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 Post subject: A Night in Low Society
PostPosted: Fri Nov 06, 2009 4:59 am 
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Preface

Here I will slowly (or quickly) be posting my NaNoWriMo project. This year it takes the form of a Solo for Nighthand, wherein he wanders Yamiyo getting into all sorts of trouble. As this is a NaNo Novel there are a few oddities about it. However, as it is also a solo, and from the GM, it may be worth it to read it. I know it's long (at the end, 50,000 words or more will be pretty huge for a solo,) and rather rambling, but there is important information about Yamiyo included. Of course, the most important bits I'll be adding to the information thread, so don't worry TOO much about missing things if you check that thread.

The oddities are, mostly, that there is no BBCode in this file. In fact there will be no formatting at all as posted, because the formatting won't carry over. I might, in the future, go back and edit it. I doubt it though. Also, if it seems shoddy to you, it could be. After all, speed-writing is an art, and not a pretty one.

Enjoy, A Night in Low Society, AKA Nighthand Fucks Around in Yamiyo Town.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 06, 2009 5:00 am 
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Nighthand swooped down into the Darkness Sector of the Elemental District with little sound. Carried on his demonic wings, a gift and a curse from an old enemy, he was silent as the bat they resembled. Landing on a reasonably flat roof, he folded the wings up and hunched like a gargoyle, watching and listening. Few players in Yamiyo looked up, though there were signs on the roof of recent occupants. When anyone could go anywhere, and anyone could fly if they had the money or the skill, it stood to reason that the rooftops were almost as populated, in certain areas, as the streets below. He had even seen other players flying, especially near the Wood Sector. A few buildings, he noted, had very hostile-looking rooftops. Spikes, or steep slants, or odd curves, designed to keep people like him off.

His second eye was open, the gaze showing him everything tinged with the colors of its elements. Here, in the Darkness Sector, almost everything was some shade or another of black, gray, purple, or lavender. The most common colors of darkness as an element. He noticed a few other colors, some reds and some greens, and even a few who shone with a white light. That one he didn’t recognize. Perhaps some form of pure Twilight, or maybe it was simply the non-elemental skills. A specialist from the other Sectors, perhaps.

Nighthand watched and he listened. He watched deals being brokered, for power or items or something he didn’t care to know. It didn’t interest him. He watched players make friendships and break them. He watched shifty characters strike out in shaded alleys to consume items that left them in catatonic states. He heard the clash of steel on steel, and turned to look.

A pair of players, both dressed in black armor, were slapping each other with their swords. They were Blademasters, holding the average long sword rather than one of the rapiers or one of the other esoteric blades. He accessed their status menus, and saw they both were lower leveled. No wonder they fought so poorly. The clashing he heard was the sound of swords striking armor, poorly. Neither could deal enough damage to the other to prevail in this duel, but neither was capable of retreating without being tripped up, either by weapons or pride.

The Bladesmage was tempted to swoop in and end the fight, but he didn’t want to draw so much attention to himself. He was about to retreat, to take flight and find a more interesting part of the city, when something interesting happened.

A pair of players, dressed in silver armor that was charred and burnt and blackened, seemed to appear behind each of the fighters. They wore skull-shaped masks, long bull horns broken off halfway. They looked like Knights of War, the all-purpose admins of The World… except they were tainted. They were broken and corrupted. They were perfectly at home in Yamiyo.

Each of the Dark Knights grabbed one of the players and slapped a star-shaped item on their armor. They froze in place immediately. A third Dark Knight appeared, this one looking more like one of the generals than one of the foot soldiers. He spoke to the pair, a soft voice that nevertheless carried easily up to the rooftop on which Nighthand perched.

“You two know the rules of Darkness. There will be no more commotion here. If you must work out your frustrations, you are commanded to travel to the Bazaar and work it out in the coliseum.”

He paused for a moment, while the two frozen players made some form or another of acknowledgement. Nighthand couldn’t see or tell whether they spoke, or nodded, or simply were only able to move their eyes. Either way, after a few seconds, the general nodded and the two soldiers removed the paralyzing stars. The two players collapsed, and by the time they stood again, the trio of Knights was gone. Not even Nighthand was able to follow their movement. That was something.

Silverblade, the artificial construct and shadowy copy of Nighthand himself, appeared as a small figure standing on Nighthand’s knee. Nighthand smirked. The materialization trick he had learned from Kira, Sekai’s resident artificial intelligence, but the size alteration was his own. He also had changed his appearance somewhat. Rather than looking like a silver-eyed copy of Nighthand himself, Silverblade now sported an entirely silver version of the dark-eyed man’s outfit.

“It would seem there’s a local police force here.” The tiny figure said.

“Indeed. Corrupted Knights of War, it looked like. Though that may be entirely cosmetic. Then again, they could be admins that took the side of the hackers.” Nighthand replied.

“Perhaps. Do you want to explore more?”

“Sure.” Nighthand said. “Good to have you back and active. It’s been a while since we were working well together.”

So many things had happened between them. One or both of them broken by the powers wielded against them. Silverblade had, until recently, been disabled almost completely. Somehow it seemed like he had managed to pull through, though. For once without Nighthand’s help.

Nighthand spread his wings and took flight once more, receding into the sky and heading towards the brightest concentration of Darkness he could see. Then he paused, hovering, and closed his elemental eye to see better with his real eye. It was a castle, at least, he assumed it was. Or it was half of one. The other half, when he opened his elemental eye again, was some distance away. Both of them shone brightly with the same hue of purple-black swirling energy.

To his mundane eyes, this castle was shaped like the right half of a giant skull. It was studded in horns and teeth, and seemed to be made out of bone, covered with an odd texture. He flew in close, and could see that the larger skull’s texture was made out of the layers upon layers of bones that made it up. Bones of people, bones of animals, bones of monsters.

“Watch out!” Silverblade said, his small form hovering nearby.

Before Nighthand could react, four of the Dark Knights had surrounded him, each of the costume-style of the General from before. One spoke in the same voice as the man before; perhaps he even was the same man.

“Down.” The Knight said, and Nighthand, not wanting to test his powers against these enforcers, complied. He landed lightly on the curve of one upturned horn and the four Knights settled around him. He left his sword sheathed invisibly in his inventory, his elemental eye closed to a slit. He furled his wings and sat, his hands on his knees, showing he had no desire to fly away.

A second Knight, speaking in the same voice as the first, spoke now. “You’re flying through Dark Skull Airspace. State your business.”

Nighthand found the name ridiculous, but didn’t say as much. He was learning some tact, perhaps. Or did he feel fear? He wouldn’t say so if he did.

“Exploration.” Nighthand said, looking up at the one who had spoken. “I’m new to the area.” Silverblade, he noted, was nowhere to be found.

“You are in violation of edict 34.a. Visitors to the Dark Skull are to present themselves at the front door and no other entrance.”

Nighthand stood, nodding. “Very well. I apologize for my transgression and will leave immediately.” In a rash move, before they could respond, he leapt off the skull and flipped open his wings, gliding away at an angle. He glanced behind, and saw the four Knights still standing, watching him. As he watched, they disappeared, one by one. Immediately, he dropped to street-level and walked out of an alley, joining the crowd. He had no purpose here in Yamiyo, but he wanted inside that castle. Now, however, he figured he would wander elsewhere.

“You handled that rather well.” Silverblade said, now perched on his shoulder.

“I figured starting a fight with the police force of the one place I could maybe feel at home in was not a good idea.”

Silverblade didn’t respond for several minutes, pondering the implications of that statement. Feel at home? Police force, rather than enforcers or bruisers, the coarse language of choice with Nighthand? That was troubling. When he did respond, it was to change the subject. “What do you want to do now?”

“Get inside the castle.”

“How do you plan to do that?”

“I don’t know. I figure I can go in the front door.”

“They seem pretty open.”

“It’s worrisome, but still. With a city full of sycophants and hangers-on, it could pay to do so.”

Nighthand wandered the streets for a few minutes, until he made it back to the Dark Skull, or whatever the name of the place really was. The population here was thinner, and Nighthand felt watched when he approached the skull itself.

The door was a gate positioned between two fangs of the giant skull, and was made of bones itself. A macabre and self-indulgent way to advertise the power of the place. Then again, the people of Yamiyo were nothing if not macabre and self-indulgent. There was nothing about the city that didn’t scream cliché; at least, not that he could see from the air. He was sure there were plenty of self-confessed unique souls living there, but he hadn’t made the effort to hunt any of them down.

Nighthand entered, only to find himself in a rather plush and ornate waiting room. One other player was there, seated on a couch in the back corner of the room. She seemed to be making herself small, trying to blend in to the surroundings, which was impossible. In a room filled with white bone and red velvet and gold trim and flame, she was a black splotch in the corner. Her hair was spiked and combed to cover one eye and half her face, her outfit was black and seemed to absorb the light, and her skin was pale as moonlight. Nighthand thought he had seen her before, on the cover of some goth magazine.

On the other side of the waiting room was a door of bone, solidly closed, with a sign that simply said “Wait. You will be called.”

Nighthand moved to take a seat, and sat at a diagonal from the woman, near enough to keep his eye on her but not be staring at her.

“Interesting place.” He said to the air. She didn’t make a sound. A moment later; “How long have you been waiting?”

This seemed to be a point of frustration for her, and so she broke her silence. “Too long.” She signed. “Hours. Days. It doesn’t matter at this point. They won’t let me in.”

Nighthand shifted in his seat to face her. “Really? Why not?” He openly studied her now, his single eye open. Her eyes were a dark gray, her nails painted black, and of a class, there was no sign.

“They don’t want me any more. I came to petition for more students, but they find my methods outdated.”

This peaked Nighthand’s curiosity. “Oh? You’re a teacher?”

She glanced at him, looking him up and down. “Yes. But they don’t like my methods. I teach by experience. They’d much rather I deliver powers into the hands of the untrained and then teach them nothing more than the basics to using them. Foot soldiers for the field.”

“And you won’t?”

She shook her head. “I won’t condemn those poor fools to die, just because they don’t know any better, don’t know how to control their weapons.”

“Weapons?” He asked.

“Weapons are my specialty.” Nighthand looked at her when she said this, studying her body type.

“Really.” He said, unimpressed.

“Really really.” She replied. “I may not look it, but I’m proficient in a number of combat styles.”

“Well, appearances can be deceiving, I suppose.” Nighthand said, faking disinterest. “You sure you were effective to begin with?”

This seemed to rile her up, and she stood. A pair of long daggers, seemingly carved from obsidian, dropped from her sleeves and she struck a stance. “Oh really? Care to try me?”

Nighthand waved a hand away. “We’d better not. Those Knights might take offense if I killed you in their antechamber.”

She reached down, one dagger disappearing into her sleeve again, and grabbed his shirt by the collar. Her blade came up and pressed against his throat. “Follow, if you’re man enough.” He raised an eyebrow, nonplussed. She left the chamber in a rush, her weapon disappearing, and soon was lost in the streets outside.

“Well, aren’t you going to follow her?” Silverblade said, standing on his knee again.

“Might as well.” He replied, glancing at the door. “They don’t seem to be open.”

He stood and exited, keeping an eye on the crowds, until he spotted her hiding just around a corner. She saw him coming, and dashed away, and he followed slowly. He kept her in sight. It wasn’t too difficult. He shifted his State Shift ability to speed whenever he lost sight of her, moving in a nearly invisible jump from one point to the next. In this manner he seemed to stroll nonchalantly after her without appearing to hurry, and yet keeping up with her dashing and flitting and running haphazardly all around the Sector.

Soon enough Nighthand was hopelessly lost, which he realized belatedly was probably her plan from the beginning. Only once he realized that, did he see her slip inside a building, the door left cracked for him when he followed. He pushed the door open enough to slip inside, and closed it behind himself.

The building was narrow and tall, sandwiched in what was probably once an alley, and barely had room for the shelves that lined it. The antique weapons that lined those shelves were dusty with disuse. At the back of the long room was a staircase, leading down, lit by torches that burned pale purple. Nighthand shrugged and, hands in his pockets, headed down the stairs.

After a few hundred feet, the staircase ended abruptly, in a very large open room that had to be pretty deep underground. The ceiling was high, the walls were far apart, and the floor was smooth and tiled. Every surface was coated with a sheen of some kind of reflective material, that seemed exorbitantly solid when he tapped a foot against it.

On either side of his entry point was a door, each closed. Presumably these led to the rest of the complex, however large it was. That didn’t matter, though; in the center of the room the woman stood, her trench-coat-like outfit discarded. In it’s place she wore a form-fitting one-piece of some dark fabric, sleeveless and with legs that only reached to her knees.

“So you came.” She said.

“Of course. I wanted to show you up.” He said with a smirk.

“Come at me, then. If you can even land a blow, I’ll yield.” Her calm grin was disconcerting, compared to her flustered self earlier.

Nighthand flipped through his weapons, until he came upon the weakest one he owned. The Earth Sword. A stunning level two. He pulled it out, waving it around one-handed despite its weight. Then he gripped it two-handed, as it was meant to be wielded, and charged her. His State Shift he kept on average, on idle, waiting for the ideal moment to shift from one to the other. That is, if he needed to. As he approached, she stood calm, still no weapon visible.

Only when he was next to her, his blade swinging, did she move. She swayed out of the way, faster than he expected, and her hand reached out almost in slow-motion to tap him on the back of the head.

“That’s one,” She said. “Two more and I win.”

Nighthand swung again, and again, and on the third swing she flickered and disappeared. He spun, his blade coming up, and she was forced to dodge rather than strike him again. She had appeared behind him, and he had been ready for it. He lunged, and she grabbed his blade by the flat with both hands, vaulting up and over him. He spun and slashed again when she charged. This went on for six exchanges, each time in his offensive press, she dodged and tried to smack him, and each time he countered in time.

“I guess I’ll try a bit harder, eh?” Nighthand said, and stepped back. She nodded, respecting his choice, and let him flip through his inventory. When he put away the Earth Sword and pulled out the Smiling Blade instead, her eye widened imperceptibly. Perhaps she didn’t expect him to choose a slower weapon. Or perhaps she didn’t expect his level to exceed 20, let along reach high enough to equip the level fifty weapon.

To compensate for the loss of speed in using a heavier, larger weapon, the Bladesmage used the State Shift to slightly increase his speed. It was almost counterintuitive, the labeled he had assigned them. Speed versus Strength. The speed aspect covered movement speed and attack speed equally; he could, at the highest speed level, swing his weapon faster than the fastest Twin Blade. The sacrifice was the strength. His attacks would do little at that speed. The strength aspect covered damage and defense. Shifted all the way to strength, he could cleave nearly anyone or anything in half, but his attacks were slow to come and he could barely move faster than a snail’s pace. On the plus side, at that point, his defense was through the roof as well.

Nighthand pressed the attack, and again she was left simply dodging. His strikes were fast and powerful, but her movement was faster, and more likely than not she was either nowhere to be found when his blade swung, or casually batted aside his blade as it came. The down side of swinging such a massive piece of steel was the maneuverability was lacking. He couldn’t change directions in his attacks very well.

This time, when he swung, he shifted his speed up again. The weapon moved so fast, it caught her by surprise. He thought sure she had been hit, but when he looked again, he saw her holding those same two blades she had before, blocking the blow. She smirked, forced him back, and lunged. She scraped him across the chest with one blade, and then stepped back. “That’s two.” She said with a smirk.

Nighthand rubbed his chest. The scrape was immaculate; barely into the skin, enough to sting, but not enough to actually cause bleeding or more than 5 hit points in damage. He had to give her a little respect for that one.

So she was a Twin Blade. That was fine. He could deal with that. Twin Blades tended to be fast, not too powerful, and tricky to block with their dual weapons. Smiling, Nighthand couldn’t help but get into it. This was going to be fun!

His speed still up, more than average anyway, he pressed the attack. Not once did she block head on; the speed of his blade would have knocked her blades away and carried right through. She blocked the right way; turning his blade aside, or moving her body so it wasn’t where he was aiming. Still, he had her on the defensive, rather than offensive; she flitted around, doing her little teleport technique, but he kept an awareness that let him know where she was likely to port to every time she jumped.

She abruptly threw her blades at him. Nighthand knew that for the fatal mistake it was and, after deflecting the blades, swung in at her core. This was the blow that would end it… except she had a heavy blade of her own, blocking the blow. She twisted and swung, and his sword went skittering across the floor. She smiled and stabbed…

Nighthand’s cape swirled around as he spun, and his finger traced along its myriad pockets until it came across the scroll he was looking for. A level two darkness scroll came to his hand. He popped it open, but rather than cast the spell, began a chant.

“Behold the darkness before us all. By this power, by this offering, Wryneck grant me your talon. Thrust your power into this world and give it to me.” As he spoke, he jumped, ducked, and twisted out of the way of her thrusts. When the last syllable finished, he threw the scroll at her.

She ducked as the scroll flew past her head, expecting an attack. Some few feet above and to her left, the scroll exploded, leaving what could only be described as a hole in the world. Through this hole, a massive clawed fist reach in a punch. Her eyes widened as she saw the fist fly past her head, and widened ever further when it opened to release a streak of darkness at Nighthand.

The Heavy Blade spun and caught the streak of darkness in a swirl of cape and wings, crouched, and with all his speed blurred into a streak. Before the hole had even finished closing, he was in front of the woman, and then behind her. He shifted again, back to normal, and smiled. She twisted to stab him in the back, but found she couldn’t move.

When she looked, all she saw was a coil of darkness, a sort of segmented armored chain wrapped around her. It pulsed and moved like a living thing, like a snake or a tendril of something far darker. He stepped in front of her, turned, and raised his sword almost casually. The very tip of his blade brushed her hair from her eye, revealing another eye, perfectly fine, even pretty, though a different color from her first. This one, rather than being gray, was a deep purple.

Tracing her cheek with the blade, he ever-so-slightly pricked her neck, drawing a single drop of blood. She saw then the source of her troubles, the chain-whip trailing from the pommel of his sword. He pulled it back, and the whip retracted somewhat, untangling her and letting her move free. He smiled.

“My win.”

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 06, 2009 5:59 am 
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Some time later, the pair was engrossed in conversation. Nighthand laughed and smiled, and she did as well, trading jokes and anecdotes of players they had known. Then the laughter died, in a lull of conversation, and the she got serious. Her name, as Nighthand had come to find out, was Velvet.

“What was that weapon you used on me at the end?” She sipped slowly at a glass, filled with a dark red wine. She had offered one to Nighthand, who took it, though he didn’t really drink. For the moment he didn’t want to impair himself. Here in Yamiyo, the wine could easily have more than just flavor.

“I call it the Nightblade. Not very original, I know, but I didn’t make it. My father did.” At the thought of Rock, Nighthand was momentarily sobered. Who knew what Tritoch’s massive data shock had done to his body in real life? His father probably couldn’t even access Yamiyo, and if he could, it was too big to track him down in. Nighthand was effectively cut off out of contact.

“Your father must be a brilliant coder.” She replied, taking another sip. “Nothing I’ve made has been quite so… unique.” She paused. “Can you pull it out for me again?” Nighthand had dismissed the blade shortly after his win, when they went into her side office to speak. She was a surprisingly warm woman, once she opened up and got past her depression over being, essentially, fired. At least, he had told her, she was only fired, not killed.

“Later, perhaps. It takes a scroll to summon, you see, and I don’t want to make a mess in your office.” Her room was comfortable, functioning as an office, a sitting room, a lounge, and perhaps even her living quarters, though he saw no signs of a bed. There were other doors, leading deeper underground, though.

