A/N: Happy Birthday to The Red Swordsman! I know the last chapter was meant to be the finale, but I saved one last adventure for my masterpiece. Now then, join me for the last joint adventure of the Moonlit Black Cats, the Sleeping Knights, and even the Furin Kazan guilds!

A week before Michael and Shino's wedding...

Dragon Slayers

"Everyone ready to do this?" Kirito asked the assembled group. Gathered together were the Moonlit Black Cats, the Sleeping Knights, Agil, Silica, Lisbeth, and the Furin Kazan guild. It was the biggest effective hunting party that they had ever gathered together, and for no small reason.

Today, the joint effort would be hunting one of the ultimate monsters in the world of the Bionicle. Mataras' mask hid his grin as he thought of the quarry they sought today. Down below the group was the city of Metru Nui. They had all gathered at the peak of the Coliseum, above the clouds.

"Me and my guys are ready to rock, Kirito," Klein grinned as he gave his old friend a thumbs-up. "This is gonna be a battle for the ages."

"As one who also survived Aincrad, I think he speaks correctly," Mataras said quietly. "If nothing else, the level of excitement may well match the battle against the Gleam Eyes."

"You mean when you two showed off for the first time?" Asuna teased her friend and boyfriend lightly.

"Something like that," Kirito nodded.

"I'm looking forward to pulling off another impossible mission with you guys," Yuuki grinned, her slender blade in hand while her Earth Toa armor gleamed in the light of the twin suns of Metru Nui. Her guild echoed the sentiment with a chorus of agreements.

"Ya know, when you first called me up for this, I thought you'd found a Tahtorak," Agil grinned as he readied his massive axe, his bronze Toa of Stone armor moving smoothly despite its bulk. "This is gonna be even better that I woulda thought!"

"How did you find out about this quest?" Silica asked her friends.

"Argo tipped us off," Kirito grinned. "And it wasn't cheap, either, so we'd better give this our A-game."

"Even if a price hadn't been involved in finding this quest, a Kanohi Dragon should not be taken lightly," Sinon said with a slight frown. "You guys sure we're up to this?"

"According to the original stories, the Kanohi Dragon was defeated by a team of eleven Toa, four of which were Toa of Ice," Mataras replied. "Between you, Asuna, Nori, and Klein's man…" he made a gesture towards one of Klein's guild members, "I think we've already got the numbers covered."

"The fight also took a month and wasted most of the city in the process," Agil reminded his younger friend.

"The maps will be fine, if that's what you're worried about," Litrosh said as he inspected his twin blades.

"With the latest updates, certain quests can take you to parallel maps so that the main server maps remain unaffected by major story events," Yui explained. "We can go all-out with worrying about other people getting in the way."

"Or trying to steal the kill," Mataras said in an undertone.

"C'mon, let's get started already!" Yuuki said excitedly.

"How does this quest begin, Brother?" Sachi asked as she looked up at her Toa of Fire companion.

"Ask Kirito- he's the one leading this party," Mataras shrugged. He had been too busy planning his wedding to pay any real attention to the details of the quest. All he knew was that the Kanohi Dragon needed killing, and he was just the Toa for the job.

"According to Argo, from this vantage point on top of the Coliseum, you can see an abandoned boat near the Great Barrier that surrounds Metru Nui," Kirito explained. "Once we reach the boat, the quest should begin."

"How big is the boat?" Sinon asked as she and the others with x-ray vision masks began to search the area he had described.

"No bigger than enough to fit three Toa," Kirito replied.

"Found it," Sinon said as she pointed with her crossbow.

"That was fast," Lisbeth said admiringly.

"Quick eyes make for a quick aim, right?" Mataras grinned as he put an arm around his fiancé's shoulders. She flushed a bit, but no one could see the expression being covered by her mask, so she didn't mind too much. Still…

"Okay, smooth guy, let's get moving," she said as she activated her flight equipment. The others were quick to follow her suit, heading straight for the boat she had spotted.

"Hey, tell me something!" Asuna shouted to be heard above the rushing wind and sound of flight jets and turbines. "What does the boat have to do with the quest? Seems kinda random!"

"Again, if you knew the original story, you'd know the answer to that," Mataras replied. "The Dark Hunters sent three of their members to set the Kanohi Dragon loose on the city. They came here in a boat like we've been told about. After setting the dragon free, they retreated back to their base and were not heard from again for some time."

