-No Good Deed Goes Unpunished-

A .Hack/G.U. Fanfic by Digitaldreamer

Chapter One: In Which Things Go Decidedly Wrong


Why hello, hello, and welcome to my very first attempt at a G.U. fic!

...Wait, don't go, I have cookies!

Right, at any rate, welcome. Um... well, let's see, what should I say? Well, first of all I suppose I should thank you for clicking on this fic... I do hope you find this to not be a huge waste of your time. I got into .hack last summer thanks to my best friend. Of course, upon my obsessing, I managed to avoid the plot bunnies for awhile... until the third volume came around, anyway. I found Sakaki's takeover of G.U. and the ensuing tournament to be quite interesting... so many possibilities with that situation. I tried my best to ignore the ideas that were begging to be written... but when I fought against Taihaku and was woefully underlevelled, I couldn't take it anymore.

This fic needed to happen. It really doesn't matter that it's actually pretty standard fare to me, it didn't need to be anything huge, it didn't need a plan... I just needed to write it and have fun doing it.

So right, the premise is this: What if, in the Sage Palace tournament, Sakaki had pulled a few more strings to ensure Haseo lost? What if his threat to spread AIDA seeds everywhere hadn't been a bluff? What if he had made sure Haseo had to follow through with the bet Sakaki made at the beginning of the tournament... what if Haseo had to swear his loyalty to Sakaki?

Oh, the possibilities.

Hence why we're here. I don't really have much of a plan, just sort of some loose ideas. I can't even guarantee I'll finish this, to be honest... but I'm going to do my best.

The first chapter will start off with the fight against Taihaku, then branch off into original territory.This is my first time writing the character's, so if you have any pointers, please give me them! Same goes for my writing in general. If you have any suggestions or ideas, feel free to let me know!

Right, on with the fic!

Warnings: Torture, Angst, Spoilers for Volume 3

Pairings: Undecided. Most likely gen, maybe hints of Haseo x Atoli, but if you really can't stand that pairing it's nothing overt. It may also lean towards yaoi... again, nothing overt, it all depends on how you want to see things, really.


The crowd was deafening.

The AIDA server made everything far too real, Haseo knew this by experience. His quiet apartment and computer controller had been left behind long ago, leaving him in the sweltering heat of the arena. Sweat coated every inch of tanned skin, strands of silver hair clung to his brow as he panted for breath. His body ached from various blows and the strain of battle, the heavy armor of his third form becoming more of a nuisance than anything at this point. In the distance Sakaki was cackling, taunting as the fighters struggled below him, laughing as very real blood splattered across the arena floor.

All of this was far too real, and yet all that Haseo could seem to register was the sneers and jeers of the crowd.

"Dust Bullet!"

Taihaku's activation of yet another skill trigger drew his attention, and the Terror of Death gave a growl as he heaved his scythe into the air. He lunged, energy crackling around him as he prepared a counterattack.

"Heavenly Wheel!"

The Ticking Death sailed through the air in a flurry of crimson and gold, sending specks of blood flying. The Sage Palace Emperor was sent high into the air, but a flourish of white had the man landing on his feet with the grace of a cat.

"Damnit!" Kuhn cursed at Haseo's side, his fist clenching around the Silent Jade. "Nothing phases him!" His armor, normally an almost sickeningly bright yellow, was stained with blood here and there. He shook his head, strands of bright blue hair hanging in his face after falling loose from his ponytail.

"He just keeps coming..." Atoli murmured, somewhat breathless. Her short blonde hair was in a state of disarray, her green dress torn here and there. Though she was doing her best to appear calm and in control, her amber eyes betrayed a very real concern.

Haseo shot a glance at his teammates and grit his teeth. They weren't doing as well as he had hoped. As prepared as they had been, it had not been enough. Not for this. They weren't quite losing, not yet, but they weren't winning either... and while they were all tiring, Taihaku was not.

