Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
Kirito walked through streets of Nuceria followed by his new self-proclaimed bodyguard, Lamorak.
The dark of night would have already engulfed the city an hour ago if it weren’t for the torches the Knights placed on every large road. But in the narrow paths and alleyways, there was nothing but deep obscurity. If anyone walked through them, it seemed as if the buildings, people and everything else had been swallowed up by a large black wall that gave no perception of depth. Because of this, during the nights, Nuceria seemed way smaller; even when the town was large enough to hold all the members of KoB and have empty space for plenty more.
Under such circumstances, Lamorak had recommended his leader to stay on the large streets and to keep himself as far as possible from the alleys. Even when Kirito believed that meant no trouble to walk through the city, he decided to heed Lamorak’s advice and follow it. After a long walk they arrived at a tavern near the Eastern Gate.
As soon as Kirito pushed the door entered with the Sylph behind him, the music stopped playing and everybody looked to their leader. Kirito raised his hand and asked them to continue with whatever they were doing. They did.
The tavern was a comfortable, warm and cheerful place. Large logs of wood, huge stone pillars and some small rocks made most of the buildings inner and outer structure. The place had four windows, two on the left wall and the other two on the entrance wall. At the back of the snug room, there was a small stage where a musician sang a folk song while playing a guitar. At the left side, the NPC bartender gladly smiled while attending most of the players sitting on the bar top. On the right side, there was a large fireplace were some players warmed from the cold winds coming from the mountain ridge next to the city. It also illuminated the place alongside the small candles that were scattered inside the bar.
The place was packed with players. Most of them were sitting on the tables on the center of the bar, in small groups of between three and six people. Some watched amused at the artists while they sat comfortably and drank liquor, others conversed between them; but all of them had a glass filled with some type of liquor. The Guild Leader briefly glanced on the faces of all the players inside from right to left. He found Crow there, sitting on the bar top while playing cards with a Morgan, a fellow pirate. He walks towards them and so does Lamorak, holding Fragarach’s handle tightly with his left hand.
“Crow.” he said, catching the Cait Sith’s attention. “Do you know where your captain is?”
“Ahoy Kirito,” Crow said. “I didn’t expect to see ye here, among the common players.”
“Where?” he asked again, trying to avoid unnecessary chat.
“Last time I saw him, he was with a lovely lass. He’s probably on board right now.”
“Thanks. We’ll go there now.”
“Wait. Sit down and let’s share this rum and splice the mainbrace. Then we’ll seek him.”
“We’d never spend time with such a low company.” Lamorak retorted with notable disdain.
Crow smiled amused, but Morgan didn’t.
“We’re busy right now,” Kirito said. “But I appreciate your gesture. Another time.”
Crow nodded as both leaders turned around and left. From two chairs next to the window, Fandral and Lyd watch them as they left.
“I still can’t believe that those fucking pirates are here.” Fandral cursed.
“Why the hell are they here?” Lyd wondered, glaring at the two pirates as they laughed and drank and played. “These sea robbers can’t be trusted.”
“So you’ve met them before?”
“A few months back, before the War even started.”
“Don’t speak to loudly,” he placed both arms on the window’s stool, looking at Kirito and Lamorak as they left. Once they were far, he spoke again. “Kirito believes they’re a fucking ally against Hao.”
Both take a quick sip of their cups.
“You don’t think so?”
“Of course not. But that doesn’t matter. None of the opinions of us, the soldiers, fucking matter.” he turned his face towards Lyd. His voice showed notable anger towards his leader. “We’re nothing but servants of the will of our glorious leader.”
Pensive, Lyd stroked his goatee with the index and middle fingers of his right hand. “I’ve heard the rumor that Kirito was like an Aesir for his people.”
“I’ve risked my in-game life beside him many times; at Muspel, in the taking of the Mines of the 45th floor, against dozens of Generals and Colonels of the Legions, even at the taking of this fucking city. He was incredible in each and every battle. But now I witness how he spares our enemies and how he took the Yrd I gained in this deal with these fucking pirates pests.”
“So that was why you began stealing from the refugees at the entrance.”
“That’s just a small fraction of what Kirito owes to Me.” he took the last sip of his drink before angrily put it on the table.
Lyd lifted his left hand, opening his menu. A small bag filled with coin appeared on his hand and he placed it on the window’s stool, in front of Fandral.
“That’s all I carry. Consider it yours, for our new and hopefully long friendship.”
The Sylph grabbed the bag, testing its weight. He moved it a bit up and down to hear the sound of clashing metal from the coins inside, before dropping it back to the stool and sliding it back to Lyd.
“That’s a small sum to earn it,” He said, unconvinced.
“Then perhaps together we can make it grow, and see how both our fortunes rise.”
“I’m starting to like you, Spriggan,” Fandral said smiling.
“Fandral!” a voice said from the entrance.
Both of them turned and saw two players, a Gnome and a Sylph approaching. The first one was taller than both Lyd and Fandral. He had dark skin, black hair and stubble and greyish eyes. The other one was slightly smaller than Fandral, but his hair was dark, short and his face was clean of any facial hair. Both of them wore makeshift grey and brown armor and carried a longsword on their waist.
