"GO!"

Excited shouts met his as the entire party jumped onto the boss's vulnerable stomach, and Kirito joined them momentarily as he equipped his offhand sword to temporarily replace his lost one. Loud cries and the glowing of sword skills surrounded the clearing for a few excited moments before the large beetle glowed white and dispersed in a scattering of polygons.

«Congratulations! You have completed the quest: Lord of the Forest»

The group yelped as they all landed in a heap due to their high position atop of the beetle. Huffing in exhaustion they all shared a look as they seemingly collapsed onto the floor together.

"YES!"

Kirito closed his eyes and smiled in contentment as he listened to the cheers of the girls. There was no doubt in his mind that the first floor boss would be cleared.


Staring across at the rows of people that had gathered at the intended area, Kirito noted that everyone had shown up.

Defeating the «First Boss».

Yesterday's final meeting had been tense at the beginning as many still held lingering resentment towards him. Those that seemed discontent with him had banded under a player named Diabel, the same blue-haired player from the last meeting. He seemed to garner lots of trust from the upset players, and Kirito did not why.

Yet, every single one from the previous meeting had shown up intending to help, and Kirito would not turn away any of them... even if he couldn't trust them. Looking into the eyes of his most vocal hater, a player he now knew as Kibaou, he decided to pay close attention to that players particular actions.

Since there were many that was unsatisfied with him leading the party, he had conceded the leading role to Diabel. There were many protests, coming loudly from Asuna and Lisbeth, and surprisingly from the rest of the crowd. Agil who had shown up, had glared the ones that were smiling down into the ground, something that he was silently satisfied about.

Diabel accepted the role reluctantly, at least on the outside, appearing to be humble and thankful for the chance. Most of the players were fine with his lead since he had been a very vocal frontliner, often leading the leveling parties. Kirito couldn't help but frown as he suspected there was an ulterior motive to the charismatic player, but really couldn't voice any of his thoughts due to being outnumbered. It was foolish after all to split the group effectively in half for what Kirito knew to be a problem of ego.

Finishing his scan of the players that had arrived in front of the boss door, he ignored the glaring Kibaou in favour of checking over his party.

His party. Something that he still held lingering surprise over, especially considering how well they had worked together. Over the last few days prior to the final boss meeting, they had finished the other dungeon and successfully cleared most of the mobs such that they could effectively farm the «Dire Wolf» mob. It was slightly humorous that the wolves targeted Silica each time.

Silica had calmed down significantly since the start of the training, showing remarkable growth from a newbie to a level 8 clearer. She was still hesitant at times, looking to him or the others for approval. The most important thing was that she no longer feared the monsters, toning her screams and cries to mere flinches. She had also confided that she trusted the party with her life, something that had touched Kirito considerably, but also brought a slight pain to his heart. He hoped he never disappointed her trust.

Asuna had reached level 10 the other day along with Argo, and had also grown readily into her role. As the only person capable of chaining with him, they had practiced a good amount so that she could safely fight beside him. Pierce type weapons had high critical hit chances, and as long as Kirito identified the weak points for her, Asuna could clear things almost as fast as him. He often wished he could use sword skills while dual-wielding since his movements were slightly hindered when he only used one sword. The most important thing in his opinion however was that Asuna had opened up completely to the group. She smiled and laughed, and even teased... a far cry from the initial state he had found her in.

Lisbeth had reached level 9 and had gained a newfound confidence that he was glad to see. She was no longer hesitant when striking out with her large mace, and he found that she was even commanding at times. Along the way they had pooled their resources together and Lisbeth had upgraded all of their weapons to the best of her ability, something they were very grateful for. She also worked surprisingly well with Argo, seemingly in tandem with the mousy girl.

Argo was someone that also changed greatly, much to Kirito's shock. Even though he had knew her ever since the beta, during the week that they had partied he had seen her laugh, and not in a teasing manner, but out of sheer happiness. She also tried to tone down her teasing, although Kirito noticed that she now reserved the majority of her teasing for him, much to his chagrin. He was happy for the lonely girl that had finally connected with other people, a fact that he knew was hypocritical of him.

