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Clashing Blades - Arc 5

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Arc 5 of Sword Art Online: Clashing Blades.


Chapter 22

4 Months Later

It’s been getting worse.

The effects of Skeith on me were beginning to take huge tolls on me. Not only the headaches now, but I’d randomly fall to the ground in a fit of pain or cough up blood every now and again out of nowhere. I could be fine one second and suddenly start hearing voices and my vision could get faded and dizzy and I could lose my sense of balance and fall flat on my face, then two seconds later I’d be fine again. It wasn’t fun at all.

For some reason, though, they never happened when I was around Misaki, so I took to sticking with her as much as possible to avoid being metaphorically punched in the face constantly.

It was Christmas time in Aincrad now, and holiday spirits hung in the air like the many lights and decorations that were strung up on and between buildings. Luciad was especially lively, getting its own giant Christmas tree right in the middle of town, its light being visible all across the city and beyond. Snow was falling lightly down, and all around people were busier than normal, gathering Christmas stuff; presents, decorations and the like. Seemed like Misaki and myself as well as the rest of the guild were the only ones who actually had free time. Trinity had suggested we have a bit of a Christmas party, but I was the first to decline, due to my disposition towards parties, seeing as even my own birthday wasn’t high on my list of things to get excited about.

But I had to admit, my spirits were lightened with the holiday season. It was hard not to feel enlightened just a bit while seeing all the lights and hearing sounds and smelling the sweet aromas of holiday treats just about everywhere you went. It was nice to know that even while we were trapped in a death game people could still celebrate the holidays.

I had also been keeping a close watch on Asuka these past few months. But as far as I could tell nothing was out of the ordinary, which was good news. I was beginning to think that Kamui’s words were without merit. One less thing to worry about I guess.

Misaki and I were walking through town, enjoying the holiday spirits.

“I just love this time of year!” Misaki said, spinning once on her heel.

“Hm.” I adjust the collar on my winter cloak.

“Oh, come on!” She nudges me with her elbow. “You can’t tell me that you don’t like the holidays.”

“No, I do.” I say. “But I don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“Right, you don’t really get into all these festivities.” Misaki said.

“No, not really.” I say.

Misaki and I keep walking until we get to the center of town, where the big ass tree was. People were gathered all around it, sitting on the benches circling it. I saw more than a few couples there as well, and I couldn’t help the fact that Misaki and I looked the same. I could imagine she was thinking the same thing.

“You hear Asuka’s birthday is coming up soon?” Misaki asked.

“That so?” I say. “When?”

“The 21st.” She said. “I don’t exactly know what to get her… what about you?”

“Well I’d have to think about it.” I say. “Don’t really know what she could use.”

I think on that for a bit, then come up with something.

“Oh, I know!” I say.

---

11 Days Later

I had to lean against Misaki as she pretty much carried me to Adeline’s. My limbs were tired, and there was a gash in my forehead, from which blood had flowed down my face. The bleeding had stopped by the time we got there, but the blood wasn’t washed off. Misaki opens the door for us, and we step inside. I wave wearily to Asuka.

“Heyyyy.” I say, completely exhausted. “I heard… it was your birthday today…”

“Ishi!” She shouted, rushing over to me. “Are you okay?!”

“He’s fine.” Misaki assured. “Just cut it a bit close getting you your birthday present.”

“Aww.” She said. “You went through trouble just to get me a present? You’re so sweet.”

“Shut up.” I say as Bedivere quickly came to my aid, wiping off the blood from my face and healing all other minor wounds. Before long I’m good as new.

“Thanks.” I say to Bedivere who nods in approval.

“You should really take it easy, Ishi.” She warned. “We don’t want you dying on us.”

“I’m fine.” I smile.

Basically everyone who was at my party was here for Asuka’s as well. It must kind of suck having your birthday slightly played down since it’s so close to Christmas, something I thankfully don’t have to worry about, with my birthday being right in the middle of the year, but we had a party for her anyway. She was 19 now as well.

“So what’d you get me?” Asuka asked, trying her best not to sound greedy.

“Here.” I say, handing her a small cloth bag. She opens it up and pulls out a clump of jet black metal. The stares at it completely appalled.

“Ishi…” She says. “Is… is this what I think it is?”

“Depends on what you think it is.” I point out. “If you think it’s Hellkarium, then you’d be right.”

“How the hell did you get Hellkarium?!” She shouted excitedly. “And this much too!”

“It’s… not important.” I say, recalling the close shave I had getting the stuff. “Just…  happy birthday.”

“Aw, thank you!” Asuka swung her arms around my neck in a big hug, just about squeezing the life out of me before releasing me and inspecting the Hellkarium further.

“We got cake!” Agravaine cheered, bringing out said cake and placing it on a table. Before she could steal all of it for herself, however, Trinity quickly grabbed her by the collar of her top and pulled her back.

“Na-ah.” She said. “The birthday girl gets the first slice.”

---

So we spent the rest of the day at Asuka’s party until it was getting late, and we all decided to call it a day.

I decided to go out and train a bit, while the rest of the group decided to pack it in and get to sleep. I was a bit restless, however, and thought it better to train a bit to wind down a bit. I was still getting used to the feelings of fatigue that came with Skeith as well as the pain, and I figured I could use the workout.

I decided to take on the Minotaurs around Vespera, seeing as they provided a decent enough challenge without being too terribly life threatening, and choose to work on Aphelion, seeing as I haven’t had any real combat time with it.

I bring out my newest blade and test it out by swinging it a few times in the cold air, getting the feel for it being slightly heavier than what I was accustomed to. I challenge the first monster I see, readying myself as it charged at me, emitting a bull-like roar as I sidestep its charge, letting it run past me as I quickly slash upwards with Aphelion, gashing deep into its side and killing it instantly. I inspect the blade, finding it much to my liking, before running up to the next Minotaur and stabbing it in the chest, before withdrawing and spinning once, performing a quick downwards slash that ended the rest of its HP.

I’m met with another pain in my head as Skeith whispered to me. I heard it calling my name, constantly urging me to bring destruction upon all I saw. I wouldn’t have that. I shake my head in an effort to get those thoughts out of my head and resume my training, Shifting up to another Minotaur and stabbing it in the side before swiping it outwards and slashing the one next to it, ending with a powerful downwards swing.

I grab another Minotaur by the head with Gilgamesh, throwing it aside as another raised a battle axe behind me. I evade the blow and watch as the Minotaur killed his own ally, before stabbing him in the back and kicking him off my blade. Another three came at me at once. I Shift to the first, slicing it three times quickly, killing it, before swinging back hard and nailing another in the legs, sending it into the snow, and in the same strike raising upwards and slicing the other in the chest, killing it. I finish off my impaling the one on the ground through the back, shattering it.

“Feels nice.” I comment on my new sword, inspecting it.

I charge the blade up with runic energy from my glove and swipe the air, a white energy trail following the blade. I sheath the blade and take a deep sigh, before holding out my left hand and letting Skeith form in the palm. I look at the thing in my hand for just a few seconds before the pain forces me to regress. I look up at the starry sky, the moon illuminating the wilderness around me, already white with snow. Streaks of white frost were carried low to the ground by the wind, sweeping past my feet, making my cloak flutter outwards. I sight deeply, sending a puff of steam from my mouth.

“It’s really late, you know.” I hear Misaki say as she comes up behind me.

I wheel around and look at her.

“How do you always know where I am?” I ask.

She shrugs and stands next to me.

“Aren’t you tired?” She asks.

“Maybe a bit.” I say. “But not too much. I’d rather spend a bit more time out here.”

“I see.”

We stay in silence for a few seconds after.

“You know…” Misaki said to break the silence. “We haven’t sparred in a while.”

“No, we haven’t.” I say.

“Well? Why don’t we?” She asks.

“I don’t think I’m all that up for it…”

“Come on. I’ll go easy on you.”

“Heh…” I ready my blade and back up a bit. “No you won’t.”

“Oh you know me so well.” She smiles, unsheathing her own sword and readying herself.

We step towards each other, tapping our blades together once before we slide into each other, pushing against one another before sliding off and simultaneously making a strike, our blades bouncing off each other before we both spin back and make a downwards slash, locking blades there.

We back off of each other, and move inwards again, striking at each other a few times, before Misaki jumps over me and delivers a downwards slash from above, which I defend against. She lands behind me and slashes at me from behind. I duck under her blow and sweep my leg back, tripping her and putting her onto the ground. Before I can take advantage however, she flips back up onto her hands and spins a kick my way. I back up to evade the kick, and she flips back upright onto her feet. Now it was my turn. I Shift up to her, not giving her much time to react, and slash upwards, forcing her to parry with her blade, before rearing back and delivering a powerful momentum assisted horizontal spin strike that hit her hard, putting her a bit off balance. She regains it quickly, however, and moves in to attack me again. I sidestep her blow and land a good with Gilgamesh to her side, taking out a bit of her HP, but not really doing too much.

This time, she backs up before running to my side, attempting to flank me. I see it coming and brace my sword up to defend, blocking her strike and letting her sail past me, before I grab her by the back of her collar and pull her to me, bringing my blade up to her neck, but at the same time she used the momentum of my pull to spin around and place her blade at my neck. We stood so close that only our blades separated us, staring into each other’s eyes for what seemed like longer than it actually was before we back off, deciding to call it a draw for now.

“You’ve improved, Ishi.” She commented, sheathing her sword to her side.

“You too.” I say, rubbing my neck to make sure there weren’t any small cuts there.

“We should probably head back now, huh?” Misaki asked.

“Yeah.” I nod.

We take the walk to the road connecting Vespera and Talmia and head back to Talmia together. Misaki held my hand the entire way.

---

4 Days Later

“IT’S CHRISTMAS!” Agravaine cheered, running around us randomly, Trinity helpless to stop her.

So we went through with Trinity’s Christmas party idea, much to her delight, and we got together at Adeline’s for it. We didn’t have any presents for each other, deciding that with the number of people attending we wouldn’t have enough money for just one for each.

Well I would, because I’m a living bank, but I didn’t know what to get for everybody, so I just went with everyone else and didn’t get anything for anyone. Fair’s fair.

