Disclaimer: I do not own any of the .hack games. Although, I would do just about anything to borrow Balmung for awhile.
Author's Note: Yes, I'm back. *grins* I want to thank everyone that so graciously received my other fic "Rage Against the Twilight". I really didn't think it would do so well but I'm glad everyone enjoyed it. This story is set during MUTATION, and could also be considered to follow "Rage Against the Twilight" although you do not need to have read that one in order to understand this one. The idea for this came to me as a certain scene and I basically wrote the story to encompass that image. Listening to "Liminality" by See Saw over and over again helped too. Game concepts (ie. feeling cold, eating, in The World) were taken from .hack//DUSK, which you should all go watch. Kite/BlackRose fluff ahead. Enjoy.
Sentences in italics are flashbacks.
It was raining. Cold, fat drops fell from a darkened sky, pattering against the grass and pinging silvery notes from her armor. She was drenched all the way through, water dripping from the ends of hair, but she did not move under the cover of the nearby trees. Indeed, even if she had had the energy to do so she wouldn't have. Instead, she leaned forward slightly, ignoring the angry protests of her body as she made an attempt to shield her companion from the driving rain.
Kite's head was in her lap, rain drops on his tattooed cheeks, his dark eyes open but clearly not seeing much of anything. Next to him lay his twin Blades of Bond and past that her Spark Sword stood upright, half it's length buried in the soft earth where she had planted it after the battle was over. It rested there now like some silent sentinel, a memorial to a fight that had left deep rents in the earth, destroyed trees, and left two of its warriors without strength enough to come in out of the rain. They had not expected to have to fight for their lives and so had not stocked up on healing items as they should have. BlackRose had run out of them halfway through and Kite soon after. She supposed sitting in the rain, waiting for her skill points to recover enough to heal them was her punishment for a lack of foresight.
She really should have seen it coming.
Looking down at her partner, she smoothed damp strands of aqua hair out of his face, the disheveled locks having been freed when he had lost his cap in an attack that had thrown him several feet. He was badly injured, his health points measuring somewhere in the double digits. Fortunately, he carried no status effects and so he would remain at his current level until she could heal him. So, for that matter, would she, though she had not ended up with as much damage as Kite. Because of that, it fell to her to get them back to Carmina Gadelica safely, which she could not do until they both could stand long enough to gate out.
So, she waited.
She really hated waiting.
"Is it over?"
Kite's quiet voice drifted up to her and she noticed that his eyes were more focused, the blue irises locked on her face. By his very words she realized he had not seen her final charge, her body flipping in the air to bring her sword down vertically through their foe.
This is the end!
BlackRose smiled reassuringly. "Yes, it's over."
She felt his body relax, a small sigh escaping him. It was a moment before he spoke again. "How bad are we?"
She wrinkled her nose. "Not too bad, considering. Just a few more minutes and I'll have enough skill points to get us on our feet and out of this place." She sneezed suddenly and felt Kite shift in her lap.
"You're cold." His hand touched hers and she blinked at the contact. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"I said I was, didn't I?" she said impatiently, a little skittish with him looking at her so worriedly. "Besides, you should be more concerned with yourself." Her eyes flickered to the Bracelet she couldn't see. "It took a lot out of you this time."
"Yeah," he murmured, taking his hand away and settling back down. His eyes closed as he rested and she couldn't help but feel a sudden overwhelming need to protect him, even though it was usually him who did the protecting. He looked so vulnerable lying there, a state she wasn't used to seeing him in.
And it was all because she hadn't seen it coming. In fact, just thinking about what happened made her angry.
* * * *
An hour earlier…
"But BlackRoooooooose— "
The pink-haired Heavy Blade felt her eyebrow twitch. "Mistral, if you whine at me one more time I'm gonna— "
"But this is the biggest Event I've ever seen! Everyone's talking about it! Can't we just go and see what's going on? I mean, I'm sure with you along we'll be able to take the prize in a pinch!" Mistral gave her friend her puppy-eyed look. "Come on! Come on! How can you resist?"
"With ease, actually," BlackRose muttered, while dodging players as they made their way to the Items dealer. "Have you already forgotten that we're suppose to be keeping an eye out for any info on Wiseman? We have to learn what he knows about the Epitaph."
Mistral pouted. "But this is a game! It can't be all work and no fun." Seeing her words make a visible impact on her friend, the tiny Wavemaster bounced on her toes, her eyes lighting. "Besides, I heard there is a fantastic rare item for the person who wins the Event. Heheheh, it might even have Data Drain!"
Startled, BlackRose came to an abrupt halt, causing a Long Arm to run smack into her. She ignored his disgruntled comments.
"What? Mistral, what are you talking about?"
