❯ Hack//Generational Unity – Chapter 2

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

The black armored figure stepped over the bodies that littered the ground as he walked across the plane. He looked down at the group of newbies who’d been dumped into a pile, and then back up to the guys who put them there. After pulling out his scythe, he pointed it at the group of PKs.

“Do you know Tri-Edge?”

Chapter 2: The Shadow of Death

Pi sighed as she walked through the halls of the dungeon. Since she was going to be the second person to arrive at the meeting, all the monsters were gone, but it was still a chore to get there. She just didn’t see why Yata couldn’t just have the programmers write some code for her to warp directly to the spot he was spying on with in the Serpent of Lore.

When she finally came to the meeting place, Pi saw the other person had just finished off a monster and was holding its cheap reward in his hand. With the dungeon being well below both their levels, it was a pretty worthless one. “I don’t need this,” Saburou mumbled before tossing the thing away.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Pi said to get the girl’s attention.

Saburou turned around to smile. “I just wanted to see the disappointed look on your face when you saw you had to deal with me again,” she replied in a cheerful tone.

Pi rolled her eyes, and decided to get down to business. There was no reason to tell Saburou what was really going on, or how much such an attitude irked her. “We identified the one we were looking for. So, we’ll be needing that PC body back now.”

The other girl character blinked. “Huh? What do you need this thing for?”

“There’s something I’d like to test on Haseo,” Pi explained evenly. “I’ll require that PC body to do it.”

Saburou frowned a little. “Test? You’re going to use this character like a ruler or something?” She sighed, and played with the hair hanging past her ear a little. “Look, I don’t know exactly what you guys are doing, but I don’t think I’m ready to just hand this character over to you just like that.” She smiled a little, and looked Pi in the eye. “If you want something done, I can do it for you.” The chance to actually do something fun had finally come, and she wasn’t just about to walk away.

Pi frowned at the girl’s attitude. But still, who did the job didn’t really matter, as long as it got done. With that line of thinking, she made her decision. “You’ve got one week,” she said before walking away.

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Haseo made his way down the streets of Mac Anu. He went to all the shops, took the long way around the city, and scoped out the player owned stores at a leisurely pace while keeping a disgruntled look on his face. In short, he was parading around town, and making sure that everyone saw him doing it.

“Hey, is that him?”

“He’s that guy that’s been killing all those PKs.”

“I thought he was just looking for that red PK?”

After he paraded himself around most of the town, Haseo started to head back to the chaos gate, but turned around when he thought of something else that needed doing. This time, he quickly made his way to where he wanted to go instead of strutting around the place.

“Hey, do you want to exchange info?”

“I’m not an information broker.”

Haseo came to the middle of the bridge where the old beast-man Phyllo always sat. With his short height and animal appearance, the boy could see why he reminded Tabby of a stuffed animal. There was someone new there too, a man with tanned skin and green hair, with green tattoos of the same color that came down from the top of his forehead to his eyebrows. Not wanting to wait for them to finish their conversation, Haseo simply cut in. “Hey, old man.”

Phyllo looked over to the boy who’d called to him so rudely, and then gasped at the newcomer appearance. “H-Haseo!” Apart from the child’s facial features, everything about him seemed to have been changed since the old man saw him last. The look of innocence that Haseo character once had been completely washed away.

“Well, you’ve changed,” the other man next to Phyllo said in a familiar tone.

Haseo frowned at the man’s manner of speech, then looked at the character’s name. With a little guesswork, he put two and two together. “Tawaraya?”

The man blinked at the name and let out a small laugh. “You’re sharper than I remember, and stronger as well. But it’s Tohta now. How’d you figure it out so quickly anyway?” Not that he kept it that big a secret.

“I’ve heard the story, so it wasn’t that hard to figure it out with the way you talk,” Haseo told him with a shrug.

Tohta nodded, he guessed as much. But, the time for complementing the former newbie’s intelligence was over. Now that Haseo was here, it saved him a little legwork. “I’ve heard that you’ve been looking for a PK known as Tri-Edge.”

Haseo leaned over on the bridge, and then invited the other man into a party for a more private chat. After a moment, he decided to add the other man on the bridge as well. “Have you heard anything?”

“Just the basic rumors,” Tohta said with a small frown.

As a ship passed under the bridge, Haseo took a moment to look at the people on it, and then turned around to lean back on the rail. “If you hear anything, tell me about it. As things stand now, all I can do keep asking PKs in the way that’s best to spread the word. That way, even if I run across someone who only knows me by reputation, they’ll know what I’m looking for.”

