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« SAO:NA - Chapter XXIV: Heavy Burdens

Sword Art Online: New Aincrad
Written by: FedeTkd
Published: FedeTkd (talk) 20:17, March 12, 2016 (UTC)
Chapter XXV: Sea Robbers

SAO:NA - Chapter XXVI: Inner Schisms »



Floor 94th, January 15th, 2027

Antinomy grabbed five of the shackles and put them inside a metal pot. Grabbing the pot with both his hands, he placed it in the forge, which was burning with embers in pink and vermillion. After waiting for several minutes, the metal dissolved into a shining orange liquid. Antinomy grabbed the pot with a pair of tongs and slowly poured it into a sword mold. He let it cool down and take a solid shape. He took it out while it was still hot to place it on his anvil. The last details of the blade were finished there, and Antinomy doused the new sword in a small tub of water. He held the blade up and was examining it when Kirito, Asuna, and Lamorak arrived. The leader took one of the recently shed blades and said.

"Blades born from shackles…it's almost poetic."

"What did I tell you?" Galant said, as he helped his friend. "This guy's hands can perform miracles with a forge."

“Wouldn’t you like to give me more Yrd, in gratitude for my help?” Antinomy asked.

“Knowing the blades will be used for our cause is more than enough gratitude for you.” Kirito responded.

All of them laughed slightly when they saw the disappointment on Antinomy’s face.

“Keep on crafting weapons for us and improve the ones we already have. Maybe we’ll consider new terms for our agreement.” Kirito told him.

“Sure…” Antinomy whinnied before going back to work.

“Once the weapons are ready, take them to the Central Plaza.” Asuna told him. “There Klein is overlooking the training of the newbies.”

“Alright. Will do,” Galant said.

Kirito leaved the smithy followed by Lamorak and Asuna. The Sylph commander remained looking to the blacksmith until they leave.

“I don’t trust that little shit at all,” he said once outside.

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me at all,” Asuna told him.

“Right now he’s being useful. Try to forget about that, Lamorak. Besides, you never trust anyone.” Kirito said.

“Absolutely. Especially when they had something to do with the Kingdom,” Lamorak said, looking afar.

All of them looked to a line of prisoners, all tied to each other by a long chain. They were being carried to other place by Hogun and other players.

“Hogun!” Kirito shouted, getting closer to him. “How’re our prisoners fairing?”

“They’re fucking shitting themselves!!!” Hogun jokes. A broad smile drew on his face.

“Make sure they’re well supplied with food and with whatever else they may need.” Kirito ordered to the Gnome.

Hogun nodded. He continued carrying the players to other place within the city.

Kirito walked away, accompanied by the two generals.

“Kirito, why the hell are we keeping these pests inside the city?” Lamorak yells.

“Pests?” Kirito asked, looking to him. “You mean the citizens?”

“They’re no pest.” Asuna pointed out, showing slight anger. “They’re just innocent players who had the bad luck of being here when we took the city.”

“Asuna, we’re in war.” Lamorak said. “We should kill whoever is our enemy, that’s how a war is won.”

“Do woman and children count among our enemies?” Kirito pointed at several prisoners sitting down against a wall. All of them were either female players or small, young children.

“We’ve already killed lots of them through these last months of war and in the taking of this very city.”

“What if we just freed them?” Asuna suggested.

“What the hell are you even talking about Asuna?!” Lamorak cried, surprised by her comment.

“What can a few citizens do outside these walls? Just set them free and let’s forget about them.” Asuna said, trying to convince them.

“Let’s see, they'll probably go to Hao and tell him what they saw and heard in here!!?” Lamorak argued.

“Lamorak is right,” Kirito nodded. “We can’t set them free. But we won’t kill them without need. A few hundred citizens aren’t a threat to us.”

“They’re a threat to our fucking stomachs.” The Sylph Commander groaned. “To feed them we need to use our own food and our reserves, which are already running low since the Governor spilled the pitch on them.”

“So what’s your suggestion?” Asuna wondered.

“Let’s just kill them and be done with it,” Lamorak suggested for a second time. “There’re no VRSMA players among us, so we should just kill these players. End their suffering. They’ll just revive somewhere else and be left out of the war.”

“If we do as you suggest, how’re we any different from Hao and his Legions, who justify their acts under their motto “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”?” Kirito remarked.

There was a brief moment of silence.

“We should go to the warehouses to check the reserves, and to try to forget about needless slaughters.”

Kirito walked towards the store followed by Asuna. Lamorak lingered for a moment, looking at the prisoners near him and groaned before following his two fellow commanders.

---

“Keep your eyes peeled in your opponent,” Klein ordered with his booming voice.

In the Central Plaza, Klein gave instruction to the novice players in fighting while Leafa, Sybil and fought against them with blunt weapons. Near, Sinon was looking over the archers, who practiced shooting against several wooden dummies. Other Knights were resting or conversing while they watched the newcomers training. Against the walls surrounding the square, two groups of prisoners were sitting.

“Try to use fluid moves, so you can quickly turn defense into attack.”

Galant, Jack and Antinomy arrived to the Plaza; each of them carried at least a dozen weapons in a blanket.

“More weapons, for those ready for them,” Galant said, looking at the Salamander.

The three laid the weapons in a nearby wooden table. Klein approached; he was looking at the smith with his brow furrowed before turning to Galant.

“Did Kirito pay him, for aiding in the taking of the city?” he asked.

“Yeah, a sum of 120,000 Yrd,” Galant answered.

“Well earned,” Antinomy added.

“Then why’re you still inside our city?” Klein asked again. They could see he was being slightly offensive.

“To help you more, in exchange for more Yrd.”

Klein looked at the Leprechaun for a brief moment.

“Leafa! Sybil! If there’s a player ready, give them a weapon.” Klein orders.

The two Knights quickly complied. Each grabbed two blades and walked back to the training square.

“Smith,” Klein said before tossed a coin to Antinomy. He caught it in midair. “For your journey.”

Antinomy nodded slightly and turned to his friend.

At that moment, two of the prisoners fell to the ground, arms and legs interlaced, fighting for a piece of bread. As soon as they started, the rebels stopped whatever they were doing and formed a circle around them, laughing as both fought for food like beasts in the zoo struggling against each other for a piece of meat. It wasn’t long until Klein appeared and separated them both.

“Fucking bastard!” one of them said. He was a young Pooka boy with short curly hair and greenish blue eyes. He donned a white shirt, which had turned greyish because of the dirt, and greyish green pants. All his clothes spotted several red spots due to the blood, from either himself or someone else.

“You piece of shit!” the other one responded. He was also a male player, but he was a Leprechaun. He had even short spiky silver hair and was wearing a grey shirt and black pants. His clothes were also stained with blood spots.

“Let them fight!” a knight shouted from the background.

“Let them!” another screamed as well.

Soon, the rest of the crowd also claimed for a fight.

“You two want to fight?” Klein asked.

“YEEEAAAAHHHH!”

“Then let’s have a proper fight.” Klein said, following the desire of his fellow guild mates. “Bring swords!”

The Blood Knights separated the two players and removed their shackles. At the same time, Leafa grabbed two swords from the lot Galant and the others just brought.

“We’re celebrating gladiatorial games now?” Galant asked Leafa.

“The legions made Klein, Asuna and Kunimittz fight in the arena for their amusement. You even fought against them. They also forced many others to fight. We’re just returning a favor.”

