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Leviathan - Arc 1

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Prologue

"Teleport: Sekitei!"

Nakuro felt himself being warped to the desired location, the various colours shooting past his eyes as the landscape slowly started to take form. With a soft 'thud' of his feet, he safely landed back on the ground.

Sekitei Village. The hometown of the 64th Floor which had recently been unlocked by previous efforts of the frontline guilds and their courageous players. It was an improvised fort, reinforced with a stone wall and watch towers and home to a select few houses and shops. The Teleport Plaza was filled with merchants, guards and NPC's scurrying vividly over the stone square.

He inhaled the air around him. As if a poisonous fume had filled the sky, so foul did the air smell. Underneath rock and grass, a corruption had held this floor in its grip. Upon the arrival of the first players in Sekitei the floor itself had been stirring restlessly. Strange crystals of black and green had sprouted up around the countryside, littering the beautiful grassland plains.

It was quiet. Always so quiet.

"Ah, Nakuro! I see you have 'graced' us mere guilds with your presence?!" a familiar voice sounded mockingly behind him as he turned to face her.

"Commander Flint. Always a pleasure..." Nakuro grumbled at her, folding his arms.

Commander Flint was one of the newest additions to the Knights of the Blood Oath, one of if not the finest frontline guilds who contributed their full forces in battling the floors. She transfered from a smaller guild, merging their members with those of the Knights of the Blood Oath. In turn, she was rewarded with an officer rank.

She walked up at Nakuro, her right hand resting on her sword sheathed beneath her metal-braced belt. "Sure, I guess. Welcome back to Sekitei, not that you were missed or anything."

"Pfft. Might I remind you I was asked by your ilk to help out?" He snarled back at her. "If it wasn't that your guild saved my life, I would've gone my own way."

"Ah, yes. You had that choice. But now you're back, groveling in the dirt like the obedient dog you should be. If only you acted like this more often, my life would be so much more pleasant." she chuckled at him.

Nakuro sighed gently, staring back at her. She'd been a menace to him since they met floors ago, although he would admit she was a formidable player and excelled at commanding her troops.

"One wrong move and I will leave, do you-" Nakuro began, only to be interrupted by her dismissing wave of a hand.

"Be sure to report to my quarters in the morning, Nakuro. You can rest till morning in the tavern if you wish so." She said to him, turning around and walking off into the masses.

Nakuro sighed once more.

"64th Floor, eh? Fan-tastic..."

Chapter 1

The sun crept over the far hills of the 64th floor of Aincrad and into the small rented room of the bustling Inn of Sekitei. Nakuro had awoken far before the sunrise though. He had spent the evening reading a copy of a handbook he picked up earlier from the village library, scouring through the numerous pages in search for information about this dreaded floor.

"The Leviathan" he spoke aloud. The final boss' name had been passed round the players, and its reputation had quickly ascended to spark fear in the hearts of the players. Nakuro shook his head. He could not dream of defeating this boss on his own, not in a hundred years. Only once had he been able to pull such a feat off, and that was merely a fieldboss he stumbled upon in the early levels.

He flipped through the pages once more, back to the start. Before they could reach the Leviathan, as he was named, they would have to conquer two signal towers in the far reaches of the floor and slay two lieutenants who guarded the tower. "Those are the field bosses then." he said to himself as his eyes scanned the next page, where he spotted a small layout map of the floor. Atleast, what was already scouted by the front line guilds.

A massive wall seemed to tear the floor in half, and behind it was a blank spot. Nothing. Nada. Not a single piece of valid information. He grumbled. "Seems they are slacking more these days." he sighed as he closed the book and left it on his desk. He glanced over to his bed with weary eyes. His coat hung over the foot end of the bed, wrinkled and rugged. Next to it lay his greatsword. He walked over to the bed and unsheated his sword, holding it in his hands briefly.

"Hrm." he grunted softly. He took the blade in one hand and assumed a battle stance. His breathing accelerated as he lifted the greatsword into the air. But as soon as he wanted to strike his imaginary foe mid-air, he lowered his sword again.

It felt wrong.

Before he could sheathe his sword once more, a loud knock was heard on his door. Putting on his cloak and strapping his sword to his back, Nakuro stumbled towards the door. "Not in the mood, sorry. Come back-"

The door was swung wide open as Commander Flint stepped inside. "You're up? Great." she said, eyeing him up and down before grabbing his arms and tugging him outside.

"Hey! Care to explain where this is going?" Nakuro grumbled as Flint pulled him down a flight of steps, past the Innkeeper NPC.

"Idiot..." She sighed angrily as she turned her head. "You're late, remember?"

Nakuro shrugged confusingly. "Late? How... What?"

Flint stopped for a moment, releasing his arms, to turn around to face him fully. "Are you that stupid as you look? You were -invited- to the meeting, idiot! Remember now?"

"Ah, now I remember... Forgot the time..." He muttered beneath his breath, a yawn escaping his mouth.

Flint glared at him and pulled his arm once more. "Better get moving then. I had to excuse myself to drag your butt from the Inn." she muttered to Nakuro.

It wasn't unusual for Flint to be angry with Nakuro, even if it was but a minor issue. She would hold a grudge against him, and solo players in general, for the rest of the game. Ever since the Knights of the Blood Oath, under her command, saved him a few floors ago, he was bound to them to serve. Atleast, that was what he had promised in return as a token of his gratitude. Now, he was commanded to the front lines each and every floor. Even if he did not want to join the Knights of the Blood Oath, he felt like one of them already.

It made him wonder about her. "I'm surprised you are putting so much effort in dragging a -solo- player to one of your fancy meetings, Flint." Nakuro said, puffing as they ran past the Sekitei Teleport Plaza. "It is not like I am the Black Swordsmen or anything..."

"You know very well I don't want -you- around." She snarled back at Nakuro. "If it was up to me, you would be sent back to the first floor at dawn, but alas. It is not up to me. It seems you caught the attention of the players higher up."

Of course she meant Commander Heathcliff. The legend himself! The Paladin! He had heard of the stories, of how Heathcliff had held off the 50th floor Boss for ten minutes straight, without even nearing the yellow zone.

He shook his head. "I have no interest in your ilk, Flint. Commander or not." It was a straight lie though. He was very much interested in these types of players. He held them in high regard, for they were quite possibly the key to beating the death game. If these players had become powerful enough to solo enough content, it would mean he could one day do the same.

"Bah! Lies. I can read you like a book, Nakuro." Flint laughed at him.

They had neared one of the largest buildings in the village. A tall oakenwood house known simply as "HQ". It was where the meeting was held between the guilds, and it would be the central location where the tactics would be planned and where they would keep track of their progression.

Flint openend the door with both hands, and practically threw Nakuro inside. "Gentlemen, ladies. Found him." She said, closing the door behind her and taking a seat at the table. The guilds' leaders sat around a rectangular table in the middle of the room, on which a hologram rested of the explored areas of the 64th floor.

Nakuro quietly seated himself near one of the corners of the table, removing his Greatsword from his back and laying it beside the table. "E-Excuse me for my tardyness, please." He pleaded quietly, turning his eyes away in embarrasment.

The grumbles and sighs didn't quite make it easier for him. He simply averted his eyes from the table, not even able to glare at Flint who had a very smug face.

After a minute or two, he finally felt comfortable enough to look around the room as the guild leaders were taking part of the heated discussions about provisions, weapons, bosses and other various topics. He recognised but a few of the players, a handful of debatably "skilled" players with which he had beaten numerous bosses before, but it was of little importance to him.

"Waste of time" He thought to himself with a long, drawn out sigh.

He would have to endure

---

[Result]

[Exp: 78000]

[Col: 650]

[Items: 1]

Swinging his Greatsword over his shoulder, sheathing it once more beneath his coat, Nakuro scanned the fields for another Dire Wolf to kill, with no succes. He had worked this area for almost two hours, and the respawn rate of the mobs seemed to be increasingly slower then the last floor.

"Bloody..." he said to himself, inclining his head slightly as he opened his inventory slot. He casually scrolled through the list of items he had obtained.

"More Ruined Pelts, a Large Fang... But no meat. Strange."

He closed his inventory again and started walking back towards Sekitei Village, which he could spot in the distance beneath the setting sun and between the large rocky formations that lay scattered all over the plains around the settlement.

It had been a full two weeks since the meeting. Since then, a few more meetings were held, which he did not care to attend. Instead, he had chosen his old ways. Every available quest in the area had been completed, every scrap of exp. gained. All that was left were the endless hoards of level 67 to level 68 mobs that stalked the plains.

He sighed. He was all too familiar with grinding mobs, but this? This was ridiculous. Though, he thought that at every previous level.

All the sudden, in the corner of his eye, he finally spotted something. One of the wolves had finally respawned and had already targeted him.

"Ah, finally!" he exclaimed happily, drawing his sword and charging at the Dire Wolf. Even though the wolf was considerably far off, Nakuor managed to reach him in a matter of seconds and sliced it in half, and with a great cry of agony the wolf disappeared into thousands of tiny shards.

[Result]

[Exp: 78000]

[Col: 575]

[Items: 2]

Nakuro smiled with joy, but quickly calmed down. He sheathed his sword once more and resumed his long path back to the village.

But without warning, he was met with a sword to his throat.

"Idiot! I've spent -hours- trying to find a kill. My potions are gone, my weapons near broken, and the very first sign of a creature and my kill gets stolen!" an angry voice sobbed next to him.

Nakuro slowly reared his head to his left, still startled by the cold metal that held him frozen in place. Next to him stood a player, a girl of about his age judging by her looks, with what appeared to be rags of old clothing obtained from the very first levels.

He carefully eyed her before speaking up. "Ehrm... didn't see you there. But isn't this a bit 'extreme'? I mean, there are plently of creatures around."

"Oh yeah?!" she exclaimed, pointing at the empty fields around them. "Can't see one for miles around. You ruined my chances!"

"Oh... Sorry. But good luck on hunting for another wolf I'd say." he said calmly, trying to push away the blade from his throat to walk off. But before he could lift a hand, the blade was pressed tighter to his throat. Actual tears were flowing from the poor girl's eyes.

He sighed. "Just my luck... urgh." he muttered softly. "Look, I'm sorry. Alright?"

"Sorry won't cut it. What am I supposed to do now, eh?" she cried out, still holding her blade to his neck.

"Well, come back again tomorrow? Or even better - Wait for a few minutes for one to spawn?"

"So you can steal my kills again?"

"Urgh, no! I was on my way back to Sekitei anyway!"

"Like hell you were!"

He sighed once more. She was being awfully stubborn, and seemingly refused to let him go.

"Look. At this rate, the sun will set and more dangerous mobs will spawn. And I don't know what level you are, but they are very aggressive and even stronger then what we can encounter during the day. So I suggest you lower the blade and let an innocent player go." he said, staring right at her.

Finally, his words came through to her, as the girl lowered her blade. "F-Fine... Just go then. Leave." she said, sitting herself down in the grass, tears flowing over her cheeks.

"Why me?!" Nakuro thought to himself as he covered his face with him hands. "Alright, alright... Calm down now. Why the tears?" he asked her.