Phyllo nodded. “I understand. If you build fame, people will talk about you on the boards. Because you constantly ask about Tri-Edge, they will also talk about him. It’s that way that you’re hoping to locate him.” The old man looked down as Haseo, the boy had indeed become craftier, but still seemed just as shortsighted. “But if you should find him, what then?”

The fact that the boy was back to looking for Tri-Edge disturbed Phyllo somewhat. Judging by the changes in Haseo’s appearance and actions, he had obviously gained something at the bottom of the forest. However, Taihaku also made it to the end of that field, and only left with a sword.

So, what was it that made the end result so different for the two of them?

“It’ll take time for the rumors to spread, so I have time to come up with something for that eventuality,” Haseo replied evenly.

In other words, you have no idea, Tohta thought to himself. Which was strange, considering the rumors surrounding Haseo’s recent activities. If someone like the black adept rouge was still uneasy about confront Tri-Edge, then just how strong was the PK?

Then, the reason he was here returned to the forefront of his mind. “By the way, Phyllo, there’s something I wanted to tell you.” He looked over to the Adept Rouge and quirked an eyebrow. “You should probably here this too.” He took in a deep breath, and decided to just go right out and say it. “Apparently, there was another person who fought with Tri-Edge, and lived through it.”

Haseo frowned at the information and looked over to the man. The fact that there was someone who fought Tri-Edge and got away with his or her life wasn’t that important to him. But still, it might be worth checking out. “Do you know who it was?”

“Not yet, but I can find out,” Tohta assured him. Even though TaN had been destroyed, a contact network wouldn’t be hard to establish with the bones that were left if all he was dealing in was information. A smile graced the man’s lips. “Of course, you’ll have to pay me for the information. This is a business after all.”

The frown on Haseo’s face deepened. He wasn’t in the mood for playing this kind of thing. “Fine, but before I do, I want to know if your information network is still intact.”

Tohta blinked at the question. “Truthfully? It’s at an all time low. All I can really do at the moment is spread and pick up rumors. Why’d you ask?”

Rumors…that should be enough. “There’s some things I’m looking for,” Haseo told him before thinking about his next move carefully. In the end, he decided to be cautious. “I’ll e-mail you with a list. Have it posted on the boards, and send it out to your friends. I need whatever you can gather from it delivered exactly one week from now.”

The strange request made Tohta blink. “You looking for rare weapons or something?”

“Or something,” Haseo replied before standing back up and heading off. Right as he reached the end of the bridge, a tone informed him that he had mail.

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Tohta crossed his arms as he waited for the two shopkeepers to finish processing the information. After telling the two to gather information on the PK Tri-Edge, he sent them the e-mail Haseo had instructed him to pass around. When one of them finally moved, he looked to the skinny catlike person and frowned. “So, you see the problem?”

“Yeah, half these things don’t even exist in The World,” he said in confusion. “Is this an event or something?” There could have been items made specifically for an event, like a treasure hunt, or maybe a scavenger hunt.

The other player behind the counter started to move, and Tohta replied to the first one. “Well, I guess you could say it’s a player run event. But as far as a scavenger hunt goes, it doesn’t seem to be one. The instructions are to tell the person running the event where he can find the items, not actually bring them to him.”

“A thief’s clothes, a rose without color, and Siegfried’s sword,” the skinnier cat-man repeated as he went down the list. Then, he looked up at the other two merchants. “Who’s Siegfried?”

Tohta cleared his throat to get the others attention. “I think he was some…eccentric magician who lived in America,” he told the guy before looking away from the eyes of the other two. He really didn’t want to have to admit just how big a fan one of his parents had been of the guy. It was just too…weird.

“Look, just post the two lists on the boards and mail them to the rest of the guys so they can spread the word,” he said before turning around to head off. “If they ask, tell them it’s an event.”

The two merchants looked at each other, then the smaller one ran after Tohta to ask him one last thing. “Wait! If this an event, what’s the prize?” However, the other merchant didn’t appear to hear the question.

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Hulle Granz Cathedral, it was many things to many people. It was a place of destiny, a place of torment, of defeat, of victory, of sadness and of hope. Haseo stood outside the building, halfway between the chaos gate and the cathedral itself. After double-checking that no one was around, he pulled out a fairy’s orb from his inventory, and used it.

Haseo frowned as nothing happened, and the landscape stayed the same. The adept rouge sighed at the failure, and then started to head back to the gate. “Yeah, like it was gong to be that easy,” he mumbled before he started to walk back to the gate.

The sound of a chime alerted him to more e-mail, and Haseo frowned when he saw whom it was from. I guess she’s not going to quit until I come and see her, the boy reasoned before heading out.

