AN: A kind request of those who read this. Please review and critque this story. It would be very appricated if crits were included on what I can do to make this better. Thanks ahead of time. EL Naples


Chapter 2 –Ruben

In the silent darkness of the virtual room the cat boy floated in the air, legs crossed, watching a waterfall of code fall around him. His feline like features scowled as he rubbed his chin. He'd been in the room for three days already, scoping out the fragments of coding that made up the game world of Lunar Crest, searching for a particular strand that he hoped to find –so far it had been no luck. He smacked his lips as his tail twitched under him, and his rainbow tipped ears shifted down slightly.

"Where are you?" He whispered, half to himself, half to the program that he was looking for. "I know you have to be in here somewhere. You can't have vanished. There is no way I wouldn't have noticed it."

He swiped his hand over his lap and a glowing outline of a keyboard appeared before him. Cracking his knuckles the boy popped on a pair of bright green and red head phones, tuned out the world around him, and began to type. He immersed himself in the numbers as his fingers danced across the keypad, clicky-clacking the whole while. His red eyes narrowed, and brow furrowed, as he lasered in on a target line that seemed broken.

"Odd," he muttered as he typed more, trying to correct it, but a bright, flashing, error message appeared when he hit enter. The sharp noise it gave off threw him back from the flowing bits of code, and he curled up to stop the ringing in his ears. In that moment he heard a clear voice coming from over the headphones and he peeked out of one eye.

"Ruben, Ruben, come on answer me," a gentle voice coaxed him out of his fettle position and he looked around. His ears twitched as the voice came back. "Ruben I know you're in there. You can't stay in there forever."

Ruben relaxed, and took a moment to collect him-self, before answering the voice. "You know you could have called me at a better time. I was in the middle of something."

"You've been in the middle of something for three days now," the voice told him; there was a hint of annoyance to it and possibly a smile in there as well. "You have to get out before the Board's agents notice you."

"Ha," he barked a laugh and glided around the room illuminated by the falling code. His garishly bright costume lit up as he passed by. "They haven't noticed me for three days."

"That doesn't matter," the voice scolded him, now clearly annoyed by his actions. "You know how they are. You know what they'll do if they see you." –the voice paused here and seemed bemused by what it saw from wherever it was watching. "Just what are you wearing anyway?"

Ruben landed on the balls of his feet, and seemed to strike a dancers pose as he spun around.

"You mean this?"

"Yes that," the voice said pointedly. Ruben smiled, the voice had noticed, good for it.

"That –my dear voice –is the latest in designs I've made to my glitch character. You like?"

"Not really," the voice retorted and Ruben crossed his arms sulking. "Too many colors for my taste to be honest, you look like a feline version of Willy Wonka after he was puked on by rainbows."

Ruben put his fists on his hips and glared into the darkness, his tail swishing. "Well that's too bad for you. You're not the one wearing it, and I like it."

The voice seemed to sigh. "What is it with your obsession with cats?"

Ruben tilted his head to the side and wiggled his nose. "Do you really want me to tell you?" he started to tick off with his fingers, "One their soft, two they're quiet, three they like being left alone, four…"

"Ruben, I didn't really want to know." The voice cut in and the cat boy mewed softly. "But since I have your attention, what did you find out?"

The boy grinned and flew up to the stream of data that ran past. "Here," he pointed, "there was a broken code. So I tried to fix it, but I got blocked."

"Got blocked?" the voice sounded surprised.

"Yup, blocked."

"How –How is that possible?" the voice asked unsure what to say. Ruben had never been blocked before –ever. Even when the Creator had first tried as a means of testing him, he had gotten past her highest security, and now something had actually blocked him from altering the data, or more precisely –someone.

"It shouldn't be," Ruben stated as he peered at the strand of data. "Can't change it, but let me see if I can follow it."

