- "I just want to be the big sister he's so proud of..."
- — Akira Hayami —
MUTATION is the second book in the Another Birth series. It continues the story of Akira Hayami and her character BlackRose as she searches for a way to help her brother Fumikazu out of his coma. Things grow complicated as incidents outside of the game begin to affect Akira as well. Meanwhile, her adventures with Kite begin to grow more and more dangerous. It roughly occurs in the same time frame as the game that shares its name .hack//MUTATION
Akira enters her brother Fumikazu's room, looking for his login information for "The World" so she can pay his monthly fees. While looking around on his computer she discovers a file entitled "DD", which turns out to be an online diary of his adventures within "The World". Inside she finds the information she needs, curiosity gets the better of her, so Akira decides to read a bit further. She finds out that Fumikazu started playing "The World" on the advice of his friend Shinya. His first few adventures involved finding a powerful player named Sieg, and making friends with a girl named Haru, who had an older sister that played tennis just like him! Later on, Akira finds two entries with significant importance to her, the first details Fumikazu's first encounter with the Descendants of Fianna, Orca and Balmung, the second talks about two players he partied with named Mac and Shua. From their descriptions Akira realizes they're the characters of her real life friend Shouko and her boyfriend Yuuji.
Akira thinks about the events that brought her to "The World", and tells herself that she has to keep working hard for her brother.
After receiving an e-mail from Lios, BlackRose enters the root town of Carmina Gadelica on Lambda Server. She meets up with Kite and the two talk with Lios, who has disguised himself as an NPC shopkeeper. Lios tells Kite that he needs him to enter and explore a protected area using the Gate Hack function of his bracelet. To help him, he gives Kite a Virus Core that CC Corp extracted from an infected monster. Lios tells Kite and BlackRose that the area words should be on the BBS, then leaves them to their work. BlackRose tells Kite she'll check the boards and meet up with him in five minutes, and leaves to check the board. On it she finds a large topic about the Epitaph of Twilight and a message containing the keywords Λ Dolorous Evil-Eyed Widow. The message talks about a strange girl, who BlackRose recognizes as Aura.
Akira prepares to log back in, but her mother suddenly appears and tells her she shouldn't stay up late playing video games. After all, that's what Fumikazu used to do and look what happened to him. Akira want to protest, but decides to keep her mouth shut. By the time her Mom leaves her alone, she's already way past the time she agreed to meet with Kite. She logs back into "The World", but is unable to find him.
At school the next day, Akira cleans up after tennis practice. She's exhausted, having spent most of the night before searching fruitlessly for information on the Epitaph of Twilight. Asaoka comes up and offers to help, so Akira takes the opportunity to ask her about the Epitaph. To her surprise, Asaoka knows quite a bit about it. She tells Akira that it was an epic poem published by a woman named Emma Wielant. She hasn't read much of the text, but found a piece of it quoted in another book. The piece she found was a riddle, but Akira is unable to figure out the answer. Akira realizes that if she's seen talking to Asaoka too long, that the other girls might start bullying her, so she excuses herself and goes to see Risa in the locker room.
That night she gets an e-mail from Kite. He says that the reason she couldn't find him was because when she didn't show up he'd gone along with Mia and Elk instead. BlackRose decides to do more research and finds the keywords to another protected area on the board, Λ Nameless Seeker's Prairie. She also realizes that the fragment she found in an earlier dungeon is also a piece of the Epitaph of Twilight. BlackRose invites Kite to a party, and logs into "The World", before meeting with Kite in Carmina Gadelica she stops by Dun Loireag's farm to check on her Grunty, when she feeds it, it suddenly transforms into a Noble Grunty. Pleased that she no longer has to take care of it, she goes to meet Kite.
