December 31st, 2029

The area was a vast, empty darkness. Above the crowd a floating timer illuminated everything. The clock counted down from one minute, eleven seconds, and above it there appeared a familiar sign—the insignia of the player-killer guild, Laughing Coffin. Below the timer a number climbed up. It fast reached tens of thousands as players were brought in with flashes of light—in-game teleportation graphics.

When Klein teleported into the empty space, the counter reached 79,234, still climbing. Klein had his hands over his ears, like he was trying to drown out some terrible sound, and his eyes were shut. When he heard silence, he opened his eyes, and looked up, and around. Confusion was striking everyone. "What's going on?" Klein asked aloud. As he looked around, he placed a hand to where his sword should have been, but when he found it wasn't there, he started to panic. Other players, he now noticed, were as bare as he was, wearing nothing but plain clothes. He quickly opened his player inventory, and everything was missing.

"Level one?!" another player shouted out.

Klein looked to his vitals, and saw next to his name the same thing, that he was brought back down to level one.

Asuna was the next one in. She appeared a few steps away. "Klein?" Asuna said, looking at him. "What's happening?"

"Maybe it has something to do with that." Leafa was warped in the same as the rest, and she pointed up towards the countdown timer. As Asuna and Klein both looked up, dread swept over them. Laughing Coffin was involved, and this couldn't be good.

Forty-two seconds.

Asuna immediately went to check in the player menu for a logout button, and when she saw the button wasn't there, her eyes went wide. Without saying anything, she rushed through the menu to the messenger. A series of Skype buttons were hovering next to player names, and she tapped the button to call Kirito. It didn't work. An error message appeared saying "Out-of-Game Messaging Disable by Admin."

"Why are you calling Kirito?" Leafa asked, looking at her.

"To tell him not to log on," Asuna said. "But it won't work…"

Leafa and Klein both looked through their own menus, and found the lack of the logout button when they got there. Other players must have been starting to realize the same thing, as a sense of terror and panic was starting to fill the vast room.

Kirito had appeared with the group, and looked around as he saw the unfamiliar place. "Hi, Asuna," he said, waving his hand awkwardly at her.

After a jump, Asuna turned around, and sighed, closing the player menu out. She leaned into him and hugged tight. "It's happening again," she said.

Kirito looked around, and saw the timer, and the infamous symbol of Laughing Coffin. Just to be sure, he opened his player menu, and saw the lack of a logout feature. Seeing this, he wrapped an arm around his girlfriend, and hugged her back. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll figure this out…"

Thirty-nine seconds.

"Welcome!" The panic and cries of fear in the room were suddenly silenced at the sound of the voice. "How should I start? Hmm… I want to tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a man who had a grand vision. A vision of a new, fantastical world where the stakes were higher than ever before—where the stakes were real. A world called Sword Art Online. In his ideal world, we, the players would leave our old, boring lives, and lead new ones, here, in the realm of virtual reality. That man's name was Kayaba Akihiko."

"Kirito!" Lisbeth shouted from a distance. She ran towards the group and with her were Silica, Sinon and Agil. When they reached the others, they stopped. "Asuna, Klein… it's happening again, isn't it?"

Twenty seconds.

"But a misguided few sought to destroy that vision," the announcer continued to speak, "And they succeeded. That's where we come in! The Laughing Coffin has dedicated countless hours… days upon days… constructing a new world to fulfill the true vision of Sword Art Online. And with the computer power from all of the servers controlling all of the VRMMOGRP's all over the world, we have made that vision a reality. The work of art that was Sword Art Online has been made new, with our new game! A game that will be built by the players, so welcome! And a special welcome back to our old friends from Aincrad."

Four seconds.

"Kirito." Asuna looked at the Kirito's eyes. "It's impossible, right… they can't kill us. Please—"

The timer hit zero and the players all vanished. "Kirito-kun!" Just before they were taken away, Asuna could no longer feel Kirito's touch, and everything was gone for a few seconds.

Players appeared in a new world. All around were rolling plains and in the distance, players could see hills, and forests beyond that, and mountains in the distance beyond that.

"You may be thinking to yourselves," the voice continued. "No, it isn't possible. They made it so it couldn't happen again. I have one question to ask you: is it worth risking your life? It happened once before… is it really that difficult to believe that it has happened again? Oh, and the improvements we made! If you die in this game, your body will live, but your mind will be erased. We have the power to do that! We can alter and even erase your consciousness!"

