A/N: This is the first fanfic I've uploaded on to - I've actually been working on this for quite a while. R&R please! A writer can't grow without criticism after all.

A/N 2: Edited. Thanks for pointing that out, guest - I totally forgot to refer back to the colour coding after writing so long. . I was waiting for more information on the colours, but nothing came up. Also did a minor edit on one error that escaped my attention.

A/N 3: Edited again, noticed a minor hiccup in naming.

For the record, I'm following the original formats of Japanese and English names here, so:

Japanese: (last name) (first name) e.g: Tsukihara Yukina

English: (first name) (last name) e.g: Kyrius Igzelier

Disclaimer: I do not own Accel World. However, I do own most of the OCs that appear in this fanfic.

Chapter 1

I rechecked the location indicator again, but it was still spinning around wildly. Just great, and I thought I was the only person in the Accelerated World who could disrupt it. Swearing silently under my breath at the situation I had found myself in, I released another sensor pod from the dispenser on my backpack and sprinted away. Almost immediately, the pod tripped and I spun around just in time to see a large scythe headed straight for my neck.


The blade cleaved through thin air as I ducked and delivered a bash to my black-clad assailant's guts with the butt of my gun. With satisfaction I watched him stagger backwards before leveling my gun, switching it to gatling mode and popping off a salvo of lead at him. He looked up as he recovered and disappeared before my very eyes, causing the bullets to speed through thin air.

"Not again!" I swore.

Damned be ninjas.

I sprinted away at a good pace using my high jumping ability to move across rooftops. While I moved, I made sure to dispense sensor pods liberally - with Shadow Phantom's ability to disrupt the location indicator, my sensor pods were my best bet at finding him. But first I needed to put some distance between us...

Suddenly there was a whooshing sound to my right at the same time the sensor pod I had just dropped highlighted a moving black dot on my HUD.

I spun around and levelled my gatling gun at a patch of dark shadow cast by a skyscraper from the artificial sun on this Apocalypse stage, only to pause as nothing came into view. The next thing I knew a dagger whizzed through the air and nicked my arm. I felt my health drop slightly, and instinctively spun around to be greeted by more daggers emerging from the shadows.

Homing daggers! He wasn't supposed to be there!

I dove aside through a window on the balcony I was moving on, shattering what little glass was left there. Hitting the ground at a roll I proceeded to dash through the corridor as windows exploded beside me and showered me in tiny shards of tempered glass. Small dark energy balls floated into the corridor and homed in on me even as I flipped forward over my head and intercepted them in mid-air with my gatling gun.

A high-powered round from my gun's sniper mode turned the door ahead of me into dust as I dashed through into a large hallway. A chain suddenly flew down the hallway, eliciting a surprised shriek from me. It was too late for me to dodge it, so I swung my gun at it and batted the diamond-shaped weight at the end into the wall.

"Home run!" I smirked and turned to run, but skidded to a halt as I came face-to-face with a black cloaked figure.

Oh crap.

"You gave me quite a run for my money there, Shadow Phantom."

No answer.

We stood there in silence for several seconds before exploding into action. He threw his scythe at me, only for me to spin my gun around and knock it off course into the wall. He suddenly appeared behind me and swept me off my feet. I rolled aside to dodge his blade leg and rolled to my feet while seeding the floor with small discs using my backpack - landmines.

He threw a chain at the scythe embedded in the wall to retrieve it without so much as a glance at it as I climbed to my feet. Before I was fully standing, he was already whirling the scythe around while still attached to the chain, creating a killzone around him as he advanced on me menacingly...

Only for his advance to meet a quick end as one of my landmines exploded under his left leg, throwing him off balance and causing him to lose the scythe again, only it flew towards me again. I didn't quite manage to dodge it in time and winced in pain as it took my right leg clean off below the knee.

I knew I had to end this battle soon - I wouldn't be able to dodge or block effectively with one leg gone... Shadow Phantom was in the same predicament though, my landmine had blown off his left leg, leaving him standing only on his right leg. With an even face betraying no emotions - not that my duel avatar's face was visible through this mask anyway - I hefted the gun onto my right shoulder, where it rapidly folded outwards and grew into a massive cannon which immediately began collecting energy particles at the aperture of the muzzle.

