Phantom Bullet (ファントム・バレット, Fantomu Baretto?) is the 5th book in the Sword Art Online Light Novel series, published on August 10, 2010.
A year had passed since «Sword Art Online» (SAO) was cleared. Kirigaya Kazuto (Kirito) was asked by Kikuoka Seijirou to investigate a game called Gun Gale Online, specifically a player who called himself «Death Gun» and possessed a weapon which seemed to link deaths in the virtual reality (VR) world to those in the real world. Upon entering the game, Kirito met Sinon who taught him the ropes around the game. They both entered the Gun Gale Online tournament, Bullet of Bullets (BoB). Kirito displayed his amazing skills although he was only a newcomer to the game. As the story continued, Kirito found out that the mysterious deaths were linked to a red guild, named Laughing Coffin, in «SAO».
In a bar inside Gun Gale Online, XeXeeD, an accomplished player and victor of the second Bullet of Bullets tournament in the game, was being broadcasted on MMO Stream as he expressed his opinion on the failings of agility-type avatars, and mocked players who used them. Yamikaze, the runner-up of the tournament also taking part in the stream, questioned XeXeeD's discourse on a player's chosen attribute type being the source of their victory, reminding him that the tournament did not focus on one-on-one encounters. XeXeeD attributed Yamkikaze's concern to denial and continued his speech, stating that fighting styles in online games could fluctuate in effectiveness due to the change in game balance over time and referring to his battle with Yamikaze to illustrate how a strength-vitality build dominated an agility build. However, Yamikaze attributed XeXeeD's victory in the battle to a rare gun he had acquired just before the tournament.
Most of the people at the bar grumbled at XeXeeD's speech and complained about how he had promoted the creation and usage of agility-focused avatars prior to a system update that drastically reduced their effectiveness, and the previous Bullet of Bullets. A cloaked man then walked directly under the holo-panel and pointed a handgun at the holo-panel for several seconds before accosting XeXeeD for his actions. The cloaked man then claimed that he would judge XeXeeD with his alleged true power, before making the sign of the cross and shooting at XeXeeD's image on the holo-panel. Most people disregarded this action until XeXeeD abruptly disconnected. The shrouded man then made a proclamation that this was a demonstration of a supposed true power and true strength, and declared that his name and the name of his gun were Death Gun, before logging off.
Kirigaya Kazuto arrived downtown at a high-class sweet shop after being called up to discuss a certain incident by Kikuoka Seijirou, a member of the Virtual Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the first person to visit Kazuto at the hospital after he cleared Sword Art Online and awoke in the real world. After Seijirou offered Kazuto to order something, they began discussing the rise in virtual reality crimes and the motivations behind them. This led Seijirou to explain two recent curious incidents within the virtual world that appeared to be connected to the real one.
The previous month, an accomplished player named XeXeeD was being featured on «MMO Stream»'s «This Week's Winners» program when a player calling himself Death Gun appeared in a game called Gun Gale Online (GGO). The player made a speech about judgment and power before firing a gun at a televised image of XeXeeD, who disconnected from the show seconds later. Two days afterwards, a landlord reported an unpleasant smell and found the corpse of Shigemura Tamotsu, the person controlling XeXeed, who died due to heart failure, according to the results of an autopsy. Two weeks later, a similar incident occurred when Death Gun interrupted a squadron meeting in GGO, repeated his speech on judgement and power, and shot «Usujio Tarako», another prominent player, who was disconnected almost immediately afterward. A newspaper seller found the person controlling Tarako dead in his apartment three days later and the autopsy confirmed the cause of death as heart failure.
Concerned by these events, Seijirou prompted Kazuto to compare the differences between the NerveGear and the AmuSphere and they both made a few speculations before concluding that it was impossible to kill someone in the real world while inside a virtual game. Annoyed that Seijirou was wasting his time, Kazuto was about to leave, but Seijirou stopped and asked him to investigate the situation further by connecting to Gun Gale Online and confronting Death Gun. After Seijirou revealed that his superiors had grown concerned over the incidents and wanted all the facts before it could garner more attention, Kazuto accepted his request, as he was offered a compensation and was curious about the case himself. At the end of their conversation, Seijirou presented an audio recording of Death Gun's speech, which allowed Kazuto to feel a genuine desire for slaughter behind the player's words.
