Disclaimers on both Fairy Tail and the Sword Art Online franchises! I own nothing from any part of them!
A/N: Happy 2016 to all that read this, be it in January or in December! The Swordsman is back for another round, and for those of you that have read the highly praised Toa of Aincrad edition of this story, please feel free to jump ahead to chapter seventeen, where the Fairy Tail elements will start to kick in!
If you are joining my tales for the first time, then please, read the already-completed Aincrad arc that involves a unique OC named Mataras alongside Kirito and company! I look forward to greeting new readers with every chapter I release, and I hope that you grow to love this story as much as the last one! Either way, get that fire raging in your belly, and Link Start!
"Michael! You're up! Showtime!" My ears pricked in annoyance as Erak's voice touched them. I tried to ignore him, wanting to be left alone to my misery, but the bigger boy would not take silence for an answer. "Dude, you're not fooling anyone; I know you can hear me!"
"The prisoners of hell can hear you, and they are screaming over one another," I growled quietly to myself, hoping he would just go away. He did not.
"Get up!" the blond boy grinned as he grabbed me by the arm and hoisted me up, much to my aggravation. As soon as he got me standing, I stepped forward and behind him, using my leg as leverage and my hand to shove him in the chest so that he fell over. He hit the wooden ground with an audible thump and looked up at me with a stupid grin on his face. "I knew you could hear me," he said as he got up.
"Leave me be," I scowled and tried to sit back down.
"Nope!" the other boy said cheerily. "Tybalt says you get the first go at SAO, and the launch is only ten minutes away!"
"Tybalt won our bet on Apocalypse," I snapped, still in a foul mood. "Let him have his fun. I'm not interested."
"Not interested? I call serious baloney on that, my friend," Erak laughed. "Come on, man! You've been more excited about this than any of us all year! You nearly punched Tybalt out when he won the match!"
"You know why I am miserable!" I snarled, rounding on him. "Stop trying to pretend that nothing is wrong! My entire world was just taken from me, Erak, and I'm supposed to pretend that everything is all fine and good?! It's not! Nothing can ever be well in this world again! Not without her!"
Erak was stunned into silence for a moment as I sat back down on my bed and closed my eyes. Eventually, he said, "Well, maybe things can't be right in this world, man. And I'm sorry, I really am. I know it's nowhere near as bad for us, but we all miss her too, you know. And… We just want to see you smile again, even once. I know she would have wanted to see you smile." With that, he up and left with the words, "The NerveGear is waiting for you when you want it. Maybe a new world is what you need."
"I need to die," I said bitterly as he left. "If only I could be someone other than Michael… Perhaps then this pain could leave me… Or whatever is left of me." I sat there for several minutes before I got up of my own accord for the first time in days.
Through the black-lensed visor of the NerveGear helmet, I looked up at my friends, all of whom were smiling. "Let us know how it is in there once you get out, okay?" Daniel said as I closed my eyes.
"It probably won't be anything worth discussing," I muttered as I closed my eyes. "Link, start." And suddenly, I was rushing down a tunnel filled with blue light and lightning until I landed in a dark room where I could see only myself and nothing else.
Then a voice boomed around me, distinctly female, and somewhat friendly. "Welcome to Sword Art Online!" the voice said. "Your virtual reality experience will begin as soon as you have created your avatar." I rolled my eyes, wishing I could skip this part of the entrance, but I knew it had to be done.
I spent the next few minutes creating an avatar with similar build to my body in real life. When it came time for my hair to be designed, I set it to be even longer than my real body's hair length, allowing it to completely cover the left side of my face instead of just partially obscuring it. The color was blood red and my eyes were set to be maroon. I chose swords as my primary weapon class and finally logged.
"Good luck, Player!" the voice said once I had created my name. "Be safe out there!" Then I was falling again, this time down a tunnel where colors of every shade rushed past me in a dizzying display of brilliance. I 'fell' for a good for ten seconds before I finally had the sensation of standing on cobblestones underneath me.
I opened my eyes to be greeted by the sight of the virtual world, and many thousands of players that had come in to have a good time. We seemed to have been spawned in a coliseum in a place called the Town of Beginnings. I looked down at my new body, vision slightly obscured by my lengthened hair, before nodding in satisfaction and heading out, ignoring the people around me.
I looked around town for a little bit and began to wander through the sea of people, many of them chattering excitedly to one another about their new surroundings. Perhaps if she had been with me, or at least waiting for my return, I might have taken more of an interest in my surroundings. But the only thing I paid any attention to was a small stall selling healing potions and basic weaponry.
