Categories > Anime/Manga > .hack//Sign > The Rising of the Wave

Chapter II

by sargent_snarky 1 Reviews

Kite, wanting to find out exactly what the hell happened to his friend Yasuhiko, decides to log back into The World to search for clues, for he feels that whatever has placed his friend in the hosp...

Category: .hack//Sign - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama - Characters:  - Warnings: [!] [V] - Published: 2006/08/16 - Updated: 2006/08/17 - 6674 words

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.hack//The Rising of the Wave
A fanfiction by Sargent Snarky

Rating: PG 13 for mild language, thematic elements, etc.

Summary: A novelization of the games. Nothing more. Nothing less. Kite is, of course, the central character.

Spoilers:Not if you take it as you play the game. If you haven't played the games and you skip to the, like, fifty seventh chapter, of COURSE there'll be spoilers, but if you just read it as you play the game or something like that, then there won't be.

Note: Although I will in many instances be taking thing directly from the games, in conversations, descriptions, et cetera I take artistic license, so it won't be exactly like the games.

I do hope you will permit me this drivel. In a way, this will serve as notes for me for other .hack stories in that it is a basis, more or less, of how I tend to picture things in the games.



Chapter II

"Kite?" The worried voice of an elder sister called, knocking on the door to his room.

Upon receiving no answer, she frowned and opened the door, wondering what the soft cry and thud she had heard were. What she saw was quite unexpected. Kite lay slumped upon the ground, his chair a foot or two to his right, the headset and his glasses knocked askew, and the controller dangling from its wire from the computer.

For a long moment she just stared, blinking, then rushed to her brother's side. "Kite!" she called, pulling the headset from his face and turning him onto his back. "What's the matter? Please wake up!"

But he did not stir for several minutes, and it was only when she picked him up and staggered to his bed to set him down that he stirred. And it was another couple of minutes after that, as she picked up the phone, ready to dial the hospital, before he woke up with a groggy start. He stared around the room as if he'd never seen it before for a moment or two before it occurred to him where he was. And then, adjusting his glasses, he looked to his sister in silence.

"Kite..? What the hell happened?" asked his sister, sounding frightened.

He hesitated a moment, eyes now falling to his computer, whose monitor was blank, the computer apparently off. Then he lifted a hand to his head, massaging his forehead and saying, "I... don't know." His voice was confused and shaky. "I must have fallen off my chair and banged my head." A weak smile. "Tipping it, you know."

His sister looked a bit dubious, but after a moment, she nodded. "Maybe you should go to bed early. And if your head is aching, or you get a bump or get nauseated, then let me know and I'll get you to a doctor. I'll get you an ice pack."

Kite nodded slowly, his mind not really all there. He was, instead, running over all that had happened in his mind. 'What was wrong with Yasuhiko?' he wondered. 'Why was he so upset?' Kite would have called his friend up right then and there, but he felt it wise to wait until he himself had steadied a bit. Holding a hand before his eyes, Kite could see he was shaking pretty bad.

After his sister had returned with an ice pack and some water, and then had left for her own room, promising to check back in on him in a half hour or so, Kite carefully went back to his desk, where he tidied up a bit. Then, he picked up the phone. The boy hesitated for a long moment before actually dialing Yasuhiko's number.

Ring. ... Ring ... Ring ...

This went on, but Kite received no reply. Why wouldn't Yasu even pick up the phone? Even more confused and worried, Kite returned to his bet to think things over.

The next day was a Saturday, one on which (for once, it seemed like), Kite had nothing to do. But, he also found out, both through a call from Yasu's mother and from a short article in the local news, that Yasuhiko had been hospitalized for falling into a coma the night before. Kite, of course, rushed to the hospital, only to return a short time later, downcast and distant.

"Well?" queried his sister.

"He's in a coma, apparently, but they wouldn't even let me see him," said Kite, voice soft and worried. "But... I guess it's better this way. I didn't really want to see him all weak, and... he wouldn't want that either..." To himself, he added: "But... what the hell happened to him?"

Whatever it was, though, Kite felt that the key was somewhere in The World. But, when he attempted to log in, he found that the servers were apparently down.

