Chapter 9: Gate Hacker Confrontation: Reason
Three weeks, it was three weeks since Ferdinand had seen his little brother online. After the defeat of the Gate Hacker Spike, Kageichi had not returned to play FO for over three weeks. He knew what he said in their argument was true, but the foxnuki knew how his younger brother was; the panda could be very emotional with things such as this, and an upset would have him in a short depressive state. Still, Ferdinand had no clue it would be this bad. It was near the end of March now, and logging on to the feudal era he made his way towards Lappy's shop.
"Oh, how's it going Ferdi?" The rabbit noticed his friend through the crowd of players and waved him over.
"Lappy, hey there…" He answered. "I'm just gonna get to the point… did you see Ichi around?"
"Sorry…" Lappy sighed looking into the reflections of one of his plates. "You know how I switch from one of my shops to another each day, today's my time here and I haven't seen Kageichi all day."
"Damn… its five days till April and he's still gone." Ferdi looked back to that day they argued, he could still remember how distant the panda looked after they last talked and just knowing he caused this made the foxnuki sad. 'I hope you didn't do anything to hurt yourself lil'bro…'
"Balot?" A woman of French descent called out as she made her way into a bedroom, the posters of boy bands and stuffed animals on the bed showing it belonged to a young girl. "I'm about to head to work, is there anything you need before I go?"
"No mom, I'll be fine." The teenage girl who resided in the bedroom rested on a large red beanbag, a VR helmet rested in her lap decorated with flower stickers and sparkles on it thanks to her friends. "I'll see you when you get home."
"Ok dear… I put your dinner in the microwave when you're hungry." Her mother told. "Don't be on too long ok, I know you like that game but you might end up stuck in it playing too long."
"Mom, I'll be fine don't worry."
"Alright… call me if you need anything."
"I will, see you tomorrow." As her mother left, Balot relaxed into her beanbag and placed the VR helmet on her head. As the lights began to flicker, she closed her eyes and rested back as the helmet activated. "Establishing VR link."
Balot's mind dived into the virtual world, opening her eyes she found herself in the Modern era of FO. She looked around and noticed the reflection of her rabbit character through a shop's glass window.
"Hm, I think I'll put on something different today." The rabbit opened her menu screen and clicked on one of the outfit skins in her inventory, her body shinned in light as her outfit changed into a white summer dress with her red rifle still sitting on her back. A straw hat appeared on top of her head with her long ears popping out from the holes out of them. "There we go. Alright let's find a quest to do."
Balot started her way toward the town square, unaware of the three mysterious players following her. Reaching the quest board, she finally noticed the three shadows behind her and turned to see a trio of boars. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Nah, but we can certainly help you right boys?" The leader of the group smirked, the two piercings on his nose signaling out of the others.
"Yeah, you wanna play with us babe?" The second boar asked, his character shown with a broken left tusk while the third boar had a gold chain around his neck. "Wouldn't it be more fun playing with a couple of strong men in your party?"
"Ugh, buzz off dorks." She answered bluntly.
"Oh come on, we'll show you a good time."
Wanting to get this over with, Balot reached behind for her rifle but suddenly stopped as she saw a red furred paw grab the third boar's shoulder. It was Kageichi who had appeared out of nowhere.
"Excuse me, I think she'd rather party with someone else." He said smiling.
"Back off fat ass, this isn't your business in the first place." The first boar growled.
"And what makes you think it's yours?" Ichi's grip grew tighter on the third boar's shoulder until he was able to throw him into the air and right out of town. "I think you little kids should get out of here now."
"In your dreams you fat-!?" The pierced boar felt his chin crash into the panda's fist launching him straight into the sky. The second boar stepped back nervously as Ichi turned to his direction.
"Now I know since we're in town I can't really hurt you, but the throw back from my hits can still launch you pretty far… wanna have a go at it?" Kageichi's threat definitely frightened the boar as he quickly ran away from the two, the panda sighed and smiled. "Hey there bunny lass, how's it going?"
"Didn't I tell you once not to call me bunny lass?" She sighed. 'And to think I thought he was cool for a second.'
"Right sorry about that." He chuckled nervously. "So, what're you up to Balot?"
"If you must know I'm looking for a quest to do." Balot went back to the quest board searching for something to do. "Thanks again for taking care of those jerks, but if you'll excuse me I'm gonna be heading off soon."
"I just said that I was-wait what!?" She looked back just in time as the panda was leaving. "H-Hey wait a second!"
"What?" He asked.
"What do you mean what? What's wrong with you?" Balot questioned. "I know we only met like three times now but I always figured you the type to get into people's business and join them in whatever they were doing."
