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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:14 pm 
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”I know you can't come home... With the Coma, that's impossible. The hospital staff are somewhat surprised I'm not more distraught over your mindless body, actually. One of them caught me smiling about what you were actually doing and how little they knew... It was.. Awkward, to say the least.”

”Haha, yeah, I can see how that would be.”

”Anyways, I was saying... You can't come home... But could you visit more often?”

Nighthand looked at his father for a moment. They reclined in his personal field, a nameless, keywordless place. He'd been there once before, after the... arrival, of Silverblade. It was both small and vast at the same time. A wilderness much like that of the Soul Shrine stretched out behind them, a shoreline reaching wavily to either side, an a seemingly endless ocean out in front. That was the setting of his father's pagoda. The man had always had a flair for the oriental.

The first time he was here, he'd only seen a small part of the orientally-designed home. The small bedroom within which he had awoken, the Japanese gravel Zen-garden where his father had sat. There were a number of other rooms, including the one he sat in now with his father; something of a balcony or porch out into the surf, overlooking the ocean's calm waves. Sound of the wilderness behind him were drowned out by the calm and ever-present crashing roar of the surf, but it too seemed subdued. It was all quite realistic, but he could always tell. There were no cars to be heard in the distance, no planes to see flashing in the sunlight overhead. The clouds were wispy and white, floating overhead... Something that was rare enough where he lived in real life that it almost seemed unnatural to see it all the time. No telephone poles, boats, or any other sign of civilization could be seen on this field.

In actuality, it was more like what his father's ideal home would have been like. Nighthand himself preferred a dully-lit room littered with the creature-comforts the city could provide... Though he did enjoy the peacefulness of the wilderness, when there weren't monsters everywhere. This place, and the Soul Shrine, were the only places he'd ever been really able to relax, and every time he entered the Shrine it seemed like yet another test, or problem, or just bad memory returned to hassle him.

It was, his father said, his birthday. In real life, anyways, not in the game. The game had little in common with real life, he'd found. Time was the biggest. For normal people, playing the game, time flowed normally for them in life, and seemed static in the game. For those who lived within the game... Time was, like everything else, relatively subjective. Nall was the biggest example of the fact, with his manipulation abilities over time itself. For his birthday, Rock had invited him to his field for the first time (The previous time he had been brought there, it was unconscious.) He also claimed to have a present in store... Something Nighthand was looking forward to. Despite their different tastes in things, his father had never failed to get a gift he enjoyed.

”Yeah... I'll visit more often. I know you're not always here, and I might not always be able to come... But this is one of the few places I'm able to relax and enjoy life. Such as it is, anyways.”

Satisfied, his father nodded. ”Wait here. I'll get your present.” Rock stood, off the antique wicker chair he'd been occupying for the last hour. Nighthand nodded and stayed reclined on the divan-like wicker piece. The flowery cushions weren't his favorite, but at least it was comfortable. He let his gaze wander and it was drawn, as it invariably was, to the horizon. With no boat, he had no way to explore... Even though his father assured him there was nothing out there, he wasn't so sure himself. He wanted to go exploring on his own, to see for himself.

Oh well, perhaps he could, at a later date. This field had memory, something most fields didn't, and could hold onto things he did. He could probably exercise his hack, or perhaps just his skill with a blade, and carve himself out his own boat. He had the time, probably.

Probably. One never knew when the elites would assault them once more. They hadn't attacked the root town since the first time he had logged in, but that wasn't for fear of the Admins. As powerful as they had proved themselves to be... He doubted that the hackers would think twice about attacking them once they proved themselves a threat.

Sometimes he wondered why Royce had attacked the root town in the first place. As far as he could tell, it was just for pleasure. Something akin to joyriding on her new creations. He knew the hackers had some kind of plan to take over The World, probably including the root towns. Perhaps the General had been part of a first assault, testing the waters... Maybe that's why they decided to go the Taimudan route and delete them all, rather than try to kill the players and take the town over for themselves. Were the Admins more powerful than he actually knew?

Nighthand closed his eyes. Those kinds of thoughts were what he had come here to avoid in the first place. The whole reason he was relaxing here. He didn't want to think about the Elites, or the other hackers bound to exist, or anything else. He just want to rest.

”Here.” Nighthand opened his eye to see his father. The man was dressed in what Nighthand had come to realize was his typical in-game garb. Something akin to a Japanese yukata, or perhaps some other kind of name he wasn't familiar with. Rock had told him once, but the tidbit of information was long forgotten. In his hands, he held a parcel wrapped carefully in silver paper. A black string tied it up.

Nighthand took the package. It felt like cloth, inside the paper. ”Clothes? Come now, that's no gift...” Nighthand said, chuckling. His father merely watched as he untied the string and unfolded the paper. As he expected, it was clothing. A new set altogether, at that.

Nighthand remembered back when he first entered the game. He'd worn all silver, as a shining interior to his darker exterior. His black eyes, hair, and form-hiding cloak had given him an imposing look; or would have, if there was anything more than chaos to greet his entry. This was... A different variation on the theme. New black shoes, as his were growing old (not that anything grew old in The World, it was just time for a change.) Black pants, simple casual slacks as he had preferred wearing in real life. The belt was thicker, a hand span at least, black leather with golden accents. A shirt, black with silver and gold accents, promised to match the outfit. Folder carefully underneath the other articles was a new cloak.

Nighthand had lost his old cloak in the first encounter with Kuja... First and last. It, as well as his hair, had touched the water of the hacked field. The cloak had been destroyed, and his hair bleached silver. That left him in his current appearance... Which was about to change.

The new cloak was a heavy material, promising to be comfortable. The outside was black, with gold and silver markings near the edge, forming an odd symbol Nighthand had never seen before. At least, they would when the cloak hung still around him, the front closing up. The interior was a blue-silver fabric that shifted colors when the light struck it at different angles.

Running a finger over the symbol, Nighthand asked his father what it was.

”It's a symbol I designed for you... Essentially, your crest. It contained modified versions of each of the elemental symbols, and links up well with your theme. While it doesn't add anything to your offensive capabilities, all your new clothing fill shed off dirt and moisture easily. Also, while they will be cut and torn in battle, they knit themselves back up after a short time. So your appearance, if not your body, will look nice.

”Thank you...” Nighthand said. He had missed his cloak, the comfort it gave him to wear it. To have one again, one that wouldn't be destroyed... It was another great present from his father.

Nighthand stood and moved through the pagoda, arriving at the room he'd claimed for his own. A few minutes later and he emerged, feeling quite comfortable in his new garb. He handed the old ones to his father. ”Keep them, I may want them back someday.” He smiled. After all, they had served him well in the years he'd been here.

-Nighthand-
What? It was the SDRP. Nighthand's face contorted in puzzlement. The entity hadn't contacted him in some time.
-I need your help-

”Sorry father, but I'm being called. My vacation seems over.” His father nodded, as if it was expected, though not to be so soon. ”Go, son. Save the world for your proud father.”

What is it?
-Come to Delta; Desperate Cursed Land. I'll explain there-

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2006 7:02 pm 
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Nighthand left without saying goodbye. It was a habit he had picked up, both from reading numerous books wherein the characters had the same habit, and from his own life, particularly after he got stuck in the game. It was a bit superstitious, yes, but so what. Perhaps he was a superstitious man. Even so. Not saying goodbye meant he would see the person again, sooner or later. So he left, without saying goodbye.

Appearing in Mac Anu, he knew without having to check that the other members of his little group weren't back yet. He found he could, after a while of exposure, begin to sense their presences. Nothing specific, he'd never know where they were or what they were doing, but he could tell whether or not they were in the same area. He chalked it up to yet another small thing his father had given him. Letting the cloak settle around his shoulders, as it should be, he mutely inputted the keywords for the field.

He wondered what the SDRP would have for him. The entity was one of the oldest Nighthand knew. Though, the Seraph was certainly older, the SDRP was an entity that was included with the origins of the game. At least, he supposed it was. It was never very forthcoming about itself.

He remembered the first time he had met the machine. It was when he was fighting Seraphim in the great dark tournament Garaa had held for them. The tournament had resulted in limited success, as the Fist Fighter class had been created and spread about the world, quickly covered up and official-ized by the administration. Garaa had made the class, and it's original version was much more powerful than the version the admins sanctioned.

The SDRP in that battle had forced his mind into a slumber. It allowed him to rest in a highly accelerated time-frame, allowing him to have the mental strength to see through the petty defenses Seraphim had about himself, and enabling him to defeat the hacker with little trouble. It had explained itself to him some time later. It was a Spare Data Recovery Program, and had no name other than that. Nighthand had declined naming it, as he didn't think the program would accept a name, and didn't so much expect for it to be a constant companion. It's job, after all, was to keep The World running smoothly.

What it did was travel the world, it and an unknown number of others. They had no physical form, and could normally not be sensed by any means. In this case, it had made itself known, and Nighthand was typically able to tell when it was watching over him, in the same manner he had known when Arra was in his mind, and now Verona's use of the same ability. The machine had a purpose, of course. It was limitedly-sentient, though little more than advanced cause and effect. What it did was travel through the game's streams of data, checking timestamps and logs and records and everything. It looked for data that was inaccessible, that was lost, that was corrupt or broken. For smaller pieces of data, it deleted them on the spot. For larger pieces, and whole fields, as well as smaller things it was unable to delete, it moved it to one of several places known as “repositories.” Nighthand had heard rumors of one such repository being found and opened by the hacker Helba; she had named it the Net Slum. They were nothing so glorious, Nighthand thought. Just large dumps, really. The Repository would periodically be emptied, as well, by another machine with much more power to delete than the roving SDRPs.

So it made him wonder, why such an entity would need his help.

He watched the chaos gate in it's stately spin for a few moments, then put in the keywords his informant, if that's what it could be called, had given him. The rings descended, and he was away. Moments later he appeared on the field, and knew it was not a normal field.

SDRP, explain please?
-This field is a remnant. I cannot delete or move it because of a guardian in the end of the dungeon. It is heavily protected from deletion so I need you to remove it's protection-
I see. I'll get right on that.
-Be careful. I am not certain of it's comparative power level-
Is there anything else I should know?
-Yes. Do not use your added abilities. This field is unstable and may become corrupt if outside powers are added-

Nighthand paused. Not use his hacks? Well, this certainly shouldn't be too much of a problem. After all, he WAS level 50, despite his lack of equipment matching that level. Still, he was powerful enough without his hacks. The hard part would be not using State Shift, his speed-strength switcher. Use of it had almost become a habit, and it might be hard not to.

Nighthand looked around the field. There wasn't all that much to see, really. I was a graveyard, a cemetery. He stood on a small paved circle, perhaps fifteen feet in diameter, obviously an entry point. Ahead of him and stretch off as far as he could see in the distance, rows upon rows of headstones stood. They were all too weathered to glean a name from them, or even more than a hint that there had been text at some time. Stretching out in front of him, from his little paved circle, was a cobblestone pathway meandering through the graveyard. Several hundred yards distant, the ground seemed to drop away, leaving but a single ridge-line for the road to follow. Steep drops on either side promised death, and who knew what horrors lurked within those depths.

A full moon hung heavy and abnormally large in the sky overhead, a sky filled with more stars than the typical night sky ever was. It was certainly the creation of some kind of hacker... Or, perhaps, the playground for some old admin long-gone. Or perhaps an undeleted remnant of a Halloween even from years past. Whatever it's origins, Nighthand would have to make his way through it.

His path was simple and laid out plain before him, in the form of the cobblestone road. At the end of the path was a hunched shadow, a building of some sort that he would have to make it to. The only question, really, was what kind of creatures lurked between himself and his goal.

Nighthand shrugged, checking his equipment. He had managed to collect quite a bit on his travels for never having bought any. Darkness Hood, Hands of Storm, Ebony Armor, Electric Guard... Darkness and Thunder, granting him both offense and defense against the pair. He regarded Darkness and Thunder as the two most powerful of the elements. Even though, he knew, within the bounds of the game all the elements were equal. Perhaps he truly was superstitious.

His weapon, unfortunately, was not of either of those elements. The blade he drew forth and held balanced across a shoulder was glowing faintly in the glare of the moonlight. The blade seemed to flow with power, the energy of Fire moving just beneath the surface. It was a powerful blade, the Corona blade, and granted him the powers of fire to incinerate his foes. So, even limited to the skills the game gave him and not the skills his father and Twilight had gifted him with, he had plenty of power. This being the Delta server, he didn't plan to face any great opposition.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2006 12:22 am 
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Nighthand began to walk long the cobbled path, his new shoes barely making a sound as they contacted the stone set in place generations ago. He kept an eye on the graves as he passed; this was an old field, and the older they got, the more likely they were to contain certain... overused plot elements. In a setting like this, that would more than likely be zombies rising from the graves around him to attack.

The heavy blade had barely made it a dozen yards before his thoughts came true. The first warning was a rising breeze, telling him instinctively that he had triggered something. His cloak billowed to the side as he stopped in his tracks, listening, watching, waiting. Something was coming, of that he was certain.

