Author Notes: This chapter will be about the Beta Test that took place prior to the official opening of Sword Art Online. I thought since I have not seen too many, if any, fanfiction stories provide details of what happened during the Beta Test, I figured 'why not.' It would be the perfect place to provide even more background for certain players. Additionally, it would be the best opportunity to have Kirita/Kirito meet several other Beta Testers and to further explain why she was somewhat infamous even among Beta Testers prior to the Sword Art Online incident.

This chapter will mark the end of the first story arc or the 'introduction story arc' for "The Kirita Chronicles." Starting from the next chapter the story will begin taking place within the Sword Art Online world of Aincrad. It's been great writing material for what happened prior to the Sword Art Online incident. I will be sure to provide a few flashbacks to further elaborate on the back stories for the various characters too.

On a personal note, I made sure to have this chapter ready for August 8th, 2013, to celebrate my second year of being an official member of this website. It is really an awesome feeling that I have been a member on this website for so long. It has been my plan to have this chapter available for this date since March of 2013, and I'm glad that my planning paid off.

As of this moment, I now have silver diamond by my name in fanfiction forums to indicate the length of my membership in this website. While there might not be any more 'milestones' in membership for me to cross, I do plan on remaining on here for a long time. You can expect plenty more updates for this story along with my other stories, "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories" and "Fairy Dance Alternate."

Please be sure to leave a review for this chapter. I would definitely like to read what you have to say. Additionally, be sure to check out the poll on my profile. It will be about the different events that take place during this chapter, so be sure to read this chapter before participating in the poll because the poll will spoil the exact content of the chapter. After you read this chapter, be sure to indicate which three events stood out for you. I look forward to seeing which events get the most votes.

/

The Kirita Chronicles

Story One: What Happened Before – Part III (Final)

Chapter 3: Beta Test

/

A chain of events

It can change your life forever

Can you accept it?

/

It was on May of 2022 that a device that would change so many lives was revealed for the world to see. This device was known as the Nerve Gear which was created by the gaming company Argus. One of the managers of the company, Kayaba Akihiko, had personally developed the Nerve Gear, and he ensured the development would meet his specifications. On the surface, it would appear like it was some kind of helmet, but it was more than that, and I when I mean 'more,' I mean much more.

Similar to other helmets, the Nerve Gear covers the player's head and face, but when you activate a game, it completely controls the player's consciousness. While the individual would be in the virtual world that the Nerve Gear would allow him/her to travel to, the device redirects the signals the brain would send to the body. Instead, the device would send its own waves to stimulate the five senses of the individual's virtual body. That way it would make the user feel as if he or she truly was in another world. All that was needed to do before that could happen was go through a troublesome 'calibration' process that was actually more significant than I ever would have expected.

The potential of this device was enormous, but it was underused throughout the first few months of its product cycle. The only games that were available at its launch were puzzles, education related, or environment types. There were a few other games that came out later on, such as allowing people to socialize with others similar to Facebook, except in this world you would be capable of 'physically' talking to the other users along with being able to compete with them in contests including but not limited to football, baseball, and archery. While those games were fun, they were not what I was looking for.

I was one of the first people to purchase the Nerve Gear, but I was not satisfied with what was available. When I purchased the system, it was because of the potential that was being advertised for the system. It was disappointing that not too many of the games seemed to be utilizing the Nerve Gear's potential properly, but I knew better than anyone that the real attraction would be coming soon. The game, Sword Art Online, that was being hyped for the Nerve Gear was my primary reason for purchasing the system.

Sword Art Online was a MMORPG that was supposedly planned for a worldwide release, but Argus would first release 10,000 copies in early November exclusively in Japan. Needless to say, when the game was released it sold out almost instantly. It made me wish that the game did not appeal to so many people from the get go. However, I suppose if so many people had not bought the game, I guess what we were able to do afterwards would not have been possible.

/

A few months prior to the game's release, there was to be one thousand players selected to act as Beta Testers. I was one of them. For about a month and a half, I played the initial version of Sword Art Online for over two hundred accumulated hours. I became addicted to the game like no other I had ever played before in my life. Since I was a Beta Tester, I was given the option to pre-order the game. I along with about seven to eight hundred other Beta Testers decided to take advantage of that opportunity.

At first, I thought the Beta Testers who hadn't pre-ordered the game were crazy for not pre-ordering. I could not understand what they might not have liked about this game, but I thought such issues could be easily ignored. As far as I was concerned, this game was the best I had ever played even if it was a Beta Test. Unfortunately, I would find out the hard way that those few hundred players who did not pre-order the game might have ended up making a decision that saved their lives. However, considering a number of the events that happened to me due to being a Beta Tester and pre-ordering the game, I now know full well that I could consider myself both an extremely fortunate and unfortunate person at the same time.

Without becoming entangled in the Sword Art Online incident, so many things never would have happened to me. There were so many people I never would have met and I would have missed out on so many things. For better or worse, those people and that chain of events was what finally caused me to realize that I needed to change. The process of changing took longer than I would care to admit, but I wanted to believe that I was not the same person I used to be. I wanted to believe this had made be a better person, but I guess that might not be up to me to decide.

/

When I entered the game, I was given the opportunity to modify my Avatar. When given a choice to decide the gender of my Avatar, I immediately choose to make it male. I figured since pretending to be male in other video games worked out so well, I might as well pretend to be male in this game as well.

In every game I played that allowed me to choose my Avatar's gender, it was my reflex reaction to select a male Avatar. I was more comfortable with the idea of having others think that I was male. When I would play or converse with other players in a male Avatar form, I never felt uncomfortable talking to either gender. In fact, I felt confident when I talked to anyone because I did not have to worry about them making 'observations.' There was a higher probability I would not be underestimated either like those karate club members always underestimated me because I was a girl. In the virtual world, there were still players who would underestimate me, but they were much fewer.

For the Sword Art Online Beta Test, I designed my Avatar to have the appearance of a handsome bishonen protagonist that you would see in an anime, manga, or role playing game. It took me a while to come up with the ideas, but after some brainstorming, I was satisfied with my selection. After I was done, the only similarities my Avatar would have to my real body was the fact I would have black hair and eyes. Everything else would obviously differ greatly.

The look of my Avatar's face would make you think that I was in my late teens or early twenties. I also had a deep voice to match my masculine appearance. My hair only reached to the middle of my neck, and I had a forelock that came down between my black eyes. Additionally, I also made my Avatar a few inches taller than me, so I would reach the average height of a boy, but it would not hinder my movement since it was only a few inches. The name I would give this Avatar would be 'Kirito.'

According to what my mother told me, my biological parents had planned to call me either Kazuto or Kazuta depending on my gender. That gave me the idea on forming a name for my Avatar. I decided I would use the first four letters from my family name, Kirigaya, and the last two letters from the masculine version of my name, Kazuto, to form the name Kirito. I have used this name on several occasions in the past, and I decided to make use of this name again in Sword Art Online.

/

Despite my skills in video games, I got killed for the first time relatively quickly. I was foolish when I went out into the field and decided to fight a lot of low level wolves at once. While they were easy to defeat individually, they were too numerous to kill at once. Since I was still only a level one, my abilities were somewhat inadequate to defeat them. I managed to kill about half of them before they finally overwhelmed and killed me.

I can still remember how one by one they bit into my body. One of them managed to bite down on my right arm which caused me to drop my sword. Another bit into my left leg then another attacked my right leg. I was unable to move at all when all the other wolves decided to have their own helping. When those wolves began to rip me apart, the feeling of being killed was rather indescribable. Although, I guess the best word to use would be frightening. This made me grateful that this was still only a game and dying in the Sword Art Online Beta Test would not kill me for real. Unfortunately, I would have to eventually drop that way of thinking after the official game launched.

During the Beta Test, Sword Art Online acted like any ordinary MMORPG where you would be resurrected at the starting point of the game. After you are resurrected, you would be able to continue playing as if nothing happened. The resurrection point of the Sword Art Online Beta Test was a place known as the "Room of Resurrection" in the Starting City. Every time I was killed and resurrected in this room, I will admit that I was somewhat frightened by the 'death experience' I went through. However, I was having too much fun in this game to just quit. I would continue playing.

Every time I was killed in Sword Art Online, I made sure to learn my lesson. Luckily for me, it usually only took one time for these lessons to stick. I was able to avoid taking reckless moves, such as fighting too many enemies at once unless my level was significantly higher, I had backup, or I had some kind of useful item or ability. These lessons I learned proved to be life savers at a much later time.

/

Date: August 8th, 2022 – A week after the Sword Art Online Beta Test began

Location: Sword Art Online – Specific Location Unknown

There was a room filled with television screens on all the walls of the room. In the middle of the room stood a little girl who appeared not much older than ten years old, who wore a white one piece dress and had long dark hair. This girl's hair was similar to Kazuta's because her hair reached all the way down her waist, and she had dark eyes to match. Due to the similarities in appearance this girl shared with Kazuta, it would not be farfetched for someone to mistaken the two of them being related.

Ever since the Beta Test began, she had been monitoring the screens that had the faces of various players. It showed the different activities that the players were engaged in. Some were casually hunting monsters and fulfilling quests. A few were engaging in various activities, such as information and material gathering. However, there were several that were attempting to reach the upper floors of the game by defeating the bosses. In fact, there was a group that was engaging the first boss, Kobold Lord, at that very moment. After a few minutes, the group was successful in defeating the boss. In that group, the one that had delivered the final strike to the boss and received the 'last attack bonus' went by the name of Kirito.

There was something about Kirito that caught the girl's attention, so she paid closer attention to the screen that displayed Kirito's picture. The girl seemed amused by what she was seeing and remarked to herself, "It would appear this player is lying about what her gender truly is. I wonder why she would do that. Is there some kind of special reason?"

However, it did not take the girl long to understand Kirito's thoughts and intentions. The girl noticed that Kirito seemed to like the idea of having people think of her as a guy. It put her in a 'comfort' zone. The girl concluded, "Perhaps lying in certain cases can enable more favorable results. That certainly seems to be true for this girl."

The girl saw that Kirito equipped the 'midnight cloak' she received from giving Kobold Lord the final blow. "Observing this girl could prove to be most interesting. I should keep an eye on her."

While the girl would keep an eye on Kirito, there were a number of other players that caught her attention as well. Two of the players were identified as Gorobei and Delano. Similar to Kirito, they brought something to the game that interested her greatly. While the girl was curious about the various players and wanted to learn more about them, these three were among the players that stood out for her the most.

/

Date: August 9th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Second Floor

Even though I generally preferred to play games solo, I was open to the idea of forming parties. I was especially open to the possibility after I was killed for the third time, and I had yet to reach Level Two. Before I even reached the first boss with that group of other players, I must have died over ten times. Luckily for me, I was a fast learner because while I would die a few times on each floor, it would not be nearly as pathetic as when those wolves ripped me apart.

A part of me wondered why I was so willing to join parties during the Beta Test. I guess it was because I was so bad at becoming friends with others in the real world that a part of me wanted to make up for it in virtual reality. In my opinion, it was a lot easier for friendships to be formed in this world than the real one. At least here, you know that you become friends because you can easily benefit from the other person. In the virtual world, if you are a skilled player, it is easier for you to become 'indispensable,' and the other players are more willing to tolerate you despite any flaws you might have.

The day after I arrived at the second floor, I was checking out the various quests that were available for me to select from the general bulletin board. In Sword Art Online, you can generally interact with NPCs, non-player characters, to receive quests, but that was not the only way. Sometimes you could find 'help wanted signs' or 'general bulletin boards' to sign up for quests. That did make things easier at times rather than needing to interact with every NPC in the area to find a potential quest, but these quests did not always pay as well as those NPC quests.

