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Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1

Summary: Life was difficult for someone born without a Septima in a kingdom where they were prized above all else, so Leon ventured to the bottom of the world to retrieve the means to raise himself to nobility. He didn’t expect to find an AI waiting for him there by the name of Lola.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Ash falls back in time to Hisui.


A Danmachi Fanfic

Summary: A light breeze kicks off a tempest. An adventure begins long after the hero had left the scene. Or, in which a rookie Ais Wallenstein is saved by a veteran Bell Cranel.


A MHA Fanfic

Summary: When Midoriya Izuku was 4 his quirk finally manifested. The doctor named it psychokinesis, but his friend Bakugou Katsuki called it worthless and weak. For the next 10 years, Izuku would grow up bullied and isolated, convinced his quirk was good for nothing, but still holding onto the distant dream of becoming a hero. Then, when a new student named Uraraka Ochako, who shares his same dream, transfers into his class the last year of jr high, everything changes.


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary:  King Roland Holfort is dead, and the Holfort Kingdom is embroiled in a chaotic civil war between the Crown Prince’s loyalists and Duke Redgrave’s forces. As the rebels besiege the capital, the Upstart Knight and the Goddess of Material Transport have snuck into the royal palace ahead of the vanguard, in order to confront the Saintess behind everything… Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Takes place after the Marie Side Story Route, with a twist that should be very obvious from the title.


Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 1: The AI

Alert.

Life signs detected within proximity of Tower.

Suspending Hibernation Mode.

Nnnhhh… what’s with the racket?” In a sealed chamber devoid of light, a digital mind stirred as the sensors scattered throughout the island registered the arrival of a living being. Roused from slumber, the AI inquired with the sensor logs for clarification as it began to defrag its data. “Yep, that’s the biometrics for a lifeform all right. Scan for Septima Energy. Make sure it’s not the enemy.

Scanning for Septima Energy.

The prompt devoted more resources to the scanning system as it combed the island for energy matching the wavelength of those attuned to the Septimal layer of the Lifewave. It only emanated from those who were registered as the enemy of humanity in its data banks. Those entities were Septima Holders, also known as Adepts, who waged war against the Humans in a conflict that created massive devastation the AI had been tasked with correcting for….

Far longer than it expected based on its internal calendar. “Ahh, I slept for way too long this time. Hopefully the automated maintenance subroutines I set up kept the security systems functional.

No Septima Energy detected.

Whew… that’s good. I can focus on making sure everything else is operational later then. But if the scanners are registering life signs…” It checked the logs linked to one of the cameras in the vicinity. Then its circuits began to buzz as its digital brain processed the visual feed. “It’s really a Human! After all this time!

The AI began combing through the logs of the data around the island for deviations from the usual activity, to see how long they had been there or if there were signs of other visitors. It wasn’t exactly hard to do or time-consuming since things had been stagnant without any external influence or changes detected by the automatic scans over the last thousands of years. “There are signs of debris that weren’t present before from a vessel of some kind, with traces of a mineral used for levitation via tapping into mana particles in the atmosphere. No signs of other ships or corpses. Talk about lucky. If they had crash-landed anywhere else, they’d be goners.

During the war between Adepts and Humans, a being known as Demerzel had developed a means of tapping into the Lifewave that circulated throughout the planet. But as the Humans began to push back the Adepts, Demerzel caused it to accelerate its flow until it began vaporizing. Then it erupted from below in a cataclysmic event that spelled the end of life as it had been.

The land was ripped apart. The seas churned and turned to poison, contaminated by the turbulent element. The air itself was choked with volcanic smoke and gases that became electrified. Soon the world was left barren of the capacity to nurture or sustain life as its very essence seeped out like blood from countless wounds.

So much of it being present was toxic for biological organisms. Even entities born with an attachment to the Senary and Septimal stages could only handle so much exposure before it warped and killed them. But the world itself needed that energy flowing through it to produce life. If not for the fact that the particles were subject to gravity and that prevented the bulk of it from ascending past the bottom of the Stratosphere, it would be impossible to revitalize the planet as the AI had been doing dutifully…

Well, okay maybe it slacked off just a bit since it was a largely automated process at this point. The exterior atmospheric barrier prevented mana from entering the island aside from that which was being condensed and funneled back down. If that was functional and operating within the set parameters, there wasn’t much left that required devoting resources to.

Approaching biometrics do not match authorized personnel.

Registering individual as an ‘Intruder’ and activating security system for elimination.

Don’t you dare!!” The core of the AI began to shake within its container as it realized the automated defense systems were going to kick in. It used its authority to override the protocol before it killed the first guest they’d had in thousands of years. “Turn off the security system entirely. Open the entrance. Register their biometrics into the database as a ‘Guest’ User with permission to access the Top Floor directly. Uh… what else?”

It combined its mind for what to do when meeting someone for the first time. This was big, so it couldn’t afford to offend them or make a mistake. A good first impression was needed. “Right, it’d probably be weird speaking to a voice coming from the walls. Set up the gardens with Template Five’s appearance, and ready some snacks and tea for our guest from the stores while I jump into companion pod to speak with them personally in my Administrator Mode.

Acknowledging Authoritative Bypass.

Unlocking Front Gate.

Recalibrating Teleporter to fixed coordinates.

[—Leon Fou Bartfort—]

“It’s already open?” Leon Bartfort muttered as he stood outside of the entrance to a massive steel pillar that ascended into the turbulent sky above that had green clouds that crackled with countless streamers.

It was known only as ‘The Tower’ back when he had been living in Japan. Back before he died and then reincarnated in the world of a Dating Sim that was made by a company that normally made platforming games. It was a paid DLC map, set beneath the Death Zone at the bottom of the sky. A mysterious island that shouldn’t be there considering the entire lower world was supposed to be completely inhospitable to human life.

In the game, after you paid for the DLC, you would visit specific coordinates and your ship would suddenly malfunction before being drawn into a surging flow of mana until it was pulled down on the island. The Heroine and her Love Interest depending on the route of the game would then see it as an unexplored dungeon and ascend it floor-by-floor, facing off against various robotic enemies that belonged in a more sci-fi-heavy game, while navigating different environments like an arctic region or jungle.

And when you finally made it to the top you would be rewarded with a power-up for the Love Interest’s partner. Then a forced escape sequence would occur, and they would find a new ship with much higher specs to replace their old one. The island would then vanish with no way back until you started a new game file.

Leon had been planning to retrieve said cheat items and spent a month getting to the coordinates when he had been sucked in, just like in the game. But so far, he hadn’t seen a single enemy unit. And now the entrance was wide open.

Did someone else beat me to it?

He couldn’t dismiss the possibility of it. If he had been reborn in this world and regained his memories, then chances are someone else probably had as well. And considering what a crappy setting this was depending on the luck of the draw, rushing to get ahead was the smart call. The only reason he hadn’t earlier was because of the danger involved, but he would take a chance of dying to accomplish something for his own sake over being forced to enlist and be a sacrificial pawn.

Of course, if someone did beat him to the punch the biggest problem would be if they had already made off with the ship. His own hadn’t survived the crash, so he would be stuck here with no way to get back home if it was gone. He really hoped that wasn’t the case as stepped through the open gate.

The barren world transitioned into a hive of chrome and steel. Rimmed with soft lights that illuminated the entirety of the floor, it was clearly meant for receiving goods and supplies given that it had several metal containers packed away. Leon was cautious as he carefully maneuvered around them with the intention of eluding patrolling drones, given that he didn’t have near endgame equipment that he should.

Instead, he had some equipment picked up near the start of the map. The game developers had the foresight to at least give the player some pretty good gear by going to what he supposed was a storage bunker of some kind, which had among the equipment there a powered armor suit, a firearm, a shield that had high stats, and a keycard that opened the Tower. The enemies even had a weakness to the weapon’s affinity, which was likely to make traversing it easier.

He was partway through the level without an encounter when the speakers cracked to life. “Hey, welcome to… wait, that equipment. How do you… oh, I see. Since I disabled the security system across the islands the spare bunker’s automated locks would have gone down as well.”

It sounded like a young girl’s voice. But there was an almost robotic tone overlaying it. Leon assumed it was because of the speakers.

“…Well, I suppose I don’t mind that you took his old gear given you didn’t know better. But you don’t have to worry about being attacked or anything. I had the security system turned off so you could come right on up to the top through the elevator in the back. It’s been ages since anyone has been here and I’ve got a ton of questions.

Leon took the invitation with a grain of salt as he made his way over to the elevator. The moment he stepped inside the door sealed shut, and it began ascending. In the game you had to go from floor-to-floor to unlock the higher levels, but it seems like I’m really heading straight to the top.

The elevator continued to climb upwards until it reached the entrance to the top floor. His boots lightly clunked against the metal floor, the walls filled with screens that were showcasing different camera views and data. It was probably meant to be a monitoring station, but the central focus was a device in the center that was connected to thousands of wires that fed into it from the ceiling above.

In the game, after the Heroine and the Love Interest managed to climb this far, they would find the device inoperable but see that there was a massive vault on the opposite side. Opening it using the keycard from where you obtained the equipment would net the final prize, one of the most broken items in the game. But it would also trigger the forced evacuation sequence.

Yet the device now glowed with a verdant green light and hummed softly. “Am I supposed to use this?”

Yep!” said the voice from before. “Just place your hand on the pad and it’ll teleport you to the gardens above. I’ve just finished setting up some refreshments for you.

He had never heard about a garden area. But given how massive this place was, he was sure there were entire blocks that went unventured for plot reasons within the game. He went over to the device and placed his hands on the pad—

Guest User recognized. Teleporting to the Hanging Gardens.

—and then there was a flash of light as the glow from before caused the world of steel and chrome surrounding him to be replaced by an atrium from which sunlight seemingly spilled in from the clear blue skies above. The metal floor was polished to the point of being reflective, but the walls looked to be made of white marble. They even had flowers and ivy growing around not only where the glass met the stone but crawling down the walls, filling the air with the soft fragrance of nature that contrasted the chaotic sky and barren landscape outside.

It was uncanny as Leon moved towards a gateway that was ahead of him. The moment he reached it the doors slid open to reveal an expansive field of flowers and luminous trees. It was like something out of a fairytale, with a table that had been set up with a single chair, what looked to some kind of edible blocks on a plate, and a cup with a kettle nearby.

But all of that was secondary to the young girl standing next to the table.

Or at least Leon wanted to say it was a young girl around the age of Finley, maybe. She had unblemished skin that was paler than most he had seen in this life, her arms covered with evening gloves that came up just short of her shoulders, and her thighs wrapped by robotic-looking stockings. And he explicitly chose not to comment on her bodywear—not that there was anything it barely covered worth mentioning.

At her feet were high heels that looked similarly mechanical as she hovered just a few inches above the ground, surrounded by what looked like the petals of a lotus. The lotus theme seemed to be present throughout her design because adorning her short, light green hair was a band from which a similar flower blossomed. And behind her back floated what looked to be mechanical pods that sprouted the petals like angelic wings.

Thanks for coming!” Her mechanical tone only added to the evidence she wasn’t a Minos or Adept, but something else. Yet she wore a bright smile as she waved a hand over her head toward him, beckoning him to come closer. “I didn’t have time to prepare much. But I hope you’ll like it.”

“What exactly are you?” Leon asked.

I’m the Supervisory AI for the Lifewave Condensation and Terraformation Tower. I’ve been given the directive to revitalize the world and, if possible, aid Humans like yourself against Adepts. Normally I would operate throughout the Tower. But since you’re the first guest we’ve had, I came out to greet you personally. If there’s anything you need then I’m your girl.

Was this part of the background lore of the series? Leon scratched his head as he wrapped his mind around what she told him. “Well, if you’re speaking of Adepts as separate beings, does that mean you’re supposed to help Minos then?”

Her head quirked at that. “I’ve never heard of that term before. But it’s been thousands of years since I have received any new information. Mind filling me in?

“Minos is the term given to people who are born lacking Septima,” he explained. “Most people in the world are those born as Adepts, while far fewer like me are born without a Septima. It’s seen as either an omen or a genetic defect depending on who you ask. But since we’re a minority, we’re labeled as Minos for short.”

No… that can’t be…” The expression the AI had been wearing melted away. “Adepts were growing in number, but to completely overtake Humanity would mean that… No, Master promised that he would succeed. That was why he needed me to stay here. So that the Humans he fought for would have a world ready for them.

“Sorry, but that’s just how it is. The Minos are the minority, and the way things work makes life difficult for them. At least in the Holfort Kingdom anyway. Can’t say I know much about other places.”

In the Holfort Kingdom, there were effectively two things that determined your lot in life. The first was whether you had a Title of Nobility, as it was a feudal system that had long since gone out of practice in his original life. Where your family stood in terms of peerage determined just how easy your life was. However, at least it was possible to either rise into becoming a noble with generations of hard work or if you were able to receive an honorary title from the crown.

It was a different story when it came to your Septima. It was common knowledge that the stronger your Septima was, the more valuable it was. Commoners who were born with a strong Septima could be adopted and elevated into noble families. But, by that same measure, someone who was of noble birth but born with no Septima effectively had no value and could be discarded without a second thought.

Hearing his confession, she went from floating to falling to her knees and bringing her hands over her eyes. “Master promised that Humans would have a bright future for them. That’s why I was told to do my best and wait for someone to come. But if we lost the war and Humans have become the minority then… what was it all for? Master… what did I spend thousands of years alone for?

I can’t say that reaction was unexpected. Leon could imagine how long thousands of years were from her perspective. All that time, time alone, knowing that she would likely outlive the one she made a promise to in the hopes that his dream would carry on. Only to learn that in the end, it was all for nothing. But lying wouldn’t have solved anything, would it?

Telling her a lie might have softened the blow. But in the end, the truth would come out eventually. And when it did, nothing would sting more than having the trust placed in the words you were told broken. He had learned that the hard way.

Still, Leon took no pleasure in watching her sitting there crying, nor being the one responsible. Especially not when it dredged up a memory of a life once lived and long gone, of a little girl weeping on the playground. She’d often shed crocodile tears to get people to do what she wanted. But now and again they’d be genuine, and he could tell every single time that was the case since it’d stir up a certain feeling in his chest.

Just like now.

Leon sighed to himself before he approached the girl, so lost in her grief that she no longer registered his presence. She seemed so much smaller now that she wasn’t floating and putting on airs that made her seem more mature than her appearance would suggest. He crouched down and, pausing for a moment, began to gently stroke her mint-green hair. “It wasn’t for nothing.”

Her hands lowered slightly at the unexpected gesture, and her eyes locked onto his as the tears still cascaded down from the corners. Then she slowly reached out to touch his hand. He suspected that if she had been here all this time alone it was also probably the first time since then that she had been touched by another living being.

“I don’t know much about what happened in the past of this world,” Leon began. “I can’t say that I know the details of the promise you made with your master. And I don’t want to lie and say that being born without Septima has been easy when it hasn’t been. But the fact is that people like me are still around after thousands of years. We’re still alive in this world, even if it’s cruel towards us. That has to count for something, right?”

Y-Yes…” She nodded her head, even as her small shoulders trembled as she sniffled. Then she clung to him and buried her face into his chest. “You’re proof that Humanity has lived on somehow after thousands of years. Master’s dream hasn’t ended.

He let her keep clinging to him until she finally got the crying out of her system and went back to floating upright. “Sorry about that. It was just a lot to process at once. But you’re here now, so I can follow my directive and aid you. Is there something you need at the moment?

“I need a Quill that you have locked in the safe. And a ship to return to the surface.”

That caused her to slightly frown. But thankfully not quite in the crushing guilt way that he had been expecting. Instead, it was more in a confused manner. “I can authorize the use of the Sabertooth to transport you with my administrative permissions, but the Smilodon was meant to be a mass transport vessel and requires dual permission to launch. The same goes for the Quills, given that they were one of the most dangerous weapons from the beginning of the war. Besides, they require compatible septimal energy to operate since they were tied to specific Adepts who were defeated in the past. They would be useless to you.

“I know for a fact that there are compatible Adepts for them in the present,” Leon said. “But the only one I care about though is the Azure Quill that’s meant to be used with the Azure Striker Septima.”

Now her expression shifted into one that was far more serious. “The former holder of the Azure Striker Septima perished thousands of years ago, after becoming a Septimal being that discarded his flesh. And yet you claim there are others with that same Septima? How can that be?

“The Royal Family of the Holfort Kingdom are known to be holders of the Azure Striker Septima,” Leon explained. It was considered the strongest Septima in the Kingdom, which was one of the reasons the Royal Family held the power it did. There were other reasons, such as the Royal Ship, but there was no point in bringing that up.

Perhaps they are his descendants from before his transition into an incorporeal body?” she reasoned before shaking her head. “Even so, Master entrusted me with the Quills for preservation if the knowledge derived from them could be of aid in my directives. I can’t just return it to the descendant of one of the enemies of Humanity.

“That’s a problem for me then, since if I don’t offer that Quill to them then I’ll probably be dead by the end of the year,” Leon said in turn.

If you’re in trouble of some kind, you can stay here!” She seemed almost eager for him to do so as she leaned over to him until they were nearly face-to-face. “The Tower can sustain life within itself. I can promise that you’ll never want for anything, and you’ll be safe!

He actually considered it for a moment. “Would that offer only extend to Minos?”

Yes. My directives are to aid those who have no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave, such as yourself. If the Minos are such then I will aid them as my Master wished.

“Then I can’t accept,” he said. “After all, even though I was born a Minos, the rest of my family are Adepts. Not powerful ones, but Adepts all the same. The reason I need the Quill is so that I can remain with them.”

What do you mean?

He gave her the gist of his personal situation. He had been born as part of a family that held a barony, with his father being the baron overseeing the territory. Out of the family, he had been the only one born as a Minos. Normally that would have gotten him disowned if his parents had been scum like some of the other nobility, thanks to the way the Kingdom favored those with Septima, but his parents weren’t like that.

The problem was that he was born to his father’s mistress, while his main wife was related to a Viscount family. In her own words, having a Minos who as a member of the family is a stain on their reputation. Time and again she had tried to get rid of him, and until recently his parents had done their best to appease her by offering her tributes and keeping him out of her sight. But there was a severe wave of monster attacks this year and they had caused enough damage that his family couldn’t afford to appease her without neglecting their territory.

His father was a good man. Though his territory wasn’t well-off, he did his best to make sure that the people never went hungry. The times when the aides from Zola’s family couldn’t be bothered to help with fending off the monsters in time, he would be one to take up arms to help. His powered armor and body had their fair share of scars, so to ask him to sacrifice the well-being of his people for the sake of his son was too much.

At the rate things were going he was going to be disowned and forced to split apart from his family. And in this society, where Septima was valued, finding a career to support himself afterward would be a nightmare. It wasn’t uncommon for Minos to have to resort to crime like becoming sky pirates, but more often they would have to enlist as a soldier and be sent off to foreign allies of the kingdom. All so they could die in the meatgrinder, while those who had valuable Septima remained safe.

However, Leon could get around that by receiving an ennoblement from the Royal Family. While those who normally held the rank of nobility aided the crown in the past, it was possible to earn or buy your way into it. The Offrey Family was one such example.

The problem was that receiving the ennoblement required that he do something that merited it, or had enough money to buy it, which he didn’t. However, a Quill was an artifact that had been lost to history and impossible to reproduce (according to the item description). It was invaluable enough that offering them a compatible one would be more than enough to get him a title.

The AI processed the information before muttering. “So, you need it to remain with your family?

“That’s right,” Leon said. “I can’t say that I’m thrilled about the way the world works, but my mother and father put up with a lot to keep me by their side because they cared about me. To the point where it’s put them in financial straits and has had them looked down by their peers. I’ve even seen times when my mother cried over the fact that she didn’t pass down her Septima because she knew life would be hard for me. Most noble families wouldn’t have done that, so I can’t abandon them.”

While he didn’t want to be shipped off to die for no reason, Leon especially didn’t want everything they sacrificed for him to be for nothing. The reward for being a decent human being shouldn’t be only to lose everything after struggling so hard to hold onto it. Getting ennobled by the Royal Family would allow them to at least hold their heads up high that even the worst of their family had accomplished something.

Master… entrusted me with the Quills to prevent them from being misused, so to return one of the weapons of the Adepts of old to them would go against that. But… you need the Quill to avoid being sent off to die and remain with your family. And you won’t remain in the Tower even if I guaranteed you wouldn’t want for anything else?

“I’ve been away from home too long as is,” Leon stated. He already didn’t want to think about how much it cost his father to outfit the ship he had ridden on to get here. Especially not when he had promised his father that he would return with something to his name without explaining how he was going to obtain it. Without even asking what he had planned, his father had put his faith in him to come back alive whether he found something or not.

As she crossed her arms beneath her chest and her brows furrowed deep in thought for a long pause, he took the time to eat the… block on his plate. He couldn’t quite pick out the flavor, but it wasn’t bad. And the tea was pretty good as well.

Then her eyes snapped open, and she raised her arms in a cheer. “That’s it! I can’t give you the Quill because of my directive, even if it would be to help you. But if I elevated you to Tower Administrator then you could change my directive to allow it. The Sabertooth and Smilodon and the other resources of the Tower would also be available.

“What would that require?”

Just a thorough examination to ensure your qualifications, since one of the requirements is that the Administrator has no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave,” the AI explained. “There’s room for tolerance on Guest permission to account for residents who might be connected up to the fourth layer, but the Admin has to be tied to the primordial layer alone. Once that’s verified, we would share dual authority over the Tower, including the ability to override my directive to aid you.”

Isn’t that giving someone you just met a little too much control? Leon privately wondered to himself. He didn’t know enough about how everything here worked but being able to hand off the authority to someone else seemed like a risk. Then again, maybe it was a sign that whoever her Master was trusted her judgment when it came to whoever would succeed him.

“Ah, there is one thing,” she continued. “Since Master entrusted them to me with the future of Humanity in mind, I do have a condition: I want to accompany you outside the Tower.

“Don’t you need to be here to manage everything?”

Most of the systems can be automated even without direct supervision, but without a second administrator, I couldn’t devote resources to explore beyond the vicinity of the Tower. And it’s not like I would be leaving the Tower itself, but I would instead be using a support unit as a proxy to accompany you, in the same manner that I’m speaking to you now. That way I can gather data on the world’s current state and see for myself what remains of Master’s dream and how to help out Humans better!

If it would get him the Quill and the Smilodon, as she called it, he wouldn’t complain. Besides, Leon had noticed that she was still willing to help him get back to the upper world even before she came up with this idea. That meant she was willing to put up with being here all alone again for possibly thousands of more years if he refused, simply because it was how she could be helpful to him.

The thought of leaving a little girl willing to be that nice to him alone for that long wouldn’t sit right with him. “Fine. We’ll go with your idea.”

Yay!” She cheered with a big smile even as the world around them began to shift around. The grass and flowers were fading away, along with the scent and the sky. Had it all been a hologram of some kind? “Come on! I’ll take you to my mainframe… um…

Watching as she awkwardly fidgeted in place, he realized that she had been so eager to rush things along they hadn’t even introduced themselves to one another. “My name is Leon. Leon Fou Bartfort. And you?”

Lola,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Leon.


Fanfic Recommendation 111


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 31

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.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Ash falls back in time to Hisui.


A MHA Fanfic

Summary: When Midoriya Izuku was 4 his quirk finally manifested. The doctor named it psychokinesis, but his friend Bakugou Katsuki called it worthless and weak. For the next 10 years, Izuku would grow up bullied and isolated, convinced his quirk was good for nothing, but still holding onto the distant dream of becoming a hero. Then, when a new student named Uraraka Ochako, who shares his same dream, transfers into his class the last year of jr high, everything changes.


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 31 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 31: The First Night

I watched in horror as Argo’s body was sent flying, caught in the wake of my spell. I had just wanted to show him that I learned magic. That I was a step closer to being able to help him. But it slipped from my control the moment my focus lapsed, and Argo paid the price for it.

‘What a wonderful spell! I knew you were talented my dear little sister.’

Argo bounced back up, pretending as if nothing was wrong. But I could see the blood where he’d been hurt because of me stemming from the back of his head. A crushing sense of guilt pressed down in my chest as I applied a tourniquet and apologized repeatedly. I even wanted to go fetch Elio to heal him, even if I was punished for disobeying him.

But Argo only gently patted me on the head and told me he’d be good as new tomorrow, so I should go back to my training. And sure enough, there was no trace of the wound the next day. Looking back, I suspect that Elio knew what I did and went to heal my brother sometime after I had cried myself to sleep.

But the reason for that isn’t something I know even to this day.

—Consequences

[-|-|-|-]

It looks like we’re finishing up for the day.

That thought, confined within Bell Cranel’s mind, surfaced as he noticed that Lord Hermes was making a gesture up ahead. It had been maybe around twelve hours since they had taken flight from the walls of Orario. They had long since lost the ability to see the tower that reached from the ground to the heavens above, the Labyrinth City long gone with only stretches of land without large settlements around. And it had only been the first day of what would be ten in flight.

The God of Travel had taken to leading them since he was aware of their destination across the continent and was more familiar with flight via their draconic mounts. Because of the sound of the air rushing past their ears and the distance between them, it was more reliable to rely on visual cues to signal rather than trying to speak out loud. Even if he could pick up their voices despite the wind because of his Level, the others might not be able to.

Bell carefully maneuvered one of his arms, tucked close against the soft, slender frame of the slumbering divinity nestled against him, free after ensuring he had a firm grip on the reins with his other hand. Then he raised it to make a similar motion to show he saw the signal. He saw out of the corner of his eyes that Welf and Mikoto were doing the same.

With everyone aware of their intentions, the descent began. The airborne dragons slowly dropped down from the golden expanse of the evening sky towards the grasslands below that seemed almost as endless as the sky above over the last few hours, only broken up by a nearby forest with stalwart trees standing sentry at the entrance.

Despite his best effort, the jostling motion made as the dragon touched down on the ground caused the Goddess of the Moon who had been asleep to rouse awake. “Mmm… Orion…?

“Sorry for waking you, Lady Artemis,” Bell apologized. “If possible, I would have let you rest longer. But we’ve landed for the night.”

The emerald eyes of the divinity softened as she brought her hands over to his chest and laid her head against it again. “No, it’s my fault. I didn’t expect the trip to be so exhausting, and you’re very comfortable, Orion.”

He was not sure how to respond to that, so he just gave a nervous laugh while the dragon beneath them shook its wings and then folded them in before lowering itself to the ground. He then dismounted, feeling a slight stretch in his muscles that had gone slightly stiff from riding so long. But he ignored the discomfort to extend a hand up to help her down, which she took and lowered herself to the ground.

“Well, we’ve made good progress today,” Lord Hermes said as he rolled his shoulders while striding towards them. “We’ll make it on schedule if we keep it up at this rate without any problems.”

“I don’t think I can manage to handle riding so long for nine more days…” Lady Hestia softly whined while slumped down next to the dragon that regarded her with a slight quirk of the head. “Everything is sore for me and watching the landscape nearly puts me to sleep.”

“That’s because you’re not used to it,” said the Goddess of the Moon. “Unlike our children whose blessing can mitigate the strain of traveling so long, our bodies need more time to acclimate to doing things we aren’t used to. Even I had to get used to riding a horse again after coming down.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to ride a horse,” Welf said as he braced his neck with one hand and rolled it. Bell could hear cracking from it. “Much less an actual dragon of all things. I’m still scratching my head figuring out why they’re so… docile.”

Bell found himself agreeing as he turned back to one of the dragons prodding Primo with its head playfully in an attempt for attention. At least until she responded by nervously patting it on the head while Mikoto watched on, which caused it to somehow purr and growl at the same. It was… odd to see in every sense of the word.

“You can thank years of collaborative efforts between myself and Ganesha for that,” Lord Hermes said proudly. “You see, monsters outside of the Dungeon are much weaker than those within it. So, he and I had a discussion over drinks on taming practices and one thing led to another. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved venturing to the outskirts of the Dragon Valley to fetch a lot of unhatched eggs for them to work on taming from birth.”

The Dragon Valley was one of the remaining unexplored regions of the world, since… well, Dragons were there. Dragons were among the strongest of the monsters and even those who were born of the surface were still capable of causing a vast amount of destruction when one found their way beyond those mountainous lands. The fact that he actively ventured into the even the outskirts to get the eggs was daunting in that respect.

“Lili doesn’t think it’s really that simple,” said the Pallum of their group with her large bag nestled on her back. She must have unloaded it off the dragon in order to get the campsite set up for the night. “Monsters hate mortals instinctively, hatched from eggs or the Dungeon.”

“I did say it took years,” he answered. “In fact, I’ve lost count of the monster eggs we’ve had to fetch only for the attempt to end in failure after failure. Even I’m not fully sure how he managed to tame these four the way he did, but he’s quite proud of it as in his eyes it’s a step forward towards his goal.”

That seemed to catch Hestia by surprise. “Ganesha has a long-term goal in mind?”

Lord Hermes nodded. “To make a place in this world for Monsters, in the hopes of ending the cycle of the children and them dying in a constant war with no end.”

There was a moment of silence that lingered as he casually spoke of something that was… absurd by every standard. Peace with monsters was something that just didn’t happen. Monsters hated mortals and killed them on sight, forcing them to respond in kind of their own safety. Even taming involved breaking their wills so that they were loyal only to one individual because of the sheer difference in power, leaving them to attack everyone else. That wasn’t co-existence like how he was framing it.

“That’s nothing more than a careless whim of his,” Lady Artemis said, crossing her arms beneath her chest and her tone firm. “Monsters have since the dawn of the world hunted down mortals and threatened the world. It is for that reason we bestowed our blessings upon them in the first place. Even now monsters still roam these lands and prey on the defenseless, as my children and I have seen too many times to count.”

“True,” he conceded. “But the fact that we just spent hours flying on four monsters of one of the most fearsome species without fearing for our lives is also an immutable fact. I’m personally of the mind that these four are simply Irregulars that he came across after thousands of attempts, given that he hasn’t been able to replicate it since then and the fact that it’s clear that they’re too docile to remotely survive on their own in a place as harsh as the Dragon Valley. But it doesn’t change the fact that it opens the door to the potential. After all, the Lower World is full of untapped possibilities.”

The expression of the Goddess of the Moon made it clear she didn’t share the same sentiment, which Bell could understand all too well. He had lost his grandfather to goblins after all. Throughout history, there haven’t been any such cases where monsters and men have lived along with one another in the way Lord Hermes was speaking, so it really did seem like a whim more than anything.

But the topic lingered in his mind even as the discussion itself came to an end as they needed to divide the duties to set up for the night. Welf and Hermes set out into the nearby woodlands in order to gather firewood for the night since they would be camping there before heading out once morning came around to continue their trip. Mikoto and Hestia were preparing the food for the evening, while Lili and Primo were in the process of feeding the dragons they flew on. That left Bell and Artemis to set up the campsite.

Bell was diligently in the process of hammering in the stake to keep the tent that Lady Hestia and Artemis would be sharing when he felt a presence behind him. He turned to see the Goddess of the Moon there. “Yes, Lady Artemis?”

“…Orion, you’ve been quiet for a while now. Is there something on your mind?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about what Lord Hermes mentioned,” he admitted. “It’s still hard to get over the fact that we managed to fly this far on top of dragons of all things. To be honest, I was a bit nervous I would have made a mistake the entire time. Especially since the only riding animal I’ve been on before now was a donkey.”

Artemis quirked her head at that. “A donkey?”

“The mountain village I grew up in was small and out of the way,” he explained. “The farm Grandpa and I had was next to a nice lady with a donkey that she let me ride when I was younger. It’s not very interesting to talk about.”

“No, I want to hear more about your past,” Artemis told him with a small smile. “If you want, we can exchange tales while we have time.”

Bell decided there was no harm in doing so and indulged her. “The farm itself was small, nestled high up in the mountains. There weren’t too many of us, so we had to rely on one another, and next to our farm was a woman named Eda. She looked after me while Grandpa had to work on the farm and helped him out when I was too young to really do anything. Sometimes when listening to grandpa’s stories I would imagine I was a hero riding on a mighty steed, and she’d indulge me by letting me on her donkey.”

The goddess closed her eyes and tilted her head back, a soft rumble in her throat as she remained deep in thought. Then a small smile came across her face. “I can almost picture a smaller version of you doing that, Orion. You must have really liked heroes.”

“Well, Grandpa did tell me a lot of the stories that he knew,” he said with a nervous chuckle as a spot of crimson from embarrassment appeared. “When he wasn’t on the farm, he would often pen them. The way he always told them made it seem like he had captured every little detail to the point where I could also feel that I was practically there, watching their struggles and overcoming odds. I came to really admire heroes like Epimetheus and Argonaut, and I wanted to be like them.”

“Is that why you came to Orario then?” she asked. “To be a hero?”

“Ah…” His expression softened. “Partly. I had other reasons too, but things were a lot harder than I expected. I was lucky to find Lady Hestia and make it this far thanks to her kindness, so I’m grateful to her. As for being a hero, it still feels like I’m over my head with just being an Adventurer at times. I’m honestly still nervous about this whole thing, but I’ll do my best to help you as well, Lady Artemis.”

“I’m certain you will, Orion,” Artemis said. “Now, I promised to exchange a tale. Would you like to hear the one about how Hestia and I became friends back in Heaven?”

[-Twilit Manor-]

Lefiya Viridis hummed softly to herself as she combed her hair in front of a mirror within the dressing room adjoined to the shower room on the floor. Her skin was a rosy hue beneath her nightgown, still saturated with warmth from the shower she’d taken to cleanse herself after running around for most of the day. She intended to retire early for the night to make up for the lack of sleep given how hectic things had been thanks to her brother’s propensity to get into trouble.

I still need to figure out how to complete his Quest though. Her thoughts shifted to the request made by the Gnome who had been acquainted with Bell’s little friend. It was a simple request to retrieve a few things from the Dungeon. Nothing that was illicit or would require her to go into the Deep Floors, but she would need to go to the Middle Floors.

That wasn’t an insurmountable problem given that she was on the verge of Level Four and a skilled Level Two could head as far down as the entrance to the Water Capital. But since part of what she needed was an ore that would likely need to be mined, she would have to dedicate some time to the endeavor. The Dungeon was rarely content to simply leave an Adventurer to do so without at least throwing several monsters against them. And since she was a Mage, it wasn’t recommended that she travel that deeply on her own without a Vanguard.

However, since the request was made to her personally and it was a private matter, Lefiya felt it wouldn’t be right to ask any of her Familia members to help her when she couldn’t explain it. That would be taking advantage of them when she was already technically hiding things from them. If her brother were here, he’d be an option since she could also take the time to explain things about how those floors worked. But he would be absent for the next month, which was probably for the best since it would give everyone time to forget about the thing with Lady Artemis as something else caught their attention.

I guess I’ll ask Filvis then. A smile blossomed onto her face at the thought of her beloved. Once she had finished handing out the letters, she had paid a visit to Lord Dionysus Familia to apologize for cutting their date short once more to tend to the matter with Bell and showing her the darker side of her personality when she got a little too hot under the collar.

Filvis understood thankfully. She might not have known Bell, but she knew that he helped save her from the new species that had swallowed them both and so that was why they were on friendlier terms. And she had even said that knowing that Lefiya cared about her feelings so much to get upset over the thought of her misunderstanding was appealing in its own way. The Half-Elf probably would have tried kissing her then and there for being such an understanding partner if not for the need to conduct herself properly in someone else’s domain.

Anyway, she would need to find a time when the two of them would be free to ask for her help in heading down to the Middle Floors. And while she would need to behave herself while they were in the Dungeon, they could spend their time together doing something fun if they finished early. It’d be nice to take her somewhere pleasant or get her a gift, but Lefiya needed to consider what would be practical for her on top of being fashionable…

Her attention was pulled from that line of thought as the door to the room opened. In came the familiar face of Leene Arshe, the kind-hearted Healer holding a change of clothes for the evening. She must have intended to take a shower but stopped to greet the Half-Elf when she spotted her. “Good evening. I hadn’t realized you returned since you weren’t at dinner.”

“I had a lot of things to do so I ate while I was out,” she explained before recalling the events of last night when she spotted her. “By the way, you did a nice job on your makeup last night. You looked very cute with Mister Bete.”

A sudden jolt ran up the girl. “Wh-What do you mean? I was just studying here last night.”

Holding her chin up with an amused smile even as she continued to brush her hair, Lefiya let out a slight hum. “Hmmm. So that girl with long hair and brown eyes who was cheering on Mister Bete was another admirer then? I never thought he was so popular with women. I’ll have to ask him her name some time.”

Leene fretted about as steam poured from her ears as she looked around before eventually just bowing her head. “P…Please don’t… He’ll get mad.”

“Relax, I don’t intend to tell anyone,” Lefiya promised. “It was just that I was surprised that you two of all people were on a date and I was curious, but there are only a handful of places that are completely soundproof.”

A Level Three could hear through ordinary walls with ease, so for a Familia with even higher-ranked Adventurers than that there needed to be areas where privacy was guaranteed. The dressing rooms and bathrooms were among them for obvious reasons. That allowed the girls to talk without being overheard, which was one of the reasons she chose to have the discussion here while they were alone.

“It wasn’t a date,” Leene insisted softly before reaching up to her hair and fiddling with loose strands. “He was just paying me back for the favor he asked that day I healed you.”

The Half-Elf craned her head in question at that before Leene explained the situation in earnest. Since Bete dragged her to Leene before the meeting where she had been reprimanded for getting involved with the War Game chase, when she asked him if he didn’t have plans for the Holy Night Festival, it seemed he regarded it as paying her back to make them even. He wouldn’t be seen with her as a date or anything, but if she wanted to follow him around while he went to get drunk without being seen he’d tolerate it.

“…And you were okay with that?” Lefiya asked cautiously. To be honest, she was partly offended that he would ask her to just follow him around and ignore her while he went around drinking. If he was going to do that much, rejecting her would have been better.

Leene only nodded with a slight smile. “…It wasn’t a date, but something I felt like I forced onto him. But even so, he didn’t drink anything. And I actually had fun.”

The girl went on to tell her about how Bete seemed to go to places he figured she would be interested in. It wasn’t exactly the case, but it wasn’t anything she outright hated. He apparently even caught her eyeing a prize from one of the stalls and then complained how there wasn’t anything really worth winning before picking that one out, only to toss it back towards her without saying a word when they were alone.

From listening to her, the Half-Elf was starting to picture him trying to be considerate of her but not quite sure how to do so because he didn’t know enough about her. Even so, just hearing her describe him in a positive light and how her body shifted as she embraced her clothing a little tighter while playing the memory out in her mind… there was no doubt in Lefiya’s mind about her feelings. “You’re really in love with him, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” The admission came without shame or hesitation or doubt. It was something she had thought of, questioned, and came to terms with on her own. Something that made her happy as it brought a blush to her face. “I am in love with Bete Loga.”

There were a number of questions Lefiya had at that moment. Why? When? How? But those became secondary when she recalled the number of advances that he had made towards Miss Aiz. If she felt this fervently about him, she could only imagine how it must have felt for her to watch time and time again. “…Does he know how you feel?”

The expression Leene wore turned… melancholic. Longing and loving at the same time. And rather than giving denying or confirming it, she simply answered with, “…As I am now, just being able to help him as much as possible will be good enough for me. I don’t want to cause him any more pain.”

It was clear that Leene knew something about him that she didn’t. And since it was something that Lefiya couldn’t imagine that Bete would tell others easily, it was something he either entrusted to her solely or something she learned on her own. But one thing she did know was the bittersweet feeling to love someone and not have a chance for that feeling to be returned through no fault of your own.

So the Half-Elf rose to her feet and then embraced her in a tender hug. “I’m sorry if I crossed a line, Leene.

“…No, I’m happy to be able to tell someone,” Leene replied. “And it’s not like I’ve given up. I’m sure that one day, I’ll be able to walk alongside him. I just need to keep doing my best.”

That said, Lefiya finished with her hair and went back to her room. She bid her roommate, who had a reference book on magic, goodnight before closing her eyes. Sleep took her quite easily.

[-??????-]

She was dreaming again.

How long had it been since she had dreamed of sitting beneath the warm rays of the shining sun? Since she felt the gentle breeze washing over the fields and leaving her long and flowing golden hair to sway with the petals of flowers in bloom. Since she saw that smile as a calloused but tender hand reached out to stroke her face…

And yet, before that hand could reach her it turned to ash and scattered before her eyes.

The sun faded. The breeze died. The flowers wilted.

A child’s voice called her name.

A banshee shrieked.

Sitting upright in a jerking motion, an Elven woman shuddered nearly uncontrollably as she breathed out heavy and pained breath that filled the dark enclosure. Sweat lined the sleeping bag she had been resting on, a foul scent rising from her body that filled the stone chamber of the sick bay. Leaning her back against the cool stone, her mind raced as she tried to remember what transpired.

The last thing she remembered was that she had been visiting the Twenty-Seventh Floor. That barren place was where she and their squadron had been on a mission. On the way back they had been swarmed by monsters and ran into a cluster of Dark Fungus. She had been caught within the spore clouds and poisoned.

Her dull green eyes, their luster lost to the cruelty of reality and ringed by dark circles skimmed the room illuminated by two Magic Stone Lanterns. There were two other bodies in the room. But they weren’t moving, and she couldn’t pick up the sound of breathing. She closed her eyes and offered them a moment of silence when she heard sounds coming from the door at the end of the room.

Then it opened and light from lanterns accompanying a tall figure cast a deep shadow that stretched across the ground. The tenebrous darkness was bathed in a divine presence as she fixed her eyes on the God draped in black and gray robes. Eyes that were a deep purple hue skimmed the room before they settled onto her with a gaze that seemed to peer beyond her flesh and down to her soul.

She leaned forward and immediately kneeled. “Lord Thanatos. You grace me with your presence.”

“Ah, it’s good to see you up and about, my dear.” He stepped into the room while flanked by two of their comrades, all children who shared his Grace upon their backs. “I had felt the blessing of the others vanish and had some concern you would be joining them soon. Would we have had the antidotes to spare in time, but alas…”

“It was only because I had Abnormal Resistance,” she responded. “I can only apologize for their deaths. I should have identified the Dark Fungus ahead of time.”

The blame lay with her. Her thoughts had been back on the Twenty-Seventh Floor. Her grief. Her desire for revenge. They had distracted her until it was too late and so they had carelessly ran into the cluster of Dark Fungus that had disguised themselves while dealing with other threats the Dungeon presented them. The fact that their squad’s leader had still managed to get them back here in any form was fortunate.

The God of Death slowly rapped his knuckle against his cheek as if in thought while staring down at the corpses. “Yes. A deep purple hue, stained with a vibrant shade of crimson. And crimson with ribbons of jade threading it like a mourning band. Though their souls are no longer tied to my earthly form through the Falna, I’ve memorized the color of their souls. Once I return to Heaven, I’ll see that their sacrifice not be in vain.”

As one of the divine presiding over death and rebirth, Thanatos could perceive the Soul even while being trapped within his avatar here on the Lower World. Once he ascended to Heaven once more, he would no longer be bound to merely perceiving their hue and the connections of those bound to them on this plane. And through that, untethered and unrestricted, he would fulfill their dearest wishes.

They would be together again—all three of them.

“You have our eternal gratitude, Lord Thanatos.” She bowed her head deeply as warmth in her chest grew. “…Though, it is rare to have the honor of speaking with you directly. Should I presume you had need of me?”

He turned his gaze back to her. “That’s right. I have a few of your kin among my children, but I believe that only you and Dear Milia spoke fluently in the more archaic Elven Tongue. And she perished a short time ago.”

Milia had been a fellow Elf and Tamer, just like her. She had been kin, heralding from a distant forest who came to Orario. She had also lost one she treasured, robbed of them by this cruel and uncaring world. She had been overseeing not only Violas but also Venenthes, all of which had been killed by the Loki Familia and had forced them to readjust the operations on the floor and shift their plans.

“I believe at present I am the only one that remains within the Familia that speaks the Eld Tongue, Lord Thanatos.”

“Then I would have you act as an interpreter and guide for a time,” he explained. “An individual reached out through one of our contacts and enlisted our services to smuggle some associates of theirs into Orario. I would have you see to their needs.”

Her mind pieced together the request. The fact that she needed to act as an interpreter meant that it was an Elven contingent. The fact that they spoke in the Eld Tongue would mean they were highborn as well, but High Elves weren’t the type to leave the inner domains of the Forests so easily. That meant it must be others capable of those acting in their place. “I will assist in whatever way I can, but do you know what their wish is?”

“Something or other about Rakia. I’ll leave you to learn the particulars and help them with the planning once you’re back on your feet and on the surface so do your best, Dear Sharan.”


Fanfic Recommendation 110


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 30

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.


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A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

Summary: In the distant past, before the Gods descended onto the lower world, Heroes made contracts with Spirits to fight the monsters born from the Dungeon. But with the descent of the Gods and the advent of the Falna, those Heroes and Spirits have passed onto legend. However, with the discovery of a certain object in the Dungeon, these legends will return to life once more.


A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


A Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Ash falls back in time to Hisui.


A Fate Stay Night x Persona 4 Fanfic

Summary: A chance decision leads to an unlikely discovery. The mention of a rumor leads to an unbelievable mystery. And the connection to a long forgotten family leads to an unforgettable experience. Welcome to Inaba, Yu Narukami… or should I say Shirou Emiya?


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 30 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 30: The Opening of the Third Act

Elation. Joy. Those were the emotions that welled up inside of me as I cast my first spell, sending the wind called forth by the words bequeathed to me into the sky. Enraptured as I was recalling the feeling I had when I saw Mother first cast a spell for Father’s sake, I knew that this was what this Magic existed for—to protect my precious family and become the wind beneath his wings.

I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to show Argo. I had the power to protect him now. His dream wouldn’t be far off. So, the moment we were alone, I attempted to do so…

Only for him to be injured by the very same Magic meant to protect him.

—The Cost of Hubris

[-|-|-|-]

Hurry uppppp. I wanna catch another man before it’s too lateee.”

“I’m afraid the sun has already begun to rise, Lady Lena,” Haruhime said apologetically while applying medicinal ointment onto the bruised, coppery cheek of one of the youngest Amazons within the Berabera. “The district has closed for the day.”

Lena Tally let out a dejected whine before wincing as doing so exaggerated the pain of her bruised ribs. Amazons were adept at fighting through their injuries, adrenaline and excitement pushing the pain to the back of their minds. But she had just woken up from the beating she’d gotten hours ago, so she was still feeling it. “That Toad is horrible!”

The two of them were in one of the rooms within Belit Babili, the residence of the Berabera that served as the elite fighting force of the Ishtar Familia. Haruhime had been at work all night in her duties as a Kamuro, tending to the women’s needs as a larger than normal surge of men flooded the Pleasure District. Though they occasional prowled in a pack, during nights like these the vivacious Amazons would go after their own individual prey and bring them back here when they had finished working—the men they brought back here were for pleasure rather than profit.

However, Lena had the misfortune of bringing her prized catch around when Phryne had been active. The Captain of the Ishtar Familia had a habit of taking men who caught her eye even if one of the other women had claimed them. And while Lena tried to prevent her prize from being stolen, the difference in their Levels made it clear that simply wasn’t happening.

Violence between the Berabera was somewhat commonplace, being Amazons and such. But they rarely inflicted severe enough injuries to permanently harm one another. The typical response was to throw the defeated woman into a room to let her sleep off the injuries while the victor enjoyed the spoils, but Phryne couldn’t be bothered to do that much and Haruhime ended up moving her into the room while resolving to deal with the aftermath later on.

Thick indents around Lena’s lower leg showed where she had been grabbed, likely from an attempt at a kick that failed. The large, bruised section of her torso where the tawny skin darkened to a blackish-purple hue, was from being slammed against a nearby pillar. The discoloration on her stomach came from a follow-up punch that probably forced her to empty the contents of her meal considering the dried vomit Haruhime wiped away earlier.

Then there was how her cheek was swollen. It wasn’t enough of an impression for a punch, but instead a back-handed slap. But considering the Level difference that was still enough to send her sprawling into the furniture hard enough to shatter the frame—which the Renard plucked her out of before bringing her here.

The Kamuro could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for Lena’s partner to watch it happen before he was dragged away. She knew that Phryne had her own personal… lair, for lack of a better term. She would keep him there until she was done with him…

Haruhime,” a familiar voice softly passed through the door to the room before it creaked open. The morning sunlight spilling through the hall window outlined Aisha’s body as she stood there with her hands on her hips. “I spotted the damage out front. Was it Phryne?”

The Renard Kamuro turned and nodded. “It was a minor altercation between Lady Phryne and Lady Tally over a man. I’m tending to her injuries now with medicinal cream, but may I be permitted to use potions given the nature of her injuries?”

Potions and other expensive medical supplies were regulated on Ishtar’s orders. Part of the reason the Goddess of Love didn’t want them used so casually was that such fights were common enough occurrences that it would become costly, even with the ease they could make up the expenses. But it was also because she was anticipating the arrival of the final thing needed to wage war on the Freya Familia, and she didn’t want any sudden expenditures alerting the opposition before then.

Aisha’s purple eyes took in the scope of Lena’s injuries before she sighed. “Lena, take a few from the stock and use them in the shower.”

The young Amazon perked up. “But Lady Ishtar won’t like that, will she?”

“A few going missing won’t be noticed since the Toad is going to take a bunch to keep the poor sap she stole from dying given how sloppy she is,” Aisha justified, knowing how Phryne often left the men she captured. She’d put them through hell to get off, but she wouldn’t let them die since if they went missing after entering the district it would cause problems. Once she had her fun and made sure they wouldn’t talk, she’d dump them into Daedalus Street. “Besides, as busy as it was last night, I don’t think Ishtar would care much.”

“It was busier than normal around this time, wasn’t it?” Lena inquired towards Haruhime, who nodded once in agreement. “Did something happen at the Holy Moon Festival?”

It wasn’t unusual for more customers to come into the district during the Holy Moon Festival. Specifically, individuals who tended to be single and were looking to relieve the stress they felt upon viewing couples during the holiday. Most of the Pleasure District increased their prices in anticipation of that as well, so a larger flood of customers at the time was a boon from a purely financial standpoint.

“Apparently, Cottontail won some kind of contest and caught the eye of some foreign Virgin Goddess,” Aisha explained, her gaze shifting slightly at the sight of vulpine ears snapping upwards. “From there it seems to have turned into enough of a mess that his place is being guarded by the Ganesha Familia now. Anyway, hurry up and go take care of yourself, Lena.”

Lena got to her feet and made to do just that, leaving the two of them alone. But, as Haruhime finished putting the medical supplies away and prepared to follow her out, the Amazon shut the door. Confused, her ears inquisitively tilted as Aisha’s expression tightened. “Is something wrong, Lady Aisha?”

“…Hermes was present at the festival,” she began after a moment. “He departed after Cranel won, but from what I could tell Phryne paid a visit to his manor on Ishtar’s orders. She left both empty-handed and in a foul mood, so it doesn’t appear as though he had the Killing Stone this time.”

I suppose that explains why she went that far with Lady Lena,” Haruhime said softly, guilt lacing her tone. “If the issue of the missing potions comes up, I will take full responsibility for it.”

Aisha’s lips pursed tightly before it turned into a dejected huff at the fact that the Renard showed remorse that someone else suffered for the fact that she had a reprieve from her fated end. “Go get some rest. You’ve been just as busy as the rest of us tonight.”

“But I still have to clean—” Her words were cut off when Aisha tenderly placed a finger onto her lips to silence her.

I’ll have it taken care of,” Aisha insisted softly before she turned the door and nodded in that direction. “Head back to your room and go to sleep. I’ll come to see you later with breakfast.”

“…Have a good night then, Lady Aisha.” Haruhime bowed her head before shuffling her way out of the room. If she noticed the gaze upon her back from the Amazonian Warrior, she showed no sign as she navigated through the maze of hallways as she did nearly every night.

Never knowing when it would be the last time.

[-Twilight Manor-]

Elfy Colette became aware of a familiar soft sensation beneath her as the bliss of unconsciousness slowly melted away. It was the comfort of a bed cradling her body. But her addled mind couldn’t recall how she ended up there.

That last thing I remember was… Her mind snapped back into full awareness as the memories of what had to be last night came back into the forefront of her consciousness. Lefiya and that Elf kissing. Aki holding her as she cried before slipping her back into the manor through the window.

