A/N: So 2B and 9S were the first ones mentioned.

Chapter 2: 2B, Or Not 2B


"This… is utterly insane. And yes, I realize the incredible irony of that statement considering all the nonsense I've had to put up with since people mistakingly thought I was Zelda. Still. This here? Insane."

"Insane? Oh, come on, look, I consider this just an everyday little—LOOK OUT!"

"AGH!"

A tail of metal and thicker than a great oak slammed down into the earth with all the might of a comet; dirt and debris exploded like a geyser, spraying everywhere, sending Aloy and Link corkscrewing into the air.

Aloy didn't how long she had been airborne, or even which direction was up, down—everything was a nauseating blur of whirling landscapes—but it all came crashing back when she slammed up against the most sturdiest tree she ever had the misfortune to meet. She hit the ground on her knees, coughing, the bitter taste of blood plentiful on her tongue.

She spat, spraying the grass crimson, and wiped her bottom lip.

Her heart was pounding, her clothes were drenched with sweat—her fingers clenched around nothing but dirt. She didn't have the slightest clue where her trusty bow was; the force of that impromptu flight saw it snatched from her grip.

But she knew one thing for certain: her heart still beat, almost defiantly so, which meant she could still figh—

THWAM.

The tree behind her shook as though struck with a sledgehammer; leaves cascaded down as Aloy looked up to see her newly acquired Hylian friend implanted in the bark several feet up. He didn't appear to have his so-called Master Sword either.

"Okay… I don't feel so bad anymore," she muttered, making the arduous climb to her feet. "Hey… hey, woodpecker elf, you still alive up there, right?"

A grunt. A twitch of his leg. Then, "Don't insult me by suggesting that little love tap would do me in, Horizon girl."

"Is that going to be a thing with you, calling me that? It'd probably save you breath in the long run just to use my given name, Hylian. See? Hylian. Three syllables, it's why I stick with Link. Or elf."

Instead of 'sticking', Link did the exact opposite as he pushed himself off the tree, landing just next to Aloy. "I'm plenty fine on breath, thanks," he replied, giving his tingling legs a patdown. "What I'm not fine on, however, is the location of my sword…."

Aloy shrugged, rotating her head. "Probably keeping my bow company, wherever it got to."

The ground was rumbling, downright shivering as the beast they were struggling to take down began to approach, each lumbering footfall causing the earth beneath it to crack. Towering, snarling, and comprised of a hellishly tough metal in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the monster known as a Thunderjaw was bereft of its side-mounted disc launchers thanks to a carefully aimed Tearblast arrow on Aloy's part and a well-thrown remote bomb by Link.

It retaliated by launching them both into the damaged tree they now stood under.

"You're bleeding," Link noticed without actually looking at her.

To this, Aloy gave her bottom lip a slow lick. "Awww, thanks for the care, little Hylian."

The 'little' remark caused Link's ears to twitch. "Don't read so much into it, it was just an observation."

"Then maybe you should observe yourself. That looks nasty," she said, jerking a thumb at his head.

There was a blotch of crimson darker than the red of his head-wrap growing wider with every passing second. If it hurt, there was no evidence of it on Link's face, even as a trickle of blood escaped and ran down the side of his face.

"No worse than a hit from a Bokoblin…."

"From a what?"

They felt the cutting wind before anything else, that invisible sonic boom that ruffled their clothes, threw their hair about-followed almost instantly by the most bone-shattering screech they had ever heard. The Thunderjaw was roaring with rage, belting out such heinous rounds of wind that Ally and Link had to drop down and dig their fingers in the dirt to avoid being blown away.

"JUST HOW POWERFUL IS THIS THING?" Link yelled.

"NOT VERY!" Aloy shouted back, feeling like a flag caught in the breeze. "IF WE CAN JUST–WHOA!" She unclenched her right hand and pushed off to the side as a boulder came bouncing her way with every intention of making her a pancake. It crashed into the tree behind her, uprooting it from the ground in a tangle of branches and leaves that tumbled over the plains. "HOLY–guh!"