Even when he disapproved the cruelty, Galant felt that he didn’t have the right to argue against the fact that he did fight against his now brothers-in-arms. Antinomy, however, wasn’t bound by that fact.

“These two are just innocent players! How do you dare to make them fight?!”

“You don’t have voice here, smith!” Fandral yelled.

The rest of the knights also scorned Antinomy, and he had no choice but to shut up. Leafa gave each player a single sword.

“Let the winner keep the bread, and the other shall die!” Klein claimed. The mob roared, approving his desition. “Begin!”

The two combatants were pushed slightly, entering the circle the knights formed. None of them really knew how to fight; they just started pointing their blades at each other and groaning nonsense. The Leprechaun was the first one to attack; thrusting his blade forward. The Pooka parried and started walking backwards while the other player swung his blade from left to right constantly. After a strong stroke, the blade slipped from his fingers, then the Leprechaun punched him in the face and he fell to the ground. He raised his blade and lowered it fast, but the Pooka somehow managed to catch his arm and pull him to the ground. They grabbed each other from the neck and started rolling on the ground from side to side, trying to choke their opponent to death. It wasn’t long until the Leprechaun gained the upper hand; he got on top of the Pooka and started pressing his neck against the ground. He was being suffocated quite fast and he couldn’t release the strong grip on his neck. He looked to his left and saw a sword. He reached his right to grab the weapon while the Leprechaun was about to kill him. Without a second thought, he thrusted the sword into the player’s throat and the blade pierced through it and appeared from behind his neck. He removed the weapon and dropped it. The Leprechaun released the Pooka and looked at him with lifeless eyes before falling dead to the ground next to his opponent, much to the amusement of the crowd. Many of them yelled out in joy as the Leprechaun died. However, a minority of them looked at the gruesome spectacle with notable disgust; but even still, they did nothing to stop it.

“A fight that can’t be compared to one in the Arena, but a promise was made.” Klein said before he dropped the bread to the ground, close to the sword. “Feast.” He began walking away.

“Fucking shit…” the Pooka whispered while looking to Klein’s back. He crawled rapidly towards the bread, but Leafa got in his way. She attacked with her katana, slicing his hand open. The player started screaming loudly in pain and everybody turned to look.

“He tried to reach for the sword to attack your back.” Leafa said, justifying her actions.

“She was just reaching for the food, you mad bitch!!!” Antinomy yelled angrily.

As soon as those words were out of his mouth, Klein had his hand wrapped around his neck and he pushed him against a wall. Galant grabbed the Salamander’s wrist to stop him.

“You better think twice what you say, or I’ll rip your tongue out!” Klein screamed.

“Calm down Klein!” Galant said, raising his voice.

“Antinomy helped us to take the city. He’s one of us.” Jack added.

Unwillingly, Klein released the smith.

“Who isn’t with us, is an enemy!” one of the knights shouted in the background.

“He’s just a member of the Legions.” Leafa added.

“He’s just a legionnaire, Galant.” Klein said.

Leafa walked away followed by him. Just after them, the crowd scattered, and each player return to whatever they were doing before the fight.

Antinomy walked to the wounded prisoners and used his magic to heal his hand.

“None of these prisoners here deserve to be treated this way!” the smith said. “How are any of you different from the villain you say Legions are?!”

Klein followed Leafa across an alleyway.

“Was he reaching for the bread?” he asked.

“I didn’t think it. I just saw his hand reaching close to the sword.” Leafa said, without stopping or turning back.

“And what if you were mistaken?” Klein shouted.

“The result is the same.” Leafa said. She angrily stopped walking and turned around. “A legionnaire shouldn’t even dare to raise a hand against us!”

Klein looked at her without saying anything. Leafa took a deep breath and looked to the ground.

“After I was captured by Hikami, I wasn’t only tortured by Legionnaries. Players who weren’t members of the legions also did. Regular player, citizens from the city, also tortured me. Days and days tormenting me for information until I was sent as bait to the mines where you found me.” she took a deep breath. She showed notable sadness while telling that short tale.

“I don’t have words…” Klein said.

“It’s fine. I don’t need them.” She took a deep breath and returned to normal. “But when I look around here and I see the prisoners, I see nothing but the same monsters from before. They may look innocent, but they’re just in the same side as Hao and his monsters. They are our enemy.”

---

Kirito and the others arrived at the center of the city, where the warehouses were. Upon entrance, they see a pyramid of soiled food of at least ten feet tall. Meat, fish, potatoes, bread, tomatoes lettuce and many others. All the food was rotting under the burning midday sun. The unpleasant stench of the pyramid could be detected away, calling hundreds of ugly flies, horrendous cockroaches and large rats.

“I told you this was bad,” Lamorak said.

“Let’s see what’s inside. All the food can’t be spoiled.” Kirito suggested.

“I already have a man inside, Kirito,” Lamorak said, walking forward. The couple followed the Sylph until they arrive to a small storehouse. There was Agil, disposing of the rotten food.

“Agil!” Klein exclaimed. “How’s the checking of the storage going?”

“Like shit.” Agil responded, with a slight smile in his face. “The food in every single fucking store is the same as in this one. It’s shit. You saw the pyramid outside? That’s all we lost, without counting this slot.”

“What of the rest? How long it’ll last?” Asuna asked.

“Two weeks. If we measure it properly, maybe more…If more players don’t join our fight…”

“Fuck the Aesir…” Lamorak sighed, hitting a wall whit his fist.

“What’re we going to do then?” Yui said, appearing in Asuna’s shoulder.

“Kirito!” Talken said, appearing at the entrance of the storehouse and interrupting them. Talken was a young, skinny Leprechaun with glasses and tidy hair. These traits gave him the look of a nerdy student. He was wearing a yellow and gray armor and carried a long spear with him. “A ship anchored near our docks.”

“And the good news just keep coming!” Lamorak said sarcastically.

“Let’s go, now.” Kirito ordered, followed by all of them.

They arrived to the entrance in no time, where lots of Blood Knights were gathering. All of them were tightly gripping their weapons, ready for the worst. On the way, they found Galant and Klein among others.

“Galant,” Lamorak shouted. “What’s going on?”

“I have no idea.” he responded. “But it seems we’ve attracted unwanted attention.”

The knights formed a semi-circle in front of the gate.

“Tecchi!” Kirito shouted to a player on top of the wall. “What do you see?!”

“There’re five men outside, armed. One of them carries a large wooden cask.” The large gnome with beaming eyes and wavy golden hair answered.

“Are they Legionnaries?!” Kirito queried.

“I don’t think so, considering how they look.”

“Raise the gate!” Kirito ordered.

Hogun and a large Imp raised the gate. The gate had been quickly hoisted up and the players enter. All of them looked quite surprised to look inside and see so many players waiting for them.

“What the hell are these guys?” Lamorak wonders out loud.

“I know them, back from my days as mercenary for Hao,” Jack responded. “Sea robbers.”

“Pirates?” Galant wondered.

“Yeah,” Jack spoke, keeping his eyes on them and his hand tight on Yahaza’s grip.

One of them walked forth; by the looks of his clothes, he was the leader. He wore a black military coat, with golden trimming and lining and red insides, above a grey vest with golden trimming. A brown belt was slung across his chest, and hanging from it was a long saber. He also sported black pants with brown boots with a golden buckle. He had strong grey eyes and a short black beard. On his head there was a black two-pointed hat with a long white feather hanging from it.

