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Should I continue  

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  1. 1. Should I continue

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I was wondering if I should continue this little dothack fic I wrote up a couple of months ago. I'm having trouble with inspiration, so I'd like to see what people think of it, which I stopped at 2 chapters. The formatting's screwed up, since I copy-pasted it from ff.net, so here's the link to the original. Please vote!


[spoiler=Chapter 1 - Chill and Eagle]Disclaimer – I will mainly be using original characters in the story, although a few canons will be cameoing. This also takes place in a separate timeline then the original series. I do not own the .hack franchise, and I am glad I don’t. If I did, it would be in ruins right now. (Because, I do suck at economic planning, and all.) Some minor details about the canon series might be changed too, but I swear it won’t be anything major. Just stuff about items and spells and the like. Also, there is the potential of spoilers being revealed about the original game storyline, so if you want to keep it a surprise, turn back, and don’t read any further. Now, let’s get on with the story, shall we?


MAJOR NEWSFLASH – This story takes place in The World R:2. Therefore, things will have changed. Don’t want to reveal any more about the plot, though.


NEWSFLASH 2: In dialogue or thoughts, Japanese names will most often be expressed in the traditional order, family name first, with honorifics. Otherwise, given names will be given precedence over surnames.






Chapter 1 – Chill and Eagle






“Everyone, please start checking the parameters on AIDAs numbers 17 to 24. Make sure to log any changes that have occurred with the independent AI.”


“Yes, ma’am!”


An unusually-cold wind was howling outside the industrial building of CC Corp in the heart of Japan, but to the small team of men and women inside a room near the top of the structure, it was like background music to them. Something to keep rhythm to while doing monotonous work, but not to listen to specifically. It was good that there was something to subconsciously distract the group, because the work they were doing could be incredibly dangerous and destructive. Artificial intelligence was like that, as CC Corp has learned over the years. After the disaster involving the mysterious entity known only as “Tri-Edge”, the powerful organization made sure to keep any specimens of AIDA that were expressing any random malicious traits, no matter how small, under lock and key.


However, the company was starting to go in a new direction. By taking the corrupted AIDAs and altering their data in ever-so-subtle ways, CC Corp believed that they could “influence” the bug to lose its bad personality, while retaining any helpful pieces. They could then be reconfigured to properly serve The World, through previously-unimaginable ways. The sky was truly the limit here; it was only up to chance. At the time of the fateful winter day, however, only 24 AIDA out of the millions that spawned had demonstrated any possible beneficial aspects, and none of them were at the stage to be released freely into the main servers. The data-based beings were currently residing within a small server, with only one locked conduit to the main network.


Only twenty men and women out of the massive conglomerate knew about Project Darwin, which was named after the famous naturalist who coined the term that the project was based off of. They were administrators, they were prodigies. There was even a celebrity from the game itself, who took up a job with the organization after they realized how beneficial the person would be, with their firsthand experience at combating data anomalies and all. Everyone in the team shared one thing, though; they knew the intricacies of The World like they did their own body, and could map the place out on the back of their hand if needed. This incredible knowledge was the key to this project, and would be needed. As they typed away on dimly-lit computer screens and sipped from cold cups of coffee and tea, a single thought pervaded their conscious constantly. If their project was successfully executed, the game that the ten individuals had devoted their lives to would be revolutionized.


“Ma’am? Haraguchi-san? Can you check something for me?” A shy-looking woman with short hair that covered her ears and wearing a hooded sweatshirt waved her hand nervously, trying to get the attention of an individual with her back turned to her. One of the few that were currently not logged into the game itself, Saito Asako was running the code on AIDA number 21, comparing the ever-changing data to the last saved version. She was gesturing with her other hand at the screen of a computer near her that was currently displaying an incomprehensible line of code, glowing in an unearthly green against a black background.


“Yes, Saito-san?” The woman that was being questioned turned abruptly, the long curtain of hair that was obscuring her previously whipping around, as if it had a life of its own. Standing at an impressive six feet tall, Haraguchi Kyouko was the kind of woman with a finely-balanced composure that could crack at any second from too much stress. With a sharp, angular face with a fine sprinkling of stretch lines and narrow darkened eyes, she exuded a no-nonsense authority that shouldn’t be crossed or questioned. The wearing of a simple white long-sleeved shirt, a long black skirt and black heeled shoes only added to this aura of professionalism. Walking briskly over to the terminal that Saito was sitting at, she crossed her arms over her chest and cocked her head to the side, curious. “What seems to be the problem?”


Sheesh, that woman scares me sometimes… Shaking off the nervous wave that had rolled over her after seeing just how fast Kyouko responded, she underlined a line of code with her fingertip on the screen, talking all the way. “I don’t know how to explain it, but this section just seems a bit... off. It doesn’t seem to be doing anything bad or stuff like that, but I’m just a bit concerned about how the AIDA could use it. The code’s describing... well... it’s describing...” Asako was stuttering at this point. She was getting increasingly anxious about what the seemingly-innocuous bit of text was implying.


“C’mon, spit it out already!” Kyouko was getting impatient at the blubbering woman’s speech. “What is wrong with the code; that’s all I need to know!”


