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Clashing Blades - Arc 4

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Arc 4 of Sword Art Online: Clashing Blades.


Chapter 18

3 Weeks Later

I wake up with a start, once again shaking off the recurring dream of me being put down by Yamato. I sigh and shake my head, bringing myself back into reality. I lazily roll out of bed and get myself dressed, sliding downstairs. It was dark. Unusually so. The blinds on the windows were down, permitting no light entrance. Even with my sharper than normal vision I couldn’t see anything. And then the lights were suddenly thrown on, and multiple roaring voices said something. I didn’t know what they said, because I was busy grabbing the nearest chair and throwing it forward from fright.

It hit Avro.

“Agh!” He said, falling to the ground. “Dammit! What was that?!”

“Oh, geez.” I said. “You scared me.”

In fact, a lot of people were here for some reason.

Avro, Misaki, Gawain, Knight, Trinity, Iskandar, Trinity, Bedivere, Vincent, Gareth, Guren, Agravaine, Kana, Diana, Asuka, and Adeline.

Weird.

“Okay, what’re all you doing here?” I ask.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Misaki asks.

I look around. There was a cake, a few presents, and streamers…

Weird.

“Wait, what’s today?” I ask.

“Tuesday.” Avro said.

“The date, jackass.”

“June 14th.” Asuka tells me.

“Oh, wait.” I say. “That’s a day.”

“Happy birthday, you ass.” Misaki told me.

“Oh, right.” I said. “I knew that.”

“How could you forget your own birthday?” Adeline wondered.

“I didn’t.” I inform. “I told you I knew that.”

“CAKE TIME!” Agravaine shouted gleefully, making a run for the cake on the counter, but she’s quickly tackled by Guren.

“Woah, woah, calm your stuff.” He says.

Iskandar steps up to me and roughly pats my head, almost putting me to the ground.

“Happy birthday, Ishi!” He said with a roar. “Nineteen years old today!”

“Geez…” I say, getting my hair back in order. “Never thought I’d be spending my birthday in this game.”

“Nice to know life is still full of surprises, eh?” Gareth called, stepping up. “Long time no see.”

“Yeah.” I nod.

“Cake time, now?” Agravaine squeaked, putting on puppy dog eyes.

“I don’t really like cake.” I say. “Go nuts.”

She squirmed free of Guren’s grasp and went for the cake, quickly taking a big ass piece for herself which might as well have been a whole half of the thing.

So after everyone got settled down and I was forced to get a slice of cake by Asuka, which actually turned out to be pretty good, I got a few presents. A medicinal book from Bedivere, which actually contained some interesting things, a big ass cape from Iskandar, red with black accents and fur lined at the collar, which was way too roomy for me, but I took it anyway, and a black fingerless glove from Asuka, which was inscribed with a white runic marking on the back, which I replaced my original white fingerless glove with. It fit perfectly, and the rune shined a bit as I worked it out.

“Now you should be able to perform runic abilities without actually pulling out your rune.” Asuka explained. “Should make it a bit easier for you to do things mid-combat.”

“Neat.” I say, inspecting the thing. “Thanks.”

She nods happily at my approval, and takes another bite of the cake.

“So what’ve you been up to, Ishi?” Gareth asks, adjusting his collar armor a bit. “Haven’t heard from you in a while.”

“Ah, you know. Same old.” I say.

“Other than the crap ton of new stuff that’s been going on, right?” He smirks.

“Other than that.” I say. “What about you?”

“Same old.” He says. “Doing missions and stuff like always. Training here and there.”

“What about you, Vincent?” I ask, turning to him. “What’ve you been doing.”

“Pretty much the same as Gareth.” He told me. “You’re the one who’s been out doing the fun stuff, and you’re not even in the Court anymore.”

“Funny how that works, huh?” I say.

“Yeah, you could say that.” He said, shrugging taking a swig of his drink, walking over to Knight to talk to him.

“So, you’re nineteen, now, huh?” Kana asks, sitting next to me. “You’re old.”

“That’s not old, Kana.” Diana said, sitting at the other side of the table, next to Gareth. “We’re not too far behind, you know.”

“You’re fifteen and I’m fourteen.” Kana countered.

“That's only a few years.” Diana counter-countered.

“Meh.” Kana crossed her arms.

“C’mon, Diana.” Diana said, getting up. “Let’s go get some cake.”

Kana gets up and follows her sister, and Gareth decides to go. Misaki comes in and sits down across the table with me.

“Sorry I didn’t know what to get you.” Misaki said.

“That’s alright.” I tell her. “I don’t need a whole bunch of presents. Didn’t really need a party either.”

“Yeah, I know you don’t like parties, but I figured why not?” Misaki said with a smile. “It is your first birthday since we got stuck here.”

“Kinda sounds bad when you put it that way.” I note.

“Well if you take it the wrong way it does.” She said.

“I might.” I play, looking to Agravaine, who was trying to sneak another giant piece of cake, but is stopped by Kana, who slaps her hand playfully before taking her own slice.

“Well, I’m going to head out.” I say, getting out of my seat.

“Out?” Misaki asked. “Where?”

I shrug, leaving the building without saying another word, leaving my friends to finish up my party without me.

---

I head to Pendragon HQ, deciding to try out the new glove I got from Asuka, going to the training courtyard and readying myself. I charge up the glove with my blade in hand and swipe at a target dummy, cleanly bisecting the thing with relative swiftness and ease. I slice into another one, my sword making white trails in the air as I cut through again and again. The runes definitely assisted me with my technique, adding even more swiftness and power, as well as making my moves more effective to perform, and since I could use this from the new glove, I could easily switch things up mid-combat to gain an edge where I need it.

It was fun, actually.

I wasn’t into infusing my attacks with elements or anything like Asuka was, but the way I could get more speed and power out of my attacks and combine it with my previous skills makes for even more lethality and unpredictability.

I spin around and slice forward, cutting two dummies in half at once, before flipping back and throwing four knives into another with near instantaneous speed, before Shifting up and slicing it into four.

“Oh, so this is where you went off to.” I hear Asuka say after a few hours of me doing this alone. “Just left your own birthday party, huh?”

“Not really into parties.” I tell her. “This thing you gave me is pretty damn cool, though.”

“Thought you’d like it.” She smiled. “Finding some use out of it?”

“Oh yeah.” I say, cutting into another training dummy and flipping up, slicing another vertically in the air and landing clean on my feet. “I have a feeling I’m gonna like using this.”

“Well it looks like I don’t really need to give you any instruction.” Asuka noted. “You’re pretty quick on the uptake.”

“I’m a fast learner.” I say. “I adapt to new things quicker than most.”

“I can see that.”

A few more minutes of her spectating me while I practice and she speaks up again.

“Why don’t we have a little sparring match?” She suggests. “Me and you.”

“You know you’re going to lose, right?” I ask with a smile.

“You don’t know that!” She argues.

“Yeah I do.” I say, initiating a duel with her.

We stand at a distance from each other, preparing ourselves for the duel. We both move at once, who moved first being impossible to tell, and slam our blades into each other, spinning around each other from the impact and sliding off, rearing back and striking again, locking blades there. Asuka jumps up suddenly, flipping over me and sliding off my blade, landing behind me and attempting to slash at my back. I put Gilgamesh behind my back and reflect the blow with its armguard, before spinning back and delivering my own series of strikes, which she successfully parries before dodging the last swing and distancing herself.

She moves on me again, running to my side before moving in sharply and slicing at me. I brace my blade up to block the attack before she makes another low slash. I kick my foot out, the metal guard on my shoe rebounding her slash before I quickly stomp down on her blade, pinning it down before raising my other foot and slamming it down onto her. She puts her arm up and grabs my leg before it hits her, throwing me back, forcing me to twist around and plant my foot down to avoid falling. I use that to spin around and deliver a quick horizontal slash that she ducks under, flicking her blade out of the ground and sending some dirt into my face. I close my eyes but instinctively hold out Gilgamesh to grab her blade as it came at me, opening my eyes again and going for another attack. She grabs the handle of my sword to hold it back.

