Sword Art Online:Volume 1 Chapter 13
The newly opened living area on the 75th floor was a city reminiscent of ancient Rome. According to the map, its name was «Collinia». The entire city was already filled with activity, thanks to the large numbers of fighters and merchants that have settled in, as well as others who took no part in clearing the game but had come to sight-see. On top of all that, a rare special event would be held here today, so guests had been pouring out of the teleport gate since this morning.
The city was mostly constructed from square bricks of white limestone. One building stood out amongst its temple-like buildings and wide waterways; that was the huge coliseum which towered in front of the gate plaza. It was perfect for holding the duel between Heathcliff and me. But...
"Fire-breathing popcorn for ten Col a cup! Ten Col!"
"Cold black beer for sale~!"
Numerous merchants were selling their goods in front of the coliseum entrance; they were calling out to the long line of spectators and selling them strange looking refreshments.
"...This, what on earth is this...?"
Shocked by the sight unfolding before me, I could only ask Asuna, who was standing beside me.
"I-I don't know..."
"Hey, isn't that a KoB member selling the tickets!? How on earth did it turn into such a large event!?"
"I-I don't know..."
"Is this Heathcliff's real goal...?"
"No, I think that the head of finances, Daizen-san, is the one behind this. He wouldn't miss an opportunity like this."
As Asuna laughed, I sagged my shoulders and felt completely powerless.
"...Let's run away Asuna. We can go live in some small village on the 20th floor and plow fields."
"I'm fine with that, but..."
Asuna then added teasingly:
"You'll make a rea~lly bad name for yourself if you run away now."
"Well, it's your own fault, isn't it? Ah... Daizen-san."
As I lifted my head, I saw a fat man who was waddling towards us; he was so wide that it was impossible to find a person less suited to wear the red-white uniform of the KoB.
With a wide smile covering his round face, he started talking to us:
"Thanks ta Kirito-san we're makin' lotsa money! If ya jus' did it once every month I'd be really thankful!"
"Come, come, the waitin' room's over here. Come on, this way please."
I resigned myself to my fate and followed him. I didn't even care about what would happen anymore.
The waiting room was a small place that faced the arena. After Daizen escorted me to the entrance, he said something about adjusting the betting prices and disappeared. I didn't even have the energy to curse him anymore. From the waiting room, I could hear countless indistinct cheers outside. It seemed that the audience seating was already filled.
When only the two of us remained, Asuna grasped my palm with both her hands and spoke with a serious expression.
"...Even if it's a First Strike match, it'll be dangerous if you get directly hit by a strong critical strike. Especially since many of the leader's moves aren't even known, you should forfeit as soon as you feel something is wrong, understood? I'll never forgive you if you do something dangerous again like last time!"
"You should be worrying about Heathcliff more."
I smiled and tapped both of Asuna's shoulders.
As an announcement declared the start of the duel, the crowd gave off a thunderous roar. I pulled the two swords on my back out by a bit, and then slid them back into their scabbards with a *clang*. After that, I began to walk towards the square light hoop on the field.
The step seating that ringed the amphitheater was fully packed with people. My guess is that there were at least a thousand spectators. I could see Klein and Agil on the front rows, screaming dangerous things like "Dice him up" and "Kill him" .
I walked to the center of the arena before stopping. Then, a deep red silhouette emerged from the opposite waiting room, and the cheering became even more intense.
Unlike the normal Knights of the Blood uniform, which was red on white, Heathcliff wore a red surcoat that was the complete opposite. Although he was like me and wore almost no armor, he held a huge, pure-white, cross-shaped shield in his left hand, which had immediately caught my attention. His sword seemed to be sheathed within the shield, as I could see the cross-shaped handle protruding from its top.
Heathcliff walked casually until he stood right before me. He glanced at the crowd and then spoke with a bitter smile.
"I must apologize, Kirito-kun. I really had no idea that this was going to happen."
"I'm going to be asking for my share of the money."
"No... After this fight you'll be part of our guild. I'll be designating this duel as one of the guild's missions."
Heathcliff then erased his smile, and his brass colored eyes started giving off an overwhelming energy. Intimidated, I unconsciously took half a step back. In reality, we were probably lying down at places far away from each other, with only digital data being passed between us. But, I still felt something that could only be called killing intent.
My mind went into its battle state, and my eyes received Heathcliff's gaze head on. The loud cheering sounded as if it was moving further away. Before I realized it, my senses had already begun to quicken, and it felt like even the colors of the surroundings had changed.
Heathcliff turned his gaze and walked to a spot about ten meters away from me. He then raised his right hand and manipulated the menu screen that appeared without even glancing at it. A duel message appeared in front of me. I consented and set the mode to first strike.
The countdown started. I could barely hear the shouts around me now.
My blood began to pump faster. I vanquished the last remaining bits of hesitation and let loose my desire to fight. Then I drew my two swords at the same time from behind my back. My opponent wasn't someone I could win against unless I went all out from the beginning.
Heathcliff drew his thin, long sword from his shield, and then held it resolutely as he entered his combat stance.
He stood with his shield turned towards me and the right side of his body away from me. I couldn't feel any forced strength behind his stance. I realized that trying to predict his actions would only confuse me further, and decided to simply charge in immediately and attack with full power.
Even though neither of us glanced at the window, we both kicked off as soon as the «Duel» message appeared.
I lowered my stance as I ran; my body nearly scraping the floor as it glided in.
