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.