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Prologue

July 17, 2023-Floor 35

The sky was dark and full of gloom. Rain was pouring. Thunder boomed overhead, and lightning struck every few seconds.

I looked down at my worn blade, scratched or dented in almost every place possible. I wasn't going to last much longer. A loud cry came from behind me.

My eyes darted to the source of the sound. All I saw there was darkness, except for a pair of glowing red eyes peering out from it. I readied myself, preparing for the monster I was about to face.

I took a few steps back, while trying to get past the overwhelming fear I felt. I didn't come here alone.

I came here with six others, thinking we alone could defeat the field boss. We were all so happy and carefree. Until every single one of them died except me.

My eyes widened as I saw a monster the size of an RV slowly come out of the darkness, bearing teeth the size of knives. The monster was called the "Bane of the Forest", and I was about to be its dinner.

It was almost dead, as its third and last health bar was in the red zone. I grit my teeth as I tried to come up with some sort of plan to defeat this creature. It suddenly charged at me, opening its mouth to bite my head off.

I quickly rolled out of the way, only to notice that it hadn't stopped and changed direction to charge at me once again.

This time I jumped and landed on its back. My sword glowed orange and I used the Sword Skill «Horizontal» on the beast's neck and jumped off.

It was in incredible pain, and I saw it as my chance. I let out a battle cry and ran at the creature, my sword glowing brightly.

Chapter 1

August 24, 2023-Floor 39

I awoke to the sound of birds chirping outside. My eyes looked to the top-left of my display. There it said "Nedelin Level 52" and displayed my health bar.

"So I still haven't woken up..", I said to myself. To me, this all seemed like one really long dream.

I made a slicing motion with my hand and checked my equipment. I examined one weapon in particular.

The Felupus Blade. A loot drop from the Bane of the Forest. I had no idea why I was the one who found it. I decided to keep it in my inventory until I found a suitable blacksmith to appraise it.

I rubbed my eyes and went outside. The sun was shining brightly, and birds were still chirping.  "What a beautiful day to slay monsters.", I said to myself again.

"So on today's agenda: Level Up, and look for better armor." This worn black and brown leather jacket that I was using since Floor 34 wasn't going to last much longer.

I checked its durability, which said [Durability: 21/100]. "I guess that means I need to avoid getting hit." I said to myself.  

There wasn't anyone else in the town of Regathon. It was already noon anyway.

I equipped my armor and headed towards the nearest quest marker.

_______________________________________

"HYAAA!" I lunged at the "Goblin Warrior" and pierced his armor. With a satisfying shattering sound, he broke into a million shards and rose to the sky.

[Result]

[Exp. 30000]

[Col. 310]

[Items: 1]

"That makes 25." I said to the empty air. "Time to head back."

I put my sword in its sheath and let out a long sigh. It was already 6:30, meaning the stronger night mobs would be spawning soon. I scanned my surroundings to check if they were any other Goblins around, and headed back to Regathon.

I talked to myself again, saying "I'd say today was a success. I got a new white 'Purified Slayer's Jacket', and leveled up to Level 53." I replied, "Well that isn't much, since it's only one level and one item."

"Still, it's something. And with all the quests completed, I can just buy new armor."

"True."

I came out of the "Ruined City" field and back into Regathon. It was beautifully lit up, with lanterns and lights hung everywhere.

I stopped walking and stood there. I took a good look around the town. Sometimes you just have to stop to admire the amazing detail they put into a game.

I blinked and shook my head. I had places to go, things to do. I walked back to the quest NPC, and greeted him.

"Ah. You've returned. Have you gotten us the helmets?"

"Yes," I replied. I handed him the 25 Goblin Helmets I collected for the quest.

The NPC looked very happy. He said "Thank you so much, sir. We now have enough metal to forge into new equipment. Here is a reward for your efforts."

[Quest Complete]

[Exp. 80000]

[Col. 3000]

[Items: 1]

I looked at the window with confusion. "An item? I don't remember there being an item reward for this quest." I said, while trying to recall the original quest window.

I shrugged and pressed the blue circle on the window, and checked my inventory.

It was a dagger, one that I've never seen before.

It was called "Chosen Poison". I assumed it's stats were quite high, since it looked very intricate and well-crafted.

I heard the sounds of other people and let out an involuntary hiss. Players were starting to come back from a long day of questing. I wanted to avoid them as much as possible.

I only had one friend. Had. We knew each other in the real world. At the start of SAO, we saw each other and trained together for a while, but got separated after Kayaba Akihiko did his speech. Her avatar name was Phage. I wondered what happened.

I was walking back to the inn when I saw that everyone was gathering around the bulletin board. Curious, I went over there nervously, thinking on what I should say. I finally decided, and said "What are you doing?"

They replied, "There is news of a player who single-handedly defeated the event mini-boss."

I looked at them in shock. "S-Single-handedly?!"

"Yes."

I was in a state of heavy confusion and tried to calculate how someone could defeat a mini-boss single-handedly.

After concluding that it probably was fake, I snapped out of confusion.

I turned around and started to walk back to the inn. I was still confused, and thought, "What kind of idiot would try to do that?" 

Chapter 2

[August 23, 2023-Floor 39]

Phage watched in agony as one by one, her comrades were being killed by the monstrous "Goblin General Porit".  She couldn't do a thing about it. He was too powerful.

All her battle strategies had failed. Her team was on the brink of being wiped out. This raid was a failure. And it would be a very tragic one at that.

"We must try again! We can't let a mini-boss stop us!", she shouted over the sounds of battle.  "Charge on 3! 2! 1! Go!"

A loud battle cry came from the group of players as they charged at Porit from all directions. Porit smiled, and jumped into the air.

Phage knew what was about to happen. She exclaimed, "Shockwave in 3 seconds! Everyone jump now!"

Porit dropped onto the ground with a loud BOOM and the players jumped to avoid the devastating 1-Hit-Kill shockwave attack. Of course, some players were too stubborn to listen to Phage, and were killed.

Porit became unsteady after the shockwave attack, and Phage saw this as her chance. "Attack now!" All the players who survived charged at Porit, and attempted to break through his rock-solid armor.

Porit let out a booming laugh and used his arm to swat away the players. Phage tried to block this attack with her zweihänder, but received a huge knockback effect which sent her flying to the back of the room, hitting her back on the wall.

She looked at the top-left corner of her display. Her health was already in the red. Porit's was still full. No one found a way to break through his armor.

Phage grit her teeth, and scanned Porit for possible weak points. She noticed that after every attack there was a split-second window where Porit's underarm was exposed, and right before every attack, his knees were exposed. She was sure other people found those weaknesses as well, but they had been too slow to react or didn't want to go against orders to follow the failed plan of attack.

Phage drank a health potion and got up quickly, shouting "Distract him! I've got this!" Her teammates looked at her with uncertainty, but nevertheless they charged at the Goblin General. Phage quickly followed, but right when Porit started to knock back the players in front, she immediately leaped to the left to avoid damage.

Porit was still attacking the players at his front, but he paid no attention to his sides. Phage sprinted towards him, dragging her sword along the ground.

Right before Porit ended his attack, Phage used her skill «Howl». Porit flinched, giving Phage her chance to attack. She took a running jump into the air, and slashed at Porit's underarm, causing Porit to shriek in anger.

She landed behind Porit, thinking "Yes! It worked!" Porit quickly turned to face Phage and prepared to smash her with both his fists.

Phage slid under Porit, and stabbed the back of his left knee. Porit shrieked once again, but this time in pain. Phage hurriedly pulled her sword out, and Porit had to get down on one knee.

She then jumped again to slash at Porit's underarm. Then his knee. Then his other underarm. And repeated all of those. Her teammates watched in awe as she continued her relentless onslaught of attacks until Porit's last health bar was in the yellow. Phage rested for 5 seconds and saw another weak spot. His neck. She leapt onto Porit's back and ran to it. By now, Porit had already recovered from his wounds. He got up and tried to make Phage fall off but Phage was too fast and jabbed her sword into his nape. Porit screamed in pain as his last health bar went into the red, and desperately tried to throw Phage off his back.

Phage knew she could've ended it right then and there, but decided that she wanted to make it look extra cool. She removed her sword from his neck, and jumped down in front of Porit. Porit looked at Phage and let out a thunderous roar of rage. She didn't even flinch. Instead, she ran at him with a sowrd glowing a bright blue, and with a final «Howl», she jumped and used the Sword Skill «Column Cutter» on Porit's neck.

Phage landed behind Porit, whose head landed beside her. She turned around in time to watch Porit's headless body shatter into a million pieces and float up into the sky.

[Congratulations!!!]

[Exp. 150000]

[Col. 10000]

[Items: 1]

Everyone was silent for the next few seconds. Then a huge cheer erupted from the surviving players. Phage was immediately surrounded by a crowd of fans asking her things like "How did you do that?!" and "Please be my girlfriend, Phage-sama!" All she could do was stand there with an embarassed smile.

"All right, that's enough." she heard the commander say. "We'll discuss this when we get back to Regathon."

The crowd dissipated and they started to head back to Regathon. Phage let out a deep sigh. She knew that she was going to have to deal with being a celebrity for a while.

As she got up, she noticed that she got a loot drop from the boss. Phage tapped the window, and a heavy greatsword appeared in her hands. As it did, the item's information appeared.

[Zerschmettern]

[Durability: 1700]

[Attack: 680-750]

It had a black blade, with blue lining, a silver handle, and a spot of blue in the middle, surrounded by silver. Phage's eyes widened. Her first thought when she saw it was "HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THIS THING IT'S SO COOL AND IT'S MINE".

She put it away in her inventory and thought, "Let's keep this a secret from the others. I want to see their faces when they see such an awesome sword in my hands when I use it."


Phage smiled to herself and walked back to Regathon, but she had a feeling in her gut that she couldn't explain.

Chapter 3

[August 25, 2023-Floor 39]

I sat at my table, grumpily eating my soup. I had waken up early today for whatever reason and couldn't go back to sleep.

I hate waking up early.

I checked the news, and the headline said in big bold letters, "PLAYER SOLOS GOBLIN GENERAL PORIT!"

I let out a sigh and started reading it.

"Blah, blah, claymore, blah, blah, super-fast, blah, blah, blah, the player's name is Phage, bl-"

I spat out my soup and stood up in shock.

"PHAGE?!" I exclaimed.

Everyone looked at me. Even the people outside must've heard me shout that.  I looked around in embarassment. "Sorry." I said as I sat back down.

My mind was full of thought and my heart was racing. One, because I've found Phage again. Two, she defeated a mini-boss single-handedly. How? I had no idea.

I had to find her.

I quickly finished breakfast and planned my course of action.

Since she just defeated that mini-boss, she's either sleeping at an inn, or passed out at a bar. I decided to check if she was at the inn I stayed at, then all the other inns, then the local bar. If she wasn't at any of those, then I had to go to the event location and see if she was there. As a last resort, I would stay in town square until I saw her.

I didn't like the last resort. It attracts attention.

I quickly checked all the inns. On the third, the innkeeper said she went out at sunrise.

"How early does she get up?!" I thought to myself as I headed out the door.

_______________________________________

As I walked through the vast, dim-lit corridor, I felt extremely anxious about what I thought was about to happen. 

I looked around, being careful to not be ambushed by enemy mobs. I saw marks of battle on the walls, and worn equipment scattered on the floor.

"They must've dropped all the armor rewards they got." I said to myself quietly, examining a scratched shield that lay on the ground in front of me.

I shrugged and carried on.

This place was bigger than I thought.

I came across what seemed to be a ritualistic circle.

So, naturally I hopped over the lines and stood in the center.

"I wonder what'll happen if I-"

I was cut off by the sound of doors opening, and I heard footsteps running in my direction.

I calculated how many there were.

"A group of about five. Four small ones, one bigger one."

I drew my blade and pointed it at the direction of the footsteps. Four Goblin Scouts appeared.

"Four? Where's the fifth?" I asked myself.

My question was soon answered as a 10-foot tall goblin appeared. The words "Goblin Royal Guard" materialized over his head.

I let out a nervous laugh and took a few awkward steps back.

The scouts charged at me, with daggers that appeared to be powerful enough to One-Hit-Kill a Frenzy Boar. I grit my teeth and parried their coordinated attacks, waiting to find a weakness. They found my weakpoint first and cut my leg. I flinched, and they used that split-second opportunity to kick me back. I landed on my butt a meter or so away from them, and it took me a second to recover. My sword landed in a spot that was just out of my reach. I checked my belt for throwing knives, but there were none. I forgot to buy new ones. I cursed myself for being forgetful as the scouts approached me. They raised their blades, ready to cut me down for good.

"Ugh. Out of all the places to die, it would be here by some scouts." I thought. "At least it could've been in a floor boss battle. Then it would be fair because they're super powerful. Unlike these scouts."

As they were about to land the killing blow, a brief flash of blue and silver swat them away. When I looked carefully, I saw that the flash was a player dressed in blue and silver armor.

I wiped the non-existent sweat off my face out of habit, and sat back to watch the battle.

The player easily defeated the scouts and started hacking furiously at the Royal Guard with a large sword. As I watched, I began to realize something. "…super-fast…claymore…could it be?"

The Royal Guard shattered into a million polygons that rose to the sky, and the player spoke. "What were you thinking?! You could've gotten yourself killed!"

I was speechless for a second before saying, "Phage?"

She looked confused for a second. "How'd you know my na-" She paused, then her face showed a mix of surprise and embarassment.

"N-Nedeli-kun?!"

I smiled. "Yo."

"Don't you 'yo' me!" She ran and gave me a hug. "I've been looking for you forever!"

"Likewise." I replied, but I didn't exactly return the hug.

A voice came from behind and said, "You've been looking for each other forever?"

Phage replied to the voice saying, "Yes, general. This is my friend, Nedeli-kun."

I waved hello. The general scratched his head and asked, "Couldn't you just have used the tracker function in your friend list?"

Phage and I both looked at him, dumbfounded. "Tracker function…?" we said in unison. He nodded. Phage and I opened our friend lists, selected each other, and saw that we had the other's location right there. It was silent for a second, then we went to the walls opposite each other in the large corridor and started repeatedly banging our heads on them. "Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid…" we said in unison, repeating this for a good five minutes. Not exactly the high point of my life in Aincrad. We would've done it longer, if not for the commander.

He sighed and said "Stop fooling around. We need to clear this area by sunset."

Phage turned around and nodded, while I turned around and started to head towards the exit. Phage looked at me and asked, "Where do you think you're going?" I shrugged and replied, "Home, I guess."

"But we just found each other."

"Yeah but I wanted to wait for you to finish this...adventure of yours."

She grabbed my arm and said, "Don't you want to stay and go 'adventuring'?" "Uhm…" I searched my mind for a suitable reply. "Are your superiors fine with me coming along?" She nodded. I let out a sigh and said, "Alright." She smiled and let go of my arm.