Yuuki Asuna recalled the events of the past year as she waited for Kazuto to come for their date. Following the meeting, Asuna and Kazuto explored the Imperial Palace and the Edo Castle ruins. After helping a couple and their daughters take a picture of themselves, and then having a picture of them taken, the two began discussing how to let their adoptive daughter Yui interact with the real world, as well as the differences between the virtual and real worlds. It was there that Kazuto revealed the reason behind choosing the Imperial Palace as the location for their date. Aside from the fact that he was called to a meeting in that area, the Imperial Palace was similar to the floating castle Aincrad. At the end of the date, Kazuto revealed to Asuna that he was going to temporarily convert his avatar to Gun Gale Online, to her surprise.
Sinon, Ginrou, Dyne, and his squadron were in the middle of an ambush. Sinon thought how they appeared to be a Player versus Player (PvP) team but, in reality, were actually a disgusting group of individuals who targeted weak opponents in groups in order to ambush them and take their items. Sinon commented about them being a bunch of people without pride. Sinon recalled her first impressions of GGO and how she wished her character had been a rough emotionless male, prior to discovering that one could not pick the opposite gender than one's gender in real life.
Back in the present, the squadron spotted the target of their ambush: a group of seven players that included a cloaked individual, whom the squadron briefly speculated to be Death Gun. Feeling uneasy about the cloaked player due to his apparent lack of equipment and the difference in his composure from the rest of his squadron, Sinon requested Dyne for permission to kill him first. Dyne declined Sinon's suggestion, deeming him to be a lesser threat than the player with a Minimi, and Sinon reluctantly agreed to focus on the Minimi user before the cloaked player. The narration described the two types of guns in GGO, live ammunition and optical, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each type. The story of how Sinon had obtained her «PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate II» was also told. Three months previously, she was exploring the large dungeon beneath the capital city of SBC Glocken by herself when she accidentally fell through a trap to the lowest and most dangerous area of the dungeon. There, she encountered an undocumented monster that could have been classified as a boss. Seeking only to return to her save point through dying, she had resolved to inflict as much damage as she could against the boss. However, unexpectedly, she managed to defeat it by exploiting the limited range of its attacks and targeting its weak point with minimally damaging attacks but with ridiculous precision and ludicrous accuracy, not missing a single shot for three hours. Among the items the boss dropped was the Hecate. Sinon initially considered selling the sniper rifle to pay for her subscription fees, but decided otherwise after feeling the item's power, and vowed that it would be her first and only partner.
During the ambush in the present, Dyne's squadron commenced their attack on the other players. Utilizing the sniper's ability to fire their first shot without a Bullet Line, Sinon eliminated the Minimi user, but was unable to remove the cloaked player as well. From her position well away from the battle, Sinon watched in shock as the cloaked player removed his mantle to reveal a «GE M134 Minigun». As the unaware squadron moved into range and defeated several of their opponents, Ginrou was killed by high speed shots from the minigun user's barrage. Seeing how the cloaked man smiled in the midst of battle, Sinon saw that action as a symbol of his strength and desired to personally kill him and become stronger, thus she rushed to join her squadron members.
Upon her arrival, Dyne, demoralized by the appearance and power of the minigun user, revealed to be a bodyguard named Behemoth, suggested logging out so as not to face defeat. Sinon confronted him about how pathetic his idea was, and had the surviving members of the squadron attack Behemoth all at once to make him hesitate in his barrage. The scene moved on to Sinon running for cover from Behemoth's minigun barrage as she desperately tried to find a way to defeat Behemoth. After Dyne managed to dispose of one of the enemies and stun another in a suicide attack, creating a temporary cover for Sinon in the process, Sinon navigated through a ruined skyscraper and jumped out of a window sill, exploiting the minigun's inability to shoot directly above itself as she fired a final, powerful round at Behemoth, blowing an enormous hole through Behemoth's face and body and thus defeating him.
