Author's Note: This is one of my favourite anime and I've always wanted to give it a try. Let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: I do not own Sword Art Online.
"Asuna" - Regular Speech
'Kirito-kun' - Thoughts
[Congratulations!] - System Message
Chapter 1: SAO
Sword Art Online Release Day, Midday
Morisato Ai's Apartment, Kita Ward, Tokyo
A hooded figure carrying a bag entered the apartment. Undeniably female, she wore casual clothes that concealed her body. Loose black trousers and a grey hoodie, with the hood drawn up to conceal the wearer's face.
"I'm home." the girl whispered as she locked her front door, then shook her hooded head slowly, "Why bother? I'm the only one here…"
She pulled her hood down to reveal a head of blond hair cut into a short bob and black eyes. She was a half-blood, which earned her quite a bit of unwanted attention in school.
She walked to her living room and checked her phone. The light on the button was flashing, so she had messages. Joy.
Reluctantly, she pressed the 'messages' button.
"You have two new messages." the mechanical voice said dully, "Playing First Message."
"Ai-chan? This is your mother. Why haven't you called me recently? It's been two weeks since I've so much as spoken to you."
"Tch. Yeah, long may it stay that way." Ai muttered, pulling off her grey hoodie to reveal the plain white t-shirt that she had beneath it.
"I know you're still angry about me remarrying so soon after your father died but-" the message cut off when Ai savagely stabbed the delete button.
"Message Deleted. Playing second message."
"Ai? It's your landlord, Murasaki, here. Your rent is two weeks late. Pay up by the end of the month or you're outta here."
"No more Messages."
"Great." Ai huffed, "Mother Dearest stopped the payment when I stopped talking to her. What a hag."
Deciding to ignore the situation until later, she padded into her bedroom after getting a sports drink from her fridge. Gulping down some of the liquid, Ai sat at her computer and booted it up, waiting patiently for it to load itself.
"At least there's one place that I can be me in." she whispered as she removed a box from the bag, emblazoned with the title 'Sword Art Online'. She typed in her password when the small window came up and then waited again for the loading process to finish before she removed the disk from its box and inserted it into the disk drive.
She had been lucky enough to be accepted, out of all 100,000 [[NerveGear]] owners to be one of the 1000 players to Beta Test the Argus Corporation's new game, a VRMMORPG called [Sword Art Online]. Ai was a loner who had a hard time interacting with others because of her half-blood heritage, so she spent an inordinate length of time playing computer games, mostly RPG's.
When the Argus Corporation brought out the [[NerveGear]], a console that allowed someone to fully immerse themselves in a game via the [[FullDive]] Technology, almost all other consoles were hit with bad sales. She had bought the [[NerveGear]] as soon as she could.
Up until now though, the only games available had been puzzle games, education games or environmental-type games. SAO was an exciting step forwards for fans of the [[NerveGear]], especially since the one who had created the game was the creator of the [[NerveGear]], Kayaba Akihiko.
And what a game it was! Sharp graphics, a nigh flawless combat system and a surprising decision to exclude the use of magic, instead using the Sword Skills system. It worked with all weapon types; swords, axes, maces, daggers, spears, staffs…whatever you were equipped with. There was said to be an infinite number of skills due to the numerous sub-classes of weaponry, but that just added to the thrill of the game.
After one month, the Closed Beta ended and all Beta Testers were given the unique opportunity to pre-order one of the initial 10,000 copies of the first print of the game and they could choose the medium with which it was delivered, either as a disk or via download.
Ai could only afford the disk option, but that was alright. She liked having games with disks. She was a bit of a traditionalist in that way. The only disadvantage was that she had to run the disc on her PC before connecting her [[NerveGear]] to the computer and transferring the file to the [[NerveGear's]] system. The installation would take place the next time she used the helmet-shaped console.