"It's not possible though," Klein said. "Right?"

Kirito thought about it for a few moments. "Remember the recall of the AmuSphere3 that happened recently?" The others nodded. "I thought it was strange how fast they were able to replace everyone's full dive gear after that. I also found it strange that it took over a year to discover the fatal defects they said they did."

"So you're thinking that the replacements were made so that they could kill players?" Agil asked. He thought on it too. "I suppose that's plausible."

"But that would mean Laughing Coffin has its hands in the full dive technology industry," Asuna said. "That's a disturbing thought."

"Well, here we are. And if there's any possibility, we shouldn't risk anything…" Kirito said. The rest of them nodded in silent agreement.

"It will be different though. It's not just swords here… anything you can create in this world you can use. Perhaps someday you will even harness magic. Or perhaps we will… If you die in this game, you will not simultaneously die in the real world. You will be stuck, consciously observing your surroundings. Unable to do anything from your dead avatar. This state will last for fifteen days. If another player finds a way to bring you back within fifteen days, your life will be saved, but you will lose ten percent of all of your stats, levels and items. Be warned, though… the items and abilities required to bring a player back from the dead are very rare, and only found at very high levels. In other words, if you die here, now! You're what they call… S.O.L."

Players began to panic further, looking around, some starting to run. "Kirito," Klein said. "What should we do?"

"Run." It was not Kirito. It was the voice again. "Run because in commemoration of this glorious day, we have decided to perform a culling. Yes… run. Those of us who have joined the game are here among you, armed, unlike you! We're going to celebrate by killing five hundred of you right now!"

"Run!" Kirito shouted, agreeing wholeheartedly with the suggestion. No one in the group disagreed, and all of them started dashing away from the huge mass of players. On the way, someone grabbed Silica's arm, and she screamed.

All of them turned around to see another player holding a knife was about to strike her. Without hesitating, they all jumped to her rescue.

"I do think the next part is possibly the best new feature of our world. I do hope you enjoy our wonderful graphics update."

Lizbeth tackled Silica's attacker, and the knife was knocked out of his hand. Where it flung, it slashed her arm, leaving a cut, though small, and a trickle of blood. "Wh—blood?" She was frightened at it, and there was more. "It… it hurts."

Before she could go farther, another player picked up the knife, and it was gone. Kirito picked Lizbeth up, and pulled her into the sprint, Silica was ahead now. The group ran through the crowd quickly, being wary of anymore player-killers in their flight.

"Guys, guys! It actually hurts! It's not supposed to hurt!"

Kirito already knew, it was obvious. They turned the pain absorbers down… or even off.

"I almost forgot to mention. Pain absorbers… we turned them down a few notched… to seventy-five percent. It's really nothing… but it should make the game a lot more fun." After that, the voice burst into a mad laughter, before suddenly cutting off.

Once they made it away from the massive player group, Kirito and the others stopped and caught their breath. "What's with these new vitals?" Lizbeth asked. Everyone's vital gauges were now expanded. In addition to hit points there was an orange bar labeled "energy," a purple bar labeled "spirit," and a black bar labeled "will."

"I don't know," Agil said. "But it looks like we won't be able to run like we used to. My energy is already low."

"And I'm… I'm actually out of breath," Asuna said, dropping to her knees and huffing air.

"It's interesting that we can't see each other's vitals… except for HP." Kirito was looking at each of his group mates. "We should form a group." He opened the player menu, and drew a gasp as he opened another set of options. "Our friends lists… they're empty!" After that, he quickly began inviting everyone into his group, and re-adding them as friends.

"Why would they do that, though?" Leafa asked.

Agil answered. "If we knew who was in the game, it would be easier to find a group to join, and easier to protect each other in that first slaughter." He was calmly clicking accept buttons to invites from Kirito, and then sent out friend invites to the rest. Everyone followed suite.

"Hai," Asuna said. "It couldn't have taken them too long to get their initial killing done… not with so many players. Should we go back and try to organize?"

"It could still be dangerous," Leafa said.

Another couple of players caught up with Kirito and the others. They didn't recognize them, but they were panting, and they collapse to catch their breath.

