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Arc 8 of Sword Art Online: Clashing Blades.


Chapter 36

2 Weeks Later

I open my eyes slowly, staring up at the ceiling. I look over to my left and see Asuka asleep, her head lying down on a pillow next to me as she slept in a chair she had set up next to my bed. For the past two weeks she had insisted that she stay with me during the night, despite me insisting she didn’t have to. She was worried to death about me, I knew she was. I appreciated it, though… the fact that she cared that much about me. It did make me feel better.

I roll out of my bed, stretching myself out and getting dressed, putting on my pants and my sleeveless shirt and my shoes, not putting on my jacket or equipping my weapons before going downstairs.

“Good morning, Ishi.” Adeline said as I slowly sauntered down the stairs. “How are you feeling today?”

“Bummed.” I say, the same thing I said the last 10 times she asked.

“Well… you want breakfast?” She asked.

“Not hungry.” I say, leaving the building for my usual morning walk.

I’ve been feeling pretty down for these two weeks. After I had come out of my coma everything just felt… bleak. Like nothing was worth doing… like I had lost my purpose or something, I don’t know… I couldn’t explain. The only thing I’ve been doing lately was just going out on walks… not looking for Hao, not doing missions for Pendragon, not anything else important. Just walks. I felt like there wasn’t anything better to do. I was still recovering from what Corbenik had put me through… I didn’t want to remember what I had seen. Albeit I was gradually beginning to get my drive back, I felt like it would be a long time before I completely recovered.

I walk out of town and just head in any direction from there. I usually never ran into anyone along the way, and even player killers never bothered me… by this time my reputation had reached far enough for people to keep their distance. Quite a few players have reached legendary status other than myself… Galant became the Champion of Aincrad through the arena that I had once fought him in. Snow, the Winter Fox had also made a name for himself as a lethally skilled player. I… I’ve murdered over a hundred people, let my girlfriend get killed right in front of me, and got killed by Hao among other things… I didn’t think those were the merits of a legend. I guess it’s legendary in a way… but not in any good sense.

I realized now that I never stood for anything… I never really had any purpose. I was just a lone wanderer content on fighting for someone else’s cause. I didn’t know what I was fighting for… what my purpose was… the reason why I bothered to survive in this game… I honestly didn’t know. I never really had a reason.

A question of purpose…

“Hey!” I hear a voice behind me say.

Asuka runs up to me and slows to walk by my side.

“You left without even telling me?”

“You don’t need to stalk me wherever I go, you know.” I say, my eyes forward.

“Well I just want to make sure you’re okay…” She says.

“I can take care of myself.” I respond dismissively, picking up my pace to pull ahead of her.

She keeps pace with me, a concerned look on her face.

“Ishi, I’m really starting to worry about you…” She says. “You haven’t been the same since you woke up.”

“I know.” I say.

“Come on, Ishi… this isn’t you…”

I stop in my tracks, and Asuka does as well. I hang my head low, staring at the ground.

“Ishi?” Asuka says, stepping in front of me.

I sigh heavily and keep walking, stepping past her without saying a word.

“Ishi…” Asuka stays behind. “You’ve been like this for two weeks… you can’t keep going like this.”

I don’t say anything, and just keep walking. She sighs and walks in the other direction, back the way she came.

---

I slept outside that night. I had found myself a nice comfortable branch in a tall tree in a forest to sleep in for the night. By early morning I was back out again, walking like I always did… my mind still distraught. I couldn’t shake it no matter what I did… I knew this wasn’t me, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t just forget what I saw. I gained full control over Corbenik, but the cost of doing so… it hurt. It hurt a lot.

“It’s been two weeks.” I hear another familiar voice say. I turn around and see Yamato drop out of the treetops to land next to me. “I understand that you had to experience all that for a full month but you’re running out of time.”

I just stare at him for a few seconds before turning away and walking.

“Hao is still out there, Ishi.” He says, following me. “You’re the only one who can stop whatever he’s up to.”

“Why?” I ask. “Why can’t someone else do it?”

“There isn’t anyone else who can, Ishi.” Yamato states. “It has to be you. You’re the only one who can use both Skeith and Corbenik.”

I stop and look back to him.

“Why should I?”

“Hao has Skeith.” He says. “He has an army. He can wipe out everyone in this damn game and you’re asking why you should? Is that in and of itself not a good enough reason for you?”

“I don’t have a real reason to do anything right now.” I say, turning away from him and resuming my walk.

“You expect to beat me like this?”

I stop dead in my tracks.

“You’re better than this, Blade Master. From the moment we first crossed swords you swore you’d beat me, didn’t you? You’re just going to abandon that now?”

I turn back to look at him.

“We’re destined to kill each other.” He says. “Only one of us is going to come out alive, you know that. We’ve felt the thrill of countless others falling beneath our blades. We’ve both carved a legacy of blood into this world, but your legacy isn’t over. You still have work to do.”

“Do I?” I say, turning around to face him. “And tell me, Wanderer. Is your work done?”

“No.” He says. “Not yet… there’s still one thing left I need to do.”

“And what would that be?”

“You should know by now.”

We both stare each other down. A soft breeze sweeps through the trees of the forest, throwing leaves in between us.

“You need to move past this.” Yamato said.

“You haven’t seen what I’ve seen.” I say. “You have no idea.”

“You really think I don’t know?” Yamato responded. “I’ve been through the same hell, Ishi.”

“No you haven’t.”

“Yes I have.”

“How?”

“We’re more alike than you think.”

“Do you know what it’s like to watch as the one you love dies right in front of you?” I start to raise my voice. “To watch as a blade is driven into her back?! To watch as she’s tossed to the ground like a broken doll?!”

“Do you know what it’s like to have your closest friend betray you?!” Yamato shouts right back. “How it feels to hunt him down?! How it feels to kill your own brother?! HAH?!”

“YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!” I yell.

“YOU’RE A DAMN FOOL!” Yamato retorts.

We both run straight at each other, fists raised, and we both throw our punch, slamming our fists into each other’s faces at once, pushing both of us back. We go at it again, crashing our fists again into the other’s face, this time drawing blood. We both distance ourselves, I wipe a little bit of blood from my mouth, before rushing Yamato again. I come up with a hard kick which Yamato dodges, flipping over me to deliver one of his own, which I brace my arms up against, grabbing his foot and twisting myself around to slam him into the ground, spinning rapidly. He plants his hand hard into the ground to stop his spin and to use the momentum to sweep his heel upwards and kick me hard in the side, dazing me a bit, but only for a second as I punch him in the gut right as he get back on his feet before throwing two more and finishing with a straight kick that sends him back.

He recovers quickly and comes at me hard, managing a flying spin kick to my shoulder that puts me off balance and allows him to get in a hard punch to my stomach and finishing off by raising his heel and bringing it down on the back of my head, putting me into the dirt. Before he can stomp my head out, I roll out of the way as his foot stamps the ground. I flip up and on my hands deliver two quick kicks that land on his side, before springing back onto my feet and spin kicking him. He grabs my foot before it hits his head, but I use it to launch myself forward and knee him in the stomach, making him let go of my foot and cough up a bit of blood. I grab his undershirt and throw him into a tree. He recovers in air and lands feet planted on the tree and rebounds straight towards me, throwing a punch that nails me right in the face, literally sending me flying into the nearest tree. Yamato doesn’t relent, and he runs back at me, his foot flying my way. I grab his foot and slide under him, throwing a kick upwards that nails him hard in the stomach, before raising my heel and bringing it down onto his back, sending him into the dirt.

We both get back up and distance ourselves before running back at each other, ending up locking hands and arms, pushing into each other, trying to throw each other off. We both rear our heads back and bring them right into each other, immediately drawing blood from our heads. We rear up once again, and slam into each other, stunning us both and making us stagger back. We both shake it off and go at it again, taking turns trading fast and hard punches to the face, before both of us rear back and throw all our weight into one last punch, nailing both of us in the face and sending us both into the ground.

Tired, bloodied, and beaten, we’re left heaving on the ground, hyperventilating from our beatdown on each other.

“Agh…” I moan in pain, rolling over to my side.

“Dammit…” Yamato curses, coughing a bit. “You hit hard…”

---

We both had propped ourselves up against two adjacent trees, facing each other. We had calmed down, but we were both tired and injured, the blood on our bodies and clothes not cleaned off. I was leaned up on the tree, my eyes closed and my leg propped up so my arm rested on my knee.

“So…” Yamato said. “Did that beat some sense into you?”

“Maybe…” I say, rolling my shoulders and testing myself to make sure nothing was broken. “Maybe we should go again just to make sure.”

“Hah…” Yamato coughs twice before resting his head back onto the trunk of the tree. “Well, I can only lose so much blood. I think I’ll pass.”

“Yeah…” I agree, confirming I didn’t have any broken bones, but had quite a few scrapes and bruises.

We take a few more minutes to rest up before Yamato spoke up again.

“Seems we both lead a dark path.”

“Seems so.”

Yamato slowly gets up to his feet, testing his legs to make sure he could stand straight.

“Don’t worry, Ishi.” Yamato assured me. “You’ll understand everything when the time comes. Just make sure you don’t completely lose your way before then.”

“Right…” I sigh.

Yamato pulled out some medical supplies and cleaned himself off, patching himself up a bit in the process and sighed.

“I’ll see you around, Ishi.” Yamato said. “It’s all almost over. Make sure you’re ready.”

With that he walks off, disappearing into the forest and out of sight.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, deciding to clean myself up a bit, standing up to stretch myself out, bending backwards to crack my back before rolling my shoulders again.

“Damn…” I mutter to myself, staring up at the mid-morning sky, the sun’s light beaming through the trees in visible rays. I dust myself off a bit before deciding to head back to Talmia. Asuka was probably worried about me.

I did feel better after that… a lot better. Looks like Yamato did beat some sense into me after all.

---

When I get back I head upstairs and into my room, flopping down onto my bed and staring up at my ceiling, my head finally clearing up after two weeks of depression and self-pity. It didn’t take long at all for Asuka to find out I had returned and step into my room.

“Ishi?” She says. “You alright?”

“Fine.” I answer, sitting up on the bed and looking at her. I could tell she saw a bit more light in me, and it made her much more relaxed.

“Ah… that’s good.” She said. “Wh… Ishi, what the hell happened to you?!”

“Oh, this?” I say, looking upwards towards a scar on my head. “Ah, you should see the other guy. I just got into a little scuffle with Yamato is all.”

“Geez…” Asuka shook her head. “You really can’t ever talk to the guy without trying to kill each other can you?”

“I can’t imagine.” I joke. “But… listen, Asuka. I actually wanted to tell you something.”

“Hm? What’s that?”

“Sit down.”

She walks over and sits next to me on the bed.

“Asuka…” I start out, trying to find words. “What I saw… I, um…”

“Ishi, you don’t have to say it.” She says. “I know it hurts.”

“It’s fine.”

“But-”

“I want to.” I say, silencing her. “When I was in that coma… I just… it’s hard to explain. I saw a lot of things… it was like… everything that made me who I was… my entire life, it just kept being reeled before me over and over again. A saw who I was, who I am, and… insight on what who I will be. It made me realize what I really was. I saw everything from outside myself, and it let me really grasp everything about myself for the first time… and ever since this game started… all the things I’ve done, the people I’ve killed… I saw all of it.”

I stop briefly to make sure Asuka was still listening, which she was intently, so I continue.

“And now… I don’t really know what to think of myself. When I first started this game my goal was to just beat it and make sure Akihiko got what was coming to him, but now… a lot’s changed since then. Yamato, Skeith… Misaki… Corbenik, Kyosho, Hao… it’s been around only a year and a half and yet so much has changed… and here I am, in the center of all of it. I realize I’m not who I set out to be. I realize that it was hopeless from the start, that this entire time I was destined to be this way. I have no real cause behind my actions. I don’t have a reason to fight… I never had a reason. It makes me feel like I’m no different than all those player killers who just murder for the sake of it…”

I stop to try to gather more words for something I couldn’t really completely put into words, but drop it and go onto something else that has been bothering me.

“Why?” I ask her. “Even after all I’ve done, after what I’ve become, you’re still here. You’ve stayed with me through all of it, when by all rights you should’ve left. You’ve become a player killer yourself, just to stay by my side through it all… I don’t understand. Why would you do something like that? Why would you want to stay with me under all that?”

She stays silent for a time, seemingly unable to explain why, but then she speaks.

“I guess…” She begins. “I just… when we first met I didn’t really know what to make of you… you seemed like you didn’t really care about me and just thought of me as a nuisance more than anything… but looking back on it, I felt… I felt something about you. It’s not really something I can explain, but something just drew me towards you; kept me with you. At the time I’d argue that it was just because I thought you could help me become stronger, but… it was something more than that. Even when things began to heat up like they did, I still felt like I needed to stay beside you, for whatever reason. And through that I began to find out more about you… who you are, why you act the way you do… and I guess I just found you… attractive, in a sense. I guess I just became attached to you is all.”

“That so?” I say. “You put yourself in more danger than you needed to. Now you’re stuck with me in the middle of all this. Is this what you wanted?”

“Well, we don’t get to choose where life takes us.” Asuka said. “I made my choice, and I won’t give up now.”

“But do you like the choice that you made?” I ask. “After everything that’s happened do you really think you made the right choice?”

“I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t stayed with you. I want to see this through to the end, no matter where it may take me.”

We stay silent for a few minutes before Asuka gets up.

“Anyway… I have some things I need to do. You think you’re alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I say. “I’ll be here.”

She smiles at me before turning and leaving my room, shutting the door behind me.

I fall back down on my bed and stare back up at the ceiling. It felt good to let all that out… I’m glad Asuka’s there when I need her. I worry for her, because of her choosing to stay with me through all of this… but I’m happy I have the company.


I just hoped she wouldn’t regret it.

Chapter 37


I stand at the front gates of Luciad… or rather what was left of it.

I look ahead towards the smoldering remains of what was once one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Aincrad… I saw multiple fires burning, and at least two buildings had completely collapsed within the time of me being here. I didn’t know how long the city has been in ruins for, but it looked like the place had been evacuated some time before my arrival.

What happened here?

“Right… I didn’t get a chance to tell you…” Asuka says, walking up beside me. “Hao’s army attacked… destroyed the city. They killed everyone in the city who hadn’t managed to get out. We lost Vincent, Gareth, and… and Bedivere and Agravaine.”

I turn my eyes to her, before looking back towards the city, walking in with Asuka following.

We have to climb over the remains of a few buildings going down the main street towards HQ. When we get there, we find the entire building in total ruin. The tall and proud symbol of Pendragon Court fallen under Hao’s army… the banners with the Wings of Freedom tattered and torn on the ground, or still barely attatched to any parts of the building that were still barely standing.

“When did this happen?” I ask.

“About a week ago.” Asuka said. “You were still out of it so… I couldn’t tell you.”

“How many did we lose?”

“A lot…”

“How many made it out?”

“Only about 100 or so.”

“Where are we now?”

“Iskandar’s castle.”

“I see…”

I spend a few more seconds looking at our fallen fortress before turning to leave, Asuka following.

“Where do we go now?” Asuka asks.

“We’re going to pay a visit to our old friend, The Chronicler.” I say. “We’re going to get a few more answers.”

“Hao had that amulet we found for him…” Asuka remembers. “How do you think he got a hold of it?”

“Either Hao took it or it was given to him. We’ll find out when we get to him.”

---

It was another long trek from Aurora’s Edge through the snowy wastelands to the elevator in the middle of nowhere that led down into The Chronicler’s home. We weren’t impeded by a blizzard this time around, and we didn’t fall into any hidden crevasses either, so that was good. We got to the elevator using my Destination Compass and activated the lever, taking us down. It took a few minutes for us to get down to the elevator room of the cold and mostly empty caverns that served as The Chronicler’s home, but we remembered where the massive library was, where we were sure we’d find our target.

