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Arc 2 of Sword Art Online: Clashing Blades.

Chapter 9

After I had picked myself up, I travelled back to Luciad to report to Knight on my findings. I was still pretty shaken up when I entered the room, and everyone there took notice immediately. “Geez, Ishi.” Avro said. “You look like hell.”

“Ishi.” Knight said. “What happened? Did you find Skeith.”

I hesitate before answering. “Yes…”

“Did you capture it?” He followed up.

“No…” I say. “I wasn’t able to…”

“Well… that’s troubling… we’ll have to try again whenever we can.”

“NO!” I shout abruptly, startling everyone except Gawain.

“What?” Knight asked.

“I saw that thing, Knight.” I said. “I… it slaughtered them… the members of the Guardians of Darkness that were sent for it… they were all bloody heaps on the ground!”

“Bloody heaps?” Trinity repeated.

“That’s impossible.” Gawain said in his usual cool demeanor. “Bodies disappear when killed. There’s no blood in the game either.”

“Then what’s this?!” I hold out my right hand, the one I had coughed blood into earlier. Sure enough was a red stain on my white fingerless glove. It hadn’t gone away.

“This is my blood.” I tell them. “I coughed it up when I was near the damn thing.”

“So you did see it?” Knight said.

“Hope I never have to again…” I say. “That thing… I felt it killing me when it was near. It hurt… it hurt a lot…”

“You felt pain?” Avro asked.

“I felt enough to put anyone else in shock!” I said. “Knight, we can’t go after this thing! We don’t know what we’re dealing with!”

“Ishi, I see that the danger is great, but even so we cannot let the enemy get to Skeith before we do.” Knight told me. “But this… this definitely complicates things…”

“You’re still set on controlling it?” I ask, in an angry tone.

“Do we have a choice?” Gawain steps in. “We know it can be controlled. It’s been done before. So we need to try to secure it before they do.”

“That thing will kill all of us and anyone else that tries!” I slam my palm onto the table. “You didn’t see it like I did! You didn’t feel yourself being torn apart from the inside!”

“Ishi, I understand what you’re saying here, believe me, I do.” Knight says. “But if there’s any chance of us capturing Skeith, we need to take it. No matter the risk. All of Aincrad depends on that, if what you’re saying is true.”

I look at the ground, knowing him to be right. I take a deep breath and try to calm myself.

“I met Yamato there.” I say after a brief silence. “He was looking for Skeith too. Said he wanted to make sure it didn’t fall into the wrong hands, as we are. He said the first person to use it was a friend of his, and he had never used it himself. To that end, I don’t know, but Yamato claimed that in the end Skeith killed him. I don’t exactly know what Yamato wants to do with Skeith, but I don’t think he’d use it for destruction like the Guardians of Darkness would.”

“I see…” Knight though on this. “It doesn’t matter, though. In any hands other than ours Skeith is a danger we cannot have around. We still need to find a way to capture it before anyone else.”

“I’ll do it.” I say unexpectedly.

Everyone looks to me, and I’m quickly thinking of a reason why I had said that. The words just slipped out of my mouth without me even thinking about it. I scramble for the words.

“I mean… ah…” I scratch my head.

“Are you sure?” Knight asked. “Even after what you saw?”

“I…” I think on it. For some reason, something was urging me to say yes. Albeit something was also telling me to say no, and I was more inclined to listen to that urge than the former, but even so...

“Yes.” I say. “I’ll find a way to contain Skeith before anyone else does.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?” Misaki spoke up for the first time. “I mean, after what happened…”

“I’m sure.” I say, not entirely confident in my own words.

“Very well.” Knight said. “Ishi, I’ll put you in charge of this mission. We’ll send any information we may find straight to you.”

“Alright.” I nod.

“Good luck.”

I leave the building and then leave town, walking right out the gates tall and proud before promptly falling flat on my face right onto the ground.

“Son of a BITCH!” I curse into the dirt, standing up and dusting myself off.

I really had no idea why I did that. The last thing I wanted right now was to dive right back into that… whatever the hell it was… but for some reason I did, and for my pride’s sake I wasn’t going to back down.

Fuck my pride, dammit…

I dust off my jacket before deciding I needed something to clear my head of all the crap that’s been going on recently… or at least give myself a chance to sort through all of it.

I pull up my map and fast travel to a destination I’ve visited only once before.

---

Sakura Trail was a long and rarely trodden path that lies in a relatively isolated area of the 14th floor. I had visited this place only once before, the last time I needed to calm my nerves, which was quite a while ago, actually. I take my first few steps onto the empty trail. A cool breeze swept through the trees, gently lifting the falling pink pedals as they softly and soundlessly fell to the ground. This region was cooler than others of the floor, especially considering the fact it was the start of summer, but I didn’t mind it.

I walk slowly on the path between rows of trees, watching the pedals dance in the light breeze, falling around me, and on me. Each breath I took smelled sweet, and I could almost taste that sweetness in my mouth. The only sound to be heard was the breeze sweeping through the trees and combing through my hair and fluttering the tails of my jacket, as well as my quiet footsteps on the ground. It was afternoon, but not yet dusk, and the sun was not too bright, so I could perfectly see everything surrounding me.

“Hey, Ishi!” I hear a very cheery voice sound behind me, followed by quickened footsteps.

I turn around and am greeted with a wide and young smile from another member of Pendragon Court: Agravaine.

“Oh, hey, Agravaine.” I say.

“I didn’t know you came here!” She said, merrily, waving from side-to-side excitedly, her white, fur-collared cape fluttering.

“Well, I usually don’t.” I say, chuckling a bit. “I’ve only come here once.”

“Oh?” She said, stopping her motions and stepping up to me. “Oh, right, you live in Japan. I bet it’s cool over there. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan but my parents would never agree to it.”

“Huh…”

“I come here because this place reminds me of Japan! There are Sakura blossoms in Japan too!”

“Right...”

One thing you need to know about Agravaine: she’s really energetic and VERY optimistic. She always has a way of lightening up the mood of anyone, no matter how down and/or dull they are. I mean, she even gets to Gawain, and that’s an accomplishment worthy of a Nobel Prize.

“What’s it like in Japan?” She asked curiously. “I bet it’s awesome!”

“Eh.” I shrug.

“Oh, come on! I’ve seen so many things about Japan! It looks super cool!”

“Well when you’ve lived somewhere for 18 years any place will get boring.” I say. “Besides, I could say the same about the States.”

“Eh, it’s nothing too special…” She said. “I mean, if you like being kept up until 3 in the morning, what with all the car alarms and people screaming and gunshots, it’d probably suit you fine, I’m guessing.”

“New York can’t be that bad.” I say.

“It is.” She told me sternly. “Part of me is glad I’m stuck in here. At least I can get some sleep when I want to.”

“Huh.”

“Oh, let’s walk together!” She said, hopping once and taking my hand to lead the way. “C’mon!”

“Agh! Agravaine!” I’m not given a choice as she tugs me along with her, happily taking in the scenery that I was enjoying up until recently.

“So how’ve you been, Ishi?” Agravaine asked. “Haven’t seen you in forever!”

“Eh, same old.” I say. “What about you?”

“Same with me!” She said, still leading me along as we walked together.

Agravaine took her steps with all the enthusiasm in the world; enough confidence radiating from her to break a frikkin’ Geiger counter. Can’t say I didn’t like being around her, because I did, even if she totally crashed the moment for me.

“Oh, I heard about this Skeith thing from Knight! Sounds cool!” She said. “I wonder what something like that could do!”

I suddenly remember what it could do and I grab my stomach in an attempt to stop myself from vomiting.

“Uh, are you ok?” Agravaine asked worriedly. “You don’t look so good… didja eat something bad? Wait, can you even get sick in this game?”

“I… no I’m fine…” I say. “You don’t want to know what Skeith does…”

“Huh?” She said. “Do you know?”

“I saw it, yeah…” I say, steeling my stomach. “It’s… bad… the things it does.”

“Oh, so it’s some evil weapon thing, then?”

“Yyyyeah… sure.” I say. “Unfortunately for some reason now I volunteered to be the one to capture it… don’t have a clue how I’m supposed to do that… the last thing I want it to go looking for that thing after what I saw.”

“Must’ve been bad.”

“I was.” I shake my head, getting the thoughts I came here to get rid of out of my head. “Anyway, let’s keep going.”

