Summary: Belle Cranel had fallen in love that day on the 5th Floor of the Dungeon. But the grey wolf who would be her hero had no interest in a white rabbit that can’t even protect herself. So she asked that he only watched her as she challenged her fate against the Minotaur on the 9th Floor. (Female!Bell One-Shot)
Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.
Summary: Alucard and past heroes had been beckoned by the Order of Elgos to quell the evils that threatened to spill out of the worlds of the grimoires. However, as they return to the year 1797, another encounter with Death makes it clear they must deal with the root cause. And they can only do so by digging into untold legends of the past—along with the heroes of those stolen tomes.
Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated
A RWBY Fanfiction
Summary: Blake had fled, making it clear she couldn’t trust him to change. She thought him inhuman, lost, a beast. He was going to prove her wrong. Getting into Beacon was hard enough, but fitting in would be harder still. All those… humans. Will a man fuelled by hate truly be able to let go and move on; or is suffering the only thing Adam Taurus can ever bring to those around him?
A Rising of the Shield Hero x Yakuza Crossover Fanfic
Summary: Post Song of Life Kiriyu is summoned through a ritual with the Vassal Weapon to become the Gauntlet Hero. With nothing left for him after faking his death at the end, how will the dragon rise to the defense of the Shield Hero.
Chapter 16: The Castle Siege – Part 1
“After another year, Argo told me of his plans to leave the village behind. Now that he knew I was safe and comfortable in the village, he intended to keep traveling. When I asked him where he would go, he would only answer where the wind would take him. When I asked him what he would do, he answered to fill a diary that he intended to make into a comedy one day to be spread around the world as a hero.
My brother was a fool. He could barely take care of himself, and for all that he was able to make people laugh, he was still bothersome to others. He was weak and would probably end up getting in over his head if he went out there alone. That was why I always had to look after him.
Or at least that was what I told myself at the time.
But the truth was that I was afraid. I was afraid of the thought of him leaving me alone. I was afraid that my beloved brother would go off and I would never see him again.
So I begged him not to leave me behind.”
—Don’t Leave Me Behind
“Your child did good work, Miach.”
The praise from the Goddess of the Forge brought a smile to the handsome visage of Miach as he sat next to her within theatron of Babel. The massive Divine Mirror that Ganesha had created was showcasing the castle and how a very decent number of the inhabitants had been rendered a non-threat due to the soporific that his child had created.
As a God of Medicine, he was naturally capable of creating potions that had a strong effect on the mortal body even without his arcanum. But this had been the work of his student, who made up for her lack of Status with her knowledge of what laid above and within the Dungeon. That together had allowed her to create a sleeping solution that would place those under the influence into a deep slumber that was not easily lifted.
“I imagine she would be happy to hear that if she were here,” he said. No children had been allowed to attend the grand gathering, but once permission had been given, he wrought a Divine Mirror within his domain where she was currently watching over the member of the Apollo Familia that they had… detained for the last few days.
They had needed someone to be replaced within the specifications of one of Hestia’s newly adopted children and he fit the bill. He had spent most of his time sedated and cared for, without any real inkling as to what has happened to him. It was best for all parties involved and, once the match was over, he would be delivered back safe and sound—if confused about the last few days.
“They won’t be roused anytime soon without either Magic or an Elixir,” he continued. “Both of those aren’t likely something they have an ample supply of at present. And any attempt to do so will be made much harder with the enemy knocking on their door.”
Their gaze turned to Hephaestus’ Divine Mirror where she was in the process of observing the magic sword at work as its wielder swung the blade horizontally from a modest distance away from the northern outer curtain wall. Fire ran along the path, drawing an arch until it slammed into the stone hard enough that it was a tangible force and turned it burning red.
Fissures ran along the path where the flames touched, leaving the rows of stones to split apart. Then molten slag burst from within and set the grass beneath it ablaze before the wall began to collapse outward. The ground was left laden with a mixture of stone and slag as a sizable portion of the wall was now absent, exposing the interior of the castle to the outside world.
And that was only the second swing.
“…He was careful with it,” the Goddess of the Forge said after observing the damage done with an appraising eye. “I can’t say castle fortifications are my specialty, but the heat was enough that the moment it connected it created thermal cracks in the stone and seeped into the filling between the layers—probably bits of crushed stone and sand. That superheated to the point of becoming molten and poured out of cracks causing further damage and destabilization to where it collapses on itself from thermal expansion. He must have spent days before War Game instilling the element into it and then refined the purpose of it while he was shaping the steel.”
For it to work like that the flame would need to be focused to remain so potent. But if it had been too hot and intense then those flames would have punched straight through the wall and into the castle. Those children wouldn’t survive that at only Level Two without a lot of mitigation like Salamander Wool and accessories to ward off heat—and, even then, the flames would have seared them down to the bone on direct contact.
“He’ll only continue to grow from here,” she said while wearing a rare, soft smile. Her subdued but evident pride now that he had broken free of his self-imposed limitation was clear to the gathering around the Goddess of the Hearth.
However, the other Gods were… not so willing to allow her the moment to bask in his growth.
“What’s the deal, Hephaestus!?” Ogma shouted. “You charged me an arm and a leg for a top-of-the-line magic sword and it’s not even a fraction as good as that one!!”
“Yeah, my children could have really used that level of quality on the expedition!” Loki joined in. “Why does shortstack get them!?”
Hephaestus rolled her eye as whines and complaints from some of the other Gods and Goddesses of the began to ring out. Accusations of favoritism since the Goddess of the Forge and Hearth were often seen side-by-side. She turned to face the group. “Do you see my brand anywhere on that sword?”
Divine Mirrors began flickering to get a closer view of the weapon as the Elf dodged a flurry of arrows with contemptuous ease before swinging the blade once more. Flames devastated the curtain wall to the extent that one of the towers looked as though it was on the verge of collapsing. There was no mark to be found.
“Then it isn’t one of mine,” she continued when none of them claimed otherwise. “That child made that magic sword of his own accord, without my input or any obligation to be sold under my brand. Deal with it.”
“Okay, I will!” Ogma said before turning to Hestia. “Name your price! You could use a little extra valis, can’t you?”
Hestia didn’t even bother to look at him. Welf had made it clear when he joined that he did not want to be forced to sell his blades. He was willing to make them for their sake because of the comradery he had built up with the others. But he was not willing to just let anyone else use them since whatever purpose they were used for would be his responsibility.
Hestia would not betray the child that Hephaestus placed in her care just for profit. “I’m not selling that child’s weapons. End of story.”
Tuning any future offers out, Hestia observed as the castle defenders were beginning to respond to the crisis. The walls of the castle were abandoned as those responsible for preventing any breach gave up on the northern section, heading towards the inner curtain walls and getting to higher ground as the swordsman moved eastward to get started bringing that one down. Others were moving about, taking the unconscious beyond those walls and into the inner section of the castle.
“They’re well-trained,” Takemikazuchi said as he observed the issuing commanders bellowing out orders. “In a set of swings, one of the walls has all but fallen and their first volley was avoided with ease. That establishes the threat being one too dangerous to ignore and the inner curtain walls give a higher vantage point so they can send out suppressing fire to keep them moving or expend the sword’s charge while they gather up the remaining people capable of Magic on the southern curtain walls to bombard them.”
“Why not let the walls fall and devote the rest of their forces to dealing with the immediate threat?” Miach asked. War was not his expertise after all.
“It’s true that overwhelming numbers could be used to eliminate a single target, but even with the non-lethal rules of engagement that magic sword is too dangerous to approach up close,” the God of War explained. “Not to mention they don’t know who was the one that drugged them, so they have to be cautious to ensure that none of them are taken hostage by placing some of their most trusted on the inside to keep watch over the unconscious. The best thing to do is simply keep their distance and send out a small, but elite unit to deal with them by pinching them once the sword breaks or they retreat.”
To their credit, they were trying. The arrows descended like rain that saturated the area where the cloaked warrior dwelled, but unlike before they swung the sword upwards and let loose a flaming arch. It proved to be the right call as the arrows detonated and lit up the sky with a riotous chorus of explosions—the arrowheads had been tipped with a fragment of flare stone meant for siegecraft, like trebuchets, battering rams, or belfries.
A Crozzo Magic Sword so big of a threat that no one questioned the use of it as Lissos, one of the commanders, raised his arm to signal for them to prepare the second volley from the crenellation of the inner curtain wall. At the same time, on the ground-level of the inner part of the Keep, the Captain of the Apollo Familia was ushering the others carrying the unconscious and injured inwards before directing an Amazoness with a unit under her command towards the southern gate.
“It looks like you were right, Take,” Hestia admitted, before shifting her Divine Mirror to the outskirts of the western wall. “But the children seem to have it covered.”
Within the Twilight Manor that housed the members of the Loki Familia, numerous Divine Mirrors had been set up within it. All so that the Trickster Goddess’ children could observe the War Game from the comfort of their own home. Among the gathered, within their own lounge, were the executives and higher-ranked members of the Familia—Aiz, Tiona, Tione, Bete, Gareth, Finn, and Riveria.
“I have to say I wasn’t expecting to see a Crozzo Magic Sword at work right before my eyes,” Gareth stated. “To think that Level Two adventurer we saw a little while ago on the 18th Floor was capable of making something like that in such a short time. I suppose it speaks about how well-acquainted Goddess Hestia and Hephaestus are that the former would allow a young one with that kind of talent out of her care.”
“He certainly won’t have an easy time after the War Game,” Riveria added, jade eyes observing the intensity of the flames. Though she held nothing against him for his blood, she knew she could not speak for the rest of her kin. “Though it was known that there was a Crozzo in the city, it was commonly accepted that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t make magic swords. The fact that we can see that is no longer the case will draw a lot of attention, both good and ill.”
“Ooh, look to the west one!” Tiona said, pointing a slender finger as a purple-cloaked figure dashed towards the castle. The staff on their back was what gave the identity of the individual away more than anything else, a wooden staff that had two focal magic stones. “It looks like they managed to get a Mage too.”
“So it was a distraction after all,” Finn stated as the new adventurer moved closer towards the castle, effectively opposite of where the majority that would be manning the outer curtain walls had relocated to deal with the current threat.
As powerful as that magic sword had been, it could not take down a castle alone. At least not at its current output. And all magic swords broke eventually, so it was unreliable for prolonged usage. They were meant to be either circumstantial or a trump card, rather than the opening fire of a three-day siege.
Of course, there were exceptions. The first was if they could be mass-produced, which would allow them to be used at will and just overwhelm the opposition through sheer firepower with no chance of fighting back. Rakia had enjoyed that until their conquest deprived the lineage of that capability, and Finn could just imagine how someone as ambitious as Ares would react the moment he learned otherwise.
The second was as a distraction. A flashy, destructive distraction meant to draw the attention and gaze of everyone towards the smoke and flames. The magical energy unleashed by the swords would serve well to mask the accumulation of magical power from a spellcaster, not unlike how Riveria and Lefiya had both done against the monster on the 18th Floor.
However, the Apollo Familia had not allowed themselves to be caught off-guard so easily. Not only had their archers moved to the curtain walls, but they had spotters that were looking out to the other directions between preparing their destructive arrows. The moment one of them spotted the approaching mage, they sent out the word and a group of five archers shifted to the approaching side of the inner curtain walls and proceeded to fire those same explosive arrows with an angle meant to bombard them before they could get in range to cast a Super Long Chant capable of damaging the structure further.
Riveria slightly inclined her head when she noticed the mage advancing regardless of the incoming arrows meant to blow them away. Instead, they darted back and forth with a steady pace. Even as the projectiles hit the ground and ruptured while throwing spouts of dirt and dust into the air, they continued to advance at a somewhat slower pace.
“Answer my call, winds of the forest—”
“She’s concurrent chanting in Old Elvish tongue,” Riveria declared as her ears could pick up a soft voice amidst the explosions even before one tossed back the hood of their cloak and revealed their features, marking them as a full-blooded Elf. To those with keen enough sight, they could see her lips moving. “But the spell in question is one of the Ancient Magic obtained from Spirits. It would never be able to breach the castle walls on its own, let alone reach it unless she gets much closer.”
“—tear apart our foes!” The Elven Mage skidded to a stop and held out her left hand, revealing it to be aglow with blue-and-white lights that were dancing along with it. They flittered around the digits like curious little fireflies as the wind around her churned violently enough that her skirt and clothes billowed as the swirling gale gathered in front of her outstretched hand while she braced it with her right hand and finished the spell. “GALE BLAST!”
Then her arms recoiled upwards as the spiraling swirl of compressed wind shot forward like a trebuchet projectile. If not for the perception available to higher-level adventurers, none of them would have been able to really make out the projectile that had been launched.
The swirling sphere colored the hues of soft azure and gleaming argent sailed straight into the base of the western outer curtain walls. The translucent hammer smashed into solid stone that cried out and cracked from strain as it attempted to breach the ashlar like a battering ram. But it was only air bound by a shell of magic rather than a dense stone or steel sphere, and so it was natural that it would shatter before the walls.
And what came out was nothing short of a raging tempest.
An unforgiving squall that swelled like a flower coming into bloom to invade the stone and mortar through sheer force. A violent windstorm that drowned out all sound beneath its howling of chaotic winds that attempted conquest of the castle. Liberated from its container, a whirlwind was unleashed that swept through the castle with such force that wooden carts were overturned, banners were torn to shreds, and steel was wrenched from the desperate men and women who were thrown astray by the wall of wind that swept anything not braced against unyielding stone even as the wall of wind tried to crush them as it passed by.
The unfortunate souls who had been firing from upon high were now sailing through the air beyond the eastern curtain walls, the grasslands their only cushion as the more battle-hardened managed to tuck and roll to minimize the damage of the fall. Some would consider it fortunate for them that even a poor fall from that height would not break the body of a Level Two adventurer. Others would recognize it was only by the virtue of the Elf’s intention that they had survived.
That spell had been aimed at the base of the outer curtain walls. Most of the initial blast had been focused there and so even as the pressure wave that resulted from the wall of air coming undone still lost energy passing through it, the filling, and the inner curtain wall. That was evidenced by the impact zone where the ashlar had been blown out from the initial fissures being invaded by the subsequent winds, and then pushed through as the gale curved around to continue its expansion and lapped them with the fringes.
Silence lingered in the room as the eyes of the Loki Familia fell onto the girl whose body had been knocked back despite her ample distance from the wall. She was sitting on her knees with one arm holding the other. One eye winced in pain as the limb convulsed in place.
It was Tiona who broke the silence. “…Okay, I know magic isn’t really my thing. But that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that it should be able to do on its own with such a short chant, even if I didn’t understand a word of it.”
With the hush ruined and sound slowly trickling back in, the Royal Elf began to speculate. “There was no magic circle, so the Mage Developmental Ability was not responsible. Or rather it could not be responsible, given I know personally that spells not bequeathed from the Falna don’t affect it barring maybe one or two circumstantial situations I can fathom. However, that light that had gathered into her hand before she used it to launch the spell passed onto it, so that might explain the increase in its range and potency.”
“Hmm… an active trigger that increases the power of the spell based on a conditional?” Finn mused. Such Skills were uncommon, but they did exist. And the more conditional it was, the more effective it tended to be when that situation came about.
The Dwarven Warrior stroked his beard as he threw his own opinion in. “That might explain why she ignored her staff. Though considering her current state, it would be safe to assume that she can’t do that again.”
“Using her limb as a focus on such an unwieldy spell like that would have left nothing behind if she had suffered an Ignis Faatus considering the output,” Riveria noted as the girl used her other arm to reach for the pouch attached to her hip and pull out a potion to deal with the pain. “At least using a staff or something else as a focus means that if one suffered magical power going out of control the focus would bear the brunt of it and their Endurance could allow them to better withstand that resulting backlash. A broken staff is much easier to replace than a missing limb or worse.”
Before they could ruminate on that grim prospect any further, fire blossomed from the eastern wall.
Their eyes turned back to the Divine Mirror focused on that area. The winds had not only delivered a bounty of the Apollo Familia beyond the safety of the castle walls, but it had even knocked loose the hood of the warrior wielding the magic sword to reveal their identity. It was a male Elf with deep green hair and eyes that graced the standard features bequeathed to one of the races known for their beauty, and longer hair bound with a ponytail confined to the inside of the cloak.
A line of fire was drawn to separate them from the walls with the magic sword rather than continue to bring down the walls. It stretched from one end from the other and the flames and smoke formed a curtain to separate those within the castle from those outside of it, robbing them of visibility. Then, without any preamble or hesitation, the swordsman subtly shattered the weapon by clenching the handle so hard the metal shattered.
“Why’d he do that?” Tione uttered in shock watching the sword crumble to dust as the one responsible for its destruction put their hood back on. “It still had some use!”
“No… it served its purpose,” Finn said, his analytical gaze focused on the Level Two adventurers as they rose to their feet and drew their sidearms that consisted mostly of shortswords and daggers. “Leaving it around would only incentivize one of them to attempt to grab it or run to get away rather than standing and fighting against him now that the enemy has lost his greatest weapon while seemingly surrounded.”
“Those weaklings think they got lucky that the blade just shattered from overuse when they’ve just been thrown into a trap,” Bete put it more bluntly as the ground-bound members of the Apollo Familia charged. “That guy is a battle-hardened Level Three at the very least to have the guts to do that. I wonder how many of ‘em will be eating dirt by the time they realize it.”
At the same time, the southern gates began to rise. It was in the center section of the southern outer curtain wall, meaning the Elven Mage should not have been able to see it. But the ears of their race were sharp even without the blessing, so she could hear the strike unit that had been assembled coming to run her down. Thus, she pulled the staff from her back—
—only to immediately bound backward as the spot she was in exploded in a spout of dirt and grass. There was now a spear embedded deep in the ground. It had been a long-ranged throw backed by the strength of what must have been a high-tier Level Two adventurer, which was made more evident when a group of Apollo Familia members came rushing in her direction.
“That must be their strike unit,” Finn said as he watched them bound across the distance with decent speed for Level Two adventurers. Among their numbers was an Amazoness with uniform distinguished from the standard affair of the rank-and-file by being white and red, meaning she was likely the commander. “And it’s headed by the Sol Ankal, Embraced by the Sun—Gryne.”
The Amazon and her unit were likely dispatched to quickly take down the spellcaster. It was a simple act in principle by not giving her a moment’s reprieve, interrupting her before she could start casting her spell with long-ranged attacks. The glint of steel in the sunlight was evident even to those without enhanced senses as throwing knives embedded themselves in the ground as the elf was forced to keep moving lest her body be pierced by debilitating injuries that crippled her ability to focus and thus cast. While doing so, the unit split to cover her from multiple angles, so that if she did manage a spell, she wouldn’t get all of them.
Surround, enclose, eliminate—given that most who cast destructive spells on the level she had rarely raised their Endurance due to being firmly on the rear, it would take them no effort to disable her once they closed the distance. That was why vanguards existed …
“Oooooh, that looked like it hurt!” Tiona muttered as she watched one of the Apollo Familia, a Cat Person, go flying with a single swing of the Elf’s staff. Rather than retreating so that she could be boxed in, she promptly rushed towards one of them who hadn’t expected it and delivered a ruthless swing with the neck of the staff across the torso. Bone snapped and crunched as the arm bent from the impact before they were sent skirting along the ground, left to huddle over the broken limb.
The sight caught many by surprise as she proceeded to charge to the next one who was closest to her. The Hume Bunny chosen as her next target hesitated for a moment when he realized that he was about to suffer the same fate as his comrade, but his daggers were already drawn and ready to be used. He bounced upwards while launching himself forward and swung them down overhead towards her in an arch.
She raised her staff with a firm grip in both hands. The daggers looked to be of decent quality, but staves and weapons made of elven wood were often treated with a special solution that made them more than capable of withstanding that level of damage. That was how some of their kin could use wooden swords with the same efficiency of steel blades, meaning it would take something of a far higher quality to cut through it. After blocking the attempt, she twisted her body and brought the rear of the staff around.
And sent him sailing through the air. The second one down, the Elven Mage proceeded to keep running in a straight line to put distance between them now that she had prevented the net from closing in on her with a burst of speed that pretty much indicated her being a Level above the others. Then, and only then, did she start singing her spell once more.