After reading a few of the descriptions, I had a feeling that I would want to team up with another player to ensure that I could accomplish a few of these quests. I remember when I attempted to handle the medicine quest on my own on the first floor. My carelessness got me killed once before I managed to earn the Anneal Blade. When I was doing that quest, I was stupid enough to cut a certain fruit which resulted in all those monsters eating me alive.

As they say, you have to learn certain lessons the hard way. I can definitely attest to that saying for basically every lesson I have ever had to learn. In this case, I learned my lesson to not just attack something that seems suspicious without being more prepared for the possible consequences. Otherwise, I should be prepared for a slow and painful death. That lesson would prove to serve me well after the official launch of the game.

While I was thinking about that quest, another player walked up to the bulletin board. He asked me in a curious voice, "Hey are you checking out that monster hunting quest?"

I told the stranger, "Yes I was."

When I told him that, he sounded somewhat relieved as he replied, "Well I see that I'm not the only one that is interested in that quest."

I asked in a curious voice, "You're going to participate in that quest too?"

He shrugged as he told me, "I already tried taking on that quest myself, and I got killed. After I was resurrected, I decided to come back here to retry it."

I did not particularly like that response. Even though this was a game, he seemed to be a little too casual about getting killed. All I could say was, "I see."

After a few awkward moments of just standing there, he decided to say what was on both our minds, "If you are interested in the same quest, would you want to form a party with me? I'm sure if the two of us do this quest, we will probably win."

Something about teaming up with this player did not entirely sit right with me, so I was reluctant to agree with the idea. However, the fact he wanted to retry something he previously failed at did give me some 'faith' in his determination. As a result, I reluctantly told him, "…Okay."

He seemed excited to hear me say yes as he replied, "All right. Let's make it official then." The player then pressed a few buttons on his screen and sent me an invitation to form a party with him.

Before I hit 'yes' to accept his invitation, I said to this player, "Before we set up a party, I think introductions are necessary. My name is Kirito. What's yours?"

He scratched the back of his head as he sheepishly told me, "That was rude of me. I apologize for not introducing myself sooner. My name is Coper." Coper then offered me a handshake to seal the deal.

I took him up on his offer and shook his hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you Coper. I hope we get along." I then hit 'yes' to accept his invitation and our party was formed.

/

Our quests together went by smoothly, but I could tell that Coper was not exactly a skilled player. I had to save his life numerous times during our time together. If I had to guess, I would say I saved his life on four separate occasions during the six quests that we took part in. He really didn't seem to mind 'knocking on death's door' in this game probably because this was one place where you could die as many times as you wanted to and come back. That habit of his annoyed me, but Coper still proved to be an asset in taking down a fair number of enemies and preventing them from overwhelming us. That was part of the reason why I didn't have any issues fighting alongside him when we joined a group of players to fight the second boss.

The day after I met Coper, we were fighting the second floor boss who went by the name of, Baran the General Taurus. The creature's head made me think of a bull. It had these two large white horns that seemed sharp enough to impale you if you had the misfortune of getting struck by one. Additionally, the boss' face seemed to resemble a bull too. However, unlike a bull, it stood on two feet, it had a muscular body that had orange skin, and it had yellow eyes. The only clothing this creature appeared to be wearing was a loincloth.

Baran the General Taurus' trademark weapon was a large warhammer. Any player that was unfortunate enough to be smashed underneath that thing would most likely suffer instant death. I saw that monster smash three players to the ground as if it were playing a game of 'whack the mole.' Coper nearly had the misfortune of suffering the same fate as those three towards the end of the boss fight.

When we were close to winning the fight, the two of us hid behind a few pillars as I was attempting to formulate a strategy with Coper. I told Coper in a quiet voice, "All right. Coper you head that way, and I'll head this way. If we do that, we can attack the monster simultaneously from two sides. Even if it attempts to attack one of us, the other will succeed in taking it down. All we need are a few good shots, and we will win.

However, Coper was not in the mood for following strategies, "Forget that crap. If we attack this monster a few more times, we'll win and get the 'last attack bonus' for sure."

He then went charging after the monster like the idiot he was. I tried to stop him, but he was out of my reach. I called out to him, "Coper get back here you idiot!" However, he refused to listen.

Since Coper was charging Baran from the front, the boss saw Coper coming. As a result, Baran blocked Coper's attack, and he knocked Coper to the ground. As Coper attempted to get up, Baran readied his warhammer to flatten Coper to a pulp. Luckily for Coper, I managed to make a diving save seconds before the warhammer came down. When I turned around, I saw that the spot Coper was on a few seconds before was crushed by the might of the boss' weapon. There is no doubt in my mind that Coper would have been killed instantly if I did not step in.

Unfortunately because I had to save Coper, another player was able to kill Baran and receive the 'last attack bonus.' Baran was so distracted by me saving Coper's life that a few of the other players attacked Baran from behind and killed him. While I was glad we were able to win the battle, I did not like how my chances of obtaining the last attack bonus were taken from me because of my partner's inability to listen to strategy.

I was a good sport. I did not complain that to the other player that I felt cheated or robbed. That player earned the bonus fair and square, and I congratulated him after the boss battle was over. The only problem I had was that Coper put himself at risk instead of listening to my strategy just so he could attempt to gain the bonus for himself. In the end, he not only put us both in danger, but he lost our chances of obtaining the bonus for ourselves.

Needless to say, I told him it would be for the best if we go our separate ways for the time being. Coper seemed to understand that I was rather annoyed at him, and he left it at that. It didn't take me long to get over my annoyance at Coper. If we would have met again later in the Beta Test, I would have given him another shot. After all, I know better than anyone that we all make mistakes. Unfortunately, that never came to pass.

/

Date: August 12th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Third Floor

Despite the problems I had teaming up with Coper, I was still open to the idea of forming a party with another player. Two days after I parted ways with Coper, I ran into this other player who went by the name of Chrysheight. I met him while exploring the dungeon to find the third boss, and we decided it would be a good idea to team up. It did not take long for Chrysheight to prove to be a much more effective party member than Coper, and it was a shame my partnership with Chrysheight could not have lasted longer than this floor.

Chrysheight had a unique choice of weapon which was a long whip. Whenever, I saw him use it, he handled it with precision. Usually he would stun or distract the enemies that we were fighting, and allow me to finish them off. That strategy would certainly come in handy during the third boss battle.

The third floor boss was a goblin like monster that had dark green skin, pointy ears, and red eyes. The creature's teeth were absolutely horrendous. There were a few of them missing and the remaining teeth were yellow and covered in plaque. I could smell its breath even when I was more than ten feet away. Obviously, this creature had never heard of something called mouthwash.

The monster's choice of weapon was a spear which was a good thing because it made our strategy easier to pull off towards the end. When we were close to finishing off the monster, Chrysheight was able to use his whip to catch the goblin's spear. The goblin was taken by surprise by Chrysheight's move that it almost lost its grip on the weapon. For a few moments, the goblin was completely distracted by Chrsheight that it did not pay any attention to me.

Chrysheight shouted out, "Now's your chance!"

On that mark, I charged at the goblin as fast as I could. By the time the goblin turned around, I was already there, and it had no chance of dodging my next attack. With a quick but powerful strike, I managed to decapitate the goblin. As I saw the goblin's head go flying, it looked like it wanted to curse both of us for killing it before its head shattered into fragments. The goblin's body shattered into fragments shortly after.

A few seconds after the goblin's body shattered, Chrysheight and I were declared the victors. This boss battle was a relatively easy fight, but I guess that is what happens when you have a more competent ally on your side. I really wish we could have teamed up for another boss fight after this one.

/

After the third boss was defeated, I thought that the two of us would continue working together for at least a while longer. We had only been working together for a day, but I really liked working alongside this player. However, he apparently had other plans in mind. What he said next really caught me off guard.

He said in a business-like manner, "I'm afraid this is where we part company." It sounded as if we had just finished a transaction, and we were expected to go our separate ways now.

I said in a surprised voice, "Why? Things were going really well."

Chrysheight's business-like manner remained consistent as he told me, "They were but now I feel that it is important I go down a different path to try another important aspect of the virtual world. There is something I need to test for myself."

I could see it was nothing personal. I responded, "I understand. There are things that are only possible in this world."

His facial expression indicated that he appreciated my understanding as he said, "Precisely."

However, before we did part company, I decided to make sure of one thing. "Are you sure you don't need any help?"

Chrysheight gave me a response I expected from him. "Not that I can think of. Anyway, you want to continue climbing up the floor don't you? Unfortunately, spending more time with me might be distracting for a player like you, so it would be best if we dissolve the party here."

It was a little disappointing to hear that, but I agreed, "Very well."

I did as he said, and I went through my menu and dissolved our party. "I hope you find what you are looking for."

He responded, "I do as well. Good luck with your ventures." I could tell he was being sincere.

I graciously told him, "Thank you. I hope we meet again."

Chrysheight gave me a confident smile as he told me, "I'm sure we will some time."

After we had that conversation, I left Chrysheight behind, and I continued up to the fourth floor. I never saw Chrysheight again. It was a real shame too because I would have wanted to team up with him again in some of the later floors. If I were to guess, I suppose he probably hung around the lower floors because I found something he really liked down there. Some of the other players who fought alongside me in the Beta Test sometimes would enjoy being on a floor so much that they would rather not leave it even after the boss was taken care of.

In addition to never meeting him again during the Beta Test, I also never met anyone who went by that name after the official launch of Sword Art Online. I figured that he must have been one of the two hundred or so Beta Testers that chose not to pre-order the game. I guess he must not have been too thrilled with playing the Sword Art Online Beta Test if he decided to forgo the opportunity to pre-order the game. However, regardless of his reasoning, he certainly made one life-saving decision.

/

Date: August 16th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Fourth Floor Boss Room

During the fourth floor boss fight, I was with a group of at least twenty other players. The boss was some kind of tall swordsman type monster that was probably taller than twenty feet. It wore a strange mask you would expect to see from the Cherokee Native American tribe, and it appeared to enjoy dancing. I found its dancing to be absolutely hilarious, but as it turned out, whenever it danced it was either boosting its stats or calling for reinforcements. However, the boss was vulnerable to attacks when it was dancing, so we were able to take advantage of that and deliver some major damage to this monster.

This boss battle proved to be a chaotic fight. Unfortunately, for us we had either grossly underestimated the boss' abilities or overestimated our chances. The boss had managed to kill about a third of the players, and I was not sure if we had any chance of defeating the boss at our current levels. However, thanks to our repeated assaults on the boss its health was reduced to less than twenty percent. I realized that if I used certain sword techniques, I could potentially kill the boss in a few attacks.

I waited for a few moments, and then I rushed at the boss when I saw an opportunity. The boss saw me coming, and he attempted to decapitate me. However, I managed to dodge under the attack by jumping down and skidding on the floor. The sword was only a few inches away from cutting me to pieces, but it was a good thing that in this case that 'close' was not good enough. This allowed me to do what I needed to kill this monster.

After I dodged the attack, I seized my opportunity, and I sliced the boss outstretched sword arm. I was able to cutoff the boss's arm and before it could recover, I was able to slice its body into ribbons with my various sword attacks. When I was slicing him, I did not think of stopping until I saw its health bar decrease down to zero. Luckily for me, it did not take too many strikes to finish off that monster because I have a feeling I would have been the one killed if its endurance allowed it to survive a few more attacks. Based on what I saw that monster do, I knew that monster would have smashed me to the ground with its remaining hand.

Since I was the one that finished the boss off, I managed to obtain the 'last attack bonus' again. At this point, I had managed to do it on three of the four boss battles. Each time I had done so was thanks to utilizing the preferable techniques at the right time. While some were impressed that I was able to kill the bosses so effectively, there were a few that were getting frustrated by my abilities.

