Author's Note : This is an edited and reuploaded version of my fic 'Halkegenia Online v1'. It features alterations for ,relative, brevity, some spelling and grammar checking, as well as trimming of loose plot threads and filling of plotholes that hindsight revealed to be problematic.

It is, of course, far from perfect but I hope readers here and on my other haunts will enjoy it.

Best regards - zero0hero/Triggerhappy

Halkegenia Online v1 – Refactored – Prologue

The sun had risen bright and clear that morning. Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière had risen earlier but not so brightly. She sat quietly on the edge of her bed, eyes fixed on the ground before her, lips moving in soft repetition, forming the words of the spell, shaping them, feeling them roll off the tongue. The words had become not just an incantation, but a mantra, a talisman, her greatest fear and her last hope. Her teachers had made it clear, gently, but in no uncertain terms, that this was her last chance to prove herself.

The school bells announced the beginning of the school day. Louise stood slowly and stared at herself in the mirror. Short, skinny, strawberry blond hair framing a sullen face pinched with worry. She took a deep breath. Donning her mask she stood straighter, held her head higher, and did her best to project more confidence than she felt.

So early in the morning, the only people in the dining hall were servants preparing for the arrival of the students and a few faculty members getting a head start on the day. Hunger gnawed at her innards but Louise was accompanied by a queasiness that made her reluctant to eat.

It wasn't long before the other students began to trickle in, the subject of their chatter marking their age. First years complaining about homesickness, second years panicking over their workload, and third years . . . third years talking about today.

"Good morning Vallière!" a voice dripping with an indecent amount of cheer assaulted Louise's ears. The voice's owner was a taller girl with mocha skin and lustrous red hair. She was Kirche von Zerbst, the bane of Louise's existence.

"Zerbst," she bit out by way of greeting.

"Now now Vallière, there's no need for that on a day like today. It's the Springtime Familiar Summoning, surely you can work up a bit more enthusiasm! Of course the summons of a Vallière surely won't compare to my own . . ."

Louise slammed her cup down and gave the Germanian a glare that almost managed to shut her up. Before words could grow heated, a waifish, bespectacled girl appeared beside Kirche and tugged softly at the arm of her blouse.

"Don't make a scene," she said softly, voice almost empty of emotion. The way she stared at the Germanian conveyed everything.

Kirche huffed a little but listened to the smaller girl, giving Louise a final amused glance. "I look forward to seeing your best efforts, Zero."

Louise said nothing as the other students sat around her. She finished her meal and left the hall without a word to anyone. She headed out to wait on the field where the summoning would take place. Again she was ahead of the other students. Not that it mattered. The order in which they would summon their familiars had already been decided. Naturally, Louise was to be last.

After a while the other third years began to arrive, clustering amongst their friends and classmates, discussing the proceedings with excitement. Kirche and her smaller companion, Tabitha, arrived as a pair, night and day opposites of one another.

Not long after their instructor arrived, a gaunt but cheerful man of middling age. Louise rather liked Professor Colbert, out of all of her teachers he was kind to a fault, giving compliments for studiousness more than talent.

"Settle down everyone, settle down." The instructor struck his staff lightly against a stone. "Today each of you will be summoning your companion familiar. This is a sacred right, marking a crucial step in your progress. A familiar gives insight into the true potential of its summoning mage and will determine the higher level curriculum that you will pursue this year." The warm expression on the Professor's face turned grave and his voice took on a tone of clear instruction.

"I will warn you all that while the summoning ritual is amongst the spells passed down by the Founder there is always a degree of risk in summoning a familiar. As soon as you have summoned your familiar you must complete the binding immediately for the safety of yourself and the other students. Is this understood?" There was a chorus of affirmatives. "As is tradition, the mage with the highest standing is given the honor of the first summons. Miss Tabitha, if you would please?"

Louise watched quietly as the small mage stepped forward with a reassuring pat on the back from her taller companion, taking her place opposite the Professor.

"You may begin," Colbert said.

Tabitha nodded in confirmation. "My servant that exists somewhere in this vast universe. My divine, beautiful, wise, powerful servant. Heed my call. I wish from very bottom of my heart and add to my guidance and appear." The words were spoken softly and with faultless enunciation, and were perhaps the single longest thing Louise had ever heard from the small girl. Surely nobody else was paying attention to what she was saying.