Her eyelids snapped open as she shot upright to find that she was in her bedroom. She lifted the sheets and found that she was in her clothes from last night. Then she leaned over the edge of her top bunk and peered down to the bed below to find that it was empty…

Pulling herself back up onto her bed, Elfy realized that it wasn’t just a dream. Lefiya kissing that other Elf. Humiliating herself in front of Aki. All of that happened.

There were no words to describe the depths of shame she felt when she remembered how she had blurted out everything that she had been holding onto until then. Secrets she hoped would never see the light of day had all been spilled out to one of her seniors. Just the very thought of it made her stomach churn to the point she felt she was going to be sick.

Elfy climbed out of bed and made for the door to head to the bathroom before she could vomit. But as soon as she opened the door, a familiar face appeared from further down the hallway. It was Anakitty Autumn.

The Cat Person smiled upon seeing her and raised her hand in greeting. “El—”

The door shut before the words could finish crossing the distance. Elfy found herself pressing her back against it before her mind caught up with what she had done. She whimpered softly, knowing that she was going too far but being unable to help herself.

Knock. Knock. Knock. That was when there was a knock on the door that was followed by a compassionate voice. “Elfy…. do you want to talk?

She didn’t. What she wanted was to just forget any of it happened and was tempted to remain quiet in the hopes that her Level Four senior would just go away. But Anakitty didn’t deserve that after spending last night comforting the younger girl. So the mage fought against her urges and opened the door, keeping her eyes to the ground as she apologized. “I’m sorry, Aki. I-I just

It’s okay.” Anakitty’s voice was gentle as she responded with that same patient tone from before. “I just want to know how you are feeling. Can I come in?

“I’m okay, but a little nauseous,” Elfy admitted before opening the door wider to allow her to enter. Once she did, the mage shut the door and then leaned against it while still looking down at the carpeted floor. She couldn’t bring herself to look the older girl in the eyes. “About last night, you didn’t…”

Feline ears twitched slightly before she craned her head in understanding. “Don’t worry. I haven’t told anyone. Last night stays between us.”

The assurance of privacy was enough to quell the rampant nausea in her stomach. Even so, she still felt a great weight upon her heart considering how much she had revealed. And then there was the question of just how much her senior had known. “What you said last night about holding it in all this time… has it been obvious how I felt about Lefy?”

Crossing her arms at the waist, the Level Four’s tail flicked before she inclined her head forward slightly. “Not in the way you think. Rather, it’s… the little things that added up over time. Sometimes when she enters the cafeteria while you’re there, your posture straightens up as if you want her to notice you. Or when the two of you are just talking, your eyes will linger on hers. And occasionally you’ll wear a small smile in a way that brightens up your face. Alone they don’t really stand out, but together they paint a picture of a girl in love.”

Elfy’s hand rose to brush the corners of her lips as she tried to recall those moments. The way she always felt then. Spikes of joy, fluttering moments of excitement, a sense of delight at spending time with her. She could feel her lips slowly folding upwards with the tips of her fingers. “She didn’t notice though.”

“It’s easier to notice all the signs piling up from a distance,” her senior explained. “Even so, it wasn’t like I could say anything since it wasn’t my place. It could have caused more problems in the end. The best I could do was be there for you when you headed off, given the fact that Lefiya hasn’t exactly been subtle either. She’s been acting a bit different as well.”

Just like that the memories of that kiss between the friend she loved and what she could never be bubbled back to the surface of Elfy’s mind. The small joy fled along with the budding smile. “It was stupid of me to feel this way even knowing that she would never look at me that way.”

Anakitty was careful as she gently peeled back her insecurities. “Because you don’t feel like you’re special?”

Tension and shame threaded the mage’s body and left her in a state of discomfort. “It’s not that I’m not grateful to others for everything they’ve done. I know how hard they’ve worked and how much they struggled to get there. But it feels like they’re so far ahead of me that there’s a gap I can’t ever cross.”

To say it was a gap was an understatement. It was more of a canyon, a gaping maw leading to an abyss where hopes and dreams were swallowed by the darkness. She was on one side that consisted of the path traveled and places known, where there were comforts and security. The special ones stood on the other side, heading off to the unknown with the sun ahead of them.

“And you were fine with that because that was what separated heroes from ordinary people…” Aki’s voice was quiet as she spoke. “Something about them allows them to cross that gap fearlessly and puts them on an entirely different level. Whereas you couldn’t even if you wanted to because your legs would stiffen knowing what awaits you when you fail. Is that it?”

It was as though she was reading Elfy’s mind. “Yeah. For me to even be part of the same Familia as them is something I can take pride in, even if there was no way I can hope to be more than a normal mage. But it’s different for someone like Lefy.”

Even if the two of them were stuck on the same side, opposite of those heroes, they weren’t the same. Elfy could only watch from a distance no matter how hard she tried. But for Lefiya there was a small bridge that only she could cross, left behind by Lady Riveria. It was narrow, and if she took one wrong step she could slip off and fall. But even knowing that she still moved across it at her own pace until she could cross the gap and stand next to them.

“I know she’s struggled so hard to get where she has,” Elfy continued, sinking down onto the ground and curling up once more. “She’s nice and sweet and works so hard that I can’t help but want to cheer her on. But, at the same time, I… envy her because she has the talent to make it that far.”

“It’s not just talent that allowed them to get that far,” Anakitty said, rising to her feet and coming over to her junior. “They have something that we don’t that’ll let them become heroes of legend one day. Something pushing them forward even though they don’t know what’s awaiting them. For the Captain, it’s wanting to become a beacon to his race. For Lefiya, I think it’s because she wants to live up to the expectations placed upon her. Even for them, it’s wanting to see the hero they admire so much in front of them despite everything. Everyone has something like that to push them forward…”

Peering past her knees as the Level Four crouched down so they were on the same eye level, Elfy found herself asking, “What about you then?”

Anakitty’s eyes closed as her ears flickered in thought. “I suppose it’s because I want to see the same thing that the person whom I respect the most does. Even if I can’t follow behind them, I can ease their burden along with the others by making the Familia as comfortable as possible for others around us. How about you?”

I…” She trailed off as her mind flashed back to her earliest desire. The desire to become a Mage of great renown. It was a dream that was never meant to be when she was in the same Familia as people such as Lady Riveria and Lefiya. No matter how hard she chased after them she would never be on par with them.

But that desire was still there. To, at the very least go as far as she could, even if she couldn’t stand next to them. The path that her best friend walked wasn’t the same one that she could follow, so she would have to find another. “I want to improve my Magic, so I guess I’ll focus on my studies and work on raising my Status for the moment.”

“Let me know anytime you want to go into the Dungeon for practice then,” Anakitty said while gently brushing her head. “I’ll make time to come with you. Okay?”

“If it won’t be too much of a bother for you…” A small smile found its way on her lips despite the turmoil still within her chest. “…Aki, thank you for being there for me.”

[-Backstreets-]

It should be around here,” Lefiya Viridis murmured to herself as walked along paved roads of the Labyrinth City that were neglected compared to the Main Street, her gaze fixed on a hand-drawn map. The Half-Elf, no longer under her guise as Feena but having the illusion mask her clothing to not draw attention, was traveling along narrow side streets that were smothered by tall buildings that seemed to jealously steal the light of the morning sun hanging high in the air. That left it bathed in the newly arrived autumn chill nipping at the exposed flesh beneath her illusionary clothing.

Her brother and his Familia had departed from hours ago, and since then she had taken it upon herself to act as a messenger. Specifically, she was delivering letters that would explain their abrupt absence to their friends and acquaintances. It was taking her around the city considering the different walks of life they all had, giving her an idea of their social circles and their lives outside of the Dungeon.

The first, and probably most disheartening thing she noticed was that Primo had no one to deliver a letter to. The Hestia Familia was essentially her family at this point, and she hadn’t made any friends outside of them yet given she had just arrived at the city shortly ago. Hopefully, she would get the chance to socialize with others around her own age at some point, because while Lefiya did enjoy her company she knew that the young Elf needed people around her who would treat her as a friend rather than a younger sister or student.

Then there was Welf Crozzo. His letter had been addressed to his former Goddess, along with one from Lady Hestia. Those she had to deliver to the Goddess of the Forge, who had apparently been expecting to hear from Lady Hestia since she had a part-time job there and was thus one of the easiest to get in contact with on the list of deliveries the Half-Elf had to make. Upon receiving the notice, she had sighed before stating that it couldn’t be helped if it was a request from the Guild and Artemis.

The Guild had been next on her list after that. Bell had written a letter to his Guild Advisor, the Half-Elf that worked there named Eina Tulle. When Lefiya arrived, she had spotted her in the middle of mediating between the Elf and Dwarf from last night. The two of them were inquiring into her relationship with Bell, which she maintained was purely professional.

At that point Lefiya felt the need to step in, so she asked if Miss Tulle could speak with her about an important manner in private and stressed the urgency. It had given the older Half-Elf the perfect excuse to shoo the pair off by reminding them that the Guild was a place of business and not for unfounded rumors before guiding her off to one of the soundproof rooms. Once there, Lefiya explained the situation with the letter from Bell and apologized for making it sound more urgent than it was but thought it would be best.

Those two had apparently been Adventurers who, much like Bell, had been under her guidance in their earlier days and had also reached Level Three at present. The fiasco and rumors from last night had driven them to ‘reaffirm’ that they didn’t believe those rumors about her and Bell, because there’s no way a woman as dignified as her would enter a relationship with a boy like him. It was both condescending to Bell and presumptuous given that it was clear they considered themselves more suitable candidates.

Lefiya committed their names to memory for later before explaining that Bell would likely be absent for the next month. Considering how often Adventurers disappeared and Bell had been regularly attending her lessons, which had been helping to shore up his lack of experience, it was natural to worry that he probably didn’t survive if he went missing for a month without warning. While Lefiya still didn’t know how to feel about another Half-Elf taking on her sororal duties, it was only proper to let Eina know so she didn’t worry about his sudden disappearance before handing over the letter and setting off to her next destination.

That had been the Hostess of Fertility. Bell had written a letter to the silver-haired Human Waitress there, who didn’t seem too surprised that he wouldn’t be coming by after what happened last night. Out of curiosity, Lefiya had inquired if Miss Ryuu had returned, but it seemed that she was still missing as well.

After that, Miss Mikoto’s delivery had taken her to the Takemikazuchi Familia, to whom Lady Hestia had also written a letter for. Lefiya’s appearance at their home had been unexpected, but the God of War had already been accommodating a Renard and Hume Bunny from the Soma Familia that morning, so it wasn’t an intrusion. He mentioned that he would work out the details with Lord Miach, whom she was searching for now.

The area that Lefiya was in now was rather dilapidated compared to the Main Street, a backstreet formed of buildings clustered that normally wouldn’t be traversed by a non-resident of the western blocks. It was virtually abandoned in terms of foot traffic, which she presumed was because most of the residents were likely at work, though she could spot a group of individuals with weapons leaving one smaller building that had an emblem with the outline of a human body—it was the Blue Pharmacy.

The Half-Elf made her way to the double wooden doors and stepped through it with a greeting on her lips. “Pardon me for the—”

Her words died as she entered the shop and spied at the end of the maze of shelves stocked with medicinal supplies a pair of women she hadn’t seen since the War Game. Specifically, the last two members of the Apollo Familia they had to deal with along with Hyacinthus. The Healer had a different staff than before but the fact that they were both armed and here led her to immediately reach for her spare wand.

“Easy there,” the red-haired girl said, stepping in front of the dark-haired one before reaching for her sleeve and showing the emblem affixed to it. The fact that her other hand made for the hilt of her sword didn’t elude the Half-Elf. “I don’t know what’s going through your head, but we’re part of this Familia now.”

As Lefiya considered the validity of her claim, the door beyond the counter opened. The Chienthrope with half-lidded eyes emerged from within along with her God. “Ah, what’s going on here?”

“These two are claiming they’re members of your Familia now,” Lefiya said, wand still in her grasp. “Is that true?”

“Though I hadn’t had a chance to inform Hestia or the others, these two children have formally joined my Familia,” Lord Miach stated as he came around the corner and interposed himself between the two sides. “You don’t have to be worried for our sakes.”

“They’ve actually been a big help,” Nahza added. “We’ve been getting a lot more customers since the War Game and having them being able to go into the Dungeon has made it easier to procure the Drop Items we need directly.”

Lefiya slowly put away her wand even as she bit down on the question that she wanted to ask. Namely, if they were trustworthy. “Lord Miach, may I speak with you in private? I have a delivery to make on behalf of Lady Hestia.”

He gestured towards the room he and his Captain had just been inside of. “I understand things had been a little chaotic since last night and had been wanting to ask Hestia about the details myself.”

She followed him behind with a silent tension running along her spine from the presence of the two young women until he shut the door. Then she breathed out a sigh and apologized. “My apologies for any disturbance I may have caused you. I had thought they may have been here to cause problems considering your involvement in the War Game.”

It wasn’t a stretch to say that the Chienthrope and her patron deity were as responsible as Bell was for the fall of the Apollo Familia. It was their contributions that allowed them to disable a good deal of the larger Familia with contemptuous ease. But unlike Lady Hestia’s Familia, they were much more vulnerable to harassment from former members if they were looking for revenge.

“There is no need to worry about such things,” he assured her. “As per the wager made with Hestia, many of those who were pressed into the Apollo Familia had their Falna unlocked and open for Conversion. I understand you may have some reservations about them considering you were previously fighting one another, please do not blame them for following the orders of their God. They had no choice in the matter.”

Logically, Lefiya understood that. Once you joined a Familia you were bound to the whims of the one whose Falna you bore on your back. Whether they wanted to attack Bell or not, they had no say in the matter since being a good member of a Familia meant being loyal above all else. It was harder to trust someone who openly betrayed their Familia like that Pallum whom Bell’s little friend imitated, so the fact that they obeyed to the best of their abilities despite wanting out enough to leave when given the chance only served to prove that they would be loyal to whichever Familia they joined.

But, at the same time, she still remembered her younger brother laying broken and bleeding that day thanks to the two of them, along with their Captain. That made her… slightly less sympathetic than she would be under normal circumstances. And a lot more suspicious.

“Please forgive me if this sounds offensive,” Lefiya began, “But it still seems odd that they willingly chose to join your Familia with their prospects. My own grievances aside, I could imagine many would have sought them out.”

Daphne had fought with two Level Twos with a decent level of competency considering the odds against her. And she demonstrated her willingness to protect an ally at the expense of her own health. Not to mention being one of the Commanders of the Apollo Familia, who had also participated in the defeat of a Monster Rex.

Cassandra possessed the Treatment Development Ability. That required medical knowledge in the same way someone who had the Mage Development Ability needed extensive knowledge of the arcane. And Healers were somewhat rarer than even Mages, so a Medical Familia would naturally seek her out.

Lefiya could imagine they had a lot of offers, so why did they respond to his? Though his appearance as befitting of one of the divinity was noble and immaculate, one could easily see from his clothing that he was not as financially well-off as many middle-ranked Familia. Much less on par with Apollo himself, who had extremely high standards considering the state of his mansion when Lady Hestia allowed her inside with Bell.

The blue-haired God of Medicine only smiled in response to her question. “I will admit that I hadn’t expected them to join my Familia when I made an offer given how high their prospects were likely to be and the situation our Familia was in. But despite that, they both agreed to join for their own personal reasons and have been very helpful. I had intended to speak with Hestia about it, but it has been rather busier than normal considering the War Game.”

“Then I won’t call into question their loyalty again,” Lefiya said before bowing her head. “Forgive me if it may have seemed as though I was overstepping my bounds considering my own involvement with events I really shouldn’t have been involved with.”

The Takemikazuchi and Miach Familia were aware of the extent she went to support Bell, including disguising herself. But as far as they knew it was merely because of a bond of comradery rather than familial ties. Even so, them knowing that much when not even her own Familia was aware left her with little high ground even compared to those two from the Apollo Familia.

“No offense taken,” he said. “Now, what was the message from Hestia that you wanted to share with me?”

She pulled the letter from her bag and summarized the situation about Bell departing with the others. He stated he would work out an arrangement with Lord Takemikazuchi since he couldn’t leave the shop unattended, and she offered to help in whatever way she could when she had the time. Then he gave her a Double Potion and saw her out.

With that, she only had a final delivery to make. The letter to the owner of a pawnshop that was also within another set of complex backstreets that Lefiya would probably have gotten lost in if not for the directions written down. They brought her to a one-story wooden building that had a rustic feeling despite being tucked between a few other stone buildings. Yet the moment she arrived at the door her senses felt a slight presence that somewhat reminded her of the Spirit Forest.

The reason for that was revealed when she entered through the door that was rather tight on its frame and locked eyes with a white-bearded individual beyond the counter of a somewhat messy showroom. No, not an individual. It might have been because of her exposure to the multitude of the Minor Spirits within the Spirit Forest, but though it was faint her senses were telling her this was a Spirit.

For his part, the Spirit crinkled his nose as he hummed to himself. “Well, this was unexpected. To what do I owe the pleasure a visit from one clad in such fine garments as yourself?”

“I’m here to deliver a letter to a Bom Cornwall, but…” the Half-Elf trailed off as she looked down to see that she was still disguised when his words registered. Her memory of what Lady Riveria had said when she had given her them for the trip surfaced and realization dawned. “You can see through the illusion, can’t you?”

“My senses aren’t the same as mortals,” he conveyed. “I’d appreciate you keepin’ that a secret from Lili, mind you.”

Lefiya realized that Bell’s little friend must not have known either that he could perceive through the illusion. Chances were no one would since the number of Spirits who had a level of sapience that allowed them to interact with the physical world and mortals in a day-to-day manner in this age were slim. “Of course, but if I could ask the same about…”

He managed to pick up where she was trailing off as she gestured to herself and the disguise. “My lips are sealed considerin’ I won a bit of a wager myself during the War Game. Anyway, you got somethin’ for me?”

She approached the counter and pulled out the letter before explaining that Liliruca would be absent for the next month. But as he perused the contents of the letter a question cropped up in her mind and her curiosity eventually overflowed. “Forgive me for asking this, but why is a venerated spirit such yourself present in a place like this?”

Her inquiry was met with a slight chuckle as he set the letter down. “Venerated, you say. You’re mistaken, I’m afraid. Even for those of us who’ve the minds to speak without a contract, we’ve no power on par with those in the Ancient Times to warrant being venerated. As for what leaves a Gnome like myself in a humble place like this… tell me, what kind of people do you believe would come here?”

Looking around at the storefront that was far more disheveled than most of the stores along the area she normally shopped, there was a great deal of variety in what was on display. From armor that looked as though it had seen many battles to little trinkets that held little value other than novelty, the only things that stood out extensively were the most expensive goods—jewelry, a staff, and a magic sword among them.

“I can’t say that there’s a specific group in particular,” was her response. “It doesn’t seem as though you cater to only adventurers or any race. The prices also have a large enough gap that, outside of things that are expensive for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t be able to tell at a glance.”

“Exactly,” he answered. “Mortals that walk through that door have different values and that can be reflected in what they take and what they leave behind. Trinkets that have little value to others may become treasures to others. Reminders of painful memories or broken dreams that can one day become the seedbed for another’s journey. From behind the counter of this little shop, I’ve been given a chance to learn a great deal about people I couldn’t otherwise.”

Spirits that existed in the world these days were merely shadows of those who existed during the Ancient Era and the Age of Heroes. That was because in that age those who could be seen as heroes were far and fewer between and, with no Falna to put mortals on par with the greater threats, the Spirits who aided them at the beckoning of the Gods needed to be capable of bequeathing them that power. But it was likely that the only Spirits that remained and were on par with those of ancient times were those who had fallen in the Dungeon. So what was a Spirit that had taken on a corporeal form to do in a world that no longer required their existence?

For the Gnome that defined himself as Bom Cromwell, it had been to own and operate a pawnshop. The customers revealed their values and what they held dear as the exchange was made. Whether it be desperation to keep going on by giving up something precious or putting all their hopes into buying something to chase a dream, their emotions were laid bare before him in the process and collected in the items he surrounded himself with.

“Though, I’ve found myself curious why someone of such standin’ as yourself went out of your way to enter a contract with two Minor Spirits,” he said after she took a moment to process his response. “I can feel their touch upon you, which is a rarity in this age. Surely what you gained from them is less than what your blessin’ gives you, Thousand Elf?”

Lefiya took a moment to close her eyes and ruminate on the question before she took Lady Lilo’s advice to heart and laid bare her true emotions as she spoke. “…I sought them out so I would have the ability to protect the people I care about. It’s undeniable that the two spells I received from the Wind Spirit and Sea Spirit aren’t as powerful or versatile as the three I gained through my Falna. But it’s thanks to their gifts that I didn’t have to sit back and watch as someone I cared about had their freedom taken away. And….”

She trailed off for a moment as she remembered Lady Lilo and Lady Riveria’s desires. Their concerns over the state of their race led them in opposite directions, one hoping to cling to isolation to preserve their numbers and knowledge, while the other would travel far to build bonds with the other races. Yet both of them wanted her to carry their Magic and culture into the future.

And Lefiya’s own desires were to live up to those expectations, becoming a vessel to carry their knowledge and traditions into the unknown dawn. “From our ancestors who struggled during those dark times to this very moment, our people owe much to you and your kin. The fact that I can preserve something precious to my race and bring it with me into the future is an honor. That makes the Magic bequeathed to me by your kin invaluable, even if to others they don’t seem like much.”

“Is that so?” His gaze lingered on her azure eyes as they met his unflinchingly and without any hints of dishonesty. Then they shifted back to the letter, and he stroked his beard contemplatively in thought before asking a simple question. “In that case… how would like to strike a deal with me?”


Fanfic Recommendation 109


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 27 – 29

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.

Take a Breath (Part 1)

Summary: Bell Cranel should have died on the Sixth Floor. But the one who came to the rescue of the neophyte adventurer was none other than a Monster on a floor she shouldn’t be on. And like that the Hestia Familia had become a family of three. (Demon Slayer!Alt Power) (Part 1 of 2 uploaded)


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

Summary: In the distant past, before the Gods descended onto the lower world, Heroes made contracts with Spirits to fight the monsters born from the Dungeon. But with the descent of the Gods and the advent of the Falna, those Heroes and Spirits have passed onto legend. However, with the discovery of a certain object in the Dungeon, these legends will return to life once more.

 


A Danmachi Fanfic

Summary: What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and found yourself alone in the world? One-shot!


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 29 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 29: The Close of the Festival

The first spirit that I was to make a Contract with happened to be a Wind Spirit. Of the spirits that gathered around Elio, it seemed like the most amicable to me in a way. So, I went about the ritual to try and learn my first spell from it.

I was nervous. Even though I wanted Magic so badly, I still felt that I would fail and be unable to do anything. And knowing the spirit could sense that as well, it made things even harder under Elio’s watchful gaze.

My nerves would have gotten the better of me if I hadn’t thought of what my brother would say if I failed. He’d probably tell me it was okay, and I’d get it next time with a smile. That was the kind of person he was, always smiling for the sake of others.

If he wanted to go where the wind took him so that he could help others smile, then I wanted to clear the path for him. I wanted the power to blow away anything standing in the way of his dream, to repay him for the life he saved without asking for anything in return. So, I beckoned the wind to grant my wish for his sake…

And the wind stirred as words drifted into my mind.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic IV: The First Spell

[-|-|-|-]

 

Wow, for even a Level Six to be unable to pull it out…” Bell murmured to himself as he watched the Werewolf depart the stage. He and Hestia had finished dancing and decided to meet back up with everyone when they had been drawn to the scene by Hermes’ announcement.

“Captain, can you try too?” Primo asked, pointing to the stage.

Bell jerked in surprise at being put on the spot. “Me?”

“It can’t hurt,” Hestia said. “Besides, if we got the vacation maybe we could all go somewhere fun to get away from the city for a bit?”

“If one of the Loki Familia’s executives couldn’t pull it out, what chance do I have?” Bell pointed out. “And if I did, wouldn’t that just put more attention on us while we’re still trying not to draw attention to ourselves?”

“Considering everything else, it wouldn’t surprise me if people were used to it by now,” Lili muttered. “And at least if it’s an all-paid expenses trip, we could take advantage of the absence to wait for the attention to die down.”

“It would be nice if I didn’t have to keep getting side-eye from the ones that still poke around,” Welf admitted as well. “And as far as candidates go, you’ve probably got a better shot than any of us.”

“I agree with them, Sir Bell,” Mikoto said.

And just like that Bell had been volunteered by his entire Familia. He really didn’t expect to be able to liberate the spear from its confines as he stepped onto the stage and felt a lot more eyes on him than he was comfortable with. But the moment he wrapped his hands around the shaft of the spear…

At last, I found you.

The voice of a woman echoed in his mind. It resonates with the divine script that appeared over the shaft in a manner reminiscent of the Blade of the Hearth that Lady Hestia had bequeathed him. But as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.

And the spear came unbound.

It… actually came out,” Bell muttered as he stumbled back, looking at it with a confused gaze. Then mixed sounds came from the audience. There were cheers from some, wavering between enthusiastic to polite clapping, and he could pick up some resentful scoffs from others who’d note that of course he would pull it out. Some of the resentment from the people who betted against him in the War Game he supposed.

“I can’t say it was expected, but maybe this was fate,” Lord Hermes stated, extending a hand to help Bell back onto his feet. “Now, let us introduce you to our sponsor.”

That said, the Ganesha Familia cleared a path and parted the crowd for a figure who made themselves known. It was a woman… no, that was wrong. Even from a distance, he could feel the air of divinity around her. It was a Goddess, whose hair seemed almost the same shade as the moon above them, drawn back into a braided tail. Her eyes were like emeralds that shone in the dark of night like distant stars, glimmering softly as they met his red eyes.

“I give you the Goddess of the Moon,” Hermes announced as she strode forward. “Artemis.”

Bell realized that was the name of his goddess’ friend back in Heaven. In fact, looking over to her he could see the sheer surprise on her face at the presence of her friend. But the moment his eyes returned to her, she had already closed the distance and was lunging towards him. He held the spear out to the side to avoid accidentally hurting her and freed his other arm to catch her on reflex, but he fell back in surprise while leaving her warm body and…other parts pressed against him.

I’ve found you at last, my Orion!” she declared before leaning her head in and placing a kiss against his cheek, which was only due to the fact that he turned his head in surprise a breath before their lips connected. It was a soft kiss, and from the touch of her lips he felt a mind-numbing sweetness spread throughout his entire head. Then he felt his pulse begin to race as she embraced him and pressed even tighter against him…

APOLOGIZE TO ALL THE MEN WHO ARE LONELY TONIGHT, COTTONTAIL!!!!

Only for the shout of an anguished male voice from the crowd to split the air. It was so raw with passion and fury that it grabbed hold of all eyes. It was one of the male Gods, eyes running red with tears while pointing an accusative finger towards Bell.

The Goddess of the Chastity who repelled all advances,” Jealous God A proclaimed. “The one who would bury an arrow in the eye of any man who would dare gaze upon her gorgeous figure as she bathed. The untouchable and unsociable pillar of the Virgin Goddesses… AND YOU DARE CLAIM HER LIPS FOR YOURSELF WHERE NONE OF THE OTHER GODS HAVE DARED! UNFORGIVABLE!

“Wait, I have no idea—”

Bell’s counterargument was cut off when a Human pushed forward. “THAT’S NOT ALL! I SAW HIM GO ON A DATE WITH THAT CUTE HALF-ELF FROM THE GUILD TWO MONTHS AGO! HE PRACTICALLY HAD HIS HEAD PRESSED AGAINST HER BOSOM, LAUGHING GIDDILY THE ENTIRE TIME!

That earned a lot of surprised noises from the crowd. The ‘flowers’ of the Guild were largely untouchable and Eina was among the most popular of those who manned the front desks. Being a Half-Elf, and fairly gorgeous, it was naturally some people would recognize her without her glasses when they met by the Bronze Statue early that morning. Bell hadn’t been very famous back then, but now that he had eyes on him that meant people would comb through their memories for both good and ill.

THE ‘ELL YOU SAY!?” barked a Dwarf that pushed his way to the front of the crowd while the Ganesha Familia members looked… confused by the sudden change in focus. He was actually pretty tall for a Dwarf, but he was built powerfully. Oh, and he looked mad as he grabbed the Human by the collar. “GOIN’ AROUND SPOUTIN’ LIES!

“N-No, she was even dressed in a white blouse and a short skirt as they walked along Main Street to Babel,” a Chienthrope added unhelpfully. “She was pressed against his arm and practically glowing.”

At the same time, an elegant-looking Elf confronted the Dog Person. He had long, blonde hair and a slender body. “Baseless accusation. Eina Tulle is the epitome of professionalism and refuses all suitors.”

“Hmmm…. I dunno,” said Mord Latro, rubbing his chin. Bell had seen him come up to the stage beforehand. “I remember awhile back my boys saw they spotted Cottontail with Thousand Elf together in the Under Resort. They were going around shopping together and smiling. Then there’s the whole deal with the Apollo Familia. He’s got a way with them…”

The worst part was, he sounded as if he genuinely admired Bell even as he condemned him further as the crowd began to stir. The murderous intent was actively building around them to the point here it felt like a bonfire was being lit underneath him. And he could just imagine how his sister would react hearing that….

Wait, I can actually feel her magical energy! His eyes actively tracked the sensation and found his sister standing there with her figure shrouded in a dark veil and her eyes glowing crimson. The air tinged with the magical energy as a magic circle sprung to life beneath her feet in a way that distinctly reminded him of the Eighteenth Floor and that had not been fun.

And considering the sheer amount of magical energy she was shedding along with the bloodlust, all eyes were drawn to the Half-Elf standing there and shaking in fury. Her azure eyes looked like flames as she pointed her wand towards Mord. The Level Two Adventurer flinched under her gaze that seemed ready to set him aflame with a glance.

I! WAS! REPLACING! HIS! BOOTS!” Lefiya exclaimed, punctuating each word with an unspoken promise of pain as her date looked surprised while attempting to calm her down. “GOT IT!?

Y-Yes, Thousand Elf, Ma’am!” he answered wisely as the tingle of magical energy still prickled the skin, like she was looking for an excuse to start casting a spell. “Please don’t shoot me!

AND YOU!!” Her burning gaze then shifted onto Bell, who went ramrod straight. “GO! HOME! NOW!!

“I do believe she is upset at the moment,” said the God of Travel calmly, as if he wasn’t in the line of fire for being responsible for the above incident, before turning to Bell. “Perhaps we should take her advice and depart? There’s a lot we need to discuss about your prize.”

Bell decided that would be a very wise course of action considering the Goddess still clinging to him. So he and his Familia very quickly relocated to their home at the Hearth Manor, where they were ushered into a room. The entire time he was traveling, and even now, Bell felt the sensation of someone watching him with an unrelenting stare once more.

“You’ve done well for yourself since that scuffle with Apollo,” Hermes said as he took a seat on one of the two couches within the Living Room on the First Floor and looked above the hearth. There laid the emblem of their Familia, a bell wreathed in gentle flames. “I’m glad to see everything worked out. You even have a new Familia member now.”

His eyes drifted over to Primo, who had taken to the couch opposite himself. She was flanked by both Lili and Bell while Mikoto was on the far end and Welf was standing behind the couch itself. She seemed rather confused about everything in general, which made sense given she had yet to have grown used to his antics.

“You could say the same,” Hestia pointed out as she gestured to the other end of the couch that she shared with him. On it was herself, Artemis, Hermes, and a young Amazon who seemed friendly enough as she accompanied them after they left the stage. “Who is this child?”

“My name’s Gina,” she introduced herself. “I’m a relatively new member of the Hermes Familia. It’s nice to meet all of you.”

“Gina here was recruited a bit before my current assignment led me out of Orario until now,” he explained. “Since she was relatively new, I’ve had her watching the Familia estate here along with some of my other children. She’s here because I’ll be having her to assist with the preparations.”

“And what preparations would that be?” Hestia asked, turning her attention to her old friend whose eyes seemed fixed on Bell. “Artemis, what’s going on?”

“Your child is my Orion,” Artemis told her. “I’ll be needing him to come with me outside of Orario.”

“Goddess or not, you can’t just come and take Master Bell off to who knows where!” Lili said while bristling in her seat. “Especially after the trouble you just caused for him! For all we know this is another Apollo situation!”

“First, let’s calm down and explain the situation clearly,” Hermes said, pulling from inside his jacket a letter and setting it on the table between them. “This is meant to be given to the contest winner—please note the seal on the front of it.”

They did. It was the official seal of the Guild, marking it as legitimate.

Bell carefully reached over and opened it before pulling out the letter inside of it and reading aloud. “To the one who has pulled out the Sacred Spear, the Guild hereby assigns you with a Mission of utmost importance—the subjugation of a Monster along with a coalition of other assembled Familia!”

Lili’s head twisted around at that as she leaned over Bell to peer at the message along with him, as did the others taking in the content of it. It was a Subjugation Mission that was to be carried out effective immediately, and as it was a Mission there was no way to refuse it. That was because unlike Quests that could be undertaken of one’s own volition, this came from the power of the Guild itself.

Hestia allowed her children to peruse the letter itself but instead turned to her old friend for confirmation. “So, you came to Orario to find someone to help you kill a monster?”

“Yes,” Artemis answered, looking over the spear nestled on the flat of the table. “My children and I had been hearing reports about monsters with an explosive breeding rate. Supposedly other Familia had been attempting to deal with them, and along the way, we met with the Astraea Familia. Together, we followed the trail, but the threat proved to be… difficult. So we turned to Orario for the one who could use the Divine Spear to assist us.”

“Even as we speak, Asfi and my other children are there along with Astraea and her children to keep the threat contained,” Hermes added. “The idea was that we would find a suitable candidate and hurry back, so arrangements have been made for said individual and a few others of their Familia to accompany us. The trip will take ten days to get there and that long to get back after the threat has been dealt with.”

Hearing that, Bell couldn’t help but feel uncertain about the weight of it. A monster powerful enough to warrant the intervention of at least three Familia to deal with didn’t sound like a job for someone who had only been an Adventurer for a little while now. “But wouldn’t a more powerful Adventurer be suitable, like Miss Aiz or the Braver?”

“Raw strength doesn’t determine who can use the Divine Spear,” Artemis told him, leaving forward and gently embracing his hands as her emerald eyes became fixed on his rubellite set. “The weapon chooses one based on their heart—one free of corruption and impurity. One who possesses a noble soul that can endure hardships and despair while retaining its purity. In its impartiality, the spear has deemed there is no other more capable than you. Thus, I can only place my hope in you, my Orion.”

Bell felt his words caught in his throat as he felt her touch on his hands and saw the look in her eyes. It was… how should he put it? As if she was lost in the dark and looking for someone to help her. And if there wasn’t someone else who could do it, then he would have to be the one who would. “I don’t know how much help I could be, but if there’s something I can do then I will, Lady Artemis.”

There was gratitude in her voice as she said, “Thank you, Orion.

“I’m coming too!” Lili declared unprompted as their eyes lingered on one another for a prolonged period. “As Master Bell’s Supporter, I go where he does!”

“I’ll come too,” Welf said. “If there’s a monster problem that requires Bell, then it couldn’t hurt to bring along the swords I’ve been working on. They’ll make his job a little easier.”

“I can help too!” Primo said. “I’ve been working hard on my Magic!”

“If there are no objections, I will accompany Sir Bell as well,” Mikoto volunteered. “That’s fine, is it not, Lady Hestia?”

“Any request from a dear friend of mine isn’t one I would turn down, Guild-mandate or not,” Hestia said. “And an empty nest isn’t really comfortable to me, so I’ll be coming too. You can manage that much, right Hermes?”

“Fortunately, we should be able to fit everyone,” Hermes acknowledged, before turning to his child. “Gina, get their measurements and then run them by you-know-who. I’ll head over to tell Ganesha about the count for the travel arrangements.”

“Sure thing, Lord Hermes,” the Amazonian Child said before hopping to her feet. She produced a measuring tape from a pouch on her hips. “I’ll start with you, Cottontail.”

“Not that I’m not grateful,” Bell began as she used the tape to get his sizes. “But if we’re all going, doesn’t that leave the issue of who’ll watch our place while we’re gone—”

The door to their home opened before he could finish, and a rage-filled voice followed. “BELLLLLLL!

In an instant, Bell’s body went rigid as fear found its way into his flesh like biting cold gnawing into his bones. His sister emerged wearing the visage of Feena, and she had changed her outfit’s appearance, likely to prevent her identity from being compromised when she left the crowd. But the flames shrouding her probably gave away that much.

Bell hands went up to placate her as the Amazon stepped away from him, measurements taken. “Forgive me, the situation is a little—urk!!

She had grabbed him and started shaking him by the collar. “FILVIS WAS THERE, BELL! SHE WAS THERE! SHE HEARD IT ALL! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA—”

Please don’t be mad at the Captain!” Primo begged her, coming over and attempting to grab on the illusionary clothes produced by her pendant. When her fingers went through them, she instead settled for grabbing onto her waist. “He only went on stage because of me, so if you want to be mad then be mad at me!

“Primo—no, this isn’t…” His sister trailed off, rage slowly cooling as she looked to the Elven child before she turned her attention to divinities present. “Lady Hestia, can I speak with Bell somewhere in private?”

“The Office will be fine,” Hestia said without missing a beat. “Take as much time as you need.”

Her grip on his collar instead moved to his wrist as Welf liberated the child from her waist. She pulled Bell along hurriedly until they entered the office and then she shut the door. Once they were alone, the Half-Elf grabbed her head and sighed heavily. “…oh Goddess, I showed that side of myself to both Filvis and Primo tonight.

Bell had observed that she was normally calm. But when she got mad, she got scary. Especially when it was at him. At least this time she hadn’t been aiming the spell at him…

“I’m… sorry about that, Bell,” she apologized. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper again.”

“No, I get it,” Bell said. “Tonight was special to you. And you got pulled into it because of me, so…”

“If it was just that then I could handle it,” Lefiya said, her voice lowering into a more somber tone. “But Filvis has a lot of… reservations and I finally got her to open her heart to me tonight. Then she had to hear all of that. I had to struggle to clear up the misconception as best I could by explaining we became friends after you protected me against that monster, but now I have to worry about her doubting where my heart lays right after we finally kissed. This is the worst…”

“I’d be happy to try and explain the situation when we get back,” her brother offered. It was one thing when it was causing problems for him, but it was another for his sister. And he couldn’t imagine how much trouble it might cause Miss Eina either. “Though, I’m afraid it’ll be some time from the look of it.”

She took in his words before asking, “What did you get yourself into this time?”

[-Living Room-]

“Hestia, who was that girl?” Artemis asked while the two of them were alone within the Living Room. Since the mission was decided and all the measurements were taken, what was left was for the children to pack their belongings.

“I suppose you could say she’s someone important to Bell, but other than that it’s not my place to say,” Hestia gave her by way of an explanation. “But while we’re alone, what made you change your mind, Artemis?”

“What do you mean?”

“You were against romantic relationships between men and women, right?” Hestia pointed out. “Yet you didn’t hesitate to kiss Bell and declare your love for him in front of a bunch of strangers. That’s pretty out of character for you.”

Being Virgin Goddesses, both Hestia and Artemis had eschewed pursuing relationships when they were in Heaven. For Hestia, it was the fact that it was part of her dominion to focus on family and tranquility as the Goddess of the Hearth, so it wasn’t in her nature to pursue a romantic partner while above. It also didn’t help that there were guys like Apollo and Zeus around, but she never truly objected to the union of man and woman.

For Artemis, it was a different story. She openly detested relationships between men and women, to where she couldn’t stand the sight of it. And while she could still forge friendships, she did struggle for the most part and found it easier to relate to beasts, so she would often hunt with them as a result.

Part of why she was fond of Hestia was because she was empathetic enough that she could understand and reach out to others as needed. Even if the other party struggled to do the same. The hearth was calm and peaceful, even during the most troubling of times, and even if she used that as an excuse to be a recluse in her Temple for the most part.

The Goddess of the Moon closed her eyes as she mulled over the words. Then, with a small voice, she asked, “…Is it wrong to want to experience it for once?

Hestia quirked her head at how frail her tone was in that moment, such a strong contrast to her usual demeanor compared to when they were above. “Don’t tell me that Aphrodite’s words got to you after all this time?”

Aphrodite was one of the Goddesses of Beauty that were around the same space as they were and would often pick fights with her. She had approached them one day to get on Artemis about how she was using chastity as an excuse to avoid being dirtied but was missing out on life by not allowing herself to experience what it meant to fall in love. It had apparently gotten under her skin.

“One of my children often told me that love was beautiful. She’d try to convince me, but I’d dismissed it so easily every time. Then…” She trailed off into a deep silence as she looked down at her own hands. “Is it wrong that I want to try to fall in love with someone, while I still have the chance?”

“It’s not wrong to want to experience something for the first time, but Bell won’t be able to reciprocate if you approach him one-sidedly like that,” Hestia told her. “Especially considering you’re a Goddess. To him, we’re to be revered. And while I want him to move away from that mindset, pressing him like that won’t work.”

“Then what should I do?” Artemis asked, which made sense considering she wasn’t familiar with what it meant to fall in love. Nor would she have many examples to draw from since she forbade it in her own Familia and had those who would pursue such a relationship leave.

“You should try getting to know him first and letting him get to know you,” Hestia advised. “That can help close the distance to where he’ll start seeing you as a woman rather than a goddess, though I can’t promise he’ll reciprocate.”

The Goddess of the Moon regarded her words carefully before looking to the emblem hanging above the fireplace. “I never imagined you would start a Familia. It seemed like too much work for you compared to before.”

“Well, part of that is because Hephaestus forced me to get a job after kicking me out of her place,” Hestia admitted. “My time here will be limited, and if I had remained as I was then I wouldn’t have a chance to experience half the things I could while I still can.”

Artemis’ emerald eyes softened as they returned back to the Goddess of the Hearth. “…Hestia, I understand a little better now about the decision you made coming down. The Flam—”

“Lady Hestia,” called from beyond of the room before she could finish. It was Bell’s sister, with him following behind as they entered the room. “Bell told me that you’ll have to leave Orario for almost a month for a mission. And while he couldn’t give me the details, I wanted to ask if there’s anything I can do to help like arranging for a friendly Familia to housesit to avoid anything from being taken or damaged?”

“Ah, right. We can’t just leave this place alone now,” Hestia said, rising up to her feet. Bell’s growth was abnormal because he was a Rare Gem. That meant information on him would be at a premium, and they’d probably look for anything that could explain his growth, such as the copies of his sheet that Primo brought up during their first training session.

And Welf’s forge would likely be raided, if not for his Magic Swords, then to stop him from making them. “I think I’ll ask if Take and Miach can housesit, but it’s a little late. Could I trouble you to deliver letters to them and my workplaces to explain our absences, since they’re familiar with you?”

“Sure thing,” she said, turning to Bell. “After I go speak with Primo, I’ll go make arrangements with the others so that if they have anything of importance they need to be handled, all they have to do is give me directions and a letter or something to explain the situation. You should probably think of everyone you want to let know about how long you’ll be gone too, otherwise they’ll worry about you.”

“I will,” Bell told her as she spun on her heels and went upstairs towards Primo’s room. He then turned his attention back to Hestia. “Goddess, is there anything in specific I should do as well after that?”

Hestia tapped her chin in thought before looking over towards her oldest friend and smiling. “Why don’t you keep Artemis company and show her around the place?”

The Goddess of the Moon’s head snapped up at that.

“We’re going to be traveling together so it’s good for the two of you to get to know each other,” Hestia explained as she strolled out of the room. “I’ll go get started on those letters, so feel free to take as much time as you want to talk.”

Leaving her first child and dear friend to get to know one another better, the preparations for the trip went rather smoothly as the night progressed. Hermes had returned after a bit and provided them with new clothes that were really good quality, and he had done it in only a few hours. All of them were rather lightweight but durable enough to match actual armor. So, unless they ran into something on par with the Middle or Deep Floors, they should be pretty safe.

Then dawn came with the sun rising over the horizon when they arrived at the top of one of the walls guarding the city through an entrance via the Ganesha Familia. The sun’s early rays were golden as they crept over the distant horizon that grew more vibrant with every passing moment. Hestia admired the sight when the sound of a dragon’s roar reached their ears.

It was time for her small Familia to depart and once more play their parts in what would be the next act in the Last Epic: The Slaying of the Black Scorpion.


Take a Breath – Part 1 (Danmachi AU)

Hahhh…. Hahhh…Hahhh…

Haggard. Hard. Fierce pants broke the thick silence as they escaped from lips that were peeled back to reveal ivory fangs that were dyed by the violet ichor. They were accompanied by the rise and fall of a small chest, pale-blue flesh stretched over an emaciated frame that was hidden by wild clumps of silver-blue hair. The bundles of strands were glued by a glaze of dark crimson that oozed from dozens of slits, dripping down to mingle with the violet pool that formed beneath small feet that stood amongst lifeless ebon corpses.

And from behind the stringy curtain of mangy stands were a wild, wide monstrous pair of black-slitted amber irises fixed on a single, white-haired boy.

He was sitting amongst countless stone shards from broken walls, splotches of dark crimson hiding the white hair that seemed luminous in the soft, green light. His breastplate sported long rents from which blood seeped as readily as the long tears in his jacket and black shirt. Staring wide-eyed with his back pressed against the cavernous opening, the boy held out a broken dagger as his arm shook uncontrollably.

The panting softened ever so slightly from the figure as their eyes met and the rose-colored reflection sparked recognition. Sharp, long claws retracted as tiny fingers curled into small fists and childish lips rolled over the protracted fangs. The shrunken iris expanded to become wide, and the brows drooped in exhaustion.

The broken dagger lowered slowly as fear was replaced with bewilderment when the figure turned around, hiding the lithe and narrow frame behind a dense curtain of hair that fell to the floor. Then a creeping, gnawing sensation ate away at his chest as they swayed with every glacial step over the lumps of ebony meat. Gone were the fast, frenzied movements that had been accompanied by shrieks amidst blurs of blue and black that left red and violet to paint the walls.

Now there were only weak, sluggish steps. Footfalls that took such herculean effort that they caused the tiny frame to shake with every step towards the mouth of the corridor. Until finally, with a barely perceptible whimper, they slumped over onto the ground and didn’t get back up.

Then and only then did a breath escape the boy who’d held it in his chest until then as the fear bottled inside came flowing out, directed towards another instead. His legs that had gone numb from terror found the strength to stand and then moved. Hurrying over the corpses of living shadows that were torn open to the point of stumbling and having to paw the ground like a beast to keep going forward, he came to a stop next to the shivering figure lying in a slowly expanding crimson puddle.

Then he gently brushed aside the clinging strands to see the face of a little girl beneath the crimson.

There, on the Sixth Floor, a boy and monster met.

And a family was formed.

[-|-|-|-]

Labored, heavy breaths escaped the mouth of Bell Cranel as he tensed his thumb and middle fingers on his right hand around the handle of his blade. There was a lingering pain from the constant extension and use. He’d have thought that the Falna would make it easier to do a thousand repetitions of the basics when it came to swinging a sword, but it seemed that was a bit much for a new Adventurer.

He was currently in one of the three training halls of what was the Takemikazuchi Familia’s home, having begun taking lessons under the War God in how to properly handle a weapon on Hestia’s behalf. She hadn’t taken it well upon hearing he nearly got himself killed on the Sixth Floor, though to be fair he hadn’t expected to get cornered by War Shadows either when the first five Floors were so easy to traverse, he made it that far without any problems. He wasn’t sure how she had gotten the agreement between them, but it seemed that he would make time for him to train every few days with the man.

It was different today as Takemikazuchi had to leave unexpectedly since something came up at his job. Bell had decided that even if the lesson was canceled, he would finish going through the drills since it was largely a repetition of three motions with the blade—vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. By practicing the basic motion on both sides over a thousand times each, Bell hoped to drill the proper way to hold the sword and then cut with it into his muscles.

He had originally used a dagger because it was among one of the cheaper options available at the Guild, portable and easy to use. But since the option presented itself, he had decided to try out a sword similar to the ones Lord Takemikazuchi’s children normally used. It was proving to be a bit more difficult than he expected since the sword was sharp along the edge, but it only really cut well if you made the slicing motion correctly and the grip was proper.

By the time he had finished the evening had come, its light peeping in through the windows of the training hall he was in. “Whew…

Catching his breath, he opened the sliding door that led out to the yard where there were several ajura trees. They were supposedly a breed of flora that only grew within the depths of the Dungeon according to Lord Takemikazuchi. The flowering blue plants had a strange luminescence and pungent yet poignant scent that seemed almost otherworldly, and he could only imagine how mesmerizing the sight would be in the dark of night…

It was then he noticed that the training hall opposite the garden had its sliding door opened. And there, on the other side, he saw a lone figure standing with her back present to the opening. Her short, black hair fell to her shoulders as she stood in place while taking long and deep breaths that seemed to move her upper body.

That’s Miss Chigusa, isn’t it?  She was one of Lord Takemikazuchi’s students, though he rarely had spoken to her given she usually wasn’t very outspoken. She was just standing there and breathing while there was a line of straw-cutting poles set up ahead of her. Was she supposed to attempt to cut through them in some sort of practice? But she’s just standing there breathing….

Breathing. Breathing. Breathing. It was as if she was in the middle of meditation that he saw the others do occasionally in passing. He didn’t fully understand beyond the fact that it was just something that they carried over from their homeland and was supposed to help them clear their minds and embolden their spirits.

He figured she was preparing herself for her drills ahead of time, so Bell made to leave quietly as to not bother her. But the moment he got ready to turn back the way he came, he saw her body nearly fall forward only for her to catch herself on one leg. Or rather than that, it was that she lowered her stance by pushing one leg back as the other bent while she huddled over clutching her sword—

Suuuuuuuuuu

—then there was a sharp sound. Almost like a steel blade being drawn from its sheathe. Yet her blade was still within its scabbard, the trembling reaching his ears as her grip on the handle shook.

That was when he realized it was coming from her breathing. She had changed the way she was breathing so that it slipped in between her teeth clenched tight enough to the point where they seemed like they would break. The very act seemed to cause her pain as beneath her soft, milky skin veins began to grow thick and bulge along her legs.

“Are you okay, Miss—” Bell moved over to her, fearing she was hurting herself somehow when she was suddenly at the far end of the training hall. Then the air popped as a shockwave came from inside of the room she was in.

And every target that had been set up slid down upon itself, severed and left to fall to the ground under its own weight.

I didn’t see her move. Bell hadn’t blinked. He hadn’t shifted his attention from her for even a moment. And from what he knew, only two of Lord Takemikazuchi’s children had reached Level Two, at which point a new Level One like him would just lose track of them. So how did she move so quickly?

Gwaaahhhhhhh….” His attention snapped back to her when he heard her voice labored as she fell onto her knees, chest rising and falling as she tried to catch her breath. “Nnnhhhh… gaahhh…

He rushed over to check on her. “Are you okay?”

Her head snapped up, bangs parting to reveal a surprised gaze as if she had only just realized he was there. “M-Mi…Mister… Cr-ra…nel? I… thought you…went home… early?

He didn’t see any injuries. It just seemed like she was struggling to get her breathing under control for the most part. “I was about to when I saw… whatever that was.”

She tensed up between breaths. “You… saw…?

“Yeah,” he admitted. “Was I not supposed to?”

She forced herself to sit upright on her knees, leaning close to him and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Y-You can’t tell anyone! Please! Not Lord Takemikazuchi or anyone else!”

“At least tell me what just happened,” Bell said. “What was that?”

She took a moment to finally get her breathing under control before explaining. “It was my Breathing Style. I’m still working on it.”

In her homeland, before the Gods came down, monsters ran rampant. In comparison to the monsters that existed on the surface today, these monsters were far more powerful as the Dungeon had yet to have the lid placed upon it and so they came spilling out freely. For every one monster that could be killed, often it would take a dozen or more warriors down with them even if they were just what one would consider a Level One category monster these days.

During that age, there were often only two methods of fending off greater threats. The first was the existence of Renards, whose clansmen were occasionally born with powerful Sorcery that could keep them at bay. The other was when the Gods chose to empower a chosen warrior through a nature spirit or by providing them a weapon of great strength. But what was there to do for the unchosen or ungifted?

