Author Notes: This chapter will mark the end of the second story arc for 'The Kirita Chronicles,' and the first boss battle within Sword Art Online. It will also mark a number of developments that will continue to make an impact in this story for a long way down the road. There will be a few things you can expect to see in the chapter. I think you will have a good idea of certain events that will happen in this chapter, but I'm sure there will be developments that you might not expect. I hope you will enjoy the mixture of similarities and differences that will be featured within this chapter.

In regards to the previous chapter, I'm extremely pleased that the initial relationship between Akio and Kirita was so well received. The scenes they shared together were a lot of fun for me to write, so I was hoping that you all would be pleased with the result. A part of me was a little worried that my portrayal of their initial relationship would not receive strong reception due to how much anticipation there was. It really is thrilling to know that all the work I put into their scenes paid off. I hope that this positive feedback will continue for the future scenes I have planned for them down the line. The number of scenes they will share together in the future will be numerous, and I look forward to writing them all.

Additionally, I'm glad my portrayal of the early part of Akio's character has been well received as well. While I definitely like Asuna as a character, I thought it was strange that she would become so good in the game within a month to the point she was almost on par with Kirito. For Akio, I wanted to make the difference between him and Kirita more noticeable due to the vast difference in experience Kirita has in these games along with the fact she has a slightly higher level, and she has had fighting experience in the real world. While Akio did become stronger over the first month, he still has a ways to go. I decided early on that Kirita would sort of act as a teacher for Akio prior to the first boss battle, so he would be more capable of fighting together with her. You can expect to see Akio gradually become stronger in this story and reaches the level that Asuna had in canon if not higher.

For the popularity poll of the original characters, the first place winner is Gorobei followed by Delano with Kikuchiyo, Juho, and Wan Shotto tied for third. To be honest, based on the general reception of these three and the amount of exposure they have had, I'm not too surprised that these three are at the top. However, I'm a little surprised that Gorobei managed to edge out Delano. Based on some of my readers' comments, it is generally agreed upon that they like Gorobei's friendship with Kikuchiyo along with the fact that he uses bow and arrow skills that make him a badass. With that reasoning, I guess it is a little less surprising he managed to beat out Delano even if it was only by a small amount.

Some other characters that did reasonably well in the poll were Goro/Hideyoshi, Slade, Michiko, Suzuki Tomoni, Yuuki Kanon, Kirigaya Riku, and Yuudai. I can definitely see some of the reasons why they could have appealed to the fans as well despite their limited screen time. Personally, I'm extremely surprised by the fact Kirigaya Riku received votes despite how he abused Kazuta and Kanon received votes despite only being mentioned. I guess for all these characters, I established their existence in a way that made it clear they would have significance to the plot. If that was your reason, you would be correct because you will be seeing quite a bit more of them in future chapters. I'm looking forward to expanding their characters and getting them involved in the storyline.

The poll for this chapter will be the first popularity poll for canon characters appearing in "The Kirita Chronicles." Even though this story is only nine chapters in, there have been numerous characters introduced already, so you will have the ability to select a number of your favorite characters so far. After you have finished reading the chapter, be sure to check out the poll on my profile, and select your favorite characters.

I hope you will leave a review because I love receiving feedback.


The Kirita Chronicles

Story Arc Two: Welcome to the Death Game – Part Six (Final)

Chapter Nine: Birth of the Stigma named Beater


Labels isolate

Isolation is bitter

So get used to it


Date: Summer of 2021

Location: Real World – Kazuta's Middle School

It was the end of first semester for the Middle school that twelve-year old Kazuta attended. Her class had received their grades for both their finals and their overall grade for the semester. Kazuta managed to score in the top ten for her class. While most students would be impressed by that accomplishment, there were more than a few that were apathetic. At least one of these individuals was a student that Kazuta had previously been on a group assignment with. This student considered it a great displeasure to work with Kazuta despite the high grade they received.

Kazuta was not naïve and realized that she made a few mistakes when she was partnered with this girl. Kazuta could tell that some of her personality traits caused this girl to become rather annoyed by her even though she did not mean it. While the girl was annoyed by Kazuta, Kazuta was hoping to mend things with the girl since she liked spending time with her. Kazuta decided that she would try talking to the girl one more time before they left for summer vacation.

The final classes were over, but not all the students had left yet since a few of them were on cleaning duty. Before everyone left school to begin their summer vacation, Kazuta walked up to the student and nervously asked her, "Miyake-san do you have a minute."

The girl Kazuta referred to as Miyake-san, seemed annoyed by Kazuta's presence, and replied, "What do you want Kirigaya?"

Kazuta was hesitant for a moment before she said, "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about how I acted when we were working together."

Miyake did not seem too willing to accept Kazuta's apology as she commented, "I wouldn't exactly say what we did was working together."

Kazuta could not argue with that as she bitterly thought, "As much as I hate to admit it, I guess there are some traits I inherited from my grandfather after all." She then replied to Miyake's remark with an apologetic tone, "Yeah. I'm sorry about that. I … There's … I don't really know what else I can say. All I can say is that I was ridiculous and stupid."

Miyake sighed as she told Kazuta, "Well you did get us a hundred on our project, so you can't have been that stupid."

Kazuta seemed a little hopeful after hearing Miyake's last statement as she asked, "So are you okay with me?"

Miyake scratched her head as she answered, "Yeah I'm fine."

Even though Kazuta was good at knowing when some of her actions may go too far, there are times when she can be bad at reading the atmosphere as well. "So would you be willing to hang out sometime during the summer break?"

Miyake smiled at Kazuta as she told Kazuta, "Sure. When would you want to get together?"

Kazuta excitedly asked Miyake, "Since our vacation is getting started tomorrow, would you be free either tomorrow or this weekend?"

Miyake appeared to think about it for a few moments before giving Kazuta her answer. "I can't tomorrow or the rest of this week. My family and I already have plans on visiting my relatives in Hiroshima."

Kazuta was a little disappointed at first, but she could understand that Miyake had other plans. "Oh that sounds like fun."

Miyake cheerfully told Kazuta, "It will be. Anyway, I should be free a little later in the summer though so be sure to give me a call."

Hearing Miyake tell her that she was interested in hanging out later that summer did make Kazuta excited as she responded, "That sounds great." Kazuta then noticed the time and realized that she had to be somewhere else as she told Miyake, "I have to get going, so I'll see you later Miyake-san."

When Kazuta was no longer within earshot, one of Miyake's friends asked her, "You're not seriously thinking about hanging out with that 'control freak' are you?" When she said the words 'control freak' she said it with an extra amount of venom.

Miyake casually responded, "Of course not. Why would I want to hang out with her? She's nothing but a pain."


It did not take Kazuta very long to find out that Miyake was lying to her. The following day, Kazuta decided to leave her home to enjoy her first day of summer. She did not want to stay at home because for the most part things were still awkward between her and her sister ever since she discovered the truth about her adoption. Even though they were on slightly better terms, Kazuta had trouble looking at Suguha the same way anymore.

When she decided to hang around the shopping area, she saw that Miyake and her friends were hanging out. As Kazuta saw the girl hanging out with her other friends, she sadly thought, "We both exchanged phone numbers during the project, so I know that it wasn't that she couldn't contact me if she really was free today." Kazuta sighed as she thought, "I wish she could have at least told me she wasn't interested. I would have been fine with that."

While Kazuta was tempted to walk away that very moment, she could not help but gaze at how much different Miyake was reacting to her friends. Kazuta felt a longing to be part of something like that, but the idea of becoming a part of such a group was foreign to her. She knew better than to go over there and butt in on Miyake's good time. Kazuta then thought to herself, "I guess I really can't blame her for not inviting me. It was my fault after all." Kazuta looked at her hands as she thought, "I guess I'm just the type of person people can't stand to be around. That's just who I am."

Kazuta would eventually understand the cruel irony of how she treated her mother and sister compared to how some of the other girls treated her. Even when Kazuta did begin to understand, she lacked the courage to do anything about it when she could have. Instead of attempting to talk to her family about her problems, Kazuta decided to find ways to cope with the fact she lacked any friends in the real world. Kazuta had already loved to play video games before, but her desire to find her own way to cope led her love of video games to become stronger.

After facing that non-verbal rejection, Kazuta could not help but go through a box of vintage video games. A majority of these games were released either before she was born or around the time she was a little kid. Due to her mother not being around, she was able to play a few of them despite the age rating. However, she did not usually understand the innuendos and subtext that was present in those games, so she was more focused on completing them.

As she looked at these games she thought, "Social links and support conversations huh? Not only is there that. There is also the famous developing friendships with complete strangers either by connecting with their 'hearts' or sharing a common goal." She sighed as she thought in frustration, "It's amazing how video games can make developing friendships appear so easy, fun and exciting. They are anything but that." Kazuta sighed as she thought, "It seems like trying to befriend people in the real world isn't for me."

This would not be the only time that Kazuta would face rejection from attempting to befriend someone else. The more times she failed, the more she would lose interest in making friends with people in the real world, and she would embrace video games more and more. She loved playing regular video games, especially role playing games. However, her love for those games was dwarfed by MMORPGs. In those games, she believed it was possible for her to form 'friendships' that could be mutually beneficial.

It was Kazuta's philosophy that, "At least in these games, the players are more likely to continue being your friends as long as you are still useful to them."

This philosophy was part of the reason why Kazuta was so willing to embrace the virtual world when the Nerve Gear was released and she became so obsessed with Sword Art Online's Beta Test. She was able to play on her own, but if she wanted to, she was able to forge alliances with other players. During the Beta Test, Kazuta enjoyed the feeling of being useful to others and becoming so strong within the game. Even though she generally played alone, she formed more 'friendships' during that two month Beta Test than she formed in the past two years in the real world. The only problem was that she did not believe any of these players would want to be her friend in the real world. In some cases she would be correct, but luckily she would be more wrong that right.


Date: Summer of 2021

Location: Real World – Akio's Middle School

Kazuta was far from the only person that was having trouble finding people to socialize with in the real world. During the days that Akio was completely obedient to his parents, the thirteen year old was not the best at making friends. The best that Akio could do during those days was forming 'superficial friendships.'

Similar to Kazuta's middle school, Akio's school was getting ready to dismiss its students for the beginning of their summer vacation. However, before the semester would come to a close, Akio received an invitation from one of his fellow students, Wakasa, to join him on the rooftop for lunch. Akio was somewhat suspicious of Wakasa's intentions for his invitation because they had rarely spoken before, so it seemed strange that this person would suddenly ask to eat lunch with him. However, Akio was not the type of person to turn down an invitation.

When Akio arrived at the top of the stairs, he could see that the door was partly open and he could hear some people talking. Akio correctly assumed that it was most likely Wakasa and his friends. Before Akio opened the door, he happened to hear something rather interesting from one of Wakasa's friends.

One of Wakasa's friends, Reiji, asked in an annoyed tone, "So why did you bother asking Yuuki to hang out anyway?"

Wakasa replied in a dry tone, "Don't blame me. Blame my parents. My parents told me that it would be a good idea to form connections to the Yuuki family."

Another one of Wakasa's friends, Taigo, complained, "Are you kidding me? So why do we have to be dragged into this?"

Wakasa replied, "I think after you become Akio's friend, you will be thanking me in a few years from now. Becoming friends with him will be important in our future."

Reiji asked in disbelief, "What do you mean by that? The last time I checked, he's just a loser who can barely think for himself."

Taigoadded to that by stating, "That's right. I heard that he is a regular mommy and daddy's boy."

While Wakasa was not exactly thrilled about this either, he was attempting to look at the bigger picture as he said to them, "I told my parents the same thing, but they gave me something else to think about as well. What they told me sort of changed my mind."

Reiji was still annoyed by this arrangement, but he was a little curious in what Wakasa's parents could have told him. "What exactly did your parents tell you?"

Wakasa explained, "Well despite what we may think, there's no denying that Akio is one of the best students of our class, and we all know that he is set to inherit his father's position in their company RECTO Progress."

Taiga impatiently replied, "Yeah we know that, but I still don't get why we should really bother with him."

Wakasa was now starting to become more annoyed at his friends for not understanding what his point was rather than the fact he made this arrangement. "The point is that whatever his parents are doing must be working. My parents told me that if he is doing well already that might mean he might do well when it comes time to succeed his father in RECTO Progress. If that happens, it will be beneficial to us to have connections to him."

Based on their facial expressions, Reiji and Taiga finally seemed to understand where Wakasa was coming from. Reiji's tone changed from being annoyed to rather hopeful, "So when that time comes, he might be someone who could do us a few favors in the future right?"

Wakasa smiled as he told his friend, "That's right."

Taiga seemed relieved by this as he replied, "This makes things much easier. I like the idea of gaining something like that in the future."

As Wakasa and his friends continued their discussion about how useful Akio could be to them, Akio continued to listen as he mused, "It is amazing what people will say about you when they don't think you are around to listen."

Normally, most people would walk away after hearing that, but Akio decided not to. Despite hearing what he heard, Akio decided to still eat lunch with them. At this point, he still felt it was better than eating back at the cafeteria and he could still enjoy the fresh air. Despite how Akio felt, he still kept his conversations with these individuals civil. During the course of this lunch, Akio still became 'friends' with a few of these individuals.

Even though Akio knew they were planning on using him in the future, he was okay with it. As far as he was concerned, becoming 'superficial' friends with a bunch of people was better than having no friends at all. His parents may have been good at grooming him to become a businessman, but they were not with providing him with the confidence to socialize with others. Akio may have learned a few things about socializing from his tutors, but he lacked the ability to make use of their advice. This more or less stemmed from how they had been so controlling of his life for the past few years, and he had no confidence in taking his own initiatives.

It would be a while before Akio would finally take the necessary steps to start making real friends. Ironically, the person who would help trigger that would be the same girl who was having her own social difficulties. That moment was a major turning point for Akio, and he would never forget that girl. However, he never learned the girl's name which was something that he always regretted until he had another chance encounter with her.


Date: Saturday, December 3rd, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Floor One – Tolbana

Dinner with Akio went relatively well for the most part. It was the first time in my life that I actually shared a meal with a player of the opposite gender besides my grandfather and those one or two occasions I ate lunch with other students who were in my group for a school project. In the real world, it was always just Suguha and me who ate dinner together, and sometimes our mom would join us. However, mom's job was rather demanding, so those times were few and far between since she wasn't always home for dinner on Sundays either.

To be honest, it was always more fun for me to prepare the food than to eat it. When it came to eating, I either isolated myself at home, or I would be eating alone at school. Eating meals sometimes served as a reminder to me that I really didn't have a connection with anyone to eat meals with. Even if I had those connections, I selfishly squandered them. When I think about it, I was truly pathetic. Whether it was self-imposed or not, I was always isolated. At this point in my life, being isolated was part of who I was. I didn't like it, but that had been part of me, and I still think that. I was too used to isolation that I couldn't picture myself not being on my own even though I didn't want to be anymore.

There was a time when eating dinner with my family was a lot of fun. However, it eventually became less fun and more like a chore. It was my fault that happened. After I found out I was adopted, I did not become as engaged with my family anymore, and I'm sure what I did probably made eating dinner less enjoyable for Suguha and my mom. I would do anything to take back what I had done and make this right. However, it was doubtful that even if I did escape from this game I would be able to make amends. I would try if given the chance, but I have my doubts that they would be willing to forgive me after they way I treated them, and I wouldn't blame them. During my time trapped in this game, I have been told by others that my family probably would forgive me, but I don't share their optimism.

When it came to eating lunch at school, I almost always end up eating lunch alone. The only times I didn't eat alone at school was when I needed to talk to people who I was paired with in a school project. However, those lunches were never any fun. In the end, none of those people really didn't want anything to do with me because I usually ending up taking most of the responsibility for those projects. They probably labeled me as being a 'control freak,' and the day after the projects were due, I would be alone again.

If that wasn't enough, I received another label after I beat up the various members of my karate club. That resulted in no other boys awkwardly attempting to ask me on dates. While I was relieved by that, it did reduce my school day to simply attending my classes and clubs then going home. I would have very little if any interaction with my classmates, and we would go about our own business. Overtime it became lonelier than I would have imagined. Eventually, being isolated was something that became part of my character, but it didn't mean I necessarily liked it. I did attempt to change that, but it didn't work out too well in the real world.

When I would try to eat lunch with others, I would usually get certain looks from my classmates that more or less told me I didn't belong with them. I guess they were probably right that I didn't belong with them. Since I didn't belong with anyone in the real world, it was one more reason why I was so willing to embrace the different MMORPGs I played and eventually the virtual world. Even though I usually acted as a solo player in such games, I was still open to the idea of fighting in a party. Not to mention, I was more successful in making friends in the virtual world.

Despite this being a Death Game, Sword Art Online I was still far more successful in making friends in these circumstances than I ever had in the real world. During the first month of the game, the two friends I made, Klein and Argo, were two more friends I made in the virtual world than in the real world during this past year. I even had the player Yuudai on my 'Ally List.' While he is not technically listed as being my friend, it was still better than what I had in the real world. This was hardly anything someone would brag about, but that was an accomplishment to me, especially since all three of those players were male players and two of them knew my real gender. It's weird how things work out sometimes.

Anyway, having dinner with Akio was different from any of those lunches. For the first time in years, I was actually having fun eating with someone else. Throughout the dinner, Akio and I talked for about an hour or so, and we exchanged a few laughs here and there. However, Akio was the one who did most of the talking. I made a few 'contributions' to the conversation here and there, but I was silent for the most part. It was harder for me to say anything to Akio without wearing my mask.

Without my mask on, I really had a difficult time being able to talk to Akio for too long, but I did the best I could. I was able to say a few sentences here and there, but I stuttered too much. It annoyed me that I constantly felt like I needed to wear that mask in order to relieve any anxiety I had interacting with male players. It's not like the mask gave me some kind of ability that allowed me to talk to men without any issues. Even when I wore the mask, I still felt a little uncomfortable and hesitate, but it was less frequent because the mask made me feel more confident and it provided a barrier for me. Needless to say, I knew that this was definitely something I needed to work on, but that was not currently my priority.

Despite not contributing much to the conversations, I still had a good time, and I could tell that Akio seemed to have a good time as well. I think he seemed to understand that this was not easy for me, so he did not try to push me too much when it came to talking. I was really glad that he was considerate. This was another reason why I was happy that I gave him a chance.

After we ate dinner, Akio took his leave. As fate would have it, we actually rented out rooms in close proximity, so we were practically neighbors. To be honest, I couldn't help but feel relieved when he told me he had his own place, and he was going to leave. If he didn't, I think that would have set us up for a rather awkward situation. I wouldn't have wanted to kick him out of my room, but I also didn't want to invite him to stay either.

Due to my lodgings having a second bed, I could have offered Akio to use the second bed. The thought did cross my mind, but I ultimately couldn't bring myself to ask him. Eating dinner with Akio without wearing my mask along with wearing my more casual outfit was hard enough for me. It would have been near impossible for me to be okay with sharing the same room with him. Akio probably noticed that as well which is why he probably told me that he would be heading back to his room.

After Akio left, it did feel rather lonely in the room. For the past week, I've generally tried spending too much time in this room by myself because the loneliness would usually creep up on me. It would remind me of how much I made loneliness a part of my very self. That is the main reason why I would usually spend more time either exploring the dungeon, completing quests in the field, or checking out the town. Usually, I would only come in here or any room I had rented throughout the first month of the Death Game only to rest or organize my items. This was the first time I spent time in my room enjoying the company of another player. After he left, the loneliness I felt due to his absence reminded me of how lonely I was during my school lunches. It was a bitter feeling I had gotten used to, but it still didn't feel pleasant.

Speaking of spending time with others, I think it was rather bold that I even invited anyone over in the first place. That was definitely something I would not have even considered a few weeks ago. However, if were to give myself a reason, I would say that I felt Akio was different from some of the other male players I have encountered in both the real world and the virtual worlds. He was certainly different from anyone I encountered since this Death Game began.

When we met the other day, he was rather weak spirited, and he really did strike me as someone who was doomed to die in this game. After what happened that day, it is hard to believe that when I met Akio less than forty-eight hours earlier, he appeared to be a hopeless individual that believed he was doomed to die. However, after we practiced together, I was able to feel that there was something within him that could make him strong, and he did not seem to be that weak willed person anymore. He was willing to listen to me, and he showed that if he was given enough help that he would be able to rise to the occasion. If that was not enough, he proved that to me when he stood up for me when Kira was accusing me. Similar to Argo, he made me want to give him a chance to trust him.

Akio was a kind and honest individual that had potential. After the way he defended me from Kira, he felt like someone that I could trust. It's a real 180 to how I felt when we first met, but I can see that was not the true him. Similar to Agil, he was a person that could see reason, and he was not one of those players who simply blamed the Beta Testers for everything that has gone wrong in this game. After putting all these factors together, I did not feel the usual level of discomfort that I would feel from interacting with other male players.

Even after I revealed to Akio that I was a girl or I put on more casual clothing, he did not size me up like Klein or Coper did. Akio did of course look me over in surprise, and he gave me a look or two, but he did not have that weird 'stare' in his eyes when he did look at me. The look I saw in his eyes was not the same I had seen in school or from the male players who knew my gender. Akio's eyes made me believe that I could trust him, and I would be right about that. Unfortunately, while Akio was different from other males I have encountered I still felt the need to wear my mask when I talked to him. I know that he didn't like it, and I didn't like it either, but I could tell he understood why I felt the need to keep wearing this mask.

Akio seemed to understand that needing to wear the mask was nothing personal. After what happened with my grandfather, it's been difficult for me to talk to males in general. Whenever, I try to talk to them or I'm around them, a strange sensation goes though my head. It is rather difficult for me to describe what this sensation is, but I involuntarily feel nervous around them even if I know the person. The sensation is nearly paralyzing for me, and this mask feels like the closest thing I have to a treatment. I know that this probably isn't exactly a healthy coping mechanism, but it was the best I had.

As far as I could tell, there are only a handful of exceptions to my problem but even then it's been difficult. Another word to describe this problem would be frustrating since I'm not always the best at getting my point across like this. While I don't know if this is something I can overcome, I do know with players like Argo and Akio, I will try to do better with handling this problem.


Date: Sunday, December 4th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Floor One – Tolbana – Diabel's Room

Diabel was pacing in his room in anticipation of the upcoming boss battle. He was nervously thinking, "I can't believe the day has finally come. We've been in this game for a month, and we are finally going to fight the first boss battle. We've been anticipating this moment so long, it's hard to believe it's finally time. Now we will see if everything we've done to prepare for this moment will pay off."

Diabel heard someone knocking on his door and he asked, "Who is it?"

The voice on the other side of the door answered, "Its Kuradeel."

Diabel responded as he hurried to the door, "Be there in a second."

After Diabel opened the door, Kuradeel said in a solemn voice, "The time has come Diabel. We should head off for the meeting." Despite how he attempted to make his voice sound, there was no hiding that Kuradeel was nervous about the upcoming battle. This would be the first time they would fight a battle of this scale, and it was hard to know how things would turn out.

The sound of Kuradeel's voice did not go unnoticed by Diabel as he asked his friend in a concerned voice, "Are you feeling okay Kuradeel?"

Kuradeel sighed as he responded, "To be honest, I have a hard time believing the moment is almost here. We've talked about this boss fight for a while, but now that it is time for it to happen, I can't help but feel …"

Before Kuradeel could finish his sentence, Diabel interrupted his friend and said, "Don't get yourself all worked up about the battle. Every one of us have all trained and leveled up for what is about to happen. Even if there are deviations from the Beta Test, I'm sure we will be more than ready for them."

Hearing his friend's optimism did cause Kuradeel to feel somewhat relieved. As long as he knew Diabel and his brother in the real world, their words usually did a good job making him feel better. Kuradeel replied, "If you say so."

Diabel checked the time and state, "We still have a few minutes before he need to get going. If you don't mind, there is something I want to talk to you about. I'll make it quick."

Kuradeel did not see any reason to deny his friend a request, so he responded, "Okay. What is it?" Kuradeel entered the room and closed the door behind him.

Diabel took a moment to think of what he wanted to say, so he could start this conversation. He scratched the back of his head until he finally told Kuradeel, "It's about what you told me about Kira two days ago."

"Is it now?" Kuradeel's tone made it clear he was interested in knowing more as he asked, "Have you made a decision yet?"

Diabel hesitantly told Kuradeel, "Sort of."

Kuradeel: "What do you mean sort of?"

Diabel: "I had a talk with Kira after the meeting yesterday."

Kuradeel asked in an interested tone, "What did you talk about?"

Diabel "I told her that we need to stop endorsing any kind of witch hunts towards Beta Testers and start focusing on working together with all players."

Kuradeel was more confused and asked, "Why would you talk to her about something like that?"

Similar to what he did with Kira, Diabel calmly explained, "Because we need to start working together with all players regardless of whether they are Beta Testers or not. You and I both know that not all Beta Testers are bad since I used to be one, so we need to stop any and all witch hunts all together."

Kuradeel thought about what Diabel was saying for a few moments before he asked, "When you say stop all them, does that include leaving that Kirito alone too?"

There was no hesitation in Diabel's voice when he told his friend, "Yes."

Kuradeel asked, "But why should we leave her alone too? You said so yourself that he is probably the biggest threat that could prevent you from obtaining the 'Last Attack Bonus' that you've been working so hard to secure."

Diabel calmly answered, "First of all, I can handle that by assigning Kirito to fighting off the enemies that will be appearing alongside the boss, so we don't need to do anything else to him. Secondly, we need to stop these hunts and make no exceptions. If we do continue to do these witch hunts, they will only cause problems down the line. I may have been fine with Kira starting one when it suited my needs even if I didn't completely support the idea, but I've realized that they were a mistake. If we keep doing them, I'm sure that it will lead to many players suffering the consequences besides the so-called selfish Beta Testers and we may not live to see the real world again. Do you understand what I'm getting out?"

