A.N.: Greetings! If you're following me off of my normal account, then you'll recognize this for what it is. If you've stumbled upon this and have NO CLUE what is going on here, then let me explain. This is Chapter 82 of my longer fanfic, DIGIMON XROS WARS! ALTERNATE UNIVERSE 02. *WHY* am I posting it here, you ask? Because this chapter, and the ones to follow on this story, form their own individual story arc that can stand alone as their own Xros Over story without really knowing what's going on in the other story... You don't need complete knowledge of what came before, as the needed information is explained here, but Do be aware that there are *Spoilers* in this for that other story! Plus, in the other story, this arc is interrupted with alternating chapters of another story arc, and for those that wish to see it as one whole, this story is here for you! That said and done, however... Let's get to the story, Ne?


Somewhere in time and space... Quartzmon mused on the events of his Sort-of-Kind-of-Success.

He had Xros Heart right where he wanted them- on opposite sides of a temporal rift- where they should have all died from the double explosion. But here was where the failure came into play! Only that pesky Tagiru, his wife Chou, her cousin Airu- He shuddered just thinking the name- and their various friends presently in Digi-Quartz had been the only ones lost to time, and even then it had been to facilitate a pre-existing [TIMELOOP].

Their future selves had then intervened and saved the rest of Xros Heart- as well as all of those interloping "Legendary Heroes" from those other dimensions- from eternal doom.

And that screwed things up not too majorly, but still enough that it made him pause to think.

His created Universe had still been born- and the timeline branching had worked just fine- but there in lied the problem. Their Prime Self had gone into that born Universe, leaving the clean up to the copies.

But...The problem remained that they were onto him to some degree. Those heroes of Xros Heart knew there was a third gate out there somewhere- and if they found it...!

Quartzmon roared with frustration as he ran his hands over his hairless scalp. "Oh Why did they ALL have to SURVIVE?!"

Now they were SURE to follow him into the Aether- the space between spaces- the void between voids:

The very fabric of time and space itself.

And they would hunt him down, and surely kill him if given the chance.

No. He had to do something else. He had to distract them from finding the new Multiverse. He'd have to be sneaky. Hide it in plain sight.

But HOW?

At that moment, a future version of him (either future or another DOOMED copy. He didn't remember doing this message delivery yet) sailed past him, stating a set of temporal coordinates as he wooshed past, and sailed into another dimension.

Quartzmon's many beady little eyes screwed up in concentration as he thought about those coordinates...And then he found his mental-self in the home of a rather quaint looking scientist.

He was programming something, or rather tying programming into an existing environment- a video game, by the looks of it- and he was muttering, "soon my dream will become reality..."

Quartzmon, at this point nothing but a spirit ghost, looked around the room. There were designs for helmets, and a giant Castle of one hundred floors...

And he formed a mouth specifically for the purposes of smirking evilly. "Distraction get." his voice echoed through the room.


SWORD ART ONLINE

AINCRAD FLOOR 1- SUB DUNGEON

OCTOBER 31ST, 2024.


"The Black Swordsman" Kirito and his loving wife Asuna "The Flash" were on a mission. On a self imposed quest to the First Floor during their honeymoon to investigate a strange young girl named Yui whom they found wandering in the forests of the 22nd floor, a woman named Yuiler, of the guild "The Army," came to them with a request to help her search a recently uncovered dungeon under the first floor of Aincrad for her tricked friend, Thinker, who was now trapped within that dungeon without a weapon.

If you are un-familiar with this universe, then the simple fact that, in this particular VRMMO, death in the game equals death in reality should explain all you need to know about why this was such a dangerous thing.

Sword Art Online, two years ago, had changed from the ground breaking VRMMO that it was into a [Death Game]. It's designer, Kayaba, Akihiko, had turned the VR helmets the players used to acess this marvelous world into prisons, trapping the players within the game by removing the log-out button and programming the devices to emit a certain frequency pulse upon death in game to fry the player's real life brain.

At the moment, Kirito, Asuna, and Yuiler were each hoping to prevent one more life being added to the tally of dead players that had built up over the last two years.

Yui, the confused girl that she was, simply acted like the child she appeared as, staring in awe and cheering her "papa" on every time Kirito took on some random Mob within the dungeon.

"We should be getting close to where Thinker's been held up..." Yuiler said as she checked her map of the dungeon, which had several dots superimposed onto it, only one of which was stationary.

"We should keep on guard," Kirito warned as he prepared to draw his two swords- a Unique Skill in the world of Aincrad: [Dual Blades]. "We don't know what else could be there."

"Right..." Yuiler smiled slightly at the younger boy. Of note, another thing to mention about SAO is that, on that dreadful day, the Game Master Kayaba transformed each player avatar into the exact appearance of the player on the other side- matching hair color, height, body type, and most disturbingly of all, any scars or birthmarks they might have had in reality as well.

Nobody could figure out how the NervGear, the equipment trapping them, had managed to perfectly mimic their Real Bodies so well. Not even the "Calibration" at the first start up of any NervGear could explain that away.

(In retrospect, Kirito would later think, that was the first sign that there was something fishy about how Kayaba had trapped them all inside SAO.)

As the trio walked down the hallways towards the 'safe area' that Thinker was surely held up in, the sounds of battle suddenly broke out somewhere ahead of them.

The sound of Sword Skills clashing- both the distinctive baritone of a Monster's weapon and the high-pitched hum of a player's skill.

"Yuiler, keep an eye on Yui for us," Kirito drew his swords, Elucidator in the right, and Dark Repulsor in the left, and next to him Asuna drew her rapier. "Asuna and I are going to go ahead and investigate."

"O..Okay." Yuiler nodded, and reached to pull the small girl closer to her, "I'll do my best, Kirito-san."

With a shared nod, the married couple, both of whom still looked to be in their early teens due to their avatars not aging over the two years, advanced towards the sight of the commotion.

"RRRAAARGHHH!" Came the battle cry of some monster as another Sword Skill activated.

"HIYAH!" Came the cry of what sounded like a player, followed by the activation of a matching Sword Skill.

"YEAH!" Then there was another cry, sounding like several voices as one.

Once they rounded the corner, any expectations they had were shattered.

"What...?" Asuna gasped.

Before them was a giant monster- it's red diamond at the top labeling it a Boss titled "The Death Scythe"- that looked like a lighting supported metallic brute version of a grim reaper wielding an energy scythe.

Fighting it... Was a boy- Blond hair and blue eyes that would possibly be normal for some players- wielding some kind of scythe-hammer combination in retaliation. But what drew their attention to him was his clothes.

They looked like nothing seen in Aincrad...

They were simply too normal!

Somehow, the boy currently, had the energy blade of The Death Scythe's weapon caught in the shimmering black metal of his own scythe. The determined look in his eyes, combined with the glow on the blade indicated that...

"DEMON HUNTER!"

A Sword Skill fired off of the blade as the boy swung his scythe to the side, twisting the Boss monster's grip on the weapon awkwardly.

But the sword skill didn't seem to follow the blade, instead, it leaped off and flew straight for the glimmering core in the center of the Monster's chest.

CRACK!

The Death Scythe roared as he reared backwards in pain- electricity leaping out of his core.

"NOW!" The boy yelled...

And then what looked like a Star themed combining robot jumped out of the shadows, going straight for the metallic reaper's mouth.

"HAH!" The golden thing said as he pried the metal skull's jaw open, and then braced it open with the rather large, pointy shades on his chest. "Time to show you MetalPhantomon who the real scythe master is!" He flung his hands forward into the mouth and summoned some sort of Spirograph looking portal. "CASCADE RECKONING!"

From out of the portal came a meteor, just perfectly sized to jam the monster's mouth open permanently. The robot grabbed his shades out of the jaws of the surprised boss monster, and back flipped away. "NOW, YUU!"

The boy, Yuu, disengaged his awkward holding of The Death Scythe's weapon, and did an impossibly high jump into the air, twisting that scythe around so that the flat end was prominent as he raised it up behind him... "BREATH...!" It glowed with a Sword Skill- "IMPACT!"

He brought the hammer down on the meteorite in the Boss monster's jaw...and the giant rock exploded, taking the Boss Monster's head along with it.