The answer some of the Human swordsmen of that era came up with was to perfect a technique that would allow them to be able to fight the monsters with mortal flesh. First by polishing their swordsmanship to perfection. Then by incorporating a special technique.

“The name of that technique is called Total Concentration Breathing,” she continued, lowering her hand and hovering it over her diaphragm. “By taking a long deep breath so oxygen flows throughout the body, the blood circulation accelerates, and the body temperature spikes. It hyper stimulates the muscles, nerves, and organs so that they can operate well above the average capabilities briefly. The arteries expand to carry more blood, the mind sharpens, and pain becomes numb so one can keep fighting. This allowed the swordsmen who lacked a blessing or sorcery to exceed their limits and keep up with monsters of that era.”

“So it wasn’t like the Flame of Heaven or the Spirit Sword, but something that Humans came up on their own?”

She nodded. “It wasn’t commonplace as the demands to carry it out were great, even if the basics were simple. And against stronger monsters, many practitioners died. After the descent of the Gods and the Falna, more perished as they fought against the greatest of threats to finally be rid of them by combining the skills and development abilities to create what would be known as Breathing Styles.”

“I had never heard of them before,” Bell said.

“It’s not that you haven’t heard of them, it’s that you simply haven’t recognized them in the tales you may have heard,” she explained. “Most tales were written by mortals who may not have comprehended what they observed and so they could only describe what they perceived. And that was fine for the ones who cultivated them as once the practice served its purpose, it would be better left forgotten outside of family lines as traditional dances rather than be used as a tool of war in the bloody history that followed. The Falna already makes it easy enough as it is for people to kill one another.”

“Were you one of those families then?”

She shook her head. “The reason we know it is because of Lord Takemikazuchi. Even though the Gods couldn’t interfere often with the Lower World back then aside from their chosen, they still watched our efforts. And Lord Takemikazuchi is a God of War, so to see children come up with a method of their own to fight back against the monsters was something he took great pride in. So much so that he committed their acts to his eternal memory and, when we became family, he passed them onto us so that we would have a better chance to survive in the Dungeon.”

“Could you teach me?”

She pressed her hands together nervously. “Well, the basics are supposed to be simple in concept, but the execution isn’t. I’m not very good at it myself and I’ve been training for two years, so someone who hasn’t even trained their lung capacity would pretty much burn themselves out fast and likely get themselves killed attempting it in the Dungeon. Even telling you this much is probably crossing a line, so…”

It clicked for Bell then. He wasn’t their family. Hestia and Lord Takemikazuchi might have been friends and him teaching Bell the basics was a favor, but at most they were acquaintances. Even her telling him this much was probably a bit much as an attempt to give him enough details so that he wouldn’t ask the others and have them learn he knew that way.

“I understand,” Bell said. “We’ll just pretend this conversation never happened.”

It was painful how hopeful her voice sounded as she perked up. “Really?”

Bell nodded. “Every family has their secrets after all. And besides, I really shouldn’t even be here this late. I’ll head back now that I know you’re okay.”

Her shoulders relaxed, as if she had been holding a great weight upon them. “Thank you.”

That done, Bell very quickly and quietly removed himself from the premises to make his way back to his own home. Along the way, he consulted his memory on what he bore witness to. Then he opened his mouth and drew in a deep breath from his belly. It was like this, right?

In. Out. In. Out. He cycled his breathing along the way back home as an imitation of what he saw, but he couldn’t notice a major change by the time he got back. If it was as simple as breathing then it wouldn’t have fallen out of practice, even if it was around a thousand years.

No sooner than he stepped inside did the hidden door leading to the space in the chapel that Bell called home open, and from it emerged a small figure with pale-blue skin, wrapped in a white short dress. With little warning she bound up towards him and he had to extend his hands to catch her as she wrapped her arms around him to pull him into a hug.  “Welcome back, Bell!”

Gentle touches. Gentle touches!” Bell said with a strained voice while gently trying to loosen the child’s grip on him. She was a lot stronger than she looked, especially compared to a Level One Adventurer like him. If she hugged too hard she’d likely snap something on accident, and that was only because they’d trimmed down her claws to be on the safe side of things.

She was, after all, a monster.

Bell had known that from the moment he saw her on the Sixth Floor, despite how human she looked. She had been covered in wounds while ripping and tearing through all of the War Shadows that had surrounded him, her claws sharp enough to tear through them with ease. Then she had turned her attention onto him and Bell thought that would be how he would die.

But then she turned to leave and collapsed. The wounds she had sustained to that point had taken their toll, injuries he suspected should have been fatal to any normal human twice over. Realistically, he should have counted his blessings and left while he could as the matter resolved itself.

Yet, something about the expression that she made when she looked down at him stuck in his head and made him feel bad about holding a weapon against her. Then when he got a good look at her and saw her crying, shedding crystalline tears in a way no monster should be able to, he couldn’t see her as just a monster. She was an injured, little girl who was bleeding out in front of him and crying.

He considered dousing her in Potions and then walking off. It probably would have tampered down on the feeling he felt, the guilt of letting her die without doing anything. But the thought of abandoning a child in the middle of the Dungeon really didn’t sit well with him. So, despite everything he knew telling him that there would be consequences, he did the unthinkable…

He brought a monster to the surface.

Fortunately, it was after dark. He had a blanket in his bag so he managed to cover her on his back without anyone noticing as he managed to get home. It was fortunate that the place they lived was just off the beaten path, a rundown chapel to a goddess that never existed.

Hestia was… confused when she came home and found the monster there. They had only become family a little while ago and instead of something like a stray dog he brought a monster home. He struggled to find the words to explain the situation while asking her to calm down, because he wasn’t even sure how to begin…

Not at least until she woke up and started crying.

The reason was obvious in hindsight. She just woke up in a strange place, without knowing where she was or who they were. Lost, confused, and frightened, she did what one would expect of a child, and she cried.

And for humans and goddesses alike, crying children were a soft spot.

So Bell had approached her slowly and tried to soothe her with kind words and telling her it was okay. Hestia was a little more reluctant but did the same. Then she did something neither of them thought was possible and uttered three little words:

“Where am I?”

Things after that got… interesting as she managed to somewhat explain her birth from the walls of the Dungeon on one of the deeper floors. She picked up grammar fairly quickly and so he could only think that maybe it was something about her in specific. But, because of that, they understood the situation.

She had been attacked by other monsters, who smelled like her apparently, and there had been other people there too who had tried to take the gemstone on her forehead. Then there was a blank spot in her memory and she woke up covered in blood. She then decided to head upwards to get away from it all while avoiding people entirely and killing monsters that attacked her.

She had made it as far as the Sixth Floor when she apparently heard Bell’s scream when he was ambushed by the War Shadows. Her first inclination had been to ignore him. But then she saw how scared he looked and remembered what it was like for her, being attacked and helpless.

So she helped him. Yet, he had been scared of her now. It was then she realized she was no different than the others that smelled like her—just something scary that hurt others. Bell and his goddess then decided that they should at least find out what they could, so while Hestia watched her Bell would look into everything he could based on what they knew.

It took some asking around based on how she described where she came from to figure out it was apparently one of the Middle Floors, in a place called the Colossal Tree Labyrinth. That was past what was known as a Safe Point, a Floor where the Dungeon wouldn’t spawn monsters. It was the first one available for most Adventurers around Level Two, so it was far beyond his capabilities to get that low anytime soon and meant she was likely a monster within that category of dangerous.

As for what kind of monster she was, he learned that when he asked about any blue monsters with a jewel on their head and some Adventurers whose outfits had a crescent moon and glass emblem started looking at him like he’d struck gold. They nearly jacked him up to try to figure out where he’d seen a Vouivre, a species of Dragon and one of the rarest monsters in the Dungeon, before he lied and said he just heard about it in passing and wanted to ask about it. They’d tossed him like garbage afterward for getting their hopes up—which told him all he needed to know what would happen if anyone else found out about her.

They’d pluck off every last one of her scales that were haphazardly covering her body as she wailed. They’d pry her claws from her fingers and toes as she screamed. And then, when her body had nothing else of value, they’d finally rip the stone from her forehead (which would drive her berserk) before putting her down.

If they returned her to the Dungeon, monsters would continue to attack her. She’d never know a moment’s rest until something eventually managed to kill her. And if some other Adventurer found her then they’d attempt to harvest her body for everything of value, drive her mad, and then finally kill her.

There was nowhere she would be safe—no hope for her.

The thought of her suffering and dying for simply being born turned his stomach as her amber eyes stared up at him while sporting a wide smile as she nuzzled against his arm giddily. “Were you a good girl and stayed inside, Wiene?”

She had no name originally. Bell had come up with one based on one of the stories his grandfather told him. Hestia shortened to be more convenient—thus, she was Wiene to the two of them.

“Mm-hmm!” Wiene said. “All day!”

“Good girl.” He gingerly brushed her hair, eliciting a pleasant sound from her throat as from the opened door emerged Hestia. “I’m home, Goddess.”

She greeted him with a bittersweet smile. “Welcome home. We need to talk about what happened with the magic stones in the lamps below.”

The lamps below ground were powered by small magic stones like most of the appliances in Orario. Since they could be found in the Dungeon relatively easily it was effectively the primary export of Orario, and how even new Adventurers like him could make a living. “Did they burn out?”

Hestia shook her head. “Wiene ate them all. I spotted her after we had finished the showering and I was cleaning it up for you to use next.”

“Wiene, is that true?” Bell asked. It wasn’t that he doubted Hestia’s words, given she was the goddess he revered and took him in. But he wanted to hear it from her.

For her part, the dragon child seemed to understand that what she had done had caused some problems. Her instinctive response was to lower her body and avert her gaze as she confessed. “Y-Yes… Sorry.”.

Hestia’s gentle eyes softened as she came over and caressed the top of her head. “It’s not that we’re upset. It’s the fact that we don’t know why you’re doing it. You can eat our food, but the fact that you’re eating magic stones means that might not be enough. And there’s realistically no way for us to figure out unless you tell us why, since we can’t exactly take you to get a check-up.”

For as small and human-looking she was, since Wiene was a monster it was entirely possible that outside of the Dungeon she just wasn’t getting enough nutrition to stay healthy or some other reason. And, whether he liked to admit it or not, monsters killed and ate people. Wiene had killed other people, by her own admission.

She wasn’t in control of herself because they tried to take her gemstone, but she did kill them. And now that he had brought her to the surface, Bell couldn’t let her do that ever again. He likely couldn’t stop her if she started to be honest, given her draconic lineage made her far stronger, dexterous, and faster than him. But he would have to do something if she started attacking people, even if it meant paying the price for that with his life.

“…I might have to take her back to the Dungeon,” Bell decided, which sparked an immediate reaction as Wiene grabbed his shoulders and pressed her fingers in hard enough Bell felt it in his bones. “Wiene, gentle touches!”

Her fingers remained tense as she pressed her face against his chest and pleaded with him. “Don’t leave me! No more stones! Promise!”

“I’m not talking about abandoning you,” he said, wincing slightly as he navigated towards the altar and sat her down. “You could smell food in the Dungeon when you were on your way up, right? Yummy stuff other than magic stones?”

She nodded. “Mm-hmm.”                                                                                          

“Then we’ll go get some together and then come back home,” Bell explained before turning back to his goddess, whose brow was raised at that. “We can head there at night since no one typically has a reason to enter that late since the Exchange closes down. And chances are if we stay off the main paths we won’t be spotted.”

“Hmmm… it’s not ideal, but there’s not much of a choice, is there?” Hestia sighed softly. There just weren’t any reasonable alternatives either of them could provide considering the situation as it stood. “There’s always the risk of her being spotted as you’re traveling though…”

Hestia then turned to look the child up and down. She was taking in her size, in particular. “Well, I can think of one solution from a secondhand shop I visited a few times since I came down to the Lower World, but it might be a little bit of a squeeze…”

Wiene craned her head curiously at the statement in a manner that reminded Bell of a kitten.

[-|-|-|-]

Bell took a deep breath as he made it as far as the Sixth Floor of the Dungeon once more.

The trip down had been more stressful than he expected given that along the way there were still a few Adventurers hanging around. They were all Level Ones, nighthawks who had the idea to take advantage of the empty corridors to farm the top five levels overnight. Then when morning came, they would turn in their magic stones while the others were pouring in. Thanks to that, however, he didn’t have to fight as much on his way down.

Rustle. Rustle.

Hey, calm down,” Bell said in a hushed whisper as he steadied himself from the jerking motion of the backpack strapped onto his back. It was far larger than his normal one, but it looked worn and old and beaten up. “We’re not sure if someone else is still around, Wiene.

People smell above,” she whispered back. “Not here. Come out please?

Bell hesitated for a moment before considering just how accurate her sense of smell was. He knew she could pick up the scent of monsters and people to a far greater degree than any other monster he personally knew of on the Upper Floors, and the Dungeon supposedly got far larger the deeper you went. If she was from the Middle Floors and could navigate her way up without being spotted by any other humans, she could be trusted on that front. “Okay, you can come out.”

He crouched down to keep himself stable as Wiene hurriedly forced open the top before climbing over his shoulders and landing on the ground next to him. She was covered in a tanned robe with rather ragged edges, small enough that she fit them rather well. They, along with the bag, were at the secondhand shop that Hestia knew on the surface, goods that had seen use by other Adventurers and were discarded… or scavenged from the deceased.

It wasn’t ideal and the robes were dingy, but they at least covered her body. And they were made with some of the other racial features, like pointed ears, in mind. Between that and a band covering her forehead jewel, as long as no one got close enough to get a good look at her face beneath the hood when it was up, she could just pass herself off as a Supporter.

Of course, Wiene immediately pulled back the hood to reveal her amber eyes that were folded inwards while her lips pursed into a small pout. “Clothes stink. Take off?”

Bell shook his head. The dragon child didn’t like clothes in particular, though she could at least be convinced to wear the dress Hestia had given her without too many complaints. But it was a hard rule that she had to remain covered up given that the moment her identity was compromised everything would be over. Their little family would end up being torn apart.

“We’ll wash them later,” Bell promised as he brought the hood back over her head. “But for now, be a good girl and keep it on for me. Do you smell anything you can eat?”

A low, disheartened noise escaped her throat before she tipped her head back. Her small nose wrinkled as she took sniffs of the air, gradually lowering her head as she fell onto a crouch. Then she looked off further to the right. “There. Below.”

He frowned. “Below here? You mean the Seventh Floor?”

She rose back to her feet and bobbed her head. “Food. Lots of food.”

Bell weighed the options. He had only gone as far down as the Sixth Floor and didn’t have a map of that floor. Their Familia was poor and the ones at the Guild were expensive in contrast, so he had instead taken to drawing his own until the incident before. But after what happened he did take the time to learn what was on it and the rest of the Upper Floors monster-wise.

There would be new threats there with Killer Ants and Purple Moths, the latter which had a hard exoskeleton and the former which could poison you if you were covered in its scales too much. It would be risky going down there. But Wiene said there was a lot of food there she could eat. That meant that what they were feeding her really hadn’t been enough.

To not go would be to make her starve, and that wasn’t he could stomach. “Okay. We’ll go get your food. But stay close to me.”

They pressed on along the main route of the floor. Since their goal was on the floor below, he didn’t need to be concerned with exploring any of the alternative routes. The faster they went, the faster it would end.

But as they reached a crossroad guided by the direction of the smell, Wiene came to a stop and held her hand out to stop Bell as well. “Monsters.”

Bell reached for the weapon sheathed on his hip, fingers wrapping around the leather grip as from behind the corner emerged the living shadows made manifest. Standing firm on two legs, with elongated arms that gave way to claws that existed to cut through flesh and bone of Adventurers, multiple War Shadows crept from the darkness to focus their singular eye that resembled an ominous star on the pair. He whirled around at the sound of walls giving birth, the stone womb expanding to deliver another group behind them, closing the kill box.

A knot formed in his throat as he took count. At least six on one side and four on the other, leaving them surrounded in the crossroads. If they killed one set and rushed off in a single direction without knowing where they were going, they could wind up being cornered like he had been the last time.

That was when the dragon child spoke. “Wiene will protect Bell.”

She had already found her way to his backside, as if she was intended to cover his entire body with her tiny frame. The sight of such a slender young girl getting ready to throw herself into battle to shield him was enough to make him feel a bit embarrassed. Even knowing she was more than capable of doing so.

“Thank you, Wiene,” Bell told her, the hiss of Far Eastern steel leaving its sheathe cutting the haunting silence of the War Shadows shambling towards them. “But I can’t let you get hurt while I sit back and watch again. Leave this side to me. Okay?”

Then there was no more time to talk as the murderous shadows descended upon them.

Stygian claws gleamed in the light lining the corridors’ greenish walls. Wicked points were aimed to tear the pair apart. Driven by the murderous impulse that seemed rooted within the minds of all monsters, they would find flesh and stain themselves the vivid color of crimson…

“RRWARRR!” A battle cry birthed from a small throat was followed by her claws, which had been meticulously trimmed down, lengthening once more. She lashed out in a surge of aggression, leaving three severed torsos to be sent sailing in the air by the draconic claws in a single lunge.

Landing on all fours, her nails scraped through the solid stone of the ground as she turned her head towards the gazing orbs. It revealed a feral visage that consisted of amber iris, shrunken and slitted. Snarling, she pounced towards the first monster that had the malice to step forward and raked through its torso from shoulder to hip. Then, plowing through the corpse to get to the next War Shadow, the dragon child brought her other arm around to its head with such brutality it was like fruit bursting open after being smashed with a hammer, sending violet ichor splashing about as she continued her assault.

“HAAH!”  A limb was severed as steel flashed with an audible ki-ai as a gray streak marked an arch. Dark clothes slipped through the opening created in the formation, allowing Bell to break through the enclosing wall of claws.

In contrast to Wiene’s wild swings that made use of her raw strength as a Level Two monster to tear them apart in a single stroke, Bell’s swings of his sword were more fluid and numerous by necessity. The razor-sharp edge of the blade was his protection and his weapon all at once, as a diagonal arch severed a claw that reached for him as he slid his front foot forward and then pivoted the handle of the sword along with his body. Defense into offense, he then lashed out with the chambered arm and drew a line through where the rib cage would be as the sharpened point cut roughly halfway through its mass before passing out the opposite end.

He had no time to pay attention to the entire body disintegrating into ash as the small magic stone that sustained it was sliced out in passing, Instead, he readjusted his footing and used the blade to catch two violet streaks that came for him. Sparks blossomed and slight tremors ran up his arm where the attacks were intercepted, but then he used his left hand at the bottom of the handle to reorient the blade and swung down while adjusting his footing to add to the motion.

The shadow split open, a diagonal parting of flesh that ran down the torso until it met where the stomach would be before he slid backward and maintained his stance as the blade came free. It proved to be the right call as the flashing of stygian claws tore through the corpse in an attempt to cut him down, the remaining War Shadow’s attempt met with a thrust of the point that pierced through the ominous orb that served as its eye. Bell then tore it free upwards, leaving it to fall while he stood ready for the next assault.

None came as Wiene finished wrenching free her tiny hand from the gaping hole she tore through one before it turned to ashes. She looked around, her ears twitching, before turning back to Bell with a childish smile being while being drenched in monster blood. “Wiene protected Bell!”

“… That’s right,” Bell told her after a slight pause as he remembered to breathe, filling his lungs not to expand his chest outwards but letting it flow into his diaphragm like he’d seen Chigusa do. He didn’t know if it would merit results as it did for her, but it couldn’t hurt.  Then he reached over and used the hem of his jacket to wipe her face clean before patting her head. “There will be more ahead, so we’ll need to be careful. And if you hear any people around, let me know immediately.”

She nodded enthusiastically at the affection. “Promise!”

And with that, the two ventured deeper into the Dungeon.

[-|-|-|-]

Welcome home, you two,” said a soft, slightly tired voice the moment they stepped through the entrance of the Abandoned Church they called home just before the crack of dawn. Thanks to it being located in the slums and off the main streets, they managed to avoid any prying eyes as they emerged from the Dungeon shortly ago after venturing to the Seventh Floor.

“Goddess, did you wait up for us all this time?” Bell asked, naturally concerned given the time she normally woke for work. She would have been up for nearly a full day at this point. “What about your job?”

“What mother wouldn’t wait up for her children with concern when they were going back to a place they had so much trouble in before?” Hestia said, rubbing one of her eyes. “I sent word to my boss to say I won’t make it today. Did you find food for Wiene?”

“Lots and lots,” Wiene said cheerfully as she skipped forward, clad in clothes that were awash in various hues of monster blood and purple powder. “All full now!”

“Wiene, take off your clothes first. We don’t want any of that to get on Goddess—” She was already stripping before he started the second sentence, leaving him to avert his eyes as he shifted topics as well. “There’s a place called a Pantry on the Seventh Floor that had something coming out of the crystal pillar there. I packed as much as I could in some bottles, and she drank from the pool until she was full. So we should be good for a little while.”

He neglected to mention she had also eaten Poison Moths that had been trying to cover her in the purple powder. She largely seemed to have shrugged it off and simply settled for snatching them out of the air before eating them. The texture was crunchy, according to her.

Again, he chalked it up to her being a Level Two monster from the dragon family.

“That’s great, but now you both need a bath,” Hestia said as she caught Wiene who rushed up to hug her affectionately. She had clearly missed the Goddess of the Hearth, and the feeling was reciprocated as Hestia gently brushed her head. “I’ll take her with me first and then you can come in afterward.”

“Watch your nails, Wiene,” he said as they went down to the bathroom to wash up while he took to dealing with the other tasks that needed sorting out. He needed to clean his blade, their clothes needed to be set aside so they could be washed, the food for her preserved, and the drop items from the various things that had tried to kill them sorted out to be taken to the Exchange in the afternoon.

By the time he’d finished and gotten to take his bath, Bell felt tired and wanted nothing more to get to sleep. But before he could hit the couch, Wiene grabbed his hands and pulled him into bed with them. She wanted them to sleep together.

He felt obligated to try to say it wasn’t appropriate, but his Goddess insisted that they just do it so they could all get a good night’s rest as a family. So he laid on the bed with the dragon child between them, her nails chewed down somewhat hastily by her at some point while they were bathing to prevent her from hurting them by mistake. She fell asleep rather quickly, a content smile on her face.

It’s hard to believe she’s a monster when she’s like this, isn’t it?” Hestia whispered.

Yeah,” Bell agreed, even as her brutality flashed in his mind. Those same tiny hands and slender arms that crushed the head of a Needle Rabbit like it was nothing were balled into her chest as she breathed softly. “Goddess, are you really okay with this?”

Yes,” Hestia told him without reservation. They both knew the risks of what they were doing, but to her it didn’t even register as a problem anymore. “Even if it might be a little weird, I’m happy to have a family like this after being alone for so long. I think that maybe it was fate that we all found each other, don’t you?

A Goddess rejected by child after child for not being able to provide stability with so little to her name.

A boy left without a home after arriving, unable to fulfill his dream.

A child with the world and everything in it against her.

It was a thread of loneliness that bound them together like the Red String of Fate. It connected Hestia to Bell when she took him in, a mother finding a son to treasure. It connected Bell to Wiene when she rescued him, a little sister looking for a brother in this uncaring world. And it connected Wiene to Hestia, a daughter that only a divine being whose very nature was the warmth of a hearth found in a home could accept without hesitation.

It was a thread that was thick and grew thicker with each passing day. But as it was now, something could easily sever it from the outside. And he couldn’t keep relying on her to protect him all the time, putting herself at risk.

He had to get stronger with what he could.

He had to protect his little family.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 28 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 28: Holy Moon Festival – Night

Elio meticulously drilled more knowledge into me as more time passed. At least three seasons by my count. Every spirit had preferences and quirks, but because they couldn’t communicate with words the one responsible for recognizing the signs was the other party.

I understood that his lessons were important. But as a child who noticed her brother’s hair getting longer, that he was aging right before her eyes, I began to feel anxious that… that he really did trade his future for mine. So, I begged Elio to at least let me prove I knew what I was doing, hoping to show that I was ready to be able to use Magic.

To my surprise, he agreed.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic III: Preparations

[-|-|-|-]

 

Lefiya found it difficult to sit still as she stared at the rising moon.

Stars lined the night sky, glittering diamonds strewn across the dark curtain of the boundless expanse. The luminous pale-blue moon that was revered since before the descent of the divine was larger than usual, close enough that from a distance it seemed to almost be touching the tower that rose to the heavens. Its silvery-blue rays were cast down strongly upon the Labyrinth City, leaving the streets and buildings awash in the gentle hue.

She should be here soon. The Half-Elf felt impatient despite the calming babbling of the water fountain just behind her drowning out the ambient noise of the other people loitering about in various states of excitement and nervousness within the Central Square. Because the Tower of Babel was at the heart of Orario, the plaza around it served as a common gathering place during events like these where individuals from different lots in life would meet before heading off to be with one another.

Lefiya’s appearance drew the gaze of others as a natural consequence of the measures she took in preparation for the occasion after she finished her training session with Alicia. Her hair, lustrous thanks in part to a conditioner, was set in a flowing ponytail and kept bound by a silver hairband. It matched the choker around her neck and armbands just beneath her shoulders, each one of them emblazoned with ivy and floral designs that caught the light from the moon and the magic-stone lamps nearby. Just beneath it was the pendant that Lord Hermes gifted her, which she took advantage of to disguise her clothing as to not draw attention from her Familia on the way out.

Her skin, pristine with a healthy glow from the use of the cream Alicia lent her, was adorned in a pale-green corset dress with a longer skirt in lieu of her usual pink one. Her blouse and skirt were a matching cream-colored pair, and her shoes were a dainty green set that fit comfortably over somewhat more revealing stockings than her normal pair. Altogether her appearance emphasized the elegance and beauty of the Elven race to the eyes of many there.

There were more lustful looks from younger men whose dates would be very displeased with them. But none of them dared approach her carelessly since if a woman was dressed in such a manner here it meant she was awaiting someone. Plus, she had her spare wand in her lap as a silent deterrent from anyone getting funny ideas.

A general rule of thumb in Orario was to pay attention to anything that looked like it could also be used as a weapon when you planned to approach someone. That was one of the key methods of seeing if they were an Adventurer since even a child could be a threat with the Falna. What seemed to be a hairpin keeping one’s hair up could easily double as a stiletto, and metal bands could double as knuckledusters. There was an entire part of the fashion industry in Orario that catered to female Adventurers that catered to combat accessories, after all.

Step. Step… Step… Step. Step…

Soft, uncertain footfalls reached Lefiya’s ears as she continued to wait while staring up at the moon above. They were a notable contrast to the playful steps, excited jaunts, and eager shuffling off in the distance as couples and friends gathered to head off and enjoy the festivities. And as they came closer, she finally turned her head towards the sound and registered her date had arrived.

The Elf with the moniker of Maenads stood at the edge of the fountain, a few meders of distance between them that may as well have been a world away with how reluctant she seemed. Her very posture exuded an air of nervousness that seemed almost foreign for one who had braved the depths of the Dungeon as she had. More so from the slight tremors rolling through her figure as she clasped the hem of what was an entirely different garment than her usual set, or even the one she wore in the Spirit Forest.

Cute…” The words slipped out without conscious thought on the Half-Elf’s part as she rose to her feet. And the way they made her date fidget as crimson blushed upon her alabaster cheeks only accentuated how cute she was. “You’re so cute, Filvis!”

My Lord… gave it to me…” she muttered so softly that Lefiya strained to catch her voice.  “I was going to wear the clothing I had from the Spirit Festival, but he said that they were more suited to his colors. And I should dress to match my partner, so…

It wouldn’t surprise Lefiya if Lady Riveria had that in mind when she had the outfits prepared, should she choose to continue to wear them outside of the festival. It was practical for Dungeon wear as well, being made of very durable materials. But given that Filvis confessed to Lord Dionysus, and he seemingly rejected her, it would probably have been perceived as a slight to present herself to Lefiya while in them.

So, he arranged for her to get an outfit that came closer to Lefiya’s preferences, as she had once told Lady Hestia. That was to say it was a layered dress suitable for nobility. And lots of frills.

Her outermost layer was a purple cowl in the same color as the ribbon Lefiya normally wore, with a large pink bow nestled over it. It had long sleeves that came down to a decorative white hem with long gloves of the same color preventing her bare skin from exposure. Resting on top of the dark lustrous strands of her raven black hair was a hairband of plain design that was also purple, like the rest of the first layer of the dress.

The second layer was a thinner, pink fabric with a white horizontal line near the edges that fed into frills beneath it. That design complimented the next layer, which inverted the colors to have mostly white fabric with a pink vertical line before coming to yet another set of frills that were purple like the outermost layer. The white stockings and purple shoes rounded out her outfit, making it perfect for a romantic evening like this.

It doesn’t suit me, does it?” asked the Cute Elf, her scintillating crimson eyes averting from the dazzling azure pair fixated on her.

“That’s not true,” Lefiya said without hesitation as she closed the gap between them and grasped her hands. “You look so gorgeous that I can’t help but feel my heart jump in my chest when I see you like this.”

Her words only served to deepen the red on Maenads’ cheeks. It spread out to encompass her face and steam poured out of her ears. “H-How can you admit that with a straight face!?”

The Elegant Half-Elf simply giggled. “Ehehe… since you’re here tonight I don’t have to hide how I feel, right?”

Those words seemed to have the opposite effect than intended, as rather than loosen her up, her expression soured ever so slightly. “That’s right… I owe you an explanation, don’t I?”

Lefiya’s head tilted slightly at the sudden change as her partner looked around for someplace quiet and then pulled her along. “Filvis, what’s wrong?”

It was only once they were alone that she took a breath and explained things. “Lefiya, you… must understand even before what happened to me in the past, I never really considered the notion of falling in love. Not with Lord Dionysius. Not with you. Not with anyone. It was… something I just never considered as a priority.”

That was understandable. There were plenty of reasons to become an Adventurer, whether it was for riches or fame or companionship. While she didn’t know Filivis’ reason for leaving her home forest to come to Orario, it had to be a reason great enough that she gave up the freedom to leave when she joined a Familia and gave her consent to the God who took her in.

Filvis’ gloved hands reached up to her upper arms and grasped them tightly, as if to hold herself as she diverted her gaze to the ground. “And after the Nightmare… I gave up on the notion entirely and put a wall around my heart. Unable to protect the Familia members I led into that trap, or even die with them, I was not worthy of anyone. I still don’t feel like I am, to be honest.”

Hearing her confession on her survivor’s guilt hurt to listen to. Lefiya reached up to touch her, but before her fingers could reach the Maenads shook her head. “Filvis…

“Please, let me finish,” she begged. “If you console me now, I won’t be able to go on and I need you to hear this.”

She reluctantly agreed to do so. “Okay.”.

Filvis swallowed a lump in her throat and kept going. “Even today I am reminded by the empty rooms in our home of the Familia members I led that day to their deaths. Many other parties I worked with all perished while relying on me. Banshee is an appropriate title for me, in that regard.”

It hurt listening to her say that again. So much so that Lefiya had to bite down on her lower lip to avoid telling her she was wrong. But she had to keep her promise and let her get it off her chest.

“But, in spite of that, Lord Dionysus never abandoned me,” Filvis continued. “He accepted me, an empty shell of a ruined being that was impure beyond belief. He never stripped me of my position or blamed me. He was grateful that I came back, and he accepted that I was part of his Familia. That was when I fell for him, even though I knew those feelings likely wouldn’t be returned—his love for me was not the same as mine for him.”

Lost in grief with death surrounding her, yet he still extended his hands and embraced her with open arms. It was natural she would fall in love with him. Lefiya knew that and didn’t blame her for it, since she could imagine doing the same thing if the circumstances were the same.

The Maenads bought her hands to her chest. “But even though having him accept me gave me purpose and made living like this bearable, I had forgotten many things. How to smile. How to laugh. How to feel joy. I lost them all and felt like I didn’t deserve them in the first place, so I was fine with that. Then…

Her voice cracked, leaving her to trail off for a moment to catch her breath. Her crimson eyes then met with Lefiya’s and bore into them. She was trying to convey the depths of her emotions in the event that her words failed her.

“Then… even knowing I was responsible for so much death…  you took my hand. You opened your heart to me, put your trust in me, and continued to stay by my side no matter how much I tried to push you away. You accepted me and…for the first time in a long time… I felt happy and warm inside.”

The Half-Elf’s memories flashed back to that day on the Eighteenth Floor. It seemed distant for only being a short time ago, but the memory was still vivid. She recalled how Filvis had turned her back to her, telling her not to associate with her because she was tainted and would lead to her death as well.

Lefiya had struggled to find words. Any words that could help her. Any words that would stop her for her own sake, so that she didn’t continue to suffer. Anything to help her. So, when her mind failed her, she listened to her heart and let it speak where her mind couldn’t.

You’re not sullied. You are the most beautiful person in the world.

The words had no reason behind them. They had only met a short time ago and barely knew each other. But despite that those words came from her heart and continued to flow out. If she didn’t know much about her then she would find out more about her from that day.

And there, after an awkward and painful silence where she believed that she had humiliated herself, she saw it for the first time. She saw Filvis’ smile and knew that she was right. There had been nothing more beautiful to her.

“We’ve gone through so much since then and my feelings have only grown,” Filvis stated. “The darker part of me was always waiting for you to say you didn’t mean it that way or anything that would let me think it was just my heart playing tricks. But after the Spirit Festival, I couldn’t ignore the truth that it wasn’t just a friendship between brethren when you tried to… kiss me…”

Lefiya really had lost her self-control then. It could have turned out so much worse if she had read Filvis wrong. And in front of a bunch of other Elves when she was representing Lady Riveria. It would have been the Alicia incident all over, only this time she really would have felt like dying.

“I was torn between the two of you because I owe you both so much and you’re the only two who have coaxed these feelings from deep inside of me. However, I had no desire to be so greedy as to want both of you when I didn’t really feel worthy of either of you to begin with. You both deserve someone you can dedicate your hearts to in full, and while I still had reservations, I wanted to at least ensure I could do that much for at least one of you.”

The fact that Filvis was in front of her made it clear how that had gone. So Lefiya wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to remain silent. Rejection was hard, especially when it came to the heart. Even being here was no doubt difficult for her.

“Lord Dionysus told me that he loved me as Familia,” she confessed. “He loves us all in his own way, though it may not seem like it at times. To him, we are all important in our own way, and so long as he remained on the Lower World it would be wrong to accept my love jealously and steal my future from me when his life was eternal whereas mine was not.”

Elves lived a long time. Far longer than most other races on the Lower World. But the Gods and Goddesses lived for eternity. The gap between the lifespans was as vast as that of a Human and a Pure-Blooded Elf, but that didn’t mean such a gap couldn’t be breached—after all, Lefiya wouldn’t have been born if that was the case.

But it did mean that they would have to part ways, and one would have to live without the other until the end of their days. For Elves, grief and longevity did not mix well, but they would eventually die and be reborn. For an immortal being, that end would never come, and they would have only two options in the end.

The first was to put up with the pain of the loss for the rest of their existence, which would be agonizing considering how painful loss could be. The second was to decide to return to Heaven with them to keep their soul by their side, giving up on their place here below and the rest of the children they left behind. Knowing that, any single child wishing for their love to be returned would be seen as selfish when the deities were so much more than them.

Even so, many children did yearn for their deity’s affection. To have their love be truly returned in earnest. It was beautiful in its own way—painful and bittersweet, but beautiful.

“I had given up on thoughts of a future outside of serving Lord Dionysus, who accepted me despite my failings. But I want to see how a future would be with you,” Filvis finished. “I am sorry if it sounds like I’m clinging to you to feel something again, and if you wish to part ways with me for being so self—”

Unable to hold her tongue anymore, Lefiya finally slipped up and let her voice out. “Don’t finish saying that. Otherwise, I really will get mad at you.”

Her sudden warning caught the Maenads off-guard. “L-Lefiya?”

Even so, the Half-Elf let out her thoughts. “It’s only natural to feel the way you do after all you’ve gone through. To cling to someone who accepted you and give you even the little things that make life worth living. And it’s not like I don’t know what it feels like to have survived when others have died in your place. You were there too.”

She hadn’t even known the members of the Hermes Familia very well. Yet when she asked them to protect her, they did so without hesitation. As she stood there, unable to move due to the accumulation of magical energy while finishing her spell, she should have died when the attack came towards her.

Yet she lived because Miss Elilly threw herself in front of the attack. Covered in the woman’s blood and forced to watch the life fade from her eyes as she continued to sing, Lefiya still wished she had been better so that never needed to happen. And if she didn’t continue getting stronger, someday that scene could play out again… only for it be her brother or Filvis or someone else she cared about instead.

“…Filvis, it’s natural to cling to whatever you can to feel happy,” Lefiya said after a deep breath to rein in her emotions. “So don’t apologize for that ever again. If not for your own sake, then for those who aren’t there anymore. And for those who care about you, like me.”

Shame and guilt clouded Filvis’ beautiful face. It didn’t suit her, and Lefiya hated she had been the cause. But if she said nothing then it would have been the same as allowing her to keep thinking it was wrong to be happy. And that was wrong.

To be happy, we cling to what we must. No matter what that might be… or the price of it.” It seemed like she was taking a moment to truly take the Half-Elf’s words to heart as she muttered softly. Then she finally looked Lefiya in the eyes again and asked, “And being with me makes you happy too?”

“Or course,” she said with a small pout at how obvious that should have been. Her mood had been somewhat soured by the discussion. “It’s natural to be happy with the people you treasure, right?”

The Cute Elf’s lips pulled back into a smile that truly suited her. “Then I suppose I’m the happiest person in the world right now. You truly are my dearest treasure…”

Lefiya felt her heart start racing at that. “Then shall we go enjoy the festival together?”

“Just a moment,” Filvis said, extending her left hand out and spreading her fingers wide. Then with her right forefinger and thumb, she reached over and did the one thing Lefiya didn’t expect her to do willing or without coaxing. She pulled free her glove to expose her pale, slender hand for her to see, one after the other.

Then those very same bare hands were extended for her to take. “Shall we pick up where we left off at the Spirit Festival, my dearest treasure?”

[-Market Area-]

Wow, that’s so cute…

Elfy couldn’t help but be drawn to one of the stalls that had been set up in the market area located on the west side of Orario. She was one of ten young women who could all proudly claim to be part of one of the most prestigious Familia within the Labyrinth City, each of them an Adventurer who had braved the depths of the Dungeon. Those same fearless explorers of the depths where monsters awaited around every corner were currently mystified at the display set up in front of them.

It was an accessory shop, set up for the Holy Moon Festival. Such stalls weren’t uncommon given that the festivities were a prime time for artisans to ply their trade and market their goods at lucrative prices. But it was a chance for many different artisans to create masterpieces based around a theme, giving them a chance to express their creativity for the sake of making them unique at the same time.

From the top hung pendants that were strung up on cords, crystalline ovals in which were pressed silver flowers that shone lovely. Transparent bangles likewise were set on displays, petals from Ajura trees that carefully formed a wreath inside and somehow maintaining their sky-blue color that shone dimly in the night. Hairbands modeled after a crescent moon that glowed with a luminous, soft hue were present as well.

“I haven’t seen designs quite like this before,” said Anakitty Autumn, or Aki to her friends. She was heading the small band of girls, consisting of herself, Elfy, Claire, Sharon, Lisa, Remilia, Koko, Ruuni, Rhakta, and Shifon. “These flowers come from the Great Tree Labyrinth, don’t they?”

“That’s right,” answered a gentle yet buxom bovine beauty, sporting cow horns, ears, and a tail that was the same color as her long, brown hair. She wore a sleeveless sweater and arm warmers given the autumn chill. “All of the jewelry here was crafted using materials from the Middle Floors of the Dungeon with the help of our Captain and members.”

This stall in particular was manned by members of the Dia Familia, a relatively small Familia that operated within Orario. Though their members were Adventurers, they weren’t dedicated explorers who ventured into the depths and braved the frontiers. Rather they had their own professions and treated it more like a part-time career.

“It’s quite elegant work,” Shifon chimed in. As an Elf she was naturally drawn to the refined craftsmanship and more than a few would complement her silver hair. “And, if I’m not mistaken, the fragrance of the flowers comes through as well?”

Koko, Rahkta, and Ruuni brought their heads closer and took in the scent before confirming as such. “Mixed into the mold used, maybe?”

“But each one has the scent of the different flowers inside.”

“So they would have to use a lot of different ones, right?”

The inquiry was only met with a mischievous wink from the girl sporting her own handiwork in her hair. “That’s a trade secret. All I can say is that many sacrifices were made to get Daisy motivated, and Lady Dia was quite proud of the pieces we made. Especially the matching sets for couples.”

Rather than the mirth of excitement such a proclamation would make amongst buyers, the group instead largely withered with despondent looks amongst themselves. For you see, among the gathered none were in an active relationship due to the demands of the Familia between the Expeditions and various tasks that came with being part of one of the largest Familia within Orario. If they were in a relationship, they wouldn’t have gone together in a group like this.

“I planned on remaining virtuous for at last another five or six decades,” Shifon said, which was actually a pretty standard response for Elves considering their lifespans and birthrates. Adventuring being what it was meant that it was usually best to date another Adventurer if you were going to date at all. And since childrearing was time-consuming that was typically best left after retirement, given the complexities involved and the ever-present risk of leaving a child behind with no parents should the worst happen.

“Well, I was thinking about kids and grandkids someday, but right now there are pretty slim pickings…” Remilia trailed off when she considered her prospects largely within the Loki Familia. And while there were obvious prime candidates like Finn or Gareth, they were untouchable for a myriad of reasons. The rest of the guys were people she considered comrades-in-arms but settling down with them was more daunting than she liked.

There’s only one among us who could make the most out of a matched pair,” Lisa whispered. Then, in unison, their eyes all fell onto the senior member of their group at Level Four. A certain Cat Person whose ears flapped back and forth in slight annoyance as she placed her hands on her hips.

“Oh, don’t start with that again,” Anakitty said, rolling her eyes in the process. She and Raul had heard it often enough that they didn’t even bother to refute the claims, being perfectly willing to let them believe what they wanted. But it was a different story when someone outside of the Familia could hear, like the young woman running said stall and her eyes were glimmering to the point where Aki could see the rumor starting to spread all over Orario.

Needling aside, some of the young women purchased accessories to keep among themselves. They wouldn’t wear them in the Dungeon, but for casual wear it would complement their outfits nicely. Then they spent some more time visiting the various other shopping booths before they decided that they should try out the festival-exclusive snacks.

“Wasn’t the Hostess of Fertility having a special menu for tonight?” Lisa suggested. It was a restaurant that several of the Familia frequented on occasion, though they all had their own preferential places like Hibachitei. “I remember last year the drinks were pretty nice.”

“Oh yeah, when one of the guys got a little too drunk and booted out, only to have to return the next day and beg for forgiveness,” Sharon said with her eyes closed as she recalled the memory vividly. Of the Demi-Human races, some were more… susceptible to alcohol than others and thus got hammered really quickly. “We probably won’t be able to get a table, but it couldn’t hurt to see what they have to-go before visiting the stalls along the way.”

With their destination set, the group made their way northeast. Their path would eventually lead them to the Main Street that the restaurant was located on, which allowed for a straight path to Babel and was likely brimming with festival-goers who were in a celebratory mood and thus plenty of food stalls that managed to get permits to set up along the roadside.

But as they traveled, Elfy found herself stalling for a moment as her gaze was drawn eastward. Her mind strayed as a nagging curiosity began to swell within her. The idle thoughts she had pushed down since her roommate had left without saying a word and her closet was missing a particular garment.

“Elfy.” Her eyes were drawn back to Anakitty upon hearing her name being called. “It’s this way. Let’s go.”

“…You guys go ahead,” she said after some thought, taking a few steps back. “I think I saw some cute crystal slippers back there that I wanted to reconsider getting before they end up getting sold. I’ll catch up in a bit.”

Aki’s brows folded in slightly and her mouth opened as if she wanted to say something. But then she reconsidered and sighed.  “Just don’t take too long, okay?”

“I’ll be back before you know it,” promised the Cheerful Mage before she ran back the way she came. Not all the way. Just far enough to where she could double back eastward while they continued northeast. Those shoes she spotted were cute but there was something more pressing occupying her thoughts and there was a compulsion to just… see it for herself.

It wasn’t like she didn’t know what she was going to see. But not knowing and leaving it to her imagination would be worse. All she needed to do was take a quick peek to ease her mind and then she could return to the others and have fun without those thoughts taking up the back of her mind.

That desire, to rest her curiosity so she could have fun with the rest of her friends, was what led Elfy Colette to Amour Square. The square had long been known as a meeting place for those passionate encounters, where couples could gather to express their love. There was even history behind it, said to be the very site where one mortal child, in the early days of Orario, spotted a Goddess whose very presence stole his breath away. It was not an uncommon tale by any stretch, but his efforts to earn her affection were a different story.

He delved into the Dungeon, back before those who ventured within were known as Adventurers. He fought and scraped and earned his riches there, even as his body gradually succumbed to the dangers nestled deep within the gaping hole. And with his hard-earned wealth, he finally commissioned the Square and the statue in the center of it be built in her honor and asked for her hand in marriage. It was said the Goddess was so moved that when he succumbed to his injuries and perished, she followed him up to Heaven and the square was left behind as a testament to their romance.

Or so the legends say anyway. Whether or not it was true was beyond the knowledge of someone as young as Elfy, and likely any of the living mortals within the city. She had found the tale interesting, so she preferred to think that it was true.

The square was paved with brightly colored stones in a rather lovely pattern that all drew attention to the massive statue within the center. It was bordered by one of the more vibrant gardens within Orario, with flowers from both the surface and the Dungeon blooming along with the rose bushes and trees. The sweet fragrance that wafted throughout combined with the soft light from the magic-stone lamps around the square, which were made more vivid by the cords that ran between them with lanterns further illuminating the square.

There were dozens of couples there, dancing hand-in-hand to a slow melody from a band of well-dressed Pallums that had placed themselves at the base of the statue. Many were dressed with romance in mind, but some looked as though they had wandered by chance. Smiles could be seen on the various couples of various races.

Elfy’s green eyes scanned the sea of bodies drifting amidst the tempo for one in particular. She had burned the image of that dress into her memories and so she was confident she would be able to pick out one person from the horde so long as it crossed her gaze. And though it took some time, she eventually found her roommate sporting that gorgeous outfit.

Lefiya was there with the Elf from the Dionysus Familia, who was also dressed stunningly. Even though they had people around them it seemed like the two of them were off in a world of their own. Their bodies were close together to share warmth between them, with the Half-Elf resting her head on her dance partner’s shoulders while their fingers were entwined as they moved gracefully and without a single misstep.

Her lips were nestled in a content smile while the pink hue coloring her cheeks was visible even at that distance. It was clear at a glance that she was so…happy….

…crack…

The sound of glasswork splintering. That sound rang out deep within the Mage as the thought crossed her mind.

Her breathing became shallow as she watched her roommate’s lips pull in for a moment, only to come back out ever so slightly glistening beneath the ambient light. Her pulse began to race as she raised her head from its comfortable perch, azure eyes fixed on the crimson pair that regarded her warmly. Then she saw her lean forward on the top of her toes….

Their lips pressed together.

The glass shattered.

A gnawing sensation attacked her green eyes, like a thousand small insects chewing on them. Then a sharp pain found its way into her chest like someone had plunged a poisoned dagger into her heart. Yet, when she reached up to wrench it free, her fingers only dug into her flesh and crystalline tears rolled down her cheeks in glistening streamlets when she tried to blink away the vermin.

The pain became more intense. It seemed to worsen with every beat of her quickening pulse that drummed louder in her ears while watching the two Elves, smiling while holding one another close. The pain grew so agonizing in mere moments that she almost dug her nails into her chest to rip out her own heart to stop it.

She would do anything to escape this pain she was in.

The world blurred until she couldn’t see the two of them anymore. Her legs shivered as strength bled out of them. Her stomach felt like it was about to turn inside out. Her lungs failed to expand, and she struggled for breath.

The Mage felt like she was about to pass out. She would almost welcome unconsciousness. At least then she wouldn’t feel the pain. But that would draw a crowd as people noticed her lying there.

Lefy will know I was here.

The same compulsion that brought her there moved her legs in the opposite direction. She didn’t want to be seen. She didn’t want Lefiya to know that she had seen her there.

It was then she understood the source of her pain. The stinging, unrelenting pain came from her heart breaking into pieces. Not all at once, which would mercifully kill her instantly. But slowly enough that the shards could stab into the beating remains and make her suffer.

Elfy didn’t have a destination in mind. She just knew she had to run as far away from the square as possible before the strength to stand fled her. Thus, the once Cheerful Mage ran desperately and clumsily, her vision wavering between clarity and obscurity.

There were voices as she bumped into things and people. But she kept running. And running. And running.

She ran until someone finally grabbed her firmly. They pulled her close and when she threw her hand out to push them away, they caught it. Even mustering her remaining strength, she couldn’t get away.

“Elfy, it’s me!” said a familiar voice. “Aki!”

She stopped struggling when she recognized Anakitty’s voice. But then the pain seeped into her lungs and stalled her from taking more than a shallow breath. It burned like poison that was slowly spreading from her punctured heart. “…Aki, I… I can’t breathe…

A gentle reassurance reached her ears. “I’m going to take you somewhere you can catch your breath. It’ll be just the two of us. Just hold on, okay?

The next thing Elfy knew, her legs were no longer under her. Her head was nestled against Aki’s chest, her knees and back supported by the Level Four’s arms. The air was rushing past them so fast that even if her vision hadn’t gone completely blurry her eyes probably would have been crushed.

Then, as quickly as they started, they came to a stop. The sounds of the crowd and other people were distant. Her legs were gently allowed to lay on a soft surface that felt like grass, but her head was allowed to remain pressed against the soft bosom of her senior among the Second-Tier Adventurers as the arm supporting her back remained in place.

Anakitty’s voice came out quiet and soothing. “You need to breathe, Elfy.

I-I can’t,” she cried. “I can’t!

Yes, you can.” The arm wrapped around her back shifted into a slow, circular motion. “It’ll be painful, but you need to breathe so it can all come out. It won’t go away otherwise.

The Level Three Mage struggled. Her throat and chest strained to expand. But, eventually, she managed to take a deep, haggard breath that forced the slightly chilled air down into her lungs. Then she exhaled and what came out was a painful, mournful cry.

That’s it,” the Level Four whispered in an encouraging tone. “You did well holding it in all this time, but don’t need to hold back anymore. Let it all out.

Her voice came haggard as she sucked in a heavy breath. “… I… t-thought I could han-handle it, but… it h-h-hurts so muchhhh…

Elfy knew that Lefiya would be there from the start. She knew that she would be happy at having the chance to finally go on a date with the other Elf after how often she talked about her in their room. But she didn’t think that she would be wearing a smile like that or that she would have kissed her.

She didn’t think that it would hurt so much seeing her with someone else. “I hate Lefy… I hate her! She’s horrible!

You don’t hate her,” the Level Four told her, voice remaining calm as the hand gently rubbing her back started patting it instead. “You’re just in pain from having your heart broken. No one likes seeing the person they love with someone else.

No sooner than those words were uttered did the pain bubble back up inside of her. It felt like it would never end. She reached around behind Anakitty’s back and pulled as hard as she could, desperate for a shoulder to cry on as she continued to pour out her feelings. “I wa-wanted to… to tell her… B-but I knew she wouldn’t even lo…ok my…w-way!

Why do you think she wouldn’t?” Anakitty asked. It was important to keep her talking so that she could get everything in her chest out. “You’re best friends, aren’t you?

People often thought it was easy to tell someone how they felt. But that was never the case. The fear of rejection was an ever-present entity looming over them like a colossal shadow, whispering of how things would never be the same once those words came out. That was why she tried to signal her interest. That was why she always smiled for her. Always tried to be close to her side.

But she realized that no matter how hard she tried there was an impassable gap between them. I’m… not an Elf like her! Or special like her! I’m just…just… a normal Human.

Elfy Colette was just an ordinary Human.

Her mother had given her that ironic name because she hoped she would be beautiful as an Elf. But she didn’t have a drop of Elven blood in her veins, meaning she could never hope for such a thing. She had already finished puberty and would be lucky if she got a few celches of growth into her figure before she grew older and then died.