“At the very least it seems whoever trained her taught her the basics of what to do when they’re being run down,” Rivera said in approval as she watched the girl spin on the ball of her feet, avoiding whatever was being sent her way as she focused on her spell as though in a dance that moved to a rhythm that only she could hear, singing a song only her kin could understand—evasion and chanting was all she needed to focus on now that she had enough space without needing to put any effort into attacking or defending herself.
Mages who excelled in artillery remained in the rear when they could afford to. But the enemy would not always be content to remain at a safe distance, and all the magic in the world was meaningless if you were cornered. Facing down an enemy in close quarters combat was inevitable so self-defense was mandatory for all adventurers, even those who specialized in magic or healing.
Fight—never sit there waiting for someone to save you. If you were being boxed in from all sides, pick one side and breakthrough with all of your might. If an enemy closed the distance, steel your resolve and advance until an opening presented itself. Then put distance between you and them until you were able to cast your spells once again.
The moment her short song entered its final verse, she took to the air with a spring in her step. It was just in time as the golden spear of Gryne cut through the space between them and once more pulverized the ground in an attempt to silence her. There the wind danced around her, playfully ruffling her full sleeves and skirt as if to give the impression she was a sylph that was loved by the breeze itself as she aimed her staff and let loose its fury once more.
The swirling sphere of constrained wind sailed from the tip. Unlike before when it was large enough to fit in a siege weapon, this time it was a near-invisible cannonball that rocketed towards a convergence of the pursuers chasing after her. The moment it hit the ground and the wind came unbound, the pressure sent them abruptly rocketing off into the distance.
The sylph herself rode the wind to land further out, closer to the castle walls where one of the women who had been thrown about had fallen. Her Endurance must have been higher than the others because she sprung up despite the wall of pressure having plowed through her body and rendered her allies all unconscious on sheer force of will. She lunged forward and wound up grabbing the staff with both hands as the Elf stepped back to avoid having her arms caught instead.
“That was a mistake,” Finn noted immediately.
And was proven correct when rather than pull her staff away, she thrust the body of the shaft between her grip upwards and right into the woman’s throat. The moment she reared back from gagging, and her own grip loosened, the Elven Mage promptly twisted her upper body and arms to bring the end of the staff around. It met her skull and down she went.
Then her eyes shifted to the left and then bound away on the ball of her feet, moving as though reading the wind. That allowed her to avoid as a strip of crimson that sliced through the air past her, only for it to lash out towards the sylph as though it were a serpent, ensnaring her wrist cuffs and going taut before bursting into a cord of flames that bound the two.
“Go a bit further and the flames will burn that pretty skin of yours something fierce,” warned the commander with a satisfied smile. There was a reason her moniker was to be embraced by the sun. “Can’t have you flying away little fairy. Though I have to say that the way you sing and dance in the air makes me want to put you in a cage and keep me all to myself.”
“…If this is your Familia’s ideal way of courting someone, it leaves much to be desired,” spoke the girl in the common tongue as she looked down at the chain. She didn’t seem bothered by the flames even at that distance. “And, considering the circumstances leading to the War Game, I will decline.”
She chuckled. “Ah, is it the bunny you’re in—”
The sound of hardwood and steel chimed like a bell. The Amazon had managed to bring her spear up horizontally the moment her chain went slack as the Elf closed the distance to deliver a blow that was meant to come down on her head. And the green eyes of the girl had lost their definition and turned to empty mirrors.
The woman’s smile was a little forced. “Did I hit a nerve?”
Pulling her attention away from the display as the lithe fairy began to attack the Amazon with a fervor more akin to an… well, Amazon, the Sword Princess looked for any sign of the aforementioned bunny within the mirrors. But there was no sign of him, meaning he had yet to make his move. There was a hint of uncertainty within her chest at that.
It did not go unnoticed by Tiona, who was sitting next to her. “You worried about little Argonaut?”
“…A little,” she admitted. “That new knife he has bothers me.”
During their training with Bell, they had noticed when he was using his longer knife, made from the same Minotaur that he had slain, he wavered between being more aggressive in his assault and reluctant. The way he explained it was that he felt like the spirit and ferocity of the Minotaur was within the blade, taking his concentration to tamper down on it when he was in a fight.
None of them knew the reason, but the one who made it was the Crozzo who had the blood of spirits within him and made the blade after he reached Level Two. The Blacksmith Development Ability allowed smiths to instill different properties within their craft, and he had apparently put everything he could into creating the weapon. It was probably some combination of that and his blood that resulted in such an outcome.
Aiz told him to be wary of it. Her reason was that she knew very well what it was like to have something that bequeathed you great power by giving in to your rage and anger. It was all-consuming, a force that could very well cost you everything if you were unable to rein it in.
Within her breasts burned an insidious dark flame, its weight heavy on her heart. Anger manifested and hatred fueling it, that flame yearned for power to take revenge and pushed her to seek strength. Even when Riveria calmed it within her after her fight against Revis, it still influenced her in subtle ways.
She had yearned to find the secret of his growth. He was diligent, but his growth was abnormal. The Falna gifted one with a great many things, and if he possessed a Skill that could do the same then she coveted it. Had Riveria not stopped her when he was defenseless, she would have wiped away the blood and dirt and cloth to find the secret he kept hidden on his back.
That boy had been blessed to be able to receive such great power without housing inside of him some kind of distortion like the rest of them that would dye his white hair and ruby eyes with the hue of rage and insanity. More than that, his presence… soothed her deep within. It gently enveloped the flame burning her from the inside and slowly enclosed upon it, silently coaxing it to fade away without consuming any more of herself.
He made her want to smile without even realizing it. As if recalling an ancient memory of fleeting joy.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Tiona said, voicing her own opinion as one born into a warrior culture. “Holding back against an opponent like that will only drag him down. He just needs to not be too wild with it.”
They knew he managed to break the S-rank on all of his attributes when he defeated the Minotaur. But it had only been a short time since then and there was another Level between himself and his opponent. Just looking at the events unfolding outside of the castle for the War Game, showed as much given that what had to be a pair of at least Level Three adventurers were easily manhandling numerous Level Twos.
Even now the western curtain wall shook as the sylph drifted aloft in the air, sailing through the sky on the backlash of her own wind spell. Their fight had brought them closer to the defensive structure and she had maneuvered herself into jumping in the air before firing down in the space between her and Gryne. It split them apart, the chain going taut and flames erupting from it before shattering as the Amazon crashed into the wall and lost consciousness.
Landing on top of the wall, the Elven Mage shuddered before looking down at her hand. The flesh had been burned but not severely to the extent of going beyond a superficial second-degree burn. No, the real damage was likely due to simply being near her own spell going off and the resulting pressure wave. And even that was short-lived as she opened her mouth and sang a new song that swaddled her in rejuvenating light.
“How reckless,” Riveria noted as the girl sat there mending her own self-inflicted injuries. “She made such a brash decision because she was confident that she could heal herself and the difference in their Levels and equipment. She’s practically skirting with having an Ignis Faatus doing that, and I don’t think Lady Astraea would encourage such a practice.”
The Amazon probably did not have a high rank in her Magic, given her more physical attributes such as Strength. But considering the battle clothes of the Elf were not even singed or torn by the flames and wind, it was safe to assume it was made of spirit cloth that mitigated the flames. That combined with a fairly solid Endurance rank and a Level Three Falna meant those intense flames gave her nothing more than minor burns at best.
“While she has a staff and knows at least basic self-defense, she’s clearly more talented in using magic to know how to concurrently cast,” Finn pointed out. “For someone outside of Orario to have that level of talent and be a Level Three seems a bit odd. There’s little chance she doesn’t have a spell through the Falna all things considered, so the fact that she hasn’t used it or won’t means either it isn’t suitable to the War Game or she’s hiding it for one reason or another.”
In other words, they most likely weren’t members of the Astraea Familia. It was not as though Lord Hermes was above rigging the game in his favor. He was already known for concealing the Levels of his own Familia and the impression Finn and the others got when he arrived on the 18th Floor gave them enough of a read on him to know that he was perfectly capable of manipulating with words and had an interest in Bell Cranel.
“Who cares,” Bete so eloquently voiced. “The Apollo Familia started it with the intention of dogpilin’ em, so I ain’t gonna complain about the weaklings evenin’ the odds as long as they don’t do everything for them.”
Gareth agreed. “Considering the look in his eyes when he arrived that day, the boy probably intends to challenge the Captain of the Apollo Familia himself. The others are just clearing a path for him to do it.”
Then, as if to confirm his sagely prediction, there was the crackle of lightning from the northern section as the first actual member of the Hestia Familia made their appearance with a magic sword in hand…
Summary: Belle Cranel had fallen in love that day on the 5th Floor of the Dungeon. But the grey wolf who would be her hero had no interest in a white rabbit that can’t even protect herself. So she asked that he only watched her as she challenged her fate against the Minotaur on the 9th Floor. (Female!Bell One-Shot)
There was something that every child who read stories of old heroes envisioned at least once in their life.
It was how a maiden would be accosted by a monster. She would be left helpless and unable to defend herself as death awaited her. And then a hero would come swooping in and declaring his intention to protect the girl behind him with his life, earning her heart in the process.
Now imagine that fairy tale being enacted here and now with a chamber within the Labyrinth City of Orario.
There was a brave hero that stood valiantly against a powerful monster to protect a young woman, whose head was pressed against his broad back. They were nine layers beneath the surface of the outside world, in the nesting ground for monsters that had been the bane of mankind for thousands of years called the Dungeon. The chamber was illuminated beneath a bright light from the ceiling that washed over the entirety of the underground room and nourished greenery to the point that blades of grass had grown to cushion the ground and moss covered the stone walls.
Bete Loga—the hero had a powerful, lean body that stood tall and proud. Sculpted muscle laid bare beneath a gray jacket rimmed with a fur collar while nestled within dull grey hair was a set of wolf ears that matched the color of his long tail. He lacked a sterling sword or armor but was instead clad in argent vambraces and booted greaves that gleamed in the light of the Dungeon.
Belle Cranel—the maiden had a slender enough figure that she could hide behind her protector. Her snow-white hair that ran down her back was interspersed with dirt, dust, and loose blades of grass that indicated she had been thrown around the ground in her desperate attempt to stay alive. Her black sleeveless combat dress and stockings were littered with lacerations from which scarlet flowed to stain the cloth, while bruises could be seen on her exposed arms and fair skin. Her gloved fingers were shaking as she anchored them against his broad shoulders as crystalline tears fell to the earth between them.
Minotaur—the monster was a massive wall of corded muscle covered in bristle fur that stood on two legs and towered over them all. It was a battle-hardened bovine whose defined and powerful chest was littered with scars from previous encounters, thick and powerful arms the size of tree trunks carried a cleaver within them. And atop its head was a single curved horn that had a sharpened point that looked as though it could pierce stone.
But despite the menace that the monster presented the hero would prevail. He would slay the monster after a hard-fought battle. He would earn the maiden’s heart and eternal love. Yes. That was how the scene should play out…
And had it been a month ago it would have been everything the girl had always dreamed of.
“Please, stand aside.” The soft, bell-like voice held a note that was pained yet sweet as her fingers tensed around his shoulders when she felt him getting ready to take a step forward to fulfill his duty. “I’ll be the one to defeat that monster.”
The declaration split the tense silence like a dagger as the set of menacing amber eyes briefly glanced away from the focus of their rage. “Are you outta your mind!? A weaklin’ like you will get killed in a second!”
His voice was rough and primal as he berated her for suggesting something so foolhardy. To him, it was simply a fact that she would need to be protected. After all, this very same scenario had played out a month.
Belle could still recall the pair of ominous red stars that heralded her death on the 5th Floor of the Dungeon. The massive fist raised in preparation for a crushing blow that would shatter her skull filled with thoughts of finding love within the Dungeon. The argent wind that swept through the cavernous walls of the Dungeon before it could descend to end her young life swiftly.
It was not a gentle breeze. It was a ferocious gale that roared as it billowed past her. It was so rough and violent that she closed her eyes on reflex as it ripped the tie keeping her long, snow-white hair bound and left it whipping about rampantly before there was an indescribable sound.
Then she felt warm and wet. An iron-like scent bathed her. She opened her eyes only to see that the world was rose-tinted as the harbinger of death loomed over her.
The Minotaur was still standing there. The massive bovine was still frozen in place from how tense its muscles had been to deliver the maiden to her beloved aunt’s side in Heaven. However, it was now missing its head and upraised arm, both torn off to expose the insides of its body.
“Hey, you still breathin’?”
Belle recalled how his masculine, rough voice that seemed to run down her spine drew her gaze beyond the corpse as it realized its own fate and collapsed to the ground. How her breathing stopped. How her thoughts froze.
Unbreathing and unblinking, she could only stare at the most handsome figure that she had seen in her life. Her heart raced as his brow furrowed. Her stomach fluttered as his amber eyes bore straight through her as his wolf ears and tail twitched.
Words refused to form from her lips as heat swelled in her breasts. It spread throughout her body an all-consuming warmth that threatened to burn her alive from the inside out. Her body began sprinting with all its might to find a way to quench the flames as she realized that she had finally found him.
She had found the man she was meant to love.
He was a Werewolf that belonged to the Loki Familia. He was a Level Five adventurer, which explained why he was so fast that he appeared like a whirlwind. And he was the man who swept her heart away so soon after arriving in Orario.
But he had told her that night in the pub the kind of woman he liked were those who were among the strongest. Someone who needed to be protected was not worthy of being his wife. That was why she had decided to keep delving into the Dungeon.
And why she couldn’t keep letting herself be saved by the man she loved. “If being weak is something you can’t stand, then I’ll stop being weak here and now.”
The flames of passion that enraptured her turned into a burning fury as she used her grasp on his shoulders to pull him. It was only because he hadn’t been expecting it that he took a step back while she stepped around him to advance on her foe. Then she drew an onyx, two-pronged stiletto with one hand and a dagger in the other, declaring her intention to face the Minotaur.
“Just watch me, Bete Loga!”
Auntie Alfia must be laughing at me from Heaven right about now. She always said that having my head filled with thoughts of romance would be the death of me, despite her best efforts to remedy that. That, before I go looking for a hero to love me, I should at least find the strength to at least stand on my own two legs once she was gone.
Only now do I understand why that is.
It’s fine to fall in love with someone stronger than you. But when they need to always protect you then it feels frustrating because you only add to their burden. How can I feel worthy of his love when all I do is weigh him down?
I don’t want him to look at me as a burden. I don’t want him to look at me as a weakling. I don’t want him to look at me as someone needing to be protected all the time.
I want him to look at me as someone being worthy of his love.
No. More than that I want to believe that I am someone worthy of receiving his love. I want to find something that will allow me to be more than a burden to him—just like how Leene had.
“I want to do what I can to help him and the others rather than have them constantly protect me.”
Those were the words the bespectacled healer told me when she confessed her feelings for him. Her tone, her demeanor—all of it told me her feelings were no less than my own. Yet even though we share the same feelings, the difference is that she can at least heal his wounds even if she can’t stand right next to him on the battlefield rather than need him to protect her all the time.
I envy that she can always find a place by his side because of that. But I cannot find it in myself to hate her. Not when she had been so kind to me and her dedication to refining what she had been given until it was something that could be of use to others around her—including him.
That is why I choose not to retreat and rely on him to save me again.
I cannot remain as a girl whose head has been filled with fairytale romance and nothing else. I have to push ahead. I have to be the kind of person Auntie tried to teach me to be—not a damsel in distress that needs to be saved, but a heroine who can fight alongside the hero she loves.
And to do that I have to confront the wall in front of me.
The Minotaur recognizes my challenge and raises its blade. The man I love recognizes my declaration and finally looks at me. Trapped between crimson stars and amber mirrors both casting their judgmental gaze upon me, I don’t entertain the thought of running away.
Dagger held forward. Stiletto perched reversed.
I charge into the fray to meet my fate.
Bete’s mind turned in his skull on why he allowed her to rush ahead.
He was a wolf. He could have rushed ahead and struck down the bull faster than they could have blinked. He still could as the bunny bound forward to her death, becoming as swift as the wind and taking off its head with a sweep of the leg.
Yet he stood and watched without a word as they got within engagement distance of one another. The rabbit rushed towards the bull with her tiny fangs bared. And the bull’s blade came down in an arch to butcher her.
He recognized the greatsword being the same make as the one that the boar had as he blocked the path between them. It was meant to bring down larger foes by putting the weight of the steel and the strength of the wielder behind the swing, allowing it to cleave through even the densest of bone and muscle. A single hit or even a graze by the Minotaur would be death for a Level One adventurer…
The scent of freshly spilled blood tickled his senses as the bull roared. Thick bundles of white hair were left floating in the air as the blade finished its arch and bit into the soft ground hard enough for dirt and grass to fly into the air. The first exchange between the bunny and bull ended with the former’s fangs bloodied.
In the elongated space of time afforded by only the strong, Bete saw it all. Lowering her body. Extending her right arm. Pivoting her grounded foot ever so slightly. Putting all of her might into her legs as she bound forward—a series of slight motions in tandem that would form the steps of a dance were brought together without hesitation and allowed her to escape death.
The crimson eyes of the bull could only widen as the bunny managed to slip past its killing stroke while the point of her stiletto scraped against the flesh beneath its underarm. The sharpened tip tore a slight rent into its hide and the crimson spattered her white hair to sully it further. But that was only short-lived as the two both picked right up where they left off.
As if offended by the affront of having its blood drawn first, the Minotaur swung its arm back the way it came. The blade tore itself free of the ground and sprayed loose dirt and grass around as the edge sought to cut her slender frame in half. There was enough force behind it that her upper torso would be thrown aloft from the sheer pressure of the swing.
At the same time, the moment the bunny came out of her bound, she spun on the ball of her feet and pivoted forward while hopping in the air. Her rubellite eyes were unblinkingly fixed onto the broad neck of the bull as her twisting motion drew a silver and violet set of curving arch from both the dagger and stiletto as they came around to cut and stab. It was as if she intended to bleed the bull to death by opening up the artery in its neck.
There was a roar and the ear-wrenching sound breaking steel as the exchange happened. The bull had missed its swing but, perhaps sensing her intention through pure instinct, reared its head around to bring its remaining horn up to intercept the rabbit’s fangs. It met with the steel of the dagger, shattering it with ease before the stiletto scraped against it and decorated the air with sparks and the lilt of a gentle hum that tickled his ears.
Then its massive hand came up to grab her out of the air. Her legs lashed out on reflex like one would expect of a rabbit, kicking off its torso in the process. She narrowly escaped being grabbed thanks to the frantic, uncontrolled hop that sent her away from it while leaving her to tumble on the ground as more dirt and grass further tarnished her hair.
Her hand holding the broken dagger released the useless handle and then clenched at the ground for purchase. It pulled her to stop as the dirt was caught beneath her fingernails and she used what upper body strength she had to pull herself forward to give her momentum as her legs kicked her forward into a roll that allowed her to escape death from above.
The bovine came crashing down where she had been with a leaping slash. The earth quivered, quaked, and split from the impact. Soil and turf were upheaved and showered over the Minotaur as it roared in either excitement or aggravation before turning around to give chase, only to narrowly avoid having its chest pierced where its magic stone was buried deep beneath muscle and bone. The lunging rabbit only managed to score a gash across its chest as she bound past him before spinning on a valis the moment her foot touched down before darting to the right as the greatsword tried to cut her down once more.
Yet, as he looked into her eyes as the two engaged one another in their battle to the death, he realized why he had let her run off to her death. It was….
“I thought you ran ahead to deal with it!” Tiona said, aggravation lacing her tone as she spotted the young woman in the fight for her life.
He could only guess the others must have pushed back that damn boar as he shifted his hearing to catch their footfalls rather than devoting all of his senses to the fight. Then he spotted the Amazoness getting ready to personally kill it and grabbed her arm to stop her.
She gave him a withering glare. “What gives?”
“This is her fight, Stupid Amazon,” Bete said in a voice that was devoid of his normal bite. It was… calmer. “Don’t go kill-stealin’ it.”