Needless to say, when the boy landed on the ground with out a scratch and the Boss monster's decapitated body exploded into the familiar shower of polygons, Kirito and Asuna were shocked.

"Wh...what..." Asuna tried to form a sentence, "what kind of sword skill was that?!"


*cue INNOCENCE, TV Size*

SWORD ART ONLINE
VS.
DIGIMON XROS WARS


*cue Title Theme 2 (Xros Wars)*

"The Temporal Dive Machine!"


The Console's insides were sparking.

Kirito had no clue what to make of the supposed "Safe Room" that Thinker had been stuck in the last few days other than that it didn't appear very safe. Or at least, it didn't appear so now.

"I thought there might have been something I could do," Thinker was explaining his time spent in the room as they all looked at the ruined state of the formerly pristine room, "so I tried messing with this table, thinking it might do something. All I ever did manage to get it to do was let my tracker positioning come back online, but I couldn't do anything about sending messages or even escaping. I'm not a hacker, after all."

"Just what is it?" Yuiler asked, "I didn't think tables in SAO could be broken like this."

"SAO shouldn't have breakable objects period," Kirito reminded her, "either an [Immortal Object] tag would appear or it would shatter into polygons."

"Well, after a while, I think I managed to get it to send a distress signal," Thinker continued, "it locked me out after that and a little before you guys showed up, Yuu here arrived."

"You did send a signal, which I followed back here." The blond haired boy gave a muffled comment from his position half way inside the table, "This is really high tech stuff, by the way! I don't think we had anything close to it back home." There was a short buzzing sound, followed by a gasp of excitement, "Ahha! Found it!"

"He just showed up?" Yuiler asked as she ignored the other boy yanking at something inside of the ruined console, "On foot?"

"No, actually," Thinker shook his head, "it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen! A shimmering oval of green light just opened up above the table, and then he just walked right out of it!"

"A Corridor Crystal?" Kirito asked aloud.

"Those are blue," Asuna reminded him as she walked back into the room with Yui holding her arm, "or translucent at least, but definitely not green. Also, that Boss monster doesn't seem to have a re-spawn just like the others. We haven't seen any sign of it re-spawning, but I heard more of those frogs we fought on the way down. They've probably all re-spawned by now."

"After he showed up, the Boss Monster outside got really riled up for some reason," Thinker continued on, "then it attacked for the first time since I got in this room, cut the room practically in two with its sword skill. Then Yuu held up some device and that scythe and all those stars came out, and then they all fused together into a robot before they went to fight it!"

"That doesn't sound like anything in SAO's mechanics," Kirito remarked. "He's definitely from the outside if that's the case."

"They're not lying," Yui said with a smile towards him. "They're definitely from the outside."

"Got it!" Yuu called out suddenly as he pulled out of the machine, holding a small silver device in his hand. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you your mystery signaling device: A Xros Time Wrister! And I have no clue how it got here."


After Thinker and Yuiler teleported out of the dungeon via crystal, Kirito, Asuna, Yui, and their new companion Yuu began the march to the surface on foot.

The tale the boy weaved as they marched back out of the dungeon was a strange one, a twisted tale that held many twists and turns that would suddenly turn back on itself and make it all seem linear again. Although, they had to fight off more of those stupid frogs along the way, which made for relatively well placed breaks in-between the retold adventures.

But to summarize it:

A storm brought a disaster to a child world, and opened a gate, dragging people over to the parent world. There was an empire, and while many in it were corrupt, there were those within the higher ranks that sought to bring about it's end...

An army had been formed long before, but now carried substance, a force behind a name- Xros Heart. That Army fought for the freedom of that parent world, and from there, they took on the Empire toe to toe, eventually uniting with another army, Blue Flare, in a final battle on the Child world.

The Emperor had been betrayed, and his Brother, a usurper, had been punished by both worlds for his actions. The Brother's wish had been granted via this punishment, and forever more would he rule over the two worlds as the single star that both planets shared- eternally exploding for a single moment across all moments of time itself.

However, the source of the storm still existed, and a beast with an unknown plan threatened all of creation- forcing the heroes from various worlds to unite on the Child World from before... All in accordance with the beast's plan.

He planted a destructive creature in the core of the planet- causing an explosion that resulted in the Child World's demise. If not for those who had already survived the event coming back to save those that remained, all would have perished.

The survivors- Xros Heart's United Interdimensional Army- scattered across time and space at that present moment, were hoping to chase the beast down before he could cause any more destruction. They had not escaped death without casualties, however... Many had died. A whole world was forever wiped out of existence, never to return.

And worst of all...there were two who they knew were still alive, but lost to time and space- Xros Heart's chase across the Multiverse was also a rescue mission, should those two be found on one of those worlds.

That had been Two years earlier.

"Even so..." Yuu concluded, "we keep on helping where we can, stopping Quartzmon's plans from ever succeeding... It's obvious he's lured us here with this Wrister, but we can't turn our backs on anyone. That's what Taiki-san would want, anyways..."

"Taiki...he's one of the ones missing, right?" Kirito asked.

"Yeah," Yuu nodded, "Quartzmon shot him, and then Sparrow-san...she just took him up into the sky a little before everything got destroyed."

"Why do that?" Asuna asked, "Wouldn't a hospital have been better?"

"...He was going to regenerate from the shot," Yuu explained after a moment. "Every cell in his body replaced in an instant; but from what Akari-san told us about his last regeneration, it's really violent. Powerful enough to rip a hole in space-time all on it's own, at least. I think Sparrow-san didn't want Quartzmon having any advantages in his plan, so she took him up into space where he could release all that energy safely."

"That's..." Asuna had no clue how to reply to that. "So they're both missing because of that?"

"Somebody that powerful could probably just solo a boss," Kirito mused. "Especially if they can take a killing blow and then just destroy whatever dealt it."

"It's not really all that useful," Yuu commented. "He was pretty out of it for a few weeks after the first one. Sparrow-san ended up helping him work it off somehow, but I don't know how she did it. At the very least, she's probably the best person qualified to help him through it a second time."

Kirito took in the expression on the boy's face as he talked about it all. It was honest, but also somewhat rehearsed. Yuu had probably told this same story many times, if what he said about traveling across time and space was true. He knew when to avoid the parts that made his expression turn sour almost as soon as he began telling it.

Yuu had willingly shown them his [Xros Loader], the strange yellow device that that Star-themed monster had returned into after the battle. It's plastic covering immediately marked it as something from the outside of SAO. There wasn't a material like that anywhere in Aincrad.

Topping the oddity that Yuu presented off was the lack of a Player ID, much like Yui lacked one. Perhaps that was what happened to the little girl? She'd lost her memory being flung into another dimension?

Kirito brought it up at one point during their climb back to the top:

"Can you see the ID markers over our heads?"

"What Markers?"

"Never mind, then."

After that, he opened his inventory and asked Yuu to do the same.

The system didn't respond to the identically mimicked motions.

Yui also couldn't see the ID Markers, or access the system menu, which supported that odd theory as well.

It was Asuna who came up with the next supporting evidence towards that theory, with the realization that Yuu's clothes would stand out in Aincrad. So, Kirito volunteered one of his old coats.

When Yuu simply shrugged it on instead of equipping it like any SAO player would, Asuna sent Kirito a look that told him right away, Yui had changed her clothes manually too, back in their house on Floor 22.

The game mechanics simply didn't connect to them.


Of course, the moment they'd neared the last corner round to the entrance of the dungeon, the game mechanic concern became a lot more problematic.

"I want those players Found!" Came an irritatingly familiar voice, "Split up if you have to, but I want them found!"

"Kibaou!" Kirito spat under his breath as there was a chorus of "yes Sir"s from the men accompanying the little upstart who had trapped Thinker in the dungeon in the first place. "This isn't good!"

"Scythes aren't a common weapon in this game, are they?" Yuu asked as he looked at his own weapon hesitantly.

"No," Asuna replied, "but it could be a [Unique Skill] nobody's heard of yet..."

"They sound mad," Yui remarked quietly as the sound of marching boots began.