"It's always dangerous," Sinon said. "But we would all have a better chance if we stuck together. We don't' know anything about this world. It's not like there was a beta test…"

"My blacksmithing is gone," Lizbeth said. "We don't have any weapons or armor. If we go out there—"

"We have to join the other players," Kirito said. "Lizbeth is right. If we try to strike it out without any gear, whatever monsters we'll run into will surely kill us. I don't want to believe that they've done this. I don't want to believe that we're in another death game. But it's possible."

"Yeah, why risk it?" Klein said. "As bad as Laughing Coffin is, they're still gamers. They wouldn't want to just kill us all right off the bat. I bet they planned on us having a few days to learn their new system."

The two other players looked over at the group. "You… you you…" one of them said… or tried to. They both suddenly went over to the group, and dropped to their knees. "Help us!"

Lizbeth, who they had come over to, tried to get away from them, feeling creeped out. "Uh, help?"

"You said 'another death game' like you've done this before."

"We're not stupid. You're SAO survivors. We've never been in a death game. Help us survive."

Kirito looked at the players, and then to Asuna and the rest.

"Alright, everyone." Kirito was addressing a large group of players, about a hundred of them. "Now, let's all figure out what we know about this new world." The place they were at looked like the ruins of a Greek amphitheater, with broken stones placed into the ground along a hill for seating, and a stage at the bottom of the hill. It lack most of its structure, and it was only barely possible to tell that it was a structure of any kind.

A younger player, looking to be no older than thirteen, raised her hand. The name above her health bar read FaeFae.

"Yes?" Kirito asked. The hand-raising threw him off a little. FaeFae was acting like she was in a classroom, and Kirito wasn't familiar with playing the role of teacher.

"It's scary," the young girl nodded.

Kirito paused for a moment, unable to think of how to respond. "Y-yes," he said. He thought for a moment. Most of these players were probably new to the whole concept. "I suppose that's actually a good place to start. So… yes! It's scary. The monsters here are real. They can kill you."

Another player raised his hand. This time it was a full grown man.

"We… we don't have to do the hand raising thing," Kirito said to him.

"Right," he said, standing up to speak. "Who put you in charge?"

Kirito didn't know how to answer that at first. He wasn't sure why he was in charge in that moment, himself. All he knew was that he was better suited than most of the players here to lead a party in this world. It was also clear that many in the crowd shared this man's sentiment.

"I say we hold an election! We don't even know who he is. Is he qualified to tell us what to do?"

"Yes, I—" Kirito started to respond, but was cut off.

"Come now, Kirito, tell us why we should be following you."

"I was about to, you see, I'm—"

"You're just a nobody!" Another player in the crowd shouted towards him.

"He's not nobody!" A voice struck over the rest of the crowd. A player stood up, this one a far more serious demeanor on his face. "Don't you know who you're talking to? I sure do… That is a SAO veteran."

Kirito blinked. "V-veteran?"

"Kirito, I remember him from my own time in that game. A legend among the lower levels. A soldier on the front lines who single-handedly defeated a floor boss on the sixty-fourth floor!"

"It was the seventy—"

"Even better! A ten armed demon with three heads! And it breathed ice!"

The crowd seemed quite impressed, but some more skeptical than others. "N-no, it wasn't like that, and I didn't so much—"

"Hey, I was there too! I helped!" Klein chimed in.

"Maybe I am thinking of a different—" The player supporting Kirito from the crowd started to question his own statements. The noise started to stir up as players talked amongst themselves.

"Quiet!" Asuna shouted. The whole group shut up. "All you need to know is that Kirito was an SAO survivor, and he not only fought boldly on the front lines but always served the greater good of all players! He has made one vow that he's kept true even long after the end of the game. Kirito will never let a party member die, and he won't let you down either."

"Thank you, Asuna." Kirito took a deep breath before continuing. "Okay, so this world is scary. In most games, you don't have to worry about death. Your avatar will just respawn, and even in one-shot games, you, the player, never have to face death. It's different here. The first lesson of the death game is this: play it safe, always. Be a survivor. This makes me a bit of a hypocrite, but don't try to go solo in this world. And don't try to be a hero. Now… we don't know anything about this game. It's brand new to everyone. Has anyone figure out how the game works?"

