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Prologue

Part 1 – Kirito’s Start                                        November 6th, 2022, 8:44 AM

The day had arrived. The wait had finally paid for itself. It was a peaceful day, like any other day of a cold, winter morning. Kawagoe City looked quiet from a distance, with only the sun shining through its many tall buildings. The silence in the air of a neighborhood could not be bothered by anything but the morning critters and the cicadas that constantly screeched.

On the window of a house, like any other, was a boy on his mid-teens, with jet-black, unkempt, short hair and equally dark eyes, staring continuously at the entrance of his home with a bored expression. He was waiting. Waiting for something to arrive. And it could, at any time at that point, finally arrive.

His eyes would sometimes diverge; looking at the road, waiting for the glimpse of what he patiently waited for. Time seemed slow. A minute for him could very much mean a measly second to anybody else. But yet, he waited, without budging his position, moving only his eyes.

He was wearing a white blue-sleeved shirt at that point, and a pair of simple blue jeans. The cold wind seemed to not bother him though; it was pleasing and tender, seemingly unnoticeable by the young male. The wait was rather pleasant. The cold breeze would rush through his hair, gently moving out the hair threads from his face, and slightly making his sleeves wave against it.

Nothing seemed to strike the boy’s focus; the wind, the critters, none of those made him lose his focus of the road and the very front of his house. He was truly put to his ostensibly endless wait.

“Kazuto! Won’t you have breakfast?! I’ve been waiting for you this whole time!” a young female voice could be heard from what seemed to be downstairs.

The boy, however, was not struck by it; he didn’t listen. The call for his first name repeated itself over three other times, but none of those reached his ears. He wasn’t deaf; rather, he did hear the calls. He simply decided to ignore them. His reasons, currently unclear, were probably a result of his patient wait. Even so, it seemed off for him to ignore the calls.

Eventually, door knocks could be heard. “Kazuto?! Are you awake?!” the female voice called once more, while trying to open the boy’s room door. Locked. It was no use. “Kazuto?! Are you there?! Open the door!” urged the voice. Kazuto, still ignoring the calls from over the other side of the door, would not move a muscle.

The knocks eventually ceased, together with the calls. Instead, a cry could be heard instead, together with the female voice cracking on the other side of the door:

“You’ve been like this since you finished that game’s beta something you like so much! I don’t understand you! What did I do wrong?! I...” the girl stopped, sobbing a bit, “I never wanted this to be like this... Why do you ignore me? Just because... just because I’m not your real sister?! I... I don’t understand you!” those words echoing loudly through the house, alongside the sound of heavy steps, presumably going down some stairs, as well as the smashing of a door closing strongly.

Kazuto sighed, “I’m sorry...” he said in low voice to himself, closing his eyes for a few moments, “I can’t face you right now,” he added.

Even with the events that just happened, he did not seem phased at first; he continued to stand there, against his open window, waiting. It was already approaching the time of which he so patiently waited for. He gazed at his clock on his bed’s heading. 8:52 AM.

The boy sighed once more. His patience was starting to run short. He turned away from the window, standing against it, watching his room’s relative emptiness. The white walls only filled with his door, his air conditioner, what seemed to be a closet and some shelves hanging from it, partially filled with books and a strange dark blue helmet, right beside his closet’s door. Adjacent to the shelves, closer to him and his bed, was his computer table, a drawer, his black computer chair, as well as the machine itself. A three-screen computer accompanied of a black keyboard and mouse, and a white colored set of headphones, with black leather ear stuffing. Connected to headphones, was his computer casing on the floor, touching the right support of his computer table that sat right next to his bed.

He was right there, in-between his bed and computer, constantly staring at the door. His actions towards his younger sister finally started to strike him. He was unsure if his harshness with her was justified. He felt remorse. Remorse for not acknowledging her. He had lived with her his entire life, and yet, for him she was but a mere ghost, deemed to haunt his mind with guilt.