"Probably because Thinker got out," Kirito muttered as he prepared to reach for his swords. "Or because we were seen going in. Though their timing could be worse."

Any chance for discussion came to an end as the party of six entered their line of sight.

Kibaou spotted them immediately. "Well, well, what do we have here?"

"Looks like a buncha spies, boss!" One of the armored men remarked with a sinister grin.

"Kibaou," Kirito said flatly, "we were just leaving."

"Like hell you were!" the cactus haired man spat, taking several steps towards the Black Swordsman, "You lousy Beater! I bet you come down here just to grind it all while nobody's looking!"

"I honestly had no idea this place was hear until today," Kirito countered.

"And what's this?!" Kibaou turned towards Yuu, "Some kind of scythe? I bet you're a Beater too!"

Yuu blinked in confusion as Yui asked: "What's a 'beater', Mama?"

"I'll tell you later, Yui-chan," Asuna told the girl.

Kiabou took notice of the little girl, and a scowl formed on his face. Who was she to question... He did a double take along with his five friends. "Asuna The Flash!?" The Five men with Kibaou reacted rather badly upon recognizing her, each of them freezing up in horror.

"Yes, and as Kirito-kun was saying, we were just leaving," Asuna said simply. "We've had enough of this place for one day, thank you." And with that she opened the shared inventory between her and Kirito and dumped all of the frog-legs (for the second time), "We weren't even in it for the items, so if you want them-"

"FORGET IT!" Kibaou snarled and snatched Yuu's scythe out of his possession, "I don't care what measly little insects you've ground to dust- I just want this weapon!"

Yuu let out a hiss at the "insects" comment, and before anyone could question why...

The scythe glowed a bright golden light in Kibaou's hands...and then...

"THEY ARE NOT INSECTS!"

Before anyone could react, the weapon burst out of the cactus haired man's hands, and shifted into a humanoid form mid air.

DIVE KICK!

CACTUS-MAN SMACK-DOWN!

ADDITIONAL PUMMELING!

After several moments of confusing attacks, the weapon, which had shifted into the form of a girl, now held Kibaou's arms behind his neck in some obscure form of wrestling move... which looked rather painful to Kirito's eyes.

"Now Apologize!" the girl, who had light pink hair (almost to the point of being white), ordered as she twisted one of his arms.

"GYaahhhh...!" Kibaou winced, which highlighted a boot print on his face. "Wh-What are you!?"

"Apologize," the girl twisted the other arm. "NOW."

"N-NEVER!" Cactus hair spat, "Men!" He called out, "Kill theeeem!"

Nothing.

"Men?"

The five men who accompanied Kibaou had already fled the scene, screaming rather loudly about "the scary woman with the kids" from before. Not that Kibaou could see that from where he was, though he could certainly hear them.

"They left," Kirito remarked offhandedly.

"I..." Kibaou gulped, "I'm sorry...?" he didn't know what she wanted an apology for, honestly. Maybe the insects line?

"Now then," Yuu took a step forward, "I think you can let him go now, Corone?"

The girl, Corone, gave a half-hearted eye roll, then let go of Kibaou's arms with a remark of "Good enough." As Cactus-hair fell forward, one could obviously see now that Corone had one of her feet pressed up into his back before by the boot print on the back of his clothing.

"Shall we go then?" Yuu turned towards Kirito and Asuna, who were simply staring on in confusion. Yui, on the other hand, was grinning as brightly as anyone could be, given the circumstances.

Ah, to be a kid.

22ND FLOOR_ _ _| A SHORT WHILE LATER_ _ _|

The transport gate remained calm that evening, hardly anyone using it due to the tranquil nature of the 22nd Floor not drawing many visitors who weren't already there.

Then there was a burst of blue light, followed by the whirling sound of a transport. When both light and sound faded, Kirito, with Yui riding on his back, Asuna, and Yuu stood in the center of the platform.

"Wow...that's..." Yuu shook his head, "disorientating? Is that the word?"

"You get used to it after two years," Asuna smiled slightly, "it's kind of funny seeing someone react to it like that, though."

The walk from the dungeon to the Starting City's transport gate had been a quiet and uneventful one, with most people having gone back inside for the night, and those that were out weren't ones for looking at other people. Now, it seemed that the walk from Floor 22's Gate to Asuna and Kirito's house would be just as uneventful.

After the run in with Kibaou's party in the dungeon, however, they were all being careful about what they said until they reached the safety of a private residence.

Nobody wanted the fact that there was a way to jump into SAO from the outside to get out just yet, let alone the possibility of doing the reverse! If Kayaba, SAO's creator and 'god', was as good of a programmer as he claimed to be, then if the player's minds left the server through some external means, what would happen to their bodies in reality?

Would the NervGear fry their brains simply for stepping into another dimension? Or would they be able to log out if they did leave?

Such were the thoughts running through Kirito's and Asuna's minds at this point.

When they reached their little log cabin, Kirito did a perimeter check to see if anyone had followed them. When that turned up a negative, they all entered, and prepared for the conversation that was certainly to follow.


"If you could get into SAO, what's stopping you from taking the players out of it?" Kirito asked that question.

"Not to be rude or anything, but if Quartzmon's planning something big in this world, not being able to log out of a game is going to seem like a small problem compared to whatever he manages to pull out of his bag of tricks." Yuu explained rather sadly, "He tore apart a whole world just to create a paradox once, I don't want to know what could happen to a place like this."

"I see..." Kirito nodded in understanding, "This is a problem beyond even Kayaba's treachery."

"So..." Asuna started after a moment, "what are you going to do?"

"Probably wander around aimlessly," Corone said as shifted out of her scythe form again. "That's pretty much our standard go-to thing: wander around and just stumble into things."

"Actually, I've been curious about these bosses," Yuu countered, "you mentioned them before, right? So I'd like to see one of them, if that's not too much trouble."

"Then you'll have to wait a bit," Kirito said simply. "The bosses don't re-spawn, so if you want to see one, you'll have to join in on a raid when the next one gets found."

"When will that be?" Yuu asked.

"Probably within the next few days, if the pattern holds up..." Kirito answered. "We'll probably be notified about it despite our requested break, so if you stick around here for a few days, we'll let you know about it."

"Sounds okay to me," Yuu looked to Corone, "what about you?"

"Beats aimlessly wandering," the girl shrugged.

"One condition, however," Asuna spoke up. "If you're going to stay here, could you maybe see if Yui-chan is like you?"

"Huh?" Yuu blinked, "What?"

"She doesn't have an ID Marker, just like you don't," Kirito explained. "I...we think she might have fallen into SAO just like you walked into it."

"I guess it's possible," Yuu looked across the room towards where Yui was playing around with some of the Pickmonz. "I mean, I wouldn't put it past a storm to drop her here randomly, considering some of the other things that have happened with them." He looked to his Xros Loader, "I think I know who could help though."


"RELOAD!" Yuu ordered, and the screen on the Loader flared with a bright green light as a certain Digimon exited the device. "WISEMON!"

"Good evening!" The robed 'mon bowed, "It's a pleasure to meet you both."

For the second time that day, Kirito and Asuna were surprised by yet another inter-dimensional oddity.


Not five minutes later, the living room of the small cottage had become slightly over-run with strange mechanical and electronic devices that had no part of being in SAO. All of these devices had Spirographs painted onto the sides, as well as many stickers of blue arrows randomly splattered over them.

Yui simply stared at all of them in curiosity, while Asuna quickly wished she'd kept her mouth shut so that she could get her living room back. Kirito simply was in awe of the massive system that Wisemon had set up. It was so much more complex than his own computer back home.

After hooking up random looking devices, and pointing a few of them (claimed to be "scanners") at Yui, Wisemon turned the elaborate system on and waited a few moments before one of the machines let loose a ding, and printed out a long scroll of paper.

"And here come the results...!" Wisemon said with a bit of glee as he began shutting down the equipment.

"All of that...?" Corone's eye twitched, "Just for a roll of paper?"

"All of this was in my Xros Loader?" Yuu questioned the scientist, who nodded. "But you've only been in there for a week! How did you get all of that in there in the first place!?"

