Disclaimer: I do not own Sword Art Online.

Summary: 'A different Kirito was trapped in SAO, one that swore to protect his family and discarded the sword. With daggers by his side, Kirito vowed to stand tall even with the world against him. He can't falter, not when there are those that wait for him still.'

Chapter 1: The First Day

November 6th, 2022, 13:32

Kirito blinked harshly and put up a hand to block the sun. Its glare had momentarily blinded him after he had appeared in the world of Aincrad. Regaining his sight, he looked around as players happily chatted in the town square while NPCs went about their business. Surrounding them were hundreds of houses and buildings of various sizes that could hold thousands of people. Lifting his gaze, the city's tall circular walls could be seen from a distance, protecting them all against any monster threats.

Enjoying the soft breeze, he closed his eyes and exhaled softly as a blissful smile crossed his face. 'I'm finally back.' Opening his eyes, Kirito took off towards one of the many equipment stores in the 'Starting City'.

A bell's chime was heard when Kirito opened the door of the shop, announcing his presence.

"Welcome to the 'Minor Arcana'! Feel free to browse and don't be afraid to ask if you need any help." The attractive young woman that greeted Kirito was Mathilda, one the NPC sales clerk in charge of helping beginners. Kirito responded with a broad smile and a nod, happy to see her again even if she didn't remember him.

Walking around as he examined the weapons that decorated the walls, Kirito couldn't help but be taken in by the designs, plain and exotics ones alike. He was glad that the shop's cozy atmosphere that he loved hadn't changed in the official release. Stopping at the daggers' section, he looked at his choices before settling for a 'Cinquedea'. He couldn't suppress a small grimace after returning to Mathilda and paying for the item. 'I won't be able to afford potions at this rate…'

The 'Cinquedae' was a level 3 heavy dagger that sacrificed speed for added damage. It was quite effective when paired with a light weapon such as the 'Beginner's Dagger', a combination he had tested in depth.

Although there was no official 'Dual Wielding' skill, the players were free to equip another weapon in their off-hand for increased attack rate. The 'system assistance' and 'sword skills' were disabled as consequences, but in capable hands, like Kirito's, those penalties were minimal.

As Kirito went for the exit, he noticed small movement in the corner of his eyes.

He turned and saw that there was another player in the shop, a young woman. Her curly, shoulder-length hair was pink, a bright shade bordering on bubblegum. She wore the standard beginner's armor set along with a long-sleeved blue shirt and matching skirt that she filled pretty well. All things considered, it gave her an exotic look.

The pink-haired woman looked back and forth between the different Blunt-type weapons available, a look of confusion on her face.

The young man was never one to abandon a damsel in need, even if it could be a male behind the avatar. He decided to help the player and made his way towards her. When he was close enough, Kirito cleared his throat to get the player's attention.

"Eep!" The young woman jumped slightly, clearly startled.

Kirito barely managed to contain his amusement as the young woman turned on him with a fierce glare.

"Sorry about that, but it looked like you needed help. The name's Kirito and it's no use giving me that look. I've gotten enough of those from living with my aunt and cousin to be immune to it."

The young woman relented with a sigh. "I guess it's not a big deal. Um, maybe you can help."

She pointed to the rack of Blunt weapons. "I'm trying to decide whether I should get a two-handed weapon or a one-handed one but don't know which is better."

Kirito walked over to the hammer's rack and picked one up.

"Well, from what I remember from the BETA, the one-handed hammer is slower than the mace but has a better stun rate. It also increases the success rate of crafting and refining after the proficiency reaches a certain level, but that's only useful if you want to smith."

Kirito replaced the hammer and picked up a mace from the adjacent rack.

"Now maces can cause paralysis when you get proficient enough with them and still has an above average stun rate. Unfortunately, the smithing bonuses don't apply to it. Well, at least that's how it was in the BETA. It might have been changed since then."

Kirito set the mace down and turned back to the pink haired girl.

"It all depends on whether you want to smith or not really. Now, the main reason for choosing one-handed weapons is the advantage of being able to use a shield. That makes it great for soloing or tanking since the added defense helps a lot in surviving. Do you get it so far?"

The girl nodded.

"Alright, then, let's move to the two-handed weapons."

Kirito walked to the rack of two-handed weapons and pulled one out, barely managing to lift it.

"Oof. As you can see, the two-handed ones require a lot more strength. They're slower as well, but a solid hit will deal a LOT of damage. It's more useful to have when you're in a party with a tank that can draw the enemy attention away from you."