In response, he raised his right hand into the air and dark spheres formed in the air behind him. As he lowered the hand, the spheres combined into one large sphere in front of his palm and began to radiate a cold aura that slowly froze the ground around him.

"Photon Maser!"

"Frigid Abyss."

The two special attacks collided between us, a wide beam of energy flying into the sphere he fired at me. The collision created a large ball of energy that expanded outwards and engulfed the both of us. A warm sensation overtook me... and the last things I saw were the depleted life bars at the top of my HUD as well as the word 'DRAW' underneath them.

"And so you solve this differential equation like this..."

I blinked. It was always so disorienting transitioning back to reality from the Accelerated World. A quick stretch later, I reached out towards the holographic screen floating in the air before me and resumed my note-taking. Maths bored some people, but definitely not me, and this was not a subject I wanted to miss out on just because I was a little fatigued from a fight.

As my fingers flashed across the screen, I let my eyes roam around the classroom a bit, trying to determine the identity of this elusive Shadow Phantom. Class 4-2 was split evenly between girls and boys. I furrowed my brows as I tried to recall the initial position of the enemy location indicator, but then again, he had jammed it right off the bat, so that wouldn't work... Gah, this sucked.

My mailbox rang, and I reached out lazily to open the mail I had just received... only to quickly jerk to attention once I saw the name of the sender.

I enjoyed that battle. Let's finish it sometime else and determine a clear winner then.

Shadow Phantom

He knew... He knew who I was! How... my eyes began darting around furiously, but no one else seemed to be showing any obvious signs of looking at me and sending the mail... Gah, this made me feel so uneasy... Uh, wait, this was sent through Accelerated World channels, not standard mail. Never mind - I had been to distracted to study it carefully.

"Tsukihara-kun, can you answer this question?"

I froze as a question flashed onto my holoscreen. Just had to pick a time when I was distracted... Oh well, good thing I had revised this at home before coming to school. Reaching out with my right hand, I effortlessly solved it and sent it back to the teacher with a flourish of my hand.

"Well done, Tsukihara-kun. As you can see..."

With a muted sigh, I settled down and began wishing the time by, wanting to get back home and calm my frayed nerves by taking a nice hot bath and a short nap. I flicked a few errant strands of my long silver hair out of my eyes and rested my head on my left hand, letting my eyes close for a short while in thought...



My eyes jolted open in surprise and I found a head full of brown hair practically in my face.

Waaah!" I shrieked in surprise and toppled over backwards. Falling over my chair, I hit my head roughly on the desk behind me before hitting the ground clutching my head in pain.

"Yuki-chan, are you alright!"

"Owww... Of course not! Don't scare me like that!" I slowly climbed to my feet using the desk for support... Owie...

"Sorry, but it's really not often I see you falling asleep in class. Is there something on your mind?"

"Nothing..." I groaned as I dusted down my skirt.

"Obviously something's troubling you... I've been with you long enough to tell. What could it be... fashion? No, you don't bother much with it yet still manage to look good in anything you wear..."

"I'm telling you, it's nothing!" I half-growled as I drank from my water bottle.

"Oh, I know! It's a guy!"

The water in my mouth made a grand escape in the form of a fountain directed out the nearest window.

"Oh, is that why you're wearing red panties today?" a guy approached from behind me. "This is the first time I've seen you wearing that colour... Hmm hmm..."

My cheeks rapidly changed colour to match my underwear and I slowly stepped over to his side, my hands closed into fists and trembling as I struggled to control my anger.

"Unless you want to have your eyes gouged out and forced down your throat, I suggest you keep them out of where they don't belong..." I whispered in a cold voice, mindful of the social cameras positioned in the classroom. I'd deck him otherwise!

"Come on, can't I admire the natural beauty of one of the classiest ladies in the... OW!" he never got to finish the sentence as I aimed a discreet jab at his ribs from an angle the cameras couldn't see.

"Pervert..." I muttered disapprovingly.

"Forgive Aida-san now, Yuki-chan. He's at that age after all..."