She didn’t seem to dislike him by any means. She only seemed to want to peacefully have a nice breakfast with her brother. To talk to him. To be his sister. Kazuto however, did not want, or at least did not seem to share the same thoughts as her. He would not accept it. He couldn’t accept it. Even if deep inside him he wanted to, he could not simply admit it.

His mind, now locked in thoughts of his sister, distracted itself from the initial focus he had to gaze the window. His thoughts were tangled between her and what he awaits. ‘It won’t matter. I should not be worried with her. She has been going through my ignorance for over two years now. Even if now I’ve been bitterer as days go past,’ his mind pondered over the situation, ‘it won’t matter. It’ll be alright.’ He changed his eyes focus to his shelf, looking closely to the before mentioned helmet. ‘With that, I’ll have a break from all this. I’ll be able to... forget all of this...’ his thoughts went by, thinking about what he was about to attain.

That helmet was not a regular one. It was a machine; NerveGear. A machine capable of FullDive technology, or be it, able to give a user the feel of Virtual Reality, to emulate a world different from the real world. Kazuto had it, also waiting in his shelf for what was about to soon arrive.

He looked to it without moving for a moment, but then turned his eyes back to the window, sighing. Moments went by, a few minutes, six perpetually infinite minutes.

It was finally there. From a distance, a very distinctive white van could be seen. Mail. His wait was finally done. Kazuto rushed out of his room, unlocking the door in one swift movement, and descending the stairs quicker than a blink. He steadfastly put on his shoes at the entrance of his house, and opened the door in one fell swoop. Impatiently, he ran towards where his mail would be delivered. The mail van was not quite there yet, as it had to stop at other homes to deliver their mail. He stood there, waiting for the mail van to ultimately reach his own home.

Once a few more moments went by, the mailman descended from the van, asking for his partner to get the mail for that specific address, while giving a quirky grin to Kazuto.

Kazuto made small chat with the mailman, picking his beloved prize from his hands in seconds of him seeing it. “Wow, calm down boy, the thing won’t create legs and run away,” the mailman laughed, “I’ll need you to sign this for me before you can take that inside please.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve been waiting for this for way too long, so I’m in kind of a rush to get it. Where do I sign?” Kazuto said faking being calm, but hesitant inside to leave the man there and go running back to the comfort of his room.

The man handed over a clipboard with a pen, “Sign on the highlighted rectangle all the way down the―”, Kazuto had already signed it before the man could finish his sentence, to which he almost automatically gave back the clipboard.

“Thank you!” Kazuto said, rushing straight back to the inside of his house.

He completely ignored whatever the mailman had to say after him signing the paper, but could swear he heard something close to “Kids these days...” being said by him. For him, it did not matter though. He had what he wanted so much within his hands right now.

SAO ― Sword Art Online.

This was what he had been waiting for. A game. But not any game. The very first VRMMORPG (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) the world has to offer. Only giving a small peek to the cover of the game while he ran back from his front gate to his door was enough to give a chill to his spine. He really praised what he had just received.

Once he got back inside his house, he removed his shoes with his own feet, leaving only his socks on them, and the shoes scrambled on the entrance. When he was climbing the stairs while looking to his newly acquired treasure, barely half-way through, the female voice from before could be heard coming for a nearby door:

“Kazuto?” she quietly said, “Please... can we at least talk? Explain to me why you’re acting... like that...”

He stopped mid-way through the stairs, “I’m sorry... Suguha... I’ll leave that to another day.”

“What did I do? Did I... do something wrong? Please tell―”

“Sorry. I can’t talk right now. Bother me later.” Kazuto said coldly to her while quickly climbing what was left of the staircase, entering his room, and locking the door before him. ‘I’m sorry... I simply can’t...’ he thought to himself one last time.

