Welcome back to SAO! I'm guessing that my old readers will end up here, since you'll get the alert for this chapter. So, thank you for your patience and bearing with me while I did this :)
Please go back to chapter 1 and read the prologue before reading this chapter.
Again, thank you guys, and enjoy the story! I've got a great plot planned out for you guys :D
Chapter 1: A God's Game
Virtual Reality: a realistic simulation of an environment, including three-dimensional graphics, by a computer system using interactive software and hardware.
Ikuto smiled to himself as he swung his sword, the movements feeling just as physical as they would in the real world. He held it back, charging up his strike, as the boar charged at him again, feeling the leather of the sword's grip in his hands.
He swung it just as the boar was within range, perfectly timed. A flash of blue energy signified the strike, and a red-lined wound appeared on the boar, just before it exploded into a mass of blue light shards.
A window popped up, telling him what he'd received, and he hit the 'ok' button, a blue circle, after he'd scanned the message. The window disappeared.
Ikuto glanced down at his sword. He'd picked out a simple one for his first – basic, but strong enough to give him what he needed. He experimentally held it at position, and watched as the blue energy began to build up, causing the blade to glow blue.
He released it, swinging in front of him across his body, watching the flame-like blue tendrils trail behind the blade as it traveled. He gave a small smirk to himself, sheathing it.
"You look like you know what you're doing."
Ikuto turned, seeing a player standing behind him.
The player tilted his head, a few strands of brunet hair falling into his eyes.
"Hello, my name is Tadase. Who are you?"
Ikuto gave the player a casual glance; scanning his info and stats. The bar hovering over his head was green, signifying he had full health. Tadase, the name read.
"Ikuto." He replied at length, cordial and to-the-point.
Tadase nodded, bowing his head. "Pleased to meet you, Ikuto. Judging by your actions, you seem to be quite familiar with this game. Were you a beta tester, by any chance?"
"I was." He answered.
"Could I ask you a favor? I'm a bit new to this technology and I'd like to get some tips from an experienced player."
"Not interested, thanks." Ikuto turned away.
"Please? It's my first full dive."
Pausing, Ikuto glanced back.
He sighed. "Fine."
This brought a smile to the brunet's face.
Utau swung her weapon, a flash of sunshine yellow trailing behind it.
She struck her target, a mountain lion, and sent it reeling back towards her partner, Amu, who finished it off quickly with a strike from her own sword.
The big cat disappeared, and Amu tapped through the box that listed their rewards.
"Great job!" Utau offered her partner a smile.
She grinned back. "You were right, Utau! This game is awesome!"
The blonde nodded. Having been friends with Amu for years, she'd often told her about her fierce love for video games. She'd finally convinced the shorter girl to play, and had invited Amu over to her house for a sleepover so they could play it together. "I told you it would be! Come on, let's go find some more monsters!"
"Hold on, I think it's time."
Utau turned back, her eyebrow arching in confusion. "Time?"
Amu nodded. "Yeah! We ordered pizza, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." Utau said slowly. "Wow, I am hungry."
She opened up her menu to check the time, and sure enough, it was 4:50, ten minutes before their pizza was supposed to arrive.
"Alright then, let's log out."
"We can come back after eating, right?"
Utau grinned at her friend. "You bet! We're pulling an all-nighter!"
Utau scrolled through her menu, ready to log out, when she paused.
"Where did you say the log out button was again?"
"It should be right above the options, but…" Utau trailed off.
"It's not there."
"Look around, maybe they moved it."
They both searched through the menu. Utau began to feel an increasing feeling of uneasiness in her stomach time ticked on. Finally, she scrolled down, tapped a few buttons, and contacted support – or, the 'Game Master' as he was called.
"Why would they make the button so hard to find? Do you think it's a bug? That could cause some serious problems, couldn't it?" Amu asked, looking up.
"Yeah… it could be, but they should have made an announcement by now." Utau replied. Is something wrong?
Utau's thoughts were interrupted as a loud, ominous sound cracked the silence of the fields. A deep tolling rolled across the landscape, breaking the peace spell that had previously laid there.
"A bell?" Amu and Utau both whipped around, their heads turning towards where the sound was coming from.
They both gasped as unexpectedly, they were enveloped in a blue light. The field faded, and they found themselves in a large courtyard.
"Hey, isn't this where we landed when we first joined the game? What happened?" Amu asked.
Utau looked around. The courtyard was filled, containing thousands of players. A confused, chaotic drone reached her ears, the din of confused ramblings growing louder by the second, as more people were teleported to the area.
"They used a teleport." Utau said, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Do you think the admin did this? To make an announcement, maybe?" Amu edged closer to the taller girl, avoiding the people around them.
Utau gestured upwards. "It looks like we're about to find out." She said.
A dark, rectangular hexagon appeared in the sky. A message appearing.
The hexagon multiplied itself, more shapes covering the sky until the courtyard was encased in an eerie red glow.
Another hexagon popped up, a message appearing. System Announcement.