Mistral's eyes fairly gleamed with excitement. "The prize, silly! It's a bracelet! Maybe it has Data Drain! Then I can be as cool as Kite."
For the first time in a long time, BlackRose found herself searching for words. "Mistral… you… what… ARGH!" She shook her head, mentally telling herself to get a grip. "Are you saying that there is an Event that is giving away a bracelet rumored to have Data Drain?" When the Wavemaster nodded enthusiastically, BlackRose frowned. "But that's impossible. Kite got his Bracelet from Aura, surely she couldn't have given someone else one as well."
"It's only a rumor," Mistral piped up, "but wouldn't it be great if there was another bracelet like Kite's? Then I could finally complete my Items list!"
"Yeah… That would be great."
But privately, the Heavy Blade wasn't so sure. Something about the whole thing wasn't ringing true. If there actually was another bracelet with Data Drain, wouldn't they have heard about it before now? Surely rumors of someone Data Draining monsters would have reached their ears. BlackRose frowned to herself. But maybe this new bracelet had not been used by a player, but had fallen into the hands of the System.
Her mind could not even comprehend the consequences of that.
But it did give a sense of reality to what Mistral was saying. Perhaps this Event would be worth looking into after all, if only to make sure this prize bracelet was just that, a silly prize.
BlackRose sighed. "Alright, Mistral, I'll go with you to this Event." She held up a hand as the Wavemaster squealed. "But only if Kite agrees to come along, too." They were going to need him if the rumor turned out to be true.
"Alright!" Mistral replied with a beaming smiley. "Just let me send him an email." The other girl closed her eyes and BlackRose tapped her foot impatiently. Now that she had made a decision, she only wanted the whole thing to be over and done with. The sooner they found out just what the System was up to, the sooner they could get on with their own personal quest to save The World.
"He says he's going to meet us at the field. I gave him the location."
"Did you tell him about the rumor?"
"Yeah, he was surprised, but said its better for us to go and see what's up."
BlackRose nodded. "Well then, let's go."
Mistral clapped her hands. "To Shining Chosen Treasure!"
* * * *
Afterwards, BlackRose would not be able to say exactly what happened during their teleport to the field. The only thing she was quite sure of was the sudden burst of white static, lines appearing across her vision, and hearing Mistral cry out somewhere in cyberspace. It was immediately clear though that something had gone wrong for the Heavy Blade made it to Shining Chosen Treasure, but the Wavemaster did not.
Staggering slightly as she reoriented herself, BlackRose looked around for her small companion, wondering just what the hell had taken place. It had not been a normal teleport, that was for sure. Something had been there, racing along at the speed of light with them. She shivered just thinking about it. Whatever it was, the static she had seen could not be a good sign.
"Mistral?" she called, hefting her sword up onto her shoulder. The field was quiet around her, an unseen wind ruffling the long grass. The sky was overcast and flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance, not to mention the total lack of any other players. Had Mistral been wrong about the Event?
"Mistral!" she shouted, projecting her voice. It was eerie, standing in that silent field all alone. "Mistral!"
BlackRose whirled in sudden panic, her sword swinging up and outwards in a arc towards the speaker. Behind her, Kite held up his hands in a peaceful gesture, an apologetic look on his face.
"Kite! What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?" She lowered her blade, her heart racing in her chest. "I thought I told you never to sneak up on me?"
He grinned slightly, lowering his hands. "Sorry," he said, though clearly he thought her discomfort amusing. "But I told Mistral I would meet you here so I assumed you were expecting me." He glanced around. "Where is Mistral anyway?"
"I don't know. We gated in together but…" She hesitated and Kite frowned.
"There was static in the transfer. The next thing I know, I'm here and Mistral's not."
BlackRose could see the wheels in Kite's head begin to turn, his eyes narrowing as he took in their surroundings.
"Nothing happened when I transferred." He paused. "But then again, I was alone."
BlackRose blinked. "You mean, something stopped Mistral from entering so that only you and I would make it here?"
"I don't know, but don't you think it's suspicious that there's no one else here? If an Event really was going to be held, it would be packed."
She didn't really like where this was going. "So that rumor Mistral heard, about the bracelet…?"
Kite looked at her solemnly. "Maybe it was a lie."
BlackRose glowered. "Man, I really hate being tricked." She hefted her sword back up onto her shoulder, her spine stiff and straight. "So, what do you think? Another trap?"
The Twin Blade shifted on his feet and nodded. "Yeah, I think so."
"Alright then. Let's go."
He blinked. "Where?"
The Heavy Blade sighed impatiently. "To find whoever wanted us to come here, of course. I'm not going to sit around and wait for him to make an appearance." Her grumbling trailed off as she started walking, the long grass brushing along her calves as she waded into the sea of green. After a moment, Kite followed, rubbing his right wrist self-consciously.
