A Different Path

A Different Path: Dividing III

Intermission: Golden Hero

Divine and demonic legendary weapons littered the burnt grass on the outer edges of Fuyuki park. Some were bent, the noble armaments in a sad state of crooked existence. Others were unscathed, save for minor scratches on their ornamentation or blades. And then there were the unfortunate few that didn't survive the clash, splintered and broken against the ground, fading into golden particles that dissipated in the air.

It was a graveyard of steel, a sorrowful sight within the site of a sorrowful event ten years in the past.

Kirito stood in the center of the broken and damaged blades. His black long coat was shredded and tattered, and wounds covered his entire body. He ached from the cuts all over him, and the swords in his hands felt as heavy as they had been against Assassin; like bars of lead. But in spite of that, he remained standing strong and continued to face his foe.

The one responsible for all of this, the man in golden armor who Kirito ran into on his patrol, raised a single eyebrow at the sight of his blades embedded in the ground. "...You broke my blades, Fake Saber. While I admit that they were not my finest, even she did not manage such a feat with her sword of Glory."

Kirito took a deep breath to calm himself. His heart still raced from having to defend against a barrage of legendary steel, but he didn't let that show as he glared at his opponent. "What's your problem? The priest said that the war was suspended until the monsters were taken care of."

The man smirked and raised his right hand. The action brought even more blades to the fore, over a dozen emerging from the rippling space behind him. Each were pointed at Kirito, aimed to kill. "War? Priest? Hah!" He shook his head, an amused look in his eyes. "Why should I care about either of them?"

Kirito tensed. "...You're not interested in the Holy Grail?"

The man's crimson eyes glimmered. "What use would I have for a dirtied vessel like that?" Again, he shook his head, like a parent would to a confused child.

That was bad. If he wasn't interested in the grail or the war... he was a rogue element. A third party that they really didn't need at the moment. In the chaos wrought by all of the corrupted monsters throughout the town, having someone who cared only about themselves and disregarded the rules of the war... it was bad.

"Regardless, you have exceeded my expectations, Fake Saber." The man smiled and touched the fingers on his right hand together. "Keep it up and I may let you live."

Well isn't he hammy? That thought was all Kirito had time for before another barrage of steel confronted him.

The black swordsman focused, and time seemed to slow down as he forced his mind to surpass it. Nerves honed in a world of fantasy and reactions trained to the highest degree accelerated and forced the onslaught of legendary weapons to a crawl as Kirito planned his next actions.

The first time he faced that attack, he could do no more than stand still and swing his blades. The speed of each had been comparable to a high-speed bullet, and it was only from his experience facing similar attacks in Gun Gale Online that he wasn't skewered to death on the spot. Even then, it had been a close call.

This time would be different.

He recognized the means of attack now. Continuous rate of fire, each of those legendary-tier armaments turned into nothing more than powerful projectiles. Simultaneous launch, with the trajectory decided by the direction the blades were pointed when shot. High-speed velocity comparable to the fastest bullet, an attack made even stronger with the greatest ammo.

It reminded him of the 'throw' ability from Final Fantasy, except this guy was using what should be irreplaceable legendary weapons instead of the strong, yet replaceable high-tier weapons most would use in that game.

Focus.

It was a simple course of action he had to take. As fast and dangerous as those projectiles might be, they were still projectiles. Legendary weapons or not, if they were shot like bullets they could be dodged like bullets.

Each blade would become a linear attack in one direction. A barrage akin to automatic fire from a machine gun, but widespread. An automatic shotgun.

The attacks followed a true path, not deviating once they moved. The line they would follow could be predicted the moment they appeared.

Standing still was pointless. Not moving would only leave him at the mercy of the mysterious golden man. If he wanted to live, the only thing left to do was advance.

Time resumed, gradually increasing as Kirito shifted his focus from analysis to execution.

The first sword reached him, an emerald blade of peerless make. There was no doubt that its edge would cut him apart when it struck.

A brief clash of steel echoed throughout the area, but Kirito didn't hear it, already moving through the gap created by Elucidator knocking it aside.

The distance between him and the man closed.

A trio of weapons arrived. One was a golden halberd etched with ancient script. Another was a strange dagger gouged down the center to form two points instead of a single blade. The last was a massive silver battle axe with a head as wide as his body.

