Author's Note: Hello, and welcome to the first chapter in my newest series, Tales of Aincrad. For those who don't know what this series will be like, I'm going to be trying something new. Instead of writing an ongoing, longer story, I've decided to make this story a series of one-shots, much like the side stories in Sword Art Online.

The stories will be from various players' points of view, and will involve events from the actual light novel series, though from a different viewpoint. Other events that are mentioned in the light novel, but aren't discussed or written will most likely take place in this series.

Feel free to PM me or leave a review if you have something specific that you want to see!

Until Next Time!

~TabiNoTochuu


Tales of Aincrad

-Chapter 1-

I sheathed my sword on my back and turned away from the monster I had just defeated. I glanced at the item distribution screen and picked up a few items and the Coll the monster had dropped. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and glanced up at the sun in the sky. I had already been a full month after the initial release of -Sword Art Online-, and already, the game had taken a deadly toll on the players. A large number of players, still unwilling to face the reality, had already been killed in game, and, consequentially, in real life as well.

I should introduce myself before I go any further. My name is Kirito, and I am one of the ten thousand players that were entrapped within the MMORPG, -Sword Art Online-. However, I was also a beta tester for this game, and I knew all of the basics beforehand.

When Kayaba had first announced the removal of the logout and the true intention of SAO, I had realized instantly what I had to do. In every MMORPG, there was a limited amount of resources that players had access to, leading to fierce competition once everyone realized there weren't enough resources to go around. I had immediately left for the next village in order to quickly level up and grow stronger.

Now, nearly a year later, I was one of the few "solo" players on the front lines, and I had even managed to make a name for myself for being one of the most powerful "solo" players. After the previous floor had been cleared, I decided to pull myself back for a while to focus on training instead of devoting everything towards clearing the floor. Besides, with the information I had received, it seemed that the bosses of these next few floors would be impossible for a small team to take down.

As much as I didn't like it, I would be joining a large party of people when the time came to face the floor's boss. However, until that time came, I would be taking it easy by hunting in the fields outside the dungeon. My money was running a bit low, and I need to have enough to stock up on healing crystals and other such supplies.

I noticed that the sky had begun to get dark, and I quickly started back on the trail back to town. However, before I had gone too far, I noticed something off to the side. There was a strange-looking monster nearby, and what made it more interesting was the fact that its name was highlighted in purple, indicating that it was an extremely rare monster.

I took one last look at the sky and decided that I had enough time for one last kill. I drew my sword and cautiously approached the monster. I used the skill -Sonic Leap- to quickly close the final few meters between us and quickly went on the offensive.

That was my biggest mistake.

In my overeagerness to engage the monster, I had failed to carefully analyze its strengths and weaknesses. The instant I began to attack, it retaliated with a speed unlike any other monster I had fought so far. I grunted in surprise as I blocked a blow from the monster's sword. It blew me back several meters and knocked out around 10% of my HP bar.

It was then that I realized that this might be a battle that I could not win. Desperately, I launched into a series of attacks, stringing one combo after another. However, the monster's HP bar only decreased slightly from each hit.

Then, as I leapt behind it to activate the eight-hit combo move, -Star Splash-, I noticed that the back of the monster was an identical copy to its front. Then, as I hesitated, I noticed the eyes of the monster's back side glow a blue color. Instantly, in the small space of time my hesitation gave it, the monster's HP filled up, leaving me back to where I had started.

This was the reason why my attacks had barely damaged the monster. It was constantly healing itself, offsetting the flow of damage. I was willing to bet that if I were to attack the back, the front would start healing itself while the back would begin to attack me.

My body grew cold as I realized I was in a battle against an enemy that could heal itself and was nearly unbeatable unless I either dealt a massive amount of damage quickly, or if two people were attacking it, one on each side, rendering its healing ability useless.

Despite this, I continued to fight with everything I had. My heart grew cold as my HP bar gradually decreased and entered the yellow zone. At this rate, I wouldn't make it from this field alive. I quickly pulled out a teleport crystal and squeezed it, shouting out the name of the town.

However, nothing happened. I squeezed the crystal again and shouted, but to no avail. My heart sank as I realized the monster must have an ability that renders crystals unusable. At this time, everyone would have already returned to the town to rest and prepare for tomorrow. No one would come to my aid.

Just as that thought passed through my head, I heard the sound of running feet from behind me. A flash of red and white passed me and began to attack the other side of the monster. "Keep attacking it! With two people, it should be defeated in no time!"

Dazed, I complied with the girl's voice and continued to attack the monster. Sure enough, with two people attacking it, it had no way to heal itself while attempting to deal with both of us. The monster's HP began to drop at a fast speed, until, with a final combo, its image shattered, leaving me with the item distribution screen.

Quickly, I used a healing crystal on myself to bring my HP back to full. After making sure I was healed, I turned to the person who had saved me. As I brought my eyes around to look at her, I felt a rushing sensation within my head.

The girl who had saved me wasn't just pretty. To call her pretty would be a huge understatement. She was beautiful. For a second, I was rendered speechless as I stared at her figure. For some reason, she seemed extremely familiar to me. I was certain that I had seen her somewhere before. Then, my mind reasserted itself and I grinned sheepishly at her. "Thanks for the help. If you hadn't appeared, I don't think I would have managed to defeat that monster."