It was because he had thought of the rising dead scenario that he first noticed when the nearest gravestone began to tilt. The ground underneath it heaved up, as if a mole was digging underneath. Then greater, more dirt displaced as a larger being clambered it's way up through the ground. A half rotted hand stuck through the dirt, grasping at the ground and scrabbling for purchase. A second hand followed, and was joined by an eyeless, wrinkled, half-eaten head of a goblin.

Before the beast had a chance to crawl any further, before it could cry out or summon help or pull any sort of trick, Nighthand's blade crashed down. A one-handed swing had comparatively little force when looked at next to a two-handed swing, or even a skill, but it was sufficient. The goblin split in two, what little of it there was, and faded away.

A series of rustling sounds brought to the heavy blade's attention that other graves were erupting. All around him, stones were trembling and the earth spewing it's vile and putrid content into the realm of the living, into his realm. The goblins were easy to kill, obviously; they'd been killed once before, anyways. The problem, he saw, lay in their numbers. His eyes moved to the horizon, where gravestones seemed to stretch off endlessly into the distance. What he would have otherwise chalked up to a distance-haze he realized were the graves from even that far away spilling forth their denizens.

Hundreds, tens of hundreds of goblins surrounded him. The air was filled with a myriad of their sounds, chittering and chattering, the drip of mud and other, less recognizable things from their short rotten bodies to the ground below. A few of them, that had enough lungs left, coughed and wheezed as they attempted for the first time in ages to breathe. Above it all, the wind had picked up to a deeper roar, dead leaves from trees long-gone rustling on the ground and being kicked up in it's fury. No clouds appeared in the sky; this storm was rage of a different sort. The weather was speaking, telling him.

”Rend... Slaughter.... Devour the intruder...”

What was that? That voice... Was it speaking to him? Was the weather truly on his side, was it actually telling him what he should do? Or... No. That had to be the voice of the guardian the SDRP had told him about. The command lay not to him, to destroy this endless and ever-growing expanse of goblin remnants, no. The command was to the encircling creatures, and he was the intruder.

Balancing his blade once more on his shoulder, he reached the other hand into his cloak. The new clothing had a myriad of sewn pockets, perfect for his vast collection of scrolls and, more importantly, an easy way of keeping them sorted. His free hand delved in, searching the pockets to draw out his scrolls. His let his eyes sink closed, preparing, hoping to tame the rampant effects in Twilight within him...

-Stop-

Nighthand's eyes shot open, shaken at what he feared might happen. He had, almost, unwittingly caused his own destruction. If the field were to become corrupt... There was nothing. He knew of no way to leave once he became trapped. The Seraph's power was limited outside of the shrine, despite it's original intentions, as was the keeper, Verona. Even the SDRP had limited powers of restoration, but nothing capable enough.

Still. Scrolls were useful even were they restrained to the game's determination of their powers.

Fanning the rolled pieces of parchment out in his hand, he smiled grimly at the goblins surrounding him. They didn't know what they were getting in to... To any extent that they could know anything. Anything more than the raging hunger that burned inside what little was left of their minds and bodies, the corrupting enchantment keeping their eternal sleep an eternal nightmare of wakefulness. It was the closest Nighthand had come in a long time to empathizing with anything. Why was it, of all things, a massive and ever-growing horde of zombie goblins?

For a moment the sounds stopped, lessened, dulled. The wind died back, Nighthand's cloak falling back into place. Even the vague dripping noises lessened, though didn't cease completely. Then, between one second and the next, the fight began.

”Ice Storm!”
”Green Gale!”
”Fire Tempest!”
”Plasma Storm!”

The instant that the goblins began to converge on him, he unleashed the spells, one right after another. Four points around him erupted in elemental fury, as the collective powers of the level one Ice, Wood, Fire, and Lightning tornado spells was unleashed. Goblins screeched and wailed, flung into the air, into the distance, or just being destroyed outright. The creatures seemed fragile; each scroll took out a dozen or more.

It gave the heavy blade some room to play in.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2006 4:29 am 
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Even without using State Shift, and even without a speed charm, Ap Do, or speed-booster spell, and even though his was one of the heaviest classes of all... Nighthand was fast. Not so fast as, say, Nall, or one of the elites with their artificially-immense speed. Even so, at his level, his speed was such that the goblins could do little to keep up.

The fairly large are that the spells cleared for him was quickly refilled with the press of goblin bodies. His blade swung in great arcs, glowing faintly red in the moonlit night. Goblins were torn apart, cleaved into components, dismembered, or generally destroyed with each great blow. He didn't bother to activate the skills; they took more effort than they were worth. A little extra damage wasn't exactly worth it in this situation anyways.

The massive blade swept to and fro, great arcs of goblins cleaved in two. The sounds of flesh ripping and unmentionable fluids spattering, bones breaking and goblins using what they had left of organs to scream filled the air. Nighthand was lost in a sort of trance, a spinning and sweeping and supremely deadly dance. Even Silverblade, who would have commented by now, seemed subdued and lapsed in silence since the vacation with his father. Perhaps the AI grafted to his mind was feeling something for the situation before. After all, Silverblade didn't have parents, and held the worst knowledge of all. The knowledge that, despite his copied memories, he was a false being. He was in essence not real.

Nighthand could imagine how it felt to not know if he would life or die. He had felt that way before, himself. He knew what it was like to feel suddenly alone, to be thrust into situations beyond his control. He even know what it was like to love and lose, as he had done that before as well. He couldn't imagine, however, just what it would be like to know for certain that your very existence lay based on false tenants.

Perhaps that was why Silverblade was silent. Or perhaps he had heard the SDRP warn about the use of hacks, and feared even communicating would trigger the effect. On the other hand, he could be sulking for any number of reasons.

You might want to snap out of it.
Finally awake, are you? What's that?
Look around.

Nighthand, no longer focused on his immediate surroundings and internal processes, noticed for the first time just how many goblins there were. In fact, even though each great arc of his blade took out swaths of them at a time, the crowd around him only grew thicker, the press of groping, grasping, reaching undead bodies growing heavier and closer. In the distance the news only got worse; it was indeed as if the graveyard was endless, the number of zombies and the press of their bodies stretched almost to the horizon, with more trickling in every moment.

I'd recommend a tactical retreat
In other words, time to flee!

The only direction that offered a safe haven, anyways, was the direction he had already intended to go. Since it was quickly becoming plain he wouldn't be able to stand and destroy all the goblins before he moved on, he began to focus his cutting. Each time he swung his blade towards the dungeon, or rather, along the cobbled road, he took a step or two further. So far, he was able to keep the monsters at bay, but their sheer mass was beginning to make it harder to swing his blade through them, and the occasional unfortunately-placed tombstone stopped his blade mid-swing. Those were the worst times, as though the stone cracked under the blow, the goblins protected from the swing thusly were given ample time to press yet closer. He tried to keep his blade above the stone's height, but even so... There were definitely too many of them.

In the push forward of his 'retreat', goblins began to fall off the cliff that stood between them and the edifice called the dungeon. The surge and swell of the undead sea seemed to hearken to the waters of the real world, waves of twisted flesh and bone crashing into the shores of his steel levee, falling over the edge of the world as primitive societies believed to be the truth behind the horizon. Nighthand listened, but he couldn't hear an end to their fall; due to either the lack of bottom or, more likely, the sheer amount of other noise.

Now closer, he could make out more of a shape to the building. A hunched, flat, one-story structure was all that remained of what once was a great tower. It was probably a miracle in the fact that even that floor still stood, the rest of the destruction had been so complete. A few more great swings and he would be on the land-bridge, little more than six feet wide, that separated him from the dungeon's tower of land. He could see over the cliff's edge now, to see that the tower itself stood on a narrow column of earth, the moonlight only serving to make the drop look deeper, the outline of the fallen tower and it's towering platform all the more stark.

Despite the press of bodies, the goblins didn't set foot on the land bridge. He watched in puzzlement as they forced themselves out of the way, to the sides or even forwards, just to avoid it. What could be so fearsome about the bridge, that even the undead feared to tread upon it? Could the guardian, presumably their master, be that fearsome of a creature that even a step closer would result in something even more terrible than the fall or meeting his blade?

Of course, it could be something as simple as a preprogrammed reaction to reaching outside their territory; a challenge for entrants to surpass, that would lapse into silence should the test-taker prevail. Nighthand's blade swung forth once more, cleaving a path another few feet in front of him. Ignoring his back for the moment, he surged forwards, a great broad swipe sending more monsters over the edge, letting him closer, closer to the land bridge and to the next event. For a moment as he took his final leap, planting a foot on the skill of a more rotten-feeling goblin to give himself a boost, he thought it might be some kind of physical barrier, and that his leap had just tossed him to his death.

This worry was set aside as he sailed over the break, landing firmly in a half-crouch, his blade jabbed into the stone next to him. He turned his head, looking to see if the goblins were following. They didn't; it was like they no longer knew where he was. They milled around like a pack without an alpha, pushing each other off the edge of the cliff in their meanderings; one might think they were truly blind to the presence of each other. Perhaps they were... They largely had no sensory organs in any semblance of wholeness. Whatever the cause, the undead sea was behind him. In front of him...

In front of him was a narrow bridge of land with immeasurably deep drop-offs to either side, the only means of accessing the column of land that stood in the center of what looked like some immense creature had taken a scoop out of the very land they stood on. He looked in the distance and could barely make out a thin silver line in the moonlight, the edge of the crater-like depression. Small black dots milled around, some still converging on the land bridge, proof that the opposition he would have faced was immense in numbers.

Nighthand stood, holding his sword once more balanced on his shoulder. It had accumulated quite the layer of grime from the swathes of goblins he had cut down, but even now it was cleaning itself. The polished steel dripped flesh and blood and less recognizable fluids, and soon gleamed in the moonlight once more. His cloak swished slightly as he moved, his shoes scuffing slightly on the rocky ground. The sounds of the milling goblins died away as he moved closer to the ruined tower.

On closer inspection, the tower had at some point been remodeled. It was like a tower had stood, perhaps with a single basement dug into it's foundations. Then, sometime in the past, something had struck it. The power leveled the tower and carved out the land around, making Nighthand picture some immense blast from overhead, striking the peak and glancing off to all sides. The site of some great battle, the forces of one side or the other decimated by this single attack, their haven, their castle destroyed. Whether they stood on the side of good or evil was no longer relevant, they were the defeated, and their memory left to rot like the goblins he had passed. Not even their name remained.

Now, something was dug out underneath the tower's base. Crypts to mourn the loss, perhaps, or a bunker to continue the fight. This would be the dungeon, this would be his destination. This would be the home of the Guardian and all it commanded. Nighthand proceeded on, passing the halfway point of the land bridge. The doors to the basement structure loomed ahead, stark outlines against the moon, the crumbled base of the tower rising mere feet above before being so cruelly cut short. This was once the home of greatness, and was now the home of corruption, of the cursed remains.

Nighthand neared the doors, and they swung open of their own accord, revealing a darkened spiral staircase leading down. A single lone torch was held in a wall bracket, lit. Sliding his sword into his cloak and thus into his inventory, he took hold of the brand and held it aloft. Dark stone walls carved from the earth itself led him downwards.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:36 am 
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Click clack, click clack, his shoes struck stone with each descending step. The hiss and crackle of the torch's flame and the soft swishing of his clothing added to the echo of his shoes down the stairs, making him feel terribly alone. Here he was descending into who knows what, to face the unknown, without the backup of his hacks. All he felt was a hint of the value of companions. No fear, no resignation, no hope or despair. He had a task to perform and he would complete that task.

Finally, after what seemed like ages but was in reality more likely simply two or three stories of steps, he reached the first break in the monotonous stone. The staircase leveled out, turning into a short hallway that dead-ended at a solid-looking stone door. It was featureless, save one thing, and it seemed to join the stone of the walls and floor and ceiling with perfect joints, a wall to any casual inspection. It had to be a door, however, and Nighthand knew how to open it.

The single feature of the door was a strange-looking script. Nighthand had never seen it before in his life, but somehow, he knew exactly what it said. It was at once a lock, a key, and a warning. It sealed the door shut, but could open it. It spoke of what lay inside. How the heavy blade knew this he did not know, the knowledge came to his mind unbidden.

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”The first floor trial
The forest and mountain merge
A fragile union.”


As Nighthand spoke the words, they lit up with a dull green-brown light. Once they were all alight, all spoken, the spell had been cast and the lock had been breached. Without a sound, odd for a door made of stone, it slid into the ground, to rest firmly in the floor. Where it had been was no longer distinguishable from the rest of the corridor.

Ahead was darkness. Carrying the torch still in one hand, he began to move forwards, his shoes still tapping lightly on the stone.

How did you know what the script said?
I'm not sure. I just did, when I looked at it. Couldn't you?
...You're right. I could, I can remember it clear as day as if it was in English, despite what our eyes tell me.
Curiouser and curiouser...

Nighthand kept moving, wondering how long this arrow-straight corridor would last. He moved quickly, though not much more than a fast walking pace. He had time to kill, really, and it never hurt to be cautious, to take your time in unfamiliar territory. Besides, with the recent chase after Nall, he was rather tired of the rush.

Suddenly his mind screamed at him. Something was wrong, something was off. He stopped dead in his tracks, immediately focused on the surroundings. His torch no longer illuminated the walls beside him, the roof over his head, or the floor below. Though it still burned, it was as though it's light simply didn't reach far enough. His eyes scanned the darkness for any shifts, any sight, but he could spot nothing out of place. Either his eyes hadn't, or couldn't, adjust, or there was really nothing. The hiss of the torch in his hand... His mind focused on it. There was something odd about it. It's sound...