Both of us held each other’s swords at bay, as we pushed against each other. I make a move and jump up, kicking he square in the stomach, pushing her back before I jump up and spin in the air, coming down on her with my blade and just barely grazing past her as she lets herself fall to the ground to avoid getting hit. She rolls back and lands on her feet a distance away. She comes at me, infusing her sword with flames by sliding her hand along the blade. I take that as cue to charge up my own rune and run at her, my blade shining white. We strike at once, the metal of our swords clanging off each other loudly, white sparks and red flames flying from the point of impact. We clash blades twice more before I back up and charge my blade up even more, Shifting up and slicing upwards hard, Asuka losing her grip on her sword causing it to fly into the air. I had my blade pointed at her neck before it embedded itself into the ground a distance away.

“Dammit…” Asuka said as the duel ended. “How do you already know how to use that thing so well?”

“Who knows?” I say. “Just… have a natural affinity for it, I guess. It fits in with my combat style.”

“Seems like.”

“Hey.” I hear Trinity say, walking up with Misaki and Avro. “There you are.”

“Here I am.” I say, sheathing my weapons while Asuka went over to collect her own sword, pulling it from the ground and sheathing it to her back.

“Agravaine took the rest of the cake.” Avro said. “We couldn’t stop her…”

“She likes her cake, doesn’t she?” I say with a laugh.

“ISHI!” I hear the thunderous shout say, as if the very heavens were calling down to me.

Iskandar made his way to me, holding the bigass cape that he gave me for my birthday with him.

“You forgot this!” He said, holding it out.

“Uh, yeah…” I say. “Not to look a gift horse in the mouth but… that thing’s way too big for me… and also red isn’t really my color.”

He recoiled a bit, looking at the cape, then back to me, then to the cape and back again.

“Oh.” He said, scratching his beard. “I see. Probably should’ve taken the fact that you’re smaller than me into consideration.”

“Probably.”

“NO WORRIES, FRIEND!” He boomed, patting me on the back, forcing me to put a foot out to keep my balance. “I’ll have you made a better one by week’s end! It’ll be a belated birthday gift!”

“Hah. Sure.” I say with a smile.

My first birthday in SAO and it felt… oddly happy. Even more so than in real life even, considering I have only two friends in real life, and we usually just hang around and have pizza and play games more than have an actual party. But another thing… my birthday here… I felt like I was really living in this world, as if we weren’t trapped here against our will, as if this world was real, and we were all a real part of it.

As if this had always been my life.

Chapter 19

1 Month and 10 Days Later

I stood with Iskandar to my left. To my right was Misaki. To Iskandar’s left was Knight, and to his, Gawain. Behind us was the rest of the guild. We stood overlooking Iskandar’s massive army of 2000 players. Knight, Gawain, Misaki, and I were to take command of one fourth of the entire army, giving us each 500 soldiers. We were to be Iskandar’s generals in the upcoming war, and Iskandar was to be the supreme commander. The army was divided as such, an empty line separating each of the four sections that we would take command of.

“MY ARMY!” Iskandar called out to his men, who gave him their immediate attention. “MY FRIENDS! We are finally on the precipice of our fate! The reason why we have come together! THE GLORY OF BATTLE IS NEAR!”

The entire army roared up in cheer, being silenced soon after as they gave Iskandar their attention back.

“These knights from Pendragon Court will be my generals!” He continued. “Knight! Gawain! Misaki! Ishi! These four will have control off one fourth of the army while I will be the overseeing commander! Further assistance will be provided by these knights!” He held his hand out behind us and summoned the rest to come up.

“Trinity! Avro! Agravaine! Vincent! Gareth! Kana! Diana! Guren! Bedivere! Vimana! These brave soldiers will fight alongside you in glorious battle!”

They all cheered for us, but my thoughts were elsewhere. I didn’t really want to be a general of Iskandar’s army, and I was quick to voice my disdain towards the idea, but Iskandar insisted, claiming that there was nobody better suited for the duty. I could think of a few reasons why I wasn’t, but the decision was made for me, and now here I was, about to take command over 500 soldiers. 500 soldiers that I now held responsibility for… I didn’t know how I was going to handle even one of their deaths…

“We are now ready, my friends!” Iskandar continued. “We will fight! We will stand together! AND WE WILL ALL BECOME LEGEND!”

The army cheered with a roar that seemed to pierce the heavens. Iskandar turned and walked back towards the doors that would lead back into the fortress.

“Ishi.” He said. “Come with me.”

I do so, leaving everyone else behind. Iskandar led me through back to his personal study, ushering me in and closing the door behind him.

“So what’s up?” I ask him.

He doesn’t answer, and instead goes to a wardrobe in the corner of the room, picking out a cape from inside.

“I had meant to tell you on your birthday,” he said. “But I believe it was for the best that I had to wait to tell you now.”

He showed me the cape. It was the better one he promised me on my birthday. It was black, with gold stripes on the hem and with a white fur collar. Emblazoned in white at the center were the Wings of Freedom. The insignia of Pendragon Court; a symbol of freedom and justice. Iskandar put it on for me, strapping it on and positioning it so it covered my left arm, instead of being worn on the back. It wasn’t heavy like I expected. It was light and it didn’t get in the way. It seemed to be made of an elegant but strong material, shining a bit in the light of the fireplace.

“Perfect fit.” Iskandar noted, letting me move around and roll my shoulder, getting the feel of it.

“Pretty cool.” I say.

Iskandar put both his large hands on my shoulders and directed my gaze up to him. He stared at me for a bit, before finally speaking.

“I want you to be my leading general.” He said plainly.

“Wha… wait, what?” I stammer.

He doesn’t say anything. He just stares at me with a determined expression.

“Iskandar, I didn’t even want to be a general in the first place, why would you make me your right hand?!” I ask.

“You’re the only one I can trust with this.” He explained. “I see greatness in you, Blade Master. I know you’re capable of this.”

“Iskandar, I can’t.” I say.

“This cape…” He told me. “It symbolizes your abilities as well as your beliefs… it is a symbol for all to see. The Wings of Freedom is not just the symbol of Pendragon. It is a philosophy. A philosophy that promises hope for all. You are the only one who is truly fit to serve this cause.”

“Iskandar…”

“Will you do it?”

I look up at him in silence, thinking about it hard. I really didn’t want to. Leading the 500 I was in charge of was more than I was willing to do already, but being Iskandar’s right hand general was pushing it way too far…

He lets go of my shoulders and goes to sit down behind his desk.

“Another thing…” He sighed. “You know you will have blood on your hands.”

I don’t say a word.

“This battle will not be won by the way you fight now. You must be willing to kill in order to win.”

I still say nothing.

“I know this isn’t easy for you. I know you don’t wish to take a life… but this is war. No war has ever been won without blood spilled.”

“I know.” I say. “I just… I don’t know if I can.”

“Ishi, this is important.” Iskandar told me.

“Do you have any idea what you’re asking of me?” I say. “What you want me to do? You want me to not only lead 500 of your men to their deaths but you want me to kill along with them! I haven’t killed anyone, Iskandar! I can’t ever bring myself to do that!”

“Why do you carry a blade then?” He asked.

I was taken aback by this question, and I hesitated to answer, not completely understanding the question.

“A blade is not meant to wound, Ishi.” Iskandar told me. “It is meant to kill. The fact that you haven’t killed a single person so far is admirable but at the same time it is denial of your true purpose.”

“So you’re saying I’m meant to kill people?!” I shout.

“Ishi… your blade is your purpose. As a Blade Master you must realize this.”

I stand there, speechless in my confusion. I shake my head, and with anger I take off the cape and throw it onto the ground, storming out of the room. I slam the door shut behind me and take a few steps forward before stopping, activating Gilgamesh and clenching my fist, punching the wall next to me, sending chunks of the stone outwards.

---

I decide to head to the plains outside Talmia to get some fresh air. Once on the plains I begin to make my way to the tree I usually lean on. I stop dead when I see blood on the ground. A trail of red was leading across the grass and to the tree. I approach the tree slowly, noticing a good amount of blood soaked into the ground from whoever was lying there. Once I get there, I instantly recognize who it was.

The girl was crying, blood soaked into her clothes and running down her face.

