Sword Art Online Unleash Blading

Sword Art Online
Unleash Blading

Dark Emperor, Chapter 2

——Central Cathedral: Outdoor Training Grounds——

 Sylvie thrust her sword forward. She twirled her opponent Deusolbert's blade away, slipped in close, and stabbed sharply upward towards his throat.
 But Deusolbert hit the flat of Sylvie's sword with his left arm, sending her flying. She managed to regain her footing just in time to keep from falling, but her arm was numb from the impact.
"Your footwork has improved... but your strikes lack power," Deusolbert said. "You're too focused on your legs. It's slowing your swings."
"With repetition, you'll be able to coordinate your legs and arms without thinking about it."
 Sylvie hung her head in shame. But she quickly looked up and gripped her sword tight again.
"Good. Now, come at me!"

——Central Cathedral: Sacred Arts Classroom——
That's wrong, Sylvie."
 Soness, the Sacred Arts instructor, halted Sylvie in her feverish incantations.
"Complicated chanting always brings out your worst habits. The Sacred Tongue's order, intonation... I taught you that there is meaning in all of that. Unless you understand this meaning well, you will fail as you did just now."
"Don't try to chant skillfully. Think about the meaning behind the words and really understand them."
 The monotone voice of her teacher made Sylvie bite her lip in frustration. Noticing this, Shirley called out some encouragement from behind her.
"Chin up, Sylvie! You've already improved so much!"
"As for you, Shirley, you've lost all the progress you made yesterday. That is a manifestation of your negligence."
"Urk... Sorry."
 Shirley shrank back just like Sylvie. Soness was infamous for being a strict teacher—even Swordswoman Subdelegate Asuna got her fair share of scoldings. But the two exchange students were not daunted by this. They put all their hearts into their lessons.

"Ugh... Another exhausting day, eh, Sylvie?"
"Damn it! I was completely incompetent again today. She kept admonishing me..."
 Their long day finally at a close, the two girls were headed to the dining hall. This was the first time they were walking there without the company of Ronie, Tiese, or Eydis.
"Don't say that, Sylvie. You've gotten a lot better! Besides, you're really good with the sword. It's easy to believe you were a Dark Knight!"
"I'm only a Dark Knight trainee... I still have a long road ahead. I can't keep wallowing in self-pity."
"You're a real trooper, Sylvie! With that attitude, I just know you'll get stronger and stronger!"
 There wasn't a trace of worry in Shirley's smile. On Sylvie's first day there, the two had quarreled over differing opinions on how to interact with Human Empire citizens. But from the next day onward, Shirley had drawn Sylvie out of her shell.
"You're pretty amazing yourself, Shirley. You seemed completely comfortable in Soness's class."
"Hahaha, thanks. It can be rough, but it's still much easier than Lady Lipia's training sessions!"
"Oh right... You got personal lessons from Lady Lipia. How I envy you... I was taught by my mother and father, but... Oh...!"
 Sylvie remembered Shirley mentioning an orphanage previously. In other words, Shirley had no parents.
"S-Sorry. I know you don't have any, um..."
"Oh, it's okay, I'm not bothered that I used to be at an orphanage. I got lots of little brothers and sisters, so I'm completely fine with it."
 Shirley had already overcome the grief of losing her parents. She was moving on with her life. A part of Sylvie admired Shirley for her strength...but another part of her felt incredibly wretched. The girls walked for a while in silence. Then, they heard a cheerful voice from behind them.
"Hey, you two. Finished with the day's lessons?"
"Oh! Kirito... Yes, Sylvie and I were about to go to dinner," Shirley responded with a sunny smile.
 Sylvie, meanwhile, was stiff and cold. She and Kirito were acquainted when she arrived at the Central Cathedral. But as Kirito held such a powerful position in the Human Empire, she found it hard to open up to him.
"Hana's introducing her new menu today. It's gonna be real tasty!"
"Ooh, really?! Wait... How did you know about the dining hall menu, Kirito? Did you think it up?"
"Not exactly... But keeping abreast of the Cathedral's meals is an important part of the swordsman delegate's job."
"You know, Kirito, you really don't seem like an authority figure. Even though I know you are. Right, Sylvie?"
Sylvie gulped nervously.
 Kirito's eyes darted over to her. Unable to stand his gaze any longer, she turned and ran.