Nighthand realized with a start what it was. The space, the sound, wasn't echoing. It was as if the walls had not just pulled back, but disappeared so the sound faded in darkness without having a return reflection. He took another caution step and heard another sound, another of the warnings identified. Rather than the soft tap of his shoe striking stone, there was the crackling crispness of leaves on gravel. The floor was still even enough, but it's consistency had changed.

The hem of his cloak moved quietly, a dull breeze picking up the fabric and making it sway. The air no longer smelled of the dank and musty stone, but of an open forest, the scents of autumn or late summer filling the air.

Nighthand began to move again, mind settling at easy, with the factors of the change now identified. Less focused on the sound, his eyes noticed new detail in the darkness. Rather, they began to notice a gradual brightening of the world around them, as though a sun was rising. Each step brought him closer to the dawn. Gradually, as he walked, he felt the ground shift, so he was climbing up a gentle slope.

Some distance further, a distance that would be impossible in the physical stone column the tower had stood on, he crested the hill. Illuminated against the rising sun in front of him was another stone edifice, another broken tower. A copy of the one from before. It was set between two hills rather than in the center of a carven crater, on the crest of a larger hill in the distance. A gently-sloped valley separated him from his obvious goal, a small stream of sparkling blue water running along it. The sky was a brilliant mix of blues, purples, and oranges, some scarce clouds floating high in the sky, golden in the first light of dawn. The sunrise was static, moving only perceptibly when he did.

Whoever had created this field was a great programmer. Spacial concerns meant nothing, the very elements of nature were commanded to heed the progress of the one who moved through the dungeon. The concepts were well played out, the ambient atmosphere done superbly. There was no background music, but the sounds of nature made all the symphonic gloriousness necessary. It was a living tribute to a long-gone master.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 12:09 am 
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Nighthand stood a moment longer, taking in the static sunrise, before he moved towards the exit. There would, no doubt, be a trial within the room. The only question in his mind was, from where would it emerge. The stream, perhaps. The trees. Maybe something avian from the very sky above his head. Hell, when the physical laws didn't matter, even the sun could become his opponent.

As Nighthand descended the hill, he took in the atmosphere. A nice autumn dawn, his favorite season, if not time of day. The air was crisp and still held the chill of the previous night. The trees down the valley shone flaming with the reds and oranges of fall. Leaves crunched underfoot with every step. The brook ahead babbled softly over the stones in the silty bed, and the breeze rustled the leaves all around. Other than that, it was silent. An unearthly silence for all it's superb craftsmanship. No birds sung in the sky, no rodents chattered at him from the tree branches. Whoever had made the place knew well the ambiance required for nature's plant life, nature's inanimate creations. They neglected the necessary animal life, however, and its realism only made it seem that much more surreal when the fact came to view.

It wasn't long before Nighthand stood still once more, at the bottom of the hill. He stood next to the stream, listening to the water babble over it's bed, and the wind rustling through the trees. He stood, wondering where the next challenge was. There had to be something here, it was never so easy to move on. His eyes scanned the hills, looking for an ambush. His ears filtered the wind, listening for the sounds of approach.

And so, he was caught rather unawares when the trees themselves, which he was standing among, suddenly began to move. Branches crashed down where he had been a mere moment before, a groaning roar like a cross between a tree falling over and a dragon's scream rising to the air around him.

Even as he had jumped out of the way, he was too slow. One of the branches had caught him a glancing blow, striking his shoulder and jarring his arm into numbness. The trees... So they WERE edited. They looked like thousandtrees, only in autumn, but they were much more powerful. Shaking his arm out, getting feeling back, he looked at the trees once more. Now he could see the faces etched in the bark, hidden cleverly enough in the natural gnarled bark.

Trees, however, were made of wood. And wood, especially in the fall, was dry and flammable. Nighthand smiled and reached into his cloak, drawing out the Corona Blade. The sun was high overhead, gleaming off the blade, making it already look like it was on fire. Grasping it in both hands, He allowed the nearest tree to approach.

”Vak Divider!”

His blade burst into flame and he leaped high, trailing heat and flame from the blade hung over his shoulder. Gravity took hold and he fell, flipping over in mid-air. He was aware that, were there anyone else in the area, he would have made a spectacular image, a high level player descending from the sun with a blade of flame to vanquish his foes. His flip completed, the force of his blade and his fall slamming into the foliage and branches of the tree.

The awareness of his impressive image only made it all the more painful, on pride as well as his suddenly numbed arms, when the flaming blade caught itself in the crotch where a branch met the trunk, wedged itself firmly with the sound of metal ringing on stone, and his own momentum added to the force of gravity twisted the blade from his grasp and sent him slamming into the ground.

Sure, the dirt wasn't very packed, and the leaves piled around did a little to cushion his fall... But even so, it was painful. If he still paid attention to his HP meter, he would have seen it drop to half. He looked up, vaguely aware that the tree was about the smash him again, looking at his blade wedged a good thirty feet up...

Eyes widening, he rolled to the side just in time, avoiding the crushing blow that likely would have killed him.

”Ol Repth...” He muttered. Now what was he going to do? His most powerful weapon was stuck up in a tree that was actively trying to destroy him. To add to that, there were four more moving to join the battle.

The heavy blade sighed. Wait a second... Metal on stone? He looked closer at the tree as it moved. It did indeed seem to be heavier than a simple wooden construction would lead one to believe. He dashed in, braving the tree's attacks to get a closer look. Yes, indeed, it was!

Decay seemed to reach even here. The weight of the ages had pressed down on these monsters, or was made to look like it did, anyways. The monsters were made of wood, yes, but it was petrified wood, not normal wood. As such, it was really much more like stone, or rock, than wood. Stone. Rock. Earth.

Of course. The World was built upon the very foundations of elemental interactions. Everywhere he went he ran into it, a puzzle or solution with elemental properties. This one would be no different. Now, the question was... A Juk-based monster made out of Gan-based materials... Which was he supposed to hit it with?

Nighthand dashed back out of the way, and a ways further along the stream. Some part in the back of his mind wondered how far the landscape stretched, if it would loop, if it was endless or if he would encounter some kind of glass wall were he to run on. He wouldn't, of course; he had a job to do. Granting himself some safety from the trees, which were powerful but incredibly slow moving, he scanned through his inventory.

Shortly thereafter he bemoaned his choice in weapons. While he always preferred magic, an odd choice for one of the most physical of classes, he was never too avoiding of the physical aspects of combat. Unfortunately, all he had were earth or fire elemental weapons. Fire had already proved itself as ineffective, and with bodies of stone, he somehow doubted that the force of earth would have any more effect.

Instead, he reached into the various pockets in his cloak, fingering along the scrolls until he found ones he could use. If he was right, these wouldn't be very strong monsters... But then, his scrolls weren't very powerful without his hack to back them up, and he was surprisingly short on wood-element scrolls.

He withdrew five scrolls from his cloak, each one of them identical. Five Gale Breath scrolls, five wood-element raise spells. Before casting them, though, he had other things to do. He fiddled with his equipment a moment. A vial was pulled from the cloak and downed, casting an Ap Corma effect on him, raising his magical attack. His Spirit Armor followed, a quick cast of Ap Juka bringing him even greater in wood elemental power.

“Gale Breath!” He called, releasing the first of the scrolls, then each right after another, targeting each of the five animate trees in order.

Seconds apart, the ground split under each tree, tangled masses of branches, roots, leaves and compost all slamming upwards. The heavy blade watched carefully for the results, but he need not have. Large words appeared in the air, repeated five times, like giant illusory billboards. Elemental Critical. He had guessed right.

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The trees were immobile, seeming to shudder under some force they didn't know how to deal with. Or, simply couldn't. Then with a loud CRACK! The trees, the massive stone trunks, cracked and split and shattered. Chips and shards of stone rained down around him, the elemental bit of his spells fading back into the earth. Nighthand looked around, and spotted his blade, flung from the impact and embedded in the ground some ten feet away, up the hill. He retrieved it, and gave a final look to make sure the trees were well and truly dead. They seemed dead enough, what with being rubble and all.

Taking a final gaze at the sun high above him now, he began to climb the hill, heading for the exit. The fight wasn't tiring at all; in fact, it was almost something of a let-down in that respect. He was progressing with relative ease through the dungeon. Much more so that he would in a typical lair of one of the Elites. While he wasn't too fond of repetitive death, pain, and threat of permanent deletion... He did enjoy his battles exhausting him. There was something about that fatigue, and the sleep that followed, that was almost like a drug.

Still, there was something about this dungeon. The detail put into it, and even the few things it lacked. It all built together to somehow affect him more than it should have. More than an ordinary dungeon would have. No longer was he simply doing this just because the SDRP had tasked it to him. He progressed now, because it was something a part of him wanted to do. Something a part of him enjoyed. Sure; the dungeon was easy. No fear for his life, this time. It was, perhaps, one of the few times he could take his battle with a hint of salt, and relax under the light challenge.

The black-cloaked heavyblade began his trek up the other side, as the sun began to set behind him. The face of sol slid down to meet the horizon with every step he took. He knew that, were he to turn around, the sun would once more begin to rise. The day would begin to play in reverse. It gave him a sense of power, a feeling that he had some control over time greater than Nall himself possessed. Yet, it was forever locked into three options; forwards, and reverse, and standstill. Reverse would be a retreat, would be something he had no desire to complete. Standstill would accomplish nothing, and would leave him with the feeling of impotence, imperfection. Pressing onwards, into the night, was as surely his only option as the days themselves possessed.

He crested the hill and once more beheld before him the entryway into the deeper dungeon. It was identical to the doorway he had used to get here, and perhaps was little more than a copy, a design repeated to make the act of creation a little easier. He entered the tunnel, his only illumination coming from the sunset at his back. His shadow was thrown ahead of him, to merge with the darkness into which he descended.

The tunnel walls were cool to begin with, as any subterranean rock was bound to be in spring. The air was crisp and cool, and began to chill noticeably as the tunnel's decline dug it deeper into the ground. Nighthand drew his cloak tighter around his form, keeping in some of the heat of his body. His Corona blade gave off some slight warmth, keeping his fingers from numbing on cold metal and keeping dexterity in his hands.

It wasn't long before a casual touch to the wall of the tunnel revealed condensation. A sound floated lightly through the caverns, a muted roar. The heavyblade didn't pause, he merely continued walking. The sounds simply meant that he was getting close to the exit, that it wouldn't be long now before he was out of the tunnel and into the next so-called challenge.

Gradually, the caves began to lighten, and he could begin to see what it was he was walking into. There was, in fact, little to see. A forest, it seemed, in the dead of winter. The trees were little more than dark shadows reaching, clawing for the sky. The sun sat low in the sky as well, much as the sunset had been as he had left the previous area. Indeed, they seemed almost alike, for with every step he took, the sun descended another span down to the horizon.

It was only when he was mere feet from emerging into the dim light of the sunset that he noticed something wrong. The sun was... dimmer than it should have been. The whole setting was off, somehow. Perhaps it had something to do with how the sun was clearly visible, despite the thick gloomy cloud cover. Perhaps it was how the sun seemed to be in front of some of the trees, hovering over a clearing in the forest. Perhaps it was the hints of shapes swimming in the eternal fire of the star. Whatever it was... Nighthand was a little wary as he took the next few steps.

It was in those few steps that the facts began to emerge about the so-called floor, the challenge he was entering. The sun dipped low, until it touched the ground. The trees around it burst into flame, the nearest of them instantly immolated. The snow that coated the ground melted, flashing to steam close to the star in a billowing cloud that was quickly lost in the gloomy heavens. The snow was, in fact, likely the only reason a full-scale forest fire hadn't broken out.

The air was cold, yet he could feel the heat becoming oppressive already. His Corona blade would be next to useless against fire enemies, but he had a hunch there would be something more to this challenge than met the eye. It was fire, yes, but it was also ice. The opposite juxtaposition just as it had been earth and wood in the previous room.

What was it with him? It seemed like everywhere he went in this game, it was always about the elements. Those all-powerful six, rarely surpassed by anything other, anything extra, anything more. Royce and her light, Nall and his time, seemed to pale in comparison. They were large only because they had no weaknesses; or perhaps, they were each other's weakness. One never could tell, not until they came into opposition.

Slowly, the shapes that he had half-seen inside the ball of fire began to come to the surface, emerging into the no-doubt infernal air surrounding the ball of flame. They were goblins. That, too, seemed to be a recurring theme with him. Goblins were everywhere within the World, the fall-back creature for so many hackers and designers alike.

Nighthand sighed. Goblins were never that much in the way of a challenge, even when they were hacked. He remembered his first Vak Divider, smearing the ashes of their goblin guide to the wall in the ill-fated retrieval of Tokki and attack on Melzas. Tokki was still lost and Melzas still alive, so they had accomplished little in that excursion.

The goblins, he counted five, rushed at him. As they grew closer, more distinct from the ball of fire behind them, The goblins were goblins in little more than shape only; they could not have the standard elements of their kind. They were blue, as a darkened sky, and coursing over with azure flames. They held no weapons, and yet attacked without fear.

