This is closer to Major spoilers as one of the final bosses makes a ten second cameo in the Room of the Hound... but it's so obscure that most shouldn't mind. If someone does though I'll nudge the...
Of Morgona part 4: Touching the Knife's Edge
Sullenly, stonily, he sat, back stiff eyes thinned. His mother's eyes, dark blue, his father's expression stubborn and stoic, his heritage was set on every line. Fanned before him, set by his own hand, lay the incriminating evidence. Printed from their computer, the date and time tucked in the lower corner were the nitpick details of when and where were meant to reside. Flooring sizes, lease agreements, payment plans, took the bulk of the damning page, their details immortalized in size thirteen font, black ink, double space.
All of it, right there, so stark it hurt. A betrayal in its own right, well beyond the mere "contemplation" step he'd promised. A signature on three of the five agreements would have made speculation into legally binding. Taking their usual places, Mother reading, Father glowering, he waiting, they made a tense threesome. All around them, in varied containers, tidily presented, breakfast cooled. There would-be plans (his to sleep, theirs to go on an outing as "usual") were definitely shattered. Well, for now. With luck he'd get a nap in a little later, as for the ritual outing he hardly cared as he wasn't going.
There was no arguing that either, and if it took him to sign one of those papers and mail it out to forgo going… it'd be stupid, but he'd do it.
"I'll trade you paper for paper Satosh'." Father drawled, thus he produced a slew of bills, all opened, the cost of each meticulously highlighted. Clearly Satoshi wasn't the only one prepared. Satoshi skimmed the costs, the titles, and strived to keep his expression neutral. Electric, gas, water, sewage, a dated World bill, each alone wasn't a surprised, it was when you added them together it became sickening. Tabbed onto any rend of the five plans and sickening deteriorated into horrendous.
"Unless C.C. Corp is going to pay you a thousand next week I wouldn't be in such a rush to move out."
Keeping the shock off his face, fighting to hold back a horrible chocking pressure that was helpless bitter, and more than a touch terrifying, Satoshi snorted. Those numbers were the physical representation, the tally really, of a lifestyle where you lived check to check. One bad week, a touch of flu, a span of strep, and God help him. Those numbers, so placid seeming on white all but sniggered up at him. "Dream of independence, do you? Think again you little fool!"
Still he kept it from showing, as best he could.
"Waking up yet?" Father grunted.
Closing his eyes so to better blot out those numbers, Satoshi sighed. Pressure and terror, all he needed. Considering the potentially dangerous slant that his professional life had just taken… He opened his eyes gaze blade sharp, expression placid.
"I've been awake and I've been considering."
Both stared at him, not quite believing that with the proof before him he hadn't "woken up yet" or "repented" or whatever. Pulling a notebook from his lap Satoshi flipped to the proper doodle incrusted page. His rebuttal was the same as theirs. On the page, in his hand, lay the electric sewage, etcetera estimates for a single person's usage in the size of the given apartments he'd been researching. Math in tidy rows, sums circled (he hadn't been able to find the highlighter, though now he knew why, Father never put anything back after using it) he'd tied each sum to each rent. And though his sums were almost as vicious as theirs there were a few leniencies here and there. Enough to live off of, but just barely.
"Satoshi." Mother protested. "In the worse month's you barely make it, by mere cents in summer!"
He set his gaze on hers, stern yet placid so fitting to another… and she looked away first. Still he spoke. "I didn't say I wanted to do this, only that I might have to."
"For a game?" Sora snapped, disbelieving.
"It's more than just a-"
"For a job?" He pressed, still not getting it.
"It's more than just a job."
Silence, incomprehension from them both. To that expected, he sighed.
"It's only research." He soothed.
The spread of leases made that a lie, still they both nodded. Taking comfort in what he said.
"An idle consideration." Mother reiterated.
To that, for her, he nodded. Father took the bills, and then moved to take the notebook and leases. Satoshi snapped a hand forward, blocked the grab by making sure his hand made it there first. Father met son's gaze, met and saw… something. Enough that he lowered his hands gave up without a contest. Slipping the papers in their attendant notebook with a shuffle, he stood.
"I don't feel like going out, last night was long I'm going to take a nap. Don't feel you have to wait up."
Thus he left as he'd entered, to awkward silence.