Since Kuradeel's hatred for the Beta Testers was not as strong as Kira's was, it was easier for Diabel to convince him. Kuradeel carefully considered Diabel's words for a few moments before reluctantly telling Diabel, "I suppose I do. If you think that is for the best, it might be a good idea to listen. After all, I know that you and your brother have been right about a lot of things in the past. It might be for the best that I take your word for it."

Diabel chuckled at his friend's words as he told Kuradeel, "I'm glad you think so."

Kuradeel realized that what they had been talking about might have strayed from the topic he thought they were going to talk about, so he asked, "By the way, what does this have to do with what we talked about with Kira?"

Diabel responded, "Well you mentioned to me about how she cared for me. I was hoping that would mean she would be willing to listen to what I have to say. I was grateful she was willing to listen to reason and back down."

Kuradeel narrowed his eyes when he said to Diabel, "I hope you're not saying that you like her because she is obedient."

Diabel quickly shook his head as he sheepishly replied, "No I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that I'm glad she was willing to listen." Diabel quickly calmed down, and said, "If she didn't care for me as much as you claimed she does, she would have disregarded what I said to her, but she didn't. It made me happy to hear her tell me what she thought of the situation and consider what I had to say on the matter too."

Kuradeel replied, "I guess that sounds a little better when you put it like that."

Diabel reaffirmed his previously stance by stating, "I'm telling you it isn't like that. Besides, even before we had our discussion, I'll admit that I had felt some attraction to her."

Kuradeel immediately interrupted to blurt out in a satisfied tone, "I knew it."

Diabel blushed a little as he replied, "Yeah you got me. Anyway, I can tell that Kira might have had a few problems in the past, but I know that she is a good person who is willing to listen. I'd be interested in getting to know her more."

Kuradeel asked his friend the big question, "Why don't you tell her that?"

"I think you of all people would probably know the reason why I'm hesitant." He sighed as he said, "It's not like I've had the best luck with women in the past."

Kuradeel replied, "True, but you're luck has definitely been better than mine."

Diabel gave a deadpan reply, "I guess there's no denying that either."

When Kuradeel heard Diabel's response, he had a slight overreaction when he stated, "Hey you're not supposed to agree with that!"

Diabel was amused by Kuradeel's reaction as he replied in a playful voice "I'm sorry I thought we were supposed to be honest here."

Kuradeel did not notice the playfulness in Diabel's voice as he asked in a desperate voice, "Aren't you supposed to tell me something like, 'That's not true,' or 'Those girls were crazy not to give you a chance'?

Diabel mockingly asked, "Oh you wanted me to comfort you about your girl troubles? I thought we were talking about my issues this time around." This time the playfulness in Diabel's voice was more noticeable.

Kuradeel could see that his friend was having fun with him as he responded, "Yeah, yeah we were. Anyway, what are you going to do about Kira? Are you going to tell her that you like her?"

Diabel replied, "Maybe I'll tell her after the boss fight is over. I wouldn't want her to get distracted by anything I have to say."

Kuradeel was not sure if that was the right idea as he asked, "Are you sure you're not going to get distracted?"

Diabel shook his head as he confidently told his friend, "No. In fact, I think talking to her will be the goal I will set for myself for after we win the boss fight. By having a goal in mind, you know that I'm always more likely to get done with what I need to do."

Kuradeel felt like he could not argue with his friend as he responded, "Well that has worked for you before."

Diabel assured his friend, "And it will work again. Besides, with you watching my back during that boss fight, I know there is nothing I need to worry about."

Kuradeel hesitantly stated, "You sure seem to be putting a lot of faith in me. That could be a mistake."

"It hasn't been a mistake before, and I know it won't be one now. I've always had faith in you to watch my back. We are friends after all. I would expect nothing less, and you can expect nothing less from me." The tone in Diabel's voice made it clear that he was sincere and he trusted Kuradeel with his life.

Kuradeel smiled as he replied, "Thank you."

"You got it." Diabel noticed the time and realized they have been talking long enough. He told his friend, "Anyway, let's get going. If we leave now, we can still get there before everyone else arrives."

The two friends quickly left towards the designated meeting place before the other players arrived. Diabel would be ready to give the final instructions before the first great battle within Sword Art Online would begin.


Date: Sunday, December 4th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Floor One – Tolbana – Kirito's Room

The following day at around 9:15 a.m., Akio knocked on my door to see if I was ready. The meeting wasn't set to happen until 10:00 a.m., but Akio wanted to make sure we got there early. Although, I can't help but think that Akio came to make sure that I wouldn't leave him behind to join the group myself. If he was afraid of that, I can't particularly blame him. We didn't get off on the right foot, and if he would have screwed up during our practices the day before, I might have considered leaving him behind. However, I no longer considered that to be an issue. I put on my mask and quickly changed into my battle gear, I was ready for the boss fight.

As we were heading to the rendezvous spot to meet Diabel and the others, Argo called out to me. He wanted to speak to me in private. Akio was fine with waiting for me until I was finished talking to Argo. As it turned out, Argo and Akio had previously met a few weeks ago, and they had exchanged a few messages with each other since then. Since we had more than a half-hour before the meeting, I figured talking to Argo wouldn't be an issue, and Akio was fine with waiting toward the side. We stood far enough away so Akio would not be able to listen in on our conversation unless he had a strong 'listening' skill which I seriously doubted he had.

Argo asked, "So you're heading out?" Even though he had phrased that as a question, I could tell that he knew the answer.

I playfully responded to his questions, "You … You of all people should know the answer to that Argo. Are you worried about me?" By now, I knew what he was going to say next.

Argo smirked as he replied, "I'm just worried about losing a lot of potential revenue. After all, you were my best client in the Beta Test. I'm kind of hoping that will not be the end to your story as well, so try not to die too early in the game."

I sarcastically remarked, "For the sake … For the sake of your business, I will try not to die too early."

After I said that, Argo then stated in a serious manner, "That's good to hear, but remember one more thing Kirito."

It was almost surprising to hear Argo speak in this serious tone. Even when he is conducting business with me, he didn't sound this serious. This made it quite clear to me that this was a topic that should not be taken lightly, so I asked, "What's that?"

Argo's expression indicated that what he was about to say was of the upmost importance. "The information that I provided in that data book from the Beta Test has been useful, but it is not absolute. From what you told me before, we can already expect there to be a number of differences between this world and the world we experienced in the Beta Test."

Obviously, he knew that I already knew that, but he just wanted to give me a reminder. "Yeah I know. Assuming … Assuming to know anything about this world because of the Beta Test can easily be my one-way ticket to the grave."

Argo's expression remained unchanged as he told me, "I'm glad you understand that. I have a feeling that some of the Beta Testers died because they assumed that knowing what was on the Beta Test would give them some kind of guarantee to survival."

I scratched the back of my head as I hesitantly admitted, "When the Death Game began, I was … I was guilty of that assumption as well. However, what happened on the first night of the game it … it made me realize that even if what I know comes in handy, I can't just let my guard down. Any mistake could result in my death."

Argo told me in a stern voice, "It is important you keep that in mind. If I would have realized that there would be a number of differences sooner, I would have made a disclaimer on that data book, but it's a little late for that. I know that I stated in the data book that the information was based off the Beta Test, but that might not be good enough. I did the next best thing by creating a second edition of the data book that provides a disclaimer stating there could be differences between the two versions."

While that disclaimer might work for other players, there was a chance a number of other players would not have noticed. "Have … Have you tried telling the other players who already acquired your first data book?"

Argo sighed as he told me, "I have tried telling some of the other players who are in the raid group. I also warned the leading group headed by Diabel of this as well. Unfortunately, anything I have to say wasn't always met with 'warm reception.' In fact, they seemed to be more interested in knowing if I noticed these changes myself or if someone else informed me. I could tell they wanted to use me, so they could identify more of the Beta Testers rather than being focused on my warning."

What Argo told me did not surprise me, but I was disgusted. I was filled with anger and disgust as I asked without any stuttering, "So they are more interested in identifying the Beta Testers rather than listening to the person who has been helping them play and survive in this game?" Argo nodded in response, but I was hardly surprised by that answer. In fact, it sounded exactly like those ridiculous mobs I had seen here in Tolbana before Diabel broke them up. "They … They sound like a bunch of idiots."

Argo had no issues agreeing with me. "They are a bunch of idiots. Anyone who is rational can see how skewed the priorities of these players are. They are more focused on trying to find scapegoats rather than trying to focus on what's important and taking personal responsibility. If they could focus more on that, I think there would be less disunity among us. If they were willing to listen and be rational, we could avoid so many needless issues. The whole situation is so idiotic that it disgusts me."

The disgust in my voice was becoming more evident as I said, "If … If something goes wrong, I bet they will conveniently forget how you tried to warn them of the dangers just like Kira conveniently forgot about you when she pulled that hissy fit during the meeting. That … That just drives me crazy."

Argo's voice showed more disappointment in the players' actions rather than disgust. I'm guessing that being an information broker has allowed him to be used to this scenario by now. He was probably disappointed at the fact the players keep acting the same way over and over again without making progress.

He told me in a calm, composed voice, "Players forgetting the truth that is inconvenient for them is a perfect reflection of how plenty of people in the real world act. I guess having mobs of people who like blaming others rather than being responsible and accepting the facts are some things that we just can't escape from in this virtual world. That is just how any world seems to function."

I couldn't help but look down and responded in a somewhat depressed voice, "Yeah. Unfortunately, that problem is probably worse here than it would be in the real world after what I have seen."

Argo's face gradually changed into an expression I had not seen him show before. He looked like he was becoming depressed. He admitted to me, "This makes me wonder if I might eventually cause things to inadvertently become worse for the Beta Testers by creating that data book."

I asked in a curious voice, "What do you mean by that?"

Argo put his right hand on his forehead as if he was attempting to nurse a headache. He told me, "During that boss fight, if one of the players dies or almost dies, it is possible that the other players could use those players as martyrs and turn the rest of the players in this Death Game against us even more. Even though I have been attempting to alleviate any issues players may have with playing this game, I could picture them stating that I lied in the data book despite how accurate it has been so far. They would be turning what I had created in order to help all the players into something that be used as annihilating us all. I can't help but think what I did might make things for not only me, but you and the other Beta Testers much worse. I'd like to think I'm helping, but when I think about, it's possible I might end up doing the opposite." The more he talked, the more I could see that Argo felt guilty about his actions even though he had no reason to feel guilty at all.

After Argo was finished talking, I could tell by his voice and his expression that he was genuinely concerned about this problem, so I did the best I could to console him, but I wasn't the most graceful with it. "For what it's worth Argo, I … I think your book is what helped save a lot of people's lives." Argo seemed surprised that I was trying to make him feel better as I continued to tell him, "At least your book states the information was based off the Beta Test, so … so you never lied to them. Everything in the book has been … has been accurate regarding the enemies, so they knew how to fight them. Even if certain enemies appear in different places, the … the information you provided was … was still spot on. I'm sure there are a lot of people who … who would want to thank you personally."

It was truly amazing how when I'm not talking about business with Argo, I suddenly start showing more hesitation while talking to him. I couldn't help but wonder what the deal was with that. Usually, I have difficulty talking to males for a prolonged period of time, but talking to Argo for the past few weeks was not as much of an issue. I guess it might have been because I'm just used to talking to Argo regarding 'business matters.'

When we are talking about 'information' or 'Beta Tester issues,' he treats me more like a regular client rather than being focused on the fact I was a girl like Klein and Coper were. I guess I wasn't used to talking to him about anything else. Needless to say, this was starting to get really annoying. Between my difficulty in talking to Akio during dinner and my present difficulties talking to Argo, I knew this was one problem I definitely needed to work on.

Argo's expression improved after listening to me, and Argo shrugged as he replied, "I never thought I would be getting comforted by you. Anyway, maybe you're right maybe you're not. I guess only time will answer that." Argo's expression then changed back to a 'snickering' look as he said, "Regardless, hopefully enough of them will be alive long enough to be my future clients, especially you. The last thing I want is for you to die because you assume you know everything about this world."

Underneath my mask I smirked as I told him, "Don't worry. If I'm going to die, it will not be because of that."

Argo asked in a playful tone, "Does that mean you are going to take him with you after the boss fight?" From the way he was speaking, it almost sounded as if he wanted Akio and me to pair up.

The thought of Akio and me continuing to travel together did cross my mind but I didn't think it was a good idea. I was hesitant at first as I said, "Akio and I travelling together?" I waved my hands as I told Argo, "No way … not a chance … no!" I cleared my throat as I told Argo in a more firm voice, "After the first boss battle, I plan on us going our separate ways."

Argo gave me a strange look as he replied, "Oh really? You seemed pretty happy talking to him even though you usually seem to have trouble talking to male players. Not to mention, didn't he come to 'pick you up' from your room earlier?"

Before Argo could go any further I told him in an embarrass tone, "I invited Akio over for dinner last night since … since he didn't have any dinner plans of his own." I then realized I probably dug myself deeper with that one.

Argo seemed to be having fun with this. It was almost like the little depressing moment he was having a minute ago didn't happen. I wonder if he was having fun with this because this was helping him get over his little episode. He said in a slightly smug look on his face, "I had a feeling something might happen between you two. Didn't think it would happen that fast."

I thought, "Damn it. He is having too much fun with this." I hesitantly told him in an embarrassed voice, "Sh-shut up! It's … it's not like that. Don't get … don't get any weird ideas!"

He grinned as he told me, "I'm not. I wouldn't expect you two to engage in any 'ethics off activities' anyway since you only just met. That would be going way too fast."

I was perplexed by what Argo had just said. It seemed to come completely out of left field, so I asked, "Ethics off activities? What are those?"

Argo's expression changed from being playful to serious when he saw that I had no idea what he was talking about. "Are you saying you don't know about them?"

I was still confused by what he was talking about. "Know about what?"

He then weakly attempted to blow it off, "Um … never mind. It's not important." He was technically telling the truth that it was not important to what was going to happen in the near future, but it would become important much later on.

It would be a while before I would know exactly what these 'ethics off activities' Argo was referring to. When someone else told me what exactly that special feature was, I would be extremely surprised by what it was. Apparently, the players in this game would find it be nearly addicting since they would engage in it a few times a week. Apparently, Kayaba Akihiko really did think of almost everything to include in this game. However, it makes me wonder if it was his idea or if it was someone else's.

While I did not believe what Argo was saying was 'not important,' I decided to let it go for now. I inwardly sighed and thought, "I guess there is no point in pursing this further for the time being. I need to focus more on the boss fight anyway."

He tried to change the subject by sheepishly stating, "Anyway, Akio must have made some kind of impression on you." His voice was starting to sound less sheepish and more playful, "When we first met, you pointed a sword art my chest. Afterwards, we became friends, and I'm one of the only guys you are willing to talk to. From what it looks like, it seems that Akio has just joined this exclusive club."

I sighed as I told him, "You two have sort of … sort of become exceptions to my difficulties in dealing with male players. I almost feel like I can … talk to you two almost normally."

Argo sarcastically remarked, "Is that so? You still seem to need to wear that mask when talking to us. Even then, you still have trouble talking to me even while wearing the mask. Not to mention, wearing masks to talk to others isn't exactly normal."

That comment pissed me off a little as I nearly shouted at him, "HEY! One step at a time! It's not that easy for me!"

Argo's eyes widened a little from my reaction, and he seemed to realize he might have been pushing his fun a little too much. He tried to calm the situation down by saying, "Okay! Okay! I get it. I'll try to refrain from taking some of those cheap shots."

After Argo said that, I sighed and I admitted, "It's nothing personal. I've had a few … difficulties in the past, which is part of the reason why I always pretended … to be a male player in the games." Argo did not say anything, but his expression indicated that he seemed to understand. "Even now a part of me still feels a little uncomfortable talking to you. The only reason why … I'm even remotely okay talking to you is because I knew you from the Beta Test. Our prior history allows me to feel a little calmer. Akio proved himself to me yesterday, and I … I decided that I would give him a chance. I can talk to both of you without wearing the mask, but it feels … rather difficult. When I do wear this mask, it makes me feel more … more at ease."

Argo seemed rather interested in understanding me more. "Is it because your mask prevents us from seeing your face that it gives you some kind of 'security'?"

His assessment was rather accurate, so I hesitantly told him, "It's hard to explain, but I guess … I guess you might be right. However, I would want to eventually reach a point I don't need to wear this mask for 'comfort.'"

Argo smiled as he tried to advise me, "That sounds great. So why not bring him with you? I'm sure Akio would be more than happy to help you overcome this problem."

I then reaffirmed my position by stating, "That's not going to happen."

"Why don't you want to bring him with you?" Argo's voice indicated he was becoming a little frustrated by my stubbornness to leave Akio behind.

I admitted to him, "I guess … I guess one reason would be that I can't really see myself being in a party with someone for too long. From … From all my experience acting as a solo player, I have difficulties with the idea of working with other players for a prolonged period of time."

Argo tried to convince me, "I think in this situation you should try putting that aside. Both the other day and yesterday, you were saying you couldn't picture being in the same party as Akio. Now you seem to get along with him. If you stay in the same party with each, I'm sure you will probably like working with someone else more than you think."

There was no arguing with Argo's logic, but I still did not feel that having Akio travel with me was the right idea. I reluctantly told him, "I get what you are saying, but … but I still don't think it would be the right thing for me to do."

Argo's expression made it clear to me that he was uncertain what to make of this situation. He seemed to both understand and not understand what the problem was when he said, "I know that you have had problems over the past month. I can understand that some of them might take time to get over. In the real world, I've been in a few unfortunate situations myself, but I was able to get through them thanks to good people, such as my older brother. Akio also seems to be someone who has had his fair share of difficulties too. The two of you are good people, and I think you two would be successful at …"

Before Argo could continue what he was saying, I interrupted him without any hesitation in my voice, "Don't call me a good person Argo because I'm not one!" The great information broker Argo was so surprised by what I just said, he did not really know how to react to what I told him. He probably figured that I did not have a great opinion of myself, but he probably did not expect me to actually say that. Before he could say anything else, I told him, "If you knew more about me, you would understand. I may not … I may not be a bad person, but I'm not a good person either."

About a week earlier, I didn't mind it when Yuudai called me a 'good man.' Since I saved his life about an hour earlier and he didn't actually know me or what my gender was, I didn't have much of a reaction to hearing him call me that. However, when Argo called me a 'good' person, it caused my mind to suddenly think back on all the mistakes I've made during the past few years of my life. My mind raced between thinking about my family, my classmates, Klein, and Coper. Can someone who alienated herself from her family, caused her classmates to dislike her due to her personality, abandoned someone who needed help for the sake of survival, and could be considered indirectly responsible for another player's death be a good person? My answer is no. I may have done a few good things, such as saving Yuudai and Akio's lives, but I don't think that could make up for the mistakes I've made.

Of all the mistakes I made, Coper's betrayal and death may not have directly been my fault, but I couldn't help somewhat responsible for what happened. I have a feeling that his actions were due to the fact he did not believe I could be trusted. He might have thought I would betray him, so he decided to do it first. Even though I had no intention of doing something like that, he must have thought I would after I abandoned him in the Beta Test. The very fact someone might have come to that conclusion and tried to kill me was something I had trouble wrapping my head around. My mind continued to replay what happened over and over again. I just can't help but wonder if anything I could have done might have changed what happened. That is something I will never have the answer to.

Argo did not try to press me for any more information regarding the whole 'good' person scenario. I think he could tell that was one issue that might be best left alone for the time being. Instead, he decided to ask me, "Okay. Is that why you don't want Akio to come with you, or are there any other reasons besides that?"

I decided that I might as well give him the full answer. "You would … You would be right that there is something else. As you've seen in Tolbana, you know as well as I do that Beta Testers aren't liked. Right now, other players …. other players, like Diabel and Agil, may have calmed the player's hatred for the Beta Testers, but I can tell that their hatred is not going to conveniently disappear."

Argo made it clear to me that, "I would never sell you out."

Unfortunately, the events of last night rendered his assurance moot. "I know you won't, but some players already have figured it out."

Argo was visibly surprised by what I told him, "What? Who found out?"

I recounted what had happened yesterday. "Kira … told me that she knew I was a Beta Tester."

Argo replied in disbelief, "So that crazy girl really did figure it out."

I stated, "I don't … I don't know how she figured it out, but she knows. I have a feeling that if something happens during this battle, she is … she is going throw me to the wolves. If Akio continued to remain in a party with me, the chances of him joining me when that happens are pretty high." If it weren't for what happened yesterday, I probably would have been more open to the idea of having Akio accompanying me.

He sighed and scratched his head as he told me, "Sad but true. That is most unfortunate though. Hopefully, breaking off your little party with him won't be too difficult for you."

Since I had ended other parties in the past, I didn't think this one would be too hard either, so I told him, "I don't think it will be." I noticed the time, and I realized I needed to get going, so I hastily told Argo, "Anyway, I have to get going to the rendezvous point. I don't want them to leave without me. I'll contact you after the boss fight is over."

As I was leaving Argo did not say goodbye or wish me luck. Instead he told me, "You better send me a message. I wouldn't want my best client to forget about me."


While Akio saw Kirito and Argo talking, he could not help but wonder, "I wonder what they are talking about? I bet it has something to do with being Beta Testers. It must really suck being labeled as the 'bad guys' simply for being the Beta Testers of this game. Most of the other players don't seem to be willing to give the Beta Testers a chance to explain themselves or show that they can contribute to completing the game. Instead, they seem more interested in making them into scapegoats. That's just idiotic. If we are going to have any chance of surviving this game, we are going to need to work together."

As he saw the two of them talk, he had a hard time taking his eyes off of Kirito. Yesterday, she had taken off her mask to reveal to him that she was a girl. She really had him fooled into thinking she was a male player until she took off that mask. He was the one who wanted to be an actor, but it seemed like she could pull off voice acting rather well. Between her disposition and her attempts to make her voice sound deeper, he couldn't help but think she would be perfect as a voice actor for anime or video games. However, that was not Akio's present priority. There was something else more important on his mind.

Akio thought, "She was reluctant to form a party with me yesterday after my poor performance in the dungeon. However, a few hours later she was willing to reveal to me that she was a girl and she even invited me to dinner. I guess that was her way of telling me that she was starting to trust me as a fellow player. That seems like a good first step in my book." He then gazed at Kirito as he thought, "However, I still have a hard time believing I didn't notice she was a girl earlier. Not only that, she's not just any girl either. I can't help but feel this must be fate or something."

Akio thought back to yesterday when she told him that she had no intention of staying in the same party with him after the boss fight. He felt disappointed that they would most likely be going their separate ways after the fight was over. Akio was hoping that there might be something he could do to convince her otherwise.

He scratched his head as he tried to come up with something he could say to her. "I know that she told me that she isn't interested in being in the same party as me after the boss fight. However, that was before she seemed to start trusting me. If I ask her to stay in the same party as me after we win the boss fight, maybe she will be willing to continue fighting alongside me. It would be wonderful if we could travel this world together. I have a feeling if I can stay by her side a lot of good can come out of it."


A few moments later, Kirito was finished talking to Argo and walked back to meet him. After Kirito returned to Akio's side, he asked in a curious voice, "What was that about?"

Kirito wasn't going to explain everything, so she gave him a partial answer, "Argo was just reminding me that I should not expect things to be exactly the same here as they were in the Beta Test."

Akio expected that was probably one of the things they talked about, but he was skeptical that was all they talked about. He tried to speak in a voice that did not display his skepticism too much as he asked, "Is that so?"

Kirito did not sense anything wrong with Akio as she told him, "Yes. So far almost everything seems to be the same as the Beta Test, but I have seen several variations between this world and the world I participated in."

Akio asked in a curious tone, "What variations are we talking about here?"

Kirito and Akio began walking towards the meeting place as she explained, "For one, those Sentinel enemies we fought before should only have been in the Boss' room. However, we saw them as reoccurring enemies in the dungeon itself. It would be foolish to think that will be the only change. This means the data book is not a hundred percent accurate, so we should be ready for other possible changes in the future."

Akio responded, "I see. Thanks for the heads up."

As Kirito and Akio were walking she decided that she might as well tell him one last thing. "There is also something else I should remind you of before we head out."

Akio did not like the sound of Kirito's voice, so he asked with a hint of dread in his voice, "What's that?"

Kirito reminded him of what they talked about when they formed the party during the meeting yesterday. "I mentioned to you yesterday that … that we would part ways after the boss battle is over." She was hesitant to say the next part, but she did so anyway, "I want to remind you that I still intend for the two of us to go our separate ways."

Even though Akio should not have been surprised by this, his voice indicated otherwise as he responded as he stopped in his tracks, "What?! Why?"

Kirito turned around as she gave her reason in a calm voice, "It will be for the better."

Akio voiced his disbelief as he questioned, "Why do you say that?"

Kirito told him, "You know that I'm a Beta Tester, and I'm sure you have seen how much a majority of the players in this game hate players like me. It is only a matter of time before they find out I'm one of them." Even though what Kirito was saying was true, a part of her was also believed, "Besides, there is a pretty good chance you will become sick of me eventually like anyone else who has ever teamed up with me. Not that I would blame you."

Akio asked in a hopeful voice, "Yeah, but didn't that player Agil kind of take care of things yesterday? I mean he managed to get a lot of them to really shut up."

Kirito grimly stated the facts, "He was just … He was just delaying the inevitable. There is nothing more to it than that." It may have sounded pessimistic, but it was the truth.

Even though Akio knew Kirito was telling the truth, he still asked, "What makes you so sure?"

Kirito reminded Akio in a stern voice, "I hope … I hope you are not conveniently forgetting how that girl, Kira, confronted us yesterday."

