The next message from Innis didn't have the same casual tone. They sent messages back and forth with such speed that it was almost a conversation.
"What were you thinking, running off like that!" Innis complained, angry. "Morganna is furious! We're trying to keep a low profile."
"Sorry about that, but I don't see why it matters."
"Of course it matters! Low profile means that Morganna doesn't see us acting suspiciously, and what you did with both suspicious and reckless!"
"I had a good reason."
"I'm following a suspicious player. He's a PKer, and he's tracking Tsukasa. I think… I can learn more about Tsukasa if I follow him around."
"Why would you want to learn about Tsukasa?"
"I want to find out what Morganna is using him for."
"And you think this PKer will help you?"
"He's a suspicious guy. He's just my type; the kind of guy who goes where he wants, does what he wants, and can easily pick up on dirty rumors and such. A little dark and sadistic, but that works just fine for me."
There was a pause in the communication before her next reply. "Be careful."
The communication ended there, and Skeith turned back to his charge, who was standing on top of a stature in a snow field. Apparently, he was waiting for someone. Finally, crunching snow alerted him to their visitor: a female Heavy Axeman in blue, and someone else that only Skeith could see.
He chuckled. "Good to see you so soon, Magus. What happened to the Crimson Knights?"
"She may not look it," Magus shrugged, scratching the back of his head, "but she's Subaru, leader of the Crimson Knights. Who's this?" he asked as the PKer jumped down from his post with unnecessary sound effects to land in front of Subaru.
"We're about to find out…"
"Well, well," the PKer chuckled, "So, you kept your promise…"
Subaru spoke softly. "Then you are… Mr. Sora?"
Sora made a questioning tone. "I've never been addressed as 'Mr.' before, but yes… I'm 'Mr. Sora'."
Magus smiled. "Sora, huh? Wonder what he means by that…"
"Names always have meaning."
Skeith rolled his eyes. "Who cares?"
"…The Key of the Twilight," Sora finished his sentence, looking over at Subaru with a sly smile. "Sounds interesting, doesn't it?"
Subaru wasn't pleased. "There's no such thing. It's just a legend," she said dismissively before she turned and startled to leave.
"Oh, so you don't listen to what other people say? That's not nice," Sora replied as he chased after her, pretending to be offended. When she didn't stop, he jumped beside her, sticking one of his arm-mounted twin blades in front of her face. "Stop." When she complied, he smiled. "Now, let's sit and talk about it…"
Subaru sighed, sounding displeased, but finally nodded her approval.
Skeith hung back with Magus, watching the encounter. "What's this 'Key of the Twilight' they're talking about?"
"It's a legendary item, believed by players to have the ability to surpass the system. Some people believe that it grants wishes, while other believe that it give a person the ability to overturn the rules of the game, which would in turn prevent the game from continuing and shut it down. It depends on where you look and who you ask."
"Sounds funny to me. Can't be true."
"Magus, we're part of the game. If something like that existed, we'd know about it."
"Skeith, we know nothing about this game. In fact, I think we know the least about it of anyone. Think about it. If the Key of the Twilight is of the same nature as us, and we know barely anything about ourselves, then we stand to know the least about it."
Magus smiled. "That's my name. Magus: an ancient scholar of immense knowledge."
"There's a difference between knowing something and rubbing it in people's faces."
"Too true. So, Skeith, what do you plan to do for now?"
Skeith kept his eyes fixed ahead of him. "I'll follow Sora. There's something off about him, and I might find information concerning Tsukasa."
"I would think he's more of a kindred spirit to you," he said, laughing sheepishly at Skeith's answering glare, "but still, it's a good idea. Morganna has her reasons for what she does, but it doesn't seem right. And she's keeping everyone but Macha out of the loop, which classifies as overly suspicious. Keep us updated."
"I can say the same to you, and I am. If Morganna wants us out of her loop, we'll make our own."
Skeith kept low for a while as the Crimson Knights sorted some things out, but when Sora began to move again, he followed. This led him to a very unusual gathering of players: Sora, a female Heavy Blade named Mimiru, a male Blademaster named Bear, a female Wavemaster named BT, Subaru, Silver Knight, and Magus. As the discussions started, Magus joined Skeith, the two of them leaning up against the rock face.
