Sword Art Online Unleash Blading

Sword Art Online
Unleash Blading

Dark Emperor, Chapter 3

 The Dark Realm, far to the southwest of Obsidia Palace. There lies an area filled with the ruins of the Otherworld War in which Asuna—in the form of Stacia, the Creator—fought alongside countless soldiers summoned from the real world. These ruins are far from where those of the Dark Realm live. Nobody ever goes near them...and yet two silhouettes stood there all the same. One was a man in a cloak. He was chanting a Sacred Art incantation, his voice barely audible. The other was a giant man in glittering armor. Strangest of all was the fact that neither of them were of the Dark Realm—they both appeared to be from the Human Empire.
 The cloaked man ended his incantation. The mud around him clumped together until it formed a giant human-shaped statue of three mels, surpassing his large companion in stature.

"Hmm... So this is a likeness of Sigurosig. And you made this, Carver?"
"Yes, Lord Tolgash."
 The cloaked man knelt respectfully. The man called Tolgash nodded grandly.
 Tolgash Southacroith. He was the emperor of the southern empire who invaded the Central Cathedral and crossed blades with the swordsman delegate Kirito in the Uprising of the Four Empires. Though he'd lost his life once before, he was reanimated by an arcane spell of the imperial house—just like Cruiga Norlangarth, who'd fought against Ronie and Tiese.
"It does look quite lifelike... Though I can't say if it resembles him."
"To say it is Sigurosig incarnate would not be an exaggeration."
"I see. Then let us proceed to Phase Two. Now, show me your art."
 The cloaked man rose to his feet, extended his arms to the heavens, and began chanting in a muffled voice.

"Now is your time... Awaken, Sigurosig! Chief of the Giants!"
 After several minutes of chanting, the cloaked man, huffing to catch his breath, issued an order to the clay figure. And at the cloaked man's command, the giant earthen figure of Sigurosig glowed red and beat with a pulse. First his arms moved, then his legs. The movements grew larger and larger, until his eyes began to glow.

"Oh, my! He moved! Your art is every bit as astounding as I had heard."
 Tolgash stroked his lavish beard and smiled in awe.
"You not only replicated someone you saw with great accuracy—you revived his very soul..."
 The cloaked man beamed proudly at the emperor's praise.
"A soul resides in a person's likeness, Your Highness. If you recreate a dead person faithfully enough, it is possible to impose a simulacrum of their essence onto the likeness."
"With their powers still intact, I assume..."
 If that were true, then this Sigurosig replica was powerful enough to crush any puny human knight with one blow of his fist.
"Yes, of course, Your Highness. While it is difficult to replicate all his memories, that also makes him susceptible to my commands."
"I see, I see... The more I hear, the more amazed I am. To see the dead revived before my very eyes..."
 Sigurosig growled, yet stood in perfect stillness. But the emperor quickly turned to look at the cloaked man quizzically.
"However, Carver. Why bother restricting ourselves to reanimating the dead? Why not make a copy of someone still living...yes, like that pesky little swordsman delegate bastard? Imagine having a warrior of his caliber at our command."
 If they had that, the Human Empire would be theirs for the taking. Because there was a limitless supply of powerful people they could copy. However, the emperor was not to have his way.
"I'm afraid, Your Highness, that I am only able to make minions from the dead. I did experiment in making minions of living people...but they shattered when I enchanted them. I suspect it is impossible to make minions of souls whose bodies are still living."
"Hmm, I see... What a pity."
 Tolgash spat the words. But there was not a hint of discouragement in his tone.
"Well, we have more than enough dead. This isn't the only one you can reanimate, I presume?"
"No, my Lord. I can reanimate anyone—from the Human Empire to the Dark Realm's demi-humans—so long as I've seen them with my own eyes."
 The cloaked man bowed reverently.
"Well, that is reassuring."
 The cloaked man bowed even deeper in response.
"I owe my gratitude to the imperial family for noticing my talents and letting me perform the minion art."
"Indeed. I hope you continue to serve us well... By the way, what was your name again?"
"I abandoned my Human Empire name the moment I left the Cathedral."
 The man's tone was colored with hatred and anger.
"Please, just call me Carver."
"I see. Then I shall do just that. Carver, proceed with the minion warriors."
"As you wish, Highness."
 Tolgash turned away and left the room. And the carver, his face still downturned, murmured bitterly.
"I will make you rue the day you rejected my immense genius... Human Unification Council..."

