An exploration of two characters I like the best, Lios and Balmung
a/n: I like Lios. Quite a bit, even though his is a pig head. I wanted to explore a tentative friendship between them both. This is the first part of that.
It was white, white and still, sterile yet bright. Illuminated from above, from below, light seeped from the corners and edges, licked about the distant horizon. White light fell from the sunless sky. He blinked and squinted at that harsh illumination, his mind providing a soft hum all on its own. Bemused by the internal soundtrack of the moment, the dull buzz found amongst neon signs sound clip was in repeat, locked in a dreaded loop that was annoying as it was continuous…. Still, he endured the sound and light, without complaint. Shaking his head, armored frame stuffed in a chair too modern for his mid-evil inclined avatar, Balmung sat when prompted and waited motionlessly. He retrained from fiddling with his fingers, smoothing his cloak, or kicking his feet at the glass table that was situated between himself and... his present companion. Though the "ching" of steel boots against the mysterious flooring would have provided some sound, perhaps a hope of driving that internal sound out, he endured without indulgence.
Recalling a lesson never really forgotten, he sat straighter, forcing his eyes... if not wide
at least to their proper width. Flicking one gauntleted hand up, he pushed back a bit of fringe from his eyes. It fell back in place, all but nipping at his eyes. Still, he never flinched, not from the bite, from his present associated unblinking stare, from none of it.
"All are present?" Dull, disinterested, the voice may have been, but the portly man's golden eyes were riveted upon that of the other before him with a dangerous intensity.
"All are safe and account for." Balmung assured softly.
Behind the knight, unseen and unheard, a sullen voice snapped out "what's that supposed to mean?" but Balmung didn't elaborate. A soft smile on Lios' part made the knight wonder if "unheard" was the proper word to use right then. Alas, the smile faded and the moment passed so Balmung didn't ask. Or rather, he couldn't ask. Not without being rude and knightly honor would not permit that. So he didn't ask or wonder or respond to the utterly anticipated "Oh dear… He can hear us, can't he?"
"I find it... intriguing that you, a merchant, are named after such a kingly creature as a lion." Balmung noted, merely striving to mask the innate chatter beyond him, hoping that it could be covered.
"It could be said." Lios' gruff voice sounded horse, from backing orders no doubt. "That he who judges a book by its cover is a fool. I could, if I was of mind, inquire further Mr. Satoshi. It's an odd young man whose tastes are so... universal… that he favors the literature of another country over his own. It smacks of a lack of... patriotism."
Despite his discipline and all his controls, Balmung let out a soft hiss at that criticism. It hung between them, a discordant breath drawn between clenched teeth.
"I would prefer to be addressed as Balmung."
Golden eyes glinted, founded features remained utterly placid.
"My job is to winnow man from legend, Mr. Balmung."
Behind and beyond one scoffed, another tittered. Balmung refused to flinch or blink. For his part, Lios did the latter, and then that professional distance detieriated as quick as it had been born. Leaning back in a chair part plastic, part fluff, the administrator pressed his own eyes into thoughtful slits. There was something of wonder, and something of hunting to the man's face. In that moment Balmung found all his answers as to why this man would take the name of a lion as his own.
"They don't know, do they?"
The silence at his back was deafening, to that Balmung swallowed. "Sir?"
"What you've done?"
"No sir. They..." The knight hesitated, closed his eyes, and sighed. "Neither my Mother or my Father have an interest in the World."
"You're a minor; they had to sign the paperwork for this meeting to happen. They have to be here for this meeting to happen. CC Corp honors child labor laws after all."
To that allusion he was lying Balmung would have bristled. He should have, but considering the ramifications... it stole the bite from his frustration. With a sigh, Balmung pushed his hair back, trying to set it to some order. He failed, in that and other things, still he tried.
"They're here sir. They don't have avatars since they don't play, but they are here. If you doubt my word..."
And to that simple assurance Balmung went still, oddly comforted.
"I don't doubt the word of one proven honorable time and time again. Do you think we haven't' set temptation before you and seen how you reacted? The Corporation's been watching you a long time. Since that little skiff you had with the knights, matter of fact."
"Not crimson, but white." Balmung noted. "After all, blood never washes clean, and fire only leaves ashes."
It was the closest he'd ever... well fought with Subaru before. Interesting how that had caught
CC corp's attention. To his statement Lios chuckled, looked beyond Balmung, golden eyes riveted on whatever -or rather who- was beyond.
"You defied authority when it was corrupt. Proven patient and sharp, you've acted accordingly. That's why you were almost contacted a year ago. One sin cinched things however. Made us sure. You went into a hell based dungeon -a bit of insiders lore that, we mirrored floors off of Dante's divine comedy something I'm sure you've read- and unlike all the others you broke expectations and all the rules. You went with one person, you weren't armed to the teeth, items maxed out, ready for an endless crawl. You didn't rush headfirst into that trap either. Rather, you explored each and every nook and cranny above before going below."
"We never expected to get to the bottom. "Balmung admitted, offering a bit of "insider's lore" all his own. "Twice our combined level and then some. It shouldn't have been possible."
"To those with real courage, willing to take real risks, it was possible." Lios' grin widened. "And you proved that more than anything else."