She finished her sports drink and was half-way through a konbini bentō (Convenience Store Boxed Lunch) before the transfer to her [[NerveGear]] was finally completed. Quickly finishing her bentō and washing it down with some iced tea, Ai sat on her bed and disconnected the [[NerveGear]] from the PC, jacking it into the internet outlet she had had installed next to her bed.
The Landlord, Murasaki Tomoya, had been dead set against any alterations to his apartments, until almost all of his tenants had requested the exact same modifications that she had. He had begrudgingly acquiesced to the requests but had spitefully raised the rent 'to pay for the modifications', even although the rent was already one of the highest in the entire Ward.
The blond shook her head at the pettiness of the man before she pulled the [[NerveGear]] helmet onto her head and lay back on her bed and got comfortable before pressing the 'on' button.
The time display said 12:45. She hadn't arranged to meet anyone in [Aincrad], the Floating Castle of [Sword Art Online], but she liked to note what the time was going in. Realistically, she knew she should be studying for her final exams next week, but she had the highest GPA in her class, so she knew she didn't have much of a problem with that.
"Link…Start!" she commanded. She 'fell' into a tunnel of multicoloured lights before five circles appeared.
[Touch - OK]
[Sight - OK]
[Smell - OK]
[Hearing - OK]
[Taste - OK]
A new window popped up after the system had run its standard check to see if all five senses were synced to the NerveGear and Ai impatiently accessed her account.
[BETA TEST DATA STILL AVAILABLE]
Do you wish to use it?
Hitting 'Yes', Ai smiled as she fell into a blue tunnel of light.
Central Plaza, Town of Beginnings, Floor 1, Floating Castle of Aincrad
Joan opened her eyes and looked around, an enormous grin breaking out across her face. She was no longer Morisato Ai; now she was her Avatar, Joan. Admittedly, Joan was actually a fairly standard character. Average height and looks, but with silvery hair that made her look slightly mysterious.
Well, 'average' for an enhanced, perfect avatar that could have been a heroine from a fairy tale. That was the only part of SAO that she disliked.
"I'm back." she whispered happily.
Moving to the side of the Plaza, Joan opened the menu and checked her equipment. She had the [Beginner's Armour] set on her chest, legs, feet, left hand and right hand and had the [Starter's Sword] sheathed at her waist.
Overall, it was exactly what she had been equipped with at the start of the Beta Test. No changes there then. Now the question was how she was going to equip herself this time around. Her level had been reset to one and her inventory had been emptied, so she was a blank slate, with no obligation to walk down the same path she had travelled during the Beta.
'A one-handed straight sword and shield combo is pretty boring.' Joan considered, 'I don't like spears, axes or maces though…daggers are out as well…I could master -or at least get over 900 SP in- [One-Handed Curved Sword], which would let me get the [Katana] Extra Skill. If I master that, who knows what might happen? Nobody mastered it during the Beta.'
Her path decided, Joan moved towards the market. As she left the Plaza, a black-haired bishōnen appeared in a blaze of blue light and looked around before fist pumping.
"I'm back…in this world!" he declared.
When she reached the Market, Joan did a quick survey of the stores, finding that again, there was little different from the Beta Test. All of the weapons, armour and accessories sold by the NPC characters were the same. The main difference was that the Player-run hops from the Beta were gone.
Checking her money, her eyebrows shot up in surprise. She had 3500 Col, the currency of Aincrad. The standard amount for a starting player was a thousand, so why did she have over three times that amount?
Scanning her inventory, there was in fact a single item in there, a note. Tapping it, it appeared in a flash of blue light.
'To all Beta Testers,
As a personal thanks for taking part in the Beta Test, You have received a cash reward.
+ 1500 Col as a standard.
+ 100 Col for every Floor cleared during the Beta Test.
Yours, Kayaba Akihiko.'
"There's a turn up for the books." Joan remarked. She replaced the note from where she had gotten it and bent her mind to choosing new equipment. The stuff sold here was only slightly better than the equipment she wore right now, but any improvement was worth it.