"Come on, this'll be fun!"

"Right, right."

_______________________________________

"Phage! Switch!"

"Roger!"

Phage ran to the «Goblin Guardian» and activated a Sword Skill.

"Critical Buster!"

She jumped high while making a large uppercut, then drove her claymore into the mob's head, making the guardian shatter into countless fragments and rise to the sky.

"That's all of them." Phage said as she landed on her feet. I gave her a thumbs-up and said, "Good job." She gave a smile that looked as if she was trying to act like a cute anime character. The she asked, "Is the throne room next?"

The commander nodded. "Our scouts reported that the Goblin King is in there, along with 6 Royal Guards. We need a bit more troops. Our battle will commence the day after tomorrow." I heard a loud sigh of relief from the other players who were with us. I let out a small laugh.

"They seem tired. Did you train them too much?" I asked Phage.

"Of course not." she replied with a slightly annoyed face. "And they would've died if I hadn't." I tried to continue and said, "They would've been protected by y-" The commander interrupted me.

"I'll intervene now before this gets serious. Phage, you're off-duty for the rest of the day and the whole of tomorrow. I'll give some time to spend with your boyfriend." he said, and went to the exit.

"B-Boyfriend?!" Phage exclaimed.

I let out another small laugh. "He thinks we're together."

"Which we aren't."

She blushed right before turning around and crossing her arms. Her face tomato red like the tsunderes I see in anime. I made a mental note that she did not have a crush on me. Which was fine. Her being my lover would probably be annoying anyway.

"Y-Yeah…" I replied.

At that moment I thought, "Why the hell did I stutter"

Phage sighed and turned back around to face me, her face no longer red.

Then she put her hands behind her back and leaned forward a bit. Another thing anime characters do.

"Nedeli-kun. Are you free after this?" she asked.

"I thought you would remember that I have no friends."

Phage made another annoyed face. "Answer the question."

Yeah…"

"Great!"

She grabbed my arm, narrowly missing my hand, and started running to the exit.

"Where are we going?"

Phage smiled and said, "You'll see!"

"She aimed for my hand. Suspicious. What is she planning?", I thought to myself as we ran out of the dungeon.

Chapter 4

[August 25, 2023-Floor 39]

Sweat was dripping down my face. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was in hell. Everyone was staring daggers at me. "What did I do to deserve this humiliation?" I thought to myself.

I was at the front of a really long line at a fast food chain-like restaurant. And I was having a really hard time deciding what to get. I heard someone from the back shout "Hurry up!" That didn't help at all. In fact, it just made it worse. My helpless eyes turned to Phage. She then looked to the NPC cashier and said with an embarassed smile, "Ah…please excuse my friend. He's shy. We'll just get two bowls of Ranken Udon. The cashier nodded, and she paid for the food.

We took it back to a table, and sat down. "Phage thank you so much for doing that how can I ever repay you?" came out of my mouth and then I paused to try to figure out why I would ever say that. Phage just smiled and replied, "Just eat. I've already figured out how. I'll tell you after." I looked down at my bowl of Ranken Udon. It was apparently made of chicken-like mobs and supposedly tasted great. It looked like it did. "Let's eat!" I said enthusiastically. I took my chopsticks and tasted it.

It really was good. I gave a nod of approval, but stopped midway. I felt a burning hot sensation on my tongue. It quickly became worse and in a second I felt like my tongue was on fire. I started breathing very heavily. Sweat was pouring down my face and tears were coming out of my eyes. When I tried blowing it out, a puff of steam came out instead, much to my surprise. I coughed and drank every drop of water in my glass and Phage's. When I finally could take the heat, I asked, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!" She couldn't hold it in and burst out laughing. "That was it!" she said, still laughing like a hyena. "Your face! That was hilarious!"

"Huh?!" was all I could get out. She didn't seem to be calming down. I let out a frustrated sigh. I forgot that she performed jokes like this on occasion.

Eventually she said, "Sorry." "Yeah…" I replied, still upset. "I didn't tell you that you're supposed to add this first." she said, holding up a packet of what appeared to be sweetener. "Is that some kind of sweetener?" I asked. She nodded. "Try it."

I took the packet, and opened it, about to put some on my spoon, when I looked at Phage. She was watching intently, as if in anticpation of something. I decided not to trust her this time.

I poured some on my spoon, but instead of putting it in my mouth, I forced it into Phage's.

Clearly, she did not expect that. Her eyes went wide, and she immediately covered her mouth to muffle a scream, then tried to scrape the contents of the sweetener of her tongue with her fingers.

It was my turn to laugh. Which I did. For a while.

Phage made a face that is best described as a puffed-up angry face, which just made me laugh more.

She crossed her arms and looked to the side with a "Hmph."

After I finally stopped, I said, "We're even now."

Phage sighed and replied, "Well you were always about equality and debt settlement."

We ate our food, careful to add just enough of the sweetener to make the udon taste good. While we were halfway through our bowls, I decided to perform an impromptu experiment.

"Phage?" I asked.

"She lifted her head from her noodles. "Hm?"

"Is this a date?"

Her face turned red and she spat out her noodles. "N-No!"

As she was talking I was analyzing everything she said and did with a straight face.

Flawless execution. Face tomato-red. Answer has 70% chance of being tsundere or denial. Suspicion of her like-liking me levels increased to 60%.

"I just thought we should have some time together since we finally found each other after all this time, that's all."

Experiment success. Data recorded. This might be useful later.

"A-Alright…" I said. Again I asked myself why I stuttered.

We finished our bowls and went out of the restaurant, our stomachs stuffed with udon noodles.

Phage said "That was fun. I should take you to-"

She interrupted herself with a soft burp made her let out a small laugh. It was kind of a cute laugh. You know, that kind where they close their eyes and cover their mouth with part of their hand? That was a bad description. But that laugh was enough to make me laugh too.

"You probably sh-" then she interrupted me with a "Shush."

Suddenly there was a determined look on her face as she looked towards a small group of people heading our direction. They looked tough. Though judging by their weapons, I probably could easily beat them in a fight. Then Phage looked at me square in the face and said without a hint friendliness, "Nedeli-kun, pretend to be my boyfriend. Now." "Wha-" she interrupted me and said "Shush." again. "Just for now." she said. I was slightly intimidated and nodded. She grabbed my hand and we started walking towards that tough-looking group.

As we neared them, the one who appeared to be their leader said, "Hey, Phage-san. Ready to be my girlfriend yet?" Then he saw me and asked, "Eh? Who's this guy?"

Phage grabbed my arm and said, "This is Nedeli-kun. He's my boyfriend." I gave an embarassed smile and said shyly, "H-Hello." He shot me a disgusted look, then turned his attention back to Phage. "Just you wait," he said. "You'll be mine someday." Phage smirked and said, "I'd love to watch you try." Then we walked away.

I checked that we were out of their sight then said,

"Hey, Phage?"

"Hm?" she replied.

"Who was that guy?"

"Some guy who keeps forcing me to be his girlfriend. His name's Richard."

"Must be a pain."

"That's an understatement."

Then we kept walking and it was silent for a while until I spoke up.

"Phage?"

"What is it?"

"You haven't let go of my hand."

Then she quickly let go. "Sorry!" she said, blushing.

More evidence. Suspicion raised to 70%.

"I just wanted to make sure that we were holding hands until we were out of sight so they would be fully convinced!"

Convenient excuse. Suspicion lowered to 65%.

"And…your hand was…warm…"

I was surprised but said nothing. I didn't feel any blood rush to my cheeks so I assumed I wasn't blushing.

Unexpected result detected. Heavy evidence acquired. Suspicion raised to 80%.

Phage was looking down and her face had become tomato-red like before. No one has ever said that to me before. All I said was "Uh…" while searching my brain for a good response.

"We should probably head back." What? That's the best response I could come up with at the time. Don't judge me on word choice.

Phage looked up and nodded.

This certainly was an interesting day.

_______________________________________

Phage changed out of her armor and lay in her bed. She closed her eyes to go to sleep. She couldn't. She tried changing position. Still failed. She tried again and again. Then she sat up, feeling annoyed.

"Why can't I sleep?" she said to herself.

No one was watching, since no one could come in. Her curtains were closed as well. The room temperature was just right, at a nice 19°C (66.2°F). She wondered why for a while, considering all possibilities.

"Maybe I'm just worked up." she thought.

"A lot of things did happen today. I finally found Nedeli-kun. That idiot kept me worried for a long time. We also cleared the way to the throne room.

Phage sighed.

"Without Nedeli-kun's help we probably would've taken much longer. I did get to try that Ranken Udon that so many people recommended to me."

Phage giggled and thought, "Nedeli-kun's face is still funny even now. It makes up for those embarassing things he said. But it's great to know he's still the same after all this time. Same great battle partner, same great friend. Though he does seem much more charming. Somehow. Maybe because his smile was cuter than I remember. And his eyes. I  could look into them forever. We even held ha-"

Phage realized she was blushing the entire time and sat there, speechless.

"I don't like him, do I?"

Then she blushed even more and exclaimed, "N-No way!"

Chapter 5

[August 26, 2023-Floor 39]

I was unpleasantly awoken by the repeated sounds of incoming messages. No way to silence them. Hardly the best way to wake up. A lot of her messages were in ALL CAPS screaming for me to get out of bed. She wanted me to meet her outside. I quickly got out of bed and put on my normal clothes. And by normal clothes I mean full battle armor. I went down to the main floor to see Phage was waiting in the lobby.

"Oh! G-Good morning Nedeli-kun!"

I looked at her with a mix of drowsiness and surprise.

"Morning…"

Being forcefully woken up doesn't exactly put me in the most energetic mood.

"What is it…" I asked sleepily.

She tilted her head slightly and said, "Don't you remember? Today's my day off. The commander gave it to me so I can spend some time with you…"

I was dumbfounded for a second. Again, it was because I was sleepy.

"Oh yeah." I responded. Phage nodded.

"Why were all your messages in all caps…" I asked.

"It's really awkward standing here okay?" she said, blushing.

I thought it was more of embarassment that time.

"And if they weren't in all caps you probably would've gone to do other stuff and keep me waiting longer." I replied, "Well, you're not wrong. What do we do?"

Phage put her hand to her chin and appeared to be thinking.

"We can…do a few quests together, maybe some parts of the floor dungeon…oh yeah! Look!" She held up a basket. "I made you breakfast!"

I stared at it in surprise.

"You actually made this?"

"Yup!"

She looked so happy and satisfied with this thing she made. I took the basket and held it in my hands. It smelled perfect and I was about to devour it on the spot, but then Phage spoke.

"Come on, I know the perfect place to eat!" I really wanted to eat it right then and there but something told me to wait.

"…alright." I replied. "Lead the way."

____________________________________

After navigating through a series of crowds, plazas, alleyways, and fields, we arrived at a small veranda-like place, surrounded by grass and flowers about to bloom. Phage smiled at me as I examined the area. There was a marble table there with two white chairs. Honestly I thought it looked like a setting for a clichéd love story. Why was this just sitting here with no one occupying it? Weird.

I sat down on one of the chairs and opened the basket. Two sandwiches were inside, along with two cups of what I assumed was coffee.

"Sandwiches?" I asked.

Phage nodded and spoke.

"I made those because two of them fit perfectly inside the basket, and there would be some space for drinks."

They did, and it was very satisfying. "

I hope they don't disappoint you." "Well," I replied. "That depends on the taste."

We each took a sandwich and unwrapped the plastic cover.

"Let's eat!" we said in unison.

I thought of another impromptu experiment and said,

"We both take a bite in three, two,"

"No wait! wait!!!"

"One."

I took a bite and Phage hurriedly took hers.

Needs about a second to adapt to that kind of situation. Noted.

I know it wasn't much of an experiment, but hey, I got what I needed.

"Mmm, it is good! Nedeli-kun, how's yours?"

I didn't respond. I hadn't bitten anything off and the sandwich was still in my mouth. It tasted like the combined efforts of Gordon Ramsay and the Royal Head Chef of the Queen of England mixed wih condensed love and joy.

Phage looked at me weirdly.

"Nedeli…-kun?"

I finally bit off a piece and said while covering my food-filled mouth,

"It's good."

Phage lit up and said with a clearly relieved tone,

"(I'm glad.)" I nodded and replied. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'll finish the rest of this."

Then I wolfed down the rest within a span of 10 seconds.

Phage giggled.

"Classic Nedeli-kun."

I was slightly confused. "Huh?"

"You're like this with a lot of foods."

"Really?" I asked.

Phage nodded. "(Yeah!) Ramen, pizza, chicken strips, burgers, soup, oyakodon, lots of stuff."

"I didn't notice."I was surprised she remembered all that.

She handed me a cup of what appeared to be coffee.

"Is this coffee?" I asked.

"I thought you didn't like coffee." Phage replied.

"I don't."

"Good, because that's hot chocolate."

Ah, hot chocolate, what a pleasant surprise. If you try to tell me hot chocolate is bad I am going to punch your face in the face.

I finished it quickly and asked,

"So, what are we doing today?"

"Well," Phage responded, "We could try to get as far as we can in the boss dungeon."

Since the event started, clearing the floor became the second highest priority after beating the event. Progress has slowed, and I've heard from some lower-level players that they're angry with us clearers for not trying to clear the game faster. If only they knew that the boss dungeon was currently being occupied by around 30 Goblin-type enemies in every room that all attack you on detection and respawn every time there are no players in the current room.

"Sure," I said. It wasn't really going to matter much. Risking our lives for fun. Yay.

---

I glanced at the top-left corner of my display and saw that my HP was nearly halved. This wasn't exactly my best run. I was trying to see how many headshots I could make with my throwing knives in a row. I was currently on my all-time high score of 2. Yup, I was on a roll. I threw another knife at a Goblin Soldier and it hit him right in the forehead. After a fist pump of self-congratulation I threw another, which got him between the eyes. I threw one more knife, which got me another headshot.

I couldn't contain my excitement and yelled out.

" PHAGE DID YOU SEE THAT FIVE FREAKIN HEADSHOTS IN A ROW DO YOU KNOW HOW RARE THAT IS FOR ME"

Phage looked confused then gave a smile and a thumbs-up. Then she shouted, "(Watch out!)"

I turned around a «Goblin Raider» leaped to me, ready to pin me down and stab me repeatedly. I grabbed his neck and shouted, "Excuse you I was trying to talk to my friend you insensitive banana peel."

Then I threw him at his comrades, who got knocked down by the Raider's weight. I unsheathed my blade and started parrying then quickly slicing up as many enemies as I could.

The floor started rumbling as two Goblin Royal Guards appeared simultaneously. Phage and I quickly noticed them and hurriedly defeated the last few grunts around us. Then we looked at each other and I said.

"One for each of us." "

I bet I'll kill mine faster." Phage responded.