Fandral greeted them eagerly while Lyd looked at them and finished his drink.
“Lyd, come here! Let me introduce you.” Fandral ordered, and so did the Sylph. “Lyd, these are Kazz and Cerdyn.” he said, referring to the Gnome and Sylph respectively. “My friends, this is Lyd, a newbie who got here today.”
He shook hands with both players.
“Aren’t you the guy who killed that Legionnaire on the gateway today?” Kazz asked.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Oh!” Cerdyn said exalted. “You’re one though son of a bitch.”
“That’s nothing; you should’ve seen him fighting Jack.” Fandral uttered. “He was almost a match to the little cunt.”
“Almost…” Lyd added, shrugging. “He kicked my ass in the last clash.”
“Come guys!” Fandral said, grabbing the jar of alcohol. “Let’s have some drinks.”
The four walked towards an empty table and sat down. Lyd filled the glasses and they started chatting and drinking.
The door opened minutes afterwards, and Klein appeared with Leafa beside him.
“Fandral, we need to talk now.” Klein commanded.
Fandral turned around. “And I have to finish my fucking drink now.” he jested. He laughed, and so did his friends, before he turned around. “Fucking Salamanders. Shit rivaling the-”
Klein forcefully grabbed the back of Fandral’s neck and dragged him from the table. The Sylph started yelling angrily and cursing. At that moment, Kazz and Cerdyn, ready to draw their swords. Leafa stood between them and Klein.
“Return to your table, or die here and now,” she said. “Choose.”
The two looked at Fandral, who made a slight gesture with his face, and both players reluctantly returned to the table and sat down.
Klein dragged Fandral outside the tavern, pushed him against a wall and grabbed his collar.
“You don’t need to be so rough.” Frandal said with a deceptive friendly tone.
“We all have to play our parts. Now, tell us what you’ve discovered so far.”
“By judging his words, this Lyd guy doesn’t hold any lost love for the Kingdom or the Legions.”
“And you believe he’s telling the truth?” Leafa asked.
“I believe he’s loyalty is as big as my own. But I’ll put him a test, to see if he’s really who he claims. Test deeds against words.”
“If words are false, the speaker is also false.” Klein told him. “That being the case, you know what to do. Do it soon, soldier.”
After finishing this, Klein released him and the pair walked away. Fandral glared at their backs before spitting to the ground in their direction. He arranged his clothes before re-entering the tavern and sitting down on the table with his friends. He took an empty cup, filled it and started drinking.
“Is this common thing?” Lyd asked. “One of your brothers treating you so rudely?”
“Klein’s not a brother of mine,” Fandral declared. “Nor any man, who doesn’t earn my full trust.”
“It seems your mood was altered by the arrival of those two. Come then! We’ll drink more and forget about that.”
“No Lyd.” he ordered, placing his open hand above the glass. “There’s something more important that we need to do right now.”
Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
Galant slid down the building and landed firmly on the ground. He ran through the streets until he found Jack and Kana.
“Have you found Aki?” he asked.
“No,” Jack answered. “She disappeared.”
“Tch…” Galant walked off.
“Don’t worry Galant,” Kana said with ease. “She’ll appear sooner rather than later…”
They turn left, towards entering the central plaza; there they see the Salamander Rorge beating a chained prisoner. His face was swallowed, puffy and bloody red, as the wall behind him.
“Take that, fucking cunt!” Rorge yelled.
“Rorge!” Galant roared as he walked closer with Jack and Kana behind him.
“Kirito gave us very clear orders.” Jack said. “We mustn’t harm the prisoners.”
“This little shit touched me!” he replied. “He grabbed by leg as I passed.”
“I just asked if he had something to eat!” the prisoner cried. “I’m starving.”
“Fuck your hunger!” Rorge yelled, rising his punch to strike at the prisoner again. Before he did, however, Jack advanced, catching his hand and pushing him away. He fell soundly to the ground.
The player that was with Rorge advanced towards Jack, ready to attack him, but Kana appeared and kicked him. He fell on top of Rorge. Now both of them where angry, they stood up and grabbed the handles of their swords.
“Unleash dicks, and we’ll cut them off.” Kana warned.
Reluctantly, they walked back.
“We should cut their fucking heads and put them on a pike!” Rorge screamed. He spat the ground and left with his friend.
“Thank you…” the prisoner said.
“You owe your “thank you” to Kirito,” Galant said.
“Wait!” the prisoner yelled. “We’re all starving; please share some food if you have.”
The three of them entered their menu and gave him, in total, ten ounces of bread.
“Thank you…” he said, as he gave some bread to his fellow prisoners.
The trio walked away.
“Did we just help prisoners?” Kana asked.
“We just followed our orders Kana,” Jack said.
“No. Our orders were not to harm them. Not to give them food.” Kana argued. “Why did we do this?”
“Antinomy considered this people to be his people. He didn’t like out mistreatment towards them.” Galant said. “I guess I did it for him.”
“Why Kirito allows them to live…” she wondered.
“I don’t understand why he lets them live,” Jack said. “But it’s an order and we have to comply with it.”
Out of an alley Sinon appeared in front of them. “Galant, we need to talk.” Sinon said.
“What’s happened now?” he asked.
“I just saw something that may trouble us.”
