This, ladies and gentlemen, is another chapter of my fanfic "Hyperdimension Neptunia is Real!". In it... well, you'll find out. As always, I will respond to my reviews:

Ikari Zero: Well, I have to provide something. Thanks for finding it entertaining; that's what I'm going for. As for the Black Heart thing, you will find out in due time. It wouldn't be fun at all to have the story spoiled, would it?

Eyeshield: Your chapters are typically in excess of 10,000 words in length. In addition, you write your characters with great amounts of detail and they come across as three-dimensional. Take all the time you need. Too many people, myself included, rush too mush and the product suffers as a result. Anyway, you are to laugh because that was meant to be funny.

CrimsonHeresy: I'm planning on doing Lowee next. As for why, well, I'm writing this and you're not so there's not much reason for me to tell you. Anyway, I have plenty of advice. In fact, I went through all the trouble to dig through the reviews to find the one you wrote with your account so I could access it and PM you. I have to say, it was a bit of a tiresome endeavour. Oh, if only the Reply to Review function worked with anonymous accounts. :(

Eisenfaust: And I'm going to keep writing. Stay tuned, my friend! And no, he doesn't look like Kurosaki Ichigo. Ichigo wears feudal Japanese clothing. Jacob wears modern clothing. Also, it might, he might and he might.

one who walks the path of fire: Correction: Jacob is going to get his ass kicked. I know, we all make that mistake from time to time but it's important to remember that this Jacob is different from me. We best be careful, lest I begin to go insane. That is, if I haven't already. :D

Saturn56: Oh ho ho! Well, I'm curious to see what your hypothesis is!

godofmadness43: Those are the Hyperdimension Neptunia girls for ya. -_-

Unknown: ... Maybe? :)

The Puppy Schwag: Glad you found that funny. Hopefully, you didn't die because I'm pretty sure the reception in Heaven is awful and I still want your reviews. :3

liexi: How about we flip a coin? Depending on the result, nothing will change because the ramifications will be explored in this chapter. The only reason you would flip the coin would be for me to steal it while it's in the air and I can use it to buy some lollies. :D

Zaralann: Thanks.

Red-Drive: Woohoo! I'm getting better! Let's see how I do this time.


Chapter 15: Another Altercation

An hour had passed since Nisa dragged Jacob off for what she called "training" although none of the other girls really bought it… Well, Compa and Neptune bought it, considering they're Compa and Neptune, but IF could tell that Jacob's "training" would not be of the usual variety. Not that she actually knew what Nisa would put him through but she knew this would not be a pleasant session. It wasn't important to her, though; she was too busy looking on her phone, trying to find a new quest.

"Did you find any quests yet?" Compa asked from in front of the TV.

The key word being "trying".

IF sighed. "No I have not."

"Aw," Compa whined. "You'd think that there'd be a new one by now."

"Same here. Then again, it's nice to know that a landmass can go for at least an hour without some random civilian asking for a monster to be killed for no reason other than to avenge someone or some random civilian asking for twenty bear asses for a rug or something."

IF and Compa were silent for a moment.

"… Actually, that's still pretty sad. Are we the only adventurers in the entire world?" IF never took her eyes off her phone.

"I don't think so," Compa answered. "Still, you'd think that they'd be even less frequent than this."

"I know. Say, Neptune's been pretty quiet. How's the game?"

"… Nep-Nep's not here."

Presumably, IF was not expecting this. For once in the entire conversation, IF turned away from her phone to look around the room. Surely enough, Neptune was nowhere to be seen and it was only Compa who was playing GiantSMALLWorld on the TV.

"… Where'd she go?" IF asked, bewildered.

"She said she was going to take ArfArf and find Jake and Nisa. She told you that and you just went…" Compa paused the game. She then stood up and cleared her throat before crossing her arms and putting on an expression that was more something that IF would have rather than Compa. "'Sure, whatever'," Compa said, imitating IF's voice.

"I do not sound like that," IF retorted, putting on a more genuine version of Compa's face.

Compa just smiled as she stopped her imitation.

"… Crap."

The two of them were silent for a moment.

"… Want me to play with you on that?"

"Sure."


Nisa once saved a little girl's life by pushing a falling boulder away with the power of her Justice Kick. That little girl's frightened face vanished almost immediately and she hugged Nisa with all her might, all the while telling her how thankful she was and how cool Nisa was. A few days after, it turned out that the little girl was the daughter of an action figure maker and, after a few visits and negotiations, Nisa toys were soon on the market. This made Nisa's popularity skyrocket and she was a Lastation-wide celebrity soon after.

"Why…? I just got these clothes, damn it…"

Jacob's groans now exceeded that event on Things That Make Nisa Happy.

"My student," Nisa began, spinning around on her heel with a massive smile and a finger in the air, "it was only yesterday that Compa was discussing your…" Nisa's smiled began to falter, "… bosom. Shortly after, Lady Neptune herself praised it."

Jacob groaned even louder. "Can we please stop talking about that…? Besides, how does that make me deserve being seven feet underground…?"

Nisa's smiled regained its strength when he brought up her handiwork. In the middle of the junkyard was a deep hole. It was only a meter across but that was more than enough to allow a person- like, for example, Jacob- into its seven-foot depths. One curious little boy came across earlier and asked how that happened but Nisa told him it was a secret technique, which was apparently satisfying enough to make the boy go away.

