When Kirito awoke, he heard the sounds of laughter and chattering, much like the cafeteria from yesterday, however instead of clanking silverware and calm music drowning out the background noises, Kirito instead heard birds chirping and boots against concrete. The Black Swordsman opened his eyes, only to see a bright blue expanse about him littered with fluffy white clouds and dark birds that soared high above the ground.
"Kirito!" A chipper voice said from behind his. Almost in sync, a pair of arms grabbed him from behind and lifted him into a sitting position before hugging him tightly.
"Gah!" The sudden contact made Kirito's subsiding headache flare. "A-Asuna?" He assumed.
"You took forever to wake up, you big dummy!" She giggled. "Look where we are."
Kirito sulkily rubbed his eyes and glanced up, jaw dropping. The Town of Beginnings? "W-What?"
"Yeah!" Asuna rubbed her boyfriends shoulders, feeling that they was tense. The cloths she was wearing was not her usual red and white guild armor that Kirito had been so used to seeing her in. Instead, she wore level one cloths - A white shirt and black pants. Come to think of it. Everyone was wearing level one cloths. Including himself.
"W-Why are we here?" The teenage boy asked calmly, trying to hide the lingering worry he felt. The events of SAO were still very vivid in his mind, so needless to say, he was a bit perturbed to be here again.
"That voice in the pod told us we'd just be here for three hours so we could get used to these new controls."
Kirito quickly opened up his user interface. All of his gear was gone, and his HP was a basic 100/100. However, he was not interested in stats right now. He navigated over to the 'system' tab. "Dammit!" he growled. "There's no log off button."
Asuna patted her boyfriends head affectionately. "Well duh." She said as if it was obvious. "They probably copied the same code from the original SAO. In fact, I bet it was pretty easy. Especially since we opened up the world seed."
"How are we suppose to get out of here then?" Kirito asked, a bit calmer thanks to his girlfriends soft, reassuring words.
"Were you not paying attention to the instructions we were given yesterday?"
Kirito gulped and slowly shrugged. "Sort of."
"Oh my god, you totally weren't." She frowned.
"Sorry. I was just really zoned out."
Asuna made a quiet hmph sound and continued to explain. "They have a way to manually remove us from the 3DVRM. They say it's totally safe."
"Hmm... So they say..." The Black Swordsman murmured cautiously and rose to his feet and opened his user interface once again.
"Um... What are you doing?" Asuna asked curiously as she peaked over his shoulder.
"Inviting our friends to a party."
A notification popped up in front of Asuna, coupled with the signature bell chims that she had gotten so used to. With a smile, she clicked on the accept button, and Kirito's name popped up above his head. She watched as he quickly invite Agil, Lisbeth, Silica, Klein, and Sinon. "Looks like we have our old in game names." Kirito smirked. "I wonder how the game knows."
One by one, the sound of players joining the party sounded off. Messages began pouring into the party chat as all seven of the friends tried to coordinate a place to meet up at.
Klein: Yooo this is crazy! It's just like I remember.
Sinon: I uh... I've never been here before.
Klein: Don't worry, we'll show you the ropes.
Agil: Sorry it took me so long to join the party, Love's trying to get me to go with him to fight some monsters outside of town.
Asuna tapped Kirito's shoulder and motioned for him to follow her. He did as she said and trailed her to a shaded area under a tree on a quiet side of town surrounded by NPC-owned shops and inns. There, they continued our conversation with their friends.
Silica: Where should we all meet up at? I didn't spend too much time here when SAO first released, so you guys can decide.
Lisbeth: I didn't either, Silica. This place was always just too... Basic for me. I prefer the middle floors.
Kirito: I second that. Things start to get interesting once you hit floor twenty.
Klein: Yeah well it looks like we're too low level to even be given the option to teleport.
Kirito furrowed his brow and navigated to the floors section of his UI. Sure enough, every floor besides floor one was concealed by a '?' over where their name should be.
Kirito: Damn... Would have loved to go back to floor fifty again. Oh well, looks like we're stuck here.
Sinon: This game is... Different. Let's meet up. There's a lot of strangers around me and it's uncomfortable.
Lisbeth: For sure. There's an NPC restaurant on the north side of town that makes C-tier food.
Asuna: Only C-tier? That's like... fast food in the real world.
Lisbeth: This is floor one, Asuna. We can't really expect to be feasting like royalty here.
Silica: I'm fine with whatever. I didn't eat much breakfast this morning.
Klein: Alrighty, I'm on my way. Lisbeth, create a party marker.
A few moments later, a blue way point popped up in the sky, indicating the restaurant Lisbeth was talking about.
"Hmm... That's pretty far." Asuna pursed her lips.
Kirito hopped up and extended a hand. "Then let's get going. Best not to keep everyone waiting."
