Oh my gosh guys, I am SO sorry for keeping you guys so long. I said I would be updating, and then I didn't. I got writer's block, and then one thing happened after another and I couldn't finish the chapter. Before I knew it, several months had passed and I am really sorry. Well, I'm finally getting back into the swing of things, so here's the next one. Not quite as long as the chapters before, but I think it plays out.

Now, sadly, this next week I will be getting my wisdom teeth removed, so I might not be able to update for a while. But I will do my best to post the next chapter soon.

Thanks for all your patience. Reviews are appreciated. We're almost at 40! Think we can do it?

Chapter 8: Dungeons

April 16, 2023

Floor 33: Black Cross Headquarters

"Kukai!" Utau bellowed, breaking down the brunet's door, "Get your lazy bum out of bed!"

Said player groaned, rolling over and burying his face into his pillow. "Five more minutes…"

Utau growled, a furious light shining in her eyes.


Amu sighed, shaking her head at her guild mates' antics.

"Would it kill them to be on time?" Kairi muttered.

"By the sound of it, Utau will kill Kukai for you." Miki added, giving a small snicker.

Amu glanced around, seeing her partners; the original few from when she'd just joined the guild – and now all of the others loitering about the building. The guild had exploded since she'd joined, and now held above 100 players.

"Commander, we're all ready to go." Musashi, a newer member of the guild announced.

A loud thump noise drew Amu's attention, and she and Kairi glanced at the staircase. An angry Utau marched drown, dragging a whining Kukai by the ear.

"I'll not be made late by some lazy oaf like you, so get yourself together or I'll beat you until you do!" She hissed, continuing to lecture him as she drug him towards the group.

Kairi adjusted his glasses, giving the two a cool glare. "May I inquire as to why you two are late?"

Utau stood up strait, and Kukai quickly jumped to follow her.

"Sorry, Kairi. Kukai wouldn't get out of bed." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Again."

"Kukai, if this happens again I'm making you take all night patrol shifts for the next week, do you understand?"

Kukai sighed, hanging his head. "Yeah. Sorry, Danchou."

"Alright, let's be leaving." Kairi turned towards the door. "We'll arrive just in time as it is."

Amu followed him out, returning Utau's angered glower with a sympathetic smile as she passed.

Stepping out into the sunlight, Amu inhaled the fresh morning air, closing her eyes in bliss as a cool breeze gently brushed her hair away from her face. The town was just beginning to wake up around her, with shop owners opening their stores and merchants preparing for business. Even if they were just NPCs, it was a nice effect.

She hastened to match Kairi's brisk pace as he lead their guild towards the teleportation pad. The many pairs of leather boots softly thumped on the ground, signaling the presence of the rest of the guild behind her.

"It may be necessary for our guild to split up during this endeavor." Kairi turned, drilling his cool green eyes into her own. "I will require you to take command of half the guild while I take the remaining group with the rest of the clearers. Understood?"

Amu nodded curtly. "Understood."

Kairi had been impressed with Amu's skills after she'd joined the guild, and had promoted her to second-in-command, which surprised not only her but Utau as well, who complained that as the more experienced player, she should have "obviously" gotten the job. But even the blonde had been surprised at the rate of Amu's quickly growing ability, which skyrocketed along with her determination to beat the game. She could only assume that the pinkette's willpower and capable but positive attitude was the reason why Kairi had chosen her. Honestly, she approved of his choice. Amu did make a very good right-hand man. Er, woman.

They arrived in the center of town, where the clear white marble pedestal stood proudly, awaiting players to step onto it and travel to a different floor. Without any further ado, Kairi stepped onto it, and Amu followed.

"Floor 40." He spoke calmly, almost monotonously.

Amu glanced at him as a blue light flared up, filling and possessing her vision. Though Kairi's nature was naturally quiet, he seemed to have gotten even more somber over the months she'd been in the guild. She was concerned. What was bothering him? Could the stress be weighing on him? Was he bothered by the life he'd left behind?

The light dimmed, and Amu found herself surveying the plane of Floor 40.

Kairi stepped off the pad and strode forward, the other guild members arriving out of the teleportation quickly marching after him. He lead them towards the dungeons, a few players giving the large guild passing glances.

Eventually, after they passed through the town and into the land surrounding it, they came upon a large, gaping hole in the ground. The entrance to the dungeons.

"Ah, Kairi." Tsukasa greeted, stepping away from a few other players he was speaking with. "Glad you and your guild could make it."

