Descendants of Darque
‘Descendants of Darque’ by Ryuuzaki Kusakurin
Beta: Yumi Mitora Kusakurin and Void Kitsune
DISCLAIMER: This series and all of its characters belong to me, Ryuuzaki Kusakûrin. Fanfiction will be allowed so long as you make no profit, refer to me as owner of the main plot of my story, etc., and all that jazz. Glad we understand each other.
Warnings: Violence, language, death, etc.
Characters: Yamezuki Rayne, Yamezuki Hakurei, Alpha, Haranzu Ryouta, Shizume Ichirou, Aoyumi Mitarai, Jitsu Miyabi, etc.
Theme Songs: Doubt & Trust [Access], Fre@k $HoW [Abingdon Boys School], La La [Ashlee Simpson], London [The Crystal Method], Fire To Me [Hyper vs. The Crystal Method], Roboslut [The Crystal Method], Smoked [The Crystal Method], BREAK THE NIGHT [TOMMY K], Forever [Savage Genius], Lithium Flower [Scott Matthew]
Pairings: Read and see. 😀
If you see this story anywhere else, please notify me immediately.
Note to those of you who have read the Pendragon series: Think Lifelight.
In this world, the war between the three types rages on and on. Each day, hundreds are felled and hundreds more train to become stronger. Few of them last very long on the battlefield, but those that do usually become legends…
This is Darque, the virtual world.
Ray, you need to actually see this place before you try to just hack it and win, her fellow classmate informed her via instant messaging. You can stay there for weeks if you want to. Once you’re in the system, you choose when you want to log off.
Sounds great, Rayne typed back, her tone obviously sarcastic. How about not?
Just one school day. I’ll skip with you, if you want. Her eyes widened. Ryouta never skipped school for anything… or anyone. There had to be something going on for even him to be this riveted. Sighing, she stretched her mechanical limbs, placing her hands on the virtual keypad once again.
We’ll see about that, Ryou-kun. Having typed that, she logged off and opened up one of her various hacking programs.
In the war-torn world of Theresse, so many people were alone and abandoned that crime and poverty were the norm. Only some of the ones who still had money in their families went to school anymore, and often, the more intelligent one was, the more likely to disappear one was as well. Rayne and Ryouta were two such cases; when the war had progressed into its final ten years – also known as the ‘years of blood’ – , they had been sent to the so-called ‘underground’ schools – places where the ‘gifted’ were sheltered from the war and were taught how to create the best of their various savants and talents. Most of them were at least partially machine, having the metal grafted onto bones or nanoprobes rushing through their bloodstreams – the backlash of the war was their generation’s downfall. Many had died or had been dying, even in the underground’ schools; the entire planet’s next generation was facing possible extinction when it was finally decided that instead of catering only to the survivors, efforts would be made to reanimate the recently dead.
Rayne had been one of the rare cases that had re-awoken, and was one of the only ones who had resisted the brainwash forced on all of the reanimated dead. It had been for the best to create mindless drones who served the government and did the cleanup work, everyone had decided, but because she still had her higher brain functions intact when she was forced back into the living realm, Rayne had become the last true survivor of the program. It was agreed that she and the three other survivors could be released into the ‘real world’ so long as they kept the true nature of the project a secret. They all did, and now they were approaching their seventeenth birthdays. Since they all knew each other, the four of them always were together in all that they did. All of them were boys with the exception of herself; of course, she was more adept at things requiring finesse, so they all made good counterparts to each other.
The oldest of them all was Shizume Ichirou, three days older than any of the others. His white hair was the only thing that remained from his childhood; nearly his entire body had needed to be reconstructed. His mechanical silver eyes always seemed to be piercing through whatever they looked at, and true to his appearance, he was indeed the strictest of them all, acting as the sole parent figure in their lawless world.
Rayne was the next in line. She still had her green-coloured eyes, but her hair had been blonde from her re-awakening on, rather than the black she had been born with. She always dyed it red, anyway, so she saw no problem with it. She was perhaps the most lawless and reckless of them all, never paying attention to any rules or conforming to any societal norm. Both of her arms were mechanical, as was her heart, but each gave her a particular advantage – she would never die of any heart-related illness, and the added strength of mech arms gave her the flexibility and ease required to perform various feats to agility.
Ryouta was only a few hours younger than Rayne, and he maintained his outer appearance. He was the shyest of the four, and easily the weakest, but had intelligence on-par with Rayne’s own. He, much like her, had a mechanical heart, but rather than stopping there, his bones were metal coated to hold them in place since they had been shattered when his school had collapsed on him. He had died only moments before being reanimated.
Hakurei was the youngest, being three days younger than Ichirou and in turn almost a day younger than Rayne or Ryouta. His small frame and similar arms allowed him to keep up with his so-called ‘twin’ Rayne, though he had no biological relationship to her. She had adopted him into her ‘family’ when he needed somewhere to go and live, and much like his ‘sister’, he abided by her lawless lifestyle. Because of his feminine appearance and catlike grace, they all often teased him, but he always dished it back out at them just as readily. He was the gentle side of Rayne; if she was the instigator, he was the mediator, despite his abject refusal to follow many rules.
“Welcome to Project Darque, players. Please identify yourselves.”
“Haranzu Ryouta, player identification 427805.”
“Yamezuki Hakurei, player identification 392059.”
“Shizume Ichirou, player identification 432902.”
“Welcome, Ryouta, Hakurei, and Ichirou. Please identify all other players,” the cool voice requested, beginning the descent into the underground system of tunnels and walkways.
“Yamezuki Rayne, no player identification,” Ryouta provided for her, holding out a hand for the player card that appeared in the small chute in the elevator’s side. It was completely blank aside from her name, and she pocketed it quickly.
“Player Rayne, welcome to Project Darque. You are currently in sub-level 12, core three, Fennikosu area.” The elevator door opened, revealing a dark area with blue and violet lights showing the path to the centre of the system. Ryouta, Ichirou, and Hakurei walked towards the centre with practiced ease, Rayne walking directly behind them. Her enhanced vision allowed her to see the well-hidden doors in the walls, camoflauged in the darkness. Just as soon as she had adapted to the darkness, though, she was thrust headlong into the light of the centre of the complex.
“Hey, look, it’s the ‘Dream Team’,” one of the techs said, looking up and greeting them.
“Dream Team?” Rayne, of course, was confused, and she remained that way even though everyone tried to explain it to her.
“It means a team of three or more players that bands together, but the original three have to be from each species in the game world. So one of you is a VAMPYRE,” the tech said, pointing his finger at Hakurei, “Ichirou over there’s a DRAGON, and your other pal over there is a HUMAN. In the game, you’ll be assigned a different faction and species as well as a type that’s suited to your mental ability. It’ll all be explained later, hopefully by your clan.” Ushering them on, he flipped a badge to her which bore the identification number 661420 and the name Yamezuki Rayne.
And then they plunged back into the darkness.
