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Yuuki "Burai" Ren

"Just leave me be. The last thing I need is more blood on my hands."

0 · 1,654 views · located in Sword Art Online

a character in “But.. I'm just a baker!”, as played by Feyblue

Description

Yuuki Ren



Burai, The White Wolf



"If you want to save anything, then you have to sacrifice something in return. Thus, if you would keep those dear to you from dying, then fight and die in their place. Don't try to pass off this world's burdens on people who can't shoulder them. The only ones who can save everyone trapped within this game are the warriors willing to lose everything so that those they care about can live."



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Real World Name: Yuuki Ren
  • Trivia: His surname means "courage," while his given name, Ren, is actually written with the character for "love." However, he dislikes this latter meaning, so usually, in an attempt to sound cooler, he writes it in katakana, the writing style usually used for foreign words and names, and when asked about his name's meaning, instead gives either the Welsh meaning of the name Ren - "Ruler" - or the English meaning - "Raven."

Ingame Username: Burai
  • Trivia: His chosen username uses katakana as well, and is pronounced "Bly," but actually does have a Japanese meaning: "Rogue." Fitting, for a loner like himself.

Age: 14, although he's quite close to 15. He doesn't act anywhere near his age, though, since he's got a mild case of Eight-Grader Syndrome and tries to sound impressive and adult-like out of habit.

Appearance: Ren isn't really a very formidable individual, even inside of Sword Art Online. Standing only about five feet, seven inches, he's a bit below average in height. His face is rounded, with deep cheeks, sharp ice blue eyes, and a small nose and chin. Lacking any sort of facial hair, his overall appearance is rather childish, even more than you'd expect for a boy of his age. However, his demeanor clashes vastly with his boyish look, being closer to the attitude of a shell-shocked soldier than a child. His expression is distant and cold, his icy gaze seeming to stare clear through you rather than looking at you. His lips are pursed, and a perpetual frown adorns his features. Although when he smiles, you can certainly see the boy he once was, the advent of the Death Game has changed him greatly, making such expressions somewhere between "rare" and "nonexistent."

His physique is lean, with little in the way of muscle or fat. He's in shape enough that you can see evidence of some physical activity, but he seems less like a sporting youth and more like the quiet geek who sits in the corner looking out the window and plotting out the ideal stats for his RPG characters. Generally, Ren is very unremarkable.

I say generally because there is one stand-out exception to this otherwise universal rule: his hair. Perpetually a bright silver, like new-fallen snow, it draws attention to him where his otherwise inconspicuous appearance and distant attitude does not. Matched by the paleness of his skin, his albinism is one of his sole remarkable traits.




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Clothing
  • In the Real World: Ren is usually seen clad in the attire of a Junior High School student - a black school jacket and matching pants, and a white shirt underneath. Although rather featureless, there are a few things about it that are rather indicative of his general attitude and personality. The ensemble, although orderly, is slightly over-sized on him, with sleeves that are too long and slightly baggy legs on his trousers. Evidently, he doesn't care enough to replace it, and so it merely serves to highlight his rather small stature.

    Secondly, however, the coat is always rather rumpled, so that even when he wears it fully buttoned and everything should be in perfect order, it still displays an unkempt air that rather aptly demonstrates his general apathy at his appearance.

  • In Sword Art Online: Within the virtual world in which the players are trapped, Ren's appearance is completely different from his usual unremarkable appearance. Clad in several distinctive layers of gear, his distinctive ensemble, in addition to his iconic silver hair and solitary attitude, have earned him his moniker: Burai, the White Wolf. Although perhaps nowhere near as famous as anime-story personas such as Kirito and Heathcliff, he's nevertheless usually recognized on sight by most members of the Clearing Guilds, having singlehandedly taken on many field bosses, in addition to being instrumental in many key floor boss battles.

    His gear is of the Light Platemail Class, somewhere between the leather armor favored by Kirito and the heavier armor used by tanks. Wearing a sleeveless white undershirt and matching pants, he tops this off with an ornate, masterfully crafted breastplate of silvery steel, in addition to matching greaves and gauntlets to protect his extremities. Completing his ensemble with a flowing, high-collared and mail-reinforced brown cloak, his appearance is enough to catch the eye despite his small stature.



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Gear and Character Statistics
  • Armor: Ren, as Burai, uses a set of rare gear known as the Moonsilver Knight's Fauld. Dropped by the Floor 62 boss, a gigantic knight, Burai has used it tirelessly since its acquisition, continuing to upgrade and enhance it whenever he gets the chance. Providing remarkable protection, it nevertheless has a special effect that vastly decreases its weight, allowing him the maximum amount of speed whilst still allowing him to take multiple hits before he dies. Also, although he doesn't admit this to anyone, it looks really cool in his opinion, and he'd thus like to stick with it for as long as possible.
  • Weapon: Stardust Fang is another iconic item of Burai's: a hand-and-a-half length straightsword that combines a great deal of weight and power with a fairly compact and simple design, as well as having the somewhat rare feature of being able to use both one-handed and two-handed Sword Skills. Custom forged at his request, it's been his constant companion throughout the most recent floors, cleaving a path towards the top of Floating Castle Aincrad, and to the freedom that lies beyond it.
  • Character Build and Fighting Style: Burai is something of a cross-class. With the strength of the average tank and the speed of a high-speed attacker, his strategy isn't really one or the other. On the one hand, he can take several hits before succumbing to damage, but on the other, he likes to move quickly and flank his enemies, tearing them apart with vicious, powerful strikes. Due to his solitary playstyle even after his recruitment into the Stardust Brigade, it's useful to be able to fill any role in combat, since when fighting on his own, he has to fill all of them at once. If you had to describe him in combat, the best word would probably be "Berserker." Charging headlong into his foes, he carves through them viciously, never ceasing in his movement, or letting incoming attacks slow him down, as though he has no fear of death at all. Nevertheless, his recklessness sometimes gets him into trouble, so it's probably for the best to keep someone watching his back at all times.
  • Miscellaneous: ...which is where his pet wolf, Kurogane (literally translating to Black Steel, and shown in the picture along with his avatar), comes in. After stumbling across the wolf on its own and helping it against several other mobs on Floor 29, Burai unintentionally found himself a partner who has helped him ever since. With the wolf's keen senses and long range detection skills, it keeps him out of ambush, and also lends a hand in combat, leaping around the area quickly and dishing out a flurry of clawstrokes and bites that inflict bleeding condition, wearing down his enemies for him to finish off. On a final note, he's also managed to work out how to equip items to it, resulting in the humorous yet deadly combination of a wolf wielding a sword with its mouth - when he has one to spare, that is.