"Oh, my dear goddess Inaho-chan, I knew you'd come through for me!" Aida clung to Inaho's legs reverently.

"You two know as well as I do that I can't stay mad at his antics for long... Honestly, I don't know why I put up with him sometimes..." I sighed resignedly.

"Yukina-chan!" Aida leapt at me, but I put my hand in his face and held him away as he flailed his arms - comically if Inaho's hurriedly stifled laughter was any indication. Even I had to fight to keep a serious expression on my face, but it was quickly failing. It didn't take long for my mask to break and for me to start laughing out loud.

"Come on, if we don't get to the cafeteria soon, they'll run out of their famous yakisoba bread!" Inaho grinned as our laughter died down.

"What are we waiting for?" I asked as I started off in the direction of the cafeteria.

All too soon it was time to go home, and I stood at the school gates waving goodbye to my two friends, Akizaki Inoha and Orino Aida. From school it would be a 20-minute walk back to my apartment - I lived alone here on cash sent by my parents in another city here in Japan. It was a family tradition to train our independence by sending us off like this once we reached the age of 16. My first year here, and in a new school. I was quite thankful for the two of them approaching and befriending me early.

It was also my second year as a Burst Linker.

Brain Burst. Nobody knew for sure where the program came from, and honestly with most of the players being kids, not many people were interested in finding out. Most were in it just for the fun - after all, it was THE premier fighting game on the whole planet.

"Going home alone?"

I spun around and came to face a tall guy my age with short, spiky blonde hair with a low thin ponytail that ran halfway down his back. He was dressed in the average Japanese school uniform that didn't leave much for the imagination, although I could tell that he at least was slim.

"Igzelier-san," I greeted him.

"You make me sound old... Just Kyrius will do. I'm still not too used to Japanese honorifics after all," he grumbled.

"It's hard not to treat you with respect... You're the class president after all..." I giggled. Besides, you're one of the more desirable guys in the school...

"That makes sense I suppose..." he frowned.

"Well, at any rate, I have to get going, Kyrius-san. Chores won't do themselves after all."

"Want me to walk home with you?"

"Uh… why not?" I was a little taken aback by that act, but quickly recovered. "Any particular reason you're doing this?"

"Well, I've been hearing news of bullies hanging around the school lately, and you know how these people are like, skulking around outside the range of social cameras. Let's just say I'm starting to feel a little protective of my classmates, especially since I'm the class president."

"Well… thanks," I blushed. Spending time with Kyrius Igzelier… ah, I wondered how Inoha would react. She's probably flash me a thumbs up and wish me luck… even if I didn't quite think about him in that romantic sense. Either that or I just wasn't feeling… it for him just yet.

We stepped outside the school gates and I led Kyrius in the direction of my apartment in the middle-class section of the city. I had enough money to live comfortably there assuming I didn't squander too much of my allowance… Well, I did try to be thrifty at times, but I had my desires too.

Kyrius and I talked about various things as we made our way to my apartment. It made the trip seem a lot longer than just 20 minutes talking about our lives, friends, likes and dislikes… but by the end of it I felt a little closer to my class president. I could tell he still had a few things he didn't want to share with me, but I felt that I could wait for it. It wasn't like I was in a hurry to get to know him after all. Just talking to him like this was good enough for now.

"Kyrius-san, where do you live by the way?"

"Not too far away from here actually. It's about an extra 5 minutes on a different road, so we don't meet each other on the way to school."

"Heeeh… Do you live with anyone?"

He paused mid-stride for a moment and looked at me evenly. I could tell I had hit a nerve or something… his expression was neutral now rather than cheerful.

"On second thought, you don't need to talk about it if you don't want to," I hurriedly interrupted. "I live alone myself; Tsukihara family tradition dictates that I spend at least 3 years outside my comfort zone to get used to independent life."

"I suppose that's a good idea…" Kyrius mused.

"It is. I only started a few months ago after my 16th birthday, but I've already built up a steady routine," I swelled with pride a bit, but made sure to tone it down so it didn't seem offensive.

Hahah, good for you," the smile returned to his face as we resumed walking towards the high-rise building my apartment was in.