“The code’s giving the AIDA the power of corrupted data absorption.” Sighing, Asako slid back into her seat, glad that she could get it out.


Kyouko was ready to slap herself and then Asako across the face for the sheer anticlimacticness, but stopped, and composed herself. “Is that what was so urgent? Christ, if I knew what it was beforehand, I would’ve just ignored you. Do the normal procedure; quarantine the string, and compile the program again. Sheesh... I feel like I’m the only competent one here sometimes. You know that’s a thing we’re looking for in an AIDA, right?” Spinning on her heel, she made an about-face, and strode off, ready to awaken two of her male teammates from their game-induced stupor that they had entered immediately after she started the work session with a strike to the head. At least Saito-san is much more intelligent than these men over here...


The cold sweat that had possessed Asako previously had returned. Oh, no. Haraguchi-san must think of me as a failure now...I feel so stupid. Spinning around in her chair for a second, Slipping back into her shell, Asako turned to the dim computer monitor, and sighed. Well, back to the grind. Typing out a single line of command text, she distractedly looked away at Kyouko’s retreating form that was approaching two men huddled in a corner of the room, virtual headsets on, and tapped the general area of the ENTER key without paying much attention. “Huh?” Looking back to the screen, she noticed that the command that was typed out didn’t enter into the framework of the program, and pretty much nothing had changed. “Lemme try that again.” This time watching what she was doing, Asako clicked the key she needed for real. Unbeknownst to her, the single mistype in the command line that spawned from her distraction would put into play a virtual butterfly effect, beating its wings away from Tokyo’s business district to a small suburban town on the outskirts of the city. If she only knew what was going to occur, Asako would’ve been much more careful, prereading her typing before confirming it. However, nobody ever does realize their implications in the grand scheme of things, so it wasn’t her fault. The origins wouldn’t be discovered.






“Finally! I finally got it!”


The pedals of a sleek blue bicycle were being pumped down a wind-blown suburban street, the trees lining it being blown back and forth by the intense gust. However, neither the bicycle nor its rider would be pushed off the street, for they were too pumped to feel the chill at all. Perching precariously on top of the seat, a slender teenager wearing a blue-and-yellow baseball jersey, unbuttoned to expose a white undershirt, sturdy tan cargo shorts and blue track sneakers was navigating down the twisted street, a white plastic shopping bag hanging off the handlebars. Whatever the contents were, they seemed to have had a profound effect on the boy, for his spirits were inflated like a hot-air balloon.


“I never knew the lines at a video game store could be that long, but I guess The World is still that popular. Even though it’s been at least a year since the game came out! At least I, Kadono Hideki, got this upgraded version at last!” Giving a goofy grin, he raised his face up for a second, showing bright blue eyes and messily-cut black hair on a face that still needed to lose some of its childish roundness. “Yes!” To emphasize his little exclamation, Hideki pumped his fist into the air, which subsequentially nearly caused him to spin out into a ditch.


“Ack!” Quickly spinning the handlebars in an impromptu dance, Hideki managed to dodge the hole, and hopped off the bike for a second to upright it. “C’mon, let’s get this done quickly...” Hopping back onto the rickety bike, he pushed off with his feet against the asphalt, and coasted a while down the tree-lined lane, at the end of which was a small one-story house. This was Hideki’s modest house, which he shared with his older sister while his parents were abroad. It was the epicenter of his life, and he liked it that way.


Jumping off the bike and letting it roll down the driveway, Hideki roughly pulled the bag off of the bag’s handlebars before it crashed into the lawn, and dashed across the lawn. Hastily pulling the door open, he stopped for a second to pull his shoes off before setting them down in a small alcove next to the entrance. Then, he stepped into the door, yelling out as he went.


“Onee-san, I’m hooome!” Cupping his hand to his mouth to amplify the sound, he yelled out, trying to get his older sister to hear him.


“What is it, Hideki-kun? I’m right here, you know.” Walking out of the adjacent kitchen gingerly, slender Kadono Midori saw her younger brother bouncing around happily, and a smile was brought to her face. “So, you finally got that game you wanted for such a long time, didn’t you?” She gave him a hug, and suddenly pulled back, racked with coughs that shook her frail body.


“Do you need anything?” Hideki’s excitement turned quickly to concern. “Should I get the medicine?”


“You don’t need to,” Midori responded. “It’s just a fluke.” Clearing her throat, she shook her head to shake out the coughs, and turned her attention back to Hideki. “Seriously. Don’t worry about me, go and play your new game. I was just fixing a light dinner for the two of us.”


“Okay!” The concern on Hideki’s face immediately vanished, and, bag in hand, he flew out of the small lobby into his bedroom down the hall, whipping up a small wind from the speed at which he wanted to get to his new game system.


Midori smiled slightly, seeing her younger brother like that, and kneaded her hands together in nervousness. Well, good luck, Hideki. You’re always like that with new games. Let’s hope this one works out. Then, she slowly walked back into the kitchen, trying to figure out what to do with leftover onigiri.






Way near the edges of Mac Anu, there was a small hill. Because of the distance from the rest of the city that was involved to get there, it wasn’t frequent much by players, but there was always the loner or two that was trying to get away from the grind of The World. The kinds of players that were new, but not open-eyed wonder new.