We spent pretty much the entire day hanging out, not only at Adeline’s, but we went out just to have fun. We spent time at the Christmas parade and fair that was set up in Talmia, enjoying all the fun activities there. Even I got into the spirit of things, getting my own little Santa hat to wear all day, and even participating in some activities, since Iskandar successfully charisma’d me to do it.

Misaki contributed to that as well, I’ll admit.

Caught in our holiday revels, time flew by quickly, and before we knew it, it was getting dark. It was at this time that we all decided to call it a day and bid each other adieu. I decided to stay out a little bit longer, however, parting ways with my friends to take a night walk, which was as bright as day thanks to all the Christmas lights. I wasn’t the only one out this late. A lot of people were still celebrating on the streets. I head for the large Christmas tree in the middle of the town, and find an empty bench that I sit myself down on. Other couples were sitting on the other benches circling the tree, talking to each other, hugging, kissing… I was the only one who was here alone.

It didn’t stay that way for long.

“What’s up with you and staying out late?” Misaki said, as she came to sit down next to me.

“Thought you went off to bed.” I say.

“Well I was, but I decided to check in on you before I did.” She smiled.

“That so?” I look to the tree in front of us, its lights flashing in an array of colors, ornaments sparkling and ribbons of red and gold shining.

Misaki took my hand in hers. I look to her. She was smiling, staring right into my eyes as I stared into hers. Her green eyes sparkled almost as much as the lights of the tree they were reflecting. She looked up, and a blush took to her cheeks.

“Mistletoe.” She said.

Before she could react, I bring out my blade and cut the mistletoe cleanly off its branch, grabbing it and throwing it into the ground, stomping on it once before sitting back down.

Fuck that cliché shit.

“What mistletoe?” I say. “I don’t see any mistletoe.”

She only laughed, before she brought her hand to my cheek, smiling lightly. I could feel my own cheeks heating up a bit as she closed the distance. Our lips met, and though I knew it wasn’t the first time, it definitely felt like it. We stayed locked with each other for a few seconds before she put a bit more weight on me, pushing me down onto my back. Now on top of me, she kept at it, moaning lightly under our passionate kiss. I couldn’t help but get into it a bit myself, and as much as I hate cheesy clichés like this, I’d be damned if it didn’t feel like I was in heaven.

After what seemed like eternity, we finally part. Misaki looks down on me, and I look back up at her, both of us holding a blush on our faces. We sit back up, and go for it again, holding each other in our arms, rekindled love sparking in both of us.

Best Christmas ever.

Chapter 23

1 Week Later

“Agh, dammit!” I curse quietly.

I had that same damn dream again. It played out slightly different this time, though… I had lasted even longer than before, and the scenery around us had gotten slightly clearer… I had no idea why I was having this recurring dream, but there really wasn’t anything I could do about them.

I shake my head and get dressed, ready to take on the day. I step down the stairs, a little slower than usual, more tired than I ought to be.

“Hey, Ishi.” Adeline said. “You don’t look so good.”

“I’m fine.” I tell her.

“Up all night partying, huh?” She laughed.

“It was new years… I just need to eat something is all, I’ll be good.”

 “Don’t know how well that logic holds in a game, but sure.” Adeline quickly got me my usual breakfast and I chow down. Adeline comes by with her own breakfast and sits down.

“We’ve been here for  over a year.” She said. “Hard to believe, huh?”

“Yeah…” I stare out the window, poking my egss with my fork obliviously, before I clutch my head with another headache. “Dammit…”

“That thing is really taking it out on you…” Adeline said worriedly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I say. “With any luck I’ll find a way so I won’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“I hope so.”

It was at this time Misaki walked through the front door and noticed me.

“Good morning, Ishi.” She said, walking over and giving me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Hey.” I say as she sits down next to me. “What’s up?”

“Just thought I’d stop by.” She told me.

“You and her got back together, then?” Adeline asked.

“Yeah.” I say.

“Well that’s wonderful!” She said. “I’m happy for you two. I always thought you made a great couple; I couldn’t understand why you broke up in the first place.”

“Hm.” I take a bite of my eggs and look out the window.

“So, Adeline.” Misaki said. “I’ve been meaning to ask you. How’d you and Ishi meet?”

“Oh? He never told you?”

“She never asked.” I said.

“Well it was about a year ago…” Adeline remembered. “Back when he was still part of the guild, earlier in the game. I think it was… January 2023? It was when I had first opened my tavern, so yeah. I had been targeted by this group of player killers, five of them if I remember correctly. They were going to kill me, but Ishi stepped in. Got in a tussle with all five at once but managed to beat them back, almost getting killed himself. After that I offered him a room for free here to keep as long as he wants.”

“Oh, so that’s why you live here?” Misaki asks me.

“Yeah.” I say, taking a sip of milk.

“Of course Ishi’s not here most of the time.” Adeline told her. “He’s usually off on some grand adventure I have to skip out on to run my tavern. Usually just has breakfast here, sometimes lunch and or dinner, and sleeps.”

“Yeah, pretty much.” I say finishing up my breakfast and heading out, Misaki following.

“Have fun, you two.” Adeline says cheerfully as we head out to HQ.

---

Arriving at HQ, we enter the main room and find Knight and Gawain discussing matters… with Hao.

“Hao?” I say.

He turns to me.

“Ah, Ishi.” He said. “Good to see you.”

“What’re you doing here?” I ask.

“We were just discussing more information he’s come across.” Knight explained. “The Guardians of Darkness are apparently becoming more aggressive. After we recruited Iskandar’s army we set up bases in strategic cities on strategic floors, each headed by a member of our guild, with a number of the army stationed there. The Guardians of Darkness have begun to move on us, taking Agravaine and Vincent’s bases in Fort Maria, 29th floor, and Noresther, 9th floor, respectively.”

“These are strategic locations that we need to protect.” Gawain added. “They can help us greatly in the future.”

“That said, we’re working to recapture them right now, so you needn’t help with that.” Knight said. “Hao was explaining that they are planning to move on Camlann now, to take the base headed by Gawain there.”

“Camlann is a highly strategic location.” Hao said. “It makes sense that they’d attempt to capture your base there.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

He was silent at that.

“Forgive me if I say I don’t trust you.” I say. “But the fact you know all this leads to more suspicion than I like.”

“I have information that is useful to you.” Hao said. “It shouldn’t matter to you what my motivations are or how I obtain such information.”

I draw my blade and point it straight at his face.

“Lancelot.” Knight said with caution.

“You may be giving us information but that doesn’t mean you’re on our side.” I say. “I want to know how you know what you know and why you’re sharing it with us.”

Hao stayed silent for a few seconds, the tip of my sword inches away from him.

“Put your weapon down.” Knight ordered.

I hesitate to do so, but follow my orders, withdrawing and putting my Arondight in its sheath.

“You don’t actually trust him, do you?” I ask him.

“We don’t have much of a say.” He answered. “He’s giving us information that we need. We don’t know why, but he’s been right with everything he’s told us so far, so we have no reason not to believe him now.”

“He’s not on our side.”

“He’s a supporter to our cause.”

“Ishi.” Misaki grabbed my arm.

“I know you don’t trust me.” Hao said. “But we are allies of circumstance. We share a common enemy, so it matters not where my allegiances lie.”

“My ass…” I mutter.

“Lancelot.” Knight caught my attention. “We’ve more pressing matters right now. Gawain is heading to Camlann to meet with the enemy and keep them from taking our base. You and Misaki will go with. More than likely they have a larger force than they did for the other two, so your support will be necessary.”

I give Hao one last glare which he brushes off.

“Fine.” I say.

“We’re heading out now.” Gawain said, moving to the door.

Misaki and I follow him, leaving the building and heading to Camlann.

---

We arrive at Camlann and walk through the city to the base. It was a medium sized garrison with banners adorned with the Court’s insignia around it. Around 20 soldiers of Iskandar’s army were stationed outside, waiting to receive the enemy.

“How long do we have to wait?” Misaki asked.

“Not long.” Gawain said. “If Hao’s information is true they should be arriving within a half hour.”

“That’ll give us time to prepare.” Misaki noted.

“We’ve been prepared.” Gawain told her. “I had called ahead and told the men to get ready.”

“Alright, then.” I say.

“Ishi.” Gawain says. “You can do this, right? You’ll have to kill.”

I give him a look.

“Not like I haven’t killed before, Gawain.” I say. “I realize now that it was inevitable… I couldn’t avoid it forever. It’s just the kind of person I am.”

“I see…” Gawain looks ahead. “Just don’t lose your way, Blade Master. We’re counting on that.”

“I won’t.”

The half hour flew by quick, and before long we saw a decent sized force coming around the corner, all dressed in black. We knew immediately who it was. We didn’t give them a chance to attack first.

Gawain raised his hand and flicked his fingers forward.

“Archers fire.”

A large volley of arrows bore downwards on the enemy numbers from atop the walls of the base, most hitting their mark, killing a few of the enemy and making the others scatter. They ran at us, weapons drawn. Gawain brought out his large two handed claymore, Mordred, and ran headfirst at the biggest enemy he could find, bracing his blade up against a large battle axe, blocking it before spinning around and swinging downwards hard, slamming his blade into the ground after it was done cleaving through the poor guy, killing him instantly.

The fight was on in full force at this point, and I pick my targets, rushing up to one and placing a finger of Gilgamesh on him.

“Chain Lightning.”

A large and powerful arc of electricity surged between five of them, shattering all of them instantly but giving me a bit of a backlash, hurting me slightly in the process. I recover quickly, however, and sidestep a blade, retaliating my spinning low and cutting upwards, slicing into his side before refraining and thrusting my blade through his stomach. I grab another blade with Gilgamesh and pull it forwards, kneeing a guy in the face, pushing him back and allowing me to punch him hard in the gut before impaling him in the same place.

I duck under a horizontal swipe and dive roll away from another, spinning quickly and cutting down the guy behind me before engaging the two others who went at me, diving in between the two and grabbing the ankle of one, pulling and putting his face to the ground, quickly striking blades twice with his friend before sweeping into his guard and slicing him down.

