It has been two months since Sword Art Online was cleared. Sadly, approximately three hundred players remained comatose, their minds not having returned from SAO. Among those still catatonic is Asuna Yuuki, known in SAO simply as "Asuna". Kazuto Kirigaya, aka "Kirito", trades information about his time trapped in SAO to a task force assigned to investigate the incident in exchange for Asuna's whereabouts. He splits his time between visiting Asuna and working to repair his relationship with his younger sister Suguha, which became tense before he entered SAO after Kazuto learned that he had been adopted by his aunt after his parents died, making Suguha his cousin. All the while, Suguha is conflicted over her feelings for her brother...
One day, Kazuto visits Asuna and becomes acquainted with Nobuyuki Sugou, the chief of research for RECT Progress and an employee of Asuna's father. Sugou reveals to Kazuto his lust for Asuna, having wished to win her over before she entered SAO, only to have his advances spurned. With Asuna now comatose and not able to reject him, he arranges with Asuna's father to have her wed to him in exchange for having helped develop the Full-Dive technology instrumental to SAO and that now kept Asuna's body alive. Sugou tells a furious Kazuto that he does not want him around Asuna and her family anymore, and mockingly invites him to their wedding in one week.
After returning home, Suguha finds Kazuto despondent in his room. When he breaks down in tears because Asuna was somewhere he could not find her, she comforts him.
The following morning, Kazuto gets an email from Agil, containing an image attached that grabs his attention: a screencap featuring a person that greatly resembles Asuna!