Writers Note: Hello. Some people may recognize this story. Well, I decided to rewrite it and attempt to make it better. I changed it to be third person and made the characters a bit more vibrant and alive.
Chapter 1: The Letter
"You and your friends made it through Sword Art Online and many other unique simulations. You have more experience with virtual reality than anyone else on earth. Put those skills to use.
Housing and other accommodations will be provided to you as you approach the launch date to this en devour. Along with you, my company and I have formally invited all those who survived the original Sword Art Online as well as some of the top players of Gun Gale Online. If you choose accept, call the number located at the bottom of this page, a detachment will immediately be sent to retrieve you and escort you safely to the testing location.
Virtual reality is no longer an innocent means of escape. It's a tool, a tool that can potentially train those who save millions. Please contact us as soon as you can."
-David Herara, Sapper CO.
"That's quite the western name." Kirito sat alone at a grand wooden table, elbows propped up, fingers entwined as his eyes glanced over the letter one last time. Two months ago, many of the SAO survivors and some top level GGO players were invited to test a new software stemming from virtual reality. Apparently, this VR was going to be used for emergency service officers such as policemen or firefighters. It will place them in a simulated reality where they will be faced with high pressure situations that they must overcome. The company that invented this new brand of low-risk training was called "Sapper CO.".
Sapper CO. advertised an easy, cost efficient way to train EMS recruits for their duties. Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on training camps, hired actors, etc, when you could just send all your trainees to a lab and have them get the same experience for a cheaper cost. It sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately for Sapper CO., it was. They've apparently hit a wall in terms of coding and their progress with the software was halted. No one on the team of developers had used VR extensively. Furthermore, there was no good references to base their code off of since this project was so unique. Most other VR developers made fantasy games or FPS games. No one had tried using it as a tool yet.
That's why David Herara, founder and CEO of Sapper CO., invited the original SAO group to test his software and find bugs.
"It's a good idea... what their doing." Asuna plopped herself down on the lavish bed behind Kirito. It was hard to convince her to come along with him on this new adventure. She also hated when he called it an adventure. She saw it more as a hindrance. She was never really fully against it, often citing that she only wanted to be by her boyfriends side, and whatever made him happy, made her happy too. Despite this, Kirito couldn't help but feel laced with guilt. Perhaps she thought this would be dangerous. After all, their past encounters with VR have all been... interesting, to say the least.
"Yeah." He said with a nod, turning to see her sprawled out carelessly on the red blankets. David Herara certainly was not joking when he said he would provide housing for those who volunteered. Sure, they were in a highly guarded facility in the middle of Tokyo, but inside the "Testers Quarters" as they are refereed to, it felt like a five star hotel. Even the cafeteria where everyone eats could pass as master chef kitchen. Asuna and Kirito's room was much like their log cabin back on Floor 22 of SAO. It had a comfy feel to it. The bed was large enough to fit four people, though it would only be used by two. The kitchen was very open and was topped off with dark granite counters. Kirito's favorite part however, was the living room. Two large couches were huddled around a warm, stone fireplace beneath a mantle decorated with swords, animal fur, and other outdoorsy things that he had become accustomed to through his years in SAO.
The black swordsman scratched the bridge of his nose and sniffled. It's kind of chilly in here... As he thought this, Asuna shivered, making an audible "Brr" noise. A smile curled the edge of her boyfriends lips. Neither of them were expecting this facility to be so frigid when they packed their bags.
"At least we have an excuse to use this old thing." Kirito chuckled, tossing a few pieces of wood onto the fireplace and lighting a match, tossing it onto the pile. Asuna stood over him as he crouched in front of the open flame. A pair of hands rubbed his shoulders affectionately.
"I'm not mad that we're here, if that's what you were thinking." She said suddenly, sitting cross legged next to him, her head on his shoulder.
"Hmm?" Kirito hummed, surprised.
"Where ever you go, I'll go. You know that."
He smiled and brushed one of her stray chestnut locks behind her ear. "Yeah, I know. And hey, we'll only be here for ten days. That's what the letter said."
Asuna took a deep, drawn out breath and held it for a few seconds before easily letting it go. "Just promise me one thing, Kazuto." She mumbled softly.
