Floor 94th, February 6th, 2027
The wound on Agil’s stomach woke him up. He felt the hard ground on which his body was lying upon and smelt the cinders on the air. With his eyes squinted, he looked towards the cobalt sky, and on one the buildings’ walls, orange sunlight beams clashed and slowly descended. “It’s already morning,” he told himself, though he felt that just a few seconds had passed since he was fighting with Galant against the Legionnaires when a spear pierced through his gut. He fell to the ground, and then darkness. He touched the wound with his right hand; it was circular, and smaller than he expected it to be. Then he remembered; Kirito and the rest were escaping through the northern gate while they were fighting in the city.
He raised his torso his torso from the ground, but the slightest contortion move triggered the twisting pain. His back slammed to the ground after raising just a few millimeters. He repeated the same process several times, each time with the same result. Disappointed, he sighed and closed his eyes. He felt exhausted.
After a few minutes of lying face up on the ground, he heard voices and steps getting close. He opened his eyes. A group of five soldiers was around him, looking at him. One of them was a Kingsguard Legionnaire, who held a tall wooden standard with a triangular cloth, the symbol of the Legions above it and on top of it, a golden eagle.
Agil looked at the head scout and smiled. “Fuck your little bird, you Legionnaire cunt.”
The next thing he saw was the sole as he brought it down on his head.
“Sew up his wound and take him with the rest of the survivors,” the Kingsguard ordered. That was the last thing Agil heard before passing out.
“Give all men meal and let them rest with the rest,” Hao ordered. He walked into KoB’s former headquarters within the city, which had now become his own private quarters. The always obliging Tyr followed him closely. “First light tomorrow, we march towards the ridge.”
“What about the former citizens of this city or the follower’s camp,” Tyr asked, “should they be allowed within city walls?”
“Only soldiers are permitted within, anyone who isn’t will be executed on sight,” Hao said. He then stopped and turned around. “If there’re errant Blood Knights within the city, I can’t have them mixing with my men. But, a few will be allowed to enter,” he gave Tyr a small note, “dispatch a small squad and bring all those here, to my HQ.”
“My King,” Tyr nodded before leaving.
Hao walked up the stairs and entered a small room with a table and five chairs, and close Zar and Mordread, having a conversation. The Wolf General had stripped off the dirty black robe he used to disguise himself, and now donned his regular General armor and carried Crocea Mors, held on his waist by a brown strap slung across his chest.
“Zar!” Hao said, surprising both players and interrupting their conversation. “I’m happy to see you again in uniform.”
“I was just praising this son of a bitch’s ability for blending so easily with that pack of sorry shits,” Mordread said. He placed a hand on Zar’s shoulder and playfully pushed it.
“I wouldn’t have achieved it, if his Majesty hadn’t planned it beforehand,” Zar said, hiding his discomfort.
Mordread placed his other arm on Hao’s shoulder. “I was wrong to ever doubt on you two guys, because last night, was a productive fucking night! I mean, I haven’t had this fun since…” he paused for a moment. “…I can’t even fucking remember!” he laughed.
“Have you sent your men on the mission north?” Hao asked him.
“Whipper’s preparing them for the journey. I’ll join them shortly and we’ll go to finish those fuckers up,”
“They should go, I want you to stay,” Hao stated. Both players looked at him with wide-eyes. “At night, we’ll celebrate victory with executions. Since you helped us in the taking of this city, you have the right to stay in one of the nearby fine houses. Take it as a gift of gratitude.”
Mordread smiled. “Don’t be ridiculous Hao! Thank you! By the way Zar, I hope you get some of the old in-out, in-out you well deserve!” he tapped both of their shoulders and walked out of the room with a swaggering stroll.
“That pretentious little fucker…” Zar murmured; glaring at Mordread’s back.
“I share your opinion, but he helped us to win this fight and we’ll need his help in the upcoming battle with Kirito.” Hao walked around the table and sat down. He briefly looked above the entrance, where he saw the standards of many Legions that had been lost against Kirito had been placed on a shelf, now returned to their rightful owner. Smiling, he turned his sight to several papers on the desk.
Zar stared to a wall before turning to Hao with a furrowed brow. “You still talk about victory, but you’re mistaken. Kirito still lives and he holds considerable forces in Solnia’s ridge.”
“There’s a storm in the ridge, it’s impossible for him to cross it.” Hao looked at him as he talked and then returned to his papers.
Zar leaned on the table, looking towards his leader. “I bet the fool Thanos said something similar when he had Kirito surrounded at Muspel.”
Hao placed his papers on the table, rose from his chair, and looked to Zar’s eyes. “You really think me such a fool?”
Zar removed his hands from the table looked to the ground before raising his sight. “I believe you’re a man capable of infinite plots, so much that no one can tell what’s going through your head.”
“Praise well received. Now, clear your mind and relax for this day. I can assure you that KoB has suffered a fatal blow. In the celebration, I’ll honor the hand that struck it, yours.”
Zar took a deep breath and stood firm. “You honor me, my King,” he paused before continuing, “if only Kirito’s head on a pike could witness the executions.”
“Patience; remember that it’s what lead us inside the city in the first place. In brief time, we’ll erase Kirito’s existence from the face of Aincrad, alongside all those who yet follow the doom of his shadow.”
Galant yawned for a tenth time, but he covered his mouth with his hand to make sure he did not make any sound.
He was laying his back against one of the wooden pillars that held the floor boards above his head. He clenched tightly the grip of his sword while he looked at the floor door and chewed on salty shreds of meat and pieces of hard cheese. He had offered some to Aki, but she refused. She sat with her back against one of the walls, her hands tight around her weapon’s handle. Both of them with half-opened eyes, but sleep would not come soon. The constant sound of the Legionnaires on the floor above them as they searched through the stables and the uneasy feeling of possible capture prevented their eyes of fully closing. They had remained silent for hours on end, waiting.
The space under was quite smaller than he thought it was; neither of them could stand without knocking their head against the boards. If any of them had to move, they would have to squat or crawl, but neither of them had moved since they hid. The small space made Galant wonder how Asuna and Abelia had managed to hide the citizens inside for several days. The floor under them was dry and filled with dust. Old rotting hay covered the ground, filling the air with an unpleasant stench. Beams of golden sunlight shimmered through the narrow spaces between the floorboards, that often disappeared when a soldier walked around, before reappearing shortly afterwards.
“No one’s here,” one of the soldiers announced. Dozens of steps followed, that slowly faded away.
“They leave?” Aki wondered.
“From the stables,” Galant answered, “but thousand more congregate on the streets. The one’s above spoke of victory.” He laid his back on the ground and interlaced his fingers at the back of his head, but he immediately felt pain across his back and on his left arm.
Galant turned his head. The back of his blue coat had a large darker triangular-like stain running from his shoulder blade to the back of his thigh. The cloth on his left arm had been soaked with blood as well, running from his shoulder to his vambrace.
“Damnit…” he softly cursed, “Aki…I know you’re a Salamander, but need your healing water magic.”
“What’s the point?” she asked. “We’re going to die here anyway. If anything, those wounds will make it easier for you.”
“I’m not dying just yet, and neither are you.”
“What then? Are you planning getting out of here and facing the ten thousand players on Hao’s army all by ourselves?”
“No, there’s has to be another way…”
“What way?!” she yelled. “Tell me about this “other way”!”
“Quiet now,” Galant hushed her.
They heard upcoming footsteps and then a sword sliding out of its sheath. Galant looked through the spaces between the boards; a Legionnaire was near the entrance, looking around tapping his sword. He walked around the stables slowly, trying not to make any sound. After a few minutes, the soldier sheathed back his sword and walked away.
Galant looked at Aki. “I’ve fought though this floating castle since floor one. I joined the Great War once it started. I’ve been on different sides, but I’ve reached floor 94th, and I won’t surrender now just because we’re trapped. I have something I must do. And I bet that if you came back here, you too do.”