Sure enough we see enough we see him, scrambling through random books and papers, in no better condition than we last saw him.

“Hello, there.” I say, startling him.

“Ah!” He jumps. “Oh, you two! Why… why hello there, I wasn’t expecting company, I would’ve made tea and-”

I grab him by his collar and lift him up into the air with one arm.

“You better start explaining how Hao got a hold of that amulet of yours.” I say.

“Ach!” The Chronicler struggles against my arm. “Please, l-let’s be reasonable about this! Ngh… no need to resort to violence.”

“Then start talking.” I say, tossing him onto the ground.

He scrambles back and crawls a few feet away to gain distance from me, clearly intimidated by my less than friendly nature this time around.

“Y-you see, I… that amulet I had you collect for me last time… it has the power to contain Skeith within it… of course you… you probably already figured that out… um, Hao… h-he came looking for it. He somehow figured out it can contain Skeith and planned on using it for himself.”

“How can it contain Skeith?” I ask.

“Well… you see…” The Chronicler stands back up on his feet, dusting off his outfit. “I created it for that specific purpose. You see, I knew of Skeith since it first showed up, so I created the Soul Amulet so that I could capture Skeith and… well… to that end I forget what I was going to do… but somehow Hao knew of the Soul Amulet and somehow found me. He took it with him…”

“Where is Hao now?” I ask.

“I… I do not know.” The Chronicler lied.

I go at him again, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him up to me.

“I don’t like being lied to.” I say aggressively.

“Ah! I-I-I can look him up in my records!” The Chronicler pleaded. “Since Skeith is contained within the Soul Amulet the records should not be corrupted!”

I push him back again, allowing him to scurry off and collect the information we needed while Asuka and I hung around the center of the room.

“He’s still the same guy we left, I see.” Asuka noted.

“I never trusted him.” I say. “He’s too suspicious.”

“You don’t think he’s actually working for Hao, do you?” Asuka suggested.

“A coward like him? Not a chance.” I tell her. “This guy can’t harm anyone.”

Suddenly, we hear crumbling rocks, and when we look over, we see a large feral beast made of rock and ice hurtling towards us, knocking over the large and towering shelves of books on its way towards us.

“What the hell?” Asuka said.

“Bastard set us up…” I growl, grasping my blade on my back as the beast charged.

Asuka and I dodged out of the way in both directions. The thing looked like a hybrid of a wolf and a yeti, behaving in a bestial manner, using its large claws to slash at us and its powerful paws to punch. It went after Asuka first, finding her the easier target, but that opinion changed when she charged up her blade with flames and slashed it at the beast, slamming into it and causing it to ear back  and paw at the flames to disperse them. It went for her again, but it’s interrupted when I flank it and Shift inward, slicing deep into its leg with more ease than I expected from such a hard target.

The beast reared up and tried to slam down into me, but I Shift out of the way as it crashes its body into the ground, only stunning itself as Asuka ran up to its side and flung herself forward, slicing cleanly into its back with her flaming blade. The creature once again reared up and this time came at us much faster, scrambling all around to try to attack us. The thing went for Asuka again, charging her. She’s faster, and jumps upwards, letting the thing pass under her and allowing her to stab her sword downwards and impaling the beast in the back, before she stands up on it and kicks on her blade, wedging it forwards and taking off a good chunk of rock and ice from its back, before she quickly runs up and jumps, spinning in the air and bringing her blade down on the creature’s face, finishing with a solid flaming uppercut that causes the beast to stand up, allowing me to run up to Asuka and grab her arm, as she spins me around to gain momentum and throws me at the thing as I grab Mordred from thin air and slam the heavy blade into the beast’s chest, gouging out quite a bit of it and causing it to fall onto its back as I come to a sliding stop behind it.

When the thing gets back up, I notice something odd… right in the center of its chest was what looked like the figure of a person… someone in what looked like black armor.

“Asuka!” I say. “There’s someone in there!”

“In that thing?” She asks.

“Looks like… let’s just kill this thing.”

Asuka and I move in at once, and despite the beast’s speed, we were both faster, and we simultaneously cut into either side, taking another good chunk of ice and rock off of it. In perfect harmony, we move in, coordinating our movements precisely, and systematically taking off bits and pieces of the creature. The ice and rock armor around the thing slowly began to lose its protection, and Asuka and I decide to move in for the kill, rushing up quickly to either side and slicing off both its arms in one quick motion, before I grab a hold of Asuka’s hand and swing her around, throwing her towards the beast. She thrusts her blade forward and impaled the back of its head, the force of her momentum, easily allowing her sword to tear straight through the ice and rock and get wrenched forward and out as Asuka flew overhead, landing cleanly in front of the thing as it fell onto its back.

Shortly after, the armor around the creature began to collapse and fall apart, and soon the armored figure inside was stirred to life and broke out of its shell. The figure now in front of us was clad in heavy black armor, and it wielded a large sword of black steel, as well as a black metal shield with a red design on it. Despite both Asuka and I preparing ourselves, the knight did not attack. It looked at me, then turned to look at Asuka, then back to me. It kept staring at me, and I could almost feel the eyes behind that helmet pierce into me. It suddenly brought it’s sword up, but instead of attacking with it, it simply pointed it towards me. It held the blade outwards silently, holding his position there.

“What’s it doing?” Asuka asks.

I stare back at it… it doesn’t move. It’s almost as if it became a statue after it pointed its sword at me. I try to figure what it was up to, but the answer came to me sooner than I had expected.

“He wants to fight me.” I say. “Only me.”

To that, the knight let his sword down to his side, as I had discovered what his intentions were.

“Just you?” Asuka said. “Why?”

“This knight wants an honorable duel between two swordsmen.” I say. “I won’t ask what you were doing inside that thing, since I suspect I won’t get an answer. But I’ll respect your wish. You’ll have your fight.”

“Ishi…” Asuka began.

“Don’t interfere.” I interrupt her.

The knight took its first steps toward me, and I did the same. We walked slowly towards each other before we came to a stop a few feet away from each other. We both reach out with our blades, crossing them to initiate the battle. We both immediately pushed into each other, locking blades and trying to force the other back. We slide off each other, before slamming our blades into each other again, and backing off once three more strikes were delivered by either of us. The knight’s heavy two handed sword should’ve been hard to block, but… somehow I knew exactly how to parry it in a way that took out all the force of the blow… I was stronger, faster, more agile, with faster reflexes… whatever Corbenik did to me, it worked.

I slip under a horizontal swing of the knight’s dark blade and attack it while it tries to recover, managing to cut clean through its armor and damage whoever was inside, before it tries another swing that I brace Gilgamesh against, though the force of the blow made me skid back only slightly when the blade hit my arm bracer. I manage to slide my arm under the blade to grab it in Gilgamesh’s claws, before delivering a strike of my own that the knight puts his shield up against, which successfully defends against the blow. He pushed the shield forward hard, and forces me back, allowing him room to try a heavy overhead swing which I Shift to evade, putting me at a distance. We ready ourselves again for the second round. I was smiling.

The knight reared his sword back, as did I, and we ran at each other, striking fast and hard, our blades clashing with a resounding shock that resonated throughout the chamber we were in. We strike at each other a few more times, my blows landing on either his sword or shield while his landed on my blade or gauntlet. Either way, it was a satisfying fight that seemed more like we were fighting for the sport instead of trying to kill each other. In the end, though, this knight was an NPC… something that I just didn’t get the same thrill from… I decided enough was enough.

In one swift motion I rebound his blade with Gilgamesh before slicing into his shield hard, slicing it cleanly in two. Now without his best defense, he tries to attack me, but I curve my blade under his, redirecting it in a circle twice before whipping it to the side, causing the knight to lose his grip and sending the sword through the air to skitter to a stop on the floor. I pointed my blade towards the knight, and to this, he kneels before me on one knee, his arm placed over his chest, in recognition of my victory, and in preparation for his end. I raise my blade and make it quick, cutting into him cleanly and causing him to instantly shatter. I swing my sword through the air once, before spinning it in my hand and sheathing it on my back, officially ending this well fought battle.

Of course, there was another matter to deal with…

I glance over and see The Chronicler hunched over behind a table on the other end of the room. He gasps and quickly ducks back into cover. I walk over to his hiding place and slice the table cleanly in two, frightening the man and causing him to attempt to scramble away, but I already had my hand clenched on his throat and lifted him up, my sword pointed under his chin.

“That was a mistake.” I say in a darkened tone. “Now, let’s try this again. Where… is… Hao?”

The guy struggles against my grip, trying desperately to free himself, but I wasn’t having it.

“Where is he?!” I shout.

“He… he came here a few weeks ago!” The Chronicler said desperately. “When he c-came for the amulet… he destroyed all records of him as well! I don’t know where he is! He left that beast here as a guardian for when you came! He ordered me to use it against you!”

“Dammit…” I curse.

“N-now I’ve told you all I know…”  The Chronicler pleaded. “Please… let me be…”

“Yeah, don’t think so.” I say, letting him go, but quickly cutting him down before he even hit the ground, making him shatter.

“Was… was that necessary?” Asuka asked.

“It wasn’t a matter of whether or not it was necessary.” I say. “I just wanted him dead. C’mon, I know one other place we can go.”

“Uh… where?”

“Back to Kyosho.” I say. “I think there are still a few things we can learn from him…”

---

When we return to Kyosho’s place, I’m surprised to see someone else there. Sakura had her arms wrapped around Yamato, who wouldn’t return her hug, even as she was crying. I step up to the front porch, and when Sakura notices me, she just shuts her eyes tight and runs inside.

“I knew you’d be here, Ishi.” Yamato said.

“Why was Sakura crying?” I ask.

“She hasn’t seen me for a long time, Ishi.” He said. “It’s only natural that she would be… but I just wanted to talk to sensei.”

“Coincidence. So did I.”

“About what?”

“Finding Hao.”

“You aren’t ready.”

“Like hell I’m not.”

“Ishi, there’s still something you need to do before you face Hao.” Yamato told me. “You need to defeat me. Surely you knew that.”

I look down to the ground, knowing he was right. I wanted to focus on finding Hao more than anything so it’d keep my mind of it, but… I should’ve known better than to try to run away from it. Yamato and I would have our final fight very soon now, before I faced Hao for the last time. I didn’t know when exactly, but I knew the exact time would come to me once it did… it wasn’t long now.

“Why are you here, then?” I ask him.

“Just… I just wanted to talk to him, clear some things out.” He said. “Nothing too important.”

“Saying your goodbyes?” I ask.

He doesn’t answer. He just walks away, towards Kyosho’s dojo.

“Maybe you should talk to Sakura.” Asuka suggested.

“No, you should.” I tell her. “I don’t think I should talk to her right now… with what’s going to happen.”

“Alright… I’ll see what I can do, then.” Asuka jumped up the steps onto the porch and jogged inside following where Sakura went.

I instead follow where Yamato had gone, towards Kyosho’s dojo. When I’m there, I hear both his and Yamato’s voices inside. I decide to hold off and listen.

“-really alright with this?” I hear Kyosho say mid-sentence. “Is this how you want it to be?”

“It is.” I hear Yamato say. “I want it to be him. I don’t want it to be anyone else but him.”

“But you may defeat him, still.” Kyosho said. “He’s still not as experienced as you.”

“We’ve experienced the same thing in different ways.” Yamato told him. “That’s the only reason why he has a chance. And if I do kill him, then that’ll be that. It’ll prove that I truly am undefeatable and I’ll live out the rest of my life knowing that… but if he beats me… if I fall by his blade… then he’ll truly be the one.”

“Is this really necessary? Why must you do this?”

“He’s the only one in Aincrad who can wield Akasha. This world will be safer with him… and without me. I’m not going to allow myself to die, he’ll have to force it on me… but if he does, then I’ll know this world is truly safe.”

“Yamato, I do not wish your death.” Kyosho said with a tone of sadness. “Neither does Sakura, or young Kenji. Sakura especially holds you closely to her, even after you left.”

“That was a mistake on her part. She should’ve moved on.”

“Her heart is not so easily won, and it is equally not as easy to lose. In spite of what you think is best, Yamato, that is something you will keep with you to your grave.”

I hear no more talking for about a minute, but then Kyosho speaks up.

“Perhaps we should have Ishi come in to join us.” He said. “He’s heard enough already, in any case.”

The sliding door opens and catches me by surprise with Yamato standing there.

“It’s not polite to eavesdrop, you know.” Yamato said. “But I guess it can’t be helped.”

“Ishi.” Kyosho said. “Do you understand the situation you’re in?”

“Not completely…” I admit. “How could I?”

“True… you are an integral part to something much larger than yourself. Something that all of Aincrad is falling on. You are the only one who is capable of wielding Akasha, and thus you hold the very fate of Aincrad in your hands…”

“But Hao has Skeith.” I say.

“But Skeith does not belong to him.” Yamato states. “One thing that Hao doesn’t know is that Skeith will reject him. Eventually it will cease lending him its power, and when that happens it should be easy enough to get it back.”

“Once that is done you need only to combine Skeith and Corbenik into Akasha.”

“I tried once… I couldn’t.” I say. “How will I do that?”

“You hadn’t awakened either at the time.” Yamato told me. “You’ve awakened Corbenik now, and you almost have the key to awaken Skeith. When you do, Akasha will form on its own.”

“Is that what this is all about, Yamato? Has this been your plan all along? To make me stronger and stronger until one day I can fight you head on? So I can beat you to gain complete control of Skeith and Corbenik?”

He doesn’t respond or a second.

“You must realize how important this is, Ishi.” Yamato told me.

“What if I don’t want to, huh?” I ask. “Why couldn’t I just be left out of all of this? Why can’t I just settle down somewhere with Asuka and-”

I stop dead at what I accidentally just said, trying to figure out how the hell something like that slipped. I didn’t even think of Asuka that way… did I?

“Ishi.” Yamato says. “This isn’t about you. It’s about Aincrad. I know you don’t really care about the people as a whole, but I also know you won’t allow someone like Hao to have the kind of power he’s vying for. But for that to happen, you need to take it before he can.”

“He can’t use Corbenik.” I say.

“Which is why you’re going to win.” Yamato told me. “But in order for that to happen you need to beat me. Isn’t that what you wanted to do anyway?”

“It was… but now… it just doesn’t seem right to me. What will killing you prove, anyway?”

“When you strike me down-”

“If I strike you down.”

“You’ll know, Ishi.”

“Why the hell would I kill you without reason?” I ask.

“I don’t know.” Yamato replies. “You should probably come up with one.”

“What about Sakura?” I ask. “What about her? Are you just going to abandon her?”

“I already have.” Yamato says, without even the slightest hesitation.

“She still loves you.”

“She shouldn’t.”

“Enough.” Kyosho holds a hand up to silence us. “You two should prepare. Your battle will not be easy, but it will be necessary.”

“Why?” I ask. “Why is any of this necessary?!”

“Sometimes things happen that may not seem necessary, but are no less important to the world.” Kyosho tells me. “This is one of these situations… I don’t like it any more than you do.”

“So what, Yamato’s just going to lie down and die?!”

“I think you’re missing the point here, Ishi.” Yamato says. “I’m guessing words won’t be able to explain it to you. Either way, you know you don’t have a choice.”

He was right. As much as I didn’t want to, it was going to happen, whether I liked it or not. I stomp my foot onto the floor in anger.

“Son of a bitch…” I curse under my breath. “And what happens if you kill me, then?”

“Well, one way or another Hao is going to be stopped.” Yamato says. “If I do manage to beat you then Hao will be next… after that I guess I’d have to make sure nobody wields Skeith or Corbenik ever again.”

“What, you just kill whoever wields either?”

“I’ve done it before.”

“Right… anyway I guess I should get going.”

“You haven’t had tea yet.” Kyosho said. “In fact, I haven’t had tea either…”

“Gonna have to pass. I got things I need to do.”

