December 14th, 2022.
Right this very moment a raid-group led by the ever-bickering Kibaou and Lind were engaging the Boss of the 2nd Floor in earnest. I suppose I should be happy? We'd soon be off the cow floor! I should be elated. The 3rd Floor was, after all, where Sword Art Online could truly be said to begin in earnest. It was the where the Guild quest could be undertaken and it was where the Elf War campaign quest -- a chain of events concluding on the 9th Floor -- began.
I should be happy. At least you'd think so. But I wasn't. Because right this very moment my friends and I where quite literally fighting for our lives!
The monster in question was a named creature that looked exactly like the Greek Minotaur --named Zagan the Exile -- though this dude looked a little different compared to his labyrinth-dwelling kin. He was slightly shorter than an average two-story house for starters and about as wide as a Goddamn bus! His arms where like tree trunks and his legs made the bloody ground shake! He had some kind of shining emblem on his head that seemed significant but it was beyond our reach at the moment.
If only I'd slotted Blade Throwing.
My best guess was that he was an Event Boss of some kind. Given that the front-runners knew that the only Field Boss on the 2nd Floor had been the Bullbous Bow -- and given I knew the same from the beta -- then this couldn't be a Floor Boss. Event Boss was the only logical explanation that I could think of right now. But truth be told thinking about why this thing was here, loitering about near the labyrinth, wasn't at the forefront of my mind right now. At present I was focused solely on dodging his ridiculously large two-handed axe!
"Kishi, flank right! Asuka, follow in behind! We need those DoT's!!"
Arashi's loud voice easily carried over the various and furious sounds of battle. I, of course, followed my friends lead and sank my Scimitar +4 right into its muscled flank as I fired off my two-hit Leaver Sword Skill, which I followed up with a quick Crescent Moon as I back-flipped before my post motion delay could completely kick in.
Asuka's voice filled my ears and the charging claw Sword Skill known as Acute Vault sent her barrelling through Zagan's midsection! Two debuff icons appeared beside its name -- both little men with bleeding wounds -- indicating that our respective DoT's had taken effect.
I was glad we'd stopped in Urbus for that buff before coming here. It was likely why my own had taken effect given its usually small percentage.
"Done!" I called back.
"Jiro, Shiro. Stand ready!" Arashi bellowed.
The two did just that but Zagan had other ideas. My two-pronged Sword Skill attack had placed me firmly at the top of its hate gauge and given that my DoT was ticking away in the meantime it was no great surprise that it fixed me with two shining white eyes. I couldn't get clear of course; I was still frozen by my post-action delay.
But I was wasn't worried.
Normally you'd associate such a roar with the monster we where fighting. But that roar did not belong to Zagan the Exile. Arashi bellowed loud and long with «Howl» and he once again became the target of the creature's fury before it could do more than snort at me. Zagan raised his axe skyward, the weapon glowing with the telltale signs of an impending Sword Skill, but Arashi merely readied his own monstrosity of a two-handed sword in reply. I knew his intention immediately: he aimed to parry Zagan's Sword Skill with one of his own.
The clang reverberated through the air and sent sparks flying!
But Arashi's feet where firmly planted: he hadn't budged an inch! He had not only successfully parried the strike but also succeeded in knocking Zagan back, resulting in the boss suffering a brief stun affect.
"Jiro!" Arashi called.
Arashi's cousin leapt on the stunned Zagan and fired off Twin Thrust: a wide-hitting two-handed assault spear attack consisting of two quick thrusts accompanied by a short paralysis affect. Given that Zagan was already stunned this allowed Asuka and myself to not only recover from our delays but also attack again. Reaver and Acute Vault where charging skills but in this case we both held them until we where right on-top of him. The accompanying charge took us several metres outside Zagan's range.
It was only when the two of us seized up that Shiro made his move.
He used «Howl» just as Zagan recovered and braced his shield arm to meet Zagan's furious attack. His Strength stat wasn't as high as Kusaka's but the shield held up under the glowing Sword Skill. Shiro suffered damage of course -- I saw almost 30% of his HP gauge disappear in that one attack -- and he was knocked back for his trouble. But he'd weathered the storm without suffering the tumble status.
If it had hit Asuka or myself, for example, we'd likely have died.
In comparison our first round of combat with Zagan had knocked roughly 20% off his HP. All things considered I thought that a good thing.