"Follow…No Ruben, don't. You've done enough," the voice told him but he was gone before it could finish, warping from the room and out into the bright blue mist of the game's backdoor. The voice's calls to him were unheard, or ignored, as he streaked after the abnormal line of text. He followed it up stream then veered right when it moved away from the stream, and mixed in with a strange strand that flowed down deeper into the core engine of the game.

Scowling the cat boy raced after it, "You're not getting away."

Not after all the work he put into trying to find her, not after all the energy and time he set out looking for information that would lead to finding the girl that had vanished from the servers. Everyone said she just stopped playing, but if that was so he would have had the data that deleted her character and account, and he didn't. It made no sense, she wasn't the sort to quit the game, and she most definitely wasn't the sort to break a promise, especially one made to the Creator herself, this much he was sure of. So he had done his damnedest to find out the truth, which had led him to breaking into the code rooms on the servers and poking around. This was the first lead he had in a while, and he wasn't going to let it escape.

The code ran away from him at light speed, but he knew his way about the spider-web networks that made up the core of the Lunar Crest game engine. If he hadn't built them, then he'd helped refine them, so there was no place that the code could hide. Or so he thought.

To Ruben's surprise the code zoomed off in another direction down a line to a hub that he'd never seen before. Curious he started to follow, when the voice came back, only this time it sounded screwed up.

"R – skrrsch –Ru –skrrsh –Rube –skrrsch –en, a – skkkrr –are y –skkrrch –ou there?" it asked between the sounds of static. Ruben wrinkled his nose. Now was his chance to prove himself, and he knew that there had to be something going on with that code. Where was it off to and why?

"Ruben!" the voice shouted this time pulling him away from his thoughts.

"What?" He snapped then in a calmer tone, "What is it?"

"Where are you? I can't see you in the feed."

"I'm in some weird section, I'm not sure. It looks like it was built not too long ago, a couple of months at the latest." He said running his hand over the glowing threads that wove to connect the various servers together allowing for pulsing bits of binary to rush through as it made its way from one location to the next. "I can't really make out a lot of it, but the code just went into a gate that has access to the computer of the user that made this. I'm gonna go in and…"

"No!" the voice commanded and started to fade out. "D –skkrrsch –Don't do i –skkskr –it. Skkrrshch T –skkrsks –Trap. It's a trap!"

"Trap?" Ruben asked, as he moved closer to the gateway, when suddenly a loud buzzing echoed around him and he covered his ears howling.

"Ruben g – skkrsks –get out of t – skkrrsch –here NOW!" the voice yelled over his headphones, and Ruben –for once –didn't disobey as a stream of Anti-virus protectors rushed out at him. The green virus busting bots spotted him and Ruben took off flying. He zoomed down the corridor that he had followed the coding down, back up through a router and hung a left, hoping he was going the right way.

"They're closing in," the voice urged him to move faster, "About ten milliseconds behind you."

"Which way?" he shouted to the voice when he hit a fork in the road.

"Right, but make it seem like you're going left."

He nodded and went part way down the path allowing the green bots to follow. Ruben looked back at them and winced at what he saw. Trojan like warriors that resembled centaurs, deftly holding large axes that seemed impossible to carry, were following him at full speed down the left corridor. Ruben careened down the hall then, neared the middle, banked up, and soared over their heads as the Anti-virus troop crashed into one another. It wouldn't take them too long to turn around, but the few breaths that it took gave him a chance to get away.

He rushed out of the left tunnel and into the right calling out to the voice.

"Am I near our server?"

"Yes, hang on." The voice said. "I'm trying to get a fix on you."

Ruben heard a noise behind him and looked back. Several of the centaurs were streaming out of the tunnel. He panicked, and shouted into the void, as they barreled down on him. "Any time now!"

