A dark opening welled within the center of the ruined sector of land, and out from it poured first its creator - Xion rose from it, and deposited the still weary Kajira from his hands nearby, on the ground. Then, dragging up what remained of Unity, and what survivors he could find within New Life, Xion carefully placed the battle-scarred individuals on the equally scarred earth.
As he picked out the last of the survivors and allowed the dark well to close up behind him, Xion rested, keeping himself just above the ground beneath him, and looked about at the scragglers. The scene before him was one he could summon no emotional attachment to - he did not truly care for any of these people, not even the girl he went so far to procure from the danger. The one whose face he wore, however; to him, she was important. Which meant that he would make her important to himself.
"We can stay here to recooperate for a while, and then find our way to the others that were aboard New Life at the time. Not everyone came with me, and not everyone needed saving - my brother and Embera likely made it off elsewhere."
Kajira could feel the movement through the void as if it was sifting through her own body, like salt dissolved in a body of liquid. It felt like she was becoming at one with the void, with the darkness, and she didn't quite know how to respond to it. Xion, or rather, Not-Xion, whoever he was, was doing well to keep up this charade. She didn't know who this was, however, and there was something about him, or her, or it- she wasn't sure who or what this thing was- that made her uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the way that he spoke, or perhaps the way he carried himself but something just didn't feel...right. She couldn't put her finger on it, but it just...it wasn't right.
She had heard tell, mostly from snooping through old ONB case files and lurking in different places on the Net, that there were Navi that could completely mimic the size, shape, appearance, and just about everything about another figure, be it a navi, a virus or something in between. It just rubbed her the wrong way. Why was he here in the first place? Why hadn't he come sooner? She had been fighting just about all alone and now she was overpowered, tired, and without the strength to continue. It seemed easier to just rest, and while she felt slightly alien, like a child grabbing the hand of whom they thought was their parent but instead it was a stranger's, she could close her eyes and listen to the voice and pretend like it was, in fact, Xion.
Soon, however, the void fell away, leaving them at Bayside. She gave a small sound then, blinking as she looked up, frowning as she saw the environs. So, they had run. She exhaled, closing her eyes as she struggled to steady herself. "Blake, can you hear me?" she spoke, her words quiet.
Either he'd been disconnected from his PET when the Void had moved her or something else was happening. She frowned, moving a hand up to her face then and rubbing it for a moment, before glancing at the figure who was Xion, and also not Xion. He spoke of his brother, and Kajira frowned for a moment. Once more, the way he spoke felt...wrong. She tried thinking for a moment who he was referring to. His brother? She didn't think it Joker, but she supposed it might be. The only one-
She paused, thinking, having seen a comet streak up from the ground off in the distance, where the one known as Genesis had gone. Xion and Genesis were...related? She didn't have anywhere near as much contact with the Onyx Overlord as she did with the Silver Tyrant but at the same time...there were similarities that she was starting to see. "I'll be fine," she spoke, the woman once more summoning the long metal staff to jab into the ground, using it to pick herself up. Her electrical prowess was weakened at the moment, but all things considered, she wasn't too bad off. She felt...drained...but not weak. At least, her lightning wasn't spouting off with more control than she could handle. She'd take the small victories.
"Where were you?" she asked simply, directing her question to this Xionlike. While she obviously didn't know of Xion's whereabouts and what he did, the more he spoke, the more she felt she was getting closer to discovering just who this actually was. Or at the very least, proof that it wasn't Xion.
He watched as the woman summoned her own staff to support herself, obviously keen on her personal disposition against him at the time being. He wasn't being very convincing, it would appear - or, at the very least, she had no reason to believe him.
"I'm going to guess you don't just mean where was I during the assault on New Life - where have I been since Bayside, yes?"
It was more of a statement on his behalf than a question, solidfying within himself that he would answer her question to the best of his ability. As much as he could keep up with Xion, there was one blank that he could not feel in - thankfully, Xion wasn't one to explain himself in depth, even to this one.