The adept rogue shook his head, forcing himself to look away from his ailing teammates. Beating himself up right now over their well-being wasn't going to help them at all. "Keep fighting!" He called out. "We're getting close, I know it!" With that, he charged, not even having to spare a glance to know that Kuhn was following him. He swung his scythe in an arc, the golden blade slashing across Taihaku's front, but before he could bring the weapon around for another swing Haseo was forced to pull it up to block. Arms shook under the force of the blow as the base of his scythe took the brunt of it, crimson eyes meeting dark purple ones for a moment.

If there was anything that bothered Haseo most about this entire situation, it was those eyes. Taihaku had not said a word since the fight had begun, he had barely given so much as a grunt whenever he took a hit. He simply fought, eyes remaining fixed on Haseo, his stoic expression never wavering. He didn't have to speak; his gaze said it all, betraying not even the slightest hint of mercy as Maxwell tore through Haseo's teammates with ease.

Those eyes believed he deserved it. Those eyes believed he was a cheater and he deserved everything he got. And though Haseo knew he was wrong, it still hurt.

Haseo let out a grunt as he pulled away, not daring to smirk as Kuhn's attack slammed into Taihaku and sent him flying. He didn't even get the chance to attack, as the moment Taihaku rose the air began to crackle and the adept rogue felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

"He's doing it again!" Kuhn called out, "Get back!"

It was then that the entire arena took on an eerie scarlet glow. Haseo didn't have the chance to try to block as red energy burst around him, sending him slamming against the wall with a cry of pain. The adept rogue crashed to the arena floor and skidded across it, the spikes in his armor screeching across the stone and sending sparks flashing through the air. He could hear his friend's cries of worry, could hear Sakaki laughing and jeering.

But above all else, the crowd was deafening.

"Haseo!" Atoli shrieked, eyes wide with fear. "Are you alright!?"

Haseo forced himself to his feet, wincing. "Yeah, I'm fine." He grunted out as he fixed his eyes on his opponent again. Taihaku was calmly strolling toward him, moving with ease whereas Haseo felt like he was moving through molasses. "Damnit, not again..." The Terror of Death muttered, bringing up the Ticking Death into a guard position. He had to be running out of health, and there was no way he could run with the wall right there... he'd have to take the hit.

It was then that a blur of yellow suddenly filled his vision. "Dust Bullet!" Kuhn called out, the blinding white magic bursting up from the ground and enveloping Taihaku.

"Kuhn, what the hell are you doing!?" Haseo snapped. "You know that won't work!"

"I know."

"Then what are you--" Haseo shot a panicked glance at Taihaku, whom had shaken off the attack with no effort what-so-ever and was now striding forward once again. "Damnit Kuhn, get out of the way, he's coming for me!"

"I know."

Crimson eyes widened. "Kuhn, don't--"

The steam gunner smiled, then suddenly shoved Haseo aside. The adept rogue let out a cry as he was thrown out of the way, narrowly avoiding another blast by centimeters. "KUHN!" Haseo screamed as he watched his friend slam into the arena wall, the cheers and jeers ringing loudly in his ears still not enough to block out the sickening 'crunch!'

Kuhn dropped to his feet as the arena color turned to normal, shaking his head and grimacing. His body was shaking from fresh pain and the effort it took to stand. However, he looked to Haseo and flashed a weak grin. "Why so serious, Haseo? It's just a game, you know." He murmured over the booing.

Haseo stared at him for a moment, then shook his head and looked away. "You idiot, I'm the one who's supposed to be protecting all of you..." He muttered.

The crowd was deafening.

"Repth!" Atoli called out the only spell she had enough magic for, casting a soft green glow over Kuhn for a moment. "Are you alright, Kuhn!?"

"I'm fine, don't worry about me!" Kuhn exclaimed, waving both off his teammates off. "Just keep moving!"

