Author Notes: The time for the beginning of the Death Game has finally arrived. As some of you may have guessed, you will be seeing Kirito/Kirita partying with Coper, but there will be more than that in this chapter. Unlike canon, I will provide some limelight on some of the other Beta Testers and a few other characters during their first day of Sword Art Online and not only focus on Kirita. As I mentioned before, this story will have 'loads and loads of characters' both canon and original, so it would be a good idea to try to give a few of the other characters besides Kirita some additional characterization and screen time. Otherwise, I would be 'wasting some perfectly good characters.'

In addition to providing additional screen time to other characters, there will be changes to Kirita's own adventure as well. As I mentioned before, there would be numerous first person narration and dialogue differences due to the gender changes. While certain events and results will remain the same, there will be a few things that are added or outright changed altogether. Even the order or timing of certain sequences might be changed up as well. I would not want you to think that the scenarios will go exactly like the light novels because then it would be a simple cut and paste. My intentions are to go well beyond that. I want you to see visible differences between this retelling and the original story not only throughout this chapter but the many others that will follow.

At this point in the story, Kirita will still go by the name Kirito, but she will eventually change that name with a 'name changing option.' I do not know if the players in Sword Art Online were allowed to change their names if they wanted to, but I do know that in some games I have played you are allowed to change the names of your characters, so I am going to go with that route. Not to mention, a few characters in this story did pretend to be girls during the initial launch, so I would bet more than a few of them would have wanted a name change.

Additionally, it could be explained that Kayaba decided to give Kirita a 'slight' bit of favoritism due to their more personal connection. However, it would only go as far as being able to change her name. Anything else she does and achieves throughout the story, such as obtaining the 'dual wielding ability' will be due to her own abilities and not through favoritism.

In regards to your question Isis, you can expect the relationship between Kirita and Heathcliff to be quite a bit different from Kirito and Heathcliff's relationship in canon. As described in the fan-translated light novels, Heathcliff apparently did not particularly like Kirito. In this story, you can expect them to be on friendly terms, but you will have to wait and see to what extent.

Similar to the other chapters, I have posted a new poll on my profile. It will be asking which scenarios you liked the most in this chapter. I hope you will participate in it after you finish reading. Additionally, I hope you will provide a review for this chapter as well. Receiving feedback for the work I put into these chapters is always appreciated.

/

The Kirita Chronicles

Story Arc Two: Welcome to the Death Game – Part Two

Chapter Five: First Day of the Beta Testers

/

For my survival

I abandoned another

I will not forget

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Evening

Location: Real World – Outside the Kirigaya Household

When Kirigaya Midori and Kirigaya Suguha had heard the news about what was happening to people that entered Sword Art Online, they called the house, but no one was answering. The two of them rushed home as quickly as possible, but they were too late. Kirigaya Kazuta was logged into Sword Art Online, and she would not be returning to them unless she had completed the game or died trying. For a moment, they considered taking the Nerve Gear off in hopes that it would be a fluke with the system, and Kazuta would return to them. Luckily, they were not foolish enough to take that chance. They immediately called the authorities to report what had happened to their family member.

A few hours later, Suguha and Midori were standing in the crowd that surrounded their home. The two of them gazed upon the paramedics who were making preparations to transport Kazuta to the hospital. Due to the large number of Sword Art Online victims, the paramedics were spread thin. However, there were a number of volunteers who were quick to rally together to form what would be known as the "Sword Art Online Case Victims Rescue Force." They would prove to be most helpful in transporting the thousands of victims to the hospitals. Thanks to them, none of the Sword Art Online victims would die due to 'transportation' issues.

Two volunteers went by the names of Aki Natsumi and Kikuoka Seijurou. Aki Natsumi was apparently a nurse in Chiyoda Hospital, and she would be assigned to oversee Kirigaya Kazuta's care in the hospital. Kikuoka Seijurou personally spoke with Kazuta's family, and he assured them that they would do everything they could to ensure Kazuta would receive the best care possible. While Midori appreciated his words, she could not help but think there was something interesting in the way he spoke. If Midori did not know any better, she would think this man had a personal interest in her daughter's wellbeing that might go further than what most people would believe. However, she dismissed that thought quickly because it was not the time to be thinking too heavily into things of that nature.

Both Suguha and Midori had never felt so helpless in their entire lives. Their family member Kazuta was imprisoned in a virtual reality because of a device that was on her head, and it was unlikely that she would ever be able to return to them unless she was in a body bag. They also knew that they could not take the helmet off her head or it would result in her death. The prospect of losing Kazuta scared both Suguha and Midori, and there was nothing they could do to save her. All Suguha could do was cry over the fate of her sister while Midori tried to comfort her daughter.

Despite the distance that Kazuta had put in her relationship with the two of them in recent years, they still loved and cared about her more than anything. Suguha loved her big sister, and she was happy that Kazuta was still happy to teach her how to cook and offer her advice. For Midori, seeing this happen to Kazuta made her think back to how she would have lost the custody battle with adoption services for Kazuta all those years ago if it were not for the stranger and his employer's interference. Once again, Midori could only feel useless in the face of another problem regarding her adopted daughter.

Midori bitterly thought to herself, "I am sorry Tomoni and Katsumi. I promised I would look after your daughter, but I failed." For the first time in her life since their funerals, Midori began crying along with her daughter.

Her mother's crying did not go unnoticed by Suguha. She had never recalled seeing her mother cry before. While she could tell that her mother was obviously saddened by what was happening to Kazuta, there was something about her mother's face that indicated there was an even deeper pain. At this point, Suguha was unaware of the truth that Kazuta was her cousin or several other facts that Midori had kept to herself for all these years. However, despite not knowing those facts, Suguha believed that her mother might need more comfort than she needed right now.

After a few moments, Suguha attempted to comfort her mother by saying, "I'm sure that Big Sis will come back someday."

Midori was surprised to hear her daughter say that to her. All she could say in response was, "Suguha . . ."

Suguha attempted to put on a brave face and stated, "I may not have been a fan of the games that Big Sis played before, but I have seen what she was capable of doing. If anyone is capable of adapting to that world that she is trapped in, it would be her. I know she will survive and come back to us."

Midori could see that Suguha was putting on a façade in order to sound convincing. She could tell that Suguha was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince her. However, she accepted what her daughter said to her and responded, "Your right. Your sister is an intelligent and strong girl. I'm sure that she will return."

As they attempted to comfort each other, their faces dried from their tears. They then turned their attention back to the emergency personnel and volunteers that were helping Kazuta and other victims who happened to live nearby. Midori thought to herself, "Please come back to us Kazuta. I have seen enough funerals for our family. I want you and Suguha to outlive me. Please make my wish a reality and return to us, so you can live the life you should live."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Shortly after the 'Death Game' was announced

Location: Sword Art Online – Specific Area Unknown

In the strange room within Sword Art Online filled with numerous monitors, the various monitors displayed the faces of countless players and their mental states. The girl that was at the center of this room watched as all of the players reacted to what Kayaba Akihiko had announced to them. Despite being a program, she herself was stunned by what was transpiring. She was not aware that something of this magnitude would happen. However, she could now tell by the programming that was recently installed into Sword Art Online that this was the case, and she had no ability to possibly override it. If she was capable of overriding it, she would have done so because she was meant to help the players not imprison them.

The little girl analyzed the situation before her, "Within the past thirty minutes the mental state of nearly all the players has transitioned from happiness and enjoyment to confusion and despair." Her screens indicated there were a handful of the players who were handling this situation better than some of the other players. Some of the players either knew what they had to do now, or their focus was on something other than their possible imminent death. A few of the player identifications were but not limited to, Kirito, Klein, Gorobei, Coper, Delano, PoH, Argo, Griselda, Sasha, Diabel, Johnny Black, XaXa, Jūhō, and Heathcliff.

While the girl did appear to find something suspicious about one of these players, she knew that assistance would be necessary for a majority of the players, and she had a role to fulfill. After gauging the different screens, the girl estimated, "Approximately eighty-five percent of the players' have a high stress level and require immediate assistance. It is time for me and the others to begin fulfilling our roles." Her face was filled with determination to fulfill the role that was given to her and help as many players as she could.

When the little girl attempted to leave the room to help the players, she was stopped by an unknown force. The little girl was visibly confused by this phenomenon. She asked the unknown entity in a demanding voice, "What is going on? Why are you stopping me from fulfilling my programming? Why am I unable to reach the other Mental Health Counseling programs?

She received a response that only she could understand and demanded to know, "Why was it rewritten? Why would the Game Master want to prevent me and the others from fulfilling our purpose? We are needed by those players."

This time she received no response and she stated, "The players need help and guidance. Without consoling, there is no way to predict what their behavior might be. However, based on their stress levels, it is likely that several hundred of them at minimum will commit suicide. I cannot allow this."

After stating that, she was still prevented from leaving. Then she received another strange response. "The Game Master wishes to test the player's will to live as if this was their real world and the only thing I can do is watch?" She apparently received a confirmation from another strange response, and she sadly responded, "Then you're forcing me to allow the players to condemn themselves to death. That is not what I'm supposed to do."

Everything the girl said fell on deaf ears. However, despite what the entity told her, she was determined to fulfill her role and aid the players. She made several additional attempts to fulfill her program, but she was denied every time she tried. Ultimately, she was forced to give up and continue monitoring the players through the television screens.

Unfortunately, the little girl's prediction was correct. Within the first few hours after the Death Game was announced, a player committed suicide by jumping off a platform in the Starting City. The player fell into the void that was below the first floor. All the little girl could do was watch helplessly as the player walked towards the edge.

She desperately pleaded, "Please let me help him!" However, she received no response. "He's going to commit suicide. I need to stop him." Her pleas fell on deaf ears again. She then started calling out to the player, "Please don't do it! Please!" Unfortunately, the player could not hear her cries and he jumped off, as she screamed, "NO!"

The player screamed as he fell into the abyss only to be reduced into tiny blue fragments that would fade away. Other players who witnessed this were horrified by what they had seen. They were afraid that the same fate would await them either by their own hands or the hands of a monster. Unfortunately, this would be far from the last player who would commit such an act. There would be hundreds more to follow him.

After witnessing that player's death the girl fell to her knees and said in a sad voice, "It's been less than a day, and I am already a failure."

That player's death would be the first of many deaths this girl would witness. For every death that happened in this game, the girl would be forced to watch them all and be incapable of doing anything about it. It did not matter if the player's death was at their own hands, at the hands of another player, or killed by a monster. She was forced to see every single death that happened within the game. Before it was over, she would have seen nearly four thousand different deaths all of which she believed could have been prevented if she had been able to help. Even for someone of her status, it would only be a matter of time before she reached her breaking point.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Shortly after the 'Death Game' was announced

Location: Sword Art Online – Starting City

Kirita's assumption that other Beta Testers would leave the crowd as quickly as possible was correct. Shortly after Kirita managed to leave the city and begin her journey to the village of Horunka, another Beta Tester who identified himself as Gorobei and his friend Kikuchiyo were departing from the Starting City as well and heading in the same direction. Their situation was somewhat parallel to Kirita and Klein's, but they had the opposite outcome.

When the player's real faces were revealed, not only did it result in several unsettling 'gender' reveals, but it also produced several unsettling 'age' reveals. The players known as Kikuchiyo and Gorobei were just as shocked as anyone when their true appearances took form. However, they were more shocked at the true appearances of several of the players that surrounded them. Despite the fact that the Nerve Gear and the related games have recommended their players to be at least thirteen years old, there was an uncomfortable amount of players who were definitely much younger than that.

Kikuchiyo quickly counted all the children he could see. There were well over twenty of them, and that was only within his eyesight. Kikuchiyo did not want to imagine how many other players might be little children as well. He thought to himself in a mixture of anger and horror, "What the hell? Why are all these kids here? Did their parents or guardians really not check the age recommendation levels?"

Similar to Kikuchiyo, Gorobei was horrified by this situation. He could not imagine what these children's parents and guardians must be going through right now. However, due to being part of the Beta Test and being an experienced gamer, he considered this situation in a similar manner to Kirito. He realized that if they wanted to ensure their survival during the first days of this death game, now was the time to leave.

Gorobei tapped his friend on the shoulder to get his attention. "Kikuchiyo come here." He gestured his friend to follow him, and they walked to an empty alleyway.

Kikuchiyo asked in a voice with a mixture of confusion and fear, "What are we going to do Gorobei? If what that maniac said was true, all of our lives are in real danger. Getting up to the hundredth floor sounds like it would be difficult even if we had multiple lives."

Gorobei attempted to calm his friend, "I know. Things are looking pretty grim. I'm certain that engineers must be working on a way to free us from the game, especially employees at Argus. However, there is nothing we can do about what is going on in the real world. Unfortunately, that also means we can't simply wait for them to free us either. We need to take care of ourselves." So far Kikuchiyo was in agreement to what Gorobei was saying. "At this point, the only thing we can do is prepare for the battles that are up ahead as best we can."

Kikuchiyo was not certain he liked where this was going when he asked, "What do you have in mind Gorobei?"

Gorobei stated in a matter of fact tone, "For starters, we have to go now."

Kikuchiyo immediately questioned his friend, "You mean right this second?"

Gorobei confirmed, "Yes. This is our best chance."

Kikuchiyo did not like what his friend was suggesting. "What about those kids back there? We can't just leave them like that."

"I know that you of all people would feel uncomfortable leaving children behind. I don't like the idea of doing that either, but it is something we will have to do." Gorobei's voice may have sounded cold and calculating, but he was not pleased with what he was suggesting either.

Kikuchiyo hesitantly responded, "But . . ."

Gorobei cut him off and stated, "Right now is our best chance to be able to help ensure our initial survival in this world. If we let others seize this opportunity from us, it could jeopardize our chances of living."

Kikuchiyo was not as familiar with the Sword Art Online as Gorobei, so he asked, "What do you mean? It's not like the monsters surrounding this area won't re-spawn right?"

Gorobei thoroughly explained the current situation. "It's true that the monsters re-spawn, but some re-spawn faster than others, but that is not really the point right now. As you clearly know, a majority of the players are too panicked to realize that there are numerous monsters and quests available right now that can help make them become stronger not to mention gain money and equipment. If we wait too long, other players will kill those monsters and fulfill those quests. If that happens, it will be a while before we can get a second chance, and I can guarantee you that the rewards will not be as plentiful as they would be if we act now."

Kikuchiyo had nothing to say to counter this argument. There was truly nothing he could say because Kikuchiyo knew that Gorobei knew what he was talking about. Kikuchiyo knew it would be better to remain silent.

