"Your Highness, they're breaching the right flank."
Queen Asuna Yuuki regarded the battlefield before her with a serene face and a cool, calculating eye. The war against the invaders was close. Far too close for her liking. Her heavy cavalry were managing to fend off the infantry in the wide open expanse of grassland in front of the copse her horse stood on. Behind them the rank and file infantry had formed an excellent shield wall for her archers, who were systematically placing volleys into the advancing hordes. However, to the sides of the plains, in the sparse forests to the east and west, her calvary couldn't make use of their long lances to fend off the enemy waves, and they seemed more familiar with the area than her soldiers.
"Has Captain Klein gone to reinforce the western flank?" Her general, Agil, clinked in his armor as he bowed his large head.
"Yes, Your Highness. He and the Fuurikanzan have gone to support our swordsmen there. I am confident he will hold the line."
"Has Sinon sent word in yet?"
"Her falcon just arrived. She and her archers are running low on arrows. She estimates about another thirty minutes before they run flat out."
"Very well. Ensure the next delivery from the supply line goes to her. Tell her to make sure to keep their archers and heavy infantry from mounting too much of a rally."
"As you say, Your Highness. There is still the matter of-"
"The right flank, yes." Her brow furrowed and she sighed. "I'll take care of it myself." She heard the chains on Agil's armor clank as he whipped around in his saddle.
"Your Highness, that is not necessary. I am the general, I would gladly lead our troops in the assault. The elite guard-"
"-are needed down in the center body. They've just sent out their shock troopers to punch a hole in our charge." Agil swore under his breath and looked out at the plains. Surely enough, heavily plated foot soldiers wielding tall, thick shields were forming a wedge and slowly weathering their way through the hail of arrows. "I'm not without protection, Agil. You know I can do it."
"You rely too much on your gift," he grumbled. "It isn't infallible. You are still as vulnerable as anyone else to a sword or an arrow." The loud sound of steel slithering free of its sheath rang out on the copse.
"So is everyone else," Asuna retorted, raising her rapier as she kicked her horse into a loping gallop.
She sped her way through the battle lines, cheers rising up after her.
"For the kingdom of Aincrad!"
Her horse flew across the open plains, beelining towards the shade of the forest to the east. From her saddle she could hear the clashes of steel and the screams of dying men. Her jaw tightened and she bent low over the horse's neck keeping her rapier held low, her eyes scanning for any would-be attackers. As she came into the trees, she was able to make out the tattered remnants of her banner, the red and white fabric hanging low in the trees on a broken pike. A broken body lay beneath it. However, no other signs of conflict showed under the shadows of the leaves. She pulled her horse short, stopping by the body. She dismounted, looking around warily before kneeling down and looking into the visor of the helmet of the dead soldier. His bloodshot eyes stared listlessly into nothing. She gently took her fingers and closed them.
"Thank you," she whispered softly.
A twig snapped.
Asuna stood, her cloak whirling as she brought her sword up into a defensive posture, coiled and ready to strike.
Several shadows emerged from behind the trunks of the trees, clad in the garish green uniforms of the enemy. They bore swords and axes curved in wicked half moons, faces masked behind full faced helms that only showed the whites of their eyes. They wasted no time, coming at her en masse, silent as death.
Asuna let out a brazen yell as they came at her, her blade shining as it took the first of them in the throat. It darted again and found another opening in the gap of the second and thirds' armor, just under their arms. She ducked under an axe swing and flickered her blade in three sharp thrusts, punching a large hole through the breastplate of a large soldier wielding a massive broadsword. She turned to see three more advancing on her and her blood ran cold. The aspect of fighting multiple enemies didn't scare her, she'd trained in that situation multiple times. No, what made her feel like ice was growing up her spine was the fact that two carried weighted nets. She reached inside of herself, deep down to the well of power that dwelt down deep inside of her as she dropped back into a stance that radiated that energy from the center of her body, down along her arms and coalesced into a blinding point of light at the end of her sword.
"Radiant First Stance: Shooting Star!" Asuna cried out in a clarion voice as she thrust her sword. The light shot forth like a comet and tore a burning hole through all three of her attackers, light illuminating the forest so harshly that the remaining attackers cried out and shielded their eyes and fell back. Asuna held her stance until the light died out, then exhaled and looked around. Small banners of fire lapped at the cloth of the fallen enemies' uniforms. The trees shook from the impact of her attack.
"Now, now, that is quite impressive!"
