Title: Floor One Hundred and Beyond

Author: Kirisaki Kyouko

Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to SAO nor associated with the creator.

Notes: Hello everyone. I know it's been about nine months since I last updated this story, and I'm also really glad that I finally got around to doing it. Honestly, I think I was having trouble seeing where all I wanted this to go, and I also burned myself out of writing. For the month that I produced the beginning of this work was the most writing I'd ever done in a month in my life. So for those who have stuck with me and those who have gained my following since then, you have my sincerest gratitude. All those thoughts aside, I now present you the seventh edition. Enjoy!

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Chapter 7: The King's Castle

A dull numbing sensation covered the entirety of my back an enemy's sword slashed across it. I shivered for a moment, struggling to handle the strange feeling coming from my back. I lashed out with both of my swords and cut down the lizard that was attacking. After a cute death animation, the lizard burst into polygons and disappeared from sight. My mind was exhausted. Sachi and I had been working this PoP for the past six hours. After taking our honeymoon, we'd fallen severely behind in our training schedule.

I checked the rankings from time to time to see who were the strongest players in Sword Art Online. Every time I checked, the top five were always: Heathcliff, Kirito, Sachi, Asuna, and Klein. Waves of nostalgia and regret passed through my body every time I read Klein's name on that list. I had abandoned him at the beginning of the game. He had asked me to stay with him and his friends so that we could train together, but I turned him down in order to strengthen myself and not let them get hurt. After all of that worry, he was still one of the top five strongest players. My concern, though, was that they strength gap between Sachi and I and the rest of the clearing group was shrinking. Either we were getting weaker, or they were getting stronger at a frightening rate.

"Kirito!" Sachi cried out as another lizard managed to graze my ribcage with his sword. My hit points quickly fell into the yellow range from the consecutive hits I kept taking. I focused my mind back onto the fight, dodged the more lunges from the lizard before ending its existence with a quick slash from each of my swords. The Elucidator seemed to revel in the killing, slashing and hacking without mercy while the other sword in my left hand, the Dark Repulser glowed softly, simply following the orders to take the lives of our enemies. After the lizard fell, I sipped a health potion and watched as my hit points slowly crept up to around seventy-five percent.

Sachi fell several lizards at once with her special sword skill Thunder Demise. After each kill, she dashed forward to the next. It was no fun to just use the one sword skill to gain experience, and she needed to skill into her one handed sword skills as well, so we both made sure not to just use our large clearing sword skills to decimate an area. My stomach tied into a knot as I watched a lizard lunge its sword through Sachi's abdomen. Her eyes narrowed at the creature. She spit in its face before bashing its head in with Raigon's Wrath. When the monster disappeared from the field, I ran over and caught her as she fell to her knees.

"Sachi," I said through clenched teeth. "Are you all right?" She waved weakly in front of her face.

"I'm fine, Kirito. See? Even the sword disappeared when the monster died." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. "You know… It's like the monsters are getting stronger and stronger. We're the best of the best, and even we are starting to have trouble with them."

This was true. Ever since we had reached the eighty-fifth floor, the monsters were getting harder and harder for us to kill in our solo player method. In addition to that, more and more players were joining the front lines, making it harder for us to find places and times to grind out our experience. The monsters also started to attack in larger and larger groups. Had this been on the fiftieth floor, neither Sachi nor I would have stood a chance. Fighting against large hoards of monsters alone was an acquired skill that took months of practicing. Being able to hide, attack, defend, dodge, and still get the killing blows was almost an art.

I glanced at the time in the user interface. It was already 03:00 in the morning. Sachi collapsed beside me and leaned her head against my leg.

"Kirito!" she gasped. "I can't go on. I'm too exhausted!" I hoisted her off the ground and turned towards the teleportation gate.

"You're right. It's late now. Let's head home." Sachi gave me a soft smile and looped her arm with mine as we made our way towards the platform. A cool breeze blew past, pushing the hair from our faces. Sachi's eyes twinkled in the reflection of the moon. She stared off somewhere in space, in a place that I could never see. Her head slowly made its way onto my shoulder causing her to blink at the contact.