Floor 93rd, January 27th, 2027
Hao fell to the bed with Freya beside him; both were naked and breathing heavily. They interlaced their arms and kissed.
“I’ve missed you, Asuka.” Hao said between breathes.
“I have too…” she said, between breathes as well. She was always happy when he called her by her real name. “Thank you, for bringing me with you.”
Hao grabbed her hand and kissed it. “I don’t want you to ever leave my side.” he slid his arm across hers, feeling her soft skin, caressing it. “You give me the comfort I need the most.”
“You’re so worried about this war against KoB?” she asked.
“No. He’s just a nuisance that’ll soon disappear, leaving no trace. Right now, I’m more concerned about my brother.” he kissed her forehead, rose from bed and walked to a table.
“You said Makoto’s injuries healed. He’ll be your second in command again soon.”
He grabbed the wine jar and filled two cups with blackberry liquor. “I wonder if I should still trust him so much, after what he did. Contumacy is a serious crime.” He gave one of the cups to Freya.
“He’ll grow stronger if you keep him close, so that you can guide him.” she said, taking the cup.
“Markus has done all what he could to please me. To prove he’s grown up. To show he’s a man. To become an honored soldier.” he swallowed the wine quickly, like if it was water. “But each time I look him to the eye, I only see a child.”
Freya rose from bed and moved closer to Hao. “He’s fought and bled for his Kingdom. For his King. Doesn’t he deserve to treated like any other beneath your command?”
Freya moved closer and hugged him strongly. Hao could feel her naked body pressed against his, her plenteous breasts and the warm of her skin. But his mind was elsewhere, lost in the last words she had told him.
“What’s happening?” she asked.
“Nothing…” he said. Her question pulled him back to reality. “I remembered I had to go now Asuka.”
“Uh? Why’s that?”
“I have to punish Markus Legion for their insubordination.” he said, putting back on his clothes and donning his armor again. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before.”
“It’s fine.” She said, walking closer to Hao. “Please, try to come back soon.”
Hao leaned forward and they kissed.
“I’ll try, I promise. And I’ll consider what you told me about Markus. I’ll treat him like he deserves to be treated.”
Hao walked out of the tent and returned to the main camp, ready to do his duty.
Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
Kirito and Lamorak arrived to the port. They quickly found Thatch, staring to the horizon and the stars.
“Ye know I understand yer situation.” Thatch said.
“Our numbers have swelled without warning.” Kirito remarked. “I didn’t expect to have so many mouths to feed.”
“King Kirito, ye’d know me men and I can only provide ye what we can capture.”
“That’s not enough, Thatch.”
“Perhaps it’d be, if the resources weren’t drained by those fucking prisoners.” he spitted to the ground in disgust.
“You’re straying from topic here.”
“And yer straying from your logic. Do ye really believe these shits would treat your people with your kindness?”
“We’re fighting the Legions because we believe they’re wrong. That means we can’t become them by being unnecessary cruel.”
After hearing the comment, Thatch started laughing loudly. “This fucking lad…” he kept on with the laughter for a moment, but after this he stopped and regained composure. “I’ll provide ye with what I can, to feed those lofty ideals of yours…but I fear it’ll fall short.”
The pirate captain turned around to walk back inside his ship, but Kirito spoke to him midway. “I may’ve a plan to solve this issue, if you’re of a mind to hear it.”
Thatch turned around again. “Ye wish to change the terms of our agreement?”
“I just want to add to it, and by doing that, fill your ships with better and more profitable cargo.”
After Klein appeared in the tavern, Fandral and his two friends left, and they made Lyd come with them. They had told him he was going to go through a final test, to confirm his loyalty to the Blood Knights. Unable to say “no”, he followed them across the city. They walked two blocks, then turned into a dark alley and walked two more, stopping in front of a house with a wooden door and a bronze latch. Fandral opened and the four enter. He then turned on the lights. Rather than a house, it was a small room. The walls were gray and the floor was made of large orange flat stones, put together by concrete. In the wall of the left, there was a wooden door. Inside the room there was just a table with three chairs, and nearby several jars of alcohol. Some of them empty, some of them no.
Kazz and Cerdyn immediately sat down. Lyd was about to do the same, but Fandral carried him towards the door. He took a key out of his menu and opened it. There was a long stair leading down, but it was so dark he couldn’t see anything.
“Go,” Fandral said.
He started walking down. Midway through, he heard sobs coming from the dark, but continued nevertheless. Once they were on the basement, Fandral touched a switch, and darkness became light. It looked almost the same as the room above them, but there were notable difference. There was table, were several torture instruments on it, and nearby was a gagged girl chained to the floor. She was beaten, bloody and had dozens of cuts on her body. She was just wearing a short grey sleeveless dress, which had almost turned completely red because of the blood.
As soon as Lyd saw her, he froze. Fandral walked towards her, much to her discomfort and fear.
“She was a resident in the city, and now she’s a prisoner here,” Fandral explained. “She isn’t the first to come here and be tortured. At first, we tortured them to find out where we could find more Yrd.”
“Kirito allows this?” Lyd asked, slowly approaching.
“No. Of course not. He took our Yrd. We return favor.” he turned to her again and drove her finger into one of her wounds, much to her pain. “By torturing one of his little pets...”