In short order, she unequipped her [Starter's Sword] and sold it (for a measly twenty Col!) before purchasing and equipping a [Light Scimitar] (120 Col), as well as a cheap [Wooden Buckler] (60 Col).
When she moved to an Armour Shop, she was shocked to see some [Beginner's Armour] for sale. She knew asking the NPC Storekeeper would be an exercise in futility, so she resolved to find out about them at some point.
She bought a set of [Light Bracers] and [Light Greaves] (100 Col per item), which were matt black. She equipped them before scanning the rest of the armour, but found that her initial equip was actually superior to most of the armour like the [Light Cuirass] and she disliked helmets because they interfered with her vision and line of sight.
"Right then. Time to do some grinding." Joan muttered before heading to the South Gate and the monster-rich fields beyond.
Five Hours Later…
Grasslands surrounding the Town of Beginnings
With a shout, Joan unleashed her Sword Skill [Azure Crescent] and killed the [Frenzy Boar] with a single strike. She sheathed her sword with a huff. The silver haired girl had killed so many of the damned things she was certain that she'd be dreaming about them when she logged off tonight.
She had been grinding for about four hours now, with two trips back to the Town to get some recovery potions and Teleport Crystals. Joan's level had risen by one in that time and had been lucky enough to get a item from one of them, a pair of gloves. She had no idea what they were, so resolved to find someone with the [Appraise] skill at some point.
Walking to the next field, she drew her sword at a loud cry. Scanning the area, she saw two players. One was a black-haired bishōnen who Joan recognised as a Beta Tester that she had met during the Seventh Floor Boss Fight, while the other was obviously a newbie that was talking earnestly to the Beta Tester.
"Never thought I'd see you teaching a newbie, Kirito-san." she called as she walked over to the two of them, sheathing her sword again.
The two looked up at her in surprise.
"Oh. You're…Joan, right? From the Beta test?" Kirito asked.
"Yep." Joan nodded, "Been grinding for the last few hours. What's got you two so worried?"
"Have you tried to log out recently?" Kirito asked intensely.
"No. Why?" Joan was surprised by the question.
"'Cause the Log Out button's missing, that's why!" the newbie exclaimed. His red hair and bandana flapped as he waved his arms frantically
"Seriously?!" Joan yelped and brought up her own menu. Sure enough, the Log Out Button was gone from her menu.
"I was just telling Klein here that this is no ordinary bug." Kirito motioned towards Klein.
"I agree." Joan nodded instantly.
"Why? It's the first day of the release. There's bound to be a few bugs in the system." Klein pointed out.
"True but no Log Out button means that there is literally no way for us to leave the game." Joan replied grimly, "Calling THAT a bug is like sabotaging a skydiver's parachute and calling it a 'little joke'."
"Damn it! My Teriyaki Mayo Pizza and Ginger Ale-!" Klein bemoaned dramatically.
"Have you tried calling the GM?" Joan asked Kirito, ignoring Klein's dramatics.
"Yep. No answer." Kirito replied.
"Either the GM is inundated with calls from players and can't answer…" Joan said slowly.
"…or they're ignoring them." Kirito finished grimly, "That's what I thought as well."
"LOG! OUT!" Klein yelled as he performed a 'Superman' pose.
"You have to use the menu to log out yourself." Kirito told Klein, "And don't bother trying to take the [[NerveGear]] off of your head. It intercepts any command you give to your body."
"Seriously!? So we have to wait for them to fix the bug?" Klein asked.
"That or wait for someone to remove the [[NerveGear]] on the outside." Joan agreed, "I still think this is too fishy. There wasn't any kind of problems logging out in the Beta."
"Right. And not being able to log out -on the first day no less- will definitely impact the future of the game." Kirito added, "Hell, if they really wanted to, Argus could shut down the game's server at their HQ and log us out that way. The fact they haven't done that before now is more than a little troubling."
"Eh? Why?" Klein asked obliviously.
