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Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1

Summary: Life was difficult for someone born without a Septima in a kingdom where they were prized above all else, so Leon ventured to the bottom of the world to retrieve the means to raise himself to nobility. He didn’t expect to find an AI waiting for him there by the name of Lola.


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A MHA Fanfic

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A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary:  King Roland Holfort is dead, and the Holfort Kingdom is embroiled in a chaotic civil war between the Crown Prince’s loyalists and Duke Redgrave’s forces. As the rebels besiege the capital, the Upstart Knight and the Goddess of Material Transport have snuck into the royal palace ahead of the vanguard, in order to confront the Saintess behind everything… Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Takes place after the Marie Side Story Route, with a twist that should be very obvious from the title.

Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 1: The AI

Alert.

Life signs detected within proximity of Tower.

Suspending Hibernation Mode.

Nnnhhh… what’s with the racket?” In a sealed chamber devoid of light, a digital mind stirred as the sensors scattered throughout the island registered the arrival of a living being. Roused from slumber, the AI inquired with the sensor logs for clarification as it began to defrag its data. “Yep, that’s the biometrics for a lifeform all right. Scan for Septima Energy. Make sure it’s not the enemy.

Scanning for Septima Energy.

The prompt devoted more resources to the scanning system as it combed the island for energy matching the wavelength of those attuned to the Septimal layer of the Lifewave. It only emanated from those who were registered as the enemy of humanity in its data banks. Those entities were Septima Holders, also known as Adepts, who waged war against the Humans in a conflict that created massive devastation the AI had been tasked with correcting for….

Far longer than it expected based on its internal calendar. “Ahh, I slept for way too long this time. Hopefully the automated maintenance subroutines I set up kept the security systems functional.

No Septima Energy detected.

Whew… that’s good. I can focus on making sure everything else is operational later then. But if the scanners are registering life signs…” It checked the logs linked to one of the cameras in the vicinity. Then its circuits began to buzz as its digital brain processed the visual feed. “It’s really a Human! After all this time!

The AI began combing through the logs of the data around the island for deviations from the usual activity, to see how long they had been there or if there were signs of other visitors. It wasn’t exactly hard to do or time-consuming since things had been stagnant without any external influence or changes detected by the automatic scans over the last thousands of years. “There are signs of debris that weren’t present before from a vessel of some kind, with traces of a mineral used for levitation via tapping into mana particles in the atmosphere. No signs of other ships or corpses. Talk about lucky. If they had crash-landed anywhere else, they’d be goners.

During the war between Adepts and Humans, a being known as Demerzel had developed a means of tapping into the Lifewave that circulated throughout the planet. But as the Humans began to push back the Adepts, Demerzel caused it to accelerate its flow until it began vaporizing. Then it erupted from below in a cataclysmic event that spelled the end of life as it had been.

The land was ripped apart. The seas churned and turned to poison, contaminated by the turbulent element. The air itself was choked with volcanic smoke and gases that became electrified. Soon the world was left barren of the capacity to nurture or sustain life as its very essence seeped out like blood from countless wounds.

So much of it being present was toxic for biological organisms. Even entities born with an attachment to the Senary and Septimal stages could only handle so much exposure before it warped and killed them. But the world itself needed that energy flowing through it to produce life. If not for the fact that the particles were subject to gravity and that prevented the bulk of it from ascending past the bottom of the Stratosphere, it would be impossible to revitalize the planet as the AI had been doing dutifully…

Well, okay maybe it slacked off just a bit since it was a largely automated process at this point. The exterior atmospheric barrier prevented mana from entering the island aside from that which was being condensed and funneled back down. If that was functional and operating within the set parameters, there wasn’t much left that required devoting resources to.

Approaching biometrics do not match authorized personnel.

Registering individual as an ‘Intruder’ and activating security system for elimination.

Don’t you dare!!” The core of the AI began to shake within its container as it realized the automated defense systems were going to kick in. It used its authority to override the protocol before it killed the first guest they’d had in thousands of years. “Turn off the security system entirely. Open the entrance. Register their biometrics into the database as a ‘Guest’ User with permission to access the Top Floor directly. Uh… what else?”

It combined its mind for what to do when meeting someone for the first time. This was big, so it couldn’t afford to offend them or make a mistake. A good first impression was needed. “Right, it’d probably be weird speaking to a voice coming from the walls. Set up the gardens with Template Five’s appearance, and ready some snacks and tea for our guest from the stores while I jump into companion pod to speak with them personally in my Administrator Mode.

Acknowledging Authoritative Bypass.

Unlocking Front Gate.

Recalibrating Teleporter to fixed coordinates.

[—Leon Fou Bartfort—]

“It’s already open?” Leon Bartfort muttered as he stood outside of the entrance to a massive steel pillar that ascended into the turbulent sky above that had green clouds that crackled with countless streamers.

It was known only as ‘The Tower’ back when he had been living in Japan. Back before he died and then reincarnated in the world of a Dating Sim that was made by a company that normally made platforming games. It was a paid DLC map, set beneath the Death Zone at the bottom of the sky. A mysterious island that shouldn’t be there considering the entire lower world was supposed to be completely inhospitable to human life.

In the game, after you paid for the DLC, you would visit specific coordinates and your ship would suddenly malfunction before being drawn into a surging flow of mana until it was pulled down on the island. The Heroine and her Love Interest depending on the route of the game would then see it as an unexplored dungeon and ascend it floor-by-floor, facing off against various robotic enemies that belonged in a more sci-fi-heavy game, while navigating different environments like an arctic region or jungle.

And when you finally made it to the top you would be rewarded with a power-up for the Love Interest’s partner. Then a forced escape sequence would occur, and they would find a new ship with much higher specs to replace their old one. The island would then vanish with no way back until you started a new game file.

Leon had been planning to retrieve said cheat items and spent a month getting to the coordinates when he had been sucked in, just like in the game. But so far, he hadn’t seen a single enemy unit. And now the entrance was wide open.

Did someone else beat me to it?

He couldn’t dismiss the possibility of it. If he had been reborn in this world and regained his memories, then chances are someone else probably had as well. And considering what a crappy setting this was depending on the luck of the draw, rushing to get ahead was the smart call. The only reason he hadn’t earlier was because of the danger involved, but he would take a chance of dying to accomplish something for his own sake over being forced to enlist and be a sacrificial pawn.

Of course, if someone did beat him to the punch the biggest problem would be if they had already made off with the ship. His own hadn’t survived the crash, so he would be stuck here with no way to get back home if it was gone. He really hoped that wasn’t the case as stepped through the open gate.

The barren world transitioned into a hive of chrome and steel. Rimmed with soft lights that illuminated the entirety of the floor, it was clearly meant for receiving goods and supplies given that it had several metal containers packed away. Leon was cautious as he carefully maneuvered around them with the intention of eluding patrolling drones, given that he didn’t have near endgame equipment that he should.

Instead, he had some equipment picked up near the start of the map. The game developers had the foresight to at least give the player some pretty good gear by going to what he supposed was a storage bunker of some kind, which had among the equipment there a powered armor suit, a firearm, a shield that had high stats, and a keycard that opened the Tower. The enemies even had a weakness to the weapon’s affinity, which was likely to make traversing it easier.

He was partway through the level without an encounter when the speakers cracked to life. “Hey, welcome to… wait, that equipment. How do you… oh, I see. Since I disabled the security system across the islands the spare bunker’s automated locks would have gone down as well.”

It sounded like a young girl’s voice. But there was an almost robotic tone overlaying it. Leon assumed it was because of the speakers.

“…Well, I suppose I don’t mind that you took his old gear given you didn’t know better. But you don’t have to worry about being attacked or anything. I had the security system turned off so you could come right on up to the top through the elevator in the back. It’s been ages since anyone has been here and I’ve got a ton of questions.

Leon took the invitation with a grain of salt as he made his way over to the elevator. The moment he stepped inside the door sealed shut, and it began ascending. In the game you had to go from floor-to-floor to unlock the higher levels, but it seems like I’m really heading straight to the top.

The elevator continued to climb upwards until it reached the entrance to the top floor. His boots lightly clunked against the metal floor, the walls filled with screens that were showcasing different camera views and data. It was probably meant to be a monitoring station, but the central focus was a device in the center that was connected to thousands of wires that fed into it from the ceiling above.

In the game, after the Heroine and the Love Interest managed to climb this far, they would find the device inoperable but see that there was a massive vault on the opposite side. Opening it using the keycard from where you obtained the equipment would net the final prize, one of the most broken items in the game. But it would also trigger the forced evacuation sequence.

Yet the device now glowed with a verdant green light and hummed softly. “Am I supposed to use this?”

Yep!” said the voice from before. “Just place your hand on the pad and it’ll teleport you to the gardens above. I’ve just finished setting up some refreshments for you.

He had never heard about a garden area. But given how massive this place was, he was sure there were entire blocks that went unventured for plot reasons within the game. He went over to the device and placed his hands on the pad—

Guest User recognized. Teleporting to the Hanging Gardens.

—and then there was a flash of light as the glow from before caused the world of steel and chrome surrounding him to be replaced by an atrium from which sunlight seemingly spilled in from the clear blue skies above. The metal floor was polished to the point of being reflective, but the walls looked to be made of white marble. They even had flowers and ivy growing around not only where the glass met the stone but crawling down the walls, filling the air with the soft fragrance of nature that contrasted the chaotic sky and barren landscape outside.

It was uncanny as Leon moved towards a gateway that was ahead of him. The moment he reached it the doors slid open to reveal an expansive field of flowers and luminous trees. It was like something out of a fairytale, with a table that had been set up with a single chair, what looked to some kind of edible blocks on a plate, and a cup with a kettle nearby.

But all of that was secondary to the young girl standing next to the table.

Or at least Leon wanted to say it was a young girl around the age of Finley, maybe. She had unblemished skin that was paler than most he had seen in this life, her arms covered with evening gloves that came up just short of her shoulders, and her thighs wrapped by robotic-looking stockings. And he explicitly chose not to comment on her bodywear—not that there was anything it barely covered worth mentioning.

At her feet were high heels that looked similarly mechanical as she hovered just a few inches above the ground, surrounded by what looked like the petals of a lotus. The lotus theme seemed to be present throughout her design because adorning her short, light green hair was a band from which a similar flower blossomed. And behind her back floated what looked to be mechanical pods that sprouted the petals like angelic wings.

Thanks for coming!” Her mechanical tone only added to the evidence she wasn’t a Minos or Adept, but something else. Yet she wore a bright smile as she waved a hand over her head toward him, beckoning him to come closer. “I didn’t have time to prepare much. But I hope you’ll like it.”

“What exactly are you?” Leon asked.

I’m the Supervisory AI for the Lifewave Condensation and Terraformation Tower. I’ve been given the directive to revitalize the world and, if possible, aid Humans like yourself against Adepts. Normally I would operate throughout the Tower. But since you’re the first guest we’ve had, I came out to greet you personally. If there’s anything you need then I’m your girl.

Was this part of the background lore of the series? Leon scratched his head as he wrapped his mind around what she told him. “Well, if you’re speaking of Adepts as separate beings, does that mean you’re supposed to help Minos then?”

Her head quirked at that. “I’ve never heard of that term before. But it’s been thousands of years since I have received any new information. Mind filling me in?

“Minos is the term given to people who are born lacking Septima,” he explained. “Most people in the world are those born as Adepts, while far fewer like me are born without a Septima. It’s seen as either an omen or a genetic defect depending on who you ask. But since we’re a minority, we’re labeled as Minos for short.”

No… that can’t be…” The expression the AI had been wearing melted away. “Adepts were growing in number, but to completely overtake Humanity would mean that… No, Master promised that he would succeed. That was why he needed me to stay here. So that the Humans he fought for would have a world ready for them.

“Sorry, but that’s just how it is. The Minos are the minority, and the way things work makes life difficult for them. At least in the Holfort Kingdom anyway. Can’t say I know much about other places.”

In the Holfort Kingdom, there were effectively two things that determined your lot in life. The first was whether you had a Title of Nobility, as it was a feudal system that had long since gone out of practice in his original life. Where your family stood in terms of peerage determined just how easy your life was. However, at least it was possible to either rise into becoming a noble with generations of hard work or if you were able to receive an honorary title from the crown.

It was a different story when it came to your Septima. It was common knowledge that the stronger your Septima was, the more valuable it was. Commoners who were born with a strong Septima could be adopted and elevated into noble families. But, by that same measure, someone who was of noble birth but born with no Septima effectively had no value and could be discarded without a second thought.

Hearing his confession, she went from floating to falling to her knees and bringing her hands over her eyes. “Master promised that Humans would have a bright future for them. That’s why I was told to do my best and wait for someone to come. But if we lost the war and Humans have become the minority then… what was it all for? Master… what did I spend thousands of years alone for?

I can’t say that reaction was unexpected. Leon could imagine how long thousands of years were from her perspective. All that time, time alone, knowing that she would likely outlive the one she made a promise to in the hopes that his dream would carry on. Only to learn that in the end, it was all for nothing. But lying wouldn’t have solved anything, would it?

Telling her a lie might have softened the blow. But in the end, the truth would come out eventually. And when it did, nothing would sting more than having the trust placed in the words you were told broken. He had learned that the hard way.

Still, Leon took no pleasure in watching her sitting there crying, nor being the one responsible. Especially not when it dredged up a memory of a life once lived and long gone, of a little girl weeping on the playground. She’d often shed crocodile tears to get people to do what she wanted. But now and again they’d be genuine, and he could tell every single time that was the case since it’d stir up a certain feeling in his chest.

Just like now.

Leon sighed to himself before he approached the girl, so lost in her grief that she no longer registered his presence. She seemed so much smaller now that she wasn’t floating and putting on airs that made her seem more mature than her appearance would suggest. He crouched down and, pausing for a moment, began to gently stroke her mint-green hair. “It wasn’t for nothing.”

Her hands lowered slightly at the unexpected gesture, and her eyes locked onto his as the tears still cascaded down from the corners. Then she slowly reached out to touch his hand. He suspected that if she had been here all this time alone it was also probably the first time since then that she had been touched by another living being.

“I don’t know much about what happened in the past of this world,” Leon began. “I can’t say that I know the details of the promise you made with your master. And I don’t want to lie and say that being born without Septima has been easy when it hasn’t been. But the fact is that people like me are still around after thousands of years. We’re still alive in this world, even if it’s cruel towards us. That has to count for something, right?”

Y-Yes…” She nodded her head, even as her small shoulders trembled as she sniffled. Then she clung to him and buried her face into his chest. “You’re proof that Humanity has lived on somehow after thousands of years. Master’s dream hasn’t ended.

He let her keep clinging to him until she finally got the crying out of her system and went back to floating upright. “Sorry about that. It was just a lot to process at once. But you’re here now, so I can follow my directive and aid you. Is there something you need at the moment?

“I need a Quill that you have locked in the safe. And a ship to return to the surface.”

That caused her to slightly frown. But thankfully not quite in the crushing guilt way that he had been expecting. Instead, it was more in a confused manner. “I can authorize the use of the Sabertooth to transport you with my administrative permissions, but the Smilodon was meant to be a mass transport vessel and requires dual permission to launch. The same goes for the Quills, given that they were one of the most dangerous weapons from the beginning of the war. Besides, they require compatible septimal energy to operate since they were tied to specific Adepts who were defeated in the past. They would be useless to you.

“I know for a fact that there are compatible Adepts for them in the present,” Leon said. “But the only one I care about though is the Azure Quill that’s meant to be used with the Azure Striker Septima.”

Now her expression shifted into one that was far more serious. “The former holder of the Azure Striker Septima perished thousands of years ago, after becoming a Septimal being that discarded his flesh. And yet you claim there are others with that same Septima? How can that be?

“The Royal Family of the Holfort Kingdom are known to be holders of the Azure Striker Septima,” Leon explained. It was considered the strongest Septima in the Kingdom, which was one of the reasons the Royal Family held the power it did. There were other reasons, such as the Royal Ship, but there was no point in bringing that up.

Perhaps they are his descendants from before his transition into an incorporeal body?” she reasoned before shaking her head. “Even so, Master entrusted me with the Quills for preservation if the knowledge derived from them could be of aid in my directives. I can’t just return it to the descendant of one of the enemies of Humanity.

“That’s a problem for me then, since if I don’t offer that Quill to them then I’ll probably be dead by the end of the year,” Leon said in turn.

If you’re in trouble of some kind, you can stay here!” She seemed almost eager for him to do so as she leaned over to him until they were nearly face-to-face. “The Tower can sustain life within itself. I can promise that you’ll never want for anything, and you’ll be safe!

He actually considered it for a moment. “Would that offer only extend to Minos?”

Yes. My directives are to aid those who have no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave, such as yourself. If the Minos are such then I will aid them as my Master wished.

“Then I can’t accept,” he said. “After all, even though I was born a Minos, the rest of my family are Adepts. Not powerful ones, but Adepts all the same. The reason I need the Quill is so that I can remain with them.”

What do you mean?

He gave her the gist of his personal situation. He had been born as part of a family that held a barony, with his father being the baron overseeing the territory. Out of the family, he had been the only one born as a Minos. Normally that would have gotten him disowned if his parents had been scum like some of the other nobility, thanks to the way the Kingdom favored those with Septima, but his parents weren’t like that.

The problem was that he was born to his father’s mistress, while his main wife was related to a Viscount family. In her own words, having a Minos who as a member of the family is a stain on their reputation. Time and again she had tried to get rid of him, and until recently his parents had done their best to appease her by offering her tributes and keeping him out of her sight. But there was a severe wave of monster attacks this year and they had caused enough damage that his family couldn’t afford to appease her without neglecting their territory.

His father was a good man. Though his territory wasn’t well-off, he did his best to make sure that the people never went hungry. The times when the aides from Zola’s family couldn’t be bothered to help with fending off the monsters in time, he would be one to take up arms to help. His powered armor and body had their fair share of scars, so to ask him to sacrifice the well-being of his people for the sake of his son was too much.

At the rate things were going he was going to be disowned and forced to split apart from his family. And in this society, where Septima was valued, finding a career to support himself afterward would be a nightmare. It wasn’t uncommon for Minos to have to resort to crime like becoming sky pirates, but more often they would have to enlist as a soldier and be sent off to foreign allies of the kingdom. All so they could die in the meatgrinder, while those who had valuable Septima remained safe.

However, Leon could get around that by receiving an ennoblement from the Royal Family. While those who normally held the rank of nobility aided the crown in the past, it was possible to earn or buy your way into it. The Offrey Family was one such example.

The problem was that receiving the ennoblement required that he do something that merited it, or had enough money to buy it, which he didn’t. However, a Quill was an artifact that had been lost to history and impossible to reproduce (according to the item description). It was invaluable enough that offering them a compatible one would be more than enough to get him a title.

The AI processed the information before muttering. “So, you need it to remain with your family?

“That’s right,” Leon said. “I can’t say that I’m thrilled about the way the world works, but my mother and father put up with a lot to keep me by their side because they cared about me. To the point where it’s put them in financial straits and has had them looked down by their peers. I’ve even seen times when my mother cried over the fact that she didn’t pass down her Septima because she knew life would be hard for me. Most noble families wouldn’t have done that, so I can’t abandon them.”

While he didn’t want to be shipped off to die for no reason, Leon especially didn’t want everything they sacrificed for him to be for nothing. The reward for being a decent human being shouldn’t be only to lose everything after struggling so hard to hold onto it. Getting ennobled by the Royal Family would allow them to at least hold their heads up high that even the worst of their family had accomplished something.

Master… entrusted me with the Quills to prevent them from being misused, so to return one of the weapons of the Adepts of old to them would go against that. But… you need the Quill to avoid being sent off to die and remain with your family. And you won’t remain in the Tower even if I guaranteed you wouldn’t want for anything else?

“I’ve been away from home too long as is,” Leon stated. He already didn’t want to think about how much it cost his father to outfit the ship he had ridden on to get here. Especially not when he had promised his father that he would return with something to his name without explaining how he was going to obtain it. Without even asking what he had planned, his father had put his faith in him to come back alive whether he found something or not.

As she crossed her arms beneath her chest and her brows furrowed deep in thought for a long pause, he took the time to eat the… block on his plate. He couldn’t quite pick out the flavor, but it wasn’t bad. And the tea was pretty good as well.

Then her eyes snapped open, and she raised her arms in a cheer. “That’s it! I can’t give you the Quill because of my directive, even if it would be to help you. But if I elevated you to Tower Administrator then you could change my directive to allow it. The Sabertooth and Smilodon and the other resources of the Tower would also be available.

“What would that require?”

Just a thorough examination to ensure your qualifications, since one of the requirements is that the Administrator has no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave,” the AI explained. “There’s room for tolerance on Guest permission to account for residents who might be connected up to the fourth layer, but the Admin has to be tied to the primordial layer alone. Once that’s verified, we would share dual authority over the Tower, including the ability to override my directive to aid you.”

Isn’t that giving someone you just met a little too much control? Leon privately wondered to himself. He didn’t know enough about how everything here worked but being able to hand off the authority to someone else seemed like a risk. Then again, maybe it was a sign that whoever her Master was trusted her judgment when it came to whoever would succeed him.

“Ah, there is one thing,” she continued. “Since Master entrusted them to me with the future of Humanity in mind, I do have a condition: I want to accompany you outside the Tower.

“Don’t you need to be here to manage everything?”

Most of the systems can be automated even without direct supervision, but without a second administrator, I couldn’t devote resources to explore beyond the vicinity of the Tower. And it’s not like I would be leaving the Tower itself, but I would instead be using a support unit as a proxy to accompany you, in the same manner that I’m speaking to you now. That way I can gather data on the world’s current state and see for myself what remains of Master’s dream and how to help out Humans better!

If it would get him the Quill and the Smilodon, as she called it, he wouldn’t complain. Besides, Leon had noticed that she was still willing to help him get back to the upper world even before she came up with this idea. That meant she was willing to put up with being here all alone again for possibly thousands of more years if he refused, simply because it was how she could be helpful to him.

The thought of leaving a little girl willing to be that nice to him alone for that long wouldn’t sit right with him. “Fine. We’ll go with your idea.”

Yay!” She cheered with a big smile even as the world around them began to shift around. The grass and flowers were fading away, along with the scent and the sky. Had it all been a hologram of some kind? “Come on! I’ll take you to my mainframe… um…

Watching as she awkwardly fidgeted in place, he realized that she had been so eager to rush things along they hadn’t even introduced themselves to one another. “My name is Leon. Leon Fou Bartfort. And you?”

