Chapter One

The City of Anor Londo shone like a sparkling jewel when basked in the sun's rays, which warmed the skin of the living and delivered a light stifling heat to those who wore the heaviest of armors. The city was a rustling of activities, as the Beta Testers were no longer the sole inhabitants of the place, the many -international- players already signing in as the servers took the hit without a single spike of lag.

Kirito was honestly impressed -the level of complexity in the texture alone was nearly life-like, if not even more precise. The single cracks that shone across the pavement where water pooled from the nearby fountain would have taken a hit on the Frame Per Second of even the most top-tier of engines, and yet the servers of the Kayaba Corporation could render this for everyone else worldwide, provided a Nervegear was used.

The Kayaba Corporation had created the Nervegear technology for virtual reality, and had earned tremendous funding for its usage in the medical field as a mean to allow paralyzed victims to experience the joys of walking, breathing, or talking with their loved ones even when the only thing left was their brain activity. It was a startling discovery, a sparkling jewel and achievement that had soon earned the interests and the funds of worldwide companies.

With all the money earned, Kayaba could have retired a rich man, but instead he chose to create the first Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Game which held all data within its primary servers and merely streamed them back directly through the brain to the users, in such a way making only the Internet Connection a requirement to fully enjoy the beauty of the game known as 'Souls Art Online'.

Kirito had been among the lucky few to get a Beta-Tester invite, and he hadn't gone further than the first few areas.

When the game would begin anew, it was to be done in great style, with everything restarting from its very beginning -and a lot of new features implemented with a giant new patch.

The time of the large clock boomed upon the highest tower of Anor Londo as it ticked by, at its highest summit, with large scythe-like lances signaling the passage of time. At Midnight, the Servers would undergo a 'Reboot'. At Midnight, all would begin anew from the Asylum.

Only five minutes remained.

"Oh man, I'm so excited!" a newcomer's voice boomed right next to Kirito. "This is going to be great! Hey, is it true you don't get to stay here when the game starts?"

Kirito turned to look at the man equipped with the starting Knight package. His nickname 'Klein' hung over his head in big green letters. "Yes," Kirito said. "Players logging in for the game start are teleported to Anor Londo's Giant Plaza for the moment. You shouldn't head outside the boundaries of the Bonfire," he pointed at the large fire burning bright and hot, and then gestured to the thin grey air. "The ashes keep the Hollows and the beasts of the city away. Doesn't help against enemy players, but if you die you just respawn from the Bonfire, so death's temporary...but you lose the souls you acquired until then."

"I did read the player's manual before logging in," Klein replied with a grin. "I'm Klein by the way!" he extended a hand in a friendly handshake, and Kirito extended his.

"I'm Kirito," he replied. "And-"

A loud bell rang for death.

Another bell soon joined the first in its deathly, hallowed toll.

A chorus sang as the large bonfire crackled, growing limbs as it spun across the air, engulfing the skies with its hot, burning flames. The fires began to strike out upwards still, and soon, like a tongue of flame, began to spin around the large clock tower

In the Age of Ancients the world was unformed, shrouded by fog.

A land of grey crags, arch-trees and everlasting dragons.

Then there was Fire, and with Fire came Disparity.

Heat and cold, life and death, and of course...

Light and Dark.

The fire burned. It burned, and as it burned the ashes began to grow thick. Dark shadows loomed in the fires now, revealing the meager story that set the tale in front of them. Figures both large and terrifying arose, and battled, and great dragons screamed as they fell.

From the Dark they came and found the Souls of Lords within the flame.

Nito, the First of the Dead.

The Witch of Izalith and her daughters of Chaos.

Gwyn, the Lord of Sunlight, with his faithful knights.

And the furtive pygmy, so easily forgotten.

With the Strength of Lords, they challenged the dragons.

Gwyn's mighty bolts peeled apart their stone scales.

The witches weaved great firestorms.

Nito unleashed a miasma of death and disease.

Seath the Scaleless betrayed his own and the dragons were no more.

Thus began the Age of Fire...