They walked for a long time, never speaking and never seeing any other players or portals. It was as if they were the only two left in The World, the silence weighing down on them heavily until BlackRose's frustration came to a boiling point.
"I've had enough!" she exclaimed abruptly, planting the end of her sword into the ground angrily. But just as suddenly as her temper had snapped, it drained away and she stood with her shoulders hunched, her eyes closed, her voice soft. "I'm tired of being used."
Kite's eyebrows drew together in concern. "BlackRose…" He took a step towards her but before his hand could descend onto her shoulder, the ground began to shake violently, throwing him back. BlackRose grabbed the handle of her sword for balance, her ruby eyes at their widest.
"What's going on now?"
Not fifty feet away, three golden portals whirled into being, their bright centers beginning to spin as they were activated. The wind rushed towards them as if the monsters' awakening had sucked the very air from the field and BlackRose gasped at what appeared.
Three Data Bugs, all of them some sort of dragon creature she had never fought before. As she watched them, horrified, three infinite health bars looked back her, firey breath singeing the meadow grass as they breathed. Glancing over at Kite, she saw her own fear reflected in his face. They were only two people, not a full party, and they had never taken on three Data Bugs at once. Even if they could somehow get each one down to Protect Break, Kite would be hard pressed to Data Drain them individually. His infection would grow substantially and if they were hit by any side effects without a Wavemaster…
BlackRose pulled her sword from the ground, her eyes locking with Kite's as the three monsters roared and started towards them.
"You'll have to Data Drain all three at once," she said, her voice coming out much more calmly than she felt. Kite gave her a half-shake of his head.
"I can't. That would be mean that we would have to somehow get them to Protect Break at the same time and I don't think— ."
His pink-haired partner grinned, her fingers flexing around the hilt of her sword in readiness for battle. "Don't worry. I can do it. Just stay back and use spells. We can't risk both of us getting killed at once."
Kite shouted at her to wait but she was already running into the fray, standing defiantly within the circle of the three Data Bugs as they converged around her. In the face of their descending claws, she smiled rebelliously.
Three sets of talons slammed against the spot where the Heavy Blade stood, a cloud of dust and dirt obscuring her from Kite's view. His heart leapt in his chest for a moment but then he saw her, falling through the air above the monsters' heads where she had jumped quickly to safely. Her Spark Sword glimmered in the artificial sunlight, her voice reaching him as she gathered her power.
Huge sparks exploded and fizzled against the ground as BlackRose slashed her blade vertically down the front of the first monster. The infected dragon roared its anger but she was already pivoting, holding her sword like a saber as she drove it into the next Data Bug.
She did not come away unscathed. The third Data Bug did not stand idle, but lunged forward, raking its claws down her back. She cried out even as she rolled away, avoiding the dragon's sharp teeth as its jaws snapped the air her body had occupied only moment's before. Before Kite could throw an Ol Repth her way, she had flung back a Healing Potion and was on the move again, her movements sleek and well coordinated, nothing like the newbie who had stood nervously at his side in an old cathedral. They had both gotten stronger since then, evolving emotionally even as their characters gained experience. Somehow, through all their adventures and battles, they had come to form a seamless partnership, their skills and personalities complimenting each other. He was sure that was the very reason they had made it this far. It was their ability to gauge the other, to know what the other would say or do before they did it.
It was also why Kite had trouble standing on the sidelines, watching her battle without him. He wanted to be in there with her, fighting by her side, but BlackRose was right. They had no Wavemaster and if they both fell there would be no one to revive them.
Kite would not let them be beaten. Not this time, nor ever if he could help it.
Pulling out a scroll, he held it up in a fist, he eyes following BlackRose's every move.
Icy whirls of wind gathered around the Data Bug who had been ready to breath a fire blast over his partner. The dragon froze in a place for a split second, giving the Heavy Blade enough time to run to the side and attack the nearest Data Bug, her fierce battle cry ringing through the air.
Keeping an eye on her Health Points, Kite used scroll after scroll of water attacks, earning Elemental Criticals and leaving the Data Bugs wide open to BlackRose's devastating sword attacks. With perfect synchronization, they beat down the three Data Bugs, Kite's magical attacks and BlackRose's physical assaults timed within a second of each other, giving the monsters hardly any time to react.
This bombardment of ice and steel had its drawbacks though. BlackRose's chest rose and fell with heavy breathing, her Speed Charm having worn off long ago. She began to get hurt more often, her reflexes slowing as she grew more and more tired. Kite's dilemma was almost worse. Slowly running out of healing items and scrolls, he was coming to the end of his usefulness. He still had enough Skill Points to activate his Bracelet, but beyond that he could only pray the Data Bugs would Break soon.