“This is our clan room,” Ichirou murmured, gently ushering his ‘sister’ into a darkened room that was bathed in red light. “We chose red because it’s easiest to adjust to,” he said, answering her unspoken question. “And those,” he continued, pointing out various tubes lining the walls of the room, “are jump tubes. That’s where our real bodies stay while we’re in the game. If you die in there, you’ll come back here and a death mark will show up on your card.” Pulling his own card out, he showed her the little black mark on the corner. “That means that I’ve died in here once. If you die more than seven times, you’re banned from play. And this,” he said showing her the small, stylized wing icon in the centre of the white card, “is our clan. We chose the name ‘Victus Animus’; ‘Living Spirit’. I’d say it suits us just fine.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, shuffling her feet nervously. While she preferred to live with her mental sphere immersed in technology, that had never meant that she wanted to be physically immersed in it.
“It doesn’t hurt or anything, Ray,” Hakurei told her gently, petting her on the head as he usually did. “I promise.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she sighed, steeling herself and trusting her ‘twin’ if nothing else. “I’m ready to go,” she finished with a slight yawn. IT seemed that her all-nighter was catching up to her.
“Alright. You’re going to need to go through a tutorial before you enter the real world. It’ll take you about a day,” Ryouta replied.
“A day? I must’ve misheard you.”
“No, it’s really a day. It takes that long to get used to your virtual body,” Ichirou explained. “You also get the chance to customize your character appearance. Hair colour, skintone, all that. Most of us look pretty much the same as we do out here. For instance, I have white hair, Haku has black hair, and Ryouta has black hair. You can always choose differently, though.”
“Can we go yet?” Ryouta sounded impatient enough without having to endure more explanations.
“I’ll figure it out as I go,” she replied, smiling at him over her shoulder. “Let’s go.” No sooner than she had said that, Hakurei had thrust a lightweight jumpsuit into her arms.
“You have to wear this when you’re playing,” he called over his shoulder, pulling off his shirt and beginning to strip down to get dressed. For them, there was no regard for privacy here; as far as they were concerned, none of them cared.
Scarcely a minute later, all four were suited up and ready to start their jump, but there seemed to be one other matter to attend to.
“I’m laying money on Ray being a DRAGON-type,” Ryouta laughed, slapping down a handful of bills.
“I guess I’ll go with HUMAN, then,” Ichirou sighed. “It would make sense if she was an elf.”
“I’m not going to bet,” Hakurei said quietly, “but I’m guessing she’ll be VAMPYRE, like me.” Smiling gently and tilting his head, he started a new line of thought. “Shouldn’t we be going, then?”
“That’s a good idea,” Ray agreed, and she was first to be sealed into the tube. As the tube began to fill up with the blue stasis liquid, she closed her eyes – stasis was something she was used to, what with her existence in the world and such.
Player Rayne. The cool voice entered her head, and Rayne winced in the black space, unable to see anything.
“Yes?” she called into the void, hoping against hope that she would be able to enter the world soon. The darkness was unnerving her.
Welcome to Darque.
The setting materialised around her as she watched unblinkingly – first an archaic-styled building’s wireframe downloaded into her system, then her body did. Falling immediately onto her hands and knees on the sparse patches of grass that decorated the ground, she tried to move her virtual body… and found that she couldn’t. Struggling, she was unable to grit her teeth, breathe, or even blink.
“This is where most people lose their first lives,” her shadow said, suddenly peeling itself up from the ground and turning into her, complete with her red hair. “Of course, there are some who manage to get up before their virtual heart stops because of lack of air – they almost always are the strongest ones here. Once you lose your first life, it’ll be easier to move around. The more lives you lose, the more you can distort the realm to what you need – the system is biased towards people who are on the verge of losing. Those on their last life can usually perform feats of agility that newbies would be incapable of. Of course, they pay for that with six of their seven lives… Hey, are you even listening?”
Rayne head was down and sweat poured from her brow as she tried to move her body, but it appeared that it wasn’t cooperating. After a long moment of tense silence, the shadow-Rayne spoke again.
“You’ve lasted about a minute so far… Impressive. But you’re running out of air now, aren’t you? Once you learn how to control your virtual body, you’ll also be able to breathe and walk. But either way, you’re going to lose your first life here, like all your other Clanmates.”
I’m not going to lose! Rayne thought desperately, trying to move her body, but as everything began to fade, she simply gave up and succumbed, no longer fighting to live. Toppling to the ground once more, she felt the strength drain from her limbs and she gasped for air.
The key to moving the virtual body wasn’t fighting to move?
“Good job!” the shadow exclaimed. “You survived it!” Leaning down to help the redhead up, the shadow was swatted away until she got up on her own.
“Who the hell are you?” she growled, angrily glaring at her mirror projection. “You can’t be my shadow, since it’s right there,” she pointed out. A heavy sigh came from her double, and her image buzzed and flickered until it revealed a little girl with strawberry-blonde hair and green lines across her pristine skin. She wore a pair of black shorts and a tanktop that ended about an inch above her navel, and the archaic symbol for ‘Alpha’ was on her left hand.
“I’m the system admin, Alpha,” the girl sighed. “I control the system in this region – the Fennikosu area, the Ryuu area, and the Yokai area. You’re actually the third person to make it out of my first tutorial without losing a life.”
“Nice to hear,” Ray commented dryly. “So, what is this place?”
“The ruins of Imaisce,” came the reply. “Its in the Northern Area of Sector 7-B. Your Clan controls it.”
“Ah,” was her only response. Looking around, she could see the ruins of the old cathedral that had originally downloaded into her system, as well as a few other old stone buildings scattered across the grassy field. The cathedral stood on the knoll, seeming to tower above the abandoned town, but as she looked around, she spotted it. There. “Let me guess, our base of operations is in the cathedral.”
“‘Under the cathedral’ would have been more accurate,” the hologram grumbled. “But you’re right all the same. Anyway, combat training comes first.” She raised her hands in an offensive position, waiting for Rayne to respond. “Hurry up, you don’t have all day here.”
“Actually, I do,” Rayne said, stepping forward and out of the church’s shadow. Still refusing to raise her hands in defence, she walked forward until she was nearly a foot away from the hologram, and then she attacked.
Her blows were slow enough that Alpha could still keep up with them, but fast enough that even the hologram was having trouble parrying all of them. One hit her in the neck, and she coughed and sprang away, Rayne hot on her heels. Another punch landed squarely in her right arm, rendering it temporarily useless. Yet another blow – a kick this time – sent Alpha soaring into the air, only to land on the ground with a loud thump.
“So you’re good. I get the point already,” Alpha pouted, crossing her arms. “The point of the lesson was to hit me past my guard once. Not to send me flying in the air.”
“Sorry,” Ray mumbled, scowling at the hologram, regretting beating her up nonetheless.
“Sure you are,” Alpha shot back. “Next is character creation. I have a feeling that you’ll have fun with this.”
“Probably,” Ray agreed with a sharp glance at the system administrator. She didn’t like being predicatable. Selecting hair much like her own at the moment – short, practical, and of course, red. Her eye colour was silver, and she kept her skintone pale. She chose her normal height and weight, as well as her slightly webbed fingers. “Done,” she sighed, absently kicking a rock in Alpha’s direction.