Akio did not forget what happened, but he was trying to avoid mentioning it. "No but …"

Kirito interrupted him, "Unfortunately, there are not buts! Nothing … Nothing you can say to players like Kira will be enough to pacify her. I have a feeling when this is over, she will probably start telling everyone I'm a Beta Tester regardless of who gets the last attack bonus."

Akio then asked in a concerned voice, "Do you really think that will be the case?"

Kirito shook her head as she told him, "I can … I can tell by the look in her face. I've seen … I've seen people give me that face before." Kirito's voice was starting to lose its firmness again and become shaky. "She was absolutely disgusted by the fact that she would be fighting alongside me at all. Even if it doesn't happen today, I know … I know she will eventually. When she does reveal the truth, I want you to be as far away from me as possible."

Akio was becoming a little irritated as he asked, "So you just want me to stand aside while she throws you under the bus?"

Kirito told him, "Basically … yes."

Akio's frustration with this conversation was becoming more evident. "Why should I do that?" It was a good thing there were no nearby players nearby to listen to eavesdrop on this conversation.

Kirito was becoming perplexed by Akio's actions. A part of her expected that he would be ready and willing to end their little party after the boss fight was over. She was having difficulty understanding why he would want to continue being in the same party as her, especially under these circumstances. She thought in a confused voice, "I don't get it. I usually don't get this much resistance when it comes to ending a party."

She tried to tell Akio, "I didn't think I would need to explain that part to you, but …"

It was Akio's turn to interrupt Kirito. "No I get it. You don't want other players to treat me the same way they would treat you right?"

Kirito hesitantly responded, "If you know that much, then this … then this should not be up for debate."

Akio argued, "I think it's still up for debate. I have a few things I need to tell you myself when this is over."

Kirito tried to regain her stance on this issue by telling Akio, "You shouldn't fight me on this. Trust me when I tell you that … that it will be for the better for both you and me."

Several thoughts went through Akio's head as Kirito told him this. It made him think about how he had always listened to others, and he never made his own decisions. He told Kirito in a slightly bitter voice, "A lot of people have told me that I should listen to them and do as they said because it was for the better. They always thought they knew what was best for me. I'm not sure if they were always right, and I regret always following their lead."

After Kirito heard this she thought, "It sounds like he has quite a story behind those words, but I guess it wouldn't be right to ask any questions about that." She responded to Akio while stuttering a little, "Well I can't speak for whatever happened to you before, but I … I can only tell you that if you follow me beyond this, nothing … nothing good will come of being with me."

While Akio tried to mask the desperation in his voice, he was becoming more desperate to get Kirito to reconsider her decision. "I think I should have a say in whether or not that will be the case. Can you at least promise you will listen to what I have to say when the fight is over? That way we can focus on the upcoming boss fight rather than continue arguing about this now."

Even though Kirito had no intention of changing her mind, she decided that she would go along with Akio's proposal and listen to him later. She reluctantly told him, "…Fine. Anyway, let's get going. We can't afford to stand around here anymore."

As they were walking towards the main group, Akio inwardly sighed he thought, "It looks like convincing her to remain in the same party as me will be tougher than I thought. I wonder what it's going to take to convince her." After Akio thought on this further he decided, "I guess I will have to be completely straight forward with her after all, but I suppose now is not the time for that."

The two of them did not exchange anymore words with each other until they met up with the main group. They pressed on to location of the first boss door. All the players were shaking with anticipation for the fight ahead. They all knew that this battle was potentially a turning point for the game. If they succeed, it would tell all the remaining eight thousand players that victory and survival were possible. However, if they failed, it would most likely destroy the morale of the gamers, and they might eventually die trapped in this game.


Date: December 4th, 2022

Location: Dungeon – Outside the first Boss' lair

The boss raid group was comprised of forty-four players. There were seven parties of six players and one party of two players comprised of myself and Akio. The different groups were given code names of Group A through Group G and each group would have a specific leader. Agil was the leader of Group B, Diabel was the leader of Group C as well as the overall leader of this raid group, and Kira was the leader for Group E.

I didn't know who the other leaders were at the time, and I did not know what a few of them looked like. Similar to Corbatz and myself, two of the other three leaders wore masks. Incidentally, I would eventually have encounters with those two masked group leaders later on in the game. Those encounters would lead to a few interesting events that would affect a few things down the road. The encounters wouldn't happen for a while, but the results of them would certainly leave an impression, and they would explain a few things that happened.

Since Akio and I were the only party comprised of less than six players, we were given orders by Diabel to act as support for Group E. I couldn't help but inwardly sigh at my rotten luck for being stuck with someone like Kira as a teammate. At least we didn't have to fight next to each other during the battle. That would have made it unbearable.

Before we entered the lair of the first dungeon boss, Illfang the Kobold Lord, Diabel turned around to face us. He said in a voice filled with charisma, "This is our moment. When we win this battle, we will prove to everyone in this game that we can not only survive in this game, but we can beat it."

His words seemed to quell the other players' feelings of doubt. Kira then declared, "To victory." The rest of the crowd was becoming excited they would be part of this monumental occasion. The only two who were not shouting in excitement were Akio and I in the back of the group. Since we were behind everyone else, no one noticed us.

Akio whispered in my ear, "I promise it won't be like two days ago. I won't let you down."

I confidently responded, "I know you won't."

Akio seemed surprised that I had that much faith in him. He actually blushed for a moment. I guess he still hadn't gotten over the fact that I was a girl either, and receiving a compliment from a girl was a big deal for him. I wonder if he had received any compliments from girls in the real world.

To be honest, I felt more like I needed to have that much faith in him. The odds of there being a large number of Sentinels to deal with were rather high, and I knew that I would need to rely on him. If I did not show that I trusted Akio, I knew that it would be likely that the both of us would die in this battle. At least the faith that I was giving Akio was not misplaced.


When the doors opened, we saw the boss, Illfang the Kobold Lord, appeared in front of us along with several Sentinels that kept appearing one by one. Similar to the Beta Test, Illfang was huge. The shape of its body was similar to the Sentinels, except it did not wear any armor, except for the helmet on its head and the small piece of armor it wore on its arms and legs. I'm guessing the creature's strong skin and ferocity with using its weapons were all the protection it needed. Perhaps if it wore too much armor, it would not have had the ability to be as ferocious as it ended up being towards the end of the fight because that made it more flexible.

Similar to the Sentinels, this monster had red skin, a pair of bunny like ears, and a lizard like tail. It also had two strange diamond tattoos on its stomach with one encasing the other. However, unlike the Sentinels, the helmet he wore only protected its head, and it did not have a face guard, so we were able to see what it looked like. Illfant had a pair of ominous red eyes that indicated its killing intent. This monster also had a protruding jaw with yellow teeth and a little brown nose that reminded me of a dog's face. I'm guessing the Sentinels probably looked like that except their faces were smaller version of this.

From the way Illfang gritted its teeth at us, it seemed as if it wanted to take a bite out of the players. I bet it probably would have if it had a chance. Luckily for us, Illfang was too busy defending itself against the various player attacks during the fight, so it was unable to make any attempts at biting anyone. I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have wanted to see what the results would have been from getting bitten by an oversized dog face.

At the start of the fight, the monster wielded a giant bone axe and a leather shield which it also wielded during the Beta Test. Similar to the Beta Test, Illfang also had a second weapon attached to the back of its belt. However, that weapon was different from what I saw in the Beta Test. From what I remembered, the other weapon it used was known as a talwar, which was a type of sword that originated from India and could be wielded with one hand. However, the weapon Illfang had attacked to its belt was clearly a nodachi, similar to the one that Kikuchiyo used, but much larger.

Thanks to my grandfather's kendo training and wanting me to know a lot about swords, I was relatively good at knowing the different kinds of swords that existed throughout Japanese history and certain swords that originated in other countries as well. I remembered that Nodachis were two handed swords that used to be used by Samurai in the feudal era. While I wasn't certain what the significance of this change was at the time, I did find it to be rather unsettling. I nervously wondered, "What kind of changes in Illfang's fighting style should we be expecting in this scenario? This might not be good. Maybe I should …"

Before I could say anything to Akio or anyone else, Diabel shouted the order, "EVERYONE ATTACK!"

Everyone in the different groups began charging at the boss and the Sentinels. Since the battle had begun, I had to go with the flow and join the fight. It is not like anyone would be able to listen to me even if I did attempt to say anything at this point. Akio and I charged at the Sentinels and Illfang along with everyone else in the raid group.

In the original Beta Test, there were only three Sentinels that helped Illfang in the Beta Test boss fight. At the beginning of the battle, it started out as three Sentinels, but this change in the system soon became apparent. We noticed that several other Sentinels began entering the fight as well. It was a good thing we were in a group because we would probably get overwhelmed by the monsters if there were too few of us.

Despite the ever growing number of enemies entering the battle field, Diabel maintained his composure as he ordered us. He stood in the center of the group. It was an ideal position because we would all be able to hear his orders, and if one group was having difficulty fighting, he would be able to assist them.

When he saw that Group A was having difficulty fighting Illfang he ordered, "Group B provide support for Group A's offensive against Illfang." As ordered Agil's group provided support for Group B's offensive and managed to deliver some serious damage to the monster and knocked it back a few feet.

Diabel then turned around and saw that Group D was currently having a few difficulties with several Sentinels. He shouted out, "Group D leader, switch! Group C provide me cover!" Diabel then charged at the Sentinel that Group D was having difficulty fighting against. Diabel managed to swiftly cut the creature's head off.

He then ordered both groups, "Groups C and D lets take down the Sentinels over there," He pointed at the new Sentinels that were arriving on the battlefield, "and then lets provide support for Groups A and B's assaults on Illfang."

Diabel then turned back on Akio and me. We were doing fine handling our enemies despite the fact there were two of us. As Akio and I practiced, I knocked the enemy back, I called out 'Switch,' and Akio would deliver the coup de grace with his rapier. Diabel seemed momentarily pleased by what we were doing. The main part of Group E was holding their own against the Sentinels as well.

When a few new Sentinels came to take their comrades place, Diabel called out to us, "Group E keep those Sentinels off our backs! The rest of us need to focus on taking down the boss!"

I responded, "No problem!"

Kira also stated, "No issues here!" Hearing Kira's voice really annoyed me, but I tried to zone her voice out as we continued to fight.

As the new Sentinels approached us from our flank, Akio stated in a voice that was strangely filled with anticipation and excitement, "Here they come!" It seemed like Akio was starting to really enjoy this.

I prepared myself for the oncoming adversaries and I told him, "Don't get too excited."

The first Sentinel that approached us tried to take us down with a vertical slice. However, I was able to parry its attack with my anneal blade. It quickly became a power struggle between the two of us to see who could overpower the other. The monster actually thought it had a chance of overpowering me. I almost felt bad for it having false hope. However, I did not have the luxury of being able to toy with this monster since there were several more coming our way.

I broke the parry and knocked the monster back a few feet before proceeding to slice the Sentinel's hand that was holding the sword. I then shouted out, "Switch!"

After I shouted Switch, I jumped out of the way as Akio ran up and impaled the monster. Akio's rapier went through its armor into its stomach. With its health depleted, the monster disappeared.

While Akio was finishing off the first monster, I proceeded to take on the next Sentinel that was approaching us. This monster was not interested in testing its strength against me. The monster already saw that its comrade failed in overpower me, and it probably knew it had no chance of doing any better. Instead, the Sentinel was more interested in testing who was better at swordplay.

Even though a battle with the boss Illfang was happening behind me, I was completely focused on my fight with this Sentinel. It was as if the only thing I was hearing at that moment was the sounds of our blades as they continued to clash. I had to admit that this Sentinel's abilities with the sword were much better than the ones that were in the dungeon. However, I was still faster, and the strikes it made were still too wide.

The Sentinel tried to behead me with one broad stroke aimed at my neck. Much to the Sentinel's surprise, I was able to dodge right under by bending at the right moment. I then proceeded to give the Sentinel a Vertical slice that sent it flying a few feet. I then called out to Akio, "Switch."

As with the previous Sentinel, Akio charged the Sentinel and impaled its body with his rapier. While that Sentinel's body was disintegrating, I moved on to take care of the two other Sentinels that were charging us. I decided that instead of attempting to parry any attacks they might try, I would make the first move and attempt to disarm them on the first try.

Disarming the first Sentinel was rather easy. With a quick vertical strike, I managed to cutoff the Sentinel's right hand which caused it to cry out in pain. Before I could shout out 'Switch' the other Sentinel attempted to cut me down. However, the speed of its sword attacks was no match for me. I made a quick side step to the left, and the Sentinel's sword cut nothing but air.

Before the Sentinel had any chance to react, I proceeded to slice its right arm below the elbow. Despite how strong the Sentinel's armor was on its body, the strength of its armor for its arms left much to be desired. While both Sentinels were in pain from losing a part of their limbs, I shouted out, "Switch."

However, as it turned out, I really didn't need to shout it out. After Akio finished off the second Sentinel, he was already rushing to my side to help me fight these two Sentinels. Two seconds after I had shouted, "Switch," Akio proceeded to stab one of the Sentinels through its helmet which killed it instantly.

Based on the squishing sound I heard when he stabbed the Sentinel, I guess he either stabbed the Sentinel through one of its eyes or its brain. Akio proceeded to stab the other Sentinel through its heart. That made a sound similar to when I stabbed Delano through the heart during the Beta Test. I can't help but wonder how Kayaba Akihiko was able to come up with these realistic sound effects. However, I knew that would be something I would have time to think about later.


After Akio and I were able to defeat all the new Sentinels that came our way, we earned a small reprieve. It would be a little while before new Sentinels would respawn. We looked over to see that Kira's group was having difficulty fighting off the last few Sentinels. At this moment, Group E was the only party left fighting the Sentinels while the remaining groups were focused on fighting Illfang, so they would be receiving no backup from anyone other than Akio and me. Even if another group could come to our aid, I doubt either they or Diabel would notice at this point since their attention was concentrated on coordinating the teams to ensure our victory over the boss.

I thought it was understandable that the other groups wouldn't be available to help since taking down the boss as quickly as possible was crucial. While killing the Sentinels was important so we could prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed, the Sentinels would continue to either respawn or new ones would appear to avenge their fallen comrades until the boss is taken down. If we focused too much on the Sentinels, the boss would definitely kill us eventually. However, thanks to Diabel's orders and coordinating the other groups, the boss was down to about half its life, and eliminating the boss as quickly as possible was crucial.

While Diabel and the others were doing their part, Kira's main group was close to reaching an early grave. Kira, Miki, Kano, Ookami, Ukon, and Corbatz were surrounded by three of the Sentinels. Ookami, Ukon, and Kano were knocked to the ground while Kira, Miki, and Corbatz were barely able to parry the attacks. Their abilities truly left much to be desired. When I saw them perform against those Sentinels, I could swear that Akio on an empty stomach did a better job against the Sentinels than these supposedly 'prepared' players were doing. It seemed like only a matter of time before the Sentinels would overpower and wipe them out unless we intervened.

Given what happened yesterday, I was hesitant to help Kira even though we were technically considered to be 'teammates.' I could see that Akio shared my hesitation as well. A part of me was tempted to let her die, but I immediately gave myself a mental slap. At that point, I couldn't bring myself to let another player die in front of me when I could do something. I refused to let myself even be indirectly responsible for another player's death.

Unfortunately, the saying 'No Good Deed Goes Unpunished' can prove to be true in the worse ways possible. If I knew what would happen in the future, I would be horrified by how much would eventually change. Unfortunately, as they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and I now know that I made a terrible mistake helping Kira. If I could go back in time, I would have returned to this moment and let her die that day.

I looked at Akio and told him in an authoritative voice, "Come on Akio. Let's take care of those Sentinels. We can use the same strategy as before."

Akio shook his head and replied, "Right."

When Akio and I were charging the Sentinels, they seemed to notice us approaching them, and decided that we were more worthy prey than Kira's group. So the three Sentinels managed to knock Kira, Miki, and Corbatz to the ground and charged at us instead. We would certainly prove to be a better challenge than Kira's group, but they would not stand a chance against our teamwork.

Throughout the battle, Akio and I had been picking off the Sentinels one-by-one rather than taking them on as a group simultaneously. However, this was nothing we couldn't handle. I could have actually fought all three on my own, but it was more effective to use teamwork to take these monsters down, especially since they were stronger here than the regular dungeon versions.

As we readied ourselves to take on these Sentinels, I told Akio, "Follow my lead Akio."

Akio told me in a somewhat cheerful voice, "Just say the word."

Despite Kira and the other's inability to kill these Sentinels, they were softened up a little. Their movements were slightly slower, but that didn't really matter since they wouldn't have been able to match my speed even if they were at full strength. Their grips on their weapons were weaker as well which made it a simple task to disarm them.

The first Sentinel and I clashed, but I was able to quickly force his sword to the ground, and I quickly followed up with a horizontal strike. As usual, I called out, "Switch," and Akio was able to impale the monster like it was a marshmallow.

The last two Sentinels attempted to strike me at the same time. However, I was able to make a quick back-step, and their blades missed me by more than a foot. Even though I couldn't see their faces underneath their helmets, they seemed dumbfounded by how I was completely unharmed from their attempt on my life. I didn't give them a chance to comprehend what happened.

I decided to use a sword skill that I had picked up during the first month of surviving in the game. I had also used this skill to fight a mini-boss a few weeks earlier, but I hadn't used this technique too often. The technique I used was known as the, Vertical Square, which would eventually become one of my favorite sword skills in this game. The technique was basically an improved version of the Vertical strike because it was a four hit combo skill. As the name would indicate all four strikes would be Vertical attacks, but the last one was a strong finisher.

The only drawback was that one individual strike using this combo was that the first three individual strikes were not as strong as one Vertical strike, and there was more of a lag between being able to use another Vertical Square attack after another in comparison to being able to use one Vertical strike right after another. If you could successfully utilize all four strikes in this combo, then the payoff for the attack would be greater.

In this case, I was not aiming to kill the monsters myself using this technique. Instead of using these four combo skill on one of them, I used the first two vertical strikes to disarm the two Sentinels, and the other two strikes would be used to knock them back. The one to my right received the stronger finisher move, but it was still not enough to kill it thanks to my sword not being strong enough to destroy its armor in one hit. However, it did leave a deep dent in the armor.

As usual, I said the magic word, "Switch." I got out of the way, and Akio was able to finish off both of the Sentinels without any issues. All of the Sentinels were dead for the time being.

After we killed the last Sentinel, Akio proudly stated, "That's the last of them."

I reminded Akio, "For now. We need to be careful about any of the others. Not to mention," I then turned to the ongoing battle between the other players and Illfang. "We still have that Boss to worry about. So it is too early to celebrate."

Akio replied in a less cheerful voice, "That's true."

During these fights with the Sentinels, I wished I had my martial arts capabilities that I learned from my karate classes. If I had such skills, I could have been able to combat against these Sentinels using a mixture of my sword skills and martial arts abilities. However, since I didn't have any martial arts abilities in this game yet, anything I could have done against these monsters using my hands would not have worked effectively, and it would have put Akio and me in danger. These fights more or less reminded me to give myself a mental note to ask Argo for help to find a way to obtain martial arts abilities. Of course, I still had to make sure to survive this battle first before I could do that.


A few moments after Akio and I managed to kill the Sentinels, we turned to see that Kira and her companions were exhausted but still breathing. In most cases, you would expect the ones who were rescued to be grateful. At least in Kira's case, I was hoping that perhaps she would start putting some of her hatred for me aside and start accepting me as being a fellow player on her side. Unfortunately, Kira's group proved to be more of an ungrateful than Akio or I could have anticipated. None of them thanked us. In fact, they seemed to look at us with annoyance and distain, especially Kira. It was really getting on my nerves at that point.

Instead of expressing gratitude for saving them, Kira scoffed at us and said, "What took you so long? You could have made yourselves more useful to us a lot sooner."

Kirito turned to Akio and said, "So much for gratitude."

Kira's voice sounded even more venomous as she replied, "Gratitude? You were just waiting around until we were in a position that required your help weren't you? If you think saving my life is going to get you on my 'good side' and ensure my silence, you got another thing coming."

Akio and I briefly looked at each other completely dumbstruck by how stubborn Kira was. Luckily for us, this was an opportunity that we could say a few words to each other if we needed to. It would take a little bit of time before any of those Sentinels would respawn and we needed to fight them again. Additionally, it also didn't look like the boss was an immediate threat to our position either as it was pre-occupied by Diabel and the other groups, especially Agil's group, for the moment. Besides Diabel, Agil had proven to be an effective team captain between his charisma and strength. Whenever, the boss seemed like it was about to strike one of his teammates, he was there to block it with his axe.

Based on how the battle was going, I figured we still had a little bit of time before we either needed to fight new Sentinels or we would have to join the fray against the boss fight. I decided that now was as good a time as any to give Kira piece of my mind. I had really had it with her.

I angrily responded to Kira in my 'deep' voice, "Will you stop saying stuff like that? You and the rest of the group would have died if Akio and I didn't save you from those monsters. If I really didn't want you around, we would have let you die. I would suggest that you stop complaining and kill your own monsters when you have a chance."

Akio backed me up, "You need to focus on your own abilities and opponents, and stop accusing Kirito for everything not going your way. If you and your boys here start pulling your own weight, this battle would be going smoother, and you wouldn't need to be saved."

Kira and the other players gritted their teeth at us. They seemed almost like wild dogs without leashes, and they were ready to pounce. Kira began to say, "Why you …." Luckily, we were interrupted by the roar of Illfang.

We turned around and saw that Illfang was down to his last health bar, and victory was nearly within our grasp. I could see how high the player morale was at that point. I also have to say that I really appreciate Illfang crying out in agony when he did because it stopped Akio and I from listening to more of Kira's whining. Although, it would be far from the last time we would need to listen to her.


Unfortunately, Kira was not the only problem I had to deal with. The actions that Diabel made soon after would lead to a number of problems for me that would have everlasting consequences. Even though I could see what was happening from my position, I was too far to do anything to change it. When I would try to warn Diabel and the others with shouting as loud as I could, my voice would not reach them in time.

When Illfang's health had reached a critical level, I saw that Diabel break from formation, and he attempted to kill the boss himself. I was confused by his actions. I thought to myself, "What the hell is he doing? I thought the plan was for us to try surrounding the boss when its health reached this point."

At first, it didn't make any sense to me. Diabel had gone through such great lengths to organize this party to defeat the boss. Until that point, everything had been going well. We had been destroying the boss' Sentinels without fail, the boss' health points had been depleted by at least seventy-five percent, no one had died yet, and if we kept this up we would win for sure. However, Diabel seemed to disregard all the planning he put into this endeavor, and he appeared to be dead set on attempting to defeat the boss in the next few strikes.

When I saw Diabel rushing to kill the monster, I realized he was going for the 'last attack bonus.' He wanted to give the monster the final blow, so he could obtain whatever item the boss would drop at the end of the battle. I knew from my experience in the Beta Test that killing a boss when its health points were that low was a possibility. What mattered was the timing of the final strikes and how strong the attacks were. Based on what I had seen from Diabel, he appeared to have the capability of killing the boss in a few strikes. However, the question was whether or not he would be able to land those strikes.

To be perfectly honest, I would have been fine with letting him kill Illfang by himself. That was especially true since Kira did not want me to obtain the bonus. I figured if I let Diabel get the bonus, that might get her off my back or at least give me some kind of temporary reprieve. Unfortunately, there was one problem with Diabel's attempt to kill the boss. It was a problem that cost us dearly, and it had long lasting effects throughout the remainder of the Death Game.

After Illfang's health decreased below twenty-five percent, its movements became more erratic. However, I was not surprised by this display because it did make some erratic movements in the Beta Test. In fact, it is not unusual for boss' to pull out a few 'extra' stops when its health reaches critical levels. However, there was something different about these movements.

Illfang threw away its sword and shield and pulled out that nodachi it had connected to the back of its belt. I had been so concentrated on my own fights with those Sentinels that I forgot about that other weapon. While I didn't know what exactly Illfang was going to do with that nodachi, I played enough games to know that it wasn't going to be anything good. I knew that I would not want to be on the receiving end of that weapon, but a number of other players were not going to be so lucky.


When I saw Illfang pull out that nodachi, my gut was telling me that if I didn't do something then, something bad was going to happen. Even though I knew that what I was about to do would probably expose me as a Beta Tester, I felt that making sure no players were killed in this battle was a higher priority. I quickly rushed towards where Diabel was preparing to make his move on Illfang. I believed if I could provide some support for his next move that we could win without any possible casualties.

Before I could get too far, I heard Kira yell out to me, "You're not going anywhere."

A moment later, I felt something around my legs, and the next thing I knew my legs were tied up and I fell face first to the ground. When I fell to the ground, I lost grip of my sword and dropped it right in front of me. I also felt my mask crack a little, but it was not enough to destroy the mask's durability and shatter it. I then glanced down to my legs, and I saw that they had been restrained by rope.

I then looked up to see Kira grinning at me with a smug expression as she was holding a weapon known as a Rope Dart. It was a weapon in Sword Art Online that players equipped with the 'Binding and Retrain' were capable of wielding. This weapon was generally incapable of causing any direct damage, so what happened to me would not cause her to be considered a criminal. Using the rope dart on me would be considered assault if she attempted to strangle me with that rope or if she walked away from me like this for a prolonged period of time in hostile territory. There were some other ways she could become labeled as a criminal besides that, but it would take a while to explain.

The Rope Dart's primary purpose was to restrain monsters or distract them, so it can leave an opening for other players to attack the monster. However, despite its usefulness, the Rope Dart would not always be successful against all kinds of opponents because it depends on the user's skill and strength, so I wouldn't advice it to be used on bosses. For example, if Kira attempted to use that Rope Dart on Illfang, there is a good chance she wouldn't be strong enough to restrain it and Illfang. In fact, if she tried to restrain Illfang, that monster would probably grab the rope and pull her towards him. The Rope Dart can easily be cut by swords, spears, or even arrow heads, and it is even possible for players to break out of them by sheer strength alone if they are strong enough.

