Standing before her sister's door, Noire put her hands on her hips.
"Uni…I know you're in there. Come on out – we have visitors."
"Aren't you even interested to know who they are?"
Noire let out an exasperated sigh. "A delegation from Planeptune! They want to set things straight."
"Giving me the silent treatment huh?" Noire's eyes narrowed. "You gonna shame me further by letting them wait?"
"You're gonna be a CPU someday; it's a responsibility that transcends a simple mood swing! You lost, get over it and get out here already!"
Noire frowned. "Fine then. Be a baby! Once again I'm cleaning up after you! All of Gameindustri will be laughing at Lastation for our lack of manners!"
Turning on her heel, Noire stomped back to the audience hall. As she entered it, her manner switched from anger to regret.
"So…how is she?" Neptune asked.
Noire glanced at her sullenly.
"She won't even come out to say 'hi'?" Neptune pouted.
Noire shook her head.
Nepgear looked away in anguish. "It wasn't her fault. Goodness! Why is she doing this?"
"She's proud," Noire muttered, "too proud. She needs time to get over it, that's all."
"We're really sorry Noire," Nepgear said quietly. "Things weren't supposed to get all heated like this!"
"You have nothing to apologise for." Noire placed her hand on Nepgear's shoulder.
"Noire?" Neptune held out an envelope, emblazoned with the seal of Planeptune. "We know it's like, a matter of honour for you guys…the Lastation Way, or whatever…anyway…we brought this…just to clear things up…"
Noire stared at it, then closed her eyes and nodded.
"Thank you Neptune. I'm sorry that you have wasted your journey."
"N-no, not at all!" Neptune smiled nervously, raising her finger as though to make a point. "You think we'd come to an awesome steam-punky place like Lastation and not take the tour? There's heaps to see and do! Hey, Nep Junior, why don't we hunt down some snazzy souvenirs for Compa and crew?"
"Ne-Neptune?" Nepgear asked hesitantly, "Is this really the time for – "
"Thank you," Noire gently interrupted her, "please enjoy Lastation. Forgive me, but I have other business that urgently requires my attention; I won't be able to join you."
"Oh, no worries!" Neptune clenched her fists with a grin. "Good luck with your urgent business!" Twirling lazily, Neptune headed for the exit.
Nepgear watched her saunter off and closed her eyes, her face flushed. "S-she doesn't seem to have caught on to what that business is…oh Neptune…"
"For all her childish ways, she's ten times the adult that Uni is," Noire muttered.
Nepgear looked at her uncertainly.
"Nepgear," Noire pulled her close, "please don't tell anyone about this."
"About Uni's conduct."
Nepgear realised and held up her hands. "Ah, no! Noire, there's no need! Besides, we did what we came to do; we delivered Histoire's letter and apologised…I just wish…we could have apologised to Uni in person…"
Noire grew bitter. "Don't waste your sympathy on her."
"I don't know what's gotten into her. Recently she's been getting soft. It might be because she's been spending time with you. Hey, don't look upset. I'm not blaming you or anything. Uni can have fun. She needs friends. But she needs to remember that she is the CPU Candidate for this nation, and Lastation prides itself on its national work ethic. She needs to be taught discipline – the Lastation way."
"G-Goodness!" Nepgear held her hand to her chest. "W-what does that mean?"
Noire smiled grimly. "It means you'd better follow your sister before we get started."
"I-I see…" Nepgear stammered, her eyes wide. "Well then…I'd best be off…before Neptune does anything silly. Thank you for having us!"
Noire stormed to her sister's room. The door was locked. Scowling, she yanked out her keys and, gaining entry, she threw the door open.
Uni sat on the floor, in front of her bed, hugging her knees to her chest. Shocked at her sister's entry, she regarded her with teary, bloodshot eyes.
"They gone now." Noire announced.
"Are you happy? They came all this way to see you."
Noire hesitated. "They weren't mad you know."
"They even apologised. Officially. Here's the letter, signed by Histoire to prove it."
"You're just going to sit there and sulk?"
"I'm not good enough for anything else am I?"
"You won't be good for much at all if you sit in a ball crying all day. You lost. It happens. Get over it."