He stood there for a few more moments, against the door, not sure if what he did was what he really wanted to do. Uncertainty was his biggest enemy at that moment. His will different from his actions. And yet, he did not follow it, only to leave his mind with a heavy weighted like that.

Suguha was still important to him, even if it seemed like she was a complete stranger to him, and even his cold actions towards her were not meant to be as gelid and mean as he made it be. He was avoiding her. Even if his reasons were not clear, it just seemed like something he had to do. Something he couldn’t escape.

Immediately trying to forget about it, raising his left hand, holding within its grasp what he has patiently waited for so long. It was right there. Right in front of him. Sword Art Online. Those words echoed his mind. He was unsure if what he was feeling most at that moment was the burning feeling of excitement towards the game or the sour feeling of remorse towards his sister. He shook his head. Trying to focus on the game he had in his hand and the game only, ‘I’ll deal with Suguha later... for now I should enjoy this well-deserved prize for being a participant in the beta,’ trying to soothe his mind of any other thoughts, he repeated that to himself deep inside his mind over and over.

“Sigh...” Kazuto blinked a few times successively, wiping the bad thoughts off his brain.

After getting his head straight, he did not think twice, he went to his shelf, leaving his copy of the game on top of it, and picking his NerveGear with his hands. He glanced it for a few seconds, like if was something that would change his life forever. He then, shortly after, pressed a button on the helmet, opening a compartment with room for a disc. He, placing the opened helmet on the shelf once more, opened the casing for SAO, and popped the disc out of it, and without a second thought, inserted it into the NerveGear, closing the case for the disc afterwards.

After staring at the machine for a few more moments, Kazuto picked it up from the shelf, and brought it with him close to his bed with him, where he plugged it into power on a close by energy output. He wouldn’t need to connect any internet cables to it, as he had a wireless modem working at all times. The NerveGear, already configured to his network, should only need to be turned on.

Kazuto sat on his bed, and gave the machine a final look, ‘This is it. The time I have waited for so long,’ he thought to himself. He proceeded to putting the helmet on, and laying his head on his pillow, and once he managed to lie down in a comfortable position, he turned on the machine, at which point a dark colored glass buckle came down the helmet, covering his eyes and partially his nose.

Once all the preparations were finally done, two lone words could be heard coming out of Kazuto’s mouth: “Link Start!”

Part 2 – Asuna’s Start                                         November 5th, 2022, 9:39 PM

Knock, Knock.

The sound of doors knocks echoed in a bedroom, empty to the naked eye. Darkness overtook the bedroom’s entirety, and the only sign to affirm that it was not empty, were a girl’s sobs that could be heard very lightly in the midst of the sound of the knocks. Gentle, yet sorrowful sobs.

“Asuna, my dear, are you there?” said a calm male voice from the other side of the door, “Please, open the door, my dear.”

The girl, cloaked by the pitch-black room, cried alone on her bed, cuddled with her own legs, wishing only loneliness. “No, leave me alone... I don’t want to hear excuses! You promised me...” she made a pause, only for a few tears to descend her soft skin and drop onto her cuddled hands, “You said you would be there with me tomorrow!” she said before her voiced cracked in sobs.

The male voice reacted with a small stagger gasp. “Please Asuna. I’ll make up for it, just please, don’t cry. Look, next time I swear―”

“You always say that! And you never fulfill your promises!” the girl yelled, angered at the excuse.

“Sigh... I’m sorry Asuna... You’re my daughter, and yet... I can’t fulfill my promises to you,” the voice stopped, and for a few moments, the sadness of the girl took control of the ambient, “Please, at least open the door, I want to properly apologize to you, Asuna... for me to at least give you a goodbye before I leave.”

Minutes went by, and no answer was given. The sobs, slowly withering away in the shadows, finally stopped. The girl was still unsure of what to do. She could forgive her father, and open the door, or she could let her rage over him take over, and quietly stay inside the locked room until her father went away. She felt betrayed. Even if her father seemed to have good intentions, and were legitimately sorry for what he did, she would not believe his words.

