Disclaimer: I do not own Sword Art Online.

Author's Notes: Ever since I read through Sword Art Online and then watching through the recent episodes, I thought I'd try my hand at a SAO fic. Please tell me what you think.


Aincrad- April, 2023 Floor 11: Dungeon

Hack Slash Thrust

These thoughts continued to surround me as I fought down the last of the enemy monsters. With one last attack «Vertical» I killed the remainder of the enemy goblins. After looking at the small window in front of me indicating the small amount of experience I had, I closed it and decided to leave the area.

I often wondered how I ended up where I am. I, Kirigaya Kazuto under the alias Kirito, was trapped in the VRMMORPG known as «Sword Art Online». In SAO, we fight for our lives because if we die here, there was no return.

It was all because of the changes made by the developer Kayaba Akihiko. He was the developer of Nerve Gear and the game Sword Art Online which trapped 10,000 people into a world of death. Now we that remain try to live on by clearing the one hundred floors so that we may one day return.

I thought this world would be a freedom in itself. Now it's just a jail.

It all started because I was great with technology. I was a natural programmer. This certain skill of mine led me to realizing the fact that my parents were actually my aunt and uncle who've adopted me when my own died. I don't know when, but it was because of this I drifted away from my little sister/cousin Suguha. In that time, I spent my time immersing myself into MMOs distancing myself from her. It was shameful of me, and there really was no excuse for it.

Sugu I'm so sorry. I promise that I will return one day.

After going through several MMOs, I found myself as one of the tenth of SAO players that won the lottery to become a Beta tester. It was because of this I found my freedom here. I'd dive into the virtual world almost every day whenever I could.

That freedom was changed into a nightmare once Kayaba got rid of the log out button.

Either way, I knew that I had to survive if I ever wanted to get back to reality. I utilized my prior experience to look out for myself. I became a «Solo», but most importantly, I became the first «Beater».

In a game of life and death, a Beater is the worst. The word came from a combination of «Beta» and «Cheater». Since I had prior knowledge to the game, I knew how to get around from the very beginning. Beaters were the hated people of SAO since it was known that we ditched the rest of the pack in order to fend for themselves.

It all started when tensions were growing high on the first floor boss. There were people blaming all the Betas out there, but that wouldn't be fair now would it? Some Betas didn't know what they were doing, otherwise known as «Newbies». Therefore, I took the blame as a «Beater» so that those who were testers wouldn't be judged on sight.

I figured the tough solo approach would be the best way to go. Since I already had the knowledge, it would help me survive. That didn't stop the pain in my chest as I left behind one of my friends behind.

I didn't deserve understanding Klein. Klein was the first friend I met in «Starting City» on release day. After the announcement from Kayaba Akihiko, we split up because of the dangers moving on would bring. He decided to stay behind with his friends to help them, but we both knew it was more dangerous having more people if we snuck away. In the end, I had to ignore the pain in my chest as I ran away.

It wasn't the only way. That's right. Klein, who actually stayed behind, became the leader of a rather high level guild named «Fuurinkazan». It was a guild made up by the core of his friends who he helped train with. They were not the top guild around, but they make an impact on boss floor clearings.

If you knew that, why didn't you stop? Truthfully, I never did know. In fact, the closest partying member I had was a girl named Asuna, or known as «The Flash». We partied through the first few floors. In the end, I gave her advice to join a guild because being a Solo wasn't the greatest of methods. It was very hypocritical to tell her that, but she actually heeded my advice. Now she's the sub-leader of the «Knights of Blood».

It was because you were guilty. That's probably right. I wouldn't want Asuna to keep suffering like I do; it just wouldn't be right.

What about Diabel or «Argo the Rat»? Diabel. He stayed behind to help all those who were new to level up. He ended up dying on the 1st floor boss fight after going for the LA. The «Last Attack Bonus» was given to the player who finished off the boss. I was painfully aware of this memory because after his death, I took the LA and received the «Coat of Midnight» that was in my inventory. If he stuck around to help, why didn't I?

Even Argo had helped all the new players. The information broker gave off free pamphlets of the floor to all of those who needed it. Even she, who pretty much made everyone pay up for the littlest things, helped out.

Then why didn't I do anything? That wasn't completely true. I did help Asuna and Klein during the start of their careers. But that still didn't shake off the guilt I had over it all.

All my friends were a part of something, all of them except me.

You of all people do not deserve to join a guild. Yeah, a «Beater» especially had no right to join a guild.