"An uprising?! It can't be..."
At Obsidia Palace, Iskahn's brow furrowed when he received the news. There had been numerous bursts of unrest after the peace treaty of the Otherworld War, but all of them had been quelled, and things had been rather peaceful for the past year. He had also placed scouts at all the turbulent places such as the villages of the giants and ogres. It was hard to believe that an uprising would break through all of those safeguards.
"I fear it's true, My Lord. They are giant-led and great in numbers. They're in the southern wilderness. Our platoon of dark knights and goblin archers met them in combat...but the situation looks bleak."
"Yes, giants are pretty hard to beat. All right, we'll form a new platoon at once."
 Iskahn turned to the one-armed pugilist beside him to give a command.
"Dampa, send an urgent message to Lilpilin. The Orc warriors are still young, but we need their numbers."
"Right away, sir!"
"And we need to get to the ogres before they side with the giants. Things could get rather messy otherwise. You will go personally to keep close watch on them."
"Understood, Commander."
 As Dampa hurried off and Iskahn pondered over his next command, the messenger on his knee timidly spoke up.
"Um, Commander Iskahn? Could I please..."
"Sure. Sorry about that. Thanks for the report. You can take the rest of the day off to rest."
 But the messenger shook his head at the offer, slowly opening his mouth to say something.
"What is it? If there's something on your mind, spit it out. Is there something troubling you?"
"Yes... Well, actually, I don't know if it's true or not, so I wasn't sure whether or not to tell you..."
"Just say it."
 Iskahn's tone was sharp. The messenger shrank back for a moment, until he finally delivered the news.
"Yes, sir... You see, there're rumors about the leader of the uprising... They say it's the fallen giant chief."
"The dead giant...?"
 The current chief of the giants had sworn allegiance to Iskahn. And he was still alive, of course—Iskahn's eyes opened wide when he made the connection.
"You can't mean Sigurosig?"
"Yes, sir. Someone who fought in the Otherworld War said so. Naturally, he could have been mistaken."
"Ordinarily, I would laugh off such a story..."
 Iskahn's tone grew somber.
"But there's still a slight chance it may be true. All sorts of unbelievable things've been happening lately."
"There is also...another bit of unverified intelligence. A witness saw someone from the Human Empire there as well."
"From the Human Empire... Are you certain?"
"Forgive me, sir, but this is only hearsay, just like the other bit of intelligence."
"Ah, never mind. I understand. Thank you for the intel."
 The messenger, who had been mentally prepared for a verbal hiding for bringing unverified intelligence, sighed in relief.
"Anyway, get some rest. I'm going to make you run out for more intel again tomorrow."
"Y-Yes, sir!"
 The messenger left, leaving the throne room empty. Only Iskahn and his wife Sheyta remained.
"I know. I'll contact Kirito and the Integrity Knights at once."
"Thanks. I'd like to resolve the matter ourselves if possible. But we might need their help." Iskahn's face was twisted with worry.
 Sheyta nodded reassuringly.
"I'll lead the Pugilists Guild and the Dark Knights to join the fight. You guard our home, Sheyta."
"Be careful out there..."
"That goes double for you."
 Leazetta's kidnapping was still fresh in their memory. Nobody could say with confidence that Obsidia Palace was any safer than a battlefield right now.
"I won't ever let Leazetta come to danger again."
"I know."
 Iskahn and Sheyta gazed into each other's eyes and nodded firmly. Then Iskahn marched quickly out of the throne room. After watching him leave, Sheyta ran for the stable where her beloved dragon Yoiyobi was kept.

