Before you guys scold me, I have a legitimate reason I didn't post anything up for 3 weeks. I had finals which are now over, and finally….Winter Vacation!

Really, sorry though, and as an apology I hope you enjoy the long chapter I made. Think of it as my Christmas present to you, since I don't normally write this long.

As for what's to come, I'll probably post a new chapter of IS: Persona, but maybe one not so long. Fans of Fate/Seal Night might have to wait longer for the release, since I even had to take a break from research for exams, but know that I am working on it.

On a side note, I've made a…challenge for you Persona fans out there. If you guys want to know more about it, please visit my page, details will be there.

I decided that no one from SEES will be present during SAO, so no Aegis, or Junpei. Zilch. I wanted only Minato to venture into the SAO world and interact with the characters there. Sorry if you were looking forward to that.

Also, I wanted to ask you guys. By the way this story is going, I will probably just follow the anime down to the detail, but I also want to derive from it and give Minato a few chapters of his own adventure in SAO, but doing this requires OC's. Now I could make some, but wouldn't it be more fun having you guys make your own? If you guys want to then send them to me, and might put them in as part of some of Minato's adventures. If you don't want this and only want to see the SAO story, tell me in your reviews.

For those who want to send your OC's in, know that I might keep them around for the entire story, and I might just limit their appearance to just one chapter. Depends on how much of an impact they have on Minato. Please send in your OC's with Pm's not in your reviews! Add anything you think I would need to know.

Anyway, time for the long 2nd chapter of The Masked Swordsman.

"Minato. Nice to meet you Kirito." Minato said offering his hand for a handshake.

Kirito took the hand and shook it. "I'm feeling nice today, so I'll help you out. Make you learn the ropes."

Minato looked surprised for a second, then smiled and nodded. "Alright, let's go."

Minato laid back, under the shade of an invisible tree, taking a break from completely annihilating the monsters in the area. Life in this game was good. Ever since he woke up in the world, it had been nothing but fun. Destroying monsters, finding treasure, trying to become the strongest of the beta-testers. Especially, getting stronger than Kirito. That was Minato's first goal.

Though Minato had good swordsmanship, Kirito's was far better. Sure, Minato could get a few hits here and there, but he had always been a jack-of-all-trades. He couldn't just stick to only one weapon, always wanting to alternate. At least that's how he had done it when him and his friends ventured into Tartarus. Though his most proficient weapon had to be the sword, which is why, Kirito did have a little trouble with Minato.

Speaking of which, He and Kirito had become fast friends after their meeting on his first day. After Aegis returned, like she had said, she had been a little shocked to see Kirito there. After introducing Aigis, Kirito took them to a field full of monsters, who according to Kirito, were the weakest of the weak in the game. He showed them both the sword skill system, to which Minato easily adapted to, having had experience using swords. He loved the look in Kirito's face after he defeated five of them in a row. Aigis on the other hand, took awhile longer to learn to use a sword. Without the use of her robotic components, Aigis was trouble defeating the enemies.

Anyway, after defeating monsters a bit, Kirito showed them the nearby town, and how shopping, selling, all the town system, worked. It was fairly easy to learn. Kirito went on to teach them exactly how SAO worked, down to the last detail. When he finished, he asked them if they wanted to go train more so that they can help him and the other beta's defeat the next floor. Minato agreed, but Aegis declined, stating it was time to back.

Asking Kirito to give him a few seconds alone with Aegis, Minato talked her. Aegis told Minato that he must not log out of SAO, for if he does, he would go back to being in a coma, and they were not sure if the Nerve Gear would work the second time. After reassuring her many times, she logged out.

He then defeated monsters with Kirito, helping him level up and gain new armor and weapons. After a few hours, Kirito had to log out as well, but no before telling Minato that he'd like to party up again the next day.

Minato agreed and watched as Kirito logged out. Checking the time, Minato found it a little surprising that it had already been 15 hours since he had woken up. Seeing as how he still had a little more time before it turned dark, Minato defeated more monsters and gained more items, before finally deciding to stop for the day.

Though the towns did have inns, people might have found it odd that he wouldn't log out though it was night. He decided to find a nice spot outside of town to sleep. He wondered if he could even sleep in a virtual game, but once he shut his eyes, they didn't open until the next morning.

That was Minato's first day.

After that, his life became a daily routine. Waking up outside of town, and trying to level up, gain new items, partying up with stranger to face dungeons, then in the afternoon, he would meet up with Kirito and he would help Minato gain a few more level, they would sometimes be joined by Aegis, and sometimes they wouldn't, seeing as how she had work to do back in the real world.