“Hmm…” She wondered aloud. “It has a whip, and takes the power of a scroll to summon. As I said, unique. I’d like to study it. Perhaps even meet your father.”

Nighthand shook his head. “Study, maybe. If I get something in return. My father, however, is a bit out of the picture at the moment.” He didn’t elaborate, and she didn’t ask. She had seen it all too often; the death, the incapacitation, even the sheer difficulty of finding Yamiyo to begin with. The city was well hidden and even those that could find it consistently couldn’t necessarily find other people there. If someone wanted to stay hidden, they would be hidden.

“Something in return…” She mumbled, lost in thought. “I might just have something that would interest you.” She smiled and stood, her glass set aside for the moment. “I’ll be right back.”

Velvet opened one of the doors in the far wall, and disappeared into it, half closing it behind her. From his vantage on the couch Nighthand could see a stack of boxes and a pile of miscellaneous crap, nothing that looked too valuable. Though the pack rat in him wanted to explore it and find neat stuff, it wasn’t polite in another’s home. At least, not without invitation. So, he waited. In a few moments, he was rewarded with the woman returning, holding something in one hand. She brushed some dust off her clothing and closed the door with a click. Then she came to him and handed him the object.

On closer inspection, it proved to be a small black flower made of fabric, the same velvet from which she took her name. He turned it over, and discovered it was a pin. She smiled and took it from his hands, pinning it to his chest. It fit well within the subtle black-silver symbols that traced around his outfit.

“It’s called the Velvet Rose.” She explained, straightening, taking her glass, and sitting back down all in one smooth motion. “It extrudes a slight darkness aura that doesn’t do much, but grants a slight lightning resistance. More than anything, it tingles a bit to give you warning of incoming thunder spells or skills.”

Nighthand smiled. It would be useful. If not for him, for someone else in his party. He himself could usually see spells coming, especially if he had his second eye open, but that wasn’t always the case. He opened that eye now, and could see the faint purple pulse of the flower as it operated. He looked up and Velvet smiled. “Want to try it out?”

“Sure.” Nighthand said, rising. “Back to the training room, then?” He assumed it was the training room. In reality it was probably a testing grounds, a training field, and even a classroom. Regardless of his accuracy, she nodded. “We’ll go there and you can show off that sword of yours again too.”

Nighthand shrugged and, when she left, he followed. The wine was forgotten. He smiled upon entering the training room, when she pulled out a trio of scrolls. His eye told him they were of each of the possible spell types; a drop, a tornado, and a converge. The three spell types would be supplemented by a fourth, except for the mechanics of the game didn’t allow for them to exist. As far as he knew, not even the hackers had bothered to do something so simple, and yet so useless. It would likely be easy to change the spell type, a simple shift in parameters, and to instill it into a scroll would be simple… Yet no one he had seen had ever done it. They all went in favor of more powerful abilities.

Leaving his eye open, he could see when Velvet activated the first scroll. A moment later he felt a tingle in his chest, a static rise, of the impending lightning strike. He smiled. If he was watching, he could see it first.

Vaulting forward, he tumbled out of range of the spell. This took his gaze off the woman attacking him, and he felt the rose before he saw the glyph of the second spell. This one, the tornado, he jumped and flew out of the way of.

The third spell, the converge, was always the hardest to dodge, by its very nature. It was a dozen or two dozen or even more balls of plasma, small and weak individually, but powerful all at once. They would form around him and, as the spell suggested, converge on him. This one he didn’t even see coming, yet the rose warned him. He dropped, but it followed. He had no choice left but to use another of his powers, if he didn’t want to be hit.

Then again, did he want to show her all his powers just yet? It seemed safer to not, at this point in time. So, he folded his wings around his body, and let the spell catch him. Thankfully, it was level one, and as such barely did any damage to him. Level fifty tended to have that effect, especially considering all of the various magical abilities and affinities he had.

She was laughing when he landed, and he chuckled as well. “It works,” he said, leaving out mention of his eye. “Better than nothing.” He left it pinned to his chest.

“Sword time?” She said, almost childlike in her glee.

“Sword time.” He affirmed, and pulled out a simple level one darkness scroll. The summoning wouldn’t be as impressive, but it was possible.

“Wryneck, I hear you and obey. Grant me your weapon to vanquish our foes.” The incantation was different every time he called the sword. Some times, very rarely, he didn’t need an incantation at all. More often than not though, the bland poetry or cliché dark incantation was necessary.

This time the portal opened behind his hand, and the blade exited slowly, almost casually. It slid against his palm, not cutting, not slicing, even though the blade was exorbitantly sharp. When the handle reached his palm, he gripped it, and the whip twisted around his arm and up to his shoulder. It had been doing that more often… this time it was almost painful. It squeezed, constricting, pulsing… It seemed eager. Like it sensed the immense amount of darkness energy above their heads, and wanted more than anything to feed.

Also, Silverblade said from inside his head. It seems to be responding to the ambient levels of Twilight as well. I can’t sense Twilight very well, but it’s obvious that this city has a lot of it, and your blade is doing more than it does when in the presence of simple darkness. You’re right, it does feel eager.

Velvet was at his side, crouched, looking over the blade in his hand. She ran a finger along the edge, lightly, and it drew blood. “Sharp.” She said, sucking on the cut. “Doesn’t look the same as it did before.”

Nighthand nodded, surprised she had caught that. “It changes every time I get it. The energy it’s made of crystallizes and is different every time. Like a snowflake.” He laughed. “But made of death.”

She glanced up at him, following the whip with her eyes. “That whip. Not just a cord, huh? Looks alive to me.” Again he nodded.

“It’s sort of alive. Responds to my thoughts. I think.” She nodded as well.

“Looks like it to me. It’s wrapped protectively around you… in part. Also something else…” She leaned close, touching the blade again, careful not to cut herself. “Like it’s trying to stay with you, rather than cut loose and wreak havoc.” She thought out loud. “It’s more of a creature than a weapon. You have to pay it tribute, or feed it, to lure it out and then it sticks by you as long as it can feed?” Curious, she snapped her fingers, and one of her darkness Twin Blades appeared out of nowhere. She studied it carefully.

“Yeah. Looks like it’s slowly leeching off the darkness ambient in the area. I wonder what it would do if there was absolutely none around?”

“I’ll never know, I suspect. There’s pretty much no place in The World that meets that condition.”

“What can it do?”

“What?” Nighthand lost his train of thought, pondering elementless planes.

“What can your sword do?”

“Oh… well according to the status, it has Skill Drain. It also lets me cast Curse. Oh, and… you may want to stand back a bit.” When she had retreated, he activated the unique skill. “Nightblade Storm!” He jumped into the air and spun like a top, the whip lancing out and streaking in a circle like some razor-edged toy. When he came to a stop, surprisingly not dizzy at all, the whip curled once more around his arm.

“Interesting ability. It’s like Revolver, isn’t it? Basically the same deal, only stronger, and bigger.” She grinned. “I like it.”

“Me too.”

“Your father was a pretty good coder to make that from scratch.”

“Yeah. I dunno how he did it, really.”

“Can I tamper with it? I mean, can I study it?” She raised an eyebrow.

Nighthand looked at his arm, where the whip curled tightly. “I don’t think it would let me hand it to you. But you can look at it, sure.”

“Follow me!” She said, and headed for the other door, the one left unopened all this time.

Inside was a bank of machines, coils of glass and brass and wood, an entire steampunk-looking laboratory. At the end of the room was a pedestal, sporting a pair of hooks, sized just right for a large weapon. She gestured at it, and he nodded, proceeding to the pillar and setting the blade on the hooks. He didn’t let go.

A pair of clamps released and held the blade firm, though he felt he could pull it away if he wished. There was a whirr in the room, and a low-pitched thrumming, and the hiss of steam through pipes. Meanwhile Velvet, looking at home completely in her surroundings, read dials and readers and ticker tape, finding reams more information than she expected. The tape alone was rattling out faster than any weapon she had seen before, and showed no sign of stopping. Further, the readings didn’t make any sense at all.

“This is bizarre. According to this, your blade is bigger than a field. It also doesn’t exist. It’s also screaming, over and over… your name.”

“Shard?” Nighthand asked, genuinely concerned. The Cerberus of Shadow had, long ago, been sucked into the blade the first time he had pulled it out. Could it be that Shard was still alive?

“What’s Shard?” Velvet asked, curious, the ticker tape momentarily ignored.

“Shard was an AI creature that followed me around. It was a Cerberus made out of darkness energy. The first time I used the blade, he was sucked into it, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”

“It makes sense. First time? It was probably voracious.”

“Yeah… wait. So Shard is still alive inside?”

“That’s what it looks like. Looking at these readings…” She was back at it, now. “The place you summon the blade from is actually a region as large as a field, if not larger. Oddly, and paradoxically, that region is in turn contained entirely within the blade. This is… intricate. Excessive. It doesn’t make sense. It’s almost obscene.”

“Can I talk to him?”

“I don’t know… I can try…” She pressed some buttons, threw some levers. A few new cables snaked down and touched the blade, and he felt a strange energy course through it. Soon, faintly, he heard a voice. “Nighthand…” it said. “Nighthand…”

“Nighthand…”

“I’m here, Shard.” He said. Instantly the response came.

“Master! We thought we’d never hear from you.”

“I didn’t know you were still alive. I would have tried had I known.”

“That’s okay, Master. We bear no grudge.”

“Where are you?” He asked, curious.

“They tell us we are inside the Nightblade.”

“That’s what I’ve found out. Who are they?”

“The denizens. The followers of Wryneck.”

“Wryneck? There’s an avatar of Wryneck there?”

“So it is said. We have never seen it. We have been to it’s castle, but it was empty.”

“What can you do?”

“There are rumors. In the years we have been here, we have heard much, but accomplished little.”

“Years? It hasn’t been years.”

“It has in here. There are several days in between your sentences.”

“A time distortion. Of course. I’ll try to be brief. Explain what you’ve learned?”

So this is what Shard explained.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2009 6:03 am 
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Inside the Nightblade is a realm given many names. It is known as the Nightlands, or the Nightblade’s Cavern, or the Bladeheart. Sometimes it is called Wryneck’s Prison. None of these names are known outside of the blade itself.

In their wandering, the trio of personalities that made up Shard have wandered this new world. It is as large as, or larger, than the largest field. Yet, as they stood on the highest peak they could find, they noticed something odd. The landscape was only rendered for some small distance around them. Experiments showed that the field was of a consistent size and layout, but was only rendered around them. As if the rest of it fell to disuse when they were not there to observe it. They reasoned that this was a method for the Blade to keep its profile down.

The world was roughly a circle. There are a number of abandoned castles scattered around the landscape, and a seemingly infinite number of caverns and dungeons to explore. None that Shard has set foot inside has led to anything more than dust and monsters.

There are, in fact, monsters inside the Nightblade. There is Shard, there are monsters, and there are the Denizens. These Denizens are not players. They are not artificial intelligences. They are barely even advanced enough to appear sentient. They are in fact little more than NPCs or monsters themselves. Shard can interact with them, and they will sometimes interact with each other, but their memory is sometimes limited and they often know very little.

Rumors abound in this world. Some say that the castle in the center of the world is Wryneck’s domain. None, Denizens or monster alike, will tread in the castle. Shard himself has set foot in it and explore it to the best of his ability, and found it distinctly empty. It has the air of a recently populated castle, but there are no signs of anyone entering or leaving, and never has he seen a figure inside. The same can be said of some of the other castles and dungeons and caves. On the other hand, some of them are filled with monsters, and some are filled with monsters far stronger than Shard is capable of handling himself, with his limited arsenal of skills and abilities.

There are rumors of hidden powers and abilities surrounding the world. Some say that if someone could find these hidden abilities, they would become a god of the world, second only to Wryneck. Some other rumors say that to find them all would allow you to BECOME Wryneck yourself. Shard has put some faith in these rumors, though after his years of searching, he has found little. Only more rumors, puzzles, and riddles, fights he can’t win, and other dead ends.

In addition, none of the Denizens have ever heard of the outside world, nor have any of them heard of any entry or exit into the world. Shard’s presence is a mystery to them. Then again, none of them appear to show any form of curiosity about him. The same can be said of the riddles and puzzles. The Denizens rarely move, and even more rarely fight. The monsters are of a wider variety than those of The World at large, but act quite similar.

The only other oddity is the lack of much variety in wildlife. There are no wild animals, only monsters. Except one; a type of small brown bird. Shard rarely spots it, and when he does, only one at a time. It is a mystery to him, and none of the Denizens have ever seen the birds.

Beyond this, Shard knows little. Still, isn’t that enough for one go?

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Nighthand’s conversation, as he learned, took several months in time for Shard. For himself, it took over an hour. Velvet came and went, trying to weigh her polite gift of privacy with her rampant curiosity about this man and his strange weapon. She brought him a drink and periodically cleared out the data on the machines, and eventually shut down the readers altogether. The data she had gathered would take a year to go through as it was.

The weapon, what she had learned of it, already was inspiring her for further powers and abilities in her school. With those, she could perhaps put in a new word to the Ani Master, and see if she might regain her position. She could, soon, be teaching the newbies and young players of Yamiyo even better skills and powers. Wouldn’t that be nice? Plus she could work in drawbacks, to make the weapons more powerful, and require more learning to control them because of those drawbacks. There was no way the Master could deny her that, was there?

She scribbled down a few ideas on paper while waiting for the sounds of conversation to die, ideas for weapons and abilities, primarily darkness themed. Some she could take existing abilities, and adapt. Others she would have to create from scratch. Some she didn’t even know if she had the skills, but she knew others who probably would.

Thanks to this man, this stranger, she may have a job back and a new purpose, better than ever!

When conversation died, she returned, to see him straightening from the position he had taken, sitting near the pedestal, the trail of the whip still coiled around his wrist. She had noticed, when she first opened the conversation conduit, that it had relaxed. Also the ambient pull of Darkness had increased. As near as she could tell, she had temporarily opened the hole wide enough that it could gorge itself.

Stepping into the field of view, she gestured at the blade. Nighthand nodded, and she shut down the field that allowed it to communicate with him. The whip abruptly tightened, but slackened a moment later.

Velvet started to look through her data some more, but was finding nothing of great use. Everything was a readout of details on the world inside the blade. Scripts for some of the Denizens, skill sets for the monsters… Only one thing puzzled her. Initially she had set it aside, but now she looked at it closer.

“Shard said that there were a number of empty castles, correct?” She asked Nighthand.

“Yeah.” He said, standing up and removing his sword from her readouts. The machines abruptly shut down, but she had expected that. “He said something about a couple of them being active, slightly, but they seemed to be missing something. Most of them were empty though.”

“I think I have a clue.” Or rather, a series of clues. What Velvet had found was a list of clues to the locations of specific items within the Blade’s world, items that, when placed in the proper place in one of the castles, would grant the world a certain extra element of wholeness. She explained as much to Nighthand.

“So what you’re saying is, this blade is incomplete?”

“Not exactly. It’s complete, it’s whole, and all of its data is there. It’s just a little scrambled. It’s like when it was created, it was created with room to grow.”

“So… what, then? What does that mean?”

Rather than answering, she handed him a paper with the clues printed out on it. He looked them over, but not a single one of them made sense. They all referenced people and places found only in the blade, none of which he was even remotely familiar with.

“What good is this to me?” He set the paper down. “I can’t go into the blade. I can’t make use of them.”

“No, but Shard can.”

Nighthand pondered this for a moment. “So Shard could, if he had these clues, set about to repairing the blade from the inside?”

“Essentially. And I suspect that each piece that he slots into place will have an effect on the blade you wield as well as the world in which he resides.”

So essentially what she was telling him was if Shard had a way to access those clues, to follow them to their destinations, then he might be able to power up the blade. Give it extra abilities or stats or something.

“So how do we get the clues to him?” Nighthand asked.

“I have an idea about that.” She replied, and gestured to his sword. “Put that back in the hooks.”

He did so, and she turned several of the machines back on. Another of the machines, she powered on and fed the paper into. What came out what an identical paper. This, though, seemed different enough to her.

“I wasn’t sure that would work. That’s a machine that imbues regular items with a hint of Darkness energy. I had no idea if it would work on a piece of paper.” The blade was, once again, gorging itself on darkness energy. Velvet, carefully, held the paper over the blade and dropped it.

It fell directly on the edge and, almost, missed. Then it seemed to scrape against the edge of the blade, and had he not known better, Nighthand would have thought he saw the paper split in two. When only one paper landed on the ground, he knew he was seeing things… but then, the paper no longer had any Ani energy about it. Smiling, Velvet picked up the paper and set it on a shelf.

“You’re set now. You can send away the sword now. It absorbed the darkness from the paper and, if I’m right, transferred a copy of it somewhere into the world inside.”

Nighthand smiled himself. “If Shard could make it, something as simple as a piece of paper could as well.” He pulled the sword from the machines again and, this time, flicked it away. The sword disappeared in a puff of acrid smoke, and Nighthand held out a hand.

“Thanks. You may have saved my life, some time in the future.”

She took his hand, looked around at the mess of papers scattered about, and smiled, shaking it. “The data you gave me in exchange is more than adequate.”

“I’ll see you around, Velvet.” Nighthand said, almost sad to go. He had enjoyed his brief time there, with her, and it had come to some benefit to both of them. Sure, she was a hacker, a citizen of Yamiyo, and directly in charge of training some of their would-be enemies. But she wasn’t a bad person, she was friendly once they had gotten to know each other, and, well. Perhaps not everyone in Yamiyo was all bad.

Nighthand left the building the way he had entered, through the long staircase and up and out the narrow building that opened on to the street. Then he flew straight up into the air, his wings spread and banking on the few air currents that rose over the Darkness Sector. He wheeled about in the air, like a giant vulture, circling and waiting for something to die. Only instead of waiting for something to die he was instead trying to decide where to go next. He didn’t want to return to the hideout just yet. There was no flash mail, no notification or attempt to gain his attention. Nothing was signaling him to return to the hideout. Safe house, rather, for there was no true hideout in Yamiyo.

Pulling into a dive, Nighthand skimmed the rooftops, dodging pillars and chimneys and unusually high towers.

Finally, he chose the tallest tower he could find to overlook the city, and perched on top of it. He sat, gazing out over the city expanse. In the distance he could see the wastelands, now covered in a storm, with lightning flickering in the distance. If he tried, he could listen close enough to hear the dull rumble of thunder.

Sitting there was abnormally peaceful. There was no press of the city this high up. The few figures he saw flying didn’t seem to want to come near his tower. He had no idea what its purpose was, what its reputation was, who lived in it. He just sat.

How long had it been? Time was such a tricky concept. He knew it had been years, since the first time he logged into the game, and since he had encountered Nall for the first time. Years since he had been killed by one of the Elites, or their coma-tastic minions. Years since he had been put in a coma and had his mind stuck in the game. At this point, he had spent more time in The World than he had in schools after middle school. He had spent more time as Nighthand than he had as a legal adult. His body would be aging, his mind filling with experiences.

If he returned to a normal life, would be ever be able to let go of the game world? His name, Nighthand, would that ever leave him? His real name was never used in the game, not by anyone except his father. Even then, it was seldom.

How could he return to a real life, after all of this? Here he has been everything; a warrior, a savior, a hero. A leader, a follower, a taker of lives. A reaper and a student. He fought with swords that, in real life, would be too large for a single human being to move, let alone swing around in attack. He used magic that would be impossible in the real world in any way, shape, or form. He was used to being able to, at will, hit with the force of a locomotive, or run faster than the eye could follow. He could leap dozens of feet in the air and flip with acrobatics beyond that of the greatest carnival performer.