She smiled, a gentle, easy smile, and sheathed her sword. My eyes were drawn to the gleaming silver rapier as she began to speak. "It was nothing. But, I have to ask, why didn't you use a teleport crystal when it seemed like you weren't going to win?"

She had hit upon the crux of the matter instantly. It seemed like she was pretty smart as well. "The monster had an ability that canceled out my crystals. None of them were working, which was why I didn't teleport."

Her eyes widened slightly, and she looked up at the sky for a moment. "I see... then it's true that the monsters on the upper levels are capable of such a thing. We have to be careful when the time comes to challenge the boss."

Then she suddenly turned back to me. "Ah! Forgive me for being rude. I still haven't had the chance to properly say anything to you, right? I've got a lot to tell you!"

I stared at her in confusion. Did she know me? Did I really know such a beautiful girl? "Um... Excuse me? Do I... um... know you?"

Her face fell for a moment before she pouted at me. "Kirito-kun... don't tell me you've already forgotten who I am! It hasn't been too long since we last saw each other, right?"

I peered closely at her face, and jumped back in surprise. "Asuna? It's you, isn't it? I didn't even recognize you! What's with all the new clothes?"

She smoothed her red-white miniskirt and turned toward the direction of the town. "We can talk about that later, Kirito-kun. But, first things first, aren't you going to pick up your items?"

"Hm? Oh! That's right." I turned my attention back to the item distribution screen. My eyes widened as I took a good look at the items screen. Along with a decent amount of Coll, there was a item outlined in blue, indicating an extremely rare item.

"What... is this?" I opened my inventory and examined the one-handed sword that I had gotten from the monster. Asuna walked back over to me and stood there, staring at me curiously.

"Kirito-kun... what's the matter?"

I opened up a trade window and placed the sword in the interface. Her mouth dropped open in surprise as she saw the sword. "... -Elucidator-... that's an extremely rare item, isn't it?"

"Yeah... I was surprised when I saw it too." I opened up my equipment window and replaced my current sword with -Elucidator-. Immediately, I noticed the difference in the two swords' quality. My old sword was one that I had gotten from another player. Though it was a decent enough weapon, its quality wasn't very high.

This sword was thin, yet I could tell that it was incredibly strong and wouldn't break from a heavy blow. More importantly, it was lighter than my old sword, despite having a higher strength requirement, allowing me to swing it at a faster speed. I gave it a few practice swings and sheathed it on my back. "It's... amazing. I don't think I could ask for a better weapon..."

We turned towards the town and started walking back as the last rays of the sun shone across the sky. "Hey... Asuna. Where did you get that outfit?"

"Hm? This? I guess I still haven't told you, right? I was asked to join a pretty high-leveled guild, called the Knights of Blood. Have you heard of it?"

I thought for a moment before I answered her. "I've heard it mentioned a few times. They say the leader is possibly the most powerful player in the game. The guild's completely made up of high-leveled, elite players, right?"

She puffed out her chest in pride and nodded happily. "That's right. I was invited to be the co-leader of the clan by the leader himself. I was a bit hesitant at first, but it seemed like the offer was legitimate and held no ill intent. In the end, I followed your advice, Kirito-kun."

"My advice?"

She nodded and stopped for a second to gaze upwards at the stars that were beginning to show in the sky. "Didn't you tell me that if someone I trusted asked me to join their guild that I should accept? I decided that I should trust him, and joined the Knights of Blood."

I see... she remembered the advice I had given her after the end of the first boss battle. "I see... I hope that you'll do well in the guild. With such high level players, you'll be safer than if you still were a solo."

We had almost reached the outskirts of the town by now. Just before we entered, she stopped once more. "Kirito-kun... would you like to join the Knights of Blood as well? As co-leader, I'm allowed to recruit those that I feel are capable of joining the guild. With us, you'll be safe. You don't need to isolate yourself anymore."

"I'm sorry, Asuna. But, I can't accept your offer. This is the path I have to take, and the one I chose for myself."

She bit her lip and continued. "Then... at the very least, would you accept this?"

There was a small ding as a notification appeared in the corner of my vision. I manipulated the menu with my hand and opened the new notice that had appeared. Player Asuna is attempting to add you to her friends list. Accept? Y/N

If I were to press "Yes", the system would enter Asuna into my friends list, and would create a special sort of connection between the two of us. I would be able to search for her on the map, and send her messages from anywhere in Aincrad, and vice versa.

I was reluctant to keep such a contact, but something made me rethink the situation. My finger hovered over the "No" option for a few seconds before I made a move.

A few seconds later, the message: Player Asuna has been added to your friends list. appeared. She gave me a radiant smile and walked through the entrance of the town. Just before we parted ways, she stopped me one last time. "Kirito-kun, will I see you in the boss party when we go to clear this floor?"

A month ago, my answer would have been a definite "no", but, this time, it was different. I smiled back and turned in the direction of my rented room. With a backwards glance, I gave her my reply. "Of course."

That night, as I lay in bed, the expression on her face was etched into my mind. As I began to fall asleep, I found myself actually looking forward to the days ahead, toward the day when I would help her defeat this floor's boss.

Perhaps... allowing my heart to guide me wasn't such a bad idea after all.

-Chapter 1- End