It’s been a few weeks now, and Kiori’s guild have already gathered quite a few of these “Epitaph Copy” PCs: Edia (Flick Reaper – Skeith), Hikage (Lord Partizan – Corbenik), Vista (Harvest Cleric - Macha) and Renald (Edge Punisher - Magus).
“Good!” said Frad. “Aside from me (holding Fidchell), Kiori (holding Tarvos) and Rhein (holding Gorre), all we need is one more EPC.”
“But where can we find that person?” asked Kiori. “Don’t you have any information?”
“I’m still researching.” said Frad. “Why don’t you, Rhein and Edia go investigate the arena area. There have been reports of ‘black spots’ there.”
“The arena?” Rhein asked. “You mean the place where players fight against each other?”
“Yeah!” said Edia. “I love it there!”
“Okay guys, we’re going there to investigate.” said Kiori. “We shouldn’t mess around.”
As the three warped to the town near the arena, they saw a strange-looking Lord Partizan with golden hair and strange clothes. He is also covered in black AIDA.
“We have to stop him before he damages anyone and anything!” said Kiori.
The Partizan’s name was Human, and he was quite a formidable enemy. But he was defeated and strangely, his black AIDA turned to white. Also, he changed to a child form, with silver hair, and he is now a Twin Blade.
“My…my name is Emo. I got possessed…by those black dots…or something like that.”
“Emo?” Kiori laughed. “You mean like the fashion trend of guys having long dark hair and prone to suicide and stuff?”
“No no…you got it wrong.” said Emo, the kid with silver hair. “My username is based from the word ‘Emotion’, because my real name is Shindo Kimochi, and ‘Kimochi’ means ‘Feeling’ or ‘Emotion’. I also happened to be interested in psychology and stuff, so there.”
After his explanations, he was brought to Frad in the guild’s hideout.
“I see.” said Frad, after analyzing Emo’s PC data. “You’re one of the three black AIDA PCs.”
“What do you mean?” asked Emo, who is actually an Adept Rogue.
“You see, aside from the ‘white AIDA’ powered AIs, which make up the Epitaph’s Copy PCs (like us), there were also PCS who were affected by the bad, black AIDA, and have their AIs infected as well. They can only be neutralized by EPCs.”
“So you mean to tell us that the Human guy is Emo’s AI?” said Kiori.
“Apparently, yes. AIs actually dwell around The World in search of ‘partner PCs’, and depending on a person’s will, they can either just be aides, or fully control the PCs. In Emo’s case, Human’s power was too strong, but it doesn’t mean he’s evil. He was just controlled by the black AIDA.”
Later on, Vista, Renald and Hikage encountered a Twin Blade named Mazuo, who is also controlled by the black AIDA. Vista and Renald were both defeated, but Hikage used his EPC avatar form to defeat and neutralize Mazuo and cure him of the infection. Vista and Renald were amazed at Hikage’s power.
“H-how were you able to alter your child form PC into an adult-like PC?” said Vista.
“Oh, that’s simple.” said Hikage in a deep voice. “My AI is pretty strong, heheh.” and then he transformed back to his original PC, his child form.
“You…somehow remind me of that weird Steam Gunner guy…Ovan, right?”
“Oh really?” Hikage said with a cute voice. “Well I do have the same Epitaph as him, and we both have blue hair. Heheh.”
And like Human, Mazuo was also an AI. The player, named Kazubolo, was also brought back to Frad for analysis.
“Greetings, ma’ladies and gents! It is I, Kazubolo! The World’s last hope!”
Kiori knew him instantly. “N-no way…”
“What do you mean no way?” Rhein said.
“This guy is…Salvador Aihara.” she whispered.
“W-what? You gotta be kidding me! How did you know?”
“I know a lot of stuff about celebrities, you know. Heheh.”
“Guild Master…” said Emo. “Looks like you got into this mess too, huh?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry dear Emo. But do not worry, we shall not be outwitted by these black things! Me and this Mazuo guy who took over my sacred body, we shall work together, and so must you and Human!” said Kazubolo.
“Don’t tell me…those two are guildmates?” Edia said.