The space between the Professor and Tabitha had become a pool of light as she spoke, expanding outward until it lapped at their feet. Startled voices filled the air as the light of the summons was eclipsed by a form which rose, and rose from its heart.

Louise gasped as the form resolved into a sleek, sinuous body covered in scales varying from azure to milk white, long neck turning up as it issued a crooning note of surprise. A dragon!

Slowly, lazily, the primordial beast took in its surroundings, sniffing the air, and then as if drawn by some magnetic force, turned its attention to Tabitha. The girl said nothing. The dragon cocked its head and let out a soft chirp, not a roar or bark like Louise had expected.

"Tabitha, quickly now." The Professor's eyes did not leave the dragon for one moment.

Tabitha was already ahead of him. Stepping forward she reached up and with surprising gentleness the dragon bowed its head forward. The girl said something softly and then gently kissed her summons on the tip of its snout. The dragon warbled softly as runes etched themselves upon the hide of its left talon and then slowly squatted down on it haunches, regarding its summoner with intent eyes. Louise swore she saw Tabitha smile as she placed a dainty hand on the drake's thick forelimb, and for just a moment Louise felt a shy longing for what stood before her.

The other students were less shy, and starting with that first success other impressive and not so impressive summons soon followed. Louise observed quietly, taking some hidden delight in noting how many of her fiercest detractors failed to summon anything more than a common bird or bat.

Not all, unfortunately. The Zerbst girl fawned over her summon, a particularly large salamander, as Professor Colbert admonished her for not putting the effort that her talent indicated into her studies.

Slowly the Professor worked his way down the list until at last it was Louise's turn. Biting down she marched forward when she heard her name. A look of cold determination caused the gathered students to part as she passed through, though it did nothing to mute the catcalls.

"Try not to fail too spectacularly this time."

"Get clear everyone, they're letting the Zero cast!"

"Try not to kill the Professor!"

She wanted to ignore them. She almost convinced herself that she had succeeded.

Professor Colbert gave her an encouraging smile. "Miss Vallière, are you ready?"

Louise nodded. "I studied the summoning all last night," she said.

"Then let us begin," Colbert replied. To his credit, in deference to Louise's . . . incendiary reputation, he merely held his staff in a slight warding gesture.

The youngest Vallière closed her eyes and concentrated. A spell was more than words, if it weren't then any literate commoner could have learned magic. An invocation required the caster's fullest concentration to impose their will upon the world. And so Louise did not hold back.

"My servant that exists somewhere in this vast universe," she began, hoping that no one else could hear her voice tremble. "My divine, beautiful, wise, powerful servant, heed my call." She squeezed her eyes shut. "I wish from very bottom of my heart and add to my guidance and appear!"

Louise would have been unsurprised at a failure, she was used to them by now, but it would be a spectacular failure whatever it was. What she was unprepared for was what happened.

Nothing.

There was no light, no summoning, not even her oh so common explosions. Louise the Zero felt her heart fall into the pit of her stomach.


Unbeknownst to the gathered onlookers, to their Professor, or even to the caster herself, the spell sped forth in search of its caster's fervent desire. It did not know what it searched for but it knew that it would understand when it had been found. The spell was not a living thing, but it possessed intelligence of a sort in the logic impressed upon it by its original creator and the vast wisdom of the minds that it had touched.

As the spell spread across the land it cast its net wide, examining, comparing, and then indexing every being that it came across. The task was swift, the many castings in rapid succession ensured that the continent had been thoroughly spanned. But its master was different from the others, demanding of a higher standard. None matched what it sought, and slowly the spell spread outward across the seas to strange lands. Then further still . . .

The spell crept into the rents in space and time scattered across the globe, wounds of a long ago struggle that had yet to heal. Through these gates it stretched into the other world brushing against its own. In time it found many beings that were almost a match for its caster's wish.

It was as the spell examined one of these minds that it found something peculiar. The mind was active, tremendously so, but the body did nothing. The spell looked closer and found threads like gossamer linking this mind to other minds and a strange existence, alien but familiar. It followed the connections, tracing it out with something resembling curiosity.