When Minato asked, why the others weren't coming to visit him, she said that the Nerve Gear was made for her use only, and that meeting them would have to wait until the day of the game's actual release.

Minato waited for that day in anticipation, not only to finally reunite with his friends, but because the game would be finalized.

Kirito had sweadropped one day, when he realized how many weapons, Minato had collected since his first day. He would start off with a one-handed sword, then go with a two-handed sword the next time they battled, which he then switched to a rapier, next to an axe, then katana. Minato was always switching weapons in between battles, effectively, balancing his skill for every one of them.

It had been two months since then.

Minato opened his eyes, and looked towards the setting sun, recalling what happened earlier today.

"Today's the final day of beta-testing. They'll shut off the servers until the game is released so, today's the last day we have." Kirito said.

Minato nodded, sheathing his katana. They had just finished dispatching a horde of monsters.

Aegis, after days of practicing, was finally able to efficiently use a rapier in combat, but today, she had been off, and Minato knew why.

Today, he would have to log out, and return to his coma, until the game's release.

She was worried, Minato knew, but he and Kirito could do nothing to cheer her up. For their, final day, they, along with many others, decided to try and defeat the next floor boss. Aegis had been taking more damage than usual today though.

When, Minato told Kirito that she was a bit worried if they would meet up again, Kirito made them promise that they would meet up on the first day, in the spot they first met. They both agreed, which brought Aegis's mood higher.

Before venturing into the boss's chamber, everyone who came to fight, had five minutes to prepare, during which Aegis pulled Minato aside.

"I don't know if it will work once again. You may wake-up in this world, or you might stay in the coma, and the possibility of not seeing you again… shakes me to the core." Aegis said, holding her hands to her chest.

Minato didn't look away from her sight. He knew that is she could, she would be crying right now. So he did the one thing he knew to do in a situation like this. He grabbed Aegis and pulled her into an embrace.

"It will be alright, Aegis. Remember the promise we made to Kirito? We promised to meet again on the first day of the game's release. I kept my promise before, and I'll keep my promise now. It will work, so don't be sad." Minato said.

Aegis, after hearing his words, gingerly wrapped her arms around him. Even though his body wasn't real, it felt warm at the moment. She wanted to stay like this for a few more minutes, but she knew they had to get ready for the floor boss. She pulled apart from him, determination in her eyes.

This boss wouldn't know what hit him.

Needless to say, they had won, but he hadn't seen Aegis fight with so much vigor since the fight with Nyx's avatar. After the monster had been defeated, many of the players named Aegis the MVP for the boss, and picked her up, celebrating all the while.

Some went on to explore the next floor, others logged out and went home. Kirito, Aegis, and Minato had decided to explore the floor, but after a few hours, it came time to say good-bye.

Minato and Kirito decided that the best way to say good-bye was to battle one last time. For the first time, Minato had come very close to beating Kirito, but Kirito had more experience than him, so ultimately, Minato lost. After the battle, they had shook hands, and once more promised to meet again.

For Aegis and Minato, they never said good-bye, but…

"See you later." They both said.

Aegis hugged him one last time, hoping in her heart, that it wouldn't be the last, and logged out.

One by one, every other beta-tester was logging out, and Minato knew, it was almost time.

The only reason he was prolonging it, was because of one thing. He wanted to see the kingdom of stars one more time before returning to darkness. His wish was granted as the sun set for the last time. He lay there, looking up at the virtual stars, but to Minato, they weren't virtual at all. These were the stars that he looked at every time before going to sleep.

He stared at them, hoping it wasn't the last, then stood up. He looked at his surroundings, or at least tried to. It was dark now, and he couldn't really tell what was what, but he knew where he was. He was already at the promised place.

With that, Minato opened the game menu, and finally…Logged out.

(Kazuto POV)

Finally…It was finally here.

I can finally delve back into the virtual reality game known as Sword Art Online. I can finally fulfill my promise to Minato and Aegis. I wonder, are they as excited as I am! Minato might be, he always managed to be there when I logged in. It's like he lived his entire life in that game.

I flipped through the guide book the came with the game, my headphones currently broadcasting the MMO Stream that was centered around SAO. My computer screen showed some of the people who had already bought the game and were showing it off to the camera.

While flipping through the book, I felt one of the pages pierce my skin on my thumb. I stopped and looked at it, a small drop of blood coming out. Then, I heard the sound of my younger sister calling out to me.

"Onii-chan! I'm heading out to club activities." She said before running out the door.

I stand up, taking my headphones off, and watch out my window as she heads out.

It was time…

I shut my laptop, close the windows of my computer, and start up the program for SAO. I don the Nerve Gear, and wait until the clock changes to 1.