"Apparently in this game, they failed in their mission for some reason," Kirito added.

"What do you think happened?" Sachi asked.

"There are a lot of Proto Drakes in this part of the sea," Silica suggested. "Maybe they were killed by them?"

"Proto Drakes aren't hostile rahi," Agil shook his head. "I doubt that they did it. Maybe a Razor Whale?"

"More likely a school of Tarakava," Lisbeth countered. "Those things are deadly in a group."

"What about some Sea Spiders?" Asuna asked with a shudder. "Those things are just nasty."

"They don't work in groups, and I don't think that any one of those things could take a Dark Hunter," Agil answered.

"None of those could have killed a single Dark Hunter, let alone three," Sinon interjected. "Any of you fought a Dark hunter?" When everyone but Mataras gave negative signs, she said, "Didn't think so. They're tough, and not to mention after you kill one, their mobs react to you with extreme hostility."

"Tell me about it," Mataras muttered. "I can't set foot on the southern islands without at least one of those things trying to hunt me down."

"We get it, they're dangerous," Lisbeth sighed as they drew close to the waters. "What's your point?"

"We're just wondering what could be so strong that it could kill three of the most dangerous mobs in the game without leaving a trace," Sinon replied flatly. The question brought a grim silence on the group.

They descended on the boat without another word, Kirito and Mataras landing on the wooden item. As soon as they did, a quest flag appeared, which Kirito opened swiftly. "Do you wish to begin the flashpoint quest 'Wrath of the Ancient Flame'?" he read aloud. Looking up at everyone, who readied their weapons, he hit the confirm button. The menu disappeared, but nothing else happened.

The boys frowned and looked up at the sky in confusion. "I don't get it," Kirito said. "That should have done something, right?"

"Maybe we have to enter the story zone somehow?" Sachi suggested.

"Then where's the entry point?" Leafa wondered aloud.

"Sinon?" Mataras asked as he looked up at his wife-to-be.

"Already on it," she said as he mask glowed lightly and she began using her mask of x-ray vision to pierce the clouds above. After a moment, she shook her head and said, "Nothing. Sorry, guys."

"Well, my menu's showing that we've started the quest…" Klein said as he put away his menu. "So the entry point's gotta be around here somewhere…"

"Wait a second," Mataras said with a frown before he slapped his mask. "Idiot!"

"What?" Kirito asked.

"It's under the water, in a cave somewhere in the Great Barrier," Mataras scowled. "I can't believe I forgot that."

"Oh, right…" Agil said as he came to the same conclusion. "The thing was in a cave sealed by a one-hundred-foot-thick block a ice."

"Then we go under," Kirito said. "Those of you with masks of water breathing, do your thing. Everyone else, make sure you share your speed and x-ray abilities. Klein, use your Suletu to detect any mobs coming our way." The members of the large party that met his requirements went to work, and they all dove into the water with a collective splash that could be seen from the Ga-Metru shoreline.

The first thing they noticed was that the water felt cold. Not as cold as the sea near Ko-Metru, which Klein's guild had discovered could actually damage certain Toa if they were exposed to it for long enough, but colder than they had expected.

"Am I the only one getting the chills here?" Lisbeth remarked.

"I haven't noticed anything," Sinon said with a shrug.

"With your natural resistance to cold, that shouldn't surprise me," Mataras said. "But Lisbeth is right. It's definitely a lot colder than it should be down here."

"Hey man, I'm picking up on two Tarakava heading our way," Klein said as he pointed further down into the dark waters. Sure enough, within a moment, the two monsters were rising out of the water at top speed.

"Sinon, Asuna, you got this?" Kirito asked.

"No," Mataras said as he brandished his sword, which started to glow with heat. "The Ice Toa need to conserve their power as much as possible until we fight the dragon."

"And what are you gonna do, relax them into leaving us alone with a hot bath?" Kirito remarked with a smirk.

"No, I'm going to agro them while Sachi does something a little more in the way of damaging them," Mataras replied sharply. Sure enough, the two aquatic beasts were drawn to the heat of his sword, and Sachi was able to use her mask of stealth to flank them undetected.

The first they knew that she was there was when a sudden riptide slammed them into the stone face of the Great Barrier. Without waiting for any urging from the leaders of the group, Agil caused stone spikes to erupt out of the wall and spear the mobs. The double impact was more that their health points could endure, and they shattered into polygons that faded into the darkness.