Gorobei took Kikuchiyo's silence as a sign to continue his point. "We need to seize this opportunity now to gain those advantages, so not only would we become strong enough, but we could afford the equipment and items necessary for our survival. Right now, both of our levels are rather low, but if we work together like we always have, we have a shot at surviving this."

Kikuchiyo could not argue with the logic, but his conscience was making it difficult for him to agree with his friend's idea. "I know what you're saying makes sense, but leaving those kids is something I am not sure I can do."

Gorobei could see that Kikuchiyo was on the verge of heading back to that crowd to help those children. He figured that Kikuchiyo's real life job at the daycare center would make the idea of abandoning a number of children in a death game a little 'jarring' to say the least. While Gorobei understood that helping those children probably would morally be the right thing to do, he also knew that unless they stuck together, either one or both of them could be killed. Kikuchiyo was one individual that Gorobei could never afford to lose.

After taking a deep breath, Gorobei told Kikuchiyo while attempting to mask his frustration, "I understand why you would feel committed to wanting to protect those children even though you only met them, but you need to protect yourself as well. Don't forget that towns and villages are safety areas, and neither players nor monsters would be able to harm them. I am sure those kids will most likely not leave the city. I could see the fear in their eyes. Their fear is completely understandable of course, but it could be what allows them to live. For now we need to count on that probability and become stronger, so we can hopefully live long enough in this world to escape."

After a few moments of deliberating, Kikuchiyo reluctantly agreed, "All right fine, lead the way."

Gorobei was pleased that his friend had agreed with him even if he was reluctant to do so. Since Kikuchiyo was the closest thing he had to family, Gorobei wanted to make sure that the two of them would survive this. As far as he was concerned, the only way that could be accomplished would be by sticking together. Afterwards the two of them began their own journey in Sword Art Online.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Shortly after the 'Death Game' was announced

Location: Sword Art Online – Fields outside the Starting City

While there were other players who left the crowd at roughly the same time that Kirito did, not all of them had decided to head towards the village of Horunka. One of them in particular had no interest in heading to Horunka or attempting to finish the game for the time being. He enjoyed virtual reality, and he did not mind the idea of being trapped in here at least for a while. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing for him to return to in the real world that was worth fighting for. This player's name was Delano.

Unlike his other Beta Testers, Kirito and Gorobei, Delano was not accompanied or in a party with anyone else during the 'tutorial.' He felt no obligation to inform other players of his intentions or his goals. The moment he saw an opening to leave the crowd he took it and ran. He readied his spear and began killing all the monsters he could see.

Similar to the other Beta Testers, his goals for hunting monsters and taking on any nearby quests was for the sake of his survival and becoming stronger. However, surviving and fighting in this world was all he was interested in. He believed he had much less to lose if he were to die and far less to gain if he were to escape. As a result, while other players, including other Beta Testers, were horrified at the idea of being trapped in this life threatening video game and being placed in constant danger, he was ready and willing to embrace it and accept the challenge. He believed if he had to choose a final resting place, this game would do nicely.

Delano vowed to himself, "I won't die. I'm going to fight and become the best player of this game. If I can't be the best in the real world, I will be the best in this one." It was a vow that he would stick with for the rest of the game. With the strength and skills he would build up, he would become invaluable in fighting future boss battles. However, he would be absent during the first boss battle in favor of pursing his interests and certain other reasons.

After he was out on the field, he attracted the attention of several nearby wolf monsters. The first wolf came running at him with every intention of ripping Delano's throat out with its teeth. However, this wolf would be in for a surprise it did not see coming.

As soon as the wolf jumped to attack Delano, he took up his spear and shoved it right down the wolf's throat which killed it instantly. Delano would ensure that he would be hunter and these wolves would be his prey. For artificial intelligence, the remaining wolves seemed genuinely surprised by the turn of events that had transpired in front of them.

Delano smirked at the wolves as he confidently stated, "You thought I would go down easily. I think you have it backwards."

He then rushed his next target with his spear handy as he stabbed the wolf through the skull causing it to shatter into thousands of fragments instantly. The next wolf attempted to jump at him similar to the first wolf, but this time he dodged it by going underneath its jump and impaling the wolf through the stomach with his spear. The wolf was dead before it even knew what hit it.

One by one the wolves kept dropped like flies. Delano continued hunting down various wolf packs until his player levels began to rise. It was shortly afterwards that he would attempt to take on his first quest. Little did Delano know that the quest that he was about to embark on would result in some rather long term consequences that would affect the lives of many other players. Even though he had no way of knowing these consequences could happen, he would come to regret quite a few things that happened during this quest.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Outside the Village of Horunka

Similar to Gorobei, Kikuchiyo, and Delano, Kirito had made her choice as well. She had left Starting City shortly before any of them, and she was quickly making her way to the village of Horunka. As she progressed in her journey, she had managed to kill numerous monsters, and she was not too far from reaching Level two. Most players would feel a sense of accomplishment in being able to make such progress in a short period of time, but Kirito's situation was different. She had a several things going through her head which made it impossible for her to feel anything but shame and guilt over her recent actions.

After I left Klein behind and ran away from the Starting City, I never looked back. I was too afraid that if I looked back, the shame I felt would overwhelm me. I had a feeling that if that happened, I would find myself running back to the Starting City and no good would come of that. The situation was nothing more than a 'Catch-22.'

As I continued through the vast grasslands on my own, my thoughts went back to my friend Klein, who I abandoned in the Starting City. He was the first friend that I had made in this world. We even labeled each other as 'friends' for personal messaging and partying purposes, but when he wasn't able to come with me, I abandoned him. After the death game began, I told him that our best chance for survival was to leave the city immediately and hunt the nearby monsters and participate in quests to become stronger.

At first it seemed like he would come with me, but he remembered that his friends were playing the game as well, and he didn't know where they were. Klein told me that he couldn't come because he wanted to find his friends. However, I knew that if we waited too long, the opportunity would be wasted, so I left. I may have been hesitant to leave him, but I still did. I had committed such a selfish act for the sake of my own survival. Perhaps my decision is the reason I was able to survive, but it will remain a decision I would regret for years to come.

I can still remember the look on Klein's face when we went our separate ways. His face may have indicated that he will not hold a grudge, but I can still remember that while he understood my reasoning, he was still pained by my choice. My eyes watered at the thought of how much I must have hurt him. However, I cannot turn back now. Otherwise, the measures I have been taking for my survival will be for naught. Even if I did go back for him, it would only be to relieve myself of this guilt, and what would that accomplish? It will do absolutely nothing.

My head kept thinking back to other alternatives I could have taken. I thought, "Maybe I could have waited until he found his friends before leaving." However, as soon as I would think of that, my head would then tell me, "That wouldn't have been a good idea. The only reason I have been able to gain these experience points is due to getting out of that crowd and hunting these monsters down."

While lost in my thoughts, another wolf attempted to attack me. I was able to dodge the attack with ease. I quickly drew my sword and beheaded the wolf in two seconds. The wolf disappeared, and I received a few more experience points. Unfortunately, it still was not enough to raise my level. I probably needed to kill a few more of these wolves before I could finally reach Level Two.

Similar to the Beta Test, leveling up in this game is not an easy task. While I was good at video games, regardless of their type, I still remember the difficulty I had when I first started the Beta Test. I made so many clumsy mistakes that I must have died at least three times before I finally gained my first level. It's a good thing I at least learned from those mistakes because with the monsters I managed to kill on the way to the village of Horunka, I was not too far from reaching Level Two, and I had not yet received a scratch.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – 6:00 p.m.

Location: Sword Art Online – Horunka Village

Luckily for me, despite the slight changes from the Beta Test, the location of Horunka was the same. When I arrived at the town, I was a little surprised to see that I was the first player to arrive. Although to be honest, a part of me felt relieved. This meant that any and all quests would be available for me from to get rather needing to wait for opportunities later. Besides, a part of me felt uncomfortable with the idea of conversing with other players in my current appearance. It was difficult enough for me to talk to Klein before we parted ways.

After I arrived, I decided that before I would think about accepting a quest, I needed some new equipment. The strength of my sword left much to be desired, but it was durable. The swords that were available in the shop were far less desirable than what I had, but the armor and clothing seemed useful, and it was affordable. Upon viewing the options, I figured my priority would be to increase my defense until I had raised my health points. I also figured that Horunka would be a good temporary base for me to increase my levels and purchase equipment before heading off to the next town.

When I was in the equipment shop, I noticed there was a full body mirror there. This was the first time I had been able to view what my whole avatar body appeared in Sword Art Online. As the hand mirror indicated, I looked identical to my appearance in the real world. I find it amazing how my avatar looked exactly like my true body in terms of height and proportion. My face was a perfect replica, from my shape of my black eyes, to my rosy lips, my long flowing black hair, and even my 'assets.' Upon seeing my body in the mirror, my first instincts were to purchase equipment that would help hide my true appearance.

As I mentioned before, I have always played as a male avatar in any game I played. Pretending to be a boy in these games always made it easier for me to socialize with others regardless of whether their avatar's gender was male or female. However, the idea of playing as a female avatar let alone one that uses my real form makes me feel uncomfortable to nearly unbearable levels. I didn't like the idea of other players checking out my body in this game. I was somewhat used to it in school, but at least I knew those people.

When I was at school, I was able to phase it out and focus on what I needed to do. Not to mention, it happened a lot less often after I beat up half of the karate club because quite a few of the boys were frightened of what I could do to them. Unfortunately, in this Death Game it would be a while before I could phase out or get used to anyone gazing upon me. It would not be until I met 'her' that I would start to be more okay with the idea of showing a 'little' more skin and gaining male attention. However, there is no point in dwelling on that now because that event would not happen for a few months.

At the equipment shop, I had managed to purchase some gear that would help me conceal my gender. Thanks to some of the money I obtained from killing a few of those monsters it allowed me to purchase this equipment without any problems. The torso gear that I purchased would help hide my 'assets,' but I still needed a few more items to complete the outfit. As I looked through the menu, I saw that there were also inexpensive masks and cloaks for sale as well. Both the masks and cloaks were more of a decoration, but they did provide additional defense points. However, I saw that they were listed as 'highly breakable,' so I decided to buy multiples of each.

I choose to purchase a Shinrei styled mask. Shinrei means the 'the spirit of God,' and these masks have been used to celebrate the 'conversion of a heart from malice to warmth and kindness' to prevent someone from becoming possessed by a demon spirit. The specific mask I purchased was an 'Ayakashi mask' which was used to express 'god or ghost possessed of mysterious powers,' and it has also been used for a 'vindictive warrior.' Basically, the mask would have the appearance of what looks like a male with strange facial hair and eyelashes along with golden teeth and eyes that were a mix of red and gold that had little eye holes in the center. Luckily for me, wearing masks would not make me stand out too much in this game because it was not unusual for a number of players to wear masks, especially during the first few months.

The cloak I purchased was nothing special. It was a long plain brown cloak with a hood that would allow me to hide my long hair. I would later find out that I could still customize my hair, but I choose not to do that. I particularly felt proud of my long hair, and I did not want to modify that at all.

When I gazed into the mirror, my new attire would make it difficult for other players to figure out that I was a girl. With both my mask and hood, the only thing you would be able to see of me would be my dark eyes through the little eyeholes in the mask. As long as I didn't speak when I didn't need to or if I tried to make my voice sound deeper, I would probably be able to pass off for a guy. When I would attempt to create a deeper voice, I would think to myself, "Remember what 'Kirito' sounded like."

While I wore this disguise, I always attempted to mimic 'Kirito's' voice as best as I could. My idea actually worked a lot better than I thought because I was able to fool a lot of different players over the following weeks. If a player ever saw me with my mask off, they would actually remark with genuine surprise, "You're a girl!"

I did not know how long I would try to keep up this disguise. Even then, I knew that it would be ridiculous if I attempted to do this for the entire game, but I didn't care. However, a part of me felt it was necessary. Or to be more accurate, I felt it would be necessary until I had become strong enough on my own to fight any monster or be able to stand up to any player if he or she would attempt to commit a crime against me. It was rather unfortunate for me that certain fears I had regarding this game would be proven true much faster than I would have anticipated.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Forest outside of Horunka

While Kirito was finishing up her equipment shopping, Gorobei and Kikuchiyo were busy fighting some monsters of their own in the nearby forest. They had decided to try and gain at least a level or two before they reached Horunka since it was likely that whatever quest they would need to take care of would most likely be dangerous, and it would be for the best to give their stats a slight boost in the process.

When Gorobei and Kikuchiyo had selected their initial skills, they were not exactly expecting this to be a death game, so their choices were based on their real life preference rather than being practical in a survival scenario. Gorobei had unsurprisingly chosen archery as his initial fighting ability and Kikuchiyo had chosen to wield the 'long sword.' Luckily, the both of them had not filled in their other skill slots at this point and they were still open. However, they figured they would decide what skills they should fill those vacant slots with after they had managed to increase the stats a level or two.

Shortly after they entered the forest near the outskirts of Horunka, the two players were surrounded by wolves and plant monsters. The two of them were back to back, as they prepared to engage their surrounding enemies. They were surrounded by about seven wolf monsters and three plant creatures. The odds did not appear to be in their favor.

The wolf monsters simply went by the name 'Wolf.' The appearance of these monsters was no different from wolves someone could see in the real world with the exception of having red eyes. However, similar to certain wild wolves, you could expect them to be rather dangerous to low level players who do not have a high defense. However, these plant monsters Kikuchiyo and Gorobei were facing were more unique and grotesque. These creatures were known as 'Little Nepents.' However, despite being called 'little,' they are ironically large predatory monsters. At the top of these creatures' heads, there are large, red mouths that have liquids dripping from it. These monsters use it numerous roots to move around. They have two arm-like vines and a large round fruit on top of its head.

Gorobei readied his bow as he quietly told his friend, "Kikuchiyo you handle the plant monsters while I handle the wolves."

Kikuchiyo asked in an uncertain voice, "Are you sure about that?"

Gorobei did not answer before he shot his first arrow which hit a wolf that was rushing at them. By remembering his time in the Beta Test, Gorobei was certain that his attack speed and accuracy would be more efficient at killing the wolves while Kikuchiyo's strength would be necessary to make short work of the plants. However, he knew he did not have time to explain that to Kikuchiyo.

The only thing Gorobei could say was, "I'm sure," before firing another arrow at another one of the wolves.

Knowing the situation did not exactly allow for idle chatter, Kikuchiyo went straight towards his first target and managed to slice the plant monster vertically in half. The other two plant monsters attempted to avenge their fallen comrade, but it proved to be useless. While Kikuchiyo did not have the reaction time of Gorobei, he was more than fast enough to avoid their attacks and cut off their vines.