"Yeah? What is it, Asuna?" He pulled her in closer to his side, feeling her small breaths against his neck.
"You gotta do whatever I say for a whole day when we're done with all of this." She said deviously.
Though he couldn't see her face, Kirito knew she was smiling wickedly, knowing he would cave and say yes. She deserved to be taken out, especially after he dragged her into this. In reality, Kirito wasn't not even sure why he agreed to help David Herara in the first place. Perhaps it was the promise of a career. Schooling was hard to focus on given the past few years of his life being mostly dominated by VR. Many of his peers before SAO were about to start their senior year, and here he was with barley in high school education at all since he had been stuck in side of Aincrad for years.
Kirito also may have volunteered because he thought it would be a good way to reconnect with old friends that he had met throughout his time in VR. Overtime, the people he befriended in SAO regained their lives and began to move on, making it harder to stay in touch. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to see them again and catch up. Both reasons were plausible, however in the back of Kirito's mind, there was the fear that he subconsciously agreed to volunteer because he craved some kind of adventure. If this was the case, then that would make him feel very selfish, especially since Asuna came along to indulge him. After all, he still had no idea which of his friends from SAO accepted the invitation and came to the facility for this testing. He will find out soon once the cafeteria servers dinner.
"You can pick whatever you want, Asuna." Kirito rubbed her head lovingly, trying to make her feel as relaxed as possible.
"Hmmm." She let out a quiet yawn. "Let's just skip dinner today. We can just meet everyone tomorrow, right?"
"Hehe. There'll be plenty of time for rest tonight. Plus, you wouldn't want to miss a reunion as big as this, would you?"
"We don't even know who came. What if we're the only ones?" She yawned again, a little louder this time, signifying her protest to move from this spot, from this moment. Kirito didn't want to move either. Everything was just... perfect.
His indecisiveness was suddenly cut short when a woman's voice rang through an intercom speaker in their room that neither of them even noticed until now. "Dinner is now being served. All testers and personnel are now free to enter the cafeteria."
Kirito smirked and patted Asuna's shoulder. "What do you say we go find out, eh?"
-Five Minutes Later, the Cafeteria-
Asuna never liked interacting with people while she was tired. She never had the enthusiasm or energy to handle social interaction while I was exhausted. What's more, she was ripped away from her time with her boyfriend. Just him, her, a fire, and a big room, all to themselves.
Once they arrived at the lavish entrance to the cafeteria, it quickly dawned on the couple that they were late. The cafeteria was already nearly full by the time they got there. Kirito scanned the sea of faces, trying to spot anyone familiar. There was hundreds of people, so finding anyone was going to be very difficult. As Asuna was about to tug her boyfriends sleeve and urge him to return to their room, he gasped.
He very suddenly yanked her forward, pulling her into the crowd of people standing around the tables talking and laughing. Asuna, confused as to why her boyfriend suddenly became so persistent, felt a surge of adrenaline , giving her enough reason to wake up a bit and focus more on what was going on around her.
"Klein!" Kirito yelled.
Asuna's eyes flew open in shock. No way. Klein was here?! Her eyes darted around as she began searching for the red headed man. There, she saw him, his signature red headband plastered proudly across his forehead. It's been months since the couple had seen him. His job after SAO pretty much took over his life, so communication was hard to establish with him. Asuna's eyes skipped around for a moment. Surely if Klein was there, others that we knew would be as well. Sure enough, sitting around Klein was Sinon, Silica, Agil, and Lisbeth.
Asuna couldn't believe it - they were all there, and didn't look any different from the last time she saw them. "You guys!" She cried out, now jogging ahead of Kazuto. Lisbeth jumped up and threw her arms around her one-lost friend.
"Asuna!" The young girl said, a sob laced within her words.
Hearing her cry in joy made Asuna tear up as well. "Lisbeth... I missed you so so much."
"No way, Asuna. I missed you way more. How have you been?!"
Before she answered, she peaked over her friend's shoulder and saw Kazuto hugging Klein. Sinon, Agil and Silica stood behind with large smiles on their face.