Galant and Aki glared at each other, until he turned around, with his back facing toward her. “I need your help if I want to do it.”
Aki didn’t say anything; she just looked at him with her dark brown wood eyes. She approached him and a light shined on her hands before he put them on his wound. He clenched his sword tighter than before when he felt the sting, but eased it as soon as he felt it closing. Once it did, Aki moved her hands to his left arm.
He yawned again, and soon he heard that she did.
“So what’s your plan now?” she asked once she ended.
“I have none,” Galant said, “maybe the running through the rooftops can get us to the eastern gate.”
“What about your beast? Stardust Dragon would easily fly us both out of here.”
“I’m too wounded to summon him. Even if I did, there’s a storm on the mountains, so we can’t go there. And if we escaped, in some other way, he won’t be able to fly for so long. The Legionnaires control most of the floor, so we could still be trapped by them. What about your Dragon?”
“I can’t summon it.”
“What do you mean?” Galant turned around. “If you’re a Dragon Signer as I am, you should be able to summon Black Rose Dragon here.”
“I just can’t summon it,” she sleeved up her coat and removed her elbow-length glove. On her forearm was the tattoo-like dark red mark of the dragon’s foot, same like on Galant’s was the mark of the dragon’s head. “I recited the chant, but it doesn’t appear.”
Galant yawned again. “In any case, we need our strength back if we want to get out of here. We have to rest, when it’s closer to night, we’ll move out.”
Aki nodded, and without saying anything, she lay down on a mound of hay and closed her eyes, holding her rapier with both hands.
Galant looked at Aki. Her burgundy hair raining down on the ground; the long black coat with a golden trims and embroiled with fire on the bottom and the end of the sleeves and her matching boots.
“What happened to you…” he thought, “What truly happened to your brother…”He remembered the first words she told him once she got out: “I killed him. I killed my brother.” His thoughts were lost on wondering inside the labyrinth that was Aki’s past. Exhausted after the long night and tired after waiting for the soldiers to leave, he decided to try to forget about it, or at least do it for the time being.
He rolled on the hay same as she did, placed Maximus Caliburn close to his grasp and closed his eyes, hoping for the absence of dreams.
With iron shackles tight around her wrist, Abelia walked into the city escorted by two soldiers. As soon as she passed beneath the barbican, she saw two piles with dozens of bodies; one of Legionnaires and another of Knights. Bodies slashed or stabbed with pale white skin and wide-opened eyes; hacked limbs and heads and blood pooling on the muddy ground of the gateway.
She struggled to stay out of the city, but the soldier behind her pushed her. She sobbed and cried, but the Legionnaire grabbed her by both shoulders and shoved her forward. With no other option, she closed her eyes and walked inside, hoping to finish the walk as soon as possible.
“Halt!” a voice commanded after they passed the gateway. She opened her eyes and saw Zar walking towards them, his left hand resting on the pommel of his sword. “Remove those shackles from her hands,” he ordered, “this woman isn’t a member of the Blood Knights.”
“Thank you,” Abelia wanted to say, but she did not. She remained looking at his face. “I know you, don’t I?”
“You saw me with my appearance changed by an illusion spell,” Zar responded, “I was among the Blood Knights to gain valuable information.”
“You were with Klein and his animals when he slaughtered the prisoners!” Abelia cried out.
“I regret that, but I had to do what was needed,” Zar admitted, “I had to set the Knights against each other and convince the Pirates to join our side. I couldn’t risk being discovered.”
Remembering how she helped Kirito in the hopes of saving her people, Abelia nodded her head. “In war, one does what one must to survive.”
“His majesty wants to talk to you, but not before you eat a proper meal, bathe and change clothes, in the place you once called home. Please, follow me.”
With the General as escort and her hands free of bond, Abelia began the walk towards Hao’s new HQ, a place she once called home.
From a window in the new HQ, Freya stared to the city, the vastness of the western sea and the equally winter-blue sky. Looking to the horizon, it was hard to tell when the sea came to an end, marking the start of the sky; or when the sky ended and the sea began. Not a single cloud hovered on its emptiness, and the golden light of midday sun clashed against the city. The fire the warehouse set on fire had been extinguished hours ago, leaving nothing but cinders, a burnt smell on the city and a vague column of smoke that vanished after rising a few meters.
But Freya’s mind wasn’t on the beautiful view in front of her eyes; her thoughts were rather on her encounter with Markus the day before. She closed them, and she was back there, when the young prince pushed her to the bed, his face now transformed into the one of a ravenous monster. She could do nothing but vainly struggle against his arms as he ripped open her vest, sheared her red shirt and entered her, mad in anger and lust. She felt the pain as he brutally rammed at her for an eternity to her, until he finished, leaving her to cry herself to sleep.
On the next morning, two soldiers came to the tent and escorted her into the city, but she did not spoke a single word. She felt like nothing but a hollow body reliving her last past over and over again.
The back of a hand touching her cheek made her jump to the side and shook her back to the present.
Hao smiled, surprised of her reaction. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t want to scare you.”
“Nobody told me if the attack had succeeded or not,” Freya lied, “I was quite nervous.”
Hao walked a step closer to her and held her close to him. “Set those nerves aside. We’ve taken the city, and I’m unscathed.”
“A great victory,” she murmured, looking down.
“And I’d like you to stay for the celebration.”
Freya looked up and her lips curved up. “I can stay here, with you?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“Of course!” she yelled with a smile on her face and teary eyes. She then looked down, and tears shed from her eyes.
Hao raised his hand and wiped them out. “There’s no reason for you to cry.”
“They’re tears of happiness, to finally have gotten free from the follower’s camp.”
“Free?” Hao repeated surprised, “was it that bad?”
“It was unbearable…”
“That’s my fault,” a voice said from the entrance of Hao’s new quarters. Both of them turned and saw Markus on the door, accompanied by two soldiers who immediately left without word after Hao turned. As soon as Markus laid his sight on her, Freya looked down nervously.
“I placed a heavy weight on her,” Markus walked into the room slowly; “she consoled me once I told her how I felt after Taikeus in-game death, and my involvement in it.”
“A true man does what he must, when fate calls for it.” Hao stated.
“As all soldiers must,” Markus said, remembering the last words Taikeus told him before the start of Decimatio. “Freya was very kind with me, more than you’ll ever know,” he first looked to his brother, and then turned to Freya, smiling, “I fear my pain has greatly affected her. I hope you’re able to bear that load.”
Freya felt her knees trembling once he finished saying that, but she made her biggest effort to hide it. She felt a knot on her stomach. “I’m not a soldier in this conflict,” she said, “but I’ll do what I must.”
“I’m in your debt for this,” Hao said happily, “bring wine and food.”
“Yes my King,” Freya responded. She walked, keeping her eyes on Markus until she passed her by. Once she did, the young prince turned around, and she could feel his eyes on her like daggers, stabbing her body from her heel to the back of her head. She hastened her pace and walked out of the room.
“This war has forever changed her,” Markus said, still looking back.
“Not only her,” Hao added.
Markus turned around. “I’m hardened by it, and the lessons I’ve learned from it.”
“I thought Decimatio would push you from the cliff of reason and you’d fall into the abyss of madness,” Hao approached his brother, “but here you are, rising like a phoenix rising again from the ashes, with the flame of determination in your eyes. Soon, you’ll regain your position as my word and my will.”
“Soon?” Markus wondered surprised, “You haven’t summoned me to reassume my charge?”
“We’re going to celebrate the taking of the city with Executions,” Hao explained. He walked to the table, where a plate filled with walnuts was. He opened one by clenching his fist and ate it. “I want you to present the Executions for the men. It’ll elevate you, in the eyes of the guild to be seen as the host. And it’ll ease the path for you to reassume your tittle.”
“A privilege then,” Markus said eagerly, “an opportunity to honor you.”
“You’re mistaken,” Hao corrected him, putting another walnut into his mouth, “we’ll honor Zar as the victor.”