"Right..." I said sarcastically.

We dashed to meet our foes, with my blade glowing a bright purple, and Phage's creating a flurry of sparks as she dragged it across the ground. I leapt up high, and made a deep cut on the side of its neck. As I landed behind him, I turned around to see that Phage was using a flurry of wide slashes and jumps to cut her opponent's exposed parts off. The Royal Guard I was fighting turned around, raised his poleaxe above his head, and swung it down right above me. But right before it could cut me in half, the guard froze. Not literally of course, since I didn't use a freezing-type attack, and used a high-intensity bleeding effect skill instead. I sidestepped slightly to the left to avoid the poleaxe, then watched the beast fall onto his knees then onto his stomach. Then he shattered into lots of tiny bits that rose up to the sky. I looked over to Phage whose guard shattered around the same time mine did. She seemed tired and was panting.

"Call it a tie?" I asked.

Phage sighed and replied,

"…let's just go." with a slightly annoyed tone.

I made a smile of victory as we walked to the end of the large corridor. We opened the double doors that led to the next room, which was mostly dark so we couldn't really see where all the enemies were. Two pairs of red eyes appeared in the darkness. They moved forward, and revealed themselves to be two more Goblin Royal Guards.

"Ugh, more of them. Nedeli-kun, let's end this quick." Phage said.

I nodded, but then there was more rumbling. Six more Goblin Royal Guards appeared behind the first two, and both my eyes and Phage's widened in a mix of surprise and fear.

We said "NOPE." in unison and raised our teleport crystals at lightning speed. We both shout.

"TELEPORT: REGATHON."

___________________________

When we both came out of the teleport portal, we were still fazed from the dungeon.

"E-Eight Goblin Royal Guards?! How do we fight that?!" asked Phage.

"I have no idea." I shrugged. "Which room was that?"

"The ninth room I think."

"What do you think is in the te-"

Then I heard my stomach rumble.

"We didn't have lunch…"

Phage let out a small laugh. "I'm hungry too." she said.

She produced two sandwiches from her inventory and handed one to me.

"Here, have this."

"Is the same as the one from this morning?" I asked.

She nodded and I quickly ate half of it in three seconds. She smiled as she watched me enjoy this enjoyable food. I still couldn't figure out how she made this.

"So, what now?" I asked. "We can do a few quests, I guess." she replied. I took another bite of my sandwich and said,

"How many of the quests have you done here?"

Phage looked a bit embarassed.

"(Uh)…you see I…haven't done any of them."

I sighed.

"Too focused on floor and event clearing?" I asked. She nodded. I finished my sandwich and said,

"Well, it can't be helped. Let's go." I walked over to the nearest quest marker, with Phage following close behind.

---

Ordinarily these quests would take a few days to complete individually. But because there were two of us, we completed them in a few hours. We acquired several loot drops, although most of them were useless like the "Small Stick" or "Half-Eaten Worm". The things that weren't completely useless were the armor and weapons dropped by the Goblins, although they were low-level and would fare horribly against a Royal Guard. By the end of the day, when the last quest had been completed, we rested against a large tree.

"That's the last of the «Goblin Warbeasts». At least until they respawn." I said.

"(I'm glad…)" she said in a tired tone.

If anyone saw us like this they most definitely would think we're a couple. Heh. Phage would blush a lot to that. She would be so cu-…why am I thinking about that…


"I seriously hope no one thinks we're a couple while we're here that would be super awkward." Phage thought to herself. She yawned.

"I'm so tired..." Phage looked at Nedelin, who was looking up at the virtual stars.

"(Hey…)Nedeli-kun…"

"Hm? What is it?" he replied. "Can I rest my head on your shoulder?" "(What?)"

Phage froze and her face became bit red.

"WHAT DID I JUST SAY?!"


Did…did she seriously ask if she could rest her head on my shoulder?! Years of watching anime couldn't prepare me for this moment. Okay okay, stay calm, just respond nicely.

"S-Sure…" I said.

Since it was pretty dark already and our primary light source was the virtual moon, I couldn't really tell how much she was blushing. I never expected this.


"HE SAID YES?!" Phage, still extremely red, slowly lay her head on Nedelin's shoulder. Instinctively, she moved closer to him and tried to relax. "He's so warm…how come I've never felt this before…"


Do not move

Do not move

Do not move

Do not move

Do not move

A girl was actually resting her head on my shoulder. This is kind of a big achievement for someone like me. Last thing I want to do is move.

She might get the impression that I'm uncomfortable with it and she'll stop and feel bad. I can't let that happen to my only friend.

We stayed there for a while and eventually she fell asleep. The moonlight shone brightly on her face (and probably mine too), so I saw her more clearly. I felt warmth from her. Then my body went into a state that I associate with panic, embarassment, and anxiousness. She looked so beautiful just resting there. I really didn't want to disturb that precious, delicate face of hers. I myself am surprised I am describing her with those words. I was analyzing the situation as best as I can, until I too eventually dozed off.

Chapter 6

[August 27, 2023-Floor 39]

I was awoken by constant shaking. Someone was shaking me. I rolled over. "Noooo…five more minutes…" I said. "Come on, get up already." I heard Phage say. "Phage you know very well that I sleep until noon…" I replied. "We have to go fight the Goblin King!" I slowly opened my eyes. "Oh. Right." I yawned. "What time is it?" "It's 10:24." Phage replied. "Way too early for me." I said while stretching. I got to my feet and looked around. We were still in the forest. I tried my best not to think about what happened last night. "We have to hurry!" Phage said, and started running off. I chased after her the best I could, but being forcefully woken up doesn't exactly give you the burst of energy you need to run first thing in the morning. Once we got to town I quickly bought went over to a vendor's shop and bought a burrito.

I quickly caught up to Phage and ate the burrito while running. Once we found the commander and all the others, Phage hurriedly announced, "We're here!" The commander and the others looked back. "You're late." he said. Phage and I both stopped in front of him. "(Excuse us.)" Phage said. I nodded. "Please, do make sure you get here on time." the commander said. "Yes." Phage replied. Then she noticed my burrito. "When did you get that?" she asked. "On the way here." I replied, still eating the burrito. Phage made a weird face that I guess depicted the word "Seriously?" "What?" I asked. "You want some?" She shook her head signaling a no. We all continued toward the throne room doors. "This'll be the day we've waited for, this'll be the day we open up the door…" I said to myself as we approached the throne room. Today we were going to defeat the Goblin King. I felt pretty confident, since his minions were relatively easy to defeat. The commander halted our crowd of players to give a short speech. "Fellow warriors!" he said with a loud, booming voice. "On this day, we go into battle against a crucial enemy. Only one side will win. I trust that you all have trained tremendously in preparation for this event. Many of our comrades have fallen. But today, we will not fall. We must avenge them. Today, we will fight and we will win!" A big cheer rose from the crowd. The commander gave a signal, and two of the tanks approached the double doors and slowly opened them. "You ready for this?" asked Phage. I gave a determined smile. "Let's find out." The doors opened to reveal a huge room. I took a careful look around. Multiple chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Huge mediocre paintings covered the walls. 5 Royal Guards and 50 sentries were positioned in here. I scanned the room for the Goblin King. He was seated on a throne at the far end. He was big. Really big. As in fat-big. I heard the commander shout out commands. "(Everyone!) Defeat the Royal Guards first! They're directing the sentries!" "(Roger!)" Phage shouted back. "Nedeli-kun, let's go." I nodded and procedeed to follow her to the nearest Royal Guard.

A small crowd of sentries stood in our way. Phage activated a Sword Skill and defeated five of them with a single swipe. I activated a Sword Skill of my own. «Flash Drilling». My sword emitted a bright aura as I pointed it straight ahead towards the sentries. In an instant, my blade pierced through at least six of them, and I ended up behind the crowd, leaving a short trail of goblin corpses in my wake. Phage quickly finished off the rest and stood at my side. "So, how do we do this?" I asked. "You get the legs, I'll finish him off when he falls down." Phage replied. I nodded and stabbed at weak points in the guard's leg armor. Phage readied her blade to strike at the guard once he fell forward. Except he fell backwards. Phage looked like a combination of slight embarassment and surprise and walked over to the neck of the beast. She ended his life with a single Sword-Skill-Slash. We looked around and that the other parties were having trouble defeating the rest of the Royal Guards and the sentries they were commanding. "Is…is this seriously our raid party…" I sighed and said "I guess we'll have to go help them." She nodded in agreement. We split up and each went to a different Royal Guard. I ran up the Royal Guard's back and used «Dread Needle». You know, that high-intensity bleed skill. I jumped off and watched Phage use a horizontal slash and an uppercut to stagger her opponent and use a Sword Skill to stab through his armor, shattering him into a million tiny polygons. The last Royal Guard was defeated by the Commander. I'd expect no less.

The Goblin King let out a cry of anger, followed by booming laughter. He got up from his excessively large throne for that excessively large bottom of his and slowly started walking to us. Very slowly. He was just really, really fat. "You'd think the king would be rich enough to buy a treadmill." I said, eliciting a few short laughs from raid party. We walked ahead to meet our overweight opponent. I looked around the room, examining the peculiar paintings that lined the walls. Most of them depicted goblins taking over, which made sense, but then eventuallly being conquered by a single hero who wielded a dagger. Wow. These guys failed big time. But why is it painted on the wall? I pondered this for a second until the Goblin King finally arrived. His name and health bars appeared above him. He had four health bars and had "Goblin King Lenthrax" hovering above his head. He tried to stomp on us but we easily avoided it. The commander ordered us all to attack. The guys in the back let out a battlecry and charged, The frontliners hurried to the King's armored feet to try and break through the steel plating. It didn't work. The king simply kicked them away, dealing damage to our damage-dealers. Time for Plan B. I jumped up and tried to slash at his stomach, but he used his fat to push me away and make me fall back to the ground. I admit, that was creative. I was trying to think of another plan when the Goblin King bent down to use his hands to attack us, and a player dressed in black rushed through our ranks and ran up Lenthrax's arm and started slashing at the arm while running. It seemed to be working. At least, until the guy in black was thrown off to the back of the room. Wait a minute, wasn't that the "Black Swordsman" everyone was talking about? Just then, Lenthrax made a huge leap into the air. Phage and I foresaw what was coming and yelled to the people covered by Lenthrax's shadow. "GET OUT OF THERE!" we shouted. Instead of running for their lives like they should've, they looked up and stared at the falling mass of living goblin flesh and crushed. I heard loud gasps from the crowd of players. There were two killed in that fall. I grit my teeth. Lenthrax began picking people up and crushing their bodies while the rest of us watched in terror. I looked at Phage, who seemed to be taking it the worst. I tried calling her. "Phage." No response. "Phage!" "H-Huh?!" she quickly replied, snapping out of her short-lived trance. "We need to end this now." I said. She nodded.


The commander and another girl were fending off the Goblin King as we spoke. The Black Swordsman got back to the front lines, and stood directly in front of me and Phage. I was studying the attack patterns of the boss when the Black Swordsman turned around and said, "I need your help." I was surprised and replied "M-Me?" in unison with Phage. "Both of you." he said. "I'll distract him, you two try to do as much damage as possible." Phage and I nodded. Then he took off running and yelled, "Asuna! Switch!" The girl fending off Lenthrax quickly moved aside to let the Black Swordsman initiate a sword skill, getting Lenthrax's attention. "Nedeli-kun, let's go!" Phage said. I nodded and we hurried to the battle. There were still a few other sentries left, so the rest of the raid party was stuck with dealing with them. I kinda feel sorry for them since they came to fight the boss and had to fight the grunts instead. Oh well. "So what's the plan?" Phage asked. "Hmm…use your hopping-around-while-cutting-off-limbs tactic." I replied. "It's called «Rushed Execution»." she said. "Yeah that sounds much cooler." She smiled a bit and activated her Sword Skill. I activated a Sword Skill of my own, just before an opening was created in Lenthrax's defense. Plan C: Hit him when he's vulnerable. Lenthrax's abdomen was exposed. Phage and I took our chance and struck with our strongest attacks.. While Phage was bouncing around slashing everything she could, I used «Dread Needle» over and over again on the same spot. Soon after, Lenthrax regained his defenses and once again started attacking the frontliners. I shouted, "Phage, time to go!" She nodded and we ran down Lenthrax's leg to avoid fall damage. We ran back behind the Black Swordsman and the other girl, whose name I think is Asuna. That's what he called her, right? I think that's what it is. I looked at Lenthrax's health bars. The first one was going down, just barely. We wouldn't be able to keep this up for much longer.

The Black Swordsman and Asuna were taking turns damaging Lenthrax, while I stayed back because fighting was tiring. When they looked like they getting worn out I quickly ran up Lenthrax's back and used a heavy stun effect skill, «Impact Rattle», on Lenthrax's head. that dazed him for a while so Phage and I could inflict the damage and let our other two frontliners take a short break. I did the same thing, using Dread Needle on the exact same spot over and over again. Phage changed tactics, and waited for Lenthrax's arm to smash down onto the ground and then hit the arm. She used a Sword Skill that I think is called "Cyclone Slicer". Her sword glowed while she spun it around like a human Beyblade. She was probably doing more damage than I was but oh well. This cycle repeated over and over about 4 times and by then we were all exhausted. There was an endless supply of sentries keeping everyone else from helping us four. When the sentries started spawning more slowly, we got together and tried to come up with a plan. "So, Black Swordsman," I said. "What do we do?" "Just call me Kirito." he replied. "Kirito. Got it." I said back. He put his hand to his chin and looked to be in deep thought. "Well?" Asuna said. Kirito gave no reply. I sighed and kept waiting. After a short while he finally looked up and said, "I don't know." Asuna made a face that said "Seriously?" Phage and I sighed. Then Kirito looked to the walls and said, "Hey…maybe that dagger has something to do with it." "Thing is, we don't have that dagger." Asuna replied. Then I remembered something that happened a few days ago and made a quick realization. "Wait, that dagger looks like the hidden reward for the Goblin-slaying side quest." I said as I produced the «Chosen Poison» from my inventory. "Oh! I remember that!." Phage said, as she got out her own copy. Kirito and Asuna did the same. "Now we just need a way to test if these actually work." said Kirito. Asuna nodded and replied, "We each go to a different area of Lenthrax's body, and try to do as much damage as possible with our daggers." "Got it." Then he looked to me and Phage and asked, "What were your names again?" "I'm Phage." said Phage (obviously). Then she lightly tugged my arm and said, "And this is Nedeli-kun." "My actual name is Nedelin." I commented, "Nedeli-kun and Phage-san, I'll remember that." said Asuna. "Just Phage works fine for me." Phage replied, lightly smiling. We heard a loud cry and we all turned to face Lenthrax. Our 'substitutes' weren't doing so well. Their health bars were in the yellow. "(Let's go!)" Kirito shouted, then the four of us charged.

