Bringing you new stories for the ages

Fanfiction

Fanfic Recommendation 105


My Fanfics


The Rabbit and the Wolf (or Is It Wrong To Look For Love In The Dungeon?)

Summary: Belle Cranel had fallen in love that day on the 5th Floor of the Dungeon. But the grey wolf who would be her hero had no interest in a white rabbit that can’t even protect herself. So she asked that he only watched her as she challenged her fate against the Minotaur on the 9th Floor. (Female!Bell One-Shot)

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 12 – 16

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.

Grimoire of Souls: The Stolen Tomes 1

Summary: Alucard and past heroes had been beckoned by the Order of Elgos to quell the evils that threatened to spill out of the worlds of the grimoires. However, as they return to the year 1797, another encounter with Death makes it clear they must deal with the root cause. And they can only do so by digging into untold legends of the past—along with the heroes of those stolen tomes.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


The Beast of Beacon 35 – 36

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Blake had fled, making it clear she couldn’t trust him to change. She thought him inhuman, lost, a beast. He was going to prove her wrong. Getting into Beacon was hard enough, but fitting in would be harder still. All those… humans. Will a man fuelled by hate truly be able to let go and move on; or is suffering the only thing Adam Taurus can ever bring to those around him?


A Rising of the Shield Hero x Yakuza Crossover Fanfic

Summary: Post Song of Life Kiriyu is summoned through a ritual with the Vassal Weapon to become the Gauntlet Hero. With nothing left for him after faking his death at the end, how will the dragon rise to the defense of the Shield Hero.



Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 16 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 16: The Castle Siege – Part 1

“After another year, Argo told me of his plans to leave the village behind. Now that he knew I was safe and comfortable in the village, he intended to keep traveling. When I asked him where he would go, he would only answer where the wind would take him. When I asked him what he would do, he answered to fill a diary that he intended to make into a comedy one day to be spread around the world as a hero.

My brother was a fool. He could barely take care of himself, and for all that he was able to make people laugh, he was still bothersome to others. He was weak and would probably end up getting in over his head if he went out there alone. That was why I always had to look after him.

Or at least that was what I told myself at the time.

But the truth was that I was afraid. I was afraid of the thought of him leaving me alone. I was afraid that my beloved brother would go off and I would never see him again.

So I begged him not to leave me behind.”

—Don’t Leave Me Behind

[-|-|-|-]

“Your child did good work, Miach.”

The praise from the Goddess of the Forge brought a smile to the handsome visage of Miach as he sat next to her within theatron of Babel. The massive Divine Mirror that Ganesha had created was showcasing the castle and how a very decent number of the inhabitants had been rendered a non-threat due to the soporific that his child had created.

As a God of Medicine, he was naturally capable of creating potions that had a strong effect on the mortal body even without his arcanum. But this had been the work of his student, who made up for her lack of Status with her knowledge of what laid above and within the Dungeon. That together had allowed her to create a sleeping solution that would place those under the influence into a deep slumber that was not easily lifted.

“I imagine she would be happy to hear that if she were here,” he said. No children had been allowed to attend the grand gathering, but once permission had been given, he wrought a Divine Mirror within his domain where she was currently watching over the member of the Apollo Familia that they had… detained for the last few days.

They had needed someone to be replaced within the specifications of one of Hestia’s newly adopted children and he fit the bill. He had spent most of his time sedated and cared for, without any real inkling as to what has happened to him. It was best for all parties involved and, once the match was over, he would be delivered back safe and sound—if confused about the last few days.

“They won’t be roused anytime soon without either Magic or an Elixir,” he continued. “Both of those aren’t likely something they have an ample supply of at present. And any attempt to do so will be made much harder with the enemy knocking on their door.”

Their gaze turned to Hephaestus’ Divine Mirror where she was in the process of observing the magic sword at work as its wielder swung the blade horizontally from a modest distance away from the northern outer curtain wall. Fire ran along the path, drawing an arch until it slammed into the stone hard enough that it was a tangible force and turned it burning red.

Fissures ran along the path where the flames touched, leaving the rows of stones to split apart. Then molten slag burst from within and set the grass beneath it ablaze before the wall began to collapse outward. The ground was left laden with a mixture of stone and slag as a sizable portion of the wall was now absent, exposing the interior of the castle to the outside world.

And that was only the second swing.

“…He was careful with it,” the Goddess of the Forge said after observing the damage done with an appraising eye. “I can’t say castle fortifications are my specialty, but the heat was enough that the moment it connected it created thermal cracks in the stone and seeped into the filling between the layers—probably bits of crushed stone and sand. That superheated to the point of becoming molten and poured out of cracks causing further damage and destabilization to where it collapses on itself from thermal expansion. He must have spent days before War Game instilling the element into it and then refined the purpose of it while he was shaping the steel.”

For it to work like that the flame would need to be focused to remain so potent. But if it had been too hot and intense then those flames would have punched straight through the wall and into the castle. Those children wouldn’t survive that at only Level Two without a lot of mitigation like Salamander Wool and accessories to ward off heat—and, even then, the flames would have seared them down to the bone on direct contact.

“He’ll only continue to grow from here,” she said while wearing a rare, soft smile. Her subdued but evident pride now that he had broken free of his self-imposed limitation was clear to the gathering around the Goddess of the Hearth.

However, the other Gods were… not so willing to allow her the moment to bask in his growth.

“What’s the deal, Hephaestus!?” Ogma shouted. “You charged me an arm and a leg for a top-of-the-line magic sword and it’s not even a fraction as good as that one!!”

“Yeah, my children could have really used that level of quality on the expedition!” Loki joined in. “Why does shortstack get them!?”

Hephaestus rolled her eye as whines and complaints from some of the other Gods and Goddesses of the began to ring out. Accusations of favoritism since the Goddess of the Forge and Hearth were often seen side-by-side. She turned to face the group. “Do you see my brand anywhere on that sword?”

Divine Mirrors began flickering to get a closer view of the weapon as the Elf dodged a flurry of arrows with contemptuous ease before swinging the blade once more. Flames devastated the curtain wall to the extent that one of the towers looked as though it was on the verge of collapsing. There was no mark to be found.

“Then it isn’t one of mine,” she continued when none of them claimed otherwise. “That child made that magic sword of his own accord, without my input or any obligation to be sold under my brand. Deal with it.”

“Okay, I will!” Ogma said before turning to Hestia. “Name your price! You could use a little extra valis, can’t you?”

Hestia didn’t even bother to look at him. Welf had made it clear when he joined that he did not want to be forced to sell his blades. He was willing to make them for their sake because of the comradery he had built up with the others. But he was not willing to just let anyone else use them since whatever purpose they were used for would be his responsibility.

Hestia would not betray the child that Hephaestus placed in her care just for profit. “I’m not selling that child’s weapons. End of story.”

Tuning any future offers out, Hestia observed as the castle defenders were beginning to respond to the crisis. The walls of the castle were abandoned as those responsible for preventing any breach gave up on the northern section, heading towards the inner curtain walls and getting to higher ground as the swordsman moved eastward to get started bringing that one down. Others were moving about, taking the unconscious beyond those walls and into the inner section of the castle.

“They’re well-trained,” Takemikazuchi said as he observed the issuing commanders bellowing out orders. “In a set of swings, one of the walls has all but fallen and their first volley was avoided with ease. That establishes the threat being one too dangerous to ignore and the inner curtain walls give a higher vantage point so they can send out suppressing fire to keep them moving or expend the sword’s charge while they gather up the remaining people capable of Magic on the southern curtain walls to bombard them.”

“Why not let the walls fall and devote the rest of their forces to dealing with the immediate threat?” Miach asked. War was not his expertise after all.

“It’s true that overwhelming numbers could be used to eliminate a single target, but even with the non-lethal rules of engagement that magic sword is too dangerous to approach up close,” the God of War explained. “Not to mention they don’t know who was the one that drugged them, so they have to be cautious to ensure that none of them are taken hostage by placing some of their most trusted on the inside to keep watch over the unconscious. The best thing to do is simply keep their distance and send out a small, but elite unit to deal with them by pinching them once the sword breaks or they retreat.”

To their credit, they were trying. The arrows descended like rain that saturated the area where the cloaked warrior dwelled, but unlike before they swung the sword upwards and let loose a flaming arch. It proved to be the right call as the arrows detonated and lit up the sky with a riotous chorus of explosions—the arrowheads had been tipped with a fragment of flare stone meant for siegecraft, like trebuchets, battering rams, or belfries.

A Crozzo Magic Sword so big of a threat that no one questioned the use of it as Lissos, one of the commanders, raised his arm to signal for them to prepare the second volley from the crenellation of the inner curtain wall. At the same time, on the ground-level of the inner part of the Keep, the Captain of the Apollo Familia was ushering the others carrying the unconscious and injured inwards before directing an Amazoness with a unit under her command towards the southern gate.

“It looks like you were right, Take,” Hestia admitted, before shifting her Divine Mirror to the outskirts of the western wall. “But the children seem to have it covered.”

[-Twilight Manor-]

Within the Twilight Manor that housed the members of the Loki Familia, numerous Divine Mirrors had been set up within it. All so that the Trickster Goddess’ children could observe the War Game from the comfort of their own home. Among the gathered, within their own lounge, were the executives and higher-ranked members of the Familia—Aiz, Tiona, Tione, Bete, Gareth, Finn, and Riveria.

“I have to say I wasn’t expecting to see a Crozzo Magic Sword at work right before my eyes,” Gareth stated. “To think that Level Two adventurer we saw a little while ago on the 18th Floor was capable of making something like that in such a short time. I suppose it speaks about how well-acquainted Goddess Hestia and Hephaestus are that the former would allow a young one with that kind of talent out of her care.”

“He certainly won’t have an easy time after the War Game,” Riveria added, jade eyes observing the intensity of the flames. Though she held nothing against him for his blood, she knew she could not speak for the rest of her kin. “Though it was known that there was a Crozzo in the city, it was commonly accepted that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t make magic swords. The fact that we can see that is no longer the case will draw a lot of attention, both good and ill.”

“Ooh, look to the west one!” Tiona said, pointing a slender finger as a purple-cloaked figure dashed towards the castle. The staff on their back was what gave the identity of the individual away more than anything else, a wooden staff that had two focal magic stones. “It looks like they managed to get a Mage too.”

“So it was a distraction after all,” Finn stated as the new adventurer moved closer towards the castle, effectively opposite of where the majority that would be manning the outer curtain walls had relocated to deal with the current threat.

As powerful as that magic sword had been, it could not take down a castle alone. At least not at its current output. And all magic swords broke eventually, so it was unreliable for prolonged usage. They were meant to be either circumstantial or a trump card, rather than the opening fire of a three-day siege.

Of course, there were exceptions. The first was if they could be mass-produced, which would allow them to be used at will and just overwhelm the opposition through sheer firepower with no chance of fighting back. Rakia had enjoyed that until their conquest deprived the lineage of that capability, and Finn could just imagine how someone as ambitious as Ares would react the moment he learned otherwise.

The second was as a distraction. A flashy, destructive distraction meant to draw the attention and gaze of everyone towards the smoke and flames. The magical energy unleashed by the swords would serve well to mask the accumulation of magical power from a spellcaster, not unlike how Riveria and Lefiya had both done against the monster on the 18th Floor.

However, the Apollo Familia had not allowed themselves to be caught off-guard so easily. Not only had their archers moved to the curtain walls, but they had spotters that were looking out to the other directions between preparing their destructive arrows. The moment one of them spotted the approaching mage, they sent out the word and a group of five archers shifted to the approaching side of the inner curtain walls and proceeded to fire those same explosive arrows with an angle meant to bombard them before they could get in range to cast a Super Long Chant capable of damaging the structure further.

Riveria slightly inclined her head when she noticed the mage advancing regardless of the incoming arrows meant to blow them away. Instead, they darted back and forth with a steady pace. Even as the projectiles hit the ground and ruptured while throwing spouts of dirt and dust into the air, they continued to advance at a somewhat slower pace.

Answer my call, winds of the forest—

“She’s concurrent chanting in Old Elvish tongue,” Riveria declared as her ears could pick up a soft voice amidst the explosions even before one tossed back the hood of their cloak and revealed their features, marking them as a full-blooded Elf. To those with keen enough sight, they could see her lips moving. “But the spell in question is one of the Ancient Magic obtained from Spirits. It would never be able to breach the castle walls on its own, let alone reach it unless she gets much closer.”

“—tear apart our foes!” The Elven Mage skidded to a stop and held out her left hand, revealing it to be aglow with blue-and-white lights that were dancing along with it. They flittered around the digits like curious little fireflies as the wind around her churned violently enough that her skirt and clothes billowed as the swirling gale gathered in front of her outstretched hand while she braced it with her right hand and finished the spell. “GALE BLAST!

Then her arms recoiled upwards as the spiraling swirl of compressed wind shot forward like a trebuchet projectile. If not for the perception available to higher-level adventurers, none of them would have been able to really make out the projectile that had been launched.

The swirling sphere colored the hues of soft azure and gleaming argent sailed straight into the base of the western outer curtain walls. The translucent hammer smashed into solid stone that cried out and cracked from strain as it attempted to breach the ashlar like a battering ram. But it was only air bound by a shell of magic rather than a dense stone or steel sphere, and so it was natural that it would shatter before the walls.

And what came out was nothing short of a raging tempest.

An unforgiving squall that swelled like a flower coming into bloom to invade the stone and mortar through sheer force. A violent windstorm that drowned out all sound beneath its howling of chaotic winds that attempted conquest of the castle. Liberated from its container, a whirlwind was unleashed that swept through the castle with such force that wooden carts were overturned, banners were torn to shreds, and steel was wrenched from the desperate men and women who were thrown astray by the wall of wind that swept anything not braced against unyielding stone even as the wall of wind tried to crush them as it passed by.

The unfortunate souls who had been firing from upon high were now sailing through the air beyond the eastern curtain walls, the grasslands their only cushion as the more battle-hardened managed to tuck and roll to minimize the damage of the fall. Some would consider it fortunate for them that even a poor fall from that height would not break the body of a Level Two adventurer. Others would recognize it was only by the virtue of the Elf’s intention that they had survived.

That spell had been aimed at the base of the outer curtain walls. Most of the initial blast had been focused there and so even as the pressure wave that resulted from the wall of air coming undone still lost energy passing through it, the filling, and the inner curtain wall. That was evidenced by the impact zone where the ashlar had been blown out from the initial fissures being invaded by the subsequent winds, and then pushed through as the gale curved around to continue its expansion and lapped them with the fringes.

Silence lingered in the room as the eyes of the Loki Familia fell onto the girl whose body had been knocked back despite her ample distance from the wall. She was sitting on her knees with one arm holding the other. One eye winced in pain as the limb convulsed in place.

It was Tiona who broke the silence. “…Okay, I know magic isn’t really my thing. But that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that it should be able to do on its own with such a short chant, even if I didn’t understand a word of it.”

With the hush ruined and sound slowly trickling back in, the Royal Elf began to speculate. “There was no magic circle, so the Mage Developmental Ability was not responsible. Or rather it could not be responsible, given I know personally that spells not bequeathed from the Falna don’t affect it barring maybe one or two circumstantial situations I can fathom. However, that light that had gathered into her hand before she used it to launch the spell passed onto it, so that might explain the increase in its range and potency.”

“Hmm… an active trigger that increases the power of the spell based on a conditional?” Finn mused. Such Skills were uncommon, but they did exist. And the more conditional it was, the more effective it tended to be when that situation came about.

The Dwarven Warrior stroked his beard as he threw his own opinion in. “That might explain why she ignored her staff. Though considering her current state, it would be safe to assume that she can’t do that again.”

“Using her limb as a focus on such an unwieldy spell like that would have left nothing behind if she had suffered an Ignis Faatus considering the output,” Riveria noted as the girl used her other arm to reach for the pouch attached to her hip and pull out a potion to deal with the pain. “At least using a staff or something else as a focus means that if one suffered magical power going out of control the focus would bear the brunt of it and their Endurance could allow them to better withstand that resulting backlash. A broken staff is much easier to replace than a missing limb or worse.”

Before they could ruminate on that grim prospect any further, fire blossomed from the eastern wall.

Their eyes turned back to the Divine Mirror focused on that area. The winds had not only delivered a bounty of the Apollo Familia beyond the safety of the castle walls, but it had even knocked loose the hood of the warrior wielding the magic sword to reveal their identity. It was a male Elf with deep green hair and eyes that graced the standard features bequeathed to one of the races known for their beauty, and longer hair bound with a ponytail confined to the inside of the cloak.

A line of fire was drawn to separate them from the walls with the magic sword rather than continue to bring down the walls. It stretched from one end from the other and the flames and smoke formed a curtain to separate those within the castle from those outside of it, robbing them of visibility. Then, without any preamble or hesitation, the swordsman subtly shattered the weapon by clenching the handle so hard the metal shattered.

“Why’d he do that?” Tione uttered in shock watching the sword crumble to dust as the one responsible for its destruction put their hood back on. “It still had some use!”

“No… it served its purpose,” Finn said, his analytical gaze focused on the Level Two adventurers as they rose to their feet and drew their sidearms that consisted mostly of shortswords and daggers. “Leaving it around would only incentivize one of them to attempt to grab it or run to get away rather than standing and fighting against him now that the enemy has lost his greatest weapon while seemingly surrounded.”

“Those weaklings think they got lucky that the blade just shattered from overuse when they’ve just been thrown into a trap,” Bete put it more bluntly as the ground-bound members of the Apollo Familia charged. “That guy is a battle-hardened Level Three at the very least to have the guts to do that. I wonder how many of ‘em will be eating dirt by the time they realize it.”

At the same time, the southern gates began to rise. It was in the center section of the southern outer curtain wall, meaning the Elven Mage should not have been able to see it. But the ears of their race were sharp even without the blessing, so she could hear the strike unit that had been assembled coming to run her down. Thus, she pulled the staff from her back—

BOOM!

—only to immediately bound backward as the spot she was in exploded in a spout of dirt and grass. There was now a spear embedded deep in the ground. It had been a long-ranged throw backed by the strength of what must have been a high-tier Level Two adventurer, which was made more evident when a group of Apollo Familia members came rushing in her direction.

“That must be their strike unit,” Finn said as he watched them bound across the distance with decent speed for Level Two adventurers. Among their numbers was an Amazoness with uniform distinguished from the standard affair of the rank-and-file by being white and red, meaning she was likely the commander. “And it’s headed by the Sol Ankal, Embraced by the Sun—Gryne.”

The Amazon and her unit were likely dispatched to quickly take down the spellcaster. It was a simple act in principle by not giving her a moment’s reprieve, interrupting her before she could start casting her spell with long-ranged attacks. The glint of steel in the sunlight was evident even to those without enhanced senses as throwing knives embedded themselves in the ground as the elf was forced to keep moving lest her body be pierced by debilitating injuries that crippled her ability to focus and thus cast. While doing so, the unit split to cover her from multiple angles, so that if she did manage a spell, she wouldn’t get all of them.

Surround, enclose, eliminate—given that most who cast destructive spells on the level she had rarely raised their Endurance due to being firmly on the rear, it would take them no effort to disable her once they closed the distance. That was why vanguards existed …

CRACK!

Oooooh, that looked like it hurt!” Tiona muttered as she watched one of the Apollo Familia, a Cat Person, go flying with a single swing of the Elf’s staff. Rather than retreating so that she could be boxed in, she promptly rushed towards one of them who hadn’t expected it and delivered a ruthless swing with the neck of the staff across the torso. Bone snapped and crunched as the arm bent from the impact before they were sent skirting along the ground, left to huddle over the broken limb.

The sight caught many by surprise as she proceeded to charge to the next one who was closest to her. The Hume Bunny chosen as her next target hesitated for a moment when he realized that he was about to suffer the same fate as his comrade, but his daggers were already drawn and ready to be used. He bounced upwards while launching himself forward and swung them down overhead towards her in an arch.

She raised her staff with a firm grip in both hands. The daggers looked to be of decent quality, but staves and weapons made of elven wood were often treated with a special solution that made them more than capable of withstanding that level of damage. That was how some of their kin could use wooden swords with the same efficiency of steel blades, meaning it would take something of a far higher quality to cut through it. After blocking the attempt, she twisted her body and brought the rear of the staff around.

THWACK!

And sent him sailing through the air. The second one down, the Elven Mage proceeded to keep running in a straight line to put distance between them now that she had prevented the net from closing in on her with a burst of speed that pretty much indicated her being a Level above the others. Then, and only then, did she start singing her spell once more.

“At the very least it seems whoever trained her taught her the basics of what to do when they’re being run down,” Rivera said in approval as she watched the girl spin on the ball of her feet, avoiding whatever was being sent her way as she focused on her spell as though in a dance that moved to a rhythm that only she could hear, singing a song only her kin could understand—evasion and chanting was all she needed to focus on now that she had enough space without needing to put any effort into attacking or defending herself.

Mages who excelled in artillery remained in the rear when they could afford to. But the enemy would not always be content to remain at a safe distance, and all the magic in the world was meaningless if you were cornered. Facing down an enemy in close quarters combat was inevitable so self-defense was mandatory for all adventurers, even those who specialized in magic or healing.

Fight—never sit there waiting for someone to save you. If you were being boxed in from all sides, pick one side and breakthrough with all of your might. If an enemy closed the distance, steel your resolve and advance until an opening presented itself. Then put distance between you and them until you were able to cast your spells once again.

The moment her short song entered its final verse, she took to the air with a spring in her step. It was just in time as the golden spear of Gryne cut through the space between them and once more pulverized the ground in an attempt to silence her. There the wind danced around her, playfully ruffling her full sleeves and skirt as if to give the impression she was a sylph that was loved by the breeze itself as she aimed her staff and let loose its fury once more.

The swirling sphere of constrained wind sailed from the tip. Unlike before when it was large enough to fit in a siege weapon, this time it was a near-invisible cannonball that rocketed towards a convergence of the pursuers chasing after her. The moment it hit the ground and the wind came unbound, the pressure sent them abruptly rocketing off into the distance.

The sylph herself rode the wind to land further out, closer to the castle walls where one of the women who had been thrown about had fallen. Her Endurance must have been higher than the others because she sprung up despite the wall of pressure having plowed through her body and rendered her allies all unconscious on sheer force of will. She lunged forward and wound up grabbing the staff with both hands as the Elf stepped back to avoid having her arms caught instead.

“That was a mistake,” Finn noted immediately.

And was proven correct when rather than pull her staff away, she thrust the body of the shaft between her grip upwards and right into the woman’s throat. The moment she reared back from gagging, and her own grip loosened, the Elven Mage promptly twisted her upper body and arms to bring the end of the staff around. It met her skull and down she went.

Then her eyes shifted to the left and then bound away on the ball of her feet, moving as though reading the wind. That allowed her to avoid as a strip of crimson that sliced through the air past her, only for it to lash out towards the sylph as though it were a serpent, ensnaring her wrist cuffs and going taut before bursting into a cord of flames that bound the two.

“Go a bit further and the flames will burn that pretty skin of yours something fierce,” warned the commander with a satisfied smile. There was a reason her moniker was to be embraced by the sun. “Can’t have you flying away little fairy. Though I have to say that the way you sing and dance in the air makes me want to put you in a cage and keep me all to myself.”

“…If this is your Familia’s ideal way of courting someone, it leaves much to be desired,” spoke the girl in the common tongue as she looked down at the chain. She didn’t seem bothered by the flames even at that distance. “And, considering the circumstances leading to the War Game, I will decline.”

She chuckled. “Ah, is it the bunny you’re in—”

CHING.

The sound of hardwood and steel chimed like a bell. The Amazon had managed to bring her spear up horizontally the moment her chain went slack as the Elf closed the distance to deliver a blow that was meant to come down on her head.  And the green eyes of the girl had lost their definition and turned to empty mirrors.

The woman’s smile was a little forced. “Did I hit a nerve?”

Pulling her attention away from the display as the lithe fairy began to attack the Amazon with a fervor more akin to an… well, Amazon, the Sword Princess looked for any sign of the aforementioned bunny within the mirrors. But there was no sign of him, meaning he had yet to make his move. There was a hint of uncertainty within her chest at that.

It did not go unnoticed by Tiona, who was sitting next to her. “You worried about little Argonaut?”

“…A little,” she admitted. “That new knife he has bothers me.”

During their training with Bell, they had noticed when he was using his longer knife, made from the same Minotaur that he had slain, he wavered between being more aggressive in his assault and reluctant. The way he explained it was that he felt like the spirit and ferocity of the Minotaur was within the blade, taking his concentration to tamper down on it when he was in a fight.

None of them knew the reason, but the one who made it was the Crozzo who had the blood of spirits within him and made the blade after he reached Level Two. The Blacksmith Development Ability allowed smiths to instill different properties within their craft, and he had apparently put everything he could into creating the weapon. It was probably some combination of that and his blood that resulted in such an outcome.

Aiz told him to be wary of it. Her reason was that she knew very well what it was like to have something that bequeathed you great power by giving in to your rage and anger. It was all-consuming, a force that could very well cost you everything if you were unable to rein it in.

Within her breasts burned an insidious dark flame, its weight heavy on her heart. Anger manifested and hatred fueling it, that flame yearned for power to take revenge and pushed her to seek strength. Even when Riveria calmed it within her after her fight against Revis, it still influenced her in subtle ways.

She had yearned to find the secret of his growth. He was diligent, but his growth was abnormal. The Falna gifted one with a great many things, and if he possessed a Skill that could do the same then she coveted it. Had Riveria not stopped her when he was defenseless, she would have wiped away the blood and dirt and cloth to find the secret he kept hidden on his back.

That boy had been blessed to be able to receive such great power without housing inside of him some kind of distortion like the rest of them that would dye his white hair and ruby eyes with the hue of rage and insanity. More than that, his presence… soothed her deep within. It gently enveloped the flame burning her from the inside and slowly enclosed upon it, silently coaxing it to fade away without consuming any more of herself.

He made her want to smile without even realizing it. As if recalling an ancient memory of fleeting joy.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Tiona said, voicing her own opinion as one born into a warrior culture. “Holding back against an opponent like that will only drag him down. He just needs to not be too wild with it.”

They knew he managed to break the S-rank on all of his attributes when he defeated the Minotaur. But it had only been a short time since then and there was another Level between himself and his opponent. Just looking at the events unfolding outside of the castle for the War Game, showed as much given that what had to be a pair of at least Level Three adventurers were easily manhandling numerous Level Twos.

Even now the western curtain wall shook as the sylph drifted aloft in the air, sailing through the sky on the backlash of her own wind spell. Their fight had brought them closer to the defensive structure and she had maneuvered herself into jumping in the air before firing down in the space between her and Gryne. It split them apart, the chain going taut and flames erupting from it before shattering as the Amazon crashed into the wall and lost consciousness.

Landing on top of the wall, the Elven Mage shuddered before looking down at her hand. The flesh had been burned but not severely to the extent of going beyond a superficial second-degree burn. No, the real damage was likely due to simply being near her own spell going off and the resulting pressure wave. And even that was short-lived as she opened her mouth and sang a new song that swaddled her in rejuvenating light.

“How reckless,” Riveria noted as the girl sat there mending her own self-inflicted injuries. “She made such a brash decision because she was confident that she could heal herself and the difference in their Levels and equipment. She’s practically skirting with having an Ignis Faatus doing that, and I don’t think Lady Astraea would encourage such a practice.”

The Amazon probably did not have a high rank in her Magic, given her more physical attributes such as Strength. But considering the battle clothes of the Elf were not even singed or torn by the flames and wind, it was safe to assume it was made of spirit cloth that mitigated the flames. That combined with a fairly solid Endurance rank and a Level Three Falna meant those intense flames gave her nothing more than minor burns at best.

“While she has a staff and knows at least basic self-defense, she’s clearly more talented in using magic to know how to concurrently cast,” Finn pointed out. “For someone outside of Orario to have that level of talent and be a Level Three seems a bit odd. There’s little chance she doesn’t have a spell through the Falna all things considered, so the fact that she hasn’t used it or won’t means either it isn’t suitable to the War Game or she’s hiding it for one reason or another.”

In other words, they most likely weren’t members of the Astraea Familia. It was not as though Lord Hermes was above rigging the game in his favor. He was already known for concealing the Levels of his own Familia and the impression Finn and the others got when he arrived on the 18th Floor gave them enough of a read on him to know that he was perfectly capable of manipulating with words and had an interest in Bell Cranel.

“Who cares,” Bete so eloquently voiced. “The Apollo Familia started it with the intention of dogpilin’ em, so I ain’t gonna complain about the weaklings evenin’ the odds as long as they don’t do everything for them.”

Gareth agreed. “Considering the look in his eyes when he arrived that day, the boy probably intends to challenge the Captain of the Apollo Familia himself. The others are just clearing a path for him to do it.”

Then, as if to confirm his sagely prediction, there was the crackle of lightning from the northern section as the first actual member of the Hestia Familia made their appearance with a magic sword in hand…


The Rabbit and the Wolf (or Is It Wrong To Look For Love In The Dungeon?) [DanMachi AU One Shot]

Summary: Belle Cranel had fallen in love that day on the 5th Floor of the Dungeon. But the grey wolf who would be her hero had no interest in a white rabbit that can’t even protect herself. So she asked that he only watched her as she challenged her fate against the Minotaur on the 9th Floor. (Female!Bell One-Shot)

[-|-|-|-]

There was something that every child who read stories of old heroes envisioned at least once in their life.

It was how a maiden would be accosted by a monster. She would be left helpless and unable to defend herself as death awaited her. And then a hero would come swooping in and declaring his intention to protect the girl behind him with his life, earning her heart in the process.

Now imagine that fairy tale being enacted here and now with a chamber within the Labyrinth City of Orario.

There was a brave hero that stood valiantly against a powerful monster to protect a young woman, whose head was pressed against his broad back. They were nine layers beneath the surface of the outside world, in the nesting ground for monsters that had been the bane of mankind for thousands of years called the Dungeon. The chamber was illuminated beneath a bright light from the ceiling that washed over the entirety of the underground room and nourished greenery to the point that blades of grass had grown to cushion the ground and moss covered the stone walls.

Bete Loga—the hero had a powerful, lean body that stood tall and proud. Sculpted muscle laid bare beneath a gray jacket rimmed with a fur collar while nestled within dull grey hair was a set of wolf ears that matched the color of his long tail. He lacked a sterling sword or armor but was instead clad in argent vambraces and booted greaves that gleamed in the light of the Dungeon.

Belle Cranel—the maiden had a slender enough figure that she could hide behind her protector. Her snow-white hair that ran down her back was interspersed with dirt, dust, and loose blades of grass that indicated she had been thrown around the ground in her desperate attempt to stay alive. Her black sleeveless combat dress and stockings were littered with lacerations from which scarlet flowed to stain the cloth, while bruises could be seen on her exposed arms and fair skin. Her gloved fingers were shaking as she anchored them against his broad shoulders as crystalline tears fell to the earth between them.

Minotaur—the monster was a massive wall of corded muscle covered in bristle fur that stood on two legs and towered over them all. It was a battle-hardened bovine whose defined and powerful chest was littered with scars from previous encounters, thick and powerful arms the size of tree trunks carried a cleaver within them. And atop its head was a single curved horn that had a sharpened point that looked as though it could pierce stone.

But despite the menace that the monster presented the hero would prevail. He would slay the monster after a hard-fought battle. He would earn the maiden’s heart and eternal love. Yes. That was how the scene should play out…

And had it been a month ago it would have been everything the girl had always dreamed of.

Please, stand aside.” The soft, bell-like voice held a note that was pained yet sweet as her fingers tensed around his shoulders when she felt him getting ready to take a step forward to fulfill his duty. “I’ll be the one to defeat that monster.

The declaration split the tense silence like a dagger as the set of menacing amber eyes briefly glanced away from the focus of their rage. “Are you outta your mind!? A weaklin’ like you will get killed in a second!”

His voice was rough and primal as he berated her for suggesting something so foolhardy. To him, it was simply a fact that she would need to be protected. After all, this very same scenario had played out a month.

Belle could still recall the pair of ominous red stars that heralded her death on the 5th Floor of the Dungeon. The massive fist raised in preparation for a crushing blow that would shatter her skull filled with thoughts of finding love within the Dungeon. The argent wind that swept through the cavernous walls of the Dungeon before it could descend to end her young life swiftly.

It was not a gentle breeze. It was a ferocious gale that roared as it billowed past her. It was so rough and violent that she closed her eyes on reflex as it ripped the tie keeping her long, snow-white hair bound and left it whipping about rampantly before there was an indescribable sound.

Then she felt warm and wet. An iron-like scent bathed her. She opened her eyes only to see that the world was rose-tinted as the harbinger of death loomed over her.

The Minotaur was still standing there. The massive bovine was still frozen in place from how tense its muscles had been to deliver the maiden to her beloved aunt’s side in Heaven. However, it was now missing its head and upraised arm, both torn off to expose the insides of its body.

Hey, you still breathin’?

Belle recalled how his masculine, rough voice that seemed to run down her spine drew her gaze beyond the corpse as it realized its own fate and collapsed to the ground. How her breathing stopped. How her thoughts froze.

Unbreathing and unblinking, she could only stare at the most handsome figure that she had seen in her life. Her heart raced as his brow furrowed. Her stomach fluttered as his amber eyes bore straight through her as his wolf ears and tail twitched.

Words refused to form from her lips as heat swelled in her breasts. It spread throughout her body an all-consuming warmth that threatened to burn her alive from the inside out. Her body began sprinting with all its might to find a way to quench the flames as she realized that she had finally found him.

She had found the man she was meant to love.

He was a Werewolf that belonged to the Loki Familia. He was a Level Five adventurer, which explained why he was so fast that he appeared like a whirlwind. And he was the man who swept her heart away so soon after arriving in Orario.

But he had told her that night in the pub the kind of woman he liked were those who were among the strongest. Someone who needed to be protected was not worthy of being his wife. That was why she had decided to keep delving into the Dungeon.

And why she couldn’t keep letting herself be saved by the man she loved. “If being weak is something you can’t stand, then I’ll stop being weak here and now.”

The flames of passion that enraptured her turned into a burning fury as she used her grasp on his shoulders to pull him. It was only because he hadn’t been expecting it that he took a step back while she stepped around him to advance on her foe. Then she drew an onyx, two-pronged stiletto with one hand and a dagger in the other, declaring her intention to face the Minotaur.

Just watch me, Bete Loga!

[-|-|-|-]

Auntie Alfia must be laughing at me from Heaven right about now. She always said that having my head filled with thoughts of romance would be the death of me, despite her best efforts to remedy that. That, before I go looking for a hero to love me, I should at least find the strength to at least stand on my own two legs once she was gone.

Only now do I understand why that is.

It’s fine to fall in love with someone stronger than you. But when they need to always protect you then it feels frustrating because you only add to their burden. How can I feel worthy of his love when all I do is weigh him down?

I don’t want him to look at me as a burden. I don’t want him to look at me as a weakling. I don’t want him to look at me as someone needing to be protected all the time.

I want him to look at me as someone being worthy of his love.

No. More than that I want to believe that I am someone worthy of receiving his love. I want to find something that will allow me to be more than a burden to him—just like how Leene had.

I want to do what I can to help him and the others rather than have them constantly protect me.

Those were the words the bespectacled healer told me when she confessed her feelings for him. Her tone, her demeanor—all of it told me her feelings were no less than my own. Yet even though we share the same feelings, the difference is that she can at least heal his wounds even if she can’t stand right next to him on the battlefield rather than need him to protect her all the time.

I envy that she can always find a place by his side because of that. But I cannot find it in myself to hate her. Not when she had been so kind to me and her dedication to refining what she had been given until it was something that could be of use to others around her—including him.

That is why I choose not to retreat and rely on him to save me again.

I cannot remain as a girl whose head has been filled with fairytale romance and nothing else. I have to push ahead. I have to be the kind of person Auntie tried to teach me to be—not a damsel in distress that needs to be saved, but a heroine who can fight alongside the hero she loves.

And to do that I have to confront the wall in front of me.

The Minotaur recognizes my challenge and raises its blade.  The man I love recognizes my declaration and finally looks at me. Trapped between crimson stars and amber mirrors both casting their judgmental gaze upon me, I don’t entertain the thought of running away.

Dagger held forward. Stiletto perched reversed.

I charge into the fray to meet my fate.

[-|-|-|-]

Bete’s mind turned in his skull on why he allowed her to rush ahead.

He was a wolf. He could have rushed ahead and struck down the bull faster than they could have blinked. He still could as the bunny bound forward to her death, becoming as swift as the wind and taking off its head with a sweep of the leg.

Yet he stood and watched without a word as they got within engagement distance of one another. The rabbit rushed towards the bull with her tiny fangs bared. And the bull’s blade came down in an arch to butcher her.

He recognized the greatsword being the same make as the one that the boar had as he blocked the path between them. It was meant to bring down larger foes by putting the weight of the steel and the strength of the wielder behind the swing, allowing it to cleave through even the densest of bone and muscle. A single hit or even a graze by the Minotaur would be death for a Level One adventurer…

“UROOOOO!?”

The scent of freshly spilled blood tickled his senses as the bull roared. Thick bundles of white hair were left floating in the air as the blade finished its arch and bit into the soft ground hard enough for dirt and grass to fly into the air. The first exchange between the bunny and bull ended with the former’s fangs bloodied.

In the elongated space of time afforded by only the strong, Bete saw it all. Lowering her body. Extending her right arm. Pivoting her grounded foot ever so slightly. Putting all of her might into her legs as she bound forward—a series of slight motions in tandem that would form the steps of a dance were brought together without hesitation and allowed her to escape death.

The crimson eyes of the bull could only widen as the bunny managed to slip past its killing stroke while the point of her stiletto scraped against the flesh beneath its underarm. The sharpened tip tore a slight rent into its hide and the crimson spattered her white hair to sully it further.  But that was only short-lived as the two both picked right up where they left off.

As if offended by the affront of having its blood drawn first, the Minotaur swung its arm back the way it came. The blade tore itself free of the ground and sprayed loose dirt and grass around as the edge sought to cut her slender frame in half. There was enough force behind it that her upper torso would be thrown aloft from the sheer pressure of the swing.

At the same time, the moment the bunny came out of her bound, she spun on the ball of her feet and pivoted forward while hopping in the air. Her rubellite eyes were unblinkingly fixed onto the broad neck of the bull as her twisting motion drew a silver and violet set of curving arch from both the dagger and stiletto as they came around to cut and stab. It was as if she intended to bleed the bull to death by opening up the artery in its neck.

“URROOOOOOO!!!!”

There was a roar and the ear-wrenching sound breaking steel as the exchange happened. The bull had missed its swing but, perhaps sensing her intention through pure instinct, reared its head around to bring its remaining horn up to intercept the rabbit’s fangs. It met with the steel of the dagger, shattering it with ease before the stiletto scraped against it and decorated the air with sparks and the lilt of a gentle hum that tickled his ears.

Then its massive hand came up to grab her out of the air. Her legs lashed out on reflex like one would expect of a rabbit, kicking off its torso in the process. She narrowly escaped being grabbed thanks to the frantic, uncontrolled hop that sent her away from it while leaving her to tumble on the ground as more dirt and grass further tarnished her hair.