"I was tying up some loose ends in Netopia when I ran into him, there. Rosso. I know I was supposed to call, but, well . . . I was a bit busy trying to shut his mouth.
"During the attack on New Life and Element City, I was preoccupied with a little personal business, before I arrived just after Rosso had gotten done razing the city. I was ready to fight him right then and there, to stop him . . . he has plans. For you, and Blake. He didn't want a fight, though, and just threw me aside to leave again. For a man with conviction, he sure does talk with little to show for it . . ."
He took a breath to steady himself, lowering himself to the ground as the color in his eyes returned to normal, glancing back at Kajira. "He's created himself a personal vendetta for you, for your challenge against him. I didn't call you either time, and I'm glad I didn't - he didn't use so many words, but, I'm certain he intends to break you by targetting Blake."
He was obviously not actually present when all of these things happened. He hadn't the time to actually follow Xion around in order to prepare for this, nor did he have any way of knowing that Xion would fall in the way that he did. He and Xion, however, shared a signal - a signal that he had long ago learned how to use in order to check in on the Navi that was made from his research. Xion could use that signal to appear as him in all fashions, and he could likewise do the same for Xion. He could also, however, use the signal to see just what the Darkloid was up to, and liked to keep tabs on him.
The woman watched, curious as the figure masquerading as Xion began to speak, giving her the answers that she required. There was just something off about everything that he was doing that she couldn't put her finger on. Something that didn't mesh well and she didn't like it. It made her feel vulnerable in a way that the woman didn't particularly care for. The fact that she was needing to be rescued was something that didn't set well with her, she thought, at her core. The problem was, things had worked out at such an interesting time that she couldn't say for sure what the actual outcome would have been. Had Xion showed up sooner, then the two of them would have stood side-by-side, as they often did, decimating the things around them. But that wasn't how things had unfolded and now Kajira had been left reason to doubt.
As he continued, mentioning that it had been Rosso that had razed the City, that made some of her suspicions ease a bit. Mostly because she had been certain that the fire navi had been in charge of what had happened down in Element City, but by that same token, she hadn't seen him, physically. And the various network feeds had nothing on him at all. That alone was something that had made her doubt herself and her conviction, but hearing that Xion had, in fact, seen Rosso was something that was the slightest bit of a relief to the female Navi, though as he continued, mentioning being cast aside again, Kajira wondered if that had been what had happened with Bayside. The fact that Rosso had simply gotten tired of fighting with them, and had wanted to leave to go and do something else. That seemed more likely.
However, the last bit is what really caught her attention. "Target...Blake?" she asked, her words almost a little mystified, as if she were learning to speak for the first time and the magnificence of hearing ones own voice reached her. Yet in this instance, she was far less lost in the excitement and much more beginning to find herself slightly drowning of the horror of the implications. She didn't answer the Xionlike right away, though now, regardless of whether or not that this was Xion didn't matter anymore. The fact that Rosso had targeted her NetOp made her a little less certain about everything in general.
She knew that Xion had the ability to affect things in the Real World. She had suspected a bit about his origins but had never really asked- it had never come up and so she hadn't really found a reason to do so. But if that were the case, so too could something like Rosso, couldn't it? Or one of his allies? And with the power he wielded, it was likely that he had allies in the real world, as well. That meant that there really wasn't anywhere that was safe. And she still couldn't get ahold of her NetOP, and a sinking feeling began to build in her stomach.
"You can...somehow affect the Real World, right? Can you watch him? I can't get ahold of him and I don't know if he's all right," the woman spoke, the rationality starting to disappear. If this Xionlike wanted the skeleton key into her emotions, it was through her Op, it seemed.
Suddenly, Kajira's entire demeanor shifted. Never had an individual offered up so clearly to him that they were so emotionally attached to another. The idea of that kind of dependency did not make sense to him - such ideas were for individuals that had emotions to quantify, and ideals to follow. He had none, and had only what he was told. Without his own NetOp, having fell prey to the predator of time, he didn't even have that anymore . . . and, yet, the remorse she showed was far greater than any he had ever showed for his late Doctor.
