May 22nd, 2026.
Kirito, the hero that saved thousands of lives, sat within a quaint café in the Town of Beginnings. It was early morning, just after six. He was alone, drinking tea and munching on cookies. Unfortunately, the tea was bland, and the cookies were stale; but, for Kirito, his condition seemed fitting. It had been nearly a year and a half since Akihiko Kayaba's death game, Sword Art Online, had been conquered by a certain duel-wielding swordsman, and yet Kirito was miserable. Asuna, his in-game wife and real-life girlfriend, broke up with him a few weeks ago. This was shortly after Yuuki passed away, so it was especially hard on Kirito. She didn't really have a reason, at least that was how Kirito saw things. They grew distant, and the passion that once intensely burned within Asuna was doused.
Since separating, Kirito has seen little of Asuna, whether it was at school or in ALfheim Online. This was mainly because she moved on, and he had not. Just seeing her happy without him was too painful to bear. Recently, Kirito had been deviating from the group and playing solo, all to avoid Asuna. The best time to do so was before anyone woke up, or so Kirito thought. Kirito had not finished choking down his tea when a girl strode over to his table and helped herself to the seat across from him. Her glare was intense, and Kirito knew she was mad.
"Ah, hey Lis." Kirito muttered.
"Don't 'hey Lis' me Ki-ri-to! Where have you been?" Lizbeth demanded. "I.. we have been missing you. Silica, Sinon, Agil, Yui… and me. We need you back."
Lisbeth was one of the few friends Kirito made in SAO, despite the rocky start to their relationship.
"I talked with Yui, and found out you've been loggin' in early as of late. I am here to bring you back!" Lis proclaimed cheerfully, as if she wasn't just glaring Kirito to death.
"I just can't, Lis. I can't be around her right now. It hurts so much, and there's nothing I can do about it."
"I understand. I really do. But please, we need you back Kirito." Lisbeth pleaded. "You make our rag-tag bunch of misfits a team, and we're lost without you. Please, please, please!"
Frustrated with Lis's sympathy, Kirito snapped at her, "How would you know what it's like!? To be so close you can reach out to the one you love, but to have them just out of reach. You don't know what it's like Lis, so just leave me alone!"
Lisbeth was taken aback, she truly never expected to be in this position. All she wanted to do was comfort Kirito, after all. However, she was never one to back down.
"Of course, I know what it's like!" Lis exploded, "For two years now, I have been in love. I've been in love with a man that one day happened to stroll into my shop. He broke my best sword, and kept mocking me, but he took me out on an adventure I will never forget. I have been in love with the man who protected me from a dragon, and never abandoned me since."
Lis laid out her heart and soul, rather suddenly. Before she knew what she was saying, Lis had already said it. She had only wanted to help Kirito, not help herself. Upon realizing she just confessed her love, she gasped and clamped her mouth shut with both her hands. Lis' face turned a deep crimson colour, almost as if to match her pink hair. She could just die from the embarrassment. Kirito, too, was at a loss for words. Before he could respond, Lis tore open her menu and quickly logged out, once again leaving Kirito alone with his tea and cookies.
Kirito just sat there, dumbstruck. "Huh." Was all he could muster, as he was still reeling from that shocking turn of events. He was never the most competent when it came to the feelings of women, so he never really bothered to see how Lis felt. With all the work she put in to fix his gear and to provide him with the best swords, it all started to make sense. Placing his face into hands, Kirito screamed as loud as he could, startling the players nearby. For anyone else, it would have been so obvious, so why did he have to be so dense?
Slowly recovering from his stupor, Kirito checked his HUD to see what time it was: 6:27 am. Kirito sighed, "I still have a half hour before I should get ready for school. Sugu will kill me if she finds me in the NerveGear this early again."
The last time his sister found him playing in the morning, she forced him to practice kendo without padding. Kirito still had bruises all over his body.
"I suppose I should head out," Kirito thought as he rose from his chair. "If I get there early enough, I can really take in the view."
Alone, Kirito left the café behind him and made his way towards the center of town. His goal was the teleport gate, and he intended to enjoy his stroll alone. However, as Kirito passed by the market stalls, he could hear a faint cry coming from behind him. He turned around, but he did not see anything approaching. Kirito went to resume his walk, but he heard the cry again, but only louder and closer.
"Papa! Papa, wait!" the cry exclaimed.
Without turning around again, Kirito smirked. He knew who it was without needing to see her face. Instead, Kirito patted down his hair, creating a spike-free landing space. Not a moment later, a small fairy girl landed on top of Kirito's head. She was small enough to fit in his front pocket, but she preferred a little more freedom while traveling.
"Good morning, Papa!" the fairy said joyfully. "Can I join you on your walk?"
"Good morning, Yui." Kirito replied. "You can only accompany me on one condition."
"What is it?" Yui, Kirito's adopted A.I daughter, asked.
"I would like for you to assume your normal avatar. I want to go on a normal walk with you." Kirito explained.
Yui was happy to hear Kirito's request, and gleefully said, "Of course, Papa!" as she leapt from Kirito's head and was enveloped momentarily by a bright light. When the light subsided, Yui had grown to be the size of a little girl. Her wings were now gone, and in her hair was a white flower to match her white dress.
