(So this is what peace and quiet feels like.)
Sitting alone in his bedroom, before a computer, Hiroshi calmly clicked through link after on-screen link, news headlines and game reviews flashing by his eyes faster than he could read them. Above, his bedroom fan whirred soothingly, stirring the air as it blew upwards through a floor vent.
Several key words caught his attention, if only briefly: words like ‘Cyber Connect,’ ‘The World’ and ‘cyber-terrorism’. Words he had come to know quite well in the past year. Words that all too readily involved him.
Cubia was gone. The Wave itself, whatever it was, had been soundly vanquished by his own two hands, ending the crisis in ‘The World’ with the aid of his partners, the hacker Helba, the administrator Lios, and even Aura.
Perhaps Morganna, the AI responsible for all the problems of ‘The World’, had been destroyed once and for all, perhaps it had merely been reprogrammed or banished somehow. The digital, ghostly Aura had served her purpose, Hiro knew that much; most of the explanation had been lost to jubilation that it was finally over; ‘The World’ was safe, and its players could be free to play the game without the fear of being harmed in reality. He had a lifetime to work out the details in his head.
He smirked, and couldn’t help but think how trivial it all seemed in retrospect, how such a catastrophe had been averted simply by being good at a video game, of all things. The boy had done his best to dispel any illusions about what he had done – the only world he saved was a digital one, he told himself, if only to keep from seriously pondering the ramifications of what he had done.
Earth had seen Deadly Flash and Pluto Kiss tear the internet asunder, cause worldwide panic and even death... yet it was still here. Hiroshi suspected that even had Morganna escaped the confines of ‘The World’, that life would go on, one way or another. He didn’t want to stop to think about the chaos that she could have caused, more for the sake of his sanity than for any concept of modesty.
The burden of another life – beyond that which he had stayed in ‘The World’ to save – was more than the 14-year-old was ready to bear, and yet in his heart and mind, he knew he had done just that.
(“Make no mistake, my young friend... you did something heroic today. Maybe you didn’t save all 8 billion of us, but you got your friend back, and so did a damn lot of other players. You did a good thing, Hiro man. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”)
The voice in his head was not his own; a later conversation had put much in perspective, from a man Hiroshi had grown to trust and care for as any of his friends, online or offline. His relationship to the private investigator Dean Stollis was complicated to say the least: a former police officer, discharged and jailed for taking bribes, Dean had come to town with a small team of thieves and attempted to steal data from Cyber Connect, with the help of a hacker from ‘The World’.
That hacker being Kite, the Twin Blade whose identity Hiroshi assumed on a daily basis.
Dean held no falsehoods about what he was doing, willingly acknowledging the wrong he was doing and had done, including his attempt to deceive Kite into helping him. Yet he, too, had been deceived; the very data he sought to find was an anti-hacker program, which – in a fashion similar to the Phases Kite had fought time and again – hijacked the character of one of the thieves, sending its player into a coma. Cyber Connect followed up by sending a pair of assassins after Dean and his team, and the program had set its sights on Kite, and his partner BlackRose.
It was only through their combined efforts that Cyber Connect was stopped; Kite and BlackRose destroyed the program to stop it from harming others, and Dean killed the agents and erased the data, ensuring that none others could be made.
A ‘new mail’ notification interrupted Hiroshi’s browsing-slash-reminiscing, and with a click of the mouse it was opened.
Hiroshi smiled; the detective had taken quite a liking to ‘The World,’ especially after the destruction of the Wave, when it was safer to do so.
As Kite, he had bumped into the Wavemaster Stolls – Dean’s character – several times in the course of his adventure, particularly during an incident just months ago that threw him on the path of Morganna, and more specifically her creators. Fragments of an AI implanted in the game by Harald pointed towards tampering with Morganna’s programming, and a real- world investigation by Dean revealed the same.
The exact revelations were lost to Hiroshi’s memory, something about foreign governments being involved in the construction of Morganna and her application in ‘The World’. He knew enough, however, to know that Dean and he had settled the matter, at least to the extent that it was out of their hands.
He dragged the keyboard closer to him, and started to type, all the while thinking that it was high time he started enjoying the game too.
Subj: Treasure Hunting
Hey man. You got a minute? I’m doing some treasure hunting, there’s field with a boss monster on Sigma server that’s giving me a hard time. Trying to get my hands on some stat books, this one’s supposed to have a couple on him. Lemme know if you’re interested.
A gentle chime accompanied the transition, golden rings sealing the deal as The World became visible around him. The stone street stretched for several hundred feet before winding between nearby buildings, which were dotted with windows that occasionally shone with light from the inside. Lampposts lined the street as it fed into a bridge connecting the commercial district and the Chaos Gate.