To him here in the World, there was almost nothing he couldn’t do. There were very few people even stronger than him. He had plenty of room to progress. Hell, his level was only fifty: he was technically only even at fifty percent of his possible power and ability.

Above it all, he could fly. He could spread his wings and soar unhindered and unaided through the air. That wasn’t something he would ever be able to do in real life, in the real world.

Would he even want to go back to the real world? There, he was a writer, a student, and an older one at that. He had missed years of school at this point, and forgotten much of what he had once known. He knew more about the powers and abilities of a series of game hackers than he did about calculus or algebra. He had forgotten more about the magic system of The World than he had ever known about business. He wouldn’t possibly be able to make a living in the real world, not without a lot of work. And all of that was just the intellectual ability. He didn’t even have a physical ability in the real world. His body had never been athletic. Even before he had been stuck in the game, he was weak, he was flabby, he was out of shape, and he was unfit for sports. He took the academic paths because they were easier than the physical paths through life.

None of that even considered the physical atrophy that he had no doubt suffered. He had read about coma patients who had woken up even after six months, and who had to re-learn how to walk in an agonizing process that took months or years. For someone who was stuck in a coma, unable to physically use their body for years, would such a physical recovery even be possible? More so, would it be possible when his mind was attuned to physical abilities that he had never even possessed in the first place?

He didn’t miss it.

The world he had left behind was a dull one. This one, he was a far better person, a far more powerful person. He had more friends here than he had ever had in real life. He had more enemies as well, but here there were rules about killing. He could kill them if he wanted to. They could fight it out and prove who would be the winner once and for all. The philosophical debates didn’t matter. It was all force of will, force of power, force of strength here.

When it came right down to it, what was he fighting for? Ostensibly, he was fighting with Nall and Raine and Sheena, and all the rest of the Freedom Fighters, to defeat the Elites. Why? Their ultimate goal, he knew, was to gather the Twilight Items all into one place. Supposedly, Nall said, when you gathered all of them together you had the power to control Twilight absolutely. That, then, would allow them to remove their Twilight infections, and return their minds to their bodies. It would allow them to wake up out of their comas, and return to the real world.

Of course, the other things they could do with that power… Currently the Elites were warring to take over The World against the Admins who held the power to do almost anything within the main servers. Only Yamiyo kept the hackers from being eradicated. Even then, they warred into the main game frequently. They had more than enough personnel and power to take it over, if they coordinated. But the hacker Elites, those left alive, weren’t very good at working together. Royce was too arrogant, Rugudorull was too far from subtle. Klive was a stickler for precision and military discipline. Melzas liked to go things on his own, without the help or the power of others. Garaa, their semi-leader, was hardly heeded. Jett and Kuja were dead, their factions of the hackers disorganized and leaderless. Xenobia he hardly knew well enough, in her interactions with the rest of them. Then their real leader, whoever the Master was, didn’t seem even that inclined to make a move. It was like he was enjoying his position of power and didn’t want to jeopardize it by making a move.

Of course, no matter how much the hackers tried, they could always be shut down completely if CCCorp took the ultimate route and shut down the game and its servers. Then only Yamiyo would remain, and the hackers would have absolute dominion over their tiny segment of the population. They would have no further goal, no further purpose, no one left to subjugate. Many of them would lose interest and, those that could anyways, leave. Those that were in comas would be forced to stick around, and would eventually revolt. If the Elites were faced with that, they would only have two options. They could fight and crush their minions, and risk dying themselves. Or they could submit and use their Twilight abilities to release everyone from their comas. If they could even do that without giving up their items to the Master or someone else. If that was even possible; Nall possessed three of the Twilight Items, and it was unlikely that he would give them to anyone. Nor would the Elites give theirs to him.

If neither happened, fighting would occur, and eventually the Elites would be left to reign over an empty domain. Then nothing would be able to stop them from fighting each other, and when only a couple prevailed, what then? It would be lonely sticking there for eternity.

The Twilight Items… Nighthand sighed. Such power they contained. He wished he could get a hold of one of them. Any of them, though Garaa’s would likely be most suited to him. Then again, he had seen what had happened to that one poor labtech that had equipped one of the items wouldn’t being keyed for it. That sort of damage, that corruption, was beyond anything they had ever seen. It was more dangerous to try to equip one of those items without preparation than it was to walk up to one of the Elite’s towers and call them out.

He sighed again, thinking of each item in turn. The Bracelet des Mirages, Royce’s band, held the powers of light and had killed him more times over the years than he cared to remember. Royce, that bitch, seemed to enjoy toying with them. Then Garaa, with Odin’s Overshadow, a sort of cloak or cape or shadow itself. His powers were darkness related, though many of them related to hiding or immobilizing the enemy. They were, actually, much more suited to an assassin than some mace-wielding tyrant like Garaa was.

Then there was Rugudorull, with the thunder-elemental weapons. Nights could barely even remember what his Twilight Item was even called. The Earrings of Raikiri, wasn’t it? Something elemental anyways. They had seen all of his powers, save for one, and yet they hadn’t defeated him. No more than any other, save for Kuja and Jett, anyways.

What were they going to do when they fought him again? On his home turf, where his most powerful abilities were usable? The same could be said of all the Elites. They were in for a tougher fight here in the reinforced server than they were in the regular servers.

Darkness and Thunder down, and Light, that left Earth, and Wood, and Water, and Fire, and Ice. Earth was the Titan’s Armor, that Nall had collected from Jett some time ago. It allowed the user to use rock-styled attacks and summon golems. It was pretty defensive, even. The same with Water, on the defensive end, although the water that it produced, the Banshaku, was fairly offensive itself. It would delete anything it touched. That was how Nighthand’s hair had been bleached silver; the lower several feet of it had touched the Banshaku and been removed, corrupting the data of his hair just slightly. The pigment, to be specific.

Wood was Xenobia, it was her power over nature and her power over human nature. She was the most dangerous of all, with her Crown. It granted her power of people, far more dangerous than Charm. Of course she also had the Treeweaver, a spear of almost the same level of power as a Twilight Item to begin with.

Fire and Ice, Klive and Melzas. Klive had fire and, more important, necromancy. He could and would bring their fallen foes and allies back to life. Melzas on the other hand was purely ice, no water. He had blades and various shattering attacks, but his most dangerous attack was his ability to know what you were thinking. He could tell what you were planning to do before you even were doing it, and could counter it just as easily.

Out of all of them, though, the Master was the most dangerous. His identity, his powers, everything about him was a mystery. Nothing was known. Only that he held enough power to rule over all the others. Presumably even if they tried to take over, he could still defeat them. How was that even possible?

Nighthand stood and stretched, his arms and legs and back and wings all extended as far as he could extend them. He felt and heard joints popping, and decided it would be time to move on. Enough brooding.

Leaping from the tower, Nighthand glided around the town, high above, studying the lay of the land from above. There was a lot to see.

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Eventually, after some minutes of flying and a few swoops to check out interesting areas, Nighthand decided on his next destination. His elemental eye was open, but there was one section that was colored oddly. Most of it was glowing in pure white, and others were the simple elemental colors, but wavering oddly and more intense, shocked through with other colors, or otherwise distorted.

With nothing better to do, he swooped towards the area that was filled with odd and interesting colors. When he landed, he knew abruptly what it was. He remembered vaguely from the map room the names of these areas. Cross-class. Multi-class. Odd elementalist. Stitcher. That last area he avoided, for now. Those people would be beyond him, too passionate about what they did.

It was the odd elementalists that he decided to pay a visit to. His eye told him that White was the color of players that focused purely on physical, the weapon masters and the cross-classers. Those sort of players were frequent, but they didn’t appear to be especially powerful. It was only those that combined the class changes with elemental powers that shone powerfully enough to look threatening.

The odd elementalists were filled with interesting colors. Pale pastels of the elements. Wavering versions of colors not normally used. Pinks and grays and dark shades of off-black. Nothing was quite normal, and he closed his elemental eye, to avoid giving himself a headache. There was too much new data he had no associations with.

“Hey, you.” He heard, a voice as clear as day, and he spun. No one was there.

“Who said that?” He called out, but no one answered. Or rather, no one appeared to answer. Until he heard the voice again.

“You, yes you. Come to the third building on the left, the second door. I’ll be waiting.”

With a curious air, and a sense of caution, Nighthand proceeded. He didn’t want to walk into a trap, but neither did he want to waste an opportunity. So he followed the instructions, moving to the indicated door, hand ready to draw his sword.

Ducking quickly inside the room left him in what appeared at first glance to be… a storage closet. When he noticed a door in the back, and went through it, he entered a small and cluttered shop. The back door, he guessed, into some small vendor’s parlor. He didn’t know where exactly he was, or what the purpose to this place was, but here he was. Near the back stood a suit of armor, than when he stepped inside, moved. The armor lifted up its visor and Nighthand noticed that it was, in fact, a player covered head to toe in armor.

“You came, good.”

“Who are you?”

“You don’t know me.”

“Oh, good, that clears everything up. Do I want to know you? Or should I just leave?”

“Quite the noise you make.” The armor said. “Maybe I’ll turn it off.”

“Yeah? Maybe I’ll turn you off.” Nighthand said. Or would have said, except the words didn’t come out. He opened his elemental eye and saw this armor glowing softly pink. He shook his head and drew his sword. “Fuck you.” He mouthed. At the “you” however, he was able to speak audibly again.

“I don’t want to fight.” The armor said. “I was just demonstrating my ability.”

“I’ve seen it before.”

“You saw my brother’s.” The armor said. “He was forced to fight in the tournament Garaa organized, and live or die at the whims of fate.”

Nighthand nodded. He remembered that fight. It wasn’t one of his. The sound hacker had fought… who was it? Asgard? Kurai? He didn’t remember. His armor had held a glyph that controlled the sound, and the hacker had used it to either move silently, or taunt audibly, or in some cases deafen. The power over sound was a minimal one, and someone who was deaf to begin with obviously wouldn’t care. Nighthand shrugged.

“Your power sucks.”

The armor shook his head. “My brother’s sucked. Mine is significantly more advanced. That’s okay though. People don’t know what sound can do, not until they’ve experienced it.”

“I still think it sucks.” He sheathed his sword, but kept his hand on the line of pockets in his cloak, ready to pull out a spell at a moment’s notice. Whatever this sound-based player wanted, if it was violence, he would get violence in return. “Whatever. What do you want?”

“I just came to warn you. There are people here who recognize you. Most of the party you came here with was new, no one I recognized at least. But there are hackers here who know you, and a few of your other players.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you warning me? What good does it do you?”

At this, the armor was given pause. He didn’t have a good answer. There was no good answer. Why warn your enemy, if he was your enemy? Why warn a stranger in hopes he’d be your friend? Nighthand had no use for this armor, and the armor was unlikely to gain a favor with news that wasn’t precisely news. Honestly, Nighthand had expected there to be a few players around that recognized him. He just counted on his ability to be able to silence them, if he needed to.

Finally, the armor spoke.

“One of the others who recognized you, personally, is a minion of Garaa. He saw your antics in the Darkness Sector, chasing Velvet around. He knew you, and he went to report it to Garaa.”

Nighthand shook his head. That was bad news, but nothing he could deal with right now. Especially not if this armor guy kept detaining him. “Why tell me?”

“This man, named Circa, is no friend of mine. In fact, he’s something of an enemy, a rival, and an asshole I’d just as soon see dead.”

“And you can’t do it yourself, because your powers suck, so you’re telling me that he’s spying on me, and reporting me to Garaa, so I’ll kill him for you. Is that it?”

“Essentially. I’m not lying though.”

“No, I don’t think you are.” Nighthand said, shrugging. “So, this guy, Circa, is spying on me for Garaa. Where will I find him? What are his strengths? What are his abilities?”

“You certainly want a lot of info. Can’t you find that out yourself?”

“I’m sure I could. I could also ignore the whole thing and deal with Garaa, if he even bothers to show up at a rumor.” Nighthand turned to leave. “I think that’s more interesting, anyways.”

“Wait!” The armor called. “I’ll tell you.”

“Now we’re talking. You must really want this guy dead.”

“I do. Now, about him as a player. He’s level thirty five, and a twin blade. He loves to play the ninja, hiding and sneaking up on people and such. Hanging on walls, from ceilings, that kind of stuff.”

“Thinks he’s special, got it. Shouldn’t be hard. What about his powers?”

“That’s the thing. He has throwing knives, and he has a camo function. When he hides against a wall, he’s impossible to see.”

“I can see why you have a hard time dealing with him. Can’t see him, don’t knw where he is, and all you can do is make him quieter.”

“Look, will you stop with the cracks about sound?”

“Nope.”

The armor sighed. “Anyways. The last time I heard tell about his location, he was in the Mercenary District. I’m sure you can find him from there.”

Nighthand shrugged. “I suppose.” He turned his back on the talking Armor and immediately left the building. The sound hacker didn’t follow him. He spread his wings once more and, utterly ignored by the majority of the players around, flew into the air and perched on a nearby rooftop. As he expected, Silverblade materialized.

“You going to do it?” Silverblade asked, his foot-tall form mirroring Nighthand’s pose on the roof next to him.

“Why not?” He asked in return. Was there any good reason to not hunt down this guy?

“It could be a trap. This Circa dude could have nothing to do with Garaa, or have no idea who you are. Or he could be a plant, looking to lure you out.”

“That armor guy seemed pretty scared of me.”

“Well sure, you’re a scary dude. It happens.” He was only half sarcastic.

“Well, no sense in taking the risk, I guess. I won’t go after Circa just yet. Or rather… I won’t kill him just yet. I’ll find him, and I’ll watch him, and I’ll see what he’s up to.”

“Fair enough.” Silverblade seemed happy with that solution, and disappeared back into Nighthand’s head, or data, or wherever it was he hung out all the time. Nighthand stood and spread his wings, flying up into the air and catching a current that he could ride even higher. From high enough above, he could see enough of the lay of the land to make it around the Taurus-shaped town. He avoided flying in Wasteland airspace; he had no idea how high the effects of the changing terrain would reach, and he didn’t want to get stuck in there alone.

Flying slowly around the circle, Nighthand eventually made it to the Mercenary District.

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2009 6:05 am 
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Where the rest of the city was packed with buildings in every square inch of space, the Mercenary district was virtually empty. Of buildings, that was. Nothing there was more permanent than a pavilion or a tent. He circled from on high a few times, getting a feel of the lay of the land.

For every player in the rest of the town, it seemed like there was a player here. This place was packed full. There were a few lightly paved roads, but the majority of the area was grass and mud, a vast field covered with tents and campfires and pavilions and players, wandering to and fro. It was absolute chaos, but an organized enough chaos to show that it was long-established in its system.

For all that Yamiyo was a town of hackers, prior to now Nighthand had barely believed it. Aside from the vast array of character customizations and hacked appearances that would be labeled illegal and ban worthy in a regular server, the people seemed fairly normal. In normal person-sized streets and buildings, it didn’t make sense to hack your character to have an excessively tall or bulky appearance. The people acted rather civil; to the extent that, in fact, it seemed like the players here were a closer-knit community of people who knew and trusted each other better than the pubbies on a regular server. It was like a private server run by a small group of people. The exception being, of course, that these people were evil hackers who introduced a virus into the system that was worse than any other. It didn’t steal your login information. It didn’t steal your personal information or credit card number. It didn’t steal your identity. It stole your soul, the very thing that populated your body and made you more than just a husk.

Aside from all that, though, the regular sections of town were abnormally normal. Nighthand now saw why. The Mercenary District was where all the drek was shoveled. It was the rug under which the dirt and grime was hidden. Even from high above, he could see the casual cruelty and violence taking place below.

There, he could see, was a group of players drilling to have perfect timing in casting spells. Fifteen casts of Vak Rom appeared all at once, absolutely immolating one single target. One player, whose spell came a little late, was slapped by the commander with a fire-coated sword, leaving him crawling in the mud. The rest of the players continued their drill.

There, to the side, he could see a large figure who had to be a figure of prominence and power in this area. He stood twice the height of anyone else, and most players shied away from his view. Players scrambled to walk other paths rather than be in front of him. One player, carrying a large box and unable to see where he was going, bumped into the giant. The giant roared and, picking up the unfortunate in one massive hand, threw him up and over a tent and into the distance. He crashed down into another tent, the occupants of which were either not at home or completely missing, because there was no immediate reaction. The player, obviously injured, scrambled for the box that he had been carrying, grabbed it, and limped off before anyone could question him.

There, some distance beyond, he could see a group of seven players waiting in alleys on either side of a long corridor of tents that was otherwise deserted. One single player was walking along that corridor, oblivious to the players waiting to gang up on him. One player gestured, and the seven all drew swords. When the lonesome warrior was in between alleyways, the seven leaped out and attacked. After a clash with the first, it looked like the lone warrior would have a chance, but one of the seven came up behind him and cut him down. The other six proceeded to each get their hits in, ensuring that this player was completely dismembered and left dead in the mud. Their job done, the seven laughed and dispersed.

Opening his elemental eye to the landscape below, Nighthand was startled to see almost nothing. The players below were mostly regular warriors, players who had joined the hackers for stat increases or something similar. Swooping a little closer to some of the smaller specks, he could see that they held hacked weapons, but had no powers of their own. Many of them didn’t even have their own hacked weapons. Some of the brighter specks were like the giant he had seen before; clearly the leaders of their respective areas. Many of these were settled in the largest and most comfortable-looking of the tents, rarely moving. They had lackeys to do that for them.

Here and there a more powerful player wandered through, glowing brightly with the shine of one of the Elemental Sectors or something in the Non Elemental District. Many of these players seemed to be running errands as well, though they were granted much more respect. The players that saw them, at least, turned away. It seemed that to mess with an envoy from another area was to bring significant wrath down.

Nighthand found a back corner where he could land without making too much of a fuss, and landed. Furling his wings tightly so they wouldn’t get in his way, he walked calmly out into the main thoroughfares of the District and began to wander blindly.

Over the next several minutes he noticed that he, too, was granted enough respect to be left alone. The average player around here glanced at him, but refused to make eye contact or even cross his path. Many turned when they saw him coming. Deciding to have a little fun, he started to walk drunkenly, swerving from side to side of the rather narrow roadway, confusing the players and making a few even turn and walk another direction.

“You shouldn’t toy with them, Nights.” Silverblade said from his shoulder.

“Meh. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“You saw those seven gang up on that one dude. They could gang up on you as well.”

“So what? Then I’d have to kill seven dudes. It wouldn’t be that hard. Most of these guys are trained and set up to go against players that aren’t much higher than level twenty, have no hacked abilities, and don’t expect anyone to even be able to PK them. They’re expecting easy mode.” Nighthand laughed softly to himself. “They don’t expect the kind of power I can bring to bear.”

“Sure. Then again, you saw how many of them there are. If they took it into themselves, they could gang up on you in significant enough numbers to even wear you down.”

“Could they, though? I’d like to find out.”

“You’re not some berserker, Nighthand. I know you better than that.”

“Sadly.”

Nighthand straightened his pace, but in the course of his conversation, had not noticed that one of the higher level players, the giants of the area, was approaching. In fact, the giant was almost on top of him before he noticed.

Both of them had been walking down the center of the lane, both of them walking in opposite directions. The giant stopped, and Nighthand stopped as well, each four feet from the other.