The people holding off Lenthrax for us sprinted away as fast as they could. They must've really hated fighting him. The Goblin King saw us immediately and then let out a malodorous scream of rage. Not pleasant. He raised his arm up into the air, getting ready to literally sweep us off my feet and probably kill us. As he put his hand on the ground and made a sweeping motion I vigilantly jumped over it, after doing a short wall-run. Or hand-run in this situation, I guess. The others did similar movements. We ran up Lenthrax's legs and they all went in different directions. I went to the spot I kept using Dread Needle on and used it one last time. This time, the armor cracked and revealed a weak spot. I stabbed the Chosen Poison into it and Lenthrax screamed like he got a really bad splinter. His health was going down at a steady pace though. I left the dagger there and struck areas around the crack, making the crack bigger and spreading it. The others were having trouble causing any significant damage. So I shouted for the to find the cracks I made in the armor and spread them everywhere. Which is exactly what they did.

Lenthrax was making desperate attempts to throw us off or crush us and tried smashing his hands down on where we were. We dodged all too easily, and he wound up smashing his own armor and making bigger cracks. Once it looked like the armor was weak enough to easily break through, Kirito shouted, "(Everyone!) We have to stick the daggers in the right spots to deal the best damage!" "(Roger!)" we all shouted back. I took out the dagger and looked for the perfect spot. Phage and Asuna stuck their daggers into Lenthrax's shoulders, so his arms wouldn't be able to move as well. Then they did their best to do as much damage as they could without falling off. Kirito dug his into Lenthrax's back and dragged it down, making a large cut and making several smaller cuts with his sword as he descended. "All up to you now, Nedelin!" he shouted as he hung from Lenthrax's waist. "Got it!" I said as I was running as fast as I could up the Goblin King's chest. I activated a Sword Skill, «Flash Drilling», and used it upwards to pierce through the Goblin King's chest and launch into the air. I glanced at his health bars, and the final health bar was in the red. The other three had gotten off of Lenthrax and were now assisting in defeating the sentries. I threw a barrage of throwing knives at him to whittle his health down as much as I could, before activating «Wolf Pounce», a dagger Sword Skill I learned in the past. It made a large impact into the back of Lenthrax's neck, and his last health bar was decreasing rapidly.

The huge slab of living goblin meat flailed wildly as the dagger was stabbed into his nape. From there I was able to see all the Goblin Sentries thin out quickly as the rest of the raid party finished them off. I heard loud cheering and made a satisfied smile, but then Lenthrax's flailing made me lose my grip and I was thrown forward onto the ground in front of the Goblin King. I tried landing with a roll like I've seen in the Assassin's Creed games, but failed due to my obvious lack of practice. I hit the floor right-foot-first and I felt a sharp pain. I couldn't stand and couldn't move. The Goblin King finally stopped flailing. His dead body began to fall forward. It was going to land right on top of me and crush me. When I realized this, I immediately tried to get up and run out of the way, to no success. " I can't move!" I shouted, hoping someone would try to save me. I saw Phage and the others already running to me, but it was clear none of them would make it in time. I stared at the massive falling corpse in disbelief. This was how I was going to die. Crushed by a dead body. One of the most hilarious ways to die. I closed my eyes and braced for my final moments. "This can't be the end…"




I felt the quick grab of a hand and was lifted onto someone's back. Then I felt a swift movement of the wind for a brief moment, and then heard a loud boom, like something huge just fell. I opened my eyes and saw a girl's face in front of me. She had pink hair and blue eyes. The moment I saw her she pulled back in surprise with a slight amount of blush that I knew signified embarassment. Not the kind of blush when you hold your crush's hand or something. I would've been embarassed too, if I was examining someone's face up close and they woke up and stared at me. Behind her, I saw the dead body of the Goblin King shatter into a million pieces and float up to the sky. Then I saw Phage hurrying over to me. "Nedeli-kun!" When she got to me, she was panting as she asked, "(Are you okay?)" "Kinda." I replied. "My leg feels broken." "Oh no…" she said. I turned to the pink-haired girl and said, "Hey uh…thanks for saving me." Phage immediately followed suit. She bowed and said "(Thank you very m…)" She stopped midway for some reason. "…Tomoko?" she asked. Confused, I faced the pink-haired girl and said "Tomoko?" "(Sister?)" she replied with a surprised tone. My attention shot back to Phage as I exclaimed "(Sister?!)"

Chapter 7

[August 27, 2023-Floor 39]

"EHHHHH?!" Was the reaction from all three of us.

I didn't know Phage had a sister! And I've known her for 6 years! How did I not notice?! The two looked as surprised as I was.

"W-What are you doing here?!" exclaimed the pink-haired girl.

"I was going to ask you the same thing." replied Phage.

Suddenly big letters of text appeared where Lenthrax once stood that said "CONGRATULATIONS!!" Then a small window appeared in front of each once of the raid party members. Boss loot. A large cheer rose up and everyone seemed so happy. Ugh, I wished that they'd shut up for a moment so I could see what I got and not be bothered.

The words "You got the last hit!" appeared in front of me. Below it, an item was displayed. "Steel Vendetta" was its name. I planned to mess around with it later. But now I had to solve the problem at hand. Phage and her apparent sister seemed to be lightly arguing, and ignoring their boss loot windows.

"Phage, can I talk to you for a second?" She nodded and said "We're not finished yet." to her sister. Then she came over to where I was and asked, "What is it? I'm in the middle of something."

"I didn't know you had a sister!" I replied.

She looked genuinely surprised. "Really?! I thought you did."

"No I did not."

"She goes to our school!"

"I've never seen her before."Phage sighed as a reply.

"Could you introduce me to her or something?"

Phage led me over to her sister. "Nedeli-kun, this is my little sister. Her in-game name is Nemesis. Nemesis, this is my friend Nedeli-kun."

Nemesis tilted her head and responded, "Isn't that Konno-kun?"

Phage nodded and added, "Don't use his real name though."

"Ah, I see." Nemesis replied. Then she smiled and asked, "Are you two finally dating?"

I'm sure that if Phage was drinking something at the time Nemesis said that, she would have spit it out all over me. Good thing she wasn't. Her face turned red as she said, "N-No it's not like that!"

Nemesis just laughed. "Sure it isn't. I can see your tsundere a mile away."

Then Phage's face just got redder and she said "(You've got it all wrong!)"

"Ahem." I heard the commander say. The three of us turned to face him. "You've all done well."

"You too." I said in reply.

"Phage, thank you for helping us out."

"No, no it was nothing. I was planning on taking part in the Goblin Invasion event anyway." said Phage.

"What's the commander's actual name?" I asked Phage.

"I think it was Heathcliff."

Kirito and Asuna came over to us, looking quite tired. "Phage, is your friend okay?" asked Asuna.

Phage nodded and said "He's alright. He says his leg feels broken, though."

Kirito replied with "Don't worry about that. It'll heal soon. Limbs can regenerate so your leg should be fine by tomorrow."

Phage and I both said, "Eh? Really?"

"(Yeah.)" said Kirito in reply.

I breathed a sigh of relief. A broken leg is not fun at all.

"You guys did really well in the boss fight" said Kirito. Asuna nodded and asked,

"Where'd you learn to do that?" I scratched my head and made a small laugh.

Phage said, "I was following Nedeli-kun's lead."

I said "Excessive video gaming."

Kirito made small laugh as well. Then he held out his hand. "Well, we'll see you guys on the front lines."

I assumed I was supposed to take his hand and shake it, so I did. Then we parted ways. Well, he went out the dungeon with Asuna and I didnt go anywhere. I looked back at Phage, who was re-arguing with her sister. I sighed. I went over to them to see how the conversation was going.

"You could've gotten yourself killed!" Phage shouted.

"I didn't know I would get trapped in here! Anyway, so could you!" Nemesis shouted back.

"I'm trained! I can survive by myself. I have a blue belt remember?"

"I won the prefectural fencing tournament!"

"Then lost your first match during nationals!"

"I was against the winner of the last national tournament!"

I sighed yet again. "When are you two going to stop arguing?" I asked. "We're the only people here."

Phage and Nemesis looked around after hearing me. "W-We should probably head back…" Phage suggested.

---

"When did you get the NerveGear?" Phage asked on the way back.

"The day it was released." Nemesis replied.

"I didn't see you in line."

"I ordered it online. I don't like the outside…"

"That sounds like something you would do. But you need to go outside. That's how you get vitamin D for your skin."

"(I don't want to.) I can have a vitamin shake."

"Wait, do mom and dad know you bought it?!"

"I don't think so."

"They're going to be really mad at you when this game is cleared."

"If I survive before then…"

They seemed to be able to talk forever. I stayed quiet the whole time. I was starting to get annoyed.

"So how did you survive on your own?" asked Phage.

"Are you questioning my survival skills?" Nemesis answered.

"You wanted to light the candles for my birthday cake with matches but broke 10 of them."

"Those matches weren't worthy enough to be lit."

"You couldn't even get the lighter to work!"

"That lighter was unworthy too."

Phage sighed. I decided to speak up. "Nemesis-chan, where's your house?"

"D-Did you just call me Nemesis-chan…" she replied.

"Yeah…is there a problem with it?"

"Why? Why would you call me that?"

"Well, you look like the (cute) little sister-type."

"(C-Cute)…"I could see she was blushing. And in a slight panic. See? (Cute).

Phage made a small laugh and put her hand on Nemesis's head. "She always does this when someone calls her cute."

Nemesis suddenly covered part of her face with her hand in a familiar way. "Discord Esper Shuvi heavily disagrees with your declaration!"

I was confused for a second. "Aren't you Nemesis? Phage's little sister?" I asked.

"Ha ha ha!" she replied. "That is but an alias used by the Watcher of the Seven Chaos Dimensions!" Then I made a realization. My eyes widened as I said, "Chuunibyou…"

Chuunibyou, or Middle School 2nd Year Syndrome, is a mentality that affects several people all over Japan. Middle school 2nd year is equivalent to 8th Grade in America, if I am correct. Chuunibyou is a syndrome that makes the affected person think they have extraordinary supernatural powers. They come up with alternate names for themselves like Wicked Lord Shingan or Guiltia Sin Jurai or something like that. The two things I admire about them is one, their imaginations are extremely huge, and two, they know how to make cool sounding names.

Nemesis seemed to be half-suffering from it, as she was just regular Nemesis a few minutes ago. It might be split personality disorder. I'll probably ask her about it later.

"So what do you want me to call you?" I asked.

"Discord Esper Shuvi to address me formally, and just Shuvi will suffice during events that require the utmost speed." Nemesis replied.

Phage moved Nemesis's hand off her face and Nemesis was slightly panicky once more. "U-Uh…j-just Nemesis would be okay!"

"I'll call you that then." I said. "You can call me Nedeli-kun, Nedeli-san, or whatever else you want to put at the end. Just Nedelin would be fine too."

Nemesis nodded. "Nedelin-onii-chan."

Surprised, I hurriedly replied, "E-Except that. Not that."

She tilted her head and said, "Nedeli-sama?"

I quickly shook my head. "No, no, no, that's even worse!"

"Then I guess I'll just call you plain Nedelin." she finally said.

I breathed a sigh of relief. If people heard her call me those, misunderstandings were bound to arise. Then I heard a loud growl.

"A monster in the town?" I said as I was examining my surroundings.

"Um…" I heard Nemesis say shyly. "That was my stomach…"

"Oh oh!" Phage said excitedly. "Nedeli-kun how about that fast food-like place we went to the other day?"

I shrugged and said, "Alright. I'm not going to fall for any tricks this time."

"Hmph." Phage said as she turned away and puffed up her cheeks like a cute anime character. Again. I kind of liked it actually. It sort of adds a more anime or manga feel to the story.

---

This time I didn't go into a panic because I decided what I was going to order last time just in case we would go back here. I'm glad I did. I got a bowl of ramen that looked good. I looked over to Phage.

"You got the same thing as last time?" I asked her.

She nodded. "Yup. I like it. I also want to try something."

"Neme-…" she looked over to Nemesis, whose bowl was larger than mine, was already half-finished.

"H-How did you do that…" Phage asked.

Nemesis looked up, looking slightly annoyed. "By saying (thanks for the food) before sitting down and keeping your face close to the bowl." she said, her mouth still full of food." she answered.

"Even if I did I wouldn't have half of it done 10 seconds after getting to the table."

"I guess I'm more skilled than you are."

Phage was silent for a short while before trying again and asking "Nemesis?"

Nemesis, again looking slightly annoyed, looked up from her bowl. "What is it?"

"Try some of my food," Phage offered. "It's really good."

Nemesis looked at Phage's bowl for a second before saying, "(I don't want to.)"

"E-Eh? Why not?" Phage seemed quite surprised at this.

"Because it looks exactly like the really spicy udon they advertise so much now." Nemesis answered calmly.

Phage said nothing but looked very surprised. Then she sighed and poured a bit of the sweetener in before eating.

My attention shifted to my food as I used chopsticks to twirl some noodles and put them in my mouth, taking time to carefully study the taste and judge it fairly. It reminded me of the instant ramen noodles I used to eat all the time. I loved it. I wolfed down on the food like a…really hungry wolf, I guess. Don't judge me on my analogies you have better things to do.

I saw Nemesis was already finished, and was compelled to catch up. Phage appeared to be eating like a normal person and asked, "How's your food?"

I sat up and said, "Gone."

Her eyes widened in surprise. "You too?!"

I shrugged and said, "It's actually pretty easy if you put your mind to it."

Apparently not knowing how to respond, she sheepishly went back to eating her food.

Nemesis lightly tugged on my arm. "I want dessert." she said.

"You can get it yourself can't you?" I responded.

She looked down at the ground while saying "No…I'm too shy."

"Then shouldn't you ask your (sister) that question?"

"She's in the middle of attempting to finish her meal."

I sighed and said, "Alright, I'll go with you."

We went over to the counter, taking our place at the back of the line. Nemesis patiently stayed by my side. That is, until we got to the counter. Then she hurriedly dashed behind my back.

"Ehh?!" I exclaimed in surprise. "What are you doing?"

"I don't like interacting with people I am not familiar with." she responded.

"But you were just fine a minute ago."

"You can't see it but my inner clothing is drenched in sweat."

I sighed. "Just tell me which one you want."

She pointed at what appeared to be a slice of chocolate cake. "That one."

I ordered the cake then brought it back to our table, where Phage had just finished. "(Thank you.)" Nemesis said before sitting down and indulging in the cake.

After finishing my drink which I assumed was some sort of tea, I looked over to Phage and asked, "Phage, do you think your sister'll be able to fight alongside us? I mean since we charge right in with barely any backup whatsoever."

Phage considered this for a second, before looking up and replying, "We'll just have to test her out."

I was confused.

"How?"


---

So this is what she meant by 'test her out'.