Nisa cleared her throat. "Jacob, it is impolite to boast about your breast size around women."

"I didn't even do that!" Jacob didn't groan that time. "That was all Neptune and Compa's fault… Why don't you beat them up…?"

"Because they are girls, my student. Also, you're the one with the boobs."

Thankfully, Jacob was too far down for Nisa to hear him mutter "Bloody gender inequality…"

"Anyway, that does it for training today. Can you get out of there?"

"Yeah, just gimme a sec…" Seconds later, Jacob rose out of the hole with the jetpack on his back. The clothes he just bought were… quite dirty.

Nisa had an issue with this. "Hey! You were supposed to climb out!"

"Yeah, I think my bones have been ground into a fine snort-able powder so forgive me if I barely even have the energy to wave at someone…" Jacob replied with his limbs dangling below him.

Nisa still frowned, however. "Fine. This is just an early stage of your training, after all. Now, let us return to the motel room. IF and Compa must have a new quest by now."

"Jeez, this place gets a lot of quests…" Jacob stated as he floated behind Nisa as they left the junkyard. "People post hunting or scavenging requests at least once an hour here…"

"Do not fret, my student, for this is a rather slow landmass when it comes to quests. If we were on Leanbox or Lowee, we would get many more quests."

"That's even worse… Does anyone do anything themselves? Do we have any sort of military or even law enforcement to drive the monsters back? Why is everyone content with putting up requests and crossing their fingers?"

"Jacob, less whining, more floating," Nisa commanded. "The crux of the matter is that we must get a quest. This story is not going to push itself!"

"Really? It feels like we're just filling in time before something happens."

"Excuse me?"

Nisa and Jacob looked to their right where the voice came from. It was a silhouette of perhaps a middle-aged man. He seemed to have a goatee and short, spiky hair. "Are you the heroine everyone's been talking about?" he asked with hesitation.

Right on schedule, Jacob thought.

"If you mean the heroine of evil's bane, then most certainly! I, Nisa, uphold justice in all of Gamindustri!" Nisa boasted.

"That's good. That's very good," the man responded.

Jacob could tell the man was nervous. "Is something the matter?"

"Well… yes. You see, one of my co-workers was on a train that got attacked by monsters a little more than an hour ago. I only just got a text message from him, saying that he was still alive but he needed rescuing. He's in a monster-infested dungeon-"

As they always are, thought Jacob.

"- so I was going to send an official quest to the Basilicom but… Well, I saw you and I need to ask, will you please rescue him?"

"Absolutely!" Nisa answered. "It is the job of the heroine of justice to save those in need!"

The man relaxed. "You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that. Thank you."

Jacob, however, was wary. "If I may ask, who do you work for?"

The man's hesitant and nervous demeanour returned full force. "… My co-worker and I work for Avenir."

While Jacob didn't look the slightest bit surprised, Nisa's enthusiasm quickly vanished.

The man noticed this and reacted quickly. "I know Avenir has a bad reputation but Ganache is a good man. He can't be left to die in there. Please help him; he doesn't deserve that fate."

"Hey, don't worry," Nisa urged, even though she wasn't as excited as before. "Even if he does work for Avenir, that does not warrant his death. We will rescue him pronto."

"Thank you so much…" The man sighed again. "Do either of you have a phone?"

"Sorry, no," Jacob responded. "However, we do have a friend by the name of IF who's currently looking for quests. You can post a request on the Basilicom and she'll probably pick it up."

"I'm a bit worried that someone else will get it, but okay. Thank you for offering your assistance."

"No problem. Hopefully, we'll see you later."

"The feeling is mutual. Farewell." With that, the man turned and left.

Jacob looked at Nisa. "He seemed nice."

"Especially for an Avenir employee," Nisa added.

"Hey, I'm gonna get on the ground now. Can you help keep me steady if my legs can't support me?" Without waiting for an answer, Jacob floated down onto the ground. Upon deactivating his jetpack, he wobbled for a bit before balancing himself.

"Are you okay?" Nisa asked.

"Yeah, I guess I'm fine. Gonna have to go slow, though. Anyway, back to the motel for us."


IF rubbed her forehead.

"I'm sorry…" Compa apologised quietly.

"No, it's alright. Let's just try that again, and don't jump off that switch too early this time."

"Okay…"

Just as IF picked up her controller, the door slammed open, causing her to drop it again.

"Hello, my friends!" Nisa boisterously called as she proudly strode into the main room while Jacob slowly walked to his bed before collapsing on it.

"Hi Nisa." IF didn't bother to look back at the heroine.

Compa, however, did and she also saw Jacob. "Hi Jake. How was training?"

"I'd rather not talk about it." Even though Jacob's voice was muffled by the pillow, Compa still got the meaning.

"… Okay then."

"Anyway, did you find any new quests?" Nisa asked.

"No. Let me check again." IF opened her phone and pressed a few buttons and found herself pleasantly surprised. "I'll be damned. There's a quest."

"What? Let me see!" Compa looked over IF's shoulder to look at her phone. As IF had said, there was a new quest. "Oh, what's it about?"

"Please back away."

"Oh, sorry." Compa quickly removed herself from IF's back.