The giant was at least twelve feet tall, heavily muscled and covered in dull green scales. His hands ended in large claws and his body was covered in leather armor. His neck was elongated and his face, while human, was draconic as well. From his back stretched a pair of tattered dragon wings, probably unsuitable for more than intimidation.

Nighthand, tall as he was, was dwarfed by this giant. Standing there, stock still in his black-and-silver outfit, his cloak settling heavily around him, he looked like no match for the dragon-man. He didn’t even have a weapon, at least nothing visible. On the other hand, the dragon man, while not only having vicious eight-inch claws at the ends of each finger, had a massive broadsword slung across his waist, behind him and under the wings.

The dragon-man roared, his wings flapping out and kicking up dust into Nighthand’s face. His cloak barely moved, weighted down as it was with scrolls, but his hair streamed back in the wind. It made for an odd picture; the heavy blade standing stone still in the face of this monster, not five feet away, with nothing but his long silver hair moving.

When Nighthand wasn’t intimidated, when he didn’t move, the beast leaned closer and roared again, this time with his draconic face mere inches from Nighthand’s. The heavy blade didn’t even flinch; he expected this sort of cliché and annoying behavior from overconfident losers.

Nighthand, lacking the ability to roar himself, did the next best thing. Shifting himself as far into strength as he could go, he reached up with one hand and grabbed the monster’s snout. He used the force of his grip to close the beast’s mouth on his roar, silencing him abruptly. Holding the mouth pinched closed, he brought his other hand around and punched the giant between the eyes.

The dragon-man crumpled, his eyes, rolling back in his skull. Nighthand let him fall, dusting off his hands and stepping on the monster to continue along his way. He figured he was home free, but he heard a scuffling behind him. He stopped, half turned, and shook his head.

“You should have stayed down.” He said, to the monster rising up to crush him with a sword larger than even the largest heavy blade.

The blade crashed to the ground, and Nighthand, a foot to the left, rolled his eyes. “That’s it?” He pulled his own blade, the Smiling Blade this time, and swung. Not at the giant, but at his blade. The force of the blow, with all his strength behind it, ripped the sword from the giant’s hands and sent it tumbling end over end through two tents and burying itself in the mud.

The dragon roared again, and Nighthand twisted, reversing his grip on the blade. He swung it underhand, scraping along the ground and dragging up against the dragon’s leather armor. The flat of the blade struck the dragon on the chin, lifting him a couple inches off the ground, and snapping his head back with a crack. This time, when he crumpled, he didn’t get back up.

Nighthand sheathed his sword and kept walking, leaving the man where he lay.

“You made a bit of a scene.” Silverblade said.

“Yup.” Nighthand responded. “Maybe Circa will hear about it. Some guy in black with demon wings beat up some big dragon dude? Who else would he think?”

“If Circa even exists.”

“Oh I’m sure he exists. I don’t think armor dude was lying.”

“If you say so.” Silverblade retired again, and Nighthand kept walking.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 10, 2009 6:17 am 
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Some time later, after avoiding a few more roving gangs of players and distinctly NOT beating down any more of their leaders, Nighthand found what he was looking for. Or, rather, what he was looking for found him.

His first clue was while he was wandering through an area of the Mercenary District rather near the wasteland. Here, the district had no more than a token wall. It was only about two feet high, broken in many places, and in some places missing completely. Anything could wander into the district from the wastes here. He gathered that the local mercenaries would take care of anything, or else they would die trying to run away. Then again, given that there was little more than tents and players, he figured that the average monster wouldn’t do much. Temporarily tempted to delve into the wastes and lure something nasty in to wreak some havoc, Nighthand put the thought aside when he heard footsteps.

Hearing footsteps wasn’t uncommon in a district filled to the brim with players. What was uncommon was when he glanced around and saw absolutely no one. No one was in front of him, no one was behind him, and none of the sidestreets he passed had players in them. He actually wondered just how such large areas could be deserted, before remembering that good portions of the hacker mercenaries would more than likely in the regular servers on some mission or another. That almost worried him; the sheer number here, already, and yet the space for so many more.

He heard the foot steps again, this time passing him and heading in front. They sounded like something light-footed, swift, and trying not to make a sound. Failing, but trying. The fact that he didn’t see any footprints in the mud appear was testament to the almost-completeness of the invisibility the player had. Nighthand ignored his intuition to follow the sound, and rather, simply opened his eyes.

The elemental sight did show something. No player with a hack could be completely invisible to him. Players interact with their environment. Players interact with their powers. Their powers, if elemental based, tended to shine like beacons in his sight. Players with more subtle powers simply had the faint aura of a regular player, the aura all armor and weapons gave off. It was a good way at a glance to tell if some player was sporting a significant secret, and what that secret might be. A weapon, an armor, a power, they all looked slightly different to him. Not that he could see the code, like Nall could, or see the Twilight directly as Sheena was capable of. He could see, though, and that was enough.

The player had skirted ahead and found a perch. A pavilion Nighthand was about to pass was posted with massive bare trees as corner supports. The player had climbed up one of those and was hanging from the top, apparently ready to pounce. Unless he was just watching. Nighthand smiled slightly to himself. That was probably the case. He kept walking, not looking at the post any more than he looked anywhere else, and when he passed he was rewarded with the sight of the faintly-aura’d player leaping from post to post until he was out of space.

Nighthand’s hand slid around his cape, searching out an appropriate scroll, and found one. Stopping calmly, he flipped out the scroll and activated it. “Gaia’s Spell!”

The invisible player saw the spell coming, though obviously he was surprised by the attack when he thought himself pretty well concealed. Nighthand had to give the man a little respect for at least having the reactions to avoid it, and not getting complacent in his invisibility. Then again, very few players would expect his next move. “Hanged Man!” The tarot card in his other hand activated and, catching the player high in his leap, paralyzed him. His invisibility disappeared, revealing a black-clad ninja-looking dude who, frozen in a ninja leaping pose, crashed into a tent and then into the ground.

Nighthand stalked over to the paralyzed player and stepped on his chest, holding him in place while the paralysis wore off.

“You’re following me. Why?”

“I know all about you, Nighthand. Your little stat tricks. Your darkness sword. Your spell enhancements. You can’t touch me.” The ninja was all bravado, it seemed.

“I seemed to touch you pretty good when you were crashing. You know what? I don’t even want to know.” He reached down and wrapped a hand around the ninja’s throat, and started to squeeze.

Circa squirmed and struggled, and then abruptly flipped a pair of knives out of hidden pockets. Nighthand let him go to avoid having his arm lacerated, and kicked the ninja away.

Circa immediately went invisible, but Nighthand kept and eye on the aura. He pulled out his sword and blocked when those two knives came flying at him, and blocked six more from various angles. He could hear the growls of frustration coming from the man when every attack failed to find its target.

Finally growing tired of the game, Nighthand shifted to speed. So what if Circa knew about it? He still couldn’t counter it. He flashed in a blur to where Circa was running, and clothes lined the wanna-be ninja with a stiff arm. Then he grabbed the man by the back of his suit and spread his wings.

Flying with the extra weight of a person was hard, and a squirming person was even harder. Once they got a few hundred feet off the ground, though, the ninja stopped squirming.

“I’d say put me down, but then you’d drop me.” Circa said. “Don’t think I won’t die if I can take you down with me, though.”

Nighthand would have shrugged, but his arms were occupied by holding the ridiculous player. “Oh, I’ll be putting you down anyways. You’re not going to take me out. I’m told you’ve been reporting on me to Garaa.”

“Who told you that?”

“Some dude in armor, uses sound powers. Kind of a dunce.”

“Tell me about it. I know him. Niasinth. The fool’s been trying to hire people to kill me for weeks now. Obviously he doesn’t have the money or the power to get anyone who can.”

“Then he found me.” Nighthand laughed, the sound lost in the rushing air around him. “And I’m doing his job.”

“What if I told you I wasn’t reporting on you?”

“I’d think you’re lying, but wonder what you’re doing watching me, then.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I’d like the alternatives either. I don’t need any stalkers.”

“Oh well. It was worth a shot. You know you’re just going to ghost me, and then I’ll make my way to one of my allies, and they’ll revive me, and then I’ll go right back where I started.”

“Oh, that’s all right. By the time you get back to your allies, you’ll have no idea where I am. Nor, likely, will they.”

“Wait, what? Why?” The ninja sounded worried, then looked down. “Shit, shit, oh god, why would you do that? Why? What kind of monster are you?”

Nighthand smiled, and let one arm go, dangling the ninja in a single hand. “I’m the kind of monster you’re dealing with, when you report on me and my actions to my enemies. Think about this, when you make your way back to town. If you ever do.”

He let go.

With a scream, the ninja fell, the roughly half-mile it took to reach the ground. Nighthand didn’t see where he landed. He didn’t care. He had to turn and leave, to make sure he could still make it out of the wastes without getting turned around. The last thing he wanted to do was end up flying into one of the towers of the Elites, or end up flying in circles until some monster hunted him down or shot him out of the air.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 10, 2009 6:18 am 
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Exactly what Nighthand didn’t want to happen apparently happened. He groaned, flying as high as he could, when he exited a cloud bank and found himself face to face with one of the towers. Given that it was made entirely of shining crystal and shockingly white stone, he guessed it was the Tower of Illusions, Royce’s home territory.

So here we take a brief intermission, to explain something else about the Yamiyo Server. This is all information possible to discover in the town, though not explicitly spoken.

There are Eight Hacker Elites, this is common knowledge. They are ruled by one powerful figure known only as The Master. The Master is a shadowy figure. No one in the town has ever seen him, or her, and ever lived to mention it. That, or they have a very, very good reason for not telling. The Master’s tower is known by many names. The Tower of Life and Death. The Supreme Tower. The Master’s Tower, obviously enough. The Dimension Gate. World’s End. No one knows if these names are accurate, official, or even correct. They are just what the city knows to call the place. Beyond that, very little is known about it. The two most likely to know anything, Zan and Tritoch, have both been dispatched in their own way. Zan is missing and Tritoch is dead.

Of the Eight Elite Towers, each has a single ruler and a single common name. They are often given nicknames in their respective follower’s camps, but these names are only among a select few who choose to use them, and many others won’t know what you’re talking about if you say them.

Xenobia is the hacker Elite of Nature, also known as Wood, or Juka. Her tower, made of the trunk of a gigantic tree, sometimes even appearing to be alive, is known as Gaia’s Embrace. Her opposite, the hacker Elite of Earth, Jett, used to hold sway over the Tower of Stone. This tower, now deprived of its ruler, is a single sheer monolith of stone jutting high into the sky.

Rugudorull, also known as Raikiri in his demonic form, rules over the Tower of Heaven’s Wrath, the domain of the elemental lightning. His opposite, Garaa, who also happens to be quite demonic himself, rules over the Darkness elemental Twilight Citadel. The Tower of Heaven’s Wrath is a single frozen bolt of lightning, given form by arcs of steel and substance by data and willpower. The Twilight Citadel is a brick-and-stone castle built half with darkness itself as material.

Unique in The World is the separation of Ruem into two separate elements among the Hacker Elites. Many would use the element of Ruem to refer to both water and ice, but there is a separation between the two here. Melzas, hacker Elite of Ice, rules over the Frozen Spire. Kuja, long dead, had once ruled over the Cascade Tower. The Frozen Spire is made of ice, as would be expected, and looks rather serene in its snow-covered peaks and jagged crystal outcroppings. The Cascade Tower, on the other hand, is an eternal waterfall. It seems encased in glass, those inside never getting wet unless they desire to. The water runs up a column in the center and flows down through the insides and outsides of the walls themselves.

The remaining two hacker Elites are Royce and Klive, the Elites of Light and of Fire, respectively. These, too, could perhaps be seen as the same element. The debate is a furious one; does fire give off light, or is light, in the form of heat, the cause of fire? In code terms, however, they are separate and distinct elements. Klive’s tower, made of molten rock and flowing magma, is known as the Inferno tower. Some, however, will claim this is a misnomer. Instead, they say, it is the Infernal Tower. The two sound similar enough to make casual mention of one or the other functionally the same. Royce’s tower is the one Nighthand has currently come upon. It is made of bright white stone and shards of tinted crystal, and radiates light. It is known as the Tower of Illusion.

Nighthand was filled with an immediacy of feeling. He was torn, though, between the urge to investigate this tower with an ability he would likely not have much longer; unfettered access to its upper reaches. On the other hand, this was Royce’s tower. The Light-elemental Twin Blade was more than capable of killing him if she wanted to. All she needed was to know where he was. He had no thoughts that she would spare his life, no matter what deal he might try to offer. She knew he was a staunch enemy, and she would destroy him.

In the end, his desire to explore won out over the urge to flee. He flew higher and higher, circling the tower. Despite being made of crystal, it was nearly impossible to see inside. Here and there he caught sight of figured moving inside, but nothing concrete, nothing visible beyond mere shadows. He startled a flight of white birds, doves from the look of them, and they scattered into the wastes.

He was nearing the heights of the sky, as high as he could safely fly, when Silverblade called out a warning in his mind. He reacted quickly, pulling into a dive.

A white flash of feathers and steel passed through the air where he had been, and he kept diving. He twisted in the air to see what was following him.

What it was could most easily be called a valkyrie. White feathered wings, silvery-shining armor accented with blue and white cloth, a sword in each hand, and a vaguely female form. Nighthand kept his dive, but the creature was gaining on him.

He flared his wings, pulling into a glide, expecting the valkyrie to shoot past him in the air. Instead it bowled into his wing. He felt the wing crack, not broken, but every bit of weight he was putting on it hurt. The valkyrie flared up as well, rising into the air with more maneuverability than Nighthand himself had. He was a ground fighter with the ability to take to the skies, but this was a fighter designed for the air.

The valkyrie swooped at him, swords flashing in the bright sunlight. His own sword was out, but it was bulky, large, more a steel sail or wing than a weapon at the speeds they fought. It was all he could do to block the first blow, and the second sword slammed into his blade and dropped him another dozen feet downwards.

He pulled out of the fall in time to twist away from the valkyrie, and managed to bring his blade around enough to slice the beast in its side, but it got just as strong a blow on him. He put his sword away, and drew out a darkness scroll.

“Wryneck, face the Light for me, I need your blade!” Short and sweet, the incantation did the job. The Nightblade burst into being in a cloud of darkness, and Nighthand swept it out of the air. The whip wrapped once around his arm, but left itself free to fight, the advantage he would need.

The valkyrie swooped in again, and Nighthand parried the sword blows with his own blade. The Nightblade was long, yes, but it was also relatively thin for a heavy blade, and that made it possible to bring to bear in this sort of air combat. He parried one sword, and the winged warrior began to pound on it with its own swords. One after the other, leaving no room to attack, the valkyrie slowly drove Nighthand downwards into the clouds and through, toward the ground.

With a twitch of the mind, he sent the whip lancing out, wrapping around the raised-back arm of the valkyrie. It swing, and he yanked, spinning the winged warrior out of control. Still attached, the whip wrapped around the monster’s torso as it spun. The sudden weight pained his wing, and it almost collapsed out from under him, but he managed to drive down the pain and force it to keep him supported.

He yanked again and the monster, spinning, started to slash at him. He dove, past it, and towards Royce’s tower.

“Go home!” He shouted, through clenched teeth, and slammed the valkyrie into the wall of the tower. The whip let go, and he flew, not looking back. He entered a cloud bank and made a bee line away from the tower, getting as far from it as he could. Each wing beat sent a pulse of pain through his wing, but he ignored it, limping through the air. It was still better than being on the ground, having to fight through anything that could be down there. Which, in this case, could literally be anything.

Twice he emerged from the clouds, sure his sense of direction was keeping him moving straight, only to find himself heading towards the tower again. He saw the valkyrie in the distance, circling, looking for him. He retreated into the clouds, down, and under them until he found the sweet spot. It almost seemed like there was an air current running away from the towers, only it wasn’t air, it was data. Or something. He couldn’t say for sure, but following this feeling, he was soon back in the Mercenary district.

He landed heavily in the middle of a field, disrupting at least five players from a melee, frightening them. They were guarded, surprised, and angry at their practice being interrupted. They worried, as well, that this was some beast from the wastes come to fuck them up.

“It’s all good guys. Get back to your drills.” He shook his head to clear it, and the pain hit him. His wing was almost certainly broken. He wouldn’t be able to fly, not very well, not for a while. He tried to cast a healing spell, to repth himself, but while it healed the damage he had taken to his hit points, it didn’t do anything to the physical pain.

He started walking, towards the major roads he knew would eventually lead to the chaos gate he had seen from above. Halfway there, give or take, a voice called out to him.

“Hey you, sir!”

He glanced around, and all he could see was one very nervous-looking man, weaponless, walking his way. His armor was simple and painted to look like fur. He rolled his eyes and kept walking.

“Sir! Please sir, wait!” The man rushed to catch up, and Nighthand glared at him.

“I’m in no mood.” He growled, and the man flinched, but didn’t leave. Obviously whatever had him here, confronting Nighthand, was more dangerous than antagonizing a level fifty heavy blade.

“Sir, I have a message for you, from The Badger.”

That stopped him. A message? What for, what about? And why was it from some ridiculous character. The Badger? The hell kind of name was that? So Nighthand stopped and turned, looking at this fur-armored man closer. He was lower leveled, and a blademaster, but otherwise unspectacular. Little more than a messenger for the people under the people under the people under the hackers. Nighthand glared at him, but he at least had the stones to not flee.

“Yeah? Message. What is it?”

“The Badger invites you to join him in his pavilion.” The messenger said.

“What? Why? The hell does this guy want with me?” Nighthand winced at the pain in his wing.

“He heard of your victory over the Dragon, our sworn enemy. He would like to reward you.” The messenger didn’t even seem like he had heard the story himself. All he knew was the message he was told to memorize and deliver.

Nighthand’s thought process went something like this. Fucking valkyrie. God damn wing. I hate this town. I hate this place. I wonder if anyone would miss this guy if I killed him? What CAN I kill? Wait, reward? What can this Badger give me that I want? Damnit, my wing hurts. I need to get this healed. Ugh, fine.

“Ugh, fine. Tell me where this guy’s pavilion is and I’ll find my way there eventually.” He had to get his wing healed before he had the patience to even bother with these fools.

“Sorry sir, but the Badger requests that you arrive quickly, as the offer is only limited in duration.” The messenger didn’t seem sorry, but then, his only job was to deliver the message, not to make sure that Nighthand arrived. In fact, if Nighthand didn’t, it would save the Badger some face time, and some favors.

“Do you have healers? Medics? Anyone with any ability to heal something beyond a simple Repth spell or Healing Potion?” Nighthand asked.

The messenger paused. This wasn’t part of the deal. He didn’t know that sort of information. Wait… wasn’t there that player? The one the Badger kept on retainer, just for himself, just in case? Wasn’t he supposed to be some form of healer, or magician, or something? Maybe he was just an advisor… Whatever. Tell the guy!

“The Badger has several staff members on call who may be able to help.” Not exactly a lie, but not exactly the truth either. Either way, the thought of not having to walk injured into the hideout and face Sheena about his stupidity was more than enough incentive for Nighthand to head immediately for the pavilion.

“Take me there.” He commanded, and the messenger bowed, spun on a heel in the mud, and walked off through the tents. Nighthand followed, each step jarring his wing painfully. Damn that monster was tough. If that was the quality of guardian Royce had for just the outside of the upper reaches of her tower, he could see why the rumors were that to enter a tower and fight your way up was almost definitely death. Only a large party, a lot of power, a lot of healing, and a lot of luck would allow you to get past something that intense.

