AN; If anyone has anything to say, please do. I like to hear others' stories, even their every day thought. I'm not saying that I will necessarily answer all questions that might be made.

Chapter 18: Message from the Past

Ichigo stood in silence, unable to figure out how to react towards what was before his eyes. The metal giant they had just reactivated was projecting a life size 3-D image of a man, seeming no older than his late forties. His stern eyes and the streaks of white running down his hair only served to make him seem more mature, like a man who had seen untold truths.

'What would force someone to leave a map to a message only a robot can read?' As if predicting his thoughts, the protection spoke, at least that is how it appeared.

『 To answer the question that is likely plaguing your mind, Project Aincrad is in danger.』 The four present widened their eyes in shock at this claim. 『 This castle, the haven my brothers and sister built as a means to escape the calamity on the surface, is under attack. I have yet to identify those responsible for this, but the consequences of their actions are plain as day.』The projection shook momentarily, accompanied by a loud rumbling. 『 It seems my time is running out... Go to the location I have marked on the 25th floor! Should you not find me, I will have left instructions on how to proceed.』 Once more, he was interrupted by the unexplained shaking. 『 For all our sakes, it would be in your interest to make this your top priority. Time is of the essence. End recording.』

For what seemed like minutes despite being less than one, a heavy silence enveloped the chamber. Everyone was too busy processing what they had just witnessed. The recording had raised far more questions and concerns than it had answered. Perhaps the urgency was not as great as it had first appeared, but the words spoken to all players at the launch of the game resounded in their minds. World shattering quest that would affect all players, be it positive or negative. The silence was abruptly broken by the largest in the room.

『 It appears there much to be done,』 spoke the colossus. 『 My orders are to initiate the remainder of my brothers and assist those willing to help eliminate the pest threatening the lives on this castle.』 He turned to the four. 『 Despite the danger to your own existence, I have learned that most will always seek recompense for their help. You lot are likely no different.』 Raising a glowing palm to a nearby wall, a series of crystal gears sprung to life.

Rows upon rows of weapons and armor racks rose from the floor. From swords, daggers, and knives to spears, maces, and other weapons they could not even name. 『 Before my hibernation, I was fond of crafting and smithing a variety of things. What you see hear is that which has withstood the test of time. Although it appears that they are not as powerful as they once were, and none of the bows' wood seems to have survived decay. At least the metallic equipment should still be of some use. Take what you will, find those who will put them to use. If you wish to sell them, so be it. Now, are there any questions before I depart? 』

'More than I care to ask,' thought the three males president.

"Just a small one," said Argo as she stepped forward. "We probably won't be able to take everything in a single trip, and taking the same route we used to get here would be too problematic. Do you think you can show us a faster way to and from here?"

『 Truly, an ambitious one never fails to act in the face of gain.』 With another wave of his hand, a teleport gate began to radiate a green light from under some vines ensnaring it. 『 Take these, 』 he said, handing each a small silver pendant in the shape of a deformed gear. 『 Knowledge of our location can not be allowed to fall into enemy hands. You must be wearing these pendants whenever you seek to use the teleportation system to and from this location. 』 Seeing no more questions being asked, Delta made his way to the gate and turned to face them one last time. 『 May we meet again, Ichigo Kurosaki and company. Perhaps next time there will be no reason for you to hide your true names.』 The four awkwardly wave waved their goodbyes until he was out of sight.

Without waisting time, they proceeded to fill their individual inventories with as much as they could. Figuring that there was no real threat of someone finding this place, they haphazardly took the closest weapons to them. Argo somehow managed to be the only one to find any special arms. That is not to say the rest was of poor quality, not in the least. The stats proved to be considerably superior to the strongest gear available to most at the time.

"We should report this to other," said Ichigo.

"And lose my cut? Not a chance, Ichi-bou." Ichigo snapped his head to here, a glare that would intimidate anyone foolish enough to pick a fight forming. "Relax, I know you were talking about what the walking scrap heap said. And yes, I agree with you. Just let me handle the truth spreading." Glancing over her shoulder, she could still see the teen glaring at her. "Don't worry, I'll only tease you about your name in private, just like Ki-bou."

"Good, but you're not the only one who should." His words send a shiver down Hoven and Kaine's spines.

"W-what, Ichigo? Never heard of such a person," responded a nervous Kaine.

"... I have no idea what you're talking about," said Hoven.

"Good, and before any of you even think about it, IT DOES NOT MEAN STRAWBERRY!" All those present immediately stop and turned to him. The four were equally surprised, not at the words but the way in which they were spoken. Ichigo's voice had suddenly changed into an eerie tone. 'Strange, it's like that voice I heard back at the inn.'

"Right," said an unusually nervous Argo. "Not a word about the meaning of your name, right you two?"


"So," said Heathcliff, "you where approached by a yellow, possibly orange guild." The three standing before him nodded in approval. Argo had chosen to be excluded from any public association with the matter. "And triggered an event flag related to the exclusive quest." Again, they answered yes. "One that apparently threatens the wellbeing of Aincrad's entirety, correct?" This time, the three nervously looked at each other. "You truly brings misfortune with you, don't you Mugetsu," he sighed.

"Look, all those leading the front agreed to report if anything came up. I'm just doing as we said."

"Forgive me if you think I have offended you," responded the leader of the Knights of the Blood Oath. "It just seems like you have an uncanny fortune when it comes to special events."

"Try misfortune," he responded. "And it's not like I'm the only one. Kirito's had his fair share of run-ins, Klein and his guild too, and I can guarantee that a guild of your size doesn't fall short."

"True enough," says the commander. "The thing is, despite all this you are the only one that is not currently in a guild or formal party."

"Yeah, but... wait! Did you just say Kirito is in a guild!?" Hedkelf grunted a yes. "Wow, guess he's not as antisocial as I thought."

"Getting back to the point," said Hedkelf. "There is no one to help you should you be fighting a losing battle that could affect the rest of us." Ichigo frowned, knowing full well what followed. "Isn't it time you considered joining a guild? My old offer still stands. We could guarantee you a place among our elite and- "

"Thank you, Heathcliff," interrupted Ichigo. "But as I said before, not interested." A look of disappointment fell upon the Commander's face. "I just don't see myself comanding a ton of self proclaimed knights, no offense."

"And yet you seem to have a knack for guiding others out of problems. Isn't that right you two?"

Hoven and Kaine, who up to this point left Ichigo the majority of the recounting of events, took one look at each other and decided on how to handle the matter.

"Actually sir, Mugetsu here decided to form a permanent party with us."

'What the hell!' Kaine's words had caught Ichigo by surprise. 'I thought we agreed that it was only until we settled the thing with Van Klies.'

"Is that so," said Heathcliff with a trace of skepticism. "Then would you two be interested in joining the «Knights of the Blood Oath» along with Mugetsu?"

"Sorry," came Hoven's neutral tone. "While Kaine said the party was permanent, it's only until we gather enough people to form our own small guild."

"I see..." sighed the Commander. "It looks like Kirito isn't the only one who finally found people he can trust, right Mugetsu?"

"R-right." 'Shit,' he thought. 'Now he'll be expecting me to form a guild some time in the future. I could just tell him the truth, but then he'd probably continue trying to make me join him.' His mind quickly recalled the talk he and the others had at the inn. Even if it had not been intention he had dragged the three down the road. At this point, was there any reason to turn back? 'I guess not. If anything, I might get some payback down the road!'

«Floor 20; Open Trade Building»

Not sure why, Argo felt a shiver down here spine. 'Weird, thought I felt something.'