0 0 0 0 0 0

Some days later, on his computer, Kite once more tried to log back onto The World, but found that the servers were down. A message popped up, as he clicked the Log In button, saying "Thank You for Visiting The World. All services are currently unavailable due to maintenance. We apologize for any inconvenience and ask for your patience."

He let out a soft sigh and, instead, went to the boards, figuring that at the least he could start by posting a message there about Yasuhiko. And so he did:

"Thread: Coma

Topic: Help

Author: Kite

My friend is in a coma after playing this game. He's hospitalized and still isn't out yet. But do these things actually happen? Does anyone know the reason? Anyone know someone else in the same state? How can I get him out of the coma? The people who made the game look here, too, right? Please give me some kind of information.

Thank you."

0 0 0 0 0 0

The very next day, as he was logging on after dinner, he received an email from CC corp apologizing for the Server Problems and announcing that for the time being, play would not be restricted to the first two servers only. He also had received a very unusual email indeed.

It was a garbled text from "Au$", whomever that was. Kite could only make out a few words and letters; otherwise, the message was completely illegible. Who sent this? I can't read it!

After a few moments of contemplating this, he sighed and shrugged, closing his email and opening The World. "New" flashed next to the Boards, signaling that new content had been posted since he had last checked, but Kite was disinclined to check it. So, he logged in, pulling his visor over his eyes and picking up his controller.

0 0 0 0 0 0

Delta Server: Root Town

Mac Anu

0 0 0 0 0 0

Amid the traditional three golden rings, Kite appeared in Mac Anu before the chaos gate. He took a deep breath, gazing around him, once again unable to help marveling at the digital detail. However, his quiet observation was interrupted by a girl who stalked by, gazing around and muttering something under her breath. Kite watched her make a complete circuit of the Chaos Gate.

She was about his height, but was of a different class, being a Heavy Blade. Her sword was hidden, however, by the mysterious physics of the online world. She didn't have it drawn, and she wasn't in a field, so it remained hidden. As with many online players, she had attempted to choose a distinctive avatar, and it seemed that she had succeeded. With tanned skin, pink hair and wine-colored eyes, as well as two cream accent marks, one on either cheek, her face was quite pretty. As for the rest of her, it was attractive, as well, which was emphasized by her somewhat skimpy outfit.

On top, she had an impractical (from a defensive standpoint) dark armor top that had only one strap across one shoulder holding it up. It was as skimpy as a bikini, but it still cut off directly below her breasts, leaving her stomach bare, save for two cream 'lightening' stripes that served as accents. On her hips, she wore a white skirt with an oval of dark armor on either side, as well as one in the front and back. This came down mid thigh, if that, and left her legs exposed. Only they weren't exposed, for they were covered in dark tights, with a thorny vine pattern, which were tucked into armor boots that reached her knees. On her forearms, where the upper arms were bare, were gauntlets of similar style.

As she completed her circle of the Chaos Gate, she noticed his gaze and stomped up to him, eyes narrowed in a glare. She leant forward slightly and demanded, her voice snappish, "What? What is it? You got something to say?"

Kite was taken aback and hesitated before saying, "No..."

The girl let out a hmph, rolled her eyes and said, in a less hostile tone, "Oh, I get it now. You are a newbie, aren't you?" There was a pause in which she awaited an answer. When one was not forthcoming, she said, "I might have guessed. Well, are you or not? Come on now, don't be shy. You can tell me."

Kite said nothing.

"Listen," the girl suddenly snapped, her former snarky and 'in your face' tone returning. "In case you're not aware of it, you're being very rude. It's impolite to stare at someone like that. You have to understand: it's the same as the real world! Don't' you get it?"

Kite again said nothing.

Fed up, she threw her hands up in the air, turning and stomping off. Once she was a few steps away, she turned to him. "Last chance! What is up with you, anyway?"

Kite still was silent.

She sighed loudly. "Coem on, will you say something already?"

Kite lifted his eyebrows, but said nothing. And the girl left, disappearing into the city itself. After a few moments, he followed, not for the purpose of stalking, but for the purpose of gathering information and getting some potions and things. He intended to return to the place where.. well... it had happened.