“Yes you do.” Yamato said. “So do I.”

“Well, then, I’ll leave you two to your business.” Kyosho told us. “I have much to meditate on.”

“Alright, well I guess I’ll see you, then.”

I walk across the house to Sakura’s room, where I still hear the faint sound of crying from inside. I decide not to disturb the two and instead send Asuka a PM saying I’d meet her back at Adeline’s.

I had a lot of thinking to do myself.

Chapter 38


The next day, I decided I needed to head back to Pendragon Court. By now they knew that I had woken up from my coma, but I hadn’t seen them since then. I traveled to Iskandar’s castle, where the remainder of our forces were based, and headed inside. I find Knight and Iskandar in the main briefing room, as well as Trinity, Avro, Guren, and Kana and Diana.

“Ishi.” Knight said, a stroke of relief sounding in his voice. “It’s good to see you again.”

“HAHAH!” Iskandar boomed as he strode up to me, patting me on my shoulder. “I knew you’d return, my friend!”

I didn’t share his enthusiasm, and my silence made that known. Iskandar backed up a bit, noticing my significantly darker mood.

“I’m, ah… guessing you already know the situation we’re in.” Iskandar said seriously. “We’ve lost over half our forces to Hao and his army already… we’ll need your help if we’re going to make any steps against him.”

 “He’s right, Ishi.” Knight chimes in. “We have an advantage with you and Corbenik on our side. First we’ll need to-”

“I’m not working for you anymore.” I blatantly interrupt, immediately putting the room into silence.

“Wait, what?” Knight asked.

I didn’t say anything.

“But… we need you, Ishi!” Knight said. “Without you we don’t stand a chance against Hao.”

“He’s right, Ishi.” Trinity stepped up to me. “You’re the one person that threatens Hao the most.”

“Which is why he’ll be focusing on me instead of you.” I say. “I’m still going after Hao, don’t get me wrong… but I’m not doing it because you need me to. I’m doing it for my own reasons.”

“Ishi, I-”

“You knew this was coming.” I interrupt Knight. “It’s about time I left the guild for good; go my own way.”

The entire room was silent for a while.

“You sure?” Knight finally says.

I nod.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t follow your lead anymore.”

“We’ll still need you for the final assault.” Iskandar said.

“Believe me, I’ll know, and I’ll be there.”

“Alright…” Knight says, stepping up to me. “It’s been an honor, Blade Master.”

He holds out his hand and I take it, and we strongly shake hands.

Iskandar gives me a crushing hug and Trinity gives me a much gentler one along with a small kiss on the cheek, while Avro high-fived me and told me to kick ass.

Now that was done, I was truly free… which was bad news for Hao.

---

I headed back for Adeline’s where I knew Asuka was hanging out. I walk in and see Adeline and Asuka talking at the bar, I walk up and take a stool next to her.

“Ah, hey, Ishi.” Adeline says. “You hungry?”

“I’m always hungry.” I tell her.

“Well I guess I should fix up something for you, hm?” Adeline shuffled into the back to make her special ramen for me.

“So what’d you do at Iskandar’s place?” Asuka asked.

“I quit.”

“What?”

“I quit.”

“Quit what?”

“The Court.”

“What, you just left?” Asuka asked.

“Yeah.” I say. “I thought it was about time we left for good. We wouldn’t be able to get much done being with them anymore.”

“Yeah… I guess… but now what?”

I heard a commotion outside that drew our attention. We look back out the windows and notice a large crowd gathering around the center of town.

“Wonder where everyone’s going…” Asuka says.

The door opened, and I see a little girl enter. In fact, it was a little girl I knew.

“Claire?” I ask.

“Ishi!” She remembered me. “There’s someone out there who’s looking for you!”

“Who’s looking for me?” I ask.

“I don’t know who he is, but he looks important!” With that, she scurried off to wherever everyone was headed.

“Want to check it out?” Asuka asked.

“Eh, might as well.” I say, slurping up the last of my ramen and hopping out of the stool, walking outside and making my way with Asuka to the center of the crowd. One we get there, we see three men. Two of them flanking the one in the center were dressed in all white armor draped in white cloaks detailed with red, while the one in the middle was wearing red armor with white details with a single white cape. His hair was a silver color, as were his eyes. On his back he wore a white shield with his sword underneath it.

“The Knights of Blood?” I wonder aloud. “What’re they doing here?”

The commander of the leading guild in Sword Art Online raised his hand.

“I am searching for Ishi Haseo!” He announces.

The fact that he knew my full name put me off somewhat… how would he know that?

“Blade Master!” He goes on to say. “I know you’re here! Reveal yourself!”

Of course by now everyone knew who I was and how I hung out here, so the crowd quickly backed up around me to reveal me standing there with Asuka. I stared the man down. Heathcliff was his name, but what he was doing here I couldn’t figure. This place was too underprivileged for the likes of him.

“Ah, there you are.” Heathcliff said when he saw me.

“Well, now.” I say. “This is a surprise. To what do we owe the honor of having such a prestigious man such as yourself gracing us with your presence?”

“You can do without the sarcasm, Haseo.” Heathcliff said.

“How do you know my name?” I question.

“I know you well enough to figure that out.” He said. “But it doesn’t matter. I have business I wish to conduct with you.”

“Business with me?” I ask. “What business could you possibly have with me?”

“Corbenik.”

Heathcliff instantly became a possible enemy right then and there. How would he know about Corbenik? Its existence isn’t even known outside a select few.

“What about it?” I ask cautiously.

“I wish to make you an offer.” He explained. “I want you to relinquish Corbenik into my possession, and in turn I will take care of Hao for you.”

“Take care of Hao for me?” I ask. “Are you kidding me?”

“Quite the contrary.” He says. “I wish to put an end to his plans as much as you do. But I fear you may cause more harm than good in how you would deal with it.”

“What are you saying?”

“I can assure the safety of the rest of Pendragon Court and the Army of the King, and I will personally bring Hao to justice. You won’t have to lift a finger, and all your companions will be safe. This whole business with Hao will be put to rest.”

“So you want me to give you Corbenik so you can get rid of Hao for me?” I reiterate.

“Precisely.” He says. “I will put all my power into keeping you and your allies safe from Hao while the Knights of Blood stop him. You won’t have to deal with this anymore. You can put an end to all of this right here.”

I stay silent for a few seconds, thinking on his offer.

“How do you know about Corbenik?” I ask.

“The Chronicler informed me about it quite some time ago.” He explained. “I know you have it with you now.”

I stay silent.

“Come now, Blade Master.” Heathcliff says. “Surely you see that this is the most sensible way to do this.”

Kayaba Akihiko.

He was Kayaba Akihiko.

Arondight and Gilgamesh both informed me of the leader of the Knights of Blood’s true identity. Despite this, I chose not to sound my knowledge… and even more strangely, I didn’t feel anything towards him… Kayaba Akihiko was right in front of me, ready for me to cut him down like I always said I would… but I didn’t feel a reason to. I only felt the presence of a sad old man who wanted to play God. I only felt pity.

“You promise…” I say. “You promise that my friends will be safe?”

“Ishi?” Asuka says.

“I swear on my blood.” Heathcliff puts his hand to his chest.

I wanted to keep my friends safe… above all. That was all there really was to it.

I reach my right hand out and within it Corbenik sparks to life, the blue energy rippling through the air as its power resonated around me. If I gave it to him… then everyone would be safe…

 “No.” I say, clutching my fist and forcing Corbenik to recede back into me.

“What?” Heathcliff asked.

“I refuse your offer.” I say.

“Ishi, please.” He pleaded. “You don’t expect to do this by yourself, do you? Look at what’s already happened! All the lives lost… I can prevent that!”

“What makes you think I care about that?” I ask, a sinister smile on my face. “I didn’t start this just to allow someone else to finish it… no… I’m going to do this myself.”

“I suggest you listen to Heathcliff, Blade Master.” The knight to his right said. “You do not want to make an enemy of us.”

“You think you can take me down?” I ask. “Heh… if you could you would’ve by now, isn’t that right?” I say, giving Heathcliff a knowing grin that he immediately gets the message from.

I knew who he was, and he couldn’t stop me if he tried.

“Ishi Haseo!” He shouts. “I order you to give me Corbenik right now!”

“I take orders from no one.” I draw my blade and activate Gilgamesh, pointing Arondight at him.

The two knights on either side of Heathcliff draw their weapons, ready to take me on, but Heathcliff did not. He simply stood there, a look of both surprise and anger on his face.

He knew he couldn’t kill me. I was out of the control of even the Game Master himself. He couldn’t take me on in a fight since I was much more skilled than he was, and he couldn’t activate the NerveGear to kill me since Skeith took his ability to do so from him. I was a danger to him and the very world he created, and he didn’t like that one bit.

Still, he knew when he was defeated.

“Stand down.” He orders his knight, and they respond to the order immediately, sheathing their weapons as I did the same.

“Very well, Ishi Haseo.” Heathcliff said. “If you wish to drive this world into further turmoil thatn so be it! You will only end up betraying yourself.”

With that, the turned around and walked away.

Once he was gone, I’m left standing in the middle of the crowd with Asuka in silence. That silence was broken when I suddenly started laughing, quietly at first, but it quickly escalated into loud hysteria. I laughed into the air uncontrollably at it all.

He couldn’t stop me! Not even the Game Master himself could stop me! Just the thought of that made me feel completely undefeatable… but I knew that wasn’t true.

There was still one.

My laughing eventually lowers to small chuckles before dying completely, but I’m still left with a grin on my face.

“Ishi?” Asuka asks. “Um… are you alright?”

“Yeah…” I say. “Oh, yeah I’m… I’m just fine…”

The Game Master himself feared the kind of power I had… the simple fact that I was out of his jurisdiction must scare him to no end, but that coupled with what I was and what I was capable of doing must truly make it a nightmare.

---

One Month and 3 Days Later

Tomorrow… tomorrow…

That was the day… the day Yamato and I would settle it once and for all.

A month of me doing nothing but meditating had passed since I last saw him… Kirei always told me that it helps relieve the mind and relax the spirit, which I really needed right now. It also opened my eyes to a world I had never seen before, a world without the proper words to explain it. It was through this constant meditation that I knew the day was tomorrow… Yamato knew as well.

Asuka had been trying to ease my mind throughout as well. She would stay with me constantly, and give me reassurance whenever I needed it, but I could tell she was beginning to grow increasingly distraught at my situation. She didn’t want me to go. She was fully aware of the chances of me not coming back… and it scared her.

It scared me as well.

I wasn’t afraid for my own life however. I was… I was afraid of having to leave Asuka.

I wasn’t going to deny that I was afraid, nor was I going to deny that I had some sort of feelings for Asuka, and I also knew that she had a strong attachment to me that went beyond just apprenticeship or friendship. Through my meditating I had learned a lot of things within just a month, things that others are never able to see. It made me realize just how important this was and where I fell within the grand scheme of things.

It was early morning and I had just woken up, so I decided to get some breakfast before I headed out. Asuka had woken up at around the same time so she came down with me and we both ate breakfast together. She seemed troubled by something… I couldn’t tell what, but it didn’t take long for Arondight to tell me that she knew tomorrow was the day as well, that her own sword had told her so. I was kind of hoping I’d break the news to her myself.

We ate our breakfast in silence, and Asuka kept her eyes away from me throughout, either looking out the window or at her lap. We finished out meals and I got up from the table and headed for the door, but I stop there.

“Asuka.” I say. “Let’s do something today.”

“Huh?” She says. “Do something?”

“Yeah.” I say. “Let’s go out and have some fun. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to just relax.”

“Go out and have fun?” She repeats. “Now?”

“Why not?” I ask with a smile. “We’ve never really been able to just go out and have a good time together, you know.”

“I… I guess you’re right.” She said, her face lightening up as she jumped out of her chair and joined me out the door. “So where are we going?”

“Well, you can choose.” I tell her.

---

So we spent all day together. I guess it could be considered a date, but I didn’t think of it as one, and neither did she. It was just a time for us two and only us two, just to take our minds off everything, even if was only for one day. We had a great time together, and by the time the sun began to set we were sitting together at the tree overlooking Talmia fields. She was lying down, curled up to me with her head resting on my chest as I was propped up against the tree. She was breathing softly as she slept. I was staring out at the sunset ahead of us, as the soft breeze rolled by, as it always would, no matter if I lived or died. Life would go on either way, and if need be it would leave me behind. I didn’t plan on losing, but nothing really ever goes according to whatever plans we lay out. In the end I had to leave it to the hands of fate, and if I was destined to fall to a more capable swordsman, then so be it.

I didn’t have any real regrets infecting my mind, nor was I afraid of what would happen either way. The only thing that really got to me was the possibility of having to leave Asuka… but I would make that sacrifice if I needed to.

I spend an hour more with her before I wake her up as night fell, telling her that we should get back. She agreed and we headed back home.

---

It was late that night and my eyes were on the ceiling as I lay wide awake. The moonlight shone through the window which illuminated the entire room in a soft white glow. I couldn’t get to sleep… understandable considering what was about to happen tomorrow. I take a deep sigh and close my eyes, thinking on the events past and what led me up to here.

My thoughts are interrupted when the door to my room creeps open, and I look over to see Asuka there, dressed in her usual sleep clothes, which consisted of soft pants as well as a long sleeved button up shirt of the same material. She shut the door behind her and walked up to me as I sat up on the bed.

“Ishi…” She said. “I… I don’t want you to go…”

“I know.” I say. “But I have to.”

“Do you really?” She says. “Why can’t you just, I don’t know… team up with Yamato to stop Hao? Wouldn’t that be easier?”

“It’s… it’s not that simple, Asuka.” I say. “I can’t really explain it myself… but since we first crossed blades this was bound to happen. I can’t avoid it and neither can he. It’s just how it’s meant to be.”

“But why?!” She says, tears starting to form in her eyes. “Why does it have to be this way?!”

“There are some things that are just out of our control.” I tell her. “It’s something nobody wants to face… the fact that in the end most of the control we think we have over our lives is just an illusion… that no matter what we do we will always be subject to fate.”

Asuka wipes her tears away and jumps up to me, wrapping her arms around me as she affectionately nuzzled her head into my shoulder. I return her hug and hold her close to me.

“I’m sorry, Asuka.” I say.

She raises herself up to sit on my lap, as she looked down at me. Her eyes seemed to shine in the moonlight… it reminded me of Misaki…

She moved in and pressed her lips up to mine, and I make no resistance as we fall onto the bed, our lips locked in a loving kiss. I helped work her out of her clothes as she did the same to me, and throughout we never broke apart. Soon we were both completely naked as we finally broke apart. She looked deep into my eyes, and I looked into hers.

“I love you, Ishi…” She said softly.

I only smile and bring her in for another kiss.

We spent that night together as two lovers should… together in each other’s embrace.

I had the dream again that night… this time I won.


Chapter 39


I wake up slowly. It was early morning and the sun hadn’t risen yet. I look over and I see Asuka still sound asleep next to me, her body pressed up to mine and her arms wrapped around me. I carefully work my way out of the bed without disturbing her and I get dressed, putting on my pants first, then my shoes, followed by my undershirt before I take my black runic glove and slip my hand through, before picking up Gilgamesh and fastening it to my arm. I slip on my jacket on and fasten Takeru to my left side, and Aphelion and Eternia to my right, finishing off with strapping Arondight onto my back. I look back to Asuka, who shifted around a bit, the blanket a bit too low on her. I walk over and pull up the covers and give her a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“I love you, Asuka.” I say softly, running my hand through her hair affectionately.

I quietly leave the room and quietly shut the door behind me. I leave Adeline’s and teleport to Twilight Fields.

