Chapter 10: The Opening of the Second Act
“I can still recall the screams. I can still recall the roars. I can still recall the smoke, the flames, and the terror the night that the Kingdom of Elcos fell. Monsters had been building in numbers over the years. But that night they overran the city’s defenses before anyone knew what happened. The castle that had welcomed refugees from all races warmly was decimated in the blink of an eye and the city around it was left to burn.
My parents were torn to pieces protecting me and so I survived. But I was trapped beneath the rubble, half-buried as flames crawled over the city. As others ran to escape the monsters all I could do was cry out. But the others could only hear the voices of their own kind, and the only two people who would hear the voice of a half-breed like myself were no longer there.
As I cried out until my voice was hoarse, I almost gave up and was ready to join my parents in the next life. That was when I heard the words that I never thought I would hear. They were…
‘Don’t worry. I will save you.’”
—The Night Elcos Fell
Being kidnapped had been a novel experience for Lefiya.
Her trip to Melen had been a lot more… violent than she had expected. They had gone to investigate the Violas and it turned out Amazons from Tiona and Tione’s homeland had arrived as well. Then she had gotten tricked by their Goddess, Kali, to be used as bait to lure them into a battle to the death.
Her Familia had managed to resolve the situation. But once more it reminded her of her own limitations. She hated that feeling of being helpless and weak. And while none of them would blame her, she still felt it weigh on her heart.
That was why she had decided to go into the Dungeon today on her own to train. But, before that, she wanted to give her brother his treat before she forgot… except she realized that she didn’t know where he lived. His Familia was rather obscure in contrast to the Loki Familia, meaning that she would need help finding it.
However, she recalled that they shared a mutual acquaintance in Miss Ryuu. The Elven Warrior worked within the Hostess of Fertility that the Loki Familia frequented often as a waitress. She hoped that the Elf would be able to tell her where she could find him.
The restaurant was both rustic and modern for Orario, made of stone but covered in timber framing with an artistic depiction on the central pillar. It towered at least two-and-a-half stories tall and was connected to a nearby building that she presumed served as lodging for the women who worked in it or storage. Outside of it was one of the waitresses, the silver-haired young woman who was slightly older than her.
“Hello,” she said upon recognizing her. “It’s unusual to see members of your Familia here this time of the day. Did you want to try the morning menu?”
The Hostess of Fertility changed its menu depending on the day or evening. The menu in the day catered to civilians as they were the ones who were the most prominent while Adventurers were heading to the Dungeon for the morning rush. It was in the evening, after they had visited the Exchange and gained valis for their work, that they would change the menu to cater to the Adventurers.
“Actually, I was hoping to speak to Miss Ryuu?” she asked.
“Oh?” The Human looked her over with a curious glance before giving her a nod. “Sure, let me go get her.”
It was only fifteen seconds or so before Miss Ryuu emerged from the entrance. The cool demeanor she possessed was far more placid to Lefiya, although that might be because she had seen her when she was operating as an Adventurer. If not for that she wouldn’t be able to put the dots together.
“You wished to speak to me, Miss Viridis?”
She nodded. “Forgive me if I pulled you away from your work, but I wanted to ask if you knew where Bell’s Familia was located?”
The question was met with a moment of silence. “…If I may ask, why do you wish to know?”
“Since I had a spare Spirit Nut, I—” That was as far as she got before the Elven Waitress’ expression shifted from placid to mildly surprised, which was notable for her. Then two Catfolk peered out of the doorway, ears twitching as though they had heard something that caught their attention. Even the Human waitress seemed to have been frozen in place for a moment with an uncanny smile upon her face.
“I was not aware you held that kind of interest in Mister Cranel,” Miss Ryuu said. That was right around the time Lefiya caught onto the implication. The Elven Warrior was aware of what giving a Spirit Nut to someone would entail and she had seen them together on the 18th Floor. Unaware of their blood ties, it must have seemed like she was seeking to express her interest in him romantically—not helped by those rumors.
Raul was still a dead man.
“It’s not like that!” She insisted, fighting down the bile in her stomach at the notion. “Remember, he helped me back then on the 18th Floor, so I’m paying him back—not many Humans get a chance to taste something like that, right?”
“Ah-ha, that is true…” said the Silver-Haired Waitress abruptly. “They were really something special.”
