The Dungeon on the 72nd Floor

Kirito pulled both of his swords out of item storage and secured them on his back, activated the Duel Wielding skill before entering the maze on the 72nd floor. Solo. If Asuna found out, she was going to be mad. But she was busy with guild business today so Kirito figured he had at least a 50-50 shot at getting away with it.

The boss on the 25th floor had been orders of magnitude harder than the one on the 24th. In fact, it wasn't until they reached floor 30 that they found something as hard. The boss on the 50th floor was even worse. What ever waited for them three floors up on the 75th floor was going to be a massive player killer.

But not if Kirito could help it.

But to protect his friends and the raiding party, he would need to level up. The problem was, he was already 92nd level, which meant he needed an insane amount of XP to make the next jump. Which meant very dangerous monsters. If he went adventuring with other players, he'd have to split the XP, which sort of defeated the point. And besides, he really didn't trust that many other players. He could take Asuna or Klein, but Asuna's level was still in the 80s, and Klein was probably five levels below her. He was not going to expose his friends to the kind of monsters he needed to defeat in order to get XP for himself.

If Asuna asked, he'd just say he was mapping the labyrinth and looking for the boss room. That sounded credible and not too dangerous. Klein had once described him as a battle obsessed weirdo, but even Kirito hadn't taken on a boss solo since somewhere in the 30s. Not on purpose, anyway.

However, going solo on the 72nd floor was still a very dangerous thing to do. He double checked the duel wielding was active. That was another reason not to take anyone. There were only a handful of unique skills in the game, and no one knew about his yet. It would make a lot of players jealous; he didn't need the negative attention. Since he had the menu open anyway, he took the precaution of pulling out a teleport crystal and stuffing it in his belt.

He turned on the mapping and used his Search skill to make sure there were no other players in the vicinity. The last thing he wanted was well intentioned players stumbling on his fights and getting hurt because of him. But his Search skill was close to maxed out so when it came back with no players, he was pretty sure he was clear.

He already knew about the armored boars at the entrance. They have been documented almost as soon as the labyrinth had been discovered. They were determined and dangerous though, and the time lost in mapping was worth the XP. The big one snorted and lowered its head, exposing the wicked steel-clad tusks. Kirito crouched, pointing his swords at the boar in challenge. An unseen communication flashed between the two of them and they charged at the same moment. At the last second, Kirito sidestepped the tusks and slid along the ground, using his low position and momentum to slice the boar's belly open. Its HP bar dropped into the yellow, but the beast wasn't done. It whipped its head around and slashed with razor sharp tusks. Kirito twisted out of the way but the tusk caught on the hilt of the Dark Repulser and a sudden jerk of its head pried the sword from Kirito's grasp. It threw its considerable weight on top of Kirito, knocking him to the ground. The boar snapped, trying to bite Kirito's arm. Those jaws were strong enough to sever the limb. The close range meant he couldn't get enough momentum for a decent sword strike, so he dropped the Elucidator, shifted the boar's weight and reached for his dagger. Kirito sliced behind the pig's ear and when the beast abandoned its attack on the left arm to cope with the knife, Kirito dropped the point then thrust upwards through the base of the jaw. The boar grunted and squealed, twisting hard, but was unable to dislodge the blade. Its HP slowly dropped to zero. It shuddered and splintered into a thousand crystal shards and vanished.

Kirito sheathed his dagger, picked up the swords and dusted himself off. Three or four more of those and the morning would have been worthwhile. With luck, he could even finish them off and get out before Asuna ever realized he'd gone without her.

But the rest of the boars had scattered, and nothing else he encountered for the next few hours gave him the kind of XP boost he was looking for.

It was almost evil, in a way. Low level monsters would lure most players into a false sense of security. He would mention it to Asuna. And Klein. They both had guilds to protect.

As he made his way down the corridor, the roughly hewn stone gradually became smoother, then smooth became polished. Traction was low, reflection was high; another subtle shift to disadvantage the unwary. The corridor dead ended in a wall with two creatures on low plinths. Bulldogs, Kirito decided. Six foot high bulldogs, with the horns and tail of an actual bull. They growled at him.

Excellent, Kirito thought. Finish these two and that should give him his self-appointed XP quota for the day. And if he was fast enough, he wouldn't even have to tell Asuna he was sneaking around, leveling up without her.

They were considerably tougher than the boar near the entrance had been, and because there were two of them, he had to keep moving to keep them lined up so only one could attack at any given time. Strike, leap to a new position, strike again. At one point, he even found himself vaulting over their backs like those figures in that Greek mosaic. Over and over, the pattern repeated as he pared away their HP bars. He hadn't escaped clean though. His own bar dipped into the yellow. Alright, he thought, if it drops to a quarter, I'll retreat and try again later… No! No, I'm not just giving up! He vaulted again, this time landing right between them. The surprised bulldogs turned to face him. In one fluid move, He sliced one across the throat with the Elucidator while driving the Dark Repulser deep into the chest of the other. He held the pose for a a few seconds while their HP dropped to zero. They shimmered and exploded into a thousand sparking crystals. He dropped to the ground with an unceremonious thump. That's enough XP farming for one day, he thought. Time to go home. He opened his menu and extracted a healing crystal - his last healing crystal - and restored himself to max. Definitely time to go home.