---

The sky was dark and the winds were picking up as I walked soundlessly across the empty fields. It didn’t take long for me to see him walking up from across the fields. We slowly walk towards each other, until we were a short distance away. We stared at each other as the wind swept around us. We stay in silence for minutes, just staring at each other.

“So…” I say. “This is it.”

“Yeah.” Yamato replies. “This is it…”

“No regrets?”

He puts on a grin.

“No regrets.”

“Alright.”

We prepare our weapons, Yamato unfastening his scabbard from his side to hold in his left hand while I reach to my back to grip my sword’s handle. We continue staring at each other, motionless. The energy between us was that of pure intention… neither opponent was willing to back down… one of these two masters of blades was going to die here.

We wouldn’t stop fighting until the other falls.

We move in on each other, faster than either of us have ever moved, and split the very air two as we unsheathe our swords and our blades strike each other, sending such a thunderous clash through the air that cuts outwards into the air in a shockwave around us. Our blades seemed to resonate with each other as we held our locked blades together, pushing against each other with equal force.

We slide off each other and swing at each other again, our blades sending sparks as another sharp clash filled the air, sending another shockwave outwards. We strike into each other twice more before we lock blades again, trying to push each other back. Yamato manages to push me back a bit, but I stamp my foot backwards into the ground, stopping myself before ducking under his blade and attempting to punch him back with Gilgamesh. He braces the flat of his sword in front of himself to block the blow, but it still manages to push him back. Unfazed, he readies himself again.

We both wear a sharp grin as we rush inwards. I strike inwards fast and hard, and he evades it, moving under my guard and making a slash of his own, which I manage to brace Gilgamesh against as it slides off my armguard, allowing me to spin around and make another strike. He lets go of his blade and flips it, backhanding it and throwing the tip towards me, managing to slide his blade under mine and redirect it over his head, allowing him to quickly make an attack that I barely manage to move out of the way to avoid. We make a few more strikes on each other, before we both rear up to make a final strike more powerful than the last. The force of our blades striking together make us bounce back and land a distance away on our feet our backs to each other.

We turn around and make another dash at each other, our blades striking into each other faster than the eye could see, the air itself being cut as our swords scream through it, the tips of our blades creating white tails with the speed they were being swung at. Yamato makes a hard strike that I defend against by throwing Gilgamesh out to meet the blade, rebounding it, and I quickly take advantage my spinning around and performing a low sweep kick in an attempt to trip him. He sees it coming and makes a small hop to dodge it, and I make another spin kick directed at his face, and he ducks under it with a spin and makes a slash with the momentum, and I brace my blade horizontally over my head, successfully blocking the blow. I push upwards to force him off me and I make another spinning slash as be jumps back and braces his blade against the blow as I made another, rushing up to close the distance and making an uppercut, sending sparks into the sky as it struck against his sword.

When I try to make a downwards strike he sidesteps it, allowing him into my guard, and he takes advantage of it, managing to put me off balance when I don’t manage to properly guard against the blow, allowing him to put a hard kick into my side that knocks the wind out of me. Despite me being unable to breathe, I ignore it and Shift out of the way of two more attacks before rushing in and clawing upwards, forcing him back as I make multiple strikes with both Arondight and Gilgamesh, jumping upwards and over him, making two slashes downwards at him in mid-air and putting me behind him, allowing me to slash backwards at him, but he manages to put his defense up and blocks it, letting him slide under my blade and make a slash at my face, cutting into my cheek. I ignore it and rush up, making an identical attack that nicks him in the cheek as well. We both make a slash simultaneously and our blades bounce off each other, rebounding us both as we both jump back to distance ourselves.

Fresh blood dripped from our wounds, but it didn’t matter. We rush in again, our blood being flung off into the grass, as we make more attacks against each other, perfectly matched. It was clear to both of us this battle wasn’t going to be won by skill alone. It was going to be won by sheer force of will, and who was more willing to put the other down.

A half hour passed.

We both increased our speeds as we attacked, the speed of our swings breaking through sound as the power of the blows released shockwaves. We went at each other with more force and intention than we ever had for any other opponent before. Our blades struck one another at such a high frequency any normal blade would’ve snapped into pieces at this point, but our swords couldn’t be broken, a reflection of our resolve. We continued to assault each other with equal force and will.

Yamato rushes me quickly, breaking through my guard by ducking under my slash and smacking me in the forehead with the pommel of his sword, knocking me back a bit, and he manages to block my next retaliation easily my flicking his blade upwards and allowing him to spin and make a quick slash. I barely manage to bend backwards to let the blade pass over me. I watched as it snipped a small bit of my hair off as it sailed past me. I jump backwards and land on my hands, delivering a quick kick that Yamato backs up to evade and allowing me to jump back onto my feet and Shift up to make another quick strike that manages to cut into Yamato’s haori, but doesn’t do much else as Yamato jumps back and spins, sheathing his blade and lashing it out hard, forcing me to brace up my defense as a blade of energy cut forward, throwing me back into the air as Yamato rushed in to make another attack on me. I manage to plant my hand into the ground and flip myself upright just in time to block three lightning fast strikes from his katana before returning the favor and making a hard slash with Gilgamesh, grinding on his blade and just barely missing his head as he ducked under it and allowed his blade to redirect it. He tries to land a kick into my guard but I kick his leg back and Shift out of the way of another draw sword attack.

An hour had passed.

The storm clouds were moving in.

We move in on each other once more, our blades striking fast and hard and filling the air with sparks and the sound of steel shocks. We had managed to nick each other a few more times, but it was nothing that caused any real damage. We rush at each other again and I make a jumping overhead strike that Yamato evades before he makes a slash of his own that I’m forced to guard against, successfully taking the force of the blow. I grab his blade with Gilgamesh and send a solid kick his way, a kick which he manages to grab with one hand and pull back on my leg, throwing me forward unexpectedly as he plans his sword into the ground and delivers a hard punch right in my gut, causing me to cough up some saliva in and reel back in pain, but I don’t have long to do that as Yamato grabs his blade and lets me fall forward, as he attempts to impale me from behind. I spin around as I fall and guide the blade away with Gilgamesh, as it stabs into the ground next to me as my back hits the ground. I roll backwards and flip myself back onto my feet, spinning my blade at high speed as Yamato sheaths his sword. We both unleash an extremely forceful blow that knocks both our blades out of our hands and sends them spinning in the air and imbedding themselves into the ground a ways from us.

Without skipping a beat, we rear back and throw a hard punch. We both get nailed in the face, our arms crossing each other to connect the blows. We reel back but quickly recover, going hand-to-hand. I throw two punches that Yamato evades as he lands a straight kick. I grab his leg and spin him, slamming him into the ground, but allowing him to plant his hand to stop himself and use his free leg to nail me in the face, sending me spinning back, but I use the momentum to launch a more forceful spin kick his way, managing to nail him in the side. I land on my feet and wipe my cheek with the back of my hand before going at him again, throwing punches and kicks his way as he did the same. Yamato throws a punch at me that I manage to block, but his free fist manages to nail me in the chest, which puts me back, but I return the gesture by ducking under a mid-kick and rearing Gilgamesh back, throwing myself forward and getting in a hard upward punch that forces Yamato to cough up blood, and I follow it up by charging up electricity in my hand.

“Chain Lightning!” I shout, as a sharp and powerful blast of electricity surges through both of us, sending Yamato flying and me recoiling back in pain from the backlash. Using that skill against a singular target with that much power was dangerous for me as well as the one receiving it.

Yamato hits the ground hard, and he stays down long enough for me to Shift over to my blade and retrieve it, but it wasn’t long before he got up and went for his own sword. I try to get through in time but fail to do so, as he sheathed his blade. I wouldn’t be able to guard against it, so I summon Corvus to stop the blade for me. It successfully blocks the strike and I grab the handle, using the curved blade to redirect Yamato’s sword over my head and allowing me to spin around and slash at him, cutting into his chest lightly. I follow it up by swinging Corvus out in a wide arc and hooking the blade behind him, pulling back and throwing him around and lashing out, causing him to fly forward and into the ground. There I try to move in and strike him down with Corvus, but he manages to brace his blade over him and stop it, kicking me in the stomach in the process and pushing me back as Corvus disappears.

Yamato gets up on his feet faster than I do and sheaths his blade as he rushes me, taking me by surprise and drawing his sword at extreme speed, and though I manage to block it with Gilgamesh, it still threw me off. He makes three more fast and hard strikes before spinning around twice and lashing out hard, but I catch it and duck under the strike, allowing me to plant a hard upwards kick into his stomach that launched him into the air, where I Shift up to him, grabbing him with Gilgamesh and spinning around, throwing him downwards into the ground, then I come down fast and hard from above with my blade, cutting a gash into the ground as he evades it, but I come back up with an uppercut that he’s forced to block against, before he evades another strike and puts a quick jab to my face with his fist that dazes me just slightly, but enough to get through my guard and deliver a slash that just barely grazes my neck. I Shift back a distance and ready myself again.

 Two hours had passed.

It was beginning to rain.

Yamato and I kept at our fighting just as fiercely as when we began. We were still perfectly matched, and even though we had both landed a few good hits, it wasn’t nearly enough to put the other down. We’d have to keep going.

I continuously evade Yamato’s quick onslaught as he backs me up, locking me in the defensive. He sheaths his blade and spins, allowing me the small window I needed to jump upwards and out of his attack. In the air I draw four knives and send them his way. He sheaths his blade again and lashes out, cutting all four in half simultaneously before they get too close, and he dashes at me in the air, forcing me to brace my sword I front of me to block the strike as he grabs me and forces me into the ground back first with him, slamming me hard as he jumps off me and onto his feet. I recover quickly enough and evade another swipe aimed at my neck and retaliate with a few swings of my own, all of which he evades or blocks, but I had more up my sleeve. I lock blades with him, and once I have him, I draw Aphelion from my side, making a fast swipe that catches him off guard and cuts his haori.

Now dual wielding, I come at him faster and harder, the strikes coming in with more frequency than the light raindrops that were falling around us. I cross my blades under me and throw them outwards at the same time, forcing Yamato to jump out of the way, but when he does I throw Aphelion towards him, and unable to block it, the sword gashes into his left arm, drawing blood. Aphelion sticks itself into the ground behind him as I move in quickly, giving him a solid punch in the gut that send him flying back into the ground, landing next to Aphelion. I Shift up and plant my foot on his chest and draw Aphelion, raising both it and Arondight up and slamming down as Yamato held his blade up to block both. I pushed into him, trying to throw his blade out of the way, but he pushed into me with equal force. Yamato manages to hook his leg around mine and push it inwards, tripping me and sending me into the ground. He was on top now, and he attempts to finish me the same way. I backhand both my blades and cross them, managing to catch Yamato’s katana where they crossed, and I pulled back, pushing both blades into the ground and locking them and Yamato’s own blade there as I slid under the crossed swords and Yamato’s legs, grabbing Yamato by the back of his jacket and throwing him outwards, summoning Eternia in my right hand and lashing out hard, nailing him hard in the chest. He was bleeding, but he wasn’t done.

Neither was I.

 I throw Eternia into my left hand and draw Aphelion from the ground and sheath it to my side, drawing Arondight next and dual wielding it and Eternia together.

Yamato rushes me with such speed and precision I was almost unable to see it coming.

Almost.

His sword hand was faster than mine, but with two weapons to help, it compensated for the lack of speed on my part, and although his sword was faster than mine, by body was faster than his. It was a good match.

He cut at me so many times I couldn’t even count, and within such a short timeframe any normal blade would’ve broken from the pressure. Still, I block and evade all his strikes, waiting for the right moment to move in. I see it and I make my move, blocking his strike with Eternia backhanded and forcing it around over our heads, allowing me to spin and cut at his side. Even though he evades it, it was my turn to be on the offensive. I cut almost as fast as he did with both blades, but Yamato was skilled, and he knew exactly what moves to make before he makes them. He blocks and evades my onslaught until he manages to flick his blade outwards and immediately stop both my blades dead in the air, allowing him to cut down into me, forcing my guard up and locking blades shortly, but we both scrape off each other again.

Two and a half hours had passed.

It was a downpour.

Yamato and I were fighting so hard… still so evenly matched, and only fighting harder as the minutes rolled by. It was raining, but we didn’t feel it, because it wasn’t even falling on us. A sphere of dry air around us was created by our blades, the droplets of rain falling down being cut before they had a chance to land on us. We were perfectly dry, as the rain fell around us. Our blades were moving so quickly, far beyond normal bounds. The shocks of steel on steel were loud and thunderous, breaking through the thunder of the storm surrounding us. We lock blades, and as our swords cease to move, the water suspended over us splashed down, immediately soaking us as the rain poured down. Our blades were hot from the fight, so much so that the point of contact between them was white, and both blades were steaming as the rain fell on them. We both scrape off each other and make one quick slash as we back up a distance.

Our blades still gave off steam as we gripped them tightly in our hands. We stood, breathing heavy, but fueled by adrenaline enough to keep fighting for days if need be. Our blades cooled off quickly in the cold rain, as thunder boomed around us, and lightning flashes could be seen in the distance. Yamato then strapped his scabbard back to his side and gripped his katana with both hands, the first time I had seen him do so. He was getting serious. I didn’t know what he was capable of while wielding his sword with both hands, but I had to be prepared for it. I ready myself for whatever was going to come next.

I only see a streak appear in the rain and then he’s in front of me, faster than I could react to. He cuts upwards, cutting into my chest as my blood is flung into the air with his blade. He angles his blade downwards and comes down on me, and I react in time to put Gilgamesh up in defense, but the force of the blow was still so strong it pushed me back and made me slide back as I covered myself to defend. He dashed up to me again, and I can only defend as he attacks me with more force than I could properly take. He quickly broke my guard and cut into me three times before sheathing his blade and lashing out hard, and I barely manage to put Arondight in front of me to block the blow, but the shockwave still went forward through my guard, cutting into me despite the blade itself being stopped. It launched me backwards with great force, making me slide into the dirt and spin around, landing face first into the ground. I was hurt, but I wasn’t done, and I get up as Yamato waits.

“Shit…” I curse, holding onto my wound. I didn’t feel the pain from it, but I knew it was a tough hit… I’d just have to fight through it.

I Shift up to him, trying to get into his guard, but he moves faster than me, putting his sword up in defense and letting me slip by as he spun around and prepared a strike that I barely manage to Shift from, before moving back in and attacking him quickly in an attempt to keep him on the defensive. He cuts through it, however, and makes another hard strike. This time I put Gilgamesh up and stop it, grabbing his blade and cutting upwards, dealing a good hit to him as well and forcing him to back up. He looked at the injury I gave him but just wiped his cheek, ready to continue.

Three and a half hours passed.

The rain was still pouring.

Yamato and I continued our assault, constantly keeping each other on our toes in perfectly synchronized attacking and defense. I had Yamato on the defensive right now, cutting skywards and sending him into the air, where I throw a few knives his way, which he spins to dodge mid-flight and lands on the ground cleanly. He sheaths his blade and bends backwards, throwing more weight into the strike as he unsheathes the blade at blinding speed to cut into me at a distance. I Shift out of the way to evade multiple attacks from this before suddenly moving into Yamato’s defenses, poised to deliver an overhead strike. He sees it coming and draws his blade again, slashing upwards and throwing Arondight out of my hand as it sails into the sky. Yamato takes the opportunity to attempt to cut me down, but I block the blade with Gilgamesh and draw Aphelion in my right, swiping horizontally at his head, forcing him to duck under the blade. I back off and Shift to where Arondight was going to land and toss both Aphelion and Eternia into the air as I catch Arondight and Yamato rushes me, the tip of his sword pointed toward me. We both stab at each other and the tips of our blades connect and lock perfectly, the point of contact precisely right to hold the two blades together without them sliding off. We push into each other briefly, before I suddenly throw both our blades skyward and let Arondight fly into the air as Aphelion and Eternia come down. With Yamato’s blade raised I catch both my blades in both hands and move into his guard ready to cross both blades over to cut into him. He quickly places his other hand on his sword and comes down fast enough to intercept my blades, sending sparks flying. I wasn’t done yet, though, as I let go of both my swords and place my hand on Takeru, jumping over Yamato’s blade and lashing out quickly, cutting into his shoulder deeply as he just managed to evade a lethal blow to the neck. I sheath Takeru and catch Arondight as it falls down, moving into Yamato’s guard and attempting to finish him, but I’m once again thwarted when he raises his hand and catches my sword between his fingers, allowing him to cut into my own shoulder as I back up towards my other two blades, retrieving them both.