“Okay!”

“Hey, you!” I hear someone say.

I turn and see a group of Laughing Coffin members there. Five of them, looked like. They had their weapons drawn.

God dammit, can’t even take a walk nowadays.

“You know about Skeith.” Their leader said. “We wanna hear it.”

“Uh oh.” Agravaine said.

“Why’s that?” I ask. “Not like a bunch of punks like you would be able to control it.”

“Shut up!” He said, pointing his sword at me.

“I’ll take care of this guy!” Another one in the group said, rushing me. He brings up his sword over his head, and I promptly move to the side and hold out my leg, tripping him and sending him flat on his face.

“Whoops.” I say nonchalantly

“Why, you…” The guy scrambled back up, before snatching Agravaine’s neck in his arm and holding his sword to her neck. “Tell us what you know or the girl gets it!”

“Ow!” Agravaine said, tugging at the guy’s arm. “Hey! You’re pulling my hair, cut it out!”

“Shut it!” He said.

“Wow, how stupid are you guys?” I ask, not the least bit concerned.

“Fuck you!” The guy holding Agravaine said. “I’ll kill her, I swear!”

With Agravaine’s struggling against her captor, the guy slipped off her neck and his hand accidentally grabbed her breast.

“AH!” Agravaine quickly sprang up, arms in the air and hands in fists, managing to uppercut the guy right in the jaw and send him straight to the ground. She quickly crossed her arms around her chest.

“Don’t touch me there!” She cried, shaking her head with a blush. “That’s dirty!”

“Heh.” I smile, as I dodge another one of the guy’s blades and let him pass by me as Agravaine comes up and jumps over him, kicking off his back playfully and sending him to the ground too, landing on the shoulders of another one of them.

“Hahah!” She laughed triumphantly. “Onwards!”

“Hey! Get off me, bitch!” The guy shook around, trying to knock her off, but lost his balance and was sent to the ground and slammed down right under Agravaine’s rear.

“Aw, that wasn’t a fun ride…” She said, sitting on the back of the guy on the ground. “Ishi, these guys are no fun!”

“Tell me about it.” I say, dodging a blade from the fourth one and kicking him in the side, crippling him and putting him to the ground as well.

The leader of the ground backed up a bit.

“You… you…” He said through gritted teeth. “I’ll kill you!”

He ran at me, and swung his sword. I jumped over it and landed standing on his shoulders.

“Giddyup.” I say, as my weight easily pushed him down and crushed him into the dirt.

“Agh… well you were right, Agravaine.” I said. “That ride wasn’t fun in the slightest.”

I step off the guy, leaving him in the dirt as I return to Agravaine.

“Let’s continue our walk, shall we?” I suggest.

“Okay!” She said, taking my hand again and leading me onwards, making sure to step on the guys on the ground for good measure as we continued our little walk together.

“I don’t like it…” I say after we distance ourselves from our assailants. “Now Laughing Coffin is after Skeith too… that complicates things.”

“How did Laughing Coffin figure out about it anyway?” Agravaine asked.

“I’d assume word of its existence has been going around.” I tell her. “It’s not hard to imagine a lot of people know about it by now. Just makes my job more difficult.”

“Is it really that important?” She asks.

“Oh yeah.” I say. “If you had seen what this thing can do like I had you’d know.”

“I don’t know if I want to…”

“You don’t.”

---

So we had continued our walk until I decided it was time I headed back, and Agravaine tagged along with, since once she stuck on you there’s no getting her off. So like the smart person I am I headed to Pendragon Court HQ so someone could take her off my hands.

Not that I didn’t like her, she can just be clingy.

Not in a needy way, just in a sort of “where we going” kind of way, if that makes sense.

“Oh, I see you picked up Agravaine.” Misaki laughed when I entered the room.

“Yeah, I’m the one who picked her up.” I say.

“Hi, Misaki!” Agravaine shouted cheerily as she skipped from my side and to hers.

How that girl got into the guild is beyond me…

Oh wait, I remember. She got pissed off once.

Once.

“So, Ishi.” Misaki addressed me. “About Skeith… are you sure you want to take it on?”

“As a matter of fact, Misaki, I am not.” I say. “But I don’t trust anyone else to do it, after what I saw of it.”

“I guess I can understand that.” She said. “Just… be careful, okay?”

We both look each other in the eye. She had a look of serious concern and caring. I understood.

“I will.” I say. “I promise.”

I leave the building again.

When I get back onto the streets, I’m immediately PMed by Asuka. I bring up the message.

So I heard you were going after Skeith.

I PM back.

Yeah.

You doing that alone?

Probably.

Come to Adeline’s, we need to talk.

About what?

Adeline’s.

Fine…

---

So I go to Adeline’s and right through the door I’m slapped right in the face by Asuka, because for some reason I didn’t see it coming.

“Geez!” I say. “What was that for?”

“Like hell you’re going after something like that on your own!” She said.

“How do you even know about it?” I ask.

“Misaki told me what you told about it.” She answered. “I’m not letting you do it alone!”

“Asuka, I need to do this alone.” I tell her. “It’s safer for everyone that way.”

“I’m coming with.” She said defiantly.

“Asuka, no.” I say.

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Yes!”

“No.”

“YES!”

“No.”

“Dammit, Ishi!” She said, sitting down at one of the tables.

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

She pauses at that and looks at me. I’m looking out the window, not looking at her.

“I just…” I say. “I just don’t want you getting hurt.”

She gets up from the table and tries to slap me again, but I grab her hand. She gives me a pouting look that I counter with my usual look of indifference.

“Fine…” She said, pulling her hand from mine and sitting back at the table. “Just don’t get yourself killed.” She said.

“If that’s what you’re worried about you don’t need to be.” I say. “I’m not getting killed by anything.”

“Famous last words.” She smirks.

“Right.” I smile, leaving Adeline’s and deciding to head back to Ravenwing to begin my search. No doubt that retched hive of scum and villainy had some information that’d be useful.

Chapter 10

So to Ravenwing I went, entering the tavern there and having all eyes on me for a few seconds before everyone got back to their own business, as usual. “So, the Blade Master returns!” I’m greeted by Scott as I sit down at the bar. “Didja take care o’ that business yeh had with Soryu? Haven’t seen ‘er in a while, so yah must’ve.”

“Yeah, she’s dead.” I say.

“Dead? You kill ‘er?” Scott asked surprised. “Yah ain’t killed no one before!”

“No, I didn’t do it.” I clarified. “But that’s not important. I need some more info.”

“Ain’t that the reason why yah even bother comin’ ‘ere.” Scott laughed. “Not much into hangin’ ‘round these parts. What can I help yeh with?”

“I’m looking for some people with information on Skeith.” I say in a quiet voice so nobody would hear me.

“Ah.” Scott says, also quietly. “Per’aps we should talk ‘bout this in the back.” He said, leading me to the back room where he closed and locked the door.

“So.” He said. “It’s Skeith yer after, then?”

“That’s right.” I confirm. “I was hoping you could help me out.”

“Well yah’ve come tah the right place, lad.” He said. “I’m sure a lot of folks ‘round these parts ‘ave got some useful things tah offer. I’ve been hearin’ tell of the thing quite a bit ‘f late. From them Laughing Coffin bastards, mostly.”

“Have anything I can actually use?” I skip straight to the point.

“Ah, well I s’ppose yah could listen in ‘round town, see what that turns up.” He said. “If yah wander ‘round these parts, yer bound to pick up word ‘bout it.”

“Alright, thanks, Scott.” I say.

“’Hey, Ishi.” He stops me. “Be careful, ‘right? It’s dangerous waters yer treading.”

“You expect anything different from me?” I ask with a smile.

“Hah!” He laughs heartily and pats me on the back. “Course! Best ‘a luck to yah, Ishi.”

With that he leaves me to my job.

I step outside and I’m smacked in the face.

“Fuck!” I shout, looking up to see Asuka.

“Hiya!” She said with a smile.

“What the hell, Asuka?!” I said. “I told you not to come with!”

“Yeah, and I didn’t listen.” She said. “You really thought you could get rid of me that easy?”

“Dammit!” I curse again before sighing, figuring as long as she was here she could help out. “Fine… look, we need information on Skeith. Around here some people will know about it, most likely Laughing Coffin. If we can listen around for them we may be able to find out something useful.”

“So, what?” Asuka said. “Tactical espionage action?”