"I'm trying; you're moving way to fast to target you." The voice sounded as freaked out as he was feeling. Ruben suddenly felt like throwing up, if they caught him they would delete him, and if that happened…he didn't want to think about it, and pressed himself harder. He banked on the sides, trying to keep on the inside of the track. Fear was gripping his heart making it pound hard against his chest. He could feel his pulse beat against his neck and ring in his ears. They twitched and flattened in an attempt to make him more streamlined.

"Well try harder, or I'm going to be quarantined!"

"Just a bit farther, you're almost at the firewall, I can warp you out there." The voice told him with confidence.

"Are you sure?" Ruben's tail curled around his waist as the bots shot laser arrows at him, trying to slow him down. They singed his pants and he cursed at them growling, "I just made these! You jerks!"

"Positive, have I ever steered you wrong?" the voice asked then paused and added hastily, "When it counts?"

"We will discuss that later; right now get me out of here!" Ruben screamed, and hung a hard left at a fork when the voice told him too. He clasped the headphones tighter, feeling prickles run up his legs from where the small bits of Anti-virus curative clung, "Where too next?"

"You have to go up then make a sharp right, and another right. You'll see a dead end, make a left there and go straight, the fire wall's at the end of the route."

"And you will be there to beam me out Scottie," Ruben snarked, as he saw the cause way up and bolted straight like superman, ignoring the fact that the warriors were still following him at full speed.

"I give you my word." The voice told him and Ruben heaved a sigh.

"That's all I've got it seems." He narrowed his brows as he made a sharp right. "Alright then let's do this."

Ruben slipped into a wall and dove down another passage. The infrastructure here was quite the opposite of the neat and tidy area he had just left. A jumble of lines of code arranged like chains shook him. Streams of data looked like they were clogged up and breaking apart, Ruben visibly shivered as one feebly waved at him to come over and help. He had to ignore it, when the Anti-viruses came bolting in, and felt sick as one of the Anti-virus hacked into its digitally constructed body with a spear, causing it to become still so it could be carted it off.

"Shit," he cursed under his breath and zoomed out of the area as quickly as he could. It was a challenge to avoid the particles that the anti –viruses were throwing at him. Ruben ducked, dodged, and weaved, this way and that to avoid being hit, but it was harder then it looked. He zipped around the framework and called to the voice.

"Fastest way out of this room?"

"Bank left then head back out where you came in. See if you can shake them." The voice came over crisply; he knew he was closing in at his destination.

"That's what I've been trying to do!" Ruben exclaimed as he tore back through the wall, leaving a few of the Anti-viruses behind, but still being chased by at least a dozen more still. He gritted his teeth and made another right following the path that the voice had laid out for him. The tight stream that he slipped into made it harder for the gang of Anti's to follow, but there were still some that were too stubborn and didn't know when to quit. They formed a single line so that they could follow to hunt him down. Ruben grimaced; he now knew what a worm felt like when being chased by birds after the rain.

Ahead he saw the dead end and made a hard left. The Anti-viruses closed in, approaching at full speed. Ruben glanced back and saw that they were gaining on him, and he shoved himself against the wall on the side, hoping to generate some energy from the current that flowed against them. It wasn't working and soon the warriors were nipping at his heels.

"Any time now…" he screamed at the voice, which was beginning a count down.

"Eight," they were just behind him. "Seven," he tried to trick them by zipping under them and then up, it didn't work right and he was forced to abandon it. "Six… "("Get into position Ruben!" "I'm trying to,") he rolled away from an ax blade. "Five," ("Come on it's almost there!" "I heard you.") Ruben ran for the wall as fast as his legs could carry him. The closer he got to the firewall the less he could fly so it was his speed against theirs. "Four…"

"Come on," he urged himself feeling the breath of one of the warriors' right on his neck.

"Three…" he could feel his avatar starting to disappear just as an Anti -virus was reaching out for him, fingers stretched and almost clasping his collar.

"Two…" he was floating suddenly, up and away from the wall which was blazing with heat. The Anti's couldn't slow down and were sliding into it sputtering out of life as they hit it.