Each step they took melted the snow underneath their feet, turning it first to water then to vapor before the heavyblade's eyes. Where one followed in the footsteps of the previous, the grass began to curl and smoke, itself igniting into small gouts of flame, short-lived in the cold and moist environment. The effect was startling; where the feet of the goblins feel, the snow seemed to turn black, wisps of some primal spirit floating to the sky and away.

Nighthand studied his foe's quick movements as they approached. They veered, changing directions seemingly at random. The effect was not unlike a candle flame blown in the wind; too strong yet to gutter out, but too weak to push back the wind itself.

They seemed, despite their blue color, to be wholly creatures of fire. Such being the case, it was only logical that water would be the element to deal with them. Nighthand, reminded of his previous battle, was wary however. If they too held in fact the opposite elemental properties as the trees above had done, perhaps they would be unharmed with water and take damage from the very fire they seemed to represent. Then again, maybe that was just what they previous battle was there for; to instill that doubt.

The thoughts could go on in circles forever, but the time was swiftly growing near when he would have to choose. The goblins drew ever nearer, and though the distance between himself and the settled sun was great, it was not infinite. He closed his eyes and ran a finger along the hilt of his blade, then nodded to himself. The decision was made.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 5:35 am 
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He sheathed the blade quickly and ran a hand along the inside of his cloak, where the scrolls were sorted out.

”Ice Floe... That should do the trick.” He pulled several tightly-bound scrolls from the pocket and held them up. He had several, but he only wanted to cast a couple; that is, unless they worked. The waste of scrolls then would be minimal.

He hesitated a bare moment later, and then held up three of the scrolls, targeting the nearest three goblins. The further two were far enough back yet so as not to be an immediate threat should these three work. Rapid-fire scrolls activated, the three spells going off one after the other. There was a moment, scant seconds, where the three goblins were surrounded by hovering blocks of ice, before one, two, three slammed home.

The goblins stood frozen, their skin darker blue than before, the fire frozen in place. A moment passed, then they shattered, bits of ice and goblin scattering. The heavyblade smiled and readied the next two scrolls, to take out the last two goblins and move on.

The case would not be so simple, however. The chips and shards of blue scattered in the snow began to melt, then rose and flew into the sun from whence they had come. Moments later, figures could be seen once more swimming around in it's surface before once more the three goblins emerged. If anything, they were angrier, and their hate lend them speed.

If there was some effect the water spells had on them, other than a delay of the inevitable clash with him, he couldn't see it. To his slitted eyes, their elemental auras were a vibrant, chaotic clash of discordant reds and blues, but something held them in check. The opposing elements, something even Silverblade couldn't merge together, were held bound in the form of these creatures. While he hadn't directly examined the trees on the previous level, he felt certain that they too would have revealed similar characteristics.

So, too, did the rest of the level. He realized this with a start, his eyes jolting open. The very landscape around him boiled with the powers of fire barely held in check by the thin sheet of ice, a mere dozen feet thick, that coated the terrain. Not ice, really, but a tidal force of icy energy, constantly flowing, using some form of convection to keep the heat from seeping through. And yet, there was one point where it welled up. The “sun” he had seen descend when he entered was little more than an image; it had no substance to his eyes. Of course, a ball of pure flame would have little substance, but in this world, in The World, it would be made out of the tumbled energies of fire. This one... Wasn't.

The sun itself appeared to be more akin to a wall, welling up from the ground where something had allowed the heat to escape. Perhaps the goblins themselves. Maybe they were kin to the undead outside, sent in in an invasion so long ago it was beyond memory. Perhaps too they were captured and sentenced to guard their enemy's sanctum against their kin. The heat was their home, the place they were allowed to live in this frozen wasteland, only allowed out when an intruder such as himself came to pass through. He may be the first time they came out in centuries, at least to their reckoning of time.

No matter. He would destroy them as he had the trees before, and he would move on. They may have been made out of fire and ice, but they were still goblins. No goblin could stand up to him for long. It would be even easier if he could simply reach in, tweak their chaotic essences just a little to one side or the other. He could tip the scales, so to speak, so very easily... But no. SDRP had warned him of doing that, and he couldn't afford to set the field on edge. It very well could collapse in upon him, as the sub-AI had claimed, and there was no telling what that would do to him.

He would have to do this the old-fashioned way.

It wasn't long before the two nearer goblins closed with him. His blade sang it's heavy song in the heat-wavering air, adding it's own flame to the field. Much as the heavy blade had expected, though far from what he had hoped, the blade passed through the goblins with little effort. It too broke them into pieces, which swiftly returned to the central sun and emerged whole again. Now he had five very angry goblins heading for him.

Four of them branched off, two to either side. It was clear they would flank him if they could. Behind him lay only the cave mouth from which he emerged, ahead lay the forest and the sun. There was really only one choice to take; he had to move forward. And so he did, dashing for the solitary goblin and slashing it to pieces, aware that the other four were closing in.

He continued forwards, forcing the goblins to come together behind him. When he stopped and turned to hold his ground and fight, though, he found them much closer than he had expected. It was as if... Then insight flashed to his mind. They were trying to force him into the sun! Their flanking maneuvers and driving attacks were meant to lure him in just the path he had taken.

No longer enjoying the fight, the heavyblade swung his blade in wide arcs. It glowed bright in flame, hardly dwarfed by the inferno behind him, as it cleaved indiscriminately through goblins and trees alike. Soon he was surrounded by his own mini forest fire, the goblins reformed and rushing at his back once more. They knew he had seen their plan and had abandoned it, and thus, it was exactly the move they would least expect. After all, he would have to pass through this way eventually anyways, lest he spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to kill the goblins, or destroy their home, or simply avoiding them as he circled around the sun itself.

While they rushed him, he rushed them. One great swing was all it took to catch them by surprise, taking all five out at once, and sending their particles racing for the great globe of fire. He followed them as swiftly as he could without shifting stats to speed, which he was wary to do as it was an active hack. The goblins emerged and he raced to meet them, his great sword flashing in the firelight. They scattered before him like chaff in the wind, and he was only able to take out two as he rushed past them. They emerged once more and spread out to join their fellows, leaving his path open.

The heat was growing immense, his skin felt ready to blister it was so dryly hot. The goblins pursued him, and his course was set. Abandoning any semblance of defense against the flames, he leapt into the core of the sun.

It was a bad idea, though far from the reason he had expected it to be. Bracing himself for the pain of fire and the lick of flame, he was caught completely unprepared for what he found. Passing through several feet of intense heat, he found himself through the wall and immediately confronted with a bitter, biting cold.

Nighthand gasped, the shock of the abrupt temperature change striking him harder than any blow the goblins could have dealt. He fell to his knees, his blade clattering to the ground. Gasping for breath, he was aware of something in the core with him. Wait... clattering? In snow? He caught his breath and snatched up his sword, only to find the figure he was about to attack was a pillar of stone. It looked much like a volcanic eruption, frozen in time. Perhaps that was exactly what it was. The ground he stood on was one solid melted slab of rock.

Letting his sword fall back to his side, he approached the rock. It had something carved on it's surface, in the same flowing script it had before.

Image

Will you be the one?
In the center of the sun
Turn day into Night.


He knew now, what he had to do.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 10:23 pm 
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First though, he had some other 'business' to take care of. For the five goblins had regrouped just outside of the sun and were basking in the heat. They HAD to know what the core was like, they had emerged from it after all. Either they were loath to come in and get him, for the same thing that had happened to him would leave them temporarily defenseless, or they were hoping it would finish him off. Or, perhaps, they would simply wait for him to emerge and trap him on the other side.

Thankfully, that meant he had some time. While they were clustered together, they seemed to have forgotten something vital to their survival. While he had spent the majority of the battle against them using his blade and slicing through their discorporeal bodies with an easy grace, they had forgotten that he had distance attacks.

A finger in the lining of his cloak brought forth a single scroll, one that should do the trick nicely. He would have to take a gamble, however. When he killed the goblins for what he hoped would be the final time, he might only have a small window in which to act. Or he may have none at all; it depended solely on where they flew to reform. If they flew to the pillar in the center of the sun and reformed there, he would have to fight them again and again almost immediately after he killed them. If they formed anywhere inside, he may have a bit more time. If they formed in the wall of heat between the winter and the core, then perhaps this would all work out for the best.

”Ice Storm”

The goblins had a moment in which they looked surprised, and a scant instant where they had the presence of mind to begin to flee the spell. They were too late, though, as the energy had already begun to erupt from the ground around them, spirals of ice, snow, and freezing water coating them and destroying their bodies. They were slower in coming apart and returning to the sun, though; as if the ice itself played some part in the delay.

Nighthand didn't stop and watch, however. As soon as the spell was let off, he spun, his blade flashing with it's reflected light. He didn't let it's fire loose, however; he didn't want to add to the power. A heavy overhead strike slammed into the pillar of stone, and cracks began to riddle it's surface. The inhumanly understandable text cracked in half, itself beginning to look like little more than cracks itself.

Then, what he feared wouldn't happen, did. The goblin's parts, the remnants of his attack, began to coalesce around the column. There was something contained within it that gave them the power to respawn, and it forced them to reappear next to itself. Undaunted, though slightly worried about what would happen, he drew back his blade and swung it in a great horizontal arc, striking the side of the pillar where a goblin was beginning to form.

His strike seemed to do nothing to the goblin, and very little to the pillar. More cracks played over the surface, but not nearly as many as the first strike had delivered. Meanwhile, the goblins were swiftly reforming. In an instant they were whole, and he stepped back to give himself a little more room to work with. This was swiftly becoming a bad situation. Trapped in a relatively small circular arena, a wall of flame around the outside, a respawn point in the middle, and a bitter cold atmosphere that was swiftly sapping his strength. The goblins rushed forwards and he swung his blade once more, dispersing them and sending them all of four feet back, to reform once more and rush him. The process seemed to take a lot less time when he killed them inside the circle.

Still, it had to be done. Once more he stepped forward and closed with the stone, another horizontal strike slamming opposite the first, and sending more cracks through the surface of the stone. Still, it was not enough. Once more the goblins were formed, but rather than step back, he simply swung again.

His blade passed through the goblin nearest him and tore it apart, continuing unabated to slam home into the stone pillar. The goblin wasn't defeated so easily, though, as it immediately reformed to the side of his blade and dashed in, spawning inside his reach.

Whether it was the cold of the atmosphere or the goblin's natural power, he couldn't say, but when it tackled him, it burnt like the very fire of the sun itself. The flame it held was just an image, as it didn't ignite his clothing or hair, but it felt to his skin like he'd been struck by molten rock. A grimace, a cry of pain, and he threw the small creature off of him and though the barrier.

Well, one experiment conducted and one bit of knowledge retrieved. The goblin merely passed through the temperature difference as though nothing had happened, skidding into a hissing snowbank and rising quickly to it's feet.

He didn't have time to wait for it, for he had four more to deal with. They rushed at him, but rather than another great cleave that would simply send them back to his own goal, he dashed past them. One or two of them grazed his arm as he passed, causing another hiss of pain and drop in HP, but he ignored it and pressed on. Using his momentum, he threw all of his body weight into another overhead strike. As he swung, he activated the lesser-used skill on his Corona Blade, Death Bringer.

His body stopped short, the blade digging into the ground and vaulting him over it. For an instant he hung poised, six feet of metal standing tall with his body held vertical over it, his hair not get even caught by gravity as it swirled around him. The goblins seemed frozen in their movement, looking up with him with vague expressions of awe on their inhuman faces. Then the moment was over and he flipped, his momentum added to the force of gravity and all the power his arms could drive into the blade.

The sword whistled through the air and slammed into the peak of the pillar, and it sang.

The moment was once more frozen. Though is perceptions had time to take everything in, his mind to look it all over, it couldn't have been more than a second. The blade struck the stone and it shattered. Or rather, it's outer coating shattered. Fragments of rock and the dust of pulverized stone flew outwards in a swirling cloud, striking the flaming wall and bursting into flames of every color, so for the instant the sun he stood inside of seemed to be made out of rainbows. Where his blade had struck stood another pillar, one smaller than the one he had just destroyed, but plainly his goal. It was the source of the clear, ringing note that filled the air around them. As a fork made a tone when tapped on a crystal goblet, so too did his blade make a sound when it struck the solid spire of red and blue crystal standing before him.

He dropped to his feet as the tone faded, turning to face off the goblins one more time, but there was no need. As he watched, their fires consumed themselves, leaving nothing but piles of ash. For an instant all was still. Then he began to realize how lucky he was to be in the core of the sun at this moment, is the meter-thick wall of heat paused, distorted, and then exploded outwards. The trees around him were ignited instantly, but not destroyed; they stood tall as burning torches.

He paused, looking around. The exit would have to be somewhere on the other side of the pillar, and indeed, there it was. A dark opening in a dark rock face, something he never would have seen had the trees not cast as much light as they did. Even in the midst of a forest fire, some good had come of the destruction.