"I'll show you where my apartment is," I offered.

"If you don't mind…"

We walked into the elevator, and I sent an electronic message to the elevator to ascend to my floor via the local network. After travelling up to floor 13, we stepped out, and I led him down the hallway until we reached room 13-06.

He bade me farewell as I stepped into my apartment and turned on the lights. When I turned around to close the door, he had already left. Smiling brightly to myself, I locked the door and walked towards my bedroom. After putting down my school bag and sitting down on my comfy single bed for a short break, I got out a set of clothes – a white blouse and a pale yellow jacket to go over it matched with a black plaited knee-length skirt. Oh how I need a bath now…

A quick bath later, I sat down on my bed as I started up my Neuro Link and began sifting through the day's homework. Hmm, nothing out of the ordinary – I could finish most of this within the minute. Smiling, I leaned back and spoke.

"Burst Link."

The world around me turned an odd shade of blue as I stepped out of my physical body in my virtual avatar. My long silver hair was still the same in this state, only it was longer, coming down to my waist and with a black ribbon tied to it while I sported a long, floating white dress with a black belt around my waist. Thank goodness I was good at art and could design an avatar like this.

"Well… let's get started," I hummed a tune as I brought up my homework files and began rapidly parsing through them and completing them.

It really didn't take long, at least in terms of real life seconds of course. Before I exited my accelerated state, I made sure to recheck my burst point counter. Just enough to level up – I celebrated briefly but made a note to myself to gain more points first before hitting the level up button. I did NOT want to get caught in a battle without a good point buffer in case I lost.

With my homework done so quickly, I realized I didn't really have much left to do at home. Then again… I walked into my kitchen and checked my fridge and storage cupboards. Great, I was running out of supplies. Oh well, time for a shopping trip. I accessed the Global Net and quickly downloaded some extra money from my bank account before grabbing a handbag and setting out for the nearest commuter station.

In less than an hour, I was browsing through the selection of the supermarket I frequented. I was running low on my stocks of just about everything I needed, food and toiletries included. When I finally left the place, I was holding several heavy shopping bags filled with groceries. I was just about to head back home when a low grumbling sound from my stomach resounded through the air, though it was luckily overshadowed by the noise the pedestrians were making. Blushing, I made a quick note to stop off at a restaurant before heading home – I wouldn't last long enough to make a meal myself.

It was with that in mind that I stopped off by a nearby French restaurant, having decided to treat myself. I was partial towards French cuisine after my first try at it several years back, though it was rather expensive at times.

"Bonjour mademoiselle. May I take your order?"

… Eh? That voice…

I looked up from the traditional menu on the table only to find a familiar blonde standing beside my table in a stylish waiter's uniform…

"Kyrius-san!" I gasped.

"Miss Tsukihara?" he blinked in surprise and smiled. "What a coincidence meeting you here."

"I didn't know you had a part-time job…"

"It's not common knowledge… I don't like relying on my family's money too much, so I need the money."

"Any particular reason why?" I tried poking in a little further.

"Let's just say I don't get along with my dad too well," he kept his tone even. "And my mum is six feet under."

"Uh, sorry…"

"Don't be, it's hardly your fault after all, Miss Tsukihara. Now, if I don't want my boss to kick me out of the store, I'll have to take your order," he chuckled as he masterfully changed the topic.

"Oh, yeah. I'll have… escargot and caviar with lobster soup for appetizer, bouillabaisse for the main course… and crepe with strawberry ice cream for dessert," I hurriedly made my order, casting worried glances at the uniformed guy standing in a corner of the restaurant observing us.

"Very well, your order will be served shortly," Kyrius was all back in his business tone, but he broke it with a jovial wave as he left to take orders from another table. I smiled and waved back as I turned my attention back to looking around and taking in the sights.

To be honest, there wasn't really anything new in this district to look at, but the fountain squirting water up into the air in the middle of the plaza the restaurant was situated beside made for a nice, calming environment when paired with the ornate displays of French art and architecture in here.

On a whim, I brought up my Neuro Link's menu and went to my Brain Burst menu. Shadow Phantom… who was he? He was crazy powerful for his level, no doubt about it. That cloaking ability was insane, seriously… I searched for his name and brought up his stats…

… Oh my.