"I hope...I didn't offend Shirley."
 She continued scurrying down the hallway, unsure of where she was exactly. Shirley was being so kind to her, yet she had distanced herself once again.
"She's friendly with the Human Empire dwellers. But I...I just can't..."
 Whenever she thought about her slain parents, she could never be congenial with anyone from the Human Empire. Not even Kirito, the most important person in the land...


 She had been walking with her eyes closed without realizing it. Sylvie collided with someone and fell on her bottom.
"Urk... Sorry. Are you all right?"
 It was a green-haired man with a gentle face. He looked young enough that one could call him a boy. This youth was also of the Human Empire...and judging by his clothes, he was either a knight or knight-in-training.
"I'm fine..."
Ignoring his extended hand, Sylvie stood on her own. The young man didn't seem to mind.
He smiled and said, "You're the exchange student from the Dark Realm, right? Have you settled in here?"
"That's a very fine suit of armor you're wearing... Are you an Integrity Knight?"
 Shirley ignored his question and asked one of her own. The young man scratched his head, looking a bit perplexed.
"Oh, yes. I'm Renly Synthesis Twenty-Seven. Nice to meet you."
"So you are an Integrity Knight... Then, you also fought against Dark Knights in the Otherworld War?"
 Renly's smile vanished and he fell silent.
"Yeah... I'm so sorry..."
 Sylvie's gaze hardened.
"Where did you fight?!"
"I fought near a giant gorge where some knights and pugilists had crossed. They were forced by their commanders to make that futile trek across the chasm..."
"What?! Is that true?!"
 Sylvie was pressing Renly so hard she might have been biting off his head.
"So, the Integrity Knight with the giant sword... Did you and he attack my parents' platoon?!"
"Your parents... So your parents were there. Well, it was war. We had no choice but to fight."
 The words Bercouli told him that day materialized in Renly's mind.
"This is war. This is no time for us to feel sorry for the forces of darkness."
 Renly and Alice both felt sorry for their enemies when they saw the scene unfold before them. Fighting an enemy on the battlefield was one thing—but attacking them while attempting a deadly crossing by rope across a gorge was not the way of an honorable knight. But Bercouli had cut through their reservations with his firm words.
 Sylvie, however, did not seem to hear the grief in Renly's voice. This only made her angrier.
She leaned even closer to Renly and yelled, "The Integrity Knight with the giant sword—where is he?! Isn't he here somewhere?!"
 Renly looked at Sylvie with a start. He had just realized that Bercouli was the one who had killed her parents.
"Commander Bercouli...lost his life in the Otherworld War."
 When Sylvie heard this, the anger in her eyes clouded over with despair.
"He's...dead? The man who killed my mother and father is dead?"
 Sylvie felt as though the thing she had been searching for—the hope that had kept her going—was falling to pieces. If that man is gone, then...then what is my purpose for living now?
She could only see darkness. There was no longer any energy in her limbs.

"Why are you carrying on in the hallway?"
Fanatio walked by with Berche in her arms, cutting through the quiet yet tense atmosphere. With a look of relief in his eyes, Renly exclaimed, "Commander Fanatio!" He ran over to her and explained the situation.
"I see. So Commander Bercouli slew her parents on the battlefield... Renly, please take Berche for me."
 Fanatio handed her baby to Renly and grabbed the shoulders of Sylvie, whose gaze was still vacant. Renly fumbled nervously as he held his unexpected bundle tight in his arms.
"Sylvie... Look at me."
"I am Fanatio Synthesis Two, current commander of the Integrity Knights. And I am also the wife of Commander Bercouli...the man who killed your parents."
 Sylvie's once empty eyes opened wide in disbelief.
"As Renly told you, Commander Bercouli is no longer in this world. If you wish to avenge your parents, then, as I am his wife, you should fight me."