"Rinse and repeat! Watch for changes in his patterns. Shiro, chug a pot. If we watch our timing I'll Howl after he recovers from Jiro's Twin Thrust; give you a little more healing time."
The fight from there went exactly as planned. Our strategy worked well. Zagan's pattern remained unchanged until he hit 10% health, at which point he sharply inhaled. Thankfully my beta knowledge kicked in. Arashi saw it too and locked eyes with me and then flicked his head firmly in the direction of Shiro. He was the closest to Zagan; close enough that he was a mere couple of feet away.
5 seconds left.
I ran at full pelt -- my days as a former school track runner flashing into my mind -- and called loudly, "LIFT!" Shiro thankfully caught on to my plan and formed an X with his arms, his shield held out, and heaved the moment my foot impacted the surface.
2 seconds left.
Zagan opened his mouth for a breathe-attack but all I had eyes for was the shining emblem on his forehead. Airborne as I was it was easy enough to align my body and fire off Reaver! My suspicions where correct: the emblem was a weak spot and hitting it canceled the breathe-attack.
"Nicely done!" Asuka called.
Arashi, meanwhile, was upon Zagan in an instant! The two-strike spinning Cyclone sent Zagan trailing backwards several metres and the Minotaur's HP dropped to dangerous levels once Asuka and Jiro added their own skills to the mix. The final 1% refused to drop however -- even with the DoT's ticking away in the background -- and Zagan, seeming to smile triumphantly, inhaled again.
And all of us where frozen by our post-motion delays. "Son of a-"
My expletive thoughts where interrupted by a shining light-blue Anneal Blade.
Zagan burst into thousands of polygons, revealing the iron-clad figure of Shiro standing where Zagan had been mere moments ago, as experience and loot fell into our respective laps. Shiro had been so busy getting me airborne that he hadn't fired off a Sword Skill of his own. As such the Last Attack bonus fell to Shiro. I'd have to ask him about it later but for now all five of us stood around in silence.
It was a good ten minutes before we calmed down enough to discuss what we just encountered.
"Zagan wasn't in the beta?" Shiro asked.
"Not that I know of," answered Arashi.
"Wouldn't be the first time something's been changed since the beta." Jiro interjected. "One of Argo's guides said that Ilfang used different equipment for example."
"He probably was." I finally said. "Think back Arashi. How many people where outside the labyrinth when we fought the Floor Boss in the beta? None. There wouldn't have been anyone here to fight him."
"So what the hell kind of Boss was he?" Shiro asked.
"An Event Boss?" I guessed.
Asuka, who'd been quiet up until now, was reading through a journal she kept. One of the hunting quests she'd completed a week ago whilst levelling with Arashi, Jiro and Shiro had alluded to an exiled Taurus, and she'd jotted this note down before forgetting about it. When she turned her menu window to visible and showed it to me I groaned.
"Lovely!" I exclaimed. "I think our friend Zagan was an Event Boss that triggered when the raid-group engaged the Floor Boss."
My hypothesis was spot-on the money because that day, with a little help from a blacksmith-turned-swordsman, the raid-group defeated Asterius the Taurus King. Zagan's appearance coincided with that of Asterius himself -- something Argo did not charge me for because apparently my info about Zagan was appreciated. As for my party? We trudged back to the nearest town and drowned ourselves in drink that couldn't get you drunk.
Elise and Sheila where hanging on Shiro's every word as he detailed to them the fight and I found myself alone with Arashi.
"You handled that very well."
He actually smiled.
"If you're okay with it I'll let you handle battles like that in the future. If we're gonna make a guild of our own next then we need a leader."
"I'll be the raid leader, no problem there." But he fixed me with a serious look. His tattoos made him look frightening. "But I won't be the leader. That has to be someone whose a people-person and that ain't me."
We toasted our victory and celebrated well into the early hours of December 15th. Before the night was done we made a point of examining our loot and checking our levels. The fight hadn't increased my level but Arashi was now even with me on 14. Asuka, Jiro and Shiro where sitting comfortably on 12 -- like me they hadn't leveled up. For getting the LA bonus Shiro nabbed himself a very nice shield: the «Bull Hoplon». It gave a flat +4 to Strength and enhanced the effectiveness of a user's Howl. Very nice.
As for what we did on December 15th? We spent the day soaking in a bathtub back in Urbus. In the real world we'd have come out looking like prunes.