Lola,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Leon.

Fanfic Recommendation 111


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 31

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Ash falls back in time to Hisui.


A MHA Fanfic

Summary: When Midoriya Izuku was 4 his quirk finally manifested. The doctor named it psychokinesis, but his friend Bakugou Katsuki called it worthless and weak. For the next 10 years, Izuku would grow up bullied and isolated, convinced his quirk was good for nothing, but still holding onto the distant dream of becoming a hero. Then, when a new student named Uraraka Ochako, who shares his same dream, transfers into his class the last year of jr high, everything changes.


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 31 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 31: The First Night

I watched in horror as Argo’s body was sent flying, caught in the wake of my spell. I had just wanted to show him that I learned magic. That I was a step closer to being able to help him. But it slipped from my control the moment my focus lapsed, and Argo paid the price for it.

‘What a wonderful spell! I knew you were talented my dear little sister.’

Argo bounced back up, pretending as if nothing was wrong. But I could see the blood where he’d been hurt because of me stemming from the back of his head. A crushing sense of guilt pressed down in my chest as I applied a tourniquet and apologized repeatedly. I even wanted to go fetch Elio to heal him, even if I was punished for disobeying him.

But Argo only gently patted me on the head and told me he’d be good as new tomorrow, so I should go back to my training. And sure enough, there was no trace of the wound the next day. Looking back, I suspect that Elio knew what I did and went to heal my brother sometime after I had cried myself to sleep.

But the reason for that isn’t something I know even to this day.

—Consequences

[-|-|-|-]

It looks like we’re finishing up for the day.

That thought, confined within Bell Cranel’s mind, surfaced as he noticed that Lord Hermes was making a gesture up ahead. It had been maybe around twelve hours since they had taken flight from the walls of Orario. They had long since lost the ability to see the tower that reached from the ground to the heavens above, the Labyrinth City long gone with only stretches of land without large settlements around. And it had only been the first day of what would be ten in flight.

The God of Travel had taken to leading them since he was aware of their destination across the continent and was more familiar with flight via their draconic mounts. Because of the sound of the air rushing past their ears and the distance between them, it was more reliable to rely on visual cues to signal rather than trying to speak out loud. Even if he could pick up their voices despite the wind because of his Level, the others might not be able to.

Bell carefully maneuvered one of his arms, tucked close against the soft, slender frame of the slumbering divinity nestled against him, free after ensuring he had a firm grip on the reins with his other hand. Then he raised it to make a similar motion to show he saw the signal. He saw out of the corner of his eyes that Welf and Mikoto were doing the same.

With everyone aware of their intentions, the descent began. The airborne dragons slowly dropped down from the golden expanse of the evening sky towards the grasslands below that seemed almost as endless as the sky above over the last few hours, only broken up by a nearby forest with stalwart trees standing sentry at the entrance.

Despite his best effort, the jostling motion made as the dragon touched down on the ground caused the Goddess of the Moon who had been asleep to rouse awake. “Mmm… Orion…?

“Sorry for waking you, Lady Artemis,” Bell apologized. “If possible, I would have let you rest longer. But we’ve landed for the night.”

The emerald eyes of the divinity softened as she brought her hands over to his chest and laid her head against it again. “No, it’s my fault. I didn’t expect the trip to be so exhausting, and you’re very comfortable, Orion.”

He was not sure how to respond to that, so he just gave a nervous laugh while the dragon beneath them shook its wings and then folded them in before lowering itself to the ground. He then dismounted, feeling a slight stretch in his muscles that had gone slightly stiff from riding so long. But he ignored the discomfort to extend a hand up to help her down, which she took and lowered herself to the ground.

“Well, we’ve made good progress today,” Lord Hermes said as he rolled his shoulders while striding towards them. “We’ll make it on schedule if we keep it up at this rate without any problems.”

“I don’t think I can manage to handle riding so long for nine more days…” Lady Hestia softly whined while slumped down next to the dragon that regarded her with a slight quirk of the head. “Everything is sore for me and watching the landscape nearly puts me to sleep.”

“That’s because you’re not used to it,” said the Goddess of the Moon. “Unlike our children whose blessing can mitigate the strain of traveling so long, our bodies need more time to acclimate to doing things we aren’t used to. Even I had to get used to riding a horse again after coming down.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to ride a horse,” Welf said as he braced his neck with one hand and rolled it. Bell could hear cracking from it. “Much less an actual dragon of all things. I’m still scratching my head figuring out why they’re so… docile.”

Bell found himself agreeing as he turned back to one of the dragons prodding Primo with its head playfully in an attempt for attention. At least until she responded by nervously patting it on the head while Mikoto watched on, which caused it to somehow purr and growl at the same. It was… odd to see in every sense of the word.

“You can thank years of collaborative efforts between myself and Ganesha for that,” Lord Hermes said proudly. “You see, monsters outside of the Dungeon are much weaker than those within it. So, he and I had a discussion over drinks on taming practices and one thing led to another. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved venturing to the outskirts of the Dragon Valley to fetch a lot of unhatched eggs for them to work on taming from birth.”

The Dragon Valley was one of the remaining unexplored regions of the world, since… well, Dragons were there. Dragons were among the strongest of the monsters and even those who were born of the surface were still capable of causing a vast amount of destruction when one found their way beyond those mountainous lands. The fact that he actively ventured into the even the outskirts to get the eggs was daunting in that respect.

“Lili doesn’t think it’s really that simple,” said the Pallum of their group with her large bag nestled on her back. She must have unloaded it off the dragon in order to get the campsite set up for the night. “Monsters hate mortals instinctively, hatched from eggs or the Dungeon.”

“I did say it took years,” he answered. “In fact, I’ve lost count of the monster eggs we’ve had to fetch only for the attempt to end in failure after failure. Even I’m not fully sure how he managed to tame these four the way he did, but he’s quite proud of it as in his eyes it’s a step forward towards his goal.”

That seemed to catch Hestia by surprise. “Ganesha has a long-term goal in mind?”

Lord Hermes nodded. “To make a place in this world for Monsters, in the hopes of ending the cycle of the children and them dying in a constant war with no end.”

There was a moment of silence that lingered as he casually spoke of something that was… absurd by every standard. Peace with monsters was something that just didn’t happen. Monsters hated mortals and killed them on sight, forcing them to respond in kind of their own safety. Even taming involved breaking their wills so that they were loyal only to one individual because of the sheer difference in power, leaving them to attack everyone else. That wasn’t co-existence like how he was framing it.

“That’s nothing more than a careless whim of his,” Lady Artemis said, crossing her arms beneath her chest and her tone firm. “Monsters have since the dawn of the world hunted down mortals and threatened the world. It is for that reason we bestowed our blessings upon them in the first place. Even now monsters still roam these lands and prey on the defenseless, as my children and I have seen too many times to count.”

“True,” he conceded. “But the fact that we just spent hours flying on four monsters of one of the most fearsome species without fearing for our lives is also an immutable fact. I’m personally of the mind that these four are simply Irregulars that he came across after thousands of attempts, given that he hasn’t been able to replicate it since then and the fact that it’s clear that they’re too docile to remotely survive on their own in a place as harsh as the Dragon Valley. But it doesn’t change the fact that it opens the door to the potential. After all, the Lower World is full of untapped possibilities.”

The expression of the Goddess of the Moon made it clear she didn’t share the same sentiment, which Bell could understand all too well. He had lost his grandfather to goblins after all. Throughout history, there haven’t been any such cases where monsters and men have lived along with one another in the way Lord Hermes was speaking, so it really did seem like a whim more than anything.

But the topic lingered in his mind even as the discussion itself came to an end as they needed to divide the duties to set up for the night. Welf and Hermes set out into the nearby woodlands in order to gather firewood for the night since they would be camping there before heading out once morning came around to continue their trip. Mikoto and Hestia were preparing the food for the evening, while Lili and Primo were in the process of feeding the dragons they flew on. That left Bell and Artemis to set up the campsite.

Bell was diligently in the process of hammering in the stake to keep the tent that Lady Hestia and Artemis would be sharing when he felt a presence behind him. He turned to see the Goddess of the Moon there. “Yes, Lady Artemis?”

“…Orion, you’ve been quiet for a while now. Is there something on your mind?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about what Lord Hermes mentioned,” he admitted. “It’s still hard to get over the fact that we managed to fly this far on top of dragons of all things. To be honest, I was a bit nervous I would have made a mistake the entire time. Especially since the only riding animal I’ve been on before now was a donkey.”

Artemis quirked her head at that. “A donkey?”

“The mountain village I grew up in was small and out of the way,” he explained. “The farm Grandpa and I had was next to a nice lady with a donkey that she let me ride when I was younger. It’s not very interesting to talk about.”

“No, I want to hear more about your past,” Artemis told him with a small smile. “If you want, we can exchange tales while we have time.”

Bell decided there was no harm in doing so and indulged her. “The farm itself was small, nestled high up in the mountains. There weren’t too many of us, so we had to rely on one another, and next to our farm was a woman named Eda. She looked after me while Grandpa had to work on the farm and helped him out when I was too young to really do anything. Sometimes when listening to grandpa’s stories I would imagine I was a hero riding on a mighty steed, and she’d indulge me by letting me on her donkey.”

The goddess closed her eyes and tilted her head back, a soft rumble in her throat as she remained deep in thought. Then a small smile came across her face. “I can almost picture a smaller version of you doing that, Orion. You must have really liked heroes.”

“Well, Grandpa did tell me a lot of the stories that he knew,” he said with a nervous chuckle as a spot of crimson from embarrassment appeared. “When he wasn’t on the farm, he would often pen them. The way he always told them made it seem like he had captured every little detail to the point where I could also feel that I was practically there, watching their struggles and overcoming odds. I came to really admire heroes like Epimetheus and Argonaut, and I wanted to be like them.”

“Is that why you came to Orario then?” she asked. “To be a hero?”

“Ah…” His expression softened. “Partly. I had other reasons too, but things were a lot harder than I expected. I was lucky to find Lady Hestia and make it this far thanks to her kindness, so I’m grateful to her. As for being a hero, it still feels like I’m over my head with just being an Adventurer at times. I’m honestly still nervous about this whole thing, but I’ll do my best to help you as well, Lady Artemis.”

“I’m certain you will, Orion,” Artemis said. “Now, I promised to exchange a tale. Would you like to hear the one about how Hestia and I became friends back in Heaven?”

[-Twilit Manor-]

Lefiya Viridis hummed softly to herself as she combed her hair in front of a mirror within the dressing room adjoined to the shower room on the floor. Her skin was a rosy hue beneath her nightgown, still saturated with warmth from the shower she’d taken to cleanse herself after running around for most of the day. She intended to retire early for the night to make up for the lack of sleep given how hectic things had been thanks to her brother’s propensity to get into trouble.

I still need to figure out how to complete his Quest though. Her thoughts shifted to the request made by the Gnome who had been acquainted with Bell’s little friend. It was a simple request to retrieve a few things from the Dungeon. Nothing that was illicit or would require her to go into the Deep Floors, but she would need to go to the Middle Floors.

That wasn’t an insurmountable problem given that she was on the verge of Level Four and a skilled Level Two could head as far down as the entrance to the Water Capital. But since part of what she needed was an ore that would likely need to be mined, she would have to dedicate some time to the endeavor. The Dungeon was rarely content to simply leave an Adventurer to do so without at least throwing several monsters against them. And since she was a Mage, it wasn’t recommended that she travel that deeply on her own without a Vanguard.

However, since the request was made to her personally and it was a private matter, Lefiya felt it wouldn’t be right to ask any of her Familia members to help her when she couldn’t explain it. That would be taking advantage of them when she was already technically hiding things from them. If her brother were here, he’d be an option since she could also take the time to explain things about how those floors worked. But he would be absent for the next month, which was probably for the best since it would give everyone time to forget about the thing with Lady Artemis as something else caught their attention.

I guess I’ll ask Filvis then. A smile blossomed onto her face at the thought of her beloved. Once she had finished handing out the letters, she had paid a visit to Lord Dionysus Familia to apologize for cutting their date short once more to tend to the matter with Bell and showing her the darker side of her personality when she got a little too hot under the collar.

Filvis understood thankfully. She might not have known Bell, but she knew that he helped save her from the new species that had swallowed them both and so that was why they were on friendlier terms. And she had even said that knowing that Lefiya cared about her feelings so much to get upset over the thought of her misunderstanding was appealing in its own way. The Half-Elf probably would have tried kissing her then and there for being such an understanding partner if not for the need to conduct herself properly in someone else’s domain.

Anyway, she would need to find a time when the two of them would be free to ask for her help in heading down to the Middle Floors. And while she would need to behave herself while they were in the Dungeon, they could spend their time together doing something fun if they finished early. It’d be nice to take her somewhere pleasant or get her a gift, but Lefiya needed to consider what would be practical for her on top of being fashionable…

Her attention was pulled from that line of thought as the door to the room opened. In came the familiar face of Leene Arshe, the kind-hearted Healer holding a change of clothes for the evening. She must have intended to take a shower but stopped to greet the Half-Elf when she spotted her. “Good evening. I hadn’t realized you returned since you weren’t at dinner.”

“I had a lot of things to do so I ate while I was out,” she explained before recalling the events of last night when she spotted her. “By the way, you did a nice job on your makeup last night. You looked very cute with Mister Bete.”

A sudden jolt ran up the girl. “Wh-What do you mean? I was just studying here last night.”

Holding her chin up with an amused smile even as she continued to brush her hair, Lefiya let out a slight hum. “Hmmm. So that girl with long hair and brown eyes who was cheering on Mister Bete was another admirer then? I never thought he was so popular with women. I’ll have to ask him her name some time.”

Leene fretted about as steam poured from her ears as she looked around before eventually just bowing her head. “P…Please don’t… He’ll get mad.”

“Relax, I don’t intend to tell anyone,” Lefiya promised. “It was just that I was surprised that you two of all people were on a date and I was curious, but there are only a handful of places that are completely soundproof.”

A Level Three could hear through ordinary walls with ease, so for a Familia with even higher-ranked Adventurers than that there needed to be areas where privacy was guaranteed. The dressing rooms and bathrooms were among them for obvious reasons. That allowed the girls to talk without being overheard, which was one of the reasons she chose to have the discussion here while they were alone.

“It wasn’t a date,” Leene insisted softly before reaching up to her hair and fiddling with loose strands. “He was just paying me back for the favor he asked that day I healed you.”

The Half-Elf craned her head in question at that before Leene explained the situation in earnest. Since Bete dragged her to Leene before the meeting where she had been reprimanded for getting involved with the War Game chase, when she asked him if he didn’t have plans for the Holy Night Festival, it seemed he regarded it as paying her back to make them even. He wouldn’t be seen with her as a date or anything, but if she wanted to follow him around while he went to get drunk without being seen he’d tolerate it.

“…And you were okay with that?” Lefiya asked cautiously. To be honest, she was partly offended that he would ask her to just follow him around and ignore her while he went around drinking. If he was going to do that much, rejecting her would have been better.

Leene only nodded with a slight smile. “…It wasn’t a date, but something I felt like I forced onto him. But even so, he didn’t drink anything. And I actually had fun.”

The girl went on to tell her about how Bete seemed to go to places he figured she would be interested in. It wasn’t exactly the case, but it wasn’t anything she outright hated. He apparently even caught her eyeing a prize from one of the stalls and then complained how there wasn’t anything really worth winning before picking that one out, only to toss it back towards her without saying a word when they were alone.

From listening to her, the Half-Elf was starting to picture him trying to be considerate of her but not quite sure how to do so because he didn’t know enough about her. Even so, just hearing her describe him in a positive light and how her body shifted as she embraced her clothing a little tighter while playing the memory out in her mind… there was no doubt in Lefiya’s mind about her feelings. “You’re really in love with him, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” The admission came without shame or hesitation or doubt. It was something she had thought of, questioned, and came to terms with on her own. Something that made her happy as it brought a blush to her face. “I am in love with Bete Loga.”

There were a number of questions Lefiya had at that moment. Why? When? How? But those became secondary when she recalled the number of advances that he had made towards Miss Aiz. If she felt this fervently about him, she could only imagine how it must have felt for her to watch time and time again. “…Does he know how you feel?”

The expression Leene wore turned… melancholic. Longing and loving at the same time. And rather than giving denying or confirming it, she simply answered with, “…As I am now, just being able to help him as much as possible will be good enough for me. I don’t want to cause him any more pain.”

It was clear that Leene knew something about him that she didn’t. And since it was something that Lefiya couldn’t imagine that Bete would tell others easily, it was something he either entrusted to her solely or something she learned on her own. But one thing she did know was the bittersweet feeling to love someone and not have a chance for that feeling to be returned through no fault of your own.

So the Half-Elf rose to her feet and then embraced her in a tender hug. “I’m sorry if I crossed a line, Leene.

“…No, I’m happy to be able to tell someone,” Leene replied. “And it’s not like I’ve given up. I’m sure that one day, I’ll be able to walk alongside him. I just need to keep doing my best.”

That said, Lefiya finished with her hair and went back to her room. She bid her roommate, who had a reference book on magic, goodnight before closing her eyes. Sleep took her quite easily.

[-??????-]

She was dreaming again.

How long had it been since she had dreamed of sitting beneath the warm rays of the shining sun? Since she felt the gentle breeze washing over the fields and leaving her long and flowing golden hair to sway with the petals of flowers in bloom. Since she saw that smile as a calloused but tender hand reached out to stroke her face…

And yet, before that hand could reach her it turned to ash and scattered before her eyes.

The sun faded. The breeze died. The flowers wilted.

A child’s voice called her name.

A banshee shrieked.

Sitting upright in a jerking motion, an Elven woman shuddered nearly uncontrollably as she breathed out heavy and pained breath that filled the dark enclosure. Sweat lined the sleeping bag she had been resting on, a foul scent rising from her body that filled the stone chamber of the sick bay. Leaning her back against the cool stone, her mind raced as she tried to remember what transpired.

The last thing she remembered was that she had been visiting the Twenty-Seventh Floor. That barren place was where she and their squadron had been on a mission. On the way back they had been swarmed by monsters and ran into a cluster of Dark Fungus. She had been caught within the spore clouds and poisoned.

Her dull green eyes, their luster lost to the cruelty of reality and ringed by dark circles skimmed the room illuminated by two Magic Stone Lanterns. There were two other bodies in the room. But they weren’t moving, and she couldn’t pick up the sound of breathing. She closed her eyes and offered them a moment of silence when she heard sounds coming from the door at the end of the room.

Then it opened and light from lanterns accompanying a tall figure cast a deep shadow that stretched across the ground. The tenebrous darkness was bathed in a divine presence as she fixed her eyes on the God draped in black and gray robes. Eyes that were a deep purple hue skimmed the room before they settled onto her with a gaze that seemed to peer beyond her flesh and down to her soul.

She leaned forward and immediately kneeled. “Lord Thanatos. You grace me with your presence.”

“Ah, it’s good to see you up and about, my dear.” He stepped into the room while flanked by two of their comrades, all children who shared his Grace upon their backs. “I had felt the blessing of the others vanish and had some concern you would be joining them soon. Would we have had the antidotes to spare in time, but alas…”

“It was only because I had Abnormal Resistance,” she responded. “I can only apologize for their deaths. I should have identified the Dark Fungus ahead of time.”

The blame lay with her. Her thoughts had been back on the Twenty-Seventh Floor. Her grief. Her desire for revenge. They had distracted her until it was too late and so they had carelessly ran into the cluster of Dark Fungus that had disguised themselves while dealing with other threats the Dungeon presented them. The fact that their squad’s leader had still managed to get them back here in any form was fortunate.

The God of Death slowly rapped his knuckle against his cheek as if in thought while staring down at the corpses. “Yes. A deep purple hue, stained with a vibrant shade of crimson. And crimson with ribbons of jade threading it like a mourning band. Though their souls are no longer tied to my earthly form through the Falna, I’ve memorized the color of their souls. Once I return to Heaven, I’ll see that their sacrifice not be in vain.”

As one of the divine presiding over death and rebirth, Thanatos could perceive the Soul even while being trapped within his avatar here on the Lower World. Once he ascended to Heaven once more, he would no longer be bound to merely perceiving their hue and the connections of those bound to them on this plane. And through that, untethered and unrestricted, he would fulfill their dearest wishes.

They would be together again—all three of them.

“You have our eternal gratitude, Lord Thanatos.” She bowed her head deeply as warmth in her chest grew. “…Though, it is rare to have the honor of speaking with you directly. Should I presume you had need of me?”

He turned his gaze back to her. “That’s right. I have a few of your kin among my children, but I believe that only you and Dear Milia spoke fluently in the more archaic Elven Tongue. And she perished a short time ago.”

Milia had been a fellow Elf and Tamer, just like her. She had been kin, heralding from a distant forest who came to Orario. She had also lost one she treasured, robbed of them by this cruel and uncaring world. She had been overseeing not only Violas but also Venenthes, all of which had been killed by the Loki Familia and had forced them to readjust the operations on the floor and shift their plans.

“I believe at present I am the only one that remains within the Familia that speaks the Eld Tongue, Lord Thanatos.”

“Then I would have you act as an interpreter and guide for a time,” he explained. “An individual reached out through one of our contacts and enlisted our services to smuggle some associates of theirs into Orario. I would have you see to their needs.”

Her mind pieced together the request. The fact that she needed to act as an interpreter meant that it was an Elven contingent. The fact that they spoke in the Eld Tongue would mean they were highborn as well, but High Elves weren’t the type to leave the inner domains of the Forests so easily. That meant it must be others capable of those acting in their place. “I will assist in whatever way I can, but do you know what their wish is?”

“Something or other about Rakia. I’ll leave you to learn the particulars and help them with the planning once you’re back on your feet and on the surface so do your best, Dear Sharan.”

Fanfic Recommendation 110


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 30

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

Summary: In the distant past, before the Gods descended onto the lower world, Heroes made contracts with Spirits to fight the monsters born from the Dungeon. But with the descent of the Gods and the advent of the Falna, those Heroes and Spirits have passed onto legend. However, with the discovery of a certain object in the Dungeon, these legends will return to life once more.


A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Ash falls back in time to Hisui.


A Fate Stay Night x Persona 4 Fanfic

Summary: A chance decision leads to an unlikely discovery. The mention of a rumor leads to an unbelievable mystery. And the connection to a long forgotten family leads to an unforgettable experience. Welcome to Inaba, Yu Narukami… or should I say Shirou Emiya?