“ASUKA!” I shout, running up to her.

She was slumped down, her back against the tree, looking to be barely alive. She cried weakly. It looked as if she had been here for a while and had lost hope of rescue.

“Asuka!” I say. “Asuka! Can you hear me?!”

She didn’t respond. She continued softly sobbing, completely broken.

I pick her up in my arms and immediately make a run as fast as I could towards Talmia. I got there in less than 5 minutes, rushing through the town, pushing people out of the way and kicking open the doors to Adeline’s once I got there. The people inside were surprised to see me holding a bloodied girl in my arms, and quickly backed up. I found an empty table near the back of the room and rushed up to it, putting Asuka gently down onto it.

“Shit…” I curse… “Shit, shit, shit!”

“Ishi!” Adeline called. “What are you… oh my god…”

“Dammit!” I open my menus and sent a quick message to Bedivere, telling her to get here right now. She didn’t question.

By the time she got here, Asuka was being tended to by the local doctor, who couldn’t do much for her, with his inexperience, only able to slow down her HP trickling away by a small degree.

“Ishi, what’s happened?!” Bedivere asked quickly.

“Asuka!” I exclaim. “She’s hurt! She’s hurt bad, you need to help her!”

She nods and immediately gets to work, pulling out medicinal items, removing Asuka’s clothes soaked with blood to get to work on her wounds. She worked quickly and efficiently, applying just the right healing items where needed. She cleaned her up, wrapping bandages around deep gashes in her body, successfully stopping her HP draining, and then gave her healing items to get her back to a stable yellow HP bar.

“Okay.” Bedivere said. “We need to get her to a bed.

I snatch her up quickly and carry her up to my room setting her down softly on my bed. She had stopped crying by then, and was unconscious, but stable.

“My god…” Bedivere said. “Those wounds…”

“What could’ve caused something like this?” Adeline asked.

“Skeith…” I said. “Skeith did this to her.”

“Skeith?” Bedivere said. “This… this is what it does?! Why would we be trying to capture something like this?!”

“I can’t believe she’s still alive…” I murmured. “Skeith killed a dozen high level players last time something like this happened.”

I kneel down next to her and gently hold her hand. She stirs a bit in the bed and slowly opens her eyes, blinking a few times at the light. She looks at me.

“Ishi…” She says weakly.

“Hey, Asuka.” I say. “Are you alright?”

“I… I think…” She says. “Where… am I?”

“Adeline’s.” I say. “Bedivere here healed you up.”

Bedivere nods.

“I hope you’re okay. Are you feeling any pain anywhere?”

“Everywhere…” Asuka said faintly. “But… it’s not too bad…”

“Oh, good.” Bedivere said relieved. “That should fade away soon, hopefully.”

“I should probably… clean up the mess downstairs.” Adeline said, leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.

“I have to capture it…” I say quietly, a few minutes after Adeline had left.

“What?” Bedivere asked.

“I need to capture Skeith.” I say, squeezing Asuka’s hand. “Before it hurts anyone else.”

“Ishi…”

I let go of Asuka’s hand and stand up, turning around and walking toward the door.

“Take care of her, Bedivere.” I say, leaving and shutting the door behind me.

---

I decide to head back to Talmia Plains, convinced that I’d see Yamato there due to the presence of Skeith. I walk across the plains toward the tree, but in following the blood trail, I find someone other than Yamato.

Four others. All cloaked in black.

 One turned around slowly, noticing my presence, and gazed upon me. Even through his smiling skull mask I could feel the piercing chill of his eyes. I knew who he was.

Kamui. The leader of the Guardians of Darkness. One of the most dangerous players in SAO.

“Kamui…” I say.

“Ishi Haseo.” He responds darkly, the three others with him turning to face me. “How nice to see you again.”

“Shut your mouth.” I say aggressively, drawing my weapons. “What’re you doing here?”

He says nothing further, simply bringing out a pure black sword with a red blade edge from under his cloak, not even taking a battle stance.

“Fine then.” I say, readying myself. “I’ll just have to force it out of you.”

I Shift up to him, preparing to slice upwards, but he suddenly lashes out with his free arm, back fisting me in the face, throwing me back. Before I can recover, he appears in from of me and punches me in the face again, making me spin around before he delivers a strong punch to my stomach that knocked the wind out of me. I’m left on the ground, gasping for air, before Kamui slashes upwards with his blade, cutting deep into me and putting me on my back. I get back up in time to dodge another swing and I go for my own, but he easily deflects the blade and kicks me in the leg, tripping me up slightly and allowing him to put another slice into my side before I spin around and try to slash him downwards. He grabs my arm to stop the blade, and twists it hard, forcing me to drop my sword and allowing him to backhand me again, throwing me back into the dirt.

“Pathetic.” He muttered. “You aren’t even worth killing.”

I stay on the ground, my HP in red, his having not even a single bit knocked out.

“Find out whose blood this is.” Kamui ordered. “Track him down.”

“Don’t… you dare… lay a finger on her…” I stammer back onto my feet, barely able to keep my balance.

Kamui slowly strides toward me and violently grabs my throat, lifting me up into the air as I desperately try to claw myself free of his grasp, but I’m completely helpless.

“Where is she?” He demanded.

“Go to hell.” I respond, making him grasp my throat even tighter.

He brings his mask closer to me.

“Where… is… she?” He says again.

“Go… to… hell…” I repeat.

He grasps my throat so tightly it takes out another bit of my HP, before tossing me aside like a broken doll.

“Kamui.” One of the other guys said. “We’ve identified the player.”

Kamui takes one last look at me, defeated on the ground, before walking off towards Talmia. I try to get up to retrieve my sword in order to stop them, but I was too weak. I passed out watching them leave the plains, off towards Asuka.

---

3 Days Later

I woke up with a start. I was in my bed at Adeline’s, Misaki sitting in a chair on the other side of the room and Bedivere watching over me. Bedivere notices when I regain consciousness.

“Misaki!” She said. “He’s awake!”

Misaki quickly leaps off her chair and rushes to my side.

“Ishi!” She said, putting a hand on my cheek. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah… I’m fine.” I say, sitting up in bed. My thoughts then return to the matter at hand. “Asuka!” I say suddenly. “Where is she?”

“She…” Misaki hesitated. “They took her, Ishi… I couldn’t stop them… I’m sorry.”

My gaze lowers to my lap, and in frustration I slam my fist into the wall.

“DAMMIT!” I shout.

I immediately jump out of bed and retrieve my weapons, fastening Aronight to my back and slipping Gilgamesh onto my arm before heading for the door.

“Wait, wait!” Misaki stopped me. “Where are you going?”

“I’m getting Asuka back.” I told her.

“Not without me, you’re not.” She told me.

“Misaki, it’s Kamui we’re dealing with here.” I tell her.

“You’re not going on your own.”

“Misaki, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“And I don’t want you to get killed.”

We stare each other down for a few seconds before I give in.

“Fine.” I say with some reluctance, knowing that she wasn’t going ever back down.

“So where so we start?” Misaki asked.

“Come on.”

---

I head to Ravenwing and open the doors of the tavern aggressively, the doors slamming against the walls as I immediately locate a Laughing Coffin member. I walk up to him quickly and activate Gilgamesh, slamming my hand into his neck and lifting him up before smashing his body through the table and into the ground.

“Jesus! What the hell, Ishi?!” Misaki exclaimed.

“Kamui.” I say. “Where is he?!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking ab-a-a-aagh…” I interrupted him by squeezing down on his neck hard.

“Wrong… answer…” I say in a deep undertone, before raising his head up a bit and slamming it back down into the ground. “Where is he?” I repeat, releasing a bit of my grip on his throat.

“Ach!” He said, coughing a bit. “I… I heard there was a fortress… on the 13th floor… Castle Grandis it’s called. I think they’re using it as a base of operations, but it’s not their main headquarters. Kamui might not be there, but you may be able to find out where he is there!”

“Is that all?” I ask.

“Yeah! Yeah that’s all I know, I swear!” He says desperately.

I release him and turn to walk out the door, not bothering with Scott, to whom Misaki had to explain the situation quickly and apologize before she quickly followed me.