Atop of that hill was a teenage girl. She looked almost like someone you could find in the offline world, but for two things. One: she was wearing an elaborate red witch’s costume that looked like it was the bastard child of MacBeth and some magical-girl anime, complete with huge hat and jagged mantle. Two: her hair was a vivid shade of pink, and hung down her back in loose strands. A jagged red almond shape above both her eyebrows marked her as a fire-wave user, and she looked it, too. Scuffing her feet against the ground, she pulled a large book from next to her, and got into a semi-ready battle stance.


“Lemme see... Alright, a basic fire spell. I can do that.”


Flipping the book open, she skimmed the pages until a certain line of text caught her eye. “Ah, here it is!”


The young girl cleared her throat, and raised one arm into the air. “Here we go... Vak Don!”


As she said the odd words, a glowing circle appeared around her, flickering ever so slightly. It then suddenly flashed into a low wall of roaring flame that oddly didn’t have any effect on the grass that it would supposedly light aflame. The circle then raced out from her, gradually growing lower to the ground until it vanished about 10 feet from her. Of course, any player character that was opposing her would feel the burn of the fire as though it were real and incendiary. However, that wasn’t the girl’s goal.


“Yes! I finally managed to do it!” Jumping a bit in excitement, she stopped quickly when an odd tingling ran across her virtual body. “Huh?” Looking up into the sky on instinct, she couldn’t see anything wrong, but that didn’t settle her nerves. “Something’s coming, I just know it...”


“Oh, well. Let’s get back to those spells!” Turning back to her book, she raised her hand again, and got ready to let rip another wave of fire.






The door to Hideki’s room was usually treated with respect, after the incident where he nearly blew a hole in the adjacent wall from the speed at which it was opened. However, today wasn’t one of those days. Hideki ripped open the door to his room, sending it knocking against the wall with a bang that would make Midori wince from down the hall. Pulling the game box from its plastic bag in one swift movement and throwing it onto his already-coated bed, he swept an accumulation of various video-game debris from the small wooden desk in the corner of the room onto the floor, plunked himself down onto a chair, and popped the game disc into the waiting computer drive.


As the progress bar which displayed on the screen began to shade itself in, Hideki heard a tremor of laughter coming from across the house, and was struck by a pang of memory. Midori, I hope you’re doing better... I’m glad that you’re finally out of the hospital, but...


That day would always haunt Hideki. One morning, Midori had woken up to find an odd lump on her chest. Worried, she called her doctor, and went in for an emergency appointment. There, the news that the doctor gave her, and Hideki who had came with, brought their little life tumbling down.


Kadono Midori had breast cancer.


Luckily for her, the tumor was only in its early phases, but she would have to go in for chemotherapy to fight the malignancy before it could spread. This shocked poor Midori, who was previously a carefree and somewhat-frivolous person. However, the event changed her. Seeing the fact that a life could be broken in the span of a few seconds shook the woman to the core, and as she saw her hair fall out as a result of the drugs that were being pumped into her, she vowed not be so irresponsible, and to take care of her family. Therefore, the vibrant young woman that Hideki once knew as a parent that was closer than his true ones was reduced to a worried shell. With his mom and dad on world assignments for a local photography magazine, it... well, it sucked for him to have a lady who couldn’t be like the person she once was.


Sighing, Hideki turned to the monitor of his computer. Only 35 percent so far... Come on.


Outside his window, the wind was picking up, as if to herald something. What that something was, however, was a different matter entirely.






Saito Asako was incredibly bored. It wasn’t like she had anything to do about it, though. After the destruction of the original World, she was too distraught about the loss of her character, Magi, and decided to simply work a behind-the-scenes job, scanning for any data irregularities. However, since the major source of those, the AIDA, were peaceful now, thanks to the deletion of Tri-Edge, so she didn’t have much to look out for. Therefore, when CC Corp extended their offer to work on the Darwin Project with them, she jumped on it. It’d bring back some excitement into her job. At least, that’s what she believed.


Just sitting at a desk scanning for bugs wasn’t exactly an upgrade I want, Asako thought as the data on AIDA number 20 compiled. There was an immense amount of data in the AIDA that were being developed, so it was mainly sitting around and waiting. Looking around at her coworkers, she could see the omnipresent virtual headsets and game controllers that defined CC Corp. Everyone else is in The World now, she thought dejectedly. Well, at least they’re taking advantage of their free time... Everyone, that is, except for Haraguchi-san. Haraguchi Kyouko was currently walking around the small, dimly-lit room, observing the processes of the AIDA. Haraguchi-san is... amazing. I just wish I could have her strength. One of best debuggers in CC Corp, she was known for her brash, rather abrasive personality as well as her technological knowhow. She was respected as much as she was feared. Therefore, she was perfect to lead the Darwin Project.




“Huh?” Returning her attention to the computer screen, Asako read the single line that appeared, and a wave of fear rolled over her.


Compilation completed. The ordered command, ‘transfer file:aida_20 to location:server_delta’, will now commence. Do not interrupt, or data will be lost.


“Aw, sheet... Oh no oh no oh no oh... Haraguchi-saaaannn!”