A gate back to the root town, and another warp later, and Haseo found himself walking around a barren field that was set at night. As with most of the fields in the new world, it was a series of islands connected by bridges. Going by the usual process of meeting someone on a field like this, he followed his map to the center island and looked around.

“It’s been awhile.”

Haseo looked back around and saw the girl who’d called him here. It was weirdo he met in the forest, Saburou. She was standing on one of the short mesas that were all around the place. After he turned around to face the other player fully, the green-haired girl slumped down and studied the boy. “You’ve changed too much. Was that your reward for clearing the event?”

“You called me about Tri-Edge,” Haseo replied, ignoring the girl’s question entirely. He didn’t have time to waste on meaningless chat. “Now what did you want to say?”

The girl just smirked. “Hey, don’t be in such a hurry,” she said with a smile. “You need to learn to slow down a bit. By the way, thanks for taking my member address a while ago. It would have made finding you so much more difficult without that.”

Haseo sighed and turned around before he started to walk away. “If you don’t know anything, then I’ll be going.”

“You shouldn’t be taking all this so seriously, it’s just a game,” Saburou told him.

Those words struck a cord with the Adept Rouge.

“There are worse things than death,” the voice of the old lady said.

Haseo desperately tried to hold onto Shino’s body as it disappeared from `The World’. She looked up at him for one last time, and smiled.

“No, this isn’t just a game,” he practically growled in anger while tightening his grip on the weapon in his hands. Haseo looked back at the girl, and frowned when a memory fought through his anger to come to the forefront of his mind. “Wait a second.”

He remembered, in the forest…

“If he was an NPC then CC Corp would just delete him,” Saburou said as she followed Haseo through the woods.

Haseo stopped walking as he tried to see where the girl was going. “So, what is he then?”

“An AI.”

Saburou blinked as the boy’s changing expression. The way he was looking at her, it made the person on the other side of the screen, uncomfortable. “W-What?”

“You knew about artificial intelligences,” Haseo said as the look on his face became darker. “You knew that Tri-Edge is an AI. In fact, you even knew about Aura! Not the stupid statue, the actual program that was said to be the guardian of the original World. There’s no way a normal player could know all that.” He held the black scythe up to the lime-haired girl’s neck. “WHO ARE YOU? A SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR? ONE OF THE .HACKERS?” His voice dropped to a whisper as another possibility came to mind. “Or, are you from the group before them?”

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“This is strange.”

From where she was standing inside the Serpent of Lore, Pi watched as her operative sweated under Haseo’s gaze. At master Yata’s comment, she looked over to him, then back to the data readout in front of her, and repeated the cycle every few seconds. “What is it sir?”

Yata didn’t offer her a reply, he simply held his chin in thought.

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“.hacker, now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a few years,” Saburou mumbled. “Well, I won’t pretend to be one of them. But I’ll tell you what…” She reached behind her and pulled out a large pink axe with a blade that was almost as big as her character’s upper body. “If you can manage to beat me, I’ll answer that question for you.”

As the girl lunged at him, Haseo jumped only a little, and put away his weapon while pulling up his legs to avoid her axe. Once inside the girl’s defenses, he reached behind his back and pulled out the twin blades. One went down to block Saburou’s axe and keep it there, the other went up to stop at her neck. “Is that it?” he asked with a smirk.

The girl just smirked on opened her free hand to send an attack spell at the dark-clothed boy. Blue rays of light shot from her hand and she saw Haseo’s body become engulfed from the smoke of the explosions.

When it all cleared, he was still standing there with one blade on her axe, and the other to her neck. W-What the hell? Saburou asked herself as she saw only a tiny amount of HP trick off of the other character’s life bar. “Well, that’s pretty impressive,” she told him to hide the shock.

Just how high a level was he now anyway?

Haseo frowned as the smoke cleared, he jumped over the girl and landed behind her before bringing his twin blades up to her throat, and held her in place with his arms. He rested his chin on her shoulder and smirked. “Nice try, but your luck can’t match my skill.”

Saburou sighed as she saw that there wasn’t anything she could do, then let go of her axe and held up her hands. With the obvious difference in their stats, she had no chance of winning. “Okay you win,” she admitted. “Now, what did you want to know?”

With the fight over, Haseo put away his weapons and backed off. “How do you know what you know?”

The girl sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay well, the truth is I used to play the old version of the game. I was around for the rumors about the girl in the white nightgown, and all the bugs. I know about all the .hackers cause one of the guys I used to play with was related to them. I think his name was…Kana, Kartu, Kazu, or something like that. Guy wouldn’t shut up about them.” She let out a sigh and looked down at the ground. “It’s been a few years, but I remember him because he was too damn annoying to forget, like a bad taste in your mouth that never goes away.”

