While the angel lamented far away and above them, a group of Programs had gathered at the edge of the Outlands. This group of Programs had been gathering for the past few cycles so that they could freely talk amongst themselves. The spot that they had chosen was far enough away from the main System to provide some form of privacy, yet not so far into the Outlands that they needed to worry about what types of creatures lurked beyond what they could see. With all of the trouble in the System, they didn't need to worry about what other types of trouble that they could get into. The place where the group had chosen together was close to a fairly large tunnel opening It was just a precaution in case anything did happen and they needed a quick getaway.
As a few more stragglers arrived, an older Program created a "fire" made of Energy.
"Is everyone here?" the same Program asked.
Heads turned side to side and it seemed like no one was missing. If a Program was, he or she generally turned up later or didn't come at all. It was risky, being anywhere near the Outlands. A younger female Program responded, "Everyone's here, Joran."
Joran gave a small smirk, before becoming calm. It was nice, being able to speak his mind in a discussion with "friends" again.
"So," Joran started, rubbing his hands together even though there was no purpose in trying to get warm, "has anyone seen the Games lately?"
A few scattered and broken chuckles made their way through the Programs, but short moments passed and nothing was said. The half-silence was broken by the voice of a young Program. "There's no reason to go watch the Games," he countered. "What's the point of watching something when we already know how it's going to end? Waste of what little currency we have, anyway."
Joran chuckled darkly. "If that's the case, then why are the stands still packed full? Surely there's got to be some other exciting element besides... how it ends. CLU already knows it's always the same song and dance. Once the User-Believers are gone, who's left to entertain the crowd? CLU doesn't exactly have time to come out and do parlor tricks."
"You know who it's going to be, Joran," a darker Program spat. "Ever wonder what's been happening to the strays? We've all seen the increase in Recognizers. I'd wager that come next cycle, the only ones competing in the Games are going to be strays."
"True," Joran replied casually, satisfied at the amount of attention he gathered from the small group present. "However, strays are only amusing for a while, the way they stumble around and pretend to have a function. They'll all be cubes in no time. What I'm talking about is bigger... more..." he paused for a moment, glancing up at the dark sky in order to think of the word. "... revolutionary. Creative, even."
A Program, relatively young and wide-eyed, leaned forward slightly and asked, "Joran, what are you talking about?"
Joran let out an amused chortle, one that briefly echoed throughout the tunnel, sending any ambling Gridbugs scurrying.
"He doesn't know, does he?" Joran asked the Program sitting on his right in the small circle. "He doesn't know about... the Creature."
A blond-haired Program nearby, even though he was not addressed, piped up, "Not know? How can he live on the Grid if he doesn't know about... if he doesn't know about..." He grew too nervous to continue. "Know about... it."
One of the Programs near the middle of the circle nudged the Program next to him and a smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth. "He's probably too afraid to ask about it.. Maybe he hasn't been listening to what's being said."
"Hey!" the blonde Program interjected, before remembering to keep his voice quiet. "Of course I know. I've heard the same stories you have. I'm just saying that if you live on the Grid and you don't know what's lurking in the shadows, you're just begging to get derezzed..."
"Derezzed by what?" the wide-eyed, naive Program insisted. "What's going to derezz me?"
The Program to Joran's right gently sighed before she explained, "Not what, Lume. Who."
"Who?" the naive Program, Lume, was confused; monsters were not generally a 'who' as much as they were a 'what'. Clearly, this was an important monster or creature or whatever - whoever - the thing was. "What do you mean?"
Joran spoke again. "No honest Program dares to speak his name. Anyone brave or foolish enough to even try, his mortal neck gets snapped as easily as his Disc. He haunts this System. Longer than most of us even remember."
"I heard that CLU puts him in the Games because he was derezzing too many Programs," a darker-haired female added. "Grid's got to have a population, you know."
"The greatest Warrior to walk the Grid, from what I've been told," the blonde commented quietly. "Got the strength of ten Recognizers and the speed of a juiced Light Cycle. No one dares to challenge him. No one who wants to stay in one piece, anyway."