"What if it were you?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if you had lost? You're gonna tell me you wouldn't be upset?"
"I wouldn't bawl like a baby." Noire retorted. "Besides, this has nothing to do with me."
"Why don't you just say it Noire?" Uni spat. "Say it to the whole of Lastation, the whole of Gameindustri! Your sister is as good as garbage!"
Noire looked bemused. "I never said you were garbage..."
"Then what do you consider me?"
"Well, where should I start?" Noire mused. "Irresponsible…selfish…childish…spoiled…distracted…"
With each word, Uni flinched. Her lips trembled. Staggering to her feet, she glared at her sister.
"Oh, what's this?" Noire raised an eyebrow. "You beg to differ?"
"You expect me to be weak, don't you?"
"Actually…I expect you to be strong." Noire retorted.
"You only care if I win!"
"And you don't?" Noire muttered. "Why else are you having this tantrum?"
Something changed in Uni. She grew still. Her eyes focused on her sister with malevolent intensity. "I am having this…tantrum…because of YOU!" She stormed up to Noire so aggressively the CPU stepped back.
"Me? You're blaming me now huh?"
"It's because of you!" Uni snarled, pointing damningly at her sister. "If you weren't such jerk! If you gave a crap about how I felt, none of this would be happening!"
"As I said," Noire sighed, her hands on her hips, "irresponsible. Don't go blaming others for your own failings."
Uni made such a savage groan that Noire stared at her in shock.
"I'm NOT you!"
"You're darn straight you're not," Noire agreed.
Uni groaned again and a wild look entered her eyes. "Stop thinking we're the same! I'm not you! I don't fight like you! I have my own style! It can't be compared to yours! I need time to train! You can't expect me to just improve like magic when I'm sparring with someone so much better than I am!"
"We'll see," Noire frowned. "You seem fired up. Maybe you can do better this time."
"Ugh! You're not even listening!" Uni cried in frustration. "I don't want to fight you! I don't want to talk to you! I don't want to see you!"
"That's not very nice, considering how many adventurers would pay small fortunes just for a single bout with me. You're getting a great deal, and this is how you accept it?"
"I'll do things my way!" Uni snapped. "I don't need your help! I don't need your approval! How dare you judge me?"
"How dare you backchat like that?" Noire grabbed her sister's wrist.
Uni struggled free with far greater a vengeance than Noire expected. The wild look returned to her eyes and her words dripped with venom.
"Don't touch me! Get out! I hate you! I hate you so much! I wish I never had a sister, just like you do!" She screamed hysterically, throwing vicious punches. "Get out! Get out!"
Stunned, Noire left, her hands trembling as she closed her sister's door. She'd never seen Uni so enraged. She'd never heard Uni so scathing. In a daze, Noire shuffled back down the hall, encountering Kei as she made her way across the audience chamber.
"Ah, there you are." The Oracle seemed pleased. "I hear that we received a letter of apology from Planeptune. May I see it? I need to compose a suitable letter of appreciation…" Kei trailed off. "Noire…are you…crying?"
Noire didn't answer. Brushing past the Oracle, she left the room. Kei watched her go, a troubled look on her face.
Uni was angry for long hours after her sister's departure. She paced back and forth, cursing Noire's name. Eventually, she tired herself out and sank down beside her bed. Sullenly, she reached for the envelope Noire had left behind. As Uni read the letter her eyes filled with fresh tears; tears of shame and remorse. Setting it, aside she covered her face with her hands. "Histoire…Nepgear…" she whimpered. "I'm so sorry! I'll make it up to you somehow!" Sitting back, she stared at the ceiling. "I should have been born in Planeptune…"
Two days passed. Uni demanded room service and left her room only to relieve herself. Those who saw her during those short periods reported that her mood had not improved. Her door remained locked. Things might have remained so, but Kei would not have it. Despite Noire's warning, the Oracle went to the Candidate's room.
"Uni, open the door."
"Uni, I know you're in there. I know you can hear me. The audience will begin in an hour's time. You must prepare."
"I'm not seeing anyone!" The Candidate shrieked.