Haseo frowned at that bit of information. “Do you still have his e-mail address?”

“That was seven years ago, I don’t even have the computer I used back then,” Saburou replied with a closed eyed shrug. After look back to Haseo, she decided to try and satisfy her curiosity. “Why the sudden interest in the .hackers?” She didn’t even remember telling him about them when they met in the forest.

The question made Haseo frown, he was supposed to be the one getting answers. Still, he should probably warn the girl what was going on. At least, what he understood was going on at the moment. If she played the original `The World’ she would understand. “Twilight has come to `The World’ again.”

“Huh?” Saburou mumbled in confusion to his response as the boy walked away.

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“I guess you were right, a normal player isn’t a match for him,” Pi mumbled as she watched the events unfold on the screen. She looked over at Yata, who continued to stare at the screen. After waiting for a few more minutes, she decided to see if he was even at his terminal anymore. “Sir?”

Yata finally started to move again, and turned away from the terminal to begin walking towards the exit. “I’m going to check something. Continue to monitor the situation from here, and prepare the backup plan.”

An hour later, Yata found himself waiting outside the chaos gate building in Mac Anu. It had seemed like the boy had decided to do a bit more running around before coming back into town. When he finally came out of the building, Yata positioned himself so that Haseo would walk right by him. As the boy started to pass by, Yata looked over and spoke to him. “Twilight has come to `The World’ again. There aren’t many people who’d know what that phrase meant.”

The phrase he had spoke when in private conversation and no one around being repeated made Haseo spin around to the man beside him with anger on his face. Haseo then frowned when he saw the invitation to the chat. Deciding to be discreet, he accepted before asking the obvious. “Who are you?”

“System administration.”

In response, Haseo turned and walked away before dropping the chat. “See ya.”

He didn’t get two steps before there was another request for a chat. He looked for it at a moment, and then back to the man. “You’re just going to keep annoying me until I do, aren’t you?” he asked before accepting the offer again. “Now what do you want?”

“Did you know your character is write-protected?” the dark skinned man in the glasses asked. “But, the protection goes beyond that. If anyone were to even try to long in with your character without being the person who first created it, they would experience terrible nausea and migraines.”

The black adept rouge simply frowned at the statement.

“I’ve been watching you since the day Ovan took interest in your character. You groped around blindly at most things, and had to be led by the nose to some of the most famous sights in the game. Sights any veteran would know the keywords for the day they started. But from the moment you left that forest, you’ve bee acting quite…differently” Yata told him.

“Confidence can change the way a person views the world, and power is one way to build a great amount of confidence,” Haseo replied. “I gained a lot of power and experience in that forest.” He smirked as the other man tried to dissect him with his eyes. “In fact, I doubt people gain as much experience in a year than I did ten minutes after meeting that old man.”

Yata frowned at the boy’s last words. “Old man?” he repeated.

Haseo smirked as the system admin mulled over the half-truth he had just been given. “Sorry, but that’s all your going to be getting from me,” he told the system admin. “Now you tell me something. I know that greed and money are damn good motivators, but why did they re-create `The World’ as it is now? As it used to be? Don’t you idiots remember what happened the last time?”

“I very much doubt that you could really know everything that happened back then,” Yata replied.

“I KNOW BETTER THAN ANYONE,” Haseo shouted as he pointed at the taller man. Although the people around him couldn’t hear his words, Haseo’s actions were starting to draw a crowd. “You bastards marketed something that you didn’t know how to control! Then, when innocent people started getting hurt, you were ready to let them die just to keep your images clean!”

Yata keep himself calm and collected as the boy continued to try and cut the man with his words. “The anomaly that you speak of no longer exists.”

“Don’t give me that crap!” Haseo told him. “I know the Morganna program is what runs the game. `The World’ can’t function without it.”

With Haseo giving him the last piece of information he needed, Yata decided it was time to be gone. “As you said, it’s almost been ten years since the last version of `The World’ was created. Since then, computer technology has come a long way.” He paused for a moment and his principles got the better of him, so he decided to throw the boy a bone. “But, there is something dangerous coming Haseo be careful of it.”

“I’ve dealt with this kind of stuff before,” Haseo replied before dropping the chat and turning around to head off. “I’m not going to be caught off guard like last time.”

As the boy headed into town, Yata turned and smiled as he put the last piece of information he needed into place. Experience…you shouldn’t have offered me that hint Haseo. With his the question of when and how answered, the solution to who was within his grasp. With a plan forming in his mind, Yata logged off `The World’.

