Chapter 10: Title Defense Match vs Hau – Part 1
Elio sat in the Champion’s Throne nestled on the top of Mount Lanakila, struggling to sit still. He was, at the moment, torn between anticipation and excitement as he cradled Silky’s ball. After all, he’d only attained the Title of ‘Champion’ a little while ago, and now he was being challenged for it.
Yet, he couldn’t find it in him to be afraid of losing it as Hau climbed the stairs and came into view, with Professor Kukui standing next to him. He looked confidant, striding with purpose that contrasted the carefree person he’d been the day they met without changing who he was fundamentally. That was the result of having come to the top of the mountain, the culmination of the Island Trials manifesting with Hau reaching the point where he was a true rival and peer to the Champion.
That was why Elio wasn’t afraid of losing the title. It would be an excellent match and they’d both try their hardest—for their own sakes, the sakes of everyone watching, and the sakes of their Pokémon, who had put their everything into reaching this point. If he lost, it would be after he’d done his very best and there was no shame in that. It only meant there was still room to grow.
That in mind, Elio couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he rose off his throne and welcomed the one who would try and usurp it. “Glad you finally made it.”
Hau smiled as he took his place on the opposite side of the field, while Kukui made his way to the center. “Yeah. I finally beat Gramps when he’s going all out too. So, all that’s left is to overcome the Trainer in front of me right now.”
“Same for me,” Elio said as he moved to his end of the field. “The Champion must defend his Title after all.”
“It does me proud to see you two standing here today. It’s almost enough to make me Burn Up. Woo!” Kukui said with a proud smile. Then a cry rang out as a shadow passed overhead and they looked up to see that Nebby was flying over the top of the dome that gave them a view of the night sky. “With your spirits blazing like an Inferno, this battle will be a good offering to the Legendary Pokémon of Alola that overlooks us now.”
Elio found it symbolic. The Legendary Pokémon of the Moon would oversee the match between the Champion and Challenger, looking down on them from above in a similar way that Tapu Koko had done for their first match during the festival. He clutched his first choice in a Great Ball and held it out. “Let’s go, Hau!”
“Yeah.” Hau pulled out his first Poké Ball and held it at the ready. “No holding back!”
Pokémon Trainer Hau would like to Battle!
“Alright then,” Kukui said as he stepped outside of the circle that marked the arena’s boundary. “Release your first Pokémon and we’ll get started!”
Both trainers flung their balls out high into the air and light speared forth to take form. “Go on, Pancho!” / “Come out, Palaoa!”
Champion Elio sent out Pangoro!
On the Champion’s side, a rumble was heard as a male Pangoro standing a little over six feet tall landed. He stood proud, donning an Assault Vest over his frame and the bamboo shoot in his mouth shifting as he gritted his teeth. Balling his paws into fists, the Daunting Pokémon slammed them together and took on a fighting stance in preparation for his match.
Pokémon Trainer Hau sent out Raichu!
In contrast, on the Challenger’s side floated a male Alolan Raichu. The rotund Mouse Pokémon with gentle-blue eyes smiled as he floated on his tail, filled with psychic powers. Even in the face of such a larger opposition, he showed no fear and only looked back to Hau to nod in understanding.
“Then, the Alolan Pokémon League Title Battle between Champion Elio and Challenger Hau, will now commence in a 6-on-6 match.” Kukui snapped his fingers, causing a barely visible barrier to generate from the arena floor and outline the bounds—to protect the trainers and himself. “Begin!”
TITLE DEFENSE MATCH START!!
Elio took the initiative. “Bullet Punch, now!”
The ground thundered as Pancho rushed his stocky body towards the Raichu as fast as he could, bearing down on the Mouse Pokémon like a goliath. With both fists clad in a metallic coating from the Steel-typing of the attack and backed by the power of his Iron Fist ability, the blow would be a heavy one for the lightweight opposition.
“Snake around it, Palaoa!”
The Pangoro’s attack missed, his metal fist swinging through empty space the moment Hau’s order was issued. In an instant, the Alolan Raichu had transitioned into a blur, a streak that surfed through the air while shrouded in a surge of pale energy. He circled around and slammed into Pancho’s head from behind with the nose of his board-tail, delivering the first blow!
Palaoa used Quick Attack!
A Critical Hit!
Pancho stumbled forward a step before getting his footing again and then glared towards where Palaoa had gone. “Grrr….”
The Mouse Pokémon was smiling as he came back around, dipping beneath the incoming Bullet Punch and then slamming into the knee of the Daunting Pokémon. The hit brought Pancho down to one knee, leaving his back exposed as the Alolan Raichu came around once more. Accelerating again, this time he slammed into the broad shoulder even faster and dropped the bipedal down to the ground entirely.
“Goroooo!!” roared the larger Pokémon as he stood back up and began to lash out at the agile mouse. It did nothing to help.
“Me and Palaoa went to the beach and worked on his surfing technique and speed just for this. Your Pokémon’s big, but it won’t be able to hit something smaller and faster than it like that,” Hau said to the Champion with a grin as the Pangoro was assailed from different sides in rapid succession. The Alolan Raichu was just too fast to hit with random swings and, while the Quick Attacks weren’t hurting all that much, the damage added up and would chip away at Pancho’s endurance to wear him out.
“Don’t think we’ve been sitting on our tails either,” Elio said. “Don’t just lash out, Pancho! Remember the training we did in the Gardens!”
“Grrrr…” Pancho grumbled as he tempered his anger. Bringing his arms close to guard his head and withstanding the blows as he calmed down, he closed his eyes and let the shoot in his mouth grasp the air. Then he began to dodge, bobbing and weaving his upper body out of the way of the attacks as they came.
Rotom had mentioned that their species could learn to read movements in the air by focusing their attention on the shoot in their mouths. Pancho had too bad of a temperament to do so at first, thinking of only punching fast and hard to end a fight. But Elio had worked on that by teaching him to calm down and focus during their training sessions in Malie Garden
“That’s the way!” Elio shouted as he thrust his fist forward. “Now, pay back everything it gave you and more!”
Reading an incoming attack, the Pangoro dodged a final time. The Mouse Pokémon passed by his head as he ducked down. Then he twisted his body, bringing his fist wreathed in dark energy into an uppercut!
Pancho used Payback!
The Mouse Pokémon cried out in a shrill shriek as the blow connected and sent him not only skyward, but spiraling out of control. The Dark-typing of the attack snuffed out the psychic energy stored in the tail, leaving him unable to levitate. The Daunting Pokémon then launched himself upwards, fist extended to deliver a Sky Uppercut as the finishing blow!
“Palaoa, Focus Blast straight down!” Hau commanded. The Alolan Raichu, still in the midst of spiraling, built up a sphere of pure power within his tail and launched right down, into the path of the ascending blow. The glare of its light reflected in the Pangoro’s eyes before the contained power was set loose, rupturing on impact and rocketing the Daunting Pokémon down to the arena floor!
Pancho hit the ground with a heavy thud on impact. Tendrils of smoke were wafting off his Assault Vest as he managed to get up to one knee and let out a groan of pain. It was just in time as the Alolan Raichu geared up to fire another one to finish the Pangoro off.
“Block it with a Stone Edge!” Elio ordered.