I was close to reaching my weapon when Kira attempted to pull me away from it. I turned and saw Kira grinning at me as she said in a smug tone, "Don't even think about interfering with Diabel-sama's plans. He is the one that will get the 'Last Attack Bonus.'"

As I continued attempting to reach for my weapon, I shouted at Kira, "Shut up! That's not important! That monster is wielding a different weapon than it had in the Beta Test! This could be really bad!"

Kira's grip on the rope dart weakened a little as she responded, "So … so you were holding something back. What were you …"

I decided to stop paying attention to what Kira had to say after that, so I could focus on retrieving my weapon. Before I could reach for my weapon to cut the rope, I saw a Sentinel running my way. It came rushing as it held its mace up high. I knew if I didn't do something quickly, this monster was going to crush my head with its mace. Despite the situation, I was still as calm as I could be since this wasn't the first time a monster attempted to either decapitate me or smash my head in, and I knew it wasn't going to be the last.

Right before the monster was within striking distance, I quickly grabbed my sword and rolled out of the way before its mace hit the area my head was. The dent that attack left in the ground made me glad my head was not there. Despite how many health points I had left, I probably would not have survived that. Even in the virtual world, there are some things you can't survive.

The monster had smashed the ground so hard that its mace was stuck, and it was having trouble pulling it out. Before that monster could pull its mace out of the ground, I quickly sliced its mace wielding arm. Losing its arm caused the monster to shriek in pain. Due to how loud the battle with Illfang was in the room, the only players that could hear the monster's voice was Akio and the rest of Group E.

Akio noticed my predicament as he called out for me, "Kirito!"

He ran towards me to cut me loose, but his left arm was restrained by a rope dart as well. It was either Kano or Ookami that tried to restrain him, but they were stupid when they did that. If they really wanted to stop Akio, they should have tried tying the sword that he held his rapier. A few seconds later, he was able to cut himself loose.

While Akio was cutting himself free, I was able to cut my legs free from Kira's rope dart. Before I confronted Kira, I made killing the Sentinel in front of me the priority. It tried to attack me with its other arm, but I quickly moved out of the way and sliced it off too. The monster had no arms left. Before I moved in for the kill, Akio managed to pierce right through the monster's armor and killed it.

After he killed it, he sheepishly said, "Sorry for that. I kind of just did that on reflex."

I told him, "No. Thanks for trying to help I appreciate …" Before I finished that sentence, I remembered what I was originally going to do. I looked at Diabel's group and I could see that time was running out to help them when I said, "Oh no! We're almost out of time!"

Akio replied in a confused manner, "What?"

I stated, "I'll explain later! We got to move!"

Akio quickly followed me as we headed towards the main group. Unfortunately, despite our attempts to reach Diabel's group, something happened that would stop us in our tracks. The two of us witnessed the most significant moment of the battle that would impact many players' lives. It was something that none of us would ever forget.


While I was having my difficulties with Kira, Diabel and his group believed they had managed to get the upper hand on Illfang despite it using a new weapon. They seemed confident that there was no way they could lose. Diabel must have been certain that he could defeat the monster with the next strike. He lowered his defenses and began to activate a skill that would have potentially killed Illfang if it connected. Unfortunately, we would never find out if Diabel was strong enough, but he did learn he lacked enough speed to pull it off.

When Diabel attempted to attack Illfang, the monster jumped out of the way with agility that did not seem even possible. Illfang literally bounced from the floor to the walls and the ceiling. Trying to keep up with its movements was almost disorienting. Luckily for me, I was not too surprised by its movements because it did something like this during the Beta Test. Although, it's movements did seem to be a little faster than what I remember. However, despite how much it was jumping around, the monster was holding onto its nodachi with both its hands. Seeing the monster hold that sword with both its hands reminded me why the nodachi was a two handed sword.

In feudal Japan, nodachis were traditionally two handed swords, but talwars can generally be handled with one hand. Nodachis were extremely long swords and they required a great deal of strength to properly wield. Since the sword would have two arms swinging the blade rather than one, that meant there would be a great amount of force behind the attack. Additionally, this sword's longer length could put it at an advantage due to the sword's longer reach and power. Due to being equipped with a nodachi, it means the chances of receiving a mortal wound from Illfang's attacks were higher than when it wielded a talwar in the Beta Test.

As I was keeping my eyes on Illfang, I could see that it was about to launch an attack. From what I could tell, it seemed to be focused on Diabel's group. The AI in this game during the Beta Test was advanced, so the possibility that it could tell Diabel was more or less our raid team's leader did not seem out place.

Due to my legs getting tied up by Kira, I was too far away to do anything to help Diabel and his group. The only thing I could do was desperately call out to them, "Watch out! It's about to attack! Don't let it hit you!"

Unfortunately, my warning came a few seconds too late. When Illfang landed, the force created by this landing knocked Diabel and his group off balance. They were all vulnerable to an attack, and Illfang was not going to let them recover. Illfang's attack against Diabel's group was not a fatal one. When it sliced all the members of Diabel's group, they all received sustained significant injuries that caused their health points decreased below fifty percent into the yellow zone. If it would have ended there, everything would have been fine. Unfortunately, those injuries were not the only thing they had to worry about.

All of the players that were hit by Illfang's sword attack were inflicted with the status of 'Stunned.' Inside Sword Art Online, 'Sword Skill Attacks' are capable of randomly causing the player on the receiving end to become temporarily stunned. Depending on the sword the player or monster is wielding, it can cause this status to happen more frequently. In this case, I suppose the nodachi Illfang was using increased the chances of that happening significantly since all six members of Diabel's group were stunned simultaneously. I remember during the Beta Test when I or any of the other players were hit by Illfang's telwar, none of us were stunned.

When it comes to aliment inflictions in Sword Art Online, 'Stunned' is the least troublesome. In most cases, players can recover from being 'Stunned' in a matter of seconds, and the players would be able to continue functioning as if nothing happened. Unfortunately, items, including Antidote Crystals, were useless and the only cure for it was waiting for a few seconds. It was those few seconds that proved to be deadly when facing Illfang.

Before Diabel could recover from being stunned, Illfang struck him with a four combo vertical strike. Illfang targeted Diabel specifically because it knew that Diabel was the one primarily responsible for the damage it had received so far. As a result, Diabel earned Illfang's 'hatred.' When a monster 'hates' a specific player, they are more likely to focus on attacking that player above any other player that might be present. This is one reason why it did not always pay to make attempts to earn the 'last strike bonus' or to be the leader.

When Illfang struck Diabel, I could hear Diabel's voice echo throughout the room as he cried out in pain from feeling Illfang's first strike. The strike went from the top of Diabel's torso all the way to his waist. If this had been the real world, I'm certain that anyone who was cut like that would be sliced in half, and the room would be covered with his blood. However, in this world, something like that is survivable, and Diabel would have survived if that was the only strike he received. Unfortunately, that was only the first strike of the four hit combo.

At this point, there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent Diabel's fate. All the other players, including myself, were too far away to stop Illfang from completing the combo. The ones who were close enough were still stunned as they watched in horror at what was happening to our leader. Diabel's fate was sealed, and his fate would then lead to so much more down the line.

After the first three strikes were complete, the fourth strike Illfang delivered to Diabel was a powerful finisher similar to how the fourth strike for my Vertical Square attack is the most brutal part of the combo. That final strike sent Diabel flying across the room. He literally went flying over my head as I saw him land twenty feet behind me.

The player identified as Kuradeel shouted out to his friend in horror, "DIABEL!" The look in Kuradeel's face as he saw his friend sliced to ribbons in front of him while he was helpless was heartbreaking. The sound in his voice showed how much he valued his friend as well which was something I would never forget.

Similar to Kuradeel, Kira was terrified as she saw Diabel receive those injuries as she yelled, "NO!" Afterwards, Kira fell to her knees and seemed incapable of comprehending anything else that was happening.

I then turned back to look at the direction of Illfang, and I could see about half of the players in the room was visibly stunned by seeing Diabel being struck down by the monster. The only players that seemed to be capable of functioning anymore were Agil's Group, along with Group G, Group F, Akio, and me.

Unfortunately, Illfang was not going to let the rest of the players recover. In addition to that, I noticed that a few new Sentinels were coming our way. Between the erratic actions of Illfang, the number of Sentinel reinforcements that were heading our way, and the reduced morale of our group, the odds of our victory were becoming slimmer by the second. However, I knew that we could not afford to let that stop us from achieving victory.

I shouted out to the top of my lungs, "We can't stop now! We've almost killed him! Everyone attack!"

Unfortunately, not too many players were as willing to listen to me. Or rather they were not able to listen to me because even if they were not stunned by Illfang's attack, they were still stunned after seeing Diabel be hit. Groups A, C, D, and the main part of E had not regained their focus to fight. However, Agil's group, Group G, and Group F able to maintain their ground and fight. I could count on these players to see this through to the end. Unfortunately, with only half of the Boss Raid party functioning this was going to be a difficult battle for us to win.

When Diabel landed on the other side of the room, I wanted to rush to his side to help him, but Illfang attempted to attack me before I had a chance to do anything. When I shouted to everyone to attack him, my declaration caught Illfang's attention, and I became his new target. He came rushing right at me while ignoring all the other players.

My eyes widened in a mixture of surprise and terror as I saw Illfang charging me. My immediate thoughts were, "OH CRAP!" I then ordered Akio, "Akio move!"

Illfang tried to cut me in half with his attack, but I managed to avoid the monster's strike just barely. The strike I barely managed to avoid completely shattered the ground I was standing on. However, the monster was completely fixated on me. Illfang tried attack me with the same four vertical attack combo that it used to attack Diabel. I was able to avoid the first three with a few well timed side steps. However, the last attack, managed to nick me on the face.

Since the last attack was stronger that the first three, receiving a nick from that attack hurt like hell. When it hit my face, it completely shattered my mask, and it also caused a tear in the hood I was wearing. The damage that Illfang did to my cloak caused its durability to be depleted, and it disappeared. As that little hit was shattering my mask, it felt as if it was going to rip my face off. If I didn't backstep from that attack when I did, the pain I felt would have been substantially worse.

The hit I received from that attack caused my vision to blur for a second. Before my vision recovered, Illfang decided to use a four combo horizontal strike to kill me. Despite my blurry vision, I was able to parry the first three attacks attack to reduce the damage, but it felt like my arms were about to break. Unfortunately, it was successful at striking me with its fourth strike. Similar to Diabel, I was sent flying.

When I was thrown in the air, it felt like time stopped for a moment. Nothing was registering in my mind except for the pain I felt from that last strike. That last strike was not enough to kill me, and I knew things were not looking good. I thought to myself, "Is this going to be the end? It can't really end like this. Can it?"

As I was thinking those thoughts, a voice managed to get me out of this state. I heard a boy shout, "Kirito!" The voice belonged to none other than Akio. As I was flying, Akio jumped up and caught me. While I was grateful for the help, his catch was less than graceful. After he caught me, we both ended up falling to ground on our backs.

Before I had a chance to thank Akio for the save, Illfang was already looming over us. Neither one of us were in a position to fight Illfang as it began to bring down its sword. Luckily for us, Illfang was so fixated on Akio and me that it did not anticipate Agil to save the day. He got between us and that monster. He was able to parry the monster's attack using his axe.

As he struggled against the behemoth, he shouted out to his fellow group members, "NOW!" Three of them attacked Illfang at once. One of them attacked with a Medieval European styled mace, another attacked with a Naginata spear, and the last attacked with a quarterstaff. While these three were helping Agil, his other two group members, Gorobei and Kikuchiyo, were dealing with the newly arrived Sentinels along with members of Groups F and G. The combined attack of his three group members caused Illfang to shriek in pain as Agil used that moment to his advantage to overpower Illfang and slash his stomach. Illfang immediately jumped away just in time to escape from Agil's second attack.

Agil turned to look at Akio and I and he told us, "You two better heal up!We're going to need your help with this!" He then turned to the main group and shouted out, "The rest of you better get off your asses unless you want to die here!" Luckily, Agil had more luck getting the rest of the raid team back in gear to fight than I was.

While Agil and the others handled the Sentinels and continued to fight Illfang, Akio and I took out our Health Crystals and healed ourselves. As we stood up, I noticed that Diabel still hadn't disappeared yet. I was hoping that meant there was still a chance to save him. I gave Akio the order, "Akio, you go help Agil and the others! I need to see if I can still save Diabel!"

Akio responded, "Okay! Don't take too long!" He then rushed to the fray.

After I gave Akio the order, I ran to Diabel's side. I knew that the others would be able to fight Illfang without my help for at least a little while. I also felt that tending to Diabel was a priority at that moment since I thought I was in a position to do something. When I finally made it to his side, I could see that his health points were declining rapidly, and that decline did not appear to be stopping. Based on what I was seeing, I could tell that this player was going to die. His body was beginning to become transparent. However, I did not want to see another player die, so I pulled out one of my other Health Crystals in an attempt to save him.

Before I activated the Health Crystal, I hesitated for a moment. I remembered one time I had used a Health Crystal to heal myself while my health points were declining from a major hit. The effect of the Health Crystal did not take effect until after my health was finished decreasing due to taking damage and not before it finished its decline. A part of me believed that if I used my Health Crystal to heal Diabel it would not become effective until after the damage he had taken would have depleted the remainder of his health points.

If that would be the case, then Diabel would die anyway, and I would have wasted a Health Crystal. I thought of it being similar to how in an RPG you would be wasting a potion to heal an ally that was either knocked unconscious or killed when you would really need a special kind of item or spell to regain that ally. However, despite this hesitation, I decided to go through with it anyway because I could not simply treat this like a game. I saw Diabel as my ally, and I would not let my allies die without at least trying.

However, just as I was about to activate the crystal, Diabel grabbed my arm and he told me in a shakily pained voice, "No! Don't waste … the crystal. I'm done for. This is it … for me."

I desperately said to him, "Is there nothing I can do to save you?"

He chuckled at my concern and told me with a smile, "Not likely. I need you to do what you did … back during the Beta Test Kirito. I need you to use those skills of … of yours to take down the boss. I've seen you do it before, and you were the one who told me … how it's done."

After hearing Diabel say that to me, I felt a wave of memories and realizations come into my head at once. I realized that just like me, Argo, and Coper, Diabel was a Beta Tester. I also realized that he was the 'nameless knight' that asked me for tips regarding boss fights and gaining the 'Last Attack Bonus' after the fourth boss battle because he was one of the only players to actually ask me for advice. That explained why he was attempting to do something similar to what I did during the Beta Test not to mention he took great pride in referring to himself as a 'knight.' Finally, I realized that he must have been the one that told Kira that I was a Beta Tester. That means he was the one that was truly attempting to purchase my blade, so it would increase his chances of acquiring the 'Last Attack Bonus' with this boss. He was attempting to take any measure he could to obtain the bonus for the sake of his own survival.

However, despite knowing this, I never did hold it against Diabel for attempting to gain the bonus even if was through underhanded methods. I of all people understood how desperate the situation was. I understood that all players wanted to ensure their survival in this game, and I couldn't fault Diabel for that. Besides, despite Diabel's desire to ensure his own survival, his leadership and organization skills were what allowed the group of over forty players to find the first boss and come this far in defeating it.

Diabel's efforts were what gave a lot of players hope that winning this game might be possible despite losing about two thousand other players within the first month. Sometimes it was not always the personal reasons that mattered but the fact the person committed the actions that yielded the favorable results that matter more. As a result, I would ensure that we would win this battle, so everything Diabel did would not be in vain.

Before he disappeared, Diabel put his hand on my face. When he did that, I was extremely uncomfortable about what he was doing. I could feel the blush on my face forming. However, I didn't swat his hand away. It would have been rude of me to do that to someone who was about to die in front of me.

He told me in a grim, chuckling voice, "If … If I knew you were actually such a beautiful girl, I would … I would have tried treating you better. Haha." Even though my mask and cloak were destroyed about a minute or so earlier, it didn't really register to me that this meant the secret of my gender was revealed for all those players present. It's amazing how caught up in the moment you can be in a life and death situation. Diabel could tell that he was about to run out of time and he told me, "Kirito make sure that you win this game. Please … do what you can to save Kuradeel, Kira, and everyone who is still alive! Beat this game and conquer this world! You need to live!"

With those final words, Diabel shattered into pieces. Several other players witnessed Diabel's death, including Kira. I remember the heartbroken look on her face when she saw him die. It was as if someone put a dagger through her heart. She was able to continue to fight, but I could see from here that she was barely able to fight back the tears.

Despite the tragedy that just happened, this battle was still not over. Illfang was nearly dead, but a few last hits were still needed. We just needed to push it a little further, and we would be victorious. I picked up my blade, and ran straight back towards the fight.


Date: Wednesday, December 4th, 2024 – Moments after Diabel's Death

Location: Real World – Diabel's Hospital Room

After his death within Sword Art Online, Diabel was able to open his eyes to the real world. At first he was confused by what was happening. He remembered how Kayaba Akihiko's grim reaper avatar had told them that when they died in the game that they would die in the real world as well. For a moment, he could not help but wonder if perhaps there was a glitch that saved him or was it a lie. However, his hopes were soon dashed.

Diabel quickly began to feel his head become hotter, and he realized that his Nerve Gear was getting ready to fry his brain. He attempted to move his hands, but the only thing he was capable of moving were his eyes and his mouth. He was unable to say anything or call for help. Even if he did call for help, it would have been all for naught because there was nothing anyone could do to save him at this point.

He realized that his mind had simply returned from being trapped within the game back to his body in the real world, so the Nerve Gear would be able to finish the job. Since the Nerve Gear was able to prevent him from moving his real body while he was within Sword Art Online, it was likely that the same program was preventing him from moving his muscles now. The only thing he could do was wait for the Nerve Gear to finish him off.

Diabel could feel the Nerve Gear beginning to heat up his head from the inside out. Knowing that his life was about to end in a few seconds, Diabel chuckled a little as he thought in a regretful tone, "How ironic. The actions I took to ensure my survival only ended up causing my death. I'm sorry about that Kirito. Kuradeel and Kira I hope you two will forgive me dying on you. I hope you two along with Kirito and those other players are able to survive in that world. I wouldn't want you to end up like this. Goodbye."

With that, there was another casualty of Sword Art Online added to the ever growing list. His hospital bed was saturated in blood. Luckily, unlike Coper's death, his family was not there to witness his demise firsthand. However, his family would still be haunted by the sight of Diabel's corpse. His family would be yet another that was torn apart because of this Death Game, and the list would continue to grow.


Date: Wednesday, December 4th, 2024

Location: Sword Art Online – First Floor Dungeon – Illfang's Boss Chamber

Illfang was getting weaker with each strike it received from Akio, Agil, Nobuharu, Chikato, or Otoya, but it was not dead yet. Even though the boss was on its last leg, Illfang was becoming more dangerous as its health continued to decline, and the Sentinels were still coming down to fight off the players. While most of the raid team was beginning to fight back against the Sentinels, Kikuchiyo, Gorobei, Group F, and Group G were doing a majority of the fighting.


Group F was led by Slade and he was accompanied by his fellow guild members Johnny Black and XaXa. The other three members of their group were three players who were in a party of three, and they decided to team up to form a complete six-player party. While the other group of three looked out for themselves, Johnny Black, Slade, and XaXa worked on their own.

Johnny Black managed to avoid getting his head hit by a Sentinel's mace. He quickly used his knife to stab the Sentinel's arm to cause it to lose its grip of its weapon. He then saw an opening between its helmet and chest armor and stabbed it right in the throat. Johnny Black kept his blade in there until the Sentinel's health was depleted and it shattered into pieces.

Unfortunately, Johnny Black was so concentrated on killing the Sentinel in front of him that he didn't notice another Sentinel was charging. Johnny Black noticed the monster only a second before it attacked, and he attempted to block the attack. The swing of the Sentinel's mace smashed Johnny Black's right arm. His arm was useless, and he was unable to defend himself against another attack.

Johnny Black's mind was racing when he believed this was going to be his last moments as he thought, "Sorry Delano-sama."

Before the Sentinel could kill him its arm was sliced off by Slade, and Slade proceeded to continue cutting the Sentinel to pieces until it was finally killed. While Slade was taking out the monster, Johnny Black used the opportunity to pull out one of his Health Crystals to rejuvenate himself. His health points recovered, and he was capable of fighting again, but he could still feel a slight stinging sensation.

While Johnny Black did not like Slade, he would give gratitude when it was due. After Slade killed the monster, he reluctantly said, "Thanks."

Slade ordered Johnny Black, "This fight isn't over yet, so get your act together! We've got a lot more of these monsters to kill!"

It appeared that Slade should have been taking his own advice since two Sentinels were heading in his and Johnny Black's direction. Johnny Black noticed them and shouted, "Slade behind you." Slade immediately tried to prepare himself to fight, but it might not have been fast enough to take on both of them.

Before both Sentinels could attack him, XaXa managed to take one of them down from behind while Slade was able to parry the other Sentinel's attack. While Slade was parrying the attack, Johnny Black was able stab it in the neck and kill the monster. They turned back to see that XaXa managed to kill his target too.

XaXa told his friend in a playful voice, "You should watch your back Slade. You never know what might sneak up behind you."

Slade replied in a deadpan voice, "That's cute. You should follow your own advice." He pointed behind XaXa as more Sentinels spawned replacing the ones they had killed.

Due to the boss fight reaching the final stages, the Sentinels would be respawning more rapidly. Slade instructed his companions, "Don't let your guard down and don't let yourself get too concentrated on one enemy for too long since we might not be able to bail each other out next time." He then ordered his guild members to, "Keep fighting!"


The one eyed, scarred female player, Wan Shotto was in Group G. She was accompanied by her fellow travelers Fudo and Ketsueki along with their masked leader and two newly recruited players. Their leader had helped them out of a tight spot about a week earlier and decided to join forces. Wan Shotto was not completely sure what to expect by teaming up with that player, but she figured it was better than nothing.

When she saw Diabel struck down by Illfang, she was shocked when it happened, but she along with the other members of her group did not let it affect them too much. She knew that if they did not keep fighting, this room would be their tomb as well, and it would be stupid to give up now. As a result, she kept fighting so she could keep living to see what else this world had to offer her besides regaining her full vision.

Similar to Gorobei, Wan Shotto was handy with the bow and arrow. She kept taking down each Sentinel one by one shooting them through the eye openings of their masks to kill them in one shot. One of the Sentinels noticed that she was a long range weapon user and thought that she would be helpless in close range combat. It could not have been more wrong.

When the monster attempted to hit Wan Shotto's head with its mace, she was able to dodge under it. The monster then tried to attack her again with a follow up attack, but she was able to roll out of the way. She quickly pulled out an arrow and shoved it right into its helmet and into its left eye which caused the arrow to break, but it was enough to kill the monster. She then pulled out another arrow from her quiver and shot another Sentinel that was charging in her direction too.

After she killed both monsters she thought, "They might be better than the other monsters on this floor, but is this seriously the best they can do." She turned to see that Agil's group was engaging the boss in a fight. At first she considered walking in that direction, but then she noticed that some of her own group members were having troubles of their own. She sighed as she thought, "I might as well help them."

Fudo was attempting to fend off the Sentinels with his own mace. He was able to smash one of the Sentinel's heads and dent its helmet inward which completely crushed its head. However, he still had to fend off three other Sentinels at the same time. Due to Fudo's large size, he was not the best at dodging the enemy's attack. Wan Shotto was able to shoot one of the Sentinels through the head which gave Fudo the opportunity to take care of the other two himself.

Ketsueki threw his axe like a boomerang to behead two of the Sentinels simultaneously. While Ketsueki was waiting for his axe to return to him, he did not notice that a Sentinel was heading in his direction. When it was about to attack him, he had nothing to defend himself with. Luckily for Ketsueki this was not his day to die when an arrow went right through the Sentinel's eye, and it died instantly. She did not bother to wait around and find out if Ketsueki would thank her or not. Wan Shotto was more interested in being able to kill more of these Sentinels because they made such great targets for her.

After killing two more Sentinels, Wan Shotto felt her quiver and she noticed it was almost empty. "Damn! I only have one arrow left. I have to make this one count."

As she was trying to find the right target, Wan Shotto quickly looked over her shoulder, and she saw that Akio was knocked to the ground by Illfang along with Nobuharu, Chikato, and Otoya. Agil was the only one currently fighting the monster, and she saw that Illfang and Agil's weapons' were clashing again. However, it appeared that Illfang was ready to overwhelm Agil. If nothing was done, it was likely that Agil would be struck down, and none of his teammates seemed to be in a position to help him.

When she saw this, Wan Shotto smirked and thought, "That'll work." Wan Shotto quickly pulled her arrow on the string of the bow and she aimed at her target. She then released the arrow and the path of her arrow took it right into Illfang's left eye. As soon as her arrow hit its target she calmly thought, "Bullseye."

The arrow Wan Shotto shot into Illfang's eye was enough to help Agil. He was able to take advantage of Illfang's distracted state to overpower the monster and knock him back. Agil then glanced over his shoulder to see Wan Shotto before turning his attention back to the fight.

Since she was out of arrows, Wan Shotto quickly changed her weapon. As she was doing this, she smugly thought, "You better be grateful." She then noticed Akio getting back up and rejoining the fight to help Agil and noticed that he wielded a rapier. She mused, "You have a long way to go little boy." She then used her menu to equip herself with her own rapier to continue fighting the Sentinels.


Similar to the other two groups, Kikuchiyo and Gorobei were able to hold their own against the Sentinels. Kikuchiyo was a surprising example given all the trouble he had adapting to the game at the beginning. Kikuchiyo's large sword was slower that Kirito or Akio's swords, but it was much more powerful. He was able to break through the armor of the Sentinels without any issues. One of the Sentinels came rushing at him, and he was able to slice through the armor and behead the Sentinel.

