Back in the Game: Prologue
[-|Back in the Game|-]
[Prologue -o0o- Start]
The first thing that Kirigaya Kazuto, known to his friends as Kirito, noticed as he opened the door to the Dicey Café was that it still had its quiet ambience since the first time he entered. The place was mostly abandoned, though Agil insisted that it picked up after dark. Klein had vouched for him that time Kirito asked, while complimenting the fine selection of alcohol the majority of his peers were too young to indulge in.
The man himself was there, sitting at a table with a drink in a classic mug. He was listening as the girl Kirito came to know as Silica talked animatedly about something, while Klein nodded along and smiled. Then he saw Kirito and waved him over. “Nice to see you made it.”
Silica turned and greeted him as well with an innocent smile of her own. “You came!”
“I had some free time today and Sugu is still at practice.” He took a seat between the two of them. “So, what were you talking about?”
“I finally managed to tame a Waterfowl Dragon Pup!” she said excitedly. “It looks just like Pina did!”
“That’s great,” Kirito said. He had given her the location of where the dragon was, a small spring in a part of the Fourland Dukedom. Considering she was just around Level 25 and there were no Player Towns in that area, making the trip successfully and then taming the dragon pup while its mother was away hunting must’ve been tricky. More so when you considered that Waterfowl Dragon Pups fled from characters over Level 30, and killing the mother would trip a flag and leave the player unable to tame any of its kind unless you took an egg and hatched it yourself. “And you did it by yourself?”
She nodded. “I used a Topaz Carbuncle to draw in anything that was aggro’d by my presence, and then used a Chameleon Potion to hide myself,” she explained. “It still took me a long time to get there, and a lot of MP items.”
The Topaz Carbuncle was one of the variations of the standard Carbuncle that could be summoned by equipping a [Topaz Ring] accessory. That allowed it to act as a tank rather than a barrier-caster. It took up an accessory slot, but the ability to change the functions of her standard phantasmal summoning was too useful to not exploit.
“Congratulations,” Kirito told her. It was after that the café owner came in from the back and Kirito greeted him. “Hey, Agil. How’s business been treating you?”
The café owner sighed. “Seriously kid, we’re outside of the game. Use my real name, will you?”
Kirito had the decency to at least apologize. “Ah, sorry. It’s just that I spent so long knowing you by that name it stuck. ”
“Mhmm.” Agil nodded. “I understand that, but I’m still going to have to insist on it. You know that not everyone still reacts well to being reminded of that place.”
“True enough,” Klein added. The events of SAO really did a number on a lot of the players in the grand scheme of things. More than a few had told their stories on how things went on the inside, how they had to fight to stay alive and saw friends and peers killed or committed suicide, and that hadn’t help the situation at all. Out of his guild-mates, he was virtually the only one who still missed what Sword Art Online could have been—a whole new world to explore and play through.
“I wish they didn’t to take away my AmuSphere a few days after I got it,” Silica chimed in, somewhat bitterly. “It was a gift.”
There was already public outcry from the entire SAO incident, which was the largest hostage situation in human history and led to thousands of people being killed—a good number of them children at that. But after it came to light that Sugou Nobuyuki, former chief of RECT, had kidnapped 300 people using the very same system that Kayaba had made and experimented on them, it had been the last straw. The very implication of how it could be used for mind-control led to a recall of all public FullDive Technology until further notice.
And the government carried it out with brutal efficiency. If they didn’t, not only would it be a serious disregard for the citizens’ safety, but it would make the entire country look weak to foreign countries. Since all NerveGear and AmuSphere devices had a registry, they used it to track down all the devices they could and disposed of them. Sure, there was a reimbursement for it, but it ultimately spelled the end of the VRMMORPG community in Japan at least.
“It just means that we’ll have to wait until they’ve come up with a replacement for them,” Klein told her. “The system is too profitable to completely scrap, but they will have to rebuild it from the ground up and install better safety measures. Besides, it’s not like it’s the entire MMO genre is dead. Elder Tales is still pretty fun for a game almost as old as I am.”
She nodded at that. “True, but… it’s just not the same. I miss being able to touch Pina.”