Asuna turned again, sword raised. At the other end of the clearing stood an arrogant-looking blonde man wearing ornate golden armor atop green robes. He stood with his arms crossed and an appraising look on his face,
"I had heard that the Queen of Aincrad had possessed a certain power, but I thought it was a metaphor for your charms!" He slowly began walking in a circle along the edge of the clearing. The tip of Asuna's sword tracked him. "Of course, on the off chance they were being literal, I did prepare a bit of insurance." He clicked his fingers and dozens more of shadows came from out of the trees, all bearing bows knocked with arrows. Asuna's eyes flickered, widening. "I'm not completely familiar with the full extent of your power, but I don't think you'd be able to stop about a hundred arrows, and even if you did manage to somehow tip the scales in your favor just long enough to escape, another one of my squadrons is busy cordoning off the area."
"Why do you want to capture me?" Asuna demanded. "Who are you?" The arrogant looking man stopped in his tracks.
"Why, I'm hurt! You've been at war with my country for a month now and you still don't know my name?"
"I don't care for pleasantries with scum who slaughter my subjects." His self assured expression cracked a little.
"King Oberon of Alfheim. And as to why I am here to capture you, I intend to make you my queen." Asuna's nostrils flared as her blood pounded, hot in her veins.
"You aren't the first man to make such an impudent statement," she growled. "But by the goddess, after I am through with you, you will be the last." She went to lift her sword to summon another attack, but cried out in pain as an arrow pierced her foot. What sent the biggest shock through her, though, was the sudden absence of the well of power.
"Temper, temper," Oberon tutted. He resumed his circle around the clearing. "You see, I have the most remarkable healers on retainer, so if I have to take you back in less than perfect health, it is of no consequence to me." A cold smile creased his face. "And I'm sure you're dying to know what has happened to your power. You see, a meteor fell from the skies not too long ago. My court mages discovered that when the ore from that metal is melted down and mixed with silver, it disrupts any connection one might have to their power." Asuna looked around the clearing with renewed fear in her eyes. "Yes, and now you begin to understand the situation you are in." He clicked his fingers again and this time a small troop of soldiers came into the clearing bearing a large metallic cage.
Asuna's heart crept into her throat. Suddenly, someone spoke.
"Extinguish the heavens and obscure my surroundings. Come forth, Solar Eclipse."
Abruptly, the light in the clearing began to slowly drain away until nothing was left but a dim twilight that Asuna could hardly see by. Then, after the light had faded, the color slowly leeched away from the trees, the leaves, the grass, everything. Oberon and his soldiers skittishly looked around, murmuring curses at the unnaturally grey forest.
"Oni," one said, his eyes wide as he looked around the forest, his bow trembling.
"Who's there?" Oberon demanded, but his voice cracked. "Show yourself!"
"It's him!" another cried out. "The Demon!"
"Shut up!" Oberon shrieked. "There's no such thing. The Demon is a myth!"
Asuna saw a slim cut shadow slowly drift between two trees behind the cage bearers. He was dressed in a battered black yukata, tied with a frayed rope. He had a ragged shock of obsidian hair and eyes as dark as pitch. He locked eyes with her and she shivered. She blinked, and then he was gone.
"If he's a myth, then explain this!" A lieutenant shouted, gesturing at the unnatural surroundings. "This is clearly the work of the Shadow-touched!"
"Focus!" Oberon bellowed, silencing the chattering soldiers. "Any man who does not complete my bidding will be put in the stockade! Now get her!" As he yelled the last of his orders, his breath came out in a white plume of steam. He froze, looking at the dissipating mist in shock.
"Duck," a voice behind Asuna grunted. She flinched and wasted no time in complying as she felt the telltale tingle pass over her skin that signaled someone was channeling nearby. "Shadow's First Stance: Horizon Slice."
Asuna felt a rush of air pass over her head and she looked up after it had gone by. She watched wide-eyed as she saw a jet black piece of metal rip the air over her head and create a razor thin line of pure blackness in its wake. The line hovered in the air for a split second, then screamed across the open space between her and the cage. Oberon and his men cried and ducked out of the way as it collided with the metal structure. The inky line hit the metal and passed through as if it were nothing, then vanished. Everything and everyone was frozen for a moment. Then, the screeching of metal grated on Asuna's ears and the cage collapsed in itself, cut perfectly in half horizontally. Again, for another moment, everyone was silent.
"Shoot them!" Oberon screamed, slapping the nearest soldier to him in the helmet. The man released his arrow on reflex and Asuna watched as it arced directly towards her.
She blinked, confused as to why there was no blossoming of pain in her chest. She looked down and inhaled sharply. The arrow lay split in two at her feet, next to the one that had punctured her foot. She didn't even feel it get pulled out. She looked up at the black clad figure behind her in bewilderment.