"Thank you. Now…"

"On our way back from training, we came across a man who claimed that a train was attacked by monsters. One of his co-workers survived the attack but is trapped in a dungeon. We were asked to rescue him," Nisa announced. "Does the quest say that?"

"…" IF looked up at Nisa. Her eyes indicated she struggled to believe her. "That's pretty much it."

From outside, the party could hear some barking.

Jacob turned his head towards the wall. "Is that…?"

The door banged open again. "The scent has been traced. After ten long, painful minutes of searching, we have finally cornered our target…" Like a ninja wannabe, Neptune spun around to enter the room. Unfortunately, she tripped on maybe the floor and accidentally dropped ArfArf during her descent. Fortunately, ArfArf wasn't damaged. "Ow! Aw, I was supposed to look super cool just now!"

"Fret not, my sister." Nisa approached Neptune and helped her up. "When I was practising my flashy entrance, I too tripped many times. Do not worry, for you will get better at it."

"Aw, thanks Nisa!" Neptune gave the heroine a hug.

"Nep-Nep! You picked a good time to get back. We found a quest!" Compa lowered a hand to IF, who placed her phone in it. "Today's job is to rescue an Avenir employee!" She cleared her throat as she brought the phone to her eyes. "'The train was attacked by monsters. Please save the survivor!'"

"Whatwhatwhat?" Neptune did not like the sound of that. "Helping Avenir again? I dunno about helping out our sworn nemesis! Besides, don't their employees carry giant boomsticks they make at their factories?"

"Chian said Avenir doesn't make weaponry for human use, due to their president's motto," IF replied.

"… When'd she say that?" Jacob asked.

"When you weren't around," IF answered quickly.

Jacob rolled his eyes.

"Plus, the employees themselves aren't bad people. You shouldn't be picky about which lives need saving, Nep-Nep! There is no line to draw when saving lives. Now, let's hurry over to the site where the train was attacked," said Compa.

Jacob groaned as he forced himself up from his bed.

Compa seemed very confused. "Jake, what happened to your clothes? And your hair? And your face?"

"Rigorous training exercise," was the excuse Jacob offered for his very dirty clothes, hair and face. "Now, are we going to go?"

"Well, we can always wait a minute or two if you want to have a shower," Compa offered.

"No, I'm fine." Jacob did a few stetches. "Let's get this over with."

"You sure?" Neptune asked. "You can if you want. I promise not to peek on you to see how big your boo-"

"We are leaving now."


"Hey-"

IF's patience snapped. "Yes Jacob, I know this is the same cave we've travelled in the last dozen times. Yes Jacob, I know there were no train tracks to be found outside let alone any trains. Yes Jacob, I know we're on a floating island. Is that all you were going to say?"

"… Yes."

"Good. Now, seeing as you have absolutely no more inconsistencies to point out that we don't know about, let's move," said IF as the party walked through the dungeon.

"Pretty narrow dungeon, wouldn't you say?" Jacob asked as he looked left and right. Their current path stretched rather far for their standards and there were no turns to be seen anywhere. Right in front of the party was a passageway going left and, further up, they could see a passageway going right. According to the map in IF's phone, they were both dead ends.

"That's right," Compa agreed. "This is, however, a smaller dungeon than normal."

"Good, then we can finish this more quickly!" Neptune remarked.

Suddenly, a random encounter occurred. In front of the party appeared three monsters about as tall as they were. Each of them had short, maroon, muscular humanoid bodies but had pterodactyl skulls for heads with long ram horns that held back their large shrub-like teal manes. Their arms were only bones, their hands, covered by thick leather gloves, had two fingers and a thumb and their feet were actually teal talons. They also wore red studded belts around their waists. However, their most notable features were their weapons; each of the monsters had in their left hands a large weapon about as large as their bodies. They had teal-wrapped katana handles but their blades, which made up most of the weapons' sizes, were definitely not katana blades. They were flat, wide and in the shape of a crude hook.

Jacob got into a fighting stance. "Alright, let's see how my shield-"

Neptune cut him off by transforming into Purple Heart and rushing forward to kill all three of the monsters in no time at all.

"… She handled those Orthruses effectively," Compa remarked, being amazed, scared and surprised all at the same time.

"Let's go," ordered Purple Heart. "The sooner we finish the dungeon, we sooner we get back."

"Right on," Jacob voiced his agreement.

Hearing his voice, Purple Heart stopped where she was. "Actually…" She turned around. "Jacob, may I have a word with you?"

Jacob was confused, just like the rest of his party. "Uh… What about?"

"Nothing, really. I'd just like you to come over here."

"… Sure, why not?" Despite the situation being definitely odd, Jacob approached Purple Heart nonetheless. "What's up?"

Purple Heart placed her hand on Jacob's chest and squeezed it lightly.


Not long after that event, the party ran into another silhouette.

"Good, you're safe," Purple Heart said to start the conversation. "You're the Avenir employee, I presume?"

The Avenir employee seemed to have very short hair and he seemed to wear a suit. He didn't look the slightest bit worried or disturbed or thankful for the arrival of the party. In fact, he looked like he was expecting them. "I'm honoured to be rescued by such a beautiful lady but… Who are you? And what happened to your face?" He didn't seem to be expecting Purple Heart, though. Nor did he seem to be expecting her swollen, red cheek.