Neither Kirito nor Asuna realized how much they missed their old friends until they were reunited once again.
Sure, Asuna was upset that she was dragged from her room, and thus away from her time with her boyfriend, but in her mind, this was way better.
-Thirty Minutes Later-
Once dinner died down and the endless chatter grew more quiet, Asuna and Kirito brought their friends to a quiet lounge a few doors down the hallway from the cafeteria. It was peaceful there, similar to the odd sensation one would feel while being at school after hours. Perhaps it was because the people that Kirito was with made him feel so reminiscent. They settled in on wooden chairs lined with red cushions identical to the ones in Asuna and Kirito's personal room. Everyone aligned their chairs so they would all face inward on each other, creating a small, tight circle around a glass table. The echos of the cafeteria hardly made their way into the warm lounge, their frequencies pinging off the multitude of bookshelves around them. Kirito wasn't sure if he should be referring to his friends by their real names or not. Most of the time he's known them, he's called them by their in game names. But, after all he wasn't in a video game anymore. However, their in game names is what he knows them by best.
"How you been, man?" Klein said and slapped the back of the black swordsman shoulder.
He winced at the sudden contact, but smiled nonetheless. "I've been good. Asuna and I just got our own place on the north side of Tokyo. I've just had an interview for a white collar job this past weekend. Things are looking great. How about you, Klein?"
The red head held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers, flashing the platinum colored ring that wrapped around his finger.
"No way!" Lisbeth got up and grabbed a hold of Klein's arm as she inspected the ring carefully. "This is a nice material! Is this silver or platinum?!"
"Platinum. Besides, that's not the important part. I'm engaged, guys!"
Before anyone could congratulate him, Lisbeth shook her head and got even closer to the ring. "The design is amazing! Who made this?"
"Alright, Lisbeth!" Asuna had to pry the former blacksmith from Klein's arm.
Lisbeth sighed in satisfaction as she sat back down in her chair. "Anyways. Congrats, Klein. Who's the lucky lady?"
"A client that met at work."
"Ouch..." Sinon winced. "Never date or marry someone you work with, that always ends up bad."
"It's true." Silica held her eyes closed and nodded proudly as if she had any experience with marriage. "My best friend Aiko broke up with her boyfriend because they spent too much time together."
Agil shook his head and held up an inquiring finger. "Hold up guys. I work with my wife everyday of the week and I never get sick of her."
"HA!" Klein pointed a bragging finger in the face of Sinon and Silica. "See? Vindication!"
"But," Agil continued, much to Klein's dismay. "You're gonna have to prepare yourself for the difficult times. If you and your spouse get into an argument, you can't just forget about it when you both get to work, the bitter feelings you feel are going to stay with you until you work things out. So even though my wife and I get along just fine, that's not to say that it isn't hard - it just means that we're mature enough to hash out our wrongs and make a right, you know?"
"She's not my wife, she's my fiance. But yeah, I get it, Agil. I feel like I'm good at setting aside my differences and coming to agreements."
"Heh, then you won't have any issues." Agil slapped the red head's shoulder and laughed.
"Speaking of which," Lisbeth nudged Asuna with her elbow. "When're you and Kirito gonna snare each other down?"
Asuna held back a little gasp and bowed her head in embarrassment, her cheeks going red. "J-Jeez Lis. You shouldn't ask such embarrassing things so suddenly."
"Yeah," Kirito agreed. "We've been settling back into normal life, so marriage isn't really on the top of our priority list. I mean, I just moved out of my grandparents place and got a good paying job. So, I'm sure one day in the near future her and I will..." Kirito droned on, feeling unsure as to how he should articulate his sentence. He wanted to propose with all of his heart, but money was tight at the moment. He promised himself that once he saved up enough money, he'd splurge on an expensive wedding and invite all their friends and family. One day.
"That's awesome man!" Klein said ecstatically. "Good to see that you've moved on from all that's happened these past few years.."
"W-Well." Asuna chimed in. "We haven't totally gotten over everything." Everyone shot her a curious glance and made a collective 'Hm?' noise. She continued. "I'm sure none of us are ready to forget our time on Aincrad or even any of the other games for that matter. I still have the occasional dream where I'm back in that world, fighting for a way out, not knowing what's to come."