A dark, sticky red liquid began to drip, pouring from the cracks and borders in between the other hexagons and began to pool in midair, creating a large, circular mass of dark-red blood-like substance. With a flash of lightning, it expanded, building up, beginning to form a figure.
"What's going on?" Ikuto muttered.
Finally, the figure raised its head, revealing a gigantic cloaked creature. No face was visible through the hood, only darkness and black smoke pouring from the depths.
"Is… that the Game Master?" Tadase asked hesitantly.
Ikuto didn't answer.
"Welcome all players, to Sword Art Online, my world." The figure spoke, a deep voice bursting forth from the ominous depths of the hood.
"I am Kazoumi Hoshina, the creator of this game. From this moment on, everything is about to change. Starting now, I am in control of this world."
Kazoumi Hoshina. Ikuto thought to himself. That's some entrance there. Always interested in the flare, aren't you?
"As I'm sure you will have noticed, the 'logout' button is absent from your menu. This is not an error. I repeat, this is not an error. It is by design. You see, this is how I designed the game. None of you will be able to log out."
Ikuto's gained an uncertain feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. What is he playing at?
"You cannot log yourselves out of SAO." The Game Master continued. "And no one from the outside will be able to shut down or remove the NerveGear from your head. If anyone attempts to do so, a transmitter inside the NerveGear with discharge a microwave signal to your skull, destroying your brain, and ending your life."
Ikuto heard Tadase abruptly gasp from beside him as his own eyes widened.
"W-what is he talking about?" Tadase asked, dumfounded.
Immediately, protesting screams and shouts erupted from the people around them. Ikuto was shoved aside roughly as a girl shoved past him, dragging another girl with her.
"Come on Amu, we're getting out of here." She declared. However, upon reaching the red barrier, she was unable to pass through. "What the heck?!" She yelled, her temper quickly lost as she began kicking and punching at the red wall. She whirled around. "You can't keep us here!" She shouted, livid.
"This is a joke, right Ikuto?" Tadase asked, having to nearly shout to allow his voice to be heard over the sounds of people shouting.
Ikuto shook his head slowly, a grimace overtaking his features. "He's not." He said. "The transmitter signals in the headgear work just like microwaves. If the safety's disabled, it could destroy your brain."
"Couldn't someone cut off the power?"
Ikuto closed his eyes. "The NerveGear has an internal battery."
"So…" Tadase began.
"It's impossible." Ikuto finished.
Tadase shook his head slowly. "This is crazy." He said, glaring at the Game Master. "Does this man not care at all about other people?"
"Unfortunately," The Game Master spoke up again, gaining everyone's attention, "despite my warning, some of the family and friends of the players have tried to remove the NerveGear, resulting in death. This has resulted in 213 less players in both Aincrad and the real world."
A large gasp of shock registered throughout the crowd. One girl lost it, bursting into tears and falling to her knees, sobbing.
"Th-that's…." Tadase was at a loss for words.
The screams of the people had died down, anger giving way to fear, as they stood transfixed, staring wide-eyed at the figure who now held their lives in the palm of his hand.
Multiple windows appeared around the figure, showing current news broadcasts around the world. "As you can see, the media has gotten ahold of this and has around-the-clock coverage of the events, including the deaths. This should bring down the likelihood of someone removing the NerveGear from you. Allow this to bring you comfort as you play.
"It's important to remember the following: There is no longer anyway to revive someone within the game. If your HP drops to zero, your avatar will be deleted from the system, permanently. The NerveGear will simultaneously destroy your brain."
"Why should we believe anything you say?!" The girl by the barrier shouted angrily. Tadase glanced at her, a sad look in his eyes.
"There is only one way to escape now." He continued. "You must clear the game. Right now you are gathered on Floor 1, the lowest level of Aincrad. If you can get through the dungeon and defeat the boss, you may advance to the next floor. Defeat the boss on floor 100, and you will clear the game."
"All 100 floors? But even the beta testers never made it that high! How does he expect us to do that?!" Ikuto's companion demanded.
"And, last but not least…" The figure opened the menu again, "I've placed a small gift in the item storage of every player. Please, have a look."
Curious, Ikuto opened his menu. Going to the item storage, he tapped on the object.
"A mirror?" He wondered aloud.
It materialized into his grasp. He looked into it, seeing the generic face of his avatar. Abruptly, a white light flashed beside him, as screams of surprise echoed throughout the courtyard. More and more players were consumed by it, as more screams and shouts built up.
He gasped as suddenly, he was surrounded in his own light, so bright he had to screw his eyes shut.
As quickly as it came, it was gone, and Ikuto looked around slowly, to realize that something had changed.
He glanced down into his mirror.
His eyes widened in disbelief. He could hear the same disbelieving gasps echo around him.
For, in the mirror, was no longer the face of his avatar, but his own face. His own midnight blue hair and eyes, his own sharp, chiseled face.
"Ikuto, are you alright?" He heard.
He turned slowly, almost dreading what he would see.