Lefiya tilted her head at that until she recalled the Elven Warrior’s plans for her own. “Oh, she shared it with you.”
“And Chloe and Anya,” she said, her smile still somewhat unnerving. “Bell comes by here every morning around this time. If you wait until then, you can give it to him in person. Meanwhile, why don’t you tell us more about how you and Bell know each other—”
The sound of an explosion ringing out was familiar to Adventurers. So was the natural response of immediately preparing for combat as she reached for her staff reflexively while her senses began to heighten in alarm. That was when she felt the familiar tang in the air of Magic coming from where a thick, dark smoke rose into the air.
It was possible to tell when one was casting Magic due to the accumulation of magical power. It set the senses alight even before the spell took form outside of the body, or in the case of someone with the Mage Development Ability became visible as the magic circle amplified the effects. And in the aftermath of the spells performing their work the discharge of the magic left behind enough magical energy that the air was saturated enough to quaver in her eyes.
There were two options. The first was that a Mage was at work and had unleashed a rather destructive spell in the middle of broad daylight. But she doubted that was the case because that kind of power was unnecessary here. Not to mention it would be a large expenditure of Mind so early in the morning when most were heading to the Dungeon.
The second was that there were multiple casters at work, discharging their spells around the same time. That was more familiar to Lefiya, given one the Loki Familia’s methods of dealing with waves of monsters that were thrown at them in the Dungeon involved coordinated bombardment with their spells. The end results left so much ambient magic energy present that for a Mage it was palpable, not unlike this situation.
That should also be unnecessary, but conflicts between Familia were a lot more common than one would expect. The Ganesha Familia would act as the peacekeepers, but the time it took to mobilize them would usually leave them to arrive only after things had gotten to a certain level of trouble. The Guild would then be in charge of levying fees against the responsible Familia involved—especially if civilians were hurt in the crossfire.
Self-preservation kicked in for those without the blessing as they began to seek shelter and safety while a plume of dark smoke rose into the air. Fire damage judging from experience and the sound of the second salvo of spell fire. But Lefiya was still uncertain which Familia would be causing that kind of trouble in the same sector as the Guild.
Then Anya spoke. “Nyaa… isn’t that around where white-hair comes from?”
That was all she needed to hear for Forest’s Teardrop to find its way into her grasp.
As he struggled for breath while lying on the stone-laden ground, Bell heard the sound of his Goddess calling out for him. Her voice was faint over the blood pounding in his ears, each racing beat of his heart leaving him to experience the sharp, pulsing pain from where the tip of the Solar Flamberge had cut into his body after parting his breastplate that had been battered and beaten by the Goliath.
He had been thoroughly won over in the battle against the Level Three in front of him—Hyacinthus Clio.
They had been ambushed the moment he stepped out of the Church they called home. Their casters and archers had set their home to flames and left both him and his Goddess covered in soot and ash as they fled through the back. The first place he could truly call home since leaving his mountain village after the death of his grandfather, the place where he slept, ate, and lived with his Goddess over the last two months since becoming a Familia—becoming family—gone in mere seconds.
Every turn he took he was accosted by members of the Apollo Familia. Their intention was made clear from Miss Daphne and Miss Cassandra. They were forcing him into joining their Familia, with those two making it clear that even if he ran, he would be hunted down until they finally brought him back.
Even so, surrender wasn’t an option. Getting caught wasn’t an option either. Neither was acceptable because of what would happen. Not to him, but Hestia—his family.
Apollo had lusted after her once. He had the nickname of the ‘Phallus the Passionate’ amongst the divine. Here on the lower world, where her divine powers were sealed, Bell didn’t want to think about what he would do to her if he got his hands on her—either she would be kept captive to force his surrender and likely remain that way or she would be killed and sent back up to Heaven.
His only option was to fight. He could hold his own against other Level Two adventurers, even if there were a lot of them. The addition of what he thought were members of another Familia was a setback, but he thought that he would at least be able to get Hestia somewhere they couldn’t get to her.
Then Hyacinthus showed up and decided to initiate him into their Familia by force.
Bell had fought his hardest—he had used his fastest speed and both weapons in hand. Putting everything he could into a relentless rush, pounding at the pavement with enough leg strength to crack it as he kicked off the ground, starving himself for air as he exhaled with a battle cry, Bell lashed out with a flurry of attacks meant to overwhelm via speed what he lacked in strength.