Disconnecting…
Takumi pulled off headset as he watched the character known as Yata finish disappearing from the world. As his computer finished shutting down the game, he sat back in his chair and sighed. “So, he knew about the OS that went out of control huh?” the boy asked the empty room.

Still, I don’t remember anyone with that kind of personality from the old gang, Takumi thought to himself as he brought up his e-mail and looked over the `scavenger hunt’ list Haseo had prepared. “Red thief’s clothes, a rose without color, and Siegfried’s sword.” Kite, Blackrose, and Balmung, anyone who was a member of the dot hackers would be able to figure out that the list was really talking about them, not actual items. Haseo was trying to gather the old team back together.

It was the second list that was confusing.

Red lightning.

Potage that was too hot.

And a boy’s robes fit for a girl.

Well, if it was a reference to people, Takumi reasoned that the first one had to be Crim. His old title was the Crimson Lighting, red thunder, or a number of variations on the wording. If he was looking for them, and judging about how the way he spoke to Saburou, Haseo was a former player of the world that had been involved in the incident that occurred before Twilight. Maybe both, since he knew enough about the .hackers to describe them in such a way.

But when it came to figuring out just who Haseo was, there just wasn’t enough information.

The hacker reached over to pick up the phone next to his computer and dialed the line that would put him strait through to the office in charge of his project. When the phone picked up, he spoke before the person on the other end of the line could talk. “It’s Yata. I need the profiles for the group of players that were involved in the first incident involving Aura.”

“What for?”

Takumi sighed and rubbed his nose. Why the hell had they asked him to do this if they were always slowing him down with questions? “I believe that one of the group that was involved with Aura’s awakening is an epitaph user. I need to know more about him before I attempt to awaken his avatar. Blindly moving around will only waste time.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. Takumi sighed, he knew what this meant, his superior was going up to his superior, and that guy was going up to his superior, and so on. It would be hours before he heard back from the guy on the other end of the line.

“You’ve located the archetype?”

“Archetype?” Takumi repeated with a frown. He looked back at the computer screen and thought back to the information that was given to him after the project had been started. Of course, that’s how he knew of both incidents, Takumi thought with a frown. “That’s who you are.”

“Pardon?”

Takumi shook himself out of his thoughts and started for formulate a plan in his head. “Never mind, all the profiles, just send me one on the prototype via e-mail. I will also require the services of a graphics artist, and a group of computer programmers, fast ones.”

There was another pause. “That may take some time.”

“I need them by tomorrow,” he said before hanging up and restarting `The World’. There was still a lot of work to do.

Logging in…
Tohta sighed as he sat down on one of the church’s benches and leaned back. He had hoped to catch Haseo in the root town, but the guy had logged off before they could run into each other. So, here he was, Tohta had heard from the old man on the bridge that Haseo usually came here after logging in.

It took a lot of waiting, the doors finally opened to reveal the black clad adept rouge. True to fashion, he leached into the church and headed strait for the altar. Tohta didn’t even think the guy noticed him until he stood up and called Haseo’s name.

Haseo looked away from the spot Shino had been taken, and back to the idiot who was stupid enough to disturb him during his little ritual. A black scythe appeared in his hands as he turned around. When he recognized the character, Haseo decided not to kill him. “What?”

“There’s a rumor going around that someone fought with Tri-Edge,” Tohta began. “Since you had logged off when I heard, I looked into it on my own.” He paused for a moment, his curiosity getting the better of him. “Where’d you go anyway?”

Haseo raised an eyebrow at the question and looked back at was the closest thing Shino had to a grave. “…I had other things to do.” After what happened the other day, his father had set up a stupid doctor’s appointment, not that the man could figure out what caused the problems of the other day, if they could be called that. On top of his job, classes, and Shino, it ate up most of his day He took a moment to clear his mind, then looked back to the information broker. “What’d you find out?”

“There’s a rumor saying that a player named Midori witnessed a fight between Tri-Edge and another person,” he told the PKK. Tohta sat back down and sighed. “Tri-Edge went after her, and she managed to get away from him.”
The weapon in Haseo’s hands disappeared as he walked down to the seats to sit down and think. “She pulled her headset off?” If she did, the girl was smarter than most.

“Chaos gate,” Tohta clarified. “But there’s another rumor that started before that. It’s saying that Tri-Edge fought with a person…and lost. More than likely, the girl I told you about is the one who started it. Still, when I confronted her about it, she refused to give me any details.”

“What she says is impossible,” Haseo replied immediately. “A player can’t defeat something like Tri-Edge one on one.” Besides, if Tri-Edge had been defeated, then Shino would have awoken.

