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The year 1986 was host to many different events, one of which being Dominique de Mirabeau's publishing of "On the Comprehensive Effect of Mankind on the Environment of the Earth." It was around this document and its author that  an organization known as mama was formed. In her writings, Dominique predicted the complete extinction of all life on Earth within the next 1000 years. And as time went on, environmental issues only seemed to give credibility to her claims. The original goal of this organization was to somehow put a stop to human activity before it brings about the ultimate disaster.

However, over time, Dr. Mirabeau had slowly had a change of heart, gradually becoming little more than a strong advocate for nature preservation and studies into finding other means to evade her grim proposal. Yet even with her change there have still been numerous people within the ranks of her organization that claim there is no other way. Some of these people have been...extreme.

It has even been said that both Pluto's Kiss--a virus that terminated network access across the globe--and the Deadly Flash--a virus that hospitalized many people and even caused fatalities--were caused by people fearful of humanity's ultimate effect on its home. There is no evidence for such things, but who can absolutely say so for sure?

Chapter 11: Purgatory
Misty Fields Community Park
==/== Δ Talking Heroic Cross

The next place that awaited me was a complete mystery. It was thanks to the inscriptions on the statues that I was able to find a possible place to try and solve my problems. Yet because of how my survival was more or less a miracle, I had no confidence in winning without training. The most basic and fundamental problem of some games...grinding. I had hoped to not have to do this, but for the most part the precaution was necessary.

And in a way, it was a bit favourable to rushing headlong into certain death. The great revived Old God Folset was most likely not something meant to be beaten by players fresh after starting the game. So far, I had four days of gameplay but with a surprising number of achievements to show for it. But it was all luck. This time though, I intended to be ready for my enemy. And as such my determination was firmly set as I continued to fight alongside Kastor and Matilda.

"You're really determined today, Lira... I barely have time to aim at some enemies before you jump at them." Matilda says at the conclusion of one battle, finally reminding me that she had been relatively quiet for a good portion of the training session.

"Oh, sorry. I forgot about your fighting style. Should I slow down?" I ask curiously, feeling a little embarrassed now.

"No, nothing like that. It's just that I only just now started realizing how strong you are when it comes to fighting mobs. I'm half-temped to start taking a break from shooting until we start fighting some bigger monsters." She says, seeming to be joking a little.

Joke or not though, maybe I should do or say something to make things seem less meticulous...

"Well, if it's just that, then why not stop fighting like it were a free-for-all?" Kastor suggests, to which I just give a couple nods.

"Then how about this, I'll take the lead and Matilda be my backup? That way you can take shots at the enemies I throw off-balance? It might even save time." I try and resolve Matilda's recent lack of activity as best I can, hoping for a positive response.

"I think that's fine then. So just attack the same targets you're charging for, right?" Matilda nods a few times in understanding. Then I hear Kastor clearing her throat a little.

"And that leaves me doing what? Just attacking the straglers?" She looks at me carefully.

"That should be fine, unless you want to be the center of the formation." I reply after thinking on the idea.

"No thanks, your class is much better for brute force. I'll just support you as best I can." Kastor complies, finally settling the matter.

"Alright, then shall we go? The area's mission is to defeat the boss, so let's make sure to beat all his minions so that we're absolutely ready!" Matilda says, looking ahead at the bridge to the next of the steppe area's  plateaus.

From there, the team moved in much greater coordination, with often the first of my enemies being wiped out in seconds after suffering a two-shot combo from my own skill and Matilda's shots. By the time the area was down to its last few mobs, my Scythe's skill level had finally reached a new level once more. As soon as it did, an alert popped up just like it did when I learned "Red as Roses."

"A new skill? I forgot that I could learn those for a second...haha..." I really did forget, having not really focused enough on my skill levels.

"Good for you! How high is your Scythe skill level, anyway?" Matilda moves in close, seeming to be quite excited at the news. More than I was, even.

"Ahh, it seems to have gone up to Level 8 while I was not looking..." I say, looking at my new skill more closely. It was an area skill, like normal for a Grim Reaper, however, this one seems to be more oriented for fighting airborne enemies. That might be useful. The name is...