Gritting his teeth at the order, Pancho slammed his fist into the ground. A pillar of light-blue rock sprung up in front of him and in the middle of the projectile’s flight path as a result. It detonated on impact, scattering light-blue fragments of stone and a cloud of dust as the Pangoro got back to his feet and stood proud once more.
The Alolan Raichu mounted his tail once more, filling it with psychic energy to levitate in the air and circle around. The electric sacs on his cheeks sparked before he released a Thunderbolt to attack from behind, the lightning snaking towards the opposition’s unguarded back. But before it could hit another stone pillar rose up to intercept the attack, leaving the electricity to scorch the stone’s surface before fizzling out.
Dragging this out longer will only hurt Pancho more, Elio thought to himself before questioning what to do next. Closing the distance without an opening would put him in range for another Focus Blast, so they needed to make one. “Pancho, use Bullet Punch and send the stone flying towards him!”
Pancho reeled back and wound up a punch as metal clad his fist once more. Twisting his hips and striking with all his might, he unleashed a Bullet Punch that was strong enough to shatter the pillar entirely. The momentum sent the stone shards flying towards the aerial Mouse Pokémon in a spread pattern that encompassed most of that side of the field for a sure hit.
“Grab them with Psychic!” Hau ordered before panic could set in. Palaoa’s eyes flashed and his body was wreathed in a cerulean light as he used psychic power to send out a wave that shrouded the impromptu barrage that came flying for him in the same light. They all halted midair, now under his control. “Good job! Now send them right back!”
“Rai-Rai!!” The stones all lined up and pointed towards the now defenseless Pangoro. The electric-psychic Mouse Pokémon prepared to launch them forward—
—when the Daunting Pokémon’s throat shone with an ebon light and he bellowed out a mighty roar that sent the darkness along the sound wave, slamming into both the Mouse Pokémon and stones. “GOOOOOOOOORRRRRRROOOOOO!!!”
The Dark-type attack stripped the psychic power from both his tail and the stones as it passed through them, sending them falling towards the ground. Pancho leapt forward with all his might, metal cloaking his right fist as he took advantage of the opening. Closing the distance before his opponent could recover again, he brought it around for a singular blow!
Pancho used Bullet Punch!
A Critical Hit!
The meaty sound of metal-on-flesh was followed by a shriek cut short. The Alolan Raichu crumpled utterly under the blow and was out like a blown light as he tumbled to the ground. Pancho grabbed him before he could hit and landed with a thump, setting the defeated Pokémon that had challenged him on the ground gently.
“Raichu is unable to battle!” Kukui announced. “This round goes to the Champion’s Pangoro!”
“Rest up, buddy. You did good,” Hau said as he recalled his first Pokémon and then reached for his second. “Your turn, Koa!”
Pokémon Trainer Hau sent out Leafeon!
Taking the field for the Challenger’s side this time was his male Leafeon, Koa. The Verdant Pokémon’s brown eyes peered up at the Pangoro, assessing him as he waited for the match to begin. The damage that he’d taken before and labored breathing only served to decide how to end this.
“Begin!” Kukui announced.
Koa used Charm!
Koa just stared as Pancho charged forward to finish it as quickly as possible with a soft look in his eyes, sparkling innocence radiating from them. The eyes invaded the Daunting Pokémon’s mind, growing larger and overwhelming as they robbed him of his strength. They pleaded with him not to harm it as he bore down on the Verdant Pokémon, leaving his fist trembling as he pulled back the blow to soften the hit—
Koa used Leaf Blade!
—and was rewarded for his mercy with pain as Koa immediately dropped the Charm and a pale-green light wreathed his tail. The foliage became as solid as steel and was then brought around, striking Pancho. Hit with a surprising amount of force, the Daunting Pokémon was sent tumbling back on the ground.
“Pancho, Stone Edge!” Elio ordered as his Pokémon got back his footing. Enraged at being fooled, the Daunting Pokémon slammed his fists onto the ground and a stone pillar erupted from beneath Koa… or at least where Koa would have been if he hadn’t moved and dodged the attack. Infuriated, Pancho then began to charge again with dark energy teeming within his fists to pay it back.
Koa used Quick Attack!
Koa leapt backwards with a sort of grace that could only be found through practice, like a leaf blowing in the wind as his body spun in the air with a somersault. Then, as soon as he landed, he was wreathed in the pale energy of a Quick Attack and launched himself forward to ram into Pancho’s head for a decisive strike!
A Critical Hit!
Pancho wavered on his feet from the blow, taking two steps backwards before his legs gave out. He fell onto his knees and then his stocky body hit the ground, unconscious. Kukui called the battle in Koa’s victory as it was clear he could no longer fight.
“You were pushing yourself after that Focus Blast, huh? Thanks for that,” Elio said apologetically to the Daunting Pokémon as he recalled it. Then he threw his second Poké Ball into the air to release his next choice. “Don’t underestimate this one, Orika!”
Champion Elio sent out Oricorio!
Taking the field in a subdued yet elegant stance was the Dancing Pokémon. The Sensu-style female Oricorio made a reassuring gesture to her trainer with her fan-shaped wingtips as her eyes remained fixed on the Leafeon. The message carried: she wouldn’t underestimate it despite the type-advantage.
“Are both sides ready?” Kukui asked. They both gave him a nod, so he continued. “Then let the third battle of the Title Defense Match begin!”
Hau took the initiative this time. “Koa, blind her with Sand Attack!”
The Leafeon whipped his tail around, grains of sand surrounding it densely. With a lash, the collective grains were sent flying out as a stream that rushed down the Dancing Pokémon. She was forced to shield her eyes with her wings as it washed over her, before she spun around in a serene motion and flapped her fan-tipped wings.
Orika used Air Cutter!
Razor-sharp winds flew from her wings, scattering the sand and rushing towards the Verdant Pokémon. Koa shot out of the attack range before he could be hit while outlined in a shroud of white, darting for the Oricorio. She released another series of cutting winds to impede him, slicing at the Verdant Pokémon that refused to back down, before she realized she’d be overtaken and took flight to get some distance. But it was too late as the Leafeon pounced before she could get away, showing teeth tinged with dark energy!
Koa used Bite!
The Leafeon bit down on Orika’s wing midair, and used his momentum and weight to drive her back into the ground. The Dancing Pokémon cried out as she was then swung around like a toy. Her serene demeanor was broken by panic as she flailed her other wing out.
“Calm down and use Air Cutter while he can’t get away!” Elio instructed. Regaining control, the Dancing Pokémon brought her other wing around and released a point-blank cutting gale down on the Leafeon’s back. The attack struck hard, causing Koa to release his grip on the Oricorio that took flight once again and fluttered out of range of another Bite. “Now, Acrobatics!”
“Try it and get it with a Razor Leaf before it can hit!” Hau counter-ordered.
The Verdant Pokémon’s spun around and flicked his tail, letting loose a barrage of spinning, razor-sharp foliage towards the Dancing Pokémon that moved with a bewitching and alluring grace, her body illuminated with a cerulean light as she danced in the sky. The leaves were dodged within a hair’s breadth between her twist and turns, discerning afterimages left in her wake as she built up momentum and speed to close the distance!