After a couple of seconds, he removed the finger, got back up. “Torture this bitch. That’s your task to prove loyalty.”
Fandral nodded. He walked up the stairs and closed the door behind him.
“You think he will succeed?”
“If he doesn’t, I’ll kill him myself.”
Minutes afterwards, Lyd appeared on the room above, carrying the body of the female player bellow. She was dead. There was a knife wound right in the middle of the chest.
Fandral turned to him. “What have you done, you mad fuck?!”
“I set her free!” Lyd claimed. “As I’d kill every last prisoner that Kirito yet holds!!!”
Fandral stared at him for a couple of seconds, until he laughed loudly, and so did his friends.
“You’re truly one of us.” he stated. “Come brother, let’s set them all free.”
Floor 93rd, January 27th, 2027
The half century had formed five columns of ten players each, all facing towards the King’s tent. They wore the undergarments that all soldiers wore under the armor: a sleeveless grey shirt, a brown belt with a golden buckle, the regular yellow-trimmed skirts of the Legion, and brown sandals.
In front of the small battalion were different Colonels and Generals, accompanied by several Kingsguard Legionaries and a single soldier who held the standard with the Aquila, the symbol of the Legions. On the middle of the line of commanders, Markus and Tyr stood, but they had left a big place in the middle for Hao. At each side of the half century were ten Legionnaries with shield and spear, placed there to make sure no insubordinates dared to escape. If any player dared to, Hao had ordered them to perform Decimatio that player first, before continuing with the punishment. Behind the century, the Legions Hao had brought stood. They had been commanded to form up and to watch the punishment from beginning to end.
All of them stood firm on their places, waiting.
The winds blew strongly, and grey clouds of menacing storm gathered in the sky. At far the distance, they could hear the great Aesir Thor, son of Odin and god of thunder, unleashing his wrath.
Once the storm was getting closer, Hao came out of his tent, donned in his full-body armor and started waking forward. The armor ringed with each step he took and his vermilion cape danced as the wind blew, same as the fabrics hanging from his belt. He stopped once he was between Markus and Tyr; he removed his helm, placed it beneath his arm and started glaring at the faces of the men in front of him. First from left to right, then from right to left; all without saying a word or emitting a sound, as if he enjoyed torturing the soldiers with the silence.
After a while, that for the nervous soldiers was eternal, he spoke.
“There’s no stronger bond between men than that forged during a war.” he could raise his voice enough for all the soldiers to hear well, even with the strong wind whistling. “Nor there’s greater glory and honor than to die for the Kingdom of Aincrad during this war. All of you swore an Oath. Each of you pledged your lives to the Legion. Each of swore to comply given order; to refrain yourselves from ever contradicting the law; to protect your Commanders, even at the cost of your lives; and never to break rank or flee from an enemy.” he paused for a second. “The fifty men who stand before me broke that oath. You turned from field of battle. You retreated from the fight against Kirito and his army of mongrels, fearing them more than your own Commanders. In this night, I’ll correct that mistake, and during that lesson I’ll place that fear on a proper person. Hao. The Supreme King.”
Once he finished, he made a gesture with his head to one of the soldiers at the side. Five soldiers appeared in front of the King, looking towards the half century, each on a different line. All of them dropped to the ground nine wooden clubs with a large end and they carried brown leather bags filled with the stones Markus had painted hours ago.
“The 45 players who survive this punishment will be banished to the followers’ camp. Until the day I consider you worthy of returning to my Army.”
After hearing the last phrase, Markus and Taikeus shared a quick look. Markus saw how his terrified friends gulp down saliva. His brother hadn’t told him what he’d do with the soldiers who survived Decimatio. He walked a step forward.
“Brother, we need to talk…” he whispered, close to his ear.
“I’m not your brother now, Makoto. I’m your fucking King.” Hao’s head turned left and looked to his brother to the eye. He took a deep breath and his facial expression softened slightly. “I’ve considered you a child for too long Makoto. I’m sorry. But now you’re a soldier. You deserve nothing more than to be treated as any other. Join your men.” He turned again, looking to the half century in front of him. “Comply with my command, soldier!”
At first, it seemed that he didn’t understand what he heard, or at least, some part of him didn’t want to hear it. But once Hao ordered him again, his brained processed the information. Hao had commanded him to join Decimatio. The young prince had finally got what he always wanted, his brother now saw him as a man. But that wasn’t the type of recognition he wanted. Astonished, sad and taunt, he complied. Markus entered his menu and unequipped his armor, which fell all together to the ground, leaving him with the same garments as the soldiers from his men. He walked forward and joined his men.
“Draw lots,” Hao ordered. “May this night be forever remembered!”
As soon as he did, the men swarmed forward and drew their rocks as fast as they could. Even when they did, they kept their hands firmly closed, since none of them were ready to open and see the stone they drew. Markus found Taikeus and they shared a brief look. Both were so nervous they were shaking and sweeting.
“Reveal your fates.” the King ordered.
Markus looked down to his clenched fist. He gathered courage and opened it. A white stone. He was allowed to live. A big smile drew on his face and raised his head to look to his friend. Taikeus was blankly staring at him, directly to the eye, motionless. The Prince lowered his sight and saw the last rock he had painted in his best friend’s hand.