"Anything else around?" Kirito asked Klein.

"Just a Photo Drake, but it ain't hostile," the Toa of Fire reported. "I'll let you know once I pick up on anything else."

"Cool," Kirito nodded. "Water Toa, see if you can sense any weird currents down here. Toa of Stone, try scanning the wall for any caves or hidden recesses in the rock. Everyone else, look the old-fashioned way." Once again, they moved to do what he said swiftly.

All of them were seasoned fighters of many campaigns, so there was no bickering about who was supposed to be giving orders. Everyone there knew of Kirito's history on the front lines and the role he played in clearing Aincrad. Not even Mataras, the wildest of them all, would question his orders. He knew what he was doing, and they trusted him.

It was Siune who found the entrance to the flashpoint. As a Toa of Water, she was sensitive to the surrounding environment more than most of the others, and so she was able to sense where the underwater current had a disturbance to its flow, and where the cold seemed to be emanating from.

She waved Tecchi over once she found a portion of the stone barrier that didn't seem quite in keeping with its surrounding area. When he placed his armored hands on the stone, he nodded and readied the massive club he carried as a Toa. With a mighty swing, he smashed the rock to splinters, revealing a tunnel that was shortly blocked by a solid wall of ice.

They waved their comrades over to inspect the entrance. Once they had gotten there, Kirito said, "I'll bet that once we pass through the entrance, we'll be in the flashpoint."

"Sounds good to me," Mataras said as he swam forward. "Let's get this mission started."

Their hunch was correct. As soon as they passed through the mouth of the tunnel, the air rippled around them, signaling a game transition, though the environment appeared completely identical to the main map so far. Eyeing the wall of ice critically, Sinon asked, "How thick did you guys say this thing was?"

"According to the original story, a hundred feet, give or take a few yards," Mataras replied grimly. "Let's get to work." Litrosh attached himself to his comrade's back and opened fire with his cordak revolver. The ice shed a few chunks, but it was too well-made to be broken so easily.

"This might take a while," the former dragon said flatly.

"Then let's go," Kirito said as he began unleashing shadow bursts at the solid ice. "Ice Toa, follow Mataras' advice and don't use your elemental power as much as you can. We'll need you fresh for the dragon."

With that, the assembled Toa unleashed various projectiles from weaponry, elemental powers, and mask powers. Those of them that were Toa Inika did not use their elemental powers, as the lightning that was woven into their powers would pose a health risk to the other Toa in the water with them. Even with nineteen Toa and two Av-Matoran working together, the progress was slow. It took them roughly half an hour to smash their way through the thick ice until the last fragment crumbled away to reveal a pitch-black section of the cave.

Everyone floated in the water, confused. It was Silica that voiced the thoughts of everyone present, though. "Um…? Where's the dragon?" she wondered aloud.

"Hey, Klein?" Kirito asked his friend.

"Huh? Oh yeah, mask of telepathy," he said as he focused on the mask power. The instant the mask began to glow, the temperature of the water began to rise to a more comfortable level.

"Thanks, Mataras," Yuuki said as she felt the chill leave her biomechanical limbs. "This feels way better."

"I'm not doing that," Mataras frowned.

"Oh, then is it Jun?" Silica asked.

"Nope," he shook his head. "If I used my powers down here, I'd end up electrocuting all of us. 'Sides, I'm not good enough to make heat without flame."

"Oh crap!" Klein suddenly cried out as the temperature started to spike to a less comfortable level. "We gotta get outta here!"

"Why?" Asuna asked with a frown.

"Because that," Mataras said grimly, suddenly realizing why the cave appeared to be so dark in front of them. They were far down in the sea, but not far enough for it to be this dark. As if to punctuate his words, a massive pair of red eyes blazed to life not twenty feet in front of them all.

"Everyone that can, masks of speed, power, and levitation!" Kirito snapped. The group bolted from the cave as fast as the game limiters would allow them to, swimming the hundred-odd feet in mere seconds. All the while, the water grew even hotter around them, to the point where it was near-boiling.

The second they made it out of the cave, something massive shot out at incredible speed, just missing all of them. The group leaders had decided without speaking that it would be safer to temporarily dive deeper down instead of going up, as that was where the dragon was likely to head.

Again, their instincts proved correct. As soon as it was free of the cave, it let out a roar and shot towards the surface of the water, and towards the city. However, it did not fly above the surface of the water, to their surprise. It stayed just below the surface and made a beeline for the city's edge.