"Who are you?" she breathed. Those dark eyes slowly grated down to meet hers.
"I am no one."
"Kill them!" Oberon shrieked. "Kill them both!" Men began scraping up their bows and drawing them, taking their aim.
"Hold on," he told her, grabbing her forearm and dragging her to her feet. He took his sword and traced a strange looking sigil onto the ground. "Move with the swiftness of dusk: Twilight Step." The next thing Asuna knew, she was stumbling through the forest, being dragged by her arm towards the bright light of day.
"Wait! More of Oberon's troops have the forest surrounded! He's sure to have used heavy infantry to block us in!" she yelled. Her rescuer snarled, then pivoted them in a different direction.
"I know a way we can escape, but if they're in the way, we're going through them. Can you run with that hole in your foot?"
"It'd take more than this to stop me."
"You still got power left?"
They broke free of the trees and ran across a sparse stretch of grass. In front of them, heavily armored green clad troops spotted their approach and locked their shields together, making an impenetrable wall.
"I'll break their guard!" he called back to her. "You switch in after!" He streaked across the open ground, that black sword of his trailing just above the tips of the blades of grass. Asuna watched as she ran behind him, her skin prickling as she heard him begin another incantation. "Tear my targets apart! Vorpal Thunder!" Dark energy began to swirl around his blade as he charged head on at the shield wall.
Just as Asuna thought he was about to run headfirst into the enemy, he jumped into the air and twisted, bringing his full weight to bear down on the soldier in front of him. As his sword came down on the enemy's shield, a vicious clap of thunder rang out at the impact and sent a shockwave rolling outwards from him, knocking both him and the shields up and away.
"Now!" he screamed. Asuna sprinted, savoring the feeling of her restored access to her power as she went.
"Harness the light and augment my attack," she chanted. "Prism Hydra!" She raised her sword and the light from her blade was refracted ten times over, ghostly reflections of her sword blinking into existence in a spectrum of colors. They mirrored her movements as she continued her approach. She ran under her rescuer as he hung suspended in the air and jabbed her sword under her opponent's guard. The reflections of her sword followed suit, plunging into his compatriots next to him in blinding flashes of light. They fell in screams of agony. Asuna ran by them as they fell, her eyes looking for her impromptu partner.
"Here," he said from beside her, making her start. "Head for that pass up ahead." He gestured to the craggy path in front of them that was flanked by two rocky mountains on either side. Behind them, the enemy began to regroup as they pressed forward.
"That's the wrong way!" Asuna shouted to him even as they rushed toward the opening as fast as their legs could carry them. "My army is to the south!"
"Yes, them and the entire specialized strike force of the enemy, Your Highness!" the dark figure beside her retorted back. "Now run or die!" Asuna's pride flared up at the sound of her title being used in such a mocking manner, but she poured her outrage into her legs as they sprinted through the craggy mountain pass.
The cliffs on either side towered high above them and served as sounding boards that amplified the noise of their pursuers clanking and screaming after them. Asuna could hear the hoofbeats of horses riding them down, hear the creaking of the leather saddles as their riders leaned forward, urging their steeds onward. Fear began clawing at her belly as she imagined the enemy readying long lashing poles to snare them in their tracks.
"Become the far reaching shadow," she heard from beside her. Her eyes flickered over and went wide at what they saw.
Her ally bent over his sword as he ran, the palm of his free hand running along the razor sharp edge of the blade. A line of blood split the pale skin of his hand, but rather than falling to the ground, the blade seemed to drink it in, feeding on the essence that ran from the it fed, it seemed to draw more in, wrapping itself in shadows that seemed to be ripped from the clefts of the rocks surrounding them, the swathes of land shaded by clouds, everywhere.
"Umbral Lance!" he snarled, thrusting the sword at a cliff face far above him. The blade seemed to elongate and stretch an almost impossible distance, impacting the rock with a thunderous crash. Gigantic boulders were dislodged from the shock and came tumbling down into the narrow pass behind them, causing their pursuers to scream in terror and abruptly reverse to avoid being crushed. The duo threw themselves clear of the wreckage, shielding their eyes from the rock shards that careened through the air. They lay on the ground, panting as the mountains behind them continued to rumble in protest; safe, but in unfamiliar territory.
Asuna grunted as she clambered up to her feet, inspecting her surroundings. As she scanned around her, she noticed there was no wound on her ally's hand from where he'd slashed it mere moments ago.
"Alright," she said, exasperated. "Now tell me, who in the name of the Great Pit are you?"
"My name," the man said, coolly brushing dust off of his simple robes before looking her in the eye, "is Kirito."