"I just warped my work space into a card and carried it in when you weren't looking," Wisemon answered as he finally turned to the 'test results' and read them over. "Not that hard, really. The old game system had a similar mechanic originally. I just unpacked that data and..." he trailed off. "Oh. That's curious."

"What is?" Kirito asked, while Asuna got a rather concerned look on her face.

"As far as I can tell, Yui-chan is supposed to be a native part of the Sword Art Online system, however, something unknown caused some major data corruption, resulting in access to her long term memories being scrambled along with access being denied to her original higher tiered functions," Wisemon explained. "Curiously, I am also finding traces of a half-deleted Player ID within her matrix, as if it was used to patch up the corrupted data in a hurry. I could try to correct that memory access damage however, if you'd like? But I'm not sure it would do very much good in unlocking her higher data functions given that those parameters seem to have been overwritten by that Player ID."

Kirito and Asuna looked towards the little girl, who smiled at them.

"Help Yui-chan with her memories, please," Asuna decided.

"It will probably take me a few days to figure a way out to do it safely," Wisemon nodded, "but since we seem to have that time, I don't see any problem with that limit. Such a refreshing change of pace from before! Always having to figure things out on the fly, so much stress!"

SEVERAL DAYS LATER_ _ _| NOVEMBER 7TH, 2024_ _ _| AINCRAD 48TH FLOOR_ _ _|

It was the day before that word came in- The Boss of the 75th floor had been discovered, and several players had died just in the scouting mission alone. Kirito and Asuna were called back from their vacation/honeymoon (the fact of which Yuu had been completely caught offguard by) by the commander of the Knights of the Blood Oath guild, and when they were briefed on it, they told Yuu exactly what they had learned, which really wasn't all that much.

The doors had closed on the advanced team, and when they opened again, those players were simply gone. It would be three hours until the already deadly boss fight, and since Yui was still without her memories and Yuu would be joining the two Clearers in the fight, the immediate decision was to find someone to watch the girl during the boss raid.

Kirito and Asuna had decided immediately that it would be a blacksmith named Lizbeth.

"Ohaiyo!" The girl (with matching pink hair and eyes) who greeted them with a wave was this Lizbeth, and much to Yuu's surprise, she looked rather familiar, though he couldn't quite place it just yet. (He figured it was probably more of that "Soul Duplication" stuff caused by the storms.)

Asuna was the one who asked the smith, a long time friend of hers and Kirito's, to watch Yui. Lizbeth agreed to do it, although not without her fair share of friendly joking.

"Geeze, Asuna, not two weeks married, and you've already got a kid!" A sly smile.

"It-It's Not Like That!" A furious blush.

"Uh huh." An 'understanding' nod, followed by a polite smile and a "Of course I'll look after her!"

After that, Lizbeth turned her attention to Yuu, "So who's the new guy? And is that a scythe!?"

"It's a long story," Kirito said with a shrug, "so, we'll tell you after the boss fight."

"Sure, sure," Lizbeth raised an eyebrow, "Whatever you say, Kirito."


From that Smith Shop, they teleported up to the 75th floor, and joined the crowd that was going to be a part of the raid.

"Oi, Kirito!" Also a part of it were two others, whom Yuu was introduced to as Klein, of some guild he didn't quite catch the name of, and Agil, a shop keep who wielded a rather large ax.

They too, were caught by surprise of Yuu's signature weapon, and so were many others who saw the boy wearing a coat that they'd once all seen at one time or another on the Black Swordsman Kirito.

All of them were pacified with the answer, "I trained with it in real life, so when I encountered a scythe using monster, I took it," for the mean time, with most simply treating it as an Outside Skill that the game had accepted. (After all, Kirito had his Dual Blades skill that seemed to have come from nowhere.)

Most people, strangely, managed to overlook the lack of a cursor over the boy's head (Or maybe they were just being polite?), although a few gave him stray glances that seemed to think there was something up.

All of this, too, was striking Yuu as familiar for some reason.

When the commander of the KOB, the man called "Heathcliff," arrived, he gave Yuu an odd look that Asuna couldn't recognize as coming from that man before, but then went right ahead and did something even stranger than the potential puzzle Yuu presented.

Heathcliff used a [Corridor Crystal] to teleport them all to the Boss room doors.

Kirito explained it, although it seemed like he himself was trying to figure out why, as, "Corridor Crystals are really expensive. Why would he use one so passively when we could simply walk to the dungeon?"

Regardless, they were all there in front of the massive doors, and the boss fight was soon to begin.

Kirito and Asuna broke off into their own party, practically, by telling Heathcliff that if it came down to it, they'd try to save the other over themselves. He didn't blame them on it, though he still kept sending odd looks towards Yuu.

In the end, though, the massive raid group had the door opened, and they entered the rather large chamber.


The doors slammed shut the moment the last person entered the relatively empty room, the sight of which was giving Yuu a really bad case of de ja vu.

"Where's the boss?" murmurs began to rise up from the group.

And then, someone screamed as they looked up, "IT'S ABOVE US!"

"SCATTER!" another person cried...

And then [The Skull Reaper] descended from the rooftops, and Yuu remembered why things were becoming familiar over the last few hours.


It had all been a dream before. Something he'd had months back, just before one of those anniversary karaoke party's they'd done. Before they knew Quartzmon was a threat.

The dream had been as dreams tend to be: loose, shaky, and unreliable.

Such was the case here. That Dream "The Skull Reaper" had been fought and killed in what he remembered to be a few minutes. Not so here. It had already been a little over fifteen minutes now. Funny, time seems to be more observable when you're trying to hold something back.

Such was the case here. Yuu and Heathcliff were both holding back The Skull Reaper's twin arm blades and their repeated attacks. Where Heathcliff's shield blocked the continual pierce attack, Yuu's scythe continually kept it moving backwards.

Meanwhile, with the front two arms of the skeletal centipede held back, the other party members were free to attack at it from below.

Yuu couldn't see the health bar for the monster at all, but Kirito had kept him, and everyone else who couldn't see it due to the awkward angles of the Boss's construction, by shouting out when it's health reached a critical stage. Usually every third of a HP Bar.

Ten minutes passed after the Fifteen minute mark, and by then they'd managed to trim down two thirds of the second of five bars. This was going slowly- Too slowly. Even when Yuu activated either of Corone's attacks to put that one scythe arm on the defensive, it barely made any progress on the bar.

'If this were up against Time Seven,' Yuu thought briefly, 'could we even put a scratch on it?'

By another fifteen minutes, the skeletal Boss had hit it's third bar. Then it's reactions changed entirely. The Skull Reaper reared back- all attacks against it putting up "Immortal Object" tags for the few moments that it was undergoing its transformation- and threw its two blade arms out to the side, where they split clean in two, and formed a second set of arms as the coloring of its bone changed from white to a corrupted green, and a good portion of it's lower body simply dissolved away in a shower of green, yellow, and blue polygons. Completing the transformation off was a familiar lump growing on the forehead of the transformed Boss monster- directly on the center was a lime green hourglass in a red circle.

"What the-?!" Yuu heard the man Heathcliff gasp in surprise as it did this. In fact, most of everyone there gasped as well. It was pretty much safe to say that this was not what anyone was expecting from this boss- or rather- a Quartzmon Tower.

All movement seemed to stop as The Skull Reaper let loose a roar very different from the chattering sounds it had made before and then threw it's left arms towards Heathcliff while holding it's right arms back in reserve for some strange reason.

The man's shield barely caught the attack- but such was the force behind those spindly arms that he went flying across the room.

Nobody knew what to make of this- but only Yuu had to focus on it now. The Skull Reaper seemed to have changed from "Kill Everyone at once" mode to "Kill one at a time" mode, and now that Heathcliff was seemingly incapacitated, the Boss was turning towards the other person who had been on the defensive to keep it at bay.

"Yuu!" Corone's voice cut through the air from the scythe, and he leaped to action.

"DEMON HUNTER!"

Much like had been demonstrated earlier in the battle, a wave of energy shot out and hit The Skull Reaper square in the shoulder, making it reel back with an un-earthly pain-filled scream.