He put the weapon back on the rack and turned back to the girl. She had been quiet the whole time, listening with rapt attention.

"I'm not familiar with staves, as they weren't available in the BETA. I'm sure Mathilda, the NPC over there, can give you the basics if you want. Any questions?"

The girl shook her head and gave Kirito a beaming smile. "No questions, thank you very much!"

He scratched the back of his head, slightly embarrassed at the praise. "Er, no problem."

He watched as the girl bought a one-handed hammer and small shield before the two exited the shop together.

The girl paused shortly after they exited and turned around to Kirito, a small blush on her face.

"Ah, I forgot to introduce myself! I'm Lisbeth! Nice to meet you Kirito!"

Kirito blinked at Lisbeth's sudden words before smiling in response. "It's a pleasure Lisbeth."

"If you ever see me around, don't be afraid to say hi!"

Lisbeth winked and then ran towards the town square. Kirito lost sight of her soon after.

"What a strange girl." Kirito shook his head with a smile and headed in the opposite direction, towards the Starting City's eastern exit. He had a date with a few 'Wild Boars' and he was already late as is.

It took Kirito some time before he could find an unoccupied field with a decent number of the level one monsters. Most were already filled with parties and solo players, and the sound of battle could be heard from afar.

The 'Wild Boar' was a big creature with black fur and red eyes. A relatively peaceful enemy, it only became aggressive after being targeted or attacked by a player. With low stats all-around and a predictable attack pattern, it made for good training for starting players.

Kirito stealthily made his way to the back of a 'Wild Boar', keeping away from its field of vision.

With a grin, Kirito brandished his dagger and attacked the monster with a two quick horizontal slashes.

The boar's HP decreased by a quarter from the strike. It let out a growl of pain and turned, charging wildly at Kirito.

At the last moment, the dagger user side-stepped and countered with a rapid three-strike combo.

The bonus damage for successfully hitting the enemy while it was in the attacking motion emptied the boar's remaining HP. With a cry, it disappeared in a myriad of polygons.

'Well that was easy.' Kirito scratched the back of his head. 'At least they give decent enough drops and EXP for my level.'

Another boar wandered into his sights and Kirito returned to battle.

It was a couple of hours later when Kirito took a break. He had finally reached level three and distributed the stat points he had received. He had also equipped the 'Cinquedea' on his main hand since he could wield it now.

He sat with his back to a tree, its leaves and branches partially shading him from the setting sun. Pulling up the menu, he was surprised at the time, already 17:20.

'Wow, it's already that late? Time definitely flies when you're having fun.'

He stretched and took another look around the fields. It was beautiful, a picturesque scene that could rarely be seen these days. Rolling fields of grass with lush greenery dotted the field, giving it a peaceful feel.

'Well, as fun as it was, I should log out and prepare dinner. Sugu should be coming back from practice pretty soon.'

Kirito navigated through his menu towards the 'Log Out' button. To his surprise, it wasn't there.

'That's odd. Did they change its location?' Kirito frowned. 'It should be right below the 'Options' and 'Help' buttons… Nope.'

Kirito felt unsettled, a sinking feeling in his chest. "Hopefully it's just a temporary bug but think I'll contact the Game Master just in case."

He opened the corresponding window and sent the message, a small *beep* indicating the message had been received. With that done, he leaned back and gazed at the drifting clouds in the sky.

In the distance, bells began ringing, loud and ominous, furthering the young man's worries.

As he stood to see the source, he was shrouded in a blinding white light and disappeared.

A few seconds later, he reappeared in the town square.

The place was packed, more so than earlier. Unsure murmurs and whispers sounded out among the crowd, an atmosphere of uncertainty in the air. Most of the players looked confused, as if they had not been expecting this event.

'They probably tried to log out as well. But a 'Forced Teleport'? Just what did the Game Masters want?'

The sinking feeling returned and Kirito took a deep breath to calm down. Whatever was meant to occur should start soon.

The bells had stopped ringing, a fact that he idly acknowledged.

A gasp sounded out from nearby and some of the players looked up.

Kirito followed their gaze and was greeted by the sight of red hexagonal shaped 'System Announcement' and 'Warning' messages in the sky. A red elastic-like substance leaking from some of their cracks and melded into a sort of cocoon, encased in electricity. Shortly after, a giant floating figure emerged.

Dark red robes and white gloves. Face completely shadowed by a large hood…

"A Game Master…" Kirito muttered.

The floating figure opened his arms and spoke words that would forever change the fate of 10000 people.

