(Disclaimer: Sword Art Online (Novel) is owned by Reki Kawahara, abec, ASCII Media Works and Yen Press. We own only our characters and concepts.)
School was an abomination. An absolute abomination. It was the biggest obstacle between wallowing in an endless cycle of education and partying like no tomorrow. It was the pistachio with a closed shell. The orange with seeds, and worst of all--its joyless life, represented by a bio book and stacks of papers, breathed steadily on my car's dashboard, taunting me with its ever demonic glare.
So there I was, not napping, nor partying. I was seated in my used, Toyota Prongs Hybrid, slaving over a biology take home practice exam. The thing drove me like any other master, whipping the poor servant and draining his mental energy. I was finally on the last question after an hour of pure torturous work.
Which of the following best described a zootonic pathogen?
I stared at the question, willing the answer to pop into my mind. Zootonic? What the blazes did that mean? Probably had something to do with diseases, but really at this point, it could be anything. The multiple choice answers kept floating in a vortex of letters and biological terms. I closed my eyes, counted to about seven, and then picked an answer.
C. A disease-causing agent that was transmitted to humans from other animals.
Yes, that sounded about right. Rolling my eyes, I slammed headfirst down into the wheel. "Guuhhhh..." I groaned into the paper, "Biology sucks... someone... help me... plis..." What horrible luck. Junior year aggravates me. Well so does freshman year, but I got over that real fast.
"Why must this happen? On a Saturday? Who does that?"
I banged my head again and hoped a miracle would happen. Maybe St. La Salle would come down and bless me with his holy presence. Then maybe he'll grant me a hundred percent on that physics lab. Fricking physics. Grumble grumble grumble. Saintly intercession would be useful right about now. Perhaps someone would finally hear my pessimistic pleas.
The only reason I even have to do all this work is because I'm supposed to be smart or something. Heck, it was only my first year in a Japanese school. And what do you know, plop. Advanced classes. It wasn't too bad though. I was already familiar with the different subjects. All that learning was done in America. Yes, land of the free, world of the opportunistic. Eleven years were "wasted" there: elementary school sucked, and that guise for preschool? That was worse. Come on, Viet and Jap all in one biological mix never bodes well for any kid without blue eyes and pale-albino skin. Throw in our neighborhood, filled with high-class upturned noses, and you've got an alien, something to poke and laugh at. Even zoo animals were less likely to be mocked.
Next step was middle school, and it was—horrendous. Absolutely, positively, one hundred and ten percent God fricking awful. Let's not talk about it. Let's not even come near it, as if it was some terrible zit oozing from the young teen's face, daring its host to squash it. Oh sure, it wasn't all that bad, but seventh grade, seventh grade was abysmal.
I despised seventh grade. Scratch that, it annoyed me; it annoyed me so much.
And to top that off, I was shipped off to a Catholic high school when the time came, decided by a mere shrug. Actually, I kinda liked it. I had friends, did stuff, and learned a bunch of random nonsense that I'm sure would not be very effective in a life-or-death scenario. But, still, it was alright. My depressing slump from middle school inclined like the beginnings of an amazing rollercoaster. I was soaring high when my dad got a call. Come back to Japan it said. We got a job for you, and man does it pay well. My dad allowed me to finish sophomore year with my friends. To make a long flight short, I arrived back at square one.
Now here I was, wondering what went totally wrong.
Before I could deem another headbang to be a productive use of my time, the passenger side door snapped open, and I lifted my head. "Hey Sho! We're back!" my brother Raiden said. I almost pointed out how redundant that was, considering he was literally right next to me. But, perhaps it was the musky heat emanating from the car's face-facing facets, I let it slide.
"Whatcha been up to?"
"Do the words 'dying' and 'despair' mean anything to you?" I replied dryly. Smacking my lips, I stretched out in my seat, the tip of my fingers scraping the top of the velveted ceiling. "One of these days I'm going to have a normal Saturday doing normal Saturday things. One day, I swear."