---

We quickly reached Castle Grandis and stood outside the large and towering wall of thee fortress. I look up to the top of the walls.

“Well we aren’t just going to walk in…” Misaki says, pacing back and forth. “How are we going-”

“Stay here.” I tell her. “Wait for me.”

“Huh?”

I was already climbing the wall at a fast pace, using Gilgamesh and one of my knives to make my way up the vertical surface.

“Ishi!” Misaki called.

I didn’t answer as I continued climbing. Misaki sighs and does as I tell her to, as I climb up to the top of the large wall. Once I get to the top, I slide down the other side of the wall onto the roof of a building just below, and I run across, mentally marking the guards along the walls, before I approach a large circular tower in the center of the castle. I quickly jump up and begin climbing up that as well, looking through windows as I go along to find a place I can get in from. I find a window without any guards around on the inside and kick out the window, sliding into the building and looking around the circular hallway. No guards in sight. Now I needed to get to the lower levels. I make my way left, and I come across a staircase leading up.

“Wrong way.” I mutter, before turning back and running quickly and silently down the hall. I hear footsteps coming my way, and I react quickly and open the nearest door, shutting myself inside and waiting for them to pass.

“Did you hear about that one girl they brought here?” One of them said.

“Yeah.” The other responded. “What’s up with that?”

“Don’t know. She’s in the dungeon right now. Kamui brought her here for some reason, but he wouldn’t say why.”

“Strange…”

Good. So she is here.

I make my way further down the hall, flying down stairs and evading other players I quickly reach down to the dungeons. It took me about an hour to get to the dungeons. The guards here were much denser than on the upper levels, and sneaking around here was much more difficult. I managed to get deep into the dungeons in search for Asuka, before I got to the warden’s room. It was empty, and had a table with papers covering it, as well as a cabinet and multiple weapons lining the walls.

“Maybe there’s something on Asuka here…” I say, rushing to the desk and sifting through papers, looking for a sign of Asuka. Minutes of sifting go by, before I hear footsteps approaching the room. I quickly jump towards the cabinet and opened it. It was filled with weapons, but it was roomy enough for me to fit in. I step inside and close the doors just before the door of the office opened.

 Through small slits in the doors, I see two people enter; someone who looked to be the warden, and Kamui himself. They were discussing Asuka.

“The girl.” The warden said. “You think she… has traces of Skeith on her?”

“That’s correct.” Kamui said. “We can’t know for sure right now.”

“No need to worry, my Lord.” The warden said. “We’re transferring her to our main headquarters as we speak. The convoy just left.”

“Good.”

A moment of silence followed.

“What would happen if you found a trace of Skeith on her?” The warden asked.

“We would be able to replicate the coding and create a copy of Skeith.” Kamui explained.

“Awaken Ragnarok?” The warden asked.

“With the copy of Skeith, we should be able to.” Kamui said. “Although it most likely won’t have the same power as Skeith… it should still be enough to power it, though.”

“We’d be unstoppable either way.”

Kamui suddenly turns his head right to me. I freeze and stop my breathing, staying perfectly still.

“What is it?” The warden asked.

Kamui took a step towards the cabinet, before bringing out his black blade and slashing at it, cutting it clean in half. I barely manage to duck in time. Kamui suddenly grabs my head and throws me to the ground.

“Blade Master…” Kamui growled.

“Agh, shit!” I say, scurrying out of the way of a downwards slash and Shifting to the door, punching straight through it with Gilgamesh and making a mad dash through the halls of the dungeon, weaving through guards along the way, before I make it to the stairs leading out of the dungeon. I quickly make my way back out the way I came, getting onto the roof and climbing the wall. I see Misaki still down below me. She sitting down, her back against the wall.

“Misaki!” I shout.

She stands and looks up at me.

“They’ve got her in a convoy!” I say, sliding down the wall, making a slow descent with Gilgamesh dug into the wall, kicking off when I was low enough and hitting the ground running. “Let’s go!”

Misaki followed immediately as I made a full sprint around the castle, finding the path leading out of it and following it through the trees, covering us as players ran out of the castle gates, looking for us. Even at our full sprint, it took a while for us to catch sight of the convoy. Six guards on horseback protecting a horse drawn metal carriage, Asuka inside.

“There.” I say, running even faster through the trees as we made our way towards the convoy, hidden from sight. Once we were beside it, I jump out of the trees and take the first guard by surprise, kicking him off his horse and punching him hard in the face on the way down, putting him into the dirt. The three of the remaining five guards turned around on their horses and the other two and the carriage picked up speed, leaving us in the dust.

“Misaki!” I shout, as she quickly jumps onto one of the horses and kicks the rider off, jumping down and slashing at him on the ground.

A rider came at me, sword drawn, and slashed at me. I deflect the blow with my blade, and do the same for the next, before the first came around again before I dodge his swipe, and Shift up to him, standing behind him on the horse. I backhand him with Gilgamesh off his horse and saddle up. The horse reared back and whinnied once before I turned it around and made a full sprint down the path. Misaki quickly followed and got her own horse, catching up to me as we tailed the convoy.

It didn’t take long for us to regain sight of them.

“She’s in there!” I say.

“Well let’s go, then!” Misaki says.

We both take either side, Misaki taking the left and me taking the right, dealing with the guard there. The rider I was facing slashed at me with his blade, and I block with my own, swinging my blade in a circular arc on horseback, clashing blades with him. We rode alongside each other as we traded blows, before he stabbed into my horse and the horse fell. Before I went with it, I jumped off and landed on my opponent’s horse, slashing at his back and kicking him off, saddling my new steed as Misaki took care of her opponent.

Now all that was left was the driver of the carriage. I jump from my horse to the driver, and seeing as he wasn’t a member of the guild and wasn’t meant for fighting, took the smart option and bailed out. I snatch hold of the reins of the carriage before I look ahead and see a large line of players blocking the road ahead. I could see arrows notched and bows drawn.

“Oh, shit.” I say, pulling back on the reins hard, making the horses screech back and begin a u-turn. The arrows were let loose, and they stuck themselves in the horse, and a few hit me, before the horses fell down hard, flipping the carriage over and sending me down with it.

---

I wake up in a daze. My arms were behind my back and tied up, and I was on my knees. Misaki was the same a distance away from me, and Asuka was being pulled out of the wreckage of the carriage.

“Well, well.” A voice says. I see the warden of the prison walk towards me, a smile plastered on his face. “What do we have here?”

“Asuka!” I shout to my companion.

“Ishi…” She answers, before receiving a hard slap to the face.

“Dammit!” I try to jump to her, but I’m held back by the guy behind me holding me down.

“So, Ishi Haseo.” The Warden says. “Trying to rescue your little girlfriend?”

I don’t answer. I just scowl at him with a death glare that didn’t really seem to bother him, seeing the position I was in.

“You’ve put me in a delicate situation, Blade Master.” The warden said, walking towards Misaki, pointing a blade to her neck. “Who shall I kill first, I wonder?”

“Don’t!” I shout, earning me a kick in the back.

“Oh?” He says casually. “I wonder who you care about more… her…” He goes over to Asuka, and points his blade at her neck. “Or her?”

“Bastard…” I mutter.

“Here’s a deal for you.” The warden tells me. “You may choose which one dies first. How about that.”

“Don’t you dare…” I growl.

“Hmm…. better choose quickly, I may just choose for you.”

I struggle at the binds on my wrists, but no matter what I did I couldn’t get them loose, nor could I shake off the guy holding me down.

“You have ten seconds to decide.” The warden warned. “Ten…”

I shut my eyes tight. Think, think, think…

“Nine…”

What do I do? God dammit, what do I do?!

“Eight…”

What? What was that?

“Seven…”

I felt something strange growing inside me… I could hear a voice…

“Six…”

Faintly at first… but it slowly began to become clearer…

“Five…”

The voice told me something… I could barely make out the words…

“Four…”

It repeated the same three words, over and over in the back of my mind… I desperately try to make out the words.

“Three…”

The voice became clearer and clearer… until I understood.

“Two…”

It was my blade’s voice. It urged me to follow my purest instinct… permit its true purpose… it told me…

“One…”

To kill them all.