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 30 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 30: The Opening of the Third Act

Elation. Joy. Those were the emotions that welled up inside of me as I cast my first spell, sending the wind called forth by the words bequeathed to me into the sky. Enraptured as I was recalling the feeling I had when I saw Mother first cast a spell for Father’s sake, I knew that this was what this Magic existed for—to protect my precious family and become the wind beneath his wings.

I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to show Argo. I had the power to protect him now. His dream wouldn’t be far off. So, the moment we were alone, I attempted to do so…

Only for him to be injured by the very same Magic meant to protect him.

—The Cost of Hubris

[-|-|-|-]

Hurry uppppp. I wanna catch another man before it’s too lateee.”

“I’m afraid the sun has already begun to rise, Lady Lena,” Haruhime said apologetically while applying medicinal ointment onto the bruised, coppery cheek of one of the youngest Amazons within the Berabera. “The district has closed for the day.”

Lena Tally let out a dejected whine before wincing as doing so exaggerated the pain of her bruised ribs. Amazons were adept at fighting through their injuries, adrenaline and excitement pushing the pain to the back of their minds. But she had just woken up from the beating she’d gotten hours ago, so she was still feeling it. “That Toad is horrible!”

The two of them were in one of the rooms within Belit Babili, the residence of the Berabera that served as the elite fighting force of the Ishtar Familia. Haruhime had been at work all night in her duties as a Kamuro, tending to the women’s needs as a larger than normal surge of men flooded the Pleasure District. Though they occasional prowled in a pack, during nights like these the vivacious Amazons would go after their own individual prey and bring them back here when they had finished working—the men they brought back here were for pleasure rather than profit.

However, Lena had the misfortune of bringing her prized catch around when Phryne had been active. The Captain of the Ishtar Familia had a habit of taking men who caught her eye even if one of the other women had claimed them. And while Lena tried to prevent her prize from being stolen, the difference in their Levels made it clear that simply wasn’t happening.

Violence between the Berabera was somewhat commonplace, being Amazons and such. But they rarely inflicted severe enough injuries to permanently harm one another. The typical response was to throw the defeated woman into a room to let her sleep off the injuries while the victor enjoyed the spoils, but Phryne couldn’t be bothered to do that much and Haruhime ended up moving her into the room while resolving to deal with the aftermath later on.

Thick indents around Lena’s lower leg showed where she had been grabbed, likely from an attempt at a kick that failed. The large, bruised section of her torso where the tawny skin darkened to a blackish-purple hue, was from being slammed against a nearby pillar. The discoloration on her stomach came from a follow-up punch that probably forced her to empty the contents of her meal considering the dried vomit Haruhime wiped away earlier.

Then there was how her cheek was swollen. It wasn’t enough of an impression for a punch, but instead a back-handed slap. But considering the Level difference that was still enough to send her sprawling into the furniture hard enough to shatter the frame—which the Renard plucked her out of before bringing her here.

The Kamuro could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for Lena’s partner to watch it happen before he was dragged away. She knew that Phryne had her own personal… lair, for lack of a better term. She would keep him there until she was done with him…

Haruhime,” a familiar voice softly passed through the door to the room before it creaked open. The morning sunlight spilling through the hall window outlined Aisha’s body as she stood there with her hands on her hips. “I spotted the damage out front. Was it Phryne?”

The Renard Kamuro turned and nodded. “It was a minor altercation between Lady Phryne and Lady Tally over a man. I’m tending to her injuries now with medicinal cream, but may I be permitted to use potions given the nature of her injuries?”

Potions and other expensive medical supplies were regulated on Ishtar’s orders. Part of the reason the Goddess of Love didn’t want them used so casually was that such fights were common enough occurrences that it would become costly, even with the ease they could make up the expenses. But it was also because she was anticipating the arrival of the final thing needed to wage war on the Freya Familia, and she didn’t want any sudden expenditures alerting the opposition before then.

Aisha’s purple eyes took in the scope of Lena’s injuries before she sighed. “Lena, take a few from the stock and use them in the shower.”

The young Amazon perked up. “But Lady Ishtar won’t like that, will she?”

“A few going missing won’t be noticed since the Toad is going to take a bunch to keep the poor sap she stole from dying given how sloppy she is,” Aisha justified, knowing how Phryne often left the men she captured. She’d put them through hell to get off, but she wouldn’t let them die since if they went missing after entering the district it would cause problems. Once she had her fun and made sure they wouldn’t talk, she’d dump them into Daedalus Street. “Besides, as busy as it was last night, I don’t think Ishtar would care much.”

“It was busier than normal around this time, wasn’t it?” Lena inquired towards Haruhime, who nodded once in agreement. “Did something happen at the Holy Moon Festival?”

It wasn’t unusual for more customers to come into the district during the Holy Moon Festival. Specifically, individuals who tended to be single and were looking to relieve the stress they felt upon viewing couples during the holiday. Most of the Pleasure District increased their prices in anticipation of that as well, so a larger flood of customers at the time was a boon from a purely financial standpoint.

“Apparently, Cottontail won some kind of contest and caught the eye of some foreign Virgin Goddess,” Aisha explained, her gaze shifting slightly at the sight of vulpine ears snapping upwards. “From there it seems to have turned into enough of a mess that his place is being guarded by the Ganesha Familia now. Anyway, hurry up and go take care of yourself, Lena.”

Lena got to her feet and made to do just that, leaving the two of them alone. But, as Haruhime finished putting the medical supplies away and prepared to follow her out, the Amazon shut the door. Confused, her ears inquisitively tilted as Aisha’s expression tightened. “Is something wrong, Lady Aisha?”

“…Hermes was present at the festival,” she began after a moment. “He departed after Cranel won, but from what I could tell Phryne paid a visit to his manor on Ishtar’s orders. She left both empty-handed and in a foul mood, so it doesn’t appear as though he had the Killing Stone this time.”

I suppose that explains why she went that far with Lady Lena,” Haruhime said softly, guilt lacing her tone. “If the issue of the missing potions comes up, I will take full responsibility for it.”

Aisha’s lips pursed tightly before it turned into a dejected huff at the fact that the Renard showed remorse that someone else suffered for the fact that she had a reprieve from her fated end. “Go get some rest. You’ve been just as busy as the rest of us tonight.”

“But I still have to clean—” Her words were cut off when Aisha tenderly placed a finger onto her lips to silence her.

I’ll have it taken care of,” Aisha insisted softly before she turned the door and nodded in that direction. “Head back to your room and go to sleep. I’ll come to see you later with breakfast.”

“…Have a good night then, Lady Aisha.” Haruhime bowed her head before shuffling her way out of the room. If she noticed the gaze upon her back from the Amazonian Warrior, she showed no sign as she navigated through the maze of hallways as she did nearly every night.

Never knowing when it would be the last time.

[-Twilight Manor-]

Elfy Colette became aware of a familiar soft sensation beneath her as the bliss of unconsciousness slowly melted away. It was the comfort of a bed cradling her body. But her addled mind couldn’t recall how she ended up there.

That last thing I remember was… Her mind snapped back into full awareness as the memories of what had to be last night came back into the forefront of her consciousness. Lefiya and that Elf kissing. Aki holding her as she cried before slipping her back into the manor through the window.

Her eyelids snapped open as she shot upright to find that she was in her bedroom. She lifted the sheets and found that she was in her clothes from last night. Then she leaned over the edge of her top bunk and peered down to the bed below to find that it was empty…

Pulling herself back up onto her bed, Elfy realized that it wasn’t just a dream. Lefiya kissing that other Elf. Humiliating herself in front of Aki. All of that happened.

There were no words to describe the depths of shame she felt when she remembered how she had blurted out everything that she had been holding onto until then. Secrets she hoped would never see the light of day had all been spilled out to one of her seniors. Just the very thought of it made her stomach churn to the point she felt she was going to be sick.

Elfy climbed out of bed and made for the door to head to the bathroom before she could vomit. But as soon as she opened the door, a familiar face appeared from further down the hallway. It was Anakitty Autumn.

The Cat Person smiled upon seeing her and raised her hand in greeting. “El—”

The door shut before the words could finish crossing the distance. Elfy found herself pressing her back against it before her mind caught up with what she had done. She whimpered softly, knowing that she was going too far but being unable to help herself.

Knock. Knock. Knock. That was when there was a knock on the door that was followed by a compassionate voice. “Elfy…. do you want to talk?

She didn’t. What she wanted was to just forget any of it happened and was tempted to remain quiet in the hopes that her Level Four senior would just go away. But Anakitty didn’t deserve that after spending last night comforting the younger girl. So the mage fought against her urges and opened the door, keeping her eyes to the ground as she apologized. “I’m sorry, Aki. I-I just

It’s okay.” Anakitty’s voice was gentle as she responded with that same patient tone from before. “I just want to know how you are feeling. Can I come in?

“I’m okay, but a little nauseous,” Elfy admitted before opening the door wider to allow her to enter. Once she did, the mage shut the door and then leaned against it while still looking down at the carpeted floor. She couldn’t bring herself to look the older girl in the eyes. “About last night, you didn’t…”

Feline ears twitched slightly before she craned her head in understanding. “Don’t worry. I haven’t told anyone. Last night stays between us.”

The assurance of privacy was enough to quell the rampant nausea in her stomach. Even so, she still felt a great weight upon her heart considering how much she had revealed. And then there was the question of just how much her senior had known. “What you said last night about holding it in all this time… has it been obvious how I felt about Lefy?”

Crossing her arms at the waist, the Level Four’s tail flicked before she inclined her head forward slightly. “Not in the way you think. Rather, it’s… the little things that added up over time. Sometimes when she enters the cafeteria while you’re there, your posture straightens up as if you want her to notice you. Or when the two of you are just talking, your eyes will linger on hers. And occasionally you’ll wear a small smile in a way that brightens up your face. Alone they don’t really stand out, but together they paint a picture of a girl in love.”

Elfy’s hand rose to brush the corners of her lips as she tried to recall those moments. The way she always felt then. Spikes of joy, fluttering moments of excitement, a sense of delight at spending time with her. She could feel her lips slowly folding upwards with the tips of her fingers. “She didn’t notice though.”

“It’s easier to notice all the signs piling up from a distance,” her senior explained. “Even so, it wasn’t like I could say anything since it wasn’t my place. It could have caused more problems in the end. The best I could do was be there for you when you headed off, given the fact that Lefiya hasn’t exactly been subtle either. She’s been acting a bit different as well.”

Just like that the memories of that kiss between the friend she loved and what she could never be bubbled back to the surface of Elfy’s mind. The small joy fled along with the budding smile. “It was stupid of me to feel this way even knowing that she would never look at me that way.”

Anakitty was careful as she gently peeled back her insecurities. “Because you don’t feel like you’re special?”

Tension and shame threaded the mage’s body and left her in a state of discomfort. “It’s not that I’m not grateful to others for everything they’ve done. I know how hard they’ve worked and how much they struggled to get there. But it feels like they’re so far ahead of me that there’s a gap I can’t ever cross.”

To say it was a gap was an understatement. It was more of a canyon, a gaping maw leading to an abyss where hopes and dreams were swallowed by the darkness. She was on one side that consisted of the path traveled and places known, where there were comforts and security. The special ones stood on the other side, heading off to the unknown with the sun ahead of them.

“And you were fine with that because that was what separated heroes from ordinary people…” Aki’s voice was quiet as she spoke. “Something about them allows them to cross that gap fearlessly and puts them on an entirely different level. Whereas you couldn’t even if you wanted to because your legs would stiffen knowing what awaits you when you fail. Is that it?”

It was as though she was reading Elfy’s mind. “Yeah. For me to even be part of the same Familia as them is something I can take pride in, even if there was no way I can hope to be more than a normal mage. But it’s different for someone like Lefy.”

Even if the two of them were stuck on the same side, opposite of those heroes, they weren’t the same. Elfy could only watch from a distance no matter how hard she tried. But for Lefiya there was a small bridge that only she could cross, left behind by Lady Riveria. It was narrow, and if she took one wrong step she could slip off and fall. But even knowing that she still moved across it at her own pace until she could cross the gap and stand next to them.

“I know she’s struggled so hard to get where she has,” Elfy continued, sinking down onto the ground and curling up once more. “She’s nice and sweet and works so hard that I can’t help but want to cheer her on. But, at the same time, I… envy her because she has the talent to make it that far.”

“It’s not just talent that allowed them to get that far,” Anakitty said, rising to her feet and coming over to her junior. “They have something that we don’t that’ll let them become heroes of legend one day. Something pushing them forward even though they don’t know what’s awaiting them. For the Captain, it’s wanting to become a beacon to his race. For Lefiya, I think it’s because she wants to live up to the expectations placed upon her. Even for them, it’s wanting to see the hero they admire so much in front of them despite everything. Everyone has something like that to push them forward…”

Peering past her knees as the Level Four crouched down so they were on the same eye level, Elfy found herself asking, “What about you then?”

Anakitty’s eyes closed as her ears flickered in thought. “I suppose it’s because I want to see the same thing that the person whom I respect the most does. Even if I can’t follow behind them, I can ease their burden along with the others by making the Familia as comfortable as possible for others around us. How about you?”

I…” She trailed off as her mind flashed back to her earliest desire. The desire to become a Mage of great renown. It was a dream that was never meant to be when she was in the same Familia as people such as Lady Riveria and Lefiya. No matter how hard she chased after them she would never be on par with them.

But that desire was still there. To, at the very least go as far as she could, even if she couldn’t stand next to them. The path that her best friend walked wasn’t the same one that she could follow, so she would have to find another. “I want to improve my Magic, so I guess I’ll focus on my studies and work on raising my Status for the moment.”

“Let me know anytime you want to go into the Dungeon for practice then,” Anakitty said while gently brushing her head. “I’ll make time to come with you. Okay?”

“If it won’t be too much of a bother for you…” A small smile found its way on her lips despite the turmoil still within her chest. “…Aki, thank you for being there for me.”

[-Backstreets-]

It should be around here,” Lefiya Viridis murmured to herself as walked along paved roads of the Labyrinth City that were neglected compared to the Main Street, her gaze fixed on a hand-drawn map. The Half-Elf, no longer under her guise as Feena but having the illusion mask her clothing to not draw attention, was traveling along narrow side streets that were smothered by tall buildings that seemed to jealously steal the light of the morning sun hanging high in the air. That left it bathed in the newly arrived autumn chill nipping at the exposed flesh beneath her illusionary clothing.

Her brother and his Familia had departed from hours ago, and since then she had taken it upon herself to act as a messenger. Specifically, she was delivering letters that would explain their abrupt absence to their friends and acquaintances. It was taking her around the city considering the different walks of life they all had, giving her an idea of their social circles and their lives outside of the Dungeon.

The first, and probably most disheartening thing she noticed was that Primo had no one to deliver a letter to. The Hestia Familia was essentially her family at this point, and she hadn’t made any friends outside of them yet given she had just arrived at the city shortly ago. Hopefully, she would get the chance to socialize with others around her own age at some point, because while Lefiya did enjoy her company she knew that the young Elf needed people around her who would treat her as a friend rather than a younger sister or student.

Then there was Welf Crozzo. His letter had been addressed to his former Goddess, along with one from Lady Hestia. Those she had to deliver to the Goddess of the Forge, who had apparently been expecting to hear from Lady Hestia since she had a part-time job there and was thus one of the easiest to get in contact with on the list of deliveries the Half-Elf had to make. Upon receiving the notice, she had sighed before stating that it couldn’t be helped if it was a request from the Guild and Artemis.

The Guild had been next on her list after that. Bell had written a letter to his Guild Advisor, the Half-Elf that worked there named Eina Tulle. When Lefiya arrived, she had spotted her in the middle of mediating between the Elf and Dwarf from last night. The two of them were inquiring into her relationship with Bell, which she maintained was purely professional.

At that point Lefiya felt the need to step in, so she asked if Miss Tulle could speak with her about an important manner in private and stressed the urgency. It had given the older Half-Elf the perfect excuse to shoo the pair off by reminding them that the Guild was a place of business and not for unfounded rumors before guiding her off to one of the soundproof rooms. Once there, Lefiya explained the situation with the letter from Bell and apologized for making it sound more urgent than it was but thought it would be best.

Those two had apparently been Adventurers who, much like Bell, had been under her guidance in their earlier days and had also reached Level Three at present. The fiasco and rumors from last night had driven them to ‘reaffirm’ that they didn’t believe those rumors about her and Bell, because there’s no way a woman as dignified as her would enter a relationship with a boy like him. It was both condescending to Bell and presumptuous given that it was clear they considered themselves more suitable candidates.

Lefiya committed their names to memory for later before explaining that Bell would likely be absent for the next month. Considering how often Adventurers disappeared and Bell had been regularly attending her lessons, which had been helping to shore up his lack of experience, it was natural to worry that he probably didn’t survive if he went missing for a month without warning. While Lefiya still didn’t know how to feel about another Half-Elf taking on her sororal duties, it was only proper to let Eina know so she didn’t worry about his sudden disappearance before handing over the letter and setting off to her next destination.

That had been the Hostess of Fertility. Bell had written a letter to the silver-haired Human Waitress there, who didn’t seem too surprised that he wouldn’t be coming by after what happened last night. Out of curiosity, Lefiya had inquired if Miss Ryuu had returned, but it seemed that she was still missing as well.

After that, Miss Mikoto’s delivery had taken her to the Takemikazuchi Familia, to whom Lady Hestia had also written a letter for. Lefiya’s appearance at their home had been unexpected, but the God of War had already been accommodating a Renard and Hume Bunny from the Soma Familia that morning, so it wasn’t an intrusion. He mentioned that he would work out the details with Lord Miach, whom she was searching for now.

The area that Lefiya was in now was rather dilapidated compared to the Main Street, a backstreet formed of buildings clustered that normally wouldn’t be traversed by a non-resident of the western blocks. It was virtually abandoned in terms of foot traffic, which she presumed was because most of the residents were likely at work, though she could spot a group of individuals with weapons leaving one smaller building that had an emblem with the outline of a human body—it was the Blue Pharmacy.

The Half-Elf made her way to the double wooden doors and stepped through it with a greeting on her lips. “Pardon me for the—”

Her words died as she entered the shop and spied at the end of the maze of shelves stocked with medicinal supplies a pair of women she hadn’t seen since the War Game. Specifically, the last two members of the Apollo Familia they had to deal with along with Hyacinthus. The Healer had a different staff than before but the fact that they were both armed and here led her to immediately reach for her spare wand.

“Easy there,” the red-haired girl said, stepping in front of the dark-haired one before reaching for her sleeve and showing the emblem affixed to it. The fact that her other hand made for the hilt of her sword didn’t elude the Half-Elf. “I don’t know what’s going through your head, but we’re part of this Familia now.”

As Lefiya considered the validity of her claim, the door beyond the counter opened. The Chienthrope with half-lidded eyes emerged from within along with her God. “Ah, what’s going on here?”

“These two are claiming they’re members of your Familia now,” Lefiya said, wand still in her grasp. “Is that true?”

“Though I hadn’t had a chance to inform Hestia or the others, these two children have formally joined my Familia,” Lord Miach stated as he came around the corner and interposed himself between the two sides. “You don’t have to be worried for our sakes.”

“They’ve actually been a big help,” Nahza added. “We’ve been getting a lot more customers since the War Game and having them being able to go into the Dungeon has made it easier to procure the Drop Items we need directly.”

Lefiya slowly put away her wand even as she bit down on the question that she wanted to ask. Namely, if they were trustworthy. “Lord Miach, may I speak with you in private? I have a delivery to make on behalf of Lady Hestia.”

He gestured towards the room he and his Captain had just been inside of. “I understand things had been a little chaotic since last night and had been wanting to ask Hestia about the details myself.”

She followed him behind with a silent tension running along her spine from the presence of the two young women until he shut the door. Then she breathed out a sigh and apologized. “My apologies for any disturbance I may have caused you. I had thought they may have been here to cause problems considering your involvement in the War Game.”

It wasn’t a stretch to say that the Chienthrope and her patron deity were as responsible as Bell was for the fall of the Apollo Familia. It was their contributions that allowed them to disable a good deal of the larger Familia with contemptuous ease. But unlike Lady Hestia’s Familia, they were much more vulnerable to harassment from former members if they were looking for revenge.

“There is no need to worry about such things,” he assured her. “As per the wager made with Hestia, many of those who were pressed into the Apollo Familia had their Falna unlocked and open for Conversion. I understand you may have some reservations about them considering you were previously fighting one another, please do not blame them for following the orders of their God. They had no choice in the matter.”

Logically, Lefiya understood that. Once you joined a Familia you were bound to the whims of the one whose Falna you bore on your back. Whether they wanted to attack Bell or not, they had no say in the matter since being a good member of a Familia meant being loyal above all else. It was harder to trust someone who openly betrayed their Familia like that Pallum whom Bell’s little friend imitated, so the fact that they obeyed to the best of their abilities despite wanting out enough to leave when given the chance only served to prove that they would be loyal to whichever Familia they joined.

But, at the same time, she still remembered her younger brother laying broken and bleeding that day thanks to the two of them, along with their Captain. That made her… slightly less sympathetic than she would be under normal circumstances. And a lot more suspicious.

“Please forgive me if this sounds offensive,” Lefiya began, “But it still seems odd that they willingly chose to join your Familia with their prospects. My own grievances aside, I could imagine many would have sought them out.”

Daphne had fought with two Level Twos with a decent level of competency considering the odds against her. And she demonstrated her willingness to protect an ally at the expense of her own health. Not to mention being one of the Commanders of the Apollo Familia, who had also participated in the defeat of a Monster Rex.

Cassandra possessed the Treatment Development Ability. That required medical knowledge in the same way someone who had the Mage Development Ability needed extensive knowledge of the arcane. And Healers were somewhat rarer than even Mages, so a Medical Familia would naturally seek her out.

Lefiya could imagine they had a lot of offers, so why did they respond to his? Though his appearance as befitting of one of the divinity was noble and immaculate, one could easily see from his clothing that he was not as financially well-off as many middle-ranked Familia. Much less on par with Apollo himself, who had extremely high standards considering the state of his mansion when Lady Hestia allowed her inside with Bell.

The blue-haired God of Medicine only smiled in response to her question. “I will admit that I hadn’t expected them to join my Familia when I made an offer given how high their prospects were likely to be and the situation our Familia was in. But despite that, they both agreed to join for their own personal reasons and have been very helpful. I had intended to speak with Hestia about it, but it has been rather busier than normal considering the War Game.”

