I haven't written anything in ages, haven't written any fanfiction in longer, and haven't posted anything in even longer. One of my problems is that I'm terrible at plot or anything of the sort, including even a general direction for the story to go, so I decided to write SAO fanfiction again because it has very linear easy direction, at least for the first arc. Up. Seriously. Since everyone is climbing a castle, it's relatively easy to write. I need to come up with material, figure out what to skip and what to write (how many boss fights and side adventures and whatever), and decide what to keep and what to change from the original story, but in the end, there's a clear direction the story goes. Up Aincrad and towards a final boss.

TLDR: I haven't written in a while because plot is hard and SAO is easy to write so I decided to write this.

Also, I'm warning now, there will be some mechanics changes, as well as some general changes that those of you who have read the LNs will probably be able to use to guess something pretty major I won't say yet.

The way I'm writing this is just for this opening, if you skip over it you won't miss out on too much except a description of the main characters and I just thought it would be a bit funny.

Our story starts basically like SAO.

(Shows a picture of the SAO characters with Asuna and Kirito in the middle and Klein, Silica, Liz, Leafa, and Sinon around them surrounded by everybody else, all of them in their real bodies. They're standing on the invisible platform that Kirito and Asuna watched Aincrad crumble from. The sky looks the same as then and the castle of Aincrad floats behind them, whole)

Except all the characters less than 20 are like 6-7 years older.

(All the teenagers rapidly turn into young adults)

And the story is really not about them at all...

(The platform zooms off the screen and another one zooms in with two girls. One of them 13 years old with cute face and straight black hair that frames her face and goes down to just above her waist. She is short, going to up to just under the chin of the other girl and is generally petite. The other 15 years old with crimson hair that goes just past her shoulders with bangs that go down in an irregular to a little above her eyes at the lowest point. She stands at a little over 5'4 with a more developed figure)

Well okay, it's actually somewhat about them.

(The original platform moves back onto the screen, moving to behind and to the left of the platform in the middle)

Also, the castle is wider.

(The castle grows about 4 times wider)

There we go.

I don't really know why I wrote that, I just felt like it. Which really describes why I write anything at all, actually.

"We're finally back in this world!" Nira says excitedly, hugging the older girl who'd appeared with her and lifting her by leaning back, doing a spin. Her avatar is considerably taller than her real body so she almost trips and puts Akari down.

"I see you decided to make yourself taller again," Akari teases.

"Of course!" Nira says with a smile.

"During the 2 months of beta testing that led to you tripping who-knows how many times in both worlds," Akari points out.

"Worth it," Nira says, still smiling.

"If you say so. I guess it doesn't take long to adjust."

Nira runs her hands through her avatar's short light blue hair that goes down to her shoulders.

"Let's get moving? We wouldn't want to fall behind," Akari says.

The two use their starting money to buy their basic weapons. For Nari, this means dual longswords (something many had tried to copy during the beta, and most had failed completely, and even of those who succeeded to do anything, for most of them it was ineffective), though she preferred a different type of sword, they weren't available as starter weapons. For Akari this meant a bow and dagger.

They then run off, out of the aptly named [Town of Beginnings] and into the grass fields surrounding it where the [Blueskin Boars], the weakest enemy in the game, dwelled.

A crucial thing to know about the game to know is that any enemy can kill you if you let it, even a high level player against the boars. There is no face tanking damage. Shield tanking yes, face tanking no. If something hits your neck, you will generally die, practically regardless of its level. If you get stabbed through the heart, even with a weak sword, you will die unless healed with a fast-acting healing item almost immediately. In general, some wounds will basically instantly kill you and any would will immediately deal damage depending on the weapon, however afterwards your wounds will 'bleed', which means that the red polygons will float out and your HP will slowly, or not so slowly, depending on the wound, drain.

A nice thing to know to be a good player is that this applies to monsters just as much as players, with a few exceptions. If you stab or cut through the boar's neck, you don't need sword skills to deal serious damage. Most people don't realize this. They hack away at the monster as if this game is a normal RPG and don't consider that it's actually closer to how the real world works than it is to that.

And since they could slaughter the boars easily, they decided to be nice to the 9000 new players and run out to the outer fields where the boars were somewhat higher level and rewarded better loot. Or rather more loot, since it was the same stuff. XP, col, [Boar Hide], and [Raw Boar Meat]. The latter two they planned to sell since neither planned to leatherwork or cook at the moment.

Two boars charge at Nira, who leaps into the air and spins around a horizontal axis, one sword following closely after the other. The first chops into the neck of one boar, the second hitting just as it leaves and cleaving the rest of the way through. The wound made is a flat red with white mesh. Red polygons float from the wound in massive amounts for a moment before the whole boar vibrates and shatters into blue polygons with a sound like glass shattering.

Nira plants her foot on the other boar's face, kicking off horizontally, slowing its charge and pushing herself away into a roll.