Her hand holding the broken dagger released the useless handle and then clenched at the ground for purchase. It pulled her to stop as the dirt was caught beneath her fingernails and she used what upper body strength she had to pull herself forward to give her momentum as her legs kicked her forward into a roll that allowed her to escape death from above.

CRASH!

The bovine came crashing down where she had been with a leaping slash. The earth quivered, quaked, and split from the impact. Soil and turf were upheaved and showered over the Minotaur as it roared in either excitement or aggravation before turning around to give chase, only to narrowly avoid having its chest pierced where its magic stone was buried deep beneath muscle and bone. The lunging rabbit only managed to score a gash across its chest as she bound past him before spinning on a valis the moment her foot touched down before darting to the right as the greatsword tried to cut her down once more.

Yet, as he looked into her eyes as the two engaged one another in their battle to the death, he realized why he had let her run off to her death. It was….

I thought you ran ahead to deal with it!” Tiona said, aggravation lacing her tone as she spotted the young woman in the fight for her life.

He could only guess the others must have pushed back that damn boar as he shifted his hearing to catch their footfalls rather than devoting all of his senses to the fight. Then he spotted the Amazoness getting ready to personally kill it and grabbed her arm to stop her.

She gave him a withering glare. “What gives?”

“This is her fight, Stupid Amazon,” Bete said in a voice that was devoid of his normal bite. It was… calmer. “Don’t go kill-stealin’ it.”

“Did you hit your head or something on the way here?” Tiona demanded as the others took note of the rising tension between them while also splitting their attention on the matter at hand. “She’s a Level One! That thing is going to kill her!”

“She knew the risks but said she wanted to kill it on her despite that,” he said, which was as close to admitting he had been the first to rush off for the very same reason. “Take a look at her eyes for second before you go swingin’ that hunk of metal around. That ain’t a woman lookin’ to be saved, is it?”

To the gathered who had breached the gap and become First-Class Adventurers, it was clear that there was a major difference in strength. The massive Minotaur could likely kill the adventurer within its sights if it managed to land a blow. Even the girl had to know that as every survival instinct driven into humanity since the dawn of time must be screaming to run away.

Yet there was no hesitation or fear in her gaze as she confronted her foe. There couldn’t be. If there was even a moment’s hesitation or a moment of doubt, she would die. If the bull managed to entrap the bunny for even a moment, then that would be the end of her.

“It’s no different than what Aiz did to hit Level Six,” Bete continued as he felt the Sword Princess’ golden gaze fall upon him at the prompt. “She’s lookin’ to stop being weak by pushin’ her limits. How would you feel if someone stepped in when you didn’t want them to, especially in front of the guy whose eyes you keep tryin’ to catch?”

“This is because of what you said at the restaurant while you were drunk off your mangy butt!” Tiona pointed out, raising her foot to kick him in the head. His arm came up to block the blow with his vambraces. “She’s doing it to impress you because you only said you like strong women like Aiz! If she dies it’ll be on your head!”

“So what?” The flat, blunt response somehow managed to catch her by surprise as he released his hold on her before returning his gaze on the woman risking her life for his sake. “Whatever stupid reason she’s got doesn’t change the fact that she’s down here for the same reason we are—to get stronger. We would be the biggest fuckin’ hypocrites if we got in the way when she’s goin’ all in to break through her limits.”

“But even so—” Her voice cut off as a hand settled onto her shoulder to stop her. It was her very own sister this time, looking at the white-haired girl armed with nothing but a stiletto in her grasp. “Tione?”

She slowly shook her head. “I don’t think she would be able to stand herself after being humiliated in front of the guy she’s in love with. You might save her life now, but there’s no telling what would happen to her afterwards or what she would do.”

Figures no one would know better than her, Bete thought to himself. He still found it ridiculous that some woman he had only seen a total of a few minutes would even be risking it all for his eyes. But he recognized her determination to fight and sharpen her fangs. Even if he had no intention of suddenly taking her to bed, he could at least acknowledge her last request to watch.

“You would have interfered if she stood no chance, regardless of her feelings,” Riveria spoke with a placid voice as she shoved emotion out of her own assessment. “The fact that you haven’t means you think she can win this.”

He did not deny it. “If her first dagger wasn’t shit then I’d say she would have a better chance. That stiletto is tough and sharp, but it ain’t made for slashin’ hide that thick with her thin arms. Her only option is to stab it in the right spot unless she has somethin’ else tucked away in her stockings.”

[-|-|-|-]

My lungs burn for every breath I take.

My muscles ache with every move I make.

My heart pounds from every skirt with death.

I lose track of everything as I try to find a way to kill a monster that is superior to me in every way. The Minotaur is stronger than me. The Minotaur is tougher than me. I can barely break through its tougher hide but a single solid hit from it on my body and that will be the end of me.

The blade comes for me once more. It draws a streak in the air from the dungeon light. A cleave that’ll tear me in two.

But I was already moving, backpedaling to get just out of range. It cuts the ends of my hair before I put strength into my legs and shoot between the bull’s legs with the two-pronged stiletto gifted to me by Goddess outstretched. It cuts into the thigh as I pass but it feels shallow from the recoil as I get behind the Minotaur.

I only realize that I was aiming for the big artery as my body continues to move. Leene lectured me on the ones in the thighs and neck after what I thought was a scratch from a Wall Shadow could have been fatal if it had been just a little closer to them. It must be the same for the Minotaur since it has a partly humanoid body. If I manage to stab them then I can kill it since the magic stone is harder to reach.

Your body can understand even if goes above your head. I suppose that also counts as Talent, for you at least.

I hate to admit it, but I am not that smart. Even Auntie Alfia told me that because I struggle to remember some things if they don’t catch my attention. It goes in one ear and out the other. But she also told me that my body remembers, and I should still listen to things even if it doesn’t stick around.

I remember when I was a little girl and first caught a butterfly. Auntie managed to do it easily and without even hurting it, so I asked her how she did it. She told me how they flew and how they needed to be grabbed to avoid damaging the wings. Knowing what I knew now, I think it was so that if I needed to catch a Blue Papillion in the Dungeon for their wings then I could, just like what I did to help Lili back then.

The explanation went over my head, but I still managed to catch one just like she did after a while. Not because I thought about it, but because my instincts told me when to move and I listened to them. My body could understand so long as I received the information, even if it went above my head at the time. So even if I didn’t understand why I should listen to my instincts when the time comes.

Instinct moves my body even as it screams from the strain of pushing my limits. Instinct guides my blade even as my fingers wrapped around it threaten to break. Instinct will bring me victory before the flames that were lit in me flicker and fade away…

“ROOOOOOOOOOO!!”

I duck under its wide swing of the greatsword and then dart to the right to avoid the crushing blow of its massive arm, creating an opening towards its neck once more. I pirouette on my toes before I hop up to take advantage of it, high enough that even if it sweeps its arm outwards it won’t reach me before I hit my mark. And using the momentum of the spin to add to the piercing power of the Goddess Stiletto, I don’t doubt that this time I can stab down at the artery in its neck.

“—Hm!?”

Then my instinct screams. I twist my body, brace my arm, and set the Goddess Stiletto between me and the Minotaur rather than go for the kill like I intend to. It saves my life as the Minotaur somehow whips its head around in time to use the natural weapon it had been born with rather than the massive sword and bulging muscles—its singular horn.

The sharp point hooks around towards me. It’s a spear to gouge out what I’ve given to the Werewolf. If not for stiletto catching the tip with its neck and bracing with all my strength, it would have presented what remained of my unworthy heart to the amber eyes still watching me.

Chime. Crunch.

I hear the stiletto hum with a gentle ringing while something in my right arm break. The sheer might behind the blow sends me flying several meders away and the wind rushes past me as I impact the ground hard before rolling further away. Somehow I get my feet under me and stand back up, only for a cry to claw its way out of my throat.

The bones in my forearm had snapped under the weight and strain of the monstrous blow. A jagged piece of white bone sticking out of it causes pain with every shuddering breath I take. It’ll only get worse before it gets better since if someone uses a potion before the bone is set it would heal improperly. Leene had told me that could result in a permanent debilitation that would end an adventurer’s career, which was part of the reason she studied so hard to prevent that from happening.

Not that I have to worry about that as the Minotaur charges me to deliver the killing blow before I can even attempt to do something like that. The time it takes for me to pull out a potion will only be after it manages to finish me off. I can only press ahead despite the pain.

So I use the last thing I have to change my fate.  The onyx blade that Goddess Hestia had gifted me. It was still quivering from the impact of the horn. The only thing that was supposed to make it do that was the reddish strip of metal running along the outside of its sheathe, but it would work all the same.

I point the two-pronged blade right towards the charging Minotaur and focus on the humming as it crosses the distance—

Toll.

—and my mind begins to break apart as the bell rings.

[-|-|-|-]

The ringing of a bell filling the chamber of the Dungeon was the only thing that stopped the others from moving.

The moment that the white bunny had been launched and broke her arm, the others had been ready to move. How could they not when they saw a young woman covered in dirt and blood shedding tears from the pain she was in? Even if her spirit was willing, her body simply was not able to keep up. Even if it crushed her heart and shattered her pride, even if she grew to hate them or blame them for denying her sole wish, to allow her to die would still not sit right with any of them when they could something.

Gong.

Then a dolorous bell overlapped the hum of coming from her stiletto. The resonance carried with it the thick sensation of magical power. The air before the charging Minotaur trembled and it shifted like ripples bundling together before the mountain of flesh to become a wall. The raging bull charged right into it as though to break through that wall…

Then it shattered and unleashed a destructive roar that billowed out.

The grass and earth around the Minotaur were torn asunder. Wind filled the chamber and billowed past them. The bovine staggered in its charge as blood rang from its nose and ears.

“Guugh!” The young woman let out a cry laden with pain and anguish and desperation as she forced herself to her feet. Clenching the handle of her blade with a white-knuckle grip, she slapped the flat of her blade against the sheathe in the process. There was a strip of adamantite running along the side of it and the impact caused the prongs to hum even louder.

“TOLL!”

GONG.

The bell sounded once more with an even deeper ring. The ceiling that was ten meders above trembled as another pressure wave went off. The greatsword that the bull had been holding onto until now clattered to the ground as it brought its hand to its head while the blood poured from its eyes and mouth now as well.

“What kind of magic is that?” Tiona asked.

“…It’s been since Leviathan since I’ve heard a similar sound,” Riveria stated as if recalling a memory more than a decade old with the clarity of being only a few days ago. “It seems that it manipulates sound waves somehow to create a wall of sound that ruptures, creating a shockwave. As tough as a Minotaur’s hide is, it can still punch through to everything that flows beneath it.”

“Then why didn’t she lead with that instead of getting thrown around?” Tione tilted her head, a Kukuri in her hand. Had the first bell not tolled then it would have found itself buried into the back of the Minotaur’s skull despite her earlier words.

“Take a look at her and guess,” Bete in a firm tone. Once she did the reason was obvious from how her crimson streamlets ran from her nose and her tears had turned scarlet even as her rubellite eyes remained fixated on the Minotaur. “We’re fine because of our Levels and the distance between us, but she’s doesn’t have that luxury.”

Range. Area. Potency. Magic being cast took these into consideration with the longer the chant equating to the more powerful the spell. The fact that hers provided no chant yet packed that much of a punch meant that something else was allowing her to do so.

The Royal Elf’s jade eyes turned to the blade she had as the humming died down. “It must be a conditional area of effect spell. That stiletto generates more sound waves at a higher frequency from the vibrations, and that fills up a space she can influence faster. The denser the wall of sound the more violently it ruptures, which means the more damage it can deal.”

It also went unsaid that she was not immune to the effect of her own spell. Her magic was the cause of the sound being compressed but the result was an attack that did not discriminate. Using it at close range was nothing more than self-destruction.

The Werewolf watched as she rushed headfirst to that end as the muscles in his legs tensed like springs.

[-|-|-|-]

I only knew a single, simple spell.

I focus on the sound that I can hear within a certain distance of me and say a single word. The magic happens and makes the sound wind itself tighter somehow with the soft ping of chimes. Then it explodes outwards.

But it was hard to use at first. Focusing on a single sound tended to be hard when there’s a lot of noise, and that made it hard to control. That was why Goddess gave me this blade to use when I needed to cast the spell.

She mentioned something about how it was like a tuning fork that went over my head again. But the sound it made was nice and I could focus on that when I used the spell to better direct it. Then I realized that the harder I hit it against the sheathe the more it hummed—and the more powerful it became until the chime became a bell as a result.

The fact that it hurts me means that I’m probably not supposed to be using it in this way.

But it’s all I have left now.

My head is spinning from the ringing in my ears. My vision is rose-tinted from my own blood this time compared to last time.  My body is ready to collapse, and I know I won’t be getting up the next time I go down.

The Minotaur isn’t much better from how it’s staggering and lashing out with its arms. It has no sense of balance and probably no awareness of its surroundings beyond knowing that I am somewhere close to it until it adapts to the pain. The flailing will keep me at bay since even a light graze will still put me in the grave…

I listen to my instinct and rush in anyway.

One more use. That will be my limit and that will be the end. It has to count and there’s only one way to make that happen. So I put everything I have into moving, devouring the distance between us as my grip on the blade reverses and I strike the sheathe on my hip a final time as hard as I can—

“ROOOOOOOOOHHHH!!!!!”

Then death closes in upon me as the Minotaur brings its arm around all of a sudden. The hum of my stiletto gave it a direction. It followed its own instincts as a monster capable of killing in a single blow to put everything into doing it while wearing a smile…

“RRRRRHHHHHHAAAAAAA!!

I howl at the top of my lungs as I use every muscle in my lower half and twist my body to the point my spine might break to avoid it. The twist carries me around the stout arm as it crashes down where I had been less than a heartbeat ago. The momentum drives me around like a whirlwind as I use the last of my strength to drive the stiletto’s point forward and pierce its body not even a quarter of the way in.

Then I focus on the hum of the blade as I chant the spell a final time. “TOLL!!!

GONG.

I hear the bell next to me loud and clear. I feel the magic in the air around me forming the wall. I know it’s over now no matter what. I’ve won and lost at the same time, but I feel proud of myself strangely enough as my consciousness fades and a gentle breeze embraces me.

Did you watch me until the end, my love?

[-|-|-|-]

“She’ll live but she’ll need to be taken to the hospital to get her arm fixed,” Riveria said after looking over the young woman laying before her.  “Goodness, girls these days really go too far for the sake of a crush. Had you been slower there was no doubt that she would have died.”

Her final chant had been focused directly on the dagger, or rather the hum coming from it. The results spoke for themselves as there was nothing more than a crater where the Minotaur had been. The only reason she managed to survive was because Bete had already been moving before she had struck the final blow.

The grey wolf had outraced the wall of sound with the girl in his arms without a moment’s hesitation.

“I found it!” Tiona called out before jumping into the air and grabbing hold of the two-pronged onyx blade that was buried neck-deep into the moss-covered wall where it had been launched from the explosion. The fact that it was still in one piece spoke well of the craftsmanship.

“…This too,” Aiz said softly as she held up the horn of the Minotaur. There had been nothing left of its body or magic stone as the pressure wave ripped it apart from the inside out. She brought it over and set it on the girl’s body as Tiona did the same with the knife.

“At some point you will have to address this,” Finn stated as Bete lifted her up in his arms to carry her back to the surface. His speed would make it a non-factor while they continued towards the 18th Floor. “I won’t say her actions are your fault, but this will likely only encourage her. She won’t be so lucky next time if she remains this reckless.”

“…I hear ya, Captain,” was all he said before he carried her out. But he knew it would be pointless. Any fool that would drive themselves to the edge for the sake of accomplishing a goal wouldn’t be discouraged by words alone. The best he could do was tell her not to walk down the path of self-destruction in the process.

He had enough scars to bear.

[-END-]

Author’s Note: The premise of this one-shot is that Bell was born a girl and raised by Alfia until her recent passing. But as a young woman growing up, she always had her head filled with the notion of falling in love with a hero. So she heads off to Orario as there are no other places better to find one and when the Minotaur thing happens the one who rescues her is Bete, as he and Aiz choose to go in different directions.

I thought it would be an interesting contrast to the norm and would be a chance to explore different relationships and opportunities, like Tione being the one who takes the time to train her rather than Aiz out of respect for one pursuing the heart of someone else or Leene initially attempting to get to know the person who brazenly declares her love for Bete without shame and somehow striking up a friendship, despite effectively being rivals for the same person. Lena would be more competitive in contrast.

Other Notes:

  • The name Belle is in reference to the heroine of Beauty and the Beast, with the latter being Bete.
  • The only reason Belle got away with calling Alfia “Auntie” was that she was too stubborn to have the habit knocked out of her. Same with the romance obsession. Alfia loved her regardless was happy with the time they spent together.
  • Her fighting style is a lot more acrobatic than Bell and tends to involve a lot more airtime, so spending time with the Amazons would help her refine her fighting ability to use her legs as well.
  • If Belle learned a new spell it would be an enhancement-type spell that raised her Endurance and Agility while also allowing her to interact with sound as a physical medium, effectively allowing her to run on the air to 3D speed blitz whatever she faces.
  • Sometimes she helps out at Miach, Hestia, and Take’s workplace because she’s a good girl. The number of clients they receive increase noticeably those days.
  • Hestia treats her like a doting mother who disapproves of her current love interest but wants her to be happy. She keeps her version of Realis Phrase a secret because she doesn’t want to encourage putting herself into unnecessary danger to become strong enough to get with him. This Minotaur stunt only reinforces her secrecy, as letting him save her would have been the smart call.
  • Her alias would be Ariadne, named after the princess who killed the Minotaur the hero came to save her from in the in-universe story of Argonaut.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 15 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 15: Let The Games Begin

“Days turned to weeks. Weeks became months. And by the time I realized it, we had been at the village for a year. The nights had become a little less lonely and the fears of the world outside of four walls had lessened for me. I owed it all to Argo, whom I considered an older brother by then.

He remained rather bumbling during the day when there was a need for hard work. But he was one of the few who knew how to read and write, so he made himself useful in other ways when he thought that I was not watching. I even saw him practicing with a stick as a makeshift sword, hopelessly swinging it away, even though he did not have any real talent with it even then.

But I knew so little about who he had been before we met. He was too well-spoken, and he had been dressed rather well when we first met, even if those clothes were sold so that we would have necessities when we first arrived. Yet he never seemed to bring up who he was before the Kingdom fell.

He had to have been a noble once upon a time. And I was sure if he wished it, he could have been so much more than an orphan like myself. Then again, it may have been that the person whom he had been once also died in the fall of Elcos. 

He was simply a clown named Argonaut from then on—nothing more.”

—Who Were You, Argo?

[-|-|-|-]

“Sorry if I’m late!”

Those were the first words out of Lefiya Viridis’ mouth as she emerged into the canvas tent that served as the base of the Hestia Familia outside of the town of Argis. The others had arrived yesterday, but she had only arrived mere moments ago thanks to one of the flying dragons that she recognized from their trip to the Spirit Forest. She did not question how Lulune got her hands on it but was grateful all the same.

“We were worried you wouldn’t be able to get away from your Familia in time,” said her little brother, clad in his lightweight armor that was meant to protect his vitals. His underclothes were the same Salamander Wool that he had when they were on the 18th Floor, and an additional piece added to serve as a cowl and cape. And, for the first time this week, he looked well-rested instead of running himself ragged training. “It’s a relief that you made it.”

“I had to have Tiona and a friend cover for me today,” the Half-Elf explained vaguely. Their current location was a day’s trip via horse-drawn carriage, but that was thankfully far shorter when you had access to flight. Even so, she had to leave first thing in the morning and asked for Tiona to explain her absence after breakfast.

Her excuse was that she had plans with Filvis for the day since no one would be going into the Dungeon when the War Game was going on. It was not a lie, mind you. She fully intended to spend the evening with the Elven beauty and had told her as much.

That was why they were going to settle things now rather than over the course of the three days allowed. Even if it meant she had to pull Hyacinthus off his throne herself. “Is everything on your little friends’ side of things ready?”

“Yeah,” answered the Crozzo Blacksmith. Similar to Bell, he also had on a layer of Salamander Wool as a full cloak. And in front of him were two bundles wrapped in cloth. “If all goes according to plan, Little Lili will have reduced the number of the Apollo Familia right after things begin. Nice outfit, by the way.”

“This was after we compromised on the design after four hours,” the Half-Elf complained as she looked over herself. She had gone ahead and tied her hair in a way to shorten it so that when she used the pendant that hung around her neck she could make it appear naturally shorter to help sell the image of her being a different, full-blooded Elf as well. “I wanted a more antique look that isn’t commonplace in Orario, to help sell the image of me being an Elf from one of the more remote forests, but the influences of the designer stand out.”

The upper half was a white blouse with long sleeves that were fuller at the bottom, using golden cuffs at the end and matching sleeve garters to keep the excess fabric in check while the collar was hemmed in red and gold. That was overlapped by an overbust corset that had cloth sewn into it to match the bright colors in the design and ribbon tails coming down to her knees. To finish off the outfit she had an orange skirt with black hemming to go with white stockings and a pair of black shoes. The materials of the clothing were also Spirit Cloth, meaning they should be able to handle just about anything the War Game could throw at her.

“I think it looks nice on you,” her brother innocently commented, blissfully ignorant of her trials and tribulations to obtain said clothing for the sake of helping him.

It turned out that that tailor that Hermes had sent her to visit was a Sheep Person who had a specialty boutique that catered to certain… occupations only found in the Pleasure Quarters. And the “deal” the God of Travel had struck with the woman involved her modeling lingerie to get her outfit free of charge. She had been struggling to find Elven Models because no self-respecting Elf would wear them—and, considering what some of those strips of gossamer-thin cloth that passed as clothing were, none ever would.

She could still recall the guilt-laden words of the tanned-skinned Chienthrope as Lefiya gave her a withering gaze for knowing exactly what awaited her ahead of time. “Yeah, there’s a reason most of us in the Familia refuse to come here. You should see what the Captain did to Lord Hermes when they made her model the swimsuit line and he suggested they call it Andromeda’s Secret.

“And your new staff looks cool too,” Bell added, bringing attention to the said staff. It was a composite that had been crafted by another Elven Mage who had a fondness for ancient aesthetics and so it was made of a heavy wood along with wood from an Elven Forest within its core. That meant it was heavier and more durable if she needed to make use of the staff drills that Lady Riveria had instilled into her, while the core served as a conduit that led to the two emerald magic stones—a larger one affixed to the top of the staff to serve as the main focal point and one on the rear as a secondary.

The magic stones would increase the power of Wind-based Magic, which was a necessity considering it was her only offensive spell at the moment. She and Bell had experimented on using her Gale Blast after she finished recovering from exhausting her Mind prior and figured out the range and effectiveness of the spell. It worked by using her magic power to generate and compress air before shooting it out like a cannonball until it ruptured, whereupon it unleashed all that compressed air.

It could tear apart higher-tier Level One monsters like a Silverback with relative ease, but Level Two monsters needed a direct hit when she put forth as much effort as she could manage. Any monster higher than that was something that the spell was not capable of dealing with, at the most blowing them away if they were not too heavy or firmly grounded, which made sense considering a Minor Spirit bequeathed it to her…

At least under normal circumstances.

“For the time being, we should review the plan to make sure everyone knows their part in things,” Ryuu suggested. The Elven Warrior was donning a beige cloak that contrasted the purple one that the Thousand Elf had worn over her combat outfit for the match. She brought their focus onto a map that displayed the area and had notes written upon it. “I believe that I will still be initiating the hostilities using one of Mister Crozzo’s swords to draw their attention and then focus it to the Eastern Wall.”

The Crozzo Blacksmith took that as his cue to unwrap one of the two bundled cloths. Inside was what looked to be an ornate sword, the blade made of a scarlet metal with the guard having trimmings of gold. But, having been around enough Magic Swords from the Loki Familia’s use of them, Lefiya could tell it was one.

Magic had been infused within it. So thoroughly instilled within it that the very metal had been warped and changed into existing as nothing more than a conduit to express that power. It would probably be more accurate to say it was like a magic stone in the shape of a sword, rather than a sword that had Magic within it.

“The element is Fire, and it will bring down those walls,” he continued. “It probably won’t be taken well that an Elf is using something like this, but you’re the most capable of us. And I feel I can trust that you would be the most cautious to avoid a mistake happening right now.”

Fire was inherently among the most destructive of the elements a Magic Sword could have. And anything capable of bringing down a castle wall would be more than enough to kill a lower-end Level Two Adventurer on a direct hit. Being a Level Four Adventurer, she alone was more than enough to clear out the castle as it was and they all knew it, so he would rather she use it to avoid unnecessary casualties.

“I will ensure that none of them suffer any fatal injuries, let alone one by a Magic Sword of your making,” the Elven Warrior told him as she carefully slipped the blade into a hoop attached to her belt beneath the cloak. “You have my word.”

Feeling the weight of eyes shift to her next, the Thousand Elf recited her role. “After Miss Ryuu draws the attention of the ranged casters and marksmen, I’ll attack the Western Wall and that will push us into the second stage and force them to divert their faster, more capable close-quarter combatants to my location.”

She would establish herself as another threat they could not ignore but also as a Mage. Since most dedicated spellcasters were weak at close range, they would attempt to subdue her as quickly as possible by closing the distance.  However, the Level difference would make that a much more difficult endeavor than they were expecting.

Ryuu nodded in agreement.  “Based on the information we have, that does seem to be the most likely path they will take. That will split at least half of their total forces and open up a path for Miss Yamoto to make her entrance from the Northern Wall.”

The Kunoichi who hailed from the Takemikazuchi Familia straightened up, bringing attention to her garb. It was made of darker colors and form-fitting, suitable for slipping into the shadows, while her cloak was a palette better suited to the tall grasslands. “My duty will be to infiltrate from the north and subjugate or distract the remaining forces within while leaving the Southern Gate unguarded so that Sir Bell and Sir Welf can enter. I will stake my life on seeing it done successfully.”

“You can try sounding a little less intense,” Welf said as he unfurled the next cloth. The sword this time was violet and had a curved blade more akin to an eastern sword. “This one has a Lightning element to it with a focus on the Paralysis Effect. Even if they have Abnormal Resistance, anything lower than an ‘H’ ranking will feel the effect unless they have gear designed to prevent it.”

If the first sword was designed to bring the walls down akin to a siege weapon, then this was meant to subjugate their army. The trade-off for that was to decrease the offensive power of the element for the status condition it could inflict as a secondary effect. Paralysis was crippling enough in the Dungeon that Lefiya specifically had an accessory to prevent it, but a strong enough charge could overpower it.

“That’s when we’ll go to the final phase,” Bell chimed in. “If everything works out, we’ll end it in less than an hour. That should allow you two to head back to Orario before you get into trouble.”

Lefiya’s expression soured somewhat when she considered that, but she said nothing until the strategy meeting was over and the others left the tent to get ready since the hour of the battle was soon to be upon them. Once she was alone with her little brother, the Half-Elf made her feelings clear. “I’m still against you going against Hyacinthus alone.”

White hair bobbed slightly as he acknowledged as much. “I know, but… I have to do this, Sister.”

Over the last week, they had all discussed what they wanted out of the War Game and Lefiya felt they needed to crush the Apollo Familia in its entirety so that no one got the idea to pull something like this on Bell again. Between herself, Ryuu, and having Crozzo Magic Swords, that was more than possible. The match was all but won if Bell remained at the base since his defeat was the condition for them to lose.

However, Bell refused to do that. In fact, he wanted to minimize the number of people who got hurt severely since he understood that they were only following their God’s orders like good children should. That was why that Pharmacist and Pallum had concocted their current plan rather than just giving Lefiya one of the Magic Swords and letting her unload it on him.

She would admit that was not necessarily a bad thing. Her own emotions were clouding her judgment. The affront to her brother’s wellbeing did not afford her as much leniency considering the circumstances. He was simply more forgiving than her.

However, the fact that he wanted to face Hyacinthus alone was something she really did not like. Even with the training he got there was still a full difference of a Level between them. It would basically be handing Bell over to him on a silver platter and she had made it clear what a horrible plan that was.

But she had been the only one against it. The other members of his Familia and even Ryuu stated that Bell had to be the one who did it. The rest of them could only help him to that point and would then leave everything to him.

Lefiya did not agree with that.

Not because she did not understand why they felt that way as fellow Adventurers. She understood perfectly well what he went through. Bell had been humiliated.

He had been beaten and forced to kneel in front of someone he stood no chance against. He had been too weak to protect himself, let alone anyone else, and had to be saved by someone stronger than him. His pride had been trampled on as an Adventurer.

He deserved the chance to prove what he was capable of to everyone—including himself.

She understood that because she had been in his place before and knew how bitter that was. That was why she worked to learn Concurrent Chanting with Filvis. That was why she put everything she had into becoming someone capable of at least taking a step to walk alongside the other members of her Familia like Bete and Aiz.

However, Lefiya was also his older sister.

One who had spent years repressing her sororal instincts, only to see him nearly die because she abandoned him when he needed guidance. The moment it all came flooding out of her like a broken dam there was no turning back. That was why she was willing to do so much for his sake.

Mutual respect was due. That was why she was willing to give him a chance as a fellow Adventurer. But if she saw him getting beaten bloody a second time, nothing would stop her from intervening as his older sister—even if he hated her for it.

Even so, the sheer magnitude of what they were doing and the consequences, if she was caught, left her wanting to complain while she still could. “Seriously, Bell. Between this and the 18th Floor, my hair will probably end up turning as white as yours from the stress. Try not to worry your big sister too much after this, okay?”

The response she got was a small laugh and apology. “Sorry.”

“I’d believe that more if you weren’t smiling so much,” she said with a small pout. It felt like he was making fun of her.

Her little brother only sheepishly scratched his cheek. “It’s just… when I was younger, I always hoped we could be closer, so hearing you call yourself that makes me kind of happy.”

His answer sobered her. The innocent reminder made it clear just how much time they had lost together because of her brashness as a child. Then there was the fact that for a Human time was much more precious considering how short-lived they were compared to even Half-Elves—without factoring in the occupational hazard that was the Dungeon.

She dropped the pout and then came over to embrace him, the act of which flustered him. Even so, she held fast she brought her forehead to his and whispered a small apology of her own. “I really am sorry for being a bad older sister until now, Bell.

“…No, I’m sorry for being such a troublesome little brother,” he said after a prolonged pause before she felt his arms come up to embrace her in return.  “Thank you for helping me, Sister.

The hug lingered until Bell suddenly turned his head around, eyes spanning the empty space. Almost as if he were searching for someone watching them. That was when her Elven eyes noticed the amulet hanging around his neck, a golden teardrop with a jewel just beneath the cowl of Salamander Wool. “…Bell, what’s this?”

“It was supposed to be a gift for good luck,” he said. “Is something wrong?”

Her slender fingers reached out and ran along the surface of the jewel. For a moment she thought it might have been a magic stone, but there was something about it that bothered her. So, she took a moment to just allow for some of her magical energy to come out and focused it into the gemstone… only to feel it be rebuked.  “I think this is a jewel that gives the holder a limited form of Magic Resistance.”

His expression went from confused to surprised. “Really?”

Lefiya brought her hand to her chin. “Lady Riveria told me that they’re a rare item found in the Dungeon after my first run-in with an Obsidian Soldier. When someone with a Developmental Ability refines and processes them, even a small gemstone fixed onto an accessory like this one can mitigate a decent amount of magical damage.”

He reached down and stared at the jewel in the center that seemed to reflect his rubellite eyes. “I thought it might do something, but I didn’t know it could do that. I’ll have to see it returned to Miss Syr once everything is said and done.”

That waitress had something like this? She could not help but wonder if that woman really knew what she had given her little brother considering it was one expensive good luck charm. But she did not have the luxury to dwell on it as she pulled out her silver pocket watch with Elvish embellishments and noted the time.

Then she tapped the pendant to change her appearance into that of a Full Elf with emerald eyes and shorter hair. “Remember to call me Miss Feena when I look like this from now on. The Gods and Goddesses will be watching us, so a slip of the tongue will pretty much invalidate the match and make it all for nothing. Got it?”

“Understood, Miss Feena,” he said a little too playfully for her tastes before he followed her out of the tent.

Neither took notice as the Elven Warrior’s ears shifted beneath the hood of her cloak from a fair distance away.

[-Babel Tower-]

At the top level of Babel Tower, many Gods and Goddesses had gathered. The spacious theatron served as the perfect stadium for all those whose who wished to observe the War Game as a social event rather than the confines of their own homes. As well as the outcome considering the heads of the two Familia involved were in attendance as well.

It was then that Apollo approached Hestia. The Goddess of the Hearth sat in a small group along with Hephaestus, Takemikazuchi, and Miach, all gathered in what was a show of solidarity amongst them.  Lacking in fear and brimming with confidence in his impending success, he approached his opponents before all of the Gods and Goddesses in attendance and beyond who listened for the pre-game banter.

“Let there be no hard feelings, my dear Holy Flame,” he began, bringing his arms around as if to embrace himself. “Though I understand how such a wondrous child enraptured your heart whereas I could not, know that I do not seek to deprive you of him out of envy. In fact, I would be more than willing to host you as a treasured guest within my manor while we hold a symposium to discuss how you have managed to raise such a fine boy.”

Hestia fought not to rise out of her seat and slap him at the implications that did not elude her of a tryst between the three. “If you really cared then you would have considered our feelings and wouldn’t have driven us to this point. You still haven’t learned to rein in your passions, Apollo.”

The God of the Sun did not even attempt to deny it. “Surely you know that as the sun my flames of cannot be extinguished. Even I cannot help but succumb when the passion within me becomes inflamed.”

“And that same passion has led to Artemis putting an arrow in you how many times now?” Hephaestus inquired, eliciting a repressed giggle from the spectators. “You may want to reconsider given that her doing so on the Lower World will result in you getting sent back up the next time she visits Orario.”

“Need you mention that classless Goddess?” he complained, followed by a sigh. Then his tone dropped the theatrics for a moment to address only her. “Hestia… do consider my offer to at least be treated as an honored guest within my care. I really would rather you spent the remainder of your time here on the Lower World in luxury considering Prometheus’ folly.”

…There was a shift in the immediate area as the group there all took in the implication of his words. The reason she had been allowed to descend so soon. It earned the ire of all those around the Goddess of the Hearth as they fixed their gaze onto him that he crossed a line that should not have been crossed.

Leave.” Hephaestus spoke for them in a repressed, burning tone that was as searing hot as the very forges she commanded. It was a promise of pain if not obeyed within. “Now.

“…My apologies, if I offended you,” he said before giving a bow and then departing further into the seats.

It did little to quell the Goddess of the Forge until Hestia set a hand on her arm and gave a slight shake of her head. “You know how he is without someone to keep him in check. Just let it go.”

That had always been the problem with some of the divine. In general, their love was colored by their nature, and the two mixed in ways that could be to the detriment of the others around them. The sun was passionate and unrelenting, which manifested as his desire to lay claim to that which stoked his inner fire—whether it be a virginal goddess or her adorable child who had yet to truly be able to stand on his own two feet.

The worst part of everything he just said was the fact that not a single word of that was insincere or meant to be offensive, she knew. It was just his nature, but that did not mean she could allow that to go unchecked when Bell was his target.

He had to be taught a lesson in a way that would make it stick. I guess I will take a page out of Artemis’ book to deal with him when this is over.

I, GANESHA, REQUEST THE USE OF OUR ARCANUM!” announced said God in his usual tone once there was only a minute left before the event, which was to say loud enough that everyone in Babel could probably hear it. Including Ouranos.

The response came a moment later, a deep and powerful tone that lacked in volume but could be heard throughout Orario. “Granted.

With a snap of the finger, Divine Mirrors sprang into existence all over Orario. The looking glass that permitted a view of the stage even though they were far away, one of the few uses of their Arcanum allowed on the Lower World. It was the unofficial signal for everyone that the War Game was about to begin.

As those around her called up their own mirrors to focus on their children participating, Hestia’s thoughts shifted to that of the Goddess of the Moon. It had been months since the last time they had seen one another when she first descended, and the meeting had been bittersweet but warm all the same. She could only hope they would meet again soon so that she could show her what a wonderful child she found… before it was too late.

Then she felt Miach’s tender hand on her shoulder and saw his handsome yet gentle smile. It brought her back to the present as she opened her own personal mirror, naturally focused on showing Bell. He was standing next to Loki’s child in disguise on the outskirts of the castle, their hands held together as light danced between them.

The sight brought relief to her heart. At least I kept that promise to you, Bell.

[-Shreme Castle-]

Shreme Castle was one of many that had been built on the grasslands that had been surrounding Orario, constructed during the Ancient Era to serve as one of the gates to stop the encroachment of monsters from the Abyss in check until the lid could be placed on top of it. Though they tried many times to do so, it was only when the first of the Gods, Ouranos, descended that every race working together had managed to truly seal it shut.

With their purpose served, the castles had been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair. The ancient walls had succumbed to nature over the course of centuries, and it was only by the virtue of this one being the staging point of a failed invasion of Orario once upon a time that it remained relatively solid enough to be put back in working order for the War Game.

The curtain walls that had been long abandoned had been reinforced. The exterior that was ten meders tall had fresh mortar applied where it had been coming apart, ashlar stones were slotted into place where the old stones had succumbed in the past, and the filling beneath the wall walk and interior walls had been further reinforced leading to the towers of the castle. They had even ensured that the bedrock was solid if one tried to undermine them and slip in from below over the course of the three days.

Standing at a window in the main tower with his arms behind his back as the bell that served to signal the start of the War Game chimed, Hyacinthus looked down at the members of the Familia moving about now. There was a sense of anxiousness in his chest as he awaited the conclusion of the event, even though he knew that would not happen soon. The conditions for victory were in his favor, but the time period of three days made it so that for the next seventy-two hours they would need to be on full alert.

…It was ridiculous. He knew it even as it went unsaid by the others that setting up patrols and rotating the guard so that every avenue of attack was accounted for was excessive when there were only six members of the opposition. But he did not want to take chances when there were unknowns and had sent Luan to investigate all of the Hestia Familia participants while the others focused on the matters of getting their defenses up to par.

Welf Crozzo, a former member of the Hephaestus Familia. He was reputed to be a member of the Crozzo family that would not produce Magic Swords, that which had made them infamous throughout the world as they had earned the ire of Elves far and wide by subjecting their sacred forests to flames during Rakia’s conquest. It was one of the few things that actually earned some measure of emotion from the Lissos—namely, rage.

They had supposedly lost the ability to produce Magic Swords and thus Rakia’s expansionism came to a crashing halt. To that end, he was effectively a worthless treasure among the Familia, having the name but none of the capability. His transference was of no consequence.

Then there was Liliruca Arde, a former member of the Soma Familia. She was literally a nonfactor considering that not only had she been a Supporter, but she had been a member of that disorderly and disheveled mess of a Familia. However, he still made an attempt to glean more information about her considering the fact that the Soma Familia had an agreement with them not even four days before the Conversion.