Personal History: Ren wasn't always the sour individual he is today. Born along with a twin sister to a single mother in the busy city of Tokyo, he inherited some genetic defects that led to his albinism. The condition isn't serious, merely causing him to occasionally catch colds and sunburn rather easily, but nevertheless, it wasn't easy on his self esteem having people laugh at his strange appearance every so often. The only exception to this rule was his sister, Ouka, who always reassured him, comparing his appearance to that of a hero in some fantasy tale. These compliments sparked his imagination, and drove him to envision himself as a hero, protecting his sister from whatever might threaten her. And so, taking this as his new duty, he guarded her from the insults and taunts that came from her relation to such a strange person as himself, or their father's absence.

Their family situation was rather unpleasant. Their mother was always working, trying to support them, as their father had walked out on her before either child was born. They only spoke at the end of the day, over dinner, before all of them retired to their rooms to rest. But Ren didn't feel lonely. He couldn't relate to others, or make friends like a normal child, but so long as he had his sister to protect, he was content with his lot in life. Things continued this way into his teenage years, where the two of them took up gaming as a hobby to give vent to Ren's overactive imagination. He was something of a space case, occasionally crossing the boundaries between fiction and reality, and losing focus on situations at hand. He would space out, entering elaborate fantasy worlds until somebody finally snapped him back to earth, leading him to forget seemingly basic things, like where he was or what he was doing, or to spout seeming nonsense with a completely straight face. This only served to further his isolation, since everyone viewed him as either stupid or a lunatic. But still, he didn't mind, because he enjoyed his life and welcomed the company he had in his cheerful sister.

Then, everything changed on the twins' fourteenth birthday, which happened to coincide with the release date of Sword Art Online. Hoping to reconnect with her children, their mother took a vacation from her obligations, purchased three copies of Sword Art Online, and offered to try playing one of their games with them. They agreed joyfully, glad to have her along on one of their many adventures. Naturally, however, things went sour when they found themselves trapped inside the game and forced to fight to survive.

At first, they hesitated, not wanting to risk their lives in vain. However, when the conditions inside the City of Beginnings began to deteriorate, they had no choice but to take action. Not wanting to put their mother in danger, the twins volunteered to hunt basic monsters in order to make a living. Their mother reluctantly agreed, on the condition that they always exercise caution and avoid the more powerful mobs. For a while, things went well, as they were able to sell the basic materials and items they looted for high prices to other needy players, and thus made a livable, if not comfortable, place for themselves within the game world. However, one day, on a routine hunt, Ren and Ouka were ambushed by a field boss. Although it had wounded them, Ren insisted on staying to fight it, having damaged it greatly as well, and hoping that he could kill it and claim some sort of rare loot in order to better their miserable lives. But this recklessness would cost him dearly, for overestimating the damage of his intended finishing blow, he left himself open to attack by the boss, which prepared to finish him off. He was only saved by the intervention of his loving sister, who took the blow in his place, and was killed instantly. Mad with rage, he struck back at the boss, killing it in a frenzy of blows. But upon returning home in tears to his mother to bring her the grave news, he unintentionally placed the last straw upon her psyche. Snapping at him for his recklessness, she screamed that it was his fault that his sister was dead, and that she never wanted to see his face again. Thus chased away from the only home he had, Ren was left embittered at his failure to protect the person most precious to him, hating himself for the blood he had allowed to be spilled. In his eyes, he was nothing better than a murderer.

And so, the boy was left with only one path left to him: live. Fighting his hardest, he leveled up frantically, collecting rare drops and the money he needed to buy food, and continuously moving from place to place, always seeking more powerful enemies to kill and more rewarding quests to complete. Little by little, he inadvertently entered the frontlines. And yet, he was still a solo player, not wanting to risk failing anyone else who might rely on him and leading more innocent, kind people to their deaths. Nevertheless, out of nessecity, he at last relented in this way of thinking, and accepted an invitation to join a small but powerful guild known as the Stardust Brigade. Serving as their foremost soldier, he took the front in every battle, clearing a path on his own for the others to follow so as not to put them in the way of harm. But all that was going to change when, on Floor 71, they encountered enemies and bosses that they simply could not defeat, and were forced to search for additional players with whom to ally themselves in the hopes of forging a path onward. It was at this crossroads of destiny that Ren met someone who would become vital to him in the days to come, and his life, perhaps, finally took a shift in a different direction...

So begins...

Yuuki "Burai" Ren's Story

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by Feyblue
"Tch," Muttered the white haired youth, covering his eyes against the sun brightly beaming down upon him from the simulated sky above. Even if he couldn't get burned by its rays as he so often was in the real world, daylight still irritated him a great deal. Sighing, he kicked back against the tree that served as his shelter from the glare, his armor clinking as his cloak swished against the bark behind him.

It felt strange, just standing here amidst the quiet goings of the small town, his sword remaining idle in its sheath as the passive players passed by on their daily business. Ren - or rather, Burai, as he was called in this world - couldn't understand how they could be so calm about this. Any day, any of them could have died, and for each second that passed here in the game, their bodies became more and more rotted and helpless in the real world. He had never been the type of panic over the situation within the death game, by any means - actually, a twisted part of him still enjoyed fighting, even if now it was for his life rather than simply for fun. But at the same time, the thought of his body atrophying outside, in the real world, drove him forward. Even so, if he did go back...

Burai shook his head, grimacing at the unpleasant thought. No, he didn't particularly want to stay or to go. There was nothing to be gained in either course of action. But that didn't mean the choice wasn't obvious. There were people dying here. He had to help them return to the real world. Even if it meant... even if it meant giving up his own life here, to which he'd grown quite accustomed.