Everyone knew Elves were good-looking, talented with Magic, and graceful without fault. If you weren’t born an Elf then there was nothing you could do but accept that. It was just the way of the world, and she thought she had come to terms with that when she decided that she would be one of the best Human Mages she could be.

That was why she was excited to have been able to join the Loki Familia. She could take pride in being part of one of the most powerful Familia in Orario. It meant they recognized she at least had the potential to be a great Mage.

Then she met Lefiya and realized reality just wasn’t so kind. Just being Half-Elf put her in an entirely different class, even though she was Half-Human. She was still growing, still becoming beautiful, and by the time Elfy was dead and gone, she would still look like she was around her early twenties.

On top of that, her Magic was powerful. She had not only unlocked her third spell slot in such a short time, but the spell was one-of-a-kind. It allowed her to access as many spells as there were Elves, meaning the number of spells she had was more than even Lady Riveria herself.

There was no denying it that among either race she was a special person, and they treated her as much. Lefiya got to hang around with the Executives as often as she liked. She got to receive special training from the most powerful Mage in Orario. She got beautiful clothes gifted to her that were more valuable than probably their weight in gold.

She was already a Level Four but was actively holding off just to squeeze in a little extra excelia. As if it was no big deal. Normal people like Elfy had to claw and scrape to reach that far. But it was different for special people who stood above them.

Even among Humans she wasn’t anything special. Not compared to Aiz Wallenstein, the Sword Princess whose Wind allowed her to be so powerful. Or Welf Crozzo, who had an ancestor gain the favor of a Spirit and could make Magic Swords stronger than any spell the majority of the world could cast. Or the Record Holder that managed to already reach Level Three in mere months—Bell Cranel.

That boy not only impressed the Executives, but he even managed to get Lefiya on his side when she was ready to tear his head off the night before. She would constantly tell Elfy bad things about him, to the point where she seemed to hate him. Yet she suddenly changed after the Eighteenth Floor, to the point where she was even willing to fight the Captain of another Familia for him when she hated him mere hours before then.

Was it because he was special? He had to be given how he was the two-time Record Holder. That was probably why she was willing to defend him—because he was special like her.

The worst part was that Elfy couldn’t even be mad at her because Lefiya was her best friend. They were roommates and shared their secrets, so she knew how hard Lefiya had struggled to get where she was. She knew how many Elves loathed her for her position while being Half-Human. Yet she put up with it all and tried her best to live up to the expectations placed on her with a smile.

If I was an Elf… if I was special… it would have been me dancing with her and making her happy…” She took a moment to catch her breath as she confessed the root of her issues. “But I’m not. And I can’t ever be.

She wasn’t lucky enough to be born with an Elven parent. She wasn’t lucky enough to be born special. That meant she couldn’t be the kind of person Lefiya was attracted to. The most she could do was be her best friend, no matter how much she wanted to be seen otherwise.

I know… how it feels to not be special,” Anakitty told the younger girl with her voice wavering slightly as her ears flattened down. “To be surrounded by amazing people and heroes, but not be able to be just like them. But… I can do things like being there for one of my juniors when they need a shoulder to cry on, and that’s enough, isn’t it?

Considering she was the one weeping in the older girl’s arms, Elfy wasn’t exactly able to refute that. Moreover, if she wasn’t allowed release or some way to let out the pain she was in, it would tear her apart until she wanted to die.

“Just please… please don’t tell anyone,” Elfy begged her while pressing her head deeper into the welcoming bosom.I don’t want to lose her. Lefy is my best friend…”

“I won’t tell a soul,” Anakitty promised. “Now go ahead and can cry as much as you like.”

She did just that.

[-Amour Square-]

“I think I recognized that crying girl who ran off just now.”

Bell Cranel looked off into the distance where a young woman had fled after bumping into him. He and Lady Hestia had only recently arrived at Amour Square, even though it was closer to their current home than their previous one. He hadn’t minded the fact that she bumped into him but the fact that he had seen her somewhere naturally left him wondering if he should give chase.

“I knew you had a thing about saving girls, but I didn’t think you’d leave your date here all alone to do it.” The Goddess of the Hearth’s teasing tone and the soft sensation as she pressed her voluptuous chest against his arm snapped Bell’s attention back to her. “What will you do if some stranger comes and takes me away, hm?”

“I wasn’t going to leave you.” He had given her his word that he would dance with her and would keep it. That being said, the outfit she had chosen made her divinity all the clearer and so he felt out of place next to her dressed in his ordinary clothes. And the suit he had been loaned for the Banquet ended up not surviving the destruction of their home.  “I just thought I should see if there was something I can do, Goddess.”

“I know. I know.” Hestia looked up towards his face and smiled as she offered him guidance as one of the divinities that walked the Lower World. “It’s good that you want to help but, considering where we are, it’s very likely she just had her heart broken if she ran off in tears. If you don’t know the right things to say to a crying woman, you’ll only make it worse. Their hearts are fragile, after all.”

“I suppose so.” His grandfather had taught him to be cautious when approaching a woman whose heart had been broken. He even regaled him with stories of heroes who faced even more turmoil because they had incited the wrath of a woman inadvertently, so there was merit to her wisdom. Even so, he still felt that sympathy for that girl. “I hope she’ll be okay.”

“I’m sure she will,” Hestia told him. “You children are resilient in heart and soul, even compared to us. After all, we’ve seen how you all manage to bounce back even through the darkest of times. That’s part of why we love you all so much.”

That said, they entered the square properly and Bell found himself feeling even more at risk than in the Dungeon itself. So many couples, a mix of different races and people in a proper romance as they looked one another in the eyes and clasped hands. And none of them were clumsy like he would be, given he wasn’t a dancer.

At the banquet, he had managed somehow because of the advice the others had given him. But the fact that Miss Aiz had been an Adventurer and they had trained helped a lot, since it made it possible for them to read one another’s movements. They could convey words without speaking, but he wasn’t sure he could do the same for his Goddess. The thought of embarrassing himself and Hestia made Bell want dart of there like a fleeing rabbit, but then he really would be abandoning her

“Good, it’s a slow song.” Hestia’s slender fingers wrapped around his wrist as she pulled him forward and into the throng of bodies where there was an open space for the two to join in.  Then she turned to face him before cupping his shoulder blade with her right hand and grabbing his hand with her left. “I’ll take the lead, so just do what I do and say, okay?”

She seemed so assertive that Bell could only swallow his nerves and do so. Lift his right elbow. Roll his shoulders back. Stand straight and tuck his stomach in. All of that made for a solid frame to maintain the connection between them.

Then she began to take her first steps. They were decisive, initiated from her core rather than her arms. It made it easier to see where she was going, so Bell could follow after her to match her pace. “Like this?”

“That’s right,” she said while continuing to lead. He followed up nicely. “If you’re in the lead then listen to the beat of the music and think before you take the first step. Don’t hesitate after you make that decision. If you’re following, then trust their motions and follow without second-guessing it. You don’t need your grip too hard since the only time you lead with your hands is when you want to spin your partner.”

Bell took the advice and found himself matching her soon enough. “Goddess, did you always know how to dance?”

“Not quite like this,” Hestia told him. “After your dance with Loki’s child, I wanted to do the same. But since I didn’t think I would be able to move the same way, I asked for some advice from Take and Miach after Miss Thousand told us about this one. I’m happy it’s working out well.”

She really was looking forward to it. Bell felt even worse for not giving it the same consideration as she smiled with childish happiness. He knew he needed to work on his dancing, but the new duties he had as the Captain of their Familia had been pressing.

Her blue eyes scanned her surroundings for a moment, likely to ensure she was matching the rhythm of others. Then they widened slightly before she leaned her head in and whispered in his ears. “Bell, look over there…

He followed her gaze and did a double-take when he realized that his sister was there as well. She wasn’t paying him any attention or bothering to look around her. Her attention was solely on her date, another Elf with glossy black hair and deep red eyes. The longer he stared at them, the more of an impression he got that something romantic might happen, so he wisely looked away lest things become awkward.

Bell,” Hestia muttered. “Do you wish that was you?

Her question grabbed his full attention. “Huh?”

“That you were dancing with someone you liked in that same way,” Hestia clarified, pulling her head away. “Rather than me, you’d prefer it was Loki’s child again, right?”

“Ah, that’s… different,” Bell said, a blaze painting his cheeks the color of his eyes. Hestia made it possible for him to get this far but to even have remotely romantic thoughts of his patron deity, a virginal goddess at that, was borderline blasphemous. “I’m happy to do this with you because I revere you.”

Her cerulean eyes closed at that, and a smile came across her face. Not the same childish happy one or the motherly one she would often give him. It felt somewhat… melancholic. “Bell, I know I teased you about revering me. But remember that what I said about a girl’s heart being fragile applies to Goddesses as well.”

“W-w-what does that mean?” Bell stuttered as his mind refused to piece together what she was getting at.

“We might be different in some ways to you children and driven by our natures a bit, but we still want you to validate us rather than revere us,” she continued in the same tone as a mother lecturing her child patiently. “It’s one thing to reject us if you don’t feel the same way, but to not even acknowledge or understand why we feel the way we do because you think we’re above you can hurt more than anything else.”

Her words resonated within his chest. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“It’s fine,” she told him. “Losing someone is hard, but for those of us who live forever that pain will never leave. That’s why the thought of inflicting that onto a Goddess is one of the worst things you can imagine, right?”

…She wasn’t wrong. The loss of family stuck with him, but everyone above and below knew all mortals would eventually die and reincarnate. It was a part of the cycle of life, a mere step that you had to acknowledge. Nothing could stop it, so you made the most out of the time you had with the people you cared about.

Lovers were a deeper relationship than family. He knew that much. And remembering how painful it was losing his grandfather, he was terrified of inflicting something even worse onto someone else. Let alone the divine, whose lives would never end. They had to suffer that pain forever, all for what amounted to a mere moment of happiness.

What right did he have to inflict that on one of the Goddesses?

You’re a good boy, Bell,” she whispered while reaching up and pulling his head down onto her shoulders. “I’m really happy that my first child was someone like you. That alone eases my heart going ahead. But remember that if we wanted to remain separated from you to be revered, we never would have come down in the first place. We might be Familia because of my blessing, but we’re family because we love and care for each other—and that bond transcends death and divinity. So love us as you would you any other, otherwise, you’re going to make some poor Goddess cry someday.

As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t make that promise. The best he could do was acknowledge that he would try. “I’ll do my best, Goddess.”

And that was good enough for her to release him as a new song began to play. Her smile returned to its cheerfulness. “Okay, now that we’ve gotten that gloomy topic out of the way, why don’t you try to take the lead this time?”

[-Café Wishe-]

As the various dances wound down so that the band could take a break, the various couples split off from the square. Some would return in an hour once they began playing anew, while others would go off to enjoy the other activities. But, in general, all those who had been in attendance were in a great mood.

Lefiya especially as she and her date decided to rest their legs and get something to slake their thirsts. Fortunately, since she was a little more familiar with the area due to it being so close to Bell’s home, the Half-Elf knew a place they could go. It was called Café Wishe.

It was a small but apparently popular café that was frequented by young couples due to being relatively close to Amour Square. It had a more modernistic aesthetic rather than the rustic or sylvan that Elves preferred, but the irony of the name did not escape Filvis. “Was this place named after your home?”

Lefiya licked her lips to savor the stray droplets of the drink she had been served before she answered. “The owner of the café lived there on the outskirts for a time after their home was burned down and used it as their communal name.  Some time ago she moved to Orario and chose to get married, taking her spouse’s name and naming the café in honor of that instead. Her husband is Human.”

She had found it after receiving her key to the Hearth Manor and learned the owner was actually the Elven hostess who had welcomed her in. Her husband was the one who handled the drink preparations, and the pair seemed friendly enough to her. But she could guess why that was considering any children they had would be effectively no different than her.  Their employees were of different races as well and the last time she was her the server had been a Cow Person, but it seemed that she was absent today.

“I see…” Filvis looked down in her own drink and stared into her reflection. She had placed her gloves back on now that the dance was over. Even if she had willingly laid her hands bare for Lefiya, she still refused to interact with other things without them.

But that was fine with Lefiya since it meant she was special enough to her to do so. That was all she wanted from tonight. The kiss was just a very, very welcomed extra. “There are a lot of small, out-of-the-way places that you never would notice if things were different.”

The Half-Elf tilted her head at that. “Hm?”

“I was just thinking of an out of the way bar that I discovered some time ago,” she explained. “My Lord was in search of a certain kind of wine, and I had to scour Orario to find it. Eventually, I discovered a place where they made it from grapes taken from the Great Tree Labyrinth. It wasn’t really to my tastes, but he was pleased… even if Aura wasn’t.”

“I suppose you taste a lot of wine because of your God, huh?” Lefiya mused. She would abstain from drinking if she could help it, given her low tolerance and other things that happened. But maybe she should consider if Filvis had a favorite kind to gift her some time. “But who is Aura?”

“She is my… Vice-Captain,” Filvis explained. “She an Elf like me, and we started around the same time. We were on fairly decent terms until the Nightmare happened, and now we’re pretty much the surviving senior members. She took over the duties of handling operations with the Familia while I handle Lord Dionysus’ personal needs and protection, so in a way, she would be the proper Captain  if she wasn’t only Level Two—her devotion is no less than mine to him, after all.”

Ah, so that’s probably another reason she was rejected by him, Lefiya realized. If she loved their God to the same extent as Filvis, and she no doubt had strong feelings of animosity due to losing so many of their comrades while Filvis survived, returning her affections would have probably fractured them further. Perhaps Filvis even felt that the Vice-Captain was more worthy of his love than her from the way she spoke…

Reaching out to touch her hands cradling her drink, the Half-Elf gave her a reassuring smile that conveyed her feelings. I’m here for you now and will continue to be. Your past doesn’t change that in the slightest.

Filvis found it in herself to smile back.

Then they finished their drinks and departed from the café. The side-streets were somewhat winding but they managed to navigate it easily enough to get back to one of the main roads that would lead back to Babel. It was then they noticed that a crowd was building further ahead. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not certain,” Filvis answered. “Should we go take a look?”

The Half-Elf nodded and the two ventured into the growing crowd until they spotted what looked to be a stage that had been set up. On it was what looked to be a crystalline substance not unlike the Quartz in the Dungeon with a rather beautiful spear lodged inside of it. And Lord Hermes was there too while flanked by members of the Ganesha Familia—including their Captain—as he gave a speech.

“I CALL TO YOU, ADVENTURERS OF ORARIO. WHO AMONGST YOU CAN PULL THIS SPEAR FROM ITS CONFINES AND BE THE CHOSEN ONE TO RECEIVE THE BLESSING OF THE GODDESS OF CHASTITY, ALONG WITH AN ALL-EXPENSES-PAID TRIP AROUND THE WORLD?”

Murmurs went out at that. An all-expenses-paid trip around the world was a big deal considering how most were confined to the city once they received a Falna. It seemed a little too good to be true but, looking at the text on the document he held up, it was pre-authorized by the Guild and thus legitimate.

Step aside!”  “Me first!” “Shove off!” Mild chaos broke out as several of the Adventurers began to tussle among themselves for the right to go first. The Captain of the Ganesha Familia sighed softly, as if she had expected as much, before motioning for her men to establish an order to things.

“If it’s simply a competition of raw physical strength, then it’ll be over the moment a First-Class Adventurer steps up,” Filvis pointed out. It was a logical assessment, and why the fighting was on the verge of breaking out. If the Ganesha Familia didn’t make them take turns, then there was nothing stopping a Level Six from coming up and putting an end to things first of all.

“An all-expenses-paid trip does sound nice though,” Lefiya mused while considering whether or not she should attempt it herself. She wanted to visit her mother since it had been quite some time, and if she could bring Filvis or Bell that would be all the better. But then there was a shout as a person she recognized lost their patience and promptly kicked down a group of five. “Mister Bete?”

The Werewolf snarled in annoyance. “Guy can’t even get to where he’s going with all your weaklings around. Clear a path, goddamn it!

“He’s as crass as always, I see,” Filvis noted. Most of the people wisely got away from him, considering his reputation. Though, strangely enough, Lefiya could spot there was a girl not too far behind him that seemed more apologetic than anything. She had long black hair and brown eyes, and while her clothes didn’t really stand out Lefiya could see makeup had been applied carefully to accentuate her features rather than overdo it.

The sight brought a smile to the God of Travel’s face as he stopped Shakti from telling him off. “IF IT ISN’T ONE OF THE LOKI FAMILIA’S EXECUTIVES. CARE TO TRY YOUR HAND TO SEE IF YOU’RE THE CHOSEN ONE?”

He scoffed. “Tch. As if I’m interested in proving anything to these chumps for a trip out of town. Keep me out of your scams, swindler.”

Lord Hermes took the insult in stride. “OH, I THINK YOU’LL FIND IT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN THAT. AFTER ALL, IF ONE OF THE STRONGEST ADVENTURERS IN ORARIO CAN’T MOVE IT, THEN IT SHOULD BE CLEAR ONLY THE CHOSEN ONE CAN AND ORGANIZE THEMSELVES SINCE LEVEL ISN’T THE DETERMINING FACTOR. AND IF YOU DO MANAGE IT, THE CROWD WILL DISPERSE. WIN-WIN EITHER WAY, RIGHT EVERYONE?”

The crowd did not agree. Loudly.

Much to the Werewolf’s annoyance, which Lefiya suspected was Lord Hermes’ aim. Bete would be inclined to try and shut them up, and since he couldn’t kick everyone here without getting in trouble the easiest solution would be to assert his dominance by grabbing the spear anyway. So, he jumped onto the stage and grabbed hold of it, intent on jerking it out in one swift motion.

The spear didn’t budge.

Hermes bore a wide smile and muttered. “Not so easy, is it?

Rrrrr….” His lips pulled back and a snarl slipped out. The eyes of even the unblessed could see his arm was visibly straining, meaning he was actively pulling away at it in earnest.

But the spear refused to budge.

The crowd, who had been intimidated before, began drawing amusement from the sight of the Werewolf’s impotent efforts to move the weapon from its foundation. And considering his race and Level, he could hear every word. It only served as kindling that stoked his desire to prove them wrong, but considering his temper…

“You can do it, Mister Bete!” Then Lefiya heard something she never expected. It was the sound of someone cheering for him amidst the crowd. And it came from that same girl she had seen before. “I believe in you!”

It can’t be… Lefiya recognized her voice. Giving her full attention to the girl who cheered the Werewolf on, the Half-Elf’s mind pictured her hair tied in a braid, glasses framing her face, and the lack of blush from the makeup on her. It was a perfect match to Leene. Oh dear Loki, Elfy was right…

“THE STAGE IS MADE OF ADAMANTITE, BY THE WAY,” Hermes said somewhat whimsically but loud enough for everyone to hear. “GO ALL OUT IF YOU WANT! THERE’S A FULL MOON OUT TONIGHT TOO, SO—”

“With all due respect, Lord Hermes, please stop provoking him!” Shakti said as the sound of metal groaning began in earnest. He had braced his legs against the ground and had the shaft in an iron-grip with both his hands, fully intent on putting all of his strength into pulling the spear out. That same strength was not to be underestimated.

The thing still didn’t budge.

What are they made of?” Filvis muttered in curiosity. “The spear itself hasn’t broken, nor the crystal. Only the stage is straining, which means that it would have to be even stronger than that. On par with Orichalcum.

And Orichalcum was the strongest substance available on the Lower World, its origins and crafting dating back to before the descent of the Gods. There was no stronger substance to be found or made by mortal hands. Yet they were looking at it, and Lefiya wouldn’t be surprised if every artisan and blacksmith in the crowd wasn’t wondering the same thing when all was said and done.

But not the Adventurers. No, they started heckling Bete even louder, as if they forgot he was literally one of the strongest people in the entire city.  “NOT SO TOUGH NOW!”ALL BARK AND NO BITE!” “SOME LEVEL SIX YOU ARE!

His amber eyes narrowed, and violent intention filled them. “SAY THAT AGAIN! I DARE YOU!

“Vanargand, you’re better than this,” Shakti said when she noticed he was about to lose his cool. She was obligated to try to stop him if he did go out of control, but after so many years within Orario she clearly expected he would have enough common sense not to attack them. “Don’t give into their provocation. Just walk away.”

To his credit, Bete refused to let the words of the weak get to him. So, after kicking the crystal hard enough that it should have been launched to the top of Babel itself only for it to remain in place, thus leaving every single craftsman and smith no doubt even more interested, he scoffed and then jumped off the stage. “…some bullshit

“Is something wrong, Lefiya?” her date asked, crimson eyes following her gaze towards where Bete departed.

“I’m just a little… shocked,” she explained.

Filvis nodded in understanding. “Yes, the fact that an Adventurer of Bete Loga’s physical prowess was unable to remove the spear is difficult to believe. Either it would take the Conqueror, or there are some other criteria we are not aware of… if it isn’t some kind of scam, that is.”

That wasn’t quite what Lefiya meant. But she decided against saying anything as she watched Leene heading off in the direction Bete had gone. The Half-Elf had so many questions that they occupied her thoughts as people lined up to try their hand where a Level Six failed. She combed through her memories for any signs that Leene had a thing for him. She did speak well of him when she was healing me from the chase and he brought me right to her, so maybe…

“OH, IF IT ISN’T THE RECORD HOLDER—” Her ears perked up as Lord Hermes announced the arrival of the current person to hold that prestige. She looked back to the stage where her brother had arrived, nervously rubbing the back of his head.

You can do it, Captain!” said a small voice at the top of tiny lungs from further to the side of the crowd. It was Primo, sitting on top of Welf’s shoulders with the rest of the Hestia Familia around them. It was adorable. “Good luck!

Of course, Bell pulled it out. He succeeded where a Level Six failed, the spear coming free and the crystal shards scattering. The sororal part of Lefiya’s mind was proud of him, of course. But the cynical part of her mind noted that it was the sort of thing that would cause him problems when he should still be laying low.

And, sure enough, she was proven correct when the sponsor of the contest arrived, who turned out to be the Goddess of the Moon, Artemis… who promptly rushed the stage and threw herself into his arms while he stood there with a dumbfounded look. And then declared him her Orion and kissed him on the cheek in front of the crowd for everyone to see…

Well, the peace was nice while it lasted. That fleeting thought crossed Lefiya’s mind as cries for blood began to go out from the less romantically fortunate amongst the crowd. She had the distinct feeling that her date would be coming to an end in very short order, if only because she was probably going to have to help the Ganesha Familia deal with the mob of jealous men likely to be coming for her brother’s head over the next few days.

…Only you could go from having a literal War Game fought over you by a God of the Sun to being declared the lover of a Goddess of the Moon in less than a month, Bell.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 27 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 27: Holy Moon Festival – Afternoon

Elio taught of the old rituals meant to be used to form a connection with the Spirits, to hold communion with the agents of the gods to who words held no meaning. These rituals were passed down in the forests, guarded and sacred as any treasure would be to a Dwarf. But when he asked me why that was, I told him the answer that was told to me Mother. The rituals and rites were all fervent prayers from those who came before us for the strength to protect those we loved and would be carried into the future long after even the oldest of us passed on.

The expression he made that day lingers in my mind even now after years have passed. A look of longing and lament for something precious that was long lost, a feeling I know too well now. Perhaps that was the real reason he had truly desired to take me in that day?”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic II: Communion

[-|-|-|-]

 

“Sorry if I kept you waiting,” Lefiya said upon arriving in one of the more expansive rooms on the Ninth Floor of the Dungeon.

Though they were on the Upper Floors, beyond the Seventh Floor the rooms tended to have far greater width and space, with the light from above being akin to soft sunlight while short grass was beneath their feet. Going down further would place them in misty terrain, which wouldn’t really bother either of them given their Levels, but others might not be so lucky. It wouldn’t do if they accidentally got someone else caught in the crossfire.

The Magic Swordswoman who bore the alias of Elleaf regarded her with a warm smile from her seat on a mound amidst the grass, one leg outstretched while the other was tucked close to her chest. “You’re actually earlier than I expected. You didn’t rush through your breakfast or exercises, did you?”

Lefiya was quick to assure her otherwise. “No, but it’s been so long since we’ve had a chance to practice together.”

Normally Lefiya trained with Lady Riveria since she was her direct apprentice, and it would be impractical for the Nine Hells to manage every Mage within the Familia. Alicia, being the second-in-command of the Fairy Force, managed the other girls who were members of the unit. But Lefiya had come to consider Alicia something of an older sister when she was first introduced into the Familia.

Which only made the whole incident even more embarrassing…

“I think the last time was earlier this year before all the craziness with the expedition, wasn’t it?” Alicia rose to her feet, slender hands running along her battle skirt to wipe away any stray blades of grass that clung to the curves of her hips before she loosened her scabbard from her belt. “I want to see for myself how far you’ve come with the basics. You’re ready to become a Level Four, so I won’t be holding back as much.”

In other words, the practice would be composed of attacking and defending, moving and evasion, as well as chanting—effectively the groundwork for Concurrent Casting that was the basics of the Fairy Force. Back when she had just joined, Lefiya could only barely keep up moving while chanting. That had been fine since, as part of the unit, Lady Riveria would provide them with protection to ward off enemy attacks as they bombarded them. However, since it was just the two of them now, if she hadn’t shown any major improvement then she would be quickly overwhelmed.

I’ve come a long way since then though, the Half-Elf thought to herself. The training from Aiz, Filvis, and everything else had carried her far ahead of how she had been even a few months ago. “I’m ready to begin when you are, Miss Alicia.”

“All right then…” She took three steps forward and then there was only a pink blur as Lefiya’s peripheral vision, far more perceptive than a Human due to both her heritage and her Level, only caught fleeting movement to her right as Alicia closed the distance between them with the speed afforded to a Level Four. Taking away the advantage of distance that only benefited the Fairy Sniper, the gentleness in the smile she still wore contrasted the sheathed blade chambered for a swing at the younger girl. “Begin.”

Lefiya pivoted hastily along the direction of the attack, but her wrist that held the staff twisted as it came up in a wide arc. The staff made of, thankfully, durable materials met with the sheathe and knocked it away from its course towards the back of her head as she finished putting strength in her grounded leg. Then she bound back as far as she could manage as a Level Three, which was quite far, and immediately tightened the grasp on her staff with both hands far apart to prepare another hasty defense.

It proved to be the right call as Alicia was in front of her, wide hips turning to generate power for a graceful swing. It took all the little Strength she had as a Level Three to brace her staff and it still reverberated on impact hard enough that she felt it in her limbs. But there was no time to dwell on it as, without a moment’s hesitation, Lefiya thrust the staff forward like the lance of a spear.

The golden point came close to the beautiful Elf’s chest before she pivoted so that it passed her by, even as her sword came down at an angle that would cleave the Half-Elf from shoulder to hip. The Thousand Elf crouched and dropped her body low, so the swing passed over her head, rather than block a second time. Then she threw herself back into a roll, tucking her staff close to her chest to escape the follow-up as Alicia had swapped her grasp on the blade and then swung low the moment the second swing missed.

Bounding back onto her feet, Lefiya began to sing. “Unleashed beam of light—

Alicia lunged forward, reaching out to grab the staff only for the Half-Elf to pull the hand holding it backwards, drawing it close to her body. Then the sword came around and narrowly missed Lefiya by the slimmest of margins due to a half-step before the Level Four allowed her momentum to carry through as she spun on the ball of her feet to bring her sheathed weapon around a second time. This time Lefiya received the hit unprotected and ended up staggering a few steps back, but her song continued uninterrupted.

There was pain, but it was mild compared to what she had gone through before. Hyacinthus had been a lot more aggressive than she was and hit harder despite being only a Level Three. But that was because he was a jerk and his fighting style was the opposite of Alicia’s fighting style.

Elves tended to have a better sense of perception, coordination, and grace compared to Humans. But because of their low birthrates engaging in close combat was a last resort, especially when their race had dominion over Magic and mastered the bow. It was normally ideal to use long-distance combat to minimize the chance of casualties by striking enemies from further away.

However, close combat was an inevitability whether the opponent be man or monster. And before the Falna granted even their slender limbs the strength to crush stone with little physical effort, they had to rely on their natural gifts. Thus, most Elven Combat Styles relied on being able to read movements and then respond with great dexterity or agility, whether to maneuver out of the way or to slash at an unexpected angle.

Alicia’s style was something of a more defensive-oriented one, closer to specializing in dueling. Her movements were like how a leaf would sway out of the way as you tried to catch it, only to twist around and brush against the back of your hand. If she was put against an opponent she would parry and counterattack by using her finely honed senses and dexterity, making up for a lack of raw Strength by using her hips in her swings when she could to generate momentum. But that also meant being on the attack and ruthlessly pressuring the opponent was not something she excelled in.

Similarly, Lefiya’s staff techniques were meant to take advantage of the fact that Elven spell casting mediums were long and durable. Keeping the weapon firmly in her grasp, taking advantage of the entire length and her body, the focus was more on keeping hold of it and striking with momentum to create distance. Her Level supplied raw Strength if needed to defend herself, but she was first and foremost a Mage, so her goal was to fend off her attacker and be able to cast a spell.

In contrast to both of them, a more aggressive style would be something similar to what Miss Ryuu practiced. Her movements were fast, like a harsh wind that washed over you before you knew it was coming. Taking advantage of her Agility, she focused on delivering the first blow with as much power as she could to debilitate or take out her opponent before they could fight back.

Readying her magic power as she entered the final verse of her song, Lefiya threw herself backwards and leveled the staff towards the Level Four. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy! Arcs Ray!

The reaction was instant as Alicia’s snapped out of the line of fire as the spell emerged, intent on attacking from her left side at a closer distance. It was pointless to run from Arcs Ray since it could track an opponent and the more distance there was the easier it was for her to chase them down. So, the smart thing to do was avoid the initial shot and then strike her down before she could bend it.

However, it wasn’t as though Lefiya was ignorant to that fact as Alicia discovered when the aureate glow of the spell illuminated her face as it emerged from behind the Half-Elf’s rear. Changing the trajectory of her loosed shot was something only the Fairy Sniper could do, and so she bent the beam right from the start so that it curved sharply around her back from the right. That meant her evasive maneuver had put her right into the path of the shot.

Alicia immediately began bounding backwards great distances, pivoting with graceful motions in the process. It was almost reminiscent of a nymph skipping off the surface of a lake. But there was no escape as the beam of light constantly chased after her.

Come, freezing chains of winter—” Now it was her turn to put her Concurrent Casting to practice as she sang her own song while an azure magic circle appeared at her feet and a wand found its way into her hand. The glimmering azure motes of magical energy that spawned from her magic circle wove themselves into a quintet of ice comets that loitered over Alicia’s head and shoulders as she pointed in Lefiya’s direction before she called out the trigger phrase to launch them. “—Sagittarius Grace!

Sagittarius Grace was a short chant that allowed Alicia to launch arrows of condensed cold. They streaked forward and left behind a frost-laden trail until they slammed into their target and erupted with encasing ice. Though it wasn’t nearly as potent as Lady Riveria’s spell, she could increase the number of arrows she could summon as well as their individual trajectories due to her Mage DA.

Lefiya broke off her own spell, leaving the onrushing light to fade away as she moved to dodge the ice comets as they fired forth. Each one slammed into the ground hard enough to throw up a spout of sod that was sealed within an icy coffin, five eruptions total buffering the area she was in to throw her off. She took a breath and started running as the numbness from the post-magic rigor began to wane, knowing the real assault was coming.

Like she told Primo, the longer the cast the longer the post-magic rigor because of the amount of magical energy that ended up coursing through the body. Practice and familiarity shortened it, but not only was Alicia’s cast far shorter than hers but she was far more comfortable getting close to an enemy. That meant she wouldn’t hesitate to keep casting.

“—rius Grace!” Sure enough, Lefiya felt the tingle in the air of discharged magical energy and heard through her sharpened hearing the sound of a second volley being loosed upon her, this time with the amount of magical energy composing them far denser along with their velocities and trajectories individually dictated. The result was that each one had a different flight path and would hit at a different time and location, forcing her to mentally run the calculations through her head as she moved.

She bound backwards to avoid the first and then had to immediately roll as the second had been one of the two targeted to where she could have potentially moved, based on what Alicia knew of her. People built habits in their movements over time and while she had sharpened her skills, they were still baseline. That had been how she fared so poorly against Hyacinthus the second time they fought—he may not have recognized her under her disguise, but he’d figured out how she moved too easily.

However, Lefiya had learned as well and so after the fourth and fifth impact resulted in small ice spires the size of trees blooming around her, she focused her hearing over the crackle of the ice hardening to make out the sound of footfalls and then wheeled around in time as Alicia appeared to her left, opposite of the spell that had been loosed. Taking advantage of her focus on the spell and where the magical energy was discharged, the more experienced of the two managed to move with a level of silence and speed that afforded her the opportunity to ambush the Half-Elf.

The tip of the sheathed blade was thrust forward like a rapier towards her chest, only to skim off the shaft of the staff as Lefiya tucked it close and shifted her footing so that she could twist her body and avoid it.  She used the line of attack to crank her staff upwards, using the rear to knock the blade upwards and it created an opening, which she immediately took advantage. Stepping back while rotating her upper body, she brought the head of the staff around for a clean hit…

Only for the Elleaf to gracefully arch backwards into a handspring that not only allowed the attack to pass over her head but was followed by an elegant motion that ended up with her behind Lefiya. She grabbed the shaft of her staff and then pulled it inwards, pinning it against the Half-Elf’s chest while using her slender arm with the Strength of a Level Four to brace it into place. Then she pressed the point of the blade against her throat.

What now?” Alicia asked softly of the girl whose neck was exposed and her sheathed blade at the ready. If they had been in a real battle, it would be the point at which she would have had her throat slit.

Yet, embraced as they were, Lefiya could feel the older girl’s bosom pressed against her back and feel the gentle brush of her hair against her skin. There was also a lovely evergreen scent coming from her as well. Only the fact that the scabbard started poking against her neck kept her mind from drifting to places it shouldn’t. “…I yield.”

The admission of surrender signaled the end of the first engagement, so Alicia lowered her weapon. But, rather than release her, she instead brought her now empty hand up and gently brushed the Half-Elf atop her head.

“You’ve really improved a lot in such a short time,” Alicia said while wearing a soft smile. “To be honest, I expected to knock you out with the first hit like the last time we practiced. Then we would have to spend several minutes waiting for you to snap back awake.”

The fact that Alicia said that with such complete sincerity took a sledgehammer to the Half-Elf’s pride as she pursed her lips before asking, “Do you have any advice for me?”

“Mmm… you’ve progressed well enough that I’m actually a little worried about giving instructions that go against what your new friend has been teaching you,” Alicia told her before quirking her head ever so slightly. “Or would romantic partner be more accurate, at this point?”

Lefiya’s spine went rigid as she felt heat rushing up from her chest to her head, leaving them a reddish hue that managed to reach the soft curve of her ears that marked her as a child of two races. “H-How did you know?

“You sent Elfy of all people to ask for my facial cream a little bit ago rather than asking me personally before tonight, and you’ve been awfully cheerful,” Alicia explained in a somewhat teasing and amused tone. “Being virtuous doesn’t mean I don’t take notice when one of my juniors has her heart set on another.”

As it turned out, in contrast to a lot of the girls within the Familia, Alicia Forestlight was notably similar to Miss Aiz in that she rebuked anyone who sought to make advances towards her. That was because she had dedicated her heart and soul to the service of Lady Riveria, having aspired since she was younger than Primo to become a Vanguard to the greatest Mage of their people. So great was her devotion that Loki had joked that she was the Garden of Chastity upon which Lady Riveria could tread without the worry of any lustful intentions, which she took as a compliment.

Mind you, Lefiya had only been informed of this after the incident. “W-Well, it would have been awkward if I went and had to explain myself, so…

The embarrassment in her tone only elicited a slight giggle from the older Elf. “Well, I’m honestly happy that you were able to move on. I know how embarrassing it must have been, and I was worried it might have left you emotionally scarred for a decade or so.”

It certainly felt that way, Lefiya would admit to herself. There were no words for how embarrassing that was to where she wanted to lock herself in her room and not come out. Thankfully everyone was mostly understanding and so they pretended it never happened. But it still was traumatizing for a girl her age. “It’s my own fault for not reading the cues, and I think of you like an older sister.”

Alicia’s disposition meant that a lot of the younger girls saw her in that light. But for Lefiya who had only been slightly older than Primo and was raised with Elven sensibilities, it was doubly so. She emulated a similar disposition when she was with Primo because it left such a huge impact on her, though she would ensure that her mistakes weren’t repeated.

“And you’re like a younger sister to me. So don’t be afraid to come to me more often, okay?” That said, she released the Fairy Sniper. “Now, on the topic of your Concurrent Casting, from what I can see that style you practice now is something you would only develop if you had to spend time without expecting anyone else to support you on the frontlines but could guarantee a kill with your Magic. I can only imagine how difficult of a time your friend must’ve had mastering it.”

Lefiya could imagine it very vividly herself. Filvis had been known as Banshee due to the fact she constantly survived incidents that killed other parties she was a part of after surviving the Nightmare on the Twenty-Seventh Floor. It was entirely possible she spent weeks or months all alone refining her Concurrent Chanting so that she could functionally fight on her own and didn’t need to drag others with her and endanger them—a lonely but effective method.

In contrast, the Fairy Force operated in a group and could be protected by Lady Riveria’s magic. So their focus was on Moving and Chanting. But, in the case of Alicia, Chanting wasn’t as large of an issue because both of her spells were Super-Short Chants. The possession of the Mage DA made it so that a Magic Swordswoman could increase the potency of their spell, but a spell with a short chant would rarely beat out one as long as Lefiya’s unless there was a significant Level gap.

If the Fairy Sniper managed to get her spell off then she could most likely kill anything attacking her that wasn’t above a certain threshold, so outside of the bare minimum of self-defense she didn’t need to worry about attacking or defending. “To that end, if you keep focusing on your observational skills during a battle, you’ll be able to better avoid attacks. You already showed as much when you managed to see through my sneak attack well enough to try countering me. However, I do believe the biggest hurdle is improving your chanting speed next.”

Outside of Lady Riveria, one couldn’t change the chant of their spell. However, the speed of the chant was also a factor that could influence the course of a battle. Against the Demi-Spirit, it had managed to go through an Ultra-Long Chant in a ridiculously short amount of time and it was only by the skin of their teeth they were able to hold on despite their efforts to cut it short.

“Since you have the basics down, we’ll spend the rest of practice working on reducing the time it takes for you to consistently cast Arcs Ray and avoiding getting hit for as long as possible,” Alicia decided. “I’ll be going a little faster to give you more of a challenge, so try to keep up.”

And, with that, the Fairy Sniper continued her dance with the Elleaf on the grassy field nestled beneath the earth.

[-The Seventh Floor-]

Uwaah…” A soft, tired whine escaped from the small lips of a young Elf slouched down on the Seventh Floor of the Dungeon. Primo Liberia was clutching her Oaken Staff in order to stay upright as her legs lost their strength, her body twitching as her muscles contracted and expanded while a pulsing numbness spread throughout with every beat of her heart.

The Neophyte Elven Mage was currently at her limit of using her third spell without rest and the post-magic rigor was taking its toll as she had exerted what magical force she could muster to handle the objective for today—clearing out the Seventh Floor Pantry. Pantries were a place within the Dungeon where a large quartz crystal would secrete food for monsters, thus leaving it often filled with them. That made it the best place on the Upper Floors for them to practice for numerous reasons.

The first was that for someone with a spell that fell into the category of Wide Area Bombardment, they really shined when clearing out swathes of enemies in a single area. Or against a singular but large target. Yet the floors prior to the Sixth Floor were much narrower and thus not quite the easiest to fire within considering Primo had yet to be able to manipulate the various aspects of the spell and lacked finer understandings of trajectories.

The second factor was the damage her spell caused. The rays of starlight did not distinguish friend from foe and all caught within it would be seared by the starlight until the spell ran its course. That meant they could very well be reduced to ashes, including drop items and magic stones. So her spell was limited in terms of usefulness depending on the amount of space and if they needed to gather up anything of value to be taken in the Exchange.

For a larger Familia like the Loki Familia, such small pickings weren’t worth the space they would take up on an expedition nor the effort to harvest them. So clearing them out was no problem. But, for a small Familia like theirs, it meant they had to also take that into consideration and was likely one of the other reasons that Lefiya had suggested Primo take up the bow as an alternative method of contributing.

The Seventh Floor was something of a compromise as the Killer Ants often attacked in swarms and they had enough space to where she could clear them out. That would earn her more excelia towards using her Magic with minimal assistance. Then, while she recovered, they could handle dealing with the monsters that held more valuable drop items, allowing them to hopefully make up for their expenses in a shorter amount of time—or so Lili said in her role as the Familia’s treasurer.

They had considered the Tenth Floor would probably be a decent alternative, as that was where larger Level One category monsters spawned. But they had to take into account the fact that the low visibility of the fog would hamper someone like Primo, who was just starting out as a Mage. She would be on edge at not being able to see, afraid of anything that could jump out at her in the fog and disrupt her concentration.

However, it seemed that by chance a larger variant of the Killer Ant emerged. It was called a Crystal Ant, larger than any monster on the top part of the Upper Floors and a rare spawn. Primo had been tasked with dispatching it, something that was still rattling her.

“Make sure she didn’t accidentally destroy the drop item from it,” Lili called out to Welf who had been keeping the monster at bay until she finished her cast. “A Crystal Block is worth a small fortune, and between the Blue Papillon Wings being worth 1,800 valis each and the Purple Moth Wings being worth 300 each, that should be enough to account for a fifth of what it cost to outfit Mistress Primo.”

The Blacksmith sighed before holstering his nameless sword on his back and then checking through the large deposit of ash within the smoldering crater left behind. That left Lili to use her Supporter Gloves to carefully harvest the wings into different glass containers given that they were both delicate and they shed powder that was valuable in itself. Mikoto, on the other hand, came over and gave the child a waterskin to drink from. “Here you go.”

Thank you,” Primo told her gratefully before indulging with small sips.

“You did well,” Bell said in a gentle tone as he crouched down and gently patted her on the head. In truth, he probably should have been the one to handle it, but Lili had pointed out that he would be better suited to taking out the second wave of monsters that had filed in when it did, given his Level, as the excelia for besting the rarer spawn would benefit her the most.

Mikoto then turned to him. “Sir Bell, perhaps after we are done we should head back to the surface to rest before this night festivities?”

“That would probably be—” His words cut off when the sound of a shrill cry reached his ears and he stood up abruptly. “Did you hear that?”

The kunoichi shook her head. “I didn’t hear anything, but our Levels are lower than yours.”

“It sounded like a girl screaming,” Bell said, legs tensing. “I’m going to check it out for myself. Stay here for now.”

Then like a coiled spring being let loose, he took off towards the direction of the scream that he’d heard. Since reaching Level Three, Bell had become fast enough that traversing the Dungeon’s Upper Floors in a very short amount of time wasn’t an issue. The problem was finding the origin of the voices he heard within the expansive floor before it was too late, the reverberations carried out by the cavernous walls themselves as he reached a crossroads and focused on listening—

Miss Kaede, watch out!

There! He pivoted towards the northern path and focused his eyes, catching a glimpse of a purple-haired woman who looked a few years his senior in the distance. For a moment he thought it was her that he had heard, but the chittering of Killer Ants and another scream told him otherwise. So he rushed past her as the air stirred like a gale before his superhuman perception registered the sight before him.

Lining the walls, skittering around the cavernous ground, threading the battered and slashed remains of their fallen brethren, a horde of Killer Ants were descending upon a group of three adventurers—all young women.

The first was a Hume Bunny, dressed in a shortened lavender kosode emblazoned with a maple leaf. It was torn in several places to expose a white sarashi around her chest. Her skin was dyed red from exertion and glistening with sweat, breaks in the flesh from which deep crimson ran and spilled out. Even so, she held onto a similar sword to Mikoto in a tight grip while her yellow eyes were furrowed in determination.

Next to her was a Pallum dressed in a jacket and shorts that were in warm tones but had golden hemming. She had the standard guild-issued breastplate and a Warhammer, both covered in purple goo, that shook in her grip as her blue eyes beneath her short, curly hair took in how surrounded they were by their enemies. Her injuries were relatively lighter by contrast, but the way she struggled to remain upright showed that she wasn’t exactly in fighting form.

Last was a girl with long, flowing dark hair adorned with a decorative maple leaf hairpin that rose up to a pair of fox ears and a tail—a Renard, from what he knew based on her appearance. It was the first time he had seen one and, judging from how her outfit resembled a stylized version of a priestess outfit that he heard the Far Eastern Gods and Goddesses had an affinity for, he suspected she was some kind of Mage. Of the three she was the only one who wasn’t injured as the two others seemed to be acting as her Vanguards, but her breathing was heavy and her golden eyes seemed to be dulled along with traces of purple powder covering her clothes.

The Killer Ants had surrounded them from all angles at this point, leaving them with their backs against the wall. The sheer numbers reminded him of what happened with Lili. Had they failed to kill some and then ended up getting swarmed due to the pheromones calling out for more to surround them?

…It didn’t matter. There were girls in front of him who were in danger. He could save the questions for later. “GET DOWN!

His voice, ringing loud and firm within the cavern, reached them. Their eyes—yellow, blue, and golden—turned in his direction. There was a momentarily flash of recognition even though he didn’t recognize them, and then the Hume Bunny grabbed them both and pulled their heads down as she covered them with her body.

Bell held out his hand and let loose his spell. “FIREBOLT!

Three blazing rays shot forward. His increase in both his Magic and his Level had made them far thicker and destructive compared to a short time ago. And because of his practice with his sister in preparation for the War Game he could now let loose three at once—a rapid Firebolt volley.

They detonated within the hordes of the Killer Ants. The bolts came loose, unbound as the force of the explosion tore apart those close by and the flames lashed out, consuming those within its reach and cooking them within their chitinous exoskeletons. Just like that, a path was opened for him to reach them. “Are you okay!?”

“Cottontail!” said the Hume Bunny in an accent that was somewhat rougher than he expected. “Ya gotta get Shino and Coco outta here! They breathed in too much of that powder before I could kill ‘em!”

That explained it. Their backline must have been poisoned by Purple Moths from above while their focus had been on dealing with the Killer Ants surrounding them, a risk when you were being attacked in all directions like in the Dungeon. Hearing that, Bell crouched down and then grabbed the two beneath his arms before he turned his back to the Hume Bunny. “Climb on!”

She did so, clinging to his back and wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as he rose to his full height. Then Bell ran as fast as he could back to the Pantry, leaving their equipment behind. He had already memorized the pathway so there was no hesitation as his motions became a blur that dragged the wind behind him, drowning out all sound and thought until he emerged through the mouth of the entry way.

The moment he breached the opening, he called out for his Familia as he set them down. “Lili, these three need Antidotes and Potions! Mikoto, I need your help to make sure that a horde of Killer Ants in one of the passages nearby gets cleared out. Welf keep them and Primo safe!

Even though she did not fully understand what was happening, the Absolute Shadow understood from Bell’s tone he was speaking as the Captain of the Hestia Familia. So Mikoto followed him out, reasoning that her part was due to her skills, which allowed her to track any monster she had encountered before. She could ensure that none were missed and left to secrete pheromones that could risk another horde descending upon the corridor as they killed the remaining ones.

The two of them moved ahead with Mikoto triggering her skill along the path where her senses registered the congregation of dozens of them to the spot he had been previously. The Killer Ants that hadn’t died swiftly to his Magic had released more pheromones and so the chittering had become loud enough that it bounced off the walls. Left unchecked they could cause a small-scale Monster Parade, an outbreak where a massive number of monsters surged through a floor.

With his blood pounding in his ears, Bell called forth his Magic and loosed his flaming lances one after another. “Firebolt! Firebolt! Firebolt!

The thunderous roar of rupturing stone. Intense flames scorching the air. The acrid scent of melting chitin and shrieks from inhuman maws. His senses congested with slaughter as he devoted himself to the eradication of the horde, the Caerbannog Cottontail bared his with his black and red fangs as he went into a Rabbit Rush.

Kinetic vision heightened to the point where they were moving as slow as molasses made it so that his knives could find their necks. Deceptively powerful legs crushed through exoskeletons as hard as armor with every step. Flashing violet and streaking crimson cut through chitin with the ease of slicing through bread. Flowing from one to the next with fluid motions as his momentum carried him through their ranks, the corridor was left awash in the shower of ichor as the blood pumped through the veins escaped loosely into the air while their severed heads were left behind in his wake.

Some escaped his fangs as he prioritized taking down as many as possible in a single passing. His ears caught the faint sound of the air being parted by the edge of Mikoto’s sword as she followed behind him to deal with the stragglers. The survivors had to be killed before their pheromones could compound and spread further, and with her skill she could pick out the dying from the dead with greater ease, ensuring they were swiftly eradicated.

Bell lost track of time as his blades flashed. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but it felt longer with his drawn-out perception of time that came from his heightened Level when in combat mode. It was only when Mikoto called out that there were no more he looked to see what was left in his wake.

The chamber and corridors were littered with enough corpses to resemble a mausoleum. The light-green walls were splattered with purple ichor without rhyme or reason, abstract to the point it seemed that someone had haphazardly thrown buckets of paint throughout the area. The discarded and half-empty containers left slowly growing puddles on the ground that filled in the cracks and crevices as a haunting silence was all that was left in their wake where before it was loud and cacophonic.

Finally, Bell breathed deep from his chest and looked around for their equipment. The Adventurer’s Backpack that one of them had been carrying was still intact, though torn in several places by the mandibles that had likely been attempting to gouge out flesh instead. The Warhammer that had been left behind was splashed in purple, droplets rolling off the metal and joining the growing puddle beneath it.

He picked them both up and returned to the Pantry along with Mikoto. When they arrived, they found the three of them being treated. The Hume Bunny was simply dousing herself overhead with three Potion without care while Welf looked on with a half-puzzled, half-amused gaze, while Primo was near the Pallum whose hands were shaking as she held a waterskin offered to her by the Elf. The Renard was lying on the ground, catching her breath with a bundled-up cloak being used as a pillow after her top had been stripped off with her upper body covered by Primo’s jacket, but her eyes had regained some of their luster.

“Are they going to be okay?” Bell asked Lili as he set their things down, given that out of all of them she had the best understanding of First Aid due to needing to look after herself.

“None of their injuries are crippling so the Potions can mend their wounds, but one had succumbed to poisoning to the point that even with the Antidote she will be fatigued and ill for a little while. We removed her clothes that were covered in the poison dust and had the other two split an Antidote just in case, but all of them will recover.”

“That’s good,” Bell said with a soft sigh before looking over to the Hume Bunny whose ears were folded downwards like she was exhausted. “Was it just the three of you? When I originally was heading that way I saw someone else, but I didn’t see them on the way back…”

Her head tilted at that. “Dunno bout that. Wasn’t anyone but us who came from the Familia.”

“Most likely it was just a random Adventurer who heard the commotion and went to see the situation,” Lili stated. “If you heard their screaming all the way here due to your Level then it must have been loud enough that Adventurers close by would have heard it too. In that case, it would not surprise me if they figured out what was happening and simply ran to the Fifth Floor since Killer Ants are one of the few species on the Upper Floors that can actually cause a Monster Parade to occur on their own.”

“Woulda been good to know beforehand.” She brought her hands to her hair and ran her fingers between her ears frustratedly. “Bastards never said anythin’ bout them or those flyin’ pests when they told us about this floor being a good one to farm.”

That earned a furrowed brow from Lili as Bell spoke. “Ah, right. Maybe we should introduce ourselves considering everything. We’re—”

“The Hestia Familia,” the Hume Bunny said before he could finish. “Saw most of ya’ll on the mirrors when we got here. Ya especially caught my eye, Cottontail.”

“…in what regard?” Lili asked in a tone that was a fair bit more serious than before.

“His title!” she exclaimed. “I wanna beat him and take it for myself!”

“That’s… not how that works here,” Mikoto said after briefly clearing her throat before elaborating to the rest of them. “In my homeland, sometimes warriors would challenge others of renown to best them and raise their own standing. Titles, weapons, and the like could be wagered, though it isn’t practiced as often that close to the capital from what I am told.”

Forgive her…” A soft voice came from the Renard. Her accent was similar to her companion’s, but it felt slightly more refined and formal. “That one speaks without thinkin’ too much… and gets on over her head if no one keeps an eye on her. In this case… we were misled and are kindly grateful for your aid.