Orika used Acrobatics!
Speed and power struck the Verdant Pokémon head-on and sent him into a tumble on the ground. He rolled to a stop with spirals in his eyes and moaned softly as unconsciousness took him. Kukui called it and Hau was down another Pokémon as the Oricorio landed on her trainer’s side of the field.
“Rest up,” Hau said as he recalled his Leafeon and then decided between the remaining four. “I guess it’s your turn now, Hia!”
Pokémon Trainer Hau sent out Komala!
A female Komala took to the field, her wooden log landing on the ground a split-second before she did. Holding onto it tightly with her little claws, she rubbed her cheek against it and mumbled softly as she continued to sleep. “Maa…”
Hia is drowsing!
“Orika, how bad are you hurt?” Elio asked before the next round began. She tilted her damaged wing, giving him a glance to examine the extent of the damage she’d taken. He nodded in understanding and then waited for the professor to announce the start of the match before gave the order to fix it. “Okay, heal up now!”
Orika used Roost!
She folded up her wings up and closed her eyes, her body glowing in a pale light. The damage began mending. Her wing that had been used as a chew toy no longer displaying the marks where the Leafeon’s fangs had bitten into it.
“Hia, use Earthquake before she can finish!” Hau ordered. The Komala’s large, round ears twitched in response before she raised her wooden log into the air and then slammed it into the ground. Shockwaves radiated out from the impact, knocking the Dancing Pokémon’s feet from beneath her before she could finish healing. “Now, Shadow Claw!”
“Back in the air!” Elio instructed as Hia then used her wooden log like a spinning top to close the distance, solidified shadows draping the claws on her toes making it like a circular saw. Orika managed to beat her wings and push off the ground with her feet before the Shadow Claw could connect.
Seeing she was out range for a Shadow Claw, Hau changed his order to the Drowsing Pokémon. “Make her sleepy!”
Hia used Yawn!
Hia sighed, releasing a number of clear bubbles as she as spun on her wooden log. Connecting with any one of them would make an opponent drowsy the moment that they popped. They began to rise up in the air to reach the Oricorio, creating an aerial minefield of sorts.
Orika began to beat her wings faster and release another Air Cutter to clear the air—
Hia used Sucker Punch!
—when she was abruptly smacked in the face by the wooden log, which was tinged in Dark-type energy. The blow sent her falling back down, bursting Yawn bubbles as she made her way back towards the ground. The drowsiness overtook her even as she tried to flutter her wings and stay airborne, leaving her open for a finishing strike.
Hia used Wood Hammer!
The female Komala’s log became shrouded in viridian light this time before she launched it again towards the half-asleep Dancing Pokémon while she was unable to dodge. It struck hard and fast, despite not being very effective, hitting the rather frail bird decisively and wrenching out a shriek as she collapsed onto the ground. The wooden log then bounced back into its owner’s waiting arms and she snuggled against it with a slight smile on her face.
She’s tougher than she looks, Elio couldn’t help but think as he recalled his Oricorio and Kukui announced the win for Hau’s Komala. Yet, it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if it was easy. And the way things were escalating caused his heartbeat to quicken. “Let’s take it to the next level, Shussey!”
Champion Elio sent out Goodra!
For his third Pokémon, Elio sent out his male Goodra. Shussey landed onto his side of the field with a loud thump, his pudgy body bobbing before coming to a stop. Standing at over six feet tall, he rolled his neck and looked down on Drowsing Pokémon that remained fixed against her log like a security blanket.
“If both sides are ready, begin!” Kukui announced.
The two trainers immediately gave their orders at the same time. “Use Yawn again!” / “Make it rain!”
Shussey used Rain Dance!
The Goodra raised his arms to the air and let out a roar. Dark cloud began to form over the arena, dense with rain as the Yawn bubbles began to flow towards him. The poignant and fresh scent of water filled the air as the beating of the fat droplets against the floor rang out.
It started to rain!
Elio thrust his hand forward. “Now, strike it down with Power Whip!”
Shussey’s antennae were shrouded in a deep shade of purple at the command. He whipped his head around and then thrust them forward like spears towards his tiny opponent, plowing through the Yawn bubbles to strike home. The Drowsing Pokémon was knocked back into the air even as Shussey grew drowsy.
“Spin out and counter, Hia!”
Hia used Rapid Spin!
Hia landed wobbly from the attack on the flat of her log and then used her body to build up momentum as a follow-up attack came for her, turning into a literal spinning top. She darted away as the lashing antennae smashed into the ground where she had stood, throwing up a spray of water, and cut across the arena floor. Once she was in range to launch a counter-attack, Hia bounced up to slam the spinning bottom against the Dragon Pokémon!
A Critical Hit!
Shussey buckled under the assault, staggering backwards but refusing to fall as he fought against the pain and mounting lethargy that grew with each passing second to keep track of the Komala as she continued to spin. His eyes grew heavy as he craned his head around to deliver two simultaneous strikes from the upper-left and a sweep of the bottom. His attack failed to reach as the Drowsing Pokémon circled him faster than he could keep up, landing another jumping attack at his backside and bringing him to his knees. He struggled to get back up until the urge to sleep became overpowering and finally he fell asleep.
“He’s out!” Hau shouted. “Now, bring down the hammer!”
Hia shifted from a spinning top into a hammer as she angled her log to bounce into the air, scattering the rain falling onto her fur before she turned the vertical rotation into a horizontal one. Keeping the momentum, she brought the flat of the log down like a mallet to knock the dragon from sleep into unconsciousness with another Wood Hammer—
Shussey’s Hydration activated!
—when the Dragon Pokémon’s eyes snapped open again as the pouring rain soaked into his flesh and purged him of the forced slumber. The Goodra brought his antennae around, a lavender hue cloaking them like armor as he used another Power Whip that batted the Komala mid-attack. The blow sent her flying backwards in the air with a satisfying thwack.
“Perfect!” Elio said as he pulled out a pair of aviator shades and slipped them on with one hand, pointing the other to the clouds above. “Now, call down the Thunder!”
“DRRRAAA!!” Shussey cried out as he raised his arms and antennae to the sky. In a split-second, the dark clouds roiled and grew pregnant with small streamers of lightning. Then they coalesced and turned the point just over where Hia reached her peak into a bright, yellow spot that mimicked the sun hiding within the churning darkness—
—and a bolt came down like the hammer of Arceus, a brilliant beam of electricity that lanced from above to smite the tiny Drowsing Pokémon whole as it ripped the air itself apart with a crack of thunder!
Elio squinted his eyes as the glare of the lightning that struck fast and hard was barely hindered by the shades. The scent of ozone permeated arena as the lightning faded as quickly as it appeared. The drowned-out arena lights came back into prominence, clearing their vision so that they could make the Komala that was on the ground.
“K-ko…maaa…” She whimpered, smoldering and separated from her log as she laid supine on the floor with her arms and legs still extended as though holding her comfort object of choice until the remaining tendrils of electricity wormed their way into the ground. Kukui rightfully declared her unfit to battle anymore.
“Sorry, girl. I’ll give you a rainbow Poké Bean later on,” Hau promised as he recalled her into her ball. Then he took a deep breath and faced Elio with a new one in hand. “Okay, time for you to introduce yourself, Kiwa!”