Kei stepped away from the door, shocked by the rawness of Uni's voice. "Uni…are you okay?"
"I'm fine! Now get lost!"
Something heavy thudded against the door. Kei frowned. "Uni…if this is still about the incident in Planeptune, you – "
"Will you piss off!" Uni screamed.
Kei reached for her key. Only she and Noire possessed the key top Uni's room. Noire might have warned against it, but Kei wasn't interested – Uni would attend to her duties whether she liked it or not.
"Uni," Kei stepped inside, "I – "
The Oracle was thrown back so hard she slammed against the far side of the hallway, dropping her file and landing in a heap.
Uni loomed over her, but before she could take further action, Noire interceded, slapping her so hard, the Candidate staggered back, seeing stars.
Noire grabbed her by her collar. "How dare you hit your Oracle?"
"How dare you hit me?" Uni snarled, cradling her stinging cheek.
"I'll hit you again if you keep up that tone!" Noire glared perilously. "You're mad at me, fine! Ignore me, fine! But ignoring a visit from another nations CPU's? Refusing an audience with Lastation's top game developers? And now, to top it off, attacking Kei?" For a moment, Noire was inarticulate with rage. "Wh-who the hell do you think you are?"
"I'm the ex-CPU Candidate of Lastation, that's who!" Uni shot back.
"Oh, so you're resigning, huh?"
"Yes! And I don't give a crap what you think! I-I'm leaving, now! I hope I never see your ugly face ever again! I hate you!"
Shoving her sister away, she pelted down the hall.
"That…little…bitch…" Noire hissed.
"N-Noire…a hand, if you will…"
Noire glanced down. Kei held up a hand. Rolling her eyes, she pulled the Oracle to her feet.
"She's become a handful…" Kei sighed.
"Cancel the meeting."
"Are…you serious?" Kei frowned. "There's already speculation about Lastation's leadership after the very public spat in Planeptune. It only intensified when Neptune and Nepgear left discreetly. There was supposed to be a public meeting to prove there were no hard feelings…"
"Geez, you think I don't know that?" Noire snapped. "I am going to settle this here and now! If Uni won't respond to words then perhaps she'll respond to a fist in her face! After her conduct today, I'm willing to overlook the fact that she's my sister. I'll pound her so hard into the ground she'll need a construction crew to dig her free!" In a flash of light, Noire activated HDD and departed, her expression so angry even Kei was left shaken.
The Oracle gathered her papers and returned to the boardroom. This was turning into a disaster.
Noire had her work cut out for her. In the end, she had to enlist the aid of Lastation's security network and learned that Uni had boarded a Teraportation vessel to Planeptune. Noire followed with a vengeance and tracked her down to a meadow area, just west of Planeptune's main city.
"Uni!" Noire shouted, skimming over the hills and fields in HDD form. "Show yourself! I know you're here!"
Noire came to a halt and frowned, scanning the area. Faintly, she heard a familiar sound from behind her. Her eyes widened in realisation, and it was only thanks to her fine-tuned reflexes that she avoided one of Uni's fragmentation rounds. As it exploded harmlessly beyond her, Noire glared down at her sister.
Uni stood below, enraged. "What the hell do you want now? You have no jurisdiction here! Get lost!" She fired a hail of rounds.
Noire ducked and weaved and swooped down, her sword raised.
"Uni!" Another voice cried; a voice trembling from concern.
Nepgear stood on the crest of one of the hills. Neptune was behind her.
Noire faltered and slowed to a gentle glide.
"Noire?" Neptune asked, "what are you doing here?" She looked about. "A foreign CPU flying HDD in Planeptune's airspace…this must be pretty serious. At least it better be…" Neptune clenched her fists and frowned, "or you're gonna be in big trouble with Histy!"
"It is serious Neptune!" Noire snapped. "As CPU of Lastation, I demand you surrender Uni to me this instant!"
The Neps exchanged puzzled looks.
"W-what do you mean?" Nepgear stammered. "She came here of her own free will…"
"Yeah, it's not like we kidnapped her or anything." Neptune looked confused. "She arrived this morning. She looked kinda beat, so I thought we'd all go out and have a picnic!"
