It was amazing how convoluted some randomly generated events were in Sword Art Online. The only two things -- and they were quite sizeable things, I had to admit -- that differentiated SAO from other massively multiplayer online games was the fact it was a FullDive virtual reality game that immerses the player in the game’s world, and the second was the system that governed the game and everything in it. Quests a player undertook tended to have their own journal entries providing background and lore, and it seemed that any of these lore mentions could be manifested at any time as a one-time event by the system. The outcome of some quests could even be felt by players not currently engaged in it, as well. If I was to walk up and murder the primary quest-giver on the 2nd Floor town of Urbus, for example, the subsequent quests might be the same name, but other players would likely be led down a very different route.
See what I mean by convoluted?
Okay, I’ll admit it: my gaming head was on because things were currently slow going, and to be perfectly honest, I was trying to focus my thoughts on something else. It was currently the 14th of December 2022 and our go-slow shoes were on firmly. Arashi made it quite clear in no uncertain terms who he blamed for this. He claimed that he and I should be on the front-line already and not rotting away here when, right this minute, Lind and Kibaou were leading a raid party in an attempt to clear the 2nd Floor labyrinth. What bugged the hell out of me though is that I couldn’t disagree with his claims. It was me who had welcomed Asuka into our ranks and it was me who had adopted two twins who couldn’t level in the traditional sense alongside us because they were crafters, not fighters, and both these decisions had set our pace back a good spell. The difference, though, was that I was willing to admit this. Arashi failed to see that he was equally responsible when he invited his cousin and his friend to join us.
I remembered our last exchange well. It had only occurred yesterday evening.
“Our slow pace is all on you!!” Arashi bellowed, loud enough that our comrades probably heard him in the adjacent room regardless. “We should be in that labyrinth with the others tomorrow.”
My aqua-green eyes flashed angrily.
My reply was sharper than I intended it to be and the moment I heard my tone I inhaled sharply and counted to ten. I couldn’t lose Arashi. If something happened to him, and I wasn’t there to pull his backside from the fire, then I’d never forgive myself and I really would murder Kayaba Akihiko, only the means involved would not be as simple as throwing the man from the nearest high window.
“Look, we have responsibilities. Even you have to see that.”
“Responsibility, you say!? It wasn’t me who adopted two kids! That’s all on you!”
“Really?” I answered, tone even despite my inner anger. “You don’t see how you share some blame in this? Or have I imagined Jiro and Shiro partying with us since you hooked up with Jiro?”
Sure, neither was 12 years old. But that wasn’t the point Arashi was making. He was arguing a slowness of progression in general and this applied to Jiro and Shiro the same way it applied to Elise and Sheila. He realized this himself, for Arashi narrowed his eyes but didn’t immediately bite back, because he saw the trap right below his feet. I was well-used to Arashi’s temper; he and I were old school buddies, and to be honest this wasn’t the first time we had a disagreement. It wouldn’t be the last either. The man was like a short-lived volcano; he was explosive and fiery in the beginning, but he soon cooled in his skin. Today was no different. He wasn’t even angry with me or even the others -- not really. He was railing against his surroundings and circumstances and the fact he was trapped in a video game of all things, and I happened to be the lightning rod attracting all his focused anger.
That, though, I didn’t mind. It was a jacket I was used to wearing. The guy could be a true pain in the backside at times, sure, but he was my pain.
“Look, I’m going to be frank with you. I don’t give a fuck about joining the front-line at the minute. You and I might be ready but the others aren’t.”
I wasn’t one to swear at the best of times. My gaming channel in real life was viewed by children right up to young adults and I had learned the hard way that the language you used was a powerful tool that could quickly shut you down. If you cursed like a sailor just pulled into port and craving a pint of the cheapest ale, did it really come as a great surprise to you when people didn’t take you seriously? Like anything, there was a time and a place. There was also the fact I had two young nieces similar in age to Elise and Sheila who I liked to set a good example for, so the fact I swore at all should be taken as a good indication of just how annoyed I was with Arashi at the minute.