She reared her head towards him, still sobbing loudly. "I said you could go. Just leave already."

"Like hell I will. Not going to leave a crying girl in the middle of this place by herself. Now... what's going on?" he said, kneeling before her.

She wiped her cheek with her sleeves. "These wolves are level 67. I have little chance to beat these monsters unless I ambush them, and these skilled players aggroing every mob in the area kind of renders me useless."

"Then why not tackle them like every other player?" Nakuro asked.

"B-B... Because I'm only level 52!"

Nakuro's mouth fell wide open from amazement. "52?! You shouldn't even be around these parts, far too dangerous for you! What if you aggroed too many mobs? Or ran into PK's?!" he cried out in disbelief.

Instead of replying, she burst into even more tears.

Guilt welled up inside him, and yet another long sigh escaped his lips. "Why do I have to play the bloody hero again?". He got up once more and peered at the horizon. The sun was very close to falling behind the outlines of Sekitei Village, dangerously low.

"Come now. On your feet - I'll get you back to Sekitei." Nakuro extended a hand to her, which she eagerly grabbed. She tried to crack a smile at him, and looked at him with a face that just shouted "thank you".

He grumbled beneath his breath, rolling with his eyes. Not how he imagined his evening would start off.

---

"G-Good night... And thank you."

"Yeah... sure."

Nakuro closed the door to his room. He had rented a room for them both, since the girl was too poor to even rent one. He had given her the bed and had opted for himself to sleep on the floor. He threw his coat over himself, trying to keep himself warm.

"What did I do to deserve this kind of trouble?" he thought to himself, as he turned on his side to fall asleep.

Chapter 2

"Come on, let's move alright." Nakuro grumbled, still sleepy from a restless night on the cold floor.

"Coming! Just... Give me one second, alright?!" a female voice sounded from within the Inn.

The two had discussed plans this morning. Or well, more so that Nakuro had offered his aid. As much as he preferred solidarity, he felt compelled to help the girl.

Finally, from the Inn the girl emerged, clad once more in the same old rags she wore when they ran into each other, equiped with a Greatsword; a gift, merely one of the reserve swords Nakuro had stored within his inventory.

He eyed her up and down. "Really? Still rocking the beginner clothing?"

She shifted uneasily. "Well, yes. It's a sentimental reason."

"Such a reason could resolve in your death, y'know?" he said plainly, motioning her to follow.

In the corner of his eyes, he could see her dipping her head in shame. He allowed her to catch up to him, so they would be walking side by side.

"Th-Thanks again for the room. And the sword. And-"

"Don't mention it." Nakuro said. "Seeing as you'll be sticking around, better get to learn one another. Name's Nakuro." He nodded firmly at her.

"Y-Yuuni" she replied, trying to crack a half-baked smile at him like she had tried to do since they met. Quite humerous, since it looked funny. Nakuro simply smiled back at her.

"So, Yuuni," he began, "How is it a level 52 player, clad in beginners' clothing, ends up in a floor high above her level?"

She hesitated for a moment, but spoke up anyway. "I always fell a few floors behind my own level, no matter how hard I tried to level. It wasn't easier after my friends passed away. So I thought chasing the front lines might get me into a high level guild, after which I could level faster."

"But you do reasise that front line guilds only recruit players with a high enough level cap?"

"Well..."

"You know it's true, don't you?"

She turned her eyes down in disappointment. "Yeah. Guess so." She turned back to look at Nakuro. "So, what about you then? How come you aren't in a guild?" she asked as she pointed right above his head to where a green marker should've been, would he be in a guild.

"Not my piece of cake. I play solo."

"Why?" she asked curiously.

"Because I chose to play solo."

"I know that. By why did you choose that?"

He sighed, scratching the back of his neck, a small sign of annoyance. "I... I was once in a guild. But I think I should tell my story under different circumstances." he said, pointing at the fields beyond. "Right now, we will focus on getting you to a higher, more suited level for this floor."

She nodded eagerly, eyes glinting with a spark of hope. "Right. But how are we supposed to do that?"

"Simple." He replied. "All you need to do is understand game mechanics."

They both stopped near a patch of dirt in the wide open plains, where they kneeled on the ground. Nakuro gathered up some coloured pebbles and spreaded them out in the dirt.

"See the black one?" He said, pointing at a large pebble in the middle. "That represents a Dire Wolf, a common mob in the area." He then pointed to a white pebble. "That represents me. And the large grey one represents another player." he pointed at the last pebble.

"What about them?" Yuuni asked, still skeptically eyeing the pebbles.

"This game, it relies on certain rules. For instance, if I tag a mob and damage his health bar, then it immediatly locks the experience, col and items to me. Meaning that if the grey pebble would also attack, it would gain no experience, col or items on death of the black pebble." Nakuro explained, shifting around the pebbles.

"Now, what happens when players form a party and tag a mob?" Nakuro continued, placing another grey pebble and another white pebble in the dirt. "It means that if the white party tags the mob, it immediatly locks the experience, col and items to the party. But for it to work, every player in the part must damage the health bar atleast once, otherwise only the players who damage the mob will recieve the experience, col and items."

Yuuni raised her eyebrows. "So... If we tag a mob, and I hit it once, but you kill it, it means I recieve experience from the kill?"

"Excactly. You got it."

"But what about boss kills?"

Nakuro laughed. "A bit ambitious, aren't we?"

Yuuni shifted uneasily. "Just curious."

"Well, in the case of boss fights, multiple parties form what is called a raid, a singular large group consisting of all the parties." He explained to her, moving all the pebbles together.

"Ah. That explains it all."

"Yep! Now... It's a matter of finding the right mobs."

She gazed at him. "What do you mean? Aren't the Dire Wolves suitable for now."

"Indeed they are. But at a certain stage, they won't be anymore. That will be the moment that we switch to elite mobs. Tougher, harder, and far more rewarding." He nodded as they rose from the ground.

"So, you know where to find these mobs?"

"Of course I do. And if you don't level fast enough, other players will find out and take our spots." He grumbled, unsheathing his sword.

Yuuni unsheathed her sword aswell. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's move!" She said, walking off.

Nakuro rolled his eyes as he dusted off his coat as he shrugged plainly. "Atleast she has the right mindset." He started walking towards her. "Hey, wait up!"

---

"Yuuni, switch!" Nakuro roared as he charged into the fray.

With a swift nod, Yuuni leapt backwards to safety as she carefully dodged a menacing swipe of the Dire Wolf, who now reared itself to face Nakuro. Not even slightly intimidated by the snarling howls of the mob, Nakuro quickly uses his Sprint ability to dash from side to side, preparing his blade for an overhead slice. Yet at the last second, the Dire Wolf tries to pounce at him.

"Not today you're not!" he roars as he barely switches the angle of his blade to diagonally strike the beast down mid-air. The beast yelps painfully as its health bar rapidly descends past the red zone, all the way to zero, and it disappears into thousands of shards fading away into the sky.

Both players' screens pop up.

[Result]

[Exp: 78000]

[Col: 365]

[Items: 1]

Nakuro smiles as he opens up his menu, only to hear a shriek of excitement from Yuuni next to him.

[Congratulations!]

[Level 56 > Level 57]

Yuuni was jumping up and down, filled with joy. "Another level down!" she yelled happily.

"Yes, but still not enough to equal the floor's level. You still need a minimun of 7 more levels." Nakuro said as he searched the fields for the next mob to target. "Come on, let's go. We need to walk a bit to our next farming spot."

Yuuni sheathed her sword and joined Nakuro. They were following a dirt track winding through the grassland plains. "Our next spot brings us closer to the Eastern Pinnacle, one of the towers in which the field boss resides." Nakuro said, pointing eastwards.

Yuuni gasped. "So that's where the front line guilds are at?"

"Not yet. Most of them are still back in Sekitei, bickering away."

"Why?"

"Different guilds, different players, different strategies. It's but a wait until the largest guild wins the argument."

"What will you do when the time comes?"

Nakuro looked back at her, still steadily walking on. "That will be the moment when I will join the raid and help fight the field boss. Lucky for them that we don't need to clear any dungeons, or else it would've been a pain."

"And I'll be stranded once more on my own I take it?" Yuuni asked.

"Well... Yes. Depends on when the guilds will fight the bosses. If your level is high enough, you can enter a guild and help the raid defeat the field bosses." Nakuro replied.

"B-But... If you can fight solo, so could I. Right?"

Nakuro shook his head. "Believe me, you would be better off in a guild."

"Then why aren't you in one?"

"Yuuni-"

"No, no. If you don't need a guild, so won't I."

"Come on, don't be so-"

"So what?" Yuuni said. "It is a valid arguement. Give me one reason why I should belong in a guild and you don't."

Nakuro halted, turning around. His face held a grimace, and he let out a long, drawn out sigh before speaking up. "Because the last time I was in a guild, I caused players to -die-, Yuuni."

For a moment, they both stood still. The only sound was the gentle winds rustling the grass and stirring up the dust.

"I... I-I..." Yuuni startled. "I didn't know."

"But you asked." Nakuro said, sitting himself down in the dirt. "It was a long time ago, Yuuni. I was invited to a front line guild called the Valiant Dawn. They were a small, selective group of organised players who wanted me to join them."

"So what happened?" Yuuni asked, a slight tremble of hesitation in her voice.

"I started to progress faster through levels then they did, and I became arrogant enough to start soloing content. I even replaced our tank, who reluctantly left the guild due to my rash decision." Nakuro continued, his head lowered. "And one floor later, in a large dungeon, I charged in recklessly. I had little regard left for my guild members. I caused half the guild to die in that dungeon, and what remained of us disbanded, scattered and broken."

"Oh my... I'm so sorry." Yuuni tried to apologize, but Nakuro shook his head once more.

"It's... It's fine. You didn't know. Just don't bring it up again." he said, raising himself from the ground. "It was long ago. Best to forget and move on. Beat the game."

Yuuni nodded as she too raised herself from the dirt. "Since... 'that' happened, you started playing solo."

Nakuro nodded back. "Mhm. I started to clear content on my own. Only at Floor Bosses would I party up, but as soon as it was cleared, I would be on my own again."

"So you never fought a Floor Boss on your own?" She asked.

"Are you kidding me? I don't want a death warrant. Besides, there is but one man in the game who managed to pull that stunt off."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, Commander Heathcliff. Guy's a legend."

Yuuni raised an eyebrow. "How did he do it then?"

"He has an unique skill."

"Unique Skill?"

"Atleast, according to rumours. Little information is given about these skills, not even in the beta tester guides."

"But what is his skill then?" She continued to ask.

"Simple. You know with a shield and sword, you can opt for either 'Defense' or 'Attack'?" Nakuro explained.

"Yeah. What about it?"

"It is said the Commander can switch between the two freely. Impenetrable defense while attacking with shield and sword."

A gasp of amazement escaped Yuuni's mouth. "That's amazing! But I guess Heathcliff isn't the only one with such an Unique Skill?"

Nakuro nodded at her. "Indeed. But I think two... maybe three have such a skill."

"Do you have one?" She asked curiously.

"Afraid not." He opened his menu and slided down to 'Sword Skills' and slided through them all. "See? No Unique Skill."

