Chapter XII: Ruse
Helba circled around us a couple of times before finally speaking. When she did I could tell that she was troubled by this new wave of events.
"Lawk is here with you, and Beatrix was sighted in Dun Loireag. Others have been popping up around in other locations within The World, and I can not seem to pinpoint the reason for this."
"What does it matter?" I said defiantly. "Lawk is back with us now, so that is all I care about."
"Ah, but for how long? Lawk and the other victims are still lying unconscious in comas out in the real world, yet they wander about here as if nothing is wrong. There is a purpose for letting them off their chains. Lawk, what can you tell me about your imprisonment?"
I sat there and listened to his very long, sad and tremendously painful story once more, wincing at the thought that I let him be taken instead of myself. When he finished Helba simply sighed. "I see. Well, then. That is a breakthrough entirely. Navel, you are the target, as I suspected. Lawk has been released to lure you into their grasp. It is because of the amulet you found."
"The one I gave Lawk? The one that had that virus in it?"
"The very same. It appears that, along with the virus, something else was added to it…by the Time Wizard and his companions. There is something special in there that was meant solely for your use, Navel, and though I do not yet know its purpose, I shall soon enough. The Twilight Twins have been monitoring you ever since the day of Lawk's incarceration, and I am sure that they saw the item for what it really was. You are their most dangerous adversary, and they will stop at nothing to destroy you. And with Morganna at their feet, acting as a lapdog, I'm afraid this mission shall be quite difficult."
"I thought you said that Morganna had to be 'complete' before they could use her powers fully?"
"Time Wizard?" asked Mimiru, confused.
BT kicked her, frustrated. "Harald Hoerwick…"
"—Very true, but even without it she is a powerful entity. Navel, I should advise you to allow yourself to be captured, as it will bring us insight into their true motives."
"I am only here to protect Lawk…"
"And you shall. He is still trapped here in The World, right? Let them whisk you off to their headquarters and then take them down once and for all. When you discover the location, send its coordinates to your comrades and they shall join in the fray. You have many friends, Navel, all willing to help save The World. Use that to your advantage."
"Right…Lawk, I want you to stay here, in Net Slum. Helba will take care of you and make sure nothing happ—"
"No! I will not stick around and wait for this to end. You and I have been a team since our first day here…and I am not about to let that die away. Don't you remember? You said you would protect me; you have! Now it's time that I protect you."
I smiled and gave him a deep, loving hug. "Thank you, Lawk."
"I shall stay here and provide safe haven should you need it," said Helba, gating us out of her realm.
Ω: Putrid, Geothermal, March
"Lawk has proved to be much better at this than I expected," said Demosthenes, staring up at the large screen. Locke stood at her side, exceedingly proud of himself. "And did you find Morganna yet, Locke?" he shook his head, to which she smacked and walked off, pinching the bridge of her nose and growling. "I thought I told you to bring her here and not to fail me!"
"Demosthenes, shut up. Just for this once! Really, now! I have told you plenty of times before that our attempts at controlling The World would be blocked by certain bumps in the road. The system was not finished when Harald died, and so his work was unfinished. We were bound to run into these problems, Morganna being the root of them! Do not blame me for something you already knew!"
Demosthenes said nothing, shocked that anyone would dare speak in such a tone. She ignored this and just smiled, advancing upon her companion. "Locke…We have a guest arriving shortly. Do make yourself presentable by the time Lawk brings him here." A knife appeared in her hand and she drove it between his ribs. As he bled and crumpled over on the ground, she merely turned away, smiling. "I will not stand for insolence, Locke. Perhaps when this is over you and I shall make a final stand, just to see who is truly meant to rule The World. Until then, you will be my obedient little pup."
Macha appeared out of nowhere as the woman left, and it hovered over Locke's body, snickering silently. He reached a hand out and the cat accepted it. A light shot forth from its palm and entered the man's body, illuminating him a bright, green light. "Thank you…Macha…I knew you'd come through with the mission…"
Θ Server Root Town, Dun Loireag
The frontier town was covered in contamination brought about by Morganna. When I stepped off the Chaos Platform I noticed that the Gate faded in and out, emanating a scratchy, high-pitched sound. I winced.