It still wasn’t enough. Hyacinthus avoided them all. Even when he began shifting his footwork to change angles without a moment’s pause, his reward for his relentless rush was a song of steel and shower of sparks as his bequeathed knife from his Goddess never found flesh, and the knife born from surpassing his prior limits was rebuked by the sword that glowed with the radiance of sun and flame. Each interception sent vibrations up his arm, either from the shape of the blade or the strength behind it, driving pain into his limbs.
Bell was not slow. His speed was his best attribute. His Agility was the one thing he was confident in. But the difference in a single level had been enough to make all of that meaningless as the Captain of the Apollo Familia intercepted his efforts with contemptuous ease—grinning in the process as if to mock his efforts.
That was the difference between Level Two and Level Three.
That was why he was dragging things out. That was why he was using a single hand on a two-handed longsword, which would only benefit from his Strength. He wanted to make it clear the difference in power.
On some level, Bell knew that as well. But he couldn’t stop. Not when Hestia was on the line. Not when his family was on the line. So he pushed past his limits as much as he could, ignoring the pain that he felt deep within his bones and looking for so much as the smallest opening to end things even as he screamed out with the strength of his will—
“Are you done howling, Little Rabbit?”
—and then it was over.
Clink. Clink. Splat. Three sounds accompanied the blur of steel, a single fluid motion that defanged the rabid rabbit.
The first two were the scraping of steel-on-steel. His sword flowed to the left to redirect the knife made of adamantite from the Minotaur he’d slain to become a Level Two. Then in the same motion it flowed to the upper-right to rebuke the knife given to him by his Goddess, leaving his chest unguarded. The last was a diagonal slash accompanied by a sickening, wet sound that rang out over the sound of parting steel.
A hot flash of pain coursed through Bell’s body and a pained cry crawled from his throat. “AGGHHHH!”.
His weapon had to be a Superior weapon of some kind because Bell could feel flames within it. Though there were no burns that could be seen, no scent of charred flesh or burning fat, wildfire consumed him as it cut through his flesh, muscle, and into the bone itself. It was probably only by the orders of their God that it stopped there and hadn’t gone to the vital organs.
Hyacinthus wasn’t done. He stepped in, bringing his empty arm’s elbow into Bell’s throat. It cut off his air and would have crushed his throat if it had been just a little harder. Then he slammed his fist into his sternum to drive it further into his solar plexus, hoping to rip his consciousness away from him—fortunately, it only knocked the wind out of him.
But that still left him on the ground, helpless. He couldn’t breathe with his diaphragm was spasming. He couldn’t speak and thus couldn’t cast a spell with his throat bruised. He had gone from the Rabbit Rush to being rendered completely docile in a single moment.
That was the difference of experience between them—one who had only been fighting against monsters for two months versus one who had been fighting against monsters and other people for years. That increased Status only made it absolute rather than advantageous.
There were no words to express the shame that washed over Bell at that moment as he laid there, tears streaming down his face in a slowly growing pool of his own blood as several sets of eyes were peering down on his defeated form.
There were eyes of concern from his Goddess who was calling out to him. Even after having their home burned down and everything they owned turned to ashes, it was the sight of him injured and bleeding on the ground that pulled the strongest reaction from her. He could hear her footfalls as she stumbled her way towards him while he was unable to shout for her to run, lest she be captured.
There were eyes of pity from Miss Cassandra as she stood on a nearby rooftop with a staff in hand. She must have been there to make sure he didn’t die from his wounds given her healing magic. He’d managed to fire off three shots of Firebolt with a single call of the spell and leave three of their Familia burned and injured, and she had managed to get them back up in seconds.
There were eyes of sympathy but conviction from Miss Daphne as she looked at him from the corner of her eyes, not making direct contact with him. Those eyes were instead fixed onto Hestia. There was no doubt they had Bell captive now, but it would only take her to grab the defenseless Goddess.
Then there were the eyes of jealousy and resignation from Hyacinthus as he approached with his blade in hand. “Even if you aren’t worthy of his love, I will fulfill my Lord’s will. You will become part of our Familia.”
Stand up! That thought permeated every fiber of his being. He had to stand before Hestia was taken. He couldn’t lose his family. Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! STAND UP!