“Did you hit your head or something on the way here?” Tiona demanded as the others took note of the rising tension between them while also splitting their attention on the matter at hand. “She’s a Level One! That thing is going to kill her!”
“She knew the risks but said she wanted to kill it on her despite that,” he said, which was as close to admitting he had been the first to rush off for the very same reason. “Take a look at her eyes for second before you go swingin’ that hunk of metal around. That ain’t a woman lookin’ to be saved, is it?”
To the gathered who had breached the gap and become First-Class Adventurers, it was clear that there was a major difference in strength. The massive Minotaur could likely kill the adventurer within its sights if it managed to land a blow. Even the girl had to know that as every survival instinct driven into humanity since the dawn of time must be screaming to run away.
Yet there was no hesitation or fear in her gaze as she confronted her foe. There couldn’t be. If there was even a moment’s hesitation or a moment of doubt, she would die. If the bull managed to entrap the bunny for even a moment, then that would be the end of her.
“It’s no different than what Aiz did to hit Level Six,” Bete continued as he felt the Sword Princess’ golden gaze fall upon him at the prompt. “She’s lookin’ to stop being weak by pushin’ her limits. How would you feel if someone stepped in when you didn’t want them to, especially in front of the guy whose eyes you keep tryin’ to catch?”
“This is because of what you said at the restaurant while you were drunk off your mangy butt!” Tiona pointed out, raising her foot to kick him in the head. His arm came up to block the blow with his vambraces. “She’s doing it to impress you because you only said you like strong women like Aiz! If she dies it’ll be on your head!”
“So what?” The flat, blunt response somehow managed to catch her by surprise as he released his hold on her before returning his gaze on the woman risking her life for his sake. “Whatever stupid reason she’s got doesn’t change the fact that she’s down here for the same reason we are—to get stronger. We would be the biggest fuckin’ hypocrites if we got in the way when she’s goin’ all in to break through her limits.”
“But even so—” Her voice cut off as a hand settled onto her shoulder to stop her. It was her very own sister this time, looking at the white-haired girl armed with nothing but a stiletto in her grasp. “Tione?”
She slowly shook her head. “I don’t think she would be able to stand herself after being humiliated in front of the guy she’s in love with. You might save her life now, but there’s no telling what would happen to her afterwards or what she would do.”
Figures no one would know better than her, Bete thought to himself. He still found it ridiculous that some woman he had only seen a total of a few minutes would even be risking it all for his eyes. But he recognized her determination to fight and sharpen her fangs. Even if he had no intention of suddenly taking her to bed, he could at least acknowledge her last request to watch.
“You would have interfered if she stood no chance, regardless of her feelings,” Riveria spoke with a placid voice as she shoved emotion out of her own assessment. “The fact that you haven’t means you think she can win this.”
He did not deny it. “If her first dagger wasn’t shit then I’d say she would have a better chance. That stiletto is tough and sharp, but it ain’t made for slashin’ hide that thick with her thin arms. Her only option is to stab it in the right spot unless she has somethin’ else tucked away in her stockings.”
My lungs burn for every breath I take.
My muscles ache with every move I make.
My heart pounds from every skirt with death.
I lose track of everything as I try to find a way to kill a monster that is superior to me in every way. The Minotaur is stronger than me. The Minotaur is tougher than me. I can barely break through its tougher hide but a single solid hit from it on my body and that will be the end of me.
The blade comes for me once more. It draws a streak in the air from the dungeon light. A cleave that’ll tear me in two.
But I was already moving, backpedaling to get just out of range. It cuts the ends of my hair before I put strength into my legs and shoot between the bull’s legs with the two-pronged stiletto gifted to me by Goddess outstretched. It cuts into the thigh as I pass but it feels shallow from the recoil as I get behind the Minotaur.
I only realize that I was aiming for the big artery as my body continues to move. Leene lectured me on the ones in the thighs and neck after what I thought was a scratch from a Wall Shadow could have been fatal if it had been just a little closer to them. It must be the same for the Minotaur since it has a partly humanoid body. If I manage to stab them then I can kill it since the magic stone is harder to reach.
“Your body can understand even if goes above your head. I suppose that also counts as Talent, for you at least. “
I hate to admit it, but I am not that smart. Even Auntie Alfia told me that because I struggle to remember some things if they don’t catch my attention. It goes in one ear and out the other. But she also told me that my body remembers, and I should still listen to things even if it doesn’t stick around.
I remember when I was a little girl and first caught a butterfly. Auntie managed to do it easily and without even hurting it, so I asked her how she did it. She told me how they flew and how they needed to be grabbed to avoid damaging the wings. Knowing what I knew now, I think it was so that if I needed to catch a Blue Papillion in the Dungeon for their wings then I could, just like what I did to help Lili back then.
The explanation went over my head, but I still managed to catch one just like she did after a while. Not because I thought about it, but because my instincts told me when to move and I listened to them. My body could understand so long as I received the information, even if it went above my head at the time. So even if I didn’t understand why I should listen to my instincts when the time comes.
Instinct moves my body even as it screams from the strain of pushing my limits. Instinct guides my blade even as my fingers wrapped around it threaten to break. Instinct will bring me victory before the flames that were lit in me flicker and fade away…
I duck under its wide swing of the greatsword and then dart to the right to avoid the crushing blow of its massive arm, creating an opening towards its neck once more. I pirouette on my toes before I hop up to take advantage of it, high enough that even if it sweeps its arm outwards it won’t reach me before I hit my mark. And using the momentum of the spin to add to the piercing power of the Goddess Stiletto, I don’t doubt that this time I can stab down at the artery in its neck.
Then my instinct screams. I twist my body, brace my arm, and set the Goddess Stiletto between me and the Minotaur rather than go for the kill like I intend to. It saves my life as the Minotaur somehow whips its head around in time to use the natural weapon it had been born with rather than the massive sword and bulging muscles—its singular horn.
The sharp point hooks around towards me. It’s a spear to gouge out what I’ve given to the Werewolf. If not for stiletto catching the tip with its neck and bracing with all my strength, it would have presented what remained of my unworthy heart to the amber eyes still watching me.
I hear the stiletto hum with a gentle ringing while something in my right arm break. The sheer might behind the blow sends me flying several meders away and the wind rushes past me as I impact the ground hard before rolling further away. Somehow I get my feet under me and stand back up, only for a cry to claw its way out of my throat.
The bones in my forearm had snapped under the weight and strain of the monstrous blow. A jagged piece of white bone sticking out of it causes pain with every shuddering breath I take. It’ll only get worse before it gets better since if someone uses a potion before the bone is set it would heal improperly. Leene had told me that could result in a permanent debilitation that would end an adventurer’s career, which was part of the reason she studied so hard to prevent that from happening.
Not that I have to worry about that as the Minotaur charges me to deliver the killing blow before I can even attempt to do something like that. The time it takes for me to pull out a potion will only be after it manages to finish me off. I can only press ahead despite the pain.
So I use the last thing I have to change my fate. The onyx blade that Goddess Hestia had gifted me. It was still quivering from the impact of the horn. The only thing that was supposed to make it do that was the reddish strip of metal running along the outside of its sheathe, but it would work all the same.
I point the two-pronged blade right towards the charging Minotaur and focus on the humming as it crosses the distance—
—and my mind begins to break apart as the bell rings.
The ringing of a bell filling the chamber of the Dungeon was the only thing that stopped the others from moving.
The moment that the white bunny had been launched and broke her arm, the others had been ready to move. How could they not when they saw a young woman covered in dirt and blood shedding tears from the pain she was in? Even if her spirit was willing, her body simply was not able to keep up. Even if it crushed her heart and shattered her pride, even if she grew to hate them or blame them for denying her sole wish, to allow her to die would still not sit right with any of them when they could something.
Then a dolorous bell overlapped the hum of coming from her stiletto. The resonance carried with it the thick sensation of magical power. The air before the charging Minotaur trembled and it shifted like ripples bundling together before the mountain of flesh to become a wall. The raging bull charged right into it as though to break through that wall…
Then it shattered and unleashed a destructive roar that billowed out.
The grass and earth around the Minotaur were torn asunder. Wind filled the chamber and billowed past them. The bovine staggered in its charge as blood rang from its nose and ears.
“Guugh!” The young woman let out a cry laden with pain and anguish and desperation as she forced herself to her feet. Clenching the handle of her blade with a white-knuckle grip, she slapped the flat of her blade against the sheathe in the process. There was a strip of adamantite running along the side of it and the impact caused the prongs to hum even louder.
The bell sounded once more with an even deeper ring. The ceiling that was ten meders above trembled as another pressure wave went off. The greatsword that the bull had been holding onto until now clattered to the ground as it brought its hand to its head while the blood poured from its eyes and mouth now as well.
“What kind of magic is that?” Tiona asked.
“…It’s been since Leviathan since I’ve heard a similar sound,” Riveria stated as if recalling a memory more than a decade old with the clarity of being only a few days ago. “It seems that it manipulates sound waves somehow to create a wall of sound that ruptures, creating a shockwave. As tough as a Minotaur’s hide is, it can still punch through to everything that flows beneath it.”
“Then why didn’t she lead with that instead of getting thrown around?” Tione tilted her head, a Kukuri in her hand. Had the first bell not tolled then it would have found itself buried into the back of the Minotaur’s skull despite her earlier words.
“Take a look at her and guess,” Bete in a firm tone. Once she did the reason was obvious from how her crimson streamlets ran from her nose and her tears had turned scarlet even as her rubellite eyes remained fixated on the Minotaur. “We’re fine because of our Levels and the distance between us, but she’s doesn’t have that luxury.”
Range. Area. Potency. Magic being cast took these into consideration with the longer the chant equating to the more powerful the spell. The fact that hers provided no chant yet packed that much of a punch meant that something else was allowing her to do so.
The Royal Elf’s jade eyes turned to the blade she had as the humming died down. “It must be a conditional area of effect spell. That stiletto generates more sound waves at a higher frequency from the vibrations, and that fills up a space she can influence faster. The denser the wall of sound the more violently it ruptures, which means the more damage it can deal.”
It also went unsaid that she was not immune to the effect of her own spell. Her magic was the cause of the sound being compressed but the result was an attack that did not discriminate. Using it at close range was nothing more than self-destruction.
The Werewolf watched as she rushed headfirst to that end as the muscles in his legs tensed like springs.
I only knew a single, simple spell.
I focus on the sound that I can hear within a certain distance of me and say a single word. The magic happens and makes the sound wind itself tighter somehow with the soft ping of chimes. Then it explodes outwards.
But it was hard to use at first. Focusing on a single sound tended to be hard when there’s a lot of noise, and that made it hard to control. That was why Goddess gave me this blade to use when I needed to cast the spell.
She mentioned something about how it was like a tuning fork that went over my head again. But the sound it made was nice and I could focus on that when I used the spell to better direct it. Then I realized that the harder I hit it against the sheathe the more it hummed—and the more powerful it became until the chime became a bell as a result.
The fact that it hurts me means that I’m probably not supposed to be using it in this way.
But it’s all I have left now.
My head is spinning from the ringing in my ears. My vision is rose-tinted from my own blood this time compared to last time. My body is ready to collapse, and I know I won’t be getting up the next time I go down.
The Minotaur isn’t much better from how it’s staggering and lashing out with its arms. It has no sense of balance and probably no awareness of its surroundings beyond knowing that I am somewhere close to it until it adapts to the pain. The flailing will keep me at bay since even a light graze will still put me in the grave…
I listen to my instinct and rush in anyway.
One more use. That will be my limit and that will be the end. It has to count and there’s only one way to make that happen. So I put everything I have into moving, devouring the distance between us as my grip on the blade reverses and I strike the sheathe on my hip a final time as hard as I can—
Then death closes in upon me as the Minotaur brings its arm around all of a sudden. The hum of my stiletto gave it a direction. It followed its own instincts as a monster capable of killing in a single blow to put everything into doing it while wearing a smile…
I howl at the top of my lungs as I use every muscle in my lower half and twist my body to the point my spine might break to avoid it. The twist carries me around the stout arm as it crashes down where I had been less than a heartbeat ago. The momentum drives me around like a whirlwind as I use the last of my strength to drive the stiletto’s point forward and pierce its body not even a quarter of the way in.
Then I focus on the hum of the blade as I chant the spell a final time. “TOLL!!!”
I hear the bell next to me loud and clear. I feel the magic in the air around me forming the wall. I know it’s over now no matter what. I’ve won and lost at the same time, but I feel proud of myself strangely enough as my consciousness fades and a gentle breeze embraces me.
Did you watch me until the end, my love?
“She’ll live but she’ll need to be taken to the hospital to get her arm fixed,” Riveria said after looking over the young woman laying before her. “Goodness, girls these days really go too far for the sake of a crush. Had you been slower there was no doubt that she would have died.”
Her final chant had been focused directly on the dagger, or rather the hum coming from it. The results spoke for themselves as there was nothing more than a crater where the Minotaur had been. The only reason she managed to survive was because Bete had already been moving before she had struck the final blow.
The grey wolf had outraced the wall of sound with the girl in his arms without a moment’s hesitation.
“I found it!” Tiona called out before jumping into the air and grabbing hold of the two-pronged onyx blade that was buried neck-deep into the moss-covered wall where it had been launched from the explosion. The fact that it was still in one piece spoke well of the craftsmanship.
“…This too,” Aiz said softly as she held up the horn of the Minotaur. There had been nothing left of its body or magic stone as the pressure wave ripped it apart from the inside out. She brought it over and set it on the girl’s body as Tiona did the same with the knife.
“At some point you will have to address this,” Finn stated as Bete lifted her up in his arms to carry her back to the surface. His speed would make it a non-factor while they continued towards the 18th Floor. “I won’t say her actions are your fault, but this will likely only encourage her. She won’t be so lucky next time if she remains this reckless.”
“…I hear ya, Captain,” was all he said before he carried her out. But he knew it would be pointless. Any fool that would drive themselves to the edge for the sake of accomplishing a goal wouldn’t be discouraged by words alone. The best he could do was tell her not to walk down the path of self-destruction in the process.
He had enough scars to bear.
Author’s Note: The premise of this one-shot is that Bell was born a girl and raised by Alfia until her recent passing. But as a young woman growing up, she always had her head filled with the notion of falling in love with a hero. So she heads off to Orario as there are no other places better to find one and when the Minotaur thing happens the one who rescues her is Bete, as he and Aiz choose to go in different directions.
I thought it would be an interesting contrast to the norm and would be a chance to explore different relationships and opportunities, like Tione being the one who takes the time to train her rather than Aiz out of respect for one pursuing the heart of someone else or Leene initially attempting to get to know the person who brazenly declares her love for Bete without shame and somehow striking up a friendship, despite effectively being rivals for the same person. Lena would be more competitive in contrast.
- The name Belle is in reference to the heroine of Beauty and the Beast, with the latter being Bete.
- The only reason Belle got away with calling Alfia “Auntie” was that she was too stubborn to have the habit knocked out of her. Same with the romance obsession. Alfia loved her regardless was happy with the time they spent together.
- Her fighting style is a lot more acrobatic than Bell and tends to involve a lot more airtime, so spending time with the Amazons would help her refine her fighting ability to use her legs as well.
- If Belle learned a new spell it would be an enhancement-type spell that raised her Endurance and Agility while also allowing her to interact with sound as a physical medium, effectively allowing her to run on the air to 3D speed blitz whatever she faces.
- Sometimes she helps out at Miach, Hestia, and Take’s workplace because she’s a good girl. The number of clients they receive increase noticeably those days.
- Hestia treats her like a doting mother who disapproves of her current love interest but wants her to be happy. She keeps her version of Realis Phrase a secret because she doesn’t want to encourage putting herself into unnecessary danger to become strong enough to get with him. This Minotaur stunt only reinforces her secrecy, as letting him save her would have been the smart call.
- Her alias would be Ariadne, named after the princess who killed the Minotaur the hero came to save her from in the in-universe story of Argonaut.
Chapter 15: Let The Games Begin
“Days turned to weeks. Weeks became months. And by the time I realized it, we had been at the village for a year. The nights had become a little less lonely and the fears of the world outside of four walls had lessened for me. I owed it all to Argo, whom I considered an older brother by then.
He remained rather bumbling during the day when there was a need for hard work. But he was one of the few who knew how to read and write, so he made himself useful in other ways when he thought that I was not watching. I even saw him practicing with a stick as a makeshift sword, hopelessly swinging it away, even though he did not have any real talent with it even then.
But I knew so little about who he had been before we met. He was too well-spoken, and he had been dressed rather well when we first met, even if those clothes were sold so that we would have necessities when we first arrived. Yet he never seemed to bring up who he was before the Kingdom fell.
He had to have been a noble once upon a time. And I was sure if he wished it, he could have been so much more than an orphan like myself. Then again, it may have been that the person whom he had been once also died in the fall of Elcos.
He was simply a clown named Argonaut from then on—nothing more.”
—Who Were You, Argo?
“Sorry if I’m late!”
Those were the first words out of Lefiya Viridis’ mouth as she emerged into the canvas tent that served as the base of the Hestia Familia outside of the town of Argis. The others had arrived yesterday, but she had only arrived mere moments ago thanks to one of the flying dragons that she recognized from their trip to the Spirit Forest. She did not question how Lulune got her hands on it but was grateful all the same.
“We were worried you wouldn’t be able to get away from your Familia in time,” said her little brother, clad in his lightweight armor that was meant to protect his vitals. His underclothes were the same Salamander Wool that he had when they were on the 18th Floor, and an additional piece added to serve as a cowl and cape. And, for the first time this week, he looked well-rested instead of running himself ragged training. “It’s a relief that you made it.”
“I had to have Tiona and a friend cover for me today,” the Half-Elf explained vaguely. Their current location was a day’s trip via horse-drawn carriage, but that was thankfully far shorter when you had access to flight. Even so, she had to leave first thing in the morning and asked for Tiona to explain her absence after breakfast.
Her excuse was that she had plans with Filvis for the day since no one would be going into the Dungeon when the War Game was going on. It was not a lie, mind you. She fully intended to spend the evening with the Elven beauty and had told her as much.
That was why they were going to settle things now rather than over the course of the three days allowed. Even if it meant she had to pull Hyacinthus off his throne herself. “Is everything on your little friends’ side of things ready?”
“Yeah,” answered the Crozzo Blacksmith. Similar to Bell, he also had on a layer of Salamander Wool as a full cloak. And in front of him were two bundles wrapped in cloth. “If all goes according to plan, Little Lili will have reduced the number of the Apollo Familia right after things begin. Nice outfit, by the way.”
“This was after we compromised on the design after four hours,” the Half-Elf complained as she looked over herself. She had gone ahead and tied her hair in a way to shorten it so that when she used the pendant that hung around her neck she could make it appear naturally shorter to help sell the image of her being a different, full-blooded Elf as well. “I wanted a more antique look that isn’t commonplace in Orario, to help sell the image of me being an Elf from one of the more remote forests, but the influences of the designer stand out.”
The upper half was a white blouse with long sleeves that were fuller at the bottom, using golden cuffs at the end and matching sleeve garters to keep the excess fabric in check while the collar was hemmed in red and gold. That was overlapped by an overbust corset that had cloth sewn into it to match the bright colors in the design and ribbon tails coming down to her knees. To finish off the outfit she had an orange skirt with black hemming to go with white stockings and a pair of black shoes. The materials of the clothing were also Spirit Cloth, meaning they should be able to handle just about anything the War Game could throw at her.
“I think it looks nice on you,” her brother innocently commented, blissfully ignorant of her trials and tribulations to obtain said clothing for the sake of helping him.
It turned out that that tailor that Hermes had sent her to visit was a Sheep Person who had a specialty boutique that catered to certain… occupations only found in the Pleasure Quarters. And the “deal” the God of Travel had struck with the woman involved her modeling lingerie to get her outfit free of charge. She had been struggling to find Elven Models because no self-respecting Elf would wear them—and, considering what some of those strips of gossamer-thin cloth that passed as clothing were, none ever would.