They argued as they dispatched. Snarling (or rather in Orca's case, whispering vehemently) out potential cause and clause to the madness, they encountered at the start of each floor. Ice bloomed like flowers in Spring on fast forward. Fragments of chill speared the undersides of a Pandora Box, set Gob Machines to scattering, and herded one Flame Maiden to and fro as she danced out of the cold's way. Daring the artic daggers, Orca wadded into the ice spells, daring ice and snowdrifts, water sword set to cut through monsters, fire sword to sheer through the arcane debris. Overall it was a tidy arrangement, clean, neat, and efficient. More importantly it was proving to be devastating to the monsters about them.
Which was no bad thing.
The bad thing of it was that… well it was annoying. After all, the sword was his, or rather had been his. Another point of his irritation was that Orca had… well swindled didn't feel quite right. You didn't swindle your friends after all. You could take advantage of an unfair situation though, and Orca had done that. Sourly musing he held the rear, summoning rains and ice daggers via scrolls and armor enchantments. Though Orca was similarly equipped with water based armor he lacked the patience to stand through a spell casting so Balmung provided the arcana.
And, immature as it was… well he aimed some of it so that ice slid down the Azure Sea's back. Orca's oh-so-suave response to that bit of revenge (once the hopping had died down) was to scoop up a lump of ice and snow and throw it at Balmung. Shielding himself with a wing, the Azure Sky glared at the Azure Sea, flicking ashy snow (they were, after all, not the only ones with magic, as flame maidens seemed to like torching the room and its inhabitants at every opportunity) off of his wing with a hand. No words were needed. Orca stuck out his tongue and Balmung rolled his eyes, and the cringing neglected Gob Machine was dispatched with an casually tossed out Cynus scroll and they moved on.
Barring that, there was only one distraction in their investigation. A minor thing quickly sorted out with a round of paper, rock, scissors. Game done, wrist smarting (rock beat scissors after all, in all senses of the word) Orca watched with a sullen air as Balmung strolled up to the flame sheathed Gott Statue. Tilting his head this way and that, trying to decipher the blocky, amorphous, sorta alludes to fire but who knew what it really was, statue Balmung gave up and just went for the treasure like he always did.
Pointedly he ignored Orca, who was making soft clucking noises, the same noise he always made when Balmung considered anything. They'd fought over it before, Balmung adamant that tilting his head was not birdish, Orca insistent that it was. The degradation of being round about called a chicken set his teeth on edge, and as he opened the chest he resolved that any Golden Grunties he found were to be deleted. In front of Orca's wide, protesting eyes.
A tap of his blade on the chest caused it to pop open, and two Vessel of Sky's and an Ishtar Wand later and he joined his partner. Still holding his wrist, Orca cast his friend a curious look. To that Balmung flashed a sunny smile, and was off without saying a word. Trailing, curiosity and frustration stamped on his face, the Azure Sea loyally trailed after the Azure Sky. With a half turn, Balmung headed out, still smiling wide, telling nothing. Realizing that Balmung wasn't going to tell, ever, the Azure Sea stuck his tongue out again, and glared.
Whistling a jaunty tune, deciding they were even for the Burning Oil incident, the Azure Sky opened his map and spying a yellow dot just a room or two away lead the way with a cheery wave.
Orca, less than pleased, endured the chipper turn of his partner's mood with a sigh and roll of his eyes.
Thus they carried on, into a demons den, though they'd never know it.
To Lios, Admin of CC Corp.
From Balmung of the Azure Sky, Moderator
I know it's uncalled and outside protocol to contact you this late at night, especially after an investigation when I sent the appropriate paperwork ahead. However, I felt this incident to warrant a bending of the rules. Per the promise within my previous message this involves the second "incident"…
You know… even after writing that… it's been almost fifteen minutes, I look blankly at the screen, see the clock ticking in the lower left and… I can't seem to go beyond that. It's as if that word sums it up so well the details run away. I should sleep on it, that's what logic says, but it's still too fresh…
And any sleep now I'd get would be that of nightmares. And, right now… nightmares are the last thing I need.