Counting to ten helps, I had to admit, and my features softened.
“I think you know that too.”
When I looked to gauge Arashi’s next impulse I noticed that there was a visible struggle: snap back or back down. Arashi was a cage fighter well-suited to the former, but in this case he picked the latter, thankfully, and backed down. He exhaled loudly and with that one action his tension seemed to drain away with the air expelled from his lungs.
“I’m sorry, it’s just-”
I clapped him on the shoulder and led him back into the adjoining room. Asuka, whose face was a calm mask disguising her inner fury, Shiro, who looked disinterested in pretty much everything, Jiro, whose features were schooled to stillness, all sat around a small circular table. The twins had been here with them, talking energetically with Asuka and Shiro, prior to my conversation with Arashi and I took the time to scan the room for them. I had to admit to some panic when I realized that they weren’t around.
Asuka sensed my apprehension, however, and allayed my fears.
“I sent them up to your room.” She revealed, with daggers in her eyes for Arashi. “Thankfully before Arashi opened his big mouth.”
The volcano was bubbling again, I feared, but my worry was misplaced. It seemed Asuka had Arashi’s measure for she cut into his statement with perfect ease.
“No, you look here, and listen.” Asuka cut him off with a tone as sharp as a finely honed razor. “Those two kids didn’t ask to be trapped in a death game! Just like the rest of us, and they certainly didn’t set out to get robbed or assaulted by another player. You,” and she pointed her finger right at him, “need to back off. Like it or not, your attitude is not helping their confidence.”
She never shouted once. Her tone was angry; there was no getting around that, but as I listened to her I got the impression that I was watching an adult admonish a misbehaving child.
Instead of speaking or even apologizing, however, Arashi’s face revealed a half smile for the briefest of moments before he turned on his heel and walked away. Jiro left his seat at the table to follow after Arashi, whose steps took him upstairs, and I took his vacated seat at the table beside Asuka and opposite Shiro. Shiro had been quiet, his eyes downcast and expression disinterested throughout the whole scenario, and he was now shaking his head. His forehead was furrowed in thought and for the first time since meeting him I felt genuine annoyance in him. The man had proven himself a solid Tank and a lot of that had to do with his personality. He was calm, didn’t bow to pressure, and was genuinely invested in his team-mates well-being. And he was great with the twins. So to see him annoyed was something new to me.
“Shiro, you okay?”
Again, it was Asuka who spoke, and the change in tone was readily identifiable.
“Arashi reminds me of some players I had the unfortunate joy to meet on the 1st Floor.” He began. “They focused so much on combat Skills that they failed to see how other, non-combat Skills, could be useful to a party.”
He fixed me with a hard thousand-yard stare.
“Those players are now dead unfortunately. Not to speak ill of them or anything but it was their own fault and it all stemmed from their own pig-headedness. If you’re going to say anything to Arashi, tell him this: He needs to broaden his horizons.”
With that said he excused himself and retired to his bed.
And that was where Asuka and I had left it for the night as well. Suffice to say the atmosphere hadn’t exactly been conducive to efficient levelling when we pulled ourselves out of bed the morning after. The twins, for one, said they were going to complete some quests on the 1st Floor by themselves, which left Arashi, Asuka, Shiro, Jiro and myself free to do some questing here on the 2nd Floor. I had tried to speak to the twins, but they had run off before I could get a word in edgewise, but I did get a message from Sheila.
«I’ll tell you everything this evening. Have fun!»
That was how we came to be standing outside the 2nd Floor labyrinth. It was the location with the strongest monsters we could face at the moment without stepping on the toes of the clearing group attempting to conquer the labyrinth. That said, our location was about to respawn with monsters, so I wouldn’t have the luxury of standing about and ruminating on last night's events for much longer.
“How are you holding up with potions?”