Raiden didn't answer immediately as the back, left-hand side door opened, and a thud! resounded in the back of the car. I winced. The damage inside the trunk must have been devastating. I could almost feel it in me bones. Please. My baby. Why must they harm you so?
"You know that's like literally impossible for us?" another voice replied for Raiden. The car shook a bit as the youngest brother of the Shin crew belly flopped into the car, spread out entirely over the seats. "Gah, I knew I should've been more defensive on that last bout. Yet," he continued, rolling over to his back and shooting me the widest of smirks, "I couldn't help think it was totally worth it based on the look Chie was giving me. I tell you Sho--the dobok looked so tight on her."
"Uh-huh," I said, the emphasis placed on the bored sound escaping my lips. "Okay, pulling out now."
"Hah, you wish." Kuzon cackled and slapped his stupidly toned hands on the back of my seat. I rolled my eyes and drove out of the parking lot, taking the left to head back home. Chosei High soon faded behind us. The highway stretched out into the horizon, and I kept my car a respectable ten kilos above the speed limit. There was nothing but the hum of the engine, the high velocity rolling of wheels on pavement, and the occasional cloud covering the sun. We rode in silence for about thirty minutes, Kuzon listening to music, Raiden taking a power nap, and me making sure we didn't die in the worst of ways.
The peace was soon interrupted when we entered the urban part of our route. Slowing down to obey traffic laws, and not get pulled over by some grim, unsmiling robocop, Kuzon suddenly sat up and stuck his head out his window. "Guys! We're about to pass Chiba High. Look, over there."
I gave the school a passing glance and shrugged. "What of it? Just a school. Like any other high school in the Chiba prefect area."
"Yeah, but this is Chiba High. You know, one of the best soccer high schools in all of Chiba?" Kuzon waved his hands in the air like this should be the most important and obvious thing. Little did he know: I didn't give a damn. "Like they're sooo good. Wait! They're practicing right now!" He gestured to the soccer field that we passed, and again, I gave it a cursory glance.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm impressed by freshly mowed grass, soccer nets, and dudes running around kicking a spherical, checkered object like the next sports hack, but--I mean... it's a freaking soccer field. With grass. That photosynthesize. Via Kreb's holy cycle. "Unless one of those dudes down there sprout wings and a scorpion tail, I am not interested." Just to make my point clear, I went on, "And I don't know--a tidal wave blows out the power grid or something."
"Hey, don't even joke, dude," Kuzon said. "That's some bad juju you're putting on those athletes. Those dudes are the greatest soccer player this side of Chiba." He rested his head on the edge of the window, still watching the school as we put more and more distance between Chiba High. "If only I could kick balls like them."
"You're a third-degree black belt in taekwondo," I answered bluntly. "You just competed in a regional qualifying match for the winter season. You've also won golds the last three times you've gone at it. You've made nationals. Hell, at this rate, you could compete with those Olympic kids."
"But they kick balllssss!" Kuzon said dramatically. "They're coool! Chicks dig guys in uniforms. And not kung fu uniforms. I mean look at this! It's a fashion disaster!" He pulled at his dobok and threw his hands into the air. "Oh if I was not this handsome I would be hopelessly single."
I could almost feel the followup rising in Kuzon's throat.
"Just like you."
Raiden cracked a smile, and I knew that that traitor had been listening to the entire time.
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," I said with an eye roll.
"You better," Kuzon teased. "I don't care how much fisticuffs you know," he leaned up behind my seat and tapped me on the face. "You see this grumpy thing? Captain Satoru Narita doesn't have this look." He lifted up his phone, tapped it a few times, and held it up to the side so I could see. "See? He's smiling. Because he's happy. And not a grumpy turdface like you."
This time, I didn't even bother looking at Captain Satoru Narita.
