Aincrad, 55th Floor, Granzam
In a corner of the Steel City of Granzam, there’s a castle-like infrastructure that had a white silvery theme to it.
It’s like a palace a king would live in. There are flags and statues everywhere. It was also built like a fortress that is always ready to defend against invaders. It filled onlookers with a sense of awe and fear. A player would feel tiny in comparison to a grand structure like this. The fluttering flags also deterred anyone with ill-intent by the faint killing intent emitted from the flags.
The flags are adorned by white swords crossed to form a sword cross, the red background made the swords look even more divine. Anyone who had no clue what this place is would probably peg it as an NPC king’s domicile or a general’s keep.
Actually, this place is the headquarters of the Knights of the Blood Oath.
The relatively new guild from a year ago experienced tremendous growth and now it’s known as the strongest guild in SAO. Their fame is so great that only those driven insane by SAO wouldn’t recognize them. Even the most reclusive loner in the town of Beginnings in the 1st floor had heard about the Knights of Blood.
For the strongest guild in SAO, there aren’t a lot of members in it. This castle is way too big for them. Moreover, the higher-ranking members also had their own homes so they don’t live in this castle at all. Hence, this castle looked very grand but there aren’t actually a lot of members living here.
The traffic flow would also corroborate this observation. Wu Yan didn’t see a lot of people moving in and out of this castle. This castle is way too cold in contrast to its majestic outer appearance. The members are probably out doing quests or they have their own dwellings. Wu Yan didn’t blame them, this place is too big and lonely to call home.
Wu Yan continued taking mental notes of the building and walls around him as Asuna led him towards Heathcliff’s office.
Asuna understood why Wu Yan wasn’t paying much attention to the views here. She felt the same way as Wu Yan. She hesitated before she thanked him.
“Erm, thank you…”
Wu Yan blinked his eyes in confusion. Asuna giggled and she replied.
“I am talking about the menu. It really helped me out.”
Wu Yan nodded his head and he shrugged.
“Well, I am just glad it helped you. You didn’t have to thank me by the way. I know you would have come up with your own menu without my help anyway. I mean, you and your fondness of food…”
“What do you mean by that?”
Asuna shot him a slightly dissatisfied look.
“Fondness of food? Are you saying I like eating more than I should?”
“Well, make of that what you will…”
Wu Yan looked back at Asuna with an amused expression. He also used a profound tone with her. Asuna can’t help but recall her not-so-lady-like eating style when Wu Yan gave her his steak. He enjoyed her looks of shame and anger. He looked away when she reached for her rapier.
Asuna snorted and she cut the conversation short. They continued walking but Wu Yan can’t help but notice her increased pace as he silently laughed.
She’s still a child inside.
After turning a few more corners, Asuna led him past a long iron-walled corridor. A lofty set of doors appeared in front of Wu Yan and Asuna.
The doors are just a bit taller than Wu Yan. Asuna approached the door and she opened it without reporting her identity. Wu Yan got a look inside and…
The room looked like an oversized meeting room. There aren’t a lot of luxurious decors here, the theme leaned more towards the practical side, with a long rectangular desk facing the door. Sitting behind the desk, Heathcliff sat there in his red plate armor. The flag with KoB’s insignia on it was prominently displayed on a wall behind Heathcliff.
Wu Yan stopped 5 meters away from Heathcliff. He looked at Heathcliff while he looked at Wu Yan. It was like a year ago, except, this time, the venue is different, it’s not the 2nd-floor hotel lobby.
The two’s identities are also completely different.
One year ago, Wu Yan is just a very renowned player while Heathcliff is a new guild master.
One year later, Wu Yan is now the player recognized as the strongest by all the players. On the other hand, Heathcliff now runs the strongest guild in SAO.
It’s been a year since then, apparently, the two aren’t ready to talk yet. They just enjoyed each other’s stare as the room fell into a deathly silence.
Asuna was holding her own breath. She kept her almond-brown eyes dancing between the two as her heart started racing…
A brief while later, Heathcliff chuckled and he broke the heavy mood.
“It’s been a long time, Wu Yan-dono…”
He continued with an ambiguous tone in his words.
“I believe it has been about a year since that time…”
Wu Yan nodded. He used a piercing gaze on Heathcliff, it’s like he wanted to uncover his innermost thoughts.
“A year, look at the changes you brought about…”
“Oh? Is that so?…”
Heathcliff laughed heartily.
“You have to, I mean, I am currently rather famous if I do say so myself. There has to be a certain order of doing things.
“How about it? Wu Yan-kun…”
Heathcliff addressed him.
“You told me to make my guild the strongest in SAO. What do you think of Knights of Blood now?”
“You want to know what I think?”
Wu Yan looked around and he gave him a curt reply.
“Not worth it…”
Asuna slightly flinched but she didn’t say anything. In fact, she somewhat agreed with him.
Heathcliff had a serious look on his face.
“Why would you put it like that?”
Wu Yan grinned and he answered him.
“Strength has to be gained through effort and sacrifices. Guild master Heathcliff, what do you think the Knights of Blood paid for this?”
Heathcliff thought about it and he shook his head.
“As I said, we are not the guild one year ago. We have rules and without it, we would be living with the animals. Rules are here for a purpose…”
“You can’t deny that the Knights of Blood Oaths are the strongest and…”
Wu Yan nodded.
“Well, I couldn’t care less about your guild if I have to be honest…”
“Why would you be indifferent? Wu Yan-kun…”
Heathcliff raised his head.
“If you joined the Knights of Blood then won’t this all be behind us?”
Heathcliff’s words shocked Asuna and she looked at Wu Yan with a quick turn of her head.
Wu Yan sighed and chuckled at the same time.
“Do you actually think I will join your guild?”
Heathcliff didn’t even hesitate. He wasn’t inviting Wu Yan with the expectation that he will join.
“Put it honestly, you frightened me once.”
Heathcliff said and his eyes turned stern.
Asuna tried to interject.
Wu Yan narrowed his eyes at Heathcliff.
Heathcliff released a pent-up sigh. He continued using a grim look as he recounted.
“Before you appeared, I thought no one would be able to do the things you did. And, by God, you did it…”
“Which is why I am afraid…”