Disclaimer: what can I say? After watching SAO I fell in love with it. Amazing! I would sign up even if I only had one life. Actually I'd probably sign up because of that. But I thought what if Kagome and Ichigo met in there? And so, this was born.

Chapter One November 6th 2022 12:31 p.m.

Kagome looked away from her homework to the door, she was frustrated. One more week finish to this and she was barely a quarter of the way: on top of that she had two other major projects and general classwork. But today had been a bad day from the moment she got up. She had a small headache, Souta had friends over so they could all get in on the first day of Sword Art Online. A virtual reality RPG. And they were of course excited, which also meant loud. Now someone was knocking at the door. "WHAT?!"

The door opened and Souta stuck his head in, at sixteen he'd had a part time job for more then a year and had bought the gaming system with his own money. He did this on top of keeping high grades in school and helping around the shrine. She had only manged good grades in college and helping around the shrine. Admittedly the amount of work she did around the shrine took up enough time to call it a part time job she just didn't really get paid. But on the other hand she didn't have to pay for college and her mom didn't ask for rent. But it made her feel useless, twenty-one; still at home and barely keeping up in school. She felt like a waste of space. After the well closed when she was almost sixteen settling back into a normal life had been hard. It was still hard. The fights, the demons. Some days it seemed like a dream, but it was one she still wished she was living.

"Kagome Haro can't make it, he had to go to work, but he'd brought his NerveGear over yesterday so we have an extra helmet. I know you don't normally like games that much but I thought you might like this over the normal controller. It's gonna be just me, Daiki and Kenji."

Kagome held in a groan, she needed to get this done. She really needed to. But her focus was crap, she had a headache, and Souta looked really hopeful. She closed her eyes, guilt she was all too familiar with started up again. She had missed almost a year of Souta's life traveling and even now back firmly in the future the two of them were so busy they didn't spend much time together. What would it hurt to go goof off for a few hours with him and his friends? Nothing. She'd still have the rest of the week to finish this up. Besides killing a few things would probably do wonders for her stress level.

"Sure Souta, I'll come join you for the game."

Souta grinned, happiness clear. "Come on then we can log on in less then half an hour."

Kagome set her pencil to the side and closed her book, and closed her computer. Standing she stretched, and followed her brother into his room where she found him and his two friends sitting on a mix of blankets and pillows, Souta was on his bed and all the helmets were plugged in. To be polite she greeted Souta's two friends; Daiki was the biggest reason her brother was so over the moon about Sword Art Online. Daiki's elder brother Toshio had been a beta tester. The boy was rather muscular and had normal enough features as well as a touch of a crush on her. Kenji on the other hand was one of the tallest boys she'd ever met and was rather cute with his floppy hair cut and smirk. Souta of course was her brother and they were about the same height now. She was sure he was going to be taller then her.

"So since I wasn't planning to play want to give me some general information?"

Daiki brightened and start explaining in an hyper way.

She just picked up the highlights. One hundred levels, millions of monsters, swords were pretty much the most common weapons, but there were spears, and axes. No bows. Or even crossbows. She'd have to use a sword while playing. Ten thousand new and beta players were signing on today. The fact was the game was made by the man who'd made the nerve gear in the first place so this should work far better then any of the games that could be played on NerveGear up till now. There were more quests then monsters and several more things that flew right over her head. Five minutes before 1:00 p.m. they put the helmets on and made themselves comfortable on the floor or bed.

Then they got on. Kagome found herself staring at a screen that told her she need a user name and more information. First she entered her measurements with the helmet like she was told to, then she stared blankly trying to come up with a user name. She didn't do this often and she didn't want to use her screen chat name. In the end the only thing she came up with was archer. So typing that in she added a password. Her father's nickname for her with the first and last letter capitalized.

Then saying link start like she'd heard the others say she found the screen telling her it was testing her five senses and then in a blur of color she found herself standing in a huge courtyard. Looking about she was stunned, this felt almost real. There was something lacking to her. She inhaled, she could smell and taste the air here. The wind could be felt on her face. She touched the breast plate her character was wearing and could feel leather armor beneath her fingers. What was missing?

Someone touched her shoulder. Spinning she found three men facing her. It took a second but she realized this must be Souta and his friends. "Hi everyone."

The one on her far right with blond hair grinned. "Hey Kagome."

She knew this was probably Souta. "How do we tell who is who?"

The one on her far left smirked. Lifting his hand to about shoulder height he said. "You should be able to see a green bar about here there's a name in front of it."

Looking closely she saw his read Daono. Daiki. She smiled, "Thanks for the help Daono." she looked over at the middle guys, by process of elimination she knew he was Kenji. His screen name read 'Suke-Oniki.' weird name. Probably had a story behind it. Looking over she was curious what her brother's screen name was. Seeing Inuyasha she groaned. "Really?"

Souta blinked confused and then realized. He chuckled. "I forgot I hadn't told you about that. Here I'm the great and powerful Inuyasha!"

Kagome couldn't stop the face palm. It made sense, the name of the only sword fighter her brother knew and admired. "I'm only calling you Yasha got it?"

Souta pouted but shrugged. "What ever you say Archer."

Kagome made a face. "It was what came to mind."

Souta stuck his tongue out at her. "If that's the case you might as well have called yourself Miko and been done with it.

Daono spoke up, "What are you guys talking about?"

She looked at Souta and he looked back. As one they said, "Nothing."

The boy looked between the two of them with a bemused expression, before shrugging. "Okay. Well how about instead of arguing about nothing, we get going. We need weapons, and then some small quest or something."

Kagome looked at Souta and agreed.

It took three and half hours but they managed to get equipped and complete a short quest giving them all the means to level up. Kagome had to admit she would be willing to play again. This had been fun. Asking Daono about how to get out she went to her menu and and the three buttons there like he said there should be but the last one wasn't labeled. She touched it and nothing happened. A chill crept across her skin.

She had been having a bad day. But to find she was trapped in a game would be a whole new level of weird. Trying to contact the game master she gave it a second but when nothing happened she knew for the moment at least she was trapped. Hoping it was a glitch she waved her menu away. "You know what never mind. Lets go kill a few more wolves."

The boys she was with all grinned at her, but only Souta seemed to realize she wasn't saying something. He at least had the tact to not say anything. Kagome sighed. It was almost five and she had a horrible feeling things were going to go bad fast. After the time she had spent on the far side of the well she had learned her instincts were very rarely wrong.

12:03 p.m. Same Day

Ichigo picked up his cell phone seeing Chad's number. "Hey, what's up?"

His friend's voice came through the phone. "Well you know my roommate Kawano? He has NerveGear and together the two of us managed to get our hands on Sword Art Online. But he had to go home since his grandmother is in the hospital and I know you had said it looked interesting and I thought you might like to join me for opening day."

Ichigo looked at the clock, an hour till you could log in. He did have homework he was suppose to be doing... but there was sword fighting... "I'm in. I'll be there in half an hour."

"Good see you then."

5:24 p.m.

Ichigo grinned at Chad, together they had just manage to complete a small quest. It had been a lot fun even if Chad was the one who got the points to level up. "I'm really glad you asked me here. I still think it's funny you chose Chad as your name."

Chad shrugged. "It's a nickname and it's something I'm use to answering to. It makes sense. Besides Zangetsu, it's not like you have room to talk about interesting screen names."

Ichigo shrugged, Chad had him there. "I should probably start thinking about heading out, it's a trip to get back home and Yuzu's cooking."

Then the whole game rang with the sound of ringing bells, it was an ominous sound with the sky darkening with sunset. Turning back towards town he glanced at Chad; Chad looked as confused as he did.

That was when a teleport moved them back to the main square.

Standing there, confused. Ichigo let his eyes drift across the masses. Many seemed scared and even more seemed to think this was just part of the first day. But certain faces jumped out him; there was a boy not far from him and Chad with a dark look on his face, his friend with pink hair seemed confused. A girl with three boys looked angry like she already knew what was happening. There were others but the sky turning red called his attention. After the whole sky had turned red, stuff oozed from cracks in the sky till it formed a red cloaked figure. He looked out over them and Ichigo knew this was going to be bad. The voices of the crowd drifted to his his ears: 'why doesn't he have a face? Is he the game master? What's going? This must be a welcome ceremony.' Looking through the crowd again he noticed the same faces, all of them knew what he knew. They weren't getting out unscathed.