Kirito did know how she felt about it not being the same. For as happy as he was to be out of the Death Game, and to have his girlfriend back, he missed the world that composed the Aincrad and Alfheim. It was a world where he was more than what he was outside of it, and a world that was beautiful in ways that what others considered reality couldn’t compare.
And both of those wonderful places, formerly filled with thousands of people who felt similar to him, were ruined by Kayaba and Nobuyuki. The former destroyed his own world the moment he turned it into a Death Game, taking away the joys to be found in exploring every inch and every mystery of a beautiful world with the threat of death looming over them. The latter tainted the game for Kirito the moment he found out what happened to Asuna, and then he trampled on the goals and hopes of the others trying to conquer the World Tree.
“Well, I give it another six months or so,” Kirito said in the end. “After all, even beyond games, the FullDive has too much potential to simply vanish.”
“Mhm.” Klein took a sip of his drink and then changed topics. “So, you getting along okay with your girlfriend out of town?”
“It’s not like we have to be right next to each other,” Kirito said defensively. Asuna was with her parents in another part of the country, on some kind of business for the next few days, so they had to resort to long-distance communication. Though, Asuna had been a little distant after what happened during her captivity at the top of the World Tree. “Besides, she’ll be with us when we go on the dungeon tonight.”
“Is your sister going to be there too?” Silica asked.
Kirito nodded. “That makes five with the three of us included. We just need a healer now to fill the sixth role since Sugu spec’d her build to be a War Shrine Maiden and you don’t have the Unicorn summoning for healing.”
“Great,” Klein said. “We’ll meet up in Akiba then?”
“I’ll be there resupplying and seeing if the expansion pack adds anything to what the shopkeepers have in stock,” Kirito explained. “We can meet up at the usual place after that, take a Fairy Ring over to the Tsugao Region, and work our way to the dungeon there.”
Klein raised his drink to that. “Sounds like a plan.”
[SAO -o0o- LH]
Novasphere Pioneer expansion pack update in:
[SAO -o0o- LH]
Kirito found himself at the base of an ancient tree, surrounded by the ruins of a modern city reclaimed by nature. It looked like centuries of urban decay had allowed moss to flourish over every surface, no doubt due to the moist air that smelled clean and refreshing, while carrying a chill to it that stung his face. His second thought was why was he standing in the middle of what looked to be the setting of Akiba in Elder Tales.
The last thing he remembered was getting ready to meet with everyone, since they didn’t have school or work tomorrow, and then catching a Fairy Ring out. Then he felt a sense of weightlessness as he was wreathed in light and pulled. The closest matching sensation was the use of a teleport crystal in….
“It can’t be,” he said, reaching behind his back and feeling the hilt of his swords brushing against his finger tips. The first was the [Lunar Fang], a blade said to have been forged from a drop of moonlight and silver, giving a bonus in damage against phantasmal enemies. The second was [Black Raver], a blade grew stronger in the darkness that he got as part of a raid before he had left the game over two years ago.
He looked down to see he was dressed in the [Stygian Cloak of Kir], a piece of armor that appeared to be a long, black coat with buttons in the front. His accessory necklace, the [Ebon Wolf Charm], hung against his chest. He had equipped all of them to his avatar so they could get through the dungeon he planned to go into easier because he was going to use the Teaching Function to help the others.
Kirito wondered if he was having a dream and then pinched his cheek. It actually stung, making him wince. If it was a dream he shouldn’t have felt that, but pain was never enabled in SAO either. That didn’t help at all.
Tempting as it was to write it all off as him having passed out in front of the computer, he made the motions to open the menu in both of the previous VRMMORPGs he played. It didn’t appear. He was willing to brush it off as a dream then and there, at least until a status screen appeared in front of him at a thought. The format matched the Elder Tales one, yet he could interact with it by touch like in the previous games.
He found and pressed the logout button. It wasn’t responsive. He sucked in a sharp breath and felt the moist air chill his lungs on the way down, irritating the lining until he coughed. It wasn’t a dream, but a nightmare.
“What’s going on?” he heard from behind him. Twisting his head and dismissing the status screen, he found his little sister’s avatar standing before him, feeling around her body inquisitively with her hands. Sugu was dressed in the garments befitting her class as a Kannagi, with a katana exclusive to her class. “How did this happen?”