It was a Cerebus, its hide the color of muted embers, fire falling from its jaws. In that it was the same as any other in this dungeon and beyond it. Yet it was different, tossing a fairy orb to check its data (any flaws and indescrepency would have told them this was the one) he waited, breath hitched, for it to be… different. It wasn't, the monster was the same as any other, and so they acted as they had before. Falling on familiar strategy that was so familiar it wasn't even discussed. Orca's mad rush, sword swings summoning small rains, Balmung still and steady, Winter's essence flowing form his fingers as the appropriate words roiled off his lips. It was over in a moment; the massive beast was whipped off its feet by winter's finest gale, slashed and doused clean by a blade that held rivers in its edges. It didn't live to land, dimming even as it fell to hues akin to dirty ash. Having seen it all before, Orca sheathed his blade, smiling, smug.
"And that's th-"
Balmung's wide eyes gaping mouth told him that it wasn't that, he had enough time to think that before something massive and hard, hot and heavy, smashed into his side. Spinning as he fell, he caught a glimpse of something moving the color of embers, with pads, claws… A paw. He'd been swatted aside by a paw of the thing they'd just killed. Rising beyond its death, the monster shouldered off the dim and glowed. Vibrant burning red, with specks of data green coiling about its neck like a mane, it smoldered the very stones with its rebirth…
Gaping, Orca struck the wall, only half aware impact had come, too shocked to honestly feel it he crumpled, still gaping, eyes wide.
"What in hell…" He croaked, wincing as he burned and bruised all at once. "Is… going on."
Looking from beast to Balmung, he waited for an answer. Unable to answer, his own gaze riveted on the reborn monster, sword out, he shook. Staring, he read stats, saw that the magical attack was impossibly high, infinite, and for that discovery he shook.
That shaking became a shudder of pure terror when he saw that the magical defense was following a similar pattern.
"Get up." Balmung breathed. And to that stark, ragged voice, Orca complied, never mind the pain. "Swords only, as fast and as hard as you can, we've got to kill this thing fast."
"But it's a fire monster, wouldn't ice-"
"Just do it!" Voice breaking, posture tense, the Azure Sky gritted his teeth. "This is it, the thing we've been looking for! We kill it, we find the hacker, and CC Corp deals with it and that's that."
Nodding, Orca drew his new sword, sighed. "Man oh man do I hurt."
To that Balmung cracked a grin, tension spent. "And keep your voice down; I'm not going to be an accessory to you being grounded again."
"Grounded-er." Orca corrected fussily.
"Watch its fires." The Azure Sky warned, smile fading, face set in grim lines. "Nothing can stand against them now."
And with that warning the Azure Sea charged, blade leading. Data danced in the beast's eyes as it considered them, the one who held back, the one who charged. Some decision met those hollowed out eyes ceased to crackle, the numbers that served it for eyes stilled, closed, than it reared. Reared and breathed, not fire but ice. With a yelp of shock, dodging blue gales and icy fragments, the Azure Sea scrambled the hell out of the way; the floor behind him froze over, then with a titanic crack shattered.
Data sizzled and crackled, numbers and fragments of words rose like fire, like smoke, from
the icy gash in the graphics at their feet.
Detached, numb, though hardly touched by the attack, the Azure Sky shivered at the revelation before him. In Dante's Comedy, the lowest pits of hell were ice. Lucifer himself was sheathed in the chill of a hundred thousand, twisted souls. Sheathed, and trapped. And considering the modern situation, they lay waiting for men to delve too deep and pierce his arctic prison with all the best intents of the world, only to release hell's legions upon themselves all by accident.
Breath steaming the air, he watched with wide eyes as embers died, turned to horrid brittle hues of frost bite, and frost burn.
"Balmung, a little help here!"
Wings unfurled, blade drawn, he stared at beast and revelation all unwanted, watching as green spread, spilled down the neck and across the shoulders. That decided him. Never mind if his blade wept, or couldn't, or didn't, he hardly noticed, he hardly cared. The edge was sharp and that would serve for now. Blade drawn, wings unfolded, he looked upon the fray.
And the numbers, they climbed, dangerously high, not quite lethal. Defense still remained intact, untouched, but the HP was going up.
God help them all when that went up, nothing could save them then.
"Balmung!" Orca snapped. "Wake up already!"
Jarred, disturbed, the Azure Sky looked to the Azure Sea, and in a tone unlike his norm, a throwback to a half grown man facing pressure and terrors, strain and shattering, he said. "I am awake, never doubt that."
And with that quiet proclamation he raced into the fray, half flying, half running, into the maws of Hell's own champion.