The subject of discussion was obvious: Tsukasa.
"There's just too much that we don't know," Magus protested, only to Skeith.
"Shut up and we'll learn something…"
Bear was asking Subaru and the Crimson Knights for Tsukasa's personal information, something that she assured them couldn't be done. Silver Knight spoke up in her defense, and BT accurately deduced that he was the one who had been defeated by the Guardian. Mimiru spoke up in Tsukasa's defense, but her point got lot in her murmuring. Bear summed it up: Tsukasa wasn't a malicious player, but a victim. Silver Knight was skeptical, but Subaru was willing to listen. Then Bear began the story of his first encounter with the Guardian.
"So, basically, Tsukasa lost control of it, and Macha saved them, right?" Magus summarized, folding his arms across his chest. "She's being reckless."
Skeith shook his head. "She's trying to win Tsukasa over. If given a power you don't understand and can't control, would you use it? The Guardian is a bribe from Morganna, and Macha is making sure Tsukasa is happy to accept it."
"That's a good way of looking at it."
In conclusion, Bear and Subaru agreed to keep in touch about information regarding Tsukasa's movements. Sora managed to lighten the mood by ask for everyone's member addresses, to which Mimiru adamantly refused. However, BT brought the conversation back to more serious matters: a hidden item that existed in the world. At the mention of it, Silver Knight grew wary, and Sora's expression twitched into something more excited. Subaru tried to play dumb, but BT wouldn't let it rest until Sora blurted it out.
"It's called 'The Key of the Twilight'."
BT seemed to have been luring them into it, and Sora whined. Skeith could barely contain his laughter. "What an obvious trap, and he fell for it!"
Magus smiled. "I'm starting to question how old he thinks he is."
"I'm starting to question who he thinks he is, but that isn't important. He's got a loose mouth, we know that, so it'll be best if I stay with him. I'll be able to pick up a lot of information from him."
"Just keep out of sight. Morganna hasn't been looking for you, Innis says, but she's likely to call on you at any time. Be ready."
"I always am."
Not much happened over the next few days, making Skeith lose his patience until Sora called on Mimiru and BT. They showed up in the field, and he listened in on their conversation. Mimiru started to complain about Sora, and Sora replied with a complaint about the Crimson Knights.
"Then why'd you bother associating with them in the first place?" Mimiru asked.
Sora chuckled. "This lady over here," he pointed to BT, "understands."
BT was calm. "It's been said that information gathers where the Knights are."
"Yup. From inside the net as well as outside," Sora replied.
Mimiru seemed astounded. "Outside too?"
"They're assisting the system administration. Any info the sys admin believes is important goes straight to the Crimson Knights," BT explained, before turning back to Sora, "Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask, though I… won't necessarily answer you."
"Do you think our much-talked-about Wavemaster got his hands on the Key of the Twilight?"
Instead of answering, Sora leaned forward and, with another one of his sound effects, fell off the giant mushroom he was standing on and landed on his feet. Mimiru was impressed, but Skeith just rolled his eyes.
"No, not yet," he answered.
"What do you base that on?"
Sora engaged in a glaring match with BT before he answered. "My gut instinct."
Unsatisfied with his answer, BT left, abandoning Mimiru to face Sora alone. He started bothering her, but Skeith tuned them out. 'There's too much about this Key of the Twilight floating around this guy. I need information about Tsukasa, not some stupid imaginary item…'
Their next stop was Mac Anu, and after following Sora around for that long, Skeith wanted to be rid of the nitwit. He followed along on the canal, not one for the barges that floated along the water. He was lost in thought, trying to wrap his mind around various ideas, when he heard someone call his name. Looking up, he saw Magus waving excitedly at him. Subaru and Silver Knight were walking beside him.
"Eventful day?" Magus asked.
Skeith rolled his eyes. "Anything but."
"Good, because I have news for you, and it's about Tsukasa."
Sora began speaking to Subaru and Silver Knight, so Skeith held up his hand for quiet. He made a valid point: Tsukasa needed to be interrogated, but he had too much freedom. To speak with him, they needed to capture him. If Tsukasa were to be killed off, the answer would be gone for good. They would use the players to find him.
Magus folded his arms, thinking it over. "It might work. What do you think?"