It's been a growing thought of mine actually. Klein actually still offers me the chance whenever we meet up during the clearing floor parties. I always declined him but whenever I see people together like that, even if I never show it and hid it to myself, I was bitter. The loneliness of being a Solo was starting to get to me. Wherever I go I see all sorts of people together in groups. Yet I was on my own. Even my friends had others to be with.

This was your own choice. That's right. It was. I have nobody to blame but myself. I can't be selfish about things when it was my own choice. I shouldn't be jealous if I chose this path. Even still, what if I suddenly entered a guild? Would that be a betrayal to Klein?

I can't look back on the past. It's time to set aside these thoughts otherwise I might die, and then what would I accomplish? No, there can be no doubts in a life and death situation. My resolve has to be strengthened. Just think of all the others who are relying on the clearers. They feel safer because of them.

The guilt is still in my heart, but now it's a bit more manageable.

It was then I heard the sound of metal being clanged.

It was obvious there was a battle somewhere nearby. There were two options before me now. First is the stay safe and leave now. The second would be to run in the direction of the sound.

I took the second option.

My curiosity was piqued and I had to know. Since the metallic sounds were getting louder, I knew it had to be a battle of some sort. Who knows maybe somebody needs help?

I finally arrived at the scene behind some bushes. There standing in front of me was a group five people. I'm assuming they're under some sort of guild. They were fighting what looked to be a horde of goblins.

Now I knew I could take them down easily. I was doing so beforehand. I could go out there and help them, but then they'll find out my status as a «Beater». That's something I'd rather avoid while on the lower floors, because if I get reported. Well… let's just say it would be a bad sign.

I looked at the five people. I instantly shook my head just looking at them. They were terribly unbalanced. There were two lancers; one, which I noticed on a small note, was a female. Another was a thief. The leader seemed to be a staff wielder. The final member who was the forward was a mace wielder.

The group was retreating slowly as the mace user slowly took on more damage. It seemed that they were slowly being overwhelmed. I took note of their HP bar. It looked like they should make it out alive, but if they were mobbed again by another horde…

No; I couldn't let them die in good conscience (especially after my whole inner dilemma from earlier).

Again there were two options. One I could decide to easily sweep through all of the goblins saving their lives in a matter of seconds, yet risking exposure to the news bulletin of a person with bad etiquette (someone with a higher level really shouldn't be on the lower floors). The second would be to gradually assist them, taking my time so they wouldn't get suspicious.

I almost immediately chose the latter. It was the safest, smartest thing to do. Yet the guilt from earlier was stopping me. It was if saying that I'd feel even guiltier if I chose that in the long run.

You can't handle any more guilt can you? Could I? I wasn't sure. Maybe that's why I hesitated. In the end I chose the former, because any sign of hesitation would prove to be a down fall somewhere down the line. I had to trust my gut on this even if I knew it would be the less logical reason.

I emerged from the bushes and without saying anything to the guild members. I took out my sword and started swinging. A few «Horizontals» and the goblins were easily defeated after a couple of seconds. A small screen indicated that I gained a little experience.

When all was said and done the leader of the group came up and confronted me. "What are you doing here?"

I answered honestly. "I was about to leave until I heard sounds. I saw your guild having trouble so I decided to give you a hand. Is there really a reason not save someone's life?"

That answered caught him off guard as he began to look sheepish. That was until he remembered how fast I finished off those goblins. "What I mean is why are you here? Someone of your skill shouldn't be on this floor."

Okay I knew the guy had the right to be angry, and I full accepted doing this knowing that fact, but that still incensed me a bit. "Look I just saved your life and your judging me on my character?"

The average guy I thought would be glad that I saved them. Maybe there was the occasional backstab by some PKers, but for them to think that of me I found that highly unlikely. They outnumbered me 5:1.

"Keita please stop fighting, he saved our lives," said the only girl in the group. She was a blue haired girl with a face that radiated innocence. I can't help but note that she really didn't look like she could handle this world, but I didn't comment on that. "Anyways, I'm so glad that you saved us. My name's Sachi."

She really was a polite one. I smiled at her. "My name is Kirito. Nice to meet you." We shook hands and I started to relax. It looked like she wasn't out to get me unlike their leader.

"Well if Sachi likes you then you must be okay. She's a really good judge of character. The name is Keita," the leader introduced. "We are the «Black Cats of the Full Moon»," he said motioning the other members.

After a brief round of introductions, I could honestly say I was relieved. They didn't hate me, but I couldn't stay here any longer. I had to get back to the frontlines.

"It's nice to meet all of you, but I must be going now," I said trying to end our conversation.