"Because, do you really think us three are the first ones to try and log out?" Joan asked rhetorically, "No, we are not. Some people have parents who limit the time they have on games and some have work, so they likely only popped in to get themselves set up before logging out again."
"Makes sense." Klein nodded, "I live alone, and don't have a job at the moment. What about you two?"
"I live alone too." Joan said with a frown, "How troublesome."
"I live with my mother and…little sister…so they'll notice by dinnertime if nothing else." Kirito said.
As Kirito finished, the tolling of a large bell could be heard from the direction of the Starting City.
"That's…the bell from the Central Plaza, in front of the [Black Iron Palace]." Joan said with a frown, "The last time it rang was at the end of the Beta Test."
Before the three could say anything further, they were engulfed in a familiar blue light, vanishing from the field.
With a surprised yelp, Joan, Kirito and Klein crashed to the ground in a crumpled heap.
"What the hell was that?" Klein asked as he staggered to his feet.
"A forced teleport, I think." Kirito replied and looked around. With every knell of the bell, a handful of players were warped into the place they were in, which was…
"The Central Plaza of The Starting City? What the hell is going on here?" Joan said in frustration.
"Look!" Klein shouted as the bell finally fell silent and Joan turned to see what he was pointing at up in the sky…
…which had just turned red and filled with hexagonal message boxes, alternating between saying [Warning] and [System Announcement]. The red light from the sky turned the land the colour of blood.
Liquid of some sort seeped through the thin lines between the boxes and flew to a central area in front of the [Black Iron Palace], where it coalesced into an enormous hooded figure that loomed ominously over the players in the Plaza.
"A Game Master?"
"What's going on?"
"What's going on here!?"
As whispers and shouts resonated across the Plaza, Joan frowned. To go to all this trouble for a mere system announcement wasn't the usual style of Argus. In the Beta, basic messages were put into the inventories of a player who had just logged in to inform them of an announcement that was to be given by a GM in person, which had only happened three times.
"Attention, all players." the faceless figure announced in a powerful voice that carried to every person on the Plaza, his arms thrown wide in a gesture of welcome, "I bid you welcome…to my world!"
"'His world'?" Kirito muttered, "Then…?"
"Kayaba Akihiko." Joan said quietly, her eyes locked unwaveringly on the towering figure, which just then introduced himself as Kayaba Akihiko, the 'only person who can control this world', what ever that meant.
"As some of you are no doubt aware, the Log Out button is missing from the Main Menu." Kayaba continued and demonstrated the fact by bringing up his own menu, "This is not a defect or bug in the game; I repeat, this is not a defect or bug in the game."
"Wha…?" Kirito gasped.
"Rather, it is a feature of the full version of [Sword Art Online]."
"A feature?" repeated Klein, his face looking confused, "What the hell does he mean by that?"
"He's about to tell us, I think." Joan said grimly.
"You cannot log out of SAO by yourselves," Kayaba continued, "And nobody outside the game can shutdown or remover the [[NerveGear]]. Should such actions be attempted, the [[NerveGear's]] transmitter shall unleash a powerful microwave, destroying your brain and, regrettably, killing you."
"What the heck is he talking about?!" Klein asked in confusion, looking around at Kirito and Joan, "He's nuts, right?"
"Unfortunately, he's telling the truth." Kirito said grimly, "The transmitters signals do work exactly like microwaves so, theoretically, it would be possible to do something like that…if the safety is disabled."
"But…if we cut the power…" Klein protested.
"Won't work." Joan interjected, "The [[NerveGear]] has its own built-in internal battery. It lasts for quite some time because of the advanced battery tech it uses."
"This is crazy!" Klein said in frustration, "What's going on?!"
"Unfortunately, several players families and friends have ignored this warning and, as a result, two-hundred and thirteen players are gone, from both [Aincrad] and the real world."
This caused a gasp of horror from the players, at least the ones that had caught on that this was no event.