"Right…" Haseo grit his teeth and turned his attention to Taihaku, which was a good thing as it appeared Taihaku was preparing for another skill trigger. The adept rogue scowled, then charged towards his opponent. His scythe vanished in a burst of light and he leaped into the air, his twin blades appearing in his hands.

"Ghost Falcon!" He snarled, slashing at his opponent dozens of times before backflipping and slashing yet again, sending forth bursts of white light that enveloped his opponent. The Terror of Death landed with ease, though he was breathing hard. He shook sweat-soaked bangs out of his eyes and stood there panting, watching as the particles of magic cleared.

Taihaku collapsed to one knee, panting as well. Haseo took a deep breath, eyes widening. Could it be that Taihaku was finally tiring? Were they winning?

Sakaki, whom up to this point had simply been laughing and jeering as Haseo was thrown across the arena floor, gave a shout of outrage. "Taihaku, what are you doing!?" He cried, his face contorted into one of rage. "Give over your heart to AIDA! If you do, you can not lose! The eternal ruler of the Sage Palace!"

Taihaku panted for breath, his eyes narrowing. "Shut up!"

"What!?" Sakaki sputtered.

"I have never had any interest in the title of emperor..." Taihaku murmured, shaking his head. "it's just... it's just that... this sword was the most beautiful in all The World. " He gazed down at the sword, his expression one of sickening adoration, a twisted mutation of the way one would gaze at a lover.

"As long as I have this power...guuh!" Black dots twisted around Taihaku's arm, bubbling and swirling around it like boiling oil.The Sage Palace Emperor gave a grunt of pain as he gripped at his sword arm, dropping to one knee. "Aaaaahhhh!"

"Taihaku, let go of that sword!" Haseo cried, crimson eyes wide.

Taihaku's face contorted in one of agony, he threw back his head and screamed. "AaaAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!"

Haseo grit his teeth. "Damnit... Kuhn, do it!" He called out, nodding at the steam gunner.

"Right!" Kuhn said, his expression becoming one of determination as he pointed the Silent Jade at the ailing emperor.


The shot rang through the air, a burst of gleaming light. It hit it's mark and with a cry Taihaku released the sword, the crimson blade soaring into the sky.

Instantly, the emperor collapsed to the ground in a heap. The black dots of AIDA swarmed around his prone form for a moment, the white and purple nearly vanishing under swirling obsidian. After a few moments, however, the black dots ebbed away like water slipping down a drain, and with a groan Taihaku's eyes closed and he slid into the realms of unconscious.

Haseo didn't have a time to relax, however. He turned to look to the sword, which had ceased it's flipping and was now hanging in the air, pointing menacingly at the three Epitaph Users on it's own accord. The Terror of Death smirked, whipping out his scythe, then leaped into the air.

"HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" He snarled as he swung the blade down, the singsong sound of metal against metal ringing through the air. Sparks flew as Haseo struggled with all his might, a scream coming unbidden from his throat as he fought. Keep going, keep going, almost there...


Jagged, hairline cracks crawled across the sword's surface, and with a decisive crunch it shattered into hundreds of pieces. Haseo's heart gave a leap of triumph as shards of ruby hung around him, a grin coming to his face. They had done it! Taihaku was free, AIDA had been destroyed, they had won!

And then all too quickly it all went to hell.

Suddenly the shards bubbled and vanished to reveal thousands of black dots, swarming and shifting and surrounding him. Haseo's eyes widened in shock. "AH!" He cried out, cursing mentally.

This was not good.

With a flash of red the black dots slammed into him, swirling in and around him, filling his vision with nothing but darkness.

"Oh no, AIDA!" Kuhn's voice rang out, mahogany eyes wide.

Haseo let out a scream of complete and utter agony as he writhed in the air. It was inside him! It was surging through his veins, bubbling under his skin, twisting and swarming and moving! Like thousands of tiny bugs crawling under his skin, crawling in, around, and through his insides, leaving nothing but itching, burning fire in their wake.