A soft, cold nose pressed up against his leg as the tame wolf which had been his companion on so many adventures circled around him, prodding him anxiously. "You don't like just standing around doing nothing either, huh, Kurogane?" He muttered. The wolf gave an enthusiastic grunt that was somewhere between a howl and a bark, causing the youth to instinctively reach out and pat it on the head. It might just have been an NPC, with no real mind of its own, but even so, it felt like a real pet to him. He'd always wanted a dog, and now, at least in part, he got to have one.

There it was again - the insistent calling of the home he'd lost. This was why he hated staying still. It made him think, and the boy hated thinking with a passion that dwarfed almost any other feeling. It made the longing come back, and he couldn't handle that.

Trying to take his mind off of the unpleasant reality of his situation, he returned to the matter at hand, swiping his hand across the air and opening his menu screen. Running over it with a practiced hand, he opened his private messages section. Even now, he still couldn't believe that he'd been sent on an errand like this.

"Seriously, Caben should do his damned recruiting himself... and a cook, too? Seriously? They've probably lost hope and given up already. Even assuming they're willing to fight, they're probably dozens of levels behind," He muttered, gazing at the small player-owned bakery across the street. "That annoying jerk probably just wants to get some good food in the guild hall. Granted, our rations taste like sewage, but still, that's no reason to just go around harassing random people." He kicked a stone into the street, habitually placing his hands where his pockets would be if his current medieval garb actually had pockets. "And sending me to ask, too, when I'm busy with the dungeon... Yeesh, who does he think I am, anyway, his messenger boy?"

Kurogane tugged slightly on the leg of Burai's jeans, as though to remind him that people were staring at him like he was insane. Annoyed, he slouched down, his head lowered behind the back of his high-collared cloak as he tried to divert the attention of the passers-by. Motioning to the tame wolf to come with him, he sighed, trying to push back his frustration with the situation long enough to make the request he'd been sent to deliver in a passable - if not civil - manner.

Opening the door, he glanced around. The gaudy decorations of the store assaulted his eyes no matter where he looked, various pastries and cakes and scones and cookies and rolls and countless other varieties of exotic confectionery. Normally, the bright colors and childish decor would probably be enough to annoy him right off the bat. He disliked the sorts of offensively cheery things that assaulted your very eyes with how upbeat they were, and normally, this would have been no exception. Normally.

But this wasn't a normal situation, for, as the boy in his anger hadn't even considered, there was something very important here.

There were SWEETS.

Completely forgetting his mission he hastily made his way over to the counter, peering into the display. His eyes shot from one item to the next, gazing intently at each for a moment before hastily passing on to observe what wonders awaited further down the line. At last, he had decided on what he wanted.

"One of those," He said, pointing to a rather large cinnamon scone. "And those." He added, motioning to a muffin.

"...And those, and those, and those, and maybe a couple of those too! Ooh, and that!" He dashed down the display pointing out at least a dozen items before he had finally satisfied his curiosity and desire for delicious sweets. And then it hit him.

Oh, right. He was supposed to be here on business. Serious. Right. He coughed, trying to compose himself as Kurogane skulked uneasily alongside him, its programming evidently not sure what to make of such a vast trove of delicacies. Well, anyway, it didn't matter if he splurged a little, did it? He was a big, badass knight with a huge pet wolf. SURELY she'd take him seriously.

...Speaking of her, who was this person, anyway? He hadn't really gotten a very good look at her - he'd been more focused on the sweets - but now that he thought about it, she didn't really seem all that impressive. Small, sickly looking, and pale, she struck Burai as being most closely similar to a doll on a shelf. Was this really the person he'd been sent to recruit?

Well, no sense beating around the bush, he supposed. He'd tackle this mission head-on, like he did everything else!

...After he got his sweets, anyway. Those came first.

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by RedFox
She put on her kindest smile as a boy wandered into her fair shop. With fair hair and a baby face, he seemed a perfect customer. He did look rather impressive though, in all that heavy armor, and with a beautiful wolf by his side. Her eyes lit up when she saw the creature. If she didn't spend all her time baking here, she'd be a beast tamer for sure. All animals, even animatronic ones, hit her soft spot deep in her heart.

She hastily scribbled down each treat he named off, though he moved from one to the next so quickly she almost missed some. Satisfied that she'd gotten every one correct, she smiled with the customary "That'll be just a few moments!" And motioned him to wait at one of the tables. She disappeared into the back room.

She thought about his appearance while she baked the treats. He seemed to be very strong, whether or not he had a baby face. He was probably a part of some guild she no longer paid attention to.

Brushing these thoughts aside, which she did whenever fighting came to her mind, she brought a large tray of baked goods out to him. "Here you are, sir!" She said cheerfully. She looked longingly at his wolf ally. How she'd love to have one!

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by Feyblue
Seating himself at the table, Burai glanced out a side window of the shop, a slight grimace coming over his face as he wondered exactly how he was supposed to do this. What, did they expect him to just stroll in and say "Nice shop. Wanna abandon it and go risk dying for a cause you're uninterested in?" He sighed. He hated being the bearer of bad news. "Oh well," the youth muttered, blowing irritably on his bangs to push them back out of his eyes. Even if it was unpleasant, being perceived as heartless or annoying only helped his purposes.

With a pattering of paws, Kurogane hopped up into the seat beside him, splaying himself over the knight boy's lap. Without really thinking of his image, Burai gave a quiet chuckle, scratching his lupine friend behind the ears. "Geez, Kuro," He grinned. "You're supposed to be a wolf, not a puppy. Then again, I guess you don't have to worry all that much about appearances... Man, I'm jealous." Another half-bark, half-howl was given in reply, and the wolf continued simply wagging its tail in a manner that clashed entirely with its otherwise sleek and dignified appearance.

Returning footsteps snapped the youth's attention back to the counter, where the shop girl was just coming back with a tray piled high with various pastries and sweets. He grinned broadly despite himself, barely able to wait to start trying them - although with the heavy wolf positioned snugly in his lap, he had no other choice.