“Ahoy, mateys,” he said, like if he’d been friends with the Knights for a long time. “I’d like to speak with the player who took this city.”

“You’re talking to him right now,” Kirito said, walking forth, same as the captain did. He carried Elucidator in his hand and placed it in front of him, stabbing the ground and putting both hands on its pommel. “What’re you seeking here?”

“Ye matey? Ye’re the Black Swordsman?” he wondered, gazing at Kirito from toes to hair.

“That’s how some call me,” Kirito answered.

“Yer the player who defeated Kayaba? The lad who defeated Thanos and many others? The one lad who inflicted countless suffering to the Kingdom and its citizens?”

“Aye. All our deeds, claimed with pride, buccaneer.”

The captain walks closer to him, much to the distaste of the knights, who keep their swords close to him.

“Then I call ye matey!!!” He exclaimed, hugging Kirito out of the blue, much to the surprise of everybody. He quickly separated. “Ho! Ho! Me name’s Thatch. I’m the leader of Black Flag and cap’n of the Narwhal. We bring a gift of grog, and we’re willing to cooperate on your fight with Hao!”

---

Floor 93rd, January 15th, 2027

Markus, Zar and Taikeus jumped down from their horses in front of Augustus camp. Their backside and legs were notably sore, the product of riding horse for several days, stopping only at night. The 50 men they’d brought with them were even more tired than them, but their mission was far from over. Hao himself had ordered Markus to find what was left of Julius legion, then search of KoB and inform Hao of his movements. The first half of his mission was completed, now the other half was left. Markus gave the rein of his horse to a nearby solider before commanding them to rest.

The camp was located at the south of the 93rd floor, in a wasteland known as the Red Desert, called that for the reddish ground and stones.

The three commanders removed their helms, placed them beneath their arms, and entered to Augustus camp. The tents were lined in two long columns, creating a long corridor-like path. At the end of the corridor, they could see the biggest tent. There were approximately 150 soldiers there, all of them formerly soldiers of Julius who’d survived the battles with Kirito. The soldiers respectfully let the three commanders pass.

Once they arrive at the biggest tent, they see Colonel Augustus. He was a Nymph and one of the very first members that joined the Legions. He had stern sky-blue eyes and matching long hair, tied in a ponytail. He was wearing the armor of the Legions, but with no red cape, probably due to the heat. The Colonel instantly turned around and extended his opened hand. Much to Markus surprise, he shook hands with Zar first.

“It’s been a long time, Zar,” he said.

“I could say the same, old friend,” Zar replied, smiling widely.

They kept on talking; completely ignoring Markus, who looked at them notably annoyed, but he didn’t say a word. The two old friends enter inside the tent first, followed by the other two. After a couple of steps, they turned around.

“You received the word of our arrival, Augustus.” Markus said, trying to ignore his annoyance.

“Of course,” the Colonel replied. His voice showed notable disdain when talking to Markus. “We’re ready to match whenever you command it. You can use my tent until then.”

“You’re…”

“Come!” Augustus interrupted him, looking to Zar. “We’ll leave these boys to their matters. I’d like to hear about your adventures in the frontlines.”

Augustus made a friendly pat on Zar’s back before they both take leave of the tent, leaving both commanders petrified after he disrespectfully called them “boys”.

“This impudent little shit!” Taikeus cursed. “The puts you aside just to suck Zar’s dick!”

“Let’s hope he chokes on it,” Markus said.

He looked to his friend and both smiled.

“What’s the plan now, Markus?”

“We found the remains of Julius legion. We still need to find Kirito and his men.” Markus said, while he sat down in a chair in front a desk and placed his helmet on it.

Taikeus did the same and placed a mirage sphere on the desk and activated it. They could now see a projection of floor 93rd. He then served both of them some wine.

“We know Kirito isn’t in this floor,” Markus said, taking a sip of his glass. “He’s definitely in the next. Floor 94th is the last floor that has been cleared. The only question is where he is exactly.”

“We could send several scout groups, to go to floor 94th and search of him.”

“No. No we don’t know how many men he has. It’d be dangerous. I’d prefer to take all men and search together.”

“That’d be dangerous. Kirito may have the whole floor in his control.”

“Bingo. That’s why we have to go all together.”

“But Markus, that way we’ll draw more attention that way.”

“I know. That’s why we need to…”

Markus stopped talking when he saw a player carried inside the tent by two soldiers. He wore armor similar to the one of the Legionnaries, but with some slight changes. Once the soldiers released him, he instantly felt to the ground on his knees.

“I finally found you,” he said with a tired voice, but expressing great joy as well.

Markus and Taikeus walked out of the tent.

“Who’s this player you brought here and lay at my feet?” Markus inquired.

“Nuceria!” the player said, before any of them. “KoB has taken the city of Nuceria!”

“Summon Augustus!” Markus commanded. “Give this man something to drink.”

Taikeus gave him his glass, and the player instantly drank it.

“Thank you!”

“If you tell me all you know about Kirito, I consider the favor repaid.” Markus said with a furrowed brow.

“I have few to give General. Back in the city we thought the gate was secure, but Kirito’s a demon. He was able to enter the city somehow; I don’t know how he managed to do that…”

“He’s just a player…” Taikeus spoke.

“I saw him!” the guard cried out. “With his two blades, bathed in blood and gore, killing whatever was on his path and his army doing the same, the city trembling at his feet…” he stopped, grasping for breath before he reassumed. “…Kirito isn’t a man; he’s the bringer of death!”

“But here you are!” Zar said, arriving at the tent with Augustus beside him. The Wolf General started walking around the newcomer. “Alive and kicking. Your skill in battle must be equal to the Black Swordsman himself…”

“I’m just a guard, General. I worked for the Commander of the Guard, I’m not a soldier.”

“Forget about that nonsense! How many men does Kirito have?” Markus raised his voice, trying to regain the attention of the guard. He succeeded.

“I don’t know. Must be thousands. They were spreading through the city like water through a canal, slaughtering all in their path! I was lucky to escape before they saw me…”

“I now understand!” Zar said quickly, before Markus could say anything. “Instead of dying bravely in battle, you choose to escape…and die as a coward!”

In the blink of an eye, Zar drew his blade and slashed the guard’s scalp off with a single stroke, spreading blood all over Markus face. The body fell to the ground, dead.

“WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING!?” Markus yammered furiously.

“In his own words, he wasn’t worth a damn.” Zar contended.

“You’re not in fucking command, Zar!” Markus said, getting his face close to Zar’s.

“My apologies…” Zar said with a wry smile. “I often lose my marbles when I see the failings of lesser players…”

“I think this is enough, generals.” Augustus suggested. “We should discuss…”

“NO!” Markus blurted out. “We had more than enough talking already! Zar, you’ll take a clutch of men and return to my brother and inform him of our findings!”

“The King explicitly ordered to remain by your side.” Markus said.

“I'm the second in command! The word and the will of The Supreme King, Hao. No one's at my side. Everyone serves beneath me!”

They remained staring down for a couple of seconds.

“I comply with your command, General,” Zar said keeping that wry smile of his as he left the tent.

“Gather what remains of your men Augustus!” Markus said, much to Augustus disapproval. “We’re going to Nuceria right now!”