Tohta nodded in agreement, at least on the validity of Tri-Edge’s defeat. “I agree, especially since the survivor rumor appeared after the one of Tri-Edge was supposedly destroyed.” There was also the fact that Midori’s business was built upon her fame of not being able to be hit by anyone else; a rumor that she got away from Tri-Edge would just increase her popularity. He sighed and stood up to leave. “So, what’re you going to be doing from here on?”

“Same thing I have been doing,” Haseo replied.

Tohta stretched his neck a bit and decided that it was time to log off; he had been sitting around for awhile just waiting for Haseo. Before he left though, there was one more thing to take care of. “You should be careful about that. The PKs are starting to get aggravated.”

A small laugh escape Haseo’s mouth at the warning. “There isn’t a player in this entire game that can beat me.”

“One on one yes,” Tohta agreed. “But what about ten on one, or fifty, or even a hundred?”

“One versus one hundred?” Haseo repeated to himself with a smirk. “Now that might actually be fun.”

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Yata walked into the Serpent of Lore and took up his position next to Pi. After pulling up a few windows to observe the code in various sectors, he looked over to his assistant. “Something wrong?” he asked after seeing her face.

The girl pulled up a window that showed a blue-haired character in yellow clothing. The information on the screen said he was a mid-level steam gunner named Kuhn. “Yesterday, after you left, this man manifested an Avatar after running into the anomaly. Since you weren’t responding to e-mails, I contacted him myself.”

“I see,” Yata replied in a tone that hid his emotions as he studied the new player. So, counting the new one fighting in the arena, Haseo, Pi, and myself, that makes four. They were halfway there. “How much did you tell him?”

Seeing that her boss was done studying the guy, Pi closed the windows. “Just the basics. He knows that its dangerous, and to avoid fighting other players, unlike Endrance. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, so there shouldn’t be any problems. Are you going to invite him to join the project?”

“I’ll let you handle it,” Yata told her before pulling up the watch program on Haseo. It seemed he was back to killing PKs.

“About him,” Pi said to interrupt Yata’s studies. “I have an idea of how to draw the anomaly to-”

“Never mind that,” Yata cut in. “That isn’t going to be enough. I already have a new plan though.” His character seemed to look down at something that was just empty space. “In fact, I need to go meet one of the people involved in it now.”

Pi blinked as Yata closed the monitors. “Who?”

“No one important, just a graphics artist that’s been assigned to assist me with this plan,” Yata explained. “I need to go interview him to see if he can get the job done. If you need me, I’ll be in the field Indiscreet Gluttonous Pilgrimage.” With that, he quickly left the Serpent of Lore, and Raven’s @HOME.

Pi stood there blinking at what her boss just said. Who conducts a job interview inside a game?

A few minutes later, Yata made his way onto the central island of the field he was meeting the programmer. After dispatching of the monsters, he sat down to wait for the man to show up. It took an hour of waiting, but Yata finally heard someone walking up to him. “You’re la-urk!”

The man who had appeared made Yata’s train of thought fly off the track completely. He was shorter than when Yata had last seen him, and covered in gold armor that made his body look not only gaudy, but completely out of proportion with his head. “Behold! Graphics engineer specialist supreme, here clad in his greatest masterpiece to gain approval of his skills, PIROS THE 3RD!” the .hacker shouted while pointing a thumb at himself and smiling proudly.

Yata blinked at the display. With his mind reeling from the unbelievably small odds at this encounter, his legs gave out from underneath him. Down on the ground, the other man held his face in his hands, and began to cry the cruelty of fate. Why me?

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Kuhn sighed as he walked down the streets of Mac Anu. For once, he didn’t take the time to admire how so many female players had designed their characters with such lovely curves and scandalous clothing. Instead the thoughts of what was happening in `The World’ weighed heavy on his mind.

After meeting that woman Pi for a second time, he had come to a decision. There were dangerous things going on in `The World’ once again, things that could do more than just corrupt data and destroy PC bodies. He knew from personal experience what horrors such things could cause. Since Pi had told him simply shutting down the system wasn’t an option, he had decided to-

“Excuse me.”

Kuhn let out a started shout and fell down as someone appeared from out of nowhere right in front of him. Although, after looking at his changed surroundings, the steam gunner figured that he had just been walking around without looking where he was going. He looked up to the man who addressed him out of the blue.

The character in front of him was a big man, dressed in only short pants and minimal armor, Kuhn could see nearly half of his upper body was covered in a solid light blue wave tattoo that was sectioned off from his unmarked body by another that looked reminiscent of an X, instead of the minor face markings that most players wore. With the long sword on his back that betrayed his class, Kuhn thought he looked something like a Roman gladiator, or some tribal warrior.