Pokémon Trainer Hau sent out Crabominable!
The ball that was thrown into the air burst open and from it fell the male Wooly Crab Pokémon. White fur broken by segments of blue made up his body, with his legs tipped in ice that left frost where they touched. Holding his segmented arms with massive paws up like boxing gloves, he gave a few thrusts that knocked droplets off his body and made a gesture for the Dragon Pokémon to come at him.
“Shussey, use Thunder again!” Elio ordered the moment Kukui gave the clearance to begin.
“Fire an Ice Hammer above you!” Hau instructed in turn.
The Wooly Crab chambered his massive left claw as ice invaded the appendage until it was completely encased both inside and out as the dragon raised his limbs and let out a cry. Then he launched it upwards with a thrust, the claw detaching at the point where the segments met. The hammer of lightning came down as the ice-coated claw rocketed above—
—and a muffled explosion rang out when the opposites met. The bolt of lightning met with the insulator that was the ice and the force of the shockwave caused the ice to shatter with enough force that it gave birth to a shower of glittering motes that peppered the falling rain. Both Elio and his Dragon Pokémon were left to look on in shock at the improvised rocket punch, and Kiwa took advantage of the opening to act.
Kiwa used Stone Edge!
The Wooly Crab Pokémon slammed his remaining arm onto the ground and a line of stone outcroppings popped up to strike the Goodra at an angle. The blunt-edge rammed into his pudgy gut fast and hard enough that the Dragon Pokémon buckled over the stone the moment it connected. Then he was launched backwards as the jutting stone stalled, transferring the momentum.
“Now bury him!” Hau ordered.
“CRABOMINA!” The roar gave birth to another dark cloud. Chunks of ice and white snow that formed within it combined with the rain and came crashing down onto the fallen dragon before he could rise again.
Kiwa used Avalanche!
The smashing of ice and snow on each other caused it to billow out, creating a white veil of misty frost that covered the field. However, it was quickly thinned by the pouring rain to reveal Shussey’s defeat. The Dragon Pokémon was face down in the snow, unconscious and half-buried with the droplets rolling off his unmoving body.
Elio recalled his companion that had been with him since the Lush Jungle as Kukui announced the round in Hau’s favor before he brushed his fingers over the three remaining balls he had to decide on who to send out next. Two of his Pokémon had weaknesses to Ice, leaving his Starter. But sending her out now would still leave him at a disadvantage if she got hurt too bad.
He made his decision. “Kiina, it’s your show! Watch out for its Ice-type attacks!”
Champion Elio sent out Shiinotic!
Taking the Dragon Pokémon’s place was a Fairy/Grass-type that stood at the height of a small child, a Big Root nestled against her neck by a small holding pouch and band. The female Shiinotic turned her head slightly and nodded in understanding from the instructions she’d received. Then she faced her opponent with a placid smile and unblinking, unwavering dark ovals for eyes beneath the hood of her cap, the brim of which drops began to roll off of.
Kukui looked between them both to see if they were ready before he nodded. “Begin!”
“Use Avalanche again!” Hau commanded.
Kiwa crafted another dark cloud thick with snow and hail to bury the half-Grass opposition. However, unperturbed by the white-and-blue downpour, the Shiinotic raised her hand towards the sky before she disappeared beneath the white cloud of frost that billowed out, the rumbling akin to an avalanche drowning out all other sounds until it stopped. The pouring rain thinned the frost veil quickly to reveal that Kiina had crafted a turquoise dome to act as a forcefield that was surrounded on all sides by the running snow and ice.
Kiina protected herself!
“Good job,” Elio said. “Now, Dazzling Gleam!”
“Block it with Stone Edge!” Hau ordered, taking a page out of Elio’s book.
Kiina dropped the barrier and dipped her head forward, leaving the cap facing towards the larger Crabominable. The Wooly Crab Pokémon slammed his remaining claw into the ground to raise a stone pillar in front of him. It was just in time a bombardment shot out and blanketed that side of the field with prismatic spears of light numbering dozens, several of which wedged themselves deeply into the stone and the floor.
“Phew…” Hau let out a sigh of relief at that before thrusting his fist forward. “Now, send it flying with your strongest punch!”
“CRABO—” He reeled back his massive claw as it was encased in ice again and then used it as a sledgehammer against the skewered stone ahead of him. “—MINABLE!”
The stone pillar shattered forward, large chunks launched towards Illuminating Pokémon. Kiina raised another Protect to shield herself, leaving them to break against it. Then the Wooly Crab Pokémon immediately charged in with an Ice Hammer and began wailing at the dome.
He’s keeping up the aggression to stop her from firing another Dazzling Gleam like before, Elio realized as the Crabominable kept whacking against the dome over and over, each blow hard enough that the water around the dome splashed up as the ground shook. Cracks were starting to form as the protection was reaching its limit and would fail eventually. But, then again, being up close is an advantage she can exploit.
“Blind him with Flash!” he ordered. The Shiinotic dropped her Protect after another hard whack and then lowered her mushroom cap again to release a blinding flash of light straight into his face. The sudden flare elicited a surprised and pained cry as Kiwa used his claw-less arm to shield his eyes and staggered backwards.
Kiina used Strength Sap!
She then extended her hands and her smile grew just a touch wider as pink motes and lavender streamers of light that represented what would be the Wooly Crab Pokémon’s inherent strength were ripped from his body. They flowed into the Illuminating Pokémon from the seemingly gentle touch as the protrusions that served as her fingers stretched out. Sensing this, Kiwa retaliated with an Ice Hammer by bringing the massive, ice-clad claw around in a broad circle to catch the Illuminating Pokémon in a brutal hit!
The ice shattered into a spray of shards and frost as the Shiinotic was thrown back onto the side of the field that was pocked with marks from the previous Dazzling Gleam attack. She bounced as she hit the ground, only for a gentle cerulean light to swaddle her as the rain seeped into her cap and activated her ability.
Kiina’s Rain Dish activated!
The injuries began to slowly mend, fading away as she rose back up with her smile back into place. She then gestured for the Crabominable to try again. As if she was stating that nothing he could do would hurt her for good, mocking him.
Kiwa growled before he came rushing in again with another Ice Hammer. His pride was his strength, forged from the cold as he fought against the dangers of the mountain to reach this point. For it to be taken lightly was an insult, more so when the half-Fairy was smiling in a way that made it seem like she’d never felt threatened by his presence. “CRABOMINABLE!”
“Wait, don’t just rush in!” Hau warned. It was too late as Kiina reeled her hand back, a spiraling orb of pink forming between the protrusions that served as her fingers. She flung it right in the rushing Wooly Crab Pokémon’s face and his figure was engulfed in the ensuing pink-tinged explosion!
Kiina used Moonblast!
He fainted, falling down as wisps of smoke wafted off of his body. But not before he used the last of his strength to thrust his ice-coated claw forward like a rocket again, sacrificing the limb. However, the desperate gamble shattered harmlessly against the Shiinotic’s Protect, his effort squandered as her smile remained wide upon seeing him fall.