I can't keep my excitement bottled up, and I feel a smile form on my face.

1:00 "Link start!"

(Somewhere else, same time)

A certain teal colored girl, had just finished putting the Nerve Gear on our favorite Persona user. Right now, all she could do was hope that it worked once more.

She looked once more at the prone figure on the bed and found a smile forming on her face. It was Minato, of course it would work. He had a way to make it happen.

She wished that all of S.E.E.S were so that they could log in and reunite with Minato, but they had other things to do today. Mitsuru, Aegis, and Akihiko all had something to do with the Shadow Ops. Yukari had stuff to do at college, and Junpei needed to go check in on Chidori. Ken was free, but he and Fuuka had decided to wait until everyone was present to log in, but she felt it was a little cruel to let Minato stay in a coma when he could finally move again, so she decided to allow him to log in first.

She hit the power in the Nerve Gear and watched as it lit up. She got up and stood near Minato's bed. He hadn't changed a bit. Still as young and handsome as when he fell asleep. She thought she had lost him forever, but now that she could meet him again, she would finally say what she couldn't say before. She could correct a regret she almost had.

She would reveal her feeling to him, and maybe, he would return them.

Fuuka felt her face heat up at the thought, so she decided to exit the room, and wait with Ken until the others' return.

Before shutting the door, she looked back to his prone figure one last time.

Why…Why did she have a bad feeling just now…

Minato's vision for the past….days? Weeks? Months? He couldn't tell how long it was. It seemed like only a hour ago, he had logged of, but all of a sudden, his vision went from black, to bright white.

He watched as five panels, each with a name of a person's senses came up and all checked out ok.

He then was asked to choose a language. He chose Japanese, and then was prompted to input his username and password. He "typed?" them both in and a message box came up saying the his beta testing data was available and if he would like to carry it over.

He choose 'yes', and the screen went grey, with a message appearing.


Then, the it felt as though he was being sucked in, finally his vision cleared and he saw an entrance.

He looked down at his body, his armor, gone. But it figured, this wasn't beta anymore, he would have to start over, but he didn't mind. He raised both his hands turning them over, just to make sure he could move again. He clenched them into fists.

Minato…or rather, Makoto, couldn't help himself smile.

"I'm back… To this amazing world!" He screamed in his thoughts.

He looked behind him as more and more players started appearing, each with the same look of wonder and anticipation. Now he couldn't help it at all, the joy was contagious, Minato was outright beaming.

He was in the Town of Beginning's plaza in Sword Art Online. He was back.

Minato smirked and then, ran right into the town, hoping to find a suitable first weapon, then head out to the place of promise.

As he ran through the crowds, Minato couldn't help but be astonished at how many players had logged onto the game. It was fine, he could always use more rivals. He ran through the town, zigzagging through alleys until, he found the store he was looking for. The store Kirito took him to on his first day.

Hopefully, his first sword would still be there.

He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. He wanted to be the first one there, and greet the others. He looked around, and saw that the scenery hadn't really changed. It was still as beautiful as he could remember. He saw some of the easiest monsters feeding on the grass, birds flying through the sky. The trees and grass flowing with the wind. This place was amazing.

As he neared the area, he smiled when he noticed no one was there. He was the first to arrive. As he slowed to a stop he again turned to look at his surroundings.

Nothing had changed here, but he was glad.

Now all he had to do was wait, so he lay down and stared at the sky, the smile never leaving his face. But slowly, it disappeared. Something was off.

It felt as though the atmosphere in the entire game was different, but Minato just brushed it off as excitement from other players…

He hoped it was that at least…

Kirito ran his companion trying to keep up behind him. Now, Kirito was sure that Minato was the first to arrive. After all, Kirito had decided to help a new player purchase a sword and show him how the game works, which took quite a bit of time, but he had been begging, and Kirito was in a good mood, so he decided to help.

Now they were both running towards the place he had met Minato. He had agreed to let Klein come knowing Minato and Aegis might be able to help explain some of the Sword Skill system.

Klein more than happy to come and learn more from the beta-testers. He would then pass it on to his friends, and hopefully, be a step ahead of new players.

As the neared the place, they both noticed a person on the ground. Kirito smiled and sped up.

"Minato!" he yelled.

The figure on the ground quickly sat up, and watched the two figures coming towards him. He knew the one in front, waving at him, but the second one was a stranger. Putting those thought aside, Minato stood up and started to wave at Kirito.

When Kirito finally made it to Minato, they both gave each other a high five and hand shake.

"It's been a long time, Minato." Kirito said, smiling.

"Yeah, it really has. Good to see you again, Kirito." Minato greeted back.