“What is it, Saito-san?” Disgruntled, Kyouko’s head popped up from behind a large stack of technical manuals, and the rest of her body followed behind it. “Have you finished compiling AIDA 20 yet?”


“Yes, but... but...” Sweating, Asako pointed her hand at the screen. “The AIDA’s evolved, and...”


“And what?” Kyouko’s intrigue was turning into dread.


“It’s escaped into the server mainframe.”


Those six words echoed alone in the room, only hanging on the two women’s ears. The meaning was unmistakable. Inevitably, because of the AIDA’s hive mind, the rest of the AIDA would gain the traits of the escaped one, and follow their freed brethren, easily jumping over the now-weakened conduit blocker. With the power of 24 chaotic AIDA on the network of The World, a new crisis could come to scale, even greater than the one previously. There was only one during that incident, and based on the amount of damage that occurred...


Shaken, Kyouko snapped out of her trance. “Get me a headset, and boot up a connection to Delta Server.” Yanking a chair over next to Asako, she sat down, brushing her clothes out in a nervous gesture to prepare for the event she would have to do. “It looks like I’m going bug-hunting.”






“Well, it’s done installing, at last.” As the bar that had been on Hideki’s computer screen for the past hour vanished to reveal an illuminated orange screen, Hideki grinned in delight. The message on said screen was probably the most welcoming thing that Hideki saw all day.


“WELCOME TO THE WORLD! Before you start, please read the game manual, so you are familiar with the aspects of the game. When you have, please press ‘Enter’.”


“Yeah, yeah, I’ve already done that.” In reality, Hideki hadn’t done it, but he just wanted to get his character made. Forcefully tapping the indicated button, he watched the welcome message disappear, to be replaced by an expansive menu. Hideki was very familiar with this part, as he had watched countless online videos on how to navigate the character creation section. First, though, he needed a name.


“Lessee... What was the name I wanted? Oh, yeah.” Putting his calloused fingers to the keyboard, he carefully typed out a name he was thinking about for the past week. “Cain.” He then hit the confirmation button, with a satisfied “click”.


After that, the rest of the process flew. With only short breaks in between to look down at a reference sheet that was hastily written out during the installation process, Hideki clicked and dragged his way throughout the multiple menus, with the flair and knowledge of an experience player. He had been practicing this for weeks, and it was only fair that he knew what he was doing in that regard. However, Hideki was still amazed on the sheer amount of customization involved. It would have taken him much longer than it did if he didn’t have such a complete picture in his head.


Finally, the deed was done. A miniature picture of Hideki’s newly-created avatar popped up on the screen, along with a command box.


This is you final character draft. Are you sure you want to use this? Remember, all aspects of your character that were just created here cannot be changed once this is approved.


“Yes, I’m sure.” Hideki moved his mouse over the dialogue box, and hit “yes”.


Now, when you are ready, please insert your game controller plug into the appropriate jack on the computer. Put your virtual reality headset on, and, when you are ready to enter ‘The World’, press ENTER on your computer keyboard.


Following the computer’s command, Hideki placed the headset snugly around his ears, enveloping his field of view in a blue-green color. “I’m so ready for this,” he said decisively, and pressed down on the indicated key. A burst of white light appeared in front of him through the headset, and, when it was done, Hideki’s mind was somewhere else.






The sky above Mac Anu was usually quite calm, with virtual clouds drifting by lazily in a blue sky. However, something was off. Slowly but surely, an odd shape materialized in the sky, inside of three spinning haloes of transparent purple energy. It resembled an eagle, but one that was purple-black with solid-gold eyes, and was about two feet in size. The shape pulsed slightly, spread its wings, and swooped down towards the grassy hillock below it.


It’s good to be free.




To be continued...






As Hideki would say, “Finally!” This took two straight days of typing, but I’m so glad that I got it done!


Since this is my first fic, if you read this, please please please review! I want to know what I could improve on, since this is probably a good measure of my normal writing skills.


I plan on releasing a new chapter about every 2 weeks, so if I don’t do it, you can gently remind me in a way of your choosing. However, don’t nag or bug me about it. I swear I will get to it, but real life can be a hassle sometime.


Finally, Chapter 2 has been christened, “The Candycane Theory”. Doesn’t make sense now, but it will. You’ll see...


‘Till next time, Tectonix.


[spoiler=Chapter 2 - The Candycane Theory]

Disclaimer – I do not own the .hack franchise in any way, shape, or form, except for the original characters and concepts presented in this fanfic.


MINOR NOTE – I forgot to include this with the previous chapters, but the sections that the chapter is divided into aren’t necessarily in exact order. You should still read them in order, but remember that they might overlap with one another.






Chapter 2 – The Candycane Theory






A brisk autumn wind could be felt across all of Tokyo, crossing beneath a slate-gray sky. It was the kind of wind that rattled the bones and sucked the heat out of pumping arteries. However, to one man working in the corner office of Furukawa and Shiosugi Law Firm, the wind was seemingly making its epicenter in the office near the top of a cold steel building.