I take a quick look over to Misaki, watching her as she gracefully cuts down two opponents within seconds of each other, blocking another and curving her blade upwards, angling her sword to impale the guy right through the chest, kicking him back as he shattered and quickly evading three swipes from another, cutting him down in suit.

“Misaki!” I shout, getting her attention.

I run up to her and grab her hand, throwing her outwards to slice another one with extra momentum, and still holding hands, she throws me out in the same fashion, allowing me to cut into my own. We work in tandem, cutting down enemies with masterful coordination while simultaneously defending each other at all points. We worked together to clear out a large portion of the enemy before breaking off and separating, free to take on our own lot again.

We had already lost most of the 20 or so guys we had here, but they had lost most of their force as well. With just about 12 of them left, it wouldn’t be too difficult.

I cut down two more, before charging upwards and clawing at another with Gilgamesh, throwing Arondight into another, impaling him neatly and bringing out Aphelion to cut into another twice, before sheathing that and retrieving my blade from the other’s chest, punching him back as he shattered.

Gawain finished the final two by punching one and bringing his broad sword down in a punishing blow, killing him instantly, before sweeping back and slicing the legs off another and spinning once, raising his blade and bringing it down on him in the air, cleaving him in two.

I look around to confirm that there were no more enemies before sheathing my weapons.

“That looks to be it.” Gawain said. “Good work.”

“How many did we lose?” I ask.

“Looks like… we’ve 7 left.” Misaki counted. “A bit more than I like…”

“Yeah… but at least we kept the base.” I offer.

“Right…” Gawain sheathes his weapon to his back. “Well we should probably report back to Kni-”

He stops suddenly, and in bewilderment looks down. It takes a few seconds for any of us to realize there was a blade going right through his chest. It gets pushed deeper through, before he is pushed off the blade and sent onto the ground.

Kamui is standing there, his Hellkarium forged blade drawn.

“GAWAIN!” Misaki shouts.

“Bastard!” I say menacingly.

Misaki rushes in without thinking, slicing at Kamui twice, who effortlessly blocks her strikes, sending a hand out and grabbing her neck, lifting her up into the air.

“MISAKI!” I yell, drawing my weapons. “Put her DOWN!”

He cuts into her hard, but doesn’t kill her, tossing her to the ground.

“DAMN YOU!” I Shift up to him, slamming my blade into his, before making two more quick strikes before Kamui makes a strike of his own. I see it coming and brace Gilgamesh up and make a quick upwards strike with Arondight, letting it go when it reached its height and flinging it up into the air, bringing out Aphelion and clashing blades with him.

“You’ve improved.” Kamui said. “And this new blade… it was forged by Hephaestus wasn’t it?”

I don’t answer, just trying to push him back. He pushes on me harder.

“Even so…” He slams forward, throwing me back onto the ground.

He raises his sword again and slashes down as Arondight comes back down, striking it and sending it my way. I don’t recover fast enough, and my own blade impales itself into my right shoulder.

“Agh!” I stagger and trip back onto the ground as warm blood runs from the wound. I pull the blade out of my shoulder and drop it onto the ground, holding my shoulder as intense pain rippled through my body.

“Dammit…” I glare at him, feeling rage well up inside me as I could feel Skeith coming forth a bit.

At this point, the remaining 7 soldiers of Iskandar’s army made their go, being slain like they were nothing near instantly.

Kamui sheathes his weapon and walks over to Misaki, picking her up and slinging her unconscious body over his shoulder. He doesn’t say a word as he leaves, teleporting out to who knows where.

“GOD DAMMIT!” I curse loudly, wincing at the pain in my shoulder.

I look to Gawain, who was still face down on the ground.

“Shit, Gawain…” I rush over as quick as I can with my bad shoulder and flip him onto his back.

“Dammit…” Gawain curses. “Killed my Kamui, are you fucking kidding me?”

“Gawain you’re not dead yet.” I say. “Come on, we can get you to Bedivere! She can-”

“No, Ishi…” He says. “HP is dropping too fast… I’m not gonna make it.”

“Don’t say that! I’m not gonna let you die!”

“You need to… go after Misaki. Don’t waste your time on me…” His breathing was slow and steady, as if he was ready to die. “Do me a favor, will you? Take my sword with you… you understand, right? I might die but… my sword doesn’t have to.”

“Gawain…”

He grabs his sword from the ground and puts it to my chest.

“You know… it was named after my brother. He was killed by Kamui too… I always wanted to repay the fucker for that but… I guess I’m not going to… you can though. Don’t… you dare let Misaki die…”

He died after that, shattering right there on the ground.

I stayed silent after that, for whole minutes, just staring at Mordred. I stood up slowly, walking over to my own weapons on the ground, sheathing Aphelion to my side before retrieving Arondight, and sheathing it on my back, putting Mordred in my inventory.

“You’re gonna pay for this, Kamui.” I say, Skeith sparking in my eye. “You… you’re going to die.”

Chapter 24

I storm into the main room at HQ. Hao was still there, talking with Knight.

“Lancelot?” Knight says. “Where’s Gawain and Misaki?”

I walk over to Hao and grab him by the collar, lifting him up and slamming him into the wall.

“You son of a BITCH!” I shout. “Why didn’t you tell us he was going to be there, huh?! WHY?!”

“What’re… you talking about?” Hao struggled against my grasp.

“Kamui!” I shout. “You know what he did?! He killed Gawain! And he captured Misaki!”

“Gawain is dead?!” Knight said.

“You bastard!” I say, slamming the back of Hao’s head against the wall. “Why didn’t you tell us, huh?! WHY?!”

“There was no way for me to tell if he was going to be there or not!” He tried to explain. “He shouldn’t have been there! I don’t know why he would’ve led something that small himself!”

Knight puts his hand on my good shoulder.

“Put him down, Ishi.”

I hesitate to do so, but I eventually do, letting him go and watching as he falls onto the ground. I wince from the pain in my shoulder, which had stopped bleeding at this point.

“You’re hurt.” Knight said. “Let Bedivere help you.”

“To hell with that!” I say. “I need to go after Misaki! Kamui has her!”

“You won’t last in your current condition.” Knight said. “You need to heal first.”

“Fuck. That.” I say, turning to walk out of the building.

“Ishi?” I hear Kana say. “Hey, we’re back! I… oh God…”

She notices my wounded shoulder.

“Ishi, are you alright?!” She and her sister rushed over to me, but I shrug them off.

“Ishi.” Knight stood in my way. “I’ll send a force to look for Misaki. Right now you need to rest up.”

“She could be dead by the time they find out where she is.” I say.

“Wait, what happened?” Diana asked. “Is Misaki alright?”

I punch a crater in the wall with Gilgamesh, causing everyone to jump back simultaneously. I stay there, fist imbedded in the wall, head down and eyes closed, breathing heavy.

I feel a hand placed on my shoulder. It was Hao.

“Ishi, I’m sorry.” He said. “I had no idea, honest. I promise I’ll put all my work into finding her. With the sources I have it shouldn’t be too difficult, but right now you should do what Knight says and get healed up. You know how dangerous Kamui is, you need to be at your best before you take him on again.”

I sigh and turn to him.

“You better.” I say, wincing at my shoulder again. “Dammit…”

“I’ll call Bedivere to come over.” Knight said, messaging her before slumping in his chair and sighing. “Gawain…”

“What happened to Gawain?” Diana asked.

“He was killed my Kamui.” I said plainly. “Misaki was captured.”

“Oh, no…” Diana put her hands to her mouth.

“Well let’s go find her, then!” Kana was quick to be irrational, briskly heading for the door. I grab her arm.

“You’re dead if you try.” I say. “Kamui will kill you without thinking about it.”

“But Misaki’s our friend!” She says. “I can’t just sit by while-”

“I’ll get her back.” I say. “Believe me, I will.”

She relents at that, sighing.

“A lot of shit’s been happening lately, huh?” She muttered.

Bedivere crashed through the door at this  point.

“I came as soon as I could!” She panted, exhausted from running. She then noticed my bloodied shoulder. “Ishi!”

She rushed up to me, looking at my injury. “Are you alright?!”

“It’s just pain.” I say casually. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before- ngh!”

I recoiled when she tried to touch it.

“Come on, let’s get a room.” Bedivere said. I ignore the implications I could get out of that sentence and follow her down the hall and to a private room. She has me sit on the bed as she closes the door.

“Take off your jacket. Oh, and the shirt underneath.”

Once again ignoring the implications I remove my blood stained jacket as well as the sleeveless undershirt, revealing my shoulder. Bedivere steps up and inspects it.

“Well that’s bad…” She says. “You’re lucky I know a thing or two about medical practices in real life as well.”

She began her treatment, cleaning up all the blood from my arm and the wound before applying some sort of ointment that stung like hell, after which she wrapped bandages around my shoulder, making them firm but not too tight to inhibit movement. She made sure I didn’t have any other major injuries, inspecting my body all around.

“Agh…” I say as she felt around me. “I’m pretty sure you got it, Bedivere. I’d tell you if there was anything else.”

She ignored me, however, making sure to check everywhere. She stopped momentarily at my chest, though, feeling the area.

“Hm…”

“What?”

“I just… never noticed how fit you are…” She looked around me again, this time not to look for injuries. She looked at my arms, trying to subtly test how strong they were.

“Cut it out.” I say, retracting my arm quickly.

“Ah!” Bedivere quickly realizes what she was doing and put on a heavy blush. “I-I’m sorry! Um… you can put your clothes back on… now…”

I do just that, putting on my undershirt, and putting on my jacket, which had cleaned itself with me not having it on (thank you, game), pushing my arms through the sleeves and adjusting it so it fit on right.

“You, ah… you should take it easy on that… shoulder.” Bedivere said shyly.

“Can’t.” I say. “I need to go after Misaki.”

“You really shouldn’t right now.” Bedivere cautioned. “Besides, you don’t even know where to start.”

“I’ll figure something out.”

“Ishi, you’ll just end up going around and getting nowhere by starting out nowhere.” She said. “Please, at least give your shoulder some more time to heal up. You know Misaki can handle herself.”