Yet his attempt had been scuttled as his previous contact with the Familia was… indisposed, as he was told.

Last was Yamato Mikoto, a former member of the Takemikazuchi Familia. With the alias of Absolute Shadow, she had above average combat capability as demonstrated by her contributions during the chase in putting a number of his Familia out of commission. In terms of pure Status, she probably had the best given she reached Level Two before the Little Rabbit or the Crozzo, and thus had time to accumulate excelia. And her martial ability was not to be underestimated despite being from such a small Familia.

But she was still just a Level Two, which was the average of their Familia. Realistically, one of their Commanders could likely beat her in raw ability and training. She alone would not be able to turn the tide and they all knew it.

The real issue was the two outliers that Hermes had added to their ranks, both belonging to the Astraea Familia. It was a Familia that had been in Orario in the past, well-known and well-beloved according to what he could gleam. But the Familia had been supposedly wiped out and the Goddess in question had chosen to depart Orario rather than remain with no one having contact with her.

Given that the God of Travel could freely leave Orario and carry messages along with deliveries, it was plausible that they knew of one another well enough that she would lend her children to face off against them. But the problem was there was no information available other than their names and races—a pair of Elves, a female named Feena, and a male Ryulu.

Nothing about their Levels. Nothing about their capabilities. They were complete unknowns. That meant they had to be prepared for anything.

…clank.

That was also why the moment he heard steel clattering to the floor the Beloved of the Sun went into combat mode. His senses sharpened. Time dilated. Hand on his weapon and his flamberge half-drawn, he turned on his heel to find…

One of his men literally sleeping on the job.

It was one of the Mages. He was lying there on the ground as the others looked at him with either disapproval or fear as one of the others tried to stir him awake. He came over and the others backed away as he roughly jostled him with a foot. “You dare fall asleep as the game begins! Wake up!”

There was no response.

A nagging feeling in his chest arose at that moment as his ears, senses still alert, heard sounds coming from the sky bridge. He went to the door and opened it to see that Daphne, one of his Commanders, was steadily trying to awaken Cassandra. He crossed the distance and loomed over the pair before demanding, “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Daphne said. “She was complaining about feeling sleepy and then the next thing I know she fell asleep and won’t wake up. And it’s not just her either.”

His ears picked up noise from around them and caught sight of movement around the castle. Some among their ranks were falling asleep and refusing to awake. It had to be an attack against them, a notion that deepened his scowl as he considered what could do this. “Give her your Elixir, now!”

An Elixir was an expensive type of Potion that could cure nearly any kind of Status Condition. He had ensured that each of the Commanders possessed one, along with a High Potion. The rest of their ranks had a Potion to be used if fighting had broken out.

The results spoke for themselves as Daphne immediately reached into her Potion Holster, popped the cork, and then brought it to Cassandra’s lips. She swallowed it almost reflexively before her eyes slowly drifted open and she looked round with her usual dour gaze. “Mmm… what happened to the storm from the dancing fairy?”

He ignored the nonsense and focused on the fact that she was awake again. “It’s enforced, meaning it’s a status condition. That means that the only ones who weren’t affected were those with Abnormal Resistance.”

It was a Developmental Ability that one could gain upon reaching Level Two, a common one at that due to exposure to the Purple Moths on the Upper Floors. So common in fact that it was traditional for those who had rarer or more role-specific Developmental Abilities to bypass it for things like Mage, Treatment, or Hunter if available. That effectively rendered their Mages, Healers, and specialists, along with the few Level Ones they had, out of the combat.

“If it was a spell then we would have felt it being cast over this large of an area,” Daphne pointed out as she helped Cassandra back onto her feet. “And people have been complaining about being sleepy since… breakfast…”

The realization dawned on them both at that moment. “Someone drugged the food.”

“We inspected everything we brought in,” Daphne stated. “If they had laced it with something then we would have found out.”

“…Unless it was added before everyone ate breakfast this morning.” His fists tightened as a searing heat prickled in his chest. There was one possibility that he had not considered.  “There’s a traitor among us.”

One of the Familia that had assisted the Hestia Familia during the chase was a Medicinal Familia, and all it would take was someone with the Mixing Development Ability and the right ingredients such as powder from the wings of a Hypno Butterfly on the 13th Floor to create something capable of putting anyone without Abnormal Resistance to sleep. The right mixture of spices and flavoring would make the taste untraceable, and with enough medical knowledge it would be possible to tailor the effect to gradually take hold a set number of hours later.

Something that would be made much easier to plan out if someone leaked their schedule.

Daphne avoided his gaze, but she did not refute it. “Even so, there’s no time to figure out who’s responsible. We need to get as many people as we can back up before—”

BOOOOOOMM!!!!

Her words died when the curtain walls erupted with a riotous explosion. The stone shook while heat and smoke wafted in the air. Shouts of uncertainty rang out not more than a minute after the starting bell, accompanying a signal fire that was clear to all watching that there would be no delay now that the games had begun.

The castle siege was underway.


The Stolen Tomes – Chapter 1 [Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls]

Book VI – Revised: Part 1

Author’s Note: Yes, I know it was supposed to be back in 1792. But since Konami dropped the game before it went anywhere, we’re going AU. Enjoy the ride!

[Outside The Gates – 1797]

As the golden eyes of the dhampir once known as Adrian Tepes stared deep into the night, a familiar silvery mist filled with painful nostalgia lingered about. The light of the full moon hanging overhead illuminated the veil that hung low and thick, dense enough to obscure the very earth beneath his boots. Yet, rather than a raven blanket illuminated by countless jewels of the night, there was a mirror of the imposing dominion of what had once been his home.

It was none other than the castle that had been sealed away, a manifestation of Chaos brought to the Earth. A place of dark power that his father had once called his own. The source of his rebirth and his gravesite time and time and time again—Castlevania stood before him once more.

Towering above the land and dominating the sky, the shadows it cast harbored a bone-biting chill as it devoured the argent rays of moonlight. The gates were wide open, the hungry maw of a titanic beast. One welcoming its prey to walk right into its belly.

The magic of these grimoires will never cease to astound me, Alucard thought to himself as every sense he possessed told him that he was in the distant past. His memory as part-Vampire was near eidetic, and so every sensation present matched his memories. Yet, he knew that was not the case.

It was a world woven from magic and ink on pages, the collective sins of his father’s legacy written down only to be made manifest. It would spill out and stain the world beyond the pages with the darkness that had been banished once before, shattering the hard-fought peace that was borne of the centuries of effort. That was why he had been beckoned by the organization that had created the grimoire in the first place—The Order of Elgos.

And that was why he had not come alone this time.

“Richter, look!” a youthful voice filled with warmth cut through the imposing presence that the castle presented. Its owner was a young girl with curled, blonde locks that bobbed as bounced on the heels of her feet while pointing a lithe arm up to the sky. “It’s upside down!”

“Yes, I can see that, Maria,” responded a masculine voice, several years her senior. The speaker stood there with his arms crossed, the night breeze leaving the tails of his headband to sway despite how he seemed almost like a spirit that was on the verge of corporeality.

Maria Renard and Richter Belmont of the Year 1792.

The vampire hunting duo stood to the left of Alucard. They had entered the castle prior to this moment to banish its master and send it back to the wellspring from whence it came. And they had succeeded in doing so through great trial and effort. Yet, the promised century of peace would be broken a mere five years later—a notion that stirred different emotions between them.

And they were not alone, as behind them there stood another contrasting pair. One was a towering mass of muscle that stood above the others, the venerated ancestor of their ranks who took to training his body until it possessed unyielding strength capable of hunting the night. The other was a woman clad in deep green emerald and gold, a slender but toned physique that served to hide the power that slept within her and the courage to face the darkness.

Simon Belmont of the Year 1691 and Maria Renard of the Year 1797.

“I’m betting that’s where we’ll find what we’re looking for,” said a young man’s voice from the right of the dhampir. There stood what looked to be a fit, yet slender teenage male with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was clad in a red jacket that had a number of weapons affixed to it, but his body was semi-ethereal. “Charl, you thinking what I am?”

“That the architecture will likely be as distorted as it was in the paintings that Brauner created?” answered a young woman who was clad in what appeared to be a white and blue blouse and skirt, with a half-cape affixed to it. There was a large tome tucked under her arm. “Most likely.”

They were another vampire hunting pair who had traversed the castle in order to return it from whence it came. Their opposition originally had not been Dracula, but rather a powerful vampire who had sought to use the castle to their own ends. Even so, Dracula had risen once more during that event and they had been the ones to banish him back into Chaos.

Johnathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin of the Year 1944.

“Regardless of its structure, our task remains as it always has been.” Resolve and resolution painted the tone of a woman with pale skin and long black hair that flowed down her back like a raven curtain. The moonlight shone against the breastplate that was affixed to her torso as her piercing gray eyes fixated on the heart of castle itself. “To retrieve the Vital Soul before things become dire.”

Hovering next to her was a taller individual, a studious-looking man with grey eyes that held within them a complex emotion. His shirt was overlayed with a leather vest and belt that had component pouches and ammunition, likely for the firearm in his possession. Similar to Johnathan Morris and Richter Belmont, he was also ethereal in nature.

Yet another pair that had been responsible for the rise and banishment of Dracula. Their tale was one that had been lost to history until recently, agents belonging to an Order known as Ecclesia that had once sought a unique power to rid the world of Dracula in light of the disappearance of the Belmonts. However, they became corrupted and ended up raising the castle, an act so blasphemous that the Church sought to hide the embarrassment of their actions and remove them from the pages of history.

Shanoa and Albus of the Year 1869.

Eight vampire hunters from the different ages between when Alucard had first laid his father to rest and after he’d done so for the last time. Belmonts, descendants, and others who had taken to fighting the Night and Dark Ones that prowled it. All had gathered here for the purpose of seeing that the efforts of those who sacrificed so much to bring the current age of peace remained as such.

I’ve confirmed it,” a soft voice resonated throughout the air, a guiding voice that existed beyond the pages. A magical researcher whose youth contrasted her expertise and knowledge, Lucy Westenra of the Order of Elgos. “The monsters inside are giving off a stronger presence than the last time we ventured here to avoid the erasure of Miss Renard.

It was not the first time they had entered this grimoire—this moment in history that had been recorded and brought to life. The first time had been to avert the erasure of the older Maria Renard, besieged by monsters whose power had been elevated and threatened to spill out into the world. Alucard had been the one to press ahead in remedying the situation with notable haste and had hoped that they would not have to return, but it seemed that would not be the case.

Richter Belmont’s gaze carried the weight of emotion behind it given his ties to it. This was perhaps the greatest moment of regret and failure that any Belmont could lay claim to, as he had gone against the very tenets of their family by beckoning both the castle and Dracula from their banishment into Chaos. He was staring up at his future, his sins laid bare for him to see. “…What are the chances that the Vital Soul would be housed by the ‘me’ of this time period if I was under their control?”

Umm… it’s a possibility,” Lucy spoke from beyond the boundaries of the pages. “According to the original records, you were liberated from the control of the Dark Priest by Mister Arikado before the descent of the inverted castle. However, with the alteration of the grimoire’s text stating Richter defeated his assailant, it’s possible that this iteration of yourself might still be under his control.”

The Dark Priest, Shaft, had made Richter the master of the castle precisely because of his strength. If two hunters clashed then the weaker one would be destroyed, and prior to the events that saw the final defeat of Dracula Richter was the last known and most powerful of the Belmont lineage. Empowering him with the dark powers that the Vital Soul possessed would make it more so—perhaps even enough to kill the Alucard of the tome.

Richter must be suffering, the Adult Maria thought as she grabbed her arm sleeve and clutched it. This was her story, her present. The Richter next to her was from her past, but the one who had trained her and been her family was inside of the castle. Should he be infused with the dark power they needed to claim, then the only way to liberate him from it would be the same as every other monster they had to face under those circumstances.

She would have to kill her older brother to save the world.

A frown marred Simon Belmont’s visage. “If that is their scheme then it is a cruel one indeed. However, we are bound by the oaths of our ancestors to do what we must. He too would understand.”

It was true. Every Belmont in known history had been willing to forfeit their lives to banish the Lord of the Night. They did not fear death, but rather never having fought. Even so, it clearly weighed on the gathered Belmont Clan as they were forced to accept that it would be by their hands it needed to be done.

“…I shall do it,” Shanoa spoke, approaching the Belmonts. She understood both the guilt that must weigh on the shoulders of those who had gone against their very vows and those who had to put down the ones they loved because they were taken by such dark powers. There was no need for others to have to suffer it. “If the need arises, I will bear that cross and—”

“Don’t say that!” The outburst of the youngest among them had stalled her words before she could finish. “If Richter does have the bad thing inside of him, then we’ll get it out without hurting him!”

The younger iteration of Maria would hear none of it. Even if the Richter of this grimoire was not hers, he was still Richter in the same way that the older woman next to her was an older version of herself. To hurt someone she considered an older brother was sacrilege to her, even if it would be a mercy. Yet the Vital Soul needed to be retrieved…

That was when Albus deemed to speak for the first time since they had entered the grimoire.  “Without knowing the specifics, I cannot be certain. But I believe there might be an alternative solution if the right conditions were met.”

Shanoa looked over to him. “Albus…?”

“When I absorbed the Gylph that housed Dracula’s soul, it consumed my mind and body,” he explained for the benefit of all. “Shanoa did what she had to, and I became part of the Gylph itself. However, my spirit retained its clarity and independence even after my body no longer housed my soul. I believe it was due to the blood of the Belmonts that I distilled down to its essence.”

Surprise blossomed on the expression of the eldest of the gathered Belmonts. “I had thought that our lineage had vanished in your time?”

“It was by chance that I discovered descendants of your lineage,” Albus began. “Knowing that Barlowe intended to have Shanoa use Dominus, I had sought whatever method I could to take her place. However, I lacked the instinctive ability that she possessed to absorb Gylphs and my body was not capable of safely housing the power of the Lord of the Night due to the dark nature. As the former was something that I was certain would be more easily grasped with the resources of Ecclesia, I focused on the latter and concluded the best way to do so would be to study the lineage of those who had bested the Lord of Night multiple times.”

The Belmonts had taken a vow to hunt the Night and all its horrors. As evil was an evolving presence, every generation had to be stronger than the last. That including their pedigree and bloodline.

“Richter Belmont was possibly the pinnacle of that bloodline, and so I sought to follow where he had been before he vanished,” he continued. “Those trained by him, those associated with him, and so on. It was a dead-end until, by some miracle, I came across Wygol Village and found that divine power within the residents there.”

Shanoa looked down at that as the weight of his words took root. “…Father Nikolai said that he received a revelation that drove him to create Wygol Village, and people from all walks of life ended up there. But of them, only one was trained in the art of monster-slaying—an elderly woman.”

“The Belmont lineage extends pasts the name,” Richter stated. “There are those who possess our bloodline but are not part of the main family. Maria’s family happened to be one of those, so it wouldn’t be a stretch that more of us were out there who sought different paths in life since the Vampire Killer remained with the main family.”

Albus agreed. “I theorized that they were all descendants from those distant branches, congregating together as if guided by fate or their blood itself. And considering that Dracula’s Castle would eventually rise close to the village, I believe that it was not by chance. However, your blood was especially potent to where its holy power was second to none and so it would be entirely possible that if we had some way of cleansing this iteration of yourself of its influence, we could liberate him of the Vital Soul without killing him.”

“If that’s the case, then I do know a spell that can do the trick,” Charlotte spoke with the confidence befitting a witch of her stature. “There are some drawbacks in casting it, but if Lucy can inscribe it into the grimoire so that I have access to it then we can make it work.”

“See, I told you that there was a way!” Young Maria cheered before she called out to the air itself. “Miss Lucy, can you do that and then tell us where we need to go to save Richter?”

O-Oh, sure thing!” Lucy said from beyond the pages. “I just need a moment…

In only a few words the tide had shifted from the grim acceptance that, to prevent the rise of evil they would have to sacrifice a hero who had been manipulated, into burgeoning hope. Alucard himself could see it in the way that the older Maria let loose the breath that she had been holding in. Good.

There was no need to turn history into a tragedy.

A few moments later a new grimoire appeared in front of Charlotte as her old one vanished. The cover held hieroglyphs and pictographs of three individuals—a warrior goddess with the head of a lioness, a maiden with wings, and a baboon holding a crescent moon. She flipped through the pages wrought of papyrus and nodded. “This’ll do it.”

As for where the dark energy is coming from…I believe it’s somewhere around the heart of the inverted castle,” Lucy said.  “I’m afraid from the ebb and flow it’s growing in power and emanating from five monsters within different areas of the castle. They’re creating a barrier to prevent access.

“…Most likely those are the guardians who would hold the relics needed for the rebirth of Dracula,” the dhampir stated. “They should be located within parts of the inverted castle—the Chapel, the Outer Wall, the Lair, the Clocktower, and the Cave. If time is of the essence, we should divide our forces to conquer each of them.”

There were nine vampire hunters that had gathered. Of them, three were in a fluctuating state where they were not as capable as they could be due to the damage sustained by the alteration of their native grimoires. And considering the foes that awaited them…

“I will take the Cave alone,” Alucard declared. “That is where this incarnation of Death dwells. His desire to see to it that Dracula rises once more will mean that his interference will be inevitable, and I am familiar enough the layout of the castle to reach there quickly.”

“Then I suppose Jon and I will head to the Outer Wall,” Charlotte chimed in next, conjuring a broom in her hand with Jonathan by her side. “We work best together and traveling there won’t be an issue for me. We can meet up outside of the chamber once we’re done.”

Next was the Blade of Ecclesia. “My mastery of Glyphs and Albus’ own capabilities would allow us to traverse the Clocktower with haste and deal with whatever lays in waiting.”

“Me and Richter will head to the Lair then!” Young Maria chimed in with far more enthusiasm than appropriate. Then again, it meant saving her older brother and so she would naturally be eager to get to work.  “Come on! I want to see how old you’ve gotten!”

“That leaves the defiled Chapel then,” Simon said. “The Holy Whip will make short work of whatever evil dwells there.”

“…I will accompany you,” Adult Maria decided after a moment. “Like Alucard, I have knowledge of this castle’s layout and so I should be able to guide you there.”

That decided, the dhampir turned his attention back onto the inverted castle. The memories of that night were still fresh in his mind, both it and the guilt of having to lay his father to rest for a second time. Then there was the third in the year of 1999. How many more times must he commit patricide to honor his mother and keep her wish alive?

He prayed there would not be a fourth before he drew his sword. “Begin.”


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 14 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 14: Last Preparation

“Argo and I were allowed to stay in the village barn provided we helped out. As I expected, he was not very good at manual labor. I ended up having to apologize for a lot of his mistakes and then spent so long fixing them so that others would not get mad. But I was never really upset since it gave me a chance to learn from the others around us.

Still, every night I watched the other children return to their families, I was reminded of everything that I had lost. It was almost enough to bring me to tears. But Argo would always be there to cheer me up, even when he had lost his own family too. We were the same, but he kept his tears hidden while wearing a smile.

I was happy, but I was also a little sad. And I could not help but wonder if that was what it was like to have an older brother looking after you. That was probably when I started calling him my beloved brother.”

—The Lonely Nights

[-|-|-|-]

“I want you to join the War Game to assist the Hestia Familia.”

There had been many things that Lefiya pondered when she had been asked to attend to Lord Hermes that morning. The God of Travel had sent one of his children to request her presence once she finally left the Twilight Manor and she had no reason to refuse at the time. However, the Half-Elf had to concede that she had not expected that to be his request.

She spent the last day convalescing from the worst of the backlash of Mind Collapse. Normally, it would take her around three days to fully recover the full expenditure of Mind, which spoke of just how much Argonaut took out of her due to how it interacted with her Mage Development Ability. She was functional after a day, but she still felt fatigued and suffered headaches.

Lady Riveria thought it would serve as a learning experience after Lefiya gave her an explanation of what happened. By which she had to tell a little fib that it was due to testing the full scope of her Magic while assisting Tiona on a quick dive into the Dungeon. Since Tiona had to earn a lot of valis to pay off her own loan, it was more believable that it was done with her egging Lefiya on to push past her limits and possibly coax her into learning Spirit Healing once she reached the S-Rank in Magic and finally accepted the Level Up she was holding off on.

The Spirit Healing Development Ability was only known to Miss Aiz and Lady Riveria to this date. It allowed for the regeneration of Mind, effectively removing the need for Magic Potions so long as they had enough time. It was natural to assume that it was due to the constant expenditure of Mind over their careers the Falna determined that would be best for them to have so they could keep using Magic.

Lady Riveria had rightfully scolded her for that line of thinking. It was careless and reckless, a result of the same impatience that Miss Aiz had in achieving her Level Up. So part of her punishment was not only additional lessons going forward with Lady Riveria and Alicia, but she had to also pay off the loan needed to get Forest’s Teardrop repaired.

She really would be going on a mini-expedition with the Amazonian when all of this was said and done.

With her punishment set, she had spent the rest of yesterday in the Archives looking up the story of Argonaut. There had to be some collaboration between the fact that their Skills were named after the main protagonist of the tale and their homeland. Yet, when she read through the story, she found that there were a number of differences just from what little she knew from the memoirs she was still going through.

For starters, in the common tale it seemed that Fina was treated as a full-blooded Elf rather than a Half-Elf. Though the explanation for that one Lefiya could already hazard a guess. Half-breeds were persecuted and looked down upon in the Age of Heroes even more than now, a mingling of the races that was never meant to be. Whoever penned the original story likely changed it so to align with the cultural values of the age, instead changing the sibling relationship from their youth into something of life debt—which was why the Elf put up with the fool that was Argonaut.

To get a more accurate view of the story she would likely need to finish the memoirs and compare it to other variations. Tiona had apparently collected different editions of them whenever she could, which made sense given the Amazonian had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of different fairy tales. Bell was much the same, although the blasphemy of even implying the High Elf Queen Celdia may have had a relationship with a Human was enough to get the other Elves a little hot under the collar on the 18th Floor.

Of course, they had apologized once they remembered that Lefiya had been in the room, but she understood why they had reacted that way. Royal Elves were to be revered amongst their collective races, whether they were Half-Elf or Full Elf. For her part, even Lefiya was upset—albeit her reasoning was the embarrassment of him getting the story wrong due to whatever his grandfather told him.

One day, when all of this was over, she would share with him some of the tales of her people. Tiona too since she liked those kinds of stories so much. They could probably appreciate them despite not being Elves.

The member of the Hermes Familia who had been sent to retrieve her was the Chienthrope, Lulune. She had recognized her lean but adventurously toned body and tanned skin when she stuck her arm out of an alleyway and beckoned her forward. They had exchanged enough pleasantries since they met on the 18th Floor and accompanied the remainder of her Familia back from the 24th Floor, with the Half-Elf finding her somewhat like Tiona in that she was easy to get along with.

Lulune had brought her to a small, secluded bar that was empty at this time of the day. The wooden décor was dimly lit, adding a hint of secrecy to the atmosphere as she found the God of Travel sitting at one of the tables closer to the wall. The three of them then shared the table as Lord Hermes made his request.

“Correct,” Hermes said, confirming she had not been hearing things. “I would have you take the second slot of the two freelancers that were allowed by the finalization of the terms of the War Game.”

The War Game’s format had been determined to be a Castle Siege, meaning one Familia would attempt to secure a fortified stronghold by defeating the leader of the opposing Familia within three days. However, the invading side would be defeated if their Familia’s Captain was captured, or they didn’t succeed before the time elapsed. Bell, being the only member of the Hestia Familia, was by default the Captain—meaning it was essentially him going against everyone else in the Apollo Familia.

The words ‘one-sided’ did not even begin to describe the sheer unfairness of it.

The only way that Bell remotely had a chance on his own would be if he somehow snuck past every member of the Apollo Familia and engaged Hyacinthus in a duel. Something which they had no reason to allow for considering their whole purpose was to capture him. Even if they did, it had only been a few days since the beating he had gotten—her brother stood next to no chance of winning on his own and everyone knew it.

Lefiya assumed that was why Hermes wanted her involved. Magic was one of the few methods of being able to turn the tide of a completely one-sided fight. And in particular, her spells were well-suited for raining down destruction. Three days would be more than enough for her to turn that castle into rubble, and everyone aware of the fact that she had helped Bell before would have factored that in.

“But no members of other Familia within Orario are allowed to participate,” Lefiya pointed out. It was meant to be a means of hamstringing Bell’s side since most Familia outside of Orario rarely had members above Level Two—barring exceptions like the Kali Familia. That way he couldn’t bring in any help strong enough to completely decimate the Apollo Familia.

“I originally wanted a total of ten at the very least, but even with Freya being surprisingly helpful we could only get two people,” Hermes admitted. “Even getting a second freelancer was a challenge to make things just a little fairer…unless you’re willing to undergo a Conversion?”

Lefiya shook her head. That was not an option.

“Then that just leaves a slight bend in the rules,” he settled on before looking over to Lulune. The Chienthrope pulled out a small box from the pocket of her short jacket. “Are you familiar with a certain Elven Waitress named Ryuu Lyon?”

The Half-Elf quirked her head at that before she caught on. “She’s the other freelancer?”

“It took some convincing, but she has agreed to assist Bell provided her identity be concealed from the general public. That’s why I had Asfi make this little trinket.” Said trinket was a pendant with some kind of gemstone that seemed to refract the light into kaleidoscopic hues when gazed into. The moment Lord Hermes touched the surface of the pendant his appearance shifted into that of a different person she did not recognize.

“Asfi was inspired by one of Bell’s little friends and created a pair of these,” he continued, in a voice that wasn’t his own. “They won’t hold up under physical inspection, but visually no one will be able to tell if you were to disguise yourself with it. Add to that the fact that your Falna is locked, no one would be the wiser if you claimed to be otherwise with some forged documents.”

She was more interested in the magical tool from a purely academic standpoint, even as she asked, “If that’s the case, why not use that with one of your own Familia members then?”

“I would have, but it seems that we’ve received a Quest that needs to be addressed immediately,” admitted the God of Travel shamelessly. The fact that it would be the equivalent of cheating did not elude her. However, even though it may have just been her sense of obligation as Bell’s sister, Apollo’s children had attacked her brother unfairly to pressure him into joining them.

They would be getting exactly what they deserved. “The trip, even with some additional measures to speed things up, will take us out of Orario until at least the Holy Moon Festival. Therefore, most of my Familia will be out of the city and I am pressed for time enough that I can’t sort out who I can trust since Apollo’s pockets run rather deep.”

In other words, he needed someone who would not be bribed or removed by the Apollo Familia ahead of time to sabotage Bell. It would not be necessary considering the sheer manpower they had at their disposal, but there was no reason to not exploit it as well to prevent any unexpected assistance since the participants would be known ahead of time. The best choice was someone who would be loyal to Bell personally and could stay hidden until then—essentially her.

Even so, there was still one problem that needed to be addressed. “My spells are well known enough that anyone who heard or saw them would identify me, disguised or not. It would invalidate the War Game.”

“I suppose it’s a good thing you have more than your Falna spells to rely on, isn’t it?”

As her azure eyes stared into the seemingly innocent face of the God of Travels who said something that should be outrageous so casually, she felt his smile sending ice crawling along her back. He had phrased it as a question, but it was a fact that he knew. And there was only a handful of ways that he could know about that.

“The moment I heard the commotion, I had Asfi search for Bell and Hestia while staying hidden under one of her artifacts to get them to safety if possible,” Hermes began, as if reading her mind. “However, you arrived before she did and so she decided to remain hidden until she deemed it was necessary to get involved. She also overheard your request that it be kept a secret to Hestia and Bell, if that was your concern.”

It had to have been after she rescued Bell. She had thought she had checked to make sure none of the Apollo Familia had been around. But someone had seen her and now that had been turned against her.

“I’m certain you have your reasons for keeping it hidden from your Familia,” he continued, with words that were as sweetly venomous as honey harvested from poisonous flowers. “Whether you refuse or not, you have my word that your secret will be safe with us. After all, it’s understandable you’d want to keep your relationship a secret considering how Loki and Hestia—”

I do not like Bell in that way!” The Half-Elf ended up slamming her hands on the table at that rumor resurfacing yet again. Since mortals could not lie to Gods, she wanted to make it perfectly clear that her relationship with him was not romantic. “Not now! Not ever!

“All right, all right,” he said with his features becoming apologetic before he smoothly transitioned into his question. “But we really are pressed for time, and we can make it worth your while once we get back.”

She sighed, letting all the tension leave her body before bringing her hand to the little crystal trinket and running her finger over it. Hermes already knew about her Spirit Magic and the odds were against Bell as things stood. At least, if she was using an alias, then she could help Bell now and explain it away to her Familia as having been inspired by the match or something similar later. “…What do you have in mind for this alias, exactly?”

“We can say that you’re an Elf belonging to the Astraea Familia, having come to the city to petition my Familia for assistance and are aiding Bell on my behalf,” he said. “You can confirm the details with Miss Lyon, and I’ve already arranged for a tailor and a crafter to take both your specifications for any equipment you might need to hide your identity—all of which will be yours to keep. Is there a particular name to use on the documentation?”

Lefiya thought about it before deciding if she was going to play the part of an Elf using Ancient Magic she may as well go all in. “Feena. F-e-e-n-a.”

His smile was felt sickeningly sweet. “Very well. I will submit the documentation and Lulune will take you to get everything you might need now. She will also facilitate getting you to the location of the War Game when the time come and anything else in-between.”

“Thanks for helping us,” Lulune said as she rose to her feet while her tail wagged. “The truth is we also kind of have a wager on him for the War Game. We just need a little help tipping the scales, and we figured you wouldn’t mind since the two of you are—”

Azure eyes narrowed, as if daring her to finish that statement.

She quickly held up her arms in surrender. “Good friends?”

And nothing more,” Lefiya insisted as she followed her out, pendant in hand. There were so many ways that things could go wrong with all of this between the hiding and the deception. But the one thing the Half-Elf could not do was nothing.

She had sworn she would never abandon Bell again and meant every word of it.

[-Apollo Mansion-]

The Apollo Manor was astir as the members of the Familia bustled around in preparation for the upcoming War Game. More than one hundred men and women of different races moved around like worker bees, buzzing through the hallways of the manor like it was a hive. They had known about their Lord’s intention and thus had prepared for the number of different formats the War Game could have taken and so they had already begun to prepare for the Castle Siege.

However, none were being more prudent in their duty than the Captain of the Apollo Familia itself—Hyacinthus. “There are only four Castles within the vicinity of Orario that could serve for the purposes of the War Game. Have Phia contact the stonemasons and have them send men to survey the conditions of each of them for assessments on the foundations and any potential breaches that will need to be reinforced. Have Alto check our armory and ensure that anything that needs to be repaired or replaced is accounted for so we can have the blacksmiths begin work now. Ensure that Iapyx prepares enough Potions and Magic Potions. Have Gryne, Lissos, and Daphne put their divisions through combat drills again—take into account potential Tamers and Mages that specialize in wide area suppression.”

“Is all of this really necessary?” asked Luan as he memorized the orders and which parties they would have to be relegated to. Phia handled their contacts with vendors that normally handled things such as repairs to the manor, while Alto would be the one who frequently kept track of the inventory due to the studious nature of Elves. Gryne was an Amazon and thus preferred combat due to her culture and nature, while Lissos was the leader of their Mage Division, and Daphne’s unit specialized in skirmishes. Iapyx was their in-house Medic with the Mixing Development Ability, though Cassandra was easily their most accomplished Healer due to her spell covering such a wide area—even if she was a little loopy in the head.

Blue eyes shifted from the documentation nestled upon the marble desk towards the small stature of the Pallum in front of him. “We will not be taking any chances after the fiasco that had happened before, even if it’s to capture a single rabbit. In addition, any supplies we do not use can be saved for our next planned expedition into the Dungeon while repairing the castle fortifications provides the stonemasons with additional income, restores landmarks that hold some cultural significance to Orario, and should the need to use the castle for another War Game arise then they would benefit from our efforts, which should earn back some of the goodwill expended due to the damage sustained by the chase.”

Apollo had considered the task a success in that it encouraged the War Game to be undertaken. His reasoning for believing so was that due to the nature of the divinities they sought amusement, and so by providing it he could earn their favor more easily. Favors such as that were among why their Familia could flourish as much as they had considering their state.

But Hyacinthus considered it a failure. Had they captured the Goddess and the Rabbit then the damages could have been kept to a minimum. The destruction of that ruined church was planned to both demonstrate that an offense against their Familia such as the Bar would not be overlooked and to rob the two of places to return, cornering them into surrendering. It was meant to send a message as well as obtain what Apollo desired, with the Soma Familia being a precaution as well to divert some of the attention away from them—their reputation was already in the trash.

Yet, the Little Rabbit refused to submit. Not only had they needed to chase their quarry for far longer than reasonable, which expanded the damages and forced them to have some of the Soma Familia close the net, but they were met with opposition from not only Familia so small that they were obscure but even the Loki Familia. They were being mocked from up high and down low, it seemed.

That he could not overlook. “Go, Luan.”

“Sir!” The response was met with confirmation and then departure as the Pallum went about relaying his orders.

Once the door clicked shut, Hyacinthus breathed out a soft sigh as he leaned back in his chair and stared up at the magic-stone chandelier that hung on the ceiling of his room. The ticking of a clock lingered in the air as he peered up at the crystalline display, its light refracting against the surface. “I thought that I had always prepared myself for the possibility of it happening… and yet I am already being replaced…”

Do not fall in love with the immortal, for your love will only end in tragedy.

Those were words he had been told by his predecessor, the former Captain of the Apollo Familia, Marpessa. The warning had been issued shortly before she departed from the Familia, upon his taking of her position. Though he had never been particularly close to her, her warning had been not out of ill-reception but because she recognized the depths of his passion for their God.

Hyacinthus Clio alias was Phoebus Apollo, as the one who was the beloved by the sun. That title had been bequeathed upon him for being the shining ray of the Familia, a title that Apollo had swayed into officially being bestowed upon him. It was in recognition that his efforts had been what allowed them to ascend to the D-Rank that many other Familia could never hope to breech.

As an Exploration-Type Familia, the Apollo Familia was one of those who frequented the Dungeon. They did not have the prestige of the Loki Familia, nor the sheer strength of their members. To achieve such a level was nigh impossible due to the particular tastes of their God, as those whose appearances would sate his appetite were scarcely the most competent.

Luan was the primary example of that. He was among the newest within their ranks and the least capable of their members due to the fact that before he had been brought in, he had been nothing. Apollo spied him one day and extended to him his generous hand, despite his lack of any meaningful talent. And then he told Hyacinthus to find a place for him within their Familia.

The captain naturally obeyed, though that was by no means easy. He was a coward, fearing for his safety yet clinging to the lavish lifestyle afforded by their patron. Thus, he was more suited to the role of a messenger or whatever other odd jobs that Hyacinthus determined best suited him.

There were exceptions, of course. For all her resistance, Daphne Lauros had proven herself a capable Commander given she had fought them every step of the way. Her induction had been the most arduous prior to the Little Rabbit, and yet for all of her resistance when presented with a better lifestyle than she and her companion had prior she had still fallen in line and proved her worth.

Cassandra was grating. Her mind was simply not there at times. But he would never once call into question her talent for Healing Magic. Both had proven to be valuable assets that allowed them to bring down the Goliath that aided in their ascension to their current rank.

He suspected that the Little Rabbit would be the same. His Lord always was interested in the current trends and new Record Holder who also possessed such an innocent appearance would naturally catch his eye. The moment he laid eyes on the boy from a photo he wanted him to the extent that nothing world stop him.

Such was Apollo’s love that it was akin to the sun. It could be overbearing as it bore down on you, relentlessly chasing you down as its rays touched every speck of land beneath it. But its warmth left one to flourish as once they basked in it and the true talent one possessed could be brought into the light.

And it would be Hyacinthus’ job to determine his use once he was in the Familia.

The boy was attractive with his innocent features, reminding him of an Almiraj. Befittingly, raw speed was clearly his forte rather than tactics. His Magic was not powerful, but it was fast and accurate enough that it was suitable for the role of someone in a skirmisher position not unlike Daphne.

Of course, he needed to be humbled. He needed to be broken down and shown that for all his abnormal growth and ability, he still lacked for many things. He needed to be put into his place and domesticated until he came to realize that a gilded cage was still better than the squalor he had been living in before.

And yet, the look in Apollo’s eyes when he cast his gaze upon the Little Rabbit had been smoldering with the flames of passion. A wild and uncontrolled flame that Hyacinthus had not seen in such a long time. The beloved of the sun could not help but to believe as though he was being asked to bring in his replacement.

Had his Lord started to grow tired of him? Was it his age? Was he not spending enough time with him? Was it something he lacked?

His questions would have no answers if he did not bring them to light. And yet he, who had faced off against the Goliath, was too afraid to ask. Because the truth that was more painful to consider was perhaps Apollo no longer bore for him the same passion that he held.

“I suppose I was selfish for thinking otherwise,” the Captain of the Apollo Familia mused to himself while touching his lips, recalling a memory that kindled a warmth in his heart. To devote one’s loyalty to their God in exchange for their grace was the norm for a Familia. Was he hoping that dedicating his heart and soul along with it would ensure that he would be the one those flames of passion enveloped?

…It did not matter. He had his orders. The Little Rabbit would be brought in, and any opposition would be crushed. Such was the will of their God, and it was his duty to carry it out. To love was to wish for one’s happiness.

Even if that did not include him.

That in mind, he shelved his own personal feelings aside to keep to his role. He would be the keystone of the War Game. Even if the castle crumbled and the others fell, so long as he stood it would be their victory. To that end he needed to have his sword refined and his battle armor tailored for the War Game.

The Little Rabbit on his own would not be a threat. But Hyacinthus would not underestimate him or the others that could be brought to bear against them. He would not be covered in the shame of failure a second time.

Not when Lord Apollo would be among all the Gods watching.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 13 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 13: A Transcendent Promise – Part 2

When we arrived at the next village, it had been only after three days of travel. They had been wary once we brought news of what transpired in Elcos. If the kingdom protecting them had fallen, then what hope did they have should the monsters attack in force once more?

The adults were afraid. They were looking for someone to blame. Their eyes turned to Argo and myself, as the ones who were heralds of bad news. But then, Argo slipped in some nearby mud and then laughed as his fine clothes were covered in filth about how clumsy he was after walking for three days straight.

Children who had come to see us entering the village laughed. And when the children laughed, the adults smiled. He knew they were scared, so he played the role of a clown humiliating themselves so that others could laugh.

And the laughter of children allowed them to forget their worries and sorrows and fears when they needed it the most.”

—When Laughter Was Needed The Most

[-|-|-|-]

“Firebolt!”

Lefiya watched as one word birthed three blazing rays of flames that speared forward towards a group Goblins. The flames came unbound and ruptured, incinerating them. Then Bell dodged a lashing, fleshy spear coming at him from his side and thrust his hand out before shouting the spell again. “Firebolt!

