The Muse in the Volcano

The ferry began to pull away from the sloped, weather-warped pier, tooting as it bulled through the water. Toni shifted her weight. She was rewarded by sand overtopping one boot and spilling inside.

"So what the shit are we doin' here again?" Beatnik whined from inside Toni's jacket. "It's a big damn rock."

"It's a volcano." Toni's voice stayed completely flat. She wasn't going to let herself get riled up so easily this time. She kicked off her boots, knotted their laces together, and tossed them over her shoulder. It made the going across the beach a little bit easier.

"If it were a volcano, you'd have your legs burnt into ashes up to your knees and I'd be laughin' my ass off."

"It's a dormant volcano. I've read that this island helps open creative outlets."

"Where'd you see that, on one of your shitty poetry forums?"

"They aren't shitty."

"Dude, do you even read that crap!? I know I do, coz you make me sift through alla that junk for you, and man, by the time I'm done, feels like my head's gonna go thermonuclear--"

Toni reached inside her jacket and pressed the much-worn MUTE button.

She padded across the warm sand in her bare feet, looking for a place to sit. The slope of the volcano hurled its enormous shadow across the eastern side of the island. She could see the openings of caves speckling the rock, and wondered exactly what kind of things lived in them.

Toni picked a place next to a tree, just under the volcano's shade. She spread her jacket out and sat on it. A knock on the tree revealed that it was a fake. A bit of fumbling and prodding popped open a jack-in hatch.

Might as well give the idiot something to keep herself busy with, Toni thought as she jacked Beatnik into the network.

Her Navi hovered in the PET frame and badmouthed Toni for a little while before skating off into the network. Toni was grateful she'd left the mute on.

She flipped over to her writing program and looked out across the ocean. It was calm today. The waves tumbled onto the beach, a respectable thirty feet from where she sat, in soothing little washes. There was just enough of a breeze to keep the heat off.

This will be perfect, and there's nobody around to bother me. Why didn't I think of this before?

With that thought out of the way, she turned her mind's eye toward the blackened reaches of her soul and began to write.
"Man, it sure is hot here." Viktoryia commented, arriving on the island wearing clothing that are much more suited for warm areas then her icy homeland. "How did you convince me to come here and not the beach again?" Vik asked someone, getting a response from her hip.

"Because we decided that we would face viruses that arn't indigenous to Sharo, and we both know I would never go to Beachnet." The voice from the hip said, causing Vik to take the PET from it's hoister on her hip.

"Yea yea, and you wanted to come here since the terrain wouldn't be harmful to you." She told her navi, looking right at the screen before taking a look at her surroundings. "Now we just need to find a jack in point, and you can go delete as many viruses as you want." She said, before moving around the island.

Traveling the island, she found someone sitting under a tree. Maybe she would know where a place to jack in would be, Viktoryia thoughts, moving towards the person.

"Um, hey? Sorry for interrupting whatever it is you are doing, but do you know where a Jack in port is?" Viktoriya asked the woman in all black once she arrived at her location.
Dark wings shred the sky to ashes
the nightingales of hell are at the windowsill
"Come forth," they cry, their voices shrill,
"And meet your master and creator in the depths of h

Toni juggled her PET in surprise. Someone had come around a stony buttress of the volcano's slope. She got her PET back under control, pulled the brim of her cap as low across her eyes as it would go, and glowered furiously at the intruder.

A once-over told Toni all she needed to know. Some tourist, probably. Some tourist that was dressed like an idiot for a semi-tropical island.

"Do you know where jack-in port is?" the intruder asked, and Toni's gaze went to the synthetic tree until she realized that she was giving herself away. She ripped her eyes back to woman, gave her the most vicious frown she could summon, and shoved her face down so close to the PET screen that her nose almost touched it.

Just great.
Aelieth, fresh off the boat, shaded his eyes as he looked around. While the volcano dominated the view, he only had eyes for the sand and the sun. His face fell. "Not a speck of green and barely any shade... Why did we come out to such a miserable place again?" he asked, apparently to the open air.

Holoß popped into existence on his operator's shoulder, a little projection about twelve inches tall. He slid off, moving to float a short distance in front of Aelieth before shrugging. He offered a few flashes of the faces of several of Aelieth's fellow students as a possible answer.

"True," Aelieth said, catching the drift of Holo's message. The only reason he had even entertained thoughts of coming out to a place called "Hades Isle" was because he had overheard a group of students talking about the island and the networks it housed. "Well, we had better find somewhere to jack-in," he sighed, trudging off along the beach.

After a while, he spotted two others around what, upon closer inspection, would prove to be an artificial tree. He waved as he approached. Maybe some company would make this horrible environment a little more bearable.