"Players, welcome to my world."

"I wish every player the best of luck."

With those last words spoken, Kayaba Akihiko disintegrated in red smoke, his dark robes disappearing before they could hit the ground. Afterwards, the sky cleared of the various system announcements.

Kirito stood motionless as the mad man's revelations sank in.

The 'Mirror' item had revealed his true appearance, replacing his avatar's. Short black hair framed black eyes and an effiminate face. The tall, strong frame of his avatar had been replaced with his own thin one of average height.

Fear, resignation and then determination settled on his face. It was bad enough that the players were locked in Aincrad until all the 100 floors were cleared, but to go as far as letting them die when their HP reached zero was insane.

The silence that had reigned over the town square was broken as a young girl let out a cry, opening the gates to the coming pandemonium.

Shouts of protest and incredulity slowly filled the area. Despair masked the visages of many, the impossibility of the situation overwhelming them.

Kirito clenched his fist. Their reactions were understandable. 216 players had died already.

'But I can't stay here. I won't accept this fate lying down!'

The barriers that had locked the players in during the speech were no longer there. Without hesitation, Kirito dashed towards the Starting City's western entrance.

'To survive, I must be stronger... The 'Gray Wolf' monster. It would be dangerous if a pack spawned, but-'

A soft *ding* alerted him to a message.

'Ki-bou! Emergency meeting. I'll see you at the usual place.'

Kirito smiled. "That could only be one person." He started retracing his steps, thankful that his destination wasn't far.

During the Closed BETA days, he and his friend had found a comfortable spot to relax after grinding and exploring. It was hidden behind some dark alley between two of the NPC shops that could be found in the town's western section. Nobody had ever bothered them since they started using it because the location didn't appear on the map, so they made it theirs. It wasn't that large, but it had a small garden and a well, and they could sit comfortably on the grass. Or take a peaceful nap in Kirito's case.

When he entered their meeting place, Kirito was surprised that he could instantly recognize Argo.

She wore a blue long shirt with matching pants and had her dagger's sheath resting on her lap. Besides a slight decrease in height and bust size, along with the absence of her signature whiskers, she looked exactly the same.

Her pretty face was framed with mid-length brown hair and contained matching eyes.

She grinned mischievously when she saw Kirito.

"Ki-bou, it's been too long! You've gotten cuter since the last time we've seen each other! A bit shorter too!"

Kirito could only smile at her teasing, glad that she seemed unfazed by the situation.

"Thanks. You're not too bad yourself Argo. I do miss the whiskers though."

Argo let out a small laugh in response.

Kirito took a seat beside her and, for a while, he could almost delude himself into thinking they were back in their Closed Beta days, chatting and having fun under the moonlight. But he couldn't avoid reality forever, Kayaba's revelations too fresh in his mind.

"You know… I was hoping you weren't caught up in this madness since I didn't see you online earlier."

"I only logged on 20 minutes before the events began." Argo's voice was soft, but she was being unusually serious.

"That's what I wanted to speak to you about, actually. What do you plan to do now?"

He let out a soft sigh. "I don't know. I have family waiting for me back in the real world, so I don't plan to die. On the other hand, I have no intentions to just wait around while other people clear the floors."

He scratched the side of his head slowly, lost in thought. "I guess the first thing I'll do is work on getting stronger."

"I'm glad you're not giving up, Ki-bou." She sighed. "I'm not sure what I can do yet, but I want to help clear this game as well, one way or another. I'm sure that all the knowledge we got from the BETA could be put to good use."

She stood up and stretched before facing Kirito and offering a hand to help him up.

"Thanks Argo." Kirito was happy for the help but it turned to confusion when she didn't let go.

"Um… Argo?"

She shook her head. "We'll be partying again. I know how reckless you get with those daggers of yours and I definitely won't let you go off alone. You need someone to watch your back, and who would be better than me? Besides, we make a good team if I say so myself!"

Kirito smiled. 'Still as forceful as ever, eh, Argo-chan?'

"I guess I don't have a choice, do I?"

She replied with her trademark grin.

Kirito shook his head and sent her an invitation, which she readily accepted.

After going back to the town to get resupplied, the two made the trip back again to the western entrance.

Kirito took a long look at the skies with Argo by his side, before continuing forward to the fields.

'Sugu, Auntie, Old man… I won't die here. I promise I'll definitely come back home!'

A/N: A huge thanks for WhizKidHV and ToumaFF's SAO Fandom Nexus forums.