When the noise died away and the wind settled down, Aloy hit the dirt flat-out, instantly curling into a shivering ball, teeth grit against the pain spreading like wildfire through her midsection. There was a resurgence of blood at the back of her throat, a clear indication to the one or two ribs that cracked when she was thrown into that tree.

"Mmmmgh…" Memories were flooding back as she took a few seconds to swallow the pain, moments where Rost had to bandage her up after an overconfident leap that led to a nasty fall. "Those… those were the days…."

Next to her and still down on one knee, Link was having trouble keeping his vision straight. That clock to the head had things doubling up on him, and he knew there was no way they were battling two Thunderjaws…. Although he did notice that it was keeping a calculated distance away, pacing side to side; there was caution in its movements, a hesitation born after losing both its disc launchers. "Hey, Horizon girl…"

Aloy grunted from her spot on the ground; it was the best response she could muster.

"Get up."

"Oh, believe me, I'm a-tryin'," she wheezed out, "but my insides aren't quite in agreement at the moment…."

He spared her a single glance. She was on her knees and hunched over, forehead to the ground. "Not exactly the most dignified stance one can take, is it? Being face-down, ass-up. Is this some secret Nora custom to increase your attack power?"

The urge to thud that smart-assed Hylian upside the head was overpowering, yet it was taking all of Aloy's concentration just to climb onto her knees, one of her hands still pressed tight to her side. "There's no Nora tradition about busted ribs," she groaned with a steady inhale and exhale. "You're generally supposed to avoid those. Hang on…."

In a pouch on her hips she carried some healing herbs, which she gratefully downed in one big, near asphyxiating swallow. Instantly, she felt her insides shift, followed by a throb that sent waves of relief rolling through her every fiber. "Theeere we go," and she rolled onto her back only to spring to her feet. "A good survivor always comes prepared," she smirked, digging out another palmful. "Here, want some?"

Even with his concentration zeroed in on the metal monster stepping side to side, Link heard Aloy's offer and shook his head. "I'm good," was his terse reply, "I've got my own methods of recovery."

Aloy slapped her fist into the palm of her hand, "Oh yeah, that's right, I forgot! Somehow, in your magical little game, you don't even need to scavenge your meat or anything like that! All you do is bop a wolf on the nose and bam-explodes into pre-sliced, ready-to-eat cutlets!"

There was no shortage of sarcasm in her tone, all the more apparent by her smug grin, but Link only pulled out an apple from his pocket.

"How… how did that even fit in—" Aloy started, boggled.

"Let's not ask tedious questions," Link uttered between bites, his left ear twitching. "It works the same way it does in your game, how you're able to carry over fifty resources, six different sized weapons, five costumes, and some odd forty artifacts. All on your person. And still be able to sprint."

There was a taut moment of silence—broken consistently by the subdued screeching snarl of the Thunderjaw—during which Aloy lifted a finger, pointing at nothing, and opened her mouth, only to shut a second later. "Fair enough."

After four hearty chomps, Link held nothing but a core that he carelessly chucked it over his shoulder. His head no longer bled, nor did it throb; the only signs of past injury that remained where the dried bloodstains. "And now that I can think straight again, what were you about to say earlier? Something about 'all we have to do'…?"

"Right, right, Thunderjaws… Well, despite being tall as all holy hell, they're really simple to take care of. Like most things that stand in your way, you just have to figure out their weakness," and Aloy pumped an arm, showing off a rather impressive bit of muscle in her lithe form. "And for them that weakness would be-"

Her lips continued to move quite animatedly, no doubt divulging tide-turning secrets against their metallic foe, but Link didn't hear a single word past 'be'.

He was deafened from the besieged roar exploding from the Thunderjaw when a glint dropped from the sky; it was a sword, a sword caught in an alchemical golden circle, and it split the metal beast below like a hot knife through butter.