"I can't watch over him if I don't know where he's at, Kajira; and only you could tell me that. If you can't get into touch with him, then, I wouldn't know where to begin.
"But, if you could get into touch with him, then, well, you could watch over him. My abilities are much less designed for simple device use, as just about any Navi can use electronics they're inside of; it would be better for you to do it, anyways."
The actual answer to the question she had posed him was a bit more complicated - Yes, he could watch over the boy for Kajira. Did he particularly want to? The answer was no. He actually didn't know if Xion would agree to the request or not, but, even if he did, he could not proffer the same protections Xion could. He was not designed to do the things Xion could do within the real world.
The words that Xion spoke, though his voice, his demeanor, even his speaking style...the words that came from his mouth were not his. Kajira distinctly recalled the conversation that led to Blake nearly getting electrocuted, and she knew that Xion was one that was one that had the capability to...do things...in the real world that no other Navi could. Kajira had never directly asked him about it, but she mostly just had watched him as far as what he was doing, and discovered, purely through that watching, what it was that he was capable of manifesting. She obviously lacked the technical specifications of such, and recalled a prior conversation, as well, with the man and she gave a small frown as she looked at the one that stood before her.
SHe hadn't been certain before. She had the gut instinct of something being wrong, but now there was more that filtered through her mind of that curiosity of his real identity, and from that drew forth the woman's anger. Her ire started to appear upon her body as small volts of electricity, dancing along her arms. She wasn't fully recharged, but she had more than enough of her energy remaining to blow whoever this imposter was away.
"You're not Xion."
The woman's exhaustion manifesting itself very little, but mostly, as her opposite would see, as bits of darkness within the lightning. Like a poison spreading through a vein, the very center of the lightning had what seemed to be darkness itself running through it. This was what had occurred from her reliance on the Dark Recovery that Xion had given her. This was her own regret, manifested in a form that she couldn't stop nor control. But right now, the fact that she had allowed herself to open up to someone else, about Blake, no less, to someone that wasn't one of her closest friends was something that Kajira couldn't accept.
"You have until my patience wears thin to tell me who, or what, you are. And it is very thin already."
The electricity that moved around her intensified. If this one tried to implicate that it was, again, Xion, Kajira would simply let loose with a torrent of lightning. She had seen Xion fight first-hand, both at her side and at her opposite, enough times to know how he did battle. She should have done this from the start but she had been too tired. But now...now the anger at being deceived and giving away that information powered her through raw emotion. She should have thought about what she was doing, took the most agreeable outcome, contacted the ONB, (or what remained of them) for the agreement to turn this imposter into ashes.
But she didn't do any of that. As Xion had taught her, she was following the path that she wanted...and right now, she wanted whoever was impersonating her friend to become deleted.
For a long moment, he remained silent, possibly stretching the tethers of Kajira's patience. He had no modicum of fear to reference, and did not feel the threat of danger she presented - at least, not in the same sense anyone else would. He knew that she threatened his well being, and, should he have to, he would likely act to prevent her from destroying him. Until that time came to pass, and she acted on her words, he'd no reason to fear her.
This very same issue, however, is what brought them to this situation. His inability to understand her's, or anyone else's, emotions prevented him from properly emulating Xion. He pondered this for a while, mulling over within his head how exactly he would respond to this situation. All he knew of the darkloid did not stand to measure against what he did not know about the emotions and beliefs he held, and how he would act to them. Within his range of options was, of course, to continue to try to convince her that he was Xion - but she was right. He was not. He had not come here looking for a fight, and, so, heeded her warning.
"It is not entirely apt to say that Xion is not I, nor that I am not him," he began, deciding it best to explain. "But, I will be as quaint with you as one can be, and very simply inform you: I am not, in the conventional sense, Xion, and I am not sorry for pretending to be."