"One!" the voice shouted and Ruben departed in a flash of light warping away from the server and traveling through cyberspace so fast he couldn't make out if he was upside down, or not, as he traveled. Just as suddenly as it started the rollercoaster ended, crash landing him in the dirt and grass of what appeared to be the green knoll of some English countryside –face first. He winced with pain and meowed angrily as he pulled himself up, not at the voice but at himself for making a stupid mistake.

He sat up and dusted himself off after shaking the mud and grass out of his hair. That was too close, he considered getting up and standing on shaky legs.

"Are you alright?" the voice called out to him and Ruben gave an affirmative nod.

"Some damage, but nothing that some running around can't heal up or a quick potion," he told the voice who sighed in relief.

"Good, log out."

"But…"

"Now!" The voice seemed to terminate communications after that, Ruben pouted, his ears went flat against his head as he whined. Then in a flash he was gone from the green knoll.

Several seconds later he tore off the black glasses from his face and tossed them angrily against the computer desk. He leaned back in the ergonomic chair, crossing his arms over his face and groaning loudly.

"Stupid, stupid," he reprimanded himself and stretched out his legs, mussing up his brown hair and standing up to stretch. His lanky thirteen year old frame twisted this way and that as he exercised lightly to get his muscles and nerves to quiet down. That had been annoying, and what did he have to show for it, nothing but a sore body. His brother was going to kill him when he saw him that evening, and he realized then that he needed relieve himself.

Heading into the bathroom Ruben washed his face and glanced up at it. His Avatar mirrored closely to his real life form, minus the freckles on his young face. His sister had said he looked the most like their mother, with bright brown eyes and dimples; he was small like her too, standing only to his brother's chest when other boys his age were at least at shoulder height to their parents. Hopping into the shower he washed, wrapped a towel around himself and stepped back into his bedroom. The place was a disaster.

Posters of games, movies, and anime hung haphazardly on the dusty walls at odd angles. The floor was littered with tools and Legos (when he wasn't fooling around working with his computers he was off trying to build the world's biggest Star destroyer), along with candy wrappers and bags from junk food. In one corner was his bed, a single small mattress with a maroon blanket and set of pillows; in the other was a small chest of drawers where he had his clothing. There were shoes around there, somewhere, possibly hiding under the bed, Ruben didn't know for sure –he didn't look under there often. Filling in the rest of the room was several computers in different states. There were at least six or seven monitors, all hooked down into various towers and servers which hummed quietly as he made his way over to them.

The three flat screens were on, showing what was happening in game, and Ruben reluctantly turned off the power to them, leaving the computers running and the screens blank. He made his way, gingerly, to the dresser and pulled out a plain yellow t-shirt, baggy jeans and a pair of boxers which he promptly slipped into. Dressed he threw himself on the bed, minus shoes, and counted to twenty. Beside him on a small nightstand, which doubled as a bookcase, the phone rang and he picked it up before it got through with the first ring.

"Hello there," he sang out, winding his finger around the cord and crossing his legs. The voice on the other end huffed.

"Don't do that." It said in a masculine timber and Ruben grinned in a sweet sarcastic way.

"Do what?"

"Pick up the phone before it rings once," the voice told him and Ruben laughed.

"Freaks you out doesn't it," he grinned and rolled onto his stomach, "So what can I do to help out my big brother, huh?"

"You can start by telling me what you were doing using the back door of the game again," his brother said in a serious tone that made Ruben drop the act. He sat up and rubbed the back of his neck. "I was worried about you; you were on that thing every day when I went in to check on you. Did you even sleep?"

"Yes," Ruben lied and then added, "Sort of."

Ruben heard his brother exhale loudly, as if surrendering. He knew that Ruben wouldn't listen to him, the only one he would listen to was their sister, and that was even a stretch at times. Clearing his throat the voice continued, "Look I know you won't listen to me, but…be careful okay. The Board is on the lookout for you and…"

"And if I don't do it, who will, Adam?" Ruben countered and bolted up. "Who's got the skills to look into them? I know you do, but you can't, and we can't take the chance on the moderators being noticed too. I'm the only one you have."

