Chapter 20: The Supporter’s Scheme
Lili had learned from a very young age that you couldn’t rely on anyone else to reach out and save you.
If you want to be saved, it had to be by your own hands. That was why she had embraced the fact that if she wanted to be free of the chains binding her to the Soma Familia, she had to do so by whatever means was necessary. That was what brought Lili to seek out the white-haired boy known as the Hero of the Streets.
She had been worried he would have brushed her off and she would have had to pry him into talking to her further by making a scene. But he had almost immediately brought her to the cafeteria on the second floor of Babel after she had greeted him out by the fountain. There were only a few adventurers around given that the early rush into the Dungeon had begun.
The Dungeon could spawn endless monsters, but not all at once. The walls had to regenerate and the magic stones forming their bodies had to crystallize, so there was actually a hard limit called a spawn time for the Upper Floors. And since most of the Exploration Familia adventurers in Orario were Level One, the early morning was a rush to kill as many as possible to harvest their magic stones before the main routes of the Upper Floors were picked clean.
It was also unlikely that Ged would come after them in public if he happened to stumble upon them at present. The last thing he should want to do was cause a commotion here on the surface where it would get him blacklisted. So it made for the perfect place to have a relatively innocent discussion between them once they were sure he wasn’t there.
“I’m glad you managed to get away from that guy safely,” said the boy with a soft sigh. His pure white hair was a strong contrast to the lustrous black of the coat he wore, and the light of the magic stone lamps above gleamed off his polished breastplate. “I had been worried that he might have gone after you, but I had no way of checking… how is your wound?”
“It’s all better thanks to Mister Hero,” she said in a saccharinely sweet voice as she showed him where the tear had been in her robes, now roughly stitched shut. There was a deep, red stain there from where her blood had trailed out. “Lili won’t even have a scar thanks to the Potion.”
Supporter clothes were made to be easy to clean, given they were supposed to be used while harvesting magic stones. It tended to be bloody work as you carved open the monster to get its magic stone, and often there were a number of different fluids depending on how long the body had been left to rot. The fact that the bloodstain was still there was because she had chosen not to wash it as a reminder of what occurred while he stood there and watched the man getting ready to kill her.
She wanted him to feel guilty about it after she had been hurt. And the fact that his gaze turned away from the sight showed it worked. “I’m so sorry about that. I should have been quicker.”
“Lili doesn’t blame Mister Hero,” she lied with a smile on her face. “In fact, Lili wants to ask Mister Hero for his help. Lili wants him to protect her from Mister Raish. She fears that he will come after her again, but if he sees Mister Hero with her enough he will surely give up.”
“I see…” His brows furrowed in thought for a moment before those red eyes that reminded her of rubies returned to her. “Not that I’m refusing, but why didn’t you report him? He tried to kill you.”
“Because it will cause problems with Lili’s Familia,” she explained. “The Soma Familia sees Lili, who is small and weak, as someone who is a burden since her parents died in the Dungeon. She can only make a living as a lowly Supporter, so if she reports it then they will find out. Then Lili will have no Familia and no way of working, so she will starve.”
“Are there really Familia who would do that?” he muttered under his breath for a moment in what she believed was disbelief as his hand on the table balled into a fist. He must have been from one of those Familia that preached they were all family to each other. Those who swear themselves to the divine now shared the same ichor upon their back, so they were as good as brothers and sisters.
Empty words considering she’d seen how the members of her Familia were all too willing to stab one another in the back for a valis if it meant getting even a drop of Soma. “Ah, but Lili won’t ask for Mister Hero to protect her for free. She will become his Supporter in exchange for protection. With her bag and help any magic stones and drop items that Mister Hero had to leave behind before can be gathered and turned in at the Exchange. That valis can serve as Lili’s protection money. Lili will also not need any food or supplies and promises not to get in the way, so Mister Hero can focus entirely on fighting in the Dungeon.”
It would be a loss. But bringing more attention to the Soma Familia meant bringing herself to the attention of Zanis before she could earn enough to buy her freedom. And getting caught by Ged meant she would be dead.