"And you won't even let me enjoy this, will you?" Uni shouted at her sister. "You just can't bear seeing me happy!"
"W-where is this coming from?" Noire's eyes flared. "You're making me into the villain? You've got quite a nerve, Little Sister!"
"Don't call me that you old hag!" Uni snarled.
Nepgear looked on, appalled.
Neptune winced. "Yowch! Geez, you two haven't been fighting again, have you?"
"Uni!" Noire raised her sword. "I'm going to teach you a lesson…"
Uni's only answer was to make an exceedingly rude hand gesture.
"Oh, Uni!" Nepgear admonished.
"How rude!" Neptune put her hands on her hips. "Don't look Sis. I don't wanna see you flippin that around our basilicom."
"No…never!" Nepgear vowed.
Noire swooped down preparing to strike.
Uni stood stock still.
Noire assumed she was playing chicken and called her bluff.
But Uni remained still. Even when her sister was right before her. Even when the blade pierced her flesh.
Horrified, Noire managed to divert her attack, but not before Uni's blood splashed over her.
The Candidate fell, limp, to the ground.
The Neps stared, open mouthed. They stared at Uni. Then, as one, they stared at Noire.
Noire stared too. She stared at her sister. Then at her sword. A mad look entered her eyes and, dropping her sword, she fell to her knees.
"Come on Sis," Neptune started towards them.
"N-Neptune?" Nepgear stumbled after her.
Even as they reached her, Noire crawled over to her sister's broken body. In tears, the CPU tried desperately to help her sister; but she didn't know where to start.
"Easy, easy!" Neptune cooed, gently pulling Noire away. "You'll do more harm than good, helping with such shaky hands."
"B-but!" Noire spluttered, to upset to struggle. "W-why? Why didn't she even try to dodge? Why didn't she block? Why didn't she do anything?"
Neptune glanced up at her sister. "Hey, Nep Junior! Hey!"
Nepgear wrestled her gaze from Uni and stared at her sister with haunted eyes. "S-sis?"
"Go get Compa and crew. I'll look after Noire."
"Y-yeah…" Nepgear stammered. Gulping, she alighted, without a backwards glance.
In Planeptune's Basilicom, Noire waited, wringing her hands. Her head was bowed. Neptune, strangely serious, kept an arm around Noire's shoulders and whispered quietly. Every so often, Noire winced and nodded. Neptune rubbed her back soothingly.
Nepgear watched them, upset. She leaned to Histoire. "She hasn't stopped crying since she arrived. W-what shall we do?"
"There is nothing we can do," Histoire sighed. "Neptune's greatest strength is her ability to cheer others up. We'd be best to let them be."
"I-I guess…" Nepgear agreed.
There was no time to find a hospital bed. Instead, Histoire had a guest room promptly fitted out with the equipment Compa needed. As personal nurse to Planeptune's CPU's, there was no other more qualified to treat an injured CPU than her.
At last, after several hours, Iffy emerged from the room and came up to them.
"Okay, she's stable. Compa's just doing the finishing touches. She can have visitors…but one at a time! The poor kid needs rest!" She looked squarely at Noire as she spoke.
Supported by Neptune, Noire rose from her seat, just as Compa came out of the guest room.
"Compa?" Noire asked hoarsely.
The nurse turned, and smiled her gentle smile. "Ah, Lady Black Heart…"
"Compa…how is she?"
"Well…" Compa sighed, "it was a lot worse than it looked. There was quite a bit of bleeding, but it was really just a big flesh wound. You stopped just in time; no organs were damaged. Uni is a goddess, after all. I've learnt a lot about CPU physiology by caring for Nepnep and Gege, so I'm pretty confident to say that she will be fine…you lot sure heal faster than humans." Compa grew serious. "But we have to give her space; don't crowd her or make her stressed. Her mind is hurt more than her body. Her will to live is very weak…that's why she fainted so easily."
Noire stared at her, aghast. "B-but…she really will be okay, right?"
"Yes!" Compa replied with conviction. "She'll be on her feet in a few days. She's on a drip, so she can't go far. If it's okay with you Lady Black Heart, I'd like very much to keep her here, where I can keep an eye on her. Also…I'd like to make her favourite dinner to cheer her up. If you tell me what it is…I whip it up in no time; I have mad cooking skills too." She smiled again.