“Then I won’t call into question their loyalty again,” Lefiya said before bowing her head. “Forgive me if it may have seemed as though I was overstepping my bounds considering my own involvement with events I really shouldn’t have been involved with.”

The Takemikazuchi and Miach Familia were aware of the extent she went to support Bell, including disguising herself. But as far as they knew it was merely because of a bond of comradery rather than familial ties. Even so, them knowing that much when not even her own Familia was aware left her with little high ground even compared to those two from the Apollo Familia.

“No offense taken,” he said. “Now, what was the message from Hestia that you wanted to share with me?”

She pulled the letter from her bag and summarized the situation about Bell departing with the others. He stated he would work out an arrangement with Lord Takemikazuchi since he couldn’t leave the shop unattended, and she offered to help in whatever way she could when she had the time. Then he gave her a Double Potion and saw her out.

With that, she only had a final delivery to make. The letter to the owner of a pawnshop that was also within another set of complex backstreets that Lefiya would probably have gotten lost in if not for the directions written down. They brought her to a one-story wooden building that had a rustic feeling despite being tucked between a few other stone buildings. Yet the moment she arrived at the door her senses felt a slight presence that somewhat reminded her of the Spirit Forest.

The reason for that was revealed when she entered through the door that was rather tight on its frame and locked eyes with a white-bearded individual beyond the counter of a somewhat messy showroom. No, not an individual. It might have been because of her exposure to the multitude of the Minor Spirits within the Spirit Forest, but though it was faint her senses were telling her this was a Spirit.

For his part, the Spirit crinkled his nose as he hummed to himself. “Well, this was unexpected. To what do I owe the pleasure a visit from one clad in such fine garments as yourself?”

“I’m here to deliver a letter to a Bom Cornwall, but…” the Half-Elf trailed off as she looked down to see that she was still disguised when his words registered. Her memory of what Lady Riveria had said when she had given her them for the trip surfaced and realization dawned. “You can see through the illusion, can’t you?”

“My senses aren’t the same as mortals,” he conveyed. “I’d appreciate you keepin’ that a secret from Lili, mind you.”

Lefiya realized that Bell’s little friend must not have known either that he could perceive through the illusion. Chances were no one would since the number of Spirits who had a level of sapience that allowed them to interact with the physical world and mortals in a day-to-day manner in this age were slim. “Of course, but if I could ask the same about…”

He managed to pick up where she was trailing off as she gestured to herself and the disguise. “My lips are sealed considerin’ I won a bit of a wager myself during the War Game. Anyway, you got somethin’ for me?”

She approached the counter and pulled out the letter before explaining that Liliruca would be absent for the next month. But as he perused the contents of the letter a question cropped up in her mind and her curiosity eventually overflowed. “Forgive me for asking this, but why is a venerated spirit such yourself present in a place like this?”

Her inquiry was met with a slight chuckle as he set the letter down. “Venerated, you say. You’re mistaken, I’m afraid. Even for those of us who’ve the minds to speak without a contract, we’ve no power on par with those in the Ancient Times to warrant being venerated. As for what leaves a Gnome like myself in a humble place like this… tell me, what kind of people do you believe would come here?”

Looking around at the storefront that was far more disheveled than most of the stores along the area she normally shopped, there was a great deal of variety in what was on display. From armor that looked as though it had seen many battles to little trinkets that held little value other than novelty, the only things that stood out extensively were the most expensive goods—jewelry, a staff, and a magic sword among them.

“I can’t say that there’s a specific group in particular,” was her response. “It doesn’t seem as though you cater to only adventurers or any race. The prices also have a large enough gap that, outside of things that are expensive for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t be able to tell at a glance.”

“Exactly,” he answered. “Mortals that walk through that door have different values and that can be reflected in what they take and what they leave behind. Trinkets that have little value to others may become treasures to others. Reminders of painful memories or broken dreams that can one day become the seedbed for another’s journey. From behind the counter of this little shop, I’ve been given a chance to learn a great deal about people I couldn’t otherwise.”

Spirits that existed in the world these days were merely shadows of those who existed during the Ancient Era and the Age of Heroes. That was because in that age those who could be seen as heroes were far and fewer between and, with no Falna to put mortals on par with the greater threats, the Spirits who aided them at the beckoning of the Gods needed to be capable of bequeathing them that power. But it was likely that the only Spirits that remained and were on par with those of ancient times were those who had fallen in the Dungeon. So what was a Spirit that had taken on a corporeal form to do in a world that no longer required their existence?

For the Gnome that defined himself as Bom Cromwell, it had been to own and operate a pawnshop. The customers revealed their values and what they held dear as the exchange was made. Whether it be desperation to keep going on by giving up something precious or putting all their hopes into buying something to chase a dream, their emotions were laid bare before him in the process and collected in the items he surrounded himself with.

“Though, I’ve found myself curious why someone of such standin’ as yourself went out of your way to enter a contract with two Minor Spirits,” he said after she took a moment to process his response. “I can feel their touch upon you, which is a rarity in this age. Surely what you gained from them is less than what your blessin’ gives you, Thousand Elf?”

Lefiya took a moment to close her eyes and ruminate on the question before she took Lady Lilo’s advice to heart and laid bare her true emotions as she spoke. “…I sought them out so I would have the ability to protect the people I care about. It’s undeniable that the two spells I received from the Wind Spirit and Sea Spirit aren’t as powerful or versatile as the three I gained through my Falna. But it’s thanks to their gifts that I didn’t have to sit back and watch as someone I cared about had their freedom taken away. And….”

She trailed off for a moment as she remembered Lady Lilo and Lady Riveria’s desires. Their concerns over the state of their race led them in opposite directions, one hoping to cling to isolation to preserve their numbers and knowledge, while the other would travel far to build bonds with the other races. Yet both of them wanted her to carry their Magic and culture into the future.

And Lefiya’s own desires were to live up to those expectations, becoming a vessel to carry their knowledge and traditions into the unknown dawn. “From our ancestors who struggled during those dark times to this very moment, our people owe much to you and your kin. The fact that I can preserve something precious to my race and bring it with me into the future is an honor. That makes the Magic bequeathed to me by your kin invaluable, even if to others they don’t seem like much.”

“Is that so?” His gaze lingered on her azure eyes as they met his unflinchingly and without any hints of dishonesty. Then they shifted back to the letter, and he stroked his beard contemplatively in thought before asking a simple question. “In that case… how would like to strike a deal with me?”

Fanfic Recommendation 109


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 27 – 29

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.

Take a Breath (Part 1)

Summary: Bell Cranel should have died on the Sixth Floor. But the one who came to the rescue of the neophyte adventurer was none other than a Monster on a floor she shouldn’t be on. And like that the Hestia Familia had become a family of three. (Demon Slayer!Alt Power) (Part 1 of 2 uploaded)


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

Summary: In the distant past, before the Gods descended onto the lower world, Heroes made contracts with Spirits to fight the monsters born from the Dungeon. But with the descent of the Gods and the advent of the Falna, those Heroes and Spirits have passed onto legend. However, with the discovery of a certain object in the Dungeon, these legends will return to life once more.

 


A Danmachi Fanfic

Summary: What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and found yourself alone in the world? One-shot!

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 29 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 29: The Close of the Festival

The first spirit that I was to make a Contract with happened to be a Wind Spirit. Of the spirits that gathered around Elio, it seemed like the most amicable to me in a way. So, I went about the ritual to try and learn my first spell from it.

I was nervous. Even though I wanted Magic so badly, I still felt that I would fail and be unable to do anything. And knowing the spirit could sense that as well, it made things even harder under Elio’s watchful gaze.

My nerves would have gotten the better of me if I hadn’t thought of what my brother would say if I failed. He’d probably tell me it was okay, and I’d get it next time with a smile. That was the kind of person he was, always smiling for the sake of others.

If he wanted to go where the wind took him so that he could help others smile, then I wanted to clear the path for him. I wanted the power to blow away anything standing in the way of his dream, to repay him for the life he saved without asking for anything in return. So, I beckoned the wind to grant my wish for his sake…

And the wind stirred as words drifted into my mind.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic IV: The First Spell

[-|-|-|-]

 

Wow, for even a Level Six to be unable to pull it out…” Bell murmured to himself as he watched the Werewolf depart the stage. He and Hestia had finished dancing and decided to meet back up with everyone when they had been drawn to the scene by Hermes’ announcement.

“Captain, can you try too?” Primo asked, pointing to the stage.

Bell jerked in surprise at being put on the spot. “Me?”

“It can’t hurt,” Hestia said. “Besides, if we got the vacation maybe we could all go somewhere fun to get away from the city for a bit?”

“If one of the Loki Familia’s executives couldn’t pull it out, what chance do I have?” Bell pointed out. “And if I did, wouldn’t that just put more attention on us while we’re still trying not to draw attention to ourselves?”

“Considering everything else, it wouldn’t surprise me if people were used to it by now,” Lili muttered. “And at least if it’s an all-paid expenses trip, we could take advantage of the absence to wait for the attention to die down.”

“It would be nice if I didn’t have to keep getting side-eye from the ones that still poke around,” Welf admitted as well. “And as far as candidates go, you’ve probably got a better shot than any of us.”

“I agree with them, Sir Bell,” Mikoto said.

And just like that Bell had been volunteered by his entire Familia. He really didn’t expect to be able to liberate the spear from its confines as he stepped onto the stage and felt a lot more eyes on him than he was comfortable with. But the moment he wrapped his hands around the shaft of the spear…

At last, I found you.

The voice of a woman echoed in his mind. It resonates with the divine script that appeared over the shaft in a manner reminiscent of the Blade of the Hearth that Lady Hestia had bequeathed him. But as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.

And the spear came unbound.

It… actually came out,” Bell muttered as he stumbled back, looking at it with a confused gaze. Then mixed sounds came from the audience. There were cheers from some, wavering between enthusiastic to polite clapping, and he could pick up some resentful scoffs from others who’d note that of course he would pull it out. Some of the resentment from the people who betted against him in the War Game he supposed.

“I can’t say it was expected, but maybe this was fate,” Lord Hermes stated, extending a hand to help Bell back onto his feet. “Now, let us introduce you to our sponsor.”

That said, the Ganesha Familia cleared a path and parted the crowd for a figure who made themselves known. It was a woman… no, that was wrong. Even from a distance, he could feel the air of divinity around her. It was a Goddess, whose hair seemed almost the same shade as the moon above them, drawn back into a braided tail. Her eyes were like emeralds that shone in the dark of night like distant stars, glimmering softly as they met his red eyes.

“I give you the Goddess of the Moon,” Hermes announced as she strode forward. “Artemis.”

Bell realized that was the name of his goddess’ friend back in Heaven. In fact, looking over to her he could see the sheer surprise on her face at the presence of her friend. But the moment his eyes returned to her, she had already closed the distance and was lunging towards him. He held the spear out to the side to avoid accidentally hurting her and freed his other arm to catch her on reflex, but he fell back in surprise while leaving her warm body and…other parts pressed against him.

I’ve found you at last, my Orion!” she declared before leaning her head in and placing a kiss against his cheek, which was only due to the fact that he turned his head in surprise a breath before their lips connected. It was a soft kiss, and from the touch of her lips he felt a mind-numbing sweetness spread throughout his entire head. Then he felt his pulse begin to race as she embraced him and pressed even tighter against him…

APOLOGIZE TO ALL THE MEN WHO ARE LONELY TONIGHT, COTTONTAIL!!!!

Only for the shout of an anguished male voice from the crowd to split the air. It was so raw with passion and fury that it grabbed hold of all eyes. It was one of the male Gods, eyes running red with tears while pointing an accusative finger towards Bell.

The Goddess of the Chastity who repelled all advances,” Jealous God A proclaimed. “The one who would bury an arrow in the eye of any man who would dare gaze upon her gorgeous figure as she bathed. The untouchable and unsociable pillar of the Virgin Goddesses… AND YOU DARE CLAIM HER LIPS FOR YOURSELF WHERE NONE OF THE OTHER GODS HAVE DARED! UNFORGIVABLE!

“Wait, I have no idea—”

Bell’s counterargument was cut off when a Human pushed forward. “THAT’S NOT ALL! I SAW HIM GO ON A DATE WITH THAT CUTE HALF-ELF FROM THE GUILD TWO MONTHS AGO! HE PRACTICALLY HAD HIS HEAD PRESSED AGAINST HER BOSOM, LAUGHING GIDDILY THE ENTIRE TIME!

That earned a lot of surprised noises from the crowd. The ‘flowers’ of the Guild were largely untouchable and Eina was among the most popular of those who manned the front desks. Being a Half-Elf, and fairly gorgeous, it was naturally some people would recognize her without her glasses when they met by the Bronze Statue early that morning. Bell hadn’t been very famous back then, but now that he had eyes on him that meant people would comb through their memories for both good and ill.

THE ‘ELL YOU SAY!?” barked a Dwarf that pushed his way to the front of the crowd while the Ganesha Familia members looked… confused by the sudden change in focus. He was actually pretty tall for a Dwarf, but he was built powerfully. Oh, and he looked mad as he grabbed the Human by the collar. “GOIN’ AROUND SPOUTIN’ LIES!

“N-No, she was even dressed in a white blouse and a short skirt as they walked along Main Street to Babel,” a Chienthrope added unhelpfully. “She was pressed against his arm and practically glowing.”

At the same time, an elegant-looking Elf confronted the Dog Person. He had long, blonde hair and a slender body. “Baseless accusation. Eina Tulle is the epitome of professionalism and refuses all suitors.”

“Hmmm…. I dunno,” said Mord Latro, rubbing his chin. Bell had seen him come up to the stage beforehand. “I remember awhile back my boys saw they spotted Cottontail with Thousand Elf together in the Under Resort. They were going around shopping together and smiling. Then there’s the whole deal with the Apollo Familia. He’s got a way with them…”

The worst part was, he sounded as if he genuinely admired Bell even as he condemned him further as the crowd began to stir. The murderous intent was actively building around them to the point here it felt like a bonfire was being lit underneath him. And he could just imagine how his sister would react hearing that….

Wait, I can actually feel her magical energy! His eyes actively tracked the sensation and found his sister standing there with her figure shrouded in a dark veil and her eyes glowing crimson. The air tinged with the magical energy as a magic circle sprung to life beneath her feet in a way that distinctly reminded him of the Eighteenth Floor and that had not been fun.

And considering the sheer amount of magical energy she was shedding along with the bloodlust, all eyes were drawn to the Half-Elf standing there and shaking in fury. Her azure eyes looked like flames as she pointed her wand towards Mord. The Level Two Adventurer flinched under her gaze that seemed ready to set him aflame with a glance.

I! WAS! REPLACING! HIS! BOOTS!” Lefiya exclaimed, punctuating each word with an unspoken promise of pain as her date looked surprised while attempting to calm her down. “GOT IT!?

Y-Yes, Thousand Elf, Ma’am!” he answered wisely as the tingle of magical energy still prickled the skin, like she was looking for an excuse to start casting a spell. “Please don’t shoot me!

AND YOU!!” Her burning gaze then shifted onto Bell, who went ramrod straight. “GO! HOME! NOW!!

“I do believe she is upset at the moment,” said the God of Travel calmly, as if he wasn’t in the line of fire for being responsible for the above incident, before turning to Bell. “Perhaps we should take her advice and depart? There’s a lot we need to discuss about your prize.”

Bell decided that would be a very wise course of action considering the Goddess still clinging to him. So he and his Familia very quickly relocated to their home at the Hearth Manor, where they were ushered into a room. The entire time he was traveling, and even now, Bell felt the sensation of someone watching him with an unrelenting stare once more.

“You’ve done well for yourself since that scuffle with Apollo,” Hermes said as he took a seat on one of the two couches within the Living Room on the First Floor and looked above the hearth. There laid the emblem of their Familia, a bell wreathed in gentle flames. “I’m glad to see everything worked out. You even have a new Familia member now.”

His eyes drifted over to Primo, who had taken to the couch opposite himself. She was flanked by both Lili and Bell while Mikoto was on the far end and Welf was standing behind the couch itself. She seemed rather confused about everything in general, which made sense given she had yet to have grown used to his antics.

“You could say the same,” Hestia pointed out as she gestured to the other end of the couch that she shared with him. On it was herself, Artemis, Hermes, and a young Amazon who seemed friendly enough as she accompanied them after they left the stage. “Who is this child?”

“My name’s Gina,” she introduced herself. “I’m a relatively new member of the Hermes Familia. It’s nice to meet all of you.”

“Gina here was recruited a bit before my current assignment led me out of Orario until now,” he explained. “Since she was relatively new, I’ve had her watching the Familia estate here along with some of my other children. She’s here because I’ll be having her to assist with the preparations.”

“And what preparations would that be?” Hestia asked, turning her attention to her old friend whose eyes seemed fixed on Bell. “Artemis, what’s going on?”

“Your child is my Orion,” Artemis told her. “I’ll be needing him to come with me outside of Orario.”

“Goddess or not, you can’t just come and take Master Bell off to who knows where!” Lili said while bristling in her seat. “Especially after the trouble you just caused for him! For all we know this is another Apollo situation!”

“First, let’s calm down and explain the situation clearly,” Hermes said, pulling from inside his jacket a letter and setting it on the table between them. “This is meant to be given to the contest winner—please note the seal on the front of it.”

They did. It was the official seal of the Guild, marking it as legitimate.

Bell carefully reached over and opened it before pulling out the letter inside of it and reading aloud. “To the one who has pulled out the Sacred Spear, the Guild hereby assigns you with a Mission of utmost importance—the subjugation of a Monster along with a coalition of other assembled Familia!”

Lili’s head twisted around at that as she leaned over Bell to peer at the message along with him, as did the others taking in the content of it. It was a Subjugation Mission that was to be carried out effective immediately, and as it was a Mission there was no way to refuse it. That was because unlike Quests that could be undertaken of one’s own volition, this came from the power of the Guild itself.

Hestia allowed her children to peruse the letter itself but instead turned to her old friend for confirmation. “So, you came to Orario to find someone to help you kill a monster?”

“Yes,” Artemis answered, looking over the spear nestled on the flat of the table. “My children and I had been hearing reports about monsters with an explosive breeding rate. Supposedly other Familia had been attempting to deal with them, and along the way, we met with the Astraea Familia. Together, we followed the trail, but the threat proved to be… difficult. So we turned to Orario for the one who could use the Divine Spear to assist us.”

“Even as we speak, Asfi and my other children are there along with Astraea and her children to keep the threat contained,” Hermes added. “The idea was that we would find a suitable candidate and hurry back, so arrangements have been made for said individual and a few others of their Familia to accompany us. The trip will take ten days to get there and that long to get back after the threat has been dealt with.”

Hearing that, Bell couldn’t help but feel uncertain about the weight of it. A monster powerful enough to warrant the intervention of at least three Familia to deal with didn’t sound like a job for someone who had only been an Adventurer for a little while now. “But wouldn’t a more powerful Adventurer be suitable, like Miss Aiz or the Braver?”

“Raw strength doesn’t determine who can use the Divine Spear,” Artemis told him, leaving forward and gently embracing his hands as her emerald eyes became fixed on his rubellite set. “The weapon chooses one based on their heart—one free of corruption and impurity. One who possesses a noble soul that can endure hardships and despair while retaining its purity. In its impartiality, the spear has deemed there is no other more capable than you. Thus, I can only place my hope in you, my Orion.”

Bell felt his words caught in his throat as he felt her touch on his hands and saw the look in her eyes. It was… how should he put it? As if she was lost in the dark and looking for someone to help her. And if there wasn’t someone else who could do it, then he would have to be the one who would. “I don’t know how much help I could be, but if there’s something I can do then I will, Lady Artemis.”

There was gratitude in her voice as she said, “Thank you, Orion.

“I’m coming too!” Lili declared unprompted as their eyes lingered on one another for a prolonged period. “As Master Bell’s Supporter, I go where he does!”

“I’ll come too,” Welf said. “If there’s a monster problem that requires Bell, then it couldn’t hurt to bring along the swords I’ve been working on. They’ll make his job a little easier.”

“I can help too!” Primo said. “I’ve been working hard on my Magic!”

“If there are no objections, I will accompany Sir Bell as well,” Mikoto volunteered. “That’s fine, is it not, Lady Hestia?”

“Any request from a dear friend of mine isn’t one I would turn down, Guild-mandate or not,” Hestia said. “And an empty nest isn’t really comfortable to me, so I’ll be coming too. You can manage that much, right Hermes?”

“Fortunately, we should be able to fit everyone,” Hermes acknowledged, before turning to his child. “Gina, get their measurements and then run them by you-know-who. I’ll head over to tell Ganesha about the count for the travel arrangements.”

“Sure thing, Lord Hermes,” the Amazonian Child said before hopping to her feet. She produced a measuring tape from a pouch on her hips. “I’ll start with you, Cottontail.”

“Not that I’m not grateful,” Bell began as she used the tape to get his sizes. “But if we’re all going, doesn’t that leave the issue of who’ll watch our place while we’re gone—”

The door to their home opened before he could finish, and a rage-filled voice followed. “BELLLLLLL!

In an instant, Bell’s body went rigid as fear found its way into his flesh like biting cold gnawing into his bones. His sister emerged wearing the visage of Feena, and she had changed her outfit’s appearance, likely to prevent her identity from being compromised when she left the crowd. But the flames shrouding her probably gave away that much.

Bell hands went up to placate her as the Amazon stepped away from him, measurements taken. “Forgive me, the situation is a little—urk!!

She had grabbed him and started shaking him by the collar. “FILVIS WAS THERE, BELL! SHE WAS THERE! SHE HEARD IT ALL! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA—”

Please don’t be mad at the Captain!” Primo begged her, coming over and attempting to grab on the illusionary clothes produced by her pendant. When her fingers went through them, she instead settled for grabbing onto her waist. “He only went on stage because of me, so if you want to be mad then be mad at me!

“Primo—no, this isn’t…” His sister trailed off, rage slowly cooling as she looked to the Elven child before she turned her attention to divinities present. “Lady Hestia, can I speak with Bell somewhere in private?”

“The Office will be fine,” Hestia said without missing a beat. “Take as much time as you need.”

Her grip on his collar instead moved to his wrist as Welf liberated the child from her waist. She pulled Bell along hurriedly until they entered the office and then she shut the door. Once they were alone, the Half-Elf grabbed her head and sighed heavily. “…oh Goddess, I showed that side of myself to both Filvis and Primo tonight.

Bell had observed that she was normally calm. But when she got mad, she got scary. Especially when it was at him. At least this time she hadn’t been aiming the spell at him…

“I’m… sorry about that, Bell,” she apologized. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper again.”