A player stood up from the crowd. "One thing I noticed as soon as I got here was that we are in a fully interactive environment. You can pick up a stone, a broken plate, or a handful of dirt and put it into your inventory."

"That's a good place to start. Anything else?"

"There are skills in this game." Another player smiled as she stood up, glad to be helpful. "Back in the ruins, I picked up a stone that was used in a building, and an icon came up that told me I accessed the construction skill."

"I was attacked," another player spoke. "I punched the other player in the face, and it said my hand-to-hand combat skill increased by one."

"Interesting," Kirito said. "It seems skills have to be discovered here… You!" He pointed to the woman who spoke a moment ago about the construction skill. "Open your player menu and open what you have on construction."

She nodded, and did so. "There's a list of unknown abilities, and each of them has a skill requirement to learn them. I have… three I can use right now. Shape. Place. Connect."

"It sounds like the in-game skill tables are a lot more advanced than what we've previously seen," Asuna said. She looked around, and picked up a pair of sticks on the ground. She thought for a moment, and start to try and light a fire. It kicked on within a few moments. "Skill discovered," she said, reading a pop-up. "Cooking." After a brief look through the cooking charts in her menu, she smiled. "It looks like this game allows for a lot more customization, but you'll actually have to know a little more about something, like how to cook in the real world, for instance."

"If that's true… it's possible those skills could be amplified by our real-world abilities." Kirito performed a solid punch through the air. A pop-up appeared. "Skill discovered," he said. "Hand-to-hand combat. Level twenty-four."

"I think we need to make a list of priorities," another player spoke. He was taller than most. "We should start to gather things we can eat, and preparing shelter. We should also try to make weapons we can use in case we have to fight."

Kirito looked around. "If we want food, we'll have to hunt. Weapons first. How do we make—"

"Tada!" FaeFae spoke up. She held in her hand a makeshift club, crafted from a rock, a stick and a vine she found lying on the ground.

"H-how did you—" Kirito seemed surprised.

"I don't know. I kind of just took the items and started making them work together. My hands were like they already knew how to do it." A pop-up appeared. "Skill discovered. Weapon crafting… basic. Level one," FaeFae read from the window.

"Okay!" Kirito said, clapping his hands once and looking rather happy. "Split up into groups. Group up into builders, crafters, and hunters. Builders work on shelter. Crafters work on making things we might need… food, first aid, water buckets… Hunters, make some simple weapons out of what you can find on the ground and come with me."

Everyone split up and started working on their skills. Kirito and his group split off after making some basic weapons from sticks and stones, and started looking for wild animals they could cook and eat.

The group of hunters included all of the group Kirito had originally come here with, as well as about thirty other players they hadn't known for long. They all had very simple weapons. Kirito had used a sharp rock as a knife to turn a large stick into a sword. He kept the rock as a secondary weapon and tool. Agil had a club like the one FaeFae made. Klein begged Kirito to make him a sword as well, and so he also had a sword. Sinon had crafted a flimsy bow from wood, and had worked the most on her weapon, having to craft several arrows. Lizbeth had a large piece of a tree trunk as a shield, and had crafted a smaller wooden sword. Silica's weapon was the simplest, a rock made into a dagger. Leafa and Asuna both tied a sharp rock to the end of a stick, making spears.

The rest of the larger group had mostly the same types of weapons, though some just had regular sticks, figuring that they would replace them soon anyways. As they wandered into the plains, they spotted a herd of wild pigs.

"Alright," Kirito said. "I have no idea how hard combat will be in this game, but I mean... this should be pretty easy."

"Charge!" Klein rushed into battle, and the rest of the group followed. Kirito sighed and was last to run into the fray.

There were nine pigs in all, so there was three or four hunters to each animal. Wild pigs of course have tusks, and can hurt someone, especially those who aren't careful. But the wild animals were no match for small raiding party.

They squealed and ran around, eluding strikes and even knocking a couple players on their feet as the battle raged on. Asuna was the first to make a kill. She plunged her spear into one of the monster's backs, and struck lucky, hitting its heart. The attack also caused her spear to break, so she and Leafa carried the pig away, back to the group to try and cut it up and cook it.

After being knocked onto his back, Klein was in trouble. One of the foul creatures had stepped on top of him, with all of its sixty or so pounds of weight, crushing the cloth of his shirt and being in-general very uncomfortable. Fortunately enough, Lizbeth was there, and she used her shield to knock the pig off of him.