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 10, 2009 6:18 am 
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Several minutes of walking later, Nighthand wound up standing before a large tent, rooted to the ground and looking like it hadn’t moved in quite some time. The path leading to its front door was almost paved with the number of footsteps of people coming and going at all hours. Inside he could see light and hear voices. The messenger stepped inside after gesturing for Nighthand to wait. He did.

“You really think this is a good idea?” Silverblade asked, leaning against the side of the door, mockingly small. Nighthand shrugged, then winced, because the motion jarred his wing even more.

“If I can get healed here then I might as well, and if he has other things for me, then I can get that too. If not, well, I’m not in so much pain I can’t kill a few dozen players and make an escape. If nothing else, we’re not too far from the chaos gate and I could make it in a few seconds with State Shift. It’d hurt like fuck, but I’d make it.”

“Well hopefully you won’t have to.” Silverblade said, walking around the tent and examining it. “By the way, are you planning to do anything on this outing that benefits the entire party, or just yourself?”

“Hey now, I didn’t even plan to do this much. I just wanted to go sight-seeing.” Nighthand’s indignant tone was false, of course, but there nonetheless.

Silverblade disappeared when the messenger reappeared, and held the tent’s flap open for the heavyblade. “You may see him now.”

Nighthand entered the tent, ducking and keeping his wings out of the way of the ceiling, as brushing them would be quite painful. In the back of the tent sat three figures. One in the center was clearly the Badger. He was a bulky warrior wearing a giant badger skin. To his left sat a man in bulky white robes, looking like a cross between an advisor and a priest. To his right was a stereotypical warrior-general, armed and armored. The Badger smiled and waved, pulling Nighthand over with a gesture and beckoning he sit. So hid did, on a stool that didn’t force him to lean back on his wings.

“So this is the man who single-handedly defeated the Dragon. What do you think?” The Badger said.

The priest looked him over and shrugged. “Powerful. Unruly. Dangerous.” To which the warrior responded. “My kind of man!” With a hearty laugh.

Nighthand looked at the three. “I broke my wing on Royce’s tower. Which of you can fix it?”

“Right to business, I see, I see. I understand! Gareth, see to his injury.” The Badger responded. The priest sighed and stood, walking behind Nighthand and laying his hands on the broken wing. “Easy enough.” He said, and a small flow of energy later, Nighthand flexed his wing and didn’t feel any pain. “It wasn’t anything major, just a typical injury we seen on the field. Though I shudder to think what you got it from when you so easily defeated the Dragon.”

“What’s the deal with this Dragon guy? Was he some kind of big shot?” Nighthand asked. He seemed like just a loud-mouthed overcompensating jackass when Nighthand fought him.

“He’s the leader of our enemy forces.” The warrior said. “To deal him such a decisive blow, you set back their plans significantly until he recovers.”

“Fair enough. He wasn’t that tough.” At this the warrior had a look of worry pass over his face and a sidelong glace at the Badger, but the Badger himself didn’t seem to care.

“So! I would like to offer you a choice of rewards, and a proposition.” The Badger said. “I too can get to business.”

“Sure. What’s the offer?” Nighthand asked. Blunt, direct, and uncaring for the politics involved. He was an outsider, after all. He didn’t have to care.

“The first option of reward is you choice of a few items from our treasury. Now, I know it’s not much for a player of your high status and ability,” He raised a hand to stall complaints. “But we have some artifacts of interest that could be useful even to you.”

Nighthand contemplated a moment. “Interesting. What’s the other option?”

“A good man, hearing all the options before deciding. The second option is to have my member address. Then, once, should you require the assistance of my forces, I would arrange to come to your aid.”

Nighthand almost scoffed, but then changed his mind. This force could be formidable, in reality, even if it was made of nothing more than cannon fodder. He knew firsthand just how useful cannon fodder could be. After all, way back in the fight against the Yoroi General, when Nighthand had first entered The World, he himself had been cannon fodder. He had delayed the destruction of the town so Nall could eventually defeat the monster. Perhaps that second option would be better than the first. Then he recalled something the Badger had said.

“What’s your proposition?” He wondered just what this man would want from him.

The Badger grinned, a wide grin showing off buck teeth. “I would like you to fight for us.” Again he held up a hand to forestall complaints. “Not in any permanent capacity. Specifically, for one battle. Now that the Dragon is injured and recuperating, we are planning a surprise attack on their encampment. With you to aid us, we will surely be victorious.”

Silverblade wondered in thought what the purpose of that fight would be. What use would the Elites have with the mercenaries who fought each other, rather than the assignments they were given? But Nighthand had the answer, or at least what he expected to be the answer. The in-fighting wasn’t just ignored in the Mercenary district. It was encouraged. He had no doubt that the Elites had their minions seeding the ranks, encouraging fights and feuds. How else would it have gone on so long without one powerful player to unite them all?

Those feuds, he suspected, were the Elites’ version of Natural Selection. They weeded out the weaker generals and replaced them with stronger ones. When the strongest floated to the top, they were recruited for other assignments and moved to other Districts. The Badger and the Dragon, from what he had seen, were two of the top contenders at the moment.

If he could help one of them, this Badger, to gain a strong footing, then perhaps he could have allies among the foot soldiers of the Elites. At the very least, he would know their inside workings and could stop them from attacking his party. At most, he could turn the Badger against the Elites, perhaps unwittingly. He could tell from the eagerness in the Badger’s eyes that this would be the final promotion for him.

“If you’re victorious, what then?” For him, for the Badger, for the mercenaries as a whole.

“Why, you gain both rewards, and my eternal gratitude, of course!” The animal-follower laughed. “You seem interested!”

Nighthand nodded. “It sounds fun. If I defeated their leader so easily, I doubt much would stand in my way. You and your crew would likely be on mop up duty.”

“Not so, even! My crew will head the attack. You will be our surprise for when they are overwhelmed. If you crush them harshly enough, many will convert to our side, and we can ruin the Dragon in his lair!”

Nighthand smiled. “Sounds good. Badger, I will join with you on this attack.”

“Wonderful! Excellent! I will send out the orders immediately; we attack within the hour!”

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 10, 2009 6:19 am 
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The next roughly forty five minutes was spent in a flurry of activity, the majority of which Nighthand was not a part of. He mostly stood back, almost hiding, while messengers came and went, soldiers armored up, and the Badger prepared himself for battle. Apparently the Dragon and the Badger were both respected because they took the field themselves and let the charge. They would often fight each other to a standstill while their armies battled halfheartedly watching. Whichever leader seemed to “win” was the winner of the day, but the battle was never pressed much longer.

When the time came, Nighthand was handed a white hooded cloak and told to wear it. It was bulky enough to hide his wings and the hood held his entire face from view. He put it on and followed the Badger to the field.

The Badger gave a prep-talk that Nighthand barely paid attention to. Something about being the best army on the field, strike when the time is right, don’t waste movements, kill only when you need to, that sort of thing. All around, the Badger was a pretty decent guy, it seemed. Compared to the Dragon, who intimidated and delivered fear into his army.

The column began to march the half-mile or so it took to get to the Dragon’s camp. They were, for all intents, retardedly close. Then again the leaders tended to form camps around where they came to become powerful, not geographically importantly, in this large flat section of terrain.

When they drew close, the Badger shouted to charge. Nighthand stood back, out of the way, watching.

Without their leader, soldiers of the Dragon were unprepared to face the Badger himself in combat. He tore through their rank and file, scattering bodies aside with a large war hammer. His army was tearing them down, casting injured and bodies aside, leaving carnage in their wake. For all that they preached against useless killing, there were certainly a lot of dead.

There was a roar, and the Dragon emerged from a tent. He was surrounded by a dozen guards, and held a massive spear that flared with power. It was, literally, on fire. Nighthand smiled. That would be fun to wield. His mind hearkened back to his decision upon character creation; he had almost gone with a Long Arm rather than a Heavy Blade. He wondered how he would have developed, had he made that choice. He certainly would have been closer friends with Tokki and Kurai rather than with Asgard and his ilk. Then again, Kurai had turned evil and been corrupted by his spear, which was delivered into enemy hands shortly after. And Tokki had been corrupted by Melzas and, when confronted, disappeared. All of the original Long Arms were gone. Then again, so were all the other original players.

“Now!” came the Badger’s cry, from across the battlefield. Nighthand smiled again, this time in expectation of the carnage ahead.

Calmly walking through the center of the battle, Nighthand ignored the small skirmishes on either side. His ally side ignored him, save to watch if they were otherwise inactive, and the enemy side had no idea what to do about this casual incursion.

A solider ran up, slashing at him with a longsword. He raised a hand, holding his Smiling Blade, and blocked the blow. An off-handed blow sent the soldier flying. He let his arm fall and continued walking, dragging his sword in the dirt.

The Dragon saw him approaching, unrecognizing. Nighthand could see how he slightly wavered in his stand. Perhaps he had a bit of a concussion from earlier.

The Dragon’s elite guards converged as a unit, and Nighthand had to give them a bit of credit. They didn’t flinch when he batted the first one aside. They fought as a unit and, had he not shifted to speed, would have overwhelmed him with blows. As it was, he played defensively, shifted quite far into speed. To the lower-leveled eye, he appeared to flicker from one standing position to another, each position the appropriate position and time to block a blow. The recoil was horrendous to compensate for, but he did it fast enough that no one had to see that. In reality he was spinning like mad, blocking and ducking and avoiding and altogether getting pretty dizzy.

Finally, he had enough, and yanked off the white cloak. He threw it to cover one of the guards and kicked him away. Shifting to strength, he batted aside two more of the players, sending them tumbling where Badger’s men set upon them. He backhanded another as he tried to attack, bowling him over, and stabbed his blade through yet another. Two more paused to assess the situation, while two others lunged in. He jumped back and stabbed, but they jumped back as well.

Then the Dragon lunged forward, his spear batting aside his own guards in a frenzy to get at Nighthand. Nighthand himself sidestepped the blade and kicked it away. The scorch in his foot proved to him this was a weapon to be feared, even if it wasn’t wielded by someone to be feared.

“Careful, Nighthand! He only wields the Dragon’s Breath against fearsome foes!” The Badger shouted from behind.

“Thanks for the warning?” Nighthand said, sarcastically as he dodged another stab. The Badger didn’t hear, but he was too busy defeating another score of warriors.

Several stabs later and Nighthand was growing bored. He shifted to speed and appeared to teleport behind the Dragon. He tripped the massive beast and shook his head. “Don’t you know how to do any other attacks?”

The Dragon roared, spun, and swept his spear sideways, leaving a trail of fire Nighthand had to jump over. He spread his wings and hovered a few feet above. “There, see? A new attack. You even got me to move!” Never mind that he had been moving before. Trash talk was in the essence, not the particulars.

Nighthand swooped to dodge a stab and slammed his feet into the Dragon’s chest. He bowled over onto the ground and Nighthand delivered a little hop and stomp to the beast’s chest. Not that it did much more than pound him an extra inch into the mud and get him thoroughly covered in dirt.

Finally Nighthand started on the offensive. He blocked the spear with the wide side of his blade and, ducking to let it scrape above him, flipped his blade. He swept it around and delivered a side slash to the lower abdomen of the Dragon.

The spear-wielding monster roared and stumbled back, and Nighthand pressed the attack. He lunged forward and dragged his blade up, slashing across his chest this time. He kicked, and again the Dragon went sprawling.

Before the man-beast could rise, Nighthand approached and stepped on his spear. Even though he could feel the heat through his boot, he kept his foot firmly in place. “You shouldn’t pick on your betters. I thought I taught you the first time.” He shoved his blade under the Dragon and levered him up, away from his spear, and kicked him aside.

The Dragon was roaring and screaming, but Nighthand paid him no mind. He picked up the spear and tossed it in the general direction of the Badger. Figured he might want it. Then he advanced on the Dragon, who was struggling to crawl away and get to his feet.

“You have lost this battle, Dragon, and you are going to lose this war. Right here, and right now.” Nighthand hesitated, the Dragon crawling a bit further away. Did he really want to kill this beast? Silverblade appeared with the answer, perched on his shoulder.

“Why would you hesitate?”

“He could be a decent sort of guy, I guess? Or I could intimidate him into leaving us alone.”

“I doubt it. He’d get more powerful and attack again. And again.”

Nighthand nodded. “Fine. Still…”

“Nighthand. He’s a hacker. One of the minions of the Elite. You can’t forget that. Everyone in this city is a potential enemy.”

Nighthand nodded again, and Silverblade disappeared. He stepped on the Dragon’s leg, forcing down until he heard a snap. The Dragon cried out, a more human cry than any he had cried before. He reached around for a sword, any of his weapons, anything to stop the heavy blade. Nighthand swung, and sliced off the beast’s arm at the elbow.

The Dragon collapsed, struggling to crawl, bleeding into the dirt making it muddier and muddier, making his job harder and harder. Behind them, the battle had fallen silent, even the Badger’s calls of encouragement silenced.

Nighthand stepped again on the broken leg, stepped up, planting a foot in the slice on the monster’s chest. He stepped there, pushing the Dragon to the ground, and twisted his blade around. “Your time is over.”

He swung, and the monster was silent. His body convulsed, and his head rolled in the dirt, malevolent stare angled at the sky. Nighthand stepped down off the corpse and picked up the head.

The battlefield was silent. With the Dragon’s final roar, his forces had fallen still, and the Badger’s men, not willing to cut down those who didn’t fight back, stood still as well. All had watched Nighthand’s final slaughter, and all eyes were on him now as he carried the draconic head. The Badger was busy examining the spear, though it was plainly a weapon not for him. Only when Nighthand approached did he look up.

Nighthand tossed the head at his feet, where it rolled in the mud to stare up at the warrior. The sight would haunt the Badger for years to come; not the head or its pained stare. Not the clean cut at the neck, where the blade was as precise as a scalpel. Instead, it was Nighthand’s smile, his bloodlust quenched, that burned itself into the Badger’s mind. That, and his words. “That’s yours. What do you have for me?”

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 8:59 pm 
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Nighthand was sorely disappointed if he wanted an immediate escort to the armory to select his choice of items. The battle took a long time to settle down. Even though the fighting was over, and there was clearly no way that the Dragons would continue to fight, it took a while to make some organization out of the chaos. The followers of the Dragon were rounded up and inventoried. One group was labeled the Joiners, and they were the ones that converted from the Dragon’s camp to the Badgers. They would follow their new leader until he, too, was removed from the picture. Thus was their circle of life, here in the Mercenary District.

Another group was labeled the Freelancers, and they chose to leave the area. Some attempted to return to a regular life, their leader gone. Some of them decided to scatter to the winds, attempting to find a new leader elsewhere. The Badger let them go; he had no need of the sore feelings and sulking that would accompany them. A few tried to challenge the Badger, to take his place, but they were dispatched in as many blows as it took seconds to accept the challenge. A few other scattered soldiers had died, though far less than Nighthand had initially guessed. Many of those who he had thought had died were merely heavily wounded, and a few healing spells restored them to functionality.

The Badger kept Nighthand by his side during most of this, though his jollity was diminished. It seemed that the manner of his victory had come as a bit of a shock, the precise brutality Nighthand brought to bear being more than he had expected. Sure, the Badger expected to win, and win well, but not with his champion avoided every blow and dispatching their opponent in a few simple attacks. Nighthand had hardly even put the effort into it, and that scared the Badger. If he was this powerful, what was to stop him from offing the Badger as well?

Nighthand himself had thought this as well. The only thing stopping him from destroying the Badger right now was a sense of loyalty. Not to the Badger, but to his own party. If he could utilize an ally, it was a great benefit. If he killed the Badger now, his troops would try to attack him, and Nighthand didn’t think he could escape or kill them all without sustaining serious injury to himself. Killing the Badger would drive the Mercenary district into chaos, for at least several weeks, but that wasn’t of nearly as much benefit as having an ally out of their universal leader. So Nighthand left him alive.

The Badger did give Nighthand his member address almost immediately. It came accompanied by a flashmail.

Flashmail!
To: Nighthand
From: Badger
Subject: Debts being paid.

This is a notification that I, The Badger, current and acting leader of the largest military mercenary camp in the Mercenary District of Yamiyo Server’s root town Luchairt Cradh, am deliver my member list to you, Nighthand, warrior of Darkness and savior of my people.

This is also a notification to affirm that I, The Badger, will aid and assist you, Nighthand, to the best of my and my people’s ability at one time in the future, should the need arise. The procedure to follow would be to flashmail myself, The Badger, with the situation and the request. I, The Badger, will then determine the best possible course of action for the aid of you, Nighthand, and your party.

This is also to act as a receipt of a small quantity of items from my, The Badger, armory. Each of the items will be appended to this flashmail upon selection. The number of items depends upon their nature, their power, and their relative value, as decided upon by myself, The Badger, and yourself, Nighthand. This debate will take place shortly after the receipt of this flashmail and subsequent return to the center of camp.

On a more personal note, thank you, Nighthand, for your swift dispatch of the enemy. I could not have hoped for more from you when I asked you to assist us. In fact I had wholly considered the chance that you would be defeated or require assistance. Your presence and your ability have saved me significant losses of face, losses of life, and losses of power. For this I thank you immensely.

End Flashmail.

Nighthand was rewarded shortly after, when the mercenaries began to return to camp. The Badger was surrounded by toadies and sycophants, and so many people were talking to him that he didn’t have time to pay attention to Nighthand himself. Instead, the warrior-general from the Badger’s council stood at Nighthand’s side.

“I’ll be escorting you directly to the armory.” He said. “The Badger will be there shortly, once he dispatches a few messengers and deals with a few messages.”

The two walked in relative silence through the maze of tents until they came upon one surrounded every two feet by tough-looking guards, all wearing the Badger’s symbol on their armor somewhere. At the approach of the general, the two flanking the door stepped aside, to let them in. The general held open the flap for Nighthand, who proceeded into the dimly lit interior.

Arranged around the wall and in rows in the center of the large tent were racks upon racks upon racks of items. There were weapons of all shapes and sizes, all of them unique, from each other and from any game item Nighthand had ever seen. There were suits of armor unique as well, from plumed helmets to breastplates made of solid fire, to boots that looked grown into the ground. There were also rows upon rows of potion bottles, all unlike any he had seen in The World before.

Nighthand was quickly lost in studying each and every item there. So many of them… And this is a rundown of what he found.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 9:00 pm 
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Nighthand scanned the rows and rows of weapons, even the ones he didn’t personally need. He would never need a twin blade, but he looked over them anyways. He knew a few twin blades who might want something from these shelves. From the looks of things, most of the weapons were worthless. There was a whole rack covered in regular items that looked unique, had interesting custom appearances, or were made of odd materials. Some twin blades were made of wood, others were on fire perpetually. A couple were made of ice or arced with lightning. None of these were impressive, they were all low leveled, and none of them useful.

Then he found some that were slightly more useful. They were weak, but they had unique abilities. Some were, like the weapons the ninja had used against him, designed to be throwing knives. Some of them had one-shot abilities, like flinging fireballs or casting high-powered spells once or twice before they broke. Some of these were actually broken. He didn’t know why the Badger kept them, except for the possibility of recharging them.

A few of the twin blades were far higher level than anyone he knew, and more powerful than standard to boot, but they would be useless to grab. Keeping his practical side in the fore, he called Silverblade to help him decide.