“Well we don’t want to get caught.” I say. “So yeah, I guess.”

“Well alrighty then.” She said. “Let’s go.”

So we walk together down the black streets of Ravenwing, at a slower pace than normal, listening in on people talking to catch wind of Skeith. We stuck to the right side of the street as we walked, just to make us look a bit less conspicuous, although we did still seem a bit out of place since we were pretty much the only people there who hadn’t mass murdered people for fun.

Sure enough, not long after we set out we caught glimpse of a Laughing Coffin member scurrying into an alleyway. Seeing this as suspicious, we quickly and quietly rush up and peek around the corner. We saw the guy talking with another member of the same guild, and Asuka and I leaned back into cover and pretended to be leaning against the wall while at the same time listening in on their conversation.

“Take this letter to the boss.” I heard the guy say to the other guy, and I figured he handed him a note. “Utmost importance. Don’t lose it.”

“No worries.” The other guy said. “I won’t.”

“Good. Wouldn’t want to die quite yet, would you?”

The other guy gave out a nervous laugh, before the two went their separate ways, with the guy we had followed coming back out the alleyway. We quickly moved out of the way before he got out of the alley so he wouldn’t notice us before we quickly moved into the alley and caught the courier on his way. We stayed at a distance as he walked through the alleys.

“Alright, Asuka.” I whisper. “We’ll follow this guy to wherever he’s going. You stay on ground, I’ll take the roofs.”

“Got it.” She whispered back, moving up and hiding behind a few crates while went around a building and found a place to climb up, doing so in short order, getting up to the roof quickly and silently before rushing up and looking down at our target. I spotted Asuka moving along at a good pace behind the guy, making sure not to be seen.

I followed at the same pace on the rooftops, making my way across and jumping over the occasional alley separating buildings quickly and silently, making sure the guy we were tailing didn’t see us. The guy led us around to the more abandoned parts of Ravenwing before we approached a little clearing in the middle of all the buildings. Asuka stopped at the edge of the alleyway and I stood overlooking the scene as we saw a large circle of Laughing Coffin members surrounding a player. The player was fighting back. Not only that, it looked like he was winning.

The courier worked his way past the crowd, oblivious to the rogue player and shouted out.

“I have a letter for…” He stopped when the player in question looked at him. “Uh…”

“Oh, good!” The player said. “Another one!”

With that, the courier made a run out of the circle.

“Where do you think you’re going?!” The random player said, immediately giving chase, cleaving his way out of the circle.

Asuka and I immediately gave chase to both of them, disregarding any manner of stealth at this point.

I still jumped along the rooftops while Asuka took the ground. I kept the two players in sight as they ran, the Laughing Coffin member trying his best to outrun his pursuer, but the guy was right on him the whole way.

Suddenly, though, the chasing player pulls out a chained whip and lashes it out, snagging the other’s leg and tripping him. He was on the guy a second after, a sword raised. I act quickly, jumping from the roof and Shifting up, bringing out my own sword and slashing at his, blocking the blow before spinning and kicking the player away. The Laughing Coffin member quickly scrambled back onto his feet and ran.

“Asuka!” I shout. “Get after him! I’ll take care of this one!”

“On it!” She said, sprinting past me.

My opponent tried to launch his whip at Asuka, but I quickly intervene and grab the chain with Gilgamesh. The player pulls back on his weapon and I let go, taking a battle stance. My opponent was dressed in a white overcoat and a white v-neck under it, with gray pants, along with boots and fingerless gloves. He wielded a large black and green sword in his right hand, and a chain whip in his left. He had a brown mohawk and deep red eyes.

Wait… white coat, red eyes… I’ve heard that somewhere…

“Blade Master…” He said, a malicious smile plastered on his face.

“You know of me?” I ask.

“I’ve always wanted to fight you.” He took his own battle stance.

“Guess it’s your lucky day, then.” I say, preparing for the fight.

He comes at me first, emitting and almost growl-like noise before raising his sword and striking downwards. I evade the blow by sidestepping it and quickly came up with my own overhead strike, which he defends against by bringing his whip up and wrapping the chain around his fist to block my sword. I come to the side with Gilgamesh and he manages to move out of the way before spinning around and swinging his sword at me again. I clash my blade with his and lock it there, pushing back with my other hand and putting him a bit off balance, enough for me to quickly step to the side and deliver a slash that he jumps away from, but I still manage to nick him in the side. He stays his distance, planning his next move, while I plan my next five.

He comes at me first again, throwing his whip at me. I deflect the blow with Gilgamesh, the bladed tip of it bouncing off the armguard, before I rush up to meet him and deliver two quick slashes that he doesn’t bother defending against. He did it on purpose, because while I was delivering those attacks, he pulled his whip back and had it wrap around my waist, holding it there and keeping me in place as he raised his sword and brought it down. I’m forced to brace my blade in defense, and even though I block the attack, it was so strong that it still took a good nick of my HP, the sheer force of the heavy sword knocking me onto my back and sending my sword flying away, embedding itself into a nearby building.

“Shit…” I curse under my breath as another downwards blow comes my way.

I’m able to free myself from the binds of his whip and flip back onto my hands and launch myself back onto my feet. I wasn’t going to be able to get my sword back right now, so I took up a hand-to-hand stance for now. He sends his whip at me again, and I grab it with Gilgamesh. This time, I pull on it hard, sending him my way. He uses this to his advantage, swinging his sword with heavy momentum. I plan ahead and quickly step back just enough to let his blade pass right by my nose, before bringing his own chain whip up and snagging his sword with it, wrapping it around few times quickly before yanking down hard, sending him downwards and allowing me to jump up and send a sharp heel kick downwards right into the back of his head, slamming his face into the ground and allowing me to kick off him and get to my sword, grabbing it and kicking off the wall to force it out, spinning in the air once and throwing my sword at him. He slashes at it with his own sword, sending it into the air, where I Shift up to and catch it before coming down on him hard, pushing him into the ground a bit with the force of the blow.

We stay there, locked blades and locked eyes. He had the same devilish smile as before, and he was clearly enjoying the fight. Suddenly, though, he rolls backwards, taking me with him and forcing me to rebound off my hand and back onto my feet, before he slashes at me with his whip. I’m not fast enough this time, and it hits me dead on, taking a good chunk out of my HP, but when he goes for another slash, I dodge it and rush up to him, evading a few more swings of his sword before putting a hard straight kick into his chest, sending him onto his back, but not before he drags me along for the ride with his whip around my waist and we both end up paused, blades to each other’s necks.

We stay there, panting and staring at each other, for a good minute before he puts a hard punch into my gut that pushes me backwards, but I pull back on his chain and take him with me, locking blades with him again and spinning around, pushing my blade outwards and grinding off his own, spinning back to gain distance.

We both stay in place, regaining our breath in time for out next clash. We both run at each other at the same time, swords swung and clashed together again, and again, and again, striking off each other in a shower of sparks. I was surprised at how evenly matched we were, and I had expected an opponent that used such a heavy weapon would be slower and more predictable. He had trained away those flaws… which meant he was dangerous.

Suddenly, though, when we lock blades, I see Asuka come up with the Laughing Coffin courier in tow, tied up with rope.

“Oh, hey.” She said. “Still fighting this guy?”

My adversary quickly launched his whip at her at such speed that she didn’t have time to react. It hit her dead on and took off half her HP, sending her to the ground.

“Asuka!” I shout, looking my opponent in the eye. “Bastard!”

He shoves my blade off him, but I spin around and slash again, harder than I had before, making a resounding ‘ching’ as it bounced off his blade. I swipe again, even harder, then again, then again, making my strikes faster than he could see, forced to just put his blade up to deflect all the incoming blows. Suddenly, though, he lashes out with his whip and hits my blade arm, once again causing me to let go of my sword.

I didn’t stop.

I instead grabbed his whip with Gilgamesh and tugged on it, hard, making him let go before I cast it aside and began bearing down on him with my gauntlet. I punched downwards continuously, so hard he sank down to his knees, his sword braced overhead as I punched hard into it. I slam my fist into his sword again, and again, and again, with mighty force, before I rear up and launch one final and powerful blow that knocks his sword from his hand and allowing me to reach in and slam my free hand into his neck, raising my open clawed gauntlet and slashing down on him, stopping just short of tearing into his face.