"Yeah, well… I just wanna hang out in the town for a while…" He turned away and started to walk again. "I just don't have the urge to quest or fight monsters right now…"
"Oh, well ok... wait a minute no it's not!" Right before he left, she pulled the panda back by his ear. "I'm not letting you get away so easily."
"Owowow, let go of me bunny lass!"
"I said stop calling me that, now come here stupid!" The rabbit pulled Ichi's ear and threw his head into the quest board. "Now listen up, you and me are gonna party up today and take this quest!"
"I can't see it if you crush my face to the board!" He pulled his face away enough to get a good look at the board and saw the quest Balot was talking about. "What the lord of the wolves? I don't really think I want to do this quest, sounds pretty difficult."
"Oh yeah, not even for what the treasure you get out of it?"
"Hm?" He looked down into the prize section of the quest and noticed an item that peeked his interest. "Master of the Bear Style Vol.5, I've been looking all over for that. But still, I…"
"No buts, you're coming with me and that's final." Balot said bluntly. "Now let's go buy some items before we go."
"News flash Balot, you seem to be forgetting something." He pointed back to the quest requirements. "You have one of the requirements which is to have a bear character in your party, but another requirement is to have a party member of the dancer class."
"Dancer class, um that'll be a problem then…" The rabbit girl sighed. "This is your fault!"
"You got me so worked up trying to help you that I didn't notice the requirements!" She retorted. "Since it's your fault you should find us a dancer got it?"
"I don't even wanna join, so why the hell should I do it?" Just as he said that, Ichi felt the cold steel of Balot's rifle poking at his nose. "On second thought… I might know a character with a dancer class."
"Good, let's hope she'll join us."
"I really wouldn't say "she"…"
"Ferdinand is something wrong?" the foxnuki turned in his seat and noticed a familiar player in front of him. It was Nuos; he sat down at a seat next to Ferdi and removed his shades. "You had messaged me for a meeting but never told me for what for?"
"I wanted to tell you… about another meeting with the Gate Hackers." Noticing how the lynx agent suddenly became more intrigued, Ferdi begun his explanation telling all that happened between his last confrontation with the gate hacker member, Spike. This explanation caused Nuos to jump to his feet in surprise.
"They can use the pain absorber!?" He exclaimed, growling through his teeth. "This is worse than we expected then."
"Why would you create something in the system that allows you to level how much of the pain you feel?" Ferdinand questioned the reason for it as Lappy came by with two glasses of orange juice for the two.
"The pain absorber was used to test how far the level of pain a player could take, once we found the right level the player could handle we decided to remove the program." Nuos answered. "The fact that has the pain absorber program only proves that it's someone in the company… but who?"
"As if today couldn't get any worse…" The foxnuki sighed as he looked into his reflection from his glass. 'Kageichi… I hope you're not doing anything stupid.'
"Um… Kageichi?" Balot looked to the panda's direction seeing his serious expression, but turning back to the establishment of the Chilly Willy strip club she couldn't help thinking his seriousness is out of place. "Is this really where…"
"Yep…" He answered.
"Then, the person we're looking for is…"
"Yeah…" He answered again.
"Are you sure this is the only…"
"Yes!" He exclaimed irritatingly. "This guy is the only person I know who's a dancer class, though I've never really talked to him before."
"But, someone who works in a place like this…" The rabbit girl couldn't help worrying what others would think if she goes into such an establishment.
"I can't stop you if you're scared." Ichi turned his back to the club and started walking away. "If that's the case, I guess I'll call it a day and log off."
"Oh no you don't, get your ass back here and let's get this guy!" Grabbing the fur on his head, Balot entered the club pulling the panda behind her. The sounds of watching several men crowd about cheering as a white polar bear in nothing but a thong danced with a fan in his hands almost had her jump right out, but she held her ground knowing that Kageichi would only try to leave once again. "So, t-that's him?"
"Yep, I guess he's busy so how about we just wait until the show is over?" He motioned over to a nearby table but the rabbit looked even more annoyed.
"Forget that…" Balot pulled her rifle from her back and shot a few rounds in the ceiling, the music soon stopped as all the attention came to her. "Alright listen up; I'm here for the player named Chikubi. We need to talk right now!"
"Real smooth bunny lass…" Ichi muttered.
"Shut up and sit down." He chuckled at her annoyance and sat down at an empty table with the bunny. Balot sighed, embarrassed not only on the fact that she was at a strip club but also on the fact that when Chikubi came over to them he was still wearing nothing but a pair of red Speedos. "S-So, you're Chikubi then?"
"That's me, what can I help ya for cutie?" The polar bear asked.
"Oh thank you, I… wait, you mean him don't you?" Ichi looked up surprised as she pointed to him.
"Well I never said you were cute, but the red panda there does have you beat." He chuckled winking playfully at the panda. "So then, what's so important that you had to come here with guns blazing?"