That was why she was willing to sweeten the pot. He was supposedly the hero who protected the people of Daedalus Street. She would fatten him with praise, approach him as a maiden in distress, and even offer to work for free as a reward befitting a hero. He literally had to do nothing but let her be near him.
It would be the perfect bait to lure Ged to them.
He was a vengeful bastard so he wouldn’t let either of them go. The problem was that he only had a few opportunities to do so since Lili could hide herself well enough in the city between her Magic and having walked the dirtiest streets in order to survive since she was old enough to be put to work. He only got the drop on her because she had gotten caught faster than usual due to being too careless.
The hero here was also the talk of the town right now. Attempting something like before could draw the eyes of the Ganesha Familia, and they would take the words of the one who cleaned up their mess with the Silverback over some nobody adventurer. So his only option would be to try to get them both at the same time in the Dungeon, where accidents happen all the time.
Then it would all be over. Even if Ged managed to kill him while trying to get to her, it wouldn’t be without him taking a few injuries in the process. And even if Lili was weak, the Magic Sword she had on her was more than capable of killing a wounded Level One adventurer without any problem.
“I can’t ask you to work for free,” he said. “Even leaving aside what my Goddess would say, it just doesn’t sit right with me.”
“It’s fine.” She reached her small hands across the table, setting them on top of his as her chestnut eyes peered into his while folding softly. “Lili is sure she can get by with what little she has as long as Mister Hero can keep her safe. So please… please don’t leave Lili alone…”
He bit his lower lip as emotions ran through his rubellite eyes that looked down on her like a small child. It became too much as her stare remained unwavering and he turned away. “I don’t mind protecting you, but… please stop calling me Mister Hero. That’s not something I deserve to be called. My name is Bell. Bell Cranel.”
She smiled brightly. “Lili has made it as far as the Tenth Floor and has also memorized the maps of the Guild, so she promises not to hold Master Bell back!”
“On certain days I won’t be available without contacting the party I’m working alongside,” the boy said. “We’ll need to talk it over with them—”
“No, no, that won’t be necessary, Master Bell!” she hurriedly insisted. Too many people knowing meant too many complications. That might either get Ged to reconsider or word about her may reach others and they could tell him. “Lili does not want to impede in Master Bell’s life. Instead, Lili will work whenever he is available.”
“Nmm…” The white-haired boy replaced his hat onto his head and pulled the brim of it down to cover his eyes from view. “I was planning on heading down to the Sixth Floor today. Let’s see how things work out between us before we talk about the future. It’ll be all for nothing if I can’t even keep you safe down in the Dungeon.”
Bell had reservations about Lili’s claim about having delved down to the Tenth Floor. The Dungeon was a dangerous place after all. So he was always keeping an eye on her as they ventured from one floor to the next with the expectation of needing to keep monsters off of her most of the time.
But with each floor that they dove down those reservations lessened bit-by-bit. She may not have been capable of fighting on her own. But she proved that she knew how to perform her job with absolute competency.
There were logistics involved with dealing with monsters that Bell had never really had the time to consider. He would kill whatever appeared in front of him until the Dungeon decided to stop spawning monsters. Then he would go around and pluck the magic stones that made up their cores from the corpses, along with any drop items that might have been left behind. The moment his bag ran out of space, he would head back up to the Exchange and the day would end.
Since he had to prioritize killing the monsters before they could kill him, he left the dead where they lay. That had the consequence of making extra obstacles when he was fighting. And then there was always the risk of blood pooling on the surface and making it more slippery.
Lili effectively took care of those problems. She was fleet of foot as she dragged the corpses out of the way, placing them in corners while staying out of the line of sight of other monsters trying to kill him. He could only presume it was due to her career necessitating stealth if she had been a Supporter for as long as she had claimed.
Her expertise with harvesting really shined as she quickly cut into the bodies of the monsters to harvest the magic stone. Different monsters had different anatomies, so the magic stones tended to vary in position and depth. It was possible to end up damaging it if one was careless, but the way she did so was efficient and smooth. Her small body benefited her as a simple incision allowed her petite digits to pluck it from within and place it in a pouch that would later be stored in her bag.