I think it over, realizing she was probably right. As much as I hated it, Misaki was tough as hell and could’ve given Gawain a run for his money in sheer determination, so I let up a bit and sat back down on the bed next to Bedivere, sighing and hanging my head low.

Bedivere puts a hand on my good shoulder.

“Ishi…” She begins. “I’m really sorry… about everything.”

“Don’t be.” I say. “It isn’t your fault. I just… I wasn’t strong enough.”

“Ishi, don’t say that.”

“It’s the truth.” I tell her. “If I was stronger I would’ve been able to stop Kamui from taking her. I would’ve been able to stop him from killing Gawain…”

“It wasn’t your fault.” She insists.

“I know it wasn’t. But that doesn’t make me feel any less responsible.”

We both hear the door open and we see Kana there, Diana behind her.

“Bedivere.” Kana says. “Is his shoulder good?”

“Um…” Bedivere starts. “Well, yes, but-”

“Great, let’s go.” Kana walks up to me.

“Huh? What- AGH!”

She literally grabs my ear and lifts me up from it, dragging me out of the room.

“OW! Owowowowow, dammit!” I say the whole way out of the room. “That’s my ear! I need that for hearing and shit!” I end up smacking my forehead onto the doorframe on the way out. “FUCK! That HURT! Let go of my ear!”

She brings me out to the main room to leave the building, turning to Knight.

“We’re borrowing Ishi for a bit.” She said, before walking out with me in tow.

“Yeah, just stand there.” I say. “You’re a real pal, Knight!”

---

So we went on a walk together. Just the three of us. No idea why, I was trying to get away from the two the entire day so I could get at finding Misaki, but every time I’d try to bolt Kana would grab my ear hard. It frigging hurts.

It was sunset by the time we got done with the playdate I was forced into, but I suspected that Kana planned it out to keep me from immediately going after Misaki and allowing me to give my shoulder at least a day’s rest. I didn’t care, though, I was pretty pissed by the time we were done. And Skeith was kicking my ass too, which just made me angrier.

We were sat down on a bench on a long bridge over a river in Camlann. I didn’t really want to be back here, on account of what had happened just this morning, but Kana insisted since it had the ‘most fun things to do’, since the place was so big. I didn’t care, though, I was pissed off.

“Now, wasn’t it a fun day today, Ishi?” Kana asked.

“Fuck off.” I say, past my limit at this point.

“Don’t have to be so mean.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” I say. “It’s just that I’m so agitated, because Gawain was just killed, Misaki was kidnapped, I’m coughing up blood every two god damn seconds because of Skeith, and you want to go out and fuck around all day!”

“Well, to be fair it’s for your own good right now…” Diana suggested. “It’d be better for you to be in as good condition as possible.”

“And you need to wait for Hao to give you some information as well!” Kana added.

“Like I give a damn!” I shout. “Misaki could be dead right now! She could be dead and I get to say that I was on the town when she died! Why the hell did you do this, hah?! I don’t need any of this right now!”

“I don’t like it either, but none of us can do anything about it, right now.” Kana said. “The reason why we brought you around was because Knight wanted us to make sure you didn’t go off and get yourself killed.”

“Knight put you up to this?” I say.

“He didn’t want you going out right now.” Diana said quietly. “He said he’s working with Hao right now to figure out where Misaki is and he wanted you to stay put until he had a location… and so you could recover.”

“Well he could’ve just said so himself.” I say.

“He knew you wouldn’t obey him on this one.” Kana said. “I said I’d take care of it and keep you occupied.

“God dammit!” I sit back down on the bench, arms crossed and eyes closed.

“Diana, can you keep an eye on him?” Kana said.

“Huh? Why?” Her sister asks.

“Need to get something.” She says, running off across the bridge back into the city.

I stay completely silent with Diana for a few minutes, as Kana overlooks the river. I don’t stay silent forever, since I start coughing again, a small splatter of blood dotting the ground.

“This fucking thing…” I mutter to myself.

“That doesn’t look too good…” Diana remarks.

“It sucks.” I say. “It never happened when I was around Misaki… gah…”

“I’m really sorry about that.” Diana said sincerely.

I don’t answer, looking down at the ground, at the small marks of blood on the stone of the bridge. It takes me a bit to realize Diana was looking at me. She quickly looked away when I noticed, a blush on her cheeks.

“What’s up with you?” I ask.

“Oh? Uhm… nothing… I just… nothing.” She says quickly. “You… you just remind me of… someone I care about.”

“Who’s that?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s… not important…”

I don’t press the matter, as I really didn’t care to know. I just sigh and get back to looking at my blood, so intently like it was going to jump at me or something.

“Where’d you go off to anyway?” I ask. “You and Kana were gone for a few months.”

“We were, ah… we were helping the Royal Knights.” She said. “They rescued us from a prison and we decided to help them out.”

“You were in a prison?” I asked.

“Yeah…” She said. “That meeting you saw was an agreement to a collaboration between us and the Royal Knights. Kana and I could stay with them and assist until their job was done.”

“And the fact that you’re back here means that they’re done now?” I figure.

“That’s right…” She said. “A lot happened…”

“So what’d we get out of this agreement?” I ask.

“Call-upon assistance from the Royal Knights whenever we should need.” She explained. “We can call on them if we need extra help with our fight now.”

“Why didn’t I hear about any of this until now?”

“You were doing your own thing, I guess.” She said. “You’re taking on a lot of things on your own, you know.”

“I guess…”

I cough a bit in my hand, this time no blood came out, but it still hurt.

“Ow…” I whisper.

A few seconds later, I notice Diana looking at me weirdly again. She looks away when I notice.

“What?” I ask again.

“Nothing!” She quickly says, sitting up straight and looking ahead.

“That person I remind you of must be really important to you.” I say. “Got your eye on someone?”

“Uh… you could say that… I guess…” She looked more than a bit flustered right now.

“What, do I look like him or something?”

“No… you just… you act like him. You’re actually really similar…”

“That so?”

“Mhm.” She nods. “I never realized before. It’s strange…”

We stay silent for a few minutes. I begin to wonder what was taking Kana so long.

“How’s Knight taking Gawain’s death?” I ask.

“Not too good, I think.” She says. “He wasn’t himself when he was telling us to keep you on a leash… I don’t think he’ll be able to get over it for some time.”

“Understandably.” I say. “Gawain’s been with him since day one. He was there when Knight founded Pendragon Court. I tell you, I’ve never seen any two people quite as loyal to each other as they were. They trusted each other like nothing else. Gawain would take these ludicrous orders from Knight that’d seem to get him killed, but Gawain would always know better. Gawain trusted his judgement unquestionably, and the same went for Knight trusting him. They were inseparable.”

“Like you and… Misaki?”

“Yeah… like me and Misaki…”

A few more minutes went by and I catch her looking at me yet again. I sit up and take a deep sigh, turning to her. She doesn’t look away this time. She unexpectedly puts her hand on my cheek and stares right into my eyes. I back away just a tiny bit, but stare right back into hers. We stay like that for the longest time.

“You’re so much like him…” She said.

“Hey!” I hear Kana say. “I’m back!”

Diana quickly backs off.

“Oh, hey.” I say, turning to Kana.

“Did you get what you needed?” Diana asked.

“Store was closed.” She said. “I’ll have to swing by tomorrow.”

I get a message at this point, and I open it up. It was from Hao. He said he found out somewhere I could check out.

“Op.” I say, jumping up. “Time to go!”

“Hey, wait!” Kana shouts after me.

I’m gone, however, and I immediately teleport back to HQ.

---

I bust through the door, probably hurting my arm in the process, and see Hao looking at maps with Knight.

“Ishi.” Hao says. “Got something for you.”

“What?” I say, rushing up to the table to look at the maps.

Hao points to a clear space on a large map. In the middle is a building of some sort, looked like a temple or something.

“Arbiter’s Grounds.” He said. “23rd floor. It’s used as a prison for the Guardians of Darkness. Misaki could be there.”

“Could be?” I ask.

“It’s likely.” Knight said. “Arbiter’s Grounds is a massive fortress right in the middle of the Harasa Desert. It’s an ideal place to keep prisoners of interest, possibly including Misaki.”

“Problem.” I say. “I’ve never been to that place. Not even that floor. I don’t have any waypoints I could teleport to.”

“That… is a problem…” Hao said. “If you’re quick, from the starting town on that floor, going straight for the town of Dendri at the edge of the desert, where you can get a horse, then crossing the desert… it would take about… 10 days.”

“That’s way too long.” I say. “Who’s to say they won’t kill her before then?”

“She could be used by them.” Knight said. “They won’t off her so lightly. She has time.”

“Even so.”

“It’s your best shot, Ishi.” Hao said. “You need to get going now.”

“Ishi.” I hear Asuka say, entering the room. “I heard everything. I’m going with you.”

“No.” I say.

“Yes.” She said back.

“I’m not doing this again, Asuka, I’m going alone. That’s final.”

“She’s my friend too, you know!” She argues. “Let me come with!”

“Asuka… I can’t.” I say.

“Why not?”

“I…” I hesitate to say it, but it’s the truth, so I do. “I already lost Misaki. I don’t want to lose you too.”

She stays there, taking in my honest words, before she smiles.

“Alright…” She said. “Okay.” She walked over to me and hugged me around my chest. “Just be careful, okay?”

I put my hands on her shoulders.

“Yeah. I will.” I say.

“Ishi!” Bedivere calls from across the room, between a doorway. “Take this!”

She tosses me a specialized medkit with various medical supplies.

“You know how to use it, right?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I say. “Thanks.”

Asuka lets me go and I nod to her, before leaving the building, immediately teleporting to the 23rd floor, starting town.

Chapter 25

1 Week Later

It took me a whole 7 days just to get to Dendri, the small town bordering the Harasa Desert. The place was quieter than most other towns, most likely since it was relatively remote and never had a lot of visitors. The place upheld itself, independent of travelers and newcomers. There were at max 20 people living here, and I could tell I was the odd one out when I walked into the town, as well as figuring I was the first person to come here in a while.