"Ah, yes. You see, one of my party members doesn't take kindly to being touched and he objected very physically when I did so."

"I'm sorry!" apologised Jacob. "I mean it! I didn't mean to slap you! It was reflexive! Sorry!"

This would be the part where the employee raised an eyebrow. "Jacob, you slap women?"

"Look, it was acciden… tal…" Jacob's hysteria was eliminated only to be replaced by curiosity. "How did you know my name?"

"It's a secret but, for the sake of being fair, let me introduce myself. I am Ganache." Ganache glanced around the cave, looking as lax as ever. "I am also kind of surprised that Neptune isn't the one running ahead and slapping women. Where is she, anyway?"

Purple Heart looked at Ganache with confusion. "… Have we met before? I apologise but I don't recall your face. How… could I forget someone I've met?"

"Oh," went Ganache, his question answered.

Jacob and IF glanced at each other.

"… Oh?" loudly went Ganache as the realisation hit him harder than ten Justice Kicks delivered at the same time, although he only recoiled slightly rather than get physically hit with enough force to send him through nineteen landmasses. "A-Are you Ms Neptune? My, my. You've gone through… quite the transformation. You were a spunky little girl when I saw you at the… Well, never mind. Please ignore my ramblings." Ganache rubbed the back of his head, no longer flustered. "Sorry for all the trouble. I was running around, prepping for the Tech Expo, but I was attacked by monsters along the way."

Normally, Jacob would have taken that moment to confront the very suspicious individual about his very suspicious dialogue. However, something else took precedence at that moment.

"Wait, what? The Tech Expo's cancelled," Jacob responded.

"Well, no, it isn't," Ganache replied nonchalantly. "It'll go on as it usually does. Perhaps the news hasn't made it to the public yet. Please, forget what I said."

"But the Tech Expo is back on!" Nisa shouted. "That means there is hope for Chian and many others who are struggling under Avenir!"

"Ganache, what does Avenir plan on showcasing at the Expo?" Purple Heart asked.

Ganache let out a sigh of exasperation. "Oh, come now. Do I look like I've got loose lips? A big mouth? Do I look like a stool pigeon?"

"How many of those do you have?" Jacob questioned, unamused.

"A lot but let's not get into that." Ganache then glanced around as if he was making sure no one was eavesdropping. "… But between you and me, we've been preparing for this Expo since the company started." Ganache rubbed his hands together in a show of excitement. "Which means this is something that's been in the preparation stages for three years!"

IF raised an eyebrow. "That's a lot of preparing."

"Well, the manufacturing in Avenir is done entirely by machines. They can build quickly but they need very precise information, so we humans pretty much do the error checking. Anyway, I'm sure you'll eventually learn more about the Expo if you tune into the radio."

Purple Heart eyed the man with caution.

"So do you want us to escort you out of the dungeon or will you be okay?" Compa offered.

"Thank you for the offer but I will be fine. After all, you cleared out the monsters on the way here, right?"

Jacob nodded. "Yeah, that's true."

"Then I'll take my leave. I hope we meet again soon," Ganache said as he walked past the party to leave.

Once he was out of hearing range, Purple Heart turned to the party. "He seems rather confident for an unarmed NPC in a dungeon full of monsters."

"Respawning monsters," IF added. "Then again, this is a cutscene. I think."

"Well, that makes him a bit genre savvy for a mere silhouette, doesn't it?" Jacob asked.

"That doesn't matter!" Nisa shouted. "We must return to give Chian the good news!"

"That's if he turns out to be truthful, mind you," Jacob warned. "I am very sure that guy is evil."

"I got vibes like that, too," Compa mentioned. "Still, we should tell Chian that it could be coming back on, just in case."

"She can find out for herself on the radio. Anyway, let's get back," said Jacob as he took a step towards the exit.

That was the only step he took.

"You know, you really stand out when you're in that form," Black Heart said to Purple Heart from the room entrance. "You ought to stay like that all the time."

"Whoa, you again?" Compa seemed surpised. "You're persistent. Nep-Nep, you should hurry and… Oh, you're already transformed."

"It'd also be convenient if your face stayed that way, too. What happened to it?"

Purple Heart stepped forward and drew her sword. "Just a flesh wound. It's really nothing major…" Purple Heart grit her teeth, "… compared to what you put Jacob through."

Whatever casual aura Black Heart had before was now completely extinguished. With narrowed eyes, she drew her own sword. "You still follow him."

"Of course I do. He is my friend, which isn't something I can say for you. That's rather unlucky for you, as I do not take kindly to those who attack my friends."

"Neptune, hold on." Jacob stretched his arm out in front of Purple Heart to stop her from advancing before looking at Black Heart. "Black Heart, you told me during our last encounter that I'd pay for what I did to Neptune. What did you mean by that?"

Black Heart dropped her sword from sheer shock.

"… Lady Black Heart, are you okay?" Compa asked, confused as everyone else.

"D-D-D-D-D-Don't say that in front of her!" Black Heart shouted in embarrassment.

Jacob blinked. "What, that you said that I'd pay for what I did to her?"

"Yes! She's not meant to know about that! It's supposed to be between you and me!"

"But it involves her," Jacob argued. "I think this is kind of important for her to hear."