The large backpack itself was invaluable as well since the different pouches accommodated different kinds of drop items. The small round side pockets were best suited for things like Goblin Nails. The longer and rectangular pockets were perfect for things like War Shadow Nails. There were also holsters for Potions and canisters of the more common medicinal ointment, compartments for rations, straps for sleeping bags and weapons, and more.
It made his dinky little bag feel inadequate.
“Lili apologizes for not being as useful as she would be normally,” said the Pallum Supporter as they sat close to the entryway of the Seventh Floor. “Master Bell’s Magic is more suitable than her for his belongings.”
He was quick to reassure her otherwise. “No, you’re a lot more helpful than that. You know more about the Dungeon and the monsters than I do.”
It was true that Bell’s access to the Dream largely rendered her services for carrying his things a non-issue when it was just him. Anything he needed could be called up by the Messengers fairly quickly and from any surface, especially weapons. He effectively had his own personal portable armory.
But that had the benefit of leaving more space for what they collected. If there were drop items from the monsters he killed then she carefully counted them, collected them in a set number of bundles, and then placed them inside of one of the different pockets of the large bag. That would make estimating the earnings much easier and speed up things at the Exchange.
And her knowledge was proving invaluable. Bell hadn’t bought any of the maps at the Guild since they were poor, having resigned himself to make maps on his own. But Lili’s memorization allowed them to travel off the main routes where she suspected monsters would gather and so they managed to make up for missing the morning rush by picking off those that weren’t likely to be take out until the Guild had a Dungeon Sweeper pass through.
“Master Bell is really kind,” she said while smiling at him from atop a stone, still smaller than her comically oversized bag that she pulled out a container from with bread and a salad. Her chestnut eyes looked over towards the entrance for a pause. “Will we be heading further down after Lunch?”
“I haven’t gone down further than this and promised my Goddess not to rush ahead without my party,” he explained while handling his lunch that was composed of what Syr had made him. He didn’t know if it was just because his exposure to Yharnam Blood had changed his taste palette, but every now and again the flavor varied.
He still ate it, of course. It was made in good faith and his grandfather taught him never to let food go to waste. “We’re supposed to be meeting up after making enough preparations to deal with the monsters on that floor.”
“Lili is surprised that Master Bell has not gone further than this.” She broke off a piece of the bread and brought it to her mouth to chew slowly as she continued. “The Silverback is a monster that spawns close to the Middle Floors. How long have you been exploring the Dungeon?”
“…About a month or so since I became an Adventurer,” he said after some thought. “I only arrived in Orario shortly before then and was taken in by Lady Hestia after a week of searching for one of the Gods or Goddesses to take me in. She found me right when I had run out of everything and was considering heading back home.”
That had been a sobering experience for Bell. When he’d arrived, Bell had thought he could find someone to take him in without any problems. As long as he was willing to put in the work, he was sure that he could eventually become a great adventurer.
But he had been turned away by nearly everyone. Some hadn’t even given him the time of day before they rejected him. That was part of why he took the seriousness of Lili’s claim that if she brought her assault up to her Familia she might have been kicked out and left on her own.
Being alone was painful in ways few really understood.
“From what Lili has seen Master Bell is a capable adventurer already despite such a short time,” she said between breaking off another piece of bread. “Did your hometown train to fight monsters before coming to Orario?”
He supposed from her perspective that made the most sense. From the stories his grandfather told him different places took up different ways to fight against monsters over the ages. Since he didn’t have the Falna before coming to Orario and she didn’t know about the Blood Echoes or the Plain Doll, it was only natural that he had trained to fight beforehand and simply carried the muscle memory over when he arrived.