"Hrm". Yuuni moaned. "So no one knows how to obtain such a skill?"

"Nope."

"That's a shame." She complained. "But understandable."

Nakuro chuckled a little. Truth be told, he was equally interested in those skills. He had spent hours and hours trying to find scraps of detailed information about the skills, but not even the bet Information Brokers could help him.

He grumbled. "Let's move. We're not too far off from our next spot."

---

It was already nighttime; The pair had returned to Sekitei Village after a good few hours of farming more DIre Wolves in the open plains. As per usual, Nakuro had paid for the rented room. Yuuni had gone downstairs to grab something to eat, some bread and stew, nothing too special.

Nakuro was left alone. He was sitting at the end of the bed that he let Yuuni sleep in. He still used the floor and a pillow, it would suffice for now. Perhaps in the future he would switch over to renting a room with two seperate beds, since the bony floor was starting to hurt his back slightly.

He had opened his inventory and was scrolling past his items. Aside from the large amount of Greatswords and other potions and crystals he had stored, there were a few minor items which caught his eye.

A pair of one-handed swords he kept around for little reason, his old coat he used before he obtained Radiance Cape, and one last important item.

He raised his eyebrow as he eyed the description, and selected the item. A two-handed sword materialized before him on the bed.

A long, elegant sword, with a very perculiar elongated, dual-edged sword, glinting with a blue shimmer. The crossguard was slighty curved upwards towards the blade itself, with a leather grip. The middle narrowed down a little, resulting in a staggered, wider point. It was in perfect condition, as if a blacksmith had just tended to it.

It was a work of art, collecting virtual dust in the bottom of his inventory list.

He took up the blade and swung it vertically before his face, eyeing it from the hilt to the point. He then assumed his battle stance, readying the blade in his hands, slightly angled for an overhead strike.

But like before, he slowly lowered the blade, dropping his head alongside it. A spark of guilt welled up in him, and he opened his menu to store the item away.

At the door was heard a familiar knock. Nakuro quickly stored the sword away with a click of his fingers. "Come in." he said, seating himself on the bed once more.

In stepped Commander Flint, clad in her scarlet red battle garments, with the guild crest resting on her breastplate. "Good. You're here." she said, shutting the door behind her. She walked past him and stopped to stare at him, arms folded. "I would like to know where you have been these past weeks?"

"What do you mean?" Nakuro raised an eyebrow into a frown. "Where else to be then the frontlines?"

She sighed. "I'll ask again? Where have you been?"

Nakuro bit the inside of his mouth, shifting from one side to another. "I have been visiting the Eastern and Western Pinnacle, and added to that I have been leveling like a normal player does."

"Still no answer, idiot. Where have you been?" she asked again.

'I told you-!" Nakuro began, but Yuuni had returned. She stepped into the room, unaware of the visitor. "I'm back! I brought you some left-over stew, bu-...."

Her jaw fell open in amazement. "You didn't tell me we'd be visited by a Knight of the Blood Oath! Gosh... Oh my! Nice to meet you, name's Yuuni!" She said, putting down the bowl of stew and extending her hand. Flint ignored her and turned towards Nakuro once more.

"I see. This explains all. Mind you, Nakuro, we are here to clear the game, not to settle down with a lover and build a new life."

Nakuro started to blush, as did Yuuni, who began to ramble without sense. "N-No, it's not like that! Trust me! We're not - He's not - Not that he's not like - I mean-!"

"Nakuro." Flint continued, still ignoring Yuuni, "I expect you to hold to your promise. If you don't start coöperating, I will take matters into my own hands." She turned around, walking out the room. "Tomorrow. HQ. Better show up." And with that closing remark, she slammed the door shut.

Yuuni was still blushing heavily, waving her hands frantically. "N-Nakuro! Sorry! I-I... I didn't mean to-!"

Nakuro, who also was still blushing heavily, waved his hand dismissively. "I-It's fine, Y-Yuuni. Forget it." He said as he removed himself from her bed and seated himself on the ground. "Flint can be... direct at times, and added to that just pure blunt."

Yuuni seated herself on the empty bed, still facing Nakuro. "Flint? As in Commander Flint?"

"That's the one?"

"And tell me -why- you two are meeting?" She asked, her face turning back to a normal colour as she watched Nakuro intently.

"She saved me once."

"Saved you?"

"I ran into the floor's boss. If her men weren't there, you wouldn't be talking to me right now. My health bar was deep red, and I had ran out of potions." He explained. "Added to that, it was a crystal malfunctioning area, so I couldn't teleport out."

"How long had you survived?" Yuuni asked concerned.

"Not even a full minute, I'd say less then half a minute. But luckily Flint arrived, and her men took on the boss while I recovered in the corner of the room."

Yuuni kept silent for a brief moment. "But she mentioned a promise?"

"Mhm."

"What kind of promise?" She asked. "Sorry for the pletoria of questions, but... I am really, really curious."

"I can understand." Nakuro said, nodding at her. "I promised I'd return the favour. So nowadays she summons me to herself like a lapdog. - And I can't escape it."

"Why not?"

"I'm a man of my word. Atleast, I try to be." He said, sighing softly. "I want to atleast retain the small remainder of dignity I possess, even if it means grovelling at her feet."

"Well..." Yuuni said. "Atleast you're in the lead group, right?"

"Yep! Only bright side of it. But even still, I solo as much content as possible."

"About that..." Yuuni started, moving uneasily.

"What about it?" Nakuro asked, but he soon realised what she was going to ask. "Oh no. No no no. I'm only helping you level to 64. After that you're on your own."

"B-But I have no where else to go! I'll be left the same as when you found me!" She exlaimed.

"You can finally enter a guild, right?"

"B-But I don't want to!"

"But you'll have to."

"Not if I have you!"

"But you won't."

Tears started to well up in her eyes as she pleadingly looked at him. "P-Please. I don't want to go back out there all alone. And if you were as heartless as you're acting right now, you wouldn't even have cared to help me in the first place."

Nakuro started to break. "It's not that I don't want you around. Besides! I only helped you.... be-... because..." He said, looking away.

"Because?"

"Y-You... look... like my..." His last words he mumbled beneath his breath.

"What was that?"

"You heard me."

"No I didn't, honestly!"

"Crystal clear."

"Awh, come on! Say it!"

"Because you look like my sister. Alright?!" Nakuro said, folding his arms as his face started to blush once more.

They both remained silent for the rest of the night, although perhaps a few times Yuuni couldn't hold her laugh in. Nakuro had dimmed the ligths and had tried to fall asleep. But Yuuni's request had been stirring endlessly in his mind.

Suddenly, deep in the evening, he spoke up.

"I'll think about it."

Yuuni reared her sleepy head from the bed. "Whu... Wha-?"

"Staying with you. I'll consider it."

Yuuni's weary face brightened up, a big smile covering it. "Thanks. Thanks ever so much, Nakuro."

"D-Don't mention... it..." He said sleepily as he fell back on the ground to try and sleep.

Nakuro grumbled quietly. Was he making decisions he would later regret?

Chapter 3

It was at the crack of dawn that Nakuro and Yuuni had set off. Nakuro had awoken her this morning to take her to their usual farming spot. Anything to escape Flint, although Nakuro wasn't sure how she would react to his absence. How honest was she with her threats?

"Why are we stopping?" Yuuni asked all the sudden, as Nakuro had stopped near a patch of dirt. It was a small open area, with a few boulders around them, perfect to use.

"Before we go hunting, I want to go over some minor stuff." He answered, opening his menu. "Could you tell me which level you're at right now?"

Yuuni opened her menu aswell. "61. Three levels off from target. Why?"

Nakuro had selected his Greatsword, which materialized on his back. "Get out your sword."

Yuuni lifted a more then curious eyebrow. "O-Okay... I don't see why, but alright." She said as she too selected her Greatsword.

"Now," Nakuro said, still tapping options on his menu. "You're familiar with duels, right?"

"Yes, I've seen a few... Why do you ask?" Yuuni asked.

"I've noticed your damage output on our last few trips. While I can understand that your damage would be bad on a lower level, I can't understand why it is still so terrible at your current level." He said, staring at her across the field.

"Well... Yes. I'm not used to these swords yet."

"Pffft. You should be." He said, scrolling through his menu until he reached the 'Duel' button.

"Don't be alarmed - I'm just trying to help you." Nakuro said quickly after he heard a shriek of disbelief come from Yuuni.

"And how's that going to work?"

"Sparring? Thought it was rather obvious."

"Can't we just practice on creatures?"

Nakuro shook his head. "No. This is much safer. Please accept, we can get this done rather easy."

"Hmn... Alright then." Yuuni said, her trembling finger pressing the 'Accept' button.

Nakuro eyed her up and down. "Assume battle stance."

Yuuni quickly bent her knees slightly and spread her feet apart, and she raised her blade in the similar diagonal angle as Nakuro did.

"You chose my battle stance?" Nakuro chuckled as her face turned bright red.

"Well, yeah. I thought to myself: If its his sword, you fight like he does."

"But does that mean you fight as efficient as you would fight in a style which suits you?"

"Doesn't it?"

He shook his head, stepping towards her. "The sword doesn't make the fighter, Yuuni." He said, merely a few feet away from her.

Yuuni nodded and assumed a more familiar position. She shifted her body sideways, and she turned the blade, both hands gripping the hilt near her hips and the point aimed at his head.

"Interesting choice. Why did you choose this position?"

"I don't.... I don't know. It felt good."

"But did you think about how your opponent could use this as an advantage? Any thoughts on how your opponent could open, or where he would strike?"

Yuuni hesitated to answer, since she hadn't thought about it at all. "That's quite... deep thinking. You do that all the time?"

"Yep. Better be prepared, even if just slightly. Gives you an edge."

Yuuni nodded, but didn't change her stance. "I think I'm good."

"Very well." Nakuro said, raising his blade above his head, turning the blade past his head horizontally. He then used his Sprint Skill to charge in upon Yuuni, whilst bringing down the sword diagonally on her from the right. She had too little time to parry his strike, and the blade cut through her, bringing her health bar down significantly. "Still of opinion your stance was the correct one."

Yuuni could only flinch as Nakuro flew past her defense, not even fast enough to bring her sword up to parry his, and she quickly fell to one knee as her strength drained. "You knew how to counter my stance, not fair!"

"But I gave you the same opportunity, didn't I?" Nakuro asked as he assumed position infront of Yuuni once more. "You observed my stance, you could have changed yours to counter mine."

Yuuni grumbled as her Battle Healing started to tick her health back. "Hrm. Countering a counter."

"Yep! Although there's a limit to how much you can counter simply by switching stances. That's when your other skills should kick in."

"Such as?"

"Well..." Nakuro said as Yuuni raised her sword again. "Seeing as your defense it... Limited, least to say, you should look at your options. Parry is a no brainer, but you can't rely on just Parry. For example, lets say a mob uses a magic attack, or shoots and arrow at you? You can't parrry an attack like that, right?"

Yuuni nodded. "You'd use your Sprint ability to dodge."