"...Huh." The surprise that should have been present on Aloy's face, that was most certainly present over Link's, was lost on the Nora; she stared with nothing but mild appreciation, her left hand subconsciously reaching up to give the Focus on the side of her head a little tap. "Don't tell me that's who I think it is…."

Link couldn't see the circle of ancient technology that emitted from Aloy's Focus so he was left to ascertain the situation with his own eyes. He braced himself for when the two clumps of bisected metal thudded to the ground, felt the vibrations enter his legs like shockwaves, and watched as a figure-a small boy?-stood up amidst the carnage.

"Nine... S," whispered Aloy, almost reluctantly. "Oh. Oh no..."

"Oh no, what?" Link questioned, staring from her to the white-haired, blindfolded newcomer. "What's wrong?"

Almost consolingly, Aloy gripped Links' shoulder. "Listen, whatever you do, don't shake either of their ha—"

"It's done, ma'am!" the boy called out to seemingly nothing, and he sported the widest, most sincere smile Aloy had ever seen. There wasn't a trace of deceit or immorality to be found. "The target's been destroyed successfully!"

"Who's he talking to?" Link asked.

Aloy was busy face-palming herself. "Ayyyye... he's talking to—"

"9S. How many times must I tell you that emotions have no place for us androids? You're displaying an inordinate amount of happiness."

It was a feminine tone devoid of any humor, of all joy and humanity—and it came from directly behind Aloy and Link, both of whom immediately spun around.

There stood a woman, one with hair as glisteningly silver as the boy called 9S, and she too wore a blindfold, though Link got the feeling that she could see perfectly fine despite it. Her figure was… utterly provocative, made even more so by her choice of attire—his eyes subconsciously followed the exposed curve of her hips… all the way down to the weapon dragging at her side. A sword. Two swords, actually, both of them held behind this strange woman using golden bands of light.

From somewhere next to him and sounding a good thousand miles away, he heard Aloy's amused voice: "You're gonna to dry your eyes out staring like that, Link."

Link would have answered, and possibly elbowed the annoying Nora at the same time, but a blur of silver shot between the two of them and right up to the woman's side.

"Ma'am, sorry, ma'am!" he chorused with a stout salute and bowing his head. He eagerly pointed back the way he'd come, at the split Thunderjaw. "Target has been annihilated, ma'am!"

"That's very good," she praised, just as lifeless as a dead fish, but her deadpan attitude didn't stop the glee that lit up the boys face, "still, you should refrain from calling me 'ma'am'. It isn't necessary nor needed."

Again, the boy bowed, far deeper than before. "Y-yes, 2B-san!"

"He's just going to revert back to calling you 'ma'am' in the next ten seconds," noted Aloy with a pitying sigh. "You really should just tie the knot and get it over with, Toobers."

Despite her inhumanly rigid stance, a twitch shook 2B's shoulders and something of a blush invaded her face. Fortunately, in that same instant, 9S had suddenly whipped around to face Aloy, displaying an oddly determined expression through his blindfold.

"Tie... the knot…?" The words left his lips hesitantly and one could practically hear the gears turning his head trying to parse the saying. "Are you saying that 2B-san likes tying… knots? Like with rope? Is that right, Aloy-sama?"

That blush from earlier only worsened to the point where Link thought this 2B woman was suffering from a sunburn. Aloy was outright laughing, hands on her hips and head thrown back, while 9S looked confused.

"Did I… say something humorous? If 2B-san doesn't like tying knots then maybe she'd rather take to origami, or maybe—" A hand suddenly fell over his head and began ruffling his hair. He instantly went stiff. "A-ah... 2B-san?"

The woman in question remained silent, affectionately running her fingers through 9S's silver locks. Then she gave a supercilious little sniff and turned her head in Link's direction. "And who might you be, elf?" she wondered.