"S-sorry…" she muttered. I could faintly make out a blush across her face. She tightened her hold onto my arm. "I've just been thinking a little bit too much lately." We finally reached the platform and teleported home. The familiar blue light surrounded us and the tingling feeling of being broken down and transported over took us. A moment later we were standing on the platform in the center of the floor we lived in. I took a step forward. Sachi, still clutching my arm, stumbled forward, trying to stay upright. I lifted her off the ground and carried her into our house.

I chuckled softly to myself as she quickly swiped through her user interface, unequipping everything at once and curling up in bed. I crawled in behind her after putting on some pajamas and putting my weapons into my inventory. I wrapped one arm around her abdomen and pulled back for a second as my fingers made contact with her naked flesh. I overcame the urge to pull away and held her close.

"The end is near…" I whispered to myself. "We're going to get out of here." I heard a faint "Unn," in response as I closed my eyes, waiting for sleep to overtake me.

As time passed on the front lines, we started to learn the names of some of the newer players. None of them were memorable, but there was a new determination spreading throughout Aincrad. We were the five leaders that they looked up to, and our army was building. Every day we came closer and closer to reaching the ruby palace that was promised that we would be able to clear the game if we defeated that boss.

Even after separating on the first floor, Klein checked in with me from day to day, telling me of his adventures with his friends back from the real world. In every word I read, I could see his smile and hear his hearty laughter full of joy. But even then, there was something missing. It had been nearly two years ago passed since I met Klein. The first day I met him, training in the meadows with the boars, I could hear the real frustration in his voice and the delight that took over after he made his first kill. Nowadays, his voice sounded tired and exhausted behind his happy exterior.

Day in and day out we hit the fields in order to strengthen ourselves for the inevitable fight. From time to time we had to share the monsters with some of the larger guilds in order to keep peace with them. Everyone was needed in order to clear the game, so it was a simple matter of arranging times for large guilds to use the available training spaces. Because of this, Sachi and I occasionally had to make use of the more dangerous dungeons near the front lines. During those times, we had to take extra precaution in order to keep ourselves safe, never allowing our health meters to drop below fifty percent. The times were rough, and the nights alone with Sachi grew fewer and fewer as the goal started to come into sight.

The rest of the seventies floors flew by in a matter of weeks. No new aspects were added to the bosses' fighting patterns, but there was a severe increase in damage taken at each boss. Luckily there were no casualties up until the eightieth floor.

The eightieth floor had one of the most beautiful landscapes to be found on Aincrad. In the middle of the floor was a gigantic lake that spanned more than five kilometers in either direction. Because Aincrad was rather small, the lake took up nearly half of the floor. Fishermen from the lower floors started to move up, and with the guidance of the front line men, started to make homes for themselves along the lakefront.

The lake itself was nothing to scoff at either. The lake was a deep sparkling blue. The game system brought up some wind, pushing wave after wave of the perfect temperature water to lap against the sandy shores of the beaches. Some of the members of the army could be found there on their days off enjoying the beach for what could be their very last time. I took a whiff from the air and inhaled a not-so-salty smell. It was a lake after all, so it should be freshwater, but the ever present smell of salt hung in the air.

Today Sachi and I took a rare day off of our training to rest ourselves at the lake. While Sachi was asleep I invited the other three members of the front lines: Asuna, Klein, and Heathcliff to join us. It was a day off to enjoy ourselves, but it was also an opportunity for us to be able to strategize and figure out where to go next. A week had already passed and we had yet to even find the entrance to the boss's dungeon.

"Kirito!" a voice called to me from far away. "Kiritoooooo!" The voice grew louder in my dreams.

THUMP!

Something smacked my across my face. I immediately woke up and grabbed for the sword sheathed across my back only to find that it wasn't there. I instinctively rolled over to avoid whatever it was that was going to come for me next, but it was just Sachi holding a pillow behind her head, ready to strike the next blow. Once she was assured that I wasn't going back to sleep she jumped forward and pushed me back down onto the bed.

"Oomph… Good morning Sachi." I ran a hand through her silky navy blue hair and let it fall neatly against her head. "I take it it's time to get going then isn't it?"

"You bet! I've been waiting for you to invite me to the lake since we got here!" She bounced off of the bed and put on a summer dress that she'd found a month ago at a limited supplies store. It was a simple cut dress that hung just above her knees, sandy white colored, and suited Sachi's plainness quite perfectly. Come to think of it, it wasn't something she'd worn in well over a year, when she became a true warrior of the front line.

