"On today's episode of the MMO Stream-" the computer was interuppted with a small buzz as Akira Hansuke, a small, even-bodied male with short, brown hair and deep, ice-blue eyes, turned it off. The entire world had lined up for the newest game of 2022; Sword Art Online, a full Virtual Reality MMORPG.

"Hey, Akri-san! I'm back from school and off to Soccer practice now! I'll be back later, okay!" the sound of his younger sister's voice came through the door. Nozomi Hansuke and he lived with their grandparents, an elderly couple. For what was about to happen, it's fortunate he had not yet been old enough to go live alone.

He wasn't there. He didn't need to be. He had pre-orded it as one of 1000 Beta-Testers in the game. He looked at his bed, getting up and walking towards it. On it lay the Nervegear, a helmet-like device that was basically the game console. He picked it up, putting the cord over the side of his bed, and placed it on his head as he laid down. He closed his eyes.

"Link start!"

A rainbow hyper-space buzzed past him, as a number of "OK"'s appeared on the screen. He registered his character, Ryker, and the text appeared before him:

"Welcome to Sword Art Online!"

He looked down at his hands as he opened his eyes in the Virtual World. He appeared in a mauve-colored with a vest. His physical appearance had changed as well; he looked older here, more muscular, and his hair was longer and light blonde. He smiled as he looked back up from the starting town.

"I'm back."

Ryker ran through the town, having bought his equipment. It was a good thing that he still had his stats from the Beta. A voice came from behind him.

"Hey! Wait up a moment! Please!" a small-statured girl came from behind him. He turned around, as she ran out of breath. She was about a year younger than he was, with light blonde hair and green eyes. He assumed immediately that it was just a guy masquerading as a female character - after all, it was still an online MMO, there were some pretty... misunderstood people there same as any other internet place. "You look like you know a bit about this place. Maybe you were in the Beta test? It's my first day! Can you show me some things, please?"

"Well, I can't really-"

"Pretty please? My name's Kaiya Hikaru."

"A last name?"

"Eep! That's my real life name! i didn't... I meant -" she had a clear blush on her face. Embarrassed (quite plainly) at her slip-up, he pretty much confirmed he was wrong in his suspicion. He knew a girl when he saw one.

"Hey, it's fine. What's your avatar name?"


"Rei, huh? That's a nice name. I'm Ryker. Anyhow, yeah I guess I can show you a few things."


Ryker chuckled and rubbed his head. "No prob."

"Eep!" Rei landed flat on her face. The boar went back to what it was doing.

"That's a common mistake when you're first getting into it. You can't just swing the sword around; you have to let the sword skill activate, and then basically drive through with it."

"Drive through with it?"

"Everything matters when you make your first move. You initial motion is important. Watch." Ryker picked up a small twig. The boar looked at him as he instinctively charged the skill. He threw the twig, hitting the boar between the eyes. Frankly, he pissed it off.

It ran at him. He blocked with his starting weapon, and shoved the boar to his side as Rei charged her sword. She cut through it at it charged, and it shattered. The small screen came up with a "Congratulations!" next to Rei. She looked surprised for a moment, and then yelled and jumped.

"Yay! I did it! I did it!"

"Yea, ya did. But those boars are only Level 1 and about as strong as a slime in other games."

"Really?!" she gasped. "I thought that was a Level 10 boss!"

"Yeah, right." Ryker laughed as other boars began to spawn.

"Well, anyhow, I better go. I've been on since, like, forever ago, and I gotta go get my baby brother from school before mom gets back. Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

"Hey... maybe you want to come to a party later? It's with some friends from another game."

"Nah, I'll be alright."

"Okay! Catch ya later!" She brought up the menu. "Huh?"

"Huh? What is it?"

"The Logout button is gone!"

"Say what? It should be at the bottom of the menu-" he gasped. The Logout button was gone.

"I've tried calling the GM, but... he won't respond. Oh well, I guess it's a bug. I mean, first day outta beta, right?"

Ryker had a very bad feeling about this. It didn't seem like a bug.

"This is actually very bad. If players can't log out, it could cause problems for the entire game. I mean, the developers could just shut down the server, and log everyone, but why haven't-"

The town bells rang. Suddenly, the two were teleported back to the starting area with the other players.

Rei stood beside Ryker.

"Huh... someone forced a teleport... but who?"

His question was answered as the sky turned red and gave a system announcement. A massive, hooded figure - the Game Master - appeared in the sky. Something was wrong here; very, very wrong.

"Ryker, what is that thing?!"

"Attention, players! I welcome you, to my world."

Ryker paid attention as the crowd mumbled on.