"Call of the Grave, eh? Sounds pretty well-named for an anti-air skill. It's pretty nice." I laugh a little, then look around to see the boss monster resting atop a small tower. It was a flying enemy, so I already had a decent target to test my attack on. Kastor seemed to notice, too.

"Then shall we test it out?" The fox beams just a little and gestures to the monster. She does not run off like normal, but it seems like she really wants to. Poor thing must not like moving in formation.

Not keeping her impatient, I run off toward the boss of the area, keeping my Cat's Scythe firmly in hand as I close the distance. And before we know it, the boss monster takes to the air and the battle begins. Up until now, Matilda has served as our only effective anti-air fighter with Kastor using her own specific skill for the situation. But this time that was not true. "Call of the Grave!"

I call out, immediately swinging my arms in an upward arc. But that's when things became much more impressive. My blade was followed by a much larger, spectral blade made of bone. And while my swing could not possibly reach the target normally, the skeletal blade's reach effectively sniped the target and did sizable damage to its Flight Metre. Then came a skill shot from Matilda, chipping away at an even larger portion. Then Kastor, jumping high as she could to deal her own strike on the boss.

In just three moves, the boss was left nosediving to the ground, its vulture like form kicking up plenty of dust upon impact. Needless to say, with its greatest advantage nulled, all this great monster did differently from normal bosses was wail like the giant turkey it was. Once defeated, a short little event followed as the small tower's door opened up.

"I guess we'll collect our reward then." I say energetically, quite pleased by our surprisingly quick victory.

Kastor immediately ran off, seeming to no longer care about formations now that the enemies were taken care of. Not letting her beat me there, I ran into the tower with almost a competitive step. In the end though, game mechanics helped her reach the top first regardless. However, she still waited for Matilda and I to catch up.

"Go ahead an open it, Leader." Kastor teased me a little, gesturing toward the treasure chest. "Just give it to me if it's useful. I need to upgrade my armour anyway.

Matilda seemed to not mind it, so I gladly opened it myself. The reward was not armour, but a weapon instead. Not really rare, but it was much more appropriate for the given area's level...

"It's a....rifle. The Patient Hunter." The rifle, one of several weapon types used by the Sniper class. They lack the high-power melee damage of gunblades, but in exchange they have a much higher accuracy and effective range. While technically I could use one, I'd suffer penalties when using it and have no skills. In other words...

"Then I guess this one goes to you, Matilda." I turn to her and step out of the way, politely gesturing to the spoils.

"Darn...I had a good feeling about this one. I guess I'll have to upgrade later." Kastor seemed mildly annoyed, but despite that there was no malice.

"Then I guess that's all here! Good work, everyone." Matilda bowed her head, taking up the new weapon and equipping it quickly. Her new weapon was no nearly as stylized as the last weapon she had been using, but it was still interesting to look at, with all its motifs and engraved patterns across its form. It was oddly complementary for Matilda's character, almost completing the noble look she had by default. As I looked over it, Matilda gave me a refreshing smile.

  *   *   *   *   *   *

After finishing the area, the team returned to town and scattered as usual to sell off extra items and buy new supplies. I, too, went about this usual run of errands, finishing up quite fast. By the time I had returned to the Chaos Gate, I was already curiously looking over the words in the gate menu. The area level of my future destination actually matched mine now.

"A Level 20 area... That means the things there should not feel much more dangerous than another balanced location." I utter to myself, pondering carefully about whether I should go immediately or not. It certainly would not be too much trouble to navigate should nothing be there, but as far as I knew the final boss of the Final Rebirth event was waiting for me. It was a tough decision...but I should probably head there soon, in the meantime I will probably think about my tactics. And when the others are ready...

We will definitely head out and try our best to investigate, but in the mean time, there is someone I need to check with. Kiros already helped me out a bit, but with the keywords I found, I can at least update him on the changes and my plans. Setting a mail up, I finally report to him about what I have found, about the statues, the keywords, and the possible danger. Maybe this might help get me some answers.

Those words seem to clear the test. All of them are part of the system. I already sent them to be checked up starting with the one you came up with. In the meantime, I wanted to tell you something about your character and its changes...

My interest was piqued by this response, the rest of the mail having my interest firmly locked on what changes had to be made.