"Hold on for a sec," IF interrupted. "Why does it matter if Jacob hurt Neptune in some way? Why do you care? Aren't you enemies?"

"Y-Yes!" stammered Black Heart. "We are! We are destined rivals!"

"But you just said you'd make Jacob pay for what he did to Nep-Nep," Compa countered. "Are you friends with Nep-Nep?"

IF's eyes widened in realisation. "Oh…" She then began to smile. "Oh…"

Black Heart noticed. "Wh-What are you thinking?"

"You're 'destined rivals', yet you're quick to come to her rescue when she's threatened…" IF smirked. "Could Lastation's proud CPU have a crush on our little Neptune?"

Jacob smiled. "Oh ho! Neptune and Black Heart, sittin' in a tree-"

"Shut up shut up shut up!" shouted Black Heart, her face red as a tomato.

"What is the matter, my lady?" Nisa inquired. "Love is a wonderful thing!"

"That's not…!" began Black Heart before shaking her head vigorously. "Argh, we're getting off-topic!" She picked up her sword. "Well, seeing as she knows now, there's no point in hiding it." Black Heart then threateningly pointed it at Jacob. "Jacob! For what you did to Neptune, I will strike you down here and now!"

"Weak words coming from you," Jacob retorted as he put up his gauntlet-clad fists. "Aren't you the one who pushed her off Celestia in the first place?"

"Stop lying!" Black Heart had had enough. "I never pushed her off Celestia! Who are you? Why do you fill her head with those lies?"

The entire party froze. Black Heart's words impacted them even more greatly than the Tech Expo cancellation news.

"… What…?" Nisa said, shocked.

"Wh-What are you talking about?" IF was very confused.

"I don't know what Jacob told you but I didn't push Neptune off Celestia. I don't even know how he came to that conclusion to begin with."

"…" IF turned to Jacob. "Is that true?"

Jacob didn't answer IF. He was too confused. "Then… who did? What happened in Celestia? Why did Neptune fall?"

Black Heart sneered. "I've no reason to tell you. Prepare yourself!"

She gave him no time to do so. Immediately after she finished speaking, Black Heart zoomed towards Jacob with her sword raised, intending to strike Jacob with it as if it was a hammer.

Jacob didn't raise his arms to block.

Thankfully, Purple Heart had the reflexes and speed to intercept the strike. Even though Black Heart's larger blade pressed down on Purple Heart's, Purple Heart still stood strong with a defiant look in her eyes. This made Black Heart snarl. With a loud cry, she forced Purple Heart away from her.

"Hyah!" Nisa took advantage of the opening that Black Heart made on her left and snap-kicked her side, which knocked Black Heart back a bit. Nisa followed through with a punch to Black Heart's face but Black Heart raised her hand to catch Nisa's fist. However, the heroine saw this coming and backstepped, drawing her prinny gun in the process and extending the laser blade. Black Heart then performed a heavy horizontal swipe by bringing her blade around with, as usual, one hand. Nisa used her prinny gun's blade to help guide the massive sword over her head as she ducked. Black Heart swiped low but Nisa jumped over it and delivered a kick during the jump but Black Heart blocked it with her left arm. Upon landing, Nisa lunged forward with her blade only for Black Heart to dodge by deftly moving to the side before countering with a downwards strike that Nisa managed to parry to the side.

As the two Lastation defenders fought on, the rest of the party just stood to the side.

IF looked like she could hardly believe what she was seeing. "If anyone told me before that a regular civilian could go at it with a CPU on equal ground, I would probably have ignored them."

"Shouldn't we help them?" Compa asked, despite looking like she would prefer to be anything but involved in the furious duel between Nisa and Black Heart.

"I don't believe so," said Purple Heart with a smile. "Nisa is definitely holding her own quite well. I don't see why she would need us to intervene."

Jacob, however looked concerned. "I do. Nisa's losing."

"Huh?"

Whether or not Jacob was correct or just paranoid was irrelevant. The fact was that, as the duel raged on, Nisa's grunts were getting louder and a bit more tired. Even though they seemed to be equal, Black Heart was still a CPU, meaning she had greater reserves of power than Nisa did, meaning she was not getting tired from constantly parrying a sword longer than she was tall being swung by a very physically strong opponent.

Nisa then made the mistake of directly guarding against Black Heart's downward swing. Her strength couldn't hold against the oversized weapon and she collapsed on the ground. While she was down, a mighty kick from Black Heart sent Nisa into the cave wall. Black Heart then turned to face the rest of the party and found herself treated to Jacob's Wide Roar. Even as the attack did minimal damage, she still guarded herself with her sword.

While Jacob's massive laser was engulfing Black Heart, Compa took the opportunity to rush over to Nisa and help her up. "Nisa! Are you okay?" she asked with concern.

Nisa coughed. "Yeah… I can still fight…"

"Don't push yourself!" Compa warned as Nisa struggled to stand up. "You're heavily injured. Please let me treat you while Jake, Nep-Nep and IF fight."

When Jacob ended his attack, Purple Heart flew forward to assault Black Heart before the latter could recover and retaliate. Black Heart managed to block Purple Heart's horizontal slash to her left side. However, she couldn't stop IF who, at the same time, used a strong reverse roundhouse kick to hit her right shoulder blade, causing her to buckle. Purple Heart floated away and IF jumped back from Black Heart to give her some space. "You've already lost once before, sneak attack or no," Purple Heart stated as she raised her sword. "Trust me when I say you will not win this fight."