He proceeded to the entrance and knew at once he would need some light. His torch had been forgotten in the morning light of the first floor, and unnecessary when confronting a sun in the evening, but the next room would be Night, and without a torch he doubted he would be able to progress far through the tunnels. He wandered among the trees for a few moments, but the majority of the dead and dry underbrush was gone. Finally, he drew his sword once more and used it to hew off a large branch from one of the more intact trees. It appeared solid enough, and it's flame was still strong, so he used it as a torch, albeit a rather unwieldy one. Once more he confronted the cave entrance, the transition from day unto night, he held the torch aloft and moved on.

He knew before long how right he was to take the torch with him. The cavern twisted and turned, like the scribbles of a child turned into a map. At several places, the walls were broken with gaps, places where if he would have been wandering in the dark he would have found himself falling down and immeasurably deep pit, to find who knows what at the end.

As he walked, eventually the tunnel leveled out and straightened, becoming a corridor through the mountain. He began to notice odd ores veined through the walls, yellowish and dark in hues among the gray of the granite. They felt the same as any other part of the cave to the touch, but seemed places with more and more precision as he went.

Suddenly, between one step and the next, his torch guttered and went out. It had been only a matter of time, but he was certain there was more wood left, more fuel to burn. His hand felt along the branch and his suspicion was confirmed; it was cold. Something, or someone, had decided to snuff his light.

Thankfully, the other property of the odd scribbling ore was revealed. While too dull to see in the light of his torch, it emitted a faint glow; the yellow ore a golden hue and the purple a dark amethyst. They held no conceivable pattern he could discern, but they were certainly not natural in their formation. Thankfully, too, they lent in their presence along the walls, floor, and ceiling, the impression of perception. He could see enough of them to know the floor he walked on was solid, the walls were still there, and the tunnel still moved on. And so he continued.

It wasn't long before he encountered the end of the tunnel. A large rock was set in the wall and the scrollwork of ore converged there, to form a bright point of light. Knowing already what to do, he reached out and touched it, and saw at once a change. The tightly-woven bundle of ore spread out, and his eyes recognized the patterns it made as the script he had encountered twice before. The message was longer this time, but still poetic in it's phrasing.

Image

Still you continue
Warrior of the Twilight.
Your Journey ends here.

What good is darkness
When your battleground is night?
Third and final test.

Know now your defeat
At the hands of the greatest
elemental force.


It was certainly a warning, and a threat, and could not possibly be as ancient as the dungeon. The master of the field was watching him and knew him for what he was, and knew his purpose. This floor would be tougher than any he had fought thus far.

Touching the text it once more collapsed in on itself, then spread out into a ring. There was a sound of stone rumbling and the starry sky beyond revealed itself. Nighthand stepped out into the night.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 7:51 pm 
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Nighthand looked around the starry night scape, but there was little to be seen. The sky was filled with more stars than could possibly show in the 'real world'. Perhaps this was the way the sky looked to ancient man, when the stars were bright and the lights of man were dim, when the gods ruled in the heavens and spat judgment upon those below. The landscape was well lit, yet there was no moon. The stars were bright enough.

As for the landscape itself, there was little to see. Rough, yet mostly even terrain stretched on as far as he could see. He turned, to find a single tall spire of a mountain at his back. It reached into the sky, a black notch cut from the sparkling heavens, only a single barely-lit doorway to show he ever had been inside. He craned his neck to look up top, straining to make out the details, but there was nothing. He doubted his destination would be up there.

Once more he let his eyes scan the area. He could activate his blade, allow it to glow and illuminate the area, but he didn't want to ruin what night vision he had. A bust of light such as that would certainly illuminate the immediate area, but he would have no chance of spotting a structure in the distance until dawn broke. Given the settings of the last two floors, and the progression of the day to his progression in the right direction, he doubted that would come for some time. So, leaving his blade dormant, he scanned the horizon for any sign of a destination.

He walked as he searched, but nothing caught his eyes. As far as he could see, the terrain was flat. He was about to shrug and pick a straight line to travel along, but something caught his eye. There, on the horizon. He looked for it again, but nothing. Then... there, there it was again. Something dark on the edge of his vision, he could only see from the corners of his eyes. He turned, started to move towards it....

...and found himself flat on his back with a searing line of pain across his chest.

For a moment he lay still, staring wildly about for what had struck him, all while doing his best not to cry out and alert whatever might be lurking around. His breath came in hissing gasps, but soon steadied. Only to quicken again when he saw what had struck him.

There, on the horizon once more, was that shape. But, now that he looked closer at it, he could see it wasn't on the horizon after all. It was just... transparent. He had a glimpse of a demonic face, glowing, deep purple eyes fading into the darkness. The impression of a flowing shroud, like a cape of darkness rendering a beast invisible. And again it truly was, for the mark was gone as the shroud settles once more over the beast.

Nighthand struggled to regain his footing, and managed it easily enough. The pain in his chest wasn't as bad as he'd imagined. It was only made worse by it's unexpectedness, and the thought that he could be once more struck at any moment. His sword flew into a ready position, but he knew not where to direct it's fury. He dared not light it up, lest it obscure what little clues he had of the beast that now stalked him.

His let his eyes narrow to slits, allowing his elemental perceptions to take over. As he had expected, the field was a conglomeration of darkness and thunder; thunder held in the stars in the sky and thinly veiled beneath the ground, darkness coating everything like a thick paint only just beginning to peel. He searched for the beast, but he couldn't find it. Either it was hidden from his sight, or there was just too much chaos already in the field to sense it. He would have to rely on mundane eyes.

He let his eyes unfocus slightly. It was a trick he had picked up years ago. While he couldn't really see anything ahead of him clearly, his peripheral vision was enhanced a little. Moreover, while details would be obscured, motion would become more apparent.

And so it was. There! Nighthand spun and leapt back as a claw of silver lashed out to strike where he had been. The weapon used was long; two feet at least, and curved wickedly like the blade of some dark scythe. Once more he saw the eyes of the beast, glaring at him, as it's shroud fluttered about. The monster underneath was too obscured to identify, but it was tall, lanky, and unarmed. The 'weapon' it had used was merely an elongated claw from one index finger.

The heavy blade was about to leap in for a strike when his breath once more caught in his throat. His eyes widened as he looked ahead; surrounding the beast were other points of motion, more apparent now that he knew what they were. Four in all, four shrouds, four beasts. All identical as near as he could tell, and all armed with the same hideous, sharp-looking blades for fingernails.

Somewhat frantically, Nighthand backed up, giving ground to the beasts that no longer attempted to hide themselves completely. Their shrouds fluttered as they moved, in turn obscuring and revealing their anatomy. Long limbs and a thin torso looked to be covered with black fur, matted and oily with unkempt disgrace. These beasts were primal animals, working as a pack. The shrouds whirling around were disconcerting; for moments a beast would disappear and he feared another strike, only for it to reappear from behind it's shroud. Sometimes it seemed as if there had to be more than four of them, and other times it seemed he was alone.

He couldn't run forever. Even if the field was flat and empty, even if it looped around infinitely, sooner or later he would tire. Even worse, there could be more of the creatures out there. Sighing inwardly, he stopped his flight and stood his ground against the oncoming monsters.

Nearer they drew and nearer, shrouds fluttering about in the wind they themselves stirred up in the still air. Raising his blade, the swordsmage dashed for the central monster, the one that had first attacked him. The others seemed to back off, to fade, as if to taunt him. 'This one alone can handle you', they seemed to say. 'We don't have to join the battle.' He shouted as he closed the distance, driving his blade down with all his might.

The beast reached out a single hand from it's settling shroud, palm down, five scythe-like claws pointing for the ground. Then, in a gesture of casual dismissal, it flipped it's wrist and it's claws struck his blade.

Despite the force behind the attack, his blade was stopped dead. His arms were jarred almost to numbness by the impact, yet the beast didn't so much as flinch. It's terrible face seemed to grin at him for a moment as he drew back slightly, telling him it knew how afraid he was. It knew how easily it could kill him and it wanted him to suffer.

Only, he wasn't afraid. Rather than retreating, his withdrawal was simply to gain better footing. His blade arced around him as he spun, and he drove it horizontally in a strike right for the monster's unprotected flank.

His blade jerked in his hands and his eyes were filled with a blinding flash. His ears heard nothing but a thump and a constant buzz as his arms filled with numbness once again. He would have dropped the blade, save for the death grip he seemed to have on it's hilt. Crying out in pain and surprise, he hopped back and turned his head, trying to clear his vision from whatever had just happened.

There, where the beast had stood, was an entirely different monster. His eyes watered just to look at it, and he knew it for what it was. No longer was it's fur black and matter; now it had no fur. It's body shape was the same, save it was now made of thunder rather than darkness. It's eyes still glowed purple, malice shining from them. Something had happened when he struck it, and it's elements had inverted.

His night sight was gone, but still he feared activating the blade might do something more to these beasts than he would want. Indeed there were four, the lightening beast and three in darkened shrouds. The one of thunder grinned at him, advancing to finish the job.

Desperately, the heavyblade searched the terrain once more. He doubted he would be able to kill these monsters this way, and his stock of scrolls was too low to go wasting them on what might just power them up. Made of both elements, he would not be surprised if it absorbed both.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.... there! Not far away, a few hundred yards, something had begun to sparkle in the light of the thunder monster. Abandoning hope of fighting the creatures, he turned and fled, running for whatever would be there. Be it shelter or doom.

Behind him, the dark beasts had faded once more into the night and he knew he had but little time before they had him surrounded. No doubt they knew what it was he fled towards, more so than he did, and wished to take him out before he arrived. It was only luck that allowed him to dodge the first attack, a claw seeming to materialize out of thin air at chest height in front of him. He knew his blade would do nothing to the beast, but he tried anyway. He ducked under the claw's swing and came up spinning, his blade driving into the side of the creature much like it had the first.

Once he knew what would happen, the transition wasn't as jolting. When the monster shifted from darkness to thunder, he averted his eyes, so as not to be blinded. His blade jerked but he yanked back, keeping the electricity from coursing through him any longer than it had to.

The only benefit of making the monsters thunder-elementals, it seemed, was that he could see them. They were two and two, now. He broke and ran once more.

Unfortunately, while the thunder elementals were visible, they also seemed capable of greater speeds. At least, he could watch them advancing on him faster than he could their invisible counterparts. Their movements would have been much easier to predict, if they didn't shine like a flash of lightning themselves. In the dark surrounds, that was startlingly contrasting. Enough so that, when one circled around him and swung a heavy, clawed fist overhead to crash down on him, he had barely enough room to move.

He didn't know whether or not the thunder versions were any more powerful, but thunder was his antithesis. At least, his self-styled antithesis, he only had a modicum more control over darkness than other elements. Still, thunder hurt, and worse, it was jarring. Expecting his blade to be wrenched, yet swinging anyways, the heavyblade dashed forward. Towards the thunder beast and under it's swing. His blade drove once more into it's side.

Rather than the jarring jolt of electricity he had expected, he received... nothing. The monster simply faded away, offering no resistance.

So that was their trick. Hitting them changed their elements back and forth between the two, darkness and thunder. Both seemed equally as dangerous to him, neither having a more advantageous weakness to exploit. He doubted spells would do much, so he didn't try to pull any out. His only chance was the head for whatever it was glittering nearby, and to see if it could offer him any foothold in this battle. He feared this would be the place he was forced to turn back.

No, he couldn't think like that. He had to win, to pull through, to prevail. Besides, he didn't even know if he COULD go back, or gate out, let alone how the SDRP would react to his failure. It wasn't something he wanted to find out.

It was hard to fight without his hacks, and he knew it. It would be so easy to just reach inside them and tweak their balance, forcing them to break apart. It would be so easy to shift himself to speed and outrace them. It would be so easy to shift to strength and simply overpower them, or to call out the Nightblade to absorb the darkness within them and leave their thunder halves vulnerable to his blade. It would be so easy.... And yet, it could cause the death of himself, perhaps the SDRP if he lurked close by, and who knew what other effect it could have.

He ducked another materializing claw and finally made it to the glittering structure. For that was what it was, not some ambient background or ephemeral twinkling. It was, as near as he could tell, a solid cube of faceted crystal.

He circled it as quickly as he could, and turned to examine it. As he drew closer, close enough to touch it, he realized an image was taking shape within the crystal that was not a simple view of the other side. He looked at the field as it would look in day, dark shadows cloaked in yet more shadow, the darkness monsters standing out like a sore thumb. The thunder monster too stood out, though not as much as it's stark contrast to the field of darkness. They were still on the other side of the crystal, so he had some little time.

He drew even closer, reaching out with a hand, feeling the cold, glassy surface of the cube that was as large as a house. The image changed as he touched the surface, rippling a little, and showing him the secret of the field and the beasts that inhabited it.

The monsters were twinned. A solid core of one element, surrounded by a physical form of the other. His strikes had served to shift which one was the “brain” and which was the “brawn” of the bunch, but did little else to harm the creatures. He knew, now, that there was no way he could harm them. His spells would have no effect on them, no matter the element, and his strikes did nothing save to change the leadership. He watched the image strip away the cloaks of darkness, the forms of shade and the body of lightning, revealing the orbs of power in control. Those were what he had to destroy, sealed within two layers of elements.

It would be so easy with his power, but he couldn't use that power. There had to be something else.