"We gotta fight that?!" Lisbeth shouted. "Are you guys all crazy?!"

"Absolutely," Mataras grinned. "Come, I think I know where it's going."

"The Great Furnace?" Agil asked.

"The biggest heat source in the city," Kirito nodded as they all followed the beast. "It makes sense. Isn't that what it did in the original story?"

"That's correct," Yui nodded while attaching herself to her mother's back. "Also, I have noticed that while we appear to be back in the main map, this is not the case. We are still in the flashpoint."

"So we can still go all-out?" Kirito asked.

"Aye," Litrosh nodded. "And judging from the stats on the Kanohi Dragon, it would be foolish to do anything otherwise."

As soon as they rose above the surface, Kirito ordered the team to head straight for Ta-Metru. He wanted to get there ahead of it and stage an ambush as well as they could, though just how effective an ambush would be against such a monster, he had no idea.

"Shouldn't we be following it and try to prevent it from getting to the furnace in the first place?" Talken asked.

"Sure, if you want to fight that thing in the Onu-Metru Archives along with whatever else they keep down there as living exhibits," Mataras replied. "I'm with Kirito- it's better to hunt a rahi like this out in the open, with room to move. Fighting it in an enclosed space is just suicide."

"I think fighting that thing period is suicide!" Lisbeth shouted.

"No one asked you," Mataras replied with a snarky tone. "Now let's get a move on."

When they reached the building that served as the incredible heat source of Ta-Metru, Mataras and Kirito had everyone halt and hover above the building. "What are we waiting for?" Yuuki asked impatiently, eager to start the fight.

"For what's bound to happen," Mataras answered. "Once we hear the Kanohi Dragon enter the Great Furnace, we're going to drop it on its ugly head."

"How are we gonna do that?" Agil asked, though he already suspected the answer.

"The Toa of Earth need to make a bioquake to weaken the building, while the Stone Toa collapse it from its base," Kirito answered, keeping his twin blades ready for action.

"Then let's get to it!" Yuuki grinned as she flew down to the ground and planted her sword in the ground. The other Toa of Earth, Lisbeth and one of Klein's men, followed suit, making an effective triangle around the massive building.

Kirito gave them a signal, and they went to work, softening the ground underneath their feet before unleashing a pulse of energy that made the whole sector rumble, and weakening the structure's foundations greatly. The three of them were about to congratulate one another when they realized that the rumbling had yet to cease, despite the fact that they had stopped using their elemental powers.

"It's coming up," Mataras said quietly.

"Ice Toa to the ready!" Kirito ordered. "Toa of Stone, move in!"

"Earth Toa, get out of there, now!" Mataras shouted at the same time. They needed no further urging. They could all hear the rumble of the angry rahi as it moved beneath the surface of the furnace.

"Hold for the signal!" Kirito shouted to be heard above the noise.

"Your signal?!" Tecchi asked.

"No, the dragon's" Mataras said as Litrosh took aim with the cordak revolver. "As soon as we hear it come up, drop the hammer." The other's nodded their understanding and moved into position.

They didn't have to wait long. With a roar that shook Ta-Metru, the Kanohi Dragon leaped into the flames of the Great Furnace, howling with delight as it was revitalized from its millennia-long cold slumber. As it did, the Toa of Stone unleashed their power on the mighty structure.

The building was well-made, there was no doubt about that. But against the power of the Kanohi Dragon, and multiple Toa of Earth and Stone, it had no chance of survival. With a loud CRASH, the structure came down atop the mighty beast. Dust, debris, and hot cinders flew everywhere.

"Think that did it?" Lisbeth asked hopefully. The looks she received from her teammates led her to shrug and say, "It doesn't hurt to be a little optimistic."

"It does hurt to delude yourself with false hope, though," Mataras said flatly. Lisbeth shot him a glare for a second. Had anyone else said it, she wouldn't have minded so much. But he knew very well how much his rejection had hurt her, and she hated that he seemed to rub it in at every opportunity she gave him.

"Focus, both of you," Asuna said sternly. "I think it's about to come up." Sure enough, as soon as the words left her mouth, the beast let out a roar and rose above the rubble upon massive wings.