Gorobei was able to fire his arrows to go right through the eye holes in one of the Sentinel's helmet which killed it easily. When he attempted to pull another arrow, there was nothing for him to take. He said in frustration, "Damn! Now of all times!" He shouted to Kikuchiyo, "Kikuchiyo hold them for ten seconds."

Kikuchiyo responded, as he continued to cut down the different Sentinels that came his way, "Don't worry we have it all under control."

Gorobei quickly moved through his menu and unequipped his bow and arrow and quickly replaced it with a katana. He stated, "All right. Let's give this a try." Before he re-entered the fight, he noticed Kirito running towards the boss. He shouted out to her, "Good luck putting an end to this fight Kirito-chan."

One of the Sentinels attempted to attack Gorobei while his back was turned, but he heard it coming. He ducked at the last second, and he proceeded to knock the Sentinel's weapon out of its hand, and he then slashed the Sentinel with a Vertical Square to knock it down. He told the Sentinel, "Don't even think about it!" Before the Sentinel had a chance to get back up, Gorobei finished it off by stabbing it in the face.

Kikuchiyo managed to slice another Sentinel at its waist and vertically cut another Sentinel in half. As Kikuchiyo stabbed the Sentinel he bisected through the chest, he thought, "It looks like I picked the right weapon for this one."

More Sentinels began appearing before them as Gorobei walked up next to Kikuchiyo. He asked his friend, "Are you ready for this?"

Kikuchiyo replied, "As ready as I'm going to be."

Gorobei stated, "Let's do this!" The two of them charged into the oncoming wave of Sentinels ready for what would be coming next.


I cringed a little when Gorobei called me 'Kirito-chan.' I was not thrilled that my mask was broken and everyone could see that I was a girl. I felt a number of eyes on me, and it was unnerving. However, I knew that I could not let this uncomfortable feeling get to me. We had a mission to complete, and I was going to make sure that we won this battle.

Before I arrived, Illfang managed to hit Agil and his three other companions with its nodachi which rendered them stunned. Most of the other players were fighting off the new wave of Sentinels that were respawning and the members of Diabel's group had backed off because they did not want Illfang's nodachi to stun them again. When I arrived to fight the boss, Akio was the only one left fighting Illfang.

I told Akio, "All right! Let's do this Akio!"

Akio answered, "Right."

The boss's health points were down to ten to fifteen percent. A few well placed hits would be enough to kill this monster, and we were not going to waste any chances. Both Akio and I were charging at Illfang at full force. However, Illfang was not going to go down that easily.

Illfang attempted to attack both of us with a horizontal strike. During the Beta Test, that was a strike I was able to dodge, so I warned Akio, "Akio duck now!"

Akio did as he was told, and we managed to dodge right underneath Illfang's blade. Akio then used the open Illfang had to deliver a few piercing blows to Illfang's torso which caused him to move back a few steps. I proceeded to deliver my own horizontal strike that went right across Illfang's stomach. Our combined attacks managed to reduce the remainder of Illfang's life by half.

With each hit, Illfang became more dangerous. First it swung its sword down between Akio and me which forced us to jump in different directions, so it could separate us. I could see that it realized that Akio was the weaker one, so Illfang turned its attention on him first. Illfang attacked Akio with several wild swings that Akio was barely able to avoid. Akio knew that if he attempted to parry these attacks without a shield or a stronger weapon he would stand no chance against Illfang's might.

The boss must have been so focused on killing one of us that it apparently forgot I was still here. While Illfang tried to kill Akio, I quickly rushed in and slashed the boss in the back. I attempted to attack again, but Illfang's reaction speed was incredible because it turned around and attempted to grab me before I could strike again. It was a good thing my reaction speed was great too because I was able to dodge its grab by quickly rolling out of the way and getting back on my feet, so I would be ready for its follow up.

Illfang desperately attempted to counter my attack with another four vertical strike combo. It thought that it could catch me by surprise again with this attack, but it was wrong. This time I was ready, and I was able to swiftly dodge the attacks one by one with well timed sidesteps. I smirked at the monster as I was able to dodge its attacks. Just like any game I have played before, once I get used to the timing of a monster's attacks, I'm very good at avoiding them.

I proceeded to cut Illfang's outstretched arms. While I was able to damage them, it was not enough to cut them off. Illfang was mildly irritated by my actions. It attempted to strike me down with several Horizontal strikes this time. I managed to dodge underneath the first one, but I could tell that I couldn't dodge underneath any of the other ones. I decided to take a few quick backsteps, so I could put distance between myself and Illfang. It wasn't easy due to the long length of its nodachi, but I was able to get away without being injured this time.

While the monster was focused on me, Akio attempted to finish it off by attacking it from behind. However, Illfang learned its lesson from the surprise attack from Agil's group and my own attack a minute earlier. It managed to counter Akio's attempt with a Horizontal strike. Akio was surprised by the sudden counterattack and he lacked the reaction speed to dodge the attack. Akio was barely able to parry the attack before it could lobe off his head. Unfortunately, due to Akio's rapier being weaker than my sword, his parry was far less successful, and the attack had seriously injured his arm in the process. I remember seeing the pain in his face when he was overpowered by the attack. It caused him to lose grip of his rapier and his left arm clenched his useless right hand.

Before Akio could retreat, the monster delivered another strike that managed to send Akio to the ground. Luckily for Akio, he had more health than Diabel had when Illfang attacked him, so Akio was able to survive the attack, but he was too weak to get off the ground. He was barely able to move after that last attack. I saw on my screen that Akio's health meter was close to being in the critical red area. Illfang wanted to finish off Akio, but I wasn't going to let that monster have another chance to strike.

I charged Illfang one last time hoping that my next attack would be the last one. Illfang seemed to anticipate my move since it immediately turned around and tried to split me in half using a Vertical strike which I managed to avoid with ease. With perfect timing, I was able to sidestep the attack. The monster then quickly changed the direction of its blade to perform a Horizontal strike to cut me down. However, it was two seconds too late to cut me in half. Instead of attempting to dodge underneath the blade or taking any backsteps, I jumped over the blade. I wasn't just jumping merely to dodge his blade. I was jumping to give Illfang the final blow.

When I jumped, I positioned myself to jump towards the monster. As I neared the monster, I thrusted my blade outward, and it went right through Illfang's head. Normally, a headshot would be enough to kill anyone in this game, but I wasn't taking any chances. As I let gravity take me down, I brought my blade down with full force. I made sure to cut Illfang in half all the way from his head to his waist.

After my attack, I looked up to see that Illfang began to vertically split in two and the last of Illfang's health bars had depleted to zero. As soon as it reached zero, the boss shattered into a thousand pieces like anything or anyone else in this game. However, a few feet above me, a sign appeared out of nowhere that declared us the players to be the winners. The players had finally managed to conquer the first floor of Sword Art Online. There were only ninety-nine more floors to go.


Due to the combined efforts of Agil, Akio, Diabel, the other fighters, and me, Illfang the Kobold Lord, the first boss of Sword Art Online was defeated. After the boss disappeared, the surviving Sentinels retreated and vanished as well. With the boss and the Sentinels defeated, everyone was silent for a moment before erupting in celebration over our victory. I would have joined in the celebration, but I was exhausted from finishing off the boss. I decided to give myself a little breather before getting up.

The money and experience for the fight was distributed to all the players, and it seemed to be enough to give everyone an extra level, including me. However, since I delivered the last strike, I would be the one to receive the bonus. Similar to the Beta Test, the bonus was the 'Coat of Midnight.' I was looking forward to trying that on in this game.

While everyone, with the exception of Kira and Kuradeel, were distracted by enjoying the spoils of the fight I looked in Akio's direction and I could see that he was still on the ground unable to get up. I quickly ran over to him and asked in a concerned voice, "Are you okay?"

Akio replied in a pained voice, "Yeah. I'm okay. Thanks for saving me."

I smiled as I told him, "Don't mention it. We are … We are in the same party after all." I looked at his arm and it was twisted in a rather unnatural position as well as the strange status symbol by Akio's name that appeared to be a broken bone. Even though it was obvious, I asked in a hesitant voice, "Is … Is your arm broken?"

Akio gritted his teeth as he answered, "I … I think so."

I scratched my chin as I replied, "That's … That's a new feature, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

Akio said in an annoyed tone as he continued to grit his teeth, "This is a feature we could do without."

Apparently, Kayaba decided to add a new status aliment that included having broken bones to further prove this game is our reality. With some of the punishment I received in this Death Game, I couldn't help but wonder how I haven't received something like that yet. I speculated that Akio's arm was broken due to the strong force Illfang hit him and Akio lacked the strength to successfully block the attack.

I decided to worry about the details of this new status aliment later as I took out a Health Crystal and said, "Heal!" The Health Crystal shattered to pieces and it completely healed Akio including his arm. We could both hear the cracking sounds as his arm was being set back in the right position. I asked, "Feel better?"

Akio moved his arm a little to test it out and replied, "Yeah I feel much better. It still stings a little, but this is a great improvement." I then offered him my hand to help him up, and he took me up on my offer. He sheepishly said, "I should probably pay you back for that Health Crystal."

I immediately told him, "There is … There is no need. You … You can consider that a parting gift." What I said caused Akio to have a disheartened looked since I made it clear that we would still be parting ways.


After things quieted down, the other forty-two players looked in my direction to gaze upon the player who had delivered the final strike. When they got a good look at me, most of them were extremely shocked that I was a girl. The voices of most of these players ranged from being surprised to awestruck.

I heard one shocked voice, "So that player was actually a girl?"

Another voice sounded just as surprised, "I know right! I thought that girl was a guy!"

One of them exclaimed, "Wow! She is hot!"

There was a voice that sounded infatuated with me, "She has such a cute face!"

The owners of several other voices sounded like they were smitten with me. "She's not only good looking, but she's really strong! She's a fine catch!"

There was one player who was a little more unsettled by my gender reveal. "I've never seen a female player who was this strong before!"

Another player stated, "Don't tell me that player with the braid already has dibs on her! That is so unfair!" I saw Akio blush when we heard that.

One of the players was definitely in awe my abilities, "She managed to dodge Illfang's attacks at the end like they were nothing, and she cut him down in half. I couldn't even get within ten feet of Illfang after he pulled out that sword."

Another player said in a dreamy voice, "I bet she could beat the crap out of me."

As they were saying this I thought, "They do realize that I can hear them right?" The more I heard those players giving me these compliments or stating how shocked they were that I was a girl among themselves, the more embarrassed I became. I quickly activated my menu to equip a new mask from my inventory. Even though they knew I was a girl, the feeling of having my face behind a new mask made me feel more comfortable.

Akio patted my shoulder. "Regardless of what happens next, thank you for your hard work. We wouldn't have been able to do it without you."

I told him, "I wouldn't have been able to win without your help either. You did … You did pretty well for your first boss fight. Also thanks … thanks for catching me. You saved me from taking quite hard fall."

Akio chuckled as he told me, "We are members of the same party after all." Akio offered me his hand to help me get back to my feet, and I accepted it. I was still a little shaky, but it was no big deal. I knew that I would be back to normal in no time.

Agil came up to me and said in an astonished voice, "So the fighter that helped take down all those Sentinels and managed to land the final blow to the boss was actually a young girl disguised as a man huh? I have to say that I'm impressed. You even had me fooled with that disguise."

I hesitantly responded, "… I'm sorry for misleading you. It's just that whenever I played games like this before I … you know . . . ," I kind of trailed off when I was talking to Agil. As usual, it felt like the fact he knew that I'm a girl reduced my ability to actually talk to him normally.

He chuckled as I was having difficulty coming up with an answer. "No harm done. We all have our own ways of playing the game after all. Far be it for me to question yours."

I responded, "…Thank you for … understanding." I would definitely give Agil a lot of credit for being insightful because he seemed to understand what I was getting at without any additional explanation necessary.

Akio and Agil were not the only ones who wanted to congratulate me. Kikuchiyo patted me on the back and said, "Way to rip that boss apart. We'll definitely need you to fight these battles in the future."

I responded in an embarrassed tone, "That's very nice, but … I only directly fought Illfang at the end."

Kikuchiyo nervously told me, "That was … That was the most crucial part. Taking out the first three health bars of that monster was … was way easier than when it was at the last health bar. Things were … Things were getting crazy during the … the last part. Everything nearly fell apart at the end. Thanks to you and … and the others we won."

When I heard Kikuchiyo talk to me, I noticed he seemed nervous and uncomfortable talking to me similar to how I am with talking to males. I thought in a perplexed tone, "Is he the opposite of me?"

Before I could respond, Gorobei chimed in and agreed, "Kikuchiyo's right. Quite a few players didn't have the guts to try and fight Illfang after it went into critical mode, but you did that and then some. You really are one tough girl." I had trouble coming up with a response to that, so he then added with a smirk, "On another note, it would appear that I was correct when I guessed you were a girl during the Beta Test." The only thing I could do was chuckle to alleviate the slight discomfort I was feeling.


Despite how uncomfortable I felt, it still felt wonderful to receive these compliments and praises from the different players. It was a real golden moment. A part of me was hoping that it could last forever. Unfortunately, this moment of victory was soon interrupted by the voice of an enraged Kira. She shouted to me, "Why did you let him die?! Why did you let Diabel die you bitch?!" When she shouted, the entire crowd became silent.

When I had trouble responding to her question, she then demanded, "Answer me! Why did you let Diabel die?"

I desperately tried to answer, "I didn't let him die. His injuries were too great. He told me …"

Unsurprisingly, Kira did not wait for me to finish explaining as she angrily exclaimed, "Shut up! I saw you! You were right by his side when his health points fell to zero! You didn't do a thing to help him!"

I tried to tell her, "I was going to use a Health Crystal to help Diabel, but he stopped me. With the damage he received, he told me it wouldn't do any good even if I did attempt to heal him."

Kira was not persuaded by what I said, "How would you know that for sure? How are we supposed to know you aren't making that up just to defend yourself? I saw you take up your crystal only to stop and put it back in your bag."

Kikuchiyo spoke up for me. "Aren't you conveniently forgetting the part where Diabel grabbed Kirito's hand to stop her? Based on what I saw, it was pretty clear that he was telling her not to use the crystal on him."

Despite hearing the same answer from two different players, Kira stubbornly refused to believe that Diabel was already doomed to die. She asked in a pissed off voice, "What could you hear what they were saying? Unless you …"

Thankfully Gorobei interrupted Kira. "She may not have been able to save Diabel, but she saved the rest of us, and I saw she saved you're life from those Sentinels earlier. So leave her alone you useless, ungrateful bitch!"

The look on Kira's face when Gorobei called her a 'bitch' was absolutely priceless. She wasn't exactly a composed individual before, but her face completely lacked any kind of rational anymore. She shouted, "Shut up you asshole! She only used you and everyone else, so she could obtain the last attack bonus by letting you weaken the monster until she could kill it herself."

Gorobei shrugged, "So what if she received the last attack bonus? Should that matter?"

Kira was slipping as she stated, "Of course it matters! She was using us all to get the last attack bonus! She cheated us all!"

Gorobei was completely undeterred by what Kira had said. "That's not how it looked to me. We all knew this was fair game to begin with. All of us had the same opportunity to gain the last attack bonus, including you."

Before Kira could say anything, Kikuchiyo interrupted her, "Quite frankly, I doubt even if she would have let you have the chance, you would have been incapable of getting it based on the display of our abilities in this battle."

Akio chimed in as well by stating, "That's right. You have no right to judge. I saw how you tied up her legs in the middle of the fight earlier. You almost got her killed."

Kira attempted to say something, but she was stopped by one of her teammates. This teammate was the one known as Miki, who was a more composed individual. Personally, I think if anyone should have been the leader of her group, it should have been him since he actually seemed to have more leadership abilities than her. However, he seemed to be more resigned to be an 'advisor' rather than an actual leader.

Miki spoke up in a calm voice as he pointed out, "Kira did not mean to put Kirito in harms ways. She knew that Diabel had strategies to defeat the boss, and she did not want Kirito to interfere with them. It was a judgment call, and it was…"

Miki was interrupted by Akio as he replied, "Judgment call my ass!" Needless to say, Akio was unconvinced as he demanded, "Even if that was true, why are you answering for her rather than her telling us this?"

Miki did not appear to be bothered too much by Akio's interruption as he replied, "It is for the better for someone to help provide support for his friend since all of you were ganging up on her."

Akio angrily responded, "That hardly answers the question. Besides, she was just trying to blame Kirito for Diabel's death. It's not her fault."

Miki decided to not address the first part of Akio's response by stating, "To the contrary, she most certainly is at fault."

Akio stated, "Quit the bull crap."

Miki was not affected by Akio's insult as he calmly stated, "While you and those other two have a point about the attack bonus and possibly about the Health Crystal, there is something that happened here that was completely inexcusable."

Kikuchiyo asked in an annoyed voice, "What would that be?"

Miki stated, "It is the fact that when the monster was about to attack, the girl only decided then to give a warning about how dangerous Illfang's abilities were. That is clear proof to me that this girl is a Beta Tester, and she was withholding information. Due to her withholding information, Diabel died as a result."

Kikuchiyo countered, "You can't blame her for that. If she really didn't want to save Diabel's life, she wouldn't have tried to warn anyone in the first place."

One of the players who were in Diabel's group, Kuradeel, decided to speak up as well. He stated in a disgusted voice, "I heard her warning. She decided to warn us when the boss was just about to attack. That hardly qualifies as a fair warning. She clearly knew that the monster was going to make a different move than Diabel or any of us were expecting."

Miki added in a calm voice, "I agree. This isn't the first time we have seen Beta Testers cheat out the new players. We've had our own difficulties with Beta Testers in the past."

Another member of Kira's group, Corbatz, provided more fuel to the fire, "The Beta Tester who conned his way to traveling with us cost us the lives of several of our comrades! He conveniently left out vital information regarding the quest we were on, and it cost us dearly. Leaving out information must be habit with you Beta Testers!"

Kano, another member of Kira's group, stated in a pissed-off voice, "He's right! Let's not forget that we were using the data book from that Beta Tester Argo. There are clearly a few gaping holes in the data he provided us for this boss battle. He must have cheated us too."

Akio was more than a little pissed off when he said, "You're still ignoring the fact that Kira tied up Kirito and nearly got her killed. She could have warned Diabel's group sooner if that didn't happen in the first place."

Kira stated out loud, "She told us that the weapon was different from what the monster had during the Beta Test. She could have warned everyone anytime she wanted." She looked over in my direction and asked in a disgusted voice, "Isn't that right Kirito?"

I couldn't come up with a response to that. There was truth to what Kira was saying. I could have said something, but I didn't because I didn't want anyone else to find out I was a Beta Tester or suspect me of being one. All I could do was tighten my fists and think, "Maybe she has a point." As I was thinking this, I could see all the different players looking at me with those eyes staring down at me as if I committed murder. It was rather terrifying to have all those eyes on me.

Luckily, the eyes were taken off me when Akio intervened on my behalf and replied, "Don't try to distract us. What you did to her and what your friends tried to do to me was completely inexcusable."

Miki stated, "She had no intention of hurting Kirito. She was merely attempting to prevent her from inter-," was all he could say before Akio interrupted him.

Akio stated in a voice filled with anger, "Enough with that stupid excuse!"

Gorobei supported Akio by stating, "There's no way any of us will buy some lousy crap like that!" Kikuchiyo nodded his head in agreement, and the other members of Agil's group seemed to support Akio too.

Ignoring what Akio and Gorobei said, Miki replied in a somewhat frustrated but still calm voice, "Believe what you want, but she would have caused Diabel to die anyway based on her actions."

Before Akio or anyone else could respond, Ukon stated in a loud angry voice, "That girl has already proven to be a liability to the players for the information she withheld, and she needs to be put in her place for what she's done."

Agil could see that this argument was really becoming ugly, and he tried his best to mend the situation by stating, "This fight isn't getting us anywhere. This needs to stop before it gets out of hand."

Cobartz replied, "It's already too late for that. Something needs to be done about her and the rest of her kind."

Despite the support Akio was receiving from Agil's group, the other players did not really seem to care about the fact Kira tied up my legs in the middle of the battle. I heard some of the players' whispering pretty loudly, and I'm certain they were more focused on the fact that I was a Beta Tester above anything else. Unfortunately, anything Akio and Agil's group had to say in my defense was losing steam quickly.

The fighting between Akio and Agil's group against Kira's group and their supporters continued a little longer. As Argo predicted, even though he attempted to tell the boss raid that there might be changes between the Beta Test and the final version, those players choose to conveniently forget or ignore that since it would be inconvenient for their arguments. I knew that even if I did try to explain to them that I wasn't sure of all the differences of the Beta Test until they actually happened, they wouldn't listen. Even if I did attempt to say anything, I wasn't sure what words I could use that could convince them to stop this.

The argument between Kira's group and Gorobei and Kikuchiyo was starting to heat up. The other members of Agil's group Nobuharu, Chikato, and Otoya also joined in to support Gorobei and Kikuchiyo. Agil tried his best to calm things down, but it was to no avail. Even though Gorobei and Kikuchiyo were making some good points, the people in Kira's group kept bringing up about how they blamed Yuudai for what happened to their group even though that wasn't really his fault. They began to demand to know if there were any other Beta Testers within the group besides myself.

Kano's voice filled the room as he angrily shouted, "I'm getting sick of all these Beta Testers screwing with us! I bet there are more of these damn Beta Testers in this group! Show yourselves you damn cowards!"

Kuradeel chimed in and stated, "If you reveal yourselves to us you lowly scum, we might go easy on you!"

Another one of Kira's fellow group members, Ookami, stated in a rather sickening enthusiastic voice, "I have a better idea. Let's see if we can sniff them out in this crowd rather than giving them a chance to reveal themselves. I can probably tell who a Beta Tester is just by looking at them and smelling their fear. I'm sure that will be a lot of fun!" What he said was followed by a laugh that I felt belonged to a psychopath.

Kano seemed to like that idea as he replied, "That does sound like it could be fun. Do you have any ideas of what we should do when we round them up?"

The final member of the group, Ukon gave his own two cents. "What we did to Yuudai for betraying us was entertaining. Maybe we could do something like that."

Ookami replied, "Hahaha! I like that, but we should add some variety!"

I was disturbed by how these players were so openly talking about rounding up Beta Testers. I had a feeling these players would be disgusting people after what Yuudai told me, but they were even worse than I imagined. However, I think the more disturbing part was the fact that about half the people in that room seemed to be in favor of what they were talking about. Kuradeel and the rest of Diabel's party seemed ready and willing to help Kira's team accomplish this objective.

Not to mention that none of these players seemed to care about the fact that Kira technically should be charged with attempting to murder me. In fact, they seemed to be supporting her and those players anyway. Although given how apathetic players were when Argo tried to inform them of Yuudai's attempted murder, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. That didn't stop it from feeling rather jarring to me.

The only group that seemed disturbed by what they were hearing was Agil's group along with Akio. The look in their eyes as they were hearing this revealed how shocked they were that the other players seemed willing to act this way. I still couldn't tell what Group F and G's opinions were due to the masks they wore. They seemed indifferent because they were still not doing a thing to either support or condemn these actions.

A few minutes earlier the team was celebrating a monumental victory. It did not take long for the celebration to change from a moment of triumph and praise to a 'witch hunt' for the Beta Testers. It was just as Argo and I talked about earlier. Regardless of whether this is the real world or virtual world, the inhabitants will always attempt to find someone to use as a scapegoat for the larger problem rather than focusing on the solution. The only group that seemed willing to remain rational was Agil's group and possibly Groups G and F. However, Groups G and F were remaining silent, so it was difficult for me to gauge what side they would be on.

Akio was particularly disturbed by what he was hearing when he asked in a disgusted voice, "Do you even hear yourselves. Are you insane?" He looked around at the players who seemed to support what those players were proposing, "Have you all lost your minds?"

As the situation was escalating, Agil tried to intervene again to calm the situation. He said, "Everyone just calm down! We just managed to take down the first boss battle by working together. We shouldn't be fighting amongst ourselves like this!"

Kira replied with venom in her voice, "Nothing you can say is going to change what happened today. That Beta Tester is the reason why Diabel is dead, and I know there are probably other Beta Besters here as well that are just waiting for the chance to screw us over too!"

Agil tried to convince her, "You need to stop this before this gets out of hand! Nothing good will come out of …"

Kira interrupted him by angrily stating, "There will be plenty of good coming out of this!"

Agil replied with a slight hint of frustration, "You're being irrational!"

Despite Agil's attempts to calm things down, I knew that nothing he, Akio, nor any of the other players in Agil's group could say would be enough to pacify what was happening. I decided that I needed to say something before this got further out of hand and everything that Diabel had been putting together would completely shatter. I took a deep breath before I began to speak. I calmed myself down in order to make sure I would not stutter too much.

After taking a deep breath, I shouted out loud, "THAT'S ENOUGH!" With that shout, I could hear my voice echo throughout the room and everyone stopped talking. All the eyes were focused back on me. While it didn't give me a pleasant feeling, I knew this was my only shot to make sure I said what I believed needed to be said.

I spoke out lout to the group in as confident voice I could muster, "Argo never took part in the boss battles during the Beta Test. He was never the type to get involved in fighting these battles himself. He's good at gathering information, such as finding secret areas and quests. When it came to bosses, he required the help of players like me to tell him what he needed to know. What the book states about the bosses is literally everything he knew from the Beta Test."

Kira exclaimed, "So it is your fault that we didn't have that information!"

I didn't try to deny her allegation. Instead I told her in a matter of fact tone, "You can blame me all you want. It's not going to change what happened here."

While I was stating these facts, Agil's group and Akio remained silent. They did not attempt to interfere with what I was saying. I have a feeling they probably understood what I was going for, and they decided to let me go through with it. However, I could tell by the looks on their faces they did not like what was most likely going to happen next.