“It wasn’t my hometown exactly, but I suppose it is where I had to learn to fight.” He looked over to Gascoigne’s Axe that was perched against the wall next to him. The pale light from the ceiling caught the aged steel, revealing years of battles from the little nicks and scratches that were embedded into its very frame. “There weren’t any Gods to bestow the Falna, so ordinary people had to take up weapons to protect their families by taking part in what they called the Hunt. But eventually, they all…”
He trailed off as a bead of dripping monster ichor caught his ruby eyes. The pearlescent reflection brought to his mind flashes of violence that had no doubt become commonplace to the men whose echoes had become his strength. The scent of pungent blood, the snarls and howls of beasts, the wavering flames of torches and the gleam of steel in its glow.
The imagery flickered in his mind for a moment with such vividness that he shuddered and nearly dropped his lunch that was steadily losing its appeal to his stomach. Then he noticed the inquisitive gaze upon him from the Supporter and gathered himself. “You could say the lives and memories of the fallen were passed down along with their weapons to the ones who took them up and I ended up being one of them. It’s thanks to those that I managed to get this far in such a short time. But it isn’t something that I earned or can even be proud of.”
His strength came from the Blood Echoes of two Hunters that had spent years killing the Beasts of Yharnam to protect their home and family. Their lives, their memories, their weapons, their strength. He’d taken them all into himself by robbing a little girl of her family and leaving her alone…
Syr’s food lost its taste entirely as he forced himself to finish eating.
After that, since he wouldn’t go any further down, they decided to explore some of the side routes before heading back up. Though Lili steered him away from what was known as a Pantry since she thought there might have been more monsters there than they could reasonably handle. It was probably a smart call since he didn’t want to put her at risk.
Then they headed back up to the Exchange while there weren’t many people around and got the valis for everything they’d collected. It was a process made much smoother thanks to Lili’s efforts in properly dividing them. That was when he gave her approximately half of that day’s earnings. “Here.”
Her chestnut eyes fell onto the bag, the glint of gold reflecting off the light that caught it. Then she looked back up to him. “But Lili said that Master Bell didn’t have to pay her.”
“And I can’t exploit someone who came to me looking for help like that,” he said. “Even if you don’t feel obligated to be paid, I wouldn’t be able to look at my Goddess if I did that. And at least with enough valis you should be able to look after yourself those days I can’t be there.”
Her tiny hands gripped the bag reluctantly before she put it away. “Master Bell?”
“Lili thinks that Master Bell is wrong when he said he doesn’t deserve to be called a hero,” she told him. “He saved Lili without even knowing her. And even when she’s asking for protection, he still pays her. Even if Master Bell doesn’t think he is one… he is Lili’s hero.”
Bell opened his mouth to speak. But the words refused to come out to refute her claim. So his only response was to bring the brim of his hat down to cover his eyes as she got up to leave.
“That worked out better than I expected,” Lili murmured to herself proudly as she walked down the backstreets of Orario after parting ways with Bell in a hurry after that last bit of praise. She had changed her appearance to that of an Elven child to disguise herself and kept the valis she received tucked away with plans for it later.
Lili had a lot of experience reading people. It was a necessity in order for her to live. And after spending a few hours with Bell she had gotten a better read on him than she could from watching at a distance or through the rumors. That made him so much easier to exploit.
He clearly had a protective instinct towards little girls. That was why she had played up her behavior, even if she hated speaking like someone half her actual age. And he wouldn’t be inclined to look too deeply into it by asking any of her Familia since she fed him that story about how complaining to them would end up getting her kicked out.
Still, she hadn’t expected the amount of self-depreciation and self-flagellation in his tone. It almost sounded like he was punishing himself for something and every praise she gave him only seemed to push further into that. It left a bitter taste in her mouth considering he didn’t even realize how easy it was to see, but…
She had already decided to make use of whatever she could to get free of the Soma Familia with her own hands. She had lied, cheated, stolen, all to survive in this cruel world where simply being born in the wrong Familia led to a lifetime of misery. So if she had to use him as a tool to deal with Ged then she would without a second thought.
Besides, Ged would have come in to attack him anyway after what happened, she reasoned. He should have expected it when he got involved. If he survived, then he’d learn from it. If he didn’t, well…
Lili refused to think about it further.