“No, I get it,” Bell said. “Tonight was special to you. And you got pulled into it because of me, so…”

“If it was just that then I could handle it,” Lefiya said, her voice lowering into a more somber tone. “But Filvis has a lot of… reservations and I finally got her to open her heart to me tonight. Then she had to hear all of that. I had to struggle to clear up the misconception as best I could by explaining we became friends after you protected me against that monster, but now I have to worry about her doubting where my heart lays right after we finally kissed. This is the worst…”

“I’d be happy to try and explain the situation when we get back,” her brother offered. It was one thing when it was causing problems for him, but it was another for his sister. And he couldn’t imagine how much trouble it might cause Miss Eina either. “Though, I’m afraid it’ll be some time from the look of it.”

She took in his words before asking, “What did you get yourself into this time?”

[-Living Room-]

“Hestia, who was that girl?” Artemis asked while the two of them were alone within the Living Room. Since the mission was decided and all the measurements were taken, what was left was for the children to pack their belongings.

“I suppose you could say she’s someone important to Bell, but other than that it’s not my place to say,” Hestia gave her by way of an explanation. “But while we’re alone, what made you change your mind, Artemis?”

“What do you mean?”

“You were against romantic relationships between men and women, right?” Hestia pointed out. “Yet you didn’t hesitate to kiss Bell and declare your love for him in front of a bunch of strangers. That’s pretty out of character for you.”

Being Virgin Goddesses, both Hestia and Artemis had eschewed pursuing relationships when they were in Heaven. For Hestia, it was the fact that it was part of her dominion to focus on family and tranquility as the Goddess of the Hearth, so it wasn’t in her nature to pursue a romantic partner while above. It also didn’t help that there were guys like Apollo and Zeus around, but she never truly objected to the union of man and woman.

For Artemis, it was a different story. She openly detested relationships between men and women, to where she couldn’t stand the sight of it. And while she could still forge friendships, she did struggle for the most part and found it easier to relate to beasts, so she would often hunt with them as a result.

Part of why she was fond of Hestia was because she was empathetic enough that she could understand and reach out to others as needed. Even if the other party struggled to do the same. The hearth was calm and peaceful, even during the most troubling of times, and even if she used that as an excuse to be a recluse in her Temple for the most part.

The Goddess of the Moon closed her eyes as she mulled over the words. Then, with a small voice, she asked, “…Is it wrong to want to experience it for once?

Hestia quirked her head at how frail her tone was in that moment, such a strong contrast to her usual demeanor compared to when they were above. “Don’t tell me that Aphrodite’s words got to you after all this time?”

Aphrodite was one of the Goddesses of Beauty that were around the same space as they were and would often pick fights with her. She had approached them one day to get on Artemis about how she was using chastity as an excuse to avoid being dirtied but was missing out on life by not allowing herself to experience what it meant to fall in love. It had apparently gotten under her skin.

“One of my children often told me that love was beautiful. She’d try to convince me, but I’d dismissed it so easily every time. Then…” She trailed off into a deep silence as she looked down at her own hands. “Is it wrong that I want to try to fall in love with someone, while I still have the chance?”

“It’s not wrong to want to experience something for the first time, but Bell won’t be able to reciprocate if you approach him one-sidedly like that,” Hestia told her. “Especially considering you’re a Goddess. To him, we’re to be revered. And while I want him to move away from that mindset, pressing him like that won’t work.”

“Then what should I do?” Artemis asked, which made sense considering she wasn’t familiar with what it meant to fall in love. Nor would she have many examples to draw from since she forbade it in her own Familia and had those who would pursue such a relationship leave.

“You should try getting to know him first and letting him get to know you,” Hestia advised. “That can help close the distance to where he’ll start seeing you as a woman rather than a goddess, though I can’t promise he’ll reciprocate.”

The Goddess of the Moon regarded her words carefully before looking to the emblem hanging above the fireplace. “I never imagined you would start a Familia. It seemed like too much work for you compared to before.”

“Well, part of that is because Hephaestus forced me to get a job after kicking me out of her place,” Hestia admitted. “My time here will be limited, and if I had remained as I was then I wouldn’t have a chance to experience half the things I could while I still can.”

Artemis’ emerald eyes softened as they returned back to the Goddess of the Hearth. “…Hestia, I understand a little better now about the decision you made coming down. The Flam—”

“Lady Hestia,” called from beyond of the room before she could finish. It was Bell’s sister, with him following behind as they entered the room. “Bell told me that you’ll have to leave Orario for almost a month for a mission. And while he couldn’t give me the details, I wanted to ask if there’s anything I can do to help like arranging for a friendly Familia to housesit to avoid anything from being taken or damaged?”

“Ah, right. We can’t just leave this place alone now,” Hestia said, rising up to her feet. Bell’s growth was abnormal because he was a Rare Gem. That meant information on him would be at a premium, and they’d probably look for anything that could explain his growth, such as the copies of his sheet that Primo brought up during their first training session.

And Welf’s forge would likely be raided, if not for his Magic Swords, then to stop him from making them. “I think I’ll ask if Take and Miach can housesit, but it’s a little late. Could I trouble you to deliver letters to them and my workplaces to explain our absences, since they’re familiar with you?”

“Sure thing,” she said, turning to Bell. “After I go speak with Primo, I’ll go make arrangements with the others so that if they have anything of importance they need to be handled, all they have to do is give me directions and a letter or something to explain the situation. You should probably think of everyone you want to let know about how long you’ll be gone too, otherwise they’ll worry about you.”

“I will,” Bell told her as she spun on her heels and went upstairs towards Primo’s room. He then turned his attention back to Hestia. “Goddess, is there anything in specific I should do as well after that?”

Hestia tapped her chin in thought before looking over towards her oldest friend and smiling. “Why don’t you keep Artemis company and show her around the place?”

The Goddess of the Moon’s head snapped up at that.

“We’re going to be traveling together so it’s good for the two of you to get to know each other,” Hestia explained as she strolled out of the room. “I’ll go get started on those letters, so feel free to take as much time as you want to talk.”

Leaving her first child and dear friend to get to know one another better, the preparations for the trip went rather smoothly as the night progressed. Hermes had returned after a bit and provided them with new clothes that were really good quality, and he had done it in only a few hours. All of them were rather lightweight but durable enough to match actual armor. So, unless they ran into something on par with the Middle or Deep Floors, they should be pretty safe.

Then dawn came with the sun rising over the horizon when they arrived at the top of one of the walls guarding the city through an entrance via the Ganesha Familia. The sun’s early rays were golden as they crept over the distant horizon that grew more vibrant with every passing moment. Hestia admired the sight when the sound of a dragon’s roar reached their ears.

It was time for her small Familia to depart and once more play their parts in what would be the next act in the Last Epic: The Slaying of the Black Scorpion.

Take a Breath – Part 1 (Danmachi AU)

Hahhh…. Hahhh…Hahhh…

Haggard. Hard. Fierce pants broke the thick silence as they escaped from lips that were peeled back to reveal ivory fangs that were dyed by the violet ichor. They were accompanied by the rise and fall of a small chest, pale-blue flesh stretched over an emaciated frame that was hidden by wild clumps of silver-blue hair. The bundles of strands were glued by a glaze of dark crimson that oozed from dozens of slits, dripping down to mingle with the violet pool that formed beneath small feet that stood amongst lifeless ebon corpses.

And from behind the stringy curtain of mangy stands were a wild, wide monstrous pair of black-slitted amber irises fixed on a single, white-haired boy.

He was sitting amongst countless stone shards from broken walls, splotches of dark crimson hiding the white hair that seemed luminous in the soft, green light. His breastplate sported long rents from which blood seeped as readily as the long tears in his jacket and black shirt. Staring wide-eyed with his back pressed against the cavernous opening, the boy held out a broken dagger as his arm shook uncontrollably.

The panting softened ever so slightly from the figure as their eyes met and the rose-colored reflection sparked recognition. Sharp, long claws retracted as tiny fingers curled into small fists and childish lips rolled over the protracted fangs. The shrunken iris expanded to become wide, and the brows drooped in exhaustion.

The broken dagger lowered slowly as fear was replaced with bewilderment when the figure turned around, hiding the lithe and narrow frame behind a dense curtain of hair that fell to the floor. Then a creeping, gnawing sensation ate away at his chest as they swayed with every glacial step over the lumps of ebony meat. Gone were the fast, frenzied movements that had been accompanied by shrieks amidst blurs of blue and black that left red and violet to paint the walls.

Now there were only weak, sluggish steps. Footfalls that took such herculean effort that they caused the tiny frame to shake with every step towards the mouth of the corridor. Until finally, with a barely perceptible whimper, they slumped over onto the ground and didn’t get back up.

Then and only then did a breath escape the boy who’d held it in his chest until then as the fear bottled inside came flowing out, directed towards another instead. His legs that had gone numb from terror found the strength to stand and then moved. Hurrying over the corpses of living shadows that were torn open to the point of stumbling and having to paw the ground like a beast to keep going forward, he came to a stop next to the shivering figure lying in a slowly expanding crimson puddle.

Then he gently brushed aside the clinging strands to see the face of a little girl beneath the crimson.

There, on the Sixth Floor, a boy and monster met.

And a family was formed.

[-|-|-|-]

Labored, heavy breaths escaped the mouth of Bell Cranel as he tensed his thumb and middle fingers on his right hand around the handle of his blade. There was a lingering pain from the constant extension and use. He’d have thought that the Falna would make it easier to do a thousand repetitions of the basics when it came to swinging a sword, but it seemed that was a bit much for a new Adventurer.

He was currently in one of the three training halls of what was the Takemikazuchi Familia’s home, having begun taking lessons under the War God in how to properly handle a weapon on Hestia’s behalf. She hadn’t taken it well upon hearing he nearly got himself killed on the Sixth Floor, though to be fair he hadn’t expected to get cornered by War Shadows either when the first five Floors were so easy to traverse, he made it that far without any problems. He wasn’t sure how she had gotten the agreement between them, but it seemed that he would make time for him to train every few days with the man.

It was different today as Takemikazuchi had to leave unexpectedly since something came up at his job. Bell had decided that even if the lesson was canceled, he would finish going through the drills since it was largely a repetition of three motions with the blade—vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. By practicing the basic motion on both sides over a thousand times each, Bell hoped to drill the proper way to hold the sword and then cut with it into his muscles.

He had originally used a dagger because it was among one of the cheaper options available at the Guild, portable and easy to use. But since the option presented itself, he had decided to try out a sword similar to the ones Lord Takemikazuchi’s children normally used. It was proving to be a bit more difficult than he expected since the sword was sharp along the edge, but it only really cut well if you made the slicing motion correctly and the grip was proper.

By the time he had finished the evening had come, its light peeping in through the windows of the training hall he was in. “Whew…

Catching his breath, he opened the sliding door that led out to the yard where there were several ajura trees. They were supposedly a breed of flora that only grew within the depths of the Dungeon according to Lord Takemikazuchi. The flowering blue plants had a strange luminescence and pungent yet poignant scent that seemed almost otherworldly, and he could only imagine how mesmerizing the sight would be in the dark of night…

It was then he noticed that the training hall opposite the garden had its sliding door opened. And there, on the other side, he saw a lone figure standing with her back present to the opening. Her short, black hair fell to her shoulders as she stood in place while taking long and deep breaths that seemed to move her upper body.

That’s Miss Chigusa, isn’t it?  She was one of Lord Takemikazuchi’s students, though he rarely had spoken to her given she usually wasn’t very outspoken. She was just standing there and breathing while there was a line of straw-cutting poles set up ahead of her. Was she supposed to attempt to cut through them in some sort of practice? But she’s just standing there breathing….

Breathing. Breathing. Breathing. It was as if she was in the middle of meditation that he saw the others do occasionally in passing. He didn’t fully understand beyond the fact that it was just something that they carried over from their homeland and was supposed to help them clear their minds and embolden their spirits.

He figured she was preparing herself for her drills ahead of time, so Bell made to leave quietly as to not bother her. But the moment he got ready to turn back the way he came, he saw her body nearly fall forward only for her to catch herself on one leg. Or rather than that, it was that she lowered her stance by pushing one leg back as the other bent while she huddled over clutching her sword—

Suuuuuuuuuu

—then there was a sharp sound. Almost like a steel blade being drawn from its sheathe. Yet her blade was still within its scabbard, the trembling reaching his ears as her grip on the handle shook.

That was when he realized it was coming from her breathing. She had changed the way she was breathing so that it slipped in between her teeth clenched tight enough to the point where they seemed like they would break. The very act seemed to cause her pain as beneath her soft, milky skin veins began to grow thick and bulge along her legs.

“Are you okay, Miss—” Bell moved over to her, fearing she was hurting herself somehow when she was suddenly at the far end of the training hall. Then the air popped as a shockwave came from inside of the room she was in.

And every target that had been set up slid down upon itself, severed and left to fall to the ground under its own weight.

I didn’t see her move. Bell hadn’t blinked. He hadn’t shifted his attention from her for even a moment. And from what he knew, only two of Lord Takemikazuchi’s children had reached Level Two, at which point a new Level One like him would just lose track of them. So how did she move so quickly?

Gwaaahhhhhhh….” His attention snapped back to her when he heard her voice labored as she fell onto her knees, chest rising and falling as she tried to catch her breath. “Nnnhhhh… gaahhh…

He rushed over to check on her. “Are you okay?”

Her head snapped up, bangs parting to reveal a surprised gaze as if she had only just realized he was there. “M-Mi…Mister… Cr-ra…nel? I… thought you…went home… early?

He didn’t see any injuries. It just seemed like she was struggling to get her breathing under control for the most part. “I was about to when I saw… whatever that was.”

She tensed up between breaths. “You… saw…?

“Yeah,” he admitted. “Was I not supposed to?”

She forced herself to sit upright on her knees, leaning close to him and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Y-You can’t tell anyone! Please! Not Lord Takemikazuchi or anyone else!”

“At least tell me what just happened,” Bell said. “What was that?”

She took a moment to finally get her breathing under control before explaining. “It was my Breathing Style. I’m still working on it.”

In her homeland, before the Gods came down, monsters ran rampant. In comparison to the monsters that existed on the surface today, these monsters were far more powerful as the Dungeon had yet to have the lid placed upon it and so they came spilling out freely. For every one monster that could be killed, often it would take a dozen or more warriors down with them even if they were just what one would consider a Level One category monster these days.

During that age, there were often only two methods of fending off greater threats. The first was the existence of Renards, whose clansmen were occasionally born with powerful Sorcery that could keep them at bay. The other was when the Gods chose to empower a chosen warrior through a nature spirit or by providing them a weapon of great strength. But what was there to do for the unchosen or ungifted?

The answer some of the Human swordsmen of that era came up with was to perfect a technique that would allow them to be able to fight the monsters with mortal flesh. First by polishing their swordsmanship to perfection. Then by incorporating a special technique.

“The name of that technique is called Total Concentration Breathing,” she continued, lowering her hand and hovering it over her diaphragm. “By taking a long deep breath so oxygen flows throughout the body, the blood circulation accelerates, and the body temperature spikes. It hyper stimulates the muscles, nerves, and organs so that they can operate well above the average capabilities briefly. The arteries expand to carry more blood, the mind sharpens, and pain becomes numb so one can keep fighting. This allowed the swordsmen who lacked a blessing or sorcery to exceed their limits and keep up with monsters of that era.”

“So it wasn’t like the Flame of Heaven or the Spirit Sword, but something that Humans came up on their own?”

She nodded. “It wasn’t commonplace as the demands to carry it out were great, even if the basics were simple. And against stronger monsters, many practitioners died. After the descent of the Gods and the Falna, more perished as they fought against the greatest of threats to finally be rid of them by combining the skills and development abilities to create what would be known as Breathing Styles.”

“I had never heard of them before,” Bell said.

“It’s not that you haven’t heard of them, it’s that you simply haven’t recognized them in the tales you may have heard,” she explained. “Most tales were written by mortals who may not have comprehended what they observed and so they could only describe what they perceived. And that was fine for the ones who cultivated them as once the practice served its purpose, it would be better left forgotten outside of family lines as traditional dances rather than be used as a tool of war in the bloody history that followed. The Falna already makes it easy enough as it is for people to kill one another.”

“Were you one of those families then?”

She shook her head. “The reason we know it is because of Lord Takemikazuchi. Even though the Gods couldn’t interfere often with the Lower World back then aside from their chosen, they still watched our efforts. And Lord Takemikazuchi is a God of War, so to see children come up with a method of their own to fight back against the monsters was something he took great pride in. So much so that he committed their acts to his eternal memory and, when we became family, he passed them onto us so that we would have a better chance to survive in the Dungeon.”

“Could you teach me?”

She pressed her hands together nervously. “Well, the basics are supposed to be simple in concept, but the execution isn’t. I’m not very good at it myself and I’ve been training for two years, so someone who hasn’t even trained their lung capacity would pretty much burn themselves out fast and likely get themselves killed attempting it in the Dungeon. Even telling you this much is probably crossing a line, so…”

It clicked for Bell then. He wasn’t their family. Hestia and Lord Takemikazuchi might have been friends and him teaching Bell the basics was a favor, but at most they were acquaintances. Even her telling him this much was probably a bit much as an attempt to give him enough details so that he wouldn’t ask the others and have them learn he knew that way.

“I understand,” Bell said. “We’ll just pretend this conversation never happened.”

It was painful how hopeful her voice sounded as she perked up. “Really?”

Bell nodded. “Every family has their secrets after all. And besides, I really shouldn’t even be here this late. I’ll head back now that I know you’re okay.”

Her shoulders relaxed, as if she had been holding a great weight upon them. “Thank you.”

That done, Bell very quickly and quietly removed himself from the premises to make his way back to his own home. Along the way, he consulted his memory on what he bore witness to. Then he opened his mouth and drew in a deep breath from his belly. It was like this, right?

In. Out. In. Out. He cycled his breathing along the way back home as an imitation of what he saw, but he couldn’t notice a major change by the time he got back. If it was as simple as breathing then it wouldn’t have fallen out of practice, even if it was around a thousand years.

No sooner than he stepped inside did the hidden door leading to the space in the chapel that Bell called home open, and from it emerged a small figure with pale-blue skin, wrapped in a white short dress. With little warning she bound up towards him and he had to extend his hands to catch her as she wrapped her arms around him to pull him into a hug.  “Welcome back, Bell!”

Gentle touches. Gentle touches!” Bell said with a strained voice while gently trying to loosen the child’s grip on him. She was a lot stronger than she looked, especially compared to a Level One Adventurer like him. If she hugged too hard she’d likely snap something on accident, and that was only because they’d trimmed down her claws to be on the safe side of things.

She was, after all, a monster.

Bell had known that from the moment he saw her on the Sixth Floor, despite how human she looked. She had been covered in wounds while ripping and tearing through all of the War Shadows that had surrounded him, her claws sharp enough to tear through them with ease. Then she had turned her attention onto him and Bell thought that would be how he would die.

But then she turned to leave and collapsed. The wounds she had sustained to that point had taken their toll, injuries he suspected should have been fatal to any normal human twice over. Realistically, he should have counted his blessings and left while he could as the matter resolved itself.

Yet, something about the expression that she made when she looked down at him stuck in his head and made him feel bad about holding a weapon against her. Then when he got a good look at her and saw her crying, shedding crystalline tears in a way no monster should be able to, he couldn’t see her as just a monster. She was an injured, little girl who was bleeding out in front of him and crying.

He considered dousing her in Potions and then walking off. It probably would have tampered down on the feeling he felt, the guilt of letting her die without doing anything. But the thought of abandoning a child in the middle of the Dungeon really didn’t sit well with him. So, despite everything he knew telling him that there would be consequences, he did the unthinkable…

He brought a monster to the surface.

Fortunately, it was after dark. He had a blanket in his bag so he managed to cover her on his back without anyone noticing as he managed to get home. It was fortunate that the place they lived was just off the beaten path, a rundown chapel to a goddess that never existed.

Hestia was… confused when she came home and found the monster there. They had only become family a little while ago and instead of something like a stray dog he brought a monster home. He struggled to find the words to explain the situation while asking her to calm down, because he wasn’t even sure how to begin…

Not at least until she woke up and started crying.

The reason was obvious in hindsight. She just woke up in a strange place, without knowing where she was or who they were. Lost, confused, and frightened, she did what one would expect of a child, and she cried.

And for humans and goddesses alike, crying children were a soft spot.

So Bell had approached her slowly and tried to soothe her with kind words and telling her it was okay. Hestia was a little more reluctant but did the same. Then she did something neither of them thought was possible and uttered three little words:

“Where am I?”

Things after that got… interesting as she managed to somewhat explain her birth from the walls of the Dungeon on one of the deeper floors. She picked up grammar fairly quickly and so he could only think that maybe it was something about her in specific. But, because of that, they understood the situation.

She had been attacked by other monsters, who smelled like her apparently, and there had been other people there too who had tried to take the gemstone on her forehead. Then there was a blank spot in her memory and she woke up covered in blood. She then decided to head upwards to get away from it all while avoiding people entirely and killing monsters that attacked her.

She had made it as far as the Sixth Floor when she apparently heard Bell’s scream when he was ambushed by the War Shadows. Her first inclination had been to ignore him. But then she saw how scared he looked and remembered what it was like for her, being attacked and helpless.

So she helped him. Yet, he had been scared of her now. It was then she realized she was no different than the others that smelled like her—just something scary that hurt others. Bell and his goddess then decided that they should at least find out what they could, so while Hestia watched her Bell would look into everything he could based on what they knew.

It took some asking around based on how she described where she came from to figure out it was apparently one of the Middle Floors, in a place called the Colossal Tree Labyrinth. That was past what was known as a Safe Point, a Floor where the Dungeon wouldn’t spawn monsters. It was the first one available for most Adventurers around Level Two, so it was far beyond his capabilities to get that low anytime soon and meant she was likely a monster within that category of dangerous.

As for what kind of monster she was, he learned that when he asked about any blue monsters with a jewel on their head and some Adventurers whose outfits had a crescent moon and glass emblem started looking at him like he’d struck gold. They nearly jacked him up to try to figure out where he’d seen a Vouivre, a species of Dragon and one of the rarest monsters in the Dungeon, before he lied and said he just heard about it in passing and wanted to ask about it. They’d tossed him like garbage afterward for getting their hopes up—which told him all he needed to know what would happen if anyone else found out about her.