I guess… it's expected that I continue. How can I describe that fight, so frantic, so insane?
Each blade stroke parted hide, we were buffeted by winter storm, gusts so bitter you had to cry, to cough, and to do both than stagger away seeking cleaner air. For there was rot under the ice, though you couldn't see it, it was there. Despite our best it grew, in numbers and strength, the putrid green of corruption and specks growing, flowing, incasing it slow and sure.
It wasn't quite as large as One Sin, but at times it got close, and still we hammered, like mad. Numbers lowering, our attack drained of force when faced to the exponential growth of HP and defense. As for attack, each move it made stripped walls of well… themselves. We saw the code, bits and pieces of it. As if the World were a shell and all the stuff mathematicians' love was secreted away in its very walls."
"Get back!" Swinging, wild and barely sane, the Azure Sea swiped and slashed, and three sets of spatting green eyes gazed at him, dispassionate, hardly impressed. But then, the slew of one at each blows conclusion weren't impressing him much either. "Bloody cheater, jerk!" Orca howled, reverting back to insults suiting his age as his nerve finally broke.
Above, smashing heads and daring the occasional stab at eyes that just weren't the Azure Sky attacked from above, desperately trying to keep the thing off his partner. One wild buck on the hound's part divested him of blade. Unwilling to risk a menu dive to get another the Azure Sky attacked with all he had left, himself. Snapping arms around one set of maws, hugging it closed, tighter than anything else before, he shuddered and ice formed along the ridges of his armor. Ice and electricity, as the green specks spat small storms along his limbs, leaving burning paths all over his arms.
Still, never mind, screw numbers, forget pain, he wasn't loosing, not here, not now.
"Orca! Forget slashing! Just stab the thing's throat!"
"But that's now how..."
The head he held tossed, first back then forth, the two others reared, mist seeping through their fangs, like off colored smoke.
"Just do it!"
Gritting his teeth, Orca obeyed uncertainty more than evident. Letting loose his hold, even as Orca stabbed, he fell from the beasts back, ice arched behind him. Hitting the floor, he rolled, sliding over real and unreal spans with impunity. The number encrusted sections were as solid and real feeling despite their translucent surrealism, still he winced at the contact with what shouldn't be even as Orca staggered back into him. Snapping his head up, Balmung grinned at what he saw, patted Orca on his back. A mute "good work" if there ever was, damned good work truth be told, and to that Orca relaxed. He knew that everything was alright now. Certainly Balmung would know, after all, didn't his friend always know when things were going bad? Then the inverse was true, things were finally going good, and that was enough for now.
Jaws sealed shut by its own ice attack, each mouth shutting the other up when trying to blast Balmung, a sword thrust through the center neck, the creature slumped from three different "mortal" wounds. And though it had health it wasn't moving. A familiar dullness was stealing over its pelt. And to that Orca grinned, so much for infinite health.
Spearing his friend a grin, the Azure Sea swatted Balmung's back, to share the triumph of the moment even as his mind twiddled with a few taunts. After all, brotherly camaraderie was all well and good... but teasing the heck out of his best friend for freaking out like a little girl would be better. In a week or two, Orca decided. Maybe three, just to be nice, yeah, definitely three. Pulse pounding in his throat, in Real and World both, the Azure Sea definitely decided to give this three weeks to cool before teasing Balmung about screaming like a girl.
"I'd say that this fight had gone safely beyond "good" and into epic bad assery, what'cha think?" Orca drawled, acting like nothing had happened, nothing epic, or bad assery, or anything important.
His shaking hands in the real though made that a lie, still he made the effort to brag and put it both behind them.
Best way to handle things in his book. Granted, Balmung would say his book was a font size too large and there were too many pic documents, but… well… that was Balmung. And speaking of his winged friend… The Azure Sky stared at nothing at all, brooded, which was his way of dealing with all the little things.
Granted Balmung's book was probably font size ten, single spaced, no pics, but well… that was Balmung.
"What'cha think?" Orca pressed, ribbing his friend to get some response.
"I think…" Careful, quiet, as always, the Azure Sky looked up. "That it's time to leave."
"Aw, come on, we can take a pic or something to immortalize this or something!" Orca whined.
"I'll report this to Lios, but we should go, it's not safe, what if it comes back again?"
"You're no fun." Orca mourned.
"I'm working." Balmung grunted. "Not playing."