For a moment, all of them, even Mataras, were taken aback by the sheer size of the monster. It was easily as big as the Coliseum was tall, and the heat it gave off rivaled that of the Great Furnace itself. The scales on it appeared sturdy, though what drew their attention most about its body was what appeared to be several kanohi masks fused to its hide. The jaws on it were big enough to swallow the entire group whole and still have room for dessert. Its eyes blazed red with hate and hunger, and it eyed the Toa viciously.

"Uh…" Silica said nervously in a small voice. "I think we made it mad."

"Yui, Litrosh?" Kirito asked. "Did that hurt it?"

"Not very much," Litrosh said heavily.

"Then this will be a long fight," Mataras said as he shot up above the others. "Let's get it started!" His shout galvanized the others into action, as they began to unleash elemental and projectile attacks on it.

"Everyone but Fire Toa, stay away from close-quarters combat!" Kirito shouted as he unleashed shadow blasts at the monster. "That heat will melt you at close range, especially Ice Toa!"

"Those of us with flames should use our powers as little as possible," Mataras added. "We'll only make this thing stronger!"

"Think we can lure it to Ko-Metru?" Sinon asked. "The cold would weaken it substantially, and we would have the advantage."

"I doubt it," Mataras shook his head as he fired missiles from his shoulder. Litrosh transferred from his back to Sinon's to give her ice a power boost while they spoke. "If we left, chances are that it would simply stay here to heal whatever little damage we've done to it."

"What if we drove it back into Ko-Metru?" Asuna asked as she unleashed pure cold from her rapier. "If we hit it hard enough-"

"It would take a Nova blast to send that thing into Ko-Metru," Mataras interrupted. "Not to mention that we'd have to get it past the Coliseum, or go through Le-Metru first before we got the ice region."

"What about your mask of dimensions?" Sinon suggested.

"I could open up a portal big enough, yes," Mataras said after a brief moment. "But the problem would be forcing it inside." He was about to add more, but apparently the dragon decided that it'd had quite enough of being stung by the annoying beings facing it.

Letting loose a mighty roar, it unleashed a river of fire half the length of Le-Metru that forced the assembled Toa to scatter like leaves in the wind. "Spread out!" Kirito ordered. "If we bunch up, he can just eat us or let loose another one of those!" Everyone moved to surround the beast with their numbers, careful not pair up too closely with anyone, lest they become a prime target for the beast.

"Hey, Kirito!" Sinon shouted. When she had his attention, she shouted, "Mataras can open up a portal to Ko-Metru, but we need to force it inside! Any ideas?!"

Kirito's thoughts raced furiously before he chanced upon a plot. "Yeah!" he shouted. Turning to address the group, he called out, "Listen up! All Toa of Air, get ready to use all the power you can just shy of a Nova Blast! And aim for the wings!"

"What'd you have in mind?!" Leafa called out.

"Mataras is gonna get us and the dragon to Ko-Metru, where we'll have an advantage!" he shouted back. "But we need to force the dragon inside the portal once it's open!" The others understood and moved to arrange the trap.

The Kanohi Dragon noticed the green Toa gathering together, and it prepared to unleash another breath attack at them. Agil noticed this, and shouted, "Hold still, baby!" He unleashed his elemental power to hurl a building from its foundations to strike the monster in the head. It didn't do much damage, but it definitely knocked off its aim and got its attention.

In the meantime, Mataras was focusing all of his efforts into making as big a portal as he possibly could. The effort would have caused a nosebleed were he in the real world, but in the virtual world, there was no blood. Once he sensed that he had enough power gather, he unleashed the portal. The resulting gate into Ko-Metru was large enough to reveal several Knowledge Towers standing tall and proud amidst the icy region.

"Now!" Kirito shouted. The Toa of Air unleashed tornado-force winds at the dragon, specifically aiming for the wings that carried it through the sky. The winds caught the mighty canopies and sent it flying backwards, very much against its will if the roar it unleashed was anything to go by.

"Does a lot of yelling, doesn't it?" Sinon grinned as she fired her crossbow with unnerving precision to hit it inside the mouth. The combined cold and lightning was an unpleasant sensation, and the monster snapped his jaws shut to shatter the ice.

"Follow it!" Kirito shouted as he dove into the portal after it. Everyone was quick to follow, with Mataras being the last to enter the gateway.

The cold air was refreshing compared to the brutal heat of Ta-Metru, the group thought. "Okay, now what?" Asuna asked.