"Captain of the soccer team, great student, forward position. High scorer, and best of all, he's on track to getting his team to win the Chiba prefect and beyond. I mean this dude is really good. And he's got rather nice teeth." Kuzon examined the picture on his phone and nodded. "Oh yeah. This dude is your poster boy for cool. And then there's you, Sho." He mimed a gagging motion.
"Alright, hold up," I replied, slowing down at a red light. Turning in my seat, I glared at my little brother. "How good is this guy actually? Like sureeeee he's captain of the team, maybe he gets top scores and all that pizazz, but how good is he?" I spun around as the light turned green. "I'm gonna need something more than 'soccer captain' or 'straight A's' or 'on track to getting his team to win Chiba prefect.' That doesn't mean squat to me."
There was a pause before Kuzon snapped his fingers. "Got it. He's so good, it's like me hooking up with four girls in one night. And one of those instances... well let's just say Kozue and Madoka were quite the power pair." I didn't need to look to know how smug his mug was. "That's how good he is."
Finally, Raiden decided to speak, probably abhorred by the debauchery exhibited by our most youngest sibling. "Make sure mom doesn't know about that," he groaned, rubbing a hand down his face. "And secondly, when did that scenario become a unit of comparison?"
"Uh, when you're this good looking?"
"Okay yeah, mom better not find out." I checked my mirror then pulled up into a ramp. "Because there is no way under God's blue-green magic marble that I'm having another sex-talk-sit-down just because you screwed up."
"Right. 'Screwed up.'" Kuzon made the bunny ears with his fingers and laughed. "Sureeee."
Rolling my eyes at the unending, oozing charm that was my brother, I clamped my mouth shut before he had another chance to attack my dignity. Kuzon seemed to sense this for he flopped back on the seat and laughed even louder. I rolled my eyes once more, perhaps for the umpteenth time, and just floored the gas pedal. There was a satisfying squishing sound and pained grunt from behind me. With just the most satisfied of smirks on my face, I continued to drive us to that place one calls home.
That was it. It was settled. Another day, another era of pain and suffering.
The gods above were not going to have mercy on my aura. It was Sunday. Sunday for Pete's beardly sake! Sunday! And I'm home, I'm sitting in the comfort of my own bed, and yet the only thing that I can see are the Times New Roman, twelve-point font at the top of my laptop, reading "Assignment: Electric Potential Lab Writeup" with an oh-so special paragraph below detailing Buddha knows what else I must do.
It's like they want me to go crazy.
Deciding not to deal with the horrors that lay within the attached PDF document, I slid my laptop to the side of my bed and snailed headfirst into my pillow. "Mghmmmmmrrr..." I grumbled. "Dear Lord, if you're up there, give me a break, wouldya?"
As if to answer my prayers, maybe for the first time in forever, the door flung open. Whoever was there, I wasn't afraid. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to want to build a snowman, either now or in summer. They should totally... let it go.
Hehe. I'm a fixer-upper.
Rolling my eyes, still face down, I cocked the right side of my head towards the newcomer. Ridiculous outbursts at random points were necessary for a healthy, functioning, and sane individual, but this probably crossed some imaginary copyright lines. Luckily, Disney producers had much better things to do than search for an irate teenager trying for any excuse not to do his physics work.
"Avast!" a voice roared authoritatively.
Anti-virus! my mind went. I inhaled at my own hilarity.
"The game hath arrived! To what art thou up to?"
"Thou," I replied with a yawn, "is tired and requires a nap. And maybe some orange juice." Turning cramped muscles, I examined my little brother. Raiden was basically in cosplay. He'll never call it as such of course. To him, it was an outfit, an elaborate outfit of cardboard, plastic, and aluminum. There was a round shield of tinted foil on his left arm. In his hand was a Nerf sword. He also had a cap spray painted copper. It was, to quote, "for head safety and proper defensive wear."
Translation: I wasted ten bucks.
"Aw come on," Raiden whined. "Get up, bro. Today's the day. The greatest day of our lives!"