"Attention players!"

The crowd quieted.

"Welcome to my world."

Ichigo knew right away this had to be the game's creator, this meant the game had changed. Why else would they be here?

"My name is Kayaba Akihiko. As of this moment, I am the sole person who can control this world."

He closed his eyes, he had the feeling they had just been taken hostage. He wasn't super into games like this but in theory it seemed possible. If they couldn't log out... their bodies would slowly starve but if put into a hospital they could last years. Like a lot of years. But why... what could Kayaba gain from this?

"I'm sure you've already noticed that the log out button is missing from the main menu." The figure even pulled a giant menu up and showed them all. "But this is not a defect in the game. I repeat... this is not a defect in the game. It is a feature of Sword Art Online."

Ichigo opened his eyes and looked to Chad, his friend's mouth was open ever so slightly and the normal calm had vanished. He knew from the icy stillness he was feeling he was in shock. But it didn't matter this game wasn't going to let them leave. It didn't, the only question that mattered to him was how did they get out?

"You can not log out of SAO on yourselves. And no one on the outside can shut down or remove the NerveGear. Should this be attempted, the transmitter inside the NerveGear will emit a powerful microwave, destroying your brain and thus ending your life."

The out cry from the crowd almost surprised Ichigo, why deny it? If the helmet can read your brain waves enough to tell you if you're eating, fighting or talking of course it could damage your brain. That was something that had freaked Karin out when the NerveGear came out. Sure it was safe, that wasn't going to happen by accident but this was on purpose and that was the man who made this stuff telling them. But Ichigo supposed he'd never been one to deny reality, ghosts? Of course they were real. Monsters? Those existed too. He had put his life on the line before this wouldn't change anything.

"Unfortunately, several players' friends and families have ignored this warning..."

Ichigo stopped a groan, why did people have to be so stupid? Why would you test that?

"and have attempted to remove the NerveGear. As a result, two hundred and thirteen players are gone forever, from both Aincrad and the real world."

Ichigo was aghast, two hundred people and thirteen people? But he started doing the math. Ten thousand people, world wide. Unless there was a press release right after one... one thirty till it gets out. Yeah but there would be some people who couldn't log in right at one. So two, everyone's in but not everyone watches the news, probably at least of hundred of those deaths were accidents. The rest were the family going through denial and killing said family member. He predicted a high number of suicides for the next couple of months.

Screens popped up around the giant figure, and he went on. "As you can see, news organizations across the world are reporting all of this, including the deaths. Thus, you can assume that the danger of a NerveGear being removed is now minimal. I hope you will relax and attempt to clear the game."

Ichigo froze, that was all the guy wanted? Them to clear the game. To beat his world? Why? This was some place he really could have demanded anything, they call him god, send him every pretty girl in the game. He could have demanded any price and he just wanted them to clear his game?

Ichigo found himself thinking of all the friends he and Chad had on the outside. Ishida, Orihime, Tatsuki, Keigo, Mizuiro and all the others. Every single one had at one point been alone. He himself had to credit all of them with stopping his own loneliness. Was that why Kayaba had done this? So he wouldn't be alone?

"But I want you to remember this clearly. There is no longer any method to revive someone within the game."

Ichigo winced. That was a high price to pay, but it made sense, if everyone could die and come back again and again, they wouldn't try their hardest, people wouldn't work as hard to be a team and people would try stupid things.

"If your HP drops to zero, your avatar will be forever lost. And simultaneously, the NerveGear will destroy your brain. There is only one means of escape. To complete the game. You are presently on the lowest floor of Aincrad, floor one. If you make your way through the dungeon and defeat the Floor Boss you may advance to the next level. Defeat the final boss on Floor 100 and you will clear the game."

The crowd all turned to one another and asked some stupid questions, Ichigo just looked at Chad and the two of them swore an oath silently to get out together. Neither of them said anything but they started walking to the edge of the courtyard, the moment Kayaba was done talking they were heading off for a another quest, they needed to become stronger in order to win this.

"Finally. I've added a present from me to your item storage. Please see for yourselves."

Ichigo opened his menu and pulled up Items, in it he found a mirror listed. He selected it and stared into it. The bland brown haired guy staring back at him wasn't the him he expected to see.

That was when people one by one in the square were swallowed up by blue light. The pink headed guy that reminded him of Renji was one of the first, the guy's friend was started and called his name even if the noise of the crowd stopped him from hearing it. Then blue light flared next to him and he turned realizing it had engulfed Chad, then light flared up from under his feet.

It faded quickly and the mirror in his hand reflected orange at him. His face was staring back at him. He looked over and found Chad staring at him looking flabbergasted. He scanned the crowd again, the noise was growing louder as more and more people realized they were wearing their real face. The girl with the three boys jumped out at him again, she was a real beauty. Not the basic female face available. Now wearing her own face he noticed her eyes, blue. The boy standing closest to her probably was a brother, they looked too much alike to be anything else even if he didn't have blue eyes. She looked determined and the boys with her afraid. Very afraid. She however just had a gleam in her eye much like his own, she wanted to win.

The two guys he'd noticed, the one that had previously had pink hair now had red, it was no wonder he'd thought of Renji even if it wasn't the same crimson. The other guy now looked younger and cuter by Karin's standers, she liked guys like that, no matter how she tried to deny it. He scanned the crowd again almost amused by all the people panicking, this was happening they just had to get over it. A big guy who stood almost a head above the whole crowd looked a lot like Chad but bald.

"Right now, you're probably wondering, 'why?' Why would Kayaba Akihiko, developer of Sword Art Online and the NerveGear, do all this? My goal has already been achieved. I created Sword Art Online for one reason... To create this world and intervene in it."

Ichigo nodded slowly, this guy had made this world so he could leave the real one but he didn't want to be alone. In the end he brought all of them here so he wouldn't be alone.

"And now, it is complete. This ends the tutorial for the official Sword Art Online launch. Good luck, players."

Then his form blurred and the red slime vanished back up into the sky leaving them in a the oncoming darkness. The square rang with the cries, and the sounds of fear, most demanded to be returned or freed but Ichigo knew it to be pointless. "Come on Chad, time to go."

Together the two of them left the square running for the next town because the fields where they had gotten their quest early in the day would be swarmed with other players soon.

January 2nd Floor 5

Kagome looked over her group of five, in addition to her brother and his friends she had picked up two more players, so in all they were six strong. Ready for the front lines, at least as ready as she could get them. She still had doubts about how mentally ready everyone else was, Souta probably was the best off but he knew about her fights and had heard Inuyasha's stories.

But today was going to be something different.

This wasn't going to be following maps or advice, this was going to be map making, they were doing this on their own for others. Kagome had to admit to herself she was glad her brother had asked her in for the first day. This kind of life was almost like coming home. If when they took a break she could have gone to see her mother it would have almost been like old times. And it meant something to her. Deep down she knew she was better at this than playing school and house. She had become an adventurer. Souta had tried to say sorry at the end of the first week and she worried he still felt that way but if he was going to have an adventure she was glad she could be by his side.

The doors opened and she looked over her group: Yasha, also known as her brother stepped forward to stand by her a strong look on his face. She continued to look over the other four; Daono look nervous but held his sword without a shaking hand. Suke-Oniki looked ready to taste blood with his two axes. Naruto looked back at her calmly enough and his friend Captain with his spear was looking past her into the dungeon.

Going in Kagome had to admit the dark was disconcerting as was the cave feel, she had a sinking feeling the monsters here would be cave things, blind or slimy or both. Or bats.