Her azure eyes were illuminated by the scarlet flames as she watched from the back wall. The scent of burning meat from the monsters he had cremated with his spell reached her nose. And her skin was slick from the grease of the burning fat loitering in the air and then clinging to them. But for someone who delved into the Deep Levels getting used to those was a necessity considering her spell of choice against hordes of foes.

The two of them were on the Fifth Floor, nestled within one of the secluded chambers that were in the western section. Since practicing Magic on the surface was dangerous, it was more beneficial for casters to find places like this to practice—one entrance, enough open space, and off the beaten path so the chances of catching stray adventurers are minimal to none.

Haah… haah…” Bell took a moment to catch his breath now that there were no more monsters entering into the room, herded there by Lefiya. She had basically copied Filvis’ idea of training by performing a pass parade with monsters and guiding them to the room for him to kill with his Magic, serving to both increase his Status and get a feel for how it worked.

Firebolt was firmly within the domain of Swift-Strike Magic. There was no chant involved and there was no magical accumulation, meaning that the consumption of magical power was both fixed and minimal. He had cast more than twenty times without a Magic Potion or rest, and there was no chance of him suffering an Ignis Fatuus.

However, it also limited him greatly. It only scaled in power linearly based on his Magic attribute. That naturally refined what the core of the spell was, so his searing beams of electrical fire would become thicker and hit harder. But comparing it to Filvis, whose attack spell was a Super-Short Chant and thus not far off in terms of the same base level strength, it was… lackluster.

Short chants typically released a surge of magical power to be used for a purpose. They could be destructive like Dio Thyrsos, protective like Dio Grail, or enchantment like Miss Ais’ Aerial. The range and effects were limited, but because of their Mage Development Ability or the Spirit’s Blood that the Sword Princess possessed, they could be made formidable.

Elves were naturally inclined towards Magic. It was part of their heritage and they tended to develop Skills catered towards that. Her Fairy Cannon passively enhanced the potency of her own spells and doubled that if they were spells meant to attack others. If she were the same Level, had the same Status, and had the same spell that he did, she would still outperform him just by having that Skill.

The Mage Developmental Ability she and Filvis possessed simply widened that gap further. Not only did it make her spells more cost-efficient, but it allowed her to influence the different aspects of the spells. The progression stopped being linear and started being exponential, so she could punch far above her own ability if she had time to chant and someone to protect her.

Having seen enough of his offensive spell, she wanted to see what his other spell was. “Okay, if you still have the Mind left, show me your new spell.”

Her little brother nodded before he took a deep breath. Then he relaxed his shoulders and stood with his feet apart before he exhaled slowly. Then he uttered two words. “Shine, Jupiter.

The result was immediate. There was the soft snap and crackle of electricity as sparks danced along his body. Occasionally those sparks crashed into one another to form a few streamers of lightning, crawling along his flesh like serpents that writhed and sank beneath his skin.

“An Enchantment-Type spell?” Lefiya guessed as Bell moved around. She thought there might have been a slight increase in his speed, but it could not have been much. And even then, the enhancement wore off after ten seconds or so as the sparking stopped. “That’s… underwhelming…”

“I know,” Bell agreed, looking down at his arms and legs. “According to Goddess, the spell is supposed to increase my Status when it’s in use. I can even feel the electricity beneath my skin, and it leaves my muscles feeling a bit strained after I use it. But it doesn’t feel like much has really changed.”

“You are only a fresh Level Two and it practically required no chant, so the effects might just be weaker until you raise your Magic,” Lefiya presumed aloud. Activating with just a word was akin to Miss Aiz’s own spell, but she had the blood of Spirits flowing through her. Bell didn’t have anything like that since she knew he was Human—they had the same father after all.

But…despite that, she remembered the 18th Floor. Bell had done something that increased the output of his first spell drastically enough that together they managed to punch through a monster that was at least Level Three and had Magic Resistance greater than an Obsidian Soldier’s armor. Doing so while battered, beaten, and running on fumes had left him unconscious, but that was an exponential increase in power.

“Bell,” she began. “I know that I’m the one who insists that we keep things like our Falna to ourselves because of our Familia, but can you explain how you did that thing when we were trapped by that monster in the Under Resort? You don’t need to tell me the name of it or how you obtained it, just a general explanation of how it works.”

“It’s a Skill that I obtained after I reached Level Two,” he answered. “It requires a mental trigger, but once it starts charging it makes the next thing that I focus on using it with more powerful depending on how long I charge it.”

“By how much?”

He shrugged his shoulders before counting off on his fingers. “I’m not really sure since the depends on the time. The first time I used it, I killed an Infant Dragon with Firebolt and what I think was a ten-second charge. And I once used it with a Landform Ax and managed to kill a group of three Minotaurs with a nine-second charge.”

She felt her eyes twitch at that. Infant Dragons appeared on the Upper Floors very rarely, but they were comparable to Monster Rexes for fresh Adventurers. And Minotaurs were absolutely brutal even for Level Twos, despite being on that rank as far as threats go. A fresh Level Two killing those with a borrowed weapon and a chant-less spell would require an absurd level of output relative to his Level. “And when we were trapped?”

“Twenty seconds,” he answered, his hand tightening. “When I picture the image of a hero in my mind, I feel it starting to charge in my hand and from there it keeps going so long as I keep focusing on it.”

Lefiya found it difficult to believe, but she had seen for herself that it worked. It merited testing, so she asked to borrow one of his knives. He looked between them before giving her the one that was a bit shorter, but as she handled it and carved an ‘X’ into the wall to the north she realized that it must have been made of adamantite.

That was normally found in the Lower and Deep Floors, making it a lot more expensive. Yet he had two knives crafted from it. That couldn’t have been cheap by any stretch, and it was probably better than a Third-Class Adventurer like him could really afford, but it would last him for the Middle Floors at the very least.

“Now that I think about it, what happened to your onyx knife?” she asked while heading over to the western wall next. “The one with the writing on it. It didn’t melt and I saw you used it as a conduit for your magic, so it must have been made of a special mineral like my staff at the very least.”

“Goddess asked that I leave it with her,” Bell answered as she finished carving yet another ‘X’ on the wall in front of her before moving to the southern wall and repeating the motion once more.

Then she handed it back to him and pointed to the western wall. “Use a Firebolt on that one.”

He caught on quickly enough, leveling his hand towards it and letting loose his spell. The scarlet flames sped forth towards the wall, whereupon it slammed against it. The impact threw up a small, dark cloud of smoke and with bits of stone crumbling down as the flames came unbound and scorched the wall.

Lefiya looked towards it with a nod before pointing to the north wall. “Next, charge it for five seconds and then fire it at that one.”

Bell closed his eyes as he held his hand out towards it. This time Lefiya could see as, from his outstretched palm, light began to wreathe it while white-and-blue motes flittered back and forth, small chimes pinging from them. Five seconds later he opened his eyes and called out, “Firebolt!

This time she spotted that what came out was a thicker column of fire, only it was overlaid with streaks of light. They covered it, holding it together while it speared towards the wall and promptly slammed into it. Unlike the last time, she saw stone dust as it penetrated deeper before erupting outwards, shattering the fragments and revealing a deeper gouge that was scorched. Her nose also picked up the faint scent of ozone in the smoke.

“Next, ten seconds at the southern wall,” she commanded. Bell obeyed, and she watched as what looked to be more of a whiter bolt sped forward even faster into the remaining mark she had made into the last solid wall. When it struck, a notable chunk of the wall was blown out and pieces of it began falling to the ground as the cracks spread. And the smell intensified to where she was sure that it was closer to plasma than before.

“At that point, it’s less fire and more bolt,” the older sister mused before looking back towards Bell and noticing how his hand was shaking and his brow was covered in sweat. She asked what should have been an obvious question. “Using that takes a greater toll on your body and mind, doesn’t it?”

A little,” he said while nervously chuckling.

“Quit trying to downplay it!” Lefiya demanded before uncapping a Magic Potion and shoving it into his mouth. “Drink!”

He struggled to chug it down as she force-fed him the vial. “Grgurk. Glup. Glup!!”

“No wonder you ended up passing out that night,” the Half-Elf complained when once he was done. “It increases the power exponentially, but also takes a toll on you. In the case of your other spell, considering you said it leaves your muscles feeling a little sore on its own, you might tear apart your own body if I don’t babysit you. You probably can’t fight while charging it either, can you?”

Bell shook his head as he held his hand up and stared down at it. A moment later, light began to dance in his palm again. “If I lose focus or get hit then the effect dissipates.”

He went from being a Vanguard on the frontline to a Rearguard in the back until his Skill finished charging. It was not meant for him to use carelessly on his own, but for when he needed to turn the tables on a situation. If that limitation could be bypassed, then his capability to defend himself would also increase by quite a bit.

“If we treat it like Concurrent Chanting, then I might be able to teach you to use it while moving,” she reasoned while watching the particles of light dance like little Spirits around his palm. There was a slight chiming noise to it that tickled her ears as she reached for it. “Why does it make that noise… eh?”

Bewilderment crossed both of their expressions as two things happened the moment Lefiya reached out to touch his glowing palm. The first was that she felt that slight burning in her backside that she had yesterday, only it was far more pronounced. The second was that the light faded from her brother’s hand.

And instead, that light gleefully dancing to soft chimes appeared on her slender palm.

Her brother’s crimson eyes went wide. “Argonaut… was passed on?”

Argonaut?” she repeated softly before it clicked in her head. “Wait, is that the name of your Skill?”

He seemed to realize he floundered by telling her that when she went out of her way to avoid learning too much about the specifics but nodded all the same. “Yeah.”

It can’t be a coincidence, Lefiya thought. The fact that it was called the Vow of Elcos, the place where Fina and her adoptive brother once hailed from. And her little brother having a Skill named after him.

“That’s strange,” Bell said. “It’s never done that before.”

“…It might be because of my new Skill,” she began. Normally she would keep quiet but since her brother already ran his mouth and they were clearly linked, she didn’t think holding this much back mattered much. “I got it after what happened on the 18th Floor, and it’s supposed to work with certain people.”

During the battle against the Captain of the Apollo Familia, she thought that was when it had activated for the first time. The Status increase must have taken into effect while working with Bell to escape from them when she had been attacked, which was why she lasted as long as she had. Then there was the 18th Floor, where their spells had meshed together instead of competing with one another when he had used Argonaut on it. The Skill hadn’t fully manifested on her, but his part was an active trigger whereas hers was entirely passive and beyond her control.

Bell asked the obvious question. “Do you think it’s because we’re brother and sister?”

“Maybe?” It was the best answer she could give him while focused on the sensation in her palm. It felt like small bugs were jumping around with the chimes. And her back felt like it was starting to smolder. Her curiosity brokered a new question that she felt was much easier to resolve as she rose to her feet and took Forest’s Teardrop into her hands. “Stand back, Bell.”

The Half-Elf waited until her brother was back in the hallway before she began to chant her spell. Her target was the wall that Bell had scorched with his first spell. Her dulcet voice padded out with the soft chimes as her magic circle formed beneath her and shed golden light.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer. Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy! Arcs Ray!

The moment she finished the trigger spell an unyielding bright light filled the chamber as the earth rumbled…

And her consciousness was ripped from her.

[-Some Time Later-]

“…Mrg…ngg…” Gibberish escaped the Half-Elf Mage as she slowly became aware of herself once more. She felt her chest pressing on something hard while her legs felt like they were dangling. Her arms hung limply over what felt like metal until she reflexively moved them and found warm cloth and flesh. “Huh…?”

“Are you awake now?” a voice called out to her.

“…Bell?” Her arms came together as she slowly raised her heavy eyelids to see a white bed of hair. She was being carried on his back. The fact that her mind was so foggy that it took her more than a second to recognize her brother gave her some insight into her own state. “Mind Collapse?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “Something went wrong when you cast the spell. It came out really powerful, but it pretty much totaled the room. I pulled you out and gave you a Dual Potion, but it must have really taken a toll. We’re on the First Floor now.”

She combed through her memories of what happened and what she knew. There had been no problem with the chant and the output was set to be used at what was normal for her once the accumulation of magical power had begun. She had focused on the staff and felt the tingling in her hand flow into it before…

“It must have been because of the magic circle,” she realized. “Firebolt only takes a set amount from your Mind each cast, which is why you can cast so many. Even if you charge it, the initial cost is always going to be the same with more tacked onto it by the charge. But for Mages, it’s different since we can adjust that output already.”

Since the Mage Development Ability affected usage, efficiency, and output among everything else, it allowed greater flexibility by tapping into their reservoir of magic power and they adjusted from there. If she needed to do Concurrent Casting, then she suppressed the majority while moving and then gathered it all up in the latter half of the casting. If she needed to increase the power of a spell, then she could pour more Mind into it. That required training and active effort on her part once the initial cost was paid.

“Your Skill was borrowed, so it didn’t factor in how my Development Ability affects my Falna spells. Instead, it registered what was the maximum amount I could put into the cast and then used that as the baseline. It forced everything out at once on top of whatever the charge added.”

That was why she lost control over the spell. Everything had been pushed to her maximum capability and then beyond before she could process what was happening. Instead of a finely controlled flow, it all came bursting out as fast and hard as possible like a dam had been broken—and once that dam had been emptied her mind naturally collapsed from exhaustion.

Well, if I just need to limit it to the spells that aren’t affected by my ability then the two that I have from the Spirits might work, she concluded with a sigh. A little setback like being so drained of Mind and stamina that she could barely move was hardly enough to diminish her curiosity with the arcane. But common sense told her to shelve it for now considering she had just collapsed. “Where’s my staff?”

About that…” Bell held up her staff and horror entered her eyes as she bore witness to the extent of the damage done to it. Forest Teardrop was a Second-Class, specially made magical focus exclusively for her. The body of the staff was made from a mineral called Seiros, which was magically conductive like Mithril but cheaper, while the core magic stone was made from Thousand Year Tree Sap aka the Forest’s Tear. It also had four auxiliary magic stones meant to increase the power of her spell on top of it as well.

The spell had shattered all four of the azure crystals that were atop her staff. That meant she would have to pay another visit to Miss Leona’s shop, located off of Northwest Main Street. The older Human was a Mage, but she specialized more in the creation of magical items and catalysts than combat, meaning she could recreate the magic stones at around 50,000 Valis each. Lefiya could earn that much simple enough on the Middle Floors.

But the real problem was the core magic stone. The core itself had been so thoroughly damaged that it would have to be replaced, which was about 20,000,000 Valis alone plus an extra 100,000 for the labor. A soft whine escaped her mouth when she considered how long it would take to pay off the loan from the Familia since she had to get it fixed as soon as possible. “Lady Riveria is going to scold me again…

Bell at least looked apologetic. “Sorry, Sister.”

“…Well, at least now I don’t have to worry about you losing the match,” Lefiya mumbled as she leaned upon his back for a little longer. Just until she could get some of her strength back before they reached the entrance of the Dungeon. “You’ll win for sure.”

“You think I’ll be able to win because of Argonaut?” he guessed.

“No, I know you’re going to win because I’m going to bet on you and hope that the odds are enough to recoup the expense.” Normally, Lefiya would not gamble or encourage it. But she was completely invested in Bell winning to begin with and she may as well get something out of it. “If you lose Apollo will be the least of your concerns.”

Her younger brother made a nervous laugh, not sure if she was entirely serious or if she was trying to lighten the mood. To be honest, it was a bit of both.

…You are too clueless, his older sister couldn’t help but think. At only Level Two, which was a hurdle the majority of Familia never reach, he possessed Magic that not only allowed him to attack distant enemies but also enhance his base attributes. Both of those would only improve in power with his growth and Level. And that was without factoring in this Skill that allowed him to exponentially increase their power at a moment’s notice.

Bell was still new to Orario so he did not understand just how valuable he was in the eyes of any Exploration-Type Familia. And Apollo did not know what he was chasing after since he only wanted her brother for his body. But someone with a more discerning eye would definitely try to scout him out and might even repeat what the Apollo Familia was doing to claim him once the War Game was over—someone far more powerful than a D-Rank Familia.

As she said, Apollo would probably be the least of Bell’s concerns. Thus, the cynical part of her mind drew a single conclusion: The Apollo Familia had to be made into an example.

They had to be crushed. Crushed in a way that showcased to every one of the divinities watching that it would be a greater loss to repeat what Apollo did. That it would cost them more than they would gain from trying to force his hand.

It would be one thing if his current Familia had a solid alliance with one of the stronger or larger Familia, like the Loki Familia or Freya Familia. No one would dare pick a fight with them unless they were fighting against each other, in which case all of Orario would be having a very bad day. But the only ones who came to his aid had been from smaller Familia.

Well, there was also that boy from Hephaestus’ Familia. She knew he had Spirit Blood and could make valuable magic swords. But since the War Game was officially between the Hestia and Apollo Familia, he was not directly involved—which was a shame, because Bell could use all the help he could get.

[-Welf’s Workshop-]

Thonk.

The consistent pounding of steel against steel rang out amidst the roaring of flames. Sweltering heat only kept at bay by the cloth clinging to sweat-laden flesh filled the air and seeped down into the lungs. Sparks scattered and bloomed with each hit, illuminating the hue of his eyes.

Welf Crozzo hated Magic Swords. He hated how they had been used by Rakia. He hated how they tempted his family into going against everything they stood for as blacksmiths the moment he had the gained the Skill that had been lost to their family when the Spirits cursed them for their betrayal. He hated how Phobos had been sent back to Heaven just to help him escape from being forced to make them. He hated how fragile they were and broke away whenever their users needed them.

Thonk!

So why was it that his blood sang when he shaped steel that had been heated to the point of glower a vivid, golden color? Why was it that he was the one who gained the Skill that had been lost? What had he done to deserve to be cursed with it?

That answer eluded him even now, as he pounded away with his hammer. It was shrouded in a vibrant red hue from his Blacksmith Developmental Ability, allowing him to imbue his crafts with unique properties. The magic swords he could forge now would grow even more powerful compared to before, but that did not change the fact that they would still be fragile.

THONK!

Not like the blade that he saw in that dream. The dream that he had the night after Phobos had bestowed upon him her Grace. In that dream, he was in an ancient forge with materials that were raw and plain, nowhere near as advanced as they had now in Orario. Yet…

Yet, in that ancient forge, he saw himself crafting a sword. Not just any sword, but a magic sword. One that harbored within it a great, blazing flame. One that was not fragile—or rather, the sword couldn’t be fragile given its purpose in accompanying a radiant sword that was lightning incarnate.

That purpose was to bequeath power to someone who had taken a heavy burden on their shoulders. Someone who he recognized as a great person trying to take on something far above their heads. Someone who he considered a friend and wanted to be treated as a friend to as well—someone like Bell.

THONK!!

The dream had grown cloudy over time. But it resurfaced the moment the Black Goliath had appeared, and he made his choice to whatever he could to make sure Bell did not die. That white light, the Heroic Strike, had brought the dream back and given him direction towards what he desired.

A magic sword that would endure. A magic sword that would not break when it was needed. A magic sword meant to support his allies. A magic sword like in that dream, a crimson longsword that was flame incarnate—one that brought light and would be an everlasting flame.

But that was still a far-off dream. One he would make come true someday. But for the moment, he would craft a magic sword for those he could help right now. Little Lili, who had been taken. Bell, who was putting everything on the line to keep his freedom. His friends.

THONK!! THONK!!

So he would forge for them. A sword of blazing flame like in his dream. A sword of radiant lightning that accompanied it. They wouldn’t last or even come close to matching those swords in his dreams. But he could refine them, getting closer and closer to matching them.

No. He would surpass them one day. He would drive his very heart and soul into his craft with even greater fervor than before. He would take the flames surging through his blood and pour them into a blazing blade that could open a path for his friends to walk.

THONK!!! THONK!!! THONK!!!

That would be the new legacy of the Crozzo. The flames that had cost so many their homes and freedom would one day open up a burning road to a brighter future. They would be the flames of a hero.

And so Welf Crozzo worked the metal. He forged with determination plastered across his face. He hammered away at the sword with that single drive in his mind.

All while the echoes within the blood coursing through him rejoiced as if recalling an ancient memory.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 12 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 12: A Transcendent Promise – Part 1

“Once we were out of the city, we needed to get to the next village for safety. Argo said the Kingdom would dispatch their knights to protect the villages and collect taxes, so he knew how to get to them. But, on foot, the journey would be at least two days or so to the nearest one that wasn’t in the same direction that the monsters came from.

My world was the four walls I had been born and raised in. Everything in the outside world was new and terrifying for me. But he held my hand and smiled at me every step along the way. Even knowing that there was a chance the next village could be overrun, or we could be gobbled up along the way, he kept smiling.

That smile kept me calm as I walked alongside him.”

—The First Steps Into The Unknown

[-|-|-|-]

Whhhyyyyy….” An unladylike groan slipped out of Lefiya’s mouth as she sat down in a wooden chair, nestled by a small table with a flower vase that held forget-me-nots within them that basked in the sunlight that came through the window. She was in a small room within the manor that served as something of a study, with a couple of bookshelves that were lined with texts of all shapes and sizes. It was normally a nice and quiet retreat for the more studious of the Familia.

“It’ll be fun, Lefiya!” Tiona said with a smile that was commonplace on the Amazonian as she leaned over the back of a sofa, her feet kicking somewhat playfully while watching as Leene finished her earlier treatment. She had been nice enough to bring her a change of clothes so she could be more comfortable as the bespectacled nurse completed what she started earlier. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a War Game.”

Lefiya preferred whining instead. “But the whole reason we were running was that he didn’t accept the War Game in the first place, because it would be unfair. What was the point of being chased by more than a hundred people if he was just going to accept it?”

A War Game was essentially a small-scale war between different Familia. The differences of Levels, the number of members, their tactics, were all pitted against one another in a format decided by the Gods and Goddesses. Once the conditions were set, all that was left was to determine who would be the winner or the loser, and the wages of the war that would be paid.

However, you could not call it a war when one side had only a single combatant. It was more of a slaughter. Unless you were absurdly more powerful than the opposition, such as the King, there was little-to-no chance of winning in any format other than maybe a Duel. And even then, Bell had only been an Adventurer for two or so months. He had been a farm boy until then, living in a small village in the mountains.

Lefiya could not see any way for him to win as he was. Hyacinthus would slaughter him. She had watched him nearly do so twice already. She could not watch it happen a third time.

Yet, despite that being an obvious fact, Tiona seemed to think otherwise. “I think Little Argonaut will win. He’s beaten the odds before.”

I wish I could share your optimism…” Lefiya sighed as Leene finished her work. “And why do you call him Argonaut?”

“That’s a story about a boy who wanted to be a hero but kept messing up, right?” Leene asked. “Tricked and betrayed by the King and all of that? He doesn’t seem the kind to be that silly, so the name seems a little misplaced.”

The normally enthusiastic Amazonian’s expression changed for a fleeting moment. It seemed almost foreign on her, a pensive look that came as quickly as it fled. Then she spoke. “Back on Telskyura, there was… an emptiness inside of me until I saw the pages of that story one day.”

For a moment both listeners had immediately regretted prying. The story of the Hiryute sisters was not a happy one. Those living in a culture that bred strong warriors by culling their numbers was not one kind to children.

“By the time I reached Level Two, I felt nothing. Even though I liked fighting, I felt empty after the first time I had to fight someone else. Then one day I just found a mere scrap of the page, a picture of a man facing a Minotaur in words I didn’t understand.”

She brought her hands to her chest for a moment and simply held them there. “I don’t know why, but I wanted to know more about it. Something from deep within my chest told me to read it, so I asked Bache to read it for me. And then, as I listened to it, a warm feeling started filling my chest.”

Silence lingered in the wake of her words as the two considered them. In a place where one would have to throw away everything for a life of combat and to become stronger, discarding everything that wasn’t necessary was probably the only way to keep moving. Kill your heart and become a weapon—a different person than they had ever known.

“It was a small feeling at first, but it grew the more I heard, and I felt like I needed to know how the story ended. And so eventually, when I was asked if there was anything that I wanted, I told Kali I wanted to know how the story ended. And she gave me the whole book the next day.”

Lefiya could only imagine how it seemed. Asked for anything with the power of a Goddess to grant, and your only desire was to know how a story ended. Not a reprieve or anything tangible, but a bedtime story that wouldn’t change anything. It must have seemed like the vestiges of childhood innocence clinging to a warrior who would continue to fight, suffer, and kill.

“By the end, I was smiling again,” Tiona finished, sporting a smile. “After that story, I could smile and laugh again, no matter what. I felt like, despite how dark things were, there would be light at the end if I kept smiling. And, eventually, we had the chance to leave.”

…Speechless. Listening to her story, the Mage and Nurse were speechless. Because they both realized that what Tiona had been given was… hope.

She felt hope when she had no reason to because of that story. Something fleeting and intangible within how cruel her life had been since birth. Yet so radiant that it shone like a distant star that refused to be extinguished, that hope was the catalyst for her to be able to smile and laugh.

Fixating on that lone beacon kept her from being lost in the nothingness.

Forever following it allowed her to smile despite her situation being so cruel.

Then that star became the new dawn of a new day.

She turned around and leaned back on the sofa, staring up at the magic-stone chandler. “When I watched Little Argonaut fight the Minotaur, I felt the same thing that I did the first time I found that story. I want to see how his story goes from beginning to end, but I want to help make sure it’s a happy one.”

“It… almost sounds like you’re in love with him when you put it that way,” Leene said after a pause. Her tone suggested she was joking, but Lefiya thought she could hear a hint of curiosity. Then, to her mild concern, the Amazonian went quiet as her brows folded in.

She was actually thinking about it.

From what the Half-Elf knew, Amazons were the only other race besides Humans that could breed with others and produce children—even though the children would always be other Amazons. But based on what happened in Melen, and with Tione, once they fell for someone they fell hard.

Not to mention they tended to be aggressive in their pursuit at times, depending on the individual they fell for and their own personalities. If Tiona became anything like her sister with the meek rabbit that Bell was being the one in her sights, then… Loki help him.

Because Lefiya sure couldn’t.

I’m too young to be the aunt to a bunch of little Tionas and Tiones, she silently whimpered as she pictured little white-haired, tanned-skinned Amazons running about in the room, some pulling her hair and asking to see her staff while others wanted their parents to read them a fairy tale. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure she’d tear apart the Apollo Familia on her own if they tried to take Bell.

Before she could ruminate further on the horror of who would claim her brother’s presumed chastity, Tiona finally spoke. “He doesn’t give me the same feeling that the Captain does to Tione. It might be because he’s not strong enough… besides, wouldn’t Lefiya be the one in love with him since she helped him more than me?”

Then Leene said words she should not. “Y-You mean those rumors are true?”

Crack.

There was the sound of glass cracking. Not from the windows in the room. Or the vase holding the flowers next to her. But rather the fragile restraint she had on her self-control when she recalled exactly how those rumors started.

“…Now that I think about it, Raul was the one who told the others it was me helping him, wasn’t he?” Lefiya said slowly, rising to her feet. “Where is he right now?”

“I think he’s in the Ca…” Tiona began until she saw Leene shaking her head vigorously and holding her arms together to form an ‘X’ sign. The message carried. “Uh, maybe he went out into town to get a grasp on the damage done in case the Guild wants us to pay them for your part in the battle?”

Fine… I’ve got all day to wait for him,” she mumbled, making her way to the door. She could just imagine those rumors being rekindled now. Even when most of them knew her preferences, they’d probably think she was making an exception for Bell because of how delicate he looked. “Not like it can get any worse.

No sooner than she opened the door did Tione, the eldest of the twins and decidedly more mature inform them about a certain someone at the Main Gate and wanting to speak with Miss Aiz and her. That naturally pulled them out of the room and into the hallway where they found windows facing the gate and spotted Bell there. The guards were currently trying to shoo him away to no avail as the Sword Princess went back into her previous room.

That damn rabbit,” Bete snarled softly as he peered through the glass down at her brother. “I’ll get rid of him.”

“Wait.” A strong hand stopped him before he could. It was Gareth Landrock, one of the executives of the Familia and one of the very first Adventurers to bear the Falna of the Trickster. He looked out of the window while stroking his beard as he observed Bell. “Those aren’t the eyes of a man who has come to beg for our help. They’re the eyes of a warrior looking to sharpen their blade, wouldn’t you say?”

It took Lefiya a moment to pick up where he was going before looking towards where Aiz had gone. Her brother had gone off training with her before their expedition. She had tried to chase him to figure out why he was doing it and hadn’t really been pleased with his answer at the time.

The Sword Princess seemed to realize his intentions as well since she had already gotten her sword. “I’m going.”

“We can’t be seen taking sides,” Sir Gareth reminded her, causing her to pause in her step. Lefiya considered stating it couldn’t hurt if she went instead, given she was already involved, at least to see him off as far as everyone else was aware. But then he turned the other way and waved a hand. “But… you know what they say—out of sight, out of mind.”

Her golden hair tilted for a moment before she nodded. “We won’t be seen.”

“…Fine, if you want to help that weakling then suit yourself,” Bete said as he turned away. “But teach that rabbit to sharpen his own fangs. He can’t always be relying on others to do it for him.”

“Hey, Tione!” Tiona bounced up on her feet and then leaned on her toes to whisper something in her ears. Then the Eldest Amazonian nodded before her younger sister grabbed Lefiya’s and Aiz’s wrists. “Come on!”

“Huh?” Lefiya was pulled along, stammering for words until they reached one of the rooms in the back. There was a large window there. “What’s going on?”

“He’s here to see you two, right?” Tiona asked while opening the window and standing on the edge of the sill. “Since we can’t be seen helping him, we’ll go meet him where nobody will see us.”

“Right,” was the only answer Miss Aiz gave as the Amazonian leaped down and landed without any problems. Then she followed her with a smooth jump to the ground.

Lefiya sighed before she followed after them, scaling the walls after the other two. Tiona guided them to an alleyway that was roughly two blocks down from the Manor. No one should be looking for them. All that was left was to wait for Bell to arrive.

While she waited, Lefiya thought to herself what she was going to bring up with him when the other two were around. The War Game had been declared so there was no turning back now. Not to mention they didn’t know anything about the terms or conditions. Everything was against him.

Then he arrived and his crimson eyes widened when he spotted her. He ran over immediately. “Are you okay?”

“Better than you,” she said, consciously stamping down on her emotions as she looked him over. His wounds had been mended but his clothing was still stained in ash, dust, and the blood that had been shed earlier. The disheveled appearance made it clear he hadn’t even had time to change his clothes or anything else, meaning he probably ran straight here after going to Apollo’s place to make the declaration of war. “Explain yourself. Now.”

“…That guy, Mister Bete, was right,” Bell said, his voice carrying a hint of steel in it. “I can’t just run away from the problem. Not when it dragged you and the others into it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just kept running knowing that. That’s why I have to meet it head-on with all I can.”

If he started running, then he would have to keep running until Apollo gave up or someone made him give up. The Gods wouldn’t intervene unless they had a reason to, which would take time even if they did. Even with the rules set into place to make travel in and out of Orario difficult for Adventurers, it was entirely possible to get around that by hiring outside help or some other method.

“But you aren’t strong enough,” Lefiya pointed out, even understanding that. “Even in a best-case scenario, if you go against that guy again the same thing is going to happen. Did you think about how they’d feel knowing that you decided to throw yourself into a mess just to try to spare their feelings?”

“I know.” There was a hint of pain in his voice as he admitted to his own weakness. “In the end, I’m not strong enough to protect anyone and everyone else had to protect me. That’s why I want to be strong enough so that never happens again. But I don’t have enough time to do so on my own, so I came here.”

His crimson eyes fell onto Miss Aiz before he bowed his head. “I know I’m asking a lot, especially after Miss Lefiya did so much for me. But please, I need you to train me so that I can face them. I’ll be in your debt and do whatever you want afterward.”

Her golden eyes softened as she brought a hand to her chest. “You don’t…. need to repay me anything. Rather, it would feel wrong to abandon you. I want to help you grow stronger.”

“And I want to help out too!” Tiona chimed in with her usual enthusiastic voice. All while sporting the same smile as she looked towards Leifya. “Don’t you?”

Well, I’m already in enough trouble…” She rubbed her arm as she tried to figure out how she could help her idiot little brother. “How much time do you have?”

“Lady Hestia said she would try to give me a week,” he answered.

“That’s not a lot of time…” She frowned when she considered that he would not make too much progress even if he trained around the clock. Not unless they did something absurd like took him down to the Deep Floors and helped him grind monsters after they softened them up. Even then he had only hit Level Two not too long ago. What can I do…?

Before she could dwell on it, Tiona gave her a pat on the back. Considering how strong she was, that was enough to make her stagger forward. “We just need to give it our all and it’ll work out! Right, Aiz?”

Golden hair bobbed as she nodded her head. “Right.”

I really wish I shared your enthusiasm,” she repeated with a sigh before looking her brother in the eyes. Those same eyes were those she had seen on the 18th Floor, filled with resolve in them befitting an Adventurer. Mutual Respect was due.

If he wanted to get stronger, she should help him. “I can’t help with raising your physical Status like they can, but I can help with your Magic and how to deal with other casters in the morning before you go off to train with them the rest of the day. And I can also see about getting you some clothes and supplies since you’ve lost all of yours, along with the necessities.”

It was enough for her brother to smile at her with appreciation. At all of them. “Thank you. All of you.”

“We’re all in this together,” Tiona proclaimed before grabbing his hand and Miss Aiz’s hand, bringing them together, and placing them on top of her own. Miss Aiz smiled softly. Tiona smiled cheerfully. Bell blushed vividly. “You too, Lefiya.”

Fine…” Lefiya said gently as she joined in. There was a slight tingle in her lower back, but she brushed it off as Tiona raised her hand up, sending theirs into the air as well to give a cheer—with the Amazonian naturally being the loudest.

“I’ll go get Urga,” Tiona said before running off towards the mansion to get her overly large weapon. “We’ll try not to hurt you too badly~”

“I will go and make sure our usual place is ready,” Miss Aiz said to Bell before spinning on her heel and going off. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

Bell nodded before meeting Lefiya’s azure set of eyes and waiting for them to be out of earshot before he said, “Thank you, Sister. For everything.”

“You can thank me when this is all over,” she said exasperatedly while thinking about the logistics needed so they could train him. Sleeping bags would be more affordable than a room in an Inn, then there were food costs, clothes, weapons, equipment, and hiding it all from Loki without raising suspicion. “Is that fire spell the only one you have?”

“Ah, actually a new spell did appear on my Falna when Goddess updated it before we parted ways,” Bell said. “She had updated my Status after we made the declaration, so I would know where I stand before I left off to come here.”

“I can help you with that at the very least then,” she said before a low growl reached her ears. “You haven’t eaten anything since we did all that running around, did you?”

His stomach happily growled again in lieu of words.

She only rolled her eyes as Bell softly, nervously chuckled. Then she reached into her belt pouch to find the Spirit Nut. Since the pouch was made for exploring the Dungeon or holding potions, it was thankfully durable enough that the contents weren’t bothered by all the activity. “Here.”

“Oh, a Spirit Nut,” he said as he held it gingerly. “These taste really good.”

Her brow rose. “You’ve had one before?”

He nodded. “Miss Eina shared one with me after I got back from the 18th Floor. She said it was to help me recover.”

The Half-Elf’s mind began to run through what she knew. Miss Ryu had shared hers with her coworkers, and she was fairly sure that Filvis had given the one they hadn’t shared to her God. So that only left Lady Riveria’s second one, and whoever that was gave it to Bell. “Did this Eina tell you anything else about it?”

He tilted his head at the question. “It’s an exotic treat for Elves, right?”

“…Sure,” she said after a moment. Either she didn’t know, she did know and didn’t tell him, or she was treating it like Miss Ryuu had and giving it to him as a treat between friends. His love life came second to the current situation. “Anyway, I’ll go get started gathering what you’ll need and meet you later.”

That said she walked out of the alley as the sound of energetic footfalls reached her ears. It was only when she was out of the mouth of the alley that she realized her mistake as Tiona passed her by with a wave. Then she heard. “Time’s a-wasting—oh, that looks yummy. What is it?”

“It’s called a Spirit Nut,” Bell replied. “Do you want to share?”

“Sure!”

She sighed once more as the image of little Amazons running around briefly entered her mind a second time. It would probably be fine. Probably.

[-Hostess of Fertility-]

Lefiya treated gathering together the basics of what her brother needed like she was getting ready for a mini-expedition into the Dungeon. The members of her Familia all learned how to pack what was necessary, and she did the same for Bell. But since they were going to remain within the city rather than dive deeply, she decided to take some liberties by getting him some decent food.

It was the least she could do at the moment considering he’d lost everything else and was focusing on a sole objective rather than worry about what would come after. He still wouldn’t have a home once the War Game was done. Not unless the damages were covered in the bet wager, which honestly hadn’t been set yet. And whatever things he owned that had sentimental value were nothing but ashes now.

Once more she couldn’t help but think that she really should have pleaded his case back when he first arrived to prevent things like this from happening. Lady Loki would have probably taken him in as a Supporter or something. Or at the very least she could have arranged it so he would have stayed out of trouble and avoided the eyes of the other divinity who had taken notice of him.

But there was nothing she could do about her own past mistakes aside from learning from them. As for the present, she could support him. The others could train his body, but she could handle the logistics of taking care of him and refine whatever knowledge of Magic he had.

When she arrived at the Hostess of Fertility, it was just some time in the afternoon. The menu had not shifted to accommodate Adventurers, but she figured there was a chance she could order a lunchbox or something for him. The silver-haired Human Waitress was on her almost instantly.

“How is Bell?” she asked. “I heard that he went to challenge the Apollo Familia after they had chased him, but nothing after that. Was he hurt?”

“He’s fine,” Lefiya told her, watching as a sense of relief spread across her features. “He’s training until the War Game, so I’m running some errands for him. He hasn’t really eaten today, so I thought I would get him whatever he normally orders?”

“I still have the lunch that I made for him this morning,” said the waitress. “I’ll be right back with it.”

Lefiya watched her head to the back of the kitchen. The woman seemed friendly enough when the Loki Familia was there, but never to this extent. Between that and this morning, she began to ponder how well acquainted she was with her brother.

“And how are you fairing, Miss Viridis?” asked the Elven Warrior. “I understand that you were taken back to your Familia and given a punishment before the declaration was made.”

So the news made it all the way here, huh? She couldn’t help but scratch her cheek at that. “Well, I was scolded and I’ll have to deal with whatever punishment Lady Loki gives me. But, other than that, I’m fine. My injuries have all been treated.”

“Glad to hear that much. It looked bad when you were carried off by that wolf guy,” another party cut in, drawing her attention to the familiar voice. It was the same Blacksmith who had been a member of Bell’s party on the 18th Floor and joined in the fight. “Yo.”

“Mister Crozzo, are you and the others doing well?” Lefiya asked. “The last thing I remember was you and the rest were still fighting.”

“Calling me Welf is fine,” he said before getting into an explanation of what transpired once she had departed. “Bell managed to get away right after you left, and the Soma and Apollo Familia scattered without any of us getting too banged up. The Ganesha Familia detained us for a bit but treated the injuries we had before letting us go in light of their God stating that the whole thing was to be tied into the War Game. All the fallout will be wrapped up between the Gods’ wager, so us children should just go back living our normal lives, essentially.”