‘I understand he wants to make me happy by giving me fake hopes, but this is too much. He’s just a liar, it’s always like this...’ her thoughts took a bad turn, ‘He always makes these promises he never accomplishes, and always wants me to apologize him, no matter what he could not fulfill. I’m tired! Tired of being lied to!’ she slammed her fist on the bed in anger, releasing another streak of tears.

Clearing her cheeks from the newly spawned tears, she tried to keep her mind straight, but the only thoughts that she was able to have were angry and sad. It was almost like her mind would fight against herself. Deep inside she wanted to forgive her parent, but after being lied to so many times, her mind would simply not allow it.

‘Why are they like this... both of them... they only seem to lie to me. Father keeps filling me with fake hopes, while mother says she wants the best possible future for me, but stays cold and uninterested in what I really want...’ she slammed her fist a few more times against the mattress, making a good deal of noise.

Hearing the noise caused from her punches, her father concluded she would not forgive him, “Very well, I’ll leave you alone. I’m sorry for the trouble I caused, Asuna,” he gave her a last set of words before attempting to leave.

But before the sounds of any footsteps were heard, the sound of the lock being opened struck the father’s ears, already half turned away from the door. A small ray of light entered the small opening of the door, lighting the tender figure of a chestnut long-haired girl on her mid-teens, with sad hazel-colored eyes, together with a messy bed in the far back wall.

“Don’t...” the girl pledged for her parent to not leave her just yet from the small opening between the wall and the door.

Her father, surprised with her, heard her plea, instantly turning back to the sound of her voice. “Asuna!” without being able to think twice, he called for her name, and gave her a warming hug, barging the door open, and letting light fill most of the girl’s room, “I’m sorry Asuna... I know I can’t be easily forgiven; I shouldn’t make promises I cannot keep, and I have no more excuses to it, but please, at least let me make it up for it!”

The girl, still not completely convinced about her father’s apologies, hugged him back, “This is the last time. I won’t forgive you again if it happens again,” she said, still saddened by her parent’s irresponsibility.

The parent was relieved, even if it wasn’t the apology he was waiting for, it was still an act of forgiveness coming from his daughter. “I’m sorry Asuna. I promise this is the last time.”

Asuna shrugged away from the hug, almost as if what her father said annoyed her. “You haven’t been forgiven completely... I’m not sure if I can really do that,” she reaffirmed her feelings, causing her father’s smile to die away, giving room to a more serious and saddened expression. Shortly after her sharp words, she turned back and went back inside of her bedroom, leaving her dad standing alone at the door.

The father looked directly to his daughter, and bulked up courage. Upon entering her room, he went towards her bed, sitting beside her. He was still not sure if the daughter would really give him a last chance. Even if he did not deserve one, it was his only wish.

The dark room, only illuminated by the light coming from the corridor, had a few of its features exposed. A set of automatic doors could be seen on the left wall, which would most likely lead to some kind of wardrobe. On the right wall, the faint silhouette of a computer table, fit for a laptop, could be seen beside a pink stuffed computer chair. The middle of the room featured a small round table, with what seemed to be a small tea set on top of it. Opposing the door, was a set of silky white blinds, covering a big window that took most of the wall’s right side; as big as the bed that lied directly below it. A mirror could also be seen, to the left side of the window, with another small round table, with some make-up and beauty articles on top of it.

The air made itself tense with the silence that had been born between the two. Neither of them would make a single sound. Asuna, rolled in her thoughts, was still not sure why she ran to the door and asked him to stay. She was confused. It was like her body moved itself; it was almost telling him for her to give him a new chance.

Her father also seemed to be pondering his thoughts and carefully choosing his words before saying anything. The girl was already tired of hearing his excuses, making him cornered into giving her a true apology to make it up for it. He didn’t know what to say. If he promised her something else and didn’t fulfill it, it would only lead for her to never forgive him again. He was afraid. Afraid of losing his daughter.