Kite suggests they invite Mistral as well, glad to have more help BlackRose agrees and soon the three begin their journey to Λ Nameless Seeker's Prairie. At the bottom of the dungeon they find a Wavemaster about to be attacked by a Data Bug. They rescue him and initiate a conversation, however the Wavemaster, Sheraton seems incapable of talking fluently. He keeps asking them for something called "The End". With a start BlackRose realizes that his name is from the segment of the Epitaph that Asaoka showed her. Before she can question him Sheraton warps away. They report their findings to Lios, who tells that that Sheraton was probably a Wandering A.I., a bugged piece of data. He tells them that CC Corp will give them orders soon, and warps away. Angered by the way he brushed them off, BlackRose e-mails Kite asking if following Lios is really the best plan.
A few days later BlackRose returns to Λ Nameless Seeker's Prairie and has another encounter with Sheraton. She talks to him, and when he asks for "the end" she gives him the answer to the riddle Asaoka asked. The answer seems to calm him down, and he thanks BlackRose. He then fades away, BlackRose having laid his data to rest and ended his program. BlackRose realizes that the Wandering A.I.'s are more than just bugged data. And begins to dislike Lios more and more.
Kite responds to BlackRose's e-mail by saying that they should obey Lios for now, since he's their best source of information at the moment. BlackRose understands where he's coming from, but is still angry that they have to follow somebody like Lios.
During tennis practice Akira is approached by Asaoka, who tries to tell her something. However Risa interrupts before Akira can hear what she wants to say. Risa asks if Asaoka has been bullying Akira, which causes Akira to get angry. She yells at Risa, but quickly realizes what she's doing and apologizes. Over the next few days, Akira notices that the bullying against her has stopped, but that Asaoka has stopped coming to school. Eventually her tennis captain Koura comes up to her, and asks if she knows anything about Asaoka. Akira tells her about their meeting during practice, but has no idea why Asaoka has stopped coming to school. Later, after practice Akira and Risa are late getting back to the locker room. When they enter they hear several of the upperclassmen, Igarashi, Kobayakawa, and Natori talking about Asaoka. Akira learns that they stopped bullying her in order to switch to Asaoka. Infuriated she confronts them, which causes Igarashi and Kobayakawa to back down. However Natori accuses her Dad of pulling in favors to get her picked as first string. Risa springs to Akira's defense, her words cool down the situation, and the other girls realize that the reason Akira was chosen was because of her hard work.Captain Koura appears having overheard the entire thing. She tells Akira and Risa to leave, and stays behind to talk with the other girls.
In "The World", BlackRose is contacted by Lios who tells her to meet up with Kite to explore another area. She finds him at Carmina Gadelica's Chaos Gate. He says that they'll probably want another player, and notices Elk sulking around the gate as well. Elk says that he's been looking for Mia, but can't find her. He asks if he can party with Kite today, and so BlackRose, Kite, and Elk travel to the field Λ Resurrecting Confused Judgment. As expected the field is corrupted. Kite seems uneasy, as if he senses something in the area, but Elk seems unaffected by the scenery. In the dungeon they suddenly run into a strange mosaic like monster. Kite attacks it, but his attacks have little effect. The creature flees from them, deeper into the dungeon. BlackRose and the others pursue it through the dungeon, but every time they get close enough to attack, the creature runs away again. Finally they find another door shrouded in mist. Elk casts strengthening spells on the rest of the party, and they enter through the portal. Suddenly BlackRose's display goes crazy, a nearly deafening noise comes through her headset, and when she recovers she finds that they've been transported to the same area they fought Skeith in.
However this time it's not Skeith that appears, but the strange monster they'd been chasing. The creature, named Innis attacks them, using various status changing attacks and summoned monsters to fight with. However with Elk's healing magic, and Kite and BlackRose's physical attacks they eventually succeed in protect breaking it. BlackRose holds off Innis, and Kite is able to successfully Data Drain it, obtaining an item called "Segment 1" in the process. With Innis weakened, BlackRose and Kite continue their attacks and eventually destroy it. Upon its death, BlackRose hears a strange sound in the distance, as if something was roaring. Concerned they all return to Carmina Gadelica, where Elk parts ways with them.