I looked above, and a large banner was displaying the words "Nedelin VS Nemesis". Beneath those words, a timer was counting down. Apparently Phage thought the best way to test her sister's skill was to duel against me.

I drew my sword and went into a fighting stance. Nemesis did the same. Then the timer reached zero and the match began.

Phage watched carefully as her two closest friends started their duel. Nedelin quickly threw a knife at Nemesis, who threw a knife at him as well. Their knives collided in midair, making each other fall to the ground. Nedelin looked very surprised at this. Nemesis smiled then dashed with inhuman speed at her stunned opponent and made a wide vertical slash. Nedelin quickly parried, and made Nemesis jump back. Nemesis rushed at him again, but this time she jumped over him at the last second and was able to land multiple hits on his back before he turned around and tackled her. Then he started gaining the upper hand and attacked relentlessly. For every slash he made, he threw a throwing knife at point blank range. After he landed 11 consecutive hits, his sword glowed brightly and he was able to use the Sword Skill «Dread Needle» on her, causing massive damage to Nemesis and making her fall over. Then he pointed the tip of his blade directly at her face, a common gesture done during battle indicating that the loser should surrender.

Phage looked to the banner above their heads, showing that Nemesis's health was in the yellow zone. It indicated that Nedelin won the duel, not surprisingly. Nedelin sheathed his sword and offered a hand to help Nemesis up. She took it. After helping Nemesis up, Nedelin said, "Good game." Nemesis nodded in reply. Phage walked up to them.

"Well, it seems that she needs a bit more training."

I nodded in agreement.

"Nedelin is really amazing in combat. A worthy opponent." Nemesis said. "Next time," Then she looked directly at me with a face as serious as Batman talking about his parents and said, "I won't lose."

I was more than a little intimidated by this seemingly innocent girl.

We decided to head back to one of the inns for the night. It was pretty late already, about 22:30 (that's 10:30 PM for you AM/PM people), so the streets were empty. As I opened the door to the inn, I caught sight of a cloaked figure standing in the middle of the road, looking directly at us. I paused to look at him/her.

"Phage," I said, tapping on her shoulder.

"(What?)"

Then I pointed to the cloaked figure. "You see that too, right?" I asked.

Phage nodded and replied, "Yeah…what do you think it wants?"

I examined the figure as best I could from that distance. "Seems suspicious…"

Then immediately the cloaked figure started running. "We have to follow it." Phage said as she started running. "Nemesis, come on!"

"(R-Roger!) Nemesis replied in a slightly startled and confused tone.

"Initiating pursuit mode." I said as I ran off after the cloaked figure. No sleepy time for me tonight. It led us to a dense and dark forest and stopped in a clearing. The it quickly disappeared into the shadows.

We looked around. There didn't seem to be a soul in sight. Until another cloaked figure emerged and said, "How nice of you to come visit us." His voice would be perfect for a psychotic murderer. I felt like he was one too.

"Did you know that there's a huge bounty up for grabs if you're brought back alive?" he said. "Well you do now. Sorry, no time to say goodbye." He flashed a creepy grin and four others came out of nowhere and unsheathed their blades. We did the same. All of a sudden, the cloaked combatants dropped multiple smoke bombs at our feet.

Then I heard Phage scream.

I instinctively yelled. "Phage!" But there was no response. Nemesis was still beside me though. I saw a note left on the ground and picked it up. It read, "Come find us, if you dare. -Kkillian" I crumpled the note in anger. They just kidnapped my best friend. I sure as hell wouldn't let this pass.

I checked my tracker and it revealed that Phage was being held somewhere on Floor 30. Numbers and battle movements were circling in my head as I hatched a plan to rescue her. Since neither Nemesis nor I had any friends, we had to do this ourselves.

"Nemesis, do you have anything that boosts your abilities or something like that?"

She shook her head. I told her my plan, and she agreed. Then she said, "This isn't something I can handle on my own. I need Shuvi to help me." I nodded, and she produced a mask that seemed like it only covered the right side of her face.

"Where's the left part?"

She shook her head and replied, "No need. The right side is enough power."

"Okay…don't put it on yet. Wait until we get to where they're holding Phage." She nodded, and we hurried to the nearest teleporter.

We arrived on Floor 30 and followed the tracker until we reached a fortified encampment. This must be it.

"Nemesis, put your mask on now, and stick to the plan."

Nemesis swiftly put her mask on and replied, "Discord Esper Shuvi will do as you asked." Then she hurriedly climbed the stone wall surrounding the camp and scurried off into the darkness.

I was full of rage that night. No one kidnaps my best friend. I checked my inventory and equipped the Steel Vendetta, the sword I received for getting the last hit on Lenthrax. I carefully examined the blade, forming possible attack moves in my mind. The blade was about as long as my Felupus Blade, was split into two parts of equal length, had serrated edges, and was tinted a metallic chrome. The handguard was black, and the handle was a blood-red crimson. Perfect. I sheathed it and opened my inventory once again.

I produced a mask of my own, half white, half black. I had hoped that I never would have to use it again, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I reluctantly put the mask on, and felt a surge of energy. I was filled with an overwhelming urge to lie, cheat, steal, and destroy everything in my way. My hands were shaking erratically. Then, I laughed. "KUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!" The demented and murderous laugh echoed through the night. It was finally time. There will be screaming. There will be pleading. There will be bloodshe- no, wait, there's no blood in this game. There will be no such thing as mercy. "KIYAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!"

Chapter 8

[August 27, 2023 - Floor 30]

Nemesis vaulted over the wall and quickly hid in the shadows behind it. She surveyed the area, being careful not to run into any enemy guards. If she did, they wouldn't be much of a problem anyway. "Nedelin's gonna bust in soon. I better hurry." she thought. Silently she climbed a tree to get a better view of her surroundings. "Don't worry, (sister). We're going to save you." There were 20 tents, 5 buildings, a gate on the North side, and 3 pairs of patrolmen who all had orange indicators over their heads. Nedelin couldn't be seen. "Avoid the light, knock out the demon patrols."

She quickly crafted a stun-sleep potion and coated her knives with it. "I knew those angelic potion formulas would come in handy." Then she waited until two of patrolmen were directly below her. "This is such a boring job. I wish we didn't have to do this." one of them said. "It's important nevertheless. We have to protect the others from bad stuff." said the other.

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Like me." said Nemesis as she suddenly pounced on both of them and stuck her coated knives into their backs. They became silent and motionless. "Don't think for a second that you're safe from the Gods of Judgement who sent me." Nemesis hid their bodies in the far corner of the compound, where little light was to be found. Time to get the next two.

She suddenly heard maniacal laughter echoing through the compound. "What in the Nine Realms was that? Has one of the Gods of Chaos decided to interfere?" she thought. It was close, but not inside the walls of the camp. She instinctively hid at the top of another tree and waited. After hearing that laugh a second time, she was sure that the patrols heard it since a large clamor of footsteps was approaching the source of the laughter.. She prepared her knives to pick off some of the guards running to investigate. Half the men and women in the tents and buildings rushed out to find the source of that wicked laugh.

She held her knife in her hand, took aim, and heard a loud clang of metal breaking. Reflexively she turned to see what just happened. The gate that she saw a few minutes ago was busted open, with its once-proud steel doors now twisted and lying on the ground. There was a silhouette standing before them. It appeared to be wielding a sword and had a mask on. "Who's ready to party?!" the figure said as it stepped into the light. Nemesis's eyes widened in shock. "It can't be…Nedelin?!"

A brilliant flash of lightning accompanied Nedelin's imposing entrance. Rain started to fall all around the camp.

A collective "Get him!" rose up from the crowd of guards as they rushed at "Nedelin" with all their might. "I'll take that as a yes." said Nedelin as he effortlessly dodged all of their attacks. The determined thugs kept trying to land a hit on him and failing. Nemesis watched in amazement. Soon Nedelin's opponents were tired and knelt down to rest. "Done already?" he asked. Then, throwing his sword up, he caught snatched it out of the air and said menacingly, "My turn."

He dashed to the nearest enemy, grabbed him by the neck, threw him into the air, and kicked him into another. Then he turned around and saw one of his opponents trying to sneak up behind him. Nedelin started slashing at the man relentlessly. The serrated edges of his sword seemed to literally tear through the armor. When the man's armor broke, he sprinted out of the encampment. Now they were all trying to charge at him. He grabbed the arm of one of the thugs and saying, "You don't need this.", he cut it clean off, making his target scream in pain. "Relax, it'll regrow." Nedelin said, then he proceeded to knock the guy out by swinging the arm at his head. "Hey, free arm!" Nedelin said as he threw it at one of his opponents, who dropped his weapon to catch it and was terrified. Using that as a distraction, Nedelin kicked him in the crotch then made a powerful uppercut to finish him off.

Nemesis examined his opponents carefully. They seemed to be fighting with a mix of fear and rage. She leapt down from the tree and sprinted towards the battle. "It's a guardian…" she thought. "A psychopathic one at that." She drew her knives and made a running jump into the air, where she was able to throw three of her knives at her adversaries, all of them hitting their mark. "You finally made it!" she heard Nedelin say. "These guys are just party favors. You go get the Phage and I'll get the piñata." Nemesis nodded and replied, "Don't start on the piñata without us." Then she rushed off to the jail building, a little concerned on what Nedelin meant by "piñata".

When she got to the door, it was locked. So she did what cool-looking people would usually do. She kicked the door with all her might.

Unfortunately she wasn't a very strong kicker and the door stayed in place. She kicked it again. And again. And again, all to no avail.

"Ugh…seriously?" Nemesis said. She drew her blade, and activated a Sword Skill on the door. It broke apart immediately. She ran inside and yelled, "Phage, reveal yourself!" She got a response immediately. Three guards that were inside the building charged at Nemesis.

"I'm here!" Phage shouted. Nemesis was relieved to hear her sister's voice and quickly knocked the three guards unconscious to rescue her. She followed the sound of Phage's voice to a jail cell with what appeared to be iron bars. Phage was sitting on the ground inside with her hands cuffed behind her back. She broke open the cell and took a key from one of the unconscious guards to remove Phage's handcuffs.

"Phage, are you damaged?"

She shook her head. "(I'm fine.)" she said with a cheerful tone. "Thanks for coming to save me."

Nemesis made a proud smile and said, "It is merely my duty. The Gods of Judgement decided tha-"

Phage reached out and removed Nemesis's mask, making her break down crying. Nemesis immediately threw her arms around her sister in a big hug. "(Sister), I was so worried! I didn't think I'd get to see you again…" Phage returned the hug. "It's alright now. I'm here with you. Now let's get out of here." Nemesis wiped off the tears from her face and nodded. She led her sister outside, where it looked like a massacre. Without the blood, of course.

They saw the groaning bodies of defeated foes everywhere. Nedelin was still fighting some of them off with merciless force and little effort.

When Phage saw him, she shouted, "Nedeli-kun! I'm alright!"

It got his attention, but also the attention of the surrounding thugs. Wanting to fight an easier target, they all charged at Phage and her sister. Nemesis drew her blade, but it was clear there were too many to fight at once. Phage didn't have time to equip hers.

Nedelin dashed at superhuman speed and got to the two sisters before the small crowd of thugs. He activated a Sword Skill and said, "Kyahahaha! Demented Shredder!"

The serrated edges on his sword began to spin like a chainsaw and glowed white. He then made a horizontal sweeping motion with it just as the thugs got into attack range. The thugs were knocked back and their health bars went into the red. They were trembling with terror. Lightning flashed.

"Alright guys," Nedelin said, "I'll offer you a deal. Show me who ordered this kidnapping and you can each run with both of your legs."

They all pointed to one of the defeated thugs behind Nedelin, who got up and was trying to make a quiet escape. "You guys run off now. Don't tell anyone about me or you're going to have a hard time trying to stay alive." Nedelin said to the ones in front of him. They sprinted off like mice at the sight of a cat. Then he dashed to the one trying to escape and held him up by the neck.

"Please don't hurt me!" the man pleaded. Phage recognized that voice instantly and her gaze moved to the face of the guy Nedelin grabbed. Another flash of lightning. It was Richard, the person who always kept forcing Phage to be his girlfriend. Phage's expression darkened. "You…" she said menacingly.

"Oh h-hey Phage! Listen could you tell your friend here to let me go?" Richard said, trying his very hardest to keep his cool.

"Should I cut his head off or slice him in half?" Nedelin asked nonchalantly.

"Your choice," said Phage, "Whatever you think he deserves."

"Then," Nedelin said, turning to Richard. "how about I stab you through the gut then work my way up from there?"

Pure terror filled Richard's face. "N-No! I beg of you! Don't!" Nedelin thrust his sword into Richard's stomach, making Richard scream in pain. Nemesis kept a careful watch of Richard's health bar. Nedelin's blade started to slowly move upward, making Richard scream all the louder. His health bar was plummeting at an alarming rate.

Then, right when his blade got to the collarbone, Nedelin stopped and sheathed his sword. Richard fainted in fear. Nemesis saw he only had 1 HP left.

"Well," Nedelin said, "it seems that my work here is done."

Then he fell backwards and was lying on the cold, hard, ground.

Phage ran over to him and threw the mask off his face.

"Nedeli-kun?! Nedeli-kun! Wake up! Please!" she shouted. No response. She started to shake him. "Come on, Nedeli-kun wake up!" She knelt down on the ground beside him. "Come back…" Nemesis observed that her sister was on the verge of tears.

Then Nedelin finally opened his eyes.

"Phage…sorry I couldn't save you sooner." he said weakly.

Phage was overjoyed. She sat him up and hugged him tightly. "(Idiot!) You know what that thing does to you! You could've gotten yourself killed!"

-==-

She's hugging me?! What do I do?! Do I hug back?! Am I supposed to kiss her or something?! What?!

Those kinds of thoughts were swirling through my head, so it was difficult to properly respond.

"But I didn't." I finally responded. Then I hugged her back, which took some degree of willpower.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

"Yeah…tired though." I replied.

"How's your leg?"

I completely forgot about my leg. The pain just…disappeared. So Kirito was right. "It doesn't feel broken anymore."

"(I'm glad.)"

Then she made the cutest freakin smile in the whole universe and I was speechless for a few seconds. The continuous rain somehow made it cuter. There's actually a high possibility that I was blushing.

"Eh? Nedeli-kun, your cheeks are red." Phage said.

Yup. I was blushing. Wow.

"Well, probably because I'm being hugged by a pretty girl." I responded.

Now it was her turn to blush. "E-Ehh?! W-What are you saying??"

I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back for carefully listening to what male anime protagonists say.

I nodded and smiled in reply. Phage turned away and was still blushing when she said, "Well w-we should probably get back to the inn…" "Alright" I said while standing myself up. "Let's go." We started to walk back to the teleporter.