Excaliber slashed the axe and split the head in half. Elucidator lashed out at the fragmented steel and knocked the pieces towards the other projectiles, opening yet another gap.

Kirito approached again, closing the distance between him and the man even further.

This time, an entire wall of pikes, halberds, daggers, and swords flew towards him. It filled his field of vision, and there were no places to dodge or move without being cut apart.

It seemed that the man wasn't playing around anymore. That, or he had decided to step up his efforts in trying to kill Kirito.

The black swordsman shifted his stance, moving his left foot back a step, and placed Excaliber across his left shoulder. The Sword that Cut All of Steel and Tree shone with a crimson light. The steel-cutting sword's ability was enhanced even further by the addition of a Sword Skill, increasing its capacity to break blades.

He advanced, and the armaments aimed to kill were left behind, sliced apart by the seven consecutive hit skill 'Deadly Sins'. Broken and shattered legendary steel hovered in the air behind Kirito, as if they didn't realize they were broken.

The gap between Kirito and the man closed to striking distance, less than five meters.

More swords appeared from the rippling space behind the man.

Kirito ignored it and pulled his right hand back, Excaliber shining crimson once more as he prepared 'Vorpal Strike' to run the man through. Elucidator was held in front of his body, prepared to deflect the more lethal attacks that approached while he launched his sure-kill strike.

Another barrage of steel approached.

Kirito flew forward at a blinding speed, crossing the distance in an instant. Excaliber was raised in a stab that would surely pierce the golden armor that protected his foe.

The man smirked in the face of his imminent death and reached for something behind him with his right hand.

Irrelevant. No matter what sword the man could pull out, Excaliber would slice it in half and run him through. This was the end.

"Don't get cocky, you Fake..."

-But the man was unfazed, his smirk turning into a full grin as he pulled out his item.

...It wasn't a blade. It wasn't a weapon.

It was a card.

"...you might fall into a trap."

The man flicked his hand and sent it flying towards Kirito.

The action confused Kirito, but he was already too devoted to his charge to stop and ponder. Elucidator lashed out to meet the card and was intended to cut it in half when the face of the card revealed itself to Kirito.

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me.

Now, Kirito was more into video games than trading cards, but even he recognized that trademarked shining curved field staring back at him.

Mirror force?!

The black swordsman's blades crashed against the curved wall of energy. The attack that would have been a sure-kill was repulsed, and the force of the blow turned back on Kirito.

It was all he could do to brace himself before he was launched through the air with the sensation of being stabbed in the chest and slashed across his torso.

He landed on the ground in an undignified heap, rolling a few times before stopping at the foot of a tree. The distance between him and the man had opened up again, leaving Kirito vulnerable to another rain of swords.

Realizing that, he forced himself up to his feet, using the tree behind him as leverage. He chanced a glance down at his body to see that it wasn't bleeding, but rather shining with crimson light, like the effects from the games he had played. There was a gaping hole in his chest, and a jagged slash across his torso where the wounds should have been, but instead of blood they emitted light particles, and revealed a geometric grid beneath it. Not only that, but they were closing and the pain he had felt from the attack was numbed.

He shook his head, ignoring the fact that his body no longer bled, and turned to glare at his opponent.

The man had a raised eyebrow, staring at Kirito with disdain, and yet a modicum of intrigue. "...You survived. Hmph. Perhaps there is some worth to you after all, Fake."

Kirito narrowed his eyes. "First a rain of swords and then Yugioh cards? What kind of hero ARE you?"

It was ridiculous on a level that Kirito couldn't even begin to describe. Seriously! This was supposed to be a war between legendary heroes. While Kirito, admittedly, didn't fit that criteria, at least he fit the archetype of a swordsman that he was supposed to be.

From the way the man began attacking, Kirito would guess that he was an Archer. The fact that he spammed a rain of legendary swords was strange, but that was at least acceptable.

But freaking Yugioh cards?!

Scratch that, Yugioh cards that work?

Magic he could accept. Heroes coming to fight in a war for the Holy Grail was starting to push his suspension of disbelief, but that was fine. The fact that his Master could apparently reshape the universe could be chalked up to the weird rules that governed this world, since Magic existed.

But having a guy pull out Yugioh cards? Now that took suspension of disbelief, tore it apart, and scattered it to the winds.