Sure enough the first monster was a bat, she dispatched with a swing and some help from Yasha and Naruto, between the three of them it died. The next thing was a cave worm, and on they went. A break for lunch and a brief vote to see if they were done for the day they all agreed to go on. More worms, and more bats Kagome hoped there wouldn't be another cave level like this. At the end of day they trudged out but despite being weary they were in good spirits, they had only taken a few injuries and no one had gone down more then a hundred points and with three or four hundred each it seemed to be a good day.

The next day, January 3rd, wasn't; After finding the floor boss and Captain taking a hundred and fifty point hit protecting her and Naruto as they turned to run away so they could go and spread the news Kagome met this idiot.

She stared at the spiky haired man, he'd introduced himself as Kibaou and his bar said as much. But the longer he talked the more she desired to hit him. He was weak where it mattered, she could see that, he blamed others for his mistakes and hated Beta-testers never mind most were super helpful and the ones that weren't couldn't be blamed for hiding after the way some players reacted. Like this guy. "Will you shut up already?!"

He stopped and stared at her, a nasty kinda of gleam in his eye. "Who are you girl?"

She had heard that from monsters far scarier then the ones here, he was a tadpole in the pond of nasty glares. Leveling a glare she knew to be nastier she answered. "The one in charge of the group who found the boss room. We brought this intel and and we've all read the book and he wasn't using the sword the book says he should be using. He's using a spiked club. I think you should sit down and shut up long enough for my group to tell you all we saw. Besides we don't have to listen to you bucko."

He was gapping in shock and Kagome wanted to laugh in his face. He reminded her of all the narrow minded idiots she had met on her travels before. "Captain report what you noticed."

She ignored her brother trying to hide his laughter at the way she took the man in charge of twenty guys down a notch.

Standing straight he spoke loudly so the thirty or so other players could listen. "Besides a club he carried a dagger and had four large heath bars, the club in one hit dealt me a hundred and twenty-five points of damage. That is all I really noticed."

Kagome went on, "Yasha." Her brother stepped forward and in a more casual manner answered. "I noticed farther back in the room there seemed to be more slugs they're just slow moving and I bet are there to finish off any hurt people left alone but if they had poison or something could be dangerous. Other wise I have nothing more to add."


"Nothing to add."


"I bet the doors close so people should have teleport crystals to use if their seriously injured."

Kagome had noted the lines on the ground as well, but hadn't though of the doors closing. "Naruto?"

"I believe the slugs will either move faster when the doors are shut or be poisonous. We didn't get all the way in so we wouldn't have seen it if it's the case but we've already noticed the underlings of a boss don't fight all out till he's hurt."

The other group leader nodded and Kibaou also reluctantly agreed this was something they would have to keep in mind those possibilities, but that would be the morning's problem.

January 4th Fifth Floor Boss Room

Kagome glanced at Souta, he was holding his own but he was down in the yellow and so was she. Naruto was still good, Captain was down some but not quite yellow, Suke-Oniki was almost red and Daono was some where she couldn't pick him out... there. Yellow as well. The clearing party had lost two men so far, one when they found out the Dagger became the Cave King's main weapon when he was down two bars, and it did another twenty five or fifty points of damage than the club. The other simply because he hadn't upped his skills enough or had bad luck. But she had noticed in this fight a kid, her brother's age or younger, dressed in black he was handling himself very well.

The slugs had turned out nasty, they tried to eat you and if they did they'd exploded doing damage to the person they ate and anyone in proximity. So in the end that had been a surprise but kinda of cool, if it couldn't kill you.

The Cave King was down into the red on his last bar, if he had another special attack it was going to come now. The dagger began to burn red and Kagome rushed to take a place in front of her players and her quick movement caught it's attention, targeting her. Kagome didn't understand it but she knew what it was going to do. Charging forward she attacked disrupting the attack, dodging most of a blow she almost wished she could feel pain. This getting hurt with no pain thing was very strange, it didn't make sense to her. You could feel the impact, or the brush against you but there was simply no pain. You could get the wind knocked out of you but that was it. She had lost another thirty points, she picked that out of the corner of her eye on her little stats screen. She was almost in the red.

Bounding forward she activated her skill and sliced deep into the belly of the beast. Two others leaped and took their chunks, Captain and Naruto were next and there was only a little more red to go. Charging Kibaou and another with her they all cut at him, Kibaou was knocked back two hundred points dropping from his score, he went from almost totally heathy to deep in yellow almost red. But her skill and the other guy's was good enough. The boss broke apart and faded.

Cheers broke out and Kagome sheathed her long sword, the big congrats sign appeared and then to her surprise the bonus item screen appeared before her. Kagome blinked at it surprised, than she clicked to open to see what it was, that was when the growing silence around her alerted her to something being wrong. Lifting her head she saw her group took up a support position around her while Kibaou stalked up to her. A glower on his face.

Three feet away he stopped, with harsh glare he declared his stupidity for all to see. "You're a Beater!"

Kagome frowned, "I don't know the term."

"You must be a Beta-tester and you're cheating!"

While she heard her boys readying themselves for a fight she put a stop to it with a laugh. "How do you figure?"

The idiot's face was growing red and not just from anger, with a cool head he could talk the talk pretty well and he knew what to say for others to listen but she'd seen real leaders and this was a child. A charismatic one but a baby to the leadership role.

"You found the boss room, you knew what the book said and knew it was wrong. You knew how far to get away from the slugs, and you managed to stop the Boss' attack. Therefor you had to know what he was doing! That all being true you must be a beta-tester and the numbers of hits you've taken and the fact you're not in the red says you have been sand bagging, making you a cheater!"

Kagome snorted. "You truly are an idiot. I found the boss room by accident, Daono saw the short cut crack we just explored it. I guessed how far was safe to be from the slugs." She wasn't going to tell him but her previous battle field experience had been behind that call. "As for stopping the Boss' attack that was again a guess, it reminded me of something from an anime I once watched and the main character beat him by doing what I did."

Not quite the whole truth but close enough, her adventures would make a great anime. "As for the sand bagging charge that is no more true then any of us can say. To be a front liner you have to be on top and that does mean taking more for yourself. Besides almost my whole group is in the yellow. You can't honestly say we've held back in this fight. So if you can't say anything smarter then that shut the hell up! I have no patience for fools."

Everyone that had tensed when he accused her relaxed, the boy in black quietly was going on to the next level for the town opening. She was going to follow his example, but after she looked at that bonus item. It was a higher level shield, something she couldn't use. She could give it to her group or she could further prove her point by giving it to the the guy who'd helped her finished the boss.

Going over to him she saw his name was Atsushi. "Hey Atsushi, would you like to have this? I can't use it."

He turned and smiled at her, glad for her offer. "That would probably be very nice." He looked at the name and said; "Yeah I'll take it but not for free, you got it fair and square. How does thirty-five col and a healing crystal sound?"

"I'll take it." She made the trade and noted Kibaou scowling at her from behind his men who were walking into the new town. Dropping back to her group she briskly said, "Lets go on into a new town, maybe it'll have a better inn."

Souta was smirking at her, he knew exactly why she had offered it up for free, she had killed most any doubts the group had about her being a proper beater. But Kagome had to wonder just a little bit if she wasn't. Manipulating them like that. Being a pretty girl helped too, aside from clothes and what every makeup you were wearing the first day, your look didn't change without gold.

January 10th Sixth Floor Boss Fight

Kagome stared at the Boss; his name was Snake Charmer. It fit, this had been a jungle dungeon. Vine Snakes, Giant Spiders, and the Jungle Tigers. So of course the dungeon master would be a giant snake man. Oh and his underlings would be Quick Snakes. That stun ability was a freaking pain. Blocking the strike, Kagome let Naruto switch in, his hit knocked the Quick Snake dead. Considering they had hit it four times it was about time.

The clearing that was the boss room in the dungeon was crowded between the snakes, the main boss who was like fifteen feet tall and the fifty some fighters. She searched the crowd for the others and found Souta and Daono finishing off another snake, Captain was helping some other guy heal himself enough to get back up. Apparently a number of people... well to be honest everyone she talked to said getting hurt here was more of mental strain then anything else. Captain after he'd gone down into the red swore he hadn't been able to think clearly enough till prompted to remember he had a healing draft.