"I just think that you're taking too many risks," Adam pointed out and Ruben heard tap –tap –tap coming from his pen on his desk. He only did that when he was annoyed with something and was trying to calm himself down. "You're only thirteen, you're still a kid."

"I am not," Ruben spat but Adam went on.

"Furthermore, they're dangerous. We've only seen the tip of what they can do, and there may be more to it. We don't know if they're the ones causing the … changes, in the game."

Ruben rolled his eyes and flopped back on the bed. "Well that's what I'm trying to prove."

"I know you are, but you shouldn't be doing this on your own."

"Well I wasn't until she vanished," Ruben shouted and then bit his lip as Adam let out a soft groan on the other end of the phone.

"Ruben we've been over this. She's gone, she either quit or got removed," he wasn't sure which, "I know you want to know what happened, I do too. But going out of your way to chase code that was a trap…"

"But I got something out of it."

Adam paused at this and said curiously, "You did?"

"Yeah, there's another server out there connected to the game."

"What do you mean?" He leaned on his desk and kept his voice low. "All servers that are connected are able to be viewed. I know you were in a location I couldn't see, but still how do you know it was a server?"

"Various things, the way the network was set up, the way the data traveled, that kind of thing. But that doesn't matter, see you're right about the fact that all the servers that are connected to the game should be able to be viewed by us. I thought that too, but this one's different. I don't know how, but it is. It was like it was able to hide itself even when I was in there. There was data trapped in there as well."

"Trapped?"

"Yeah trapped," Ruben slid onto the edge of the bed and bounced up and down on it. "Like wrapped up in chains made from code, it was in the room I found when I was trying to escape the Antis."

"Any idea what its IP is?" Adam inquired as he pulled up his keyboard.

"No, that's the problem. When you warped me out of there I think the IP moved."

"A roaming address?" asked Adam incredulously, he considered it and thinned his lips. "That doesn't sound good."

"I know," Ruben got up and went over to one of the keyboards and swiftly tapped out a command. The computer hummed and buzzed as lines came up for him. He scowled, "Nope, the IP is not coming back."

"So what does that mean?" Adam inquired and Ruben shook his head.

"Not sure yet, that's why I have to keep looking. I have to find her Adam, she knew something, and I know she did." Ruben ran a hand through his hair. "Lunar Moon definitely knew something before she vanished, I'm sure of it."

Several hours later, after a good lunch, Ruben was again online in his avatar. He ambled slowly down a street of one of Lunar Crest's many towns in Citrine Server, this one happened to be the town of Vereisung (Ice frost), the capital of the Northern area of the world. The snow covered fields tossed up flakes on the virtual winds as he passed, if Ruben didn't know he was inside a game then he would have never guessed it. The animation randomized the snow in such a way that it seemed as if it truly was snowing in the world. Fluffy flakes of white danced across a wide open meadow that bloomed with winter grass and ice white flowers, which swayed in the cold winter winds.

When he left the town, with its quaint picturesque buildings that all were functional (nothing in the game's environment was there for display only when it came to the cities), Ruben could get a better look at it. It was a city of gingerbread roofed cottages, with some oddly angled tall houses that stood in rows. The buildings had been designed by the occupants based on what they wanted out of the bases given to them at the start of the game. No two houses or businesses looked alike, though they all shared in a familiar blue, white and silver theme. Still it made Ruben chuckle at how much he stood out there.