“Yes, well Emo told me about it earlier.” said Kiori. “They’re from a guild called Soul Companions a.k.a. Soulmates, or something like that.”
Much later on, they finally have information about the AI that leveled down Kiori and has also been roaming around various servers on The World. He is said to be a Twin Blade, but his job class entry in the servers is a bunch of corrupted characters. His graphics engine is also weird, and seem to be from ‘the previous game’s’ engine.
But as they were about to hunt down this AI on a specific area, there was a call for help. Some players in the arena are running away from another black AIDA possessed PC, who is a System Police (like Kiori). She was attacking an Adept Rogue girl when suddenly, Kiori rushed in.
“Mayori...” Kiori found her username to be familiar. And suddenly, a flash back entered her brain.
“Sister…is that you?” said Mayori. “You promised to use the username Kiori once you registered for The World, right?”
“Yes…” Kiori hugged her long lost sister. “Yes I did. After our parents divorced, I registered right away and played as much as I can so I can find you.”
But the AIDA possessed PC attacked them; good thing Rhein was there to dodge the attacks. And so they fought the girl, who was pretty hard to beat. But in the end, they managed to get victory and neutralize her as well.
“Kiori…Mayori…” the girl said, as she was brought back to Frad. “You two are…”
“What are your real names?” she said.
“Mei Taizumi.” Kiori said. “And Mai Taizumi.” Mayori said.
“I’m…Rika Taizumi…your sister-in-law.” she said to the two girls. “My username here is Risa, and my alter-ego (the one you fought earlier) was Shira. I’m sorry for dragging you into my mess.”
“No, it’s okay.” Kiori said, hugging her sister. “We came here to save you.”
“Yeah,” said Mayori, who also hugs the two.
“Rika…” Frad knew her. “I’m Kyono Takumi.” He said with a smile.
“K-kyono!? You mean Sam in my R:1 days? No way!” And then she hugged him. “We finally met again, at last!”
“Y-you know her?” said Rhein.
“Is she an important person?” asked Kiori.
“Yes.” Frad said. “Rika used to play the character Keena in R:1 and we were lovers, long-distance. We never met in the real world yet, since R:1 was destroyed even before we planned to meet, but I guess now it’s finally possible.”
“Oh thank you Sammy…I mean Frad. Frad right?”
“Yeah.” Frad said with a smile. "Oh and by the way, Mayori's Epitaph is Innis."
"Oh, okay, glad to know!" said Mayori.
"Oh, okay, glad to know!" said Mayori.
But something alerts them in the screen of Frad’s terminal.
“Oh, look at the screen.” Frad said. “We’ve got an important situation. Emo’s been cornered by an AI at Σ Closed Destined Fate. We better hurry up and save him.”
And so they went to the Chaos Gate, but they can’t warp in.
“What’s wrong?” asked Kiori.
“Apparently, it’s a different server; almost identical to the engine used by the previous version of The World.”
“You mean R:1?” asked Rhein.
“Yes, and we need someone who can break these walls that are protecting the server. Someone who is a lot of levels ahead of us…”
And suddenly, there was a guy behind them. He was wearing white and his face shone like the sun.
“Need any help, Kiori?” he said.
“H-haseo? W-what are you doing here?” she said.
“Yata told me about what happened, which he found out from your friend, Frad. It looks like you guys need some help in breaking this wall. Yata already told me what to do, so…please step back a little.”
Haseo enters a series of codes given to him by Yata on a terminal screen that he summoned from the Chaos Gate. After that, a strange-looking portal was opened.
“Alright guys, this is it. You’re gonna need my help you wanna defeat that AI.” said Haseo.
“Hey, now don’t talk that much!” Kiori said.
“Hehe, just kidding, we’ll work together!” Haseo said with a smile.
And so the group jumped in, and they went to a server that almost looked like the graphics of the previous version of The World. There, they saw an unconscious Emo, fading away in data.
“NO!!!” Hikage rushed to his friend. “Grrh…that AI will pay for trashing my buddy…and real-world classmate!”
Later on, they finally found the AI. He looked like a tall, slender guy with twin blades, long side bangs in dark green color, and with dark, cold eyes. His character data only revealed the name “Sora”.
