A/N Hi guys! It's my first time coming into the Sword Art fandom. I've wanted to do this for a while ever since I finished watching the anime and of course waiting eagerly for Gun Gale. I also read some of the novels which were REALLY good and were worth going back into the story picking up extra details they left out in the anime. I recommend you do read the translations of the light novels. But anyhow, this I hope will be a successful first endeavor into an SAO fanfic. I do have another fanfic in another series which I have procrastinated to no end but hopefully I'll get the motivation sometime to finish it. Finally, please enjoy!
"Onii-chan I'm off for practice!" Called my 'sister' Suguha.
She had slightly longer black hair than I did, almost reaching her collar bone. Her bangs were evenly cut and she wore two silver hairpins and the typical Japanese schoolgirl outfit with a black skirt with a white rim and a gray sweater with a green ribbon. Her eyes were a color of blue sapphire.
A stark contrast to my eyes. While hers were filled with life my black eyes represented a dark veil in which I hid myself away. I noticed this a while ago, but I had been distancing myself from her, and I felt extremely guilty.
How did I escape this feeling? The only thing I felt that understood me. Gaming.
"Good luck!" I called back. "See you later..." I said, not knowing I would be hurt by those words later on.
I turned on my NerveGear, which was helmet that connected you to virtual reality. In this day and age it was a recent innovation made possible by Argus, a company run by a brilliant man named Kayaba Akihiko.
I admired him and read all his interviews in the gaming magazines and anything related to virtual reality. He got me really interested in this area of the business world. Immersing yourself into this fantastic realm was called a 'FullDive'.
Back about 2 or 3 months ago, there was a beta test for a particular game called, 'Sword Art Online'.
Catchy. The description was also quite appealing. Essentially it was a real-time melee-based RPG with no magic attacks and limited range moves. It was a bold decision as magic was a pretty staple feature in any fantasy MMO. I was lucky enough to be admitted as one of the 1000 beta testers when I submitted my application.
When I stepped in, I had never imagined before a world that felt so real. The graphics were so realistic you could mistake it for reality if not for the obvious HUD dispersing the immersion. But aside from that, I felt, how should I put it... Alive.
Fine, that's pretty pathetic and expected to be said of a computer/gamer addict like me, but that was the truth. And wasn't everyone entitled to place they feel like they belong? I don't know how long I spent on the game, but I knew how often I would re-enter it after the first encounter.
I tried to everything I could in the game. From quests to duels to simply staring at the scenery. Subconsciously, I knew it was really a problem, though. I had already been distancing myself from myself family, specifically my 'sister'. But when you're living for the moment, you kind of forget everything. At least for a while... admittedly I wished a while could last forever. But that's not the story.
After all the necessary preparations in setting up the game, I lied down on my bed. I saw the news a bit earlier on a livestream on one of my three desktops about the last copies of the game getting sold out. I'll bet they felt just as excited as I was. However, unlike most casual gamers, I was taking this very seriously.
The game greeted me with the typical 'Welcome to such and such', before directing me to a login screen. I entered my previous account that I had created in the beta testing. And in a few seconds, I was back to the world I so dearly missed. At least, I felt that way for the first few hours.
"It feels good to be back in this world." I mused to myself. All around me were thousands of players logging in, most for the first time. I was in the central area of the starting town. I was surrounded in a wide array of people and a mix of details and colors. The towns looked real as ever (I heard the designers based it off of real architecture as well). There were stalls and shops, weapons of many kinds, texture of many sorts and even domestic animals to add to the scenery.
But it might as well have been all colored gray to me. I was only interested in my main reason in being here. To become the best, the strongest player.
There was a promotional poster for SAO before release. I would only realize the cold, hard truth behind it later. Scavenge. Slay. Survive.
Three simple rules. Actions typical to be expected of any MMO. I focused on the first two. The last one was the hardest for me to uphold to. In the beta, I can't recall how many times I died. 100 or so?... That's not to say I suck at gaming or anything, any respectable player would want to defend their gamer cred. But it was mainly because I took major risks in the way I played. I wasn't needlessly reckless, I only gambled on endeavors that would prove worthwhile in the reward. I estimated I had a 60% success rate or so. More than half a chance for overall success. That was good enough and all I needed. Then again statistics are just numbers. You can either let the system decide the outcome or you can do something about it.