“It suits you, ” the girl agreed. “I’m assigning you to VAMPYRE-class. You’re going to be an Ifrit, I think.”
“It means you’re going to be capable of wielding fire when you feel like it. Basically, you can play with fire and not get burnt. It seems to suit your personality, too. It’s pretty mercurial at times, though I think you know that,” the hologram teased.
“So how much longer do I have to put up with you?” Rayne asked with a harmless frown.
“Actually, you finished the entire tutorial. If you’re able to move around that well, then you’re doing well. I’ll keep my eye on you, Yamezuki Rayne. Take care of yourself in there,” she offered, sliding out of the matrix and letting her voice bounce through Ray’s mind as she transferred her to the real game world.
I’m downloading your program into the main server and logging you in so that you’re standing right next to your friends in their Clan hall. It would appear that you have company – there’s a team of VAMPYRE-class fighters leading the attack.
“How am I supposed to know what to do?”
I’ll coach you through it – normally I wouldn’t do this, but in your case, since you have to know right now, I’ll help.
“How thoughtful of you,” Rayne murmured, closing her eyes as the battle raged around her. She wasn’t physically in the system yet, but she could see what was going on. “Can I log in with the fire on?”
I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. Raise your left arm and imagine it surrounded by flames of whatever colour you want. It doesn’t matter. Imagine the heat, the flame, and then give it a name, or an activation. That should be your personal signal to release your ability, and from now on, all you need to do is say it, and when you get used to it, think it. It’s like naming a weapon – maybe if you named a sword something like ‘Osafune’ or ‘Kotetsu’. Name it like that – it’s the easiest way to remember it. I’ll stay with you for the battle. so if you’ve got other questions, just ask. You seem to be different from the others… fascinating.
“Don’t worry, I won’t bother you,” Rayne replied, opening her eyes and getting ready to materialise in the room. “Flamberge, activate.”
And then she logged in.
The huge Kraken wound its way around the Clan hall, snapping at any VAMPYRE-class fighters that dared to come near. Hakurei had fallen already, not dead but barely alive thanks to a freezing blast of ice and water by the opposing faction’s leader. She wove her way around the chaos, a true temptress, kneeling near Hakurei’s limp body, and even as Ichirou turned to pull her away, he knew it was too late.
And then it appeared.
A body immersed in blackened flames entered the realm, swiping the Shiva-type away from the boy and pursuing her to the end on the hall. When it spoke, Ichirou knew exactly who it was.
“You did this to him, didn’t you?” The being of flame tilted her head and watched the Shiva, interested. “You must be strong to do such a thing,” she continued, sounding like she was in awe of the woman.
“Aye, I did,” the woman replied readily, her arrogance dictating that she live up to the girl’s first impression. “And you are?”
“Your killer,” the girl replied, narrowing her eyes and turning purely elemental, her body no longer having any physical substance, being completely consumed by flame. As she ran a soft, almost loving hand down that VAMPYRE’s back, she morphed back into a human-like state, burying her fangs deep into the leader’s throat and drinknig deeply of her.
“Who are you?” the woman whispered as the strength was sapped from her.
“Rayne,” was the response, but by then, the woman was dead and her followers had long since fled.
“Ray, you did well,” Ichirou sighed, laying back on the bed with a groan of discomfort. All of the opponents he had fought – besides the Shiva, of course – were basic humanoid-class beings. That didn’t mean the outcome was always painless. He had broken his arm in the process, which meant that fighting was almost completely out of the question for now.
“Tch. I should’ve been there faster,” she replied, hard on herself as usual. “At least Alpha explained stuff to me,” Rayne mumbled. Brushing a wayward strand of auburn hair out of her eyes, she continued to bandage his arm.
“Alpha actually stayed with you outside of the tutorial?” Ryouta seemed dumbfounded. “She never does that!”
“She said I fascinated her,” she responded with a snort of amusement.
“Anyway, so how many lives did you lose in the tutorial? Most people lose one or two lives there – Alpha’s tutorial is the worst, because she’ll just sit there and laugh at you.”
“Isn’t that true,” Rayne laughed. “She’s a piece of work.”
“How many lives did you lose, though?” The redhead looked up sharply at this, though Hakurei just smiled and explained. “You never did tell us, after all. I lost two.”
“I lost one,” Ichirou confirmed.
“So did I,” Ryouta mumbled.
“I didn’t lose any,” she announced proudly, watching their reactions. “I got mad at Alpha and hit her,” she continued, exaggerating the tale just enough to make it impressive. “That’s why I’m here now, instead of still in the tutorial.”
“How did you do it?” Ichirou’s voice stood out among the other two. “Did you hack the system?”
“You know me too well,” she chuckled. “But no, I didn’t. I have a feeling that Alpha would’ve killed me for real.”
“You’re right about that,” came a voice from the other side of the room. “I would have disconnected you and left you in the tank to drown. Nobody messes with my servers. Not even you,” Alpha said, pointing at Rayne and scowling.
“Alpha-san, what’re you doing here?”
“I actually came to ask you a favour of sorts,” the hologram replied with a half-smile. “I want to see how your team does, expecially after the display that the hothead over there put on,” she said, throwing a glance at Rayne. “So I wanted to ask if you’d let me join your Clan for now. It’ll give you an extra body to throw at people when you need to.”
“I think not,” Rayne replied brazenly. “After all, what’s the use in having a deadweight along?”
“I’m not a deadweight! Sheesh! I offer something and you snub me instead,” she pouted. “You haven’t even seen what I can do.”
“What can you do, then?” This time, Ichirou was the one with a question.
“I’m a Shivan, thank you very much,” she sniffed, transforming into her online state.
Her hair was a silver-white that contrasted against her dark violet eyes, and her creamy skin was marked by two puncture wounds at the side of her neck. Vampyre bites.
“Any talents other than being annoying?” Rayne asked from her seat next to Ichirou, unimpressed. She was shoved aside by the tempermental program, and when she started to protest, Alpha simply wove manacles of ice onto her out of thin air.
“Stay there for a minute, will you? This takes practice, you know,” the hologram sighed, tracing a pattern onto Ichirou’s arm and placing her hand over it for a moment. “Feel any better?” Stunned, Ichirou nodded.
“That was elf magick,” he murmured, confused.
“Do you even know what a Shivan is?” She was greeted by several blank stares and general confusion. “It’s an Elf-type human who was turned into a VAMPYRE-class. We always turn into Shiva-types, but since we retain some of our original abilities, we’re a different type altogether.”
“Welcome to the Clan,” Hakurei told her, extending his hand. “Even nee-san will get used to it after a while,” he pointed out. “She’ll warm up to you in time.”
“As long as she doesn’t warm up to me with her flames, she’s fine,” Alpha muttered, much to the amusement of her Clanmates around her.
Several days later found the Clan trying to explain Darque to Rayne; though by now she clearly understood most of the basics, there were some finer points that eluded her.