"C-Commander Fanatio?!"
 Renly cried out before Sylvie could react.
"Y-You're serious?! So, you won't complain if I kill you, right?!"
 Sylvie shoved Fanatio's hands off her shoulders and gripped the hilt of her sword. It was then that she noticed she was carrying her wooden practice sword. But that wasn't enough to dampen her resolve.
"I swear it, on the name of the Integrity Knights," Fanatio promised quietly.
 Then she took a defensive stance, sword in hand. Icy chills ran up Sylvie's back at the sight. Fanatio was immeasurably more skilled. Even if Sylvie came at her with everything she had, she would perish in barely a moment. But still, she could not bow her head in defeat.
"Th-This is getting out of hand... Wh-Where's the swordsman delegate..."
 Noticing Renly's nervousness, Berche started to cry in his arms.
 The tension filling the air to bursting point was softened in an instant by the baby's cries. To inhabitants of the Dark Realm with its harsh environment, babies were precious creatures who must be protected at any cost. In the same moment, a truth hit Sylvie hard: this woman she wanted to kill was a mother.
 With a frustrated grunt, she turned and ran away.

"I suppose a duel in front of a crying infant was an impossible task. My apologies."
 Fanatio dropped out of her battle stance, looking truly remorseful.
"Commander Fanatio, this is madness! How could you—"
"I'm sorry I put this on you, Renly. There, there, Berche. Come to Mom."
 Safe in his mother's arms, Berche stopped crying and fell into a soft slumber. As she gazed sweetly into his face, Fanatio murmured quietly.
"However...the heart of someone who lost her family cannot be so easily mended. Especially someone who lost both her father and mother at the same time..."

 The next day, Sylvie rejected Shirley's invitation to walk to class. She stayed home from all of her classes. She felt bad to do that to Shirley, but she did not think she would be able to control herself if she crossed paths with someone from the Human Empire just then.
 The man who killed her parents was dead. But would slaying his wife Fanatio in his place really be the right thing to do? Would that bring peace to her parents' spirits?
"Besides...that baby..."
 If Sylvie killed Fanatio, Berche would lose both of his parents. Just like she herself had.
"Father, Mother...what should I do?"

There was a knock at her door.


 Sylvie had fallen asleep during her tormented musings. She hadn't been sleeping well at night ever since she arrived in the Human Empire. And she'd had a particularly difficult time sleeping the night before.

Again, she heard a knocking at the door.

"It must be Ronie...or maybe Tiese."

 They probably came to see why she had missed class. Sylvie considered ignoring her visitor, but Human Empire dwellers were all quite nosy. They might not leave Sylvie alone until she at least showed her face.
"Who's there?"
"It's me, Fanatio."
 For a second, she thought she'd misheard. But the voice on the other side of the door was indeed the voice she'd heard yesterday for the first time—it was Fanatio.
"Wh-What do you want?! Did you come to drive me away?!"
"Of course not. I just want to talk. Won't you let me in?"
"B-But I..."
 She was going to finish with "could never let you in," but she stopped herself. She did not want to appear weak. This was...someone dear to her parents' murderer. A part of her also wanted to know why Fanatio had bothered coming to see her.
"Wait there!"
 Sylvie cautiously opened the door and let Fanatio into her room. She wasn't carrying a sword or wearing armor like yesterday. Blood flashed to Sylvie's head—she thought she was being mocked. But she realized that even without a sword, Fanatio was so skilled that she could easily defeat Sylvie just the same.
"Sorry to barge in on you like this."
"Never mind that. Just tell me why you're here."
 Sylvie spoke sharply, trying to feign calmness. But the trembling in her voice escaped during the last couple words.
"Many reasons... But first, I want to apologize for yesterday."
"Apologize?! Uh, but..."
"There's no way you could have dishonored yourself by dueling someone with a child nearby. Yet I pressured you to duel me. For that, I apologize."
"I don't care..."
 The unexpected apology caught Sylvie flatfooted. It was clear to Sylvie that Fanatio's apology was sincere. But she still could not accept it.
"I also came here to reiterate that if you wish to avenge your parents, I am ready to face you anytime."
"Do you...truly mean that? I know you'd probably just conspire with the other Integrity Knights and—"
 Fanatio stared hard into her eyes. Sylvie tried to look away, but somehow she couldn't.
"I may not look it to you, but I am the Knight Commander. I would never resort to such cowardice."
 Fanatio was so imposing, Sylvie caught herself nodding.
"And you needn't concern yourself with Berche. He'll be raised well here, even if I'm gone."
"B-But why?! You didn't even kill them! Why would you..."
"I know... It's difficult to explain my reasoning."
 Fanatio paused, smiling awkwardly.
"Perhaps it's because in birthing Berche...I've learned just how precious family is. I won't try to tell you I understand what it's like to lose your parents, but I do empathize."
 If Fanatio came face to face with Bercouli's killer, she would want to kill them, too. That urge would be all the stronger, since she had lived her life as a knight.