It was only when he stood up that he noticed the monsters had left something behind, hovering like Pina's heart. Where one bulldog had been was a small golden key; where the other had been was a lock. When he picked them up, a glowing light emerged from the floor, rising straight up along the wall for 3 meters, before splitting horizontally for two meters, then dropping back down to form two side-by-side rectangles. A flash of light and a recess appeared in the exact shape of the lock.

He'd found the boss's lair.

Go home, the sensible portion of his brain told him. You're solo and you're out of healing crystals.

"Yeah, ok," he said to himself. He flipped Dark Repulser into its scabbard on his back the opened his menu to move the lock and key into his storage.

They wouldn't budge. Immovable objects. They could only be used to open the door.

The monsters would respawn if he left.

That's ok. You know how to beat them. Just get out of here and call a meeting of the assault team. "Here's a map. When we get there, we'll find two guardians. When we defeat them both, the monster drop will give us a lock and a key. When we pick them up, a door will appear in the blank wall."

"And then what?" The eager assault team would say.

"Dunno. I didn't have the guts to open the door."

Ok, one quick look. He inserted the lock into the door and the key into the lock. He tightened his grip on the Elucidator and readied the teleport crystal then pushed the door open.

The room was pitch black. Even the light pouring in from the doorway made little impact. He put one foot in the door and a pair of candles, one on either side, illuminated. He could now see a few feet into the room. He cautiously took another step. Another pair of candles illuminated. He could see farther into the room. The floor was glossy black, with little flecks of something embedded in it. Like black granite. No, more like a window to space, with planets and stars at varying distances. He listened but heard nothing. He took a third step.

Again, a pair of candles lit up.

He used his Search skill looking for anything in the room, any sign of movement. The only movement he detected came from the flecks in the floor. He crouched down and peered at one more closely.

It was a window showing the main square in the Town of Beginnings. People were walking past. Another fleck showed the ice dragon, curled up asleep in its cave, tail flipped over its nose and eyes.

One step farther in, and the tiny window showed a group of fairies dressed in red raising swords against a group fairies dressed in green.

Kirito blinked. They didn't look like any fairies in this game, though admittedly he hadn't explored every corner of every floor. Still. He would have expected to hear about it. Was it a higher floor maybe?

Another step, another set of candles and another fleck, this one showing a six foot chicken pulling a cart. That was just weird.

Another step, another pair of candles, another fleck. This showed a girl, dressed in blue. She put her hand in a fountain and when she pulled it out, a column of water followed snakelike, leaving a trace of her movement. That seemed suspiciously like magic, which did not exist in this world.

The next showed a blond kid drawing a circle. When he touched it, it flared with a blue light.

The next showed massive walls towering over a small town.

A deep, rumbling laughter filled the room.

Oh shit! Kirito looked around wildly. The images had drawn him deeper into the room than he had intended.

He looked up to see a pair of glowing orange eyes and a name: The Traveler.

It raised a set of bat-like wings revealing taloned hands holding a fiery whip. HP bar after HP bar began to unscroll.

Kirito turned and ran for the door, but The Traveler teleported, placing itself between Kirito and escape. It raised it hand to crack the whip.

If teleporting works for you, it should work for me, Kirito thought. He activated the crystal just as the whip wrapped around it. The crystal shattered and for a moment, Kirito thought he was done.

Then he realized nothing in the room was moving. Not even the Boss.

A screen appeared above him.

Attack on Titan.

Do you accept this quest?

YES ... NO

Kirito stared at the options. On one hand, if he accepted the quest, he would almost certainly miss dinner with Asuna. She would be irate. Then she would try to locate him, but if he was in a dungeon, she would not be able to. Then she would get worried. She was peculiar like that, worrying about her friends when she didn't know where they were. Then when he finally did show up again, her anger would know no bounds. He really wasn't looking forward to that. On the other hand, if he declined the quest, the system would drop him right back where he had been. In the boss room. With no teleport crystal. And the boss standing between him in the door. He actually debated which was worse, Asuna or the boss. Reluctantly, he reached over and clicked YES.

Then the floor fell out from beneath him and he was plunged into darkness.

•=|====


A/N: I started this story some time ago. I'd gotten one of those questions on a chat board: You're dropped into the world of Attack on Titan as the main character of the last anime you watched. How screwed are you? As luck would have it, I had just rewatched the Aincrad arc of Sword Art Online so the answer was not screwed at all. It percolated in the back of my brain for a few weeks and I started to write this story. Then a bunch of life-related stuff happened and I stuck it on the back burner. When I started writing again, the muses favored A Far-Fetched Noble Cause. But a couple weeks ago, I was talking about AoT, went and reread this and decided to push it out the door. Hope you enjoy it.