The man let out a hearty laugh. "I see that you are awe-stricken by my abilities, Fake. I should be insulted, but I will excuse your ignorance for surpassing my expectations yet again." He crossed his arms and turned to the side, giving Kirito a condescending look. "Grovel before me, knave, for you stand in the divine presence of the greatest hero, the King among all Kings, Gilgamesh!"

For a brief moment, the image of another hammy villain of the same name but dressed in crimson and collecting legendary swords crossed Kirito's mind. "Gilgamesh, eh? No wonder you've got all those swords." This guy seemed a lot different from that character though, and looked like he had the real things rather than the fakes that his fictional counterpart did.

Hm. Did he have a gunblade hidden in that space behind him somewhere? Kirito did always want to try one out... No. He needed to focus. As silly and outrageous it might be to face a hammy villain like Gilgamesh, there was still the very real threat of imminent demise if he wasn't careful.

Gilgamesh smirked. "So you know of me, Fake. Good. I don't have to slay you just yet then."

Wait. If he's Gilgamesh... huh. Would that work? It was a long shot, but...

"Hey," Kirito said. "If I give you one of my swords, will you let me leave?"

"Hah! As if you could have anything that-"

There was a flash of light and Elucidator was replaced by Kagemitsu G4. The photon blade hummed in the air, and there was a palpable silence for a few seconds as Gilgamesh considered it.

"...Where did you get that sword, Fake?" A slight tilt to the words, indicating curiosity.

Huh. Maybe it would work after all.

"I bought it on my travels in a world ruled by guns. It's served me quite well, but I don't have a proper use for it anymore."

Take the bait, take the bait, take the bait-

"You would give me trash, Fake?"

Right. Egotistical maniac here with a load of legendary blades. Undervaluing his swords was practically blasphemy. Hm. How to approach this?

Gilgamesh scoffed. "Of course. What else should I have expected from a delusional child."

Kirito froze. Did he-?

A wide smile split across Gilgamesh's face, arrogant and condescending. "What? Did you think you could hide the fact that your presence here is but a dream from the greatest hero?" He laughed. "Nothing can escape the sight of Sha Nagba Imuru."

He knew. That... wasn't good. Sure, the glowing light effects might have given him away, but Kirito would have chalked it up to some magic. Rin probably would have. But this man... if he could tell that Kirito wasn't an actual Servant from just a glance, what else did he know?

Gilgamesh smirked. "Oh, I know, Fake Saber. I know all about that interloper and the corruption that occurred because of her presence." He sighed. "A pity that she's gone now. I wanted to slay her with my own hands for taking away my Saber. Then again..." He let out a feral grin. "A Fake soul like her disappearing without a trace is a fitting end, is it not?"

"Shut up."

The King of Heroes narrowed his eyes, the amusement in those crimson orbs replaced with killing intent. "...What did you say, Fake?"

"I said shut up!"

Kirito tightened his grip around both of his blades. "She wasn't a Fake! She was human!"

That girl... he wouldn't allow this man to trample on her memory.

Two centuries. In all that time, she had prepared to face her other alone in that enclosed library. And in the end, her only reward was to fade away, believing she was just a program.

No. Kirito wouldn't allow this man to disrespect her like this.

"Fool." Gilgamesh narrowed his eyes. "I was going to let you return to your Master, but this delusion of yours disgusts me." His expression cleared and he raised his right hand. The action was smooth, mechanical. Not one made of anger, but the calm motion of a commander raising the signal to execute a man by a firing squad.

Kirito growled and swept his right hand to the side, maneuvering through the familiar screens that appeared.

He would deny it. He wouldn't let this arrogant man get away with that.

-A small part of him reminded Kirito that he should leave. Shirou needed him still, and they had to save Sakura. But this... he couldn't let what the man said be. Fake or not, she had deserved to live.

The space behind Gilgamesh expanded to cover Kirito's entire field of view. Blades numbering in the dozens, hundreds, thousands were primed, each pointed towards Kirito.

"Face reality and wake up, child." The words were said in a plaintive tone, reprimanding, chiding.

A snap.

"If that's your reality..."

There was a flash of light around Kirito's hands, and his blades were replaced by a new pair, a duo that he had wielded against an army 30,000 strong.

"Then I'll reject it and substitute my own!"

A wall of divine and demonic weapons of the highest caliber approached. It had no counter, no escape, no outcome left for the target than utter and complete annihilation.

Kirito looked at his inevitable destruction and narrowed his eyes.

It stopped.

"System call."