We’re both left breathing heavy, with my hand gripping his neck with force and my claws just barely touching his cheek. I could’ve killed him there. I would’ve. But I didn’t… I’m no player killer, and I refused to become one.

“Agh…” Asuka said, getting back up. “That one hurt… metaphorically.”

With knowledge that she was alright, I retracted the claws of my gauntlet and stepped off my opponent, walking over to my sword and snatching it off the ground before sheathing it onto my back.

“Oh, wow…” I hear the guy pant on the ground. “That was a fight…”

I say nothing as he gets back up and dusts off his jacket, retrieving his weapons and fastening them to his sides. I get another good look at the guy and I focus again on his red eyes. Then it hits me.

“The Winter Fox…” I said. “That’s who you are.”

The Winter Fox was a relatively well known player who is said to be absolutely merciless to other players, commonly fighting for just about no reason at all. Despite this, he isn’t a player killer, he just enjoys torturing people… if that sounds any better.

“You’ve heard of me as well, I take it.” He said. “I have to say; your reputation is well established.”

“You have a reputation?” Asuka asked.

“Apparently.” I answer. “So what’s The Winter Fox doing in a place like Ravenwing?” I asked him.

“I just hate Laughing Coffin.” He said. “So when I heard about a base of theirs stationed here I decided to check it out.”

“And make a scene out of it.” I say

“You know my reputation.” He responds.

“Yeah…”

“Ishi.” Asuka said, waving me over to her. “I got the letter off the guy.”

I take the physical note from her and look at it.

“Majora.” I read out.

That’s all it said.

“The hell does that mean?” I wonder aloud.

“No idea.” Asuka said. “Hey, where’d what’s his face go?”

I look over and notice The White Fox had disappeared without a trace. Didn’t even bother to say goodbye. How rude.

“Well anyway, we’ll need to figure out what this means.” I say to Asuka. “C’mon.”

I lead her across town back to the tavern, where I see Scott wave me over with his usual friendly smile.

“Ah, Ishi.” He said. “Yah find what yer lookin’ fer? Oh?”

He noticed Asuka beside me and smiled.

“Who’s the lass? You pickin’ up girls now, eh?”

“Why the hell does everyone say that…” I ask.

“He’s, uh…” Asuka fills in for me. “I’m sort of his apprentice, you could say.”

“Ah, trainin’ the lass, are yah, Ishi?” He said. “Well that ain’t like yeh.”

“Well I couldn’t get her off me so I figured I might as well.” I say.

“Hohoh! Well then!” He puts out a hand to Asuka and she takes it. The poor girl is almost grounded by the force of his handshake. “Tha name’s Scott, me fair lass.” He said with a warm and welcome smile.

“Ah…” She said, after she was freed from his grip as she inspected her arm to make sure it wasn’t broken or anything. “Asuka.” She says.

“Asuka!” Scott says, giving her a little bow.

“We picked this up off a Laughing Coffin courier.” I say, handing him the note. “You know what it means?”

He takes the note and looks at it.

“Majora, eh?” He said, scratching his beard in thought. “Sorry, me boy. Don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no Majora. I’ve never heard the name ‘round here either so I doubt anyone here’d know either.”

“Damn…” I say, taking the note back and giving it one last look before pocketing it. “Well thanks anyway. We’ll be off, then.”

“Come back ‘round anytime yeh feel, now!” He says. “And feel free tah bring the young lass with yah!”

I wave behind me and we both leave the tavern, heading back to Luciad. Hopefully the guild would be able to provide some more insight on this cryptic message.

Chapter 11

“Majora, huh?” Gawain said when I showed him the note and told him of my mission. Knight himself wasn’t present at the moment, off on his own business that I didn’t need nor cared to know about.

“Trinity, didn’t you hear the name before?” He turns to his fellow knight.

“Ah, yes!” She recalls. “On one of my recon missions! Seems only the higher-ups of the Guardians of Darkness know of him.”

“Did they say anything?” I ask.

“Unfortunately no.” She replied. “They know the name at least, but I don’t know if they know too much about him. Apparently the guy with all the info would be the leader of the guild himself.”

“Kamui…” I mutter.

“He wouldn’t be an option.” Gawain told me. “There must me something we can do about this…”

I think on it, but I can’t come up with anything.

“Wait…” Trinity spoke. “What about The Chronicler?”

“The Chronicler?” Asuka asks. “You mean the whackjob that lives way out in the arctic region of the 37th floor?”

“That’s the one.” She said. “But he’s not just a whackjob. He apparently has records of everything that has ever happened in the game.”

“According to rumors.” I specify.

“Well, yeah.”

“Why would I trust rumors?”

“Because there is some truth behind them.” Gawain intervened. “This man was a programmer for the entire game, and has access to every bit of data stored in the game.”

“If he was a programmer, why is he trapped in the game like everyone else?” Asuka says.

“He betrayed the Game Master before the game was released. As punishment, he banished him to live through the game himself. Unfortunately all that knowledge has taken no small toll on his sanity. You’d best be careful in confronting him.”

“Uh, yeah, one problem.” I say, raising a finger. “I fucking hate the cold.”

“Oh, don’t be such a baby.” Asuka said, bumping my shoulder.

“I hate the cold!” I repeat. “It’s cold!”

“Well if you want to figure out who this Majora character is, The Chronicler is your best shot.” Trinity told me. “Sucks to be you.”

“No kidding…” I say.

“Well, come on.” Asuka said. “No time to waste!”

“I’m getting a bite first.” I say as we leave the building.

“Oh…” She looked at her stomach and rubbed it. “Good point, I’m hungry too…”

“To Adeline’s then.” I say.

And off we went to Talmia.

---

So we had our quick lunch before heading to the 37th floor, to a town called Aurora’s Edge.

There were auroras there, in case you couldn’t figure that one out.

It was really cold. But it wasn’t uncomfortable because of the whole NerveGear thing going on.

Still didn’t like it.

We went to the tavern there, which was thankfully heated by a fireplace and was greeted instantly by a man at the bar. He had a full blue and white snow gear.

“Hey, there!” He said. “Haven’t seen you two around before. What can I get you two?”

“We aren’t here for that.” I say. “We need to find The Chronicler.”

“Him?” He says. “Why’s that?”

“Reasons.” I tell him plainly. “Just point us in the right direction.”

“Well pointing won’t do you too good past this place.” He said. “Firstly you’re going to need some gear that’ll keep you from freezing to death out there, you can get that at the shop across the street, and second, you’ll be needing something to guide you there.”

He takes out a golden compass inlaid with decorative silver markings.

“Something like this.” He says.

“Isn’t that a Destination Compass?” Asuka asked.

“A what?” I say.

“A Destination Compass.” She said. “When you’re looking for some place it always points in the direction of where you want to go. They’re really rare.”

“That’s right.” He said. “I don’t really be needing this thing since I know my way around frontwards and back, and I’d be willing to part with it… for a price, of course.”

“How much?” I sigh.

“Howsabout…” He thinks. “Five million?”

“Fi… five million?!” Asuka exclaims. “That’s ridiculous! I-”

I give the guy his five million.

“There.” I say.

He hands me the compass.

“Pleasure doing business.” He said.

I walk out, Asuka following.

“You had five million?” She asked.

“I have way more than that.” I say. “I never buy anything other than Adeline’s ramen.”

“Oh, right…” She says.

Afterwards we get our snow gear, which was basically just a heavy cloak that went over our outfits. Apparently it was enough to make us not freeze to death out there. We both get black cloaks, white fur lined on the collar and hood, and some pretty comfy stuff on the inside, two white stripes lining the hem and cuffs. I already felt warm and cozy in it, so I knew it was some good stuff.

That and the fact that it was expensive as all hell, but I still had more than anyone ever needed.

I pull out the Destination Compass and look at it. Its dial was spinning around at a steady and slow pace.

“How does it work?” I wonder aloud.

I think about where I wanted to go and instantly the thing points in a direction, steady and true.

“Oh, that’s how.” I say. “C’mon.”

So off we go through town, and in following the compass we make our way to the edge of the place. We look ahead and all we see is white. Just, white. As far as I could see. Nothing else.

“This is gonna suck, isn’t it?” Asuka said.

“Probably.” I reply. “But we need to find this guy if we want to figure out who Majora is.”

“Or was.” Asuka noted.

“Or was.” I repeat.