Noire nodded in agreement. "Compa…thank you so much…" Trembling, she wiped tears from her eyes.
Everyone in the room shifted uncomfortably. Compa gave her a gentle hug.
But as she approached the door, Noire hesitated, and glanced back at Nepgear.
"You better go first."
"M-me?" Nepgear looked dubious. "But you're her sister! You should be first!"
Noire hung her head. "It was my fault she had this breakdown. If I go in, alone, she might lose it again. I don't want her to go nuts while she's on drip and all…"
"Good idea," Neptune agreed. "Go on, Nepgear. Just a quick visit to say Hi. Then come out and let us know how she is."
Nepgear nodded and quietly entered the room. Taking a seat by the bed, she cooed gently. "Uni…are you awake?"
Uni open her eyes. "Nep…gear?"
"Yes, I'm here Uni. Thank goodness you're all right. We were really worried."
Uni looked at her, then strained and looked around.
"P-please, don't exert yourself!" Nepgear pleaded. "You're still in recovery!"
Uni snorted. "I see how much she cares now."
"Who?" Nepgear asked, frowning.
"Don't call her that!" Uni snapped.
Nepgear flinched. "Uni…"
"On the other hand…Compa really is a great nurse. She's so...caring…"
"Well…that is her job…" Nepgear laughed slightly.
"I'm pretty sure it's Neptune's job too, but she does it, right?"
Nepgear's laughter died. She swallowed hard. "Uni…Noire does care for you…she does…really…"
"Would you do to Neptune what you saw Noire do to me?"
"No," Nepgear admitted.
"What would you do if Neptune did that to you?"
"S-she never would!" Nepgear retorted defensively.
"Exactly." Uni snorted. "I rest my case. We're in your Basilicom, right?"
"Yes, that's right." Nepgear nodded.
"You know why I was heading to Planeptune?"
Nepgear shook her head.
"Nepgear…there are two reasons…" Uni winced, blushed, and blurted them out. "Nepgear, I love you. I want to be near you, and so, my second reason; I want to live in Planeptune. I have quit as Lastation's CPU Candidate."
Nepgear sat, stunned.
Uni pursed her lips. "So…after that ultra-embarrassing revelation you're not even gonna answer me?"
Nepgear shook her head. "Well, it's not like I don't want to answer…I mean…thank you…I guess…gosh, you really put me on the spot!"
"Well?" Uni asked. "You gonna shoot me down or what?"
"No, of course not!" Nepgear touched Uni's hand. "I-I love you too Uni. But we can talk about us later…I'm more concerned about your wish to move to Planeptune. That's a big thing for you. I'm not even sure the position of CPU Candidate is one you can even walk away from."
"Tough." Uni snapped. "I already did."
"Anyway, you'll have to speak to Histoire on that one," Nepgear rose to leave, "first though, there's someone else who needs to talk to you. I better go get her. She'll be getting anxious if I make her wait too long…"
"Who?" Uni frowned.
Despite Uni's protests, Nepgear slipped out, and after a moment, Noire slipped in. Uni could see she had been crying, but refused to be swayed. "Oh, look who's here." She rolled her eyes. "Come to gloat before you put me out of my misery?"
"Hey!" Noire glared, hands on her hips. In an instant, she looked away, the fire in her eyes fading. "So…Nepgear tells us you want to leave Lastation…isn't that a bit…drastic?"
"You want to leave Lastation without a Candidate just because your pissed off with me?"
"No…there's another reason."
"Well," Noire smiled slightly, "granted, it is a good reason, but it's not reason enough to run off just yet. Let the Oracles do the paperwork. Let Nepgear have a say where she'd prefer to live."
Uni's jaw dropped. Her face went scarlet. "Sh-she told you?"
"Yeah," Noire grinned, "don't hold it against her. Honesty is one of her best points. You must have forgotten to tell her to keep it secret. You can't blame innocent Nep Junior for that."
Making a face, Uni muttered under her breath.
"What was that?" Noire asked.