“Zar…” Markus repeated and frowned. He took a deep breath before saying anything else. “There’s no lost love between me and the Spriggan. There must be something else I can do for you…”
“A clever man turns his rival into a valuable ally, as I’ve done with Mordread. Zar’s a genius, and one day he’ll rise to shame the Aesir. You should make pace with him, and both of you could enjoy under a glorious light.”
“He’ll be honored with all respect deserved,” Markus said, hiding his hesitancy under a serious face.
“Many a boy can enter a war, but once it ends, only a man comes out.” Hao placed his hand on his brother’s left shoulder and tapped it strongly. “It makes me very happy to see you becoming one.”
“I’m what you’ve made me,” Markus said.
Proudly, Hao embraced Markus, who hugged him back. A smile took shape on Hao’s face, while Markus frigidly stared to the ceiling of the room. After a while, they separate.
“If you excuse me, I need to prepare for the executions,” Markus said.
“Of course,” Hao tapped his shoulder before walking away.
Markus walked out of the room and down the stairs, into the kitchen. There, he found Freya, grabbing a flagon of wine from a wooden shelve.
“Undine wine,” Markus said. Freya jumped back when she heard his voice. “That’s his and your favorite.”
“It’s for your brother…” she said before turning around.
“As are many other things,” the young prince approached her and whispered into her ear. “The war has much pressure on his Majesty, and adding more would just serve to open old wounds…”
She turned around. Markus face was in front of hers. “Does all the time I cared for you as if you were my little brother mean nothing to you?!” she wailed, but not too loudly.
“You’ve been very kind to me,” he grabbed a lock of her golden hair and started twirling it around his finger. “It’d make me very sad, to see you expelled from our guild, or being condemned to a cruel punishment, if he ever learned how you willingly offered yourself to me, to try to ease my pain.”
Freya didn’t say a thing, but more tears started shedding form her eyes, but this time from sadness.
“If the incorrect words come from your mouth,” he continued, “only more suffering will come. At either the hands of the King or mine.” He approached her ear again. “And I won’t be as gentle next time.”
He stared into her eyes with his own, golden eyes just like the ones of Hao, and she felt that he was slowly piercing her heart with a needle. Her legs felt week and her knees shook endlessly. She couldn’t breathe nor talk, as if an invisible hand with iron rods as fingers squeezed her throat. Her whole body started trembling and she could only keep herself up because her back was against the wall.
Markus smiled and walked out of the warehouse, very slowly. Once he was gone, she fell to ground, weeping as discreetly as she could.
The attack of the beast was enough to send her brother flying away. His sword and shield twirled in the air and both shattered at the same time once they hit to the ground. His back clashed against the grey granite walls and fell face down to the ground.
She ran and knelt close to him before turning him around. The spear had pierced him deep in the chest. The sheet red liquid covered his brown makeshift armor, tainting it darker. She reached back, trying to find a healing potion or a crystal. When her hand came out, nothing was inside of it. She tried again, with the same result. She searched through her brother’s equipment, and found nothing.
“Haruka!” she screamed, shaking his body. “Haruka! Wake up!!!”
He opened ajar eyes. A vague smile took shape on his lips. He raised his hand and she grabbed it. “…Aki…are you…alright?” he could barely talk.
“I am!” she yelled. She placed his head on her thighs. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m sorry…I won’t…go back home…with you.”
“Don’t speak!!!” she began crying. “I’ll take you back to the city and you’ll heal there. And we’re going to come back here and defeat this boss. We’ll continue until we defeat the final boss. We’ll go back to our parents. You and I…”
“Tell them, I protected you…” his body started to shine in white. His eyes closed
“You tell them yourself! Open your eyes! Haruka!!!”
His body shattered into white and blue shards. Some fell on Aki’s hands before dissolving into nothing. She laid her hands on the ground held her up and more tears came out of her eyes, ran down her cheeks and fall to the ground. Her hands clenched, and the nails cut through her skin, but no pain appeared. She threw back her head and a wordless gasp came out instead of a loud scream.
A loud whine echoed in the cavern-like boss room.
She turned her head slowly. The large red-eyed beast was looking at her while hitting the ground violently with one of his hoofs. Its black tail waved from side to side, same as the matching mane that started on its head and ran down his back. The old grey armor sparkled with the light that beamed from the ceiling, same as the deadly spear on its right hand and its shield on his left. It breathed out before jumping up with its forelimbs, whistling, and once it came down it charged forward, aiming the spear towards her.
She closed her eyes. She heard the sound of the hooves clashing against the solid ground, of cracking wood and nails loosening, of hay being shoved aside, of men talking loudly and of monstrous scream.
She felt a hand grabbing her mouth, when she reopened her eyes, she saw Galant in front of her.
“More soldiers returned,” he whispered. “They’re removing the hay and floorboards, searching for cowards.”
She looked around. There was no sign of the boss and no of her brother. Once her heart slowed down, she spoke. “They’ll find us soon, any ideas?”
Galant slowly slid his blade out of the sheath, making sure it did not make any sound, and crawled to the floor door, then tapped it twice. A shadow engulfed him from above, and soon feet moved the hay aside and the door opened wide. The kneeling soldier’s smiling face changed into fear in half a second, as Galant stabbed his mouth with Caliburn, going through the back of his head. He pulled the body inside and jumped out. He advanced on one of the Legionnaires kneeling on the floor while removing one of the boards. He turned as the blue knight lunged towards him, slashing at his neck.
Another soldier attacked Galant from behind, but the player feel to the ground, rolled and then stopped, revealing a large gash across his throat and Aki behind him, with her rapier dripping red from the tip.
“Rebels!” one soldier yelled, pulling the sword out of the sheath. He rushed towards the Blood Knights alongside three others.
Galant activated his Sword’s Unique Skill, just in time as he parried the attack of the first player with his right sword, and then knocked the back of the player’s head with the pommel of the same weapon. The second player attacked at the same time, but the Stardust Knight blocked with his left blade before swinging at the player’s open leg. He raised his other weapon and pierced through his neck.
Aki parried the attack of her first attacker before advancing while performing a riposte, nailing at the player’s left eye. Before he could cover his eye with his empty hand, her blade shined in silver-white. A shining light clashed against the walls of the stables as she pierced his nose, his mouth and his other eye. The second Legionnaire advanced, but the Salamander slashed at his arm before he could take the swing. Screaming, he came at her with his fist, but Aki dropped her blade and caught his arm with it, while at the same time catching her falling blade with her left. She then unleashed a flurry of attacks, nailing the player several times across his left armpit, right arm and face. By the end, the falling corpse had turned into a red beehive.
Galant turned around, looking as the other soldier came at him with several quick swings. Galant flinched, avoiding two before blocking a third with one sword and knocking it aside with a strong swing with his other. The player tried to turn around to reach to the weapon of one of his fallen comrades, but the Stardust Knight attacked his leg, and he collapsed to the ground. Galant then slashed his throat with both blades. A surge of blood came from the wound and the player slammed to the ground.
He heard footsteps getting away from the stables, and turned to see the back of the last soldier rushing away. He reached back and hurled his sword, which twirled in the air before embedding itself into the back of his neck, while at the same time a fireball engulfed the soldier. He immediately fell to the ground and rolled. The fire soon extinguished, leaving nothing but a burned, skinny and dry corpse wearing an armor covered with cinders. Galant pulled the blade out of the corpse and looked at Aki, with her arm extended forward and her opened hand facing forward. She slowly brought it down.
“We should hide the bodies and climb to the rooftops,” he said, “let’s see how far we can make it.”
The feeling of hot water against her skin reminded Abelia that she had not bathed since the day that the Blood Knights took the city, and was shocked when she saw how dirty the water looked once she ended. She cleaned her face with a washbasin filled with warm water, cleaning the marks of blood and dirt on her face, and then sluiced her hair with a towel.