“So let me get this straight… This world is based on the warring natures of all three species, and that’s its only justifiable reason for existence?”
“Well, it’s like a game for some people, obviously. For others, it becomes a way of life, and some people have even died while in the jump tubes,” Alpha replied with a frown and a thoughtful gaze at the ceiling. “But it’s usually safe. There’s one problem I still haven’t been able to work out in the system – it’s like a disease. The virus jumps from the top three classes – for instance, it only ‘infects’ Aurals, Valkyries, Ramuh, or Silver Dragons. It’s really odd,” she sighed. “It’s probably to balance out the power though. Beta and Delta never tell me these things – what jerks.”
“Then again, they aren’t playing Darque,” Rayne pointed out quickly.
“True. Their idea of ‘fun’ is to debug the server,” Alpha snorted, tossing her silvery locks behind her shoulders. “I was the original administrator – those two were created by another programmer about a year after I was.”
“Why another?” Ryouta seemed genuinely curious.
“Nerd,” Rayne muttered at him, sticking her tongue out childishly.
“Because my programmer hacked into my server and hasn’t been seen since the day he finished me and put Darque online. He still plays, though,” Alpha sighed. “I can feel it when he logs on or performs particularly strong magicks – he’s never lost a life in this game, though. I would know.”
“So if we could find him, we could have the ultimate ally for the Clan.”
“Exactly,” Alpha replied, a small smile on her lips as she spoke. “Executing program A1-000. Keylock command Alpha.” Turning to face them, she explained, “It’s a program I developed to find the Creator. It will search for all likely sources and narrow it down, but it’ll probably take a while.”
“How long is a while?”
“Probably about a year, maybe longer,” Alpha replied calmly, touching a key that appeared in the air in front of her. All at once, they were plunged into a dark blue spherical realm, and hundreds of thousands of star-like dots appeared around them. Each had several numbers and symbols after it, presumably describing the player’s identification. “This is the programming centre where I exist,” she yawned, suddenly back in her administrator form. Her short red-orange hair swirled around her as she reached a hand out to touch a single dot that was circled by four others. “This is my player data. This one,” she continued, pointing out the top of the four that surrounded her, “is Rayne, the one to the left is you, Ichirou, the one of the right is Hakurei, and the bottom one is Ryouta.” As she spoke, she connected red lines together to form the Clan. “This is your entire Clan thus far. This is the DRAGON-class Clan that attacked you two days ago, and this one is a possibility for the Creator,” she sighed, pointing out a lone dot not too far from their Clan. “They’re in the HUMAN sector, not too far from here. We should head there.”
“I agree,” Ichirou replied, running a hand through his white hair with a quiet sigh. “Let’s get going.”
As they moved out of their sector, Rayne was lost in thought, letting her feet move with no independent thought governing her actions.
Three weeks had passed since her first venture into the online world.
Since then, she had met Alpha, defeated a Shiva-type vampyre, killed off several DRAGON-class attackers, and learned how to move around in her virtual body. She had also managed to pass herself off as a dual-type, since she had somehow managed to force herself into the Dyrad-type during the fight with the dragons.
Unfortunately, she also had no idea how to force herself back into the Ifrit form. It annoyed her to no end, but it didn’t matter beyond that to her aside from the hindrance on her newfound fighting abilities. Alpha had since explained what had happened, but it didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
“‘Kurei?” She yawned tiredly; the heat of the summer sun was starting to get to her. Combined with the lack of decent rest for the past few days, it really had worn the redhead out. When her adopted twin turned back to her, she looked at him plaintatively, obviously as tired as she looked. “Could you carry me? I’m tired,” she complained. When Hakurei nodded and waited, she transformed into something completely within her abilities as this new type – she turned into a small, ginger kitten. Meowing at him, she hopped into his open arms and from there, jumped onto his head and curled up, settling in for some rest. Purring contentedly in the now-comfortable sun, she fell asleep there, on the bed of black hair.
“Aozumi-sama, there is a small party approaching. Shall we ward them off?”
“Have Jitsu verify their abilities, please,” the soft voice archly called from the darkness of the adjoining room. The sound of rustling footsteps was heard from outside the door, and the servant rushed to comply with her master’s orders. Only seconds later, another soft, melodic voice pierced the darkness.
“Shishou? Where are you?”
“Here,” the master replied, appearing behind the young woman; where it would have startled any other person, Jitsu was obviously used to it. Her long, inky black hair nearly reached her knees, and her nearly-black eyes were closed in quiet contemplation. “What are their abilities, senkensha?”
“Their leader is a DRAGON bearing the Kraken type. One of the younger ones is a VAMPYRE Shivan, and the other young one is a VAMPYRE of the normal type. One is a HUMAN, a Mystic at that. The last, to the best of my knowledge, is a dual-type, though her current projection is that of a VAMPYRE Dyrad. I believe her other form to be that of an Ifrit,” the girl said, her soft voice rebounding throughout the darkened hall. “Shall I dispose of them?”
“No, senkensha, it wouldn’t be very fitting of me to make you do all of the work all the time,” the female responded, a sigh in her voice. “Perhaps they will make fitting practice for me. You are welcome to come along, of course, but I dislike remaining inactive for long periods of time. We shall greet them shortly. In the meanwhile, please send Midori and Aiko to greet our guests with water and a light meal. I trust that it will be done?”
“Of course, shishou,” the young woman replied, sashaying away with an inhuman grace and calling the two servant girls to her in song.
“And now, the fight begins,” the master murmured, slipping a simple tunic on over her lithe form. “Let us hope that you are worth it.”
“We should be practically here,” Alpha said with a frown. “Unless they have an exceptionally strong Mystic here, the base should be here!” She was so frustrated that Rayne actually woke up and leapt off of ‘Kurei’s head to morph back into her human form.
“Calm down,” she sighed, playfully batting at Alpha’s head and looking at their surroundings. A small, tranquil lake setting surrounded them, and as she noticed the four small stone shrines surrounding the centre island, they began to glow.
“There’s your answer,” Ichirou sighed. “We’re here.” A pagoda appeared on the small island, and as the Clan watched warily, a wooden walkway appeared over the lake, allowing two young women in matching blue kimonos to step daintily across. They were bearing something between them; it appeared to be a low table filled with foodstuffs of all sorts. Yet the Clan still remained wary of a trap.
“Our master Aozumi-sama has sent us with food to feed you. Surely it has been a hard journey,” the first girl, a brown-haired beauty, began.
“She wishes to do battle with you,” the second, a more Oriental-seeming teenager, continued in the place of the first. “However, our shishou is nt unjust – you shall be allowed to eat, drink, and rest if you must before doing battle with her. Long has it been since she has fought an opposing Clan, and thus, sit and be honoured.” Bowing calmly, the Oriental girl introduced herself. “I am Midori.”
“The food is not poisoned in any way, the othe girl informed them. “Your Shivan ally can confirm that.”
“It’s true,” Alpha murmured quietly. Ushering the others to sit down and partake of the offering, she watched and waited.