 The next day, Integrity Knights Eydis, Entokia, and Nergius—who were already in the Dark Realm—gathered at Obsidia Palace.
"Someone from the Human Empire is with the rebel army?! Is that true, Sheyta?"
"Our messenger said the intelligence was unverified...but I believe it to be accurate."
 Nergius nodded in agreement.
"We received a report that a minion made in the Dark Realm was found in the Human Empire. So it wouldn't surprise me, to find someone from the Human Empire in the Dark Realm."
"First the northern emperor, now the giants? What a scoop, Negio."
"Now's no time for levity, Entokia! And don't call me Negio!"
 Nergius rebuked his flippant compatriot. Then he turned back to Sheyta and bowed formally.
"Lady Sheyta, give us the command to sally forth. We'll help Iskahn's army crush the enemy."
"Of course. Thank you, everyone."
 "Aww, don't mention it!" Eydis smiled and waved her hand dismissively.
"We'll also need to figure out the identity of that person from the Human Empire, I reckon. Though that sounds like it'll be quite the task."
"Ideally, we'd capture him and make him talk, but I think that's too tricky for us to accomplish alone."
 Sheyta nodded in agreement.
"Eydis, could you contact Kirito for me? Flying by dragon is the fastest way."
 Eydis stood straight and saluted.
"As you command! I'll ask Kirimai to go at top speed."
"Then, we'll go catch up with Commander Iskahn. Ready, Negio?"
"Stop calling me Negio!"
 Eydis giggled over their little squabble. And for the first time since news of the uprising broke, Sheyta's face softened into a smile.

 It was a clear afternoon. Ronie and Frenica were walking side by side in Centoria's shopping district.
"Okay, I've got a needle and thread, and I got fabric, too—that's everything we need, Frenica?"
"Yes, I think we'll be fine, but..."
"What, have we forgotten something?"
 Ronie fumbled through her bag. Frenica quickly stopped her.
"No, that's not what I meant... I'm just surprised, Ronie. You're an Integrity Knight, yet you're out shopping. I didn't know Integrity Knights did that."
"Oh yeah, we do. "There used to be a rule that forbade Integrity Knights from showing their faces in public, but Kirito put a stop to that once he became the swordsman delegate. He insisted we mingle with commoners."
"That does sound like something the swordsman delegate would do."
 Frenica nodded, thinking back to all the rumors she'd heard of Kirito during his Swordcraft Academy days. Most of those rumors came from Ronie herself.
"Oh, you can just call him Kirito, Frenica. He insisted on that too, remember? And you're also a classmate of his."
"Yeah, I know...but it just doesn't feel right. I'm sure it's easy for you and Tiese, though."
"I don't know about that..."
 Selka the Sacred Arts apprentice—who had arrived at the same time as Frenica—was already on a first-name basis with Kirito...and Ronie was about to say so, but then stopped herself. Their relationship was a bit unique. Selka was the little sister of an Integrity Knight, Alice Synthesis Thirty. She was also a childhood friend of Eugeo, who was an old associate of Kirito.
"So, what's next? Want to go back? It would be a shame to waste our day off."
Frenica's voice snapped her back to the present. Ronie tended to get lost in her thoughts whenever they were about Kirito's relationships.
"Oh, um, sure. It is still a bit early to head back. I know, let's have some honey pie at the Prancing Deer and—"
 Just as she was about to suggest they get some pies to go for everyone else, a black shadow flew over Ronie's head. Then, the mighty sound of beating wings rustled through Ronie's hair.
"Wh-What was that?"
 Frenica sounded scared. But Ronie knew what it was. Those were dragon wings.
"A flying dragon... Yes, it's Lady Eydis's dragon, Kirimai!"
 By the time Ronie yelled out the name, Eydis and her dragon were already a speck in the distance. It was clear they were flying quite fast. Integrity Knights rarely flew directly above Centoria—and at such a low altitude to boot. There must be some emergency.
"Frenica, sorry! I have to get back to the Cathedral!"
"Understood. Give me your basket, Ronie. I'll carry the rest of the way home for you."
 Ronie handed Frenica her basket and ran back to the Central Cathedral at top speed. She sensed something bad was going down. Her clamoring heart told her so.

The automatic lift was already on its way to the upper levels of the Central Cathedral. So Ronie took the stairs to the great hall on the ninety-fifth floor. She ran the whole way, reminding herself that she'd run those stairs round trip for Deusolbert in the past.

"Kirito! Eydis and Kirimai were..."
As she panted to catch her breath, she noticed that Kirito, Eydis, and Subdelegate Asuna were there.
"Hey there, Ronie. Long time no see—wait, actually, short time no see. But what's up?  Why so out of breath?"
"Yeah, I thought you had the day off, Ronie."
"N-No, I'm fine..."
 Why was Eydis in such a rush? Well, to see Kirito, of course. It was the obvious conclusion anyone would make...but Ronie fiercely gasped for breath. She felt ashamed for feeling so desperate about it.
"Well, I'm glad you're here," Kirito said. "I was about to ask everyone to assemble anyway."
 Ronie looked up with a start. Now she didn't feel quite as silly for running up those stairs.
"Then I'll go fetch the others!"
 Helping Kirito would make all that running worthwhile. Even if she pushed herself too hard, even if she overthought things, she never regretted running to Kirito's side. All of this only strengthened Ronie's feelings.