Klein whistled from Kirito's side as the Bonfire stopped burning the sky, revealing the splendor of Anor Londo set ablaze by fires all across its surface, the cheerful choirs and sings of the other players from across the various 'safe' plazas heard throughout the city. And then, as if a large hand of cold had suddenly appeared to grasp at their souls, the Bonfire all gave away one after the other throughout the city, as screams began to soon rise.

"Hey," Klen said, "Why are the fires turning off?"

Kirito looked around, and then came to a quick decision. "It must be part of the event. Klein? Accept my party invitation." Swiftly, Kirito strolled through the menu with his fingers, and as a satisfying chime alerted him that Klein had accepted his invitation, he nodded and added, "Upper left corner, my nickname should be visible and my general location. Follow me."

Kirito began to head through the crowd who was growing increasingly aware of how things were changing.

"Kirito!" Diavel called to him through the private chat, and Kirito inserted him into his party without a second thought. "Well, I'd be-Already teaming up?"

"Find me a Pyromancer!" Kirito shot back as Diavel arrived in a hurry, his shield and sword equipped and itching for a fight.

"Right-o," Diavel rolled his eyes. "Like they just pop out from-oh wait, I know someone, invite Agil-"

A hooded figure soon joined the party, his nickname 'Agil' soon popped up somewhere in the crowd, and as the man quickly reached for them, Kirito found himself staring upwards at a bulking man of African heritage, with a...bald head, which the hood covered -but which the face shown next to the nickname in the Party-Status didn't hide.

"Shouldn't we need a healer?" Klein asked as they ended up moving away from the Bonfire, "And move near to the Bonfire?!"

"This isn't World of Warcraft," Diavel said. "You can only heal yourself. Equip your Estus flasks in your object inventory-"

"Estus what?" Klein asked.

"He's not a Beta Tester?" Diavel asked, looking at Kirito who shrugged noncommittally.

"I'm not one either," Agil pointed out dryly, his body moving to follow them and being apparently very careful not to 'step over' any 'smaller' players.

"He's a Knight, he kind of needs the added durability," Diavel said. "Shields don't fully block all damage done by attacks, Klein. That's why you are going to lose Hit Points when blocking."

"Unless you dodge," Kirito said.

"But if you dodge, you can't protect those behind you, and if you're flanked or overrun, then it's hell," Diavel snapped back.

Kirito rolled his eyes and gestured to an open archway that gave into a wide hall. "Get in before the Bonfire goes out. Whatever event's up, it's going to be starting pretty soon. Let's head for the higher ground and watch from there-"

But soon, the flames will fade and only Dark will remain.

Even now, there are only embers and man sees not light, but only endless nights.

Amongst the living are seen carriers of the accursed Darksign.

Like a moth drawn to a flame, your wings will burn in anguish. Time, after time.

For that is your fate. The fate of the cursed.

"Wait, what was that?!" Kirito exclaimed as he heard the last two lines pronounced through the very air, as the Bonfire in the central plaza gave out, an anguishing cry of pain rising from the rocks as they burst apart crawling dark tendrils of miasma upwards into the air.

"You've got room for one more in your party?" a sly voice asked, nearly making Kirito jump off the balcony they had nestled in, all four of them kneeling behind the walls to gaze at the dark plaza below them.

"Argo," Kirito said as the invite was sent, and the young rogue received it. "I knew you'd come by."

"So sweet of you, Kii-Bou," Argo said. "Hi there, I'm Argo. Information broker. Add me to your friends and whisper me information, I pay in souls."

From the large, decrepit hall they stood in Kirito could see the fires start again. Torches were lit by the players, as the Sun had disappeared to make way for the darkness. The first screams began to erupt in the night as the Hollows took their cue to begin their attacks on the players.

Those who died disappeared into matted pools of blood, leaving behind shining lights of pale white and sparkling red. "When you die, you leave your souls behind," Diavel said, taking on the role of mentor for Klein and Agil, who both keenly listened on. "The loose soul you get by hunting monsters, not the [Soul Object], so if you happen on a Soul Object, keep it close and use it only when you're sure you're going to spend the souls within. Now, the enemies of Dark Souls can be divided into three large groups."

"That's really oversimplifying things, Dii-chan," Argo said with an amused tone, much to Diavel's annoyance.

