Chapter 6: Return to the Fifth Floor
Bell’s first sight upon returning to the Hunter’s Dream was once more the Plain Doll, who stood at the base of the stairway that led to the flower-strewn field. The soft, unblemished features of her porcelain face contrasted the downtrodden and bloodstained visage that Bell wore. Exhaustion and hopelessness were all that composed him beneath the blood that covered him from the Cleric Beast as his Saw Cleaver hacked through its skin.
“Welcome Home, Good Hunter,” she said in greeting. “The Little Ones have been making quite a stir recently. It would seem that something has caught their attention within the field.”
Bell looked over to the field from his perch to see there, in the middle of the moonlit flowers, stood a new headstone. It was a phantasm, much like the lanterns, and shrouded in pale flames that danced beneath the gaze of the moon that watched over the Hunter’s Dream. His sorrow and exhaustion were forgotten as it enthralled him, drawing his feet closer to it of their own accord.
Where Bell went, the Doll followed. She tilted her head as she observed the new fixture that was before them. “…How strange. I have never seen this particular headstone, nor do I recognize the words.”
“I recognize them,” Bell said as the Messengers parted so that he could kneel in front of it. “It’s the language of my home. The top reads my name, so I think it’s mine? The words beneath it… ‘A Hunter’s Respite’ from the look of it.”
The moment he brushed his fingers over the words, a vision flashed into his head. It showed him the moment when the Minotaur first accosted him on the Fifth Floor. He jerked his hand back and the vision faded.
Was… was that the moment of his death, in the Dungeon? If the headstones were the method by which he could leave the Dream, did that mean it was his way home too? The thought left his hands trembling, with the very idea of returning to his Goddess’ side threatening to spill crystalline tears from his eyes.
“Is there something that ails you, Good Hunter?” the Doll asked as she kneeled beside him.
“N-No…” He wiped his eyes with his forearm as he stood up. If he really was returning home, at the point where he died, then that Minotaur would be there, just like with the Beast when he died there and returned to the Dream. He needed to be ready for it. “Can you channel the Blood Echoes I gained from the Beast?”
“Of course.” She reached for his hand and tenderly took it into her grasp. The warm, all encompassing sensation of the echoes thrumming to life spread across his body. “What do you wish to be emboldened?”
His thoughts shifted to the Minotaur and how it had ran him down. Compared to the Cleric Beast, it was slower. But it was still capable of overtaking him if he wasn’t faster. And he needed to be stronger, so that his body didn’t break under the weight of its fist a second time. The need called to the roused echoes and they rushed to fulfill that desire, leaving him feeling more than he was before.
“I’m going back home,” he told her after she’d finished.
She nodded. “I will be here when you return from your respite, to continue the Hunt.”
Bell didn’t exactly intend to return to the Dream or Yharnam at all if he could help it. He wanted out of the Hunt. So once he crossed that threshold, he wouldn’t come back. But all the same, he was grateful to her and the Little Ones. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“There is no need to thank me, Good Hunter,” she said humbly. “I exist to aid you.”
Bell pressed his hand against the headstone and then focused on the vision that came to his mind. Diving into it, Bell felt like he was falling and the world melted. Then he opened his eyes again with a heavy gasp to find he was back in the Dungeon.
It was the wide-square room where he’d met his end before, after being chased on the Fifth Floor by the Minotaur. He’d run through hall after hall, screaming for help and doing his best to survive. And it had all been for naught.
He wanted to think it had all been a nightmare, a hallucination bought on by the stress. That made the most sense. He’d simply passed out and had a bad dream… except, he could feel the weight of the Saw Cleaver in his hand.
He brought it closer to his face. The scent of the blood from the giant Beast was still lingering on it, wafting off it with a poignant scent that prickled his tongue for what he decided was an inexplicable reason. He shut his eyes, exhaling a staggering breath.
The sound of a deep, bovine roar snapped his eyes opened. The Minotaur stood off ahead of him, a bull-headed creature composed of corded muscle that towered over him by almost twice his height. It bore the same crimson eyes of rage that shone like devilish stars as it peered down upon him, took the same heaving breaths that made its chest rise and fall, and frothed at the mouth from a long chase.
It was the moment of his death, beneath its mighty fist. His head had been utterly crushed, the pain brief but memorable. That was when the Hunt began for Bell for the first time, a fate from which he had just escaped.
Would dying here a second time send him once more into those filthy and beast-laden streets? Would he once more have to face abominations like the Beast? He could still recall the three deaths he suffered at the hands of the creature that towered over him even more than the Minotaur—death by crushing, death by falling, and death by devouring.
His fingers trembled in his grasp at the thought of returning to the Hunt. Then fear turned to anger as the monster responsible lumbered forward. It sought to send him back that place he’d just escaped.
“URROOAARRR!!!” roared the Minotaur before charging him once more.
“RRRRAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!” Bell roared right back, determination and fury threading his vocal cords and muscles as he met its charge with one of his own. He wouldn’t die a second time. He wouldn’t go back there!
Ais’ legs carried her through the Sixth Floor with haste towards the exit, where one of the Minotaurs that fled from the lower floors had gone. A number of them had ran from her Familia on their way back from an expedition, and now the race was on to stop them before they ended up killing some unfortunate upper-floor adventurers,
Waiting for her along the way were Wall Shadows, numerous and right in her path. The Dungeon had been spawning monsters left and right as though to stall her, fodder they may have been. They’d cost her seconds already on the way up, and every one counted from this point on.