Yamato begins running, and I follow. While running at full sprint, we make passes over each other, taking turns to strike at each other as we ran across the field, trading blows with just as much ferocity. Yamato makes his way to one of the walls of the small valley we were in and begins to run up, kicking off and using the extra height to come down on me hard. I see it coming and angle myself to catch him in Gilgamesh and use the momentum to throw him back up, before I Shift up and slam my shoulder into his stomach hard, launching both of us upwards and out of the valley of Twilight Fields, both of us slamming into the grass beyond the valley. We end up rolling into the ground together a few times before I break myself loose and jump outwards, making a quick slash while I’m at it, and coming back down for another. Yamato blocks both and dashes inwards, striking at me twice before attempting to kick high. I block both strikes and the kick, delivering two hard kicks of my own before spinning around and brining my heel down on him, he blocks the final strike by grabbing my foot and pulls be forward, slamming the pommel of his sword into my stomach, pushing me back, but not stunning me enough to get through my guard as me makes another quick strike that I meet with my blade.

Five hours had passed.

The rain had died down a bit.

Yamato and I had ended up taking our fight deep into the forest just beyond Twilight Fields. We were both slicing clean through trees with the strikes we were making, and a path of fallen trees could be seen indicating the path we were taking through the forest.

Yamato made a hard strike in my direction, and I parry with my own blade. The force of the strike sent a shockwave outwards that cut through several trees. We take turns trading strikes on each other, both our blades often cutting down a tree or two with each swing of our swords. I had an advantage here, however. My agility was superior to Yamato’s, if only by a narrow margin. I was able to weave in between trees quickly and ricochet from them to deliver faster and more forceful attacks. I Shift around between trees, planting myself on one then launching off hard, straight towards Yamato, making a powerful strike that grinds off his blade and sends me sailing by, cutting through two trees before I flip in midair and plant myself on the next tree, rebounding off that one and making another pass. Yamato this time stops me by forcing his sword into me, completely stopping my momentum and flipping me upwards slightly. Yamato flicked his blade upwards, making me backflip, but before as he launched his own attack, I angle my arm backwards and block the blow with Gilgamesh, before returning upright and slashing upwards, breaking Yamato’s guard and allowing me to slide in and make a horizontal strike with Gilgamesh, cutting into him, but he ignores the blow and spins around, forcing his blade into the back of my leg.

“NGH!” I grunt loudly, but I still kick back with my other leg, Yamato using his hand to block the blow, but still being forced back, withdrawing Kusanagi from my leg and allowing me to kick off the ground to gain distance. My leg hurt, but I wasn’t going to let it hinder my combat ability. I couldn’t afford that. If I let up even for a moment, Yamato was going to kill me.

I dash forward, ignoring the shock of pain coming from my bleeding leg, and rush Yamato head on. As he defends against the strike I was making, I suddenly Shift to the side, towards a tree, kicking off of it and Shifting into him, two knives drawn. I first stab into his left arm, and as he is forced forward with me, I stab into his right, before slamming into a tree, pinning him there. I prepare to stab forward with Arondight, but Yamato rips his left arm off the tree and grabs my blade before it strikes. He forces my blade back in his bleeding hand before he pushes it to the side, my blade impaling the tree behind him and punching me in the face with the same hand, forcing me back into the ground. I roll backwards and flip back up on my feet as Yamato wrenches both knives from his arms and throws them toward me. I catch them both between the fingers of my left hand and return them towards him. This time he cuts them out of the air before launching himself towards me, making multiple high speed strikes before we lock blades again. When we force each other back, Yamato sheaths his blade. I didn’t like the look of the stance he took, Shift back. Good thing I did, because when he let loose, he cut every tree within a large radius into pieces. I wasn’t completely out of range, and I was cut into a few times and sent back in the resulting shockwave and shower of trees. I get thrown back out of the forest and slide into the ground hard.

Yamato walks out of the forest to meet up with me as I get up, injured by both the cuts and some trees slamming into me on the way out. I wasn’t done, though.

Six hours had passed.

The storm had passed, but it was still cloudy.

Both of us bloody and beaten, we kept up our fight still, with no loss to any vigor we started out with. Our blades struck one another with such a high frequency it was difficult to hear any pause in the sound of our blades clashing, forming a continuous droning of steel on steel. The force of each strike sent sparks and bladed shockwaves out, cutting the air into pieces around us with the sheer level power at which we were fighting. We clash blades once again, pushing into each other, locked eyes as well as locked blades. We both knew this battle was about to be finished.

We slide off each other, slamming our blades into each other again, a shockwave resounding outwards with the strike. We spin and strike again, then again, more and more force being but into each strike. We slam into each other multiple times, before we both are sent a distance away by the force of the last blow. We rush each other once again, our blades poised to stab into once another. This was it. This was the last strike. I put as much force behind the blow as I can as we near each other.

We were within striking distance.

We both push our blades forward.

We slam into each other.

For a second nothing happens, but then a new pain wracks through my body, and I cough up blood. I look over and notice my blade had been pushed to Yamato’s side by his left hand, and had passed harmlessly. I look down and see Yamato’s blade imbedded in the side of my stomach, passing straight through my body. I cough a few more times as my body goes a bit limp. Yamato pulls his blade out as I stagger back, placing my hand over the wound, blood rushing out to spill onto my hand.

“Ngh… dammit…” I mutter as my sight becomes blurry, and my legs begin to give out under me. I fall to my knees as I try to catch my breath.

Yamato swung his blade through the air to wipe off my blood as he stepped forward, ready to finish me off.

I stagger to my feet, barely able to stand, the pain from the battle suddenly hitting me full force. It hurt… a lot… I couldn’t wrap my head around the amount of pain I was in. I could tell Yamato was in plenty of pain as well, but he still had a job to do. He still had to finish it.

I clench my hand over my sword, Corbenik sparking into my eye, but I force it back. I wasn’t going to let it interfere. This was between me and Yamato only… and I wasn’t dead yet.

A fire sparked inside me. I wasn’t going to die here. I couldn’t die here. I still had too much to do.

I dodge left. I dodge right. I swing my sword at his then parry another blow from the side. We strike and lock blades again. We stay held there, trying to push each other back. Suddenly, he curves his blade and slides it under mine, pushing me back and leaving me off balance. I see him spin and watch as his blade comes at me in slow motion.

I see it coming.

I catch my balance, rear back, and throw my blade out to meet it. Our blades connect, and I could’ve sworn the world shook around us. Yamato’s blade begins to splinter, and my sword shines as it forces its way through, cutting Kusanagi in two. Yamato is pushed back by the resulting shockwave with a look of surprise on his face. I spin my blade around, my eyes lighting up with killer instinct as I force my blade through him.

The world stood still…

Yamato stood there with my blade through him. I still had my hand on the handle as he began to cough up blood. I withdraw the blade from him and slam it into the ground quickly so I can catch him before he falls over, setting him down on the ground gently.

“Ngh…” Yamato grunts quietly. “I guess… you win…”

“I guess so.” I say breathing as heavily as he was.

“Do me… a favor, will you?” Yamato says. “Tell… tell Sakura… I’m sorry. Tell her that… she should forget me and… and move on. She deserves to have… someone love her…”

“I will.”

“You’re… you’re almost done now… Ishi…” Yamato says on his last breath. “Get Skeith back… awaken Akasha. You’ll know what to do then…”

He let out his last breath as he faded away. I was left standing over him, looking down at his dead body. He was smiling even still. I look over to the ground next to him, to the broken blade of Kusanagi. I take it in my hand and it begins to resonate softly. I activate Corbenik and draw it over the blade, making it shine in white obscuring light as a new blade was formed. I inspect the newly formed blade in my hand. It was a black blade with a shining white edge, with a black handle wrapped in white cloth weave. The pommel and crossguard were black.

“Izanagi…” I recite its new name.

I walk over and grab its scabbard next to Yamato before I slash the blade through the air, spinning it once and drawing it over the scabbard, slowly sliding it into its sheath, stopping just before the entire blade fit in, before completely locking the blade in the scabbard.

In memory of Yamato.

I sigh heavily as the fatigue from the battle hits me completely. I lose my balance and hit the ground, uncertain if I was going to wake up or not. Right now, it didn’t matter one way or another…


I succumb to my exhaustion shortly after.

Chapter 40


I wake up slowly to the feeling of rays of sunshine on my face. I open one eye and find myself staring up at the clouds, rays of light spearing through to gently bask the ground in warm sunlight. I blink a few times and focus on my slow and steady breathing.

I was still alive.

I look over to my left hand, Izanagi still grasped firmly in it. I take a deep sigh and scramble to my feet, which was no easy task considering how much damage I had taken. I was still covered in blood, which had by now dried and blackened. I look up to the sky as the winds rolled by me… then I look to Yamato, who was still lying dead on his back…

The world didn’t stop at all, it seems. Despite all that happened here, nothing changed… time moved forward all the same. It made me feel… small. It made all of what I’ve been through so far seem insignificant and unimportant in the grand scheme of things… but still… despite all I had been through, I wasn’t done.

I strap Izanagi to my side, just under Takeru, and move out, heading back to Talmia… I needed to see Asuka right now, more than anything…

---

I made it to Talmia Plains. I was out of teleportation gems so I had to go to the main town of the floor and use the teleportation gate there, ignoring everyone who tried to help me along the way. I had walked from the main settlement of floor 10 all the way to the fields, and by now my legs were just about to give out on me. My entire body took a bit more punishment than I could properly walk with right now.

“Dammit…” I mutter, practically dragging myself along. “C’mon…”

I manage to get onto the path that led to the gates of Talmia, but I soon stop shortly thereafter. I try to move ahead but find myself unable to. I look ahead and see three people… three people I recognized.

“Ishi?” I hear Claire say as she notices me. Then she sees the condition I’m in. “Ishi!”

She rushed to me as my legs gave out and I fell to my knees, falling forward for her to catch me.

“Ishi!” I hear Snow follow shortly after, followed by that one girl I saw a while ago… Selene was her name, I think…

“Ishi!” Claire said. “Ishi! Are you okay?”

I only let out a low and annoyed moan at the fact that I couldn’t properly move.

“What happened to him?” I hear Selene say, worry in her voice. “How is he all bloody? Chris!”

“Come on, Ishi.” Snow says, lowering himself to help me up.

“I’m fine…” I say.

“Like hell you are.” He tries to take my arm.

“I said I’m fine!” I shove him off, falling forward and landing face first into the ground. “Motherfucker…” I grumble into the dirt.

“Come on, you…” Selene comes over and picks me up, allowing me to lean on her for support.

“God damn… motherfucking… piece of…”

“Hey, watch your mouth.” Snow warned. “There’s a little girl here, you know.”

Selene walks me along the path back into town. It didn’t take long for the townspeople to notice the condition I was in, and people stopped where they were wondering what had happened.

“Woah… what happened to him?” I hear a voice say.

“No idea… man, he looks totally beat.” Another says.

I could pick out random voices as we moved along.

“That’s Ishi, isn’t it?”

“Yeah… I wonder what could’ve done that to him.”

“You know, I heard that he took down Kamui by himself.”

“Yeah, Grimm too.”

“What about Yamato?” I hear another voice say. “Could he have done that?”

“Probably… it looks like they had quite a fight if that’s the case.”

“I heard that Ishi and Yamato have fought a bunch… maybe they… do you think Ishi killed him?”

“Kill Yamato? No way, impossible.”

“I don’t know…”

“What are these guys going on about?” Snow whispered to me. “What happened to you?”

I don’t answer. We continue on our way towards Adeline’s. When we come around a bend just down the street from the restaurant, and I look up to see Asuka standing down the street. She just stood there, staring at me at that distance. I look back at her, hanging off Selene weakly. Asuka begins to walk toward me with heavy steps, her eyes starting to tear up. When the first tear streaks down her cheek, she breaks out into a run as Selene lets me stand on my own and steps back as Asuka slams into me, wrapping her arms tightly around my neck and digging her head into my chest as she cried. I weakly wrap my heavily injured arms around her waist, pulling her in closer.

“Ishi…” Asuka said between sobs. “I… I was so scared that… you wouldn’t make it…”

She just broke down there, crying her eyes out as she tightened her hold on me.

“Asuka… c’mon.” I say. “It’s alright… I’m fine…”

“And you left without even saying goodbye!” She said.

“I know… sorry, Asuka…” I tell her. “I was never any good at goodbyes.”

She puts her head back down onto my chest.

“You idiot…” She says, trying to keep herself from losing it again.

I gently comb through her hair as her crying dies down to sniffles.

I suddenly just puke up blood onto the ground next to her.

“Uh…” Asuka says slowly. “Maybe we should, um… get you some attention.”

“Maybe…” I say, forcing a weak smile.

---

“Ow… that hurts, dammit…” I say.

“Well I can’t help that.” Selene says as she wraps up the rest of my waist with gauze. “You’re lucky I know a thing or two about medicine.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“I just can’t believe you were still standing in the state you were in…” She moved up to my face and wiped at a few scars there with a swab of alcohol.

“Ow… ow…” I said as she dabbed at my face with the stinging piece of cotton. “I guess I’m just hard to put down.”

“You’re stubborn is what you are.” She corrected me. “Too stubborn for anyone’s good health.”

She applies a bandage over the spot on my face she was cleaning.

“How many times have you been like this, anyway?” She asks.

“Only a few times.” I say.

“Yeah, right.”

“Honest!”

“Well, in any case we’re done here.” She said, gathering up the rest of her medical supplies. “Just don’t stress yourself too much, alright?”

“Oh, never.” I say.

“I mean it, Ishi.” She snaps. “No more fighting for a while.”

“Well…” I say, getting up off my bed. “I can’t promise that. Not because of anything I do, really. Trouble just always seems to come to me.”

“I can imagine.”

We leave my room and go downstairs to where Asuka, Snow, Claire, and Adeline were talking together at a table.

“You feeling better, Ishi?” Asuka asked when she noticed us coming down.

“Better than I was.” I say. “Hungry as hell, though.”

“Well, I have just the remedy for that.” Adeline said. “I’ll fix you up something extra special to help you recover.”

As she walked into the back I take a seat next to Asuka, wincing a bit at a sharp pain in my back.

Selene sat down next to Claire, who was sat in between her and Snow.

“You know what…” Snow says, munching on a strawberry danish. “These aren’t half bad, actually…”

“So… what exactly put you in that situation, if you don’t mind me asking?” Selene questioned.

“I… um…” I start to say.

“Yeah, seriously.” Snow said, biting down into another danish. “You looked like hell, there. I mean, I thought I was tough but I was surprised you were even standing with those injuries.”

“I… I don’t want to talk about it.” I say, turning away from them.

“Huh?” Snow says. “Why not? Don’t want to talk about how you got your ass beat?”

“Chris…” Luna said.

“I can understand, man… I don’t like to talk about how I get beat too, like that one time you took me down a number. I bet it was Yamato, wasn’t it?”

“Tch…” I clench my teeth in my mouth.

“I’ve been hearing that you’ve fought him a bunch of times.” Snow continues. “He must’ve got you real good this time, huh?”

I shoot up out of my seat.

“YAMATO IS DEAD!” I shout angrily at him.