I’m really going to have to do something about that habit of hers, Elio couldn’t help but think as Hau returned the downed Wooly Crab Pokémon, wondering if it really was okay to bring her from Isle Aphun for the match. Sure, she was strong. But she had something of a sadistic streak even when she was a Morelull, delighting in lording over her opponent and bringing them to their knees by taking their strength and stamina for nourishment.
Still, now it was three-to-two in terms of Pokémon available for the battle. And he knew that one of them would be Hau’s Incineroar, who Silky could handle. Looking over to Hau, he had his eyes closed and was holding an Ultra Ball in his grasp. The only question that remained was the identity of the last Pokémon he had inside of that ball.
“Challenger, send out your next Pokémon,” Kukui told him.
Hau nodded and then reeled his arm back to throw it. “Let’s show Elio what we’ve got, Kila!”
Pokémon Trainer Hau sent out Lucario!
The Ultra Ball burst open and out came the female Lucario at her trainer’s call. She landed in a crouch, blue and black fur becoming moistened by the slacking rain. Then she slowly rose to her toes as she looked towards the Illuminating Pokémon with piercing red eyes. The cap of Kiina’s hood dipped as the rain continued to alleviate her wounds, her smile and confidence still remaining unshakable even in the face of a half-Steel type.
“That’s a rare one to see,” Kukui mused before he looked over to see if Elio was ready as well, or if he’d call the Shiinotic back. Once it was clear Elio wouldn’t, he declared the beginning of the next round. “Begin!”
“Kila, get in close and use Metal Claw!” / “Kiina, keep it at range using Dazzling Gleam!”
The two contrasting orders were met with brief responses before the Pokémon carried them out. The spike protruding from the Aura Pokémon’s right forepaw was shrouded in argent light. Then it lengthened and split into a three-pronged claw.
At the same time, the Shiinotic that stood opposite her lowered the hood of her mushroom cap that shone with a radiant, prismatic light. The Illuminating Pokémon let loose her artillery and the spear-shaped beams of solidified rainbows were fired like a hail of arrows, slicing through the air towards the Lucario.
Kila used Detect!
She closed her eyes as she ran forward, the four appendages on her head rising as though floating on invisible waves. The Lucario wove between the spears that composed the overwhelming barrage facing her, each one coming within a hair’s breadth of impaling her only to be dodged until she closed the distance and chambered her Metal Claw for a slash.
Letting up on the barrage, Kiina raised her head and then extended her arms out. A viridian dome of light sprung up to protect her from the incoming slash. However, the Lucario’s left arm glowed and she brought it around for a Feint-empowered strike that shattered the dome into shards. For the first time that night, the Shiinotic’s smile dropped as the three-pronged claw came around for a devastating slash!
The Illuminating Pokémon let out a cry as the cold steel raked deep as it collided with her fibrous body. The rain that fell left her shrouded in the cerulean light of healing once more, but unlike before there was no smile as she looked up to see those red eyes fixed on her, claws raised again. Before another strike came in, she let loose a brilliant Flash point-blank once more to shut them.
The Lucario snarled as she staggered back from the stabbing pain of the light in her eyes. The Metal Claw faded in the process, as her concentration was broken. Kiina then extended her sinuous fingers to sap the strength of her opponent to mend the pain she suffered.
“Get some distance!” Hau ordered.
The Aura Pokémon avoided it in time with his shout, somersaulting backwards until she felt herself come against one of the prismatic spears of the Dazzling Gleam attack that had yet to return to motes of light as the rain stopped. She then opened her eyes to see a Moonblast coming towards her. The pink glow stemming from the attack overtook her vision and threatened to swallow her if it hit, doing massive damage.
So, using her powerful legs, she took to air with a powerful leap. The orb ruptured on impact with the ground where she’d been, the force of the explosion carrying her forward at the same time. The arch would carry her over to the Shiinotic, whose mushroom cap was illuminated once more with the prismatic light that preluded a Dazzling Gleam barrage that would skewer her from below.
Kila used Bone Rush!
But the Lucario slammed her paws together and then pulled them apart to reveal a bone staff forged of Aura as the barrage was unleashed. Twirling it around to intercept as many of the rainbow-toned spears as she could, the bulk that would strike her were battered away. Those that weren’t grazed her fur and shattered against her steel bones, earning nothing more than a light growl before she flung the bone staff towards the Illuminating Pokémon like a spear in retaliation.
“No, it’s a trap!” Elio warned as the Shiinotic raised another Protect in self-defense to block the incoming attack. While the Aura-forged staff shattered into fragments on contact, it was followed by a Feint-empowered blow that ripped open the protective field keeping the Lucario at bay.
The Aura Pokémon landed in a crouch in front of Kiina, giving her an up-close look at those intense red eyes that drove fear into the Shiinotic they honed-in with Laser Focus. The decisive blow was made in an argent flash as Kila lunged forward with her Metal Claw sweeping out to catch the fibrous body and then coming to a stop on a dime, water splashing from one of the puddles on the arena floor.
A Critical Hit!
The Illuminating Pokémon stood rigid for what seemed to a frozen moment of time. Then the claw shrank back into a spike and the Aura Pokémon exhaled as Kiina collapsed onto the ground, defeated. Kukui verified her defeat a second later and Elio was down to only two Pokémon as well.
“Where’d you find her?” Elio asked as he recalled his Shiinotic into her ball. It was his loss, but there was no ill-will. It only showed he’d need to improve on Kiina’s training so that it didn’t happen again.
“She found me and Kamala while were training on Poni Island and challenged us,” Hau explained. “One thing led to another and she decided to come along to become stronger. You’re going to have a hard time beating her.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be fun otherwise…” Elio held both of his remaining balls in his hands as he decided between them. He wasn’t expecting a Steel-type being in Hau’s possession, which put both of his remaining two Pokémon at a disadvantage again. “Let’s show her what we’ve got, Kou!!”
Champion Elio sent out Crobat!
From the ball emerged the large, four-winged male Crobat. He flapped both pair of pinions as he circled around in the air a few times, getting a feel for the arena before lowering himself onto Elio’s side of the field. Then his eyes locked with that of the Lucario as they sized one another up.
“Okay. If both sides are ready, let the ninth round in the Title Defense match begin!” Kukui announced.
The Lucario darted ahead, droplets of water kicked up from the puddles as she crossed the distance in quick bounds. Her right spike warped, becoming a claw once more as she acted on her own initiative to cut down the Bat Pokémon. The claw only passed through empty space as the Crobat took advantage of his speed to maneuver around her while waiting for instructions on how to proceed against this particular opponent.
“Kou, don’t bother with Cross Poison or Leech Life! Focus on blitzing it and start with Double Team!”
Kou confirmed the order with a quiet squeaking sound as the Lucario came around again with her Metal Claw at the ready. She sent it scything around to strike him down, only to pass through the resulting illusion, much to Kila’s surprise. Then she felt pain as something hard and fast slammed into her from behind, sending her falling forward.
She caught herself, planting her arms down to flip over and then land into a crouch, only to wince from the lingering pain of the blow. Then she saw something moving on the fringes of her vision and looked around to see that she was surrounded. One had become a swarm that surrounded her, each copy flying about in the air indiscriminately. The Aura Pokémon rose back up to her full height and extended the Metal Claw to her left spike as she took a stance of her own design.