My question was directed at Shiro. In a concentrated effort to increase the proficiency of his «Heavy Metal Armour» and «Shield» Skills he had volunteered to be the primary Tank in our battles today. Shiro, his friend Jiro, and Asuka were all at Level 12, and thus had their fourth Skill Slots unlocked. Taran was a town situated quite close to the labyrinth, but we hadn’t yet returned to the town for gear maintenance or item restocking. His «Iron Armour» was quite durable and the «Anneal Blade» hanging from his waist had been buffed to +3 (2D1S) so it was looking quite good. Jiro, meanwhile, was also running as our primary DPS.
“I’ve got four left.”
I halved my own supply and dropped three into my trade window and fired them off to him.
It was Arashi who bellowed this and, as usual, the guy’s booming voice carried well over any other background noise or conversation taking place. Asuka had been talking quietly with Jiro at the time and the two jumped in surprise. This was followed by a pebble resounding off the metallic shoulder pad of Arashi’s chest-plate courtesy of Asuka.
I checked the status of my own DoT buff and found it blinking, indicating that it was about to run out, and when I scanned the icon beside Asuka’s name I found the same to be true of her. Digging into my inventory I removed two takeaway variants of the «Moo Moo Cheesecake» I had first introduced to Asuka ten days ago and called her over.
“We’re about to blink out.” I said. “Bon appétit!”
We finished just as the monsters began respawning, Asuka walking off, so we were all spread out. We all assumed ready stances, but nothing appeared to hinder us. In fact, everything was still. An eerily quiet atmosphere had settled over us all and I began to wonder what was about to happen next.
That was when the ground started shaking.
“The hell?” I asked.
“What is it?” Shiro, who approached me, asked.
I didn’t know exactly what was coming but I could draw some conclusions based on my experiences in the beta, but Shiro and Jiro did not share that knowledge. The shaking suddenly intensified! Shiro staggered back into me just as I was about to shout a warning at Asuka to move, and the two of us tumbled to the floor instead. Jiro managed to keep his footing by jabbing his spear into the ground and using it to steady himself, but he was not a beta tester. He didn’t know what was coming. Unfortunately Asuka was right in the path of a charging ox and the shaking of the ground had resulted in her losing her footing.
I was powerless to help, and I was about to curse myself for a fool, but I was also being very forgetful. There was a fifth member of our party this morning who all of us had been mostly ignoring in the hopes of avoiding another argument, and this was Arashi. Who, usually, was our primary Tank. Like me he had been a beta tester and unlike me he had managed to keep his footing. In seconds Arashi had moved between Asuka and the ox, his back facing the monster, and my worry outright tripled when he threw her over his shoulder. He was going to get skewered right alongside her! So when his two-handed sword glowed yellow, and he suddenly shifted his position, with Asuka still slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, I was never so surprised in all my life. The system recognized the activation stance for «Back Rush», which was a counter-based defensive Sword Skill only usable when the person initiating it was attacked from behind, and began cycling him through the animation. The system assist kicked in, increasing the player’s reactions beyond human limits, which allowed them to avoid the incoming blow and deliver a powerful counter-stroke in reprisal! I would have pumped my fist had I been able.
His two-handed sword struck the ox right in the flank and an impossibly loud roar resonated through the area! Asuka took this chance to whisper her thanks and back away. Arashi subsequently solidified his aggro with a hearty «Howl».
“Shiro, you’re relegated to back up!”
The wonderful thing about «Back Rush» is that it possessed hardly any post-motion delay so Arashi wasn’t frozen. Conversely, it possessed quite a large cooldown timer. He wouldn’t be using it again for a while.
“Kishi, get off the floor! You should know better. Asuka and you are on DoT duty. Cap a «Leaver» in its ass. Jiro, wait for openings and stun it!”
Jiro was one of the few players I knew who used a «Spear». His reach probably exceeded mine even with a charging Skill aimed skywards and the Skill-tree associated with polearms possessed a number of paralysing effects and stat-lowering attacks. He had «Weak Point Sensing», which at present increased his critical hit percentage, and «Armour Pierce», which opened up additional debuffing options.