Walking through town, they discover that the entire town is empty. Neither PCs nor NPCs are anywhere to be seen. Suddenly Lios appears, he says that by fighting Innis they caused another server crash. He angrily tells them that their mission was to investigate, and nothing else. Still fuming he warps away, leaving Kite and BlackRose behind. BlackRose tries to comfort Kite, saying that the defeat of Innis should do some good, but Kite doesn't seem to believe it. Angry over Lios' behavior, BlackRose decides that she's not going to listen to him anymore.
Its Name Is Cubia
As autumn begins to fade into winter in the real world, BlackRose waits for Lambda Server to come back online. Still fed up with Lios' actions, she sends an e-mail to Kite asking if they should stop working with Lios. When the server comes back up, BlackRose logs in only to find it filled with strange NPCs apparently designed to act like PCs and make it look like the server is working again. She soon runs into Kite, who tells her that he received a garbled e-mail from Aura, telling him to take the Segment Innis had to a certain field. At the end of the message was a strange warning "Beware of Cubia". Kite is unsure what this message means, but has decided to investigate anyway, he invites BlackRose and Mistral to his party, and they travel to Λ Merciless Grieving Furnace.
BlackRose mentions that the corruption that has been appearing in fields has spread outside of the protected areas, and can now be seen in almost every field within "The World". Λ Merciless Grieving Furnace is no exception, and corruption can be seen throughout the area. Kite leads everybody into the dungeon, and they begin to explore. Mistral's playful attitude helps keep everybody's spirits up, and reminds BlackRose that Mistral is still unaware of the dangers that lurk in the system. Kite senses this too, and takes the opportunity to explain to Mistral about Orca and his quest. Mistral doesn't believe him at first, but that soon changes when the segment Kite has begins to react to the field. The ghostly form of Aura appears and the segment floats into her body. Before anybody can react, the area suddenly begins to shake, Aura vanishes as a gigantic creature appears. BlackRose recognizes it as the monster they saw after fighting Skeith, and realizes that this is the Cubia Aura warned them about. Kite, BlackRose, and Mistral fight against Cubia, which attacks them using several creatures called Gomoras. The core of Cubia itself keep s switching from physical to magical tolerance, but with BlackRose's strength, Mistral's magic, and Kite's powerful skills they eventually succeed in defeating it. Wounded, Cubia flees from the battlefield.
Helba teleports in and congratulates them on their victory. She tells Kite that he should look for Aura's remaining segments and restore her power. Kite asks if that will help Orca, but Helba dodges his question. Mistral apologizes to Kite for not taking him seriously, and says that if either BlackRose or Kite need any help, she'll be happy to lend a hand. BlackRose is surprised by how serious she is, and wonders what Mistral is like in reality.
In the real world a bit of mayhem insues when Fumikazu's pet prairie dog Hana escapes from her cage. After a mad chase through the house Akira finds her sleeping in one of Fumikazu's blankets. Being reminded of her brother causes her to burst into tears, and she spends most of the night cuddling with Hana.
Meanwhile Lambda Server is finally restored. While walking through Carmina Gadelica BlackRose runs into Natsume. Natsume tells her that she saw a post on the BBS talking about a monster called the "Level 10 Vine". According to the post, defeating this monster will multiply a players level by a factor of ten. Eager to increase her strength, Natsume has decided to hunt down the monster in Λ Bottomless Hopeless Footstep. BlackRose wishes her luck, but when she looks at the area's level later, she realizes that Natsume is far too weak to make it through the dungeon. She notices Kite walking nearby, and together they decide to go rescue Natsume. They warp to the field, and after exploring a bit find Natsume inside of the dungeon being attacked by monsters. They succeed in rescuing her, and an embarrassed Natsume tells them that the Level 10 Vine must have been a hoax, but that she'll do her best to get stronger for them. BlackRose realizes that this is one of the few times shes explored a regular area with Kite.