Once she was done with cleaning her whole body, the time to dress up. Just before she entered the tub a soldier had knocked the door of what once was her room, bringing a sleeveless red and orange gown, golden earrings, matching bracelets and sandals. He said it was a gift from the King, for her help in the retaking of Nuceria. Before him, another soldier came, bringing her food as gift from the King as well. Pink fried salmon flavored with lemons, rice with grated cheese, crusty hot bread and a bottle of Undine wine. She delightfully ate all of it before stepping into the tub.
Once she was fully dressed, she had her hair brushed until it sprang back in think amber curls. She tied most of it on the back of her head, while some curls fell upon her back and some at the sides of her face. On her face she applied black eyeshadow, mascara and eyeliner, pink blusher and crimson lipstick. After she finished, she looked herself on her mirror and smiled gladly. She remained looking at herself for a long while. She felt she had revived after spending a few weeks in hell, and now everything was delightful and beautiful.
She heard a knock on her door, and allowed the person outside in. Zar entered. He looked at her from feet to top of her head while she remained looking at the mirror. He was breathless, and she could see it; but once she turned to her, words somehow formed in his mouth.
“You’re a vision,” he said.
“It’s a dream for me, to look like this again,” she responded smiling.
“Come please, the King awaits you.”
She followed Zar across the corridor, up some stairs and into Hao’s personal quarters, where she once had a living room with her husband. There was the King, looking from a mirror towards the ocean while drinking the same Undine wine she had been served alongside the food.
“She’s been prepared, as you commanded.” Zar said with his hands clenched just above his belt.
“The last time I saw you, you were a defiled effigy, moved by the harsh experiences of this war,” Hao said, “and now you appear as the reincarnation of the goddess Freyja herself.”
“Your majesty,” Abelia curtsied in respect, “I can’t thank you enough, for all you’ve done.”
“It is unnecessary,” Hao said, “it is my responsibility as King to take care of my people.”
“I’ll take my leave my King, if I’m of no further use,” Zar said.
“Go to your chambers before celebration General,” Hao said, “you’ll find a gift that you most deserve.”
Zar nodded his head and left.
“Celebration?” Abelia asked.
“Executions, in honor of our victory against the Black Swordsman,” Hao said. He filled two cups with wine.
Her stomach tightened once she thought of even more death within the city. “I’m sorry; I don’t think I have the strength to attend...”
“I didn’t believe you’d attend,” Hao gave one of the cups to her, “you’re very lucky to still be alive in game. Kirito himself allowed you to live, didn’t he?”
“As I’ve told you before, I only spoke to him in the hopes of spearing my people.”
“I remember you told me that, and I believe you did the right thing,” Hao said, “from the Starting City to my guild’s main base in floor 90th, in all of Aincrad no matter where I go, I hear tales of the Twin Black Swordsman. Some say he’s 7 feet tall. Some of my men tell that he kills men by the hundreds. Other players say he defeated the first floor’s boss in SAO all by himself. Others tell that when he slew Heathcliff, the skies in all of Aincrad rained before all the players disconnected. But I want to hear the truth from a true witness, Kirito the man, not the legend players crafted.”
“I only knew him as captor.”
Hao smiled and sat on the table next to them. “I’m not setting a trap for you to fall in; I just want to have an honest appraisal of my most worthy adversary, one I’ll soon meet on the field.”
“…I remember hearing propaganda from your guild, that Kirito was the leader of a savage guild who wanted to drag Aincrad into chaos by winning the war,” Abelia said.
“But he isn’t a beast that many of your men believe.”
“What is he then?”
“He’s a player who deeply believes in what he is fighting for, he believes what he is doing is just, and he’ll whatever he must to follow those ideals and win the war.”
Hao walked a few steps away of Abelia before turning around. “There’s nothing more dangerous than that.”
“He won’t stop; I don’t think he could even if he wanted to.”
Nodding, Hao smiled. “Then he and I are the same, each believes himself the hero and the other villain. It’s for future generations to decide who’s mistaken. But before that, we’ll continue playing this game, until bitter end.”
Abelia heard footsteps behind her; she turned around and saw Thatch accompanied by two other pirates. The captain was smiling towards her. He had a blood-soaked bandage tied around his forehead, he carried his hat under his left arm and on his neck he had an amulet with the symbol of the Legions.
“The city is yours, me King.” Thatch said. “I came here to take my bounty, to aid in its return to ye guild.”
Abelia looked at Hao. “You bargained with this fucking shit?”
“At a large cost,” Hao drily said before turning his head to the pirates. “Enough Yrd to make most guilds in ALO jealous has been sent to your ships. Disappear as fast as you can from my presence, or you’ll all join the very players you betrayed.”
“Me n’ me hearties will leave at night’s end,” Thatch looked at Abelia, “with all what I’ve been promised.”
Abelia looked at him back, and her hazel eyes widened. She turned to Hao. “I am a citizen of your Kingdom!” she cried.
“One who gave aid to my enemies, for whatever the reason.”
“You can’t do this!”
“I already have,” he coldly retorted.
She opened her mouth again, but the two pirates accompanying Thatch seized her, gagged her mouth, tied her wrist on her back and held her arms strongly. Two pirates dragged her out of the room as she tried to shout for help, but no one paid her heed. She could do nothing but groan, upset and angry and the same time.
Thatch walked a step forward. “It’s rare, to spy with the eye a man who honors his words.”
“Stay beyond the hour we agreed on, and you’ll know the bitter truth,” Hao threatened.
“May the Aesir grant ye the victory ye deserve, Supreme King. Same as they’ve granted me jolly luck.” Thatch approached Abelia, touched her cheek. She moved her face aside, but he then grabbed her jaw softly. “Come me lass, there’re many things beyond this walls I want ye to see.”
Markus walked through the HQ looking for Zar. He did not want to prepare the celebration in honor of the man he despised, but he had already acceded to do it in front of his brother, after he ordered him to do it. He simply had no other choice. He just wanted to attend the preparations rapidly, present the executions and go to sleep, forgetting that night ever happened. But for that to happen, he needed to talk to the Wolf General first. To ease his humor, he tried to think that, with luck, he would get back his title, and that helped him to carry on with the preparations.
He turned left, walking towards Zar’s chambers. Just before entering, he heard woman’s giggles within the room. He opened the door a little and leaned his face inside. He saw the back of two girls that entered Zar’s personal bath, behind his room.
He fully opened the door and entered. He could smell the air filled with steam, and feel the humid heat against his skin. He turned his head left, and found Zar eating bunch of grapes. The general was naked, if it not were for a white towel tied around his waist that reached his knees. He had a notorious well psyche. Large, well-trained muscles on his chest, stomach, back, arms and legs. Markus felt like a pawn piece next to a knight or bishop.
“You want to talk?” Markus sardonically asked, not caring about showing his annoyance.
“Prince Markus,” Markus said surprised, turning towards him while still chewing on some grapes, “you should nock the door when a man is with a woman, has your brother not taught you that?” he laughed at his own quip, “All jokes aside, it makes me happy to see you recover from recent misfortunes. Come, let’s…”
“Unfortunately, I have little time to spare here with you,” Markus interrupted him. Just hearing Zar’s voice annoyed him. “I’m in charge of preparing and hosting the celebration in your honor.”
Zar filled a cup with wine and offered it to him. “Thank you, for your effort.”
Markus didn’t look nor took the glass. “You want something for it?” he asked, “Ale of Valhalla? Fruits from Vanaheim? Roasted boar of Midgard? Oysters plucked from Leviathan’s garden?”
Zar smiled. “I just want to honor you with a gift, as you honor me! I have two girls...”
“Last I checked, followers aren’t allowed within the city,”
“It’s a gift from your brother, one I can share with you,”
“Did he command you to do this, as he commanded me to pay tribute to you?”
Zar sighed. He drank the cup of wine he’d offered to Markus and sat on his bed, with his back against the wall. “You prefer an argument over cunt. I really don’t understand you…”
“I prefer truth!” Markus yelled. He walked towards Zar. “The King wants us to forget our differences. I believe we’re too far apart for that.”