A black stone.
The smile on Markus’ face vanished from his face as quickly as it appeared.
Several soldiers took the four other poor players, who struggled against the hold, kicked and yelled desperately. Two Legionnaries came and grabbed Taikeus from his arms, but he didn’t fight as the others. Taikeus just kept looking to his best friend who looked back at him, not being able to do anything to stop the soldiers.
Hao eyes widened, and his mouth opened slightly once he saw the best friend of his brother dragged away. In that moment he felt regret. His heart screamed for stopping that madness. To yell out and stop the punishment.
But he didn’t.
He regained his composure and returned to his regular stern, cold and calculating expression.
Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
Asuna arrived running into the stables where Abelia resided.
“Finally!” Abelia cried. “You took too long. I thought you may’ve been discovered.”
“I almost was.” Asuna said, giving to her the bundle of bread.
“It isn’t much, but it’s all we found.” Yui said. She flew and landed on Asuna’s shoulder.
“Are you sure no one’s been following you?”
Abelia nodded, before turning around, walking a few steps and opening the hidden trap door. Hidden underneath the wooden floor were the escaped prisoners she had freed. Every Blood Knight was still looking for them.
Asuna walked closer. “I’m sorry, there’s not much food left in the city.”
“You two have risked your lives for us, and you still do,” one of the prisoners said. “We won’t get greedy.”
“We may not have much food, but I have good news,” Abelia said. “I overheard from a soldier that Hao’s army is on the 93rd floor. He’ll retake the city, and end our suffering.”
“I believe that’d be just the start of your suffering.” A voice said behind the girls. They turned around and saw Galant, Jack, Kana and Sinon.
“Sorry Asuna, but I had to tell them what I saw.” Sinon said.
“That’s your fault Asuna,” Abelia said, interrupting her. “For trusting a treasonous whore!”
Kana advanced and backhanded her across the face. The Pooka girl fell to the ground and Kana drew one of her knives, but Asuna drew her rapier and pointed it at Kana.
“Halt.” Jack said, grabbing Kana’s arm. “We’re all in the same side.”
“She’s not on our side!” Kana pointed to Abelia, before turning to Asuna. “And she betrayed us!”
“Kirito wouldn’t like if you hurt or killed his in-game wife.” Jack noted.
“Her punishment is for Kirito to decide, not us.” Galant said, stepping between both groups. Both girls sheathed back their weapons. Galant then looked to the prisoners bellow the floor.
“These players are the ones Antinomy set free?” he asked, with widened eyes.
“The blacksmith didn’t know about this.” Abelia said, rising from the ground.
“Your friend’s dead, because of them!” Kana screamed.
She grabbed her knives again, but Galant stopped her.
“You two bound them, and take them to Kirito. They’re his concern." Galant ordered before he walked off.
“Where’re you going?!” Jack asked.
“To make sure Antinomy’s memory is properly fucking honored!”
In the central plaza of Nuceria, the recruits had lined up, surrounded by an oval of Blood Knights. Klein proceeded to look to each of their faces. Once he was done with all, he approached the Salamander Rorge.
“None appear to be suspicious?” he asked.
“None,” Rorge answered. “They’re eager for blood of the Legions.”
Klein nodded. “We still need to…”
He stopped when many players looked to the same direction and gasped loudly. He turned around and saw Fandral carrying the bloody corpse of a girl, accompanied by Lyd and his two friends.
“Fandral, what the fuck you’re carrying there?!”
“One of the missing prisoners!” he yelled loudly, to make sure everyone in the plaza heard him, before dropping the body to the ground. “She attacked me, out of the shadows. She would’ve succeeded if it hadn’t been for Lyd here.”
Fandral strongly placed his hand on Lyd’s shoulder.
“You spared their lives, and this is how they show fucking gratitude!?" Lyd shouted.
Most of the Blood Knights and recruits rile up, they screamed for blood, raised their weapons to the sky. Klein remained silent, trying to figure out how to calm the crowd again, but Leafa didn’t.
“We should kill the remaining prisoners!”
Galant arrived to the plaza and violently made his way inside, pushing and moving aside anyone in his way until he was in the middle.
“As you killed Antinomy!?” he yelled out at Kirito’s cousin.
“We decided to forget about that, Galant!” Klein defended Leafa.
“I never decided that!”
“He released the prisoners, and tried to kill me…”
Angry, Galant cut her off. “THE GOVERNOR’S WIFE RELEASED THEM!”
“What? How did you even find this out?” Klein asked.
“Abelia and Asuna hid them beneath the stables at the edge of the city. Jack, Sinon and Kana carry them and the others to Kirito.”
After this phrase, tense silence replaced the loudness of the crowd surrounding the three players. Galant angrily glared at Leafa, waiting for a proper an answer and an explanation of what happened.
“What does that matter now?” she said. “Antinomy was one of them, and he got what he deserved!”
She walked a single step to get out of the plaza, but Galant placed a hand on the base of her neck. His eyes had turned red and, therefore, his VRSMA had been activated.
“She was my friend, you mad bitch!!!” he yelled before pushing her away.