Klein stopped a few feet away from them and examined the other beta-tester. He was average height, with blue hair coming down to his chin, bangs parted at the middle showing his silver eyes, and face. He had the same clothes as Kirito.

"So, who's the new guy? Another player you decided to help?" Minato asked.

"As a matter of fact, yeah. I was hoping that you and Aegis could help me teach him about the Sword Skill system, but I guess Aegis isn't here yet." Kirito said looking around.

"Yeah, I was the first. Strange though, I swore that Aegis would arrive right after I did." Minato said, more to himself than to Kirito.

"Well, she'll come sooner or later. Mind helping me then?" Kirito said, gesturing towards Klein.

"Sure." Minato nodded and followed Kirito towards the red haired man.

"…No…It can't be…" Fuuka looked at the news. Not 3 hours earlier it had been talking excitedly about the new MMO game, but now…

She quickly grabbed her phone and dialed the number she needed.

After a few rings, someone answered. "Mitsuru here, is-"

"There's a problem! You need to come quick! Turn on the news!" Fuuka cut Mitsuru off in a panic.

She had a good reason to. What was showing on the news wasn't something that she could be calm about. After all, it involved her dearest friend.

Minato silently chuckled as he saw Klein get attacked by a hog and flew back. He grabbed hit stomach groaning in 'pain'.

"Urgh…right in the crotch." Klein moaned.

"You're overreacting." Kirito said, sweat dropping at the sight. "You shouldn't feel any pain."

Hearing that, Klein stopped rolling on the ground and started getting up. "Oh yeah. Just a habit, I guess."

"Heh. How would you make a habit of getting hit in the crotch?" Minato joked.

"S-Shut up. That's not what I mean." Klein pouted.

"I told you. It's all about your initial motion input." Kirito sighed.

Klein looked at the enemy. "Sure, I get that… but he keeps moving around." He whined.

Minato bent down and grabbed a rock. "You need to start with the correct motions and activate a sword skill."

He brought his arm back and the rock started charging up with energy. He threw the rock, and it went sailing towards the hog monster, effectively smacking right into it's hind side, angering it.

"The system will then ensure it connects." Kirito explained to Klein.

"Motion…Motion…" Klein repeated, bringing his sword up.

"How should I put this…" Kirito started as he dodged the monster's charge.

The monster tried again, only this time Kirito blocked the attack. The monster tried to push Kirito's sword, but Kirito wasn't letting him.

"Build up the energy into your sword, and when it feels that it's at its peak, let it explode." Minato said, looking at Klein.

"Explode?" Klein questioned, looking back at Minato, before having a little revelation.

Klein spread his feet apart, getting into a stance. He brought his sword back and held it, letting energy store up. Both Minato and Kirito smiled when they saw this.

Kirito pushed the monster back and kicked him in the direction of Klein. It began to charge at him, but this time, Klein wasn't about to be blown back. As he saw the hog get nearer, he felt the energy about to blow, so he let it out.

Klein pushed forwards, his sword slicing right through the monsters side. It's HP went down until it hit zero, then it disappeared into a shower of blue light, in it's place was a small result message, distributing exp to Klein.

Klein, looked back an smiled widely, before shouting and striking a victory pose.

"Congratulations." Both Kirito and Minato said.

They then gave Klein a high five, bringing Klein's mood even higher.

"But," Minato started as Kirito sheathed his sword. "That boar is the weakest enemy here. You can say they're the slime of this game."

Kirito nodded while Klein yelled in surprise. "Huh? You serious? I thought it was a mid-level boss or something."

"Of course not." Kirito said as Minato pointed to more boars that were spawning.

Klein brought his sword back, and let out his sword skill once more.

"Addicting, isn't it?" Kirito asked, already knowing what Klein would say.

"Yeah!" Klein brought his sword back and stabbed the air in front of him a couple of times. "There are lot's of skill, right? Like blacksmithing and stuff?"

"Yeah. I hear there's an unlimited number of skills. On the other hand, there's no magic." Kirito said as he watched Klein charge up his sword skill.

"An RPG without magic, huh? That's a bold decision." Klein said, smiling.

He let his the energy on his sword explode once more and charged forward, pretending he had just slain another monster. He let out a noise of excitement at the thought of fighting more and more monsters.

"Isn't it more fun to actually move your body when fighting?" Kirito said, smirking at Klein's display.

"Absolutely!" Klein agreed, looking back at both of them.

Minato smiled and unsheathed the sword on his back. "Well then, let's fight the next one then!"

"Yeah! Let's keep going." Klein yelled in excitement.

After fighting monsters and gaining experience, Minato had parted ways with Kirito and Klein, to see if Aegis had finally showed up, but found her still missing.