But, before he went in, he paused and opened his menu to check his inventory. For some reason, in his Special Items category, there was an item called The Twilight. When he highlighted it to see what it was, all he got was garbled text. Wondering where he had received it and what the heck it was, Kite decided against attempting to use it, just in case it was something bad.

So, with it still in the back of his mind, he started off into the city proper. At first, he wandered a bit aimlessly, attempting to figure out its layout. True, he had a map in the upper right hand corner of his screen, but he was still a bit confused. There were, after all, a lot of people running around.

After a bit of wandering, he decided to just start by going to the NPCs and seeing what they did. So, he began with the Elf's Haven man. Putting his cursor on the man, Kite 'accessed' him.

The NPC said, "Welcome. You can store unused items here."

A box opened up in Kite's vision with three choice, one of which was Talk. He selected that one, and the NPC spoke again.

"Up to 99 different types of items can be stored. Up to 99 of each item can be stored. You can withdraw the stored items at any Elf's Haven."

Of course that was all very well and good, but not terribly useful. Kite left Elf's Haven and nearly ran over a fellow Twin Blade. She stopped and looked him over.

"Hello," said Kite. "Sorry..."

"Good evening, and that's all right," she said, amiably. "Don't worry about it. I'm Hayate. Who're you? I don't think I've seen you around before."

"I'm Kite; pleased to meet you."

"Indeed. Hmm.. Aren't Twin Blades weak? I should have picked Heavy Blade for strength..."

Kite, not really knowing if this was so, merely shrugged.

She looked down at his weapons, which were in their holders. "Hey, I've never seen that weapon before," she said, eyes suddenly alight with interest, which quickly faded. "Oh... wait. I have it. Hmm. Don't you wish you had something more powerful?"

Kite again shrugged. "I suppose."

"Wanna trade, then?"

"No. Thank you, though. I don't have any items worth trading right now. Um... I do have a question, though."

"Ok... Shoot."

"Have you noticed anything weird happening in The World lately? Like, any glitches or strange monsters?"

"Besides the apparent server failure..? Um.. No. Why?"

Kite shrugged, then half-lied: "No reason. I'm just curious. Seems like there've been some problems lately and I was wondering if they've been affecting a lot of people."

"Ah... Well... I'll be seeing you. I've got monsters to fight!"

"Bye."

And with that, Hayate ran off, leaving Kite to continue wandering again. He started towards the item shop and was nearly there when he was randomly accosted by a Long Arm wearing white trimmed with green. She seemed rather irritated about something and began just ranting at him, as he was apparently the first person she'd run into.

"Y'know what! There are some really annoying people out there! Like Yuckey! What is up with her? She totally bugs."

Kite blinked and nodded.

"And then there's this teacher at school we all hate," she continued, then added with an evil grin, "Let's see how he feels when someone throws an eraser at him. But, to add to it all, the upper servers are closed, and the items in this town are pretty lousy."

Abruptly, however, she seemed to actually notice Kite and glared at him. "What? What do you want? Stop following me around. I'm busy."

"I... Wasn't following you. Sorry... Um... It's just... Have you noticed any problems with this game lately?"

She seemed a bit taken aback by this question and paused mid insult. "Um.. no... not really, except the fact that the upper servers are closed. Why"

"Oh... nothing. I guess it's just me."

She snorted. "Whatever." And stalked off.

Kite blinked and went to the item shop. At the item shop, there was a white and blue armored Heavy Axeman. Every inch of his broad shouldered, tall form was covered in thick plate armor. And he was waiting his turn to buy items, for there was another in front of him. Kite got in line behind the Axeman, and he turned to Kite. Putting his cursor over the man, Kite saw that his name was Nekoski.

"He-ow," said Nekoski, brightly. "That's my new greeting! What do you think? It's half human and half cat. Pretty cool, huh?"

Kite lifted an eyebrow, a tad frightened by this overly-perky hulking person. "I... guess? Um..." He was about to ask Nekoski a question, but the player went right on talking.

"I just love cats. Don't you? They're so warm and fuzzy. I love their paws... Now, what was it you were asking?" But before Kite could reply, there was the somewhat distant sound of a meow and Nekoski said, "Oh wait! My cats are calling me... I gotta go..."