---

After a short while, the Blood Knights and the Pirates arrived to Kirito’s new home and the main command center for KoB.

“Robberts!” Thatch ordered, walking inside. “Open the cask, so that we may splice the main brace!”

“Aye Cap’n,” Robberts responded, placing the cask on the floor and preparing to open it with his large two-bitted axe.

“I’d prefer to drink afterwards. I’d be difficult to talk business while we’re drunk.” Kirito said following Thatch to nearby seats.

“I’m your guest, and I’m at you orders. It’s a great pleasure to be with a player who plundered a fuckin’ city!”

“The Legions were the ones who stole freedom from many of our guild-mates in the first place!” Klein exclaimed.

“We just return the favor,” Kirito added, approaching Thatch.

“I believe yer totally right, mates,” he sat down on a couch. “Some citizens live within the city?”

“Yeah…A few,” Kirito responded.

“The Governor among ‘em?”

“No. I killed him myself.”

“Then you’ve also injured me...”

Galant approached Kirito and said. “This guy speaks in fucking riddles…”

“Speak plainly Thatch, or I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

“I had an arrangement with the Governor.”

“He arranged something with a bandit like you?”

“Openly? No.” the captain answered, spreading his arms along the coach. “In secrecy? Yes. We assaulted those ships or those merchants who were the Governor’s competitors. In return, all their assets became mine. Crow, give him the proof.”

Crow was the quartermaster from his ship and Thatch’s second in command. He was a skinny Cait Sith with brown hair and sparky orange eyes. Over his head there was a red bandana tied, with two long extremes that felt onto his back. He wore a brown vest, grey pants and brown boots. He carried a saber hanging from his waist and two hatchets on his back. The second in command of the pirates handed over a parchment to the knight leader. Kirito opened it and briefly skimmed through it. On the bottom, there was a wax seal.

“Why’d you, a sea thief, need these documents?” Klein asked.

“The seal diverted attention when we wanted to sell our goods in ports. Now I don’t have that advantage, because ye mates took this fuckin’ city.”

“To hell with you, grinning cunt…” Lamorak cursed.

“Lamorak…” Kirito said, trying to calm him down.

“What can he do? Piss us from the sea?” Lamorak asked sarcastically.

“You’d be quite surprised by the reach of my stream, boy.” Thatch said, getting up from his seat and smiling widely.

Lamorak advanced a step to attack the pirate captain. Crow stepped forward, to defend his captain. In the middle, Kirito rose from his seat and stopped Lamorak with his arm.

“Let’s take a moment. I don’t want an unnecessary quarrel with you now.” Kirito said, trying to cool down the situation.

Lamorak and Crow remained staring at each other for a moment, until Lamorak reluctantly backs off. Once he does, Crow backed off as well.

“We still need to drink!” Thatch thundered.

“Return at nightfall, and we’ll see if there’s a good reason to share a cup.” Kirito told him, returning the paper to him.

“As ye order, King Kirito,” Thatch joked, while taking the paper. “As ye order.”

He leaves the place followed by his men. Some of Kirito’s men escort them to the gate.

“The guy has balls, I’ll give him that,” Galant said once they were out.

“We should just close the gate once their asses are your and be done with it!” Klein suggested.

“We can…but he can still be useful for us,” Kirito realized. “Find the Governor’s wife and bring her to me.”

---

Abelia was carried by Hogun and Talken to KoB’s HQ. The two oaken wooden doors opened widely and the three of them entered. She arduously looked around to the place she once called home. Of the four chairs she had in the living room, just two were left, and now both of them had ragged cushions. The small table was nowhere to be found, as was the small marble sculpture on it. Most of the paintings were on the floor, which was covered in brown and black dirt. Finally, there was a new desk she’d never seen before. Several players were scattered inside, working on different things. Kirito appeared from a door, closely followed by Asuna and Yui, sitting on her shoulder.

The Black Swordsman saw Abelia for the first time since he killed her boyfriend. She looked completely different than before. Her hazel eyes lacked that happy spark. Her orange curls weren’t styled; instead they were messy and tangled. The bluish-green gown had several black, red and brown stains. It had several cuts and the lowest part had been ripped so that she could walk more easily. All her jewelry was gone, and in its place were tight shackles around her wrists.

“Leave us alone,” he ordered.

At that instant, all the players left the room. Just Kirito, Asuna, Yui and Abelia remained.

“This was my home,” Abelia said with a sad tone.

“Now it’s ours,” Kirito corrected seriously.

He walked towards the desk. Asuna laid against a wall with her arms crossed.

“Why am I here?” she asked.

“Because we need your help,” Kirito answered, turning around.

“Help?!” she yelled. She began walking towards him. “You lied to me; your hordes devastated my city! You killed my husband! And now you call me for fucking aid!?”

“We’re at war!” Kirito pointed out. “You and your people are our prisoners. Many wonder why I ordered to keep you alive. I’m giving you the chance to prove I’m right.”

“Why?!” she yelled again. “So that your savages may’ve some fucking entertainment while you’re in the city?!”

“What do you mean?” Asuna asked, moving closer to them.

“Your men made two prisoners fight to the death. The winner was wounded afterwards.”

“Papa…” Yui complained.

“I didn’t know,” Kirito contended, looking to her girlfriend. “We’ll discuss it later, but I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

He filled a small cup with water and gave it to her. She rapidly grabbed the cup with both hands and swallowed it in a single sip.

“I trusted you once…and you killed my in-game husband. He was a good man. An honorable man! And you murdered him.”

“I’m not denying that. But I think you’re exaggerating a bit about your husband, don’t you think?”

“You didn’t know him!!!”

“Apparently, neither did you.” Kirito realized. “Do the names “Black Flag” and “Thatch” ring a bell?”

“Yeah.” she answered, blank-faced. “It’s a guild of pirates. Thatch’s the captain. He’s a thief and an outlaw. My husband spent a lot of money to help in their capture.”

“He probably used more money to a secret pact with Thatch,” Kirito told her.

“You’re lying!” she shouted.

“If only I was. Asuna, show it to her.”

Asuna walked closer to her, handing her Thatch’s document.

“Your husband provided him the seal in exchange of attacking his rivals,” Asuna told her.

“How’s this in your hands?” she asked shocked.

“Thatch himself gave it to us,” Kirito answered.

She briefly skimmed through it. At the end of the text, she saw the signature of Thatch and the signature of Varus and his wax seal. She sat down in front of the desk, notably upset. Asuna placed her hand on her shoulder trying to comfort her, even when she knew it was almost useless.

“It doesn’t make us happy to show you this,” Kirito apologized. “I’m sorry.”

“What do you want, Swordsman of Ruin?” he asked with sad eyes.

“An opportunity.” Kirito kneeled in front of her. “Thatch wants the Governor’s seal. With it, I can arrive to a trading agreement with him to supply food to my army. If you know where it is and give it to me, I’ll make sure that your people will receive a portion.”

“I may know where it is…but in exchange I want freedom, for me an all the prisoners.”

“I can’t give you that now.” Kirito said, shaking his head. “But I promise I’ll release all of you once we leave of the city.”

“Why should I ever trust you again?”

“Because you don’t have any other choice.” Kirito said, standing up and leaving.

---

At nightfall, the Pirates returned as promised. They were escorted to Kirito’s home quickly, where the four generals and Abelia were waiting.

“So, King Kirito,” Thatch said. “Have you found it yet?”