I took a moment to take it all in. This was very different from the Sachi that I saw out on the front lines day in and day out. This was the Sachi I might have met in the real world, if I had met her in school and found out that she'd liked me too. A small pang of guilt rose up within me. That thought had raised doubt in my heart that we would clear the game; that we would meet again. The Sachi in front of me is the same as the Sachi that I will meet again.

I let out a soft chuckle. "Well then, let's be off then. We can't let the queen wait any longer."

The walk from the inn to the shoreline took around an hour. The nostalgic scent of the ocean was carried along by the wind from the direction of the lake mixed together with the smells of vendor food as we walked through the city. Together Sachi and I peacefully ambled our way over. Occasionally we stopped to look through a shop or pick up a bite to eat. We were in no hurry to get anywhere. It was our day off after all. Finally the scenery of the city started to fade away into the background and the small fishermen's town houses started to appear ahead of us. Sachi let go of my hand and started to run towards the lake. I chased after her and scooped her off her feet. The sparkle in her eyes resonated with my own feelings as we finally reached the shoreline.

I set her down onto the sand and we leisurely strolled towards the water. We weren't supposed to meet the others for another few hours so Sachi and I had plenty of time to enjoy the beach to ourselves for a while.

"Hey, Kirito. Let's go for a swim!" she said, dragging me towards the water. "I never had much time to swim as a kid, so this will be the perfect chance for me to enjoy the lake!" I dug my heels into the sand to tease her a little. She pouted for a moment, then with a devilish grin, used all of her strength to fling me ten meters out into the lake. She dove in after me and swiftly swam over to my side. "See? It's not bad at all."

The next half hour was spent swimming around the lake and splashing each other. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have fun with someone else. Clearing the game and staying on the front line had nearly taken away all of my time. It had become a job, or even a way of life to Sachi and me. I don't think I stopped smiling for the entirety of those blissful thirty minutes.

"Hey Sachi, let's explore underwater for a bit," I called out. I took a deep breath and dove beneath the waves. The white noise that was above was instantly cleared out as the cool water filled my ears. I opened my eyes and looked around for Sachi. She swam towards me momentarily as she entered the depths of the lake. We looked around. To our surprise, the lake was a lot deeper than it had seemed to be. Due to the mechanics of the game, we were allowed a very generous time underwater due to there not really being any oxygen restrictions, so we took the opportunity to swim even deeper.

As we swam deeper and deeper into the depths of the lake, the light started to fade, and the water became dark. Using the skills I'd honed over the past two years, I was able to make out Sachi's outline in the water, and in the distance I saw something immense. The movement of the water made it hard to tell if the figure was moving or not, but the size of it made me inhale a deep gulp of water. Struggling to breath, I used all of my strength to propel myself back up to the surface. I broke the surface of the water and gasped for breath, spitting out the lake water all the while. Moments later Sachi's head surfaced out of a cluster of air bubbles.

"Kirito! What's wrong?!" She quickly swam over to me and whacked me on the back a few times. "What happened?"

"D- ack! D-did you see that down there in the water?" I coughed. I could bare make coherent words.

"No? See what?"

"Down there. I'm not really sure what it was…" I stared intently down into the water. I had no chance of seeing it from where we were, but I couldn't help but feel something ominous from that underwater presence. "But it seemed like something important and well worth studying… Hold on a moment.." I glanced up at my health meter. Instead of a perfect sixteen thousand, it read fifteen thousand, five hundred, thirty-eight. "Sachi, is there a glitch with my health meter? It says I'm missing about five hundred points."

Sachi stared at me for a moment with worried eyes. The dreading look on her face didn't make me feel any better when she replied. "No, I don't think it's a bug of any sort. It reads the same for me. When could you have lost any health, though?"

I thought about it for a moment.

When had there been a time that we had been outside of a safe zone long enough for me to get hurt? What had we done today that was outside of a safe zone. We woke up and walked through the city. I'm sure that the city was a safe zone. So after that we walked through a little bit of woodlands, and I tripped over a log but again, I swear that area is safe against damage, so how could I have lost any hitpoints? And thanks to my ability…

"That's it!" I cried out. Sachi looked towards me with the worried look still on her face.