Everyone seemed to silently agree. "It's true." Silica nodded. "My parents say I talk in my sleep about SAO a lot. I guess it's something that none of us can ever really forget."
"H-Hey." Sinon said, a finger raised in confidence. "I wasn't there with you guys during SAO, but my time in Gun Gale was something that I actually kind of... cherish. As strange as that sounds."
"Hell yeah." Agil said confidently. "I had a hell of a lot fun back then. I don't think I'd mind getting back into the game one more time. Especially if y'all were to come with me. Maybe I'll bring my wife."
"We always could. My schedule is kind of full, but maybe if we find a day where all of us are free, we can... go back." Kirito proposed.
Asuna perked up and leaned closer to me, a serious look on her face. "Really?"
"Yeah. I mean, like Agil said, Kayaba is gone, so it's not like we'll be trapped again." He chuckled.
"We can actually play the game instead of living inside of it." Klein exclaimed.
"I think I would still feel kind of trapped." Silica murmured, rubbing her hands together as they were pressed between her legs. "I'm kind of... scared... to go back."
Everyone fell silent. From what Kirito could see on his friends faces, they seemed worried about Silica. She was the youngest out of all of us to be trapped in that game. Being ripped from your parents at such a young age must do something horrible to you.
At this point, the talking from the cafeteria was as quiet as the sound of the deep inhale Silica took before she spoke again. "It's just that... When I came back from SAO, everyone just sort of forgot about me, besides my family, of course. But my best friends, my classmates, they all moved on with their lives. I don't blame them, but I'm afraid of that happening again."
"Silica." Asuna said softly. "Akihiko Kayaba is gone. There's nothing to worry about."
"Kayaba..." The young girl trembled.
"Hey." Agil stood, reached across the table, and patted her on the shoulder. "That guy was crazy, all there's left is-"
A loud bang came from the entrance of the lounge. It surely wasn't loud enough to be heard by people in the cafeteria, but since the noise was so close, it made Kirito jump in shock. Everyone turned simultaneously to see what the source was. At the door way stood a boy, probably a few years younger than Kirito. He breathed heavily as he tried to catch his breath. Apparently he had been running.
"Ah shit." Agil sighed. "Guys... This is my roommate."
Kirito spun around in confusion. "You didn't get your own room?"
"Nah. The lady at the front desk said they were trying to save room for couples."
"Oh..." Kirito and Asuna glanced at each other with a guilty chuckle.
"Agil." The boy in the doorway said softly. He raised his head, and for the first time Kirito was able to see his face. Immediately, it was evident that he was not from Japan or even anywhere else in Asia. His face was western, and though he only spoke one word thus far, it was clear that he had no accent, indicating that he was either from the United States or maybe Canada.
"Guys, this is Love."
"Love?" Sinon asked as she pushed her glasses up onto her nose. "I've never heard a name like that."
"That was his in game name in SAO." Agil said.
"What's wrong with my name?" The boy, whose name is apparently 'Love' asked, staring Sinon down in a somewhat menacing way.
"W-What?" Sinon shook her head innocently. "I didn't mean it like that. I just-"
Love shook his head dismissively as if to silence her and turned his attention back to the dark skinned man in front of him. "Agil."
"What's up, Love?" Agil was clearly trying to hide his frustration. Whoever this 'Love' was, had apparently been getting on Agil's nerves before Kirito or Asuna arrived at the facility.
"We still have an argument to settle!" The boy spat out. His tone suddenly becoming for bombastic and reckless.
Everyone just sat there in uncertainty. Love was many, many leagues below Agil in terms of stature. Agil was tall, muscular, and well trained in fighting. Love, on the other hand, was only about six feet tall, and skinny. Not to mention his hair - a dark colored undercut with a few light streaks of blonde mixed in. Nothing about him was intimidating except his eyes, which were a deep, wicked blue.
"Yeah..." Agil sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. "I already told you, man. You can have the king sized bed. I'll take the smaller one. It's not like any of us are gonna be staying here for too long anyways."
"But why? I practically demanded you to let me have it and you didn't even try to protest."