I called back as Shiro and I returned to our feet. Shiro took up position a little back from where Arashi stood, in a position allowing him to interpose himself between us and the ox should it manage to get past Arashi. Speaking of the ox, however, I was finally getting a good look at it. His name -- «Zagan the Exile» -- and HP bar -- 5 bars! -- indicated that he was a Boss of some kind, probably related in some way to the ox men of the 2nd Floor labyrinth. Zagan was about as tall as the average two-story house, had shining white eyes, was as wide as a bus, with arms and legs as thick as tree trunks. His weapon of choice was a large axe but its size and scope was more akin to a telegraph pole with a steel axe-head than a standard axe. Calling him an ox hadn’t exactly been the correct terminology. He was closer to a Minotaur.
Suffice to say we were about to step into the crucible.
What I couldn’t figure out was the emblem on his forehead but I didn’t have time to think much about it either.
Zagan targeted Arashi with its opening attack and as a two-handed axe user Zagan used actual Sword Skills.
What scared the bejesus out of me though is that Zagan was winding up with «Crescent Avalanche»! For the uninitiated that was a seven-hit combination attack that had a pretty good chance of wrecking pretty much anything.
“Get ready to hit his flank!!”
Zagan brought his green-wreathed axe down on Arashi’s head. He avoided the first blow by leaping back but the impact cratered the earth and sent up debris that completely obscured what happened next from my sight. It didn’t stop me hearing though. Arashi roared loud, a sickening metallic CLANG echoed through the area, and from the cloud of dust and flying debris Zagan was sent trailing. Arashi had sent the hulking monstrosity trailing back with a Sword Skill of his own!
While I might not have used Asuka’s exact wording I was pretty much thinking the exact same thing. I had to admit to being completely dumbfounded and it was only after I saw Jiro weaving in behind the Minotaur and jabbing it twice in quick succession in the backside that I righted myself and added my own sword to the damage. «Leaver» involved an uppercut slash swiftly followed by a downward stroke along the same trajectory as the first, with the added benefit of potentially inflicting a «Bleeding» DoT effect. Thankfully this happened right off the bat. Of course, usually I’d fall into post-action delay, but before that could trigger I jabbed forward with my left-hand to land the «Martial Arts» Sword Skill «Flash Blow». Asuka was beside me in seconds and instead of releasing a Sword Skill she nimbly slashed at the exposed flank with her claws and even though this did next to no damage, this kind of attack was exactly where her claws were at their most deadly. They had a 30% chance to inflict a «Bleeding» debuff regardless of the attack used, and she could dish out an incredible number in a very short period of time, and within only five seconds I saw her initiate the charging Sword Skill «Acute Vault» at close range. The entire strike took her roughly ten feet past Zagan and suddenly there were two «Bleeding» icons floating beside his head.
“Nicely done everyone. Shiro, you’re up!”
Again Arashi’s voice carried clearly over the battlefield, even over the various roars of a pissed off Zagan. The moment he finished speaking he chugged one of the longer-lasting healing potions he possessed.
It seemed it was becoming customary for my Tanks to roar as loudly as the monsters we fought. It had the desired effect though and Zagan turned its hate-filled white-eyed stare right on Shiro. Zagan leapt at him and when it landed on the ground, even I felt it shake! «Smash» was a simple, if effective, one-hit two-handed axe Sword Skill. What I didn’t expect though was how Shiro countered it. His shield glowed momentarily, indicating that he was using it to launch a Sword Skill, and this was exactly what he did. «Shield Bash» met «Smash» and yet another sickening CLANG echoed throughout! Shiro, unfortunately, didn’t have Arashi’s Strength stat, and he was knocked backwards by the force of the collision. His HP took a hit as well but nowhere near what it would have been had he taken the attack head-on. Still, he lost almost 40% of his entire HP bar. That clarified it for me. There was no way Asuka would have survived Zagan’s charge had Arashi not intervened. Even I wouldn’t have walked away from that.
