Chapter 1: At the End to a New Beginning

In the aftermath of the Sword Art Online and Alfheim Online incidents, numerous corporations made use of Kayaba Akihiko's [World Seed] Program in order to create various VR-MMORPG games.

Yet some, rightly, mistrusted the intentions of the man who had trapped ten thousand people in a Death Game for over two years. Thus, those companies who rivalled the companies that had used the [NerveGear] and [AmuSphere] VR headsets decided to branch out and created their own worlds and technology that was based on, but different than, the two headsets.

The most successful rival company created a game called 'YGGDRASIL' and classed it as a DMMO-RPG (Diving Massively Multiplayer Online - Role Playing Game) so as to set it apart from the VRMMO - RPG's.

YGGDRASIL required its own bed-shaped console in order to play it. While expensive, every player said the expense was worth it. Due to the incredibly wide-range of customisation available, for characters, bases and items, the game was immensely popular.

There were three categories of player avatars in YGGDRASIL. The Human Races (Humans, Dwarves and Elves), the Demi-Human Races (Ogres, Goblins, beastmen, mermaids and the like) and the Heteromorphic Races (Slimes, Vampires, Liches and the like).

Heteromorphic races were largely unpopular due to the racial restriction on equipment and skills they possessed. For example, Slimes cannot equip weapons or armour, only accessories. In addition, Human and Demi-Human races received no penalty for Pking any heteromorphic player. Of course, the reverse was true as well, leading to a PK war between the heteromorphic races and the far more populous Human and Demi-Human races.

It was this world that the former Sword Art Online Task Force turned its eyes to when players simply…vanished…over the game's twelve years of operation. It was into this world of violence and discrimination that Kirigaya Kazuto, the former Black Swordsman of SAO, and his friends descended at the request of the SAO Task Force. And it is this world that is coming, finally, to an end.

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Ten Minutes Before the YGGDRASIL Server Shuts Down

Conference Room, 10th Floor (Ruby Palace), Flying Fortress of Aincrad, Midgard, Yggdrasil

"Man, I can't believe we've been coming here for two years!" a lizardman with red scales and dressed in samurai-esque clothes said from his seat, "And we haven't found ANYTHING suspicious to do with the guilds that just vanished!"

"Klein, it isn't like we haven't tried." a female Cyclops pointed out, "The first group, the [Six Paladins] guild vanished years ago. Same for the [Gluttony] guild. The most recent disappearances were that two person guild…what was their name?"

"[Janus], Liz." a vampiress said quietly. With silvery hair, a red and white set of armour and a rapier at her side, the former Sub-Commander of the Knights of Blood looked almost exactly the same as she did in Aincrad, albeit with ruby reptilian eyes, alabaster skin and silver hair.

"Ah, thought it was something like that. Thanks Asuna." Liz nodded, "Yeah, them. They just up and vanished. The only anomaly is the fact that [Gluttony's] Guild HQ vanished. An entire floating castle, just poofed out of existence."

"Ano…could it have been deleted?" a werecat asked shyly.

A busty Succubus shook her head. "Onii-chan went over the code himself, Silica-chan. Nothing was deleted, corrupted or anything like that. It was just…gone. Removed so cleanly, he couldn't tell that anything had ever even been there to begin with."

"Way to bring people down, Leafa-chan." Klein grumbled.

"It's Kiriha in YGGDRASIL, baka!" the woman huffed and sent an unhappy smiley at him in lieu of being able to make a facial expression.

"Can ya keep it down?" a tall Dark Elf asked with a frown, "I'm trying to finish my assignment here before the Server shuts down."

"Sorry, Sinon." Silica apologised.

The doors to the room opened and a large ogre tromped into the room.

"Hey Agil!" Klein called, "Where's Kirito?"

"He's having a last talk with the Guildmaster of [Ains Ooal Gown]." Agil replied as he assumed his seat, "Yui-chan'll have him back here via a [Gate] in no time flat."

"Then [The Band of the Black Sword] will be all assembled!" a weremouse cackled.

"Argo, you really need to come up with a better name for us." a voice complained. The occupants of the table turned to see a purple portal appear and a Fallen Angel step out of it, followed by a floating pixie.

"Mama!" the little Fae squealed and fluttered over to land on Asuna's shoulder.

"Hey there Yui-chan." the voice of Asuna said lovingly to her AI daughter.

Kirito took his seat at the 'head' of the table, for all that it was round. It was the marble seat with a large ebon sword embedded in the top of it. That weapon was the Guild Weapon of [The Band of the Black Sword], the [Black Sword] itself.