Unlike before, however, a slightly larger portion of health bar diminished from that strike, not that many had noticed it. Klein had, and so he launched a Sword Skill as well- striking The Skull Reaper in one of it's remaining fifty legs.

"It's Weaker!" the guild master shouted when a larger portion of the HP bar dropped.

They all got the point then.

And so, as Yuu began jumping away, trying to dodge the Boss's enraged, four armed attacks, the other Players of the clearing group began launching their Sword Skills- each of them noting that their attacks were causing progressively more damage.

Within two minutes, the third Health Bar was depleted, and the fourth began to drain.

Another minute after that, the fourth was down to 25%.

And another minute after that, the boss was finally down to half-health remaining on its final bar- the red zone- and The Skull Reaper lost the use of it's legs (they dissolved away into those oddly colored polygons right out from under it), sending it sprawling forward, only able to support itself with its second set of arms.

It began to flay about wildly, swinging its arms left and right and all around, all in an attempt to hit the little targets around it.

This must have been its third stage: "Stay away from me!" mode.

Not that anyone cared.

With the boss limited in its attack range, it was fairly easy to avoid those wild swings, and soon The Skull Reaper was down to 15%.

Everyone unleashed their highest Skills then- With many leaping into the air to strike down at the beast from above.

Yuu, of course, targeted the monster's annoying forehead mark- smashing it to pieces with one Breath Impact strike.

And then, with that combined final strike, The Skull Reaper exploded into a shower of the correctly colored Blue Polygons.

"CONGRATULATIONS!" the System told them all with a proud banner.

As the crowd began to sigh in relief, the clearing party began taking stock of the damages...

"Just under an hour to defeat it," Kirito said after glancing at the time, then towards the floor map: "Five dead."

"We've got six in critical!" Someone added to the damage count, "Someone get me healing potions stat!"

Adding to that insane amount of damage to the party, three more were unconscious from blows received from the boss that sent them hurtling into the walls- one of them being the KOB commander Heathcliff.

All in all, 14 people- Four. Teen. People- were out of commission after that fight. Five of them never to return.

The 75th floor's clearing would soon pass through the lower floors, and everyone would cheer at another floor being cleared, along with rumors beginning to circulate about a mysterious Scythe master who had joined this floor's battle.

Although one who heard the news about this...Well...

He wasn't happy at all.


Quartzmon snarled slightly as streaks of green lightning zipped past him in time-space. "Only the Amano boy came?! Where the hell are the others!?"

The Cascade of Misfortune was catching up to this universe. His plan of distraction relied on more of Xros Heart being in the S.A.O. universe: that created castle "Aincrad."

But no! Only the Amano boy was in the Castle!

Quartzmon peered into the Castle's mother Dimension: The Earth that spawned multiple worlds from its core- that "Seed" program. "Ah..." So that was where some of them were.

A small group from the Core Worlds were there, some of them temporal duplicates of themselves! "What are they doing there?"

It was the Heroes from what had become known to him as "The Adventure Template Dimension." Those so called "Digidestined" or "Chosen Children." Bah, how pathetic. Couldn't they come up with a better name? But no, the universe seemed fit to continually taunt him with those phrases, throwing them into dimensions whose heroes didn't even fit that description!

A spark of temporal energy caught his attention, and Quartzmon turned to follow it.

He couldn't get too close at the moment, but at this distance it appeared to be a future version of himself trying to pull the Castle out of another dimension. How had that happened? Hmf, he supposed he'd find out eventually. But still...

"Worry-some." Quartzmon noted.

But it gave him an idea.

"Moving the castle across dimensions?" he chuckled as he took the flow of time back to that time when he was free to meddle, before casually slipping in the designs for a Temporal Engine into the top floor of Aincrad and completely overhauling the designs of the 76th floor onward up to that last floor.

He suddenly had a new plan.


[The 76th Floor] was unlike anything they'd expected.

There was no sky- for one thing.

It was all pipe work and rusted metal and unfinished structures.

No [Mobs] had been found yet at all during the initial scouting of this new floor.

It was as if the [Designers] had left the floor in disrepair, as if not even expecting the players to make it this far.

For the next few hours- the [Clearing Party] cautiously explored the new floor- trying to find the [Root Town] for that floor.

This was the scenario that Kayaba, Akihiko,- A.K.A. [Heathcliff] had awoken to.

He was just as confused as everyone else.

'I did not design this.' For the first time in his life- Kayaba found himself scared and worried.

The discovery of this new floor had left him trapped within the game like the players before him- though in a different sense of "Trapped."

He had no threat of death- as he had once claimed- from the Nerv Gear devices- however, the fact that he could no longer log out from his own [Game Master Console] left him in a worry-some state.

Death from starvation was a very real concern for him now- but beyond that- the fact that his own custom designed floor plan was changed was a more startling fact.

The Game Had Changed.

The 75th Floor Boss had several different forms, according to the players that had been left to wait for him to wake up, something that he'd never programmed into it.

Kayaba found himself wondering what had caused these changes and how it had slipped past his notice. But- for the time being- he would search for answers alongside the players.


The 76th Floor was completely empty, Kayaba realized rather quickly. The entire place was a [Safe Zone], no monsters could spawn within at all.

There were no NPCs, no quests, nothing.

The entire Floor was a giant wasteland of machines and structures without purpose.

It was soon after the fourth day on that floor that [The 77th Floor] Gates had been found- curiously abandoned by the Boss he'd placed there to guard it.

This, Kayaba grimaced, was not good at all.

The 77th Floor itself was a delightful change of pace with exactly one regard:

The floor's roof was turned on- displaying an idle, flickering, pale blue light upon an otherwise identical floor.

This too- deviated from Kayaba's plan.

Something was very, very wrong.


The 77th Floor Dungeon tower was locked from the outside- prompting the first system based message that had been seen on those two floors- "Locked By Quest."

Obviously- there was something on those two individual floors that was needed to be found before they could progress further.

THREE DAYS LATER_ _ _| SOMEWHERE ON FLOOR 76_ _ _|

The 76th Floor continued to be explored in tandem with The 77th Floor.

Yet still, no monsters had appeared in either, not even in what were clearly dungeons-to-be. The system seemed to refuse to acknowledge their presence within the world on that floor at all.

Yuu Amano found that it was a fitting change to the scenery with his arrival into the game.

At the moment, he, Kirito, Asuna, the blacksmith Lizbeth, and the young girl Yui were exploring a small portion of the strange floor together- hoping to see if this fit any of Yui's scattered memories of "a Dark Place."

"It's familiar...and yet...different," Yui shook her head. While Wisemon's data treatments had seemed to stabilize Yui's existing memories, to the point of being able to recall them rather well, most of her past still seemed locked awya.

And so they explored on.

"This reminds me of the underworld of Sweets Zone," Wisemon had commented at one point when he'd come out to investigate a strange object. (Lizbeth had reacted rather humorously upon first seeing him.)


Meanwhile, on the 77th Floor- a door was found- and through that door, a console filled with leavers and buttons- and at the center of it all was a strange keyboard with an oddly shaped button.

It looked like a blue rectangle.

The Questers who found it pressed the button and hoped for the best.


GONG.

A deep bell resonated across the 76th floor- and Yui looked up at the roof in surprise.

"That sound...!" her tiny hands clenched into fists.

"Yui-chan?" Asuna asked of the girl moments before.. "YUI-CHAN!"

Yui was running through the buildings and machines towards some unseen destination.

"Quick! After her!" Kirito took off.

"Right!" Yuu and Asuna were off after them in a heart-beat.

Soon- Yui found a door- a sealed door- a locked door- and was pounding her fists against it. "We've got to get in here! We've got to get in!"

The door had only one obvious way of opening it: A dent in the wall shaped like a Xros Loader as seen from the back.

"What the heck?" Yuu frowned, "How can that be here?"

"We've got to get in!" Yui insisted- continuing to pound against the door as if her life depended on it.

"Yuu," Kirito looked to the other boy, "Maybe you should...?"

"Right," Yuu nodded, and pulled out his Xros Loader.

By the time Lizbeth caught up to them- she was panting from exhaustion- "Geeze! What's with the AGI stats on you guys?"