Zar laughed. “As a mortal from a god,” he got up and walked. “One set on a clutch of Blood Knights. He outnumbered them four to one, but he lost his sword, turned around and fled.” he stopped walking once he was in front of Markus. “The other strolled into the jaws of the beast, without a single weapon, and brought down an entire city with nothing but his cunning and silver tongue. Now, refresh your mind: which one are you?”
Markus shrugged and frowned. “One day, I’ll have my title back, and you’ll be beneath my heel...”
“I’ve delayed you too long here; after all you have lots of things to prepare, in my honor.” Zar walked towards his bath. He stopped almost inside. “Look the positive side; you’ll earn some respect from those players beneath you.”
Enraged, the young prince looked down, trying to hide the fury within him. He sighed before turning around and walking out of the room.
“Oh, and Markus,” Zar smiled at him, “oysters.”
With her face under the wooden bag, Abelia could not tell where Thatch and his men were taking her. She knew the city as well as her palms but her sense of direction was useless without her eyes. She could only hear steps, smell meat being cooked nearby and taste of the gag in her mouth. She struggled against the ropes around her wrists, but they were firmly tied in a strong knot. Even if she somehow managed to undo it, two of the pirates held her arms with their calloused, strong hands with sausage-like fingers.
After walking for a few minutes, they stopped.
“Halt!” a voice said. By the strict tone of the player, she knew he was a Legionnaire.
“Move aside,” Thatch ordered, “I’m under ye King’s orders.”
“Your ship is in the opposite direction,” another soldier said. She recognized the voice, it was general Tyr.
“Ther’s somethin’ I must do first, before departin’ to unforgivin’ sea.”
“I remind you Thatch that his majesty only let you stay in the city until tomorrow’s dawn, and I recommend you not to abuse of his generosity,” Tyr responded, “let them pass.”
They continued their walk, and after several turns to the right and twists to the left, they stopped. They removed the bag from her face, and she immediately recognized the place they were in; it was Antinomy’s forge. A mirror shard was glued to one of the walls, and she saw her face. The black makeup close to her eyes had mixed with her tears and slid down her cheeks. Her red lipstick had been wiped away because of the gag on her mouth and the amber curls falling close to her face were now disheveled.
She felt a hand untying the ropes around her wrists, and her arms were free of bond. Thatch moved in front of her, and she struggled against the two pirates holding her with both hands.
“Ye look to me as if I were a monster,” the pirate captain said. His breath reeked of garlic and rum, and it made Abelia nauseous. More tears slid down her cheeks. “But I’m yer best chance right now. Ye have no skill in battle nor a relevant political position within ALO, and without ye in-game husband, Hao only saw ye as a bargainin’ tool.” he grabbed her arms and caressed them up and down. “But don’t worry anymore. Ye’ll now become me queen, the queen 'o all the sea, 'n all them who look at ye, will know that ye mine.”
One of the pirates held a black metal rod over a forge, with its circular head in livid red. Wide-eyed, she cried and she struggled against the two pirates, stronger than ever before, but their hold was too much for her slender and weak arms.
“Thatch, NO!” she babbled with the gag around her mouth.
Thatch moved a step backwards and extended his left hand to his side, taking hold of the blazing tool. “I apologize for the pain this will cause…”
The brand touched her arm left forearm, and white steam came out. Though her gag, Abelia screamed loudly as the blazing metal brunt her skin. She clenched both hands and bit the cloth around her mouth. After a moment, Thatch removed the iron and she saw a dark red T marked on her forearm. She wept, and Thatch embraced her.
“That was the worst part, my love.”
“I don’t think so, you son of a bitch.”
All eyes turned to the entrance, where Galant appeared with sword in hand. Behind him was Aki, but she remained on the entrance, lying against one of the walls with her arms crossed. Thatch and two pirates stepped forward, while the fourth remained behind, holding Abelia.
“It makes me rum-filled to find ye still alive, mate.” Thatch said.
“So do I,” Galant responded, “but many of my guild mates didn’t share my luck.”
“I had no other choice, ‘n it was hard for us pirates to accomplish it. I liked King Kirito ‘n his crew,” he paused for a moment, thinking on what he said, “…well… most of them. But Hao’s men gave me a choice: to earn a huge amount ‘o Yrd, or die with no retribution whatsoever. To scurvy dog like me, it wasn’t a hard call. In any way, I know what you’re thinkin’ right now: that we’re a band ‘o shit-eatin’ pirates, no match for a former champion ‘o the arena.”
Galant smiled and nodded his head.
“Perhaps that’s true, mate,” Thatch continued, “but perhaps me sword will find your woman’s throat before I fall. She’s someone you must appreciate in this delicate situation…”
Galant looked at Aki behind him and then looked to the pirates with a smile that cut like a knife. “She’s not my woman.”
Thatch and his men froze.
A blue blur lunged forward. Morgan was the first to move forward, attacking with his axe, but Galant looped off the head of the weapon, and then his head. The giant pirate collapsed to the ground. The one next to Thatch was the next one to advance, swinging his sword downwards. Galant dodged the attack, passing inches from his head, and countered with a horizontal slash of his own. The pirate avoided by jumping back and then attacked for a second time. The Stardust Knight caught the pirate’s arm halfway through the slash and slammed his blade’s cross-guard into his face. The player fell to the ground, but before the blue knight could finish him, Thatch advanced. Galant caught his arm before he could perform his downswing then tossed him around and he clashed against the body of Morgan. The other pirate rose from the ground and leaped towards the Blood Knight. The Champion blocked his attack, and then slashed across his chest two times in quick succession. Galant turned and saw the last pirate rushing towards him. Abelia was nowhere to be seen.
Thatch rose from the ground and advanced towards Aki, who drew her rapier with annoyance. The captain swiped his blade to his left and hit some of the burning pieces of charcoal from the forge, sending them towards Aki. She covered her eyes with her empty hand, but Thatch knocked her rapier away and slid his blade close to her throat, before taking hold of her hair from behind. He turned towards Galant, who was stabbing the last pirate on the ground with his dagger.
“Aki!” he screamed.
She reached up with both hands and took hold of the saber’s edge, pulling it away from her throat. The blade started cutting into her palms and it felt slippery with the blood, but she did not let it go.
“Oh! So ye do care ‘bout the lass, huh!?” Thatch screamed. He closed his eyes, and when he reopened them, they were as red as his blade. “It’s a pity that ye killed her!”
“NO!!!” Galant screamed.
Thatch turned to him smiling, but he gasped with eyes and mouth fully opened. A livid red metal pierced through his neck. The grip of his blade loosened, and he took hold of the rod with both hands and fell flat on his face. Abelia was behind him, staring satisfied at the pirate’s corpse. She lay against one of the walls, taking hold of the brand as she sobbed.
Galant breathed before walking to Aki.
“Are you alright?” he asked, taking hold of the back of her hands. They had a deep cut on the palms, close to the fingers’ first joint.
“I’ll be alright,” Aki said, snatching her hands back.
Galant nodded and knelt next to Thatch’s corpse, removing his cape. “We have to move quickly, before we’re discovered.”
“What about her?” Aki asked, she grabbed her rapier and sheathed it back. “We can’t leave her here.”
“Abelia’s a citizen of Aincrad’s kingdom; I won’t take her with us.”
“I’m nothing but a slave,” she showed them the brand on her arm, “same as many as your guildmates were.”
The sun had set giving pass to the quarter moon.
The main plaza was filled with hundreds soldiers. Some remained standing on the ground while others sat on the roofs of the buildings surrounding the square. Some wore the armor of the Legions, while others had removed the gear and were the simple uniform of their guild; a white shirt under a black jacket with golden trim and a red scarf on the neck. On their legs, black pants with black boots, also with a golden trim. All were eating meat, either boar, cow or chicken and drinking brown ale. Markus was among them but he stood with his arms on his back and he did not eat. He wore the general’s off-duty uniform, which was similar to the one wore by the rest of the soldiers but included a white shirt and his jacket wore a more refined golden trim.