In an instant I snap free of my bindings and activate Gilgamesh, swinging back with such speed and power and gashing into his side. He shattered immediately, the multicolored polygons drifting upwards slowly. Everything was slowed down for me. My only goal was to free Misaki and Asuka… and kill everyone who got in my way.

I Shift up to the warden, stabbing him in the face with my blade before kicking him back and lashing out with Gilgamesh twice, and ending with another quick sword slash, enhanced with white power, killing him as well.

Two come at me at once, and I Shift backwards as they simultaneously bear down on me, making them miss before I slash one skywards with Gilgamesh and slice into his friend twice and hard, finishing him by kicking him away, before stabbing upwards at the one falling from the sky, impaling him on my blade. I lower my sword, and brace my foot on his back, pushing him off my blade and causing him to shatter.

Another one tries to hit me, but I grab his sword with Gilgamesh and slam my head into his, taking out a chunk of his HP before I stab him through his neck right up the top of his head, killing him. I spin to dodge another’s attack and cut into his leg, causing him to fall onto his knees. Behind him now, I place Gilgamesh on his shoulder, and stab through his back, before kicking him off my blade and ending his life.

No others come at me after that. I calm myself down a bit, and slow my breathing, taking long and deep breaths to level myself out. I look towards the rest of the group, and they back up a bit. I turn to them, flashing my blade, and the all immediately make a run for it. I then go over to Misaki and Asuka, cutting their bindings and sheathing my weapons. I help Asuka up and let her lean on me as I make my way over to Misaki. She was hurt pretty badly, but she was going to live at least. I hand her over to Misaki.

“Ishi…” Misaki says. “Are… are you alright?”

I stay silent for a few seconds, looking up at the gray skies as it began to rain, the droplets falling gently downwards.

“Yeah…” I mutter. “I’m fine… listen, you should head back to HQ… I need to take care of something.”

“Take care of what?” Misaki questions.

“Arondight is leading me somewhere.” I tell her. “I need to follow it… look, I’ll meet you back at HQ later, alright?”

I begin to walk away, but Misaki stops me.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” She asks.

“Yes…” I answer. “I’ve never been better.”

---

Arondight leads me to Twilight Fields. I see it again. It was there right in front of me, but even so, I felt nothing.

No pain, no fear, no doubt…

I stepped towards it, the red cluster of data shifting ominously to my presence. I reach out and touch it.

---

I stay in silence, there, the only thing to be heard was the ghostly wind and the footsteps of the Death Knights in the distance, and far enough away so they wouldn’t come and try to hack at my shins. I sat there, calming myself down, feeling the breeze sweep around me, through my hair and my jacket. I begin to feel something else, though, as I sit there for the longest time. I begin to feel other things. When I try to concentrate on those things though, they begin to fade away. I clear my mind of everything and let all around me sink into my mind. I smelled the air, I heard the wind, I felt… everything.

I open my eyes, and all I see is white. A white plane of existence hidden deep within my subconscious. I’m completely unarmed, neither Arondight on my back nor Gilgamesh on my arm. I take a step, and a warm and sweet smelling breeze sweeps over me, and I take another step, and the soft sound of leaves rustling reaches my ears. With each step, more and more of the environment around me falls into place, until I’m striding across rolling fields, as the sun shone on me. A hill in the distance, a single tree with shimmering gold leaves atop it. I step up to the tree, looking up at it, and a single leaf falls right onto my nose, swiftly picked up by the breeze. I look down and see Arondight and Gilgamesh, leaned up against the tree.

I pick up Gilgamesh. My Will. Sliding the armguard onto my arm and fastening it in place.

I take Arondight. My Honor. Fastening the scabbard onto my back and drawing the blade, whilst simultaneously activating Gilgamesh.

I understood now…

Blade Master…

---

I suddenly return to my senses. I’m lying on the ground and staring up at the clear sky. I stay there in silence for what seemed like an hour, before I slowly step up back onto my feet. I stare upwards at the sky for a few seconds, before gazing downwards and looking at my left hand. I felt an energy fill into my palm. A red cluster of data crawled down my arm and into my hand, glowing with its faint blood red light.

I feel a little tickle on my nose, and I wipe at it with my sleeve. I look down and see blood. I touch under my nose and look at my fingers. I stared at the crimson liquid for quite a time, before I realized I was feeling faint pain… my back… my left arm… my right leg… it took me a few seconds to realize I was feeling the pain from the injuries that were inflicted on me earlier, as my real body would to such damage.

Now I felt pain permanently…

I only smiled.

Chapter 20

I head back to Adeline’s hours later, at night and after closing time. I open the door slowly and step inside. Adeline quickly notices me.

“Ishi!” She cries, running up to me and giving me a tight hug. “Ishi, are-are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I say quietly. “Do you know where Asuka is?”

“She’s upstairs, in your bed, sleeping.” Adeline told me. “Misaki brought her here. She looked hurt pretty bad.”

I don’t say anything as I walk past her and head up the stairs and to my room. I open the door quietly and shut it behind me, seeing Asuka asleep on the bed. I walk over and sit down next to her, putting a hand on her cheek. She stirred a little, before she opened her eyes and looked at me.

“Ishi…” She says quietly.

“Didn’t mean to wake you.” I say. “Sorry…”

She sits up in the bed as I look down to the floor, a sad look on my face.

“Hey…” Asuka said. “Are you okay?”

“Asuka…” I say faintly, pausing for a few seconds before continuing. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” She asked. “Sorry for what?”

“I let them take you. I couldn’t stop them…”

“What? Ishi, that wasn’t your fault.”

“You could’ve died!” I tell her, genuine worry in my voice. “You could’ve died and I wouldn’t have been able to save you!”

“Ishi, it’s alright, really.” She put a hand on my shoulder as I look away. “I’m fine… you did save me.”

“I won’t…” I say.

“What?”

“I won’t let anything happen to you again.” I look her dead in the eyes, my sadness replaced by determination. “I promise.”

She just stares back at me, a little surprised, but her expression softens and she smiles and wraps her arms around me, pulling me in close.

“Thank you.” She says in my ear. “It means a lot.”

I hold her back. We keep each other in our embrace for a little while before I break off, yawning.

“Tired, huh?” She asked.

“Yeah, well… long day.” I say, getting up off the bed and sitting in the armchair on the other side of the room, yawning once more. “Gonna need to head to HQ first thing in the morning tomorrow…”

“For someone who isn’t in that guild, you sure do a lot for them.” Asuka noted.

“Well I still sort of take orders from Knight even so.” I explain. “I’d follow him to hell and back.”

“You respect the hell out of him, huh?”

“Could say that.” I say, taking off my jacket and laying it on the top of the chair before slumping down in the chair and closing my eyes.

“Well, good night, then.” Asuka said, pulling the sheets over herself and lying back down.

I don’t respond. I’m already asleep.

---

The next day, I head to HQ. My head ached. I had woken up with this killer headache that I had to fight through just to get out of the chair. It was probably Skeith having its effects on me… I didn’t like it. But it was better than somebody else having it.

When I get through the door, I see Knight, Gawain, Misaki, and Iskandar, along with Kana and Diana, but I also noticed others. Five others. One in particular stood out. Blue coat and eyes to match, blonde hair and sword and shield behind his back. I recognized the description.

“Ishi.” Knight said upon my arrival. “Good to see you.”

“Blade Master.” The blonde haired one said. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m-”

“Galant.” I say. “Leader of the Royal Knights.”

“My reputation precedes me, I see.” Galant said. “As does yours. This is Guinevere, Lance, Gawn, and Elicia.”

The members of the Royal Knights made their own greeting as their names were called.

“What’re they here for?” I ask Knight. “Kana and Diana were apparently off on their own business and had come across the Royal Knights. Galant suggested a meeting between the Royal Knights and Pendragon Court to discuss collaboration.”

“Don’t we have enough to worry about as it is?” I ask.

“I understand that.” Galant said. “But we know of your mission for Skeith and against the Guardians of Darkness.”

“You know?” Knight asked. “How?”

“Diana told me. Something that isn’t free for talk I take it?”