"Alright, we're looking for your help in a quest." Balot explained. "The quest requires one party member to be a bear and one of the party member's classes to be a dancer."
"So that's why you called on me, well I'm certainly honored." Chikubi replied.
"You're the only dancer we know, so we've come to ask for your help." She continued on. "Of course for joining us you'll get a split of the money for completing the quest, but you'll also get this. The 5th volume of the Master of the Bear Style, you and Kageichi will split it between yourselves once this is done."
"Ooh I see!" Chikubi quipped. "But you know I'm actually not interested in those books, I haven't even tried getting the first volume. Besides, I'm happy with the skills I have right now."
"Then at least help us, we'll still share half the money with you." She assured.
"Sorry, but I've got plenty of money from my job here. I really don't have any reason to…" Chikubi's words fell short as he noticed the look in Ichi's eyes; he could see the panda's uncertainty and uneasiness in playing. The panda looked like he didn't want to play at all. "You know what? I think I will join you guys."
"For real!?" The rabbit exclaimed almost too energetically before composing herself. "W-Why'd you change your mind?"
"Oh… no reason really." The polar bear chuckled and held his hand out to Kageichi. "Well, let's work together ok cutie?"
"Huh?" The sudden gesture surprised the panda for a minute, but he smiled nervously and shook paws with the fellow player. "Y-Yeah, let's have fun."
"Alright, let's go then!" Balot stood up in eagerness ready to go as soon as possible. "But before we leave, Chikubi… you do have more clothes than that… right?"
"Tch…" Inside of the Gate Hacker's headquarters, Spike groaned in annoyance while slouching on the couch. Sebastian had passed the time like he usually did by cleaning up the dishes and silverware. It was then that the hedgehog had enough and angrily rose up to his feet. "Dammit, I should be happy but I'm still pissed!"
"What are you on about now?" The lion asked.
"Don't start with me; this is your fault in the first place!" He argued. "I was having the time of my life and you ruined it! I finally put that panda asshole down a peg or two and right before I could finish it you kill me!"
"It was the master's orders, especially since you disobeyed and used the pain absorber." Sebastian continued his cleaning as he went on. "The program was supposed to be used when the time was right."
"Well it's been a week since then, so can you at least remove the area limiter?" Spike said almost in a pleading fashion. "Please man, I'm tired of being stuck in this one room I need to move!"
"Master's orders, you will stay here for 2 more weeks until you learned your lesson." He told. "Now then, what of the job you were supposed to do?"
"Yeah yeah I did it, that one hack in Snowy Fields is already up." The hedgehog answered.
"Good." The elderly lion smiled as he continued to clean.
"Stupid old baldy…" His body quickly stood still as he felt a thin yet tight grip around his neck, one of Sebastian's garrote wires tied around him.
"What was that now?" The lion asked.
"N-Nothing… I said nothing!"
After inviting Chikubi into their party, Balot lead the two into the area known as the Snowy Fields; A large forest known for always being draped in a sheet of snow, it held a quiet yet serene beauty but they could sense the danger that lurked behind the shadows of the trees. The rabbit opened a screen in front of her showing the area map, the target marked red wasn't very far from where we are. "Okay, from what the map says we have to head northwest from here. You guys stay close, this area tends to go into a snowstorm sometimes which makes it hard to find each other if we separate."
"Aye aye captain!" Chikubi smirked as he nudged at Ichi's side. "So I noticed your outfit with that midriff, you sure that cute big belly of yours isn't gonna get cold?"
"T-Thanks for worrying, but I'll be fine." The panda assured as they followed Balot onward. "One of the martial artist passive skills is a strong durability in weather like this. But what about you Chikubi, I mean your outfit isn't exactly… weather conditioned."
"Oh this old thing?" The polar bear wore a black kimono that had a red rose pattern with the petals blowing in the wind. He lifted the hem to show his fat yet muscular legs showing him wearing a pair of sandals on his feet. "I may not have that durability for weather, but I make sure to keep myself prepared for stuff like this. I had an artisan make this with a magic enchantment that works as thermals. I'm as snug as a rug."
"Really, that's actually pretty cool." Kageichi smiled as he looked to Balot in front of them, surprised that she was still wearing the summer dress from before. "Hey bunny lass, you sure you want to wear that outfit out here?"
"I'm wearing a lot more than this it's just an outfit skin, and will you stop calling me that already?" The rabbit was ready to hit him with the back of her rifle, but just as she turned to them she caught a glimpse of a flash of black through the white snow. "Be careful, something's here."