Following their fight with Innis, the BBS had crashed along with Lamba Server. Without the BBS, BlackRose's main source of information had dried up, so when the BBS finally came online, she eagerly scoured it for new rumors. Searching through the various threads, she finds a new post about the Epitaph of Twilight. This post says that the Epitaph is about a world being ruined by a Cursed Wave, which can only be stopped by the mythical Twilight Dragon. BlackRose remembers that Linda mentioned the Twilight Dragon as well during their meeting. Wanting more information BlackRose sends an e-mail to that post's author, 01, she also e-mails Kite to arrange a meeting.
While waiting in Carmina Gadelica, BlackRose runs into Chimney and NOVA. They marvel at how fast she's leveled up, and encourage her to group with them. NOVA mentions that she's always surrounded with strange and interesting characters like Mia, and tells her not to forget about more normal players like him and Chimney. BlackRose promises to invite them soon, and watches as they warp away. Soon afterwards Kite warps in, right as BlackRose gets an e-mail. Thinking it's from 01 she logs out to check it but finds that it's from Mistral instead. Her e-mail says that she's noticed that BlackRose seems to take the game a lot more seriously then other players, and she wants to know why she started playing with Kite. Before BlackRose can reply a second, and then a third e-mail arrive. In these Mistral drops her childlike persona and talks to BlackRose as an adult. She says that she's worried about BlackRose, and that it seems like she's trying to carry a lot of burdens on her own. She'd like it if BlackRose would open up to her a bit and talk her problems out with her. She also tells BlackRose a bit about her real life. To BlackRose's surprise she finds out that Mistral is actually an adult housewife! BlackRose responds to her e-mail with some information about herself, and the two agree to meet. Later the two meet in Dun Loireag. Mistral and BlackRose have a long discussion while BlackRose talks to her about Fumikazu, and her problems at school and home. The two wind up talking for several hours.
In the real world Akira gets a text message from Asaoka. She tells her that she plans on coming to school again. Later, during tennis practice Natori apologizes to Akira about her bullying. Akira accepts her apology and the two become friends again. After practice Akira talks to Asaoka and decides to tell her a bit about her investigation. Asaoka promises to do more research on the Epitaph of Twilight, but warns her that she should focus on school as well as "The World".
Later in "The World", BlackRose is approached by a small party of players. The players, Coo, Kira, and Nei tell her that they ran into a heavily wounded player out in a field. They were too weak to help her themselves, but wanted to know if BlackRose, a higher level player would be wiling to go save her. BlackRose agrees and travels to the field Λ Formless His Footprints to rescue the player. She eventually finds her deep inside the dungeon, and realizes that the player is Haru, the girl Fumikazu mentioned in his journal. Haru tells BlackRose that she's looking for a rare item in the dungeon for a friend who hasn't logged in for awhile, and BlackRose knows that she's talking about Fumikazu's character Kazu. She decides to help her out, and together they succeed in getting a rare wand. Haru thanks BlackRose for her help, and the two exchange member addresses. She asks if Kazu sent her, but BlackRose lies and says she has no idea who Kazu is. The two part, but agree to meet again in the future.
Sometime later, Kite e-mails BlackRose with more information from Linda. He says that Balmung has been moving through all the areas Orca investigated prior to his disappearance, and that he intends to do the same. The two meet up and travel to one of these areas Λ Dying Madness Haunted Land, where they find another strange room. This time a room filled with shattered birdcages. Inside they find another portion of the Epitaph. They also meet Balmung, who demands to know what they're doing there. Kite asks Balmung what Orca found in his investigation but Balmung refuses to share his information. BlackRose realizes that Balmung is exactly like her, he's trying to do everything by himself without relying on other people. She also suspects that he's begun following them, since there's no way he could have accessed a protected area. After logging out BlackRose gets a reply from 01, his reply tells her that he got his information about the Epitaph of Twilight from a player named Wiseman. He suggests that she meet with Wiseman herself and gives her a field name where she can find him. BlackRose forwards the e-mail to Kite so they can arrange a meeting.
She also receives a second e-mail, this time from Lios ordering her to stop her investigation. She quickly deletes it.