"Praaaaaise," drawled 9S contently.

Link didn't respond right away, mostly because his brain was in a frenzy trying to process recent events. It was quite clear to the Hylian that he was in the presence of an opponent who possessed an absurd amount of strength, evidenced by the fact that the little one, 9S, was currently wrapped around her finger and even he had just one-shotted that Thunderjaw. So if he was obviously strong, and yet he answered to her… and did she just call him 'elf'...?

"Oi, Link of Hyrule, the ladybot asked you a question," came the ever helpful Aloy, sporting that teeth-grating snark, and she gave him a nudging elbow in the side.

Withholding a scowl, Link extended a firm hand towards 2B, his posture suddenly rigid, training from a hundred years ago coming back full force. "This... elf... would be Link from the kingdom of Hyrule, defender of Princess Zelda and nemesis of the Calamity Ganon," he declared officially.

"Talk about a mouthful," Aloy muttered, tapping the toe of her shoe against the ground.

When 2B took Link's hand and shook it, he felt his ring and pinky fingers fracture under the sheer strength of her grip. Before the excruciating pain hit, he was almost impressed by that display of strength, and then his left eye twitched, but outside of that, his expression remained professional.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Link of Hyrule. I am 2B, and this one here," she gestured at the boy beside her, "is 9S. We received word that an anomaly was rampaging in this section-one called Thunderjaw-"

"Which no longer poses a threat," chirped 9S dutifully.

There was something rigid in Link's nod, so rigid in fact that Aloy could only raise a curious eyebrow while she watched him reach into his pocket for another apple. It was devoured just as quickly as the first. Then a lightbulb went off in her head and she snickered.

"Yeah, them android's got one helluva grip, don't they? Tried to warn you earlier." She flexed her left hand. "How many fingers bit the dust just then? One, two? She broke three of mine first go 'round, nearly bit my tongue off."

"2B-san's grip is bar none," 9S spouted. Beside him, 2B was staring at the hand she had used to shake Link's with, her fingers curling and uncurling like she couldn't believe what she had done. "We have to go through strength regulation sometimes, because not everything is calibrated to withstand our might. I remember this one time when 2B-san crushed my–"

"Strolls down a designated memory lane are prohibited, they only lead to emotional outcomes," muttered 2B shortly when it seemed as though 9S wasn't going to stop on his own, "and as you well know, emotions are unnecessary."

There was something unnerving to the Hylian warrior about being surrounded by now three competitors from another system, the foreboding sensation of being outnumbered. One of them posed very little threat, but these two… well, with his skills, he doubted they were much of one either, but all of them combined might actually be cause for some concern. "You say you're… androids? Did I hear that right?"

Caught in the middle of reassuring 2B that he would never divulge her 'grip story', 9S gave a firm nod. "Yes, androids under YoRHa, annnnd… due to our being installed with spoiler-free programming, that's about all I am able to say about it," he finished with a sort of anti-climatic shrug. "But," and he lifted a solitary finger, "what I can say is we're fighting for the very survival of the human race in a post-apocalyptic world that—"

Again, 2B's hand came down atop 9S's head, forcing it down with very little effort. "9S, if they wish to learn about our game, then I suppose they will just have to play it, won't they?"

"Ah! Yes, ma'am!"

To this, Aloy waved her hand dismissively. "I've got enough going on in my own game without adding the beyond convoluted, suicidally depressive nature of yours, thanks—"

"Says the heroine of a game with nearly the same post-apocalyptic vibe," 2B shot back, and her deadpan tone made the barb all the more biting.

"That just means someone copied the better game," Aloy responded with something of a scoff. "My game started production in twenty-eleven, you? Twenty-fourteen."

"That… that doesn't make yours the better game, Aloy-sama!" 9S blustered, and when his cheeks grew an angry red Link had to wonder how such a thing was possible given their biology. "Just because you're older doesn't mean—"

"Oh, but it does," interrupted Aloy with a snarky smirk.