They’d pluck off every last one of her scales that were haphazardly covering her body as she wailed. They’d pry her claws from her fingers and toes as she screamed. And then, when her body had nothing else of value, they’d finally rip the stone from her forehead (which would drive her berserk) before putting her down.

If they returned her to the Dungeon, monsters would continue to attack her. She’d never know a moment’s rest until something eventually managed to kill her. And if some other Adventurer found her then they’d attempt to harvest her body for everything of value, drive her mad, and then finally kill her.

There was nowhere she would be safe—no hope for her.

The thought of her suffering and dying for simply being born turned his stomach as her amber eyes stared up at him while sporting a wide smile as she nuzzled against his arm giddily. “Were you a good girl and stayed inside, Wiene?”

She had no name originally. Bell had come up with one based on one of the stories his grandfather told him. Hestia shortened to be more convenient—thus, she was Wiene to the two of them.

“Mm-hmm!” Wiene said. “All day!”

“Good girl.” He gingerly brushed her hair, eliciting a pleasant sound from her throat as from the opened door emerged Hestia. “I’m home, Goddess.”

She greeted him with a bittersweet smile. “Welcome home. We need to talk about what happened with the magic stones in the lamps below.”

The lamps below ground were powered by small magic stones like most of the appliances in Orario. Since they could be found in the Dungeon relatively easily it was effectively the primary export of Orario, and how even new Adventurers like him could make a living. “Did they burn out?”

Hestia shook her head. “Wiene ate them all. I spotted her after we had finished the showering and I was cleaning it up for you to use next.”

“Wiene, is that true?” Bell asked. It wasn’t that he doubted Hestia’s words, given she was the goddess he revered and took him in. But he wanted to hear it from her.

For her part, the dragon child seemed to understand that what she had done had caused some problems. Her instinctive response was to lower her body and avert her gaze as she confessed. “Y-Yes… Sorry.”.

Hestia’s gentle eyes softened as she came over and caressed the top of her head. “It’s not that we’re upset. It’s the fact that we don’t know why you’re doing it. You can eat our food, but the fact that you’re eating magic stones means that might not be enough. And there’s realistically no way for us to figure out unless you tell us why, since we can’t exactly take you to get a check-up.”

For as small and human-looking she was, since Wiene was a monster it was entirely possible that outside of the Dungeon she just wasn’t getting enough nutrition to stay healthy or some other reason. And, whether he liked to admit it or not, monsters killed and ate people. Wiene had killed other people, by her own admission.

She wasn’t in control of herself because they tried to take her gemstone, but she did kill them. And now that he had brought her to the surface, Bell couldn’t let her do that ever again. He likely couldn’t stop her if she started to be honest, given her draconic lineage made her far stronger, dexterous, and faster than him. But he would have to do something if she started attacking people, even if it meant paying the price for that with his life.

“…I might have to take her back to the Dungeon,” Bell decided, which sparked an immediate reaction as Wiene grabbed his shoulders and pressed her fingers in hard enough Bell felt it in his bones. “Wiene, gentle touches!”

Her fingers remained tense as she pressed her face against his chest and pleaded with him. “Don’t leave me! No more stones! Promise!”

“I’m not talking about abandoning you,” he said, wincing slightly as he navigated towards the altar and sat her down. “You could smell food in the Dungeon when you were on your way up, right? Yummy stuff other than magic stones?”

She nodded. “Mm-hmm.”                                                                                          

“Then we’ll go get some together and then come back home,” Bell explained before turning back to his goddess, whose brow was raised at that. “We can head there at night since no one typically has a reason to enter that late since the Exchange closes down. And chances are if we stay off the main paths we won’t be spotted.”

“Hmmm… it’s not ideal, but there’s not much of a choice, is there?” Hestia sighed softly. There just weren’t any reasonable alternatives either of them could provide considering the situation as it stood. “There’s always the risk of her being spotted as you’re traveling though…”

Hestia then turned to look the child up and down. She was taking in her size, in particular. “Well, I can think of one solution from a secondhand shop I visited a few times since I came down to the Lower World, but it might be a little bit of a squeeze…”

Wiene craned her head curiously at the statement in a manner that reminded Bell of a kitten.

[-|-|-|-]

Bell took a deep breath as he made it as far as the Sixth Floor of the Dungeon once more.

The trip down had been more stressful than he expected given that along the way there were still a few Adventurers hanging around. They were all Level Ones, nighthawks who had the idea to take advantage of the empty corridors to farm the top five levels overnight. Then when morning came, they would turn in their magic stones while the others were pouring in. Thanks to that, however, he didn’t have to fight as much on his way down.

Rustle. Rustle.

Hey, calm down,” Bell said in a hushed whisper as he steadied himself from the jerking motion of the backpack strapped onto his back. It was far larger than his normal one, but it looked worn and old and beaten up. “We’re not sure if someone else is still around, Wiene.

People smell above,” she whispered back. “Not here. Come out please?

Bell hesitated for a moment before considering just how accurate her sense of smell was. He knew she could pick up the scent of monsters and people to a far greater degree than any other monster he personally knew of on the Upper Floors, and the Dungeon supposedly got far larger the deeper you went. If she was from the Middle Floors and could navigate her way up without being spotted by any other humans, she could be trusted on that front. “Okay, you can come out.”

He crouched down to keep himself stable as Wiene hurriedly forced open the top before climbing over his shoulders and landing on the ground next to him. She was covered in a tanned robe with rather ragged edges, small enough that she fit them rather well. They, along with the bag, were at the secondhand shop that Hestia knew on the surface, goods that had seen use by other Adventurers and were discarded… or scavenged from the deceased.

It wasn’t ideal and the robes were dingy, but they at least covered her body. And they were made with some of the other racial features, like pointed ears, in mind. Between that and a band covering her forehead jewel, as long as no one got close enough to get a good look at her face beneath the hood when it was up, she could just pass herself off as a Supporter.

Of course, Wiene immediately pulled back the hood to reveal her amber eyes that were folded inwards while her lips pursed into a small pout. “Clothes stink. Take off?”

Bell shook his head. The dragon child didn’t like clothes in particular, though she could at least be convinced to wear the dress Hestia had given her without too many complaints. But it was a hard rule that she had to remain covered up given that the moment her identity was compromised everything would be over. Their little family would end up being torn apart.

“We’ll wash them later,” Bell promised as he brought the hood back over her head. “But for now, be a good girl and keep it on for me. Do you smell anything you can eat?”

A low, disheartened noise escaped her throat before she tipped her head back. Her small nose wrinkled as she took sniffs of the air, gradually lowering her head as she fell onto a crouch. Then she looked off further to the right. “There. Below.”

He frowned. “Below here? You mean the Seventh Floor?”

She rose back to her feet and bobbed her head. “Food. Lots of food.”

Bell weighed the options. He had only gone as far down as the Sixth Floor and didn’t have a map of that floor. Their Familia was poor and the ones at the Guild were expensive in contrast, so he had instead taken to drawing his own until the incident before. But after what happened he did take the time to learn what was on it and the rest of the Upper Floors monster-wise.

There would be new threats there with Killer Ants and Purple Moths, the latter which had a hard exoskeleton and the former which could poison you if you were covered in its scales too much. It would be risky going down there. But Wiene said there was a lot of food there she could eat. That meant that what they were feeding her really hadn’t been enough.

To not go would be to make her starve, and that wasn’t he could stomach. “Okay. We’ll go get your food. But stay close to me.”

They pressed on along the main route of the floor. Since their goal was on the floor below, he didn’t need to be concerned with exploring any of the alternative routes. The faster they went, the faster it would end.

But as they reached a crossroad guided by the direction of the smell, Wiene came to a stop and held her hand out to stop Bell as well. “Monsters.”

Bell reached for the weapon sheathed on his hip, fingers wrapping around the leather grip as from behind the corner emerged the living shadows made manifest. Standing firm on two legs, with elongated arms that gave way to claws that existed to cut through flesh and bone of Adventurers, multiple War Shadows crept from the darkness to focus their singular eye that resembled an ominous star on the pair. He whirled around at the sound of walls giving birth, the stone womb expanding to deliver another group behind them, closing the kill box.

A knot formed in his throat as he took count. At least six on one side and four on the other, leaving them surrounded in the crossroads. If they killed one set and rushed off in a single direction without knowing where they were going, they could wind up being cornered like he had been the last time.

That was when the dragon child spoke. “Wiene will protect Bell.”

She had already found her way to his backside, as if she was intended to cover his entire body with her tiny frame. The sight of such a slender young girl getting ready to throw herself into battle to shield him was enough to make him feel a bit embarrassed. Even knowing she was more than capable of doing so.

“Thank you, Wiene,” Bell told her, the hiss of Far Eastern steel leaving its sheathe cutting the haunting silence of the War Shadows shambling towards them. “But I can’t let you get hurt while I sit back and watch again. Leave this side to me. Okay?”

Then there was no more time to talk as the murderous shadows descended upon them.

Stygian claws gleamed in the light lining the corridors’ greenish walls. Wicked points were aimed to tear the pair apart. Driven by the murderous impulse that seemed rooted within the minds of all monsters, they would find flesh and stain themselves the vivid color of crimson…

“RRWARRR!” A battle cry birthed from a small throat was followed by her claws, which had been meticulously trimmed down, lengthening once more. She lashed out in a surge of aggression, leaving three severed torsos to be sent sailing in the air by the draconic claws in a single lunge.

Landing on all fours, her nails scraped through the solid stone of the ground as she turned her head towards the gazing orbs. It revealed a feral visage that consisted of amber iris, shrunken and slitted. Snarling, she pounced towards the first monster that had the malice to step forward and raked through its torso from shoulder to hip. Then, plowing through the corpse to get to the next War Shadow, the dragon child brought her other arm around to its head with such brutality it was like fruit bursting open after being smashed with a hammer, sending violet ichor splashing about as she continued her assault.

“HAAH!”  A limb was severed as steel flashed with an audible ki-ai as a gray streak marked an arch. Dark clothes slipped through the opening created in the formation, allowing Bell to break through the enclosing wall of claws.

In contrast to Wiene’s wild swings that made use of her raw strength as a Level Two monster to tear them apart in a single stroke, Bell’s swings of his sword were more fluid and numerous by necessity. The razor-sharp edge of the blade was his protection and his weapon all at once, as a diagonal arch severed a claw that reached for him as he slid his front foot forward and then pivoted the handle of the sword along with his body. Defense into offense, he then lashed out with the chambered arm and drew a line through where the rib cage would be as the sharpened point cut roughly halfway through its mass before passing out the opposite end.

He had no time to pay attention to the entire body disintegrating into ash as the small magic stone that sustained it was sliced out in passing, Instead, he readjusted his footing and used the blade to catch two violet streaks that came for him. Sparks blossomed and slight tremors ran up his arm where the attacks were intercepted, but then he used his left hand at the bottom of the handle to reorient the blade and swung down while adjusting his footing to add to the motion.

The shadow split open, a diagonal parting of flesh that ran down the torso until it met where the stomach would be before he slid backward and maintained his stance as the blade came free. It proved to be the right call as the flashing of stygian claws tore through the corpse in an attempt to cut him down, the remaining War Shadow’s attempt met with a thrust of the point that pierced through the ominous orb that served as its eye. Bell then tore it free upwards, leaving it to fall while he stood ready for the next assault.

None came as Wiene finished wrenching free her tiny hand from the gaping hole she tore through one before it turned to ashes. She looked around, her ears twitching, before turning back to Bell with a childish smile being while being drenched in monster blood. “Wiene protected Bell!”

“… That’s right,” Bell told her after a slight pause as he remembered to breathe, filling his lungs not to expand his chest outwards but letting it flow into his diaphragm like he’d seen Chigusa do. He didn’t know if it would merit results as it did for her, but it couldn’t hurt.  Then he reached over and used the hem of his jacket to wipe her face clean before patting her head. “There will be more ahead, so we’ll need to be careful. And if you hear any people around, let me know immediately.”

She nodded enthusiastically at the affection. “Promise!”

And with that, the two ventured deeper into the Dungeon.

[-|-|-|-]

Welcome home, you two,” said a soft, slightly tired voice the moment they stepped through the entrance of the Abandoned Church they called home just before the crack of dawn. Thanks to it being located in the slums and off the main streets, they managed to avoid any prying eyes as they emerged from the Dungeon shortly ago after venturing to the Seventh Floor.

“Goddess, did you wait up for us all this time?” Bell asked, naturally concerned given the time she normally woke for work. She would have been up for nearly a full day at this point. “What about your job?”

“What mother wouldn’t wait up for her children with concern when they were going back to a place they had so much trouble in before?” Hestia said, rubbing one of her eyes. “I sent word to my boss to say I won’t make it today. Did you find food for Wiene?”

“Lots and lots,” Wiene said cheerfully as she skipped forward, clad in clothes that were awash in various hues of monster blood and purple powder. “All full now!”

“Wiene, take off your clothes first. We don’t want any of that to get on Goddess—” She was already stripping before he started the second sentence, leaving him to avert his eyes as he shifted topics as well. “There’s a place called a Pantry on the Seventh Floor that had something coming out of the crystal pillar there. I packed as much as I could in some bottles, and she drank from the pool until she was full. So we should be good for a little while.”

He neglected to mention she had also eaten Poison Moths that had been trying to cover her in the purple powder. She largely seemed to have shrugged it off and simply settled for snatching them out of the air before eating them. The texture was crunchy, according to her.

Again, he chalked it up to her being a Level Two monster from the dragon family.

“That’s great, but now you both need a bath,” Hestia said as she caught Wiene who rushed up to hug her affectionately. She had clearly missed the Goddess of the Hearth, and the feeling was reciprocated as Hestia gently brushed her head. “I’ll take her with me first and then you can come in afterward.”

“Watch your nails, Wiene,” he said as they went down to the bathroom to wash up while he took to dealing with the other tasks that needed sorting out. He needed to clean his blade, their clothes needed to be set aside so they could be washed, the food for her preserved, and the drop items from the various things that had tried to kill them sorted out to be taken to the Exchange in the afternoon.

By the time he’d finished and gotten to take his bath, Bell felt tired and wanted nothing more to get to sleep. But before he could hit the couch, Wiene grabbed his hands and pulled him into bed with them. She wanted them to sleep together.

He felt obligated to try to say it wasn’t appropriate, but his Goddess insisted that they just do it so they could all get a good night’s rest as a family. So he laid on the bed with the dragon child between them, her nails chewed down somewhat hastily by her at some point while they were bathing to prevent her from hurting them by mistake. She fell asleep rather quickly, a content smile on her face.

It’s hard to believe she’s a monster when she’s like this, isn’t it?” Hestia whispered.

Yeah,” Bell agreed, even as her brutality flashed in his mind. Those same tiny hands and slender arms that crushed the head of a Needle Rabbit like it was nothing were balled into her chest as she breathed softly. “Goddess, are you really okay with this?”

Yes,” Hestia told him without reservation. They both knew the risks of what they were doing, but to her it didn’t even register as a problem anymore. “Even if it might be a little weird, I’m happy to have a family like this after being alone for so long. I think that maybe it was fate that we all found each other, don’t you?

A Goddess rejected by child after child for not being able to provide stability with so little to her name.

A boy left without a home after arriving, unable to fulfill his dream.

A child with the world and everything in it against her.

It was a thread of loneliness that bound them together like the Red String of Fate. It connected Hestia to Bell when she took him in, a mother finding a son to treasure. It connected Bell to Wiene when she rescued him, a little sister looking for a brother in this uncaring world. And it connected Wiene to Hestia, a daughter that only a divine being whose very nature was the warmth of a hearth found in a home could accept without hesitation.

It was a thread that was thick and grew thicker with each passing day. But as it was now, something could easily sever it from the outside. And he couldn’t keep relying on her to protect him all the time, putting herself at risk.

He had to get stronger with what he could.

He had to protect his little family.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 28 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 28: Holy Moon Festival – Night

Elio meticulously drilled more knowledge into me as more time passed. At least three seasons by my count. Every spirit had preferences and quirks, but because they couldn’t communicate with words the one responsible for recognizing the signs was the other party.

I understood that his lessons were important. But as a child who noticed her brother’s hair getting longer, that he was aging right before her eyes, I began to feel anxious that… that he really did trade his future for mine. So, I begged Elio to at least let me prove I knew what I was doing, hoping to show that I was ready to be able to use Magic.

To my surprise, he agreed.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic III: Preparations

[-|-|-|-]

 

Lefiya found it difficult to sit still as she stared at the rising moon.

Stars lined the night sky, glittering diamonds strewn across the dark curtain of the boundless expanse. The luminous pale-blue moon that was revered since before the descent of the divine was larger than usual, close enough that from a distance it seemed to almost be touching the tower that rose to the heavens. Its silvery-blue rays were cast down strongly upon the Labyrinth City, leaving the streets and buildings awash in the gentle hue.

She should be here soon. The Half-Elf felt impatient despite the calming babbling of the water fountain just behind her drowning out the ambient noise of the other people loitering about in various states of excitement and nervousness within the Central Square. Because the Tower of Babel was at the heart of Orario, the plaza around it served as a common gathering place during events like these where individuals from different lots in life would meet before heading off to be with one another.

Lefiya’s appearance drew the gaze of others as a natural consequence of the measures she took in preparation for the occasion after she finished her training session with Alicia. Her hair, lustrous thanks in part to a conditioner, was set in a flowing ponytail and kept bound by a silver hairband. It matched the choker around her neck and armbands just beneath her shoulders, each one of them emblazoned with ivy and floral designs that caught the light from the moon and the magic-stone lamps nearby. Just beneath it was the pendant that Lord Hermes gifted her, which she took advantage of to disguise her clothing as to not draw attention from her Familia on the way out.

Her skin, pristine with a healthy glow from the use of the cream Alicia lent her, was adorned in a pale-green corset dress with a longer skirt in lieu of her usual pink one. Her blouse and skirt were a matching cream-colored pair, and her shoes were a dainty green set that fit comfortably over somewhat more revealing stockings than her normal pair. Altogether her appearance emphasized the elegance and beauty of the Elven race to the eyes of many there.

There were more lustful looks from younger men whose dates would be very displeased with them. But none of them dared approach her carelessly since if a woman was dressed in such a manner here it meant she was awaiting someone. Plus, she had her spare wand in her lap as a silent deterrent from anyone getting funny ideas.

A general rule of thumb in Orario was to pay attention to anything that looked like it could also be used as a weapon when you planned to approach someone. That was one of the key methods of seeing if they were an Adventurer since even a child could be a threat with the Falna. What seemed to be a hairpin keeping one’s hair up could easily double as a stiletto, and metal bands could double as knuckledusters. There was an entire part of the fashion industry in Orario that catered to female Adventurers that catered to combat accessories, after all.

Step. Step… Step… Step. Step…

Soft, uncertain footfalls reached Lefiya’s ears as she continued to wait while staring up at the moon above. They were a notable contrast to the playful steps, excited jaunts, and eager shuffling off in the distance as couples and friends gathered to head off and enjoy the festivities. And as they came closer, she finally turned her head towards the sound and registered her date had arrived.

The Elf with the moniker of Maenads stood at the edge of the fountain, a few meders of distance between them that may as well have been a world away with how reluctant she seemed. Her very posture exuded an air of nervousness that seemed almost foreign for one who had braved the depths of the Dungeon as she had. More so from the slight tremors rolling through her figure as she clasped the hem of what was an entirely different garment than her usual set, or even the one she wore in the Spirit Forest.

Cute…” The words slipped out without conscious thought on the Half-Elf’s part as she rose to her feet. And the way they made her date fidget as crimson blushed upon her alabaster cheeks only accentuated how cute she was. “You’re so cute, Filvis!”

My Lord… gave it to me…” she muttered so softly that Lefiya strained to catch her voice.  “I was going to wear the clothing I had from the Spirit Festival, but he said that they were more suited to his colors. And I should dress to match my partner, so…

It wouldn’t surprise Lefiya if Lady Riveria had that in mind when she had the outfits prepared, should she choose to continue to wear them outside of the festival. It was practical for Dungeon wear as well, being made of very durable materials. But given that Filvis confessed to Lord Dionysus, and he seemingly rejected her, it would probably have been perceived as a slight to present herself to Lefiya while in them.

So, he arranged for her to get an outfit that came closer to Lefiya’s preferences, as she had once told Lady Hestia. That was to say it was a layered dress suitable for nobility. And lots of frills.

Her outermost layer was a purple cowl in the same color as the ribbon Lefiya normally wore, with a large pink bow nestled over it. It had long sleeves that came down to a decorative white hem with long gloves of the same color preventing her bare skin from exposure. Resting on top of the dark lustrous strands of her raven black hair was a hairband of plain design that was also purple, like the rest of the first layer of the dress.

The second layer was a thinner, pink fabric with a white horizontal line near the edges that fed into frills beneath it. That design complimented the next layer, which inverted the colors to have mostly white fabric with a pink vertical line before coming to yet another set of frills that were purple like the outermost layer. The white stockings and purple shoes rounded out her outfit, making it perfect for a romantic evening like this.

It doesn’t suit me, does it?” asked the Cute Elf, her scintillating crimson eyes averting from the dazzling azure pair fixated on her.

“That’s not true,” Lefiya said without hesitation as she closed the gap between them and grasped her hands. “You look so gorgeous that I can’t help but feel my heart jump in my chest when I see you like this.”

Her words only served to deepen the red on Maenads’ cheeks. It spread out to encompass her face and steam poured out of her ears. “H-How can you admit that with a straight face!?”

The Elegant Half-Elf simply giggled. “Ehehe… since you’re here tonight I don’t have to hide how I feel, right?”

Those words seemed to have the opposite effect than intended, as rather than loosen her up, her expression soured ever so slightly. “That’s right… I owe you an explanation, don’t I?”

Lefiya’s head tilted slightly at the sudden change as her partner looked around for someplace quiet and then pulled her along. “Filvis, what’s wrong?”

It was only once they were alone that she took a breath and explained things. “Lefiya, you… must understand even before what happened to me in the past, I never really considered the notion of falling in love. Not with Lord Dionysius. Not with you. Not with anyone. It was… something I just never considered as a priority.”

That was understandable. There were plenty of reasons to become an Adventurer, whether it was for riches or fame or companionship. While she didn’t know Filivis’ reason for leaving her home forest to come to Orario, it had to be a reason great enough that she gave up the freedom to leave when she joined a Familia and gave her consent to the God who took her in.