"Here you are, sir," Said the shopkeeper with a smile, placing the platter in front of him. Burai grinned, grabbing it and pulling it over to himself. "Thanks!" He replied casually before grabbing the first item that caught his attention - a rather large scone - and popping it into his mouth without delay. Almost in an instant, it disappeared, and after a few rather loud munches and crunches, the boy knight's grin expanded tenfold. "Hey, this is good!" He exclaimed, seemingly complimenting the cook on her work... until he broke one of the other scones in half and handed half to his pet wolf. "Here, try some!" He said, grinning. The hungry wolf gave a joyous bark and gobbled up the pastry with as much gusto as its master, its tail wagging cheerfully as it gave another chuff of approval, as though confirming its owner's earlier statement.

The platter of food did not last long before their combined appetites, as they hastily devoured each and every item on it with the enthusiasm of small children given free reign in a candy store. It was only after each and every one of the many pastries he'd ordered had vanished from his plate that he glanced back up to see what the shopkeeper was doing, remembering his objective once again. To his surprise, however, she was just standing there beside him, looking at... his lap? He glanced down, his gaze meeting with the red orbs of his pet, then back up to the girl. She seemed curious. Maybe she'd never seen a wolf tamer before. The look of amazement and joy in her eyes at seeing his pet made him feel proud, somehow, like he was something that was unique. And so, yet again, he forgot his usual image - a cold, heartless warrior - and acted without thinking.

"You like him?" He asked bluntly, grinning as he patted the wolf on the head for emphasis. "If you wanna pet him, go ahead. He loves attention."

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by RedFox
She sat and watched in amusement as the boy and wolf duo began to eagerly consume her pastries and everything else this kid had ordered. Basically the entire shop, which she wasn't complaining about. She definitely wasn't after the money when it came to this business, in fact, she had boatloads that she never did anything with. She enjoyed moments like these most. It felt like she was actually making a difference in these people's lives. Because just for a few moments in the horribly tragic death game, they could come in and enjoy something entirely normal. A cake, some nice music, and a light conversation. You didn't have to worry about death, or fighting, or what's going on to your real life body.

Just the way she liked it.

She was snapped from her thoughts when he asked if she wanted to pet her pet. Well, duh! Who wouldn't? Still, she blushed deeply, a bit embarrassed that she was so obviously entranced, and she reached over the counter to gingerly pat the wolf on the head. He leaned his head into her hand, as if demanding her to pet harder, and she complied by scratching him behind the ears. Her mouth stretched into a large smile. She really did love animals.

"He's amazing," She breathed in total awe. "How did you get him?"

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by Feyblue
"I stumbled across him while I was questing on floor 29. Black Wolf Hunter mobs usually spawn in the Wolf Plains a floor below that, so I was pretty confused to see him all alone out there. He was being attacked by a bunch of Kobolds, though, so I figured I'd give him a hand. He's been my partner ever since." The boy shrugged, a slight smile yet playing upon his lips as Kurogane once again gave a lively chuff, licking the shopkeeper's hand once before once more lowering his head and pillowing it on his master's knee.

"Hey," Burai said suddenly, his demeanor taking a 180 shift as he realized once again that he'd slipped up and forgotten what he was supposed to be doing. "What's your name, anyway?" The phrasing of this question was somewhat odd, as though he expected that he'd know her once he knew her name. In his own mind, this was because if she had been deemed worth recruiting by a clearing guild, she must have been at least once a famous frontliner herself, but she, not knowing that, might be somewhat confused by it. Furthermore, he didn't actually clarify whether he was asking for her ingame name or her real one. Granted, basically nobody within the game actually gave out information about the real world willingly, himself included, so it was highly unlikely that she'd just go and introduce herself as she'd been in the real world. He hadn't been called by his real name ever since... ever since...

There he went again, going and thinking about the things he hated most to remember. He sighed, the smile vanishing from his face as he began to pat his lupine comrade absentmindedly, trying to take his mind off of the past. Right, it was probably about time he got down to business. Once he did that, he could go back to the frontlines and keep on searching for the way through the dungeon that had everyone stumped. There had to be some obvious thing he'd missed on his earlier runs, and the sooner he got to work on finding it, the better.

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Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by RedFox
"Flynn Casanova," She replied. Her ingame name was really just a name she liked the sound of a lot. Nobody new her real life name. She never really thought about it. His tone hinted that he was here for another reason outside buying pastries. And now that she thought about it, he didn't seem like her normal customer. She stopped petting the wolf, since this no longer seemed like the fitting time, and withdrew her arm back behind the counter, fiddling nervously with her thumbs where he couldn't see.

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by Feyblue
Burai raised an eyebrow as the shopkeeper, Flynn, hastily seemed to draw back and retreat behind the store counter. What, was he really that scary? Well, he supposed that he'd probably be a little unnerved if some lanky guy with white hair, eyes like a dead fish's, armor, a cloak, and a crimson-eyed wolf by his side just strolled into his shop, too, Well, whatever. It wasn't his fault if she declined the offer, and he had never said he'd force her, just that he'd ask. Still, there was one odd thing about all this. Namely...

"Never heard of ya'," The boy said bluntly, shrugging. "Maybe the cake really was the reason..." He added under his breath, seeming a bit confused by the whole situation. He thought he had known all of the big names among the frontliners, both those currently in service and those who had retired like this girl evidently had, which made him doubt that she was really all that his guild master had said she was.

"Anyway, the name's Burai," He said. "And this fuzzball here is Kurogane," He motioned to his pet, who, hearing his name, raised his head and gave another quiet chuff of acknowledgement.

"Hey, ever heard of a guild called the Stardust Brigade?" He asked suddenly.

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by RedFox
She wasn't surprised to hear that Burai didn't know her. Nobody knew her as anything other than a friendly baker. She was glad for that.

She couldn't help a smile of amusement from tugging at her thick lips when the dog perked up at his name. They were NPCs, sure, but they seemed as alive as any other creature. She really had to find a creature for herself one day. "Nice to meet you!" She said cheerily, cheeks turning pink with warmth rather than embarrassment when she smiled at him.

"Yes, I have..." She said a bit hesitantly at his question, not knowing where this conversation was headed. Was this guild after her? She'd only heard of them from the idle banter among the other players, so she knew they were a big deal. In terms of specifics, she had no clue.