With Lawk at my side he led me down to the Grunty Ranch to check in on Spaulding. While we were there I decided to feed Mr. Moo Moo and just sit and talk for a bit. Lawk was not in a really good mood like the old days, but I could see why. God only knows what those Twins did to him! I thought angrily. Locke and Demosthenes were sociopaths bent on controlling The World and the rest of the net, for some deranged reason, most likely. I did not like it one bit. What would be the point to rule over a virtual realm, subjugating people who would come in and out at random times? Or perhaps that AI, Miluda…she did put me into a temporary coma. Could they be trying...? No, I wouldn't think of such silly things, not now. Lawk was here, right now, and I cared about nothing else.
"So…I was thinking," started Lawk, but stopped abruptly and patted Spaulding's head. I leaned over, staring blankly into his eyes. He smiled and continued quickly. "Navel, I think I like it here in The World."
"We all do. We've had this discussion, haven't we?"
"I mean…in this state. I can feel, I can breathe…I am Lawk the Protector right now. Is it so bad that I'm like this right now?"
"Don't even joke about such things, Lawk! Why would you ever want to stay here permanently…when on the outside you're knocking on dea—never mind…"
"I just like it…I know it's not always good…what with what's been happening…but would it be so bad, really, if I did not want to log out after this?"
"You know it would…Think of everything you'd miss out on."
"But also see it from my perspective…think of everything I'd miss out on." I knew what he was trying to say, and though I did not like what I was hearing, he had a point.
"This may sound selfish, but I don't think I could live without you on the outside…and I have no intention of joining the coma victims any time soon. I've already passed through that phase…"
Lawk did not say any more for the rest of our stay here. He merely sat and played with his Grunty while I attended to mine, and it felt like whenever I turned around he would be glaring daggers at my back for not agreeing with him. I sent a PM to Gardenia, telling her of this new wave of worry I felt, and hoped that she would respond soon with some guidance. I did not stop with her though, either. I sent similar messages to both BT and Bear, seeing as they had more experience on this subject than any of us.
After a while Lawk decided that he wanted to go somewhere else and I obliged. After arguing about keywords we agreed to head over to the Hülle Granz Cathedral, somewhere on Delta…if we could. I selected the words: Hidden, Forbidden, and Holy Ground, highlighting the Delta Server icon. When I tapped the gate command we were deafened by a loud, warning buzz.
Simultaneously we fell back; I dropped my controller because of a slight shock. When I was allowed to retrieve it, the Chaos Gate—no, the entire server—had disappeared. Lawk and I were no longer on the Theta Server. We were transported to a strange room that had no discernable boundaries or color. Everything was iridescent and flashy. A long, hexagonal prism stood before us, carrying inside of it five golden bricks, all patterned with certain letters. They looked like the Virus Core that Helba had given me a while back. I pulled out from my inventory the item and slipped it into an empty space on the prism and the loud buzz rang out once more.
When the light dissipated I could see the lonely cathedral standing out in the center of a lake, quietly reveling in the twilit sky. I stepped forward, taking Lawk's hand in mine, and we headed on into the church.
Ω Server Root Town, Lia Fail
"Well I am not buying it," said BT, sitting with her back against a tree in the central courtyard, staring past Bear to the Chaos Gate. "With the threat of Morganna once more and this new wave of terror brought on by the Twilight Twins, I doubt if even we can stop The World from crumbling this time. There's no telling what will happen should Morganna regain her powers…and we do not know the full story behind Locke and Demosthenes."
Bear, Mimiru and Gardenia listened intently, sitting around a small fire, pondering BT's words. "No, you're right…we don't know what will happen. The entity is probably very angry with what happened the last time, and she will be much angrier and even more dangerous. However, I do think that if Helba says that Navel's got what it takes to defeat them, I'd say that it is our duty to guide him to and past each checkpoint until this is finally over."
"Bear, you can't just let Navel go at this alone while we sit and just "guide" him!" Mimiru was becoming very frustrated at this, having been through similar situations in the past. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to see that he has all the allies he can get!"
Gardenia rested a hand on the girl's shoulder, giving Mimiru a consoling smile. "And so shall I. Navel and Lawk are two of my best friends and I shall not allow them to suffer any more than they already have. Too much has been done to them recently that I believe any more damage will cause the two of them to break…and we cannot let that happen."
