[This is, probably, last Promotional Snippet (although I doubt it.) Things are officially confirmed: the official "release" of Chapter 1 is slated for October 12, 2012. However, that each chapter may or may not require 2 weeks to finish. Since it is taking me 3 days to finish 8,000 words of Chapter 1 (target is 14,000), it would be a safe bet to say that each chapter will take a week. (It may increase as the chapters complete) There will also be an official change in POV to Haruyuki / Snow Black in the official chapters. Please mark Follows or your dates accordingly, okay? Also, I have published a "story", dubbed "Argos' Compiled Skill Manual", which will be the basis of all skills in the story (whether the said skill exists or not yet).]
『«Floor 2» – December 8, 2023』
«Haru» awoke from his sleep with a stray leaf on his head.
"What … happened?"
A short, definite, yet unsatisfying answer left his mouth. It was but 1 month into the game, and, while he knew that 1 month in the real world would probably just be 43 minutes, he groaned at the very fact that he'll still be here for around a year or so. By this time, it would be very easy to forget the homework he should have done the same day, or the lesson in class hours ago.
"How did it come to this again?" he continued to groan, staring at the grey concrete above him. A «Bee» appeared right at the next corner, but made no attempt to even stand up. With a sigh, he lazily stood up, and slashed diagonally. The skill «Slant / Diagonal», activating right as he readied his stance, activated with a large swish sound. A short BGM quickly followed, followed by the usual fanfare of a new «Level».
"Level 13 huh…" he started walking towards the main path into the town, "While It's nothing compared to my usual target Lv 19 or 20 in an MMO in 1 month, it's probably enough to keep me from dying so easily. I wonder what «Kuroyuukihime-sempai» is doing right now. I wonder what that guy is doing."
Does it matter for now? He was pretty sure that the other «front-liners» are now trying to survey the 2nd floor, hoping to get a close look at the difference between the «Beta Test» and this. Seeing what that «Sapphire Controller» had briefly elaborated upon, the plan is to closely monitor a list of «players» and look for anything suspicions. It was a very cryptic instruction, really.
"Well," he popped up the screen on his «Anneal Sword +3» and checked the durability. It was a bit moderate, but, as he had learned in various «MMOs» he had ever encountered, it would be a lot cheaper to put them on maintenance every day, as the cost more or less exponentially increases as the durability nears the «point of no return». "I'll need to check out on the «NPC Blacksmith» soon."
Well, isn't that nice? The voice pierced through Haruyuki's head.
"Well, Safu-chan." He sounded a bit bitter. "Can I ask now when they'll suddenly clear all 100 floors?"
Well, that won't be any fun at all if I told you. It was as if she was treating this game as a game.
However, despite this, Haruyuki simply breathed in, and out, and continued.
"I won't stop asking you until you tell me why am I here." He heaved another sigh, and suddenly raised his voice a bit. "It really isn't a game to these people, you know?!"
I know. Her tone drastically got lower. However, the lives that are supposed to be dead cannot change. You can't.
Judging by the expression in him, he absolutely wanted to know why: why is she saying these things, what is his real purpose, and why did she hand him a piece of paper that displayed names he didn't even know, save for one guy. However, a strong heartbeat pulsed through his entire soul, which tells him a simple no. Flushed in a conflict like this, he simply kicked the «stone» aside, and, for some reason, a «new skill» activated and the stone hit a nearby «Boar», which was odd enough since those things are usually meant to be only on «Floor 1». The «Boar»'s HP reduced by 95%. Consequently, it angrily charged towards Haruyuki with an annoying snort-like sound.
Oooh, you unlocked the «Taekwondo» skill. She had the excitement of a regular MMO gamer, apparently. Although, don't they make better names for skills, nowadays?
"It's probably to avoid confusion in the «Martial Arts» skill. Although, I still don't get why don't they merge «Martial Arts», «Hand-to-Hand Combat», and «Taekwondo» to one «Unarmed» skill." He said as he picked up the stone and hit the «Boar». The skill unique to «Item Throwing» did not activate, but it was fast enough to deplete its HP by 5%, shattering the thing into polygons. A small «pop-up» flashed in his screen for a short moment before quickly dismissing it.
He simply shrugged as he briefly looked at the details of the new skill he unlocked, and left it hanging, leaving behind the «Martial Arts» skill he had in his 3rd slot. He had the skill since it was useful when you don't have a single weapon, but since it cannot be «unequipped» or «removed», it can be a pain too. To him, though, it seems this kick-only skill «Taekwondo» skill seems a little bit too much on the uncomfortable side.