"At least stay with us until we head back into town. Please?" Sachi all but begged me with her puppy dog eyes.

"All right then, but after that I have to go."


Aincrad- April 8, 2023 Floor 11: Taft

I said that I would leave, but I suddenly found myself surrounded by the «Black Cats» partying in the local ale house. We were off by the corner, so nobody really cared about the ruckus we made.

You shouldn't be here. I was starting getting guiltier and guiltier the more I stayed here. My fears came true as Keita asked me, "Ne Kirito, what level are you?"

This time the whole table perked up wanting to find out. It seemed they were obviously interested in this Solo player.

I had to hold back another sigh. I've already decided on my course of action; it's time to see the consequences. "I'll be frank. I'm at level 40."

"Eh!" the entire group gasped.

It seemed like Keita came to the right conclusion, something I was expecting from him earlier. "Then that means you're a Beater?"

I only nodded my head.

"Then what's a Beater doing on this lower level floor huh?" his voice was back to being accusatory like earlier.

"I'm gathering necessary ingredients for upgrading some equipment; the clearers are almost done with the next dungeon."

"So you've been trying to steal from the weak huh?"

I shook my head in disappointment. "If I was doing that, I would have let you all just get swarmed by the mobs and then took what was left over. I don't steal."

It seemed like my answer was a cold slap to the face judging Keita's expression. Now I was wondering what would have happened if I didn't tell them this information and decided to hide my status. At least I was reinsured in the fact that any sort of karma couldn't bite back since I was being honest through this entire interaction.

"See Kirito is a nice person," Sachi said. "If he wasn't there then we might not be alive," she said with tears starting to fall. "Thank you... Thank you so much. I was really afraid... when you came to our rescue, I was really happy. I truly appreciate your help."

This opinion seemed to lighten the mood from everyone.

The mace wielder clasped his hand on my back and said, "Well you did save our lives. I don't care if he is a Beater because without him we would have been dead."

Even Keita seemed to dissolve his own anger at me. He was now even smiling widely.

"Then I propose a toast to Kirito," said the thief. "Cheers!"

"Cheers!"

We partied for quite some time. By the end of it, I was declared a member of the «Black Cats of the Full Moon».

I could only smile now. Things were starting to look up.


Aincrad- May 9, 2023 Floor 20: Sunlit Forest

It's been a few weeks since I've officially joined the «Black Cats of the Full Moon». Our guild was getting along famously. At first, I thought that there might be some rough spots going through with this, especially since all of them were friends back in the real world, but that was just another worry I could let go.

I was startled out of my thoughts when I noticed Sachi being attacked. She was cowering low behind her shield, but she wasn't adept at using it yet; this was her first time using the sword and shield. She was originally a spear user, but there was already a better spear user. This was a demo of sorts for her.

"Sachi get back!" I yelled.

I jumped in front of her and redirected the «Killer Mantis's» blow. I parried away its scythe-like arms and slashed one of them off.

"Tetsuo «Switch»!"

"Right!" Tetsuo jumped in front of me and landed a devastating blow with his mace to the Mantis's abdomen. The monster was destroyed into bits of bright polygons.

A screen appeared in front of him saying that he leveled up.

"Alright!" he celebrated. The rest of the group was offering their praises as we finally began to head back into town.

It's been going on for a while now. Since I joined the guild, everyone's been leveling up faster than what even I expected. Since they all were aware about my own skills, the guild's confidence grew. They were slowly catching up to the clearer's levels in no time.

We all headed down to a large valley in the countryside. The entire atmosphere was relaxing with the cool breeze gently flowing across the land. We were all eating our small bentos provided by our dear sweet Sachi. I was starting to think that maybe she would be better off cooking instead of risking her life.

"So the clearers have made it to Floor 28?" Keita asked me as he was reading the «Weekly Argo». The newspaper made by Argo compiled a list of all the news that's been going on as expected of the information broker.

"Ah yes, we finally beat the Boss," I said. Everyone in the guild knew that I had to leave on occasion to help back out, and they didn't expect anything less. I had the sneaking suspicion that the reason they were leveling up so quickly was to catch up to me and the rest of the clearers. Well…they weren't too understanding at first.


Flashback

It was late one night when I was heading out to the frontlines again to start leveling up. Recently I've been managing to sneak out without the guild knowing that I was heading back up there. That was until I was caught by Keita.

"Why are you leaving us?" he asked. "I thought we were a guild now." I couldn't decipher his expression.

"I'm doing this for the guild," I answered. He looked at me strangely. I guess he was offering me a chance to continue. "I couldn't bear if you guys died when I could possibly be training to prevent that."