With a gesture, Kayaba summoned numerous floating windows that had the news on them. Every single one was about the story 'Multiple victims in Online Game Incident', all from different counties.
"As you can see, multiple news organisations across the globe are reporting on this incident. Thus, you can assume that the danger here…is very real." Kayaba told them, "Moreover, the chances of the [[NerveGear]] being removed have been lowered to minimal. I have also provided a list to the authorities of every player still alive so they can remove your real bodies to a hospital. I hope all players can now fully relax and do their utmost to clear the game."
"Why that bastard!" Joan growled. Kirito looked murderous as well.
"What I wish all players to remember is this: there is no longer any method of reviving someone within the game." Kayaba said gravely, "Should your Hitpoints -or HP- drop to zero, your Avatar will be lost forever, along with your real body as the [[NerveGear]] will kill it at the exact moment your Avatar is destroyed."
Joan and Kirito gasped in horror; Klein looked as if he was about to throw up.
"There is one, and only one, way for you players to escape; you must clear this game." Kayaba said, "You are currently at the lowest floor of [Aincrad], Floor 1. By making your way to the labyrinth and making your way to the Boss' room you can defeat the Boss and proceed to the next floor. Repeat this process on every floor. By defeating the last Boss in the [Ruby Palace] on Floor 100, you will clear the game and be logged out automatically."
"OI! That's impossible!" Klein raged, "The Beta Testers didn't even make it past the Tenth Floor!"
"I am going to kill him!" Joan hissed, her eyes flashing angrily.
"Finally, I have just added an item to your inventories." Kayaba said, "Think of it as a present from me. Please, view it for yourselves."
Curiosity overcoming her anger, Joan opened her inventory and saw the item he was talking about.
"'[Hand Mirror]'?" she muttered and brought it out of her inventory. It was an octagonal mirror longer than it was broad. She looked into the mirror and saw the face of her Avatar looking back at her.
"Ah!" Klein yelped. Joan swung around to see the man engulfed in a dark blue light. Suddenly, Kirito was also covered in the same kind of light.
"What the…!" Joan started to say, before she too was covered in light. She couldn't see anything, couldn't speak. Panicked shouts were heard across the Plaza as one by one, every person was engulfed in the bluish light.
When the light cleared, the mirror that she had held in her hand was gone. She looked around in confusion. She wasn't sure, but there was something…different. She couldn't put her finger on what it was though.
"Joan! Kirito!" Klein yelled. Joan looked around for him but didn't see his Avatar. Then she saw a man with the same bandana as Klein staring at a boy who couldn't be any older than her.
"Who the heck are you?" Kirito's voice asked.
"Who the heck are you?!" Klein's voice asked from the man.
They were both silent for a moment before they realised who each other was.
"Err…guys?" Joan said, stepping forwards.
"Bishōjo!" Klein gaped in astonishment when he turned to see her. Joan flushed in embarrassment. Evidently, she now resembled her original body too.
"Is that you Joan?" the person who was probably Kirito asked.
"Yep." Joan replied, "Apparently that mirror forcibly changed us to look like our real bodies."
"How…?" Klein wondered.
"The scan…" Kirito said with dawning realisation, "The [[NerveGear]] covers your head in a high-intensity signalling device, so it knows what your face looks like!"
"What about our bodies?" Joan asked, brows furrowed, "I don't know about you two, but this is exactly what I look like IRL."
"When you first get a [[NerveGear]], it asks you to calibrate it, doesn't it?" Klein asked, "Y'know, it gets you to pat your body down."
"Right!" Joan felt stupid. That was the obvious answer, one that a newbie like Klein knew well because he had just gotten his [[NerveGear]] today.
"But…but…" Klein said, holding his head as if he had a headache, "Why? Why do all this?"
"He's probably about to tell us." Kirito said, pointing at the towering GM Avatar that Kayaba was using.