Everyone summoned their AIs and merged with them to fight this Sora AI. But as they have delivered the final blow, AI Sora was still able to regenerate itself and freeze everybody’s actions. It aimed for Haseo and touched his shoulders.
And indeed, Haseo was remembering things, but in great pain. Kiori didn’t know what was happening, and neither did Frad.
And after that, AI Sora merged with Haseo’s PC, leaving a tearful, but smiling Haseo.
“W-what happened, Haseo? Are you okay?” asked Kiori.
“Yeah, why were you in great pain earlier? And what happened to that AI?” Rhein said.
“I…I remember now…who I was in the earlier version of The World. I used to be a player killer named Sora, and then I got data drained by a ‘Morganna’ woman, and my memories were lost. This Sora that had been roaming around The World is the shadow of my past…”
“You played R:1 too?” Kiori was surprised.
“Apparently, yes. I only remembered it now, though.” Haseo said with a smile. “But that’s all in the past now, and AI Sora probably won’t be doing damage to people again, so…”
There was a streak of light from the beast temple. The gang checked inside to see what happened there.
“A…man? This guy is Moon Tree’s 2nd unit leader, right?” said Vista.
“You’re right…He’s Sakaki, right?” said Renald.
“Sakaki…” Haseo thought deeply. “So this is where he was ‘sleeping’…”
“Huh?” Kiori was confused. And then this is where Haseo told of what happened to the previous events of his days as a PKK and eventually, saving The World from the 3rd network crisis. Sakaki was just one of the victims of the bad AIDA, because of his negative emotions.
“We were alike…” Haseo said. “I was like him when I was a young boy; I played around with different people and got what I deserved. And now…”
And suddenly, Sakaki opened his eyes.
“D-don’t hurt me! I…I wanna change this! I wanna start a new leaf! Please forgive me!”
Haseo smiled. “Of course. We were the same, after all.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
And so Haseo told Sakaki everything about his time as Sora in R:1. Sakaki was moved in tears.
“W-wait a minute…” said Edia. “My brother’s username in the world was…”
And then she hugged Sakaki.
“Tooru! It’s me, your sister, Reika!” Edia said in tears. “I’m so sorry that I completely forgot about you…”
“Elder sister…now I have remembered everything.” Sakaki said. “I’m sorry…”
“But how were you able to send your thoughts here? I though you weren’t playing The World anymore since after the 3rd network crisis?”
“My thoughts and my memories are kept in this character, who is now connected with the real me in the real world, after you guys defeated that AI. I was watching you from the very beginning.”
“Oh Tooru…I mean Sakaki…” Edia was happy. “Glad to have your memories back.”
“Would you look at that…” Kiori said.
“Yeah, another mystery unlocked.” Rhein said.
And much later on, they heard someone from outside the temple calling out. It was Emo; he’s finally back to his consciousness.
After the AI incident wore down, there were no more reports of the black AIDA. But Kiori was still missing something. She was standing all alone in Mac Anu, looking at the sky. Rhein suddenly came and talked to her.
“I’d like to ask though…what’s your relation with Haseo?”
“Oh? Well he’s my real-world classmate…actually.”
“W-what? Really? Oh my God, I’m finding a lot of cool stuff from you that I didn’t know about. Haha. But you know, I think I might have known you before too. Do you used to play R:1?”
“Oh yes of course! I played as a Wavemaster named Mei-chin, following a couple named Daphia and Saiyuki.”
“Wow! Well, you know the legendary player named Toshida?”
“Of course I do! That guy is like…so dreamy!”
“Well, actually that’s my older brother’s PC. He died when I was young so he gave me the PC through a dream. So during the time when there were rumors of ‘false AI’s’ circulating around The World back then, I was pretty much the one controlling his PC.”
“Wow…so we might have actually met! I was already playing by that time! Heheh.”
But Kiori was still sad.
“What’s the matter Kiori? Is something bothering you?”
“Well, Alex hasn’t recovered yet since I last visited him in the real world. He’s also a classmate of mine and Haseo’s, so I’m kinda worried, you know.”
“Oh don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be—”
Just then, they heard some guys shout behind them.
“Kiori! I’m back!”