Nemesis tapped me on the shoulder.I turned to look at her, who was making a determined smile and giving me a thumbs-up. I made a face that can probably be best described as " (· ·)? " .

"Good work. You've made another step into making (Sister) your girlfriend." said Nemesis.

I sighed and instinctively pat Nemesis on the head. "There'd still a really long way to go even if I was trying to walk down that path."

She seemed slightly confused on my choice of action. I also heard her whisper "Shiiiiip…" right after I turned to face the path in front of us.

---

We soon arrived at the inn and booked three separate rooms. I didn't want anything awkward to happen while we slept. We said goodnight and went off to our separate rooms to finally get some rest. I fell asleep in 0.5 seconds.

Ah sleep. It's a beautiful thing. Even though I can stay up until 5 in the morning to avoid it, when I lie down it's difficult to willingly get up. Unless there's something urgent enough to override my dysania. Like maybe my instant noodles are done cooking or something.

I woke up to a knock on my room door. It was still dark. I checked the time. 1:53. It's a bit too early for wake-up calls isn't it? Another knock. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming." I said as I drowsily got up from my bed. I turned on one of the lamps, then walked over to the door. When I opened it, I was jolted awake when I saw who it was. Phage was standing in the doorway dressed in a short-sleeved nightgown. "Phage? What are you doing here?" I asked. "I-I couldn't sleep…" she replied. "After what happened last night, I've been getting nightmares."

I thought about this for a second. "So…basically you're scared?" I asked.

"It sounds wimpy if you put it like that." said Phage, sounding slightly annoyed. "Anyway, I was wondering if I-I could sleep in here for the night…"

"…"

*INTERNAL SCREAMING*

DID SHE REALLY ASK THAT?! IS THIS A DREAM?! I thought to myself. I knew I didn't have much time to react.

I quickly mustered up the courage to reply and said "If you want to, I guess you could…" in the most not-freaked-out voice that I could at the time. Then I moved aside and let her in.

As she shyly entered the room, the light shone better on her face and I saw her face was slightly reddened from asking. She took a look around before walking to the bed and lying down. I lay down beside her.

"Thanks for letting stay here with you." she said.

"It's understandable." I replied. "You've been through a lot today. Get some rest."

She nodded in reply.

"Well, goodnight." I said as I turned away and turned off the lamp. But then, I felt Phage hug me from behind. I tensed up and got a more than a bit nervous.

"Also…thank you for saving me back there." she said in a sincere voice. "I don't know what I would've done if you didn't save me."

I turned back around to face her. "Hey, it's what friends do." I said. "I didn't want to lose my only friend. You mean more to me than anything else. Remember that, okay?"

There wasn't much light, but I could tell she smiled and nodded.

"(What are you doing?)" said a voice suddenly. "UWAAAAAAAAH!" Phage and I both screamed. Nemesis was standing in the doorway. She flickered on the lights that I was too lazy to turn on.

"N-Nemesis!" Phage said, sounding extremely embarassed.

"How'd you get in? It won't open unless we open it for you." I asked.

"You didn't fully close it. You left it open but just a crack." she responded.  "I'll ask again, what are you doing?"

Phage couldn't seem to think of a reply. Her face was redder than ever before. Even if she did think of a response, that would take a while and she'd be stuttering a lot from the embarrassment. I decided to step in for her.

"She was having nightmares and couldn't sleep," I said. "so I let her sleep here. Just this once."

"Ah, I see." Nemesis said. Then she crawled into my bed and lay her head on my lap.

"E-Ehh?!" Phage said. "N-Nemesis, what are you-"

Nemesis cut her off. "I'm tired…and you two took both the pillows…"

Nemesis ended up sleeping there too. Not because I told her she could stay, but because she fell asleep and I couldn't wake her up. Phage fell asleep soon after, and was clinging to me the whole time, as if trying to pull me away from Nemesis, whose head lay on my stomach for the rest of the night and would move closer every time I was pulled farther by Phage. Not exactly the most relaxing position to be in. I stayed awake for about 2 more hours before finally falling asleep.

And that's the story of when I slept while two cute girls clung to me in bed.

Chapter 9

[March 19, 2016 - Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan]

"Come on, come on…yes. Got him." said Momiji Konno quietly as he played on his PS Vita. He paused his game, took off his headphones, and looked around. He was in a department store waiting for his mom. It was extensive and he could see several people, looking at clothes or being frustrated with not being able to find the right size. "Hm…" he said, "Mom said she'd be back soon…" Then he shrugged and put his headphones on as he continued playing.

A girl was happily skipping along the aisle when she noticed him. His shirt showed the original poster for Star Wars and she was curious as to why he was sitting there alone.

"Hello!" she said. Konno didn't appear to hear her. The girl tried poking him to gain his attention. Konno felt something on his arm. He turned his head to face the girl and was surprised from her sudden appearance. She smiled.

Konno removed his headphones and asked, "What do you want?"

"I like your shirt," said the girl in a very cheerful voice.

"Thanks." Konno said. He was trying to figure out why a complete stranger walked up to him to compliment his shirt.

"What are you playing?" she asked.

Konno narrowed his eyes. "Avalon Shift," He responded.

"Oh!" said the girl, "I have that game too!"

She pulled out a PS Vita from her pocket and opened the game compartment to show Konno her copy of the game.

"Are you any good?" she asked.

"Yeah, I guess." Konno responded. He still hadn't figured out why she was there.

"Then," she said, "I challenge you to a duel." "A duel?" Konno asked.

"Yup!" the girl said as she powered on her PS Vita. "What's your IGN?" Konno exited his current game and went to multiplayer as he replied, "Wyvern." "Got it." the girl said, just as a window appeared on Konno's screen. "Xenophage?" he asked. "That's me," the girl said. "Go on and accept." Konno accepted the prompt and his character was transported to an arena.

---

Avalon Shift was a game where you could use any weapon in an ever-changing landscape. You could change from 1st to 3rd Person View at any time. Multiple styles of combat from different games can be used. The strategy-gaming commander, the RPG-loving swordsman, the FPS-pro soldier, etc. Each class is equipped with enough skills so that they each can fight in 1-on-1 matches in multiplayer. The goal of the game is to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The single-player campaign has 12 hours of gameplay if all the dialogue is skipped and it is played through perfectly. The multiplayer world is the same, except without the story. It sold about 900,000 copies on the first day.

---

Wyvern reappeared in an abandoned city surrounded by nothing but decay and neglect. He was an Exoblade class, a type of enhanced swordsman that had proficiency with sword and knife-type weapons, along with special abilities that made them difficult to deal with. Wyvern had a dragonskull helmet, a white and black cape, and a bandaged right forearm that was colored orange along with his other clothing. His eyes glowed yellow and the rest of his face was shrouded in darkness.

He ran through the streets, searching for his adversary. Suddenly, bullets began to rain down on him from the tops of the buildings. He quickly got behind cover and saw Xenophage looking for him through her gun's sights, along with a series of well-placed gatling turrets using their laser sensors.

Wyvern took out his own gun, an Ignis LR: Mockingbird, and sprinted out. The gatling guns spotted him immediately and opened fire. He sprinted and jumped, narrowly missing most of the bullets. His health bar was dropping slightly as some of the bullets made contact. Then he ran up a wall partway and backflipped into the air. His black cape transformed into a pair of dragon wings and he propelled upward. The gatling guns needed time to readjust their aim. Wyvern saw the chance and fired on them. His Ignis's default incendiary rounds easily burned through the mechanized blasters and destroyed them.

Landing on his feet, Wyvern carefully searched the area for Xenophage. He rotated his camera around, and saw Xenophage rushing up behind him with sharp claw blades equipped, right about to strike. He quickly took out his sword and parried, knocking Xenophage back. She had the Dreadnought class, a class renowned for having powerful guns and stalwart defense all while staying very agile. Xenophage tried to attack again, slashing at his right side, which was easily parried. She followed up with a strike on his left, also easily parried. Wyvern raised his sword and struck down on Xenophage, who blocked the attack with both her claws. Wyvern tried to break through her defense and applied more and more force to his sword. Xenophage suddenly kicked him in the gut, knocking him away, and delivered a roundhouse kick to his head. Wyvern tried a downward slash again, and it was still blocked by Xenophage's claws. This time, his sword broke through her claws' defenses and made a deep cut in her chest. Xenophage flinched for a second from the wound, and Wyvern saw this as his chance. He suddenly leaned forward and started blowing a continuous cone of fire from his mouth at Xenophage. Her health started plummeting to the red zone, and she knew she wouldn't hold out much longer. Wyvern abruptly stopped spewing flames and, grabbing Xenophage's neck, flew up and made a loud roar. Then he threw her down, creating a small crater, and spun down to the ground sword-first, like a drill, while coating himself in flames. The impact caused Xenophage's remaining health to deplete rapidly and she was killed within a second.

---

"H-How did you…" said the girl.

Konno said, "It takes a good amount of skill to do something like that."

"I want to be as good as you someday." she replied. "You're so cool!"

"Ahaha…I'm not really that cool."

"Yes you are!" the girl said. "Oh, I'm Nakamura Kazuko."

Konno recognized that name. In his school, Nakamura Kazuko was the name of the hero who gained fame by protecting students from being bullied.

"Momiji Konno…" he said shyly.

"You're Momiji Konno-kun? You go to Okamura Elementary don't you?"

Konno nodded.

"So nice to finally meet you!" said Kazuko. "I loved the interpretative drawing that you submitted."

Konno wasn't accustomed to receiving praise. "(T-Thanks…)"

Kazuko made a short laugh. "(Hey), Konno-kun, let's be friends!" she said, smiling.

"Okay." Konno replied, smiling back.

"Wait, (sorry), I called you by your first name."

"It's fine, as long as I can call you by yours."

>>>

[October 19, 2021 - Kazukashi Academy, near Yokohama, Japan]

Konno yawned as he checked the time. "5 minutes until the bell rings." he thought. His teacher was currently teaching the class something about math. Konno looked out the window on his left. He made a specific request to be seated in that spot in the corner of the room, since anime characters almost always sat there. It was a Friday, and he was tired of school. He glanced over to his friend Kazuko, who was listening attentively.

"Momiji-kun?" the teacher suddenly said. Konno's attention shot back to the teacher.

"(Y-Yes?)" he replied, trying as much as possible to sound like he was attentive the entire time. "What is the surface area of this cube?" the teacher asked. Konno knew he had to figure it out quickly or the teacher would call him out for not listening.

"Formula for the surface area of a cube is 6a2. Each side measures 5cm. That means each face has an area of 25. That multiplied by 6 is…150."

"The surface area of that cube is 150 sq. cm."

The teacher nodded. "Good. Now - " The bell rang and cut him off, signaling the end of the school day. "There will be no homework over the weekend, just relax and have fun." the teacher said as the students were leaving.

Konno picked up his things and headed for the door. Kazuko approached him as he exited.

"It's finally Friday!" she said cheerfully. "Wanna come over to my house?"

Konno thought about it momentarily and said, "Sure. I still need to work on my Avalon Exo characters though."

"Good luck," Kazuko replied. "The new update will make that harder." Then she made a pouty face. "I can barely kill anything anymore with it." she puffed.

"Well you'll still kill more than me. You're 10 levels higher."

"That's what I'm hoping for."

Konno sighed. Kazuko smiled.

"You've gotta catch up sometime." she said.

"Oh I will."

The hallway was loud and full of students walking to their clubs or chatting up their friends. The polished floor and the white walls added to the cheery aura of the students, giving the school a comfortable and lively feel. Even though it was located near a busy city like Yokohama, the area around the school was tranquil and serene.

Konno and Kazuko were walking together to the city. They leisurely strolled through the populated streets It was decorated with large image screens and billboards all advertising products and tv shows. Several people were walking around and checking out the latest fashion trends or grabbing a bite to eat. Konno wasn't too fond of the crowds. He stayed behind Kazuko and occasionally used her as a human shield against large groups of people heading in their direction. They found their way to their train station and waited.

"Hey, Konno-kun," Kazuko started. "When's your birthday again?"

"On the 26th," he replied.

"Wait, really?! That's next week!"

"Yup."

"I really need to find you a present…"

"It's not that big a deal."

"Yes it is! What's a birthday without presents?"

"Erm…a really cheap one."

"We need to make this memorable! You're going to be 13! The age when you're no longer classified as a kid!"

The train arrived and they hurriedly paused their conversation to get on before the other people going in would block the doors.

"Well, if I'm 13, it's just another age, so don't try too hard if you're going to plan a surprise party."

"You know I will!" Kazuko said cheerfully.

Soon after, the train arrived at their destination and they got off. After a stop for ice cream at a nearby convenience store, they walked on to Kazuko's house.

"How's your ice cream?" Kazuko asked.

Konno bit off a piece of his ice cream sandwich. His teeth chattered but he was able to reply, "It's really cold."

"Well of course it's ice cream."

"You want a piece?"

"Sure."

Konno was about to break off a part of his sandwich when Kazuko put her mouth on it and bit off half.

"Once you get past the coldness it's actually really good." Kazuko said as she chewed the cookie part of the sandwich.

Konno didn't really repond.

"Want some of mine?" Kazuko asked.

"No thanks."

"More for me, then."

They continued walking, with Konno pointing out weird things every once in a while and Kazuko furiously licking her ice cream to finish it before she got home. Her mother really didn't like anything dripping onto the floor. After some 20 minutes of walking they finally arrived at Kazuko's house.

"I'm home!" Kazuko said as she opened the door. It was a two-story suburban house, with a small backyard and an even smaller front yard. There was a deck that could be accessed through the master bedroom. "(Mom?) Are you here?"

The voice of Kazuko's mom was heard from the kitchen. "Ah, Kazuko, did you bring Konno-kun home again?"

"Yeah."

"I'm going to the mall. Watch the house, okay?"

"I got it, I got it." Kazuko said as she was going up the stairs, Konno following close behind.

"No funny business while I'm gone."

Kazuko stopped in her tracks and went partway back down the stairs to shout "(Mom)?! What do you mean?!"

Her mom laughed. "Nothing, nothing."

Kazuko was silent.

"Anyway, have fun." her mom said as she was walking out the door.

"I will."

Kazuko hurried up the stairs to her gaming room, where Konno was waiting inside. She sat down in front of her computer, which was already on and set to her favorite game.

"I already booted up your computer and opened the game file." Konno said. "Just log in and we're ready to go."

"Thanks."

Both of them turned their attention to the virtual world and met up with each other inside.

---

Xenophage and Wyvern appeared in a wasteland standing side-by-side. They took a glance around, observing their surroundings. Numbers started to count down in front of them. "3. 2. 1. Fight!" Immediately they charged forward, scouring the area for their opponents. The ground was all sand and metal, the leftover remains of a great war. The sky was a brilliant orange and pink as the setting sun shone the last remaining light of the day. Over the horizon, Xenophage noticed two figures running across a dune hill. "Over there," she said, gesturing to their location. They readied their guns and sprinted at top speed towards their foes.