"W-what is it? What did you find out?"

"Because of the inherent healing ability of mine, I regenerate hitpoints throughout the course of a minute or so. So the only time I could have lost those hitpoints was…"

Sachi's eyes grew wide and said, "W-when I hit you on the back just now… So… So that means… The lake is the dungeon?"

"Right. You asked me what I saw down there. Using my enhanced vision, I thought I could make out something in the distance that seemed tremendous in size. I couldn't tell if it was moving or not, and I started choking so I had to come up to get air… I know this is our day off, but I invited the other three of the elite squad here today." Sachi gave me a disappointed pout, but she nodded all the same. "I'll send them a message to hurry. This is something big."

We both crawled out of the lake and walked up onto the sandy beach. Sachi laid down onto a towel she procured from our join inventory, and I swiped my hand through the air to open up my user interface. Quickly I opened up the friends list and sent a quick message out to Klein, Heathcliff, and Asuna.

"Everyone, I think Sachi and I have found the entrance to the dungeon. It may seem a little ridiculous, but we believe that the entire lake is the dungeon, and that the entrance to the boss's lair may be hidden well in the depths. Instead of the arranged time, please make haste so that we can come up with a strategy. Kirito"

After the message sent, I sat down next to Sachi who was slowly falling into a doze. The sun came through the clouds flooding the shore with beautiful artificial light. The mysterious lake dungeon sparkled as the sun reflected off of its wavy surface. I was a bit disappointed to give up my date with Sachi, but certain things too priority to even that.

Moments after I sat down I received a confirmation message from all three parties. Within ten minutes they all showed up.

Klein was the first to arrive with his men. I felt a pang of guilt and jealous as I saw him approach. Seeing him made me remember the tough separation we went through on the very first night that this death game started. His men were some of the most loyal soldiers that I'd ever met, and through all of this time, Klein had yet to let a single man die. His greeting was short as we bumped fists with each other, and he and his men took their place around the blanket Sachi was sleeping on.

The next to arrive was Asuna. For a while after the Christmas event, she always turned me the cold shoulder and refused to participate on any mission or task that I came up with. We fought at every strategy meeting, and she fought recklessly during the boss fights. Only recently did she come around to finally coming back to her senses and began to be civil to me again.

Her eyes lit up as soon as I came into her field of vision. Her face broke out into a broad smile as she dashed towards me and tackled me to the ground with her hug.

"Kirito! It's been a while! How have you been?" She quickly got up and offered me a hand. I took it and she pulled me up with ease.

"It's been pretty good I guess. Some of the other guilds like the Holy Dragon Alliance are starting to move in on the more optimal training grounds, so Sachi and I have been resorting to more high risk hunting grounds as of late. How have you been?"

Asuna waved her hand in the air and let out a quick chortle.

"Ahh ahh, same old, same old, ya know? I mean I guess it's the same for me as it is for you. We're also having to start scheduling training times in certain areas, and when we can't get those, we have to either not train for the day or take the high risk areas such as the dungeons."

"Right. That's definitely something we'll have to address next time everyone gets together. Today I only invited us five."

"Alright. Heathcliff should be arriving any moment now, so I'll get ready."

Asuna walked towards Klein and his group. They started chatting about their latest adventures and follies while I stood wait for Heathcliff. Soon he appeared over the horizon with two of his strongest generals next to him. His other general, his right hand man, was already here, Asuna.

"Greetings, Kirito." He said in his grandeur sort of voice. "I received your invitation and made haste to see what you have to show us." We strolled over to the group of assembled leaders and sat down. I nudged Sachi in the side, and she woke up immediately. She blinked a few times, staring at the people around her. Immediately her face turned bright red when she realized she'd been sleeping as everyone arrived.

"Well let's get started then shall we?" Heathcliff proposed. "Show us why you have brought us all out here so early today."

"So we all know that the dungeon for this floor has yet to be found. Two weeks have nearly gone by, so how is it that we haven't been able to find it?" Klein and Asuna nodded their heads in agreement. Heathcliff's manner didn't change in the slightest.