She could still recall the guilt-laden words of the tanned-skinned Chienthrope as Lefiya gave her a withering gaze for knowing exactly what awaited her ahead of time. “Yeah, there’s a reason most of us in the Familia refuse to come here. You should see what the Captain did to Lord Hermes when they made her model the swimsuit line and he suggested they call it Andromeda’s Secret.”
“And your new staff looks cool too,” Bell added, bringing attention to the said staff. It was a composite that had been crafted by another Elven Mage who had a fondness for ancient aesthetics and so it was made of a heavy wood along with wood from an Elven Forest within its core. That meant it was heavier and more durable if she needed to make use of the staff drills that Lady Riveria had instilled into her, while the core served as a conduit that led to the two emerald magic stones—a larger one affixed to the top of the staff to serve as the main focal point and one on the rear as a secondary.
The magic stones would increase the power of Wind-based Magic, which was a necessity considering it was her only offensive spell at the moment. She and Bell had experimented on using her Gale Blast after she finished recovering from exhausting her Mind prior and figured out the range and effectiveness of the spell. It worked by using her magic power to generate and compress air before shooting it out like a cannonball until it ruptured, whereupon it unleashed all that compressed air.
It could tear apart higher-tier Level One monsters like a Silverback with relative ease, but Level Two monsters needed a direct hit when she put forth as much effort as she could manage. Any monster higher than that was something that the spell was not capable of dealing with, at the most blowing them away if they were not too heavy or firmly grounded, which made sense considering a Minor Spirit bequeathed it to her…
At least under normal circumstances.
“For the time being, we should review the plan to make sure everyone knows their part in things,” Ryuu suggested. The Elven Warrior was donning a beige cloak that contrasted the purple one that the Thousand Elf had worn over her combat outfit for the match. She brought their focus onto a map that displayed the area and had notes written upon it. “I believe that I will still be initiating the hostilities using one of Mister Crozzo’s swords to draw their attention and then focus it to the Eastern Wall.”
The Crozzo Blacksmith took that as his cue to unwrap one of the two bundled cloths. Inside was what looked to be an ornate sword, the blade made of a scarlet metal with the guard having trimmings of gold. But, having been around enough Magic Swords from the Loki Familia’s use of them, Lefiya could tell it was one.
Magic had been infused within it. So thoroughly instilled within it that the very metal had been warped and changed into existing as nothing more than a conduit to express that power. It would probably be more accurate to say it was like a magic stone in the shape of a sword, rather than a sword that had Magic within it.
“The element is Fire, and it will bring down those walls,” he continued. “It probably won’t be taken well that an Elf is using something like this, but you’re the most capable of us. And I feel I can trust that you would be the most cautious to avoid a mistake happening right now.”
Fire was inherently among the most destructive of the elements a Magic Sword could have. And anything capable of bringing down a castle wall would be more than enough to kill a lower-end Level Two Adventurer on a direct hit. Being a Level Four Adventurer, she alone was more than enough to clear out the castle as it was and they all knew it, so he would rather she use it to avoid unnecessary casualties.
“I will ensure that none of them suffer any fatal injuries, let alone one by a Magic Sword of your making,” the Elven Warrior told him as she carefully slipped the blade into a hoop attached to her belt beneath the cloak. “You have my word.”
Feeling the weight of eyes shift to her next, the Thousand Elf recited her role. “After Miss Ryuu draws the attention of the ranged casters and marksmen, I’ll attack the Western Wall and that will push us into the second stage and force them to divert their faster, more capable close-quarter combatants to my location.”
She would establish herself as another threat they could not ignore but also as a Mage. Since most dedicated spellcasters were weak at close range, they would attempt to subdue her as quickly as possible by closing the distance. However, the Level difference would make that a much more difficult endeavor than they were expecting.
Ryuu nodded in agreement. “Based on the information we have, that does seem to be the most likely path they will take. That will split at least half of their total forces and open up a path for Miss Yamoto to make her entrance from the Northern Wall.”
The Kunoichi who hailed from the Takemikazuchi Familia straightened up, bringing attention to her garb. It was made of darker colors and form-fitting, suitable for slipping into the shadows, while her cloak was a palette better suited to the tall grasslands. “My duty will be to infiltrate from the north and subjugate or distract the remaining forces within while leaving the Southern Gate unguarded so that Sir Bell and Sir Welf can enter. I will stake my life on seeing it done successfully.”
“You can try sounding a little less intense,” Welf said as he unfurled the next cloth. The sword this time was violet and had a curved blade more akin to an eastern sword. “This one has a Lightning element to it with a focus on the Paralysis Effect. Even if they have Abnormal Resistance, anything lower than an ‘H’ ranking will feel the effect unless they have gear designed to prevent it.”
If the first sword was designed to bring the walls down akin to a siege weapon, then this was meant to subjugate their army. The trade-off for that was to decrease the offensive power of the element for the status condition it could inflict as a secondary effect. Paralysis was crippling enough in the Dungeon that Lefiya specifically had an accessory to prevent it, but a strong enough charge could overpower it.
“That’s when we’ll go to the final phase,” Bell chimed in. “If everything works out, we’ll end it in less than an hour. That should allow you two to head back to Orario before you get into trouble.”
Lefiya’s expression soured somewhat when she considered that, but she said nothing until the strategy meeting was over and the others left the tent to get ready since the hour of the battle was soon to be upon them. Once she was alone with her little brother, the Half-Elf made her feelings clear. “I’m still against you going against Hyacinthus alone.”
White hair bobbed slightly as he acknowledged as much. “I know, but… I have to do this, Sister.”
Over the last week, they had all discussed what they wanted out of the War Game and Lefiya felt they needed to crush the Apollo Familia in its entirety so that no one got the idea to pull something like this on Bell again. Between herself, Ryuu, and having Crozzo Magic Swords, that was more than possible. The match was all but won if Bell remained at the base since his defeat was the condition for them to lose.
However, Bell refused to do that. In fact, he wanted to minimize the number of people who got hurt severely since he understood that they were only following their God’s orders like good children should. That was why that Pharmacist and Pallum had concocted their current plan rather than just giving Lefiya one of the Magic Swords and letting her unload it on him.
She would admit that was not necessarily a bad thing. Her own emotions were clouding her judgment. The affront to her brother’s wellbeing did not afford her as much leniency considering the circumstances. He was simply more forgiving than her.
However, the fact that he wanted to face Hyacinthus alone was something she really did not like. Even with the training he got there was still a full difference of a Level between them. It would basically be handing Bell over to him on a silver platter and she had made it clear what a horrible plan that was.
But she had been the only one against it. The other members of his Familia and even Ryuu stated that Bell had to be the one who did it. The rest of them could only help him to that point and would then leave everything to him.
Lefiya did not agree with that.
Not because she did not understand why they felt that way as fellow Adventurers. She understood perfectly well what he went through. Bell had been humiliated.
He had been beaten and forced to kneel in front of someone he stood no chance against. He had been too weak to protect himself, let alone anyone else, and had to be saved by someone stronger than him. His pride had been trampled on as an Adventurer.
He deserved the chance to prove what he was capable of to everyone—including himself.
She understood that because she had been in his place before and knew how bitter that was. That was why she worked to learn Concurrent Chanting with Filvis. That was why she put everything she had into becoming someone capable of at least taking a step to walk alongside the other members of her Familia like Bete and Aiz.
However, Lefiya was also his older sister.
One who had spent years repressing her sororal instincts, only to see him nearly die because she abandoned him when he needed guidance. The moment it all came flooding out of her like a broken dam there was no turning back. That was why she was willing to do so much for his sake.
Mutual respect was due. That was why she was willing to give him a chance as a fellow Adventurer. But if she saw him getting beaten bloody a second time, nothing would stop her from intervening as his older sister—even if he hated her for it.
Even so, the sheer magnitude of what they were doing and the consequences, if she was caught, left her wanting to complain while she still could. “Seriously, Bell. Between this and the 18th Floor, my hair will probably end up turning as white as yours from the stress. Try not to worry your big sister too much after this, okay?”
The response she got was a small laugh and apology. “Sorry.”
“I’d believe that more if you weren’t smiling so much,” she said with a small pout. It felt like he was making fun of her.
Her little brother only sheepishly scratched his cheek. “It’s just… when I was younger, I always hoped we could be closer, so hearing you call yourself that makes me kind of happy.”
His answer sobered her. The innocent reminder made it clear just how much time they had lost together because of her brashness as a child. Then there was the fact that for a Human time was much more precious considering how short-lived they were compared to even Half-Elves—without factoring in the occupational hazard that was the Dungeon.
She dropped the pout and then came over to embrace him, the act of which flustered him. Even so, she held fast she brought her forehead to his and whispered a small apology of her own. “I really am sorry for being a bad older sister until now, Bell.”
“…No, I’m sorry for being such a troublesome little brother,” he said after a prolonged pause before she felt his arms come up to embrace her in return. “Thank you for helping me, Sister.”
The hug lingered until Bell suddenly turned his head around, eyes spanning the empty space. Almost as if he were searching for someone watching them. That was when her Elven eyes noticed the amulet hanging around his neck, a golden teardrop with a jewel just beneath the cowl of Salamander Wool. “…Bell, what’s this?”
“It was supposed to be a gift for good luck,” he said. “Is something wrong?”
Her slender fingers reached out and ran along the surface of the jewel. For a moment she thought it might have been a magic stone, but there was something about it that bothered her. So, she took a moment to just allow for some of her magical energy to come out and focused it into the gemstone… only to feel it be rebuked. “I think this is a jewel that gives the holder a limited form of Magic Resistance.”
His expression went from confused to surprised. “Really?”
Lefiya brought her hand to her chin. “Lady Riveria told me that they’re a rare item found in the Dungeon after my first run-in with an Obsidian Soldier. When someone with a Developmental Ability refines and processes them, even a small gemstone fixed onto an accessory like this one can mitigate a decent amount of magical damage.”
He reached down and stared at the jewel in the center that seemed to reflect his rubellite eyes. “I thought it might do something, but I didn’t know it could do that. I’ll have to see it returned to Miss Syr once everything is said and done.”
That waitress had something like this? She could not help but wonder if that woman really knew what she had given her little brother considering it was one expensive good luck charm. But she did not have the luxury to dwell on it as she pulled out her silver pocket watch with Elvish embellishments and noted the time.
Then she tapped the pendant to change her appearance into that of a Full Elf with emerald eyes and shorter hair. “Remember to call me Miss Feena when I look like this from now on. The Gods and Goddesses will be watching us, so a slip of the tongue will pretty much invalidate the match and make it all for nothing. Got it?”
“Understood, Miss Feena,” he said a little too playfully for her tastes before he followed her out of the tent.
Neither took notice as the Elven Warrior’s ears shifted beneath the hood of her cloak from a fair distance away.
At the top level of Babel Tower, many Gods and Goddesses had gathered. The spacious theatron served as the perfect stadium for all those whose who wished to observe the War Game as a social event rather than the confines of their own homes. As well as the outcome considering the heads of the two Familia involved were in attendance as well.
It was then that Apollo approached Hestia. The Goddess of the Hearth sat in a small group along with Hephaestus, Takemikazuchi, and Miach, all gathered in what was a show of solidarity amongst them. Lacking in fear and brimming with confidence in his impending success, he approached his opponents before all of the Gods and Goddesses in attendance and beyond who listened for the pre-game banter.
“Let there be no hard feelings, my dear Holy Flame,” he began, bringing his arms around as if to embrace himself. “Though I understand how such a wondrous child enraptured your heart whereas I could not, know that I do not seek to deprive you of him out of envy. In fact, I would be more than willing to host you as a treasured guest within my manor while we hold a symposium to discuss how you have managed to raise such a fine boy.”
Hestia fought not to rise out of her seat and slap him at the implications that did not elude her of a tryst between the three. “If you really cared then you would have considered our feelings and wouldn’t have driven us to this point. You still haven’t learned to rein in your passions, Apollo.”
The God of the Sun did not even attempt to deny it. “Surely you know that as the sun my flames of cannot be extinguished. Even I cannot help but succumb when the passion within me becomes inflamed.”
“And that same passion has led to Artemis putting an arrow in you how many times now?” Hephaestus inquired, eliciting a repressed giggle from the spectators. “You may want to reconsider given that her doing so on the Lower World will result in you getting sent back up the next time she visits Orario.”
“Need you mention that classless Goddess?” he complained, followed by a sigh. Then his tone dropped the theatrics for a moment to address only her. “Hestia… do consider my offer to at least be treated as an honored guest within my care. I really would rather you spent the remainder of your time here on the Lower World in luxury considering Prometheus’ folly.”
…There was a shift in the immediate area as the group there all took in the implication of his words. The reason she had been allowed to descend so soon. It earned the ire of all those around the Goddess of the Hearth as they fixed their gaze onto him that he crossed a line that should not have been crossed.
“Leave.” Hephaestus spoke for them in a repressed, burning tone that was as searing hot as the very forges she commanded. It was a promise of pain if not obeyed within. “Now.”
“…My apologies, if I offended you,” he said before giving a bow and then departing further into the seats.
It did little to quell the Goddess of the Forge until Hestia set a hand on her arm and gave a slight shake of her head. “You know how he is without someone to keep him in check. Just let it go.”
That had always been the problem with some of the divine. In general, their love was colored by their nature, and the two mixed in ways that could be to the detriment of the others around them. The sun was passionate and unrelenting, which manifested as his desire to lay claim to that which stoked his inner fire—whether it be a virginal goddess or her adorable child who had yet to truly be able to stand on his own two feet.
The worst part of everything he just said was the fact that not a single word of that was insincere or meant to be offensive, she knew. It was just his nature, but that did not mean she could allow that to go unchecked when Bell was his target.
He had to be taught a lesson in a way that would make it stick. I guess I will take a page out of Artemis’ book to deal with him when this is over.
“I, GANESHA, REQUEST THE USE OF OUR ARCANUM!” announced said God in his usual tone once there was only a minute left before the event, which was to say loud enough that everyone in Babel could probably hear it. Including Ouranos.
The response came a moment later, a deep and powerful tone that lacked in volume but could be heard throughout Orario. “Granted.”
With a snap of the finger, Divine Mirrors sprang into existence all over Orario. The looking glass that permitted a view of the stage even though they were far away, one of the few uses of their Arcanum allowed on the Lower World. It was the unofficial signal for everyone that the War Game was about to begin.
As those around her called up their own mirrors to focus on their children participating, Hestia’s thoughts shifted to that of the Goddess of the Moon. It had been months since the last time they had seen one another when she first descended, and the meeting had been bittersweet but warm all the same. She could only hope they would meet again soon so that she could show her what a wonderful child she found… before it was too late.
Then she felt Miach’s tender hand on her shoulder and saw his handsome yet gentle smile. It brought her back to the present as she opened her own personal mirror, naturally focused on showing Bell. He was standing next to Loki’s child in disguise on the outskirts of the castle, their hands held together as light danced between them.
The sight brought relief to her heart. At least I kept that promise to you, Bell.
Shreme Castle was one of many that had been built on the grasslands that had been surrounding Orario, constructed during the Ancient Era to serve as one of the gates to stop the encroachment of monsters from the Abyss in check until the lid could be placed on top of it. Though they tried many times to do so, it was only when the first of the Gods, Ouranos, descended that every race working together had managed to truly seal it shut.
With their purpose served, the castles had been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair. The ancient walls had succumbed to nature over the course of centuries, and it was only by the virtue of this one being the staging point of a failed invasion of Orario once upon a time that it remained relatively solid enough to be put back in working order for the War Game.
The curtain walls that had been long abandoned had been reinforced. The exterior that was ten meders tall had fresh mortar applied where it had been coming apart, ashlar stones were slotted into place where the old stones had succumbed in the past, and the filling beneath the wall walk and interior walls had been further reinforced leading to the towers of the castle. They had even ensured that the bedrock was solid if one tried to undermine them and slip in from below over the course of the three days.
Standing at a window in the main tower with his arms behind his back as the bell that served to signal the start of the War Game chimed, Hyacinthus looked down at the members of the Familia moving about now. There was a sense of anxiousness in his chest as he awaited the conclusion of the event, even though he knew that would not happen soon. The conditions for victory were in his favor, but the time period of three days made it so that for the next seventy-two hours they would need to be on full alert.
…It was ridiculous. He knew it even as it went unsaid by the others that setting up patrols and rotating the guard so that every avenue of attack was accounted for was excessive when there were only six members of the opposition. But he did not want to take chances when there were unknowns and had sent Luan to investigate all of the Hestia Familia participants while the others focused on the matters of getting their defenses up to par.
Welf Crozzo, a former member of the Hephaestus Familia. He was reputed to be a member of the Crozzo family that would not produce Magic Swords, that which had made them infamous throughout the world as they had earned the ire of Elves far and wide by subjecting their sacred forests to flames during Rakia’s conquest. It was one of the few things that actually earned some measure of emotion from the Lissos—namely, rage.
They had supposedly lost the ability to produce Magic Swords and thus Rakia’s expansionism came to a crashing halt. To that end, he was effectively a worthless treasure among the Familia, having the name but none of the capability. His transference was of no consequence.
Then there was Liliruca Arde, a former member of the Soma Familia. She was literally a nonfactor considering that not only had she been a Supporter, but she had been a member of that disorderly and disheveled mess of a Familia. However, he still made an attempt to glean more information about her considering the fact that the Soma Familia had an agreement with them not even four days before the Conversion.
Yet his attempt had been scuttled as his previous contact with the Familia was… indisposed, as he was told.
Last was Yamato Mikoto, a former member of the Takemikazuchi Familia. With the alias of Absolute Shadow, she had above average combat capability as demonstrated by her contributions during the chase in putting a number of his Familia out of commission. In terms of pure Status, she probably had the best given she reached Level Two before the Little Rabbit or the Crozzo, and thus had time to accumulate excelia. And her martial ability was not to be underestimated despite being from such a small Familia.
But she was still just a Level Two, which was the average of their Familia. Realistically, one of their Commanders could likely beat her in raw ability and training. She alone would not be able to turn the tide and they all knew it.
The real issue was the two outliers that Hermes had added to their ranks, both belonging to the Astraea Familia. It was a Familia that had been in Orario in the past, well-known and well-beloved according to what he could gleam. But the Familia had been supposedly wiped out and the Goddess in question had chosen to depart Orario rather than remain with no one having contact with her.
Given that the God of Travel could freely leave Orario and carry messages along with deliveries, it was plausible that they knew of one another well enough that she would lend her children to face off against them. But the problem was there was no information available other than their names and races—a pair of Elves, a female named Feena, and a male Ryulu.
Nothing about their Levels. Nothing about their capabilities. They were complete unknowns. That meant they had to be prepared for anything.
That was also why the moment he heard steel clattering to the floor the Beloved of the Sun went into combat mode. His senses sharpened. Time dilated. Hand on his weapon and his flamberge half-drawn, he turned on his heel to find…
One of his men literally sleeping on the job.
It was one of the Mages. He was lying there on the ground as the others looked at him with either disapproval or fear as one of the others tried to stir him awake. He came over and the others backed away as he roughly jostled him with a foot. “You dare fall asleep as the game begins! Wake up!”
There was no response.
A nagging feeling in his chest arose at that moment as his ears, senses still alert, heard sounds coming from the sky bridge. He went to the door and opened it to see that Daphne, one of his Commanders, was steadily trying to awaken Cassandra. He crossed the distance and loomed over the pair before demanding, “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Daphne said. “She was complaining about feeling sleepy and then the next thing I know she fell asleep and won’t wake up. And it’s not just her either.”
His ears picked up noise from around them and caught sight of movement around the castle. Some among their ranks were falling asleep and refusing to awake. It had to be an attack against them, a notion that deepened his scowl as he considered what could do this. “Give her your Elixir, now!”
An Elixir was an expensive type of Potion that could cure nearly any kind of Status Condition. He had ensured that each of the Commanders possessed one, along with a High Potion. The rest of their ranks had a Potion to be used if fighting had broken out.
The results spoke for themselves as Daphne immediately reached into her Potion Holster, popped the cork, and then brought it to Cassandra’s lips. She swallowed it almost reflexively before her eyes slowly drifted open and she looked round with her usual dour gaze. “Mmm… what happened to the storm from the dancing fairy?”