"How's it going?" He greeted once he was in speaking distance. "Pretty warm out, today, isn't it?"
Wow, she doesn't seem friendly. Viktoryia thought, as this strange Woman in all black looked at the tree and then frowned at her. ... Oh, the tree is fake and has a port... Vik figured out, taking a closer look at the tree. "Um, thank you." Vik said, before jacking Arc into the Hades network and sitting down on the other side of the tree as the woman.

And then, she heard someone calling out from the distance. She turned her head to see who it could be, and saw a male. "Um, it's going well. And anyplace is warm compared to where I'm from." Vik responded.
Toni clamped her hands over her ears. Maybe if I ignore them for long enough, they'll stop being here.

Two seconds (or two minutes, or two hours - who knew?) later, when she opened her eyes again, they hadn't left.


She minimized the writing program to discover Beatnik punching away at some viruses. Toni could not have possibly cared less at the moment. Instead, she pulled up the document she'd saved on the ride over: the day's ferry schedule.

There wouldn't be another one for two hours.

She considered hiking up the side of the volcano and hurling herself in.

If these two fools weren't going to get lost on their own, Toni was going to have to take the proactive approach.

"Not warm at all," she said. Her voice was as flat as the beach. It was mostly a lie, since she was dressed all in black: long-sleeved shirt, jeans, cap, arm-warmers. Only her scarf was white. "Not nearly warm enough to thaw out my brittle, rocky, frozen heart."
"Ookay..." Aelieth said, eyeing the black clad woman with an odd look. "Well, I guess it's good you're not letting the heat get to you..." He really couldn't think of much else to say. She seemed like a rather unpleasant person, but he wasn't one to judge. Maybe she's just having a bad day or something, he thought.

The other woman, however, seemed much more personable. "Anywhere's warmer than home? Where are you from, Sharo?" he chuckled, the fact that his 'joke' may actually be the truth not even crossing his mind.

He saw that the other two had their PeT's connected to the tree, which he now realized was in fact not a living object. Pulling out his PeT, he hooked it up to the tree to join them. "Have you busted on this network before?" he asked, leaving the question open for either of them two answer, though he figured only one would give him an legitimate answer.
"Actually, yea." Vik told Aelieth, watching him plug his PET into the tree. "From one of the coldest parts of it." She added, turning her attention back towards her PET. "And I don't see how someone dressed as her can stand this weather." Vik commented, pointing at the girl behind her.

"And have I busted on this network before? No." Vik responded, looking at her PET screen. "Although it does look like what me and my navi were expecting, which means it would be less hazardous then at home." She added.

And less then Netvegas...
"My train wreck of a Navi is working on that at the moment. Perhaps, if you jack in, you'll suffer the terrible misfortune of meeting her."

Toni pulled up her writing program again. After all, she could now draw on this miserable experience to get some hardcore poetry done. Such awful occurrences lent her work additional strength and realism.

"Now what could possibly have brought you people out to a godforsaken rock like this?" she asked in a colourless drone. "If we aren't frizzled away to nothing by a wave of lava"--she thumbed over he shoulder at the volcano--"we could be forgotten by the ferry and left to our own devices for the rest of our tragically shortened lives. We'd starve. Or drown trying to escape. Or turn to cannibalism."
"Actually, I overheard some people at Dentech talking about how this place was great for virus busting, though they failed to mention how..." he cast about for a suitable word, "...unpleasant the place is." He passed on the later part of Toni's statement. He wasn't going to let her little black rain cloud blow over to him.

Holo floated about lazily, not yet transmitted into the tree-port.

"So," he said, turning his attention to the other woman, "what makes the Sharo network so hazardous? Strong viruses, or something else?" he asked, trying to make conversation.
"Well, my navi wanted to bust here, that is pretty much it... And I really douth any of that is going to happen, sure the heat isn't getting to you?" Vik responded to Toni, not turning her head to look at her. She then looked towards Aelieth, and answered his question.

"Yea, um, why Sharo is hazardous... lets put it this way. Have you ever seen a fire navi in a sea panel?"
"Not at all. Like I said, brittle, rocky, frozen heart." She paused, then added, "unpleasant indeed."

Wait. Maybe this could work in my favour. Constructive criticism. Yes.

"I have travelled out here to fulfill my poetic yearnings," she said, injecting her voice with just the right amount of mystery and grandeur. This made it only slightly less deadpan than usual. "The harsh environment helps spur the creative process. Would you like to hear some?"

Without waiting so much as a second for a response, Toni pulled up her writing program. She straightened her back, gave her diaphram a couple of trial deep breaths, and lifted her chin.

"The Harbingers of Shadow, by Antoinette Smith. Featured in Hush, little razor blades on the doorstep of my blackened soul, a blog by Gnomon.