He had decided to wait a bit more, before heading back. After an entire hour, it was clear that she wasn't going to make it. The sun in the game was already starting to set. Maybe she had gotten caught up with something in the real world. She did mention something about Mitsuru starting something called the Shadow Ops…

He hoped it wasn't anything dangerous, but with a name like that, he doubted it was anything but.

Seeing as how standing here was doing him anything good, he decided to head back.

When he made it back, he saw both Klein and Kirito giving each other a handshake. He guessed that Klein was leaving, since Kirito sad he would be on nearly all day today.

"What, you leaving already Klein?" Minato asked as he reached them.

Klein looked to him and smiled. "Yeah, I'm starving and my pizza should be getting here soon. By the way, did you find your friend?"

Minato shook his head. "No. I think she may have been caught up with work or something. I'll introduce you to her some other time."

"Eh? Well, I guess, but she better be good looking." Klein said smiling.

"Heh. Well, if you need anything else, you can always find me." Minato said, offering his hand.

Klein nodded and grabbed it, giving it a firm shake. "Yeah, I'll make sure to ask you or Kirito."

He turned around and waved one last time, before opening the menu.

Kirito smiled, then turned to Minato. "You wanna hunt some m-"

"Huh? There's no logout button." They both heard Klein say.

"Eh? What do you mean?" Minato asked walking towards Klein.

"Look closer." Kirito said, not moving.

When Minato got close enough, he looked at Klein's menu. Minato knew that the button should be at the bottom, but… wasn't there…

"Eh?" Was all he could muster.

Minato heard Kirito open his menu and check, but judging from the tiny gasp he let out, he couldn't find it as well.

"See, it's not there." Klein said.

"No, it's not." Kirito answered, his finger still not moving.

Minato was starting to worry for some reason. He had a bad feeling a bout this.

"Well, it's the first day out of beta. So there's bound to be some bugs. I'm sure the server people are freaking out." Klein said optimistically.

Kirito smiled a bit. "You'll freak out in a bit too."

"Huh?" Klein looked at Kirito questioningly.

Kirito pointed to the system's clock. "It's 5:25."

Minato looked at Klein, his face changing to one of despair. He brought his head back, his arms covering his eyes and yelled.

"My teriyaki and mayo pizza with ginger ale!" Minato sighed at the sight.

"Why not call the Game Master?" He let out the suggestion.

With that advice, Klein stopped yelling and pointed at his menu. "I've already tried that, but it's not working."

He looked at Minato and Kirito once more, "Is there any other way to log out?"

Minato looked to Kirito, who had looked away in thought. When he was done, there was a grim look on his face.

"No. A player had to go through the menu to log themselves out." Kirito stated.

"That's ridiculous. There's gotta be some way." Klein said, a hint of panic in his voice.

He then tried a number of ways to log out, but none of them worked.

A dark atmosphere fell between the three of them. Even the sky was being affected. The clouds were moving ominously.

"I told you. There wasn't an emergency logout method in the manual either." Kirito explained.

"Are you serious?" Minato asked, adopting the same grim face as Kirito.

Klein started to worry more and more, but then thought of something. "I know. I'll just rip the Nerve Gear of my head."

He reached for his head, pulling, trying to make his body move to break free of the head gear.

"You can't" Minato said.

Klein stopped trying when he heard Minato say it. His arms dropping back down to his sides.

"We can't move our real bodies. The NerveGear intercepts every signal our brain sends to our bodies right here." Kirito said, pointing to where the brain stem is.

"Seriously?" Klein said, shocked, "So we have no choice but to wait for them to fix the bug?"

"Or for someone in the real world to remove the NerveGear from our heads." Kirito said, looking away.

"I live by myself though." Klein said, then looked back at Minato and Kirito. "You guys?"

"I live with my mom and younger sister." Kirito said. "So I think they'll notice by dinnertime…"

"I…live alone too." Minato lied, not being able to meet their eyes.

Klein, looking for any way to change the subject, rushed straight at Kirito, and grabbed him roughly by the shoulders.

"How old is your sister?" He asked, wanting to know.

Kirito, who was taken aback, answered. "She's in sports clubs and hates games…She has nothing in common with people like us."

"Who cares about-" Klein was about to say, but was kneed by Kirito.

He went tumbling back a bit, covering his crotch, but stopped when he remembered it didn't hurt.

"Anyway, don't you find this weird?" Kirito asked both of them.

Klein answered first. "Of course I do. It's only a bug."

"Is it really?" Minato questioned.

"No, I don't think so." Kirito said, looking at the waterfall. "The inability to log out will have serious repercussions on the game's future."