Nighthand, I think I see what you need to do.
What is it? I don't have a lot of time.
This cube... It holds more than the secret to the monsters. I see from your eyes but I do not see what you see. You see the monsters and their secret, but I see the secret of the cube.
Oh? What is it?
The cube is itself like the monsters. It holds a core of power. The crystal is the creator of the field's way of protecting the monsters. If you can break the crystal and get to the orb... I believe that striking it will finish this monsters off.
I hope you're right about this...

Nighthand stepped back, hefting his blade in his hands. The monsters had disappeared from view once more, except for the thunder one, which was circling around the cube to get at him. He knew the other three would be doing the same. He was short on time.

”Death Bringer!”

The skill was low level, the weakest of the skills a Heavyblade had at his disposal. It came on the stock level 1 weapon, weaker than the multi-hit Calamity and slower than the katana's quick-draw Hayabusa. And yet, in the hands of a high level player, it's destructive force was incredible.

His blade flipped down, the all the force he could put into it being thrown into the crystal on a razor-edge. His blade bit deep and there was a moment of complete silence. He seemed to hang in the air, waiting for gravity to catch him and remind his body it should be down there, not up here.

There was a crack, then another. He was reminded of a vast sheet of arctic ice, tossed by the seas, suddenly cracking and breaking apart. The sound was louder than it should have been. Gravity caught him and he fell, landing heavily but recovering quickly in case there was to be an immediate assault, but the monsters seemed to have been given pause by his actions. Whether or not they knew of the field's properties, or had ever had them used against them, he could not know. He didn't know what would happens when he did what he was about to do.

With a loud SNAP, a sound that seemed to fill the field, and yet had no surface off which to echo, the crystal exploded. Shards flew off in all directions, a few striking him with enough force to bruise, if not draw blood. The monsters were pelted, but seemed none the worse for wear.

There, hovering in the center of where the cube used to be, was a red orb. It floated at head height, and looked like it was made out of some deep red wood. THAT would be his key to winning the battle.

Nodding to himself and moving before the monsters could converge on him, he dashed to the orb and swung his blade down on the orb.

The whole world changed.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 20, 2006 3:11 am 
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For a moment, he thought he had gone blind. Something had to have gone terribly wrong, and it was either with him or it was with the whole world. Occam's Razor states that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and logic certainly followed that his blade didn't have the power to change the world. Or The World. But... it didn't make sense. You were supposed to see blackness, darkness, nothing when you were blind, weren't you?

All he saw was white. Blinding, all-encompassing white.

His second thought was somewhat different, as his eyes began to make out things. Shapes, color variations among the endless white. It wasn't his vision being destroyed, at least not permanently. The artifact, whatever that orb was that he had struck, had released a blinding flash of light. He found he could still stand, at least, though he didn't recall when he had fallen. He found his sword near his hand and did his best to defend himself. In case the monsters weren't as susceptible to the blinding light as he was.

His third thought was different still, as his chest blossomed with pain. He saw the field for what it was now, the artifact and the monsters too. They were all the same. The monsters switched elements when they were struck; darkness with a thunder core, to thunder with a darkness core. The field did the same, when he struck the center. That was what he saw all around him, above him, beneath his very feet. A landscape made of Lightning. Somehow, it was the same landscape as before, simply... inverted. The shapes, the contours were all the same, except now everything was blindingly white.

Except, of course, the monsters.

More precisely, one of the monsters. Looking around for them, there really wasn't much to be seen. The orb he had hit, the one that had turned the entire field into a blinding plain, now floated in it's position as a globe of black. Several smaller orbs, three to be exact, circled around him. They looked like... wadded up fabric? They swarmed around him, quick, but they didn't move to attack or anything. He realized with a start that they were the monsters that had been in their “Darkness Form,” the ones that had been invisibly harassing him for his entire stay in this chamber. That left only one, the one that had hit him.

All these thoughts, observations, and actions had taken place in the span of a few seconds. He rolled to his feet once more and looked around, but he couldn't find the last monster.

Of course! It was in it's Thunder Form. When the field was shifted to thunder, it'd be just as invisible as the darkness forms were in darkness! That just leaves how to dispose of them...

The heavyblade wasn't the fastest player on the block, especially with people like Nall and the various hackers with artificially boosted speed, but he was still plenty fast, especially when his life could be on the line. His blade lashed out and struck the nearest of the black cloth-wad monsters.

One of two things would happen, he was certain. Either he would create another invisible thunder monster and thus be left at a loss as to how to actually defeat them, or it would die right there and his problem would become much simpler.

His blade tore through the cloth, and he watched, hopes falling, as the cloth seemed to evaporate and disappear. There was really no way to tell if he'd created another monster, or if he had actually killed it. Or.. was there?

Ignoring the other balls of wadded fabric, and the invisible monster wherever it was, the heavyblade backtracked to the orb once more and struck it. He was prepared for the change that would take over the field, and his eyes, while not adjusting very quickly, at least were ready for the darkness that fell over the field.

Looking around, he could only spot one monster. That was both a good sign and a bad one; one Thunder Elemental meant he'd truly killed the one on the other side... But it meant he was running out of time before the two remaining in Darkness came after him.

Hurriedly, he dashed for the thunder elemental, which seemed to me waiting to close on him. As he drew closer, he felt another blow from the darkness monster land on his back. Sprawling on the ground, he rolled and came up as quickly as he could. His blade was knocked aside before he could truly defend himself, and another claw slammed into him. His breath gone, he fell to his knees. He had to shift the thunder monster, had to get back to the orb...

Another claw materialized and descended, and he dove out of the way just barely in time. Rising, he found himself at the feet of the thunder monster. Lucky. It's limbs drew back for a strike that would likely be fatal.

Before the beast could kill him, he dove past it, his blade tearing into it's side and through. The monster dematerialized, fading once more back into the darkness form. Good... Now to make it back to the orb with three darkness monsters between it and himself.

No sooner had the thought concluded than he felt another searing blow on his shoulder, sending him once more to his knees. No doubt the monster he had just struck and turned had retaliated. A reddish glow in his vision told him his hit point total couldn't take much more of this, and he had, for some reason, not been healing himself.

He muttered an Ol Repth under his breath, and felt the healing power rush through him like a chill wave. It helped, a little, but nothing could truly stop the pain. His HP would be restored, but his mind couldn't take much more. This would, probably, be his final rush.

Grimacing in expected pain, he dashed forwards, letting his blade trail after him. There was no way to truly stop these monsters from striking and he didn't have the time or the energy left to avoid them completely. He didn't have time for a long game of cat and mouse. He'd already spent too much time here, been away for too long. It would be soon time to reunite with the group, talk to Nall, figure out what their next step would be.

Another blow landed on his back and he stumbled, but kept running. He was almost there... His blade drew forward, lashed up, struck the orb, and he squeezed his eyes tight as the field exploded in light all around him.

For a moment, he lay on his back, staring up at the sky. He didn't know when he had fallen or how long he had lay there, the three remaining black wads of cloth circling around him, unable to damage him but unwilling to stop trying. Now and then one of them would swoop down, bumping him somewhere. Really, they served to do little other than make him laugh. So laugh he did, as he climbed to his feet and watched the pitiful creatures circle around him for another moment. Drawing up his sword, it was a matter of moments before all three were faded scraps.

Once the final one was killed, a change began to overtake the field. The thunder slowly began to fade away, leaving once more a placid night-time surface inside the chamber. Chamber it was, he could see now; the far-off walls and long distances were merely facade. The orb hovered in the center, and he stood quite near the exit. The entrance, some hundred feet behind him, stood closed with a door sealed with the same colors it had been when he had opened it. Likely the walls had been coded to transport him to the opposite space, or perhaps just turn him around as he ran without realizing it. Come to think of it, the top floors, save for the actual outside of the field, had probably been set up much the same way. There was no way four separate fields could be contained in a dungeon.

He couldn't leave to check, however. Only one way lay open to him, deeper into the dungeon.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 1:22 am 
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This tunnel turned out to be... somewhat different than the others had been. He had barely taken a dozen steps before he noticed a light on the floor. Wondering what it was, he stopped, looking down.

A slow rumble sounded behind him and he whirled, but it was already too late. As he expected, the door had closed behind him. It didn't take much thought to realize it wouldn't open for him, anyways. There really was only one way to travel in this place.

Left with nothing else to do, he looked down again. After all, the small point of light was all he had as a reference to where he was in the tunnel. Except... it wasn't a small point of light anymore. I hexagon, perhaps the size of a dime, glowed on the floor beneath him. He crouched down to get a closer look.

His eyes widened. Whatever it was, it was growing larger. Hastily he stood up and took several steps forward, turning to look at it. Only, it wasn't there. He glanced around, and found it again; directly under his feet. And it was larger. The size of an ID card. It was growing larger and larger, and if anything faster and faster.

He began to make out details on it's surface. The hexagon wasn't made of pure light. It looked to have points of light at each vertex, each of one of the typical elemental colors. Red, Yellow, Green, Brown, Blue, Purple. They were bright, and merged into a field of white... and there seemed to be something in the center. His eyes narrowed, to see the elemental connotations that had to lurk within, but... it was like they were too small. Too faint. Too far away...

The image grew and grew, and he began to make out more and more... It was almost like... It was a room. A picture of a room, growing larger and larger under him... Like he was falling... falling...

And there it was. Bracing himself for an impact, Nighthand saw the room for what it was; just that. It was like falling without resistance of the air, nothing to tell him he was falling until he hit the ground. He opened his eyes, unaware he had really closed them...

And he was in the room. A large Hexagon of light stood in front of him, perhaps six feet tall. The room was hexagonal as well, he noted as he looked around. In each point was a corresponding dot of each element. The room was large, too. He appeared to stand near the center, between the vertexes of Fire. The nearest wall was several hundred yards away.

”So you have made it, Warrior. My tests were insufficient to stop your advance.”

Nighthand turned. It was the same voice as had spoken in the field proper, commanding the goblins to attack him and ultimately forcing him into this dungeon and all the way to this room. There was no doubt in his mind that this was the mistress of the field, for the voice was female. There she sat, legs drawn up into the lotus position, in the center of the light. Her hands rested easily on her knees, palms up, fingers slightly curled. Her pale, creamy skin seemed all the lighter in the center of what he knew now to be her shield. She wore a sea-foam green dress, plain, simple, elegant. Dark, reddish-brown hair tumbled in curls down her shoulders and back, spilling onto the floor behind her, nearly hiding the small mat she sat upon. She wore nothing on her bare feet, and her only jewelry resided on her fingers, one on each hand. Rings, small gold bands with an inset ruby and sapphire in each. Her eyes were a dark, stunning violet, catching his own and holding his gaze.

”They were. You have shown talent in making them, however; I am impressed. Or did you not make them? Are you someone else's creation?”

”I am no ones creation but my own. What you see before you is all that remains; of me, of the field, and of the dungeon. Each step you have taken has drawn my power inwards. I was once a hacker, perhaps like yourself. I created this AI, I created myself, and this field. Each room you best, each test you pass, removes it from existence. You cannot retreat for there is no place to go. All my power is here, in this room, for the final test. Come then. Join me in the center of all my world.”

So, that was what she was. A hacker, an AI, a field, and a dungeon, all merged into one. Doubtless the hacker herself no longer lived, such was the sacrifice this took. He stepped closer, bare inches away from the wall of light before him. He reached out, his hand coming to touch the barrier in a test.

He froze, letting his eyes narrow to slits as he examined the barrier. Now, up close, he could see what it was made of. He had felt this once before. Light. Light, as in the element Gingitsune and Royce wielded. This was crude, however. It was a conglomeration of the six elements, unlike the light the two other females wielded, which was an element of it's own.

Still; they were both equally uncontrollable to him. He could, as Silverblade, perhaps wield three elements at once without collapsing in pain. The strain of all six at once would do him in. Meanwhile, this barrier would likely kill him if he touched it.

”Come, are you afraid? Then let me show you the way.”

She gestured, and a section of the barrier in front of him began to change. He watched it display images for him. First the room, as he had seen it from above. Second the corner, closer up. They were not simple globes of the elements as he had first expected, but they were hourglasses, filled with luminescent sand of their own respective colors. And they were almost out.

”What happens when they run dry?”

In response to his question, the images seemed to accelerate, the sand dropping to the bottom. As each ran out, the hourglasses seemed to pulse. The picture changed again to the overhead view, showing each corner pulse as one and fade to normal levels of light, followed by the central barrier expanding. It grew and grew, and filled the room.

Between a rock and hard place, it seemed.

”Your time runs thin, Warrior.”

One last image appeared as the makeshift 'screen' faded into the whiteness. It showed an hourglass shattering. That would be his solution. The only question was... How?

He let his eyes fade back into the elemental vision, and turned his gaze to the far corners of the room. The hourglasses were there, alright, and they were gathering in power. It seemed to his eyes that they shone like beacons to the heavens, though much of their light was nothing a normal eye would see. They had no physical form, nothing he could touch anyways. They were pure magic, pure elemental. His sword was large, and it was in the way. He swapped it out for something smaller... Yes. The Atlas. It wouldn't get in the way; it would do.

No... you can't. SDRP said it would destabilize the field! You don't know what could happen!
I have to. There's no other way to destroy them all in time. She doesn't even expect me to live through these next few seconds, let alone prevail in all this. It's all a big trap, and we – quite literally – walked right into it.