Kira then angrily stated, "You're right, but this proves that Beta Testers are nothing more than selfish, arrogant …"

I interrupted Kira before she said another word because it was getting harder for me to stomach listening to her voice. Plus, it was actually starting to get fun to piss her off. "Please! Do you really think that all the Beta Testers were players who had experience in MMORPGs? If you think that, then you are dumber than I thought!"

Kira was about to angrily respond, before Miki put his hand on her shoulder to signal her to stop. He then asked in a composed voice that had a slight hint of venom, "What do you mean by that Beta Tester?"

I used the opportunity that Miki gave me to tell all of these players, "Most of those Beta Testers were nothing more than a laughing stock. There were so many Beta Testers that weren't even able finish a simple quest, such as deliveries, without receiving help. The only type of Beta Testers who were capable of getting the last attack bonus and handling the difficult quests were players like me, and they were few and far between. I managed to make it to Level Ten, so I know all sorts of methods to ensure survival in this game from firsthand experience that I didn't tell players like Argo. I plan on utilizing them again, and I have no intention of telling my secrets to the likes of you."

The whole crowd had been silent as I gave this little speech. It was a good thing I was able to say all that in one shot. That speech really took a lot out of me. I wouldn't be able to repeat it again even if I wanted to. This was a onetime deal because I would probably be too afraid and stutter too much if I tried again.

Kira was nearly speechless before she stated, "If that's true, then you are worse that a Beta Tester. You're a damn CHEATER!"

I told her, "You can call me a cheater if you want. However, I think you should know. If you attempt to round up Beta Testers, chances are you will be wasting your time. Most of them will be just as clueless as you are in this game. It's only players like me that are worth your time."

That seemed to finally strike a chord with Kira and her teammates. Kira responded in a threatening matter, "Fine then, but don't think this is over between us." Despite her words, she failed to instill any fear in me.

Kano followed up, "So you're a Beta Tester and a damn Cheater!"

No sooner had Kano and Kira labeled me, a lot of the same players who were complimenting me a few minutes ago, were joining the fray. Some were calling me a 'Beta Tester' and others were referring to me as a 'Cheater' mixed with a few notable curse words. However, they did not seem to have a consensus on what they would label me.

A label was finally decided for me when Ukon loudly stated for everyone to hear, "That makes her a 'Beater'!"

When Ukon said the word 'Beater,' it resounded throughout the entire room. Within a minute, about half the players in the room were now referring to me as being a 'dirty Beater' or 'Beater scum.' There were a few other less 'reputable' words they used in conjunction with 'Beater.' It was a good thing I was wearing my mask otherwise they would have had the satisfaction of seeing a few of my reactions. I still find it amazing that some of these players were the same ones that were thinking I was cute a few minutes ago.

Based on what I was hearing, it sounded like that new label had quickly become universally accepted by this group of players. I knew that it was only a matter of time before this new label would be widespread throughout Sword Art Online. By the end of the week, almost everyone left alive in the game would know what the label 'Beater' meant.

The word, 'Beater,' would be a word to describe Beta Testers like myself who were identified as Beta Testers who were highly skilled players but considered to be a player that others should not trust for various reasons. In most cases, it would be because I supposedly knew a lot of things about the game, and I refused to tell others. It was true that I knew a lot about the game, but it wasn't true that I wasn't forthcoming. However, that is what public opinion would label me as, and there was not much I could do about that.

When I heard Ukon create that title for me, the first thought that came into my mind was, "Beater? Is that seriously the best name you could come up with?" However, I figured that I might as well go along with it since that would most likely be the label that I would be given from this point forward.

I replied in a voice filled with false confidence, "A Beater huh? That sounds fine to me. You should be sure to remember me then." I did the best I could to sound like I was undeterred by what had just happened, and based on the reactions of the other players, I think I was succeeding because none of the other players bothered to say anything more.

While everyone stood silent, I activated my menu to scroll down to find my newly acquired 'Coat of Midnight.' As soon as I found it, I hit the button to equip it. A moment later, the 'Coat of Midnight' materialized around my body. It was a long black coat that was made out of leather. I used this moment to represent the beginning of my isolation from a majority of the other players in the game since I had been the one to gain the last attack bonus. I can still remember the fury that was in so many of the players' eyes as I equipped myself with the 'Coat of Midnight,' especially Kira's face. She seemed like she wanted to strangle me right then and there, but she knew she was no match for me no matter how much she complained.

After the equipping was complete, I told them, "If you'll excuse me, I'll let myself out." Before I left, I then pointed my sword in the direction of Ukon, Kano, and Ookami. I told them in the most threatening voice that I could muster, "Don't even try to come after me because I'll be ready to take you down!"

I must have succeeded in sounding intimidating because I saw that Ukon, Kano, and Ookami appeared to be visibly nervous by my threat. Based on how weak they were in the fight, I figured that those three were probably the type that to bark loudly but they had no bite. As far as I could tell, they were nothing more than cowards. They were far from the only ones frightened by what I said either. I noticed that several of the other players seemed frightened by my threat as well, and they did not look like they were going to move from their spots. I decided to use this opportunity to walk away from the Boss Raid, and no one was attempting to stop me.


While none of the players decided to prevent Kirito from leaving the Boss' lair, they were all staring at her retreating figure. Akio and Agil's group were the only ones who were sympathetic to what transpired, and they were able to figure out why Kirito did what she did. They could see that she willingly made herself a scapegoat, so it would increase the chances for other Beta Testers to be accepted by the rest of the players at her expense. Due to a number of participants from two groups wearing masks, it was more difficult to understand what their reaction was to what happened, but they appeared to be more neutral.

As Kirito was walking away, she could feel the hatred of the other three groups staring at her filled with anger, bloodlust, and killing intent. It was unnerving to her, but she did the best she could to maintain her composure as she walked away. The closer she got to the staircase the sooner she would be out of their view which would be a relief. However, before Kirito was out of their sight, Akio decided to run after Kirito because there was something he still wanted to talk to her about.

Agil and the rest of his group watched as Akio tried to catch up with Kirito. Agil took a deep breath as he thought, "After what happened, she could use someone's support. Here's hoping that she will accept it." Agil sighed as he thought, "Good luck surviving in this world now kid. You're going to need it."

Gorobei quickly glanced at the other players who were giving Kirito death glares as she walked away and thought, "What you did might have been a good thing for the Beta Testers, but I'm not happy about how it happened. I'm really sorry that this happened to you. You don't deserve this and what is probably going to happen from now on. Unfortunately, there is no going back after what just happened."

After what he witnessed Kikuchiyo thought in horror, "This could have easily happened to Gorobei too. I can't believe those players over there are looking upon her like she is some kind of scum just because she was lucky enough to be selected for a Beta Test and she happens to be a good player just like Gorobei. The only difference between her and him is that he hasn't been exposed as a Beta Tester nor does he have some crazy girl as an enemy." Kikuchiyo felt a terrible feeling in his stomach as he was conflicted over what happened. "A part of me feels relieved that this didn't happen to Gorobei, but it's horrible that this even had to happen at all. What happened to Diabel wasn't her fault, but they've already declared her guilty. If anything, they should be praising her as a hero in preventing anymore player deaths." He rubbed his head as he continued to think, "Either way, I can't help but feel bad about what happened to her. Things were hard enough already and now it will probably get worse. I can only hope nothing will happen to her."

The scarred, eye patch wearing, female player, Wan Shotto, was a member of one of the groups that did not seem to lean one way or another. However, she did have her own thoughts on the situation. "I have to admit that I'm impressed with that girl. When she appeared in those meetings, I thought there was something strange about her, but I didn't expect her to be another female player let alone a child. She not only displayed great strength and speed, but she was also capable of taking on the brunt of that hatred and walk away from it. I have to say that she has definitely caught my interest." Wan Shotto then eyed her group's leader as she thought, "Something tells me that I'm not the only one in our group that is interested in her." When she witnessed Akio running after Kirito, she thought, "So she already has a man chasing after her?" On reflex, she touched her eye patch and thought, "I can't help but wonder what he intends to do to her. That should be interesting as well."

Slade was the leader of the second group that was neutral in regards to Kirito's status as a Beta Tester. "I've seen character like that in only a handful of people before, but it has rarely ended well for them. Regardless, she could become interesting, especially since she is the great Beta Tester that Delano told me to be on the lookout for. I have a feeling he will be most interested in learning that the Beta Tester is actually a little girl."

For the players that were either concerned or interested in Kirito for her actions, there were plenty of players that were staring at her back with killing intent. One of these players was Kuradeel. He was having difficulty comprehending the fact that his friend had been killed before his eyes as he thought, "How could this have happened? Everything was going so well. How could it have all gone so wrong?" He stared at Kirito's back as his eyes narrowed and he began to grit his teeth. He began thinking irrationally, "This is all her fault. She knew the weapon the boss had was different, and she was a thorn in our side even before the boss. Now she has the bonus that Diabel deserved while wearing that smug expression of hers. I will not tolerate this."

Kuradeel then clenched his fists as took a breath to calm down. He thought back to what Diabel and he spoke about a few hours earlier. "You told me before Diabel that you wanted us to start working with Beta Testers. That's fine. I will honor what you asked me Diabel. I will work with the Beta Testers who will cooperate with others, but Beaters like her will be the exceptions. They need to be erased for the good of everyone in this game. I will do everything in my power to make sure that happens."

He began clenching his fists even tighter. If this was the real world, hands would have begun dripping with blood. It was the only way for him to retain some sense of being calm despite the anger that was building inside him. Unfortunately, it was going to be difficult for Kuradeel to find a way to completely vent his rage.


After I put my distance from the other players and began walking up the spiral staircase that would take me to the next floor, I let out a breath I didn't even know that I was keeping in. I began to breathe heavily, "Huff … huff … huff." What I did took a lot out of me. I thought, "Damn that was close. I wouldn't have been able to keep up that act for much longer. I almost felt like I was going to breakdown back there. If that happened, it would have been for nothing."

When I managed to catch my breath I thought, "Okay. You need to stay focused on what you need to do. Get supplies from the next town and leave before too many other players arrive. If I can do that, I should be okay for a while. I just need to keep moving."

Before I reached the top of the staircase, I heard someone shout behind me, "Wait right there!"

I turned around, and I saw that it was Akio running after me. I could tell that by the look on his face, he had something that he wanted to say to me about the scene that happened back there. Even though I had an idea of he was going to say, I still asked, "What is it Akio?"

Akio gave me a dumbfounded look as he replied, "What do you mean 'what is it'? You know what this is about. Why did you decide to let them label you like that? What happened to Diabel was not your fault, and you're the reason why the rest of them are still alive in the first place. Those assholes back there are just a bunch of ungrateful bastards that don't deserve the satisfaction of being able to label you like that"

I sighed as I replied, "I don't disagree with what you your saying, but you … you saw how irrational most of the people in the raid team were getting when they wanted to find someone to blame."

Akio responded, "Well yeah but …"

I interrupted Akio as I tried to explain, "Even if you tried explaining it to them over and over again, none of them could accept that Diabel simply died because he made a fatal mistake in his own strategy. When they accused me of being a Beta Tester who knew a few too many things about this game, it wasn't … it wasn't exactly false."

Akio then interrupted me, "So what if that wasn't false. It still wasn't your fault he died. If anyone should be blamed it should be Kira."

I sighed as I told Akio, "I know it wasn't my fault, but … but I knew that I would not be able to effectively deny the allegations, especially since Kira already knew the truth. As a result, I decided to simply let myself take all the blame while also telling them that not all the Beta Testers are as capable as me." My voice began to sound noticeably sadder. "At least now some of the Beta Testers … might not be discriminated against by players like Kira. They might have a chance to survive in this world … if more players are willing to accept them."

Akio did not seem to care too much about that logic as he asked, "But what about you? You had nothing to gain from accepting this title."

I couldn't deny that Akio had a point. I didn't have much to gain personally from this, but that wasn't the point. Similar to when I spoke out loud to the group, I took a deep breath, so I could reduce the chances of me stuttering as I attempted to tell Akio, "No I do not. However, at least I am giving some of the others a chance to survive. What I … What I said back there was true. A lot of the players I met during the Beta Test were not used to playing this type of game. I … I can still remember how some of those players would struggle even with easy quests." I put my hand on my mask as I said as I chuckled, "Some of them … Some of them were funny and some of them were just pathetic. I have a feeling a lot of those players did not get much better. Now that players like those people back there can … they can use players like me as a scapegoat, those other Beta Testers might be able to join other parties and guilds without worrying too much."

Akio responded in a sarcastic tone, "So everything is okay as long as they get to join groups while you have to fight on your own? That sounds like a real great situation to be in."

It was nice to see that he was concerned about me, but I assured him, "I appreciate the concern, but players like you … players like you don't have to worry about me because I can survive on my own. I have been doing so for the past month, and even during the Beta Test I … I was generally on my own with only a few exceptions. I was able to adapt and survive on my own in numerous situations, and I can guarantee you … that I will continue to do so until the game has been completed."

Akio sighed after hearing that response. "I know that you are strong and capable. I have seen your abilities first hand, so you're the last person I probably should be concerned about in regards to surviving this game. Nevertheless, this still doesn't seem right. They should be seeing you as a hero and an ally rather than an enemy."

I told Akio in a stern voice, "I'm … I'm not a hero Akio. I can't be a hero."

Akio tried to counter me, "How could you say that you're not a hero? You are …"

Even though I knew it was rude, I interrupted Akio, "I just can't be a hero Akio. I just can't be." I said that to Akio without any stuttering or hesitation because I strongly believed it was true, and it was something that I believed needed to be said.

After I said that, I could see how Akio was disheartened by my insistence that I was not a hero. Before he could say anything else to me I told him, "Things … Things might change as time goes on, but what seems right and what doesn't seem right no longer matters. This is the way things are now, and we … we both need to get used to it. Besides, this is far from the only time I have been on my own." I continued to put on a strong face underneath my mask, "I'm … I'm used to going solo even from before Kayaba declared this as a Death Game, and I've always been fine in the end. I always ….," I was having difficulty saying the next part, so I had to swallow as I told Akio, "I always isolated myself due to my own actions, and now it is the same for this world. As Argo told me, there are some things … there are some things that you can't escape no matter what world you go into." I bitterly chuckled to myself as I said that.

After seeing how I was so accepting of this situation, Akio looked at me with a concerned look and said, "You can't really be okay with this are you?"

Honestly, I truly wasn't. While it is true that I have isolated myself before, seeing a room filled with dozens of individuals who looked upon me with eyes filled with hatred was difficult for me to handle. It hurt so much, but I couldn't let them see it. I sucked it up and went along with it. If anyone needed to be the one to be isolated, it might as well be me. At least I could survive on my own. The same could clearly not be said for some of the other Beta Testers I met. After all, I had seen at least two of them die before my eyes.

I lied to Akio and told him in fake cheerful voice, "I'm okay with it. I'll … I'll be fine on my own. I always have been fine going solo. That's just … that's just the type of person I am. I can't picture myself not going solo. So you don't have to worry about me. After all, I'm used to being isolated. It'll be okay."

Akio clearly was not buying it, "Kirito …." However, he was having difficulty finding what words to say after saying my name.

Before Akio could say another word, I interrupted him. When I spoke to him, I was hesitant, but I tried to make my voice as cheerful as possible. "You know … you really seem like a different player from the one I met the other day. You've changed quickly, and I think … I think you will become strong."

When I told that to Akio, he seemed pleased to hear me tell him that. Akio's face seemed to brighten up when I gave him that compliment. He almost seemed to forget that we were about to go our separate ways. He asked in a hopeful voice, "Do you really think that?"

I could not help but chuckle a little to myself when he asked that. I responded in turn, "I … I really do mean that, but this is just a first step. I would … I would advise you not to get too full of yourself because of a small victory. Otherwise, you will end up back where you started. The last thing you want is for someone to carry you out of dungeon again."

Akio facial expression changed to be somewhat annoyed as he asked, "Did you really need to say that? Now you just put a damper on things."

Hearing him say that almost made me laugh as I told him, "Telling you that seemed necessary to me. Two days ago, I found you going on a suicidal monster killing spree that nearly cost you your life." The look on Akio's face indicated that this would eventually become an 'old shame' for him someday. "You were … You were crazed to kill as many monsters as you could before the game could 'conquer' you. It has only been two days since then, but you already seem to be changing for the better. The last thing I want is for you … for you to …"

I was having difficulty of my own completing my point. I had been doing so well with my explanation to Akio. It was so annoying that I was having trouble finishing. However, Akio did not attempt to interrupt me despite my difficulty. He remained silent because he could see that I was not finished with what I was saying, and he waited until I could find the words.

After a few moments, I took a breath and managed to finish my point without anymore stuttering, "The last thing I want is for you to find yourself going down that path again. What you did today proves that you have a lot of potential." Akio blushed a little as I gave him that compliment. I was probably blushing a little as well. I then finished my point as quickly as I could by telling him, "You helped me and the other players kill a boss, and we were able to work together as a team. Your skills might be a little unrefined, but I could picture it developing into something much more. I believe you can truly develop into a strong player someday that can help change this game."

After I said that, Akio's face appeared to be truly stunned by what I had said. He scratched the back of his head as he told me, "I never would have thought the girl who punched me the other day for being an idiot would be telling me something like that. This is really a lot to take in. I feel like my mind is racing." He chuckled as he was saying that in hopes of lightening the tone.

From the sound of his voice, it was as if he had never heard anyone say anything this encouraging to him before. I would later find out that might not have been too far from the truth. It would make me even more grateful for the family environment that I grew up in. My experiences with Akio would further emphasize to me the importance of counting your blessings and not taking them for granted.

I gave Akio a slight smile as I told him, "I guess it would be, but I can assure you that when I complement someone, I mean it." What I said to Akio might have embarrassed him a little. I could see a slight blush on his face, but I decided to say one last thing before I left. "The look in your eyes before told me that you thought we had no chance in victory. However, now your eyes … your eyes tell me that you are starting to see there is hope for us to survive. Don't let go of that. If you hold onto that, you will see that we will succeed in clearing this game. I can promise you that."

Akio was nearly speechless, but he still managed to tell me, "That is probably the best thing someone has ever said to me. Kirito I . . ."

I interrupted him before he could say anything else. "On a related note, I guess I really don't need to go by that name anymore. Another friend of mine told me that I should change my name from being Kirito. I guess now is as good a time as any to make that change. From now on, call me by this name."

After I said that, I activated the 'name change' option on my menu and made the adjustment. My name display changed from Kirito to Kirita. From this moment forward, players would know to refer to me as Kirita. I would receive numerous other labels along with my name, including but not limited to 'The Beater,' 'The Black Swordswoman,' 'The Masked Sword Wielder,' 'The Dark Warrior,' 'The Dual Wielder,' and sometimes even a combination of certain titles. All of these names would be given to me under the name of Kirita rather than Kirito.

As soon as I made the modification, both Akio and I saw my name change in the party menu. Akio read my name aloud, "Kirita." He seemed a little surprised by the name change, but I didn't think much of it. He asked in a perplexed voice, "Why change your name from Kirito to Kirita? I thought you didn't want people to know you're a girl."

I responded, "I do mind people finding out my gender. However, I figure … I figure that a lot of those guys are going to spread the word out pretty quickly, so I might as well use the name a friend suggested for me. I was thinking that I could call myself 'Kiriko,' but I like the name 'Kirita' more. It was … It was a name a friend of mine suggested to me after all."

Akio then asked, "Okay, but what good will wearing masks do for you then?"

That was a question I didn't expect, "This mask will … will still be useful to me for security purposes."

Akio asked the follow-up question, "What does that mean?"

I hesitantly explained, "I've told you before that … that I have difficulty talking to male players. However, when I wear this mask, I … I feel like I can talk to them even if they know my gender. It's because of this mask I feel like I can talk to you properly."

Akio wasn't surprised by that, "I had a feeling that was probably the case. You barely talked to me during dinner yesterday."

After hearing that, it made me want to end this conversation before we talked for too long. "Anyway, that's enough of that. I think we've stood here long enough. I need to get moving before those stupid people down there decide to get their act together and come to the second floor too."

In addition to changing my name, I also used my menu to 'disband' the party that Akio and I formed together. When Akio saw that I did that, he appeared somewhat disheartened by what I did. I could understand seeing some 'disband' a party in front of you is a rather sad turn of events, but I figured he would probably get over it. I told myself, that someone else would partner with him soon enough after witnessing his potential back there, and he would forget all about me. How wrong I was to think that.

I faced Akio one last time before I departed for the next floor. I attempted to mask the sadness in my voice as I told him, "Akio thank you for being my party member. As I told you before, I always had difficulty working with male players who … who knew that I was a girl, but things actually went pretty well with you. I was actually able to talk to you almost normally. I kind a wish … I did a better job at that."

Even though I had complemented him a few times earlier, he still seemed surprised by what I had been saying to him. Before he could say anything else to me, I interrupted and told him, "You are going to become strong. If someone you can trust asks you to become of a guild, you should consider joining it. I am sure you will be a strong asset."

Akio tried to tell me, "Kirita I . . ."

I cut him off before he could continue. I am not really sure why I did. It was a reflexive action that I'm not proud of, but I still did it anyway. I told him, "I'll see you around Akio." I then turned around and opened the door to the second floor of Aincrad.

A part of me was feeling regret that I was cutting my ties off with Akio. He had proven to be reliable and strong, and I could tell he would not discriminate against me. I was actually beginning to feel somewhat comfortable interacting with him despite only knowing him for a few days. The look on his face as I told him goodbye indicated that he did not want it to end like this, but I felt like it needed to.


After a month of surviving in Sword Art Online, the second floor of the game had finally been unlocked. Soon word would spread that the first boss was defeated in a joint effort by the players. The morale of the surviving players would be raised, and there would be more players who would take up arms and fight. If more players became capable of fighting, I knew that we would have a chance to escape and return to the real world.

Unfortunately, while the morale would be raised, I also knew that would be far from the only thing that would spread. While the players would probably take it a little easier on some of the Beta Testers, they would soon be looking for the newly christened 'Beaters' like me. I couldn't help but wonder if they would do some kind of crackdown to find such players. I still remember how the mob nearly got started at Tolbana a few days ago and the fact that at least several identified Beta Testers were left for dead.

A part of me was afraid of what would be coming ahead. It wouldn't be long before everyone would know what a 'Beater' was, and I was frightened by how many players would be looking for 'Beaters.' The knowledge that something was coming my way made me feel like I was being labeled as a 'criminal' without actually committing any crimes. I knew I was strong, but I wouldn't stand a chance if a mob of players attempted to go after me. For the time being, I had a feeling that I would need to keep a low profile by wearing a disguise and keep moving from settlement to settlement.

I decided that when I arrived in Urbus, I would only stick around long enough to purchase some new equipment and items and move onward to the next village before too many other players show up. When it comes to the main towns of the different floors, they're connected by a 'teleporter' that more or less acts as an elevator for the different floors. If I was in the main town of the tenth floor, I would be able to instantly travel to the Starting City back on the first floor in an instant without needing to waste a Teleportation Crystal.

In this case, it means everyone who is still in the Starting City right now would be able to teleport to the second floor soon enough. Luckily for me, the teleporters do not activate right away after the boss of the proceeding floor is defeated. They are activated either when a player activates them or two hours after the floor is initially unlocked. I figured that if I did not activate the teleporter myself, I would at least buy myself some time before Urbus becomes flooded with players, and I could make it to the next settlement without any problems.

While the plan was sound, I knew this was not something I would be able to keep up forever. I remembered back in Tolbana that I was afraid when some players approached me because I recognized them from the mob. I wondered if I would need to keep looking over my shoulder for the rest of the game. I also wondered if I would become free as more floors were unlocked, and there was a lesser chance of running into any 'unpleasant' players. The answer to that would come to me soon enough.


Date: Wednesday, December 4th, 2024

Location: Sword Art Online – Second Floor – Outskirts of Urbus

Due to all of the decisions I had made, my final results from the first floor of Sword Art Online were only two 'registered friends,' Klein and Argo. I had a feeling that I wouldn't be getting many more beyond that because I was certain that the rest of the players would despise me as a 'Beater.' Until the initial heat of that label dies down, I knew that I would likely be an outcast from the general players. I didn't mind too much. I was used to it by now.

Even before being trapped in Sword Art Online, my actions have caused me to isolate myself from my peers. I have done it so much to myself that I think I would almost be uncomfortable if I didn't isolate myself. I may not like it, but that is just who I have become. At this point, I figured that I needed to accept that. There is no turning back time, and I need to live with the mistakes I made that got me to this point.

As I was leaving the boss' lair, I fulfilled my promise to Argo. I sent him a message about the results of the boss battle, I quickly explained that Diabel was killed, Kira exposed me as a Beta Tester, and I more or less embraced my role as a scapegoat. I also quickly told him about a few other players, namely Agil, Gorobei, and Kikuchiyo, were both friendly and helpful players that he might be able to do business with in the future. Argo sent me a quick reply and stated he would provide me a 'special discount' for the next piece of information I inquired from him as a token of appreciation. If there was one thing I could credit Argo with, it that he knows how to keep his loyal customers pleased.

After I exited the boss' room, I was the first player of Sword Art Online to walk on the second floor of the game. As soon I entered the second floor, I could see the floor's main city, Urbus. Similar to the Beta Test, the city appeared to be excavated from a flat-topped mountain and resides within a crater. Urbus' city gates and walls are on the crater's outer rim. The buildings within the city were approximately the same height as well, so it would be possible for players to do some 'roof hopping.'

I began walking towards the city when I heard the door open from behind me. On reflex, my hand on my sword on my back, so I would be ready to draw it in case it was one of the other players who looked like they wanted to kill me back in the boss' room. Much to my surprise, the player who came through the door was none other than Akio. The look on his face was nearly indescribable. If I were to venture a guess, I would say it was a look with a mixture of compassion and determination.