And, forsaking his place in line, he ran off to log out. Kite stared after him for a moment before approaching the Item Seller. The one who had been in front of Nekoski, a Long Arm wearing blue trimmed with yellow, was just finishing her exchange with the shopkeeper. She turned, flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder, and looked down her nose at Kite, who happened to have been looking at her.

"What? You're a long ways off before you can talk to me," she said, tone quite impatient.

"I'm... sorry?" Kite offered to... Cima, as his cursor said.

"Who do you think you're talking to! I'm sure you've heard of me... ...Haven't you?"

Kite shook his head. "No... I'm sorry. Mm.. You wouldn't happen to know a player named Orca, would you?"

This seemed to only make Cima even more irate. With a heavy sigh and a scowl, she said, "Nothing but losers lately. Sheesh. Everyone's preoccupied with Balmung or Orca. The World doesn't revolve around them, all right?"

Kite winced. "Sorry." He seemed to be doing a lot of apologizing lately. And now for another half lie - it was easier than explaining everything to someone who didn't need to know and wouldn't care: "I've just heard the name around and was curious... that's all."

She sighed and rolled her eyes. "Are you still here? What's your problem? Don't you get it!"

"Sor-"

"If you get it, then scram, n00b."

Kite backed away from her and walked hurriedly around and past her to the Item Shop. The NPC was considerably friendlier.

"Be prepared! We've got many types of Medicine for your healing needs!"

When Kite selected talk, the man said, "It's common sense to take along plenty of healing medicine. If you have SP recovery medicine, you'll never have to worry about overusing your skills!"

Kite then proceeded to purchase a few Sprite Ocarinas, some more Fortune Wires and a few extra healing potions, as well as sell the Yellow Candy and Grunt Doll he had received from the dungeon. Turning away from the Item Shop when done, he came face to face with a green robed wavemaster with yellow designs along his robe and a grey vest. He wore a hat over his messy brown hair. The cursor said his username was Fool.

"Um... Hello," said Kite, a little unnerved by the fact that Fool had been standing right behind him.

Fool gave him a calculating look. "Do you want to trade? I'll trade a Spiritual Book for twenty-five Holy Sap. Or an Air Bracer for ten."

"I'm sorry," said Kite. "I don't have any Holy Sap."

"That's too bad. Oh well. If you ever get some, please trade with me. I'm collecting it. Good bye."

Kite wondered if all people in The World were this... interesting. But then he started towards the Weapon Shop. There, there was a grey robed wavemaster with grey hair and a grey and brown hat talking to the shopkeeper. After a moment, the wavemaster turned and beheld Kite.

"Yo! How are you?" According to the cursor, this was Alue.

"Fine, thank you. And you?"

"Doin' good, see."

Kite lifted an eyebrow.

"Add 'see' to the end of your sentences and you can talk like me, see?"

"I see... see. Heh."

"Tch. Yo, if you got any questsion, just ask me. I may not seem like it, but I'm an idol in The World, see?"

"Really? Well... Have you -"

Alue interrupted him. "Hey, if I keep talking to you, my fans are gonna get rowdy, see. The rule is three minutes per person. I'll make sure you have some time to talk to me in the future. Make an appt. with my secretary." And with that, the wavemaster brushed passed Kite, leavning the twin blade a bit bewildered.

Shaking his head, he approached the Weapon Shop.

"Welcome. This is the Weapon Shop." Selection of Talk. "You can use specially skills by equipping weapons and armor. When you buy equipment pay attention to the skills as well as the parameters."

Kite decided not to buy any equipment until he grew more used to the battle system and whatnot, so he headed for the Magic Shop. At the Magic Shop, once more, he came just behind another person seeking to use it. When the white robed wavemaster was done, she sighed and turned to go, the golden trip of her outfit glittering in the bright digital sunlight.

"Man... Wish I could get good items... Oh... hello.. ? Hey! There's something your shoulder!"

"What?"

"Oh, wait... Sorry. That's just your pack."