“Yes.” Kirito said, revealing the seal in his hand.

“Where was it?”

“She had it. The Governor’s wife.”

Thatch turned around and looked at her.

“How much do ye want for the seal?”

“Nothing. The day you abandon the city, the seal is yours,”

“And until that day?”

“An agreement of trade. Yrd for food.”

“Ho. Ho…” Thatch said surprised. “The food I sell is the best quality you’ll ever find. I can easily make 200,000 Yrd in any port.”

“Not without the seal of the Governor…”

“Yer not the man one expects, Black Swordsman.”

Kirito smiled slightly.

“125,000 Yrd.” Thatch walked near Abelia and hugged her, much for her displeasure. “If ye add her to our bargain.”

“You’re mistaking us for members of the Legions. We don’t trade players as if they were things.”

“Alright then…” Thatch released her, but he kept on looking at her for a couple of seconds before he turns to Kirito. “170,000 Yrd. We’ll trade an hour before the sunrise, outside the city. Near the beach.”

“Why outside the city?” Klein wondered.

“Neutral territory. A parley. I won’t sail into port only to be attacked by ye…”

“Alright then,” Kirito responded.

They shook hands.

“It’s a deal then…Now we can splice the main brace!”

---

Abelia sat down against a wall in KoB’s HQ. She could overhear the celebration, the new comrades now screaming and yelling in joy. But there was no joy for Abelia now. Not after she found out the truth about the man she loved. She remained looking to the ground with sad eyes for a long while until the door of her room opened. Kirito and Asuna appeared.

“You’re an idiot,” Abelia said, with her eyes still looking to the ground. “To trust a liar. Someone who just lies to gain profit.”

“I’ve met men like him,” Kirito replied. He didn’t understand if she was talking about herself or if she was talking about him

“I thought so,” She said, raising her sight. “But now I remember every time I was with my husband. Every time he kissed me. Every time he wrapped his arm around me. All lies…”

“Maybe, but there’s no way of telling that right now,” Asuna told her, trying to comfort her. “There’s no gain in thinking of that now.”

“No there’s not,” Kirito said. “I let you stay here because we figured a way of ending the mistreatment.”

“We’ve given the order that you’re free to move within the city,” Asuna added, taking a key from her menu and opened the shackles on her wrists. “In exchange, you’ll give us a hand to make sure that your people receive equal portion of food. If any of them is mistreated, you’ll just have to tell any of us.”

“It’s incredible, that these simple chains carry such a heavy load.” Abelia said, playing with the shackles in her hands.

“That’s a truth known very well by many who fight against the Kingdom,” Kirito stressed. Abelia and the leader of KoB stared at each other for a moment until Kirito spoke. “You can sleep here.”

“If My people found out, they wouldn’t like that,” she said. “There’re some stables near the wall of the city, I’d prefer to live there.”

“Fine then. Asuna, please take her there.”

Kirito walked out of the room.

“Black Swordsman!” Abelia cried. Kirito turned around. “Thatch was telling the truth, at least about one thing. You’re not the man one expects.”

Kirito nodded his head before leaving to the party.

---

The knights and the pirates celebrated, drinking the alcohol the sea thieves had brought. Grog they called it. It was a strong liquor made with rum, sugar, fruits and boiling water. The members of Black Flag always drank it during celebrations or at night. The drink was well accepted by the Knights, so well that the cask was half empty in less than an hour. The members of both guilds bonded, joked, drank, screamed, shouted and laughed all together.

But not all the Knights participated on the party. Galant, Antinomy, Jack and Kana were sitting a table, looking at the celebration while drinking alcohol. At distance, Klein and Leafa were laying against a wall, looking the party from afar while they talked about the pirates. Klein looked to them while Leafa kept her eyes frowned and fixed on Antinomy’s back.

Sybil poured some more Grog into her cup, to shear it with Lamorak. She clumsily walked a couple of steps, until she tripped on a small step. She didn’t fall, but she bumped into someone. She stumbled, but somehow managed not to fall. When she regained balance, happily saw that the liquor was still in her glass. The Sylph girl raised up and looked to the player she accidentally pushed, recognizing him instantly; it was Crow, the second in command of Black Flag. The liquor that before was in his glass now was staining his shirt and pants. He looked at her angrily, but she softened quickly; a shining white smile drew on his face and his cat ears stood up. His tail slowly moved side to side.

“I’m so sorry,” Sybil cried. “I didn’t mean to drop your wine.”

“If ye share your drink, I’ll accept your apologies.” he replied, still smiling.

“I’d like to…but my cup belongs to another…”

“I don’t want to steal it, blondie.” He walked a step closer to her while he spoke. “I just want to give it a short kiss…”

“You’re…quite straightforward…aren’t you?” Sybil said. She couldn’t avoid feeling flattered and blushing, so she just smiled widely.

“Well, in my defense, there’re no gals in my guild.” Crow approached even more and grabbed her arm delicately. “I’ve been a long time at sea with me friends; it’s been a while since I saw a flower like ye…”

They looked at each other’s eyes for a brief moment until hand grabbed Crow’s arm tightly, like if he’d been grabbed by an iron claw.

“Take your fucking hand off her!” Lamorak yelled at him.

The Cait Sith looked at Sybil before removing his hand.

“Blimey! I’m sorry...” he said, backing off with his arms opened. “I didn’t know ye were the girlfriend of Kirito’s other bitch…”

Lamorak cracked a fake smile before punching Crow in the face. The Cait Sith fell to the ground, but he quickly got up and faced his attacker. They rushed at each other, clashed violently and rolled on the ground, their arms and legs tangled.

The players nearby formed a circle around the fighters, amused. Others, like Sybil, weren’t so much. The clear division appeared again within the new comrades in arms: the pirates started rooting for their quartermaster, while the Knights cheered for their third in command.

Both fighters got up, and Lamorak grabbed Crow’s neck, but the pirate grabs his opponent’s arm strongly, so that Lamorak couldn’t choke him. They wheeled clockwise until the Sylph’s back clashed against a wall. There, he head-butted the Cait Sith hardly on the nose, pushing him back. Agil tried to stop the fight by grabbing his friend, but Lamorak pushed him aside. Crow attacked, landing a strong right jab on Lamorak’s face and sending him against the wall. He attacked again, this time with his left. The Sylph quickly blocked with his right and delivered a thud uppercut on Crow’s jaw. Numb, the pirate fell to his knees. Lamorak grabbed the back of his head with his left and started punching his face hardly with his right fist several times.

“LAMORAK!!!” a voice shouted.

Lamorak immediately stopped before raising his sight. It was Kirito.

“Get out of here!” Kirito ordered angrily.

Lamorak punched his opponent one last time before storming away. Two pirates helped Crow up again, who then pushed them aside, angrily. With his left arm he whipped the blood coming out from his nose and his mouth.

“Apparently, the party went over the top…” Thatch said, grabbing Kirito’s arm. “We’ll take our leave then, without further quarrels.”

“I don’t want these brawls to open a gap between us…” Kirito told him.

“Then fill it with Yrd at the hour we appointed, and we’ll test the footing of our agreement.”

He walked away along with his men.

---

An hour before sunrise, Kirito walked through the streets followed by Agil and other knights. The Sylph Fandral was behind him, talking to his leader, but Kirito kept on walking forward.

“You’ll take all the Yrd I’ve earned?!” he yelled angrily at his leader.