That was quite a high win/lose ratio. In fact, our draw earlier was the ONLY draw on his record. He either won or lost, and he won VERY often. A quick check on the Accelerated World forums revealed that most people never even saw him coming – they died right off the bat from precise, quick attacks that appeared to come from nowhere.

I closed my web browser and leaned back in my chair with an audible sigh. Was he worth Watching? I didn't really like to put people on my watchlist for Accelerated World battles… it made me waste valuable Burst Points, though I had a reasonable supply of them for now. Not to mention I no longer had any Burst Linker friends after my guardian lost all her Burst Points and got Brain Burst uninstalled.

Sorata Kanoe lost all her memories of Brain Burst afterwards.

I shuddered at the thought – I only found out what had happened to her the day after, when I met her in real life and she treated me like a stranger. It hadn't been a pretty thought thinking of what would happen after losing Brain Burst… but the thing was that I had gotten so used to it, there was no way I could do without it now.

So now the only way to keep using Brain Burst was to defeat other people in fights and take their Burst Points. As much as I hated to admit it, the program was like a drug – use too much of it for too long, and you got addicted to it.

"Here you go. Escargot and caviar with lobster soup. Enjoy, mademoiselle," Kyrius's voice threw me out of my brooding, and I let him place the dishes in front of me on the table with a cool elegance he never showed while in school.

"Oh yeah, I forgot… add apple juice to my tab," I called out as he turned to leave.

"As you wish," he smiled.

I had just picked up my spoon when the world around me turned blue and my physical body… froze.

"Great timing for a challenge…" I muttered as the world around me dissolved into digital streams of data.

Slowly, the data streams merged and coalesced to form buildings with large plant growths coming out of the ground wrapped around them. Trees dotted the landscape together with ruined buildings – waterfalls flowed out of buildings somehow as poisonous swamps bubbled out of the ground. The HUD dropped into place from above, displaying both me and my opponent's health and special bars, and I flexed my duel avatar's hands checking my response time. My senses faded back into being as well.

Gold Virgo… Gold colour, huh.

"Ohohoho! I finally caught you alone…"

Already that laugh was starting to tick me off… I clenched my fist tight and checked the enemy location indicator.

Dead ahead of me stood a distinctively feminine duel avatar decked out in golden armour – obviously… She held two whips in either of her hands, but I couldn't see any other weapons. Didn't mean there weren't any.

"But really, it's hard to believe that such a puny little girl like you beat my beautiful, elegant Shadow Phantom-sama!"

… What.

"He had an unbeatable record… until you broke it! So now I'm going to avenge him and take you down for the count! OHOHOHO!" she laughed as she pointed her right hand at me and cracked her left whip menacingly.

There was no way I was going to stick around to find out what she could do with those!

Within half a second of her finishing her 'le grande' speech, I dashed off as fast as my legs could carry me while I whipped out my gun in gatling mode to splatter the ground in front of her and kick up a cloud of dust and shrapnel. When she emerged from it, I was already on top of a tall building nearby and had engaged my cloaking ability as well as placed a few sensor pods around the area.

"Where are you! Come on out and fight!"

I levelled my gun in front of me and switched to howitzer mode, feeding it targeting data from the sensors pods near Gold Virgo as it folded outwards into the form of a large tank-sized cannon aimed up towards the sky on a pedestal mount.

"Fire in the hole!" I smiled and pulled the trigger as I aimed upwards. The explosion from the ignition of the powder in the shell reverberated through the air as it launched high up into the sky and came back down right beside Gold Virgo. I didn't see the impact, but the resulting explosion and loud shriek told me I had hit my target.

"There you are!"

Cloak worn off, eh? I seeded the area with landmines using my backpack as I jumped away towards another building. In mid-air, I raised my unoccupied left arm and aimed it towards a branch of the tree in front of me. A grappling hook fired out and wrapped around the branch as I used it to swing myself across the gap between the buildings to reach the rooftop on the other side.

A satisfying series of explosions behind me told me that Gold Virgo had stepped right into my minefield, and I smirked in victory as I turned around and lay prone while switching my gun to sniper mode and flipping the bipod downwards.