«Guillotine Kick» could have been a good active skill, though. She commented, but «Haru» practically ignored her.
With that, he entered the busy streets of «Urbus». Several people passed the chubby boy, but they only glanced for a bit and continued on the fields. It was a wonder how people could still fight in a death game like this. However, he himself was playing this death game. Was it a contradiction? It may not be so. «Haru» was sure about one thing: it was practically impossible for the «Neuro-Linker» to send microwaves and kill the brain. If it did, then there would be at least cases of it, or a manual regarding it, right? Moreover, according to the people he had contact with, it was 2022. If so, then it would be easy to conclude that the so-called first MMO, according to 2046 public knowledge, «ALFheim Online» would have ensured this wouldn't happen right?
As he passed the narrower streets, though, a certain man's shriek passed through him.
"Don't … … Don't, don't joke with me!"
«Haru» quickly turned around, and returned to the wide open square. Haru's spine shivered for a short moment as he saw what seemed to be «Kirito» and the girl that was her partner during the «Floor 1 battle» and the same girl in the list «Sapphire Controller» gave to Haru, «Asuna». Their faces expressed a bit of sympathy, and extra pinches of confusion. «Sapphire Controller» quickly blabbered something as he tried to peer into the matter even more.
We shouldn't peer into that, she said. It's better to let them handle it.
He reluctantly nodded, and turned around to the poor man who seem to have lost something quite important, before continuing on to the outskirts of the main city. It doesn't matter anymore, especially since the focus should be to level up even more, and aim to reach Lvl 19 by the time the raiders clear this 2nd floor, and probably the 3rd floor. It was hard enough to search for a high level monster these days, especially when it's only a low-level floor. If he had the last say, he would have instantly gone on to the «Level 2 Floor Boss» and carelessly try to solo it, but the fact that this is a death game and that this is the past have paralyzed him to even make a crucial move. It was understandable, in the end, especially as «Sapphire Controller», while not always present, always told «Haru» no to flashy moments.
However, as «Haru» turned back to the open wilderness, he swiftly met the wild «bump» of an «Iron Plate» instead. Or was that a «Light Iron Plate»?
"Ow..." he said instinctively, however, he did not felt anything but a very mild headache and paralyzing feeling of disorientation.
"A-…Ah…" he quickly back stepped and bowed repeatedly, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
He had an unusually suspicious face for a man of his size. While he had a rather long chin, eyes that always portray a rather a different mood: something close to brotherhood, shining with a rather manly touch. Based on his equipment: an Iron Plate, Green Leather Shoulders... wait, is that a Red Headscarf?!
"Uh…" he quickly searched for words to reply, and made an unpleasant face, "I-I-It's fine."
"Like heck it is…" he blabbered, "You seemed pretty disoriented. Is there something wrong?"
"Ah…" He suddenly paused, and blinked at «Haru» repeatedly. Did he suddenly run out of stock words? Or was he lagging?
Do something, «Sapphire Controller» whispered. Keep him talking for a while longer.
"Uh…" «Haru» shifted her head left, and right, then left, and huffed with a resolved sigh."… You see, I discovered a pretty good «Field Dungeon» somewhere on the 2nd floor. Apparently, it's one of those dungeons that weren't present during the «Beta Test» and I wanted to see a partner who could clear it."
"Hmm… that sounds pretty suspicious," he seemed to take the bait, and turned around. "But well… you see… I have guys as well… Plus, I'm in a guild. Is it fine with you if I bring them along?"
«Haru» didn't take the time to think, and said a single word, "Yes!"
"Ah… ahhhh!" the man started panicking. "I'm late for the inter-guild meeting! S-S-See you! By the way…"
The man turned around, and displayed a smile fitting for bandits. However, Haru could tell: he was a good guy. "My name's Klein."
"Ah," as the Klein dashed to the open arena, Haru remembered that one thing, and shouted out to the guy. "MY NAME'S HARU!"
He tripped, and fell on the flat stony ground. By pure instinct, he slowly stood up and rubbed his nose, before continuing on. Several figures spotted the guy, chuckled for a bit, before moving on to their businesses. Haru smiled, before turning around and running towards the East exit, with several of the people from the 1st floor, turning for a bit at the sight.
Ouch, Safu bitterly commented with worrisome tone. That should hurt.
Haruyuki raised an eyebrow, "Pain doesn't exist in SAO, remember?"