After the fourth boss battle, there was a player that actually came up to ask me for advice. He was a player that had the appearance of a knight who appeared as if he belonged in medieval Europe. I couldn't see his face because he had it covered by a full helmet.

The player walked up to me and said, "That was rather impressive Kirito-san. You not only reduced a significant amount of the boss' remaining health points to zero in a few blows, but you managed to obtain the last attack bonus as well. I doubt other players would have been able to pull it off as well as you did."

I was not bothered by the fact he knew my name. A number of other players in the boss raid team mentioned my name out loud, so this player probably put two and two together. I kindly responded to him, "Thank you."

He asked in a curious voice, "Could you give me any tips for the future?"

I scratched my head as I sheepishly said, "That could be a tough thing to explain. I mean when I went through with the attacks, it felt more instinctive than planned out."

The player's voice indicated he was disappointed with the answer, "I suppose that is understandable, but I doubt everything you did was based on instinct. You seemed to know exactly when to strike."

I pondered what he said for a moment before I answered him. "That is partly true. Although, I would say it was more of an estimate."

He asked in a questioning voice, "An estimate?"

I tried to answer as best as I could. "That would be the best way to describe it. I waited for what seemed like the right moment to use my sword skills to kill the monster. Since the monster's health was less than twenty percent, it seemed like the time to use them."

This player attempted to inquire further. "Are you saying if you would have used it any earlier, things could have gone differently?"

It was starting to feel more like I was being interviewed, but I was still okay with answering his questions. I told him, "Of course. If I would have used them too soon, my attacks would not only lack the power to kill him, but it probably would have counter attacked and killed me on the spot. To be honest, I was afraid that if I didn't kill him within a few more attacks he would have been able to smash me to the ground and kill me instantly."

The player then asked in a curious tone, "So when you used your techniques were you thinking about getting the last attack bonus item you just received?"

It was getting a little more difficult to answer these questions, but I came up with what I thought seemed right. "I would say yes and no. Getting the last attack bonus is great, but I can't just think I need to get the last attack bonus item no matter what. I need to think about the correct timing of what moves to use and when I should use them. If I focus too much on getting the item, I think it would just get me killed."

The player then asked me in a somewhat annoyed tone, "That is very interesting. So do you use others to weaken the monster's health points before making those moves to kill it?"

That was not what I was getting at. While I guess others could interpret it like that, I do not try to use others. It is true that it was thanks to others fighting that the monster became weaker for me to kill personally, but I also did my fair share of fighting even before that. I'm not trying to be a 'glory hound' when I kill these bosses. I'm just trying to play the game.

Even though I could tell this player was probably annoyed by the fact I got the item, I did not let it get to me. Instead, I attempted to set the record straight as best as I could. "I wouldn't put it like that exactly. Even before I finished off the boss, I attacked it a number of times to weaken it. It was really a matter of gauging the situation. Otherwise your attacks and strategy might not work at all."

It appeared that what I said got my point across because the player said in a satisfied voice, "I see. I will be sure to keep that in mind."

He then turned and walked away without saying another word. After he left I realized that while he knew my name, I never did asked for his. However, that would not be the last time I saw him, and I would eventually figure out who he was someday under more unfortunate circumstances.

/

Date: Monday, August 20th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Fifth Floor

Not all the players that I met during the Beta Tester were people that wanted to beat the game per se. There were a few that would rather play and enjoy the game through other methods. On the fifth floor, I had a run in with an information broker who would provide me with quite a bit of assistance for a fair price. He was a tall man who had 'whiskers' on his face and liked wearing brown cloaks. As a result, he went by the title 'Rat.'

I first met him after I had been killed by a few of the monsters on the field. I attempted to get past them a few times, but each attempt ended in failure. I knew that it was only a matter of time before I managed to figure out something, but I was frustrated. I decided to 'eat' at one of the restaurants in town. I figured that 'eating' something would give me an idea. However, as it turned out an idea came to me in a different way.

While I was thinking, I heard a voice call out to me, "Hey!"

I looked up and I saw a player wearing a cloak sitting at another table. Despite the cloak, there was nothing really intimidating about his appearance other than being a few inches taller than me and having those strange whiskers. However, it appeared this player wanted to speak to me one on one, so I decided to walk over to this player's table and hear whatever he had to say. As it turns out, I made the right call.

After I sat down, the player asked, "You're the player that goes by the name Kirito correct?" Even though he phrased it as a question, he knew the answer.

I still decided to confirm the information. "That's me, but who are you?"

The player told me in a polite voice, "My name is Argo, and I believe you could use my services."

I eyed this Argo strangely as he said that. I asked, "Your services? What services do you have?"

He explained himself, "I'm an information broker, and I think after the way you were killed by those monsters out there, you could use a little bit of help."

I asked in a skeptical tone, "That sounds interesting, but what kind of help are you offering?"

Argo then handed me a book, "Here you can have this book for free. It's just a few basic facts about the game I have managed to collect so far. This should give you an idea of the 'quality' of my services."

I replied in an appreciative tone, "Thanks. Are you sure you don't want anything for it?"

Argo answered in a more business like demeanor, "Not for this. Consider it a gesture of goodwill. When the game is officially launched I plan on releasing a 'Data Book' for free that all the players can read. It will allow the various gamers to enjoy the initial floors of the game, and it will help build my reputation as a reliable source of information. When people see how valuable my information is, they will be demanding more, and I can sell it for a price."

I chuckled a little as I told him, "That's pretty interesting that you have that all figured out. Do you plan on doing anything else besides selling information?"

He scratched his head because he seemed a little hesitant to answer the question. However, I think he could see that I would be no threat to his plans, so he told me, "Well I'm hoping to start my own 'Newspaper' in Sword Art Online. I know I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch, but I'm hoping that if I gain a substantial reputation as an information provider I can recruit some players, so I can set up this newspaper."

I was surprised he was willing to tell a stranger about something like that. I couldn't help but wonder, "Did something about me seem 'trustworthy' to this player?" Argo would more or less tell me his reasons for trusting me so easily when we met during the real game. Based on his information gathering abilities, I could not say I was too surprised.

This information made me curious to know more. "That sounds pretty interesting. Do you have any experience in that area?"

Surprisingly, Argo was open to telling me a few details about his life in the real world. "I'm the head of my School Paper, so I have quite a bit of experience when it comes to organizing a newspaper and writing articles. Would you be interested in working for me?"

I was not the least bit interested in being under someone's employ in this game, so I politely declined. "Thanks but no thanks. Writing newspaper articles is not really my thing, but if you ever wanted to interview me in after the game is launched, you can look to me for an interview."

He asked in a playful tone, "Really? Why do you think I would be interested in interviewing you?"

I answered him in a bold, confident voice, "Because I plan on becoming one of the best in this game."

Argo could tell that I was being serious. I'm not sure if he believed I would become the best player or not, but he was not going to shut me down either. "I see. I look forward to seeing you make that a reality."

/

Whether or not Argo would become as big in Sword Art Online was yet to be seen, but I could tell that he was definitely taking the right steps in achieving his goal. The information that Argo placed in that book had its uses. I already knew a few of these facts myself, but it did provide a few reminders and more details on certain subjects I was not previously aware of.

For example, while information on the Crystals could be considered 'basic information,' there were a few different Crystals I had not encountered yet. This information would cause me to keep an eye open for these Crystals both during the Beta Test and the real game. The book also provided information on the different functions of these Crystals. In general, when a crystal is activated, their effects work instantly, but each crystal has their own functions, and there were a few details about these functions I did not know at the time.

Antidote CrystalYou would recognize them due to their green color. At this point in the game, I had not yet needed to use one, so I was not entirely certain of the full extent of its abilities. According to the book, they can be used to cure almost any status effect in the game and return the player to normal. I believe the only affliction this crystal does not cure is the 'stun' status. That would prove to be most unfortunate in the future.

Health CrystalsThese are color coded red, and when they are activated, they completely heal the target. Obviously I had already known that these Crystals would heal the target, but I didn't know it would completely heal the player even if he or she was at a critical level. It was definitely a good thing to keep in mind for the future.

Mirage SphereThese Crystals have the ability to record mapping data. I had already used them during a few of my earlier dungeon exploring events, so there was not much more for me to learn about this particular crystal.

Teleport CrystalsThey are blue Crystals that will send the user to the chosen city's Teleport Gate plaza. I had used this on at least two occasions before. Similar to any other Crystals, they are relatively expensive, but I think having at least one or two of them in your possession gives you a great backup plan to escape from a tight spot. When I managed to obtain enough money to purchase Crystals on a regular basis, Teleport Crystals were always on my shopping list.

Corridor CrystalThis crystal had the same color and a similar appearance to a Teleport Crystal, but it was much larger. The crystal is capable of creating a 'teleport gate' that can be used to send the user of the crystal along with anyone else in his/her party to a location marked by the player. It was a crystal I had yet to obtain in the game. According to Argo's data book, they are extremely rare, and they could only be found opening treasure chests in dungeons or monster drops rather than being able to purchase one in a NPC shop.

Record CrystalsCrystals shaped like diamonds that have a teal color when they are inactive and have a light sea green color when being used. I had yet to understand the usefulness of these Crystals, so this information was rather intriguing. As you may guess, they are used to record messages or take in-game screenshots. By using them to record messages, you could tell other players important information that only you want them to know. I had been both the sender and receiver of such messages, and the content of these messages was always less than pleasant. By using them to take in-game screenshots, it would allow players to form strategies with others and give others a visual of what to expect. I would see them be used for such reasons on multiple occasions in the near future.

Besides Crystals, the Potions in Sword Art Online are important to keep in mind as well. As far as either Argo or I knew, there were only two types of Potions. There were Potions that could be used for healing health points and there were Potions that could heal players' aliments. Unlike Crystals, when you activate them, the take time to fully activate. For example, if I activated a potion that was meant to fully heal my wounds, it could take a few minutes for it to work completely rather than take effect instantly. However, they were cheaper than Crystals, and they can be useful for situations that were not an emergency. I made sure to carry a few of them around my belt at all times.

/

The book also provided information on some of the different statuses that a player can be inflicted with, such as being stunned, paralyzed, poisoned, or blinded. There are multiple ways that these statuses can be afflicted to the players. Players can be afflicted with this by monsters, and I would find out the hard way player themselves can afflict others too. When that would happen, it would act as a reminder to me that your fellow players can be even more dangerous to your survival than any of the bosses you might face.

StunnedUnlike other status aliments you can be afflicted with; this is more temporary than the others. Apparently, it will only last for about ten seconds. However, unlike other status aliments, there is no cure for this. The only method you can use is to wait it out and hope a monster or another player does not kill you in the span of that short period of time. Unfortunately, I would see a few players die because of this 'stun' status. One of these deaths in particular would cost me and a number of others in Sword Art Online quite dearly.

ParalyzedOut of all of the aliments, I find this one to be the most frightening. I was inflicted with a paralysis on one or two occasions during the Beta Test, and I had never felt so vulnerable in my life. When you are paralyzed, you are generally incapable of movement with the exception of being able to slightly move your arms. Unlike the stun status, you can cure yourself of paralysis, but if you do not have the Antidote Crystal readily available in a pouch, it could prove to be difficult to nearly impossible to heal yourself. If you are unable to heal yourself, the status will last for several minutes, but unless someone is there to help you, you might be dead before the first minute goes by.

PoisonedWhen your Avatar is poisoned, you will slowly lose health points until either the poison wears off, it kills you, or a player uses a green crystal to heal you. I had experienced what it is like to be 'poisoned' earlier. When you are inflicted with poison, it creates a virtual version of what it feels like to be sick. While you are still capable of moving, you are not as effective in your movement, and you feel somewhat 'wobbly.' Not to mention, the more you move the more harmful the effects of the poison. You would be better off waiting around until the effect wears off or using an Antidote Crystal immediately. If you really feel the need to move, you better make every step count.