The sound of their footsteps was enough for their enemy to notice them and change direction. They headed towards each other, each wielding a different weapon. Xenophage's voice broke out over Wyvern's comlink. "Scavenger on the left. Maestro on the right."

Wyvern nodded. "I'll take the musician."

"Scavenger's mine, then."

They both stopped and held out their guns. They took aim, and started firing simultaneously at the two hostiles rushing towards them. The scavenger and maestro both dodged the shots easily, then they took aim with their weapons and fired back. The scavenger had an MP5 Submachine gun, but the maestro pressed a button and a set of 12 cannons appeared in front of him. He made a sweeping motion with his hand and set off all the cannons, firing various cannonballs, shrapnel, bombs, and lasers at Wyvern and Xenophage. The two of them quickly dodged out of the way and charged at their separate targets.

The scavenger started throwing an assortment of grenades, making the ground around them erupt in flames, freeze over, get corroded, be electrocuted, and of course, explode. Xenophage was too fast to be hit and caught up to him in a matter of seconds. She unsheathed her close combat weapon of choice, an executioner's greatsword, and kicked him in the crotch. He bent down and made a loud groan of pain, then Phage sent him wobbling backwards with a powerful uppercut. The scavenger made a rolling recovery and quickly fired his MP5 at Xenophage, forcing her to sheath her sword in order to dodge properly. Unfortunately the bullets were too fast, and dealt a lot of damage to her. "Why you…" she growled. She bolted over to him and swiftly got her sword out. The scavenger tried to shoot back, but he ran out of ammo and had to change magazines. Xenophage started furiously slash at him, dealing heavy damage and even breaking his armor to some degree. Once he looked like he was severely weakened, she grabbed his throat and kicked him high into the air. She aimed her gun at him and fired with perfect accuracy into his chest and limbs. Then, after running out of bullets in the magazine, she leaped up into the air, and using her sword, sent the scavenger down with two downward slashes. She made him hit the ground hard and finished by charging down at him sword-first from the sky, finally killing him.

Wyvern slid and dodged the cannon fire and shrapnel as he headed towards the Maestro. Maestros were excellent in both music and combat, as their 12 cannons could do a variety of things. They could rotate 360° horizontally and horizontally. The only problem was moving them. Maestros were usually stationary during battle and provided artillery support for their team. But if someone was approaching them and they were too fast to get hit, then the Maestro would be in trouble. He fired again, and Wyvern made a big leap to directly beside the straight line of cannons.

"Go on. Fire again." he said, taunting the Maestro.

The Maestro fired all his cannons at full force, but since they were in a straight line and all aimed in the same horizontal direction, All the cannons except the farthest one were destroyed. Wyvern used his guns to shoot the Maestro and deal some damage while closing the distance between them. When Wyvern's thought they were close enough, Wyvern pulled out his blade and started slicing the Maestro everywhere. Quickly, the Maestro's health went into the red. He fell onto one knee, breathed heavily, and smiled. He opened his panting mouth and said, "Desperation Blast." The last cannon was directly behind Wyvern and glowed bright orange. Then it fired a large blast that could annihilate a car at him. Wyvern hurriedly dodged out of the way. So instead, the blast headed straight for the Maestro and obliterated him.

Day had turned to night as the sun was replaced by the white moon, providing an illusion of light in the quiet darkness. The words YOU WIN were pulsating brightly above them.

"Flashy ending." Xenophage said.

"I could say the same to you." Wyvern replied.

"Yours was literally flashy though with the whole orange blast thing."

"I know. But you definitely get more style points for making a good combo and even hitting him in midair."

"Yeah, since you just moved out of the way."

"Your part seems so much easier." they said in unison.

Then they realized that they both said it at the same time and laughed together cheerfully under the gentle moonlight.

Chapter 10

[August 28, 2023 - Floor 39]


I woke up earlier than usual, at about 10:45. Still tired, I rolled the other way to see Phage's face looking at me. We both jumped back a bit in surprise, causing me to fall off the bed. "(Are you okay)?" asked Phage, peering over the bedside. "Y-Yeah…" I said as I stumbled to feet. I looked at the bed, and wondering why I had fallen. I remembered that I was the middle, with Nemesis to my right and Phage on my left. But now, it seems that Phage was in the middle, with Nemesis to her right and me on her left. She must've moved between me and her sister, who at the moment was still fast asleep. "You might want to get you and your sister to your own rooms so you can change." She nodded and started trying to wake Nemesis up.

We all did our morning stuff in our different rooms and met downstairs in the lobby/cafe for breakfast. I ordered the same noodle soup. Phage had pancakes. Nemesis was eating a breakfast sandwich. Just then, we all received messages telling us to meet in the Regathon town hall. "What do you think it is?" Phage asked.

"Well," I replied, "we did defeat the event boss. Now the floor dungeon's clear."

"Ah. It's probably a strategy meeting then."

I nodded.

We finished our breakfast and headed to the town hall. It indeed was a strategy meeting. It also lasted through lunch.

"From what we've heard," said the guy who apparently was leading the meeting, "the floor boss is a huge centipede-like creature called "The Devouring Guardian." It's big enough that each of its segments are as wide as a person and its height when lying down is about 2 meters. We are to divide into two teams, one on each side. When it has its attention on one side, that side will dodge and defend while the other attacks with everything they've got. Any questions?"

No one asked anything, so we went off to eat lunch.

When we all appeared finished, that guy who was speaking a while ago got on a stand and said, "So, are we ready to go CLEAR THIS FLOOR?!"

A battle-ready "YEAH!" arose from the crowd as they got up and walked toward the floor dungeon. I wasn't finished so I stuffed my sandwich in my mouth and followed. It seems that everyone was walking in parties of five or six. Woops. I guess we forgot to make a party. "Hey. Good to see you again." said a voice from beside me. I turned my head to see Kirito and Asuna there. "Oh, hi." I replied, slightly muffle from my sandwich. Phage waved. Nemesis just looked at them.

"Um, what's the name of your pink-haired friend there?" Kirito asked.

Phage spoke up. "Ah, this is my little sister Nemesis."

"(Nice to meet you.)" said Nemesis nonchalantly.

Nemesis somehow found a lollipop somewhere and had it in her mouth.

"(Nice to meet you,) Nemesis-chan," Kirito said. "I'm Kirito."

Asuna followed. "My name is Asuna. I look forward to fighting alongside you, Nemesis-chan."

I heard both of them use the -chan honorific and I turned to look at Nemesis, whose face was buried in Phage's side. Kirito and Asuna seemed confused. I quickly tried to explain.

"Nemesis thinks the the -chan ending is only used on young and cute people, so whenever people put that honorific on her name, she assumes you're calling her cute. And when she's called cute, her face becomes all red and she tries to hide. Which is also cute in its own way."

"Ah. So that's it." Asuna replied.

"I might just keep that ending there." said Kirito.

Nemesis peeked out with one eye and a flustered and annoyed face.

I looked ahead and saw the gate to the floor dungeon. People were already going in. I guess they didn't bother to wait for everyone.

By the time we got in, the path to the floor boss was nearly fully cleared. I could still hear some of the sounds of weapons clashing. The floor dungeon was designed like the ruins of an ancient temple. Moss covered the broken walls and cracked floors. The eerie halls were dimly lit by torches lining the walls or lying on the floor. The entire dungeon was full of dead ends and hidden passages to other areas, according to the scout party. We eventually just partied up with Kirito and Asuna, since we didn't find anyone else who was partyless. Following the crowd, our party met up with everyone else at the doors to the boss room. Heathcliff was there as well.

"Everyone ready?" he loudly asked the large crowd.

An even louder "YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" was the response.

"Alright, open the doors!" he commanded.

Two buff-looking men slowly pushed the doors open, revealing an enormous cavern. Large holes were all over the walls and ceiling. The gigantic room was illuminated by stones that were stuck in the walls and gave off a green glow. The boss itself, however, was nowhere to be found. Everyone readied their weapons and carefully scanned the area for our opponent. I heard a sound like rumbling and rocks breaking off and quickly turned to the source. I saw a huge creature moving through two holes in the ceiling. Some of the others are sure to have heard that as well. I strained my ears to find the next source of the sound. I heard it again, this time behind me. People clearly heard this one, and everyone turned to see. I heard a few "Oh no."s and "We're gonna die right here"s from the crowd. The third time, another sound accompanied the rumbling. A deep screech came from the front, and a monstrous centipede head with piercing red eyes came out from one of the holes. The words "The Devouring Guardian" appeared directly above it, along with 5 health bars. It charged right at us with lightning-fast speed, giving us little time to react. I dodged to the side, narrowly evading its attack. Screams were heard as people tried to avoid the charge. Some of the people were crushed or snatched by the centipede. Casualties are now at about 6. The Devouring Guardian charged in the direction of another hole, and went in. Heathcliff then shouted, "Everyone, attack the body now!"

Then I saw the glow of 35 weapons in the dark room as every person used a Sword Skill on the beast. I used my personal favorite, Dread Needle, on one spot, and since it was moving the wound was being made larger as I kept my blade in. Once it completely disappeared through the hole, it reappeared above us and charged straight down, making everyone run from the would-be impact crater. It slammed down with great force, making the entire room rumble. It seemed dazed, and we took that opportunity to attack. The Devouring Guardians health seemed to been brougt down to half already. We continued to lower its health, bit by bit, until it let out a loud screech, and started wriggling wildy, making everyone step back. Spikes suddenly came out of its skin, protecting its weakened flesh. This time it didn't go back into a hole. It opened its mouth, and a steaming green liquid shot out. People moved away from the danger zone, but one person was hit and started taking heavy continuous poison damage. Acid. I watched in horror as his screams echoed through the room. He died in 5 seconds. I looked around and people were in shock or disbelief after seeing what just happened.

"Why you..." I heard someone say.

Then a huge roar came from the crowd and they started furiously attacking the centipede, although some people were scared out of their minds and were doing their best to avoid any combat. I charged up Flash Drilling and pierced right through the Guardian's spiked skin, appearing on the other side and leaving two wounds from where I entered and exited. I then charged up another Sword Skill, Blade Crash, and jumped as high as I could into the air. Pointing my Felupus Blade directly at the centipede's head, I charged down, planting my blade directly in the center. It let out an ear-piercing shriek and started flailing wildly, nearly throwing me off. I stuck one of my throwing knives in for extra support. Everyone else had fallen back as to not get hit by the spikes. The centipede started spitting acid again, and this time no one got hit. I glanced at its remaining health bars, and saw that they had barely gone down. We had to find a way to get through the spikes. I pulled out my throwing knife and stashed it with the others, then dragged my blade, still stuck in its head, down its neck and onto the body. This just made it angrier, but I saw that it was doing a good amount of damage to the beast. As I dragged my blade, I saw exposed flesh under the cracks I was forming.

"Break through the spikes!" I shouted. "Weak skin is underneath!"

After hearing me, I heard the other people rush in and do their best to pierce through the tough spike armor of the Devouring Guardian. A few succeeded and started doing some actual damage to it. However, the centipede then shook wildly, throwing me and my blade off this time, then disappeared back into a hole. We could hear it rumbling through the walls as the spikes ground against the rock in the holes. However, this rumbling echoed throughout the room so we had no idea where it was. Suddenly acid shot out of a hole on the ceiling directly above our main forces and about 3 of them were killed. Everyone was on guard now, straining their ears to focus on where the centipede would strike next. Kirito was sharp enough to find it and warn everyone.

"RIGHT SIDE!" he shouted.

Everyone ran to the the left side and avoided the acid spray from one of the holes on the right.

"UP FRONT!" shouted Asuna, who apparently found it this time.

Acid streamed out of one of the front holes and we all quickly avoided it.

Then the centipede finally reappeared out of that front hole and everyone got ready to fight. After it let out another cry of anger we all rushed to attack. I called to my other party members and told them of my strategy.

"Stick your sword into the armor on its head, neck or tail until you reach something soft. Then when I say go, run towards the other end while dragging your sword along with you. It'll crack through the armor and expose the soft skin inside."

They nodded, and we all headed off to battle. Kirito jumped on the head, and planted his blade in a spot near where I did. Nemesis and Asuna took the neck. Phage and I stuck our swords on either side of the tail.

"Up for a little race, Phage?" I asked.

"A race? Now?" she responded.

"Yup. First one to the neck wins."

"Alright. You always find a way to have fun, don't you.?"

"Of course. Ready?"

"Always."

"(Three, two one, go!)" I yelled.

We all let out a cry of strength as we ran along with our swords in an attempt to crack the Devouring Guardian's armor. We also had to shout at the other guys to move out of our way as we ran. Nemesis was soon coming my way so I did a flip-jump to get over her. If I went under or she went over, I would've seen her panties and she would've been really embarassed. I'm glad I didn't. I saw I was nearing the neck, and I didn't think Phage was that fast so I felt quite confident.

"I won!" we shouted at the same time.

Then we laughed.

"You're faster than I thought." I said.

"I barely had anyone blocking my way." she replied.

"I had like 20 blocking mine."

"Too bad."

"We should pr-"

I was cut off by the roar of the Devouring Guardian as his mouth started to steam green smoke. My eyes widened as I realized what he was about to do.

"(Watch out!)" I shouted as I jumped and pushed Phage and myself out of the danger zone for the acid.

"(Ow...)" she said as she slowly looked up and saw the acid pool just a few feet away.

"You saved me..(thanks..)"

"You've got to be more careful next ti-..huh?"

She was blushing. But why would she be-..oh. I was on top and she was on the bottom. I've seen this countless times in anime, so I knew exactly what to do in this situation. I rolled off to the side, away from her, and shouted, "(I'M SO SORRY!)"

She slowly got up, still blushing, and said with a smile, "You've got to be more careful next time too."

I didn't really have a response.

Nemesis then suddenly appeared out of nowhere and said, "Nedelin, (sister), now's not the time to do the things I want to see you two do! The Devouring Guardian's not dead yet!"

Hearing that snapped me and Phage back to the situation at hand.

"Right!"

"(Yeah!)"

The stab-and-run strategy I employed worked, and now the beast's huge armor was falling off. Everyone was striking the vital parts. Heathcliff then made an impromptu announcement.

"Everyone! Use one last final Sword Skill! That will destroy this monster's remaining health!"

I saw that the Devouring Guardian had one health bar left, and it was in the red. I charged my Felupus Blade with my strongest Sword Skill, Fallout Reave, and aimed it directly at the centipede's face. Phage did the same with a similar skill, and with a battle cry and something peculiar. She was dragging her sword along the ground, and it seemed like blue sparks of electricity were coming out of it.

"Phage! Let's do this last hit together!"

She nodded. "(Yeah!)"

We both charged our weapons, and struck at the same time.