“This one, Canti would probably like.” Silverblade said, pointing at one blade. Nighthand picked it up to examine, and found he agreed.

The weapon was essentially made to suit Canti, that particular warrior of black flame. It was made of a black volcanic glass, and glowed softly with an inner fire. Reading the descriptions and tags associated with it, he found that it was a virtually useless weapon for the sake of using as a weapon. It would break upon a few blows, if used for that purpose. Rather, it was used as a sort of bomb. Stabbing it into an opponent and leaving it there set a small timer of several seconds, where spikes on the blade would act as barbs to hold it in place. After the time was up, the blade would explode in a flurry of darkness and fire, with shards of the glass blade acting as shrapnel and physical damage. The power was significant, but there were only three blades. Also, when they were used a regular weapons, the panels said, they would shatter and explode on their user. Definitely not for fighting with. Nighthand set the trio of blades aside and continued looking.

In the next row, Nighthand found a long rack of blademaster weapons. He and Silverblade perused them, but nothing struck him as better than the random crap that could be found in the bazaar, or any shop in a regular town. Again were the cosmetic weapon changes, and some interesting-looking powerful blades, but all of them had drawbacks of such degree as to make them unusable.

The heavyblades Nighthand carefully weighed each in turn. Except for the cosmetic changes, which he didn’t care for, each of them was tempting in its own right. The only problem was, when he got right down to it, the only ones that had anything worthwhile on them were of a level even he couldn’t equip. In the end, he and Silverblade passed up that row as well.

Long arms held the same problem as the others, and while the spears were quite tempting, he didn’t really know anyone outside of Kira who could really use them. Even then, Kira wasn’t able to manifest in battle quite so much as would be necessary to use these items. Heavy Axes as well, the pair skipped over. They didn’t even know any operating heavy axes. None that weren’t enemies, anyways.

Wavemaster weapons, the selection of wands and staves, were more interesting. The cosmetic changes were interesting in their own right, some of them being books or scrolls or other ornate forms of knowledge. Some other weapons offered spells of the level three or level four variety on weapons able to be equipped by lower levels, like fifteen and twenty. They weren’t as good as they seemed though, when he looked closer. They had sp costs for the skills as high as three or four times what the spell cost naturally at higher levels. He didn’t know if anyone could afford two or three hundred SP for a single spell, powerful as it would be at lower levels. In the end, despite the utility of a few of the wands, he set them aside.

He skipped the whipmaster aisle entirely, including its entire table of riding crops. He just… didn’t want to know.

The bows he examined closely but also ultimately gave up on. There were a number of nice weapons, ranging from bows that had low attack but cost no SP to fire, to weapons that had interesting side effects; a grappling hook arrow, exploding arrows, anything he could see the various archer comic book heroes firing. The only ones that interested him were ones that fired two, three, or even four arrows at once, some in succession, some in a spread. None of them were below level seventy, though, so in the end he passed them by as well.

The fist fighter aisle was a tangled mess of gloves, boots, chains, hand weapons, and other various pieces of equipment. Apparently the entire fist fighter class was a catch-all for whatever tools or items the designers decided to put in. Ironic that it was to prevalent in the game today. Nighthand still remembered back when they entered the Dark Tournament, in Yamiyo’s Bazaar. Garaa had kidnapped Kayin, a player of theirs, and hacked out his class as an experiment. He was the original Fist Fighter. He was more powerful than today’s fist fighters, and didn’t fight with weapons, just his hands and feet. His was less of a class and more of a hack. Something Nighthand was sore that they had lost. In the end, Garaa had finalized the hack experiment he had used on Kayin and applied it to dozens if not hundreds of Mercenaries and set them loose in the main servers. He didn’t even need to give them a goal. The rumors of their presence grew so large and so out of hand that CCCorp had no alternative but to sanction it and release their own version of the class. Even now, rumors existed of Fist Fighters that didn’t use weapons, or that were members of the class at a level too low to have selected it. These rumors CCCorp found much easier to deny, though, and so they were swept under the rug.

When they arrived at the section for armor, Nighthand began to find things more interesting and useful to the rest of the party. He still couldn’t find anything that really suited his style or his needs, but he picked out a few items anyways, ones that he could give to other players in his party. Like the three blades he pulled aside for Canti, he pulled out a glove that seemed like it would fit with Talal. The poor girl still didn’t have any powers of her own, so he found something of a suitable ability to give to her, to tide her over with usefulness while she developed powers and abilities of her own. The gloves, the tags read, were an on-contact heal spell beyond what most healing spells were. It could touch even a ghost, or a player in any status. It would restore them to full hit points, full skill points, and would remove any negative status effects on the player. They had a total of three uses before they became inert, but that was okay. He added them to the pile. According to the labels, they were the Laion Hands.

He also found a simple circlet, called the CounterDark, apparently, that would suit Sekai very well. It wasn’t much, including zero on all of its stats. Its purpose wasn’t defense, in the sense of passive stat boosts. Instead, when its wearer was attacked by a darkness spell or skill, the helmet would instantly an automatically counter the attack with a Dek Anid, Dek Raio, and Rai Don. All three would happen instantly. The trouble was, after three of these defensive uses, the helm was unusable. Still, it would help the girl overcome her fear of darkness maybe a little, or at the very least protect her while her panic took over.

For Dien, that battle-fighting blademaster, he found a pair of boots known as the Blindfire Boots. Maybe not quite the man’s playstyle, but they should be helpful nonetheless. They had a unique ability, that could only be used three times before the boots disappeared. The ability made the user completely blind, but boosted their other senses and intuition such that they still could locate their enemies and allies, and tell the difference between the two. It boosted it, the label said, to such a height that it was almost like a psychic ability to tell the situation of the battlefield. That wasn’t all, though. It granted the user a very, very significant boost to movement speed, attack speed, and a lesser boost to damage dealt. The trouble was, it actually made defense impossible. While blinded, the user could tell where enemies were and where allies are, but they would be utterly unable to discern that they were walking through lava or taking sword-blows to the face. Only once the effect wore off, after several minutes, would the user realize. The uniqueness of the ability kept all the damage from being applied; the user was effectively invincible while the duration of the effect was on. Once it wore off, however, all the damage taken would be applied instantly. Nighthand would have grabbed the boots for himself, but the self-sacrificing nature of them was best left to someone less required to be backup.

As he was leaving the aisle, he spotted one other item that he found quite amusing to give to Demorian. The man was so sure of himself, and his abilities, that he almost never made an action that would get himself killed. This item, a cloak, would be instantly hilarious to watch. It instantly ghosted the user as long as the user wore it, but the user could remove it to return to corporeal form and attack. The cloak could only be used three times; on the fourth use, it ghosted the user for real and disappeared. It was called the Cloak of the Wraith.

Finally, looking through the scrolls and potions, he selected three that he would give to Takua. The wavemaster would need some boost with his newfound inability to see, and these would help him spam his spells in combat just that much better. They were potions called Bottled Leylines, and according to the tag, they gave the user a temporarily infinite SP. Though that wasn’t quite true; their SP stayed the same, it just reduced their skills and spells to an SP cost of zero. The effect only lasted for a minute at most, but it would be very easy to ruin an entire battlefield with that power. Unfortunately, there were only three of them.

Once Nighthand had gathered all of these items on a side table, he heard a commotion outside. When the tent flap was brushed aside, the Badger stepped into the gloom, looking around for Nighthand. Only then did he realize just how long he had been at it. Silverblade was gone when the Badger appeared; best not to let others know about the second man.

“Have you found what you might desire?” the Badger asked him.

“I have.” Nighthand said, and gestured to the table piled with items. “Nothing too powerful, nothing too valuable, but a number of items. I figure they are suitable as a form of payment.”

The Badger, who apparently knew the room from top to bottom, appraised the pile at a glance. “Few of those are useful to you.” He was questioning in tone.

“Correct. They are gifts for my party. For myself, I only need your alliance, as per the agreement we had before.”

The Badger, flattered, grinned. Besides; that saved him some powerful weapon he could outfit someone with later. “Very well, very well, Nighthand the Dragon Slayer! These items I will grant you.”

“Thank you, Badger. Your invitation to fight for you was one I’m glad I did not refuse.” As Nighthand said it, he realized it was true. He had gotten his wing healed, been given gifts to give to the party, and made an ally. On top of that, he was able to indulge his bloodlust and take out some of his rage and frustration after being so soundly whomped by the random guardian of the Tower of Illusions.

After a few more pleasantries, Nighthand bid the Badger his farewell, and left the Mercenary District via the chaos gate, returning to the Elemental District.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 9:02 pm 
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Location: ...Tracking...please wait...
The trio of golden rings descended around him, and he found himself in the bustling central plaza of the Elemental District. From there it wasn’t too difficult to find his way through the twists and trails of the alleys to find the guardhouse where their party had been stored. Thankfully they hadn’t all left yet, but not everyone was present.

Takua was the first player Nighthand decided to gift. He had the selection of items carried in a large burlap sack slung over his shoulder, and he felt surprisingly jolly, all things considered. He felt like some twisted Santa. In the hideout, Nighthand was interested to see Takua now awake, largely ignored by Sheena, who was slumped over Nall’s chest apparently asleep. Tak’s eyes were closed, but his body moved, and he was clearly awake. Nighthand took a seat nearby, looking at the now-healed player carefully before speaking.

“Hey, Tak. How’s the eyes?” Nighthand asked, curious. When his own eye had been deleted, he had discovered the hole in his skull granted him a better sight into the elemental distribution of The World. How would Tak and his body react to the loss, given that he had no powers of his own to draw from?

"Hm? O-oh, they're...okay." His words were slightly slow, to be precise. If Nighthand didn’t know better, he would say the wavemaster had been out drinking. Then again, with his eyes destroyed and stuck in a strange town, he wouldn’t blame the man. "I can't see anything still! At least not from them. Twilight or some bullshit like that. I see what other people see for now."

Now that was interesting. His Twilight had taken over, and was… what? Attaching to other players and showing him what they saw? That was certainly new.

"That's new. I haven't actually seen vision hacks before." He said. He had never actually seen a hacker who cared that much about stealth or survival over power. Surveillance was a new concept to the hackers, something they seemed to just now be getting into. Nighthand hefted the sack at his side and opened it. "I got something for you."

"...oh? If it's new, I guess it's going to be interesting...right. What's this that you brought me?" The man’s reply was certainly a bit off. Drunk, alright. Maybe letting his bitterness come through. Something, anyways.

“Some potions. Not normal potions, at least. I’ve never seen them before. They seemed like something you could use.” Nighthand fished out the three potions he had collected, all of them simple glass spheres with corks in them. The liquid inside looked like water, only slightly thicker. He handed them to the man, but Takua didn’t reach quite for them. He let his arm drop and Nighthand smiled. Yup, drunk.

"Sorry, it's the first time I've been drunk. Gotta love The World, they don't ask for an ID, don't give a shit...uh...can you set them next to me? I'll get em when this wears off...don't mix Sake and Vodka..."

Nighthand put the bottles next to him on the bed, explaining as he went. “They’re called Bottled Leylines, or so I’ve been told. When you drink one, it gives you a buff that sets your SP counts to zero. Effectively it’s temporary infinite SP. I figured you could spam spells if we get into some trouble and you’re not having a good time of it.”

"Whee! That dsounds like fun...use some of the other stuff they have at the Bazaar...make any rare item hunter's eyes pop out of their head...heh heh...doublecast is fun. Thanks Nighthand."

“I haven’t been to the bazaar yet…” Nighthand said, half to himself. “I’ll have to check it out. But yes. Enjoy.”

Nighthand then scanned the room and, seeing Dien, rose and moved over to where the blademaster lay. He looked a little dejected, a little uneasy, and Nighthand probably wasn’t helping much. He sat facing the player, setting his large burlap sack on the ground between them, and looked him in the eye. “What’s up?”

Dien, who had until that point been attempting to sleep with something of a frown emblazoned on his face, opened one eye and replied to the heavyblade. "I dunno," the words came easily to him, "I'm useless as shit right now--that work?"

“I suppose. You’ve had a bit of a rocky start with the group, to say the least. But hey, I got you something?” Nighthand fishes around in his bag for something, and pulls out a pair of boots, setting them on the foot of the bed. They looked sort of dinky, when it came down to it; scuffed and scratched, wrapped with what looked like electrical tape and bits of leather.

A look. That was the blademaster's only response. It was a look that completely captured his melancholy disappointment and disbelief at the shoddy footwear. One eyebrow raised from a furrow as the frown opened up, eyes strangely wide for the appearance. It said, "you can't be serious," in so many less words. This was supposed to make him feel better? Before Nighthand could respond, the blademaster pulled up one leg of his pants far enough to demonstrate the perfectly fine boots he already wore.

Nighthand smiled. “Ah, yes. But can yours cast a unique buff?” He gestured at the boots at the foot of the bed. “They’re called Blindfire Boots. They have next to no defensive capabilities, sure, but the buff is worth it. It costs zero SP but has limited uses; you can only cast it three times before the boots become as worthless as they look.” He paused and then described the buff.

“The buff gives you an almost supernatural awareness of the battlefield, in the sense that it gives you an immediate awareness of where all enemies and all allies are. It easily quadruples your speed, and does a significant boost to your physical attack. It also makes any attacks that hit you be put into stasis, in a way. The drawback is, the buff makes you blind. Your awareness of the battlefield consumes your site to allow it to work. As for the damage invulnerability… when the buff wears off, all the attacks you took through the whole duration are dealt simultaneously. The kicker is, when you’re rushing around blind attacking people, you can’t tell if you’re being attacked, walking through a spell, or running over spikes. You’re oblivious because the attacks don’t touch you right then, they touch you later.” His description done, he shrugged. “But if you don’t want them, I’m sure I could find someone else.”

Dien considered a moment, staring at the boots and thinking about how such a thing might help him. "Are there any alternatives?" he asks, "I mean, it's not that I'm not grateful, I just want to know if there's anything else I could get instead of these." Figures, the dejected blademaster would barter with Santa.

Nighthand thought for a moment, pondering his chances of going back and getting something else from the Badger’s armory. Then again he could easily enough raid it and steal anything he wanted, but that wouldn’t keep the Badger as an ally. Finally, he shook his head. “Nope. The other things I’ve got are for other players. Sure, they aren’t pretty, but I’m guessing you’ll find a good use for them.”

"I'll hold on to them," Dien said, opening his bag and dropping the boots into the abyss, "might come in handy somewhere down the line. Thanks." With that, he leaned back on the bed and let his eyes shut, slightly less annoyed at his circumstances. Nighthand, shrugging, stood and left to find another victim, or gift receiver, as the case may be.

Next, Nighthand spotted Sekai, the small innocent archer also clearly quite tipsy. Nighthand wasn’t surprised that the two of them had gone out and managed to get drunk together, Takua and Sekai. It just seemed like a thing they would do. Sekai was crouched leaning in a corner, apparently singing something to herself and occasionally giving a coy glance to Kira. Nighthand watched the exchange amusedly, as Kira, materialized, muttered to herself and snapped at a third woman whom Nighthand had never seen before. The way the three sat, it was obvious she was somehow attached to Sekai, so Nighthand assumed she was part of the girl’s developing hack.

Nighthand walked up, careful to not startle the archer, knowing she was prone to darkness-induced panic attacks. Hopefully the combination of alcohol, Kira, and this new girl would mitigate any threat she might see in his admittedly imposing form. When he was a few feet away he crouched and sat on the floor, his burlap sack next to him.

“Am I interrupting something?” He asked, looking from one woman to the next. “I see you found a new friend.”

Kira muttered something that sounded rather terrible and unladylike under her breath and covered Sekai's mouth with one hand. "Not interrupting a damn thing," She managed from between clenched teeth, feeling her left eye twitch slightly. "She can't hold her liquor, that's all." Silvery-blue hair fell over her shoulder as she gestured with her free hand toward the newcomer sitting on the bed. "She's... like me but not. Long story short; she's a second... contract or something like that."

The pink haired woman gave a slight incline of her head in Nighthand's direction. "Friend isn't quite the appropriate term but, it'll do until I find something better and less professional sounding." Her voice was filled with amusement as Kira swore vehemently and jerked her hand away from the girl's mouth. "My name is December, nice to meet you."

“A pleasure, December. Hopefully you’ll be a nice asset to our team.” A phrase he didn’t even mean lecherously. The more power the team could wield, the better they would be when they took to the field. “Well, aside from saying hi and all that, I actually have something for you. Well, for Sekai specifically, but the two of you may be able to benefit from it yourselves.”

He fished around in his sack and withdrew a small circlet, made of a silver chain whose links had been forged together into a stiff circle rather than left slack as a chain. At three equidistant points in the circle, there was a small embedded gemstone, much like a diamond. He held it out, for whichever one of the three would take it.

Kira reached out and accepted the circlet, examining it for a moment before shrugging and placing it on the small giggling form somewhat behind her. "So, does it make her obedient or cure a case of drunken giddiness?" She asked wryly, rubbing her hand absently and drawing attention to the rather impressive set of teethmarks in her skin. December chuckled and shook her head. "So," Scarlet tipped nails tapped against her cheek as she rested her chin in hand. "What's the origin of such an expensive looking item? And, as Kira so eloquently put it," A dirty look filled with enough promise to instantly kill a level 5 player was sent in the dark skinned woman's direction. "Does it have any other use other than being pretty and making the youngling look more like a little fantasy princess than she does already?"

“Actually, yes, it does. It’s called the CounterDark Circlet, and it has a unique ability. When she’s attacked by something of the darkness element while wearing the circlet, it’ll counterattack. It will cast Dek Raio, Dek Anid, and Rai Don on the monster or player that attacked her. It only triggers if she’s hit, though. Also, I think it gets more powerful each time it’s used… The first time it’s Rai Don, then the second time it’s MeRai Don, and the third time it’s GiRai Don. Unfortunately after the third counterattack, it ceases working.” Nighthand shrugged. “Still, three counters is pretty nice.”

The Heavyblade was rather amused as he watched the three women bicker and exchange pointed glances. Not that he was about to intrude, but hey, they were bonding. That was good. If they could work well together, then they would be even more useful.

December looked confused about the entire thing, not drawing the connection between the meaning behind the item while Kira's eyes lit up in interest... and not just a little malicious glee. "I like the person who made this; anyway to recharge it?" She'd bet the damn thing was expensive as hell; but it'd still be a worthwhile experiment. After a moment of silence, she seemed to remember something rather important and, with a small degree of sheepishness in her grin, said what she should have to begin with. "Err, you know. I think 'thank you' was what I was supposed to say first." An echo of the statement came from the beaming girl wearing said circlet. "Thank you Nighthand-san!"

Nighthand smiled, both at the gratitude of Sekai, the confused look from December, and the eagerness from Kira. Sadly, he was forced to shake his head. “As far as I know, there’s no way to recharge it, nor is there another one anywhere in The World. I could be wrong, but, there was only the one where I got that one.” He shrugged. “It’d certainly be worth investigating once it runs out, though.”

"Where exactly did you find it?" It was a good question in Kira's eyes, after all, if there were interesting things with their own varying uses to be found, might as well figure out where so she could go find them- and repay the favor sometime if they found anything that the Heavyblade could use. "Hell, if things like this are around, there's no telling what other useful things we could find with a bit of work."