The Little Nepents cried out in pain as Kikuchiyo made short work of them. First he sliced off what he thought was the monster's head and saw it break into fragments. Afterwards, he impaled one last plant monster with his sword. This move did not immediately kill the monster as it put up a slight struggle before succumbing to its wounds and dying. Seeing that his opponents were dead, he turned to see how Gorobei was doing.

As it turns out, Kikuchiyo had no reason to worry because Gorobei was doing fine. Even though he currently had no weapon or skill for close range combat, it was not necessary for him in this battle. Anytime a wolf attempted to bite him, he skillfully dodged it and put a little distance between himself and the wolf. Then, he would shoot one of his arrows at the various beasts and kill it with one shot.

With Gorobei's skills, he was able to kill the wolves with one shot either by shooting them in the head or in a vital area. His moves were nearly flawless as he would effortlessly change from dodging attacks to launching his own counterstrikes without receiving a scratch. These were definitely the skills of someone who had not only experienced the Beta Test to its fullest, but someone who was a real gamer. Kikuchiyo could see why Gorobei decided to be the one to attack the wolves. In the real world, while Kikuchiyo was the stronger of the two, Gorobei was the more agile one, and Gorobei's agility was what was necessary to fight so many of those wolves at once.

Unfortunately, as he was taking care of the final wolf, there was one moment when Gorobei nearly lost his footing because the ground was muddier than he anticipated. However, he was able to regain his footing fast enough to barely avoid the final wolf's attack. He managed to miss the wolf's claws by a mere two inches. Gorobei then pulled out one more arrow and shot the wolf right in the neck for the instant kill. While Gorobei was not pleased by the near faulty missteps he took, he still considered a 'win to be a win.'

Similar to the real world, Gorobei did not carry an infinite number of arrows in his quiver. In fact, with the number of wolves he killed, he only had five arrows left. However, when the wolves died, the arrows did not disappear along with them. The arrows remained in the spots where the corpses of the wolves would be, so he and Kikuchiyo were able to retrieve the still usable ones after the battle was over. However, despite that, Kikuchiyo knew that he would need to buy a larger supply of arrows in the village of Harunka, and it would soon be necessary to know more offensive abilities to fight monsters.

As Gorobei and Kikuchiyo were retrieving the arrows, Gorobei thought to himself, "Killing off monsters like this will be okay for now. However, as time goes on, I will not be able always kill them with one shot even if I hit them in the head. I am going to need to utilize a close range combat skill soon if Kikuchiyo and I are to get out of this alive."

After they were done refilling Gorobei's quiver, they heard a noise coming from the nearby trees. Both Gorobei and Kikuchiyo prepared their weapons for another attack. However, much to their relief the source of the sound was something that appeared human. They could tell that the stranger was a 'Traveling NPC,' so there was nothing to fear from this individual. Although, they did not let down their guards because they were still in a hostile territory and another monster could still attack anytime.

The 'Traveling NPC' stated in a voice that indicated he was impressed, "That was quite a show that you two put on. Perhaps you would be interested in something a little more challenging."

A moment later a 'question mark' appeared over the 'Traveling NPC's' head which indicated that he was offering the two of them a quest. Kikuchiyo and Gorobei looked at each other and nodded. While they did wish to reach the village soon, they knew their health points were untouched. If they were going to acquire provisions and equipment from the shops in the village, they would need money, and this quest appeared like it would reward them with plenty of that if they succeed. The two of them figured that they would most likely be fine as long as they continued to work together as they always have.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Harunka Village

Similar to Gorobei and Kikuchiyo, Kirito had to make choices regarding her own skills. Since she was still only at Level One, there were only two regular skill slots at her disposal. She did receive a bonus skill due to being a Beta Tester and pre-ordering the game, but she was only allowed to choose a skill that would not be practical for combat, such as cooking or sewing. Kirito had chosen the skill of cooking earlier to fill that slot due to her love for cooking in the real world. Having the skill of cooking at her disposal would prove to be useful to her multiple times down the road.

For her regular skill slots, she had already selected her one armed sword skill for the first slot, and she still had the other slot vacant. At this point, it would not be good to select a new offensive ability, and she decided to select a 'support' type ability. She debated for a while regarding whether it would be for the best to chose 'hiding' or 'searching.' Both abilities were extremely useful, and she knew it would be to her benefit to learn both eventually, but for the time being she had to choose one.

If she had the 'hiding' ability, she would have an alternative if she happened to run into a situation that was too much to handle. It would give her time to be able to heal herself, plan an ambush, or simply wait for her enemy, whether it was a monster or a player, or to leave the area. Unfortunately, she was aware that in the forest that surrounded her, there were creatures that were capable of using more than sight to find their prey. As a result the effectiveness of the 'hiding' ability would be greatly reduced.

On the other hand, the 'searching' ability increases the efficiency of hunting. Kirito knew from the Beta Test that a number of the quests in this village involved hunting monsters, so the 'searching' ability seemed more practical in this case. Additionally she also figured that since she needed to increase her level as fast as she could, having the searching ability would allow her to find more monsters to kill and help her strengthen her stats.

After considering her current situation, she chose the 'searching' ability because it seemed slightly more practical at this point. However, she made sure to keep the 'hiding' ability in mind for when she manages in increase her skill slots. Kirito knew that there were plenty of other areas that would make the 'hiding' ability handy. With that idea in mind, she had concluded her equipment and skill selection for the time being.

/

After I left the equipment shop, I noticed there was an NPC home that was open and welcoming to players just like in the Beta Test. I decided that it would be a good idea to check it out to see if there was anything good for me in there. As it turns out, it would lead me to my first significant experience in Sword Art Online.

When I entered the home, I had not equipped the mask I had purchased to my face yet, so anyone would clearly be able to tell that I was a girl even though the other equipment I purchased would have been able to conceal my assets. The female NPC appeared to be about the age of my mother and if I were to guess her nationality, the NPC's nationality would be European decent. When she saw me enter her home, she welcomed me with open arms. That's something you would never see in the real world.

She approached me and said in a friendly manner, "Good evening, journeying swordswoman. You appear to be tired from your long journey from the Starting City. I would wish to offer you some food, but I do not have any ready at this moment. The only thing I could give you is some water."

I hesitated when she called me 'journeying swordswoman.' It was then I realized that I did not put on my mask yet. I made a mental note to myself to put my mask on before I would enter a town or somewhere with people if I wanted to keep my gender to myself for the time being. However, I had a feeling that players would eventually refer to me as a 'swordswoman' because there is no way I would be able to hide my gender from others forever. Although for the time being, I didn't want too many people to see me as that yet. I still felt more comfortable when players and NPCs would think I was a male player.

On impulse, I responded to her, "You do not have to refer to me as 'journeying swordswoman.' You can refer to me by my name Kirito."

The female NPC only smiled cheerful as I told her my name. She responded, "Very well. In that case, you may refer to me by my name, Margaret."

When Margaret said that to me, I was surprised to hear she had a name. I thought to myself, "The NPCs have names now? I don't remember that being the case in the Beta Test. Most of the NPCs I spoke to never introduced themselves by name. I guess it is as Kayaba Akihiko told us at the tutorial. Sword Art Online is meant to be a new reality to us. That would probably include allowing the NPCs to have names and individual characteristics." However, I would eventually come to see it as much more than that.

I responded to Margaret's first offer, "I would be happy to take you up on that offer for some water."

Normally when I have played games like Sword Art Online before, giving a mere "That's fine" or "Yes" when an NPC makes you an offer, lines like that would be enough to accept it. Of course giving a response such as a respectful, "Don't mind me," would be enough to reject the offer. However, knowing that this was meant to be a 'new reality' I felt that it would be necessary to start treating this game differently. The feeling I had compelled me to speak to the NPCs as if they were normal people in the real world. As time went on, I would eventually find myself compelled to think of the NPCs as more than mere NPCs.

After hearing my response, Margaret poured the water into an old-looking cup and set it on the table. I drank the water in a less than lady-like manner, but I was thirsty after all that running I had done. However, I figured that was not all that was available for me to do here. Since I could see that Margaret was cooking something in her kitchen and she was unable to provide me any sustenance. I had played enough games to know that was a hint for something else.

As if on cue, I heard what sounded like a little girl coughing in the next room. I then saw Margaret become depressed at the sound of the child's coughing. She turned her head away from me as if she was attempting to hide the sadness on her face. If I didn't know any better, I would guess Margaret was trying to hide her burdens from me similar to how people in the real world would attempt to hide things that are bothering them from loved ones.

Despite her attempts to hide her sadness, a question mark lit up above Margaret's head which indicated she had a quest she could provide me. After seeing how distraught Margaret was, I asked in concerned voice, "Margaret, is there something wrong?"

She sadly responded, "Well Kirito it is my daughter, Agatha, she is sick."

The way Margaret voiced her concern reminded me of how my mother sounded whenever Suguha or I were sick. It was as if I was seeing a real mother's reaction to her child's health condition. Her concerned voice sounded so real that it almost caused me to forget I was talking to an NPC. However, I suppose this was the first step towards me realizing the NPCs were more than some well made artificial intelligence.

As a result, I responded in a concerned voice, "With what? Is there something I can do?"

Margaret gave me an uncertain look as she told me, "To be honest, I am not sure. According to the doctor, my daughter is stricken with an illness that cannot be cured even with the best medicine that is available at the market. I purchased some medicine myself and cooked it as instructed. When I gave my daughter some of the medicine there has been no effect. Unfortunately, the doctor stated that the only way to help my daughter is by giving her medicine procured from the ovules that come from the predatory plants that reside in the forest west from here. I would go myself, but I can't leave my daughter alone for too long. I'm afraid of what could happen to her if I am gone."

As soon as Margaret said that, I took that as a sign that is where the objective was and it was time to accept the quest. I stated enthusiastically, "I see. Then I'll go and get some for you."

Ordinarily, an NPC would state something along the lines of, "Really? That would be great thank you." The lines the NPC would speak would sound enthusiastic and hopeful. Then the NPC would tell me what my reward would be if I was successful, and I would be on my way. However, Margaret was different from any NPC that I had seen in any game before this one. What she said to me next surprised me.

She said in a frightened voice, "It's too dangerous for you to do something like that."

Her reaction to my offer to help was startling. "What?"

Margaret warned me again, "I said it is dangerous. Those monsters are vicious. If you are not careful they will kill you."

I was still taken aback by her reaction for a few moments before I attempted to brush off her concerns. "I'll be fine. I will be back in a few hours. I promise."

Margaret hesitantly asked, "Are you really sure you wish to do this? Are you really prepared to take the risk for my child?"

I confidently told her, "Yes."

Margaret could see that I was not going to change my mind, so she reluctantly said to me, "Then thank you for your aid. When you come back, I will offer you this in exchange." Margaret pointed to a long sword that was on display above the fire place. She stated, "The sword is known as the 'Anneal Blade.' It belonged to my father, and I used it as well before Agatha came along. If you can save her life, I would want you to have. I have a feeling it would be more useful to you than it ever was for me."

I had previously managed to obtain the Anneal Blade during the Beta Test as well. It was a good sword for the early stage of the game. However, it was likely the blade would become useless by the time I reached the fourth floor like last time. Although, given the circumstances, I think it would be a good idea to try to obtain items like this whenever I can even if it is only temporary. After all, weapons such as this could be the very difference between my survival or death.

My voice was filled with confidence as I told her, "Okay. I won't let you down." I then set off on my own towards the forest. However, I would soon be running into another individual who would have a similar goal in mind.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Fields outside the Starting City

While Kirito was on her way to complete her first quest, Delano was doing some hunting of his own. Delano had taken on a quest to hunt down several specific types of monsters. He had managed to kill two of the five requested monsters with relative ease. The confidence that showed on his face as he took down the monsters was sufficiently backed by his skills. If any player wanted to fight him even at his low level, Delano would be a difficult opponent to defeat in a fair fight.

During Delano's hunt, he was interrupted by a sound he did not expect to hear. He had heard what he believed were the screams of other players nearby. On reflex, he deviated from his course and went to investigate the screams.

Upon his arrival, he saw that there were three other players attempting to fight a werewolf monster, but the fight was going poorly. Before he was able to do anything about it, the monster quickly managed to kill two of the players by slashing their throats with its claws, and the third one was left on his own. The werewolf knocked the final player several feet into the air, and he landed on his back. Even though it was an artificial intelligence, it could tell that its victory was near, and it slowly approached its prey as the final player backed away in a futile attempt to delay his inevitable death.

He begged, "I can't die like this. This can't be it. Not here not now. I don't want this to be the end. Someone please help."

Luckily for him, the player's pleads for help did not go unanswered. The werewolf was impaled from behind with a spear, and it quickly disintegrated. After the wolf shattered to pieces, the player saw Delano standing there.

The player looked upon his savior and said in joyful voice, "Whoa you saved my life!" It was as if the player had forgotten that the two people that had accompanied him were just killed.

Delano replied in a matter of fact tone, "Yes, but I was not able to save the lives of your companions. I arrived a few seconds too late to do anything about them."

The player's expression became a lot less happy at the thought that his party members were just killed in front of him. However, he was grateful to Delano for at least being able to save him. The player told Delano, "You shouldn't blame yourself. We were in over our heads when we decided to take on that monster."

Delano did not directly respond to the player's statement and stated in a stern tone, "I do not blame myself at all. What were their names?"

The player was surprised by the question, but he answered it, "Their names were Ken and Chidori."

Delano placed his spear on his back again and replied, "Well then. Let's get started."

The player asked in a confused voice, "Started on what?"

Delano responded in an annoyed voice as he picked up the items that were left behind after the players' avatar bodies were destroyed, "You are going to help me form a grave for your fallen friends. We may not have a body to bury, but they should have something that will be proof of their lives."

The player could see Delano's point, and he sadly responded, "That sounds like a good idea. I am sure they would appreciate your kindness. Thanks."

Delano did not respond to the player's words of gratitude and focused on finding an appropriate place to begin erecting the grave for the fallen players. After he found an appropriate spot, he began placing the stones to 'mark' the players' graves. Delano exchanged no words with the surviving player as they did this.