After squirming to a standing position, the thing tried to escape. It was caught, however, with an arrow, hitting its side. It wasn't nearly enough damage though. The pig didn't even blink! Instead, it charged at Sinon. It tackled her to the ground, and hit her hard, but not as hard as she hit her head against the dirt.

She cringed as her health bar dropped about a three percent, but sighed in relief as it stopped well before hitting ninety-five percent. Kirito jumped in to save the day, chopping down at the animal to have his sword break in two over the invincible leathery skin. "I don't think these weapons are really working out."

"Got one!" another player, a girl, shouted, holding a smaller pig over her back, and heading back for camp.

"We're just not surfacing enough damage." Agil was laughing hysterically at the situation. They really needed better weapons, he decided, and gave up on the battle, walking away.

Sadly, Kirito called in a full retreat. The group nodded in agreement. What else could they do? Most of their weapons were broken, and the pigs were too agile so they were dodging most of their attacks anyways.

"Welcome back to level one," Silica said as they walked away from the mob.

"Oh woe is us," one of the new players said. "Our great hero, bested by a lowly pig."

"Ehh, we'll get better. It's mostly that our weapons suck. Maybe we can find some carrots or apples or something." Kirito shrugged off the defeat.

When the group returned, Leaf and Asuna had a laugh at the boys' failure to return with any food.

"Laugh it up ladies," Klein said. "If I had my samurai sword I could have taken all those pigs on my own."

"Wow, Klein," Silica said with a chuckle. "I never knew you were so brave."

"If we had some vegetables we could make a lot of stew, and probably have enough to feed all of us," Asuna said.

"You make the best stews, Asuna…" Klein told her.

"Leader sir!" FaeFae said as she approached Kirito.

"Sir? Call me Kirito," he said. "What's your name?"

"My name is…" she looked confused for a second, and looked down at her vitals. She gave him her avatar name instead of her real one. "Faefae. But we found some carrots and potatoes and stuff while you were gone."

"Carrots!" Asuna snapped to attention. She could make her stew!

"Potatoes…" Silica smiled, dreaming of French Fries.

"Stuff…" Klein seemed happy about something, but no one could say what.

As the sun started to set, everyone had prepared shelter. Food and some basic supplies were being added to a communal supply. Asuna taught some others how to make her stew, and they rationed it out to the large group.

As they finished their meals, Kirito stood up and addressed the group. "Tomorrow," he said, getting everyone's attention. "We'll try to team up with the other big groups forming right now. We'll put our heads together and we'll all work towards making a working town we can all live in. That's how we'll survive. And anyone who wants to train can… the wilderness, which appears to be an immense forest, awaits those who yearn for combat. But to the rest of you, who just want to make it through this nightmare, a new town... that's how you'll make it. Good job everyone! Together, we can accomplish great things in this new world, and one day, surely, we will wake up in our own bodies again. We can do it!"

Everyone cheered and shortly after that, the players were starting to get to sleep. The moon rose up from the distance, the sun set, and the night went on.

While everyone was asleep, a group of three players approached. They were wearing all black, and most of their bodies were covered in rags. Even their faces were hidden. As they approached the group, they checked each player, looking at their names, until finally, they reached Kirito and his group, all together in the grass. One of the three nodded to the others, and they pulled out bronze daggers.

Sinon jolted awake, and as she saw the three, she pulled her bow from beside her, and fired an arrow at the three. The arrow, made entirely of wood, still managed to plunge itself into one of the killer's legs, and he groaned as he dropped to the ground. "We're under attack!" Sinon shouted as she grabbed another arrow and got up.

The two other cloaked players made a move toward her. One of them was tripped. Agil grabbed him by the ankle and the third turned to try and make a quick move against Kirito, going to stab him. Kirito was already awake though, and rolled away from the attack. He picked up a rock, and threw it at the player, hitting him in the head. The killer stumbled back a little, a buff titled "Dazed" appearing next to his vitals.

Before long, the rest of the Kirito's group was up and fighting. Outnumbered, the player-killers were taken out. The group didn't kill them, but they had them subdued for the time being. They slept a little farther away from the rest, so the larger group wasn't woken up, just Kirito's central group of friends.

"What do you think?" Sinon asked after they were done fighting. Everyone was whispering so they wouldn't alarm the larger group. "We can't just let them go."