Fake. Delusional. Those words had been tossed around enough in his life.

They didn't understand. Those who stood outside and looked into the worlds he had been could only call it fake.

"Enhance Armament."

Dreamer.

After the SAO incident, the adults around him, the adults who had said they were concerned revealed themselves to be nothing more than liars. Sure, they were worried, but in the end what was in their minds was 'it was only just a game'.

Those that had died were victims of circumstance. The cause of their death was just the result of a mad man's terrorist plot. The events in-game were just that; a game.

They didn't understand the despair, the sheer dread that it was 'reality' that faced them, not a game.

Even those that sympathized, like Suguha and his parents... they would never really understand.

It had been real.

Sachi's death. The demise of the Black Cats of the Full Moon. The countless others who gave into despair. Those unknown that had died cursing their cruel fates.

No one understood why Kirito continued to pursue those artificial worlds. While Asuna and the others supported his dream, it still confused them.

It had been real, and for this man to call his experiences a delusion...

That was something Kirito could never forgive.

The swords he wielded were proof of that reality. Memories of journeys he took in the past, impressions made on his soul he would never forget.

The Blue Rose Sword crafted from the soul of a blue rose buried in ice shone as Kirito's determination brought forth all of its memories. The Sword of the Night Sky, crafted from the branch of a tree that had absorbed the energy from sun and earth for over three hundred years, drank in the surrounding light as it felt its Master's resolve and drew in the strength to match it.

Kirito glared at the wall of blades before him. There was no room to maneuver, no space to dodge, and no time to deflect.

-Fine. He'd just get them all at once.

Release Recollection.

The pair of blades were swung, and the wall of steel approached.

Azure light and the blackest darkness spilled forth from Kirito's blades, carrying all of the pain, the determination, and memories he had experienced throughout his life. It was an attack made from the soul of the blades, enhanced beyond reckoning by Kirito's own will. A synergized slash to crush those before him under the weight of the soul.

Kirito lowered his blades and stared at the destruction he had wrought.

Where there had once been steel that filled his entire vision was now crystal as black as the darkest obsidian. The legendary armaments that had been launched at him were buried within that mass of black ice, and could no longer be seen.

There was no way Gilgamesh could have survived.

Kirito sighed and turned around. It was over.

Events had taken a turn for the worse, since he was forced to use his greatest trump cards, but at least he was alive. And he still had one left, at least, so it should be fine.

Crack.

The black swordsman froze mid-step.

No way.

Impossible. That attack would have stopped even that Berserker he had fought earlier in the war. It was a sure-kill strike, even more than Gae Bolg, due to its sheer destructive power.

Another crack.

Kirito turned around, blades raised again.

...It should be impossible, but this was Gilgamesh. The one from Final Fantasy had an uncanny knack for surviving, so it wasn't much of a stretch to think that this version did as well.

One more crack.

Kirito narrowed his eyes. The ice was opaque and drank in the light from the sun instead of reflecting it, so he couldn't peer into its depths. The only thing he could see on the mass of black crystal were the fine white cracks spreading throughout it. Of course, since the blades would have been stopped in their tracks, that meant that the source could only be the arrogant hero he had attacked.

Not dead then. Of course. That would be too easy for someone as famous as the 'King of Heroes'.

The black crystal shattered, and the countless weapons it had frozen fell to the ground in a thunderous clash of steel. Standing behind the cascading armaments was the one Kirito hoped to have ended.

His golden armor was destroyed, pieces falling to the ground as Kirito watched him. His spiked hair had fallen, now styled as blonde bangs, although it was still regal in appearance.

Those crimson eyes that had been impassive while he launched the blades were now filled with murderous rage, an oppressive air that seemed to press down on everything around him.

"You... I sorely underestimated you, boy." Gilgamesh spat at the ground in front of him, flecks of blood darkening the gray terrain. "You are no heroic spirit, yet you possess the soul of a hero."

He stepped forward, both hands held behind his back, and reached for an unseen pair of blades.

"I did not think that humanity would have progressed enough to be able to modify the soul, nor create realities apart from this own. Neither did I believe that one who lived there could have their soul shaped to such an extent."

Despite the murderous rage, Gilgamesh had on a smile. "I acknowledge your strength, boy. You are correct. That strength is indeed real. Though it was gained through a realm of fantasy, the triumphs and struggles you overcame to obtain it are... respectable for one who began as an ordinary child."