It seemed to be blowing 9S's mind, Aloy's teasing, to the point where he began to tremble in spot, face red and hands clenched. "You—that—but our game is—"

Another hand fell over 9S's head, this one belonging to Aloy, who was bent forward as she patted the frustrated android. "I'm just teasing, Nines. You just broke one million sales, didn't you? That's pretty great when you consider your predecessor only did, what, a quarter of that, right?"

Her praise seemed to snatch out whatever wrench had gotten caught in 9S's gears because his expression shifted from annoyed to cheerful in a blink. "Yeah! We're doing really well, our creators are really pleased!"

Now something clicked in Link's head and he stared 2B from top to bottom. He knew there was a reason this android's choice of attire seemed to catch his eye, other than for the obvious reasons. "You do know that if one of your game's main protagonist didn't dress in such a provocative manner, the sells would have been nowhere near a million, right?"

Silently, 2B canted her head to the side, taking the ends of her dress in both hands and fanning it out. She glanced down, then up, nary a trace of emotion sliding over her face. "I fail to see how my choice of attire is relative to the positive reception of our game, Link."

"Of course you would."

9S ducked out from underneath Aloy's hand. "There's nothing wrong with 2B-san's clothes!" he argued. "They're form-fitting, breathable—she can dodge and exert the full range of her limbs in a wide variety of motion!"

"She can also exert the full mass of her rear in a wide variety of motion," replied Link evenly, and Aloy had to clap a hand to her mouth to keep from laughing. "In fact, isn't one of the achievements of your game centered around the player looking up her dress?"

Slowly, very slowly, 9S lowered his hands, which had once again curled into fists, leaving his arms to dangle limply. "Peek… peek up 2B-san's… dress?" His voice was hollow, unnaturally dead, a very chilling contrast to the bubbly tone from earlier. Then his jaw firmed and he fixed Link with what could only be assumed was a glare of death. "I would kill them."

Immediately, 2B was ruffling his hair again. "You mustn't be so over-protective, it only breeds blinding emotion, 9S," she softly scolded, yet there was an unmissable trace of bemusement in her words, like she was partly pleased by his reaction.

"I'm telling you," started Aloy, and she made some sort of tying motion with her hands, "that's all you need to do, Toobers. Althoooough," she continued in a singsong fashion, glancing at Link, "if her, ah… assets are what attracted people to her game, then namesake alone is what drew people to yours, one-hundred boy."

Bypassing 9S, who was visibly beginning to calm down under 2B's masterful petting, Link tilted his head in Aloy's direction. "Oh, so we're back to that, are we?"

"Hey, you brought it there. Aside from a climbing mechanism that works on nearly every vertical surface and actual physics, if Breath of the Yawn didn't have your name on it, a million copies would've probably been the cap there."

"Breath of the Yawn. Hm. Clever." Lifting his wrist, Link pretended to be checking the time on a watch he wasn't even wearing. "Speaking of sales, where are we sitting again? I'm seeing sources claim my game has breached three million in sales, that it's outselling yours."

"If you are the same Link of Hyrule that is in relation to Zelda, then why is your game even in such proximity to Aloy's to begin with?" 2B wondered, drawing both their stares. "Your name carries great weight in the gaming community, does it not? This should have been a blowout, no?"

The look that crossed Link's face read quite plainly 'and who asked you for your input?' but he took it all the same, responding with, "As great a weight as my name does indeed carry, the dead-weight that was my new home's predecessor carried a far greater weight, a suffocating one, you might say. Still, as I predicted earlier, sales are starting to pick up, they're steady."

"For now," added 9S mirthfully, and the way he stared up at 2B with such admiration, if his eyes hadn't been covered, Aloy felt sure stars would have replaced of his pupils. "We're steady, too—all thanks to 2B-san."