Next step was to get a horse. Should take me about 3 days to get to Arbiter’s Grounds, provided that it was a smooth travel there, which, knowing my luck, wasn’t going to happen.

So sometime more than 3 days, probably.

I headed for the general store, which was easy to spot with how small this place was, and step right through. A middle-eastern looking guy was sat in a chair behind a counter, feet propped up and leaning back. He looked to be asleep, but when I take a few steps forward he looks up to me.

“Ah.” He says. “Haven’t seen you around before. What brings someone like you here?”

“I need a horse to get to the Arbiter’s Grounds.” I say plainly.

“Arbiter’s Grounds?” The guy said, sitting upright in his chair. “I wouldn’t if I were you. That place… it’s dangerous. And traversing the desert just to get there may be more trouble than it’s worth.”

“It’s worth anything that I get there.” I say.

He looks up at me skeptically.

“What business do you have there?” He asks.

“That’s not important.” I say. “What’s important is that I have a means to get there.”

“And you want one of my horses is what you’re asking?”

“You have the horses?”

“I do. But I’m not willing to part with one so easily. If one of my horses goes out into the Harasa it’s doomed to die. Horses are valuable around here. So you see, you’ll have to give me something in return.”

“I don’t have time for this…” I say. “This is important, I need a horse right now!”

“You’re in an awful hurry, I see.” The guy says. “Tell you what, I’ll give you the horse if you tell me why you need to get to Arbiter’s Grounds.”

I decide to tell him to waste as little time as possible.

“The Guardians of Darkness abducted a friend of mine.” I explain. “I need to get her back.”

“Ah… them…” He says with some malice in his voice. “Right… they use Arbiter’s Grounds as a prison… this girl you’re after must be pretty valuable to keep her locked up there.”

“Yeah…”

“Well you’ll need a horse to get through the desert. My name’s Husam, by the way.”

“Ishi.”

Husam nods and gestures for me to follow him out back, where there is a large pen with a good number of horses rounded up. Another man was there, tending to a reddish brown horse. He looked a bit more experienced than Husam, even though the two looked around the same age.

“Brother!” Husam called. “This is Ishi. Ishi, this is Tariq, my older brother by about 10 minutes or so.”

I nod to him, but Tariq doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t even turn to look at me, he just keeps tending to the horse.

“Tariq, Ishi needs a horse.” Husam said.

Tariq looked at both of us briefly, before going back to his business.

“Why?” He asks plainly.

“He needs to get to Arbiter’s Grounds.” His brother said.

“Doesn’t sound like my problem.”

Husam just laughs.

“Sorry about my brother, he can be a bit blunt at times.” Husam smiles at me. “Brother, this is important. A friend of his was captured and brought there.”

“Still doesn’t sound like my problem.” Tariq said.

“Gah, I don’t have time for this…” I say, starting to walk away.

“Hey, where are you going?” Husam asks.

“I’m walking.”

“Through the desert?!”

“Better than waiting around here.” I jump the fence and continue walking.

“Wait.” Tariq sighs, bringing the horse with him by the reins and walking up to me. “You will need a horse to survive the desert.” He says. “Brother, fetch him some supplies.”

“Ah, right, almost forgot.” Husam quickly runs back into the shop.

“What’s with the sudden change of heart?” I ask.

“I can see you’re determined.” He says. “And there’s really no point in trying to go out there without what you need to survive.”

“I thought it wasn’t your problem.” I smirk.

“This is Farah.” Tariq said, patting the horse. “She’s one of my best, one of only two I have that can make it across the desert. I expect her to come back alive even if you don’t.”

“Thanks for that.” I say.

“Alright.” Husam comes out of the shop carrying a long brown hooded cloak and a light blue scarf. He handed the two to me and I take off my jacket, putting the cloak on first before wrapping the scarf around my neck. The thing was big enough to fit over my chin and go partially over my mouth. I figured it was supposed to do that.

“Also, here’s a camp pack.” Husam fastened a large pack onto the back of the horse. “It has a set-up camp and provisions for you and Farah.”

I quickly saddle up, climbing onto the back of the horse.

“Oh, you’ll probably need a map as well…” Husam said.

“No need.” I pull out my Destination Compass and wave it to him.

“Ah, alright then.” He says. “Shouldn’t have trouble finding the place with that.”

“You’ve ridden a horse before, Ishi?” Tariq asked.

“A few times.” I say.

“I can tell.” Tariq nods. “Better get going if you want to beat the night a good way.”

I nod and spur Farah into a run, heading straight out of the down and into the desert to the east.

---

8 Hours Later

Eight hours later, it was night, about 10:00. I decided to settle down for the night, since I had worked Farah hard in those eight hours, going on a full run for most of it. I decided to set up camp for the night, setting up the tent and making myself a fire, before rummaging through the pack and finding some food for Farah, as well as a dish to put it in, setting it on the ground next to her, while I too out some meat jerky to snack on. Good enough.

I stare at the cloudless night sky, the full moon shining more than enough light to see. I get to wondering how it can go from blazing hot during the day to freezing cold at night. This desert cloak didn’t hold in heat too well, which meant the fire was the only thing really giving me any heat at all. I decide to put on my snow cloak instead, which warmed me up quite a bit.

Farah finished her meal and snorted a bit before lying down, which struck me as odd considering horses rarely every lie down. I guess she was pretty tired, after the straight run we had today. I’d have to work her a bit easier the rest of the way.

I yawn a bit after my own meal and decided to get some rest, putting out the fire and crawling into my tent, wrapping myself up in blankets and closing my eyes, drifting off to sleep shortly after. I planned to get up early in the morning to get a head start on daylight, cover as much distance as I could throughout the day.

---

1 Day Later

Farah and I had been going on a good run for a while now, so I decided to pull back to a walk for a while. I look ahead, adjusting the scarf over my face, noticing something in the distance. I decided to check it out, spurring Farah into a trot over to the object of intrigue. We come up to it, and see ruins of an ancient building of some sort, half buried under the sand. We could see pillars poking out through the sand, as well as parts of what looked like a roof. The biggest part of the place was a small alcove made from the broken building, big enough to fit inside and rest up a bit. I briefly consider it, but decided against it, figuring it best to keep on ahead.

Farah suddenly whinnies in alarm, rearing up a little and clopping her hooves against the sand. I reach up and pat her neck.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, looking around.

I notice the winds picking up, and I look ahead and see a large wall of sand coming directly for us. The sands reached up to the clouds it seemed, and it carried with it monstrous wind speeds.

“Shit… sandstorm.” I say, quickly having Farah run around to the ruins and inside the little alcove to take shelter. I dismount just as the sandstorm began to fly over us, but we were safe inside our little shelter.

“Well then.” I say to Farah. “Looks like we’re going to be here for a while, huh?”

She snorts a bit in response, staying at the wall as far away from the opening as she can.

I look outside at the sand, which appeared as a grainy wall of brown, impossible to see through, and making the sound of howling winds. We’d have to wait here for the sandstorm to pass. That would most likely take a good while…

---

2 Days Later

“What kind of god damn sandstorm lasts 2 days?” I ask myself as I rode Farah along. I had her on a walk, since it was midday and the sun was beating down on us, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to go full sprint in the heat. My desert cloak kept cool air in surprisingly well somehow, making the hot desert bearable for me. I spot a few palm trees ahead and to our left, and I steer Farah over to it, discovering a small oasis there.

“Ahah.” I say, dismounting and walking over to the water’s edge. “Bet you’ve been wanting a good drink for a while, huh?”

My companion was already lapping up the water while I took out a flask and filled it all the way, taking some good long refreshing sips while resting up a bit in the shade.

“Damn…” I say. “It’s not real, but it’s still refreshing.”

Farah was still taking her drink while I gulped down the last of a full flask of water and scooped up more, capping it once the flask was full and leaning against the palm tree and under the shade, looking off in the direction of Arbiter’s Grounds. It was still nowhere in sight, and that sandstorm had cost me a whole two days travel time.

Farah was suddenly alarmed by something, rearing up and whinnying.

“What now?” I wonder, looking around.

I notice a group of horses coming our way, about 10 of them. They had people atop them… I couldn’t tell if they were actual players or just NPCs. It took me a few more seconds to recognize them as players.

“Dammit…” I mutter, running up to Farah and jumping onto the saddle, quickly spurring into a sprint towards Arbiter’s Grounds.

The players pursued. I didn’t know who they were or how they knew where I was or what they wanted, but that didn’t matter. They were interfering, which meant I’d have to deal with them. A few of them launched arrows at me, one of them barely missing my arm, and another just grazing past Farah’s ear, making her jolt a little before resuming on course.

Now they were trying to kill me. Which meant they were all going to die.

“Alright, then.” I bring out my blade, looking back at my pursuers. “Let’s go.”

I rear back, stopping Farah and turning around, slicing an arrow clean from the air when I did, before going full gallop towards the players. We met each other head on, and I manage to duck under a swipe aimed at my head and slice into the player’s side, knocking him off his horse, before turning around and making another run. I slice at another player to the right, striking off his blade before running forward and slicing at another to my left, hitting him right in the chest and killing him. I turn around and see a volley of arrows sent my way, and I pull back hard on the reins and pull a quick turn to avoid them, running for the archers. I notice that the one I had sent to the ground before was running around, trying to flank me. I aim myself towards him, planning to intercept the archers on the way. I stand up on Farah, keeping hold of the reigns, before, at the precise time when the three archers converged, I jump off into the air, spinning upside-down and throwing three knives in three directions, nailing all three simultaneously, killing them each, before flipping upright and bearing down on the player on the ground, stabbing him through the chest and finishing him.

Five down, five to go.

I Shift up to another, standing on the back of his horse behind him, impaling him through the back and killing him, taking the reins of his horse and steering it towards Farah who was circling around me. One of the players attempted to intercept me, crossing between me and Farah. I jump over him, slicing cleanly into him from above and landing back in the saddle of Farah. Suddenly, one of the horsemen came up behind me and attempted to slash at me with his sword. I deflect the blow but notice another coming up to my left side. I brace up Gilgamesh, but hit his blade at a bad angle, pushing me back and allowing a third to try to slice into me. I push myself forward just enough to make him graze into my back, scratching me just a bit, before one came back around and sliced Farah’s front leg, sending both of us to the ground.

