He looked up at the rapidly fading figure of a man he admired once. Now that man was their jailer, and as much as he wanted to deny it, he knew that things had irrevocably changed.
Izuku Midoriya was now trapped in a death game where the players would die if their character did. He had loved the idea of Sword Art Online simply because one of the first things it mentioned on the Beta was that quirks and magic didn't exist. It was a place where one had to survive and win with their actual ability and none of the 'cheats' that came with certain quirks, like Bakugo's explosive sweat.
It had become his safe haven, and thanks to a last minute quest he was the only one who would be playing the game with a buffer...namely the fact that while his level went back to one, he had been allowed to keep the stats he gained from the Beta test and one set of equipment.
That quest had been brutal, and in the end he was the only one to pass it before the time limit ran out and that only by the skin of his teeth.
Izuku...or rather "Galahad" according to his username...looked at how everyone freaked out and made an executive decision.
Namely he did not want to be on the receiving end of Bakugo when the shock wore off and he realized Izuku was also in the game. He had to deal with that pain in the ass all day at school, he didn't want to deal with him in the once place they were forced to be equals.
Besides, Izuku remembered a rumor he heard about the game that Kayaba had hinted at when asked by fans. Namely that if someone were to get a trio of stats up to a certain point, that they could unlock an extremely rare class in the game. The problem was that it involved an ungodly amount of grinding, tracking down obscure quests that drove people nuts, and of course the headache of having to find a blacksmith of high enough skill to make the customized equipment.
In short it was a lot of effort for a job class, but considering they were trapped here Izuku saw no reason not to try his luck. Besides, one of the perks that came with pulling it off was the ability to dual-wield swords, which was a major advantage.
Kirito looked around in dismay when he realized everyone was already friends with others in the stadium, and the number of potential 'free agents' was dwindling fast.
Fortunately his eyes landed on the two people who hadn't already grouped up. A boy a few years younger than him with naturally green hair and eyes, and a cloaked person who had the figure of a girl.
The kid noticed him first, and Kirito mentally pegged him as one of the few serious players. Mainly because he recognized the username from the beta.
"Nice to see you again, Galahad."
"Hey Kirito," said Galahad cheerfully.
Galahad was one of the few people who could break down a monster's weaknesses in five minutes or less and the only other person in Beta who had made it to the eighth level solo besides Kirito.
The two of them were somewhat good friends, which was why Kirito was privy to a secret...Galahad was quirkless in real life, and threw himself into playing SAO because it was one of the major appeals of the game was that quirks and magic were nonexistent. Here, he could be equal to the other players and not have to deal with their condescending attitudes.
He had no idea the kid had gotten stuck in the game as well, and wasn't surprised when the first thing Galahad did was add him to the friend's list.
The trio of Asuna, Kirito and Galahad made up the back of the group.
"So...you two know each other?" asked Asuna.
"Galahad was the only other beta tester who made it as far as I did. I've never seen anyone break down a monster's strengths and weaknesses so fast," said Kirito. Galahad blushed at the praise.
One of the groups ahead made some sort of snide remark about quirkless people, causing Galahad to shoot a dark look at some arrogant blond.
Kirito wondered if that kid was the asshole known as Bakugo who harassed his friend in the real world. He certainly fit the limited description Galahad had given him.
"What are the odds that Kayaba decided to screw with the players and change out Ilfang's sword from the beta?" asked Galahad suddenly.
Kirito paused, thought that one over, then paled.
"...Should we warn the forward group?" asked Asuna tentatively.
"I'm on it," said Kirito.
Kirito went up to the front of the group and headed straight to Diabel.
"Having second thoughts?" he joked.
"No, but someone pointed out that if Kayaba was a sadist enough to trap us in this damn game there's a chance he also changed the secondary weapon of the boss just to screw with us," said Kirito.
"Bullshit! How do we know the beta testers didn't lie about that as well?"
Kirito remembered a comment Galahad made about the red head's behavior and gave him a glare.
"Will you stop acting like a spoiled brat who's mad that some other kid has the better toys?" he snapped. "This is serious! If there's a chance Kayaba switched out the secondary weapon it would almost certainly cause problems when he switches them out!"
Diabel, who had actually been part of the beta group, was rather pale.
"You have a point. If he's cunning enough to trap us in here, then it's just as possible he changed the weapon to make us doubt the information in the guide book."
Now warned, Kirito went back to his group, and he partially ignored the red head's dark glare at him.
Galahad was right, that guy was a spoiled brat who had his head up his ass. He was just looking for someone else he could blame for his own problems and inherent laziness.
It was as the raid was entering the final moments that it happened. Ilfang switched out his gear, and as Galahad suspected, Kayaba was dick enough to change the weapons. Instead of a talwar, it was a no-dachi, which had longer reach.
Diabel, forewarned ahead of time that this might be the case, barely managed to jump back enough to stop from being run through.
That was Kirito, Asuna and Galahad's time to shine.
Kirito, having superior sword skills compared to Galahad, made the last blow.
"That...was a monumental pain in the ass," said Galahad.
"Agreed," said Kirito.
It was then that a certain someone, whom Galahad had been avoiding the second this game became life or death, took notice that Galahad was in the game.
"What the fuck are you doing here, shitty Deku?" snarled Bakugo, or rather "Nitroburst".
Rather than answer him, Galahad got up and started walking towards the stairs.