I used my starting amount of col to pay for five health potions, as I knew I might need them later on. When I went to confirm that they had made it safely in my inventory, however, I noticed an item that I had not purchased. Using the examine function of my menu, I was intrigued to see that it was a rolled-up scroll. I used the summon function and unrolled the scroll as I walked into a back alley for some privacy. Up ahead, there were to young men, one with a straight sword on his back and the other with a sabre at his waist, but I paid them no heed. What held my interest was the scroll I had discovered, or more specifically, the words on it.
I spent much of the next few hours testing out my unique skill, finding that I liked it very much indeed. I stayed away from other people as much as possible as to avoid attracting attention and avoid having to interact with anyone at all. After nearly four hours of battling boars and other slimes, I looked up at the virtual sun, which was beginning to set.
Sighing quietly to myself, I decided that it was time to leave the world of Aincrad. Blast you, Erak, I thought as I opened the menu. Blast all of you. I was actually starting to have a good time… I was thinking of how to brush them all off convincingly and return to my isolation when I hit the logout button.
Or rather, where the logout button was supposed to be. My finger tapped the collapse button, and I was back at the main menu. Frowning, I opened the options menu again, looking more closely at my options, searching for the logout button- and not finding it.
A bug, I thought sourly. Today is just my lucky day, is it not?
Before I could open the Game Master Message option, I heard a loud bell gonging in the distance, and some instinct made me freeze. It gonged twice more, and then I was swallowed by a blue light, despite my angry protests.
When I could see again, I whipped out my sword and looked around to see who my enemy was. I was surprised when, instead of seeing a boss of some kind, I was surrounded by the multitude of players I had spent the day ignoring, all of them looking shocked and uncertain. I sheathed my blade just in time to become aware that the gonging had not stopped, and seemed to be coming from above.
I looked up at the sky to see a red panel with the word WARNING written on it. A young girl tried to sidle up to me as she asked, "Wh-what's that?"
"Well, lady, I do believe the locals call it a hexagon…?" I said without looking at her. "I am not entirely certain I'm pronouncing that right. Why don't I get back with you one that?" I ignored the profanity she offered as she stormed off, instead choosing to pay attention to the fact that the one hexagon was now multiplying into hundreds of thousands that stretched out to cover the coliseum that they had all spawned in at the beginning.
A cold stone of dread settled in my belly as what could only be described as blood began to drip down from between the panels and coalesce into a hooded form laced with lightning. When the last drop had fallen, a massive phantom was hanging over them, a creature with no face and shape, save for the massive red-and-golden-threaded robe it wore, along with a pair of white gloves that outlined its hands. Black smoke breathed out from where the head would have been, and a deep, echoing voice spoke.
"Attention, players," it said. "I welcome you… to my world." The players around me began to mutter among themselves in anticipation. Was this an event? Part of the launch? I ignored them and focused solely on the phantom above.
"My name is Akihiko Kayaba," he said in his sonorous, echoing voice. "And as of this moment, I am in control of this world." My stomach clenched tighter at those words. "I'm sure most of you have already noticed an item missing from your main menus," he said, ignoring the increased chatter. "The logout button." As if to demonstrate, he pulled out a giant menu and scrolled through it to reveal that there was indeed no such function present.
But what they all heard next only made me angry. "I can assure you, this is not a defect in the game." He paused to let it sink for a second, then said, "I repeat: this is not a defect. This is how Sword Art Online was designed to be. You cannot log out of SAO. And no one from the outside may attempt to remove the NerveGear from your head. If someone from the outside attempts to remove the NerveGear rig from you head, it will discharge a microwave signal into your skull, and end your life." I clenched my fists and ground my teeth in anger as the implications of where he was going began to sink in.
We can't get out without his say-so, I thought, frustrated. We have to do what he says- we are nothing more than his puppe- No! I closed my eyes as painful memories flooded my mind, the last time I had felt so helpless. No! I will be beholden to no mortal man! Never again!
Before I could shout my rage while others began to voice their disbeliefs and try to leave the coliseum, Kayaba spoke again. "Despite my warning, the friends and families of several of the players have attempted to remove the NerveGear- an unfortunate decision, to say the least." He spoke as though he were discussing the weather in Alaska- bored and dismal. The tone infuriated me to the point where I began to shake with anger. "As a result, the game now has two-hundred-thirteen less players than when it began. They have been deleted from both the real and virtual world."
Death… upon all of those unfortunate souls… I thought, my vision beginning to pulse red. For the sake of… what?!
"As you can see," the phantom-Kayaba said as multiple windows displaying the news of the incident appeared around him, seemingly in response to people's continued disbelief. "Media outlets have round-the-clock coverage of everything… including the deaths." He enlarged several that showed the body count and crying family members. "At this point, it is safe to say that the likelihood of the removal of a NerveGear is minimal at best. I hope this brings you a little comfort as you try to clear the game."