He Showed Us the Way
BlackRose continues to exchange e-mails with Mistral. She asks Mistral about Kite, but Mistral tells her that even though she e-mails him like she does BlackRose, she still doesn't know a whole lot about him. BlackRose considers asking Kite about some of her real life information, but realizes that she's not ready to give the same information to him. Despite her confusion over his identity, she meets up with him in Carmina Gadelica, and together they go to the field 01 mentioned, Λ Dazzling Sage's Arctic. At the bottom of the dungeon they find Wiseman, overseeing a trade between several users. After completing the trade he turns his attention to BlackRose and Kite. When they ask him about the Epitaph of Twilight he agrees to sell them information, but says that first they'll have to pay for it. He tells them he'll send them an e-mail with his conditions later. With no other way to get information, Kite and BlackRose agree to his terms and leave the dungeon. After returning to town, they part ways.
At school, Akira rummages through the music storage room looking for a tape. To her surprise an upperclassmen enters the room and begins talking to her. He says that he's been watching her at tennis practice, and suddenly asks her out. He hands her a paper containing his contact information, then leaves the room leaving Akira bewildered. When she talks to Shouko about it later, she finds out that his name is Hagiya and that he's a guitarist in one of the schools music clubs. Later that night Akira decides to call him. She tells him that she has so much going on, that it's not really a good time for her to be seeing anybody. Hagiya accepts her rejection, but tells her that he's not giving up on her yet. He tells her to e-mail him later, but she winds up throwing away his contact information.
In "The World", BlackRose gets the promised e-mail from Wiseman. His request seems simple, in exchange for the rare Spark Sword located at Λ Blooming Promised Walkway he'll give up information on the Epitaph of Twilight. She logs into "The World" to find Kite waiting for her. While talking to him she realizes that he reminds her a bit of Hagiya. After inviting Mistral they get ready to enter the field, which turns out to be protected. Luckily Kite has enough Virus Cores and they're able to get through the protection. At the bottom of the dungeon they find another mist filled portal, this time with a Data Bug behind it. The monster is tough, but is nothing compared to Skeith, Innis, or Cubia and the group manages to defeat it fairly quickly. Kite obtains the Spark Sword as a reward for beating it. They return to Carmina Gadelica. BlackRose notices Balmung off in the distance talking to Lios, but they both warp away when she tries to approach them. She wonders if Balmung has started working for Lios as well.
They bring the sword to Wiseman, who seems surprised at their success. He tells them that he never expected to find somebody who could hack through protected areas. BlackRose realizes that finding the Spark Sword was just a way for Wiseman to test them. Kite decides to trust Wiseman, and tells him about his Bracelet and Orca. Wiseman agrees to help them out, and gives the Spark Sword to BlackRose as a gift. Logging out of "The World", BlackRose notices that Wiseman has already sent her some information.
Wiseman's e-mail contains a portion of the Epitaph of Twilight. In the text eight creatures are listed, including Skeith and Innis. Wiseman suggests that BlackRose and Kite contact Helba, and gives them a strange set of directions to find her base, Net Slum. "East, north, south, west, north. The Gates to Paradise will open." BlackRose speculates that since they fought Skeith and Innis, the remaining six creatures; Magus, Fidchell, Gorre, Macha, Tarvos, and Corbenik will have to be defeated as well. She also notes that Cubia isn't mentioned at all. She e-mails Kite asking for his opinion on the e-mail, then travels to Δ Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground to look at the statue. She examines the inscriptions at the base of the statue, and even though she knows all of the names written on it, she still can't make out anything beyond Magus. She is so lost in thought that she misses a call from Asaoka in real life. Wondering why she'd called so late at night Akira tries to call her back, but gets no response.
At school, Asaoka's motives become clear, she's trying to set Akira up with Hagiya! Even worse, all of Akira's friends seem to be in on it too. Though the entire class is busy setting up a haunted house for the school's culture festival, everybody seems to be looking for a way to get Akira and Hagiya together. Asaoka and Shouko both encourage Akira to go see Hagiya play at the culture festival's concert, but she does her best to deny them.