He called out to me as he ran to catch up, "Wait right there Kirita. I'm coming with you."

As much as I was pleased to hear that, I had to ask in a confused tone, "Why?" As far as I could tell, there was nothing for him to gain by following me.

When I asked that, he seemed to have a little difficulty coming up with what he wanted to tell me, so he gave me an answer that seemed to be completely made out of bull as he sheepishly said, "It … It wouldn't be right to let you go on your own." Akio cleared his throat before continuing, "After all it would be improper for a gentleman to leave a lady unattended in a strange new area like this."

I find it hard to remember how I really felt by that remark. I guess I partly felt embarrassed he would say something like that to me, but I'm pretty certain that I felt annoyed to. I responded, "You can drop the act of honor here. You … You know that I can take care of myself. You can leave me. Instead, you should … you should focus on keeping yourself alive."

Despite my protest, Akio did not want to leave my side. "That is true, but I must insist."

I refused his assistance again, "Listen Akio. I'm … I'm grateful for the offer, but the answer is no. I … I can't accept it. You saw what happened back there. All those players, they … they labeled me as a 'Beater.' I'm not sure how bad this label will be, but … but I'm sure it will cause problems for me in the future." Akio remained silent as I continued my point, "I'm sure that for at least a while anyone who … who is near me will receive a similar stigma. If you accompany me, it will … it will only give you trouble down the line."

Akio didn't seem to be affected at all by what I said to him as he continued to insist, "That isn't a big deal to me. They can call me whatever they want, and isn't going to bother me. I'm used to getting called a lot of things in the real world."

My voice was becoming a little desperate as I said to him, "This … This is different than anything you could have been called in the real world. In this game, if you can't make the right allies, it can be the difference between life and death. I don't … I don't want to be the player that will cause that for anyone."

Akio remained unfazed by what I said as he responded, "But you are someone that I should become an ally with. You're a good person who is strong, kind, and you're …"

As soon as Akio uttered the words 'good person,' I had a similar reaction to what I had when Argo said it to me. However, this reaction was much stronger because on reflex I grabbed him by his collar and told him, "Don't call me a good person! I'm not a good person, and I've never been one! All I am is cowardly, paranoid, pathetic, selfish girl who has been getting what she deserves ever since this Death Game began! Having anything to do with me won't do you any good! If you travel with me, you are only going to regret it!" Akio was visibly shocked and disturbed by what I had just said to him, but his face changed to sadness. After a few moments of silence, I let go of his collar and calmly told him, "I'm … I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Akio straightened out his collar and told me, "It's okay. I understand that things haven't exactly been easy for you, but I think you're selling yourself short."

I shook my head as I told Akio, "I assure you that I'm not. If you knew me, you would know I'm not." Akio tried to say something again, but I interrupted him and said, "That's enough. Please just take my advice. It would … It would be for the best if you leave me alone. If you try traveling with me, you'll … you'll just to face a lot of problems ahead. You'll be labeled and everyone will hate you. Someone … Someone like me is not worth the trouble." I then turned my back to him as I softly said, "This is goodbye."

When Akio did not say a word at first, I took it as a sign that he must have agreed. When I thought he agreed with me, I felt happy and sad simultaneously, but I believed it was for the best. As I began to walk away, Akio surprised me by grabbing my arm. I turned around, and I was shocked to see the look in his eyes. They were the eyes that told me that he was not going anywhere regardless of what I said. It was a sight that I would never forget.

Akio declared to me in a firm voice, "You're not as bad as you say you are Kirita! Don't tell me you're not worth the trouble because you are worth the trouble!"

I was dumbstruck when he said that. I could barely think of anything to say other than, "…What?"

He questioned, "Do you think I care about labels?!" Before I could say anything, he answered his own question with, "No I don't. I don't care if you are a 'Beta Tester,' a 'Cheater,' a 'Beater,' or whatever the hell they are going to call you! Those bastards who labeled you like that can all screw themselves for all I care!"

I was completely surprised by how much strength was in Akio's voice as he was telling me this. This was coming from someone who was pathetically wallowing in self-pity two days ago. Now our positions had switched, and I was the one listening to him. I could not bring myself to interrupt him. What he was saying and how he was saying it made me want to listen to his every word even if I was not completely convinced. This made me wonder if this is how Akio felt when he was listening to what I had to say to him.

Akio continued his point, "Those players down there who labeled you don't even compare to what you are. You saved their lives, but all they wanted to do is let you be blamed for what went wrong. They even looked like they wanted to kill you on the spot. I don't care what those players think of you or me. As far as I'm concerned, they are not worth a damn." Akio topped it off with, "Those bastards may never try to trust you, but I trust you! I've trusted you since you saved my life, and when you revealed your face to me, that made it clear to me that I was right! I'm not letting you face this all alone, and that's final!" I was shocked to hear him say all of those things, especially the fact that he 'trusted' me. I could tell by the tone in his voice that nothing I could say could convince him otherwise.

Hearing him say that truly struck a chord with me. This was someone that I had only just met, and yet here he was making a declaration that he would stay by my side. I was shocked and surprised to hear that, but most of all I was happy. It made me happy to hear another player say this to me. After I abandoned Klein on the first day, I never imagined that there would be another player who would act this way toward me.

However, despite how happy it made me, I still needed to know the reason for his actions. "I still … I still don't understand why. If you really don't care about labels, then why do you really want to come with me? Why do you … Why do you 'trust' me? Don't say this is some kind of honor code involving chivalry or because I'm a 'good' person. I won't buy that." I then demanded, "Tell me the truth."

Akio did not answer my question right away. After a few moments of silence, he sighed before he finally decided to tell me the truth behind his insistence. He told me, "You may not remember me, but we met in the real world."

I was caught off-guard by that statement. I responded in genuine surprise, "Huh? We have?"

Akio explained to me, "From what I can remember, we have actually met twice."

I was becoming a little flustered when I asked, "What? When could … When could that have happened?"

Akio calmly told me, "We first met about four years ago, and we met each other another time earlier this year."

After he told me that, my mind raced to figure out who he was. However, my mind was completely drawing a blank. The only thing I could ask was, "Are you serious?"

He nodded and answered in a firm voice, "Yes. When I was eleven years old, I participated in a kubuki play that was a coming of age tale for a young samurai during medieval times. After the performance was over, I encountered a girl with long black hair and black eyes. She told me she loved my performance, and that I should consider becoming an actor."

After Akio told me his story, my eyes widened in realization as it came back to me. I remembered that day like it was yesterday. The lead boy's performance was so great that I wanted to congratulate him on a job well done despite my trouble with talking to boys. Although, I had a hard time believing Akio was the same boy I met that day. The boy was still wearing his make-up, so I had no way of recognizing him. However, I knew there were only so many people who could possibly remember that moment, so I had no choice but to believe him.

I responded in a state of disbelief, "That … That was you?"

Akio told me with a grin, "The very same. You probably wouldn't remember me because I still had my make-up on. However, you were one of the first people to compliment me personally besides my fellow actors on the stage or people affiliated with the school. That's why what you said to me that day has always stuck out in my head, and it's also the reason why I found it easy to remember what you looked like."

I think I nearly blushed after hearing him say that to me. However, before my blush made itself known I said to him, "You said we met earlier this year too. When … When did that happen?"

He did not seem as thrilled to tell me this story, and it was for good reason. I know that I wouldn't be happy with recollecting that memory if I were him. "It happened at the end of last winter. I was on my way home when some bullies decided to gang up and pick on me. Before they could steal my money a girl with long black hair and black eyes stood up for me, and singlehandedly took all three of them down."

As soon as he told me that, I blurted out on impulse, "You were that weak boy?" Akio understandably had a negative reaction to that, and I tried to correct myself, "I'm sorry. That was," but I was cut off.

It was Akio's turn to cut me off as he told me, "Don't apologize. It's the truth. I was weak. I have been weak for most of my life." I could feel the hint of shame in his voice as he began confessing the truth of his past.

Even though it wasn't really any of my business, I wanted to know more. "Based on what I saw back there, you don't … you don't really seem to be the same person that I lectured that day. What changed about you?"

He took a deep breath before telling me his story. It was a story that he was not proud of. "Well quite a few things changed really. Throughout most of my life, I have let my parents be the ones to decide my future. When you told me that I should become a real actor, it made me so happy to hear that. Even before I began performing in that play, I had always wanted to be an actor, but I wasn't sure if I was really any good. When I finally heard someone I didn't know tell me that, it me filled me up with such joy. However, my parents would not hear of it, and they wanted to groom me into someone I didn't want to be, but I just let them." As surprised as I was to hear that, I remained silent as he continued speaking to me about his difficulties. I knew there was more to his story. "I stopped thinking for myself and let myself go with the flow because it was so easy. It was thanks to my second meeting with you that I finally received the wake-up call that I needed. Afterwards, I started taking steps to change who I was."

When he was finished speaking, I still wanted to know more about what those 'steps' were, so I asked, "How did you do that?"

Akio didn't seem to mind answering that question. In fact, he actually seemed somewhat enthusiastic as he told me in a somewhat proud voice, "I secretly quit one of the clubs my parents wanted me to join, and I took up acting again. I also participated in a swimming club, so I could get a lot of exercise to become stronger." He then chuckled as he added, "In addition to that, I even signed up for a fencing class as a physical education activity. The swimming club and fencing classes were probably the only activities I wanted to participate in that my parents didn't have any problem approving of."

Hearing Akio say that made me think, "That explains why the rapier is his preferred choice of weapon. Based on what I have seen him do, I guess his skills he learned from that club must be paying off here." I then had an embarrassing thought cross my mind, "I guess those club activities might also explain why he is in such good shape as well."

Akio continued on with his story, "I didn't want to be that person that others believe could be picked on, mugged, or told what to do. However, despite taking up acting again and trying to make myself stronger, I still wasn't able to find the courage to confront my parents. I felt like I needed to find another method to begin changing myself. I eventually saw something that I thought would help literally make me someone else."

For the second time that conversation, my eyes opened wide in realization to what he was getting at. "You don't mean," I was cut off again before I could finish.

He grimly told me, "Yes. About two months after our meeting, I purchased a copy of the Nerve Gear, and I have managed to keep it hidden from my parents. During the months before Sword Art Online, I played several games that were compatible with the system. I had a lot of trouble playing them because I had never played a video game before besides an occasional cell phone game. The more I played those Nerve Gear games, the more I felt like I could change myself. I thought I was going in the right direction. All I needed was a little more time."

After hearing that, there was silence for a few moments. I looked down to the ground and gripped my hands into fists. I then bitterly asked Akio, "Is it my fault then?"

It was Akio's turn to be confused. "What?"

I looked into Akio's eyes and angrily demanded to know, "Do … Do you think it's my fault that you are trapped in this world with me and thousands of other players? Are you … Are you trying to tell me that I should allow you to accompany me because I owe you for getting you trapped here?"

Akio could see that I was incorrectly interpreting what he was telling me as he desperately tried to clear the air. "No! No! That's not what I was getting at!" After he said that, he stated in a calmer voice, "Entering this game was my choice and my choice alone. I would never blame you or anyone else besides Kayaba Akihiko for what has happened."

I was grateful to know that he did not blame me, but I still did not have a satisfying answer to my original question. "Then what … Then what is your real reason for wanting to come with me?"

Akio was upfront with his reasoning. "We have only met a few times, but you have had one of the greatest impacts on my life. You encouraged me to be an actor, you caused me to realize that I needed to change myself, and you have already saved my life multiple times in this Death Game. What kind of person would I be if I didn't try to do something for you now?"

I could hear the sincerity of his voice. I knew this was a person that I could probably trust, but I still felt that I could not accept his offer. I asked, "So you feel indebted to me?

Akio was caught off guard by my question as he nervously scratched his head, "Well umm … maybe a little. I mean how could I not?"

I appreciated his honesty, but I told him, "You … You don't have to feel that way. I didn't do any of those things, so I could hang it over your head. I just did it … I just did it because I was following my instincts. It was as simple as that."

What I said did not deter him at all. He told me in a determined voice, "That is all the more reason why I want to come with you. I understand that you don't really trust me yet, and I can't blame you. However, I trust you, and I would like to earn your trust. My instincts are telling me that we had those encounters for a reason, and they are telling me that I should go with you. You can try convincing me to leave you alone as much as you want for the sake of 'protecting me' from future hardships or obstacles, but that is not going to work. I know that I may not literally be on the same level as you, but I'm a fast learner when it comes to these games. I can become a much better player. Besides, you don't have eyes in the back of your head, so I've got your back. You can count on me."

As soon as he told me that, I could see that there was nothing that I could possible say or do would dissuade him. He was dead set on his desire to accompany me. I found it rather touching, but I was beginning to feel a little embarrassed. I could tell a blush was starting to form on my cheek. Even though I was wearing a mask, I could not look him in the eyes, so I turned away in an attempt to hide my embarrassment. However, I guess my actions were obvious.

While I was facing away from him, I told him in as strong of a voice that I could muster, "Okay. Let's get going."

While, I didn't look back to see how Akio's face changed when I told him he could come with me, I would guess he was happy. He let go of my arm and asked in an enthusiastic tone, "Really?" You could tell he had a hard time believing I was actually saying yet.

I turned around and told, "Under one condition."

Saying that to him didn't damper his mood as he asked, "What is it?"

I told him, "You are … You are proving to be a decent player with a lot of potential, but you have a lot to learn."

Akio had no problem admitting that, "There's no denying that."

I stated in a matter-of-fact tone, "Argo's … Argo's guidebook is helpful, but it is only going to teach you so much. Nothing can replace experience, and you are … you are going to need a lot of it."

Akio asked, "Do you have anything in mind?"

I did the best I could not to stutter as I told Akio, "First of all, your reaction speed needs a lot of work. Illfang nearly killed you because you weren't fast enough to dodge. I was able to save you, but I might not be there next time. To work on that you'll need to follow my lead and be ready to fight me in more duels. By taking my advice and fighting me, you'll get a lot of practice and should be much faster and stronger." I then smirked underneath my mask as I told him, "If you're fine with following a girl's lead and getting beat up by one, this might work out."

Akio did not seem deterred by this when he asked, "Is that it?"

I shook my head, "Yes. Are … Are you okay with that?"

He replied with cheerful enthusiasm, "That's fine by me. After all, I'd have to be an idiot not to follow your advice as you beat me pretty easily in our previous duel. I would imagine it will take a while before I can stand a chance against you."

I was a little surprised that he was really okay with that as I replied, "It's kind of … kind of surprising that you really would be okay with that."

He shrugged his shoulders as he said, "I'm kind of surprised at myself but at the same time not so much. After all, if becoming stronger means needing to get beat up, who am I to complain?"

It kind of felt embarrassing for him to say that as I responded, "Well … well if that's the case, then let's get going." I immediately turned around and started walking.

Before I could walk more than a few steps, Akio said in a cheerful voice, "Before we get going, let's take care of two last pieces of business."

In an uncertain voice, I asked, "What would that be?"

"This." He rummaged through his menu and after he hit a few buttons two notices appeared before me. There was one notice that indicated that he wanted me to join his party, and there was another notice that was asking me to become his friend. He asked in a cheerful voice, "Well how about it?"

I couldn't help but smile a little at what he just did. I answered, "Okay then." I hit yes to both notices. Not only were Akio and I officially members of the same party again, but we were considered friends too.

As soon as Akio received his positive notification, he smiled and happily said, "Its official then. What now?"

I informed Akio, "Since we have talked for quite a while here, we … we need to get to the shops quickly and buy some new supplies. Those other players down there are probably … are probably going to walk up those steps any minute. When they get here, they will connect this floor to the first floor through their teleportation platforms. When that happens, we should try to be as far away from here as possible." I took a look at the door to see if anyone else walked through and when I saw there wasn't I replied, "Let's get moving."

As we began walking, Akio replied, "After what you said to all those players, I think you managed to spook a few of them. Some of them looked like they were frightened half to death. They are probably still talking about what happened."

I shook my head as I stated, "Maybe, but I doubt … I doubt they are going to stay there for much longer. The sooner we leave the better."

Akio nodded as he cheerfully said, "Sounds good to me, but do you know where we should start heading towards."

I replied, "I remember … I remember another town not too far from here, but we probably won't make before dark. We may … We may need to use a Camping Set item tonight, so we should buy one."

Akio happily replied, "I actually have one in my inventory."

I responded, "That's … That's one less thing to worry about. Anyway, when we … when we get to the next town tomorrow, we should check out a few quests and wait for Argo to contact us. He promised he would … he would have some useful information for us by then."

Akio nodded as he readily agreed, "All right. Sounds like a plan. Lead the way."

The two of us continued to walk side by side as we made our way to Urbus. Similar to our dinner the previous night, Akio and I made some small talk with Akio doing most of the talking. This moment officially marked the beginning of a friendship that I could never replace. The two of us could already see that for better or for worse our lives had already begun to change due to our encounter two days earlier. A part of me was looking forward to what the future was going to bring, and Akio was looking forward to it too.

Of all the things I have done that I would come to regret, agreeing to travel Sword Art Online with Akio was not one of them. It was a decision that I could never regret. The two of us would face numerous ups and downs throughout our travels, and we were able to help each other through those problems. The days we were going to share together were happy and memorable, and it would have been great if they could have continued traveling forever. However, the reality of both the real world and this one is that nothing is meant to last forever.


Over the next few days, Akio and I had to keep a low profile due to the news of me being a 'Beater' spreading faster than I would have imagined. I felt like a fugitive since more than a few players were trying to locate me, and I knew there would be more than a few problems if they did find me. On the first night of our travels, the two of us opted to camp outside of the towns, and we would utilize camping sets a number of times in the future to avoid encountering other players. During the days, we would stay at towns, it would be at places that either usually had a few inns or we were able to find other living arrangements, so it would be easy for us to stay there without being detected.

While I didn't have any trouble with these living arrangements, a part of me was worried that Akio would regret traveling with me because of this. During the first few weeks of our travels, I thought that Akio would tell me one day that he has had enough of this and would wish to end the party with me. If that did happen, I would never hold it against him since I would expect him to feel that way. However, as time went on, I eventually put those types of thoughts out of my mind. It didn't seem like he had any intention of leaving.

During our time together, the two of us were able to continue developing our abilities. Akio become more skilled at wielding his rapier and he was becoming more capable of holding his own against his opponents. While he proved to be a good student, he still had a long way to go before he could hope to compete with the best. Akio still didn't stand a chance against me whenever we dueled, but he was doing better. Argo's information provided to be helpful in developing our abilities too. He was a good player to have as an ally.

As time went on, floors on Sword Art Online continued to be opened up one by one. With each floor that was cleared, Akio and I did not feel the need to keep as low of a profile. After one more floor was opened, the areas that players could explore would expand exponentially. It would allow Akio and me more freedom to move around and explore. There were more places for us to stay, and it would be less likely for us to have to run into people such as Kira. Or at least that is what we thought.

Even though many players throughout Sword Art Online still hated the 'Beaters,' I had a feeling that after we defeated the tenth floor boss that the hatred for the Beta Testers would lessen because the tenth floor was as high as I got. Everything from that point forward would be as new to me as it would be to them. While I was right that the there would be times that the hatred for Beta Testers would lessen, there would be times when the hatred would have a 'resurgence,' namely for 'Beaters' like myself. There were plenty of players I could thank for that, but special thanks would have to go to Kira. However, I did not let that stop me. Someone like her would not stop me from continuing my journey.

During the course of our travels to reach the tenth floor, we met a number of different players. Some of these players were people I never would have expected while some of them were players I had a feeling I would encounter again. Quite a few of these meetings would have huge effects on both Akio and I. Unfortunately, the stories of our encounters with these other players and the obstacles we faced would have to wait for another story. It would take a long time for me to explain everything that happened, so it would be for the best that I take things step by step.

Having Akio by my side was an experience that's difficult for me to describe. To be honest, I was surprised when he told me about how we met in the real world before and how those meetings had such an effect on him. I never would have thought that a few mere coincidences could affect another person's life like that. However, I suppose as Akio's instincts told him, those situations may not have been coincidences at all. The more I got to know Akio, I think I was starting to believe they were not coincidences either but something else entirely. Although, it would be a while before I would start thinking like that though.

It would be hard for me to describe what my feelings were when I traveled with Akio during that time. If I were to take a guess, it would be a mixture of happiness and surprise. In the real world, I generally had difficulty forming friendships with anyone, especially males. Even though I didn't always like it, I was usually isolated from everyone whether it was my classmates or my family. I have no one but myself to blame for most of that, and I always used games as a medium to socialize with others. Even then, I would usually still act as a solo player. However, traveling with Akio was different from any of my other experiences.

When I traveled with Akio, it felt strangely refreshing and wonderful to have someone tell me that he wanted to keep traveling with me. He was someone who actually wanted to spend time with me despite having good reasons to abandon and leave me alone. Besides Argo, Akio would be the first male player I would encounter that would make me want to start working on my problem talking to males without wearing my mask. Unlike with Argo, the longer I spent time with Akio, the more it felt rude of me to talk to him while wearing the mask. Akio seemed to understand my problem, but I definitely wanted to start making more of a conscious effort to overcome this difficulty of mine.

The time we shared together during these travels was probably the best experience of my life. There may have been many hardships and incidents that we had to work through, but we were able overcome them together. The time we shared was still the most memorable and wonderful experience I had. It was a time that I would eventually take for granted. However, I also knew there was a saying that 'All good things must come to an end.' Throughout this Death Game, I had to learn the hard way that saying is true for both good and bad things. As time went on, I was afraid of not only when our time together was going to end but how it would end.


Date: December 4th, 2022

Location: Sword Art Online – Specific Area Unknown

In the same area filled with screens displaying numerous players throughout Sword Art Online, a little girl continues to watch helplessly as many of them are consumed with despair or barely managing to keep themselves together. However, when she witnesses a screen displaying the conversation between Akio and Kirita, she feels something different. It is a conversation that is not filled with rage, despair, or grief. While there is a hint of sadness and guilt, the conversation eventually builds into one of genuine happiness, hope, and trust.

During their conversation, the boy wished for the girl to accept him and after revealing the truth to her, she allowed him to accompany her. The look of happiness on the boy's face was marvelous and unforgettable. Afterwards, the two of them began walking side by side to the new city. The future for those two was uncertain at best, but at the very least they would keep each other company for the trials that awaited them both.

The girl happily said to herself, "From those two I feel hope. Something that is capable of overcoming the sadness that would likely engulf the players of Aincrad. These two may have only met each other, but I can tell that together they can achieve many great things. I believe this is all the proof I need that they will succeed in their endeavors."

Unfortunately, no sooner had she thought that, another player had entered the second floor. It was a female player that this girl had also become familiar with. She was player who was generally filled with almost nothing but rage and hatred for players who had an 'advantage' over her, even if it was a legitimate advantage. The girl starred at Akio and Kirita from a distance as she was filled with bloodlust and a thirst for 'revenge.'

The girl became concerned when she was witnessing this female player's mental state. If it remained unchanged, she would want nothing more than to see Kirita erased from the world. The girl stated to herself in a worried voice, "If something is not done for this player, she will extinguish the hope as it begins to bud. She will likely do many things that will be regrettable. I must intervene to persuade her not to go through with it."

For the first time since the first day of the death game, the little girl attempted to enter the game world in hopes that she could protect the hope, so it could grow. Unfortunately, her attempts were denied once again. She kept trying to leave, but no matter what she did her efforts were all in vain. She was being blocked from being able to interfere with the world of Sword Art Online. It was as if an invisible wall stopping her from doing what she believed was right.

The girl desperately pleaded with what was blocking her, "Please let me do something. I need to help them. They represent what is needed in this world now. The players require such examples in the future if they are to survive."

However, her pleas fell on deaf ears. There was no answer. Eventually, the girl fell to her knees as she desperately pleaded, "Please let me help them. Please let me see them. They need my help." She continued to say those things, but nothing came of it. She continued to beg until she found herself unable to say another word. What would eventually happen would be another problem this girl could have prevented if she was allowed to perform the role she had been given.


As Akio and Kirita were making their way to Urbus, a female player entered the second floor and starred at them. This player was Kira, and she was filled with anger and hatred towards Kirita. From what she could tell, Akio and Kirita were happily walking together to continue their journey in Aincrad. Every second Kira witnessed this, her hatred towards the Beta Tester continued to skyrocket. She tightened the fingers on her left hand to form a fist.

Kira's rage towards the Beta Tester was too great for her to contain. She had to let it out as she bitterly declared to herself in a quiet voice, "I will never forgive you Beater. You let Diabel-sama die and to add insult to injury, you claimed the 'Coat of Midnight' for the Last Attack Bonus on the boss! That was something that Diabel-sama deserved! Not you!" She gritted her teeth as she stated out loud, "Players may now recognize you as the scum you are, and they will rightfully hate you, but that is not nearly enough in my eyes." The rage in Kira's voice continued to swell as it became more difficult for her to remain quiet as she said, "I swear that I will make that bitch pay for her sins someday. I don't know how, I don't know when, but I will be the one to collect on her sins. When I do collect on them, she is going to pay in full. I won't rest until the day I see her name crossed off on the Monument of Life. It is a promise that I will fulfill no matter what it takes. She will die!"

When Kira was making this declaration, she thought she was alone. Most of the other players were still back in the Boss Room making preparations to head towards the new floor, so she did not think anyone else heard her. However, while Kira believed that she was making that promise to herself, she was not nearly as alone as she believed. Behind her there was another player who had heard her through the partly opened door. He was the only witness to hear her quiet declaration of hatred and revenge. Once again, he was the sole witness to something that could work to his benefit for ideas of his own that he was hoping to fulfill in the near future. He could see that the 'near future' was approaching more rapidly than he initially believed.

