Yuna Ano has been a single mother for a while. Her husband left her several years ago, leaving her to take care of her children. Her daughter, the older of the two, recently went off to college and now she had all of her family time to concentrate on her son.
Since her daughter left for college Yuna started to notice that her son seemed to feel more and more down. She was not really sure what would be the best way to handle him and make him cheer up so she looked at a lot of his things to see what he might be interested in to perk him up. In the end she overheard one of her co workers talking about confiscating the game from her child for failing his classes. It turned out her co workers child had been in the beta test and was able to pre register to get one of the games even if it turned out to be pointless for them to do so.
When Yuna brought her son the game she left it in a simple bag that was stapled shut with the equipment that would be needed to experience the game. She ended up spending more money than she wanted to, but she really wanted to see her son cheer up.
Getting home from school her son, Kurusu, was the bag in his room. It simply said “enjoy yourself Kuru”. While Yuna didn’t know it this was something that would let him really escape some of what he felt was really bringing him down.
Having made sure he got his school work done ahead of time so he wouldn’t have to deal with it after being able to log in Kurusu read all of the stuff in the sword art online manual that came with the game. He felt really excited about the fact that this game was more about skills and how you use them instead of just learning things because you personally leveled up.
It took Kurusu a while to log into the game as his system had to calibrate itself to his body requiring him to basically feel himself all over. He assumed this was mostly to see how his mind reacted to certain actions as he didn’t really care about the specifics of the why or how this all worked.
Even though the game started one hour past noon Kurusu didn’t manage to get to his character creation screen until almost an hour due to the need to calibrate and adjust everything to his mind and body. Making his character he looked at all the different forms he could choose from.
Kurusu took his time and made a character that had its limbs about the same size as his, mostly because he was worried having longer or shorter limbs might end up messing with his mind, but he made his avatar look stronger and manlier than he really looked. The final touch was to think of a name that might make him feel confident, but it seemed the first few he wanted were already taken.
After another ten minutes of contemplating he settled on the name Haru. It honestly wasn’t a name he was excited about, but he figured he could get the hang of the game and then start a new character with a better name once he got the hang of the game in a day or two.
Once everything was set Kurusu started the game as Haru. With only two skills at level one he chose to be practical and pick two combat skills. He didn’t want to be weighed down by heavy armor so he took leather armor along with mace skills. It wasn’t like he thought maces were cool or anything, but he figured he would either like it and be able to keep it with his next character or he would pick one and get help from somebody who knew how to use axes or swords.
Entering the game finally after all of the character customization made Kurusu feel a little dizzy for a moment. He was someone who had not spent any time in a nerve gear system before so he was not used to the full dive like some people were who had played the game, especially the beta testers of this game.
Pinching his finger and thumb Haru, as he would be known here at least, opened the menu as he walked seeing what he was starting with. Taking a look down at his armor he equipped his weapon as well. The time he spent reading the manual made it decently easy to access the menu and figure out what was needed while within the game.
Holding his mace in his hand he left the log in area, “Alright everyone is probably going to be dealing with either npcs or killing things. The npcs will still be around later so….”
Haru left for the wilds around the town with mace in hand. The quests and shops would still be around after all. Before even going at the boars around the outside of the town he just spent a lot of time swinging his mace. Something about it was already not feeling right to him about the action even before he worked on the skill power he would to improve combat skills.
“Well I guess I’ll switch to swords for the next toon.”
Moving closer to the boars as they walked around Haru simply watched them for a while to get the feel of how they acted. He even noticed a couple of people fighting them a bit away.
Between the practice swings, the watching of the boars, and the watching people fighting the boars nearly an hour went by before Haru took his first attack. Since the boars were not aggressive until attacked he was able to deal a lot of damage to the boar before it started to fight him. The rest was a matter of moving from side to side so he wouldn’t be hit and attacking as it went by or charging in head first for a finishing move against the low level monster.
“Well that wasn’t that bad honestly. Maybe I should just stick to a mace.”
Wiping off his forehead he leaned back against a tree looking at his arm and hand that held the mace, “I guess I should log out for the night.”
Pinching his index finger to his thumb he moved his hand down and started working on his menu to where the instruction manual said that his log out would be…… only for him to be unable to actually log out.
He pushes on the button over and over, “What the….. come on you stupid button work!”
Looking around he found another couple of players who were talking to each other with their arms flailing a lot, “Oh um hey do you guys have anything going wrong with your log out button?”
The pair of players looked up at Haru. The two of them were both girls with swords, one with heavy armor and one with light. The taller of the two looked at him running her hand through her hair, “Alright so it isn’t just us that’s at least good to know. It’s already a little past five and I wanted to log out fifteen minutes ago to start dinner and catch up on homework.”