Kairi nodded. "Tsukasa." He greeted back. "I trust that we aren't late."

"Nope, you're just in time." Tsukasa returned good-naturedly. "We'll begin in just a moment. Would you like to follow me so that we can have a quick meeting with the guild leaders?"

Kairi nodded and with a quick look to Amu, followed Tsukasa into the crowd.

"Ugh, I hope they hurry up." Utau groaned, coming to stand next to Amu. "I wanna hurry up and fight already!"

Amu allowed a light smile to appear on her face. "Yeah."

"Amu-chan!" She heard a voice call, and she turned to see a familiar blond headed her way.

"Oh," she said, turning. "Hello Tadase."

"Hello," he replied, smiling, "It's nice to see you again. How are you?"

She nodded. "I'm doing well." Turning to see Utau's questioning look, she gestured to her friend. "This is Utau, my…" She paused.

"Best friend." Utau stated, reaching out and giving Tadase's hand a firm shake. "I'm her best friend."

Amu gave a small smile. "Right."

Tadase nodded, giving a smile. "It's nice to meet you. It'll be nice to work with you again, Amu-chan."

Said girl nodded, and with a farewell Tadase disappeared into the crowd.

"When did you meet him?" Utau asked.

"Way back during the first boss fight." Amu said. "He was one of my partners."

"I think he's the only one I've heard use honorifics. It's weird." The blonde stated bluntly. Amu gave her an amused look.

"Hey, Amu!" Kukai yelled. She turned, coming to face the brunet. "Make sure I'm on your team, okay? I wanna fight with you guys!"

"Me and Miki too!" Yoru yelled, waving his arms gleefully.

"We don't get to pick who we go with." Miki commented dryly, quieting the two rowdy boys.

"Ugh," Kukai groaned. "You must be fun at parties."

"Pessimists aren't any fun." Yoru agreed, shaking his head. Miki's eye twitched.

"Shut up!" She began to yell, when suddenly Kairi appeared before them. The blue-haired player immediately sealed her mouth shut.

"We're about ready to move out. Please assemble yourselves in an orderly fashion." He commanded.

By orderly fashion, every member in the guild had learned by experience that that meant lining up military style, shoulder-to-shoulder in strait lines of eight players each. Amu, mercifully saved from the formation due to her status as second-in-command, chuckled dryly as she went to stand beside her commander.

So Kairi is a military man. She remembered thinking when he first introduced the order. Go figure.

Though Kairi did get many compliments on how well-managed his guild was, Amu found nothing appealing about being lined up like toy soldiers. She'd mentioned her thoughts to Kairi, but he firmly insisted that he would have it no other way, so she dropped the issue. Besides, as Utau had brought up, it wasn't that big of an issue in the long run.

"Are we going to be splitting up into two groups?" Amu asked, reigning her thoughts back to the present.

"No. Each guild will be taking a sector of the dungeon, and we will send out a message if the boss room is located."

Amu nodded, showing she understood. "So, do you want me to bring up the back?" She asked.

"Actually, no." Kairi said, turning to her. He held a mysterious light in his eyes, and Amu arched an eyebrow, slightly apprehensive at the look.

"…what do you mean?" She asked.

"There are a few guild-less players." He said. "They wanted to go by themselves, but Tsukasa insisted that they take some people with them, so no one will be alone. So, they're taking a few guilds and having them each send a player. I'm sending you."

"B-but why?" Amu stuttered. "Why don't you send someone else?"

"This isn't a punishment. Quite the contrary, actually. I'm sending you because I know you can take care of yourself and that I won't have to worry about you."

She sighed, realizing that he wasn't angry with her for some reason she didn't know. "Alright." She said. "Where do I meet them?"

"Go to the entrance. They're going in first." He said, and she nodded.

"I'll contact you if anything happens." She said as she turned away, and he nodded.

As she made her way through the various crowds, Amu wondered who the player could be.

Could it be him…? He said he was coming, and he doesn't have a guild. I can only imagine how annoyed he'll be that he has to have others tag along. She chuckled at the thought.

However, as she arrived at the entrance, her smile immediately dropped as she laid eyes on the one person she didn't want to see.

"Oh, Amu. How nice to see you." The voice greeted, not sounding happy to see her at all.

The player she'd been sent to assist was Ikuto all right, but the player standing between him and Tadase was also someone she knew. Unfortunately.

Amu forced a smile onto her face.

"Hello, Saaya."