"Yeah, you are, Nines," said Aloy, looking around in a frenzy, "and I'd be steady right there along with you if I could find my weapons. When we got chucked like potatoes, I lost it, and I'm feeling mighty naked without my bow…."

Link nodded. "Now there's something I can agree with. Question is, where do we even begin looking…?" he wondered, lifting a hand to his chin. "We're obviously in your world based on the Thunderjaw—"

"I wouldn't be so quick to claim that." There was something unsettling in the way Aloy began to grin. "It's kind of weird, because that's what I thought, too… but then I saw you, one-hundred boy, and prior to this moment I didn't think the worlds of different systems could, you know… meet. Like in the same vein of no multiplayer between systems."

Now that she brought it to his attention, that was fairly odd, not to mention thus far unheard of. In the past, Link usually ran across other characters from games under the umbrella of Nintendo, like Samus, and Donkey Kong, and Bayonetta, who was part of the rare exception extended to multiplatform games… but meeting Aloy along with 2B and 9S who were exclusively part of the Sony faction. Just what was going o—

"-but if you wish to, I won't stop you," 2B finished saying, answering a question that 9S had asked.

Aloy slung an arm over Link's neck, smiling ear to ear. "That's real kind of you, Nines," she beamed, "we really appreciate it."

"What?" Link asked, uncomfortably aware of how much taller Aloy was than him when side-by-side. "What'll we appreciate?"

"Nines here is going to go find our weapons for us!" She gave a Hylian a squeeze. "Ain't that just nice of him?"

"It's… yeah, actually it is," Link said with an acknowledging tone. "I appreciate it, 9S."

The smaller male android only saluted before sprinting off in a harsh gust of wind that ruffled their clothing. He was a speck in the distance in less than five seconds and utterly gone by the time Aloy lowered her hand from her eyes.

"I can see someone never misses cardio day," she joked.

"We're androids, Aloy, pre-built to be all-purpose," 2B deadpanned. "What good would cardio do us?"

"Nowhere near as good as having a basic-humor chip installed, apparently," said Aloy.

Oddly enough, there was something of a smirk spread through Link's lips. "If it means anything, that right there was chuckle-worthy."

Aloy blinked. "Oh, thanks, elfman."

"Annnnd now I regret my praise."

"Pffft…."

Even though her face didn't betray a single emotion, the way 2B's head canted to the left expressed nothing but pure confusion. "Might you two be a couple?" she asked bluntly.

Link hit the ground like someone had yanked his feet right out from under him while Aloy started choking on absolutely nothing.

"Y-yeah, a couple of rivals," she managed to croak out, thudding herself on the chest. Next to her, Link was struggling back to his feet, knocking dirt from his shirt. "What in the world would even give you that crazy idea, Toobers?"

"Is not argumentative behavior the first signs of a close relationship?" the android questioned. "You two seem to have that in spades."

"What we have is utter disregard for one another," shuddered Link, the very idea making his skin crawl. "Just… me? With this beast?"

The affronted look on Aloy's face at being called a 'beast' melted into a scathing grin. "Right, right, because all the ladies are just clamoring for the quiet manlet with ears."

"You clearly have not read any of the self-insert fanfiction circulating about me," Link shot back with a very traumatic eye twitch. "It's… the things they want to do with me… to me…."

"HA!" Aloy's laugh boomed over the plains and Link scowled.

"Oh, just wait, your time is coming, Nora—it happens to all of us who make a splash in gaming. First come the praise, then the artwork, then the porn, then… then the stories…."

"People, ah… seem to have this obscure fascination with my, uh… my rear," muttered 2B, her monotone betraying a few shades of embarrassment. She clasped both hands over the sizable bump in the back of her dress. "I don't know why that is…."

"Really?" wondered Aloy, squatting down until she was Link's level, which only caused the warrior to adopt a cerise hue in his cheeks. "You don't know why, Toobers? I think I've seen the word 'thick' tossed around concerning you, albeit misspelled t-h-i-c-c for some reason…."