Asada Shino (Sinon) thought of how many days of school she had left, feeling that the school was more like an asylum. Shino walked out of a bookstore, where she met her ex-friend Endou and her associates, who demanded money to pay for the train fare after supposedly spending all of theirs on karaoke. Shino recalled how Endou and the other two girls had approached her and became her first friends, but began taking advantage of her kindness until it culminated in her discovery of them in her room without her notice, along with some men she did not know. From then on, Shino decided to sever the friendship between her and Endou and her company. As revenge, Endou uncovered obscure information on an incident in Shino's past, which was the reason why Shino lived alone, and exposed it to the whole school, compelling the students and even the teachers to ostracize her.
As Shino tried to leave Endou behind, Endou called upon Shino's weakness of guns as she made a gun with her fingers and imitated the sound of a gunshot, driving Shino into a state of fear and convulsion. Shino, however, was saved by her classmate Shinkawa Kyouji who pretended that he was leading the police to the scene where Endou was bullying Shino. The scene changed to introducing Kyouji and describing how he had introduced and described Gun Gale Online to Shino in order to help her overcome her fear of guns. This part described how the avatar "Sinon", a ruthless sniper who became famous in the wasteland of GGO, was created.
Kyouji asked Shino about the ambush and Shino described the failure and how Behemoth slaughtered four of their six members. The chapter moved on to describing the types of players in GGO, namely the agility (AGI) and strength (STR) types, and how the newer guns were inaccessible to agility types because of the high strength requirement needed to wield the newer guns that were more powerful than their predecessors.
After parting ways with Kyouji, Shino returned to her apartment and thought about the gun model she had obtained from the previous Bullet of Bullets as a prize, the Procyon SL, classified as an optical gun in GGO. It was revealed that Shino initially wanted to choose in-game money over the gun since she could not stand anything related to guns in real life but had decided to receive the gun instead in order to overcome her fear. Hoping that her recent victory against Behemoth had given her the strength to finally recover from her trauma, Shino took out the gun model and held it in her hands, but failed as the action suddenly brought back the memories behind her fear of guns.
The scene moved on to describing the death of her father in a car crash while Shino was a child and how her mother's mind, traumatized from watching him and unable to help him, had regressed to her teenage years. Since then, Shino's mother wished for peace and quiet and began to love Shino like a little sister. Shino recalled the incident in which a persistent salesman frightened her mother when Shino was nine years old, and how the peaceful, sheltered, and relatively uneventful circumstances they lived in may have led to the incident when she was in fifth grade. Shino was at a post office when a burglar burst into the post office she and her mother were at, and threatened to shoot her mother. To protect her mother, Shino wrestled the gun from the burglar and pulled the trigger on him three times, eventually killing him. This was the event that eventually led to Shino's great fear of guns, as well as ostracism from adults and her peers. In her room, after vomiting and cleaning up the mess, Shino tried to think of how GGO and looking at pictures while killing monsters online with guns could heal the psychological scars no one else could, and thus help her overcome her fear.
Death Gun viewed the Gun Gale Online news and read a conversation between players discussing the deaths of XeXeeD and Usujio Tarako regarding their deaths at the hands of Death Gun. After moving away from the web browser, Death Gun recalled his plan to kill two more people in the third Bullet of Bullets and how his power and identity were unquestionable unlike «The Black Swordsman». He believed that no one would ever find out who he was aside from his other half. The chapter closed with Death Gun viewing Sinon and her "Ultimate Ratio Hecate II" on his hit-list and thinking of how "her mind and body could become his" as he stroked the photo of Sinon.
Kazuto recalled Asuna's expression when he told her that he was going to temporarily transfer his avatar to Gun Gale Online and how he could not create and train a new avatar in time to enter the third Bullet of Bullets. Kazuto went to the hospital where he was greeted by Nurse Aki who suddenly extended both of her hands, and examined Kazuto's body.
Kazuto put on the AmuSphere and entered the world of GGO and described the majestic view of Gun Gale Online. Kirito converted his character and to his surprise, he ended up looking like a girl. Another player offered a large sum of money to buy his rare avatar. The character, a rare M9000 type that presumably could only be obtained through having a large amount of playtime, looked exceptionally like a female. After politely refusing the player's offer and wandering around GGO for a while, Kirito met Sinon, whom he asked for help, and Sinon said that he needed credits to play.