"Ah... AUUUUUUUUUGGGH!" The teen let out a choked cry as he reached up to clutch his face, struggling against the urge to claw at it. He ground his teeth, curling in on himself on reflex as the sickening darkness tore through him. His Epitaph patten flashed around him, though in the place of the usual surge of power and comfort that he normally felt, every flash instead sent another wave of agony tearing through him.

Haseo grit his teeth as he struggled to hold out against the pain. No, he couldn't go berserk, he couldn't! He was here to protect everyone, he couldn't go berserk, he couldn't...

But it hurt. It hurt so badly... it hurt, it hurt! It hurt, and all he could seem to feel about this was anger, an anger he thought he had forgotten. His world had been replaced by one of darkness, and all he could see were flashes of pain, utter physical agony and memories. He saw flashes of when he'd first started the world, IYOTEN and Asta laughing at him, Ovan's last smile before he vanished into the gates of Magini Fi and started it all, Alkaid whispering to him, begging him not to cry, Atoli chiding him, Shino smiling at him, Shino laughing, Shino vanishing in his arms...


Shino, Shino... she was gone, she was gone, he had tried so hard to save her and nothing had worked. She was gone... she was gone and it hurt. It was agonizing in a way that no physical pain could possibly match, this impossible weight that fell upon his shoulders and tugged at his heart. It hurt. It hurt, and all he wanted to do was lash out, to make everyone else feel like he did, to make them feel his pain, to make them understand... he wanted to tear them all apart!

There was a deep ringing sound, like a gong, and Haseo gave a low growl as the black stretched across his face, spreading into his eyes like ink in water. The Terror of Death gave a low snarl as he bared his teeth, his demon-like appearance twisting into something far worse...

"Haseo, NO!"

Atoli's voice rang through the darkness, and quite suddenly it was as if a great, golden light were being turned on. The adept rogue blinked, then twitched, his eyes squeezing shut. He wanted to rip, to tear, to destroy... no, no, that was Atoli... he couldn't... no, no, he was here to protect her, to protect Kuhn, to protect all of them!

The teen clenched his hands into fists, shuddering. No, no, he would not do this, he wouldn't let this happen! He would not become a puppet for this thing, he wouldn't! He wasn't going to hurt anyone anymore, he wasn't the Terror of Death anymore! That fury was a thing of the past, he was through with this, he was done!

Haseo shook his head as he struggled, feeling a great power swell up from within him, much like something akin to Skeith, but different. The darkness drained from his face and skin, slowly faded from his eyes. 'Get out!' The adept rogue mentally screamed. 'Get out, get out, get out! You won't do this to me, GET OUT!'

With a great roar the Terror of Death flashed a bright crimson, and the AIDA particles was dispersed from his body in a burst of flickering black. The instant the dark spots hit the air they disintegrated, leaving Haseo floating there and glowing.

After a moment the adept rogue dropped to the ground, collapsing to his knees and panting for breath. His arms and legs shook with the effort it took to hold himself up, droplets of sweat sliding down his face as strands of silver-hair hung in his eyes. He was dimly aware of Kuhn and Atoli rushing to his side, both yelling out inquiries as to if he was alright, but he didn't have the strength to answer them. His entire body was throbbing with pain, his throat was raw from screaming, and his stomach was constricting as if it were still trying to expel something from it.

The crowd was murmuring amongst themselves, buzzing with confusion.

"What just happened?"

"Did Taihaku win?"

"No, no, I think he lost... that bastard, Haseo!"

"He must have cheated again!"

"But why's he the one kneeling, then?"

They were so blessedly quiet for once...

Sakaki, meanwhile, stood above it all, face twisted into a scowl as he gazed down at Taihaku's prone form. "Curse you, useless fool!" He snarled and waved his hand, causing Taihaku to vanish in a burst of light. The green-haired man then looked to Haseo for a moment, eyes narrowing dangerously. "...No matter. After all, Haseo is on death's door." He murmured.