BlindnessEven though I had yet to face an enemy that could cause blindness, I had a feeling that such an aliment existed in this world. Since this was an RPG, the idea of 'blindness' not existing in this world seemed ridiculous. After all, it was a common aliment that you could find in practically any RPG in existence. Anyway, Argo's book warned about the aliment of blindness. It was an ailment that would cause the player to see nothing but darkness for ten minutes or an Antidote Crystal is used.

Argo informed me that there were likely other status aliments that I would need to be aware of, but it was too early in the game to know all of them. However, despite that, I was grateful that Argo was able to provide me with this much information early on.

/

Besides being good at providing information, Argo proved to have some fighting abilities as well. He specialized in using knives in terms of using for slashing or throwing them. He was not nearly as strong or skilled as me, but he proved to be a more competent partner than Coper was. At least, I did not have to save him as often from monsters and if he knew he was no match for a monster, he was good at conducting a tactical retreat.

We traveled for a little on the fifth floor. As thanks for providing me with that free information, I decided to help Argo find out some more information on the various other monsters that were on this floor. One of the monsters that neither of us had yet to encounter was known as the 'Stealth Bees." They were basically monsters that had the appearance of real life killer bees, but they were ten times larger, and as the name indicates they were silent. You would not hear any 'buzzing' from these bees.

During our travels, one of these bees attempted to kill Argo. I managed to push Argo away and sliced the bee in half without a problem. Unfortunately, that bee was not alone. We soon found ourselves surrounded by an army of Stealth Bees. There would be no retreating from this encounter. The two of us were back to back as we readied our weapons.

I playfully said to Argo, "Well it looks like we found another monster for you to add to your data book."

Argo replied, "Looks like it, but we're going to need to get out of this first before I can make any recordings."

I confidently told Argo, "That shouldn't be too much of a problem. They might be silent, but it only takes one swing to kill them. You should be able to handle them without too much of a problem."

Argo sarcastically responded, "If you say so."

The two of us then engaged the bees in a fight. If this was a competition, I definitely had Argo beat four to one in terms of eliminating the targets. However, he proved to be a useful asset towards the end of the fight. While I had managed to kill most of the bees, but there was one that managed to get behind me and sting me. The sting itself did not cause me too much damage, but it was the side effect of the sting that proved to be troublesome.

As soon as the bee stung me, I noticed on my screen that my status went from 'normal' to 'paralyzed.' This was the first time I had ever experienced the status of 'paralysis,' and I did not like it one bit. I was barely able to move my hands, and all I could do was look over my shoulder while that bee that stung me hovered over my head.

I could not help but feel the bee was mocking me because I was paralyzed, and there was nothing I could do to take it down. I wanted to rip that bee in half, but I was helpless. I felt as if I was nailed to the ground, and I had no choice but to wait and see what this bee was going to do. I clenched my teeth in anger as this bee was readying itself to sting me on my face.

Luckily before the bee could do anything else, Argo sliced the bee in half with his knife. After he made sure there were no other bees in the area and we were declared the winners of this encounter, he took out one of his Antidote Crystals and freed me from my paralysis. When I was freed from it, it felt as if a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. I had never felt so happy to be capable of freely moving my body in my life.

That was an experience that I did not want to repeat every again. I told myself that I would take whatever precautions that would be necessary to avoid such problems regardless of whether I was fighting on my own or with a partner. From that day on, I would try to always carry an Antidote Crystal in my pouch. By having the Crystals in my pouch, they would be more readily accessible for me to use them than needing to go through my menu to activate them.

I looked up to Argo and told him in an appreciative, "Thanks."

He grinned as he responded, "I'm just returning the favor. It wouldn't be good business if I'm indebted to you after all."

I chuckled a little as I told him, "Of course it wouldn't."

"Besides, I need you to become the best of this game. It wouldn't do you any good to be taken out by some stupid bees." He then offered me his hand, so I could stand up.

I responded with a smirk, "I guess not." I took him up on his offer, and he pulled me up.

Shortly after this experience, the two of us parted company, but it was not before we made a deal regarding some additional information he had. As one would expect, his function as an 'information broker' would indicate, Argo would sell information regarding rumors and tips he was able to pick up to whoever was willing to pay. Additionally, he would act as a liaison for players who wished to conduct deals or trades with each other. I was rather impressed by his information gathering techniques, and he was impressed by my skills as well. As a result, we became fast 'friends' in the game.

The information he gave me regarding monsters came in handy because it provided me with their weaknesses. Afterwards, I was able to take down the monsters that previously killed me on this floor without any trouble. Unlike Coper and Chrysheight, I would meet and travel with Argo several times during the Beta Test. He would give me a few tips on monster weaknesses or special quests for a price. Apparently because we became friends, he would give me a special friend's discount. I don't know if that was really true or not, but I would certainly like to believe it was.

/

Date: Monday, August 22nd, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Sixth Floor

As I mentioned before, I ran into some difficulty on the fifth floor. Similar to what happened on the first floor, I was overwhelmed by various monsters. By the time I was done with the fifth floor and moved on to the sixth floor, I must have died at least ten times. While I knew that I could eventually build up my skills to take down numerous enemies at once, I was still nowhere near that level. If it weren't for Argo's information, I probably would have died at least twenty times before I finally made it to the sixth floor.

At this point, I figured that I needed to be able to start utilizing a long range weapon that could kill these monsters from a distance. Even if I couldn't kill them, I could at least use it to weaken them before I had to fight them in close range combat. However, when it came to using different weapons and equipment, it was both an easy and difficult arrangement. After all, you had numerous options at your disposal, but you had a finite number of selections.

In order to use various kinds of weapons in Sword Art Online, you needed to equip different skills to utilize them. For example, my sword abilities and the fact I could even use a sword was due to me 'equipping' a sword wielding skill for my Avatar. The more I utilized my sword skill by constantly using it and equipping different swords, I would be capable of using more sword related abilities. The same could be said for any other weapon I could equip. The main way to equip skills was by using the skill section in my menu. However, I would later learn during the actual game that there would be more than one way to gain skills.

Skill slots were meant for more than being able to use different weapons. They were also useful for other purposes such as being able to utilize equipment, supportive abilities, and various 'non-combat' skills. Unfortunately, there were not an unlimited number of skill slots. While the number a player can utilize would increase as his or her level went up, you would need to chose carefully and find a balance between which skills you equip.

For a while I browsed through the list of skills that I could use that met the criteria I wanted for long range combat. Eventually, I decided it was between 'throwing swords' or 'archery.' I considered the two options carefully. At first I almost chose throwing swords because I already chose the path of the Swordsman or rather Swordswoman. However, I also felt that archery would fit more my style for some reason. Not to mention that I thought it would be easier for me to hit further targets than with throwing swords.

Another factor that caused me to select archery was meeting a certain player shortly after I arrived in one of the towns on the sixth floor. When I was walking through the town, a contest happened to catch my attention. There was a contest between these two players one who was cocky and another who was more calm and collected. They were wagering over a thousand col to see who was better. As one would expect, the calmer player won the contest by a landslide and obtained some easy money.

After the contest, I decided to approach the player himself. I said in an amazed voice, "That was pretty impressive back there."

He was appreciative of the complement as he responded, "Thanks."

I then said to him, "You made it look easy."

He hand waved what I said, "I can assure you that it's not easy. It just helps that having a lot of real world experience in archery helped in this case."

I chuckled a little at his remark. "I should have figured that was the case."

A part of me could connect a little to this player because one of the reasons why I was so drawn to using the sword was because of my kendo lessons in the real world. I may not have like kendo due to my grandfather, but I still felt a connection to using the blade because of those lessons. Sometimes connections to things can never be shattered regardless of how far you try to get away from them.

I decided to properly introduce myself to this player, "My name is Kirito. May I know whom I am addressing?"

The player smiled as he told me, "My name is Gorobei."

The two of us continued our conversation for a while before finally deciding to temporarily form a partnership for this floor. Similar to me, while Gorobei was more of a 'solo' player, expect for working with his 'best friend' who was not selected for the Beta Test, he was open to the idea of forming a party with another player. It was a good thing he was open to the idea for my sake.

/

Date: Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Sixth Floor – Dungeon

The following day, the two of us teamed up to explore the sixth floor's dungeon. Gorobei and I actually made a good team. Not to mention, while we worked together, he was able to give me a few tips for using my new archery skill. No sooner had we decided to start exploring the dungeon together I would learn that it was filled with monsters that I feared in the real world. If Gorobei was not with me, I probably would have died fifty times in this dungeon because I would have had a hard time overcoming my fears.

While Gorobei was a good party member to have watching my back, I regretted not leaving it up to other players to explore this dungeon. This dungeon in particular was infested with 'huge spiders.' Unfortunately, I had an overwhelming fear of spiders which is known as arachnophobia. Most bugs did not really bother me, but spiders were another matter.

In the real world, I was always terrified by the sight of a spider. When I was younger, there were times when I would even have asked my mother to kill the spiders for me. It was really embarrassing, but when I was a little kid, I could not kill them myself. In recent years, I would always use some kind of 'weapon,' like a book, to squash them. I guess in this case, I would be either using an arrow or a sword as my weapon.

Apparently, it is not too unusual for some people to fear spiders more than they fear death. I suppose it is because they truly are 'creepy crawlies.' However, in this world they were 'creepy crawlies' times over a hundred times. Luckily for me, I did not have to worry too much about these spiders thanks to having Gorobei as my party member.

As we fought together, I was impressed by Gorobei's archery skills. Whenever we fought the different arachnids that hid in this dungeon during our exploration, Gorobei was able to kill any of them with just one shot. His aim was always precise and deadly. Of course, I was also able to get some practice in archery since these monsters were big targets for me to shoot. After a while, it became fun to shoot these monsters.

While we were exploring this dungeon, Gorobei further demonstrated his archery abilities during a quest we accepted. Our task with finding a special spider that had a red center alive. Gorobei was able to shoot the six of its eight legs off with two shots. Since we were only required to bring back the spider alive, it was fair play to destroy its legs as long as it was still breathing upon delivery. It was also thanks to that quest that Gorobei and I found the door to the boss' room, so we were able to kill two birds with one stone by claiming the quest's prize and finding the boss' location.

/

Date: Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Sixth Floor – Dungeon

Even though Gorobei and I managed to find the door to the sixth floor's boss, we were not stupid enough to test our luck against such an opponent on our own. As soon as we found it, we immediately left and went to the nearest town to recruit a few players. Within a day we had fourteen players that would fight alongside Gorobei and me. We figured that would be enough and luckily for us we were right. I know that I would not have wanted to attempt fighting that boss again if we underestimated its power.

The boss of this dungeon was a giant spider that had a center that was probably six feet wide and fifteen feet long not counting how massively long its eight legs were. If I were to describe what kind of spider this monster was based off of, I would say it would be one of the 'bat eating spiders,' such as the nephila pilipes that can be found on Amami-Oshima Island in Japan. Its skin was mostly dark with several spots of yellow that could be seen on its center and legs. This was most likely based on a mature version of the female for this species since none of its legs had 'hairy brushes,' which tend to disappear after the female matures from its juvenile state.

In hindsight, I really should have seen this one coming considering all the spider monsters we fought throughout the dungeon. However, when I saw this monster, I let my fear of spiders get the best of me, and I screamed. Even with the deeper voice of Kirito, my voice sounded so high pitched from that scream that I still screamed like a girl even in this male Avatar form. Needless to say, my reaction caught a lot of people's attention.