She charges next to the boar, running by it with her right side to it and activating the sword skill [Horizontal] to grant her strike enough power to cut through the boar's skull and kill it from the front. Inefficient in general because sword skills tire you but more efficient in the particular situation than dancing around it and striking from behind.

Several hours later, the two lay tiredly on the grass watching the setting sun. Despite being exhausted they both had huge smiles on their faces.

"You wanna rest a bit and then get back to it? Sis gave us permission to play until 10 today, so we've only used half our time. Or do you wanna take a break and get a snack to eat?" Akari asks.

"Let's have a snack."

"Okay. Let's logout then?"

A few seconds later, Nira says, "Akari... is there no logout button for you too?"

Akari nods.

"Hmm... maybe it's a bug? No they would have noticed by now since everyone would have called the GMs and just force logged everyone out until it was fixed. Then what? Maybe just a bug for the two of us?" Nira wonders aloud.

"That wouldn't make much sense. I'm gonna try calling a GM," Akari says.

A moment later. "It's busy. We're probably not the only ones."

"This makes sense. There's no way this would have made it past testing. They would have noticed no logout button, even if it's just on non-GM menus. Which means that... that what? It was deliberate? Maybe this is some sort of opening event? It would be terrible PR, since everyone with anything important they planned to get to would be furious," Nira mutters.

"Let's try waiting a little and seeing if anything happens. Maybe somebody felt it would be funny to edit it last minute and managed to make it so that none of the logout features work and they're working on fixing it. There'll probably be an announcement soon or something," Akari suggests.

"I don't think there would be anyone able to edit it like that last minute without anyone knowing except... Kayaba Akihiko. He basically made the whole the game I think, aside from... I don't actually know, bug testing maybe? He'd be able to do whatever and nobody would be able to stop him or even know," Nira says.

"You think Kayaba Akihiko did this?" Akari says.

"I think he could do it and that I can't think of any other way," Nira says.

"So yes?"

"Pretty much. But I'm willing to believe I'm missing something. I hope I am," Nira says.

Nira hugs Akari, pressing her face into Akari's chest and muttering, "I'm scared."

Akari strokes her head and says, "It's probably nothing anyway and it'll be fixed soon."

"You know I can't believe that," Nira mumbles.

"We'll be fine. Besides, even if we are trapped here, sis will just take the NerveGears off our heads when she gets home," Akari points.

"If it was him, he'd think of that. The whole thing interfaces with our brains. Wirelessly or not, there's no guarantee it can't kill us. Or rather, I'm fairly certain it could in several ways. It could be set to kill the person if someone tries to take it off," Nira says.

Akari was somewhat worried herself now. Nira was making a disturbing amount of sense, except... "Why would he do that?"

"Who knows. God complex? Wants to have the lives of 10000 people in his hands. Or just... I don't know... wants people to populate the world he created. Maybe he just wants to watch people suffer," Nira says.

While he seemed like a fairly normal, though brilliant genius person, she wouldn't put it beyond him to have a god complex or something.

Nira looks up, a slightly terrified than before look in her eyes and says in a voice that suggested she was quoting Kayaba, "ACO maybe a game, but it's not something you play."

Akari was getting seriously worried now.

In the distance a bell rings. Not really in the distance. It came from the direction of the bell in the center of the [Town of Beginnings], however the real physics of sound drop-off (10*log(base 2)(1/r^2) if you're measuring in decibels) would mean that if it was the loud volume it was here then it would be skull smashing loud at the town. It was actually playing the sound as if the bell was considerably closer.

Regardless a few seconds later, they are teleported to the center of the city where all the other 9999 people appear in one enormous plaza.

"An announcement of some sort..." Akari says.

Red, stretched hexagons appear in the sky making a dome out of 'System announcement' and 'warning' hexagons. The dome seals everyone inside the plaza. In the middle, a blood-like substance flows through the cracks, pooling the air and forming into a red robe with nothing but artificial blackness inside.

"Greetings players of Art of Combat Online, and welcome, to my world," the figure says in a booming voices.

"Kayaba Akihiko..." Nira mutters clinging onto Akari, her heart rate and breathing accelerating.

"Please be wrong," Akari mutters to herself, referring to Nira's 'predictions'.

"My name is Kayaba Akihiko. As I'm sure some of you have already noticed, the logout button is missing from your menus. I assure, this is not a bug." ("It's not a bug, it's a feature.")

"No..." Akari mutters.

"I repeat, this is not a bug, but rather an intended feature of the game. You cannot logout in anyway. If someone attempts to remove the NerveGear from your head, the microwave transmitter in the NerveGear will fry your brain, killing you immediately."

"No... please no... this can't be happening," Nira mutters.

"Regrettably, some friends and family have ignored this warning and attempted to remove the NerveGear regardless. As a result, we currently have 231 less people than we started with. Every major news company in the world is reporting on this at the moment, so it is safe to assume that the chances NerveGears being removed are minimal." Around the figure news feeds appears on screens.

"231 people dead... 231. Dead. No chance to fight, just dead because they wanted to play a game and their family didn't listen to the warning..." Nira mutters her whole body trembling. She was crying. Her breathing speeding up.

