Eren breathed in the smell of the lush grass wet from an afternoon rainstorm, the light breeze that caressed his face caused him to shiver as his avatar adjusted to the sensations the simulation presented to him. He curled his toes in his standard boots, flexed his fingers in his gloves as he stretched to the sky and arched his back before bending at the knees and testing the height he could jump. His fingers grazed the lowest bough of a fruit laden tree causing a few leaves to shake free and a fruit or two to dangle precariously from its stem before stilling. He grinned and jumped higher, picking the closest fruit, an update appearing before him.
Congrats on obtaining (1) Honeygourd Fruit!
Achievement unlocked Harvester Level One!
Please see Achievements Log for more details!
‘Huh, that’s handy,’ Eren thought as he polished the apple on his shirt. Not hungry as of yet, he placed the fruit within his inventory before returning his attention to the landscape before him. A tinkling sound of the tree above him respawning the fruit he had just plucked faded into the background as he looked up at the floating vision above him…
Aincrad Castle. 100 floors, 100 bosses, and over 1,000 quests and side quests, and that’s just the ones that they announced. It’ll take years for players to finish!
Eren grinned and breathed deeply.
'And I’m going to be the first one to do it!'
Day One: November 6, 2022
Eren walked through the Bazaar at the Town of Beginnings, heading to the town square with purpose, his sights set on the bell tower and the people he was supposed to meet there. His best friend Armin and his adopted sister Mikasa had both promised that they would meet there as soon as they logged on. To make it easier for their avatars to recognize each other, they had promised to create accurate characters, holding off on the customization for later. The Nerve Gear was already trippy without factoring in hearing your best friends voice come out of another body.
The only thing Eren had changed was his eyes, it was impossible to recreate the intense color that came from the blue and green combination of his irises. Many people found his stare off putting, whether it was directed at them or not, so he opted to stick with a simple green color without altering the intensity. Who cares anyway how accurate it was? He had kept everything else fairly accurate- from his height paired with his lean body and broad shoulders, his short cut brown hair, to the bronze of his skin that never seemed to leave him even in winter.
As he walked forward he bumped into an equally tall figure wrapped in a simple hooded cloak. He had sharp grey eyes and dark hair that Eren could see was tied in a loose ponytail that hung over one shoulder. A bag was slung over his back as he corrected himself from the impact of running into Eren.
‘Watch where you’re going, huh brat?’ the figure asked, holding Eren’s elbow to stop him from falling over.
‘Yeah- sorry I just-,’ Eren trailed off defensively as the figure turned away, disappearing beyond the influx of players and NPCs that swarmed the center aisle.
Shaking his head, Eren headed toward the tower, quickly forgetting the man.
Outside City Limits
‘So just think of the motion and hold the thought, like a pause. You should feel the skill activate and then BAM!’ Eren’s blade sliced through the side of a tusked hog causing it to disintegrate in one swipe. ‘You next Armin!’
‘Uhhhh, I think I’ll watch Mikasa first,’ Armin shifted nervously, his short blade clutched tightly by his white knuckles as he held it away from his body at an awkward angle.
A grunt sounded as Mikasa paused before swiping through a second hog which also disappeared before them. Moments later they could see two hogs respawning some distance away, running and squealing further into the brush.
Eren accepted the Col that was offered with the killing of the hog, then showed Armin and Mikasa how to accept automatic Col deposits so they wouldn’t have to always stop while hunting. Saving his settings, Eren swiped the view screen away to turn to his sister and friend.
‘So what next? I can take you to this river with a killer view! There are all sorts of things we can collect on the way, and plenty more hogs and low level creatures we can kill! I can have you leveling up before any of the newbs still stuck in the village!’ Eren boasted.
‘Perks of having a guide who was a beta tester I guess,’ Armin grinned. ‘But isn’t using you kinda like cheating?’
‘Come on Armin,’ Eren scoffed good-naturedly. ‘I’m here so you might as well use me. Anyways Kayaba sent out extensive surveys to all 1,000 beta testers. He changed a lot of things on floor two and higher, he only kept this floor close to the original. Might as well get what we can so that we can start climbing floors! The beta testers didn’t even get past level 8 in the whole nine months that we were testing this thing! Supposedly he wrote code to manage how hard the bosses and monsters were based on the active players playing. So now with the population increasing by 10, I’m sure it will make boss fights both easier and harder! I can’t wait to get to the first dungeon!’
‘Easier and harder?’ Armin frowned. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘Well with 1,000 beta testers and limited time we mostly stuck to solo work. Mapping terrain and gathering inventory. I’d pair up with a few people for mid-level raids and quests and maybe join a large group if anyone announced an attempt on a dungeon but apart from that I mostly trained alone. Now with so many people and the guild system opening up it will make it easier to do group operations in the dungeons. We should form our own party to share drops until we find a guild that we want to join,’ Eren explained.
‘Why not create our own guild?’ Mikasa asked, speaking for the first time in a while as she inspected her blade before replacing it in her sheath.
‘A lot of paperwork, plus starting fees, plus recruitment? I’ll pass,’ Eren turned to look at the sky, judging that it was nearly past 4 o’clock in the afternoon. ‘Let’s just wait to see what type of leadership pops up in the next few weeks before we make a decision.’
‘Did you make friends with any other betas in here,’ Armin was curiously staring at a purple feathered bird that was nesting within the branches of the tall oak beside their makeshift training ground.
‘I’m friendly with a few, but most people I spoke to said they were changing their avatars up with the new updates. I know names but they reset our friends lists; I won’t know them unless I bump into them again,’ Eren sighed. ‘Let’s break for dinner and come back for a quest!’