"I confirmed with Momonga-san that precious few of his guild have logged in in the past couple of years." he started without preamble, "He's been too busy hunting monsters to have anything to do with vanishing anybody."

"Great, so we're back at square one." Kiriha grumbled as she crossed her legs.

"We have eliminated several possible causes, from possible kidnappers to some sort of Pking method." Kirito pointed out, "What we have left may be more questions than we started out with, but it isn't any of our faults. The people who disappeared, both from YGGDRASIL and from the real world…are just gone."

"Anyway, it isn't like it's going to happen again." Agil added, "The server for YGGDRASIL is shutting down today, so no one else is gonna be disappearing."

Liz reached over and smacked him on the forearm, the highest she could reach on the Ogre. A '0' floated in the air to indicate that the large merchant hadn't lost any HP.

"What?"

"You never say that something isn't going to happen!" Liz hissed, "You're just begging for it to happen!"

"Narrative causality only happens in anime and manga!" Agil retorted.

"There's no point tempting fate." Liz argued.

"OK you two, calm it." Kirito ordered, "There's only a few minutes to go, so less arguing."

"Gotcha, Kirito." Liz grumbled.

Agil just nodded.

"It's just a shame that we're losing everything we built here." Asuna sighed, "I mean, it isn't as nice as our cottage, Kirito-kun, but still…"

"I know, Asuna." Kirito sighed, "Still, there isn't anything we can do about it. They designed YGGDRASIL's code to be deliberately incompatible with VR-MMO-RPG's, so I can't just copy and paste it."

"Should we go out and enjoy the fireworks?" Argo asked.

"Nah. We're good here." Liz said dismissively, "'sides, I wouldn't put it past some of the Human and Demi-Human players to try and make us the last PK victims of YGGDRASIL 'for old time's sake' or some such nonsense."

This earned her sage nods from the rest of the table.

"Well, we can at least go to the balcony." Klein pointed out.

This met with approval from the rest of the group and they rose to head there, chatting all the while. Kirito paused and grabbed the Guild Weapon from the back of his seat.

"Might as well give it one final outing." he said to the curious look he was drawing from Kiriha and Argo.

"Fair enough." his little sister/cousin said with a nod. She knew how much he liked swords; especially this one since he had designed and made it all by himself.

"Asuna'll get jealous if you keep cheating on her with your sword, Ki-bou." Argo teased him as flames flickering at her wrists and ankles. Argo was a weremouse, but also a rare class of weremouse called a Hinezumi, a fire rat. She could control fire and was partially immune to most fire-based attacks.

"Shush it." Kirito grumbled, his twelve black wings flexing in annoyance as he sheathed the sword at his side.

The ten members of [The Band of the Black Sword] strode across to the open balcony on one side of the room. Stretched out before them was the beautiful scenery of Midgard, one of the Nine Worlds of the game of YGGDRASIL. Even Kirito had to admit that it was a beautifully programmed environment.

Asuna glided next to him and took his hand, while Yui alighted on Kirito's other shoulder. Kirito felt content. Things with Asuna's mother were still tense, even after she accepted that Asuna did indeed love him and wouldn't settle for anyone else. Still, her father was supportive, which was something.

"We'd better head to bed as soon as the server goes down." he remarked aloud, "Kikuoka-san will be wanting us to give our final reports bright and early tomorrow."

"He's so annoying." Argo pouted. Silica nodded in agreement.

"He's so pushy for details and intense." the Dragon Tamer moaned.

"I'll have a word with him." Kirito promised with a frown. He was very protective of his friends and had warned Kikuoka Seijirō not to push them. Evidently, the bespectacled man needed a reminder of that.

"Less than a minute to go." Sinon announced.

"It was a good place while it lasted." Liz sighed, her single eye staring out across the landscape. The unblinking eye of a cyclops could act like either a telescope or a microscope, the perfect tool for a blacksmith. Kirito supposed that she was focussed on something in the distance.

"That is was." Agil rumbled as he leaned on the balcony.

"Papa…something's happening!" Yui said urgently, "The data in the area around the castle is becoming corrupted at a rapid pace! Not just us either, the same is happening to the [Great Tomb of Nazarick]!"

Looking alarmed, Kirito looked around and spotted the signs of corruption in the sky around the large floating castle that was the New Aincrad in YGGDRASIL.

"Everyone! Log Out, now!" he ordered frantically, "Log-"

He never finished his order as he, his friends and the entire castle were engulfed in white light.