Akari tries to remain as calm as she can as she holds Nira to her chest and strokes her. "Calm down. Take deep breaths," she says and breaths deeply. She wasn't sure if it was possible to suffocate without water or being choked in this game but she didn't want to find out.

Slowly Nira's breathing levels out.

"At this point, the only way out is to clear the game." A hologram of Aincrad appears, a red path winding up the floors through the dungeon towers of sky connecting the floors. "Right now you are on the first floor. Defeat the boss at the top of the first floor dungeon and you will progress to the next floor. Once you defeat the 100th boss on the top floor, you will clear the game and all remaining players will be logged out."

"Remaining..." Nira mutters.

Akari realizes what she meant. That meant there would be players that wouldn't make it.

"There will be no respawns and no revival items of any kind. Once your HP reaches 0 and your avatar dies, the microwave transmitter in the NerveGear will fry your brain."

"Those people... all the people new to game who died to boars," Nira was close to vomiting, though some part of her mind wasn't even sure if it was possible to vomit in ACO.

"The pain dampener will be set down, things will be close to as painful as they would be in the other world."

Nira and Akari both remember the various times they got hit during the beta by even the most basic enemies like boars and how painful that would be in real life.

"Last but not least, I have placed a little present in your inventory. Please, take a look."

Everyone looks in their inventory and immediately finds a mirror. Nira is momentarily distracted from her near panic attack by her curiosity. She looks at it before she is surrounded in a bright light which stops her from seeing Akari or even her own hands. When it clears she glances in the mirror once more and sees her own face.

She turns to Akari and finds that she was to look up to look at her face, since she had been reverted to her real height.

"Our real bodies... how?"

"I don't know... calibration wouldn't have this sort of detail... and it can only see our face. Even the scar on my hand is there. Our self-image? That shouldn't be possible, unless Kayaba lied not only about what the NerveGear can do, but also the fundamental principles of how it works."

"This is your world now."

Panic breaks out.

"Some of you are probably wondering 'why'. Why would I do this. My goal was simple. To control the fate of a world of my own design. As you can see, I have achieved that goal. This marks the end of the tutorial and the official start of ACO. Players, I wish you the best of luck."

The figure turns into red mist and the red dome vanishes.

"No... sis... Hina..." Nira was crying into Akari chest, her moment of curiosity overriding fear over.

"Nira," Akari says, using 'Nira's' real name, "We'll get out of this, I promise. We'll get back to the real world. We'll see sis and Hira again. We'll survive."

"But we should move, get a decent room before they're all bought out so we can figure out how to act."

Nira nods, straightening and wiping her eyes, putting on a brave front.

10 minutes later the two are in a small room in a hotel with a single comfortable bed. With the price of the room, they could stay there for a month without doing anything except leaving to get food. Plenty of time to figure out what to do.

At the moment, the two were curled up together on the bed, clinging to each other for comfort. Their strength sapped completely allowing them to go to bed at 5:45.

"We'll make it out of this. We have to."

Nira nods into Akari, the face still wet with tears.

'Sis' (actually named Sari) and her wife Hina were sitting together in a restaurant. They'd left Sari's younger sister and her best friend—the orphan Nari who'd been living with them for 7 years since her parents were murdered in front of her—to play their game, ACO, and went on a date.

They were ready to order and waiting for the waitress. Sari heard some people sitting near them talking.

"Have you seen the news?"

"No, what?"

"Kayaba turned out to be a madman."

The name seemed familiar to her. Very.

"How so?"

"ACO and that NerveGear turned out to be some sort of death trap."

Sari turns deathly still. While she hadn't immediately recognized the name Kayaba, both NerveGear and ACO were words she'd heard way too many times over the past week from Aki and Nari.

Clearly Hina had also been listening since she drops her menu.

"The people are all trapped. If you try to remove someone's NerveGear it kills them and the only way for them to get out is to beat the game. And it also kills them if they die in the game, according to Kayaba. And the government has had no luck hacking into the game. A couple hundred people already died from having their NerveGears removed."

"Wow. I almost bought that. I'm glad there was a long line that I didn't stand in," the other person says.

Both Sari and Hina practically jump up, almost toppling the chairs and gathering a considerable amount of attention, not that they cared in the slightest.

They run back to their car and drive home as fast as they can, both thinking thoughts along the lines of, 'Please no please no please no'.

They spend a while fumbling with the lock on the door to their apartment before finally getting in and running straight to Aki and Nari's shared room.

"No... why..." Sari mutters, starting to cry.

She turns and hugs Hina, who hugs her back, both of them crying in each others arms before they turn on the news to find out as much as they can and what they should do.

"They'll make it out. They're great at video games," Hina says as reassuringly as she can, chuckling sadly.

A version of episode 1 with slightly more girls crying and hugging each other.

Please tell me what you thought, any reviews are appreciated. Also please follow and (if you like it) favorite.

Next to chapter hopefully soon and possibly never (though I generally do make it to chapter 2 or 3).