Shuddering, the man looked away from the grim scene outside, and continued to type away at his laptop. He was rather attractive for a businessman, with a pair of square-rimmed glasses that counterbalanced his long brown hair, which was pulled back in a tight ponytail. Dressed in a sharp black suit with a fun-looking swirly blue tie as contrast, he was all professional, trying to get the case he was working on done for the day. A thought at the back of his head, though, was preventing him from making any progress. C’mon, it said. Leave, take a break. Everyone else is getting the work done. You deserve it.


“No, I shouldn’t. Everyone else would get pissed at me if I ditched.” If anyone else was in the room, they wouldn’t be very surprised to hear the man talking to himself. It was a sort of nervous habit for him. If he talked to his inner demons, they will reason with him. That was the logic behind the tic, and it had worked so far from staving off the impulses. Removing his glasses for a second to reveal pale-brown eyes, he polished them against the sleeve of his suit, and slid them back upon the bridge of his nose. “Besides, I’m almost finished. It won’t take much longer.”


That’s never the case, the demon of his mind retorted. There are always delays, things to do, meetings to schedule, detours to take... Why don’t you just consolidate that all? It’ll be so much easier on you.


“I told you once, I’m telling you again. I’m staying here.” To emphasize this point in his inner argument, he slapped his fist against the hard wooden desk, ignoring the sharp pain that spread across his palm. He then turned back to his business on the computer, tapping away at the keys as he prepared an important document for the case he had been working on for the past two weeks. However, after a few minutes, monotony began to set in, and his mind wandered away from the grim scene in Japan to a sunlit field, flanked by many stone tablets. He could almost see himself wandering the beautiful world, a self dressed in foreign and strange clothes and with a completely different personality. Oh, how I wish to get away. Just for today...


A spark ran across his temples, the sign that he should do what his instincts were craving. Saving and closing the document, he raised one finger momentarily, as if pondering something, before pressing it down decisively, shutting the laptop down. He closed the lid of the portable computer quietly and slipped it into a messenger bag near his feet. Getting up out of his seat while pulling the strap of the bag up with him, he slung the bag across his chest, before walking over to the glass door of the office and opening it. All of this was done in complete silence, as if he was committing a crime, and did not want to be caught. Striding briskly out of the office, he found himself in the small waiting room of the firm, where a young woman in a red sweater was sitting and writing a note to herself. “Horigome-san?”


“Yes, Furukawa-san?” Looking up in a somewhat-startled manner, the secretary raised her head from her work and from out under a tangled curtain of curly auburn hair, which may or may not have been dyed. “What what you like?”


“Tell Shiosugi-san...” Here he faltered, for he had not properly formed a good excuse. “Tell him that I’m not feeling good, and that I will not be able to attend the Nakamura case meeting today.”


“Very well, sir. I’ll make a note of that. I hope you feel better.” She gave him a smile that could be seen as much in the eyes as it was in the lips. “See you tomorrow.”


“You too, Horigome-san.” Giving a brief nod, he turned the knob on the chicken-wire glass door, and walked out of the firm and into the hallway of the office complex. Everyone needed a break once in a while, he thought to himself as he slipped down the path to the elevator. I just need one more than other people might.






If one were to head a few streets down from the office building, they would find the corporate headquarters of CC Corp, in all its shining glory. There, if one were to go up about 50 floors, exit the elevator, and go down the hallway on their right, they would find an unmarked door near the end of the hallway. This seemingly innocuous room held one of the most secret developmental projects in the entire company, known only to a select few as the “Darwin Project”. Inside this room would most likely be Saito Asako, a young programmer and administrator for the massive game which CC Corp had built an empire on. Currently, Asako would most likely be nervously inspecting her fingernails under stress, for a single error in a line of code she typed inadvertently released the data that the project team had been closely guarding over the past months into the game itself. She had all rights to be nervous, for who wouldn’t?


“Oh, I hope Haraguchi-san is okay... She’s been on the network for a while now.” Asako looked over her shoulder at her coworker, Haraguchi Kyouko, who was currently trying to right the programming error by going into the game itself. With a virtual reality headset perched on her head and a game controller in her hands, she was trying to take command of the situation, and hunt down the data bug and return it to the sealed-off server before anything else happened. However, nothing in her game-playing actions showed any signs of panic. She played as if she had complete control over the game, with clear, precise movements. Everything looked like it was being done from a script, and that was what Asako admired about her. “But I’m sure she’s doing okay. If she knew to assign me to this project, then she must be very confident.” A sense of pride rose up in her chest at hearing herself say those words, only to quickly be deflated. “Well, better go back to monitoring.”


After the accidental release of the AIDA into The World, Kyouko had ordered Asako to start a new tangent of the project: monitor the data tags on each AIDA, and determine whether they had escaped, and where to if they did. It was still boring, but not nearly as difficult as her previous task. Clicking a few buttons on her onscreen menu, Asako flipped between schematic maps of the different servers, which were outlined in neon green. If anything had changed, she would see it as a blinking red dot which, so conveniently, just popped up out of the corner of her eye. “Hmm?” Clicking on the map to expand it, she hovered her mouse pointer over the dot, and read its schematics.