"Don't underestimate me," Black Heart responded as she stood back up and floated into the air. "You of all people should know how strong I really am."

Black Heart then sped across the battlefield. Purple Heart readied her blade to counter but was then surprised when Black Heart bypassed her entirely. Looking back, Purple Heart was shocked when she saw where Black Heart was headed.

Black Heart was speeding for Jacob with her left arm and hand in a position ready to grab Jacob. Even though he was also surprised, Jacob was still able to respond. With a smirk, he crossed his arms and activated his shield. Fortunately, the shield held and Black Heart's attempted grab failed. Instead, Black Heart's fingers impacted against the solid surface at high speed.

"Ugh!" Recoiling, Black Heart dropped her sword so she could hold her left hand that now had fingers going through the excruciating amounts of pain that one would feel if they poked a brick wall extremely fast. She didn't notice IF running towards her to jump kick the back of her head. After IF's attacked connected, Jacob rose into the air, leaving IF to be Black Heart's primary opponent. Black Heart came to her senses just in time to dodge another kick from IF, letting her return with a right hook that IF dodged to the right of and countered with a katara stab to Black Heart's right arm. Black Heart grimaced but she mostly disregarded the cut on her upper arm. She tried whatever attacks she could perform unarmed but IF was an agile opponent that manoeuvred around every punch and kick that the CPU could throw.

Black Heart tried to sweep kick out IF's feet from under her but IF used a butterfly kick to evade and flip over to Black Heart's exposed side. Before Black Heart could react, IF quickly pointed her kataras at Black Heart's torso and shot two earth bullets.

"Argh!" Black Heart's left hand moved over her right side to cover her new wounds. Again, her respite was interrupted almost immediately by Purple Heart tackling her away from IF. When Black Heart stopped skidding across the ground, she saw Purple Heart and IF standing a ways away from her with Jacob floating in the air next to them. "You are really getting on my nerves…" she growled.

"Black Heart, stop." Jacob landed on the ground. "Please tell me what happened in Celestia. How did Neptune fall?"

"Why don't you know?" she screamed as she forced herself up. "Neptune fell from Celestia! She was awake when it happened! Why hasn't she told you?"

Purple Heart didn't say anything. Not for lack of trying, mind you; she couldn't find the words to say.

"Um, Lady Black Heart?" Compa called from the other side of the battlefield. "Nep-Nep has amnesia. She doesn't remember a thing. She didn't even know she was a CPU until Jake told her."

Black Heart looked in Compa's direction with a face that indicated her struggle to believe her. "… What? Amnesia?" Black Heart's eyes widened as she looked back at Purple Heart. "No, no, that can't be right! You can't have forgotten me! The things we did! The time we spent together! You remember me, right?"

"I-I…" For the first time of everyone present, Purple Heart looked confused and a little bit frightened.

"You didn't forget me! You remember my name, right? What is it?" Although she asked a question, Black Heart was in fact pleading. She had a hand over her heart as she looked at Purple Heart with the most desperate eyes everyone present had ever seen.

"I… I don't…" Purple Heart had her hands over her chest, seemingly in physical pain.

"That's enough!" Jacob called as he stood in front of Purple Heart. "I'm sorry but she doesn't remember anything!"

As Black Heart looked at Jacob, her desperation was replaced with anger. "You bastard…" Quickly, she drew her handgun and aimed it right at Jacob's head. "Alright then, answer me this. What made you tell her we pushed her off Celestia? Actually, I have a better question. How did you know Neptune was a CPU? How did you know I was Black Heart?"

Jacob gritted his teeth. "It's complicated-"

"No. It is not complicated. You tell me everything I want to know right now before I shoot your head off right here!"

"Now wait just a moment!" IF caught Black Heart's attention with her shout. "What does it matter to you? Whatever Jacob's said doesn't mean anything. You and Neptune were enemies anyway!"

"You stay out of this!" snapped Black Heart. "You're only human! You're not supposed to be in this conflict to begin with!"

"What conflict? What is going on? Fill us in, damn it!"

"I've had enough of you!" Empowered by her fury, Black Heart zoomed forward. Jacob, realising she was going to kick him the same way she did during their one-on-one fight, immediately got his shield up. While it stopped her feet from impacting him directly, it did nothing to stop the force of the kick from going through and send him flying through the air onto his back. IF charged forward with a wide swipe from her right katara but Black Heart ducked under it and punched IF in the gut. IF lurched forward, putting her head in the optimal position for Black Heart to uppercut her into the air and making her land on her back. Black Heart caught IF's foot as she landed but was forced to drop it as Purple Heart turned her around and punched her in the face.

Black Heart span around uncontrollably a few times before coming to a stop. In front of her, Purple Heart had readied herself, holding her long katana in a reverse grip behind her. Black Heart rolled her shoulders and put up her fists. So focused were the two CPUs on one another that neither of them would have guessed that Compa would have fired three bullets at Black Heart. One of them missed but the other two hit her torso and made her face Compa. Not a moment too soon did she turn, for Nisa's Justice Kick was headed right for her and Black Heart had just enough time to duck, allowing the attack to sail harmlessly over her head.

