『In your inventories there will be a gift from me. Please, confirm this.』

Kayaba Akihiko's menacing, shapeless form over the courtyard of the «Town of Beginnings», his faceless countenance weighing down on us all. All ~twenty-thousand players—early adopters of the «NerveGear» and the world's first commercial «FullDive» experience gazed skyward in confusion. A gift? we were all thinking. Why would He, this madman that trapped twenty-thousand human beings in his own virtual space, be giving us gifts?

Regardless, or perhaps because this man—this… «God» ordered us to, all of us swiped our hands in the downward motion to open up our player menus and navigated to our inventory.

And right there, above everything else—even our beginner armour and starting weapon—was a single, innocuous item.

«Hand Mirror»

Confusion, I could tell, rang through the plaza. A hand mirror? That was his gift?

Without any reason to, but not seeing any reason to not, I mindlessly selected the «Hand Mirror» and equipped it.

I glanced over at Klein, who looked back with equal confusion in his eyes. Shrugging we both looked down at the small, rectangular mirror that was in our hands.

Woah… did my avatar… really look that masculine? Doing my best to ignore the painful feeling in my chest that sprouted at the realisation and stared contemplatively at my avatar's eyes.

And suddenly the world around me lit up, the sound of glass shattering surrounding me.

Once the light faded, and I could hear again, confused mutterings and murmurings spread across the plaza.

"Hey Kirito, what the Hell is—Who are you?"

I looked to my right, where Klein had been standing just a few seconds. The armour, hair, and curious bandana were all still there. But… the body shape, facial shape, eyes… everything else that made Klein who he had been physically wasn't there. The long, sharp eyes I'd noticed over the last several hours were sunken but brighter. His nose became slightly hooked, and the beginnings of a beard ran along his cheeks and chin.

…Good job Kyo—… Kazuto. First day in public SAO and you made friendly with a guy that would be a "maybe" when contemplating what a predator looked like.


"Who is who—" I stopped suddenly. That's not the voice of my avatar. My avatar's voice was supposed to be a little lower pitched, older, more… masculine. This voice was…


I glanced back down at the «Hand Mirror» for a second, just to confirm my suspicions. Yup. Short hair, slightly effeminate but still annoyingly male face, definitely not the appearance of an eighteen year-old man.

"Ki… Kirito?" Klein's voice came from the new man beside me. His voice had also changed, dropping in tone a little and becoming a little bit gruffer.

"…Yeah, it's me, Klein." That feeling in my chest abated a little at the sound of my voice, less smooth and significantly lighter. But a part of me, the part of me that wanted to be normal, cringed. I'd grown so used to the baritone, almost regal tone my avatar spoke in that hearing my voice felt… weird. Discomforting.

I glanced around quickly. Just a few seconds ago the plaza of the «Town of Beginnings» looked like your typical fantasy setting—abnormal hair colours, attractive heroes and heroines, lords and ladies and the like. But now…

Now it just looked like a LARPing scene. Everyone looked like regular Japanese young-adults. Even Klein, who's spiky hair used to be the same vibrant red as his bandana was now definitely brown, though with a slightly redder tint.

With another quick glance I noticed a lot of people in armour that… didn't quite fit their new bodies. Huh, crossplayers exist in «FullDive» too.

"How…" I heard Klein whisper next to me. "How is this possible? How did this happen?"

"Facial scanning from the vizor of the «NerveGear» and the calibration scan from initial setup." The answer came from my lips within an instant of Klein's question and I grimaced. Kyo—Kazuto, you're not supposed to be doing that anymore!

"That… that explains the new height and erm… build disparities."

Klein's comment made me look around again. And sure enough, pretty much everyone in the plaza had shrunk a good ten to twenty centimetres. And similarly, the good ol' Japanese otaku stereotype reared its head for a… shocking minority of players.

NerveGear calibration was a simple if uncomfortable process. The user basically ran the sensor on the back of the NerveGear across their entire body. It would recognise everything down to an almost molecular level, somehow. It was all so the NerveGear could detect how much you'd need to move your hand to reach an area on your body in an attempt to reproduce the sense of kinetic accuracy within the game. As a result, practically every NerveGear owned had an almost perfect recreation of the user's body saved inside itself.

Because of the process it was, obviously, feasible to recreate the player's body in an exact, polygonal representation within any game that had access to the NerveGear's calibration data. However, there were limitations to the recreation process.

For one, the NerveGear depended on real life virtual databases to determine the sex of the player's model purely from the calibration data. So it looked at average estimates of body measurements of the sexes (both on and off hormonal therapies, if I remember mom and Argo telling me correctly) to build an estimate of the player's sex and then finally checked the sexual organs of the player, which is also a part of the regular calibration process, to finalise the model's sex.