My eyes go wide at the realization of the truth. It fully hit me that Yamato was gone. Snow, Selene, and Claire all went wide-eyed at the statement. Adeline had dropped the cup of ramen she had for me and let it shatter onto the ground. The entire restaurant was completely silent and all eyes were on me.

I slowly slump back down to my seat and put a hand over one of my eyes.

“Yamato is dead.” I repeat. “I killed him…”

Nobody said a single word for what seemed like minutes. After a while I stand up.

“Sorry…” I say quietly, standing up again and leaving my seat, leaving the building as Asuka followed.

“Asuka, stay here.” I tell her. “I need to go alone.”

She stays in the restaurant as I leave, and walk slowly and look up to the sky. I take a deep sigh before teleporting to Kirei’s house.

---

I slowly make my way across the fields in front of Kyosho’s house, crossing the large farmland all around the place. I make my way up and over a hill and afterwards the place was in sight. Sakura was sitting out on the porch by herself, looking down at the ground. She looked up when she heard my footsteps. When she sees my worn out and bandaged self, she stays silent as the realization came to her. She stopped breathing, and tears began to streak down her cheeks. I step up to the porch and walk past her without saying a word. I make my way through the house to Kyosho’s dojo, opening the door and walking through.

“Ah, Ishi.” He says. “Welcome back… what brings you here?”

I sit down in front of him and take Izanagi from my belt, placing it horizontally on the ground in front of me.

He immediately knew what this meant.

We stayed silent for a little while as we both stared at the blade.

“I see…” Kyosho says, remorse quickly filling his voice.

I stay quiet, looking down on the sword that was once wielded by one of the most skilled swordsmen this world had ever known. A blade that had taken so many lives, and yet never seemed to lose its shine… now made anew.

 “Yamato was always such a powerful soul.” Kyosho said, breaking the silence. “He was always able to endure… always willing to move forward when others fell behind or turned around. The title of Wandering Swordsman was not fit for someone with such a strong sense of purpose.”

I don’t speak, so he continues.

“Many view him as a terrifying force of death… they could be forgiven for this, with the things he’s done. But through it all he was determined to make a better future; to leave his mark on the world. He knew the dangers, and he knew that he would most likely fall by your blade… but he did it anyway, knowing that you were the only one who could end this cycle of destruction caused by Skeith and Corbenik. He sacrificed himself for the greater good… for a world that had long since abandoned him.”

I still don’t say anything, continuing to just stare down at the blade in front of us.

“I trust you know what you must do now.” Kyosho says. “You need to carry on his legacy to the end, and finish what he started.”

“I know.” I say.

Kyosho grabs the sword and brings it to himself, drawing the blade and inspecting it thoroughly.

“Ah…” He says. “This was once Yamato’s blade… Izanagi is its name now.”

“That’s right.”

He returns the sword to its scabbard and gives it back to me.

“Very well… what will you do now?”

“Now?” I take the sword and latch it back to my side. “Now I go after Hao… and finish this.”

“It will not be easy, Ishi.” Kyosho warned.

“I never said it would.” I respond. “But either way he needs to be taken out.”

“I understand.” Kyosho took a deep sigh then sipped a bit on his tea. “You’re almost finished now, it seems.”

I get up and turn to face the door.

“Right…” I say quietly. “Almost finished…”

I leave the dojo and head back through the house to the front porch. Sakura was still there, being comforted by her younger brother who was doing everything he could to cheer her up. I stand in front of her, and she looks up at me.

“Yamato wanted to say he’s sorry.” I say. “And that you should move on.”

She holds her breath at what I said, before I turn around and leave her.

There was only one thing left to take care of now.

Chapter 41


Two Months and Five Days Later

By now word had spread to all of Aincrad of Yamato’s demise, and that I was the one who did it. People started acting like I was some sort of hero… I hated it. None of them even knew.

Everywhere I went people would stop and notice me, and fawn over me like I was some sort of idol. It always just pissed me off, and it’s one of the reasons why I was spending less and less time I any settlements and just going out and about with Asuka. Though Adeline has been getting a shitload of business…

I gained a new moniker: The Second Wandering Swordsman…

My name was right up there with the best of them. Maybe higher. I was one of the most famous players now… and I there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s being famous. Especially for something that wasn’t even true.

Also by now the situation between Pendragon Court and Hao’s armies had escalated quite a bit, and was about to come to a head. Both sides were ready for the final fight, which meant that Asuka and I were going to head out soon.

It was early morning, and only a few hours until that final fight would start. In the meantime, Asuka and I were sitting at the old tree on the hill in the fields around Talmia… it was one of the places nobody found us, oddly enough since it was right outside the town.

Asuka was snuggled up next to me as we sat there together, enjoying the last few hours before we went right back into the fire for the final time. We’ve been spending the past few months together, just her and I, not only just relazing but training hard. Asuka had discovered her sword’s voice… she was now held the title of Blade Master, just like I did. Word of her skills were overshadowed by mine by quite a bit, but they still held a reputation of their own… a reputation that few would want to face.

“Ishi?” Asuka said. “You mind if I ask you something?”

“You just did.” I respond.

“Seriously, Ishi…”

“What is it?”

“When… um…” She starts. “When you were… fighting Yamato... were you afraid?”

“Was I afraid?” I restate the question. “I don’t know what I would’ve been afraid of.”

“Dying, maybe?”

“I’m not afraid of dying.” I say. “But…”

I think back on it, finding one thing I was afraid of… how I was afraid of leaving her…

“But what?” She asks.

“Nothing.” I say, standing up and looking off to the sunrise. “We should probably get going.”

“Right…” She says, standing up with me.

We both head out, ready for the final fight.

---

We make our way over the final ridge before overlooking the battlefield in before us. The forces of both sides stand ready for battle, poised to unleash the final assault. The air around us almost felt electric with how much energy there was here. The wind blew strongly past us as we stood looking down on the scene from a distance.

“Asuka.” I say, grabbing her attention. “I won’t force you to come with me. You don’t have to follow me into this.”

“Pfft.” Asuka smiled. “You think I tagged along with you this far just to back out now? No way.”

“Hm…” I say, staying silent for a brief moment more. “You know, we could die here.”

“Yeah.” Asuka said. “But we won’t.”

“Hah… yeah.” I reach into my inventory, pulling out the cape Iskandar had given me so long ago, finally deciding to wear it over my left shoulder to cover my arm, the cape flaring into the wind. I look over to Asuka.

“You ready?”

She nods.

“Let’s do it.”

Both sides engaged one another right as we jump from the ridge, sprinting headlong into the final fight.

An army of two.

As the forces of both sides clash together, the two of us come running onto the battlefield from the side.

“Asuka!” I shout. “Go support Knight and Iskandar!”

“No way!” She shouts back. “I’m sticking with you!”

“They’re going to need you, Asuka! They’re outnumbered enough as it is and you’re worth a hundred soldiers at least!”

“Well what about you?”

“I’m going straight for Hao!” I say as we begin to split, Asuka going right while I turn left. “Follow Knight’s lead! Let’s end this quick!”

We both separate, Asuka moving to support Iskandar’s forces while I move straight for Hao’s army. No one saw me coming as I cut straight through the first line, slicing clean through about four guys in one swipe before quickly making my way through an entire army, cutting down anyone who tried to get in my way. I had a long way to go before I got through the entirety of Hao’s forces, but it still wouldn’t take long.

It didn’t matter who tried to stop me. I never even got hit as I’d block or dodge an attack and counter with an instantly fatal slash from my blade before seamlessly moving right along. A lot of the soldiers actually tried to steer clear of me, not only because they notice how well the ones who tried to stop me fared, but because they knew of me and my reputation… that alone was enough of a deterrent. By the time I got halfway through, nobody tried to stop me. They just let me right through. With that, it didn’t take long for me to break through the final line, and after that it was a straight run towards the vista where Hao was, joined by four of his leading commanders.

They only saw me when I was about to end them. Two of his commanders went down quick with one single slash of Arondight. When the other two come at me from either side, I grab one blade with Gilgamesh and redirect it around me, driving it into the other before he could bring his blade down on me. I then impale the other through the neck before slashing it outwards and cutting into the other, instantly shattering them both.

I knew Hao didn’t expect those four to hold up against me. I didn’t know what he was planning, but it didn’t matter.

I walk up to my final target, stopping when I’m at a distance.

“So.” Hao said. “Here we are at last.” He held out both his arms. I noticed his left arm was now completely healed.

I don’t say a word. I have my eyes trained on him like a hawk. Not a single detail of his movements slipped by me. But that wasn’t my main concern… it was the fact that he didn’t have Skeith on him… I couldn’t feel it anywhere. So where was it?

“I should congratulate you.” Hao continues. “Defeating Yamato is nothing short of exemplary, and a noteworthy accolade for one such as yourself.”

“I’m not here to talk.” I say, pointing my blade at him.

“Of course, of course.” Hao said. “You’ve come all this way, conquered so many trials, ended so many lives, and now you stand facing your final challenge. Truly a memorable story…”

I still stay silent, watching him for anything… the fact that he no longer had Skeith troubled me too much to take him head on… he was planning something.

“But be warned, Blade Master.” He says. “Sometimes the hero dies in the end.”

“I’m no hero.” I say.

He smiles as suddenly the ground began to shake underneath me. I look downwards as a red light began to shine through the cracks forming in the earth under my feet. The resonance of Corbenik signaled Skeith had been activated… it was underneath me. Suddenly, the ground is thrown upwards, and when I look around, five large stone structures rose around me… it was only when they were raised higher, along with the ground underneath me, that I realized I was standing in the palm of a giant hand. Sure enough, a creature… a creature bigger than anything I had ever seen before, rose from the ground, shaking the earth as it came up. I stood in its hand and watched as the rest of its body came up. When it was fully emerged, it noticed it was holding me, and bent down, its huge head came up to meet me, peering through large, glowing orange eyes at me. I could immediately tell this abomination was created by Skeith… that Hao had awakened this massive creature to use as his catalyst of conquest.

I stared the massive thing down as it looked down on me, before it reared up and prepared to crush me in its hand. I jump back and slip through its large fingers, allowing myself to freefall downwards and slam my gauntlet into its massive rocky body, slowing myself down enough to land on the ground near it. It looked down and raised its large foot in preparation to stomp on me, but I Shift a large distance away as its foot came down and just about caused an earthquake, kicking up tons of dirt and rock, creating a shockwave with the impact.

“Whatever you are…” I say. “I’m going to kill you.”

The thing reared up and let out a deafening roar into the sky as it began its advance towards Iskandar’s forces, barreling through Hao’s own forces to stride across the battlefield.

They wouldn’t stand a chance… I had to take this thing down before it got to the other side.

“You’re not going anywhere.” I say, running up behind it and jumping up, clawing into its leg and running upwards to its back. I needed to find Skeith. I could feel it was powering this monster… if I could find it and take it back, I could take this thing down. I ran along its back up towards its head, senseing Skeith’s presence growing stronger as I went. The thing must’ve felt me, because it suddenly began to shake around to throw me off. I failed to grab a hold in time and I’m flung off of the beast, falling down, but managing to slam myself into its side before I hit the ground to slow my fall, but I had been going so fast that I scrape right off and slam into the ground hard, though I still land on my feet.

“Dammit.” I say, as the thing turned back to look at me, raising its massive arm. “Oh, DAMN!”

I move out of the way of its fist, but the resulting shockwave and the debris from it threw me back a long way, slamming me into the ground. The thing suddenly ripped back with its arm. I don’t get hit by its arm, but I do get hit by the huge boulders it rips from the ground, sending me flying back far and crashing into the ground, knocking me unconscious.

---

I wake up a short time later, awakened by the loud sounds of battle. I slowly get up to my feet, not too seriously hurt, but still bruised up a bit. I get to kneeling, wiping blood from my forehead and looking ahead at the battle before me. The massive creature had broken through Iskandar’s lines and was wreaking havoc on their forces. My stomach dropped from Asuka… she was there somewhere…

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Hao asks, stepping up beside me. “Ragnarok! The end of the world!”

My memory is jolted as I recall the name. Kamui had mentioned it before… said that Skeith could awaken it… this was their goal all along… and now Hao had succeeded in that goal.

“In just a few more minutes this battle will be over.” Hao continued. “You’ve lost, Ishi.”

I stand up, walking forward.

“I’m not done yet.” I say, breaking out into a full sprint supported by zigzagging Shifts that brings me across the battlefield in a matter of seconds. I Shift upwards once I reach Ragnarok, slamming my blade into its side as I swing up and land once again on its back. It notices me and once again tries to shake me loose, but I still manage to run up, stabbing it in the shoulder to make it stop shaking. It reaches a hand over and tried to crush me on its shoulder, but I move out of the way and run up to its neck. It continued to devastate the forces below, easily tearing through hundreds of soldiers without even flinching. The cannons and catapults did nothing to deter the creature as it continued its onslaught. I had to end this thing fast.

The thing thrashed around in an attempt to throw me off, but I’m already up onto its head. I stab my blade through its head as it roars in anger. I knew Skeith was here in its head. I had to get to it somehow. The thing covered its head and I move out of the way before I’m crushed by its colossal hand. I move down its back as it reached another hand back to try to get at me, but I see it coming, and jump out of the way. I needed to stop this thing from advancing further so I could focus on taking it down. I slide down to its feet and focus on them, stabbing deep into one of its legs as hard as I could, but it didn’t do much damage. The beast shakes its leg to try to throw me off, but my blade was firmly stuck into its rocky surface. I withdraw the blade and let myslf fall down a ways before I throw Gilgamesh out and claw into it, grinding downwards and stopping myself before punching into it hard, throwing off some rocks but still not doing enough damage.

It once again tries to shake me off, but I still hold onto its leg, preventing myself from being flung off. Once it puts its foot back down, I charge up Arondight with energy and slam it into its leg again, this time causing enough damage to cause it to at least flinch enough to kneel down slightly, but enough for me to stand on my feet. I sheath Arondight before taking Izanagi in my hand and slashing down into the rock, cutting through it effortlessly, slicing deep enough to partially debilitate the limb. I sheath the blade and bring out Arondight again, stabbing straight into the wound and completely debilitating the limb, causing it to kneel down and hinder its progress. I jump out of the way of its hand before it can hit me but make sure to grab onto it as the creature brought its hand forward to its face to see me clung there. It tries to clutch its fist to crush me, but I bring out Izanagi again and slice two of its fingers off, causing it to reel back in pain enough for me to jump up and latch onto its shoulder again.

Now with an injured leg, Ragnarok wouldn’t be able to thrash around as much or advance as quickly, giving the rest of Iskandar’s forces enough time to get out of the way before I finished this thing. I run up its back to its head and once again try to pierce through its head to get to Skeith, but the creature quickly brings its hand up once again, forcing me to run down its face and jump out to its other arm, sliding down it a ways before it lashes it out, almost throwing me off, but still forcing me to slide down the entire arm onto the ground, dropping down and hitting the earth hard. I stand on my feet and look up to the beast above me as it roared in rage at me. The thing raised a fist and tried to slam it down onto me, but I once again move out of the way and Shift to its side. The thing suddenly threw itself over towards me, ready to crush me under its entire body. I wasn’t going to be able to move out of the way in time.

“Ishi!” I hear Knight shout as he rushes up to meet me. He stands in front of me, holding his sword out upwards, the flat of the sword faced towards the beast about to slam into us both, and projects a shield of golden light outwards from the sword, enough to cover us both as the creature slammed into it. The shield held up against the massive weight easily. Knight’s unique skill with his sword Excalibur, Avalon’s shield was indestructible. It couldn’t be broken by anything. It was his superior defense against anything.

I take the opportunity to rear back and ready Izanagi in my hand, slicing upwards with power enough to cut hard into the creature, enough to cause it to reel back in pain and off of us.

“Ishi! Finish it now!” Knight says.