“Calm down, brother!” Klein said, grabbing Galant’s arms, but the Stardust Knight responded by grabbing his head and pulling it to the ground. Both of them fall.
Leafa rushed to stop the fight, but she one of her legs got between Galant’s as he rolled on the ground, and she collapsed face down. Klein stood up and charged towards Galant, but he kicked him down with both legs while still in the ground.
The players surrounding them formed a circle and started roaring, amused by the two leaders clashing.
The Salamander rolled backwards and stood up at the same time as his adversary. He then charged forward and they slam to the ground, harshly. With his back against the ground, Galant struggled against his opponent until he managed to grasp Klein’s neck with a strong hold, using his leg against the throat and his hands to grab his head. They then switched positions, with Galant on top now. The Stardust Knight angrily screamed while he squashed the face of his friend. Klein’s face became red and redder by the second until Fandral appeared, grabbed the Dimachearus by the back and dragged the frenzied player out of the fight.
Klein gasped for air and stood up, but Galant kicked him soundly on the head, sending him to the ground for a second time.
“Calm the fuck down!” Fandral screamed to his guildmate’s ear. But he was unable to restrain the berserk player, who elbowed his face and broke free of Fandral’s grasp.
In the meantime, Klein got back up. Galant advanced forwards ready to strike the Salamander, but he easily caught the punch, and countered with one of his own directly to the blue knight’s face. Klein then bent down, placing Galant on his back. Then raised his whole body, alongside Galant’s, and slammed to the ground. They then started rolling on the ground until Galant finally got grasp of Klein’s neck again, pinning him down against the ground. He began using his arms to suffocate the red knight while he screamed angrily while Klein uselessly struggled against the wrath of his friend.
“GALANT!!!” Leafa screamed, stepping into the fight. She smacked Galant over the head with the rock, knocking him unconscious. Klein broke free of his grasp, crawled from beneath the knocked out player with a red face. He stood up and coughed several times until he recovered himself.
“He left me no other choice…” Leafa claimed.
“He protects the prisoners, same as our mighty fucking leader!”
“I haven’t risked my life through the last forty floors of Aincrad for this! Now have you?!” Lyd yelled to the crowd.
“Kirito gave us an order!!!” Klein screamed.
“And I’d give my life, to feel the heat of the blood of my enemies in my cheek!!!” Lyd yelled again, provoking the crowd to get angrier and angrier.
“Yeah!!!” most of them screamed.
Leafa got closer to Klein. “We owe my cousin a lot.” She whispered. “But he’s wrong in this…”
“A thing known by all.” Klein walked outside of the crowd and got on top of a tall chair. “For every atrocity ever made by the Legions, kill a prisoner. And let’s make this city truly ours!!!”
The players roared in approval.
Floor 93rd, January 27th, 2027
The players sentenced to execution were stripped from their clothes, left only with a loincloth, and afterwards encircled by the other nine players that were on the same line.
A soldier pushed Markus into the group surrounding Taikeus. The young Prince tabbed the club in his hand, doubting.
“I will not do this…” he said.
“You have to do as commanded,” Taikeus replied, trembling in fear. “As all soldiers must.”
Markus remembered that those were the same words his friend told him inside the tent, before he decided to join Decimatio. He started tearing.
“Let’s finish with this once and for all, begin!”
Half a second after hearing the order, the soldier behind Taikeus struck him behind the head, he somehow managed to keep standing, but the next soldier hits him in the ribs, and the next one in back of the neck, and the next one in the left shoulder. The other five groups began Decimatio as well. The sentenced players were being mauled to death as they trembled, screamed, and bleed with each stroke.
Filled with rage and despair, Markus raised his sight to the sky and began weeping. He cursed his fate and screamed before raising his club, bringing it down, striking his best friend.
Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
Jack caught the axe of the Gnome attacking them on the downswing with the scabbard on his left hand before raising it up, leaving the throat of the player wide open for a slash with his katana. The attacker grabbed his throat, but unable to say or do anything, he felt, splattering blood all over the floor.
He was the last of the handful of attackers that came to them on their way to Kirito’s HQ.
“What the hell is happening right now?!” Kana cried.
“How should I know?!” Asuna said. “Kirito gave strict orders not to kill prisoners!”
They heard loud voices coming from the rear. A bigger group was approaching.
“Shit…” the Cait Sith cursed.
Jack walked through the prisoners, going behind the group.
“Jack?!” Sinon said.
“What’re you even doing?!”
“Winning some time,” he admitted. “I’ll win you some time.”
“It’s a mad plan!” Kana yelled.
“Just go!” he said. I’ll meet you there.”
By that time the group of frenzied players had appeared on the narrow corridor. Asuna had no other choice. “Let’s move!” she ordered, and the players rushed through the streets as quickly as they could.
The clutch of players was now in front of Jack. He counted a dozen, at the very least. Lucky for him, the corridor was narrow enough for just three players to attack him at the same time. Though they were bigger in numbers, if Jack could defend against each wave properly, he had a chance.
“These players are our prisoners by Kirito’s orders. Stand down!” he ordered.
None of the players answered, nor did they stand down.