Several moments later, the small group had taken of the light meal. Thanking Midori and the girl who had refused to tell her name, Rayne stood and stretched calmly. As the two servants bowed and retreated back to the pagoda, a swirling mist began to rise from the pond, parting after a moment to reveal two figures. One had long, knee-length black hair and an oddly calm expresion. She wore a kimono of the ightest blue, which accented her flawess skin rather well. The other arrival had short blonde hair – it was cut at the same length as a boy’s – and had a wavy texture to it. Her piercing violet eyes took them all in as she straightened the black gi on her slender form. Finally reaching the end of the walkway, the blonde inclined her head slightly and the raven-haired girl bowed.
“I trust that you are refreshed,” the wavy-haired young woman offered, a polite smile on her face. “I am Aozumi Mitarai, the leader of the Clan which currently resides here. This girl is my senkensha, Miyabi Jitsu. She will remain as an observer and nothing more, I assure you. Consequently I will request that you do not attack her. However, I am fair, if nothing else; should any of you wish to be excluded from the battle, you need but to stand by Jitsu. Have you any questions?”
“What’s a senkensha?” Alpha asked. “I haven’t heard that term.”
“A senkensha is literally a ‘seer’, or even a ‘magician’. It is a creature that has awakened the ability within to sense things from far off, such as strength, true form, and native ability to wield that form. It’s a rather advanced ability usually only given to Aurals and others of that status. Unfortunately, Jitsu has been unable to ascend to that rank, and thus she instead has borne the burden of all the VAMPYRE-class types,” Mitarai responded politely. “However, I am your opponent. Are there any of you who wish to be excluded from the fight?”
“I’ll watch,” Hakurei sighed, looking apologetically towards Ichirou and Rayne; Ichirou ignored it, and Rayne shrugged and waved him off with a lopsided grin – he was among the most fragile of beings she had ever seen in Darque. “They won’t need me.”
“If you are so assured in your Clan’s victory, so be it,” the blonde murmured. “And now, we fight.”
Closing her eyes and bringing her hands up to cup a small light in the air, Mitarai raised her still-closed eyes to the sky, smiling as words fell effortlessly from her smooth lips.
“Ryūjin, fly,” she murmured, raising her arms outward as her body became that of a titanic dragon. Pearly scales decorated her long, sleek body, and blues and violets danced over in them in the waning light of the day. Her wings were of the purest, whitest blue imaginable; it was as if an artist had painted her true form into the sky then and there. Her lucid eyes were lavender and slitted, her ears long and slender, much like the rest of her. Opening her gargantuan jaws, the dragon screamed her battle cry to the Clan below her as she took to the skies, preparing to unleash the attack that had felled all of her other challengers; a rain of ice that sought out warmth in order to become that which it had been was hard to ignore.
“Caladrius, activate,” Rayne called, vines immediately patterning her pale skin and letting her control certain aspects of the terrain around her. Her red hair blew back, giving her a feral look as she gritted her inhumanly sharp teeth.
“Seiryū, come upon me.” As he said this, Ichirou’s body transformed in much the same manner Mitarai’s had, leaving his eyes a deep crimson rather than the lavender or blue that they should have been. His body was nearly identical to hers except that his reflected pale shades of green rather than violet. Alpha shivered as she activated her own power. There was something wrong with this Clan – she had known that from day one – and if she didn’t figure out what it was, there was a good chance that when they realised it on their own, they would cause a good deal of havoc in Darque.
“Let’s go!” Ryouta shouted, pulling out his sword Jiang Shi. He stood back as the colossal powers united, ducking his head as the clash of raw power exploded outward, blinding him.
Mitarai rose into the sky, and began a basic song – not too high-pitched, not too long, but it would have been enough to easily wipe the Clan off the face of the virtual planet.
The silvery dragon that was Mitarai rose into the sky unchallenged as she prepared once again to launch the attack that had failed once already. But even as she began to sing the song that would unleash a new concept of the word fury, Ichirou’s form rose into the air, snapping at her wings, her legs, anything that he could reach. For now, this battle was only between the two DRAGON-class fighters; the VAMPYRE-classes could never reach this altitude, even should they have the desire to. Mitarai whipped around to face him, her cool demeanour gone, replaced by a mindless rage. A lilting song filled Ichirou’s ears, and in the next second, he was falling.
I’ve lost my dragon form, he realised as he plummeted through the atmosphere. It had seemed so solid when he had first taken to his wings, and now… Now, it was just another contributing factor that would lead to a loss of another one of his lives. Two lives gone after this, five to go, he sighed mentally, beginning the countdown. It didn’t matter if such a fall would hurt him – he didn’t care about that, seeing as he had accepted that it would kill him – but he wanted to be able to fight back on the way down, at least.
Mitarai watched in satisfaction as her prey succumbed to her dragon-song, one that she had learned on her own. Some DRAGON-class fighters were able to perform such things, she knew, and for a while, with the way this opponent had been reacting, she had worried that he was another like her, although she was sure that all of the song-users in the VAMPYRE Sector of Darque were under her command in her own Clan. Thankfully, he wasn’t, she had found – she could most definitely take the entire Clan down now. Swooping down to pick off of the others at her leisure, she never saw Ichirou forming a weapon with the last of his power.
Ichirou created the first weapon that came to mind out of his element – a bow made purely of ice. The cold didn’t bother him at all, and while he was consciously diverting power to it, the bow wouldn’t melt. Smiling grimly, he grit his teeth and forced an arrow of raw power to fly out of the bow, forming cracks along its graceful, arching neck. The first arrow struck the diving dragon in the lower left thigh, and she screeched in pain, changing course towards him. At least it’s me and not my Clan, he decided. Loosing another shot, Ichirou grazed her face and she swerved; this time, his bow nearly snapped. He was almost at the ground – it was his last shot. Closing his eyes and feeling out the bow once more, Ichirou let the arrow fly blindly, smiling in satisfaction as he hit the ground, the dragon’s blood dripping down onto his broken body.
“Player Shizume Ichirou, you have five lives left. You may re-enter the system in ten standard minutes.”
Mitarai shrieked and reverted to her human-like form, an arrow of ice protruding from her chest, near her heart.
“Aozumi-sama!” Jitsu made as if to enter the fray, but her shishou, bent over and bleeding, held her hand out.
“Senkensha, stay there. I still have a chance, remember?” Smiling for her Clanmate’s benefit, she stood up relatively straight and pulled the arrow cleanly out of her chest, grunting as she threw it aside and pressed a shred of cloth to the wound. It was then that Rayne made her move – she had grabbed Ryouta’s sword and leapt clearly into the air, attempting to finish the blonde off, and the blade made contact with the girl’s outstretched hand, but…
“Stupid vampire,” the DRAGON-class spat, coughing out blood and letting it splatter the ground as well as her own shoes. “That blade would need to be elemental to hurt me.”
“Either way, you’re dead,” Rayne replied with a cold smile, calculating exactly how long it would take for her power to saturate the ground around them. Once that happened, she could easily manipulate it to suit her needs. Advancing slowly on the DRGON-class fighter, Rayne waited a second too long to make her move and got a spear of ice in the gut for it, wincing when the spear was brutally jerked out of the newly-made wound.