"Right about now, I am sure all players are wondering the same question: why? Why would Kayaba Akihiko, the developer of [Sword Art Online] and the [[NerveGear]] do all this?" Kayaba postulated, "The answer is simple; I have already fulfilled my goal. I created [Sword Art Online] for one reason; to create and intervene in this world."
"Kayaba…!" Kirito growled angrily.
"…bastard!" Joan ground out.
"And now, it is complete." Kayaba said in such a satisfied manner it made Joan want to draw her sword and attack the bastard, "This ends the tutorial of the official [Sword Art Online] launch. Players, I wish you the best of luck."
Joan couldn't take it anymore and shouted, "I'm coming for your head, you bastard!" at the figure which was dissolving rapidly.
The only response she got was a slow laugh that pissed her off as the GM Avatar dissolved into smoke that flew back to the sky and vanished between the tiles covering the sky.
The warnings vanished, returning to the normal sky at just before sunset, a cheerful looking sky that was completely at odds with the mood of the people inside the Plaza, who were silently staring in shocked and horrified disbelief at where the Avatar of Kayaba Akihiko had floated just a second ago.
Then, like a dam breaking, almost every member of the almost 10,000 strong host in the Central Plaza started yelling in panic.
Joan was not shouting. On the contrary, she was silent and in the grips of a deadly, cold rage at what Kayaba Akihiko had done. Worse, she was angry with herself for helping him to do it!
She quickly grabbed a motionless Kirito and gestured Klien to follow her. The trio left the plaza and made it into a small street to one side of the main road.
"Kirito! Snap out of it!" Joan snapped.
"Everything he said was the truth." Kirito said slowly, "I admired him, so I know…he spoke the truth."
He looked at both Joan and Klein. "Listen, I'm going to go to the next village, Horunka. Come with me. The way thing ware panning out, the only way to survive in this world is to become strong, quickly."
"Right. The resources we can earn, EXP and Money, are limited." Joan nodded, "Once everybody gets their heads out of the sand, the fields around the Starting City are going to be picked clean."
"Exactly." Kirito nodded, "To do this efficiently, we should head to the next village now. Joan and I are Beta Testers; we know all the dangerous areas and all the paths. Even at level 1-"
"I'm level 2." Joan put in.
"How on earth did you manage that?" Kirito asked in surprise, "…Never mind. Anyway, even at level 1 and level 2, we can get there safely."
"But…but…" Klein sad, looking sad, "I spent all night in line to get this game with my friends…they're back there, in the Plaza. I-I can't leave them."
"Then don't." Joan said firmly, looking at him with respect, "Kirito taught you all the basics, right? Teach them that stuff and you just have to be careful, alright?"
"Yeah…yeah, that's right!" Klein brightened up at that suggestion.
"Wait a moment." Joan brought up her menu and pressed a few buttons, making a window appear in front of Klein.
'[Joan] wishes to be added to your friend list.
"If you need any help, just message me and I'll come and lend a hand." Joan told Klein, rather more cheerfully than she felt, "And here's a tip for you. If you train up your skill with [One-Handed Curved Sword], you get access to the Extra Skill [Katana]."
"Whoa! Thanks." Klein said.
"Kirito, you should send a friend invite to Klein as well." Joan told him.
"Fine." Kirito said and did so.
"When we start fighting high-level bosses, people who know what they are about will be desperately needed, "Joan told Klein, "Make sure you survive!"
"Right back at you." Klein nodded, "I'd better grab my friends before something happens to them."
The redheaded man turned and started to walk away before stopping and turning back to face Joan and Kirito again.
"Joan! Kirito! If you need my help, give me a call too, all right? Don't be loners!" he called.
"Hai, Hai." Joan rolled her eyes, but grinned and nodded. Kirito cracked a smile as well. The two parted way from Klein then, a sense of determination in their steps as they ran from the Starting City.
'Kayaba Akihiko…you will pay for this!' Joan thought as she ran, 'You mark my words!'
Next Chapter: Illfang the Kobold Lord