Sinon took Kirito to a casino where Kirito, to everyone's surprise, managed to beat the Untouchable! game and earn around 300,000 credits which he used to buy a «Kagemitsu G4» (150,000 credits) and a «FN Five-Seven», along with pre-prepared bullet magazines, a thick bulletproof jacket, a belt-type optical gun shielding field, and some other small equipment.
After his shopping spree, Sinon noticed that they were nearly late for the tournament registration deadline. She explained how the only instantaneous movement was after being killed and being teleported to the revival area. Along the way, to the Governor's Office, Kirito noticed a buggy and decided to rent it to reach the office on time. After the registration, it was shown that Kirito and Sinon were in the same preliminary block but would not meet each other until the finals.
The scene moved on to where Kirito and Sinon prepared to change and Sinon found out that Kirito was a guy, to which she was infuriated by her shamelessness in front of a man as she gave Kirito the cold shoulder. She later ended up giving Kirito the basics of the Bullet of Bullets tournament and told him that after the explanation, they were officially enemies. After a brief meeting with Spiegel, Kyouji's in-game avatar, during which Kirito could not help but tease Sinon about her actions prior to his gender clarification, the scene moved on to Kirito in the stadium for his first match, where he was initially confused but ended up with an amazing win, astonishing the audience with his amazing swordsmanship as he cut through bullets to defeat his opponent.
After the match, Kirito was confronted by a masked man with a tattered gray mantle who Kirito suspected to be the renowned Death Gun. The masked man cryptically asked Kirito if he was the same person as the Black Swordsman from Sword Art Online. As Kirito caught a glimpse of a grinning coffin tatto on the man's hand, the mantled player declared that regardless of whether Kirito was really his target, he would kill him. The scene moved on to Kirito remembering "Laughing Coffin", the killing guild in SAO and its leader, PoH. Kirito described PoH as a handsome person who was well-versed in three languages: English, Japanese, and Spanish. Kirito moved on to describing PoH's actual ability as a talented dagger user and how the lawless followers were all attracted to PoH the same way that people were attracted to Heathcliff. Kirito also recalled the public announcement of the creation of Laughing Coffin approximately a year after SAO started, when the thirty member guild deliberately attacked and killed a small party out in the field on New Year's Eve.
Eight months later, after Laughing Coffin had slaughtered hundreds of players and made it clear that they would not stop or be negotiated with, Kirito and fifty other high-leveled players from the Clearing Group, deeming them the greatest threat to them, formed a coalition to vanquish the player killer guild after one of its members exposed the location of their hideout. However, through unknown means, the members of Laughing Coffin anticipated the assault and launched an aggressive counterattack when the crusaders moved into their headquarters, forcing the coalition to reluctantly kill several of the player killers before managing to subdue the rest while sustaining heavy losses themselves. Kirito himself was compelled to take the lives of two Laughing Coffin members to protect the other members of the Clearing Group. Sinon later found Kirito in the middle of recalling Death Gun and, when she approached him, Kirito grabbed her hand and placed it on his chest, then his forehead.
Sinon recalled how Kirito had grabbed her hand and held onto it, and how she actually felt the warmth of his hand despite being in a virtual reality. Sinon came back to her senses as she returned to the battlefield where she disposed of her semi-final opponent, earning her place in the main tournament. The scene moved on to her match against Kirito where it seemed that Kirito was intentionally going to let himself get shot by Sinon. Realizing this, Sinon was enraged as she demanded Kirito to fight seriously. Apologizing, Kirito offered a duel right then and there to Sinon where Kirito predicted Sinon's Bullet Line through her eyes in the scope and ended up winning the final round in the preliminaries. After a brief discussion on Kirito's actions, Sinon resigned after Kirito's persistence at not hurting girls.
- The dressing room scene was not part of the web version of the novel. Instead, after registering, Sinon and Kirito introduced themselves without going to the dressing room.
- In the original print of the volume, Agil's shop was stated to be located on the 50th Floor of New Aincrad, even though that floor had not been reached in the published version of the novel at that point in time.
- This error was corrected in later reprints, where Agil's shop is stated to be located in Yggdrasil City.
- The mention of the significance of the Tokyo Imperial Palace in Japan is also utilized in one of the author's other series, Accel World.