This fight would be decided by Arashi.
And the man knew that himself and stepped up big time.
You already knew this, but Arashi’s weapon was an absolute monstrosity of a two-handed sword which was roughly as long as he was tall. What you didn’t know is how he got it: this was a drop Arashi had received alongside his current suit of armour during a one-time event quest on the 2nd Floor during one of his solo endeavours, around the same time Asuka and I had been resolving fetch quests in Urbus. Named «Xiphias» the sword was an absolutely massive chunk of blackened steel with a silver edge, enclosed handle, and no guard of any kind with a shining red eye-like decoration just above the handle. The armour matched it and was known as «Armour of Xiphias». This protective suit was lighter than the old «Iron Armour» that Arashi had given to Shiro and completely dominated his body from the tips of his toes to his neckline, incorporating his foot, leg, waist, upper-body and arm slots just to equip. The entire suit was black as a bottomless pit, featured highly decorative spikes on the knees, elbows and shoulders, and was embossed with a large glowing red eye in the centre. The entire ensemble gave the impression of a demon. And here I thought Arashi was scary to look at before.
“Shiro, stay on backup. To the rest of you: If that thing hits any of you cleanly it’ll kill you. Watch your Switches and stay on your toes.”
“... Right, watch yourself.” Shiro leapt back.
Sword Art Online was, and I hated to admit this, a fundamentally fair game. Weaponry and armour was available if the players looked for it or got lucky. Of course, there was a degree of risk involved, though this was true of all SAO’s activities considering that it was a death game.
Arashi advanced at the same time as Zagan, his «Howl» grabbing aggro from Shiro and his successful «Parry» solidifying it, and the two exchanged basic attacks. His HP sunk a little but I noticed that it began healing in quick order. In addition to having stats comparable to armour available on floors much higher than the one he obtained it on, the «Armour of Xiphias» had a minor HP regeneration quality. Every time this ability kicked in the red eye on the armours front glowed brightly. This effect stacked with the healing potion he had chugged earlier and the two combined to provide a potent self-healing stat.
“Kishi, you ready?” Asuka, with a steely determination, asked me.
I ran up behind Arashi and quickly slid around him to strike at Zagan’s flank. «Reaver» and «Acute Vault» caused Asuka and me to pass by each other almost cheek-to-cheek as Zagan roared in the background, and of course our DoT’s were still ticking away in the background.
“Watch the spin!” Arashi called.
«Grand Destruct» was an area attack which, coupled with Zagan’s size, made for a frightening area-of-effect.
Shiro, however, fulfilled his role as instructed. He interposed himself between the attack, matching the swing of Arashi, and jointly the two redirected the blow into the sky away from us. Just like last time Jiro jabbed Zagan from behind and this time I saw a Defence Down debuff seize the Boss.
“Hit it now! Shiro, take over, and watch your timing.”
Arashi added his own considerable attack to our mix of Sword Skills and, for all our trouble, we had knocked two of his HP bars down.
“We’ve got this,” I whispered. “Asuka, these things tend to go berserk after a while. Watch for any changes in his patterns and if you do, get yourself clear.”
Zagan’s patterns didn’t appear to be anything remotely advanced. He targeted whatever individual was the highest on his hate table with powerful and seemingly random Sword Skills, whilst occasionally stamping on the ground with his powerful legs. This made the ground shake in the same manner it had when Zagan had first appeared. It was a simple matter to avoid or cancel his various attacks and our efforts were beginning to bear fruit. His final HP bar was sinking and overall he was just about to fall to 10% HP.
“Oh, shit- Asuka!”