Hao sat on a platform above his common soldiers, with Zar on his right, Mordread and Tyr on his left. Close to them, but standing, were several colonels, commanding officers and Kingsguard Legionnaires. All of them wore their fine black armors with golden trim and red capes upon their backs. Walking between them were Freya and several other servants, with golden plates filled with plump and juicy oysters served on their shells, seasoned with lemon and spices. Near a wall close a corner, Agil knelt among the other prisoners in chains, watching in horror and anger to the middle of the plaza.
There was a young Blood Knight dressed with nothing but a loincloth and with his limbs spread. On his wrists and ankles, he had tight metal bracelets put on, with long black metal chains attached to them, all of them being pulled by four soldiers. Since the resources the Legions possessed were vast, but not unlimited, the ration of food that each player could eat was small; this was why the soldiers had created a bet to make the execution more interesting. The first group to tear out one of the limbs would get double of rations. The soldiers of each group roared, groaned and pulled while the mob looked at the spectacle roaring as well. Mordread laughed uncontrollably, while Zar simply grinned and Hao stared with a satisfied expression as he ate. Freya wanted nothing more than to look away, but for some reason she did not understand, she could not. Agil clenched his fists behind his back in anger and tried to break his shackles to stop the spectacle but he could not, just as he could not stop the previous executions. The first one was by decapitation, with a knife. The next one was by Gladiator match, four players were given weapons and set to fight against one another, with the promise that the last one standing shall be allowed to live. It was a lie of course; once he won, he was slowly sliced from groin to neck. Three others were chained to a wooden post, bathed on pitch and ignited on fire. The last ones were tied to wheels. While spinning, several soldiers hammered their bodies, breaking their bones. Now there were just two left, Agil and a Spriggan.
As the Legionnaires playing kept on pulling, the screams of the player became louder, longer and more painful until the left arm was tore out of his body in a geyser of blood. They triumphantly raised the arm to the roar of the crowd. Leafa closed her eyes, and breathed, trying not to vomit in front of the entire guild.
Mordread stood up from his seat, “Looks like he’s been…disarmed…”
They all laughed then, Hao, Zar, Tyr, Markus and the rest. Boiling in anger and red-faced, Agil clenched his fist so strongly that his nails cut through his skill and he began bleeding.
Once the laugh had ended, Hao stood up. “The next man will be executed in honor of you cousin, for your much needed help in the re-taking of this city.” A golden ripple appeared next to Hao, and he drew out a large dark grey mace with a circular head and handed it to Mordread. “For that, I believe this weapon to be the best suited for you.”
Mordread smiled and grabbed the weapon. He twirled it in his hand and looked at it. “What a girl!!!” he yelled happily. He rested the club on his shoulder while gripping handle with his right hand and then jumped to the plaza as he approached the two remaining prisoners, now in the empty middle of the plaza.
He turned to the two players and removed his mask, revealing the gruesome violet wound on the right side of his face. It ran down from his forehead, across his brow and eye and it ended close to his mouth. “You two soiled your pants yet?” he paused. “Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical. I think you did. I mean, after witnessing all your friends getting killed one after the other right in front of your fucking eyes, your pants should’ve turned brown and be dripping fucking lemonade.
“If it’s any consolation, it’ll be over really soon. In case you don’t know me, I’m Mordread, Leader of the League of Darkness Knights, and a humble servant to the mighty Hao, sitting over there! You Blood Knights haven’t understood Aincrad’s new law, and the new order is pretty damn simple, so even if you’re fucking stupid, you’ll be able to understand it: this is our world, so do as we say, or we’ll fucking kill you. So now, to hammer that statement into your heads and prove to you pricks that you have no chance against us, I’m gonna pick one of you two and I’ll beat his holy motherfucking fuckity goddamn brains out. So let’s see which one of you pricks gets the honor!”
He kneeled in front of them, slowly studying the faces of the two prisoners in silence. Agil kept his eyes locked with him, hiding the fear that grew inside of him by the second. Mordread’s eyes were red as blood, but when Agil looked at his right eye closely, he could notice that the right one was slightly paler, revealing that he was blind from one eye in real life. The Spriggan trembled and started sobbing. Mordread rose from the ground, smiling. He placed the club’s head on Agil’s left shoulder, grabbing it with both hands.
“Careful how you look at me, pal...” he said. He studied his face more. “You were with Galant back when I attacked you; tell me, how’s he doing? Still a little pissed because I killed his friends? Or you’re looking at me because I killed some of yours?”
Agil didn’t answer. His brow furrowed and started glaring at him.
“You keep that sight against me; even well you very well know that I could kill in game as well as in real life. You’ve got guts, I’ll give you that. But unluckily for you…”
Mordread raised his club and slammed the mace down on the Spriggan’s head.
“I do like guts…”
Agil rose from the ground with his head pushing forward, prepared to ram it against Mordread, but four hands grabbed him from behind. They punched his stomach slammed him into the ground before dragging him back to the wall and knelt him down.
The Spriggan was laid facedown on the ground, his head bloodied. He placed his opened hands on the ground and slowly raised his body. A circular wound was carved across his scalp, and his spiked hair was completely gone. A drip of blood slid down the middle of his forehead, between his eyebrows and down his left cheek.
“That’s my man!” Mordread exclaimed, “taking it full on!!!”
The bat came crashing down on his skull again, and that time, he did not get back up.
Galant walked across narrow alleyways of Nuceria followed by Aki and Abelia. Both girls grabbed ropes and encircled their wrists with them, but hid the extremes between their hands. Galant held the other extremes of the ropes on his hand. To be able to walk without being noticed, he had donned Thatch’s coat over his blue one and, between the two, strapped his sword to his waist. He donned the collar with the symbol of the legions, then tied a black bandana of one of the dead pirates over his head and put Thatch’s bi-corned hat over it. After walking alone through one corridor, they came across two soldiers walking towards them. He took a breath and looked down, and once the Legionnaries were close, he let them pass first. Both walked by without saying a word and barely looked at them. The trio kept on walking a few more steps, closer to the main plaza, and heard the sounds of cheers and joy.
“What’s that?” Galant asked.
“Executions,” Abelia answered, “Hao wants to raise the spirits of his men by using the Blood Knights who survived the taking of the city.”
Galant’s grip around the ropes tightened, “I’ll have retribution for them one day.”
“But now we have to stick to the alleyways as I guide,” Abelia said, “and perhaps we’ll live to have it.”
The skull of the Spriggan had been reduced to nothing but flesh, brain and pieces of broken bones, but Mordread kept on bludgeoning the remains as if he was a kid tearing an insect’s limbs before killing him. He finally stopped, the club’s head dripping blood and he was heavily breathing. He raised the weapon to the skies, and all the soldiers applauded. After recovering himself, Mordread laughed and then turned to Agil, who just stared at the bloody pool covering the white marvel ground.
“What?” Mordread asked, “Were you expecting a better punchline?”
Agil raised his sight and glared at Mordread.
“Seems you’re in the need for more!” Mordread yelled.
“Mordread!” Hao said, rising from his chair, “That’s enough. He’s the last one; he’s not yours to kill.”
“Party pooper…” Mordread whispered. He placed the club on his shoulder and walked back to the platform, where he sat down with his legs crossed and placed club’s head on the ground as he held the pommel with his left hand.
Once he did, Hao spread his arms, “Let’s have the final tribute of blood in honor of General Zar!!!
“ZAR!” one of the soldiers shouted. Soon, all were encoring his name in harmony.
ZAR! ZAR! ZAR! ZAR! ZAR!
“YOU FUCKING COWARDS!!!” Agil exploded. “You’re scared shitless to give us a chance to fight back in a proper battle!!!”
His strong, rough voice was distinguishable among the sound of the mob. Most of them simply laughed as soon as they heard him. Markus approached alongside other two Legionnaires behind him, who proceed to lift the prisoner to his feet and walk him to the middle of the plaza. Smiling, he then advanced close to the platform and spoke.