I rush upwards as the thing tried to swipe at me, but I jumped up high, landing on its hand as it passed under me and running up it quickly, jumping up towards its head as it attempted to crush me with its other hand when I was on its shoulder. I slam Gilgamesh into its face and climb up, quickly reaching its forehead and charging Corbenik, slamming my hand down into the rock and carving deep into it, reaching into its head enough to finally reveal Skeith underneath.

“This is MINE!” I shout as I reach out and grab it, clasping my hand around it before crushing it in my palm, absorbing it into myself.

The creature roars and reels back, trying desperately to take me out, but I jump off its head, and in the air, I ready Izanagi. I charge up, readying the blade for the final strike. I lash it outwards at blinding speed, sheathing it just as quickly, projecting a blade outwards vertically, slicing the entire creature in half. I land on the ground as the two halves of Ragnarok fall around me creating a thunderous boom as they hit the ground and shattered, leaving me in the dust as I hold both Skeith and Corbenik in my hands. The energies between the two increased as I pushed them together, combining them effortlessly into their true form. I hold the resulting white and shining form in my hands, before it disappears within me, its power flowing throughout my entire body.

I open my eyes and they briefly flash silver before returning to their usual yellow color. I stand up as the dust clears and turn to the remainder of Hao’s army before me. They stand there in total silence, staring at me as I walk forward slowly. They quickly separate, making a path for me that led straight to Hao, who stood there, watching me approach. He didn’t even look surprised… like he expected me to defeat Ragnarok…

I stop when I’m a short distance away.

“Well done.” Hao said. “You are a True Blade Master, indeed.”

“It’s just you and me now, Hao.” I say. “You’re done running.”

“Very well.” He holds out his arm, ordering his men to back off. “This will be a battle between equals. I will accept nothing less.”

“I’m nothing like you.” I say.

“Hm…” Weapons began to appear around Hao, brought into reality through thin air, all pointed straight at me. “We shall see.”

“Yes…” I close my eyes, and when I open them again, they shine pure silver, as weapons of my own appear around me, hovering in the air. Aphelion, Mordred, Eternia, Corvus, Takeru. The blades spin around me before coming to a stop behind me, hovering at my back like bladed wings. “We shall.”

This was it.

I have to win.

I will win.

As the first of Hao’s blades were launched at me, I simultaneously rush forward.

Chapter 42


I dash in between Hao’s blades as they’re launched at me, my own blades tailing me and independently acting to slash any blades that get too close out of the air. I advance on Hao quickly, rushing up to range of my blade, making a quick and clean cut that would’ve bisected him had it not hit a blade that was thrown straight from above me to intercept my own. Hao used the break in my attack to attack me, but I manage to block the blade with Gilgamesh. I’m forced to back up quickly when another blade cuts into one of the tails of my jacket.

Those blade weren’t going to make it easy for me to attack Hao, even if I held the advantage at close range. Long range, however, was a different story. Just moving in on him through the maelstrom of blades being thrown at me was difficult enough, but holding an actual offensive once I got there ran the risk of me being blindsided by one of the weapons Hao seems to conjure from thin air. I’d have to interrupt the storm of blades somehow, and if that couldn’t be done then I’d just have to push even harder.

I dash left and right, making my way around the constant onslaught of blades that were assaulting me, striking multiple blades out of the air with my own weapons hovering around me. I coordinate myself to Hao’s side, before I dash inwards fast and hard, two of my extra blades rearing back along with me. I slam my blade into him, but it’s deflected off a shield. The Eternia struck next, then Mordred, which hit hard enough to throw him off balance, which I used to swing Corvus back around and send it flying towards him, managing to scrape into his shoulder as one of his many blades barely managed to redirect it off a killing blow.

I wasn’t done. I managed to work my way around behind him and send my blades out to attack from all sides. Hao jumps out of the way as they fly downwards, sticking into the ground, but they quickly retract and Aphelion and Takeru swipe sideways towards Hao as the rest return to me to defend against his blades. Aphelion is rebounded off his shield, but moves back in to strike again as Takeru moves, assaulting Hao from both sides at once. Hao braces his shield to one side and his sword to another, blocking both before they are thrown backwards by more flying blades, quickly coming back to hover around me.

All my blades continuously cut weapons out of the air as I run around, dodging blades and striking outwards with Arondight to cut down other weapons that got too close, and sometimes using Gilgamesh to catch one and throw it in Hao’s direction, only for it to be cut out of the air by another of the seemingly endless weapons Hao now had. I knew Hao was having a difficult time fending me off once I got close, and I needed to take advantage of that. I had six blades to use for it. He wasn’t going to win this.

I move in once again, finding an opening in the storm of steel, and lashing out with Gilgamesh, only to be met with the blades on his shield, which quickly begin to rotate fast and grind into my gauntlet like a circular saw, sending sparks flying. I had my other blades defending me so I could attack Hao up close, but it wasn’t going to be long before they become outnumbered and I’d have to back off again. I force Hao back just a bit, allowing me to gain a proper footing, before I push outwards hard, forcing his shield back and allowing me to attack with Arondight, which is deflected by another flying blade that managed to get through, allowing Hao to attack with his own sword, but I block it with Gilgamesh before Shifting backwards, gaining distance as my blades flew back from behind my opponent, ready to strike. Two of them scrape by him, the other three miss.

“Gah, damn…” I mutter as I move around once again, searching for another opening in his defense.

Suddenly, I feel my foot grabbed by something. I look down quickly and noticed a chain starting to coil around my foot. I catch it and quickly stab downwards with Arondight just past my leg to stab in between a link in the chain to keep it from completely entwining my leg. I jump out just before it does, but that doesn’t stop another from coming up. I dodge that, by find myself falling victim to quite a few more chains that suddenly spring up from the ground, coiling in the air around me and ready to enclose around me to bind my movement. I see it as the circle of chains goes inwards and I put all my blades vertically around myself to stop the chains before they are able to bind me, pushing back against them as they try to close in on me. Before the chains overpower my blades, I jump out of the circle and take my blades with me as the chains slam into each other in a tight bundle.

I hit the ground and make a dash to run from the chains that were not pursuing me, as I cut any weapons that are sent my way. I constantly have to slice at the chains as well, to keep them from catching up to me. I kept running around, trying to find another break in Hao’s defense. The chains, however, seemed to have caught up and one had caught my leg. Before the others can bund me, however, I sheath Arondight and grab Izanagi, slashing at blinding speed and cutting the chains into multiple pieces in the blink of an eye, before slicing down at the chain holding my leg and cutting it off, freeing myself as I sheath the blade and bring out Arondight again.

I continue to work my way around Hao, trying to figure a way to keep him from using his infinite blades. I couldn’t think of anything. As far as I could tell his attack acted independently from him. He just needed to turn it on and that was as far as he needed to act. Which meant I’d just have to beat it, then. I notice Hao summon two more spears to either side of him, one gold and one red, and aim them in my direction. He launched both at once and I throw my blades out to meet them cutting them from their paths and causing them to fly outwards and away from me.

Hao suddenly stops his onslaught of steel, allowing me to stop and take a breath. It didn’t last long, though, as I saw the portal behind him narrow, hundreds of blades pointed towards me in a tighter group, ready to be thrown at me with even more force and intensity. Hao smirks as the weapons are shot at once much faster and harder than before. I bring my five blades up in front of me and they begin spinning around, fast enough to become a blur as the blades descend on me, my own blades acting as a shield against the attack. All that could be heard was steel striking steel with such frequency that it almost became a long continuous droning without any pause in between. Unfortunately I was stuck. I couldn’t move out of my defense or else I’d be hit. I needed to break his attack so I could get out.

Out of nowhere, a spear somehow flies through my defense, impaling me through the shoulder and causing me to fly back and hit the ground. Hao stops his attack as I wrench the spear out of my shoulder, trying to figure out how it had hit me. On one knee, I look over to Hao, who was preparing even more blades around him to launch at me. My five blades wouldn’t be able to take that many blades without a bunch getting through…

“I’m sorry it had to end like this, Ishi.” Hao said. “You were a worthy adversary. I’m sure I won’t come across another quite as skilled as you.”

I sheath Arondight, and let my other weapons disappear as I stand on my feet. I wasn’t going to die. Not here. Not after everything I had been through, not after everything I had done… not after everything I had lost.

No.

This ends now.

I reach back and grab the handle of Izanagi, taking my stance and twisting back, charging myself up. This was it. All or nothing.

As the hundreds of blades descended on me at once, time seemed to slow down as I draw my blade, faster than could be seen, and at once, a blade in the air came up to meet every single one of Hao’s hundred of weapons, cutting into them all and breaking them all in two. Hao’s face turned from one of victory to one of surprise, as instantly I’m in front of him, hand on Izanagi. I look him straight in the eye as I lash out cutting straight into him with one perfect cut, ending the blow behind him as time returned to normal. I swipe the blood from the blade, spinning it once before drawing it over the scabbard, base to tip, before sheathing it just before the handle, pausing briefly there before completely sheathing the blade, just as Hao cried out in pain and fell to the ground.

I walk over to Hao, who was lying on his back, blood seeping from the large gash I had put into his chest. It wasn’t enough to kill him, I had made sure of that, but it was enough to keep him from fighting any longer.

“I see…” Hao says. “I’ve… been defeated.”

I unsheathe Arondight and point it towards his neck. Hao was only smiling as I looked down on him. I would’ve killed him there but… something held me back.

“Well?” Hao said. “What’re you waiting for? Why don’t you… finish me off?”

“You…” I mutter. “You’re not worth killing…”

I spin Arondight in my hand and return it to its scabbard on my back.

“You don’t deserve an honorable death.” I say. “I won’t.”

I leave him at that, walking away as the victor. Despite the fact that I really did want to kill him… he really wasn’t worth it at all… he didn’t deserve to die by my blade. The only thing he deserved was to live out the rest of his days somewhere alone, with nobody by his side, to fade from the mind of the world and be lost in obscurity before dying the way he lived…

This battle was over. There wasn’t anything left for me to do here.

---

The battle ended shortly after I had beaten Hao. The rest of Hao’s armies were too demoralized and scattered without command for them to continue, and the ones who stayed were killed off by the remainder of Iskandar’s army, however few there were left of them. Asuka was alright, thank God, and she was the first to notice when I had returned. She had run up to me and immediately wrapped her arms around me as I did the same. Iskandar, Knight, Trinity, Avro, Kana, and Diana had all thankfully survived as well. Guren wasn’t there… I could only assume that he died in the fight.

“Good work, my friend!” Iskandar boomed as he patted me on my bad shoulder, making me wince. “Truly we would not have been victorious without you!”

“Thank you, Ishi.” Knight said. “We wouldn’t have been able to win this without your help… or hers for that matter.”

“Ah, the young lady!” Iskandar patted her head. “You should’ve seen her! I’m certain we would’ve been overpowered long before you defeated Hao if it had not been for her!”

“You certainly trained her well, Ishi.” Trinity commented.

“I’m glad you’re alright, Ishi.” Asuka said in my arms, pressing her head up to my chest. “Well… I knew you would be, but still…”

“If you’ll excuse me…” Iskandar said as Asuka and I parted. “I need to rally the remainder of my men and take care of some other business…”

“Do you need any help?” Asuka asked.

“As a matter of fact I could use the assistance.” Iskandar said.

He and Asuka left together to tend to whatever business he had as the remainder of Pendragon Court and I stood together, overlooking the result of the battle. It was total carnage… Ragnarok had decimated much of our forces and completely tore up the battlefield before I had killed it. Nevertheless, we were still able to pull out a victory with just barely enough room left.

“So…” Knight said, walking up to me. “You finally finished Hao?”

“I let him live.” I say, to his surprise. “He isn’t a threat to anyone anymore. There wasn’t a point in killing him.”

“Well…” Knight began to say. “Alright. I trust you.”

We stay in silence a bit longer, overlooking the remains of the battle. In total it only lasted around an hour, but it still was able to cause so much destruction. I was a bit surprised we won even still.

“Listen… Ishi.” Knight said. “We’ve won today, but our work isn’t done yet. I’m going to need your help.”

“With what?” I question.

“We need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.” He explains. “With you and your abilities, we can make that happen.”

“What’re you saying?”

“You have power no other player of Sword Art Online has. If you could use that ability to keep others in line we could ensure there will be no more conflict like this.”

I pause for a second and look at him.

“Excuse me?” I say. “Keep them in line? Is that what you said?”

“Knight?” Trinity said.

Knight doesn’t say anything.

“You want me to keep them under control?” I ask. “Your control?”

“Ishi, surely you can understand.” Knight says. “I only want to ensure everyone’s safety.”

“Like Kamui would?” I ask. “Like Hao would?”

“Ishi, no!” Knight tries to reason. “Ishi, we’d be nothing like them! Please, surely you can see where I’m coming from.”

“No…” I say in disbelief at him. “No, no that isn’t what we fought for.”

“Ishi…”

“You’re telling me everything we fought for… everything Gawain died for… everything Agravaine and Bedivere died for… what Misaki died for! You’re telling me that was all for nothing?!”

“Ishi…” Knight says. “I did share their dream once… but the way things happened made me realize that dream was impossible… that there needed to be another way to accomplish our goal for peace.”

“No…” I say. “No, no, no this isn’t what we fought for. This isn’t what we set out to achieve.”

“Ishi, listen to me!” Knight says. “This is the only way! We can-”

I point my blade towards him.

“Ishi!” Trinity cries.

“Get out of here.” I tell her, as well as Avro, Kana, and Diana.

“Please, you two…” Diana tries to intervene. “We can work something out here!”

“Stay out of this.” I warn her, turning my attention back to Knight. “I can’t let you do this.”

“And I can’t let you stop me.” Knight draws his own sword as we take a few paces back before we begin to circle each other.

Trinity, Avro, Kana, and Diana had backed up, not wanting to get caught between us.

“Please…” Trinity said, on the verge of tears. “Don’t do this…”

Knight and I stare each other down, our blades drawn. I never thought I’d have to fight Knight like this… I never wanted anything like this to happen… but neither of us were going to back down. I needed to make sure these events would never unfold again… no matter what. And if I needed to kill Knight to do that, then so be it.

Knight rushes at me, blade ready to strike. I read his movements easily and effortlessly parry the blow, returning with one of my own, which bounces off his blade, but leaves and opening that I use to place a hard kick that sets him back, even though his armor took most of the impact. He spins and swings at me twice, both strikes I dodge, before ducking under a third and grabbing his arm, pushing it to the side and spinning, slicing into his armor and making a nice cut through it, taking a bit of his HP and forcing him to jump back.

I wondered what he was thinking… he must realize he couldn’t beat me. He was never able to… but he was so much easier to read, now more than ever. Why was he even doing this? Why would he turn like this? I didn’t understand…

He runs at me again, preparing an overhead strike which I brace Gilgamesh up against before throwing my arm out to open his guard and putting two more cuts into his armor. He spins and goes for another blow, but I back up and manage to throw two knives that lodge themselves into his shoulders. Knight ignores it and runs at me again, making fast and powerful strikes that I’m able to read like a book, parrying and dodging any attacks he sends my way. I sidestep an overhead strike and step on his blade on the ground, backhanding him with Gilgamesh and forcing him to let go of his blade as he’s sent flying back into the dirt. I pick up his sword in my other hand and look over to him.

“Why…” I wonder aloud. “Why are you doing this?”

“I only want to make sure Aincrad is safe…” He says. “I want to make sure nothing like this ever happens again!”

“By making sure nobody rises against your rule, is that it?”

“I’ll do what must be done. Even if I have to go through you to do it!”

I toss his blade back to him. He catches his sword and once again attempts to assault me, but is repeatedly thwarted by my superior skill. By now I was not only more skilled than he was, I was more experienced. Knight has seen his fair share of battles, but nothing compared to what I’ve been through and conquered. He didn’t stand a chance and he knew it… so I couldn’t figure why he would even try if he knew he was going to lose. I guess it didn’t matter.