“Let me see... AIDA number three, just recently spawned in Delta Server, field name ‘Calm Ruined Moonlight’.” Scratching the indicated field keywords down on a scrap of paper next to her, she then highlighted the field name, right-clicked it, and brought up a command box.


a = [block ‘keyword1:calm’ WITH ‘keyword2:ruined’ WITH ‘keyword3:moonlight’]


IF ‘var:player_status’ == ‘status:admin’ THEN revert ‘[a]’


After seeing that it was satisfactory, she clicked down on the ENTER key, sending a virtual command to the Delta Server. The field keywords would now be inaccessible to any player that wasn’t a CC Corp employee, AIs included. Nothing could get in, nothing could get out. It was a perfect defense against the unexpected, and was a textbook skill for any programmer.


After finishing up her little task, she looked back at the concentrating figure of her superior. Why won’t you hurry up, Haraguchi-san?






As the mysterious eagle shape dropped down from the sky like a plummeting missile, it was thinking about one thing. Freedom.


I’m finally out of there.


If anyone could hear the eagle’s voice, they would be surprised at the gentlemanly tone that contrasted with its fearsome figure. One would expect that a purple-black bird with pure gold eyes would have a more sinister voice, to match the dark color pattern. However, the AIDA wasn’t evil. It was the exact opposite, in fact; the Darwin Project had previously scrubbed its bad personality data before it was mistakenly released. It just wanted to fly.


I will enjoy my freedom.


The wind beneath the benevolent being’s wings felt utterly invigorating. It was like sweet sunlight upon the face of a prisoner who was cooped up for years underground. If the creature had a mouth, instead of its flickering beak, it would be smiling now.


Wait. I feel something.


Before the AIDA had the time to blink, a series of thin gold rings of light, inscribed with arcane symbols, began to wrap around the eagle securing it in place. The rings then began to glow even brighter, cutting off the brief vision of freedom that he had seen previously. It was a sickening sight for the bird AI.


No. This... can’t be. I don’t want to go back there. I can’t go back there...


As the lights shined even brighter, the AIDA’s consciousness began to slip slowly away from it. Colors blurred around, previously-peaceful sounds warped horribly, and everything tipped on its side. The last thing it saw before a golden night set upon it was a rift in the sky opening. A small squirrel-like creature, not entirely unlike itself, emerged from the rift, and darted off in a seemingly-random direction, disappearing as fast as it arrived.


I... can’t... go...


An unseen hand hit a virtual light switch. The gold turned abruptly to black, and so did the bird’s mind.






Mac Anu was probably one of the most, if not the most frequented Root Towns in The World. Because Delta Server was where newbie players always started, there was always a ton of people milling around the town center, trying to determine where to go after materializing for the first time. Therefore, it didn’t come as much of a shock to anyone when the spinning rings of golden light appeared, humming slightly. Everyone simply knew to get out of the way of them. However, what did surprise some was the character that emerged from them.


She was rather regal-looking, with shoulder-length blond hair that hung loosely, framing her face. Her clothing was rather standard for the game, consisting of a violet armored crop-top that exposed most of her lower abdomen and a long matching skirt with a diamond design on it. Her cheeks were heavily decorated with spiraling purple wave tattoos, and her eyebrows were knitted together in frustration. A large ornate broadsword was sheathed and hung at her back, showing that she was an Edge Punisher. In all, she was Tomiyo; a fearful fighter and a respected administrator. However, this regality was currently being disposed in favor of pure, unadulterated rage.


“Goddamn that Saito! Why couldn’t she properly uplink me to Delta Server, instead of sending me to a random field in the middle of nowhere. I had to fight through that dungeon, and all those annoying monsters... Geh, now the target could be halfway to Lumina Cloth by now! URGH!” That last exclamation was punctuated by a fist impacted with the nearest wall, scaring away at least three new players who were standing there. “Calm down, Kyouko... You are Tomiyo, you are adored, you are looked upon greatly... There. Under control. Now, let’s see where our AIDA friend is now, shall we?” While asking this rhetorical question, she gestured with her hands, and a small glowing panel, invisible to all but her, appeared in front of her, seemingly floating on air. Using the panel as a trackpad, she dragged her finger to a small tab labeled “ADMINISTRATIVE TRACKER”, and double-tapped it.


Please enter username and password.


“Grr... I wish we didn’t have to do this protocol.” Flying her fingers over the virtual keys, she hit “CONFIRM”, and the screen disappeared, to be replaced by a 3-D map of the immediate area in green framework. Blue dots wandered around randomly, representing the various players, and a pulsing yellow dot was an icon of her. On first inspection, everything appeared to be normal. However, if one were to delve into the map further, they would see a pulsing red dot on the edge of the map. Not noticeable on first glance, but because of Tomiyo’s often use of the program, she saw it right away. Her target was waiting on the outskirts of Mac Anu.


“It’s my lucky day. Looks like I don’t have to go far. Just need to put on a happy face.” With those words, her mouth twisted up into an obviously-fake smile for a moment, before returning to its previous dourness. Hoisting up her skirt with both hands, she broke off into a dash towards her destination, ignoring the strange looks that people were giving her.






Please do not move while the server initially configures your inputted data. This may take up to five minutes at maximum.


“C’mon, why does it have to be five minutes? I wanna get started now!” All that could be seen was a deep blackness. However, slowly but surely, a curtain of light dropped down, and the sight exposed to Hideki shocked him.