“All what you’ve stolen, Fandral,” Agil said, defending Kirito.

“I was among your men since the very start. I’ve fought for you for almost five fucking months, and this is what you decide?!” he yelled again. The veins in his neck marked and his face became redder.

“I’ve taken a big amount of money from all the players in KoB, in sake of the greater good,” Kirito replied. “The generals and I’ll also pay them. You’re not alone in your sacrifice.”

“Then what of the blacksmith?!” the Sylph demanded to know. “Did you take his Yrd as well?!”

“You’re mistaking command with conversation!” Kirito said after he turned around and looked at Fandral directly to the eye. “Go, and carry on with your tasks.”

Kirito turned around and kept on walking, followed by the rest of his men. Fandral angrily looked to the ground and clenched both of his fists before following the knights. They arrived at the entrance of the city, where many players were gathering. Kirito was going there with a clutch of 25 men at least. Some players were already having a bad hangover. Talken was vomiting near the entrance and his friend, the Salamander Jun, was feeling even worse by looking at him throwing up. Klein ordered them to regain their composure before he walked towards Kirito.

“Do you carry the payment?” he asked.

“Yeah. Where’re Galant, Jack and Asuna?”

“We’re here!” Galant shouted, approaching the group alongside Jack.

“What of Asuna?” Leafa asked them.

“She wasn’t with us,” Jack said.

“Should we wait for her?” Lamorak wondered, touching his face.

“No. We’re committed,” Kirito decided. “Sinon, Sybil, take position on the wall.”

Sinon and Sybil climbed the ladder up as quickly as they could.

“Keep your eyes peeled,” Leafa warned Kirito and Klein. “If they want to betray us, they’ll do it now.”

“They’re dead if they make a fucking attempt,” Klein assured, placing a hand over Leafa’s shoulder.

“Once the gate closes behind us, don’t raise it unless I command it,” Kirito told Leafa before turning around and looking to his men. “If Thatch and his men show that they’re not willing to follow our agreement, kill them where they stand. Raise the gate!”

As soon as the gate rose up, Kirito walked outside Nuceria accompanied by Klein, Lamorak, Galant, Jack, Agil, Hogun, Jun, Talken and others.

---

At the outskirts of Nuceria, near the cliffs next to the sea, the small group of Pirates lighted a fire waiting for Kirito and his men. Thatch sat on a rock next to a fire, creating an improvised torch by wrapping a piece of cloth to a big wooden stick.

“We’re too exposed, Cap’n.” Robberts alerted.

“Aye,” Thatch said. “But Kirito and his men even more, beyond the wall of their city.”

“They’re coming!” Crow said.

Thatch got up and gave the torch to one of his men.

“On my signal only, Kidd. I don’t want to give them reasons to doubt our intentions.”

Little did the pirates know that they were being watched. Upon a hill on the outskirts of Nuceria, Markus and the two colonels were crouching, attentively observed the group of Pirates.

“They’re Black Flag,” Augustus affirmed.

“Why did they anchor outside the city?” Taikeus wondered.

Markus looked to the gate of Nuceria. Kirito’s group was walking a narrow path to meet with the Pirates.

“Too seek an alliance with KoB,” he responded.

“Kirito’s a fool, if he’s going to negotiate with the likes of them,” Taikeus said. “Pirates can’t be trusted.”

“They’re just thieves of equal nature,” Markus asserted, sticking his chest out, proudly and clenching his fists. “But if they reach an agreement my brother won’t be able to besiege the city and starve the rebels to death. I will not allow that. Augustus, prepare your men to advance.”

“Advance?” Augustus said with notable reluctance.

“Obey my fucking order. I’ll attack first with my men. They you’ll come with your soldiers and deliver the finishing blow.”

Grudgingly, the Colonel rose up and walked away.

“Markus, your brother gave you strict order. You mustn’t engage Kirito in a battle.”

“Yes,” Markus admitted, looking to his friend. “But my father wants someone like Zar, a wolf of battle! This night, I’ll prove him I can be even fiercer than even Kirito himself.”

---

Inside the city, Leafa impatiently walked from side to side. She grabbed the sheath of her blade with her left hand and grasped the handle tightly in her right. The other Blood Knights were either doing their job or watching her as she walked five steps to the wall, wheeled and walked five steps to the other side just to repeat the process again.

She’d been doing this for almost five minutes when she got tired and looked up.

“Sinon, Sybil, what do you see?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Sinon said, leaning out her head from up the wall. “Even with my cat eyes, I can’t see. They’re too far in darkness.”

“Relax Leafa,” Fandral advised, walking closer to her. “I bet your cousin is giving those fucking pirates what they deserve.”

“I don’t doubt that, Fandral. But they’re taking too long to defeat them…”

“Kirito took some of the strongest knights with him. There’s nothing to worry about. Besides…”

“Guys!” Kana shouted, running to the gate, interrupting Fandral.

“Kana, what’s happening?” Leafa asked.

“Bad news. The player who was forced to fight disappeared!”

“What the hell?” Fandral cried.

“A clutch of other prisoners is also gone!”

“Leafa, we have to search for them, now!” Fandral yelled.

“No!” Leafa refused. “It may be a distraction to draw us away from the gate. Kana, you’re in charge.”

She then rapidly walked away with sword in hand.

“Where do you go?” Sybil asked.

“To find the one responsible for this!”

She runs through the narrow alleyways of the city. She didn’t need to go to the central plaza, the last place where the players were seen. No. She knew exactly where she needed to be. Quickly arrived to Antinomy’s place. There, the blacksmith gathered all the coin he’d earned from dealings with Kirito inside a bag.

“You’re leaving the city?” she asked.

Antinomy glanced at her sideways, but he kept on grabbing his money.

“Without saying any goodbyes?” she added.

“I already said my goodbyes to the people who the people I care about,” Antinomy said, still picking up his coin. “If there’s an arrangement with the Pirates, I’ll buy a ticket to get out of here. To get far away from the War and all of you.”

“You’ll buy a ticket for all your friends as well?”

“Friends?” he asked perplexed, turning around.

Leafa punched him on the face. Dazed, Antinomy couldn’t block a kick to his chest and felt, back flat to the ground. Leafa approached, pointing her blade at his neck.

“Tell me where they are!” she ordered.

“The fuck you’re talking about?!” Antinomy yelled, more bewildered than before.

“I’m taking about prisoners, and you fucking traitor!!!” she yelled.

She raised her blade and attacked with a downwards stroke. Antinomy was fast enough to grab nearby shackles and block the blade. He then kicked her back. Leafa felt sat to the ground while the Leprechaun got up and drew an unfinished blade.

“You want to fight!? Come then, and you’ll receive a better challenge than a prisoner in fucking chains!!!”

Antinomy attacked.

---

The Knights arrived to the place where the Pirates were waiting. Both groups stay at opposed sides of the fire, and each player held their weapons’ handles clutched on their hands. None of them drew, but they were ready to if needed. Both groups stared down for a couple of seconds. They could feel, smell, taste and even smell the tense atmosphere.

One of Kirito’s men placed a large coffin in front of Thatch.

“The price we agreed.” Kirito said, breaking the silence.

“I mean no offense but…” Thatch said.

“Open it,” Kirito said.

One of the pirates opened the coffin, and there it was. Coins. Lots of them. The 170,000 Yrd they agreed previously.