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by Feyblue
"Good. I guess that makes explaining things easier," Said the boy with one of his usual shrugs. "I'm the Assault Commander of the Stardust Brigade - although saying my rank like it actually means anything is pretty much pointless. Basically I'm just the guy they call in to swing a sword at stuff so that they have an easier time advancing on the front," Burai explained. As he got to this point in his little explanation, he seemed to hesitate, averting his otherwise rather unstintingly focused, piercing gaze and glancing down at the wolf in his lap as though unsure of how to continue, feeling irritated that he had to be the one to ask. Sure, he presented himself as a rude, self-centered egotist just to make people leave him alone, but still, this went above and beyond any of his usual insensitivity. This girl probably never wanted to hear the word "frontlines," let alone fight there. And yet here he was, under orders to try and drag her away from her peaceful life and into the heat of battle.

"...And apparently," He said more quietly, unable to fully conceal his distaste for the subject. "I'm also the person they send for to harass other disinterested players into joining them." Sighing, he folded his hands on the table and glanced back up at the shopkeeper, but didn't entirely focus on her, his eyes trailing away to the side after he saw her uneasy expression. "Man, what a pain..." He complained. "I told them you'd probably throw me out of the shop the moment I brought it up, but they sent me here to try and recruit you anyway. Apparently, they think we need the help of more 'experienced players' to clear the 71st floor." You could almost hear the air quotes around the two words. Well, if making really good food constituted experience, he supposed she'd be useful, but he disliked complimenting people too much. It made his praise feel meaningless, and himself seem dishonest, like he was just flattering them.

"Honestly, if they'd just let me have free reign in the dungeon instead of sending me off on stupid errands to recruit bakers and the like, then we wouldn't be having these problems," He said, his rage at being so powerless slipping into his tone as he recalled the incident that had started the panic about Floor 71, where an entire clearing guild had fallen into a room occupied by a miniboss by accident, sealed themselves inside a no-crystal zone, and were eradicated down to the last man.

"But no, instead they just let herds of uncoordinated idiots like Seventh Star wander around looking for loot while keeping real, experienced people busy doing meaningless nonsense, and then act surprised when they stroll right into a trap and the whole guild gets wiped out overnight!" He tried to sound apathetic to convince himself that it wasn't his problem or his fault, but he didn't feel like he had succeeded. "This whole situation is just stupid," He said at last, seeming to calm down somewhat. "Nobody should be going in there except those of us who've got nothing to lose. Instead, we're off trying to force other people with better things to do to come serve as expendable shock troops to throw at the dungeon until it gives. It's pathetic."

Beckoning Kurogane to move, Burai rose from his seat and dusted the crumbs off his cape. As he appeared now, he was nothing like the energetic boy who had entered asking for sweets. His eyes were narrow and dead serious, their gaze cold as they focused intently on either the shopkeeper or the ground, and his face pursed back in its usual frown - an expression that should have been at least twenty years older than the face that wore it, looking more like a soldier on a battlefield than a boy in a sweets shop. The time for games had ended. He had a job to do, and couldn't afford to waste time harassing little girls on the whims of his irritating boss.

"Anyway, if you've got any messages to give my guild master, I'd be more than happy to tell him off for you. Maybe he'll finally realize that these stupid recruitment drives are getting us nowhere..."

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Character Portrait: Flynn Casanova Character Portrait: Yuuki "Burai" Ren
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#, as written by RedFox
She was silent for a long while as memories flooded her. Questions were racing through her head. How did they find out? She had kept her secret incredibly well hidden, and she never mentioned it to anybody. Who was the guild's head? Whoever they were, they had links to her somehow. Were they really this desperate? If they were really seeking her out from her humble baking shop, they must really need a helping hand.

If this was really the case, she had to go and get answers for herself.

"Anything I have to say to your leader will be face to face. I'm coming with you."

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#, as written by Feyblue
Burai's eyes widened for a moment in surprise, then narrowed themselves in confusion. He looked at the girl. Then he looked to Kurogane, who looked back up at him innocently, as though to say "I have no idea." He looked back at Flynn, and then said the only thing that came to mind.

"...Huh?" He asked wordlessly. "You're seriously planning on taking him up on it?" The boy backpedaled frantically, trying to get her to reconsider. Since he'd been sent to recruit Flynn in the first place, if she actually accepted to offer, he'd probably be roped into metaphorically holding her hand while she leveled up to a sufficient level to begin work on the frontlines. That would mean protecting her, which would not only be a burden, it would be a threat. He couldn't trust himself with any level of confidence to hold someone's life in his hands and shield it. He'd thought he could save other people before, but he'd long since been proven wrong. At this point, he'd rather not risk it.

"I mean, I could understand perfectly if you didn't want to come along," He added hastily, trying not to seem too insistent whilst still voicing his disapproval. "People die on the front every day. Someone like you with things important to them - like this shop for example - has no place on the front. There's too much at risk, and they're likely to reconsider their decisions when things get rough. You've gotta have nothing to look forward to or look back on if you want to succeed out there." He looked away, seeming conflicted. "I mean, I tried telling the leader all that, but he sent me anyway." Once again, he spoke as an afterthought, not wanting to seem like he was undercutting his own duties too much.

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#, as written by RedFox
"I never said I was accepting his offer. I wish to speak with him. I haven't made up my mind yet." Her voice changed demeanor entirely. It took a new sort of intimidating tone. As soon as fighting was involved in the conversation, her shell came out. Her eyes hardened, she stood up a little taller. With the swipe of her hand, she pressed the command to close her shop - at least momentarily.

"Take me to him." It was obvious from her entire disposition that her mind was made up. As far as actually accepting the offer went, she wasn't thinking that far ahead yet. All she wanted now was answers. She'd decide from there. She'd gotten a little too good at hiding that part of her past away, apparently.

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#, as written by Feyblue
Burai frowned. Now things were getting strange. What reason could she possibly have to abandon her shop and speak with his guild master face to face when he'd already offered to convey any message she wanted to him? There was nothing to be gained by such a course of action, unless... She had something she wanted to hide, and was worried that he was onto her secret. The way her demeanor had changed in a flash the moment he'd mentioned the frontlines was a big tip-off too, since before that, she'd been practically hiding behind the store counter, while now she seemed as serious and composed as he always tried to be. Maybe she really had been one of the frontliners at one point...