Asuna’s patience was running short, she didn’t think she should be the one to speak first; it wasn’t her fault this whole discussion happened in the first place. “Aren’t you saying anything? If you are not, you can just leave me alone―”

“Sorry,” her father cut her words before she could finish, “I’m really sorry for not being able to go on that trip I promised you tomorrow. The company called and said they need my presence there urgently. I know it sounds like another dumb excuse from my part, but I really have no choice here. If I don’t go to work, I would get fired,” her father tried to justify saying the obvious.

Asuna shrugged a bit, turning her face away from her parent, “I know you have no choice... but it’s just that every time I think I’ll be able to spend some quality time with you, something has to ruin it. It’s like you promise me things and already know you won’t be able to fulfill them.”

Her father, knowing she was right, had little to argue with. He wasn’t sure of what he should do. “I’ll make it up for you,” he said reassuringly while putting one of his hand on her left shoulder, “Look, I know it seems farfetched for me to make you yet another promise, but it’s the only thing I can think of,” he paused for a bit, giving just enough time for Asuna to turn her sight back to him, “I’ll be back in a week, and when I’m back, I promise you, that I’ll do everything in my power to spend one entire day with you.”

Asuna was doubtful. It was hard to believe him when he had lied to her so many times in the past. “This time will be the last time. If you mess this up, I’ll never forgive you. I’m not even sure why do I still trust in your words, and I have no guarantee that you will actually fulfill your promise this time around either,” uncertainty now filled the girl’s heart once again. Even if she wanted to trust her father’s word, it was not easy to simply forgive all the other times he lied to her.

Another moment of silence hit the room, but abruptly was terminated by Asuna’s father moving his hand to the insides of his suit. “Wait a second, I know I left it somewhere in here,” he said searching all over his suit, “Here it is!” he picked out a small game case, handing it over to his daughter.

Sword Art Online?” the girl read out the title written down on the case, “Isn’t this that game brother keeps talking about?”

Her father gave out a small nod. “Exactly. I was going to gift this to your brother, but he is also busy with his own job.”

Asuna, confused with what was happening, picked up the game case. “Why are you handing it over to me then?”

“This is for you to use while I’m away, so you have something to do in my absence. I know it isn’t much as you’re not really into this kind of thing, but it’s the least I can do, so please accept it,” her father begged.

The look in the girl’s face was of slight disappointment for the first few seconds of the receiving of the gift, but soon enough her disappointment turned into a small smile. “Alright. You are forgiven, but this will be the last time,” she said while going for a hug with her father.

The hug was very brief, only long enough to restore the parent’s hope of being forgiven. “I promise you, I won’t leave you saddened this time, Asuna,” reaffirmed the father while getting away from the warming hug.

Their smiles now resonated peace between the two, like if their relationship had started over. This last chance was perhaps the one where things would go for a turn for Asuna. She was still doubtful, but for her own sake she had to trust her father, even if it could be another broken promise by him.

Once it had been finally resolved, her father got up, cleaning the dust of his suit pants, and walked towards the door. “When you want to play the game, go over your brother’s room, the NerveGear should be there. Simply open the case and put the cartridge in, and the only thing you should have to do is to turn it onto power,” explained the father briefly how to turn on the machine.

“I know how to use it father, I saw brother using it before. Don’t worry,” Asuna said reassuringly to her father.

“I should’ve known. Either way, you should get some sleep sweetheart, you have school tomorrow morning.”

Asuna gave a few nods from a distance. “I’ll, I just have to change clothes,” she said, getting up from her bed, and going towards her computer table, where lied a machine to control lighting, temperature and whether the curtains are opened on not, and in one single input, turned on the lights in her room.

The father gave her a relieved sigh. “Good night, Asuna.”

“Good night, father,” she answered smiling.

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