"Ok... Hey, you haven't seen any eerie and overly powerful monsters or female ghosts around The World lately, have you?

Sachiko, as her name apparently was, said, "What? No... I haven't seen any kind of powerful warrior ghosts. Have you? I bet it would get you good items... I never have any luck with those. Seems to tbe the same with areas."

"I guess that's just the way things go."

"Yeah. Hey! Guess what. Something eerie happened to me today. Fifty black cats appeared before me and just stared. What do you think?"

"That is weird."

"Ah well.. Bye."

And with that Sachiko was off. Was everyone really this chatty with complete strangers? It was a bit unnerving. But Kite supposed, with your real self hidden, perhaps it was easier to be friendly or talkative. Or maybe today was just Everyone be Chatty day.

The Magic Shop Man said, "Welcome! Can I interest you in some magic scrolls?" Talk. "Scrolls are one-time use only, but it won't waste SP! It's also good to buy skills you don't have."

At this juncture, Kite decided to just head back, save his game and then head to that field. Nearing the Recorder's, however, he overheard random snatches of conversation, including one passed comment from a Mutsuki, running thus: "I'm a pro when it comes to cats. I hope there's a bunch of 'em in The World." He also heard a comment about a cat-player - a player who looked like a purple cat. This left Kite to wonder what the hell was up with all these people obsessed with cats.

At the Recorder, the NPC said, "I can save your data. Don't forget to stop by often during your adventure."

And Kite saved his game. Then, he returned to the Chaos Gate and was just about to open its menu and enter his keyword when...

"Wait a sec!" called the Heavy Blade girl from before.

Kite turned to look at her.

"Yeah, you. I uh... I know some interesting keywords," she said. "If you go with me, I'll tell you what they are. Do you want to know?"

Kite debated for a moment - this certainly sounded suspicious - but then said, "Yes... by all means."

"Right on!" she sounded cheerful, now. "That's the spirit! Spoken like a true newbie."

At this moment, Kite received BlackRose's member address.

"The keywords are: delta Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground."

Kite nodded. "Ok."

He turned to the Chaos Gat and immediately exclaimed, "What are you doing? You have to add me to your party!"

"I know," said Kite even as he selected her username (the only username besides Orca's) on his list. "I just invited you."

"Oh. Well you aren't fast enough. Let's go."

"Mm..." Kite accessed the Chaos Gate and entered the keywords. The screen telling him about the field showed that it was a level six and had an element of water.

And with that, they warped away.

0 0 0 0 0 0

Delta Server

Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground

0 0 0 0 0 0

They appeared at the edge of a sheered off bridge on an elevated island in the dead center of a huge lake. The island was nothing but stone brick forming a broad, austere walkway to an enormous gothic cathedral. The detail was amazing. The sky was a kind of grey twilight; it could have been dawn or dusk, and it was impossible to tell, for the sun, partially hidden behind clouds, remained fixed in the sky. Strangely, there was no back ground music, or if there was, it was very faint.

"Woah," breathed Blackrose, her ridiculously huge sword now drawn and held at her side. "This place is..."

"Hmm?"

"Nevermind. Let's go." A pause. "Well, are you going to escort me like a proper gentleman?"

Kite sighed and they started down the walkway. After a moment or three of the silence, Kite said, "Hey..."

Blackrose practically jumped in the air. "Ahhhhhhh!" she screamed. "Ahhhhhh! Ah... Thought I was gonna die of a heart attack..."

"Hn."

"Wha - what? Don't freak me out like that! It's rude! Really rude!"

"Sorry..."

The pair continued, walking to the Cathedral. Their feet made the only noise, which seemed loud in the stillness. However, as they reached the steps leading up to the cathedral doors (one of which was adjar), a faint music could be heard, an melancholy, eerie tune sung by an invisible choir. It grew louder as they drew nearer.

The pair entered through the slightly open door, pushing it a bit wider so they could enter. The interior of the cathedral was just as detailed as the outside, and just as strange. There were two main rows of pews facing the front, where there was a large stone statue of a mournful girl, bound with several chains, which were hooked to the wall. There were four pendulums in the room, one hanging a few feet from each of the cardinal walls. And they ticked back and forth unceasingly, regularly and silently. The floor was of highly polished marble, reflecting the room and the two players almost as nicely as mirror. The vaulted ceiling stretched high above them.