Our game plan was to attack this monster from a distance. Luckily most of us had mid to long range type attacks. This was especially the case for Gorobei and me because I did not want to be anywhere near that thing. At first the fight was going by rather smoothly because we all spread out, and we attacked the spider from different angles. When the spider would go after one of us, the rest of us would hit it with everything we had.

If we could have continued fighting the monster like that, we would have been able to win in no time. However, if there was one thing I have learned from video games, the boss usually changes its game plan after it loses a certain amount of health. In this case, game plan changed after this boss was below twenty five percent of its health points. The change in this monster's game plan would absolutely freak me out.

Similar to how nephila pilies have their egg sacks covered by plant debris or soil, this monster apparently did the same. During the fight, several of this monster's babies apparently hatched and emerged from the ground. They were very quick to jump into action and began attacking the players. Killing the babies one by one was not difficult, but many of them came at once. Not to mention, we still had to worry about the boss.

Before the change in this boss' game plan, we had not lost a single player in the fight, but I would witness how much that would change. When a few of the players were fighting the baby spiders, the boss was quick to arrive at their position. I saw those players be reduced to spider food as they screamed in terror. I thought I was going to be sick seeing that.

Within ten minutes, the boss had about ten percent of its health left, but he had lost nine of our sixteen player group. If we were not careful, we would be wiped out before we finished it off. I decided in this case, that Gorobei was the one that needed to be protected the most because he was more skilled with the bow, and he could fire arrows more rapidly and accurately than any of us. I decided to take the role of his protector.

When several of the baby spiders attempted to kill Gorobei, I jumped in and sliced all of them without any effort. I told Gorobei in a desperate voice, "Focus on the big guy! I'll handle whatever little ones come this way!"

No other words needed to be exchanged. Gorobei shook his head and continued firing the arrows at the monster while I continued to cut down all the little spiders that were heading in our direction. Luckily, I did not have to continue this for too long. After a few more shots, Gorobei managed to land the final hit to kill the spider. According to him, he only had about four more arrows left, so we were very lucky.

Since Gorobei was the one that managed to land the final strike on the spider, he obtained the 'last attack bonus' for this boss. Despite what some players would think, I did not mind the fact that Gorobei was the one who received the bonus this time. With his skills and abilities, he earned it. He was definitely the most valuable player of this fight.

/

After we defeated the boss, Gorobei and I thanked each other for the roles we played in killing the boss. We decided it would be a good idea to part ways here because Gorobei wanted to check out some more things on the sixth floor while I wanted to move on. It would have been fine if we ended our partnership on that note, but sometimes life can never end things the way you want them to end.

Before I left, Gorobei asked me a piercing question in an amused voice, "You're actually a girl aren't you?"

When he asked that, my eyes opened up wide in surprise. I immediately denied his correct guess by stating, "Of course not! Why would you think something like that?" I was attempting to make my voice as firm as possible, but I definitely was a little shaky which made my denial less than believable.

He told me in a voice you would expect to hear from some kind of 'analyst' who was explaining people's behavior, "Well your reactions to seeing those spiders throughout this entire dungeon were a few of the reasons why I thought that. While I have seen some guys freak out over insects before, I thought your reaction struck me as being more 'feminine.' Certain ways you talk also appear to strike me as someone who is attempting to hide something."

There was nothing I could think of to respond to that. The first thing that came to mind was using a line from a classic foreign movie trilogy I like that was made in the United States. I said in a rushed voice, "Oh my god what the hell is that?"

"Huh?" Gorobei then turned to see if anything was there.

While he was distracted, I hit the button to dissolve the party and comically ran away as quickly as I could. As soon as I opened the doors to the seventh floor, I kept running until I reached the first town. It was a foolish thing for me to do. What I did was probably a dead giveaway that he was correct, but I didn't care anymore. I just wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible.

I did feel a little bad about leaving him like that. However, the thought of continuing that conversation was making me uncomfortable. The very idea that he was able to figure out I was a girl made it difficult for me to continue talking to him because I had a feeling that he would talk to me differently, and I didn't want that to happen. I know I didn't give him a chance, but I really didn't want to give him one, so I just took my first chance to get the hell out of there. After my sudden departure, I never met Gorobei again during the Beta Test, but I would meet him again after the game was launched.

Even though Gorobei did make me feel a little uncomfortable at the end, he did help me out, and he was a relatively decent guy. He is also the one that inspired me to use archery as my secondary offensive skill. Using archery in Sword Art Online proved to be a helpful asset in the days that would come. It saved my life on a few occasions, and I was able to save the lives of a few other players too. Not to mention, it would make things easier for me to fight monsters, such as large spiders because I would be able to kill them or at least maim them before they could get close to me.

/

Date: Tuesday, August 30th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Eighth Floor - Field

In Sword Art Online, you cannot commit assaults on a player and expect to walk away without suffering some consequences. By default, every player in the game begins with a green cursor over his or her head to indicate their status as either an 'innocent player' or a 'criminal.' If a player had a 'green cursor' over his or her head, it would indicate that this player has not directly harmed another player on the field. A person that has an 'orange cursor' indicates that he or she has directly harmed another 'green cursor' player.

However, there are methods for players to commit crimes without having their cursor status change from green to orange. One method would be to manipulate other players to carry out the crime for you. Another method would be to prey on players that are sleeping in 'safe zones' and through some 'special options,' players could kill other players in their sleep without need for concern. Additionally, one player could trick another by walking them into a trap and allowing the victim to be killed by other means, such as being killed by monsters in the area. The last method that I know of involves one player poisoning or paralyzing another by tricking their victim into consuming something that would produce that effect. Afterwards, that player could leave his or her victim for dead and/or at the mercy of the monsters.

Conversely, not all of the players who were labeled by Sword Art Online's standards as 'criminals' were truly criminals. You obtain a criminal status by assaulting another green cursor player. It was always possible that one green cursor player was simply defending himself/herself from another who would have killed him or someone else. There was one time I would witness one player who had a green cursor commit a 'crime' in order to save his friend's life.

It was a rather disturbing scene that took place during the summer of 2024. The player was about to be executed by green cursor players as an 'initiation' to this horrific guild. However, his friend killed the would-be executors even though it would result in him receiving an 'orange cursor.' He did it without hesitation because he valued his friend's life over the cursor that appeared over his head. Without a doubt in my mind, that player's friend would have died if he did not commit that 'crime.' He told me that he did not regret committing the crime if it meant his friend would live. I would never forget that incident or its aftermath.

As the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover. In this case, I would say never judge a player by their cursor. I along with many other players had made that mistake, and it cost all of us dearly. It was just unfortunate that Sword Art Online's system of determining which players were criminals and which players were not was too simplistic. That made it difficult for justice to be accomplished.

However, while there were exceptions to Sword Art Online's simplistic, black and white morality system, there were a few times it was right on the money. During the course of my travels, I would meet several payers who truly deserved their 'orange cursors.' They would be some of the worst people I would ever have had the displeasure of knowing. Without realizing it, I met one of them during the Beta Test.

When I was on the eighth floor, I had a run in with the first 'criminal' I would ever see in Sword Art Online. Unlike the other player, this player was a true criminal because he was clearly assaulting defenseless players and NPCs. Even though this was only a game, I was not willing to tolerate such actions. I decided that I would take some initiative to put an end to these transgressions.

The 'criminal' wielded a butcher knife, but that was the only feature I could make out about him. He was wearing a dark cloak that covered everything including a majority of his face. The only thing I could see about his face was his jaw, but that would not be enough for me to pick him out of a lineup. This player would continue to wear these kinds of cloaks after the game's launch, but he would have more of a reason to keep others from seeing his face.

When I saw him, I caught him in the act of threatening several players and a few NPCs. I could see that the cursor above his head was orange which confirmed he was a criminal player. He either obtained that cursor from either the crime he was committing now or something he had committed earlier. However, that detail did not matter to me because he was dangerous either way. As I was running, I activated my menu to equip my blade.

It was a good thing I drew out my sword when I did. He was about to deliver the final blow to one of his victims, but I managed to get in the way and block his attack. This man was clearly surprised by my arrival because I was able to knock him back easily. After I knocked him back, I managed to slice his chest which caused him to retreat from me. I did not give a follow up attack because I was still hoping that I could talk him down.

When I hit him with my sword, my cursor status did not change from green to orange. Since I was attacking a player who was already orange, I am not considered a criminal because the system will interpret it as me defending myself. Little did I know that I would be in situations similar to this multiple times in the near future, and it would understandably be much more intense than this.

Before he had a chance to attack again, I said in a pleading voice, "I don't know what exactly happened here, but I'm sure we can talk about this. There is no need for players to kill other players like this."

The player responded, "Of course there is."

I asked in an annoyed tone, "What reason could you have?"

He then told me, "It's fun!" From his voice, it would sound like the most obvious answer in the world.

I then said, "If you really wanted to fight these players, you could have just challenged them to a duel. There was no need to attack them like this."

The player playfully mocked the very idea by asking, "Where is the fun in fighting duels, especially when not all players would agree to a Total Loss Mode duel? This way is much more efficient in killing other players."

I asked in a voiced mixed with bewilderment and shock, "Are you crazy?"

The player unashamedly admitted, "Yes I am."

He then came rushing at me and he took a swing at me with his butcher's knife that I managed to deflect. The player then said to me in an amused voice, "Now it's Showtime!"

We continued to exchange strikes. He was relatively skilled with that butcher's knife, but I had a feeling if I struck hard enough I could knock it out of his hand. As it turned out, I was correct. Within one good strike, I delivered enough force to send the butcher's knife flying, and he was at my mercy.

He tried begging me to let him go, but I could see that he was reaching for something else. I did not give him a chance to use it. As soon as he pulled out another weapon with is left hand, I cut off his left arm. Before he had a chance to scream in pain or even realize what I had done, I brought my sword down and sliced him vertically in half. Before his body blew up into thousands of fragments, I saw his body separate. The only other way it could have been more disturbing would be if this game had the Avatars bleed when they received injuries.

When I saw him disappear, I was hoping that would be the last that I would ever see of him. Unfortunately, I was wrong. We would meet on numerous occasions. Eventually, I would find out that this player would become one of the most dangerous criminals throughout all of Sword Art Online. It would be thanks to him that numerous other players became criminals regardless if they wanted to or not.

That was the first time I ever had to commit a 'player kill' in Sword Art Online. Luckily, due to this being the Beta, any players that were killed were resurrected in the Room of Resurrection on the first floor afterwards. In the near future players would not be so lucky regardless of their cause of death. The next time I would be forced to take another players life it would be in self-defense, but it would result in yet another action that I would regret for the rest of my life. It would be another thing to add to my list for atonement.

/

Date: Sunday, September 4th, 2022

Location: Real World – Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital

The player that Kirito had killed was brought back to life in the Room of Resurrection as she predicted. Immediately after he came back to life, he ran to the teleporter on the first floor, so he could reach the eighth floor as quickly as possible. This man wanted to be able to fight the one who killed him again. He saw that player as being a worthy opponent, and he would be ready to take this opponent down next time.

However, he searched high and low for this player for days, and he never was able to find the player again. The one time he did get some information about the player's whereabouts was when the player was participating in a boss fight on the ninth floor. However, by the time he managed to get there, his target had already departed for the tenth floor and was long gone. It frustrated him to no end that he could not keep up with this player. From his perspective, this player seemed to be an 'unattainable goal.' This player would become his obsession.

By the time the Beta Test for the game was over, the only thing he knew about this player was that 'his' name was Kirito, and 'he' had proved to be quite an infamous player among the higher ranked Beta Testers. Apparently, he participated in seven of the nine boss battles that happened during the Beta Test which was the highest level of participation out of any other Beta Tester.