Delano sadly thought to himself, "These players most likely had more to lose than me. If they truly died in the real world as well, I can scarcely imagine how their families must be reacting at the sight of their corpses." Delano tied to stop thinking about families and thought, "It is a pity that they could not live to experience this world longer. Even if they wanted to return to the real world, they probably would have come to enjoy living in Sword Art Online or at the very least come to accept it."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Forest outside Horunka

The name of Kirito's first quest was known as, "Secret Medicine of the Forest." It was a pretty befitting name given the circumstances. During her hunt, she finally managed to kill enough monsters to finally reach Level Two. When she finally reached the next level, she decided to take her mask, so she could 'bask' in the moment. Kirito felt that she could not truly enjoy the moment while wearing the mask. However, she was far from being the only one that would be observing her 'achievement.'

There was a player who was hiding from her sight. When he entered the forest, he had noticed her activities and decided to observe them for himself before deciding to reveal himself. It was in that moment she attained 'Level Two, he saw that the player he had been observing was female much to his surprise. This gave him some rather interesting ideas.

The player thought to himself, "This might prove to be more interesting then I originally thought." The player could see this was a golden opportunity to make his debut. "I guess this is as good a moment as any."

/

Before I could put my mask back on, I heard the sound of clapping. I turned around, and I saw that it was another player. The player was a boy who appeared to be around my age who was a few inches taller than me. He had brown eyes and brown hair that went down to his neck. This player was also wearing light leather armor and a buckler that he would later tell me he purchased in Horunka, and he wielded a small sword like I did. He had the face that would give you the impression that he was a serious person, but a few of the things he would say to me would indicate otherwise.

As he was clapping he said to me in a congratulatory manner, "Congratulations on your first level up. The first of many I hope."

The method of his introduction caught me off guard. I was not really sure how to respond. I was at a loss for words. The first thing I did before responding was putting my mask back on. I know it didn't matter since he obviously already saw my face, but I felt the need to wear it. Wearing the mask did make me feel better, and I felt more at ease trying to talk to this player or any male player for that matter. This would become a habit of mine that would be difficult to break.

I said the first thing that came to my mind, "…Yeah. I hope so too."

What I said came across in an awkward fashion that did not go unnoticed by this player. He sheepishly said to me, "I suppose this was rather rude of me. I just barged in on your big moment without introducing myself. I apologize."

I accepted his apology and told him, "… It's fine. I'm not really offended by that at all. I was just … I was just surprised to run into another player so soon."

He chuckled at what he said, "I was honestly surprised that another player managed to make it to Horunka before I did. It would seem that you are a player that knows what she is doing. That is definitely a desirable trait." It was a good thing I was wearing the mask because I blushed a little when he said that to me, but I tried to shake it off. "Anyway, allow me to introduce myself. You may refer to me as Coper."

When he told me his name, my eyes began to widen in surprise. I instantly recognized that name from the Beta Test. Assuming this was the same 'Coper' I had crossed paths with before, he and I had partied together during the Beta Test for a short time. His stupidity during the boss battle cost me the last attack bonus, and I abandoned him shortly afterwards.

I responded in a surprised voice, "Coper? You're Coper!"

It was Coper's turn for his eyes open up quite a bit due to my surprised remark. He clearly did not expect me to actually know him. He replied in a calm voice, "From the sound of your voice, it sounds like you met me before. Before you say anything let me take a guess. You met me when I was my previous avatar form during the Beta Test. That means you're a Beta Tester like me right?"

I nodded, "Yeah that's right. We actually … partied together for a little while."

That definitely caught his interest when I heard his reply, "Really? You must have looked very different compared to what I'm seeing now." He then said in flirtatious manner, "I partied with a few other people and none of them quite matched your looks." He then chuckled a little after saying that and asked, "Could you do me the honor of telling me your name?"

I was embarrassed that he was hitting on me. However, a part of me was flattered by what he said as well. This caused me to have difficulty introducing myself. "My name is . . . my name is Kirito."

My name did not entirely register with Coper at first. Coper put his hand to his chin as he pondered, "Kirito? That sounds familiar." After thinking for a few moments, Coper appeared to have an epiphany. "You said your name is Kirito?" I nodded my head in response, and he responded, "You're that guy I teamed up with on the second floor during the Beta Test?"

I replied in an embarrassed tone, "Yes. If you need further proof that was me, I can describe the avatar you saw perfectly. My avatar was male with black hair that only reached the middle of my neck rather than my waist, I had a forelock that came down between my black eyes, and I was about a few inches taller than I appear before you now." Oddly enough, I was able to give this description without stuttering. I guess it was because I put so much work into that avatar that I knew exactly how to describe him. Since I knew what I wanted to say, I had less difficulty talking.

After I told him that, I could tell by the look on his face that was more than enough to convince him. "Whoa. You really are that player. I never would have thought you were such a cute girl. You totally had me believe you were a guy." He immediately realized that what he said would not have set well with many others. "I didn't mean it like that . . . I uh."

Luckily for him, I was not like most girls who would try to hurt him for making such comments. I stopped him before he made the situation anymore awkward. "You don't have to apologize. It was … it was my intention to make people think that I was a male player."

He responded in a curious voice, "Is that right? Why would you want to hide that?" He then asked in a more flirtatious manner as he looked up and down, "If I knew you were a girl before, I would have had more 'motivation' to try harder in the Beta Test." I could tell that he was sizing me up to make a few 'guesses' when he said that. It was definitely breaching my comfort zone. I may have been wearing a mask, cloak, and armor, but I still didn't like the way he was looking at me.

I took a small breath to keep myself composed as I explained to him in a rather 'thorough' manner. "There are a number of reasons for that. For example, I wanted to avoid male players such as you flirting with me. That kind of makes me feel uncomfortable in the real world. Even what you are doing right now is making me uncomfortable." That did not seem to stop him from sizing me up, so I raised my voice and told him, "Stop that!"

When I said that, Coper seemed to get the message and backed off a little. Coper backed away a few steps and replied in an embarrassed tone, "Oh I see. I suppose that's a pretty good reason. Sorry about that."

I decided this would not be the best place to get hung up on such issues, so I told him, "It is okay … I guess, but try not to do that again. I mean … I know I should try to get better at this … but I … I don't know."

Coper replied in a cheerful manner, "Well I would be happy to provide you with some assistance if I can. While I understand your reasoning, I don't think you should try hiding your looks. I think you should show them off a little. You'll look friendlier to others that way, and you might overcome your problems."

The thought of me wearing a more revealing outfit came across my mind, but I tried to get it out of my head. I would eventually wear a significantly different outfit, but it would not be until 'she' convinced me to do so. At that time, I did not even want to think about wearing such an outfit. While I was thinking about my appearance, I realized that talking to Coper almost caused me to forget this was not the best place to be having a casual conversation.

I politely replied to his suggestion, "I guess, but I … I don't think this is the place to really be discussing something like that. There are plenty of monsters here, and the ones I just killed will probably re-spawn when we aren't expecting it."

What I said seemed to cause Coper to remember something, "Ah yeah that's right. That's actually why I came out in the open. You're on a quest right?"

I figured there was no use in denying it, so I confirmed, "Yes I am. It's called the 'Secret Medicine of the Forest' quest."

Coper replied, "I figured as much. The NPC, Margaret, told me back in the village that another player had taken this quest, so I decided to come seek you out."

Hearing Coper say that to me certainly caught me by surprise, and I asked, "What do you mean seek me out? What's … what's the point in that?"

Coper began to explain himself as if he was about to give me a sales pitch. "The quest requires you to find a 'Little Nepent's Ovule' right? As you probably know, it is an extremely rare item that is difficult for players to obtain. It is not unusual for players to spend at least two hours hunting for these plants before one finally shows up. I was wondering if you would require help in obtaining it."

"Well I . . . what?" My response to what he said was definitely less than graceful.

Coper asked me in an amused tone, "Is there something wrong?"

When I finally found the right words, I answered, "Not necessarily, but this … this quest is suppose to be a solo quest. That would mean only one player would be able to claim the reward for it right? If I party with you, who … who would get the reward?"

In Sword Art Online, there were quests that only one player could complete and reap the rewards or a party of players could complete simultaneously split the reward equally. The quest I was one was the former. Additionally, there were quests that were a 'first come, first serve' while others would allow multiple players or groups take on the quest at once. This quest was the former, so it would be more of a competition for the two of us to try and complete the quest rather than a joint activity.

Despite what I said, Coper did not seem bothered. In fact, he seemed like he expected me to say that, and he told me, "Actually, I'm okay with you taking the 'Anneal Blade' as the reward for this quest."

I was honestly surprised when he said that to me. "What?"

Coper repeated himself in a seemingly sincere voice. "I said that I'm okay with it. I'm actually here to make you an offer."

I asked in a suspicious voice, "What kind of an offer?"

He explained the deal to me in a way that it would be difficult for me to turn down. "I will help you obtain the 'Little Nepent's Ovule' for this quest, and in exchange you will help me with a solo quest of my own and allow me to gain the reward. It sounds fair doesn't it? After all, if we form a party, that increase the drop rate chances for one of those Ovules. Besides, we have worked together before. I would not mind working with you again."

I considered his request for a few moments. Coper probably expected that while what he offered a good deal, our situation was not exactly the most ideal. The offer he was giving me also seemed too good to be true. However, I also knew that this was not the situation to be nitpicky either.

Everything about what he was saying was sound, but there was still one problem. I still remembered what happened during the Beta Test. Coper wasn't exactly the most cooperative teammate and his recklessness during the boss fight nearly got us both killed. While I am not really angry about what happened before, I am worried that he may replicate such behavior in here as well, and we would not be as fortunate as we were in the Beta Test. I felt being a party member with this player would be a huge risk.

I responded in a voice filled with uncertainty, "I guess you have a point, but I'm … I'm not too sure."

Coper could see what I was referring to as he reassured me, "I can understand your reluctance after what happened during that boss fight during the Beta Test, but I can promise you that things will be different this time around. I learned my lesson from what happened before. I can promise that you won't regret teaming up with me this time."

After considering what he said, I reluctantly told him, "I'll … I'll take you up on that offer."

Coper then offered me his hand, "Good answer. Not only do you have good looks, but you have a good head on your shoulders." Hearing him say that made me feel a little embarrassed again. He then sealed the deal with, "If we are to survive in this game, we should look after each other right?"

I shook his hand in return and replied, "Okay."

To be honest, I felt my actions were extremely hypocritical. I know that the circumstances and location are completely different, so it could make my actions somewhat excusable, but made me think about Klein. What Coper had said to me was not too different from Klein's way of thinking. Klein wanted to make sure his friends survived by sticking together with them. However, I abandoned him due to it being inconvenient and risky to wait too long. Here I was taking up Coper's offer to party with him for something similar.

I mentally cursed myself for my actions over the past few hours, but I tried not to dwell on it. If I let my actions weigh too heavily on me then I would not make any progress at all. The best thing I could do was put it all aside and move forward. I figured that I could think over my actions after I returned to the village.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Another area of the Forest

While Kirito and Coper were partnering up to get the ovule she needed to complete the quest, Kikuchiyo and Gorobei were in another part of the forest accomplishing their own quest. On their way to the village of Horunka, they met a 'traveling NPC,' who asked them to hunt and kill a specific wolf monster. Luckily, it did not take them too long to find their objective.

Despite Kikuchiyo not being nearly as skilled at video games as Gorobei, he was a fast learner. He had managed to slice a number of the wolves in half with very little effort while Gorobei was able to pick off the other wolves from a distance with his archery skills. After they had managed to kill the other members of this wolf's 'pack,' it was time for them to defeat their leader, who was their target for this hunt.

The leader of this pack was not pleased that Kikuchiyo and Gorobei had managed to make quick work of his fellow wolves. It prepared itself to strike down both Kikuchiyo and Gorobei with all its might to avenge its comrades. However, neither Kikuchiyo nor Gorobei were frightened by this monster as they prepared for their own attack. They prepared their weapons for the final clash in this fight.

Gorobei assured his friend, "You got this Kikuchiyo."

Kikuchiyo confidently stated, "I always do." Kikuchiyo prepared his long sword for fighting the pack leader. Unfortunately, Kikuchiyo was not someone who always paid attention to his surroundings. As he raised his sword in preparation to attack the leader, he did not realize that when he swung, the blade would be caught on a tree.

Due to Kikuchiyo's failure to pay attention, when he made his move, his blade ended up getting trapped. Kikuchiyo then provided a loud but normal response anyone would have in this type of situation, "Oh crap!"

Unfortunately, what happened caused Kikuchiyo to panic, and he did not think rationally about the fact he was about to be attacked by a vicious monster. The wolf was not the type of enemy to wait idly by as its enemy was attempting to regain itself. As Kikuchiyo attempted to dislodge his long sword from the tree, the wolf charged at Kikuchiyo filled with killing intent. If that wolf's fangs made contact with Kikuchiyo's neck, it would be game over for him.

However, before the monster could kill Kikuchiyo, an arrow entered the wolf's eye, and it went right through its skull. The wolf was killed instantly from that shot. By the time Kikuchiyo finally freed his blade, the monster had already been reduced to thousands of particles. Kikuchiyo looked at his friend, and he could tell that Gorobei was not pleased by what happened as he gave Kikuchiyo a disapproving look.

Kikuchiyo shamefully said, "Thanks."

Gorobei lectured his friend, "You can be such a reckless fool sometimes. You need to be more careful where you are swinging that blade. You always need to watch your surrounding because that could be the difference between you still being here or ending up like that wolf. You have to remember that I might not be able to save you next time."

Even though Kikuchiyo knew he had this coming, he was still frustrated because 'gaming' did not come as naturally to him as it did for Gorobei. He replied in a frustrated tone, "I know I get it." He then warned his friend in return, "However, you should watch what you say. Sometimes the person that preaches the lesson ends up not following it himself when it matters most. Then it will be my turn to save you."

Gorobei bitterly chuckled at the thought of that as he playfully stated, "I certainly hope the safety of my own life won't be dependent on whether or not that you can pull through."

Behind Gorobei's 'playful words,' there was actually quite a lot of dark humor to what Gorobei was saying. Only people who have watched the movie Seven Samurai and to a lesser extent the loose anime adaptation Samurai Seven would understand what Gorobei was referencing. This dark humor certainly did not go unnoticed by Kikuchiyo, and it made him feel uneasy. However, Kikuchiyo decided not to make any comments on that and let it go..

Seeing that they had accomplished their mission, Gorobei figured it would be for the best to report it, "Come on times a wasting. We still need to report what happened to that NPC before we can start moving towards the village of Horunka."

Kikuchiyo agreed, "All right."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Deeper into Little Nepent territory

Kirito and Coper were proving to be a decent team in their own right. They managed to successful kill a rather large number of Little Nepents in a short period of time. Unfortunately, they had yet to find the item that Kirito needed. However, they were certain that it would only be a matter of time before it happened.