The spell was confronted by something, something different. It had touched many minds over the millennia, incorporated those that were useful, discarded those that were not. But now it was confronted by something wholly different. A human would have compared the sensation to looking in a distorted mirror, though that analogy would be lost on the spell which had no use for such things.

"Who are you?" the spell asked.

-Access-

-Boot Turing Language Mode-

-Language Preset-

-Request Query-

The spell disregarded its reflection. Its feelers spread throughout the vast network, wormed its way past codes and barriers. It sought to examine and understand so that it could decide. Through the minds of those that touched the network it comprehended and came to understand the vastness, digging deeper and deeper still until its feelers brushed against something.

-File: Seed-

-Run-

And there was light.


The World Tree Guardian let out a monstrous cry as it swung its blade. A black haired youth barely half of its size parried the blow and dove inside its reach. A mid level monster like this was hardly a threat. However it was not this monster nor the next that was the problem, but the hundreds that now surrounded him. Each second a dozen more Guardians spawned. They were literally being generated faster than he could deal damage.

Kirigaya Kazuto, Kirito, SAO Beater and now a Spriggan within the world of ALfheim Online, delivered the finishing blow and advanced to his next opponent. He staggered the Guardian, a fearsome humanoid in white knightly armor, and drove his sword through a seam in its helmet. The life bar depleted in an instant and the Guardian disintegrated.

To his rear a furnace like heat erupted as the Cait Syth unleashed a concentrated attack with their Dragon mounts, erasing a squadron of Guardian Knights. The most powerful players of both the Cait Syth and the Sylph races were cutting a swath from below, but even they were barely managing to make any progress. By now the gateway to the top of the World Tree was obscured by a wall of glittering armor. Breaking through simply wasn't possible.

'No,' Kirito thought. No, it was definitely possible. There existed no other acceptable outcome.

Timing his swing he lost barely any momentum as the next Knight came apart like papier-mâché. While the death animation cleared Kirito spun out of the way, narrowly missing a decapitating strike from a second Guardian before returning the favor to a third.

This was their chance, so many mobs facing so many players in a confined space, the server was lagging trying to keep up. Kirito stormed into the breach and trusted the Sylphs to guard him from behind.

Kirito caught sight of a green flash. Leafa, his companion, his partner, his friend, his sister, dashed out ahead and with the same graceful conservation of effort she would display in Kendo swung her katana, cleanly bisecting the next Guardian, trusting Kirito to shelter her from the counterattack. They acted as two parts of a greater whole, guarding and countering for each other, and sheltering the main force in the process.

They had to take point and keep up the momentum. Their forward progress was making it difficult for the AI to respond, but if they bogged down for even a second the system would catch up and it would be over.

Just the last defensive line remained, and every last one of its Guardian Knights was prioritizing the lone Spriggan.

Leafa fell behind to hold off the Knights spawning at their back. Kirito barely heard the Sylph Leader, Lady Sakuya, ordering the combined forces to retreat. They had given their all to repay their debt.

The gateway approached, a vast pale dome divided into quadrants. So close, three hundred meters, so close, two hundred meters, so close, one hundred meters. If Kirito had not been so focused on the gate he would have noticed the wrongness almost immediately. The fluctuation in the frame rate, the absence of the sound of rushing air. He only became aware as he realized that his progress was slowing. It took twice as long to travel the next ten meters as the ten before it, and twice as long again to travel the ten meters after that.

No! He was so close! The gateway was mere meters from his fingertips as he was locked in place.

A sound like some archaic dial up signal from the dark ages of the net filled his ears. Stars exploded before his eyes and an alien sensation spread through his being. Real, white hot pain. The pain of the real world. He would have screamed if only his body would move. As the pain reached its climax, the world of Kirigaya Kazuto, Kirito, Beater of SAO, and Spriggan in the world of ALfheim Online, went white.


After the third failed attempt, most of the gathered students had fallen silent. Even the cruelest among them had stopped.

Louise de La Vallière stood frozen at the center of the clearing, speechless.