"No matter how short-lived," I added sarcastically. "Yes, I'm going to base the entirety of my life decisions, filled with many other wondrous days, on the sole point that SAO comes out today."
"And why not? Come on man! Get hyped!"
"Fine fine. Don't get your sword in a knot."
"Al-raigghhtt!" Raiden chanted, "SAO! SAO! SAO!" He marched downstairs, voice carrying across the halls. Our house had three floors, and I could still hear him praising the sun. Or Aincrad. Either or.
"Mroaw," I grumbled as I decided to get my life back on track. I sat up and stretched. Back muscles cried in protest, popping viciously. Self-inflicted torture turned into pure bliss, and I finally headed downstairs. Snacks were a necessity when history was to be made. You think the Founding Fathers revolted on an empty stomach?
No, of course not. Are you mad?
Arriving at the haven of food, I entered my kitchen and glanced around. Raiden was still doing his whole "getting pumped" thing and jumping around. Seriously, could you imagine that? A semi-grown nearly sixteen-year-old boy jumping up and down with a feldt sword. It's a good thing I'm multicultural or else I would've called an agency or something. Hello? Yeah, I've got an alien in my kitchen. No no, it's my brother.
Rolling my eyes, I sat down and once again plummeted my head down towards wood. Thud. Initiate groaning process: "Gurghhhh..."
"Dude!" Raiden hollered. He waved his arms around, promptly whacking me with that stupid sword of his. If he was any shorter, I would beat him up. Too bad he was five-eight compared to my five-ten (or 172.8 centimeters to 177.8 centimeters if you're not American). Maybe I should keep talking in metric. It's probably better that way.
Eh, forget it. Conformity-schomority. Potato potato.
"Here," Raiden offered, placing down a glass of orange juice. The amazing tonic should cheer me right up. I reached for the glass and drained it in one go. Yes, I was feeling better already.
"Now smile would you?"
My brother sighed as he flicked on the radio. The channel was already set on one of his many entertainment talk shows. What do you know, they were going off about SAO again.
He tuned in, and I tuned out.
I should explain a few things about Raiden. Description-wise, he's pretty intimidating. He's bulky, eats a lot, and can't seem to stop growing. I've officially peaked. I'm sure of it. But no, Raiden's off and turning into a damn giant. He's gonna get as big as Dad. I know it. My dad is six foot... five? Six? Whatever his exact size, the man is a hulk. Literally. And Raiden's gonna be just like him. They share the same brownish hair, almost mud in color. Like mud mud. The kind of mud that you find after a good hour of rain. Maybe it's a luscious chocolate instead; I'm not too sure.
As for weight, Raiden could totally be a wrestler. He weighs heavier than me by about ten pounds. I'm 132 or so and he's like... 170. So wait, that's... ugh... math... it... hurts....
Aha! Thirty-eight pounds.
Maybe I really should take a nap. I can always log in later, right?
Oh well, I've got to make history somehow. Today is the day.
A pair of footsteps alerted me to another presence; one that I have not felt in a long time. Kuzon stepped into our realm of goodies. Today, he was wearing shorts, tennis shoes, and a Nike t-shirt (sponsor!). He had some advanced version of one of Apple's (sponsor!) latest devices in his hand. An earbud fit snugly into his left ear.
"Hey guys," he said in greeting. "Listening to that livestream again?"
"Yep!" Raiden responded for me. I was still deciding whether I liked pulp or non-pulp in my orange juice. It's a major dilemma to any right minded teenage boy. Which is better? Which is healthier? Should I even care? Am I talking to myself? Does that matter?
Is anyone listening?
Does it matter?
Wait, I already asked that one.
I will now proceed to halt before I depress myself. Or be too sarcastic. No no, can't have that.
"Don't you know everything about the game already?" Kuzon asked. He leaned against the doorway and brushed his sweaty brownish-black hair. It was a mix of his two older siblings: Raiden's mud and my darkness. What do you even call that? Beige? Tan? We call it brown just to be simplistic. Unfortunately, I didn't have my brother's knack for fly-ass hair. My hair was in need of another buzzcut. It was in the stage of perpetual spikiness calmed down by the recesses of the old trim. Rough and hedgy, my hair looked quite stubbly on the edges.