BT sighed, folding her arms and shook her head. "I shall help with what I can, but I'm usually only good for obtaining information as well as giving it. I'm not much of a fighter…"
"And that is why you have Mimiru and Bear" said Gardenia, waving her arm in their direction. She then stood up, collected her halberd and raised it high in the air; Mimiru followed suit as well as Bear. "May the grace of the Twilight Dragon guide and protect you all!" The three of them tapped their weapons together in unison and all headed for the Chaos Gate.
"Well, I suppose I should go and seek out an old colleague…" BT left shortly after, groaning in annoyance. She felt extremely unlucky about her situation, and hesitated to gate over to the desired field. "Here goes nothing…I'm coming, Sora…"
Δ: Hidden, Forbidden, Holy Ground
I stood up from praying to the statue of the beautiful, lonely girl and turned to see Lawk doing the same. I nodded and we went to sit down on one of the benches. My eyes gazed down the service hall and noticed that the marble flooring reflected everything above it perfectly. I could see the four pendulums swinging back and forth, ticking off the time as we sat quietly enjoying each other's company.
"Navel, why does the lonely girl smile?"
"Hm…well, if you remember Gardenia's words, she never smiled before. Back when the eight phases of the entity were causing chaos, the statue was bound in chains. But, ever since that Twinblade and his friends saved The World, this place has been brighter and the girl now smiles."
"…I saw this girl, Navel. I saw Aura."
"Back at the place where they held us…Aura appeared twice in the dungeon. She attempted to free us, but the cat…that cat! It attacked her on her second visit…and took something from her. I think she was damaged, Navel…because she disappeared afterward."
"The…cat?" Macha. I had encountered that creature before, way back when it was following around the Wavemaster Tsukasa. It made a trade with me and caused me to lose a week's worth of game play because of a virus. It wasn't until later on that I discovered from a friend of Gardenia's that this cat was actually one of the eight phases of the Cursed Wave. The Temptress.
"I hope that Aura's okay…"
"I do too, Lawk. She's the god of this world. Without God, balance is impossible to achieve."
A loud rumbling followed the echo of my last thoughts and I had to grab Lawk and pull him away from a falling rafter. I tilted my head to the cross vaulted ceiling and saw a woman in a loose, yellow dress encrusted with a ruby brooch. Her long green hair concealed her left eye and I could see corruption around that area. The right side of her face, however, was pale and ordinary. She growled and I heard thunder rumbling outside. I saw her face twist in a murderous frown as she descended upon the dais, directly before the statue of Aura.
"I am the god of this world!" roared the woman. She raised one arm in the lead of her and spread out her fingers. The doors at the front of the church closed hard, slamming against one another. I flinched. "And you are Navel. Welcome. Lawk, it was very good of you to bring him here with us today. I am proud."
"You don't get to speak to Lawk!" I yelled, elevating my staff defensively. "Stand back, Lawk. I don't want you to get hurt."
"It is too dangerous!" I moved him back myself with my elbow, and he backed up down the service hall, readying his own staff. I quickly turned back to Morganna. "You are going to pay for what you've done…all of you!"
"Ha…hahahaha! And what, exactly, are you going to do about it, little boy?" She sneered at me, hovering forward, her arms at her side beneath a shawl. She reached out and touched my staff, causing it to crumble and vanish. I jumped back in alarm, quickly equipping my halberd. "It is no use…Once I am complete, my reign shall begin anew, and the Golden Age of The World shall resume. With you and that wretched girl out of the way, I shall soon have my way."
I thought about what she said for a moment, and then noticed a flaw in her plan. "And what about the Twilight Twins? You do know that they are just using you to conquer the net for themselves, right?"
"I have already presumed as much, and I am ready for them. When they come to collect my powers, I shall give them the gift of True Death, something that I shall never experience. However, knowing that they have a part of me within them, I shall witness it through their souls. But with you and Aura…that is complicated. You just wait. I shall have you yet…" When she blinked I saw that the cathedral disappeared. We were, once more, being gated over to another field somewhere. When we arrived, Lawk's face went white with fear and I could tell that this is where he was held.
There was a large, black tower looming over a filthy wasteland, and two silhouetted figures stood high above us on a balcony, staring down at us with keen interest.
"I have done what you could not, you fools…"