Filvis’ gloved hands reached up to her upper arms and grasped them tightly, as if to hold herself as she diverted her gaze to the ground. “And after the Nightmare… I gave up on the notion entirely and put a wall around my heart. Unable to protect the Familia members I led into that trap, or even die with them, I was not worthy of anyone. I still don’t feel like I am, to be honest.”

Hearing her confession on her survivor’s guilt hurt to listen to. Lefiya reached up to touch her, but before her fingers could reach the Maenads shook her head. “Filvis…

“Please, let me finish,” she begged. “If you console me now, I won’t be able to go on and I need you to hear this.”

She reluctantly agreed to do so. “Okay.”.

Filvis swallowed a lump in her throat and kept going. “Even today I am reminded by the empty rooms in our home of the Familia members I led that day to their deaths. Many other parties I worked with all perished while relying on me. Banshee is an appropriate title for me, in that regard.”

It hurt listening to her say that again. So much so that Lefiya had to bite down on her lower lip to avoid telling her she was wrong. But she had to keep her promise and let her get it off her chest.

“But, in spite of that, Lord Dionysus never abandoned me,” Filvis continued. “He accepted me, an empty shell of a ruined being that was impure beyond belief. He never stripped me of my position or blamed me. He was grateful that I came back, and he accepted that I was part of his Familia. That was when I fell for him, even though I knew those feelings likely wouldn’t be returned—his love for me was not the same as mine for him.”

Lost in grief with death surrounding her, yet he still extended his hands and embraced her with open arms. It was natural she would fall in love with him. Lefiya knew that and didn’t blame her for it, since she could imagine doing the same thing if the circumstances were the same.

The Maenads bought her hands to her chest. “But even though having him accept me gave me purpose and made living like this bearable, I had forgotten many things. How to smile. How to laugh. How to feel joy. I lost them all and felt like I didn’t deserve them in the first place, so I was fine with that. Then…

Her voice cracked, leaving her to trail off for a moment to catch her breath. Her crimson eyes then met with Lefiya’s and bore into them. She was trying to convey the depths of her emotions in the event that her words failed her.

“Then… even knowing I was responsible for so much death…  you took my hand. You opened your heart to me, put your trust in me, and continued to stay by my side no matter how much I tried to push you away. You accepted me and…for the first time in a long time… I felt happy and warm inside.”

The Half-Elf’s memories flashed back to that day on the Eighteenth Floor. It seemed distant for only being a short time ago, but the memory was still vivid. She recalled how Filvis had turned her back to her, telling her not to associate with her because she was tainted and would lead to her death as well.

Lefiya had struggled to find words. Any words that could help her. Any words that would stop her for her own sake, so that she didn’t continue to suffer. Anything to help her. So, when her mind failed her, she listened to her heart and let it speak where her mind couldn’t.

You’re not sullied. You are the most beautiful person in the world.

The words had no reason behind them. They had only met a short time ago and barely knew each other. But despite that those words came from her heart and continued to flow out. If she didn’t know much about her then she would find out more about her from that day.

And there, after an awkward and painful silence where she believed that she had humiliated herself, she saw it for the first time. She saw Filvis’ smile and knew that she was right. There had been nothing more beautiful to her.

“We’ve gone through so much since then and my feelings have only grown,” Filvis stated. “The darker part of me was always waiting for you to say you didn’t mean it that way or anything that would let me think it was just my heart playing tricks. But after the Spirit Festival, I couldn’t ignore the truth that it wasn’t just a friendship between brethren when you tried to… kiss me…”

Lefiya really had lost her self-control then. It could have turned out so much worse if she had read Filvis wrong. And in front of a bunch of other Elves when she was representing Lady Riveria. It would have been the Alicia incident all over, only this time she really would have felt like dying.

“I was torn between the two of you because I owe you both so much and you’re the only two who have coaxed these feelings from deep inside of me. However, I had no desire to be so greedy as to want both of you when I didn’t really feel worthy of either of you to begin with. You both deserve someone you can dedicate your hearts to in full, and while I still had reservations, I wanted to at least ensure I could do that much for at least one of you.”

The fact that Filvis was in front of her made it clear how that had gone. So Lefiya wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to remain silent. Rejection was hard, especially when it came to the heart. Even being here was no doubt difficult for her.

“Lord Dionysus told me that he loved me as Familia,” she confessed. “He loves us all in his own way, though it may not seem like it at times. To him, we are all important in our own way, and so long as he remained on the Lower World it would be wrong to accept my love jealously and steal my future from me when his life was eternal whereas mine was not.”

Elves lived a long time. Far longer than most other races on the Lower World. But the Gods and Goddesses lived for eternity. The gap between the lifespans was as vast as that of a Human and a Pure-Blooded Elf, but that didn’t mean such a gap couldn’t be breached—after all, Lefiya wouldn’t have been born if that was the case.

But it did mean that they would have to part ways, and one would have to live without the other until the end of their days. For Elves, grief and longevity did not mix well, but they would eventually die and be reborn. For an immortal being, that end would never come, and they would have only two options in the end.

The first was to put up with the pain of the loss for the rest of their existence, which would be agonizing considering how painful loss could be. The second was to decide to return to Heaven with them to keep their soul by their side, giving up on their place here below and the rest of the children they left behind. Knowing that, any single child wishing for their love to be returned would be seen as selfish when the deities were so much more than them.

Even so, many children did yearn for their deity’s affection. To have their love be truly returned in earnest. It was beautiful in its own way—painful and bittersweet, but beautiful.

“I had given up on thoughts of a future outside of serving Lord Dionysus, who accepted me despite my failings. But I want to see how a future would be with you,” Filvis finished. “I am sorry if it sounds like I’m clinging to you to feel something again, and if you wish to part ways with me for being so self—”

Unable to hold her tongue anymore, Lefiya finally slipped up and let her voice out. “Don’t finish saying that. Otherwise, I really will get mad at you.”

Her sudden warning caught the Maenads off-guard. “L-Lefiya?”

Even so, the Half-Elf let out her thoughts. “It’s only natural to feel the way you do after all you’ve gone through. To cling to someone who accepted you and give you even the little things that make life worth living. And it’s not like I don’t know what it feels like to have survived when others have died in your place. You were there too.”

She hadn’t even known the members of the Hermes Familia very well. Yet when she asked them to protect her, they did so without hesitation. As she stood there, unable to move due to the accumulation of magical energy while finishing her spell, she should have died when the attack came towards her.

Yet she lived because Miss Elilly threw herself in front of the attack. Covered in the woman’s blood and forced to watch the life fade from her eyes as she continued to sing, Lefiya still wished she had been better so that never needed to happen. And if she didn’t continue getting stronger, someday that scene could play out again… only for it be her brother or Filvis or someone else she cared about instead.

“…Filvis, it’s natural to cling to whatever you can to feel happy,” Lefiya said after a deep breath to rein in her emotions. “So don’t apologize for that ever again. If not for your own sake, then for those who aren’t there anymore. And for those who care about you, like me.”

Shame and guilt clouded Filvis’ beautiful face. It didn’t suit her, and Lefiya hated she had been the cause. But if she said nothing then it would have been the same as allowing her to keep thinking it was wrong to be happy. And that was wrong.

To be happy, we cling to what we must. No matter what that might be… or the price of it.” It seemed like she was taking a moment to truly take the Half-Elf’s words to heart as she muttered softly. Then she finally looked Lefiya in the eyes again and asked, “And being with me makes you happy too?”

“Or course,” she said with a small pout at how obvious that should have been. Her mood had been somewhat soured by the discussion. “It’s natural to be happy with the people you treasure, right?”

The Cute Elf’s lips pulled back into a smile that truly suited her. “Then I suppose I’m the happiest person in the world right now. You truly are my dearest treasure…”

Lefiya felt her heart start racing at that. “Then shall we go enjoy the festival together?”

“Just a moment,” Filvis said, extending her left hand out and spreading her fingers wide. Then with her right forefinger and thumb, she reached over and did the one thing Lefiya didn’t expect her to do willing or without coaxing. She pulled free her glove to expose her pale, slender hand for her to see, one after the other.

Then those very same bare hands were extended for her to take. “Shall we pick up where we left off at the Spirit Festival, my dearest treasure?”

[-Market Area-]

Wow, that’s so cute…

Elfy couldn’t help but be drawn to one of the stalls that had been set up in the market area located on the west side of Orario. She was one of ten young women who could all proudly claim to be part of one of the most prestigious Familia within the Labyrinth City, each of them an Adventurer who had braved the depths of the Dungeon. Those same fearless explorers of the depths where monsters awaited around every corner were currently mystified at the display set up in front of them.

It was an accessory shop, set up for the Holy Moon Festival. Such stalls weren’t uncommon given that the festivities were a prime time for artisans to ply their trade and market their goods at lucrative prices. But it was a chance for many different artisans to create masterpieces based around a theme, giving them a chance to express their creativity for the sake of making them unique at the same time.

From the top hung pendants that were strung up on cords, crystalline ovals in which were pressed silver flowers that shone lovely. Transparent bangles likewise were set on displays, petals from Ajura trees that carefully formed a wreath inside and somehow maintaining their sky-blue color that shone dimly in the night. Hairbands modeled after a crescent moon that glowed with a luminous, soft hue were present as well.

“I haven’t seen designs quite like this before,” said Anakitty Autumn, or Aki to her friends. She was heading the small band of girls, consisting of herself, Elfy, Claire, Sharon, Lisa, Remilia, Koko, Ruuni, Rhakta, and Shifon. “These flowers come from the Great Tree Labyrinth, don’t they?”

“That’s right,” answered a gentle yet buxom bovine beauty, sporting cow horns, ears, and a tail that was the same color as her long, brown hair. She wore a sleeveless sweater and arm warmers given the autumn chill. “All of the jewelry here was crafted using materials from the Middle Floors of the Dungeon with the help of our Captain and members.”

This stall in particular was manned by members of the Dia Familia, a relatively small Familia that operated within Orario. Though their members were Adventurers, they weren’t dedicated explorers who ventured into the depths and braved the frontiers. Rather they had their own professions and treated it more like a part-time career.

“It’s quite elegant work,” Shifon chimed in. As an Elf she was naturally drawn to the refined craftsmanship and more than a few would complement her silver hair. “And, if I’m not mistaken, the fragrance of the flowers comes through as well?”

Koko, Rahkta, and Ruuni brought their heads closer and took in the scent before confirming as such. “Mixed into the mold used, maybe?”

“But each one has the scent of the different flowers inside.”

“So they would have to use a lot of different ones, right?”

The inquiry was only met with a mischievous wink from the girl sporting her own handiwork in her hair. “That’s a trade secret. All I can say is that many sacrifices were made to get Daisy motivated, and Lady Dia was quite proud of the pieces we made. Especially the matching sets for couples.”

Rather than the mirth of excitement such a proclamation would make amongst buyers, the group instead largely withered with despondent looks amongst themselves. For you see, among the gathered none were in an active relationship due to the demands of the Familia between the Expeditions and various tasks that came with being part of one of the largest Familia within Orario. If they were in a relationship, they wouldn’t have gone together in a group like this.

“I planned on remaining virtuous for at last another five or six decades,” Shifon said, which was actually a pretty standard response for Elves considering their lifespans and birthrates. Adventuring being what it was meant that it was usually best to date another Adventurer if you were going to date at all. And since childrearing was time-consuming that was typically best left after retirement, given the complexities involved and the ever-present risk of leaving a child behind with no parents should the worst happen.

“Well, I was thinking about kids and grandkids someday, but right now there are pretty slim pickings…” Remilia trailed off when she considered her prospects largely within the Loki Familia. And while there were obvious prime candidates like Finn or Gareth, they were untouchable for a myriad of reasons. The rest of the guys were people she considered comrades-in-arms but settling down with them was more daunting than she liked.

There’s only one among us who could make the most out of a matched pair,” Lisa whispered. Then, in unison, their eyes all fell onto the senior member of their group at Level Four. A certain Cat Person whose ears flapped back and forth in slight annoyance as she placed her hands on her hips.

“Oh, don’t start with that again,” Anakitty said, rolling her eyes in the process. She and Raul had heard it often enough that they didn’t even bother to refute the claims, being perfectly willing to let them believe what they wanted. But it was a different story when someone outside of the Familia could hear, like the young woman running said stall and her eyes were glimmering to the point where Aki could see the rumor starting to spread all over Orario.

Needling aside, some of the young women purchased accessories to keep among themselves. They wouldn’t wear them in the Dungeon, but for casual wear it would complement their outfits nicely. Then they spent some more time visiting the various other shopping booths before they decided that they should try out the festival-exclusive snacks.

“Wasn’t the Hostess of Fertility having a special menu for tonight?” Lisa suggested. It was a restaurant that several of the Familia frequented on occasion, though they all had their own preferential places like Hibachitei. “I remember last year the drinks were pretty nice.”

“Oh yeah, when one of the guys got a little too drunk and booted out, only to have to return the next day and beg for forgiveness,” Sharon said with her eyes closed as she recalled the memory vividly. Of the Demi-Human races, some were more… susceptible to alcohol than others and thus got hammered really quickly. “We probably won’t be able to get a table, but it couldn’t hurt to see what they have to-go before visiting the stalls along the way.”

With their destination set, the group made their way northeast. Their path would eventually lead them to the Main Street that the restaurant was located on, which allowed for a straight path to Babel and was likely brimming with festival-goers who were in a celebratory mood and thus plenty of food stalls that managed to get permits to set up along the roadside.

But as they traveled, Elfy found herself stalling for a moment as her gaze was drawn eastward. Her mind strayed as a nagging curiosity began to swell within her. The idle thoughts she had pushed down since her roommate had left without saying a word and her closet was missing a particular garment.

“Elfy.” Her eyes were drawn back to Anakitty upon hearing her name being called. “It’s this way. Let’s go.”

“…You guys go ahead,” she said after some thought, taking a few steps back. “I think I saw some cute crystal slippers back there that I wanted to reconsider getting before they end up getting sold. I’ll catch up in a bit.”

Aki’s brows folded in slightly and her mouth opened as if she wanted to say something. But then she reconsidered and sighed.  “Just don’t take too long, okay?”

“I’ll be back before you know it,” promised the Cheerful Mage before she ran back the way she came. Not all the way. Just far enough to where she could double back eastward while they continued northeast. Those shoes she spotted were cute but there was something more pressing occupying her thoughts and there was a compulsion to just… see it for herself.

It wasn’t like she didn’t know what she was going to see. But not knowing and leaving it to her imagination would be worse. All she needed to do was take a quick peek to ease her mind and then she could return to the others and have fun without those thoughts taking up the back of her mind.

That desire, to rest her curiosity so she could have fun with the rest of her friends, was what led Elfy Colette to Amour Square. The square had long been known as a meeting place for those passionate encounters, where couples could gather to express their love. There was even history behind it, said to be the very site where one mortal child, in the early days of Orario, spotted a Goddess whose very presence stole his breath away. It was not an uncommon tale by any stretch, but his efforts to earn her affection were a different story.

He delved into the Dungeon, back before those who ventured within were known as Adventurers. He fought and scraped and earned his riches there, even as his body gradually succumbed to the dangers nestled deep within the gaping hole. And with his hard-earned wealth, he finally commissioned the Square and the statue in the center of it be built in her honor and asked for her hand in marriage. It was said the Goddess was so moved that when he succumbed to his injuries and perished, she followed him up to Heaven and the square was left behind as a testament to their romance.

Or so the legends say anyway. Whether or not it was true was beyond the knowledge of someone as young as Elfy, and likely any of the living mortals within the city. She had found the tale interesting, so she preferred to think that it was true.

The square was paved with brightly colored stones in a rather lovely pattern that all drew attention to the massive statue within the center. It was bordered by one of the more vibrant gardens within Orario, with flowers from both the surface and the Dungeon blooming along with the rose bushes and trees. The sweet fragrance that wafted throughout combined with the soft light from the magic-stone lamps around the square, which were made more vivid by the cords that ran between them with lanterns further illuminating the square.

There were dozens of couples there, dancing hand-in-hand to a slow melody from a band of well-dressed Pallums that had placed themselves at the base of the statue. Many were dressed with romance in mind, but some looked as though they had wandered by chance. Smiles could be seen on the various couples of various races.

Elfy’s green eyes scanned the sea of bodies drifting amidst the tempo for one in particular. She had burned the image of that dress into her memories and so she was confident she would be able to pick out one person from the horde so long as it crossed her gaze. And though it took some time, she eventually found her roommate sporting that gorgeous outfit.

Lefiya was there with the Elf from the Dionysus Familia, who was also dressed stunningly. Even though they had people around them it seemed like the two of them were off in a world of their own. Their bodies were close together to share warmth between them, with the Half-Elf resting her head on her dance partner’s shoulders while their fingers were entwined as they moved gracefully and without a single misstep.

Her lips were nestled in a content smile while the pink hue coloring her cheeks was visible even at that distance. It was clear at a glance that she was so…happy….

…crack…

The sound of glasswork splintering. That sound rang out deep within the Mage as the thought crossed her mind.

Her breathing became shallow as she watched her roommate’s lips pull in for a moment, only to come back out ever so slightly glistening beneath the ambient light. Her pulse began to race as she raised her head from its comfortable perch, azure eyes fixed on the crimson pair that regarded her warmly. Then she saw her lean forward on the top of her toes….

Their lips pressed together.

The glass shattered.

A gnawing sensation attacked her green eyes, like a thousand small insects chewing on them. Then a sharp pain found its way into her chest like someone had plunged a poisoned dagger into her heart. Yet, when she reached up to wrench it free, her fingers only dug into her flesh and crystalline tears rolled down her cheeks in glistening streamlets when she tried to blink away the vermin.

The pain became more intense. It seemed to worsen with every beat of her quickening pulse that drummed louder in her ears while watching the two Elves, smiling while holding one another close. The pain grew so agonizing in mere moments that she almost dug her nails into her chest to rip out her own heart to stop it.

She would do anything to escape this pain she was in.

The world blurred until she couldn’t see the two of them anymore. Her legs shivered as strength bled out of them. Her stomach felt like it was about to turn inside out. Her lungs failed to expand, and she struggled for breath.

The Mage felt like she was about to pass out. She would almost welcome unconsciousness. At least then she wouldn’t feel the pain. But that would draw a crowd as people noticed her lying there.

Lefy will know I was here.

The same compulsion that brought her there moved her legs in the opposite direction. She didn’t want to be seen. She didn’t want Lefiya to know that she had seen her there.

It was then she understood the source of her pain. The stinging, unrelenting pain came from her heart breaking into pieces. Not all at once, which would mercifully kill her instantly. But slowly enough that the shards could stab into the beating remains and make her suffer.

Elfy didn’t have a destination in mind. She just knew she had to run as far away from the square as possible before the strength to stand fled her. Thus, the once Cheerful Mage ran desperately and clumsily, her vision wavering between clarity and obscurity.

There were voices as she bumped into things and people. But she kept running. And running. And running.

She ran until someone finally grabbed her firmly. They pulled her close and when she threw her hand out to push them away, they caught it. Even mustering her remaining strength, she couldn’t get away.

“Elfy, it’s me!” said a familiar voice. “Aki!”

She stopped struggling when she recognized Anakitty’s voice. But then the pain seeped into her lungs and stalled her from taking more than a shallow breath. It burned like poison that was slowly spreading from her punctured heart. “…Aki, I… I can’t breathe…

A gentle reassurance reached her ears. “I’m going to take you somewhere you can catch your breath. It’ll be just the two of us. Just hold on, okay?

The next thing Elfy knew, her legs were no longer under her. Her head was nestled against Aki’s chest, her knees and back supported by the Level Four’s arms. The air was rushing past them so fast that even if her vision hadn’t gone completely blurry her eyes probably would have been crushed.

Then, as quickly as they started, they came to a stop. The sounds of the crowd and other people were distant. Her legs were gently allowed to lay on a soft surface that felt like grass, but her head was allowed to remain pressed against the soft bosom of her senior among the Second-Tier Adventurers as the arm supporting her back remained in place.

Anakitty’s voice came out quiet and soothing. “You need to breathe, Elfy.

I-I can’t,” she cried. “I can’t!

Yes, you can.” The arm wrapped around her back shifted into a slow, circular motion. “It’ll be painful, but you need to breathe so it can all come out. It won’t go away otherwise.

The Level Three Mage struggled. Her throat and chest strained to expand. But, eventually, she managed to take a deep, haggard breath that forced the slightly chilled air down into her lungs. Then she exhaled and what came out was a painful, mournful cry.

That’s it,” the Level Four whispered in an encouraging tone. “You did well holding it in all this time, but don’t need to hold back anymore. Let it all out.

Her voice came haggard as she sucked in a heavy breath. “… I… t-thought I could han-handle it, but… it h-h-hurts so muchhhh…

Elfy knew that Lefiya would be there from the start. She knew that she would be happy at having the chance to finally go on a date with the other Elf after how often she talked about her in their room. But she didn’t think that she would be wearing a smile like that or that she would have kissed her.

She didn’t think that it would hurt so much seeing her with someone else. “I hate Lefy… I hate her! She’s horrible!

You don’t hate her,” the Level Four told her, voice remaining calm as the hand gently rubbing her back started patting it instead. “You’re just in pain from having your heart broken. No one likes seeing the person they love with someone else.

No sooner than those words were uttered did the pain bubble back up inside of her. It felt like it would never end. She reached around behind Anakitty’s back and pulled as hard as she could, desperate for a shoulder to cry on as she continued to pour out her feelings. “I wa-wanted to… to tell her… B-but I knew she wouldn’t even lo…ok my…w-way!

Why do you think she wouldn’t?” Anakitty asked. It was important to keep her talking so that she could get everything in her chest out. “You’re best friends, aren’t you?

People often thought it was easy to tell someone how they felt. But that was never the case. The fear of rejection was an ever-present entity looming over them like a colossal shadow, whispering of how things would never be the same once those words came out. That was why she tried to signal her interest. That was why she always smiled for her. Always tried to be close to her side.

But she realized that no matter how hard she tried there was an impassable gap between them. I’m… not an Elf like her! Or special like her! I’m just…just… a normal Human.

Elfy Colette was just an ordinary Human.

Her mother had given her that ironic name because she hoped she would be beautiful as an Elf. But she didn’t have a drop of Elven blood in her veins, meaning she could never hope for such a thing. She had already finished puberty and would be lucky if she got a few celches of growth into her figure before she grew older and then died.

Everyone knew Elves were good-looking, talented with Magic, and graceful without fault. If you weren’t born an Elf then there was nothing you could do but accept that. It was just the way of the world, and she thought she had come to terms with that when she decided that she would be one of the best Human Mages she could be.