First off, your character data has been slightly rewritten so that it no longer causes glitches in the logging system. The name of your armour and the base code has also been given a more acceptable name. The items Lira's Cursed Ebon and the Virus Core that give you that give you that special skill are now properly quantified for the system. In other words, if you eventually remove them and used them for trades--figuratively speaking--it will function as a proper item. You can't actually trade the Virus Core though. It's only equippable by characters with the administrator's scripts. To begin, your skill Segmentation Fault was inaccessible before, right? That was because it was part of an ability class meant for deleting character data in game. The only reason the skill and the advanced interface worked in the last battle was thanks to the area having its admin recognition scripts broken.

In other words... The biggest change they made to my character was making the avatar into one with admin privileges. And my assumption was completely settled in the next and final line of the mail.

In other words, for the purpose of recent activity, you are being marked in the system as an Administrator. So be nice. Although, part of the reason for this is so the ones in charge can look at your logs whenever they like. Don't badmouth us too much.

Well, to give credit, I was understandably surprised with this news for more than just reasons of surprise. If my ability was an Admin skill, then that means I have been at least partly trusted by those in charge. That means I can stop seeing them as an enemy...at least for now. I should probably be careful not to abuse this...or maybe not...

Just as my mind began to sink into dark places, another mail came up. Shaking my head just a little, I looked at the new mail. Its title was Keyword Information. So needless to say, it was already open and being read before I could read the name out loud. The contents made me perk up, the occasional cold breeze over the past hour suddenly worth the time.

Big news, the area words you gave us seem to be home to corrupt data. It's like what we used to see when you were around the Root Town and areas before. It's not the Final Rebirth program though. We'll keep searching for it, but we cannot be sure of the state of things. For this event, Folset was meant to randomly spawn as the boss in areas from Level 21 to Level 50. Still, we might get lucky. Take care, Lira.

The news regarding Folset's random appearances being within a certain range was partly a curse, but at the same time it was a relief. This meant that the specific range of areas where he might appear was drastically reduced. Not just by the level, but by the mission type. So even if the admins cannot solve the problem by finding Folset, I can track him down at my leisure. The real question...is what is going on in the area I chose.

Kiros said the data logs were corrupt, but in a way similar to how they were with me. If that is the case, then maybe...just maybe...

"Hey, Lira. You tired of waiting yet?" Kastor says with an almost joking tone. However, my joking mood was gone.

"We're going to the area now. I just checked with Kiros and...we might see Jeanne there. Something is causing the same problems as when I was trapped so..." I could feel my eyes burning as I looked at Kastor.

"So...then she's the same as you now? Then I guess that means I'll be able to make up for being a cause for this." The fox says, looking a bit serious herself.

Which reminds me...Matilda might not realize the severity of this situation. While she was accepting of my plight, I don't think she ever really believed it was true. So explaining it to her carefully might be within my best interests. And the opportunity to do so came quite quickly as she returned to the Chaos Gate.

"I'm back! Are we strong enough to go to the area you mentioned before?" Matilda says this almost like a child waiting to go on a trip.

"Yeah, we are but...do you remember why we are going there?" I asked her, just to be safe.

"Well, you said in your invitation that it was related to how you got trapped, right? But you're no longer stuck in the game though...so I guess I really wonder about the full reason." Matilda says, recounting at least some of the explanation.

"Well, you see...we might be finding Jeanne there. Even though I'm fine now, I think she might be in a similar state that I was." I clarify, being just a little careful with my words.

"I see...but...this all still seems to be strange. The more into it we get, the more fantastic it becomes." Matilda says, looking a little nervous.

"So when I said that it might be dangerous...?" I look at her carefully, not really sure I liked her reactions.

"When you replied to my normal e-mails, I thought of it as an admission that you were just playing all along... But to hear about this even now... I really don't know what to think."

"Well, I can assure you that Lira is being as truthful as can be. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Lira even has the admins on her thanks to all of this. So...even if it wasn't true, we can certainly prove that something real is happening, right?" Kastor speaks up from beside me, smiling just as knowingly as I had grown accustomed to.

"You two..." Matilda stares at us oddly, then giggles a little. "Fine, I get it. The fact that Lira's armour is named after her all of a sudden is certainly good enough to convince me...for now."