"Proved what?" Balmung asked.
"That you have courage."
To that the white knight blinked.
"They don't approve, do they? You, being here. That's why they're there and you're here."
And, never even hearing the outraged babble to his back, only expecting it, Balmung nodded.
"So." Leaning forward, vein marred arms first crossing than one lifted to serve as resting place for his chin, Lios drew close. Idly Balmung let his gaze drop, so her studied grey green lines, and he wondered, insane as it might seem, which were which. Where did dead veins and tattoos intersect on that faded, coiled, marking. "Tell me, what of the man, what of the legend? Where do I separate the two of you?"
"Legends are made in other people's judgments, as are heroes and villains." Balmung pointed out. "I merely acted, acted according to what I perceived was right. They saw, and made stories, and crafted legends."
"So," Raising one thick eyebrow, the man who took his name from a celestial lion, sobered. "There is no difference then?"
Not knowing what to say to that Balmung started, even as the young man behind the knight followed suit.
The silence of the man before the knight, and the people behind the boy playing as knight was deafening. And to that Lios smiled, a warm smile, one that said something of kindred spirits and brought back memories of a casual conversation made after Sin's fall.
"I..." Golden eyes speared the white knight, counseling silence.
"I applaud your dedication in adverse circumstance." The administrator murmured. "It's my hope that our efforts, and your assimilation into CC Corp's moderator team, will alleviate that somewhat."
"You mean the unlimited play time, no fee part of the contract." The knight blurted out, then flushed in chagrin. He hadn't meant to sound so cynical but... it had just tumbled out.
"That and other ways." Lios countered. Lip twitching into a half smile. "Balmung of the Azure Sky, Descendent of Fianna, will you accept the terms of service of the contract and accept that this verbal contract is binding as if you were in my office, before me? Will you accept the code of fair play that binds all administrators, moderators, and CEO's of this company, and know that you can not and will not be allowed to abuse the powers granted to you by acceptance? Do you swear, upon your honor and name, to act honorable, to continue to act honorably, and uphold all obligations that are within your power to uphold and report those that are not to your superiors within the company?"
No hand was offered, not for him to shake, words seemed all that was needed for this moment. But words hardly seemed enough. And so, like flight and protection, flowing from that fountain of instinct deep in his soul, he stood then knelt. On bent knee he drew his sword, then turned it over in his hands, offering the hilt. Bemused, Lios took the offered weapon, rolled it's hilt in thick fingered hands.
"I don't know how to use this, wouldn't have a clue." Handing the sword back, rather clumsy truth be told, the Admin grinned. "But you do. Use it right, use it well, and that will be more than enough."
"Sir." Eyes studying the ground, head bowed, he took the blade without needing to see. The steady illumination from below crept up and stole the edges from his sight. Never mind though. Sight was not mandatory, he went by feel and memory, sheathing his blade without looking up.
Coming close, dissolving the table or perhaps stepping around it, Lios stood before the knight. Right before him, and to the pressure of that gaze Balmung looked up.
"You'll have those skies. That's my promise to you. In exchange to your promise to me. You'll have those skies, and all they hold, all will be yours. You do your work, you'll keep them as long as you'll like."
"That might mean forever." Balmung warned.
"Nothing lasts forever, boy. Nothing at all. Not this, or me, or you. I'm your boss by the way, white knight. You'll be reporting to me ever other night at Mac Anu's bar. No drinking though, you even sip the stuff when on the clock I'll have your hide. We'll talk more of that, in more private forum. About school and scheduling, and your life style so we can fit this post around you so you don't lose too much to it."
Unable to help it, Balmung smiled, a child's smile, pure and carefree.
"I'm a hard task master; I'll demand a lot, not perfection though, so you can rest easy there. But I'll want damn near to perfection, is that clear?"
"As glass, sir."
"Lios." The administrator grumbled, waving the formality aside. "We'll be working too long together for you to be siring me to dead."
"Lios." Balmung corrected himself dutifully.
"Give us two days. No logging in though, we need to borrow your character data to make adjustments. But you'll get what you asked for."
"Just.. give me a little. To contact Orca so he knows I'll be out of touch, then it's all yours. I..." Still smiling, so wide it hurt, the knight wanted to dance, decorum held him back by the smallest of margins. he stood instead of pranced, despite how much he wanted to. "I.. thank you. For everything."
"You're welcome. Now write that Azure Sea fellow of yours and log out. That's an order."
Never had Satoshi been so glad to follow an order before. Nodding his head, logging to a root down, saving, then logging out. He did so with a wide, uncharacteristic smile, his joy shining through his other self, the White Knight. It took effort not to skip, extreme effort, loads of discipline. His letter was short, hastily written and barely coherent, still smiling he sent it, then set his vr headset aside.
His smile faded though when he turned, and found himself alone. That's why you are here, and they are not... Lios' all too astute statement hung over him, taking the wild edge off of his happiness. But only the edge, the depths were still there, waiting for a choice indulgence. So, alone, he whooped with joy, jumped with it.
A child once again, never caring how wrong that sounded against the count of his years, he had no doubts, no fears. All was right with his world. And that's all that mattered.