With that, the AIDA-infected PC leaped from his platform, landing with the grace of a cat upon the arena floor.. "In the end, I will be the one to play the lead. I shall send you to hell with my own sword!" He sneered, his weapon appearing in a flash of light.

Haseo gazed up at him, panting. The teen tried to force himself to his feet, but he could only seem to sit up on his knees for a moment before collapsing again. It was no use, he couldn't move...

"Yeah, right!" Kuhn growled out as he stepped in front of Haseo.

"Haseo!" Atoli cried as she stepped in Sakaki's path, her amber eyes narrowed.

They weren't about to let Sakaki tear their friend apart, not if they could help it.

Sakaki snorted. "Hmph, meddling insects!" He drawled, waving his hand.

"Wha--!" Kuhn's exclamation was cut off as he was surrounded by light.

"Ah--!" Atoli let out a gasp as she too, vanished.

Sakaki chuckled as he stepped towards Haseo, his expression similar to a cat whom had finally cornered a very troublesome mouse. "It looks like your friends are no longer available." He sneered, holding his sword to the Terror of Death's throat.

"Haa... haaa... damnit!" Haseo grit his teeth as he struggled for breath, he couldn't even summon the strength to look Sakaki in the eye. But... did it matter? He couldn't move, couldn't think... his vision was growing fuzzy, his mind drifting...

The former Moon Tree leader cackled as he hefted up his blade. "Die, Haseo! DIE!" He cried. The sword glinted in the light as it was raised above Haseo's head, Sakaki's horrible grin etched across his face, eyes glinting with malicious triumph. There was a blur of purple from behind him... the onlookers cheered and cackled, their uproarious cries ringing through the air...

...And then quite suddenly, Sakaki paused. "Wait a moment... what am I doing?" He murmured, lowering his sword. He gazed at Haseo for a moment, appearing thoughtful.

Behind him, Endrance skidded to a stop, amethyst eyes narrowing. "What?" He murmured, lowering his sword.

"Master En?" Saku questioned, coming to a stop as well. The small shadow warlock blinked in confusion as she hopped on her toes. "Master En, what are we doing? Isn't this what's supposed to happen?"

Endrance shook his head. "I..." He trailed off, then shook his head, charms tinkling with the motion His expression again became one of cold stone and he forced this gaze back upon Haseo, even as his fist clenched around the Tempting Rose. 'What just happened? This was supposed to be my chance. Why didn't Sakaki... what is going on here?'

Saku blinked, then smirked. "Oooh, I get it... just wanted to get a closer look for when Haseo's head rolls, huh?" She snickered, then turned back to the spectacle. "Yeah, get him, Sakaki!"

Her sentiments appeared to be mirrored by the crowd, whose cheers were climbing to an unprecedented rate.

"Yeah, that's right, kill him!"

"He deserves it after cheating like that!"

"Take him out!"

The audience's quiet from the earlier confusion had transformed into a frenzy of crazed cheers and laughter. Somewhere in the masses, one could see faint glimmers of blue-green and yellow as Atoli and Kuhn desperately tried to push their way through.

"HASEO!" Atoli shrieked, her eyes wide with fear for her friend.

"DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH HIM, SAKAKI!" Kuhn snarled, his expression torn between concern and fury.

They went unheard, however. They were simply two players in a crowd of thousands under the influence of AIDA. It was no surprise that their voices were swallowed in the majority's bloodlust.

Sakaki, however, didn't appear to be listening to them. He merely stood there, considering Haseo for a moment, a thoughtful look upon his face. Haseo sat there, struggling for breath, still unable to even raise his head.

His opponent smirked. "No... I do not think I will kill you here."

At these words the crowd gave shouts of outrage.


"How could you!?"

"Don't let him off again!"

"Kill him! Kill him!"