“You vampyres are so weak,” Mitarai began, lazily twirling her spear in circles. “Arrogant, but weak. Pitifully so, actually. Yet somehow you and the HUMAN-classes managed to create a way for yourselves. You managed to cling onto life shamelessly – to thrive in Darque as one of the most dominant species. I suppose that it’s sheer numbers that make you, don’t you think?” Walking towards the crouching redhead, she laughed and once again swung the spear in a lazy circle, intent on beheading Rayne, but as she did, a spire of earth wove up and pierced the DRAGON-class girl’s body, exiting through her back. She coughed once, and as she did, Ryouta appeared behind her, sword at the ready, his eyes blazing as he watched Mitarai lose that life. “Good fight,” she whispered, and then her world winked out.
“Player Aozumi Mitarai, you have six lives left. You may re-enter the system in ten standard minutes.”
When she respawned in Darque, Mitarai was greeted with the relieved faces of her opponents, who were still apparently happy that they had won, and Jitsu’s rather worried visage.
“Shishou, would you like me to take them on? They have 30 lives among them; such a number is easy to subtract to zero.” The celebrating members of the opposing Clan stilled and watched Jitsu silently. They knew that at Mitarai’s behest, the girl would not fail to attack, taking their lives within the blink of an eye, if her power was as great as Mitarai claimed.
“There is no need,” Mitarai replied calmly, motioning for her guests to come along with her. “A girl like you need not dirty her hands for the failure of her master.” Looking to the victors again, she continued; “Seeing as you have won, I’d be pleased if I could offer you shelter for a night or as long as your journey may permit. You have the look of people searching for something, am I right?”
“Yes, quite actually,” Alpha said with a shake of her white-haired head. “I’m searching out Player 000001.”
“Why?” Mitarai asked, her eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly. Waving them inside, she walked beside the Shivan and waited. When Alpha gave no answer, she bid them to sit down once inside the building; she offered them chairs in the antechamber to her private area of the pagoda, where she sat behind a large redwood desk of sorts. Placing her arm on the desk and propping her head, the blonde leaned forward and began to speculate. “The only reason I can justify is so that you can improve the strength of your Clan until it reaches astronomical levels.” She looked directly at Hakurei as she said this, watching the weak boy eagerly drink from the cup of blood he had been offered upon entry; Rayne, too, had partaken of this offering, though it had been handed to her by another servant. “You’re already quite strong, though,” she mused.
“We are also searching for allies willing to aid us in our search,” Alpha sighed, standing up and stretching. The willowy Shivan was paler than usual, Rayne noticed with some degree of concern.
“Perhaps we will aid you,” the blonde replied, watching Alpha closely. “For now, I think you should rest. You’re looking quite pale.” Standing and walking towards a rear door, she looked at them and bowed. “A moment, please. I need to make sure that beds and such have been prepared for you.” With that, she pulled a long white silk robe over her bloodied clothes and slipped out of the room.
“Alpha-san, what’s wrong?” Ichirou asked, ushering her to a seat.
“There’s so much power here,” the lithe hologram replied with a heavy sigh. “Can’t you feel it, too?”
“No,” Rayne replied with a soft, sad smile. “None of us can sense power like you can.”
“That makes no sense though,” Alpha said, looking a touch confused. Maybe that was what she had felt was off about this group, she decided. “The reason players can sense power is because when someone is near, their hearts beat faster in the real world – the player unconsciously reacts to power around them in the game. Some are more sensitive than others, but everyone living – everyone with a heart – can sense it. You can, too, but you’re just discounting it.”
The entire group just looked at each other and smiled that same sad smile that Rayne had displayed earlier. Rayne, in turn, just snorted.
“What am I missing, you guys…?” Alpha was confused.
“How much do you know about the world outside of Darque, Alpha? How much do you know about Theresse?” Ryouta looked at her pointedly, knowing that he was about to reveal their secret, but not really caring.
“The entire history including current events. My creator thought that it would be a good idea for me to know that kind of stuff,” she replied, honestly confused now.
“We’re ‘reborns’,” Ryouta explained patiently, dropping the metaphorical bomb in two words that somehow managed to sum up the entirety of their plight.
“But reborns are mindless drones! There were no cases of independently-operating reborns in the entire government!” Alpha exclaimed, staring at them.
“Take a few minutes to hack government file T-010-53,” Rayne sighed, waving her off. “We’ll be here unless there’s a reason for us to leave, alright? Don’t get caught, though.”
“Fair enough; I’ll be back soon.” Alpha’s projection winked out, leaving just the four of them.
“Do you think that was the right thing to do?” Hakurei asked, setting his cup on the desk.
“She would just ask awkward questions, and one way or another we’d have to answer them. We’re lucky she hasn’t asked about your strength, Ray-kun. The same goes for you, ‘Kurei,” Ichirou replied levelly. “It’s not something we could hide forever, anyway,” he concluded, dismissing the conversation as Mitarai entered the room again, this time elaborately dressed in robes of the deepest black, her hands covered in gloves of silver silk. Emblems of white dragons were embroidered on the palms of the gloves, which Rayne saw as Mitarai once again bowed upon entry.
“I take it that your Shivan friend logged out?”
“For now,” Ryouta replied. “She had to go look something up.”
“I see,” she replied with a harmless frown. “Regrettable, but unavoidable, I suppose. Either way, I’ve brought someone to show you to your rooms. This is Tsukiko, and during your stay here she will be your personal servant. Aside from that, there’s nothing else to tell you. Tsukiko, if you would kindly show my guests to their rooms…” The young, short-haired girl bowed as custom here dictated, and led them to a lit hallway with several rooms. No luxury was spared in the creation, it seemed; each room was a small piece of tranquillity – Zen style.
In the meanwhile, Mitarai pulled the obi of her kimono off, revealing that she still had not been given the chance to change out of the bloodied clothing. Stalking out of the room in anger at being defeated, she allowed a bit of the mask she normally wore to drop, storming about the large, palace-like pagoda and wandering the halls as she seethed. Many servants avoided her altogether; they had never seen her defeated this badly before. Occasionally it happened, when Jitsu failed or such – but never before had the shishou been defeated in combat. Another crack in her emotional mask appeared and a steady thrum of power filled the building, the lights across the pagoda responding to the influx of energy. Jitsu came to her before she found the girl; really, it was uncanny how the long-haired seer always managed to find her first.
“You wish to see me, Aozumi-sama?”
“…Are you terribly busy, Miyabi-san?” The fact that her master had used her family name rather than her normal address as senkensha was not lost on her.
“Not really,” the girl replied with a soft voice. “I will spar with you if you wish it.”
“It would be helpful,” Mitarai admitted, her voice just as soft as her charge’s. “I have not been defeated in such a manner before this. Would you do me this favour?”