Haru sat down with the two girls and started to talk about this and that. There was nothing especially interesting they talked about. It was just that they didn’t seem to like it being quiet. The clock slowly ticked the minutes away as they kept peeking at the clock.
When it got to be twenty five minutes past five Haru stood up, “Well I’m going to walk back to town. Maybe one of the npcs know what’s up or there is something on a bulletin board.”
After just a few minutes of travel there was a sudden chiming sound causing Haru to freeze in place looking around in all directions. Before he even started to know what was going on he was suddenly engulfed in a tower of blue light pulling him away from where he was.
Once the light faded away Haru saw he was no longer standing on a dirt road or on a grass land. Far from it in fact as he had hard stone under his feet and all around him were buildings. If he was thinking right he was now in the starting town where everybody logged in at. He noticed the street lamps seemed to be on and producing light.
Within seconds the area was full of people. Everywhere Haru looked there were groups of people standing or appearing. It wasn’t long until it looked like every player in the game might have been in the area causing him to let out a slight sigh.
“Great. This is probably something to let us know that the log out issue has been figured out.”
Haru wasn’t the only person who was speaking and thinking along those lines, but with thousands of people speaking their mind it got loud quickly. The more aggressive people in the game were being the loudest along with people who seemed to have things that they needed to work on in real life.
After a little bit there was an especially loud noise, but sadly Haru wasn’t close enough to hear what was said. He only noticed that people were suddenly getting quiet quickly and looking up at the sky. The ceiling of the sky was suddenly checkered red. The checkers seemed to say “warning” and “system announcement” respectively.
Feeling a bit relieved Haru let out a relaxed sigh figuring there would be a mass forced log out until everything was back in working order. This thought quickly left his mind as blood started to ooze from the ceiling forming the shape of a person eventually.
At least Haru assumed that it was a person. The shape seemed about right, but it was more a hood in the shape of a person. There wasn’t even a face or head noticed under the hood as far as he could tell.
Many people started to whisper to each other here and there. Haru on the other hand just stared up at the, for lack of a better term, person that he saw wondering what might be happening. The one in the sky raised his arms revealing white gloved hands silencing everyone near instantly.
“Players I welcome you to my world”
The person in the skies voice seemed to reach everywhere. A few people seemed a bit confused, but Haru just looked at waited for more words. He felt hopeful, but wary at the same time.
“My name is Kayaba Akihiko. Right now, I am the only person who can control this world.”
Haru had heard the name before, but he wasn’t someone who spent a lot of time learning about these sort of things. He just dealt with his life and hoping for certain things to happen or not happen.
A few people around started to whisper. From what he heard it seemed this man made not only this game but the nerve gear system that allowed the full sensory recreation that was here. Haru couldn’t help but be impressed, but at the same time worried. The wording that Kayaba put out there made him almost think of a person trying to play god.
Haru felt his mind snap back to attention when Kayaba spoke again, “I am sure that most of you have discovered the fact that the log out button has disappeared from the main menu. This is not a bug it’s all part of the sword art online system.”
Feeling his arm tremble Haru wanted to yell up at Kayaba, but with many others starting to do so he kept quiet listening hoping to get something out of it.
“Until you get to the top of this castle, you cannot log out of your own free will. Also, the disruption or dismantling of the nerve gear from the outside is strictly forbidden. If these things are attempted…”
There was a moment of silence. Haru took a deep breath looking a lot more nervous than his the rugged face he wore would be expected to.
“The signal sensors in your nerve gear will emit a strong electromagnetic pulse, destroying your brain and stopping all basic functions.”
The silence after that was so intense that the first few people who spoke might as well have started shattering glass. Haru didn’t know enough about this tech to know if it was a lie or not, but he was able to realize that if it was a lie then he would be taken out of the game before too long. If it was true however, then he would be in this game until the goal of the top of the castle was completed.
“To be a little more specific, disconnection from an outside source of electricity for ten minutes, being cut off from the system for more than two hours, or any attempt to unlock, dismantle, or destroy the nerve gear. If any of these conditions are met, the brain destruction sequence will start. These conditions have been made known to the government and the public through mass media in the outside world. On that note, there have been several cases where the relatives or friends have ignored the warnings and tried to forcefully remove the nerve gear. The result…”
Kayaba seemed to take a deep breath, “regretfully 213 people have already exited this game, and the real world forever.”
A little bit away a sharp long scream was heard, but most people seemed quiet. The people seemed to not want to believe what was being said.