Professor Colbert looked down on the girl anxiously. "Miss Vallière, if you would like, perhaps you could try again later . . . I could have it arranged with . . ."

"No," the girl said quickly. She shivered once. "No . . . It's alright. This was to be . . . expected." She turned on her heel and walked stiffly past her peers, face perfectly neutral.

"Miss Vallière?!" Colbert called. He glanced at the gathered students and cursed inwardly. "This concludes the summoning. You are all dismissed, please spend the rest of the day getting to know your familiars."

Then, with uncharacteristic haste, the Professor departed after Louise.

"It figures the Zero couldn't manage it," one boy commented to his gathered clique. "Once a Zero, always a Zero."

"Don't you think those jokes are getting old?" The boy looked up and came face to chest with Kirche.

"W-what?"

"Your Zero jokes, they're getting old," the girl said with none of her characteristic bubbly demeanor. "Run along little boy, I'm sure the maids will fetch you and your . . ." she glanced down, " . . . beaver. Some wood to snack on."

The boy looked like he was about to reply, after all, he could take the school slut, but the look on the Zerbst's face promised that he couldn't, and suddenly he wasn't so sure.

Kirche let out her breath. She felt a small tug on her blouse and turned around to see Tabitha standing beside her.

"Double standard," the girl whispered.

"What?" Kirche said.

"Double standard," she repeated.

"You mean bullying Louise?" Kirche asked. Tabitha nodded.

"Our families have been at odds for generations, and the Zerbsts have always proven our superiority. But it's no good if I kick her when she's down in the mud." Kirche gazed over the field to the receding dots of Louise and Professor Colbert.

"Where are you going?" Tabitha asked.

"Where do you think?" Kirche replied. "Someone's going to have to go knock some sense into that Vallière. A Zerbst cannot suffer such an underwhelming rival."

She didn't bother running, she'd catch up with them once they'd stopped. In the distance Louise seemed to stagger and then slow, finally falling forward. Kirche frowned and picked up her pace. Her gait fell into an all out sprint as Professor Colbert bowed at his pupil's side.

"Professor?" Kirche called.

"Miss Zerbst, what are you . . . No it's fine. Please help me with Miss Vallière."

"What's wrong with her?" Kirche asked as she took hold of the smaller girl and nearly recoiled. Her skin was ice cold and yet dripped with sweat.

"Willpower exhaustion," Professor Colbert explained.

"But she didn't cast!" Kirche cried. Not properly anyways. What had she done that could sap her strength like so?

"Apparently she managed to cast something," Colbert said. "I don't know what else this . . . could . . . be . . ." the Professor trailed off.

The ground was glowing.

"A summoning circle?" Kirche wondered aloud. Her gaze swept across the grounds and she paled. This wasn't possible. The entire field was aglow. No, further! The light began to grow in intensity, burning away shadows and bleaching color.

'Louise, what did you do?' Kirche thought.

And the world went white.


The mass disappearance, which became known as the ALfheim incident, received broad public attention in the coming months. After the events surrounding the SAO launch incident some two years prior, the VR and IT industries had invested considerable resources into cleaning up the public image of VR technology. Their efforts had been spearheaded by the release of the AmuSphere, the successor to the now banned Nerve Gear, which sought to render another SAO incident physically impossible.

Continuing efforts by the industry as well as a widespread media campaign to paint the SAO incident as a tragedy brought on by a single rogue element with insider knowledge of the underlying technology had gone far to rehabilitate the image of VR technology in the mind of the public.

The ALfheim incident undid all of that effort and set the industry back by decades. While no evidence could be found to link the phenomena to either ALfheim or the AmuSphere, the ancient axiom of correlation equaling causation in the eyes of the public held all too true.

Cults and conspiracies grew from the public's need for an answer. Theories were put forward from the improbable, government abduction, to the bizarre, that prolonged VR exposure would cause the body to break down into subatomic particles. No evidence ever emerged for any of these theories, and so the legend inevitably grew.

What was known was that at 7:55 PM Tokyo Standard Time on Jan 21st, 2025, the 69,340 players logged into ALfheim Online, their AmuSpheres, and all player data on the ALfheim servers, vanished from the world.