He chuckled to himself as he said in sadistically cheerful voice, "Very interesting. I suppose it must be fate that we have our eye on the same player." The player chuckled to himself as he said, "I have a feeling that she and I will get along just fine. She can be a very good means to an end." He then looked at his butcher's knife and placed it back in it's sheathe. He then pulled out a Teal colored crystal from his pouch which was a Message Record Crystal. He stated, "Time to seal the deal, and it will be 'Showtime' before I know it."

As Akio and Kirita began their new journey together, they had no way of knowing that a pact between two devils was being formed behind them. It was a deal that would impact not only Akio and Kirita's lives but the lives of many other players trapped within Sword Art Online. This deal would be the first domino of many that would fall in the near future.



Kirita: Well that doesn't sound good now does it?

Akio: No it doesn't. Did the author really need to end the chapter like that? Could the chapter have ended with the two of us walking to Urbus? Then it could have looked like we were going to start our travels happily ever after.

Kirita: That is not how the author works and you know it. The author wants to make things clear that while we are probably going to enjoy our time together, it is not going to be an easy ride. During the next story arc, the two of us can expect a number of problems ahead.

Akio: As much as I appreciate the author's work, I just wish the author would give the main characters more of a break.

Kirita: You know that is not Knowledgeseeker66's style. If you look at "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories," "Fairy Dance Alternate," and this story, you will see it is the author's nature to make things difficult for the protagonists.

Akio: Yeah I've seen them. Knowledgeseeker66 certainly loves giving the main characters a whole variety of problems to deal with. It is kind of frustrating at times because even though the protagonists are generally likeable, they still go through hell.

Kirita: It's not like Knowledgeseeker66 doesn't give the protagonists hope or give them good things occasionally. You've seen how the author has built up Touma's friendships with members of the 'Big Spider' in "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories." In "Fairy Dance Alternate," the author expanded upon the friendships your female counterpart has with various characters especially Lisbeth and made them closer friends. In this story, the author has expanded on my friendship with Argo and the two of us are going to be traveling together rather than going our separate ways after the first boss fight. Things could have been far less hopeful, but Knowledgeseeker66 tries to give a bit of balance even if it does tend to tip slightly more in favor of darkness at times.

Akio: What you are saying is true, but I still have problems with it sometimes.

Kirita: Unfortunately that does come with the territory. Besides, if the author made things too easy for the main characters then the readers would lose interest. Not to mention, by making things difficult for the protagonists, it does help make them more interesting, and the readers are more likely to continue following them.

Akio: But it almost seems like the author enjoys putting the main characters through hell and back. I'm very certain that the author is a sadist. As more chapters are produced, more of the reviewers seem to agree with that notion because quite a few of them dread some of the things Knowledgeseeker66 has done, established, and/or foreshadowed for the future.

Kirita: Yes and take a look at how the fanbase has continued to grow for Knowledgeseeker66's stories in terms of reviews, favorites, and followers. You can tell that the audience loves Knowledgeseeker66's somewhat dark, sadistic tendencies, but I'm sure they probably also like a lot of other things about the stories as well, such as a lot of ideas and scenarios are established or foreshadowed early on to prevent the dreaded 'ass pulls' or 'shocking swerves.'

Akio: (reluctantly agrees) Based on the numbers, I guess it is a little hard to ignore that. On a related note, I suppose Knowledgeseeker66 wishes to help avoid the 'designated protagonist syndrome' by making it clear that the protagonist are not going to be dull and boring.

Kirita: Indeed. The author believes that by having main characters have a number of difficulties both external and internal, having them be reflective of their past to enable character development, and sometimes giving them elements of tragedy could be the key to allowing them to be characters the readers will want to follow and help them avoid 'scrappy' territory. Not to mention, having some tragic elements along with providing adequate character developments allow the protagonists to become interesting to the readers, and it reduces the chances of them being overshadowed by other characters.

Akio: Has it been effective?

Kirita: For the most part yes. In "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories," a fair number of reviewers have enjoyed the altered version of Touma. In "Fairy Dance Alternate" while there have been a few mixed opinions regarding the intensive use of italicizationfor the first person narration, most of the readers have enjoyed having your female canon counterpart Asuna as the main character of the story, and they think she has been portrayed rather well.

Akio: Well I suppose that is good then. The author seems to be taking similar steps with you and a number of the other characters as well.

Kirita: You can definitely say that Knowledgeseeker66 has been taking these steps. As of this moment, my own character has received good reception based on my portrayal in this story too. I suppose only time will tell how effective this technique will be in the end. I think things have been going well so far, but with how long the author plans on making this story, the process might be a little slower here than it was on those other two stories.

Akio: Well despite what the player population considers you back there, I think your character is likable.

Kirita: Thanks, but I suppose there is only one way to find out for real.

Akio: What way would that be?

Kirita: Let's see what the results of the first Kirita Chronicles popularity contest for canon characters similar to the original character popularity contest in the previous chapter. Hopefully, we will see a lot of fans participate, and we will know how you and I measure up to the other canon characters.

Akio: That actually kind of makes me nervous. I am a little worried how well received I have been with fans. Based on the reviews of Chapter Eight, I guess they were okay with me.

Kirita: I'm sure you will do fine. You are already starting to make strides in your character development, and we should be expecting to see you become a stronger character as time goes on. I'm sure there are a decent number of fans that are okay with you.

Akio: I hope your right. However, there are two things about Kira I have been wondering about?

Kirita: Well I'm pretty certain a lot of readers will agree with you about having issues with Kira. She is a complete bitch after all.

Akio: True, but I was talking about besides that.

Kirita: What else do you have issues with?

Akio: The first thing I'm wondering about was how Kira managed to get to the second floor before the other players. I would have thought Agil's group might have created a little bit of a buffer between her and us.

Kirita: That bothers you?

Akio: Yeah that kind of bugs me. I mean I know it sets the final scene in an ominous light and everything, but something seems strange about her and PoH being the first players out there besides you and me.

Kirita: Well that can be explained easily. After the boss battle was over and I left the area, the Raid Team disbursed. Some of the players decided to check out the dungeon more to train for the next floor while others were probably having discussions and getting ready to head up to the second floor. Agil's group was not going to stand guard for the second floor staircase since they have their own problems, and it's not like I've become their friends yet. Besides, they plan on heading towards the second floor in a few minutes. As a result, the idea of Kira and PoH heading to the second floor before the other characters does not seem too farfetched.

Akio: I see.

Kirita: What was the other problem you had with Kira besides the fact she is an idiot and a jerkass?

Akio: There is something else that bothers me about that scene with Kira declaring her revenge on you. Why would she say it out loud? After all, there was a chance someone could overhear it like PoH did? That just seems weird to me.

Kirita: Well there were two reasons for that. The first was because she was certain that all the other players were still in the boss room. The second reason was meant to demonstrate that Diabel's death is already starting to cause her to lose a bit of her sanity. Since she is already losing her sanity, it means it will become worse, and it will make her an easier target for manipulation.

Akio: Then when PoH talks to her, do you mean that ….?

Kirita: (Interrupting Akio) There is no need to give it all away upfront, but you can expect to see what happens when you have two psychotic players who hate the same person. Not to mention, Knowledgeseeker66 plans on making this story pretty dark. It is not hard to draw some speculation to what is going to happen next. Let's let the fans come up with some ideas before the next few chapters are produced.

Akio: That is still quite a bit to take in.

Kirita: Yes it is.

Akio: Anyway, when you say Kira was losing her sanity, you are making it sound like she had some to begin with. I mean she hogtied you in the middle of a boss battle which nearly got you killed.

Kirita: Yeah she did.

Akio: I don't get how those other players didn't dismiss her for her actions. How can she just get away with that? I mean she literally got away with nearly committing murder. That is completely messed up on so many levels.

Kirita: A majority of the players didn't actually see her do it and most of the ones who did already supported her. Similar to the incident with Yuudai, most of the players don't really seem to care about whether a Beta Tester is nearly murdered. If anything, I think most of them will support her even more now.

Akio: That is such a load of bull.

Kirita: It is, but unfortunately it is not unrealistic for her to get away with her actions.

Akio: Really? You think it would be realistic for those players to still support Kira?

Kirita: Maybe not completely realistic, but given the circumstances of the series this story is based in, I think it fits. In canon, it was described that newer players either attempted to lynch and/or were apathetic towards Beta Testers being killed. You can more or less say the things Knowledgeseeker66 has been doing for these past few chapters has been illustrating the apathy that a number of the players have.

Akio: I suppose you have a point.

Kirita: Not only that, there are plenty of times in the real world's history and even in the present day people are capable of pulling off crimes and get away with them even if everyone knows that person's guilty. Let's not forget politicians pull off a lot of crazy crap too, and they still have supporters. That is reality regardless of which world you are in.

Akio: I guess, but it still ticks me off.

Kirita: Me too, but I think we should probably move off this subject.

Akio: Okay fine. There is something else that sort of annoys me a little, but it is about the canon storyline rather than this story.

Kiria: What would that be?

Akio: In canon, Reki Kawahara-sense never really gave my female counterpart any actual rivals/enemies who were unique to me. The only real enemies I had were ones who could be considered members of your canon male counterparts rouge gallery, such as Sugou Nobiyuki and Kuradeel. Since Knowledgeseeker66 plans on expanding on a lot of things, I wonder if I will have any enemies/rivals to call my own.

Kirita: You don't have to worry about that.

Akio: Huh?

Kirita: Knowledgeseeker66 plans on giving you a few characters who will primarily act as your enemies/rivals. Even if they are my enemies/rivals too, you will be the main target of them instead of me. You can expect to see at least two of them during Story Arc Three.

Akio: Really?

Kirita: Yes.

Akio: That sounds exciting. I'm looking forward to that.

Kirita: You say that now, but you should be careful about what you wish for.

Akio: Yeah I guess I should be. It could end up becoming much more than what I bargained for. However, I'm curious who they are?

Kirita: The only clues I can give you is that one of them will be a canon character and another will be an original character both of whom have already been introduced in the story. That is all I can give you.

Akio: I guess I will just play the guessing game until then.

Kirita: Good luck with that. Anyway, I'm looking forward to Story Arc Three.

Akio: Me too. It is going to be awesome having the two of us traveling together. I'm sure the readers will enjoy reading that as well.

Kirita: I'm sure they will. (She faces the readers) Be sure to leave a review for this chapter and participate in the first Kirita Chronicles popularity poll. Knowledgeseeker66 truly enjoys to read your feedback.

Kirita and Akio: We hope to see you again soon.


Information Broker Time

Argo: Hello again and welcome back to our segment.

Sasha: Welcome back.

Argo: As you know, last time I let my assistant Sasha take the helms of this segment, and she did a great job.

Sasha: Thank you for the compliment.

Argo: Well you earned it. Anyway, this time we are going to be working together as we discuss Health Crystals.

Sasha: Health Crystals? Hasn't the narration covered a good deal about the Health Crystals already?

Argo: Yes, but we are here to provide new information, reminders, and confirmation for various functions regarding the world of Sword Art Online. A lot of the things we are told to do are important.

Sasah: Fair enough. You have a point there. After all, it is possible readers might forget certain things that are mentioned in this story due to its length. I guess having a few pieces of information in a fixed location like here would help them find reminders.

Argo: That is exactly the point. Would you like to start us off?

Sasha: Sure. (She faces the audience as a display for a healing crystal appears behind her) As you know, Healing Crystals can be identified due to their peach blossom color. When they are activated, they will shatter immediately and completely heal the target.

Argo: That is correct. While there are other methods to heal players, such as using potions or resting, the Healing Crystal is the only one that will be able to work instantly while other methods require a bit of time to begin working.

Sasha: Hearing you say that makes me wonder about something. In Chapter Six, Kirita used a healing crystal on herself and it didn't work right away, and Diabel prevented her from using it on him. Were there reasons for that?

Argo: That is an excellent question. While the crystal's ability usually works instantly, there are exceptions to that. In Chapter Six, Kirita was badly injured by Grugg and her health was still declining when she used the crystal. The crystal only began taking effect when her health bar stopped decreasing, but she was immediately healed afterwards. I believe it is the game's way of stating that the crystal will do you no good if your wounds turn out to be fatal similar to the Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, or Dragon Quest franchises.

Sasha: Are you saying that if she would have used her healing crystal on Diabel, he would have still died anyway?

Argo: Yes I am. Even if Kirita did attempt to heal Diabel with her healing crystal, he still would have been a goner. The wounds Diabel received from Illfang's attacks were fatal, and it was going to reduce his health points down to zero. When an attack reduces a player's health points to zero, that is it for the player. As I mentioned before, the Health Crystal will only take effect after the damage has been done and the health points have been finished being reduced. If the final result is zero health points, there is nothing for the Health Crystal to work with.

Sasha: I see. That is a shame to hear that.

Argo: Yes and no. At least we know that Kirita should not be blamed for Diabel's death. Using the Health Crystal would not have changed the outcome for Diabel.

Sasha: That's true. Anyway, there is something else I would like to ask then.

Argo: What's that?

Sasha: When someone activates the Healing Crystal, I know the wounds are healed, but does it also stop the pain the player might have been feeling too.

Argo: Only partially. If a player is in a great amount of pain from the injuries he or she received, the Healing Crystal will reduce some of the pain the player is feeling, but it will not make it go away entirely. The player will still need to wait a while longer before he or she will be feeling completely back to normal.

Sasha: So even if a player is healed a hundred percent, their performance might not be a hundred percent?

Argo: Correct. When Johnny Black used it on himself, his arm was still stinging because of how it was smashed by a mace even though he could use it again. The same thing happened to Akio after his arm was broken by Illfang and it was healed by the crystal. Situations like that could become a rather big problem. Some of the players in Sword Art Online might have to deal with this in future chapters.

Sasha: I do not look forward to seeing something like that.

Argo: I don't either, but I can't help but wonder when that might happen.

Sasha: Although I was wondering why the Health Crystal was able to take care of the broken bone aliment rather than an Antidote Crystal that is supposed to cure status aliments.

Argo: Well the broken arm status aliment is somewhat unique since the Health Crystal is used to heal the entire player's body which includes broken bones. While Antidote Crystals might be able to cure the broken bones too, this is one aliment that Health Crystals can take care of.

Sasha: I guess that makes sense. Although, do you think we should have a segment talking about the broken arm aliment?

Argo: I guess it could be part of a joint segment that talks about various status aliments. Although, I don't think readers should have a problem with that. After all, Sword Art Online allows players to lose limbs and regenerate them. It only seems natural that a player's limb can be broken too.

Sasha: That's true. Anyway, on another topic, are we still conducting interviews with different players.

Argo: Yes we are, but things are going to be a little different than we initially thought.

Sasha: How so?

Argo: Well Knowledgeseeker66 has decided that all interviews will be produced in the deviantart account since it would probably look awkward being posted here. After they are done, Knowledgeseeker66 would post links to the interviews similar to how there are links to the various drawings for the various fanfiction stories on the profile page.

Sasha: How will the fans know when they are available?

Argo: Well Knowledgeseeker66 likes to keep in contact with loyal readers and will be sure to contact all those who provide reviews and questions for the interviews. They will be among the first to be aware of when the interviews are available.

Sasha: I see. In that case, are there any rules in regards to writing questions?

Argo: Knowledgeseeker66 would like readers to only ask the characters questions that they would know the answers to at this point in the story. For example, as previously mentioned Kirita is not aware that Heathcliff true identity is Kayaba nor does she even know someone named Heathcliff exists in the game. She also is not aware of the existence of various characters, such as Sugou. Another example would be with Akio. Since Akio does not know much about Kirita at this point, if you ask him questions about her, he would not have much to say. However, you can say what he currently feels about her. The answer to that question may change from this point to a later point in the story.

Sasha: Those seem to be fair rules. Who are we interviewing?

Argo: This time there are six characters that will be interviewed. Three canon characters and three original characters are on deck. The canon characters will be done by you, and you will interview Kirita, Akio, & me. I will interview the original characters Gorobei, Kikuchiyo, and Delano. The readers can send Knowledgeseeker66 two questions per character, so they can send up to twelve questions in their message. The only ones who can send questions are readers who have accounts and can send messages.

Sasha: When we originally announced these interviews, I thought you wanted to handle the Akio interview.

Argo: I thought I was going to handle it too, but Knowledgeseeker66's mind changed between Chapter Six and Chapter Nine. Instead, Knowledgeseeker66 wants you to interview Kirita, Akio, and myself while I handle the original characters. That way our work is still split down the middle.

Sasha: Yeah I guess that works.

Argo: Anyway, Knowledgeseeker66 wants many characters to receive the interview treatment, and some of them will receive more than one interview over the course of this story.

Sasha: Do you think I will receive an interview of my own in the future?

Argo: Probably. Knowledgeseeker66 plans on numerous characters receiving interviews. The fact Knowledgeseeker66 plans on making you more important than your canon counterpart similar to what was done for me, I bet you will be on the receiving end of an interview sometime in the future.

Sasha: That sounds pretty exciting. I can't wait for it to happen.

Argo: I bet you can't. Anyway, next time we will discuss the 'Binding and Restraining' skill as well as the Rope Dart weapon.

Sasha: That would be a good idea. Knowledgeseeker66 already has a feeling some people will have questions about this new original skill and weapon. The only thing we currently know is that Knowledgeseeker66 got the idea of using it after playing Assassin's Creed III, but that is pretty much it. However, we will be able to take care of that during our next segment. Similar to the bow and arrow skill, there are strengths and weaknesses with that skill, so it will not seem overpowered after an explanation.

Argo: I could not have said it any better myself. Anyway, please send Knowledgeseeker66 messages regarding any questions you may have for our interviewees, leave a review, and participate in our new poll.

Argo and Sasha: See you next time!


Author Notes: This chapter marks the completion of second story arc for 'The Kirita Chronicles' and it will be the beginning of many things to come. As of this moment, our female Kirito will finally go by the name Kirita. I've been waiting for this moment for sometime because now it will be great to have other characters and the third person narrator will refer to her as Kirita outside of the Omakes, Information Broker Time, and Author Notes. Another name she will be known by is 'The Masked Swordswoman,' similar to how Kirito became known as the 'Black Swordsman.' I will be looking forward to producing more chapters that will have Kirita be referred to as such titles.

I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter. Both this chapter and the previous chapter were among my favorite ones to write. The planning for those two chapters was so much fun that certain scenes in this chapter were given the rough draft treatment almost a year ago when I first began writing the story. The scene where Akio and Kirita talked on the second floor of this chapter was given the rough draft treatment back in March of 2013 long before I finished writing Chapter One. The scene has gone through a number of edits and expansions since then, but the core of what they were saying remained the same. It was great to build up to this scene for the past eight chapters and to finally see it published.

After completing the writing of this chapter, I felt like writing the first two story arcs were an origin story for not only the protagonist Kirita but for numerous other characters, such as Akio, Delano, and numerous others. Over the course of the first nine chapters, you were introduced to numerous other characters whether they were characters that you were familiar with from canon or original ones that I created. In both cases, I've established these characters and made it clear that they will have their own issues to deal with during this story whether it was issues from their past or what they will have to deal with in Sword Art Online in order to survive. Additionally, their existence will lead to the introduction of other characters in the story as well which will further expand the world of this story.

As of this chapter, I am sure you have seen there are a fair number of differences between this story and the canon storyline. They include but are not limited to Akio and Kirita traveling together after the first boss battle, Argo having a major role in the story, Kuradeel and Diabel being friends and the upcoming meeting between Kira and PoH. The differences will not end there, and they will continue to build overtime to the point this will almost be a completely different story from canon. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

One difference you can probably see is what I am building up for Kira, the female version of Kiabou, and PoH, the leader of Laughing Coffin. As you know in the canon version of the Sword Art Online story arc, Kiabou and PoH only had one speaking appearance in both the Light Novels and anime adaptation, and they were only mentioned or had cameos afterwards. In this story, Kirita is on their radars, and what they have in store for her is not going to be pleasant. They will be reoccurring antagonists for Kirita to deal with throughout this storyline. What they are going to do and how they are going to affect will be revealed in future chapters. I'm sure you will be looking forward to that.

When it comes to villains, we all know that they sometimes have relatively good Freudian excuses to explain why they go into villainy or why they wish to fight the protagonists. However, we have also seen that evil can be petty with Sugou Nobiyuki being a prime example of that. In this case, you can expect there to be quite a few villains that go into either territory or even a mixture of both. The ideas I have for both the current and future villains of this story have been extremely fun to brainstorm, and I look forward to putting it in writing. Although, I doubt the final results of their actions will be as fun for Kirita and the other characters of this story.

During Story Arc Three and other story arcs after that, there will be a number of enemies and rivals that will be either introduced or reintroduced. In addition to Kirita having a few enemies and rivals in this game, you can expect to see Akio have a few enemies and rivals of his own to contend with. In canon, I was not a big fan of how Asuna did not really have any true enemies or rivals of her own that did not end up becoming more of Kirito's enemies, such as Kuradeel and Sugou. I'm going to change that with Akio. Additionally, you might see some other characters get some personal enemies, such as Argo and Leonardo having enemies of their own.

As hinted in Kirita's narration, Story Arc Three is going to be about Akio and Kirita's adventures from the second floor to the tenth floor. During that time they will be encountering numerous other players who will affect their storylines throughout. However, in addition to focusing on Akio and Kirita, you can expect to see other plotlines develop as well and other characters receive some time in the spotlight. There is going to be a lot going on in this story, and it is going to be a long ride.

What will happen during Akio and Kirita's time together will be an original storyline that will not adapt any of Asuna and Kirito's adventures when they temporarily teamed up on the early floors. For example, I have no intention of doing a gender bent version of the "Rondo of the Transient Sword" side story. Trying to do a genderbent version of that story would not only be a troublesome thing to do, but it would get in the way of the directions that I wish to take this story. As I have mentioned in one of the previous chapter's author notes, there will be storylines that will be left out in favor of original storylines. "Rondo of the Transient" sword is going to be one of them, but I don't think it will be that big of a loss.

Since I have my own ideas for adventures Akio and Kirita can have together, you can forget about knowing what to expect during their adventures. You can expect the two of them to spend time together during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 2022 and celebrate the beginning of 2023. I've been writing a few plans on how things are going to go for them during those occasions, and they are going to be quite important. Additionally, you can expect a little bit of fanservice because I will be giving Akio and Kirita beach and hot spring adventures on separate occasions. While there might be a few hilarious moments when those events happen, they will also have a number of important moments that will involve some character development for Akio and Kirita. This way I will avoid some of the clichés you would expect from beach and hot spring episodes in anime and manga. When I write something, I generally want it to have a purpose.

When I watched the anime, I originally thought after the second episode, it would go into some of Kirito's issues being discriminated against by other players or him needing to conceal his identity, which he sort of did in a Light Novel side story and to a certain extent in Episode Three. Thanks to the time skips, I think they bypassed a majority of the time when such discrimination would have taken place. There are only a handful of instances that involve players referring to him as a Beater, but none of them went beyond insulting him. Since I'm interested in capitalizing on the discrimination in my story, I do not plan on having time skips that will bypass months of potential storyline. I might skip a few days or weeks here and there, but I do not plan on having it that a whole year is covered within a single episode. As far as I can say, not having such significant time skips allows for more character and relationship growth potential. It has been fun planning out scenes such as what Akio and Kirita are going to face, and I'm sure it will be fun writing them.

In terms of Akio and Kirita as characters and their relationship, I think the best way to summarize them is the importance of making choices. I wanted to portray them as being a representation to the positive and negative aspects of making your own decisions rather than letting someone else run your life. While it is important to make your own choices and not let someone make them for you, you need to make those decisions wisely. Throughout the first eight chapters, both Akio and Kirita have made a number of good and bad decisions. After they did make a bad decision, they did not choose to blame someone else for what went wrong. Instead, they acknowledged that they made the mistake, which will continue to be essential for their character development. Do you feel the same way as well?

Regarding the current status of Akio and Kirita's relationship, there is something I wish to elaborate on. Currently, neither one of these characters are currently in love with the other. Akio is smitten with Kirita due to her strength, her good character, the fact she has saved his life, and how she has helped him numerous times already. Kirita on the other hand still sort of views him as a stranger, but a stranger she is willing to befriend. She does not completely trust him yet, but she trusts him enough to accept the friend request. As of this moment, Kirita is sort of acting as Akio's teacher, so he can become a better player and survive in the Death Game. Building up their relationship in future chapters will be extremely fun.

At the time I was finished writing this chapter, I considered this chapter to being a de-facto 'season finale' for "The Kirita Chronicles." You do not have to worry about this being the last update because I do have a number of situations that happen in later chapters planned in advanced. I have every intention of writing those chapters eventually, but it will be a while before I do that. It will depend on certain factors, such as my motivation to write, which is helped by receiving reviews, and the amount of time I have to spare because I am still writing 'Fairy Dance Alternate' and 'Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories' along with what I need to do in the real world. However, I will state that writing this story so far has been a lot of fun, and I definitely look forward to writing more chapters in the near future.

When I begin publishing the new update, I think it will be after I have multiple chapters completed for the next story arc. This way, I can release several chapters one after another on a schedule and allow me to make certain considerations too. Before I published Chapter One, the rough draft writing for Chapter One through Chapter Five was already complete. By having the chapters done in advanced it gives me more time to look over the chapters during the release schedule to see if more content needs to be added to them beforehand. For example, I expanded on Argo's scenes in Chapter Three which gave me ideas to expand Argo's roles in Chapters Six through Nine. As a result, he is now going to be a main character within this story because I decided to expand on what I had already written. Based on how well received my version of Argo has been, I would say that this method has yielded favorable results

I hope you enjoyed reading the story, will leave a review, participate in the poll, and send questions for the character interviews. Receiving feedback on my work is always appreciated and be sure to vote for your favorite characters in this story so far.