"My name is Akihiko Kayaba, and as of this moment, I am in control of this world. I'm sure most of you have already noticed an item missing from your main menus: the logout button." The game master brought out his menu to demonstrate. "Let me assure you; this is not a defect in the game. I repeat, this is not a defect. This is how Sword Art Online was designed to be."

"He can't be serious, can he?!" Rei looked at Ryker fearfully.

"I'd hope not."

"You cannot log yourselves out from SAO, and no one from the outside will be able to shut down or remove the Nervegear from your head. If anyone attempts to do so, a transmitter inside the Nervegear will discharge a microwave signal into your skull, destroying your brain, and ending your life."

The crowd began to panic. People asking what he was talking about, who he was, and Ryker personally: What the fuck was he thinking?

"Like... I said... H-he can't be serious, right?" Rei's voice cracked. Ryker looked extremely serious.

"Oh, he's serious. The transmitters inside the head gear work exactly like a microwave. If the safety is disabled, it could most definitely kill you by frying your brain."

"What about the power?!"

"No good. The Nervegear has an internal battery."

Rei look of shock grew. "This... is insane..."

"Despite my warning, the families and friends of some of the players have attempted removing the Nervegear. An unfortunate decision, to say the least. As a result, the game has 213 less players than when it began. They've been deleted from both Aincrad and the real world."

"213?! This can't be right!" Ryker stood in shock. Rei simply cowered. He lowered himself next to her for a moment, and put his hand on her shoulder.

"As you can see, media outlets from around the world have round-the-clock coverage of everything, including the deaths." The GM brought up a number of windows; news sites that reported the deaths.  "At this point, it's safe to assume the likelyhood of a Nervegear being removed is minimal at best. I hope this brings you a little comfort as you try to clear the game. It's important that you remember the following: There is no longer any way to revive someone within the game. If your HP drops to 0, your avatar will be deleted from the system forever, and the Nervegear will simutaneously destroy your brain." 

Rei looked up in wide-eyed shock. "That means-"

"If we die in the game... we die in real life."

"There's only one way for a player to escape now; you must clear the game. Right now, you're gathered on Floor One, the lowest level of Aincrad. If you can get through the dungeon and defeat the boss, you may advance to the next floor. You beat the boss on Floor 100, and you will clear the game." The crowd uproared; the prospect looked bleak at best - even the Beta testers didn't make it that high. Ryker only made it to Floor 9 - only a few managed to get to Floor 10. "Last but not least, I've placed a little present in the Item Storage of every player. Please, have a look."

The players opened their inventory.

"A mirror?" Ryker equiped it and looked... to see a flash of blue light and his real life self standing in front of him. His avatar had changed. He looked beside him. Rei had done the same, and changed to a flatter-chested girl with black shoulder-length hair. She was much more slender, like a toothpick almost, and less curvy. At least it wasn't a guy, so thought Ryker, but he was more worried about other things.

"Hey, Rei. Are you alright... wait, who are you?"

"I'm Rei... Who are you?"

"it's me... Ryker."

Two people stood beside the entrance.



Ryker looked at the girl in front of him,

"How did it... How did it..."

"The scan! That high density signal device can see what my face looks like...and it had us touch all over our bodies before we logged in to calibrate the system!"

Rei looked up at him, teary-eyed. "I'm officially horrified now."

"Right now, you're probably wondering why. Why would Akihiko Kayaba, developer of Sword Art Online and Nervegear, do this? Ultimately, my goal was a simple one. The reason I created Sword Art Online was to control the fate of a world of my design. As you can see, I have achieved my goal. This marks the end of the tutorial, and the Official Launch of Sword Art Online. Players, I wish you the best of luck."

Kayaba began disappearing. The sky restored to its natural color, with no red hexes, and people were finally free to leave the square.

"Rei. Do you have any friends online?"

"No... I'm the only one."

"Alright. I want you to stick with me. I was a beta tester, I know some good grinding spots. If we head to the next village now, we'll have an easier time collecting cash and experience. Lemme send you a Party Invite." he opened his menu, and sent her the invite.

"Okay, Ryker-san." She accepted, and her HP bar appeared on his HUD. He had to survive, and he had to save as many as he could. He had to try to clear the game.

"Don't worry. I know everything we should avoid. Stay by me and we can get there easy."

She nodded. "Thank you, Ryker-san."

"Let's go."

The two began running, leaving the Town of Beginnings behind. Ryker and Rei sliced through the wolves on their way.

December 2, 2022; Floor One has yet to be cleared. Almost 1500 deaths have already occurred.

Written by Senjumaru Shutara