"Excactly." Nakuro readied himself, sword held high once more. "Now. These are all parts to help you combat your opponents. Your stance. Your skills. Be sure to think your actions through before acting, but at the same time be quick. You don't know how much a creature will do with such precious seconds in which you don't act, especially Bosses."

"Hmn." Yuuni said, eyeing Nakuro carefully. "Let's take it step by step. Analysing the situation as it were."

"Fine. What is it that you want to know?" Nakuro said, remaining unmoved.

Yuuni tapped her chin, still eyeing him. "Judging from your stance, and the strike you pulled off just yet, I imagine you'll open on me with a diagonal blow, correct?"

"Correct. It's the most logical choice."

"So strike." She said, adjusting her stance. She widened her stance and kept herself open to him. Nakuro grinned. She was expecting him to actually strike the same spot as before, so she could succesfully parry, followed by a counter.

He remained unmoved. "What will you do if I do not open? Remember, I'm not a mob. What if I play defensive?"

"Ehr... Let me think.... Defensive?" She asked, clearly confused. "B-But your stance is still the same?"

"Indeed. Judging from my own stance, you would be able to choose the best option on how to open up on me. But at the same time, wouldn't you think I already know your choice?" He said, staring her between the eyes.

"But that means, whether I attack or play defensive, you'll know how to counter my every move?" She exclaimed, her voice pitched, annoyed by the situation.

"Perhaps. Perhaps not." He said. "Do understand, this is how a player will fight a player. Countering your opponent in a duel will be the very essence of the duel. If two skilled players face off, it could take minutes or even hours before one of them make a mistake. Whether your blade was angled wrongly, or your positioning is slightly off. It could cost you the duel."

Nakuro lowered his blade and stepped away from Yuuni. "This is how you should fight. But perhaps you'll never have to face off in a duel. If you just stick to quests, creatures and even the front lines if your lucky, you'll never have to use these lessons."

Yuuni sheathed her sword away. "What about creatures? Or bosses? How do you fight those?"

"Aha." Nakuro said, sheathing his sword away aswell. "I'll show you. Come."

---

They had been wondering the lonely tracks towards the Eastern Pinnacle for roughly half an hour when they finally came to a halt. Nakuro had raised his hand up. "Stop right here. This'll do."

Yuuni sat herself down on a nearby flat rock. "Looks like a nice spot."

"Cause it is a nice spot." He replied, unsheathing his Greatsword. His eyes spied the fields until he spotted another common mob. It was labelled as "Mottled Boar", a boar the size of a full-grown bear. "These reachs sizes beyond imagination. Might be some kind of side-effect. That, or they were made like that intentionally." He explained, pointing the tip of his sword at the target.

Yuuni readied herself too. "No matter. I think I can take him on." She said.

Nakuro chuckled. "Of course you can! With your level? Should be good to go."

But as soon as Yuuni wanted to charge at the beast, Nakuro stopped her. "Whoa there! We haven't even discussed our second lesson yet!" He said, motioning her to sit back down with his head.

Yuuni grumbled slightly, and reluctantly poked her sword into the ground and seated herself on the rock once more.

"So, we left off at Player Duels."

"Yes. Countering counters." She mumbled. "How different can a boss fight be?"

"Be lucky it is different." Nakuro said. "Bosses follow patterns, rules, scripting. This is a game. Choices are made for them, while players can change their patterns constantly."

She raised her eyebrow. "But then... A boss fight is easy, right?"

Nakuro shook his head. "Far from it. Bosses will reach strengths far beyond our own, and they have health pools deeper then any of us could achieve. Even as a full raid, you would be very lucky to even try and match half the strength and health of a regular boss."

"What else is there, then?" Yuuni asked.

"Transitions, or phases, are one.... Magicka is another.... Let's see, enrage timers...." Nakuro counted them one by one on his fingers. "The developers have been extremely imaginative when it came to boss design, according to the information released by MMO sites prior to the release of the game. Works of bloody art, I tell ya."

"But a Mottled Boar is not a boss." Yuuni said, who stood up once more and picked up her blade.

"Yes, but that was not the point." Nakuro sighed. "The point was that everything in the game, from Bosses to NPC's, follow scripting. Choices are premade by programs who run the game. You don't need to expect them to counter your counter, because they won't."

"I... Come again?" Yuuni said, shaking her head in confusion.

"Don't you understand? All your attacks can be utilised to their full effect without the risk of being countered. You can be far more deadly then you would be during a duel!"

"Ah!" Yuuni said. "I get it!"

Nakuro smiled and pointed at the Boar. "Your first target. First hand information is gathered by observing fights with one, but since we're the only two out here, I'll tell you about your first Boar."

"Hmn." Yuuni nodded. "Go on."

"These creatures, despite their immense size, are still agile enough to put up a staggering and vigorous defense. Most likely, its first attack will be a charge followed by an upward slash of its tusks. Unless you are close range. It would switch over to a more suitable and effective attack, namely a Bite."

Yuuni nodded once more. "Got it."

"Then, go practice." Nakuro said, charging off at another Boar in the distance, considerably further away. His sword swept behind him, nothinhg but a flash of grey steel through the air. He reared his head before he reached his target. He saw Yuuni trying to use her Sprint ability to close the gap, effectively side-stepping her Boar as it charged right past her. She managed to twist her blade quickly and damaged her Boar with a mighty swipe which cleaved it in half.

"Try connecting to your target as a lock-on by using your Sword Skill before you are in close quarters!" Nakuro shouted as he used his own skill, Sweeping Flash, to cleave his opponent as he charged right past it in a blink of an eye, leaving a trail of shards behind him which slowly rose into the air and disappeared. Without stopping, Nakuro kept his Sprint active and quickly found another target, which he closed in upon easily in but a few seconds.

He quickly locks onto another Mottled Boar as he catches a faint glimpse of movement across the field. The Boar had only just spawned in, not far from Yuuni's target, and was but a couple of yards away from her.

"Crap." Nakuro thought to himself. "One at a time. She can't handle much more then that!"

He activated his Sprint skill in reflex and gapped the distance within a second or two. Like a flash he whirled past Yuuni, slicing her target in two as he bashed himself into his Boar.

"H-Hey!" She screams at me angrily. "I'm supposed to practise here!"

"Stop whining, you're getting your experience, and so am I!" Nakuro shouted back at her as he jumped up into the air, outside the reach of the boar's menacing tusks. Waiting but a fraction of a second, he activates his sword skill and unleashes a devastating stab.

Unable to deflect the attack in any other way, the Boar could only watch as the blade pierced him from above, and with a loud squeel it died, sending a hail of shards into the air.

Nakuro pulled his sword out of the ground; The strike was too powerful and had managed to dent the ground beneath the Boar itself.

Yuuni scrambled together aswell, mouth still open as she stared at Nakuro. "Guess this only makes sense - You're even more overpowered then I imagined."

"Oh -please-!" Nakuro shouted back, sheathing his sword. "I'm not even near overpowered. The Black Swordsman, now -that- is overpowered. Commander Heathcliff is overpowered."

She folds her arms. "So what you just pulled off was 'ordinary', was it?"

Nakuro rolled his eyes and grumbled. "W-Well... I guess it was the adrenaline?"

"Adrenaline? Don't fool around, idiot."

"You're one to talk, you were taking your time with your target, thus letting a second mob attack you."

"Not like I have eyes in the back of my head, now do I?" She puffed back at him.

They both remained silent for a moment, untill all the sudden Yuuni started gniffling at Nakuro. "S-S-Sorry, Nakuro. We're being silly."

Nakuro couldn't help but crack a smile against his will. He couldn't stay mad with her for long. How could he resist such a cute face. "I guess, yeah."

And that was all he would hear on their way to the Eastern Pinnacle; Endless gniffling over his shoulder.

"Could this day get better?" He mumbled.

---

"Oi, Nakuro! Are we there yet?" Yuuni yawned at him.

"Yep! Right here, you can stop now." Nakuro replied as he stretched himself.

Yuuni basically crashed to the ground, not a single drop of energy left in her. "Ahhhhh... Finally." She said, crawling up to the nearby wall and curling up into a ball. Nakuro bent over her to see what she was doing, but he realised all too soon that she was vast asleep.

"Oh my... Think I was too rough with the training and all?" Nakuro sighed as he seated himself next to her. He opened his menu and scrolled down to his inventory. It seemed a daily ritual for him these days. he would scroll down as far on the list untill he reached -it-.

He could perfectly envision the weapon. Every edge and curve. From the hilt to the point. How could he forget that luminescent blue shimmer?

He closed his inventory and hung his head dejectingly, almost hiding his face beneath the tip of his coat.

"YOU!"

He reared his head as he jumped up to see a very familiar person. Too familiar to be precise.

"Do you have -any- idea what you're messing around with? First you disappear from my radar, followed by...b-by taking on this girl as your handmaiden as it were, and now this?! Skipping an utmost important meeting which I specifically told you to come to, even after I threatened you?"

It was Flint. Nakuro tried to step away from her, but hit the wall behind him. He quickly peered at Yuuni to search for a slight hint of support, but it was no good. That girl was vast asleep, and not even an avalanche would wake her from her deepest slumber at this point.

He sure was screwed now. No exit, he would have to face her.

So he shrugged and tried to play it cool. "Now why should I attend your tea-party, Flint? Wouldn't a player like me have far more serious business to attend to-"

He was silenced by the swing of her sword, which was lit up an eerie, dark purple glow which shined brightly in his face, making him narrow his eyes.

"W-What now, Flint? Killing me for skipping a meeting?"

He could barely see the vague, black outlines of her head through the haze of light emitted from her blade, but he noticed her shaking her head. "I gave you options, Nakuro. I gave you time, I gave you freedom, I even vowed for you. And this is how you repay me."

"F-F...Flint! Hold up now!"

"No. This has gone far enough. I should have known a dog like you needs a leash, and a tight one too." She said.

Nakuro tried to shuffle to the left, away from her and Yuuni, but the blade's tip followed his every move.

There was no escaping her wrath this time.

"Look, Flint. I know I screwed up, ok?!" He said, the cold tip of the blade touching his neck now, an icy chill running up his spine as he started to break sweat here and there. "I'm sorry. Can we just... cut it out already? I'll attend your meeting."

"No. No, no and no again." She said, stepping closer to him. "Well, of course you'll accompany me to the meeting, but you won't go far after that."

Nakuro flinched a little. "What do you mean?"

"You will see."

"Tell me."

She remained silent, her blade not moving at all. Nakuro tried to move again, but the blade would only press itself tighter to his neck.

"Flint."

"Quiet you."

Nakuro closed his eyes. Did he test her limits too much? Even if he had the right reasons, it didn't justify his recent actions. He balled his fists in frustration, but was careful not to move, still on guard with a sword as his throat.

"What about Yuuni?"

He sensed Flint thinking for a moment, but she soon made up her mind. "I know a place for her. My personal guard will make sure she is returned to Sekitei immediatly. From there, she'll be watched for you untill further notice."

"Damnit Flint!" He cursed at her.

He heard her chuckle at his effortless attempt. "So. Here we are. At -my- mercy. No tricks, no games, no pleads. Nothing. Nothing but the edge of my sword at your neck."

"Turn around." She calmy stated.