He ignored the nonsense and focused on the fact that she was awake again. “It’s enforced, meaning it’s a status condition. That means that the only ones who weren’t affected were those with Abnormal Resistance.”
It was a Developmental Ability that one could gain upon reaching Level Two, a common one at that due to exposure to the Purple Moths on the Upper Floors. So common in fact that it was traditional for those who had rarer or more role-specific Developmental Abilities to bypass it for things like Mage, Treatment, or Hunter if available. That effectively rendered their Mages, Healers, and specialists, along with the few Level Ones they had, out of the combat.
“If it was a spell then we would have felt it being cast over this large of an area,” Daphne pointed out as she helped Cassandra back onto her feet. “And people have been complaining about being sleepy since… breakfast…”
The realization dawned on them both at that moment. “Someone drugged the food.”
“We inspected everything we brought in,” Daphne stated. “If they had laced it with something then we would have found out.”
“…Unless it was added before everyone ate breakfast this morning.” His fists tightened as a searing heat prickled in his chest. There was one possibility that he had not considered. “There’s a traitor among us.”
One of the Familia that had assisted the Hestia Familia during the chase was a Medicinal Familia, and all it would take was someone with the Mixing Development Ability and the right ingredients such as powder from the wings of a Hypno Butterfly on the 13th Floor to create something capable of putting anyone without Abnormal Resistance to sleep. The right mixture of spices and flavoring would make the taste untraceable, and with enough medical knowledge it would be possible to tailor the effect to gradually take hold a set number of hours later.
Something that would be made much easier to plan out if someone leaked their schedule.
Daphne avoided his gaze, but she did not refute it. “Even so, there’s no time to figure out who’s responsible. We need to get as many people as we can back up before—”
Her words died when the curtain walls erupted with a riotous explosion. The stone shook while heat and smoke wafted in the air. Shouts of uncertainty rang out not more than a minute after the starting bell, accompanying a signal fire that was clear to all watching that there would be no delay now that the games had begun.
The castle siege was underway.
Book VI – Revised: Part 1
Author’s Note: Yes, I know it was supposed to be back in 1792. But since Konami dropped the game before it went anywhere, we’re going AU. Enjoy the ride!
[Outside The Gates – 1797]
As the golden eyes of the dhampir once known as Adrian Tepes stared deep into the night, a familiar silvery mist filled with painful nostalgia lingered about. The light of the full moon hanging overhead illuminated the veil that hung low and thick, dense enough to obscure the very earth beneath his boots. Yet, rather than a raven blanket illuminated by countless jewels of the night, there was a mirror of the imposing dominion of what had once been his home.
It was none other than the castle that had been sealed away, a manifestation of Chaos brought to the Earth. A place of dark power that his father had once called his own. The source of his rebirth and his gravesite time and time and time again—Castlevania stood before him once more.
Towering above the land and dominating the sky, the shadows it cast harbored a bone-biting chill as it devoured the argent rays of moonlight. The gates were wide open, the hungry maw of a titanic beast. One welcoming its prey to walk right into its belly.
The magic of these grimoires will never cease to astound me, Alucard thought to himself as every sense he possessed told him that he was in the distant past. His memory as part-Vampire was near eidetic, and so every sensation present matched his memories. Yet, he knew that was not the case.
It was a world woven from magic and ink on pages, the collective sins of his father’s legacy written down only to be made manifest. It would spill out and stain the world beyond the pages with the darkness that had been banished once before, shattering the hard-fought peace that was borne of the centuries of effort. That was why he had been beckoned by the organization that had created the grimoire in the first place—The Order of Elgos.
And that was why he had not come alone this time.
“Richter, look!” a youthful voice filled with warmth cut through the imposing presence that the castle presented. Its owner was a young girl with curled, blonde locks that bobbed as bounced on the heels of her feet while pointing a lithe arm up to the sky. “It’s upside down!”
“Yes, I can see that, Maria,” responded a masculine voice, several years her senior. The speaker stood there with his arms crossed, the night breeze leaving the tails of his headband to sway despite how he seemed almost like a spirit that was on the verge of corporeality.
Maria Renard and Richter Belmont of the Year 1792.
The vampire hunting duo stood to the left of Alucard. They had entered the castle prior to this moment to banish its master and send it back to the wellspring from whence it came. And they had succeeded in doing so through great trial and effort. Yet, the promised century of peace would be broken a mere five years later—a notion that stirred different emotions between them.
And they were not alone, as behind them there stood another contrasting pair. One was a towering mass of muscle that stood above the others, the venerated ancestor of their ranks who took to training his body until it possessed unyielding strength capable of hunting the night. The other was a woman clad in deep green emerald and gold, a slender but toned physique that served to hide the power that slept within her and the courage to face the darkness.
Simon Belmont of the Year 1691 and Maria Renard of the Year 1797.
“I’m betting that’s where we’ll find what we’re looking for,” said a young man’s voice from the right of the dhampir. There stood what looked to be a fit, yet slender teenage male with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was clad in a red jacket that had a number of weapons affixed to it, but his body was semi-ethereal. “Charl, you thinking what I am?”
“That the architecture will likely be as distorted as it was in the paintings that Brauner created?” answered a young woman who was clad in what appeared to be a white and blue blouse and skirt, with a half-cape affixed to it. There was a large tome tucked under her arm. “Most likely.”
They were another vampire hunting pair who had traversed the castle in order to return it from whence it came. Their opposition originally had not been Dracula, but rather a powerful vampire who had sought to use the castle to their own ends. Even so, Dracula had risen once more during that event and they had been the ones to banish him back into Chaos.
Johnathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin of the Year 1944.
“Regardless of its structure, our task remains as it always has been.” Resolve and resolution painted the tone of a woman with pale skin and long black hair that flowed down her back like a raven curtain. The moonlight shone against the breastplate that was affixed to her torso as her piercing gray eyes fixated on the heart of castle itself. “To retrieve the Vital Soul before things become dire.”
Hovering next to her was a taller individual, a studious-looking man with grey eyes that held within them a complex emotion. His shirt was overlayed with a leather vest and belt that had component pouches and ammunition, likely for the firearm in his possession. Similar to Johnathan Morris and Richter Belmont, he was also ethereal in nature.
Yet another pair that had been responsible for the rise and banishment of Dracula. Their tale was one that had been lost to history until recently, agents belonging to an Order known as Ecclesia that had once sought a unique power to rid the world of Dracula in light of the disappearance of the Belmonts. However, they became corrupted and ended up raising the castle, an act so blasphemous that the Church sought to hide the embarrassment of their actions and remove them from the pages of history.
Shanoa and Albus of the Year 1869.
Eight vampire hunters from the different ages between when Alucard had first laid his father to rest and after he’d done so for the last time. Belmonts, descendants, and others who had taken to fighting the Night and Dark Ones that prowled it. All had gathered here for the purpose of seeing that the efforts of those who sacrificed so much to bring the current age of peace remained as such.
“I’ve confirmed it,” a soft voice resonated throughout the air, a guiding voice that existed beyond the pages. A magical researcher whose youth contrasted her expertise and knowledge, Lucy Westenra of the Order of Elgos. “The monsters inside are giving off a stronger presence than the last time we ventured here to avoid the erasure of Miss Renard.”
It was not the first time they had entered this grimoire—this moment in history that had been recorded and brought to life. The first time had been to avert the erasure of the older Maria Renard, besieged by monsters whose power had been elevated and threatened to spill out into the world. Alucard had been the one to press ahead in remedying the situation with notable haste and had hoped that they would not have to return, but it seemed that would not be the case.
Richter Belmont’s gaze carried the weight of emotion behind it given his ties to it. This was perhaps the greatest moment of regret and failure that any Belmont could lay claim to, as he had gone against the very tenets of their family by beckoning both the castle and Dracula from their banishment into Chaos. He was staring up at his future, his sins laid bare for him to see. “…What are the chances that the Vital Soul would be housed by the ‘me’ of this time period if I was under their control?”
“Umm… it’s a possibility,” Lucy spoke from beyond the boundaries of the pages. “According to the original records, you were liberated from the control of the Dark Priest by Mister Arikado before the descent of the inverted castle. However, with the alteration of the grimoire’s text stating Richter defeated his assailant, it’s possible that this iteration of yourself might still be under his control.”
The Dark Priest, Shaft, had made Richter the master of the castle precisely because of his strength. If two hunters clashed then the weaker one would be destroyed, and prior to the events that saw the final defeat of Dracula Richter was the last known and most powerful of the Belmont lineage. Empowering him with the dark powers that the Vital Soul possessed would make it more so—perhaps even enough to kill the Alucard of the tome.
Richter must be suffering, the Adult Maria thought as she grabbed her arm sleeve and clutched it. This was her story, her present. The Richter next to her was from her past, but the one who had trained her and been her family was inside of the castle. Should he be infused with the dark power they needed to claim, then the only way to liberate him from it would be the same as every other monster they had to face under those circumstances.
She would have to kill her older brother to save the world.
A frown marred Simon Belmont’s visage. “If that is their scheme then it is a cruel one indeed. However, we are bound by the oaths of our ancestors to do what we must. He too would understand.”
It was true. Every Belmont in known history had been willing to forfeit their lives to banish the Lord of the Night. They did not fear death, but rather never having fought. Even so, it clearly weighed on the gathered Belmont Clan as they were forced to accept that it would be by their hands it needed to be done.
“…I shall do it,” Shanoa spoke, approaching the Belmonts. She understood both the guilt that must weigh on the shoulders of those who had gone against their very vows and those who had to put down the ones they loved because they were taken by such dark powers. There was no need for others to have to suffer it. “If the need arises, I will bear that cross and—”
“Don’t say that!” The outburst of the youngest among them had stalled her words before she could finish. “If Richter does have the bad thing inside of him, then we’ll get it out without hurting him!”
The younger iteration of Maria would hear none of it. Even if the Richter of this grimoire was not hers, he was still Richter in the same way that the older woman next to her was an older version of herself. To hurt someone she considered an older brother was sacrilege to her, even if it would be a mercy. Yet the Vital Soul needed to be retrieved…
That was when Albus deemed to speak for the first time since they had entered the grimoire. “Without knowing the specifics, I cannot be certain. But I believe there might be an alternative solution if the right conditions were met.”
Shanoa looked over to him. “Albus…?”
“When I absorbed the Gylph that housed Dracula’s soul, it consumed my mind and body,” he explained for the benefit of all. “Shanoa did what she had to, and I became part of the Gylph itself. However, my spirit retained its clarity and independence even after my body no longer housed my soul. I believe it was due to the blood of the Belmonts that I distilled down to its essence.”
Surprise blossomed on the expression of the eldest of the gathered Belmonts. “I had thought that our lineage had vanished in your time?”
“It was by chance that I discovered descendants of your lineage,” Albus began. “Knowing that Barlowe intended to have Shanoa use Dominus, I had sought whatever method I could to take her place. However, I lacked the instinctive ability that she possessed to absorb Gylphs and my body was not capable of safely housing the power of the Lord of the Night due to the dark nature. As the former was something that I was certain would be more easily grasped with the resources of Ecclesia, I focused on the latter and concluded the best way to do so would be to study the lineage of those who had bested the Lord of Night multiple times.”
The Belmonts had taken a vow to hunt the Night and all its horrors. As evil was an evolving presence, every generation had to be stronger than the last. That including their pedigree and bloodline.
“Richter Belmont was possibly the pinnacle of that bloodline, and so I sought to follow where he had been before he vanished,” he continued. “Those trained by him, those associated with him, and so on. It was a dead-end until, by some miracle, I came across Wygol Village and found that divine power within the residents there.”
Shanoa looked down at that as the weight of his words took root. “…Father Nikolai said that he received a revelation that drove him to create Wygol Village, and people from all walks of life ended up there. But of them, only one was trained in the art of monster-slaying—an elderly woman.”
“The Belmont lineage extends pasts the name,” Richter stated. “There are those who possess our bloodline but are not part of the main family. Maria’s family happened to be one of those, so it wouldn’t be a stretch that more of us were out there who sought different paths in life since the Vampire Killer remained with the main family.”
Albus agreed. “I theorized that they were all descendants from those distant branches, congregating together as if guided by fate or their blood itself. And considering that Dracula’s Castle would eventually rise close to the village, I believe that it was not by chance. However, your blood was especially potent to where its holy power was second to none and so it would be entirely possible that if we had some way of cleansing this iteration of yourself of its influence, we could liberate him of the Vital Soul without killing him.”
“If that’s the case, then I do know a spell that can do the trick,” Charlotte spoke with the confidence befitting a witch of her stature. “There are some drawbacks in casting it, but if Lucy can inscribe it into the grimoire so that I have access to it then we can make it work.”
“See, I told you that there was a way!” Young Maria cheered before she called out to the air itself. “Miss Lucy, can you do that and then tell us where we need to go to save Richter?”
“O-Oh, sure thing!” Lucy said from beyond the pages. “I just need a moment…”
In only a few words the tide had shifted from the grim acceptance that, to prevent the rise of evil they would have to sacrifice a hero who had been manipulated, into burgeoning hope. Alucard himself could see it in the way that the older Maria let loose the breath that she had been holding in. Good.
There was no need to turn history into a tragedy.
A few moments later a new grimoire appeared in front of Charlotte as her old one vanished. The cover held hieroglyphs and pictographs of three individuals—a warrior goddess with the head of a lioness, a maiden with wings, and a baboon holding a crescent moon. She flipped through the pages wrought of papyrus and nodded. “This’ll do it.”
“As for where the dark energy is coming from…I believe it’s somewhere around the heart of the inverted castle,” Lucy said. “I’m afraid from the ebb and flow it’s growing in power and emanating from five monsters within different areas of the castle. They’re creating a barrier to prevent access.”
“…Most likely those are the guardians who would hold the relics needed for the rebirth of Dracula,” the dhampir stated. “They should be located within parts of the inverted castle—the Chapel, the Outer Wall, the Lair, the Clocktower, and the Cave. If time is of the essence, we should divide our forces to conquer each of them.”
There were nine vampire hunters that had gathered. Of them, three were in a fluctuating state where they were not as capable as they could be due to the damage sustained by the alteration of their native grimoires. And considering the foes that awaited them…
“I will take the Cave alone,” Alucard declared. “That is where this incarnation of Death dwells. His desire to see to it that Dracula rises once more will mean that his interference will be inevitable, and I am familiar enough the layout of the castle to reach there quickly.”
“Then I suppose Jon and I will head to the Outer Wall,” Charlotte chimed in next, conjuring a broom in her hand with Jonathan by her side. “We work best together and traveling there won’t be an issue for me. We can meet up outside of the chamber once we’re done.”
Next was the Blade of Ecclesia. “My mastery of Glyphs and Albus’ own capabilities would allow us to traverse the Clocktower with haste and deal with whatever lays in waiting.”
“Me and Richter will head to the Lair then!” Young Maria chimed in with far more enthusiasm than appropriate. Then again, it meant saving her older brother and so she would naturally be eager to get to work. “Come on! I want to see how old you’ve gotten!”
“That leaves the defiled Chapel then,” Simon said. “The Holy Whip will make short work of whatever evil dwells there.”
“…I will accompany you,” Adult Maria decided after a moment. “Like Alucard, I have knowledge of this castle’s layout and so I should be able to guide you there.”
That decided, the dhampir turned his attention back onto the inverted castle. The memories of that night were still fresh in his mind, both it and the guilt of having to lay his father to rest for a second time. Then there was the third in the year of 1999. How many more times must he commit patricide to honor his mother and keep her wish alive?
He prayed there would not be a fourth before he drew his sword. “Begin.”
Chapter 14: Last Preparation
“Argo and I were allowed to stay in the village barn provided we helped out. As I expected, he was not very good at manual labor. I ended up having to apologize for a lot of his mistakes and then spent so long fixing them so that others would not get mad. But I was never really upset since it gave me a chance to learn from the others around us.
Still, every night I watched the other children return to their families, I was reminded of everything that I had lost. It was almost enough to bring me to tears. But Argo would always be there to cheer me up, even when he had lost his own family too. We were the same, but he kept his tears hidden while wearing a smile.
I was happy, but I was also a little sad. And I could not help but wonder if that was what it was like to have an older brother looking after you. That was probably when I started calling him my beloved brother.”
—The Lonely Nights
“I want you to join the War Game to assist the Hestia Familia.”
There had been many things that Lefiya pondered when she had been asked to attend to Lord Hermes that morning. The God of Travel had sent one of his children to request her presence once she finally left the Twilight Manor and she had no reason to refuse at the time. However, the Half-Elf had to concede that she had not expected that to be his request.
She spent the last day convalescing from the worst of the backlash of Mind Collapse. Normally, it would take her around three days to fully recover the full expenditure of Mind, which spoke of just how much Argonaut took out of her due to how it interacted with her Mage Development Ability. She was functional after a day, but she still felt fatigued and suffered headaches.
Lady Riveria thought it would serve as a learning experience after Lefiya gave her an explanation of what happened. By which she had to tell a little fib that it was due to testing the full scope of her Magic while assisting Tiona on a quick dive into the Dungeon. Since Tiona had to earn a lot of valis to pay off her own loan, it was more believable that it was done with her egging Lefiya on to push past her limits and possibly coax her into learning Spirit Healing once she reached the S-Rank in Magic and finally accepted the Level Up she was holding off on.
The Spirit Healing Development Ability was only known to Miss Aiz and Lady Riveria to this date. It allowed for the regeneration of Mind, effectively removing the need for Magic Potions so long as they had enough time. It was natural to assume that it was due to the constant expenditure of Mind over their careers the Falna determined that would be best for them to have so they could keep using Magic.
Lady Riveria had rightfully scolded her for that line of thinking. It was careless and reckless, a result of the same impatience that Miss Aiz had in achieving her Level Up. So part of her punishment was not only additional lessons going forward with Lady Riveria and Alicia, but she had to also pay off the loan needed to get Forest’s Teardrop repaired.
She really would be going on a mini-expedition with the Amazonian when all of this was said and done.
With her punishment set, she had spent the rest of yesterday in the Archives looking up the story of Argonaut. There had to be some collaboration between the fact that their Skills were named after the main protagonist of the tale and their homeland. Yet, when she read through the story, she found that there were a number of differences just from what little she knew from the memoirs she was still going through.
For starters, in the common tale it seemed that Fina was treated as a full-blooded Elf rather than a Half-Elf. Though the explanation for that one Lefiya could already hazard a guess. Half-breeds were persecuted and looked down upon in the Age of Heroes even more than now, a mingling of the races that was never meant to be. Whoever penned the original story likely changed it so to align with the cultural values of the age, instead changing the sibling relationship from their youth into something of life debt—which was why the Elf put up with the fool that was Argonaut.
To get a more accurate view of the story she would likely need to finish the memoirs and compare it to other variations. Tiona had apparently collected different editions of them whenever she could, which made sense given the Amazonian had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of different fairy tales. Bell was much the same, although the blasphemy of even implying the High Elf Queen Celdia may have had a relationship with a Human was enough to get the other Elves a little hot under the collar on the 18th Floor.
Of course, they had apologized once they remembered that Lefiya had been in the room, but she understood why they had reacted that way. Royal Elves were to be revered amongst their collective races, whether they were Half-Elf or Full Elf. For her part, even Lefiya was upset—albeit her reasoning was the embarrassment of him getting the story wrong due to whatever his grandfather told him.
One day, when all of this was over, she would share with him some of the tales of her people. Tiona too since she liked those kinds of stories so much. They could probably appreciate them despite not being Elves.
The member of the Hermes Familia who had been sent to retrieve her was the Chienthrope, Lulune. She had recognized her lean but adventurously toned body and tanned skin when she stuck her arm out of an alleyway and beckoned her forward. They had exchanged enough pleasantries since they met on the 18th Floor and accompanied the remainder of her Familia back from the 24th Floor, with the Half-Elf finding her somewhat like Tiona in that she was easy to get along with.