Haseo blinked, his brow furrowing as his fuzzy thoughts were forced back to the present. 'What? But... why...?'

Sakaki smirked as he held up his hands, gesturing for the crowd's silence. "Come now, it wouldn't do to end things this early, would it? The dirty, cheating Terror of Death has only just now been brought to his knees..." At these words the emerald-eyed man brought his blade to Haseo's throat again, chuckling. "A truly pitiful sight, Haseo. You, alone and here on your knees before me. I can only imagine how painful this must be for you, how humiliating... who am I to end your suffering so soon?" He drawled.

"No, it isn't right... after everything you have done, Terror of Death, the pain of defeat is not nearly enough of a punishment for you." Sakaki sneered, his gloved hand clenching into a fist as he dismissed his sword.

Haseo scoffed. Sakaki... who did he think he was, babbling on and on like this, sneering over him as if he were finally broken? For all of his changes, Haseo still had his pride... and he had to admit, kneeling at Sakaki's feet was not nearly as small of a blow as he wished he could make it to be. In spite of this, however, the adept rogue was not about to be defeated so easily.

"Heh... bring it on, Sakaki." The Terror of Death coughed out. "You'd think by now this tournament would have taught you... it doesn't matter what you try, you can't break me." With these words Haseo finally forced his head to rise, crimson eyes meeting emerald as a prideful smirk came to his face.

The former Moon Tree leader's smirk widened. "Is that so, Terror of Death? In that case, I do hope you remembered our agreement?" He drawled.

"Agreement?" Haseo repeated, brow furrowing. "Why... why would I make any sort of agreement with a slimy bastard like you?"

"Oh, you mean to tell me the great PKK doesn't even remember his own promises?" Sakaki sneered, crossing his arms. "Must I remind you of a certain e-mail that contained my terms? I told you from the beginning that if you did not play along, I would spread AIDA seeds throughout the entire server, did I not?"

The adept rogue scowled. "Yes, I remember. What's the point? I kept to your terms, you ass. I won your tournament fair and square!" His fingers clenched as he spoke, the claws of his armor digging into the stone floor of the arena.

"Ah ah ah, but you didn't win!" Sakaki's smirk widened into a grin. "Perhaps you took Taihaku out of consciousness due to a... mere technicality, but upon glancing at your health bars, he technically still has at least six hundred hit points. And seeing how you clearly do not have the strength to carry on, and your teammates have tragically abandoned you--"

"We did no such thing, you bastard!" Kuhn's voice could be heard ringing from the stands, but Sakaki ignored him.

"-- I hereby declare that Team Haseo has lost this match." The emerald-eyed man cackled, gesturing to the kneeling Haseo.

"What!? That's not fair!" Haseo choked out. "I... we won!" After al they had done, all that struggle, all that pain he, Kuhn, and Atoli had been through... how could someone just write it all off just like that!?

Sakaki chuckled. "Not according to my rules, Terror of Death. Besides, if you consider such a thing a win, then it was attained by ill-gotten means, anyway." He drawled, turning to the stands. "Don't you agree, players of The World!?" He called out, his voice echoing throughout the arena.

A cheer from the audience seemed to agree with this statement. Players screamed and cheered, punching their fists into the air, their snarls of fury ringing throughout the arena.

"Yeah, he cheated!"

"He's no winner! He should have lost, he deserves to lose!"

"Take him out, Sakaki! Give him what he deserves!"

"Yeah, tear him apart!" Sakubo sneered from behind the AIDA PC, jumping up and down with excitement. "Isn't this great, Master En? Stupid Haseo's finally getting what he deserves!"

Her master stood at her side, his brow furrowed as he struggled to remain silent. Endrance wanted nothing more than to speak out, to insist that Sakaki was wrong, that Haseo had not even used his Avatar... but what good would that do? He would simply be sent out of the arena like Kuhn and Atoli, and then he would no longer have Sakaki's trust... he would be no help to Haseo then. For the moment, all he could do was watch, for he knew the moment he spoke the facade would shatter like glass.