For a brief moment, the figure that was Xion turned towards her, and the eyes behind his helm shifted color. All the detail within the eyes faded to a simple, but powerful, yellow, and, in that moment, any remnants of Xion's presence left. He abandoned the power he was using to project the darkness, the disruption in flow, the power that Xion exuded, all around him, and simply projected that which only he could . . . nothing.
His image did not revert back. Kajira still stared at Xion's figure, despite the glow of his eyes. He looked without remorse, and simply stared down at Kajira, no fear within his gaze, and no sense of familiarity. "I am Hollow. Your friend was made from extensive studies made on my form, and is the product of specific yields of research from my abilities. He has, in the past, taken on my mantle to accomplish his needs.
"In truth, your "friend," he said, his inflection on the word rather strange, as he did not understand its concept, was felled in combat. Rosso opened up a void and it consumed him, presumably taking him hostage. They delegated that he would be allowed to return when they needed him, meaning Xion is gone. With him not being present, I decided to take up his mantle . . . for reasons I am not entirely sure of myself."
He paused for a moment, lamenting on his own purpose thus far, still very much aware that he did not have any. He took up Xion's form, and decided to fight his fight, with the hope of finding a purpose in Xion's purpose . . . he still didn't have one of his own.
"Now, the lightning you are channeling - put it away, before you threaten me. I've no emotions with which to feel fear, and all you are doing is showing a potential enemy the breadth of your power. Unless you have more to offer, I can deduce that you are not a threat, and I personally am not invested within this enough to fight you."
...Unity remains silent through the entire situation. He gives little to no reference to Hollow beyond a silent thank you, and no reference to any other Navi in the area. As if broken at heart, the small OS just remains on the ground holding his knees with his arms in silence
There was a long moment as Kajira and the one opposite her watched one another, before the thing that was pretending to be Xion started to speak. It offered that he and Xion were not all that different, and that he didn't apologize for it, either. That caused her anger to bristle a bit more, but she didn't respond, waiting for him to simply...continue. The words that he spoke weren't enough to quell her anger, at exposing herself to him so openly, to the others that were here. Blake was the one window into Kajira that she knew she could be exposed through and much as she tried to hide it...it always came out. It had with the ONB. It had with Juno. And it had just now.
The darkness, the raw power that Xion often put out simply seemed to fade. There was nothing left in the air for a moment, and the sudden, rapid change actually caught Kajira a little off-guard as she watched the transformation. The one that stood before her, now, was something that she hadn't seen before. It bore the guise of Xion, but none of what made him...him. It was like looking at a carefully carved doll that was based on the darkloid's visage. Save, of course, the brilliant yellow eyes that matched her own. As it spoke, Kajira did not at first pick up that the thing's name was Hollow. She had thought that it was indicating that it was, in fact, a hollow being. That it was using an adjective, not a proper noun. But as it continued speaking, she began to put it together, realizing that it was being referred to as such.
She listened to his words, the woman consiering what he had to offer for several seconds before the lightning that danced around her form flickered and vanished. The fact that she had opened up to this one...was both good and bad. She could tell, from the way that it spoke, that it didn't comprehend much of the emotion that she had displayed a moment ago. Whatever this Hollow was, and potentially the progenitor of Xion, if he were to be believed, he wasn't something that could understand where she was coming from with her words. He didn't quite realize what it was that she was getting across. Certainly, he would still take the data down and have it in use for another instance, which was the bad part. He couldn't comprehend what meaning lay behind her words, but that was fine.