The couple strolled along the familiar town, passing reuniting friends, players reminiscing about their glory days in Aincrad, and even some members of old guilds that used to be super popular. While their time on Aincrad may be limited this time, at least the players got a glimpse of what the game was meant to be - Stress free, interactive, and open.
Asuna and Kirito met up with everyone at the restaurant. It was a seafood joint, and a sub par one at best. Kirito never liked the idea of being rude to NPC's. While they were just lines of code in a system, they felt so real. Luckily for the friends, the restaurant was empty, aside from the NPC that owned it, of course. He gave the group a warm welcome. Agil, Klein and the others were already sat at a table in the corner.
"Last ones here again, huh?" Klein chuckled and let out a burp. He'd been drinking as evident from the derpy smile plastered across his face. Apparently players were able to get drunk in this version of the game. Perhaps it had something to do with bacchus juice. Bacchus juice probably gave the player who consumes it a debuff.. or a buff, depending on how you look it.
Kirito pulled a chair from another table and sat down.
"Oh, hush." Asuna punched Klein playfully and took her seat next to her boyfriend.
The group of friends planned to spend the three hours together at the restaurant. They laughed about the good times, and shared stories about the... less good times. All in all the time Kirito spent with them today was something he would never trade. Not the food though. The food sucked. Maybe Kirito was just used to Asuna's cooking. As the timer in our interface ticked down towards the final few seconds.
Klein proposed a toast. He raised a glass of cheap beer and declared, "We should all come back again some djay" He slurred the word 'day' and the air smelled of alcohol. Everyone giggled. It was nice to end this session on a good note. Kirito watched the timer tick down to the final five seconds.
Kirito closed his eyes and smiled.
When the Black Swordsman opened his eyes once again, he was still in the restaurant along with everyone else. Hmm... Must be a delay.
"Uh..." Agil shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Maybe it's one of those things where they log us out one player at a time?"
Lisbeth nodded quickly, though it seemed she only did so to reassure herself. "Y-Yeah. I'm sure it takes a while for them to log us out."
"Then..." Silica whispered. She bowed her head, almost as if she felt guilty for what she was about to say.
"Then what?" Kirito pried.
"Then why would they give us a timer? Shouldn't they have said that we'll be logged out in around three hours? Why would they give themselves a time limit knowing they can't meet it?"
Everyone froze solid. She was right. She was one hundred percent right. Sinon opened the main menu and began rapidly clicking the area where the log out button should be. "It's not working."
"Everyone just relax." Klein insisted. "Let's just give it another hour. There's absolutely no reason to panic."
Everyone listened to the drunken man and sat around patiently. After five minutes, no one really spoke. They all starred at the wooden table nervously inspecting every little grain and chip in its smooth surface. Ten minutes later, Sinon mentioned that the controls didn't feel too different from GGO. She's right, too. Even the original SAO had the same controls. Why would they put the players in here to "get used to the controls" when they haven't even changed?
Thirty minutes passed, and outside the restaurant, other players could be heard whispering nervously to each other as they passed by. An idea popped into Kirito's head. "I got it!" he declared. His friends sat up, hopeful that he figured something out. The Black Swordsman went to the 'Online Player List' in the user interface. "Maybe we'll see the number of online players dropping if they are logging people out one at a time like Agil suggested." He opened the list and held it out so everyone could see. With each passing minute, it seemed more and more futile. The number remained at four thousand one hundred and two the whole time they watched it.
Kirito closed the interface with a sigh after about five minutes.
The friends agreed to pool all of their col together and buy a room at the center of town for the night. People assumed that the problem would be fixed tomorrow, that it was just a human error on Sapper CO's part.
Asuna and Kirito shared a room together, and the others bought two more. One for Klein and Agil, and the other for Sinon, Lisbeth, and Silica.
"I'm sure everything'll be fine in the morning. Probably just a fluke." Asuna placed a hand on her boyfriends cheek as they laid beneath the blanket.
"Yeah..." Was all Kirito could say. Her hands are warm.
"Are you worried?" She asked seriously.
"Of course I am. What if we really are stuck?"
The corner of her mouth curled into a smirk. "Kirito... I told you already. Everything is going to be fine." She pulled herself closer to him and nuzzled her face into his shoulder.
Kirito felt a bit more at ease as the moon rose higher and higher into the night sky. It was getting late, and if he was to start testing the software tomorrow, assuming everyone would be freed from Aincrad as everyone hoped, he'd need all the rest he could get.
-3 AM, Town of Beginnings-
Night time on the lower floors were always peaceful. Clear skies, bright stars, and a cool breeze that drifted ever so slightly through the open window. For some reason, Kirito had no nightmares as he slept. He figured the thought of being trapped in SAO again would awaken a long buried fear that would come back to haunt him as he slumbered, but no. Maybe it was the fact that Asuna was in his arms. That's all the home he really need.