We take our first steps into the shallow snow, and begin our trek across the frozen wastelands.

---

Not long after we set out, it began to snow a bit, and the winds picked up. Aurora’s Edge was well beyond eyesight by now. The wind and snow together made white horizontal streaks in the air, whipping our cloaks behind us. Wasn’t unbearable, though; these cloaks definitely did their job well. We’ve been out here for around an hour now.

“Are we there yet?” Asuka asked.

“No.” I answer.

“How much further?” She follows it up.

“This thing doesn’t say.” I tell her. “I don’t think it’s too much further, though.”

“Better not be…” She says, adjusting the collar on her cloak.

Suddenly I feel a cracking under my shoes. I look down and the ground shifts abruptly.

“Ishi!” Asuka shouts, as I suddenly fall. I lash out with Gilgamesh and embed the claws in the ice quickly, stopping my descent. I look down to a deep black ravine. I couldn’t see the bottom. Then, Gilgamesh began to lose grip on the ice, slowly beginning to scrape off it. There wasn’t anything I could grip on the smooth ice, either.

“Shit…” I curse under my breath. “Asuka!”

Asuka was there in an instant, holding out her hand.

“Here!” She says. “Take my hand!”

I do so, pulling myself up with one arm and grabbing her hand. She begins to pull up, but her feet slip and she suddenly falls in with me. I keep a hold of her arm to stop her fall.

“Agh!” She shouts, looking down the chasm.

The added weight made me lose my grip quickly, and we both fell down.

I still keep a hold of her as we fell, noticing we were falling down a long shaft, multiple holes lined the walls. This was an ice cavern network, I realize.

I got an idea.

I take out Arondight and wield it in the claws of Gilgamesh.

“Hang on!” I tell Asuka, before I spin around, throwing Asuka out then pulling her inwards to instantly increase my spin speed. She grabs a hold of my torso as I spun quickly, before I launch my blade out and slam it deep into the ice wall, sinking it to the hilt and quickly slowing our free fall until we came to a stop, hanging by my sword over a bottomless pit.

“Holy shit!” Asuka said, her voice echoing off the walls.

“Asuka, see that cave entrance over there?” I gesture towards one of the holes in the walls. There was a ledge just a bit below us, but it was out of our way as well. I couldn’t just slide down.

“Yeah.” She says.

“Okay, keep a hold of my arm and jump right… there. Use your sword to keep yourself there.”

“Right…” She takes out her sword, and still holding onto my arm, climbs up, and jumps off my shoulders to the point I told her to, digging her sword into it.

“Okay, when I launch myself, pull your sword out, alright? We only got one shot at this.”

“Got it.” She said, readying herself.

I let go of my sword and brace my feet up against the handle, using Asuka’s arm as a swing to launch myself back and swing myself forward, grabbing my blade out of the wall as I throw myself out, and in that instant, Asuka pulls her sword out and I take her with me, before I quickly dig my sword in again and swing Asuka with great momentum, letting her go and fly towards the ledge. She lands right on it, tipping back a bit and wheeling her arms to try to keep her balance, but she does keep it, and she jumps forward to safety, while I’m left on the ledge hanging onto my sword.

“You alright?” I ask her.

“Yeah, I’m good.” She says. “How are you gonna get here, though?”

“Hang on…” I begin to swing myself on the handle of my sword, before launching myself to the curved wall, slamming into it with Gilgamesh and running along it, toward Asuka, before leaping off the wall and towards her. She brings out her hand and I grab it, quickly digging Arondight into the ledge to keep me from slipping. Asuka, for safety, plants her sword near the edge and pulls me up with her foot on the flat of the blade, and sure enough, I’m up to her level, getting to my feet as Asuka pulls her sword from the ice and sheathes it to her side.

“Nice work.” I say.

She nods and we both look down the dark tunnel.

“Looks promising.” I say.

“How are we gonna get out of here?” Asuka asked.

“Don’t know yet.” I say. “Let’s just see what we can find.”

We both head into the cold and dark cave. There was barely any light, so Asuka lit up a rune to light the way. The cave was basically just a cylindrical tube of solid, clear, and smooth ice. So smooth we had to watch our footing so we wouldn’t slip, and even then we fell flat on our asses a few times, and then we fell flat on our asses trying to help each other up after we had fallen flat on our asses.

What fun.

But eventually, after around half an hour I’d wager, we come across a downwards slope of ice. We stop and look down.

“Wonder where this goes…” Asuka says, holding out her light to try to see further down.

“Only one way to find out.” I say, gesturing downwards.

“Oh, come on, there has to be another- AGH!”

I grab her arm and pull her down as I slid down myself, taking her with me as we once again fell flat on our asses as we slid down into the great unknown.

“You DICK!” Asuka shouted.

“What?” I said. “I was slipping!”

“Bullcrap!” She said, giving me an angry look. “What if there’s like… a pit of spikes at the bottom of this?”

“You worry too much.” I say.

Before long, though, we reach a sudden end to our literal slip-n-slide when the ice gave way again and we fall into another smaller slip-n-slide that leads us straight into the ground. I land on my feet and take a few steps forward to balance myself and Asuka just fell flat on her ass.

“Ow!” She said, as I helped her up.

“Woah, look at this.” I say, pointing to the ground.

It was cobblestone.

“Well at least we can walk on this.” Asuka said.

“Come on, there must be something up ahead.” I say, as I lead her forwards.

It didn’t take long for us to find something pretty astounding. There was a large circular room… like REALLY LARGE circular room. Right in the center was a stone building of some kind… looked ancient as hell. The place was lit up from sunlight coming through reflective crystals in the roof, that made it look almost like there could be a hole right in the ceiling with all the light they gave off.

“What the hell?” I say in bewilderment.

“What is this place?” Asuka added.

On a suspicion I pull out my compass. It pointed right towards it. I made sure by moving around a bit. The compass pointed straight and true right ahead. With how far the compass moved when I did I knew the distance wasn’t far.

“That’s our place.” I said.

“Wow, really?” Asuka asked. “Good thing you fell into that hole then, huh?”

“Hey, you fell in too.” I point at her.

“Only to try to get you out.” She smiles coyly.

“Pfft…”

We both head toward the monumental building and stepped up to what looked like the entrance. There was a door there, upon closer inspection it wasn’t a door. It was just stone carved to look like a door.

“Great…” I say. “So how do we-”

I’m interrupted when suddenly the floor below us turns, and so does the door, taking us around and slamming shut with us on the other side.

“Agh! What the-” I begin, only to have a finger meet my lips.

“Shhhh.” He said. “Inside voices.”

What I saw was a cloaked figure in a blue hooded cloak, with the hood up to obscure his face. The guy turned and scurried forwards, gesturing us to come forward. Despite my better judgement, we both do, following him down winding staircases and through maze-like corridors until finally we come across a room that looked like a huge library. What looked like millions of books filled tons of huge shelves all over the room. A brazier lit up the center of the room, while medieval looking chandeliers lit up the rest.

“Uh, hey, guy.” I say. “Mind telling us who you are.”

“Oh, right, right.” He said quickly. “I’m ‘The Chronicler’, as people seem to like to call me.”

“Okay, so what’s your real name, then?” Asuka asked.

“Don’t know.” He said just as quick, sorting through papers on the floor. “Can’t remember. Called The Chronicler too much. It stuck. My real name, WHAT’S MY REAL NAME?!”

He turns his head to us in a creepy manner, his hood falling down to reveal a shaggy man who looked like he had been here for more than a while. I could see what Gawain was talking about when he said he wasn’t exactly completely sane.

“Oh, you!” He says, pointing at me. “I know you!”

He quickly points at Asuka.

“And you!”

“How do you know us?” I ask.

“I know everything!” He said. “I am The Chronicler, after all! I keep the ever growing records of everything that happens to everything and everyone in Aincrad. All these books are those records!”

I look around again. I couldn’t even see how big the room actually was from where I was standing.

“Homey.” Asuka says quietly.

“Look, we-”

“You want me to decipher a cryptic message for you!” He interrupted. “Yes, yes. Majora’s the name, is it not? Yes, I remember that one… I think… ah… I probably need to check the records for that one. It’s hard to keep track of everything in my head! I’ve been doing it for so long.”

I mouth out ‘no shit’ before addressing him again.

“So can you help us?” I ask.

“Can I? Oh yes, I could. But the more delicious question is will I?” He says.