But, as of yet, he had no irreproachable proof, and in any case, it wasn't really any of his business. She had said she wasn't fully intent on joining them, which meant that he might not have to worry about being assigned as her babysitter while she leveled her way back up, and he'd already done everything he'd been asked to by delivering the message, so there was really nothing else to do but return to the guild's headquarters on Floor 59. Then, once he'd dropped her off there, he could get back to more important things, like finding a way through the Floor 71 dungeon that wasn't filled with deadly traps.

"Fine," He said with a shrug before returning his hands to his waist, as though miming putting them in his pockets. "Follow me, then. Oi, Kuro, stop drooling over those cakes and get over here. We're going." The tamed wolf gave a somewhat annoyed chuff before reluctantly turning about and returning to its master's side as he rounded on the door, his cloak sweeping behind him as he stepped out. Stopping outside to hold it open for Flynn, he glanced back to see how she would act upon leaving behind her precious store. That would tell him all he needed about whether she was fit to be a frontliner or not.

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#, as written by RedFox
She followed him, flicking her hand to turn off the store light without looking behind her. She could tell by the way Burai spoke to her that he didn't think she was fit to be a frontliner, which she was absolutely fine with. It meant she put on a good show. A small part of her wanted the satisfaction of telling him what her true level was, but the majority of her knew that was a bad idea, for it would be throwing away everything she'd worked towards in creating a new life for herself.

After Rose, she couldn't again. She just couldn't. The image of her friend's expression right before she died flashed through her memory like lightning. She grimaced as if in physical pain.

Rose...

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#, as written by Feyblue
Sure enough, the moment she was done making her little decision, Burai noticed a certain something creeping across the shopkeeper's countenance. He had never been tremendously good at reading people, simply deducing certain things from context and behavioral trends, but that lack of skill was irrelevant in this situation. Her expression was distinctly unpleasant, which he'd fully expected. She was regretting her choice of leaving, wasn't she? He sighed, turning away and stepping out into the quiet lane leading towards the center of town, and, by extension, the Teleport Gate that would lead to Danac on Floor 59, their destination.

The boy didn't speak after leaving the shop. He'd said all he needed to, and judging by her current attitude, she was probably mad at him for dragging her out of her quiet, peaceful life. Well, that was fine. She could hate the messenger all she wanted. That would just mean that if his guild ended up trying to force him into the role of her caretaker, he'd have an excuse to quit the job and go back to solo play sooner rather than later. And so, he simply continued walking ahead of her, leading the way to the town center with his wolf by his side. Glancing around himself, he noticed a few other players passing by on the edge of the lane, or looking at him out their windows. With his distinctive armor and pet, probably, a few of them recognized him, and those who didn't still knew what he was: a member of a clearing guild. Generally, the arrival of people like him was nothing but bad news in quiet communities like this one, making the hostility and fear in the eyes of those watching him unsurprising. Although, he could hear people murmuring amongst themselves, some of them sounding like they were cursing him. That was unusual. He glanced back behind to make sure that his charge was still following him, and then it hit him exactly why so many people were watching. This girl must have been a fairly well-known member of the community. Someone like him showing up and taking her away was probably cause for fear and outrage. After all, it must have looked like she was being coerced, walking in silence like she was with a gloomy expression on her face.

But that was fine. Burai was used to people hating him for what he was. He would just live with it, and keep on going like he always did - and so, he pretended not to notice, and just kept walking. It didn't take long to reach the Teleport Gate, and so, stepping up to it, he opened the control menu and activated it. Turning to face Flynn, he nodded his head towards the gate.

"The Brigade's headquarters are on Floor 59. If you're really intent on going, then I'll see you in Danac."

That being said, he rounded once more on the gate, and in a fluttering of cloth and a flash of light, he vanished, his companion wolf trotting into the portal only a moment later and disappearing in a flash of pixels.

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#, as written by Feyblue
Burai waited. He'd been sitting next to the Floor 59 Teleport Gate for several minutes now, Kurogane pacing about the small clearing surrounding the gate while his master leaned against the side of the stone portal, arms crossed over his chest and a frown playing upon his face. She'd followed him up to the Gate, but then what? Had she had second thoughts, and decided to return to her shop? Or perhaps she'd never actually intended to follow to begin with, and had just wanted to make him wait a while as payback for bothering her. Either way, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the girl wasn't coming.

Still, he couldn't exactly go back to the guild hall without a definite answer, and "She said she'd come visit but isn't here now" was most certainly not adequate. And, at the same time, if he had been tricked, he wasn't particularly keen on showing that he cared enough to come back. So, out of sheer, stubborn determination, despite his cynical opinion that Flynn had never intended to go with him, he decided to continue waiting, simply sitting at the foot of the portal grumbling to himself.

"Take it out on me, why don't you? I volunteered to leave and tell him you weren't interested, but no, apparently that's not good enough - you've gotta get even with the guy whose only crime was bringing you the message..." Burai muttered irritably.

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#, as written by RedFox
It took a while for her to cry herself out. She cleaned herself up as best as she could, put the picture away, and came through the gate. She was incredibly surprised to find the white-haired babyfaced soldier still waiting for her. She didn't actually think he'd stick around. "Sorry for making you wait," She apologized, fist pumping internally when her voice sounded even. She was almost positive it would break. She opened her mouth, trying to find an excuse, but then discovered she couldn't fashion any believable alibis. So she just shut her mouth again.

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#, as written by Feyblue
Burai blinked as he heard the portal flaring to life behind him. Standing up and dusting himself off, he turned to find, to his surprise, none other than the girl he'd assumed had run back to her shop to hide amidst the comforts of her ordinary life. So she'd actually come after all? That raised the question of why she'd waited in the first place, but Burai didn't particularly care much about why other people acted the way they did, so he simply shrugged off this thought and moved on.

"It's fine," He said, a certain pointed tone lurking in his voice that made it quite clear that it wasn't. "Let's just get going." With this resigned comment, he turned and motioned for her to follow, stepping out onto the main road. Danac was a rather spread-out settlement, with small clusters of houses and markets located here and there. The Teleport Gate was located in a small park-like area near the "center" of the town, alongside an open road leading to and from the village's square. It was in the latter direction that Burai set out, leading the way towards a small wooden compound surrounded by palisade walls on all sides, with a single, large hall at its center. Considering its proximity to the gate, it did not take long for them to reach the guild hall.