She glanced over to the small navi, Unity seeming to be as empty as the figure that was speaking to her at the moment. She frowned, feeling a strange maternal instinct well up within her for a moment to comfort, but at the moment, she had other things to deal with. "So you say that he was defeated by Rosso?" she spoke, and the woman that Hollow had been speaking with a moment before, emotional and protective, seemed to be gone, like she too had undergone a similar transformation. She put on her ONB mask, the woman's uncertainties hidden behind her professionalism. "Rosso is a powerful foe. We met him once, here in Bayside." She paused. "That's why you brought me here in the first place, isn't it?" she asked. Her memories of this place would make her more likely to believe that he was Xion. It was...strange. She wasn't angry with the figure before her. His own emptiness seemed to make her anger fall away. There was no point in showing anger toward something that wouldn't understand it in the first place.
He noticed yet another shift in her disposition. She was now stoically closing herself off, doning a mask of professionalism to hide her previously vulnerable emotions. He found it interesting, still, how so many believeed the easiest way to shore up their defenses was to make themselves appear to be without emotions. The one thing he failed to understand and sought after, they so often considered a weakness. Was he better for his design to lack it? . . . Did he care?
The answer, of course, was no.
"Of course. I brought you here as I knew that it was a place you would find familiar - it is also a place I know fairly well, as, after Rosso razed it and defeated all of you, I've studied it and the fight that took place here extensively.
"Rosso deciding to remove Xion from the game rather than outright destroy him rose a few questions, but, it also rose the opportunity for me," he went on, turning about to survey the catastrophe still burning on all around them, from the cinders of Rosso's fury. "So, I ask you, Kajira: Why would Rosso, a powerful and calculating opponent, decide to remove a piece from the game only temporarily?"
Kajira glanced at him, watching the man as he seemed to consider things, now. There was a great deal of...curiosity, here. There were a lot of questions that she had here. The problem was, of course, that she didn't know exactly what to ask. She couldn't put the pieces together to come up with an appropriate question to seek answers from. Instead she merely watched the other as he monologued a bit, surveying the wreckage of the network that they stood at. However, it was then that he directed his attention back to Kajira, speaking about what had happened with Xion.
So, he hadn't been deleted.
Kajira gave a small sound. "If it is what he did here, then he did it to the Animus Syndicate unit too. 414, I believe," she spoke, glancing back to the landscape around here. She didn't know if Rosso was having trouble with dealing with the monster that was K-414 or if there was something else in it as well...but she couldn't imagine that such was the case. He certainly had troubles with Xion too. "If it's anything to do with the way that he had done it before, it was because he couldn't handle Xion. Or potentially how he wanted it to be perceived," she spoke after a moment. She hadn't been in any contact with the Animus Syndicate unit since that had occurred, and as such, she didn't know if there was anything more that had happened once he'd been kicked out of the server. It was difficult to say with a lack of information.
"Alternatively, something happened during their presumed assault on Element City that weakened Rosso, and fighting further would have been simply too risky a calculation to continue with. I do not have an answer for you as I lack information. Something I am sorely attempting to alleviate but every time I've turned around there's been something else demanding my attention." She paused, watching him for a moment, her gaze flickering over the would-be Xion. "So what do you think, then? You seem to fancy yourself an intelligent sort. What answers lay within that data of yours?" she asked simply. She wasn't at Element City- she would have no idea the events that had transpired there, and that made itself very well known in the answers she gave.
Hollow shook his head. "No, I was connected to Xion when he did that. K-414 was simply removed from the server; forcefully logged out. Xion wasn't forcefully logged out, Kajira. He was captured in a separate space, probably with little room to return.
"No, Kajira; I believe what I witnessed was a strategic play. Rosso needed to move a piece, but, did not want to take one in the process - he's picking off targets and making careful moves, like a game of chess or checkers. He targets specific pieces, focuses his moves on clearing those pieces from the board, and then retreats, even if he could take more pieces at the time. He strikes without killing intent against any foe that isn't his current target, and he leads the Navis that chase after him right where he wants them.
"I don't think he's simply thinking a few steps ahead - I think he's planned out the whole game, and is setting up situations to force our best possible answer to be the catalyst he needs to perform his next move; and like lambs to the slaughter, we're doing what he wants of us."