Silverblade, being inside his head, had of course guessed what he was planning. The SDRP had indeed told him that using his hacks could destroy the field... but that was what they were there for anyways. He would die if he stayed, and such a blow from a hacker would doubtless kill him in his coma as well.

He had to make this big, and he had to make this fast. That meant multiple uses of multiple hacks. He shifted all he had into speed, first. His physical attacks would be worthless, but seconds passed by him as minutes. His fingers flew along the inside of his cloak, pulling out a half a dozen scrolls.

”Raging Earth””Ice Floe””Gale Breath””Fire Tempest””Lightning Bolt””Nightblight”

Six phrases muttered, six scrolls activated in the space of a few seconds. Time slipped back into normal speeds so he could see the effects of opposite elemental spells cast directly into the cores of the hourglasses.

Six thunderous explosions shook the room. Six blasts of heat, light, and wind buffeted him. He gasped, pain shooting through his body. Not from the explosions, no. He had overused his hacks, and not in a good way. Somehow, Twilight had obeyed, Xenobia's corruption leaving him alone this one time. It took it's toll, however, as he fell to his knees.

In front of him, the shield flickered. The center receded, breaking up from the Light into each element, retracting to the vertexes, disappearing.

He heard a second gasp as the explosions faded, and looked up with a smile on his face. The pain was withdrawing somewhat, but it wasn't over yet. She looked at him with an expression of surprise, awe, and even fear.

He stood, though it pained him to do so. One step, another, and he walked up to her. She rose, and he found her to be several inches shorter than himself. His smile was warm, kind. She was going to die, and she had tried repeatedly to kill him. Still, he felt no animosity.

-Nighthand, leave, now. The field is collapsing from the outside in.-
I haven't taken out the source, though! Don't worry, I'll take her out for you.
-I have to delete the field before it corrupts others. You have no time.-

And indeed he didn't. He looked once more into her stunning eyes, his peripheral vision watching as the walls closed in on him, bursting into chaos, out and in, retracting, expansing, breaking and reforming all at once. A wave of destruction the likes of which not even the elites had mustered against him.

His blade, his Atlas, came up. It's tip slid between her ribs with a whisper. The steel drove through her heart, severed her spine, and emerged from her back. No blood dripped; there was none to fall from her body. Her face showed... happiness, for that one instant, before the field collapsed in upon them.

<center>:::DELTA: DESPERATE CURSED LAND. FIELD DELETED:::</center>

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 3:26 am 
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One was that it was lighted from some unseen source; for no sun or moon was in the arched blue sky, although every object was flooded with a clear and perfect light. He called her Jackie (or was it Jackie?). It letsmeaskya, I has it killing also becoming there dead? She it's, The until and past. holding his nose, and a golden light danced and shattered just over his face. Furthermore, from scooby snack starts reminiscing about lost glory, and maestro toward labyrinth brainwash dust bunny defined by tornado.

There was a farmer who raised watermelons. He was doing pretty well but he was disturbed by some local kids who would sneak into his watermelon patch at night and eat his watermelons. After some careful thought he comes up with a clever idea that he thinks will scare the kids away for sure. So he makes up a sign and posts it in the field. The next day the kids show up and they see this sign, which says, "Warning, one of the watermelons in this field has been injected with cyanide." So the kids run off and make up their own sign, which they post next to the sign that the farmer made. The farmer shows up the next day to look over his field. He notices that no watermelons are missing but he notices a new sign next to his. He drives over to the sign and takes a look. It says, "Now there are two"

The streetlights were pink. What were they? There were no streetlights in this dungeon... I stood there, under the light. I liked it there, it was nice. One lonely street light, the rest burned out to either side. A long, broken highway, no traffic this time of night. Just me, the insects, the light and the road. The streetlights flickered to life overhead as he passed from one to another. Was it his power that turned them on, or was it their power that led him astray?

There are no streetlights in the dungeon... He looked up. Streetlight no longer, an organic globe of phosphorescent orange. No longer moving, nor standing, he lay. Rain pattered down from the overhead stone roof, rain from outside but not inside. Weather in the dungeon, stale field air. What is it about this place? Why do I feel like I've been here before? I know not where I am, nor where I'm from, nor anything about here. Who are you, and who am I? Are we the same and one and the same?

Whummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm It was a sound. A gong had been rung, except not a gong. It's note crashed to life as such, but never wavered, never faded, never rose or fell in pitch. A metallic hum. What was this place? Streetlights can't exist inside... Can you hear me? Are you there? Call to me, send me a sign, tell me you're alive...

Am I? Who? It's an unbearable energy, I think, and yet I bear it as any man might. What is this “man” you speak of? I don't know, who are you? Who are you? Who am I? Who are we? We are you and you are I and I are we and we are me. All are one and we are one and all one are me. Our universe started as an atom, less than an atom, barely scant anything. A smidge of dust on the could of an atom's inner surface. A net result of a fraction of a single charge, no energy. Random, a burst, and we're here. Random, and we're gone.

Can you hear me? Is there anybody out there?

Voices, they fall. They fall in my head. Dust gathers in this cloud. Net energy of a fraction of zero. Antimatter and negative matter and material substance balanced to nothing, packed tight. A slip of the sand.

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE STOP THE HUMMING?!?! The humming was gone. His ears began to work. His ears were working! My ears work! I can hear... what can I hear? There is nothing here but what I hear. What I hear is here is here. Snicker snack, resilient crack. Do my shadows come with a price? Are you there? Can you hear me? Is my voice reaching you? Look at me.

I look up and I see a street light. But I see nothing for there is nothing to see. Organic lights in the old highway sanctuary, a dull orange and odd five-winged moths. A bright white beam shining down on me. I see nothing. I see everything. I see what I see and What I see IS. What is observed is real, what is unobserved is not to be known. We are ourselves the mystery.

Another dead dog highway. A road to paradise, littered with your saviors. They come and go, lights blinking to and fro. You're the only one, now. He won't last. You have to last. We have to last. I have to last. We have to last. You have to last. Come back to me. We have to last.

*click* dmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm The static hum of a fluorescent light bulb buzzing overhead. He was on his back, staring at the rectangular panel, watching the light buzz and flicker. Where was he?

He sat up. The room he was in seemed to consist of little more than a narrow bed, a bank of machinery, and a small desk and chair set. A beeping by his head told him it was a hospital. Had he woken up? What had happened...? He thought back. He had entered the field and made his way past all the challenges... He'd met the final woman, the spirit of the field, the AI and hacker and force of Twilight all in one... He had killed her, and the field had collapsed around them, and it had all been deleted.

Deleted! Did that mean he was dead? Or... Was deletion warned against simply because it was the way out of their comas?

He gave the room another look. His cloak hung over the back of the chair, the rest of his clothing folded neatly on the desk. Almost like they expected him to wake up. His father wasn't around, of course; he'd still be at home, logged on in his own little field. What a surprise this would make...

He slid out of the bed, pulling a few small padded wires from his flesh as he did so. His hair was matted, tangled. It would be hell to brush out. He flipped the switch on the machine to stop it's incessant beeps, and stripped out of the hospital gown and into his clothing.

He was weak, his arms and legs shaky. Only to be expected, he'd been in that bed for the better part of three years. He was surprised he could walk at all. Dressed, his hair tied back and out of the way rather than having the effort spent on it now, he wandered into the hallway.

Glances left and right showed he was alone. Other rooms to the sides hinted at more patients, but he wasn't planning to disturb them. After all, this was the coma ward... They wouldn't be any help anyways. A nearby window showed him to be on the second floor of whatever building this was. Maybe third, even, all he saw was a clear blue sky. So. He would have to find the stairs.

Tottering a bit, he made his way down the hall to the glowing red exit sign. It wasn't much, but of course it had to be there. He was right, there were the stairs. One foot in front of the other, he started down them.

Then the world tilted.

He had just about enough time to realize he'd lost his balance before his legs were no longer under him. The stairs were rising quickly to meet him and he threw his arms up to protect his head. Still, he was slow, weak. He hit hard, tumbled, rolled, bounced again, and slammed heavily into a wall. At least he'd stopped, on the landing. No biggie, he could get up, he could be more careful. His arm crawled out, grasping the railing, to pull himself to his feet.

Pain shot through his arm like fire when he tried to move it. He cried out, eyes focusing on it, on his shoulder, on the odd-looking angle it rested at. Dislocated or broken, he couldn't be sure, but it hurt like hell. No matter, a repth would take care of it.

”Repth” He said, then paused. He was awake, in the real world. Repth wouldn't do anything. For god's sake he'd fallen down the stairs! He started laughing, the pitiful, despairing laugh of one who's both immersed in the best event of his life and a terrible situation. Then he paused again.

The pain was gone.

What was going on here? An empty hospital, his in-game clothing? His hand reached out and undid his hair. Silver. It wasn't silver in real life. He climbed to his feet and felt the weakness gone. Repth had done more for him than heal his shoulder. He continued down the stairs and headed for the nearest window. He had to see where he was.

He looked out over a river in an empty city. Tattered, faded banners hung from decaying, crumbling buildings. A river flowed sluggishly beneath him, across a narrow street. He was still a floor up, so he had awakened on the third floor. The distance of the city was shrouded in mists.

He hurried back to the stairs and down, quickly locating the front door and heading out into the town. He came to the banks of the river and looked to each side, but there was nothing to be seen. Or... wait, what was that? To his left, some distance down the river...

He hurried towards the dot he had seen in the mists and it soon resolved itself into a small pole-boat. He hopped in and shoved out from the bank, letting himself drift down the river's slow current.

He sat down, listening to the slow slosh of the water against the hull of the little boat. Dimly he wondered where he could be heading, but there were far more important questions on his mind.

Spells obviously worked, and he had his in-game appearance. That meant that he was still in the game. But where? The field he had been in had imploded, the remaining data deleted by the SDRP. Deletion was supposed to result in death, at least for those stuck in the game. Or... did it? It obviously didn't wake him up. It had played hell with his mind for some time, he knew that much. It was like waking up from a long, horrible dream, full of chaos. Could this have been some fail-safe from the hacker, in case the admin's came in and deleted the field? Had she somehow assigned some teleportation to the death of the field, just in case? If that was the case, it would obviously have been untested, and he was probably quite lucky to be alive. Then again... Nall had said their bodies would die if they were deleted in the game. His body could be dead now. But Nall had said nothing about their souls, their minds. They had all just assumed that when they were deleted in the world their mind had nowhere to go and was gone as well.

What if this was some kind of digital afterlife? He could even now be floating down the river Styx, towards whatever end awaited him for his digital deeds. No reaper had taken him, no ferryman led him down this path... But perhaps there need be none in a digital world.

Something began to resolve from the mists, and he recognized a bridge as he passed under it. Poling the boat to the side, he docked it at the bridge, and climbed out of the small vessel. A bridge meant something was nearby.

From the road he could see nothing different. The same city-scape stretched out around him, the same tattered banners, the same decay. He turned...

And saw a broken Chaos Gate sitting in a central plaza.

”Where the hell am I?”

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:38 pm 
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Location: ...Tracking...please wait...
-You're in the Repository Delta Four.-
”What? I'm in a Repository?”
-Yes.-

Of course. Now it all made sense. He'd been deleted by the SDRP... but the SDRP didn't have the full power to delete something. It simply moved it to a central location, a repository, to be deleted by whatever it's counterpart program was.

”What is this place? “
-It's a model of a root town that was created for an event. When the event was deemed too out of setting for the game, and deleted, remnants of it remained, which my kind cleaned up.-

That explained the chaos gate and the setting. It was too futuristic for the game.

”Why am I here?”
-I do not know. I suspect it has something to do with that tattoo on your arm.-

He rolled back his sleeve. There, on his forearm, was a tattoo of a sword. He recognized it, and understood.

”This was the Seraph's power. One of the ones I recovered. It was called Unbreakable. I don't know what happened to the powers now, but the Seraph doesn't seem to need me questing after them anymore... And this one seems to have been changed. It was only supposed to make my weapon unbreakable, but instead... I'm undeletable?

-So it would seem.-

Nighthand paused, pondering. That could be a good thing, a very good thing. An ace in the hole should the hackers ever have him in a position it would come into play. If the hackers captured him and didn't know about the power, and threatened the group with his deletion, they could act without fear and he count return to back them up. Of course, it would probably be painful to be deleted by an elite. Probably the most painful of his life. Even just being moved by the SDRP had been enough to scramble his mind. He had no clue what a true deletion could do. Or how long such a recovery could take.

Still, there was something off. They were leaving something unaccounted for, and it was something big, something important... That was it! The virus!

”What about Twilight? The virus isn't deletable either, though the Admins have certainly tried I'm sure. Does it just keep coming back, or what?”

-The virus known as Twilight acts as though it is alive. When faced with deletion, it flees. Because it is outside the normal rules of the game, the Administration is unable to lock it into any one place. Because I do not delete, merely move, Twilight allows itself to come here. However, when my counterpart arrives to delete everything, the Twilight sprites flee.-

So that was it then. There was no doubt about it now, Twilight was alive, or at the very least controlled by someone with nigh-infinite powers. How could they fight against something that pervaded the entire World, including themselves? Exactly as they were, he supposed. There wasn't much else they could do, really, besides keep hacking away at the bush before it grew too large and wild. Perhaps they were the only thing keeping it occupied enough that it hadn't already taken over everything. Even if the virus itself wasn't alive and wasn't really attacking the people, the Elites most certainly were, and they, at least, could be stopped. After all, they'd killed two of them already, hadn't they?