Mikoto’s gaze softened. “Pardon if I am being presumptuous, but from your accent and explanations, it sounds as though you two are relatively new to Orario?”

“Uhmm… all three of us arrived around the same time as the War Game, which is how we recognized Mister Cottontail,” the Pallum said, having regained a level of composure as she reached into her pouch and pulled out a Familia Emblem. One with a crescent moon and wine glass. “My name is Coco, and these two are Kaede and Momiji. We’re new members of the Soma Familia.”

The moment the senior members of the Familia spotted the emblem, their eyes inadvertently were drawn back to Liliruca whose lips pursed thin. They had gone to rescue her from the Soma Familia’s compound after they had been attacked by them days before the War Game. But the fact that the girl openly admitted it and looked confused by the shift in tone made it clear she knew nothing.

For her part, Lili merely sighed before holding up a hand. “I think I understand what happened. Let me guess, some of the older members of the Familia gave you a map and told you it’d be easy to get down here to earn a lot of Valis quickly?”

“That’s right,” Coco continued before she pulled a roughly drawn map out next and laid it down for them to see. There was a spot circled. “They said here would be best.”

Bell’s blood ran cold. It was a sentiment shared by Mikoto and Welf as a scowl appeared on the latter’s face while the former’s eyes folded in. Primo simply looked puzzled, but that was because she hadn’t memorized the maps of the Upper Floors. She didn’t understand the implications.

And neither did Coco. “Is there something wrong?”

“That’s the Pantry we’re in now,” Bell stated. “The fact that they told you to come here without even telling you about how Killer Ants can draw others to them means…”

“Don’t sugarcoat it, Master Bell,” Lili said rather coldly. “It’s no different than what the others did to get rid of Mister Ged and tried to do to get rid of me. They sent them here to die.”

The atmosphere within the Pantry grew tense as that registered to the three. Coco’s expression was one of disbelief, while Momiji’ eyes closed in thought. Opposite them, Kaede’s grip on her sword became much tighter, to the point it shook in anger. “Yer kiddin’, right?”

She was not. “The Seventh Floor is arguably the most dangerous for new Adventurers because it introduces a wider variety of monsters. When Zanis was displeased with a new member of the Familia or the others wanted to avoid competition for Lord Soma’s Wine, they would often ‘suggest’ that they come to the Seventh Floor or give them a map marked with a spot that would be a good place to earn Valis. I have seen many people who only joined the Familia never come back.”

War Shadows on the Sixth Floor were dangerous because they were a singular spike in the difficulty when it came to monsters compared to Goblins and Kobolds. They were smarter and their claws were capable of cutting through armor easily. But Killer Ants had hard enough bodies that getting through their defenses to kill them so they couldn’t call for help was exceedingly difficult for new Adventurers. And without Abnormal Resistance or Antidotes, they could easily end up getting poisoned by the Purple Moths.

Ignorant of that, sending them down here alone was a death sentence.

“However, one thing doesn’t make sense,” Lili stated as she looked over their equipment. “Killer Ant bodies are durable enough that without high enough Strength none of you would even be able to get through their armor with these weapons. That should have stopped you from going deeper or wounding enough to draw too many in. And your wounds are light considering how Killer Ants can easily cut apart new Adventurers.”

She was right when Bell considered it. Miss Coco was using Guild-issued armor and weapons at the very least, and the other two didn’t seem to have any special equipment. Their clothes didn’t seem to be very durable considering the rips and tears, meaning that the wounds they had likely should have been deeper unless they had higher Endurance parameters.

“Renards are often known as Sorceresses and Sorcerers in our homeland for possessing the ability to use unique Magics even before the Gods descended,” Mikoto explained. Her violet eyes once more gazing upon the young woman holding her wand that was decorated by paper streamers. “However, judging from your accessory and Nusa, should I assume you were previously a priestess in the service a shrine and thus had a Falna?”

Momiji nodded her head. “The shrine my village had was under the care of Lady Tatsuta far in the countryside, an’ so my kin served her for generations. But after Tsukino went an’ got herself into trouble and had to leave, I begged the lady for her blessin’ to come to Orario with her in exchange for sendin’ back offerings to the shrine. We arrived a little bit ago an’ got wind of the Soma Familia lookin’ for new members.

In other words, her Goddess unlocked her Falna so she could do a conversion to another Familia when she arrived in Orario. Considering the city made it extremely difficult for Adventurers to leave the walls without going through a lot of paperwork, and with her home being so far away, she likely sacrificed any chance of going back. And while having a Falna and Magic might have made her more valuable, there was no guarantee whatever deity took her in would do the same for her friend or a Pallum.

That alone with how the Hume Bunny begged him to save the other two first made it clear they were rather tight-knit, unlike the rest of the Familia they had just joined. But they hadn’t known that and expected it to be the same. It would have gotten them killed if Bell hadn’t been nearby.

“In other words, you got careless because of it,” Lili said bluntly. “Whatever Magic you have might have allowed you to get down here sooner than you were supposed to, but because of that you didn’t have a full understanding of what awaited you. If you had realized early on that you couldn’t go any further, then you would not have gotten in deeply enough to be swarmed and risk a Monster Parade.”

Welf gave her a stern glance. “Hey now. That’s not on them.”

“If those bastards hadn’t lied ta us then we woulda never came this deep,” Kaede added.

The fault is our own,” Momiji said softly in contrast to those who were arguing in her defense. “We believed in them too easily an’ still mistook the threat we faced until it was too late because of it. Lesson learned for the future.

That seemed to be what Lili wanted to hear as she nodded her head. “Not everyone will give you bad advice but don’t believe everything you are told just because you are Familia. New Adventurers are easy prey, so at least verify things that put your life in danger.”

“I don’t understand though,” Coco said somberly. It was like the wind had been knocked out of her. “Lord Soma seemed so nice when he took us in. He told me that he was trying to take his Familia in a new direction and wanted us to help him. So why would they…”

“Most of Lord Soma’s current members are loyal to his wine, not him,” Lili pointed out. “Even if Zanis got put away and Lord Soma changed his policy, it doesn’t change the fact that the others have gotten used to the way things work. It would not surprise me if they intended to use your deaths as an excuse for why they should be given Soma to better guide newcomers, or perhaps they were trying to kill Miss Coco by proxy since they don’t dare come after me now that I’m under Master Bell’s protection.”

That said, she turned to her captain. “Master Bell. Forgive me for this selfish request, but may we head to the Soma Familia after leaving the Dungeon with these three?”

“I don’t mind, but would you really be comfortable with that?” Bell asked. He knew that place had a lot of bad memories for her.

“If Lord Soma sincerely wants to change his Familia for the better, he needs to be aware that it won’t be enough to simply change who is calling the shots and recruiting new members,” Lili told him. “He has to completely root out all traces of the old practices, otherwise his efforts will fail. And I have to be the one to convey that to him personally or else it won’t be clear, and his own children will sabotage him without him realizing it until it’s too late.”

Even if Lili hated her time in his Familia, it was clear she still had some degree of respect for her former God. These three were the signs he was making the first steps to change things sincerely rather than leaving them as they were. And whether it was by pure luck or fate she had borne witness to it and the Familia that took her in had stopped his efforts from being wasted.

“Okay,” Bell said. “We’ll go see Lord Soma. If anyone goes and tries to get in your way this time, I’ll step in.”

“In that case, I would like to contribute as well by introducing you both to Lord Takemikazuchi at some point, Madam Kaede and Momiji,” Mikoto said, looking to the pair. “He could at least explain some of the cultural differences, so you will not be so easily taken advantage of again. I can also show you where to find familiar foods and comforts.”

“…Why?” Kaede asked after a pause. “Not that it wouldn’t be appreciated, but ya just said not to trust everythin’ we hear.”

It was Primo who spoke on her new Familia’s behalf. “It’s because they’re all nice people. Lady Hestia and the others took me in when I had just arrived around the same time as you, and they’ve done so much for me without asking for anything in return. That’s why I want to pay it all back by becoming the best Mage I can be for them, even if it’s scary at times. It’s the same for you, right?”

Her question was addressed specifically to the Pallum who had spoken well of Lord Soma. Coco responded with a slight nod of her head. “He seemed really sincere, and he didn’t reject me for just being a Pallum either.”

“As for me, what guy would just sit back and let scum get away with sending three cute girls off to die because they’re petty over some wine?” Welf said while sporting a grin to Kaede. “They need their priorities checked, and since we’re heading that way there’s no harm in it, right?”

…Who ya callin’ cute?” murmured the Hume Bunny as her yellow eyes looked away. There seemed to be a spot of crimson color surfacing on her cheeks, but it seemed to go unnoticed.  “Gonna kill those bastards.

“In my case, as my original Familia hails from the Far East, we know of the struggles when it comes to acclimating ourselves to this place,” Mikoto added with her eyes on Momiji. “It would not do for your first experience in Orario to be one completely negative as this one. And, as we have walked the same path, it’s only natural we help those who come after, no?”

That would be much appreciated,” the Renard Priestess said. “I would be lyin’ if I said I don’t miss a meal from home about now.

That decided, the Hestia Familia brought the three to the surface and made their way to the Soma Familia. After some mild obstructions, including pulling Kaede off of the one who gave them the map in particular before she bruised her fists on their skull, a discussion was had between the God and his Captain, his old Familia member, and his new ones on the full extent of his Familia’s problems. It took a few hours before a decision was made that would leave the Soma Familia’s numbers drastically reduced by the week’s end in the hopes that they could start again.

Thus, the Hestia Familia headed back to their home where their Goddess of the Hearth awaited. They would put off going to the Exchange for the day so they could get ready for the festivities that were about to begin. After all, the sun was setting…

And the Holy Moon Festival was about to begin.


Fanfic Recommendation 108


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 25 – 26

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.

Rabbit of the Moon 20

Summary: In a different world, Bell Cranel died at the hands of the Minotaur on the Fifth Floor. The Moon Presence, searching for a new Hunter to bring the long night to an end, just so happened to stumble across his soul on the way to Heaven. Thus a contract was established.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

Summary: In the distant past, before the Gods descended onto the lower world, Heroes made contracts with Spirits to fight the monsters born from the Dungeon. But with the descent of the Gods and the advent of the Falna, those Heroes and Spirits have passed onto legend. However, with the discovery of a certain object in the Dungeon, these legends will return to life once more.


A Code Geass Fanfic

Summary: Lelouch had been quite happy with his life. Sure they were living in obscurity, but he and Nunnally were safe. All of that changes however, when his identity is revealed and Lelouch is forced back into the fold of the Imperial family.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 26 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 26: Holy Moon Festival – Morning

I began studying Magic with the forest we were guided to by the Spirits as our home for the time being. The first lesson was naturally the nature of the Spirits themselves. Understanding them were the key to cooperation and thus the wisdom they could bestow after all.

Spirits existed within the world, embodiments of nature given life by the Gods and said to be those closest to the divinities on the Lower World, as they could hear their voices and respond. The fact that we Elves could enter into a contract with them directly meant that we were a race favored by the Gods, unlike the other mortal races who should only be so lucky if the Gods deigned to turn their attention upon them. Or so Elio claimed.

I had reservations (naturally) but stilled my tongue. Argo placed his faith in me, relegating himself to sleeping on the outskirts of the forest and effectively doing all the manual labor for us so that the Elf could teach me without any distractions. If he could bear with that much for my sake, then I should be able to do the same for him.

I had to if I was going to be able to protect him.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic I: Spirits

[-|-|-|-]

 

Bell Cranel stirred awake as early as usual on the day of the Holy Moon Festival.

He had always been early to rise from the time he lived on the mountain and worked the farm along with his grandfather. Daylight was precious and tending to crops happened to be more time-consuming than one would expect. In Orario that translated to reaching the Dungeon relatively early enough to beat the morning rush…

At least that had been back when it had been only Bell and his Goddess as members of the Familia.

He exited his modest room set on the east side of the Hearth Manor’s third floor. The spacious estate had become their home, constructed of stone, wood, and glass, covered an expansive amount of space to where they had more room than they knew what to do with it. Cleaning it all alone would likely become a nightmare, to the point where Lady Hestia was considering hiring help to deal with it once everything settled down.

Bell made his way from his room out into an expansive corridor where the light from the sun poured in through the windows. At the end of the corridor was one of the larger bathrooms that he could use to get himself ready for the day. He took his time to wash himself clean, leaving out refreshed and invigorated as he stretched his limbs that had been loosened by the heated water.

Then he got dressed and proceeded a few doors down towards Welf’s room. Since it would be time for breakfast soon he figured he would wake him just in case he had stayed up too late at the forge. He knocked on the door a few times but there was no answer. “Welf, are you there?”

After listening for a response and hearing none with his Level Three perception, he tested the handle and found that it opened. Welf was nowhere to be found inside. Bell let out a sigh as he realized Welf had spent the night outside again.

Since Lady Hestia had the manor remodeled to suit their needs, she gave Welf his own personal forge since he lost access to the one he would have had with his original goddess when he transferred over. However, there have been cases where he would stay up late to practice his forging to an extent that bordered on obsession in Lili’s words. The fact that he slept in the forge didn’t exactly refute her claims, even if he stated he was just trying not to get rusty.

I’d better get him before Lady Hestia finds out, Bell reasoned. The Goddess of the Hearth treated them as they were her own children and, while she wouldn’t scold them, she could find a way to make them feel guilty for not listening at the expense of their own health. It never felt great to be on the receiving end.

He made his way towards the main foyer where the pair of winding staircases would lead him down to the first floor. However, on his way down, he spotted the other early riser within the Hestia Familia. “Good morning, Miss Mikoto.”

The kunoichi paused in midstride from the floor below and turned her head in his direction, giving him a glimpse of her eyes that looked rather satisfied. Her normally lovely white skin was flushed a red shade from residual heat from the morning bathing she did with one of the baths that had been converted to be more suitable to the Far East style on the lower floor so that all of them had access to it. It was divided into two rooms, of course.

She brushed a stray lock of her raven hair that hung delicately in front of her face and gave him an amicable smile. “Good morning, Sir Bell. I was about to begin working on breakfast after waking the others up.”

“I can do that since I’m already up here,” Bell said, looking over to his left where the other set of stairs would lead him to the women’s wing. They had divided the third floor between the two sides to give both genders a level of privacy, though there was no real hard rule that prevented one side from visiting the other. And Lady Hestia’s room was actually located in the center as it was the largest, being what he presumed was the Master bedroom with a view of the courtyard.

“You have my thanks,” Mikoto stated. “I’ll have breakfast ready for everyone by the time they are all woken and have cleaned themselves up for the day.”

With that, the kunoichi headed towards the kitchen while Bell ascended to the opposite side. Mikoto’s room was the very first room by the stairway but, given that she was already awake, he skipped over it and went for Lili’s door. “Lili, are you up?”

There was the sound of wood scuffing the floor from what he presumed was a chair as smaller footfalls crossed the space. The door opened to reveal Lili dressed in a nightshirt and pants. “Master Bell, did you need something from me?”

“No, I was just coming to wake you up,” he said. “But it seemed like you were already up.”

“I woke a little while ago and thought I should look over the lesson plan for the day after we go to the Dungeon,” she explained. It turned out that due to her… circumstances, Lili had a pretty solid grasp of math compared to the rest of them. So not only was she the Familia Treasurer who kept track of their finances, but she was also helping Primo with the arithmetic portion of her studies.

Bell felt a little embarrassed that he couldn’t do much in that regard. He was literate and knew basic mathematics, but the rest was beyond him. So when she revealed that she could help he had asked her to without a second thought, but he didn’t expect it would interfere with her sleep schedule.

That done, he proceeded down the corridor to the next occupied room to wake up Primo. In contrast to the immediacy of Lili’s response to his knocking and call, he could hear the soft sounds on the other side of the door of the child slowly rising from her bed. Her steps were heavy as she staggered forward and fumbled with the handle. When the door opened it revealed the prepubescent Elf with her eyes still closed, hair disheveled, and her nightgown wrinkled as she and swayed on her feet.

Ish… redi… Cap’n…” Primo mumbled while still half-asleep, taking a step forward and bumping into Bell before reflexively bringing her arms around his waist to cling to him. Out of all of them, Primo was not used to waking up early. It was likely due to the fact that she was new to the lifestyle of an Adventurer in combination with her young age, so she was a little slower to rise than the others. “Mmnnn…zzz…

“Hey, don’t use Master Bell as a pillow!” Lili called out as she emerged from her room and pried the Elf off of him while Bell just laughed awkwardly. “I thought you Elves were supposed to be prim and proper.”

Only once she was pulled from Bell and back into her own room did Primo’s consciousness seem to spark awake fully. Her eyes snapped open and, seeing those ruby eyes upon her as Bell waved, she promptly shut the door before calling out, “I-I’m not decent, Captain! Please give me a moment!

“You don’t need to rush,” Bell told her over the sound of shuffling and light chastisement from Lili on the other side of the door. She almost sounded like an older sister in the way she was telling her she needed to be more aware of what she was doing when getting up. “We’ll have breakfast ready within an hour, so both of you can take your time.”

With those two up, Bell turned his attention to Hestia’s room located behind where the stairwells met. He knocked on the door and called out to her. “Goddess, are you awake?”

Bell, come inside. I want to show you something,” she responded through the door. Her dutiful child did so, opening the door and entering the room that was far larger than any of theirs. His ruby eyes spanned the room only to for his breath to hitch as he took in her appearance as she did a twirl with the morning sun coming from the balcony window behind her.

Hestia’s long and flowing black hair seemed glossy in the morning light while beneath a deep blue veil with gold trimmings. Elegant white fabric formed a collar around her neck to a sapphire pendant, which allowed the excess cloth to flow around her upper arms like ribbons. It was only because they were attached to golden shoulder bands that they didn’t fly freely, but left arches of flowing fabric that trailed after her.

Her voluptuous bust was cradled by more of the virgin white fabric with bands of gold acting as a pseudo-corset. They matched the ones circling around her hips to hug her waist, holding up the long skirt that was split into two sections, with the center being a long strip of blue rimmed with gold while the rest was white. The wind carried it up enough that he could see up to her knees as she spun around elegantly for him.

“What do you think?” she asked, coming to a stop with the flowing fabric following gently after her. “Isn’t it cute?”

Heat brimmed from his chest to his head. “Goddess, when did you get that?”

“I found it in in the closet when we moved in,” she explained. “It’s a perfect recreation of one of the outfits that I wore back in Heaven, so I can only assume that Apollo had gotten it made during the time he declared the War Game. He must have forgotten it when we took his home.”

Goddess, I’m pretty sure he didn’t forget it so much as he left it on purpose, Bell thought to himself with a bitter grimace. The fact that it was a perfect recreation of one of her outfits in Heaven and fit her so well spoke of the man’s obsession with her. Even so, he couldn’t deny it suited her somewhat in being more regal yet divine compared to her normal outfit. “You look beautiful, Goddess.”

She smiled at his praise. “The last time I wore it was when Artemis and I were up above. Aphrodite had come by to bug us as per usual. Since it’s been so long since I’ve seen her and the Holy Moon Festival was tonight, I felt nostalgic and thought I’d want to wear it for the dance.”

An unsettling sensation fell into his stomach. He had promised her that he would dance with her, even though he wasn’t any good at dancing. The last time he danced with Aiz it was more like they managed to avoid stepping on each other’s toes since they had practiced enough to read one another’s rhythm. Not to mention the fact that it was supposed to be a mostly couples affair…

His ruminations of the impending horror that was a moonlit dance amidst strangers and him embarrassing himself were cut short when he noticed Hestia beginning to remove the bangles, indicating she was getting ready to get undressed. He promptly turned away. “Anyway, I should go and finish waking up Welf. I’ll see you at breakfast!”

Bidding her farewell for the moment, Bell vacated the Master Bedroom and made his way down the stairs to head out to the forge. But before he did so, he peered out through one of the foyer windows towards the gates to see if there were any people were out there, beyond the fountain. They usually only appeared after breakfast and the numbers had been dropping as of late thankfully, but there were still more than he liked. It seemed that with the festival being today none were too eager to try to grab their attention, so the gate was clear for the moment.

Hopefully, it would stay that way.

He made his way out back, the morning air carrying with it a slight autumn chill. But it wasn’t cold enough to see his breath yet as he went close to the edge of the backyard where the trees and gates formed a perimeter. There a forge had been built for Welf’s sole use.

“Welf,” Bell called out as he opened the door. “Are you in here?”

A rough grunt was his answer as he reached over towards a magic stone lantern and turned it on to find the Blacksmith lying down on his workbench, turning from the light as if it was the bane of his existence. But then he forced himself up and ran his calloused hands through his hair before yawning. “Is it morning already?”

“The others are already getting up,” Bell answered. “If you don’t hurry, Lady Hestia will find out you spent the night here and be upset.”

“Don’t want that to happen,” he said, standing up before looking over to a hammer. “Hephaestus will hear of it too, and it’d just make me look like I still need to be looked after despite everything I said then. But the second one was so close that I just had to finish it.”

Bell’s ruby eyes traced his gaze over to the wall where he spotted a great sword. The steel was black, waves running along it in a way that made it seem like flames that were rimmed by fiery red hue. It was most likely a Fire Element weapon.

“In my dreams I see a sword of flames and lightning,” Welf explained as he reached over and picked up what looked to be a stiletto. It had a brass-toned handle, but the blade was a golden color. “I’ve been trying to get closer to that by experimenting with different types of blades and blacksmithing techniques, but none of them have come close to that yet. There’s something I’m missing.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure out what it is eventually,” Bell assured him. “And even if these ones are fragile, they’ll serve to keep our Familia safe. That’s what matters, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” He rose to his full height and stretched before moving to the door. As he passed by, he set a hand on Bell’s shoulder. “Sorry to make you go out of your way for me. It’ll be the last time.”

And with that, the rest of Hestia’s Familia were inside of the mansion they called home. The hour came and went, with their breakfast being a serving of eggs that were made in a Far East style that Mikoto called a rolled omelet accompanied by slices of ham and toast with fruit slices. They discussed their plans for the day over it.

“So, how deep will we be going today?” Welf asked from his seat on the right side of the table, positioned between Mikoto and Lili. Unlike the others, he was placing them between slices of toast and ham to make a sandwich while Mikoto was skillfully using a pair of chopsticks and Lili was using a fork and knife.

Bell finished chewing his slice of an egg before answering. “We’ll stick with the Upper Floors since we can handle the monsters and have a chance to work out our group dynamics with Primo. Besides, Goddess is expecting us to come home earlier today.”

“That’s right,” Hestia said. “The Holy Moon Festival is tonight, and we should all have a chance to celebrate and relax while things are finally winding down from the War Game. It’s the first time for myself, Bell, and Primo, so we should enjoy it together.”

The Elven Mage, who was happily eating her peach slices, perked up at hearing that. “Does that mean I can take a break from studying tonight?”

Lili rebuked that notion quickly. “Don’t be silly. We’ll simply study earlier and fit in time after your archery practice in the courtyard. You still can barely hit the target as is.”

Primo’s pointed ears comically deflated at that. “Uwaahh…

“A little break is fine, Miss Supporter,” Hestia said before brushing the child’s hair. “That goes for her and you. It’s nice you’re pushing yourself to meet Bell’s expectations since he’s relying on you, but it’s important to rest every now and again. Right, Bell?”

Bell was quick to agree with a beaming smile. “That’s right. You’ve earned as much of a break as anyone, Lili.”

Her chestnut eyes turned away from him as she sported a hint of crimson in her cheeks. “If Master Bell insists, we can take a break today…

The news that she would be let off for the day from her relatively hard schooling brightened Primo’s smile. “If we’re all going, does that mean Miss Lefiya will be there too?”

“We might see her there, but I think she has a date tonight,” Bell said, recalling his sister’s plans. It had come up during one of their talks considering the whole ‘I want grandkids’ message from her mother. “I don’t think she’d appreciate it if we interrupted her. At the very least it would get awkward between us again…”

Primo tilted her head quizzically at that. “Awkward?”

Well… ah…” Bell decidedly chose his words carefully given that he didn’t want to bring up the whole matter on the 18th Floor that involved women in various states of undress and then the groping incident. “Let’s just say things between us weren’t always as friendly and I don’t want things to go back to that way.

He had been on the receiving end of her wrath before. And, from his limited experience with women, he had a strong feeling that they would dislike interference with their romance. Thus, he felt it best if he stayed far away from her tonight if he could help it.

[-Twilight Manor-]

In the heart of a forest, nestled deep in the verdant green, laid a Great Tree.

The stalwart tree that stood as a sentinel was unshakable. It withstood the passing of ages and every obstacle that nature birthed. Its dark, thick, furrowed bark withstood pounding rains, frigid snow, torrential storms, and harsh heat, unmoved even as the world itself changed around it.

Should those rains turn into a fierce flood its roots would brace against the surging waves. Should the snow become a raging blizzard it would ward off the invasive frost. Should the storm become a hurricane it would be an unmoving bastion. And should the heat become a raging flame from the scorched bark would sprout life anew.

It was a foundation within her as a Mage.

Its resilience was her resilience.

Its fortitude was her fortitude.

Lefiya envisioned within the confines of her mind being the Unshakable Great Oak as she went through her meditation exercise for the morning. The imagery was vivid as she reinforced it with the memory of the Spirit Tree of legend. Even when the flames of a Dragon scorched it, the tree managed to cling to life and rejuvenate itself with a little help.

Such was the majesty of both the Royal Elf and a primordial Great Tree.

Truthfully, she never thought she would have the chance to lay her eyes on a Great Tree given her birth. Living with her mother on the outskirts of the Wishe Forest, the heart of the forest was beyond her wildest dreams of visit. She thought she would only have her mother’s tale of how during the tree’s flowering it would sport a crown of light with such majesty that it seemed almost like a halo ascending to the heavens. Seeing the Spirit Tree for herself was a luxury that she never could have imagined and would remain forever entrenched within her.

Recalling the sight as the spirits danced around it, Lefiya’s mind then shifted back to the memory of Filvis as they danced. Her soft breath washing against her skin, leaving it prickling with temptation. Her lovely eyes that she could just get lost in. Her tender, soft-looking lips that she came so close to finally…

“Ah, that’s not good!” Lefiya pulled herself from her mental world as she felt heat sweltering in her head, leaving her to shake it. “I can’t get distracted just because of tonight.”

Her date with Filvis would be later this evening, during the Holy Moon Festival. The moon would be amongst its brightest and largest, shining overhead for all to see. It would set a romantic and festive atmosphere, not unlike the Spirit Festival. But unlike then it would be a real date this time.

That meant she had to control herself and avoid the temptation to repeat her prior actions. She didn’t need to rush to get her feelings across now that she knew they would be returned. The last thing she wanted was to drive her off because she came onto her like some kind of Elven Fetishist.

Taking a breath to re-center herself a light chime that signaled the passing of an hour reached her ears. She opened her eyes to see her room bathed in the morning light and rose from her meditative position to get dressed in her battle clothes. Specifically, her regular ones rather than the ones that Lady Riveria had given her.

Those clothes were something she would reserve when acting as Lady Riveria’s successor rather than casual wear. After all, they would be very expensive to repair if damaged considering the materials used. And it would have more impact if she only wore them when she needed to act as the second to the Nine Hells.

Once she was dressed, Lefiya made her way down to the cafeteria to eat a light meal before she had to head out. There was an open seat for her with many of the other girls within the Familia who were up now—Elfy, Leene, and Anakitty specifically.

“Finished your mediation exercises?” Elfy asked as she scooted over to give her roommate just a little more room next to her.

Mm-hmm,” Lefiya hummed softly, not mentioning the distraction that she had around the end. The various scents that filled the table from everyone’s choice of a meal tempted her to expand on her choice of food, but she tamped down on it as she settled in to eat. “What about you?”

“I’ll do it later,” said the Human Mage as her green eyes skimmed over the light breakfast consisting of a bowl of oatmeal, fruit, and orange juice on the Half-Elf’s plate. In contrast, she had scrambled eggs and was using a butter knife to apply fruit jam across her slice of toast. “I wouldn’t be able to sit still for an hour on an empty stomach.”

“I suppose I should do the same,” said the soft-spoken Nurse, Leene. The quiet girl sat opposite the two of them, her morning meal consisting of cereal that had slices of fruit added into it. “By the way, was the book I loaned you helpful?”

Lefiya gave a short nod of her head. “I’m able to grasp the basics somewhat, but there are a lot more complexities than I expected so I’ll be needing it for a while.”

Healers, or specifically dedicated spellcasters who had the Treatment Development Ability, tended to be far rare than Mages. There was no guarantee over what kind of spell one obtained, if they ever obtained one. And even then, the study to earn the Treatment DA was practically the same to become a doctor or pharmacist.

As the Half-Elf was still learning and studying under Riveria and only had access to healing spells Elf Ring, it was largely impractical for her to even make the attempt. But since Lefiya did have access to a healing spell that she could use now with a relatively lower cost to Mind, she thought it would be best to make the most out of it. It would never be as good as Leene or Lady Riveria since the potency of the healing relied on the Magic attribute and Ancient Magic spells didn’t benefit from it, but it was still an option that she had wished for in the past and shouldn’t squander.

That was why she had asked Leene if she had any beginner materials she could study, which she allowed her to borrow. The basics operated on the principle that the user would not have the Treatment DA, so it taught the importance of diagnosing the nature of injuries beyond the level of basic first aid they were all taught and how to prioritize treating them. That gave her a better understanding of how to direct the flow of magic towards said areas rather than her usual method of simply letting the spell run on its own as that would be cost-inefficient—unless Argonaut was involved.

Then it effectively was an instant full heal and stamina booster considering how it worked during the War Game.

“I knew you had your head in a book most of the time you were home, but I didn’t think that you were taking up an entirely different branch of magic on top of all of your training with Lady Riveria,” Elfy said with a flat look. “You’re gonna burn out if you do all that.”

Anakitty agreed with a soft, yet worried expression. “She’s right. You should probably take it easy. At least for today. Do you want to come with us to the festival?”

“Sorry, but I’m heading out in a little bit to go train in the Dungeon and, as for this evening, I have other plans…”

It wasn’t as though she broadcasted her relationship with Filvis, nor the sudden change in their status from friendship to courtship. Elfy knew because they were roommates and best friends, but the others didn’t need to know that. There was nothing she could do if they spotted her by chance at the festival, but the last thing she wanted this morning was anyone to give her expectations or try to squeeze her for information.

“Oh, that reminds me, Elfy are you still using that primer of Elvish terms from the library?” Leene asked innocently. “It’s been out for a while, and your name was on the logbook last…”

Lefiya turned to her, head tilted inquisitively as the human winced. “I didn’t know you were learning Elvish. If you’d asked, I would have taught you.”

“Lefy, we just covered the fact that you were not only studying harder but spent most of your days buried in a book or otherwise busy,” Elfy pointed out. “Besides, it was just something I was doing in my free time so could learn enough to read some of the books in your language for when I eventually bump up my Mage DA. The Fairy Force has the best stuff on Magic outside of the books printed from Alterna, where they’re always written like a thesis and never get to the point. It’s enough to put a girl to sleep.”

The Fairy Force was the Elven Mage detachment for Lady Riveria consisting of a total of eleven female Elves who were Level Three or higher and possessed the Mage DA. The Royal Elf possessed the skill Alf Regina, or Seal of the Fairy Queen, which strengthened the effect of spells cast within her magic circle if they were cast by Elves. It also converted the expended magical energy back into Mind, effectively making it so that they could keep casting—minus the post-magic rigor and mental fatigue. Combined with the use of Concurrent Chanting, they were a mobile magical artillery force that specialized in hit-and-run.

Mind you, Lady Riveria hated the name in itself and Loki had come up with it. But most of the Elves were fond of it because they typically had skills related to Faeries and it was an honor to be part of it. Lefiya was the newest member of the Force, due to her not being exceptionally good at using Concurrent Casting—it was only recently she had become proficient with it due to her time training with Filvis.

Lefiya had to admit that it was a good idea on her friend’s behalf considering Elves had the most pronounced use of Magic throughout history until the Age of the God. The reference books from their race tended to have a fairly solid grasp on different aspects of the Art because of that, but there were also clear biases in the text towards Elves. She really didn’t appreciate how they referred to half of her parentage, so she couldn’t imagine that Elfy would have an easier time putting up with it.

“Anyway, Lefy’s not the only one with plans though, is she?” Elfy’s green eyes turned to their resident Healer teasingly and the bespectacled girl went rigid the moment she felt the collective eyes of the others fall upon her.

I-I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Leene said softly while fidgeting in place. Her face gained a splotch of crimson while she angled her head so that the sheen of the morning light hid her eyes. “I’m just going to be doing some independent studying myself. That’s all. Really.

Reaaalllly~” Elfy practically purred as she leaned forward with one elbow on the table as she propped up her head. “So, you’re going to spend the night of the festival just studying instead of going out with the rest of us on a girl’s night? That’s all? Nothing about makeup advice floating around or anythingggg~

Lefiya could almost swear that steam was coming out of the poor girl’s ears as she shrank in her chair. She felt compelled to do something about it, so she nudged her friend with her elbow and told her to stop. “Elfy, knock it off. You know full well rumors are just that. I still haven’t forgotten that one you guys bought into about me after the 18th Floor.”

“Yeah… sorry about that,” Anakitty said with her ears shifting. “I’ve told Raul time and again to think about what he says around others to avoid things like that happening, so we should stop it from going any further.”

“Just having a little fun,” the Human Mage said as she leaned back in her chair and shrugged. “But you have to admit it’d be interesting if either of those rumors panned out to be true. Just imagine if Cottontail actually managed to snag the heart of the Thousand Elf, or what kind of guy could make Lokolite swoon?”

“I disagree,” Lefiya noted flatly.

It was a sentiment Leene shared as she shifted her glasses by the frame with her hands. “So do I.”

Thankfully, the conversation drifted into other topics as she finished her breakfast in peace.

Then it was off to the Dungeon.


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 20 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

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.”

[R-M]

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?”

“Yes?”

“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.

[R-M]

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.


Fanfic Recommendation 107


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 22 – 25

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.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


The Beast of Beacon 40 – 41 (Complete) 

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?



B3: The Two-Faced Player Killer [Infinite Dendrogram]

Kvasir 369's Anime, Manga, and Game Blog


“But youdiduse Barbaroy’s name to rob people, didn’t you? The fee for that will be your life. In fact, I am a player killer, so I do not need such excuses. Someone opposes me? I merelykill them all.


As mentioned plenty of times, there are a number of characters inInfinite Dendrogramwho have my interest due to either their playstyle, personalities, or abilities. Here we have a character that embodies all three of these aspects wrapped up in one young woman who intends to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders and topple the titan of a Superior known as Figaro:Barbaroy Bad Burn (B.B.B or B3).

B3 becomes a major supporting character in the Windstar Festival arc during Volume Six and Volume Seven and later joins Ray’s Guild, Death Period. She is an experienced Master who, despite lacking aSuperior Job

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Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 25 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 25: Ambitions of a Mage

Elio wanted an apprentice who could focus on the Art to avoid letting it die out, but the time it would take to train could be measured in decades. I did not want to part ways with my beloved brother, but I lacked the strength to protect him. Neither of us would be able to attain what we wanted as things stood.

The Argo spoke up. ‘There is no problem. I will simply stay on the outskirts of the forest and assist you with whatever you need until Fina masters Magic. And then we will continue on our journey together.’

Elio asked if he was really willing to give up his dream to stay by my side. He would be leveraging his future for mine. I stated I couldn’t let him do that. Not when I already owed him so much.

Argo refuted us both with a smile.

‘I simply have faith that my little sister will be such a genius she’ll master whatever you can teach her well before then.’

…My brother was really a fool. But he said it with such confidence that it was like an unshakable truth. So confident that even Elio would admit later on that even he felt a spark despite his skepticism, which was why he bought into the compromise.

In the end, I felt like I had to live up to his expectations.

For his sake and the sake of his dream.

—Argo’s Compromise

[-|-|-|-]

A pained groan slipped from Lefiya’s lips as she awoke in the familiar comfort of a bed.

Specifically, her own bed from the scent she picked up. She cracked open her eyes to see behind the blurred veil that made up her vision was the décor of the room she shared with Elfy. As she sat up, she thought she was dreaming and pinched her cheek, only to feel the sting and realize that she really was back in the Twilight Manor that served as the home of the Loki Familia.

She had questions, of course. The last thing she remembered was that she had been calling forth Lady Riveria’s spell against the Reflection Soldier to weaken its shell. Then she blacked out, as expected of when one had exhausted their Mind.

Lefiya expected that Aiz would have finished the job. After all, she wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t. But there were the other things she wanted to ask her about…

“Lefy, you’re up now?” The familiar voice snapped azure eyes towards the desk and she found Elfy there, book and quill in hand. The Human Mage, dressed in her casual blouse and skirt, set them down before coming over towards the newly woken Half-Elf. “How are you feeling?”

Nnnnn… my head is still pounding…” Lefiya reached up and rubbed her temples to emphasize the point before noticing the pink sleeves of her nightgown sliding across her skin. “Were you the one who changed me into these?”

“Lady Loki offered to do it,” she claimed, sitting on the edge of her bed with her lips pulled back into a smile befitting of her mischievous green eyes when she noticed the shiver that ran up Lefiya’s spine. “Of course, Lady Riveria stopped her, and I’ve been watching over you since then. So no need to worry about anyone copping a feel—not that you have anything to be ashamed of.”

“You could have just said yes.” The last thing she needed to wake up to was learning that her patron deity had decided to get handsy. Again. “Did everyone make it back?”

She bobbed her head before holding up a finger. “You were the only one with a scratch on you. Imagine our surprise when we came back to camp with Lady Riveria and the others, only to learn that you apparently took out an enhanced Obsidian Soldier as part of a test. Honestly, she really does put you through your paces.”

Lefiya’s only response to that was to cover her mouth and softly yawn before rubbing her eyes. “Mnn… how long have I been out?”

“It’s only been a day since we’ve gotten back, so you haven’t missed anything important. Everyone is simply relaxing after the dive, though I think the guys are pestering Lady Loki to see if they’ve managed to get any decent growth from their Status out of it. I’ll go get Lady Riveria, so sit tight.”

And with that said the Human Mage hopped off the bed and ran out of the door, leaving Lefiya by her lonesome. She brushed the covers back and then turned around so that her feet were touching the floor. Then she straightened her back, closed her eyes, and tried to go through her meditative breathing to ease the headaches.

They wouldn’t make them go away, but it would at least allow her to put it at the back of her mind until she could get something else to take the edge off. She knew that this would be the consequence of pushing herself, but she couldn’t think of any other way. The only thing she could do to contribute was to go that far.

Still…she couldn’t help feeling embarrassed at thought of being dragged back to the camp wearing such extravagant battle clothes in an unconscious heap. Everyone probably saw her like that too. Somehow, she could just picture Bete saying something about no matter how much you dress up a piece of trash, it’s still a piece of trash that needs to be lugged around. “I really wasn’t worthy of clothes like that.”

“Then we’ll increase your training until you are.”

Her eyes snapped open at that to see her mentor standing at the door, a steaming cup in her hand that had a saucer beneath it. “M-My apologies. I just woke up, so I wasn’t aware of my surroundings…”

“It’s fine,” the Royal Elf insisted as she entered the room and held out the saucer and cup for her. “Drink this. It’ll help.”

The aroma from it alone nipped at the gnawing ache in her skull. The Half-Elf gingerly accepted the offering and brought it to her lips to find it was an herbal blend, the sweetness of the fruit used to tinge it delicately while the poignant tang of the herbs that were infused into it had an earthly flavor. She relished it with a relaxing sigh as the pulsating pain within her head lessened. “Thank you, Lady Riveria.”

“I would have preferred if you hadn’t ended up exhausting your Mind and winding up unconscious,” her mentor said in regard to her thanks. “But I suppose it couldn’t be helped considering the level of the threat was worse than we anticipated. This is the least I can do.”

With that, Lefiya turned her attention back to the topic at hand. “Elfy said that it was meant to be a test of some kind?”

With a slight nod before she began, Lady Riveria explained the situation. “I referred to it as a test, but the truth is a bit more complicated than that. I’ll trust that you’ll keep this between the two of us?”

The Half-Elf nodded. “Of course.”

“After what happened on the 59th Floor, we had to consider the future of the Loki Familia if the worst happens,” Lady Riveria began. “Namely, who would be our successors among the younger generation. Naturally, the Hyrute Sisters and Bete would be among our choices since they’re all aware of their shortcomings and what’s needed to shore them up. If they were asked to lead a squad of Familia members, they would be able to do so without any problems. However, leading the entire Familia would be a bit much for them, meaning we had to consider other choices beyond Level.”

The weight of the topic left Lefiya to go still as she considered the implications. The battle with the Demi-Spirit had been one of the hardest fought battles in their lives. They had only escaped by the skin of their teeth, and all three of their mentors had given their all along with everyone else just to survive. But it seemed that in the aftermath, faced with the potential threats and the remnants of Evilus, they had to consider what would happen the next time.

Tiona was a fun person to be around. She was always smiling and possessed a big heart, able to look at even the most challenging of circumstances with optimism. But she was the kind of person who operated more on instinct and was better directed at a problem that she could deal with physically rather than mentally.

Tione was a cool, older sister figure to a lot of the younger girls. She was strong, beautiful, and looked after them. But when she got angry, she was terrifying. Not to mention that she was in love with the Captain, so if he was retiring then she would follow him. And if he died then…

And then there was Bete. He was strong, and fast, and he could protect others if he needed to. But… well, he was harsh even when he was trying to be supportive. It was hard to get a read on him some of the time, and he usually didn’t like interacting with others more than necessary. More than a few of their Familia complained about him out of earshot.

“Then was the Captain who suggested Miss Aiz?” Lefiya asked. Among the entirety of the Loki Familia’s younger generation, Aiz’s title as the Sword Princess was the most well-known. She was also the previous Record Holder, only beaten out by Bell due to his own Rare Skill and the circumstances that he found himself in. Between that, her ties to the Familia, and her strength, no one would be surprised if one day she succeeded Finn as the Captain of the Loki Familia.

“Gareth, actually,” Lady Riveria answered. “Without a doubt, she is as much a central pillar to the Loki Familia as it is her own family. And her strength is undeniable, even among the veterans within our ranks. But there are still too many qualities she lacks at present in terms of leadership ability, and she’s…”

She paused for a moment, as if deliberating her words. “Aiz is driven at times by an impulse to try and take things onto her shoulders alone. While she has gotten better about it over the years, it’s still there. And, at the worst of times, it can take hold of her and make her lose sight of the world if someone isn’t there to pull her back.”

Lefiya’s mind went back to the pain she felt. The dark flame that burned her from the inside. She had a feeling that was what her mentor was referring to, considering how long she had known her and their relationship. Even now Aiz wouldn’t hesitate to break ranks to assist one of them if they were in trouble, all to avoid losing someone else—she’d done so for Lefiya’s sake more than once.

If she was in the leading position, she wouldn’t be able to focus on the bigger picture or make half of the calls that Captain Finn would to ensure the success of the mission. She would feel pressured to get strong enough to defend them all and take that burden on her shoulders. And when she couldn’t, those dark flames would tempt her once more.

“And, obviously, I suggested you and pushed strongly for it.”

“Because I’m your apprentice?” Lefiya asked cautiously. She had to admit she was worried that it was nepotism when she was nowhere near as capable as the rest of the others who could have been potentially chosen.

“Part of the reason I took you on as my apprentice was because you have the Gift,” the Royal Elf admitted. “Elven blood gives way to an affinity with Magic, but there are no guarantees. In the end, it boils down to whether or not you have the Gift or not.”

She was referring to in-born Talent. Though it may be unfair, the simple reality is that not every person will be equal in terms of ability, even if they started the same. There were always people who were Rare Gems—like Aiz or Bell or Welf Crozzo.

“But it can be a double-edged sword,” she continued. “There are those who were born with the Gift, but it brought them nothing but misery and isolation, or others it led to self-destruction because they weren’t mature enough to handle it nor had the ambition to see it to its full potential. Hence why I wanted to see for myself how you were progressing. To be honest, I was proud to see how far you came.”

A fluttering feeling in her stomach surfaced then. She couldn’t take credit for any of that. “That’s only because Sir Gareth gave me advice on both how to find the gemstones and how miners would break rocks by heating and then cooling them rapidly. If not for those then I would have been at a complete loss at what to do other than using your support magic. None of it was by my own efforts.”

To her surprise, jade hair wavered as the Royal Elf shook her head slightly. “We’re your mentors. Our job is to instruct you, but how that knowledge is used is what matters. The fact that it saw practical use was something to be proud of and, going forward, others might be able to do the same in a similar circumstance. So don’t diminish the value of what you’ve learned so easily.”

“My apologies,” Lefiya responded to being scolded. “But what if I hadn’t been able to succeed back then?”

“You still supported Aiz to the best of your ability,” was the answer she received. “It would have been all too easy for the past you to leave it up to her because of the gap in your strength and the opponent. But the two of you supported each other, and when you fell you still got up and pulled Aiz from going over the edge by pouring your all into the next attempt. That was the last thing I was looking for that made me confident that I wasn’t wrong about what I said in the Spirit Forest.”

A slender hand found its way on her shoulder, while a soft smile graced the Royal Elf’s lips as she spoke matter-of-factly. “Whether or not it was by fluke or by birthright, it doesn’t change the fact that you were born with the Gift. You could easily be one of the greatest Mages in history under the right circumstances—able to stand right there along with Queen Celdia or the Silence of the Hera Familia, Alfia. That’s why you will be my successor in both the Loki Familia and the one who will carry our magical heritage into the future.”

Lefiya felt a shock run through her at the proclamation. Every Elf knew of the Queen who reigned one thousand years ago, a virtuous saint who fought against the One-Eyed Black Dragon. But the other was considered one of the greatest Mages in Orario at Level Seven, known for defeating Leviathan and thus completing one of the Three Great Quests.

Two legendary Mages. One Elven. One Human. For her, who straddled the line between the races, it was as if Lady Riveria was saying she could stand at the pinnacle of both.

The words of Bete encouraging her to surpass Riveria rang in her mind. The words of Lady Lilo to carry their heritage and legacy. The words of Primo to surpass the known limits. The words of her Lady Riveria to succeed her.

Much like what she felt in the Spirit Forest, she wanted to live up to those expectations. For the sake of Familia and friends. For the sake of her brother.  For her own sake.

“I’ll do my best to live up to that,” she vowed, her voice unwavering. “I promise.”

“That’s all I ask,” her mentor responded before pulling away. “Now, you’ve woken up in time for dinner. Come and join us.”

“Yes ma’am.” She rose to do so, admittedly eager to see the others after she had been unconscious since the trip to the Dungeon. But then a lingering thought occurred. “…Wait, if Sir Gareth suggested Miss Aiz and you suggested me, then who did Captain Finn suggest?”

“Raul Nord, of course.”

Lefiya tried not to show her sheer bafflement at that. She really did. But from the expression her master was making, it was perfectly clear she did a poor job of hiding it. But who could blame her?

Even leaving aside those rumors he spread, he was so… plain. His title was effectively the High Novice, a beginner who somehow made it all the way to Level Four. That didn’t exactly instill the sort of awe or commanding presence as the ‘Braver’ did.

“A leader isn’t someone in charge, but someone who takes care of those in their charge,” Lady Riveria said in a sagely tone, as if reading her mind. “Raul already acts as the substitute commander when needed and gives his time and effort to others who need it. He’ll ask if there’s anything they need to make their jobs easier, even if he never receives praise or thanks for it. His empathy means that most members of the Familia will reach out to him when needed, and if someone makes a mistake under his watch, he’ll take responsibility for it. By that metric, he has the potential to be a great leader if not for the matter of his self-confidence…”

The Half-Elf reconsidered her interactions with him in light of that perspective. It was true that while he was unimposing, Raul was constantly seen doing something for someone else or to the benefit of the Familia. When the Captain or the others needed something handled among their ranks but lacked the time to do so themselves, it was often better to delegate it to Raul, and he did see it done. And prior to him spreading those rumors, she really didn’t have a problem with him.

In fact, he would offer to assist her in negotiations or haggling for drop items. It was his advice that had helped her in the past. He virtually acted as the senior among the Second-Class Adventurers along with Aki. So he would naturally be the best fit if he could cross the hurdle and have the same confidence that Captain Finn did.

Though that was a long time away considering Aki off-handedly mentioned his absence during dinner being due to sitting curled up on the floor and muttering to himself. But she had other things on her mind to be worried about instead of him at the moment. Like the fact that the Holy Moon Festival was on the way.

And she had a date to keep.

[-Arc 4 End-]

Primo Libera (Level 1)

Newest Member of the Hestia Familia. Informal Student of Lefiya Viridis. A neophyte Elven Mage who hails from the outskirts of Libera, she grew up on tales of Lady Riveria and came to the City of Adventurers to become one herself after losing her parents to monsters. She was taken in by Hestia and strives to diligently become their primary Mage as the others train with her physical attributes.

Strength: I-5 | Endurance: I-3 | Dexterity: I-17 | Agility: I-10 | Magic: I-31

[Magic]

Lumine Pleiades (Illuminating Seven Stars): Wide Area Bombardment Magic, Offensive-Type Light Element spell that creates a cluster of sevens of stars that rain down beams of starlight at an area. Scales with user’s Magic Stat.

Chant: “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash. Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!”

[Skills]

None

[Equipment]

Tiny Bow: A small bow made from springwood retrieved by Bell while Lefiya was on her quest. Primo has been learning the basics of marksmanship from Lili between her Magic studies.

Oaken Staff: A beginner’s staff that acts as a conductor for spellcasting. It was treated to be durable enough to double as a bludgeoning weapon and Mikoto has started teaching the basics of staff fighting.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 24 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 24: Story of Growth – Part 2

“The moment that Elio made his offer, I recalled the memory of how entranced I was at the thought of Magic when I first saw it. Of Mother’s words and how one day she would teach me. Of how all that was taken from me.

Now, one of Mother’s race was offering to teach me the Art of our people. Even though I had human blood flowing through my veins. Even if it was only because of his own circumstances, that didn’t change the fact that it was probably the chance of a lifetime.

…But the price of accepting that was too steep. We weren’t blood, but Argo was my family. He was the one who took my hand when the others who would had been lost to the flames and monsters. He held me at night and kept me warm when it was cold.

What good was the power I sought after if the one I would use it to protect was no longer there?”

—Too Steep A Price

[-|-|-|-]

These new clothes are going to take some getting used to…

The Thousand Elf found herself feeling butterflies in her stomach as she walked through the ashes left behind in the wake of the Sword Princess as they proceeded along the 37th Floor towards where the Irregular monster was last spotted. There had been monsters that were standing in their way, Spartoi and regular Obsidian Soldiers. But the latter stood no chance against a Level Six and the former she could mow down well before they got within range.

Once the time they had to search for the gemstones that conferred Magic Resistance passed, the two returned to their camp. The others had greeted them with new battle clothes to their surprise. It turned out that Lady Riveria and Sir Gareth had gone out of their way, with Captain Finn’s blessing, to procure them ahead of time.

Aiz looked absolutely dashing, befitting of one who could claim the title of Sword Princess. The clothing themselves was predominately white-rimmed with blue that depicted a sword while the emblem of the trickster was beneath it. Her arm covers and stockings were black and covered by arm and leg guards that were silver so well polished that the light of the Dungeon reflected off them, while an azure cowl fell down her back. Attached to her breastplate and her tiara were the gemstones that conferred Magic Resistance, a deep azure that drew the eyes.

Meanwhile, Lefiya didn’t think her own suited her. The colors were red and white and looked more regal than anything she owned. If anything, she thought it would better suit Lady Riveria, an actual Royal Elf. She honestly felt a little unworthy of them, considering the fact that she wouldn’t likely be able to deal with the Irregular they had to face.

I still haven’t come up with any way to really help, she lamented silently as she unfurled the map of the floor and used the landmark to identify the path that they were on. One of the others would have been better suited to deal with this kind of enemy than her, but she still didn’t want to betray the faith the others had in her. “The corridor to the left will lead us to where it was last spotted.”

“Let’s go then,” Aiz said, her voice soft and calm even though they were going to face such an intimidating foe. Lefiya wished she had the same level of confidence that the Sword Princess did, or even the confidence she had during the War Game. But that was the difference between then and now.