"Things you can block, dodge and run away from. Things you can dodge and run away from. Things you can run away from unless you're lucky and can fight them."

"Mook, Elite Mook, Bosses," Kirito pointed out, earning a nod of understanding from Klein. "And that's not counting the special enemies, like the Red Phantoms, or the Player Killers-"

"Those aren't important right now," Diavel said. "This is an event. If you read the manual, you know that the only safe place from attacks is near a Bonfire. Only, Bonfires require Humanity to burn. Humanity is earned from some enemies or by defeating a lot of foes -it's a very, very rare drop. Good thing is, if you die you don't stay dead. You become a Hollow, only, not a mob. You become a Hollow Character. Most things stay the same, but some do change and they're more advanced mechanics...anyway, if you have Humanity, keep it for yourself unless the Bonfire you're resting at is going off. Then use one. If you don't-"

"If you don't, bad things happen," Argo said, butting in again as she made a soft 'hush' sound, to which everyone fell silent.

The sound of screams grew nearer. The flapping of wings rose in the air, soon met with the guttural snarling of unholy creatures. Kirito tensed, and stopped breathing as a large, stone-like creature similar to a winged, humanoid bull with an ax-like tail of rock and a larger yet spear dropped on the balcony in front of their group, gazing at the plaza below where the hordes of Hollows had already taken more than their fair share of victims.

Gnarling and growling, the beast lunged with its powerful limbs down with a ferocious roar that made Klein balk. The thing was easily twice his size.

"Didn't feel like a boss," Argo whispered.

"T-That wasn't a B-Boss?" Klein said. "W-What was-"

"Man," Agil said. "This is cool and all, but I came here to play and burn things, not hide in the dark." He began to stand up, only for Kirito to grab his wrist and pull him back down.

"Wait," Kirito said, "If you want to burn things, how about you wait? The biggest one is yet to come. The Boss. We're waiting for him."

"I dunno, man," Agil said as he easily broke free of Kirito's grip. "That's not cool at all, leaving them all to die like that."

"Death's just temporary. They've probably been teleported to the Asylum already, and are on their way back," Diavel said.

A sudden ticking sound soon caught them all, as the bells began to ring.

Twelve bells began to ring.

Twelve bells began to ring the sound of midnight.

Twelve bells sang their final countdown.

"Wasn't midnight already gone-" Klein said, and then stopped talking as a furious pounding reached their ears.

Large, titanic, beyond size comparison slabs of stone slammed down in the central plaza of Anor Londo, where once a shining fountain filled with water had been, and now only a column of black marble remained. No, it wasn't a column of black marble, but a club.

It was a club wielded by a large, overwhelming giant that slammed down on the few remaining survivors, moving his large club around and-

"Get down!" Kirito barked and threw himself on the floor, the dodge motion kicking in as the slab of rock passed over him by a hair's breath. He looked around and gasped. Diavel and Argo were still there. Klein had been hit and turned into a puddle of blood, and Agil was down on the floor, hands covering his head.

"Didn't you want to set him on fire?!" Kirito asked.

"I think I want to start with the smaller ones first!" Agil yelled back as the screeching sound of the flying monstrosity hung in the black skies above them, before they began to drop down one after the other, coming to a crash right in front of them -a trio of them.

"Scan!" Argo barked, and swallowed thickly. "Enemy Type: Gargoyle! Level, Weakness, everything else is empty! They're too strong to scan!"

Kirito gripped both of his swords and looked at Diavel, who raised his shield and nodded back to him.

"Let's get this show on the road!" Diavel yelled. "We're going to win this game, aren't we?!"

"Yes!" Kirito yelled back. "Yes. We. Are!"

Argo prepped an arrow, and Agil swallowed his fear and stood up, hands now alight with fire.

And as the bell once more rang for the Midnight, the Game known as Souls Art Online truly began.

Seek the Lordvessel, oh cursed being.

Fill the vessel with powerful souls,

commensurate to the great soul of Gwyn.

Scarce few possess such brilliant souls.

Only then, shall thy curse be broken.

Only then, shall the Age of Fire begin anew.