He hesitated for a moment, but ultimately and reluctantly turned himself around, the tip of her sword still touching his nape.

"Unequip your sword." She commanded.

He had no choice. He opened his menu and unequiped his weapon with a sigh.

"Kneel, and don't even try to move."

And so he did. He sat there motionless, not even daring to turn his head around for a sneak peak. Although he was facing the bricks of the Pinnacle's wall, he could still hear her call four guards to her. Two of them positioned themselves behind Flint and handed her a pair of handcuffs, which she quickly used to shakle Nakuro.

The other two guards had moved in to awaken Yuuni from her sleep. She eventually woke, and jumped up with a shrill cry at the sight of Nakuro in chains.

"C-Co-...Commander! You can't-!" she roared at Flint.

Flint remained unmoved by her yelling. "I have every right, girl. Guards! Escort her back to Sekitei at once."

The two guards grabbed her by her arms with greater ease and dragged her away from Nakuro, who was still kneeling in the dirt beneath the Eastern Pinnnacle. He watched them take her far off into the distance, untill they eventually faded from sight, too far for a human eye to percieve.

"Get up." Flint kicked Nakuro to his feet as she grasped her sword in one hand.

"So, you-"

"No talking. Move." She interrupted him plainly, motioning him to move forward.

He could feel her blade sting, the metal tip poking him roughly in his back. He cursed beneath his breath as the four of them set off for Sekitei Village, back to HQ.

They were up to something.

But what?

Chapter 4

"We're here - Keep him in check." Flint dispatched her personal guard, still keeping her eyes on Nakuro.

They had travelled back to Sekitei Teleport Plaza and had teleported to the 55th floor, back to the very heart of the Knights of the Blood Oath: Granzam. Their very own Headquarters, which was still bustling with activity to be quite frank. Sure did surprise him, although he was too weary to even comment on it.

The two guards, each holding one of his cuffed arms, dragged him inside the cold, iron settlement. Down corridors and stairs, through halls and chambers, untill they finally reached the very roots of the castle itself. Far beneath the ground lied the dungeons of Granzam, where they held the scum of the game such as Player Killers, thieves and other fishy types.

One of the guards had opened a cell at the end of a long, dark corridor lit with fiery torches. The other guard had pushed Nakuro into the room, which seemed to be awaiting his arrival. In the middle of the room stood a metal pole, a shaft worked by a mechanism which lifted it up and down. At the bottom was a small gap, wide enough to run a piece of rope through.

He knew where this would go, as Flint walked over to the device.

"Back against the rod and kneel." She said, motioning him towards her.

He didn't move. Like hell he would be tied down like that.

Flint frowned disappointingly at Nakuro, and soon nodded a the guards, who immediatly slammed his back against the metal shaft and forcing him down on his knees. After that, one of them grabbed the chains of his tight shackles and placed it within the gap as the other worked the mechanism. With a loud crash, the shaft settled itself down into the floor, locking the chains to the ground and leaving Nakuro immobilised.

"You'll be staying here untill I return - I'm not even bothered with bringing you to the meeting any longer. Since you'll be my personal lapdog from now on, there's no need in including you at the meetings. You'll obey my commands anyway, one way or another." She said to Nakuro, before turning around and walking out the prison.

Nakuro hung his head down in shame.

"Never thought I'd end up imprisoned beneath Granzam just for skipping a meeting."

---

It had felt like hours passed untill even the faintest shimmer of light entered the gloomy room where Nakuro sat.

He had shouted, raged and cursed at the very start, but with little result. He then tried to escape his cell using logica, but to no avail aswell.

He remembered muttering to himself at one point. "Face it. No escape."

Finally, the moment had come. He heard a pair of feet making their way down the set of stairs and through the corridor, untill they reached the door which was swung open not much later.

Nakuro looked up at the figure. It was Flint.

"Took long enough, don't you agree? I bet you're already more then comfortable in here." She said.

Nakuro didn't reply. He kept silent as a mouse.

Flint laughed at him. "Tssk. A futile attempt to defend your... your what. Your pride? Your dignity?" She mocked him, circulating him through the room. "Whatever you think remains of that, you're wrong. Those two left the second I made you my prisoner."

He still refused to talk.

"Hmn. I see. You're probably upset I took your maid from you... Don't fret though, she's most likely back in Sekitei. That, or we hired that nitwit to scrub our floors in Granzam."

He looked at her as she passed him by from the left. A strong wave of hate started to well up inside him, massing up. All his hatred, agony, suffering. He clenched his fists, as his jaws, tightly.

"I honestly don't even know -why- you put up with her, she's far from useful to you. Not that a player with your caliber even needs help!" She scolded at him, even if it was meant as a vague compliment.

"I mean, come on. The poor thing is not even fit to battle at the front lines. But you..." She stopped infront of him, grabbing his chin and yanking his head up to stare at him right between the eyes.

"Don't you realise, Nakuro? You are one of a kind - There are but a few players in this death game who posses what you have; A gift. A natural talent for this kind of game."

He stared back at her with any kind of expression but a blank one.

"The only flaw you posses is that you're not a hero. Far from it. You are truly lonesome in this game. Perhaps... Perhaps that is why you took on that girl, huh?" She grinned at him, releasing his head.

He shook his head. "Say what you want to say, Flint. Nothing I can do...Or what I will, rahter."

"Oh, but you will do all that I desire." She glared at him. "Anything I ask of you, you shall fulfill. Like a slave! Only fair, seeing as I saved your pityful life."

Nakuro stared back at her. In the heat of the moment, he couldn't hold back. He spit right in her face.

Flint flinched, but it was unavoidable. She wiped away the warm saliva from her face with her hands. "Tssk. No manners... You should know better in your position."

"Strong words from such a-" But he couldn't finish his sentence. Blood spat from his mouth as Flint burrowed her knee into his face, followed by a swift kick in the groin. To finish it off, she grabbed his head and sent an ellbow into it, causing his nose to sprout with blood.

"Discipline. I intend to teach you the very essence of it." She said as she stepped away from him. Nakuro had fallen forward, the iron handcuffs cutting into his wrists as they were stretched as far as possible.

"An... And you think -violence- will solve this?" He snickered at her, blood still oozing at his lips.

"No... But it does add another level of satisfaction." She grinned at him as he sent another kick to his head, which caused him to crash backwards onto the iron shaft with a loud bang.

Nakuro panted heavily. He noticed his healthbar dropping, and the pain absorber started to kick in. He could even feel the warmth of his blood on his cheeks as it slowly fell from his face onto the cold stone floor.

"Your choice. Both you and I have all day." Flint said.

Both didn't act for a moment, even though Nakuro coughed up a large amount of blood in between the silence in the cell so he could breathe properly again.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" She finally said to him. "Even with Pain Absorbers in the game, I bet you must be feeling the pain pretty badly right now."

Nakuro sighed painfully. She was right. He could feel every bruise and wound he just inflicted, along with the warm blood seeping from them.

He'd have to give in. No sane person would stand defiant in the face of inevitable loss.

"Fine." He moaned at her. "Fine, fine, fine!" He leapt forward as far as his shackles would allow him. "You bitch. You win, alright?! Whatever you have in mind, I'll do it."

She frowned at him as she folded her arms. "Broken? So soon? I expected more."

"Oh yeah?!" He shouted back at her. "Guessed wrong, missy. I'm just as human as everyone else in this forsaken game, with the same bloody goal!"

He was steaming with rage. It didn't matter how much pain he was in, frankly he was suppressing it all in the heat of the moment. Even the cuts in his arms from the iron handcuffs were hardly noticeable for him. All that mattered was Flint.

She kneeled before him, getting on his eye level, but Flint made sure she was beyond his range. "Hmn. So you and I are finally on the same page." She said, looking at his rabid face. "Both you and I want to kill Kayaba Akihiko."

"OF COURSE I BLOODY WANT TO MURDER HIM-" Nakuro bellowed through his cell, but was silenced as Flint grabbed his throat.

"Self-Control. Second thing I intend to teach you. Seems you make up in recklessness for what you lack in politeness."

Nakuro was suffocating at her hands as he could only pant heavily through her cold grasp. "H-How... Did.... Yo-You!"

Flint started laughing. "We know everything, Nakuro. More then you could ever fathom."

Flint released him from her grasp, Nakuro gasping for air.

"It won't be long until I will release you. But don't even worry about escaping. We won't even have to find you - You'll come straight back to us."

Nakuro growled back at her. "How so, eh?!"

Flint's eyes sparked with mischief. "Simple. If you leave, we'll use the oldest methods of getting through to you."

"Being?"

"Harming those you cherish and love. That little maid of yours will feel your pain in your absence."

"GODDAMNIT YOU CAN'T-!"

"Oh, but I can. We can do all, Nakuro. Thought you understood that." She said as she sent her boot into his face, pressing him against the shaft, silencing him once more aside from his agonizing moans.

"Seems you're almost the player I had in mind... Almost." She said with a maddening grin as she readied herself before him. Nakuro had but a few seconds to recover before she unleashed another flurry of punches and kicks at her helpless prisoner.

He closed his eyes and endured.

Nothing he could do.

Chapter 5

"This'll do. Release him."

One of the guildmembers stepped up and took the key that Flint materialized from her inventory, and with it he unlocked the shackles holding Nakuro. All the bruises, wounds and blood had faded from him long ago, not even a scratch of the torture he endured visuable any longer.

He was finally released. At last. He rubbed his wrists before looking at Flint.

"I'll summarize one last time what we will do, gentlemen, ladies." She said without looking at him. "Our recent studies have lead to the following conclusions. The Field Boss is a split entity, with one half in the Eastern Pinnacle over here and the other situationed in the Western Pinnacle. As far as we know, we need to defeat both before we can unlock the other half of this floor, meaning that we will travel to the Western Pinnacle after we slay the one in the Eastern Pinnacle."

Nakuro carefully listened to her instructions. No matter how cruel Flint had been to him, he trusted that she had properly researched the boss fight and held a decent amount of information about the actual mechanics and patterns.

So he kept quiet and listened.

Flint continued slowly. "The boss resembled an Elemental - A primal form of life which harnesses the power of a certain element, which in this case is Earth. Holding your threat levels is naturally of importance, so I expect our tanks to be alert at all times." She looked from one Knight to another, nodding at them. "The boss auto-attacks the players with the most threat, but his special attacks can randomly target -any- member. Either he will Stomp his target with his 'feet', or he will cause a Ground Spike to burst through the floor and impale one of our party members. Both can be avoided with greater ease, since the boss is particularly slow."

"Any other information aside from attacks?" One of the Knights nearby asked.

"As far as we know, the Bosses operate on a timer. Unless we slay our target within a set period of time, he will enrage, meaning its attack speed and damage output will raise to a fatal level beyond control, resulting in a scenario in which none of us would be able to survive for long."

Gasps were outed all around accompanied with hushed whispers of concern, but they were quickly silenced by the dismissive wave of Flint's hand.

"Don't worry - With they healthpool this one posseses, we'll be able to clear him within no time. We need not worry about the Enrage Timer." Flint explained, quieting down the gathered party.

It felt wrong. He knew it felt wrong.