That was when the first of the swarm attacked, shrieking as he flew forward for a straight rush while wrapped in the hue of an Acrobatics attack. Kila jumped over the assault, twisting her body to bring the claws around to reap the Bat Pokémon only have them pass through the illusion. Then came another burst of pain that forced out a yelp as she was hit from behind and then sent flying back to the ground. The shrieks multiplied and came from all directions as the individuals of the swarm closed in from different angles to attack while she was downed.
Kila kicked up off the ground into a flip to escape the first one that passed by where she had been and then brought her claws around to lash at the ones coming from the left and right. That left her front seemingly open and one Crobat came for her with an Acrobatics again. She twisted her body and came around with a somersault kick before he could reach… and passed through the copy, leaving her to land in a crouch before being stricken from the right.
A cerulean comet would be the easiest way to describe Kou as he swept her up. Pain sank deep, right down to her metal bones as the Crobat sent her tumbling over the ground, leaving her to bounce twice. She used her claws to brake and then let out a low growl as the cacophony of bats increased in volume once more.
“KILA!!” Hau called out over the noise. She half-turned her head so that he knew he had her attention, while not taking her eyes off the swarm itself. “You can’t rely on your eyes or ears. Ignore them and focus!”
Kila nodded her head and then took on a natural stance as she closed her eyes to use Detect. The four appendages on her head began to move, bobbing on invisible waves. Then when the attacks came she just stood there, allowing the first three copies to harmlessly phase through her body before she abruptly spun out of the way of one coming from her left side, bringing claws around to catch it.
The attack missed. Not because it phased through, but because the Crobat had used his second set of wings to maneuver his oval body into going over the first that came from below and parallel to the second one that came in at a diagonal angle. Escaping from that, Kou twirled around so that he was facing the Lucario as she moved to lunge while releasing a saw-like blade of air from assault wings as the momentum carried him further back.
Crobat used Air Slash!
The blade of slicing air managed to catch the Lucario off-balance and struck her abdomen, causing her to flinch in surprise as a brief shroud of blue coated her body before fading. That was when Kou shot back around with an Acrobatics. The attack would have mowed her down if she hadn’t pivoted on her toes to get off-line of the attack, leaving him to linger a safe distance away before looking over to his trainer.
“Cage her in!” Elio commanded.
Kou nodded and then beat his wings to rise before turning over and leaving Double Team copies along his flight path as he accelerated again. The copies branched out further until they formed a dome around the Lucario, circling her as she clasped her paws together and then closed her eyes again to use Detect. Then the attacks came in earnest, blades of wind slicing through the air interspersed by the clones.
From above, from the left, from the right, from ahead, from behind, at varying degrees—the Air Slashes struck from different angles to cut down Kila and leave no avenue for escaping. Yet, in an excellent display of martial prowess from the Lucario, she avoided taking a solid hit. Instead, her claws flashed, coming into contact with the blades and separating the bonds that held them together so that they ruptured before they could so much as cut her down.
Seeing his attacks coming up short from above, Kou dropped the clones and performed a steep, slice turn. That put him level to the ground and facing the Lucario’s backside, though she turned as though she expected it. No matter, since he rapidly spun in an aileron roll while letting loose a strafing barrage of Air Slashes in rapid succession and her body flickered with a blue glow as they flinched her. He then accelerated into the opening under the effect of the Acrobatics technique, cerulean light wreathing his body as he shot forward once more and landed a heavy strike!
A Critical Hit!
“That’s the way!” Elio cheered. “Now, launch her up into the air and send her right back down!”
The blue comet rocketed upwards from beneath the Lucario and carried her into the air. Kou then stalled and let the momentum pass through her, sending her higher into the air. Finally, he looped to her backside and launched an Air Slash towards the unprotected spot.
Kila turned swiftly and brought her arms around before it could hit to shield herself using the claws. The Air Slash connected, sending her flying backwards until she landed on the ground in a roll. She got back up, only to collapse onto one knee and hold her abdomen again where the last blow had hit.
“One more hit will do it!” Elio said as Kou looped back down to follow through. He came around for the downed Lucario once more with an Acrobatics, accelerating into a decisive strike—
Kila used Metal Claw!
—only to be stricken as Kila rushed to meet him faster than he’d expected, her argent claws coming into his vision when it was too late for him to dodge. The Bat Pokémon was sent into an aerial tumble that would have sent him crashing to the ground if he hadn’t righted himself with frantic flaps of his wings. Then he looked back towards the source of his pain to find nothing there.
“Kou, use Air Slash behind you!” Elio shouted in warning, his voice panicked.
The Crobat acted in an instant. Whirling around while readying an Air Slash, he turned to find the Lucario in the air behind him. She was glaring at him with Laser Focus, so the last sight he caught as he released the blade of wind was the gleam of the arena lights on the claws as they came around. Then there was only the pain of the critical hit and the sensation of the ground knocking him unconscious.
Not that Kila was in better shape. The moment the Air Slash connected, her body buckled under the invisible blade of wind, her claws withered back into spikes, and a pained grunt was forced out of her mouth as she was sent right into the ground as well. The proud warrior tried to rise once more, but her trembling body gave out under its own weight and she fell down as well.
Looking at them both in silence for a moment, Kukui then made his declaration. “Both Pokémon are unable to battle any further. This round is a draw, meaning the next one will decide the Title Defense match.”
Chapter 9: Concerns of a Goddess and Child
“I thought you might know her, given your Familia is a medicinal-type and that’s part of her dominion,” Hestia said, noting that the smell of medicines being brewed was somewhat poignant as it clung to the back of her throat.
Unaware of her child’s venture into the Dungeon, Hestia had gone to visit her friend Miach’s shop the moment she got off work. Miach once had one of the most prominent Medical Familias in all of Orario. A rival to the famed Dian Cecht Familia in its prime.
Miach’s Familia had fallen on hard times due to the fact that one of his children, Naaza, had sustained an injury that cost her an arm and left her with a crippling fear of the Dungeon. The price of replacing the arm, which was no doubt raised to unreasonable amounts by Dian Cecht to be rid of his competition, had left the Familia with a huge debt. Now, much like Hestia, he had only a single child as well.
Whereas some other Gods and Goddesses would abandon a child who was no longer able or willing to go into the Dungeon, he’d taken it upon himself to ensure the best possible treatment for his own. There was no ill will when he allowed his other children to leave the Familia so they wouldn’t be burdened. Instead, he sheltered it on his own shoulders without complaint.
Hestia actually admired him for that.
“Hmm…” Miach brought his hand to his chin in thought at Hestia’s question. “Well, it’s been some time since I’ve even heard her name. She had quite a bit of trouble establishing a Familia with myself and Dian Cecht around, and I haven’t seen her in Orario for years now at any of the functions we attend. So it’s possible that she left for greener pastures elsewhere.”
“That makes things a bit difficult then,” Hestia said, followed by a sigh. It was extremely difficult for an established Familia and Adventurers to leave the city, due to the amount of paperwork involved. Even with only one child to her name, it would take time to get clearance. “I don’t know where to begin to look for her if she’s left, but I need to find her.”