I rushed through the crowded pathways with no regard to anyone else. I kind of knew this place well just like if you play GTA long enough. There was no need for a map until I got lost, but me being a stubborn, kind of arrogant player, I would rarely admit that and usually would continue to wander around getting even more lost until I figured my out and memorized the new uncharted territory so I wouldn't get lost again in the same place. But let's face it, you won't always have Google maps to help you, might as well map it out yourself, right?
I would've been on my way with nothing in my path for a good few hours of solo grinding and farming except someone called out to me.
"Hey you! Wait up!" Said a voice behind me.
Out of curiosity I stopped. I turned around to see a guy, probably in his twenties, with pink hair, a red and yellow(Gryffindor-themed perhaps?) bandana and the basic leather armor everyone was equipped with at the start. Although I looked similar in outfit except for a blue-sleeved shirt instead of white, I could tell he wasn't on the same level as me.
He was panting slightly. Out of shape?... Maybe, but that would be pretty rude to say out loud so I waited for his response.
"You look like you've been here before. Were you in the beta testing?" He asked expectantly.
Spot on... for a new guy, I guess. I couldn't deny that. Maybe I had been running with too much confidence. Or to put it humorously I forgot to turn my sw g off.
"Uhm... well yeah." I said sheepishly. In all the conversations I've had, they usually didn't last very long. Not that I couldn't say something funny or interesting, but I guess I never really got into a talk with anyone. Not anymore, at least. Not since I distanced myself from my 'sister'.
"This is my first day here. Show me the basics, ok?" The stranger asked.
Pretty bold move. I thought to myself. I honestly had better things to do than teach a newbie but, for some reason I didn't decline.
"Well... sure I guess."
"Really? Awesome! My name's Klein," He said in a proud manner.
"It's Kirito, nice to meet to you." I said.
Not really, but maybe I should change things up. Pairing up might be more efficient in this case. I thought, but as I did a small feeling of guilt consumed me.
Efficient? Is that all there is to it for me? To use other people? I dismissed these thoughts trying to forget them.
"UGUHAAA!" Shouted Klein as he was headbutted in the crotch by a frenzy boar. I would put it more delicately but it was pretty funny. I resisted the urge to shake my head in amusement and to facepalm. Instead I called out to him:
"You're kidding right? Come on get back up. You can't hope to achieve anything like that." I said successfully keeping the patronizing tone out of my voice. Hey, it's pretty painful to watch if you're a veteran at MMOs. I had harsher words to say but I guess everyone kind of starts out like this. Well, kind of. Not with an embarrassing accident like that, though.
"Oh right. It doesn't actually hurt. Still, this is frickin' difficult!" Klein exclaimed. A response to be expected of a newbie. But I was once one too I guess... I just don't remember... maybe I learned quicker than most.
"It's alright to feel a little overwhelmed by the FullDive on the first few times. It just comes down to 'motion'. You have to make it natural." I said earnestly.
"Motion... motion." Klein repeated like a motif as though saying it enough times he would suddenly understand. I guess I just had to demonstrate.
"This game relies upon a system called, 'Sword Skills'. You can pretty much do it with any type of weapon, or even unarmed. Here take this rock for example," I said as I picked up said rock.
"You need to add a slight pause, then just let the system do the rest," I said and when the rock started to glow a pink aura, I threw it straight at the blue boar.
It hit straight on and angered it. It turned around to face me and I pulled out my sword from the sheath slung around my back. Not that I was trying to a ninja or anything but it just felt the most comfortable way to put on a sheath to me. And yes, I did feel kind of cool like that (Who wouldn't?)
"Ahhhhhh. I see now..." Klein said in a revelation and tried to mimic my movements.
"Of course, when you get enough experience you can be confident enough to manually activate Sword Skills without system-assistance. In other words, you can fight more freely to your own style, but there's nothing wrong with using the system, even though the moves may get... predictable," I said on a quieter note. I tried not to sound like a know-it-all. Fortunately, Klein wasn't seasoned enough to notice the slight hint of condescension in my voice.