All the Pirates smiled.

“Yer a man of your word. A very rare thing in this world.” Thatch praised his fellow guild leader.

“I can think of something even rarer; greeting someone like me.” Kirito said.

“Morgan, Robberts! Bring them what we owe them, handsomely.”

The two players descended through narrow stairs to the beach. After a couple of minutes of awkward silence, they were back carrying two large clay pots and a woven sack which they lay in front of the Kirito. All the Knights looked disconcerted at the objects, before turning to Kirito, who looked as perplex as his men. He turned to Thatch.

“This is all what you offer?” He asked. He was growing wary of this reunion with the Pirates, and so were his men.

“For fuck’s sakes…Nay!” he exclaimed. “It’s just a sample for yer approval! The rest is aboard my ships. As you can imagine, I can’t carry all by skiff. Now that we’ve received the payment, we can sail into your port. ”

“That wasn’t our arrangement, sea thief.” Klein pointed out.

“We’re sorry, if ye guys got confused.” Crow said.

“Fuck your “Sorries”.” Lamorak swore, drawing Fragarach.

All the pirates responded by drawing their weapons. As response, all the Knights drew their own weapons. The only ones who didn’t were the guild leaders.

“STOP!” Kirito ordered.

“AVAST!” Thatch ordered, at the same time as Kirito.

Those two shouts prevented the two bands from starting a slaughter. However, they remained pointing their weapons and kept their eyes fixed on the player in front of them, ready to continue what they just started.

“What do ye think?” Thatch asked his equal.

“I think I’m a fool, for trusting men without codes or honor.” Kirito responded.

“Well…then I guess the best choice is to separate forever…”

Kirito didn’t answer but he agreed completely.

A hurled spear impaled a player next to Galant.

“Shit! We’ve been betrayed!!!” the Blue Knight shouted.

Kirito drew Elucidator and grabbed Thatch by the neck, ready to kill him.

“We didn’t do this!!!”

A Pirate is impaled from behind, proving that Thatch was telling the truth.

Both groups joined into one and start walking backwards towards the city, wondering from where the flying projectiles came.

“Advance!!!” Markus shouted.

A clutch of 50 Legionnaries appeared out of the darkness and advanced towards both the Pirates and the Knights.

“Legionnaries!!!” Kirito shouted, drawing Long Sword with his left hand.

“Attack! GIVE NO QUARTER!!!” Thatch yelled out.

The Knights and the Pirates joined as one guild and rush towards the Legion.

Both groups clashed.

Kirito was the first one to attack. He jumped forward, raised his weapons and slashed a player both across his body and face.

Klein also jumped, but unlike his friend, he literary threw himself into the enemy, throwing them onto the ground and breaking their defensive position. He got up as fast as he could and engaged the stunned soldiers in battle. Just behind him, Lamorak engaged battle against two soldiers.

A soldier rushed towards Galant, lunging forward with his spear. Galant parried with his left sword and rolled above the player, before he landed just behind him and slashed his face. As soon as the player fell to the ground, he saw behind him. Ten meters in front of him was one of the two commanders of the Legionary Squad, a player Galant knew very well, Colonel Taikeus.

Kirito blocked an attack with Long Sword before attacking with Elucidator and slicing the player’s ribs. He swung the blade the other way around and slashed his neck, killing him. Kirito was kicked to the ground by a soldier, who then viciously hacked at him. He managed to block several strikes with both blades until he kicked the player back. The Legionnaire prepared for another attack, but a curved saber appeared in the way of his attack. It was Thatch. He pushed the soldier back, before slashing his throat. Kirito got up and both leaders shared a look of gratitude before reassuming the fight.

In the rearguard of the Legionary Squad, the two Legionary commanders bested the few rebels who somehow managed to arrive there. However, they could see that the gathering of pirates of knights was besting their soldiers.

“Where the fuck’s Augustus!?” Taikeus cursed out loud while he killed a pirate. “Fuck!”

---

Leafa and Antinomy exchanged blows several times, but the Leprechaun was starting to best her, even when his blade wasn’t sharpened.

The Smith proved to be better fighter than she expected. It’d passed a long while since Antinomy had last used a blade in battle. Ever since he was logged off SAO, he didn’t find the need to use a blade in combat, but rather craft them, as he preferred. Violence wasn’t really his thing. But sometimes, he was left without choice. Due to the time he spent neither fighting nor training, he’d lost some skill, but even still, the Leprechaun was still giving quite a trouble to the Sylph girl.

Leafa advanced, ducking under Antinomy’s blade and she slashed his left leg. She turned around and stabbed forward, but the blacksmith blocked and then hit her in the face with the hilt of his blade. The attack left a wound on her cheek, but she quickly recovered and attacked again, but Antinomy blocked the blow strongly. She lost grip of her blade and it flew until it landed behind Antinomy. At last, he kicked her soundly to the ground.

Now unarmed, Leafa crawled towards the small tub filled with water while Antinomy walked closer to her. Once she placed her arms on the edges of the tub, she raised her sight and saw as the smith prepared to finish her. He swung his blade downwards, aiming to her neck, with his full strength. Leafa pushed herself away from the tub with her arms and the blade clashed against the rock-hard edge of the tub, breaking in half. She then rapidly grabbed a hammer tool on the ground and rammed it to his head, hitting his left temple hardly. Antinomy felt to the ground.

Leafa stood up and she saw the blacksmith crawling away from her to grab her katana still on the ground. He almost had his hand on the hilt when Leafa struck it. Then his face. The hit made him roll around, facing her. His face showed multiple bruises and open wounds bleeding while his mouth was filled with the same liquid. He grey eyes blankly stared back at her.

She couldn’t stand it. That look on his face. She couldn’t bear to look at him. Just that look reminded him of all the pain she’d suffered at the hands of players who were with the Kingdom. Players who tortured her while she was away. She was helpless, as he now was.

“I’d have enough of men like you!!!” Leafa screamed. She started to ram the hammer to his face again and again and again.

---

“Taikeus!!!”

The scream caught the colonel’s attention, who turned and saw Galant advancing towards him with his two blades ready. Just one player was in his way, but the Blood Knight cut him down with a single swing of his sword before advancing on Taikeus, attacking with both blades at once. Taikeus jumped back, avoiding the attack before he swung his Gladius downwards, aiming to his opponent’s back. Galant spun quickly and blocked with both weapons.

“You fucking Traitor!” Taikeus yelled as they clashed blades.

Galant raised his leg and kicked him in the chest. The young Leprechaun backed off, lost balance but he somehow managed to quickly regain it. The Stardust Knight used this opening. He attacked with both blades in unison from both sides. Taikeus barely parried both attacks, and jumped back while Galant did the same move in opposite directions, separating his arms. Taikeus used this opportunity to attack again and he slashed his rival from right shoulder to chest. He grinned and swiftly stopped the momentum of his arm to stab forward. However, Galant was quicker. He parried the attack with his left sword before advancing forward. He slashed Taikeus’ left arm with both blades at the same time, before kicking him to the ground. Taikeus felt notable pain, but he raised his sight as Galant walked closer to him and prepared the finishing blow. He attacked, but a longsword blocked his sword and then a shield strongly pushed him back. Two Kingsguard stood in his way, both of them holding a Spartha Gladius and a small square shield, known as Parmula. Galant attacked them both at the same time, but he couldn’t pass the two powerful Legionnaries.