Thunder rumbled in his chest. Blood escaped from his mouth as he forced himself to breathe and found the strength to get his arms beneath him. His fingers curled around his daggers as he raised his head, the lower half of his mouth covered in blood, and fixed his crimson eyes onto Hyacinthus.
The man stopped in his tracks for a moment. His lips curled into a scowl. “Such an unsightly face.”
Then he lashed out to kick him and Bell felt something break. Probably a rib or two as the impact sent him tumbling down the street further. Hestia said something but it was drowned out by another cough of blood.
“Your arms. Your legs. I’ll severe the tendons in each of them before having Cassandra close your chest wound so you don’t bleed out. Then… I will make sure to thoroughly carve into you that making such a face in front of our Lord is simply inexcusable. You will be domesticated before we present you to him, Little Rabbit.”
As he approached with the intention of doing so, Hestia moved to get in front of Bell with her arms held outwards. Bell also felt a familiar sensation beginning to leak from her that he did on the 18th Floor, the last time she bore witness to him being attacked. He also spotted Miss Daphne getting ready to ensure she didn’t go through with it.
The thunder in his chest intensified further.
That was when they heard the explosion nearby, muffled within it screams and shouts. It stopped Hyacinthus. It stopped Hestia. It stopped Miss Daphne. It drew every set of eyes to the entrance western section of the intersection as his senses began tingling from the presence of Magic like before.
Then his sister emerged with the final words of her song reaching his ears. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!”
Her azure gaze fell onto them. There was a haunting chill within them as she spotted him. Then she immediately tilted her staff towards the one whose blade was stained with his blood.
Two words preceded a golden beam of light that shot out of the tip of her staff, howling as it rushed towards its target. It cut through the air, a beam roughly the width of a human torso sailing past Bell’s prone body and over Hestia’s short body, and straight towards his assailant.
Bell lost track as the Captain of the Apollo Familia vanished, but the beam apparently didn’t because it curved in zagging patterns like it was jumping between the walls, each pass scoring the surface until in the middle of the air there was a glint. Then he saw the man for a brief moment on the rooftop, down on one knee and swinging his sword towards the onrushing light.
It ruptured and a luminous explosion swallowed him on the rooftop.
“Hyacinthus!!” Miss Daphne called out, stunned by the development.
Then the smoke cleared as he swung his sword to reveal his immaculate white cape and uniform were charred and smoldering with entire sections missing. His unblemished skin was burned, and blood leaked from parts of his flesh where the force of the explosion had torn into him. There was an arrow in his Achilles Heel. “C-Cassandra!”
“Coming!” Miss Cassandra stepped forward with her staff in hand.
His sister reacted. He presumed it was because she felt the Magic more acutely or could hear her chanting more acutely than him, but she immediately aimed her staff at the woman while advancing towards him. She had every intention of silencing her before she could fix his injuries.
It was only because Miss Daphne immediately pulled her out of view that she didn’t, tossing her over to the opposite side of the rooftop. At the same time, an arrow buried itself into her shoulder with enough force that she was knocked onto the rooftop—her voice crying out as she clutched the wound. Hyacinthus gritted his teeth before kicking her over the opposite side where Cassandra had been pushed off, swinging his sword once to deflect a set of arrows aimed for him, and then joining them in escaping the marksman’s line of sight.
“Come on!” Lefiya’s hand grabbed Bell roughly and she pulled him onto her back. Then she grabbed his Goddess’s hand and ran them down the street until she spotted an alcove that could shelter them from view.
It wouldn’t far enough. He forced out the words. “There…others—”
“There were.” She emphasized that past tense as she dragged them over. “That’s how I heard they planned to box you in. Then I made sure they couldn’t and let the ones who were still conscious retreat with the ones who weren’t when I started casting for that shot.”
That explained the explosion earlier.
Once she made sure they were out of view, she crouched down and looked him over. Then she frowned in a way that didn’t suit her. “I thought he was an upper-tier Level Two, but if he’s a Level Three then I shouldn’t have held back so much. That sniper catching him in the leg was the only reason I caught him at that output… I won’t make that mistake again.”
It wasn’t an idle threat.
She had the Mage Development Ability, which meant she could actively increase the output and range of her spells and thus the damage she could inflict would scale exponentially. He had seen that firsthand back on the 18th Floor. That shot she fired before was a love tap compared to that because she hadn’t been intending to kill him if he had only been a Level Two—as anything she fired that was capable of catching up to and downing a Level Three would likely cripple or kill someone of a lower level.