“It’s good that no one got seriously hurt or punished then.” She went through the motions of giving him a bow as she thanked him. “But thank you for coming to help him when you did.”

“That’s my line,” he said in turn. “We were friends, so I wouldn’t have hesitated to help him. But you actually got in trouble for helping out. I hope your Goddess won’t be too harsh on you.”

Knowing Lady Loki, she doubted it would be too severe for a minor scuffle. The Captain, Sir Gareth, and Lady Riveria were the ones who were more likely to issue a stricter punishment for things like that. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Then forgive me for asking this, but I originally came here looking to see if anyone knew where he went to give him some replacement armor and weapons since I knew he was going to be training. Since you’re going to see him, could you give him these along with a message?”

He presented what looked to be a small box that had items within it wrapped up in white cloth. She could catch the scent of metal coming from them, so it was the equipment that he had mentioned. “I’ll take it to him. And what was the message that you wanted me to pass along?”

“Tell him that Lady Hestia is safe with Lady Hephaestus,” he began. “Tell him to just focus on getting stronger while leaving the rest to us. We’ll do what we can to help him, so he won’t have to bear the burden alone. Please.”

“I’ll tell him, Mister Welf,” the Half-Elf promised. “You have my word.”

He nodded in gratitude before heading off. As he left, she noticed there was a look in his eyes like a flame had been lit. Not to mention there was not a shred of doubt in his eyes that she would see the message and equipment delivered to him.

“…Mister Cranel is quite fortunate,” Miss Ryuu noted. “Such an earnest friendship is a difficult thing to acquire in such a short time. Yet, in his words, I sensed no deception or hesitation.”

Lefiya could only agree with the assessment. Though she had only seen him twice, she could tell from his tone that in the time they had known one another he had become close to her brother. A genuine comrade not unlike those she possessed, willing to stick with him through every trial he’d face.

“We’ll do our parts as well to help Bell out too,” Miss Syr said, as she arrived with her basket in tow. “Won’t we, Ryuu?”

“Should my services be required I will assist in whatever manner I can as well, Syr,” the Elven Warrior claimed. “I too wish to see how he progresses as an Adventurer.”

As she listened to her, Lefiya felt the simmer in her lower back for a brief moment once more. But as quickly as it came, it faded. Once more she was left wondering if it had something to do with her Skill, but for the moment she had to see the food and other supplies to her brother while he was training with Tiona and Miss Aiz.

[-Babel Tower-]

Interesting,” purred a soft, feminine voice that was liquid honey to the ears of those who could hear it. Silver eyes that stared distantly out of the highest vantage in Orario peered with more depth than any mortal could fathom. Those same eyes were now fixed on the soul that slowly made its way through the city as though following a string that marked a path to an even purer soul than any she had seen since she descended. “Another pair of threads have appeared on that child.”

Her name was Freya. The Goddess of Beauty that possessed the strongest Familia in Orario. Nestled within her room on the upper level of Babel, she was in a world of her own within that dwelling of luxury few could fathom.

“A thread, My Lady?” inquired her Captain, Ottar. He was the sole person accompanying her within her room, standing attentively and ready to enact her very will the moment they left her lips.

“That little girl who was assisted my Bell,” Lady Freya spoke. “Since then there had been a thread connecting the two of them. Then more appeared, all bound to her.”

Bell. Sword Princess. Crusher. Jormungand. Elgarm. Vanargand. Gale Wind. Crozzo.

One-by-one those threads had appeared linked to her. The threads differed in how dense they were, with the thickest being that between her own soul and Bell’s. But those threads represented something that linked them all together.

Something that bound them together from the very depths of their souls, as if by fate—a normally invisible tether crystalized by the Falna into something that could be perceived by her eyes alone.

“Should we do anything pertaining to that matter or the War Game?” Ottar asked. Should she will it, the matter could be resolved in mere moments. The Apollo Familia could be crushed and forced to disband through sheer force.

As for the girl, it was not as though Freya hadn’t attempted to issue a warning against the Sword Princess before. Sending a similar message to the young Half-Elf was not off the table. Just a warning to keep her distance from him.

“I think I will leave them for the time being,” the Goddess of Beauty decided. “This is a trial that will polish his soul further. So long as they continue to do so, I will tolerate their presence around him and allow the War Game to come to pass when it does.”

She too was looking forward to the War Game. Not merely as one who would observe him from the confines of her own room, but as one of the divinities that had come down from upon high to the lower world. Entertainment was something that they all craved and though their tastes varied, no one barring perhaps Hestia considering the circumstances would attempt to impede the games.

Once more the Gods and Goddesses were watching. Not from the heavens above, but the theatron that was Orario. Though some speculated and others deliberated on the upcoming performance, all of them were waiting with bated breath to see if the Little Rookie’s performance would be a comedy of a fool trying to fend off an army, or a heroic tale of overcoming adversity.

Either way, all awaited the tale that would be told.


Fanfic Recommendation 104


My Fanfics


Rabbit of the Moon 19

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.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 1 – 11

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 31 – 34

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Blake had fled, making it clear she couldn’t trust him to change. She thought him inhuman, lost, a beast. He was going to prove her wrong. Getting into Beacon was hard enough, but fitting in would be harder still. All those… humans. Will a man fuelled by hate truly be able to let go and move on; or is suffering the only thing Adam Taurus can ever bring to those around him?


A Rabbit Among Wolves 38 – 41 

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Jaune wanted nothing more than to become a hero – and in a way he got his wish. One man’s criminal is another’s hero and the faunus of Remnant need a champion. Who better to take the mantle of leader of the White Fang? Not a faunus? Not a terrorist? No aura, training or leadership skills to speak of? Minor details. All hail supreme leader Jaune Arc. Long live the resistance!


Deluge 39

A Castlevania Fanfiction

Summary: In the aftermath of Dracula’s death, Shanoa finds herself locked in a grief-stricken struggle between what she is and who she wants to become. She takes refuge in Wygol, and a blossoming friendship gives way to a journey that will change her life forever. But as they begin to confront the past one truth makes itself evident: some demons can’t be buried. [final version]


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 11 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 11: Declaration of War

Despite his body being so thin and his clothes fine, the Human boy with white hair and eyes the color of rubies strained and struggled with a pole to lift the rubble off of me. It was just enough that I could crawl out from below, away from where my mother and father’s bodies remained. He told me not to look at them as we ran away.

In the end, we managed to escape. But I had lost everything. I was angry, confused, and sad, crying on my knees as I asked him why we saved a Half-Man like me while touching my ears. They were proof that I didn’t belong to either race, a pitiful half-breed.

He only smiled as she leaned down and touched them tenderly and said, ‘I like your ears. They remind me of butterflies atop a sunflower.’

His words that day saved me.

He became my hero.

My brother.

Argonaut.”

—The Boy with White Hair and Red Eyes

[-|-|-|-]

“RRAAAAAAHHHHH!!”

Bell’s ears rattled as a battle cry shook the air as the Captain of the Takemikazuchi Familia fearlessly rushed ahead into the vanguard position with a battleax in his grasp.

Throwing himself towards two Adventurers that had been rushing towards them, he reared the large steel weapon backward before stomping down and pivoting. The battleax came around, a silver streak running from right-to-left with the sound of wrenching steel ringing out as it met with the first—a man with a shield in one hand and sword in the other.

Overpowered. The massive ax bit into the bulwark of steel and tore it apart before biting into the breastplate of the Human and sending sparks into the air as the body behind it was thrown alongside the momentum of it. The body hit the stonewall and crumpled in on itself.

Then it came around again, from left-to-right. This time it on the opposing side was a burlier Dwarf, who had dared to oppose him with a Warhammer. The sound of steel ringing against steel sounded out as the two met, but with a flex of his muscles, he pushed through before spinning around and then swinging the ax anew and tearing a bloody gash across the Dwarf’s chest as the man barreled away with his chainmail’s rings scattered as two more were ready to take their place, advancing towards their vanguard with a dagger and longsword.

Purple rushed in from their side.

It was Mikoto with a spear in her grasp as she sped past Ouka and met them before they could breach the frontline. She thrust the spear forward, driving the sharp point into the shoulder blade of her assailant to the point where the tip could be seen, and a scream rang out along with the sound of clattering steel as his longsword fell onto the ground before she jerked the point out and then tucked the haft under her arm as she brought the rear-end of the polearm around. It met with the side of his face and his body followed it to the ground.

Then she pivoted around on her front leg to avoid the point of a dagger heading to her face, snatching the outstretched arm. With a fluid motion, she raised her knee while jerking the arm out and downward. The scream that followed a sickening crunch was even louder than the one prior as the assailant fell to his knees, clutching the broken arm before her foot came up and silenced him.

Further back was a trio of marksmen. A least one was a Pallum with a wrist-crossbow, alongside a Hume Bunny and Human armed with crossbows. They were using boxes and signs for half-cover as they took aim at the group.

Firebolt!” Bell shouted. They were within the range of his spell and the building they were hiding near was made of brick, which meant it didn’t have as much of a chance of catching aflame. A searing bolt sailed from his outstretched hand, shooting towards the obstruction while searing the air along the way.

The Pallum rolled from his cover before the spell connected, erupting into flames that hungrily swallowed the box and sign while lapping at the two who remained in place and were now screaming as they fell to the ground and rolled around to extinguish the flames. Getting up, the Pallum pulled back and readied to loose the bolt when an arrow caught his shoulder and pierced through with enough force that it pinned him to the wall—his Status was low apparently.

“Nice shot, Chigusa!” Ouka called out, sparing a glance back towards the girl with her eyes obstructed by her bangs with only a slight parting in the curtain to reveal the dark-green hue.

She was running alongside another member of their Familia who carried with them a large shield that would require two hands to use, meant to protect Miach and Hestia from any stray shots as Bell and the Half-Elf Mage ran just slightly ahead of them. There was a bow in her hands, an arrow already nocked as she called out to him. “Ahead!”

He looked up to see that there were even more on the way, a wave of men with disheveled or disorderly appearances rather than any set uniform.  There were at least ten of them, some smarter than others in that they had shields out with the intention of blocking any arrows heading their way. They were going to try to use their numbers to overrun them.

“—arrow of accuracy! Arcs Ray!” Lefiya finished casting, magic circle beneath her shedding light as her staff was held out and gave birth to a beam of gold. The aurous flash shot out and sped towards the onrushing men whose faces were illuminated by its radiance before the beam curved downwards slightly and hit the ground, rupturing. Smoke obscured the pathway for a moment as broken bits of stone rained down, pattering against the walls and rooftops while the bodies that had been thrown astray by the blast were either scattered over the street, slouched against the wall, or half-buried into the boxes that caught them as the force sent them out of the way.

They ran right past them.

“These aren’t the same men who were chasing you,” his sister said, looking towards him as they continued to move. “They’re weaker.”

“I think there’s another Familia with them!” Bell said. “I saw a Wine Glass and Crescent Moon on one of them a while back!”

Recognition flashed on Miach’s face at that. “That would be the emblem of the Soma Familia. I didn’t think he would be the kind to get involved in this sort of affair, given the trouble it would bring.”

Bell didn’t know much about the God in question, but he had already had a run- in with the Soma Familia. They had attempted to kill one of their own down in the Dungeon, a death by feeding her to monsters after robbing her blind. To her, it had been preferable for them to think she had been dead rather than going back afterward.

He gritted his teeth when he realized that must’ve been what he had seen the night of the dance when he spotted Hyacinthus beforehand. They had been making arrangements to capture him from even before she had refused the War Game. Now they were in the opposite direction of the Guild, pushed closer to the western edge of the city, as the others had told him and Hestia once they regrouped.

If not for the others coming to their aid they would have been caught by now.

But now that they had time, they had options. The first was that they made it to the Guild. The guard would be heaviest along the way, but they wouldn’t dare attack them once they were close enough. It was the best scenario.

Another alternative was simply to keep moving until the Ganesha Familia got involved. They were the acting peacekeepers and had the largest number of Familia members. Apollo couldn’t match that, and considering they were disturbing the public they would all be brought in for it—they’d likely get into some trouble, but Apollo couldn’t touch them while they were in custody.

“Some more people are coming!” Lefiya called out. Her perception was already higher than his from her race, even before the fact that she was at a Higher Level. “Upcoming right turn. But it sounds like they’re fighting amongst themselves!”

They readied themselves for an ambush only for a larger man to come flying out of the alleyway and into the wall opposite of it. Then another figure emerged, a familiar one dressed in black and with hair as red as flames. “Welf!”

His head whipped around as he saw the advancing party, right before Lili emerged from where he had been and flung out a pouch into the alley and shouted, “Morbol, out!”

“Breathe through your mouth!” Miach warned before she used her Little Ballista to fire a bolt afterwards. Then a plume of sickly-looking green powder billowed up and a foul smell promptly filled the alleyway, washing over them. The screams coming from the alleyway were plentiful.

They kept advancing as the other two joined the group, with Lili taking another one of the pouches out. This one she tossed behind them, ensuring the path they’d taken was obstructed by the same powder. Anyone going through there would be overtaken by the smell, especially anyone with a heightened sense of smell.

His sister included. “I…I think I’m going to be sick…

“Weren’t you with the Loki Familia?” Welf asked, a brow raised as he combed his memory. She was among those who had been in the tent when his heritage had been discussed.

Less talk, more running please!” she insisted, one hand covering her mouth and nose. Then her ears twitched. “I hear clamoring over the rooftops!

“Nahza must have run out of arrows then,” Miach said, which was the optimistic explanation. Because she was acting as a sniper, the rooftops had largely been off-limits unless they wanted to get an arrow. That forced them to use the streets and architecture, funneling them to where they could manage either via Magic or force due to how weak the Soma Familia had been. “That means at least a hundred-and-fifty or more.”

“If they get archers and casters over the rooftops we’ll be boxed into a losing battle!” Ouka shouted, reaching into his belt and pulling out two eastern-made daggers, sheathes and all. He then tossed them behind himself. “Mikoto, take care of our left!”

“Understood.” She stabbed the spear into the ground, leaving it for them to collect as she caught the pair. Then she crouched before springing up high into the air, the leg strength of a Level Two carrying her onto the rooftops composing the left side. Her hand briefly came to her waist where there were throwing spikes before she flung them forward and screaming could be heard.

“Look after Goddess, please!” Bell said as he drew his adamantite dagger in his offhand and copied the motion to jump onto the right rooftops to go ahead. He heard his sister tell him to stay where she could see him as he spotted the approaching enemies. These were dressed in the outfit of the Apollo Familia, in contrast to the ones before, meaning Level Two was the norm.

He kicked off the rooftop towards the first of them, an Elven Archer, with his knives. A violet streak tore through the air in a diagonal as he brought the Hestia Knife around to cut through the body of a recurve bow made of some kind of darkwood. Then he allowed the momentum to carry him through so that he could drive his elbow into the face of the Elf hard enough that he could feel the bone crunch beneath the blow even before his head shot backwards until it hit the rooftop—ripping his consciousness away from him.

That one down, Bell advanced on what looked to be a caster with a wand. There was the tingle of Magic in the air, but the difference in speed was enough that he managed to close the distance before they could finish the trigger and then drive his knuckles, wrapped around the handle of the knife, into their face. They went towards the edge of the roof and then over.

He then turned to the right where he spotted more of them on a stone rooftop, meaning nothing was stopping him from using his flames. He had to be conservative since they were in a residential area where wood was among the most common building material. They were already causing enough problems as it was. “Firebolt!

Blazing fire ran like a lightning bolt as it lanced towards the three. The thick beam swept them up within the flames. They screamed as the fire washed over them, much as those before, curling up and trying to extinguish the burning.

There were others. But they immediately abandoned the rooftop the moment his eyes fell onto him. They dropped below, not wanting to end up on the wrong end of the spell or maybe they were attempting to bait him into following—which he wouldn’t take.

His surroundings immediately cleared, he looked over to see Mikoto at work. She was like liquid as she moved forward, the two blades in her grasp drawing silver arcs in the air as they parted wood, cloth, and flesh. Blood had stained her purple outfit but she didn’t seem to mind as she cut into limbs, targeting tendons where she could or settling for a target that would make it impossible for them to chase until they received medical attention.

Takemikazuchi was a God of War and it showed in his children when one particularly large Weretiger approached her with a sword in his hand, already in motion. She stepped into the assault, raising her left arm and keeping it forward so that the attacking limb was outside of her body while the sharp end of her tanto buried itself into the shoulder of the man attacking her. Then she twisted her body and brought the crook of her right arm around while her foot hooked his.

He was thrown headfirst into the rooftop and Bell could see he had broken through the ceiling from above with no sign he was still conscious as she pressed ahead without pause. An arrow came her way, but she deflected it with a swipe and then moved in serpentine motions. The archer cried out as one found his wrist tendon and the other found his bow, both severed.

…Bell hated all of this as he saw the injured and bleeding bodies that were being left behind. He didn’t like hurting people. He had wanted to be a hero. Not someone fighting a desperate struggle to keep his Goddess out of the hands of a God that lusted after him with such zeal that he would throw an entire section of the Labyrinth City into chaos.

The Magic he received when he envisioned it as something meant to slay monsters and turn the tide of a battle was instead being used to harm others listening to that God, obeying the rule that a child could not disobey the one they swore allegiances to.

He had gotten lucky after all that Hestia had been the one to find him.

Then there was the fact that they were disrupting the lives of the people living here with the fighting. Those able to run would have evacuated by now, hoping that their homes would still be whole when everything was said and done. Those unable to get away were likely holed up in their homes and praying that the fighting would pass without harm.

The loss of a home was something he could very much relate to at the moment.

“…Ahh…” Then a breath escaped him as he realized something at that moment. Where was Hyacinthus?

The Captain of the Apollo Familia should be getting involved about now. They hadn’t taken out Cassandra, which meant she could heal his wounds and get him back into the fight. Even if her Mind was stretched to the point of nearing collapse, they would prioritize him because he was the most powerful asset they had.

Bell wasn’t a threat to him. That display from before had been meant to demonstrate that. Hyacinthus wanted him to know he could take him out at any time due to the discrepancy in their Levels, and everyone watching knew it as well. No Level Two present here would match him in raw Status, even if the Takemikazuchi Familia were skilled in combat.

So he would go after the target who presented the biggest threat. The one that the other Level Twos couldn’t manage and thus they couldn’t use their numbers or tactics. The Level Three among them that had damaged his pride and stood in his way—his sister.

Lefiya was the highest Level among them. Even holding back, she could clear out swathes of the Level Ones and Level Twos without any problems so long as they didn’t surround her. If not for the fact that they were in a populated city, he suspected even that wouldn’t be a problem with a wide area of effect spell.

That made her the biggest factor in how the battle party progressed. Removing her first would be the highest priority, even if she hadn’t been the one who had injured him and forced him to retreat. Her falling meant that numbers could simply overrun them before the Ganesha Familia intervened.

That realization sent Bell into higher alert as he spanned the roadway below in search of him. If he went by rooftop then they would see him coming, but if he took the alleyways then he could get the drop on them. An ambush would guarantee that he could remove her.

Where is he? Back and forth his eyes ran until he spotted red. Hyacinthus had just emerged from around a corner with his blade drawn, gaze fixed onto Lefiya. Bell voice rang out. “Behind you!”

The next thing he knew his sister was pivoting while her face contorted in pain. Blood spilled onto the brick-laden road as her sleeve sported a wide gash in it around her upper arm. Whether it had been the warning, or she had heard it coming, if she hadn’t turned when she did that would have carved across her back from neck-to-hip.

But there was no time for rest.

Hyacinthus immediately began to follow through with the attack, angling the outstretched blade and then swinging it back the way it came in a single motion to run the sharp point across her chest. It only cut through the outer section of her coat as she bound backward on the leg that had supported her weight, putting distance between them. He stepped forward to close that distance with raw fury in his eyes.

Bell was already in the process of moving when he felt something on his back. Instinct screamed. He brought his Hestia Knife around in time for the ringing of steel to echo and sparks to scrape where it met with a blade that had been aiming for his tendons. “Miss Daphne!?”

The woman who had been commanding a portion of Apollo’s forces had come to face him herself. There was a shroud of some kind wreathing her in what he could only assume was some kind of enchantment spell. “You’ve caused enough problems! Just surrender!”

He didn’t have time for this. Bell pushed his strength into his Goddess bequeathed knife to parry the blade and then brought the other dagger around only for it to be intercepted by her own steel. Then she brushed it off and slammed the pommel towards his face. He barely managed to get his wrist up to deflect her underarm before stepping backwards.

She crossed the distance just as quickly and thrust the point of her sword towards him. Crimson sang as the adamantite dagger managed to parry it as he pivoted on his forward leg. Then he carried through the motion and attempted to deliver a kick with his hind leg only for her to skirt backward enough to avoid. Did her Agility increase?

“You’re making it worse for everyone!” Daphne continued, thrusting her blade and scoring grazing cuts between every five or six thrusts that tore into his shirt and flesh. “Cassandra and I tried running! We tried asking for help! Everywhere we ran he found us! Everyone we asked for help suffered for it! What do you think will happen to those people down there even if you get away!?”

He didn’t want to think about it as a whistle rang out. He couldn’t think about it as amidst the sparks he had to focus on that blade. But, at the moment that he thought he parried the blade and found an opening to strike back, a violet arch cut through where she had been before he felt his legs being taken from him. She had ducked down and swept his legs from beneath, leaving him on his back on the rooftop. “Ghhh!!

She pressed her foot down on his chest and held the blade in his face before he could get up. “He’ll burn their homes down just as he did yours. He’ll take them captive whether here or the Dungeon and use them to get to you. You’re going to join us one way or another, so just… stop.”

There was an almost pleading tone in her voice as she glared down at him, his chest rising and falling even though her heel was pressing down into his chest hard enough to keep him pinned there. There was sincerity in her tone. To fight was meaningless. To struggle was to hurt everyone around them.

Then he heard the pained cry of his sister and his eyes gazed towards her.

She was holding her arm that was bleeding. Her clothes sported new tears from which her Elven blood ran. Her face was bruised, lip split, and blood trailing down from the corner of her mouth. Even so, her lips moved as she tried to keep singing. “You are the master—

Hyacinthus moved to cut her down with a vicious slash that she avoided with footwork. Bell couldn’t quite explain how, but it seemed like her movements had shifted just a little bit. He didn’t know her Status, but it seemed that she could avoid his blade as long as she focused on evasion. “—archer. Loose your arrows—urk!”

Her lovely singing voice was silenced when his foot came up, a thrust like a lance that drove his heel into her stomach to interrupt her chant. She could avoid his sword if she focused on it alone, but that left her open to his other avenues of attack. Because if she didn’t focus solely on the blade then it could get her killed, which he recognized as her eyes never left his sword as she barely managed to avoid the next swing.

But then her legs gave out. She fell onto her knees and a breath escaped, carrying with it bile and blood. “Cough! Cough!”

Welf was holding off another group of Soma Familia members. Ouka was the same with some members of the Apollo Familia. Chigusa and Asuka were keeping guard of the two divines, their backs to the wall and the shield keeping them safe. Lili was standing on a box, talking with the same silver-haired man from the party with a look of hopelessness in her eyes.

No one would help her. No one could help her.

Thunder rumbled in his chest.

He gave into it as he twisted his body, accepting the point of Daphne’s blade carving a blood trail on his cheek as he raised the Hestia Knife up. The writing of the gods once more turned an angry hue of red as he shouted, “FIREBOLT!

The scarlet slash of flames birthed an explosion that rattled the rooftop as it swallowed the woman, sending her flying from the force of it. Freed of her grasp, he got to his feet and shot himself at Hyacinthus without a moment’s hesitation. “RAAAHHHHHH!!

Hyacinthus barely gave him a side-glance. Then there was a crimson streak as the blade with the providence of the sun found his flesh once more. Bell hit the ground in a tumble, sporting a new gash across his chest, his voice spilling out pathetically as he heard others calling out to him.

The Captain of the Apollo Familia then turned his gaze back on Lefiya and leveled the sword to her head. Her azure eyes glared at the man with the look of murder in them. He scowled at the sight. “Another unsightly face.”

He moved to thrust the sword—

“You look like shit.”

—and then he froze. Not by choice. But because his wrist was within the grasp of a newcomer that appeared on the field, an unyielding steel grip that offered no movement.

None of them saw him coming. None of them saw when he arrived. One moment the sword was getting ready to put an end to things. The next he was between them, his back to the Captain of the Apollo Familia while looking down on the Half-Elven Mage.

Mist..er…Be…te…” Bell heard her say from his position on the ground as Hestia hurried over with a potion in hand. “…W-Wh…

The Werewolf cast his gaze downwards as though he was looking down on something filthy lying on the road. “Pathetic. You came to help out this weakling and ended up in this state. I can only imagine the look that girlfriend of yours would have if she saw you like this.”

CRUNCH.

His cold words were followed by a loud, audible crunch as he tightened his grasp on Hyacinthus’ wrist. A scream followed. Steel clattered to the ground. He let go of the man before using that same hand to grab her by the shoulder and pick her up onto her feet.

“Captain ordered me to bring you back to face punishment for getting us involved in this mess.”

Bu…Bu—

He didn’t offer her a chance to refuse. Bell didn’t even see his other hand move, but all of a sudden his sister’s eyes rolled to the back of her head and she slouched in his grasp. Her staff fell from her grip and into that hand before he tucked her under his other shoulder.

Then he began to walk away.

Bell managed to find the ability to speak. “W-Wait!”

He stopped. Then the air turned hostile. It was a heavy atmosphere, like being trapped in a cage with a vicious wolf ready to rip and tear the next person who moved apart. No one dared to.

Hatred threaded his words. “If you’d just have grown some damn fangs and tore out their throats when they issued that challenge then I wouldn’t have to do shit like this. Don’t let me see you again, you damn rabbit.

Bell couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. Not until the man disappeared as readily as he arrived. Only then could he gnash his teeth together so hard he thought they would break.

His sister was gone.

Then there was a light that rose into the air and then erupted with a shower of colors. It was a Flare Gun. Movement happened as the members of the Soma Familia began to disengage and run.

“Lili!” Welf called out. Bell turned to see that she was going with the silver-haired man from before. There were tears in her eyes as she looked back towards him.

Then she was gone as well.

“Hyacinthus!” Miss Daphne called out next as the confusion that had settled over the battlefield began to wane. “The Ganesha Familia is on the way!”

“Bastard took the distraction with him!” Hyacinthus exclaimed. Then it made sense why the Ganesha Familia hadn’t been there despite the commotion causing problems for the public. They had numbers and used it to cause distractions elsewhere—even if they were caught and fined, the Apollo Familia could pay it.

Then, with his handsome face contorted in pain and beads of sweat lining his brow, his gaze fell onto Hestia and Bell. “Capture them!”

The remaining members of the Apollo Familia began to move in when the smoke erupted around them, a thick and colored plume that obstructed their vision. Bell fell something grab him and heard his Goddess squeak in surprise as the wind suddenly howled in their ears.

They were flying. “My apologies for the delay.”

Bell recognized her. “Miss Asfi… why are you…”

“Lord Hermes saw the commotion and sent me to retrieve you,” she said bluntly by way of an explanation. “He told me to drop you off wherever you wanted, whether it be in the city or outside of it.”

In other words, it was a chance to go wherever they wanted. If they wanted shelter, they could be dropped off at the Guild. If they wanted to leave Orario and run away, they could be dropped off past the gates. The wings of Perseus would carry them to wherever their hearts desired.

And yet…

The look of his Goddess as she stared down at his defeated form. The vision of his sister’s battered form being carried away. The look in Lili’s eyes as she departed. The faces of his friends who had come to his aid without a moment’s hesitation when he was in trouble.

Shame. Hatred. Misery. These emotions roiled in his chest along with the thunder and became a violent storm that raged within him as everything was taken from him. His home. His friends. His family.

No more running.

I understand, Bell.” Three words, spoken instantly with the softest and caring tone his Goddess had spoken in some time as her eyes met his. An unspoken message carried between them. Then she looked up to their savior and gave her instructions. “Take us to Apollo’s Manor.”

It was time to declare war.

[-Twilight Manor-]

Lefiya Viridis emerged from the office with her head hung low now that she had returned to the Twilight Manor.

She had been reprimanded for her actions by the Captain, due to getting involved in a scuffle between two Familia (or three considering the Soma Familia present as well). As a member of the Loki Familia, and the student of the Nine Hells, her actions represented them as a whole. Taking a side would basically be stating that whatever actions they took were endorsed by the Loki Familia as a whole, which was something that wasn’t acceptable—especially not at the moment.

They knew she knew that as well, so she had been asked why she still got involved despite that.

For the second time, she weighed the option of whether to just tell them the truth. That he was her brother, and she was defending him. It would not have been a full justification or even a solid excuse from the perspective of a Familia, but it would have justified her actions on a personal level better than anything else.

All it would cost was Bell’s attachment to his current Familia.

Like she had told him before, it was a conflict of interest having family in different Familia within Orario. Her actions today had all but proven that when she came to his defense. He could be used against them and so the only available options would be to either completely cut ties with him or bring him into the fold.

Lefiya had already tried the former. And she realized how bitter the taste of regret was the moment that she watched him nearly die because of her. She refused to ever do that again.

And the latter would involve a Conversion between the Hestia Familia and the Loki Familia. He wasn’t lacking in terms of Level, but the knowledge and experience that could be provided given he had been in the city for at best two months. She knew that some of the stronger members liked him, so he would probably be welcomed a bit warmly by them as well.

But she recalled the expression that he made when she propositioned him the first time. She recalled his words when she offered a chance for them to be family openly and without worry. He had all but said it then:

Lady Hestia has become family to me as well. I can’t abandon her.

Bell wouldn’t abandon her. Not when he had lost the home they shared. Not when someone else tried to take them from one another. Losing her first and only child would disband her Familia and leave her with absolutely nothing.

And Lefiya didn’t want to do that to either of them. Not to her brother who found someone else he could call family when she wouldn’t. Not when that Goddess had shown him nothing but concern even when it would have been easier to give him up.

But if she told the others then the decision would be taken out of their hands because he was that big of a liability. The Loki Familia was a lot more of a threat than the Apollo Familia ever could be. If they really wanted Bell to close a security risk, they would get him on the Captain’s orders—and she would be the perfect justification for doing that.

Their relationship being anonymous was the only reason things could be the way they were now. But that also meant that she could only protect him with her own strength instead of that of her Familia. And her strength had been found… lacking.

That man had been faster than her. They might have been the same Level, but she was a dedicated Mage from the time she gained her Falna and had focused on that since then. Her Status was catered to that end and the invisible base that made it up was focused on what made her a powerful caster.

The moment she entered into the melee range of someone on the same Level and had been focused on growing as a frontline fighter, she was in trouble.

She noticed a presence in the hallway and looked up. Her lips pulled back into a frown as she met the gaze of Bete. He was leaning against a wall casually with his hands behind his head.

“Don’t give me that look,” he said before straightening himself up. “You were too weak and ended up on your knees in front of an enemy because you were trying to protect that rabbit. You’re lucky that you only got off with a warning because you were a good girl before you got involved with him. Don’t push your luck.”

His warning given, Bete began to walk off.

Her fingers curled around her skirt. She gritted her teeth as she struggled to form words. But what could she say when he wasn’t wrong?

As much as she hated it, he wasn’t wrong.

Time and again the others had defended her whenever he called her a weakling. Whether it was when she botched the spell or when he compared her to Filvis being able to fight on the frontlines as a vanguard. Those words had comforted her, but he wasn’t wrong.

And she knew that. It was the reason she had practiced hard to learn Concurrent Chanting with Filvis. It was the reason she pushed herself to try to get a step closer to people on his Level. Yet, no sooner than she thought she was making progress, it had been proven to herself that it hadn’t been enough.

The moment she tried to protect her brother on her own she had failed.

She had been forced to kneel. She had been forced to watch as her brother once more got injured trying to protect her. She had been forced to watch as he laid on the ground bleeding in front of her, unable to move or speak.

There were no words to encompass what she felt at that moment.

That was when another person approached her after he turned the corner and vanished from view. It was a girl with long, black hair that was braided into a tail and crowned with a headband. She had hazel eyes that were partially obscured by the glare of the light reflected in the lenses as she approached with a staff in her hands.

“Umm… don’t take what Mister Bete said the wrong way,” said the girl softly. “I think that’s just his way of saying he cares.”

“Could have fooled me, Leene.”

Leene Arshe was a Level Two who doubled roles as a Supporter and Healer in the Dungeon. Apparently, Bete had brought Lefiya straight to Leene and told her to make the Half-Elf look presentable before she was brought before the others. Though she was a Level Two, she possessed the Treatment Development Ability on top of some potent healing magic. She was able to deal with the worst of the wounds before Lefiya had been brought to Lady Riveria and the others, though she still felt a little sore.

The apparently part was because she had only regained consciousness later.

“Still, it’s amazing you were able to keep up with the Captain of the Apollo Familia and take so few injuries,” Leene said, trying to salve her wounded pride. “I heard he led the Quest against the Goliath that earned them their D-Rank with the Guild.”

It only damaged it further because the only reason she hadn’t been cut down after that first slash was due to what happened. Despite the situation and the pain, a sense of calm had washed over her as something that felt like a flame burned in the lower back of her Status. Then, all of a sudden, his motions became more manageable… just enough for her to keep up with his sword if she focused on it, even while Concurrent Casting.

She could only guess that it was due to her Skill: Vow of Elcos.

It was a situational Skill that raised her attributes when working in tandem with certain individuals. She thought it had something to do with her Familia, but the name of Elcos belonged to a kingdom that had vanished long before the Age of the Gods. Fina had lived there with her family before fleeing the kingdom as it fell to the monsters with another boy.

His name was Argonaut.

But what did that have to do with Bell? She ruminated on silently until Tiona came running into the hallway. She knew the Amazonian called him by that same name, but she hadn’t really been focusing on that at the time. Her biggest concern had been the fact that her brother had been fighting a Minotaur when he was Level One.

And then she learned he went and picked a fight with an entire Familia when Tiona shouted, “Little Argonaut went and declared a War Game against the Apollo Familia!”


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 10 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 10: The Opening of the Second Act

I can still recall the screams. I can still recall the roars. I can still recall the smoke, the flames, and the terror the night that the Kingdom of Elcos fell. Monsters had been building in numbers over the years. But that night they overran the city’s defenses before anyone knew what happened. The castle that had welcomed refugees from all races warmly was decimated in the blink of an eye and the city around it was left to burn.

My parents were torn to pieces protecting me and so I survived. But I was trapped beneath the rubble, half-buried as flames crawled over the city. As others ran to escape the monsters all I could do was cry out. But the others could only hear the voices of their own kind, and the only two people who would hear the voice of a half-breed like myself were no longer there.

As I cried out until my voice was hoarse, I almost gave up and was ready to join my parents in the next life. That was when I heard the words that I never thought I would hear. They were…

‘Don’t worry. I will save you.’

—The Night Elcos Fell

[-|-|-|-]

Being kidnapped had been a novel experience for Lefiya.

Her trip to Melen had been a lot more… violent than she had expected. They had gone to investigate the Violas and it turned out Amazons from Tiona and Tione’s homeland had arrived as well. Then she had gotten tricked by their Goddess, Kali, to be used as bait to lure them into a battle to the death.

Her Familia had managed to resolve the situation. But once more it reminded her of her own limitations. She hated that feeling of being helpless and weak. And while none of them would blame her, she still felt it weigh on her heart.

That was why she had decided to go into the Dungeon today on her own to train. But, before that, she wanted to give her brother his treat before she forgot… except she realized that she didn’t know where he lived. His Familia was rather obscure in contrast to the Loki Familia, meaning that she would need help finding it.

However, she recalled that they shared a mutual acquaintance in Miss Ryuu. The Elven Warrior worked within the Hostess of Fertility that the Loki Familia frequented often as a waitress. She hoped that the Elf would be able to tell her where she could find him.

The restaurant was both rustic and modern for Orario, made of stone but covered in timber framing with an artistic depiction on the central pillar. It towered at least two-and-a-half stories tall and was connected to a nearby building that she presumed served as lodging for the women who worked in it or storage. Outside of it was one of the waitresses, the silver-haired young woman who was slightly older than her.

“Hello,” she said upon recognizing her. “It’s unusual to see members of your Familia here this time of the day. Did you want to try the morning menu?”

The Hostess of Fertility changed its menu depending on the day or evening. The menu in the day catered to civilians as they were the ones who were the most prominent while Adventurers were heading to the Dungeon for the morning rush. It was in the evening, after they had visited the Exchange and gained valis for their work, that they would change the menu to cater to the Adventurers.

“Actually, I was hoping to speak to Miss Ryuu?” she asked.

“Oh?” The Human looked her over with a curious glance before giving her a nod. “Sure, let me go get her.”

It was only fifteen seconds or so before Miss Ryuu emerged from the entrance. The cool demeanor she possessed was far more placid to Lefiya, although that might be because she had seen her when she was operating as an Adventurer. If not for that she wouldn’t be able to put the dots together.

“You wished to speak to me, Miss Viridis?”

She nodded. “Forgive me if I pulled you away from your work, but I wanted to ask if you knew where Bell’s Familia was located?”

The question was met with a moment of silence. “…If I may ask, why do you wish to know?”

“Since I had a spare Spirit Nut, I—” That was as far as she got before the Elven Waitress’ expression shifted from placid to mildly surprised, which was notable for her. Then two Catfolk peered out of the doorway, ears twitching as though they had heard something that caught their attention. Even the Human waitress seemed to have been frozen in place for a moment with an uncanny smile upon her face.

“I was not aware you held that kind of interest in Mister Cranel,” Miss Ryuu said. That was right around the time Lefiya caught onto the implication. The Elven Warrior was aware of what giving a Spirit Nut to someone would entail and she had seen them together on the 18th Floor. Unaware of their blood ties, it must have seemed like she was seeking to express her interest in him romantically—not helped by those rumors.

Raul was still a dead man.

“It’s not like that!” She insisted, fighting down the bile in her stomach at the notion. “Remember, he helped me back then on the 18th Floor, so I’m paying him back—not many Humans get a chance to taste something like that, right?”

“Ah-ha, that is true…” said the Silver-Haired Waitress abruptly. “They were really something special.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that until she recalled the Elven Warrior’s plans for her own. “Oh, she shared it with you.”

“And Chloe and Anya,” she said, her smile still somewhat unnerving. “Bell comes by here every morning around this time. If you wait until then, you can give it to him in person. Meanwhile, why don’t you tell us more about how you and Bell know each other—”

BOOM!

The sound of an explosion ringing out was familiar to Adventurers. So was the natural response of immediately preparing for combat as she reached for her staff reflexively while her senses began to heighten in alarm. That was when she felt the familiar tang in the air of Magic coming from where a thick, dark smoke rose into the air.

It was possible to tell when one was casting Magic due to the accumulation of magical power. It set the senses alight even before the spell took form outside of the body, or in the case of someone with the Mage Development Ability became visible as the magic circle amplified the effects. And in the aftermath of the spells performing their work the discharge of the magic left behind enough magical energy that the air was saturated enough to quaver in her eyes.