It was at that moment that Yuu pushed his Xros Loader into the shape in the door- and it activated- the top piece extending up into the door itself and out of sight. A second later- the Digivice beeped in confirmation- and it retracted it's top before floating out of the door in a faint sphere of yellow light.

Yuu caught his Xros Loader just as a crack and a rumble resounded from the door- and it slid backwards into the wall before descending into the floor.

"Woah," Lizbeth stared at it, "That's something you don't see every day."

A light flickered on just inside the tunnel- and then another just further down. More could be heard activating, but they couldn't be seen at that distance.

"I guess we go in then," Kirito drew his two swords, just in case something lay inside ready to attack them.


The tunnel seemed to go on for quite a while before they finally found what was at the end- a moderately sized room similar to the one that Thinker had been trapped in.

The only differences were the shape (Circular), the Lighting (pitch black otherwise, excluding a faint blue glow covering the room), and the contents of the room (the objects providing the blue glow).

What were those objects?

Twin glass pillars of oxygenated liquid flowing up into the roof from the floor- and inside those pillars were two children, of approximate age to Yui- a boy and a girl.

"What...?" Asuna approached the pillar containing the girl, "Who are these two?"

"Cardinal," Yui spoke up as she stared at the two pillars, "the representations of the twin servers controlling this world." She took a step towards the two trapped children, and muttered, "But how...? They shouldn't have a presence here..."

"Yui," Kirito had to ask, "how do you know that?"

"I don't...But I do..." Yui reached a hand towards the pillar containing the boy, "I think I'm their little sister...or maybe a daughter...?" the girl frowned, "No...Definitely a sibling. They...I fell like they..."

"They shouldn't be in there, right?" Yuu asked, staring at the pillar containing the girl, completely shocked at how much she looked like the human form of a certain Flute playing PawnChessmon's human form. Every last detail in the face right down to the curls in the hair. "Like they should be somewhere else, right?"

"Exactly..." Yui nodded, "they shouldn't be in here."

"Alright then," Yuu nodded, stepping towards the pillars as he drew his scythe from his back, "I'll cut them out with a glass targeting wavelength."

"Wait, don't you think we should-!" Lizbeth was cut off as a single cry filled the air.

"DEMON HUNTER!"

The glass tubes cracked from the impact of the glass-targeting wavelength- and moments later the entire things shattered into polygons, flooding the room with the oxygenated liquid, and dropping the two children down onto the grated floor of their tubes.

And so- as Kirito and Asuna stepped in to pull the two children out of the tubes, Quartzmon smirked as he watched them from just outside the dimensional wall.

"Exactly as planned," he chuckled as he stepped his fingers in front of his nose and mouth.


The moment they got the two children out of the tunnels- now dressed up in dryer clothing that Lizbeth had lying around- the door behind them closed suddenly- and a familiar bell toned across all of Aincrad.

On every floor thus far- a familiar red screen stretched across the sky: [SYSTEM ANNOUNCEMENT.]


Nobody was teleported- Heathcliff was visibly relieved by this- but the simple fact of the matter was that he was not the one that had summoned this message.

"Ahhem, ahhem, Testing, One Two Threee..." A voice spoke from everywhere at once.


Yuu's eyes narrowed, "That can't be..."

"It's not Kayaba," Kirito said instantly.

"Hello, everyone, and Welcome to [Sword Art Online], Players." the voice said, "Where [Death] in this world means [Death] in the Real World. As you already know..."

Lizbeth stared up at the glowing red roof above them with wide, fearful eyes. Why was this happening again?

"The only way out of Sword Art Online is to [Clear] all [100 Floors]." The voice paused to laugh, "Oh, but forgive my rudeness, I've yet to introduce myself."

Yuu grit his teeth, "Quartzmon."

"My name is [Quartzmon], and I, as you might have been able to tell," there was a laugh, "have [Dethroned] your [Game Master], Kayaba, Akihiko!"


Kayaba grit his teeth. "What the hell is this?" he asked to nobody in particular.

"I'll let you in on a little secret." Quartzmon said, "He was never actually in complete control of this world. And, furthermore, he has no idea of this fun fact that I'm about to lay down upon you all..."


"Quartzmon," Yuu frowned, "just what the hell is your game here?"

"The [NervGear] that allowed you to access this game was modified by none other than me to include a molecular deconstruction device. But what's that, you ask?" Quartzmon chuckled, "SURELY you've noticed by now, after two years! Your bodies are too perfectly copied! Details that should be impossible to collect on an avatar are there! Scars and birthmarks...And haven't you noticed your 'avatars' aging either?"

"Is he saying what I think he's saying?" Asuna asked. "That our bodies here are our real bodies?"

"I think he is..." Kirito's eyes widened.

"AHAHAH! Oh man, this is really rich! You should see the looks on your faces! Haha! I think I'll screen capture this and send you all a copy of your faces right this moment!" Quartzmon's sentence was punctuated by the ping of an incoming message to every player at once.

"How the heck...?" Liz took a step back away from the picture message she'd just opened. "That's us! Right here and now...!"


"Alright, fun's over. Time for me to put it all down on the line for you folks." Quartzmon's laughter died down. "The rules are the same- you still have to clear all 100 Floors inorder to exit the game...But there's something more here that you should be aware of..." Quartzmon's voice took on a sinister tone. "The way back to your world isn't through any log out button, no."

Kayaba grit his teeth at this.

"As of a minute ago- two groups of players on two separate floors simultaneously removed the locks that the [Cardinal System] that runs this game put in place to prevent my little surprise form working. Congratulations! You've just completely screwed over every world in existence!" Quartzmon's voice held a mocking tone there.


"Oh my god, what did we do?" A player, the one who pressed the blue button, asked as they cradled their head. "What did we DO?!"


"The way out of this 'game' is simply powering up the [Temporal Dive Machine] at the 100th Floor's [Scarlet Jade Palace], and entering a string of coordinates to a certain universe." Quartzmon continued. "I know at least ONE of you knows what I'm talking about."

Yuu's eyes widened slightly.

"But you see...Aincrad is under MY control now." Quartzmon emphasized the "my" so heavily it echoed through the streets and floors. "The Cardinal System itself has been disconnected as part of it's own counter measures of preventing my little plans! HAH! How lame and foolish can you GET to even fall for my obvious fake out like that? HUH Cardi-chan? That leaves me in control of this world. And that leaves ME in the position of power."

"Cardinal...?" Yui frowned, glancing at the rescued twins. "These two were...?"

"I have complete control of the system commands, and the Temporal Dive Machine itself." Quartzmon continued on, "And as my first order of business to kick off this game proper, I'll be pulling us out of this pocket universe and into the [Untempered Schism] itself! Just to prove to all you Nay Sayers that I'm serious here."


The entire castle of Aincrad shook violently as the Scarlet Jade Castle on top of pulsed with a crimson aura.

There was a massive grinding sound as the entire world around the castle seemed to fade away... almost like a key being scraped over a piano wire.

The Castle pulsed three times- as the endless orange clouds became replaced by the endless void of space-time itself with each pulse.

When the shaking stopped- and everyone found themselves still on solid ground...


Quartzmon continued on. "There. See? I'm absolutly serious here. So tell you what! I'll give you all a sporting chance. Two months to clear the rest of Sword Art Online and reach this castle that I now call home. You do that and you can guarantee that the next leap will be the one back to your little blue ball of water called Earth."

Yuu stared at the red screens in disbelief. Was Quartzmon REALLY going to give them a chance to-?

"It's this damn mainframe. Keeps itching and bugging and fussing about keeping things [Fair]! BLECK." Quartzmon seemed to be repulsed by that thought.

"Okay," Yuu said aloud, "That answers that question."

"BUT! If you all don't pull it together in time and get up here? Well...I'm going to take this baby on a test run and...well...Let's just say your earth won't exactly look the way you left it when I get through with it. Consider it a new Quest to complete..Oh wait! It is!"


Kayaba stared down at the newly appeared item on the [Quest List] with a subtle smirk on his face. Hah! The Cardinal System got it's revenge even if it had been disconnected. The [Game Balance] had been preserved even after such a massive upheaval! There was still a chance to end this peaceably and without further blood shed!