The boar tackled me head-on but I countered it with the flat side of my Small Sword. I then directed its charging path to Klein, who this time, was prepared to face it.
"YEEEEAAAAAA!" He yelled and charged at it with a sword skill called «Reaver», a basic curved-sword attack. As the boar burst into hundreds of digital pieces a box interface appeared showing the results of the battle, depicting the EXP gained, items dropped and Col(currency) earned.
"Whooo! That was amazing!" Klein exclaimed exhilarated. Boy, he was sure easily satisfied. I smiled in a understanding way.
"Trust me, it gets watered-down real quick. The only times you should celebrate is against an actual boss or something as challenging," I said without sugarcoating a word.
"Ehhh?! Really? That wasn't a boss at all?" Klein asked with incredulity. I guess some people really are ignorant. What kind of games did he play when was a child exactly? Even casual players should at least know the basics. But I guess to each his own...
"No, if that were a boss, I'd be done with this game already. The boar you just killed was the equivalent of a slime in other RPGs, in other words, the lowest leveled opponent you could get. They don't get any weaker than that," I said truthfully.
Of course, excluding certain other players... but that's another story, I mused quietly.
"Wow. Guess I've got a long way to go," Klein said in dejected way. I felt a bit bad for bringing the truth upon him, but that's the way games like this were. You have to do a lot, and I mean an awful lot of constant grinding and farming in order to amount to anything in an RPG. I should know after playing so many other games. It takes a lot to be good, let alone be the best. But for me it's possible. And I'm going to make it possible. No. Matter. What. In other words, 'I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was.'
I must've been deep in thought because Klein punched me lightly on the shoulder.
"Hey, man, are you lagging?" He joked. I guess I must've looked overly serious for a bit. Going on my little tangent of being the future best.
"Yeah, I guess I'm just a little bored. Want to hunt some more?" I tried to feign enthusiasm. His eyes lit up and he nodded towards the fields where there were countless boars just like the one recently killed.
It was a good few hours, hacking and slashing our way through the fields. Every time we succeeded in defeating a boar, the message box would inform us of what we managed to salvage. Nothing good except for the obligatory XP and Col gained. Truthfully, I would've like to face more challenging opponents but seeing as we were both still level 1, I had no better idea but to carry on until we reached the next level.
"Whew! That was fun!" Klein said sitting down with his hands propped back, staring at the sunset. I have to admit no matter how many times I've seen it, it still looks beautiful. But it was undeniably just a emulation of the sun. And that made think of the times I used to spend with my 'sister' just watching the sunset. Sometimes I wished I was an only child... that's a horrible thing to say, but I guess I felt guilty enough to want to remove that feeling by removing the source of it... and not only that, but I felt guilty because I was indebted to my sister, and I never really appreciated what she did for me. Maybe I should try to repair our relationship someday... someday when I have more courage, and for God's sake a little more tact.
"Yeah it was," I responded wistfully. I won't say it out loud, but it was actually nice to have someone around. Not only did we make good progress today, I actually had fun. I guess company isn't so bad. Still, I felt guilty for some reason.
"I'm beat. But it was worth it! I'm glad I was born in this generation!" Klein said and I couldn't help but agree. I was luckier than most to be able to experience such a thing like this.
"Yeah, that's true. Is this your first game on the NerveGear?" I asked. He nodded.
"Yep, and I'm glad this was my first game! I bought the hardware in a rush after getting the game. I'm lucky to have gotten a copy, then again you're infinitely luckier to have played the beta test!" He said admiringly.
"Lucky... I suppose that's a way to put it," I said wondering if I was really lucky when all this game did was just make me temporarily forget my problems in the real world.
"Anyways, it's pretty late. I guess I'll log out, but it was great to meet you, Kirito. I hope we can game together again," Klein said and I felt a little a bit better.
"Yeah, I guess we were both lucky, I'll see you later," I said repeating the words I used earlier and I felt a little saddened.