I roll onto the sands and slide to a stop on my side, quickly getting back up before the horsemen could take me out on the ground. A horseman sliced at me, form horseback, but I manage to deflect it, before another came around and tried the same. I roll to dodge this attack, before throwing a knife behind me and impaling him in the back, killing him instantly. I spin around and slice low to avoid a strike from the third and trip his horse at once, sending him into the sands with me. The final horseman came at me again, and I dash forward and hit a hard right just before his horse slams into me, gashing into the horse’s side with Gilgamesh, actually killing it and sending it’s rider to the ground. I capitalize on it by pouncing and stabbing the horseman in the back while he was on the ground.

The final opponent came at me and swung at me. It was easy to avoid, and I place a hard kick to his face, sending him into the dirt. I see Farah attempt to circle around with her injured leg and try to pick me up. The player on the ground took out a small axe from his belt and threw it at Farah, nailing her in the neck and killing her.

“Shit!” I curse, rushing the player.

I slash at his guard quickly, shattering his defenses easily before delivering two hard slashes to his chest and spinning around, making a clean horizontal cut through his neck, decapitating and killing him.

After that was done, I look around, sheathing my weapons. I wondered who those players were… they didn’t look like anyone from any guild I knew… they all wore different outfits as well, so they couldn’t be part of a guild. Mercenaries, maybe. Hired swords. What troubled me most about it was that there was no way they could’ve known where I was, and they definitely weren’t just randomly roaming around looking for targets around here, why the hell would they? No, they were sent specifically to take me out, which means that there were only two people who could’ve known I was going through here: Kamui and Hao. Kamui was more likely, but I still didn’t trust Hao… it was possible he could’ve wrote the signs as well. With how shady he is it isn’t hard to imagine.

But the real problem was that now I was in the middle of nowhere, stranded without a horse… and Arbiter’s Grounds was still far off… I couldn’t go back the way I came, as I couldn’t waste any more time. I needed to get to Misaki.

I sigh heavily as the winds swirled around me, and I check my compass. I follow its direction as I begin my lone walk through the blazing desert, uncertain if I’d make it.

---

8 Days Later

My feet were slow and my steps were heavy. Each step I took against the dune made my foot sink into the sands, requiring some effort to pull it out and push it forward. It was the afternoon, and the sun was still bright in the sky. I had been pulling myself along for days now, with barely any food or water to sustain me. I was weak beyond anything, and I barely had the strength to make it up this dune. I had to keep going, though. Misaki was counting on it.

I make it to the crest of the dune before my legs give out and I fall onto the sands, rolling and flipping painfully down the dune. I eventually hit the bottom, lying down with my face in the sands, my breathing heavy, barely conscious.

“God… dammit…” I mutter to myself.

I stay on the ground for a good few minutes before I slowly shamble back up to my feet. I was barely strong enough to stand. I hadn’t had any provisions since I ran out 4 days ago. I can last a long time, but in these harsh conditions, the hellish heat of day and the frigid cold of night, it took its toll on my vulnerable body.

I look up with weak eyes and see a large building in the distance. I shake my head a bit to make sure it wasn’t a mirage or anything and check my compass. It was pointing straight to it.

“Arbiter’s Grounds…” I say. “Finally…”

I stagger my way through the sands and finally step to the gates of Arbiter’s Grounds, opening it up and stepping through, finding myself in a large circular hub room, many doors lining the walls. I get to around the center before my legs quit, and I fell straight to the ground, completely exhausted. I knew I was in trouble. How would I be able to get Misaki out in my condition? No doubt there were members of the Guardians of Darkness here, most likely waiting for me, but I wasn’t in any shape to fight.

Still… I had to.

I slowly get up to my knees.

“Ah, Blade Master.” I hear an unfamiliar voice say.

I’m kicked right in the face and sent onto my back. A large group surrounded me. I recognized them… their armor and helmets as well as the badges they wore… members of The Aincrad Liberation Force. What were they doing here?

“Looks like our informant was spot on.” Another man said.

“Well, now that we got him, what should we do with him?” The one that had kicked me asked. “Should we execute him ourselves? Send him over to the Reapers?”

“Easy, Horus.” The first said. “I see potential in this one… perhaps you can take him into your care, train him as a gladiator?”

“A gladiator?” Horus asked. “Hm… perhaps… I’ve heard rumors of this one’s abilities… yes… perhaps he can prove a great warrior. Maybe he could even take down Arkadios.”

“Hah!” The man laughs. “Arkadios is our greatest champion! But… if those rumors do hold truth to them… then yes, he more than likely could.”

I struggle, trying to get up, but a foot to my chest keeps me down.

“Now, now.” Horus says. “Why’s he so weak, Ducard?

“He’s weakened from the journey here.” Ducard responded. “I’ve heard that Skeith removes pain inhibitors and therefore makes the body as weak as it would in real life. I’m surprised the desert didn’t take his life. Kamui was betting on him surviving. It seems he has a strong will.”

“You don’t really believe he actually has Skeith, do you?” Horus asked.

“It would seem likely that he does, given his state.” Ducard said, crouching down to look at me up close. “Yes, I believe he’d make a fine gladiator for you, Horus.”

“If you say so.”

“You guys are ass holes…” I mutter under my breath, earning me a hard kick to the side that makes me cough loudly on the floor.

“Don’t want to kill him just yet, do you?” Ducard joked.

“No…” Horus responded slowly. “No. I think I’ll take you up on your suggestion, Ducard. I think I will keep this one. Let us see how long he lasts in the arena.”

I tried to get up… did everything in my power to try to get up and fight away, to get to Misaki… but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. I tried to call on Skeith as a last resort. I could feel it welling up inside me, flickering in my left eye, and in my left hand, but the sharp pain that accompanied it was too much for me to bear in my weakened state.

The one named Horus picked me up and slung me onto his shoulder.

I passed out shortly after.

Chapter 26

1 Month and 6 Days Later

“You’d better eat up.” Horus said, looking at me in my cell. “Your execution match is today.”

I didn’t say anything. I was sitting in the far corner, resting against the walls. I had been here for over a month… I had no idea if Misaki was alive or not… I needed to get out of here. They had tried to take away my weapons when I had first got here, but Skeith rebounded and almost killed the guy trying to do it, so they resorted to putting me in a special cell that could probably hold in a small sized dragon with all the strength of a full sized one. It didn’t have bars, instead being fully enclosed walls with a special barrier that prevented weapon use, as a solution to not being able to take them away. It was basically just a box with no lights, and one steel door separating a long hallway through the walls back into the main prison.

Apparently I was considered ‘extremely dangerous’.

They had no idea.

“How long have you gone without food?” Horus asked. “A week maybe? Skeith makes it so you can starve, you know. You should probably get some food in you so you don’t die from that before you die to the blades of the arena.”

I still didn’t answer, nor did I move. Only my breathing signaled I was still alive.

“Suit yourself, then.” Horus moved away from the door and back out to the main cell block.

I’ve been trying to activate Skeith ever since I got here, but every time I tried it wouldn’t respond. I would feel it well up but then immediately die down, even though I wasn’t as weak as I had been. I should be able to handle it in my current state, but that wasn’t the problem. Skeith wasn’t coming out anyway.

I sigh and make my way to the dish of food that had been placed in my cell and start eating. Today was going to be my execution match. They were in for a surprise.

---

The time for my execution came a few hours later.

I was brought out my cell in chains an escorted out of the prisons. Looking through the prison block I saw quite a bit more people than I previously thought to be locked up in here. I hadn’t seen anyone else on account that I hadn’t seen anything outside my cell in more than a month.

I’m brought to a large gate, which was opened soon after.

“Good luck.” Horus said smugly as the chains are released and I’m pushed out into the arena, falling flat on my face in the sand.

I get up slowly as the gates behind me are closed. It takes some time for me to adjust to the light and the sounds around me. I heard the roars of a crowd, and once my eyes adjusted to the light, I found myself in a large and open arena, surrounded by thousands of onlookers, who reveled at my sight. I walk forward towards the center of the arena, looking around, before a large voice silenced the audience.

“Welcome, one and all!” He said. “To today’s execution match!”

The crowd cheered as I recognized the voice to be Ducard’s.

“Today’s match will be a special treat for you all! We have before us none other than the Blade Master himself! Ishi!”

The crowd lit up at my name. It just pissed me off.

“This one is a swordsman of unequaled skill. One who has faced even the legendary player killer Yamato and lived!”

The crowd cheered again, clearly enjoying the fact that I was here to fight for them.

Bunch of pricks…

“He is here today to face the fires of execution! There will be only two outcomes to this battle: either he lives, or he dies!”

I planned on living.

“His opponent today is one of our best. Gharm!”

The crowd cheered as on the other side of the arena, another gate opened, and out came a rather large player, fully armored with a large shield in one hand and a spiked mace in the other. He stepped towards me, practically stomping with each step.

“This will be a battle to the death!” Ducard said. “One will stand, and one will fall!”

A large bell was rung and Gharm ran forward towards me. I stand still, waiting for him to approach me as I drew my weapons. He jumps up and tries to slam down on me with his mace, and I sidestep out of the way as his mace falls to the ground, splashing sand upwards. I take the initiative and move in, back handing my blade and cutting into his side, making him let go of his mace as he fell to the ground. I rest my blade over my shoulders, walking nonchalantly around.

That seemed to have angered him, because he brought out a secondary blade and charged at me. I block an overhead swing and attempt to get in with Gilgamesh, but the strike is blocked by his shield. He pushes me back, forcing me to Shift out of the way of another swing. I run around him, moving into the side and managing to nick his shoulder. I jump upwards to avoid a backwards swing of his sword and sheath my blade as I do, landing right next to him, inside his guard, bringing out two short blades from my belt and stabbing one upwards and another downwards into his shield arm. I wrenched his arm back and forced him to let go of the shield, before I jump back to avoid the swing of his sword.