There were two options. The first was that a Mage was at work and had unleashed a rather destructive spell in the middle of broad daylight. But she doubted that was the case because that kind of power was unnecessary here. Not to mention it would be a large expenditure of Mind so early in the morning when most were heading to the Dungeon.

The second was that there were multiple casters at work, discharging their spells around the same time. That was more familiar to Lefiya, given one the Loki Familia’s methods of dealing with waves of monsters that were thrown at them in the Dungeon involved coordinated bombardment with their spells. The end results left so much ambient magic energy present that for a Mage it was palpable, not unlike this situation.

That should also be unnecessary, but conflicts between Familia were a lot more common than one would expect. The Ganesha Familia would act as the peacekeepers, but the time it took to mobilize them would usually leave them to arrive only after things had gotten to a certain level of trouble. The Guild would then be in charge of levying fees against the responsible Familia involved—especially if civilians were hurt in the crossfire.

Self-preservation kicked in for those without the blessing as they began to seek shelter and safety while a plume of dark smoke rose into the air. Fire damage judging from experience and the sound of the second salvo of spell fire. But Lefiya was still uncertain which Familia would be causing that kind of trouble in the same sector as the Guild.

Then Anya spoke. “Nyaa… isn’t that around where white-hair comes from?”

That was all she needed to hear for Forest’s Teardrop to find its way into her grasp.

[-Bell Cranel-]

Bell! Bell!

As he struggled for breath while lying on the stone-laden ground, Bell heard the sound of his Goddess calling out for him. Her voice was faint over the blood pounding in his ears, each racing beat of his heart leaving him to experience the sharp, pulsing pain from where the tip of the Solar Flamberge had cut into his body after parting his breastplate that had been battered and beaten by the Goliath.

Won over.

He had been thoroughly won over in the battle against the Level Three in front of him—Hyacinthus Clio.

They had been ambushed the moment he stepped out of the Church they called home. Their casters and archers had set their home to flames and left both him and his Goddess covered in soot and ash as they fled through the back. The first place he could truly call home since leaving his mountain village after the death of his grandfather, the place where he slept, ate, and lived with his Goddess over the last two months since becoming a Familia—becoming family—gone in mere seconds.

Every turn he took he was accosted by members of the Apollo Familia. Their intention was made clear from Miss Daphne and Miss Cassandra. They were forcing him into joining their Familia, with those two making it clear that even if he ran, he would be hunted down until they finally brought him back.

Even so, surrender wasn’t an option. Getting caught wasn’t an option either. Neither was acceptable because of what would happen. Not to him, but Hestia—his family.

Apollo had lusted after her once. He had the nickname of the ‘Phallus the Passionate’ amongst the divine. Here on the lower world, where her divine powers were sealed, Bell didn’t want to think about what he would do to her if he got his hands on her—either she would be kept captive to force his surrender and likely remain that way or she would be killed and sent back up to Heaven.

His only option was to fight. He could hold his own against other Level Two adventurers, even if there were a lot of them. The addition of what he thought were members of another Familia was a setback, but he thought that he would at least be able to get Hestia somewhere they couldn’t get to her.

Then Hyacinthus showed up and decided to initiate him into their Familia by force.

Bell had fought his hardest—he had used his fastest speed and both weapons in hand. Putting everything he could into a relentless rush, pounding at the pavement with enough leg strength to crack it as he kicked off the ground, starving himself for air as he exhaled with a battle cry, Bell lashed out with a flurry of attacks meant to overwhelm via speed what he lacked in strength.

It still wasn’t enough. Hyacinthus avoided them all. Even when he began shifting his footwork to change angles without a moment’s pause, his reward for his relentless rush was a song of steel and shower of sparks as his bequeathed knife from his Goddess never found flesh, and the knife born from surpassing his prior limits was rebuked by the sword that glowed with the radiance of sun and flame. Each interception sent vibrations up his arm, either from the shape of the blade or the strength behind it, driving pain into his limbs.

Bell was not slow. His speed was his best attribute. His Agility was the one thing he was confident in. But the difference in a single level had been enough to make all of that meaningless as the Captain of the Apollo Familia intercepted his efforts with contemptuous ease—grinning in the process as if to mock his efforts.

That was the difference between Level Two and Level Three.

That was why he was dragging things out. That was why he was using a single hand on a two-handed longsword, which would only benefit from his Strength. He wanted to make it clear the difference in power.

On some level, Bell knew that as well. But he couldn’t stop. Not when Hestia was on the line. Not when his family was on the line. So he pushed past his limits as much as he could, ignoring the pain that he felt deep within his bones and looking for so much as the smallest opening to end things even as he screamed out with the strength of his will—

“Are you done howling, Little Rabbit?”

—and then it was over.

Clink. Clink. Splat. Three sounds accompanied the blur of steel, a single fluid motion that defanged the rabid rabbit.

The first two were the scraping of steel-on-steel. His sword flowed to the left to redirect the knife made of adamantite from the Minotaur he’d slain to become a Level Two. Then in the same motion it flowed to the upper-right to rebuke the knife given to him by his Goddess, leaving his chest unguarded. The last was a diagonal slash accompanied by a sickening, wet sound that rang out over the sound of parting steel.

A hot flash of pain coursed through Bell’s body and a pained cry crawled from his throat. “AGGHHHH!”.

His weapon had to be a Superior weapon of some kind because Bell could feel flames within it. Though there were no burns that could be seen, no scent of charred flesh or burning fat, wildfire consumed him as it cut through his flesh, muscle, and into the bone itself. It was probably only by the orders of their God that it stopped there and hadn’t gone to the vital organs.

Hyacinthus wasn’t done. He stepped in, bringing his empty arm’s elbow into Bell’s throat. It cut off his air and would have crushed his throat if it had been just a little harder. Then he slammed his fist into his sternum to drive  it further into his solar plexus, hoping to rip his consciousness away from him—fortunately, it only knocked the wind out of him.

But that still left him on the ground, helpless. He couldn’t breathe with his diaphragm was spasming. He couldn’t speak and thus couldn’t cast a spell with his throat bruised. He had gone from the Rabbit Rush to being rendered completely docile in a single moment.

That was the difference of experience between them—one who had only been fighting against monsters for two months versus one who had been fighting against monsters and other people for years. That increased Status only made it absolute rather than advantageous.

There were no words to express the shame that washed over Bell at that moment as he laid there, tears streaming down his face in a slowly growing pool of his own blood as several sets of eyes were peering down on his defeated form.

There were eyes of concern from his Goddess who was calling out to him. Even after having their home burned down and everything they owned turned to ashes, it was the sight of him injured and bleeding on the ground that pulled the strongest reaction from her. He could hear her footfalls as she stumbled her way towards him while he was unable to shout for her to run, lest she be captured.

There were eyes of pity from Miss Cassandra as she stood on a nearby rooftop with a staff in hand. She must have been there to make sure he didn’t die from his wounds given her healing magic. He’d managed to fire off three shots of Firebolt with a single call of the spell and leave three of their Familia burned and injured, and she had managed to get them back up in seconds.

There were eyes of sympathy but conviction from Miss Daphne as she looked at him from the corner of her eyes, not making direct contact with him. Those eyes were instead fixed onto Hestia. There was no doubt they had Bell captive now, but it would only take her to grab the defenseless Goddess.

Then there were the eyes of jealousy and resignation from Hyacinthus as he approached with his blade in hand. “Even if you aren’t worthy of his love, I will fulfill my Lord’s will. You will become part of our Familia.”

Stand up! That thought permeated every fiber of his being. He had to stand before Hestia was taken. He couldn’t lose his family. Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! STAND UP!

Thunder rumbled in his chest. Blood escaped from his mouth as he forced himself to breathe and found the strength to get his arms beneath him. His fingers curled around his daggers as he raised his head, the lower half of his mouth covered in blood, and fixed his crimson eyes onto Hyacinthus.

The man stopped in his tracks for a moment. His lips curled into a scowl. “Such an unsightly face.”

Then he lashed out to kick him and Bell felt something break. Probably a rib or two as the impact sent him tumbling down the street further. Hestia said something but it was drowned out by another cough of blood.

“Your arms. Your legs. I’ll severe the tendons in each of them before having Cassandra close your chest wound so you don’t bleed out. Then… I will make sure to thoroughly carve into you that making such a face in front of our Lord is simply inexcusable. You will be domesticated before we present you to him, Little Rabbit.”

As he approached with the intention of doing so, Hestia moved to get in front of Bell with her arms held outwards. Bell also felt a familiar sensation beginning to leak from her that he did on the 18th Floor, the last time she bore witness to him being attacked. He also spotted Miss Daphne getting ready to ensure she didn’t go through with it.

The thunder in his chest intensified further.

BOOM!

That was when they heard the explosion nearby, muffled within it screams and shouts. It stopped Hyacinthus. It stopped Hestia. It stopped Miss Daphne. It drew every set of eyes to the entrance western section of the intersection as his senses began tingling from the presence of Magic like before.

Then his sister emerged with the final words of her song reaching his ears. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Her azure gaze fell onto them. There was a haunting chill within them as she spotted him. Then she immediately tilted her staff towards the one whose blade was stained with his blood.

Arcs. Ray.

Two words preceded a golden beam of light that shot out of the tip of her staff, howling as it rushed towards its target. It cut through the air, a beam roughly the width of a human torso sailing past Bell’s prone body and over Hestia’s short body, and straight towards his assailant.

Bell lost track as the Captain of the Apollo Familia vanished, but the beam apparently didn’t because it curved in zagging patterns like it was jumping between the walls, each pass scoring the surface until in the middle of the air there was a glint. Then he saw the man for a brief moment on the rooftop, down on one knee and swinging his sword towards the onrushing light.

It ruptured and a luminous explosion swallowed him on the rooftop.

“Hyacinthus!!” Miss Daphne called out, stunned by the development.

Then the smoke cleared as he swung his sword to reveal his immaculate white cape and uniform were charred and smoldering with entire sections missing. His unblemished skin was burned, and blood leaked from parts of his flesh where the force of the explosion had torn into him. There was an arrow in his Achilles Heel. “C-Cassandra!”

“Coming!” Miss Cassandra stepped forward with her staff in hand.

His sister reacted. He presumed it was because she felt the Magic more acutely or could hear her chanting more acutely than him, but she immediately aimed her staff at the woman while advancing towards him. She had every intention of silencing her before she could fix his injuries.

It was only because Miss Daphne immediately pulled her out of view that she didn’t, tossing her over to the opposite side of the rooftop. At the same time, an arrow buried itself into her shoulder with enough force that she was knocked onto the rooftop—her voice crying out as she clutched the wound. Hyacinthus gritted his teeth before kicking her over the opposite side where Cassandra had been pushed off, swinging his sword once to deflect a set of arrows aimed for him, and then joining them in escaping the marksman’s line of sight.

“Come on!” Lefiya’s hand grabbed Bell roughly and she pulled him onto her back. Then she grabbed his Goddess’s hand and ran them down the street until she spotted an alcove that could shelter them from view.

It wouldn’t far enough. He forced out the words. “There…others—”

“There were.” She emphasized that past tense as she dragged them over. “That’s how I heard they planned to box you in. Then I made sure they couldn’t and let the ones who were still conscious retreat with the ones who weren’t when I started casting for that shot.”

That explained the explosion earlier.

Once she made sure they were out of view, she crouched down and looked him over. Then she frowned in a way that didn’t suit her. “I thought he was an upper-tier Level Two, but if he’s a Level Three then I shouldn’t have held back so much. That sniper catching him in the leg was the only reason I caught him at that output… I won’t make that mistake again.”

It wasn’t an idle threat.

She had the Mage Development Ability, which meant she could actively increase the output and range of her spells and thus the damage she could inflict would scale exponentially. He had seen that firsthand back on the 18th Floor. That shot she fired before was a love tap compared to that because she hadn’t been intending to kill him if he had only been a Level Two—as anything she fired that was capable of catching up to and downing a Level Three would likely cripple or kill someone of a lower level.

As for the sniper, he could only assume it was Naaza.

Can’t you go day a without getting to trouble?” She murmured low enough for only him to hear as she grabbed the sides of his face and wiped away the tears that had come out. Then she began to sing. “Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.”

It was a soothing song. One that bathed him in light the color of the glittering sea, a blue veil decorated with glimmering stars. They sank into his flesh, and he could feel the wounds numbing. It was healing Magic. “You can—

“Not a word of this leaves this alley or I’ll take back everything I said on the 18th Floor,” she warned, her azure eyes narrowed as the light continued to wash over them. “Do you understand me, Bell?”

“Y-Yes…”

“I’d ask the same of you, Lady Hestia,” she said, without looking up at the Goddess. “I’m probably already in enough trouble getting in the middle of a conflict between Familia as is.”

“…Just heal Bell,” Hestia said softly. Her tone was a mixture of sadness and gratitude as she looked over them while dressed in her outfit to work for Lady Hephaestus. It had been covered in dust, dirt, ash, and blood. “Check his leg holster for potions as well.”

“We need to get you both somewhere safe, now,” Lefiya said as she did so once her spell ended, running her fingers along the holster until she found the potion and then splashed it upon him. “If that woman was a dedicated Healer with the Treatment Development Ability, he’ll be back on his feet soon. And now that they know someone capable of doing that to a Level Three will be with you, they’ll start attacking in more numbers and before the Ganesha Familia intervenes.”

He had heard they were supposed to be the peacekeeping force in Orario. Adventurers causing damage to the city would naturally draw them to the location soon enough. They had been planning to force his hand before that happened.

Lefiya’s ears perked up at that moment and she rose to her feet, her lips moving to begin another chant—

“Hestia! Bell!”

—he stopped her as he recognized the voice. “Wait, that’s not an enemy!”

She stopped as Lord Miach emerged from the backstreets. His sister stepped aside as the God of Medicine crouched down to look at him and see the empty bottle she had before nodding and then pulling out a second pair to splash over him as well. Made with the Mixing Development Ability, they were capable of healing on contact, and he felt the deep-seated injuries from the hunt vanish while Lord Takemikazuchi’s Familia joined up with them.

They had come to save him. Then when questioned on who Lefiya was, his sister simply said an acquaintance from the Loki Familia who saw him in trouble. They were all on the 18th Floor at one point or another, so no one questioned it. Then she suggested they left before they could be encircled, and no one complained as they started moving.

None of them were aware of the invisible observers that had been watching. Not the God of Travel and his Captain who possessed a myriad of magical tools. Nor the Goddess whose eyes could perceive the soul from a distance.

[-Twilight Manor-]

At the home of the Loki Familia, news of the attack on the Little Rookie had already reached them courtesy of Tiona. The Amazonian had gone out into the streets to get information about what was transpiring and had reported that the Apollo Familia was basically trying to hunt him down.

The news wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. Aiz had been to the dance and Loki had told them about the War Game itself being proposed and shot down. But Apollo wasn’t the type to give up apparently. Finn had already told Aiz not to intervene.

That was when the door opened and another member of the Familia entered the room, one with a rather nervous demeanor and huffing as though he had just run a great distance. “Pardon the intrusion, but I need to make a report about the current incident. It seems like there was a Mage attacking the Apollo Familia as well, and from the description of her appearance, spell, and magic circle… it sounded like Lefiya Viridis!”

Riveria looked up at that, her lips pursing as she put together the information. “She said that she was heading to the Dungeon this morning. If she happened to be around when the attack happened and knew he was the target, she likely intervened based on allowing them into the camp on the 18th Floor.”

Finn leaned back in his chair with a sigh before rubbing the bridge between his eyes. “…Bete, go bring her back. Now.”

Aiz rose to her feet for a second time at that. “But I can go instead.”

“We cannot afford to openly take a side and Loki told us not to interfere before she wandered off,” Finn stated before looking square at the Werewolf. If he had sent Aiz then she would have gone out of her way to help him and then bring her back. “Make it clear this is her acting on her own and bring her back—quickly.”

Why do I always have to babysit the weaklings…” The Werewolf scoffed as he rose to his feet, scratching his head before he made sure his boots were on properly. Then made his way to the window and pushed it open, allowing the morning breeze to enter.

He leapt out of it and took off running.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 9 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 9: Return to Orario

“Gentle. Wild. Tender. Chaotic. Magic is beautiful as we sing songs to weave spells. But we must never forget that Magic is dangerous. The Spirits bequeath to us what we desire, but never for a moment take it for granted—lest that boon becomes a bane.

I only understood what Mother meant by that when I first picked up a wand, sometime after our home fell. Though my brother picked himself up and smiled, I never forgot the blood that spilled from a wound born of my carelessness. And I swore to never let it happen again.”

[-|-|-|-]

The long night gave birth to a new dawn.

As Lefiya stepped out of the shelter provided by the Elder for Lady Riveria and her retinue, the morning rays reflected off the lingering ice to create beautiful refractions throughout the forest. There were still Spirits lingering about as well within the winter-land, basking in the unfamiliar chill.

“You’ve finally awakened?” She turned to see the sandy-toned hair with a wreath upon it. It was the diminutive Elf who reigned over the Spirit Forest. “The rest have already set out.”

“Good morning, Lady Lilo,” said the Half-Elf as she gave her a polite bow. “Do you know where the others have gone?”

“The one with the wooden sword has gone off with the rapscallion to see if they can figure out more about the ones who attacked us last night. As for the other, I have her asking questions to the other High Elves since they’ll likely be more receptive to her.”

She supposed that made sense. One good act scarcely changed deep-rooted perceptions. At best her actions last night only painted her as competent due to being the student of Lady Riveria. However, it was still progress, so she couldn’t complain. “Is there anything you would like me to do?”

The Elder Elf nodded. “Follow me.”

The Half-Elf did so and was led beyond the plaza and deeper into the forest, away from prying eyes. Their destination was a clearing within the brush, the short blades of grass crunching beneath their feet while surrounded by white-capped bushes. The nearby pond had a break in it that allowed for birds that didn’t mind the frost to perch themselves on the edge and then drink from the source.

“Now, then. You wished to learn of our Magic, did you not?” She raised her staff that glimmered with light, which beckoned forth one of the Spirits. This one had a bluish-white hue. “I will personally instruct you on the method.”

Her surprise was… palpable. “I-Is that alright? I know that only High Elves or those of specific families are taught.”

“In the past, when every life counted and every day was not promised, your standing did not matter so long as you were an Elf attempting to survive this harsh world and protect your kin. And given what happened last night we will have to return to that line of thinking to ensure the Spirit Forest remains protected. Besides, you know the ancient language, have the ambition to attempt to learn, and have performed deeds worthy of any Elf to perpetuate the bonds we share with the Spirits. You have at least earned the right to attempt to learn by my blessing.”

And considering the Spirit Forest was sacred lands and the one overseeing it was the equivalent of royalty, which was partially why she could speak to Lady Riveria the way she had without fear of reproach or consequence, it was the equivalent of stating that one of the highest authorities deemed her worthy. Not too dissimilar by the Nine Hells choosing her as her student. “Then please teach me well, Elder.”

“The first thing to understand is that words are meaningless to Spirits, especially these little ones with faint traces of sapience. It is simply noise to them in the same way the barking of a dog is to us. That is why I said the last time it would not be enough for you to merely recite an ancient pledge. It would not have worked, and you would have gotten frustrated, which the Spirit would sense being directed at it and responded to in ways that could be quite unpleasant to you and lethal to someone else.”

It would have been a worse repeat of last night, essentially. The Spirits had been agitated not because terrifying emotions had been directed towards them, but because they were in the general vicinity, and they didn’t know better. If they felt an Elf directly hostile towards them it would become a lot more focused, and while having a Falna meant that an outburst of their primordial Magic probably wouldn’t kill her outright, it would still strain the bonds of friendship between her kind and theirs.

“Then it isn’t the words, but the emotions tied to them?” guessed the Half-Elf as she recalled the moment they gathered under the Holy Tree. “The pledge is the verbal manifestation of the emotions we should approach them with and that tells them what we desire?”

She nodded. “Exactly. You have to sincerely mean it from the depths of your heart so that it can reach the Spirit. Even then it is not a guarantee since they can be fickle or non-responsive, hence why there are rituals to appease them beforehand. I am simply expediting the process while you have their favor and this applies mostly to Minor Spirits. Greater Spirits or those with enough sapience can understand words and be bartered with, though should you upset one of them…”

You’d likely be dead, Falna or not. She could guess that much considering the last time they had run into a Demi-Spirit it had made it clear just what kind of power one of those possessed. That might have been on the higher-end of things as far as the power-scale went for Spirits, but the general rule of not angering them was a solid one.

“The next thing to consider is the nature of the Spirit itself when you beseech them,” Lady Lilo continued. “Minor Spirits only understand simple concepts so they will often try to relate them to whatever they feel you desire of their wisdom. If you desire to attack something with a Spirit of Flames, you learn how to cast Burning Flare or Flare Burn or whatever variation of it the different forests use. The spells are themselves are limited but potent on their own as long as you don’t expect anything absurd like being able to summon a blizzard like that Elven Warrior they tell fairy tales about—he likely obtained that knowledge from a Greater Spirit.”

“I won’t,” she promised as the glimmer from the Elder Elf’s staff flew towards Lefiya and hovered there. The Spirit naturally followed it, more interested in it than her. But at least it didn’t float away when she shifted her head towards it.

“This little one is a child of water,” Lady Lilo began. “Water cleanses and nurtures all life. Thus, often we see it as the embodiment of medicine and spells that can be used to mend wounds. Release your magical power like last night but focus your mind on the child. Envision a moment where you wished that you possess it and hold in your breasts the desire for that Magic as you recite the words.

A moment when I wished to possess healing magic? That thought ran through her mind as she closed her eyes and held out Forest’s Teardrop, allowing her magical power to leak out. In her mind what surfaced in the void as she cleared her thoughts was… the memory of Miss Ryuu and how she possessed magic to mend as well as maim.

Unlike Lefiya, who could only destroy with her spells. If there was an obstacle she could blow it away, and if there was someone she needed to protect, she could only do so by obliterating the threat. But if they were injured and dying she could only rely on others, whether someone else being present or borrowing it through Elf Ring with a penalty of greater cost of Mind and extension of the incantation to the point where they may as well have been an Ultra-Long Chant.

Even then the Half-Elf Mage could do so little for her brother who fought to protect her while covered in blood. It was her duty to take care of her idiot brother if he got in over his head, not the other way around. To mend his wounds and ease his pains—so that he can one day stand on his own.

She fixated on that feeling of wanting to support and soothe her brother while she made her ancient pledge. “I beseech thee, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled. I beseech thee to sow the seed of thy essence within.

As the words flowed from her mouth like running water, Lefiya felt… strange. She opened her eyes to see the world around her was filled with rising tears that caught the sparkles of light as they drifted into the air.

It was the magic energy she was letting slip out. It was being changed in a way that felt foreign compared to the Magic granted by her Falna as the Spirit undulated in strange motions around her head. She reached out to it as she finished the pledge. “Let it be nurtured by the bonds we share. And bear the fruit of knowledge within me—so that bond can bloom for eternity.

Water and light gathered in front of her in the form of a small star, bright and radiant. She felt an impulse and gently cradled that light before bringing it to her chest. Then the words formed in her mind, and she found herself repeating them aloud.

Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.

That light encompassed her as it seeped into her body from head to toe. It felt cool like water washing over her from the inside, filling in every crease and crevice. Gentle and kind enough that it coaxed tears from her eyes as the light faded away. “Ahh…

“Take a deep breath,” said the Elder Elf as she gestured with her staff and wrangled the Spirit’s attention. “How do you feel?”

“I feel… strange, but touched,” Lefiya said, placing a hand on her heart. “It’s different from when I normally use Magic.”

“That’s because the Magic granted from your Falna suits you due to being born from your excelia, the experiences that shape you,” Lady Lilo explained. “The trigger for it is already within you and, as soon as it appears, all you have to do is recite the chant. Thus, it feels as natural as breathing. Everything else afterwards is learned.”

Magic that appeared with the Falna was benefited by the Falna. That was why it grew as one’s Magic Status increased, the effects and attributes strengthening it. The Mage Development Ability augmented it in different ways, expanding its capabilities even further.

“In the case of this Magic, it stems from something that you don’t fully understand,” she continued. “That’s why it feels foreign to you at the moment, whether that feeling is comforting or intense. That’s also why it’s a lot more difficult to manage than your normal spells. You’re giving up a lot of control and taking a bigger risk, but it can never be taken away from you even should your blessing be lost.”

She took a moment to process that information when a green light filled her vision once more. Shifting her azure eyes to the left revealed the curious Wind Spirit had come to her once more. It had come closer than yesterday, lingering so closely that she could feel the air around her shift when it passed by.

“If you’re up for it, why don’t you try to beseech that little one next?” suggested the Elder Elf.

“But I learned one spell already. Is that really okay?”

“Minor Spirits do not concern themselves with the concept of sharing and that Spirit personally danced with you, did it not?” Lefiya nodded to the inquiry. “That was because it felt the emotions that you were giving off at the time, similar to how the other Elves being cheerful drew the others to them.”

The Half-Elf Mage recalled she had been dancing with Filvis, holding her close and staring into her eyes. Her cheeks grew red when she considered the intimacy of the moment and her own intentions. Then she noticed the Wind Spirit bobbed closer to her and puffed out her cheeks. I am not sure how I feel about that.

“Since it is already fond of you, it will likely be receptive enough that I won’t need to coax it. Others will not be so easy. Take advantage while you can.”

Sensing that the childish-looking Elder Elf was correct, Lefiya repeated what she had done before in releasing her magical power while envisioning the wind. When one normally thought of wind, they thought of the fair breeze that caressed the skin and whispered in your ear. But, in her mind, it was something else entirely—wild, yet beautiful.

Miss Ryuu was so elegant like the gale, slipping through the grasp of whatever tried to tie her down, able to ascend to the sky without wings as if it were a second home or sweep away her foes. Miss Aiz was a gorgeous tempest, her wind a shield and a sword, capable of sweeping away anything that stood in her path.

Lefiya coveted that wind, holding it tightly as she recited the ancient pledge once more. Then she felt it. She felt the wind envelop her body, a light breeze that gently caressed her at first before gradually becoming a gale that shook the frost-laden foliage around her and steadily grew more and more intense that she almost feared it would take her into the sky.

“Don’t let it run wild, whelp!” she heard beyond the gale. “It’s your Magic. Contain it and send it upwards!”

It was easier said than done. How did one contain the wind? Something so inherently free that it slipped through any crease or crevice? The answer was…with itself.

That’s right. The wind was not only gentle but harsh. It could be a light breeze or a gale that swept away all else. Ever shifting in form and intensity, the only thing that could contain it was itself. I need to twist it tight!

She gathered the wind. Not with her hands but her will itself, guiding her magic power that the Wind Spirit stirred to encircle itself. She couldn’t let it run wild, so she bound the wind tighter and tighter, listening to its howl intensifying as it struggled to break free.

And in those howls were birthed words that came to her lips as she seized control.

Answer my call, winds of the forest. Obey my will and tear apart our foes— She forced the wind to twist itself tighter and tighter until she could unleash it into the sky.Gale Blast!

Constrained wind sailed into the air before coming undone. The magical power that had been turned into raging winds came unbound into empty space and then scattered. The result was a fierce gale that shook every nearby tree free of its ice and frost, stripping more than a few of their leaves that were helplessly caught in its wake and now drifted down.

Haa… ha…” She was left panting as she collapsed onto her knees, staring up into the sky. She felt far more exhausted than she should. More so considering the little Wind Spirit circled her with what seemed to be excitement, a stark contrast if there ever was one.

“Magic with the intention of doing harm is a lot more unstable and requires your focus to bring under control than one meant to heal,” lectured the Elder Elf as she slowly came over. “One little slip and an Ignis Fatuus is almost inevitable… well, had you taken a moment longer I would have wrested the Wind Spirit from you to prevent that, but a little fear isn’t a bad thing to instill in youngsters so they know better than to take it for granted.”

She’s about as merciless as Lady Riveria when it comes to Magic, isn’t she? Lefiya belatedly realized. She may look like a child, but beneath that innocent veneer was someone to be feared. If Lady Loki called the Nine Hells a strict mother, then Lefiya imagined that she would be a stern grandmother.

But she couldn’t deny the lesson would stick. She knew the wind could be devastating in how the others used it, but they had control and that wind had never been directed at her. Magic that was wild and untamed from even before the Age of Heroes, meant to slay monsters that spawned from the Dungeon without the Falna.

Her respect for those ancient mages grew even more.

“Thousand Elf,” Lady Lilo said firmly and proud, addressing her by the title bequeathed to her. “I recognize both Her Highness’ words and your determination. So, with my blessing, take our culture, our Magic, and our history with you. And never forget that so long as a drop of our blood flows in your veins and you bear our pride, you are an Elf.”

She felt a swelling in her chest at that and responded with a cheerful, “Yes, ma’am!

After a few minutes to compose herself, Lefiya made her way back to the plaza. The other High Elves were about and making arrangements to return to their homes, distant forests that dotted the land. The events that transpired here would linger on their lips and from what she could perceive the Elder Elf was giving them instructions to carry out when they arrived.

However, to her surprise, one of those High Elves approached her. It was a woman who looked relatively… well she would like to say older. But considering how their races aged differently and the differences from an ordinary Elf like her mother, she couldn’t particularly say how old. Older than Lady Riveria, but younger than the Elder that looked like a child.

“May I help you, my lady?” Lefiya responded with mild caution mixed with politeness out of respect for her presumed station.

To her surprise, the High Elf bent her knees outward while placing one foot behind her. Her fingers held out her dress and she inclined her head as she spoke. “Allow me to express gratitude for your actions last night, child of our forest. I greet you humbly, as one who hails from the heart of Wishe.”

A momentary shock ran through the Half-Elf at the realization that she must have been one of the High Elves that hailed from the forests of her homeland. She hadn’t really considered that one of them would be in attendance given her own preoccupation, but Wishe itself was renowned for producing Elves who possessed high levels of magical power even without the Falna. As Magic could only be obtained from the Spirits without the grace of the divine, of course they would be in attendance at the Spirit Festival.

In haste, she replied with the same courtesy. “Forgive me for not recognizing one of my own. I am honored to be in your presence and apologize for any discomfort the events of last night might have caused you or the others of our forest in attendance.”

The high-born Elf graced her with a smile. “You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to bear witness to not only Lady Riveria’s presence, but also the knowledge that one of our own serves as her apprentice. It will make for a delightful tale to regale those who were unable to attend the festival this time.”

So she was the only one who came from Wishe this time, Lefiya realized while keeping her head bowed. “Will you be departing now?”

“Yes, my escort awaits me at the entrance of the Spirit Forest, but…” The woman brought her hands to the Half-Elf’s face and gently raised it so that she could look her in the eyes. Her eyes were a familiar shade of magenta. “Should ever find the time to return to Wishe, please do. I am certain your mother would love to hear of how talented you have become.”

Unsure of how to respond as the High Elf turned and departed, Lefiya considered her words. Then she realized that she had never told anyone here that her mother was the source of her Elven heritage. Then again it might just have been due to the preconception of beauty among their races.

Elvish beauty was considered the closest to the Gods and Goddesses on the lower world. Even then some would argue they were able to match them, such as Lady Riveria. Elven women were often sought after by other races for this reason and, while Humans could bear children with any of the other races to result in one that inherited traits from both, it was often the fathers who sowed the seed—so to speak.

However, it did remind her she should send a letter to her mother to let her know how she was doing and that she had reconnected with her little brother. Though the woman had only met him for a few hours at best, she saw in him their father’s eyes and there were moments where Lefiya knew that she still regretted not taking him in. His life wouldn’t have been easy being a human on the outskirts and Lefiya believed that he was happier living with his grandfather, but it had been a choice she took from both of them because of her petulance at that age.

Though she would leave out the situation on the 18th Floor—obviously.

[-Orario-]

It took roughly the same time to get back to Orario as it did to get to the Spirit Forest when they were finally done.

The trip back was thankfully uneventful, but silent as Lefiya mused on her new Magics and what she should do with that knowledge. Lady Riveria had abstained from teaching her them due to some very solid reasons considering she still had much to learn and would likely not want her practicing them before she perfected her own spells through the Falna and maximizing their potential with the Mage Development Ability.

But, at the same time, she couldn’t just sit on what she had just obtained. Even if it couldn’t benefit from the Mage Development Ability and thus would never be as capable in terms of raw output, it was still Elvish Magic. I should treat it like a hobby for now and practice it during my free time then.

“I’ll need to head to Loki to report our return,” Lady Riveria stated once they all finished turning over their mounts to the Ganesha Familia. “However, it would leave me feeling rather upset if I didn’t see you girls receive a proper reward for what you’ve done. And since Royman can’t be bothered to do so… take these.”

She presented them each with Spirit Nuts. They were fruit borne of the Spirit Tree, an event that occurred once every 30 years, making them among the rarest of delicacies. One only known to their people at that.

“Is this really okay, Lady Riveria?” Lefiya asked. “Aren’t there people who you wanted to give them to?”

“I only needed two to start with but some of the other Elves were insistent,” she said. “Since they can be used as a panacea for illnesses, I wanted to give one to a dear friend of mine to get better. As for the other, I believe I will give it to her daughter to do with as she pleases. She wanted to come with me, but circumstances wouldn’t be so kind to her. The rest will just be wasted for me, so take two of them each.”

“I have no personal use for them, but a dear friend of mine may like to have the chance to try them,” Miss Ryu said as she took the offering of royalty. “Thank you, Lady Riveria.”

As Lefiya and Filvis did the same before taking a moment to relax at a café on the Main Street, the pair silently pondered what it was they were to do with the two they each possessed.

Lefiya figured she would give one of hers to Bell, much in the same way Miss Ryuu and Lady Riveria would their friends. It was so he would have the chance to experience one of the pleasures known only to their people. It would be one of the little things she could do for him as an older sister—affection in the form of storge.

Her other choice would not be so innocent. “Filvis, would you like to split this one with me?”

The Elf who bore the title of Maenads nearly spilled her tea in an undignified manner as she registered the words of the Thousand Elf. “L-Lefiya… aren’t those also supposed to increase the feelings of affection between the two who eat them?”

In the fairy tale story based around the Holy Tree, the greedy girl who reformed shared a red nut that grew on the tree with a boy from the village. It made their love even stronger, and they were married by the end. It was the sort of thing that gave the story an ending befitting of a fairy tale.

Lefiya was certain she was in love with Filvis. But she also knew that those feelings may not be returned. At the very least she wanted it to be known, rather than leading her on.

“I know,” confessed the Half-Elf, a crimson blush spreading on her cheeks as continued. “After the dance, I… wanted to make my feelings clear that I’ve started seeing you as more than just a friend. Even if you don’t share that sam—”

“No, I…” The raven-haired Elf trailed off while looking away from the pair of azure eyes. “I’m sullied, inside and out to the point I’m used to being covered in blood. I don’t want to dirty you in that way, Lefiya.”

“You’re the most beautiful person I know, inside and out,” Lefiya told her. Whether it was covered in blood or standing valiantly in her defense, her affection for the woman in front of her did not change. “There is nothing you can do to sully me because you aren’t sullied at all.”

“…Lefiya…” Her breath caught in her throat as she looked down at the offering for the confession. “I intend to share one of mine with Lord Dionysus. But the other I want to share with you, both to acknowledge your feelings for me and… mine for you.”

She recognized the implication. Filvis returned her affection, but she also loved the one who graced her with his blessing dearly as well, despite knowing that it would likely be unrequited due to their natures. The divine often loved their children, a form of agape that could not be fully understood because of their nature. It was impossible to truly judge their affection by the standards of those of the lower world.

“Even so, how I feel won’t change,” Lefiya said in response. “If your feelings for him are returned, I’ll cheer for you. If they aren’t, I’ll cry with you. Even if I don’t hold that sole place in your heart, I still treasure you dearly, Filvis.”

Then…” She took the offered fruit from Lefiya and gave her one of her fruits in response. It was an exchange of affection in the form of eros, an affirmation of their feelings for one another. They cemented it upon partaking of the fruits that were the crystallization of the Spirits’ bond with their people.

And, at that moment, Lefiya couldn’t be happier. Her feelings were at least acknowledged. She hoped they would be reciprocated in full someday but, for now, it felt like she was floating on air.

[-Bell Cranel-]

Around the same time, Bell Cranel emerged from the depths of the Dungeon. It couldn’t have been a week, and yet he felt as though he was seeing the sun for the first time in a month or longer since he had seen the sun or felt the breeze of the wind on his skin. They had done it.

They had finally returned from the 18th Floor…

He knew they would need a few days to recover. But, hopefully, after that everything would go back to normal. He hoped they could all laugh and cheer at their fortune, and maybe even celebrate somewhere nice.

…Needless to say, he never expected they’d be going to war.

[-Arc 2 End-]


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 8 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 8: The Pride of Elves

“Mother told me of why the Elves danced and sing. Even when others would fear for their lives in this land where the monsters roamed, the Elves would sing and dance within their forests. Not because they felt safe or protected. But because the Spirits were there and felt what we felt. No matter how great our fear and sorrow, what reached them must not be that which we wished to run from—it needed to be that we wished to be passed on.

For they will live beyond even the oldest of Elves and carry our prayers to the future.”

[-|-|-|-]

The defensive spell woven by the melody of Lady Riviera was all that saved the majority of the High Elves that were mingling amidst the Spirits, so lost in merry and mirth that it was only once the dome went up that they realized that something was amiss.

That was when at least ten Humans burst through the trees that ringed the plaza where the little lights from before that had been dancing now bobbed in erratic motions that highlighted their confusion. Armed with weapons and shouting of plunder and murder, they moved with motions that were beyond the norm for their race as they rushed towards the barrier. There was no doubt in Lefiya’s mind—they all had Falna.

That was when the wind billowed as a gale ran past each one, a blur of motion almost difficult for even the eyes of a Level Three to keep track of. The vicious, brutal sound of broken bones and shattered skulls reached her ears. The corpses fell one after another, legs going limp midstride as if they were puppets that had their strings cut with glistening blood leaving their mouths and the gashes where the skull had been split open.

Then came the confused, terrified screams as the Elves spotted the corpses while the one responsible stood outside of the barrier with a wooden sword in hand.

The Elder Elf looked absolutely aggrieved at the presence of the bloodshed and death before demanding, “What’s going on?”

“We had thought something was amiss with the number of monsters, but this was more than I expected,” Lady Riveria said before addressing Miss Ryuu. “Lyon, what’s the situation?”

“From the looks of it a criminal Familia intends to launch an assault upon the village,” the Elven Warrior stated factually. “Wave tactics with forces composed of what seem to be rearguards of Level Ones while the Vanguards are at least Level Two. I eliminated the first group that launched the initial assault, but I picked up on more along with the sound of Wyvern snarls deeper in the forest.”

Tamers as well,” Lady Riviera muttered. “That’s less of an assault and more of an invasion.”

That would explain where the rest of the monsters came from, Lefiya mused as she awaited instructions. The joy from before was replaced with anxious tension. Not for merely herself but for the Elves around them. Someone who just received a Falna inherently gained better attributes, such as higher perception and baseline strength. Level Twos would tear through this village with absolutely no problem.