I twisted my body around right before reaching Heathcliff and swung the sword in my right hand upwards to the left. It was blocked by the cross-shaped shield and sent out a burst of sparks. But my attack was part of a two hit combo. Point one second after the first strike, my left sword slid in behind the shield. It was a Dual Blades dash-type skill «Double Circular».
The strike from the left was deflected by the long sword; its circular lighting effect stopped midway. Although it was disappointing, this move was just a signal for beginning the fight. Using the force of the sword skill, I widened the distance between us and then charged at my opponent again.
This time, Heathcliff countered by charging me with his shield. His right arm was hidden behind his huge cross-shaped shield, making it hard to see.
I dashed to my right in an attempt to evade his attack. I thought that if I stayed on Heathcliff's shield side, I would have enough time to react to his attacks even if I couldn't see the trajectory.
But then Heathcliff lifted his shield up horizontally.
With this low shout, he executed a piercing attack with his shield. It came at me, leaving a trail of pure white light.
I just managed to guard by crossing my two swords. The powerful impact rattled my entire body and sent me flying back by several meters. I dug my right sword into the ground to stop myself from falling over and then flipped in midair before landing.
It was unexpected, but it seemed that the shield itself could also be used as a weapon. It was similar to Dual Blades in a sense. I had originally thought that my overwhelming attack speed would allow me to win in a first strike duel; but it seemed that I was wrong.
Heathcliff dashed towards me, closing the distance between us and denying me of any time to recover. The sword with the cross-shaped hilt in his right hand pierced towards me at a speed that could rival Asuna the «Flash».
As the opponent started his combo attack, I could only use both of my swords to defend. Before the duel, Asuna had explained as much as she could about «Holy Sword»; but it seemed that cramming just wasn't enough. Therefore, I could only rely on split-second decisions to block the incoming blows.
After using my left sword to parry the last upward slash of his eight strike combo, I immediately attempted a one-hit sword skill, «Vorpal Strike», with my right.
With the metallic noise of a jet engine, the sword skill left a red trail of light before striking the center of his shield. It felt as if I had hit a stone wall; but my hands kept going to finish the strike.
*Claang!!* The sound of the impact rang out, and this time Heathcliff was pushed back. I couldn't completely pierce the shield, but I felt the feeling of having «penetrated» his defense. Heathcliff's HP had been reduced slightly, but not enough to decide the fight.
Heathcliff landed agilely and widened the distance between us.
"...Impressive reaction time."
"More like your defense is too perfect...!!"
I charged as I said this. Heathcliff also raised his sword and closed in on me.
We started trading blows at blinding speeds. My sword was blocked by his shield; his sword was deflected by mine. Various light trails of different colors appeared and faded continuously around us, while the sounds of our weapons clashing shook the arena floor. A minor blow made it through every once a while, and our HP decreased bit by bit. Even if both players failed to make a clean hit, one would win the moment their opponent's HP fell below 50%.
But I didn't care about that anymore. I felt myself accelerating in exhilaration, as this was the first time I had faced such a strong opponent since being trapped in SAO. Every time my senses sharpened, the speed of my attacks rose by another notch.
I still haven't reached my limit. I can still get faster. Follow me if you can, Heathcliff!!!
As I released every ounce of strength at my disposal, I drowned myself in the savage joy of swinging my swords. I was most probably laughing. While the exchange of sword blows intensified, the HP of both sides continued to decrease until they nearly reached the 50% area.
At that instant, Heathcliff's stoic face finally showed a flash of emotion.
What was it? Nervousness? I felt the speed of his blows decrease just a little.
In that moment, I abandoned all defenses and launched an assault with both of my swords: «Starburst Stream». My blades rushed towards Heathcliff like the blazing flames of a solar prominence.
Heathcliff raised his cross-shaped shield to guard. But I just ignored it and kept hacking away at him from the right, left, up, and down. Meanwhile, his responses became even slower.
—I can break through!!
I was certain that the last strike would breach his defense. With his shield overextended to the right, my attack from the left streaked in, drawing a trajectory of light. As long as this blow lands, his HP will definitely fall below the halfway mark, and I would win the—
Then, at this moment, my entire world shook.
How should I describe it? It was as if some of my time had been taken away from me.
For several tenths of a second, everything around me seemed to freeze; everything except Heathcliff. The shield that should have been on the right suddenly appeared on the left, as if I was watching a stop motion video, and blocked my sword.
I was stunned for a fatal moment after the strong attack was blocked. There was no way that Heathcliff would have lost that chance.
The long sword in his right hand launched a one-hit skill, which came at me with a detestable accuracy that would surely decide the match. I fell into an unsightly heap. I could see the purple system message, which announced that the duel had ended, with the corner of my eye.
My battle state had disappeared. I simply laid there, my mind blank, even as the cheering registered in my head once again.
Asuna ran over and shook me back to my senses.
"Ah...yeah... I'm fine."
Asuna looked at my blank expression with worry.
I still couldn't believe it. Heathcliff's unearthly speed during those final moments had gone past the limits of a player— past the limits of any human. I even saw the polygons that made up his avatar distort for a moment because of the impossible speed.
As I sat on the ground, I raised my head and gazed at Heathcliff's face.
But the expression of the winner was angry for some reason. The red paladin glared at us with his metallic eyes, then turned around wordlessly and walked over to his waiting room amidst the thunderous cheering.
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