“Well, it’s sort of a long story. I found it in the Mercenary District, actually, as a reward for helping out one of the higher power generals. Not something I’d recommend to anyone… I got pretty lucky. There was a ton of stuff in the general’s armory tent, but most of it was just… bad. Cosmetic edits for weapons, powerful skills for abusive SP costs, that sort of thing. I grabbed what I could find that was useful, and didn’t find anything for myself.” He waved around. “So I’m giving what I found to you folks. No sense in wasting it, anyways.”

Kira's brow furrowed a moment as she mentally calculated what the chances were of getting into the Mercenary District... and then remembered it as a place to avoid with Sekai in tow. Dammit. She'd find a way around that one somehow. "True, no sense in wasting what might wind up saving your ass in battle later." Smart guy, that was for sure. Even if he couldn't use it, he'd find someone who could. "Well, if we ever find anything that might be of use to you, we'll let you know for sure to return the favor." Out of habit, she cocked her head to one side. "How about information? Find out anything interesting during your trek through the merc district?"

Nighthand shrugged, smiling slightly. “Information, not really. I did make an ally, though. The same guy who gave me the stuff I’m giving out here,” he patted the burlap sack, “gave me his member address and said that if I need it, at some point in the future I can call on him and his army to help us. He says just once. The nice part is, because of what I did, he’s perhaps the current leader, or otherwise strongest mercenary, in the district. If we end up running into mercenaries in the field who happen to be working against us, they just might be his.”

Kira considered the implications of that and nodded, seemingly impressed. "Hm. And if there're people from his side working against us, what do you plan on doing? Sending them back to make an example or having him mass-message his army to tell 'em to back off?" Allies were good though. December seemed to be reading her mind and said as such as well. "Though they may not be as reliable as those who are directly tied to your cause, gaining more allies is very likely a favorable move at this point in time. If they can't give you physical or magical assistance, they could be a wealth of information; and that would be just as useful as more blades joining the battle."

Nighthand nodded in agreement. “If we find ourselves in opposition with his members, I’ll message him and see what he can do. If nothing else, they could withdraw, or pretend they didn’t notice us, or whatever the situation could call for. Then again, most of the mercenaries in that district are pushovers for people with our particular power levels and abilities.” He smiled. “We might just kill them before we get a chance to find out who they work for.”

Kira and December both smiled at that, the former out of self-interest and the latter from a professional standpoint. Killing the enemy before they realize what hit them was a preferred method for both of them... though Kira was more inclined to make it painful while December had a tendency to be merciful. "Well, if they get in our way, we'll get around them or through them one way or another." Just like everything else that'd get in the way; Elites or not; they weren't going to go down without taking at least one or two more down with them.

Nighthand looked at the pair of them, back and forth, with an eyebrow raised. “You’re sure you’re not the same person? Nevermind.” He stood and, with a slight bow, picked up his burlap sack. “Well, I’m off. A few more gifts to deliver to a few more good children before they wake up.” Whether either of them would get the reference or not, he didn’t know. “You can always chat later if you like.” He gave the trio a brief wave, before leaving them to their sidelong glances and mild bickering. It was time to find the next person on his list.

Flashmail!
To: Talal
From: Nighthand

Hey. Where’re you hiding?

End Flashmail.

Nighthand hadn’t seen her around, so he sent her the flashmail in an attempt to find her nearby. Hopefully she wasn’t wandering some of the further districts. So it was that he was rather happy when her reply came.

Flashmail!
To: Nighthand
From: Talal

On the roof of the safe house.

End Flashmail.

So Nighthand exited the door and, spreading his wings, flew up into the sky. It was a simple matter to find the brooding woman, perched and watching the street below. He landed nearby, furling his wings and walking the rest of the way to her. He sat next to her, looking where she was looking, his bag slung over a shoulder so it wouldn’t tumble down the slope of the roof.

“Enjoying the view?” He asked her, wondering why she was up there. She was staring out over the Gan Sector, not really watching, just seeing.

“It’s alright. Good to see you’re doing better.” She didn’t look at him.

“Thanks. The rest did wonders, and then a few hours spent wandering the town helped blow off some steam. How’re you holding up? This whole situation is pretty new to you.” Let it never be said that Nighthand doesn’t have any compassion. He was actually concerned for her. She didn’t have much in the way of powers just yet, and being stuck in the hub of hacker activity wasn’t likely to inspire much confidence.

She looked over and noded. "Yes, it's really new but I'm doing alright now that I've had some time to mull things over. Thanks, for asking." She paused, and Nighthand could tell she was hesitating about something. "Still a lot to learn though. You seem very...acclimated, so I assume you've been here for some time."

“Yeah…” Nighthand sort of trailed off on that thought. “By my count, it’s been four or five years since I was initially stuck in the game. I’ve had a lot of time to figure things out.” Her bringing it up almost brought him back into the brooding mindset he had adopted earlier, in the Anid Sector, but he shrugged it off. He already had brooded once today, that was enough.

Her eyes grew as large as golf balls when she heard four or five years. "Wow! That's a lot of mulling over time." She laughed slightly. "So umm, mind if I ask you something?"

“Go for it.” He said, wondering what she had to ask him.

"Alright. Here goes. Who or what are we fighting? I mean, I've gathered something called the Elites but that doesn't help me when I'm walking through town trying to listen for any hints or clues that might help us, ya know?"

Nighthand chuckled. “Quite the question, and the answer is pretty long.” He paused. “You up for a story?” She smiled and chuckled as well, responding “I’m all ears.”

So Nighthand began. “Back when The World was being programmed, a few of the head programmers wrote up some code, a virus. The plan was for this virus to infect a vast majority of players as they interacted with the game. It would trigger once a player reached the highest possible level, and explode, causing all the infected players to become trapped in the game. They were going to use this to hold them hostage, and demand significant sums of money, or power, or who knows what. Heh… I’ll give you a guess as to what went wrong.”

"The virus had other plans?"

“Not quite. In this case, a hacker got the better of them. She hacked her way to level 99 and set off the virus prematurely. This trapped the programmers in the game and only caught a very small number of players. Nowhere near enough to demand the leverage they needed, and when it came down to it, CCCorp was able to sweep it all under the rug.”

"Hmph. Power of any kind always backfires at the most inopportune moment but it never stops people from craving it."

“Indeed. Well, here’s the thing. These programmers were intelligent enough to create a backdoor to their virus, accessible from within the game. They had planned for this contingency. I dunno if you’ve guess by now or not, but those programmers are the Elites, and the backdoor items are the Twilight Items we’ve been trying to collect. As far as we know, the only way to get ourselves free of the comas and back into our bodies is to collect all of the Twilight Items and use them together to control the virus absolutely into releasing us.”

She seemed to take a moment to soak up the information. "So, if I understand you correctly, it sounds like they each have their own backdoor, meaning we have to find that many of these Twilight items. How am I doing so far?"

“Keeping up. Each Elite has one Twilight Item. In addition, Nall had one of his own. We have killed two of the Elites thus far, Jett and Kuja, and obtained their items. So we have three of them.”

"Okaaay, so I'll tackle the Nall thing perhaps another time, but if we have 3, how many are left to get?"

“Let’s see…” He started ticking off on his fingers. “Garaa, Rugudorull, Melzas, Klive, Royce, and Xenobia are all still alive… so six.”

"Well, at least I know what one of them looks like. That's a start and the names will help a lot. Thanks for the story, it was very helpful and lessened some of the remaining confusion I had." she smiled. "So did you get far on your travels of the town? Canti and I went to the bazaar earlier but we didn't explore much."

Nighthand nodded. “I explored the Ani Sector, stopped by in the Odd Elementalist Sector, which has an interesting name by the way. They call themselves odd, which is indeed odd. Then I ended up in the Mercenary District, where I got this.” He patted the sack. “And I got something for you.”

She looked at him a little confused. "For me?"

“Yup.” He reached into the sack and pulled out a pair of gloves. They weren’t armor, they were silk, silver embroidered on the black fabric. “They’re called the Laion Hands. They have three charges of a special ability, after which they become pretty, but inert, gloves. When you activate their ability, you need to touch someone with both gloves. That person can be an ally, an enemy, or even a ghosted player. The ability will restore them to full hit points, full skill points, and remove any negative status effects on them, including some rare and hard-to-remove effects.” He handed them to her. “I figured you don’t have an ability of your own yet, so I’d give you something to help tide you over.”

The look on her face was priceless, like a child receiving the best gift they'd ever received at Christmas. "I..I don't know what to say. Thank you very much." She paused "Do you know how long it usually takes for these abilities to develop?"

He shrugged. “It varies. Given how long you’ve been stuck, I’d say you should probably be noticing signs of something rather soon. Could be a few days, could be weeks, could be longer. Twilight is pretty inconsistent.”

She nodded. "Thanks Nighthand. I appreciate you taking the time to explain everything as well as the gift. I've been up here for quite awhile. I should go check on Takua."

Nighthand nodded as well, tapping the sack. “I have a couple more gifts as well, so I should get on that. Lemme know if you have more questions.”

She smiled. "Thanks, I will." She turned and made her way to the edge and then off the roof.

Nighthand himself simply vaulted from the roof, landing in front of the door and heading back inside.

After his chat with Talal, Nighthand decided to track down Canti. The twin blade, probably, was inside the safe house, so that was where he checked. Sure enough, the dark flame warrior was hanging around. Nighthand walked over to where he was, and sat a row across from him, looking him over. “What’s up?” Only then did he notice a large black object moving nearby. At a closer look, it turned out to be a very large canine.

"A few interesting things. Raq and I found out that Klive is sick, for instance."

Canti was eyeing the sack, and the dog was eyeing Nighthand, but neither made a comment about what they saw.

“He is? Sweet. Maybe now would be the time to go after him…” Nighthand pondered for a moment, then glanced down at the dog. “Gonna make a habit of bringing home strays?” He phrased it in a joking tone, since he already had a good idea of what the interaction was between them. Canti wouldn’t have been the first player to find a Guardian, or to have a Guardian find him.

"I'm the stray. He's been looking for me, apparently. Just consider 'im a gift from on high and don't question it. And uhhh...funny thing is, Raq and I were thinking the same thing. We figured the Fire Master would be interested in a promotion."

Nighthand nodded. “Hopefully. Unless he’s willing to defend Klive with his life. You never know with those military types.”

"Which worries me because I heard he was in a meeting with Klive while the two of us were out. It could have been something like 'I know of some rebels who got out of prison. Here's their profiles.'."

Nighthand shrugged. “Chances are very good that the Elites already know we broke out. They can’t really do much, though. Most of us aren’t all that distinctive, especially in Yamiyo. A player with wings, or black eyes, that’s not enough to identify us as readily as it would be in Mac Anu. As long as we’re under the radar, we should be fine.” He neglected to mention his own over-the-radar rabble-rousing from earlier.

"Yeah, wings and black eyes. What're the odds, right?" Canti said, ironically. After all, there were two, sitting right there talking. "And if anything goes wrong, deny everything. So..." Now he eyed the sack in earnest. "...you taking the role of the jolly one or did the Salvation Army need a few good men?"

Nighthand smiled. “Let’s just say I may have done a little distracting of people in the Mercenary District earlier. I was rewarded by one side of the feuding parties, found that I couldn’t use the stuff, and decided to hand it off to you folks.” He reached into the sack and, carefully, drew out three twin blade daggers, each identical. They were made of smoky black glass, and glowed softly with a red inner light. He handed them to Canti, with one word. “Careful.”

He took them carefully, looking them over. "Three? What are they, exactly?" Obviously they were unique, something very different from normal weapons.

“They’re called the Volcanic Fury Blades. There are three because you use them one at a time. They aren’t regular weapons; in fact, if you use them to slash or parry an attack, they’ll backfire on you.” He paused to let that sink in. “What you do, is stab an enemy with one of them. Once you let go, barbs stick out of the blade to latch it into them. Then, after a couple of seconds delay for you to get out of the way, they explode. I’ve heard it’s roughly the power of a couple of level two spells, and a few physical attacks. It explodes in Vak and Ani energy, and the glass forms some decent shrapnel as well.” He smiled. “Figured you’d like them.”

"Oooh...very nice. Can they be thrown, or do they just not work that way? 'Cause otherwise, you just handed me some very nice grenades." Canti clearly appreciated the items. Nighthand was pleased.

“I doubt they can be throw. The labels didn’t actually say, but I wouldn’t try it out. Either they’d shatter on contact and explode, or they’d just break and lose their power. I’m not sure I’d want to risk it.”

"I'm not sure either, so I guess I'll stab the hell out of something. So, do I wanna know what happened in the Merc District?"

“I dunno. Basically; two groups of mercenaries were fighting. One of their leaders pissed me off so I knocked him out, and the other leader found out. That other leader asked if I would help him defeat the guy I already beat down, and promised some nifty rewards. So I figured why not? Might as well gain an ally out of it.”

"Pretty much what Raq and I had in mind. See, the fire guy has all these posters with these speeches on 'em proclaiming his wish for the good health of Klive."

Canti handed Nighthand a paper, full of fire-themed propaganda about the good health and long life of their master.

"Now, it is a 50-50 chance, but I got the impression that this grand campaign to look loyal was all political, no truth. The Fire Master might appreciate some 'help' into a loftier position, which is fine because we want him out."

Nighthand read the poster a couple of times, then responded. “Are you planning to double-cross the Vak Master once you gain his help to defeat Klive? Because part of being an Elite is having the Twilight Item associated with the job… I can guarantee the Master would want it, and we’re not about to give it to him.”

"Oh, I will - in no way - allow Vak-Man to gobble that thing up, even if I have to put it on myself. His part in this is entirely to give us a certain edge in getting up there and dealing with Klive."

“Good.” He paused again. “We’ll have to plan that out pretty carefully. If he doesn’t bite, we’re out an ally and we have to make sure he doesn’t plot to double-cross us. Turning us in to Klive would net him a good reward as well.” He thought some more. “We also have to consider ourselves… and whether or not we can take the Master once we’ve drained ourselves fighting Klive.”

"I've considered that. If the Master's loyal, then we could fall into a serious trap. Any chance you found something that's deadly and icy?"

He chuckled. “Does Demorian count?”

"Yeah, and you can enhance anyone's powers with a touch, right?"

“Hmm? No, not really. I can enhance spells. Even that is sort of flaky, due to Xenobia… Long story.”

Canti shrugged. "Still, anyone who's good at resisting fire or just plain anti-fire should go, I think. Given circumstances, all of us is impossible."

“I dunno. We can discuss it with Sheena and Demorian later, and maybe Nall if he’s awake. At least for the trek up Klive’s tower, we’d need all the help we can get.” He thought back to his recent encounter in Royce’s tower, and knew the guardians inside would be much worse than those outside.

"I'd rather not risk Nall. This all began so that we could keep 'im out of enemy hands. Whatever we do, I wouldn't want to fail on the mission we started with."

“True.” He glanced at the still-sleeping blademaster. “I doubt he’ll be awake anyways.”

When conversation dropped off after that, Nighthand stood and left the building. Demorian wasn’t in, after all. It was just his luck, however, that at the end of the alleyway the heavyblade spotted the blademaster walking that way. He took a few steps forward and stopped the man.

“Yo, Demorian. How was your journey around town?” He asked, both curious and by way of greeting. The icy blademaster stopped to talk.

“Not bad. You know, the usual. Meeting old contacts, threatening lives, that sort of thing.” He grinned. Demorian was certainly a sardonic guy. “How about you? How was your journey around the town?” Using his words exactly, almost mockingly.

“Good. Met a girl, killed a guy, caused some trouble, the usual.” He gestured with the large burlap sack, now amusingly empty. It only contained one item, and that item was barely present at all, how little bulk it had. “Got one for you, even. You might even like it.” Though he wondered if Demorian would bother with using it.

“Oh? What’cha get me?” Demorian’s eagerness was tempered with ages of restraint and possibly the potential to already have something better. None of them, except maybe Sheena and Nall, had any idea what Demorian’s powers were. Nighthand could only tell that he was very powerful and that he specialized in Rue. Beyond that, his eye could tell him nothing.

“It’s called the Cloak of the Wraith.” Nighthand reached into the sack and pulled out the large white sheet. “Here.” He handed it to the blademaster, who took it curiously.

“Looks like just a sheet.” He raised an eyebrow in askance.

“Yup. But check it out!” Nighthand reached over and pulled around a few folds. “It has eye holes!” His amusement of the situation held no bounds.

“So… it’s a ghost sheet. A Halloween costume. Why, precisely, did you get me this?” Demorian didn’t seem offended, and neither did he return the sheet. He knew Nighthand, and knew there would be more to it.

“Cuz it has a special ability. When you put it on, it ghosts you.” Nighthand explained, adopting a tone of overbearing snobbery. “Sheesh. I would have thought you of all people could have figured that out.”

“Oh, THAT sort of Cloak. Got it.” Demorian sounded unenthused.

“What, you’ve heard of it before? I was under the impression that it was fairly unique.”

“Sure. I’ve heard of a lot of things. Makes you a ghost, lets you pull it off to attack, right?”

“Yup.”

“Sweet. Should be pretty useful here and there.” He pocketed it and nodded towards the hideout, safe house, whatever they were calling it.

Nighthand himself started walking, rather than flying, heading for the chaos gate. Once he arrived there, he stood in the bustling plaza, watching the gate in its slow spin.

“Where are you planning to hit next?” Silverblade asked. Nighthand, now used to his small stature, was amused to see him sitting on the gate itself.

“Not sure. I don’t care about the mercenary district any more, and the Bazaar will be my last stop. So it’s either one of the elemental sectors or it’s one of the OE sectors.”

“Well, why not stick close to home, so to speak, and check out one of the other elemental sectors? You might find something interesting, even if you don’t see anything to your elemental liking.” Silverblade shrugged a tiny shrug, and hopped down from the gate.

Nighthand shrugged as well, and set off towards one of the gaps in the wall, heading for a random sector.

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The area he arrived at could not possibly be anything other than the nature sector. He called it nature rather than juka or juk, because that was what the players in Yamiyo referred to it as. Xenobia was not the Juk Elite, she was the Nature Elite.

Xenobia… At the mere thought of her, Nighthand grew suddenly angry. That bitch had ruined his character data. Once, he had been highly powerful, with the ability to control the elements to his whims. His Twilight was controlled, was powerful, was insanely useful. He had been capable of anything. And then she came.

Xenobia was quite something. Her figure was intensely beautiful, a fact that was no doubt enhanced by her powers. She usually wore a dress that trailed to her ankles, and wrapped around her arms in long dangling trains of cloth, and yet it left her neck and abdomen bare. Only a small white bra-like section of cloth kept her modest. That, and her restraint. She never wore her outfit or her demeanor violently, or seductively, or negatively. She was controlled and calm, powerful and malevolent, beautiful and deadly.

Once, she had been a formidable opponent in her own right. She was a Long Arm, the class of spear wielders that typically held nearly as much magical might as physical. Her threat came in the form of her Twilight Item, known as the Master’s Crown. It capped her long golden hair, gold itself, and was the most insidious and powerful of the Twilight Items.

Xenobia’s powers were to manipulate players. She could make them turn on each other and control their bodies absolutely. Their minds were free, but that hardly mattered. They could scream inside all they wanted, and they would still kill their allies.

On top of that, as the Elite of Nature, she had command over nature. She could control the growth and manipulation of plant life. Vines would attack and defend at her command, trees would bend to her will, the grass itself would reach to defend her if it could.

The most insidious part, out of all of it, was those were simply two of her array of powers. She undoubtedly had several more, things none of them had seen.