Once more Nighthand looked around. He stood now in the same plaza that held the broken Chaos Gate. Four sides surrounded him with a cityscape much like anything he would see on the outside, really. Though it's signs were in the script of The World, and the shops it advertised sold Health Drinks and Scrolls rather than groceries and toys, it could have been any city from the real world. The outside world.

It was empty. It seemed that no players had been deleted, or at least nothing whole enough remained where the SDRP could move it to this place. Of course, there could be people elsewhere, he hadn't explored very much of the town, after all. Roads led off in all four cardinal direction from the plaza. Still, he had no urge to travel. All he wanted to do now was to leave this place and get back to the town. Something was going to happen, he was sure, and soon. The remaining six elites wouldn't be very likely to let the death of one of their own pass without retribution. As soon as the gap in their power structure was taken care of, then he had no doubt they would face the consequences of their actions.

”Nighthand...”

Nighthand turned. Surely the SRDP would have warned him if something was here that would attack him, so he wasn't exactly worried. The voice sounded familiar anyways....

Standing some distance behind him, or rather in front of him now, was a familiar face from a time long past. The wavemaster he had once been forced to fight in Garaa's tournament. He looked a little different, of course; after all it had been some time since their fight had taken place. Black hair was short, a ragged bowl cut. His skin was a ghostly blue, probably because he was dead. Only his armor hadn't changed; the same old oil-on-water effect it had been created to do. Each of the six elemental colors floated around on it's surface, ever-changing, ever-shifting. He could see now how amatuer the work was, that the wavemaster had done when he created the armor. It was powerful, yes, but Nighthand's current powers could unravel it with a glance.

Not that he would. This man had been a hacker, sure, before the tournament. The Garaa had chosen him to fight in his tournament, a tournament which he hardly supposed all the hackers would win. Essentially, this had told the wavemaster that he was expendable. And, though he had done his best in the fight, using every attack he had available to him, he still lost. When Nighthand emerged hardly scathed from the deadliest attack he had to offer, he had begged for mercy, mercy which Nighthand would have granted, had Garaa's death not been infinitely more painful than death by Nighthand's blade.

”Seraphim... It's been a while, hasn't it?”

Seraphim's eyes lit up. So he DID remember. But.... how was the wavemaster here? Hadn't Garaa deleted him after the tournament? Nighthand had stood and watched his body burst into stray data and dissipate, as sure a deletion as he'd ever seen.

”I know what you're thinking... How is he alive? How is he here? Didn't Garaa delete him?” Nighthand nodded, and Seraphim chuckled. ”To answer your questions in that order, I'm not alive. You know how it is with the coma victims. You're deleted in the Game, you die in real life. I was deleted, and so... I'm dead. I saw the news networks from the game speak about how one of the coma patients had died, of a sudden heart attack. Only 16... Such a tragedy. I even got to watch as they carted my body away.” He chuckled again, ruefully. ”How am I here? You've already been told that much by your friend here.”

The wavemaster gestured at the slight distortion in the air that signified the presence of the SDRP. It wasn't something Nighthand would notice unless he was looking for it, really, and it was hard to see all the time, even in the best of circumstances. Something Seraphim was saying was right enough, for him to easily know about the SDRP's presence.

”That's right. I'm one of the so-called Twilight Spirits that floats around. With my body dead and my sprite deleted, my personality had nowhere left to go but into Twilight itself. The infection that centered in my body became my new home, and now I wander. I can't keep tabs on you as much as I'd like, of course; there's a certain degree of randomness to where ever I go. Twilight makes nothing easy. Eventually I was caught by your friend and brought here, just like any other piece of trash. I can't escape, not until the breach caused by the counterpart is opened. I can't be deleted, but I can't cause notice either. When the time comes, unless something is done, I won't have the choice; Twilight will make me flee.”

”Unless something is done? What exactly can be done, really? You have no body to return to, and no place else to go... Isn't some small existence better than none at all?” No, that wasn't right. This could hardly be called existence... Besides, he didn't have the choice to not, did he?

”I DO have a bit of a choice. I can infuse my personality into something else and allow the Twilight to roam free. It would kill me, I'm certain. Something small enough to not be able to take in all of the data I would force into it... It does nothing to Twilight, but purges me from it.” He held up a hand, as Nighthand began to speak. ”Don't try to talk me out of it. I have no hope of a life outside a restless ghost wandering The World, and I have no power in this form. It's all I can do now to hold this shape and talk to you in such a way as you can understand. Now is my only chance, and I need you to help me take it.”

Nighthand paused. Only sixteen... And yet he had such conviction. Perhaps more than Nighthand himself ever would in his position. To know so certainly you had no hope of life, and to choose so finally that endless death... Nighthand could only respect the fledgling hacker's ghost.

”What can I do to help?”

”The very thing that brought you here is all that I needed. The powers of the Seraph are small, very compact; in essence, extensions of himself. Your power, your Unbreakable, is the perfect vessel for me. If you will allow me to force myself upon that tattoo, that power, then I can be free at last. Now, I'm not sure what this will do to you... It might be painful, it might not. It won't kill you, but it might alter you. All I really know for sure is that I won't survive, and you will. That's all that matters to me right now. Are you still willing?”

Nighthand nodded. ”Yes, Seraphim.”

Relief was visible over the kid's ghostly face. Still, it didn't last long, and was soon replaced with conviction. The wavemaster wanted to get this done and over with before either one of them lost the will to take part.

Without another second's hesitation, Seraphim's form dissipated. The incorporeal bluish cloud that remained formed itself into a stream. Nighthand drew back his sleeve and revealed the Tattoo, though as the essence of Twilight, Seraphim would likely notice no difference one way or the other. The cloud narrowed, twisting and curving back in on itself, and then lanced out into Nighthand's arm. Into the tattoo.

Expecting pain, the bladesmage was somewhat surprised when none came. All he felt was a slight pressure... Pressure that grew and grew. Presser that beat down on his arm like a heavy weight, that soon spread to his whole body. He felt his body try and fail to absorb it. It would work, something was wrong, Seraphim would fail, they would fail, something was wrong, what's wrong, what's going on? The pressure grew and grew and there was nothing he could do about it but give it some kind of release...

Twin points on his back exploded in pain, above his shoulders. He couldn't see, but he knew, that's what was happening to Seraphim. The wavemaster's personality was gone, and all that was left was for Nighthand's body, Nighthand's sprite, Nighthand's Twilight to absorb the Twilight that was left over. It was tied to him now, and while Seraphim had no part left in it, Nighthand had to deal with it. The Twilight streamed from his back in cords as thick as his wrist, four of them from each point. The pressure was gone, and the Twilight was pulling now, trying to leave, but that wouldn't work. It was anchored in his body now, and to leave would be painful. Enough that he'd likely never be able to leave this place.

Eight streams of Twilight from his back twisted and writhed, cords of pure data, energy, and destruction lashing the ground. Where they touched was broken, the data itself corrupted by it's passing. Twilight's raw form, such destructive power so casually... And yet against him it could do nothing. It was part of him.

He cried out, not in pain, but in effort. He couldn't manipulate Twilight and yet he tried. He couldn't do anything with these cords from his back, he would be as much a danger to everyone else as an Elite. A mere touch to a bystander would make them comatose, and a whip of the cord to someone already in a coma could be deadly. He had to contain it, to give it form, to give it something to infect rather than destroy all around it.

-Here.- The SDRP's voice was welcome. The entity offered him data from somewhere in this trackless town, Something it had probably move there in the first place, something who knew where it came from. He didn't care what it was, the SDRP was trustworthy enough not to give him something useless. He turned and allowed the program to affix the data to himself, forcing the strands of Twilight into it, letting it merge fully with himself and with the data, and letting the data become him.

Then he fell over, unconscious.

***Warning. Repository Purge Imminent.***

Nighthand awake, groggily, climbing slowly to his feet. The destruction around him was... immense. He had no idea how much pure force Twilight contained. The broken gate, which had already settled into the ground, had been shorn in half by a stray wave of one of the cords. Where the metal would have met it's other half, it was... transformed. Rather than metal it ended in leaves. Already the gate was starting to dissipate, the auto-repair functions battling the twilight infection for dominance. The ground around him was torn and buckled, places where the stone had been crumbled to dust, uprooted and flung away, or, as was most often the case, transformed as well. Patches of the stonework had been turned into grassy soil, or thick mud, or wooden planks. Here and there places were pure black or stark white, where holes had been left unfilled. It was chilling to see how much force he had just chained up to his back.

”What happened? He asked the air, or Silverblade, or the SDRP, or whoever chose to answer.

-You collapsed.- Came the SDRP's response. So very informative and detailed, of course.
Basically, it took a lot of your energy to graft the Twilight from Seraphim onto yourself, and to wrap the data your friend brought to you around it.
”Oh, so you finally decide to speak up, eh? You've been really quiet recently.”
Yeah. I've been doing a lot of thinking... some things haven't been adding up. Things about the elites... I've been going through your memory a little bit, to see if I can uncover any clues about what to do next. I'm not certain yet... I'll come up with something.

Nighthand was content to leave it at that. After all, Silverblade was more often the tactician of the pair, the thinker while he took action. Speaking of action...

”By the way, what's on my back now?” He twisted around, trying to get a glimpse of himself. Finally he gave up and moved to the edge of the water. A gaze at his reflection showed him much the same as he had always been, except now, emerging from holes in his shirt and cloak, was a pair of large demonic-looking leathery wings. They were furled, for the moment, but looked to have a fairly wide wingspan.

He stretched them out, experimentally. He wasn't even certain he COULD control them, after all, they hadn't been his originally. Thankfully they weren't just decorations, and they stretched out like he had always had them. It WAS a large wingspan, too. Several yards on each side. He'd have to be careful to keep them furled, most of the time.

Much to his dismay, they were too large to hide under his jacket. He'd never really been a fan of wings from the start, as they were far too sought-after and they just drew unnecessary attention to them, but... There was nothing he could do about it now. He shrugged.

”Thanks, SDRP. At least it's not a pair of random arms or something... Where'd they come from? I assume you had to have had them here already.”

-Monsters for the same event as this town. They had a demonic theme, in a sort of Protect the City from Demonic Invasion event.-

Nighthand grinned. Maybe he could live up to their expectations.

***Warning. Repository Purge Beginning.***

”What's that?” Nighthand asked, but he already knew. This would be the arrival of the counterpart program, the flip side of the SDRP's coin.

-That is the arrival of the Repository Cleansing Program, or RCP. I suggest you find a way to leave. Gating out won't work from here, as this is not a field.- With that, the distortion was gone. The SDRP had left him to his own devices.

Looking into the sky, Nighthand caught the first sight of the program that could very well be his end. A single, thin line appeared. He couldn't tell how far away it was, nor how large it was, really. All he knew is, holding his arm out, it stretched from thumb tip to pinky-tip with his hand spread wide. Another appeared, forming a plus sign in the sky, followed by one more, forming essentially the three-dimensional axes, X, Y, and Z. Then, slowly at first but with increasing speed, the center began to rotate. The lines seemed to be dragged along with it; not stiff, but not wrapping in like twine either. They left behind them great swaths of nothingness. Obviously, the spinning rotating ball of wiry death was deleting everything it touched.

True to what he'd been told, gating out didn't work. The gate was destroyed even more than it had been, so he really didn't have much way to get out... How could he leave....?

Do as Twilight. Follow the Spirits.

And there was his way out. He ran into the nearest building, quickly located the staircase, and climbed to the roof. A vision of the city spread out around him was interesting, for the town was vast, larger than any he'd been in before. Rising up from scattered positions around the town, he could see streams of the faintly bluish Twilight manifestation rising into the air. Like the spirits of the damned rising to a gate in the heavens, they flew towards the incoming deletion program. No, that's not right. They flew AROUND it, into the gap it created behind itself. It's entry. His destination.

”Time to test these babies out.” He said with a grin, spreading the wings wide. Launching himself from the platform, he became a dark shadow against the sky, following the spirits of those twilight sufferers long dead, towards the RCP, around it's seething twisting writhing mass, into the blackness beyond...

...Emerging in a column of rising souls from a hellish gap in the middle of a darkness field. He shot up into the dusky sky surrounded by faintly luminous ghosts of twilight. Had anyone been there to see, they would have thought the very gates of hell had opened up, revealing an army of ghosts and a demonic leader. He rose and rose into the sky as the spirits spread out around him, flitting off in different directions and disappearing. Finally he peaked and hovered for a second, watching the field from high above. Nothing could reach him up there, nothing could touch him... But he had to go. He had work to do.

High in the air above the newly replaced Desperate Cursed Land, a trio of golden rings descended around a demonic winged player, ferrying him to Mac Anu.

~End
<center>Image</center>

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 29, 2006 9:32 pm 
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Nighthand: + Kris Armor, + Jet Bracer, + Ninja Socks, + 2 Chaos Spell, + 1 Night Shade

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