Lulune had brought her to a small, secluded bar that was empty at this time of the day. The wooden décor was dimly lit, adding a hint of secrecy to the atmosphere as she found the God of Travel sitting at one of the tables closer to the wall. The three of them then shared the table as Lord Hermes made his request.
“Correct,” Hermes said, confirming she had not been hearing things. “I would have you take the second slot of the two freelancers that were allowed by the finalization of the terms of the War Game.”
The War Game’s format had been determined to be a Castle Siege, meaning one Familia would attempt to secure a fortified stronghold by defeating the leader of the opposing Familia within three days. However, the invading side would be defeated if their Familia’s Captain was captured, or they didn’t succeed before the time elapsed. Bell, being the only member of the Hestia Familia, was by default the Captain—meaning it was essentially him going against everyone else in the Apollo Familia.
The words ‘one-sided’ did not even begin to describe the sheer unfairness of it.
The only way that Bell remotely had a chance on his own would be if he somehow snuck past every member of the Apollo Familia and engaged Hyacinthus in a duel. Something which they had no reason to allow for considering their whole purpose was to capture him. Even if they did, it had only been a few days since the beating he had gotten—her brother stood next to no chance of winning on his own and everyone knew it.
Lefiya assumed that was why Hermes wanted her involved. Magic was one of the few methods of being able to turn the tide of a completely one-sided fight. And in particular, her spells were well-suited for raining down destruction. Three days would be more than enough for her to turn that castle into rubble, and everyone aware of the fact that she had helped Bell before would have factored that in.
“But no members of other Familia within Orario are allowed to participate,” Lefiya pointed out. It was meant to be a means of hamstringing Bell’s side since most Familia outside of Orario rarely had members above Level Two—barring exceptions like the Kali Familia. That way he couldn’t bring in any help strong enough to completely decimate the Apollo Familia.
“I originally wanted a total of ten at the very least, but even with Freya being surprisingly helpful we could only get two people,” Hermes admitted. “Even getting a second freelancer was a challenge to make things just a little fairer…unless you’re willing to undergo a Conversion?”
Lefiya shook her head. That was not an option.
“Then that just leaves a slight bend in the rules,” he settled on before looking over to Lulune. The Chienthrope pulled out a small box from the pocket of her short jacket. “Are you familiar with a certain Elven Waitress named Ryuu Lyon?”
The Half-Elf quirked her head at that before she caught on. “She’s the other freelancer?”
“It took some convincing, but she has agreed to assist Bell provided her identity be concealed from the general public. That’s why I had Asfi make this little trinket.” Said trinket was a pendant with some kind of gemstone that seemed to refract the light into kaleidoscopic hues when gazed into. The moment Lord Hermes touched the surface of the pendant his appearance shifted into that of a different person she did not recognize.
“Asfi was inspired by one of Bell’s little friends and created a pair of these,” he continued, in a voice that wasn’t his own. “They won’t hold up under physical inspection, but visually no one will be able to tell if you were to disguise yourself with it. Add to that the fact that your Falna is locked, no one would be the wiser if you claimed to be otherwise with some forged documents.”
She was more interested in the magical tool from a purely academic standpoint, even as she asked, “If that’s the case, why not use that with one of your own Familia members then?”
“I would have, but it seems that we’ve received a Quest that needs to be addressed immediately,” admitted the God of Travel shamelessly. The fact that it would be the equivalent of cheating did not elude her. However, even though it may have just been her sense of obligation as Bell’s sister, Apollo’s children had attacked her brother unfairly to pressure him into joining them.
They would be getting exactly what they deserved. “The trip, even with some additional measures to speed things up, will take us out of Orario until at least the Holy Moon Festival. Therefore, most of my Familia will be out of the city and I am pressed for time enough that I can’t sort out who I can trust since Apollo’s pockets run rather deep.”
In other words, he needed someone who would not be bribed or removed by the Apollo Familia ahead of time to sabotage Bell. It would not be necessary considering the sheer manpower they had at their disposal, but there was no reason to not exploit it as well to prevent any unexpected assistance since the participants would be known ahead of time. The best choice was someone who would be loyal to Bell personally and could stay hidden until then—essentially her.
Even so, there was still one problem that needed to be addressed. “My spells are well known enough that anyone who heard or saw them would identify me, disguised or not. It would invalidate the War Game.”
“I suppose it’s a good thing you have more than your Falna spells to rely on, isn’t it?”
As her azure eyes stared into the seemingly innocent face of the God of Travels who said something that should be outrageous so casually, she felt his smile sending ice crawling along her back. He had phrased it as a question, but it was a fact that he knew. And there was only a handful of ways that he could know about that.
“The moment I heard the commotion, I had Asfi search for Bell and Hestia while staying hidden under one of her artifacts to get them to safety if possible,” Hermes began, as if reading her mind. “However, you arrived before she did and so she decided to remain hidden until she deemed it was necessary to get involved. She also overheard your request that it be kept a secret to Hestia and Bell, if that was your concern.”
It had to have been after she rescued Bell. She had thought she had checked to make sure none of the Apollo Familia had been around. But someone had seen her and now that had been turned against her.
“I’m certain you have your reasons for keeping it hidden from your Familia,” he continued, with words that were as sweetly venomous as honey harvested from poisonous flowers. “Whether you refuse or not, you have my word that your secret will be safe with us. After all, it’s understandable you’d want to keep your relationship a secret considering how Loki and Hestia—”
“I do not like Bell in that way!” The Half-Elf ended up slamming her hands on the table at that rumor resurfacing yet again. Since mortals could not lie to Gods, she wanted to make it perfectly clear that her relationship with him was not romantic. “Not now! Not ever!”
“All right, all right,” he said with his features becoming apologetic before he smoothly transitioned into his question. “But we really are pressed for time, and we can make it worth your while once we get back.”
She sighed, letting all the tension leave her body before bringing her hand to the little crystal trinket and running her finger over it. Hermes already knew about her Spirit Magic and the odds were against Bell as things stood. At least, if she was using an alias, then she could help Bell now and explain it away to her Familia as having been inspired by the match or something similar later. “…What do you have in mind for this alias, exactly?”
“We can say that you’re an Elf belonging to the Astraea Familia, having come to the city to petition my Familia for assistance and are aiding Bell on my behalf,” he said. “You can confirm the details with Miss Lyon, and I’ve already arranged for a tailor and a crafter to take both your specifications for any equipment you might need to hide your identity—all of which will be yours to keep. Is there a particular name to use on the documentation?”
Lefiya thought about it before deciding if she was going to play the part of an Elf using Ancient Magic she may as well go all in. “Feena. F-e-e-n-a.”
His smile was felt sickeningly sweet. “Very well. I will submit the documentation and Lulune will take you to get everything you might need now. She will also facilitate getting you to the location of the War Game when the time come and anything else in-between.”
“Thanks for helping us,” Lulune said as she rose to her feet while her tail wagged. “The truth is we also kind of have a wager on him for the War Game. We just need a little help tipping the scales, and we figured you wouldn’t mind since the two of you are—”
Azure eyes narrowed, as if daring her to finish that statement.
She quickly held up her arms in surrender. “Good friends?”
“And nothing more,” Lefiya insisted as she followed her out, pendant in hand. There were so many ways that things could go wrong with all of this between the hiding and the deception. But the one thing the Half-Elf could not do was nothing.
She had sworn she would never abandon Bell again and meant every word of it.
The Apollo Manor was astir as the members of the Familia bustled around in preparation for the upcoming War Game. More than one hundred men and women of different races moved around like worker bees, buzzing through the hallways of the manor like it was a hive. They had known about their Lord’s intention and thus had prepared for the number of different formats the War Game could have taken and so they had already begun to prepare for the Castle Siege.
However, none were being more prudent in their duty than the Captain of the Apollo Familia itself—Hyacinthus. “There are only four Castles within the vicinity of Orario that could serve for the purposes of the War Game. Have Phia contact the stonemasons and have them send men to survey the conditions of each of them for assessments on the foundations and any potential breaches that will need to be reinforced. Have Alto check our armory and ensure that anything that needs to be repaired or replaced is accounted for so we can have the blacksmiths begin work now. Ensure that Iapyx prepares enough Potions and Magic Potions. Have Gryne, Lissos, and Daphne put their divisions through combat drills again—take into account potential Tamers and Mages that specialize in wide area suppression.”
“Is all of this really necessary?” asked Luan as he memorized the orders and which parties they would have to be relegated to. Phia handled their contacts with vendors that normally handled things such as repairs to the manor, while Alto would be the one who frequently kept track of the inventory due to the studious nature of Elves. Gryne was an Amazon and thus preferred combat due to her culture and nature, while Lissos was the leader of their Mage Division, and Daphne’s unit specialized in skirmishes. Iapyx was their in-house Medic with the Mixing Development Ability, though Cassandra was easily their most accomplished Healer due to her spell covering such a wide area—even if she was a little loopy in the head.
Blue eyes shifted from the documentation nestled upon the marble desk towards the small stature of the Pallum in front of him. “We will not be taking any chances after the fiasco that had happened before, even if it’s to capture a single rabbit. In addition, any supplies we do not use can be saved for our next planned expedition into the Dungeon while repairing the castle fortifications provides the stonemasons with additional income, restores landmarks that hold some cultural significance to Orario, and should the need to use the castle for another War Game arise then they would benefit from our efforts, which should earn back some of the goodwill expended due to the damage sustained by the chase.”
Apollo had considered the task a success in that it encouraged the War Game to be undertaken. His reasoning for believing so was that due to the nature of the divinities they sought amusement, and so by providing it he could earn their favor more easily. Favors such as that were among why their Familia could flourish as much as they had considering their state.
But Hyacinthus considered it a failure. Had they captured the Goddess and the Rabbit then the damages could have been kept to a minimum. The destruction of that ruined church was planned to both demonstrate that an offense against their Familia such as the Bar would not be overlooked and to rob the two of places to return, cornering them into surrendering. It was meant to send a message as well as obtain what Apollo desired, with the Soma Familia being a precaution as well to divert some of the attention away from them—their reputation was already in the trash.
Yet, the Little Rabbit refused to submit. Not only had they needed to chase their quarry for far longer than reasonable, which expanded the damages and forced them to have some of the Soma Familia close the net, but they were met with opposition from not only Familia so small that they were obscure but even the Loki Familia. They were being mocked from up high and down low, it seemed.
That he could not overlook. “Go, Luan.”
“Sir!” The response was met with confirmation and then departure as the Pallum went about relaying his orders.
Once the door clicked shut, Hyacinthus breathed out a soft sigh as he leaned back in his chair and stared up at the magic-stone chandelier that hung on the ceiling of his room. The ticking of a clock lingered in the air as he peered up at the crystalline display, its light refracting against the surface. “I thought that I had always prepared myself for the possibility of it happening… and yet I am already being replaced…”
‘Do not fall in love with the immortal, for your love will only end in tragedy.’
Those were words he had been told by his predecessor, the former Captain of the Apollo Familia, Marpessa. The warning had been issued shortly before she departed from the Familia, upon his taking of her position. Though he had never been particularly close to her, her warning had been not out of ill-reception but because she recognized the depths of his passion for their God.
Hyacinthus Clio alias was Phoebus Apollo, as the one who was the beloved by the sun. That title had been bequeathed upon him for being the shining ray of the Familia, a title that Apollo had swayed into officially being bestowed upon him. It was in recognition that his efforts had been what allowed them to ascend to the D-Rank that many other Familia could never hope to breech.
As an Exploration-Type Familia, the Apollo Familia was one of those who frequented the Dungeon. They did not have the prestige of the Loki Familia, nor the sheer strength of their members. To achieve such a level was nigh impossible due to the particular tastes of their God, as those whose appearances would sate his appetite were scarcely the most competent.
Luan was the primary example of that. He was among the newest within their ranks and the least capable of their members due to the fact that before he had been brought in, he had been nothing. Apollo spied him one day and extended to him his generous hand, despite his lack of any meaningful talent. And then he told Hyacinthus to find a place for him within their Familia.
The captain naturally obeyed, though that was by no means easy. He was a coward, fearing for his safety yet clinging to the lavish lifestyle afforded by their patron. Thus, he was more suited to the role of a messenger or whatever other odd jobs that Hyacinthus determined best suited him.
There were exceptions, of course. For all her resistance, Daphne Lauros had proven herself a capable Commander given she had fought them every step of the way. Her induction had been the most arduous prior to the Little Rabbit, and yet for all of her resistance when presented with a better lifestyle than she and her companion had prior she had still fallen in line and proved her worth.
Cassandra was grating. Her mind was simply not there at times. But he would never once call into question her talent for Healing Magic. Both had proven to be valuable assets that allowed them to bring down the Goliath that aided in their ascension to their current rank.
He suspected that the Little Rabbit would be the same. His Lord always was interested in the current trends and new Record Holder who also possessed such an innocent appearance would naturally catch his eye. The moment he laid eyes on the boy from a photo he wanted him to the extent that nothing world stop him.
Such was Apollo’s love that it was akin to the sun. It could be overbearing as it bore down on you, relentlessly chasing you down as its rays touched every speck of land beneath it. But its warmth left one to flourish as once they basked in it and the true talent one possessed could be brought into the light.
And it would be Hyacinthus’ job to determine his use once he was in the Familia.
The boy was attractive with his innocent features, reminding him of an Almiraj. Befittingly, raw speed was clearly his forte rather than tactics. His Magic was not powerful, but it was fast and accurate enough that it was suitable for the role of someone in a skirmisher position not unlike Daphne.
Of course, he needed to be humbled. He needed to be broken down and shown that for all his abnormal growth and ability, he still lacked for many things. He needed to be put into his place and domesticated until he came to realize that a gilded cage was still better than the squalor he had been living in before.
And yet, the look in Apollo’s eyes when he cast his gaze upon the Little Rabbit had been smoldering with the flames of passion. A wild and uncontrolled flame that Hyacinthus had not seen in such a long time. The beloved of the sun could not help but to believe as though he was being asked to bring in his replacement.
Had his Lord started to grow tired of him? Was it his age? Was he not spending enough time with him? Was it something he lacked?
His questions would have no answers if he did not bring them to light. And yet he, who had faced off against the Goliath, was too afraid to ask. Because the truth that was more painful to consider was perhaps Apollo no longer bore for him the same passion that he held.
“I suppose I was selfish for thinking otherwise,” the Captain of the Apollo Familia mused to himself while touching his lips, recalling a memory that kindled a warmth in his heart. To devote one’s loyalty to their God in exchange for their grace was the norm for a Familia. Was he hoping that dedicating his heart and soul along with it would ensure that he would be the one those flames of passion enveloped?
…It did not matter. He had his orders. The Little Rabbit would be brought in, and any opposition would be crushed. Such was the will of their God, and it was his duty to carry it out. To love was to wish for one’s happiness.
Even if that did not include him.
That in mind, he shelved his own personal feelings aside to keep to his role. He would be the keystone of the War Game. Even if the castle crumbled and the others fell, so long as he stood it would be their victory. To that end he needed to have his sword refined and his battle armor tailored for the War Game.
The Little Rabbit on his own would not be a threat. But Hyacinthus would not underestimate him or the others that could be brought to bear against them. He would not be covered in the shame of failure a second time.
Not when Lord Apollo would be among all the Gods watching.
Chapter 13: A Transcendent Promise – Part 2
“When we arrived at the next village, it had been only after three days of travel. They had been wary once we brought news of what transpired in Elcos. If the kingdom protecting them had fallen, then what hope did they have should the monsters attack in force once more?
The adults were afraid. They were looking for someone to blame. Their eyes turned to Argo and myself, as the ones who were heralds of bad news. But then, Argo slipped in some nearby mud and then laughed as his fine clothes were covered in filth about how clumsy he was after walking for three days straight.
Children who had come to see us entering the village laughed. And when the children laughed, the adults smiled. He knew they were scared, so he played the role of a clown humiliating themselves so that others could laugh.
And the laughter of children allowed them to forget their worries and sorrows and fears when they needed it the most.”
—When Laughter Was Needed The Most
Lefiya watched as one word birthed three blazing rays of flames that speared forward towards a group Goblins. The flames came unbound and ruptured, incinerating them. Then Bell dodged a lashing, fleshy spear coming at him from his side and thrust his hand out before shouting the spell again. “Firebolt!”
Her azure eyes were illuminated by the scarlet flames as she watched from the back wall. The scent of burning meat from the monsters he had cremated with his spell reached her nose. And her skin was slick from the grease of the burning fat loitering in the air and then clinging to them. But for someone who delved into the Deep Levels getting used to those was a necessity considering her spell of choice against hordes of foes.
The two of them were on the Fifth Floor, nestled within one of the secluded chambers that were in the western section. Since practicing Magic on the surface was dangerous, it was more beneficial for casters to find places like this to practice—one entrance, enough open space, and off the beaten path so the chances of catching stray adventurers are minimal to none.
“Haah… haah…” Bell took a moment to catch his breath now that there were no more monsters entering into the room, herded there by Lefiya. She had basically copied Filvis’ idea of training by performing a pass parade with monsters and guiding them to the room for him to kill with his Magic, serving to both increase his Status and get a feel for how it worked.
Firebolt was firmly within the domain of Swift-Strike Magic. There was no chant involved and there was no magical accumulation, meaning that the consumption of magical power was both fixed and minimal. He had cast more than twenty times without a Magic Potion or rest, and there was no chance of him suffering an Ignis Fatuus.
However, it also limited him greatly. It only scaled in power linearly based on his Magic attribute. That naturally refined what the core of the spell was, so his searing beams of electrical fire would become thicker and hit harder. But comparing it to Filvis, whose attack spell was a Super-Short Chant and thus not far off in terms of the same base level strength, it was… lackluster.
Short chants typically released a surge of magical power to be used for a purpose. They could be destructive like Dio Thyrsos, protective like Dio Grail, or enchantment like Miss Ais’ Aerial. The range and effects were limited, but because of their Mage Development Ability or the Spirit’s Blood that the Sword Princess possessed, they could be made formidable.
Elves were naturally inclined towards Magic. It was part of their heritage and they tended to develop Skills catered towards that. Her Fairy Cannon passively enhanced the potency of her own spells and doubled that if they were spells meant to attack others. If she were the same Level, had the same Status, and had the same spell that he did, she would still outperform him just by having that Skill.
The Mage Developmental Ability she and Filvis possessed simply widened that gap further. Not only did it make her spells more cost-efficient, but it allowed her to influence the different aspects of the spells. The progression stopped being linear and started being exponential, so she could punch far above her own ability if she had time to chant and someone to protect her.
Having seen enough of his offensive spell, she wanted to see what his other spell was. “Okay, if you still have the Mind left, show me your new spell.”
Her little brother nodded before he took a deep breath. Then he relaxed his shoulders and stood with his feet apart before he exhaled slowly. Then he uttered two words. “Shine, Jupiter.”
The result was immediate. There was the soft snap and crackle of electricity as sparks danced along his body. Occasionally those sparks crashed into one another to form a few streamers of lightning, crawling along his flesh like serpents that writhed and sank beneath his skin.
“An Enchantment-Type spell?” Lefiya guessed as Bell moved around. She thought there might have been a slight increase in his speed, but it could not have been much. And even then, the enhancement wore off after ten seconds or so as the sparking stopped. “That’s… underwhelming…”
“I know,” Bell agreed, looking down at his arms and legs. “According to Goddess, the spell is supposed to increase my Status when it’s in use. I can even feel the electricity beneath my skin, and it leaves my muscles feeling a bit strained after I use it. But it doesn’t feel like much has really changed.”
“You are only a fresh Level Two and it practically required no chant, so the effects might just be weaker until you raise your Magic,” Lefiya presumed aloud. Activating with just a word was akin to Miss Aiz’s own spell, but she had the blood of Spirits flowing through her. Bell didn’t have anything like that since she knew he was Human—they had the same father after all.
But…despite that, she remembered the 18th Floor. Bell had done something that increased the output of his first spell drastically enough that together they managed to punch through a monster that was at least Level Three and had Magic Resistance greater than an Obsidian Soldier’s armor. Doing so while battered, beaten, and running on fumes had left him unconscious, but that was an exponential increase in power.