“Sugu,” he said, grabbing her attention. “You’re here too?”
“Onii-chan?” she asked, taking in his appearance. “Onii-chan, is that really you?”
He nodded. It must’ve been enough to confirm his identity in her eyes, because she ran towards him and ended up slipping on the wet moss beneath her sandals, falling forward with a startled yelp. Kirito stretched his arms out and caught her before she could hit the ground, asking, “You okay?”
“Y-yeah, I think so.” She stood upright and tested her footing, finding it to be a lot less stable than she liked. “Onii-chan, what’s going on?”
“I think we’re in the Elder Tales game,” he said. “The menu, the setting, the equipment—they all match for the most part.”
“But how?” she asked. “We weren’t using AmuSpheres or NerveGears, so how did we end up in the game?”
“I….” He paused, unsure of how to explain what was going on. He didn’t even know what was going on. It didn’t make any sense. They were staring at a computer screen in their respective rooms one minute, and then here they were. “I honestly don’t know. I was working under the assumption I fell asleep at some point, but—”
“Why can’t I logout?” he heard a woman ask to anyone who would listen. “How do I contact the game master?”
“This is all a dream, right?” another man said, laughing to himself. “I just fell asleep at my desk waiting for the expansion. None of this or you are real, right?”
“No, you’re the dream!” a third person said. It was a man clad in silver armor. “Now how do I wake up?”
“Shit,” Kirito said as he grabbed Sugu’s wrist and pulled her along. “We need to get going, now!”
“Wh-what?” She almost stumbled over her feet trying to keep up with him as he pulled along. He was being so forceful. “Onii-chan, you’re hurting me!”
“Sorry,” he said, not really slowing down or stopping. “But if this is anything like what happened before, things are about to get really bad, really fast once the panic sets in.”
It was too late, as someone in the crowd screamed. “IT’S SAO ALL OVER AGAIN! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”
If the crowd around them was nervous and confused before, that stirred fear into them at the possibility. When you considered the death count of the mentioned Death Game and some of the stories that were leaked online and mentioned, it painted a horrifying scenario. The look on Sugu’s face told him she thought the same.
“OH GOD, NOT AGAIN!” screamed a woman, most likely another survivor of the game. It only added weight to the assumption that it wasn’t a dream and kick started a chain reaction as people began to fully panic.
Kirito grabbed his sister and lifted her into his arms bridal-style, taking off as fast as he could for one of the ruined buildings before things escalated. He’d seen it before, after Kayaba’s announcement at the beginning of the Death Game—people pushing and lashing out in the Town of Beginnings as they tried to come to terms with their situation. He was not going to risk his sister being killed by someone on accident.
In SAO, you couldn’t feel pain then and you couldn’t be killed in a [Safe Zone]. He wasn’t sure that applied here. While outright fighting couldn’t be done in the city limits, before because of the Royal Guards, there was no telling if something had gone wrong. After all, the game had suddenly become real. If that wasn’t capable of causing a bug or system crash, he didn’t know what could.
Once they were inside of one of the sturdier-looking buildings, he set her down and began rifling through his Friend’s List. He found that some of the others were present as well. Were they trapped in the game too?
He pressed Klein’s name and felt a sudden pinprick in his head that made him wince. “Ow.”
‘Kirito?‘ he heard in response, inside of his head.
[SAO -o0o- LH]
“Hoo boy,” Klein said with a sigh, scratching the back of his head as he looked into a reflective piece of broken glass. Looking at how he stood, with a sword on his hip and clad in armor again, he couldn’t help but sum up the circumstances in four words. “This can’t end well.”
In remembrance to his time to Sword Art Online, he replicated his outfit and previous fighting style as best he could when he joined the game by becoming a Samurai. He also had a sub-class as a Rune Knight, to add some variety to his swordplay. He had chosen the Wolf-Fang race, giving him thick crimson hair on his head that concealed a pair of light-red wolf-like ears, with a red and gold bandana wrapped around his forehead.