His avatar's outfit was a strange mix of multiple colors consisting of a rainbow striped white shirt with the sleeves turned up to his elbows revealing a purple under sleeve, a tailed high collared white vest, with small lollipops as the buttons, red piping outlining the form and embroider with swirls that looked like peppermints, which shifted color as he moved. He was rather proud of the design, predominantly the pair of purple pants with bright red stars at the thighs, and orange and green pockets –which contained an odd assortment of candies at his disposal –at the shins, while the shoes on his feet were yellow and red twisted stripes with what appeared to be red licorice strings for laces.

On his hands Ruben wore white fingerless gloves that had rainbow netting going up to the mid of his forearm, which had pockets for music players. His hair and tail were the oddest of all, black bangs with multicolored frosted tips hung over his eyes, while the back of his hair was all streaked with a strange hodgepodge of colors that ranged from bright neon to dark pastels, to an odd assortment of off colored spots and stripes. His black cat tail swished back and forth creating a rainbow of colors that stripped down to the tip.

Most players in the game tended to have a theme of color with their character, Ruben just liked all of them so he used them all. This wasn't his first costume, long before when Lunar Crest first opened he looked like the love child between the denizens of Candy Land and the Tricks rabbit. It was a horrible design but he got better the longer he played, just like the game got more amazing over the years. Lunar Crest was the perfection of online gaming in regards to Massive Multiplayer Online Role –play games. It had been around since the early 2000s and now had amassed even more players since then, beating out the highest ranked major MMORPG, and Ruben had been in the game since the start, though no one really knew about him, and they still sort of didn't.

He was the urban legend, the player that could beat the system and slip in and out of the game's dungeons with ease. He was also considered a terror, when he didn't like you he could crack your character and change it around, taking your items and making you into a pauper. Whispers surrounded him and several other players, including the missing Lunar Moon, who had once been considered the best player in the game –befriending the normal players and the outsiders (like the Hacker's guild), which was one of the reasons why the Creator had taken an interest in her. Now she, like several other players, was gone, leaving Ruben a mystery on his hands as to why and what happened.

He slowed when he reached the exit to the main city and leaned against the frozen wall that made up the outer parameter. Inside the walls you weren't attacked by players or monsters, but once you exited into the wild frozen tundra of the North you were subjected to all sorts of troubles. Ruben could fight, that wasn't the problem, it was the fact that when he did he knew he could glitch out players that tried to fight him, and so he avoided normal PvPs (Player vs. Player) when he could. He wasn't a normal player, he'd hacked the system to make his avatar the way it was, so he was seen as a glitch, which meant he was an issue for the Board that now ran the game.

It hadn't always been that way. Once Lunar Crest was a world for all sorts of opportunity, then the Board had taken control and bad things just started to pile up. He shivered, not from the cold, but from the memories of what had taken place, and he wondered if the Board had been pushed into its actions. Things had settled down for the most part, Players still weren't convinced of the Board, but they held everything under their thumb, so naturally no one wanted to be deleted or banned because of voicing opinion against them. They just wanted to play with friends, enjoy the social aspect of the game, and ultimately escape into a fantasy world.

Things were shifting again though. It had been subtle at first; players had noticed that there were groups that were acting as PKs (Player Killers) in game, and were avoiding being caught by the Board or the Four Generals (the lead moderators that helped police the game). Then there was the strange occurrence of altered monsters that just popped up, and a town that was ransacked and looted when it should not have been able to be in the first place. Towns were the safe haven, if you went into town you couldn't fight there, and shops were safe from people raiding their inventory, so this attack had made waves with the Merchant class characters.

Then there was the fact that the magic system seemed to be corrupted and hijacked at one point, and the systems settings were altered by an inside force. Ruben had tried to fix the problems as they cropped up, hoping to get to the bottom of it, but every time he got close, someone caused his game to crash and he would have to reboot and start all over, his info and items wiped clean in the process.

This was part of the reason why he was standing by the gates and waiting. He needed to see one of the Generals, Azalea –the Great White Mage; she was one of the few people that Ruben trusted. Vereisung was her home base, as she patrolled the northern servers of the game, and seemed to prefer the colder sections of the world. So he'd agreed to meet her near the exit of her city after he messaged her. Ruben looked up at the falling snow, settled in, and waited for her to show up.