“Well if you want to be a dick about it, yeah.” I say.

“Oh, I’ll help you, alright.” He said. “But first you must help me.”

“Fair enough.” Asuka said. “What do you need? Help picking up all the paper on the ground or… something?”

“No, no, young one.” He wagged a finger. “There is an item of great importance which has been lost to me. I need you to retrieve it for me.”

“Agh… fetch quests…” I mutter.

“The artifact I am looking for is somewhere in Snowpeak Castle. I unfortunately misplaced it on one of my… previous expeditions to the site.”

“Why can’t you just go and get it yourself?” I ask.

“The castle has some… new residents.” He said. “And as you can see, I’m not very well suited for combat, myself. You however seem like you’ve both seen a fair share of battles.”

“I guess…” Asuka says.

“Come.” He says, leading us out of the library and through a couple more freaking miles of stairs and hallways before we came across what looked like an elevator room. And I’d be right on that assumption.

“You may find Snowpeak Castle due west of here.” He said. “Just follow your compass. It’ll take you where you need to go.”

“Okay, fine.” I say, Asuka and I both getting in the elevator.

“Also, take this.” He said, handing us a key. “It will allow you access to the elevator. Once you find the artifact you may use the elevator to return to this chamber.”

“You still haven’t told us what we’re looking for.” I say.

“You’ll know it when you see it.” He said, as he activated the elevator, taking us upwards. “Good luck.”

---

After a few minutes we reach the top of the elevator, where we are put back out into the snow after leaving the inside of a small and ancient monument.

I check my compass, and it pointed toward a new location.

“Alright, come on.” I say to Asuka. “Let’s just get whatever this thing is and get back.”

Chapter 12

It didn’t take too long to get to where we needed to go. Snowpeak Castle was a beautiful looking structure overlooking the mountains. That’s where the ‘Snowpeak’ part came from, I’d wager. Asuka and I stood at the start of a long and narrow set of winding steps that faded into white fog leading toward the castle in the distance.

“Huh.” Asuka said. “So whatever that guy wants is in there?”

“Yeah.” I say. “Compass points right to it.”

“Nice place.” She noted. “Hope it’s warmer inside.”

“Wouldn’t bet on it.” I say, as I began walking along the stone steps toward the castle.

---

So after a few close calls with the edge of the cliff we were on since we couldn’t even see where we were walking through the fog, and had to keep a hand on the cliff face to keep going, we finally made it to the front doors of the castle. The place looked… oddly in shape for a building that had been abandoned for a while. The front door of frosted mahogany and gold still looked almost like it was new.

Good thing for us, it was easy to open as well.

The main foyer was quite a large room with black marble floors with red and white diamond designs. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a set of decorative white stairs led to an upper level straight ahead, while two long corridors went off to the right and left.

And it was in fact warmer than it was outside.

“So where do we start looking?” Asuka asks, her voice echoing off the walls.

“Don’t know…” I say, stepping forward and looking around. My footsteps also reverberated around the room as I paced around, looking at all the decorations along the walls and between the big windows. “Let me check the compass.”

I look at the compass, but I see it’s just spinning slowly like it does when dormant.

“Crap.” I say. “Looks like it tells us where to go but not what to do once we get there.”

“Great, so we’re on our own?” Asuka asks.

“Looks like.” I reply. “We should split up, it’ll be faster that way.”

“I don’t know…” Asuka said, looking around as I did. “I feel… strange… here.”

“Me too.” I say. “Something about this place puts me off. Nevertheless, though. We’ll meet back in this foyer in 3 hours if we can’t turn up anything.”

She nods and begins to walk to the left hallway.

“Be careful, alright?” She said, looking back to me taking the right hallway.

“Yeah, you too.” I say, before we went our separate ways.

At the end of the long hallway, there was a door, so I walked to it and went through it, like I was going to do anything else.

On the other side of the door, I’m surprised to find something that looked completely different. I expected more neat looking hallways and stuff, but instead I found another smaller room. The only thing is that the ceiling had caved in and rubble was everywhere. Cold snow drifted into the room from the giant hole in the ceiling, and the remains of what once was a chandelier was bent and broken on the floor, along with the ceiling.

“The hell?” I say aloud.

The hell indeed, for from the outside, I realize, the place was completely perfect. Not to mention the main foyer didn’t have a scratch on it anywhere, like the maid brigade made a quick sweep just before we arrived or something.

I double take and open the door I went through again. I have to push really hard to get it open, because for some reason support beams from the ceiling were blocking the way. In fact, the perfect main foyer was now in shambles, from my view in between the rubble blocking the door. Not even two minutes ago the place was spotless, and now it was a wreck.

Yeah, something was really wrong with this place.

“Well that’s interesting.” I said, navigating around the broken pieces that was once a room and toward the next door. I open it and I’m led into a busted up hallway that lined the outside walls of this part of the building. A lot of the outside wall had come down, and snow drifted down onto the old torn up rug that used to go all along the hallway. I walk down the hallway, looking to my right outside. I saw a large courtyard blanketed in frosty fog, in fact, it looked like there were 5 large courtyards in total, forming a U shape around the main building of the castle, and from here I could also see the outside fortress walls and the tall spires, all of which were in a complete state of disrepair. It only made me wonder further how Asuka and I saw different on the way in.

“Huh…” I mumble, as I walk toward the other door at the far end of the hall. I’m stopped however, when a large chunk of the ceiling came down just in front of me, caving in the path and forbidding me from progressing further.

“Agh, dammit.” I say, scratching the back of my neck, before walking back and looking over the edge of the ruined hallway.

Long way down, but I could see a walkway down there, which I could probably slide down to. I hop off the ledge and fall a ways before I slam into the wall with Gilgamesh, slowing me down. Figures, I take a chunk of the wall with me and I fall down a good few stories and right onto my back.

“Agh!” I moan, lying on the walkway for a few seconds before slowly clambering back up and dusting myself off. “Crap…”

I look up to where I had fallen off. A good sized hole in the wall marked where I lost my grip. No way was I getting back up there. The walkway I was on led forward and right to the tops of the fortress walls lining the castle, and the other way led off around the main building I was at until it broke straight into a sheer drop. So I decide to take the not broken way. I get onto the main walls and walk along, looking over at the ruined castle. The place looked… strangely beautiful despite it being a complete wreck. I had to watch myself from slipping on some ice that had formed at random spots along the wall as I made my way around, hoping I could get back inside on this path.

The sound of ice cracking and the wind blowing was all I heard as I walked along the wall, naturally. However, about halfway across the wall, the ice cracks suddenly changed to ice completely shattering, and when I look behind me, I see a very thin and tall humanoid thing made entirely out of ice, wielding a spear of ice, come behind me and raise its weapon. I sidestep quickly before its spear embeds itself in the ground, strangely not breaking from striking the stone ground. The thing pulls the spear out of the ground and swings it at me. I back up to evade it, but I bump my back into another one that had sprung up behind me. It grabbed me with icy claw like hands, before trying to stab downwards. I spring Gilgamesh into action and backhand the thing in the side, forcing it to let go as I jumped back to gain distance. Immediately, the first one threw the spear at me, and I duck under it before it regenerates another ice spear right in its hand.

“So you’re the new residents.” I assume.

Needless to say, they couldn’t talk back to confirm. The two charge at me, and I bring out my sword, diving in between the two to dodge their spears before blocking their following spear swings with my sword and gauntlet before finding an opening in the second one and slicing it clean in half, and using the new opening granted to spin around a strike from the first and latch onto its torso with Gilamesh, spinning a bit before tossing it out over the wall and letting it fall to its death below.

“Boy.” I said. “I hope Asuka’s okay… I should message her.”

I pull up my messages and try to message Asuka. When I send the message though, I’m greeted by an error message.

[ERROR]

[ASUKA IS NOT A RECOGNIZED PLAYER NAME]

“The hell?” I say to myself as I try to send the message again.

The same error message appeared.

“Shit…” I curse. “I need to find her.”

I step forward and sweep back with Gilgamesh to tear another ice creature in half and slice the upper part of it in half again with my sword, before resuming my walk along the wall. I reach the door to another tower at one of the corners of the wall and step inside, being led onto a spiral staircase that took me downwards and leading out to the first courtyard I saw from above. I step out onto the snowy and foggy ground, taking my steps slowly in caution for any more of those ice guys.