The armor he wore was something he had custom-made, consisting of black armor and red robes beneath that gave him a boost in fire resistance. His sword was a drop that Kirito had given him from a Level 40 boss they had tackled recently, known as the [Ansyn Blade], which increased the duration of magic that was applied to it through sigils, charms, or spells. The accessory that he had was called a [Neophyte Talismancer’s Pouch], increasing the number of charms he could carry by providing an inventory slot for them.
He heard the screams in the distance growing louder and could pick up the gist of it. Somehow, without a NerveGear, they had gotten sucked into the game world. Klein looked around to see the other players slowly starting to panic as they pressed the air in front of them in a way that was reminiscent of the menus in Sword Art Online while in privacy mode. He gave it a few minutes before things on his end got out of hand here as well.
It was then he felt a tug in his mind and heard, ‘Ow.‘
He recognized the voice. “Kirito?”
‘Klein, is that you?‘ was the response.
“Where are you?” he asked, looking around. Though there were other players around, none of them had Kirito’s appearance. “I don’t see you.”
‘I think we’re connected through our minds,‘ Kirito said. ‘I clicked on your name in my menu and then felt a poke in my head.‘
‘We’ve got ESP now?‘ Klein thought as he scratched his head. ‘That would be so freaking cool if I knew what was going on. How did we get here?‘
‘I don’t know, but I checked the menu and the logout button isn’t working,‘ Kirito explained. ‘Things got into a panic on my end once someone cried it’s the same as SAO. Sugu is with me, but I want to meet up with the rest of you before it turns violent.‘
‘Okay, give me a place to meet up at,‘ Klein thought to his friend. ‘But first, I’m finding Silica. If this gets real bad, she’s liable to get trampled.‘
[SAO -o0o- LH]
“Oh no,” Silica said in an almost muted whisper, blinking at the sight of the small dragon in front of her. One minute she was looking at it from across a screen as her avatar sat at the edge of a riverbank in Akiba and pampered her pet. The next minute, she was the one sitting at the bank, listening as the dragon made tiny chirruping noises at her.
Its big, red eyes seemed to shine like rubies in the moonlight, and its small body was covered with teal-colored feathers that whitened around the tips of its wings. They felt like swan feathers with how they tickled her fingers. Just like her SAO pet dragon.
If there was ever a time to be careful what she wished for it, was now.
She stopped petting the dragon pup and looked down at the reflection on the water from the moonlight. With fox-ears on her head because of her chosen race, she was draped in the red robes that made up her [Acolyte Robe] armor and holding a [Ewallen Scepter] that felt heavy in her other hand. She felt the night breeze making her hair tousle about and smelled the freshness of the water nearby.
It made tears sting the corners of her eyes, and she brought her hands up to cover them as the terrible feelings of fear and confusion swelled up inside of her. The tiny dragon climbed up to her shoulder and licked her cheek, letting small inquisitive cries out as the tears. It served as the best balm to soothe her tears as she grasped the dragon in her arms and held it close.
There was a niggle in her head then, and she heard a voice. ‘Silica, are you okay?‘
“Klein?” She sniffled. “What’s going on?”
‘Somehow, we’re trapped in the Elder Tales game,’ Klein explained. ‘I’m coming to get you and meet up with Kirito and his sister, tell me where you are?‘
She curled up into her herself and rocked back and forth with her dragon. “I’m by the riverbank.”
‘Okay, give me a few minutes and we’ll meet up with the rest,‘ he assured her. ‘If you need to bring up your menu, just concentrate on your forehead and think hard about it and it will pop up. The Friend’s List will let you talk to others like I’m doing.‘
“Okay.” She said, taking a deep breath and holding the tiny dragon against her chest. Its warmth and softness was a security blanket, which the dragon seemed eager to provide as it chirruped. “Come soon.”
[SAO -o0o- LH]
Asuna’s first reaction to being trapped in this world was not to be confused or sad, but to be furious.
She had just gotten out of ALO not too long ago, just dealt with Nobuyuki, and was just on the road to getting herself together after what the bastard had done to her. Now she was once again inside of another game against her will. She stomped the ground and bit down on a series of swearwords, planning to find someone who knew what was going on when she heard a voice that gave her pause.
“Mama!” said a Pixie that fluttered in front of her, wearing a long dress and a blue flower in her dark hair. Her dark eyes glimmered with wet tears of happiness as she clasped her fingers together and smiled.