"So you're leveling up to provide a safety net of sorts?" he asked.

"Yes."

He seemed to look thoughtful that was until he lightly punched me on my shoulder. "You know we can handle ourselves," he said with a smile.

"I know, but the guilt from before won't leave until I can do everything I can," I confessed.

I told him about my own inner turmoil from before I met the guild a few days after joining. Our bond grew ever stronger from there.

"Then we'll be waiting Kirito."


After my talks with Keita, he would explain to the rest of the guild. I'm glad that they understood.

"Hey Kirito," Keita asks me, "what is the difference between the lead groups and us?"

"Like me, they all know the fastest ways to gain EXP and they don't share them," I said with a sigh.

"Don't talk about yourself like that," he said. "This…is obviously a reason. But I feel that it was willpower. Their desire to protect their friends, all the players is strong. It's because of this power that they were able to win in dangerous boss battles. We're the ones being protected, but our feelings won't lose to them. So…I feel that if we continue to work hard like this, we can catch up."

"I'm glad that your reasoning makes sense. It helps me be reassured Keita, but I don't think that's the case," I said. "If they wanted to protect the players, they would have passed on equipment to the mid-players to make sure everyone levels up. No, it's because all the top guilds have some amazing swordsman; they just want to become the hero like in any other RPG," I continued getting even more depressed. I was exactly like this before I met these guys.

"Hey don't be too hard on yourself; you've helped our guild by giving us supplies and helping us safely level up," Keita said. "Of course our priority is our friends' safety, but how about we prove it to the other guilds by rising to the top like the «Holy Dragon Alliance» or even the «Knights of Blood» one day?"

"I see; you're right Keita," I said. I couldn't help but feel invigorated by how passionate he was talking about this. It gave me hope that maybe we could, no that we will rise as a group to the level of clearers all together.

"Ah leader, that's so cool!" Ducker said while putting our leader into a headlock. It seemed the rest of the guild was listening into our conversation.

"So we're going to be up with the «Holy Dragon Alliance» and the «Knights of Blood»?" asked Tetsuo.

"What?" Keita asked not liking this apparent ribbing into his dream. "There's nothing wrong with setting big goals. First we'll all hit level thirty, and then even higher until we reach Kirito's level."

"Mou, you're kidding. That's impossible," complained Sachi while the others couldn't help but agree with her.

At that point, I thought that if all the Black Cats made it to the frontlines, Keita's ideals could quite possibly change the atmosphere surrounding the clearers.


Aincrad- May 15, 2023 Floor 11: Taft

"I've got great news everyone," Keita said. Right now we were conducting our usual guild meeting for official business. "Today we've netted 200,000 col." Col was the monetary value in SAO. Monetary value being watched over by the Cardinal System, so there was no such thing as inflation.

"Whoa!" The whole room was impressed with that number. Even I was actually surprised we collected that much.

"We might even be able to buy our dream house pretty soon!" said an upbeat Tetsuo.

"Hey, why don't we upgrade some of Sachi's equipment?" asked Sasamaru

Sachi's mood visibly dampened. Seeing such a girl look down just did not look right. "I'll manage with what I have," she said.

"Just do it," said Sasamaru. "Kirito shouldn't be the one to fight all the monsters."

"Sorry," she mumbled at me.

"I don't mind, so no worries," I said with a smile. I was hoping that my reassurance would help raise back her mood. It seemed Keita had the same idea.

"Thanks Kirito. Sachi I know switching builds is tough, but you'll figure it out soon enough. Let's all do our best!"

She nodded her head, but she still seemed down. I'll have to talk to her about it later.


Aincrad- May 16, 2023 Floor 28: Wolf Plains

The next night I prepared for my usual training. The thing I wasn't expecting was the guild «Fuurinkazan» to be here.

I stood up on a higher hill watching Klein's guild slowly taking out the wild wolves.

I saw Klein finish it with his «Sword Skill». It seemed that he noticed me from the distance as he shouted over to me. He said a few words and ran up to greet me.

"It's been ages since I last saw you! So you do your leveling up in the middle of the night?"

He paused and studied me. I had a feeling he was going to ask about—

"Wait that icon… Is that a guild icon?" he stared at me.

I avoided his gaze and said, "Yeah, it is."

"Hey," one of the Fuurinkazan asked, "let's find another pack!"

I couldn't stay here. I thought I'd be able to face Klein and tell him about my guild, but I couldn't. My strange compulsion to help out the Black Cats was due to my guild, yet I couldn't even stand in the face of one my friends. He was the first person who understood why I became a Solo.