"No," Leafa said. "But are we really going to kill them?"

"I don't want to kill anyone we don't have to," Kirito said. "But we don't exactly have a jail we can throw them in." He knelt down before the three player-killers. Their hoods were removed to reveal their faces, and their names appeared properly now, whereas before they were obscured. "Why did you come out here?"

One of the three looked up at him. "You know why," he said.

"No, we really don't," Asuna said, glancing over to them.

The three players had also been searched, and they each had an exposed tattoo on their bodies of the Laughing Coffin insignia. "For you," the one spoke again. "Laughing Coffin wanted revenge on Kirito and his friends for ending SAO prematurely. They sent us after you."

"Kirito," Sinon said, tapping at his shoulder. Kirito got up, and went over with her. "We can't do anything besides kill them. They're a threat to the larger group of players we gathered. And what's more…" Sinon sighed. "So are we."

The group heard that, and all looked at her. Sinon nodded to the group, affirming her sentiment and then stepped away. "Sinon's right," Kirito said after thinking about it. "If Laughing Coffin is trying to kill us early, then everyone we party with is going to be put in danger."

"So what should we do?" Asuna asked.

"Don't tell me," Silica said, looking off to the forest in the distance. "We're leaving?"

Kirito sighed, and nodded to her. "Yeah," he said. "I don't like it, but we need to leave, and the sooner the better."

"We don't have any weapons," Asuna said. "We're going to go take on the whole virtual world without weapons?"

"If it protects the newbies," Kirito said, nodding. "We have to. We can figure this out. We'll make more powerful weapons somehow."

Lisbeth chimed in, opening her inventory and pulling out a handful of dirt. "Lisbeth, why are you keeping dirt in your inventory?" Silica asked.

Lisbeth held out the handful, and let it fall through her fingers. It glittered. "There's metal scraps in the dirt. We can use it to make weapons if we get a proper fire burning. It will take a lot of it, but it's doable. We'll have to use wooden and stone tools till then."

"Fighting monsters with sticks and stones doesn't sound like a fun time," Agil said.

Kirito nodded. "Yeah, but… we're going to have to figure it out. Every day we spend with new players we're putting them at risk of another Laughing Coffin attack."

"Is abandoning them going to do them any better?" Asuna asked.

"They should be fine. The game is still brand new, so Laughing Coffin should leave them alone unless we give them a reason not to," Kirito said. "And it's best they don't know where we're going either…"

Sinon looked at Kirito. "Laughing Coffin wouldn't know that."

Kirito smiled, and looked to the three prisoners. "Sure they will," he said. "We'll take them with us until we're a good distance away, and then send them off without weapons. They'll get word back to Laughing Coffin about our last known direction, then we'll change course and head somewhere else, and they'll know that the party back here has no idea why we even left."

The three players looked up at Kirito, and the one who spoke before shook his head. "You're going to let us live?" he asked. "After we tried to kill you?"

Kirito nodded. Sinon didn't appear to agree with letting them go, and at best, it made everyone uncomfortable. "Let's get going," he said.

"What, now?" Silica asked.

Kirito nodded. "Yeah, now… before the others wake up and try to follow us. If they come with us—"

"Yeah, yeah… we'll be putting them in danger," Asuna said. "Kirito, I'm skeptical about this plan. It may be the best thing for them, but what about us? Can we really survive out there?"

"Yes," the Laughing Coffin member told her. "Take our weapons. Just those should be more than enough to fight anything you reach before hitting the forest." The other two looked at him, thinking him a traitor. He glared back. "What?" he asked them. "I don't know about you, but I want to live…"

"Get a lot of dirt," Lizbeth said. "We'll need a ton of those iron scraps."

"We'll sift through it all once we have tools and we're away from here." Kirito looked ahead, towards the forest in the distance.

"Back at it again already," Klein said.

"Yep," Kirito said.

"The front lines… the assault team." Asuna was almost as serious about the situation as Kirito was. Those two were already falling back into the mental state they had in Sword Art Online.

"I don't know what the future holds for us," Kirito said. "But us, together… we'll survive. Just like always. And we'll make this world better by doing our best."

With that, the group started collecting their things, picked up the three Laughing Coffin from the ground, and headed east, towards the forest in the distance.