The player standing before him had also changed. In place of brunette hair and blue eyes, he now had blonde hair, and startling red eyes, which widened in surprise upon seeing him.
He glanced to Ikuto's status bar uncertainly, then back to Ikuto. Then back to the bar. He repeated the process several times.
"Ikuto?" He asked hesitantly.
It seems they weren't the only ones. Cries of confusion echoed around them.
"There's a high-density scan inside the NerveGear. It can see what our face looks like." Ikuto replied gravely. "But I'm unsure as to how they found out how tall I am."
"When you first put the NerveGear on, it had you do this calibration thing. It had you touch your body all over like this." Tadase demonstrated by crossing his arms and placing his hands on his opposite shoulders. "Remember?"
Ikuto nodded. His mind was whirling with information. Around them, the crowd began to act up again. They were confused, and scared.
"I'm sure that you're wondering why I'm doing this." The figure spoke. "The reason I created Sword Art Online was to be in control of a world of my own design. I am in control of the fate this realm. As you can see, I have achieved my goal."
He's trying to play God. Ikuto thought angrily, his eyes narrowing. He clenched his fists. How sick!
"This marks the end of the tutorial, and the official launch of Sword Art Online. Players, I wish you the best of luck."
The image of the Game Master grew pixilated, and with a strange whirring noise, the figure began to dissolve into red smoke, receding back towards the hexagons, which disappeared with a snap. Within seconds, both disappeared as if they were never there.
No one spoke.
Every single occupant in the plaza had a stunned, gaping look on their face, to shocked to utter a word just yet.
Ikuto heart a small splash as he looked down. Blood dripped from a small cut in his arm. A cut he'd received just this morning, before he began the game.
It's real. He thought.
Tadase's eyes were wide, staring at the space the Game Master had previously occupied.
"I-if we die in the game…" He spoke slowly, his voice shaking.
"…We die in real life."
The mirror slipped from his hands and dropped to the ground, shattering into pieces.
And with that, all Hell broke loose.
"No!" A girl screamed, her hands reaching up to cover her ears, falling back into some of the people behind her.
Everyone began to panic, shouting and shoving against each other, releasing their anger at the sky.. All the voices blended into one angry roar. A small girl collapsed to her knees on the floor, not moving.
Tadase cringed, jumping towards Ikuto as a huge man shoved past him.
The barrier on the edge of the courtyard disappeared, and Ikuto took his chance to escape the angry mob. Grabbing Tadase's wrist, he raced towards the exit. "Come on Tadase!"
They shoved their way through the mass of people, heading towards the edge of the yard. Finally making it out, Ikuto began to run, dragging the blonde behind him. Past all of the buildings, shops and taverns, he ran until they reached a lone alleyway. He paused and panted for breath, Tadase right behind him.
They rested for a few moments, regaining their breath, the shock still fresh on their minds.
"Was all of that true? How can he just do that… surely he must be lying!" Tadase's voice raised to a yell.
"It's true." Ikuto contradicted. "Hoshina designed the NerveGear system and Sword Art Online. I know all about his work. He's what you could call a genius." He sighed in anger. "Everything he said was true."
Tadase shook his head in shock.
"But… I have a family! I have – "
"Listen to me Tadase."
The blonde paused, looking up to meet Ikuto's eyes.
"We need to get out of here. We should head to the next village. The way to survive this game is by making ourselves as strong as possible. In these kinds of MMORPG games, there's only a limited amount of XP and money. Already, there's not much left. The fields around here, the Town of Beginings, are going to be hunted clean soon. We need to move on, to get a head start, and we'll have an easier time collecting cash and points."
Tadase nodded slowly.
"I want you to come with me."
He looked up. "Really?"
Ikuto shook his head in affirmation.
"Are you sure? I'm not very experienced and – "
"That's what this game is about. Making yourself stronger. You're not going to survive otherwise."
A small smile alighted to Tadase's face. "Alright."
Ikuto turned around. "Alright. Let's go then. I know all the paths and places we should avoid. We'll get there easily."
Tadase came to Ikuto's side. "Leady the way, then."
They both took off running through the streets. They passed a few people, most crying or in shock, but they didn't stop. They made their way towards the exit of the town, and began to run through the fields.
Ikuto pushed himself to the limit, and he saw that Tadase was doing the same. He glanced at his companion's hard, focused expression, guessing he knew what was going through the blonde's head.
Everyone in this game…
A bright light flashed on the path before him, and a wolf materialized, its menacing red eyes focused right on him.
He and Tadase simultaneously drew their swords and held them back, building power, as they sped towards the wolf.
I will not be beaten. Not by this game, not by anyone.
The wolf leapt into the air, its jaws opening up to devour him.
Tadase ducked, thrusting his blade upwards into the body of the wolf. Ikuto leapt up at the same time the wolf did. He swung his sword, the blade whizzing through the air with power as he shot past the wolf, a long blue streak flashing through the air.
A red slash and a gash appeared on the wolf, and it exploded as Ikuto landed on the ground.
I will survive.
We will survive.