As I had feared, Zagan had a berserk mechanic. His roar was followed by a rapid inhale and exhale, only instead of rancid breath he belched a lightning breathe attack! There was also a brief flash of the emblem on his forehead, though I pushed that from my mind. This breath attack didn’t appear to target the primary target like his other attacks and was likely random, but that was barely going through my mind. His target was Asuka, who was statistically our frailest member, but thankfully I reached her first. She could admonish me for kicking her later but I lashed out with «Water Moon» and managed to send her skidding away from the lightning attack which, of course, hit me head-on. She squealed my name as eight-tenths of my HP was obliterated in one swoop, and I was stunned for my trouble, with comical stars floating above my head.
Zagan’s hoofed feet brought him closer to me with every step and the axe-head was gleaming…!
“Jiro, get him clear!!”
Arashi’s foot impacted the ground mere inches from my head and his sword glowed a majestic yellow. Zagan had dropped onto all-fours and was preparing to gore me but Arashi swung out at his horns and miraculously managed to divert the raging Boss. One of his horns had snapped outright, causing critical damage, but this seemed to enrage the Minotaur even further! His movements became random, the breath attack was used with abandon, and there wasn’t a member of our group other than Arashi whose HP wasn’t in the yellow. I was, of course, still in the red.
“Oh, for the love of- STAND STILL!”
This was Jiro who roared with frustration, and he lashed out with «Twin Thrust». The paralysis effect took effect and Zagan found himself immobilized, but his resistance must have been sky-high because the status icon was already starting to blink.
“Now or never folks!” Arashi bellowed. “Hit him all at once!”
I held back though. Something had bugged me about Zagan since he first appeared and that had been his emblem. That was when it struck me.
“Shiro, I need a lift!”
Thankfully, Shiro was a smart guy. He grasped the particulars of what I meant, probably having seen the exact same thing I had, and braced his shield against his arm as he ran. Asuka, Jiro and Arashi all struck out with Sword Skills and his HP stubbornly refused to budge, and when the paralysis winked out he appeared to frigging smile! He inhaled as Shiro reached his hoofed feet, and he braced himself. If this didn’t work Shiro and I were going to die. I ran at full pelt as, leapt onto Shiro’s shield, and felt him heave.
Zagan was about to exhale…!
«Flash Blow» was the fastest attack in my current repertoire and when I sunk my fist into that shining emblem my hunch was proven true. Zagan reared back, stunned, and his breath attack was nowhere in evidence. Asuka, Jiro and Arashi were luckily recovering from their post-motions delays and every one of them sunk a Sword Skill into the Boss. Sadly that last sliver of HP refused to budge and this time I was frozen so when he inhaled again and a grin split its monstrous face, I could have spat in frustration.
“Son of a mother-”
My expletives were outright muffled by the shining light of an «Anneal Blade» that cut all before it!
Shiro had aimed his charge skywards and buried his blade deep in Zagan’s chest, his body in the signature pose of someone who had just launched the basic charging «Rage Spike» Sword Skill, and Zagan exploded into thousands of polygonal shards.
A large «VICTORY» and «CONGRATULATIONS» flashed across our respective displays as loot and experience fell into our laps.
Asuka tackled me bodily, hugging me tightly as we rolled amongst the grass, and the two of us could barely contain our laughter. Jiro was altogether more reserved in his celebrations and merely clapped his cousin Arashi on the shoulder. Shiro stood gulping in big mouthfuls of air. Arashi, meanwhile, sank to his knees. The concentration required to carry the field like he had must have really taken its toll on him.
For nearly ten minutes we sat around in a mixture of stunned relief and abject fear. What if Zagan could respawn? Jesus, that gave me goosebumps.
“A Boss,” Arashi said, “and one every bit as strong as the Floor Boss was in the beta. Why was it just hanging around outside the labyrinth?”
“Lovely!” Shiro exclaimed. “But damn, is that what the front-runners are fighting on a daily basis? Hey, wait. Was that thing in the beta?”
“Not that I know of,” Arashi answered.
“Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time something’s been changed from the beta.” Jiro interjected. “Remember what Argo’s guide said about Ilfang the Kobold Lord? His weapons were different.”