"He told you you could have it. Why are you trying to argue with him? Can't you just accept the gesture and move on?" Asuna asked. Kirito motioned for her to not get involved, but it was too late.
Love locked eyes with Asuna. "Who the hell are you?." He asked dully and turned his body towards her.
Kirito rose to his feet and stood in front of his girlfriend, protecting her from whatever this freak was going to do. "No." Kirito said firmly.
Love stared daggers into the Black Swordsman and chuckled. "And who're you? Who the hell are any of you?" he spread out his arms in confusion and glared at each person in what seemed to be repulsion.
"My name is Kazuto."
"K-Kazuto?" he pronounced with a raised eyebrow.
Love took a few moments and gave Kirito a weird look. "Why do I feel like I've seen your name somewhere online?"
"You might have. My in game name during SAO was Kirito."
Love's whole demeanor suddenly shifted as if he recognized the name. "Kirito? The Black Swordsman?"
"Right." the former sighed.
"You were one of the top leveled players back during the original SAO weren't you?" Love asked, his face approaching his interlocutor's as he quickly scanned him up and down like an obsessed fan would do to a celebrity.
Kirito backed up and scrunched his face in discomfort. "Uh... Yeah."
"YES! Please fight me, man! I heard you were a total bad ass!" Love stepped back and raised his fists.
"W-What? No, I don't want to fight you."
"Come on! Please?!"
Love growled and snapped his gaze over to Agil. "Why are your friends so nice?!"
Kirito chuckled nervously. He was confident that he could beat this 'Love' guy in a fight assuming he didn't know any form of MMA or karate. However no was not the time nor place. Kirito looked over to his friends for any kind of way out from this situation. Luckily, Agil noticed and gave him a nod.
"Man! I'm thirsty!" Agil exclaimed. The look on his face was that of a man who was planning something mischievous.
Klein shot the tall man a curious look. "Uh... Dude, what are you-"
"If only I could get myself a drink!" Agil continued, much to everyone's bewilderment.
Love sniffed the air and cocked his head. "The cafeteria is right down the hallway. Go get a drink."
"My shoulder's sore, man. Before I came here, I had to organize my entire cafe so it'd be easier for my wife to handle while I'm gone. It really did a number on my body."
Love, now fully ignoring Kriito, returned his attention back to his roommate. "I don't care, Agil! You're interrupting Kaz- Kazu- me and that guy."
"It's Kazuto." The Black Swordsman stated quietly from the side, trying to sound as nice as possible.
"Okay! Sorry!" Love said abruptly and shrugged as if he really didn't care.
Agil stretched his shoulder out and grimaced in pain. "Love, could you get everyone a drink, my man?"
Love suddenly tensed up. "What?! Why should I?"
"Damn... You're right. I never should've expected you to be able to do that." The dark skinned man let a dramatic exhale.
"W-what...?" Love's whole demeanor shifted from angry, to confused. It was clear that he was shocked by what his roommate had just said.
Agil shrugged. "I'm just saying that it was unfair of me to assume you'd be willing to get us a drink. I mean, the cafeteria is kind far from this room, and having to carry drinks for everyone from there to here would be a really difficult task."
Love squinted and tilted his head slightly. "What do you mean 'difficult'? You think I can't do anything difficult? Who the hell do you think I am?"
"You're right, Agil." Kirito said, playing along with the reverse psychology his friend was pulling on his roommate. "Perhaps we should assign someone a bit more capable to get us drinks."
"I agree... Silica, you up for the task?" Agil asked the small girl, who sat daintily on her chair, a flustered look on her face.
"What?! Her?! Why the hell do you think she's capable of a 'difficult' task, but I'm not? You know what, Agil? Screw you and screw all of your friends! I'll bring you your stupid drinks just to prove you wrong!" The bombastic teen marched out of the room, a look of sheer determination on his face. After a few seconds of silence, everyone in the lounge began to crack up in laughter.
"Oh my god!" Klein howled hysterically. "I can't believe that's your roommate!"
"Yeah!" Asuna wiped a tear of laughter from her cheek. "I feel bad really bad for you. Maybe you could stay in our room and leave him alone."