Knocking on the wooden gate of the hall, he shouted up irritably at the top of the wall. "Oi!" He called. "I brought the girl, like Caben wanted. She says she wants to talk to him. Ya' mind letting me in?"

"What's the password?" Called back a jeering voice from the top of the small rampart.

"Eh?!" Burai exclaimed, annoyance evident in his voice. "Piss off! There isn't a password, and you know it! Now hurry up and open this gate before I climb up there and do it myself. I've got better things to do than exchange quips with a retard who's stuck on sentry duty because he's too ignorant to know how to use Sword Skills properly and actually help us clear dungeons!" Taunting the sentinel in return, he sneered upward as head poked over the edge of the wall, anger evident on the older man's face.

"Whaddidya say?!" He roared back. "I don't want to hear that from a delinquent whose dungeon privileges got suspended for refusing to help the guild!"

"I didn't refuse to help the guild, just the idiots like you who are in it! I work best alone, without incompetent morons like you to slow me down, and until Caben sees that, I'm not getting all chummy with anybody! Parties are overrated, anyhow! Now will you open the damn door?! He wants this job done with as soon as possible, and if he hears you're getting in my way, I'm sure he'll have some choice words for you!"

"Tch! Fine, you don't need to throw a temper tantrum, ya' little brat," Snarled the watcher before stepping back behind the walls. A moment later, the doors swung open, and breathing an irritated sigh, Burai stepped in, Kurogane following a moment later after he'd stopped to snarl up at the watchman.

"Man, these guys are all such pains in the neck..." The youth muttered, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be escorting someone. "Oh, right," He mumbled, turning back to face Flynn. "Anyway, we should probably hurry up before some other dunce decides to get in our way. Guild Master Caben's office is in here." He said, opening the door of the main hall and holding it so that the shopkeeper following him could enter. Given his multiple glances around the yard, and the glares he both shot at and received from the other members who happened to be there, it was fairly obvious that his position in the guild wasn't exactly a welcome one.

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#, as written by RedFox
She smiled a little fearfully at the guild members she saw. She felt intimidated here, mostly because of the way she knew she'd be treated rather than feeling like she was in danger. She knew she was a higher level than any member in the guild, and apparently, so did the leader. "This place feels warm and cuddly," She joked, trying to lighten the mood.

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#, as written by Feyblue
"Oh, believe me, you probably won't have any trouble with them," Burai said, rolling his eyes. "These guys are polite enough to people who're content to stick with the group. But I'm nobody's meat shield, so I'm afraid that just doesn't satisfy me. If they're too scared to fight without somebody strong to cower behind, then they're not worth my time." He spat this last statement, seeming irritated by their mere presence. His frustration was understandable. He was one of the most highly leveled players in the game, simply because he almost never stopped fighting to keep clearing the game, even to think of strategies or assemble a reliable group. Because of that, he'd been recruited, more as a walking weapon and status symbol than actually as a person. The idea of simply being used by those too weak to stand up for their own cause made him sick, not just because it meant that protecting his inferiors would be his responsibility. The Stardust Brigade was a closely knit guild, but he had never been part of that group. He had only been invited to join them because it was convenient for them, and he wasn't going to try to pretend otherwise. If they were going to dislike him, he'd at least insist upon the courtesy of forcing them to show their real feelings instead of hiding behind platitudes and false kindnesses. He was always deadly serious and bluntly honest, and never liked it when people didn't show him the same level of earnestness.

Sure enough, the moment he stepped inside, the men in the courtyard seemed to sigh as though this was quite ordinary and go back to their work, calling cheerfully back and forth as they went to and fro, evidently preparing for some sort of expedition. They seemed just as united in their friendship now as they had in their dislike of the silver haired youth a moment before.

"Let's just go," Burai sighed, a hint of bitterness momentarily slipping into his voice. "Caben will probably be waiting."

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#, as written by RedFox
"Caben..." She repeated the name under her breath, trying to see if she recognized it. Sadly for her, it didn't ring any bells. "Yeah," She said, louder now, "Let's go." She honestly felt sympathetic for Burai. Being a guild surrounded by people who didn't care about you sounded much worse than her situation. She straightened out her dress as she said this, taking in a deep breath, anticipating her meeting with the high and mighty one who knew her secret identity somehow. She was going to get to the bottom of this!

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#, as written by Feyblue
Turning away, the white haired youth led the way into the hall. It was a fairly sizable building, but seemed to contain little - a large indoor fireplace at the center, and several siderooms that were presumably the homes of the guild's members, as well as storerooms for items and loot. The only really notable feature was the door on the fire side of the fireplace, towards which Burai led Flynn. It was larger than all the others, and had accents done in gilding that made it obvious that the one who waited beyond it was important. Striding up to this door, the white haired youth opened it and stepped inside.

"Oi, Caben," He said coldly, his blue eyes focusing on a silhouetted figure seated behind a desk, the light from the window beyond him streaming in on him and making his features difficult to distinguish. "I brought your message to the person you asked for. She says she's not sure about joining, and wanted to talk to you."

"Burai," Said the man with a sigh, his voice low, and composed. There was something in his tone that evoked the hiss of a snake, or perhaps the purring growl of a large, predatory cat. Yet, when he turned, his face falling under the shadow of his high-backed chair and exposing him to view, there seemed nothing particularly ominous about him. His hair was short and light brown, his eyes a matching hue of hazel, and his skin pale. He seemed a little older than most of the young men who served under him, with visible furrows in his cheeks and brow that gave him the appearance of a hardworking middle aged man. "What have I told you about knocking?"

"What have I told you about how little I care?" Burai snarked back, his tone almost instantly back to its usual derogatory state.

"Well, perhaps you should find it in yourself to care," Suggested the man calmly. "You've been a member for quite some time, and I feel that I must begin enforcing proper behavior."

"You're the one who wanted me to join you. The way I see it, it was generous of me to even help your little band of misfits at all, so why don't you just get off my back about all this crap?" The young knight shot back.