Chopping through the neck of a Quick snake Kagome twirled and caught it a second time across the chest or belly since it was a snake. It vanished and she ducked as a guy who had the misfortune to fail a dodge and got caught on the Snake Charmer's blade sending him flying. Rushing forward she took his place in the mob around the boss, he wasn't going down easily. Not that any of the boss' had, but he seemed particularly slippery.

Kagome took her chance and attacked dealing a bit more damage to the Snake Charmer, others charged and Kagome found herself trying to get out of their way. A quick look showed her Souta had found Suke-Oniki in the melee and they were watching the other's back. Someone was flung into her and knocked both of them to the ground. Breath knocked out of her, she looked at the guy pinning her and found his expression to be a dazed and lost like he had no clue about what had just happened. Focusing her eyes she found his name to be Takeo and then to her horror she found the line that showed you how much life you had left blinked empty. For an instant her eyes met the gray-brown eyes of the male on top of her and then he broke apart.

Something inside her froze, he had died in her lap. She hadn't be able to help. Part of her was yelling for her to get up, she needed to get up. It was dangerous to sit on the floor. But something in her had changed. She didn't know what yet, but something had clicked. She had known people died. Lots of people had died in the last months, according to the memorial stone two thousand and probably five hundred by now had died. This had become a new life. She had done her best to protect her group, to ready them and she found in the heat of battle she had ignored her own preparedness.

Maybe it was because there was no pain. Maybe it was because she had missed the rush of fighting. Maybe it was because on a surface level she could ignore death. Her past had done that for her. No matter how her friends had tried to protect her from the bodies, or from the gore in the past it had been there. Always been there. But here it was too neat. No blood. No bodies left. Nothing for a grave. She'd always had graves before.

She had forgotten the horrible emptiness of seeing someone die.

Something had changed.

Something felt different.

What had just happened she didn't know but she did know the battle wasn't won yet, The Snake Charmer still had almost a full bar of life yet. Charging in she lost herself in the flow of the battle, and when the monster had been killed and everyone was cheering she found herself sheathing her sword the change inside bothering her. She was sad that guy had died. She was sad all the players thus far had died. They thought they were signing up for a game and got more than they could handle. But that wasn't it.

Kagome's screen showed her she had gained a level taking her to 17, a large number of coins, half a dozen snake skins for armor or clothing. Pressing accept she closed out her screen and went to find her group, they would sleep in the new town.

Then joining a number of the people that were going up Kagome was amused by how many greeted her, calling 'good job Archer or your group saved our butts'. Speaking of which she owed the kid she had noticed in the Fifth floor boss fight. He'd saved her bacon when she had gotten bitten and been stunned. The other two deaths aside from the guy who'd died in her lap had been when after being stunned they got surrounded and been unable to fight back.

That night after a loud dinner with the boys who were still high after the win she had gone to her room; she was the only girl and got her own room, the others all agreed even if she could have shared with Souta. Sitting on her bed in the pajamas she had bought with her win money after the 5th floor boss fight, she figured out the change that was bugging her. She had forgotten the true weight of knowing you were risking your life for strangers. That man dying in her lap reminded her she wasn't just fighting to get her brother home, she was fighting for every single person here that didn't want to be. Do to the fact the game's economy was flawed not every player even if they wanted could not gain the resources to fight frontline.

That was one of the reasons people did hold the name beta-tester against others, first was 'why didn't they see this coming?' But the second was a large number of them had gone out by themselves or in very small groups to the best spots for XP without telling the truly new people how to even use their attack skills. She'd lucked out Daono's brother had been a Beta-tester he knew with a bit of practice how to use skills he'd taught the rest of them. But most had not been so lucky.

That was also something held against Beta-testers was most thought less people would have died in the first month if more help and information had been given.

Kagome personally thought that was bull. A number of people had totally lost their heads in the beginning, there were some suicides, and a number of people had seemed to forget they only had this life left. No coming back. And a number more just had no ability to judge what they could actually do verses what they were trying to do. Not to mention the players who attacked other players.

Flopping back on the bed Kagome tried to come to grips with the new but familiar weight she was feeling. That was when a knock on her door startled her. "Archer?"

Kagome sat back up, it was her brother. "Come in Yasha." That had been one of the hardest things, remembering to use the nick names. The door opened and in walked her brother in his set of normal clothes, he shut the door behind him and walked over to the chair in the corner of the room. The silence hung in the air for a minute. Kagome wasn't sure what he'd come in here for and didn't know where to start. Last time they had talked alone at night like this was when he'd tried to say sorry for getting her into this.

He spoke abruptly. "Something happened in the fight. You've been distant."

Kagome sighed. He was her brother it made sense he'd noticed. "I just remembered the full extent of reality."

Her brother cocked an eyebrow. Then he spoke slowly. "At first I was worried you were angry with me for getting you into this. Then I noticed you were enjoying this. You missed fighting. I haven't seen you this focused since before the well closed. But now that edge seems to have been dulled. What happened?"

Kagome wasn't sure how to answer, so groaned instead and flopped back on the bed. The reality of it was what happened was in the past. "Souta I know when you were younger and I was going through the well you thought it was awesome. I got to see real demons, make friends with things out of a story. The time we fought the Noh Mask you were frightened, very much so as I remember it. I was scared too but the part I remember most is the next night you asked if it was always like that. I told you no, but I lied. Not a little white lie but a big whopper of a lie. It was the Feudal Era. Hundreds of thousands died through out that part of history. Before we met Miroku... no the day we met Shippo I was eating lunch with Inuyasha and Myoga in an old battle field only six or so months old. And it had taken place over an older battle. There were skeletons half buried in dirt and I was eating lunch."

Souta stared at her and she half laughed. "It bothered me at the time, but by the time the well closed it didn't, not really. Half the time it seemed like rather then meeting living people we were helping the dead."

She sat up quickly trying to drive her point home. "This is fun to me. The gore there was always present. I almost always was finding a spot of dried blood on my clothes or my backpack and I spent countless hours scrubbing it out so Mom and you never knew the truth. I know Grandpa did but he always was proud of what I was doing and facing. He told me I was tough girl for going back to that world that seemed so uncivilized. Here there is no blood. Never. The red sprays from monsters amuse me, blood gets on you and stains you. The truth is blood smells. The coppery iron smell is unmistakable. It doesn't smell here. I'm sorry people have died here Souta, I'm sorry they were tricked and got in over their heads, but it matters no more to me. I realized that today when the third player to die died on top of me. I remembered the days in the Feudal era and what death there looked like and I remembered as much fun as I'm having remembering my travels there are others as weak as the villagers I remember so fondly. They're counting on us."

Her bother looked at her and there wasn't anything that implied he was angry with her for confession. If anything he seemed relieved. "Kagome I'm glad you feel that way, because I was feeling guilty for not caring about the people who've died. I don't know them and so it almost doesn't seem real. Like you said death is so much more then fading bodies. I was also thinking back to the Noh Mask so many people died because it got out. I was remembering the smell of the body the mask was controlling... I'm glad to know I'm not the only one enjoying the fights. That was why I started doing this. I can feel the effort I'm putting into living and life tastes all the sweeter for it. I..."

Kagome got up and hugged her brother, maybe they weren't normal and they probably would be considered strange when they got out. Of course, if the pace of floor clearing was anything to go by; They were going to be here for a long time. Meaning their bodies would be skin and bones and counseling was probably going to be required, she just hoped they didn't get flagged as crazy.

January 20th Floor 8

Ichigo sighed, and tilted his head back to look up through the trees. The Autumn Forest was beautiful. Chad was munching on his lunch beside him and for a moment Ichigo wished he and Chad had made some other friends here. But nope, it was the two of them. They had both agreed rather quickly that they wouldn't join the boss raids. The plans were so sketchy and frankly the other players up front were often overly noisy or demanded you join their guild. After the almost disaster of the fourth floor boss hunt Ichigo and Chad had agreed to stay up front as explorers but to not join the Boss raids, turn their maps over if they found the boss room but no more.