Sakaki chuckled as he turned back to his enemy. "Do you see? The majority rules, and they all seem to agree with my verdict. You have lost, Terror of Death."

"Tch..." Haseo grunted and dropped his head again, grinding his teeth as the jeers of the crowd echoed around him. This wasn't right, this wasn't fair... but what could he do? It wasn't as if he could attack, he didn't have the strength to move, let alone summon Skeith... and if he did, he'd have to deal with all those players as well...

"And as the loser, I now choose to claim my prize for our little game." Sakaki continued, his grin widening even more as he knelt down so he was at eye level with the adept rogue. He reached out and gripped Haseo's chin with inky black fingers, forcing the teen to look at him once more.

"That prize, Haseo... will be you."

Haseo's expression became one of shock. "What!?" He sputtered. "You can't do that!"

"Ah ah ah," Sakaki tutted. "But don't you remember, Haseo? That was my other condition... if you lost, you had to swear your undying loyalty to me."

Haseo's expression twisted from shock to rage. "You... there's no way I'm going to do that!" He shook his head and pulled away, the sudden burst of adrenaline from this outrage becoming enough for him to stumble to his feet. "I won't!" He snarled. "I'm not some pet, damn you!"

"Ah, but you are now, Haseo." Sakaki chuckled. "That seems like a fitting punishment, don't you agree? Sitting at my side every day, kissing my feet, slowly repenting for all of your foolish misgivings... perhaps one day when you beg for death, I'll feel you've paid enough penance to give it you."

Crimson eyes flashed dangerously and Haseo's hands clenched into fists. "There's no way..." He trailed off, his entire body shaking from a mixture of rage and exhaustion. "There's no way I would ever bow to you, you bastard! I will never... never..." He shook his head, his face twisting into an expression of fury. There was the low, haunting hum of a tuning fork and Haseo let out a snarl as a red glow began to surround him.

"I won't let this happen... I'll take your stupid AIDA out right here and get rid of you once and for all!" The Terror of Death snapped.

At the back of the crowd, both Atoli and Kuhn locked eyes.

"There's no way he can do this..." Kuhn murmured grimly.

Atoli nodded. "Not after AIDA..." She shook her head, her expression becoming one of determination. "We have to help him!"

"Right!" Kuhn nodded.

The two both shut their eyes, avatar symbols flashing to life around them. A soft golden light flashed to life from Kuhn, a beautiful green glow enveloping Atoli. The crowd, in their frenzy, took no notice. They simply saw the glow around Haseo strengthening, the light merging to form familiar patterns across his body.The crowd was murmuring and shrieking again, going wild.

"He's doing it again!"

"Stop him, Sakaki!"

Sakaki looked far from worried. In fact, he looked triumphant. "I'm afraid that won't do, Terror of Death." He drawled.

Haseo smirked. "What are you going to do about it?" He sneered. "You can't stop me from calling my Avatar!"

"Perhaps not... indeed, call upon your precious Epitaph if you please. However..." Sakaki smirked, then held out a hand. The wing-like mutation on his shoulder flexed, the crimson veins within the inky black flashing. At his gesture, thousands of black dots suddenly erupted around the stadium, coiling and swirling above the crowd. They swarmed above the players, drawing yells and shrieks from the players.

"What is that!?"

"Ahhh, get it away!"


As for Atoli and Kuhn, both suddenly found themselves surrounded by the dark particles. Instantly their concentration was broken and Atoli let out a yelp as she backed up against the steam gunner.

"This is..." She whimpered as she summoned her staff, looking panicked.

"There's so much of it... there's just no way we can do anything against all of this." Kuhn gasped, sweat beading across his forehead.

Endrance's eyes widened. "Oh my..."

"Ew..." Sakubo murmured and huddled close to the former Demon Palace Emperor, grimacing. Even knowing she was on Sakaki's side, seeing all of that...