The last sentence stopped my rage cold. Clear the game?
"It is important that you remember the following," he said. "There is no longer any way to revive someone within the game. If your HP hits zero, your avatar will be deleted from the system. And the NerveGear will simultaneously destroy your brain.
"There is only one way for a player to escape now," Kayaba said after a long moment of dead silence from the crowd. "You must clear the game. Right now, you are all gathered on floor one, the lowest level of Aincrad. If you get through the dungeon and defeat the boss, you may advance to the next floor. Defeat the boss on floor one hundred, and you will clear the game."
Now the crowd was riled up. "Why should we believe anything you say?!" a random player demanded.
"All one hundred floors!" another shouted. "Are you friggin' insane?! That's impossible! Not even the beta testers made it that high!"
"Ignoring them, Kayaba continued on to say, "Last, but not least, I've placed a little present in the item storage of every player. Please… have a look." The last three words had what I could have sworn were a challenging tone in them.
With sharp, angry movements, I opened my menu and jabbed at the first item I saw. Suddenly, I was holding a mirror that reflected the virtual face of Mataras. Looking up, I was about to hurl the item at Kayaba, but then a blue flash of light enveloped me, much like a teleport effect, but I did not feel myself moving.
When the glow had faded, I looked to see that I was still holding the mirror. But something was different. Instead of the face of Mataras the Swordsman, I saw the face of Michael the Coward. My brain suddenly stopped working as I realized that Kayaba had just taken away my only armor against myself.
"Right now, you're probably wondering why?" Kayaba's voice snapped me out of my stupor, and I looked up at him, despite myself. "Why would Akihiko Kayaba, developer of NerveGear, and inventor of Sword Art Online, do such a thing?" He paused, as if gathering his thoughts. "Ultimately, my goal was a simple one. The reason I created Sword Art Online was to create a world of my design. As you can see, I have achieved my goal." I grabbed the mirror with both hands and nearly enough force to shatter it in my fury.
You dare to play God?! I seethed in silence.
"This marks the end of the tutorial, and the official launch of Sword art Online," Kayaba said, and I had the feeling that he was about to leave. "Players, I wish you the best of luck." What struck me the most in that moment, however, was not that he began to disappear, vanishing into scarlet smoke, abandoning us to our fates. It wasn't the screams that filled the air. It wasn't the angry shouts, the wails of despair that held my attention. It was that Kayaba seemed sincere in his closing statement.
I closed my eyes, and allowed my arms to fall to my sides with deliberation, one hand still holding the mirror that had destroyed the image I wanted, the vision of what I wished to be. Then, slowly but surely, a smile crawled across my face. The first smile since the death of Victoria. And it was not a friendly one.
I opened my eyes, and in one quick motion, shattered the mirror by casting it on the ground with murderous force. I drew my sword and pointed it upward as I looked up at the afternoon sky, which was now free of the red hexagons.
"Trap me in here will you?" I said. "Let's just see if you're so high and mighty when you're at the end of my sword, Kayaba?" Then I turned and ran out of the town, shoving people out my way, the smile of a dragon on the hunt still on my lips.
I will live by the law of the sword, I vowed as a wolf spawned a distance in front of me. "Get," I snarled as I readied my sword. "Get out." The wolf charged at me. "Of my." The mob leapt at me, ready to tear out my throat with its teeth. "WAY!" I slashed it in half perfectly, destroying it and not even pausing to check my drop list.
I will die by the sword, or he will, once I meet him, whether in this world or the next, I thought as I kept running. That is the only way this world ends! Death! Looking up to the sky, I roared with power of the dragon sleeping within me.
Kirito: Hey, readers! Just thought I'd let you all know, one of the readers' favorite parts of the last edition of this story was the omake's that we did together. In the original, they didn't start until after we had gotten out of SAO, but Mataras thought that it would be fun to include it all the way through this time.
Mataras: Correct, and although some people have read my tale before, I believe that at least some of them will read through the Aincrad arc again for old time's sake. And whether you are an old friend or a frsh reader, there is something for everyone to enjoy in a link set up on my profile page- an anime-style intro video made just for this story. Check it out if you're interested, my videos are usually well-received.
Asuna: Old times sake, Mataras?
Mataras: Hey, I spent nearly a year writing every day on the Toa of Aincrad! As the writer, I'd say that's a long time!
Asuna: Okay, chill out! No need to get all hotheaded on me.
Kirito: Yeah, uh... that's not really gonna be possible about eighteen chapters from now...
Asuna: Why not?
Mataras: Wait and find out, though I'm sure some of you can guess what will be happening. But for now, read on if you liked this chapter, and be sure to leave a review! I welcome criticism openly, as I wish to be an ever-growing writer!