“Diana.” Knight said. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“I-I don’t know…” Diana stuttered. “I just thought… it wouldn’t be such a big deal.”

“Damn it, Diana…” Knight put his face in his palm, shaking his head.

“Knight I need to talk to you.” I say. “Without them around.”

“What?” Knight asked.

I give him a stare, and he nods.

“Galant.” He says. “Can you leave us for a moment?”

“Sure.” He says, calling his group out of the room and leaving us.

“What is it, Ishi?” Knight asked.

I hold out my left hand, concentrating as Skeith appeared in it, its blood red hue covering the room. I have to stop, though, as a sudden sharp pain rips through my head, and I close my eyes tight, holding my head.

“Ishi…” Misaki said. “Was that what I think it was?”

“Yeah…” I say slowly, shaking my head to get the pain to fade away. “Skeith.”

“When did you-”

“Yesterday.” I interrupt Knight. “After… after I killed those people…”

“Are you alright, Ishi?” Misaki asked, worried.

“I’m… I’m fine…” I stammer. “I… I can…”

I suddenly hit the ground, completely paralyzed as a great pain courses through my entire body. I couldn’t even scream. Misaki was there instantly.

“Ishi!” She cried. “Ishi, are you alright?!”

My eyes were shut tight as I attempt to catch my breath. It hurt. It hurt a lot. I cough up blood onto the floor, that’s when Knight and Gawain rushed to me.

“Ishi!” Knight shouted. “Ishi, talk to me!”

“I… I can hear it…” I say faintly, barely loud enough to hear.

“What?” Knight asked.

I stammer up as the pain began to subside, leaning against the table and breathing heavy.

“This… this thing, it… it talks to me. I can hear it…” I clutch my head as a sharp pain hits again, before it too fades. “…in the back of my mind… it… it wants me… to destroy… everything…”

Everyone backs away from me a step as I try to get my breathing under control. I eventually manage, calming myself down.

“I’m fine…” I say, wiping blood from my mouth. “I’m… I’m fine.”

 “You sure you’re alright?” Knight asked.

“Yeah.” I say, clearing my head. “Just… something I have to deal with now is all.”

“Well, I guess it’s good that we’re in possession of Skeith at least.” Knight said. “But you need to be careful, Ishi. When Kamui finds out he’ll try to get after you as well.”

“As if he hasn’t already.” I say, coughing a bit.

“Ishi.” Iskandar walked up to me and placing a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t push yourself to hard, friend. You’ve accomplished your mission. You deserve rest.”

“I’ll be fine, Iskandar.” I say. “You know me well enough.”

“Even so. I fear you are stepping into something you don’t understand.” He hands me the cape I had left. “Here. You forgot this.”

I just stare at him, before taking it and putting it in my inventory.

“Thanks.” I say. “Look, I’m gonna go take a walk. Alone.”

“You sure?” Misaki asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” I tell her. “Don’t worry.”

---

I head to Sakura Trail again, figuring that’d be the best place to go to clear my head.

It wasn’t working.

I stagger a bit after every few steps, Skeith taking its toll on me. It hurt, and I could feel its infectious will seeping into my mind, constantly telling me to destroy everything.

Destroy everything… destroy everything… destroy EVERYTHING.

That’s all it said, and despite my willpower being stronger than most, it was already beginning to get to me. I needed to find a way to get this under control before it took me over.

I stop dead and draw my weapons as a blade came my way, metal clashing metal as I parry the quick attack, before retaliating with one of my own, which my opponent dodges. I see Grimm standing before me, his scythe drawn and ready for combat.

“Dammit… you again?” I ask.

“Ishi Haseo.” Grimm said my name. “You’ve become a player killer. As such you must be eliminated.”

“Oh, fuck off, already!” I say. “I’m really not in the mood for you.”

Grimm comes at me and I dodge two off his attacks before raising my blade and striking down on him. He blocks the attack but I come down under with Gilgamesh and punch him through his guard, making him flip back and rush forward, driving his scythe toward me with incredible speed and precision. I put my blade up, but a pain suddenly comes to my head, making me flinch and putting me off balance, allowing him to nick me in the arm. I could feel warm blood begin to run down it from where he hit me, staining my jacket.

“Oh, come on…” I mutter.

Grimm comes at me again, and this time I manage to dodge his attacks and counter with a few of my own, which he evades or blocks, before I rush inwards, slicing forward hard and fast, putting him off balance, but before I can take advantage of the opening, another pain comes through my head, making me stumble back as my vision blurs. It allows Grimm to back up.

“What’s wrong?” Grimm asks. “Not feeling yourself?”

“Bite me…” I say.

But he was right. I was slowly beginning to feel heavier, and the slowness and deepness of my breath reflected that, as well as my imbalance. I was in trouble.

Grimm came at me again, this time catching me off guard and putting a good slice into my chest, before rearing back and preparing to stab into me. I manage to dodge that one, but barely. I try to distance myself but Grimm keeps on it, slamming the handle of his scythe into me and throwing me back. I try to keep my balance and have to strike at his blade once to keep him off before I spin back and brace my foot in front of me, breaking my fall. I spin back and slice at him. He easily dodges the attack, but I follow it up with a strong downwards punch from Gilgamesh, breaking his guard and allowing me to slice into his chest once before kicking him back.

I felt the pain of the gash on my chest all too real… it was impairing me… I wasn’t resistant to pain like I was in real life… I had gotten used to being without it. It made it hurt more.

Grimm came at me again, and I’m helpless as he nails another strong slice into my leg, making me flinch and cry out in pain as the leg fails me, putting me on my knee, before Grimm kicks me in the chest and sends me flat on my back. He rears his scythe up and brings it down on me, but I quickly brace my leg up, slamming my foot into the handle of his scythe, stopping it and pushing back. I try to get back on my feet, but my injured leg wouldn’t allow it. I’m on my knees as Grimm comes at me once more.

I was done for.

Or so I thought.

His blade was met with another, the metal clashing against each other as a figure appeared in front of me. Holding his katana over, he effortlessly blocked Grimm’s scythe.

“That won’t do.” Yamato said, before he flicked his blade outwards, making Grimm stumble back and work to regain his footing.

“Yamato.” Grimm growled. “This is where you die!”

He charged up his scythe with the same energy he did before with Misaki, and sliced at Yamato. I thought for sure with the speed and power of the strike, Yamato would be hit. Yamato caught the blade in his free hand, stopping it dead without a single scratch, before lashing out with his katana and slicing deep into Grimm’s chest, instantly downing him.

“Ishi is not yours to claim, Reaper.” Yamato said, sheathing his blade. “Leave now.”

“Dammit…” Grimm cursed, on the ground with barely any HP left from just one strike. He got to his feet and gave Yamato a death glare before walking off, deciding it best to live to fight another day.

Yamato then turned to me, and offered me a hand up. I take it, and he pulls be back to my feet.

“You alright?” He asks. “You took that hit pretty bad.”

“I’m fine…” I say, coughing up a bit of blood, wiping it off on my sleeve.

Yamato hands me a powerful healing item and I take it, and soon after the pain fades away and the blood disappears from my wounds and clothing.

“Good thing healing items still work even in this condition.” Yamato says.

“Why did you help me?” I ask him.

“Well we wouldn’t want you dying to easily, would we?” Yamato chuckles. “You’ve still work to do, Blade Master.”

“What work?” I ask. “I already have Skeith. As far as I’m concerned, my work is done.”

“Is it really?” Yamato asked. “What of the Guardians of Darkness? What of the inevitable war. What about me? No, I’d say your work is far from over.”

“And what the hell do you know, anyway?”

“More than you’d think.”

“Tch. Yeah, I bet.” I dust off my jacket. “Maybe you’d know how to get rid of these god damn headaches, then.”

“Walk with me.” Yamato says, walking down the path. He seems confused when I don’t follow him. “Well, come on.” He gestures.

I figure if he wanted to kill me he would’ve already, so I decide to take him up on his offer.

We walk together, admiring the scenery along the way. We walk for about a minute before Yamato breaks the silence.

“So you’re almost fully realized as a Blade Master.” He said.