It was frustrating, Ichigo wished they could clear floors faster, his sisters were on the outside. He was leaving all his other friends alone. But there wasn't more he could really be doing. Save joining the boss raiders.

But that was dangerous. He wasn't okay being someone else's solider. Besides since he and Chad were doing it together they didn't get a lot of respect, he'd heard the other players accusing him and Chad of being Beaters. Which wasn't true in the sense they meant it, but it was close enough. Real life experience in fighting meant him and Chad may only have so much on their stats but their reactions were levels beyond them. Meaning they kind of were cheating.

He sighed, and glanced over. Chad had finished his food too. It was time to get back to work. "Let's go Chad."

His friend sighed but got back to his feet. Ichigo hopped to his feet and they readied their weapons and walked off deeper into the unexplored woods.

January 31st Inn Common Room on Floor 10

Kagome smiled, watching the celebrations. They had beaten floor nine just today and were partying in the town on floor 10. More then two months and they had beaten nine floors. She knew everyone there was so happy to be living they weren't thinking of the future but she was. This was going to take them years. There was ninety-one floors to go.

She had to admit she was wondering what else they'd face. Floor 7's monsters had been mostly normal animals turned monstrous. Giant Pigs, Evil Owls, Bastard Boars; very different from the first floor's Frenzy Boars. Then the floor boss had been Mukesh, other wise called the Boar King. A giant's body with a boar's head, he'd been hard to kill. Floor 8 had so far been her favorite setting, an autumn forest the monsters had been Dire Wolves. Brownies; which were freaking pains, always attacking in groups and with the minuses to armor class it was easy to get seriously hurt fighting them. But Kayaba had liked them so much they had appeared on every floor above since. Then the Brown Bears, the real problem with them was they were tough, they could take a lot damage but they were slow. The final hurrah had been Cerberus. Three fast bitting heads, a whip like tail and four paws perfect for crushing damage. He'd been scary. Kagome figured if he'd been white she might have turned tail and run, she remembered Sesshomaru's dog form. He'd been terrifying.

Kagome shuddered and took another sip of her cider. The boys were off hanging out with the other guys, she was saving the table for when dinner came. Floor 9 had been interesting, mostly water, ponds, creeks, and even a river or two. The solid land had almost been a maze there was so much water. She hadn't been surprised when the first monster they found had been called a Little Kappa, but she had almost died laughing. It looked nothing like the Kappa's she had seen in the Feudal Era. Then the Large Kappas were even funnier they had a face much like Jaken's but then the body of a salamander with a turtle shell. It cracked her up to see such a mismatched animal, the group save her brother thought she was crazy snickering through out the fights with the creatures. Then a Sea Snakes had been easy enough to look at they at least looked like a normal animal.

The boss had been scary enough Lord Sanshouu; his cave had been mostly filled with a large lake and she had to give Kayaba points for the awesome dramatics of having him emerge from the water with the Demonic Kappas. Those had cracked her up, more then half of the party had stared at her. She didn't blame them, what kind of idiot in the start of a battle laughed till she was almost crying? But she couldn't help it, seeing red colored Jakens with swords and red eyes she had pictured his face or better yet Sesshomaru's face and just like that she couldn't stop laughing.

Souta had almost cracked and laughed at her. She knew he knew she was thinking about the real Kappas she had seen and finding this hysterical. And it was. Totally laughable.

She shifted in her chair, abruptly thinking about the kid in black. Kirito was his name. He'd admitted to her he was the one who coined the term 'Beater' but he was a good kid. He was a little too serious but when she watched him fight she knew the truth of it. He liked it here. He liked fighting. He liked the challenge. That was something he didn't want to admit to, something he knew most wouldn't accept so he stayed on his own. She had asked him to join them, and he'd passed on it. She knew some of it was he was afraid they'd slow him down or resent him for being farther ahead then them. But there was something else holding him back.

She sighed, he was a lot like Inuyasha in some ways. But he still reminded her of Souta. At least he was willing to friend her so they could keep track of each other.

His friend Klein was annoying in the extreme she had almost had a flash back to Miroku when he had flushed and tried to introduce himself as single and looking for a girlfriend. Having learned her lesson with Hojo she didn't even let him finish before telling him she wasn't interested in having a boyfriend.

The chair across from her scraped on the floor as Captain flung himself into it, the other chairs at the table soon made their own noises as the rest of group sat down in time for dinner to arrive. Grinning as Souta was still being teased by Naruto Kagome focused on the here and now. What ever was in the future would happen.

February 5th Floor 12

Ichigo could have kicked himself, some how he and Chad had gotten themselves cornered by a bunch of Darags; Greaters and Lessers and then while trying to get away found a bunch of minor Satyrs and a couple of Dark Nymphs. The only floor monster missing from the little party was the Wendigos. But since it was just him and Chad against at least a dozen monsters and it seemed some of the Darags were slow and filled in the gaps made by the things they had killed. Neither he nor Chad had a teleport crystal in hand and didn't have time to grab them because they were surrounded. Chad was pounding the crap out of anything in hammer reach and he was slashing furiously but he didn't see how they were going to get out of this. They were cornered.

Kagome's Party

Kagome looked around the woods curiously, this was their first day out on 12, they had spent the day before recovering from the Eleventh floor fight. Mapped in two days they had cleared it incredibly fast. Kagome figured it was because different guilds and parties were figuring out how to work together and how best to share information. They hadn't lost a man in the boss fight for the first time.

Of course not everyone had spent the day before resting, so they had been briefed on the monsters: Darags, moving evil trees that tried to confuse you and then kill you with their roots and eat you. They came in Greater and Lesser verities. The only real difference was the lesser moved fast but was easier to kill and the greater were slower but took a lot more to kill. There were Wendigos nasty evil things that had a hiding skill and would get close in the trees and come screaming out at you. Covered in bloody skins and then wearing a deer skull they were pretty scary. Their stats were too but they pretty much worked alone. But their screams could draw other things to you like Evil Nymphs; moss and bark covered humanoids with horribly sharp teeth and claws. Or Minor Satyrs. They liked to play music meant to lure you in and then they came out with nasty curved daggers. Oh and they often were in large groups with several Nymphs.

They had killed a few things, a couple of Wendigos, a nymph, and three or four Greater Darags. But it wasn't quite the numbers they had been told to expect. So obviously someone had come this way before them. Not too long before, but forty-five minutes or so. Kagome jerked to a stop surprising everyone. She thought for a moment she had someone shout a name...

She closed her eyes ignoring Captain asking what was wrong. She had leveled up killing her first monster today pushing her up to level 24. She had taken a moment to assign her skill points to her Two-Handed Blade skill and her Listening skill saving a couple points for her Cooking skill. But she thought she heard fighting...


Her eyes snapped open and she took off running, there was no doubt about it someone was in trouble. "Come on! Someone's in trouble up ahead!"

Hearing the others pick up their pace Kagome focused on activating her Sprint skill. They didn't sound like they were doing well at all. Hearing one last grunt of frustration she came out behind a Nymph and a Greater Darag. Going straight on into attack mood she didn't even look to see if she knew who the two people she was fighting to save were. Still in sprint she dealt a quick set of slices killing the Nymph. Then with a graceful twirl she attacked the Greater Darag in time for the others to start catching up. They knew her well enough not to stop to help but charge right on in to attack the other monsters. Finishing the Darag she felt the non-pain of a small dagger sinking into her leg. Kicking out she sent the Brownie flying. She hated the little buggers and they always seem to pick on her.

She took a moment to look over the fight. Captain had taken a hit and was down fifty or so points she'd guess but he was protecting a big guy who was deeply down in the red and taking the time to use a healing crystal, wise choice. His tag read Chad, a normal kinda of name for someone who stood out so much. He'd been a head and couple of inches taller than anyone in her group and that probably was normal enough for him. Not to mention he was built like a power house. Shaking that thought from her mind she checked the rest of group.