"N-nothing." Uni snapped. "Anyway, our issue aside, you're not mad that I like Nepgear? That I like Planeptune?"
"Why should I be?" Noire asked.
"I thought you'd have been flat out against it…"
"You hate Planeptune. You hate Neptune."
Noire gaped, her eyes wide. Nervously, she glanced at the door behind her and rushed to Uni's bedside, outraged.
"Why the hell would you think that?" She hissed.
"You keep saying Planeptune is Lastation's greatest rival…you talk about Neptune like she's some idiot peasant girl…of course I'd be worried for you to learn I like her sister…that I like her nation."
"W-well you're wrong!" Noire retorted furiously. "I don't hate Planeptune! I-I never said I hate Neptune! Sure she ticks me off because she's such a clutzy airhead, but we all have to deal with that! I don't hate any of you! I don't care who you love…or where you want to live…I…" she broke off and waved her hands helplessly, "I just want you to be more confident!"
"Yeah, you have a real effective way of encouraging me."
Noire frowned. "This is more than Nepgear. This still has to do with what happened a few days ago…just what was it I said? It's not like I lied or anything…I didn't slander Nepgear, or even Neptune…you just went all out crazy…"
Uni stared at her sister. "You turned a fun day out into a serious international incident, that's what."
"Me? What? What are you talking about?"
"You do realise that it was play fighting, right?" Uni struggled and sat up. "Why else do you think Ram and Rom were there? You think Mina would let them participate in an event where they'd get beaten black and blue? I had a great time that day. I…" she looked away. "I don't hate Lastation…but its mood…everything's always so serious! Everything is life or death! I…I can't keep going all out! I need time to rest! Time to relax, to be myself! I can do that here, in Planeptune. It's so much more relaxed. And with Nepgear at my side…" her lip trembled. "I just can't understand why you'd go and ruin all that for me. I thought you must have realised my secret…about Nepgear. I figured you were mad and just wanted to spite me…but then you had to bring up how a real Lastation CPU would have fought…that made me so MAD!"
"I remembered every defeat I've had against you. And there you were, mocking me in front of all of Gameindustri! That event was televised you know! Everyone in Lowee and Leanbox were watching too!"
Noire's voice cracked. "Uni…I knew it was play fighting…and I didn't even suspect you had a crush on Nepgear…but…"
"It's more than a crush!" Uni growled. "If she takes it well, I'll propose to her."
"And then you'll leave Lastation…for good?"
"I…I don't know…" Uni lay down again.
Noire hesitated. "About my comments that day…I only wanted to remind you…what you've the potential to be..."
"I have the potential to be happily married if you keep your big mouth shut." Uni said quietly. "You said you don't care where I live or who I love…why do you care how good I am at fighting?"
Noire looked at her sadly. "Because…when you become a CPU…in Lastation…or in Planeptune…you'll be called upon to fight. You will, I promise. Peace is more fragile than you Candidates seem to think. When that time comes…I don't wanna see you get hurt. You need to be able to do your best, for yourself…for your nation…for Gameindustri." She drew a shuddering breath. "Uni…when you're better…I really want you to return to Lastation with me…I know I was wrong to push you so hard. You're right…I can't expect you to be the same as me. But please…come home. If you want to go out with Nepgear, then you have my blessing. D-don't just run off…and Uni…"
"What?" Uni snapped, her eyes moist.
"Uni…next time just freaking tell me what the hell's wrong! You caused at least as much trouble as me by ignoring and attacking people, and then running off here without a word of explanation!"
"I-I didn't think you'd listen!" Uni said defensively, her voice trembling. "I..."
"And I admit, that's my fault." Noire said. "You have it hard; we both do! As CPU's, we're only expected to do everything. But from now on, I hope we can do it together."
They were both silent.
"You're a crappy sister…you know that?" Uni grumbled, looking away to hide her tears.
"Yeah…I know…" Noire agreed.
"Ugh! Don't you start crying too!" Uni whimpered. Y-You're as bad as Nepgear!"
"I'm sorry Uni." Noire said, as she cradled her sister in her arms.
Uni buried her face in her sister's shoulder and cried.