Three of them were already seven feet away from him, while the rest got ready behind them, weapons in hand. With nothing else to say, Jack used his thumb to push the cross guard of his sword and prepared for a quick draw. He took a deep breath and exhaled. There was a small moment of tense peace, until the player on the left attacked.
Jack drew his sword as quick as he possibly could, parrying the blade and slashing the attacker across the face. Jack attack had such momentum that the player in the middle and the right were also slashed, though the attack was not deadly, but it was enough to leave them out of combat. The players on the second line were faster than he expected, and all three attacked at once with downswings. The Lone Ronin was barely able to block all three, by using both his sword and sheath. He kicked the one in the middle away, and the two in the sides attacked again. As he blocked the one on the left, the player on the right slashed his arm, but Jack back-kicked him against the wall before slashing his throat. A Salamander that was on the wave behind advanced, his axe whistled as it clashed against Jack’s scabbard, breaking it in two.
The white knight jumped back, trying to regain his ground, but the crazed players rushed forward. The first one slashed diagonally, but Jack caught the weapon with his own, before advancing forward and slashing the player across his back. He turned around, but a blade slashed him on his abdomen. He punched the player away, but right behind him appeared the Salamander with an axe, aiming right for his head. He ducked under it and, while he was, slashed the fire fairies leg, sending player directly to the ground. As soon as he raised his head, a quick Pooka pierced his side with a small dagger. The Imp felt the stinging pain. He punched the player’s face, knocking him out. Another player kicked Jack to the ground, he then attacked downwards constantly, and Jack could barely block. He managed to kick him back, but next two players appeared. An arrow embedded to the chest of one. Using the diversion, Jack kicked the other back, sprang to his feet and slashed the player across the chest, killing him.
He turned his head for half a second, and saw Sinon on the roof of a building, nocking another arrow. He turned again and saw that seven players remained. He removed the knife at his side before grabbing his katana with both hands and prepared.
Two advanced forward at the same. Jack stepped back, avoiding both attacks, before attacking with a powerful downswing. The player sidestepped, while the one on the left advanced, but he was stopped midway by an arrow to the head. The other player attacked, but Jack allowed him to clash against his sword. Using the player’s own strength against him, he brought his katana around the blade, hacking the head of the player in half. However, he was left wide open, and another Blood Knight walked forward, slashing his left leg and then stabbing his stomach. Jack felt the stinging pain again and punched the player aside.
Sinon shot another arrow to protect her friend, but it was deflected back by one of the knights and it nailed her on the shoulder.
Jack started swinging his sword from left to right, trying to keep the opponents away, even though he wouldn’t be able to fight forever if wounded and outnumbered five to one.
The last player on the line burst into flames, screaming. The other four players stopped attacking and saw how the player writhed before falling dead to the ground, and once he did they saw Aki with her left hand extended. Killing a one of them with a fire spell was enough to draw the attention of the four remaining players. Her rapier gleamed as she drew it from its scabbard; she pointed it towards them and got ready to fight.
One of the players advanced. She dodged the attack, got closer and nailed the player in the stomach, in the chest and in the throat, swift and certain. The player on her sides attacked, but she blocked one and kicked the other away. With fluid and elegant motion, she slashed his throat. The fourth player advanced, but she blocked the attack, danced around him and nailed the back of his head. The last one attacked her, but she parried before thrusting the blade though his chest. After a second, she withdrew the blade, and the player slumped on the ground, finishing the fight. Aki swung her rapier, removing the blood from the blade, before sheathing it back.
Wounded and exhausted, Jack collapsed to the ground.
“Jack!” Sinon screamed. After pulling the arrow out of her shoulder, she slid down the wall and walked towards him. She quickly realized that he had lost consciousness, but it was only.
“He won’t last,” Aki stated.
“You don’t know that,”
“I do. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Not if you help him. I’m out of magic points.”
“Healing spells are of water attribute. I’m a Salamander.”
“It’ll be enough to save him.”
Reluctantly, Aki walked towards them. Her hand shined as she active a spell; a healing spell. After a short while, she stopped. “That’s all I can do.”
“Thank you. Help me to carry him.”
Floor 93rd, January 27th, 2027
After long minutes of beating and hammering, all Decimatio was almost over. Four of the five players had been brutally beaten to death by their fellow soldiers; their bruised and bloodied corpses lying on the ground. The only one still left alive was Taikeus, who somehow had managed to stay alive that long, but it wouldn’t last; he looked no better the four corpses on the ground. He had so many wounds he’d stopped counting them after they reached 20. Blood poured out by each of these, covering his body. A soldier struck his cheek, opening yet another wound. Other Legionnaire hammered at his knee, and the blow is so strong that Taikeus fell to his knee and his face clashed against the muddy ground. The soldiers stopped beating him, as he rose his torso up and looked to his friend.
Markus looked at him, both with rheumy eyes. It seemed that Taikeus wanted to tell him something, but no words came out from his toothless mouth. The Prince shook his head slightly before swinging the club back and striking one last time at his friend, hitting his template harder than any of the other blows he had received. Taikeus’ bloodied body was lifted a few inches front the ground and rolled in the air, before landing soundly on the ground. The ground turned into a bloody pool around him as he stopped moving.
The small black stone rolled out of his right hand.