Sure enough, as I made my way to the other side of the courtyard, a spear of ice cut through the fog and narrowly missed me as I jumped back and sliced behind me to counter another one coming up to swipe at me. I try to get at him but the thing slips back into the fog of the courtyard, before another near invisible spear comes barreling toward me, which I swat out of the air with my gauntlet. Another comes, then another, and another, from every direction they came. I couldn’t tell just how many of the things there were, but I needed to clear them out a bit before I got stuck with one of those spears.

I dodge and weave my best as the spears came at me from all fronts, until I find a slim opening in the onslaught. I pick out a spear in the air and calculate which direction it came from in my head, picking out a knife from my belt and sending it that way. I saw a few rainbow polygons go skyward over the fog, so I knew I had hit.

I try this with a few more until the rest catch wise. They begin to move immediately after throwing, not letting me send knives their way. Plan B, then. They could move all they wanted, I was always going to be faster. I see where another spear comes at me, and immediately Shift to it, passing by the spear and impaling one of the ice creatures on my blade, killing it instantly. Another spear is sent my way, and I do the same thing, this time slicing its arm off before beheading it.

I do this seven more times until finally, all the creatures were dead. When that happened I quickly located another door on the other side of the courtyard through the fog, and made my way to it, entering it quickly before any more of those things showed up.

I’m placed in another large room that looked almost like a church. Wrecked pews were placed all along the room, and a broken metal chandelier lay in the middle of the room, while another one placed on the other side of the room was actually on the ceiling, although it didn’t look to sturdy. Stone columns lined the room, although they all bore cracks and large chips in the stone, and two of them were actually toppled over.

I look upwards and see an upper level, accessible by a set of stairs on either side of the room. I could see more ice creatures lining up to throw their spears at me.

“Alright, you guys are really starting to piss me off.” I say as I jump away from a spear and Shift onto the upper level, slicing one of them into a bunch of pieces before grabbing the head of another with Gilgamesh and moving it in the way of another thrown spear, throwing it out of the way and jumping up, spinning once and slicing another clean in two.

I catch the spear of another, spinning with momentum and throwing it back, nailing it in the face and killing it, before Shifting to the other side and taking care of the ones there. After that was said and done, I look around. On the far wall, I see a huge painting of some priest looking guy. The painting looked centuries old, and I was surprised that it didn’t look like it had a scratch on it.

I take a minute to think about what it is I’m looking for. This place is huge, and I have no idea what room whatever it is I’m looking for is in, on top of not even knowing what the hell it is I’m looking for.

“Dammit…” I mutter to myself. I really should’ve pressed the matter on that Chronicler guy. It’d really help if I had some more information on all this crap.

And I needed to find Asuka, that was another thing.

I look around the room and notice something on the floor. It was a circular stone engraving on the ground, with two smaller rings inside it, along with pointing triangular designs jutting out on four symmetrical points around it, making it look like a star-like engraving. I hop down to it, and look at it. I feel a rumbling in my pocket that makes me jump slightly, before I reach in and fish out the one rune Asuka had given me earlier. The white deign on it now shone blue, as did the circle under me.

“What is this, now?” I say, looking at my feet.

Suddenly, though, the chandelier above me abruptly snapped from the ceiling, falling right own onto me. Only it stopped in midair just above my head, the thing suspended in a blue aura. I look down at the rune and look back up at the chandelier, holding my hand out and sort of ‘grasping’ the chandelier, moving it from over me and letting it fall a distance away.

“Well I’ll be damned.” I say, inspecting the rune. “This thing is actually pretty cool.”

I step off the circle, but the rune still glowed. I tried to pick up the other fallen chandelier, and sure enough a blue aura surrounded the thing before it lifted up, suspended in the air.

“Sweet.” I say, as I let it down again.

I notice another door that was blocked in by some rubble. I use my newfound power to remove the debris blocking the doorway and tossing it aside, going to the door and opening it up to find another courtyard, covered in fog. This time, though, the rune in my hand glows brighter, and I see an insignia light up in the very center, looking identical to the stone one in the room before, only made of red light, the rune shining the same color. After that, the circle expanded quickly, and in that pulse, I suddenly saw each and every ice creature hiding in the fog, as they readied their spears and aimed.

I have no idea how this stuff works, but hell yeah, it’s awesome.

I quickly rush toward the light, dodging incoming spears before landing right on it, slamming the rune down onto it and making a large shockwave that surrounded my enemies in a red aura and threw them back and locking them onto the ground. Now helpless, I quickly Shift to each one of them and slice them into pieces before returning to the pad and letting go, causing them all to burst into polygons.

“Damn!” I shout. “This is awesome!”

I then see the light below me shift to white, as well as the rune in my hand. Light radiated over the pad like steam, and I can see the light being attracted to the rune. I take this cue and somehow manage to begin to collect the light into the rune, slowly at first, but it rapidly picked up speed, until the rune in my hand shone brightly, before the light released in a bright burst and instantly cleared the dense fog around. After that, the rune returned to its natural color, while the pad under me shone red once more, and spun slowly.

“Huh…” I say. “Maybe I should go back and try that with the other one…”

So went back I did, through the church building and back into the first courtyard. Here, I see the light pad in the center glow blue, and I step up to it, cautious about any of those ice guys that may be lurking about, and placing my feet on it. The light shone white, and I did the same thing as before, charging up the rune and releasing it, clearing the fog.

“Huh.” I say, after it was done. “I guess I need to do this for all the courtyards.”

So I quickly went back to the red courtyard and went through the door there, leading me into another large building. This one… I didn’t know what it looked like. It was so wrecked I couldn’t tell, but I could imagine it was nearly identical to the last one. Half of the ceiling was on the ground, as well as both chandeliers. Further, part of one of the spires was in the middle of the entire place, making it a wonder how this building was even still standing when an entire tower had fallen on it. Lucky for me, there were no ice guys around here, so I could actually do stuff without almost getting speared. I climb my way around the rubble and decide to just leave the building, climbing onto the wreckage of the tower and exiting out the broken wall into the next courtyard.

This one glowed golden and I notice it looked a bit different than the last two. It had a different, more intricate design, was larger, and it didn’t spin. I walk up to it, noticing there were no ice guys out here either. When I get there, I do the same as I had with the others, charging up and releasing it, dispersing the fog instantly. When that was done, I suddenly notice someone behind me. I take my blade out and quickly slash behind me. My blade strikes off another’s and I swing again, locking blades with Asuka.

“Asuka!” I say.

“Ishi!” She says at the same time.

We pull our blades apart and sheath our weapons.

“God, I’m glad you’re okay.” I say. “This place is crazy.”

“I know.” She says. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m good.” I say. “This rune of yours has come in handy.” I wave the rune in my hand.

“Yeah, I activated these runic circles in the two courtyards on the way here.” She said.

“So did I.” I say.

“Then this was the last one.” She says. “But what was the point of that?”

I look toward the main building, the one that we entered the castle from, and notice a large doorway there, right in the back of the building. It glowed with five circles, identical to the insignias of the courtyards. Five in total, shining in red, blue, green, violet, and finally golden on the top of the pentagon the lights formed on the doorway.

“Look at that.” I say, pointing to it.

“Oh!” She said, running up to it while I follow. She puts her hand on the large stone door when we get there.

“It looks like those circles were locks.” She said. “Five in total. And we unlocked all of them.”

“You don’t suppose whatever we’re looking for is in there, do you?” I ask.

“Well, only one way to find out.” She said. “Help me get this open.”

She backs up and uses her rune to grasp the right side of the door, while I took the left. We telekinetically pried open the door with some effort, and a large gust of cold wind rushes out and blows past us as we do. Soon enough, the door was completely open, and all we could see ahead was a staircase leading off into total blackness.

“Looks nice.” I say.

“C’mon.” Asuka says as she lights up her rune and descends the stairs. I light up mine and follow after.

The stairs didn’t go on for long, and we end up going down a long underground tunnel that looked to go pretty far in. After a point I’m pretty sure we were going inside the mountain itself.

“So you’ve finally found a use for that rune I gave you?” Asuka said after a while to break the silence.

“Uh, yeah.” I say. “Was able to lift some debris out of the way and activate those light pads in the other courtyards. Got to use it on those ice guys too.”

“Yeah, what were those things anyway?” Asuka asked.

“Must be a kind of monster specific to this region.” I tell her. “Or even more specifically this place in particular.”