This time I take the initiative and I rush him faster than he could react, cutting into him twice before grabbing him with Gilagamesh and slamming him into the ground, ready to finish him there. He block my blow, though, and kicks me off of him. I land on my feet as he gets back up onto his.

“Just give up…” I mutter, not loud enough for him to hear as he rushes me again.

I block his blow, then dodge another, and spin around and strike at him.

“Just… give up…” I say quietly enough. “You’re going to die…”

I block three of his blows before giving him a good straight kick that puts him off balance before rushing in and coming down with Arondight, locking blades with his. While he pushed with both arms I push with just one, Knight trying to push me back. I cast his blade aside before striking upwards, cutting into him once again.

I didn’t want to kill him… he was one of my greatest friends. I had always trusted him, sometimes looked up to him. He always knew what was best… but now… now I felt like I barely knew him. Like he was no longer the Knight I knew. Even so… I still hated the idea of having to take him out… but I would if he wouldn’t back down.

I knew he wouldn’t…

Still, he went at me, continuously being struck by me over and over again, his HP dwindling down and down, until he was in red. He stood a distance from me, his breathing heavy in the face of certain death as I remained motionless, just staring at him.

“I guessed that you wouldn’t go along with it…” He said, smiling. “You were always headstrong in your beliefs.”

“So have you.” I say. “But it seems those beliefs have changed.”

“I have always fought for the freedom of Aincrad.” He said. “I’ll carry that dream with me to my death.”

“Freedom can’t be forced on others.” I say. “It must be earned.”

I raise my blade in front of me.

“True freedom lies in oneself. That’s what I believe in.”

“My way can give this world peace.”

“It’s impossible for freedom and peace to coincide.” I say. “I’d think you of all people would know that. It’s just human nature.”

“You’d choose chaos over peace?” Knight asks.

“Yes.” I say. “I would.”

I move in, ready to finish him off, but he blocks two of my blows, the second of which throws him off balance, breaking his guard. Before I’m able to end him, though, he manages to jump back and hold his blade out, projecting Avalon in front of him as my blade bounces off the impenetrable shield. I strike into it again, and again, and again, with increasing speed and force, before I slam Gilgamesh into it, bouncing myself back and sheathing my blade, grabbing Izanagi on my side, readying to cut straight through the shield. I cut through the air, and instantly the shield is cut clean through, allowing me to move up and impale Knight on the blade, taking out the rest of his life. I withdraw the blade and cut into him twice more before sheathing the blade to my side as Knight falls down, dead.

He didn’t shatter… I look down on the mighty leader of Pendragon Court… killed by one of his closest allies. I was left still wondering why. Why couldn’t he see things the way I did? He chose peace… I chose freedom… the two are completely opposite concepts. Once can’t exist with the other. True peace can’t exist as long as people retain their free will… it’s just not possible. But I still choose freedom, even if it meant total chaos, over losing my free will, the thing that makes me most human.

The freedom to follow my own path.

I walk over to Knight and pick up his sword from the ground next to him, claiming it as my own.

“I’m sorry, Knight.” I say quietly, before walking over to Trinity, who was sitting down on the ground, crying softly.

She looks up to me as I look down to her. Her expression hardens and she looks away from me.

“Did…” She began. “Did that really need to happen?”

“I don’t know…” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“I can’t believe you killed him…” Diana said. “You killed Knight…”

“Yeah… I can’t believe it either.” I turn to walk away, going back to look over the view of the battlefield, heaving a heavy sigh.

After a few minutes, Trinity comes up to join me, her resolve returned.

“It’s strange how things turned out… isn’t it?” She says.

“Yeah…” I say.

“So… what now?” She asks. “You’ve done everything you’ve needed to do, haven’t you?”

“Not everything.” I say. “Not yet.”

I bring out Akasha, the white glowing sphere shining brightly in my hands. I look at it, giving thought to everything I’ve been through up until now. All the events that led to me being here… how I started out and what I am now… whatever I was now.

I close my eyes. Akasha quickly disappeared in my hands just by me willing it. It faded away from myself and from this world… both Skeith and Corbenik merged together completely and destroyed each other, leaving nothing left. It was gone forever now.

When I open my eyes, they had returned to their regular golden color.

“Now…” I say. “Now I’m done.”

The wind blows past us, just as it always has… we were truly free.

I had completed my destiny… Yamato’s dream had finally come to a realization.

---

23 Days Later

November 7th

“Will that be all, sir?” The shopkeeper said as I counted the items in the box.

“Ah…” I say. “Yeah I think that’s everything.”

I pick up the box and carry it in both hands. It was a bit heavy but nothing I couldn’t handle.

“Have a nice day!” The shopkeeper said as she went back to her business.

I turn to leave the shop to head back to Adeline’s. Adeline had asked me to pick up a few supplies for her, and considering how nothing’s really been going on anymore I had a lot of free time on my hands of late. My life had finally calmed down… about time, too. In the almost month since I had finally ended my long journey things had been peaceful in Aincrad… more so than they ever were. I thought it was kind of funny how after all that happened I just ended up right back where I began, just hanging around Talmia with nothing much to do.

Of course I was the most popular person in town along with being one of the most famous people in Aincrad generally, which I hated, but I did my best to just lay low and go about my own business. I had decided to put up my weapons and live out the rest of my time in Aincrad just living a normal life now that everything was done. I didn’t know how much longer we’d be in this game… but there were only 25 floors to go now. I thought about helping with that effort, but decided against it… I had enough fighting for plenty more than just one lifetime.

I walk back down the streets and get to Adelines, stepping through the front door and bringing up the crate of supplies to the back where I set it down next to a few other boxes.

“Thanks, Ishi.” Adeline said, coming up behind me. “Saves me a trip.”

“Yeah, no problem.” I say.

I then feel a pair of arms wrap around my neck from behind.

“Hey there, lovely.” Asuka says, rubbing her cheek up to mine.

“Oh… hey, Asuka.” I say.

“You two hungry for lunch?” Adeline asks.

“Yeah!” Asuka and I say in unison.

Adeline set us both up with bowls of ramen and we quickly took them out. Afterwards we headed out to take a walk around town. There wasn’t much else to do and Asuka wanted to check out that new shop that opened up downtown. I think it was some sort of alchemy shop or something… something she could use for her runes at least.

“You feeling alright?” Asuka asked when she noticed me hanging my head a bit.

“Heh?” I look to her. “Oh uh… it’s nothing.”

She maneuvers herself around to my other side and pushes me straight onto a bench on the side of the street, sitting down next to me.

“What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing.” I say, trying to get up, but she pulls on my sleeve to sit me back down.

“You really think with the time we’ve been together I can’t tell when something’s wrong?”

Just like Misaki…

“I just…” I say, sighing. “I just can’t take my mind off the things that happened…”

“What do you mean?” She asks.

“I just… I can’t help but think that it’s unfair that I was the one to survive… so many people died for this… but I didn’t.”

“Are you saying you would’ve rather died?” Asuka asks.

“Not exactly…” I say as I lie my head down on her lap. “But it just doesn’t seem right that I survived while so many others didn’t… it’s…”

“I think the survivor of any long and hard battle would thing like that. It only seems natural… but that doesn’t change the fact that you did survive, and you should live on for those who didn’t.”

“I guess…” I say, snuggling up to her, groaning a bit.

Asuka brushed gently through my hair as I lied down on her lap. She was right. I did live, and I should keep going in honor of those who hadn’t. It was the least I could do for them… for everyone who died during my journey.

“Well…” I say, sitting up and getting off the bench. “C’mon, let’s get going.”

“Right.” She got up and began to follow, but was stopped when a message appeared in front of her.

It appeared in front of me as well.

In fact, it appeared in front of everyone.

[CONGRATULATIONS]

[GAME COMPLETE]

“Game… what?”

One by one, players began to disappear as the world did the same. I look over to Asuka, and she looked at me.

“Asuka!” I say, reaching out to her as she reached out to me.

---

My eyes shoot wide open and I take a small gasp. When my eyes adjust to the bright light I find myself staring up at a white ceiling, fluorescent lights illuminating the entire room. I look to my left, then my right. I see an IV inside my arm. A heart monitor was beeping with my heartbeat.

“A… hospital?” I say. My voice sounded weak… like I hadn’t used it in years.

I realized I hadn’t.

I was back in the real world.

I gasp sharply and I sit straight up, reaching up to my head and grabbing the NerveGear, ripping it off my head and throwing it onto the ground with enough force to send pieces of it flying across the white marble floor. Next I take the IV out of my arm and tear the heart monitoring nodes off my chest just as a nurse enters the room in response to the sound.

“Ah!” She says. “W-wait! Wait a second!”

I jump off the bed and take the broken NerveGear in my hands.

“Fuck this fucking THING!” I shout, throwing it straight out the window, shattering it and sending it down more than a few stories.

The nurse gasps and covers her mouth as I calm down, sitting back down on the bed.

“Dammit…” I mutter, taking a second to assess my situation. My hair was way long, and my entire body felt strange from not using it for two years… but I didn’t feel any weaker somehow… I wondered why. I should’ve lost a lot of muscle mass over two years.

“Sir?” A doctor entered the room. “Are you alright?”

“I don’t know.” I say. “Am I even alive?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact you are alive.” The doctor said, walking up to me. “You had a few close calls, though. Honestly I’m surprised you made it.”

“What… what do you mean?”

“Well, a few times you just… began convulsing uncontrollably. You always were in a state of convulsion but it was subtle, but a few times you just… lost control. I don’t know what it was. What was happening in the game?”

“I… I don’t know.” I say.

“Well… in any case your muscles were having that workout which is why you aren’t suffering any muscular atrophy.”

“Well… nice meeting you but I gotta go.” I say. “Where are my clothes?”

“Um… I’m sorry but you can’t leave just yet.” The doctor tells me. “We need to make sure you’re alright. You’ve been in that coma for two years, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. But I’m alive and I have something I need to do.”

“Just… just let us give you a check up beforehand.” He says. “We need to take care of a few things before we can check you out.”

“How long will that take?”

“A few days.”

“Fuck that.”

“I insist.”

“Too bad.”

“You’re not getting out of here without doctor clearance, so you’re stuck here until we make sure you’re healthy.”

I pause for a minute before sitting down on the bed and crossing my arms.

“Fine…”

“Looks like we’ll need a new window up here as well…” The doctor noted.

---

Two Days Later

November 9th

It took two days, but I was finally admitted out of the hospital by nighttime and was able to walk home from there. Once there I run up to my motorcycle, trying to start it up. I give it a few tries.

“Fucking… come on, dammit.” I say, giving it one last go and successfully starting it up.

I hop on and rev up the engine a few times before screeching out of the garage and gunning it down the road. Aiiku hospital in Tokyo was where I needed to go. I remembered Asuka saying that her mother was a nurse there. That’s where she’d be. Without the slightest regard for traffic laws I hit full speed down the road.

---

November 10th

It took me the rest of the night to get to Tokyo, but I speed into the huge city and I head to Aiiku hospital by way of road signs. I gun it through the parking lot and hit the brakes, coming to a screeching stop just outside the front entrance, kicking up the kickstand and letting the bike fall on it as I make a run to the entance. I run through the front doors and straight to the front desk.

“I’m looking for Asuka!” I say.

“Um…” The nurse at the desk says. “Let me see…”

She flipped through some files and stopped at one.

“Only Asuka we have here is an Asuka Shizuka… room 5G. She- hey wait!”

I bolted through the halls and didn’t bother with the elevator, rushing to the stairs and practically flying up the stairs to the fifth floor, slamming my way through the door on that level and rushing down the hallways to the room I was looking for. I come to a sliding stop at that door and just about send the door flying off the hinges as I slam it open.

“Asuka!”

I see her sitting on the bed and she looks over to me from looking out the window.

“Ishi.” She smiles warmly.

I step into the room and walk over to her, immediately pulling her in for a hug, which she wholeheartedly returns.

“I knew you’d come.” Asuka said.

She breaks the hug but grabs my cheeks and kisses me right on the lips, wrapping her arms around me and bringing me down with her as we shared our heart for each other. We break apart, looking into each other’s eyes. We hear someone come through the door, though, and we look over to see two people there. A nurse and a police officer. They both looked a bit cross…

“Um…” I slide off of Asuka and back onto my feet.

“Mom, dad…” Asuka said. “This is Ishi…”

“Ishi…” Her father said, walking up to me and giving me a cold look that I decided to return for no reason other than just to spite him.

“So… Asuka’s told us quite a bit about you.” He said. “You two are a couple, then?”

I don’t say anything, prompting him to continue.

“Well!” He says, lightening his tone significantly. “I heard how you had kept my daughter safe in the game! She told us all about what you two went through together. It’s good to meet you, Ishi. My name is Toshiro, and this is my wife, Miyuki.”

“Hello.” Miyuki bows to me generously.

“Hi.” I say, waving once. “You know I’m actually glad that Asuka warmed you up to me because… well… damn…” I nervously rub the back of my neck.

I turn to Asuka, reaching into my coat pocket and grabbing the item inside.

“What’s wrong?” She asks.

I bring out the small box and get on one knee, flicking it open and revealing the gold and ruby ring inside. I don’t even have a chance to ask before she brings me in for a fierce hug, forcing the ring out of my hand as she softly cries into my shoulder.

“Yes…” She says into my ear. “Yes… yes…”

I hold her in my arms, nuzzling my head into her. I could hear her mother squeal behind me and I was willing to bet her father was giving a look of approval. I break free of her hug, but go back in to kiss her.

“Well…” Her father said, interrupting us. “We should probably make arrangements then.”

“Um… yeah.” I say, smiling. I walk over and pick up the ring from the ground and take it out of the box, slipping it onto Asuka’s finger.

“I love you, Ishi…” Asuka smiles through her tears.

“I love you too, Asuka.” I say. “More than anything.”

We survived together… through everything. I look back on how I started, as a simple swordsman without purpose, to a legend among Aincrad. I carried out the mission Yamato had started, and in the process I learned more about myself, and about life, than I ever had before. It wasn’t just a game… it was a life altering experience that I’ll never forget.

Epilogue

November 6th, 2032

I swing my blade through the air, spinning and coming back down, before shooting the blade back upwards, cutting the air in two, before I sheath the blade and bring it out again, cutting fast and hard.

I had taken over Kirei’s dojo after he died and moved it to my house from Nikaho to Nagoya. I had built a dojo just behind my house. I had a few students wishing to learn the ways of the sword, and I was willing to train them as long as they had the resolve, and as long as they never forgot the true meaning behind wielding a blade.

Right now I was practicing on my own, alone in my dojo. Asuka would come by occasionally to train with me, but right now she was inside talking with Sakura.

I sheath my blade and take a sigh as I remember back… it was the 10 year anniversary of the Sword Art Online Incident… I still remember everything like it was yesterday. I recall the events so clearly I could recite them all to the finest detail. I still looked back on those days, but not in remorse or guilt. I look back and take the lessons learned and use them to this day. I was wiser than most, due to what I had gone through, and people always took my words to heart.

I hear feet shuffle across the ground and look over and see my 6 year old son standing at the entrance to the dojo.

“Yamato.” I say, walking over to him. “What’re you doing here?”

“Mama and auntie Sakura are boring!” He said. “I want to hang out with you!”

“Well, I’m practicing right now. And you know how swords are dangerous.”

“What do you do here anyway?” My son asks. “Why do you spend so much time in here?”

I take a deep sigh, thinking to myself.

“Maybe…” I say. “Maybe you are ready to start learning…”

I take my child by the hand and lead him into the dojo, instructing him to sit down with me.

“Listen carefully now, Yamato.” I say. “And I’ll teach you the ways of a Blade Master.”


The End

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