"It doesn't add up, does it?" He asked, stepping forward. "Why would they enforce an Enrage timer on such a plain boss? It's like they slapped it on it without second thought."

"I'll admit, it doesn't sound quite right." Flint said with a stern face. "But I trust in our Information Brokers. And I trust in our own strength as a guild, or as a party for that matter."

"Let's hope you are right for once, and that it's not just pride combined with ignorance speaking..." Nakuro thought to himself, stepping away again.

Flint raised her fist into the air. "Remember this day! The first step into clearing yet another Floor, and to liberate ourselves from the death game! For Aincrad!"

"For Aincrad!" The party shouted as Flint pushed open the stone doors into the Pinnacle, and the knights eagerly hurried into the spiralling tower above.

Just as Nakuro wanted to enter, Flint stepped infront of him and grabbed him close to herself.

"I want you to simply play the game. Got that?" She whispered in his ear threateningly before pushing him away and turning around to enter the tower herself.

Nakuro selected a Greatsword and flicked his coat behind him as he drew his weapon from its holster.

"Got ya."

---

The raid had stepped into the dark, gloomy entrace of the Eastern Pinnacle. Not even a few steps later, the great stone doors fell shut behind them, and ominous torches were lit automatically. The flames flickered vividly as they iluminated the cold stairway to the top of the tower. Nakuro felt akward, least to say. 'Another raid, another boss', would be his normal reaction. But not this time.

Something was off, he just knew it! Of course, the trust he placed in any source of information, such as information brokers, couldn't be placed more carefully. Certainly at these levels. One piece of misinformation and you are responsible for mass wipes on important bosses.

Yet he remained silent.

He would admit, the time he spent beneath the very stone of Granzam had affected him. Flint had managed to break him slightly, a sense of fear coupled with obedience had been left like a scar after a healed wound.

Nakuro would not easily act the same around her presence any longer.

His hands started to tremble lightly, the tip of his greatsword bouncing up and down. Nakuro cursed beneath his breath. He couldn't understand. Why was he so frightened? Was it Flint? Or did he forget something? Wrong breakfast?

Or was it plain concern?

"We're almost there. Get ready." Flint's cold voice echoed against the darkened stone walls of the flight of stairs. Not far above them lied the doors to the final room, where the Field Boss awaited their arrival.

As soon as they reached the doors, they all paused for a moment. Pats on the backs, last words being spoken. He scoffed slightly at the men, almost pitying them. Yet, Nakuro was caught by surprise when Flint stepped infront of him and locked eyes. The two stared blankly at each other, not even blinking.

Then it happened. Within the dark shadows, when it felt like the world wasn't watching or that there was even room for more then the two of them, Flint's lip started to tremble as her hands balled up into fists. Nakuro raised an eyebrow. Was this real? The hardened commander Flint was breaking down before his very eyes?

'...P-Perhaps you are human after all..." he whispered softly at her, turning his face away.

For a second, he thought that she would break down infront of her men. Luckily, he was proven otherwise. The commander quickly regained her posture as she turned away from Nakuro, unsheathing her sword and swinging open the doors without a single warning.

They all entered the boss' room. The room was lit with light from outside, which fell through cracks and holes in the ceiling. Green crystals littered the walls of the room, and they sprouted up from under the floor. In the centre of the room, the dreaded creature lurked, awakening at the sound of the doors opening.

Four health bars hovered above the mob's head, accompanied by a single name.

"Terras."

A monstrous, hulking mass of stone bearing a faint human resemblance, although easily twice the size of an average player. Trailing away from its breath-taking mass is a pile of formless rocks floating along the ground. Atop of its torso sat a small stone inlaid with two glaring, fiery eyes capable of staring through your very soul, and two muscular, rough stone arms float at either side of the beast.

A suitable opponent, at last.

Nakuro smiled as he raised his sword. "Justice with not be withheld from us."

He broadened his stance as he closed himself off from the group. A solo player remains a solo player. Thoughts started to flush his mind as he tried to breathe calmly.

"Group 2 will open, and shortly switch with either 1 or 3 depending on the attacks." He recited Flint's words in his mind as he dashed forward in a circular motion, his blade sweeping behind him like a dusty trail. Now in distance to attack, Nakuro sprinted the last couple of feet, jumping past the frontline group.

Terras reared his head towards Nakuro and readied a Stomp attack, but failed miserably. The solo player outmanoevred him easily.

"He's vunerable after he misses an attack." He thought to himself as he twisted his blade horizontally. "It is the mechanic that allows us to deplete his health so rapidly."

He tightens his grip and angles his blade precisely to deflect Terras' strike as best as possible. The slam of the monstrous stone arm was enough to crush every brittle bone in his body, but Nakuro jumps up past the stone arm and spins around mid-air, his blade swiping down upon the bear back of the boss. Touching the floor once more, he catches a glimpse of knights storming the boss frontally. He grins as he disengages from Terras' reach, and spins around his Greatsword with a flick of his hand.

He eyes the health bars of both Terras as himself. "Battle healing should kick in any second, damnit." He curses at himself as he dashes back and forth around the boss. Spotting an opening, he jumps forward with his Greatsword flashing behind him. Dodging the special Earthen Spike attack which popped up just off target, he moves up close enough to the elemental and clashes the blade through the elemental with a bouldering roar. Terras rears its head in agony and slams his arms into Nakuro, who was caught by speed rather then surpirse, and the solo player quickly raises his sword diagonally above his head. Multicoloured, flaming shards spark off the iron edge of the Greatsword as Nakuro is pushed down on both knees, his health bar dropping slightly as he suffers from the destructive blow.

"Argh, damnit damnit damnit!" He curses with eyes wide open in shock as the strength of the monstrous arms forced his blade down almost far enough to touch his nose. The metal was close, close enough to even see a faint reflection of his hair in it.

Commander Flint was the first to come to the rescue as she grabbed that terryfing momentum to strike a deadly blow to the boss' torso. "Looking more like it, but not enough Nakuro!" She shouts at him as she slams herself into one of the arms, giving Nakuro the opportunity to disengage to safety once more.

Opening his inventory, he grabs his first healing potion and swaps out his sword, which was brought to the brink of its duration. "Health, check. Sword, check. Boss... Check." He thinks to himself as he sighs, stepping forward once more. He sidesteps another Earthen Spike as he passed the third group, who had switched out from the Stomp attack. He clenches his sword with one hand and lets it rest beside him, the tip facing the floor angled. He flinches a couple of times as rock shards fly past his face, yet he doesn't move. He eyes his opponent more carefully this time around.

A gasp, no, a shriek of excitement escapes his mouth as a perfect chance reveals itself. Nakuro flings his sword around as he rushes up towards Terras, who is facing away from the solo player, too busy being tanked by group 1 alongside Flint. He grabs his blade with both fists, with the pommel facing towards himself and the blade facing away from himself, and jumps the remaining distance between the two. Planting his feet upon the stone torse, Nakuro lands upon Terras itself and with a mighty swing he drives his sword into the boss, not far from its supposed head.

"Take... -that-!" He pants as the boss' bellowing moans fill the chamber, his health bars depleting quickly. Nakuro pulls his blade out and jumps down infront of Terras, who recklessly swings his arms around in the hope of ridding itself from the solo player. Back in his feet, Nakuro sprints back in close and unleashes a flurry of cleaving cuts upon the defenseless boss.

"More...." His mind rages on as he unleashes strike after strike, evading a trembling Stomp attack. "More, I need more! So much more! More, more, MORE!" Both his mind and his voice roar in rage as his blade cleaves its again and again, the point of the blade even cutting through the stone floor in its orbit.

"Yes! Group 1, 2 and 3! Move in! Execute phase!" Flint shouts behind Nakuro, who is dashing from side to side, unleashing a full-out onslaught of cleaves upon Terras. Multi-coloured shards start to rise up from the boss as its final health bar starts to deplete rapidly.

"JUST DIE ALREADY!" Nakuro cries out as he dashes back and forth from mid-air to the ground, his strikes unrelenting and ceaseless. His blade is almost at its duration expiration, but he doesn't care.

The health bar creeps closer and closer to zero.

"Almost!" His thoughts shout out as he thrusts his blade upwards vertically, long enough to even hit Terras' face.

The health bar drops.

It reaches zero!

Yet, the boss lives.

...Hold up there... What?!

"It's still alive?!"

---

Nakuro stumbled backwards, right into Flint, who was in equal shock. Her eyes were wide open and her body was trembling with a bright fear, fear like she or any other player in the chamber had experienced before. In front of them stood the terrifying field boss Terras, his health bars fully depleted. Yet there he stood. His body, once a hulking, grey mass of rock, had turned into a translucent state. The shards of data flowed from its body endlessly, disappearing through the ceiling above.

"What... What is this trick?!"

"Kayaba! How could you!"

"I-It-It... It's... I-It...."

One by one, all the knights started to shout and cry out. Nakuro dropped his Greatsword in disbelief as his jaw dropped wide open.

"F-Flint...?" He muttered with a discombobulated tone.

She didn't answer. The almighty commander of the renowned Knights of the Blood Oath, the basking beacon of self-confidence, the one and only Flint, had fallen silent and grasping for answers.

Nakuro cursed as he picked up his sword once more and ran back in on the boss, closing the distance within mere seconds. He brought his blade down upon the boss, who slowly lifted up its arms in defense all too late. The blade cut through the elemental's torso with greater ease, and a bright red slash was visuable where the metal had carved the rock.

Yet the health bar remained at zero, and the boss till lived.

Nakuro disengaged hastly, sidestepping an Earthen Spike. "Why?! Why won't you-!" He shouted out as a swing of the elemental's arms was enough to silence his cries. Nakuro flied through the air and smacked into the stone wall behind him.

He stook back up, a little dazed from the blow and gasping for air. His health bar was dented slightly, but not enough to be critical.

"It's no use! No matter how much we damage him, he stays at zero." Flint said as she shuffled over to Nakuro, asuming a defensive position in front of the solo player.

"But that... That makes him a living time bomb!" Nakuro said as he scrambled to her side, assuming his position aswell. They both eyed Terras for a moment, their bodies trembling with fear. If they couldn't find a way to make the boss die, Terras would clock its enrage timer, and the raid would perish in these chambers without anybody knowing about the horrible tactic.

Then, it came to him.

"Flint!" Nakuro said hastly, the commander rearing her head towards the solo player. "I get it! I've seen this before! Hence why I felt like something was off right from the freakin' start!"

Flint raised a very concerned eyebrow, her head dashing between Nakuro and Terras. "Then what the hell is it?!"

"Linked boss mechanics." He explained rapidly, his hands motioning as he talked. "Don't you see? Terras is linked to the boss in the opposite Pinnacle. Unless they both are depleted to zero health, neither will die."

She gasped as the situation struck her at last. "Nobody is fighting the other boss."

They both cursed loudly as they evaded their respective Earthen Spikes, Nakuro rolling aside as he opened his inventory. "How long until his timer ticks off, Flint?!" He shouted atop of the bouldering roars of the elemental.

"About fifteen minutes at best! WHY?!" She roared as she dashed forwards, dodging a Stomp attack.