“Blow Through!”Churning winds veiled her in armor as she pressed ahead, tearing apart the claws of solidified shadows as they tried to strike her down. Rocketing forward through the halls and up the stairs, the wind wrapping Ais dispersed as she came to an abrupt stop.
An overwhelming scent slammed into her like a brick wall. It was one she’d never encountered before, powerful enough to leave her ears deaf and her vision blurred, all while her brain throbbed. Was it some kind of magic?
She held a hand to her head as the sensation lessened, even though the scent was still lingering in the air. Her ears caught the sound of a hide being torn into, a roar of indignation, and a fevered shout. The sounds of battle—someone had met with one of the Minotaurs. Ais forced herself towards it, vaulting through the halls until she came across the battle being waged in slow-motion at her level.
The Minotaur was there. Its massive frame was dotted with red lines, crimson streamlets flowing freely in the air as it swung its massive arm with all the strength its corded muscles could afford to unleash. The fist came within a hair’s breadth of smashing in the smaller figure that rolled out of the way, allowing it to hit the wall of the Dungeon and leave a crater in its wake.
The adventurer, a boy, rose to his feet from the roll and brought his butcher’s weapon around. The teeth of the slab of metal were like fangs that forced themselves into the thick hide of the monster, biting into it on impact. With a roar, he pulled it out the side and the fangs tore themselves free with a spray of crimson that painted his white-hair with splotches of red.
Pain and fury and spittle left the Minotaur’s throat as it kicked back with its hoof. The boy brought the weapon around to intercept it with the flat of the blade, only for it to carry him along and send him flying through the air. He cried out as he hit the ground, curling up to vomit a mixture of blood and stomach fluids. The monster leapt for his downed form, both arms chambered to crush him on impact.
Ais’ legs tensed to move and cut it down mid-flight. The only reason she stalled was because she saw the boy falling back into a roll that would carry him out of the way of the crushing attack. There were unwritten rules against kill-stealing between adventurers, or at least those that sought to honor them, so she wouldn’t intervene unless he needed it.
Sure enough he escaped in time from the attack, getting back to his feet as the monster realized it missed. It then charged for him with the intention of goring him on its horns. He wavered for a moment, wincing in pain from the hoof, and then he leaned forward onto the balls of his feet and jumped over its charge.
His empty hand came up and grasped a horn, allowing him to remain on its back. The other slid up the weapon to flick a switch on the handle, unfurling it with a click. Bracing himself, he brought the backside down on the opening between the Minotaur’s neck and shoulder.
The sound of bone breaking reached Ais’ ears before the roar of the Minotaur. It flailed its arms in retaliation, trying to knock him free. The boy ducked under the first grasp, but was forced to bring his arm up to shield his head as the other fist came around and knocked him loose.
He fell onto the hard ground headfirst; blood seeping from the gash where his skin was ripped open before his skull. It sounded like he was crying as he rose up again, struggling onto his feet as the Minotaur pulled the weapon out of its body and then threw at him. He narrowly avoided being split open as it sawed past his head and clattered onto the ground behind him.
Huffing, the Minotaur readied for another charge at the boy as he reached another object tucked away on his person and raised it up to meet the incoming threat. With the sound of caged thunder, a piece of metal left the opening of the weapon with a burst of smoke. The Minotaur’s right eye burst open on contact as it crossed the distance between them. It roared in agony, bloody fingers coming up to cradle the wound as it dropped to its knees, its charge halted for the moment.
The boy rushed in. Deprived of his fangs, he used his claws. Shoving his hand into the furrow he carved into the thick hide of the Minotaur, widening the wound to where it’s very life cascaded over him, he grasped something deep within the monster. Then he pulled, mouth gaping wide as a scream forced itself out with the blood-soaked arm to reveal the Minotaur’s magic stone within his clinched fingers as its body turned into dust.
Haggard, heavy breaths left his mouth like that of a ragged beast. His body remained tensed, ready to spring into action as his eyes scanned the room for anymore signs of danger. Then they settled onto her.
The moment those red eyes peered at Ais, a shiver crawled up her spine. Her mind flickered as his figure turned into something that she couldn’t register, something so alien that the whisper of an inhuman threat came to mind. She brandished her blade on instinct; shifting one foot back and lining herself up so that she could easily kick off the ground and launch herself into a thrust.
The whisper faded when she blinked, only to see the figure was a boy again, staring at her in confusion. He looked down at the weapon in her hand, pointed at him, and then to his blood-drenched arm and the magic stone in it. Horror painted his face in that instant as he took a few steps back, only for his foot to brush the discarded weapon and tripped him onto the ground.
The sight of disarmed her entirely. Ais let loose a breath she didn’t know she had been holding as the ominous feeling that riled her on an instinctive level vanished. She lowered her sword and opened her mouth to ask if he was alright, but the words didn’t come out before he snatched his weapon up and ran towards the floor exit.
There was a knot of guilt in her chest at scaring him off. She didn’t mean to react like that. Whatever that abnormal scent clinging to him was must’ve done something to her. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t properly place it. In fact, just thinking about it too much made her head ache.
Ais shook her head once and then brushed it off. She had to make sure that no other Minotaurs were left. That abnormal scent and an apology could come later on.