Himself... he had changed of course, being with four rather unique girls would do that to anyone. Having to adjust his combat style to suit the party, he found that he rather liked the feeling of being relied on. Similar to the feeling he received when Suguha always looked for his approval, he had reluctantly accepted the role of leadership. The girls put all of their trust in him, and in turn he tried desperately to never let them down.

"Alright, since everybody has arrived lets just go over the roles briefly."

Kirito hid a grin as his party members glared at the speaker. Although they had accepted reluctantly, they still believed that he was the best possible leader. Rather flattering to have four cute girls backing him up. Not flattering, however was to have most of the males glaring enviously at his party.

"As the leader of this raid group, I will be taking the lead in attacking the boss, along with these groups." He pointed at several groups, most of them being the ones that resented Kirito. "Since I feel that we are the most equipped groups, myself being level 10 of course."

Some of the groups blinked in surprise at his high level, and Kirito wanted to raise a hand petulantly and state that he was level 12, and his party members were likely above any of the others. He held his tongue of course as Diabel continued his talk.

"The rest of you will have the job of keeping the «Kobold Sentinels» off of the main attacking group. Of course, we will call for swaps when we need to heal or rest." At this he nodded to Kirito's group, obviously knowing that his group was equally if not greater than the strength of his. "Everyone understand?"

No one answered, most of them nervously last checking everything before the boss fight. Your actual lives were on the line after all.

"Very well, lets begin."

He led the group to the door and opened it smoothly, the large gates ominously creaked open revealing the boss room. Many of the players gulped and shivered in anticipation as there really was no turning back now.

"GO!"

With a shout, Diabel led the charge towards the huge boss; «Illfang the Kobold Lord», and Kirito was surprised as none of his party members faltered alongside him. Reaching the boss, the group held a collective breath as Diabel landed a sword skill solidly onto the front of the boss, and breathed in relief as he deftly dodged the retaliatory strike. His group members immediately started attacking from the side, dropping the boss's health rather steadily.

"Take care of the sentinels!"

Taking that as his cue, Kirito stepped forward alongside the girls as they rushed towards the multitude of guards that were summoned. "Asuna with me."

The girls nodded before breaking off, with the other group lead by Argo. The two small groups immediately targeted their own separate sentinel before starting their offense. The other scattered parties followed their lead as they also targeted a sentinel.

Eyeing the ugly creature in front of him Kirito expertly handled his main sword and used «Horizontal», sending a swift strike across the monster's belly. Immediately dodging to the right, he did not have to say a word as Asuna picked up his pace and sent a «Straight» into the mobs left flank. The poor creature did not understand what to attack as it was swiftly attacked from both sides. Kirito started rotating clockwise while striking with fast slashes and low-cooldown sword skills. Asuna likewise did the same thing, causing them to destroy the monster in a manoeuvre that argo called 'Kirito and Asuna's duet' much to their embarrassment. But to the players who paused to take in the amazing technique, they couldn't help but marvel at the grace and fluidity the two showed.

Argo, along with Lisbeth and SIlica were also impressive in their own right. Amazingly, Silica had been placed in front where she darted in and out, blocking blows with a bright green shield. The shield [Forest Lid]; a rare reward from the beetle boss enabled her to reflect a portion of the damage back to her attacker, a unique ability that proved to be extremely helpful as Silica could tank the blows much better than the other shield users. It also helped that whenever the Sentinel tried to charge up for a smash or special skill, Lisbeth used a sword skill to make the mob flinch, effectively interrupting any large damage. With Silica and Lisbeth occupying all of the Sentinel's attention, Argo served as the damage dealer, literally shredding the Sentinel with her rapid claw attacks with no regard since all of the attention was off of her.

The groups that were not currently engaged in a battle couldn't help but watch in awe at the skills of the party, and couldn't help but wonder why they were not the ones currently engaging the boss.

"More Sentinels!"

The voice of Diabel shocked most of the groups into action as a great many of the guards appeared this time. Each group finally occupied in clearing one, determined to prove their worth.

Kirito glanced down at the second one that he and Asuna had taken down and nodded towards the one that Argo had targeted. They each dashed towards their party members, and quickly helped dispatch the Sentinel. The group shared a moment of reprieve as they could see the other groups were handing their own Sentinels fine, albeit with some difficulty.

"Get back!"