"Doesn't mean I can't keep up," Raiden argued while munching on a cookie. He also had a bottle of soda in his hands. Mom would slay him if she ever found out.
"You were a beta tester." Kuzon pointed out the one obvious reason why our household even had two NerveGears in the first place. That's right, Kuzon was the cool cat of the family. He often teased Raiden and me about our gaming problems. Or during exam weeks, lack thereof. Just like when he fawned over Captain Satoru Narita during our Chiba trip, Kuzon considered himself a sporty connoisseur. That little fifteen-year-old womanizer was all about that junk. He dabbled in anything he deemed would make him more popular with the ladies. So that basically was basketball, soccer, football, and baseball.
Add in the martial arts stuff we do and behold! We have a perfectly sculpted specimen of great hormonal activity. I swear if he didn't know how to keep it in his pants...
Shaking my head to clear my absurd thoughts, I snapped back to reality. Good thing there was still gravity. Raiden, the nice guy he was, refilled my orange juice. I hurriedly consumed it. That stuff is amazing.
The drone of the radio created a nice ambient in our now silenced kitchen. Kuzon rummaged for more snacks, and Raiden had the look of an entranced kindergartener listening to a bedtime story. He avidly concentrated to the words while I blocked out the human connection. Some girl was talking and that discouraged me further.
"By the way," Kuzon said, sticking his head out from a cupboard. "I think I got you a date."
"Sho?" Raiden answered right away as if my social skills were a foregone conclusion. Now I needed my brothers to back me up? Yeesh.
"Yes, Sho. I think I got that fine lady from his calculus class to go to the movies with us. You remember Mizue? Calculus girl is her older sis."
Us? When was there an us? Wait wait! Where was I for this?
"Objection," I spoke up, swaying precariously in my chair. "Can someone with a clue tell me why I'm going out with a girl? Please? Right now?"
"Because, you dolt, you need a girlfriend."
"And when did this amazing revelation come to be?" Sarcasm dripped from my faucet of words. "You're just going to make the choices for me now?"
Taxation without representation! Taxation without representation! Quick! Grab the flags!
"Dude, you need to get... well..." Kuzon looked around suspiciously.
"Mom's not here," I reminded him dryly. "You don't need to be a good boy."
"Fine. Laid. You need to get laid."
"Right... because it's the life goal of every teenage male." My sarcasm could not contain itself. The faucet no longer dripped. A slow steady stream escaped from its lips.
"Hey," Raiden interjected before Kuzon could go on another one of his the-ladies-are-awesome-and-you-should-totally-date-one rants. "Lay off on Sho. He doesn't need the heat."
"Fine fine," Kuzon mumbled. He waved his iPod. Or maybe it's an iCase. Whatever. "I gave it my best effort. Guess I'll have to tell her you cancelled."
"Actually," I burst out suddenly. Kuzon looked hopeful, and I almost felt bad for crushing his dreams.
"Tell her that I don't want to date her. Ever. And tell her that the chances of her beating me on that calc test Monday is so slim that she might as well try fishing for a great white shark in the Yangtze River. Tell that to her."
There was a considerable pause after my caustic outburst. Slowly, Kuzon blinked owlishly. The gallant boy was stunned.
"You can paraphrase," I added, driving the point home. "Verbatim if you like. Or not. Your choice."
Muttering a few comments about me being a hopeless case, my younger brother nabbed another pack of snacks and left the room. Raiden just looked at me in disappointment. "He was only trying to help."
"Unwanted," I muttered with an eye roll.
"Okay." Raiden shrugged and went back to his radio. Barely twenty-nine seconds passed before he shot upright. "Holy cow! Dude! We gotta hurry! Launch is in like, two minutes!"