He stepped forward again, pulling both hands in front. The unarmed hero was now equipped with a pair of strange golden blades.

They were identical, a matched set, and had a slightly curved edge. The closest that Kirito could compare them to would be an elongated falchion made of gold with a sun motif in the guard and a lightning bolt motif in the blade.

The shape of the blade didn't matter though. The sheer presence, the design, the golden radiance... Kirito had no doubt that these blades were the greatest of the great, the 'Infinity+1' sword if this was an RPG.

"You have entertained me. You have shown me humanity's advances in my absence. Now... show me the extent of your skill, boy."

Gilgamesh brandished his blades, and the last of his armor fell away. Crimson runes appeared across his bare torso, and the oppressive aura around the King of Heroes increased.

"Show me that your dream is worth living for."

That was the only warning Kirito had before Gilgamesh attacked.

Golden swords met black and cobalt as the King of Heroes clashed with the Black Swordsman.

Strong.

Kirito was forced to acknowledge the King's strength.

An exchange of over a dozen attacks occurred. Each of the blows launched were as strong as his own. Each of the slashes sent towards him were as fast and lethal as the ones Kirito countered with.

The black swordsman ground his teeth and focused. He couldn't lose here. Shirou still needed him, and there were still people to protect.

...This might have been a dream with no real risk to Kirito, but he had sworn it. As long as he lived, he wouldn't let his allies down. The ones he knew were waiting for him across time and space, or wherever he was right now, but they didn't need him as much as the people living in this world.

He wouldn't lose.

His wooden sword lashed out towards Gilgamesh's neck, and the Blue Rose Sword sent a staggered slash towards his legs.

Gold flashed before his eyes, and then it was his neck and legs being targeted.

Kirito parried and stepped back to examine his foe.

Gilgamesh did the same, his gleaming swords held casually by his sides. His crimson eyes were narrowed, but it was out of serious contemplation rather than anger or contempt.

On seeing that, Kirito realized it.

He couldn't win, at least not without Excaliber, and he doubted the King of Heroes would be so accommodating. Even then, that was relying on the fact that he didn't pull something out from his bag of tricks like that 'Mirror Force' earlier.

An opportunity came in the form of a white comet.

"What-?" The Golden Hero spun towards it on reflex, golden swords raised to meet the blinding charge. The matched set of legendary weapons clashed for a brief moment before the light started to advance, pressing past Gilgamesh's blades.

Kirito didn't wait around to see the result of the match. A tactical retreat was in order, and the black swordsman left the battlefield the moment he saw that comet.

Shirou needed to know about Gilgamesh. Whether he was a Servant or not, the man was incredibly dangerous and threw a spanner in the works just from being there.

As Kirito left the last stretches of the park behind him, only one thought crossed his mind.

Things are going to get even crazier now, aren't they?


Gilgamesh glared at the one who dared interrupt his trial of the black swordsman.

Lavender hair billowed behind her, and unearthly eyes stared at him, shining like gemstones as he met their gaze. "...You will not harm him."

The King of Heroes scowled. "Snake! You dare to stand against the King?" The runes on Gilgamesh's body shone a bloody crimson and dozens of swords appeared behind him. "Be gone!"

While Gilgamesh could not match Bellerophone's light for more than a few seconds with the 'Sword of the End', it was more than enough time for his blades to tear her apart.

Rider seemed to notice that, and broke off her charge, directing the rest of her attack's energy to escape.

It was just barely enough, as the swords Gilgamesh sent at Rider missed by a fraction of a second.

Gilgamesh scoffed and glared at the fleeing Servant. "Foiled again by a snake... tch." The first King stared around at the devastated surroundings and sighed. "Such an interesting fight as well. It has been a while since I enjoyed myself so."

He shook his head and changed his clothing with the Gate of Babylon. The broken suit of golden armor was replaced with trim black slacks and an elegant white silk shirt.

Gilgamesh turned towards the direction the Fake Saber had retreated. "You are an interesting one, Kirito. Very interesting indeed. Perhaps this world has some worth remaining after all."

The King of Heroes began walking away towards the urban area of Fuyuki. "...Of course, it will all be worthless if these events are not solved. Hm. Perhaps I will slay some of these Fake Monsters roaming around the city."

A slight smile was on the King's face as he left the park. "After all, the King cannot be outdone by his subjects."

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