“Your majesty, honored guests, brave soldiers of the Aincrad’s Kingdom. We’re here to praise a man considered above many in ALfheim. A man who possesses such good fortune that he must be blessed by the Aesirs themselves!”
The crowd roared and applauded. When they finished, Markus proceeded.
“According to the tradition of executions of our guild, the death of the very last prisoner represents the end of our battle, and the pinnacle of victory over our enemies. Shouldn’t we award Zar to deliver such, with sword of steel!” the soldier on Agil’s right offered him his sword, and he drew it out. “In a battle that he started with nothing but…silver tongue…”
The crowd roared again and chanted the General’s name. Cordially, Markus placed the sword on his opened palms. He briefly looked to his older brother, who smiled nodded his head, and then turned to Zar. Moved by the praise and the chanting of his name, the Wolf General stood up from his chair and jumped down from the platform and into the plaza.
“Choose your words with care,” Zar told Markus while he grabbed the Gladius.
“As we all must, in this position,” Markus retorted with a smile, before giving him a slight bow and backing of to return with the crowd.
The mob continued to howl and clap, so Zar raised his empty hand to end it.
“This man won’t fall in the honor of Zar,” he announced, “nor will he fall in honor of the mighty Supreme King and future King of Aincrad. He’ll fall, in honor of the glory of Aincrad!!!”
He raised his sword and slowly turned on his axis as the troop rumbled in agreement and the King and his commanders applauded. He was close to the finish the turn when Agil advanced half a step and a metal blur slapped against the general’s face. When saw the soldier on the Gnome’s right saw the opened shackle in Agil’s hand, he threw a blind hooked punch, but Agil effortlessly caught the arm. The soldier on his left stepped back, slid his sword out and advanced, but the Gnome kicked his chest before he could take the swing and sent him slamming down to the ground. He then grabbed the other soldier’s arm with both hands and slammed him to the ground as well.
“KILL HIM!!!” Hao ordered.
He jumped off his chair, raised his right arm horizontally and then summoned several blades behind him, aiming directly to the disarmed Blood Knight. All the commanders and Kingsguard next to him rose as well, with their blades on their hands. Following command, the horde of soldiers immediately drew their weapons as well; all ready to charge against the savage and cornered prisoner.
“HALT!!!” Zar commanded raising his hand, and everybody did. He had stumbled back after the strike but had now regained his balance close to the platform. The left side of his face was slightly red, but he smiled as he saw the surprised faces of the troop. He took a few steps forward and spat out blood. “It’s the will of the Aesir that this beast freed himself from shackles, so that I may prove myself worthy of the praise given to me by our King!!!” he turned his head and looked to Markus. “…and his younger brother…”
He looked to Hao, who remained frozen, with his right arm held up and his weapons aiming towards the Blood Knight. After a short moment, he nodded his head and let his arm down. The weapons behind him banished into golden dust and the soldiers shouted in consent and sheathed back their weapons.
Zar turned to Agil, “Come then, let’s see what your guild is truly capable of.”
He tossed his sword to him and slid Crocea Mors from its sheath.
Wrathful after witnessing the death of all his comrades, Agil started his onslaught half a second after the general had drawn his weapon. He attacked with a downwards slash, then one left to right, and then another in reverse. Zar blocked the blows while flinching back. After the last attack, he saw the wide opening on Agil’s torso and swiped with his weapon, but the Gnome was faster than he expected and jumped back a few inches. Seeing another opportunity, the Legionnaire continued his assault, advancing forth with his strong and quick swordplay. Nevertheless, Agil’s defense was precise, his attacks stronger and much faster than what he appeared. After deflecting an attack, he punched the right side of the general’s face and chained a quick low slash to Zar’s thigh.
The crowd kept on cheering for their commander while Markus smiled at the scene with happy eyes and his teeth clenched, forming a vague smile with his lips.
With a hand over his wound, the general flinched back while pointing his sword at Agil, who groaned at him like corned animal. He attacked again, deflecting Crocea Mors away, but Zar switched back his arm’s momentum and attacked. Agil blocked and, just before he took another swing, got hold of Zar’s right elbow. He then leaned forward while stabbing, though Zar broke from his hold just in time to avoid the attack. Even still, Agil twirled using his momentum and threw a blind punch to Zar, striking the left side of his face. He stepped back and stumbled, but regained balance once his back clashed against the platform where Hao and his fellow commanders were.
Corned, Zar attacked but Agil caught his forearm on the downswing with his empty hand, while Zar also caught Agil’s own sword arm while he attacked. They struggled against each other, until Zar’s strength started to fade, his legs bent and he saw Agil’s sword getting closer, the worn out edge of the blade advancing to his eye, and behind it the sewn-up spear wound on his opponent’s stomach.
Zar then moved his left arm above his head, using Agil’s strength against him and the blade clashed against the wall, sending bluish white sparks flying away. With his empty hand now free, the Wolf General thrusted a punch into Agil’s wound. The stinging pain ran through Agil’s body, compelling him to release Zar’s arm. He flinched back while bending forward and placing his empty hand against the throbbing wound. He could feel that some of the stitches had opened. Clenching his teeth, Zar sprang back to his feet, advanced and attacked. Agil lifted his blade and parried as well as he could while holding hand over his gut, but the general then kicked his wound. He cried out in pain and his gladius fell from his grasp and clanged against the ground. He bent more, taking hold of the wound with both hands and grasped for breath.
His feet tottered as he looked up to Zar smiling at him, thrusting with his blade. Agil raised his left arm, and felt the weapon tearing through forearm skin, but he took hold of Zar’s right arm and his other hand tightened around his throat. As his fingers squeezed around the General’s neck, his face reddened. Hao, commanders, Kingsguard, soldiers and servants alike were silent as they witnessed the final struggle of the two combatants, waiting for a victor to rise. With a single hand, Agil lifted Zar in the air as they locked their eyes against each other. Slowly, Zar’s eyes started to close when his face started turning purple and his strength faded. Agil smiled, but he then felt the pain of his stomach start again, this time stronger than ever before, and his grip loosened. With his eyes closed, Zar slashed across the knight’s stomach, and the giant collapsed to his knees, crying out nonsense in pain. Zar fell to the ground as well, grasping for air.
The trooped roared in happiness. All but Markus, who sighed disappointed.
As the blood poured out of his stomach, Agil saw that the spear wound had opened again and become larger. Four bloody fingers, like tendrils, were marked close to it. He looked up to Zar, still on the ground, and saw that his left hand was covered in fresh blood. Kneeling on the ground, he cursed his bad luck. With the little strength he had left, he raised his torso. Next to him, he spotted his gladius on the ground and grabbed it.
Fully recovered, Zar raised and looked to his men.
“Let this man’s death serve as message, for the fate that awaits Kirito himself!!!”
The soldiers rallied on his statement. Hao and many of his generals applauded him. He then looked down to Agil, who glared at him with eyes filled with hate.
He nodded his head in respect. “Well fought brother,” he praised the Gnome.
“SUCK MY COCK!” Agil retorted angrily, “YOU TRAITOROUS PIECE OF SHIT!”
Angered, Zar raised his blade and but before he drove it down, Agil’s eyes suddenly widened and his sight distorted to the starless night sky. Drips of blood came out from the sides of his mouth and more gushed out from his neck. Agil was holding his sword’s hilt with both hands, close to his knees, and the tip came out from the top of his head. Wide-eyed and motionless, Zar remained staring to the lifeless body bending to the left until it collapsed, and even more red covered the white marvel floor. He let down his sword, disappointed. Silence engulfed the plaza.
“Behold!” Hao said, and all eyes turned. “Their greatest warriors take their own lives, in fear of Zar!!!”
YEAH!!! The soldiers cheered, before chanting his name again. ZAR! ZAR! ZAR!
Markus clenched his fists as he glared to the player he hated; a man who was now the hero of the Legion.