Just to verify, I glanced at the time. 12:52 was hardly 'two minutes.' I still didn't feel the hype, but Raiden was right. Today is the day. Today history is made. Video games will be publicly famed all over the world. No longer will gamers creep in the shadows of unpopularity and slink in the wells of uncoolness. Today gamers will rise up! We will revel in our newfound power! Players of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!
"Alright," I grinned with the roar of revolutionaries in my mind. "Let's get this over with."
Raiden rolled his eyes, muttering at my lack of enthusiasm.
I simply laughed and patted him on the back. As I walked, I stifled a yawn. I suppose this was it. It's almost time. In a few minutes, the world of gaming will change forever. I climbed the stairs and opened the door. Grabbing a "Do not disturb" sign, I hung it outside. My mom knew the plan. We would get two hours of gametime, log out, and then go out to eat. Any free time would be dedicated to the new world of Aincrad.
I walked over to my shelf, picking up the new NerveGear. This was the device that would transport me to another world, to another dimension. This was the same thing as the Fountain of Youth, the gold at the end of the rainbow. I connected the device and went through all the checks. Calibration? Check. Full battery? Check. Stable internet connection? Check. I looked over at my clock and read 12:58 PM.
Right. I stuck the helmet on my head, swishing it back and forth for comfortability. As I laid there, I thought of the world. From my brother's description, it was supposed to be a huge floating castle with many different floors. The place was supposed to be super realistic. Difficulty is pretty high; the beta testers only got to floor ten. Even better, every weapon was supposed to be in there. Anyone could be anybody.
Little old me could be an amazing warrior.
This shouldn't be too bad.
I flicked my eyes to the internal NerveGear clock. 12:59 PM.
Less than one more minute.
Suddenly, the time changed.
The boy sniffled, pouting and wrinkling his nose, the remnants of his sneeze wilting away.
"Ugh, what the--"
"Yo, you alright?" the voice of a friend entered into his ringing ears. He sniffed again and rubbed his eyes.
"Yeah... yeah." he said, clearing his sinuses and shaking off whatever in the world that was.
Turning around to address his buddy and the team of players before him, the boy's vision cleared. He was standing before another young man, 16-years of age with dyed blonde hair, faded into brown as it trimmed down, while reaching the sides of his head. The guy eyed his friend with a questioning gaze. His auburn eyes ran over the brown-haired boy's figure once, then twice, before he frowned, crossing his arms over a yellow jersey, and bending a well-toned leg.
"You sure, Satoru?" He asked again, raising an eyebrow.
He wouldn't receive an answer right away, as the boy in question looked up to the sky.
It was a partly cloudy day today, just cool enough for him to bust out his long-sleeved compression shirt. The black fabric clung to his skin tightly underneath his mock jersey, the numberemblazoned in blocky black letters on the back of the yellow tee.
Satoru rung out his wrists and legs as he got his bearings.
Chiba high school's soccer field, the bleachers cleared, and the wind a mild tickle. He smirked and nodded, letting out a long breath as he walked passed Ichiru, raising his fist.
"Don't worry, man. I'm cool. Let's give this play another run before we let out."
Ichiru took a glance at the fist, before nodding, bumping his with his friend's.
"Alright," he said, before addressing the rest of the team, cupping his left hand along the left side of his mouth as he used his other to gesture towards the large group. The numberwas lettered in the same pattern on his jersey.
"You heard 'im, reset! One more run!"
There followed a resounding yell of approval as the team of yellow jerseys got back to work. Saturdays or Sundays, the Chiba High soccer team took no days off. If they were going to win regionals, they couldn't afford to waste time. Not even today, the day before the greatest all of days. Oh yeah, they didn't forget.
"See ya next week, Satoru!" a chorus of similar cries said. The boy waved with an easy smile at his departing teammates and slipped on his left shoe, checking the time. Half past twelve? He was gonna be late! Hopping around, the soccer captain managed to slide his sock over his left foot; then in it went into his sneakers.