"I've got anchovy pizza and ginger ale waiting for me at 5:30! Oh, I forgot to mention but I'm meeting up with some friends later in another game, want to come?" Klein invited hopefully.
It was a tempting offer. For a normal person anyway... but me being the social shut-in and little bit emo, I had to decline. I just didn't know how to say it to his face with sounding like an asshole.
"Ahh... well I kinda..." I drifted off. I couldn't say it but I guess my expression did. He lowered his eyes in disappointment but then brightened up immediately.
"Nah, that's alright. You've done enough for me. Maybe another time?" Klein said with a revived hope.
"Yeah, maybe, sure," I said a bit reluctantly. To be honest, truthfully even hanging around one person for a few hours was personal achievement. However, I don't think I could handle being in such a group. You know what they say, two's a party, three's a crowd. Or maybe it's just me...
"I guess I'll be going."
"Til' next time. If you need to know anything else, just hit me up."
"You bet I will!" Klein said and offered a handshake in which I took. Earlier we had friended each other so we could message one another.
So this is what being friends feels like... I thought to myself. I smiled inside my head. It's nice.
Klein turned with one last wave of his hand as farewell. I watched him open up the menu by swiping his right hand with his index and middle finger together. Today had been I good day, it felt like it couldn't be ruined until-
"Hey, there's no log out button," Klein said confused. I immediately turned on a skeptical look.
There is no way even you, Klein could be that ignorant, I thought.
"Look closer, there's bound to be one," I said this time unable to keep the condescension out of my voice.
"Fine, you check then. Then tell me I'm wrong," he said in a defensive manner.
I did and was looking to prove him wrong but when I opened the menu, he was right.
The log out button wasn't there.
But that couldn't be. That's like having key but no keyhole...
In another situation, I would've laughed at that poorly thought analogy, but it wasn't the time for that. Instead I rapidly searched through every tab even finding features I never knew were there. It was apparently a nice 26 degrees Celsius.
However, after fruitlessly searching the menu I failed to find the log out button.
"That's weird, isn't it? Well I guess most releases do have bugs. Guess we just have to wait for the GMs to fix it, right?" Klein said looking for confirmation.
I nodded. But truthfully I didn't agree. There was no way a genius like Kayaba Akihiko would overlook a huge mistake in not putting a log out button in the menu. No it really seemed impossible... unless...
I never got to finish this thought. A bell in the distance was ringing. However, it didn't sound pleasant. At the same time, both Klein and I were enveloped in bright blue light.
When it disappeared, we appeared back in the central plaza along with thousands of other players all with the same expressions of confusion.
"Hey! What gives?" Klein said surprised.
"It must have been a forced teleport," I said reasonably. I knew that much, now I wanted to know why.
Plenty of people around us were muttering things, others exclaiming that they wanted to log out for fear of being late to an appointment and such and such. Soon after, all of our attention was brought to a flashing shape in the sky. A red hexagon reading, 'Warning'.
Then it soon multiplied and the entire sky, or so it seemed, was covered in red hexagons reading either 'Warning' or 'System Announcement'. Then something similar to blood dripped down, but it didn't hit the ground, instead it converged like some viscous liquid in mid-air and formed a cloaked figure with no face.
By now everyone was thoroughly perplexed and even slightly shocked at the turn of events. I, however, started to grow suspicious, but even more so anxious. I waited like everyone else, and what I was about to hear changed reality. Or at least this one.
"Welcome players. My name is Kayaba Akihiko. From here on, I am the only one who can control this world."
World? I thought as many exclaimed what he just said out loud.
"I'm sure almost all of you by now have noticed the absence of the log out button. However, I assure you, this is not a defect. It is an actual feature that makes Sword Art Online unique," he said in an ominous voice.
What? I couldn't comprehend what he just said. No log out... that's insane. Wouldn't that just detriment sales? What was he thinking?
"Also now, there is no way to respawn after you die. You're given only one life, which is the one you have now. Cherish it, for you may not have it for long."
You're asking for it, buddy... I can't believe you're spewing this ridiculous crap... I thought silently. I can't believe this is who my idol actually was.