Nakuro quickly rushed through his inventory slots. He had enough Healing Potions to back himself up, and a spare teleportation crystal. He briefly scoured past the sword at the very bottom of the list, but closed his inventory with a sigh.

He closed his eyes, holding back the tears. This decision would be the potential death of him, but he had little else to choose. Flint, the knights, himself. All of them would die.

He tightened his fists as he wiped his eyes and turned around towards the door.

It was worth a bloody shot, damnit.

"N-Nakuro! NAKURO!" Flint roared from across the chamber as she parried a dreaded blow from Terras. "Where are you-!"

Her mouth fell open as she understood what he was doing. She tried to sprint across the chamber, yet Terras' hulking body prevented her from achieving her goal. "Don't you dare, Nakuro! I command you!"

He didn't even turn around, he just kept on walking hastly towards the doors.

"Stay, for God's sake! You can't do this!"

He closed his eyes as he layed a hand upon the cold, stone door.

"NAKURO! NAKURO, GODDAMNIT!"

He swung open the doors, and shutted them with a thundering slam. He ran down the flight of stairs, past the eerily lit hallways, and stepped back into the open plains of the floor.

He selected his only teleportation crystal and held it high in the air as he almost shouted out the words.

"Teleport: Sekitei!"

He felt his body rush, the data being transported to the designated destination.

He closed his eyes one more time for a brisk moment.

There was no way back now.

Chapter 6

"Eleven minutes and thirty-seven seconds..." He counted the time in his mind.

The green, wind-swept plains of Sekitei passed by ever so rapidly. His coat flicked backwards in the winds as Nakuro sprinted towards the large tower in the distance. He had never run so much in his life, or so fast. Sweat rolled down his forehead as he closed in more and more.

He was frightened. He didn't want to acknowledge it, but deep down it was undeniable. Aside from a handful of top-tier players, little to no-one was ever able to defeat a boss single-handedly. Perhaps the Paladin and the Black Swordsmen could achieve such a feat, but him?

He doubted it, although this really wasn't the time to be doubting himself.

No, he would have to give it all.

The Western Pinnacle doomed up in front of him as he closed in on the towering construction. The base of the tower was sadly devoid of any players aside from a handful of NPC guards and vendors.

He came to a halt slowly as he slammed open the doors to the Pinnacle. The lay-out of the Pinnacle was practically symmetric to that of its counter-part. The halls were lit with the same torches, yet the flight of stairs circled counter-clock wise this time. He quickly ascended to the top of the tower, unsheathing his Greatsword in the process.

"Hopefully I won't need 'it' this time around." He thought to himself. He was running low on Greatswords since he didn't take into account that he would have to solo an entire boss mby himself after the Eastern Pinnacle, and time wasn't excactly on his side to grant him a moment to restock his supplies.

He reached the top of the stairs and faced the final doors.

Behind these doors, lied the key to defeating the Field Bosses. If he was to lose this fight, not only would he lose his own life in the process.

No, the lives of Flint and her men was on the line aswell.

He couldn't lose. Not now.

He took a deep breath as he clocked the time one final time. "Nine minutes and fourty-two seconds."

He closed his eyes, and with a mighty swing he opened the doors.

The chamber was symmetric aswell, every detail copied from the Eastern Pinnacle. In the centre of the room lurked the other half of the field boss entity.

Four health bars. One name.

"Corras."

Nakuro turned around and barred the doors behind him. Corras stirred, finally awoken from its long slumber in wait of the front line to arrive on their floor. Nakuro stepped forward, sword held in one hand, and slowly walked towards his target.

"Hrm." He said calmly as his pace quickened. "Justice... won't be withheld... from us!"

He suddenly broke out into a burst of speed, charging rapidly at Corras. He activated his "Howl' skill briskly, gathering enough threat to get the boss to move towards him instead of being a sitting duck. An enemy in motion is easier to outsmart. Nakuro dashed aside with greater ease as he sidestepped a flurry of shards sent flying his direction. His blade glistened with a green hue, like the corrupting crystals above and below them. He roared as he jumped up past Corras' arms and dealt a swift cleave to its shoulder, followed by another thundering cleave as he landed upon the floor.

Nakuro ceases the moment rapidly as he lets an incoming strike slide off his blade as he dashed around the lumbering, slow elemental. "Orbit Cleave!" He shouts as he unleashes one of his sword skills, resulting in an overhead strike. The blade crashes into Corras, the force of the blow enough to make both of them stumble backwards from the strength of the collision. Nakuro plants his right foot behind him, quick enough to not make him fall, and lifts off into a jump forward. His sword connects with its target from a longer range, flinging the player towards the boss alongside it as it cuts through the rock. Corras was prepared though, as the entity rears its torso slowly as the solo player comes flying past. Lifting both its arms, Corras tries to bring down his arms upon the defenseless player, yet Nakuro manages to narrowly evade the pair of monstrous arms. As he tries to scramble to another assault, a thundering shockwave pushes him back a few feet, as result of the impact from Corras' arms upon the floor.

"Damnit!" He curses as he sprints back in, trying to duck beneath a rain of shards, which manage to make a few rips in his coat. He tightens his grip on his hilt as he closes in upon the wide-open torso of the boss. He unleashes a downwards cut upon his body twice before barely sidestepping a Stomp attack. Nakuro disengages safely as result, panting heavily as Corras slowly sludges his way towards the player. The solo player starts breathing hysterically as he pushes himself to his furthest limitations, sprinting towards the boss. He jumps up, grapsing the stone arm and using it to swing himself behind his opponent. A valueable few seconds, which he immediatly uses by opening up on the elementals' bare back. A flurry of multiple strikes cut deep into Corras' health bars, depleting the first bar as a result and making a miniscule dent in the second one.

"Six minutes and fifty-nine seconds!" He blurs out to himself as he swings around his blade, parrying a Stomp attack succesfully. He spins around the hulking pile of formless rocks and thrusts upwards, cutting past the torso of Corras and managing to wound the sight of the boss. Corras roars out in agony as he reaches for his face with one arm, the other still swinging around aimlessly. Easily dodging the reckless efforts of Corras' arm, he takes advantage of the situation to inflict a dazzling cleave upon the elementals' body, even managing to chip away a part of his arm in the procces. Finally, he climbs up rapidly with but a single jump upon Corras' body and graps hold of its head, bringing down his entire Greatsword in one, fluid thrust and forces the blade through its head, all the way down to the crossguard. Yet, before he could pull his blade out again, it starts to fade away into multicoloured shards as its durability expires. He jumps down again and retreats back to the door, opening his inventory and scouring through his list.

"Health potion... C'mon c'mon damnit!" He curses as he quickly chugs down the red liquid in the vial, the item vanishing as fast as it was materialized. His scrolls down further down the list until he reaches his weaponry. A single, lofty sigh escapes his mouth as he selects his final Greatsword. He didn't want to use 'that' yet.

He had to try without.

Little rest given, Corras reaches out with an upward punch, sending Nakuro to the floor. "Ah, fuck!" He curses as he hits the ground hard, blood spattered from his mouth. Before the boss can take the moment to finish the player off, Nakuro bounces back onto his feet and surges towards the boss with a loud roar, slicing through his opponent with a diagonal slash of his Greatsword. Corras tries to rear itself properly to counter the onslaught that was unleashed upon him by the solo player, who was swinging faster and faster by the second. Nakuro was surpassing his wildest dreams as he brought his sword down upon the elemental, dashing back and forth from side to side.

His Greatsword started glowing bright red as it heated up from the friction of evey blow Nakuro dealt. Sparks never ceased to spark off the metal blade as it passed through the stone body. Bringing his sword up in an uppercut strike, Nakuro tried to aim for the head for a dreaded blow to his foe's eyesight once more, but instead found himself severing a large chunk from the elemental's arm which Corras brought up in a faint attempt to shield himself. Cursing loudly, Nakuro rounds off his strike and sprints around an Earth Spike and lunges sidewards to thrust his blade's tip through his opponent. Following the opening, he dashes back past Corras' rear and launches himself upwards, giving him the chance to deal a thunderous downward slash as he falls back towards the ground. He had little time to rejoice though, as Corras swings around with his severed arm and manages to scratch open Nakuro's back as the player tries to hastly evade the incoming attack.

The player fell to one knee, grabbing his wounded chest with his free hand. "Damnit!" He yells as he is forced to duck beneath a hail of shards once more. He sprints himself to the other side of the chamber, creating enough distance between himself and Corras.

"...F-Four... minutes... and seven... seconds..." He pants in agonizing pain. A pair of deep cuts stain his chest, and blood seeps through the ripped shirt onto the floor. He wiped the excess blood from his mouth as he forced himself back up.

Nakuro eyed both his own health bar as that of Corras. His own health bar, even when supported by health potions and battle healing, was depleting rapidly and had almost reached over half of his yellow zone. Corras on the other hand was still enjoying the comfort of two and a quarter health bar to sustain him for the course of the fight.

He grunted loudly as he lunged forward and flung his Greatsword at Corras. The blade surged through the chamber and managed to pierce the elemental right in the centre of his chest, sending the boss stumbling backwards and causing him to trip over the weight of his own monstrous body. The blade however expired, and discarded itself into thousands of shards.

"So..." He thought to himself as he struggled to mantain himself standing. His whole body was trembling, weakened and weary from battle. He closed his eyes as he ignored the moaning roars from Corras who tried to force itself back up. "This is it then. I vowed I wouldn't resort to this... But it seems fate has its own peculiar way of forcing its will upon us all."

He opened his inventory and scrolled downwards, and he selected the sword at the bottom of his list.

His painful grimace turned into a reluctant yet hopeful grin as the shimmering blue sword materialized into his hands. He grasped the handle with both hands and assumed his battle position. His breathing calmed down, and his body stopped trembling.

He opened his eyes once more, and slowly walked forward facing Corras.

The elemental had found his way back onto his feet again, and rumbled as he noticed the player walking towards his final destiny. Corras sludged towards Nakuro, raising his stomped arms in preperation.

Tears started to well up in Nakuro as he kept on slowly walking. "There you have it, eh?" His voice cracked, filled with emotion. His fear and doubt slowly gave way for a burning hatred, a rage welling up in. A fiery desire he had felt when Kayaba appeared before their very eyes on the first floor.

He swung his sword through the air before his eyes, back and forth in a pattern, the iron tip soaring with a high-pitched sound. "I never thought I'd meet my end like this. But know this..." He said, his voice raising in volume as he neared Corras. "My death will be one of many, and perhaps my efforts will be for naught upon this day. Yet I can say I gave my -life-, for those I cared for and loved. For those, to give them a future! To LIBERATE the innocent from this hellish deathgame! TO FREE OURSELVES FROM YOU, KAYABA!" He roared as his walking tempo turned into running, and ultimately into a full-out charge.

Time stopped for a moment as his heart skipped a beat. He clocked the remaining time for the bosses' enrage timer.

"Two minutes and fifty seconds."

He clenched his sword even tighter, and smiled at Corras.

"FOR AAAAAIIIIIIINCRAAAAAAAD!"