"Now we let loose and keep him from getting back to Ta-Metru," Kirito said as he unleashed shadow beams from his swords. "Though if it decided to charge us…"

Before he could finish the thought, the beast righted itself in the air, snapped its jaws angrily and started to take to the sky above them in order to head back to the land of heat. Its own body temperature was causing the ice around it to melt, but that wouldn't last long without a constant heat source, like the Lava Rivers that ran through the city's industrial area.

Before anyone else could make a move, though, the beats suddenly began to slow down as a golden aura enveloped it. It wasn't losing momentum, though, like one would think if was moving as slow as it was.

"What the…?" Leafa said aloud.

The group was started when Mataras grunted, "What… are you… waiting for?!" They looked over to see his mask glowing the same golden aura that had surrounded the Kanohi Dragon. "I can't… hold back time… forever!"

"Move in!" Kirito shouted, realizing what an immense effort Mataras was making to hold the dragon in place. "Hit it hard and fast, but don't get caught in the time field!"

"What do we do?" Klein asked on behalf of the Fire Toa. "We can't use our elemental powers, and close-ups are out now."

"Use projectiles if you have them," Kirito replied as he unleashed darkness from his swords again. "If not, cut out pieces of the ice around us and chuck 'em at it." The orders had been given, and the group moved to obey again.

Mataras was able to freeze the dragon for just a few minutes, an impressive feat by any account. The legendary masks in the game required an intense level of focus that few could boast, let alone maintain. And by the time he was weakened enough that the time field collapsed, the dragon was substantially weakened by the efforts of the combined guilds. The cold wasn't helping it either.

But it was not about to just lie down and surrender just yet. The game had programmed the AI to believe that it had been trapped for nearly eighty millennia, and it would not sell its freedom lightly. Letting loose a bellow that cracked some of the Knowledge Towers with the force of its volume, the Kanohi Dragon felt itself being freed from the stasis field, and shot towards the Coliseum, beyond which lay the heat of Ta-Metru.

"Oh no, you don't" Sinon growled. "Asuna, Nori! Target the wings with everything you got!" They unleashed ice at the wings keeping the monster airborne, freezing them solid and causing it to crash to the cold ground from loss of altitude.

The beast tried to flap its canopies, but once it hit the ground, the ice shattered, destroying its wings and robbing its ability to fly. It hit the frozen earth so hard, the entire metru was shaken, and several of the towers, already weakened by the fierce battle, collapsed from the impact. One even landed on the monster's head, stunning it for just a moment.

Not even waiting for the order to attack, everyone lay into the beast with as much power as they could. The four Toa of Ice worked on pinning its legs with bindings formed from both their own energy and the ice under their feet.

The beast struggled vigorously, but everyone else kept pounding on it too hard and fast for it to decide which one to attack. It seemed that victory was at hand for all of them when the unexpected occurred.

The Kanohi dragon let out one last, desperate roar, right before it unleashed a heat burst so powerful, it melted everyone in the party, save for Mataras, who had stayed back to recover from the effects of using his mask. He looked on in shock as the Kanohi Dragon staggered to its feet and started lumbering away from the steam and carnage.

"That…" he gasped wide-eyed. "How could it…?" It simply boggled his mind that everyone had been wiped out in a single instant. He could see the flickering heart stones of all of his comrades in the fog of steam that the monster had left behind.

He watched the thing staggering back towards Ta-Metru, and he hardened his gaze. "If the task falls to me, I shall slay you on my own, then," he growled as he activated his jets and flew ahead of the beast, back towards the molten metru.

He waited at the entrance to the city district with patience, making sure that his health and elemental power gauge were full. He stood with his sword drawn and blasters at the ready.

He didn't have to wait for too long. As soon as the lumbering monster came into view, he shot a building next to it to get its attention. It roared at him with hate, angry that there was still someone in the way of its food source.

"I give you this one chance to turn back and leave this land in peace," Mataras shot back. "If you do not, I will be forced to end you." The monster gave its answer in the form of a roar as it charged at him with all of its remaining strength, obviously intending to eat him or crush him.

"Very well, you leave me no choice, master of sky and flame," Mataras said as he stabbed his sword into the ground, ignoring the oncoming monster. Focusing his elemental power in earnest for the first time since the battle began, he began drawing the heat of the metru into himself.

He quickly began to glow with the brilliance and heat of a star, the heat melting even the flame-resistant buildings around him. The Kanohi Dragon snarled in rage as it realized that the thing in front of it was taking all of the heat in the area for itself. Heat that it needed to survive and heal before it could claim the rest of the land just as it had before the little ones had come and wrested the land away from it.