“Bell,” she began. “I know that I’m the one who insists that we keep things like our Falna to ourselves because of our Familia, but can you explain how you did that thing when we were trapped by that monster in the Under Resort? You don’t need to tell me the name of it or how you obtained it, just a general explanation of how it works.”
“It’s a Skill that I obtained after I reached Level Two,” he answered. “It requires a mental trigger, but once it starts charging it makes the next thing that I focus on using it with more powerful depending on how long I charge it.”
“By how much?”
He shrugged his shoulders before counting off on his fingers. “I’m not really sure since the depends on the time. The first time I used it, I killed an Infant Dragon with Firebolt and what I think was a ten-second charge. And I once used it with a Landform Ax and managed to kill a group of three Minotaurs with a nine-second charge.”
She felt her eyes twitch at that. Infant Dragons appeared on the Upper Floors very rarely, but they were comparable to Monster Rexes for fresh Adventurers. And Minotaurs were absolutely brutal even for Level Twos, despite being on that rank as far as threats go. A fresh Level Two killing those with a borrowed weapon and a chant-less spell would require an absurd level of output relative to his Level. “And when we were trapped?”
“Twenty seconds,” he answered, his hand tightening. “When I picture the image of a hero in my mind, I feel it starting to charge in my hand and from there it keeps going so long as I keep focusing on it.”
Lefiya found it difficult to believe, but she had seen for herself that it worked. It merited testing, so she asked to borrow one of his knives. He looked between them before giving her the one that was a bit shorter, but as she handled it and carved an ‘X’ into the wall to the north she realized that it must have been made of adamantite.
That was normally found in the Lower and Deep Floors, making it a lot more expensive. Yet he had two knives crafted from it. That couldn’t have been cheap by any stretch, and it was probably better than a Third-Class Adventurer like him could really afford, but it would last him for the Middle Floors at the very least.
“Now that I think about it, what happened to your onyx knife?” she asked while heading over to the western wall next. “The one with the writing on it. It didn’t melt and I saw you used it as a conduit for your magic, so it must have been made of a special mineral like my staff at the very least.”
“Goddess asked that I leave it with her,” Bell answered as she finished carving yet another ‘X’ on the wall in front of her before moving to the southern wall and repeating the motion once more.
Then she handed it back to him and pointed to the western wall. “Use a Firebolt on that one.”
He caught on quickly enough, leveling his hand towards it and letting loose his spell. The scarlet flames sped forth towards the wall, whereupon it slammed against it. The impact threw up a small, dark cloud of smoke and with bits of stone crumbling down as the flames came unbound and scorched the wall.
Lefiya looked towards it with a nod before pointing to the north wall. “Next, charge it for five seconds and then fire it at that one.”
Bell closed his eyes as he held his hand out towards it. This time Lefiya could see as, from his outstretched palm, light began to wreathe it while white-and-blue motes flittered back and forth, small chimes pinging from them. Five seconds later he opened his eyes and called out, “Firebolt!”
This time she spotted that what came out was a thicker column of fire, only it was overlaid with streaks of light. They covered it, holding it together while it speared towards the wall and promptly slammed into it. Unlike the last time, she saw stone dust as it penetrated deeper before erupting outwards, shattering the fragments and revealing a deeper gouge that was scorched. Her nose also picked up the faint scent of ozone in the smoke.
“Next, ten seconds at the southern wall,” she commanded. Bell obeyed, and she watched as what looked to be more of a whiter bolt sped forward even faster into the remaining mark she had made into the last solid wall. When it struck, a notable chunk of the wall was blown out and pieces of it began falling to the ground as the cracks spread. And the smell intensified to where she was sure that it was closer to plasma than before.
“At that point, it’s less fire and more bolt,” the older sister mused before looking back towards Bell and noticing how his hand was shaking and his brow was covered in sweat. She asked what should have been an obvious question. “Using that takes a greater toll on your body and mind, doesn’t it?”
“A little,” he said while nervously chuckling.
“Quit trying to downplay it!” Lefiya demanded before uncapping a Magic Potion and shoving it into his mouth. “Drink!”
He struggled to chug it down as she force-fed him the vial. “Grgurk. Glup. Glup!!”
“No wonder you ended up passing out that night,” the Half-Elf complained when once he was done. “It increases the power exponentially, but also takes a toll on you. In the case of your other spell, considering you said it leaves your muscles feeling a little sore on its own, you might tear apart your own body if I don’t babysit you. You probably can’t fight while charging it either, can you?”
Bell shook his head as he held his hand up and stared down at it. A moment later, light began to dance in his palm again. “If I lose focus or get hit then the effect dissipates.”
He went from being a Vanguard on the frontline to a Rearguard in the back until his Skill finished charging. It was not meant for him to use carelessly on his own, but for when he needed to turn the tables on a situation. If that limitation could be bypassed, then his capability to defend himself would also increase by quite a bit.
“If we treat it like Concurrent Chanting, then I might be able to teach you to use it while moving,” she reasoned while watching the particles of light dance like little Spirits around his palm. There was a slight chiming noise to it that tickled her ears as she reached for it. “Why does it make that noise… eh?”
Bewilderment crossed both of their expressions as two things happened the moment Lefiya reached out to touch his glowing palm. The first was that she felt that slight burning in her backside that she had yesterday, only it was far more pronounced. The second was that the light faded from her brother’s hand.
And instead, that light gleefully dancing to soft chimes appeared on her slender palm.
Her brother’s crimson eyes went wide. “Argonaut… was passed on?”
“Argonaut?” she repeated softly before it clicked in her head. “Wait, is that the name of your Skill?”
He seemed to realize he floundered by telling her that when she went out of her way to avoid learning too much about the specifics but nodded all the same. “Yeah.”
It can’t be a coincidence, Lefiya thought. The fact that it was called the Vow of Elcos, the place where Fina and her adoptive brother once hailed from. And her little brother having a Skill named after him.
“That’s strange,” Bell said. “It’s never done that before.”
“…It might be because of my new Skill,” she began. Normally she would keep quiet but since her brother already ran his mouth and they were clearly linked, she didn’t think holding this much back mattered much. “I got it after what happened on the 18th Floor, and it’s supposed to work with certain people.”
During the battle against the Captain of the Apollo Familia, she thought that was when it had activated for the first time. The Status increase must have taken into effect while working with Bell to escape from them when she had been attacked, which was why she lasted as long as she had. Then there was the 18th Floor, where their spells had meshed together instead of competing with one another when he had used Argonaut on it. The Skill hadn’t fully manifested on her, but his part was an active trigger whereas hers was entirely passive and beyond her control.
Bell asked the obvious question. “Do you think it’s because we’re brother and sister?”
“Maybe?” It was the best answer she could give him while focused on the sensation in her palm. It felt like small bugs were jumping around with the chimes. And her back felt like it was starting to smolder. Her curiosity brokered a new question that she felt was much easier to resolve as she rose to her feet and took Forest’s Teardrop into her hands. “Stand back, Bell.”
The Half-Elf waited until her brother was back in the hallway before she began to chant her spell. Her target was the wall that Bell had scorched with his first spell. Her dulcet voice padded out with the soft chimes as her magic circle formed beneath her and shed golden light.
“Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer. Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy! Arcs Ray!”
The moment she finished the trigger spell an unyielding bright light filled the chamber as the earth rumbled…
And her consciousness was ripped from her.
[-Some Time Later-]
“…Mrg…ngg…” Gibberish escaped the Half-Elf Mage as she slowly became aware of herself once more. She felt her chest pressing on something hard while her legs felt like they were dangling. Her arms hung limply over what felt like metal until she reflexively moved them and found warm cloth and flesh. “Huh…?”
“Are you awake now?” a voice called out to her.
“…Bell?” Her arms came together as she slowly raised her heavy eyelids to see a white bed of hair. She was being carried on his back. The fact that her mind was so foggy that it took her more than a second to recognize her brother gave her some insight into her own state. “Mind Collapse?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “Something went wrong when you cast the spell. It came out really powerful, but it pretty much totaled the room. I pulled you out and gave you a Dual Potion, but it must have really taken a toll. We’re on the First Floor now.”
She combed through her memories of what happened and what she knew. There had been no problem with the chant and the output was set to be used at what was normal for her once the accumulation of magical power had begun. She had focused on the staff and felt the tingling in her hand flow into it before…
“It must have been because of the magic circle,” she realized. “Firebolt only takes a set amount from your Mind each cast, which is why you can cast so many. Even if you charge it, the initial cost is always going to be the same with more tacked onto it by the charge. But for Mages, it’s different since we can adjust that output already.”
Since the Mage Development Ability affected usage, efficiency, and output among everything else, it allowed greater flexibility by tapping into their reservoir of magic power and they adjusted from there. If she needed to do Concurrent Casting, then she suppressed the majority while moving and then gathered it all up in the latter half of the casting. If she needed to increase the power of a spell, then she could pour more Mind into it. That required training and active effort on her part once the initial cost was paid.
“Your Skill was borrowed, so it didn’t factor in how my Development Ability affects my Falna spells. Instead, it registered what was the maximum amount I could put into the cast and then used that as the baseline. It forced everything out at once on top of whatever the charge added.”
That was why she lost control over the spell. Everything had been pushed to her maximum capability and then beyond before she could process what was happening. Instead of a finely controlled flow, it all came bursting out as fast and hard as possible like a dam had been broken—and once that dam had been emptied her mind naturally collapsed from exhaustion.
Well, if I just need to limit it to the spells that aren’t affected by my ability then the two that I have from the Spirits might work, she concluded with a sigh. A little setback like being so drained of Mind and stamina that she could barely move was hardly enough to diminish her curiosity with the arcane. But common sense told her to shelve it for now considering she had just collapsed. “Where’s my staff?”
“About that…” Bell held up her staff and horror entered her eyes as she bore witness to the extent of the damage done to it. Forest Teardrop was a Second-Class, specially made magical focus exclusively for her. The body of the staff was made from a mineral called Seiros, which was magically conductive like Mithril but cheaper, while the core magic stone was made from Thousand Year Tree Sap aka the Forest’s Tear. It also had four auxiliary magic stones meant to increase the power of her spell on top of it as well.
The spell had shattered all four of the azure crystals that were atop her staff. That meant she would have to pay another visit to Miss Leona’s shop, located off of Northwest Main Street. The older Human was a Mage, but she specialized more in the creation of magical items and catalysts than combat, meaning she could recreate the magic stones at around 50,000 Valis each. Lefiya could earn that much simple enough on the Middle Floors.
But the real problem was the core magic stone. The core itself had been so thoroughly damaged that it would have to be replaced, which was about 20,000,000 Valis alone plus an extra 100,000 for the labor. A soft whine escaped her mouth when she considered how long it would take to pay off the loan from the Familia since she had to get it fixed as soon as possible. “Lady Riveria is going to scold me again…”
Bell at least looked apologetic. “Sorry, Sister.”
“…Well, at least now I don’t have to worry about you losing the match,” Lefiya mumbled as she leaned upon his back for a little longer. Just until she could get some of her strength back before they reached the entrance of the Dungeon. “You’ll win for sure.”
“You think I’ll be able to win because of Argonaut?” he guessed.
“No, I know you’re going to win because I’m going to bet on you and hope that the odds are enough to recoup the expense.” Normally, Lefiya would not gamble or encourage it. But she was completely invested in Bell winning to begin with and she may as well get something out of it. “If you lose Apollo will be the least of your concerns.”
Her younger brother made a nervous laugh, not sure if she was entirely serious or if she was trying to lighten the mood. To be honest, it was a bit of both.
…You are too clueless, his older sister couldn’t help but think. At only Level Two, which was a hurdle the majority of Familia never reach, he possessed Magic that not only allowed him to attack distant enemies but also enhance his base attributes. Both of those would only improve in power with his growth and Level. And that was without factoring in this Skill that allowed him to exponentially increase their power at a moment’s notice.
Bell was still new to Orario so he did not understand just how valuable he was in the eyes of any Exploration-Type Familia. And Apollo did not know what he was chasing after since he only wanted her brother for his body. But someone with a more discerning eye would definitely try to scout him out and might even repeat what the Apollo Familia was doing to claim him once the War Game was over—someone far more powerful than a D-Rank Familia.
As she said, Apollo would probably be the least of Bell’s concerns. Thus, the cynical part of her mind drew a single conclusion: The Apollo Familia had to be made into an example.
They had to be crushed. Crushed in a way that showcased to every one of the divinities watching that it would be a greater loss to repeat what Apollo did. That it would cost them more than they would gain from trying to force his hand.
It would be one thing if his current Familia had a solid alliance with one of the stronger or larger Familia, like the Loki Familia or Freya Familia. No one would dare pick a fight with them unless they were fighting against each other, in which case all of Orario would be having a very bad day. But the only ones who came to his aid had been from smaller Familia.
Well, there was also that boy from Hephaestus’ Familia. She knew he had Spirit Blood and could make valuable magic swords. But since the War Game was officially between the Hestia and Apollo Familia, he was not directly involved—which was a shame, because Bell could use all the help he could get.
The consistent pounding of steel against steel rang out amidst the roaring of flames. Sweltering heat only kept at bay by the cloth clinging to sweat-laden flesh filled the air and seeped down into the lungs. Sparks scattered and bloomed with each hit, illuminating the hue of his eyes.
Welf Crozzo hated Magic Swords. He hated how they had been used by Rakia. He hated how they tempted his family into going against everything they stood for as blacksmiths the moment he had the gained the Skill that had been lost to their family when the Spirits cursed them for their betrayal. He hated how Phobos had been sent back to Heaven just to help him escape from being forced to make them. He hated how fragile they were and broke away whenever their users needed them.
So why was it that his blood sang when he shaped steel that had been heated to the point of glower a vivid, golden color? Why was it that he was the one who gained the Skill that had been lost? What had he done to deserve to be cursed with it?
That answer eluded him even now, as he pounded away with his hammer. It was shrouded in a vibrant red hue from his Blacksmith Developmental Ability, allowing him to imbue his crafts with unique properties. The magic swords he could forge now would grow even more powerful compared to before, but that did not change the fact that they would still be fragile.
Not like the blade that he saw in that dream. The dream that he had the night after Phobos had bestowed upon him her Grace. In that dream, he was in an ancient forge with materials that were raw and plain, nowhere near as advanced as they had now in Orario. Yet…
Yet, in that ancient forge, he saw himself crafting a sword. Not just any sword, but a magic sword. One that harbored within it a great, blazing flame. One that was not fragile—or rather, the sword couldn’t be fragile given its purpose in accompanying a radiant sword that was lightning incarnate.
That purpose was to bequeath power to someone who had taken a heavy burden on their shoulders. Someone who he recognized as a great person trying to take on something far above their heads. Someone who he considered a friend and wanted to be treated as a friend to as well—someone like Bell.
The dream had grown cloudy over time. But it resurfaced the moment the Black Goliath had appeared, and he made his choice to whatever he could to make sure Bell did not die. That white light, the Heroic Strike, had brought the dream back and given him direction towards what he desired.
A magic sword that would endure. A magic sword that would not break when it was needed. A magic sword meant to support his allies. A magic sword like in that dream, a crimson longsword that was flame incarnate—one that brought light and would be an everlasting flame.
But that was still a far-off dream. One he would make come true someday. But for the moment, he would craft a magic sword for those he could help right now. Little Lili, who had been taken. Bell, who was putting everything on the line to keep his freedom. His friends.
So he would forge for them. A sword of blazing flame like in his dream. A sword of radiant lightning that accompanied it. They wouldn’t last or even come close to matching those swords in his dreams. But he could refine them, getting closer and closer to matching them.
No. He would surpass them one day. He would drive his very heart and soul into his craft with even greater fervor than before. He would take the flames surging through his blood and pour them into a blazing blade that could open a path for his friends to walk.
THONK!!! THONK!!! THONK!!!
That would be the new legacy of the Crozzo. The flames that had cost so many their homes and freedom would one day open up a burning road to a brighter future. They would be the flames of a hero.
And so Welf Crozzo worked the metal. He forged with determination plastered across his face. He hammered away at the sword with that single drive in his mind.
All while the echoes within the blood coursing through him rejoiced as if recalling an ancient memory.
Chapter 12: A Transcendent Promise – Part 1
“Once we were out of the city, we needed to get to the next village for safety. Argo said the Kingdom would dispatch their knights to protect the villages and collect taxes, so he knew how to get to them. But, on foot, the journey would be at least two days or so to the nearest one that wasn’t in the same direction that the monsters came from.
My world was the four walls I had been born and raised in. Everything in the outside world was new and terrifying for me. But he held my hand and smiled at me every step along the way. Even knowing that there was a chance the next village could be overrun, or we could be gobbled up along the way, he kept smiling.
That smile kept me calm as I walked alongside him.”
—The First Steps Into The Unknown
“Whhhyyyyy….” An unladylike groan slipped out of Lefiya’s mouth as she sat down in a wooden chair, nestled by a small table with a flower vase that held forget-me-nots within them that basked in the sunlight that came through the window. She was in a small room within the manor that served as something of a study, with a couple of bookshelves that were lined with texts of all shapes and sizes. It was normally a nice and quiet retreat for the more studious of the Familia.
“It’ll be fun, Lefiya!” Tiona said with a smile that was commonplace on the Amazonian as she leaned over the back of a sofa, her feet kicking somewhat playfully while watching as Leene finished her earlier treatment. She had been nice enough to bring her a change of clothes so she could be more comfortable as the bespectacled nurse completed what she started earlier. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a War Game.”
Lefiya preferred whining instead. “But the whole reason we were running was that he didn’t accept the War Game in the first place, because it would be unfair. What was the point of being chased by more than a hundred people if he was just going to accept it?”
A War Game was essentially a small-scale war between different Familia. The differences of Levels, the number of members, their tactics, were all pitted against one another in a format decided by the Gods and Goddesses. Once the conditions were set, all that was left was to determine who would be the winner or the loser, and the wages of the war that would be paid.
However, you could not call it a war when one side had only a single combatant. It was more of a slaughter. Unless you were absurdly more powerful than the opposition, such as the King, there was little-to-no chance of winning in any format other than maybe a Duel. And even then, Bell had only been an Adventurer for two or so months. He had been a farm boy until then, living in a small village in the mountains.
Lefiya could not see any way for him to win as he was. Hyacinthus would slaughter him. She had watched him nearly do so twice already. She could not watch it happen a third time.
Yet, despite that being an obvious fact, Tiona seemed to think otherwise. “I think Little Argonaut will win. He’s beaten the odds before.”
“I wish I could share your optimism…” Lefiya sighed as Leene finished her work. “And why do you call him Argonaut?”
“That’s a story about a boy who wanted to be a hero but kept messing up, right?” Leene asked. “Tricked and betrayed by the King and all of that? He doesn’t seem the kind to be that silly, so the name seems a little misplaced.”
The normally enthusiastic Amazonian’s expression changed for a fleeting moment. It seemed almost foreign on her, a pensive look that came as quickly as it fled. Then she spoke. “Back on Telskyura, there was… an emptiness inside of me until I saw the pages of that story one day.”
For a moment both listeners had immediately regretted prying. The story of the Hiryute sisters was not a happy one. Those living in a culture that bred strong warriors by culling their numbers was not one kind to children.
“By the time I reached Level Two, I felt nothing. Even though I liked fighting, I felt empty after the first time I had to fight someone else. Then one day I just found a mere scrap of the page, a picture of a man facing a Minotaur in words I didn’t understand.”
She brought her hands to her chest for a moment and simply held them there. “I don’t know why, but I wanted to know more about it. Something from deep within my chest told me to read it, so I asked Bache to read it for me. And then, as I listened to it, a warm feeling started filling my chest.”
Silence lingered in the wake of her words as the two considered them. In a place where one would have to throw away everything for a life of combat and to become stronger, discarding everything that wasn’t necessary was probably the only way to keep moving. Kill your heart and become a weapon—a different person than they had ever known.
“It was a small feeling at first, but it grew the more I heard, and I felt like I needed to know how the story ended. And so eventually, when I was asked if there was anything that I wanted, I told Kali I wanted to know how the story ended. And she gave me the whole book the next day.”