"Answer me, shitty Deku!"
He continued to ignore him, which really pissed Nitroburst off.
Bakugo went to force matter, only to lose a major chunk of his health and began coughing.
"My name..." he stressed, "Is Galahad. Deku doesn't exist anymore."
In this world, he couldn't afford to be the quiet, submissive Deku. Being pushed around was tantamount to being used as cannon fodder and killed off while being used as bait.
Besides, he had already noticed a disturbing trend among the players. Namely the fact that among those dead before the boss was taken out, over fifty of them had been quirkless. He had quietly investigated the issue and discovered some of the players were using those without quirks outside the game as cannon fodder.
If he was right, then he might have to...deal...with those bastards sooner rather than later.
Kirito grinned at him as they ascended the stairs.
"That was pretty badass."
Galahad smiled, embarrassed. It was the bravest thing he had ever done, though he knew that ass Bakugo would be out for blood now.
However the two develop a silent camaraderie and Galahad is proud to say he's the first person to be added to Kirito's friend's list.
Whenever the black-haired swordsman found an interesting quest that would benefit them both, his first choice was to let Galahad know so they could spend time in a snarking contest.
Seriously, Kirito had some of the best witty comebacks Galahad had ever heard and Galahad was more than happy to let his hidden wit come out to play.
It was incredibly freeing, being trapped in a world where everyone was forced to start out on an equal playing field and where hard work was actually worth something beyond general bragging rights.
Three months later...
Galahad was at Kirito's side the second he heard that the Moonlit Black Cats had dissolved due to the fact that Kirito was the only surviving member. Klein had been dubious about the almost thirteen year old in the game, but it had become clear that the boy was a lot more mature than he looked.
Klein was right to be worried about Kirito. He was on the verge of breaking down from the fact his friends were gone because he had gotten careless. That the only surviving member had killed himself upon learning Kirito had been hiding his true nature the entire time.
Galahad hugged Kirito close and stayed with him for the next month. It was only after Christmas that Kirito fully came out of his funk, due to a final message from a girl he had gotten close to.
Argo was grinning when she spotted Kirito.
"Guess who's gotten a really fun title recently."
Kirito sent some col over to Argo.
"What did he do now?" he asked.
Argo sent him the file. Kirito took one look at it and started laughing.
Galahad had been 'upgraded' after taking over a particularly forested safe zone to "Elven King Galahad". Likely because he had finally managed to unlock the 'archery' skill and had gotten his hands on a sword-bow combo called Laevantein.
Kirito grinned as he saw the image of Galahad with two light curved swords on his back and a loop of odd string attached to a small bauble on his wrist. He played the short video and you could see Galahad taking the hilts of both swords and merging them into a rather odd bow, before pulling some of the string out and attaching it to the holes in the tip of each sword. After that it was a one-sided slaughter as Galahad basically sniped the monsters from a high vantage point before the other players could get near the things, thoroughly pissing off a certain red eyed blond.
Considering his appearance and the fact that elves were known to be good archers, it was little wonder his friend had earned the title "Elven king". He was one of the strongest players in the game, and he preferred to work solo.
Kirito knew that many speculated what his quirk was in real life, though none would ever guess his friend was quirkless.
He made a point of tracking Galahad down to laugh at him.
What he found made it hard for him to breathe, if only for the befuddled expression on Galahad's face and the amused one on the two 'receptionists'.
"How the hell did you end up leader of a guild called 'Imladris'?" he asked, laughing.
Kirito was a fantasy fan, so he was perfectly aware that Rivendell was called a different name in Elvish.
Galahad mock glared at the two unrepentant little girls.
"Blame these two. Kirito, meet Eri and Yui," said Galahad, patting each respective girl on the head when he introduced them.
Eri looked really young...too young to be in the game. She couldn't be older than three or four years old at the most, and that was pushing it. She had lightcolored hair, red eyes and had one of the rare obvious quirks in the game...a horn on her head. Only physical quirks were ever translated into the game, and even then they were more like extra limbs at best. Any special ability was nixed the second they logged in. She wore a light dress and was an obvious non-combatant.
Yui was a bit older, but still younger than either Kirito or Galahad. She looked about seven or eight, and had waist length dark grey hair and a bright smile on her face. She had a small dagger at her side and a light armor.
However Kirito knew damn well Galahad would never dare allow such young children out in the combat zones.
"So how did you two rope your big brother into making a guild?"
"It was easy!" said Yui with a chipper voice.
"It was like signing an iTunes agreement," deadpanned Galahad. "I had no idea what the hell I was agreeing to, but I did it to shut up the incessant pop-ups."
Once he was done laughing at Galahad's expense, he had to ask.
"So...any room in this guild for one more?"
Galahad stared...he knew Kirito was a solo player by preference, as his stint with the Moonlit Black Cats ended rather traumatically.
"You sure about this?"
"Do you have any idea how annoying it is dealing with recruiters from the Knights of the Blood Oath?" said Kirito flatly. "At least with you, I know exactly what I'm getting into and I know that if I have to be partnered with anyone you're likely to be the one who has my back."
Which was true...Galahad wouldn't inflict a complete noob on his friend.
Kirito was rather pleased when he saw the invite pop up on his end, and hit accept without a second thought. He had to grin when he saw he was immediately elevated to "second in command" of the Imraldis guild.