"I wonder what Lunar Moon would say if she saw me here," he chuckled, his warm breath showing up in the cold winter air.

"She'd wonder why you weren't dressed for the temperature," a gentle and melodic voice replied, and Ruben brought his head down to look at a beautiful woman that stood before him. She was dressed from head to toe in an ice blue dress, lined with silver sparkles, and made of velvet, with a white fur trimming the hem, cuffs and edge of the blue shawl she wore. On her hands were pearl white gloves that matched the Russian style fur hat she wore, and he could just make out a pair of blue boots. It made her soft crystal blue eyes, and sliver lined white hair stand out against the snowy backdrop. In her hand was a long white staff made of ice and snow, whose top was crowned with a snowflake that was embraced by a crescent moon of silver. Blue gems dotted the edges and dangled from the snowflake's ends, while in the center was a large blue sapphire that glowed with an ice cold fire.

He smiled at her, and watched as her blue tinted lips curved up to reveal shocking white teeth.

"You look good in that."

She curtsied deeply then rose up offering her hand to his, "Shall we walk?"

Ruben nodded and took her hand in his, wrapping his arm around hers and giggling, "You know I'm never going to get used to you looking like that."

Azalea shrugged, "It's my choice how I look in here, just as it's yours." She glanced at him. "So I hear you found something out?"

"Not much," he admitted as they walked along the wall, her staff protecting them from outside listeners. "I talked with some of the Hacker's guild after I had lunch, and they said that they saw some former Golden Knights sneaking out of Metamorphosis around the old domed tower."

Azalea scowled some looking perplexed, "Odd."

"Yeah I know. That town hasn't been used since the start of the game. I know we were supposed to fix it, but…things happened." He became quiet at the end and she patted his hand. Ruben peeked up at her and gave a small mew as he did so.

"Don't go blaming yourself. You had no idea what the Board was going to do, neither did we," she pouted and looked away. "I have no regrets for what we tried to accomplish, and I still don't like them, but I know I have to keep the game in order. That's why I'm glad you're here."

"You are?" he looked surprised by this and she beamed at him.

"Of course! You can do things I can't do."

He blushed red at this and sniffed, "She could do them better."

"Yes, but she isn't here, and you are," Azalea said and stroked his ears, which made him purr. "That fact alone sets you apart and shows that you haven't given up."

"I don't think she has either." Ruben told her and she listened as he looked ahead as they wandered past the first of many watchtowers she had set up along the border. "I don't think Lunar Moon gave up. I think something happened to her. I don't know what, but it did, and it forced her off line. I also think they're hiding her avatar." –He caught her surprised look –"No I'm serious, I'm sure they did, or someone did. Her data is gone, and when you delete an avatar there's something left, a remnant of your profile to tell you that it was there and that the character existed. You also leave some info, or at least a deleted file so if you re-log on the Administrators can update your info to your old file.

She gave a nod as he went on, "Furthermore, if an account was deleted I would know, but it's like she was purged."

"Purged?" she looked confused as Ruben tried to explain.

"It means that she was wiped clean, no traces of her left. Like if you reformatted your computer. I think that someone purposely stole her avatar, and purged the information about her without deleting the account fully and locked up the rest of the info. But," his ears fell at this point, "I can't prove it, and I don't have a way to find out for sure."

Azalea stopped and looked at him, taking in his height and his face. She smiled and pulled him in close for a hug, "You've grown so much from when you first joined us."

Again he turned red and looked away, "You don't have to put it that way."

She laughed, it sounded like small tinkling bells, "So, what about these former Knights? Have you informed Rashaphone yet?"

"No," he shook his head, and he wasn't about to, given the angelic guardian's mood recently. "He'll find out when I can prove it. You know how he's been."