"So yeah, that's it! Happy hunting and all that jazz," A piece of Quartzmon's voice seemed to twitch at that. "Not [Smooth Jazz], however. There will be NO Smooth Jazz being played at all during the course of this Quest at all! DO YOU HEAR ME!? NO SMOOTH JAZZ. AT ALL!"

Everyone stared up at the screens incredulously at that.


"Smooth move, GLaDOS," Corone muttered.

"AHHEM." Quartzmon coughed- "that is all!"

And with a -BLOOP-, the red screens all vanished, leaving Aincrad in silence.

"Well." Yuu said after a moment. "I think we might have a chance to stop this after all."


EARTH: #S-404-Lo-FPT

NOVEMBER 11TH, 2024.

12:08 A.M. JAPAN STANDARD TIME.


Meanwhile- in an office building on the Earth that had spawned Sword Art Online...

...A man stared at a computer monitor that was the only source of light in the night time room.

If all things had gone according to plan, the man's partner had just successfully taken control over Sword Art Online's entire structure: AINCRAD. An INCrinating RADius.

The man giggled to himself even as dreams of forgotten realities flooded his memory. "Kayaba..." He hissed, "Oh how I wish I could have seen that look of surprise on your real face..."

That man had been an utter genius, the man thought, to have made technology that could suck you into a game body, soul, and mind. Nobody in the world's governments could understand how it was possible.

One moment they were there.

BWOOSH.

The next?! The man giggled- They were gone!

GONE!

...Gone gone gone! No longer in existence. They had CEASED to be! They were EX-People!

Now only players of a game of a game of a game!

A GAME.

...King Oberon sat on his ThRoNe.

The insane man giggled even more. None knew of his plans. Not even the backers that supplied him with the

...Yuuduro

COIN.

Cash to fund his

Project

...[EXPERIMENT]

Video Game- ALFHEIM ONLINE

Home of the Faries

...FLY! FLY my preeties... FLYYYY!

Knew what he was planning. They would see, they would all see-

Crackers? No that is not my name.

..."I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!"

...Maybe. Wait. No. Impossible. Can't be.

STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP

"...Ehhheeee..." The man clamped his hands over his ears and giggled to himself. Not even his boss-

I WANT HIM TO BE MY FATHER. MY REAL FATHER. NOT THE-

...She hates me she hates me she'll never marry me unless I can convince him to-

But she's inside the game. She could be dead.

"He'll hate me if she's dead."

Knew of the depths of his insanity. Only the magic man. The Crystalline being.

Quartzmon.

"I know what it's like, dear Sugou, to be thought of as insane by those around me."

"What? how?"

"I've dealt with it personally, you could say."

TORMENT. TORTURE.

DROW SN'WO Y'MNOG'NILL A' FYBE'ID

Only He understood. Only HE knew how it felt...How to hide it and how to manipulate it to his own ends and purposes and-

He's going to betray you, you know.

...NO NO NO NO NONONONONO! NOT LISTENING!

What makes you think he'll follow his end of the bargain and even deliver you the girl?

The Castle?

The Players?

...THE CEO RUSE IS A DISTACTION!

...I *HAVE* THE LEVERAGE!

You're truly insane, you know, if you believe anything inside your own head at this point.

"LALALALALALALA! I AM NOT LISTENING!"

He cringed at the light and the flickering lines of text on the screen- reeling backwards and stumbling away from the chair even as the thoughts possessed his mind.

You don't know who you're up against.

Who HE has brought down upon you.

...*I* am the one in control.
...CoNtRoLl.
...CONTROL
...control
...HoNk.

Why does he bother with you? Don't you realize that you're making yourself an easy mark? Someone who will be easily controlled instead of being the one who-

"SHUT UP!" he shouted, reaching into his pocket for the solution. "SHUT UP SHUT UP!"

Medicine can't cure your kind of insanity.

"I SAID SHUT UP!"

The man swallowed the magic potion and counted backwards...

Ten...Nine

...8

7

...6

Five... FoUr...

THREE

...two

"One..." Noboyuki, Sugou, stood alone in his empty office once more, and took a deep breath before exhaling slowly. He ran his hands through his tussled hair and composed himself.

He glanced at the clock: just after midnight. No wonder his mind had begun to slip. These late night workings on his secret project had lead to him slipping up on his finely crafted schedule.

He hated the voices.

His associate knew well what kind of madness this was. And a cure was promised. A cure not of this world. But of another.

As the Director of the Research Institute of RECTO Progress Inc., he had to investigate any and all possibilities into these worlds.

Even if they were Digital.

His associate- Quartzmon- assured him that digital cures were just as valid as physical ones, especially since computer data could take on a physical form.

The insanity that had gripped him moments before faded away into the depths of the night, and Sugou took deep breaths to push it even further away.

Soon- he would Rescue Asuna Yuuki from the castle, and her father- his boss- would allow her to marry him.

If she were still alive, that was.

He had to wait for his associate to finish preparing the game from the inside for his eventual take over. The conversion from a Castle to a [War Machine] was a long one. It would take just shy of Two Months after this critical juncture. Or at least, it would if Quartzmon couldn't get the Temporal Dive Machine working in time.

A time machine.

A Time Castle.

A Time Traveling Castle that could destroy entire

...WORLDS.

"No." He took a breath- keeping the insanity at bay. He wouldn't let his sanity slip at this critical juncture.

He had plans.

Quartzmon had plans.

And the next step was secretly activating the molecular transmitters inside the AMUSpheres that had been specifically designed to NOT have those devices in them. But when he was in charge of production, design, supply, and demand- anything could get past those pesky "Security Checks" with the right amount of money.

Sugou straightened his tie out, and turned to turn off the computer.

"Hello, again."

Sugou froze at the voice behind him. Moments away from shutting down the computer, Sugou stopped and turned to see who it was that had just spoken.

He knew- of course- who it was.

It was the boy who was his Associate's Middle Man: Ryouma Mogami. However- in the limited lighting of the room from the computer- he looked just as spooky as Quartzmon had in their first encounter.

"Oh, it's you, Mogami," Sugou took a moment to compose himself- of course it would be this boy. Who else would suddenly appear at this hour? "What do you want?"

"Just to confirm that our arrangement is still on track?" Ryouma inquired. "On your end, I mean."

"O-Of course," Sugou paled slightly. Recreating the [SAO Incident] within ALO would be tough, but it could be done. "I'll have everything ready by new years. We'll be ready to deploy on schedule during the peak hours of the new Quest Event in January."

"Good, good," Ryouma smirked. "With that out of the way, I'm allowed to let you know that, baring any more third party interference, Aincrad has been caputred, and will be delivered on schedule once the conversions are complete."

"That's good to know," Sugou frowned. "Wait, what do you mean by 'any more'?"

"A troublesome boy has managed to enter Sword Art Online," Ryouma explained, "one Yuu Amano from another dimension. We were expecting a larger group to appear for us to trap within Aincrad during the take over, but the Amano boy seems to have come alone for the moment. If he has allies with him, they've remained hidden and we can't track their whereabouts at the moment." He checked his watch, "But, that shouldn't matter at any rate. We've had a back up plan in place since he appeared. With any luck, the ones caught in that trap will be erased with a doomed timeline, and the interlopers who would put an end to our schemes will be disorganized to the point of never being able to form a resistance to your glorious descent to power."

"Don't you mean ascent?" Sugou asked.

"...Yes," Ryouma smirked, "I did."

And with a burst of static- the boy vanished from the room- leaving Sugou alone once more with his thoughts.

After a moment- Sugou opened up the bottle for his medicine and took another dose, just to be on the safe side.


JANUARY 8TH, 2025.

KIRIGAYA HOUSE HOLD.

4:13 P.M.


Suguha Kirigaya- Kazuto Kirigaya's younger sister- stared at the empty NervGear laying on her brother's bed for what seemed to be the millionth time that decade.

Two years ago, 10,000 players were literally sucked away into Sword Art Online, held ransom by the madman Kayaba Akihiko- whose sole demand was that, if the players families wished to see their loved ones alive and well again, that they leave the NervGear plugged in and running or else when the game was cleared that the players who attempted to return suddenly find that they would have no way to return and their bodies forever trapped within SAO's servers.