The enemy was specifically something that was the bane of Mages, and she was a Mage. Her confidence was tied to her ability to use her Magic to contribute to protecting those around her. At least with the Apollo Familia she knew she could technically handle them because of the Level disparity, and the rules of engagement were different…

Thump… Thump…

Heightened senses detected the sound of distant footfalls from the mouth of the corridor entrance. They were deep and rough, breaking stone underfoot with slight tremors emanating from the impact. And, more to the point, they told Lefiya that she might have been underestimating just how large it was.

Combat training kicked in at that point. Aiz raised a hand to stall their advance and then sharpened her gaze further ahead to take in the scope of what would become the battlefield. Her golden gaze eventually spotted something even beyond Lefiya’s Elven perception and then extended her hand for Lefiya to take while her other hand brought a finger to her soft lips.

The Half-Elf accepted her hand and wound up being taken into her arms and carried as Aiz used her superior speed to move them along the outer rim. The Sword Princess then deposited her in a section where stone outcropping provided them a better look at the monstrosity that they would have to face. An Obsidian Soldier was by itself a rather bulky and large monster, but the Irregular took that concept and ran with it.

The Reflection Soldier, as it was dubbed looked to have been born not of the same obsidian materials as its kin, but chunks of polished metallic stone melded into a vaguely humanoid shape that was top-heavy enough that it was hunchbacked. The lower half of its body was as close to normal for a bipedal as possible, but its torso was much larger despite being hollowed out to form what looked to be a mouth as it fanned out to limbs more akin to massive gauntlets attached by the smaller arms. The place where there was a gemstone to represent its eye was instead an orb of light that burned with a malicious flame of such intensity that it strained her eyes to stare into it.

Worse, there were the shattered remains of Obsidian Soldiers around it. The thing was bringing the bodies into its mouth and crushing them to consume their magic stones, meaning that not only had it been born an Irregular monster, but it was also cannibalizing them for the sake of increasing its own power further. If it only took five or so magic stones for a normal monster to show a notable increase in strength, then it would be much stronger than that.

Tension threaded Lefiya’s body as instinct honed by experience alone told her that this thing was probably one of the worst matchups they could face. The dense shell that made up its body would provide it with a level of raw brute strength and defense beyond what either of them could output in terms of sheer capacity. Adding the fact that it was devouring other monsters as well, she was starting to wish they had let Sir Gareth take care of it.

“…We have to go.” The declaration snapped her attention from the monster and back towards the Sword Princess. “Before it can get any stronger, we have to stop it.”

Her golden eyes were fixed onto their target, but unlike the Half-Elf they lacked any hesitation or doubt. She had no uncertainties that she could prevail.  Seeing her resolution reminded Lefiya of why she had fallen for her once upon a time, and why she envied her even now.

It quelled the uncertainty within her stomach and her heart as she once more decided to do what she could. “I understand. But please let me cast a protective spell before you go ahead.”

Aiz nodded her head and kneeled next to the Thousand Elf as she clutched her staff in one hand and began to sing. “I beseech the name of Wishe. Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains. Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance. Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

The magic circle the hue of her soul bathed the two in pale light as it encompassed them, rising motes of magical energy washing over them and leaving their hair to waver aloft as the Summon Burst was complete. The spell opened the gateway and connected her to the ancestry of Elvenkind, every spell that flowed through their history at her disposal. In spite of that, she reached out to one of the most familiar to her—one of those nestled away in a private shelf befitting of royalty.

Her magic circle turned from aureate to jade as a voice more befitting of her garments overlapped her own. “Gather, breath of the earth. In my name of Alf—Veil Breath!

The words left them to be swaddled within a shroud that acted as a dense second skin that sheltered them within its protective embrace and would soothe any aches and pains that may result. Her Mage Development Ability limited the number of people she could cover in a single cast in comparison to Lady Riveria. But for the moment it was the best defense she could provide to one who was heading off to the battlefield as she breathed out a soft sigh at her success.

“That should at least be able to give you a little extra protection on top of your Wind and Magic Resistance,” she said, meeting the golden eyes with a smile.

Aiz nodded before she closed her eyes. Her chest rose and fell as she straightened her posture and turned towards her unaware foe. Then she jumped high into the air, as if flying towards her foe, before she called forth her wind. “Awaken, Tempest.

Her birthright stirred. Her azure cowl billowed madly as the gale gathered around her, the swirl of the air catching her body at the apex of her height. Then, as she turned her body and focused her gaze on the monster below her, the gale turned into a violent storm that fixated around her blade and sent her rocketing forward towards the Reflection Soldier.

“LIL RAFAGA!

All sound and sight were lost to the Half-Elf after the announcement as the location where the Irregular Reflection Soldier erupted into a maelstrom of stone, dust, and sand. Opening the battle with her strongest technique to maximize the damage to her unaware foe, the Sword Princess’ raging wind unfurled. It sent everything that was nearby hurdling away at dangerous speeds that eroded the nearby landforms as it gave rise to a curtain of dust hiding everything else from view.

She really is amazing, the Thousand Elf thought to herself before there was loud reverberation, a droning sound that expanded as a shockwave billowed out and swept away the obscuring veil. The shockwave washed over Lefiya even at her distance as the stone outcropping she was behind had nearly crumbled from the sheer force. What was that?

Her unspoken question was shelved when she noticed the giant rising up from the cratered earth, unbroken by the living projectile fired at speeds that would have shattered ordinary stone or steel. It only sported webbed fissures beneath its malformed mouth that were shallow enough that it hadn’t even exposed the magic stone of the Irregular Reflection Soldier she was aiming for. The massive construct then slammed its fist down as its burning gaze fixed on something amidst the sunken ground and the room quaked as the earth erupted.

Uncertainty wormed its way into Lefiya’s mind until a white-and-blue blur emerged from the rubble. Her heart began beating again as she noticed it was the Sword Princess, cowl fluttering amidst the debris that had been sent skyward. She had been stripped of her protective veil and her wind in itself seemed unstable. At least until she caught her breath as she backflipped onto a piece of airborne rubble that was twice her height and kicked off it.

Turning herself into a missile for a second time she cleaved through the dust and earth that had been thrown about and dragged the sharpened edge of her blade along the exposed head of the Reflection Soldier. The sound of metal scraping against something akin to itself shrieked briefly in the air along with a bloom of sparks marking her passage. It was short-lived given the speed at which she moved, but flared up once more as she darted across its frame the moment after she touched the ground.

Shrieks and sparks flittered about as the giant found itself under assault from all angles. Its massive limbs attempted to crush her, but Aiz’s superior speed made such large and unwieldy attempts futile in every sense of the word. The only thing it served to do was to create more openings as she used them as a springboard to reach higher and drive her blade against its torso.

It only took Lefiya a moment to realize that she was gradually carving deeper with each pass, skillfully targeting where she had inflicted the greatest amount of damage in her first assault. Even if it was relatively shallow, each blow would gradually widen the wound as the wind riding along her sword would force itself deeper and attempt to pry it apart from the inside out, wrenching bits of its stone body loose. Eventually, she would reach its magic stone if she kept it up.

But that was impractical. Her blade was too shallow if they took into account the size and mass of the Irregular. And re-establishing her wind that was worn away from mere contact with the Reflection Soldier’s body took away from her Mind. She could effectively run dry the well that she possessed even with Spirit Healing gradually restoring it as time passed.

Aiz should know that as well. There was too little chance of success if they relied only on that approach, and the longer it took the greater the chance for something to go wrong. The Dungeon could respawn more monsters to hinder them, or the Reflection Soldier could get in a lucky blow. Not to mention its breath weapon could recharge and fire in that time. So why was she taking such an impractical approach?

…Lefiya only came to her answer when those golden eyes turned back towards her direction for a moment. Time seemed to freeze as she registered behind them was a wordless message. One that slowly clicked into place before Aiz turned her full attention back to her foe.

I know that your magic can penetrate it, so I’ll create an opening for you to take your best shot.

A soft sound escaped her mouth as she felt the sensation in her lower back that signaled that Vow of Elcos was active. The two of them were connected here and now, on the same battlefield, and she felt the trust that was being placed within her by her idol. She would tear open a path for her to take a shot that would pierce its body and strike through to its magic stone.

If you’re going to place that much faith in me then I have to do it then,” she murmured before taking a deep breath. She could only respond as a Mage by ending the battle for her. Tightening the grasp on Forest’s Teardrop, her mind began to run through the calculations to make the shot.

The amount of magical energy needed. The trajectory and optimal distance. The best position to make the shot. She confirmed them in her mind three times over to make sure that it was as accurate as possible.

And with that done, the Fairy Sniper moved towards the battlefield.

[-Aiz Wallenstein-]

Level Six hearing picked up footfalls as Lefiya shifted her position, the steps having a sense of purpose behind them. It seemed her message carried. Good.

Aiz had thought that she noticed that her friend had some uncertainty in what way she could contribute for a while now. And she couldn’t blame her given the enemy they were facing. It was the bane of Magic-users after all.

Desperate was a First-Class weapon created by the Goibniu Familia. It had the Durandal property that made it impossible to break, even if it could dull. Even though Aiz herself did not have a focus on the development of her Strength attribute, as a Level Six she was still more than capable of easily cutting through solid steel depending on its make and composition. Her Swordsman Development Ability, the proof of her dedication to the blade, only further refined her capabilities.

And yet she couldn’t cleave through the monster in front of her even with the boons of both her blood and efforts—Ariel and her Falna. If she had the raw strength of Bete, Tiona, or Tione then she could break through its mass for certain. But as she lacked that she had to make up for it by putting her faith in Lefiya.

The Fairy Sniper could output a great deal of power within a single shot. And even with its massive size contributing to its resistance to spells, it was not flat-out immunity. If given a straight path towards the magic stone with her maximum output, Aiz was certain that she could force it through until she hit the mark and killed it.

Thus, it was Aiz’s duty to keep it in place long enough for that to happen on her own. Her awareness of Lefiya’s presence was relegated to focusing on her footfalls until they came to a stop, telling her of the girl’s chosen position to take the shot. So, she performed her duty by keeping its attention as she circled around it and maneuvered it into an optimal position to be fired upon as she felt the quivering in the air—the sensation of a spell being cast along with the song.

That was when things went… wrong.

The Irregular seemed to have sensed the presence of the spell as well, given its burning gaze turned in her direction. Then Aiz felt the wind around her take shape, likely due to her birthright. It was pulling itself towards the Reflection Soldier before becoming rigid and unyielding with a deceptive amount of quickness.

“Lefiya, wa—” Her words failed to reach as a solid, translucent wall took shape around the monster right as Lefiya finished her chant. Light burst from the top of the Thousand Elf’s staff and the golden arrow slammed into the invisible shield, creating a horrible screeching noise as the two clashed briefly with the bright intensity of a miniature sun. The dense torrent of light that was meant to bore through with pinpoint precision was met with an unexpected obstacle, an invisible canopy that threw off the precise calculations that were made by the Half-Elf to ensure the kill.

The spell smashed through the Wind Shield at the expense of its composition, unraveling the rudimentary defense with a hot gale that left Aiz’s hair to billow wildly even as she shielded her eyes from the resulting lens flare effect. But the angle of the shot was bent, hitting to the side and lower than expected. And the loss of power itself meant that, even as it attempted to push through the reflective body and left the impact zone crackling and orange from the intensity, the beam came undone and sent out golden streaks that threatened friendly fire.

One knocked Aiz backward—her own Magic Resistance and wind preventing serious injury. But it was still enough to leave Lefiya horrified as she immediately halted the spell and called out to her. “Miss Aiz, are you all right?

In response, she shouted out a warning of her own as she got back to her feet and tried to rush towards her companion. “Move, Lefiya!

Turning its mouth into the barrel of a cannon, the Reflection Soldier launched a compressed ball of air towards the Fairy Sniper. Though Aiz tried to intercept it, she couldn’t before the creature’s ‘Howl’ slammed into the ground as Lefiya barely managed to avoid it upon hearing her warning. But even though she missed being crushed by the sheer force of it in a direct blast, the shockwave it unleashed swept them both up.

Her vision of the Half-Elf was lost beneath a wall of force and debris. The sound of her voice was lost beneath an unrelenting droning. The expanding wall denied her approach until she drove Desperate into the ground and called forth her wind. “Tempest!

Magic stirred the wind to form a swirling veil to brace against it, allowing it to wash over her while the stone and rubble interspersed within it were guided around her. Then she spread it out, sending the wind rushing outwards to scatter the dust obscuring her view.

The Mage she was supposed to be protecting was nowhere in sight. Her heart stalled. The blood pumping in her veins froze. Color fled from the world as she called out, her eyes rampantly searching amidst the aftermath. “Lefiya! Lefiya!”

There was no response except the distant rumble of the monster.

Ba-thump. The haunting silence began to burn in her chest, a gnawing ache that fed the dark flame within her at the absence of the girl’s voice. Biting down on her lip, the grasp on her sword tightened and her blood began to boil as that flame seared its way through her flesh.

This… this was why she hated monsters. They always took the people she cared about from her. Any bond she forged was taken. Every warm smile she recalled was lost. The bright future that awaited the Half-Elf was stolen just like that.

They all were fuel thrown into that dark flame that had nearly been smothered, feeding it to where it grew larger once more as the thundering steps of the monster’s footfalls shook the ground. She whirled around towards it and her throat tensed as she called for her wind. “Awaken, Tempest!

Her wind rekindled from its dormancy. No longer mere armor that rolled around her, it instead became a sheering gale that ripped and tore away at the ground around her like countless blades. Bringing her birthright under her control, she billowed it forth towards the Reflection Soldier.

The vicious wind barreled forth as it tore apart the earth and swept it along, lacing the gale that slammed into the Irregular. Like countless daggers, they slashed away at its massive body. The sheer force and sharpness of the wind slowed its advance and tore gouges into its shell even as its Magic Resistance properties eroded the wind.

But that was fine. She could simply summon more. The cost was only her Mind. “RAGE, TEMPEST!

So she called forth her wind to supplement what was lost. The chaotic wind, born anew, surged forward even more violently. So much so that the previous wave was akin to only a light gale while this was a hurricane-force blast with thousands of invisible swords. The sheer force of the impact rebuked its advance entirely and staggered the giant as the gouges within its body deepened and grew more numerous.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Her hatred was a black flame that grew hotter and hotter as it churned the wind, turning her anger into the invisible blades that would tear it apart. Those flames would grow hotter and hotter until it robbed her of all sense beyond the heat, drowned out all sound barring the crackle of relentless flames, and left the world only black-and-white…

That was when she felt it washing against her.

The soft-touch of magical energy being shed, a great deluge being gathered and pulled along. It felt… familiar. Her unblinking eyes that had become dull slowly turned to the source and spotted as a fairy fluttered past her, covered in grime and dust with her lips moving.

She was singing. Even though Aiz couldn’t hear with the howling wind and crackling flames, she could feel deep down that Lefiya was singing a song. Her eyes, the bright azure being the only color in the world as it contrasted the greyscale, now carried the wordless message that she had conveyed once before.

Then she turned her head forward and started to rush straight ahead. Straight into the path of the razor wind that Aiz had called forth. The wind as it was didn’t distinguish friend from foe. It was simply a surging torrent of invisible blades that wouldn’t hesitate to tear her apart. There would be nothing left of her but kindling for the dark flames to stir her anger, the key to break the seal on her lower back that had been chained down.

A flip switched in Aiz at that moment. She had no choice but to smothering the dark flames with her own will to avoid burning away the smile and future that she thought had been lost. She quelled the wind, stripping it of its blades and turning it into a rushing zephyr as color and sound bled back into the world, white-and-red clothes billowing amidst jade motes that swirled like fireflies as she took to the sky.

Then the final verse of the flying fairy’s song reached her. “—Wynn Fimbulvetr.

Ice ran.

A cone of white mist and blue frost swept through the air as the crackle of rime devouring space billowed forth. Crystallizing every surface. Leaving even the dust that lingered in the air suspended by hoarfrost that could trace a chain to the surface somehow. The spell that harbored the essence of a winter that could herald the end of the world swept forward like a tidal wave.

It turned the crater where the razor gale had buffeted the Reflection Solider into a frozen wasteland. The sentinel that had been slouching within it was encased within a frozen coffin, from where the frost-laden winter chill met with it. The light from above refracted off the surface as the mist rolled down its shell.

A breath escaped Aiz as she exhaled a plume of the fog and called out the girl’s name. “Lefiya…”

Those azure eyes faced her once more with a determined expression. “I’m going to create an opening for you, Miss Aiz. Please prepare to finish it with a single strike then!”

[-Lefiya Viridis-]

Lefiya had lost consciousness for a bit after being caught in the blast.

Veil Breath and the inherent Magic Resistance of her clothes had protected her. In fact, it was safe to say they had prevented her from being killed outright. But the blast had nearly been point-blank, and she had been tossed around like a rag doll until she came to a stop.

While she was unconscious it almost felt like she had been adrift until she felt it. An insidious burning in her lower back that was so painful and searing that it pulled her from her unconsciousness. Her immediate thought before she remembered what she had been doing had been that Bell had gone mad again due to that knife that Mister Welf had given him, only much worse somehow.

But then she pulled herself out of the rubble she had been entombed under and saw otherwise. There had been a windstorm brewing and the eye of that storm was Aiz. The maddening flame was coming from her, flowing through Vow of Elcos that bound her to the Sword Princess in a similar manner it had her brother.

The Half-Elf didn’t know why something like that was coming from Aiz. It felt overwhelming to the extent that she feared it would burn away something important if it was allowed to run rampant. That the person she admired would be burned away in her entirety with regret and loss being the very thing that fueled it.

“M-Miss Aiz!” she called, barely able to catch her breath before shouting at the top of her lungs. “MISS AIZ!!

But it was clear that she couldn’t hear her. The wind that was more powerful than anything Lefiya had seen before was also deafening her to the world as the flames grew even hotter. They were smothering her words to such an extent that even if she shouted at the top of her lungs right next to her, they would never reach. And with every passing second the flames themselves seemed to grow more intense.

Yet, that was all that stopped the Irregular from having a chance to counterattack. That menacing wind that barreled down upon the massive construct was stopping it from even shielding itself, tearing apart the wind it could use to form a shield at the same time as it was having gouges torn into its body. Stopping Aiz meant it would have freedom of movement again.

Even so, allowing Aiz to burn herself away would be the worst outcome and she wouldn’t forgive herself if she let that happen. So she had to find a way to reach her and deal with the monster at the same time. She had to cast a spell that could do both, but what?

Wracking her brain as her body felt burning hot, the desire for something to quench the flames drudged up a memory from only a little while ago and a solution to do both. It’ll be a long shot, but if it stops her then I’ll do it.

Rising to her feet, Lefiya poured strength into her legs and rushed forward. Fighting the wind that seemed to push her back as a consequence of simply being on the same battlefield, she instilled within herself the unshakable will of a great tree as she called forth her Summon Burst. Her magic circle shed magical energy freely as she pushed it out, steadily accumulating what would be needed until the gateway opened and her circle turned jade.

That was when she felt Aiz’s attention on her. Even if sound wouldn’t reach her, the permeation of magical energy within the air was something that adventurers such as them became acclimated towards and she was accumulating as much as she could in order to send out a signal towards her. It was when she looked into her golden eyes that seemed to have lost their luster that she could see the toll of using that flame within her and the despair that fueled it.

That despair bred a sense of yearning for strength from what passed through their connection. It was familiar and yet foreign to Lefiya when she compared it to her own desire for strength. She yearned for strength to not only catch up to those who had constantly protected her, but to avoid losing her brother. But for Aiz, it felt like something irreplaceable had already been lost, leaving an emptiness inside of her and a yearning for the strength to avenge it.

That wasn’t something that Lefiya felt she could fill in. Not on her own. But she wanted to help see if she could, if not because they were Familia then to return every bit of kindness that she had shown her. That was why she wanted Aiz to instead give her a chance rather than relying on that flame.

Please have faith in me, Miss Aiz.’

She continued her song, fighting to shrink the distance between her and the monster. Since the wind itself was rushing forward she could ride it to get close enough that she could maximize the output of her spell while taking the distance out of the equation. Even though every instinct she had told her that the wind as it was would tear her apart, she knew that same wind could be gentle. So she put her silent words into action and placed her faith in Aiz to adjust it as she allowed it to sweep her up.

The fierce wind cradled her almost protectively as it swept her along, her chant unbroken until it finally petered out when she was at the edge of the mouth of the crater that had been carved into the stone floor from the ruthless wind that had tried to tear the stone asunder. The burning gaze of the Reflection Soldier fixed onto her once more now that the wind had died but she didn’t give it the chance to protect itself as she unleashed the borrowed spell. “—Wynn Fimbulvetr.

It was the first level of Lady Riveria’s offensive spell. It was said to create cold so potent that it could freeze even time itself. Whether or not that was true, Lefiya would never be able to reach that level of power when she was so far beneath the Royal Elf in terms of ability. She normally constrained it to lines of ice to prevent sweeping up her allies along the path, regulating the intensity of the cold to being just enough to stop the living in their tracks or freezing everything inside and out if necessary.

But Lefiya knew that if she dedicated her Mind to increasing the duration and intensity, she could make it work. After all, she didn’t need to freeze time itself. She just needed to plummet the entire space in front of her into temperatures where everything solid within it was frozen, an exchange that was remorseless in its cost as it kicked aside the laws of thermodynamics to make her wish come true.

Winter’s chill stifled all life and smothered every surface with rime. Had the Irregular been a normal monster, the cold would have invaded every inch of its body inside out and killed it. But the composition of its body on top of its Magic Resistant nature meant that she had only bought a minute at best before it escaped.

Ngh…The exertion and post-magic rigor took root then, a headache already settling in. She had emptied more than half of her remaining Mind to ensure that the result she wanted. And considering what she would have to do next to make sure that this worked, Lefiya was sure that she would be chastised by Lady Riveria once she was dragged back to her afterward.

“Lefiya…”

The voice of the angel reached her before she could show any sign of the toll it took though, leaving her to remain upright rather than slouching. In the face of the person that she wanted to have faith in her the most right now, showing exhaustion was inexcusable. She couldn’t allow herself and her uncertainty to be seen through a second time—not here and now.

So Lefiya only showed her resolve in the face of those golden eyes as she declared, “I’m going to create an opening for you, Miss Aiz. Please prepare to finish it with a single strike then!”

Confusion seemed to be present within her gaze. Miss Aiz wanted to question what it was that she could do. But the Thousand Elf didn’t have time to tell her. Her ears could pick up on the sound of the thick ice covering the Reflection Soldier already starting to crack as it moved to break free of its prison of ice. So she chanted anew her Summon Burst for the third and last time today, waiting until the very end to accumulate the magical energy to cope with the strain of the rigor.

Like she had told Primo and Bell, the greater the chant and power the greater the rigor. It would be painful to push through it and she knew for a fact that she was probably going to be feeling it for the next few days, but she wasn’t willing to let Miss Aiz rely on that dark flame again. She could put up with having aches, pains, and migraines for a little under a week if that was the alternative.

With that in mind, she sang a song of destruction that followed in the wake of three winters. “Soon, the inferno shall be loosed. Creeping flames of war, inevitable destruction heralded by battle horns and bloodshed that resound throughout the battlefield…

Red, hot static shot through Lefiya’s mind as the surge of magical energy began to eat away at her. It spoke of how demanding the spell she was calling forth was, a level above that which she cast before—the second level of Lady Riveria’s attack spell, meant for wide-scale annihilation. It was so taxing that she nearly felt her own body was turning into a raging blaze as she focused on channeling it into her staff.

She would have lost herself to it, if not for her mindset to be the Great Oak that could weather such an inferno. No, even greater than that was the Spirit Tree that could weather the flames of a dragon consuming it, a testament to Elvenkind’s pride and its resilience despite all that they had lost. That same resilience dwelled within herself, so she latched onto it and finished the spell with pride in her voice.

Come, crimson flames of the ruthless inferno. Sweep through, avatar of hellfire, and bring the battle to its end. Incinerate all before you, Sword of Surtr—in my name of Alf.

The magic circle at the base of her feet swelled. The jade circle dictated the range of the spell, overlapping the stone and rime, and bestowed upon her the presences nestled within—of human and monster. With only one target in her mind, she pulled the trigger of the spell. “REA LAEVATEINN!!

A deafening explosion resulted.

An eruption akin to a volcano’s awakening.

A natural disaster that would spell the destruction of all life within its boundaries.

Calling upon the full might of Lady Riveria’s spell, bathing the entirety of the 37th Floor with columns of fire, was beyond the Thousand Elf even if she expended every drop of Mind she possessed. But if she focused only on a singular enemy and a singular location, then that was different. She could focus the intensity and duration all upon the frozen Irregular Reflection Soldier.

The result was a chant that unleashed a column of hellfire that surged from beneath the frozen wastelands and high into the sky. Ravenous, merciless flames constrained to a singular pillar spouted forth and slammed into the ceiling above, turning it a golden hue as if attempting to melt through it. Permafrost from the three-fold winters that had sunken beneath surface evaporated in a flash, steam violently erupting to unleash a hellish and scalding wind as the area within it was turned into a layer of the Nine Hells.

The eruption knocked away the Half-Elf who had been closer to it. The new battle clothes were well made given that she barely felt the intense heat as it rolled over her with such ferocity that her skin was reddish, even though she was on the higher end of Level Three. She had her suspicion that Lady Riveria had taken into account her choice of spells and tailored them to account for that, so she wasn’t seared from head-to-toe from the superheated air.

But she knew that was her limit as she felt a soft, firm embrace upon her. Her Mind had been bottomed out. Mental exhaustion quickly set upon her as the world was devoured by darkness.

The rest she would leave to Miss Aiz.

[-Aiz Wallenstein-]

Aiz managed to grab the Half-Elf as she was blown back from the sudden expansion of air, superheated from the spell that she had unleashed. Cradling her as it rolled past them, her golden eyes spanned over her prone form and realized she had mentally collapsed. Other than that she was alive and relatively unharmed.

Relief flooded her like a splash of cold water washing over her. But it was short-lived as she heard the droning cry coming from the inferno as the pillar of fire died with the consciousness of its caster. She turned her eyes back to the source and tension replaced the relief.

It was still alive.

The heat of Rea Laevateinn had melted the ground beneath its origin like wax. The Reflection Soldier had sunken within due to being more durable and heavier, submerged in the molten earth until the flames ceased. Now that the hellfire had cut off and the charred and blackened slag around them was still crackling hot, it was pulling itself out of that molten pit like it was emerging from the depths of Hell.

But Lefiya’s efforts were not in vain.

Its polished and reflective body had been burnt black while still glowing hot. Steam leaked from the countless fissures threading its form. It was still whole, but its body had been greatly weakened, and its structure was compromised—reducing its defense drastically.

That was the result of being chilled to the point of absolute zero and then suddenly superheated to molten temperatures. That hard body that resisted her strongest blow before would not be able to do so a second time. Her comrade had banked everything on that to the point of leaving her to finish up.

I understand, Lefiya,” muttering that as she set her companion down to the ground, she stepped forward and called forth her wind while leaping into the air with all her might. The wind stirred gathered around her sword once more for a final assault.

That was when its burning gaze fixed onto her a final time. Perhaps sensing her Magic posed a threat to it once more, it wrested control of the air that was around it. Instinctive fear formed the Wind Shield meant to oppose her assault—a reflexive defense that had prevented the Mage’s killing shot prior.

But there was no problem. She would focus all of Aerial’s wind into a single point and then pierce it. Resolve solidified, Aiz shot forth towards the Reflection Soldier.

LIL RAFAGA!

Her ultimate attack was unleashed. Her mother’s wind reinforced her unbreakable sword, rocketing her forward fast enough to split the air. She brought all of that momentum to bear on the wall in front of her—

BREAKTHROUGH!

— and shattered it before she plowed through the monster that summoned it faster than the eye could see. One moment she had been aloft in the air. The next the lance of wind had broken through its weakened body, leaving Aiz standing distantly on the ground as Aerial petered out.

Eventually, the world around her caught up. The air that should have been pulled along roared as it surged past her, leaving her blue cowl to thrash as the wind continued into the distance…

Carrying along with it the ashes of her slain foe.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 23 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 23: Story of Growth – Part 1

Elio called the forest we sat at the entrance of his current home, the sole resident along with a host of Minor Spirits that followed him around. Apparently, he belonged to a clan of Elves that worked to commune with many, but their home had fallen to the monsters, and he was the only one left. It was not an uncommon tale by any stretch of the imagination.

The Spirits stirred at my presence, it seemed. Like little animals sniffing at something curious they found on the ground, he likened. Something he said that he had not seen in a long time, which I could only presume was more than a hundred years given his maturity.

So, he made me an offer: he would teach me the magic of our kind. Even if I were Half-Man, he felt that preserving what remained of their race, the teachings and culture and magic, was more important. So long as I had Elven blood inside of me.

However, it came with a condition.

I had to part ways with Argo.

—Elio’s Ultimatum

[-|-|-|-]

“—Arcs Ray!

The Fairy Sniper loosed her shot in a harsh whisper as her Elven eyes spotted their marks far off into the sky. Mind was converted into magical power and focused into the magic stones at the head of her staff before launching the magical arrow in the form of a golden beam of light. It speared from beneath the canopy of a coniferous forest and shot towards the ceiling that shed light as though it were a facsimile of the sky and sun on the surface, born of the Dungeon’s memory from before the gods descended and placed a lid upon it.

The marks were a pair of Pterosaurs that had been circling around for some time now. Even as far away as they were, they could easily swoop down and ensnare prey they spotted in the time it would take to count to three. That was part of what made them so dangerous.

Her golden arrow cut through the air and reduced the distance to zero as it pierced through the first’s body using searing heat and force as she condensed the beam into a narrow shot. But the second shifted its wings, carrying it off the original path it had been on. Had it spotted the glimmer of light that heralded the liminal speed at which it flew? Or had it simply shifted itself on a whim and thus managed to escape the beam of light by chance?

It didn’t matter as the backdraft of the near-miss left it to corkscrew in the air before righting itself. By then the arrow had curved around, swiveling faster than the normal eye could blink. The beam connected and ruptured, the explosion finishing it off as the magic stone within it was blown to pieces.

Her task done, Lefiya let out a soft sigh and then took a moment to catch her breath in the nook between the limb and trunk she was on within the massive tree that she was perched in. Her body was running hot and she needed a moment to wind down given she had been shooting down the fliers for a bit of time now. But she was the best suited for the job given her Spells and specialty.

“Lefy!” Her ears picked up her name being called from below and she looked down to see her roommate there, holding up a waterskin. She didn’t have her cloak, only her white tunic with her shawl arm sleeves clear as she waved up at her. “You can come down now!”

The Half-Elf descended the tree at that, bounding down between the branches before landing next to Elfy. Her fellow Mage offered her the waterskin to drink from, and she became aware of how thirsty she had been. It had been a few hours since she had gone up in the tree in order to turn it into her sniper’s nest. “Has everyone finished setting up camp?”

“Mm-hmm.”  Her green eyes fixed onto Lefiya as she watched her take a sip before continuing. “Everyone is accounted for, so you guys acting as the advance party can all head back to camp.”

It was roughly the day or so after she had finished instructing Primo. She and several other members of the Loki Familia were on the 28th Floor, just beneath the Water Capital. It was one of the Safe Floors of the Dungeon, present after the floors where the Monster Rexes often spawned, and so the number of monsters present was rather minimal.

However, just because the Dungeon did not spawn monsters didn’t mean they couldn’t wander from above. Or, in the case of the Pterosaurs, from below. Flying monsters could cover a massive amount of distance on their own and she couldn’t risk any of them spotting the small band busy setting up a light camp for what was turning out to be a Quest within a Quest.

Of course, the Quest that Lefiya was supposed to undertake was different from the others. But her skillset made her getting down and helping to clear the area ahead of them imperative, along with some of the others. They didn’t want another Poison Vermis incident that resulted in so many of them being laid up on the 18th Floor the last time.

Lefiya passed back the waterskin and gave her a grateful nod before heading back, with the Human Mage accompanying her. She could only assume that they would have one of the Beast Humans take her place on the lookout. They made small talk along the way. “I’m surprised so many people volunteered to come along for the quest issued by the Dian Cecht Familia.”

The Dian Cecht Familia had placed a request for a cornucopia of Bloodsaurus drop items for one reason or another.  The region below was a vast stretch of verdant jungle. The vegetation often grew in layers, from dense bushes to rising shrubs to towering trees, all of which competed with one another for the light shed from above. Numerous fruits and resources foreign to Orario could be found there, but the primordial landscape was difficult to navigate even when you didn’t include the fact that dinosaur-like monsters considered the layer their home.

Since they were familiar with the terrain, and the last expedition had put the Familia within the red, the Captain had taken up the quest. To that end, the original intention was to send out a select few to handle it. But, to the surprise of many, when the call for volunteers Level Three and higher went out, there were a lot more who answered than expected to where they were—treating it as a sort of mini-expedition.

“Well, most of them are the guys who don’t want to be shown up by Cottontail,” Elfy said, shrugging her shoulders. “Not only did he pop up asking to see Aiz after you got involved, but then he went ahead and beat the War Game on top of achieving Level Three.”

Lefiya didn’t know whether to giggle at the fact that her little brother had managed to incur the jealousy of so many of her Familia’s members or sympathize with them because she knew exactly where they were coming from. Bell having a skill that accelerated his growth meant that, realistically, he would be able to surpass all of them in a relatively short amount of time in terms of raw numbers—even if he was lacking in actual skill or experience.

“We’re all Adventurers in the end,” Lefiya said, settling on the middle path. “We can only do our best.”

“I can’t say that I’m too sure on how to feel about him myself considering the peeping thing,” Elfy admitted, looking at her with an accusatory yet playful glance. “And you’ve been awfully close to him despite the fact that you were the one who wanted to chase him off the most back then. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he caught your eye.”

“Let’s just say that I realized I overreacted when we got into real trouble,” the Half-Elf responded, not rising to the bait. Elfy did, in fact, know better. “He means well, but he just gets in over his head at times.”

“I’d call ‘getting an entire Familia breathing down his neck’ a little more than over his head, but if you say so.” She folded her hands behind her head as she looked up towards the ceiling. There was a prolonged silence before she spoke again with a smile on her face. “Still, I guess at least I don’t have to worry about him stealing you away from the sound of it.”

Lefiya blinked in confusion. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing~” Skipping ahead to her own playful tune, Elfy bound into the camp while Lefiya followed until they spotted Bete Loga.

The Werewolf had a perpetual frown on his face as per usual, but the moment his gaze faced in her direction he pointed back towards the bigger tent. “The Old Hag wants to see you. Get going.”

That said he continued along his way, leaving the Half-Elf to follow instructions after bidding Elfy farewell for now. Inside of the largest tent she found Lady Riveria sitting in front of a table that held on it maps of the floors lower than this one, her staff set aside while she held her chin in thought. Next to her was Gareth, who was stroking his beard while similarly in contemplation. She held her silence to avoid breaking their concentration, though she did take a seat on one of the cushions when the Royal Elf gestured for her to do so.

It only became apparent that they were waiting for one other person to enter when the flaps opened and Aiz entered. Her golden eyes shifted over to Lefiya and she gave a small nod in greeting before turning her attention to her superiors. “Bete said you wanted to see me?”

“The Guild approached us with an extermination request for an Irregular Monster,” the Royal Elf began. “It is a variation of an Obsidian Soldier, located on the 37th Floor, and with so few Familia capable of traversing so deeply into the Dungeon they felt we were their best option. Gareth and I were chosen to handle it, but we’ve decided to give you two a chance to deal with it in our place.”

The two younger women stiffened slightly at that. Irregular Monsters were capable of being born under two circumstances that were known. The first was that the Dungeon spawned them, though those were much rarer circumstances. The second and most common was that a monster had devoured the magic stone of another monster. It only took five or so for a monster to display a notable increase in strength, and in the Deep Floors that bode poorly.

“If you succeed, your debts will be wiped clean,” Lady Riveria continued. “However, I will add that it is optional. We suggested and cleared it with Finn that we believe you both are more than capable of handling it on your own. However, if you feel incapable, we would only ask that you keep watch over the camp while we go to handle it.”

Lefiya was silent as she considered the request. She was uncertain of whether or not she was capable of handling the situation if it was an irregular version of an Obsidian Soldier. Their bodies were highly resistant to Magic and her primary contributing factor in expeditions was exactly that, meaning that she would likely be dead weight…

Yet, Lady Riveria had specifically chosen her for some reason. She had never been shy about her expectations when it came to Lefiya as her successor. And, recalling what she had told Primo and how Bete had told her the same, she shouldn’t settle for simply living up to her expectations.

She should focus on surpassing her mentor, not living in her shadow. And the first step to doing that should be to find a way to deal with the problem in front of her. The fact that Lady Riveria suggested her meant that there was one, even if she couldn’t see it right now. “I’m willing to try.”

“Me too.” Aiz added. “Can you tell us more about this irregular?”

The question earned a look between the two elites of the Familia, a wordless message passing between them.

Then Lady Riveria answered her. “It’s far larger than normal of its kind, probably around six meders tall according to the reports. And rather than being black, it has a more crystalline and reflective color. It has also demonstrated a rudimentary ability to use a long-ranged magical attack in the form of a howl that creates a sonic boom. I believe the tentative name is a ‘Reflection Soldier’ for this particular irregular breed.”

The Half-Elf’s brows furrowed as she considered the information. Large as a Monster Rex and no doubt powerful in terms of strength, but if it was on part with a Floor Boss then they wouldn’t be sending the two of them alone to deal with it. She didn’t doubt that they could deal with the raw strength by just avoiding it in the case of the Vanguard and staying out of range for her.

The Magic is the biggest problem, she settled on. Considering that its howl was to be considered a magical attack it most likely operated somewhat like her Gale Blast in that it compressed air and then launched it—only using its throat as a cannon instead of a wand. If I had taken my Level Up then I would have Magic Resistance like Lady Riveria and soften the effect…

Her thoughts froze. Memories flashed. The pendant Bell received. The final clash of spells. The Obsidian Soldiers. She rose to her feet and asked, “How long do we have to complete the Quest?”

“Three days,” Gareth answered. “That should be long enough for the others to complete the request with the Bloodsaurus drop items. It looks like ye got somethin’ in mind?”

“Um, I have an idea on how we can maximize our chances of success,” she said before turning to Aiz. “I believe that there are gemstones that can confer limited Magic Resistance to the wearers found in that region of the Dungeon, in the White Palace. If we can find at least one before we challenge it, then we’ll have a better chance of standing up to it. Can we spend one—no, at least two days searching for it?”

“Ah… that’s a good ideal, Lefiya,” Aiz agreed before turning to Riveria. “May we postpone challenging it for the first two days. If we don’t find it after that then we’ll return to rest before we challenge it on the third.”

The request received a nod of approval from the Dwarf. “Smart, use all your options before goin’ ahead. Fortunately, since Udaeus won’t show up any time soon, access to the 38th Floor and below is possible. My instinct as a miner tells me you’ll have a better chance finding them there, and ye can set up your own camp on the 39th Floor and search for ‘em. We’ll come to pay a visit around then.”

“What will we tell the others about our absence?”

“Gareth and I will tell them that you both are handling a separate request for us and aren’t to be bothered,” Lady Riveria answered. “There’s no need to worry them about what we’ve asked.”

“We won’t let you down,” Aiz told her. “Let’s go, Lefiya.”

The Sword Princess and Thousand Elf departed from the tent, intent on preparing what they would need for the trip. As soon as they were out of earshot, Gareth let out a slight laugh. “Looks like you were worried for nothin’.”

“Who said that I was worried about them?” replied the Royal Elf in her normally unflappable tone.

“If they had chosen to rush into it without askin’ then you would have had them go to the 38th Floor to find those stones beforehand. And if they had chosen not to do it, ya gave ‘em a way out without shame by keepin’ it a secret. No wonder Loki always refers to ya as ‘mother’ around ‘em.”

“…Hush you,” she responded before sighing. It was true that she had some misgivings about the pair and their recent behavior. But this and that were two completely different things. “They might have shown they’ve taken a step in the right direction, but they still have to beat it. As they currently are it’ll be difficult if they rely on a brute force approach. That will be the real test.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. “Still, I think I’ll go check up on ‘em later in. Neither one has swung a pickaxe in their lives. No cunning with stone between the lasses.”

[-38th Floor-]

Nnnn… why is it so hard to find them…

The whine slipped out of Lefiya’s dejected mouth as she leaned on the pickaxe that she had borrowed when they had gathered supplies in order to set out to the 38th Floor. It had been a day since they had broken from the other group and come further down, setting up on the Safe Floor beneath the White Palace. Though, to call it a camp was overdoing it since there were just the two of them, but it was nice in its own way.

Since they needed to collect gemstones that conferred the limited Magic Resistance they had two options to get it.

The first was to simply kill the Obsidian Soldiers and hoped that they dropped them. They were rare drops, of course. The material component of their bodies were effective as normal drop materials, but the gemstones were rare and far more potent. Add into the fact that they resisted Magic due to their body composition, Lefiya would have had to expend far more Mind to overpower it.

The second was to mine the walls around the floor. Since the Obsidian Soldiers were made of minerals composing the walls, occasionally they formed within the walls. If they got lucky they could find a decent chunk or two and that would hopefully be enough. But there was no guarantee.

So they had settled on a compromise of sorts. Aiz would kill the Obsidian Soldiers around the Floor, given she was Level Six and thus more than capable of dealing with them, while she would mine the wall where they spawned from consistently enough that they likely had the gemstones within them. If they were lucky they would obtain at least one that could be used to help the Sword Princess, given Lefiya most likely wouldn’t be able to do anything against the irregular.

I can’t let her do all the work, Lefiya thought to herself as she rose to her full height and took up the pickaxe once more. Even if the chances of her finding something were low, the thought of doing nothing when Aiz was going around and killing monsters because she couldn’t was something she couldn’t stomach.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Hammering away at the stoneface, Lefiya chipped away at the stone in search of the precious jewels nestled deep within.

Tink. Tink. Tink. The mining in itself was not only tedious but boring to the extent she was amazed that anyone would make a career out of it. But, because of that, she could allow her thoughts to drift onto other topics.

Tink. Tink. Tink. For her date with Filvis she needed to consider what it was that they would do. The Holy Moon Festival had several key events for people to enjoy themselves, dating back to ancient times. The dance that went on in Amor Square was more inclined towards couples, and she wanted to dance there with her if they had the chance.

Tink. Tink. Tink. But she knew the gorgeous Elf had a lot of boundary issues, even more than others of their kind. She considered herself filthy to the extent of not letting herself touch others with her bare hands. Lefiya had been making progress with her, but she wanted to see if she could get her over that hurdle without scaring her away—like at the Spirit Festival when she had tried tempting her into a kiss.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Holding hands would be a good place. If she could just get her to hold hands with her, no gloves or cloth between them, then she would consider it a success. Anything more than that would be too greedy, no matter how she occasionally thought about her beautiful pale skin or her soft lips and how she wanted to—

“That’s no good.”

The Half-Elf Mage jumped at the sudden voice, whipping her head around so fast that her hair could have counted as a potentially lethal weapon. There she spotted Sir Gareth, the Dwarven Warrior having arrived at some point. He was standing next to her while inspecting the rockface she had been working at with an appraising gaze.

“Lass, ya can’t just go at the stone with no thought in mind or else you’ll never find a thing. Each stroke needs to have purpose. Don’t go daydreamin’ in the middle of work.”

Hearing the Dwarf’s admonishment caused the Half-Elf to feel a surge of embarrassment. She quickly bowed her head and apologized. “I’m sorry. My thoughts just… drifted a bit. Mining isn’t really my forte.

“Youngster’s these days…” He let out a gruff sigh. “I suppose at least ye didn’t get started usin’ your spells to try to solve the problem.”

“That wouldn’t exactly be efficient,” she admitted. Since the gemstones repelled Magic she could in theory simply blast the walls and the stone in question should be fine so long as she didn’t go overboard. But compared to the expenditure of Mind and the area, it just wasn’t worth it.

“Then ye got a better head on your shoulders than Riveria had startin’ out,” he said in an elderly tone. “One time we ran across a place on the surface where gems could be found an’ Loki was lookin’ for quick valis. She got so impatient that she let loose her spell and didn’t consider the fact that thermal shock would shatter the gems an’ bring the whole thing down.”

I… I… see…” Or so she said. In truth, the undignified image of her mentor unleashing her full might on a rockface after having to sling a pickaxe for Lady Loki’s whims was so foreign her mind refused to process it. “But so far I haven’t had any luck finding them this way. At this rate, I’m worried that the time we took out to prepare will be wasted.”

“It would help if ya mined in the proper place,” Gareth told her as he looked at the ground around them that was covered with broken stone fragments from when she had been hitting away without rhyme or reason. “In this case, consider the nature o’ the Dungeon itself.”

“It’s nature?”

“No matter how many times it spawns the monsters, and they break through the walls, they always grow back, right?”

She nodded.

“An’ those monsters sometimes drop the gemstones after they have their magic stones removed, meanin’ that it was concentrated within ‘em. And gemstones themselves are born when the earth has been placed under enough pressure. What connects all three of ‘em?”

Her brows furrowed as she considered it. Drop items resulted from the concentration of magical energy within that specific part of the monster being coalesced and made dense enough to survive the extraction. By the fact that the surface from which Obsidian Soldiers were born also housed them meant that it had to come about as a result of the properties of the stone and the formation of the monster’s body. If the monsters kept respawning from the walls and breaking off then…

It clicked. “I should try working from the origin point where they consistently spawn and break off?”

Even if the wall broke it would just regrow itself to how it was before. Then another monster would form in it, acting as an incubator that would constantly be pushed aside by the growing fetus. But as long as it was connected to a point in the wall, like an umbilical cord until the magic stone was fully formed, it would constantly be a focal point for the magical energy.

“New stone would put pressure at the base of where it met the old stone an’ was compressed by the Obsidian Soldier as it grows into formation. The body bein’ constantly supplied with magical energy from the walls would be mixed into the base. Smashed all together long enough and it’ll crystallize.”

Her azure eyes looked down at the stone fragments around her and then towards the walls that had given birth to the Obsidian Soldiers that Miss Aiz had dealt with before. The Dungeon had already begun repairing the deepest parts, and it might have only been an educated guess on her end. “The stones that were older would look different from the ones that were newly regenerated because of that, right?”

He nodded. “Well, it’ll still be up to chance if ya find one. I’ll go an’ check on Aiz now before I head back up. Try not to daydream again, else Riveria will hear of it.”

She bowed her head in gratitude at the Dwarf. “I won’t. Thank you very much.”

Taking his advice to heart, she reconsidered her approach when it came to mining. Pulling out steel pitons and using the Strength of a Level Three, she drove into the wall at the spots that were regenerating since they would be the best points to start at one at a time. Then she proceeded to get to work at mining in earnest.

Tink. Tink. Tink. The first hole she dug into bore no crystallized fruit, but she could see the beginnings of where the stone’s hue turned a deeper shade and the texture shifted notably to the touch. She didn’t have a good baseline to work off of, but she gained a better understanding.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Nothing on the seventh hole either. She had to take a moment to actively break the wall where she had driven the pitons in earlier to make sure the Dungeon didn’t try to close them up. A check of the pocket watch she kept showed she had been at it for quite some time now. But she had hope.

Tink. Tink. Tink. She counted at least the thirteenth hole when she spotted glittering silt among the stone. It caught the light coming off the magic stone lantern she had as she peered into the darkness, faint sparkles of light. A push of her own magical energy into it and she felt the slightest of resistance.

A smile came across her face. Now she only had to widen the area she was in. Tink-tink-tink. Tink-tink. Scrape. Shuffle.

“Lefiya?” The soft, bell-like voice of an angel pulled the Half-Elf from the constant echoing of the pick against the stone. She pulled herself from her work and poked her head out of the hole that she dug to see that Aiz had returned. “Are you okay?”

“Miss Aiz, I found these!” She excitedly presented her prize. It was a few modest-sized, unpolished, rough gemstones. “I think these will work, won’t they?”

“Yes,” the Sword Princess acknowledged. “But it has gotten late. You were supposed to return an hour ago.”

“I was?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the silver pocket watch that had Elven embellishments upon it. It had been hours since the last time she checked. “I hadn’t realized that much time had passed.”

The loss of time weighed upon her as she considered that Aiz must have been worried to come seek her out. But, at the same time, she was happy that she managed to find a few of the gemstones they needed. She climbed out of her hole, only to realize just how covered in stone dust she was when some of it billowed out upon landing. Thank goodness no other Elf was around to see her looking so disheveled after being invested in mining, of all things.

“I suppose I should go wash up first,” she mentioned with some embarrassment as soon as they returned to the Safe Floor considering her state. The camping site they had chosen was a modest distance away from the entrance and had a stream of flowing water that served multiple purposes—including bathing.

To her surprise, Aiz decided to do the same. “I will join you.”

Lefiya’s mouth opened and closed as she tried to voice her thoughts. But no words came out as Aiz went downstream and began to strip down. Several emotions surged through the Half-Elf, even as she intentionally averted her eyes from the privilege. It wouldn’t be right to enjoy the sight when it was right in front of her when she was both looking for a committed relationship and perfectly aware Miss Aiz shouldn’t be leered at lecherously by anyone.

The last thing she wanted to turn into was Lady Loki.

So she kept her attention elsewhere even as she followed suit, sinking herself up to her neck within the water. Their weapons were nearby if a monster that wandered from above or below came close by. But, between the two of them, there was mostly silence as they let the water wash away the dirt, dust, and grime of the day.

It was the Sword Princess who eventually broke the silence. “You were working hard, weren’t you?”

“Y-Yes.” She cleared her throat. “I wanted to make sure that I could at least do something while you were out killing the monsters. Did you have any luck?”

“Only a few small ones from the hundreds I killed,” she claimed. Considering the drop rates were low for them, it was probably the best they could do between them. The question now was how they would approach the irregular itself. “Do you think that he’s doing well now too?”

“Who?”

“That boy,” she explained. “Bell Cranel.”

“Oh, him.” Lefiya shifted her eyes over towards the Sword Princess tentatively to see that her gaze was looking upwards. Not towards the ceiling itself, but further. To the surface. “For the most part. He’s had a lot of things to adjust to since the War Game. They also have a new member—an Elven child who wants to become a Mage. I gave them advice on how to train her and took her to get her supplies the day before we set out.”

Golden eyes turned back to her. Then her lips pulled back into a small smile. “Did you have fun?”

“I did,” she admitted. Then she recalled another matter she needed to address while they were alone. “Miss Aiz, I also owe you an apology.”

“What for?”

“For how I used the fact that you were helping Bell to train as an excuse to help me train as well,” she confessed. Back then she had not liked the two of them together, especially because she did not want him around anything to do with her Familia. And in doing so she had used that knowledge to essentially blackmail Aiz into spending time with her. “My reasons were selfish, and I didn’t consider your own feelings on the matter. For that, I owe you an apology.”

“Oh.” The Sword Princess’ expression turned pensive for a moment. The weight of her gaze seemed heavier on Lefiya as well, though that very well could have just been her imagination considering her smile returned. “It’s okay. My own reasons weren’t entirely honest as well.”

“What do you mean?”

“I… wanted to understand how he got so strong,” she confessed. It was not an easy thing to do either, considering how she looked away. “So that I could see if I could do the same. That was why I originally agreed.”

Lefiya found that difficult to believe, in a sense. She was already so strong. So beautiful. Graced with a wind that belonged only to her, the Half-Elf coveted that same thing at times. But, from that perspective, she supposed she could understand in a certain way. In the end, it had many forms.

It could be ugly at times, stirring up jealousy, hatred, and envy. It could be a beacon, instilling admiration that one looked. It could serve as a goal post, a marker for one to reach for. Or a benchmark for one to surpass.

“But I had fun helping him,” Aiz continued, her voice gradually lightening in tone. “I wanted to see him get stronger as well. And something about him sets me at ease, in a certain way. I think he’ll have a bright future ahead.”

Lefiya sincerely hoped so as well before the silence resumed.

The calm was welcomed.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 22 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 22: Lumine Pleiades

Floating. Bobbing. Dancing. The answer to my question came one night when I saw the little wisps of light that had gathered around us as we slowly drifted off to sleep. Close enough to be felt but fleeting to the touch, the lights hovered around us as we took shelter in the edge of a small forest of no note.