Naruto just killed a Satyr and was down a couple of points, probably from a Brownie. Daono kicking Darag butt, Suke-Oniki protecting his back. Souta was standing in front of the last guy fighting off another Nymph, while he used a healing crystal. He must have been really close to death to still be healing up. Then her next thought was about how she liked the set of his face and his well muscled shoulders. His hair was bright but some how suiting. Shocked by that thought she shoved it away. She hadn't liked a guy since Inuyasha. Besides this Zangetsu was the idiot who almost got himself and his friend killed.

Hearing the stomping of a Darag behind her she snapped back into action dismissing any thought about she hoped that orange color was natural. Spinning quickly she slashed at the Greater Darag until it vanished into little colored shards that faded from view.

With that there were no more monsters.

"Everyone okay?"

Her group sounded off and then Zangetsu reflexively spoke up. "Yeah thanks to you and your party you really saved our as..." His mouth snapped close at the last second to stop his sentence, pink rose in his cheeks.

The guy named Chad gave a quick thumbs up while his friend seemed to feel a little awkward having almost been rude. Shaking his head, his orange hair eye catching in the gloom Zangetsu spoke up. "Sorry that was a bit rude. I'm Zangetsu, this is my buddy Chad, you are?"

"Archer, My brother Inuyasha, his friends Daono, Suke-Oniki and our party companions Naruto and Captain." Kagome pointed at the listed party members in turn.

There was a moment of awkward silence, no one seemed to know what to say. Kagome had saved their lives and they had said thank you, what now?

"Well since you saved our lives how about we buy you lunch? It's a bit early but..."

Kagome looked at Souta and then Captain both guys shrugged at her. "Sounds good, you want to lead the way Zangetsu?"

He shrugged and lead the way back to the main trail. After a minute of walking Naruto asked quietly, "Is it just you two or did you loose somebody back there?"

Zangetsu answered. "It's just us, we don't seem to fit in well anywhere else and working with others is hard."

Kagome figured that answered the question of why she hadn't seen them before. "So thats why you two haven't been part of the boss clearing parties but are here on the front lines?"


He glanced over at the woman walking next to him... on second thought she could still be a girl. He couldn't figure out her age. She had to be at least seventeen looking at her brother, but between the way she lead the group and had jumped into battle cutting through the Darag in that first second not even looking at the people she was rescuing he was guessing she was older. And maybe, just maybe, had fought before SAO.

He'd been taken off guard to see her, he hadn't seen her since that first day in the courtyard. She had caught his eye then and watching her fight had been a beautiful thing. He'd give Kayaba that, the glowing swords or other weapons to show the active skills was amazing. But that moment she had come into the clearing she had started attacking before the sword lit. It made him believe she knew about fighting outside of the game. It made him curious. She was beautiful, she could fight and she kept five men in line, not just ones who knew her in real life but others as well.

"Yeah, thats why we're not part of the Boss-Parties. We were there for the forth floor, things were pretty bad and after so many players died needlessly we decided to stop agreeing to listen to idiots. We weren't giving up on the front lines but we couldn't take orders that would get us killed for no good reason."

She, he refused to think of her by a title as sexless as Archer, tilted her head sideways. "I understand the frustration you must have felt, there are a number of idiots in the group. But things have gotten better, we didn't loose a single person this last time."

Ichigo hated to be negative but there was no way considering the numbers of the imbeciles there that was anything but luck. "Well until the plans have improved to the point where they can do that consistently, count me and Chad out."

The cocked eyebrow gave him the idea he had just set himself up and the next words out of her mouth confirmed it.

"So if you believe in good planning why didn't you and your friend teleport out?"


Kagome watched him flush in way that suggested to her his hair was natural. She needed to stop thinking about his hair. It was just hair. Spiky and dark orange and completely bizarre. And she liked it. Get over the damn hair! She mentally shouted to herself, he's a complete idiot!

"uh... okay that's fair. Thinking about it, that was pretty stupid. The real thing of it was by the time we realized we were in a enough trouble to think to use them we were cornered and couldn't stop to get them out."

Kagome shrugged. "And how did it get that bad? Monsters don't clump in numbers that large."

Zangetsu started playing with that distracting hair of his in an embarrassed sort of way. "Well we had gotten confused by Darags. You know how they move and send you the wrong direction if you don't have a high enough Detection skill? Well Search or even Tracking could work. Yeah my next level up I'm going to improve my Detection skill. Anyway we realized it was too many to fight so we were trying to get some place far enough away or a bottle neck. Anyway we ran into a group of Nymphs and Satyrs. So trapped between the two groups we had to fight and... well you showed up."

"That was really stupid." Kagome didn't try to soften the edge in her tone. She liked him. Way too much, she didn't need a boyfriend. She didn't want one. Besides people here weren't the same outside, and despite the fact she knew you could get married here in the game and even have sex she had no interest in finding out if a relationship started here could survive the real world. "You should always have a plan B and C as well as doing the normal thing."

Souta coughed behind her and she turned on him, counting their standardized plans off on one hand. "Stop snickering Yasha, we go hunting as plan A staying in pairs mostly. Plan B we run for it. Plan C we use crystals. Everyone has one."

She glared at him, he was probably amused by her insisting on sticking to the plans considering the number of time she had complained about Inuyasha being head strong. Or he could even be laughing about the way she had ignored the 'stick together' part and charged off to save them. Or he could be laughing because at home in her normal life she wasn't much of a planner. Making lists for her trips to the feudal era of what she'd need and when to come back had been about it.

Kagome turned back to Zangetsu. "If you need to run pulling crystals out then is not that hard."

He shrugged at her. "Next time I'll take your advice. But since I'm alive, Chad's alive, and none of you were seriously endangered because of our actions I'm not going to worry about it. I owe you, a lot. My life to be exact but that's not something you can weight and decide payment on. I'll offer to friend you so if you ever get in over your heads..."

He looked over her whole group before focusing back on her, a curious intensity there for her to see. "Me and Chad will be there as fast as we can to help."

Kagome knew having back up would be very helpful at some point even if she wanted to avoid the attractive Zangetsu. It could be the difference between life and death if not for herself for her brother and friends. "We'll accept that and lunch, I just don't want you two to make the same mistakes again."

February 5th 9:04 p.m.

Kagome reclined on her bed, thinking. Zangetsu and Chad had pretty much ended up partying with them for the day since after lunch they were all going back to the dungeon. The two were on her friends list now, as well as everyone else's.

But she hoped she'd never call on them again.

Ichigo scared her. She had been heart broken when after finishing high school the well still stayed closed. She had always thought it would let her back through. Even after three years of no contact with Inuyasha she had still loved him deeply. She wanted to go back to him; it had taken realizing school was out, she didn't have a job and hadn't sent in applications to colleges and that she was going to waste her life staring at a well hoping for a second chance. She had made her choice that last second in the well after wishing the jewel away, she had chosen to go home. Finish school. She knew it was because she hadn't want to regret going with him without a good bye to her family or friends. Or the chance to resent him later for stopping her from finishing school.

And even if she knew what she did now she wasn't sure she would change her choice.

Inuyasha loved her, she didn't doubt that but she doubted that at sixteen she had been ready to be married. Eighteen, yeah she'd believe it. But at almost sixteen? That still seemed so young.

She had cried a lot that first year realizing she wasn't going to get to go back. But she had settled into college and normal life like it was an ill fitting skin. This wasn't something she was doing to feel good about herself it had been something she had done to stop wasting her life. Inuyasha had let her go, he wanted her happy. So she hated that she was living without real joy. Taking walks in city parks, trying to enjoy her family, all of it came at a price.

It had been a year ago she tried to find someone she would be able to date. But every single guy she'd met, even ones her friends said were interesting, were really unbearable dull. When she wanted to let them down easy, she found she had to picture how they would react to find themselves in the feudal era to smile brightly. But more often then not she found she had to be a bit hard or they didn't listen like her admirers from her teenage years never had. So after six months, more than twenty meeting/blind dates later she gave up.

