Introduction: .Hack/SIGN featured the adventures of Tsukasa, a Wavemaster who was trapped in the online game the World. He encountered many characters seeking a way out, forging friendships and eventually falling in love with the Heavy Axe Subaru. Eventually Tsukasa and Subaru actually met in the real world where they discovered they were both women, Ann and Mariko.

.Hack/ Trilogy One

.Hack/SIGN: Old Business

Ann stretched as the sun streamed through the window, lighting up the two figures who were laying there on the bed. The slim brown haired woman looked down at her companion, reaching out to brush a bit of her darker hair back. "Good morning," Ann murmured as she began to stir.

"Morning," Mariko agreed, the older woman fumbling for her squarish glasses.

Ann smoothly reached out to grab them, passing them over to Mariko with a gentle smile. "Do you want some breakfast in bed?" she offered tenderly, wiggling free of their blankets to reveal her t-shirt clad form.

"Couldn't we stay in bed?" Mariko dropped her voice to a purr.

Ann blushed faintly. "We already slept in," she said a bit regretfully, "and we promised Bear we'd meet him online..."

"You're right," Mariko agreed, scooting over to the side of the bed, "we'd better get dressed." Still, she paused to admire Ann's body as the lady dressed, then pulled on her own clothes before sliding into her wheelchair.

With the easy familiarity of a long time resident Ann bustled around the kitchen, making up some scrambled eggs and toast for them, then they sat down at the table to eat. Officially Ann was being employed as a aide for Mariko, though in reality they had moved in together simply to persue their relationship.

"So we'll form a party with Bear and start out from Murmuring, Night, Alchemy?" Ann asked as she dunked her toast in ketchup and munched eggs.

"That's what we agreed to," Mariko said, strudying Ann thoughtfully. "Are you still nervous about logging on to the World?" she asked.

"A little," Ann conceded. She drank some tea, "We all know it was Morgana's fault that I was trapped in the game, but I can't help but feel a bit skitish about it."

"If you want, I can just tell Bear we'll go in later," Mariko said gently.

"The only way I'll get over it is if I continue to play," Ann said firmly, "besides, we promised Bear to help him..."

Mariko reached out to take her hand, squeezing gently. "And you're not the type to break a promise," she agreed.

They finished up their breakfast then headed to the computer room, both of them sitting at their terminals before pulling on their visors. They logged on almost as one, falling into the datastream before finding themselves appearing in the default city of Mac.Anu.

Ann's avatar Tsukasa looked around them, the silver haired young man frowning as he heard the sounds of a battle nearby. "Is something attacking the town?" the silver haired Wavemaster asked, hefting his staff warily.

Mariko's avatar Subaru shook her head, blue hair falling around her face, "It can't be, monsters can't break into the city unless it's a special Event," the Heavy Axeman said grimly, "something else must be going on."

Without a word they headed right towards the conflict, pushing forward through a mob of characters that were all fleeing the other direction. They broke through only to freeze, seeing the muscular Heavy Blade Bear facing off against four very familiar looking figures garbed in matching suits of red plate armor.

"Crimson Knights," Tsukasa said grimly, waving his staff as he summoned a spell.

The burst of power drove the Knights back, giving Bear some breathing room. He grinned, brown hair falling over blue face paint as he said, "Thanks for the backup."

"How dare you!" Subaru angrily cried as she attacked, her axe quickly seperating a Knight frm his weapon. "Bringing a battle into the city is against all the rules!"

All of the knights clearly recognized their former leader and visibly hesitated, exchanging worried glances. "He was judged by the Crimson Knights for assisting a Player Killer," one Knight finally got up the nerve to point at Tsukasa, "that Player Killer!"

"Being a Player Killer isn't against the rules," Tsukasa said uncomfortably. In truth it hadn't even been Tsukasa who had killed the other players, it had been a guardian creature that had been forced upon him by Morgana. Of course, the Crimson Knights hadn't cared about that...

"Maybe not by CC Corp rules, but we Crimson Knights will not allow it to go unpunished," another Knight said.

"So now the Knights are making their own rules?" Bear asked, feinting to draw a Knight forward. He quickly cut him down, turning to the surviving Knights.

Tsukasa used his staff to disarm another Knight, leaving only one to face them all. "Someone has to maintain order," the Knight said, grimly raising his sword.

With surprising speed Subaru batted the sword aside, hesitating before she stepped back. "This isn't the way to do it," she said as she turned away, "take your comrades and go."

Warily they watched the surviving Knights flee, then were vaguely startled at the cheer that broke out of the watching players. Quickly they moved off, entering into a house that Bear had managed to earn as a player.

"Are you all right, Bear?" Tsukasa asked worriedly.

"I'm fine," Bear said as he waved them over to the table.

"Once upon a time the people would have been cheering the Crimson Knights," Subaru murmured as she sat, shaking her head. She gave Bear a piercing look and asked, "How long has this been going on?"

"It started not long after the Knights expelled you," Bear admitted, "they've gradually gotten more hard line since then."

"It's not your fault," Tsukasa said quickly, having a very good idea where his lover's thoughts were going.

"Maybe," Subaru sighed, "but we both know that if I had managed to hold on to the leadership, this wouldn't be happening."

"There was already a hard line faction in the Crimson Knights even before they expelled you," Bear reminded her, "just remember what happened with Tsukasa."

"I feel a little guilty too," Tsukasa sighed as he leaned his cheek against his staff, "if Subaru hadn't supported me over the Knights, this wouldn't have happened."

"No, I think Bear is right," Subaru said after a moment, "this was coming no matter what happened." Her eyes narrowed as she continued, "The question is, what do we do now?"

"Uh oh," Bear murmured, recognizing the look on the young woman's face.

"What are you thinking?" Tsukasa asked softly.

"We may not have cauised this but I think we do have a responsibility to clean up the mess," Subaru said firmly, "and that means reining in the Knights."

"But we aren't strong ennough to do that on our own," Bear said, nnot necessarily objecting, just raising a point.

"You have some people in mind?" Tsukasa smiled.

"Crim would help," Subaru said with a smile, "and I know Orca and Balmung have both had issues with the Crimson Knights."

"And considering the cheers from the crowd I'd bet if we put the word out we'd get a lot of volunteers," Bear noted.

"Just to put all our cards on the table," Tsukasa said seriously, "we're talking about forming an army to stop the Crimson Knights."

"Someone has to," Subaru said firmly.

Bear gave Tsukasa a impish look, "You in or out?"

Tsukasa reached out to put his hand over Subaru's. His tone of voice said it was a foolish question as he answered, "Of course I'm in."

To be continued...