Your guilt will consume you otherwise. That thought rang loudly in my ears. It seemed that my inner compulsion was still hardening my resolve after all. I had to tell him something before I left.

"They needed my help; it was either that or death. You seem to be doing what you planned huh?" I said while looking at the other members of Fuurinkazan down below.

"Oi Kirito if that's been bothering you it's fine. This doesn't change the fact that we're still friends," he said with a grin.

I felt some relief coursing through my body. Of course I should have known he would understand, but I guess the relief of letting it out after just leaving back in «Starting City» felt great.

"See you Klein."

I walked away further down finding my own training grounds. That day I leveled up twice as fast as I normally would have.


Aincrad- May 16, 2023 Floor 11: Taft

I was about to head back to HQ to get some rest, but then I got a message from Keita.

[This is Keita,

This is an emergency

Sachi went out and hasn't come back yet.

We're going to look for her in the Labyrinth.

I know you'll be better at finding her, so please tell us if you find out anything.]

This was bad. This was really bad. I couldn't let anything happen to her. She was the first one to hand me her faith without a fear of doubt. She didn't treat me as a Beater even when we first met.

My blood was boiling. If anything happened to her then—

No, I would not let anything happen to her.

I quickly opened up my screen and hit the «Tracking» skill. My world turned green as my eyelids readjusted themselves into the new sight. With this, light green footsteps would appear before me creating a trail.

I ran and ran. I never stopped until I found myself underneath the small drain that was somewhat far from the main street. I was quite surprised when I finally got there. She was resting on the wall curled up. The moonlight glow seeping through the tunnel gave off an ethereal beauty on her face. I couldn't stop myself from staring at her.

It was then that I noticed the small mantle around herself. It had the invisibility function, which is why the guild couldn't find her earlier.

"Sachi," I called out. I didn't want to frighten her so I was a little bit further away than where she was sitting.

She looked up at me questioningly. "Kirito?" she asked.

"Everybody's worried about you."

She looked down and avoided my face. Now I knew something was wrong earlier back in the guild meeting, but now I was very worried.

I decided to move closer and sit nearer to her.

"Ne, Kirito, let's run away."

Now I was confused. "Run, run away from what?"

"From this town, from the monsters, from the Black Cats…From Sword Art Online."

"Eh? Do you intend on doing a double suicide together?"

She smiled bitterly.

"I wouldn't mind that." Now I was panicking. This couldn't be happening. Then she shook her head. "Sorry. That was a lie. If I had the courage to die, I wouldn't be hiding in this safe town."

"…I'm scared of death. I'm scared of dying; it's gotten to the point that I've been having trouble sleeping."

"Why do we have to die in this game? What's the meaning behind all of this?"

Now I knew I could answer her questions with straight, blunt fact. This however would not be the solution, so I tried my best to think of something else.

"There probably isn't a point Sachi."

We sat together in silence. The semi-circle of the drain was revealing the beauty of the night sky. I stared up at the stars but I found myself turning myself back to stare at Sachi.

Sachi, she is the beautiful girl I found myself sitting next to. The blunette that said she trusted me. The girl I would gladly die for to see happy.

"Sachi," I said breaking the silence. "You won't die. If anything happened to you then…" I couldn't stop myself. Salty tears flowed down my face showing my anguish at this whole situation.

I moved over closer to her and put my arms around her. This shocked Sachi and even shocked me for I was never this forward, but I had to convey all my feelings.

"You won't die; I'll protect you. The Black Cats will protect you. We are strong Sachi. You are strong and don't you dare deny it. You believed in me and I won't let that belief be a lie. You don't have to be a swordsman. I'll personally talk to Keita and tell him your feelings. You don't have to bottle it in. I know because I went through that as a Beater."

You'll see the world; you'll be alive when we finally clear this game. I'll put my life at stake for this one promise to you Sachi.

We sat there crying into each other's arms; the midnight's light resting upon us as we wept.


Author's Notes: Well how did you like the first chapter? This is just a side story to my other one, but if this gathers more attention, I might feel more inclined to write more of this or at least try to.

I'm not the best with characterization, but I believe that this shouldn't be considered an OOC Kirito namely because he was a character wracked with guilt until Asuna and him get together; okay most of the guilt happened after meeting the Black Cats, but it isn't a stretch to say he could have been consumed by guilt earlier than that (namely because of Kirito and Klein separating in the Town of Beginnings, Diabel, etc.).

Please feel free to leave a PM or a review and let me know what you think. Until next time, see you.