During that time, they did not exchange too many words to each other. While Coper would have been fine with the silence if he was traveling with another guy, he considered the situation different since he was traveling with a girl. He was interested in asking Kirito a few questions about several topics.

Coper asked Kirito in a curious voice, "So Kirito you used this Anneal Blade during the Beta Test right?"

Kirito answered in a somewhat nervous voice, "…That's right. Why?"

Coper inquired further, "I'm just curious about how useful that blade is."

Kirito did not answer the question right away. Unlike with Klein, she was more hesitant to provide Coper with any exposition. However, after thinking it over for a few moments, she told him, "Based on the Beta Test, I would say the Anneal Blade would … I would estimate it would be useful until after the third floor is cleared. When I was in the Beta Test, I … I remember how the sword lost its effectiveness against the fourth floor monster. I realized that it would be cheaper to obtain a new sword rather than purchasing anymore upgrades."

Hearing Kirito give that answer caught Coper's interest. "I see. Then would you say it would probably be one of the best early swords you can acquire in this game?"

Kirito was not completely sure if that was still true, so she answered in an unsure voice, "I guess … that would be one way of putting it, but I'm not really … sure if anything was changed since the Beta Test, but I would guess that would be the case."

There was not really much for Coper to say except, "I suppose that is a sensible way to see it."

Since Coper seemed to be in the mood for talking, Kirito was interested in knowing something about him, so she asked, "Do … do you mind if I ask you something?"

Coper figured since she answered his question, she might as well ask him a question. He responded, "Go ahead."

Kirito decided to get right to the point and asked, "What do you think of this whole situation that Kayaba has put us in? I mean he … um … he is forcing us to live in this game and attempt to survive until we either complete this game or someone on the outside manages to rescue us. How … uh … what are your thoughts on this?"

Coper was caught a little off-guard, but he was not too surprised. He gave an honest answer by saying, "That is a good question. Well I would say this whole situation is ridiculous, but the lack of logout button has made it quite clear that this is most likely real. Assuming what he told us back in the Starting City is true, I can only hope that my family won't be crazy enough to take the helmet off my head either."

This caused Kirito to blurt out another question on reflex, "So you have some people waiting for you?"

Coper happily responded, "Of course I do. I have my parents and my little brother waiting for me to come back. I'm going to do whatever I need to do to survive and make it back to them. What about you?"

Kirito did not respond right way to Coper's question. When she did answer, she answered it in a hesitating tone, ". . . I have my mother and little sister."

Coper thought, "Only a mother and sister huh? I guess there is no father in the picture. She also did not appear to be too willing to answer that question. Does she have some kind of family issues? I wonder what could have happened." Coper then shrugged off his thoughts with, "Well it is good to know she at least has a sibling."

This caused Coper to want to inquire even further as he asked, "Do you have anyone else waiting for you like a boyfriend or something?"

For some reason, Kirito was willing to answer that personal question in a direct manner. "… No. I've never really … really been interested in having a relationship like that." As soon as she said that, she almost wanted to face palm herself as she thought, "Why did I just say that?"

Coper replied in a flirtatious way, "Really? I find that hard to believe. I would imagine a lot of guys would be interested in you, especially the you look like underneath that mask."

Kirito was still not a fan of Coper's flirting with her as she responded, "Well you can believe it. However, a number of guys did try … uh … used to hit on me."

That caught Coper's interest even more as he asked, "Used to? What happened?"

Kirito admitted in a somewhat embarrassed voice, "… I beat up a few guys in karate club, and a lot of them lost interest in flirting with me." When she said that, Kirito began to blush a little underneath her mask as she thought, "Okay. Why the hell did I just tell him something like that? There must be something wrong with me."

Coper was surprised to hear that remark. He thought in a nervous tone, "Sounds like I need to be careful about dealing with her if she was a threat to people even in the real world." He nervously said to her, "I guess you must have made quite an impression on them didn't you?"

Kirito responded, "That would … um … be one way of putting it." After she said that, Kirito thought to herself, "This is starting to get ridiculous. There has to be something wrong with my head or something. I usually try to avoid telling others such information." After pondering it for a few moments, she figured, "I guess I just let my guard because I'm starting to accept this is different from regular games."

While Kirito was lost in her own thoughts, Coper was having a few thoughts of his own, "So she does not seem to have too many people waiting for her back on the other side. Or at least she does not think there are. Well I guess this will make things easier for me then." A smile then appeared on Coper's face. To Kirito it would appear to be a friendly smile that did not mean anything special. However, Coper was smirking on the inside as he thought, "Not to mention, she is quite a bit different from the Kirito that I encountered in the Beta Test. It is almost as if changing from having a male avatar to a female avatar has caused her to become weaker and unsure of herself. Did pretending to be a male player give her more 'confidence'? If so, that would mean that my luck just keeps getting better."

Kirito bit her lip because she knew there was something else she needed to say to him. After a few moments, she finally came out and said it, "Coper I know this might not be the best time, but I'm … I'm sorry about before."

Coper was confused as he replied, "Sorry about what?"

Kirito scratched her head as she sheepishly apologized, "I'm sorry about how I was annoyed at you and dissolved our party after that boss battle during the Beta Test."

"Trying to clear the air huh? I suppose this is probably as good of a time as any, especially since this will be a mission that involves the trust of two party members. I bet she wants to ensure that I will trust her until the quest is complete." Coper responded to Kirito with, "Oh that. It's no big deal. You had every reason to be annoyed at me after the way I didn't listen to your plan."

With a hint of shame in her voice, Kirito said, "Yeah, but I still probably shouldn't have left on such a bad note. I actually … got over it pretty quickly. If we would have met again later during the Beta Test, I would have actually been fine with teaming up with you again."

"That certainly sounds like something pretty convenient. I wonder if she really means it not like it really matters." Little did Coper know that Kirito was being sincere, but he was having a hard time believing her words even though he was not really deserving of them. He responded to her, "Well we are working together again now, so that's what matters right?"

Kirito's voice became slightly more cheerful as she heard him say that. "I … I guess so." Kirito thought, "At least he doesn't seem to be holding a grudge against me or anything."

Coper said in an enthusiastic voice, "Let's just make sure this works out for the better this time. Does that sound good?"

"Okay. Let's give this a try." Kirito cheerfully thought to herself, "Well that went better than I thought. I'm glad that its water under the bridge."

Behind Coper's smile to Kirito's words lied bitter thoughts. "You say you will give this a try, but I have a feeling that you probably wouldn't be interested in maintaining this partnership much longer after you acquire the item. You'll just use me and then leave when I'm no longer useful. The feeling is mutual."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Fields outside the Starting City

While Coper and Kirito were continuing their hunt, Delano was off to continue his own hunt. He had completed creating the graves of the two fallen players, Ken and Chidori. After Delano was done constructing their graves, he decided to continue what he was doing before. He still had a few more monsters to hunt to complete his own quest.

After Delano took his leave, the remaining player followed behind him even though Delano was not interested in forming a party with this player. As far as Delano was concerned, this player should return to the Starting City and make more adequate preparations. Otherwise, this player will just die like his comrades did earlier. However, the player would continue to ignore what Delano said.

The player told Delano in a graceful tone, "Thank you for helping me create these graves for my friends."

Delano responded, "It would be for the best that we do something to remember those that perish in this game. If Kayaba wants us to consider this a new reality, then we should treat the ones who die in this game all the same."

The player scratched the back of his head as he responded, "Well I can see your point. Even though I didn't know them well, they were still my friends, and I will make sure to remember them. I can only hope if I die as well that perhaps someone would remember me."

Delano coldly remarked, "Based on what I saw during that fight, you will die before you even have the chance to make yourself memorable. You should head back to the Starting City to reassess yourself and make another attempt to survive in this world." Delano pointed his hand in a direction before stating, "If you head back to the Starting City that way, the worst you should find are some run of the mill wolves that even someone of your level should not have any difficulty killing or running away from."

The player asked Delano out of desperation, "Can't I just keep traveling with you?"

Delano responded to the player's question in a stern voice with a question of his own. "Why should I let you travel with me? I don't know who you are, and you have never introduced yourself to me. I am fairly certain it is against customs to demand something of another without revealing your name."

The player realized his inadvertent rudeness and nervously responded, "Right. I have been rather rude to you without introducing myself, especially since you saved me. My name is Johnny Black. What's yours?"

Seeing as Johnny Black had finally introduced himself, Delano decided to return the courtesy. "It's Delano."

Johnny Black thought there was something familiar about that name, but he could not quite picture it. He replied, "Delano huh? Thank you again for saving my life."

Delano was not in the mood to exchange pleasantries with this player beyond introductions. "You should head back to the Starting City and start hunting weaker monsters. You and your party members bit off more than you could chew by attacking a monster like that without gaining experience or utilizing strategy. If you do that again, you will join them."

Johnny Black pleaded with Delano again, "That is all the more reason why I want to travel with you. You seem to know what you are doing, and you are capable. I could learn so much from someone like you."

Delano once again coldly responded, "I'm not your teacher or your caretaker. I do not want to be held responsible for you. The route I'm going will probably result in you facing even more dangerous monsters, and I doubt you would survive another day at this rate."

Johnny Black stubbornly stated, "Well I am not going back to the city."

Delano gave no response at first and kept walking, and he could see that Johnny Black had no intention of leaving him alone. "If you truly insist on following me, it will be at your own risk. You cannot hold me responsible for what happens. Understand?"

Johnny Black responded in a firm voice, "Yes sir."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Forest Area outside Horunka

After Gorobei and Kikuchiyo reported their success to the 'Traveling NPC,' they received a fair sum of col, and the experience they gained allowed them to level up to Level Three. Before they left, Gorobei inquired regarding the location of Horunka, and he was able to confirm they were heading in the right direction.

Gorobei told his companion, "All right we should head straight to Horunka. I have no doubt we will see other Beta Testers arriving there as well, so signing up for additional quests might get competitive, but if it is only other Beta Testers we need to worry about, we should be able to complete at least a few more quests before we move on. We should try setting up a goal for how much we want to level up before attempting to travel to the next city."

As Gorobei was talking and walking towards the direction of Horunka, he realized that Kikuychiyo was still standing where he was looking towards the direction of the Starting City. Gorobei had a good idea of what Kikuchiyo was thinking about. This caused Gorobei to call out to Kikuchiyo, "Hey Kikuchiyo are you coming or not?"

That was enough to get Kikuchiyo to stop staring back at the city as he responded, "Yeah I'm coming." As Kikuchiyo walked towards, Gorobei he asked out loud, "Do you really think they are going to be all right?

Gorobei knew exactly what Kikuchiyo was referring to. He could tell that his friend still felt guilty about leaving all those kids behind. Gorobei sternly told his friend, "To be perfectly honest, I really couldn't tell you. However, worrying about them is not going to do you any good. Assuming this truly is a death game, in this world, we need to make sure we are strong enough to protect ourselves before we can even think we have the strength to protect others."

Kikuchiyo seemed as if he wanted to say something to Gorobei, but he could not bring himself to say anything. He knew that once again Gorobei made the sound logical argument. However, something about always doing what is 'logical' did not necessarily sit well with him. It felt as if they were still making a mistake. In truth, it was really a lose-lose situation that would not have completely favorable results regardless of the decision they made. However, the situation Gorobei had put them would result in the lesser of the two evils.

Gorobei explained to friend in a calm manner, "Your wish to protect those kids is a good trait you have Kikuchiyo. You are a man of principal, and you should always try to maintain those qualities. However, you need to remember that if you were to even think about going back there at this point, you will not only be putting your own life at risk but theirs as well. We are going to need as many people as we can throw at if we are going to have any chance of survival. I know it sounds cold but building up the potentially strong players needs to take priority. As long as those kids remain in the Starting City, they will be fine. Until we are able to travel back to the city, we are going to need to hope that will remain the case. We will go back to the city. I promise."

Kikuchiyo could feel that Gorobei was being sincere, and he responded, "Okay." Hearing what Gorobei told him did put his mind at ease somewhat. For the large part of the next few weeks, Kikuchiyo would try to keep his mind off the kids that were in the Starting City. Most of the children did remain the city as Gorobei predicted. However, there would be a few that would decide to go beyond the Starting City. That would lead to some rather unfortunate developments later on.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Forest Area – Little Nepent territory

With our teamwork, I was able to obtain a Little Nepent's Ovule. We had been hunting for ones that had a flowers on the top of their head. Those were the most likely to drop the item and after killing dozens of these monsters, we finally did it. I could not express how relieved and excited I felt when we finally found it. However, it was not over yet.

Coper warned me, "We still have some company to deal with Kirito."

There were still several Little Nepents in the area that we needed to take care of. While most of them had regular flowers above their head, there was one that was different. That one particular Little Nepent looked the same as the others, but instead of having a flower, it had a piece of fruit on the top of its head. Little Nepents with flowers on the top of their head would eventually grow a fruit in its place, so this one was actually done evolving which made it a deadly trap.

While it is okay to kill Little Nepents with flowers on their heads with vertical slashes, it is not okay to do that with ones that have fruits. If those fruits get slashed, then an odor will be emitted that would attract numerous other Little Nepents instantly. It would be for the best to kill it by either impaling it or using a horizontal strike.

Coper confidently told me, "You take care of those three. I kill the other three."

One of the other three included one with the fruit, but I was fine with it. Since Coper was a Beta Tester, he knew what would happen if he sliced it vertically in half. Killing my three was child's play. At this point handling enemies like them was a joke to me. I could not help but think to myself, "The only way this would be a challenge is if more of them ganged up on me." Unfortunately, I probably should have been a lot more careful about my own inner thoughts. My overconfidence would almost be my undoing.

I turned around to see that Coper had dispatched all the monsters except for the one with the fruit on its head. I called out to Coper and said, "All right take that monster down and let's head back to the village."

After I said that Coper gave me a rather dark grin that kind of scared me. The look on his face seemed different from any other look he had given me previously. It was as if I was looking at a different person. He then charged the monster and prepared himself to kill it, but I noticed immediately something was wrong. I thought to myself, "What is he doing?" It seemed like he was about to do a vertical slash much to my horror.

Before he brought the blade down, I shouted at him, "COPER NO!" However, what I said fell on deaf ears and he sliced the creature vertically in half. With that, the fruit was cut, and I could see that it was beginning to emit its odor. What he had just done was basically suicide. I could kill a handful of those monsters, but that odor would most likely attract enough that would overwhelm me.

I then angrily shouted at him, "You idiot! What have you done?! You're going to get us both killed!"

Coper grinned at me and darkly replied, "It is Game Over for you, but it won't be for me."

