Author's foreword (updated 11/5/2012): this story is a sequel to the "origin" story for Kadyn and Camilla, called The Unraveling. You can find it by clicking my username in the headers above. If you haven't read that story yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. You can enjoy The Red Valkyrie without having read it, but as with coming into any story with previously-established characters, you'll miss out on quite a bit of the details.

If you have read The Unraveling, thank you! You may choose to skip this prologue chapter if you like. While there is a little bit of new information about what became of Kadyn and Camilla following the events of that story, it is primarily here for the benefit of those who haven't read the story of their first month in the game.

If you'd like to see a map of the 11th floor as depicted in The Red Valkyrie, go to the following address:

ayashi dot net/foo/sao/AincradFloor11 dot png

You'll have to put the URL together yourself due to the ridiculously draconian degree to which FFN's filter strips even non-linked or obfuscated domain names—just remove the spaces and replace "dot" with a period).

Thanks for reading, and please leave feedback!

On November 6th, 2022, a visionary genius named Kayaba Akihito trapped the minds of ten thousand players inside a VRMMORPG called Sword Art Online on the day of its launch. The rules he set out were as merciless as they were fair: players were unable to log themselves out of the game from within, and any outside attempt to tamper with the NerveGear virtual reality helmet or sever their connection to the game servers would cause the NerveGear to immediately destroy their brain with powerful electromagnetic signals. The device would also kill the player if their character's hit points dropped to zero, making survival within the game literally a matter of life and death for those trapped.

My name is Seiji Midorikawa. My wife Rebecca and I—using our longtime character names of Camilla and Kadyn, respectively—were two of the players imprisoned within this Death Game, within the floating castle of Aincrad that constituted the game world of Sword Art Online.

According to the euphemistically-named "tutorial" given by Kayaba on the game's opening day, the only way to escape from the game was to clear all hundred floors and defeat the final boss. It was a feat which the 1,000 lucky beta testers hadn't even come close to doing during SAO's closed beta period; they hadn't even cleared the tenth floor.

But in those first dark days, there was at least one man who believed that it could be done: an idealistic self-styled "knight" named Diabel. He had a force of personality that inspired others to follow him, and he made us believe in the geas he'd lain upon himself to find and clear the first floor boss—an accomplishment he believed would send a message to all players that this game could be cleared. That they need not despair, but should fight to strengthen themselves and win freedom for all of those trapped within this world.

Although we leveled up rapidly during our long quest with Diabel to reach the boss dungeon of the first floor, we took a long hiatus from adventuring following a harrowing encounter with a group of criminals who were intent on exacting revenge upon my wife—revenge based on an inaccurate rumor that she'd taken out a PKer. We'd driven them off—but not before the lives of three party members were lost, deaths for which Camilla blamed herself. It had also cost her a piece of herself, a part of her soul that she felt like she lost when she brutally executed a captive PKer after the battle.

Four weeks into the game, two thousand players had perished without clearing the first floor. Despair was widespread. Then on December 3rd, we bid goodbye to our friend Diabel the night before he led a raid party of 44 players on a successful quest to defeat the first-floor boss. The victory cost him his life, but won us all a renewed reason for hope: if the first floor could be cleared, everyone had reason to believe that winning our freedom from Aincrad was truly possible.

In less than two weeks, the second floor was cleared as well. Then the third, and more still—now that so many players were leveling up and inspired by success, some floors fell in as little as a day. It was as if the floodgates had been opened, the victory over Illfang the Kobold Lord at the top of the first floor dungeon a battle cry that drove the front-line players to burn through many of the early floors that followed as if they were filled with trash mobs.

We were not among them, and we quickly fell behind the front-line players in level. As a duo, there was a limit to the kinds of risks we were able to take, and the scars of betrayal and loss from our previous experiences made it difficult to trust others. We occasionally partied with another friend from early in the game, a wise and skilled axe-wielder named Agil—but he was among the very select few to whom we were willing to entrust our lives. Before long he, too, outleveled us and spent more time on the higher floors. After that, most of the time it was just the two of us.

In truth, we were okay with that. As shut-in gamers who had been playing together online for more than a decade, we'd lived a fairly isolated and insular life in each other's company even before being trapped in SAO. Fighting for our lives side by side almost every day for over four months had only brought us closer still.

In contrast to the despair and uncertainty of our first month in this world, for some time I'd found myself thinking that—all things considered—life could be a lot worse.

I was right.