Now that his shield was gone, his guard was severely impaired, which would make this easier for me. He runs at me in a wild frenzy, slashing at me as fast and hard as he could, but I dodged and blocked every one of his predictable strikes, grabbing his blade with Gilgamesh before delivering a hard upwards slash into his chest. He backs up, clearly enraged at me, before coming in again, trying to hit me with a heavy overhand strike. I spin to avoid it, switching blade hands and performing a back hand stab right into his chest, before drawing out and slashing into him three more times, causing him to shatter.

The crowd roared at such a sight. An opponent defeated so quickly without a single hit landed. This was to be interesting indeed.

“It seems we’ve underestimated you, Blade Master!” Ducard said. “Let’s increase the challenge, shall we?”

Another gate opens and four more players step out, brandishing swords, spears, mauls and shields.

“I don’t have time for this…” I say, pointing my blade towards all five.

I rush up on all four of them at once, redirecting the blade of one and spinning it around before slashing at another, spinning back and pushing a spear past me with Gilgamesh before stabbing into the first one, kicking him back before grabbing the head of a maul with Gilgamesh, pushing it back and punching into its owner hard, sending him flying back. I spin my blade outwards to distance them from me before throwing Arondight into the second one with a sword, impaling him straight in the chest. I bring out Aphelion and clash blades with the first sword-wielder twice before ducking under his horizontal strike and slashing upwards, cutting into him and killing him.

I throw Aphelion at the one I threw Arondight at, impaling him again at the same place, rushing up to him and pulling Aphelion out, sheathing it before pulling Arondight out as well, cutting him down with one more swift strike. The one with the spear attempted to jab at me, but I dodge is strike and attempt to get in with Gilgamesh and slash at him. He blocks the blow with a shield before the maul wielder comes at me. I get into his guard and slam my body into his shield, pushing him back a bit and allowing me to grab his maul arm and stab upwards with Arondight, forcing him to drop his maul and allowing me to grab it. I swing it back and slam it right into his head, killing him instantly before swinging back and slamming the heavy maul into the lancer’s shield, causing it to splinter a bit with the maul embedded in it before I punch at it hard with Gilgamesh, breaking the shield into pieces and allowing me to impale him through the neck. I watched as he tried to grip at my blade as he slowly slumped down onto his knees, shattering shortly after.

The crowd was loving the show, and they chanted my name.

I point my blade up to Ducard in the main stands.

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with, do you?” I ask.

“I’m dying to find out.” Ducard said smugly. “I’ve one more opponent for you to face Blade Master.”

A gate opened on the far side of the arena, and one single gladiator stepped onto the sands. Dressed in a blue coat, holding a sword in one hand and a black bladed dagger in the other.

“The final opponent. The Slayer of Cerdic! GALANT!”

The crowd chanted his name loudly.

“GALANT! GALANT! GALANT!”

“Galant?” I say as he stepped up to me. “What are you doing here?”

“Same reason you’re here, I’d wager.” He said. “We’ve both become player killers it seems.”

“But why are you doing this?” I ask. “Why serve people like Ducard who only exploit you for profit and power?”

“Ducard is my master.” He said, pointing his blade at me. “I’ll do only as he commands me.”

“So that’s it? You’ve settled on serving those who would only see you suffer?”

He doesn’t say anything, but prepares a fighting stance.

“I see…” I say. “Clearly you aren’t the Galant I’ve heard so much about. Not anymore.”

“I can say the same about you, Blade Master.” He responded.

“You could, couldn’t you?”

The bell rang, but we didn’t move, we only stared each other down. The crowd went silent after that, either from them actually settling down or the fact that I was so focused on my opponent. We stayed like that for what seemed like minutes, before we both rush up to each other at once, locking blades with each other. The roar of the crowd returned after that as we pushed against each other.

Galant made a quick swipe with his free dagger and I guard against it with Gilgamesh, before Galant puts a hard kick to my side, sending me back a bit. Galant attempts to slash at me but I Shift out of the way and to his side, punching him in the stomach hard with Gilgamesh, lifting him up and throwing him back. He lands on his feet, sliding to a stop.

He points his blade at me and we both run to the side, circling each other before converging at once, delivering a hard strike that clashes off our blades, coming back in and trading blows at high speed before I dash back then forward again quickly, stepping through Galant’s guard and nailing a good strike on him before he is able to react. Unexpectedly, though, he shrugs it off and tries is own downwards strike on me, forcing me to brace my blade up to hold him back. He attempts to stab me with his dagger there, but I grab his arm with my free hand and twist around, crossing his arms and pulling back hard, slamming him down into the ground and causing him to bounce back off the sands spinning. He suddenly plants a hand on the ground to stop himself and uses the momentum to sweep his foot under me, causing me to fall down onto my back. He gets up and tried to stab downwards, but I roll out of the way, flipping up and kicking him in the face before launching myself off my hands and back onto my feet.

“Heh…” Galant says, rubbing his cheek. “You’re as good as they say you are.”

“You haven’t seen the half of it.” I say.

“You’d better not be holding back on me.” He smiled. “That’ll get you killed.”

“We’ll see about that.”

We go at each other again as the crowd cheered us on. We slashed at each other multiple times, each trying to open up a weakness to exploit. We stood on even ground when it came to combat ability, the only real difference being he was stronger, while I was faster. I decide to use that to my advantage, Shifting out of the way of a strike and Shifting back in, slicing into him once before moving back and throwing four knives his way. He dodges two and deflects another, catching the fourth and sending it back my way. I slide my sword along the knife mid-flight and raise three fingers off my blade to catch it as it made its way down my blade, having the knife back-handed in the grip of my sword, I move in quickly and pass through his guard, impaling the knife into his stomach, letting it go and kicking him back, planning to deliver an upwards slash. He sees it coming and kicks my sword back, managing to use his own dagger to stab me in the left shoulder and push me own, kneeing me in the stomach to knock the wind out of me, before punching me right into the dirt.

He backs up to allow me to recover, but it takes me a bit considering the intense pain coming from my shoulder. I get up on my knees before I stab my blade into the ground, leaving it there and grabbing my shoulder as warm blood stained my jacket. I shake it off, however, standing back up and pulling my sword back out of the ground, pointing it at him.

“It’s gonna take more than that.” I say, smiling.

“So it’s true, then.” Galant said. “You bleed, and you feel pain. Quite a disadvantage.”

“Won’t stop me from beating you.” I say.

“Fine then.” Galant said, rushing towards me.

I back up to evade a slash from both his sword and his dagger and Shift behind him, delivering a solid straight kick to his spine, pushing him back an forcing him to drive his sword into the ground to keep himself from falling onto his face, and I take the moment to jump over him and throw two daggers that land themselves into his back before landing in front of him and putting a high kick right into his face, making him backflip twice in the air before landing on his back.

He recovers quickly, however, and gets back up to standing.

“Not bad.” He said. “Now let’s see how you handle it.”

Galant rushed at me, faster than before, and charged up a fiery punch that I block against. The powerful blow manages to knock my blade from my hand and send it sliding into the sands.

“Aw, crap!” I say, before receiving a slash to the leg from his sword and hard uppercut to the face while I’m kneeling. I fly back and he rushes forward, catching my foot and pulling back, slamming me into the ground. He prepares to drive his blade home, but I smack it out of the way using Gilgamesh and kick him off me, scrambling back to my feet. I Shift to my sword and pick it up off the ground, trying to ignore the pain coming from my chest as I take up a defensive stance.

“You can’t withstand that much pain for much longer.” Galant noted.

“I can stand it long enough.” I say.

“Let’s test that, shall we?” Galant said as we rushed forward again.

---

2 Hours Later

I had been fighting Galant for a solid two hours now, neither of us being able to land a finishing blow. Galant’s HP was in the yellow, while my state was significantly worse. I had received several tough hits throughout the fight that severely hindered my abilities. I was kneeling on one foot, sword in the ground to keep me balanced, while Galant stood a distance away. I was breathing heavily, pain numbing my body all over, while Galant stood, ready to continue fighting.

“Had enough yet?” He asked.

I shake my head and stumble back up to my feet, trying to keep my balance as I drew my blade from the ground. I take up the best stance I could with my weakened body.

“I don’t understand…” Galant said. “Why do you bother fighting still? You’re already so close to death and yet you keep on fighting. Why?”

“Why?” I ask, laughing a little. “That’s a stupid question. I still have a reason to live, is why.”

He took the words in, seeming to be thinking about them. It almost looked like He didn’t share the same point of view as me. He looked down to a purple ribbon tied to his arm and sighed.

“I see…” He says quietly. “I think this has gone on long enough.”

He walks towards me, his blade ready to strike me down. As much as I tried, I couldn’t move. It hurt too much. He stood in front of me while I struggled just to keep myself from falling down. It was easy for him to push his blade through me. I didn’t feel the pain from it. Everything was already too numb for me to respond to it.

But I knew that was it.

He withdrew the blade and I immediately fell down onto my back, my blood pouring out to soak the sands of the arena. The battle was over.

I lost.

And I was dead.

But not quite…

Even after Ducard announced Galant’s victory and Galant strode across the sands heading out of the arena, he didn’t see me coming as I appeared next to him and swatted him aside with Gilgamesh like batting at a fly, sending him rocketing across the entire arena and slamming into the far wall.

I Shift up to him and pick him up by the neck, slamming him into the wall and ramming my head into his.

“This isn’t over…” I say, throwing him back.

He lands back on his feet and prepares to continue the fight.

He rears his sword back and charges it up with energy.

“Stardust Slasher!”

He slices it horizontally and a wave of energy is sent my way. He was surprised when I slice my sword upwards, cutting the energy blade in half and sending two equal parts sailing past me and into the wall.

I Shift up to him and cut into his chest faster than he could see. I Shift all around him, delivering a good 25 slashes in all directions within a second. The shock of all the blows hits him at once and his entire body convulses violently as his HP is immediately brought down to red. He falls to his knees and then to the ground.

Galant gets up as fast as he could, coming back up just in time to deflect a blow from my blade, which is knocked out of his hand and into the air. I deliver a kick right into his stomach that sends him onto his back and sliding across the ground. He opened his eyes and sees his own sword coming down on him, landing just a few centimeters away from his ear and embedding itself into the ground.