In "The World", BlackRose sees a message about a strange character at Λ Scattering Fossil's Milestone. She meets up with Kite and together they go to explore the area. BlackRose notices that even though the area is heavily infected, that it wasn't protected. At the bottom of the dungeon they encounter a Wandering A.I. named Plaird. Although his speech is quite erratic, Plaird tells them that Net Slum is located at Λ Pulsating Worst Core. Suddenly Lios appears and uses a special command to delete Plaird. He angrily tells them that they weren't supposed to move on their own, and that if they continue he'll be forced to delete them. Before they can argue, Lios gates away.
Kite and BlackRose decide to visit Net Slum even without Lios' permission. They travel back to Carmina Gadelica and are surprised to see Balmung waiting at the Chaos Gate. He quickly hands Kite and item, then gates away. The two are about to warp to Λ Pulsating Worst Core when Mistral appears and asks if she can come along too. They invite her, and after Kite hacks through the protection they warp to the field. They enter the dungeon, and Mistral realizes that Wiseman's clue was actually the directions through the dungeon, which teleports anybody who takes a wrong turn back to the beginning. Following the clues they successfully traverse the dungeon and enter a pure white room containing nothing but an old fashioned shrine archway. Without warning all of them are warped away, and find themselves standing in what appears to be a ruined city.
The city, which they soon realize to be Net Slum, is filled with a multitude of Wandering A.I.'s. Kite and BlackRose try to find information on Helba, but are only met with nonsensical answers from the A.I.'s. Eventually they locate a creature named Tartarga who is finally able to answer their questions. He tells them that the Epitaph of Twilight is a story about how an Age of Spirits ended. He also tells them that Net Slum is a sort of junkyard for trashed data like Wandering A.I.'s. Many of them were formerly PCs, but after being abandoned by their creators their character data was left to roam the system. He mentions that a similar thing happened to "Harald".
Helba materializes above them and reads a note that she says was written by Harald Hoerwick, the original programmer of Fragment and "The World". Kite tells her that their investigation has led them to investigate the Epitaph of Twilight, and Helba congratulates both Kite and BlackRose for their tenacity. However before she can speak to them further Helba suddenly turns and greets Balmung, who was hiding on top of a nearby building. Helba laughs at Balmung, saying that he's disgraced his name as a Descendant of Fianna by working for Lios. BlackRose realizes that Balmung had been following them the entire time on Lios' orders, and that the item he'd given Kite earlier had been a Virus Core to enter Net Slum. Balmung says that his actions were necessary to restore order to "The World". Lios suddenly appears out of nowhere. He begins to charge up an attack, preparing to delete Kite, BlackRose, and Helba but before he can finish it all of Net Slum begins to shake. Lios demands to know what Helba's doing, but she simply says that it has nothing to do with her. It's "Her" doing, or to be more specific "The World" itself that has turned against them.
Balmung, Lios, and Helba gate away leaving Kite, BlackRose, and Mistral behind. Net Slum begins to fall apart around them, and once again they find themselves in the ruin filled are where they fought Skeith and Innis. Before their eyes the next enemy, Magus appears and begins to attack them. It throws several leaves on the ground which suddenly explode, nearly killing BlackRose and her friends. Kite realizes that the leaves are part of Magus' attack pattern and tells BlackRose to destroy them, while he battles Magus itself. With Mistral assisting with heals this strategy succeeds, and Magus is Data Drained and defeated.
Kite and his party begin to celebrate, but their victory is short lived when the area they're in begins to collapse. They return to Carmina Gadelica, but are met with another surprise. The corruption they'd seen in the fields has spread into the Root Towns. The once beautiful city is now completely corrupted. Shocked, they all log out.
In the real world, Akira is called downstairs. On the TV she sees that the port area Minato Mirai has suffered a series of disasters, including power failures and fires. With a start she remembers that her Father had a business meeting at Minato Mirari that day. Somewhere in the chaos there, is Akira's Father...