Suddenly, a scraping noise assaulted their ears as they gazed about in awe. There was another scraping grunt and quite suddenly a Goblin dropped down in front of them. Kite crouched, his weapons at the ready.

"Ah! What is that thing?" demanded Blackrose as Kite ran forward and began to attack. "Stay back!"

Kite fought the Goblin pretty well, though he got hit once or twice. Blackrose held her sword in front of her and close, shifting nervously and eyeing the goblin fearfully. "Ah.. Oh no," she moaned, dancing back and forth on her feet.

Kite delivered the deathblow, and laughing nervously, she said, "So that' sit? Pretty weak, huh?" And then sighed, putting her weapons away.

Kite looked around to make sure there were no more monsters, then closed his eyes a moment and took a deep breath as Blackrose said, "What do you know. You didn't even need my help at all, did you?"

Kite shrugged and shook his head a bit before putting his weapons away. He then ran down the aisle to the statue, stopping several feet from the railing, keeping any players from actually reaching it. (One wasn't allowed to climb them for one reason or another) Blackrose ran after and came to a stop, gazing up at the statue. Kite glanced at her.

"The statue," she murmured. "It looks so... so sad."

Kite agreed with her and turned his eyes back to the statue. It was so achingly familiar, that face. However, it took him a few minutes to figure out why. It was that girl! That pale girl in white. That statue was of her. It even had the same, mourning, pleading eyes.

Slowly, he walked up to the railing and put his arms against it, peering at the inscription on the pedestal, hoping it might give some clue. "Skeith," he read. "Innis. Magus. I can't read anything else. The inscription is faded.

Blackrose fiddled with her hands. "By the way," she began, shifting and gazing at the ground, clasping an arm in a hand behind her back.

"Hmm?" Kite kept his eyes on the statue, contemplating.

"I guess you can tell I'm a newbie, too."

Kite looked over his shoulder at her, then looked forward again. "Hmm... Yeah."

"It must be pretty obvious by the way I acted back there." She paused "But you still hung out with me." Another pause. "You know what? You're nicer than I thought."

Kite shifted a bit self consciously.

"You see... I'm... I'm trying to find -"

Blackrose broke off as a loud thud resounded through the chamber. The pair of the spun around to see that the doors had been flung open, and a winged blademaster was running down the aisle. He had white hair held back with a black band about his forehead overhanging light blue green eyes in a pale handsome face. On his body, he had silver armor, save on his arms, which were wrapped with thin black strips of leather. Off of those arms hung many pearly white feathers. And from his back protruded the aforementioned wings. They were graceful, these wings, and quite beautiful, covered as they were in the brilliant white feathers.

The blademaster had his sword drawn, and his gaze was intense, expression serious. "Hey!" he called to them. "What are you doing?"

Something felt wrong. Something about the very air of the room had changed, and it had changed before the man had even arrived, but Kite and Blackrose only now began to noticed it. Still, Blackrose couldn't help but shout back:

"What? What about you, huh?"

"No time to explain," called the man, who was too far away to target. "It's too dangerous here."

"What?" Blackrose now sounded confused.

"I'm telling you to get out," insisted the blademaster.

But apparently his warnings were too late, for suddenly, static rippled through their visions. All the colors abruptly turned negative and an iridescent ripple appeared in the ceiling. A monster fell out of it; a Headless Hunter. With the screens still slightly static-y for a moment after, the colors returned to normal. Blackrose and Kite stared at it.

"Leave here at once!" ordered the blademaster. "Ha!" he cried as he leapt up into the air, poised to attack the creature.

After a moment of hanging in the air, he slammed down with his sword, slicing deeply across the creature's shoulder and landing in a crouch near to Blackrose and Kite. The monster staggered and slumped, darkening in color as if it were about to turn grey and die. However, this did not happen. As Balmung (he was near enough to be targeted, and Balmung was apparently his name) got to his feet and turned to face it, their screens became static-y again as the colors once more reversed, for a slightly longer stretch as strange glowy patches of corrupted data mottled the creature's skin. When the colors returned to normal, they glowed a sickly poisonous green. The wound on the monster had healed and it stood up with a roar.