"There's been one story that Tron fought him, shortly before he disappeared," a young female offered. "Tron won the battle by cutting off the beast's arm, but after that, he was never seen again. Some say that, for revenge, he tore Tron limb from limb with only one hand. Didn't even give him a quick derezzing."
"Snapping jaws, giant, gnashing teeth," a dark-haired male hissed playfully. "And his claws... I could see them from all the way in the back of the stands! One scratch from his finger and you're cubes before you can call to your Maker." He quietly reached over his mate's shoulder and quickly gave her a scratch on the neck, making her jump and giggle quietly.
There was a Program who wasn't having any of it. The Program countered, "You're all overreacting. This is something you'd expect from an ISO, not Programs like us. There's no Program that exists who fits that kind of description. What do you know? Fragment, what do any of us know? We're all making a big deal out of rumors."
Another surge of murmurs and mumbled phrases spread through the group again. Most, if not all, of the gathered Programs had heard similar tales. But what was true? Was there even truth to these tales? There was no doubt that the Warrior existed; on that, there was no debate. Who the Warrior was, however, and where he had come from... most Programs settled for the common theory of "he was just simply there."
"His circuitry," a slightly older Program interjected. "Joran, do you know about the Warrior's circuitry? Do you know why there's no order to it at all?"
"No one knows," Joran replied. "There have been rumors that he's not even a Program. He's not an ISO, either. He crawled out from the deepest, darkest pit of the Sea of Simulation. Before CLU found him, he devoured live Gridbugs for Energy."
The older Program winced slightly and another retorted, "Dytrix, you're the one who asked. I think you would have learned that it's better to keep some questions to yourself."
"Some things, you're just better off not knowing," Joran mused, smirking at the debate rising among the small group. "Some things are better left mysteries."
Dytrix lowered his head slightly as various pairs of eyes turned towards him. He knew that he was better off not knowing, but it had been gnawing at him since he had first heard the stories. He had kept that question to himself for many cycles.
"But he's in the Games," Lume piped up. "He's... safely away from us, right? Locked up?"
The Programs looked at one another and some had expressions of surprise on their faces. Had they thought to ask about that before? Out of all the rumors that had been circulated and spread, those types were the ones that got the least attention. Most Programs were more concerned about what would happen on the rare occasion that they would meet the beast, face to hideous face. Still, it was at least something that should give them some sort of pause. Was there even need to worry? While they didn't entirely trust CLU, they at least trusted that he would keep a beast as dangerous as the Warrior safely locked away from the innocent who faithfully served him. The beast's wrath, it was told, was best saved for those who had the nerve to oppose Perfection.
"Before he was in the Games, he was a hunter," Joran explained. "That much we know. Under CLU's command, he was the perfect Warrior. Strays, blasphemers, User-Believers, ISOs... he wiped out ten for every one an average Warrior could take. He's the reason CLU kept his followers all this time; if there's any kind of sudden rebellion, CLU just might change his mind about keeping his creature confined to the Games."
"Some wrong moves, and we might have another Purge on our hands," Dytrix muttered.
Any waiting utterances or half-calculated replies were stopped at Dytrix's mention of the Purge. That single moment was one of the worst in the history of the Grid, yet no Program spoke up in defense of the ISOs. To speak up against CLU in such a way was to incur his wrath. This wrath, as always, was carried out through the Warrior. The Warrior was precise to a degree that even surpassed CLU himself. That fact had been true enough at the time of the Purge. There had been sparse rumors concerning the Warrior before the Purge, but the rumors took on a life of their own after that event. To a degree, the rumors were similar to the ones that the small group discussed. The rumors varied, although they all portrayed the Warrior as the ferocious killer he appeared to be at the Games. Rumors about his origins were varied the most, so much so that the Warrior was never confirmed to have a clear origin, since each rumor contradicted the next. However, as many rumors as there were spread about the Warrior, only the most extreme and far-fetched were the closest to the actual truth...