"Dark wings shred the sky to ashes
the nightingales of hell are at the windowsill
'Come forth,' they cry, their voices shrill,
'And meet your master and creator in the depths of hell.'

I turn and see the north dissolve into fire,
the south overcome by ice,
the east and west annihilated by some secret, destructive device,
and the stars blotted out by the smoke of a trillion burning corpses.

"It's a work in progress," she added posthumously.
"Can't say I have," Aelieth responded to the cheerier of the two women. "I can imagine how it would end up, though," he chuckled.

Then the darker of the two operators began reciting her poetry. Aelieth was by no means an expert on the written word, but the dour tone that permeated the poem put Aelieth off.

"Erm... it's, um... pretty good..." he struggled, trying not to offend. His smile faltered even as he said the words.

Holo, hidden behind Aelieth and out of sight of Toni, was doubled over in midair, silent but raucous laughter paralyzing his small frame. He bookmarked the blog Toni had cited to peruse at a later date. If they were all like this one, reading the others would be hilarious.
"And that, added with the type of viruses there, is why Sharo is hazardous." Vik said, looking back at her PET. "Unless you're navi isn't fire element, then this place would probably be worst."

And then Toni just decided to... read them a poem. Vik... didn't know how to respond to it... and just turned around a bit and looked right at Toni...

"Um... no comment." Was the only response that Vik could come up with, towards the poem she was forced to listen to. Vik never really read much poetry, and for all she could know that was actually something good... But she couldn't shake the feeling that wasn't the case at all. As she was turning back around, she spotted something behind Aelieth. Something that looks like it was... laughing?

"...Is that your navi behind you?" Vik asked the man.
When the woman in the coat pointed out the man's Navi, Toni leaned backwards to see around his back. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of Holo, but that was the emotion she showed. The real fireworks were going on inside her ribcage. Maybe, if she was lucky, she could talk Beatnik into beating that Navi up later.

"The same as all those other cretins on the forums," Toni muttered. "Classless and tasteless. Wouldn't know a masterpiece if it mugged them in an alley."

Speaking of Beatnik, Toni switched back to the main screen of her PET. There she was, in all her eye-searing glory, bludgeoning some virus to death with an ElecKnife. That automatic chip dispenser really had been a wonderful idea on Toni's part. The less interaction she had to have with Beatnik, the better. Some days -- like today -- she simply wasn't prepared for such ordeals.
Aelieth turned at Vik's remark... to see Holo making a fool of himself behind his back.

Well, this is mortifying...

"Holo, stop that! It's really rude.." he shot to the Navi in a harsh whisper, shooing him back into the PeT. He quickly pressed the "Transmit" button to send the (still laughing) Navi whizzing into the network, out of sight of the other two.

"Sorry about that... Antoinette, right?" he guessed the name from her declaration of her poem. "He's kind of a kid at heart, which makes him kind of childish at times." Invisible in the data stream almost entirely in Hades Net, a green mouth stuck out a cartoonish tongue.

"I'm Aelieth, by the way," he addressed both women. "It's nice to meet the both of you."
I... don't think any masterpieces would want to try and mug me, or can, actually." Vik told Toni, watching Holo disappear and listening to Aelieth's explanation.

"Wait... Halo, you don't mean that was Holoß the quarter-finalist in that tournament?" Vik asked, looking right at Aelieth. What the hell were the odds that she would meet one of the folks from that tournament, here of all places, on one of the last days she had before returning for Duty. "It's an honor to meet you Aelieth, I'm Viktoriya Erin." She said, extending a hand out towards the man in offering of a handshake.
"It's nice to meet you as well," Aelieth responded, taking Vik's hand and shaking it.
Time passed after that handshake, and Vik remembered something that she had wanted to do. She told her navi, but the others in the area could hear what she said. Once Arc was back in her PET, Vik turned and looked at her two companions.

"Well, sorry I can't stay any longer." Vik said to Toni and Aelieth "I have limited time before I have to return to Sharo for active duty, and I wanted to get an SP for when I'm off duty... since on duty you have to get a bunch of clearance and stuff to have one, and they give it to you so in most cases you don't get to chose what it looks like. And I would actually like to try and control that... I would like to stay here and try for the mission exxxpect, I kind of need to buy some chips to get Arc strong enough to actually beable to do one" She said , getting up. "Anyway, it was nice meeting you both. I hope I'll beable to meet you two again when I'm off duty. Now to see if I can't catch the ferry." She said, before heading off.
"Well, it's been fun," Aelieth said as he pocketed his now reoccupied PeT. "Hopefully you find what inspiration you want. Have a good one."

Holo, unbeknownst to Aelieth, blasted a quick message to Beatnik's PeT containing contact information. She was weird, like him. Also a refrigerator.

Aelieth trekked back to the ferry and began the journey home.