Balmung's eyes widened in surprise. "This one as well..."

Kite continued to stare, a painful flashback of a certain other time when the screen had become static laden and colors had become negative flickering in bits and pieces in his mind.

Blackrose, meanwhile, freaked out. "But how?" she cried. "Tell me what' going on here. That thing should have been.. it should have been dead. Why is it glowing like that? It's so freaky! Is this for real?"

Balmung explained, tensely, yet with a bit of worried wonder, "It's a bug from a computer virus. The virus is rewriting the data. It has a hit point that's... infinite." He, too, stared up at the monstrosity.

Blackrose breathed, "This is the one..."

Balmung seemed to come back to himself, for he glanced at the pair and said, "You must escape while I buy some time."

Blackrose ignored him. "Because of this thing," she hissed, drawing her blade and charging at the beast.

"No!" cried Balmung, starting after her. "Leave it be, or you'll be killed!"

Kite took a step or two after them, but stopped, shuddering as he thought of the Data Draining of Orca. Suddenly, he heard, as if from the statue, the voice of the girl.

"The book," she whispered. "Open the book."

"The book?"

"The power it holds can bring forth either salvation or destruction at the whim of the user."

Suddenly Kite realized that The Twilight he had earlier seen in his inventory must be the book to which she referred. He didn't waste time trying to figure out how he'd obtained it and instead activated it. The book, just as she had given it to Orca, appeared in his hands, only this time it opened. Kite barely noticed that his perception had changed from the cathedral to a world of pure white noise. The book flickered with static electricity and random bits of raw data. Compelled by some strange reason, he threw it, and it flew several feet before stopping, pages turned towards him.

His arm, which had been held out from his follow through in throwing, was jerked forward a little as a white beam from the book suddenly shot out and connected with that wrist. Kite cried out in pain and lifted his left hand up as if to protect himself. The book's pages turned rapidly, data from it floating out and digging into his wrist and into him. Though one was not supposed to be able to feel anything in The World, Kite felt his data, the essence of his character be torn and completely rewritten by this book. It was not a pleasant sensation, and he writhed with it.

Even his outward appearance changed, though only in main color. His outfit changed from green to red, and instead of being unmarked, strange yellow lines appeared on his pants and an odd symbol appeared on his cap, also in yellow. Then, his wrist was jerked forward again, and he cried out, louder, for what happened next hurt quite a good deal more.

An icy burning pain engulfed his wrist and spiked briefly through the rest of his body as a light blue green bracelet - frighteningly like the one that had appeared on the red wand monster's wrist - materialized around his wrist. The monster snarled in frustration as a larger ring appeared around the initial bit of bracelet, several prongs extending from it. And from the tips of these prongs came the ribbons of data and colored light which spiraled towards the data bugged monster.

The monster screamed with its digital pain, and at the same time, Kite screamed, pain wracking through his own body; he could feel, during this brief moment of being connected to the monster, part of the same thing that corrupted its data entering his own... Entering him. The monster disappeared for a micro-second, part of its data shed into fragments of these beams, and then reappeared minus the green glowing raw data. The beams retracted into Kite's bracelet, which folded upon itself and vanished, leaving him with a Virus Core M.

Kite fell to his knees, panting and shuddering uncontrollably. He stared at nothing whatsoever for a moment before, as he staggered to his feet, staring at his wrist. It didn't occur to him at this moment that he shouldn't have been able to feel the marble beneath his feet.

"That was like the..." he whispered, the bracelet flickering once before completely vanishing, though Kite could still feel its presence. He knew it was still there. "Like the time when Orca..."

Blackrose, meanwhile, had stopped, staring wide eyed at the monster's end of being data drained. Balmung, too, had halted for a moment, staring between the monster and Kite, for he had both seen this and heard Kite's cries. He was rather shocked, but after a moment or two, he turned back to the monster and killed it. This time, it stayed dead.

Blackrose let out a heavy sigh and collapsed to her knees, sheathing her sword. She stared at where the monster had been, her breath still shallow and rapid, her pulse still racing.