“Taikeus, coward!” he shouted, as he saw the Colonel got up and ran to somewhere else, knowing that if he continued to face Galant, he’d most certainly die.

All of the sudden, the sound of trumpets at the distance broke through the battlefield and into the ears of all the players who were fighting. Augustus and his Century advanced towards them by a narrow path next to the cliff, ready to back up the tired soldiers.

“Shit…”Lamorak cursed under his breath before looking towards his leader. “Kirito! More come!”

Kirito looked to the upcoming contingent, which vastly outnumbered them.

“I’ll handle this, Kirito!” Thatch said, placing his arm in Kirito’s shoulder before running away. “Just buy me a minute.”

Kirito looked at him leaving, before deciding to wait, but for just a minute

Markus slashed the throat of a player before laying his eyes on Kirito for the first time. Black clothes, the two one-handed longswords dripping blood, his strong greyish eyes and the vermillion coat hanging from his left shoulder. A crooked smile appeared in the prince’s face and he advanced, ready to engage Kirito on a one-on-one battle.

Thatch found the improvised torch he crafted near the bonfire. He grabbed it, ignited it and he threw it to the air with all his strength. The burning torch twirled in the air several times until it stopped and fell to the ground. Thatch looked to the sea, where his ships awaited them to come back. The insignia frigate of Black Flag, known as the Narwhal, opened its gun ports and fired magical cannon balls towards the upcoming army.

Augustus widened his eyes and screamed “Testudo” to prepare for impact. The army assumed the defensive formation, but little could that do against the volley of cannon balls. As a rain of meteors falling from the sky, the cannon balls clashed against the lines of men and destroy them, wreaking havoc among the soldiers and killing most of them, including Augustus. The Undine colonel received the full impact of a cannon ball on his upper body, flew away before clashing against a wall of rock, with his armor and body shattered.

“Didn’t I warn ye about me fucking reach!” Thach yelled to Kirito. “I warned ye!!! YEAH!!!”

Near the beach, the Knights and Pirates witness the show with a wide smile in their faces while the Legionnaires’ just showed fear and despair.

With most of Markus squad defeated and Augustus cohort destroyed, the Soldiers started shouting retreat, and most of them promptly turned around and ran as fast as they could. However, Markus started shouting, ordering them to stay and fight. None of them did. None of them cared that a General was ordering them. Not even when he was Hao’s second in command. All what mattered was running around from the slaughter. Fear had taken absolute control over them, and nothing the young prince said could stop them.

While being distracted by shouting, Markus is impaled in the side by Talken and his spear. He felt a stinging strong pain as Talken removed the blade. Markus bended over and saw as the Leprechaun readied his spear and pointed it towards him and prepared to give the final blow. Taikeus rushed towards his friend. Ready for the kill, Talken grinned and lunged forward. With the little strength he had left, Markus parried the spear, which slid beneath his right arm, and pierced the Leprechaun’s chest with his blade. The prince lost grip of his blade and both of them fell to the ground.

Taikeus arrived a moment afterwards and checks on his wound.

“We have to go now!” Taikeus said, lifting his friend up by the shoulder.

“No!” Markus yelled, trying to stop his friend.

“I won’t see you die here, Markus!” Taikeus shouted, before both of them run away among the men who remained alive from his clutch and Augustus.

Galant and a few other players gave them chase.

“Let them go!” Kirito ordered. “We must return to the city, NOW!”

Galant stopped and looked at Kirito for a second before turning around. He remained looking at Taikeus’ back for a brief moment before reluctantly walking back to the city.

“What do ye think now, King Kirito?” Thatch asked.

“Take the Yrd, and take the ships to port.” Kirito told him.

They shook hands and both group left in their respective ways.

Klein walked towards Talken’s body, lying on the sand with Dainsleif still embedded to his chest. He grabbed the blade and removed it from his chest so that his friend could die without pain. After looking to his corpse for a few moments, he looks to the crimson blade which was used to kill him.

---

The knights had returned to the city, carrying the corpses of the fallen and gathering them together, one next to the other. Of the 25 player who went to the cliff near the beach to negotiate with the pirates, 8 had died, including Talken. The ones who returned happily greet the players inside.

“I thought you were dead!” Sybil said, hugging Lamorak.

“I won’t die so easily…” Lamorak told her, rubbing her head.

“Kana and I tried to go out and help you, but Fandral and others they refused to open the gate…”

“If the gate had been breached, more would’ve fallen, Sybil.” Kirito said. “Fandral just followed command.”

Klein entered the last corpse and they sealed the gate.

“Why’d two boys attack us, outnumbered?” Jack asked out loud.

“Who was he?” Klein asked, looking to Galant.

“I saw just one of them. Colonel Taikeus.” Galant answered.

“That means that Hao now knows where we are. We’ll be seeing more of him. We must get ready.” Kirito decided. He looked around for a moment. “Where’s Leafa?”

“Here…” a voice said, behind some players. The players opened a path and let her pass. Leafa’s face was covered in blood. Kirito and Klein widen their eyes as soon as they see her. “I’m sorry for not being here and appearing like this…I had trouble with a so-called friend…”

After a moment of explaining what had happened, Leafa, the three generals and Galant went to the smithy, where they found Antinomy’s corpse on the ground. His face was incredibly deformed and swelled by Leafa’s attacks. He was left completely unrecognizable. Blood dripped from his mouth and wounds, forming a small pool around his face and reddening the muddy ground.

Galant sadly kneeled to his friend’s corpse and mourned his death. Since Antinomy wasn’t killed by a VRSMA user, he knew his friend was somewhere within the game, alive and well. But the feeling of seeing a good friend of his dead was something he couldn’t stand. His death just served to remind him of the friends he already lost.

“What happened?” Kirito asked Leafa.

“I came here to ask him about the disappearance of the Prisoners, to see if he knew something.” Leafa explained. “As soon as I asked, he attacked me.”

Galant suspiciously looked at her.

“You didn’t have a choice.” Klein said.

“He helped us to take the city. He then crafted weapons for us. Why’d he try to do this?” Kirito wondered.

“He just tried to do the right thing…” Galant muttered.

“Right now, there’re more important matters right now than the Blacksmith’s death.” Lamorak told to Kirito.

“Let’s search for these escaped prisoners. I won’t have them free plotting against us.”

The three generals and Leafa left. Galant remained there, mourning his friend’s corpse.

---

Asuna walked into the stables near the edge of the city, where she found Abelia.

“Here. I brought the food.” Asuna told her, handing her a bag filled with bread. “I need to go now. They must’ve already realized I was gone for a while. They may be looking for me.”

“Your boyfriend may be suspicious.” she said, grabbing the bag with both hands.

“Don’t worry about him. Let we handle him.” Yui said with a smile.

“Thank you, Asuna, Yui. For everything.”

“Anything you need, just go to the HQ, and you’ll be well provided.” Asuna said, before rushing out.

Once she was gone, Abelia kneeled and started moving the hay that covered the ground. She found a small circular knob, made of black steel. He grabbed it and lifted it up, opening a hidden trap door. There, ten prisoners were, including the Leprechaun with his hand wounded. She gave them the bread.

“Thank you.” one of them said. “Thank Asuna as well.”

“I will.” Abelia responded.

They heard voices near. Abelia closed the door and hid it beneath the hay before lying on her bed and getting some well deserved rest.

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