“Ah, the spirits are perturbed!” Lady Lilo noted as the dancing lights from before were moving agitatedly now. The air around them was far more oppressive and dangerous, like a terrified animal ready to lash out at the nearest thing in self-defense. If they started attacking then it’d force them to fight on multiple fronts.

“Elder, please keep the Spirits calm as best you can to avoid them becoming hostile,” the Nine Hells spoke in the authoritative tone befitting one of the commanders of the Loki Familia. “Everyone else, gather around the Holy Tree so I can shrink down the area I need to protect you all. The expenditure of Mind to keep it up over such a large area is inefficient even with my ability. As for the enemy, I’ll leave it to you girls to eliminate them.”

Lady Lilo’s eyes narrowed at that, even as her staff danced with radiant light as she tried to calm the Spirits that were around the tree while the High Elves hurried towards it to the point of nearly tripping over themselves. “You’re sending the whelps out to fight alone!?”

“I have no other choice because none of you can defend yourselves,” Lady Riviera said bluntly. The politeness from before was shelved for the sake of expediency. “With Magic it would be possible to fend off the monsters and even Level Two Adventurers with proper tactics. However, from how every one of you reacted, not one of you has even the basics of Elven Combat Training, do you?”

Her inquiry was met with silence. Those gathered there were from higher society among the Elves. They had no need for protecting themselves because someone else would be protecting them, as the Royal Knights would protect her. They had been relying on the secrecy of the Spirit Forest and the wards that should have been in place to keep them safe.

The fact that they managed to get past them without even setting one off means that there’s another problem as well, the Royal Elf thought to herself before continuing. “That makes every last one of you liabilities in this situation. And, as royalty, allowing you to die here or losing the Spirit’s favor will deal such a severe blow to our race that we may never truly recover. So yes, I’m sending these girls out to fight in your place to avoid that happening.”

The Elder’s response was to chide her right back. “Now you pretend to care about us? How many of our children have spilled their blood inside of the Abyss when the lid had already been shut? They leave their homes, unable to come back after binding themselves to those fickle Gods that dictate how they live! Even if they don’t die in that meat-grinder they never return to their forests to defend them!”

It wasn’t as though Lefiya didn’t understand her emotions, nor could she say that the Elder Elf was incorrect. When you became an Adventurer, you became bound to your God or Goddess. They bequeathed their blessing, and they can just as easily take it away by sealing one’s Falna. You were literally placing your freedom in the hands of whatever deity you swore yourself to, which was why she had been worried when she heard Bell had gone to such an obscure Familia.

He had been lucky, all things considered. Many weren’t.

Then, once you became an Adventurer in Orario it became a lot more difficult to leave the City unless you jumped through several legal loopholes or were on missions for the Guild. Lady Riveria managed to get them permission to leave because of her status, but that was only four of them. Lady Loki also intended to arrange for a trip to Melen and even she mentioned she would have to leave half of them behind to avoid the city losing too many of its higher-tier Adventurers.

In addition, all the children born to a member of a Familia become members of said Familia to avoid complications like conflicting loyalties—as she mentioned to Bell. Had the Zeus Familia not been wiped out then Bell and she would likely both be made members of the Familia because of their father. The forests of their ancestors did not matter as they would likely never see them—not even the outskirts for a half-blooded Elf such as her.

Even they didn’t die to the Dungeon, their numbers would inevitably shrink and so too would those who followed Elven culture. For one who had lived for centuries and could see the pattern from above, it was as if she was watching the end of her people. And there was nothing she could do about it.

Lady Riveria responded to the accusation with a calm voice. “…Elder, you are not the first to chastise me for leaving my forest. Nor what it has wrought for our race. I know full well many have chased after me and perished for the attempt. However, much as how a comrade of mine has taken it upon himself to bear the mantle of hope for his race after they lost their faith, for both the good and ill that it brings, I too have chosen to do the same. I can’t claim to be aiming for something so ambitious, but at the very least I hope to break the isolation that binds our people.”

Lady Lilo went silent even as her teal eyes glared at her. She wanted to hear it. She wanted to hear her justification for abandoning what should have been her duty to stay within her forests rather than enter into the outside world and encouraging so many others to do so.

“We may stay safe in our forests, but by staying isolated we also suffer. We never make allies who would aid us in our darkest hours. We remain stagnant and so we leave ourselves blind to our flaws and weaknesses. We cling to beliefs and prejudices of other races that are wrong because nothing is there to challenge them, such as one’s blood being inferior due to mixed heritage.”

The Half-Elf felt the gazes on her but said nothing as she awaited her instruction. She already knew that. She already knew from the day that Lady Riviera had taken her as her apprentice what she intended. Why her mentor had ensured her title would be that of ‘Thousand Elf’ when she reached Level Three.

Lefiya wanted to live up to those expectations.

“I’ll deal with the majority of the enemy combatants,” Miss Ryuu said. “If the other two focus on the Wyverns, we should be able to deal with them without any reaching the plaza or the Holy Tree.”

“Sorry to put the burden upon you girls,” Lady Riveria said to the three. “Now go.”

[-Deep Forest-]

The vicious, barely constrained snarls stood out to the Half-Elf’s ears as she ran through the darkness.

Her senses were already sharpened by the danger. The famed perception of the Elves and her own enhanced senses due to her Level was more than capable of allowing her to navigate the dark forest where the dense canopy obscured the natural light. The familiarity with the monster native to the Deep Floors of the Dungeon made it was easier for her to track her target as well, giving her an idea of the distance and direction.

She spun on her heels and then darted towards the right where the sound emerged from, a chant gracing her lips as the magic circle with its golden hue springing up beneath her feet and glided along with her pace. “Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer…

Filvis hastened her own steps, darting out in front of her. Her Agility was higher than Lefiya’s, likely because she often acted as a vanguard, so being able to dash and disengage was essential. That additional speed allowed her to rush forward with her short sword in hand as the sound of Human voices accompanied the source of the snarl.

Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy—” The monster came within view within moments, behind one-third quarters cover of a thick tree with its bark gouged from the sharp talons that were attached to a bluish-purple draconic creature with scales that glistened in the light of magic-stone lanterns as two Humans attempted to uncover a muzzle on its mouth.

She came to a stop and finished the formation of the spell along with the chant. “Arcs Ray!

Light burst forth from the magic stone within her staff, Forest’s Teardrop. The golden beam shot forward, its radiant glow briefly illuminating Filvis’ fleeting form as she followed to keep pace with it. There was enough time to see the Wyvern rear back at the light reflecting in its red eyes and spread its forelimb wings before her spell connected, the beam rupturing and tearing the monster asunder.

The surprised sounds of the Humans were cut short as Filvis’ blade flowed in two silver arcs, each one leaving splashes of crimson hanging in the air as the throats of the men were cut instantly. The blood splashed over the blue and gold hues of her outfit that matched her God rather well, some droplets even decorating her cheeks. Her eyes then turned back to Lefiya before she turned away.

She pulled out a handkerchief for her to use. “Here.”

Filvis shook her head. “I am used to the blood. And right now we need to keep up. That woman volunteered to deal with the criminals, but I cannot allow her to do everything.”

Lefiya’s ears picked up short, hard sounds and recognized what she meant. Wood against flesh and bone, followed by bodies collapsing. Even the sound of scales shattering from the blunt force of the impact. The sound then came from the northwest and then the west, the direction shifting after each set of three-to-four impacts.

She must be Level Four, minimum,” she heard Filvis say beneath her breath. And Lefiya found herself agreeing with her assessment as Miss Ryuu took out more of the Tamers and their monsters in that direction. She was fast—faster than either of them by a very wide margin that could only be the equivalent to both a Level and the compounded Agility that made up the invisible base.

The Half-Elf had known the woman was talented the moment she had seen her attack the Violas. But it was kind of terrifying how efficient she was in dispatching the brigands who had come to despoil the forest and the monsters accompanying them. Not to mention she was a master of Concurrent Chanting, capable of driving off multiple attackers and fending for herself despite being attacked from every possible angle while calling forth immense magical power that could match an upper-tier Mage without a magic circle from what Lefiya recalled on the 18th Floor.

She was clearly one of the best Elven Adventurers in Orario. Yet, before a little while ago, she had never known that, despite realizing that she was the very same Elf who worked in the Hostess of Fertility now that she had plenty of time to see her face uncovered and hear her voice. What were the circumstances that left her to settle for such a life?

Lefiya wanted to know. There had to be a reason that she lived a life in obscurity. But to bring that up was most likely crossing boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. Still, I wonder why Bell knows her well enough that she came to save him with the rescue party?

“Lefiya,” Filvis called out to her, drawing her azure eyes to her crimson ones. “I can hear wings beating from above.”

The Half-Elf diverted her senses upwards and could do the same. Multiple wings beating at a frantic pace and snarls as the air hissed. So far they had managed to take them out before they could get airborne, but it seemed some were ready to fly towards the plaza to unleash their hailstones of flame. She had to intercept them. “I’ll take care of the ones above—”

“And I’ll take care of the ones below,” the Elven Magic Swordsman finished with a nod. Then she moved, delving into the dark forest to take care of the rest. They had managed to cover the majority of the forest now, so these should be the few that remained between them.

Lefiya pulled out a magic potion to replenish the expended magical energy as she ran to get ahead of the wings flying above. Her mind that had been gradually growing heavier from the continuous spell casting cleared. Then she began a new song, her melodic voice ringing out in the dark. “Proud warriors, marksmen of the forest. Take up your bows to face the marauders…

There was a tree ahead of her that was moderately larger than the surrounding ones. Its upper limbs reached beyond the blanket of leaves. It would serve as a foothold as she darted up it while continuing her chant. “Answer the call of your kin and nock your arrows. Bring forth the flame, torches of the forest—

As she reached the upmost limb, she steadied herself as she held out Forest’s Teardrop. Her enemies were in sight, flying closer to the plaza. Her magic circle pulsed as particles of reddish Magic drifted upwards with golden light as she built up her magical energy until her body thrummed, the spell primed for release. “Release them, flaming arrows of the fairies. Fall like rain, burn the savages to ash—Fusillade Fallarica!

The particles of flames ignited as they gathered together, weaving into flaming stars that streaked forward towards the airborne units while leaving a gleaming trail behind. Though they were kin to them, wyverns lacked the same ability to simply absorb the flames that Valgang Dragons had on the 58th Floor. And because they were surface-born they were even weaker than those counterparts she had already faced off against—let alone the Wyvern King, which had forced her to use a maximum output Arcs Ray as the two did battle in freefall.

The flaming arrows burst into scarlet explosions. Her Magic immolated the wyverns without mercy, leaving only dust mingled with ash as the mediocre-sized magic stones that gave them life were obliterated in the process. It fell like snow over the expanse, a light coating added to the dark-green hues that would be swept away by the morning wind.

Resting her hand against the narrowed trunk of the tree crowning the immediate surrounding canopy, Lefiya strained her eyes and ears for any more signs of foes to be dealt with. But none were within her senses. She let out a sigh and allowed the tension to bleed out of her body…

ROOOOOOOOAAAAAAARRRRRRRR!!!

Then the night shook as a roar birthed from the maw of something truly menacing rang out. Her balance was nearly compromised, and she was forced to cling to her perch with her free arm as she peered out towards the source of the familiar sound. It was one she had heard on the 58th Floor too many times to count. “I-It can’t be…”

Her fears were unfortunately well-founded as a pair of pinons burst from beyond the edge of the trees into the air, wings unfurling into the sky. A single beat of them rattled the leaves at the edge before the massive body made of corded muscle and covered in red scales brought the monster into view. It was easily ten meters in height, but with its wings spread it cast a deepening shadow as it took flight over the canopy.

Worse, she felt that something about it was wrong. The closest feeling that she could relate it to was an Irregular of some kind. Something above average even for its kin was lurking here on the surface world, drawing closer as an ominous glow slipping from between the rows of fanged teeth. Her heart froze when she realized what was going to happen.

Then fire leapt from its maw in a stream so hot that the air screamed as it came rushing in her direction. Not for her personally, but because she was between the dragon and its target—the Holy Tree. Swallowing her vision, the flames would have consumed her if she hadn’t let go and allowed for gravity to drop her to the floor of the forest even as the flames turned the sky into an image of Hell.

The landing was rough. Not enough to actually harm her, but the discomfort was notable. It was still better than being turned to ash considering her Endurance was nowhere near that of other members of her Familia and so she couldn’t take a hit of that nature head-on and remain whole. “Nhh….”

“Lefiya!” came from some distance away, drawing her eyes to the approaching figure of Filvis. The Elf came to a stop by her side, hovering over her with a hand extended to get her on her feet. “Are you okay?”

“Ah… ah, yes.” Her voice trembled a little as she accepted her hand and rose back up. Then she noticed the smoke filling the air and the burning leaves falling from the sky. The beautiful forest around them was burning down.

There was a rush of air as the Elven Warrior appeared by the both of them. “Are you unharmed, Miss Viridis? Miss Challia?”

“Yes, somehow,” she said. “But where did that Dragon come from?”

“My apologies. I failed to deal with the leader of this band before he unleashed that monster. Apparently, it’s an irregular that they fed other monsters to while keeping it sedated, all so they could unleash it. Then once it got loose it consumed him and took flight.”

Consuming others of its kind for their magic stones, compounding its own power, that Dragon was easily on par with those on the Deep Floors. It should be of a caliber that Lady Riveria could handle on her own, but not while she needed to protect the others. “We need to hurry and get back!”

[-Spirit Village Plaza-]

The village was burning.

Flames were lapping at the wooden homes lovingly carved to endure the ages. The smoke filled the air with its acrid fumes and the crackling of the blaze padded out the despondent cries of the Elves. To those who knew of the burning of their lands by Rakia, what laid before them now was nothing more than history repeating itself.

Riveria could only frown as her barrier flickered. The moment the flames had met with it, she felt it strain and threaten to buckle under the weight of what she could only assume was a Flare Breath. That and the roar from before gave her an idea of what had transpired from her own experiences. It was manageable…

However, the sound of the Spirits screaming foretold of a different problem. Though they may be weak compared to the Great Spirits, their fear, panic, sorrow, anger could manifest in the form of primordial displays of Magic. If the Demi-Spirit, which had enough sapience to weave Magic into spells through song, was directing its power towards a fixated target, then this was simply lashing out at everything around them.

It wasn’t something she could deal with on her own. Eliminating them would be the same thing as if she allowed the flames or the monsters to do so. The only one who could do something would be…

Clack…

A staff clattered to the ground as the Elder Elf observed her home being put to the torch. Its baleful light reflected in her eyes ravenously consumed the hope within as the cries of the Spirits rang out. The rampant flames would consume everything at this rate. “It’s over now… it’s all over now…

“You need to stand, Elder,” the Royal Elf said. “You’re the only one who can quell the Spirits right now. If you don’t then it really will be over.”

The ground shook as the Dragon descended at the edge of the plaza, looking over the rest of the Elves trapped within the protective circle where the ground was scorched black. Its gaze fixed beyond the barrier and onto her. And in recognition of her strength as one who had raised their Level and gotten five steps closer to the divine, it began to step forward.

Having been born on the surface it had no doubt thought it was among the strongest, a fledgling that had grown fat in its secluded dwelling and yet to run into anything that it felt could match it. It wanted to pit itself against that strength to prove itself superior. Everything else was secondary and could be left to its flames as fire pooled in its mouth to unleash another blaze upon them.

High Elves screamed. Many would have likely fled if the flames offered them an avenue to do so. The rampant Spirits calling forth elements would soon be a threat as well.

“…This is what we deserve,” Lady Lilo muttered, defeated with her voice like broken glass. “Those children were in that direction, weren’t they? We sent them off in to defend us without a second word. Instead of having them run away, we sent them off to their deaths. We sacrificed our future for just a few more seconds of life, and now…

Even as the monster took another step forward and the flames began to slip through its opening maw with the intention of incinerating them all, the Nine Hells could only respond with a voice like steel. “…Aren’t you underestimating those girls?”

That was when a shard of the stars fell from the heavens.

Coming down like a hammer of the Gods, a blue comet with a green tail fell from the sky above into the Dragon’s mouth hard enough that its maw that prepared to unleash its flare breath was clamped shut as it was driven to the ground. Intense jets of flames slipped through the gaps in its maw to blacken the earth and leave scorched sand. But they failed to so much as singe a single Elven hair.

It was the Gale. Her wooden blade, carved from a branch of the sacred tree of her home forest that had been smuggled in by Evilus and then reclaimed, was wreathed in a cerulean hue as she held it out. Then she vanished as her form left a streak upon meeting with the Dragon’s head once more, this time knocking it aside before its gaze could shift back to Royal Blood.

“—Arcs Ray!!

—Dios Thyrsos!

And from its rear two voices rang out above the crackling of the flames, heralding a golden beam and lance of lighting. They slammed into the hind of the Dragon, eliciting a roar from the beast that was wracked with pain. And though those scales might have warded off flames, they gave way to the Magic of the Half-Elf Mage and Elven Magic Swordsman.

“Sorry for the delay, Lady Riveria!” Lefiya called as she emerged from the trees with Maenads. “We can handle the Dragon! Please use your Magic to put out the flames in the forest!”

The children…” The Elder Elf’s eyes regained a spark of hope until she saw they had earned the Dragon’s ire. Its claws that could tear down through stone due to its muscle went straight towards the Elven Warrior, while its massive tail lashed out towards the casters who would lack the defense to bear with it. “Hurry and run!”

None of them did. The Elven Warrior moved like the breeze, slipping through its grasp as she retaliated with an upwards strike that forced its sinuous neck to bend. Yellowed, blood-stained fragments of its fangs scattered among the dirt in the process.

The Elven Magic Swordsman placed herself in front of the Half-Elf Mage while the lyrics of a chant escaped both of their lips in harmony. In the darkness gleamed a white mirror, a shield that was erected against the incoming tail that threatened to crush them both. The bulwark rebuked it as the white magic circle was overlapped by a ring of gold before a ray of brilliance was fired once more from the staff at the point where its tail was connected to its body with such speed and force that it penetrated the base before rupturing, tearing it apart from the inside out.

“Despite those children leaving their forests behind and swearing their fealty to different Gods and Goddess while calling Orario their home, they’re still fighting in order to protect this place,” Lady Riveria continued from where she left off as the Dragon staggered, its blood flowing from the missing appendage. “That’s because they still have their pride.”

The words caught her by surprise. “Huh?”

“None of those girls call this forest their home. Yet they are still defending it because they refuse to allow a part of our people to perish because they sat there and did nothing.  Even if I hadn’t given the order to do so, they would have run out to fight because they see our culture as our pride and won’t surrender them—not to the flames, monsters, or the Gods themselves.”

Her words were conjoined with the screech of the Dragon as the Gale continued her relentless assault, going faster and faster. Moving faster than the eyes of a non-Adventurer could track, she unleashed a flurry of strikes with her weapon that slammed into the scales of the Dragon and shattered them. At the same time, rays of light and lightning lanced out towards the pinons of the monster, shredding its wings and denying it the right to flee after treading upon their sacred lands—affording it not even a moment’s rest or opportunity to unleash another sea of flames.

“You lack the strength to face that monster whereas they do not. But you have the knowledge and ability that they lack at this moment. We must all do our part. I will do mine and quench the flames that are consuming our homelands, but if the Holy Tree is incinerated and the Spirits aren’t quelled all will still be lost. What will you do, Elder?”

It was the first and only barb from the Nine Hells directed to the one who held the title of Elder of the Spirit Village. This venerated place held as much weight as royal blood amongst the Elves of the world, where the Spirits congregated. She who had vented her frustration and sorrow about the circumstances of their people could only give one response.

“…Tch, as if I need a royal rapscallion telling me what to do.” Her tiny hands found their way around her staff as she rose back onto her feet and turned the rest of the High Elves. “I will calm the Spirits! All of you, douse the flames around the Holy Tree! Call the earth and sky and rain and ice—prove to the Spirits on this, the night where our bonds are reaffirmed, that by our ancient vow we will not let the lands we share be lost again!”

That’s right. Though there are many parts of our culture I find in need of change, there are those we should take pride in and protect. Holding that thought to her chest, she called out to her apprentice. “Lefiya, I’m beginning. Protect yourselves!”

As the songs of Elves rang out in a choir amidst the flames and the howls of the Dragon, a jade-toned magic circle encompassed them. The workings of the Elven arcane expanded as if by royal decree, conjured wind and ice and water and earth intensified to battle the flames that threatened to consume their home. Such was the effect of her Skill: Alf Regina.

And leading the choir was the song of four Adventurers.

Distant sky above the forest. Limitless stars set into an eternal night. Listen to my feeble voice and grant the protection of starlight—” With Alvs Lumina in her grasp serving as both her sword and wand, the Elven Warrior began her chant to the stars and the wind even as she continued her relentless assault. One could feel the magical power being focused within her weapon with every second and every verse. As she leapt into the air above the Dragon, the light of the stars and kiss of the wind gathered before her upraised sword. “Light of stardust, tear my enemies asunder—Luminous Wind!

An emerald storm fell from above. Sheering wind and searing light weaved together to shower the scaled beast. Relentless and without mercy it carved bloody gouts into the hide of the dragon, ripping through flesh and muscles without mercy as it could do nothing but howl.

Filvis then joined in the performance, her magic circle the color of pure snow her stage as she pointed her wand at that Dragon. “Purge, cleansing lighting! Dio Thyrsos!

From the tip of her wand that served as the focus of her Magic, lightning was unleashed. The bolt pierced through its battered hide, blood and flesh bursting as it exited through its hind and tore apart its legs. Crippled, it collapsed with a crash upon the battered ground, and its blood filled in the divots torn out as well.

And no sooner than the beast had been crippled did the Half-Elf Mage finish connecting the ring of elves and her golden circle matched the hue of royalty. “Materialize, mighty barrier of forest’s light, and lend us your protection—in my name of Alf! Via Shilheim!

The same shimmering barrier that kept the High Elves sheltered was bequeathed to those not of noble birth. Though her power couldn’t match that of the Nine Hells due to both her Level and her Mage Development Ability lacking compared to the original, it was still the strongest defense she could muster. It would be a bulwark as the winter that preluded the end of the world fell upon the forest from its heart.

All from the euphonious song of the Nine Hells’ lips. “Harbinger of the end, white snow. Gust before the twilight. Fading light, freezing land. Blow with the power of the third harsh winter—in my name of Alf! Wynn Fimbulvetr!!

Ice ran from the magic circle at the decree. An unyielding, merciless frost that spread with even greater ferocity than wildfire swallowed the land, snuffed the flames, and blanketed the charred and verdant alike. Even the Dragon that presumed it surpassed their pride and bonds with the Spirits until the very moment it had been brought low was shrouded in the unforgiving rime from the inside out.

Winter’s chill robbed all sound and motion until there was nothing but the cold.

Phew…” Letting out a sigh that birthed a plume of fog from the drop in the temperature, Riveria called out to a dome opposite the corpse of the Dragon. “Are you girls all right?”

We’re safe, Lady Riveria,” was the muted reply of her student before the front of the ice dome exploded outwards from a swing of the Gale’s weapon. The soft crunching of ice rang out as the girls emerged one-by-one, taking in the scope of it. “Ahh… you managed to spread it all the way throughout the forest?”

“I kept the base power to its minimum but expanded the range to encompass the Spirit Forest,” she said. That was one of the perks of her Mage Developmental Ability, allowing for both passive and active increase in the spell’s range provided one had the Mind to compensate for the difference and experience to make the adjustment so precisely. “By morning it’ll begin to thaw.”

“And the Spirits?” asked Maenads.

She turned to see the diminutive Elder at work, her staff aglow as she focused her magical energy to weave not spells but words and soothe their fears. Their motions had become docile compared to before. “They seemed to have calmed down. Now all that’s left is the Holy Tree.”

They had prevented it from being turned into cinders, but the damage was extensive. Its former glory was a thing of the past, a charred husk of what it once was. The tree that represented their bond to the Spirits, the pride of their village would be forever marred… that is, if it were an ordinary tree.

“What are you whelps waiting for!?” Lady Lilo called out as she guided the other High Elves into a ring around the tree. “We need to supply the Holy Tree with magic power! Nine Hells, this is the reason you came here so you can supply the Mind for it!”

“As you wish, Elder,” Riveria said, walking over to join the circle that had formed. With her apprentice on one end and the small grasp of the Elder Elf in the other, she allowed her Magic to flow. The ring accumulated it all as in an ancient prayer they called for a miracle.

And the Spirits stirred from their docile nature to join in with a dance. For what they responded to in the age’s past were their earnest emotions and desire to live and see their traditions passed on. Those were the first origins of Magic for the Elves.

It was why their chants were songs.

The tree mended itself as the songs of the Elves resonated with the dance of the Spirits. The charred bark was replaced with a healthy covering, greenery sprouting where it had been blackened and burned away. The magic power overflowed as every branch of the tree bustled with ripe, red fruits.

“A bounty of Spirit Nuts,” one of the High Elves said. “More than in the last 90 years!”

As the cheers rang out, the Royal Elf parted from the circle to allow them their pleasure. Her mind was slightly ringing between maintaining the barrier, the expansive spell, and then helping to restore the tree to glory. So enraptured by the sight, even her most enthusiastic supplicants had forgotten her along with the terror from moments before.

“You have my thanks, Your Highness,” Lady Lilo said as she approached with staff in hand, taking a position next to her. She calmly looked over the reborn tree as she continued to speak. “No amount of pride would have saved us from a creature like that. However, no mere bandit or brigands would bring such a thing to attack a place they intended to pillage.”

“No,” Riveria agreed. There would be no need to bring something like that if they intended to simply pillage the Spirit Forest. Someone had attempted to just kill every High Elf and burn down the Spirit Forest by unleashing a creature like this. “And considering the location of this forest has been concealed for centuries without being found before, there’s only one conclusion I can draw…”

One of our own betrayed us,” the Elder Elf finished in a small, bitter voice as her throat went taut. One could almost hear how it pained her to admit so. “Surrendering one of our most sacred secrets to exterminate us and the anger the Spirits at the same time. We would never recover from that.”

“Were there any of the families that normally attended absent this year?”

“The numbers had been going down every thirty years for various reasons, but there were a few who couldn’t make it and sent the message ahead of time…” Her teal-eyes closed as her grip on her staff tightened. “Stay the night so the others will feel safer that way. I’ll investigate which one of them did this after we see everyone home tomorrow and see justice done.”

They had salvaged their home for the night. But now that the secrecy of the Spirit Forest was compromised, they would have to steel themselves from now on. And she couldn’t provide them with protection as her duties as a member of the Loki Familia would scarcely bring her back here. “…My apologies for placing another burden on your shoulders.”

“This place is a treasure of the Elves, so no one should complain if we pull from every forest and defend it ourselves.” Her eyes opened once more and settled onto the Half-Elf Mage staring up at the tree now bursting with crystallization of the Spirit’s blessing. “Your Highness… if you meant a single word that you said earlier, do not let those children die in that Abyss.”

“I have no intention of letting that happen, Elder,” the Royal Elf stated with sincerity. “They are our future, after all.”

I watched as Mother weaved a spell in front of my eyes and spoke words lovingly on her lips while her fingers hovered over Father’s hand, injured and bleeding. The light enclosed the wound and knitted it shut as the two never broke their gaze. It was at that moment that I felt my blood stir and wanted to perform Magic, asking Mother to teach me.

One day, she promised. One day, when we can head to a place where Spirits rest. But until then I will teach you the pledge of our kin—passed down from parent to child.

— 7th Month of Year XXXX

[-|-|-|-]

“I didn’t expect monsters to be here, of all places.”

When they were told it would be an escort mission to what was supposedly a fairy tale village, Lefiya had not expected that they would be forced to put down monsters. While it was true that monsters could be found nearly everywhere in the world from ancient times, before Babel had been created to serve as a lid on the Dungeon, somehow the notion of them being here hadn’t crossed her mind. It somewhat ruined the immersion.

“Do you not have to constantly deal with the creatures in the Abyss?” asked a voice that was more youthful than it had any right to be. “Their presence should be second nature to you whelps by now.”

It also turned out the Elder was a child. Or at least had the appearance of one to where you might believe her to be a Half-Elf, Half-Pallum. Not that such a thing was possible.

She had sandy blonde hair that was crowned with a wreath of the local flora. Her teal eyes were seemingly fixed into a flat stare. Her white robe was hemmed in green hues and the staff she bore was partially wrought wood that held within it what was presumed to be a natural gemstone.

And even more seemingly impossible was her clear disdain for Lady Riveria, going so far as to refer to her as a tomboy and a rapscallion.

It was so disrespectful that it caught Lefiya and the others by surprise. But Riveria seemed to not mind. If anything, she seemed to respond to her with greater comfort than accepting the supplications of the other High Elves even as they pressured the Elder into allowing her to participate due to her magical prowess.

Hence why they were killing monsters. Since no one could object to Lady Riveria’s magical ability, she had decided to put them to work instead to earn their right to participate. And that involved removing monsters that had somehow wandered into the forest.

“Though they were weak, they came out in such large numbers,” Miss Ryuu pointed out. Monsters on the surface multiplied by duplicating their magic stones and so they also divided their strength—quantity over quality. For Adventurers of the group’s collective Levels it was easy to deal with them, but they were still more than capable of being a threat to ordinary folks.

Lady Riveria agreed as she addressed the Elder. “Do they normally appear in such numbers?”

“Occasionally the foul creatures do slip by the wards of the forest, but this is the first time I’ve seen this many in all my time living here,” admitted the Elder Elf. “Even so, we are capable of using Magic to defend ourselves against monsters of this caliber. If not for your arrival I would have finished removing them, but since you are all such capable adventurers there is no need for me to do so. They will serve as your contribution to earn your right to participate in the Spirit Festival.”

She’s not even attempting to hide the sarcasm in her voice, Lefiya thought while a nervous chuckle escaped her lips. Even the other High Elves wouldn’t dare hold such a tone to her, but the Half-Elf could only assume that with age one had less need to feign fealty within their own forest. Lady Lilo must be more than a few centuries old. I’m kind of envious she still looks so young.

“We are grateful for the opportunity,” Riveria responded without missing a beat, her tone humble. “I am aware that our abrupt presence may have caused problems. If contributing in this manner eases your burden and ensures the festivities go well, it is the least we can do.”

“…Tch. Well, at least some manners were drilled into you.” She pouted like a child before she spun on her sandals and began to walk away. “Come. If you really want to ease my duties, then you can help elsewhere.”

Lefiya followed after her mentor along with the rest of the retinue when she felt a presence loitering just over her shoulder. She turned her head and found a floating wisp, a gathering of light and magic the hue of the wind—pale green. She sensed no hostility as it drifted over her with what felt like pure curiosity, similar to how a dog would sniff someone upon meeting them.

Her slender fingers reached out, only for it to drift further out of her reach hurriedly. It lingered there once she retracted her hand, keeping pace but ready to flee. It’s kind of adorable in its own way.

“That one is simply curious about your presence, but it is also skittish,” Lady Lilo said, looking over her shoulder. “Leave it be. Even weak spirits with no real sentience like it can injure a whelp like you before I can pacify them if you frighten or rile them.”

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said hurriedly. “I meant no disrespect to the Spirit.”

“You seem to have a firm understanding of its nature,” Riveria said as she followed behind her. “Is that the wisdom of your age?”

“Anyone could do so if they lived around them for long enough,” she said before raising her staff into the air towards it. The jewel within its core glimmered and the Spirit hurriedly drifted over to her. “They gather in the forest all times of the year, but during the Spirit Festival, their numbers swell as the Holy Tree bears its fruit. Some of the stronger ones with their own will and personalities show up as well, so to live here one needs to receive training on how to handle them.”

The little green light danced around her for a moment as she made motions with the staff. It was as if she was playing with it. Then she flicked her staff out and the glimmer within it went deeper into the forest like a shooting star.

The Spirit followed it eagerly, chasing after it.

“That’s amazing, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said earnestly. “You really do know what placates them.”

The Elder bore a small smile before quickly flattening her expression and then turning back ahead. “Save your praise, whelp. There are still more monsters to attend to.”

As she said, there were. Enough that they found it more efficient to split up to deal with them. The moment one received a Falna their baseline abilities effectively became well above their kin. And as their Levels went up and they grew closer to the divine, that difference in ability would only grow further.

Lefiya sighed as she watched a monster in front of her turn to dust that scattered in the wind. There was no need to collect the magic stones so she had purposefully targeted them to avoid leaving the corpses in this serene and beautiful forest. Then she took a moment to just look around for any remnants and found there were none to be had.

“I suppose I should head back now to report I’m done…” She trailed off as the flicker of the green caught the corner of her eyes. She turned her azure gaze towards the hue and found the curious little spirit there, fluttering around her once more. “Ah, you’re back?”

The Wind Spirit, as she guessed, bobbed around her back and forth. It circled her as if taking in her shape and figure, though it lacked eyes as far as she could tell. Such things were not necessary, and yet it responded to her motions with caution.

“It was little ones like you that the ancient mages drew their blessings from, wasn’t it?”

There were greater Spirits, like Aria according to the tales. Those that fought alongside and aided heroes of the past. If she had to guess, the little one here only possessed a fragment of such power. The easiest comparison would be how one of the monsters here had magic stones compared to an Apex like the Goliath.

But her ancestors drew their wisdom from the smaller ones. Though they lacked in what one would consider sapience, their words could reach them. Their pleas for their knowledge, a pledge of friendship for the wisdom. And… if even a Half-Elf like Fina could gain Magic from them back then…

Couldn’t she do the same?

Licking her lips as she considered that prospect, Lefiya took a deep breath before placing her hand on her chest and fixating her attention on the curious little Wind Spirit flittering around her. Her mouth moved and from her throat emerged the Elven tongue of eld as she allowed magical energy to leak from her body. “<I beseech, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled—>”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

The voice stifled her own as Lefiya jumped in place. The motion started the Wind Spirit into flittering away as she spun around to see the diminutive Elder Elf standing there. “Lady Lilo!”

She bit down on her thumb lightly as she mumbled, “To think that arrogant rapscallion would go so far as to teach a whelp the ancient pledge. Just how much further will she trample on our traditions!”

This is bad. Even full-blooded Elves of her standing weren’t supposed to be aware of that pledge. Let alone a Half-Elf like her. The natural conclusion was that, as Lady Riveria’s successor, she had been given it willingly. It may have even made it seem like the purpose of them coming here was for that reason.

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo!” Taking a pose of supplication, Lefiya begged for her forgiveness as she at least tried to absolve her mentor of accountability. “Even if I may sound unbelievable, I discover the pledge along with the rites on my own and acted out of my own initiative and curiosity. I will accept any punishment you deem fit, but please do not lay the blame on Lady Riviera. She really does only want the Spirit Festival to go undisturbed.”

She could feel the weight of the Elder’s gaze on her even as she kept her head low.

“Even if I believe that you speak the truth, the fact that you managed to do so without her knowledge is a failure on her part,” she said. “It would have been more acceptable if she had taught you that merely chanting the words will not reach the Spirits. The fact that she didn’t leaves me only to question her qualifications as a mentor and claim of you to be our future.”

It was a barb at Lady Riveria, even when she had taken the blame. Any other Elf would have gladly settled for her being responsible, a Half-Elf taking advantage of the situation to get ahead. There were those who she knew already considered her as such, even citing her ability to use the Magic of other Elves as theft that went beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable. That was why she only used the spells she had been given permission for and been personally taught.

Yet the Elder seemed so determined to fixate on the Royal Elf as being responsible for everything. It just didn’t make sense as Lefiya raised her head and spoke. “…I will take full responsibility for my actions. However, if I may ask, Lady Lilo…. why it is that you dislike Lady Riveria so?”

The diminutive Elder Elf gave her a flat stare for a very pregnant pause. Then she asked a simple question. “How old are you, child?”

“Fifteen as of this year, Elder.”

Her expression soured. “That’s barely out of the crib. Even the others are no different than toddlers from my point of view. So can you imagine what it feels like to hear about whelps your age throwing themselves into the Abyss that gives birth to calamities needlessly? All because a slightly older brat of royal blood forgot her role and decided she wished to venture forth into danger?”

“But if we don’t cull the monsters then they’ll eventually come out to the surface,” Lefiya began. “Orario was made for that purpose, to avoid those dark times from resurfacing when horrible monsters ran free and uncontrolled.”

The Elder Elf’s rebuttal was instant. “Are there not others who do not have the blood of our dying race to do so? Are there not the Gods who watch as you lose your lives for amusement? Why must our numbers that are already so thin be diminished further when they walk the same earth as us?”

Lefiya was taken aback by how sharp her voice had become. The glare of her teal eyes had become a lot firmer. “Ah… that’s—”

“Our kind’s birthrate has always been low,” Lady Lilo continued before she could say anything else. “Monsters reduced those further until we were on the brink. If not for the Spirits, we would not have had the means of defending ourselves until the Age of the Gods. Even then, after more than a thousand years, our numbers are nowhere near what they were before. Yet we persevered so far by staying in our forests even as the world around us changed.”

The Age of the Heroes had ended when the Age of the Gods had begun. They descended to the Lower World and established Familia, which gave the races of the time the ability to fight back without relying on Spirits. Then the divine placed a seal on upon the entrance to the Dungeon and bottled it up.

“But now, once more our numbers have begun to dwindle faster than we can be born. Rakia, burning our homes down with those damnable magic swords—turning the blessings of the Spirits against us. Royalty fleeing her forest to put herself headfirst into danger, encouraging so many of our own to do the same without regard for how their spirits would be broken if she perished from her rebellious phase. Worse, more of our numbers sought to emulate her and died before they even made it to their first century and passed on our bloodline.”

She slammed the butt of her staff into the ground. “You, our future?” You aren’t even a quarter of her age and yet you also willingly dive into that Abyss so often and take such foolish risks as attempting to obtain our Magic without the full understanding. How long before death claims you too? Then who will be our future? The next whelp she manages to keep alive for a few years?”

The expression of anger startled the Half-Elf. But only for a moment. Because she recognized the source of that anger in how she had been with her brother and his foolishness. That chastisement of one’s action for endangering herself. “…I understand now, Lady Lilo.”

“What are you on about?” demanded the Elder Elf.

Lefiya found it in herself to smile softly. “Your anger for Lady Riveria is because you grieve for all those Elves who have died before their time. Those who die before they can bear witness to our traditions and inherit the knowledge of our ancestors. Even those like myself are no exception, are they?”

“Half-Man. Half-Elf. Those things do not matter to the Spirits and so they do not matter to me,” the Elder Elf said. “What does matter is that you are an Elven child—a stupid child playing with things they do not comprehend and risking their lives needlessly, but an Elven child all the same that at least speaks the eld tongue when some of the whelps I call kin do not.”

For one who has lived long enough to be considered an Elder of their race, she had seen more deaths of her kin than one could count. Though those dark ages of the past had long ended, the scars remained to this day. The devastation was especially impactful for them, whose longevity was mitigated by the effort it took to conceive a child.