“Well, Hermes would probably be aware of her location,” Miach suggested. “I can’t be certain whether he will attend or not, but the Banquet of the Gods is tomorrow night. I hadn’t planned on attending myself, but you could go and try asking the others there if they’ve heard from her as well.”
Hestia’s lips formed into a small frown at the thought. She wasn’t really in the mood to attend the celebration either. And she knew that Loki would be there. Being the Goddess of one of the larger Familias in Orario had given her a big ego, especially when Hestia only had one child in her care…
But it was the best place to go for information. And Hephaestus would be there, which would allow Hestia to talk to her without having to wait for her schedule to be cleared. So, she supposed she had to go.
Thanking Miach for the advice, Hestia departed back for the abandoned church that she called home. It belonged to Hephaestus, but she was allowed to use it for both herself and her child. Some distance away she could see Bell opening the door to the church, peeking in through a crack as though to spy on what was inside. She opened her mouth to call out to him on reflex until she noticed… well, everything.
Bell’s clothes were in a horrible condition. The fabric of his shirt was torn, reduced to red-tinged scraps that hung off his frame and exposed his skin in patches—though his Falna was thankfully covered up. His pants had tears in them too, claws or fangs having dug into them at one point and pulled free flesh judging from the bloodstains on them.
In his hand was a long weapon wrapped in a cloth stained a disturbingly dark shade of crimson to hide the blade. It looked like the one he’d shown her yesterday from that nightmarish place that he’d went after he… after he died.
Did he die again without me knowing? Her blood ran cold at the thought until Bell opened the door further and began to enter. She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat and called out to him. “Bell!”
He went from a foot in the door to ramrod straight, slowly turning his head towards her with a mechanical stiffness. The expression on his face wasn’t that of the one he’d shown her yesterday when he first got back to her side, ruby-toned eyes lacking the horror they’d held before. It was just a look of shame, or guilt perhaps?
“Goddess, I….” He swallowed, and then threw himself on the ground to bow his head. “Forgive me! I went to the Dungeon today!”
…It was like a child who had been caught doing something that he wasn’t supposed to apologizing to his mother. The moment she realized that, the tension lessened. Hestia let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in relief. Then the scolding started.
“I told you to take it easy after that happened yesterday,” she said, placing her hands on her hips. “Why did you go back to the Dungeon?”
He raised his head until he was sitting his knees, hands resting on his thighs. “I didn’t want you to have to work to support me when I was still capable of going into the Dungeon. It wouldn’t have been fair to you.”
“Going in after what you just went through isn’t any better,” Hestia pointed out, crouching down to look over his body. There wasn’t a scratch on him from what she could tell, despite some of the blood on his clothes definitely being his. The other hues were from monsters, if she had to guess. “Explain what happened to your clothes.”
“A lot of monsters came out to attack me,” he started. “The Kobolds weren’t much of a threat though. In fact, the usual ones didn’t really manage to touch me. I think it was because of the increase in my Falna. Most of the tears were from the War Shadows when they worked with the Frog Shooters, but—”
“Wait, War Shadows!?” Fear crept up her spine as she recognized the name of that kind of monster that lurked in the Dungeon. They weren’t found on the upper floors, where rookie Adventurers worked out of. She grabbed his shoulders and demanded, “Bell… how far down did you go?”
He fixed his eyes to the ground in shame before he mumbled the answer she didn’t want to hear. “The Sixth Floor.”
Her fear turned into anger born from worry. He had just died on the Fifth Floor not even a day ago. He’d died, gone to a nightmarish place of blood and beasts, and fought desperately to return to her side. And he went even lower into the Dungeon after that? “Why?”
“…because all I can do is go into the Dungeon,” he said after a moment. “I didn’t plan on going past the Fifth Floor at first, but it was too easy. The Goblins and Kobolds didn’t pose a threat, and the Minotaur was an irregularity. I was just going to go a floor or two deeper to familiarize myself with the monsters there for when I eventually did go deeper.”
Hestia wanted to say that he shouldn’t have gone there at all. That he shouldn’t force himself to do that. That she was afraid of losing him without even realizing it again. But he was an Adventurer and, as much as she wanted to keep him safe, he did have to go lower at some point.
There was no telling how long it would take for her to find Hermes or Achelois, and the number of people she could trust to tell about Bell’s ordeal could be counted on a single hand if she wanted to make sure it didn’t spread around. Even so, until they knew what was going on, she didn’t want him to put himself at risk like that. There were too many things they didn’t know about his condition: the tampering with his Falna by the Doll, the Blessing of Flora and Beasthood skills that he’d gotten, and everything else. She needed to find answers for that first so that she could help him.
“Bell,” she said softly. His eyes rose to meet hers and she had a pleading look in her eyes. “Promise me that you won’t go into the Dungeon until I at least get back from the Banquet of the Gods. Okay?”
He nodded obediently. “I promise I won’t go into the Dungeon until you get back and tell me too.”
She could tell he wasn’t lying, so she placed her trust in him once more as she stood back up. Then she noticed the bag on his back and how it had a visible weight to it. “You didn’t exchange the magic stones yet, did you?”
“I was planning on going to the Guild after I got changed since I didn’t want to freak out Miss Eina again,” he said as he rose up to his feet, scratching the back of his head. “She… kind of told me not to go that deep as well just yesterday.”
The Goddess of Home and Hearth huffed. He should have listened to that advice. “Then get changed and go trade in everything you got at the Guild. You can use that money to buy yourself new clothes, pay off the loans you have, and whatever else you need.”
Her sapphire eyes then turned to the weapon he had in his hand. It was definitely different from the one she’d seen before. Taller, with the wrapping even more smeared with blood and filth. “And when you get back, you’re going to tell me how you got this one too.”
I hope this’ll do as an apology to her, Bell thought to himself as he looked down to the bag he was carrying in his hands, containing not only a change of clothes to replace that he lost today in the Dungeon but gifts from a book store and accessory shop that were close to Babel. He passed by them every day but rarely gave them a glance normally, since they didn’t interest him very much. Today though, he wanted to appease Hestia after he’d disobeyed her by going that deeply into the Dungeon, so he’d spent time finding something he thought she would like.
It was getting dark now, partly due to the fact that it had taken so long to exchange his magic stones and monster drops at the Guild a little while ago. It was busier than usual, or at least by his normal standards since he only hung out in the Upper Floors and could get back to the surface relatively quickly since he didn’t often have much to carry. He supposed for people who went deeper, it was natural they’d surface later.
The valis he’d earned from the monster drops, rather than the magic stone shards. were more than enough for him to pay off the cost of the equipment and knife he’d been given by the Guild starting out. That was a testament to how ferociously the Dungeon had tried to get rid of him, since only places where the magic was extremely dense in their bodies persisted after the stones were removed from them. He would need to buy some lightweight armor before he went that deep into the Dungeon again after Hestia finished going to the banquet tomorrow.
Still, I wonder if it’ll be enough to please her? I know she likes books, but not specifically which ones would interest her the most. And while the ribbon is the same color as her normal one, it’s a bit thicker—
His head snapped up as he felt eyes, heavy and hard peering down on him from somewhere. It was like the weight of an ocean pushing down on him, a whirlpool spiraling to pull him in. He looked around to see that there were others on the street, some humans, other demi-humans, none that were focused on him.