After Kuhn picked himself up and noticed that the big man wasn’t going anywhere, he figured the guy’s excuse me had been a `can I talk to you’ excuse me instead of the `get the hell out of my way’ one. “Uh yes?”

“Are you them guild master of Canard? The guild that helps newbies?” the man asked.

Kuhn blinked at the question. Although he had been going around trying to bring in recruits, Kuhn’s efforts hadn’t met with much success when it came to the people with higher levels. Personally, he believed it was because of his old ties with Kestral that made the more experienced people too wary to trust him. “Yeah that’s me,” he replied. “We don’t give handouts, but if you need someone to show you the ropes I can accompany you to a dungeon or two.”

The older-looking character shook his head. “That’s alright, I already have most of the new rules figured out,” he replied. “I was actually interested in joining your guild.”

“Why?”

The blade brandier thought about it for a moment before replying. “Well, I guess you could chalk it up to the same reason I started playing, just old nostalgia. I don’t see it as a calling or anything, but someone needs to make sure the new players in this game get on the right track.”

Kuhn gave a small smile. “Well, I guess I can accept that.” He turned around and motioned the other man to follow him. “By the way, I’m Kuhn, what’s your name, and if you don’t mind me asking, why all the color?”

“It’s Bear,” the other man replied with a smile. “As for my character, well…I think the purpose of games like these is to take a break from being yourself by becoming someone else. So, in here I’m a savage warrior, while out there, I’m something completely opposite.” Still, Bear had to admit that was only a half-truth. “Although, when it comes to role playing, I always end up falling short when it comes to my character’s personality.”

The other man smirked at the newbie’s reply. “Well come on, if you want to join then I better go introduce you to the others,” Kuhn said as they walked to the entrance of the @HOME. With a new member to work into the fold, he would need to delay his plans with Pi for a little bit longer.

Which was just a good an excuse as any he supposed.

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Haseo walked onto the bridge and took up his usual position next to the old man that seemed to be more scenery than player. “It’s not usual for you to be the one to message me,” he said to break the ice.

“I was wondering, what happened to the cat-girl that’s usually following you around?” Phyllo asked.

The boy jumped up onto the railing and sat on his heels. “What’s got you so interested?”

“It’s been awhile since I saw her, and I much prefer the company of a cheerful girl with a large chest to some who talks only of business, or you.” He looked over to Haseo and frowned. “She isn’t even answering her e-mail, and people who hang around with you tend to disappear.”

The veiled question didn’t go unnoticed. “I asked her to take some time off in order to think about some things,” he said with a frown before performing a back flip to land back on the bridge. “If that’s all, then I’ll be going.”

Phyllo looked back at the boy. “I wonder what’d she say if she knew what you’ve been doing? It was quite sneaky of you, getting her out of the way like that. You’re usually so strait forward in your thinking.” A frown appeared on the old cleric’s face when the boy didn’t reply. “Do you know how much bad attention you’re attracting?”

Haseo still gave no response.

“If Shino were to see you now, what would she say?” he demanded.

That comment seemed to give him pause. The PKK whirled back onto the old man in a fury. “If Shino were to return, even if she were to despise me for my actions, then I would be happy knowing that she was alive to do it!” the boy shouted before logging out and ending the conversation.

Disconnecting…
Ryou tore the headset off and barely stopped himself from flinging it to the floor.

What the hell did that old bastard know? So what if Shino disapproved of his methods? At least she would be alive. That was what really mattered.

The lack of any light coming from the outside made him look over to the clock and see that it was much later than he had thought. Then, with the revelation about the time, Ryou’s body quickly informed him that it had skipped breakfast and only had the smallest of lunches.

Ryou got up off the computer for the first time since coming home and headed to his apartment’s small kitchen area to get something from the fridge. On the way there, he noticed the message indicator on his machine was blinking, and he switched it on.

After hearing his dad’s voice, Ryou went on to the kitchen and ignored whatever the old man was saying in favor of making a quick list of his list of things to do tomorrow before he needed to hit the sack. As soon as the message was done playing, he pressed delete and headed to bed.

Logging on…
“As per your specifications, it has full mobility and flight capabilities, as well as full motion of its entire body and a speed factor great enough to outrun someone on a steam bike. The staff took a bit of work, but we managed to program in its movements based on one of the early goblin mage designs that was never implemented.”

Yata frowned as he studied the graphic in front of him. Three programmers and one graphics artist stood beside system administrator as he walked around the 3D image and looked it up and down. When he made a slightly distasteful groan while studying the object, the CG artist picked up on it.