"That's a good point, but then why haven't they just shut the servers down and log everyone out." Minato asked?

"They can do that?" Klein asked.

Kirito nodded. "Yeah, but there hasn't been any announcement for it…"

Minato and Klein both looked grimly at each other.

Before their conversation could go any further, all three of them turned back in the direction of the Town of Beginnings when they heard the sound of a bell. It was ominous, as though the sound of that bell, was the death knell for every one of the players.

All three of them stood there, not moving an inch, listening to the rhythmic sound of the bell, when all of a sudden, they were all surrounded by, what looked like blue energy.

"Ah…" Was all Minato could say, before disappearing.

When his vision returned to him, Minato looked around to find himself, and his two other companions, at the plaza where they first entered the game. They watched as more and more players appeared in the same fashion as they had. Each with a look of puzzlement.

Minato tore his eyes away from the crowd and looked at the clock tower in front of them. There, at the top, was the bell that they had heard far out in the field.

"A forced teleport?" He heard Kirito question.

The bell then finally stopped. Everyone was forced to wait, anxiously wondering what was going on. Minato stared at some of the people around him. All wore a look of confusion, but some had a look of worry, fear, some even had tears in their eyes. He hoped that whatever was going on, it wasn't bad…

But reality had other ideas in mind.

"Up there." Somebody from the crowd said.

In that instant, Klein, Minato, and Kirito all looked up.

Near the entrance to the small palace, was a small blinking warning message. It kept blinking, until the message spread out into a dome, covering the entire plaza, making the sky look red.

From the lines in the messages came what looked like blood. It poured down, not one drop hitting the ground, but instead, it piled up in the sky, a form staring to appear from it.

The blood had formed what looked like a giant hooded man in a red robe, his face hidden, yet Minato knew that that thing had no face. Smoke came from the opening of the hood, his hands were like a demons, pale, with claws.

He floated above the plaza looking down at them.

A game master? Was this an event? An announcement? Other people seemed to believe so. He heard them whispering near them.

But…Minato wasn't so sure…

It spread its arms in a welcoming fashion and spoke. "Players, welcome to my world."

"My world?" Kirito said, in a questioning manner.

"I am Kayaba Akihiko." The form continued. "I am currently the only person who can control this world."

Minato looked at Kirito after he let out a small gasp in surprise. He had a look of shock, but it wasn't just him, many others did too. He brought his attention back to the gifure when it began to speak again.

"I trust that you have already noticed the logout button is missing from the main menu." He said, bringing his hand forward and opening up his own menu to show the missing logout button. "However, this is not a game malfunction."

Minato's eyes widened. He was joking, right? How were the others supposed to log out now?

"I repeat. This is not a game malfunction, but an original feature of Sword Art Online. You cannot log out of SAO on your own. No one on the outside will be able to shut down or remove the NerveGear. Should this be attempted, the transmitter inside the NerveGear will emit a powerful burst of microwave radiation, destroying your brain and thus, ending your life."

As soon as those words left that mans…mouth, Minato felt his heart stop. We would die? That's impossible. How could someone die by a small headset?

Many of the people started to protest when they heard, not believing a word. Klein was one of them.

"What's he talking about? He's gotta be nuts. Right, Kirito, Minato?" He asked, wanting to be reassured.

However, Kirito wasn't going to lie. "He's right. The transceiver's microwave signals are just like those in a microwave oven. If the limiter were disabled, it could fry our brains."

"What…" Minato said, not wanting to belive what he heard.

"Why don't we just cut the power, then?" Klein suggested.

Kirito shook his head. "No, the NerveGear has an internal battery."

Klein's eyes widened, then he looked down in frustration. "But, that's messed up. What's going on?!" He yelled at them both.

"Unfortunate, the friends and family members of several players have ignored this warning and attempted to remove the NerveGear." The game master continued, bringing their attention back to him. "As a result, 213 players have permanently retired in both Aincrad and the real world."

"213 players…" Kirito said in shock.

"I don't believe it…. I don't believe it at all." Klein yelled at the figure.

"That can't be…" Minato said in disbelief.

"As you can see," The figure started showing small windows, each linked with the news, all reporting about a player's death. "News organization across the world are reporting on this incident and the many deaths. Thus, you can now assume the danger of having your NerveGear removed to be greatly reduced. Please relax and work hard to clear the game."

There it was…Undeniable proof that this was real. And yet, Minato still couldn't believe it. Why? Why was this man doing this? Why are people dying because of this? These questions were swimming inside Minato's head, but were drowned out by one thing.

Anger. Anger at the person causing the entire incident. Anger at himself, for not realizing something was wrong sooner. Anger… at not being able to do a damn thing about it.