Still looking just as perplexed, 2B waited for Aloy to continued. When the Nora didn't, distracted with ridiculing Link for his height, she pressed with, "What does that even mean? This thick with no 'k' and an extra 'c'?"

Aloy shrugged. "That common sense is under the stranglehold of lust, I'd say."

"Your ass is going to be under the stranglehold of my boot if you don't knock it off," Link threatened, only to have Aloy ruffle his hair. "Cut it out!"

"Awww, look'm the widdle warrior elf, ain't he cute?"

"I'm older than you by at least a hundred years!"

"And shorter than me by at least a good foot."

"While you're shorter than me in sales by at least a good five hundred thousand. Who's the winner now?"

"Me," answered Aloy easily with a thumb pointed at her chest, "the woman currently towering over you like—"

"Kink Kong?" suggested Link.

"Oh, you little-"

Their bickering seemed to be ceaseless—and certainly 2B's head was getting tired of turning from one to the other as they hurled out insults—so it came as nothing short of divine intervention when an explosion in the distance parted the very clouds and silenced both warriors. Even from where they stood they felt the tremors in the ground, and were nearly blown off their feet by the shockwave of wind that followed.

For a moment, the three gathered remained still… and then Aloy slowly reached up for her Focus, giving it a single activating tap. "That… that was the direction Nines tore off in, wasn't it?"

Just as carefully, 2B nodded, showing slight traces of a frown. "Indeed it was…"

It was easy to read the atmosphere, of the impending dread, and Link lifted a staying hand to his companions. "Let's not jump to conclusions, alright? I'm sure whatever that was just now, it's nothing to worry about. He's fi—"

Much like the way he had first arrived, 9S dropped from the heavens like a rock, colliding betwixt the three of them in an explosion of debris and looking like the aftermath of dog's three-year-old chew toy.

At first, no one spoke—no one was able to—until,

"Wow. Way to make me a liar, 9S," Link muttered.

"9S!" The horror in 2B's voice was unfiltered as she dropped to her knees, hunched over 9S like she wanted to scoop his butchered form into her arms but unsure of where to grab or even if she should. Her fingers trembled—her heart raced—she felt dizzy with panic, lightheaded–

She was screaming before she could stop herself, the anxiety and fear all but overriding her initial rule against displaying emotions. She wanted to grab him, to hold him close, but how to grab him without adding further injury? There were so many cuts… his right arm was missing, completely wrenched off… everything below the waist was gone—

Aloy was frozen, unable to move even if she wanted to, while next to her, Link stared, jaw taut.

Another tremor caused pebbles to bounce, this one softer yet no more menacing than the first. Still, no one moved or even acknowledged the quake; everything had ceased to be under the weight of 2B's scream.

9S suddenly coughed, dispelling speckles of some blackish fluid, and not only did 2B jump, but Aloy and Link as well, the latter two spurred on to get closer. "I… m-ma'am, I…" It was clear that every single letter was a struggle to get out and 2B shushed him.

"Be quiet, Nines, that's an order," she said sternly, the lump in her throat almost audible. "We're… help's coming, okay? We're going to get you to a safe place and build you back up again and you'll be just fine—"

A rattling wheeze cut her words short. "…my h-hand…" His left arm twitched and it was only then did the others notice the bag of weapons he clung to by a strap. His smile was weak but it was there. "Got them."

While Aloy looked both breathless and amazed, Link hardly noticed; his attention was on the tattered remains of 9S's waist. Those markings… his nose prickled with a scent that caused the hairs on the back of his neck to jump up; then his eyes grew wide and he gripped 9S by the shoulder.

"What did this to you?" he asked tersely.

"It's coming," 9S whispered, and it was like Link had never spoken; his attention was solely for 2B. "It's coming…" he repeated almost pleadingly, and no sooner had the words left his lips, an unnatural stillness took what was left of his body.