On their way to the eastern gate, the trio trudged through one of the main streets, filled with soldiers. Even still, they were less than they expected, and they barely even looked at them, same as the two others from before. “Seems the disguise was better than I thought it’d be. Or they’re more stupid than I thought…” Galant thought. But a few minutes after the last cheer that came from the main plaza, more had appeared.
They stopped before a turn to the left.
“The executions must’ve ended,” Abelia whispered, “We won’t make it if more come,”
Galant leaned out, looking to what came after the turn. The turned around after. “Finally a bit of luck, three horses tied to a post. You two know how to ride?”
“I’ll have to…” Abelia responded.
“Stay close,” Galant said, “we won’t turn back for you.”
He walked, and so did Abelia and Aki. They stayed close to the wall on their left when three soldiers came walking and Galant looked down to the ground, trying to hide his face. He felt a rush going through his body once the two had passed and he saw the three horses just fifty meters ahead. Smiling, they moved their legs faster.
Twenty meters from the animals, and a general entered the street; black hair and onyx eyes. He was followed by Tyr and four Legionnaires carrying full gear.
Galant grit his teeth and clenched both his fists. He remembered they briefly clashed steel on the docks, but it was the first time he looked at him knowing who he was. He wanted to draw his sword from his belt and take Zar’s head right there. But he didn’t. He looked down and kept on walking, hoping he would not recognize him wearing Thatch’s hat and coat. Aki did the same, and Abelia looked at Zar as he passed next to them.
“You there!” Zar called from behind.
The three stopped. Galant smile banished from his face and he closed his eyes. Aki kept looking down to the ground and Abelia felt her heart beating faster than before.
The general approached with his soldiers behind him. “I thought just one woman was given to Thatch. Where did you find this Salamander girl?”
Galant turned and kicked Zar on the gut, pushing him back.
“GO!!!” he screamed, and the two girls ran to the horses.
Galant reached for his sword with his right hand while he threw away Thatch’s hat and bandana with his left, as he saw the two Legionnaires advanced to cover their general. He parried the downward slash of the first one, and the soldier stumbled forward. The second came with another slash, and Galant parried, advanced and nailed the player on the back of his neck. He jumped back as the other came back, eluded his attack and slashed the player’s right side, breaking through the narrow slits between metal strips that made the armor’s abdomen.
“Rebel!!!” Zar shouted. He slid free Crocea Mors and advanced.
Galant activated Dimachearus.
The Stardust Knight lunged forward with his right sword, but the Wolf General moved his torso to the left while parring Maximus Caliburn and countered with a horizontal slash. Galant blocked Zar’s attack with his other blade and launched his own with the right one again, but Zar warded off while taking a step backwards, then once again when Galant chained a second attack with his other weapon. The Legionnaire raised his blade and brought it down but the former champion blocked with his left sword while attacking Zar’s open leg, but he switched the place of his legs just in time, dodging the attack. He countered with a slash from left to right, yet Galant parried. The General did not stop and chained a thrust. Galant deflected the attack, moved Caliburn and Crocea Mors up and slashed Zar’s open side while using Crescent Stardust Slasher, breaking through armor and sharing through flesh. Zar screamed in pain and flinched back. Galant was ready to finish him off, as he first wanted to, but Tyr jumped forward while swinging his blade, yet the blue knight blocked with one sword and smashed the sword’s cross-guard against the commander’s face, pushing him to the wall.
The two other soldiers advanced to cover their generals. Galant came at them with all his strength, though his swords merely scratched their tower shields. A steam of soldiers came behind Zar.
“Galant!!!” Aki called from behind. He retreated, looked back and knelt. Three fire spears passed above his head and clashed against the soldier’s shields, igniting the defensive weapon on fire.
Galant turned around and hoped onto his horse, spurred and the animal bolted forward so fast that he almost fell off, if it were not for the saddle. Aki followed him second, and lastly Abelia.
Zar rose from the ground, with his left hand placed over the wound on his side. “SOUND THE ALARM YOU WORTHLESS SHITS!!!”
The light of the quarter moon shined their path as the three sped through the twisting ribbon that was the way to the eastern gate. The constant sound of three horses’ hooves hitting the ground was like the hearts of hundreds of soldiers before a battle. They passed by many soldiers; some looking confused at them, others shouting or cursing, but most jumped aside before running behind them. Fewer soldiers dared to get in their way, but either Galant or Aki rode them down without any hesitation. Players and beast alike lowered their heads, as the riders asked the steed for more speed.
Galant turned left, and was the first to arrive at the gateway. He could see the broken and burnt pieces of the wooden portcullis on the side, the gate fully opened and beyond it the freedom of the wastelands engulfed by the night’s darkness. In front of him a group of ten Legionnaires in formation, with their shields facing towards the city, their swords jutting out the narrow spaces between them.
Galant held his right blade horizontally and screamed as the horse clashed against them, breaking the formation. Most of the soldiers in the middle fell, and those who did not, fell as well, but to Galant’s blade as he slashed faces, slit throats, severed limbs, broke wood and sheared through metal while he wheeled the horse around. Instants later, Aki arrived as well, joining the skirmish. Lines of blood splattered against the walls as the two cut the Legionnaires into pieces. A single soldier armed with a spear advanced forward and thrusted it into Abelia’s side. Galant hacked the head of the spear before thrusting his sword into the player’s eye. As soon as he did, Abelia’s horse galloped into the night. Aki slashed the neck of a player and swiftly followed her.
When the last soldier came at him, Galant’s horse raised its forelimbs and came down with all its weigh. The soldier’s head got caught once the horse came down, and its hooves broke through metal and turning its head into red pulp.
Galant turned to the city, and saw that Zar had arrived at the gateway. Holding his left hand over the wound, he glared at Galant, who stared back at him. The thought of riding him down crossed his mind, but more soldiers appeared behind him in tight formation at the command of Tyr. Galant reached to his neck, teared Hao’s necklace off his neck and threw it at the general’s feet. Giving Zar one last look and grin, he spurred his horse and followed Aki and Abelia into the night, leaving the wrathful general scowling into the darkness.
Shirtless, Zar was lying down on his bed as the doctor cleaned the wound on his right side. His hand shined sky-blue as he placed the hand over the wound. The sting of the spell made Zar grit his teeth, clench the sheets and his muscles tensed. But he stood the pain without groan or scream.
The armor was broken on the right side, and he had left it with one of the blacksmiths, who said he would have it fixed by the morning. The doctor had told him that the wound was deep, and that wearing his armor saved might had his life. After hearing that comment, he cursed the traitorous blue knight. The anger he felt and thinking about a rematch helped him ease the pain.
He saw a shadow casted from the entrance, and when he turned he saw Hao. He got up slowly.
“Sorry, my king,” he said, “I can’t stand up.”
“It’s unnecessary,” Hao turned to the doctor, “leave us.”
He wrapped Zar’s abdomen with white bandages. After a short bow, he walked away. The general sat down on the bed, with his back lying against the wall. He grabbed a jug of wine and drank.
“Seems you made some friends among the Blood Knights during your time here,” Hao quipped.
“Seems so…” Zar smiled, but it soon vanished from his face. “Why don’t we go after him? Does the wolf fucking general have to risk his life to kill every last Blood Knight himself?”
“Going to the ridge at night would put us in a disadvantage.”
“By the day, he’ll be out of grasp, alongside Kirito and the rest of his horde that you allowed to escape.”
“Galant can’t reach his teammates on the ridge without going through the only pathway there. He has to go to northern entrance, and I’ve already sent Mordread to join his guild up there. When dawn breaks, my Legions will begin final march urged by threat of Decimatio, and dreams of glory after celebration of victory in your honor.
“I allowed them nothing but the illusion of hope,” Hao added. He walked to the door.
“Kirito isn’t an idiot,” Zar added, and Hao stopped. “You expect him to wait in the snowy mountains for you to arrive to announce his end?”
Hao turned around. A smile took shape on his face and his golden eyes gleamed. “That’s exactly what I expect.”