The door closed with a soft click as Ikuto slid it shut, blocking him off from the outside world. He turned to face his room, with his bed in one corner, a desk with a laptop streaming the newest episode of the gaming show, MMO Stream, and a lone bookcase in the opposite corner. Footsteps echoed across the room as he approached his desk and sat down, idly watching the reporter, a perky blonde, speak about the latest gaming craze.

"Internationally famous Sword Art Online is the first game to fully take advantage of the NerveGear hardware! This game is the VRMMORPG everyone has been waiting for! One guy said he waited in line for three whole days!"

Ikuto picked up a magazine, flipping through it, trying to distract him mind from his bubbling emotions. He stopped at a picture of a man, posing in front of a Sword Art Online poster. The caption read Kazoumi Hoshina, Developer and Creator of Sword Art Online. A frown appeared on his face and he tossed the magazine back on the desk.

He impatiently glanced at the clock. 12:55, Sunday, October 6, 2022.

Only a few more minutes, he thought to himself.

He stood, carefully picking up a helmet-like device off of his desk. Dark green in color, it closely resembled a fancy motorcycle helmet, except for the wire attached, the lights on the side, and the word "NerveGear" boldly emblazoned in dark text on the back. Also, instead of having a full piece of glass covering the face, a semi-transparent plate covered the eyes, leaving the nose, mouth and chin exposed.

He shut his laptop and plugged in his NerveGear to the console. Laying down on his bed, he watched the power light spring to life as it turned on.

He put the helmet over his head and made himself comfortable. Glancing at the display on the screen, he saw it was 1:00.

He finally allowed himself a smile – though it came out as more of a smirk.

"Link start!"

And the machine roared to life.

The screen lit up, and he quickly navigated through the opening procedures – selecting his language, signing in, testing his senses, and selecting his settings.

Welcome! Text appeared on the screen. Colorful shapes flew past him, and everything went black.

It felt like waking up.

As he slowly opened his eyes, his senses slowly returned to him. Everything was blurry. Voices faded into his range of hearing, his heartbeat pounded in his ears, and oxygen filled his lungs.

As his vision cleared, he began to look around. He was in some sort of courtyard, the walls made of brick and stone. A massive fountain was behind him, dominating the center of the space. The courtyard was large, looking like it could hold thousands of people.

He glanced down, noticing his leather boots, pants, shirt, and simple armor. He brought his hands in front of his face, seeing that he was wearing leather fingerless gloves.

He tentatively wiggled his fingers, and then gave his fists an experimental squeeze. He could feel everything.

A small smile alighted to his face as fireworks went off above him and more people materialized around him, flashing into existence with a blue-green light.

Welcome to Sword Art Online!

They were the first. The first players playing the game, the first to explore this new world. He couldn't wait to get started.

He turned and began to head out of the courtyard, a confident spring in his step.