A slender figure emerged from the shadows. Tall, with sandy blonde hair and piercing green eyes, the Elf regarded me for a moment with an impassionate gaze when he spotted my ears. But as the Spirits flittered about with sounds that I couldn’t comprehend, resolution set upon his features.

His name was Elio. And he was the one who taught me the Magic of our people.

—My Magic Teacher

[-|-|-|-]

“The colors of the walls changed…”

Those were the words of the Neophyte Elven Mage as she gazed upon the Fifth Floor of the Abyss that spawned the bane of mortals upon the land, sealed off by the divine and races all collaborating in what became known as the start of the Age of Gods.

The First Floor of the Dungeon was stone with a light blue texture that caught the light, a vast hallway with several Adventurers flowing through it. But the monsters were in short supply given how recently broken the walls were. Their numbers had no doubt been trimmed by the flow of early morning Adventurers. Now, here on the Fifth Floor, she noted how the walls had taken on a slightly greenish hue and the design of the pathways was beginning to shift and become more complex compared to before.

“We’ll be heading to one of the rooms off the main route,” Lefiya told the younger Elf. Since they took a straight route and the morning rush had come through, a lot of the monsters had been dealt with. But as she knew from sweeping the floors as her punishment that traveling off the beaten path meant they would encounter danger. “Bell and I will be listening for danger but keep your senses sharp.”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” Primo answered dutifully as she traveled between the pair. Bell had taken to the front and Lefiya had taken to the rear, as the center was the safest location for the lower Level and less durable members of the group since the Dungeon could spawn monsters from its walls in any direction.

Her pointed ears flickered around nervously as they traversed a corridor of stone that was dimly lit. Her steps grew heavy with tension and slender fingers clutched the Oaken Staff in her grasp. Every sense was primed out of nervousness and fear…

…crack…                                                                                                         

That was when she heard it. The sound of a stone womb splitting open, wet and rough and dry at once as life emerged—a shadow born from the wall itself with claws meant to rend flesh from bone with an impassioned mirror-like orb. And not just one either.

Fear ran up her spine as more of them came into existence from behind and in front of them. It was primal fear. Born from the instinct to survive, driven into the surface races since before the descent of the divine. The living shadows fixed their gazes upon the Elf and she froze in place, unable to move or breathe.

Then one took a step forward as it flexed its claws… only to be reduced to ash. The shifting of the air was followed by gleaming of steel, a violet streak left against the ebon bodies that caused them to erupt into ichor and collapse into boneless heaps. And when her hair settled from the sudden wind, Bell had found his way next to her with his onyx blade held out in a reverse grip while his ruby gaze spanned the corridor.

“I’m going ahead to clear out the path,” Bell said. “Keep her safe.”

Then he darted off, leaving her behind. It was only when Primo felt a gentle brush on her shoulder that she regained motion—albeit with a startled jump.

“Breathe, Primo,” Lefiya told her, looming over her from behind with both hands resting on her shoulders. “Just breathe. It’ll be fine. I’m here.”

Ah…” Her lungs began to work at that and with the air tainted by the smell of monster ichor came a variety of emotions. Uncertainty. Shame. Relief. “Umm… sorry.”

“You’re supposed to be afraid of monsters,” Lefiya told her. “That’s a survival instinct. Especially considering you just received a Falna and this is your first time being down here. The transition from being an ordinary person to an Adventurer is learning how to act in spite of that fear. So, what do you think you should have done?”

She took a deep breath before answering. “I should have cast my spell?”

To her surprise, Lefiya shook her head. “First, you should assess whether or not we were aware of the danger. Bell and I are both Level Three and so we heard the Dungeon getting ready to spawn them, but not the entire party may not have been aware. This is especially important in larger parties when one side can be ambushed before another is aware or while dealing with a different threat. And after that…?”

Having been corrected once before, she took a prolonged moment to consider it. “To see if a spell needs to be cast at all?”

“That’s right,” she answered. “It’s really easy to fall into the mindset that when you have Magic you should use it as soon as possible. But not all Magic is equal, and some are more circumstantial than others. Offensive spells tend not to distinguish friend from foe and, considering a large number of your party will be close-ranged fighters, you have to be aware of friendly fire.”

Arcs Ray had a homing property, and she could control the size and output, so she had some leeway in using it to pick off priority targets like the Irregular Wyvern King. But her other spell covered a wide area even if she condensed it down as much as possible and so her party had to get out of the way, or else they were at risk as well. It meant that she had to be careful when she unleashed it.

“Not to mention you still need to get a feel for how many times you can cast a spell before exhausting your Mind,” Lefiya added. “Once you know that you can determine how best to work with your party. There’s also learning the basics of self-defense because at some point you’ll end up in a situation where you can’t use your spells.”

Her tiny brows folded in as she took that information in. “You mean like the War Game with that other Elf?”

“That was more of an exception to the norm. If I hadn’t been at a higher Level, then I wouldn’t have tried that and would have kept my distance at all times. Only Magic Swordsmen like Miss Alicia or Filvis are comfortable with using spells in the middle of a skirmish like that.”

Primo’s brows rose in confusion. It was then Lefiya realized they had never told her about how she was the one who had participated with Bell. Likely because she was new, and it was a topic that was still under wraps by large.

“I borrowed a magical tool that let me disguise myself like Bell’s Supporter so I could help him without my Familia being aware,” Lefiya clarified. “I couldn’t use my normal spells then since everyone would recognize them, so I had to rely on the spells I learned from the Spirits and the staff drills Lady Riveria taught me. It’s a secret between myself and your Familia, so you can’t tell anyone. Okay?”

She nodded. That’s when Bell reappeared and told them he’d cleared the path ahead. Lefiya counted at least twenty monsters, but she couldn’t be sure how many had been spawned from the walls as soon as he entered and how many had already been there. They were going to have to remove the magic stones to get rid of the bodies when they were done but, for now, they had the room to work with.

“Right then,” the Half-Elf began, having finished dragging a corpse into the center of the room while her brother and temporary charge were at the entrance. Then she left it there lifelessly before hopping away and landing next to them. “First, we need to see what your spell can do. Primo, aim for that corpse and focus on your chanting.  You’ll feel a little hot and uncomfortable but that’s normal the first time.”

Purple eyes narrowed on the corpse as she held out the staff with both hands. Then she began to sing for the first time in her life. “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash…”

The air was tinged with the sensation of magical power being focused through the staff as she continued her song, purple eyes folding with uncertainty from the power building up within her. It was a foreign yet familiar for the neophyte. But she swallowed and finished her song as she aimed at the corpse. “Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!

Seven glimmering stars formed above the center of the room. Their brilliance connected by lustrous strings intensified as though twinkling in the dim light as it passed from one star to the next. Then, all at once, their brightness grew dazzling as the constellation sent silvery beams down from each one that bathed the locale with the corpse at the center.

Ah!?” The child squealed in mild surprise as stone dust billowed out, lingering in the air to form a somewhat dusty veil. But when it thinned her eyes went wide in surprise as she found the corpse had been obliterated as there were a few indents in the ground. “I… I did it?

Bell was naturally quick to cheer her on. “Yeah. That was great!”

She bounced up on her feet as she looked upon the destruction that she had rained down. “Miss Lefiya did you see it?”

“Yes, I did,” she answered, her azure eyes taking in the sight as she tapped her chin. Filling in the role of her mentor for the time being she gave her initial impression of the spell. It was a simultaneous barrage of seven beams of light, roughly a meder across each, upon a designated target at a glance. But there were still unknown variables to take into account.

Was it specifically due to the fact she was focused on a single target that made them converge? Or would it work on multiple targets within an effective radius? What was the maximum range?

As she finished listing these off, Bell turned his attention back to Primo and asked, “Can you do it again to find out?”

“I’m not sure,” Primo admitted. “I feel funny.”

“She’s suffering from post-magic rigor at the moment,” Lefiya interjected, her eyes turning to the Elf to see the shivers running through her body. “Forcing a spell will only hurt her if it doesn’t backfire or fail.”

“Is that so?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve experienced that before.”

“The more Mind and magic power flowing through your body, the greater the rigor it causes,” she explained. “I mean, it’s not like Miss Mikoto can cast her spell back-to-back after she sustains it for a while, right? She needs time between casts to gather herself, unlike you or Mister Welf, whose spells come out so quickly but are either circumstantial or normally weak. Typically, the longer the chant the longer the rigor lasts.”

That was part of what made the Demi-Spirit so terrifying when they had faced it on the 59th Floor. It could not only use Ultra-Long Incantation spells, but it could also cast them back-to-back with next to lapse between them. By all accounts, that thing was a monster in might and magic alike.

Lefiya addressed her charge next. “Take a seat and take deep breaths to try to relax. Keep counting how long it takes for your body to normalize in your head so we’ll have a measure for how long you can go between casts. It’ll shorten as you get used to it and the Mage Development Ability will help… oh, and can I have permission to borrow your spell?”

Primo quirked her head in confusion. “Huh?”

“My title of Thousand Elf comes from the fact that I can use the spell of other Elves,” Lefiya clarified. “Specifically, my Elf Ring spell allows me to use any spell cast by an Elf so long as I know the chant and understand the effect. I’m asking permission more out of courtesy.”

Elf Ring was a one-of-a-kind spell that laid bare every spell of Elven kind, which meant she had access to every spell from the Elves within her Familia as well as any she came across if the requirements were met. The fact that this was known would naturally cause some level of friction with others, as what should have been something exclusive to them was just another option for her to pick and choose at her leisure. To be jealous was mortal, but Familia had to be able to work together, so to ease any potential tensions she placed a self-imposed rule that she would only borrow a spell if she had explicit consent—such as when Filvis gave her permission to use Dio Grail.

It also cut down on decision paralysis, as having too many options could be a detriment. If she needed to use an offensive spell her own came at much less of a cost. The only exceptions were when she needed to hit far above her weight or a specific scenario, in which case the best possible choices usually came from Lady Riveria’s spell list—offense, defense, and healing.

But it also gave her a rare opportunity to showcase just what Primo’s spell could do in the hands of someone with more experience and how to best instruct her. “So, may I use it?”

Primo bobbed her head. “Please do.”

“Thank you.” Turning her attention to the center of the room, Lefiya began her own song before her audience of two. “I beseech the name of Wishe! Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains. Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance. Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

The magic circle the hue of her soul, aureate in color, formed a stage around her feet. It shed mote of light into the air, which tingled from magical energy. The Summon Burst connected, the ring of faeries encircling her, and at that moment the gateway to her kin was thrust open as the cost was paid.

Glimmering purple eyes. A hitched breath. Ignorant of how the child was captivated by the sight, Lefiya continued to sing. “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash. Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!

Her chant summoned the constellation once more, seven stars loitering in the air. However, unlike when Primo did so, the daystars were far brighter. Then, when those stars fell to earth, they did so within a row of luminous rays the size of columns, a soft hum birthing a roaring crash as the light seared the earth where it landed.

Lefiya exhaled while looking over her own handiwork. She took in the size of the area that had been blasted along with what she presumed was the cost to her Mind in the aftermath, slowly weaving together her thoughts on it—

THAT WAS AMAZING!

—when the Half-Elf Mage was ripped from her inner contemplation as Primo jumped up with a cheer. The girl who had only cast a spell that should have belonged to her and only her for the first time in her life responded to the near-instant appropriation and upstaging of said spell not with envy or infuriation. But, instead, she held youthful awe and jubilation in her glimmering eyes.

“You really can use the spells of others!” she continued.  “You have Lady Riveria’s spells too, right? All nine of them? Can you show me them as well? Pleasepleaseplease!”

“Maybe later,” Lefiya conceded, mildly surprised at her elation at the spectacle. It was… novel, but not unwelcomed. “But, before that, did you remember to keep count of how long until your post-magic rigor wears off?”

Her pretty face scrunched up as she realized she had lost count. “Ah… oops….”

“It’s fine this time,” Lefiya assured her. “Your spell is wonderful and has a lot of potential. Depending on how you use it you’ll be able to adjust depending on whether or not you’re dealing with a single target or multiple ones since you can aim each star before the trigger. And the higher your Magic, the more powerful it’ll be.”

“So I should try to get my Magic Rank to above S-rank then?” Primo asked.

“Just getting it to be high enough to reach the D-rank should be fine since after that you’ll only need an accomplishment to Level up and can go deeper into the Dungeon to avoid diminishing returns. Any higher than that will be incredibly difficult on the Upper Floors… besides, it takes years to reach the S-rank, and I’ve never heard of anyone getting higher than that.”

“But the Captain had Double S-ranks on most of his Status when he passed Level One and Level Two,” Primo pointed out without a shred of mockery or doubt. “Lady Hestia showed me his old Status sheets and I saw them.”

Lefiya… blinked at that. It was the sheer casual way she mentioned that which dumbfounded the Thousand Elf, who had seen much in her tenure as an adventurer. Then she turned towards Bell with her brow raised, the unasked question carried in her gaze.

“I’ll explain later,” Bell said from his position further back. There was a small collection of monster corpses that weren’t there before. He had been busy dealing with them attempting to sneak in whether drawn from the spellfire or recently born from the walls.

It wasn’t a denial.

Right…” Lefiya took a moment to process that tidbit before focusing on the impressionable young Elf in front of her. “Even if you can get above S-rank, Bell is an exception to common sense. It’s fine if you want to grind up your Magic, but it should be after you get the Mage Development Ability. Understand?”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” she answered dutifully. Then they continued to practice, one after another, as Bell began dragging corpses into the room to be used for target practice and dealing with clearing out their way back. It was after her fourth volley that the expected happen as Primo began to sway on her feet. “Did you see me that timeeee….”

“Looks like three times is Primo’s safe limit for the moment,” Lefiya said as she caught her before she could fall over. The girl was out cold, so she turned to address her younger brother. “Don’t let her fire off a fourth volley unless you absolutely need to do so, and keep in mind that doing that will pretty much leave her unable to cast a spell for the rest of the day even when she regains consciousness—her limit will increase with her Level and the Mage Development ability but, at that point, if she strains herself too much it’ll take more than a day to recover.”

If post-magic rigor prevented back-to-back spell casting until one became familiarized with the strain of it, then Mind exhaustion was what prevented one from overreaching when you were a Mage. Even with a Magic Potion to help replenish one’s reserves, the strain of it weighed heavy on the body and mind—a reminder she had from when Argonaut had pushed her Arcs Ray beyond her limit and left her with a headache for quite some time.

“Teaching her archery is also an option since that’ll help her with learning trajectories and you don’t have a lot of long-ranged options outside of your little friend and Firebolt. She needs to be able to do more than just cast spells to make it as a Mage, otherwise, she’ll be useless when she hits her limit.”

“That’s a lot to take in at once,” Bell said as he came over with a Magic Potion and carefully raised her chin so he could tip it into her mouth slowly. Primo swallowed on reflex. “Still, I really can’t thank you enough for all of this.”

“I’m just paying forward what I was taught and learned,” she told him before making sure that Primo was unconscious and they were alone. Then she asked the obvious question. “Now, about your Status going above S-rank?”

She had thought it to be a joke that Lady Hestia may have played on the girl as they laid her down to rest. Motivation to give her a number to aim for like how Lefiya admired Lady Riveria. But apparently it was not.

“It’s true,” he began. “Both times I’ve gone from one Level to the next all my Status have been S-rank or above. That’s part of the reason Lady Hestia also hurried with raising my Level and learned how to lock my Status after the Minotaur incident. The Loki Familia members who were there likely saw I had all S-Rank before the final update I had for Level One.”

Nnn…” Everything in her body wanted to believe he was joking. She knew he probably had a Rare Skill, but… to that extent was still hard to swallow. But it explained why everyone was so on edge before they went further into the Dungeon to deal with the Demi-Spirit. They knew all along but kept it a secret because they weren’t supposed to know. “SS-rank exists?”

He nodded. “It goes one rank higher too.”

Her slender fingers ran through her hair at that. The maximum had always been thought to be S-rank because going past that was so difficult. And, realistically, there should be no situation where you ended up gaining that much Excelia and not rising to the next Level…

Except, she was grinding up to get S-rank herself and holding off on going to Level Four. Every point counted, as Lady Loki told her. And then there were Bete’s words about surpassing Riveria. Why could they see beyond a limit that she couldn’t?

“Well, at least that explains why you were on par with Hyacinthus during the War Game,” Lefiya conceded. “And for you to get your points that high after a week of training… your Skill gives you accelerated growth by a ludicrous amount, doesn’t it?”

Her brother admitted to it. “It’s called Realis Freese. The description stated it was the ‘crystallization of an ancient pledge rekindled upon meeting one bound by fate’ and it gives me immunity to Charm as well.”

She had never heard of such a Skill, meaning it must have indeed been a rare one. But what caught her attention more so was the wording and how similar a part of it sounded. “Vow of Elcos… I obtained that after what happened in the Under Resort. The description reads ‘the birth of an everlasting bond. Raises attributes and allows for synchronization while working in tandem with those bound by fate to the Clown March’.”

Bell’s brows folded in at that. Recognition. “The Clown March… I’ve heard that before. Grandpa once referred to it as another name for the tale of Argonaut.”

“Which is the same name as your other Skill and the name of Fina’s brother, who shared the same homeland of Elcos,” Lefiya added. “They really are connected somehow. I figured that might be the case when Argonaut was passed onto me, but even the wording is similar—bound by fate.”

There really were too many coincidences at this point. She was still working her way through the memoirs at the moment, but she did have time to speak with Tiona about some of her versions of Argonaut that she had read. None of them referenced the homeland or the Clown March, so the fact that Bell’s Grandfather apparently knew a different version of more common stories held weight in itself.

She still refused to acknowledge that one on the High Elf Queen Celdia as anything short of blasphemous though. “This is starting to give me a headache at this point.”

“It does seem to be a bit complicated,” Bell admitted. “Lady Hestia felt it was important to keep the information a secret outside of our Familia. You’re the exception since we’re already in this deep and you’ve got a key to the place. But we still don’t want it to get out.”

“We’ve got at least two or three secrets between us that would cause problems if it got out, so what’s one more at this point…” The Half-Elf trailed off as she recalled something pertaining to said secrets and reached into her bag. “Speaking of which, Mother sent something for me to give you.”

Bell’s ruby eyes were half-folded in confusion as he grabbed the letter and heard the soft clink of metal within it. Then he opened it carefully with the non-bloodied knife he carried and from within he pulled out what looked to be a small pendant on a golden chain. There, embossed on the pendant, was an emblem that appeared to be a two-pronged spear with three lightning bolts to the left and right of it. “This is…”

The emblem of the Zeus Familia,” Lefiya murmured as the familiar sight brought memories to her mind. Times when her mother would sit her on her lap and regale her with stories she heard from their father. “But why did she send it?”

Azure and rubellite eyes shifted their attention to the letter where her mother had written in exquisite cursive to address her brother.

Bell Cranel.

Words cannot express the joy that I felt when I received my daughter’s letter that told me the two of you had reunited as brother and sister. I had always been worried about how you were fairing since that day we met and parted ways. Though I may not have been your mother, you were the child of the love of my life, and with his passing, you have become one of the few treasures that he left in this world.

It also makes me happy to hear you are following in your father’s footsteps. If your heart is as brave as his, I’m certain you’ll be a great Adventurer just as he was.

As Lefiya has told me you did not possess any memento of your father, I have included a pendant that he gifted me before parting ways. Though I am loathed to leave it, he has already gifted me something far more precious—my daughter.

So please treasure it. And should you find the opportunity, please write to me. I would love to hear how you were raised into being such a wonderful young man.

Also, from what my daughter has told me, you’ve become quite dashing as well. If you were anything near as charming as your father, I imagine you already have many suitors willing to take your hand. But should you find yourself looking for one such person, your sister should know plenty of Elven women who may catch your fancy.

I would love to see my grandchildren within the next few years.

G-Grandchildren…” The words clawed their way from Bell’s throat as he whipped his head around to find that his sister was blushing as she covered her eyes in embarrassment. “What does she mean by that!?”

“Well, we’re siblings because we share the same blood through our father,” Lefiya began, rubbing her ears that had turned as red as his eyes. “It doesn’t matter if she’s not your birth mother, you’re as good as her own child since you’re the child of the man she loved enough to have me with. We’re family, so your children would be her grandchildren and a way for her to remain connected to Father even as the centuries go on.”

And to be honest that was probably the best outcome considering how they were blood-tied and how their father was no longer around. Her mother having her and learning about Bell meant that his legacy lived on through them, from her half-Human features to his eyes. So she treated him more maternally, something that she would have loved to have done when he was younger if not for Lefiya’s insistence when she was younger and the guilt about her living circumstances.

But it would not be unheard of for an Elf who had lost a loved one to fall to their grief and become desperate to find some way to fill in that void. That included pursuing the child or sibling of said person if there was enough of a resemblance and they were at sexual maturity. There were Elven novels here in Orario that were best sellers with that premise for a reason—a taboo tale of a heroine falling in love with a hero only to find they were unattainable, so they shifted their attention toward a descendant.

“As for me playing matchmaker,” she continued. “I suspect that’s because of my own preferences when it comes to partners. Considering all Mother went through to give birth to me, it’d be hypocritical for her to tell me to find a male to have a child with if I wasn’t in love with them. But she still wants grandchildren and you being Human means that any children you have with another Elf will have Elven blood, and thus have a lifespan measured in centuries that she can dote on.”

Grandpa always said Elves had a different perspective but hearing that from you is another thing entirely….” Bell paused for a moment as a thought crossed his mind. “Wait, your mother was over a century old already when I met her that time?”

“Remember, the culture inside and outside of forests vary due to how long we live,” Lefiya said as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. “By those standards, around a century is the prime age to get married and start working towards having children since our race has such low birthrates that it can take a decade of effort to conceive. Her being pregnant with me so soon was because Father was Human, and she probably expects it to be the same for you… actually, how friendly are you with Miss Ryuu and that Guild Advisor of yours.”

Bell sputtered to form words as his face grew luminous. “Miss Ryuu is just a friend, and Miss Eina treats me like a little brother—Miss Flott even calls me as much. There’s no way they’d be interested in a guy like me.”

“It’d be more believable if you said that without blushing, but I’m not going to press you on it…” That being said she wasn’t sure how to feel about another Half-Elf stepping into her sororal duties. “Just avoid the Pleasure District. I can tell you right now that being kidnapped by Amazons is not fun.”

How would you… nevermind…” Her brother groused before looking down at the pendant that once belonged to their father. His expression softened. “The Zeus Familia…. Grandpa told me they were destroyed by the Black Dragon.”

“That’s the story I’ve heard,” she answered, her own expression softening. “They were one of the first Familia ever formed and among the most powerful. Grand Day celebrates their defeat of Behemoth and Leviathan fell to Hera. But that monster managed to kill both of them off, and then Zeus and Hera were both ran out of Orario by the Loki and Freya Familia.”

The Black Dragon—a monster that has existed since ancient times. One of the eldest and most powerful in existence, birthed from the Dungeon before the lid was placed upon it. It succeeded where its counterparts that covered the Land and Sea failed.

Her brother’s expression turned to surprise as he faced her. He didn’t know about that last part it seemed. “What do you mean?”

“Even though they failed, they reigned supreme in Orario for a thousand years,” she answered honestly. “They could rebuild in a few years if they had access to the Dungeon. So, the Loki Famila and Freya Familia exiled them to prevent that. It’s too hard to raise one’s Level outside of Orario that high barring very specific circumstances—let alone enough to compete with current status quo.”

Bell swallowed a held breath at that, while several expressions flashed on his face. For one who had been raised on stories of heroes, it probably seemed rather cruel that the reward for their heroism was to be beaten down when they were at their lowest and chased away so they couldn’t stand back up.

“It’s not like Lady Loki or the members of my Familia are bad people,” Lefiya said, knowing how her joining Loki’s Familia could be perceived as an act of betrayal in light of that. But the simple fact was that her father was dead by then, and she had no reason to be attached to a Familia that couldn’t keep him safe.

“I never said you were,” Bell told her, brushing his hair in the process. “Miss Aiz, Miss Tiona, you—all of you have helped me even when you didn’t have to. People call you heroes like the Braver. But I still don’t understand why they’d do that in the first place. Aren’t we all working towards making the world a place where everyone can smile?”

“That was fifteen years ago, so maybe things were different?” It was the only answer she could give him as she reached out and traced the emblem embossed on the pendant.  There were times after learning what she did that she wanted to ask Lady Riveria why they would have done so. It was underhanded in a way that didn’t suit her or the others. “At least, that’s what I want to believe.”

She wanted to believe that they had a good reason for doing so. She wanted to believe that the people who had been supporting and protecting her, even at the risk of their lives, had a reason for that. That it was for the betterment of everyone else.

“Anyway, we should head back to the surface,” Lefiya said, rising to her feet and scooping up the still sleeping Neophyte Elven Mage. “We’ll let Primo rest for a bit while we head to the Great Gnome Library. She can use some of the books there for a reference with her Magic studies.”

Bell kept his gaze on the pendant for a moment longer. Then he tucked it and the letter in his pouch before joining them. He was the vanguard and so he had to clear the path of the monsters that were waiting for them to emerge after all.

Still, the thoughts that came to his mind would linger for a time as they said goodbye.

It would be a few days before they saw one another again.


Fanfic Recommendation 106


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 17 – 21

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.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated



The Beast of Beacon 37 – 39

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?


An Unexpected Greeting
A Pokemon Fanfiction

Summary: The Champion of the Sinnoh region visits Alola, and while there, she agrees to participate in an exhibition match. Professor Kukui manages to score tickets to the match for himself and his students, and they are all immeasurably excited to attend.

After the battle is over, the Professor and his students run into Champion Cynthia herself – and she quickly shocks them all when she greets Ash and Pikachu like old friends!


Fate Reach Out 47

A Persona 4 x FSN Fanfiction

Summary: A chance decision leads to an unlikely discovery. The mention of a rumor leads to an unbelievable mystery. And the connection to a long forgotten family leads to an unforgettable experience. Welcome to Inaba, Yu Narukami… or should I say Shirou Emiya? (Co-Authored by Nameless Flame Wielder up to Ch.21).


Shattered Reflection 28

A Fire Emblem Awakening Fanfiction
Summary: In one world, Robin died abandoned by those she thought friends, with the sword of her lover driven into her chest. In another world, a young man with no memories of his past was trusted to guide Ylisse in war. Given a new chance, the broken queen will make sure this young tactician survived, no matter the cost.



Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 21 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 21: Shopping Trip

The rest of the journey only grew more difficult. Argo had no talent for fighting monsters, but he still fought them only to get hurt more and more. If it were just him alone, he could probably run away, but I was not as fast as him and would be left behind. That was why he fought.

 More and more it felt like I should have remained behind in the safety of the village, but I could never bring myself to tell that to him. Not when he was forcing himself to smile so much. Not when he brought me along and took on wounds for me.

There had to be something I could do for him. But what was it? What could I do to help my brother?

—What Could I Do For Him

[-|-|-|-]

Hmm… it suited the forest but the festival is…

Peering at herself in the mirror, she who bore the title of Thousand Elf creased her lips into a soft frown as she gazed at her reflection.

It was early morning of the day after meeting Primo Libera, the Elven Child with grand aspirations. All that was left was to head over to Bell’s home since she had already eaten a light breakfast ahead of the others, having made her intentions of going out for the rest of the day known to her Familia. That was to say she intended to do some training and studying after retrieving Forest’s Teardrop.

But before that, she wanted to take into consideration her choice of garments for her date with Filvis. It was the outfit that she had worn to the Spirit Forest, provided by Lady Riveria herself to protect her purity as per tradition when venturing to the sacred location filled with Unicorns and Spirits. It was more elegant than anything she owned and so she thought it would be perfect for the occasion, showing just enough skin while being tasteful enough to not offend Elven sensibilities.

Plus, she already knew that Filvis appreciated the sight.

A soft whistle rang out as she did a twirl. She looked over to see that her roommate was there, having opened the door at some point. The fact that she didn’t hear her meant she was deeper in thought than she expected.

Elfy’s green eyes were raised in mild surprise as she took in the normally conservative Half-Elf’s appearance. “When did you get that outfit?”

“Lady Riveria gave it to me for a special occasion,” Lefiya explained. The situation in the Spirit Forest was a secret, so it was the best she could give. “I was planning on wearing it for my date at the Holy Moon Festival.”

Elfy’s lips quirked slightly at that. “So that Elf from the Dionysus Familia asked you out?”

Mm-hmm~” And Filvis had done so completely out of her own desire rather than being led into it. That fact still left Lefiya’s chest to flutter.  “She asked me yesterday evening, right in front of the fountain outside of Babel and everything. It was so romantic when I think back on it.”

Granted, Filvis ran away right afterward. It must have been hard for her to admit as much, given her past and the association with the name of Banshee. Lefiya had been working hard to get her away from that mindset. Even if her feelings had been rejected, she would have put aside her broken heart for the sake of remaining her friend so that she could continue to smile.

Or so she told herself.

“I’m happy for you, but won’t that complicate things in the long run?” There was a note of caution in Elfy’s voice as she said that. “I mean, being friendly with a member of another Familia is one thing. But a romance is…”

“Lady Loki already gave me her blessing to pursue the relationship since she and Lord Dionysus are on such good terms,” Lefiya mentioned while holding out the sides of the dress, offering her a better view. “Mind giving me a second opinion?”

“Sure.” The Human Mage made a twirling motion with her finger and watched as Lefiya did so slowly, eyes drawn to the way the materials elegantly flowed with the motion. “You look… gorgeous just how you are. I’m sure she’ll love it.”

“Thanks,” Lefiya said with a grateful smile before heading over to a privacy screen, her normal clothes hanging on top of it. She made light conversation while changing behind the diving screen. “If it isn’t a bother, would you mind asking Alicia if I could borrow her Elven Cream?”

“Ah… the burning stuff, you mean?” There was a noticeable disdain in her voice. The Secret Elven Cream shared between them was great at clearing one’s complexion, but it was quite… unpleasant as it did its work. “I’m guessing you don’t want to ask her yourself because it’d be awkward to do so to get ready for a date given the whole incident.”

Lefiya recoiled as if struck before peeking her head around the divider, blushing. “We all agreed never to bring that up again!”

The infamous Alicia Incident—born of what she interpreted were mixed messages from the forestborn, inebriation, and budding sexuality. Alicia did embody all of the physical traits she liked in a partner, so it was natural she held some attraction. But attempting to clumsily seduce her was purely because she had not been in her right mind.

It was embarrassing for all parties involved and was the reason she swore off both drinking and dating within the Familia ever again.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said, lightly waving her hand with an expression that said otherwise. Then she held up a letter. “This is for you. It was in the morning mail.”

“That must be from Mother…” She finished changing before receiving the letter. Sure enough, it was set to address her in their native script, but it felt heftier than normal. Taking it over to her desk, she used a letter opener to slit it and pulled out not only the letter inside but a second smaller envelope.

It was addressed to her brother in the common script and there was something inside of it.

Lefiya quickly shuffled it into her bag before reading her own letter to grasp the context. Her mother was responding to her previous letter about the Spirit Forest and taking after looking over her brother. She asked that Lefiya give it to him, which made sense.

But then she noticed something about the contents didn’t make sense. Wait, I didn’t write to Mother about the Dragon we fought in the Spirit Forest.

“Is something up?” Elfy asked before she could linger on it.

“Nothing,” Lefiya said before shuffling the letter into the desk drawer, next to Fina’s Memoirs. “Do you have any plans for the festival?”

“Me, Rakta, and a few of the others were just going to go in a group,” she said casually while playing with the stuffed animal Lefiya kept nearby. Even though she didn’t need to sleep with it anymore, she still thought it was cute and so she left it out. “I think Leene does have someone else in mind given how she reacted when Aki mentioned it, but she was being all quiet about it.”

That grabbed Lefiya’s interest given the kind-hearted Healer was rather subdued. She could only imagine what man had managed to capture her interest enough to warrant her making such a bold move. If she’s keeping it a secret then she has her reasons, I’m sure.

Ruminating on romantic partners aside, Lefiya finished getting ready and made for the door. “I’ll be going now. Oh, and thanks for letting me borrow your Vanishment Rod. I’ll pay you back some time.”

Elfy just waved goodbye as she closed the door and went about her way.

If the Half-Elf had been a second slower to shut the door, she would notice her roommate looking enviously at the dress while brushing the curve of her ears.

[-Outside of Hearthstone Manor-]

“I really didn’t think it’d be this bad…”

Lefiya admitted as she watched with muted horror at the throng of bodies outside of what had once been the stronghold for the Apollo Familia. Now that the renovations had been done, the newly christened Hearthstone Manor had become the publicly known chief location of the Hestia Familia. And thus, it had also garnered a lot of attention.

There was a myriad of people—men, women, big, small, Dwarves, Humans, Cat People, Elves, and even more outside of the gate. There were enough people to where she couldn’t see past them unless she got to a higher elevation from the alleyway a modest distance away. Thankfully she didn’t need to do so.

“Me neither,” said her brother, having appeared mere moments ago with Lady Hestia in his arms and Primo hanging off his back. He was stupidly fast for a Level Two, so at Level Three not a single person beneath that Level would be able to see him if he really moved. Taking advantage of that, he managed to slip out faster than any of the crowd had noticed with his goddess and charge.

“They’re annoying, but there isn’t much we can do about it right now,” Lady Hestia said in a bitter tone that did not suit the Goddess of the Hearth as her child let her down. Such was her annoyance at her current predicament as she straightened out her white apron that stood out against the red beneath it. But there really wasn’t much they could do about the situation so long as none of them stepped over the boundary of the gates uninvited.

At that point, they were trespassers and could be dealt with accordingly. But until then their solicitations were entirely legal—annoying, but legal.

Still, Level Three senses on top of Elven hearing afforded Lefiya a lot of leeway in making out what the crowd was saying and thus gathering the type it was. None of them were of any importance as any merchant or official representative of a respectable establishment or organization would forward them mail or schedule a meeting. They would not crowd around like a pack of Hellhounds waiting for the chance to feast.

There were three camps right now—those there to join, those there for Bell, and those for Welf.

A good majority of them were trying to join the Familia, knowing that it was the prime time to do so since they had risen in rank and thus a higher tax bracket. The fact that Hestia took him in without a Falna meant she was open to just about everyone, which was a great prospect for all of them. The fact that Primo had just been registered probably did not make things better on that front—and they weren’t going to broadcast her circumstances.

Bell’s solicitations were… generally expected of him being the Record Holder. Some were prospective recruits for other Familia from the sound of it, wanting to pull him into their net since he was on the rise. They had about a snowballs’ chance in the Dragon’s Urn, but they were still going to try for the sake of saying they did.

But the worst by far were the Amazons among their numbers, whose intentions were seduction. They weren’t lovestruck like Tione but they knew they were attractive and Bell was a young man, so an invitation to the Pleasure District was not off the table. The problem was they were not shy about voicing it among themselves either.

She had never even heard of some of the things they were suggesting, leaving her red in the face. And a glance at her brother, covering Primo’s ears while nursing a brighter blush, told her that he heard them loud and clear as well. Level Three hearing had its downsides.

Those for Welf were divided into two groups as well. The first were those who wanted to make a deal for one of his Magic Swords, muttering about how low of a price they could get or how high they could go, either for use or resell. Most likely the latter given how infamous they were meant that having an authentic Crozzo Magic Sword would go for enough that a small country would need to clear its treasury for it.

The second were those who hated him for them. The latter spoke in low, hushed whispers or Elvish—she was used to mocking whispers due to her heritage, but it had never been outright malicious like she could hear. And she suspected the only reason it didn’t escalate beyond muted threats was because it would be picking a fight with their entire Familia, which they had gone through great pains to demonstrate why that was a bad idea.

Most buildings were a lot less sturdy than a castle that fell in less than an hour and a lot more flammable.

Still… he really put himself into the fire for Bell’s sake, didn’t he? Lefiya felt obliged to do something for him, but there was nothing she could really do. Unless Lady Riveria herself told them to leave him be, they would likely continue to just quietly harass him, and throwing her name around wasn’t something she liked to do unless absolutely necessary.

“Miss Lefiya, are we going to get my staff now?” Primo asked innocently, bringing the Thousand Elf’s attention back to why she was there in the first place.

Lefiya nodded and put on a smile just for her. “That’s right. We’re not far from where my own has finished being repaired, so we’ll pick them up together. Then we’ll take you to get your battle clothes before we head into the Dungeon.”

The child smiled brightly in response, eager and excited to take her first steps in becoming a Mage. It reminded Lefiya of her younger self back in the Educational District. And that same smile elicited one from her goddess and Captain.

Guiding them northwest and away from the mansion, Lefiya led them to a shop located off the side street that branched from the Northwest Main Street. The streets twisted, almost like a maze, to where shadows cast from the buildings surrounding it dimmed the light until they found a staircase heading further downwards. The child momentarily faltered from the unfamiliar air of the location, but Bell squeezed her shoulder ever so lightly as if to say that it would be all right when they finally came to a stop in front of a wooden door that was slightly warped and looked as though it were carved into the trunk of a tree.

“Good morning, Miss Leona!” greeted the Half-Elf Mage as she opened the door with a slight groan of the hinges, and strange yet poignant scents washed over them as they were cast in the dim light of magic stone lanterns designed to resemble fireballs hanging overhead. Shelves lined with magical reagents, drop items from monsters, and expensive concoctions filled in empty space to give it a slightly confined feeling.

In the back, opposite the store entrance, was a figure clad in dark robes, with a pointed hat that slouched over haggardly adorned their head. Her white hair was long and frayed, her nose long and slightly hooked, and around her neck were dozens of crystals strung into necklaces.

Her head craned upwards, and her leathery lips pulled back into a smile. “I was expecting you to come alone, but I see you have company—an infamous one at that.”

Bell realized he was the latter when her eyes fell onto him. “Me?”

“Many eyes are on you child,” she said ominously. “The ability to augment one’s spells or another’s is not something that goes unnoticed to us who practice the Art. And then there is the Mage Bane as they call him, inflicting an Ignis Faatus on that poor girl. Dreadful.”

Lefiya sighed at her teasing. “Miss Leona, you’re not going to tell me Alterna is coming after them next are you?”

“I imagine they would not be the first on that list,” she brushed off before reaching behind the counter and pulling out Lefiya’s beloved staff. “All of the magic stones have been replaced. Though I have to question how you managed to break so many at once—mirroring your master a little too much now?”

“The situation was complicated,” Lefiya said as she strode over and gingerly took her precious staff in hand once more. The cool touch of the Seiros and dazzling hue of the Forest’s Tear in the center, surrounded by the azure magic crystals, were a sight for sore eyes.

“And who do we have here?” Leona inquired, staring towards the child whose nervousness was palpable.

“Her name is Primo,” Lefiya said. “She was anointed by Lady Hestia and received a Magic Slot, so I brought her here in order to receive her first staff since she’ll have to grow into it. Please be patient with her for the time being.”

She then turned to the child. “And Primo, Miss Leona is a very talented Mage. But unlike us, she specializes in the creation of magical implements and other items. It’s a different path but it all comes from the same basis, and only others who study the Art of Magic can create such things. That’s why you need to study hard. Understand?”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” the Neophyte Elven Mage said while nodding in understanding. “And it’s nice to meet, Miss Leona. I’ll be in your care.”

“A polite child. I wonder if you’ll turn out to be as monstrous as your mentor here.” She then extended her clawed hand towards the wall that was lined with staves. “You’ll find the beginner staves at the far end. I’m sure Little Miss Thousand can help you pick out an appropriate one.”

Primo’s eyes turned to them before scurrying over as Lefiya followed afterward. That left Bell and Hestia to take in their surroundings. Unlike the other two, they were more familiar with rows of weapons and armor from their jobs, so it was a novel experience.

That was when Bell’s gaze fell onto a leather-bound book that had embellishments upon it in gold and was tucked behind a glass case on a high shelf—visible and meant to be an item of importance. “Is that a Grimoire?”

Miss Leona’s eyes perked up at that. “Oh, you recognize one?”

Well, I may have seen one from a distance before…” He scratched his cheek even as his eyes fell onto the price tag. The current rate was around 99,575,000 Valis, and it was clear the price had been marked down a number of times, which was honestly even more terrifying. “Goddess, you weren’t kidding when you said they were expensive.”

“Hephaestus mentioned that creating something like that required an extremely gifted Mage,” Hestia mused as she stared at their surroundings in part curiosity and part fascination. “You must be fairly talented, Young Lady.”

“You humor me, goddess,” said the elderly Human with a chuckle. Only those whose lifespans could be measured beyond centuries would refer to her as young. “My talent is modest compared to those who have much longer to refine their talent. An acquaintance merely gifted it to me, but should your little Mage ever need the push to develop a new spell…”

It was a valid option. Gaining a single spell upon receiving the Falna was fortunate and the circumstances where they appeared were also completely random. It was entirely possible she would not gain a second spell throughout her long life. And considering how much Bell had benefited from the Grimoire he had seen from a distance and did not read… it would be a lie to say that it was not worth the price.

“As for the boy, though we typically cater to Mages, we do provide some things for individuals such as yourself.” She gestured towards a collection of magic crystals that were on display in a myriad of scintillating colors. “A magic crystal of the corresponding element affixed to your gauntlet can enhance the power of your offensive spell and creating dual ones are within my ability. But, considering how you can increase the output of your spell on a whim, I’ve no doubt they would suffer the same fate as the crystals I just had to replace.”

In other words, the magic crystal would just break after a single boost while used under Argonaut. And considering how much those cost it was an expensive one-shot use. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Miss Leona, we’ve picked out one,” Lefiya called, drawing their attention to the one that Primo had gotten. It was an Oaken Staff but the wrapping around it was a slight lavender hue. “Can you pre-treat it, so it’ll be more durable in case she needs to use it as an emergency weapon and blood won’t soak into it?”

“Taking inspiration from that Elf from the War Game, are you?” The wizened witch humored before applying some kind of solution to it and then ran a cloth over it, giving it a sheen that wasn’t present before. “The treatment would normally be another three thousand valis, but since I’m gaining a loyal customer, I will do so for free this time.”

“Thank you very much,” Primo said cheerfully as her eyes glimmered while cradling her new staff. She brought it to her cheek and smiled. “I’ll take good care of it.”

That done, they left the Witch’s Secret House and ventured towards the clothier to arrange for Primo to have some clothing to wear into the Dungeon. There was one she was familiar with from before she joined the Loki Familia—and had originally designed her current outfit.

Guiding them to a clothier boutique that had mannequins on display with garments and accessories that catered to multiple races rather than exclusive ones found on most of the clothing shops. That was because it was showcasing that they provided the same designs to accompany many different races, rather than conforming to a specific sensibility. They even had signs written in the different native written languages listing the materials that they were made out of and pricing for the different sizes.

A chime rang as the door opened. “Hello. Lucia, are you in?”

In the back of the shop, a flower shifted from just behind what looked to be a loom in the process of being worked to create a patterned design in some delicate-looking cloth. Then the flower was revealed to be nestled in a bed of luxurious, honey-brown hair. It framed the visage of a girl whose eyes held the same hue as the locks that flowed down her back, a warm smile coming into bloom on her face.

“Lefiya, back so soon?” she asked, rising up to come around and greet her guest. Her eyes fell onto Bell and recognition dawned. “Oooohhh~”

“Just. Rumors.” Lefiya preempted her, knowing full well what those glimmers dancing in her eyes were representative of. The fact that her regular battle clothes needed repair after the initial chase with the Apollo Familia meant she brought them here and naturally the rumors had spread by then. Then she set a hand on Primo’s head. “We’re here to pick up some battle clothes for her. She just joined Lady Hestia’s Familia and I decided to walk them around as a favor.”

Ahh, how drab.” She could have sounded less disappointed before she came closer and took in the sight of the Elven Child holding a staff preciously. Then she leaned over and gave her a gentle smile as she extended her hand. “Hello, I’m Lucia Ramirez—I provide adorable girls like you clothes for inside the Dungeon and out. And you are?”

“Primo Libera,” she answered reaching out and shaking it. “Nice to meet you, Miss Ramirez.”

“Just Lucia is fine, Sweetie.” She then looked to Bell and Hestia. “Did you have any specific needs for her, such as if she’ll be heading further down into the Middle Floors? Or a particular design in mind for her Familia Uniform?”

“No, she’s just received her Falna so I don’t think we’ll take her below the 10th Floor anytime soon,“ Bell answered. “And we don’t have a uniform.”

“I would suggest letting Primo decide on what she wants,” Lefiya offered. “She uses her forest as a communal name so she might not be aware of any designs that have cultural significance, so keeping it simple is better. Then once we know that much, we can give our opinion on if anything needs to be added.”

Lucia nodded in compliance before gently taking Primo’s hand. “Let’s take a look at the designs that have light fabrics without hindering your movements. Almiraj fur tends to work pretty well for the inner lining, so you’ll feel comfortable while casting.”

As Primo followed her, Lefiya decided to look around to see if there were any new designs that she herself was fond of. Not that she planned on buying any new clothing, but she did window shop occasionally and there might be something else that she found to accompany her date outfit. Eventually, she came across a dress that was nestled in the back and on display.

It was a gorgeous dress with the torso being a soft teal color and shoulder-less, open sleeves tethered with crystalline bands that had golden chains adorned by gemstones. The skirt rose and fell, gossamer frills that allowed the pure-white stockings to be displayed, and the floral patterns having blue and white roses. There was also a bonnet to go along with it, adding to the cute aesthetic.

“You really like frilly stuff, don’t you?” The Half-Elf was pulled from her gaze upon the gorgeous work on display by the Goddess of the Hearth. The divinity and her brother had come over to see what had grabbed her attention. “Is that what Elves consider fashionable?”

“It’s my personal preference,” she explained. “Typically, Elves prefer just enough lace and frills to accompany a simpler design that covers the skin to project modesty while also emphasizes the existing features. For women, that would be things that make us appear cuter, while men’s clothing would make them handsome. Something with this many frills and designs would be considered an excessive and it’s not practical to wear in the Dungeon, so I would only be able to wear it on special occasions like the one coming up.”

“There’s an occasion like that coming up?” Hestia asked.

“You only recently descended, and Bell only arrived a little while ago, so I suppose you wouldn’t know,” Lefiya realized. “The Holy Moon Festival is a pretty well-known celebration that has been around since before the descent of the divine. It’s often considered a romantic event as well—Amor Square typically turns into a dancing floor for couples, for example. I’m actually looking forward to attending it this time.”

“That sounds fun,” Hestia mused wistfully before turning to her first child. “Bell, take me that day, will you?”

His reaction was to be shocked, crimson spreading along his cheeks. “Eh?”

“What are you blushing for?” Hestia teased. “You’re just going to take the Goddess your revere so much to have a dance. That’s all.”

Well, I’m still not much of a dancer but I guess I can try…” Feeling awkward, his rubellite eyes turned elsewhere and fell onto the changing room where Lucia and Primo were in. “What will we do if Primo wants to wear something like this to wear into the Dungeon though?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,” Lefiya said. “Lucia an Adventurer, so she knows to consider the practical needs of others on the Upper Floors at the very least. She would never let her wear something that could let her get hurt.”

Bell seemed astonished at that. “She is?”

“Well, I suppose it would be more accurate to say she’s a part-time one,” Lefiya clarified. “Unlike us, she isn’t a dedicated Adventurer so she doesn’t spend all her time in it and works primarily as a stylist and clothier. She’s probably closer to Mister Welf in that she has a lot of technical knowledge on the different materials in the Dungeon and how they are used to make fabrics and cloths for her profession. I think she’s still a Level One.”

“Which Familia does she belong to?” Hestia asked.

“The Dia Familia,” she answered. “It’s a small Familia, but they’ve been longer established than yours and most of the members have jobs outside of being Adventurers. They don’t have a high rank so they won’t be forced to go on expeditions or anything, but they have a single Level Two Captain who is more a researcher or chemist.”

“So that’s how Dia handles things down here, huh…” Hestia tapped her chin at that bit of information. Then the changing room curtains parted and out came her newest child. “All done?”

“Yes, Goddess,” Primo said as she revealed her outfit. It was a light purple dress with matching cuffs and a collar with a red gemstone adorning it. Around her left leg was a pair of holsters for small items and potions, while a small pouch that clamped onto her from the back accompanied it. “How do I look?”

“You look very pretty,” Bell told her gently. “Don’t you think so, Goddess?”

“It feels like something is missing…” Hestia rubbed his chin in thought before going over to a small stand and grabbing two hair ties before walking over. Then she tied her long, blonde hair into a set of twin-tails, not unlike the Goddess of the Hearth. “There we go.”

She brushed the hair ties with her gloves before smiling. “Thank you, Lady Hestia!”

“I would also like to commission a jacket for her similar to mine, but in her own colors,” Lefiya added. “It’s not good to leave too much skin exposed in the Dungeon after all. You can put it on my tab.”

“I can do that, but the materials to make it and the final design won’t be ready for a few days,” Lucia stated.

“I’ll be in the Dungeon at the time, so Bell will have to come to get it then.” She looked to her brother. “Is that okay?”

Bell nodded as Hestia placed Primo’s lavender robes on over her new battle clothes. “I’ll pay you back for it. For all of it.”

“Then come back in about three days,” Lucia told them. “And if there are any adjustments or you want any other clothes tailored, please don’t hesitate to come back.”

That done and their farewells bid to the clothier, they made their way towards Babel. Hestia bid them goodbye and to have a nice day in the Dungeon as she ascended the Elevator to Hephaestus’ storefront. Her children and Lefiya ventured down below the winding staircase and into the depths below.

Soon enough Primo took her first steps into the Upper Floor of the Dungeon.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 20 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 20: The Cost of a Mage

The first major obstacle in our journey came when we had our first encounter with a monster in years. The village had somehow been spared from trouble for the time we had been there, so a part of us forgot just how terrifying even a Goblin could be. But we were reminded when two of them attacked us along the way.

Argo managed to take out one with his sword. But the other managed to knock him down with a stick that it considered a club of some kind. I saw his blood and the next thing I knew I had picked up his sword and had stabbed it deeply to where it collapsed on the ground. I pulled back with my fingers trembling as I couldn’t let the sword go until Argo gently set his hands on mine and soothed me with kind words.

‘Being covered in blood is unsuitable for a flower like you. Leave that to your big brother from now on, okay?’

I started crying in his arms then and there.

—A Random Encounter

[-|-|-|-]

The cavernous, intertwining maze that was the 14th Floor of the Dungeon was filled with hunting noises.

The expansive network of tunnels naturally carved of bedrock held many rooms away from the beaten and well-trodden paths taken by those that normally trespassed upon their dominion. Thus, it provided a quiet den for monsters that had been born to rest until their trek brought them to where they could hunt. Yet their den was in an uproar as a fairy had somehow wandered right into their nest.

A pink-clad sylph had somehow gotten lost from the forests. Now it flew through the dimly lit halls illuminated by the moss that crawled along the wall and ceilings. Its chestnut hair fluttered as it bound away, delving deeper into their lair as slithering serpentine women gave chase with snarls and screeches to let others know that the game was afoot and the hunt was on.

At the same time, in the distance, another fairy was being herded by their kin. A white-clad nymph with long and luxurious black hair.  On its heels were a herd of bunnies brandishing landform blades, hopping as they gave chase.

The walls buckled and crumbled as more were born to fill in their ranks. Hounds from the bowels of Hell, huffing heated embers, fell free from the bedrock. Landing on the heel of the fleeing fairies, they rushed ahead of hunting parties to pincer them both.

With their retreat blocked, the fairies ran towards the only path available. It was a corridor to the side that ran deep but led to a decisive end. For shame, it seemed their chase had come to an end and, when the monsters rounded the corners, they would no doubt find the two fairies embracing one another as they awaited the end.

Perhaps they would slaughter one before the other. Their lovely voices keening would ring throughout the halls as a fine accompaniment to the feast that would take place. It would be a monster party consisting of roasted nymph meat to be washed down by sylph blood tea—prepared by all the participants.

The Lamia Mormos would rip free their wings so they could longer escape and pierce their flesh so that blood colored the cold décor of bedrock. The Almiraj would bound forth and bury their axes within their bodies, butchering them so they could be served up on plates. And the Hellhounds would cook the meat succulent and supple until it fell from their bones.