Compa, with unusual bravado, charged up to Black Heart with a loud "Hyaaah!" with the intent to butt stroke Black Heart's head with the end of her syringe but the CPU caught Compa's attack and kicked Compa's stomach to force her away and disarm her. Before Black Heart could explore the possibilities of her new weapon, however, Purple Heart rushed forward to slice but Black Heart quickly swung the syringe around to parry the sword strike like Nisa did previously. Not easily deterred, Purple Heart struck again. Black Heart tried to parry once more but Purple Heart managed to knock the syringe out of her hands without damaging it somehow.

Black Heart was about to rush forward to attack Purple Heart but she found herself attacked by two force spheres that knocked her off-balance and gave IF a window to run in and slash her across the stomach before running away in a hit-and-run manoeuvre. Purple Heart, deciding to finish this, flew over to Black Heart, picked her up by her underarms, lifted her into the air and then slammed her on the ground.

"ARGH!" Black Heart screamed on impact as Purple Heart moved off her. Black Heart, slowly and awkwardly, managed to stand up again.

"Don't try anything," Purple Heart warned. "You're surrounded on all sides, even above you."

Black Heart looked around her. Sure enough, Purple Heart, Compa, Nisa and IF were standing on four sides of her with their firearms ready to shoot. Above her, Black Heart could see Jacob floating, ready to cut off her escape with any one of his attacks. She was well and truly trapped.

"Black Heart, please tell us what happened in Celestia," Jacob requested again. "We can work this out."

Black Heart only looked at him with anger. "Go to hell." She pulled out from her hammerspace a black remote with yellow stripes and pressed its big red button. All of a sudden, her body turned into white data that flew over to the entrance.

Mystified, Jacob landed on the ground. "What the hell was that?" he asked as Purple Heart transformed back into Neptune.

"A reset button," IF informed him as she retracted her kataras. "It lets the user escape a dungeon with their party."

Jacob sighed. "Well, that's just dandy." He then turned to the rest of the party. "How is everyone?"

"I'm alright," IF answered as she rubbed her chin. "That uppercut hurt like hell, though, but I'll be fine."

Nisa's arm was wrapped around her body. "I have taken a lot of damage but a heroine of justice's body will not give in to such injuries." Even though she said this, her face indicated a bruised pride. "Although, to think that a duel with a CPU would tire me out so much…"

"I'm a bit winded but I'll be okay," responded Compa.

Neptune was the only one who didn't answer. In fact, she was oddly quiet, looking at the ground as if in deep thought.

"… Neptune, are you okay?" Jacob asked.

"Hm?" Neptune turned to face him and smiled. "Oh, I'm just peachy! Don't worry about pretty ol' me."

Jacob wasn't convinced. "Neptune, what's on your mind?"

Neptune stopped smiling. Now she looked sort of depressed. "Well, it's just that… She looked very sad, doncha know?"

"I have to agree," said IF. "She was much more proud than that when we met her and when we fought her last. Here, she acted so... desperate."

Nisa looked uneasy as well. "She even acted like she was Neptune's friend. There's so much we still don't know about the Console War…"

Neptune looked even sadder.

"I think," began Jacob, "that we should take the rest of the day off. We've learned a lot today and we need to let this all sink in."

Compa nodded. "That sounds like a good idea. But first, we need to tell Chian about the Expo."

"Too right. Let's go, everyone."

"Hey, hold on!" Nisa urged everyone to stay for a bit longer as she ran over to… Black Heart's sword. "At the very least, we got an awesome item drop out of it. Neptune, do you-" Before she could finish that sentence, the sword disappeared in a flash of light. "… Where'd it go?"

"I dunno," responded Jacob, equally confused. "Maybe she got out of HDD and the sword went with her?"

"That's probably it," said IF. "Anyway, let's go."


"Hm?" went Chian as she saw the front door open. "Oh, hello," she greeted the party. "You need something?"

"No, not really," IF answered as the party sat down on the barstools again. "We were just on a mission to rescue an Avenir employee from a dungeon."

Chian might have raised an eyebrow. "Why would an Avenir employee be in a dungeon?"

"Train wreck. Let's not get into it because we have something more important to tell you. He said that the Expo's still on."

"… What?"

"Well, to be fair, we don't know if he's a reliable source because he was incredibly shady. Still, I don't know why he wouldn't be lying," Jacob explained.

"The Expo's still on? Are you sure?" Chian asked, getting a bit overexcited. "I can't let myself get my hopes up if it's not true."

"He said that it would be broadcasted over the radio," Compa responded. "Is it on?"

"It's always on," Chian replied as she looked at the object in question. "You never know if important plot-driving information's going to be broadcasted or not."

"Well, in that case, you can just leave it off unless we're here," said Jacob.

Chian might have blinked. "… Why?"

"Well that's because… Um…" Jacob seemed reluctant to answer.

Chian crossed her arms. "Why should I leave it off unless you five are around?"

"Sorry, it's just that we're not silhouettes and we're plot-important characters," Nisa explained.

"I'm sorry," Jacob apologised. "I just thought it'd be a rude thing to say."

Chian didn't move. "… You're not silhouettes?"

"… Can't you tell?" Compa asked.