I waited patiently to see if she would come into my firing range, but she never did. Even after a minute, I was left lying down there wondering where she had gone…

"Found you."

I rolled aside almost immediately as I whipped my gun around, only for a whip to wrap around it and deliver an electric shock that I struggled to endure as I rammed the butt of the gun into the ground with the underside aimed at her, where several hatches swung open to reveal rocket launchers.

"Rocket Salvo!" I let loose the rockets, allowing them to fly into Gold Virgo at point blank range.

The attack forced my golden-clad opponent to let go of my gun to evade the attack, so I seeded more landmines while she was recovering from the attack and trained my gatling gun on them.


Seizing the chance to escape again, I used my grappling hook to reach another building. I made sure to drop landmines wherever I went, in case she managed to find me again. My cloaking ability couldn't last all that long after all.

"You're not getting away! Grand Wheel!"

Only my instincts dropped me to the ground in time to avoid the wide-area slashing whip attack she had just used. Her whip, having apparently extended itself, whipped out of the dust cloud and spun several times in a wide circle, cutting ENTIRE buildings and trees apart in its swathe. It passed mere centimetres above my helmet and also spun with enough force to blow away the dust cloud, leaving behind a very enraged Gold Virgo.

Yikes. Better don't go down to ground level or go into buildings; she'll bring them down on top of me using that attack.

I quickly began moving again, but it wasn't long before I found a whip around my right leg tripping me over and dragging me back towards the irate duel avatar. Before I went over the edge, I had a brainwave and fired my grappling hooks at a large piece of debris left behind after Gold Virgo's special move. The hooks wrapped tightly around the piece of concrete, and as I went over the edge, I yanked it with all the strength I had, pulling it in her direction and releasing my grappling hooks after a bit.


I quickly loaded new grappling hooks when she released the whip to escape the flying debris, and fired them at another tree branch nearby to pull myself onto it. After checking the HUD, I could tell that I still had around 3 quarters of my health left, while Gold Virgo was down to half… oh, now it dropped a bit. Seemed like she didn't quite manage to dodge my 'little' present to her. I snickered and swung off towards another tree, planning on putting as much distance between us as possible – my sensors pods told me she wasn't moving, probably recovering from getting smacked in the face by ten tons of steel and concrete.

"Very nice, Ruby Sniper."

I looked to my side and saw a tall blonde man standing beside me on another branch. A fancy black mask covered his eyes, and a long coat covered his relatively normal-looking body with chains hanging around his hands and waist. On his back was a pair of black, demonic-looking wings…

"Who're you?" I blinked in surprise.

"You may want to focus more on your fight. Gold Virgo is getting very mad."

"Hey, making people mad clouds their judgement," I grinned.

"True, but it also makes them far more dangerous to tangle with," he agreed.

I quickly continued on my path after another quick glance at my special bar. It was filled, and Gold Virgo was a good distance away… Great, time to break out a special move. Might as well let her go out with a bang after all.

"WHERE ARE YOU!" a loud shout reverberated through the air.

I ignored the shout and switched my gun back to its default sniper mode, where the underside near the bipod shifted and a large box-shaped casing emerged and opened up to allow a large spike to drive down into the ground underneath. The upper part of the gun folded outwards, while the barrel extended by almost twice its current length and split sideways, only for two even longer rails to extend further outwards.

Even as electricity began crackling as the rails began to emit a menacing pale red glow, I fed in the targeting information from my sensor pods and aimed right for Gold Virgo… with 6 skyscrapers in the way of the shot.

"No way she can shoot through those!" I heard a spectator comment.

"Is this your first time seeing Ruby Sniper in action?"


I tuned the other spectators out as I planted my feet in the ground hard. Spikes in my boots drove into the ground to give me additional support as I trained the railgun on my target.

"Charging," I muttered.

As the seconds passed by, the ominous crackling coming from the barrel of the heavily-oversized gun got louder and louder, and the glow brightened. I looked down the scope to make sure Gold Virgo's form was still highlighted through the buildings using data compiled from the sensor pods I had seeded around and right in the centre of my targeting reticule.