“Of course,” the girl replied, shyly leading her master to the underground training rooms. It didn’t matter how badly they beat these rooms up, for they were not a part of the foundation of the building, and none of the servants aside from Jitsu herself knew of the place. When they arrived in the dojo-style arena, Mitarai sighed, methodically shucking off her damaged clothing and pulling new articles of clothing off of the rack. Jitsu simply whipped her kimono and obi off of her body, revealing the ancient-styled seer’s clothing beneath it and a rather simply-made necklace of black rawhide and blackened beads. Reaching her hand shyly up to the three beads on the necklace, she began to break one – these were the girl’s true power.
It had been several years in Darque since Mitarai had found the girl – she had been out-of-control, wildly thirsting for blood and not resting until her thirst had been quenched, usually in the form of small towns and villages. These beads each held a third of her power, though normally she could ward off challengers without removing any beads beyond the first. Each black porcelain bead would regenerate itself as she forced her power levels down; if she was to remove a single bead, the bead would re-appear on the chain once she suppressed her power back to non-existent levels. And now, she reached up to remove two.
“You’re going to use that?” Mitarai asked, watching Jitsu carefully but understanding completely. Within the long-haired senkensha there would always be the insatiable desire to release that power, almost like a starving man would desire food; the only difference was that it was completely within Jitsu’s abilities to release that power and quench that thirst for the moment. She called her power ‘Phaeton’ – apparently there was some legend behind the name that fascinated the girl.
“If it’s alright with you, I would like to release it to level 2,” the girl replied, toeing off her shoes – she wouldn’t need them like this. Mitarai nodded, and the girl’s slender hand snaked up to crush two of the three blackened beads. At the same time, Mitarai used her power to create a weapon of ice as well as armguards and full-body armour – here, there was no chance of being able to use her dragon form.
This was going to be brutal, both of them knew, and yet they had no choice. They were bound by their own codes to attack each other, though without intent to kill, they both knew that it would never come to that. It was the only constant in this life, and both females fully intended to use it.
“You hear that?” Rayne sat up in bed, startled. Across from her, Alpha sat on the bed, looking at her feet. In what sounded to be the far distance, a fight was going on, though she never would have noticed it had it not been for the wiry hologram.
“Yeah,” she sighed, flopping back down into the low bed. “So what did you learn?”
“You’re telling the truth,” Alpha replied softly. “But I learned something else.” Without waiting for Rayne to prompt her for information, she continued. “They don’t know where you are, because they don’t know what you look like. But they’re looking for you. You and your little group of miscreants… you’re on the hit list, for lack of a better term. The minute you guys step out of Darque, it’s over.” No wonder she looked so glum.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rayne insisted with a half-smile. “As long as we all die together, it doesn’t matter to me.”
“What do you mean? It should matter! There are probably a few hundred Theresse World Order officials out there, looking for you in the real world! How can you not care?”
“It’s because we have nothing to live for ‘out there’, Alpha-san. On the outside, in the real world, there’s nothing but hunger, greed, and poverty. The only reason we survived was because we weren’t so stupid – we learned that if we banded together, shared our food rations, and looked out for each other, nobody would get a knife in the back. People will do anything ‘out there’ for a scrap of meat, let alone an entire day’s rations. That’s what it’s like in Theresse, Alpha-san.” Contemplating her next comment, she sighed and shut her mouth, feeling defeated.
“As long as you stay in Darque… I might be able to do something for you,” Alpha decided instantly. “If you remain in Darque, I can mask your identities within the system. Essentially, you’re gonna go ‘off the record’ for the rest of your virtual life. I can hide you and put up hologram-fields in front of your Clan’s room. You’ll be safe as long as you don’t leave Darque, alright?”
“Thank you, Alpha,” the redhead said after a moment of thinking. “I really do mean it,” she continued, as if to reinforce her point. “I need to sleep now, though… as they would say in my old home, ‘oyasumi.'”
“Goodnight to you, too,” Alpha shot back with a smile, leaving the room to watch the hallways. For whatever reason, she didn’t like this place.
“Shishou?” Jitsu watched Mitarai pick herself up and off of the ground, shaking her hair free of the clots of blood that had decorated it so well. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, Miyabi-san, I’m fine. Thank you for the fight,” the shishou replied, once again pulling off bloodied clothes in favour of clean ones – preferably clean clothes without holes in them. Flashing a rare smile at the girl she considered to be her only true friend, the blonde wandered off towards her rooms – her sanctuary.
“Oyasumi, Aozumi-sama,” the girl called after her master, but by then, the blonde was already gone.
“Yamezuki-san, Yamezuki-kun,” Mitarai said respectfully to the twins, inclining her head slightly as if bowing. Rayne and Hakurei bowed to their hostess, knowing the tradition by now if nothing else. “Shizume-san,” she called to Ichirou as he entered the large common room. “Haranzu-kun,” she addressed Ryouta, smiling. “And… you are?”
“Alpha,” the Shivan answered, offering a smile that was still calculating and wary. “You may call me Alpha.”
“Good morning, either way,” Mitarai replied, inclining her head to the Shivan. “I have come to a decision regarding your request for help.”
“Yes?” Ichirou was almost on his feet; if this ‘Aozumi Mitarai’ took a hostile stance towards them, he would attack her once more with the knowledge that he could lead her to defeat. Rayne noticed immediately and shot him a sharp look that tried to convey her desire to have him think before acting. The blonde, too, seemed to sense this, and left a large gap between the two of them.
“I’ve decided to accompany you, if you’ll have me,” she replied, suddenly seeming as shy and demure as her servants. It took Ichirou a split second to realise what it was – she had dropped the honorific speech pattern that she had been using previously.
“What’s the catch?” Hakurei asked quietly, his eyes never leaving hers.
“I’d like it if Jitsu could accompany me,” she replied cautiously, as if testing the water for temperature. “She would make an invaluable member to your Clan, and we would join your Clan in the hopes that you will succeed in your goal.” A terse, long second of utter silence followed her comment.
“I think it’s reasonable,” Alpha said, breaking the silence. “We’ll need as many skilled fighters as we can get, and we can’t afford to turn these two down.”
“I agree,” Rayne replied. “She seems to be sincere.”
“Alright, you’re in,” Ichirou sighed, brushing a hand over his right temple. “Pack a few things each; we’re leaving soon.”
Administrator Beta requesting support in sector D-29-F.
The mechanical voice rang throughout the technological server centre’s ‘brains’, or the network surrounding this layer of Darque’s infrastructure. Three bodies lay suspended in a gel-like solution, bathed by the cool lights and waters of the system. While they were partially mechanical, it was clear that the base of each was something else entirely.
The first, with the archaic symbol for ‘Alpha’ above it, was little more than a child – she was probably 13 or 14. Her slender legs had been removed – she had actually run off a few times – and had been instead been replaced with wire connection ports. Of course, she had no memory of escaping; it had been erased to further the purposes of the system. Her silvery eyes were open and moved back and forth, processing data at the speed of a computer, and her long, red, uneven hair floated about her body – it had obviously been allowed to grow from the time that she had been made into a cyborg. The green tattooed lines across her body glowed in the solution that she was partially immersed in.