The three stopped in wait, watching their surrounding area in wait for whatever came their way. The wind had held still as the moon shinned above them, mighty howls echoed around them as flashes of black moved swiftly through the trees. Balot's hand reached for her rifle just as a shadow enveloped her from above. Pulling out the gun above her head she fired and landed a direct hit between the monster's eyes. It was a wolf covered in jet black fur before the attack landed taking off its head and it exploded in data.
"Heads up, Beowolves!" The black wolves swarmed from above, separating the three from each other as they crashed into the ground. Taking the initiative, Balot turned her rifle into its scythe mode and fired another shot. The powerful recoil shot her into three wolves, with a second shot she spun her body and cut two in half at once. The last wolf at her side attacked at her with its sharp claws, but the quick rabbit dodged each attack; she swung her scythe as the blade stuck into a tree, the Beowulf continued clawing at her body but she jumped back and circled around the tree with the monster following from behind unaware that it was right in front of the head of her scythe she pulled the trigger several times leaving nothing but holes in the wolf's body before disappearing into bits of data. Pulling her weapon from the tree, the rabbit noticed the large polar bear dodging his own group of three not knowing a fourth one was about to attack from behind. "Chikubi look out, behind you!"
Hearing his party member's warning, Chikubi swung his left arm pulling out a katana from his sleeve. Grasping a firm grip he swung and swiftly beheaded the Beowulf, he continued dodging the other three wolves while countering with sword strikes slowly draining them of their help though to the rabbit's point of view it looked he was toying with them; Chikubi twirled around each wolf, pushing them into each other with a bump of his big hips or occasionally his fat behind even taunting them with a wiggle and spank of that rump of his.
"Son of a- This isn't a striptease it's a fight!" Balot shouted out.
"Why can't it be both, I am a dancer after all." The bear waved his right arm pulling a large steel fan out of his sleeve and began to wave it in fluid motion. As the wolves attacked, his body danced gracefully moving to and fro away from harm's way. His sword and fan danced in his hand, with one final twirl as the snow on the ground swirled around them all three monsters exploded into data. "Sword/Fan Combo: Death's Snow Dance!"
"Wow that was pretty cool." Balot watched just as the polar bear finished, watching as his fan disappeared back into his sleeve. "I get the fan, but how in the world did you put a sword in that kimono without it ripping?"
"While working as thermals, the kimono's inside also works as a pocket dimension to put items in." Chikubi winked playfully. "I know a really good artisan and quite the cutie too."
"I'll… keep that in mind." Turning back the rabbit watched Kageichi battle his own, but was surprised to see that the panda wasn't fighting at all; He held his sword out but wouldn't move into the offensive like she thought he would. "Hey, hurry up and finish them off!"
"I'm trying, it's just…" Ichi gritted his teeth as he quickly dodged each attack from the two wolves in front of him, he didn't know why this was happening. Each time he dodged their attacks he could see openings that could grant him victory, but each time in mid swing of his sword the same thought of his last fight with the gate hackers stopped his attack. 'Why… why can't I do it? Why is it so hard for me to fight back now?'
"Look out!" The sudden warning from the polar bear was too late; Kageichi had found himself cornered behind a large tree. The Beowolves charged at him with claws ready to tear him to shreds.
'No… not again… s-stay back…' The panda remembered the event from before; trauma from being beaten savagely by Spike was still left in his mind. The sight of the wolves about to attack him, the thought that they would hurt him the same way the hacker did broke him down as he fell back to his knees in fear. "GET AWAY FROM ME!"
Just as they were about to attack the wolves suddenly exploded into data, cut down by Chikubi and Balot's blades. Kageichi looked stupefied, trapped in a fetal position and frozen in fear by the episode he had. The polar bear picked him up to his feet but there was still no response from him.
"Kageichi, are you alright hun?" The polar bear shook him a little, but there was still no response. "I don't think he's lagging, he looks traumatized by something."
"Here let me." Balot pulled him by the hand and slapped the panda's face repeatedly. "Wake up you idiot, this isn't the time or place to space out like this!"
"You sure it's ok to slap him like that?" Chikubi asked.
"Sometimes you have to be rough to get someone off their ass." With one more slap, Kageichi had regained his composure. "There we go, I told you everything would be fine. He's all better now, right Kageichi?"
"L-Let me go…" He muttered incoherently.
"What are you…?" Before she could finish, Ichi released his hand from Balot's grip and made his way through the opposite direction of his party members. "Hey stop, what do you think you're doing? Hey, Kageichi…"
"Leave me alone go away!" He shouted frantically. "Stay away from me, I'm through with this stupid game. I'm getting out of here, screw this stupid quest."
"Wait a second!" She quickly grabbed his hand again before he could escape. "Hey, what's your deal? You're gonna let one little scare make you quit, I thought you were better than that."