“Hey Kiori, our classmate’s back!”
It was Alex, now off his comatose, alongside Haseo who accompanied him. Kiori and Alex hugged each other. Rhein seemed a little jealous though.
“You guys…” Rhein said. “You’re lucky you get to be together in The World anytime you wish.”
“Aww, don’t be mad, Rhein!” said Kiori. “I’m sure your brother is always watching over you.”
Rhein remembered something. “Oh yeah that’s right!” He then summons his AI, Dulce.
“Guys, I want you to meet my brother, Misaki Toshida. His AI name is Dulce. He’s also the famous Toshida player from R:1.”
“Nice to meet you guys.” Dulce said, in his Blademaster-like form (from his character in R:1).
“Don’t worry about my brother; he’s just kind of, you know, attention-seeking. I’m here to fill that anyway, heheh.”
“Oh c’mon big bro! You don’t have to! Heheh.”
And then they all laughed, on the way back to the @home.
Meanwhile, in the Cathedral Area, Emo was wandering off alone, and spending time talking to his alter-ego, or rather his AI, Human.
“So you’re…Satoshi…my elder brother?” said Emo.
“Yeah.” Human said to him. “I’m pretty much like Rhein’s older brother; I used to play R:1 as well, but after we got separated due to our parents’ divorce, I unfortunately died of a massacre. There was no way to avoid it. So I’ve decided to stay here in the hopes of finding you, because I really care about you, Shindo.” Human said.
Emo was crying, but Human comforted him.
“Do you know what our names mean?” Human said. “Satoshi means ‘ash’, and Shindo means ‘believe once again’. I might have been burned to ashes, but you made me believe once again. And don’t cry because I’m always here for you, as long as you want to stay in The World. And if you want, I can also be with you in the real world, but only for limited things, like Rhein’s case. So smile, okay?”
Emo wiped his own tears and smiled. “Okay, big brother. I’ll get stronger and we’ll play together forever in The World! We’ll be happy endlessly!”
Much later on, Kiori logged out of The World to eat dinner at a noodle store. She is then a bit curious about the waiter, who served her order.
“Whats wrong, young lady?” The waiter said with a smile. “Do I know you…or something?”
“Oh nothing…I just…felt like I do. I’m sorry.” Kiori, as Mei Taizumi in the real world, blushed away and ate her order anyway.
But as she went outside, someone grabbed her hand.
“Kiori…don’t leave me alone.”
Mei was surprised. “How did you know my name in The World? Do I really know you?”
And then she turned around.
‘Those eyes…’ she thought. ‘Could it be…?’
The boy hugged her tight. “Please Kiori…don’t…leave me alone…”
Finally, she recognized him. “Rhein? Is that you?”
“Yeah! Heheh. I finally found you!”
“But how? I mean, I never gave you details and stuff.”
“You never did, but Haseo (Ryou Misaki) came here the other day and he gave me stuff about you. He’s a regular customer here, though.”
“So what’s your real name again?”
“Masuki Toshida. Nice meeting you, Mei Taizumi.” he said with a charming smile.
“Nice meeting you, Rhein, I mean Masuki. I guess I don’t have to make an introduction now, huh?”
“But why did you say, ‘don’t leave me alone’?”
Masuki pulls out a boquet from behind him.
“I…really like you! I know I haven’t seen your face before, but I think I have fallen in love with you! It’s okay if you will reject me and all that stuff, I mean, we can still be friends in The World, right?” Masuki said in a fast, scared, but serious tone.
“This is all of a sudden…” said Mei. “But...the truth is…I also…kind of liked you when we had adventures in The World together. However….”
“Yeah? Is there a condition? I’ll accept it!”
“Take me on a date! That’s the condition! Heheh.”
“You got it!” Masuki said to Mei.
And so the two went on a date to the park, since Masuki’s shift was over at that time. They also went through different places, and under the moonlight, beside a tall tree, Mei finally said ‘yes’ to Masuki, and they held hands at last.
Moments later, there was an exchange of a kiss – the kiss of twilight.
And so ends Kiori’s fruitful journey into The World and solving its mysteries. But her playtime there with Rhein and all of their friends will never end.