This time all eyes looked towards the centre where the boss had collapsed with all of its health bars down. It was seemingly breathing deeply, clutching at the last remains of its health. All eyes suddenly widened as Diabel suddenly let out a loud roar before charging the downed boss. Everyone looked on in shock as Diabel charged directly at the boss even though Kirito had told everyone to watch out for the transitional stage. The blue-haired sent him a small smirk before focusing his attention on the recovering boss.

"You fool!"

The boss suddenly looked up with its red eyes gleaming, pulling out a nodachi, Kirito felt grim as he realized any information from the beta was sorely outdated. Grimacing, he dashed towards the boss hoping he wasn't too late.

The boss roared and swung out with his sword in a ferocious overhead swing and connected viciously with Diabel who bounced off the ground. The group watched stricken with shock as the boss swiped diagonally connecting once more with the player in the air, and reared back for a final hit to finish the deadly combo.

Right before the sword connected, they watched as a figure leapt in front of the attack and stalled in the air for a good second before they were both blown back from the force.

"KIRITO!"

He recognized the concerned voices of his party members immediately, and sat up slowly, seeing that his HP had fallen into the low orange range. The only reason he didn't take more damage was because he had met the boss's sword with his own sword skill, cancelling it out very slightly.

"You idiot..." He said slowly, eyeing the fallen body of Diabel who lied wide-eyed on the floor. "Was the last-hit worth that much to you?!"

Turning his head to stare at him, Diabel chuckled mirthlessly. "I really was an idiot... take care of them for me..."

Diabel, whose HP was falling rapidly knew that his time was up. He had wanted to prove something today... that he was better than the player in front of him. Someone who he had seen from the beta as unstoppable. He alone had recognized the potential in the player known as 'Kirito' and had wanted to be recognized too. It seemed that his pride and ego had overshadowed his sense... something that he deeply regretted.

"You're not dead you fool."

His voice caused Diabel to double-take when he noticed that his HP has stopped depleting, stopping at a measly 2 points...

Kirito got up slowly, noting that the boss had surprisingly not charged anyone so far. All of the raid members stared at him, but he paid them no mind as the girls surrounded him.

"Are you alright?!" Lisbeth shouted into his ear.

"Kirito..."

"Not cool Ki-bou."

"..."

He looked at them and realized that they were deeply affected by his potential death, and he struggled to meet their eyes. "I'm sorry." There was no time for a more heartfelt apology though. "Will you girls help me?"

Seeing the determined nods, he settled into a battle stance.

"Stay and watch. No one needs to die."

At Kirito's words, Diabel collapsed onto himself, shaking due to the magnitude of what he had just done. His group members rushed him, trying to check on his status but he only stared resolutely at Kirito's back.

Dashing right in front of the boss, Kirito opened up with a vicious «Vertical» that left a red line straight up the boss's front, causing it to roar in anger. Before the boss could even retaliate with a swift slash, Lisbeth jumped up to plate with a loud yell.

"HYAH!"

The blue glow of her «Heavy Strike» flew threw the air as the powerful skill landed directly across the bosses cheeks. The amount of damage triggered a brief stun to the boss, and the rest of the party took that as the cue to jump in, unleashing every cool down they had onto the boss. It was when the boss roared and sent them all flying with a spinning skill that woke the majority of the players up.

Agil in particular growled loudly. "Come on you wimps, there's a bunch of girls fighting while we sit here gawping like idiots." Charging in and landing a similar «Heavy Strike» he led the way as players suddenly woke up from their trance.

Everyone charged the boss in a renewed frenzy, creating an incredible light show of sword skills. Yet once again, everyone was blasted away with a twirl, and most of them were reluctant to charge again as most of their health bars approached dangerous levels.

"Asuna, Argo lets dance."

Kirito led the charge once more, this time not staying in place long after he left a swift slash, Asuna taking his place fell into his rhythm, leading the way for Argo to step in. A three way tornado of attacks rained down on the boss who struggled to get a hit on a single target, none of them staying in the same place for more than a moment.

It was on the fourth rotation that the boss shifted into the same stance that would inevitably send them all spinning once more. To the shock of the onlookers however, Lisbeth and Silica jumped in at the last second, unleashing all of their remaining cool downs.

The boss glowed white, and with a loud roar its body disintegrated.

«Congratulations!»