Above, the sky was dark, yet lit up brilliantly with thousands of stars, tiny pinpricks of light poking through the inky blackness. Around him, hundreds of players ran this way and that, attending to their own business, chatting, trading; the usual happenings in the Root Towns, and Carmina Gadelica was no different.
Kite gazed around him in wonder, having nearly forgotten what the cultural city looked like when it wasn’t being eaten away by a virus, with ugly splashes of code replacing textures and surfaces, and the very sky cracking and breaking away into nothingness.
He couldn’t help but feel a little sense of pride in knowing that he had played a part in saving this. He smiled again at his own character flaw; even in pride, he was modest, refusing to acknowledge even to himself that he had done more than ‘played a part’.
“Hey Kite! Over here!”
The words weren’t spoken, but Kite was close enough for the text bubble to be visible. He left the spinning Gate and stepped onto the bridge, spotting a silver-haired Wavemaster in a black robe, wand in one hand and casually resting on his shoulder.
Kite waved as he approached. “Hi, Stolls!”
Stolls grinned. “Hey man,” the text bubble said; the magician’s mouth moved, but no words could be heard. “Sorry, the mic on my headset’s not working. I have to use the keyboard.”
“I see,” Kite said with a nod. “It’s okay. So where’s this boss you were talking about?”
“Nothing serious,” Stolls silently replied. “Kind of a souped-up giant ogre, it’s in Sigma server. I might’ve been able to handle it myself, but the thing was on me before I could snap off a spell. If you’ve got some time, I could use a hand.”
“All right, let’s do it!”
A message appeared in the top left corner of his HUD, denoting a party invitation from Stolls. A push of a button answered the affirmative, and at the bottom of the ‘screen’, the Wavemaster’s face and statistics appeared next to his.
“Think we’ll need anybody else?” asked Stolls.
Kite looked around for a moment. “Well, BlackRose said she wouldn’t be on tonight... I could try Sanjuro or Ryoko... then again, it is kind of late.”
“Ah, skip it, we’ll just go together. You ready?”
After a quick check of his inventory, the Twin Blade nodded the affirmative. “I’m ready. Lead the way.”
The silver-haired magician obediently took the lead, jogging over to the Chaos Gate with his companion in tow. An unseen command from the Wavemaster summoned golden teleport rings over both, spiriting them away from the Lambda root town. In its place formed the massive parapets, stone towers, and emplaced cannons of Fort Ouph.
“Now, let’s see,” Stolls typed, facing the Gate once again. “What were those keywords...”
“Hey, isn’t that the guy? Over there!”
“Who, the Wavemaster?”
“Yeah, that’s him! Excuse me, Mr. Stolls!”
Kite watched as Stolls disengaged from the Gate, and turned around to face a trio of adventurers as they raced up to him – two Blademasters and a Long Arm, all garishly dressed and sturdy in build, their weapons and armor expensive and powerful-looking.
“Yes?” asked Stolls, shifting his gaze between the three.
Kite noticed the Long Arm glance at the Blademaster to his left, and heard him mumble “Are you sure this is the guy?”
“That’s what he just said, isn’t it?”
“Sorry to bother you,” said the lead Blademaster, a striking brunette woman in shining silver armor, with a faint blue hue to the polished metal. “Are you aware there’s a man looking for you on this server?”
Stolls blinked, peering oddly at the swordswoman. “Looking for me? Who?”
“We’re not sure,” piped up the Long Arm, a pale young man with a patch over one eye and short, wavy red hair. “We never got his name. It was some guy wandering around Perceived Lifeless Fort Walls, but it wasn’t a regular player.”
Kite joined the conversation. “What do you mean?”
“I think it might have been an event character,” explained the male Blademaster. He was armed and equipped similarly to his female counterpart, but with a shorter, wider sword and slightly more angular armor. He reached a hand up and scratched an itch within his spiky blue hair, his face marred with confusion. “It didn’t look like any character class I knew of; looked like just a regular guy, he had on dark clothes.”
Kite glanced up at Stolls. “Why would an event character be looking for you?”
The Wavemaster shrugged. “Beats me. Maybe we should check it out. Do you mind?”
A shake of his head dispelled Stolls’ concern. “No, not at all. Let’s go see this character.”
“You should be careful,” warned the Long Arm. “He looked pretty mad. He said you took something from him, and he wanted it back.”
Stolls drew his head back, recoiling in shock. “Eh?? That certainly doesn’t sound like something I'd do... well, might as well go see what this clown wants. Anyway, thanks for the warning. We’ll go have a look-see.” He turned to Kite. “You ready?”
“I hope so,” the Twin Blade answered.
Waving goodbye to the other party, the two detectives turned towards the Chaos Gate, and Stolls resumed punching in keywords. Within seconds, both were gone.
Subj: Re: Treasure Hunting
Sounds like fun! I’ll be right there :)