“Well whatever they are, they weren’t regular fodder enemies, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah…”

We kept walking until we finally hit a large circular room. Our runes were the only source of light in the entire room, and we couldn’t even see the ceiling for how dark it was. Our footsteps echoed off the ground as we looked around the place.

“See anything?” I ask Asuka as we separated a bit to look around.

“No.” She says.

Suddenly, I see Asuka fade into a sort of monochrome and semi-transparent version of herself, as the room began to light up. She looked at me and we ran to each other.

“What’s going on?” I ask her. “What’s up with you?”

“What’s up with you?” She returns. “I can see through you!”

So the same thing happened to me with her… on top of that I see two identical creatures drop down from the ceiling. One was physical, the other was the same transparent form Asuka was in. The creatures were giant and humanoid, made out of ice and stone. They wielded huge axes made of ice.

“What the hell?!” Asuka shouts, jumping back to avoid an overhead swing of the thing’s axe.

I have to look back to my own opponent, though, because he charged at me and tried to shoulder bash me. I jump out of the way in the nick of time and try to throw a few knives at Asuka’s opponent to try to take some heat off her. The knives passed right through as if the thing was a ghost, and stuck themselves into the wall past it.

“Shit.” I say, as I have to dodge a few swings of the large beast’s axe.

I use my speed and agility to my advantage, keeping a lock on my enemy while circling around it quickly while it tried to hit me with its large weapon. I dodge a few large swings before running in and jumping up to its back, stabbing into it with Arondight, and punching down hard with Gilgamesh, making the thing stagger a bit, but it didn’t do much damage. The thing threw me off and I land feet first as it made another swing at me. I manage to Shift out of the way just in time.

I catch a glimpse of Asuka, who was fighting her version with her all, using the fire of her runes to her advantage, although it didn’t look like she was progressing any further than I was.

I evade more monstrous swings of the things axe and manage to get inside its guard, jumping up and slashing at its face a few times, before clawing into its arm and circling to its back, jumping up to prepare to stab it in the back of the neck. The thing is quicker than I thought it was, because it managed to grab me from behind it and slam me down hard into the ground in front of it, almost putting my HP to red. The thing reared up and slammed its axe down on me, and on the ground I have to brace Gilgamesh up in defense, successfully stopping the blow but putting my HP down a bit more.

I push the axe aside and Shift away, trying to recover from that tremendous hit to my HP.

“Son of a bitch…” I mutter as I look to Asuka, who I noticed wasn’t doing so good either.

That’s not good.

The beast comes at me again, and this time, I Shift behind it, throwing four of my knives into the back of its legs to try to reduce its combat effectiveness a tad. The things bounce right off the ice of its leg. The thing sweeps back and nails me with the flat of its axe, hard. I fly back and slam into the far wall, my HP critical. I fall to the ground, face first, unable to move, completely stunned by the amount of damage I had taken in such a small amount of time.

“Ishi!” I hear Asuka shout, before she gets grabbed by her opponent and thrown down into the ground, also sending her HP to red.

I tried to get up quickly before I was finished, but in execution it came out as a slow stagger back up to my feet, uncoordinated and unbalanced. This thing was one hit away from ending my life, and Asuka was in trouble too.

I had to beat this thing.

The creature lunged at me again, raising a fist in preparation for a punch. I use my rune and charge up my own punch, Gilgamesh glowing in a red aura, before I rear back and lurch forward meeting his punch halfway and putting enough power into it to crack his entire arm, and send him back. I use the opportunity to perform multiple Shifts and cut into him faster than the blink of an eye, making it stagger back a bit more, but it quickly recovered and raised its axe over its head to try to finish me off. I Shift up and cut into its arm with such speed and precision it completely bypasses the icy armor and sliced clean through its arm. Its axe fell down behind it as the thing roared and held onto the stump of its arm, before I grab its giant axe with Gilgamesh, using all my strength with the assistance of my rune to swing it back, and with a roar of my own, slam it right into its side, hard, letting go at the moment of impact and watching as it flew into the ground.

Not yet dead, the creature tried to get back up with its own axe embedded into its side, but I give it no chance, as I rush up and grab its head with Gilgamesh, focusing the power of my rune into Gilgamesh once again, before slowly crushing its head, crackling the icy armor under my will before finally and sharply shattering in my hand, causing the thing to finally cease its struggle and explode into multicolored Shards. At that instant, I notice Asuka and her beast become physical again, and I’m quick to rush up and stab it in the back to throw it off an axe swing it was preparing.

With her new opportunity, Asuka sliced upwards, her flaming sword cutting into its face, before coming down and stabbing it right in the forehead, pushing the blade deeper as she flared up her sword with more head, hilting it in its head before pulling it out and backflipping, delivering one last flaming slice that beheaded the thing, killing it.

Once that was finally done, we’re both left kneeling on the ground, our HPs still at critical levels. We take a moment for our HP to begin regenerating before we stand back up and go to each other.

“Holy crap…” Asuka panted. “That was way too close…”

“Yeah…” I say, sheathing my weapons. “Let’s not do that again…”

I look over to the center of the room and see something glowing. I walk over to it and pick it up. It was an amulet of some kind. A lantern looking pendant on a black chain, white light spilling from it.

“Suppose this is the thing he wanted us to get?” I ask Asuka.

“After all that crap, it had better be.” She said.

“Yeah.” I agree. “Come on, let’s get back.

On the way out, the castle returned to being completely spotless. No more broken ceilings, no more fallen spires, no more grounded chandeliers, and everything was calm as we walked out, not looking back.

---

The Chronicler jumped around giddily as we descended the elevator, stepping off and seeing the artifact I held in my hand.

“Excellent, excellent!” He said, reaching out to grab it but I pulled it away.

“Not yet.” I say.

“Ah, of course.” He said, remembering. “Information on Majora.”

“You know what?” I say. “How about we just skip that and go straight to Skeith, if you don’t mind.”

“Skeith!” He said. “Ah, yes of course. After going through so much trouble of retrieving this for me, it’s the least I can do! Come, come.”

He let us back into the library, trying to paw at the thing in my hands, but I wasn’t going to let him have it just yet. Not after almost dying for it. He was going to give us everything we wanted to know with interest for that.

“Alright, let’s see…” He said, stepping onto a large rolling ladder hooked to one of the bookshelves and riding it down to a section, inspecting the books there.

“Skeith… Skeith…” He mumbled.

“Ah! Here we are!” He said, taking a book out and stepping off the ladder, opening it and inspecting the insides. Of course these books were no ordinary books. They were books that displayed digital information in front of the pages, making it look like some sort of hologram.

“Eh?” He said, swishing through pages. “What is this?!”

“What’s going on?” I ask, slightly irritated.

“It seems the data in this book is… corrupted.” He said.

“Corrupted?” I ask. “How?”

“I’m not sure… this… oh this isn’t good…” He stood, almost frozen for a brief time before closing the book and waving an arm. “Just a minute! Let me find Majora for you instead.”

So he did, but when he brought that book out…

“What?!” He said, dumbfounded. “This one is corrupted too? Why are these books corrupted?!”

I then remembered my encounter with Skeith… how it felt to be near it. Then I came up with an idea.

“Find my book.” I say. “I want to see something.”

“Oh!” He said. “Of course, of course!”

He sorted through books until he found my records, sorting through it.

“Ohoh, you’re an interesting one!” He said, before I snatched the book from his hands and looked through the pages.

Just as I thought, the time I spent near Skeith was completely corrupted. Not a bit of it could be read.

“Corrupted.” I say. “This section here, when I was near Skeith.”

“More corruption?” Asuka asked.

“It looks like Skeith corrupts anything that has anything to do with it, be it people, objects… even records.”

“That’s preposterous!” The Chronicler snatched the book back and looked over the section. “Oh…”

“What the hell’s going on here…” I wonder aloud.

“Ah, I’m terribly sorry…” The Chronicler said. “But, I did hold up my end of the bargain… may I have that artifact now?”

I look at the thing, deciding not to inquire just what the hell it was and handed it to him.

“Yes!” He said, taking it. “Finally! You have my gratitude!”

“Sure.” I say. “C’mon, Asuka, let’s get out of here…”

We leave via the elevator, and we follow the compass back to Aurora’s Edge.

After all that, I couldn’t believe we were going back empty handed.

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