Nevertheless, Kirito awoke in the middle of the night to a strange noise, one he couldn't compare to anything else he'd ever heard. It sounded horrifying, like someone gurgling on their own saliva, not to mention the occasional moan. The sound was coming from the next room over. Luckily, Asuna hasn't waken up yet. Kirito carefully got out of bed and made his way to the balcony where he was able to see the neighbors window. The teenager slide open the door and peaked to his left. Sure enough the light was still on. "So inconsiderate." He sighed.
The Black Swordsman selected a pair of comfortable shoes from his inventory to wear and hobbled out of the small room and stood uncertainly at his neighbors door. It's not that he was scared, it was just that... what if the guy just makes those noises in his sleep? Then Kirito would be the one waking him up. No... Then why would his lights be on? He's awake in there.
"Hey!" Kirito said loudly, not wanting to make a scene, but also wanting to get his point across. "People are trying to sleep."
Much to his surprise, the teenager got a response. "Open... The door." A haggard, pained voice requested.
Kirito reared his head back in shock. "What the..." he hesitantly extended a hand to the doorknob and slowly turned it to the left. When the boy opened the door, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. The room was clean, the lights were on, and Kirito saw the outline of someone laying on the bed beneath the sheets, however the Black Swordsman couldn't see the persons face or body since they were facing away from him and was covered by a blanket.
"Uh..." Kirito rubbed the back of his neck nervously, not wanting to pass the threshold into his room. "Are you okay?"
The stranger shook his head through the sheets.
"Erm... What's wrong, then?"
The person raised up his left arm, revealing numerous stab wounds across the entirety of his skins surface. The typical grid-like stab wounds poured out dilapidated blood that dripped onto his sheets.
"Oh my god!" Kirito ran to his aid. As soon as he tore off the blanket from the injured man's body, it was evident that there was no good outcome to this situation. His entire body was covered in wounds. He was certainly older than Kirito, probably in his mid to late twenties. His hair was short and brown, and a strange smile caressed his lips. Kirito checked the wounded mans health bar - 12/100 HP. He was bleeding, so this number would drop no matter what Kirito did. He's a goner.
"W-Who did this to you? I swear I'll find him and bring him to justice!"
"I... I did it... to myself."
"W-What?" The Black Swordsman whispered, the shock from his words making the teens head go dizzy. Kirito had seen some messed up things in his days, but the way this man so nonchalantly admitted to suicide sent shivers down his back.
Kirito sat down on the edge of the bed away from him and scratched at his forehead. The least the teen could do was be there with this distraught man so he didn't die alone. One could only assume that death in the game meant death in real life, just like the original SAO, so this was certainly a emotional time for the stranger. He held a knife in his right hand, the knife he must have used to stab himself with. It's a dull knife. Must've been painful, or at least, as painful as this game allows.
"Why did you do it?" Kirito asked, disappointment laced in his voice. Players are suppose to be in this struggle together. They can't just go offing ourselves just because they're sad.
"I have... A wife and three daughters in the real world... When I got out of the original... SAO, my kids didn't even recognize me. I don't blame them... They were so young when I left."
"You're leaving them behind!" Kirito growled. "What're they gonna do without you?!"
"They have another father." The man cried, tears slipping down his bloodied cheeks. "My wife remarried... She thought I would never come back."
"O-Oh." The Black Swordsman's heart felt empty for a few seconds as the two strangers shared a non spoken understanding. It was almost as if Kirito could feel the pain within the man, and it was miserable.
"I have nothing left in real world... But I don't want to be trapped in Aincrad again. I thought... I thought I was cursed to remain here until the end of time... But then." He weakly held up his knife in his shaky hand. "I found a way out."
Kirito's head bowed in silence. He wan't sure what to say. There was nothing much he could say. The mans fate was sealed. At least he got to choose. "I-I'm here for you." Kirito placed a hand on his shoulder.
The man sobbed with grief as his health bar dropped to 1/100 HP. "You're a... good man." His body lit up, and the sound of cracking glass flowed quietly across the room. He shattered once his health hit zero. The tear stains he created were still drenched into his sheets.
Kirito was too stunned to move. He just sat there on his bed for what felt like an hour, though it was probably just a few minutes. His legs eventually started moving on their own, leading him back to his room and into bed next to Asuna. The next morning, Kirito decided not to tell her what happened. She was already overtly worried about this whole thing. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to tell her that their neighbor already... died. Some people just aren't able to handle the stress of adapting to a new life, especially if they're forced to do so against their will. For that man in the next room over, he moment was too much for him.
Kirito couldn't say he holds it against him.