I had a different theory.
“He probably was in the beta.” I put forward. “Think back, Arashi: how many people were outside the labyrinth when we fought «Baran the General Taurus» in the beta? None. This is just my theory, but there wouldn’t have been anyone to encounter him. I have a theory but I need more info before I’ll commit to anything.”
“So exactly what kind of Boss did we just encounter then?” Shiro asked.
“An Event Boss? Not sure, to be honest. But I’ll know more when the front-runners clear the labyrinth and I can message Lind.”
Asuka had been uncharacteristically quiet and when I turned towards her I found that she was cycling through menu windows at a frightening pace. She finally manifested a piece of worn parchment from her inventory and began reading it. I scanned it over her shoulder but didn’t know what I was looking for in the first place. It appeared to be a bullet-point list of random notes and observations she had made, with dates and times. It stretched back before she met Arashi and I. Some points had been underlined whilst others had been crossed through.
“Here it is!” She suddenly exclaimed. “About a week ago we completed a hunting quest. How many of you remember what the NPC said?” Blank eyes met her. “Oh, for Pete’s sake! She mentioned an exiled Taurus related to the Floor Boss! I even underlined it!”
I had to call her out.
“Then where was our warning?”
Her expression turned sweet all of a sudden.
“... I may have kind of forgot about it?”
We had a good laugh and, more importantly, managed to dispel the animosity of the morning and yesterday evening. There was nothing like a near-death experience to draw a group together. In hindsight what we had been arguing about seemed so trivial now. On the way back we cracked jokes and poked fun at Asuka for her forgetfulness. When no one was watching however she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. When I pointed out that Arashi had saved her too she narrowed her eyes and punched me on the shoulder but in the end thanked Arashi, though she ended up whacking him one when he tapped his cheek and stuck his tongue out at her. Upon our return to town I messaged both Lind and Argo to confirm my theory. It turned out there had been a new Boss stronger than Baran in the official release called «Asterius the Taurus King» and his appearance in the Boss chamber coincided with the appearance of Zagan outside the labyrinth.
An Event Boss whose appearance was tied to the appearance of the main Floor Boss? Convoluted barely covered Sword Art Online sometimes. In exchange for the info regarding Zagan I got my update on the front-line free of charge from Argo.
We didn’t bother joining the tourists to check out the newly opened 3rd Floor and instead returned to the «Moo Moo Milk» in triumph.
“What exactly did you get?” I asked Shiro.
“Oh, yeah! You got the LA, didn’t you?” Asuka interjected.
Shiro brought up his menu and highlighted the inventory option and set it to visible. He sorted its contents to show the newest items first and right at the top of the list was «Bull Hoplon». He looked at its stats and attributes and whistled appreciatively. It provided +4 to the wearer’s Strength stat, which was exactly what Shiro needed, and additionally buffed the wearer’s «Howl» Skill if applicable. All-in-all a very serviceable shield that any Tank would be happy to have dropped for them. What I found particularly noteworthy however was its potential longevity; it could be enhanced up to eighteen times! This would more than likely serve him for a great deal of time going forward. He equipped it then and there. It was a large concave shield designed to be supported on the shoulder. Rather than having a bronze layer in the centre this shield sported an embossed image of a large bull.
“Heh, and you told me you had no luck with item drops.” I laughed. “I call bullshit.”
The rest of us looked through our own loot at that point. There were no further equipment drops but given the quantity and quality of the items dropped I was fairly sure we’d be able to have Elise and Sheila craft us each something fairly powerful for the point we were in the game. Most were generic pieces; leather, mane, horns, that kind of thing. There was even an organ of some kind that likely powered its breath attack, and a chipped section that had once been attached to its axe.
I fired Sheila off a message:
«Boy, have we got a story to tell! Hope that forge of yours is hot ‘cause we’ve got goodies.»
«Back in a bit!»
And, of course, it was signed with a smiley face.