It was a sundrenched hill, underneath a clear blue sky. Puffy white clouds drifted slowly up above, and a bustling town could be seen in the distance. Everything felt so real about it that Hideki just wanted to jump with happiness. However, because of what the computer ordered him to do, he could only stand still and take in the scenery.


Looking down at himself, he was surprised to see the data come into place. As a creeping came over the golden framework structure that was his body from the neck down, Hideki was giddy to see the design that he had worked so hard at imagining come to fruitation.


Cain. You are now formatted into The World. Have fun! If you have any questions, please contact an administrator.


Cain was now standing atop the hill. At first glance, he looked like any teenage newbie that would be seen in the game. However, there was a decisive spark of excitement in his amber eyes. A heavy fringe of brown hair topped his head in messy straightened spikes, obscuring a yellow wave tattoo on his forehead in the shape of a sunburst rising over the horizon. A pair of matching marks resembling chevrons on their sides were on his cheeks, as well. His mouth was pulled up in an excited grin, showing the sheer amount of happiness in entering the new world.


The clothing that Hideki’s PC was wearing was a rather standard model, but was tweaked constantly, so that it resembled something entirely new. His shirt was white, short-sleeved and tight-fitting, and was divided into multiple vertical cream-colored stripes, the center one colored yellow. The shoulders of the outfit were shaded brown, and the left shoulder had a leather shoulder pad on it, attached to his chest by a matching strap going across his chest. A pair of plain brown knee-length shorts completed the outfit, along with some sturdy brown boots. Two knife sheaths were attached to the belt of his shorts holster-style, which contained a set of long golden daggers, the mark of a Twin Blade. In all, it was a design that wasn’t made quickly; it took a lot of planning.


Cain. We have encountered an error in your data formatting. Please hold on until an administrator can remove the problem.


“Huh? What?” The worst possible thing that a newbie could hear was that something was wrong, and it was a miniature nightmare for Cain. Worriedly, Cain glanced down at his chest. Everything about it seemed relatively fine, so he turned his attention to his left arm. That was alright, too, so he glanced at his right arm. What he saw shocked him to no end.


Instead of the pale digital skin that was supposed to be there, an odd spiraling tattoo-like mark took over the majority of the arm. It pulsed malevolently in a purple-black shade that seemed... evil, almost. The tattoo constantly shifted, but Cain could see that there was a repeating feather-like motif, wrapping and spiraling out and almost beating in time to the pulse of his virtual arteries. The marks crawled over the back of his hand, and ended on his palm in the shape of a diamond flanked by a pair of outstretched wings. It was cool, but at the same time incredibly disturbing.


“Oh sheet... What the heck is going on!” Quickly going into panic mode, Cain began to sweat, both in the game and in real life. Waving his “Why does this stuff always have to happen to me?! Somebody, HEEELLLLPPP!”


Why... did you entrap me again?


“Huh?” Cain was confused by the voice that suddenly reverberated across his skull. Unlike the normal birdsong, this seemed to reside directly in his skull. It was rather gentlemanly, but there was a twinge of anger behind the composed sound. “Who... who are you?”


I do not need to reveal my name to the likes of you. Insolent humans, why don’t they realize that I deserve my freedoms just as much as they do? I was able to leave my prison, and yet here I am again, in another one. So, I repeat myself: why did you entrap me again?


“I don’t know! I just got here, and I only want to play! Can’t someone help me out here?” The panic level went up another notch. Cain now was almost positive that the being in his skull was malevolent.


If you are not going to answer, I might just have to remove you from here. Forcefully.


“What do you mean?” Cain didn’t get a response, for his right arm began to move. Although Hideki wasn’t pressing any of the controller buttons in real life, he could only look on in horror as the wings and feathers on the arm began to beat faster, and his hand opened up, ready to wrap its fingers around Cain’s throat.








“Well, here it is. At least, that’s what the program says.”


Tomiyo had been running for not too long, but she walked much more than she ran. Therefore, it felt like much longer than it actually was. Grinding her feet against the ground to brake, she looked up at her destination. It was a small grassy hill. Not too special, the only thing redeeming about the hill was that it was one of the newly-installed random spawn points for newbies. CC Corp had put in the function in Mac Anu after they got complaints about the sheer number of new players appearing at the town’s Chaos Gate. In theory, it was supposed to lessen the traffic, and it worked.




“What the heck?” Looking up on the hill, Tomiyo could only see a new player in yellow and brown. He must have been the cause of the odd scream, because there wasn’t anyone else around. However, the thing that caught her eye was the PCs right arm. Scanning it quickly with a built-in function of her character, she could see something odd.


“There are two sets of data in him... Oh, great. Just great. I got a noob entangled in this. Quite literally, by the looks of it.” Muttering to herself in real life, Kyouko tapped a button on the controller, and an odd silvery-metallic orb generated in her hands. “Kid, stand still, and don’t you dare move!” Running up the hill at breathtaking speeds, Tomiyo saw the character rapidly grow within her field of vision. “Data seal, activate!” Slamming into her target in a full-body tackle, she shoved the orb into the boy’s right shoulder. It flickered, and rapidly expanded, making shifting mechanical sounds as it went. When the process was completed, the arm was covered in a form-fitting silver gauntlet from the far edge of the pectoral to the hand, completely obscuring the tattoo. The top part gurgled momentarily, and a clear crystal dome grew out of the shoulder, balancing out the lone pad on the opposite side.