-Four days later-
People still held out hope that everyone would be logged off soon. Little did anyone know, that in which they hoped for would never come. Days past, and nothing happened. Players went into a collective panic overtime. It seemed as though we truly were trapped in this game once again. Old guilds were reformed almost instantly. Those that were in power before quickly retook their places in hopes of finding out why they were trapped in this game once again, and by who. Regardless though, no progress would be made if everyone was just sitting around.
Four days after the players were placed back into SAO, they began leaving the starting town in search of ways to level up.
Kirito, Asuna, Agil, Klein, Silica, Sinon, and Lisbeth, all set out on our quest to climb the ranks and discover what force was behind our captivity. According to the player list, only three players have leveled up from level one. Two of them were level six's in which Kirito did not recognize. Their names were 'Harriet' and 'Louisa'. The other was a level eight named... Oh no.
"Guess who it is?" Kirito massaged his temple in frustration. He and his friends stood at the front gates of the starting town, ready to start their adventure.
"Uh... Who?" Lisbeth asked sheepishly.
Kirito sent the level eight a quick message.
Kirito: Hey... man... It's Kirito.
Love: Ah jeez. I already know what you're about to ask, but no, I don't give col to strangers.
Kirito: What? No, we've met. Remember? I'm the guy you met at the lounge a few days ago. Besides, I don't need any col.
Immediately after he sent that message, Kirito received a party request from Love.
Love: BRING AGIL TO ME AND I'LL FIGHT YOU BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!
Kirito: Could you not type in all caps. Besides, of course you would win, you're seven levels over us.
Love: Maybe you should spend more time leveling up and less time feeling sorry for yourself.
Kirito decided to ignore the passive aggressiveness of his comment and took the moral highroad.
Kirito: Listen Love. Would you be willing to help my friends and I kill some low level mobs so we can get exp? You're the highest level in the game right now, so I figured you could help us out.
A text bubble popped up where his message was going to be, indicating that he was typing. The bubble vanished abruptly, meaning he had deleted his message. Suddenly, a new bubble appeared for just a split second before being overtaken by one word.
Kirito squinted in uncertainty and tried to send another message, however, it was greeted by a system notification saying 'Your messages are being blocked by this player'.
"Dammit." Kirito sighed.
"Well now what are we gonna do? Everyone's going to try to level up as fast as possible." Silica inquired. "If we aren't fast enough we'll be left behind."
Kirito smiled and patted the young girl on her head. Though the Black Swordsman seemed confident, he was exceedingly worried. He wan't a beta tester anymore. Every player in Aincrad are on the same level. Kirito had no more advantages. The things he was able to get away with before, would surely be a detriment now. "We'll be okay, Silica."
The hazel haired girl smiled brightly with hope, which only led me to feel guilty. In truth, Kirito wasn't sure if they were going to be okay or not.
"Erm..." Klein spoke up. "There's a town in the north-east we can go to. It's kind of well hidden, so I doubt many players during the original SAO found it. Maybe it'll be a good idea to start questing there." The redhead opened his map and placed a marker.
Damn... That's far.
"Klein." Agil responded. "The starting town is the only area that has mobs we can kill. Going to any other area would be too dangerous. All the enemies will be three or four levels above us."
Kirito placed a finger on his chin. Maybe Klein was onto something. "The higher the level difference, then more exp we'll get. Killing mobs around here will only grant us a small amount of experience since the game splits exp among all party members. Since there's seven of us, it'll split the exp seven ways."
"So if we kill things that are higher level than us, we'd level up faster?" Sinon asked, brushing a few blue locks from her face.
"Exactly." The Black Swordsman smiled.
Asuna placed a hand on her sword hilt and scratched at its flimsy handle. "Well then it's settled. There's a few points of interests on the way that have a good amount of money. We'll need it if we're gonna be travelling a lot."
Everyone murmured in agreement.
This mission was going to be dangerous. However in order to unravel the mysteries as to who put us here and why, we'd need to start the process of beating the game all over again.
-Kirigaya Household, Real World-
Suguha held her smartphone above her as she laid flat on her back upon her bed. It had been days since Kazuto had texted her despite her checking up on him multiple times. She felt silly for worrying so much. After all, he was a man now. He was in the process of moving into an apartment in Tokyo with Asuna and even getting a corporate job.
Perhaps the young girl was just being overprotective of her older brother. When he came to her to discuss this new software testing opportunity, he told her that he'd be gone for ten days.
Suguha sighed and let both her arms flop down onto her sheets as she stared mindlessly at her ceiling. Surely Kazuto is okay. There's no reason to be all up and arms right now. For now, she'd wait on a text back. After ten days, if he doesn't text back, then she'd feel more comfortable about taking extra steps to ensure his safety. Ten days.