Balmung stood up and spoke, his voice hard. "That skill...Now, I understand. You are the same as the virus. To think that I was saved by" - he turned towards Kite - "Someone like you."

"No!" said Kite, looking up from his wrist to Balmung. "That's not... I don't even know what's -"

"Do not lie to me!" snapped Balmung, any and all patience gone. "Recently, many places in The World have been damaged by a virus. Those who willfully spread this virus and destroy this world for their own amusement," he continued, voice low with the passion he felt about this subject. "They.... They shall receive no mercy."

Kite shook his head, saying, a bit frantically, though firmly, "No! That's not me! I -"

Balmung interrupted. "I did not expect to find the one responsible so soon." He stepped forward, lifting his sword and pointing at Kite in challenge. "Draw!" he demanded. "Draw your sword now!"

"I won't!" said Kite. "There's no reason to do that!"

"There is for me."

Kite clenched his fists at his side. "No," he stammered, still very shaken from the ordeal of Data Draining and The Book. "I don't wanna fight. I just... I..."

Blackrose, at this point, had had enough. She stood up, fists clenched and eyes burning with anger and frustration. "What is the matter with you!" she demanded, stomping up to Balmung and jabbing her finger at him as she leaned up into his face. "That's hardly the way to talk to someone who just saved your life!"

Kite followed her a few paces up to Balmung, but stopped, still a step or two behind.

"Mm?" Balmung regarded Blackrose with a curious expression. "Hmm..." He sheathed his sword and then turned to go. "I still do not trust you," he said, looking over his shoulder. "I just require the time to think this through. But, if I find out that you are indeed in with them... I will kill you."

Balmung then stormed from the cathedral, a glower upon his features. A few steps out the door, a woman's vaguely amused voice addressed him.

"That was rather childish for Balmung of the Azure Sky, the Descendent of Fianna," said the voice.

Balmung halted, glancing around and then turning a little and looking up at the woman in white, who was perched on the cathedral roof. His expression deepened in its displeasure. "I do not speak with hackers," he said, crossing his arms briefly before turning and leaving again.

The woman laughed and bowed, disappearing amid three golden rings. As a final word, she said to Balmung, "That boy. He's a friend of your partner."

This caused Balmung to pause. Lifting his eyebrows, he murmured, "Orca...?"

Meanwhile, back in the cathedral, Kite had informed Blackrose of the events that had landed him in this position, as well as how he had suddenly wound up crimson clothed and with the ability to data drain things.

"I thought he would end up like Orca," Kite was saying. "And... and I panicked. That's when I heard her voice. It was the voice of the girl who gave the book to Orca."

"I see," said Blackrose, slowly. "But what are you going to do if the Data Bug shows up again? That power put your friend - um... Sorry."

"I don't even know... what this power is. Or what she wanted Orca to do," he said, helplessly. "And what am I supposed to do with this power? All I wanna do is help Orca..."

It wasn't long before they returned to Mac Anu. But, by that time, if Balmung had lingered at all in the Root Town, he was gone. They stood before the Chaos Gate for a moment in silence before Blackrose spoke.

"Well, I've gotta go. Today was... um... I don't know what to say, but... Good night."

"Good night, Blackrose," said Kite just before she disappeared.

He stood for a few moments, thinking, and it was now that it suddenly occurred to him that he could feel the cobblestones beneath his feet. Unnerved, he, too, logged out, praying that it was just his imagination. Really, you weren't supposed to be able to feel a thing in The World! And yet, already he'd felt pain and more. Luckily his dad was on a business trip, and his sister and mother had gone out, else they'd all be in here, wondering what the hell had happened when he had earlier been shouting and screaming. As it was, he hoped that the neighbors hadn't been paying attention.

But, he wasn't trapped in The World or anything, and when he logged out, he set his sweat soaked controller aside and pulled out his face-mounted display with trembling fingers. He stared at the screen for a long moment before selecting the Boards. The first thing he did there was to check out the thread he had created. Opening it, he was dumbfounded to see that everything he'd posted was deleted.

Deleted... But... Why?
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