Galant scurries back onto his feet and grabs his sword, preparing to fight again.

We both rush to each other again, slamming our blades into each other. We strike at each other hundreds of times, as our battle continued for minutes more. I quickly began to gain the upper hand as I increased my speed, and Galant’s reaction time to my strikes widened. He misses a slash and gets hit hard in his side, making him spin back, but he rolls forward to avoid another strike and comes up on his feet.

We both end with our blades barely touching our necks, pointed straight outwards, the two tips so close to a kill. We stay there, locking eyes, breathing heavy, before Horus steps onto the field, clapping slowly.

“Well done.” He says. “Very well done, both of you. Ducard has asked me to formally end this match in a draw. This fight has gone on for long enough and he sees the skills in both of you.”

Neither of us moves an inch. We stay fixed in our positions as he continues talking.

“We can’t have either of you falling in battle… both your skills are too precious to waste. As a result, we-”

He’s interrupted when I suddenly rush towards him, stabbing him through the chest. I push Arondight deeper into him before bringing out Aphelion with my left hand and backhanding it, stabbing downwards into his body through his shoulder. I carve Aphelion downwards before kicking him off both my blades, sheathing Aphelion before he even hit the ground and shattered.

“KILL HIM!” I heard Ducard say from the stands.

After that, gladiators began pouring into the arena to take me out. Galant stood there, fixed on me. I turn back to him as the gladiators closed in.

“Well?” I say. “Aren’t you going to stop me?”

“Leave this place…” He says. “Your fate lies elsewhere. Not like mine…”

I nod and call upon Skeith. It responds this time, and my left eye turns red as I rush forward towards the other gladiators. I slam through them effortlessly, killing my way back into the prisons. I hack and slash my way through the entire arena, anyone who was foolish enough to stand in my way becoming corrupted and dying from Skeith’s power, before I found the front exit and broke through the doors, making a break for it as I forced Skeith’s power down.

Arondight spoke to me, then. It told me where Misaki was. She was no longer at Arbiter’s Grounds. She was going to be in Twilight Fields in 2 days. I could catch her there.

I didn’t have any teleport crystals left, so I make a break for the nearest town so I could make it there from there. I needed to move fast. I had a feeling Misaki wasn’t going to be alive for much longer…

---

I make it to the 37th floor from the 45th in the 2 days time I had, making the time window and intercepting Misaki at Twilight Fields. I see her being brought along by Kamui with around 60 more of his goons following along a hill.

“KAMUI!” I shout across the fields.

They all stop and look to me as I run up to meet them, stopping a distance away. I got a good look at Misaki. She looked tired… beaten. I felt a twinge of rage in me.

“Misaki!” I call to her.

She looks up to me with glassy eyes.

“Ishi…” She says weakly.

“Well now, this is a surprise.” Kamui says. “I didn’t expect you to escape the arena, at least not so quickly. I expected another few months at least.”

“What have you done to her?!” I say.

“Nothing special.” Kamui says. “Nothing she’ll forget any time soon, though.”

“Bastards!”

“I guess we can do this here, though.” Kamui said, bringing Misaki up in front of him, bringing out his sword. “We’ve no more use for her now that you’re here anyway.”

“Don’t do it…” I say. “Don’t!”

He does.

His blade goes right through her back an out her chest. I stand there eyes wide as she tries to reach out to me, going limp on his blade, before she’s pushed off, rolling down the hill and coming to a stop in front of me.

“MISAKI!” I shout, running up to her and taking her in my arms. “Misaki!”

“Ishi…” She says weakly. “I’m… I’m sorry…”

“For what?”

“You went through… so much trouble just… to get to me… it must’ve been hard…”

“Misaki, come on!” I remember the medical kit that Bedivere gave me and I bring it out. Misaki puts her hand on mine to stop me.

“Don’t…” She says. “It won’t help…”

Her HP was dropping fast… too fast… she was right. Even if I did it wouldn’t slow it down enough.

“Misaki…” I feel tears welling up in my eyes. “Please… no…”

She just smiles, putting her hand to my cheek and slowly bringing me in for a kiss.

She shattered before our lips met.

I stay there, knelt to the ground and eyes wide, my arms frozen where they were when I was holding her. She wasn’t there anymore. All that was left was her sword, still sheathed.

“Finish him.” Kamui said to his minions before teleporting out.

As his 60 henchmen walked towards me, weapons drawn, my breathing slowly started to become more and more erratic. My heart rate spiked, and my eyes dilated. I close my eyes tightly, taking in a sharp breath of air as I could feel Skeith talking to me.

Destroy everything.

One of the goons came up in front of me.

Destroy everything.

He raised his sword.

Destroy…

He brought it down.

Everything.

He looked down at my arm, which was punched straight through his stomach. Blood began to seep from the wound and his mouth, as I activated Gilgamesh’s claws inside his body and ripped them upwards, carving through his chest and out his face. He hit the ground, a bloody mess. He didn’t shatter.

Skeith flared in my eye as I gave myself over fully to it. Two others came at me from either side. I step out of the way of their stabs as I bring out Arondight, slicing one clean in half and impaling the other through the skull, before ripping downwards and severing his arm.

I roared into the sky as the rest came at me.

One by one they fell. I murdered them in the most brutal ways… bone crunching, blood splattering carnage… the only thing on my mind was to kill them all.

Kill them all.

Kill, kill, kill.

So I did. I carved my way through each one of them, tearing off limbs with my bare hands, crushing in skulls, disemboweling, ripping, decapitating… it didn’t take long for the entire area to be coated in blood as I massacred each one of them. Some tried to fight back, they didn’t last long… others tried to run away in terror, and they lasted even less… by the time there were only 12 left, only 3 minutes had passed, and I was completely soaked in the blood of my enemies. I impale the one with Gilgamesh right through the heart as I charged Skeith. The area around me began to corrupt as I drew in the very life from all of their bodies. I kept going as they all screamed, being torn apart from the inside out. It hurt me, as well, as I charged it up as much as I could, I begin to cough up blood.

I didn’t care.

I kept it going as they writhed in pain and pure agony, before, I let it go, and a powerful blast of corrupted data radiated outwards, destroying their bodies and rendering them into scraps of flesh and bone.

I’m left, surrounded by my massacre, bloodied and breathing heavy. I look around at what I had done. Dozens of bodies scattered around, horribly mutilated in the most inhuman ways. I now realized fully the monster I could become.

The overwhelming desire to kill… that was my darkness…

I scream into the darkened sky, consumed by my rage.

---

2 Weeks Later

I was tired… I was just tired…

I walked slowly across Talmia Plains, almost home. By this time, Skeith had retreated back into my mind and all the blood staining me had disappeared. I carried Misaki’s sword with me, as I walked, my mind numb… unable to think. I fall to my knees and then hit the ground, tears streaming down my face, but I still wasn’t crying.

I was just… broken.

I stayed like that for an hour more before I hear footsteps on the grass, and a familiar figure stands before me.

“Well that’s sad.” Yamato said. “I never once looked down on you, Ishi. I always saw you as an equal, but now…”

I don’t say anything, don’t even move. I couldn’t even tell if I was still alive, really. I sure didn’t feel alive. I only felt empty.

Yamato tapped my head with the scabbard of his sword.

“C’mon, get up.” He said. “You can’t stay like that forever.”

Still I don’t answer or move. I’m unresponsive to his prodding.

He sighs, and looks up at the night sky, the full moon’s light radiating down on us.

“I can understand how you feel.” He says. “Losing someone precious to you… I’ve felt the feeling before. It hurts… but it’s only a result of me overcoming it that I am who I am now.”

I still don’t respond.

“You and I… we’re a lot alike.” He continues. “We both have witnessed the dark side of human nature… and we’ve both seen it within ourselves as well. It’s a scary thing… I almost lost myself to it once… a while ago.”

He pauses briefly, allowing me to register the words, and then continues.

“But in the end I didn’t let it stop me. I picked myself back up and moved on. Sure it was difficult and first… and I’ll be the first to admit that I had thought of giving up more than once… but still I kept on. And in the end I found purpose again… I found a reason to keep going.”

“I lost everything…” I say on the ground. “What else is there?”

“When you’ve lost everything, you must fight for the fact that you’re still alive.” Yamato said. “Without that, you won’t ever find purpose again.”

Yamato left me at that and turned to leave, but I slowly stand up, and he stops.

“Yamato…” I say. “Fight me.”

“Hm?” He says, turning to me. “Really?”

I feel another presence well up inside me. It wasn’t Skeith… but it felt like Skeith… it felt almost the same… but it was warm… it didn’t hurt…

I open my eyes. A flash of blue sparks in my right, and suddenly, I feel renewed energy come to me. I fasten Eternia to my right side, drawing it out along with Arondight, dual wielding the blades.

“I see…” He says, drawing his own sword. “Let’s have a little battle, then.”

We rush at each other at the same time, locking blades with each other before breaking off, going at each other again.

I felt stronger somehow… lighter, faster… I could keep up with Yamato’s moves easily. I used Arondight and Eternia in sync, wielding both at once with masterful proficiency. We both fought under the white moon, our moves perfectly in time with each other. I felt invigorated by it… fighting Yamato now… I didn’t feel afraid or anything… all I felt was my blades leading the way as I followed.

Yamato and I weren’t trying to hurt each other this time… we were only fighting just to fight… to feel the thrill of it all. It was exhilarating.

Our match goes on for a good hour or so before we lock blades again, pushing against each other before we back off. We’re both left breathing heavy, smiles on our faces. I start to chuckle. Yamato does the same. Pretty soon we just break out laughing into the air, unable to contain ourselves. We do calm down eventually, though, and when we do, Yamato comes up to me and places a hand on my shoulder.

“We are a lot alike, you and I.” He says. “You’re almost there, Ishi.”

I still didn’t know exactly what he was talking about, but still, I didn’t question. I watched as he left. I didn’t make any attempts to follow.

I stare up at the sky as the full force of Misaki’s death hit me again… I felt saddened… but I wasn’t defeated… I wasn’t broken…


I refused to be broken.

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