The second was a boy. The symbol for ‘Beta’ was above him and his dark brown hair had been shorn, leaving it close-cropped with almost mechanical precision. He had long been considered a failure as a system operator, despite the research team’s best efforts to reproduce the success that had been Alpha. The lines on his skin were golden to match his chocolate brown skin.
The third was another boy; the symbol for ‘Delta’ stood above his head. His eyes were continuously open, unseeing, and they moved back and forth as he processed the constant data stream. His skin was the same pale tone as Alpha’s, accenting his grey eyes and waist-length red hair. Where Beta had been considered a failure, he had been thought of as a success – his abilities to sift through and garner information while simultaneously managing the different areas of Darque had been close to Alpha’s ability. He had been considered the science team’s only success; any attempts to create another administrator had been met with minimal success, if that. He, like Alpha, had green tattooed lines that glowed – they were just a way of marking the system administrators apart from the rest of the operators.
Other inert bodies lined an adjacent hallway, although they had no silver plaques representing their names; they were just background operators with the ability to maintain the automated characters or keep the scenery up and running.
Administrator Delta granting assistance request in sector D-29-F. Problem identified. Entering system. Transferring control of basic administrative functions to system operators ten through twenty-seven. Logging in now.
It was only minutes later that two figures winked into existence inside Darque, right in front of the small Clan.
“Beta!” Ichirou gasped, holding his ground cautiously – this had been the administrator that had introduced him to Darque. He knew that if this came to blows, there wasn’t a chance that the Clan would survive. “What are you doing here?”
The two holograms ignored Ichirou completely, instead looking straight at Alpha as if there were no others there.
“We came to remove your underground process. It is affecting your performance by an estimated 5.064 percent. We are requesting immediate removal to achieve optimal efficiency,” the pale-skinned boy told her. Rayne guessed that he was Delta based on the symbol on his forehead, much like the one she had seen on Alpha her first time in Darque. Standing in front of Alpha, as if to shield her from the two other holograms, the Clan watched carefully, ready to spring into action to protect their comrade, even if it was a pointless endeavour.
“Has anyone ever told you that we have our own lives, dear brother?” Delta narrowed his eyes and watched her as her holographic form flickered into existence where her Shivan form should have been. Rayne watched, fascinated; Alpha and Delta looked like identical twins. She made a mental note to ask Alpha about it later and instead devoted herself to watching the interaction between the three main system administrators.
“Many times,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. Apparently he had a personality, Rayne noted. “Don’t you remember anything from your latest escapade?” Alpha looked rather confused, while Beta’s visage was stern and otherwise expressionless. “Either way, I cannot allow this to continue.”
“Aren’t you at least curious as to who the creator of my program was? You could make more administrators with my capabilities that way,” she offered quietly, winding her way around the Clan. Placing a finger against Delta’s chin gently, she leaned in and smiled. “Of course, right now, you don’t have a chance.” Smiling sweetly, she turned her eyes to Beta and her expression changed to a furious glare. “Especially you, failure,” she hissed angrily, and with that, he disappeared in a flurry of static. “Now, I suggest you back out now and don’t even think of bothering me until I’m done. If you log out now, I’ll leave your programming intact.”
“If you think that you are still the cornerstone of the THERESSE Project, you are sorely mistaken, sister.” His projection winked out, leaving a confused Clan and more questions than answers.
Alpha, on her part, sunk to her knees after the projection disappeared and stared at the ground before beginning to silently weep.
“If you don’t want to answer, it’s perfectly fine,” Ichirou insisted, watching the wiry Shivan-type as she sat beside the blue dragonfire that Mitarai had set up for the night. Around their small camp, people were settling down for the night in their tents – as usual, there were two. One was for the girls [Alpha, Rayne, and now Jitsu and Mitarai], and one was for the males [Ichirou, Hakurei, and Ryouta], although Alpha usually didn’t sleep, seeing as she didn’t have to. She usually opted instead for guard duty; there was no telling who or what would attack under cover of darkness.
“I can answer at least one of your questions,” the Shivan replied coldly, still staring at the flickering blue flames. “One question,” she decided. “No more, no less.” Drawing little symbols in the air in front of herself, she murmured a few words and the flame grew larger, and then, at her bidding, grew smaller. As she repeated this process numerous times, Mitarai walked over, exasperated by the changes in light, and put the fire out altogether, plunging them into the night. As she did so, Ichirou’s and Mitarai’s eyes glowed in their respective blue and lavender, revealing their dragonic sides in their faces. Vampyres could see well at night, also, and so that left only Ryouta, who was currently attempting to light a fire with flint. Mitarai, in turn, snorted and shuffled back to the tent. “Here, let me,” Alpha snapped, waving Ryouta back to his own tent, and with three drawn lines and a murmured word, cheery blue flames once again sprung into existence. “Ask away.”
“I don’t know,” Ichirou replied quietly, watching the girl for any kind of reaction. “Just explain what you meant by your comment about having your own lives.”
“And he had to go and pick the hardest question to answer,” Alpha said, talking to the sky above her, sparks from the fire responding to her mood by burning brighter in the sky and even starting several small fires around them in the grass. Cursing quietly, the Shivan threw a spell of water at them and glared at the small brush fires until they sputtered and went out, hissing as the water doused them. Letting her head roll back from where she had been looking at the small fires, she made eye contact and began. “I don’t know exactly why we exist in the way we do. There isn’t much that I do actually know about my existence. I know that my life right now is a holographic projection, and I know that my appearance here, in holographic form, is the same as it is in real life.” Ichirou looked as though he was about to say something, and so she waited until he closed his mouth before continuing. “I know that all three main administrators were originally human – self included – and that we aren’t human anymore because we were all made into supercomputers. We hold all of the data for Darque within our minds, as well as the ability and programming to write new coding to fix bugs in the system. If we had a true human existence any longer, we would be considered to be among the smartest humans alive. Along with the ability to be here, speaking with you, I’m also coordinating the maintenance and upkeep of about a third of Darque.”
“I’m following you,” Ichirou replied, watching her far more carefully than before. Her voice was bordering on hysterical, as if this existence wasn’t something she was ready to accept, hence her desire to play Darque, join a group that could be called suicidal based on the enemies they already had, and embark on a fruitless mission to find her creator. The young clan leader couldn’t find it in his heart to blame her, either.
“I don’t remember much of anything about my human existence, but I do know two things: my sibling, and my name.”
“Really?” the white-haired teenager asked softly, both fascinated and horrified by the truth behind Darque. “Again, there’s no need to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“My sibling is Delta, although I no longer remember his name… I hope he does, truly, because one day I’m not going to need the name Alpha. One day, I’m going to get out of Darque and become a regular person. When I do, I’m taking him with me. It’s because I’m his twin sister – not like Ray-kun and Hak-kun, where they adopted each other – we’re real twins. Once upon a time, I wasn’t Alpha.” Pausing for a breath, she extended a trembling hand to shake Ichirou’s. “Nice to meet you, Shizume Ichirou. I’m Shikyo Kaoru.”