"Well, no. Everyone looks like a silhouette to me. Although…" Chian stroked her chin, "… you all have your own silhouettes. Most people have to share and you'll probably see a person talking to themselves about how much they love the shoes from the shop owned by themselves. Normally, people who say they aren't silhouettes are laughed out of the room but… after all you've done, I think I believe you."

"Aw, really?" Neptune smiled wide. "Well, thanks, Chian!"

Chian might have looked at Neptune as if she seemed a bit off. "Hey, are you okay? You seem quieter than normal."

"It's been a long day," Jacob intervened. "We'd rather not go into detail about it."

"… Broadcasting public information from the Basilicom," played the radio.

Everyone turned towards it. "Everyone, hush!" ordered Neptune.

"How about you hush?" IF countered.

"How about you both hush?" Jacob added.

"Everybody hush, damn it!" Chian shouted.

"The Tech Expo, said to be cancelled yesterday, is re-opened under the sponsorship of the Parliament," the female voice informed.

"See, told ya!" Neptune pointed at Chian with triumph. "The Expo's on like monkey kong!"

"Lame," went Jacob.

IF kicked his ankle.

"Ow!" he muttered.

"You heard it too, right everyone?" Neptune asked the others.

"We were right here, Neptune," Jacob answered. "Of course we heard it."

Chian didn't seem to be overly happy, however. "Yeah, but… Parliament sponsorship? What do you think that means?"

"Well, Avenir's got the Parliament's favour and the Parliament pressured the Sanctuary into closing the Tech Expo only to open it under their sponsorship. Call me crazy but I think Avenir's pulled some strings and the Expo is now rigged in their favour," Jacob explained.

"Jacob, thank you for being here because I don't think there's a single other person in Lastation with your insight."

Jacob blushed and squirmed a bit. "Aw, you're just saying that."

Chian laughed. "Yeah, I am."

"Chian," Nisa started, "that shady employee also informed us that Avenir has been working on their project for three years. Does that strike you as shady?"

Chian turned to Nisa. "What? Three years? Are you sure?"

"Indeed-y do!" Neptune spoke up. "I was there, too! He said they'd been working on it since the company started."

"The Expo's theme is on 'weaponry' but that was only determined this year," Chian spoke.

Jacob clapped his hands together. "And there we go. Avenir is pulling the strings and they got a two year headstart."

"Th-That's cheating!" Compa cried out with indignation. "Do you really think Avenir had this planned out since the company's foundation?"

"True. It's a lot of effort just to get attention. They must be draping a cloak over their real objective," IF guessed.

"They're probably planning to absorb the entire industry," Chian responded. "The Expo is perfect for them to flex their mechanical muscles."

"For reals?" Neptune asked, evidently surprised.

"Who knows? All I'm certain of is that Singe, the representative, wishes to replace all of Lastation with machines!"

Jacob leaned back in surprise. "Well, that's a huge jump in logic. I mean, what the hell makes you think that? I don't really see how winning an expo leads to replacing every human with a robot."

"I know it's a bit out there but, if there's anyone who would try such a thing, it's Singe. He doesn't have faith in humanity, which is why all the manufacturing is done by machines even though Avenir has a lot of employees. The most they do is the marketing or run errands like buying materials," Chian exposited.

"Even so, what's he got to gain from replacing all of Lastation with machines? Even though machines have pretty much replaced manual labour, humans are still necessary for creative things like marketing or navigating to the shop to get materials. I'm pretty sure even their AI isn't sophisticated enough to replace the human mind."

"What do you mean?" Compa asked.

"Well, machines can do many tasks many times over. The fact they don't get tired or break easily like humans do makes them good to perform manual labour in a human's place. The thing about computers is that they will do exactly what you tell them to do. However, that's also a double-edged sword; they will only do exactly what you tell them to do. Machines are stupid as they can't think for themselves. Machines and computers are nothing more than advanced tools. You can program a heating system to warm up your house overnight but that's all it will do. Not once will the system ever warm up the house over the course of a day without being prompted to. That's what humans do. We tell the machines what to do and how to do it and they do it. Even if the manufacturing at Avenir is done with machines, there was an original design made by someone that was put into the machines."

"Then…" Nisa started slowly, "… Singe should know that. Why would he then try to replace all of humankind with machinery?"

"Probably bad writing," Jacob said simply. "Tried to make a 'don't replace manual labour' message and screwed it up."

"… Are you saying he's insane?" Chian asked with concern.

Jacob shrugged. "Sure, let's go with that."

"I'm a bit worried about the Expo…" Compa mentioned.

"Don't worry about it. We'll stop Avenir. Anyway, Chian?"

"Yes?"

Jacob smiled. "We're a bit hungry. Can we have some lunch?"

Chian might have smiled back. "Ah, so you all want a taste of Chian's cooking? Well, just tell me what you want and I'll dish it up…"


I bet you're all wondering what the hell's up with Noire and why she's acting so emotional. Well… that will be expanded on later. :P

Anyway... well, that day was a bit of a doozy, wasn't it? And it's not even over yet. How was that fight scene, by the way? I think I'm getting better at this although I would like some feedback. By the way, are there any books with fight scenes including two high-powered beings? I'd like to read those for inspiration.

See what the party gets up to next time in Chapter 16: Reminiscence of the Outsider.