The more incredible part was that this player apparently was successful at obtaining the 'last attack bonus' five out of seven times. Apparently, the only reason Kirito did not get one of those other bonuses was because 'he' let someone else have the limelight. It would seem that this player had abilities that he could not trifle with if he were to ever meet this player again. He knew that if he ever met 'Kirito' again he would need to be ready for anything.

Due to this player's special circumstances, his Beta Test ended earlier than the others. After the player was done playing the game, he awoke in his room back in Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital which was a mental hospital. He was one of their many patients. This patient's doctors had asked Argus' permission to make him a Beta Tester for a 'psychological experiment.' From their observations, the experiment was a success, and they gave their patient the option to pre-order the game.

When this patient heard he had the opportunity to play the game after the launch as long as he fulfilled the 'requirements' he jumped at the opportunity. He told his doctors that this game had been a true stress reliever for him, and it has been making him feel better. Of course, this was making him feel better for more than one reason. He had a feeling that based on Kirito's abilities, 'he' would most likely pre-order the game as well, and he would have his chance to meet Kirito again.

This player thought as he chuckled to himself, "You definitely caught my interest Kirito. I'm not one to forget those that catch my attention. I'm certain that the two of us will get reacquainted someday soon. I'll be sure to be ready for when that happens. Will you?"

/

Date: Saturday, September 10th, 2022 – Final Days of the Beta Test

Location: Sword Art Online – Tenth Floor

In Sword Art Online both during the Beta and the actual game, there were authorized Player vs. Player fights that happened in safe areas. Unlike that criminal, harming another player during a duel would not change a player icon from green to orange. When a duel has been enacted, both players have supposedly consented to the fight, so it is considered 'legal' to harm the other. In every duel I fought, after I or my opponent accepted the challenge the two of us would have sixty seconds to prepare for the duel and then we would immediately begin the battle when the timer hit zero.

In Sword Art Online, there are three types of duels. The first is the Total Loss Mode which would only stop when a player's health points reached zero. During the Beta Test, it was not unusual to see players engage in this because the loser would be brought back to life in the "Room of Resurrection." However, this type of duel would not be such a popular choice after the incident began unless someone had a death wish or had a 'sadistic' side.

The second type was the Half Loss Mode, which decided the winner after the other players loses half of his or her health points. However, this type of duel was not used too often either after the incident because it was still possible for one of the players to die since a critical strike could kill the opponent. The final type was First Strike Mode, which decided the winner based on who landed the first clean hit or managed to 'whittle' his or her opponent's health points to half. Needless to say the third type of duel was more likely to be utilized after the incident began because it did not involve the possibly of a player's death.

Throughout my time in the Sword Art Online Beta Test, I had been challenged to numerous duels. Since I was successful in acquiring a number of 'last attack bonus' items, there were more than a few players who had accused me of using others to acquire the items. They conveniently did not notice that I fought alongside the other players to weaken the bosses in the first place, and I didn't hide out in the sidelines waiting for the time to strike. However, when it came to player envy, they tended to be rather stupid and not think logically. That would unfortunately remain true during the actual game too.

As a result of this misconception, I was challenged to a fair number of duels after certain boss battles. Most of the players who challenged me expected that I would be a pushover that would go down easily just like those boys in my karate club. However, they would all learn their lesson the hard way. I would soundly defeat each and every one of these players, and they would be shocked by how fast and strong I was. Apparently, these duels increased my infamy among the higher level Beta Testers.

While most of the duels I had ended up being rather disappointing and forgettable, there was one duel that would always stick out in my mind. It happened shortly after I reached the tenth floor of Sword Art Online during the final days of the Beta Test. Unlike the other players, this player did not challenge me because he felt I was undeserving of the items I managed to acquire. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

This player recognized me as being one if not the best player in the Beta Test, and he wanted to test himself against me. From the moment he introduced himself to me, he carried himself differently from others. I could see that he was a strong, skilled player even before he drew out his weapon. He would be my greatest opponent during the Beta Test, and I found it to be a real honor and privilege to fight against this man. This man went by the name of Delano.

There were a few notable features about Delano. Unlike me who choose to wield the sword, he wielded a retractable long spear that seemed to be taller than him. Delano's weapon resembled the jūmonji-yari spear, so it was cross shaped and had the appearance more similar to a trident or partisan. The spear had a pair of curved blades around its central lance. Basically, I would have three blades on that spear to worry about rather than only one.

His Avatar's face also displayed three scars. According to him, the scars were based on his facial scars on his real body back in reality. Apparently, while he changed certain features about his Avatar's appearance from his real world appearance, the only thing he could not bring himself to lie about were his scars.

I could not help but feel disturbed and sorry for what he must have gone through. However, I tried not to show it because I had a feeling he would have gotten pissed if I said anything. The aura that Delano gave off indicated that he did not want to be pitied. He must have received enough pity in the real world as it was, and the last thing he needed was to receive pity from someone who was suppose to be his opponent.

Delano challenged me to a Total Loss Mode duel, so we would be fighting to the 'death.' I was more than happy to accept his challenge because I could tell this would be a great fight. It actually excited me that this could be an opponent that could actually 'kill me. After I accepted the challenge, the sixty second time started, and I readied my blade while Delano prepared his spear for our duel. When the preparation time reached zero, our fight began.

It took only seconds of fighting him to know that this was not going to be easy because his moves were similar to mine. They were graceful and not wasted. Similar to me, he must have spent hours upon hours in this game to become this strong. Even though I was fighting for my life, it was nice to fighting against someone who really liked to play games too and was not too fixated on who received the 'last attack bonus.'

Dodging and blocking his spear was not an easy task. When the duel began his first attack was to lunge at me and attempt to impale me with that spear as if he was a hunter attempting to kill his prey. I was barely able to dodge his attack. Despite dodging the main blade, one of the two side blade managed to lightly scratch my face. If I had been two seconds slower, that spear would have went right through my head. Even though I had never received 'head shot' damage before, I am sure you would still be 'killed' by that in this game.

After I dodged that, he immediately retracted his outstretched arm and attacked me. This time the attack was aimed at my chest. He was probably going for a bigger target since he missed me the first time. After I dodged that attack by jumping backwards, he kept repeating the same attack pattern, and it kept me on the defensive.

I knew that I would have no chance of winning if I kept dodging, so I needed to find a way to take the offensive. Without thinking about it, I decided to parry Delano's spear attack by putting my sword in between two of the blades of his spear. It was at that moment, that I saw my chance. I lifted my foot and kicked Delano in the stomach. My kick was enough to temporarily stun him as he clutched his stomach he retreated a few steps backwards. I saw my chance to attack him, and I took it.

Even though he was stunned by my attack, Delano saw me coming, and he attempted to take evasive action. However, I was still able to deliver some damage by cutting his chest even if it was a slight injury. After I managed to slice Delano's chest, he was able to counter strike with his spear, and he grazed my waist. Afterwards, the two of us continued our repeated assaults on each other. For a few minutes the battle kept rotating between who was on the offensive and exchanging blows.

After the two of us had hit each several times, the both of us were running low on health points. However, I could tell that if I did not do something soon, I was the more likely one to lose. The two of us were becoming tired, and it was getting harder for me to keep dodging his attacks. Something had to be done, but I was not sure what. My mind was racing as I continued to dodge his attack, and then I had a eureka moment.

Something about this battle made me think about the fight with the fourth floor boss. I guess it was probably how Delano moved or how difficult it was to hit him without receiving some kind of damage, barring the dancing part. It was then I decided to attempt a similar strategy that I used when I finished off that monster. When Delano was charging to make his final strike, my instincts were telling me that I needed to dodge it. However, I chose to ignore those instincts by running straight towards him rather than attempting to dodge or block his attack.

With my quick footwork, his attack managed to nick the left side of my stomach area, but it was not too bad. Receiving that slight bit of damage allowed me to do what I needed to in order to win. His outstretched arm was vulnerable for a few seconds which was enough time for me. I was able to slice his right arm off at his elbow with a swift motion. As soon as I did that, I could see the look of disbelief in Delano's eyes as he saw his right arm be separated from his body and hit the ground. As soon as his right arm hit the ground, it shattered into fragments.

While Delano still shocked by what I had done to him, I knew this was my chance to end this once and for all. Before Delano was able to get his head back into the game, I impaled Delano's body with my sword right through where his heart would be. The sound effects that were produced when I impaled Delano were what I would expect to hear if I had actually stabbed someone through the heart. I will definitely have to hand it to the developers for thinking of 'everything' to add to the experience of this game.

After I impaled Delano, I could see shock in his eyes. Delano clearly didn't see that coming. He looked down at his body with disbelief as he could see that my blade had run him through. If this was real life, he probably would have been coughing up blood and bleeding profusely. However, since this was still a game, he was able to say a few words to me before he 'died' and his Avatar broke into a thousand fragments.

Delano could see that he was beaten. His right arm was gone from the elbow and his remaining health points were declining to zero rapidly. Delano could see that the blow that I had given him was fatal and regardless of anything he did, he was going to 'die.' Instead of complaining about his defeat, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he did that, it seemed like he was preparing as if this was his actual death rather than a video game death.

He took his defeat like a man and congratulated me by saying, "Damn. That was a good move. It would seem you win this time."

Hearing him say that was a real treat. Too many of my other opponents both in the real world and here were far less graceful when it came to admitting their defeat. It made me chuckle a bit when he said that. I said to him in response, "You put up a good fight Delano. It was an honor to duel you."

"Yeah I'm sure it was." He then chuckled to himself before he continued to say, "You won this time, but I hope you don't think this is the end. After this Beta Test is over, I plan on pre-ordering the game and playing the real thing. You plan on doing the same too right?"

I saw no reason to lie to him, so I answered, "Yes."

He gave me a smile I would expect to see from a villain which kind of freaked me out, but the soft tone of his voice was the opposite of his facial expression as he told me, "Good. I have a feeling we will probably cross paths again in the real game. When that happens, you can expect me to challenge you to a rematch."

I grinned as I accepted his new challenge in advance. I responded in a confident voice, "I wouldn't have it any other way. Opponents like you are hard to come by."

As he saw that his health points were about to hit zero, he said in a calm, accepting voice, "Well then, until next time."

With that, Delano's Avatar shattered into pieces that scattered in the wind. Even though I had seen it happen before, this time felt more disappointing. This made me wish that he had selected a different type of duel instead, so we could have become party members afterwards. However, I guess if we would have selected the 'first strike mode,' I'm not sure if we would have fought as strongly as we did in this duel. I guess when it comes to duels, the only real way to test who is truly better is by having it be a duel to the 'death' because that is when both players will give it their all and hold nothing back because they would know it is 'do or die.'

There is one thing I found peculiar about Delano. I always found Delano's behavior at his 'death' to be rather strange. He was taking his death too seriously. While it is true I took my own 'deaths' in the Beta Test seriously and sometimes I was even terrified of what happened, Delano was taking it to a new level. From our brief encounter, I could tell that similar to me, he spent a lot of time playing this game, and he loved being in this world. However, it seemed like he enjoyed playing Sword Art Online maybe a little too much. I couldn't help but wonder what his story could be.

As soon as I saw Delano's fragments fade away, I said to myself, "When that time comes, I'll be ready for you."

After I was declared the winner of the duel, I put my sword back into is scabbard, and I continued my journey on the tenth floor. While I was able to explore a great deal of the tenth floor, there was not enough time to find the boss' room on that floor. It was disappointing that the Beta Test had to end before the other players and I could defeat the tenth boss, but at least we managed to make it to the tenth floor of the one hundred floors that Sword Art Online had.