"While I was swimming out with Sachi, we dove into the depths of the lake. Down there I saw this enormous shadow in the water. Down there, light doesn't reach very well, so even with my enhanced vision in dark areas, it was hard to see what it was. It startled me, so I started to choke on the water and had to swim up to the surface."

At that remake, Klein burst out laughing. "Man, Kirito. You really let yourself go this time if you got scared by a shadow in the water!"

"True, it may have seemed silly at the time, but when we surfaced, Sachi hit me on the back a few times to help me breath. I have the skill for passive regeneration, so damage I take is regenerated by a few hundred points every two minutes, but when I glanced at my health meter, I was missing five hundred health. No time before this had I gotten hurt, that's when I realized that the lake itself is the dungeon."

"Well if what you say is true, Kirito, we should be able to recreate this sort of situation," Heathcliff remarked. "You two, whack each other a few times on the beach here," he said addressing his two generals. They each drew back a fist and smashed each other in the faces. Everyone was carefully watching their health meters. They didn't budge.

"Very good. Now swim out ten meters into the lake and repeat the same process and come back as quickly as possible."

They did as he commanded and swam out a ways into the lake and punched each other as hard as they could. They quickly came back to shore. Asuna gasped when she saw that each of them was missing around one thousand hitpoints. It barely made a dent in their total hitpoints, but everyone could see that they could be damaged inside of the lake.

"Well I guess that clears that matter up. The lake is a dangerous area, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is the dungeon itself," Heathcliff observed.

"Heathcliff is right. Kirito, you mentioned that you saw something deep beneath the water where you could barely see it. Do you think we should go out there and figure out what it is? Perhaps that's the dungeon that you're thinking of," Klein said.

"Hun, I think Klein's right. But I think we should all go together instead of one person going on their own," Sachi offered. "Does anyone object to this? If it's the five strongest front liners, how can anything possibly go wrong?"

"Well, something can always go wrong," Asuna started. "But she's right. There's nothing we'll get out of this just standing around, and hopefully we'll be able to get away unharmed in the event that this is the dungeon we've been looking for these past two weeks." With a flick of her fingers, Asuna quickly changed from her usual Knights of Blood uniform into a two piece bikini with the same white and red coloring. "Well let's get crackin'!" She cried out and jumped into the water.

"You guys stay here and watch everything while we go in. Don't let anyone unauthorized into the deep portion of the water while we're gone," Klein ordered his men. They gave a quick nod and bade him a safe journey into the depths.

The five of us swam out fifty meters from the shore and dove straight down. We made sure to keep within vision distance of each other while we swam, constantly looking out for signs of danger. As we approached about 100m depth, the dark shadow started to appear in front of us. Instead of swimming deeper, we started to swim towards it. Just as before, the lack of light and the moving currents of the lake made it difficult to make out the shape of the obstruction.

We continued to swim for another five minutes before all five of us were stopped in our tracks. Each one of us received the same popup message.

"Warning, you are approaching the lair of the god of the lake, the all-knowing and all-powerful Death Lotus. None who enter here may leave until the Death Lotus has been defeated. Adventurers beware." Below the message was a small option box. It read "Do you wish to proceed?" with options for yes and no below. We all looked to each other and simultaneously pushed the "no" option. Then we returned to the surface.

"None who enter can leave until the boss is dead huh?" Klein said. Even while treading water, his arms were crossed and his brow was furrowed in thought. "I would hate to bring any of my men in there without being able to tell them that retreat is an option. I think we should have a big strategy meeting tomorrow to get everything in order."

"I agree," replied Asuna. "This really is beyond just us, and that message just seems very ominous to me. I think we should all fully prepare for this before we do anything rash."

I turned towards Sachi who was floating a meter away. She looked back in my direction.

"Sorry Sachi, I guess our relaxing time will be put on hold once again. I promise that when this is over, we'll be able to rest forever."

The next day all of the guilds assembled on the beach. Heathcliff being the owner of the most powerful guild in the game was allowed to make reservations on the beach just for the day to make preparations. Us five were the first ones to arrive in the morning. We looked out across the lake, each thinking about what might lie below in wait for us.

The Holy Dragon Alliance's Schmitt was the next person to show up. With him were three of his top strategy minds. Behind him were the rest of the guild heads. There were so many now that it was hard to keep track of them all. Some of them only had as many as ten elite members while others had well over fifty well trained hands. Hired hands and seconds in command stood across the beach as the leaders stepped forward towards the hub of the strategy meeting.