"Simply put, if you die here, you will die in reality. There is a microwave chip that will activate if you die. And don't hold onto hope for help from the outside, for any attempts to remove the NerveGear or interrupting gameplay will result in the same end. Already, regretfully 213 players have died due to outside interventions by their own families. The government has also been informed as have the public media. I have given 2 hours for all logged into the game to be moved to hospitals and such institutes in order to be taken care of while you are all here. I think it is safe to say now that the danger has been decreased to a minimum and you can focus on the game. There is only one means of escape..." He said this in voice of finality after he displayed the grim news of the recent deaths on large digital monitors.
"In order to log out of the game, you must traverse all 100 floors and beat every last boss. If even one of you manages to do this, I will set you all free. Also, I have a gift for all of you. Please check your inventories now."
We did and there was a peculiar item. An object labelled, «Mirror».
In an instant everyone was surrounded in blue light similar to teleporting. However, we didn't get teleported away, instead, it seemed as though nothing happened. Until-
"Hey, who are you?" Asked a new voice. I turned around where Klein should've been. Instead there was this new person. But then I looked into the mirror.
It was me.
The real me, with the really feminine-looking face and long(for a boy)black hair that fell to chin-length. I was surprised and then I came to realize that Kayaba Akihiko forced us into the open by using our real bodies as avatars.
Talk about invasion of privacy, I thought. I didn't look ugly or anything but I always thought that I looked like such a girl. I might as well have been if I had longer hair, curves, and two X chromosomes...
"You must be asking yourselves this question: Why? Why would I, Kayaba Akihiko, creator of NerveGear and SAO do such a thing? The truth is I have already realized a world in which I have created and can control. I wish you the best of luck players, and this concludes the official tutorial for Sword Art Online," he ended with a dark note.
There was silence for a moment. All of us just barely registering what he just said. If you die here, you actually die in real life.
It sounds stupid, I know, like some contrived idea for a new franchise. It wasn't exactly an original idea, but when it's met with reality, that's different.
Nobody just plays with death and expects a laugh out of it. Unless of course, if you were that sick. However, I still had questions I wanted to ask.
That was the simplest thing that came to mind. Why would a genius like Kayaba Akihiko do this? He must be mad. He must've realized he would hunted down for this... but maybe, just maybe, he was one of those people.
I never I'd live to see it but...
Some men just want to see the world burn...
Or so I led myself to believe. It was hard to accept this, but with what I just saw, there's the proof. This no longer a game.
The guilt that was building inside me felt like it would kill me, but it also gave me a reason to fight. A drive, a strength to enable me to take action. But it was blinded by selfish motive... I guess that's just being human.
It did not take long for chaos to ensue, there was yelling, crying, curses being thrown, insanity creeping up on people. There's was nothing I could do about that. But I knew what I could do.
I weaved through the crowd Assassin's Creed style over to Klein. I grabbed his shoulder roughly.
"We need to get out of here. There's no use just standing around. Follow me," and without waiting for a reply I took off, listening to his steps behind me.
In the mass of the confusion, I took advantage of the disarray. Selfish, I know. But it was much more efficient than to stand around. Might as well get ahead of the game.
"Listen," I said as we stopped at an empty pathway. The sun was setting and there was beautiful tinge of color in the sky. Ironic. It did nothing more than to mock our situation, giving me all the more reason to swear revenge.
"I'm heading off to the next town. The West Field will probably be swarmed soon and the Town of Beginnings will be picked clean if we don't hurry. In this type of 'game', getting stronger is the only way to survive. I get us to the destination even at level 1. Come on," I said with cold determination. Surprisingly, however, he shook his head.
"Look, Kirito. I appreciate the fact that you mean well, but I have friends back there. They're probably scared, confused and shocked right now. I can't just leave them behind, even though your way will probably ensure a better survival rate. I'm sorry, but I can't follow you. But hey! You should come with me! I was the leader of my old guild, you become a new member! Then we'd be 7 men strong!" Klein offered eagerly.