"Shut up you don't know me, you don't know what I went through!" Ichi growled but it soon turned into small whimpers as he fell to his knees in the snow. "I don't want to get hurt like that again… I don't want to die… I don't wanna play a game like this."
"Hurt like what? What're you talking about…" Balot stopped her arguing as she noticed Chikubi's paw rest on her shoulder; he shook his head telling her to stop. "But why, I'm just trying to figure out why he's…"
"I know… but maybe you should let me handle this." A little surprised, the rabbit nodded and stood back leaving the large bear to do what he want. "So Ichi, you really don't want to play anymore?"
"That's right I don't wanna play a game like this anymore." He answered. "Don't even try to change my mind I've got my reasons for my decision."
"That's true it is your decision, I can tell whatever happened before must've been terrible." Chikubi patted the panda's back trying to comfort him slowly. "I won't stop you from quitting and neither will Balot, but would you be so kind as to let me tell you my reason for playing?"
"…" Kageichi's stood watching the bear silently before sighing softly. "Fine…"
"Well then, the reason I play is quite literally because of this." The polar bear told as he gestured to himself.
"What, dance around half naked at a strip club?" Balot joked.
"Well that's one reason, but the main reason is because in this game… I can enjoy the feeling of walking again." He answered.
"W-Wait… What?" The panda asked, even the rabbit watching the two was surprised. "Chikubi, you mean that…"
"Yep, in real life I'm stuck sitting in a wheelchair." Chikubi smiled as he continued. "I was born with my spine unaligned I wasn't able to walk very well as a kid until finally I ended up in a wheelchair when I was ten and stayed that way for years."
"So you just stayed that way and you haven't tried fixing your back at all?" Balot questioned. "You could've had surgery and have gotten your spine aligned, you could've walked in real life by now."
"True but… I like being the way I am, plus surgery cost way too much for my taste." He answered. "And besides, if I walk in real life again then I wouldn't be able to see all the friends I've made here on FO. I'd be a different person than who I am now and I don't want that at all."
"You keep playing… to be yourself?" Kageichi answered after all this time.
"That's right, and I know there's a reason for you too Ichi." Chikubi wrapped the bear in a warm embrace and smiled. "But the only way you'll find it is to keep playing… but we won't stop you if you decide to quit now. So what do you say?"
After listening to the bear's words, Kageichi pushed him away and looked back to his way out of the area. He wanted to leave, but he felt a sudden unknown emotion that stopped his feet from moving. With nothing else to do, he turned back to the two in front of him and nodded.
"I'm still not sure… but I decided to at least finish this quest with you guys." He finally answered. "Then I'll figure something out…"
"That's good, hey Balot which way do we go again?" The polar bear asked.
"Um right… according to the map…" She opened the map once again and looked in surprise. "Oh, it's right through these trees apparently this way."
Following the map, the three party members found themselves on a large cliff with nowhere to go. On the top of the cliff they could see a large tombstone covered in snow.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Kageichi asked.
"That's what the map says…" Balot looked back at the map's target and back to the tombstone where Chikubi was standing now. "Hey, check if there's something on that tombstone."
"I can see a bit of writing on this." The polar bear wiped off the remaining snow from the stone and looked closer at the writing. "It seems to be some sort of... story?"
On this day I regret all that I lost as a dancer. I was supposed to be a beautiful swan, my wings dancing to the song played by the wind. But all was lost, my dreams crushed with my wings. If I could have just one wish… I would wish that someone could perform my final dance…and my final song…
My Swan Dance
"If this is a woman's grave, then this must've been her epitaph." Kageichi told. "So that's why you need a dancer in your party."
"Yep, we have to complete the dance in order to get the treasure." Balot answered. "Alright Chikubi, it's up to you."
"I don't know… I think there's something more than that." He read through the epitaph a second time. "I think there's more we have to do, just look at the last sentence again."
"My final dance… and my final song… meaning…" The rabbit pondered silently. "The swan dance has to be performed… with a certain song?"
"The swan song." The two looked at Kageichi dumbfounded at his answer. "I-I mean, come doesn't that make the most sense here?"
"He's right actually, way to help out hun." Chikubi winked teasingly. "But, does anyone know the lyrics to that song?"
"I… might…" Balot answered.
"Wow bunny lass, never pegged you for a singer hehe…" The panda's chuckling fell short from the rifle pointed to his face. "I'll keep quiet now…"
"Chikubi get ready to perform the dance." She said coldly.
"Hehe, alrighty." The polar bear walked to the middle of the hill and pulled his fan from his sleeves. "I'm ready whenever you are Balot."
"Good, then start the dance." The rabbit answered. 'I didn't expect to sing this song again…'
Hearing the OK, Chikubi began his swan dance. His body swayed, motioning win sync with the snow blowing in the wind. He danced together with the snow; it swirled around him like a blanket of pure white in the wind, he danced in the air almost as if he had wings. As the bear continued to dance, Balot stood right behind him listening to the wind that blew her way.