On top of all of that, the woman had been gifted a weapon of incredible power, by Royce. The weapon was once one of theirs, a custom designed spear wielded by the long arm Kurai. The spear was incomplete and corrupted, and drove him insane. It whispered to him in the darkness and drove him to kill other players, a heinous act. More, it gave him the experience for the kill that leveled him to eighty four, a level far beyond any the rest of the group had.

Kurai had lured them all to his field, unwittingly, as he did not wish to fight his former allies. Argilus, the one-armed twin blade companion to Kurai, had defected and joined the party’s side. He led the charge and together they attempted to beat back the player. Kurai was a formidable foe, and it looked like all was lost, when a third party appeared.

Royce had shown up and, in a flash of light, killed the errant long arm. She had deigned to leave the wounded party alone, for this was in the days before they were considered a threat. She left, taking the spear with her. Only later did they discoverer; the light-elemental twin blade had given the wood-natured spear to the Nature Elite.

Xenobia wielded power untold and unknown to any save herself, and perhaps not even that. Who knew what secrets the Treeweaver held, even from one such as her?

Nighthand’s rage was directed towards her because of a certain action she had taken on an attempt to clear a dungeon. He had been defending a doorway, or something, he didn’t even remember entirely. The monster they had been fighting was made of vines, and those vines were controlled by Xenobia. She had controlled those vines to strike him and, even though the damage was insignificant, she destroyed his control over his hack. Instead of shaping the elemental forces to his whim, they wavered in and out of focus. He routinely cursed her when he altered spells, because they could just as easily blow up in his face or puff out of existence.

Nighthand decided that, in his exploration of the Nature Sector, he would try to search out someone who could help him restore his powers to balance.

Only then, once he had calmed down enough to think straight, could he get a good impression of the nature sector. It seemed to be a place of nature, which made sense. He was standing on a thick carpet of grass, and nowhere he looked did he see a single building made out of stone. Everything, from the roads to the buildings to even some of the people, seemed to be made out of nature and natural components. The roads were thick carpets of resilient grass. The buildings came in all shapes and sizes. Some of them were made of wood, link simple log cabins and the like. Some of them were houses perched up high in trees, with ladders or staircases reaching them. In fact, as he looked up, he could see several layers of houses in the trees, connected with bridges and ropes, zip lines and ladders.

Some other buildings were carved directly out of a single giant tree, or were woven out of the still-growing saplings nearby. All in all, the entire place reeked of fantasy tropes. The players wandering around seemed at home there, many of them barefoot, most of them rocking out with some form or another of a forest hack. Some of them were wooden themselves, or dryads. Some were simply tall and skinny, with pointed ears and the graceful features of Elvin kind. Some sported cosmetic wings or small sizes that allowed them to fly, and just as many of them glowed like a sunbeam through the trees was always shining on them.

On the other side of the spectrum were the furry hackers, those who had animal ears, tails, pelts, fur, eyes, claws, and other variations of the cosmetic hacks of animals. Some were more animal than man, similar to the Dragon, only using more down to earth creatures. He saw a pair of people walk buy sporting large deer antlers and cloven hooves instead of feet. He watched a pack of dogs tussling near the square, each with names and levels and weapons strapped to their furry backs. Almost everyone had animal ears that didn’t have a humanoid version of the hacks.

Nighthand walked through the area, marveling. Unlike the bustling business-like air to the other sectors he had visited, this place seemed calm and cool, collected and all around pleasant. The temperature was that of a cool breeze in spring, a little chill but plenty warm enough. There was shadow and there was light. The perpetual night of Yamiyo was warded off by hundreds of lanterns, torches, patches of sunlit players, bonfires, and any other form of illumination possible in keeping with a natural setting. The players were quiet and moved slowly, their unhurried gaits hinting at a serene atmosphere. Here and there a player sat still, playing an instrument. Some held guitars, some flutes, some sang and danced. Many of these had a small container out in front of them, and passers-by tossed in a few GP at a time. They didn’t seem like they cared about the money, and were doing it more for the pleasure of performance.

Nighthand remembered the days of his early career, when life was more carefree and when he could afford the chance to sit down and enjoy the music. He used to have his own flute; he still did, in fact, gathering dust in the bottom of his inventory. He only used it very rarely, as it served no purpose and their mood was very rarely suitable for mood music these days.

Even so, his pulse quickened in time with the music, and he found he was enjoying the experience of wandering around the sector blindly, just admiring the scenery and the players. While he doubted many of them were all that practical in battle, he had to admire their dedication to their sensibilities. They would choose look over function here in Yamiyo itself.

It wasn’t long before he came upon what could only be the Tower of the Master, here in the nature sector. It was pretty easy to label it as such, given it was the only place where stone was a prominent factor in the building.

Unlike his expectations, which were rather similar to the great carven yggdrasil of the tower of nature in the wastes, the Master’s Keep was something far different. It was more of a mountain than it was a tower. It looked like someone had taken a mountain and individually carved runes on every rock of the place. These rocks were then tumbled down in one great pile and some of the runes coated with a substance that made them glow in the darkness. Then the pile of rubble was coated in trees of various shapes and sizes, growing on, in, and around the rocks. Then the place was hollowed out, caves being formed to look natural while also being significantly artificial; high enough for comfort bit without echo, few enough stalactites to keep from catching the heads of the taller players.

Seeing players come and go from small nooks and crannies of the structure, disappearing into and out of the surrounding forest, got him thinking. Maybe this place would be a good place for a new hideout? It seemed pretty serene. Most players in their party would feel more at home here. Plus the close proximity to things they needed would help. No one here seemed much into asking questions either. He filed that note away and turned away from the central castle. He didn’t want to explore it just yet. He didn’t have enough of a purpose or enough of an idea of what to bullshit about said purpose. Instead, he went back to wandering the sector.

He heard one musician, several minutes later, stop their playing abruptly. He saw a player accosting the musician loudly, causing a bit of a scene. He crept into the edges of the gathered crowd and listened.

The player was tall and lanky, dressed in loose-fitting clothing and wielding a spear. He looked mid-level, around forty or so, given by the quality of his spear. He was practically in tears, from some combination of anger and of terror, and possibly of despair. Nighthand smiled. He was bound to be interesting. His smile widened even further when he heard the subject of their conversation.

“Where’s Xenobia!” He shouted.

“I don’t know, get off me!” The musician shoved off the player, who stumbled, but came back.

“Is she in the town?!” He was half crying.

“Probably not, sheesh. She’s probably in her tower.”

“Damnit! Does anyone here know about her powers?” Desperation filled his tone.

“Hey, old Jameson in the north block claims to.” Someone from the crowd perked up.

“Really!” The long arm’s voice was excited. “What does he do?”

“I dunno, what do you need?”

“Xenobia, damn that bitch, broke my powers!”

At this there was a moment of silence, before the entire crowd burst out laughing. The long arm, frustrated, spun in a circle. He shouted, yelled, shoved, trying to get the crowd to shut up, and finally the laughter was dying and the musician spoke.

“Just… go to Jameson. Seriously.”

“Why are you laughing at me?!” He shouted.

“This happens all the time. Fuck, daily. Just get out of here.” He started laughing again, strumming his guitar, to get back into the music he left. It was clear he had nothing more to say.

The long arm wandered off and, following from shadow to shadow, Nighthand started to trail the man. He wandered, half in tears, half in anger, from person to person until he made it to the north side of the sector. From there, he was getting more and more specific directions until he reached a point near the end of his journey. Hearing the final leg of the directions, Nighthand rushed in, and took a seat in the wooden waiting room before the long arm arrived. When he did walk in, Nighthand looked at him and rolled his eye.

“Another one, huh? She get you too?” Meanwhile he glanced around the room, getting a feel for the place. It didn’t look like a waiting room, though it had clearly been converted to being such. Once it had probably been some kind of living room.

“What? Did Xenobia destroy your abilities too?”

“Yup. Sort of. She scrambled them so they don’t work all the time.”

“You look pretty strong!” The kid said, eager now.

“Uh… sure? I guess. I’ve been around the block a few times.” Nighthand wondered where this was going. Soon he had his answer.

“You want to come with me? Maybe we can take her down together!” Nighthand rolled his eye.

“I doubt it. She’s really powerful.”

“I know! I got pretty far, I even got to see her before she kicked me from the tower.”

Nighthand was impressed. To climb one of those towers alone, and challenge Xenobia, with only a level 40… that was something.

“Where are your party members?” He asked, and knew immediately he was right. The lad had a crestfallen look, and was immediately somber.

“They didn’t make it out. She killed them, and they stayed dead, they didn’t ghost. I couldn’t revive them.” Nighthand nodded.

“She can do that. They’re probably stuck in the dungeons now, or made into slaves.” The kid looked terrified, almost in tears once again.

“You… You think they’ll make it?”

Nighthand shook his head. No use in pulling punches. Without a good group of heroes, like himself and his own, these random dudes probably wouldn’t stand a chance. “I doubt it. The Elites are pretty ruthless. Still, you knew what you were getting into.”

At this point, the long arm was definitely in tears, having sunk down onto the grassy carpet to sob. Nighthand would have continued, to fully impress upon this guy his situation, but they were interrupted by a middle-aged looking man with a sword strapped to his back, a blademaster. His user name was, according to the status screens, Jameson.

“Two of you today, eh? Well, come on. I’ll take a look at you.” He stood aside in the doorway and Nighthand rose, leading the way into the back room. A back room which, it appeared, was very much like a kitchen. In fact, it was a kitchen, with the one exception being comfortable chairs. Nighthand took a seat at one of those, with the crying spear wielder collapsing into another. Jameson looked the pair up and down, one at a time. “You two together?”

Nighthand shook his head negative. “Nope. He just got kicked out of the tower. I’ve been like this a while.” Jameson nodded.

“Well, might as well work on the fresh meat. You’ll last a bit longer, won’t you, Nighthand?”

“I will.” Jameson turned to the long arm, who now had ceased his sobbing, though tears still sparkled on his cheeks in the light of the candle chandelier. The blademaster put a hand on the forehead of the long arm, as if taking his temperature, and then put his thumbs to the kid’s temples. A few more docterly and fatherly gestures of a similar nature, and Jameson shrugged.

“You’ll be fine in a few days, kid.” He tapped him on the shoulder to bring him out of his slump. “So. Get out of my house, go about your business, and come back if they’re still messed up in a week.”

The kid’s eyes brightened considerably at that, the tears almost turning into sparkles of joy. “You mean you healed me? You really cured me?”

“Hell no.” Jameson said, rolling his eyes. “It’ll just wear off. Now, scram!” He turned to Nighthand, the kid clearly dismissed. After a few befuddled moments in which he gathered his wits about him, the long arm shouted a thank you as he ran from the house, practically skipping. Jameson looked Nighthand in the eye for a few minutes, before speaking in a somber voice.

“You know I can’t do anything for you, right?” His voice was full of regret, and sadness, and a personal depression so deep and so well hidden Nighthand almost didn’t pick up on it.

“I had my suspicions.” Nighthand replied. “If there was anyone in Yamiyo who could counteract Xenobia’s powers, she probably would have killed him by now.”

“You’re right. I’m running quite a risk in even pretending. It’s worth it, though.”

“Why? Why is it worth it? What happened to you?” Nighthand was curious, a stranger in a strange land, and this man had no reason to tell him anything. Except, perhaps, a bit of his own need to vent.

“A… Friend of mine. She was hit by Xenobia in one of our runs on her tower, the highest we ever got. We almost defeated her. Then she hit us with that ability… I still can’t use my powers, and that was years ago. This friend of mine, her powers were inverted. She’s been in constant pain for years.” He slammed his fist onto the table in a sudden rage. “And I can’t do anything. Nothing! Damn it all… Why am I telling you this. You can’t help me.” The crushing despair was sinking back over him again.

“Tell you what.” Nighthand said, and Jameson looked up. “My group and I are hunting the Elites. Not climbing the towers for power. Hunting them. If we manage to defeat her, or find a cure to her powers, I’ll let you know as soon as possible.”

“Freedom Fighters…” Jameson muttered, and Nighthand jolted up, his hand reaching for the hilt of his sword, prepared to fight or flee as the situation developed.

“You know of us?” He was cautious, curious, careful.

“I thought you were all dead or gone.” Jameson replied, noting Nighthand’s caution and his nearness to violence. “Don’t worry. I won’t be telling anyone you’re around.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“You don’t. Then again, how do I know I can trust you about your promise for fighting Xenobia?”

“Fair enough.” Nighthand replied, and relaxed. “So how do you know of the Freedom Fighters?”

“Years ago, when they were a very different group from yours I imagine, they were led by a warrior named Nall. They were coerced into coming here for a tournament. One of my friends fought in that tournament, and died from it.”

“Sounds like you may hold a grudge.”

“Not really. I came to terms with it. What Garaa says, happens, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Besides, he was cocky and arrogant. He thought he could win. He almost did. Then he lost. It happens.”

“It does. I remember that tournament as well. I fought in it.” Jameson looked over Nighthand slowly, and nodded.

“I can see it now. I watched you fight. You were a lot different then. No wings, two eyes. You’ve grown stronger.”

Nighthand nodded. “So you know when I promise to try to help you, I mean it. We have a chance of killing her, taking the Crown, and making what use of it we can.”

“We will see. I don’t know if you have what it takes, even now.” Jameson said sadly.

“Why would you say that?”

“You don’t know the extent of her power. No one does, not you, not me, not anyone in the nature sector. Before, when she was simply armed with the Master’s Crown, she was able to be defeated. Now, with that spear of hers… I fear she is the most powerful of all, and that it is only a matter of time before she leads them.”

“I don’t see her as the leader type.” Nighthand said, but his joke fell flat. “That spear is our fault as well. An early member of ours, Kurai, owned it. He created it in fact, or at least was the impetus for its creation. You may have seen him in the tournament as well.”

His eyes widened. “I do remember it, now. He was one of your long arms, wielding the power of wood. Yes, it is the same spear. Though, there’s something different about it now.”

“How do you mean? How do you know?” Nighthand wondered how this old man could know some detail about Xenobia.

“Well, she comes here about once a month to show off her power, or to enlist the aid of some players, or to hunt down some offender to her power. The reason varies every time she arrives. “

“What about the spear?” Nighthand asked.

“It was corrupted back then. Even I could see it. I don’t know how this Kurai friend of yours ever managed to keep it under control.”

“I don’t either. Eventually it drove him into mad player killing, so I suppose he didn’t know how either. What about now? What’s different?”

“Well, it’s not corrupt. It’s fully functional and powerful, and has unique abilities no one ever sees, but it’s not corrupted. It’s not about to drive her mad or anything. She’s just going to keep on using it until she can do everything she could possibly want with it. I don’t know what powers it has now. No one does.”

“That’s certainly a damper on things, but we’re still going to try. Let me tell you, Jameson. We will succeed. We will kill each and every one of the Elites and we will prevail. So just you wait.”

Thus having confirmed the man’s will and given him his faith, Nighthand left the building. He was walking down the street when, from some side path, the long arm from before arrived. He fell into step with Nighthand, trailing him while the heavy blade pointedly ignored him. Nighthand wanted little to do with the long arm, especially after he had crushed his hopes so thoroughly. Yet the long arm, despite the pointed silence and studiously avoidant gaze, continued to follow. Only once he was nearing the exit of the nature sector and was preparing to head into a different sector did he stop and stare at the long arm.

“What?” Nighthand asked, his voice harsh.

“I heard what happened in there.” The long arm responded, whatever fear he held of the heavy blade long gone.

“What part? The bit about Jameson being completely and utterly unable to help with my problem like he could yours?” Nighthand injected quite a bit of bitterness into his voice and was surprised to find that not all of it was forced. He really was a little bitter that this guy, supposedly the local expert on Xenobia and her powers and abilities, was still unable to do a damn thing about the effects of Xenobia’s curse.

“Sure.” The long arm continued. “And the part about him not actually helping me either.”

“So why aren’t you sobbing again, hmm?” Nighthand asked. He was being unusually caustic today. He wondered why.

“I have a new idea in mind.”

“What would that be, kid?”

“I’m going to join the freedom fighters.”

This gave Nighthand pause. This kid wanted to join them? What could that possibly do? “No.” He said, and turned away.

“Yes.” The long arm said, sticking up to Nighthand in a way very few could.

“What do you mean, yes?” Nighthand demanded, glaring at the kid.

“I mean, yes. I’m going with you. I’m going to follow you wherever you go and do what needs to be done to join your group.”

Nighthand rounded on the kid and grabbed a hold of his spear, planting it firmly in the ground. “Look. You don’t know what we’re dealing with here. You think you and your party was a success getting to Xenobia and getting trashed? You think running, crying, back to the Nature sector to find some solution to your problems is helping? You think you could be of any help to us?” With each successive phrase, he drove the spear even deeper into the ground. Before long, the Long Arm would find it impossible to retrieve it.

“Yes, I do.” The kid said. “I heard about you, dealing with your powers fluctuating for years. If you can do it, I can do it, whether or not they come back.”

“What even ARE your powers?” Nighthand demanded. The kid was silent, tugging at his spear. “Well?” He planted a foot on the butt end of the spear and kept it immobile.

“I… Sacrifice players.”

“What?” Nighthand asked, incredulous.

“I sacrifice players. To deal damage.”

“Seriously? You thought that would help any of us? We need more of a fighting force, not less!”

“They can be resurrected!” He protested. “Eventually…”

“Yeah? And now what, with Xenobia’s tampering? What if they can’t? What if you sacrifice one of our leaders for damage, and he dies. Not just ghosts, but dies. Forever. What then?”

“I don’t know.” The kid said, crestfallen.

Nighthand shook his head in disgust. “If I see you again, I’ll kill you. So leave.” He paused, and his voice softened. “If you think you can take me, then seek me out. Maybe if you can, then you’ll be worthy of joining.”

He shifted himself to speed and blurred away, leaving the kid to struggle pulling his spear out of the ground.

Some moments later he shifted his pace back to normal and walked beyond the borders of the Nature sector, back to the central plaza where the chaos gate floated in its ever-serene spin. He marveled at that. In all his time in The World, the one thing he had never seen hacked to pieces or edited beyond its original shape was the chaos gate. This iconic and central edifice of the game, of The World, was something not even the Elites seemed to care to tamper with. Though they undoubtedly could. It was just the one iconic thing in the game that no one wanted to touch.

That, or every time it was hacked, someone else restored it to its original form. Having your main method of transportation, something everyone has to use, corrupted or hidden or turned into something no one wanted to look at… That was a quick way to get yourself ousted from the hacker club and have your membership taken away.

Nighthand turned away from the gate, however. He didn’t want to use it when he didn’t have to. He knew for a fact that you could travel to every sector of every district on foot without having to use the gates; in fact the gates were only there for convenience. He had heard a rumor floating around, a bit of trivia more than anything. The gates had once not even linked the districts together. They simply worked as a way for someone in whatever District they were in to transfer to the other servers quickly and easily. Eventually the functions were added to allow players to go to the other districts from one another, and the current version of the gates was born.

Nighthand turned in a slow circle, debating which of the sectors to visit next. He had visited Anid right off, that was a given, so that was out. Vak he hadn’t been to yet. Rue he hadn’t been to yet either. Nor had he taken the time to visit Rai. He had been to Juk, though. And Gan was the location of their home base, for the moment. Though he hadn’t taken the time to explore the sector, he could always do that later.

For now, Nighthand decided to get the most distasteful one out of the way first. He took the first few steps and passed through the threshold of the wall and into the Rai sector.

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