He started walking again, gaze peering over his shoulder as he tried to see if there was anyone fixated on him. Am I imagining things or maybe—
Bell’s train of thought was broken when he bumped into someone by mistake, a soft and feminine voice slipping out in surprise. He looked down to see he had toppled a girl who looked slightly older than him, dressed in a pale green skirt and white blouse. Her hair was a shade of grey that was closer to blue, matching her eyes as she looked up at him with a surprised expression.
“I’m so sorry!” Bell said hastily, extending a hand for her to take. Her slender fingers found their way into his and he pulled her onto her feet. “Are you okay?”
“Just a bit startled, but nothing broken,” she said as she dusted herself off and took in his appearance. “You wouldn’t be an Adventurer, would you?”
He nodded his head. “I haven’t been one for long, but I am.”
That bit of news seemed to make her day as her inquisitive look transitioned into a smile and she clasped her hands together. “That’s lucky. I was actually coming out to look for one.”
“Mm-hm.” She gestured to the building made of stone, standing two stories tall with a terrace in the middle. It could honestly pass as an Inn at a glance, and there was an abundance of sounds coming through the double doors, indicating that it was lively within. “Our bar, the Hostess of Fertility, is having a special right now for new Adventurers. You’ll be able to eat one meal for free, whatever you want.”
“…I’ll have to pass,” he told her, reluctantly. The thought of eating free food appealed to him greatly, but he didn’t want to spend more valis than necessary given their living situation. However, he’d feel guilty if only he got to eat a delicious meal when she didn’t after working.
However, the girl with eyes and hair that caught a slight sheen in the encroaching moonlight bit her lower lip and gave him a pleading look. “If not you then I’ll have to wait out here in the dark until someone else comes by or Mama Mia will be upset with me.”
“I just wouldn’t feel right that I got to eat something great when my Goddess hasn’t,” Bell said, looking away and thinking about how unfair it was she was plying him with that sort of shy, cute look. “We’re not that well-off as a Familia.”
She immediately turned it around on him. “We allow you to carry out as well. You can try something and then bring another one back to her as a gift. That way we’ll both get what we want and she’ll be happy you were thinking about her.”
It… couldn’t hurt, could it? Bell opened his mouth to give her a response when the din of the Main Street in the early night was broken by the sound of his stomach rumbling, much to his embarrassment. In his defense, the last thing he’d really eaten were the snacks Hestia had gotten him as breakfast.
“Should I take that as a ‘yes,’ Mr. Adventurer?” she asked, a playful smile on her face.
He could only scratch his head and respond with a sheepish, “I guess one meal couldn’t hurt… Miss…”
“My name’s Syr Flover,” she said, introducing herself. “You can just call me Syr. And you?”
“Bell Cranel,” he answered. “Just Bell is fine.”
“Then follow me inside, Bell.” She grasped his hand with both of hers and led him inside. A warm glow was spreading throughout the wooden interior due to the lanterns burning above, giving off a contemporary atmosphere that would lift the spirits of anyone. The staff were all women, interracial ranging from Elven to Cat People, smiling as they moved with purpose between the different tables housing other Adventurers that were all sitting and reveling in their drinks and food as they chatted with one another.
It was a nice place, if Bell had to admit. One that made the dangers of the Dungeon far off and forgotten. But that feeling of being watched was still there, the pressure lessened but not completely gone. His eyes spanned the place once more, but he still couldn’t make out who was observing him. Was he just paranoid after all?
“Mama, here’s a new Adventurer for you,” Syr said as she brought him to a seat at the counter, where the Dwarfess that he presumed to be the owner was waiting. “This one’s special, so treat him well, okay?”
Then Syr was gone and Bell was alone at the counter seat. Mia’s dark eyes sized him up and Bell felt relatively small compared to her. However, she then smiled and spoke in a manner and broke the image had been forming of her in his head. “How long have you been an Adventurer?”
“Ah, a little over two weeks now,” he replied politely as he sat the bag he carried down on the floor. “I just arrived in Orario around then and joined a Familia, so I haven’t been in a bar before now.”
“Then you’re in luck. The Hostess of Fertility is one of the finest establishments in all of Orario! We serve the people during the day, and Adventurers here at night.” She passed him a menu along. “Eat to your heart’s content!”
He took it, or rather had it forced into his hands, and looked through the choices he had. The menu was rather diverse, so he placed an order to see if it was something Hestia would enjoy. It had barely been in front of him for a minute before Syr returned, dragging a stool next to him and taking a seat in it.
“So, how do you like our bar and food so far?” she asked.
“They’re both great,” he told her with a slight smile, though he’d only take a bite out of it so far. “I don’t think I’ve had food this good since I got here, and it feels nice to be somewhere with people who are just unwinding without having to watch out for the next thing trying to leap out of the shadows to kill you. I’d like to bring my Goddess here someday too.”
“Which Goddess do you serve under?”
“Hestia,” he said, to which she looked a bit unfamiliar with. Not surprising. “You probably haven’t heard of her since our Familia only started about two weeks ago and it’s just the two of us. We’re pretty poor, so I have to go into the Dungeon everyday so that we can make a living.”
“It must be hard doing all of that alone.”
“I stumbled around at first because I didn’t have someone to teach me, but I’m managing now.” Ignoring what happened yesterday, he thought privately to himself. “Besides, I’m not alone since my Goddess is there when I get back. That counts more than anything else.”
She tilted her head slightly at that, a rather playful smile forming on her face again as he took a bite of the meat next. “It sounds like you’re in love with her when you say it like that.”
Bell nearly choked at the accusation, a spot of crimson painting his cheeks. He forced down the meat and gasped before stating. “No, it’s not like that!”
“What is it like then?” Syr asked as she looked at him expectantly.
“When I came to the city, I tried to join some of the bigger Familias,” he explained. “Every single one rejected me, since I was a farm kid without any sort of experience, and I didn’t have any family since my Gramps died a year ago. If she didn’t take me in, I wouldn’t have anything at all. Since then it’s been like having a family again, even if it’s just the two of us. She’s supporting my dreams and helping me in whatever way she can, despite having so little herself. I’m really grateful to her, so I want to make her happy and repay her no matter what. Is that wrong?”
“…No, it’s not,” Syr said in a softer tone. “You’d be surprised at how many people feel that way.”
Bell thought he caught a deep meaning with the way she said that, but then she perked right back up and changed the topic to tell him a little more about the Hostess of Fertility. It turned out that Mama Mia was a former Adventurer herself and that she hired girls or women from different background. Since she liked meeting new people and learning new things, the job was one that Syr found enjoyment in as well since she’d never really get bored.
“I know the feeling,” Bell said. “It was overwhelming when I first got here. It still is, really. But you learn something new every day and there’s still a bunch left to learn as you go on. That’s what makes Orario special.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Syr agreed with a smile that seemed to brighten the room a touch more.
Bell found himself staring for a moment at the sight, before the doors opened and a group of ten or so Adventurers entered. His heart stilled as he noticed the golden-haired figure among them, one who had seen him that day on the Fifth Floor. Ais Wallenstein had arrived with other members of the Loki Familia in tow, bringing his moment of peace to an end.