“I… don’t know.” I say.

“You still have potential left to discover.”

“I still don’t get why you’re doing this.” I say. “Why are you letting me live and making sure I get stronger? Why not just kill me and be done with it?”

“Do you really want to die?” Yamato said.

“No, but it makes more sense for you to do that.”

“Not for my purposes.” Yamato said plainly.

“And what are your purposes?!” I say aggressively. “Just what the hell are you planning for me?!”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” Yamato told me. “When your work is almost done.”

“Dammit, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Majora.” Yamato says to change the subject. “You know of him now, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” I say. “He was your friend.”

“Who I had to kill from his corruption by Skeith, yes.” Yamato says. “Do you know exactly how that came about, though?”

“I can get a picture with how much it fucking hurts.” I say.

“Skeith reflects the darkest aspect of an individual’s personality.” Yamato explained. “It manifests as that particular attribute, and grows as that, eventually consuming the person completely. Majora fell to a lust for power.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask him.

“Do you know what your darkest aspect is? Not even I know, really. Not yet anyway.”

“How the hell and I supposed to know?” I ask, a bit irritated at his game.

“You’d best figure it out, then, before it consumes you too. Even now it’s festering inside you. That pain you feel is part of the process.”

“Okay, so why should I believe a single word you’re saying?” I ask.

“I’m the only person alive who has seen the full abilities of Skeith and lived.” Yamato explained. “I’ve seen its final work firsthand… and killed it. And like I said before, I don’t want you dying just yet.”

“So when would you want me to die?” I ask. “When I’m about to kill you?”

“Maybe.” Yamato says. “Only time will tell.”

I’m wracked by another splitting headache, making me gasp in pain and clutch my head.

“You can hear its voice.” Yamato said. “What’s it saying?”

“It…” I begin. “It wants me to… destroy everything.”

“Destroy everything?”

“Yes.”

“I see…”

“See what?”

“Skeith is smart, Ishi. It’s trying to distract you from the real cause of your pain with other thoughts. I know wanting to destroy everything can’t be your darkest attribute, it’s way too broad and simple. It’s something deeper… and it looks like Skeith wants to keep you from it so you can’t get rid of the problem.”

“You’re saying Skeith has a mind of its own?” I ask.

“I wouldn’t say that exactly.” Yamato says. “I don’t exactly know how to put it.”

“Some help…”

“Ishi, you’re going to need to look deep inside yourself to find out what your dark side is.” Yamato explained. “If you don’t it’ll take you like it took Majora. And if that happens, I will kill you.”

“Lovely.” I say sarcastically. “Why not just kill me now and be done with it?”

“Wow, you really want to die, don’t you?”

“I’m just asking.”

“I’ve already told you plenty of times. You have work yet to do. Can’t let you die until it’s done.”

“And what concern is my work to you?” I ask.

“Well that would be telling.” Yamato said with a smirk.

“God, you’re an ass.”

“Yeah, I know.”

A few seconds of silence pass.

“I’d best be going.” Yamato said. “Just keep going, Ishi. You’ll find your way soon enough.”

I watch as he leaves, teleporting out to God knows where. Another numbing headache rolls around after that, making me bite my lip and shake my head.

I trusted Yamato about as far as I could throw him, but what he was saying at least made a bit of sense. Besides, it’s the only option I have.

My troubles with Skeith weren’t over. They were just getting started.

Chapter 21

2 Days Later

“You feeling alright, Asuka?” I ask over breakfast.

“Huh?” She says, reverting her gaze on me from looking out the window. “Yeah, of course. You should worry about yourself, really.”

“Nothing strange has been happening?” I press. “No… like… I don’t know…”

“No, Ishi.” She says. “Honest. What’s going on?”

“It’s nothing.” I say, flinching from a small pain in my head. “Just want to make sure.”

I remembered what Kamui had said about Asuka, how she could have a trace of Skeith on her… I didn’t understand it, but whatever it was if it could be used to create a copy of Skeith it was bad news. I decided to keep it to myself, however, so I wouldn’t worry her. Somehow I knew it was going to bite me in the ass later on, but right now the last thing she needed was knowledge of that. Besides, Kamui could be wrong.

I hope he’s wrong…

I’d have to keep a close watch on Asuka just in case… I didn’t like keeping such a major thing from her, but she’s been through a lot recently, and she didn’t need to have even more pressure on her. I was worried for her, but part of me knew she’d be alright… I promised her as much.

“Agh…” I wince at another sharp pain in my head, followed by the usual voices, urging me to bring destruction down upon everything.

“Are you alright?” Asuka asked.

“Yeah…” I said. “I’m probably never going to get used to this, though…”

“Well hopefully what Yamato said about being able to get rid of those headaches is true, then.” Asuka said. “Wouldn’t want you dying on me.”

“Arondight is uneasy.” I say. “And Gilgamesh is reckless.”

“Hm?”

“Arondight is the calm one, you see, the sensible one. In stark contrast to Gilgamesh, who is impulsive and restless.”

“Oh, right, forgot you can hear them now.” Asuka said. “For a second I thought you were losing your mind.” She giggled lightly. “How does that work, anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, how can they talk to you? How do you hear them?”

“Well, I don’t really know the answer to the first question…” I explain. “But I don’t hear them, per se. I… I just feel their thoughts. I can’t explain how I can differentiate theirs from my own either. Maybe they are my own thoughts… different aspects of myself that have attributed themselves to my weapons.”

“Weird.” Asuka said.

“I don’t fully understand it myself.” I say.

“I see…”

I then receive a message in my inbox. I open it up and see it was from Hao.

Ishi,

Please meet with me today. I’ve a few more things to discuss with you.

Terra Mirus. 41st  floor.

Hao

“Huh.” I say

“What?” Asuka asks.

“Nothing.” I say, closing the message.

“Who was it from? Misaki?”

“It’s not important.” I say getting up off my seat. “Anyway, I’m heading out.”

“Heading out?” Asuka asks. “To where?”

I just shrug, before leaving.

---

I arrive at Terra Mirus shortly after. The place was a small abandoned town basically in the middle of nowhere that was lost to a PK raid a while ago. Most of the buildings were leveled, and the place just had a feeling of emptiness to it. Why Hao wanted to meet me here was beyond me.

“Ishi.” I hear Hao call. I look over and see him at the entrance to the least damaged looking building in the town. He gestures me to follow him into the building. I follow and enter through the opened door half off its hinges. Hao sat at an old table that looked like it was about to lose a leg and fall over, let alone the chair he was sitting on. He offered me a seat and I took it carefully, making sure not to break it.

“What a dump.” I comment. “Why are we here of all places?”

“Only place we could really get some privacy.” Hao answered.

“I could think of a few private places other than this.” I say.

“You have Skeith.” Hao said. “Kamui’s not happy about it.”

“I bet.” I say. “How would you know, anyway?”

“I have my ways.”

“Those ways could get you killed.”

“Haven’t slipped yet.”

“Famous last words.”

“How is it?” Hao asked, getting back on topic. “Wielding Skeith, I mean.”

“I haven’t used it yet.” I said. “I don’t even really know how to… and I hope I don’t have to, either.”

“I’ve heard just being in possession of Skeith changes you.” Hao noted.

“Well… I guess that’s not entirely false.” I say. “I get these killer headaches all the time now.”

On cue I flinch at the pain in my head.

“Like that.” I say, pointing at my head. “Yamato says there’s a way to get rid of them. Something about conquering my dark side or some other cliché crap.”

“Dark side?” Hao asked.

“Apparently Skeith manifests as the darkest aspect of one’s personality. Over time it grows stronger inside them before it eventually consumes them. Happened to Majora, and it’s going to happen to me if I don’t do something about it.”

“So you do believe what Yamato said?”

“Who else can I believe?”

“So what’s your darkest aspect, then?” He questions.

“Hell if I know…” I say. “Gonna have to figure it out soon, though.”

“Do you know of Skeith’s opposite?” Hao asks.

“Skeith’s opposite?” I think on it. “Yeah… I mean, a friend mentioned it once, but didn’t know anything about it. Wasn’t even sure if it was real.”

“Well it is real.” Hao said.