No one quite knew what would happen if you skipped your sexual organs during the calibration, because the one-thousand beta testers that were able to test these facts weren't using the NerveGear generated player model, and obviously no one would be open about whether they scanned their genitalia to random strangers on the internet (especially because this data got stored onto online servers for reference between the Argus' «NerveGear Network»).

The NerveGear's calibration was part of what made it such a revolutionary piece of hardware. Because of it's kinetic accuracy recreation, the NerveGear's «Full Dive» was even more… realistic…

Oh of course.

"Reality…" I murmured, the purpose of this becoming clear to me. "He said this was to be reality now… so these polygon avatars… and… our HP was our real life… our real bodies…"

Oh Kayaba you… genius of a sociopath with a God complex.

"But… but why is he doing this?"

I gave Klein a slight glare. "Be quiet and listen, he'll probably explain soon." Frankly I thought that his reasons and motivations were pretty clear given the evidence we had at this time, but I was really not in the mood to explain it all to Klein.

Kayaba didn't let me down. A few seconds later his voice, sounding as regal as ever and almost… solemn, sounded from the sky.

『You will all most probably be wondering, "Why." Why am I—the creator of both the NerveGear and «Sword Art Online», Kayaba Akihiko, doing something like this?』

And it was here that Kayaba's voice, which had been almost emotionless up until now, seemed to show signs of emotion. The word… empathy came to mind—empathy and understanding—even though that couldn't possibly be true.

『The reason is simple… You, twenty-thousand individuals that were so desperate to escape the real world for this new, isolated virtual space—All of the unwanted, unneeded… you are now here. This world that you all wanted to adopt as reality eagerly, now have this as your primary and only reality. And I… I who desired to create this world, this world for all the displaced and disenfranchised and unwanted… This is why I created the «NerveGear» and «Sword Art Online». To watch over you all, as the one of you with the ambition and ability to fulfil all our desires. And this… This is why I no longer have a reason or purpose for doing this, as my reason and purpose have already been realised.』

Silence reigned for several seconds after the excited, impassioned… almost charismatic speech ended. And after a short break, Kayaba's once again emotionless voice spoke.

『Now… I have finished the official tutorial for «Sword Art Online». Players—I wish you luck.』

The last sentence trailed off with an echo as the huge robe rose soundlessly and started sinking, hood first, into the «System Message» that covered the sky.

The sound of wind blowing above the plaza and the BGM of the NPC musicians returned softly to our ears. The game had returned to normal.

But the Game… the game we all came to play had changed drastically. And at last, the crowd of twenty-thousand reacted beyond silent confusion.

"It's a joke, right? The Hell is this! It's a joke right!?"
"Stop kidding around! Let me out! Let me out of here!"
"No! You can't! I've got a date tonight!"
"I don't like this! I want to go home! I want to see my fiancé!"

Yells. Clamours. Shouts. Curses. Begging. Screaming. All at once, all as loud and desperate as could be.

But in the midst of it all, in the confusion and anger and panic, my mind became cool again. The feeling in my chest settled, my panic began to recede, and I finally understood.

This… This is reality.

What Kayaba Akihiko had declared was… had to be true. It was the part of Kayaba that made him alluringly attractive—his genius and his blunt honesty. Which would mean…

…If we—I—died here, my body would die in reality. The NerveGear, the most revolutionary and fascinating technological creation of the 21st century, had suddenly became a lock to a virtual prison as well as the helmet of the execution chair.

This was my new reality.

Oh no another new fic from me. And among that, a new SAO fic from me. I've been getting back into the franchise recently at the recommendation of my therapist (to just accept and enjoy the things I enjoy), and after reading Knowledgeseeker66's Kirita Chronicles prequel on AO3 I remembered how much fun I had when writing Kuroi Kenshi like six years ago, and I decided to reboot it as a sort of... I dunno', I guess as a sort of fix-it for the Sword Art Online series—doing my best to make the characters and game feel more real to life, character progression more realistic for an MMO like SAO, give Kayaba an actual motivation for what he did to SAO, things like that.

Unlike Kuroi Kenshi this won't be a genderbender fic... per se. Kirito is a girl but... well. It's fairly obvious in the chapter what I mean. At the moment Kirito is the only person who's gender/sex I plan on changing in this fic, but we'll see how things play out.

I don't know if there'll be any sort of periodic updates but as things are right now I'm seriously hoping that how much I plan to change and have make sense in this fic will keep up my motivation to write it. So long as I don't find any sort of problems starting a chapter then I'll probably be working on it for as long as I can.

Anyway, I hope everyone liked this first chapter/introduction to my new story, The Black Blade, Reforged! I'll be getting back to work on the next chapter as soon as this one goes live, and should hopefully have it done, edited, and up by Monday!