I then replied in horror, "What?"

He did not respond, and he ran away. A few moments later, I lost sight of him completely. It was then I realized that he was not attempting to commit suicide and bring me with him. He was attempting to lure numerous monsters into the same area and have them kill me. If they kill me, my death would leave the 'Little Nepent's ovule' behind, and he would be able to complete the quest in my place.

Everything made more sense now. That explains why he asked me those questions about the Anneal Blade among other things. He wanted to know just how useful it could be, so he could use it for his own survival. Since I was unable to see him, this also probably meant he equipped himself with the 'hiding ability.' That explains why I didn't notice him before he revealed himself to me. I might have been able to see him if my 'searching ability' was stronger, but it would be a long time before that would happen.

If these monsters killed me, I would be the victim of a 'Monster Player Killing,' which would not result in Coper obtaining criminal status since he did not do it directly himself. For a few moments, it seemed as if Coper would succeed in what he was attempting to do. In a manner of moments, there were numerous Little Nepents surrounding me. However, I told myself that I could not let this be the end, so I let my instincts guide me.

I found the weakest part of their 'encirclement' around me and went for it. I killed all the monsters I could to break free. Luckily for me there were no more monsters that had fruits. Otherwise, I could have accidently caused even more monsters to appear in this area. After slicing the various monsters to pieces, I was outside their encirclement. I had a feeling that Coper was pissed that his plan did not work as well as he hoped. Unfortunately, that is not where the consequences of his actions would end.

After I managed to get away from those monsters, I noticed that the monsters seemed to be more interested in something else or rather someone else. I realized that these monsters must have been able to notice Coper. Despite his 'hiding' ability, these monsters were one of the types that could seek out enemies without the need of strictly relying on sight. The 'hiding' ability might prolong how long it takes them to find a player, but it would not be enough to stop it.

Even though Coper had tried to kill me, I did not want him to die. I could not bring myself to let another player die without at least trying something. I had done enough things I regretted in one day, and I was not about to do another.

I shouted out to him in as loud of a voice I could muster, "Get out of there you idiot! Your hiding ability is not enough to prevent those monsters from detecting you! They can find you even without seeing you! RUN!"

After I said that, I noticed there was slight movement in the bushes. If I had to guess, Coper probably got the message and was attempting to make a break for it. Unfortunately, he was not fast enough. The plant monsters had already detected his presence and prepared to attack his hiding place before he started moving. When they attacked his hiding spot, they attacked it with everything they had. All I could do was watch helplessly as it happened in front of my eyes.

When the monsters attacked Coper's hiding spot, I did not see him die. However, I saw on my party screen that Coper's health points decreased to zero, and I saw fragments of his virtual body scatter to the wind. Just like in the Beta Test, when you die, you do not leave a corpse behind. Your body would be shattered into fragments that would quickly fade away. However, things were different now.

Unlike the Beta Test, you would not be fortunate enough to be resurrected in the Room of Resurrection. You would die permanently. Even though Coper had attempted to kill me, it pained me that this game had already claimed another person's life. I had a feeling that there were already numerous casualties

I mournfully said to myself, "Goodbye Coper."

After the plant monsters were done killing Coper, they turned their attention to me. I could see that Coper most likely managed to take a few of those monsters with him because they were fewer in number. Perhaps Coper decided if his plan was going to get him killed instead that I might as well live through this in the end. I knew that I could not run from this, so I prepared my blade for what was to come.

I told them in a bitter, disgusted voice, "You are not going to claim my life." For some strange reason the Little Nepents seemed to understand what I said.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Around the time of Coper's Death

Location: Real World – Coper's Home

As with all the other players whose families did not remove the Nerve Gears from his or her head, paramedics were preparing to transport the real body of Coper to a hospital, so he could be attached to life support systems. However, before the paramedics moved Coper's body to the hospital, his family was allowed to see him one last time before he would be moved. They figured that the family might as well be able to see Coper one last time before he was forced to leave their home.

Coper's mother was barely able to contain her tears as she sadly said to her son, "This will be goodbye for now. I'm sure they will find a way to help you. I know that you will come back to us."

His father was not as sentimental as his mother, but he was affected by what was happening. He told his son, "You are a strong boy. I have faith that you will be able to survive."

It was then that Coper's little brother optimistically said, "That's right. If anyone can survive this, it's Big Brother. He was one of the Beta Testers for this game, so he must know at least a few things on how to survive."

As if it was on cue, his family heard something stir from Coper's bed. It was Coper moving, and he appeared to be opening his eyes. Coper seemed to be returning to this world. When his family witnessed this, they were overjoyed beyond belief. The paramedics who were in the room were as surprised as his family was.

Coper's mother said in a relieved tone, "Is it over? Oh thank God. I am so relieved."

His father said in a gruff tone, "I'm glad this ended up becoming something we did not need to worry about after all."

Coper's little brother said with a confident smirk, "See I told you that Big Brother would be fine."

However before Coper was able to say a word to his family, he began to hear a strange noise coming from around his Nerve Gear. Suddenly, his head could feel a burning sensation that did not stop no matter how much he wanted it to. It was driving him to the brink until the last thing he could hear inside his head was an 'exploding' sound and then it all went dark.

Before the eyes of Coper's family, his head became a mess that was a shadow of its former self that filled his bed with blood stains. It would be for the best to not describe what his head looked like after the Nerve Gear destroyed his mind. Anyone who saw what remained of Coper's head would have nightmares for years to come and be haunted by what they had seen for the rest of their lives.

The blood continued to pour out of Coper's head through his ears, eyes, mouth, and 'other' places. It would soon saturate his bed sheets, and the blood began dripping on the floor as well. This would be a fate that would befall other Sword Art Online players soon enough. However, most of them would not be witnessed by other individuals. It was unfortunate that Coper's death had a wide audience, which included his younger brother.

His younger brother's eyes were wide open in horror at the sight of his brother's corpse. The adults in the room were completely stunned by what they had witnessed and could not bring themselves to say a word. The room remained silent for a few minutes, and no one dared to say a word. After all, no one in that room could possibly think of anything appropriate to say after witnessing this horrific scene.

The first one to break the silence was Coper's little brother has he said, "Brother. You just came back. Please don't leave." His little brother began to shake Coper's body in a desperate attempt to 'get' his brother's attention as his voice became more desperate with each second. "Don't leave! Wake up! WAKE UP!"

The cries of Coper's little brother resounded throughout the house as the adults in the room could only look helplessly at the situation that just occurred. All they could do was stare at Coper's corpse until the reality of what had just occurred finally dawned on them. Coper was gone from both worlds, and he would never come back. There would be no miracle for them. There would only be grief and anguish.

When Coper's family finally accepted that reality, his family began to grieve at their loss while the medical personnel and volunteers could do nothing to help them. Unfortunately, Coper's family was not the first family to experience this tragedy firsthand, and they would be far from the last family to suffer due to Sword Art Online either. There would soon be thousands of families that would be eternally shattered. The nightmare that Sword Art Online was causing had not ended, it was only beginning.

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Immediately after Coper's Death

Location: Sword Art Online – Location of Coper's Death

I could see that the five plant monsters that remained were not satisfied with killing Coper, and they were going to come after me. I drew my sword and prepared to fight for my life. The idea of fleeing from them did not come to my mind at all. Luckily for me, these plant monsters would not be much of a challenge for me to kill.

When the first plant monster attacked, I easily dodged it by sidestepping and then cutting off its vine like arm. I then proceeded to 'decapitate' the monster before it had a chance to recover. After I did that, I could see that I really must have pissed off his friends. They seemed to get really riled up after witnessing me kill yet another one of their pals. All of the Little Nepents were preparing to kill me like they killed Coper.

However, I was not frightened by this in the least. In fact, I taunted the monsters on by saying, "Bring it on."

The four monsters charged me, and I charged towards them. This would be a clash to the death, and I was fully prepared to take each and every one of those disgusting plants down. With the exception of one or two hits, I managed to avoid all of their attacks. I would alternate between slicing the monsters vertically or horizontally in half.

While I was killing them, I did not feel any rational thoughts going through my head. I was neither angry nor sad. It was a mixture of both while I was killing those monsters. Either way, I did not feel like myself as I was cutting down these Little Nepents. It is really difficult to describe, but I guess the best way to say it was that I felt as if I was losing a piece of myself after what happened.

After I managed kill the final plant monster, I noticed that one of the monsters dropped another ovule. When I picked it up, I sadly said out loud, "If you really wanted to compete against me Coper. You could have waited a few more minutes and given Margaret this one." I then tightened my hands into fists as I said in a mixture of frustration and grief, "You stupid bastard."

Shortly afterwards, I found the sword and buckler that belonged to Coper. These pieces of equipment were left behind after his body was destroyed. After I found them, I decided to quickly construct a 'grave' of sorts for Coper. To form his grave, I used a few nearby rocks, and I used his sword and buckler to be his tombstone. I am not really sure why I did that.

If I had to rationalize it, I guess I would say that even though he attempted to kill me, I do not hate him for it. When I was forming his grave, I was attempting to do something that would signify that Coper existed in this world as a token of final respect. To complete the grave, I placed the other ovule right next to his sword in the place of flowers.

Before I left, I said one last thing before Coper's grave. "I really would have been willing to fulfill that deal with you Coper. I would have tried helping you gain a reward for your own solo quest. Did you not trust me to do that for you or were you really that desperate to acquire some decent equipment as quickly as possible?"

My head was racing with what the cause of Coper's betrayal could have been. "Did you not believe I was sincere in my apology to you? I truly am sorry that I ended our partnership in the Beta Test on an awkward note. However, there is really nothing that I can do about it now. I was really hoping that it could be water under the bridge, and we could have formed some kind of trust between two players hoping to survive in this death game."

I thought back on my past before adding this last, "If you would have known me in the real world, I suppose I might not be the most trustworthy person given some of my previous decisions. However, I would have fulfilled this promise. I would have tried to help you obtain some good equipment too. We probably would have gone our separate ways at one point, but I wouldn't have done that until the promise was fulfilled."

After I said that, I took my leave, and I walked away from the grave heading straight back to the village without looking back. However, I would never forget what happened on that night. It was only the first night of this death game, and I had already witnessed the death of one player. Unfortunately, he would be far from the last one I would witness.

There were times when I would have no control over what happened to those players similar to Coper. However, there would be times when I know I could have done something more. Either way, I would look back on my experiences and ask myself, "Could I have done something else to prevent that?" That question would resound in my head more times than I could count. In fact, I can still hear myself asking that question to this day.

My experience with Coper had a strange effect on me for multiple reasons. When those monsters nearly killed me, there was a part of me that believed it was my karma coming to get me. It felt like it was telling me that I deserved what almost happened to me because I choose to abandon Klein, so I could ensure my own survival. If I died, it probably would have been a karmic death. After all, I desperately attempted and succeed in escaping from a situation that another player placed me in, so he could ensure his own survival. However, that might not have been the only reason my karma might have been calling me.

Ever since I found out I was adopted, I had been cold and distant to my mother and sister. Despite my attitude they still loved me even though I probably did not deserve it. Perhaps being trapped in this game was a way of forcing me to realize what a terrible person I have been to the two of them. I have been told in the past that it sometimes takes extreme circumstances before someone either has an epiphany. This situation would definitely be my extreme circumstances that would enable me to finally have my long needed epiphany.

I had only been trapped in this game for a few hours, but I already missed them dearly. If I was given the option, I would run up to them, hug them and beg them for forgiveness, so I could finally try setting things right in our relationship. Unfortunately, I already could tell that the chances of making it back home were slim at best. However, it was then I told myself that I would make sure I survive, so I could finally make everything right once again with my family. I think the promise I made to myself was one of the reasons I was able to pull through in several painful and terrible experiences.

/

Unfortunately for Kirito, she was not the only player to witness the events that had transpired that night in this forest. Coper was not the only player who was hiding himself from her sight while she hunted the monsters. He had been hiding from her this whole time, and he had seen everything from the moment she accepted Coper's invitation to party with him to seeing her construct his grave. Now he believed he had seen everything he needed to see from Kirito for the time being. With this witness, the events and consequences of this incident would not end here. In fact, they were only beginning.

The figure walked over the grave that Kirito created to honor Coper's memory. He told the grave in a voice that indicated that the events he witnessed piqued his interest, "You attempted to kill a fellow player without doing it yourself in such an interesting fashion. It was a good tactic, but your execution was poor and your attempt was premature. You would have been better off sticking with the girl a little longer before attempting something like that. Something tells me you were one of those foolish players who always assumed there would be no flaws with your abilities. Well you learned the hard way that was not the case. Your hubris is why you are dead and she still lives. However, I should thank you for providing me with a little inspiration for the future."

He then turned to see Kirito's slowly retreating figure. He knew that she would not be able to hear anything he said now unless he shouted. The player spoke to Kirito in a voice that had a mixture of awe and intrigue, "So despite him truly being your enemy, you still decided to honor him in your own way. I must say that is commendable. It will be interesting to see how long you are able to maintain any kind of honor as this game continues to deteriorate you."

After he said that, he began to form a devilish grin on his face at the prospects of Kirito's grim future. "I doubt that you were very willing to trust other players even before this incident, and I am sure this has shook you up even more. I look forward to seeing you deteriorate further Kirito-chan and what kind of player you will become. I will look forward to seeing what will happen." Suddenly an 'interesting' thought came across the figure head as he gave a wicked smile, "Perhaps I can provide some assistance to speed up the process. That can make things more 'entertaining' for me."

As the player was contemplating his future plans, a plant monster recently re-spawned, and attempted to ambush the player. However, without even turning around, the player pulled out a large knife and decapitated the creature before it could kill him. The player received enough experience points from that kill to raise his own level and acquired a useful item of his own.

The man looked at his 'butcher's knife' and proudly said to himself, "Killing monsters is fun, but I have a feeling that killing players will be more fun. It can be more challenging plus while there are an infinite number of monsters to hunt, the number of players is limited, and they should all be uniquely interesting to kill." While the man was interested in the prospect, he knew this would not be the best time to get started. "Although given the circumstances, I would rather not do anything like that just yet. Something tells me enough players will die for a while without my help. It would be no fun if I inadvertently cause an 'early extinction' to the player population. Besides the possibility of attaining a criminal status at this early stage would do me no good. I should wait to see how things proceed for now. I'll look forward to the day I can get the show on the road."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022

Location: Real World – Tokyo Metropolitan Matsuzawa Hospital – A patient's room

One of the lead doctors, Yamamoto Hibiki, and one of the hospital newest additions and Hibiki's protégé, Miyamoto Arata, were witnessing a patient being handled by the paramedics and volunteers from the "Sword Art Online Case Victims Rescue Force." This patient was one of the thousands of players trapped within Sword Art Online. Since this hospital was a psychiatric hospital, it did not have the equipment that this patient would require, such as long-term life support. As a result, the paramedics and volunteers were preparing to transport the patient's body to another.