"This is the grand finale! RAILGUN STRIKE!" I shouted as I pulled the trigger.

For half a second, nothing happened. After that, there was a bright flash of light, and the gun kicked backwards, straining my arm a little even with the additional recoil-mitigating measures. A long tungsten needle emerged from the barrel of the gun at a speed of Mach 15, leaving behind a large plume of ionized plasma, tearing clean through the 6 buildings in the way and impacting clean on Gold Virgo's helmet without losing speed.

She never stood a chance.

The Accelerated World deconstructed itself rapidly, and soon the world was back to its original state, vibrantly coloured with the defining smells of reality. The Accelerated World simply didn't smell normal at times… not that I expected to smell anything with the visor my duel avatar wore. I took in the smell of the food in front of me and absent-mindedly noted that I had a good buffer of Burst Points now. Levelling up wouldn't leave me vulnerable any more… Hmm.

Maybe later, the food before me was tempting my unsatisfied taste buds and making me salivate. I could've sworn I saw Kyrius look my way and smirk for a moment… was my expression really that easy to read? I blushed hotly and turned my attention towards attacking the escargot with a fork while making sure my long silver hair got nowhere near the food. When it got stained when I was eating, it was dreadfully obvious…

I didn't even know why I had silver hair in the first place since my parents had black hair, to be honest. I was born with it, and after checking it appeared to be a genetic defect. But it was quite striking and made me stand out a bit, so I eventually decided to leave it be. Besides, people wouldn't be able to tell when I had white hair, I joked. My hair was for all purposes completely white after all, even if it was oddly shiny.

I let myself relax and enjoy the appetizer to stimulate my taste buds. Nothing like a good meal after a battle… an exciting one too. Although to be honest, it felt rather one-sided. I paused with my spoon halfway to my mouth and raised a hand to recheck my Brain Burst stats. Previous battle… Gold Virgo… For a level 4 she was awfully… weak. Either that or my specialty was a natural counter to hers. Then again, it did make sense – her whip wasn't tailored towards long-ranged attacks.

It did bring something up though... I needed a way to defend myself in close combat aside from the landmine-gatling combo or my gun bash. If it could shoot down projectiles too, it would be absolutely perfect for helping me to stay alive and attack at the same time since I wouldn't need to pay attention to missiles, rockets and other nasty flying thingies.

Maybe some CIWS batteries would work. Shoulder-mounted, automatic tracking for small projectiles. No good against energy weapons, but I could always add an energy field to sop up energy damage. The CIWS guns would work well in melee combat too - distract enemies long enough for me to put a good round through them or get some distance for my long-ranged attacks.

Yeah, CIWS guns would work. Throw in the energy field using my remaining level-up points and it would seriously boost my defensive capabilities. Having decided, I allocated my new points and watched the representation of my duel avatar as her shoulder armour bulked up and two ball-mounted gun turrets appeared on them.

"Here's your apple juice, mademoiselle," Kyrius appeared beside me and set down a glass of apple juice on my table.

"Thanks, Kyrius-san," I smiled.

"You're welcome."

I resumed eating while thinking about that enigmatic Shadow Phantom. For some reason I couldn't get him out of my head. That single fight bothered me more than any other fight I had gotten into since I became a Burst Linker... Why? Well, no use dwelling on it. I'd just have to wait for the answers to come in time. In the meantime, I decided to put Shadow Phantom on my watchlist. Maybe it'd help for me to watch some of his battles.

I took a sip of apple juice, savouring the exquisite taste before going back to my food.

Almost all too soon, the plates on the table had been cleaned up, and I rubbed a hand over my bloated stomach, sighing in pure satisfaction. French food was the best! I raised a hand and Kyrius approached me almost instantly - he seemed to be paying particular attention to me today...

"Can I have the bill?" I asked.

"Sure," he raised a finger to interact with a program and a sum of money appeared on a screen on my Neuro Link's interface. I brought up my virtual wallet and dragged it onto the payment menu to pay.

"Thank you for your patronage, mademoiselle," Kyrius bowed.

"Thank you too for serving me, Kyrius," I favoured him with a grin as I left the restaurant.