He felt himself dash forward, a surge of energy almost transporting him effortlessly to his desired location. It filled up his entire body, sustaining and strengthening him. He roared in extase as he swung his blade into Corras, bringing down cleaves with a speed he thought to be unachievable. He grinned broadly as he sprinted back to the ground and dashed forward, thrusting his blade through Corras. The power of the blow forced Corras to fly backwards, crashing the elemental into the wall. Before the boss could recover and retaliate, Nakuro was already back at it. He was raining down an unstoppable flurry of strikes upon the boss, and all that was visuable was a flash of blue and black as he almost warped from spot to spot.

"It is time."

"BLAAAAAAAADESTOOOOOOORM!" Nakuro roared as his blade started to lit up and burn with ominous, cackling blue flames. He started to spin around, his blade sweeping through the air. Corras tried to bring up his arms, yet the blade pierced through the rock like a hot knife through butter. The elemental roared with pain as within seconds, chuncks and parts of his body started to fade away, cut off from his body as the solo player unleashed the combo weapon skill.

"More! Damnit, faster! MORE! MOOOOORE!" Nakuro bellowed with all his might as he kept on dealing thundering blows. Corras never even had a single chance to get himself back up, he just kept on taking the hits without any defense available.

"I-....It's working!" His mind boomed as he moaned painfully. He too was being drained quickly once more as his health bar started to descend into the red zone. He didn't care anymore about his own life. All that was left was his blade and its opponent. All he could do was forced the shimmering blue metal sweeped at the boss, unleashing cleave after cleave, no matter the cost.

Far up, above the two, a red screen popped up.

[Enrage Timer: Corras]

[Ending in: 5]

Nakuro quickened his strikes, his blade fluidly clashing through the stone torso without delay.

[Ending in: 4]

Corras moaned in agony as his health bar started to drop dangerously fast, and tried to unleash a last ditch effort assault. His torso, now battered beyond recognition, lifted up through the strikes of Nakuro's sword and lunged out towards the solo player.

[Ending in: 3]

Nakuro lunged forward for Corras' heart, a fiery core that he had exposed by breaking down the boss' defense.

Victory was within his grasp!

[Ending in: 2]

"DAMNIT, DIE!"

[Ending in: 1]

Nakuro's blade pierced through Corras' arms, shattering both of the stone limbs with a bouldering crack, and with his own thundering roar he brought down the blade into the core of the boss. The blade destroyed the heart upon impact, and an explosion of green, blue and yellow made the entire Pinnacle and even the furthest reaches of Sekitei tremble.

Nakuro had been throw backwards, but scrambled to his feet, barely able to stand, let alone hold his sword.

...

"Was this it?"

...

"Have I failed?"

...

He felt a haze of darkness descending upon himself as his eyes scoured the chamber for any signs of Corras.

Yet... He stumbled upon a promising, and reliefing screen.

[Congratulations!]

...

He grinned.

"I...Did... it...."

He fell backwards, his healtbar was brought to the brink of death itself. He let go of his sword, which clattered upon the ground, a metallic ring echoing throughout the empty chamber. His body went numb from the pain absorber, from the tip of his toes to his head.

He ultimately closed his eyes, and gave in.

His part was over.

---

...

"...E...Ehh..."

...

He twitched his sore eyes as he slowly awoke to the sound of the crack of a wooden door quietly swinging open. The bright haze of light slowly faded as his vision returned to him. He tried to sit up right, but quickly ceased his attempt after realising his chest was littered with blood-stained bandages.

His eyes rushed to the left-most corner.

"..T-Thank heavens..."

His nametag and healthbar were still there.

He forced a toothy grin as he calmed down, resting his head back on the fluffy pillow on his bed. Not for long though, as the outline of a person appeared before him. He reared his head slowly as he scrambled for words.

"W-...Who?"

His voice was muted as he was tightly embraced by a pair of arms. Through the tight hug, he could hear the muffled sound of sobbing, a very familiar sound.

"I-Idiot! Never, -never- do that a-a-again!"

He gently carresed Yuuni's hair as the poor girl kept on crying. "So... You were safe after all..." Nakuro said, finally free from her tight embrace.

Yuuni tried to wipe her tears away, but kept on crying nonetheless, so she grabbed his head once more and pressed it against her chest. "Y-You solo pl-pl-players.... All the same! Idiots!" She cried out.

Nakuro sighed happily as his hand moved up her back. He had been worried sick about her since the day that they were forced to part ways, courtesy of Flint. He was reliefed to see her, even more so that she was the one visiting him.

"Alright, alright. Enough with the cheesy emotional play, girl. My turn." A more stern voice louded in the room as Yuuni was pulled away from Nakuro, seperating the two once more. With sturdy strides, Flint had walked up to the bed and stood before Nakuro.

He peered up at the Commander questioningly. Was she angry with him?

"F-Flint..." He muttered, yet he was silenced by a single look on her face. He had seen this particular face before, but it was a rare sight indeed. An expressionless, emotionless face. One she put on when she tried her best to hide her true feelings.

Flint sighed deeply as she dropped her arms down alongside her body, as she stared at the solo player. "Nakuro." She said. You could feel the tension in the room rise, so much that Yuuni stumbled back away from the Commander.

"Mhm?" Nakuro said, trying to keep himself together as he peered at the Commander.

He expected the worst from her. From her perspective, he abandoned herself and her knights in the heat of battle, certainly at such a dire moment in their lives. He left them to the mercy of Terras' wrath, without leaving a single trace of his plans.

He swallowed as he prepared for Flint to make a verdict.

"I... I am astonished. I don't know 'how' you did it, and 'how' you figured out the bosses were linked, but I'm sure I will find out personally. Yet... For what it's worth..." She finished, handing a card that she materialized from her inventory.

Yuuni stumbled towards the bed, opening the letter for Nakuro and reading it aloud.

"To Player: Nakuro. I am deeply impressed by your tenacity and skill, Nakuro. Our guild is interested in assimilating such a talented force into our ranks, should you be up to the challenge. Even so, I can only commend your valor and courage." She blurted out in high speed and her eyes read the letter again and again.

"Who sent it?" Nakuro asked.

"Sssh." Yuuni said as she scrolled down the letter to the bottom half, finishing the letter.

"I expect us to cross paths soon, Nakuro."

A moment of silence fell as Yuuni uttered the name.

"~Commander Heathcliff."

Nakuro let his head fall back on his pillow, heat flushing his body. The one and only Heathcliff had sent him a personal letter!

"I'll let you two rest for a moment. I'll be back soon, Nakuro." Flint said, turning around and exiting the chamber.

The door closed with a soft thud of wood on stone, and the room fell silent once more. Except for the last scattered sobs of Yuuni.

"How long have I been here for?" Nakuro asked, finally breaking the silence.

"About three days. Your health bar... I've never seen it so close to zero and yet see a player live." She answered, moving herself onto the end of his bed.

"R-Right." He continued. "Who found me?"

"I did." Yuuni said, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes again. "You were lying there, in the c-centre of the room. All that was left was your body, alongside a loot screen a-and..."

"And what?"

"....A sword."

"Ah." He said, rearing his head towards her. "So you found out about the sword?"

She started crying, yet Nakuro waved his hand dismissively at her. "Don't cry. It was bound to happen. More importantly, where is it?"

'...I-I-... I took it for safe-keeping." She said, opening her inventory. "I used your unconcious hand to finish off the loot list, and to trade the weapon to myself."

Nakuro nodded gently. "Trade it back, would you?"

The two opened their inventory and traded back the weapon, which materialized on the bed before their eyes.

"Where did you get this?" Yuuni asked as Nakuro stored it away again into the depths of his list.

"I aquired it from an event boss, high up in the mountains of the 42nd floor. The boss was called 'Tallwyndir, Scourge of the Sky.' I slew the beast, and the item dropped for me."

"An epic weapon then?"

"Kind of, yeah. Only two other people aside from us know of the weapon, one being my sister and the other a blacksmith who identified the blade for me."

"What did the blacksmith tell you about it then?" Yuuni asked eagerly, wiping away the last of her tears, succesfully now.

"The blade shares the same name as it's owner. It is called 'Tallwyndir'. Want to know the stats?" Nakuro said, looking at Yuuni.

She nodded as Nakuro opened up the item screen.

"So... Let's see." He said as he turned the screen towards Yuuni so she could see.

The screen read:

[TALLWYNDIR +0]

[Long Sword / Two Hand]

[Range: Long]

[Type: Cleave]

[Attack: 683 - 727]

[Durability: 1200]

[Weight: 186]

[Requires: 60]

[Equip: +60]

[Agility: +10]

[Strength: +28]

Then, at the last piece of data, Yuuni raised her eyebrow.

[Stamina: -24]

"Minus twenty-four stamina?!" She said with a raised tone. "Why give up part of your health pool?"

"The health doesn't bother me." Nakuro said, closing the screen. "The weapon holds so much more potential and value, that it outweights the negative side of losing but a fraction of your health bar."

"So how much do you excactly know thus far about the blade?" Yuuni asked, eyeing Nakuro questioningly.

Nakuro scratched his head. "Less then a single piece of scrap of information is left in the game I'm afraid. Perhaps I'm dealing with a legendary unique sword here, who knows?"

"Couldn't the blacksmith help you indentify the blade's background?"

"No, come to think of it. He was a lousy smith after all. An old friend, but a worthless one I'm afraid."

"Then that will be your next step." Yuuni said, standing up and staring back at Nakuro passionately, as if suddenly motivated. She grabbed him by his collor of his t-shirt, not too hard so she wouldn't hurt him, but firm enough to ensure he would listen.

"This... 'Blade', you aquired... It is like nothing I've seen before. Like nothing any of us could dream of. It is a gift, Nakuro. Even a low-level player like me can see that. Whether you want it or not, that blade should be used. And it befalls you, the wielder, to unlock its full potentail within it as within yourself."

Her words seeped into him for a moment as he recited them. "You're smarter then you appear, Yuuni." He said.

Yuuni blushed and held him tighter. "Am I supposed to feel good now?!"

Nakuro chuckled softly as she released him again. "I shall visit a better blacksmith, yes. But first... I want to retire for a week or two. Get some rest before I continue though Sekitei."

"Hmn." Yuuni agreed. "I'll leave you then."

And with those final words, Yuuni left the room quietly, shutting the door behind her.

Nakuro layed his head back on his pillow as he hugged the blankets tightly, snuggling into bed comfortably. A few distant memories of the fight flashed his mind, of Corras and Terras, and of Flint and her Knights.

He was free of his debt, that was for sure. He had repaid the favour succesfully, and unintentionally, and now he would finally be free from Flint. Yet, Heathcliff's offer was tempting. Even for him and his background, and his vows never to repeat his past again... He felt strongly urged to atleast take up some interest in the Knights of the Blood Oath. If not the guild, then its leader.

He shifted on his side, he liked sleeping like that. And he thought to himself. Now that he had succesfully defeated a Field Boss and was responsible for rescuing atleast a dozen players, how would others treat him? Who all would know of his actions?

He chuckled once more, and closed his eyes.

Worries for later.

He closed his eyes, and his mind slowly drifted away.

The 64th floor had only just begun.

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