“Something wrong?” The man’s usual…strange demeanor was completely gone. It had been for a while now. After learning what they were supposed to be creating, he had been very uneasy about the whole thing. Still, as a professional, he managed to complete the job.

Yata looked back to the man with the design window open in front of him. “I just thought it’d be…bigger is all.”
The man usually known as Piros cleared his throat. He was currently in a non-descript PC that CC Corp. used for in-game designing and testing. “Yes well, the one I remember from screen shots and diagrams was about the size of a normal player so it’s how I made him,” he explained. “It was only the later ones that were outlandishly freakish.”

“What about the creature’s stats?”

The lead programmer cleared his throat and stepped forward. Yes well, as per your instructions, we maxed out all of its HP, SP, and stats. We can’t increase it any more if we wanted to.”

Yata frowned and looked back to the man wearing a lab coat who had spoken. “That isn’t going to be enough.” Haseo’s character currently surpassed the limit of normal characters in the system. A simple monster with high stats wouldn’t be any challenge to him, even if it had everything set to maximum. “Can’t you rewrite the code to give it more power?”

“You know that there are certain rules within `The World’ that even we programmers can not break,” the head programmer said. “You wanted it powerful, and this is the limit of what we can do.”

Yata sighed at hearing the man’s words and tried to think. Even if the monster could heal itself, Haseo might be able to outlast it, or the AI controlling it might not use that spell in time.

For a few minutes, there was nothing but silence as the four men watched the project leader consider the problem.

“What about regeneration?”

The assembled men looked back to the CG artist with curiosity. Yata was the one to speak. “Excuse me?”

The CG artist looked at the assembled men as they studied him. “Yes well, a few weeks ago, I was assigned to a project to create a quest monster that resembled whatever player encountered it.” When everyone else’s look seemed to tell the man to speed it up, he quickly jumped to the point instead of lamenting about the difficulty of creating a wire frame model to mimic any PC body it encountered. “One of the monster’s special abilities was the power to continuously heal itself without SP consumption or spells being used. Can’t we just have this thing be able to do the same?”

Yata turned his attention back to the graphic and frowned. That could work. “Give it the ability to fully regenerate its HP every 0.5 seconds. I also want the name, SP, and HP displays garbled.”

On of the programmers cleared his throat to get the man’s attention. “We can type in a nonsensical name but-”
“Then just do that,” Yata ordered forcefully. “I want it finished and activated within the hour. Don’t fix its location, and give it a detection range large enough to pick up players anywhere on the map.”

The three programmers nodded before vanishing, however, the CG artist stayed behind. Yata frowned at the way the man was looking at him. “Something wrong?”

“So, which one are we trying to reel in?” the CG artist asked as he looked up at the bait.

The system administrator cocked an eyebrow at the question. “Excuse me?”

The CG programmer sighed as he looked over to the monster. “You know, I may have just been a third string guy that didn’t really know what was going on half the time, but I was there for the beginning, and the end of it all. I know the SIGNS aren’t some prelude to a quest, its damaged data, and there’s very few things that can actually do that in this world and make it stick. I can also recognize a former comrade, even when he’s wearing a new face.”

Yata let out a tiny humph that sounded more like a single laugh. It appears that I’m not too good at hiding who I am when it comes to people who know me, the other .hacker thought to himself. “None of the old band. I’m afraid Balmung is gone, and I haven’t heard from Kite in years. Truth is, I doubt he would be of any real use. With the old system destroyed, all of the character data was apparently erased as well. This particular cheese is for a different kind of mouse.”

The man sometimes known as Piros sighed as he looked away from the monster, and over to the ocean surrounding them. “I have a son now,” he said. “I want nothing more than to watch him grow up into a fine young man. But to do that, I believe that he needs to visit places full of wonder and beauty, places with a little bit mystery left in them like `The World’. As such, I don’t wish to see this place disappear like the last one did.”

Yata smirked. “Now you’re sounding like a pregnant woman,” he commented. “I think I liked the cheesy superhero better.” Then, his face turned serious. “I’m going to give you my contact information. E-Mail me if you stumble across anything strange. I may be part of system admin now, but I can’t see everything at once.”

The CG artist seemed to look at something above him for a moment, and nodded. “You know, a very wise man once said that trading is about give and take.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you know what areas you need to stay away from,” Yata assured him.

As the other character disappeared, Yata looked back at the monster and frowned. “Riding the wave is Skeith, the Shadow of Death, to drown all that stands,” the man quoted from the old poem as he looked upon a creature made in the likeness of the monster it described before finally leaving the field.

Next Chapter: Avatar

Hack//Generational Unity – Chapter 1