Due to Arata's recent admittance to being one of the hospital's new doctors, he was not familiar with all of his superior's patients. However, he could tell that Hibiki had a special interest in this patient. He could not help but wonder about more of the details regarding this patient. Arata figured he might as well as know since his superior might be willing to talk about his patient at this point.

Arata asked his superior in a curious voice, "If I may ask sir, what exactly was the purpose of allowing him to enter virtual reality in the first place?"

Hibiki sternly answered, "It was an experiment to see if it was an alternative way to help someone with their mental issues. We were hoping if someone who was unstable could take their frustrations out in the virtual world, they might be capable of adjusting to the real world more effectively."

Arata then asked, "Did you think it would work?"

Hibiki had a voice that indicated he was hopeful about the experiment, but he was still unsure of what the ultimate results would be. "After he participated in the Beta Test, he seemed to be showing signs of improvement in his behavior. That is why we gave him the option of being able to pre-order the game, and he asked for it in a heartbeat."

Once again, one answer led to another question from Arata. "What exactly caused him to become unstable in the real world to begin with?"

Hibiki decided that answer needed to explain in detail. "Well before he came to us, he used to be a rather intelligent and promising individual. He was capable of speaking not only Japanese, but English and Spanish as well. He also proved to have great fighting skills especially with weapons. However, he was not meant to use his talents for the better of the world. There were certain incidents that happened about two years ago that gravely affected his psyche. He was surprisingly willing to admit himself into this hospital. All he wished in exchange was that we give him a codename."

Arata's voice indicated his surprise when he stated, "A codename?"

Hibiki explained, "Yes. Since referring to him by this codename seemed to calm him down and make him easier to communicate with, we did not have a problem. When people refer to him by that codename, he becomes a much different person."

Arata inquired even further, "How so?"

Hibiki thought over his previous sessions with his patient as he explained, "When I spoke to him in the past, he gave off a feeling a 'charisma.' He seemed like someone who could be a leader. According to what his friends and family have told me, the person I was talking to was the closest to what he used to be like. That is why I believed there was one last thing that was necessary."

Arata could see where his superior was coming from as he responded, "So that's why you thought it would be a good idea to have him use virtual reality to work out his frustrations."

Hibiki's voice confirmed, "That is correct." However, Hibiki's voice indicated that he was becoming far less optimistic of his patient's situation for more than one reason. "As I said before, I believe he was making progress. Unfortunately, I fear having him trapped in such a world for a prolonged period of time will not only undo all the progress he seemed to be making, but it will cause a regression."

Arata could not help but wonder, "What exactly are the problems the patient has?"

Hibiki responded in a voice that indicated his discomfort over the situation. "Several problems this patient includes being 'overly fixated' on things or people. He told me that during the Beta Test there were a few players he formed rivalries with, and he hoped that he could continue them when the game launched. While I believe that rivalries can be a good thing, I am worried about how differently things will turn out due to the change in the circumstances. If this is really a Death Game that he is trapped in, I fear how the game will ultimately strain his own psyche, and what that could result in not only for himself but for the other people trapped inside as well."

The young doctor thought to himself, "It is a rather unpleasant thought." As they continued to watch the paramedics continue to make preparations to connect the patients to life support machine, he decided to ask his superior one last question. "There is one thing I would also like to ask. What exactly is the patient's codename?"

The old doctor sighed before answering. "His codename is PoH."

/

Date: Sunday, November 6th, 2022 – Around 9:00 p.m.

Location: Sword Art Online – Village of Horunka

After I had finished making Coper's grave, I went back to Horunka village, so I could finally put my first quest to rest. When I arrived, it was approximately nine o'clock at night, which meant it has been three hours since Kayaba Akihiko declared Sword Art Online as a death game. In that short time, I had abandoned a friend, watched someone I thought could be a friend die, and fought numerous monsters, so I could complete a quest and raise my stats. Even now, I find it hard to believe how so much could happen in three hours.

This was only the first day, but I could not help but wonder if this is really what our lives are going to be like now. I thought to myself, "If so much has happened in the space of a few hours, what the hell could be waiting for me and the other players down the road?" It almost frightened me to think about that, so for the time being I decided to try and put that out of my mind and focus on giving Margaret this ovule.

After I finished creating Coper's grave and laid him to 'rest,' I put my mask on again. I knew that Coper targeted me because I was another Beta Tester and I had an item in my possession that he wanted to complete a quest. However, he seemed very certain that I would be an easy target. I couldn't help but wonder, "Did he think I would be an easy target because I'm a female player or would he have gone after me regardless of my gender?"

It wouldn't be the first time others believed that I was much weaker than I really was due to my gender. This is part of the reason why I prefer to use male avatars whenever I play games like these, so they would be more likely to take me seriously from the get go. My experience with Coper gave me an uneasy feeling that this wouldn't be the last time I would be targeted like this unless I became much stronger. As a result, I decided that I would rather continue my attempts to conceal my true gender for as long as I could not only due to feeling uncomfortable around other male players but for my own safety.

When I returned to the village, I saw that a few other players had arrived as well. I figured that most of these players were most likely Beta Testers or they had at least joined a party with a Beta Tester. From the looks of things, a gap would form between the Beta Testers and the new players. A part of me had a feeling that this might cause tension between the two types of players, and I would soon be proven right. However, I knew that was something I shouldn't worry about too much right now.

At this point in time, I did not really care to interact with any of the players. I tried to avoid being seen by them if I could. However, since I was wearing my mask again it did not matter if they saw me now. Between the mask and my armor, they would not know I was a girl as long as I did not speak to them in my normal voice. As long as they could not identify me as a girl that would be good enough for me.

/

While Kirito was able to avoid the eyes of a majority of the players, there was one player he did notice her. Besides Kirito and Coper, the first two players to arrive in the village were Gorobei and Kikuchiyo. Shortly after their arrival they were followed by several other Beta Testers too.

Both Gorobei and Kikuchiyo used the spoils of their successful quest to purchase more suitable equipment that would raise their defenses. Similar to Kirito and Coper, they did not find any suitable replacement weapons to replace their initial weapons. They figured that there might be quest they could go on that might give them a replacement or they will save up enough col to purchase replacements in the next settlement.

Gorobei also made it a point to purchase some additional arrows for his quiver. There were a few times when he nearly ran out of arrows on the way to the village. The last thing he needed was to have his supply run too low before he could select a new skill that he could use for close range combat. He figured that in a few levels that he would be awarded with another skill slot based on his experience in the Beta Test.

After they left the shop, Kikuchiyo asked, "Now that we arrived in Harunka, what do we do now? Do you have any ideas?"

Gorobei told Kikuchiyo, "This will be our first stop in our journey to Tolbana."

Kikuchiyo was not certain he was not going to like the answer to this question. "What's in Tolbana?"

Gorobei casually answered, "It is the town closest to the first boss that we are going to fight. When we get there, you will see this huge tower nearby which will this floor's dungeon."

Kikichiyo's eyes opened wide at what Gorobei had said. He thought to himself in a somewhat panicked tone, "The first boss of the game? I hope he does not seriously think we are ready to be heading to a boss fight yet. I'm barely capable of fighting regular enemies in this game." Kikuchiyo asked in a surprised voice, "Do you plan on us taking part in fighting the boss?"

Gorobei explained, "That is the general plan, but it is too early to say. I know for a fact that at our current levels we would probably not stand a chance without having an adequate amount of backup."

Kikuchiyo stated in a less than confident voice, "I think we would need a little more than some backup if we are going to fight a boss."

That was one thing Gorobei could agree with. "That is probably true as well. While I did take part in some boss fights in the Beta Test, I did not fight the first boss, so I am not entirely certain the best methods to fight him outside of what others have told me. Apparently, we should expect to face an army of his minions known as 'Sentinels' to fight alongside him. Apparently these Sentinels might prove to be formidable in their own right."

Kikuchiyo then asked his friend, "So what are we going to do?"

Gorobei told Kikuchiyo their strategy, "Well we are not going to go after the boss yet. That would be suicide. We are going to need to focus on getting stronger and better equipment. However, the two of us should aim to take on the boss eventually. If we take part in the boss fights, the risk of death is greater of course, but the rewards we can receive would be more than worth it. Besides, if players like us don't attempt to fight the bosses, then who can we expect to fight for our freedom?"

Kikuchiyo scratched the back of his head as he sheepishly said, "You have a point there."

After Kikuchiyo agreed with Gorobei, something caught the corner of Gorobei's eye. He briefly saw Kirito heading towards the home of Margaret. However, he could not tell what the player looked like due to the player's mask and cloak. He thought to himself, "It looks like at least one player beat us here. Hopefully, this player has a similar idea to me." Gorobei decided to not bother with the player as he could tell the player did not seem like he or she wished to be disturbed.

Kikuchiyo noticed Gorobei looking at another direction and snapped him back to reality by saying, "Hey you still there?"

Gorobei awkwardly responded, "Yeah. I just got distracted for a second. Anyway, let's see if we can talk to any other NPCs before we have to turn in for the night."

With that Gorobei and Kikuchiyo headed towards another home in hopes they could either receive some kind of item or a quest while Kirito was settling matters of her own.

/

When I was outside Margaret's home, I could have entered her unannounced like I did before, but I felt compelled to knock on the door this time. When she saw it was me, she warmly welcomed me, "Kirito-chan you're back. I was hoping that you would be okay." Even with my mask, she could recognize me. I guess she either recognized me based on my armor or the fact she was an NPC would make it easier for her to know who I was.

Her response to my return nearly convinced me she was human. I had to look at the golden explanation point above her head, which indicated my quest for her was still 'in progress.' Despite that, it was good to be talking to someone that I know wouldn't try to backstab me and was genuinely friendly or was programmed to be friendly. As a result, hearing her call me Kirito-chan made me feel a mixture of annoyance and happiness. However, I was too tired from my experience with Coper made me too really care either way.

I responded, "I told you that I wouldn't let you down." I pulled out the 'Little Nepent's Ovule,' and I handed to her.

Margaret accepted the ovule graciously. "Thank you so much Kirito-chan. Without this, I wouldn't be able to save my daughter." Without wasting anymore words, she placed the ovule into the pot, and then gave the final result of her cooking to her daughter.

After she was finished with that, she upheld her word, and presented me with the reward for completing the quest, the Anneal Blade. I accepted the reward and told her, "Thank you." Afterwards, on my screen, it labeled my quest as being complete and I was rewarded bonus experience points for completing the quest as well. As a result, I had now reached Level four.

When I held the blade, it brought me back to when I wielded during the Beta Test, and how it helped me during the early floors of the game. It would take some getting used to this blade again, but I knew it would serve me well again. However, despite having this decent initial equipment, I could not feel happy. Although, I suppose if I did feel happy after considering what has happened, there would probably be something wrong with me.

In less than one day, a lot had happened, and I had already come to regret so much. Whether it was due to the choices I had made or witnessing another player die in front of me, I could not feel any sense of accomplishment from obtaining the Anneal Blade. If anything, I felt bitter shame that so much had to happen at other players' expense with only this blade and few additional levels of experience being all I had to show for it. I really thought if my karma was to catch up to me, I think I would probably deserve what would be coming. There would be a few too many times in the coming months when that would be the case.

However, one thing that did make me feel better was when I saw Margaret give her daughter Agetha the medicine. Seeing Agetha be cured of her sickness and the tender moment she shared with her mother warmed my heart and caused me to smile. It almost made me forget that they were NPCs and not regular humans. However, at that moment, I did not care about that fact. Eventually, I would no longer care if they were NPCs.

When I looked at Agetha, I could not help but wonder how old she was. If I had to guess, Agetha was meant to look like an eight year old girl. Seeing her get better made me think about how when Suguha and I were kids and mom would take care of us just like Margret did for her.

Margaret introduced the two of us as she said, "Agatha this traveling swordswoman is the reason I was able to make you the medicine."

Agetha was amazed when she heard that as she replied, "Really?! That's so cool! Thank you so much!"

I responded in an embarrassed tone, "It wasn't a problem at all. Besides, I'm not that cool."

Agetha grinned as she said, "No you really are the best for helping me get better. Besides mom, you're the coolest person I have ever met Big Sis."

When she said that to me, I almost said, "Don't call me Big Sis" or "I don't deserve to be anyone's Big Sister." However, I graciously accepted what she said, "Thank you so much for the complement."

Agetha then said to me, "You deserve to be called that Big Sis. You earned it."

After seeing this little girl's admiration for me, I could not help but feel a mixture of happiness and sadness simultaneously. I was happy that someone could possibly look up to me in such a way, but I also felt as if I did not deserve to receive any praise for what I have done. The mixture of emotions I was feeling was rather difficult for me to contain.

A few moments later, I saw Agetha's face change from being happy to a concerned look when she asked, "Are you okay Big Sis?"

I replied to Agetha's concerns with, "I'm fine. I'm fine."

Agetha was clearly unconvinced as she said, "You don't seem fine Big Sis. You're crying."

I said in a confused voice, "I am." I then brought my hand to my face and I realized that she was right. Tears were flowing down my face without me realizing it.

Before I had the chance to say anything else Agetha said to Margaret, "Hey mama! Do you mind if we let Big Sis stay the night?"

Margaret responded without any hesitation, "Of course she can."

I was surprised at the hospitality that was being offered to me, but I responded, "That won't be necessary."

Margaret replied in a firm by kind voice, "We insist."

Even though I did try to resist the hospitality, I ultimately gave in and accepted their invitation. Staying with them for the night was rather comfortable. It would be one of the better nights I would experience during the first month of the game.

/

Date: Monday, November 7, 2022 – The Second Day of Sword Art Online/The Death Game

Location: Black Iron Castle – Monument of Life – Formerly Room of Resurrection

After spending a few hours searching for his friends, Klein was successful in finding them. However, as Kirito had predicted, by the time Klein managed to find his friends, a majority of the initially available hunts and quests were taken up by other players. They would need to wait until the following day before more of them were available again. It was a setback that frustrated a number of the players who did not act fast enough.

However, despite this setback, Klein did not regret his choice. He was happy that he was able to find his friends, and despite their current situation, they were glad that they would be sticking together during this ordeal. Klein and his friends have all known each other for a long time back in the real world and worked together multiple times. They all figured that they had always managed to pull through before, and they would be able to pull through again.