The sound of a few people yelling their disbelief started but Kayaba started again in a tone someone might make at an office job giving a presentation.
“Players, there is no need to worry about the bodies you left on the other side. As of this moment, all TV, radio, and internet media are reportedly reporting this situation, including the fact that there have been numerous deaths. The danger of having your nerve gear taken off has already all but disappeared. In a moment, using the two hours I have provided, all of you will be transported to hospitals or similar institutes and be given the best treatment. So you can all relax….. and concentrate on beating the game.”
Haru felt himself unable to speak as his mind tried to wrap around the reality of everything he had learned. His mom had bought him a game to cheer him up. He might die from it, but at least if he died this way it wouldn’t be something she could linger on and blame herself for. Well just the bad luck she thought to get him this game.
“But I ask you all to understand that sword art online is no longer a simple game. It is a second reality…. From now on, any form of revival in the game, will no longer work. The moment your hp reaches zero, your avatar will be gone forever. And at the same time your brain will be destroyed by the nerve gear.”
Everyone in the area was dealing with this news in their own way. Haru was quiet, his hand on his forehead, as he thought on this.
After a little bit of time had passed with the players dealing with this news in their own ways Kayaba started again, “Players, there is only one way to be freed from this game. As I have said before, you must get to the top of Aincrad, the one hundredth floor, and defeat the final boss that resides there. All players still alive at that time will be immediately logged out of the game. I give you all my word.”
Haru hadn’t kept up with this game much when it was in beta and beyond because he never expected to be able to get into it, but from what he remembers even in the beta testing there were lots of stories about the difficulty of the game, especially since magic wasn’t going to be a part of the game so healing would only be passive over time or from items.
“Now I will show you evidence that this is the only reality. In your inventories, there will be a gift from me. Please confirm this.”
Haru opened his menu, albeit reluctantly, to see what there was. He had the items that he had gotten from the boars along with a hand mirror that he never saw before. Once he took it out, by touching the make into object button, it appeared in his hand. A very simple square mirror that fit in his hand and he saw the rugged face that he had designed looking back at him trying to figure out why this would show that this was their only reality.
A shining white light started to engulf all of the players causing Haru to cover his eyes from the sudden assault to his vision. Once the light faded he looked around a little and something seemed off. It seemed that not everyone was amazingly hot and good looking anymore. He was a bit confused before he looked into his mirror and saw his face. Not the one he designed but the one he has in the real world.
The softer features on his face and the short lightly poofy hair was right there looking back at him. Haru felt his hand shaking before he smashed his mirror on the ground. He was back in his real body. His look, that didn’t seem to be especially male or female. His height that was a little bit on the short side and his face that looked fairly feminine by most standards.
“What the hell is….. going…..”
Haru started to make a few random sounds. His voice had returned. The voice that nobody could tell was that of a male when they were not talking to him face to face. The voice he wanted more than anything to hide here. The voice that caused him to be mistaken for his mother and sister on the phone more often than he cared to admit.
As Haru and the rest of the people seemed to be freaking out at the fact they had their own face instead of the one that they designed now was causing quite a stir. A stir, that only seemed to get subdued when the voice above them started again.
“You are all probably wondering why. Why am I, the creator of both the nerve gear and SAO, Kayaba Akihiko, doing something like this? Is this some sort of terrorist attack? Is he doing this to ransom us?”
Kayaba seemed especially unemotional as he continued, “None of these are the reason I am doing this. The reason is because…. This situation itself was my purpose in doing this. To create and watch this world is the only reason I created the nerve gear and SAO. And now it has been realized.”
“With that I have finished the official tutorial for sword art online. Players I wish you luck.”
With his final words ringing in the ears of everyone the form or Kayaba faded away along with the red, checkered warning signs in the air. A moment passed then almost as if a dam erupted everyone started to react at one.
The reactions were from near every spectrum of emotions that one could imagine. Fear, anger, bargaining, begging, disbelief, the list could go on. Haru just stared up in the sky where the form used to be willing him to return and say it was all some special first day event. Games were meant to be something you could do trial and error in to figure out not something where a single mistake would end in your death.
Haru left the area as people were reacting. He was silent as he walked to the first road that he saw that didn’t have very many people in it. There was so much to think about, but one thing was for sure. He would be no good to himself right now. He needed time to think about this all.
It took a little bit of trial and error, but Haru found a vendor willing to buy the things she had gotten from the boars that he didn’t want. He wandered around after that looking for a place to spend the night and something to eat as he was starting to feel hungry.
It wasn’t long before he ate something cheap from the bar tender and crashed in a bed in a cheap hotel room falling asleep nearly instantly.