 Thirty minutes later, the key members of the Human Unification Council were assembled in the great hall. In addition to Integrity Knights Fanatio, Deusolbert, and Renly, Ayuha, head of the Sacred Artificers Brigade, and Xiao of the Information Bureau were present. Shirley and Sylvie were also in attendance. Kirito had asked them to join the meeting, since they knew more about the Dark Realm than anyone else.

"To that end, we've determined it is highly likely that someone from the Human Empire is involved in this latest Dark Realm uprising."
"So the emperors' plot wasn't over yet..."
 Kirito nodded. They still had not located the jewel that had slipped from their grasp with Cruiga's defeat.
"So, Swordsman Delegate. What is your plan?"
"We'll send reinforcements from the Human Empire, of course. This crisis doesn't affect only the Dark Realm—it affects both empires. I'll also ask Liena⁠—er, I mean, General Serlut to rally reinforcements from the Guardian Army. And I will go as aid from the Cathedral."
"You're going personally? And alone, at that?"
"Yeah, that's the plan."
Kirito looked very matter-of-fact, but Deusolbert gave a most stern frown in response. Seeing this, Ronie quickly stepped up.
"Then I'll come with you! I've been to the Dark Realm before."
 But Kirito gently shook his head.
"Thanks, Ronie. But I'm going alone this time. Eydis and I need to get there as quickly as possible to help."
 Eydis's dragon Kirimai could only hold a maximum of two people. Tsukigake and Shimosaki were not big enough to fly with Ronie and Tiese on their backs. Also, if they needed to fight the rebel forces, it would be difficult to do so on the dragon's back. All of this was painfully clear to Ronie, so she fought down her bitter feelings and nodded.
"I want you all here to defend the Cathedral. In the Dark Realm, Obsidia Palace is what's under threat—that's like their headquarters. There's no telling when the Cathedral might also come under attack."
"Yes, sir! I, Ronie Arabel Thirty-Three, swear on my life to protect the Central Cathedral!"
Tiese followed suit.
"And I'll fight by Ronie's side. Just please be careful out there, Kirito!"

"I will. Thank you both."
"The Cathedral is in safe hands with all you capable kids protecting it."
 Fanatio said, resting her hands on their shoulders.
"Well, I'll deliver all the information about the Human Guardian Army reinforcements to General Serlut. Will that be all?"
"Yeah. Okay, everyone, let's—"
Kirito was just about to end the meeting when someone shouted, "Wait!"
"Shirley? What's wrong?" Eydis asked.
 Shirley, sputtering for breath, took a defiant step forward.
"I'm coming to the Dark Realm, too! If the Dark Realm is in trouble, I need to help fight!"
 Sylvie also looked square into Kirito's eyes and spoke.
"Me too... As a Dark Knight, it would be disgraceful not to fight."
"I understand... But I couldn't..."
As Kirito stood there, arms crossed in conflict, Asuna piped up with a helpful suggestion.
"What if you have Liena take them with the Human Empire army?"
"That's a good idea... Okay. I'll ask her. Are you two okay with that?"
Shirley's face lit up.
"Of course!"
 Sylvie nodded by her side.
"Okay, then..."
Kirito was about to say the meeting was adjourned, but now it was Sylvie's turn to stop him.
"Kirito, the emperor you mentioned earlier... Is he an emperor of the Dark Realm?"
 If so, he would be the very emperor who mercilessly drove Sylvie's parents to their deaths. The man Sylvie lived to kill.
"Oh, no, I was talking about emperors from here. We used to have four of them in the Human Empire. I doubt Emperor Vecta will ever return."
"I see... Okay."
"Too bad. If Vecta ever did come back to life, I was gonna kill him and avenge Lady Lipia!"
 Shirley stomped her foot angrily. Lipia, the lady who was like a mother to Shirley, had also been slain by Vecta. Kirito cursed Vecta's evil nature once again, realizing just how many people he had hurt.
"But if there's a war, lots more people are going to die. That's why we have to put an end to all this, Sylvie."
"Yes. I know. We'll stop it, no matter what."
 Sylvie and Shirley firmly clasped hands and shook them in agreement.

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