Since I was able to make it up to a tenth of the floors in the game, it felt like a great accomplishment in and of itself. Immediately after the Beta Test was over, I just wanted to go right back in there. However, I would need to wait until the game would officially launch in about a month and a half. For every day after the Beta Test I would wait in anticipation for the day that I would be able to return to this world. It became my greatest wish and obsession to return. Unfortunately for me, when my wish would come true, I would get more than what I bargained for.

/

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2022 – Shortly after the Sword Art Online Beta Test Closed

Location: Argus Headquarters

Throughout the entire Beta Tester, Kayaba Akihiko had been monitoring the activities of a number of the players in the game. However, the player, who went by the name Kirito, caught his attention the most. By looking up the players' information, he immediately found out that this player was in fact Kirigaya Kazuta. During the month and a half the Beta Test, the daughter of his old mentor had proven herself to be one of the best players. As far as he was concerned, she had taken yet another step to prove she was worthy of her parents' legacy.

During the Beta Test, while a number of the Beta Testers had proven to be capable players in their own right only a small percentage of the players were as capable as she was. It was almost as if she was meant to adapt to life in the game considering the number of hours she played the Beta Test during the summer and after the new school semester began. It was partly due to Kazuta and several other players, such as Delano and Gorobei being extremely active players that they were able to reach the tenth floor in less than two months.

As Kayaba Akihiko was reviewing this information, he was in a room along with his subordinates Hideyoshi, Koujiro Rinko, and several engineers. They were all reviewing the information that was gathered from the Beta Test as well, and they were surprised by the results. Koujiro Rinko in particular appeared to be quite pleased with what she was seeing.

After reviewing the data, Hideyoshi was rather impressed by Kazuta's results. He said in an astonished voice, "It would appear that during this Beta Test that Kazuta-chan managed to reach the tenth floor."

While this information would make anyone else have some kind of reaction, Kayaba's face remained as unemotional and unchanging as ever as he replied, "Yes she did. I will admit that I did not expect her to make it that far so quickly. Perhaps this means that a few adjustments might be in order for the final product to make things more difficult."

Koujiro replied in a sly voice, "Well I suppose it is fortunate you were already planning on implementing a few additions for the final version."

In most cases, having a few final additions would be a wonderful treat to any player who played the Beta Test and wanted something to add to his or her experience, it would be the exact opposite here. Those additions could have caused a few more deaths to happen within the game. While it is true that 'knowledge is power,' it is also true that knowledge is not 'absolute' either.

After reviewing the data further, Hideyoshi decided to ask the question that they were all thinking, "I find it interesting that Kazuta-chan decided to take the form of a male Avatar. I wonder why that would be the case?"

Koujiro Rinko offered her own input as she stated in a calm, analytical voice, "Perhaps she felt more at ease playing these types of games disguised as the opposite gender."

While Hideyoshi was not going to deny the possibly he asked, "What makes you think that?"

Koujiro sheepishly admitted, "Because I would be lying if I said I didn't do something similar when I was younger. Men have a tendency to underestimate women, so it is possible she wanted any of the male players to view her as an equal from the start. Or at the very least not give them a reason to hold back if she fought them."

While Kayaba remained emotionless as he spoke, he apparently agreed with Koujiro's conclusion. "It is an interesting but somewhat sad theory Koujiro-san. Although, I suppose it is a realistic theory given the nature of the world or more specifically this country. While a number of things have changed for the better over the decades, this country still thinks along the lines of a male dominated society."

Koujiro sadly remarked, "That is true Kayaba-san."

Kayaba then stated in response, "However that is not the case with me. When it comes to completing a goal, gender does not mean a thing to me. I always consider ones abilities first and foremost."

/

Koujiro Rinko: She was a young woman who was approximately a year younger than Kayaba Akihiko. She had short light, dark hair that reached to the middle of her neck and had light dark eyes to match. Koujiro would generally wear her trademark hair clip that she once received as a present from Kayaba Akihiko near her forehead. She treasured that hair clip as her precious possession.

This was a scientist that Kayaba has known ever since his college days, and he was her senpai. Koujiro met Kayaba during her first year attending Touto University when she was 18 years old and Kayaba was 19 years old. She quickly became infatuated with Kayaba due to his intellect and good looks. When she gathered the courage to properly talk to him, she invited him to go swimming with her, and that is when their relationship changed. Unknown to a majority of their colleagues, despite Kayaba usual stoic behavior both he and Koujiro shared a mutual love interest in each other.

There were times being in a relationship with Kayaba was rather frustrating for Koujiro. Unfortunately for her, Kayaba would remain stoic and emotionless even when they were alone, but she could tell that he did care for her. There were certain gestures he made, such as buying her a present for her birthday based on a conversation they had a few months earlier. She also appreciated that when they were in a professional setting, she was not given special treatment, and her abilities were always put to the test.

Even though Kayaba had feelings for Koujiro as well, he respected her own intellect and abilities before that. That was why Kayaba had personally asked her to join him when he officially began the development on the Nerve Gear and the Sword Art Online project approximately ten years ago. Koujiro jumped at the opportunity to work for him, and she had provided him with significant contributions to his project.

Koujiro was excited that the project she had worked on with Kayaba for ten years was nearly complete and the Beta Tests were going well. It filled her with pride to see that her contributions were appreciated by someone besides Kayaba. She also felt additional pride that a female player seemed to be having the best time with this game and could easily be the best player despite the fact that a majority of the Beta Testers were male.

/

Hideyoshi decided to get the conversation back on topic by asking, "Since the Beta Testers are given the privilege to pre-order the game, did Kazuta-chan decide to pre-order it as well?"

Kayaba was quick to answer his question, "She was one of the first ones to pre-order the game."

Koujiro proudly smiled as she said, "That's good to hear. Since she did so well during the Beta Test, I hope that means she will also become one of the best in the real game as well."

Kayaba stated, "Based on her results from the Beta Test, I have very little doubt. In fact, how could I doubt that?" The sound of Kayaba's voice gave off a vague sense of confidence which was something that was rarely seen that a few of the employees in that room picked up on.

Koujiro stated in a somewhat surprised voice, "You seem to have quite a lot of confidence in her abilities."

Kayaba explained, "Of all the players in the game, she had the greatest amount. The only other one that comes close to rivaling her abilities was the player known as Delano."

Koujiro questioned in a curious voice, "You mean the player that challenged her to that duel over a week ago?"

Hideyoshi interjected with his own answer, "He is the very same. Personally, I did not find that too surprising considering certain factors I came across in my consumer research."

Kayaba then stated, "Yes that player also satisfied expectations as well. Since he pre-ordered the game too, it will be interesting to see if any kind of rivalry will form between the two players."

Kouiro was interested in seeing what would happen next too. "That is something I would be interested in finding out as well. I look forward to seeing another duel between them."

/

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Location: Argus Headquarters – Kayaba Akihiko's office

After their meeting was over, Koujiro wished to say a few words to her employer/lover in private. They decided the best place to talk would be in his office. Kayaba had made his office sound proof, so no one would be able to listen in on their conversations.

Koujiro told Kayaba in a grateful voice, "I wanted to thank you again senpai."

Kayaba's response to that was, "For what?"

Koujiro answered in an enthusiastic voice, "I wanted to thank you again for giving me a chance to work with you on this project for all these years and always valuing my abilities. I find it amazing that something we have been working on together will finally come to fruition after all this time."

Kayaba's expression remained unchanging, but he was happy on the inside. He responded, "I suppose it is rather extraordinary that something that has been a part of our lives for so long will finally run its course. However, there is no need for thanks. The position I gave you was something you earned a long time ago. The contributions you have made for Sword Art Online have been invaluable, especially the effort you put into the personalities of the various NPCs."

Koujiro then responded, "I had a feeling you would say something like that senpai, but I still feel grateful towards you regardless. The fact remains that you opened the door for me, and I was happy to walk through it."

"If that is how you truly feel, then I will accept your gratitude." Koujiro was happy to hear that, but Kayaba then told her in a stern voice, "However, there is one other thing I would like to say to you."

Koujiro asked in a confused and somewhat worried voice, "What is that?"

"I have told you on several other occasions Koujiro that referring to me as senpai is no longer necessary. Additionally, I have told you that you do not need to act so respectful towards me when it is only the two of us." Despite how those words would sound more meaningful if anyone else said them, Kayaba's tone remained emotionless. However, Koujiro was used to it by now, and it did not bother her as much as it once did.

She happily said to him, "Yes Akihiko."

/

Date: Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Location: Argus Headquarters – Kayaba Akihiko's office

Shortly after Koujiro left Kayaba's office, Hideyoshi entered to discuss with him about the final preparations of his plan for Sword Art Online. As Kayaba's right hand man, he had long since been aware of what Kayaba intended to do with the virtual reality game. For reasons that have yet to be disclosed, Hideyoshi had not told a soul about the game's true purpose out of loyalty towards Kayaba Akihiko.

Even though Hideyoshi already had an idea of what the answer to his question was, he still felt that he needed a confirmation, "So Koujiro-san and the others still do not know the truth behind what you are really planning to do with Sword Art Online?"

Kayaba confirmed in his normal emotionless tone, "I have not told her a single word of my plans. You are the only one besides myself to know what the final outcome of the Sword Art Online launch will be."

Hideyoshi asked in an anxious voice, "When you do this, what do you think will become of Koujiro-san and the other people who worked on this game? Some may not be so willing to believe they had no idea of what was happening."

"I have already taken care of that." Kayaba pulled out several documents from his desk and put them on display for Hideyoshi to look through them. "I have prepared the documentation that will exonerate them all from being persecuted for my actions. Additionally, I have excluded any role you have played in my plans as well. You will not have to worry about the possibility of having a normal life after this is over."

While Hideyoshi was grateful for what Kayaba was doing for the sake of his subordinates his voice sounded more concerned than grateful as he told Kayaba, "I appreciate that Kayaba-sama. I truly do. However, are you sure this is something you wish to do sir? If you go through with it, instead of being known as one of the greatest minds of our time, you will be labeled as one of the worse criminals ever. You can still call this off."

Without hesitation or emotion, Kayaba confirmed, "I am certain. I have every intention of going through with my plans."

Hideyoshi did not have to ask again whether or not his employer was really going to go through with it, but he still had to ask, "Why are you so certain?"

For once, Kayaba was unable to give a direct response to a question. "To be truly honest, that is a question that I have had difficulty answering myself. I suppose the best answer I can give you is a dream I once had."

Hideyoshi asked in an uncertain voice, "A dream?"

Kayaba responded, "Yes. It is difficult to explain, but taking like this may help fulfill that dream. The virtual world is the only place that my dreams can be achieved."

Hideyoshi found that answer to be less than satisfying. "Is that so? That isn't exactly the best answer, but I suppose I'll take it."

Kayaba ignored that last part and said to his subordinate, "Since I answered your question, I have a question for you as well."

Hideyoshi asked, "What is it?"

Kayaba asked in his usual emotionless manner, "Despite your reservations regarding what I am planning, why are you still willing to help me?"

Hideyoshi scratched the back of his head as he responded, "To be perfectly honest Kayaba-sama, I guess this is something you and I have in common. I'm not exactly certain myself."

There was a slight hint of intrigue in Kayaba's voice as he inquired further, "Is that so?"

Hideyoshi answered, "Somewhat, but I suppose the best answer is that while I have reservations for your plans, I do have similar ideas to yours as well."

Kayaba asked, "In what way?"

It was difficult for Hideyoshi to think of the right words, so he said, "Similar to you, I have been intrigued by virtual reality and what it is capable of. I have always been intrigued by the opportunity to have others live in such a world and see how it would affect them."

Kayaba did not offer any response to what his subordinate was saying. He remained silent because he believed Hideyoshi had more to say.