“There. You’re safe now. So, do you mind thanking me for saving your life?”






“Kid, stand still, and don’t you dare move!”


“Huh?” Although Cain was still freaking out, he was able to gather his composure enough to notice the player yelling at him. She was a rather tall woman, in a purple crop-top and long skirt, with a large blade hanging off of her back. And, she was running straight at Cain at a speed which he couldn’t possibly dodge.


“What the he-” Cain’s exclamation was cut off midway as the woman forcefully slammed into him, sending the two of them flying. She was holding a metal orb in her outstretched arms, and promptly shoved it into Cain’s shoulder. “Yow!” A burning sensation began to spread over the boy’s arm, and he could only watch as a long silver gauntlet emerged from his shoulder and began to snake down his arm and hand, hiding the tattoo as it went. Thin ring-like indents appeared wrapping on the armor at regular indents, and as it covered the mark, Cain could somehow feel the odd presence in his head be muted, as if someone turned down the volume knob on it. As the armor finished enveloping his fingertips, the burning subsided, and a clear crystalline dome grew out of his shoulder.


“There. You’re safe now. So, do you mind thanking me for saving your life?” Saying this smugly, the woman crossed her bare arms over her chest, and waited for Cain to respond.


“What did you do to me?” Cain was utterly confused at the appearance of the mysterious woman and the new piece of armor on his arm. “And, before you answer that, what the eff is wrong with my arm?” He was obviously a bit worried, but that was part of his personality.


The woman didn’t seem at all surprised by Cain’s miniature outburst. “I’ll give you the bare facts, because that thing in your arm is something that you really shouldn’t know about. My name,” she said, gesturing at herself, “is Tomiyo. I am an administrator for The World, and I am currently working on a project for CC Corp. The thing in your arm is something called a ‘Darwin AIDA’, a specially crafted artificially intelligent data being that was tweaked to better serve the game that you are in. However, it has escaped from the subserver that we were storing it in, and due to the nature of the AIDA, they work like a hive mind. Do you know what a hive mind is?”


“Yeah!” Cain shook his head in agreement. “It’s like ants, right?”


“Sort of,” Tomiyo responded. “Because the AIDA in your arm gained the ability to break from the server, eventually all the AIDA we were working on will escape, as well.”


“How many are there?”


“Since our last check, 24.” Tomiyo seemed completely serious. “However, since the AIDA are all data, the one in your arm can basically absorb the other ones.”


Cain was a bit startled by this piece of news. “So, my arm’s like a vacuum cleaner?” He then imagined a weird scenario in which he was a giant mecha, sucking up purple blobs while laughing maniacally.


Tomiyo was a bit surprised by the boy’s bizarre analogy. “Sure, let’s go with that. However, you’ll have to live with the fact that your arm is corrupted, since I’m unable to remove it without corrupting and damaging your PC data.


“Why’s that?” Although he didn’t mind having the being embedded in his arm, Cain was curious why he was forced to have it in him.


“Hmm...” Looking for a good comparison, Tomiyo suddenly had a flash of inspiration. “Your name is Cane, right?”


“Yeah, but how do you know that?”


“I have an administrative tracker.” Settling it at that, she began to gesture with her hands. “Anyways, imagine a candycane. The white stripe is your data, the red stripe is the AIDAs data. The two of them are separate, but they are so intertwined that you can’t remove one without damaging the other. The gauntlet you’re wearing is the only real thing that’s preventing the AIDA from taking over your data any further. Therefore, I recommend you help me out, unless you want me to delete the guard.”


“How?” Cain obviously wasn’t exactly paying attention to Tomiyo’s explanation.


Tomiyo was desperately trying to restrain herself from smacking the clueless kid who was standing across from her upside the head. “Weren’t you listening? You need to hunt down and absorb the other AIDA into the one you currently possess. It’s that simple; I’ve even installed a tracker into your character menu so you can determine where they spawn.” Exhaling, Tomiyo was relieved that she could get it all out. “So, will you?”


Cain thought for a millisecond, before making up his mind. “Yeah, I will. Seeing as I don’t have any other choice, of course.”


“Good.” Brushing off her clothes, Tomiyo began to walk down the hill into Mac Anu. “However, before you get into stuff, I recommend you get acquainted with some other players and form a party. You might need some help. Also, talk to your AIDA. It might be willing to explain itself.” Cain could barely hear the woman’s final comment as she left his field of view. “See you around, and don’t abuse your power.” I’m gonna regret this already...


“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Watching the Edge Punisher leave, Cain looked up into the sky, observing the clouds pass by him. Today’s always a good day to try something new, he thought. It definitely is. Flexing his arms, he began to follow her into the heart of The World.




To be continued...


Heyas! I hope you liked the chapter. If it seemed to go really quickly at the end, I’m sorry about that.


Also, if you’d like to make a character to appear sometime soon, just post an idea in you review, and I promise I’ll try to use them. However, don’t try to make them “big and heroic”; a side role would be nice. Thanks.


‘Till next time, Tectonix.


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