"YaaaAAAAAH! DOOM SLASH!"

"Fallout REAVE!"

And with that, all the glowing weapons in the room returned to normal, and The Devouring Guardian finally twitched and shattered into millions of small polygons that rose up.

The raid party made a huge uproar and cheered. We've finally conquered the floor boss, after a long, hard-fought battle. We were about to walk up the stairs to ascend to the next floor, but then Phage got a message.

"Sorry Nedeli-kun, but I need to go." she said.

Then she hurried through the doors to the next floor. I followed her and saw that she ran all the way to the next town, and to the nearest teleporter. She must be going to see a friend or something. Then I felt someone tap my back, so I was surprised as I turned to see who it was.

"Where is (sister?)" Nemesis asked.

I exhaled in relief and said, "She said she had to go somewhere."

"Strange. I did not expect that she had more friends."

"Really? Phage is a really friendly person. I expected her to have more friends than just us and Asuna."

"I haven't seen her with anyone else."

"Well that's because you've always been with us this whole time."

"That's true..."

"Anyway, we should celebrate the defeat of the floor boss."

"(Yeah.)" she said with a cute smile.

We started walking towards what I thought was the plaza and looked around for restaurants. I was already kinda hungry so I got a chocolate pretzel stick from my inventory and put it in my mouth.

"Nedelin."

"What is it, Nemesis?"

"Give me all your Pocky."

"No."

-==-

Phage rushed off the teleporter and ran through the town of Mishe. She had just got a message that needs to be answered immediately.

"Meet us in the center of the Forest of Wandering on Floor 35 and leave your companions behind, or you all will suffer the consequences."

It was sent by a player named KKillian.

She hurried to the Forest of Wandering, where the Bane of the Forest once resided until it was defeated by an unknown player. She wanted to find out what KKillian wanted and didn't want her friends to be involved.

The Forest of Wandering was an extensive forest that transferred you to a random area within after one minute of stepping in. So getting lost was quite frequent among players.

After running through the Forest of Wandering for a minute, Phage pulled out her map and located the fastest way to the center. There she saw a clearing, and she stood in the middle.

"I'm here KKillian!" she shouted. "What do you want?"

A sinister laugh echoed through the trees. Suddenly, figures started appearing from behind them, and they all revealed themselves in the afternoon sunlight. They were all wearing cloaks, and when Phage looked closer she saw that they all had a peculiar tattoo on their arms. It was shaped like a coffin. Then she realized who she was dealing with.

"It's the murder guild..." she thought. "Laughing Coffin!"

"Don't worry," said one of the cloaked men. "We're not gonna kill you. Not yet at least."

Phage grit her teeth.

"We have orders from PoH to keep you here until further notice. Tie her up."

"Why would they be here?! And why now?!"

-==-

Nemesis smiled happily as she was able to steal 3 of Nedelin's Pocky sticks right before he put them in his mouth. They were headed towards a restaurant that was randomly chosen based on where Nemesis would point if she was spun around. As they walked in, a delightful smell came from fresh ovens as baked flour mixture with red nightshade berry sauce, yellow processed milk curds, slices of mashed meat, pieces of Jon's head, and cut-up oil fruit came out of them.

"Pizza..." Nemesis said in a quiet voice.

Nedelin took a whiff of the air.

"...This smell is amazing." he said. "Nemesis do you want pizza?"

"Yeeeeesss."

-==-

Immediately Phage drew her weapon to fend off the PKers. They all charged at her at the same time, not giving her any time to react. She swung her sword in a sweeping motion to try and get as many as she could, but the ones who got hit just got back up and attacked back. Phage was forced to be on the defensive as they relentlessly slashed at her.

"I won't be able to keep this up for long..." Phage thought.

She parried a blade slash on her left, then kicked the attacker away. Then she blocked an attack on her back, then her front, and then ducked so that the Laughing Coffin members to hit each other. She had no time to laugh however, since an attack immediately came from her left and struck her side, causing her to yelp in pain. She punched the guy in the face with her right hand, then kicked his crotch and finished with a strong uppercut to send him back. She spun around to slash through another member's armor and slash him again to knock him down. Phage took a second to breathe, and looked around to see that they were still coming.

"Still fighting, eh?" said the same man who said to tie her up.

"I don't intend to get chained up." Phage responded.

"Of course. I forgot to introduce myself. I'm KKillian."

"So you're the punk that threatened me and my friends."

"Yeah, so?"

"I would advise that you don't do that."

"And why not?"

Phage made a grim smile.

"Because that just makes me angrier."

Then she charged at him while sparking her sword on the ground, and made a wide slash to try and knock him out with one hit. Unfortunately, he dodged out of the way and shook his head.

"Tsk, tsk. You almost had me. But now, it's my turn."

He quickly unsheathed his own sword and made it glow with a Sword Skill.

"I call this one, 'Merciless Slice'."

Phage barely dodged out of the way as the large slash nearly cut off her entire left arm. A Laughing Coffin member was waiting behind her and grabbed her the moment she avoided the blade.

"Well, well well. You've been caught."

Phage grit her teeth.

"What's going to happen to me?"

--==--

Nemesis picked up a slice of pepperoni pizza and watched in excitement as the slightly melty cheese was still sticking to the other slices it was connected to.

"(Let's eat!)" she said cheerfully.

She took a bite out of the slice and was instantly filled with bliss as the combined tastes of the dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni brought an amazing sensation to her tongue. She rubbed her cheeks in glee as the other customers started noticing her extreme satisfaction with her meal and were looking at her with weird faces.

"Uh, hey, Nemesis?" Nedelin said.

"Hm?" she responded with a full mouth.

"The other people here are looking at you funny."

Nemesis took a quick glance around and was very flustered.

Her face turned red as she swallowed her food and said, "S-S-Sorry..."

Nedelin made an embarassed smile as Nemesis toned down and quietly ate her food. He hadn't tried his food yet. Nemesis watched as Nedelin tried a slice of the pepperoni pizza and hoped that he would have a similar reaction.

"Hm, this pizza is actually pretty good." he said, much to Nemesis's disappointment.

She continued eating, this time not making a big scene of how delicious the pizza was.

"I wonder how Phage is doing," Nedelin said.

"(Sister?) She should be fine." Nemesis responded while sipping her drink.

"Still, I can't help but worry about her."

"My my, you might've already fallen for (sister)."

"Probably not."

"Reeaaaally?"

"I might've already. Just haven't realized it."

"Then that means my job might already be done."

"What job?"

"Get you two together."

"..."

Just then, a waitress came by to check on them.

"So, how's the food for your date?" she asked.

Nedelin replied, "Oh, it's really goo-" then he spit out his drink.

"D-D-D-DATE?!" Nemesis exclaimed.

The waitress gave them a confused look.

"You two aren't on a date?"

"W-WE'RE NOT!" Nemesis shouted.

"Sorry she gets really really flustered over things like this." Nedelin said, trying to cover for Nemesis' loudness.

"Ah, I see." the waitress said. "Enjoy the rest of your evening."

Then she walked off.

Nedelin looked at Nemesis, who was currently the reddest she had ever been, and was trying to calm down.

"H-Hey Neme-" Nedelin was cut off.

"(Shut up.) Just eat."

"Ahaha..."

-==-

It was already past dusk and well into the moonlit night. Phage was tied to a nearby tree with a cheap rope, and the Laughing Coffin members all had creepy smiles on their faces. Except for one impatient fellow.

"Hey, KKillian, you hear from the boss yet?" said he.

"Hm? No, I haven't."

"He better hurry up, I'm gettin' real bored o' doin' nothin'."

"Don't worry I'm sure he's just held up somewhere."

Phage was trying to chew the the knots of the rope without being spotted by the Laughing Coffin members. She also overheard some conversations between them.

"What do you think we're doing with this chick?"

"Dunno. But I have a fun idea on what we could do with her."

This disgusted her.

"Look at the night sky."

"Huh?"

"Ain't it beautiful?"

"Bro I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Well Fred I have no idea what you're talking about!"

This confused her.

"I got some inside info from one of my boys in the Knights of the Blood Oath."

This immediately drew her curiosity.

"What is it, man?"

"That leader of theirs, Heathcliff? You know 'im, right?"

"Of course, man."

"His favorite food is ramen."

"Maybe we can lure him to a trap with ramen, man."

"Yeah man."

This disappointed her.

She was able to chew through the ropes and took them off quietly. Then she got up and started to run for an undetected escape. However, on her second step she stepped on a twig and broke it, creating a sound that alerted all of the Laughing Coffin members present.

"She's trying to escape!"

Phage made a huge facepalm.

They all caught up to her quickly and held her down.

"Well, well, well, what do we have here?" KKillian said. "Trying to escape are we?"

They chained her up to the same tree and continued their conversations.

"(Idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot idiot....)"

--==--

"Please come again!" said one of the waitresses as Nemesis and Nedelin walked out of the pizza parlor and into the main plaza.

"Ahh...that was amazing, don't you think?" Nedelin asked.

Nemesis nodded. "Yes."

"So now what?"

"I do not know."

"...Phage still isn't here."

"Correct."

"I hope she's okay. I'll send her a message just in case."

"Okay."

-==-

Phage saw that she had received a message and moved her arms to open it.

It read, "We just finished dinner. Are you alright? Need help with anything? Just say so."

It was from Nedelin.

Unfortunately, a Laughing Coffin member saw this and forced her to close the screen immediately.

Some time passed before KKillian made an announcement.

"Hey everyone!" he shouted. "Just got orders from PoH!"

They rushed in to hear what he had to say.

"Block the entrance to the forest he says, and place guards around the perimeter. Once you've done that, feel free to execute the girl."

Phage's eyes widened.

"Execute?!"

"Alright men, you heard me. You three, guard the forest entrance. You seven, guard the perimeter."

"(Yes!)" They shouted as they quickly ran towards their positions.

KKillian waited for a while and confirmed that they were all where they were supposed to be. Then he spoke again.

"You five, you get to watch the execution. Bring her over."

The remaining members undid her chains from the tree and left them there as they brought Phage over to KKillian, who was waiting with his blade unsheathed and glistening in the moonlight.

"Ready to die, kid?"

Phage's head was lowered, but she spoke up.

"Not yet."

She immediately broke free of the grab from the Laughing Coffin members and kicked two of them away. She punched the other guy in the face and in the gut, making him stumble back a bit. She drew her own weapon and started slashing at them, forcing them to keep their distance.

"You can try to kill me, but I doubt you will." she said.

"Oh we will." KKillian confidently replied. "Get her!"

They charged at her from all sides, forcing her to spin around frequently to avoid getting stabbed in the back. Once she saw an opening in KKillian's stance, she took the opportunity and slashed his hand off, causing him to shout in pain.

"Kill her! Kill her!" he was shouting as he was looking at the stub where his hand once was.

Phage smirked and kept fighting on, but one of them got a hit on her and struck her lower chest, ripping off a part of her shirt. She slashed at that man and forced him to move back, letting her out of the circle of Laughing Coffin members that she was trapped in. But then immediately after exiting the circle, she was struck in the arm and the leg by two others which made her stumble forward and lose grip on her weapon. Then seeing as they've disarmed her, they started attacking more, wounding her severely and almost completely shattering her armor. Phage fell over backwards, losing her balance after being so badly beaten. KKillian approached her with a pained, angry face and his blade in his good hand.

"You tried to resist. But you can't beat us. You're too weak."

"Too weak..." Phage thought as she closed her eyes. "It can't be..."

"Say goodbye, Phage." KKillian said as he raised his blade up, ready to land the killing blow.

"HAAAH!" He lowered the blade with all his power, but found that it was blocked by another.

Phage slowly opened her eyes to see Nedelin standing before her, blocking the blow.

"N-Nedeli-kun?!"

"Finally found you." he said.

KKillian was utterly astounded.

Phage looked at him with wonder and surprise.

"H-How did you..."

Nedelin looked back at her and gave a determined smile.

"Tracker function."

"But why would you go through all this trouble to rescue me..." Phage said weakly.

"You saved me before. I'm just returning the favor."

Phage's mind flashed back to when they were children.

<<<<

"AH!"

Konno was thrown against the wall by a tall, tough-looking boy and fell down.

"Where's all that confidence now, Momiji?" said the boy. "You still wanna tangle with us?"

Another boy held up a drawing. "Still think we're gonna give this back? HA! Nope!"

Konno looked down at the ground. There was nothing he could do to defend himself against the bullies. He knew that his drawing in that boy's hand would be gone soon. Konno had already been beaten up, and had several bruises on his face. But now the drawing of his that he wanted to enter in the school contest would be destroyed too. As the tough boy was about to land another punch on Konno, a hand caught it just in time.

"Huh?"

Kazuko was standing there in front of him.

"What do you think you're doing?"

The tough kid gave her a mean look.

"Hey girly, move outta the way or we'll beat you up too."

Kazuko didn't waver. Instead, she twisted the arm that she caught and made the bully wail in pain.

"OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW"

Then she punched him in the gut and kicked his crotch, causing him extreme pain.

"OWWWWW"

With a final kick to knock him away, Kazuko glared at the other bullies who were there.

"Anyone else?"

The others scrambled and ran away with a "NO!"

Then Kazuko turned around and offered a hand to Konno who seemed really surprised that she was there.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

Konno took her hand and got up. "Y-Yeah...I think so."

"(I'm glad.)" Kazuko said.

"You came to save me...(thanks).."

Kazuko just smiled.

>>>>

Phage's eyes started tearing up as she remembered that moment.

"So he even remembered that..."

Phage smiled at Nedelin.

Nedelin nodded and looked back at KKillian.

"Why you..." KKillian said. "HyaAAAAAH!"

Then KKillian charged at him with all his might, but Nedelin easily parried it and went behind him.

"Too slow," Nedelin said as he leaped onto KKillian's back and stuck a knife in it.

"KYAAAGH!" KKillian screamed as he tried to reach the knife and pull it out.

Nedelin saw that KKillian was distracted and he quickly switched the way he held his sword to a dagger-like hold before furiously slashing at him, forcing him to fall backwards and drive the knife deeper into the wound. Nedelin stepped on KKillian's blade hand, forcing him to let go of his weapon, and pointed the tip of his blade at KKillian's face.

"You'll never bother us again, right?"

KKillian quickly nodded. Nedelin released KKillian and sheathed his blade. KKillian himself ran away at top speed, along with the other Laughing Coffin members. Nedelin looked back at Phage who was still on the ground.

"Hey," Nedelin said as he offered his hand. "You okay?"

Phage looked up at Nedelin in awe as his face was illuminated by the bright moonlight from the night sky. She took his hand and got up.

"(Yeah.)"

"Glad to hear it."

Nedelin held her by the hand as he started walking to lead her out of the forest.

"(Thank you...)" Phage said.

Then she smiled.

"(I love you.)"

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