Mataras was aware of the beast redoubling its speed, but he ignored it for the moment, choosing instead to focus on absorbing as much heat as he could. The power inside him was building to a painful level now, but he ignored it and kept going.

Only when the Kanohi Dragon came within striking distance did he move. Leaping out of the way of its deadly claws, he soared high above its reach, his sword in hand. "This is the land of the twin suns, the City of Legends," he said to his mighty adversary. "Your time is long past, and your desecration of this place will not be allowed." He began to descend, his sword now blazing with white-hot flames that would have put the Fire Pits to shame. "Hear me, Dragon! I am the Toa of Aincrad, Mataras! I now lay thee waste with my power, and expel thy vast defilement!" He was nearly on top of it now. "I banish thee!"

The dragon opened its jaws wide to devour him just as he swung with all of his might and power. "DIE!" he roared. He landed hard on the street and rolled for several yards, but he looked up to see the monster, unmoving and silent.

Then, with one, final, resounding crash, the beast fell limp on the street, the top half of its head rolling away from the corpse before the whole thing exploded into thousands of blue-and-green shards.

Mataras got to his feet and spun his sword, which was still glowing with intense heat, in a reverse circle before placing it on his back, the heat inconsequential to his Toa of Fire Armor. As he walked towards the Coliseum, where he had a feeling that the quest would end, he thought, If this had been Aincrad, everyone I know and love would have been killed… Would I have fought differently? Would the others?

And these thoughts troubled him greatly, despite his victory.

Once he had finished the dialogue with Turaga Dume, he exited the flashpoint and messaged everyone to meet him at their usual Metru Nui hang-out spot. Once everyone was gathered in the lounge of the Le-Metru Moto-Hub, he took his fiancé and the other Black Cats to address his thoughts.

"Do you think we fought the wrong way?" he said to finish his thoughts.

"No, I don't," Sinon answered immediately. "I know how bad SAO was for you, but you have to remember that we're not in there anymore. Death in this world means nothing anymore."

"Not for us," Kirito said with a shake of his head. "Truth is, I was having similar thoughts after we all got toasted. If we'd been in Old Aincrad, we'd all be dead. That's something I don't wanna take for granted."

That was the crux of the matter, they all knew. Sinon had briefly encountered the terror of facing death in the virtual world, but she hadn't been forced to live with it, day in and day out for years. She could try to empathize, but she couldn't really understand where they were all coming from.

"So, you want us to try and treat this like it's the same as reality?" Sinon asked after a moment. "Sorry, but if we did that, wouldn't we be no better than Death Kanoka?"

The others gave a start at the name. She also had a good point, they knew. By treating this world as though it was just as real as the real world, they could end up crossing a line that experience told them was very dangerous indeed.

"I think…" Sachi said after a moment. "That life is precious no matter where we are. Mataras and Kirito are right on that score. We should strive to protect it no matter what, even in this world. Because if we don't, our disregard for it here could eventually bleed over into the real world. And the memories we make here together are real, too. But there are things that matter in the real world that we can never have in this one. Like Mataras and Sinon getting married, for example." The couple flushed a bit, but she kept speaking to say, "There are things in the real world you can do that you can't in here. So it's important to value the significance of both worlds equally."

For a moment, no one said anything. Then Mataras put a hand on her blue hair and smiled. "Well said, Sachi," he said. "You've grown very wise."

"Thanks to you," she grinned back at him. "You saved my life all that time ago, after all."

"No," he said with a very definite shake of his head. "I may have protected your life, but you helped save my spirit. Thank you."

Kirito: Man, that was AWESOME!

Asuna: I know! What other kinds of special chapters can we expect to see in the future?

Mataras: None.

Kirito: Haha, very funny. Seriously, when's the next chapter gonna be out?

Mataras: Never. This is where the story ends for good.

Leafa: Wha-?! But you had so much fun writing this!

Mataras: I did. But all good things do have to end sooner or later, otherwise we'd lose our appreciation for them. And though this encore was amazing to write, I can't keep coming back to the same stories again and again. The story had its time and place, but now it's over. And though I'll miss it, I will not forget one part of this adventure. I won't forget any of the messages and reviews I received on behalf of this story.

I will always remember the days when I was the Toa of Aincrad.