Lefiya could only imagine how it seemed. Asked for anything with the power of a Goddess to grant, and your only desire was to know how a story ended. Not a reprieve or anything tangible, but a bedtime story that wouldn’t change anything. It must have seemed like the vestiges of childhood innocence clinging to a warrior who would continue to fight, suffer, and kill.
“By the end, I was smiling again,” Tiona finished, sporting a smile. “After that story, I could smile and laugh again, no matter what. I felt like, despite how dark things were, there would be light at the end if I kept smiling. And, eventually, we had the chance to leave.”
…Speechless. Listening to her story, the Mage and Nurse were speechless. Because they both realized that what Tiona had been given was… hope.
She felt hope when she had no reason to because of that story. Something fleeting and intangible within how cruel her life had been since birth. Yet so radiant that it shone like a distant star that refused to be extinguished, that hope was the catalyst for her to be able to smile and laugh.
Fixating on that lone beacon kept her from being lost in the nothingness.
Forever following it allowed her to smile despite her situation being so cruel.
Then that star became the new dawn of a new day.
She turned around and leaned back on the sofa, staring up at the magic-stone chandler. “When I watched Little Argonaut fight the Minotaur, I felt the same thing that I did the first time I found that story. I want to see how his story goes from beginning to end, but I want to help make sure it’s a happy one.”
“It… almost sounds like you’re in love with him when you put it that way,” Leene said after a pause. Her tone suggested she was joking, but Lefiya thought she could hear a hint of curiosity. Then, to her mild concern, the Amazonian went quiet as her brows folded in.
She was actually thinking about it.
From what the Half-Elf knew, Amazons were the only other race besides Humans that could breed with others and produce children—even though the children would always be other Amazons. But based on what happened in Melen, and with Tione, once they fell for someone they fell hard.
Not to mention they tended to be aggressive in their pursuit at times, depending on the individual they fell for and their own personalities. If Tiona became anything like her sister with the meek rabbit that Bell was being the one in her sights, then… Loki help him.
Because Lefiya sure couldn’t.
I’m too young to be the aunt to a bunch of little Tionas and Tiones, she silently whimpered as she pictured little white-haired, tanned-skinned Amazons running about in the room, some pulling her hair and asking to see her staff while others wanted their parents to read them a fairy tale. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure she’d tear apart the Apollo Familia on her own if they tried to take Bell.
Before she could ruminate further on the horror of who would claim her brother’s presumed chastity, Tiona finally spoke. “He doesn’t give me the same feeling that the Captain does to Tione. It might be because he’s not strong enough… besides, wouldn’t Lefiya be the one in love with him since she helped him more than me?”
Then Leene said words she should not. “Y-You mean those rumors are true?”
There was the sound of glass cracking. Not from the windows in the room. Or the vase holding the flowers next to her. But rather the fragile restraint she had on her self-control when she recalled exactly how those rumors started.
“…Now that I think about it, Raul was the one who told the others it was me helping him, wasn’t he?” Lefiya said slowly, rising to her feet. “Where is he right now?”
“I think he’s in the Ca…” Tiona began until she saw Leene shaking her head vigorously and holding her arms together to form an ‘X’ sign. The message carried. “Uh, maybe he went out into town to get a grasp on the damage done in case the Guild wants us to pay them for your part in the battle?”
“Fine… I’ve got all day to wait for him,” she mumbled, making her way to the door. She could just imagine those rumors being rekindled now. Even when most of them knew her preferences, they’d probably think she was making an exception for Bell because of how delicate he looked. “Not like it can get any worse.”
No sooner than she opened the door did Tione, the eldest of the twins and decidedly more mature inform them about a certain someone at the Main Gate and wanting to speak with Miss Aiz and her. That naturally pulled them out of the room and into the hallway where they found windows facing the gate and spotted Bell there. The guards were currently trying to shoo him away to no avail as the Sword Princess went back into her previous room.
“That damn rabbit,” Bete snarled softly as he peered through the glass down at her brother. “I’ll get rid of him.”
“Wait.” A strong hand stopped him before he could. It was Gareth Landrock, one of the executives of the Familia and one of the very first Adventurers to bear the Falna of the Trickster. He looked out of the window while stroking his beard as he observed Bell. “Those aren’t the eyes of a man who has come to beg for our help. They’re the eyes of a warrior looking to sharpen their blade, wouldn’t you say?”
It took Lefiya a moment to pick up where he was going before looking towards where Aiz had gone. Her brother had gone off training with her before their expedition. She had tried to chase him to figure out why he was doing it and hadn’t really been pleased with his answer at the time.
The Sword Princess seemed to realize his intentions as well since she had already gotten her sword. “I’m going.”
“We can’t be seen taking sides,” Sir Gareth reminded her, causing her to pause in her step. Lefiya considered stating it couldn’t hurt if she went instead, given she was already involved, at least to see him off as far as everyone else was aware. But then he turned the other way and waved a hand. “But… you know what they say—out of sight, out of mind.”
Her golden hair tilted for a moment before she nodded. “We won’t be seen.”
“…Fine, if you want to help that weakling then suit yourself,” Bete said as he turned away. “But teach that rabbit to sharpen his own fangs. He can’t always be relying on others to do it for him.”
“Hey, Tione!” Tiona bounced up on her feet and then leaned on her toes to whisper something in her ears. Then the Eldest Amazonian nodded before her younger sister grabbed Lefiya’s and Aiz’s wrists. “Come on!”
“Huh?” Lefiya was pulled along, stammering for words until they reached one of the rooms in the back. There was a large window there. “What’s going on?”
“He’s here to see you two, right?” Tiona asked while opening the window and standing on the edge of the sill. “Since we can’t be seen helping him, we’ll go meet him where nobody will see us.”
“Right,” was the only answer Miss Aiz gave as the Amazonian leaped down and landed without any problems. Then she followed her with a smooth jump to the ground.
Lefiya sighed before she followed after them, scaling the walls after the other two. Tiona guided them to an alleyway that was roughly two blocks down from the Manor. No one should be looking for them. All that was left was to wait for Bell to arrive.
While she waited, Lefiya thought to herself what she was going to bring up with him when the other two were around. The War Game had been declared so there was no turning back now. Not to mention they didn’t know anything about the terms or conditions. Everything was against him.
Then he arrived and his crimson eyes widened when he spotted her. He ran over immediately. “Are you okay?”
“Better than you,” she said, consciously stamping down on her emotions as she looked him over. His wounds had been mended but his clothing was still stained in ash, dust, and the blood that had been shed earlier. The disheveled appearance made it clear he hadn’t even had time to change his clothes or anything else, meaning he probably ran straight here after going to Apollo’s place to make the declaration of war. “Explain yourself. Now.”
“…That guy, Mister Bete, was right,” Bell said, his voice carrying a hint of steel in it. “I can’t just run away from the problem. Not when it dragged you and the others into it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just kept running knowing that. That’s why I have to meet it head-on with all I can.”
If he started running, then he would have to keep running until Apollo gave up or someone made him give up. The Gods wouldn’t intervene unless they had a reason to, which would take time even if they did. Even with the rules set into place to make travel in and out of Orario difficult for Adventurers, it was entirely possible to get around that by hiring outside help or some other method.
“But you aren’t strong enough,” Lefiya pointed out, even understanding that. “Even in a best-case scenario, if you go against that guy again the same thing is going to happen. Did you think about how they’d feel knowing that you decided to throw yourself into a mess just to try to spare their feelings?”
“I know.” There was a hint of pain in his voice as he admitted to his own weakness. “In the end, I’m not strong enough to protect anyone and everyone else had to protect me. That’s why I want to be strong enough so that never happens again. But I don’t have enough time to do so on my own, so I came here.”
His crimson eyes fell onto Miss Aiz before he bowed his head. “I know I’m asking a lot, especially after Miss Lefiya did so much for me. But please, I need you to train me so that I can face them. I’ll be in your debt and do whatever you want afterward.”
Her golden eyes softened as she brought a hand to her chest. “You don’t…. need to repay me anything. Rather, it would feel wrong to abandon you. I want to help you grow stronger.”
“And I want to help out too!” Tiona chimed in with her usual enthusiastic voice. All while sporting the same smile as she looked towards Leifya. “Don’t you?”
“Well, I’m already in enough trouble…” She rubbed her arm as she tried to figure out how she could help her idiot little brother. “How much time do you have?”
“Lady Hestia said she would try to give me a week,” he answered.
“That’s not a lot of time…” She frowned when she considered that he would not make too much progress even if he trained around the clock. Not unless they did something absurd like took him down to the Deep Floors and helped him grind monsters after they softened them up. Even then he had only hit Level Two not too long ago. What can I do…?
Before she could dwell on it, Tiona gave her a pat on the back. Considering how strong she was, that was enough to make her stagger forward. “We just need to give it our all and it’ll work out! Right, Aiz?”
Golden hair bobbed as she nodded her head. “Right.”
“I really wish I shared your enthusiasm,” she repeated with a sigh before looking her brother in the eyes. Those same eyes were those she had seen on the 18th Floor, filled with resolve in them befitting an Adventurer. Mutual Respect was due.
If he wanted to get stronger, she should help him. “I can’t help with raising your physical Status like they can, but I can help with your Magic and how to deal with other casters in the morning before you go off to train with them the rest of the day. And I can also see about getting you some clothes and supplies since you’ve lost all of yours, along with the necessities.”
It was enough for her brother to smile at her with appreciation. At all of them. “Thank you. All of you.”
“We’re all in this together,” Tiona proclaimed before grabbing his hand and Miss Aiz’s hand, bringing them together, and placing them on top of her own. Miss Aiz smiled softly. Tiona smiled cheerfully. Bell blushed vividly. “You too, Lefiya.”
“Fine…” Lefiya said gently as she joined in. There was a slight tingle in her lower back, but she brushed it off as Tiona raised her hand up, sending theirs into the air as well to give a cheer—with the Amazonian naturally being the loudest.
“I’ll go get Urga,” Tiona said before running off towards the mansion to get her overly large weapon. “We’ll try not to hurt you too badly~”
“I will go and make sure our usual place is ready,” Miss Aiz said to Bell before spinning on her heel and going off. “Don’t keep me waiting.”
Bell nodded before meeting Lefiya’s azure set of eyes and waiting for them to be out of earshot before he said, “Thank you, Sister. For everything.”
“You can thank me when this is all over,” she said exasperatedly while thinking about the logistics needed so they could train him. Sleeping bags would be more affordable than a room in an Inn, then there were food costs, clothes, weapons, equipment, and hiding it all from Loki without raising suspicion. “Is that fire spell the only one you have?”
“Ah, actually a new spell did appear on my Falna when Goddess updated it before we parted ways,” Bell said. “She had updated my Status after we made the declaration, so I would know where I stand before I left off to come here.”
“I can help you with that at the very least then,” she said before a low growl reached her ears. “You haven’t eaten anything since we did all that running around, did you?”
His stomach happily growled again in lieu of words.
She only rolled her eyes as Bell softly, nervously chuckled. Then she reached into her belt pouch to find the Spirit Nut. Since the pouch was made for exploring the Dungeon or holding potions, it was thankfully durable enough that the contents weren’t bothered by all the activity. “Here.”
“Oh, a Spirit Nut,” he said as he held it gingerly. “These taste really good.”
Her brow rose. “You’ve had one before?”
He nodded. “Miss Eina shared one with me after I got back from the 18th Floor. She said it was to help me recover.”
The Half-Elf’s mind began to run through what she knew. Miss Ryu had shared hers with her coworkers, and she was fairly sure that Filvis had given the one they hadn’t shared to her God. So that only left Lady Riveria’s second one, and whoever that was gave it to Bell. “Did this Eina tell you anything else about it?”
He tilted his head at the question. “It’s an exotic treat for Elves, right?”
“…Sure,” she said after a moment. Either she didn’t know, she did know and didn’t tell him, or she was treating it like Miss Ryuu had and giving it to him as a treat between friends. His love life came second to the current situation. “Anyway, I’ll go get started gathering what you’ll need and meet you later.”
That said she walked out of the alley as the sound of energetic footfalls reached her ears. It was only when she was out of the mouth of the alley that she realized her mistake as Tiona passed her by with a wave. Then she heard. “Time’s a-wasting—oh, that looks yummy. What is it?”
“It’s called a Spirit Nut,” Bell replied. “Do you want to share?”
She sighed once more as the image of little Amazons running around briefly entered her mind a second time. It would probably be fine. Probably.
[-Hostess of Fertility-]
Lefiya treated gathering together the basics of what her brother needed like she was getting ready for a mini-expedition into the Dungeon. The members of her Familia all learned how to pack what was necessary, and she did the same for Bell. But since they were going to remain within the city rather than dive deeply, she decided to take some liberties by getting him some decent food.
It was the least she could do at the moment considering he’d lost everything else and was focusing on a sole objective rather than worry about what would come after. He still wouldn’t have a home once the War Game was done. Not unless the damages were covered in the bet wager, which honestly hadn’t been set yet. And whatever things he owned that had sentimental value were nothing but ashes now.
Once more she couldn’t help but think that she really should have pleaded his case back when he first arrived to prevent things like this from happening. Lady Loki would have probably taken him in as a Supporter or something. Or at the very least she could have arranged it so he would have stayed out of trouble and avoided the eyes of the other divinity who had taken notice of him.
But there was nothing she could do about her own past mistakes aside from learning from them. As for the present, she could support him. The others could train his body, but she could handle the logistics of taking care of him and refine whatever knowledge of Magic he had.
When she arrived at the Hostess of Fertility, it was just some time in the afternoon. The menu had not shifted to accommodate Adventurers, but she figured there was a chance she could order a lunchbox or something for him. The silver-haired Human Waitress was on her almost instantly.
“How is Bell?” she asked. “I heard that he went to challenge the Apollo Familia after they had chased him, but nothing after that. Was he hurt?”
“He’s fine,” Lefiya told her, watching as a sense of relief spread across her features. “He’s training until the War Game, so I’m running some errands for him. He hasn’t really eaten today, so I thought I would get him whatever he normally orders?”
“I still have the lunch that I made for him this morning,” said the waitress. “I’ll be right back with it.”
Lefiya watched her head to the back of the kitchen. The woman seemed friendly enough when the Loki Familia was there, but never to this extent. Between that and this morning, she began to ponder how well acquainted she was with her brother.
“And how are you fairing, Miss Viridis?” asked the Elven Warrior. “I understand that you were taken back to your Familia and given a punishment before the declaration was made.”
So the news made it all the way here, huh? She couldn’t help but scratch her cheek at that. “Well, I was scolded and I’ll have to deal with whatever punishment Lady Loki gives me. But, other than that, I’m fine. My injuries have all been treated.”
“Glad to hear that much. It looked bad when you were carried off by that wolf guy,” another party cut in, drawing her attention to the familiar voice. It was the same Blacksmith who had been a member of Bell’s party on the 18th Floor and joined in the fight. “Yo.”
“Mister Crozzo, are you and the others doing well?” Lefiya asked. “The last thing I remember was you and the rest were still fighting.”
“Calling me Welf is fine,” he said before getting into an explanation of what transpired once she had departed. “Bell managed to get away right after you left, and the Soma and Apollo Familia scattered without any of us getting too banged up. The Ganesha Familia detained us for a bit but treated the injuries we had before letting us go in light of their God stating that the whole thing was to be tied into the War Game. All the fallout will be wrapped up between the Gods’ wager, so us children should just go back living our normal lives, essentially.”
“It’s good that no one got seriously hurt or punished then.” She went through the motions of giving him a bow as she thanked him. “But thank you for coming to help him when you did.”
“That’s my line,” he said in turn. “We were friends, so I wouldn’t have hesitated to help him. But you actually got in trouble for helping out. I hope your Goddess won’t be too harsh on you.”
Knowing Lady Loki, she doubted it would be too severe for a minor scuffle. The Captain, Sir Gareth, and Lady Riveria were the ones who were more likely to issue a stricter punishment for things like that. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“Then forgive me for asking this, but I originally came here looking to see if anyone knew where he went to give him some replacement armor and weapons since I knew he was going to be training. Since you’re going to see him, could you give him these along with a message?”
He presented what looked to be a small box that had items within it wrapped up in white cloth. She could catch the scent of metal coming from them, so it was the equipment that he had mentioned. “I’ll take it to him. And what was the message that you wanted me to pass along?”
“Tell him that Lady Hestia is safe with Lady Hephaestus,” he began. “Tell him to just focus on getting stronger while leaving the rest to us. We’ll do what we can to help him, so he won’t have to bear the burden alone. Please.”
“I’ll tell him, Mister Welf,” the Half-Elf promised. “You have my word.”
He nodded in gratitude before heading off. As he left, she noticed there was a look in his eyes like a flame had been lit. Not to mention there was not a shred of doubt in his eyes that she would see the message and equipment delivered to him.
“…Mister Cranel is quite fortunate,” Miss Ryuu noted. “Such an earnest friendship is a difficult thing to acquire in such a short time. Yet, in his words, I sensed no deception or hesitation.”
Lefiya could only agree with the assessment. Though she had only seen him twice, she could tell from his tone that in the time they had known one another he had become close to her brother. A genuine comrade not unlike those she possessed, willing to stick with him through every trial he’d face.
“We’ll do our parts as well to help Bell out too,” Miss Syr said, as she arrived with her basket in tow. “Won’t we, Ryuu?”
“Should my services be required I will assist in whatever manner I can as well, Syr,” the Elven Warrior claimed. “I too wish to see how he progresses as an Adventurer.”
As she listened to her, Lefiya felt the simmer in her lower back for a brief moment once more. But as quickly as it came, it faded. Once more she was left wondering if it had something to do with her Skill, but for the moment she had to see the food and other supplies to her brother while he was training with Tiona and Miss Aiz.
“Interesting,” purred a soft, feminine voice that was liquid honey to the ears of those who could hear it. Silver eyes that stared distantly out of the highest vantage in Orario peered with more depth than any mortal could fathom. Those same eyes were now fixed on the soul that slowly made its way through the city as though following a string that marked a path to an even purer soul than any she had seen since she descended. “Another pair of threads have appeared on that child.”
Her name was Freya. The Goddess of Beauty that possessed the strongest Familia in Orario. Nestled within her room on the upper level of Babel, she was in a world of her own within that dwelling of luxury few could fathom.
“A thread, My Lady?” inquired her Captain, Ottar. He was the sole person accompanying her within her room, standing attentively and ready to enact her very will the moment they left her lips.
“That little girl who was assisted my Bell,” Lady Freya spoke. “Since then there had been a thread connecting the two of them. Then more appeared, all bound to her.”
Bell. Sword Princess. Crusher. Jormungand. Elgarm. Vanargand. Gale Wind. Crozzo.
One-by-one those threads had appeared linked to her. The threads differed in how dense they were, with the thickest being that between her own soul and Bell’s. But those threads represented something that linked them all together.
Something that bound them together from the very depths of their souls, as if by fate—a normally invisible tether crystalized by the Falna into something that could be perceived by her eyes alone.
“Should we do anything pertaining to that matter or the War Game?” Ottar asked. Should she will it, the matter could be resolved in mere moments. The Apollo Familia could be crushed and forced to disband through sheer force.
As for the girl, it was not as though Freya hadn’t attempted to issue a warning against the Sword Princess before. Sending a similar message to the young Half-Elf was not off the table. Just a warning to keep her distance from him.
“I think I will leave them for the time being,” the Goddess of Beauty decided. “This is a trial that will polish his soul further. So long as they continue to do so, I will tolerate their presence around him and allow the War Game to come to pass when it does.”
She too was looking forward to the War Game. Not merely as one who would observe him from the confines of her own room, but as one of the divinities that had come down from upon high to the lower world. Entertainment was something that they all craved and though their tastes varied, no one barring perhaps Hestia considering the circumstances would attempt to impede the games.
Once more the Gods and Goddesses were watching. Not from the heavens above, but the theatron that was Orario. Though some speculated and others deliberated on the upcoming performance, all of them were waiting with bated breath to see if the Little Rookie’s performance would be a comedy of a fool trying to fend off an army, or a heroic tale of overcoming adversity.
Either way, all awaited the tale that would be told.