Gatrandis babel ziggrat, edenal
Emustrolrozen fine el balbrazii
Gatrandis babel zigguratu edenal
Emustrolzen, finel zii
Combining their song and dance together, the snow swirled and transformed into a pure white swan. It flew high into the sky shining in pure white, flying higher and higher until it was gone in a flash of light. The three watched in amazement before noticing something falling from the air. A large book slowly fell into the rabbit girl's hands.
"One volume of the Master of the Bear Style, you can thank me now." She said smiling, handing the book for Kageichi and Chikubi to read.
"Hm… this attack is for all bear players, and this one…" Kageichi continued to read through to himself.
"But you know I'm a little confused here…" Chikubi said aloud. "Weren't we supposed to fight the Lord of the Wolves?"
"That's right, I actually thought we'd have to fight before getting the item but if we didn't… then that means…" Just as she was about to answer, a loud thunderous howl echoed into the sky. "The boss is coming…"
Just as Balot said, rustles through the trees grew closer and closer as ferocious howls signaled in their ears. A dozen Beowolves surrounded them and in the middle of them all was the Beowulf Lord, the wolf was at least three feet larger than the others and its claws as sharp as steel.
"Well, I guess we should've seen that one coming." The rabbit swung her rifle, spinning it in her hands as it transformed into scythe mode. "At least we'll rack up some great experience from this."
"Right you are." Chikubi chuckled as he pulled his sword from his sleeve, but he looked at Kageichi and saw his uneasiness as he raised his own katana. "Are you gonna be alright hun?"
"I-I don't know… but I'll still try…" He swallowed his fear as he held his ground in front of the mighty horde.
As they readied to attack, something strange occurred as the wolves began to glitch. As more began to glitch, the monsters began to turn and piled on the Beowulf Lord their jet black fur shifting like dark shadows around it. It grew like a black tornado forming limbs and a body until the three could see what was being created. The wolf lord became a fifty foot giant, with blades on its back and a devastating roar that blew away all the snow from the mountain in an instant.
"What just happened, i-is this part of the boss?" Chikubi questioned.
"No… it's just like that first time…" The panda quivered in fear as he remembered how a monster changed into something more powerful his first time gaming. "The monster's been hacked!"
"No way…" Balot tightened the grip on her scythe growling in irritation. 'I remember Spike having to do a job, but I didn't think it was a hacking here… damn I really messed up not asking about it.'
Though it was large, the giant wolf was fast as it swung its razor sharp claws at the three players. The two dodged with Ichi barely making in time after a slight hesitation, scattering around it from different sides. Balot took the first initiative and charged at the monster's back, she shot at its spine flying into the air and fired another into the air to launch her fast enough to cut at its shoulder. Chikubi ran at its side, the wolf's tail sprouted out shooting its fur like steel needles at the bear. He swung his fan deflecting the needles as much as he could; Chikubi opened his fan till it was a full circle and threw it like a disk. It flew and cut at the wolf's right eye, the distraction was enough for him to dash and land a cut at its stomach. The two continued to fight, but Kageichi stood right in front of the fray like a statue.
'Why won't I move…?' He thought. 'It's like my body is contradicting itself every time, I want to help fight… but I don't want to get hurt again. What if that monster is hacked with the same thing Spike used on me?"
"Hey idiot, get out of that episode you're having and move it!" Balot shouted out.
'I don't want to die… but what should I do? What should I…?' The panda looked in shock as the rabbit was attacked, thrown into the trees by the monster's sharp claws.
"Balot, hang on I'll…!?" Just as he was about to move, Chikubi fell to his knees his legs shaking as he noticed them covered in the wolf's needles. "I can't move, I'm paralyzed from the needles?"
The Beowulf Lord swung its tail and threw Chikubi behind Kageichi hitting his head onto the tombstone. Seeing the panda left standing, the wolf charged with his claws out ready to settle it all with one strike.
"Kageichi, move!" Balot shouted.
But it was too late for the warning, the sharp claws slashed deep into his body and Kageichi was flung into the air. He flew over Chikubi and the tombstone, and fell down to the sea.
It hurt… but it also doesn't hurt… I keep feeling myself contradicting my feelings. Why didn't I move away? I could've got away from that attack, but I was too scared… I could've helped my friends, but I was too scared… am I gonna remain a coward forever?
"There's a reason for you too Ichi." Chikubi's words ran in his mind. "But the only way you'll figure it out is to keep playing…"
Keep playing? To keep playing through the fear… to keep playing through the doubt… to find my answer…
"That's why…" Kageichi flipped and grabbed at a rock ledge halfway down the cliff. He pulled himself and with a powerful jump ran back to the others as fast as he could; he jumped over the ledge and toward the monster with his fists in energy. "I'll keep playing: Rapid Bear Fist!"