The sight of her daughter quelled her anger and brought a smile to her face. After ALO had closed down, the best they had been able to do was work out something so that she remained conscious within Asuna’s Laptop despite being data. Now here she was, as she had last seen her within the World Tree.
Asuna gingerly grabbed her tiny body, pressing it against her cheek and nuzzling her with affection. “How are you here like this?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “There was this… light that came through the system when you were playing the game and getting ready to meet with Papa. It grabbed me and brought me here, and then you showed up.”
As if to compound her joy, she felt a touch on her mind and then heard a voice. ‘Asuna, are you okay?‘
“Kirito, its Yui!” were the first things she said. “Yui’s back in her body!”
‘What?‘ He sounded surprised. ‘She’s here?‘
‘Papa!‘ Yui said, somehow intercepting their telepathic line and interjecting herself into it. ‘I missed you!‘
‘Yui… I missed you too,’ he thought. ‘I was working on a VR probe in my free time, but I never thought you’d be here with us without the FullDive available.‘
‘Well, if there’s one good thing that’s come out of here, it’s this,‘ Asuna claimed, having gotten the hang of communicating with her thoughts. ‘Where are you?‘
‘I’m in Akiba,‘ he said. ‘Where are you two?‘
‘Nakasu,’ she said. ‘I had just logged into the game and was heading for a Fairy Ring when I ended up here.‘
‘Shit, that’s right,’ he said, grasping some detail. ‘When you log into the game, it determines what server and area you’re in relative to Earth. On the Yamato region, the prefecture you were in roughly equated to Ninetail Dominion, so you automatically ended up in their Player Town. Everyone else we planned to meet is in here with me.‘
‘We’ll come to you,‘ she said. ‘I just need to find a map and—‘
‘No,’ he said curtly. ‘Absolutely not.‘
Her eyebrows raised and her mental voice gained an edge. ‘Excuse me?‘
‘Sorry, that came out harsher than I meant for it to. It’s just this is bringing up a lot of bad memories and I only got you back not too long ago,’ he explained. ‘Listen, the gates aren’t working and there are a ton of monsters between there and here that are dozens of levels above yours. We have no idea if there are rules to this, or if you or Yui will die permanently if killed. We can’t risk moving until we know more.‘
Asuna frowned, but nodded her head. ‘Fine, I’ll work on gathering more information here.’
‘I’m not really sure about what I can do, but I’ll help,‘ Yui added.
‘We’ll work something out soon,‘ Kirito promised. ‘You two stay safe and stay in touch.‘
[SAO -o0o- LH]
A chuckle, an act of mirth, stood out amongst the discord in Minami.
There was one player there positively delighted at the circumstances he found himself in, and he made no effort to hide it. He twirled the dagger in his hands and felt the cold, familiar steel within it. There was no denying that it felt right, and he had come back to where reality was for him.
How he got there? Where he was? What this meant? How to get back to reality? All of these questions meant nothing to him as his lungs burst into laughter at the sheer randomness and absurdity of the situation.
Trapped in a world that reminded him of the greatest time of his life, Johnny Black was the only one in Minami that laughed loudly into the night.
[Prologue -o0o- End]
Name: Level – Class (Species – Build) and Sub-Class
Kirito: Lv. 90 Swashbuckler (Human – Dual Blade) with Sword Saint sub-class
Leafa (Suguha): Lv. 29 Kannagi (Half-Alv – War Shrine Maiden) with Acrobat sub-class
Klein: Lv. 37 Samurai (Wolf Fang – Standard Katana) with Rune Knight sub-class
Silica: Lv. 23 Summoner (Fox Tail – Non-Exclusive) with Beast-Tamer sub-class
Asuna: Lv. 34 Swashbuckler (Human – Fencer) with Chef sub-class
Johnny Black: Lv.? Assassin (Human – Guerrilla) with Poison-User sub-class
Notes: … I marathon’d Log Horizon and came up with this idea. Obviously, I had to tweak the timeline, so basically the expansion pack release happened after the events of Fairy Dance, but everyone is the same age they are in canon. It shouldn’t break the suspension of disbelief.