However, the Hellhounds could not wait. Newborns had no concept of patience, only the unyielding yearning to devour. And so, they hurried to the entrance of the corridor faster than any of their other kin and huffed their heated breaths, bellowing out a sea of flames that ran down the enclosed corridor to turn it into an oven rather than waiting for the others to prepare the meat.

The roar of the flames drowned out all sound as the monster party came to a halt at the mouth of the corridor until the fire abated. The bedrock itself, which was uneven as though the surfaces had been broken or carved into, glowed a bright orange color that crackled softly as smoke rose up. They had overdone it, as such merciless heat would certainly leave only fairy dust behind without a scrap of meat or cup of blood.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer…

That was when they heard it, loud and clear.

From behind the curtain of dark smoke, they heard the voice of the fairy. But it was not a voice twisted from the agony of searing heat charring the flesh and setting every nerve alight. Instead, it was a lilt that had no place being sung within the hellish flames.

It riled their anger to new heights and inflamed their inherent bloodlust to its peak. Not only was their prey still alive, but at least one was well enough to sing joyously when cornered and entrapped. It offended their very nature as the bane of living mortals, such a grievous offense that they could not stand it.

Ignoring the prickling from the still heated stones, they rushed through the smoke with the murderous desire to turn the sylph’s melody into a dirge—

Hrk?!

—and met a wall of light obscuring their path. It was a white mirror that kept away all that stood against it, a stalwart shield brought out by the nymph who was in truth a fairy knight.

And behind that knight was not a defenseless sylph waiting to have her wings plucked, but a fairy sniper whose bow was a staff, and her arrow was being nocked by the golden magic circle spinning beneath her. “Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Hearing the song entering its final verse, the white-clad fairy knight fell behind her charge and dropped the shield that kept them at bay.

And the pink-clad fairy sniper loosed her nocked arrow. “Arcs Ray!

Golden light washed away everything.

[-14th Floor-]

“I didn’t expect Hellhounds of all the things to spawn.”

A soft sigh echoed over the soft cracking of stone as the wall opposite of the corridor laid blown out. Bits of stone fell onto the ash-laden ground beneath it. There were some modest-sized magic stones strewn about, though most had been eradicated by the magical attack.

Bringing her slender fingers to the back of her pale neck, Lefiya Viridis rubbed the spot tenderly as she stood alongside Filvis Challia within the corridor and inspected her work. Their senses were on full alert, listening for the sound of distant footfalls or cracking stone. But it appeared that there were no more threats incoming and so she allowed her guard to fall just a touch as she considered how things had turned out that way.

They had scouted out the rooms stealthily enough that they had a good guess as to the number of monsters and the species. It would have taken them more Mind and time to deal with all of them individually, which was why they had decided to funnel them down the narrow corridor where she could finish them off in a single blast. To that end, they had made the effort to break the walls on all sides and the ceiling itself to create a safe zone before luring them in.

Only death awaited those who would follow a fairy sniper into a narrow corridor.

But no plan survived first contact untested it seemed.

The Hellhounds were not expected since none had been present. They had a ranged magical attack that could have potentially altered the plan. It was only due to being constantly driven to attack mortals by their instinct as monsters and their undeveloped minds compared to the ones that roamed the Deep Floors that they fell into the trap so readily.

“…This strategy has merit but depending on the circumstances there are risks involved that can turn it into a death trap,” Filvis said after consideration. “Had we not thought to break the walls of this corridor ahead of time we very well could have been trapped on both sides. And while we most likely would have prevailed, there was a chance I may not have been able to protect you from getting hurt.”

Being surrounded by all sides was not uncommon for adventurers who delved deeper into the Dungeon. For if there was one thing that was never in short supply, it was monsters who would use their numerical superiority to bring down their foes. Even using a narrow corridor to funnel them was a valid strategy provided you had the means to eliminate them en masse.

The cleansing chalice that offered protection from magical and physical attacks was perfectly suited for keeping them at bay long enough for the fairy sniper to nock and loose an arrow of unyielding accuracy to wipe them out. But there was always a chance for something to go astray. Her shield could break or something else could go awry and the one meant to be protected would be vulnerable, a thought that clearly unsettled the one meant to do the protecting. Such was the ever-present fear of the fairy knight…

“You would have.”

There was no hesitation or uncertainty in the fairy sniper’s voice at the declaration, said with a beautiful smile unfitting of the Dungeon. Such was the depths of Lefiya’s faith in the one who bore the title of Maenads. A faith proven time and again on both the 24th Floor and in the Spirit Forest.

So long as the Elven Magic Swordswoman had breath in her body, she would uphold her duty to protect the Half-Elf Mage. “And I would have protected you as well, of course.”

Deep red eyes shifted away from the beaming smile, as if unworthy to gaze upon it. “I see… still, is it normal to have to take on this kind of Quest as a punishment?”

The Quest in question was that of a Dungeon Sweeper—a person who would travel to paths off the usual routes of the Dungeon to exterminate the monsters there. The floors grew massively in size the deeper you went, and the paths became expansive to the point where exploring every inch of a single floor was time and resource-consuming. The most expedient thing to do was to use a mapped travel route to get straight through.

But monsters born from the Dungeon walls could survive and thrive and build up their numbers. If their numbers were allowed to build up too much then, under the wrong circumstances, they could all at once start a Monster Parade—an irregular outbreak that would create a situation where a lot of adventurers could die. It would be a naturally reoccurring situation like the Nightmare on the 27th Floor.

That was why the Guild regularly called for adventurers to cull their numbers off the beaten paths. If the situation was desperate enough then sometimes it was mandatory for one of the higher-ranked Familia to deal with it, as they had the manpower and strength to traverse deep enough. But this was only on the Middle Floors, and it was more or less selected to be a humbling experience for her on Lady Riveria’s orders.

“Well, even if it was on the Upper Floors, it was still a careless thing for me to do,” Lefiya noted, unable to reveal the exact reason her staff had broken and her Mind had been drained to the point of collapsing. “Making me do this as part of my punishment is only fair, and she did tell me that I could bring someone I trusted along to help instead of having one of the others babysit me. Plus, I can use the magic stones that are leftover to help pay off the loan I took out to get Forest’s Teardrop repaired.”

In her hands was a borrowed staff, an older one from her roommate that was considered a spare. It had not really been tailored for her personal use, so she had to be careful to keep the magical energy funneled through it at a level manageable to avoid breaking it. Though it may not have been expensive compared to her own, it would not do to damage something she borrowed from a friend.

And while Filvis had been her first choice, the number of other vanguards she could have called were limited. Since the results of the War Game and announcement of Bell’s ascension to Level Three, many of the members of her Familia had entered something of a training spree. Such was the depths of their envy that he had gotten to the point where many of them had struggled to reach even after going on an expedition some time ago.

Even she was a little envious of how fast he could grow, but her primary concern was how detrimental his exceptional growth was to what he knew of the Dungeon and the city itself. She had been in Orario for nearly half her life now since entering the Educational District. Bell had been there for two or three months—the Dungeon or the city itself could very well eat him alive if he got over his head.

If Filvis had been busy I suppose I could have asked him, but if news got back to the others then it would have probably caused an uproar, Lefiya thought to herself before turning her attention back to the matter at hand. “Anyway, since this was the last Floor for today we can head back up to the Exchange once I collect the magic stones and drop items. Then we can split it before I report to the Guild.”

“I’ll help you,” insisted the fairy knight, chivalrous before her charge.

The gallantry was welcomed as they took what they could and packed it away in her backpack before finally ascending from the bedrock to the Upper Floors. Though there were a few random encounters along the way they effectively posed no challenge before the pair and by the time evening arrived, they had finished their climb and stood in Central Park. The rays of the setting sun painted the city a glorious golden hue as it washed over the ivory and marble.

It was only once the obvious threat that the Dungeon posed was no longer a factor that the demeanor of a fairy knight faded, and the Maenads revealed herself to be flustered as she came to a stop at the fountain where the clean water glimmered. “L-Lefiya…”

Azure eyes fell onto her at that, their owner pausing mid-step and regarding her body language with an inquisitive tilt of the head. “Is something wrong, Filvis?”

A light shade of red crept up from her cheeks to her ears as she meekly looked away, bringing one of her gloved hands to her heart while the other covered her mouth. Then, in elvish words so soft that the recipient almost couldn’t hear it, she asked, “W…Would accompany me to the Holy Moon Festival?

…Lefiya’s mind froze for a prolonged pause as her mind processed what she heard.

The Holy Moon Festival was also one of the first festivities to mark the coming autumn, a celebration dating back to the Ancient Times. Grand Day would follow some time afterwards. And then there were the winter holidays that were always cold but festive in their own ways.

But the key factor here was that Filvis was asking her on a date.

Though Lefiya had been awaiting a response to the confession and sharing of the Spirit Nut, she had also been content to wait until Filvis was comfortable enough to broach the topic given how guarded she was. And there was the fact that she was competing against Lord Dionysus on whether Filvis’ affections would be returned. That could be interpreted in a number of ways—exclusivity was complex when one of the divine was involved, given what receiving their benediction entailed.

And while she probably should have asked the result of that, Lefiya’s reaction to seeing the meek way her gallant partner was flustered coaxed the warmth from her chest to her head and forced out a response faster than she could think. “Yes! Yesyesyes!”

“Th-Then…ummm…farewell!” Just giving a response seemed to have left her even more flustered as she sprinted away with the speed afforded to a Level Three with clearly higher parameters in Agility than Lefiya. Not quite as fast as her brother by any stretch, but she still managed to clear the park and vanished down the Main Street.

It was only then Lefiya remembered the weight on her back. “Ah… the… Exchange…”

She would have to go alone, it seemed. But she had a notable skip in her step as she did so, crimson stickers plastered on her cheeks as she considered that she had made a breakthrough in reaching the target of her affection. Her gamble in making her feelings clear had been at least rewarded in some measure.

That was almost enough to send her over the moon as she arrived in the Guild Hall and reported the completion of the Dungeon Sweeper Quest to Miss Flot.

That done, she was prepared to head to the Exchange that would be crowded at this time of day as many other adventurers prepared to turn in their goods. While she could wait until morning, she still wanted to see to it the Familia Treasurer applied the portion she earned to her loan before she kept the rest to return to Filvis the next time she saw her.

Do I even have any clothes that are good enough for a date? That question haunted her when she realized how limited her wardrobe happened to be. Dating had been one of her least concerns after the Alicia incident and living up to Lady Riveria’s expectations, so a round of shopping might be in order. Wait, I still have the dress from the Spirit Festival.

“Ah, Lefiya?”

That was when she heard a voice that she recognized calling her from the lobby. She turned to see that her brother in casual clothes, standing in front of an older Half-Elf member of the Guild she thought she might have recognized, wearing a tense but tired expression on her face. And next to him was a young-looking Elf with blonde hair, standing around fifteen celches shorter than him and clad in a traveling cloak.

She approached him. “Bell, I thought you were going to take things easier for a while?”

“Ah… well, things got a little complicated…” He looked over to the child who clenched the hem of his shirt as she looked between them. “Do you have some time to speak with us in a private room?”

[-Private Guild Room-]

“I have… so many questions that I don’t know where to start,” Lefiya began after they had relocated to one of the private rooms within the Guild, guided by the Half-Elf that Bell referred to as Miss Eina. “Starting with why your Guild Advisor was looking so upset?”

“Ah that’s because a lot of things happened last night at the Grand Casino and I ended up getting banned,” he explained, slightly withering beneath her raised brow. “It was for a good reason—to help Miss Syr and Miss Ryuu.”

She remembered the silver-haired Human and the Elven Warrior. The two waitresses that served at the Hostess of Fertility did not strike her as the sort to go to a gambling establishment, but it was not as though she knew them that well. “Why were you even there in the first place?”

“Some of the people who won big by betting on us during the War Game decided to treat me and I ran into them there,” he began. “Then things got complicated and… well, I did owe them both. Plus, we helped people if that nice lady who came by to leave Miss Ryuu flowers and a note was any indication. It’s a shame she apparently left the city before morning.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Lefiya decided before turning her attention to the child sitting off to the side, eating a small treat rapturously. The girl was above average for what Lefiya presumed her age was as an Elf, but her features made it clear she was on the younger side of puberty. Then again, Lady Lilo had to be probably three or four times Lady Riveria’s age, so there were exceptions. “And who is she?”

He scratched his cheek as the girl’s purple eyes suddenly looked up. “This is Primo Libera. She came to Orario last week and just joined our Familia this morning, so I came to have her registered at the Guild.”

Lefiya blinked. “She can’t be older than nine, Bell.”

“How rude,” said child’s ears twitched expressively. “I’m ten!”

“My apologies,” Lefiya said. “It’s just that the last time I spoke with Lady Hestia she stated she did not intend to do a recruitment drive given the complex situation of their Familia. Between this and Bell being banned from the Grand Casino, I am simply trying to sort things out.”

“Why do you even know about that much?” she demanded. Lefiya believed it was not out of anger but concern towards her newfound Familia.  “Who are you and what Familia are you from?”

“Now, now,” Bell said gently. “You don’t need to be suspicious. Her name is Lefiya Viridis and she’s a good friend of mine. She’s also known as ‘Thousand Elf’, making her the student of Lady Riveria,”

The dark misgivings were instantly replaced by sparkles akin to starlight as those purple eyes fell back onto her. “Really!?”

“That’s right,” Lefiya answered, extending her hand to the child. “Again, I apologize if we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s start over. I am Lefiya Viridis of the Wishe Forest.”

The child had no hesitation in shaking it vigorously. “Nice to meet you, Miss Viridis of Wishe! My name is Primo of the Libera Forest!”

No clan name and she isn’t hand-shy either. Not to mention she isn’t being overly formal. Her mind ran through the implications as she continued. “Just Lefiya is fine. It’s nice to meet you, Primo Libera.”

“Then you can call me Primo… umhmm…” She shifted in place for a moment, looking nervous as she gathered her courage to ask the question that Lefiya knew was coming. “What is Lady Riveria like in person!?”

She would have sighed at that if she hadn’t gotten used to it. Just about every one of them, whether half-blooded, full-blooded, or high-blooded, held the Royal Elf in reverence. Still, it was better than the envious looks that came from those who felt she had no business as her student or that they could do better.

Lefiya was about to give her some breadcrumbs to go off of when there was a knock on the door.

“It’s fine to enter, Miss Eina,” Bell called out.

Sure enough, it was the Half-Elf Advisor. “We’ll need Miss Libera for a few final parts of the registration. It’ll only be a minute and then she’ll be registered.”

Bell nodded before turning to the child. “Go ahead. Miss Eina is kind, so she’ll make sure everything is fine.”

“Oh… okay.” The Elven child obediently followed as the advisor gave her a gentle smile before taking her hand. The door shut closed.

Once they were out of earshot, Lefiya broached a question that had formed in her mind. “Bell, is she an orphan?”

His expression flattened for a moment. Then it softened and he nodded. “How did you know?”

“Given how low the birthrates are for full-blooded and high-blooded members of our race, a child of ten years would not be allowed to venture from the boundaries of her homelands to become an adventurer if there were even a single relative to take her in, no matter how distant. She isn’t hand-shy despite being new to Orario or have the same decorum as a Forestborn or raised, meaning they weren’t instilled or assimilated. The fact that she doesn’t have a clan name but uses her homeland as a communal name also has implications.”

Most likely her parents had lost their right to use their clan name somehow. There was also the chance that they willingly surrendered it in order to relocate to a different Forest, for one reason or another. After Rakia burned down a number of them that supposedly happened to several Elves from what she heard secondhand, and the act of surrendering their clan name to become a part of the community was the first step in being assimilated into that particular one—eventually they would be tied into existing clans.

“Before I left out and ended up at the casino, there were a number of different people outside of the gates of our home,” Bell began. “She was one of them, apparently. By the time I made it back late at night, she was the only one there and falling over asleep. I couldn’t leave a child out there, so I brought her in and listened to her story with Lady Hestia.”

The child had apparently arrived with the expectation of becoming a great mage like Lady Riveria. Not uncommon among their race by a stretch. But she had no money, no Magic, and no Falna, meaning she was just an ordinary ten-year-old child to be taken care of.

Even for Elves, receiving Magic upon receiving benediction was not promised. And they could not control what spell appeared if it did. Not to mention the upkeep for a solid Mage was expensive. Since the moment their Falna was on her back and she would be their responsibility, it was simply out of the question for most smaller Familia and not worth the hassle for the larger ones—more so since it was another mouth to feed and one you would be taxed on.

“Lady Hestia would not turn away a child in need of a home when she is right outside of the gate,” Lefiya figured. “Especially not one whose story was so similar to yours. I wouldn’t be surprised if she picked your Familia after what you said if she was rejected time and again, and since you can’t lie to the divine, she would have meant every word.”

“Lady Hestia figured that, even if she did not develop Magic, then we could find something for her to do and still have a home…” Bell rubbed the back of his head. “It isn’t like we were all that comfortable with letting her go into the Dungeon so soon. But she had an Offensive-Type spell right away, and now she wants to become a Mage like Lady Riveria. I was actually planning to ask you for advice on that if possible.”

The Half-Elf crossed one of her legs over the other at that as she drummed her fingers against the table. “Well, I don’t mind explaining things and helping you when I have the time. But there’s a lot involved, so I would prefer to explain it to both of you in a single go and let you relay that back to your goddess.”

Her brother smiled in gratitude. “Thank you, Sister.”

“I did say that I was willing to help in any way I could to Lady Hestia, so this is only contributing to that.”

That said, silence loomed until the door opened once more and the child came back inside with a paper in hands, marking it as her copy of their records. “I’m done, Captain.”

“That’s good,” he said, giving a slight nod to the Guild Advisor that she returned with a small smile and wave before she closed the door. Bell then tapped the seat next to him. “Primo, have a seat here. Lefiya is going to tell us something important, so be sure to listen.”

She hurried over and excitedly plopped in her seat, sitting rigidly with her hands on her knees.

It was safe to say that Lefiya had her attention. “So, Bell tells me you want to be a Mage. Is that true?”

Her blonde hair rose and fell in waves as she bobbed her head up and down. “Yes! Just like Lady Riveria.”

“It’s a lot of hard work,” the Half-Elf Mage began. “Not only do you not know what kind of spells you’ll develop, but you have to start studying a ton of topics starting today in order to earn your Mage Development Ability. That’s what gives us our magic circles and makes us Mages compared to someone like Bell, who would be someone who just uses Magic.”

“Like magic stuff?” she asked.

Lefiya shook her head. “Not just magical knowledge, though that is mandatory starting out. For example, in my case, I had to learn things like estimating distances by sight, planning trajectories, and other fields of study in order to properly make the most out of my first spell even before I had the Mage Development Ability. Once I had it the number of topics increased to handle the flexibility it provides with manipulating your existing spells—expanding the distance, increasing the radius, manipulating the output, and so on. In contrast, Bell probably learned to recognize the distance his spell can go by sight but putting numbers to it beyond him.”

You don’t have to put it like that,” Bell mumbled. “Not that you’re wrong. I can tell how far out of range something is depending on how well I can perceive it. After a while you start to recognize whether something is too far or not.”

“And that’s fine for you because you’re not a dedicated Mage,” Lefiya said, before turning back to Primo. “But not for us. The decrease in Mind cost and efficiency are more bonuses compared to the flexibility that the Mage Development Ability gives us, and I went through the Educational District for three years so that I reached Level Two and unlocked it when I was a year older than you are now. You aren’t just someone who uses Magic, but an intellectual who knows it inside and out.”

From how her expression shifted she hadn’t considered that. Magic was mesmerizing when you saw it at work. But the real majesty laid in the underlying complexities of it, of how it worked. That was a gateway you could only peer into with study and certain Development Abilities such as Mystery or Mage.

“And then there are the costs involved,” she continued. “An Oaken Staff, which is a commercial beginner’s staff, costs around 10,000 Valis without any modifications. The quality is low, and it is really only good to act as a conduit so you can practice focusing on learning the basics. Then constantly pushing spells through them will wear them down and they are expensive enough to repair because only a Mage can craft them, which means that you’d be better off replacing them, which isn’t cheap for a small Familia.”

In contrast, the Guild-issued Dagger that Bell started with cost around 3,500 Valis. It could be easily repaired or replaced, but it still required a loan for a new adventurer to obtain. Staves were nearly three times that and were far less durable than steel. Hitting something with it was the last thing you should want to do unless it was specially treated, so it was effectively only good as a rudimentary focus to help you as you began.

“Once you have the basics, you move on to a proper Mage’s Staff, which costs 20,000 Valis and only slightly increase the magical power output. But that increases the strain and damage it takes if you use it roughly. After that, there’s the Grim and Harmony series depending on if you have offensive or healing spells, and not only are they the last commercially available models but they cost 50,000 Valis. Everything after that, even the typical Vanishment Rod, starts at 100,000 Valis without any modifications tailored to the type of magic, and then you have to factor in the cost of labor, materials, and other things.”

She tapped the staff she had borrowed from Elfy, which was a variation of the Vanishment Rod. It was cheaper than her current one, but it was still tailored to better handle Offensive-Type Fire spells. That alone had bumped up the price to close to 300,000 Valis.

“My regular staff, Forest’s Teardrop, cost me a total of 37,800.800 Valis. Due to a mistake, it suffered a great deal of damage and the repairs have totaled up to 20,300,000 Valis. I had to get a loan from my Familia to get it fixed because it’s essential to me, and the longer it takes the more interest will build.”

Primo’s eyes were boggled at the costs. She probably had never even heard of such a cost for what looked to be a very nice-looking blasting stick. But it was crucial and thus warranted her having it repaired as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, her brother that neglected to inform her about Argonaut’s little side-effect looked as though he was about to have a heart attack. “Urk…

“But, in a larger Familia or with stronger members, it’s entirely possible to make that back in a relatively short amount of time,” she said before either of them could dwell on it. “For example, Miss Aiz and I could easily make around 10,000,000 Valis in a week if we went deep enough into the Dungeon for rare Drop Items and then pawned them off on the 18th Floor at higher prices since they would be resold anyway. But she is a Level Six, and I am capable of shooting above my Level because I specialize in Offensive-Type spells.”

Her role during expeditions was that of artillery or a sniper. The moment she was pointed at an enemy, she would loose a rain of flaming arrows or a shot that never missed. Concurrent Casting had only made her more mobile in the process and Elf Ring gave her additional options when the primary person capable of casting the spell was not there or she needed to fill in an auxiliary role.

“And that’s only the basics. There’s additional studying materials, magic stones, accessories and other things that can augment your abilities or provide protection, a Grimoire if you want to have a little control over what your next spell might manifest as or when you get it, and keep in mind that your Familia have other members with their own expenses as well and the Middle Floors are the deepest your Familia can go—with Bell realistically being the only one capable of doing so comfortably, and even then a mistake can cost him his life.”

The Elven child withered at the thought, signs of budding tears welling up. It was so easy to say that you wanted to be the next Lady Riveria, but it was a different story when you knew the costs associated with it. Not just Valis, but the cost in blood, sweat, and tears. Many had learned too late.

She got up from her seat and then crouched down in front of the sitting girl, setting her hands gently on her shoulders as she met her gaze with a soft one of her own. “I’m not telling you this to scare you. I’m telling you this so that you know that the fact that they have taken you in to become their Mage means they have invested a lot in you, Primo. They have that much faith you’ll become invaluable to them, so you can never take that for granted. Understand?”

Slender fingers wiped away the tears as she bobbed her head slowly. “Y-Yes…

“Then study hard to become the Mage they need,” Lefiya told her. “Don’t settle for being like Lady Riveria. Try to surpass her for the sake of this small Familia who have taken you in as a member of their family.”

She needed to understand that Bell and Lady Hestia were not a means to an end. They were not just a way to get her Falna via the benediction of the Goddess of the Hearth’s Grace. They were giving her everything they could to make her a member of their family, so she should devote herself to them from now because once she gained her Mage DA she would become valuable, and thus there were those who would attempt to poach her from them.

And Bell needed to understand the costs involved and that he would need to treat her as such. He needed to understand she would be under a lot of pressure to become the best she could be. Lady Hestia was kind but she would have to make sure that the child did not stray once she set on that path and, as the Captain of his Familia, he needed to think how to best make use of her.

I will,” she said, continuing to wipe away the tears. Her dream had been formed out of hope but hearing the costs of it meant that if she still wanted to pursue it then she would dedicate her everything to that goal. “I promise, Miss Lefiya. Captain… I swear….

The urge to nurture the crying child apparently ran through both their veins since they brought her in for a hug. The mesh of bodies lasted probably longer than it should have, but the child seemed to be happy to receive it. She almost seemed upset when Lefiya pulled away to stand properly.

“After tomorrow I’m going to be away for a while,” she told the pair. “I’d like to get her started with what she needs tomorrow. Are you free to bring her with me?”

Bell nodded. “After I help Goddess get to work, we can go together.”

“Good.” Lefiya smiled before clapping her hands together. “In the meantime, you should go take her to go buy a nice and big stuffed animal once you leave here. She probably needs one.”

Primo was quick to say otherwise as she finished wiping the tear trails. It was unbecoming of an Elf to look so improper after all. “I don’t need one!’”

“You say, but I’m guessing you had trouble sleeping when they brought you in last night until one of them slept with you?”

“She stayed with Lady Hestia,” Bell confirmed, oblivious to the child’s shock. “Why?”

“Both culturally and instinctively, Elves tend to nurture strong ties and a need for companionship. That tends to be why we have tighter relationships with family and friends if we know them long enough, and part of why outside of those with more exposure to the outside world we don’t take well to others touching us. Otherwise staying secluded in a Forest for the better part of a century would drive us up the wall, and it’s why being kicked out of a Forest can be difficult to handle without a support system.”

There was a reason Elven Friendships were considered to be as close to lovers as one could get without any sexual attraction. It was a form of affection that skirted the line to other races. By that same metric, losing someone dear to them tended to end… poorly.

Longevity and grief did not mix well.

“If that’s the case then Primo probably slept better than she has in a long time since she was with Lady Hestia,” Bell realized before turning to her. “Is that right?”

A crimson blush painted her cheeks at that as she looked away. It was not a denial.

“There’s no shame in it,” Lefiya assured her. it was natural to sleep with parents or siblings until puberty kicked in. “I used to sleep with Mother since it was just the two of us until I left to study in the Educational District and had to make do with a large stuffed animal to cope. I adapted by the time I joined the Loki Familia.”

Said stuffed animal was still in her room, and she still slept with it until she hit Level Three at the age of twelve, one year after she hit Level Two and graduated. Then Dungeon crawling and puberty happened, which shifted her concerns to survival and the feminine form.

Since Primo lacked any familial bonds she would likely try to compensate instinctively. But it would not be proper for her to wander into her Goddess’ or companion’s bedside all the time. A stuffed animal would help her until she adapted, which probably would not take too long to be honest.

Orario had a way of forcing you to mature quickly compared to other places—especially some of the Forests from what she heard from others.

“We’ll go pick up one on the way home,” Bell promised, even as Primo grew redder in the face. “I’ll still need to speak with Welf, Lili, and Mikoto too. They’re still at their old places until the renovations are done.”

“Then we’ll meet tomorrow to test Primo’s spell in the Dungeon after we shop for clothes and your basic supplies… oh, right.” She cleared her throat and then, in eld tongue, she asked, “Do you speak Old Elvish?

The way Primo’s brows folded in as she tried to process the words made it clear she did not.

“I should probably also teach you Old Elvish if I get a chance, if only because some of the older text requires it…” The Elder Elf would probably have her head if she discovered she didn’t if they met in thirty or so years. The language itself was not commonly taught among their race, and so teaching Primo while she was young would be a way to contribute. “Having a student might be fun.”


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 19 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 19: Aftermath of the War Game

“It worked out somehow.”

Relief flooded Hestia as she stared into the Divine Mirror as the bell sounded, signaling the end of the War Game and victory for their Familia. She had gone through a myriad of different emotions as she watched the battle progress and bore witness to the resolve of her children.

She certainly hadn’t expected Bell to go so wild. Even looking at him now, it was clear he was struggling just to stay standing. Thankfully, before he could fall over onto his face right after claiming victory, his sister came over next to him…

And promptly shoved a Potion down his throat while lecturing him about focusing on himself before his enemy. “You should have drunk the one you had instead of splashing it over that jerk. Why are you trying to look cool now, huh?”

Loki laughed at the sight. “Slappin’ one minute, frettin’ the next—classic Tsundere.”

They had not heard what was muttered between the two of them after she’d slapped him earlier to snap him out of… whatever that was. Hestia would have words with Bell about it later. But it looked… incriminating when coupled with her reaction to the accusation of them flirting.

Hestia gave the girl a silent apology considering more of her peers joined in the guessing game about how Bell had somehow seduced one of Astraea’s children in less than a week.

As for her other children, Welf and Mikoto were leaning against the Inner Ward’s walls as they caught their breaths. Lili was ferreting between them and looking over their injuries. She apparently knew a little First Aid since she had to take care of herself until recently and Potions were expensive normally. Though Bell’s sister had tended to them it was clear they would be sore for quite a while.

Hestia could see from the look on Takemikazuchi and Hephaestus’ faces that they were warring between the pride they felt in their accomplishment and concern over the fact that they had taken quite a beating to claim the win. Miach had his personal Divine Mirror zoomed in on them as he assured them that there would be no lasting damage. He would see to it.

It was a clean victory in that aspect. They had met the challenge set before them with flying colors and fought long and hard. She truly was blessed with wonderful friends and gifted children.

There was just one thing left to do now. “…Oh, A-po-llo~? Going somewhere ~?

“Geh?!” A yelp came from the God of the Sun who had been trying to sneak out while everyone else’s attention was diverted in discussing Bell’s current predicament. Naturally, no sooner than he was called out, did the others swarm him to prevent his escape before he paid what he owed. That was the reason all of this began, and part of their entertainment as well.

She slowly walked up to him, the muscular hands of Ganesha on his shoulders to keep him in place. “I believe your terms were that I could have whatever I wanted, weren’t they?”

H-Hestia, let’s be reasonable here,” Apollo pleaded. “We’re all civilized beings. I offered to share—

Whatever. I. Wanted.” Hestia placed punctuation on each point. “Right?

“Those were the terms I heard,” Hephaestus agreed, while Takemikazuchi and Miach nodded quietly. “I guess it’s time to pay up what you owe.”

M-Mercy,” he begged. “I’m sure you understand how this city can make you get a little carried away. Have mercy. Please.

Hestia would have considered his words… if not for the fact that she had seen Bell broken, bloody, and beaten just for him to have a shiny new toy. And after today she was sure several others would get the same idea. An example had to be made.

Thus, she had no mercy to give. “Since you took away my child’s home, I’m taking everything you own. On top of that you’re going to disband your Familia so those children you forced into it can go free. And since you’re right about the city not helping your case, how about you go into exile too and learn what it’s like outside of Orario—FOREVER!”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!“

A scream bellowed as Divine Judgement was passed. The God of the Sun was dragged off to be forced into compliance. His fate would be a testament to the woe that would befall one who took the home from the Goddess of the Hearth.

And thus, one issue was resolved…

Only for another to begin.

“So,” began the Trickster Goddess, addressing the room. “Since we have today and another two whole days set aside… why don’t we discuss what Shortstack’s Little Rabbit’s going to be named?”

Hestia’s head whipped around so fast her twin ponytails could have been classified as a deadly weapon. “Loki, what are you doing!?”

“Even if he hasn’t hit Level Three before now, I’m pretty sure he’s met the requirements for it,” Loki said with a grin that pulled her lips back to her ears. “And since your child is soooo exceptional, so why not make an exception to the rules? After all, we have two more days to get everyone else’s opinion and most of us have already set aside the time for it.”

Hestia winced as though she had been punched in the gut. The requirement for raising one’s Level was a minimum of a D-rank in one attribute and a feat that was worthy of the Gods. Bell had a minimum of S-rank stats across the board when she updated his Status. And her Familia had just toppled a castle with not even a fifth of the same numbers.

They may have had Welf’s swords and outside help, but that had just trimmed the numbers down. It had been Bell who had chosen to enter a duel with the Captain of the Apollo Familia. Someone who had bested him twice before, without help from anyone else—and he’d won.

The only way he wouldn’t hit Level Three is if she withheld it.

And who would be more bitter about that fact than the one who had the title of Record Holder stolen from them twice over? The one who had tried to get her to reveal what made Bell such a Rare Gem in the first place. The one who was still bitter over having her precious Sword Princess dance with him at Apollo’s little trap.

The jealousy of a goddess was not to be underestimated. “W-Wait, we need still need a Denatus and it’s only been a month since the last one—”

Loki shouted into the air like a spoiled child before she could finish. “HEY, OLD GEEZER! LET US HAVE AN EMERGENCY DENATUS WITH THE MIRRORS SINCE WE ALREADY HAVE THEM OUT!”

The response that came sounded like that of an exasperated parent giving in rather than dealing with them throwing a tantrum later on. “…I will allow it.”

No sooner than he uttered those words did more Divine Mirrors pop up, revealing Gods and Goddesses who had chosen to stay at home to watch. If she tried to hide it the Guild would likely be on her tail after this, especially given the Calamity on the 18th Floor. She wouldn’t be surprised if that was why Ouranos allowed it in the first place since she only had to pay a small amount compared to Hermes.

Hopeful of some way to avert what was happening, she looked over to the peers of her group. The ones who had supported her until now. Surely, they could talk some reason into them…

All of them slowly shook their heads apologetically in perfect unison.

Slowly, like the cogs of a gear, Hestia turned her head back to the gathering where everyone else had assembled. Those she had ignored. Those whose requests she had denied. Those who had gambled and lost. Those who just wanted to keep the entertainment going.

She had only one word for them. “…M-Mercy…

Much like with Apollo, there was none to be had.

I, GANESHA, SUGGEST WE GO WITH VORPAL RABBIT!

“Of course you’d choose to name him after the monster!”

“…He does kind of look like an Almiraj. Cute but deadly—Lightning Almiraj.”

“Dia, you traitor! And you why are you nodding, Demeter!?”

“There was madness within his earlier motions, and he was quite nimble—the Mad Rabbit, March Hare.”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!“

[-Central Park-]

Outside of the tower of Babel, the rising spire of unblemished ivory that ascended to the heavens from below within the heart of Orario, there was an innumerable number of spectators as the series of Divine Mirrors finished broadcasting the War Game.

The final bell had sounded. In less than thirty minutes after the starting bell, victory had been declared for the unexpected underdog. A Familia that now consisted of four beneath a goddess of no note and two outsiders had somehow done the impossible and bested a force consisting of over a hundred numbers strong, toppling an ancient castle in the process before engaging in a duel with the enemy general.

Movements faster than the eyes could see.

Shocking sparks and shrieking steel.

A climatic clash of casting.

It felt like a scene ripped straight out of an epic tale that they had the chance to bear witness to right in front of them. And now that the battle had come to an end laughter, cheers, and general mirth abound as those same countless eyes that had been glued to the mirrors watched the victor rising back to his feet and apologizing to the Elf lecturing him. The comedy that came after the epic.

However, amidst the crowd, there was a small figure who stood on the rim of the fountain to get a better view of the match.

Her slender figure was obscured by a lavender traveling cloak that managed to just fall short of her ankles due to her height that was just above average for her age. Her sun-kissed blonde hair fell into the collar of the cloak and half-covered a set of pointed ears. Her expressive purple eyes glimmered with the faint sparkles as her mind played back the words that had proceeded the devastating display of violence.

A Goddess who had so little, and still accepted me even when every other Familia rejected me… the home we shared as a family…

Acceptance. Home. Family.

Those words kindled a feeling that she feared had been buried by the crushing weight of reality as her week in this city had been met with rejection time and again. If the leporine Human boy who was only a few years older than her had faced the same and turned out to have been a rare gem, then she should shine even greater as an Elf that hailed from the outskirts of the forest of Libera after all. She simply needed a patron who would be willing to bless her with their grace and one day she could become known as a genius mage on par with the revered Royal Elf with the alias of Nine Hells.

Clapping her round cheeks, the young Elf made her decision.

I’m going to join the Hestia Familia.

[-Deep Forest-]

“Poor Hestia. They must be having a field day with her about now.”

“You could at least look apologetic if you really mean that.”

Banter took place between two of the divines that were far away from the Labyrinth City.

One was a handsome man whose features were hidden behind a feathered hat. He sat with his arms perched behind him on the crest rail of a wooden bench, leaning back with one leg crossed over the other. Relaxed and comfortable, his orange eyes were dancing with amusement, and he sported a smile as he stared at the events unfolding on his Divine Mirror.

The other was an immaculate goddess sitting next to him, carrying herself with a graceful poise unbefitting of such modest surroundings that a large tent provided. The nature of the divine left her skin and clothes flawless, but it was her character that gave the shoulder-less kirtle and long skirt she wore the regality they possessed. With long, brown hair and indigo eyes that held warmth in them as her own mirror observed the final combatant standing on the Outer Curtain Wall and watching the display between the two below.

The God of Travel—Hermes.

The Goddess of Justice—Astraea.

Flanking them were their respective Captains—Asfi and Cecil.

These four were nestled within a forest that was located on the other end of the continent, sitting in a large tent that had been erected for them. Separated from the numerous children who sat beneath the canopy outside where other mirrors had been willed into existence, the unfiltered arcanum that provided clairvoyance permitted a view even on the opposite side of the continent. And Hermes himself had obtained permission before he had set out to fulfill this Quest for Ouranos, so there was no violation of the rules to keep the “game” fair.

“Crozzo’s handiwork is something to be noted,” Asfi said while observing the Half-Elf she knew to be Bell Cranel’s sister under the disguise of her workmanship. Her patron had not sought to keep that a secret from her when she inquired as to why she had to work for hours straight recreating a form of magic that one of his companions possessed. He had been certain that he could enlist her aid and that of the Gale, and so she had labored. “Even that dagger was terrifying from what I could tell.”

Though she did not have the Blacksmithing Development Ability, Asfi was well-versed in different crafting methods. The fact that she possessed multiple Development Abilities related to crafting spoke of all the excelia she had accumulated in those relevant crafts and so she had an appraising eye for magical implements and equipment. That knife she was certain he crafted had most definitely given Cranel a level of Strength he did not possess before, but it came at the cost of his ability to reason.

Strength gained by being swallowed up by their anger. Throwing caution to the wind in order to kill your enemy, tearing apart your own body in the process.  It reminded her of a little too much of how her Cithara worked.

“That certainly won’t be something Ares will ignore once the news of the War Game spreads,” Astraea stated. “Conquest through unbridled power is something he always lauded. Worse, I fear others may take matters into their own hands to prevent that power from falling into his hands once more.”

“You can only move an army by making a lot of noise and Orario won’t be willing to give up such a prize so easily,” Hermes stated calmly. “Though I suppose some others might try something desperate now that he isn’t visibly under Hephaestus protection.”

“I will admit that I haven’t seen something like that being so casually swung around in all the time I have been with Lady Astraea…” Cecil seemed somewhat conflicted as she looked down, face slightly scrunched in thought. “But was it really okay to allow them to use our emblem?”

“That child would not allow another to use it so wantonly,” Astraea assured her while looking to Ryuu as she deigned to join the others below and shook hands with the young boy. In truth, they had only learned of Hermes schemes after he had arrived at their location. Her girls took pride in their association to her name and what the wings of justice represented, so it being used for deception was an affront. “Of course, I trust that you will honor the promises you made as compensation for your actions, Hermes?”

The God of Travel removed his hat and placed it over his chest as he sat properly. “Of course. I had Asfi already see to it that the letters have been sent out. Lulune should deliver the one to Lyon as soon as she gets back to Orario. And my puppy and kitten should be wandering around searching for your child’s missing sister. Miss Flores, wasn’t it?”

Hermes had not brought the entirety of his Familia with him as it would mean losing a means of staying aware of what was happening within Orario. Among them were a Cat Person and Chienthrope that served as their ears on the ground. Both had different means of obtaining information and they were both useful in their own ways.

“I will be taking my leave now that the War Game is over, so I should be able to bring back some good news after the Holy Moon Festival,” Hermes finished before looking over his shoulder to where there was a carefully prepared weapon case. Inside of it was what looked to be an argent spear of a simple but elegant make, with the head flaring out into two wings while in the center was a blue moonstone.

But to the two divine beings sitting in that tent, they knew it was something different.

It was… an arrow.

[-Deep Floors-]

He heard it.

It should have been impossible given how deep within the Dungeon he was. Surrounded by bovines of which he was one of many, born from the same womb moments ago, that sound should never have reached him. But it had.

A thunderous roar that kindled a fleeting memory and the feelings it wrought deep from the spirit within him. A moment in time where he experienced what it truly meant to live and die with his heart pounding and thunder rumbling in his ears. An unbridled glee as he lost himself in battle, rejoicing as their steel clashed amidst a raging inferno and chaotic lighting.

A white-haired blur smiling while clad in lightning and flames.

His one and only enemy.

His spirit roused at hearing that roar that should not exist.

It was a sign. It was a sign that his dream was within reach. His dream was awaiting him on the surface.

His massive, corded muscles buried beneath a hide of black and bristle fur gained strength. His grip on the Landform Ax tightened. And his lips pulled back to make an expression that was foreign to the kin around him—a smile.

And then he roared. “URRRROOOOOOOOOAAAAHHHHH!!

He let out a thunderous roar in reverence to the promised duel. He roared with every ounce of resolve he had to relive that memory here and now. He roared from the bottom of his heart with the desire to see it come about.

It shook the very core of those around him. Their wills wavered in the face of that roar. And in doing so they had proven themselves unworthy as anything more than nourishment to prepare him for that day, and so they would be mowed down.

And, just like that, the raging black bull entered the backstage of the Last Epic.

[-The Former Apollo Manor-]

Three days passed after the end of the War Game.

The moment that victory had been claimed and Lefiya had seen to it her brother would not collapse because he was too busy acting cooler than he had any right to be, she and Miss Ryuu returned to Orario. It was not their moment of victory and so they had to step off the stage, so to speak. Not that she was really in a condition to remain standing.

She had healed the worst of her wounds, but the entire endeavor had been more exhausting than she expected. Her Mind had been drained by quite a bit and her stamina just as much. She had no business fighting as she had, and if not for the fact that she knew she was capable of handling a few Level Two adventurers by raw Status alone she never would have attempted it.

Thankfully, Miss Ryuu had allowed her to rest in her arms as they flew back to Orario on the dragon that they borrowed. Her supple body was surprisingly comfortable, and it would be lying to say she hadn’t enjoyed it. Mild and probably unrequited sexual attraction aside, her heart was set on Filvis and she had spent the rest of the day with her.

It was nice.

Now she found herself within what was once the home of the Apollo Familia. Lady Hestia had claimed it as her prize and the residents had been escorted out with their belongings. It would serve as the new home of the Hestia Familia once the renovations were complete, but it was not officially known as of yet since the results of the War Game wager had yet to make their rounds.

They wanted to tie it in with the other big news. “So, you’re a Level Three now?”

Her brother was sitting next to her. He and Lady Hestia had retired to a private room that was presumably a study once upon a time, with Lady Hestia opposite them behind a marble desk. She was in her Feena guise since it would look strange if the Thousand Elf went into the same house alone with Bell after everything else until now.

She was not helping those rumors along.

He smiled in a way that befitted his adorable, rabbit features. “Yes. Lady Hestia updated my Status, and we plan to take it to the Guild in an hour or so to have it be formally announced.”

“If I don’t then they’d probably accuse me of withholding information given Bell’s performance,” the Goddess of the Hearth said with a frown as she cradled her head with one hand, elbow perched on the desk. There were bags under her eyes as she had only recently returned from the sudden Denatus that was announced due to the results. “If not for the fact that you kids can’t lie to us, and Bell said he hadn’t reached Level Three, it might have happened anyway.”

“Sorry for the trouble, Goddess,” Bell said before turning to Lefiya. “But we’re the same Level now.”

“Only because I’m still holding off on reaching Level Four,” she reminded him, but her tone was a lot less certain. Bell really had no right to be as strong as he was or rising as quickly as he had been. But, as she said, they could not tell a direct lie to the divine. And even if he possessed some Rare Skill, no one could force him to disclose it.

He was just a rare gem—highly sought after and valuable.

She supposed that made him like Miss Aiz. Or Mister Welf considering how monstrous the things he could create were at Level Two alone. But at least those two had the explanation of having a Spirit’s blood flowing through them.

Bell was just… Bell.

Considering everything, I should at least have an A-Rank in Magic by now, Lefiya thought to herself. She had not had a chance to update her Status because she was waiting for a group update session, as Lady Loki would have less time to pry her with questions or grope her still-developing breasts. Once I hit S-Rank I’ll be ready to push ahead, though I would like more options for my Development Abilities than what was offered last I checked…

Thoughts of somehow obtaining Spirit Healing aside given it would mean she practically never had to worry about running out of Mind again, she turned her attention back to the topic at hand. “Did they decide on a new Title for Bell?”

Lady Hestia let out an unladylike groan. “They decided on… [Caerbannog Cottontail] for him. As soon as I submit the proof of his Level they will announce it to officially cap off the War Game.”

“That’s… a clever Title,” Lefiya muttered as she rolled that title over in her head. “No wonder it took them three days to decide on it.”

“It is?” Bell asked, oblivious as his Goddess acted as though her words had been a punch directed towards her.

She nodded. “Based on the Elvish etymology, ‘Caer-’ refers to a castle or stronghold, ‘-bannog’ means important, prominent, or high, and a Cottontail is naturally a kind of rabbit. They’re basically immortalizing the fact that you took down a castle despite looking so much like a bunny, and I can only assume they used two elvish words because a pair of elves helped you. Your Goddess must have really worked to get you that name.”

Having it broken down to him made Bell smile even more. “Thank you, Lady Hestia! I’ll wear it with pride!”

Don’t blame me for this,” Hestia whimpered as she held her head down, attempting to hold back what they presumed to be tears of joy. “Loki was the one leading the charge. It’s all her fault.

Lefiya tilted her head in mild surprise at that. “I suppose she could have learned from Lady Riviera about the Elvish tongue since she’s known her for so long, but I didn’t expect she would have come up with something that clever for someone else’s Familia. You must have really impressed her, Bell.”

“That’s only because of everyone else,” Bell claimed. “I’ll have to find some way to thank all of you now that this is over, especially since your Familia has really been helping me in a lot of ways.”

With a final sigh of resignation, Hestia reached into the pouch of her apron from her work clothes and pulled out a pair of keys. “Speaking of which, these are for you two.”

Lefiya blinked. “Me as well?”

“Well, this is Bell’s home as much as it is mine,” said the Goddess of the Hearth before straightening up. “We have more rooms than we could need in a lifetime, and any family of his has the right to come and go as they please. That means one of them is yours.”

A jolt of surprise ran through Lefiya as she caught the implication. Then she turned to Bell, a look of betrayal on her face. “You told!”

“Bell did not tell me about you,” Hestia said as Bell shook his head, just as surprised. She then followed by explaining her reasoning behind deducing their relationship. Bell had only once told her that he had family in the city and kept her name out of it. The Goddess of the Hearth had only figured it out by how she reacted during the chase and Lefiya asked for her promise of silence.

The Half-Elf’s notable ears fell as though deflated while she held her head, a cloud of gloom hanging over her head. “I didn’t think I was that obvious, but so many things were happening at the time.

Hestia only smiled gently. “Just like a rabbit, Bell is sociable and cute, so people are naturally drawn to him. And considering the circumstances and my relationship with Loki, it’s completely understandable why you would want to keep it a secret. I just had more information to work with, so I put it together.”

“Sorry, Sister,” Bell apologized. “If I had been a little stronger then I wouldn’t have needed your help back then.”

“Not your fault,” Lefiya told him, feeling worse she jumped to blaming him immediately. “Honestly, as mortals, we can’t really control when we catch the eyes of those above. And honestly, more people will take notice now. Lady Hestia crushing the Apollo Familia so thoroughly should at least discourage them from another brute force approach.”

Hestia nodded. “Just so you know, I have no intention of using that information to get back at Loki or anything. I just felt I should at least let you both know that I was aware so you wouldn’t have to keep pretending when we’re alone. It must already be difficult to explain things away all the time, so having at least one other person in the know will make things easier.”

Oh, Goddess, it has been,” Lefiya agreed softly, feeling somewhat lighter that some of the pressure taken off her shoulders. She could vent a little now. “Even if I strung up Raul a hundred times those rumors are never going to go away after that day. And then Lady Riveria still expects me to take on Quests as punishment for breaking my staff on top of additional training.”

Her winnings had only been enough to pay half the cost of the loan she took out, which spoke a lot about the odds against Bell considering how little she had to place on the match. She had gambled and won but Lady Riveria had been quick to remind her that she was not done drilling the basics into her since she so clearly forgot them. She would be sore once those staff drills were done, and her brain would be pudding by the time she finished reviewing her study materials and practicing her Magic.

Even so, she rose to her feet before tapping the necklace to remove her disguise and present herself as she truly was. Then she bent her knees outward, placed one foot behind her, held out her skirt, and finally gave a bow to express her heartfelt thanks. “Let me thank you formally for taking in my beloved little brother. If you had not been there to pick him up when I failed him, he wouldn’t be where he is now. For that, you have my gratitude for as long as I live, and I swear on my name of Viridis and as his sister, I will repay that kindness in whatever way I can.”

Hestia regarded her with a warm smile befitting of a hearth. “You really are too sweet of a child for Loki. I was simply fulfilling my role of providing a home for those in need of one. And I consider myself blessed to have found such a wonderful child to call my family.”

“And I am happy to call both of you my family as well,” Bell added. “I’ll keep getting stronger, so one day we won’t need to hide things and I can take that burden off both of your shoulders.”

Lefiya would have rolled her eyes if she was not in the presence of a goddess. “If you want to do that then maybe you should slow down for both of our sakes. You haven’t even been below the 18th Floor and you’ve already gotten to the point where you would be capable of going to the Lower Floors. You need more experience in how things work, or else you’re going to run into a situation above your head…again.”

“And you are officially the Captain of our Familia now,” Hestia added. “You’re going to have more responsibilities to grow into, Bell.”

He nodded in acceptance that his next story would be one of growth.

[-Arc 3 End-]

 

 

Bell Cranel (Level 3)

[Caerbannog Cottontail]

Captain of the Hestia Familia. Half-brother of Lefiya Viridis. Two-Time Record Holder. The reincarnation of Argonaut and bound by fate to those who became a part of his legend, Bell Cranel has always held an admiration for heroes that was instilled in him by Zeus. Now, after 1000 years since the first Heroic Comedy, a new tale is being written.

Strength: I-0 | Endurance: I-0 | Dexterity: I-0 | Agility: I-0 | Magic: I-0

Luck: I | Abnormal Resistance: I

[Magic]

  • Firebolt: No Chant, Offensive-Type Fire spell that releases blazing bolts of electric flames. Scales with user’s Magic Stat. Argonaut increases all attributes at an increased cost to Stamina and Mind.
  • Jupiter: Super-Short Chant, Enhancement-Type Lightning spell that causes electricity to rampage within the user to increase physical attributes for a duration of (10) seconds at a great cost to the self. Increase scales with user’s Magic Stat, self-inflicted damage offset by user’s Endurance Stat. Repeated or extended use can cause lasting damage. Argonaut increases the duration.
    • Activation Trigger: “Shine!

[Skills]

  • Realis Freese: Crystallization of an ancient pledge rekindled upon meeting one bound by fate. Provides Accelerated growth. Immunity to Charm.
  • Argonaut: Heroic desire made manifest. Provides the ability to “charge” actions. Maximum charge time of (3) minutes.

[Equipment]

  • Pyonkichi MK-IV: The latest of Welf Crozzo’s light armor series that takes into consideration Bell’s fighting style. Decent quality and capable of withstanding a decent amount of abuse, it was sufficient for the War Game combined with the Salamander Wool innerwear and cloak.
  • Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki (Ushi-Nishi): A crimson dagger forged from the second half of the Minotaur’s Horn, vestiges of an ancient memory that resided in it were brought to the surface by a combination of the Crozzo Blood and Blacksmith DA during the forging process to enhance the destructive potential. Provides an increase in Strength and Agility by pushing the body beyond its limits in proportion to bloodlust unless one represses its nature. After the War Game Bell resolves to only use it when necessary and instead uses Ushiwakamaru (Ushi-Waka) along with the Hestia Knife.