The panda landed a powerful blow at the wolf's chest, striking again and again at a rapid pace finishing with an uppercut on its chin sending it back towards the trees just enough for Balot to jump and land a hit at the back of its neck with her scythe. She fired a round and flew away from its range, landing beside Ichi as he helped Chikubi to his feet.
"So you finally decide to fight back, took ya long enough." She smiled. "Finally good to see you back to normal."
"Thanks but I'd be better after beating this guy, you ok Chikubi?" The panda asked.
"I'm ok, but I won't be able to move like this." Chikubi chuckled nervously. "And here I was playing so I wouldn't have to use a wheelchair."
"Sorry about that, but I think I know how to take care of that." Ichi held the bear to his feet and looked back to the wolf as it shouted a powerful howl. "I don't really have much of a plan, so all I can really say is to go hard, strong and fast. Time to use that technique from the new volume we got."
"Is that how you do it in bed too?" He teased.
"I knew that was coming a mile away, but let's go with your idea." Balot pulled a new bullet cartridge with the letters "BRST" written in the middle of it and loaded it onto her scythe. "Whatever you're gonna do then do it, I'll give you guys some time."
With the two nodding in agreement, she smirked and fired a bullet to the ground. The recoil was even more powerful than her last round of bullets skyrocketing her into the sky, she shot again diving at the Beowulf Lord at high speed and cut at its chest before it even noticed. As it attacked she fired again to dodge and fired in the opposite direction to attack its arms.
"Whoa…" Ichi said in amazement but quickly focused on the fight. "Alright, time to go all out Chikubi."
"Ready when you are." The polar bear answered as he kept his feet on the ground, the two stood side by side as they began to overflow in energy.
"I am the mighty bear, my sharp claws rip through all for victory." The two bears began to burst in power, their muscles growing showing through their fat bodies and creating craters under them. "No one can stand a blow from me! Bear Style: Martial Language!"
Kageichi was the first to charge, his speed was increased to a level that his first step had him disappear in the blink of an eye. He appeared above the wolf's head and slammed his foot down on top of its head, the impact throwing the monster onto the floor in an instant. After struggling to its feet, the monster fell again as its left arm was removed courtesy of a mighty shockwave from Chikubi's sword. Balot flew behind them and watched in surprise.
"So that's what was in that book, a stat boost?" she asked.
"That's not all it gave, it also-" A monstrous roar cut Chikubi off as the Beowulf Lord stood up once again with its armed reformed. "Uh-oh…"
"Don't let up, it looks like it's down to half its health now." Ichi replied. "Let's get it on its knees then finish it off."
"It's fast though, even with my burst shots it caught up to me a few times." Balot switched her weapon back to gun mode and fired shots to keep the wolf at bay but most were deflected by its sharp claws. "Damn, you guys got any ideas?"
"I certainly do, just hold him back and let me do my magic." Pulling his sword back to his sleeve, the polar bear brought out two steel fans. He twirled and swayed his body dancing about in front of the beast. "Come on big boy, let me show you a good time!"
"Oh my god…" The rabbit groaned before she and Kageichi jumped out of the way from the Wolf's claws. Chikubi only took a small step back to dodge and continued his dance blowing a kiss at the beast enraging it more than before.
"Balot, let's go!" Ichi dashed out and bashed the Beowulf Lord's jaw with his shoulder.
Balot switched back to scythe mode and shot herself behind the wolf and slashed at its back, the beast turned back to retaliate but stopped from glancing back to Chikubi's dance; it got its attention once again as its attack targeted the polar bear, but each time its claws would miss by a single step. The two continued their attacks hitting it from all sides, their strikes draining its health steadily to the point that it would be finished with a final strike.
"It's time!" Finding the opportunity, Kageichi jumped kicked the wolf's chin pulling it back enough to leave an opening. "Balot, get it's legs!"
The rabbit girl tightened her grip and shot herself between its legs, with another shot she spun and gave a powerful swing slashing its knees at the same time. Balot shot herself back to the two bear's side as the beast fell on all fours, with the giant unable to move Kageichi and Chikubi stood together and using the last of their energy unleashed a power double roar that blasted out like a mighty sonic boom. The Beowulf Lord began to writhe in pain and distorted wildly, as its health fell to zero the monster expanded and exploded into data.
"Alright, we did it!" The polar bear cheered just as screens popped up in front of them. "And we leveled up too, got to 48."
"What move was that?" Balot asked. "A joint move from the book you guys read?"