"You're serious...aren't you."
"I am."
"Understood. For now...my answer is no. I can't beat you yet."
"I see. I like that you are very self-aware."
 Staring into Fanatio's earnest eyes, Sylvie finally felt the anger melt out of her. Meanwhile, Fanatio was her usual calm self.
"Can I just ask you one question? It's um...about Bercouli..."
"Yes. What is it you want to ask?"
"That man...Bercouli...he was strong enough to kill both my mother and father. How could such a strong knight like him die?"
 Fanatio's eyes were colored with sadness.
"I heard that he lost his life fighting the Dark Emperor Vecta. Sadly, I was not present for that fight, or for his final moments."
"Emperor Vecta..."
"Emperor Vecta was a godlike man from another world, selfish and hungry for power. Commander Bercouli defeated him once, but he was unable to deliver the final blow. Still, it was Bercouli's actions in that moment that brought peace to both realms."
 The love in Fanatio's voice told Sylvie just how proud she was of him.
"Kirito said so. And I believe him."
"So he died...a knight's death."
"Yes, he did. In a way most true to his nature...he fell in battle."
 He met his end in battle. The same could be said of Sylvie's parents. While most of their comrades had died crossing the gorge, her parents had miraculously survived. They had the honor of meeting their end as proud knights with sword in hand. Their platoon was outmatched only because Emperor Vecta had given the unreasonable command to cross the gorge by rope. So, if anyone was to blame...it was certainly not Bercouli.
 A seed of doubt sprouted in Sylvie's thoughts. It was then that a realization struck her.
"You said Vecta came from another world... What do you mean by that? Dark Emperor Vecta was the commander of the dark forces. How could he be from another world? And you said he was selfish for power?"
"I don't know the details very well myself. But Kirito might."
"I see... Okay. I'll go speak with Kirito then."
 Sylvie needed to learn more about Emperor Vecta, about the prime culprit who drove her parents to their deaths. She used to think that if they had died by their commander's orders, their deaths would be a tragedy that could not have been avoided. But if the command had been given for selfish reasons...
"Go on now. I'll see you later, Sylvie."
 Sylvie left her room with Fanatio's parting words urging her along.

"There you are...Kirito!"
 After wandering the Central Cathedral for a while, Sylvie finally found her target. He was a sort of phantom in the Cathedral—nobody ever seemed to know where he was. Sylvie found it hard to believe someone so flippant held such power.
"Hey there, Sylvie. What brings you here?"
 Kirito turned just his head back to look at her.
"Don't you have Soness's class right now? Asuna said she can be pretty scary if you—"
"Kirito, is it true that Dark Emperor Vecta came here from another world?!"
 Kirito's jaw dropped. He wasn't expecting that question.
"Vecta? Why are you asking about him out of nowhe—"
"Just answer me!"
 Seeing the anguished look on Sylvie's face, Kirito decided he should take her seriously. He turned to face her properly and gave his reply.
"Yes, Vecta came from another world. He was a man who used the guise of Dark God Vecta to come here."
 Kirito's gaze was distant, like he was looking at someone who was no longer there.
"He was trying to get Alice—the Priestess of Light—for himself. He started a war and plunged both realms into a crisis of apocalyptic proportions."
"So...so why did he order my parents to cross the gorge?"
"Cross the gorge..."
 Kirito's eyes shifted. He seemed to be searching his memory. Finally finding something, he said,
"Iskahn told me about that. He said the pugilists and Dark Knights were ordered to meaningless deaths. They were sacrificial pawns."
"Sacrificial pawns... So they died for his own selfish greed...for something so..."
 A part of her had suspected as much. But finally hearing the truth still hit her hard. Sylvie's parents, the Dark Knights, and the pugilists...they had all fought so they could claim the Human Empire's rich lands for their own. The Human Empire saw the war as a calamity, but in the Dark Realm, winning this war was an age-old dream. That was why everyone was willing to lay down their lives for the cause.
"Sylvie, are you okay?"
 Had she been alone, she might have cried again. But she couldn't in front of Kirito... She could never let someone from the Human Empire see her in so sorry a state.
"Thank you for telling me."
"You're welcome. But are you sure you're okay?"
"I told you, I'm fine. Goodbye."
 Fighting the tears back, Sylvie bit her lip, and retreated back to her room.