"Come on, where are you?"
Thankfully, a few minutes later, Ichiru came out the locker room. The boy was drying his blonde hair, with a wry grin plastered across his face, the one he usually wore after a good practice. He waved to his friend and tossed him the towel.
"Hair's still wet dude."
Satoru caught the cloth absentmindedly, beginning to dry his hair with a sigh. Once it dried, it resumed to be the curly mess of brown everyone recognized it to be. He whipped the cloth over his shoulder and slapped Ichiru's arm.
"Thanks, but come on man!" He said and jogged for the entrance of the school.
Ichiru raised an eyebrow, before his eyes widened. "Oh, crap! Today's the day isn't it?!"
"Haha, duh!! Let's go let's go!"
The two teammates soon sprinted out of school grounds and towards their homes within the city, making sure to abide by the laws in place for them to, you know, not get run over by an oncoming vehicle. Seriously, these drivers around here literally didn't care.
Unfortunately, they managed to get stopped by a traffic light on the way, having to wait until all the various forms of transportation passed by.
Satoru bounced on the tips of his toes, grinning like mad. He couldn't wait to get home. Like Ichiru said, Today was the day! The day gaming got a whole lot cooler, and way more immersive. Glancing out the corner of his eye, Satoru noticed Ichiru bouncing in a similar fashion.
He dissolved into laughter, clutching his stomach "Dude, what're you so hyped for?" he managed to ask, stopping his hopping.
Ichiru caught himself mid-jump, chuckling as he ceased his own bouncing.
"I dunno, man. Just can't wait for you to try it out! Can't believe your mom let you get it!"
"Yeah," Satoru shrugged with a content smile. "Considering me begging my spawn-of-Satan elder sister to tutor me all month, the corresponding upkeep with grades, and the fact that we won our last game? The woman couldn't say no!"
"Yes, she most definitely could've." Ichiru deadpanned.
Satoru deflated like an airless balloon. "Yeah... yeah she could've."
Ichiru laughed and slipped his hands into the pockets of his sweats. The two watched the vehicles come and go in silence for a few seconds, before he asked, "So where's Akane? Didn't see her on the field today."
Satoru shrugged; shoulder shifting his bag full of soccer gear to a more comfortable position. "I told you. She's home packing. Remember? She's going on that trip to Hokkaido tomorrow."
Ichiru whistled and raised his hands behind his head, looking to the sky. "Oh yeah. Man, that must be fun. At least it's way better than what Ryuji's been doing. The dude stayed home... again, as usual. He doesn't want to leave the place."
Satoru's shoulders bopped up and down once more, and he burrowed his hands into the pockets of his wind-breaker. "What's new? He's been like that since the start of junior high," he sighed, watching the countdown of the pedestrian light at the other end of the street reach ten.
Then again, who could blame him?
Satoru lowered his head at the thought, his eyes traveling to the ground, then focusing on his sneakers. His brain slowly began to slip into the depths of subconsciousness, and he--for some apparent reason--began to reminisce on random parts of his life.
He acknowledged the blank spaces he never seemed to be able to fill, the events that shaped the person he was today, the family he had...
And the family he didn't.
Memories upon memories washed upon the shores of his psyche, and the mind-numbing zooming of the vehicles that passed seemed to unhinge recollections of things he thought were long forgotten.
Things that... he thought were--
Jolted out of his thoughts, Satoru shook his head quickly. His eyes shot up to the light.
It had changed. They were able to cross.
"You really alright?" Ichiru asked. "You looked way too distant just now."
"Yeah yeah," He waved away the question. "I'm fine dude, just... trying to remember something." he said in partial truth, walking with him to the other end of the walkway.
"Mhm." Ichiru hummed, the disbelief evident in his voice.
As the two arrived at the other side, they bid each other farewell.
"Gotta drop off Ryuji's homework before heading home. Make sure you don't phase out and like, fall into a garbage can or something alright?"