The entire boss chamber shook with the cheers of the players who were beyond elated to have cleared the first boss without a casualty.

Kirito, amidst the cheers of the girls had only a content smile on his face. He looked across the room at all of the players who had risked their lives and felt proud. At this rate, clearing the other floors would finally be possible.

Locking eyes with a sad-faced Diabel, Kirito gave him a single nod, to which the blue-haired one acknowledged with a short bow.


"Uwahh~"

The girls let out a sigh of contentment as they walked out onto the second floor for the first time. Vast valleys and hilltops greeted them, along with the sweet scent of fresh grass that seemed rampant. Indeed, covering most of the land as far as they could see was lush and incredibly green grass.

"Just like the beta huh?" Kirito muttered. Argo beside him hummed an agreement, already categorizing the most profitable information about this current floor in her head.

"The town is just right over there." He pointed, and the girls followed his finger to see a large flat-topped mountain with a large entrance. It seemed that the town would be inside of the mountain. "The monster levels here shouldn't be much different from the first floor dungeons, so I'm sure you girls will be fine."

Besides him Asuna crossed her arm curtly. "Why are you telling us this like you're planning on leaving?"

At her glare Kirito visibly shivered. "B-but-"

"No buts!" Silica shouted. "You can't leave us Kirito-kun."

Her adorable pout was infectious, but Kirito tried to remain strong. "I don't want to endanger any of you..." He muttered.

The girls all shared an exasperated look.

"Typical Kirito..." Asuna sighed. "So focused on protecting others, yet you forget about yourself."

"Yea! Who will be there to look after you if we separate?" Lisbeth asked, causing the other girls to nod in agreement.

Kirito felt an odd warmth spread through him as he felt all of their concern. Looking away, he couldn't help a small smile that broke out.

"A guild... We should form a guild." The group all stared at a excited Argo, who was rubbing her chin in thought. "We can all work together, and keep track of Ki-bou at the same time!"

The girls all shared a look. "Okay."

"W-wait." He started to say, but was met by four unyielding glares. "Okay..."

"And we have to call it the Royal Harem! or maybe Royal Concubines, or even the Royal Bedwarmers!"

They all collectively stared at Argo, who tilted her head to the side cutely. "No?"

"NO!"

Kirito palmed his face in despair. "And why is there always 'Royal' in there?"

Argo blinked and looked at him as if it was obvious. "Because you are going to be the leader of course."

"What!"

The girls all nodded in acceptance, seemingly accepting her explanation without question.

"W-wait, just like that?!"

Ignoring him, they started whispering to each other in a huddle and Kirito felt oddly left out. Pouting petulantly he suddenly felt a shiver run down his spine as they finished conversing and came out of the huddle with smiles on their faces.

"Then its settled. We will be called 'Royal Swords'."


A/N: 13k words... I'm at a lost.

I wanted to split this chapter into two at first after seeing how long it ran, but given the situation I didn't want to dedicate a whole chapter to the first floor boss fight. Which btw, I feel is done rather poorly in the Anime. In the novels, they state that the raid had 44 members, while in the anime there was only maybe 20? Ah well, its obvious due to the budget, but it would've been amazing to see a full raid fight unleashing sword skills.

As always, thanks very much for the reviews everybody. I'm really surprised how many of you liked this story, and especially at those who said my writing skills were really good, since I feel I'm merely adequate. Nonetheless, you are all awesome.

About this chapter, mostly interaction between Kirito and the girls, and some backstory on Lisbeth and Argo. It's pretty hard to write characterizations for five characters at once especially since you don't have backstory on Lisbeth/Silica/Argo, but its pretty interesting so far.

Training sessions with Silica are always funny, was kind of hard to write, but I hope you guys enjoyed it.

With the first boss finally out of the way, I can finally begin to flesh out Kirito's character, and on why he will be called «Prince» if its not obvious already. Feel free to tell me anything you disliked/liked in this chapter.

Next chapter will most likely NOT be this long. Taking time procrastinating from school to type a whole chapter is rather time consuming. (But then again, I would be wasting that time doing nothing anyways. =P.) Blame any grammatical mistakes on being only me, and mostly writing everything in one session.

I hoped you enjoyed this chapter.

Next Chapter: The Rumoured