Matilda shrugs a little, shaking her head gently. Even though she likely still did not believe me 100%, it was nice to know she was still open to the possibility. And she had better be, since this area might be home to some especially strange things.

With the issue at least slightly resolved, I step up to the Chaos Gate and pull up the menu and set the words in place. "Δ Scarab's Lakeside Starstorm..."

With those words, my game vision was once again changed to the loading screen, giving me just a moment to enjoy the natural scenery behind it. When the screen finally passed, I saw the form of the area.

Δ Scarab's Lakeside Starstorm

What manifested before me was a large, scorching field with an unbearable pressure enveloping me. Heat...not just heat, but an authentic feel of poisoned air... Such a disturbing and unsettling contrast to the cold in the real world. The sky seemed to be blazing, as though the clouds were large masses of ember. Amidst those skies was a rain of meteoroids crashing down to land with distinct crashing sounds. The landscape was even more unforgiving though, a mess of craters, flames, broken weapons and skeletons. Not just those of humans, but of giants, of demons and monsters, and the debris of unspeakable war machines. All of it felt far more dead and lifeless than any I had seen before.

"This game...is really, really detailed..." I found myself saying as I looked around. Matilda seemed to agree with just a sound, confirming that even without feeling the heat and the stagnant air, it was quite a display.

"These kind of graphics...I've seen them in the area creation templates, but I don't think there's actually that many areas with these kinds of graphics..." Kastor clears her throat, then starts running off without me.

"Even in this place, you just can't slow down..." I felt a little headache coming as I ran off after her. Behind me, Matilda started running along as we began to explore.

From that point on, I could not see much abnormal. The area was perfect it seems. The only glitch was something that I could not see, something only seen by the heads of management. The area's mission was normal too, Collect the Shrine Keys. In other words, if there was anything that could count as a clue, it was going to be in the Machine God Shrine.

With that in mind, we worked hard to defeat any packs of roaming monsters in search of the key altars. And with each one we cleared, we gained another of the valuable quest items. With surprising speed, we managed to conquer the area swiftly. And after finding the last Shrine Key, reaching the shrine itself took just a few short minutes of wandering and tearing through fiery giants and beasts.

By the time we reached the door and its array of keyholes, my anticipation was almost tangible. The mix of heat and cold that had been so distracting at first was not even in my mind as each of the party turned a key individually. And it seems my desperate search was rewarded...as the door opened I saw someone standing in the middle of the shrine's cobblestone walkway.

"That person...no one could have gotten here before us, right?" Matilda says, just outside my range of sight.

"No, there's no way. But still, she is right there..." Kastor answers the confused girl, seeming to have a voice matching my own shock.

"It's Jeanne...we found her...was she trapped here this whole time?" I asked, running off without a second thought.

Something like joy rushed through my mind as I finally closed in on the human figure before me. She was looking toward the Machine God's statue, thus not looking in my direction. However...from the back she was most definitely Jeanne. The golden blonde hair, the glittering armour, the traces of gold and platinum fabric here and there. It was her. And as I called out her name, she turned around to face me.

But something was wrong...her face... It was Jeanne but...it seemed dead. Emotionless. Something was very wrong here...

By the time I stopped running, the avatar had turned completely around to look at me. It just stared for a moment, not saying anything to me. Again, I spoke her name, this time inquisitively.

"Lira..." She finally spoke, with a voice as dead as her face. Then came a smile, then the area pulsed around me. Words... The area was glitching like when I fought those others... Red words... Jeanne raises her hand and begins manifesting her weapon. JEANNE.

Much like in the last battle, I was sent crashing across the Shrine's cobblestone. JEANNE. Come to think of it...the first place I went with Jeanne had a place identical to this. JEANNE. I fought her then...or rather, I tried desperately to escape... JEANNE. But I'm stronger now...I no longer need to run...

"Jeanne... Please wake up. For me? We were supposed to go to the arena, right?" I pleaded, hoping for a response. But none came. Instead the crimson key of my last enemy came to her hands.

JEANNE.

No matter, I'm prepared... My scythe is already in my hands. Kastor and Matilda are ready too... My level is 23... I can handle this...

SKEITH.
Eleventh part of the Digital Messenger series.

This fan fiction assumes that the canon timeline diverged in 2018. Specifically after the World R:2 servers went offline.
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