Haseo's eyes widened as he watched the AIDA particles swarm around the crowd on the screens, felt his heart sink as he heard their shrieks of terror. "No... how... there's just no way..." He murmured, taking in a sharp intake of breath.

Sakaki grinned. "Yes, that's right. It wasn't a bluff. Attack me if you'd like, Terror of Death... but if you do, it will be the players you claim to be defending that will pay the price." He cocked his head to the side, folding his arms. "And really, I suppose if that isn't enough, there are your friends as well..." He nodded at the screen, which had switched to a shot of Atoli and Kuhn surrounded by the inky darkness.

"Atoli! Kuhn!" The adept rogue cried.

The former Moon Tree leader outright laughed at this. "I believe you have a choice to make, Terror of Death. Which will it be? Will you take my destruction, knowing the price is thousands of AIDA-infected players? Or will you sacrifice yourself, saving those who no longer care for you?" Emerald eyes flashed with mirth, as if Sakaki found this all to be nothing more but a hilarious joke.

"Yourself or your friends, which will it be?"

Haseo grit his teeth, Skeith's glow still burning around him like an eternal flame, his claws digging into his palms. "...If I do this, " He growled out finally. "They... all the players... my friends... they go free?"

Sakaki chuckled. "I am a man of my word, Terror of Death. Swear yourself to me and no harm will come to them."

The adept rogue stood there for a moment, considering. He then glanced to the screen, gazing at Atoli and Kuhn. "I'm sorry, guys..." He murmured. With that, the bright red glow dissipated. The instant the light vanished, Haseo felt his newfound strength ebb away just as quickly as it had come. He collapsed to his knees on the arena floor, silver hair falling into his eyes as he panted for breath.

The instant he did, the AIDA dots dissipated, vanishing as quickly as they had come. The audience gave murmurs of confusion and bewilderment, glancing this way and that and talking amongst themselves. Atoli and Kuhn dismissed their weapons, both looking confused.

"Gone, just like that..." Kuhn's eyes narrowed and he looked to the arena. "Haseo... he didn't...!"

The steam gunner felt his heart sink as he was rewarded with the view of Haseo on his knees before Sakaki, shaking from exhaustion and pain. His enemy stood over him, a gleam of triumph in his eyes. "Come now, Haseo, I've fulfilled my end of the bargain. Now you fulfill yours." He drawled. "Swear your allegiance to me, my new pet!"

"No!" Atoli shrieked, clenching her tiny hands into fists. "Haseo... no! No, you can't! No!"

"Haseo!" Kuhn screamed. "Don't you dare... you idiot, don't do this!"

Haseo knelt there. He wanted to snarl. He wanted to yell. He wanted to kick, to scream, to leap to his feet and tear that smirk right off of Sakaki's face. He wanted to turn to that screen from where he knew Atoli and Kuhn's shocked gazes would be and apologize, wanted to do so much... but he was just so tired.

There was nothing more he could do.

"I..." The teen ground his teeth together and shook his head as he struggled to choke the words out. "I... I swear myself to you... Sakaki."

The audience murmured... and then the cheers began, a great roar filling the entire arena.

"Take that, Haseo!"

"Yeah, go Sakaki!"

"Finally, that bastard's getting what he deserves!"

Sakaki threw back his head and laughed triumphantly, the AIDA mutation on his shoulder flexing, his horrible cackle echoing above the cheers. "At long last... you're mine, Terror of Death!"

Haseo said nothing as he knelt there, panting for breath, sweat causing his matted silver hair to cling to his forehead. The movement had opened some of his more hastily healed wounds, and the blood was dripping onto the arena floor, red and thick and far too real for a game. The arena was warm, far too warm, Sakaki's laughter filled his ears, his vision swam as he struggled to remain conscious. It was all real, far too real to be a dream...

The crowd was deafening.


To Be Continued...

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