That was why she was excited to have been able to join the Loki Familia. She could take pride in being part of one of the most powerful Familia in Orario. It meant they recognized she at least had the potential to be a great Mage.

Then she met Lefiya and realized reality just wasn’t so kind. Just being Half-Elf put her in an entirely different class, even though she was Half-Human. She was still growing, still becoming beautiful, and by the time Elfy was dead and gone, she would still look like she was around her early twenties.

On top of that, her Magic was powerful. She had not only unlocked her third spell slot in such a short time, but the spell was one-of-a-kind. It allowed her to access as many spells as there were Elves, meaning the number of spells she had was more than even Lady Riveria herself.

There was no denying it that among either race she was a special person, and they treated her as much. Lefiya got to hang around with the Executives as often as she liked. She got to receive special training from the most powerful Mage in Orario. She got beautiful clothes gifted to her that were more valuable than probably their weight in gold.

She was already a Level Four but was actively holding off just to squeeze in a little extra excelia. As if it was no big deal. Normal people like Elfy had to claw and scrape to reach that far. But it was different for special people who stood above them.

Even among Humans she wasn’t anything special. Not compared to Aiz Wallenstein, the Sword Princess whose Wind allowed her to be so powerful. Or Welf Crozzo, who had an ancestor gain the favor of a Spirit and could make Magic Swords stronger than any spell the majority of the world could cast. Or the Record Holder that managed to already reach Level Three in mere months—Bell Cranel.

That boy not only impressed the Executives, but he even managed to get Lefiya on his side when she was ready to tear his head off the night before. She would constantly tell Elfy bad things about him, to the point where she seemed to hate him. Yet she suddenly changed after the Eighteenth Floor, to the point where she was even willing to fight the Captain of another Familia for him when she hated him mere hours before then.

Was it because he was special? He had to be given how he was the two-time Record Holder. That was probably why she was willing to defend him—because he was special like her.

The worst part was that Elfy couldn’t even be mad at her because Lefiya was her best friend. They were roommates and shared their secrets, so she knew how hard Lefiya had struggled to get where she was. She knew how many Elves loathed her for her position while being Half-Human. Yet she put up with it all and tried her best to live up to the expectations placed on her with a smile.

If I was an Elf… if I was special… it would have been me dancing with her and making her happy…” She took a moment to catch her breath as she confessed the root of her issues. “But I’m not. And I can’t ever be.

She wasn’t lucky enough to be born with an Elven parent. She wasn’t lucky enough to be born special. That meant she couldn’t be the kind of person Lefiya was attracted to. The most she could do was be her best friend, no matter how much she wanted to be seen otherwise.

I know… how it feels to not be special,” Anakitty told the younger girl with her voice wavering slightly as her ears flattened down. “To be surrounded by amazing people and heroes, but not be able to be just like them. But… I can do things like being there for one of my juniors when they need a shoulder to cry on, and that’s enough, isn’t it?

Considering she was the one weeping in the older girl’s arms, Elfy wasn’t exactly able to refute that. Moreover, if she wasn’t allowed release or some way to let out the pain she was in, it would tear her apart until she wanted to die.

“Just please… please don’t tell anyone,” Elfy begged her while pressing her head deeper into the welcoming bosom.I don’t want to lose her. Lefy is my best friend…”

“I won’t tell a soul,” Anakitty promised. “Now go ahead and can cry as much as you like.”

She did just that.

[-Amour Square-]

“I think I recognized that crying girl who ran off just now.”

Bell Cranel looked off into the distance where a young woman had fled after bumping into him. He and Lady Hestia had only recently arrived at Amour Square, even though it was closer to their current home than their previous one. He hadn’t minded the fact that she bumped into him but the fact that he had seen her somewhere naturally left him wondering if he should give chase.

“I knew you had a thing about saving girls, but I didn’t think you’d leave your date here all alone to do it.” The Goddess of the Hearth’s teasing tone and the soft sensation as she pressed her voluptuous chest against his arm snapped Bell’s attention back to her. “What will you do if some stranger comes and takes me away, hm?”

“I wasn’t going to leave you.” He had given her his word that he would dance with her and would keep it. That being said, the outfit she had chosen made her divinity all the clearer and so he felt out of place next to her dressed in his ordinary clothes. And the suit he had been loaned for the Banquet ended up not surviving the destruction of their home.  “I just thought I should see if there was something I can do, Goddess.”

“I know. I know.” Hestia looked up towards his face and smiled as she offered him guidance as one of the divinities that walked the Lower World. “It’s good that you want to help but, considering where we are, it’s very likely she just had her heart broken if she ran off in tears. If you don’t know the right things to say to a crying woman, you’ll only make it worse. Their hearts are fragile, after all.”

“I suppose so.” His grandfather had taught him to be cautious when approaching a woman whose heart had been broken. He even regaled him with stories of heroes who faced even more turmoil because they had incited the wrath of a woman inadvertently, so there was merit to her wisdom. Even so, he still felt that sympathy for that girl. “I hope she’ll be okay.”

“I’m sure she will,” Hestia told him. “You children are resilient in heart and soul, even compared to us. After all, we’ve seen how you all manage to bounce back even through the darkest of times. That’s part of why we love you all so much.”

That said, they entered the square properly and Bell found himself feeling even more at risk than in the Dungeon itself. So many couples, a mix of different races and people in a proper romance as they looked one another in the eyes and clasped hands. And none of them were clumsy like he would be, given he wasn’t a dancer.

At the banquet, he had managed somehow because of the advice the others had given him. But the fact that Miss Aiz had been an Adventurer and they had trained helped a lot, since it made it possible for them to read one another’s movements. They could convey words without speaking, but he wasn’t sure he could do the same for his Goddess. The thought of embarrassing himself and Hestia made Bell want dart of there like a fleeing rabbit, but then he really would be abandoning her

“Good, it’s a slow song.” Hestia’s slender fingers wrapped around his wrist as she pulled him forward and into the throng of bodies where there was an open space for the two to join in.  Then she turned to face him before cupping his shoulder blade with her right hand and grabbing his hand with her left. “I’ll take the lead, so just do what I do and say, okay?”

She seemed so assertive that Bell could only swallow his nerves and do so. Lift his right elbow. Roll his shoulders back. Stand straight and tuck his stomach in. All of that made for a solid frame to maintain the connection between them.

Then she began to take her first steps. They were decisive, initiated from her core rather than her arms. It made it easier to see where she was going, so Bell could follow after her to match her pace. “Like this?”

“That’s right,” she said while continuing to lead. He followed up nicely. “If you’re in the lead then listen to the beat of the music and think before you take the first step. Don’t hesitate after you make that decision. If you’re following, then trust their motions and follow without second-guessing it. You don’t need your grip too hard since the only time you lead with your hands is when you want to spin your partner.”

Bell took the advice and found himself matching her soon enough. “Goddess, did you always know how to dance?”

“Not quite like this,” Hestia told him. “After your dance with Loki’s child, I wanted to do the same. But since I didn’t think I would be able to move the same way, I asked for some advice from Take and Miach after Miss Thousand told us about this one. I’m happy it’s working out well.”

She really was looking forward to it. Bell felt even worse for not giving it the same consideration as she smiled with childish happiness. He knew he needed to work on his dancing, but the new duties he had as the Captain of their Familia had been pressing.

Her blue eyes scanned her surroundings for a moment, likely to ensure she was matching the rhythm of others. Then they widened slightly before she leaned her head in and whispered in his ears. “Bell, look over there…

He followed her gaze and did a double-take when he realized that his sister was there as well. She wasn’t paying him any attention or bothering to look around her. Her attention was solely on her date, another Elf with glossy black hair and deep red eyes. The longer he stared at them, the more of an impression he got that something romantic might happen, so he wisely looked away lest things become awkward.

Bell,” Hestia muttered. “Do you wish that was you?

Her question grabbed his full attention. “Huh?”

“That you were dancing with someone you liked in that same way,” Hestia clarified, pulling her head away. “Rather than me, you’d prefer it was Loki’s child again, right?”

“Ah, that’s… different,” Bell said, a blaze painting his cheeks the color of his eyes. Hestia made it possible for him to get this far but to even have remotely romantic thoughts of his patron deity, a virginal goddess at that, was borderline blasphemous. “I’m happy to do this with you because I revere you.”

Her cerulean eyes closed at that, and a smile came across her face. Not the same childish happy one or the motherly one she would often give him. It felt somewhat… melancholic. “Bell, I know I teased you about revering me. But remember that what I said about a girl’s heart being fragile applies to Goddesses as well.”

“W-w-what does that mean?” Bell stuttered as his mind refused to piece together what she was getting at.

“We might be different in some ways to you children and driven by our natures a bit, but we still want you to validate us rather than revere us,” she continued in the same tone as a mother lecturing her child patiently. “It’s one thing to reject us if you don’t feel the same way, but to not even acknowledge or understand why we feel the way we do because you think we’re above you can hurt more than anything else.”

Her words resonated within his chest. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“It’s fine,” she told him. “Losing someone is hard, but for those of us who live forever that pain will never leave. That’s why the thought of inflicting that onto a Goddess is one of the worst things you can imagine, right?”

…She wasn’t wrong. The loss of family stuck with him, but everyone above and below knew all mortals would eventually die and reincarnate. It was a part of the cycle of life, a mere step that you had to acknowledge. Nothing could stop it, so you made the most out of the time you had with the people you cared about.

Lovers were a deeper relationship than family. He knew that much. And remembering how painful it was losing his grandfather, he was terrified of inflicting something even worse onto someone else. Let alone the divine, whose lives would never end. They had to suffer that pain forever, all for what amounted to a mere moment of happiness.

What right did he have to inflict that on one of the Goddesses?

You’re a good boy, Bell,” she whispered while reaching up and pulling his head down onto her shoulders. “I’m really happy that my first child was someone like you. That alone eases my heart going ahead. But remember that if we wanted to remain separated from you to be revered, we never would have come down in the first place. We might be Familia because of my blessing, but we’re family because we love and care for each other—and that bond transcends death and divinity. So love us as you would you any other, otherwise, you’re going to make some poor Goddess cry someday.

As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t make that promise. The best he could do was acknowledge that he would try. “I’ll do my best, Goddess.”

And that was good enough for her to release him as a new song began to play. Her smile returned to its cheerfulness. “Okay, now that we’ve gotten that gloomy topic out of the way, why don’t you try to take the lead this time?”

[-Café Wishe-]

As the various dances wound down so that the band could take a break, the various couples split off from the square. Some would return in an hour once they began playing anew, while others would go off to enjoy the other activities. But, in general, all those who had been in attendance were in a great mood.

Lefiya especially as she and her date decided to rest their legs and get something to slake their thirsts. Fortunately, since she was a little more familiar with the area due to it being so close to Bell’s home, the Half-Elf knew a place they could go. It was called Café Wishe.

It was a small but apparently popular café that was frequented by young couples due to being relatively close to Amour Square. It had a more modernistic aesthetic rather than the rustic or sylvan that Elves preferred, but the irony of the name did not escape Filvis. “Was this place named after your home?”

Lefiya licked her lips to savor the stray droplets of the drink she had been served before she answered. “The owner of the café lived there on the outskirts for a time after their home was burned down and used it as their communal name.  Some time ago she moved to Orario and chose to get married, taking her spouse’s name and naming the café in honor of that instead. Her husband is Human.”

She had found it after receiving her key to the Hearth Manor and learned the owner was actually the Elven hostess who had welcomed her in. Her husband was the one who handled the drink preparations, and the pair seemed friendly enough to her. But she could guess why that was considering any children they had would be effectively no different than her.  Their employees were of different races as well and the last time she was her the server had been a Cow Person, but it seemed that she was absent today.

“I see…” Filvis looked down in her own drink and stared into her reflection. She had placed her gloves back on now that the dance was over. Even if she had willingly laid her hands bare for Lefiya, she still refused to interact with other things without them.

But that was fine with Lefiya since it meant she was special enough to her to do so. That was all she wanted from tonight. The kiss was just a very, very welcomed extra. “There are a lot of small, out-of-the-way places that you never would notice if things were different.”

The Half-Elf tilted her head at that. “Hm?”

“I was just thinking of an out of the way bar that I discovered some time ago,” she explained. “My Lord was in search of a certain kind of wine, and I had to scour Orario to find it. Eventually, I discovered a place where they made it from grapes taken from the Great Tree Labyrinth. It wasn’t really to my tastes, but he was pleased… even if Aura wasn’t.”

“I suppose you taste a lot of wine because of your God, huh?” Lefiya mused. She would abstain from drinking if she could help it, given her low tolerance and other things that happened. But maybe she should consider if Filvis had a favorite kind to gift her some time. “But who is Aura?”

“She is my… Vice-Captain,” Filvis explained. “She an Elf like me, and we started around the same time. We were on fairly decent terms until the Nightmare happened, and now we’re pretty much the surviving senior members. She took over the duties of handling operations with the Familia while I handle Lord Dionysus’ personal needs and protection, so in a way, she would be the proper Captain  if she wasn’t only Level Two—her devotion is no less than mine to him, after all.”

Ah, so that’s probably another reason she was rejected by him, Lefiya realized. If she loved their God to the same extent as Filvis, and she no doubt had strong feelings of animosity due to losing so many of their comrades while Filvis survived, returning her affections would have probably fractured them further. Perhaps Filvis even felt that the Vice-Captain was more worthy of his love than her from the way she spoke…

Reaching out to touch her hands cradling her drink, the Half-Elf gave her a reassuring smile that conveyed her feelings. I’m here for you now and will continue to be. Your past doesn’t change that in the slightest.

Filvis found it in herself to smile back.

Then they finished their drinks and departed from the café. The side-streets were somewhat winding but they managed to navigate it easily enough to get back to one of the main roads that would lead back to Babel. It was then they noticed that a crowd was building further ahead. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not certain,” Filvis answered. “Should we go take a look?”

The Half-Elf nodded and the two ventured into the growing crowd until they spotted what looked to be a stage that had been set up. On it was what looked to be a crystalline substance not unlike the Quartz in the Dungeon with a rather beautiful spear lodged inside of it. And Lord Hermes was there too while flanked by members of the Ganesha Familia—including their Captain—as he gave a speech.

“I CALL TO YOU, ADVENTURERS OF ORARIO. WHO AMONGST YOU CAN PULL THIS SPEAR FROM ITS CONFINES AND BE THE CHOSEN ONE TO RECEIVE THE BLESSING OF THE GODDESS OF CHASTITY, ALONG WITH AN ALL-EXPENSES-PAID TRIP AROUND THE WORLD?”

Murmurs went out at that. An all-expenses-paid trip around the world was a big deal considering how most were confined to the city once they received a Falna. It seemed a little too good to be true but, looking at the text on the document he held up, it was pre-authorized by the Guild and thus legitimate.

Step aside!”  “Me first!” “Shove off!” Mild chaos broke out as several of the Adventurers began to tussle among themselves for the right to go first. The Captain of the Ganesha Familia sighed softly, as if she had expected as much, before motioning for her men to establish an order to things.

“If it’s simply a competition of raw physical strength, then it’ll be over the moment a First-Class Adventurer steps up,” Filvis pointed out. It was a logical assessment, and why the fighting was on the verge of breaking out. If the Ganesha Familia didn’t make them take turns, then there was nothing stopping a Level Six from coming up and putting an end to things first of all.

“An all-expenses-paid trip does sound nice though,” Lefiya mused while considering whether or not she should attempt it herself. She wanted to visit her mother since it had been quite some time, and if she could bring Filvis or Bell that would be all the better. But then there was a shout as a person she recognized lost their patience and promptly kicked down a group of five. “Mister Bete?”

The Werewolf snarled in annoyance. “Guy can’t even get to where he’s going with all your weaklings around. Clear a path, goddamn it!

“He’s as crass as always, I see,” Filvis noted. Most of the people wisely got away from him, considering his reputation. Though, strangely enough, Lefiya could spot there was a girl not too far behind him that seemed more apologetic than anything. She had long black hair and brown eyes, and while her clothes didn’t really stand out Lefiya could see makeup had been applied carefully to accentuate her features rather than overdo it.

The sight brought a smile to the God of Travel’s face as he stopped Shakti from telling him off. “IF IT ISN’T ONE OF THE LOKI FAMILIA’S EXECUTIVES. CARE TO TRY YOUR HAND TO SEE IF YOU’RE THE CHOSEN ONE?”

He scoffed. “Tch. As if I’m interested in proving anything to these chumps for a trip out of town. Keep me out of your scams, swindler.”

Lord Hermes took the insult in stride. “OH, I THINK YOU’LL FIND IT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN THAT. AFTER ALL, IF ONE OF THE STRONGEST ADVENTURERS IN ORARIO CAN’T MOVE IT, THEN IT SHOULD BE CLEAR ONLY THE CHOSEN ONE CAN AND ORGANIZE THEMSELVES SINCE LEVEL ISN’T THE DETERMINING FACTOR. AND IF YOU DO MANAGE IT, THE CROWD WILL DISPERSE. WIN-WIN EITHER WAY, RIGHT EVERYONE?”

The crowd did not agree. Loudly.

Much to the Werewolf’s annoyance, which Lefiya suspected was Lord Hermes’ aim. Bete would be inclined to try and shut them up, and since he couldn’t kick everyone here without getting in trouble the easiest solution would be to assert his dominance by grabbing the spear anyway. So, he jumped onto the stage and grabbed hold of it, intent on jerking it out in one swift motion.

The spear didn’t budge.

Hermes bore a wide smile and muttered. “Not so easy, is it?

Rrrrr….” His lips pulled back and a snarl slipped out. The eyes of even the unblessed could see his arm was visibly straining, meaning he was actively pulling away at it in earnest.

But the spear refused to budge.

The crowd, who had been intimidated before, began drawing amusement from the sight of the Werewolf’s impotent efforts to move the weapon from its foundation. And considering his race and Level, he could hear every word. It only served as kindling that stoked his desire to prove them wrong, but considering his temper…

“You can do it, Mister Bete!” Then Lefiya heard something she never expected. It was the sound of someone cheering for him amidst the crowd. And it came from that same girl she had seen before. “I believe in you!”

It can’t be… Lefiya recognized her voice. Giving her full attention to the girl who cheered the Werewolf on, the Half-Elf’s mind pictured her hair tied in a braid, glasses framing her face, and the lack of blush from the makeup on her. It was a perfect match to Leene. Oh dear Loki, Elfy was right…

“THE STAGE IS MADE OF ADAMANTITE, BY THE WAY,” Hermes said somewhat whimsically but loud enough for everyone to hear. “GO ALL OUT IF YOU WANT! THERE’S A FULL MOON OUT TONIGHT TOO, SO—”

“With all due respect, Lord Hermes, please stop provoking him!” Shakti said as the sound of metal groaning began in earnest. He had braced his legs against the ground and had the shaft in an iron-grip with both his hands, fully intent on putting all of his strength into pulling the spear out. That same strength was not to be underestimated.

The thing still didn’t budge.

What are they made of?” Filvis muttered in curiosity. “The spear itself hasn’t broken, nor the crystal. Only the stage is straining, which means that it would have to be even stronger than that. On par with Orichalcum.

And Orichalcum was the strongest substance available on the Lower World, its origins and crafting dating back to before the descent of the Gods. There was no stronger substance to be found or made by mortal hands. Yet they were looking at it, and Lefiya wouldn’t be surprised if every artisan and blacksmith in the crowd wasn’t wondering the same thing when all was said and done.

But not the Adventurers. No, they started heckling Bete even louder, as if they forgot he was literally one of the strongest people in the entire city.  “NOT SO TOUGH NOW!”ALL BARK AND NO BITE!” “SOME LEVEL SIX YOU ARE!

His amber eyes narrowed, and violent intention filled them. “SAY THAT AGAIN! I DARE YOU!

“Vanargand, you’re better than this,” Shakti said when she noticed he was about to lose his cool. She was obligated to try to stop him if he did go out of control, but after so many years within Orario she clearly expected he would have enough common sense not to attack them. “Don’t give into their provocation. Just walk away.”

To his credit, Bete refused to let the words of the weak get to him. So, after kicking the crystal hard enough that it should have been launched to the top of Babel itself only for it to remain in place, thus leaving every single craftsman and smith no doubt even more interested, he scoffed and then jumped off the stage. “…some bullshit

“Is something wrong, Lefiya?” her date asked, crimson eyes following her gaze towards where Bete departed.

“I’m just a little… shocked,” she explained.

Filvis nodded in understanding. “Yes, the fact that an Adventurer of Bete Loga’s physical prowess was unable to remove the spear is difficult to believe. Either it would take the Conqueror, or there are some other criteria we are not aware of… if it isn’t some kind of scam, that is.”

That wasn’t quite what Lefiya meant. But she decided against saying anything as she watched Leene heading off in the direction Bete had gone. The Half-Elf had so many questions that they occupied her thoughts as people lined up to try their hand where a Level Six failed. She combed through her memories for any signs that Leene had a thing for him. She did speak well of him when she was healing me from the chase and he brought me right to her, so maybe…

“OH, IF IT ISN’T THE RECORD HOLDER—” Her ears perked up as Lord Hermes announced the arrival of the current person to hold that prestige. She looked back to the stage where her brother had arrived, nervously rubbing the back of his head.

You can do it, Captain!” said a small voice at the top of tiny lungs from further to the side of the crowd. It was Primo, sitting on top of Welf’s shoulders with the rest of the Hestia Familia around them. It was adorable. “Good luck!

Of course, Bell pulled it out. He succeeded where a Level Six failed, the spear coming free and the crystal shards scattering. The sororal part of Lefiya’s mind was proud of him, of course. But the cynical part of her mind noted that it was the sort of thing that would cause him problems when he should still be laying low.

And, sure enough, she was proven correct when the sponsor of the contest arrived, who turned out to be the Goddess of the Moon, Artemis… who promptly rushed the stage and threw herself into his arms while he stood there with a dumbfounded look. And then declared him her Orion and kissed him on the cheek in front of the crowd for everyone to see…

Well, the peace was nice while it lasted. That fleeting thought crossed Lefiya’s mind as cries for blood began to go out from the less romantically fortunate amongst the crowd. She had the distinct feeling that her date would be coming to an end in very short order, if only because she was probably going to have to help the Ganesha Familia deal with the mob of jealous men likely to be coming for her brother’s head over the next few days.

…Only you could go from having a literal War Game fought over you by a God of the Sun to being declared the lover of a Goddess of the Moon in less than a month, Bell.