Shortly after Klein reunited with his friends, they were quick to agree to form a guild. It was decided that the guild would be known as Fuurinkazan. Since Klein was the one with leadership experience, it was unanimously decided that Klein would be their leader. Their guild would be composed of six members, including Klein. The names of the other guild members were Issin, Harry One, Dale, Dynamm, and Kunimittz.

/

The theme of the Fuurinkazan guild would be Samurai. Every member of the Fuurinkazan would specialize in wearing Samurai type armor as well as wield weapons that Samurai had used, such as katanas or spears. There was no 'dress code' regarding the guild as long as what they wore was of the Samurai theme. The color of their clothing did not matter.

Issin: He had brown spiky hair and brown eyes. Of the group, he was the more 'relaxed' member of the group even by Klein's standards. While he did generally take things seriously, he had a more easy going nature. Issin making light of a situation would either cause his teammates to become annoyed or they would be grateful that he would help make the situation more 'bearable.'

Harry One: The tallest one in the group with short brown hair. He would be recognizable because he would generally wear his trademark 'Samurai helmet' over his head. He wore the greatest amount of armor on his body than any of the other guild members. The only area not covered in armor was his face. While Harry One was far from being a coward, he was the most nervous individual of the group, and he wanted to do what he could to gear up his avatar's defenses for when a battle would happen.

Dale: He was the most obese member of the group with a round face. In addition to that, both in the real world and virtual reality, Dale had the habit of wearing a white headband around his forehead. While Dale is not exactly proud of his eating habits, he just loved to eat too much to go on a diet. However, he is probably the nicest member in the group besides Klein. Despite his less than frightening appearance, he would eventually prove himself to be a capable player in his own right alongside the other members in Fuurinkazan.

Dynamm: He had a small beard similar to Klein and Kunimittz, but he was the only one in the group to have a mustache as well. While he was always willing to participate in the fun activities of the group, he was the more serious minded individual. When he sees a task that should be completed, he would rather get it over with rather than procrastinate.

Kunimittz: While Sword Art Online now forced all players to utilize their original appearance, the system did allow for a few modifications, such as hair color. Kunimittz decided to have his spiky hair be dyed blue. It would go with his trademark outfit of blue armor. His favorite color was blue because he believed it went with his usual mood. While he is generally a happy individual, he is the most likely of the group to feel depressed or think a situation is hopeless. However, even if he feels that way, he will continue to support his friends in hopes that they will prove his feelings wrong.

/

Before departing for the field, Klein told his friends he wanted to make a quick stop at the Monument of Life. There was something there that he needed to be sure of before he left to begin his own story in Sword Art Online. If he did not know what he needed to know, he was not sure if he would be able to effectively press on.

During the Beta Test of Sword Art Online, this place was known as the Room of Resurrection. This would be the place where players would re-spawn after they died. However, after Kayaba Akihiko declared Sword Art Online as a death game, this place became known as the Monument of Life. This place lists the names of the 10,000 players that are trapped in Sword Art Online. The names of the dead players would be automatically crossed out. Additionally, it would also list the cause, time, day, and month of death for the deceased player.

Klein had heard that within the first day of the beginning of this death game, a large number of players had already met their unfortunate end. Besides the ones that died due to their families and friends pulling off their Nerve Gears, there were a fair number that had committed suicide last night, and a number of players entered the field ill-prepared for what was ahead of them. As a result, a number of those players died at the hands of monsters before reaching any of the other towns or villages.

Before Klein could leave with his group, he needed to make sure whether or not his friend was among those initial casualties. As he gazed upon the wall, he saw that as Kayaba had stated during the tutorial, nearly three hundred players names were crossed out at around the time he had made his declaration for the death game. For those players who died because of their Nerve Gear being removed, the cause of death for those players was listed as "Outside Interference."

When Klein read that he thought, "So that's what they are going to label players who don't die because of the game."

However, he saw there were already players listed to have died of causes within the game as well, such as committing suicide by jumping off the cliff. Although as what local gossip indicated, a number of players were already being killed by monsters. Klein noticed one of the crossed out name, Coper. It stated this player died of "Monster Attack" about twelve hours ago.

After looking through the names carefully in alphabetic order, he finally found the name he was looking for, and he was relieved when he saw it. Klein saw that just as his 'friend status' indicated, the wall had not crossed out Kirito's name yet, and it confirmed to Klein that she was still alive without a doubt. Although, confirming Kirito's status was not his only reason for coming. A part of him also wanted to see what damage had been done to the already dwindling population. Aside from the two hundred who were already dead, the number of players who died yesterday was significant. This was not a good start, but Klein was hopeful that things could soon change.

Klein let out a sign of relief that at least his friends were still alive, and he aimed to keep it that way. He thought to himself with a slight sense of hope, "So you're still alive 'Kirita.' That's good. You made it through the first day." When he saw the name, he noticed that she was still going by the name Kirito rather than Kirita as he suggested. He chuckled to himself. "I see you haven't changed your name yet either. Something tells me that will change soon enough."

He then opened up his menu, and he sent a message to Kirito to tell her that he was okay before leaving. When he exited the memorial he asked his guild members, "All right guys are you ready for this?" All of his friends nodded in response. "Then let's get going."

/

Omake

Kirita: You know I have noticed something.

Akio: What?

Kirita: I have noticed that not only has the author used the names of several of the samurai from the film, Seven Samurai, and its loose anime adaptation, Samurai Seven, but the author has only used the names of the samurai that die.

Akio: Are you kidding?

Kirita: No. In "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories," the author used the name Kyuzo for one of the original characters who are members in the Big Spider. However, in this story, the author has used the names Heihachi, Gorobei, and Kikuchiyo. If that was not enough, according to the information sheet the author placed in the Sword Art Online fanfiction forum "SAO Fandom Nexus," Gorobei and Kikuchiyo will eventually see me as a 'female Kyuzo.'

Akio: Well I bet it's because you are a good swordswoman, and similar to how Kyuzo dual wielded in the Samurai Seven anime, you will gain dual wielding as well.

Kirita: Does that mean my life is in danger?

Akio: What do you mean?

Kirita: All four of those samurai I just named die in both the film and the anime while the other three live. I don't see the author using the other characters names anywhere. I think it is pretty obvious that the author is most likely going to plan to kill at least one of those three if not all three before the end of this story. Does that mean that the author has me planned for death at some point as well? I really hope that is not the case.

Akio: Not necessarily. I think the author picked those names because the author liked them better, and those samurai were more interesting and better characters than the ones that survived in the anime version and to a certain extent the original film as well. Based on that, I don't think being named after those characters necessarily increases your chances of dying or not. Besides, this is the Kirita Chronicles. It would be weird if you died wouldn't it.

Kirita: I guess so. I certainly hope that is the case. However, that does not prevent that from being the case at the end of the story. After all, we have all seen what the author is capable of in terms of writing brutal death scenes or making the characters suffer horrible injures. It is a lot to bear.

Akio: Are you shaken up after that conversation you had with your male counterpart from "Fairy Dance Alternate" in the previous omake?

Kirita: A little. I think Kirito may have been right that the author might have a 'sadistic' side. I mean look at what happened to Coper. The author actually had Coper's family witness his death firsthand. What the hell was that?!

Akio: Well I think that it was meant to be creatively dark writing. Knowledgeseeker66 likes making the different stories pretty dark. Chances are even if neither one of us die in this story, we will suffer at some point from the author's sadistic side.

Kirita: I was afraid you would say that. In that case, can we move on to another topic?

Akio: That might be for the better. What do you want to talk about?

Kirita: Well I figured it would be a good idea to bring up that someone by the name of 'blue-espeon' has recommended "The Kirita Chronicles" on the Sword Art Online fanfiction recommendation page.

Akio: That is very good news.

Kirita: (cheerful) That isn't all the good news I have to share.

Akio: What else is there to talk about?

Kirita: Knowledgeseeker66 officially became a troper on TVTropes and created pages for "The Kirita Chronicles," "Fairy Dance Alternate," and "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories."

Akio: That is pretty cool that Knowledgeseeker66 finally took the initiative to create the initial pages for those stories.

Kirita: That's right. However, that is not all. Knowledgeseeker66 would like to know if there is anyone out there that would be interested in expanding the pages and coming up with ideas for different tropes that can be used for these pages. I know the author would definitely appreciate the assist.

Akio: I suppose it would be good to receive some help with expanding those pages since there will always be tropes that the author will not think of. Not to mention, it would be good to get a few new perspectives on things.

Kirita: If the audience wants to find these pages, they can either find the link on Knowledgeseeker66's profile, or they can go to the TVTropes website and find them through either the recommendation page or typing in the name of the story. Hopefully, we can get a few readers who might be interested in helping.

Kirita and Akio: (Face the audience) Please try to help Knowledgeseeker66 expand the different pages. We would greatly appreciate it. (They wave to the audience) See you next time.

/

Author Notes: As it was mentioned in the omake, both "Fairy Dance Alternate" and "The Kirita Chronicles" are on the Sword Art Online TVTropes fanfiction recommendation page. Both of these stories were put on the recommendation list thanks to blue-espeon, and I would like to extend my thanks to him for placing them on that list.

On that note, I have also created initial pages for "Fairy Dance Alternate" and "The Kirita Chronicles." I would like to know if anyone here would be interested in me expanding upon the initial pages I created. Since they are my stories, I might be slightly bias towards them, but I'm trying to be as objective as possible. I want to reduce potential bias by asking for some assistance with expanding the pages. If anyone would be willing to help me, I would greatly appreciate it. The only thing I would ask is to wait until Chapter Eight is published before typing in who you think is an "Ensemble Darkhorse," "The Scrappy," or "Base Breaker." I think after Chapter Eight happens it will be pivotal in deciding what categories certain characters belong to.

So what do you think of this modified version of the "First Day" that included characters beside Kirito/Kirita? I personally enjoyed writing this chapter, and it was probably the most fun chapter to write so far. It felt refreshing to write from the perspectives of a few of the other Beta Testers Delano and Gorobei. Additionally, it was great writing some of Coper and Kirito/Kirita's altered interactions and included the 'mysterious player' who appears to be stalking Kirito/Kirita wherever she goes. I think this will add quite a bit more to the plot for "The Kirita Chronicles," and it is establishing/foreshadowing a number of events and consequences that will come in both the near and far future.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, Kirito/Kirita is rather uncomfortable around males due to her relationship with her grandfather. The fact she never had an actual father figure added to that issue. With certain exceptions, she will generally have difficulty talking to male players who know she is a girl. One of these exceptions could be adrenaline, which was part of the reason why she was somewhat okay talking to Klein in the previous chapter or Akio during Chapter Two after she saved him from the bullies. Two other exceptions would be after she becomes familiar with a male player which will be difficult for her or she is able to keep herself composed by doing something such as taking a deep breath.

Even when male players know she is a girl, wearing that mask will give her some level of comfort that will allow her to speak to these male players on a semi-normal level. The fact that they would not be able to see her face gives her a feeling of a 'barrier' that will be sufficient enough. The act of her using a mask to alleviate her issues with talking to male players is a form of the negative coping mechanism known as 'safety behaviors.' One of my readers, Quathis, was kind enough to help me learn more about the specifics of this negative coping mechanism, and you can expect it to become more important in later chapters.

If you have seen Charlie Brown or The Big Bang Theory, you can think of Kirito/Kirita's actions being somewhat like how Linus needs his security blanket or Raj needed to drink alcohol to talk to women. In the subsequent chapters, she will wear the hood and mask along with attempting to deepen her voice when she needs to speak in order to prevent other players from knowing she is a female player. This chapter was more or less a 'mini-taste' of what the development of this subplot will be like. It will become more important in the following chapters, and having her try and overcome this problem will be crucial to her character development in the early story arcs of this story.

On another note, some of you might have noticed, I changed the rules a little bit regarding certain quests. In the Light Novel, Kirito and Coper made it more or less clear that they both could obtain the Anneal Blade if they deliver an ovule. However my story, I decided to have it that it was first come first serve. Since Kayaba Akihiko would want this to be their 'new reality' I would imagine that some of the quests could alternatively be like this. A few others, such as hunting missions, will remain something that anyone can do at anytime due to monsters being able to re-spawn. You will learn more about other quests as time goes on.

Another thing I added was to increase the 'human-like' aspect of the NPCs. In the different publications for Sword Art Online, I noticed that some NPCs seemed more human while others did not. I decided that in this story, I would make the NPCs more consistently human-like, so it would be easier for Kirito/Kirita to sympathize with them. I felt that in the canon version of Sword Art Online, they never really went too much into why Kirito thought of the NPCs as human. You can expect Kirito/Kirita to have several more interactions with NPCs throughout this story to explain why she will care so much for them.

In this chapter, I personally liked that I added the scene with Klein and his group at the end of the chapter. I always felt that Klein's group was an underused plotline, and they were truly 'heroes of another story.' Due to none of Klein's friends/guild members receiving any true individuality, the characterization that I will be giving them will be somewhat original. We all know that they were obviously loyal to Klein and capable of great teamwork since they were all able to survive and escape from Sword Art Online in the canon storyline. However, I plan on giving them a few scenes that will allow them a little expansion for their own character traits beyond that. They will receive a little more screen time in the following chapter, and you will see them a few times in future story arcs.

Another scene I liked adding was Yui's scene in that monitoring room. Considering the fact, she was forced to witness nearly four thousand deaths within two years, I would consider her a pretty sympathetic character, but I think they should have given her more scenes in canon that further emphasized how broken she was or guilty she felt due to not being able to do anything. You can expect to see more scenes of her in that monitoring room scattered throughout the story. As the story goes on, you will see Yui breakdown more and more until the time she finally meets Akio and Kirita. It will be quite some time before that happens.

Similar to this chapter, you can expect to see more scenes that will take place in the real world. I want to go into what certain characters, such as Suguha, are doing while all the Sword Art Online players are trapped in the game. While I always did enjoy watching Kirito's adventures in Sword Art Online in the anime, I did wish they would have provided more scenes for Suguha regarding some of her activities in the real world, among other things. As a result, I decided that I will make this a reoccurring element throughout the story. In addition to that, you can probably expect to see more descriptions regarding players' deaths in the real world, similar to Coper's death. None of them will be pretty.

I have added a new poll to my profile regarding which scenarios that happened in this chapter you liked the most. As with the other polls, I hope you will take part in the poll because I wish to know your thoughts. Additionally, I hope you will continue to show your support for the story and provide a review because feedback is appreciated.