The creator of the NerveGear continued. "However, do take not of this. You can no longer respawn in this game. Once your HP reaches zero, your avatar will be permanently erased. At the same time…."

Minato knew what came next, but he didn't want to hear it. He knew now the reason why Mitsuru and the other never logged on. In truth he was glad, his friends were out of harms way, but at the same time, many innocents were pulled into this man scheme. And now, even this world, has become like real life…If one dies here…

"…The NerveGear will destroy your brain." Kayaba said.

One dies in the real world as well…

He heard Kirito's gasp, and Minato clenched his fists in anger. Others did the same, whie others could only stare at the giant man in disbelief.

"You need only fulfill one condition to set yourselves free… Clear the game." The giant brought his hand up, showing a map of the tower. "You are currently on the 1st floor, the lowest level of Aincrad. Make your way though each dungeon and defeat the Floor Boss, and you will advance to the next level. Defeat the final boss on the 100th floot, and you will clear the game."

Everyone started protesting once more, saying it was impossible. Even Klein muttered the same thing.

"And finally, you can find a gift from me in your item storage." Kayaba said, bringing his arm down once more. "Please check for yourselves."

Minato didn't trust him, how could he? This man was already responsible for the deaths of 213 players, but he had to check out what he gave them. He opened the menu and wen to his storage.

'Mirror?' Minato though.

He clicked on it and grabbed the mirror when it materialized. He looked at the reflection, his avatars face looking at him. It was an ordinary mirror. But.. He was wrong.

He heard Klein scream next to him and Minato turned only to see him enveloped in blue energy once more.

"Minato!" He heard Kirito yell.

Minato whipped his head to see Kirito be enveloped as well. Then, even he was enveloped. He shut his eyes, awaiting his HP to hit zero, but nothing happened. When the bright light died down, he opened them up and looked around. Everyone was still here, not one disappeared.

"You guys alright?" He heard Klein ask behind him.

"Yeah, I'm alright. Huh? Who are you?" He heard a small voice ask.

Minato turned around to see two strangers next to him. No, not strangers. He knew these two, but their appearances had changed.

They were Kirito and Klein…

Klein had shorter red hair that was brought up by his red bandana, a little goatee on his face. Kirito, on the other hand, looked way different. He had shorter hair, only reaching his eyes, yet parting in the middle. His face wasn't that rugged or handsome, but more like a teen's face.

"And who are you two?" He heard Klein ask him and Kirito.

Minato looked in the mirror once more, only this time, it wasn't the face of his previous avatar, but his face. The face he would see every morning in washing it. It was his face, not a thing had changed. His long blue hair, covering one of his eyes, his one silver eye staring back at him.

"That means…" Kirito started looking the Minato and Klein.

"You're Klein and Minato?!" Kirito said, a little astonished, pointing at them.

"You're Minato and Kirito?!" Klein said, similarly. "How?"

Kirito brought his hand down recalling something. "The scan… The NerveGear traces your entire face with its high-density sensor. That's how it knows what your face looks like. But what about our height and weight?"

Klein had the answer for that. "When we first used the NerveGear, we had to calibrate it. Remember? You had to touch your body all over."

Minato certainly didn't remember that. He assumed one of his friends had to done it for him. Hopefully, not one of the guys…

Kirito agreed with him. "I-I see. That must be how it got the data."

But…but …" Klein started rubbing his head in frustration. "Why is this happening?"

Minato looked up and pointed at the game master. "I'm sure he's about to tell us."

His guess was spot on as the giant man started to speak again. "All of you must be wondering why. Why would Kayaba Akihiko, the creator of Sword Art Online and the NerveGear, do all this? My goal has already been achieved. I wanted to create my own world that I could observe and admire. That is why I made Sword Art Online. And now, it has all been fulfilled."

Minato glared at the figure, wishing that it would disappear. He had created the Seal to protect the world from the Fall, to protect them from despair, but this incident will only strengthen that despair. It would strengthen Erebus. He hoped the Seal could endure.

He would make Kayaba Akihiko pay.

"This ends the tutorial for the official Sword Art Online launch. I wish every player the best of luck." After saying this, the figure started to dissolve.

Smoke coming out of its body as the form lost its human shape, until it receded back into the cracks in the warning message which then disappeared, bringing back the red setting sky.

And yet, even though they were free from the ominous presence, not one person moved. Every person just stood still in shock at what they witnessed. What could the do? They just found out that this world had just become their reality.

That's right… This was now reality.

Minato looked at his own hand, then he clenched it.

