Hello everyone! It's been a while. I apologize, time got away from me and I had writer's block. I've rewritten this chapter a few times, but it's here now! Next chapter starts a new arc! I was hoping for a Christmas update, but that didn't happen, so...
Happy New Year's Eve! :D
Enjoy the story! Please review, it keeps me motivated! :)
Chapter 10: The Numa Flower
April 15, 2023
Floor 40: Dungeons
Amu sighed for what felt like the thousandth time as once again, Saaya leapt in front of her, cutting her off to take the monster instead of letting the pinkette take it. She'd been doing this since they'd first met and it was starting to really wear on her.
She'd met the player several months back during one of her side quests – they were doing the same one - and though she tried to be nice the girl quite obviously stated that she didn't like Amu. Well that was all fine and well, but then she started stalking her about the field and right before Amu was about to engage a monster, dashed ahead of her and took it herself. So after a long day, Amu left the field exhausted and without any points to show for her hard work. All in all it took her much longer to complete her quest and as a result she'd been late for an event for her guild Kairi had wanted her to be at.
Then, she'd practically blown up when Saaya had shown up on her doorstep and announced that she wanted to join their guild.
Luckily, Kairi was an intuitive, reasonable man, and he graciously declined the player's request and sent her away. The girl had left in a rage, and it'd been her mission to make trouble for Amu ever since.
As Saaya finished the beast off, Tadase kindly spoke up.
"Saaya-san," he said, "Perhaps it's best if you work with a different partner than Amu-chan. I think your skills would be best matched up with another player."
The girl huffed. "Why not? Amu's no good, she's only slowing me down."
Amu closed her eyes and counted down from ten in her head.
Don't hit her, don't hit her.
Tadase chuckled nervously, sending Amu an apologetic look. "Well then – "
"I'll take Amu."
All three players started, and turned to see Ikuto emerging out of a nearby tunnel, his sword grasped in his hand.
"Ikuto-kun, are you sure?" Tadase asked. "Why don't you take Saa – "
"I said, I'll take Amu." He strode forward and grabbed Amu's arm before towing her back towards the tunnel he'd come out of.
"Hey, hold up!" Amu yelled, just as Tadase tried to speak up.
"Where are you going, Ikuto?" He asked, and Amu felt a stab of pity for him. His eyes were begging. Don't leave me with her! Was his unspoken plea. She had to look away from his puppy eyes.
"Away." Ikuto said shortly. "Have fun."
As they rounded the bend into the tunnel, Amu tugged her arms out from Ikuto's grip. "Hey, wait a second!"
Ikuto paused, and turned to her, lifting an eyebrow. "What?"
She growled. "What do you mean 'what'?! You can't just drag me off like that! Especially not without asking me!"
His lips quirked into a sort of dubious smirk, and then he said "Very well then, Amu, would you like to join me on a quest?"
"I suppose so."
His smirk changed a little bit more towards a smile, and he turned and headed off down the tunnel, Amu walking at his side.
Until she realized they were taking the tunnel that lead outside.
"Hey, wait up – where are you going?! That's away from the dungeons, you idiot!"
He only grabbed her hand and kept walking ignoring her protests.
"Hey, where are you going?!"
"Come on," he said, I'll show you how to really appreciate the game."
For the moment she ignored how creepy that sounded to focus on more important matters.
Was it a mistake to go with this guy after all?
He'd dragged her into a town.
While they were supposed to be with everyone else, clearing the dungeons so that they could clear the game as soon as possible, he brought her here so they could laze off?
"This is your first time playing, right?"
Confused by the random topic, she looked up at him with a questioning expression, but answered anyway. "Yes."
"What do you think of the graphics?"
"Uh, they're amazing but – "
"What's it like to fight?"
"it's cool I guess – "
"The food?" He pressed on.
"I haven't really been paying attention."
He nodded. "Exactly."
Her brow furrowed. "What?"
He nodded to the town and people they were passing, and Amu noticed the traffic was growing unusually heavy. "Here you are, experiencing some of the best technology man has to offer today. Never before have we been able to do a full-dive such as this, able to fully immerse ourselves in a fantasy of our own creation. But because of what Hoshina's done, you've lost sight of the positive aspects of this game and can only see the negative."
Amu stared at him, at a loss for what he was trying to indicate.
"Have you been to Floor 22?"
"Of course." She replied shortly.
"Have you ever seen the Numa flower? It only blooms at sunset."
"Who cares about that?!" She growled. "We're trying to survive, we don't have time to be looking at flowers!"
"When was the last time you slept properly?"
Amu paused, stumped.
She took a deep breath as Ikuto eyed her expectantly, starting to see where his trail of questions was leading.
"….It's been a while." She answered finally, her voice quiet.
He nodded, and they continued walking in silence.
They rounded the last bend of buildings and made it to the center of town, the transportation pad beckoning with a blue glow. Ikuto led them to it, and together they stepped onto the raised surface.