Some foolish people had disregarded that advice and thrown the accursed devices away- or damaged them irreparably. And although it was not yet confirmed if such things would actually prevent a player's return- the sudden disappearance of the SAO server data had rendered the point of leaving the devices on moot.

At the same time as the 75 floor had been cleared, the website for SAO had ceased updating its current stats board under the Admin account name "Heathcliff", and instead had begun updating under the moniker "Q", first posting a vague timer limit that would be expiring on this very day, followed by continuing to update the stats of the game.

The floors had begun to be cleared faster than ever- and many theorists suspected that a rogue agent had hacked into the game server and transfered the data elsewhere- out of the public eye.

Every NervGear had been kept watch with on that day- everyone hoping that their loved ones would return from the game by the time the timer reached Zero.

Suguha held no such concerns for today. "Wish me luck, Onii-chan," she said before turning with a flourish to head towards her own room.

Despite the damage to the VRMMO Genre that SAO had done in the first year- the release of "AMUSphere", a similar device that was made without the molecular transportation devices that had pulled every SAO player into the game, brought about a boom in the game industry.

Before the SAO Server and Game data had vanished, two new VRMMOs had come out on the first year anniversary, with their physics engines and graphics ripped straight from Sword Art Online.

Those two games were the Japanese Exclusive game [ALfheim Online], and the Internationally released, USA born game [Gale Gun Online].

Suguha had joined ALfheim Online due to it's fantasy setting being closer to what Sword Art Online had promised- she had wanted to understand what had drawn her brother into the game that now held 10,000 people hostage.

Over the year that followed- Suguha, as the [Sylph Swordswoman Leefa], had become drawn into the politics of the game and became one of the top ranked Sylph players due to her kendo skills.

Skills that had placed her and another player, whom she'd known in real life and had actually introduced her to the game, named [Recon] at the top of the Sylph Government as bodyguards for the elected leader.

Suguha entered her room, and donned the AMUSphere, gazing up at the poster that Recon had had printed from a screenshot he'd taken as a birthday present for her. It was a weird angle- having been taken mid-flight during one of their first missions- of her avatar from behind as she looked over her shoulder and laughed at Recon's poor flight skills.

Even despite the unflattering angle Recon had taken the picture in, it reminded Suguha why she played the game- and who she was inside of it.

Long blond hair- green eyes- translucent wings over a green cape- The Swordswoman Leefa.

"Link Start." Suguha said quietly- and a flash of colored lights later-


VALLEY OF BUTTERFLIES

14:13 ALFHEIM STANDARD TIME

8TH OF FIRST MOON- 1806.


Leefa opened her eyes and sat up inside the tent she'd left her avatar in that morning.

With a yawn and a stretch- Leefa got to her feet and climbed out of the tent.

"Ah, Leefa-san," An older Sylph Woman- the Farie Lord Sakuya- smiled at her, "I was wondering when you'd wake up."

"I had to take care of some things first," Leefa appologized, bowing slightly. "Asking my brother for good luck in this..."

"Ah, right," Sakuya nodded- understanding immediately. "Well, then, let's get started?"

"Right."


The [Cait Sith - Sylvain Alliance] was being held in neutral territory. Both Races would be working together to take a run at the [World Tree Quest], but it would take time, patience, and money to fund such an expedition.

Very rarely did the Farie Lords leave their capital citys- for fear of being [Assassinated] by another Race, and having their towns and players free to being raided and taxed by that assasinating race.

These two Lords, however, the Sylvain leader Sakuya and the Cait Sith leader [Alicia Rue], had no reason to distrust the other- being friends in the [Dream World] that was, sadly, the [Real World].

The in-game alliance was just a formality, in this case, to allow the game system to accept the alliance between the races, when all the terms had been discussed by the friends in the real world, free of espionage and threat of death.

However- Leefa had a bad feeling about this meeting.

Too many Sylph Raids had been targeted by the most aggressive of the Nine Races- the [Salamanders]. If there was a spy among the Sylph ranks who was leaking such information, then surely that spy would have leaked information of the meet to the Salamanders.

That had been the reason why Leefa had brought so many Sylph guards that she knew were not spies and could trust completely to guard the meet- and had insisted her counterpart in Cait Sith security do the same.

If the Salamanders were to attack- this would be the perfect chance to take out two races at once.

The alliance terms were spelled out and the contracts written up in-game for the first time.

Everyone anticipated the moment of signing...

Leefa- however- was distracted by an ingame message that had appeared suddenly.

[Leefa! Danger! Sigurd Betraye-]

The Message ended abruptly, and then she heard it.

Buzzing.

The beat of thousands of wings.

Up in the sky directly to the south was the entire Salamander raid forces- led by General Eugene, wielder of the unblock-able [Demonic Sword Gram].

Leefa readied her sword, a katana by choice, and the other guards did the same. "Sakuya-san, Alicia-san," she said, "run while we hold them off. Sign the treaty mid flight if you can...!"

"I don't think we'd be able to get that far, Leefa-nyan," Alicia said sadly. "There's too many of them...!"

"Attention, Sylphs and Caits," Eugene said softly, and yet loudly to all thanks to the skill [Speaker's Voice], as he drew his sword and leveled at them, "surrender now or we will be forced to kill you all."

"Yeah, right!" Leefa shouted, "Like hell you'd let us live with this massive army!"

Eugene narrowed his eyes, and opened his mouth to speak when a Salamander cried out from behind him.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?"

Everyone in the Salamanders were looking up to the north- high up behind the gathered Sylphs and Cait Siths...

Leefa took a risk- she glanced over her shoulder towards the World Tree.

What she saw made her very, very confused.

Everyone knew that in the following days, a new game update was coming, along with the release of a new Quest Tree Line to go along with it...

But this was too soon for it to happen.

Too soon.

And it didn't fit at all.

It was a massive, dark purple storm cloud that was high up above the World Tree, swirling around just above it like a massive hurricane turned upside down.

Lightning zapped out of the forming eye of the storm- blue in color- as a massive grinding sound filled the air- echoing from the storm from the center of ALfheim to the furthest edges of the Continent.

And then something began to descend from the storm.

It was vaguely egg shaped- with massive protrusions from the bottom sticking out to the side that looked like a bunch of arms holding swords.

It was metallic in color- almost bronze if not for the silver reflections coming off of it- and the top of it was pulsing red.

A Scarlet Jade Castle.

"That's...!" A Sylph shouted in surprise, "That's Aincrad!"

"That's the castle from SAO!" A Cait Sith seconded.

"What the hell!?" A Salamander shouted- "What's that doing here!? How did it even-?"

And then the castle came to a stop just above the branches of the World Tree by letting off a pulse of energy that dispersed the storm above it.

Silence fell over ALfheim...

Moments later- Leefa felt the air currents change just before the shock wave from the pulse ran over them all- scattering the air-born Salamanders to the wind, and forcing everyone on the ground to hunker down to weather out the ride.

And so- as calm fell over the Valley of Butterflies once more, Leefa got to her feet and stared out at the new addition to the game with wide eyes.

And then...

Leefa started laughing.

Alicia Rue stared at the girl for a moment, before she started laughing too.

Soon- the laughter spread to everyone else at the summit as the absurdity of the situation sunk in.

An alliance had been saved by a Castle from another video game appearing out of thin air.

"Onii-chan!" Leefa cried out through her laughter. Somehow, just SOMEHOW, she knew that her brother had done this. "THANK YOU!"

TO BE CONTINUED IN:

THE HOWLING CASTLE MOVES!


A.N.: Heheh...hahahaha...AHAHAHAHAHAH!

Man, needs to have a RIGHT aligned feature. Sugou's Insanity section looks SO Much better with three alignment types. When I get to Live blogging this on A-Xros Time and Space, I'll have to adjust that for you all to read in it's truly insane glory! :33

That said- this was the fastest X0VA i've put out to date. Must be because I've been working on it off and on since I started the X0VAs... Heh. Had it half finished by the time I got to X0VA-5. ^u^ _DTC