I lifted an eye to check the digital clock floating in the corner of my field of vision, and saw that it was almost 8 o'clock. Well, I still had some time to kill, but first I needed to drop off my shopping back at my apartment. I almost skipped back to the commuter station in joy - meeting Kyrius twice today seemed to have lifted up my spirits a bit for whatever odd reason.

I hummed a tune from one of my favourite anime as I queued up to pay for a ticket, and was soon on the train back to my residential district. As I watched the scenery flash by, I navigated to my music folder on my Neuro Link and turned on some music to listen to.

It was another few minutes before I reached my apartment and set my bags down. Another few minutes to organize them in the proper cabinets and my refrigerator, and I let myself sink into the bean bag I had sitting in my living room.

Suddenly the world around me turned blue again as I accelerated. I sighed as I stood up, now in the avatar I used for spectating other matches. In this avatar I was basically a kitsune - I sported short silver hair and nine white, furry fox tails coming out just over my hips. My face was covered by a mask and I had two fox ears on my head in place of the normal human ears.

Dressed in a resplendent white shrine maiden's dress open at the top to partially show off my avatar's ample bosom, I faded into view atop a cliff overlooking an expanse of desert on which a large collection of ruined buildings stood.

"Desert stage, huh..." I murmured absent-mindedly as I twirled a few strands of my short hair around a finger.

I only had Shadow Phantom on my watchlist, so it wasn't surprising to see his name on top of the HUD along with a name I wasn't familiar with.

Crimson Fencer...

He was now standing on a rooftop looking around anxiously - a dark red armoured figure dual-wielding rapiers, a long one in his right hand and a short one in his left.

"Shadow Phantom again? This isn't going to take long..." a spectator beside me groaned.

"Huh?" I blinked.

"First time watching? I haven't seen your avatar before... Anyway, he's infamous for going for quick kills - often his opponents go down within the first minute... Oh, that's gotta hurt," his explanation was interrupted by a collective groan from the other spectators.

I turned just in time to see Crimson Fencer get bodily slammed into a wall, which practically shattered behind him and allowed him to fly through, destroying another two walls in the process.

"Shadow Phantom is a cold-blooded killer, that much is obvious..." the guy shuddered visibly.

I paused from listening to him for a bit as Crimson Fencer was thrown through another building before his arms were sliced through by a black blur of an avatar that disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Like a Phantom...

"I hear that someone a level below him actually managed to fight him to a stalemate though. It's unbelievable..., the guy practically murders Burst Linkers of lower levels all the time, and a level 4 fought him and got a draw!"

Eheheh... Woops.

I watched Crimson Fencer lose his legs as well before a cloaked figure appeared behind him for just a second. A flash of light from a scythe blade later, the battle was over before it even began. The red-clad fencer never even managed to put up a fight.

"People call him the Reaper. You'd probably do well to avoid fighting with him at all costs if you're lower-levelled than he is... but even then you might still not be able to win."

"I'll keep that in mind..." I muttered, deep in thought. Overall the battle barely lasted a minute, and the Reaper hadn't taken a single point of damage at all. He was scary, that was for certain. I sighed... What had I gotten myself into? Now Shadow Phantom seemed to be out for my blood... Why did I have to challenge him in the first place?

As the saying went... Curiosity killed the cat.

I sighed resignedly and said, "Burst out."

The world around me deconstructed itself and I found myself back in my original body in the real world, lying on the bean bag. Well, I was glad I had just levelled up and upgraded my duel avatar. At least the point-defence guns would help against Shadow Phantom and his teleporting daggers.

Just then, my doorbell rang, indicating that there was someone waiting outside at the door. I quickly brought up the camera looking outside to see who it was.

At the sight of the tall, brown-haired man standing outside in the black aviator's jacket and dark green trousers, I let out a squeal of delight that could be heard clearly outside. I practically jumped from my comfortable seat on the bean bag and dashed to the door.


Note: I believe most of you would've noticed that the Japanese OCs use the proper suffixes (-san, -chan, etc) while Kyrius uses English prefixes (Miss, Mr, etc). This is completely intentional.