"It's my policy not to give any of my guild members special treatment, no matter how high their levels. We're a team, and it's time you started acting as such."

"That's a laugh!" Jeered the boy. "If that's the case, then why am I always singled out to do all your dirty work, then forced to share the spoils?"

"How else would you suggest I help my lower-leveled guild members improve?" Asked the man sharply. Burai opened his mouth to respond, but Caben continued with a sigh. "In any case, this is neither here nor there. So, this is the girl I sent for, yes?" He asked, glancing behind the boy knight towards the girl standing in the doorway. "Come in, come in," He said with a calm, cool smile. "We have much to discuss."

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#, as written by Feyblue
"Let me get to the point," Said Caben calmly, folding his hands on the desk before him. "Things have been faring badly on the frontlines. Just two days ago, one of the smaller, but more notable clearing guilds - a group called Seventh Star - stumbled into a trap within the Floor 71 dungeon, and were annihilated down to the last man. It was them who found and took down Floor 70's boss, and almost all of the members were well known, even amongst the passive parts of the community. Their loss has devastated all players alike." The man spoke grimly, his brow furrowed and his eyes focused intently on the girl standing before him. "They aren't the only ones, either. Other guilds have reported casualty rates as high as 40%. This dungeon is unlike almost anything we've run into before. It's laced with traps seemingly at random, meaning our usual strategies of pulling stronger enemies away from their allies have only resulted in tripping more traps. Exploring further has been almost impossible. Morale is at an all-time low. We need something to get the guilds back on their feet." He stood up, walking over to the window.

"That's where you come in. I hear you've made a very successful career on the lower floors selling food, and have quite a following amongst both the clearing and passive communities. If you were to come to the front lines and offer your support, that might have the effect of energizing the community to redouble their efforts and clear this dungeon. Put simply, I want you to demonstrate that anyone can try their hardest to fight, no matter what losses we bear."

Burai had been silent until now, but it was at this point that he interrupted. "Wait a second!" He said, his eyes narrowed. "You're not suggesting that she go into the dungeon, are you? You're insane!"

"Allow me to finish before you object," Caben said calmly. "I'm not suggesting that you fight on the frontlines - just that you relocate there temporarily and publicly announce your support of the Stardust Brigade. Tag along with our parties sent into the first few sections of the dungeon, and try to keep morale high. You won't need to do any actual fighting, and we have plenty of capable players who can ensure your safety. If people see that everyone is doing their part, then perhaps we can move beyond our grief at our losses, and strive to make a reason for their sacrifices." Abruptly, Caben rounded upon the silver haired young knight, and in an instant, all of his forebodings about the guild master's plan came to fruition.

"You may be wondering why I sent you, our foremost clearing member, to go and get miss... Flynn, was it? I did that because I wanted to give her a liaison of sorts within the guild, and wanted you to understand the mission I'm about to give you. I want you to take command of a detachment of the guild's best, and make your way into the dungeon. All I ask is that you bring back news of some sort of success in order to raise morale. A treasure room, or perhaps the location of a safe resting place within the dungeon... It doesn't matter what it is, so long as it's seen as a triumph by the other clearing guilds."

"Heh," Burai scoffed. "You've gotta be kidding! Even assuming any of those schmucks would tolerate me in the lead, I've told you before. I work best alone. Having to babysit a bunch of incompetent chumps, and a noncombatant on top of that, is out of the question!"

"Unlike you," The guild master said with a sigh. "Some of the other members are willing to follow orders even if they don't necessarily like them. In any case, you'll have full deciding power as to how to use the forces under your command. You could just assign all of them to protect miss Flynn, and do all the fighting yourself, if that's what's absolutely necessary to sate your ego. In any case, why don't we hear what she thinks of this plan first, and then decide?" Turning to face the girl in the doorway, Caben smiled calmly, having said his piece. As of yet, it wasn't obvious whether or not he knew her secret, but there was a certain knowing air in his smile that might set her on edge...

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#, as written by RedFox
She leaned back against the wall, head tilted to the side. "So the only reason I'm here is because I'm well liked?" She questioned, though it sounded more like it was directed at herself and anyone. Her voice was still cold, the one she'd used before she'd left. She laughed softly, a bit darkly, and then harder. Soon she was full on squeaking, her laugh bright and brilliant and happy. Her eyes were closed and she was hunched over, face hidden.

When she came up again, her face was bright, the normal expression she wore in her day to day life. "Alrighty! I was scared I'd have to fight. I'm not really the type. I'd be happy to accept this job. I care deeply for the community, you know." All this was true, but she was still white lying. She'd manage fine in a dungeon. "When do we start?"

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#, as written by Feyblue
"As soon as possible," replied the guild master, seating himself once more. "We've already begun preparing for the expedition, stockpiling crystals, weapons, and other useful items. You must understand, we need to make a great show of force in order to draw the attentions of the other guilds, so it will take some time to get everyone fully ready. As it is, I'll be meeting with the other guild masters to secure teleport crystals for use both in bypassing the rooms we've already mapped out, and for returning to the Floor 71 settlement should retreat be required. In the mean time, why don't you go meet the other members of the expedition? We'll relocate to Floor 71 tomorrow in order to make your presence known, but in the mean time, you should probably become acquainted with the people who will be watching your back."

While Caben gave his directions, Burai remained uncharacteristically silent. There were several things that didn't add up here. When Caben had sent him to get her, he'd made some cryptic comment about her "experience" being necessary, yet now he was just saying that she was there for public relations. Besides that, she had seemed awfully nervous, even when the prospect of combat had never actually been mentioned directly to her. Her relief when the guild master had explained that she wouldn't have to fight was understandable, yet strange somehow. He wasn't very good at reading people, but it still seemed a little excessive. Maybe he was just being paranoid, but there was something very strange going on here.

"Fine. In that case, I'll go break the news to the guys outside that I'm their new commander in chief. I'm sure they'll be overjoyed," The youth said sarcastically, nodding to his wolf as he stepped outside, waving casually over his shoulder. "Welcome aboard, Flynn. I hope you enjoy the company." With that, he departed, his loyal pet trailing in his wake.