His wish was granted.
In a flash of lightning, stray bolts hissing though the air, BlackRose spun in place, her blade slicing through all three dragons at once. Immediately, there was a sound like glass shattering, and spheres of broken blue light bloomed and then shrunk around each of the Data Bugs. Kite almost cried out in relief as his partner turned on her heel and ran away, calling out to him.
Lifting his right arm, he spread his fingers, his palm facing the three oncoming Data Bugs.
The Bracelet expanded, three beams of multi-colored code blasting through the Data Bugs at once, extracting their Virus Cores as it snapped back onto Kite's wrist, pushing him backwards with the power of it. He grunted, suddenly winded, and then looked up as a shadow fell upon him. One of the dragons, now much smaller because of the Data Drain but no less lethal, reared backwards in preparation to blow fire air over him. Somewhere to his left he heard BlackRose scream for him to move but it was already too late. Still reeling from the Data Arc he could do nothing but stand there as the dragon's breath seared him, reducing his health points by the hundreds. It was followed by a claw attack that caught him in the side and spun him around, pushing him away. In a flash, he felt an arm catch him around the waist before he fell, half-dragging half-pushing him a safe distance away.
"Stay down!" BlackRose shouted at him as he collapsed into the grass. Blearily he watched as she turned away and made a mad run for the advancing monsters, her free hand raised in front of her face, a precursor to a spell.
A tornado of frozen water enveloped the nearest dragon, allowing her to attack it while it stood stunned.
It began to rain.
Raindrops washed down Kite's face, soaking him in a instant and obscuring his vision so that he couldn't see how BlackRose was doing. He could hear her though, crying out in pain as one of the dragons managed to catch her before she could dodge away. He tried to struggle to his feet, his arms shaking as they tried to push him away from the ground. It was no use though. After a few seconds he collapsed back down again, helpless and anxious to help his friend all at once.
In the center of the field, BlackRose leapt into the air for the last time, rain dripping from her sword as she pointed it towards the heavens, her voice hoarse from shouting.
"This is the end!"
Lightning split the air and thunder rolled over head, illuminating the dark clouds. Then all went silent once again.
It was over.
* * * *
"I wonder who was behind all this?," Kite said quietly, his eyes still closed as he focused on breathing evenly. "All we saw were those Data Bugs."
Above him, BlackRose shrugged slightly, too tired for much movement. "I don't know. Perhaps it was just another test. Even Helba could have had something to do with it."
Kite's eyes opened as he looked up at her, the blue irises reflecting her image back at her. "Do you really think she would try to kill us just to see how strong we are?"
His partner breathed out slowly. "I don't know. I don't know what to think." She paused and raindrops caught in her lashes as she glanced down at him. "I just don't want to be used anymore."
"I know," he answered quietly and, without thinking, reached up to brush a lock of pink hair away from her face before it could fall into her eyes. Surprisingly, she neither blushed nor pulled away from his touch, but smiled gently and he felt a strange warmth bloom in his chest. He smiled back.
BlackRose straightened then and he nodded, seeing that she had gained back enough Skill Points to heal one of them. It was no surprise when she placed a hand over his forehead, her fingers cool against his skin.
A refreshing wave filled him and he took a deep breath and stood up, a little reluctant to leave his resting place in her lap but still too shy to press his luck and her temper. Rising all the way to his feet, he stretched before looking down at the Heavy Blade, knowing she was once again out of Skill Points. He had gained some back as well but instead of healing her right then, he dared to offer her his hand, an entreating look on his face.
A little confused, she still placed her hand in his, allowing him to pull her up and against his side so that she could lean on him in her weakened state. This time a blush did stain her cheeks as she stood there tucked under his arm, his left hand wrapped around her waist in support. But she was in no condition to stand on her own and, having a perfectly legitimate excuse, she curled her fingers around the fabric of his shirt, holding on to him as he took one last look around at the ruined landscape before lifting a hand and gating them out.
There was no static this time.
Instead, they emerged before the Chaos Gate in Dun Lorieag with Health and Skill Points restored, the bright sunlight blinding them for a second.
"Where have you two been? I've been looking all over!" Mistal's voice reached them and, blinking, they saw her running towards them over the wooden platforms. Her eyebrows rose seeing Kite still supporting BlackRose but before she could draw attention to their closeness, the two characters both blushed and released each other. Mistal bounced over to them.
"Well, what happened?! I want to hear the whole thing!"
Kite and BlackRose shared a private look, full of the moments they had witnessed together, and then the Twin Blade turned to their smallest companion and smiled.
"It began with someone's crazy idea to get a legendary bracelet…"