Seconds passed in wait for the smaller android to move again, to speak again, but he didn't; only his silver hair swayed in the dead breeze. The hand 2B had never touched her partner with continued to hover before falling gently onto his chest.

"Ready yourselves," she suddenly commanded a few seconds later.

"Huh?" Aloy, who had been idly shaking the 9S by his other shoulder, as if that might somehow jar him back into motion, blinked, stunned to see 2B already on her feet. "Ready—what? Toobers, what're you—"

"I said," 2B reached behind her, withdrawing both bladed weapons from that golden ring and holding them out, "ready yourselves."

Not needing to be told a third time, the other two quickly snatched up their respective weapons.

"You, Link," and Link couldn't help but blink when she pointed one of her exotic looking swords at him, the curved tip nearly brushing his nose, "when you grabbed 9S earlier… you asked what did that to him. You sounded like you might already have some kind of inkling…."

She wasn't asking a question, and Link wasn't daft enough to think otherwise. The tone of her voice had shifted; it was once again a blank monotone but there was something insidious coating every word that suggested she wouldn't hesitate to push the blade through his skull if he didn't answer to the fullest.

"I do," he said, staring up the blade's length and into her blindfold. "I have some margin of speculation at best… but first," and his eyes lowered to the mangled metal that was 9S, "is he…?"

"He's fine," Aloy said steadily, proceeding 2B. "This wouldn't the first time 9S has di—"

"Aloy," hissed 2B, and one could almost hear her concealed eyes narrowing. "Please avoid the use of spoilers."

Aloy looked chastised, rubbing behind her head, "Ah, right… my bad. The second Absolution Law of VG, yeah. Ummm… how do I explain this..." She turned to Link with a hand to her chin, contemplating her next words carefully. "He's… okay, put it this way, 9S is both dead and alive right now."

Testing the draw of his bow with what looked like a cerulean blue arrow, Link waited for Aloy to continue but she was apparently content with her answer and had moved to sifting through her own assortment of arrows. "That doesn't make a lick of sense," he pointed out.

"It would if you played their game. It's called Nier: Automata."

"Because I've got time to do that."

"Then do what every other person does, the ones who can't be assed to go through the same exhaustive storyline five times: look it up on Wikipedia or something," Aloy suggested. "They all tend to lose interest once Toobers' part is over with anyway."

"They do not lose interest when—" started 2B defensively, but she just as quickly caught herself with a scowl, flicking her weapon at the ground. "Speaking of interest... I can't help but notice that you never seem to have this much mouth when Geralt is around."

It was the first time Link had seen Aloy twitch like that, the way her eyes widened and her cheeks grew pink, how she clumsily fumbled her arrows—

"Weeeee don't have to go there," she sniffed superciliously, hastily scooping back up her ammunition. "Besides! There's far more important matters at hand, ain't that right, Link?" She turned to the Hylian with a jerking smile that almost screamed 'help me'. "You were saying, about this, uh, speculation, was it? You know who did this to him?"

And she made to point at 9S, but in her flustered state she wound up pointing at a plot of grass right next to him. It only took a few awkward seconds of silence for Aloy to realize that miscalculation, and then a couple more to readjust her aim.

The temptation was definitely there, and it was a burning one, the urge to press for information on this 'Geralt' person and why just the mere mention of their name had Aloy acting like she was scrambling to prepare for her first date….

2B snapped her fingers. The sound was like metal plates colliding at light-speed, pitched and ringing.

"All Mother above, Toobers, can you not do that? Damn…."

Both Aloy's request and the grabbing of her throbbing ears went unheeded by the female android. She was facing Link, who was going through similar motions, his sense of balance nearly thrown off. "Aloy is right... this time. There are indeed more pressing matters to tend to. So tell me, Link of Hyrule. Who… is coming?"

Grunting, Link slowly lowered his hand away from his stinging ear. "You might… you might call it a calamity."


A/N: Who's next to show up?