The club in Markus’ hand fell to the ground. His face and clothes were splattered with the blood of his friend and his eyes were red and still teary
Aghast and exhausted, all the soldiers recovered their breath and tried not to look to the dead bodies, but they couldn’t. Soon, the Legionnaires started pushing them out, ordering them to leave camp and go to the follower’s camp.
All of them do, but one.
Markus turned around, looking to his brother, who held his hands together, just above his belt. The Prince walked towards his brother, hiding the amalgamation of negative feelings, but Hao could see right through it.
“Your lesson has been well learned,” Markus said. “Your Majesty.”
Hao wanted to say something, but he was rendered speechless by Markus’ comment. After this, Markus turned around and walked off, following his men to the follower’s camp. Hao looked at his brother’s back turning smaller and smaller with each step. Deep inside of him, he felt sorry for Taikeus death.
Knowing he did what he must, Hao took a deep breath to regain his composure, before looking to his army lined up. He spread his arms, placing them on his side, turned around and walked back inside his tent.
Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
“With each day ye grow madder!” Thatch exclaimed. “Soon yer going to ask me to help ye to get the moon down from the fuckin’ sky.”
“It’s possible to do this or not, Thatch?”
“All things are possible, Kirito. The only things that stop ye are effort and cost.”
“Help me to carry out this last thing that I ask of you, and I’ll fill this ship with all the wealth the city yet holds.”
“Then let’s do it, brother!” Thatch eagerly said before laughing.
Both leaders got up and handshake to seal the deal. They were then interrupted by the arrival of Sybil and Crow, much to Lamorak’s annoyance.
“Kirito! Klein and the others have gone mad!” the Sylph girl yelled.
“They’re killing the prisoners!” Crow added.
As soon as he heard the words, Kirito rushed out of the ship.
“Keep watch over the pirates.” Lamorak said. “Apparently, you seem to like their fucking company.” He then quickly followed his leader, leaving his girlfriend disconcerted.
Floor 94th, January 27th, 2027
After Jack and Sinon won them some time, Asuna, Kana and the prisoners had managed to avoid many of groups of crazed knights to get to the HQ. They cross through a courtyard, but then Fandral appeared screaming. “More Prisoners!!!”
Kana kicked him away, but Lyd follows right behind him, punching her hardly on the face.
Asuna drew her rapier and advanced to attack Lyd, but Klein appeared from behind and deflected the blade. He then shoved her aside, and several players restrained her.
“Klein!?” she cried. “Why are you doing this?!”
“I’m doing what your boyfriend lacks the balls to do! I’m doing what’s necessary to win the war!”
“By killing innocents!?”
“By doing what it takes to win!” He walked towards the prisoners and dragged Abelia out. “The governor’s wife!” Klein roared. He made her knee and placed his sword, covered with prisoner’s blood, on the back of her neck. Grabbing the weapon with both hands, he raised the blade and brought it downwards. In the middle of the way, his blade clashed against another and he was pulled away from the girl.
“You’ll come back to your senses,” Kirito ordered to him. “Or you’ll die where you stand.”
“You’re the one who needs to come back to his senses!!!” Klein remarked, before withdrawing his blade.
Other players arrived to the place along with Kirito, forming an even more crowded circle.
“Asuna and Abelia are the ones who helped these prisoners escape.” Leafa stated, releasing Asuna from her hold.
“She’s in the right,” Galant said. He had awoken after the smack Leafa gave to him with the rock. Though he had calmed down, he was still notably angry at her. “Antinomy had no part in it, so he didn’t deserve to die that way!”
Kirito walked towards and grabbed Abelia. “This is the gratitude you show for the mercy I granted you and your people?” he had Elucidator pointed at her throat.
“Mercy?!” she said. “You killed my boyfriend. Your men slaughtered hundreds within Nuceria. And now you condemn me for trying to save a handful from you!?”
“That was the fault of your King!” Leafa pointed out.
“Kill her, Kirito,” Klein told him. “And with that, we’ll become one again.”
He prepared the blade to pierce right through her chest, a blow that would kill her instantly. “She deserves to die,” he said. “But I won’t let us become the exact same thing we fight against.” he lowered the blade and released Abelia.
“There’re many who wonder if you’ve become insane!” Klein exclaimed.
“I’m also wondering something,” Kirito turned around and looked to his old friend. “I’m wondering why I placed faith in you as a leader.”
Klein charged a single step towards Kirito, but he was quickly restrained by both Lamorak and Agil. Approving, Galant grinned slightly. Aki and Sinon arrived to the courtyard, carrying a still unconscious Jack. The blue knight immediately rushed to help them carry him.
“The remaining prisoners will be placed inside the HQ. You’ll go with them Asuna.” Kirito ordered. “Any of you makes another attempt against my will, and you’ll follow those you’ve killed tonight.”
With nothing else to say, Kirito walked away, followed by Lamorak, Galant, Agil, Sinon and Kana, taking the prisoners with them.
“I love him,” Leafa told him. “But now I start to doubt the path his choosing.”
“Then perhaps it’s time for us to walk our own.” Klein said.
He walked away, followed by Rorge, Kazz, Cerdyn, Fandral and others. At last, Lyd went with them as well. A crooked grin appeared on his face.