Hideyoshi stated, "Besides, when you begin to implement your plans, there will be no doubt that various workers on the outside will attempt to find ways to circumvent your will and release the players before they can complete the game. It might be a good idea to have someone else to ensure that never comes to pass. After all, there might be times when you may not be in a position to handle that."

For a moment, there was a slight smile that formed on Kayaba's face. "I was hoping that you would say that. It will make it easier for me to be able to spend time in the game along with my fellow players."

Hideyoshi inquired upon his superior's last statement. "You have plans on observing them from within Kayaba-sama?"

Kayaba answered, "That is the plan. After all, one of the most boring things in the world is watching someone else play an RPG. What better way to observe their progress than to be one of them?"

Hideyoshi asked in a concerned voice, "Will you be trapped in the game with them?"

Kayaba brushed off Hideyoshi's concern with, "There is no need for you to be worried. I have already set it up that I will be able to freely logout of the game whenever I wish to."

That answer did not surprise Hideyoshi too much as he responded, "I should have known that you would do something like that. Since that is the case, I wish to have the same access you have to the game. It would be my pleasure to work by your side to see this through to the end."

Kayaba handed Hideyoshi a copy of the game. "I had a feeling that you might make such a request, so I kept an extra copy."

Hideyoshi said in a grateful tone, "Thank you sir."

Similar to Koujiro, Kayaba responded, "There is no need for that. Your loyalty to my orders has earned you the privilege to work alongside me until the end. Although for your sake, I hope you understand what is involved."

Hideyoshi's face indicated his determination to see this project through to the end as he confidently told his employer, "I understand sir."

That was enough to satisfy Kayaba as he responded, "Very well. Then we shall continue with the final necessary preparations."

/

Date: Saturday, October 1, 2022

Location: RECTO Progress – Sugou Nobiyuki's Office

While Kayaba and Hideyoshi were making their final preparations for the launch of Sword Art Online, Sugou Nobiyuki was speaking with an informant of his on the phone. Both Sugou and his informant had taken special 'precautions' to ensure no one could listen into their conversations and they could not be traced. While most of the information his informant had told him was nothing special, the last piece of information managed to catch Sugou's attention. He wished for his informant to elaborate on this information further.

Sugou asked his informant in a curious voice, "So you're saying that Kayaba Akihiko was overly interested in this one player identified as Kirigaya Kazuta?"

His informant spoke in a soft, quiet voice, "Yes sir. He seemed highly invested in her abilities and potential. While she indeed seemed to show the most promise out of everyone in the Beta Test, he seemed to expect it from her for some reason."

Sugou scratched his chin as he pondered the importance of what he was learning. "That is most interesting. As far as I could tell when I was forced to work under him, he never seemed to be that 'interested' in anyone in terms of their abilities other than possibly that Koujiro Rinko. As much as I hate to admit it, the fact someone actually has caught his attention must mean something rather significant."

His informant then asked in an eager tone, "Is there anything you wish for me to do about her?"

Sugou considered something for a few moments, but he ultimately decided it would be best to wait. He told his subordinate, "For the time being, I only want you to conduct a background check. Other than that, I think it would be for the best if we leave her alone."

His informant asked in a less than enthusiastic voice, "Are you certain that is all you wish for me to do about this Kirigaya Kazuta?"

Sugou reaffirmed his orders in a firm voice, "Yes. After all, it would be more interesting to find out what she is truly capable of. Then I will know what Kayaba Akihiko sees in her and whether she will be worth my time."

His informant sounded disappointed by his orders as he replied, "Very well sir."

After Sugou ended his phone call with his subordinate, he stood up and faced the window. As he looked out the window, a smile crept across his face. It was a smile that would probably give children nightmares. His smile revealed the true villainous intent and sadistic nature that Sugou Nobiyuki always hid from everyone. It was a smile that indicated that he was anticipating something 'fun' in the future.

Sugou said to himself in an amused voice, "Kirigaya Kazuta. I'll be sure to keep your name in mind for the future. Let's see if you will be able to provide me with any 'help' in the future. If Kayaba thinks you are worth something, I'm sure you will be."

/

Date: November 6th, 2022 – Sword Art Online Launch Day – Nearly 1:00 p.m.

Locations: Kirigaya Kazuta's Room

The day of Sword Art Online's launch had finally come. I promptly received my pre-order a day earlier, so I did not have to worry about waiting online like some of those people I saw on the news. Seeing some of the new owners of the game pose in front of the camera to 'commemorate' their successful purchase of the game was quite funny. You would almost think they had won some kind of award or trophy.

In a few minutes, the moment that I had been waiting for would arrive. According to the official announcement, the Sword Art Online servers would open at exactly 1:00 p.m., and all 10,000 owners of the game would be able to enter the new world. Ever since I left the game nearly a month and a half ago, I wanted to go back. It was exciting that the time of my return was almost here.

Prior to my departure from the real world, my sister, Suguha, told me that she was heading off to practice. Even though I did not usually wish her good luck when she went off to Kendo practice, something about this time felt different to me. I quickly left my room to tell her, 'Good luck' before she left the house. I still remember how happy she seemed when I said that to her. It also makes me glad that I did say that to her. At least that was one other decision I made that I would not regret. If our relationship had to end, at least it would have ended on a positive note.

After I returned to my room, I looked at the clock and saw it was about to change from 12:59 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. I could barely contain my excitement anymore as I said to myself, "It's time." I then put on my Nerve Gear, and I made the last minute preparations for my return to Sword Art Online.

/

On November 6th, 2022, at exactly 1:00 p.m., the servers for Sword Art Online were officially open. All the players who would be participating in the game had placed their Nerve Gears on their heads and were in their ready positions to begin their experience. Throughout various places in Japan, the players were prepared for what they would believe would be an experience of a lifetime.

When every player saw their clocks state it was 1:00 p.m., the players put on their Nerve Gear and laid on their beds or couches. All the players, including Kirigaya Kazuta, activated their Nerve Gears, as they stated, "Link Start!"

As soon as they said that, the Nerve Gear became active, and all the players entered into what appeared to be a nexus which was the gateway to the world known as Sword Art Online. All of players had officially exited one reality and entered a new one. Not only did this mark the entrance to a new world, but it marked the beginning of an experience that would forever change the lives of 10,000 players and the lives of those around them. For some, these changes would be for the better while it would be the end of everything for others.

/

Omake:

Kirita: The author really likes to make use of the first three chapters in a real special style don't you think?

Akio: What do you mean?

Kirita: Well in "Fairy Dance Alternate", Knowledgeseeker66 used the first three chapters to retell the Sword Art Online arc from Asuna's perspective before deviating from the canon storyline during the third chapter. In 'Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories' the first three chapters were meant to build up Touma's world before tearing it to pieces and giving Touma his motivation to become the 'Devil of Academy City.'

Akio: Is that so?

Kirita: That's right.

Akio: Wow that is pretty interesting.

Kirita: I know. But it doesn't end there.

Akio: It doesn't?

Kirita: Not even close. It goes even further than that.

Akio: What could you mean by that? How much further can it go than that?

Kirita: The author tends to use three story arcs as well. In "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories" the author uses the first three 'side stories' to build up the 'Devil Reign' saga that is currently being written. For '"Fairy Dance Alternate",' the third story arc is the last one before your female counterpart, Asuna, and her friends enter Alfheim Online to save my male counterpart, Kirito, from Sugou.

Akio: (He thinks about what Kirita said and comes to his own conclusion) So your saying that it is the author has been using the first three chapters as something of a 'warm-up' of sorts before getting the story truly heated up. Then the author uses the first three story arcs to further build up the story from for extremely important moments that happen afterwards.

Kirita: That would be the case. Using three chapters and three story arcs must be the author's style or something like that. If that is the case, it is definitely an interesting style wouldn't you agree?

Akio: I would personally agree with that. It has been a writing style that seems to have earned a fair number of fans in the different stories Knowledgeseeker66 has produced so far. It makes me wonder if they have noticed this as well.

Kirita: I have a feeling we will never know the answer to that question. It makes me wonder how this technique will be fully utilized in this story. So far, we have seen that the author has used the first three chapters to produce more of a back story prior to the Sword Art Online Incident.

Akio: The author probably did that partly because not too many details in the various character back stories are revealed at all with the exception of a few rare flashbacks. While the two of us obviously received the greatest amount of focus, at least we did get a taste of the lives for at least a few of the other members of the cast. Knowledgeseeker66 did more or less state we might get more details for certain characters later on.

Kirita: That is true. Anyway, since we know what the author's intentions were for these first three chapters, now we need to wait and see what the author is planning to utilize the first three story arcs for the sake of the ones that come afterwards. With one down, we are just going to have to wait and see what happens after the following two are over.

Akio: Both us and the readers are probably going to have to wait a while for that.

Kirita: Yeah, but I think they will be okay with that. After all, it would not do us any good if this ended up being a rush job.

Akio: (laughs) You're telling me.

Kirita: Anyway, next time it will be time for us to begin embracing the 'Death Game.'

Kirita and Ako: (Speak in unison) See you next time!

/

Author Notes: This marks the end of the first story arc for "The Kirita Chronicles," and I hope you enjoyed it. There will be plenty more story arcs planned in the future both alternated canon and original storylines. I have many plans for this story, and I plan on alternating between working on this story along with working on "Fairy Dance Alternate." For both of these stories, I know the direction I wish to take them. The only real difference is one reason is the fact that "Fairy Dance Alternate" will not be nearly as long as this story is planned to be, and I know exactly how "Fairy Dance Alternate" is going to end.

The next few chapters will begin the players time in Sword Art Online, but a number of elements and structures will diverge, such as providing more perspectives of what is happening throughout Sword Art Online from other players rather than only solely focusing on Kirita. For example, we only know what happens during Kirito/Kirita's first day in the game in the canon storyline, but you will know much more whether it be from the perspectives of canon or original characters.

Throughout this story, you can expect to see me take on a 'pragmatic adaptation' approach. While most of the elements of the game will remain the same, there will be elements that might receive some alterations or expansions. I will not name all the changes or alterations right now, but some of them will involve NPCs and the Crystals. You will see more as time goes one, but I will name a few specific ones now.

Regarding the use of archery, I honestly do not know if archery was a possibility in the canon version of Sword Art Online. In the anime, I never saw anyone use a bow in the anime adaptation of the first story arc nor do I remember it being mentioned in the light novel, but they did allow the existence of archers in the Sword Art Online video game "Infinity Moment." Not to mention, Kirito and Klein mention early on that there are supposedly an 'unlimited' number of skills that can be selected in Sword Art Online besides Magical abilities, so it is possible archery could have been a legitimate skill.

Even if archers were not supposed to originally exist, I will take the video game as a sign that Kawhara Reki-sensei decided to retcon that idea. As a result of that, I decided that archery would be something that would exist within this storyline. I think having archery exist in this story will make things more fun and easier to write because it will add to the diversity. Since archery is not for everyone, it would be one reason why a fair number of players would not select it as one of their skills and would rather other skills, such as throwing knives.

Two other changes will involve Avatar naming and the number of skills. As you noticed in this chapter, Kazuta went by the name Kirito rather than Kirita. That will be something that will be addressed later on in the story. Additionally, as you may know, the players at the start of the game only have two skill slots. I decided that Beta Testers would receive one additional skill slot as a 'pre-order' bonus similar to how people who pre-order video games are likely to receive some kind of bonus. That will be addressed in more detail in the next chapter.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter and will provide feedback. It would be greatly appreciated. Additionally, similar to the previous two chapters, there will be a poll available regarding the events of this chapter. I would like to know which three events that occurred in this chapter you enjoyed or interested you the most. I hope you will participate in the poll. Thank you for reading, and I will see you for the beginning of the next story arc.