But this Zangetsu shows up and she's drooling like she had over Inuyasha while he was still pinned to the tree. But this Zangetsu had made some pretty good first impressions: Self censoring. He said thank you right away. Not embarrassed at all to be saved by a girl. He seemed to admire her but wasn't rude or forward about it. It was a relaxed admiration. It was totally outside of her experience.

Miroku would grope you. Inuyasha was pretty much shy beyond belief. Koga ran her over never once listening to what she really wanted. Hojo was both shy but forward, he tried to take care of her but didn't listen any better then Koga. Her brother was shy when he liked girls. There were a number of others, arrogance could be added to the list of things she'd seen, guys who couldn't believe you didn't want them. Oddly enough she had met most of them in college. But the rest tended to fall some where in among her other beaus.

She liked his quiet admiration, but didn't think she should. There was a certain level of almost arrogance in it... arrogance wasn't the word. Confidence was. He was confident she was pretty and could fight but almost seemed to expect he was her equal. That wasn't something she had ever found. Sango was a fellow girl, but also was a kick butt demon slayer. Inuyasha was a half demon, tough, demanding, her protecter. Miroku was a monk, and a very good one. Koga was a demon. Shippo her son. Sesshomaru a demon lord. Ayumi was a romantic genius. Yuka was louder then her about most things. Eri was a busy butterfly, always doing something, making a list, moving around. Kikyo, her own soul was a better miko and found Inuyasha first.

She was very afraid Zangetsu was just her kind of guy, he could fight, wasn't afraid of death. Or at least that was what she thought since he was on the front lines with one other guy. And he didn't fit the mold. Orange hair was pretty far from normal. His friend was loyal enough, or brave enough to be willing to go it alone with him on the front line so he was probably a good friend. But that didn't mean he'd make a good boyfriend.

She shook her head wildly, and then with a loud groan rolled over to hide her face in her pillow. She hated having a crush.

February 18th Ichigo and Chad Floor 15

Chad watched Ichigo cut through the on coming hoards of spiders. Normally they took turns leading but in the last two weeks Ichigo had been acting strangely. First it started when that girl Archer pulled them out of a bad spot, then for the rest of the day they had spent with the girl and her small raiding party Ichigo had been acting weird. He'd never seen his friend watch a girl the way he'd watched Archer, and she didn't seem Ichigo's type. Normally he ended up being pursued by the girl interested, like with Orihime. Well on second thought Ichigo did like girls with striking looks, and those blue eyes were deep and mysterious. Orihime's hair and eyes made her interesting to look at, Rukia had such dark purple eyes... Chad had to admit the more he thought about it Archer sorta made sense.

Rukia and Orihime were extremes, busty verses almost boyish, tall and short, quiet and loud, dreamy and down to earth. Archer seemed to have a balance about her that was very different from any other girl his friend had ever paid attention to. In a romantic sense or a friend sense.

But it didn't explain why his friend had been pushing himself to exhaustion and beyond since then. Ichigo finished the last Black Widow and turned to him wiping at his brow in manner that told him Ichigo was pretty worn out. Not surprising since he'd been fighting almost by himself since after lunch. "Zangetsu what's bothering you?"

Ichigo made a surprised face that Chad knew was his friend thinking he'd hid his problems. He always forgot that the two of them had known the other far too long for such things to work. After Chad stared him down. Ichigo gave and went to against the cave wall. Joining his friend he let Ichigo speak his mind.

"I suppose what's really bothering me is when this first started it didn't trouble me to know we were trapped. We'd get out. We'd fight our way out."

Chad once against was troubled by the twinge of guilt that reminded him Ichigo was only here because he'd asked him here spur of the moment. That moment before Archer had shown up to save them Ichigo had shoved him out of the way of a Greater Darag's attack; Ichigo had done it because he knew Chad couldn't take another full on hit like that but watching his friends life points fall down to a slim red line had been horrifying. He had thought finally he'd gotten Ichigo in over his head.

"But I'm starting to realized this isn't going to be me missing real life for a month, or two, or even a couple of months. Chad this is going to take years to get out of."

Chad sighed, that moment standing and listening to Kayaba he had known it was going to be hard. Kayaba was a genius. A living, breathing genius that had created a world full of monsters and he didn't care if you lived or died. He had felt then it was going to take years to get out. Chad knew Ichigo was just starting to think about everything he was missing in his sisters' lives; This year they'd be turning eighteen. He knew Ichigo worried about Yuzu dating, Karin had told his friend years ago to butt out but it didn't stop Ichigo's concern. They'd be going to college too, Karin had a chance at a soccer scholarship and Yuzu wanted to be a nurse probably in pediatrics. His friend was working on a law degree, Chad had to admit he was pretty worried too. What was going to happen to the band? His skills would suffer the longer he was in here but on the other hand he had already written two new songs about living and fighting here. So he probably had a chance to corner the market on the outside when they got out. "I know."

Ichigo snorted. "Of course you do. I think I knew that starting day two. It's just sinking in now."

Chad didn't have anything helpful to say but knew what his friend need to hear, he'd seen Ishida do it, Rukia do it and Renji and before all of them he'd done it. "You are a bit slow some times."

That got a laugh. "Chad if I wanted to hear nasty sarcastic comments I wouldn't have ended up in here with you, I would have gone and pestered Ishida."

He had to snort this time, Ichigo had a point. "Then stop moping and taking pointless risks, Ichigo."

Ichigo sighed at him. "Fine. Starting tomorrow I'll let you take lead and show me how it's done. Happy?"

Chad gave him a thumbs up. Ichigo rolled his eyes before getting to his feet. "Chad let's go back to the inn before it gets dark, I'm tired."

Hopping to his feet he followed his friend only to be surprised when Ichigo said: "I think in a floor or two we should rejoin the boss-raiders."

Chad quickly could guess why his friend wanted to though, he wanted to get closer to Archer. "Sure."

February 29th 8:47 a.m. Floor 17 Kagome

Kagome surveyed the gathering group, Souta was talking to Kirito and Daono, Suke-Oniki was with them but seemed to be watching the crowd. Captain and Naruto were talking to Klein and his guild. Guilds were becoming more and more common. It wasn't causal raiding parties any more.

Kibaou was third in command of Aincrad Liberation Force or he at least was very listened to among the thirty or so players alined with the group that were here. But at the moment all he seemed to be good for was causing trouble. The leader Thinker and his second Yulier, who likely was half in love with Thinker if Kagome wasn't mistaken, were ignoring him. Kagome had a feeling that was a mistake. Kibaou wasn't an orange player by any length of thought but he was the voice in her opinion of dark element of the normal players. Angry with beaters, very little tolerance for other players with minds of their own, he still was charismatic enough to draw a following of weak willed sops.

"He awfully annoying."

Kagome jumped and discovered Zangetsu and Chad standing behind her. Ignoring the flutter coming from some where inside her stomach she focused on the upcoming battle. "Yeah, you know my first battle with him, he had the nerve to call me a Beater just because I got the last hit bonus."

Zangetsu raised an eyebrow, "That's pretty stupid of him, I only met him for the fourth floor battle and he told me punk assholes had no business in a real fight. I think I scared the crap out of him by laughing at him, if either of us had no place there it was him."

Kagome nodded, Zangetsu had the measure of him. He was weak where it mattered. "So do you know who found the boss room?"

"We did."

Kagome stared, but she had to admit it explained why he was here. "So are you just telling us what you know and leaving or are you coming with us?"

"We decided it was probably time to start helping with the boss fights."

Zangetsu seemed very casual about his statement but looking at his friend from out of the corner of her eye she got the feeling it was less of a we and more of a me. "That's good to hear we can always use more fighters."

Zangetsu nodded and looked around the gathering, at the moment it was eighty strong, Kagome figured it would stretch up to a hundred.

"It's gotten a lot bigger..."

Kagome started talking before she thought it through, talking to him was not part of the 'get over your crush plan'. "Yeah with so many guilds working together plus small raiding parties like you two and us it's become a regular mob. But it helps that you can pull back when you get super hurt and let someone else take your place."

Zangetsu glanced over the crowd for a second time before turning back to her. "You know I'm surprised I would have thought you'd have turned your party into a guild by now."