Oh, right. Sapphire Controller's voice, from somewhere, was coupled with several sounds of sparks. Was she fighting?! The question quickly popped up in Haru's mind, but judging from the tone of her voice, it was certainly something not worth talking about. «Accel World» is just 24 years away, after all. You really didn't have to that, didn't you?
"It would be a good idea to know more about the people from your list," Haru shot forward into the open fields. A short hexagon indicating "Outer Area" appeared in his screen, but he simply brushed it off and moved to the open fields. Holding in his hand an Anneal Blade +3, he continued on sprinting through the busy streets rampaging on every «Cow» he saw.
A girl passed by her. Her short castory hair passed through his eyes like silk. Her eyes, while displaying a sure happiness, still felt a lingering depression within her, obvious by the abyss deep impression of her eyes. Her armor looked like those of a pure beginner; only she held a mace of some short. It was rather short, and the mace itself didn't look that strong – it looked like it was made of pure iron. His heart stopped midway. With the next second, his heartbeat resounded as if confirming the feeling of assurance.
"Who is that girl? Why have I seen her before?" Haru quickly opened his inventory and scouted for the item «Sapphire Controller» gave him. It displayed the list of the characters in the watch list. "There. The hair color is different, but it's definitely her. Li… Li-su..be-tu. Lizbeth?"
He turned around and followed the girl down until she got to a rather steep hill, followed by a rather wide chlorochrous grassland. Several «Wind Wasps» passed him by, buzzing towards him with a unique yet annoying sound. It was a good a good thing, however, that they're targeting Haru and not the girl «Lizbeth». She was running erratically, running like she knows exactly where she was going yet, something is telling him that it was nothing like that. Within a few meters, a wide gap was easing in on Haru's eyes: it was a cliff. To be more specific it was a canyon that separated the North and South upper boundaries of the grasslands, and apparently that girl is dashing into the cave itself.
"What is that girl thinking?" Haru grumbled. "Isn't that dungeon a bit on the high level?"
We should go, Sapphire Controller seemed to have returned. Again, the clash of swords resounded in his ears. Something bad might happen to her.
A piercing sound passed through Haru's ears. The sound of ten, no, a hundred POPs encircled Haruyuki, as if to stop him from reaching the erratic girl. «Wind Wasps», one after the other, was summoned in quick succession, trying to cover the entrance of the cave. It's as if someone was hacking the system itself. But how? Is that even possible without potentially killing every player on SAO?
"What was that?!"
Hurry! «Sapphire Controller» hurriedly screamed. Someone has hacked the game and controlled her! You must stop her before her HP goes to 0.
"G-Got it!" Haruyuki gave no time to ask how can someone even hack this game, and quickly manipulated his «Skill List» and «unequipped» his «Hiding» skill for «Sprint». With the «Skill» equipped, his running speed swiftly doubled. His feet faintly glowed for a short moment as he jumped through the endless number of «mobs», while activating the skill for «Diagonal». Several «Wind Wasps» got shattered in the process, only to be quickly covered by more «Wind Wasps». Time was running out.
"Can't you simply-"
No I can't. «Sapphire Controller» admitted, her low tone shaking Haruyuki's spine. I can't simply intervene in this dimension.
A loud shattering sound reached the two's ears. Judging from the sound, it was Lizbeth's own polygons, shattering into a thousand little pieces. Haruyuki's posture briefly shook with the force as if a large great hammer slammed the ground with the force of a ten earthquakes, and a wide static had started to cover his entire SAO avatar. Trying to speak in vain, the echoing sound completely covered his voice. His hands have turned into a grey monochrome static, along with the entire game. With a vertigo that seemed to twist his body a hundred degrees downward, His entire body froze as a bright white light covered the entire world, followed by a never-ending darkness.
Haruyuki's voice finally returned, but only endlessly echoed within the endless void. However, before he could say anything more, his consciousness faded in an instant.
End of Prologue III
Let this be a reminder that I intend to keep my schedule.
Anyway, I hope I have polished the supposed premise of the story right about now. If you hate these kinds of stories, I suggest you leave now, before you get mind screwed. Yes, this story runs on mind screws. If you hate deconstruction too, leave now as well. Okay… maybe not too much. Ugh…
Anyway, discussion on Lizbeth: her hair is officially pink in the Aincrad Arc, but originally it was a dark brown color (I called castory.) XD
And discussion on Skills: «Skills» can be unequipped. They usually have some kind of penalty for replacing them. It's different from «removing» the «Skill» in SAO. I have brought this issue from Argo's Compiled Skill Manual. 'k?
BTW, a short change. I won't be deleting the Prologues anymore.
After this, is the beginning.