"Welcome fellow soldiers," Heathcliff began. "Today we bring you exciting news. Yesterday, we finally found the entrance to this floor's dungeon!" His voice magically carried all across the beach. Cheers and shouts could be heard from the footman on the farthest ends of the shoreline.

"You have words, Heathcliff," Schmitt said. He has utmost respect for us five, but his way of speaking was rather direct. "What I want to see and hear, are results. Where is the entrance, and how long before we can bang on the door of the boss?"

"All in due time, Schmitt," Heathcliff replied. "The lake itself is part of the area outside of the city. Yesterday we have confirmed twice, that it is possible to take damage while swimming in the lake. And about one hundred meters depth and one hundred meters out, there is the entrance to the dungeon."

Schmitt spoke up once more. "If you have found the entrance, give us maps of the place, so that we can prepare." He held out his hand to Heathcliff.

"Ah, I was getting to that. See, there are no maps of the dungeon. We have yet to enter it."

"So then for what reason did you call us out here today?" Schmitt retorted.

"The reason that we haven't explored the dungeon yet is that we will only get one shot. When we approached the dungeon, we were given a confirmation screen asking us if we wanted to enter. It said that once we go in, it's impossible to come out, so that's why we're holding the meeting here today. We have to figure out who all is going to go in and how many people we should try to have. It sounds dangerous." I tried to make it sound as convincing as possible. Schmitt nodded slowly, thinking over what he'd just heard.

"If it's as dangerous as you said, then you're probably right. But I believe everyone here that has not seen the message would also like to see it. So I will be going down to check it out for myself." Schmitt looked towards the other leaders. They all nodded in agreement. "With that settled, we will be back in one hour."

Schmitt and the others strode out towards the beach. The Knights of Blood guards stepped out of the way to let them pass, and they dove into the depths of the lake. We stood and watched as their trail of bubbles slowly faded away into the distance.

All eyes were trained towards the direction that Schmitt and his men had gone off in. The atmosphere was suffocating, but all we could do was stand there and wait. After a half an hour, Asuna sat down on the ground, carefully tucking her skirt beneath her. Sachi stood beside me, propping herself up against me, hooking her arm in mine. Heathcliff stood alone near the shore, staring intently ahead of him.

An hour passed without any sign of Schmitt and his men. The sun had fully risen above, bathing us with its warm nurturing light. I gave my eyes a rest from watching the water and looked up into the sky. For the past few months I had forgotten that the weather here was simulated to mimic the real world. I took a deep breath of the fresh air and closed my eyes for a moment.

My mind brought me back to the real world. This daydream was somewhat familiar to me, though I don't particularly remember why. I was there with my mother and Sugu, but there was also someone standing next to me, holding my hand. To my side stood Sachi. Proud in the face, and soft in the eyes.

Yeah… This is how it should be in the end. This is how it should have been from the start if it hadn't been for this game, Sword Art Online. I swear. Nothing in this world, big or small, will stop me from achieving my goal of clearing this game once and for all.

I heard a gurgling noise in the distance and opened my eyes quickly. A large group of bubbles was starting to form on the surface of the water. Everyone stepped in for a closer look as Schmitt and his men came marching out of the lake. The ever-present scowl was still on Schmitt's face when he approached us, but he didn't seem to have anything to argue about.

"You know, when you give directions, you should be a little bit more specific. We were swimming down there for at least an hour just trying to find the place that you were talking about." He let out a short huff of air before continuing. "But you were right about the entrance to the dungeon. It does say that you can only leave once the boss has been defeated. So that must be taken into consideration when we finally decide to go in."

Heathcliff took a moment to relay this message to all of the others that were waiting around or couldn't hear. Words of doubt started to seep through the crowd. How could there be a dungeon that couldn't be escaped from? We had all been through the boss fights that we couldn't escape from, but to not be able to escape from the dungeon at all, that was a new one.

"Well then?" Heathcliff asked aloud. "What shall we do? What clever plans have you all managed to come up with?" The pensive look on his face grew even tighter as he asked these words. It was almost as if he were looking for one particular answer out of all the possible responses. I saw him narrow his eyes just a tad and stare out towards the play makers of the Holy Dragon Alliance, to Klein and Asuna, and finally his eyes came to rest on me.