Tempting... if I was a normal person. But that's not how I play. I know what he was saying was reasonable, but I guess you could call it arrogance and bad habit that I didn't really go along with other people. Not that I couldn't, the time I spent with Klein in the West Field was proof of that. However, I just didn't feel comfortable among most people. It was an insecurity I created due to isolating myself in the real world. But it was also a wall I built to protect myself. I mean, if you're alone, you don't have to deal with the complications with being with others... but at the same time, you miss the company and the possibilities. But that was a price I was willing to pay. Often, emotions just get in the way of the objective. Ironic how my objective was driven by an emotion, but that was beside the point. I never really thought about it before, but did I value the ends over the means?
It doesn't matter. It's about making a difference. A voice in my head said.
Yes, it does, otherwise, what's the point? Argued another.
Curse my thoughts... I said in my head. But back to the current problem.
I sighed. Five... no even one more person would make things difficult. I had no time to establish acquaintances with new people. I don't want to say it out loud but working as a group tends to get in my way. First of all, I wouldn't have free reign over all my decisions. People would critique my strategies, judge my style, question my personality, and eventually there would be a rift that would render the point of being a team useless. So you see, I thought it out a long time ago. I'm ultimately better off on my own. It's not as though I deserve to have a team anyway... let alone a friend...
"I'm sorry, Klein. But for my own reasons, I can't join you," I responded bitterly. He looked of the utmost disappointment.
"Nah, it's alright. I kinda saw the answer in your eyes. Still... rejected by you twice in one day? That's funny, if not for the current predicament... Good luck, Kirito. I hope you find your own way," Klein said in a bittersweet manner. I felt a small hint of guilt but that was overruled by a secretive feeling of relief.
At least I have no one else to worry about now, I don't have the time to waste...
"Then I guess this is goodbye. See ya around... Klein," I said in a quiet, faraway type of voice. A subconscious part in the back of my mind protested but I shut that though out. I turned away, and I never looked back. Truthfully, I didn't want to see the look on my only friend's face that he had been abandoned by me. Selfishly, I was glad that I had nothing to hold me down and I could continue further with no hindrance.
I ran through the marketplace without caring for the scenery. I think I could hear the distant noise of everyone back in the plaza. Maybe some had come to their senses and started to take action.
That won't do. Need to move faster. I thought competitively. I couldn't allow someone to beat me so easily.
I know that's wrong to say in a death game like this, but an irreplaceable desire inside of me still wanted to be the best. If I wasn't the best, I couldn't prove anything. The entire reason I got into gaming in the first place was to feel like I belonged somewhere. Someplace that understood me when no other person could. And to feel satisfied that I could master something, and do what no one could. Call themselves the best, the greatest, the Invictus.
I reached the outside plains. The wind was rustling and fields were in an orange light. A lone wolf (how ironic) appeared in front of me. I pulled the sword from my back to kill it with «Sonic Leap», a basic lunging attack. As the blue arc swept past the wolf, leaving a large red mark, it exploded into thousands of small shapes.
Is that what it'll look like if we die? I wondered to myself apathetically. I refrained from using the word, 'when'. That would a little to grim, but undoubtedly I bet some of us would die. That's just unavoidable because it's just way of life. In a large scale of once 10,000 players, now a little less, there would bound to be those a cut above the rest, like me, the average people, and those would fail. It was the simple truth. If everyone were to survive, the world wouldn't be as difficult to live in, and we wouldn't be human. Humans were meant to be different. We couldn't all be as good as one another. In a messed up dystopia where everyone was meant to be the same, maybe, but not our reality. Everybody has to lead their own life. And so do I.
I can't die here. I have to make it back. It's the only way I'll ever forgive myself. For everything. I'm sorry...
A/N Well there we go! I know it's not very exciting so far, but I felt the obligation to give a little background to the story. I promise it'll pick up a faster pace and more actual fanfic rather than basing it off of the light novel. I will deviate in many points and add some. I'm hoping not to ruin the overall feel of the story or the characters, but feel free to politely tell me if I do so. I'll consider it and maybe revise the later chapters but I'm hoping I don't need to do so. Anyways, please R & R and thanks for your time!