"Bear Style: Houkeisatsu." Ichi answered seeing his level turned to 46. "It can be used without another player it's just more powerful that way especially with the martial language boosting our power. But the boost only lasts for five minutes so it was better to finish it quick."
"And you said you didn't have much of a plan." Chikubi laughed. "In any case, I'm glad you came to the rescue just in time hun."
"Yeah, what finally brought you back to your normal self?" She included.
"Well it was thanks to Chikubi, for making me remember my reason for playing." The panda blushed through his fur smiling softly. "So thanks a lot big guy and you too bunny lass, the tough love you were giving me helped a lot too."
"Will you…" Balot smiled and chuckled softly. "Hehe, oh never mind… stupid panda."
Meanwhile, Fran and Nuos continued talking after their previous discussion with Lappy listening in and adding his own words as he catered to other customers.
"So Ferdinand, what happened to that brother of yours?" The Lynx asked noticing how his friend's ears dropping down in sadness. "I'm sorry, I thought you two had made up by now."
"No… but hopefully he's alright and not in trouble." Fran answered. "Thankfully though, Ichi isn't the type to do anything with people he doesn't know."
"I heard my name, what's up?" The familiar voice called out from close by; as the two looked back they were surprised to see Kageichi waving at them with a large polar bear at his side. "Hey there big bro, it's been a while."
"Ichi, you're here…" The foxnuki looked back to the bear at his brother's side. "Who's that you're with?"
"This is Chikubi he's a stripper at the Chilly Willy's strip club." The three looked at the panda with a rather awkward stare after he answered.
"Nice to meet you guys, come by and I'll give you a dance on the house." Chikubi teased.
"Kage… why are you hanging out… with a stripper?" Fran asked.
"We needed a dancer for the quest, and he's not a bad guy once you get to know him." The panda told. "It was actually thanks to him that I decided on what I want to do."
"What you want to do?" Lappy asked.
"Yeah… you were right big bro." He continued. "I was acting like a kid who wanted to be a hero. I wanted to be praised and appreciated for taking on something that was too big for me by myself. I acted like no one could beat me just like a Mary Sue would… and I was brought into reality in the most horrible of ways."
"Kage…" The foxnuki sighed. "I want to say-"
"I'm not finished yet…" The panda cut Fran off smiling. "I learned my lesson thanks to my quest with Chikubi and Balot, and it was thanks to them that I find my reason to keep playing. I can't say I don't want to be a hero anymore…but I want to be able to help people. I want players to be able to enjoy the world this game gives us, but more importantly… I want to help in stopping the Gate Hackers. I don't have to be the hero who stops them, but I can at least be the hero who shows the beauty of this game."
"Showing the beauty of the game… that's a very admirable reason." Nuos smiled as he removed his shades. "I think Kotarou would like to meet a boy like you."
"Well at least you're learning slowly… I'm just glad you're ok." Fran grabbed the Ichi in a hug and smiled. "By the way, who's Balot?"
"Oh she's this rabbit girl I met before, she's a bit of a tough tomboy but nice too." He answered. "She said she had business elsewhere but I managed to add her to my friends list. I wonder what she's up to now."
"Oh Balot, good to see you." Sebastian smiled as the rabbit girl entered the guild room. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"No thank you, I'm kind of trying to relax after this quest I did." She sat on the couch and looked around to notice Spike curled up in the corner of the room. "What's up with him?"
"Oh, he's just a little miffed after another of his hacks were defeated today." The lion answered.
"That damned panda did I just know it… I knew he would come back sooner or later!" Spike growled. "This time I swear I'll gut him like a fish!"
"You're still on probation for another two weeks, so none of that." He sighed as he finished cleaning of silverware. "That reminds me, you never seen this panda have you Balot?"
"Um… now that you mention it I haven't." Balot answered. "What does he look like anyway?"
"Here's a picture we took from one of surveillance cameras." Sebastian opened a screen in front of him and showed it to the rabbit girl to see her eyes widened in surprise. "Is something wrong?"
"Hehe, that's the panda who's given you trouble?" She laughed heartily at the picture shown to her. "He looks like a teddy bear and you still lose to him, you must suck at this Spike."
"Shut up!" He growled.
"Now now, I think I'll make something to drink after all." Sebastian replied.
"Sure, after that I could use a drink." Balot faked a smile, but deep down was frantically nervous. 'I can't believe I didn't notice this before. Kageichi and his friends were the one's who's been messing with our hacks. Should I tell them about how I was with him?'
"What's wrong is there something you want to say?" The lion asked as he grabbed the tea mix.
"Yeah… make sure it's earl grey please." She sighed as he went back to preparing the drinks. 'I think I'll keep this little secret to myself, maybe I can get some information from that idiot if I keep being his friend. Besides, now that I know what happened to him… I think the poor guy deserves a break.'