Klein was the first one to speak up.

"You know, if it was me, I would make sure to try to get as much information as possible about this upcoming dungeon…" Klein hesitated for a moment. "But given the circumstance, I say that we just try to get as many people as possible to go into the dungeon for maximum safety. That way we can take out the boss as soon as possible."

It was typical Klein. His loyalty to his guild members, the guys he knew in real life who had come into the game with him, was astounding. In order to guarantee his and their safety, gathering information would be the best bet for us to do. But because of the circumstances, that was not possible, so the next safest option would just be to mass the dungeon and see how far that would get us. So far it seemed like the safest option, but there were definitely some things that we had to consider. I waited for a while to see if anyone else had a better idea.

"What about this?" Asuna offered. "The circumstances of this dungeon mean that it's more of an instance. If you go in, only you can go in, but the only difference this time is that we can't get out. If that is the case, then how about just work by basic principles of the game. Avoid unnecessary paths and simply aim for the boss?"

This strategy was too stark and simple to work. Sure the past bosses on the seventies floors hadn't really introduced anything new, but to take such a simple approach to a boss of the world's most difficult and risky game would be nothing short of suicidal.

The discussions on how to tackle the dungeon proceeded for the next three hours or so. We had the Knights of Blood and Holy Dragon Alliance lower members go to the town and pick up some lunch during the midst of the discussion, but when the food came, no one noticed enough to eat. Each of the heads-of-faction took their turns to approach the topic, trying to see it in a new light. The most general terms that most people seemed to agree on were: Bring as many people as possible, move as a large unit so that we will be able to fend off any threat that comes our way, and allow for constant communication between the leaders and the masses.

"Kirito," Heathcliff said as he turned to me. "Usually you're the one battling it out with miss Asuna here over the strategies. You have yet to put in your opinion into the matter. Do you have anything you wish to add?"

He was right. I'd been listening to everyone's arguments and trying to dissect the important elements and bring it all together: one coherent strategy that could guarantee us victory. I always lived as a solo player, but during times like this, it was necessary to become a team player and go with the masses so that we could achieve something for the greater good, but there was something that seemed off. Everyone insisted that going with as many people as possible was the best course of action. I actually believed the opposite. Too many people, even if it's a safety precaution, could cause the order of command to break down at crucial moments. That meant that the third "key to victory" that people kept coming up with was moot.

"I do." I said flatly. All eyes turned to me. Even Sachi turned her head towards me before laying it against my shoulder once more. "While we've been discussing how to approach this dungeon, one thing has been bothering me. The main point that keeps coming up again and again is 'we should bring as many people as possible.' This in its own right should be made perfectly clear. Just because there are more people doesn't mean that we're any safer. Any boss or monster with a massive AoE ability could easily clear there several of us at once, and then there's the issue of the chain of command. In such tense times, order can be completely lost in a large group." I took a gulp of air after having talked for so long. People were hanging onto my every word.

"In short, we should be tackling this dungeon as such. Bring in as many elite soldiers as we can find, but as few people as possible into the dungeon. This will reduce the amount of confusion and possible back stabbing that we will encounter while we're trying to take out the boss. If everyone agrees to this, we can begin the discussions of who to send in right away."

Heathcliff clapped slowly, as if he were saying "Bravo, bravo. You figured it out didn't you?"

"There you have it. We have gotten everyone's opinion on the matter. All in favor of the large mass raise your hands!" About a third of the people gathered at the lakefront raised their hands. A few people nudged the person next to them in the ribs to try to get them on their sides.

"All right. All in favor of the small elite teams going in, raise your hands!" This time around sixty-five percent of those gathered raised their hands. It was rather astounding to see, but the safety in numbers strategy that had been discussed for three hours was crushed in just five minutes.

"Well there you have it," Heathcliff announced. "We shall begin the meeting for the elite squadron going in at eighteen hundred sharp. See you in a few hours."

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Things are getting pretty exciting now! Once again I apologize for the long period of time I was absent. Please leave a review telling me what you liked, what you disliked, and where I can sign my autograph!

Thanks everyone!

K. Kyouko