‘Dinner yes. Post-dinner quest no. I have a school paper to finish up, and you have homework you’ve been putting off too long Eren!’ Mikasa scolded.
‘You’ve barely been here for an hour!’ Eren exclaimed. ‘I waited in line for 48 hours to get you your own copy for your birthday!’
‘I’m only playing so you can show me what you do every minute of the day your not with me,’ Mikasa laughed. ‘I’m logging out now, I’ll see you tomorrow Armin! Don’t let Eren make you stay up all night playing!’
‘See ya, Mikasa!’ Eren smiled as his sister disappeared before turning to his best friend. ‘Let’s go get some bacon!’
Armin laughed cheerfully and followed Eren to a path leading further into the field.
Gasping as they cleared the last hog, Eren wiped his brow and turned to Armin.
‘It’s almost 8 now, we should log out and eat that dinner we keep putting off,’ Eren cracked his knuckles after sheathing his sword.
‘You mean the dinner you kept putting off,’ Armin joked.
‘Yeah yeah,’ Eren swiped for his menu and dragged his finger to the settings. ‘Huh.’
‘What is it?’
‘They must have changed the login/logout button location. Where on earth did they move it to?’
DONG! DONG! DONG!
An ominous sound of bells echoed over the entire landscape, booming loudly in Armin and Eren’s ears.
‘That’s got to be from the Town of Beginnings!’ Eren exclaimed, then gasped as a sudden white light filled his vision.
Looking around and hearing the cacophony of thousands of voices, Eren found himself in the town square. Armin was no longer at his side, and he fought his way to the center where a large fountain sprayed a chilling mist into the air. Standing on the ledge, he looked for his friend, shouting Armin’s name into the chaotic mob.
‘Oi, brat, get down before you hurt yourself!’ A hand grabbed his elbow, yanking him down off the ledge. Eren gasped, landing on his ankle and wobbling in the arms of the man who had pulled him down. It was the same man who he had run into at the Bazaar, only his hood was down and his face somehow even more sullen and grim than before. The man forcefully turned Eren around so he could see the slowly forming figure towering over the square. A dome had formed, seemingly trapping all of the inhabitants within its boundary. Eren forgot about the stranger, and stood in awe at the giant figure that loomed before him that suddenly began to speak in a booming voice.
The voice of SAOs creator Akihiko Kayaba. The genius who had created this world. Who had trapped it’s inhabitants. Who was their captor. They were trapped within the games code with no way of leaving.
‘I’ve placed a present within the inventory of every player, please see for yourselves.’
Drop down menus appeared and a single object soon appeared within everyone's hands.
Soon a brilliant light filled the whole square as well as screams of players surrounding him. As the light faded Eren looked around, his immediate surroundings appearing different from his memory before.
‘EREN!’ a shout caused him to quickly turn to the voice of his friend Armin who ran to him and clung to his arms.
‘Armin! Thank god!’ Eren held his friend by the shoulders. ‘You look different, more you than you already were!’
‘Eren your eyes! They look just like they do in real life! You look just like you in real life!’
‘Shit!’ Eren turned to the voice of the man behind him. Wearing the same cloak and hood but dramatically changed. Gone was the height that matched Eren’s own and instead a figure that barely reached 5’ 5’’. The long hair was gone and replaced with a shorter cut that ended at razor sharp cheekbones. The steel grey eyes were the same, and ones that Eren suddenly recognized.
‘Eren, I think the mirrors turned everyone into what they look like in real life,’ Armin motioned towards several people that were now wearing ill fitting clothing. Boys wearing short sweater dresses who now pulled at the hem to cover themselves, chubbier and more rounded bodies straining against tight-fitted armor, and one young girl who was swimming in the overly large shirt and overalls that belonged to an avatar who had previously been a good five inches taller with thirty more pounds of muscle. It would have been comical in any another situation.
Eren quickly turned back to the hooded figure by the fountain only to find him gone. In the chaos of the sudden change, everyone was screaming and trying to understand what was going on even though to Eren it was clear.
‘We have to go,’ Eren grabbed Armin’s hand and dragged him to an alley exit.
‘The next town over. We need to get going before anyone else does! Resources are limited, especially this far down. We have to collect as much as we can so we can level up.’ Eren explained as he rapidly tugged his friend along.
‘You can’t still be thinking about this game!’
‘Listen to me Armin, this level only has a set amount of quests. Once those quests have been finished for the first time, you can only get basic rewards for finishing. Everyone is going to be competing; for food, for money, for the good weapons. It took 1,000 beta testers 8 weeks to get through the level one dungeon. Who knows how long it will take the guilds and other players to get organized in this chaos! We need to find resources to survive until the next floor can be opened. To level up and increase our stats so that we can survive! Who knows how much harder things will be! We need to live! Follow me and I will make sure that you are protected.’
‘Eren, you know me, I hardly ever play adventuring characters. I explore and I hone skills, but I’m not a fighting character! I’ll only slow you down!’
‘Armin listen to me! I know a path to the next village over. Very few monsters and the village is a safe zone. We will form a party and split everything. You stay behind me while I kill the monsters and you’ll level up quickly. I don’t care if you want to set up a shop or become an information gatherer, but either way you’ll need money and experience to start! So come with me before it's too late! I’ll protect you, I promise.’
Armin smiled weakly and inhaled deeply. ‘Okay Eren, I’ll follow you.’
Eren and Armin disappeared into the night.