“How would you know?” I ask. “Seriously, I’m a bit declined to believing you with how shady you are.”

“I have sources all over.” Hao said. “And further, the less you know about me the better off you’ll be.”

“Why? Or can you not answer that either?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Of course you can’t…” I lean back on the chair, but quickly put it back on all four feet when I hear it creaking unsteadily. “So what’s this about Skeith’s opposite?”

“It’s called Corbenik.” Hao says. “Apparently it has abilities matching Skeith’s perfectly. They cancel each other out, and together they hold much more power than either would individually.”

“Has it been seen around?”

“Not at all.” Hao responded.

“So how do you even know it exists?” I ask.

“It’s been used once before.” Hao explained. “By Yamato. To defeat Majora.”

“Yamato had Corbenik?” I ask.

“Yes. That’s the only reason why he was able to defeat Majora. Yamato was always more skilled than Majora, but even he was no match for Skeith.”

“So he found Corbenik.”

“Yes. But how he did so remains a mystery. That was the only time Corbenik was ever seen. It just appeared out of nowhere and vanished just as quickly.”

“Strange…” I say. “You think Yamato still has it?”

“I doubt it.” Hao said. “Skeith and Corbenik resonate with each other when in close proximity and I’m guessing you didn’t see anything crazy happen when he was around.”

“What do you mean they resonate?” I ask.

“Skeith and Corbenik are bred from the same broken coding.” Hao elaborated. “They’re opposite, but the same simultaneously. They hold equal power in different forms. When the two are close they react to one another’s presence, amplifying their abilities and at the same time making them both extremely unstable. The two players wielding them resonate as well. Controlling either at that point is near impossible, but Yamato somehow manage when he fought Majora for the final time.”

“I’m guessing Majora couldn’t do the same.” I note.

“No, he couldn’t.” Hao confirmed. “In the end Majora was killed, and Yamato released both Skeith and Corbenik back into Aincrad.”

“I wonder why… It’d make more sense for him to just keep them.”

“His motives are his own, it seems.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that plenty of times.”

We stay silent for a few second before I remember.

“Hao.” I say. “Asuka was almost killed by Skeith recently… she’s recovered but… before that she was taken by Kamui. I got to where she was being held and listened in on him talking to the warden of the prison. He said that Asuka could… have traces of Skeith on her. And that they could possible create a copy of Skeith with that and awaken something called Ragnarok. Know anything about that?”

“Hmm…” Hao thinks. “Creating a copy of Skeith… I know for sure traces of Skeith are left wherever it goes and on whatever or whoever it affects, but I don’t think they stay for very long. How long ago was this?”

“3 days ago.”

“Well any residue of Skeith should’ve worn off by now.” Hao assured me. “But creating a copy of Skeith with just a trace… I’m not sure if that’s even possible. And this Ragnarok I’m not sure of either.”

“Well with a name like that it can’t be good.”

“And if they need something like Skeith to awaken it then that’s even worse.”

“Is it some monster?” I ask.

“Most likely.” Hao said. “As for Asuka, I’d keep an eye on her for a while just in case. You never know with Kamui.”

“Was planning on that anyway. Is that all?”

“For the time being, yes.” Hao said. “I’ll keep you updated.”

I nod and get up off the chair before it collapses under my weight and head out, leaving the ghost town and heading back to Luciad.

---

“I don’t like how Hao knows all this…” Knight said after I was finished explaining the meeting to him.

“Me neither, but I have a feeling what he’s saying is the truth.” I say. “It’d be a good idea to try to keep him on our side.”

“True…” Knight pondered this as Trinity entered the room with Avro.

“Oh, hey, Ishi.” She said.

I nod to her and Avro.

“Hey, Ishi.” Avro said. “You know where Asuka is? I still want a rematch from her.”

“What, she beat you?” I ask.

“It was a draw!” He protested.

“Don’t know.” I say. “You try messaging her?”

“Yeah, but she’s busy, I guess.” Avro sat down in a chair at the table.

“Huh.”

And like that, Asuka steps into the room.

“Oh, there you are!” Avro said. “Where have you been?”

“Just out for a walk.” She said. “I got your messages but I ignored them.”

“Oh, gee, thanks.” Avro sighed. “I still want that rematch.”

“Well come on, then.” Asuka instigated, walking out of the room with Avro to the training courtyard.

“Okay, guys.” I say. “About Asuka possibly having traces of Skeith on her. I don’t want her to know.”

“Wait, what?” Trinity asked.

“Why?” Knight said.

“It’d only worry her.” I say. “She doesn’t need to know.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Trinity asks.

Knight takes the time to explain it to her.

“What?!” She shouts. “And you want to keep something like that from her?!”

“I don’t want her to worry about it. She’s been through enough already.”

“Ishi, she’ll find out sooner or later.” Knight said. “You might as well come clean.

“I can’t.” I say. “If she does have a trace of Skeith on her then her knowledge of it would only lead to trouble. I know what Skeith does.”

“Well we can’t just leave it on her.” Trinity says. “What’re we supposed to do?”

“Find Corbenik.” I say. “I can use that to destroy the traces of Skeith on her.”

“If what Kamui said was even true.” Gawain noted.

“Better safe than sorry.”

“Well… I don’t like it.” Trinity voiced her opposition.

“I know, I don’t either.” I agree. “But we don’t have a choice. The best I can do is find Corbenik.”

“And how will you do that?” Knight said.

I feel my sword talking to me from the back of my mind. It told me to get going. Where, it didn’t say.

“I gotta go.” I say. “Arondight wants me to go somewhere.”

I don’t say another word as I leave the building.

“Where do you want me to go?” I ask my sword.

It answered. It told me to go to Hephaestus again.

“Hephaestus? Why him?”

It doesn’t answer. It only urges me to go again.

“Well, alright.” I say, shrugging.

The two random passersby in front of me just stared, thinking I was losing my mind talking to myself as I walked off out of town and traveled to the Vulcan Range.

---

I arrive on the 14th floor and make my way up the nearly invisible mountain path and eventually make it back to Hephaestus’s little cave. He was hard at work, making a sword, striking at the hot metal with his hammer before carrying it over to a pool of water and dunking it in, steam sizzling from the blade as it rapidly cools down.

He then notices me.

“Ishi…” He said almost with resent, moving back to the hot fires to reheat the blade. “What do you want?”

“Arondight told me to come here.” I said. “I don’t know why.”

He turns to me, a look of surprise on his face.

“You can hear your weapons?”

“Yes.” I nod.

“May I?” He reaches out and I bring out Arondight, putting it in his hands.

He closes his eyes for a few seconds.

“Is that so?” He says, before opening his eyes and giving my blade back to me.

“I didn’t think you were the one.” Hephaestus said.

“The one?” I ask. “What?”

Hephaestus moves to a back room and to a small chest. He opens it and brings out a pure black sword with a white blade edge, as well as a black crossguard inlaid with white decorative designs and white wrapping on the handle. He walked over to me, blade in hand.

“Ishi.” He addressed me. “This blade is the most powerful blade I have ever forged. More powerful than Lamentation and Nocturne. Its name is Aphelion. I think you should have it.”

“Why?” I question.

“You’re destined to be the True Blade Master. I crafted this weapon specifically for that one person. I always thought it would be Yamato, but… it seems I was wrong.”

I take the Hellkarium blade in hand and test it out. Light and flexible, yet strong and powerful at once. I cut the air cleanly with the blade, and I felt it was a good fit, although I would be using Arondight more, this sword could make a good supplementary weapon.

“Is that what Arondight told you?” I ask.

“Your fate will take you places you never dreamed of, Blade Master.” He said. “I give you this weapon to help prepare. It will be a long journey, fraught with blood and sacrifice.”

“I see…” I look down at the blade as Hephaestus hands me a belt to hold the blade to my side. I put it on and fit the blade in its place. It didn’t have a scabbard to it, so it hung exposed on my waist. I move around a bit, finding that it didn’t hinder my movement at all, as was my original concern with Arondight, deciding to have it sheathed to my back.

“Hold onto the light, Blade Master.” Hephaestus said. “The path you follow is naught but shadow.”

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