"Nah, it's all good, you guys. Love is actually pretty quiet during the nighttime. I've been here for two days already and I've gotten by just fine with him as my roommate. The dude just wants to fight over everything."
"Like... argue, or...?" Silica pried, biting her nails.
"No." Agil chuckled. "Love actually wants to full on fist fight over everything. He tries to make me angry enough to punch him, but I never do."
"So you used reverse psychology on him just now?" Sinon said with an amazed smile on her face. "You're a patient guy, Agil."
"Yeah well I own my own coffee place in the city. Sometimes customers can get kind of fired up if something doesn't go their way."
"Oh my gosh I totally forgot about that!" Asuna exclaimed. "Kazuto owes me lunch of my choice when we get done with this testing stuff, so maybe we'll pay you a visit."
"You're taking me too, right?" Klein asked sheepishly.
"Yes, Klein, you can come." Asuna rolled her eyes jokingly.
The rest of the evening was simple. Love eventually came back with two coolers filled with cold sodas. He left shortly after, leaving the friends to drink and enjoy each others company as they played catch up. Once people began to leave the cafeteria and return to their rooms, they did the same. Each of them said their good nights, and parted ways down the corridors. When Asuna and Kirito entered their room, an immediate cold blast of air hit the boys face. Shit... the window's open. He hurried over and pulled it closed. The fire had long since died out, leaving the room dark and dreary until Asuna turned on the bedside lamp. Once the night settled upon the facility and the exhaustion began to strum in, Kirito fell backwards onto the bed. Asuna covered both of them with the blanket and nuzzled into her boyfriends side. He always liked moments like these. Often times it led to reflection - How they first met, the day he realized he had feelings for her, their first kiss, and how he swore he would never let anyone hurt her. It filled Kirito with a sense of pride - a sense of purpose.
He glanced down and planted a kiss on her forehead. She giggled and pulled herself closer to him. Their legs crossed as the warmth enveloped the couple in shroud of much needed comfort. Whenever she's like this, she's nothing like the proud, second in command warrior that Kirito got to know back in SAO. Here, in this reality, in his arms, she was precious, dare he say fragile. She needed to be protected and he needed her to stay safe. No matter what.
-The Next Day, 9 AM-
Today was the day. Sapper Co. has formally close the invitation and is no longer allowing anybody else to join whether they were invited or not. In total, Four thousand of the original six thousand survivors showed up to help test this new software. Four thousand was certainly more than anyone was expecting, but everyone has their own personal reason.
All four thousand of the testers were corralled into a large gymnasium type room to receive instructions of how the next ten days would play out. According to the lady who spoke to everyone over the intercom, everyone was to report to the testing area every morning at 8 AM. After that, the testers would get into their designated 3DVRM (3D Virtual Reality Machine), which just looked like some sort of space pod that opened and closed by a hatch in the front. Once inside, testers would be free to experiment and test the software and report any bugs. They would do this until two in the afternoon. After that, they would have the rest of the day to ourselves. The schedule seemed pretty tedious, but easy enough.
Kirito was more siked about being able to spend time with all his friends more so than he was to test out this new program. It's for the greater good, though.
It's the first day of testing, and everyone was assigned to different rooms, each holding one hundred testing pods. Asuna and Kirito were assigned to pods directly next to each other since they were a couple. He gave her a quick, reassuring hug before they entered the pod for the first time. It was certainly nerve racking, especially when the doors were automatically closed with a loud hiss noise. Once everything went quiet, a voice began speaking through the intercom in all of the pods.
"Attention all testers". An enthusiastic female voice said. "We will now begin the experiments. This new software will have different controls than what you are used to, so to give you time to readjust to our new system, we will be placing you somewhere more... familiar. Please utilize the next three hours to get a feel for the new gear and testing equipment. Good luck."
Suddenly, everything went dark, and Kirito's body began to feel limp. his vision faded in and out as he saw flashing lights and pulsating images in his head. This was certainly different from any other VR gear he's used. The teenager wanted to groan from the pain in his head, but he couldn't move nor speak. Eventually, he stopped trying to fight the feeling of exhaustion and let himself pass out.