"I'm back."
 Returning to their room, Shirley found Sylvie polishing the sword from her parents. Her eyes looked a bit puffy and red, but filled with determination.
"I'm glad you're feeling better, Sylvie."
"Thanks. Sorry I worried you, Shirley."
"I don't mind. But Soness looked like death today. I just know she's going to yell at you tomorrow."
"Well, I deserve it. I did ditch class."
"Yeah, I guess there's no use complaining!"
 They looked at each other and giggled.
"I'm putting my revenge on hold for a while. I am not yet strong enough to avenge my parents. And at the very least, I'd like to be able to wield this sword first."
"Okay... Then I guess you and I are the same!"
"Yep. We're the same."
"Your sword is really amazing. And it looks so cool, like it's made of bones. Where did you find it?"
"Well, when I was out with my father and mother, I..."
 As Sylvie began her story, Shirley returned to her side with two cups of siral water. Laughter could be heard from their room late into the night.

"Oh, my... This is quite a gem."
 Sortiliena Serlut murmured in awe at the sight of Sylvie's sword. Sylvie proudly puffed out her chest. Kirito smiled softly at the sight of them.
 This had all come to pass because Kirito had seen Sylvie's sword. She had been making swift progress over the past few weeks, but she was still unable to swing the bone blade. That made him wonder if the weapon had a name. So he asked Sortiliena, who was knowledgeable about such things, to have a look at it.
"Lord Shasta himself assured me that it's nearly the equal of a divine weapon."
"Indeed. It certainly is on par with one. It appears to be made of a beast's bones... Unfortunately, I've never encountered anything like it in my studies."
"Hmm, I see... Maybe it's because it was found in the Dark Realm."
"I don't think it particularly matters that we don't know what it is."

 Sylvie took the sword back from Sortiliena and tenderly returned it to its sheath.
"But isn't it a bit...cumbersome? I know, it's a bit presumptuous of me to say when we don't even know the sword's maker..."
 It was Eugeo who had finally given Kirito's sword a proper name: Night Sky Sword. Up until then, Kirito had simply called it "the black sword."
"I see your point, but...General Serlut, do you know which beast these bones came from?"
"I would guess...it was a beast of prey. And a quadruped. Perhaps a giant tiger."
"A tiger..."
"When you say tiger, one mythical beast comes to mind: Byakko."
"Byakko? "
 Sylvie and Sortiliena asked in unison. Sortiliena was amused by this, but Sylvie looked away in a huff.
"In my world, we have a legend of four beast gods who protect the world. Well, technically, this legend only comes from one of our countries..."
 Kirito realized they might not understand the concept of multiple countries within a world, each with their own legends that overlap, so he continued his explanation.
"Anyway, one of those gods is named Byakko. He's a giant white tiger who rules over all beasts."
"A king of the beasts..."
 Sylvie looked a bit proud as she caressed her sword's sheath.
"Byakko's Blade. I think that's a great name."
"B-But it hasn't been settled yet, just so you know!" Sylvie protested defensively.
 Sortiliena and Kirito exchanged mirthful laughter. As Sylvie listened to their laughter, she couldn't help but join them...and realize that the Human Empire wasn't full of terrible people after all.

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