"Ta dah!" she decreed, "Is this better?"
Kirito cracked a genuine smile, "Of course, now let's get going! I don't have much time until Leafa kills me."
Yui smiled back, but seemed hesitant to respond. Almost reluctantly, she said, "Maybe it would be better to not play so early. I think everyone wishes you stopped playing solo."
Kirito knew she was right, and he could never get mad at her, no matter what. Instead, Kirito simply nodded his head. The two of them continued silently to the town square, where the teleport gate was located. Despite being so early, there were already dozens of players coming and going. NPCs were mixed into the crowd, peddling wares and providing quests. The chaos would be overwhelming to a regular player, but Kirito was far from a regular player. He grabbed Yui by the hand and marched through the sea of bodies as he made his way to the teleport gate.
Realizing she had no idea where their destination was, Yui asked, "Papa, where are we going?"
"You'll see." Kirito answered, "A special place to you and me."
And with those words, Kirito arrived at the teleport gate. His heart was heavy, as he had not returned in weeks. He knew since ALfheim Online was a game, that it would be exactly how he remembered it, but Kirito still felt unease. Just because it looks the same, didn't mean that it was. Kirito and Yui stepped onto the platform, and turned towards each other.
As they were both ready to go, Kirito yelled, "Floor 22, Coral!"
A bright light enveloped Kirito and Yui, and in the blink of an eye, they were standing on top of a grassy green knoll overlooking a shimmering blue lake. Overall, this floor consisted of many lakes and forests, but this lake was the largest.
Without a word, Yui understood Kirito's intentions. She was an A.I designed to care for the mental well being of players in SAO, after all. She took his hand into her own, and playfully started to pull him onwards.
"C'mon Papa! I want to walk around the lake!" Yui said happily.
At that moment, Kirito realized just how much he appreciated Yui, now more than ever. No one could ever understand his feelings better than her, including himself. Kirito knew he could always count on Yui to make him feel better.
"All right, let's get to it!" he responded, cracking another smile.
Together, the two made their way down to the lake. A dense forest borders most of the lake's perimeter, and Kirito and Yui would need to pass through it to get to the lake. The path they took was built out of wood, and was raised a few feet off the ground. The planks beneath their feet creaked and moaned, adding to the dark ambience of the surrounding forest.
"This is where we first met, Yui." Kirito said, breaking the silence. "You scared us so bad, we thought you were a ghost wandering the forest."
"I don't remember anything between the time I left my confinement and the time I woke up with you and Mama." Yui replied softly. "I've never met a ghost before, so I can't say whether I understand your concerns."
Kirito couldn't help but laugh aloud. "Please, don't ever change Yui." he said while chuckling.
Yui tilted her head, "Did I say something amusing, Papa?"
"Ahh. Well, no, I.. I guess not." Kirito stammered. Yui's innocence often made Kirito laugh, but she didn't like to be laughed at.
Kirito's spirits had lifted some since running into Yui, as he knew they would. The two continued ever onward, to the point where Kirito lost track of where they were. Slightly embarrassed, Kirito asked Yui to guide them out of the forest. She did, but with unexpected results.
"Yui, do you know where you are going? I have only a few more minutes left." Kirito inquired.
"Yes, Papa. We are here now." Yui replied as she exited the forest ahead of Kirito.
"Oh, really?" Kirito retorted, "And just where are…"
Kirito stopped mid sentence, at a complete loss for words. He had not intended to return here, and yet Yui led him straight to it: the cabin he and Asuna bought twice, once in SAO and again a few months ago here in ALO. Before he could leave, and before he could stop himself, hot tears began to blur his vision. He did not wish to see the cabin, it meant too much to be here of all places. All the pain Kirito had felt since Asuna left him came flooding back ten-fold. He dropped to one knee, his chest was heaving and he could hardly breath.
Yui squeezed one of his arms the whole while, never for a second thinking of letting go. Kirito knew she was telling him words of comfort, but he simply could not hear. All he could try to do was regain his composure. When at last Kirito was calm, he wiped the tears away from his eyes and really gave the cabin a look. Off the side was a balcony that overlooked the lake, and what he failed to notice at first was that someone was there. She was wearing a light tan sweater and a brown, knee-length skirt. Her orange hair was long and flowing, with a single braid on each side of her head connected in the back. She had yet to notice Kirito was there, and for that, he was thankful. The woman before him was Asuna.
Kirito didn't know what to do. He avoided this confrontation for as long as he could, because he simply didn't know what to say to her. He wanted nothing more than to yell out to her, to grab her attention. He wanted to sweep her off her feet, and to win her back, but he said nothing. He finally decided, it was time to put this matter to rest. For better or worse, he was done running away. He opened his mouth, and as he was about to call out Asuna's name, she turned and looked right at him.
Kirito froze, and Asuna did too. At first, Kirito thought nothing of it, she was just shocked to see him. It wasn't until a few seconds later, and neither he nor Asuna had unfroze, that Kirito realized something was amiss. Suddenly, a blaring red message exploded into his field of vision.
"The Connection Has Been Lost."