"You know the bonuses you'd get for fighting together... you already are pretty much an agreed, solid party. Turning guild just makes it official."

Kagome shrugged, they hadn't talked about it really but from what she had learned about guilds she was uncomfortable starting one, the money part would mean dealing with math more and splitting stuff more finely. She supposed some of it was nostalgia, when she'd traveled in the past the only set in stone agreement was Naraku was going down, everything else was working together towards that goal. "Then why haven't you and Chad turned guild?"

Zangetsu raised an eyebrow, "You need four or more players."

Kagome felt her cheeks heat. "Oh. As you can tell there hasn't been much thought about this."

He shrugged. "Don't blame you, most guilds seem confining. Demanding so much money, or like the Liberation Force demand you take care of every player. Or demanding uniforms like D.D.A."


"Divine Dragon Alliance."

She giggled. That made sense. "If I start a guild it's gonna be for the guild-less, for those willing to team up for the big fights but that want to do their own thing the rest of the time."

Zangetsu's face split into a smirk. "That's a pretty awesome name."


"Guildless, name your guild Guildless. It's awesome."

Kagome didn't have a chance to answer because Thinker was calling the meeting to order.

Boss Monster Room 10:58 a.m.

Kagome once again had to give Kayaba props, the dark woods had a distinct feel compared to the other forests. The steam they had crossed had such a deep blue-purple tone to it Kagome had to wonder if something was going to leap out at her. Never mind she had seen others cross it safely. But having the boss monster's room be a rocky clearing at the base of mountain was cool.

The boss; Hiisi the Mountain Master was standing up from his boulder like throne using his spear like a staff. His little Menninkins and their Dips were straining to attack the raiding party. Kagome couldn't help but stare at the Menninkins, the Dips were just smallish demonic looking dogs with huge canines, but the Menninkins were short humanoids. The deep green of their hair and the gray of the skin made you realize they were anything but human and the longer you looked the stranger the proportions got.

Their small size made the eight foot Mountain Master look close to ten or twelve feet tall. He was scary enough on his own. Hair so dark on first glance you thought it was black, really it was blue, eyes dark but with a glimpse of silver, the gray tone of his skin made you wonder if he wasn't made of the mountain he was master of.

The signal was given and the first wave charged. They were to engage to small monsters and the second were to run past and get the Boss, the third. Her group were to jump in and help who ever needed it.

Kagome watched the second wave charge, Chad and Zangetsu were in it. Kagome didn't want to bash Thinker but the way he laid out the groups was flawed. Letting his guild take the lead was both a kindness and a selfish choice. She was pretty sure his group was burning out, after having realized this was going to take years to escape from Kagome had decided to take a day a week off, some times it didn't work out. But most the time they manage to go find small quest to have fun doing, or to have a nice picnic or some days they just spent time hanging out in town, shopping, sleeping, talking. Captain had a younger sister on the outside, Naruto missed his grandparents.

Seeing a man go down under a Dip she didn't hesitate. Charging, she found herself embroiled in the battle, no pulling back to the edges now. Both hands on her sword Kagome found the movements calming. The mix of programed skill and the knowledge she had floating around in her head creating a style unlike most. To be honest the only others she had seen fight without skill was Zangetsu and Kirito.

Twirling she cut the head off a Menninkin, of course that failed to finish it. So with a follow up slice she cut deep into the torso and it shattered. Her eyes caught on Zangetsu and she once again noticed that his style was both alike and very different from Inuyasha's.

He like her had clearly specialized in Two Handed Blade skill but at odd moments he took a hand off and would use the blade one handed. He also had special blade, it was huge the tip was wider then the rest of the blade and it clearly was a one sided blade it had very little in the way of guard just a crest of metal rising from the non-cutting side. The deep black red of blade made it's name obvious, the Blood Blade.

It was strictly listed as a monster blade but Zangetsu had told her he'd bought it from a guy on the front lines who couldn't use it.

She had gotten her Kogarasumaru as a rare drop back on eleven, she knew in a couple more floors she should look for an upgrade. She'd miss Kagorasumaru, it served her well. Side stepping the thrust of a spear she realized she had fought her way into the Boss fight. Opps.

The boss had been giving them a pounding, more then half of the planned boss fighters had pulled back, heath deep in yellow and the red, good news was people had almost finished with the minions and were joining her and the others in fighting the boss. She frowned when she realized once again the boss was now focusing on her. It had become something of a pattern, she'd get into a boss-fight, land a hit and the boss would target her.

Leaping back she realized she was too slow, the large spear was plunging towards her middle. Part of her mind dismissed it, her heath was good enough she take the hit, but another part was afraid the damage would push her heath lower then it had ever been. She'd seen what it could do to others, with her luck she would be as dazed as Naruto talked about, and she wouldn't be able to dodge a second strike.

Then a hard body hit her from the side, the world spun wildly and then a heavy weight pinned her awkwardly to the ground. Confused she blinked her eyes open and found herself looking up into Zangetsu's face, he groaned and pushed himself up his left hand unwittingly pressing into her breast.

Torn between being grateful and angry she only growled, "Get off."

His eyes flew open and went straight to where his hand was, red crept across his face and he threw himself backwards. "Sorry!"

Then he refocused on her. "Are you okay?"

"Yes." she sat up and checked her heath and his, neither of them had been hit. "Thanks to you. But I could have taken the hit."

He looked at the ground his blush still visible. "I know, but it's better if you don't have to, right?"

"Yeah. So thanks." She pushed herself to her feet in time to see that her little brother had struck the finishing hit. "GOOD JOB YASHA!

The crowd started to cheer and slap each other's backs, no one had died for the third floor in a row. Chad came through the crowd to join Zangetsu, Kagome wanted to run away. Owing Zangetsu was not a good plan, unfortunate hand placement aside she knew it hadn't been on purpose. Mentally sighing she said; "How does dinner sound?"

Zangetsu looked a touch relieved she wasn't angry with him. "Good. Really good."

Kagome checked the time. "Oh. How about lunch instead?"

His normal half frown turned quizzical and his eyes moved in a way she knew was him checking the time. He snorted because he could see like she had that it was only eleven thirty-eight. "That sounds good."

it was at that time the rest of her group began to join her with Zangetsu and Chad, Naruto and Captain was grinning about something someone had said but nodded in greeting to Zangetsu and Chad, then they turned on her. "So people are really starting to notice the way you get targeted and there are some pretty ridiculous ideas out there."

Kagome ignored the odd looks on Chad and Zangetsu's faces and spoke directly to the two boys smirking at her. "I know, it's weird. But I don't want to know what they're saying it's bound to be completely wrong."

Captain smirked wider. "You say that like you know why Boss' target you."

Kagome rolled her eyes. "I do, computer games have never liked me. Why would this be any different?"

The two of them cracked up, they'd heard her say something like that every time someone asked, or commented on the oddity. The fact was Souta and her thought it might be because she was Miko or the compute program sensed something wrong with her. Or even as simple as her habit of some times attacking things without an active skill had caught the boss-man's eyes and he tested her.

Speaking of which Souta had pushed through the crowd to rejoin her, he had a grin on his face but his eyes were serious. "You good Archer?"

"Yep, Zangetsu here saved me so he and Chad will be joining us for lunch."

Souta nodded but she could see he was still upset, she'd need to explain a few things to him later. She'd told him she was glad to be here and even told him if she died here she was glad she could with him. But clearly he needed a refresher.

Daono, Suke-Oniki joined them, "So we going on to get some grub?"

Kagome nodded to Suke-Oniki, "Yep Zangetsu and Chad will be joining us."

"Cool, I saw him tackle you."

Daono chipped in. "Yeah you always are telling us to watch it but you cut it closer there."

She rolled her eyes and pointed to the way to the next floor "I could have taken the hit, a second one is another story."

Her group laughed as they started moving and she couldn't help but note the frown on Zangetsu's face, she wondered if it was because he felt she was brushing it off or because he didn't want her to risk herself like that. Oh well, she'd never been able to read minds before this anyway.