As for the sniper, he could only assume it was Naaza.
“Can’t you go day a without getting to trouble?” She murmured low enough for only him to hear as she grabbed the sides of his face and wiped away the tears that had come out. Then she began to sing. “Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.”
It was a soothing song. One that bathed him in light the color of the glittering sea, a blue veil decorated with glimmering stars. They sank into his flesh, and he could feel the wounds numbing. It was healing Magic. “You can—”
“Not a word of this leaves this alley or I’ll take back everything I said on the 18th Floor,” she warned, her azure eyes narrowed as the light continued to wash over them. “Do you understand me, Bell?”
“I’d ask the same of you, Lady Hestia,” she said, without looking up at the Goddess. “I’m probably already in enough trouble getting in the middle of a conflict between Familia as is.”
“…Just heal Bell,” Hestia said softly. Her tone was a mixture of sadness and gratitude as she looked over them while dressed in her outfit to work for Lady Hephaestus. It had been covered in dust, dirt, ash, and blood. “Check his leg holster for potions as well.”
“We need to get you both somewhere safe, now,” Lefiya said as she did so once her spell ended, running her fingers along the holster until she found the potion and then splashed it upon him. “If that woman was a dedicated Healer with the Treatment Development Ability, he’ll be back on his feet soon. And now that they know someone capable of doing that to a Level Three will be with you, they’ll start attacking in more numbers and before the Ganesha Familia intervenes.”
He had heard they were supposed to be the peacekeeping force in Orario. Adventurers causing damage to the city would naturally draw them to the location soon enough. They had been planning to force his hand before that happened.
Lefiya’s ears perked up at that moment and she rose to her feet, her lips moving to begin another chant—
—he stopped her as he recognized the voice. “Wait, that’s not an enemy!”
She stopped as Lord Miach emerged from the backstreets. His sister stepped aside as the God of Medicine crouched down to look at him and see the empty bottle she had before nodding and then pulling out a second pair to splash over him as well. Made with the Mixing Development Ability, they were capable of healing on contact, and he felt the deep-seated injuries from the hunt vanish while Lord Takemikazuchi’s Familia joined up with them.
They had come to save him. Then when questioned on who Lefiya was, his sister simply said an acquaintance from the Loki Familia who saw him in trouble. They were all on the 18th Floor at one point or another, so no one questioned it. Then she suggested they left before they could be encircled, and no one complained as they started moving.
None of them were aware of the invisible observers that had been watching. Not the God of Travel and his Captain who possessed a myriad of magical tools. Nor the Goddess whose eyes could perceive the soul from a distance.
At the home of the Loki Familia, news of the attack on the Little Rookie had already reached them courtesy of Tiona. The Amazonian had gone out into the streets to get information about what was transpiring and had reported that the Apollo Familia was basically trying to hunt him down.
The news wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. Aiz had been to the dance and Loki had told them about the War Game itself being proposed and shot down. But Apollo wasn’t the type to give up apparently. Finn had already told Aiz not to intervene.
That was when the door opened and another member of the Familia entered the room, one with a rather nervous demeanor and huffing as though he had just run a great distance. “Pardon the intrusion, but I need to make a report about the current incident. It seems like there was a Mage attacking the Apollo Familia as well, and from the description of her appearance, spell, and magic circle… it sounded like Lefiya Viridis!”
Riveria looked up at that, her lips pursing as she put together the information. “She said that she was heading to the Dungeon this morning. If she happened to be around when the attack happened and knew he was the target, she likely intervened based on allowing them into the camp on the 18th Floor.”
Finn leaned back in his chair with a sigh before rubbing the bridge between his eyes. “…Bete, go bring her back. Now.”
Aiz rose to her feet for a second time at that. “But I can go instead.”
“We cannot afford to openly take a side and Loki told us not to interfere before she wandered off,” Finn stated before looking square at the Werewolf. If he had sent Aiz then she would have gone out of her way to help him and then bring her back. “Make it clear this is her acting on her own and bring her back—quickly.”
“Why do I always have to babysit the weaklings…” The Werewolf scoffed as he rose to his feet, scratching his head before he made sure his boots were on properly. Then made his way to the window and pushed it open, allowing the morning breeze to enter.
He leapt out of it and took off running.