"Yes," Azalea said softly, "We all have been a bit –off since Lunar Moon vanished."

Ruben pulled her close to him and sighed, "She was a friend, a good one at that. It's scary when something happens and you don't know what's going on with someone that you see as almost a sister."

"Or a brother," she said pointedly. Ruben nodded.

"Or a brother," he brushed some snow off his head and made a face. No one really knew who Lunar Moon was. She had been extremely secretive with her information, and the only one that seemed to know anything was Sulk, the Moderator from the Hallow, and he wasn't about to mess with the dark mage or his town. Sulk scared him, he scared a lot of people, and there was just something about him that felt, off putting, wrong, dark and dangerous. He wasn't friendly, but he was fair, and it made him wonder if that was the reason that he had so many loyal to him.

Azalea stopped by a small bush that was growing from under the wall and she pointed. "See that? That's you."

Ruben raised his eyebrows and looked at her with a sardonic smile, "I'm a bush? I didn't think I was that untamed or messy."

"Not the bush itself, but the idea behind it. You started out on the other side of the wall, an outsider, and now you've matured and it's pushed you into our circle if you will."

"You accept me, the others, not as much." Ruben commented as he broke off a small snow covered leaf. Azalea watched him as he balanced it on his nose and she laughed.

"In time they will, you just have to show them how you've changed, as you've been showing me."

He grinned. "Well I'll try." Brushing off the leaf he took her arm again and continued their walk. "But back to business."

"Yes indeed, I don't have much time left."

"Right, so these Hackers said they saw the Knights come out of the city and they seemed to be carrying modified weapons." She frowned slightly at this but let him continue. "They looked like they had been magiked, but not the normal way, they seemed to be radiating with energy that shouldn't be in the game."

"How is that possible," Azalea asked concern tickling her tone, and Ruben closed his eyes.

"It shouldn't be. The Board's been cracking down on modifications. Not only that, but they've been insisting on a new magic system that doesn't let you make spells, so if these items are being made, they're being made in a way that either the Board doesn't know about…"

"Or it's someone that is working with them, either way it's someone one that knows enough about their coding to get around the security." She concluded and her scowl deepened. "How powerful can someone make a modified weapon, given the new environment?"

Ruben scratched his chin, "Well before it could be, at most twenty times, what your weapons max power was. Now, I don't know, they keep changing the rules for the stats."

Azalea seemed to be in deep thought as they wandered along the path. Ruben didn't say anything as he knew disturbing her thoughts would cause her to leave in a hurry, and he was enjoying his time with her. Eventually they came full circle and she looked at him, "It's time for me to depart."

He nodded, but held on to her until she –reluctantly –pulled herself away. Ruben's ears went down. "What are you going to do?"

"Call a meeting with the Moderators, discuss what you found. You will be attending as well."

"I will?" he looked astonished by this, and when she nodded, he whooped then covered his mouth. "Sorry, sorry. Really and truly I get to go back to the grove again?"

Azalea laughed, "Yes, you do. But I have to go now. We'll speak later Ruben."

"Well you have my member address if you want to contact me." He grinned and waved as she headed back for the city. He figured she would have some business to attend to before she logged off, so he followed behind her after a beat and walked with her the rest of the way, making small talk till she gently, but firmly, told him she was leaving, and he took the hint. Watching her go he made his way around the town square, which was bustling as normal with members shopping, and picked up a few healing and status items, before logging off.

Back in the real world Ruben lay down on his bed and snuggled under the covers grinning. Azalea had said he had grown, told him that she accepted him and invited him for a meeting with the four generals. He was so excited he could hardly sleep, the only down side was that the one person he could talk to about it was gone, and that thought made everything seem less magical. Turning over in his bed, even though it was afternoon he was exhausted, he glanced at a poster of a picture of the moon from the Hubble space telescope and vowed to it that he would find Lunar Moon, even if no one else helped him.