"Floor 22." He spoke, and the town around them disappeared.
As the landscape materialized in their sight, Amu's eyes widened in surprise. She'd been to this field – many times, of course, during clearing – but she'd never noticed just how pretty it was, nor had she noticed the beautiful white lilies beginning to bloom all across the field.
Floor 22, Field of Blooms, was aptly named. The landscape was nothing but a large flower field, and roses and blossoms of all kinds made their home here, completely covering most of the surface of the ground.
"Are those the Numa flowers?" She asked, gesturing to the white blooms, which seemed to be glowing.
"Yes." He replied, quietly picking one. "They're stocked with all kinds of healing properties and benefits, so you might want to pick one or two. You're only allowed to take a few at a time."
She nodded and followed suite, plucking a few of the flowers and stowing them in her inventory.
After she was done, Ikuto turned back towards the path. "Follow me," he said, and she did.
He led her to a hill – a cliff, more like it – with not much more than a lone tree adorning the surface. The tree was tall, with a wide trunk, the branches reaching out to cover as much distance as possible. The cliff dropped off shortly afterward, giving the place a majestic view of the flower fields and the setting sun.
He sat down by the tree, facing the bright sunset in the distance.
Might as well, Amu thought with a sigh, and seated herself beside him.
Neither of them spoke for a while, and they simply watched the sun sink into down into the sky in a flurry of colors.
"It's beautiful," Amu breathed, "even if it's fake."
"It is beautiful." He agreed, making no comment on the 'fake' element.
Amu turned to him, determined to get answers regarding his strange behavior.
"Why did you bring me here?" She asked.
He shrugged. "You looked like you were tired and needed some time to yourself. Away from all the fighting."
She raised an eyebrow. "I don't need time away from fighting. In fact, I should be there right now! And it's only natural I'm tired. I'll be able to rest later. You should be fighting too! Don't you want to leave?"
"I do." He replied. "But taking small breaks won't affect our winning in the long run."
"Well most of us want to get out of here as quickly as possible! And not a moment sooner!"
"As do I." He replied.
"Then why are you slacking off?!"
He finally tore his gaze away from the sky and eyed her, his eyes changed from the relative warmth of earlier to a more cold, chilly blue.
"I joined this game to escape from the reality I'm cursed with. And it's still going to be that for me, no matter what the creator or anyone else says."
"How can you be free when he owns your life?"
He focused on her, his eyes boring into her own.
"Take charge of your own story. Don't let him win. He thinks he can control us, but he doesn't own us as much as he thinks he does."
"There's a good chance most of us will die." Amu's gaze sharpened into a narrow glare. "Neither of us might make it through, Ikuto."
Breaking eye contact, he turned his gaze back to the sunset, his face taking on a more melancholy appearance.
"I don't want to be owned." He said quietly. "I'm tired of having other people try to control my life. I'm sick of being manipulated. So that's why I've decided, I'm going to do what I want for once. Even in a world of his own making, as a god, Hoshina won't control me. Even if I die, I'll die as my own person."
Amu stayed quiet, looking at him in awe.
"In the end, even if we beat this game, we won't win. We'll only have been puppets to him. But I won't let that happen."
Amu turned her focus back to the sunset, watching as the colors faded into a night black.
"You act as if you know him personally."
He turned to face her. "Hm?"
"You talk as if you understand his motives and why he did this. It's almost as if you know him personally."
He snorted. "I do, in a way I suppose."
Neither said anything more for a while.
The colors faded totally from the sky, turning it an inky black. Stars appeared, dotting the darkness like lanterns, twinkling pleasantly in the night. Amu glanced up, spotting the moon as a light breeze started up, gently blowing her hair. She was struck again by just how real this game felt. The attention to detail was astounding, and she could feel and see so much….
"Why did you share that with me?" She asked. "It's not that I don't care, it's just that…. That seemed really personal."
He sighed, leaning forward to place his chin on his knees as he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
Amu said nothing, but gave him a smile of gratitude.
If he saw it, he made no move to return it.
"What is it now?"
"We had our break. Shouldn't we be getting back?"
I figured it was due time to respond to a few reviews. Thank you to all my darling reviwers, faves, and followers! You're fabulous! And don't worry, I'll keep this brief.
QueenOfMusicLeea: Thank you so much! I thought the same thing, though I've switched up the roles a bit! Thank you for your follow! *gobbles food*
Tsuki Azure Wings: Yes! Though this is the first chapter I've really been able to spend building their relationship, it will be an Amuto! Much more action to come :)
Life. like .roses: Thank you very much! I try to update as soon as I can :)
Be Happy. Be Healthy. 4ever: Thank you very much! It has been a while, I apologize! But thank you for your reviews and comments! And haha yep, same! Though sometimes I wish I was a gamer, I see this and think nahhhhh :P
Goodbye until next time!