"Under normal circumstances, I'd applaud them."
"But these aren't normal circumstances?"
"Not in the slightest. Tsukasa has the Guardian that Morganna gave him, and it will protect him if he feels threatened. Anyone who tries to corner him will suffer Silver Knight's fate… or worse. Other than that, Tsukasa doesn't operate under the normal rules of 'The World', so trying to box him in is a useless effort."
"Maybe… it's because he's already boxed in?"
Skeith eyed Magus questioningly. "What do you mean?"
"The Crimson Knights have dug up some information on Tsukasa. Apparently, he's been playing for ten days straight."
"Ten days… Impossible, for a human player, at least."
"Maybe, but remember, Morganna is involved. Maybe she's influencing him to say logged in."
He wrestled with the concept. "Or maybe… She's keeping him from logging out."
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"Not quite. She could be keeping him from leaving the terminal, convincing him to stay there… or maybe… she's keeping him away from the terminal."
"Wouldn't that be a contradiction?"
"Not from one, and only one, perspective: Morganna has drawn him into the game. He can't leave the terminal because there is no terminal."
Magus stared blankly at him. "It just sounds like you're trying to find a loophole in it."
"Maybe, maybe not. There's no way to tell right now. The only person with that information is Tsukasa, and he's not talking."
"Well, if the Crimson Knights find him, I'll fill you in on the conversation."
"Good," Skeith muttered, straightening himself out to follow Sora, "I'll let you know if I find anything as well."
"So, this is where you've been hiding all this time?" Innis asked as she walked over to him.
Skeith sat on the ground in front of the Chaos Gate, staring blankly ahead of him. He looked up as she walked over, but only his eyes moved.
"What happened to your charge?"
"Logged out. I'm waiting for him to log back on."
She sat down beside him, mimicking his position. "You've missed a bit of news."
"Four Long Arms attacked Tsukasa. He summoned the Guardian, and it attacked them. When he told it to stop, it didn't listen."
Skeith snorted his annoyance. "Typical. He thinks he can use the Guardian as he pleases. It has rules. It has… well, maybe not preferences, like us, but it has its own way of operating. He's going against what it was designed to do."
"Protect him, no matter what the cost. Eliminate anyone who stands in his path."
Innis nodded her agreement, and moved on. "Macha's been bragging lately…"
"About what? Being in Morganna's favor?"
"She destroyed the Divine Spear of Wotan."
Something clicked in Skeith's mind. "What about the wielder!"
"Worried about him?" Innis asked, a sly smile on her face.
"I-I want to know…" he scowled, trying to repress his annoyance. He was mostly annoyed at himself for letting his concern slip, but he was mad at Innis for provoking him with it.
"He's alright, apparently. He passed out at his terminal, and they took him to the hospital. He hasn't returned to work. At least, that's what the report in the CC Corp. files said."
"You hacked their files?"
"I figured that you'd want to know."
"And you thought I would because…?"
That was all she needed to say. Skeith pressed his forehead against his knees with a long sigh. Innis understood him more than anyone else, almost to the point that it was creepy, but it came as a relief to him sometimes. It saved having to explain things to her.
"Skeith, you can't keep everything to yourself all the time. If you do, it'll slip, and it'll slip to the wrong people."
"What did Lycoris tell you?"
Before he spoke, he made sure they were still in Whisper Mode. "She told me I couldn't trust Morganna. She told me that Morganna would 'choose to decide my fate' and that I had a choice on how to act… That I have free will because I was created to, and that I have to make my own decisions."
"Sounds like she understood the words she was saying. Do you think…she knew about Fidchell's prophecy?"
"There's no way of knowing, and I doubt he'd tell us either way. All I know is that I trust her words, and I'll decide my own fate, Morganna or not."
Innis smiled, fingers to her lips to contain her giggles. "You know, sometimes I wonder what your personality really is. You seem to jump all over the place."
"Then… I have vague personality dividers?"
"Something like that…" Innis muttered, and then pushed herself back to her feet. "Be careful, Skeith. Not just for yourself, but all of us."
"Why would something like that matter to anyone but me?"
"Sometimes I think you'll never learn," she sighed, spinning on her heels and walking off, leaving a dumbfounded Skeith to contemplate her words.