Fine…If this is how he would play it, then so be it. He wouldn't allow this man to get his way. He would save as many people as he could in this world. He could allow him any more deaths. He would become the savior of this world as well.

After a few seconds, once person screamed, then one by one, people started yelling, screaming to let them out. Other cried on despair, the life shattered apart. He would save them from this. He would not allow them to suffer.

As he looked around, he noticed something.

The barrier that had trapped them, had disappeared.

"Come with me, Klein, Minato." He heard Kirito say before starting to walk one towards the nearest exit.

Klein and Minato looked at each other and quickly followed him.

Minato took one last look at behind him at the outraged people, but his stare landed on one girl. She was crying, not caring what was happening. Her face showed true despair. He engraving the sight into his mind. This would be what he would be fighting for.

Kirito had lead them to a deserted alley, near the exit of the Town of Beginnings. He turned around to address the two.

"Listen to me, I'm heading out to the next village right now. Come with me." He said.

Minato understood exactly what Kirito was intending to do. Resources in SAO aren't unlimited. Minato doubted Kayaba would create more and more enemies to kill, so that meant experience was precious as well. So, the first to reach them, would get them, and those who don't wont have a chance.

He understood that, but then it would mean abandoning the new players, and those who still don't understand the game. It would be leaving them vulnerable. Could he do that?

Klein didn't understand what Kirito was saying, so Kirito explained. "If what he said was true, then we must train ourselves up as much as possible in order to survive in this world. The resources within a Virtual MMORPG, the money and EXP we can earn are limited."

Kirito brought out his map and showed them his route to the next town. "The fields surrounding the Town of Beginnings will soon be picked clean. For efficiency's sake, we should head to the next village now and set up camp there. Minato and I know the way and all the dangerous areas. We'll be able to get there safely even at level 1."

Klein had a look of sorrow on his face. "But…but you know…My gaming friends and I spent days in line to buy and play this. They're in the plaza somewhere. I can't leave them behind."

Minato stared at Klein. He respected the guy's loyalty to his friends. He then looks to Kirito. Could actually go and leave behind all the new players?

…If he stayed here, he wouldn't get stronger, and he wouldn't be able to protect the players at all. He had to get stronger first, that's why, he would go with Kirito.

"Sorry." Klein said, breaking Kirito and Minato out of their reverie. "I really shouldn't be asking you guys for anything more. So don't worry about me and just go to the next village."

He smiled at them, but noticed Kirito's solemn look. "I used to lead a guild in my last game, so I'll get by somehow with the stuff you guys taught me."

Klein gave them both a thumbs-up. Kirito then looked to Minato.

"I'll go with you." Minato said looking at his clenched fist. "I need to get stronger. Strong enough to protect everyone" He muttered the last part to himself.

Kirito nodded then they both looked to Klein.

"We'll part here, then." Kirito said, already turning around. "Send me a message if anything happens."

"Will do." Klein said.

"Well, see you, Klein." Kirito says then turns around and starts to walk.

Minato walks up to Klein and then holds out his hand. Klein stares at it for a little while, then grabs it and gives a firm shake.

"If anything happens, I'll come running." Minato promises.

"Yeah." Klein nods.

Minato lets go and starts to run, catching up to Kirito, who had waited for him.

"Kirito, Minato!" Klein calls out suddenly.

He tries to say something, but no words come out. After a bit, Kirito starts to walk, with Minato about to follow.

"Hey." Klein calls out again. "You know, you guys have pretty cute faces. I like them a lot."

Minato could only smile at the comment.

Kirito decides to comment back. "And that unkempt face of yours suits you ten times better." he jokes.

With that, Kirito starts to run, Minato right on his tail, but he stops, and gives one last look back, but… Klein had left.

Kirito quickly turns around and is about to start running again, but is stopped by Minato.

"…What?" Kirito asks.

It takes awhile for Minato say what he's thinking. "Though we may be apart, the bonds we've forged with friends are the things that connect us. They can never be broken. Remember that Kirito."

Kirito's body stiffens, but then relaxes, he nods and brings his arm to his face whipping the tears that had come.

He then turns around and smiles at Minato. "Let's go!"

Minato smiles back and nods.

He would get stronger, but not to defeat and destroy, but to protect those who need protection. He would save them, this he swore.

So how was it? Did you like it? Hate it? Tell me in your reviews. Give me suggestions on how I could make the story better.

Remember for those who want to send in your OC's that you need to do it via PM not in your reviews. Add any detail you think I would need to know like, age, sec, weapon, ability. But know I won't be adding any overpowered character, or character with the Dual Wield Ability.

Those who would like to see the challenge, it's on my page.

This is Starnightking, bidding goodnight to my Starlight kingdom.