"Oh shut up." Satoru rolled his eyes at the friend's light jab. Ichiru chuckled and waved goodbye heading right.
"Tell me how it was alright?! Like everything!" he called out.
Satoru nodded and waved. "I will tomorrow! Just focus on getting it yourself!"
The boy sighed, letting an exasperated, yet content smile slip onto his features. As soon as Ichiru was out of sight, Satoru turned and started on his way home. Along the way, he found himself transitioning from a walk to a saunter, then to a jog, and finally cascading into an all-out sprint!
He didn't even know how anxious he really was until he finally appeared at his house, opening the small gate and getting the mail in one go. He closed the metal flap behind him and rushed into the house, quickly slipping his shoes off and tossing the bundle of mail on the table, screaming out to anyone in the house.
He then noticed his mom frowning at him from the kitchen at the end of the hall, her short brown hair adorning then sides of her face, and equally brown eyes
"Inside voice kid," she said curtly.
Satoru clamped his hands over his mouth and nodded as he was greeted by the family's Japanese Akita puppy, Hokuto. The young canine barked, his curled tail wagging back and forth as his tongue hung out the left side of his mouth. The boy grinned.
"Hey boy." He mumbled, dropping to a crouch and scratching behind his ears, before looking back to his mother. "Sorry, mom. Where's Seya and Maiko?"
"Seya had a meeting with the student council, but she should be home any moment now. She shook her hands and reached for a towel. "Maiko's at Hana's house." She quickly glanced at one of the house's wall clocks.
"And I have to get back to the station soon."
"Right." Satoru sighed, heading towards the stairs, Hokuto in tow.
His mother was a detective for the Chiba Prefectural Police. She didn't really come home until eight or so, though she'd pass by the house once or twice--before she actually came home--to check on them.
She worked hard, that was indisputable, everyone knew it.
"Going to try it out now?" she asked, tying her hair up into a manageable bun, a knowing smirk aimed at her son. Satoru was already halfway up the steps. Wow, way too predictable. Either that or she was just really good at being his mother.
"Yeah, the servers finally open today and it's twelve fifty-three. I want to get on. Don't worry, I'll do my homework right after I test it out. Promise."
His mom looked at him for a few moments, her brown eyes staring at him intently. The boy stared back, squinting his eyes for even more dramatic flair. He was dead set on winning this battle of silence.
After a few seconds, she finally caved. "Fine, I trust you Satoru. Just make sure your homework is done by the time I get back. Alright?"
He blinked twice, lips parting in subtle awe.
Did he just win... a staring contest... with his mom? It was a miracle... The goddess of luck and good fortune shined upon his feeble head. Satoru nodded eagerly, mouth splitting into a bright grin as he shot up the remaining steps and into his room.
Hokuto barked as if thanking her as well before bounding up the steps after him.
"Oh yeah, there's some food in the fridge! Curry and Omurice! Don't touch Seya's or Maiko's! You know how they get! I'm leaving!"
"Right! Got it! Thanks!" He called downstairs, not really listening to most of what she'd said. He let Hokuto saunter in before shutting the door behind him. Satoru had kicked off his shoes at the door thankfully, if he'd forgotten that, his head would've been on a platter for his sisters instead.
Throwing his bag on the floor, the soccer player unzipped his jacket and proceeded to change into something more comfortable. Hokuto had gotten comfortable in the doggy bed by the edge his owner's. He watched the boy with energetic eyes, as Satoru put on a gray shirt and black basketball shorts.
Satoru sighed, running a hand through his curled locks. He inhaled a long breath, looking at the clock as the time changed.
"Twelve, fifty-seven." he breathed out. He couldn't stop himself from shaking, this was it.
This was the day he'd been waiting for.
Satoru's eyes landed on the dark gray, Cerebro-esque helmet that rested on his bed, laying next to it, a cartridge for the first, real game, ever created for such a console.
The words, imprinted upon the top shouted up at him silently.
SWORD ART ONLINE