A soft shatter brought them both back to the here and now. Both Blade Master's turned; not quite believing that it had started again, not wanting to know it started again. Eyes wide, frames tense, they watched as the green shattered, still vibrant, hardly dimmed despite its host's death. It broke off in icy chunks to shatter against the ground soundlessly. And from the fragments it broke down further, from solidary matter to liquid, steamlessly melting.
Sickly green, flowing slow; it spread like blood about its carrier, than began consuming it. Licking up blue hide, turning it the same green as itself, dragging it down like quicksand.
And it was spreading… Seeping from the beast, oozing from the data speckled walls…
Snapping Orca's shoulder he shoved him to the door, blade out never mind which one, he took comfort that he was armed, Balmung followed his partner out. And behind them, beyond them, the Cerebus melted, not soundlessly, but screaming. Not with words, but snippets of coherent sounds, mad sounds, berserk sounds, swearing vengeance and worse betrayals for the pain of its birthing. Snatching the door he threw it shut behind them. Leaning against the thick wood, he listened to how the screams became murmurs, but only by virtue of the barrier at his back.
"Log out…" Balmung whispered. "Now."
And to that ragged, raging voice, the Azure Sea started, stared at his friend. Concern warred with terror, finally understanding surmounted all.
"Not without you." Orca countered, just as soft, more than a little stubborn. "I know you, you idiot. They broke it, that thing, the whatever, it broke the World. And you won't allow that, you want to go in, by yourself, and to Hell with that."
To that accusation Balmung said nothing. Then, after a long silence. "They took the knife and pealed it back, showed it false… I can't… I won't…"
"Allow it?" Orca hissed. "It happened, its happening, get over it."
And bless him, for not saying "it was false" of "it's just a game", so unlike everyone else, Orca saw the reality of the World for what it was. An alternative. Still, this felt too much like desecration, destruction, and he shook at his own helplessness.
"Come on man, it's like two in the morning, time to go to bed. Write Lios and turn in, call it a night and tomorrow…"
"They'll shut the area down." Balmung warned.
And to that Orca nodded, already knowing. "Good. Then that's for the best."
To that show of sense Balmung cracked a smile. "Bed sounds awesome, more epic than anything I've ever heard all day."
"Not bad ass epic though." Orca bantered.
"Well," Opening one eye, tone a touch… sly… Balmung chuckled. "That depends on who's in it."
And to Orca's blank return look, the Azure Sky chuckled. It was rare, but still there, the apparent differences in their ages. Shelving it for now the Azure Sky simply smiled.
"Good night my friend, till next time."
Taking heart from that, Orca nodded, patted through pockets that weren't, skimming through menus that were too long sometimes yet not long enough to hold all the World's riches. Having seen it all before Balmung closed his eyes, then by memory found what he sought.
Sprite ocarina in hand the Azure Sky considered the Azure Sea.
"Love to, but I can't… Gotta friend, newbie, to show the World off too."
"Then have fun with that." Balmung bid. "And don't forget the Risky Chest tutorial like you did with the last one."
"Hey!" Orca flared "I only did that once and-"
And he was speaking to nothing, as gold light chased than blurred the spot that was Balmung and whisked him away.
.. I had to… to stop it. I couldn't log out. Though there was some prickling danger, a sense of something so wrong… But fought on, unsaid but knowing in our heats that it's wrongness was the spur. It's… profanity and destruction of the World about it was what pushed us on. I'm out of healing potions by the way, just a random thought there. Out of healing potions though my HP wasn't touched. Merely being in its presence it caused so much discomfort that even a perceived comfort was needed to carry on.
I think... the intensity of the pain inflicted on me… and the sounds, those screams, get to me the most. It isn't something that… that you caught the first time around. But thinking back they almost make sense, such horrible sense.
And… mad this may seem… there are times I recall… or that I think that I recall… it saying my name. My real name, my World name, it melded both together. A bastardization of identity its tones were contempt, its voice madness. Inspiring and participating.
Calling me back, calling me coward, calling me worse…
I feel as if we are on the edge of something. Something razor sharp, we grip the hilt of a blade for comfort only to find we've been clutching the blade.
And I don't know what to do, I really don't. I know I overstep myself, become too personal when professionalism is needed… but… this feels needed too.
Contact me if you've any questions or concerns.
Balmung of the Azure Sky.