Despite Miss Ryuu and Filvis being a few years older than Lefiya herself, they were simply really powerful children to someone like her. Children who hadn’t even truly lived long enough to experience the Spirit Festival or any other traditions that would be upheld with more than a decade or two in-between. Anything that endangered children brought into this world would be something that would naturally offend someone who constantly worried about the future of their race—such as becoming an Adventurer.

…You really are kind, Lady Lilo.”

The diminutive Elder’s face turned red, her lower lip scrunching up while her cheeks bulged. Then turned away and slammed the butt of her staff onto the ground. “Silence, whelp. Follow me back to the others without a word and I will overlook what you were doing here once and only once.”

[-Later That Evening-]

Night fell upon the forest and with it raised the curtain of the Spirit Festival.

The sun’s bright rays were replaced by the slivers of moonlight that peeked through the openings in the dark canopy. The silvery rays were padded out by dozens upon dozens of little lights that filled the center of the village. The High Elves mingled with the Spirits, dancing with them while sounds of laughter and cheer rang out.

The Royal Elf only sighed at the sight. “How ironic that most Elves hold disdain for the Gods after their descent for not being in the image that they imagined, yet they love the children most favored by those same Gods.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that. “What do you mean, Lady Riveria?”

Jade hair shifted as the Nine Hells shook her head. “Just a memory. For the moment, you should all enjoy the festival.”

“I will remain vigilant and check the outskirts of the plaza, Lady Riveria,” Miss Ryuu said with her wooden sword sheathed on the side of her belt. “The number of monsters that were in the forest has left me feeling uneasy. If something were to happen now…”

She regarded her with a single opened eye before speaking from her experience as an Adventurer. “You may have a point. I’ll go speak with the Elder while the others are busy entertaining themselves.”

Filvis stood at attention next to Lefiya at that. “If that’s the case, then we will—”

“No,” the Royal Elf insisted. “Escorting me was your duty, but now the two of us are acting out of what may very well be paranoia. You should both take the time to enjoy the festivities and unwind.”

That said, the two split apart at a casual pace. Lefiya could only assume it was done to avoid tipping anyone else off that something might be amiss. It really might be nothing in the end, so there was no sense in riling everyone else up.

“Is there a reason that Elf keeps looking towards you, Viridis?” Filvis asked her after a minute of nervous silence while Lefiya attempted to act natural.

She glanced around at that. “You mean the Elder? I kind of made her mad earlier, so she might be keeping an eye on me.”

The Elven Magic Swordsman’s brows furrowed at her. “Not her, but what exactly did you do to earn her ire if that were the case?”

She waved it off with a nervous laugh. “It’s nothing, really. And why have you stopped calling me by my name, Filvis? We’re alone.”

“I… don’t think that I should anymore,” she muttered. “Forgive me.”

Lefiya frowned softly. “Is this about the Unicorns?”

After she had been escorted back to the others, Lady Lilo had wanted to extend the duties that she put Lady Riveria through by gathering up Unicorns for the Spirit Festival. They came to her as if they were drawn in by her mere presence, a sight right out of a fairy tale. But when Filvis attempted to approach one it fled from her.

It appeared that weighed on her mind even now.

Lefiya regarded her dear companion’s melancholy with a heavy heart. She hated seeing her like this. Especially when she knew a smile suited her so much more. Even the memory of the first time that she smiled back in the Dungeon still moved the Half-Elf’s heart and brought warmth to her face.

“Right then…” Her decision made, Lefiya grasped Filvis by the hand with a smile on her face. “Let’s dance as well.”

“Eh… ah…” It was cute how she could face down monsters so readily in the Dungeon as a vanguard but grew flustered when the Half-Elf was close. Her cheeks were painted a rosy hue and her eyes were wide. “N-No, I shouldn’t. I’m not pure—”

“If we’re in a place like a fairy tale then we should act the part.” Her second hand reached for Filvis’s own and entwined those lithe fingers before pulling her close. Lefiya took the lead in the dance as they grew closer to the Spirits. The air itself seemed to be filled with a refreshing aura about it as the colors swayed in mesmerizing motions, the light from them reflecting in their gaze as azure eyes remained fixed onto crimson.

“You’re really good at dancing,” Lefiya said in the midst of their motions. The atmosphere was so serene and enchanting that she felt herself being swept up, her inhibitions lowering just for a moment.  “And these clothes really suit you. I’m happy I had the chance to see you in them.”

Ah…”  Filvis remained flustered with her cheeks rosy while matching her partner’s steps, a slight hitch in her throat as she swallowed. “I… I feel the same… Lefiya.”

Hearing her name brought a smile to the Half-Elf’s lips. Then she noticed how those beautiful eyes fell just a slight bit lower towards them and she felt her pulse began to through their connected hands. She tightened her grasp just enough to feel it even more as she moved her face just a little closer to where she could feel the older girl’s breath delicately washing against her skin.

Then, in a voice as soft and smooth as velvet, she spoke asked. “Do you really?

The bright red in Filvis cheeks spread to every inch of her face. Her lips parted inadvertently while a heavy, staggered breath escaped. Tremors ran throughout her body as her fingers grew tenser around Lefiya’s slender digits. “I-I…

Then a green light was cast over them. It drew Lefiya’s eyes to the side where she spotted the little Wind Spirit from before. It was once more fluttering around her, closer than the last few times. Was it due to how the others were around the other Elves?

Haaaaahhh…” The sound of a held breath escaping from Filvis’ mouth drew azure eyes back to the other girl. She had her head turned to the side, panting as though she needed to catch her breath. Her fingers escaped from Lefiya’s and she brought them to her chest before she turned away. “Forgive me. I-I need a moment.”

“Of course…” Lefiya masked her conflicting feelings of disappointment and satisfaction as her partner began to walk off. The green dancing light seemed rather eager to take her place, rotating about in the same motions they had been. “You really are a curious little one, aren’t you?”.

She humored it for a moment until the presence of Magic stirred on her senses. Familiar Magic at that. Her senses immediately sharpened towards the source, Lady Riveria, and her ears caught the spell on her lips even before the magic circle finished spreading out. “—Alf! Via Shilheim!

Pale green light wove an ethereal barrier around the dancing Elves, a glimmering dome that overcast them as black darts slammed against it a moment later. Danger-sharpened eyes pegged them for what they were, arrows fired to pepper the dancers before they knew what happened. Forest’s Teardrop was immediately in Lefiya’s hand with a practiced motion as the sound of shouts and footfalls reached her ears just beneath the unsheathing of Filvis’ short sword.

They were under attack.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 7 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 7: The Spirit Festival

I watched as Mother weaved a spell in front of my eyes and spoke words lovingly on her lips while her fingers hovered over Father’s hand, injured and bleeding. The light enclosed the wound and knitted it shut as the two never broke their gaze. It was at that moment that I felt my blood stir and wanted to perform Magic, asking Mother to teach me.

One day, she promised. One day, when we can head to a place where Spirits rest. But until then I will teach you the pledge of our kin—passed down from parent to child.

— 7th Month of Year XXXX

[-|-|-|-]

“I didn’t expect monsters to be here, of all places.”

When they were told it would be an escort mission to what was supposedly a fairy tale village, Lefiya had not expected that they would be forced to put down monsters. While it was true that monsters could be found nearly everywhere in the world from ancient times, before Babel had been created to serve as a lid on the Dungeon, somehow the notion of them being here hadn’t crossed her mind. It somewhat ruined the immersion.

“Do you not have to constantly deal with the creatures in the Abyss?” asked a voice that was more youthful than it had any right to be. “Their presence should be second nature to you whelps by now.”

It also turned out the Elder was a child. Or at least had the appearance of one to where you might believe her to be a Half-Elf, Half-Pallum. Not that such a thing was possible.

She had sandy blonde hair that was crowned with a wreath of the local flora. Her teal eyes were seemingly fixed into a flat stare. Her white robe was hemmed in green hues and the staff she bore was partially wrought wood that held within it what was presumed to be a natural gemstone.

And even more seemingly impossible was her clear disdain for Lady Riveria, going so far as to refer to her as a tomboy and a rapscallion.

It was so disrespectful that it caught Lefiya and the others by surprise. But Riveria seemed to not mind. If anything, she seemed to respond to her with greater comfort than accepting the supplications of the other High Elves even as they pressured the Elder into allowing her to participate due to her magical prowess.

Hence why they were killing monsters. Since no one could object to Lady Riveria’s magical ability, she had decided to put them to work instead to earn their right to participate. And that involved removing monsters that had somehow wandered into the forest.

“Though they were weak, they came out in such large numbers,” Miss Ryuu pointed out. Monsters on the surface multiplied by duplicating their magic stones and so they also divided their strength—quantity over quality. For Adventurers of the group’s collective Levels it was easy to deal with them, but they were still more than capable of being a threat to ordinary folks.

Lady Riveria agreed as she addressed the Elder. “Do they normally appear in such numbers?”

“Occasionally the foul creatures do slip by the wards of the forest, but this is the first time I’ve seen this many in all my time living here,” admitted the Elder Elf. “Even so, we are capable of using Magic to defend ourselves against monsters of this caliber. If not for your arrival I would have finished removing them, but since you are all such capable adventurers there is no need for me to do so. They will serve as your contribution to earn your right to participate in the Spirit Festival.”

She’s not even attempting to hide the sarcasm in her voice, Lefiya thought while a nervous chuckle escaped her lips. Even the other High Elves wouldn’t dare hold such a tone to her, but the Half-Elf could only assume that with age one had less need to feign fealty within their own forest. Lady Lilo must be more than a few centuries old. I’m kind of envious she still looks so young.

“We are grateful for the opportunity,” Riveria responded without missing a beat, her tone humble. “I am aware that our abrupt presence may have caused problems. If contributing in this manner eases your burden and ensures the festivities go well, it is the least we can do.”

“…Tch. Well, at least some manners were drilled into you.” She pouted like a child before she spun on her sandals and began to walk away. “Come. If you really want to ease my duties, then you can help elsewhere.”

Lefiya followed after her mentor along with the rest of the retinue when she felt a presence loitering just over her shoulder. She turned her head and found a floating wisp, a gathering of light and magic the hue of the wind—pale green. She sensed no hostility as it drifted over her with what felt like pure curiosity, similar to how a dog would sniff someone upon meeting them.

Her slender fingers reached out, only for it to drift further out of her reach hurriedly. It lingered there once she retracted her hand, keeping pace but ready to flee. It’s kind of adorable in its own way.

“That one is simply curious about your presence, but it is also skittish,” Lady Lilo said, looking over her shoulder. “Leave it be. Even weak spirits with no real sentience like it can injure a whelp like you before I can pacify them if you frighten or rile them.”

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said hurriedly. “I meant no disrespect to the Spirit.”

“You seem to have a firm understanding of its nature,” Riveria said as she followed behind her. “Is that the wisdom of your age?”

“Anyone could do so if they lived around them for long enough,” she said before raising her staff into the air towards it. The jewel within its core glimmered and the Spirit hurriedly drifted over to her. “They gather in the forest all times of the year, but during the Spirit Festival, their numbers swell as the Holy Tree bears its fruit. Some of the stronger ones with their own will and personalities show up as well, so to live here one needs to receive training on how to handle them.”

The little green light danced around her for a moment as she made motions with the staff. It was as if she was playing with it. Then she flicked her staff out and the glimmer within it went deeper into the forest like a shooting star.

The Spirit followed it eagerly, chasing after it.

“That’s amazing, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said earnestly. “You really do know what placates them.”

The Elder bore a small smile before quickly flattening her expression and then turning back ahead. “Save your praise, whelp. There are still more monsters to attend to.”

As she said, there were. Enough that they found it more efficient to split up to deal with them. The moment one received a Falna their baseline abilities effectively became well above their kin. And as their Levels went up and they grew closer to the divine, that difference in ability would only grow further.

Lefiya sighed as she watched a monster in front of her turn to dust that scattered in the wind. There was no need to collect the magic stones so she had purposefully targeted them to avoid leaving the corpses in this serene and beautiful forest. Then she took a moment to just look around for any remnants and found there were none to be had.

“I suppose I should head back now to report I’m done…” She trailed off as the flicker of the green caught the corner of her eyes. She turned her azure gaze towards the hue and found the curious little spirit there, fluttering around her once more. “Ah, you’re back?”

The Wind Spirit, as she guessed, bobbed around her back and forth. It circled her as if taking in her shape and figure, though it lacked eyes as far as she could tell. Such things were not necessary, and yet it responded to her motions with caution.

“It was little ones like you that the ancient mages drew their blessings from, wasn’t it?”

There were greater Spirits, like Aria according to the tales. Those that fought alongside and aided heroes of the past. If she had to guess, the little one here only possessed a fragment of such power. The easiest comparison would be how one of the monsters here had magic stones compared to an Apex like the Goliath.

But her ancestors drew their wisdom from the smaller ones. Though they lacked in what one would consider sapience, their words could reach them. Their pleas for their knowledge, a pledge of friendship for the wisdom. And… if even a Half-Elf like Fina could gain Magic from them back then…

Couldn’t she do the same?

Licking her lips as she considered that prospect, Lefiya took a deep breath before placing her hand on her chest and fixating her attention on the curious little Wind Spirit flittering around her. Her mouth moved and from her throat emerged the Elven tongue of eld as she allowed magical energy to leak from her body. “<I beseech, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled—>”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

The voice stifled her own as Lefiya jumped in place. The motion started the Wind Spirit into flittering away as she spun around to see the diminutive Elder Elf standing there. “Lady Lilo!”

She bit down on her thumb lightly as she mumbled, “To think that arrogant rapscallion would go so far as to teach a whelp the ancient pledge. Just how much further will she trample on our traditions!”

This is bad. Even full-blooded Elves of her standing weren’t supposed to be aware of that pledge. Let alone a Half-Elf like her. The natural conclusion was that, as Lady Riveria’s successor, she had been given it willingly. It may have even made it seem like the purpose of them coming here was for that reason.

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo!” Taking a pose of supplication, Lefiya begged for her forgiveness as she at least tried to absolve her mentor of accountability. “Even if I may sound unbelievable, I discover the pledge along with the rites on my own and acted out of my own initiative and curiosity. I will accept any punishment you deem fit, but please do not lay the blame on Lady Riviera. She really does only want the Spirit Festival to go undisturbed.”

She could feel the weight of the Elder’s gaze on her even as she kept her head low.

“Even if I believe that you speak the truth, the fact that you managed to do so without her knowledge is a failure on her part,” she said. “It would have been more acceptable if she had taught you that merely chanting the words will not reach the Spirits. The fact that she didn’t leaves me only to question her qualifications as a mentor and claim of you to be our future.”

It was a barb at Lady Riveria, even when she had taken the blame. Any other Elf would have gladly settled for her being responsible, a Half-Elf taking advantage of the situation to get ahead. There were those who she knew already considered her as such, even citing her ability to use the Magic of other Elves as theft that went beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable. That was why she only used the spells she had been given permission for and been personally taught.

Yet the Elder seemed so determined to fixate on the Royal Elf as being responsible for everything. It just didn’t make sense as Lefiya raised her head and spoke. “…I will take full responsibility for my actions. However, if I may ask, Lady Lilo…. why it is that you dislike Lady Riveria so?”

The diminutive Elder Elf gave her a flat stare for a very pregnant pause. Then she asked a simple question. “How old are you, child?”

“Fifteen as of this year, Elder.”

Her expression soured. “That’s barely out of the crib. Even the others are no different than toddlers from my point of view. So can you imagine what it feels like to hear about whelps your age throwing themselves into the Abyss that gives birth to calamities needlessly? All because a slightly older brat of royal blood forgot her role and decided she wished to venture forth into danger?”

“But if we don’t cull the monsters then they’ll eventually come out to the surface,” Lefiya began. “Orario was made for that purpose, to avoid those dark times from resurfacing when horrible monsters ran free and uncontrolled.”

The Elder Elf’s rebuttal was instant. “Are there not others who do not have the blood of our dying race to do so? Are there not the Gods who watch as you lose your lives for amusement? Why must our numbers that are already so thin be diminished further when they walk the same earth as us?”

Lefiya was taken aback by how sharp her voice had become. The glare of her teal eyes had become a lot firmer. “Ah… that’s—”

“Our kind’s birthrate has always been low,” Lady Lilo continued before she could say anything else. “Monsters reduced those further until we were on the brink. If not for the Spirits, we would not have had the means of defending ourselves until the Age of the Gods. Even then, after more than a thousand years, our numbers are nowhere near what they were before. Yet we persevered so far by staying in our forests even as the world around us changed.”

The Age of the Heroes had ended when the Age of the Gods had begun. They descended to the Lower World and established Familia, which gave the races of the time the ability to fight back without relying on Spirits. Then the divine placed a seal on upon the entrance to the Dungeon and bottled it up.

“But now, once more our numbers have begun to dwindle faster than we can be born. Rakia, burning our homes down with those damnable magic swords—turning the blessings of the Spirits against us. Royalty fleeing her forest to put herself headfirst into danger, encouraging so many of our own to do the same without regard for how their spirits would be broken if she perished from her rebellious phase. Worse, more of our numbers sought to emulate her and died before they even made it to their first century and passed on our bloodline.”

She slammed the butt of her staff into the ground. “You, our future?” You aren’t even a quarter of her age and yet you also willingly dive into that Abyss so often and take such foolish risks as attempting to obtain our Magic without the full understanding. How long before death claims you too? Then who will be our future? The next whelp she manages to keep alive for a few years?”

The expression of anger startled the Half-Elf. But only for a moment. Because she recognized the source of that anger in how she had been with her brother and his foolishness. That chastisement of one’s action for endangering herself. “…I understand now, Lady Lilo.”

“What are you on about?” demanded the Elder Elf.

Lefiya found it in herself to smile softly. “Your anger for Lady Riveria is because you grieve for all those Elves who have died before their time. Those who die before they can bear witness to our traditions and inherit the knowledge of our ancestors. Even those like myself are no exception, are they?”

“Half-Man. Half-Elf. Those things do not matter to the Spirits and so they do not matter to me,” the Elder Elf said. “What does matter is that you are an Elven child—a stupid child playing with things they do not comprehend and risking their lives needlessly, but an Elven child all the same that at least speaks the eld tongue when some of the whelps I call kin do not.”

For one who has lived long enough to be considered an Elder of their race, she had seen more deaths of her kin than one could count. Though those dark ages of the past had long ended, the scars remained to this day. The devastation was especially impactful for them, whose longevity was mitigated by the effort it took to conceive a child.

Despite Miss Ryuu and Filvis being a few years older than Lefiya herself, they were simply really powerful children to someone like her. Children who hadn’t even truly lived long enough to experience the Spirit Festival or any other traditions that would be upheld with more than a decade or two in-between. Anything that endangered children brought into this world would be something that would naturally offend someone who constantly worried about the future of their race—such as becoming an Adventurer.

…You really are kind, Lady Lilo.”

The diminutive Elder’s face turned red, her lower lip scrunching up while her cheeks bulged. Then turned away and slammed the butt of her staff onto the ground. “Silence, whelp. Follow me back to the others without a word and I will overlook what you were doing here once and only once.”

[-Later That Evening-]

Night fell upon the forest and with it raised the curtain of the Spirit Festival.

The sun’s bright rays were replaced by the slivers of moonlight that peeked through the openings in the dark canopy. The silvery rays were padded out by dozens upon dozens of little lights that filled the center of the village. The High Elves mingled with the Spirits, dancing with them while sounds of laughter and cheer rang out.

The Royal Elf only sighed at the sight. “How ironic that most Elves hold disdain for the Gods after their descent for not being in the image that they imagined, yet they love the children most favored by those same Gods.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that. “What do you mean, Lady Riveria?”

Jade hair shifted as the Nine Hells shook her head. “Just a memory. For the moment, you should all enjoy the festival.”

“I will remain vigilant and check the outskirts of the plaza, Lady Riveria,” Miss Ryuu said with her wooden sword sheathed on the side of her belt. “The number of monsters that were in the forest has left me feeling uneasy. If something were to happen now…”

She regarded her with a single opened eye before speaking from her experience as an Adventurer. “You may have a point. I’ll go speak with the Elder while the others are busy entertaining themselves.”

Filvis stood at attention next to Lefiya at that. “If that’s the case, then we will—”

“No,” the Royal Elf insisted. “Escorting me was your duty, but now the two of us are acting out of what may very well be paranoia. You should both take the time to enjoy the festivities and unwind.”

That said, the two split apart at a casual pace. Lefiya could only assume it was done to avoid tipping anyone else off that something might be amiss. It really might be nothing in the end, so there was no sense in riling everyone else up.

“Is there a reason that Elf keeps looking towards you, Viridis?” Filvis asked her after a minute of nervous silence while Lefiya attempted to act natural.

She glanced around at that. “You mean the Elder? I kind of made her mad earlier, so she might be keeping an eye on me.”

The Elven Magic Swordsman’s brows furrowed at her. “Not her, but what exactly did you do to earn her ire if that were the case?”

She waved it off with a nervous laugh. “It’s nothing, really. And why have you stopped calling me by my name, Filvis? We’re alone.”

“I… don’t think that I should anymore,” she muttered. “Forgive me.”

Lefiya frowned softly. “Is this about the Unicorns?”

After she had been escorted back to the others, Lady Lilo had wanted to extend the duties that she put Lady Riveria through by gathering up Unicorns for the Spirit Festival. They came to her as if they were drawn in by her mere presence, a sight right out of a fairy tale. But when Filvis attempted to approach one it fled from her.

It appeared that weighed on her mind even now.

Lefiya regarded her dear companion’s melancholy with a heavy heart. She hated seeing her like this. Especially when she knew a smile suited her so much more. Even the memory of the first time that she smiled back in the Dungeon still moved the Half-Elf’s heart and brought warmth to her face.

“Right then…” Her decision made, Lefiya grasped Filvis by the hand with a smile on her face. “Let’s dance as well.”

“Eh… ah…” It was cute how she could face down monsters so readily in the Dungeon as a vanguard but grew flustered when the Half-Elf was close. Her cheeks were painted a rosy hue and her eyes were wide. “N-No, I shouldn’t. I’m not pure—”

“If we’re in a place like a fairy tale then we should act the part.” Her second hand reached for Filvis’s own and entwined those lithe fingers before pulling her close. Lefiya took the lead in the dance as they grew closer to the Spirits. The air itself seemed to be filled with a refreshing aura about it as the colors swayed in mesmerizing motions, the light from them reflecting in their gaze as azure eyes remained fixed onto crimson.

“You’re really good at dancing,” Lefiya said in the midst of their motions. The atmosphere was so serene and enchanting that she felt herself being swept up, her inhibitions lowering just for a moment.  “And these clothes really suit you. I’m happy I had the chance to see you in them.”

Ah…”  Filvis remained flustered with her cheeks rosy while matching her partner’s steps, a slight hitch in her throat as she swallowed. “I… I feel the same… Lefiya.”

Hearing her name brought a smile to the Half-Elf’s lips. Then she noticed how those beautiful eyes fell just a slight bit lower towards them and she felt her pulse began to through their connected hands. She tightened her grasp just enough to feel it even more as she moved her face just a little closer to where she could feel the older girl’s breath delicately washing against her skin.

Then, in a voice as soft and smooth as velvet, she spoke asked. “Do you really?

The bright red in Filvis cheeks spread to every inch of her face. Her lips parted inadvertently while a heavy, staggered breath escaped. Tremors ran throughout her body as her fingers grew tenser around Lefiya’s slender digits. “I-I…

Then a green light was cast over them. It drew Lefiya’s eyes to the side where she spotted the little Wind Spirit from before. It was once more fluttering around her, closer than the last few times. Was it due to how the others were around the other Elves?

Haaaaahhh…” The sound of a held breath escaping from Filvis’ mouth drew azure eyes back to the other girl. She had her head turned to the side, panting as though she needed to catch her breath. Her fingers escaped from Lefiya’s and she brought them to her chest before she turned away. “Forgive me. I-I need a moment.”

“Of course…” Lefiya masked her conflicting feelings of disappointment and satisfaction as her partner began to walk off. The green dancing light seemed rather eager to take her place, rotating about in the same motions they had been. “You really are a curious little one, aren’t you?”.

She humored it for a moment until the presence of Magic stirred on her senses. Familiar Magic at that. Her senses immediately sharpened towards the source, Lady Riveria, and her ears caught the spell on her lips even before the magic circle finished spreading out. “—Alf! Via Shilheim!

Pale green light wove an ethereal barrier around the dancing Elves, a glimmering dome that overcast them as black darts slammed against it a moment later. Danger-sharpened eyes pegged them for what they were, arrows fired to pepper the dancers before they knew what happened. Forest’s Teardrop was immediately in Lefiya’s hand with a practiced motion as the sound of shouts and footfalls reached her ears just beneath the unsheathing of Filvis’ short sword.

They were under attack.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 6 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 6: The Spirit Village

My dearest brother has finally departed the stage and gone beyond the curtain of the heavens to have his play for their rulers judged. I am certain that it will be met with applause and that he be crowned with a wreath of ivy for his performance. Yet, as our comrades spread his comedy around the land to inspire hope for heroes to come, I wish to preserve his performance as one who viewed it from the skene.

Thus, I pen this memoir of my life from birth to the final moments I spent watching over my beloved brother, Argo.”

—Fina of Elcos

-|-|-|-

“Is this the Spirit Forest?”

That question broached the silence that had until then been padded out with the whistle of the wind that billowed against the ears of the Half-Elven Mage until just a moment ago. It was a bright and clear day, unblemished barring the scant white clouds that were haphazardly scattered across the endless canvas that was the sky. They had just finished soaring in that endless road and come to a gentle landing on the outskirts of a forest, whose trees seemed to stand as ever-vigilant sentinels as they marked a border between the outside world and all that lay within.

“That right,” said the one leading the group of four as she lowered her aerial mount, one of the tamed monsters of the Ganesha Familia that they had borrowed for the journey. “The village is deep within, so we’ll be going on foot the rest of the way.”

With regal jade hair that flowed down her back and crowned by a tiara of unblemished silver adorned with a precious gem, the High Elf of Royal Blood deigned to dismount her airborne steed as she graced the grasslands with presence. And as if the grasslands were rejoicing the wind blew and the long blades shuddered in applause. The very earth seemed to rejoice as she stood there and cried out:

Here stands upon us non-other than she who bore the title of Nine Hells.

Here stands the strongest of the Elven Adventurers alive.

Here stands she of regal, royal blood.

Here stands Riveria Ljos Alf.

Even Lefiya seemed taken by her beauty as she tenderly caressed said beast on its snout. No Elf wouldn’t. Such was the magnificence of her lineage that the eyes were drawn to her regardless of one’s gender or station. Even some Goddesses could never compare to her.

“You can go ahead,” she said to it in a gentle tone. “I’ll call for you when we’re done.”

Said monster took flight at her beckoning, to be joined by the other three as the rest of the group dismounted. They possessed heightened hearing and were trained to respond to the sound of a whistle produced by the goldsmiths of the Ganesha Familia, which daintily hung around each of their necks. Once they were done with the Spirit Festival they would fly them back to Orario.

She truly is amazing,” said a hushed whisper that barely reached the Half-Elf Mage’s ears. She turned to see her dear companion Filvis standing in awe of Lady Riveria, a respectful distance away from both the High Elf and Lefiya herself. “I am unworthy to be in her presence.

Filvis had forgone her pure-white outfit that had its edges marked by light-blue boundaries for one more suitable as a retainer of the royal family. The half-cloak and cuffs had deep-blue hues with gold edges while the torso framed them in a white short skirt. Her arms and legs were clad in dark fabric and gloves, and her raven-black hair was adorned with a golden headband that had a single feather bound to it while her blade was nestled on the back of her waist, partially obscured by her waist-length hair.

The Elven Magic Swordsman looked absolutely lovely. But it hadn’t escaped Lefiya’s notice that even when they would be in the presence of other Elves, she still wore gloves to ensure her fingers would not touch their skin. And she refused to come much closer to either of them unless necessary.

She spun on her heels and marched towards her to correct that, clasping her hands so abruptly that Filvis seemed shocked. “Eh… Viridis…?”

Lefiya remained silent as she folded her lips into a frown and just stared into her deep red eyes. Unlike her brother’s eyes that had a lighter hue, hers were deep and dark. But they were beautiful all the same as she kept her gaze firm to drive the unspoken message into her mind.

You are not sullied. You are one of us. Don’t run away from us.

Don’t run from me.

The message carried as the Elven Magic Swordsman relented after a moment and whispered under her breath. “I understand, Lefiya…

That coaxed a smile out of her. “Then go ahead with Lady Riviera. You and Miss Ryu are going to be our vanguards, right?”

“R-Right…” She held her gloved hand preciously once Lefiya released her before slowly making her way towards the royalty they were supposed to be protecting. The crimson blush across her cheeks complimented her eyes nicely.

“The incident that scarred her heart must have been truly grievous to have left her in such a state,” came from next to Lefiya before she realized it. She twisted her head around so quickly it might have snapped if she had gone any faster to see the Elven Warrior from the 18th Floor standing there. It was only last night that they had been somewhat formally introduced. “She is lucky to have a friend such as you.”

I didn’t even hear her move, Lefiya noted before taking a step back and recalling her manners. “We were in such a rush before to get here that I never got a chance to thank you for everything you did.”

She faced the woman with her knees bent outward and one foot behind her, fingers delicately holding out the skirt of her clothing that had been provided for her by her mentor. Then she gave a slight bow of her head as she expressed her heartfelt thanks. “You have my sincere gratitude for saving that boy and I two nights ago. I know that most of our kind would not have gone so far that night for those such as ourselves, and I swear on my name of Viridis that I will repay that kindness someday, Miss Ryuu.”

Ryuu observed the gesture in silence for a moment. Then her expression shifted into a soft smile.  “I see why Lady Riveria covets you so dearly. It makes me happy to know that I saved an Elf like you.”

Lefiya’s head rose from its bow. “What do you mean?”

“Though you possess the pride of our race in everything from your clothes to your behavior, you carried that boy on your back and put yourself in front of those monsters to protect him without hesitation. And when I chastised him for his injuries as he laid unconscious, you took the blame without a second thought. Even in Orario and amongst other Adventurers, there are few of our kind who have recontextualized that which has been so thoroughly ingrained within our race into something that covers all of them.”

Elves were prideful—even those who were only half as such. Everyone understood that. Everyone accepted that because it was something that had been instilled in their race since the dawn of history. The wise race that remained sequestered in their forest to be pure and unsullied, remaining as such even as seasons changed and centuries passed.

To be unsullied ran so deeply as a custom that every aspect of their life was dictated by it. Everything in the world outside of their homes was impure and thus they often donned gloves and clad their skin from head-to-toe to avoid having it blemished by their surroundings. They would never even allow one who was not of their race to touch their bare skin without their consent.

That was why Elves were rare in a Familia. To devote oneself to their patron deity was to give consent, which was part of why she tolerated Lady Loki’s advances—as long as they didn’t go too far. But it gave partial consent to other members of the Familia as well, which not every Elf was capable of doing unless they were willing to be touched by different members of what many considered inferior races.

The fact that she let Bell touch her when they were not of the same race or Familia was significant for that reason. The fact that she bore him upon her bare back as her clothes melted away was significant to someone who didn’t know that they were family. As far as everyone else knew she had basically forgiven him for accidentally groping her and then all but gave her consent before running off together with him in the morning.

That was why those rumors took a bit of time to put down, even for the people who knew she was much more tolerant of others touching her because of her upbringing.

Raul is still a dead man when I get back, she set firmly into the back of her mind as Ryuu walked ahead to join Filvis in the front. Lefiya would remain behind her mentor in order to obstinately protect the rear, though it was largely only out of formality that they were bothering with the escort.  There was no one present more powerful than Lady Riveria, who was the pinnacle of Elven Mages alive.

“…Goodness, this is already tiresome,” spoke the Nine Hells as they began venturing towards the woodlands. Magic tinged the air even before they reached the first of the trees, an enchantment of some kind woven into them. “Being forced to walk in the center like I’m some princess that needs to be coddled at my age.”

A slight giggle slipped from Lefiya’s lips. “I know you dislike such treatment, but please bear with it for our sake, Lady Riveria.”

The Elven Mage gave her apprentice a side-glance. “You’re enjoying this far too much.”

“Well, I can’t really help but be a little excited. I grew up on Elven fairy tales like ‘The Greedy Girl and The Holy Tree.‘ Anyone my age would be happy to know that there was truth to the stories and want to see it for themselves.”

Her mother had often read her fairy tales related to their heritage. Among them was this story, a story about a girl who was so greedy that she wanted to pluck the stars from the heavens themselves. It was a cautionary tale, but also a romantic tale. She practically had the entire thing memorized at this point.

“I am honestly more surprised that such a tree and village exists,” Filvis stated as she trod the path ahead, eyes in front and alert for any danger. She would unsheathe her sword and stand ready to protect her charge at the first sign of trouble.

“That was the point.” The High Elf crossed her arms as she explained. “For those as long-lived as our race, things that we wish to hide from the outside world but remain unforgotten could easily be concealed within stories. For the members of the higher ranks of our society, knowledge of the village itself is known. After all, the Spirit Festival is an important celebration and has happened every thirty years for hundreds of years.”

“…Using the tale to hide the truth provides secrecy while ensuring that the knowledge remains to those who can discern the truth,” Ryuu said after a moment of silence to contemplate that. “Other races would have no reason to pursue an Elven tale and thus no reason to look for it. Children of lower standing would see it as a lesson to be remembered but nothing more, while those aware would remember to pay respect when the time of the Spirit Festival arrives. It accomplishes everything one could want in a single motion.”

“It also prevents any chance of an incident whereupon the Spirits could be so greatly offended that they take back their knowledge. It is only because our ancestors forged a friendship with them that our race was capable of using magic in the time before the Age of the Gods.”

“…You mean because of the rites that bestowed magic upon those who curry favor with the Spirits?” Lefiya asked cautiously.

She received a mild look from her mentor. “I’m surprised that you know of those.”

“I read about them in an old book,” was her answer.

It had been true as well, given that it was from the tome that Lord Hermes had gifted her. She had only gone through a handful of the pages in the time she had between getting back to their home, getting her Status updated, and then using her free day to go spend time with Filvis. They happened to stumble upon the request written in the old Elvish script during that time and ended up accompanying Lady Riveria and Miss Ryuu afterward.

But the pages she had gone through started with the youth of the Ancient Mage, Fina. It turned out that she was a Half-Elf, a rarity considering the customs and divide between the races as each struggled for survival. Her mother had apparently been an Elven Mage who had fallen in love with a Human but had to give up living in the forests that she called home once Fina had been conceived.

Lefiya felt… sad realizing the parallels between then and now. Even though more than a thousand years had passed, their union was still looked down upon. She could understand the feelings of that Ancient Mage, which was probably why she ended up developing her new Skill upon having her Status updated—Vow of Elcos.

It was apparently a Skill that Lady Loki had never heard of, meaning it was a Rare Skill. She hadn’t even heard of the name of Elcos, as it was a kingdom that Fina had lived in before the Age of the Gods. The rulers of the heavens only turned their attention fully to the lower plane sometime after it was destroyed by monsters—one of many forgotten kingdoms of no importance during those dark times.

Her brother, whom she penned her memoirs about, hadn’t been born yet from what Lefiya could tell. But considering how she described her parents’ relationship he was probably well on the way soon enough. It was a shame that there weren’t any tales of Half-Elven heroes among the fairy tales she was told by her mother, but their kind would never want to spread such stories since it encouraged the intermingling of races.

As for the Clown March, she could only speculate that it had something to do with her Familia. The Trickster could also be considered a Jester or Clown, and she was the Trickster Goddess. Since it didn’t have an Active Trigger, that meant it would be passive until the situation turned up and Loki wanted to experiment with it when they had a chance to see if it operated similar to how some of the others had Skills that boosted their attributes temporarily.

“Spirits of old were the ones who bestowed Magic upon our ancestors as a token of friendship,” Riveria began, as though starting an educational lecture. “At the dawn of the world, when monsters from the Dungeon spilled out freely, our ancestors beseeched their wisdom through certain rites and thus became capable of calling upon Magic that could fend them off. To this day it remains one of the few methods to obtain Magic without the Falna—often only taught to the nobility of our race and the Royal Family in lieu of receiving the Grace of the divine.”

“I was unaware of that,” Filvis said with a hint of shame in her tone. Considering how she prided her Elven heritage it was something that she probably felt she should have known.

“There are a few reasons for that. The first being that Ancient Magic is largely inferior to either Acquired Magic or Congenital Magic manifested by the Falna and thus outdated. Since the Falna essentially tailors the Magic one receives through it for them, it reduces the risk of an Ignis Fatuus. And because the Magic comes about due to the Falna it can benefit from the Mage Developmental Ability.”

The Mage Developmental Ability was basically what determined whether or not one was simply using Magic or one was considered a Mage. It increased the efficiency of the spell cost, improved its range, and several other things that improved with its ranking. If one had to provide a comparison, Filvis was a Magic Swordsman because she possessed the Mage Developmental Ability, while Miss Ryuu was an Elven Warrior that simply knew Magic.

“Then you have to consider that one has to beseech the Spirit and earns its favor to gain the knowledge, much like only select few weavers receive the aid of Spirits to make Spirit Fabric. To this day only those such as members of the Royal Family, the Royal Knights, and those of high standing are graced with this knowledge and many do so by either calling upon a Spirit within their forest or such a gathering as the Spirit Festival. Others are not permitted to know, hence why I have not bothered teaching you them if you were curious. Your attention would be better spent elsewhere.”

I suppose Lord Hermes was unaware of that when he gave it to me. She was not of high standing and a Half-Elf at that. That knowledge would never be known to her under normal circumstances. She could only assume that he couldn’t read the language when he handed it to her given that those memoirs held some of that knowledge, taught from mother to her young daughter.

…Still, when her thoughts turned to those ancient mages, she imagined how difficult it must have been for them. Singing until their voices were hoarse and scraping together whatever they could in a bid to survive that harsh time. And she felt a kinship with them when she considered her own circumstances. “…Is it similar to receiving a Spirit’s Blood like Mister Crozzo?”

She had been surprised to learn there were people with the blood of Spirits within them. On the 18th Floor, not only had she learned that Miss Aiz was one such individual but one of Bell’s party members as well. That same blood made him capable of creating magic swords that had been used to devastating effect, apparently. It hadn’t affected her homeland so she had been ignorant of it.

The High Elf shook her head. “No. Spirits would offer their power to heroes of eld in different manners, via contracts. But doing so involved placing such a burden on the body that, for that power, they would pay with their life. Many great heroes from that age have perished at the end of their stories because of that. It is their descendants that inherit that blood and thus a mere portion of the original’s power.”

That made sense then. He had mentioned that his ability was simply a byproduct of having a direct connection with a Spirit. It was most likely the same for Miss Aiz as well. Yet, even after centuries, it was still enough that it made them both capable of so much—inherited gifts from great ancestors.

“…Forgive me if I speak out of turn, but I suggest you not bring up that name again, Miss Viridis,” Miss Ryuu said in a serious tone. “That boy has not done anything to warrant the grudge Elvenkind has against his family, but it will still be weighed against him. Should others of high standing learn that he still possesses the power to make the same weapons that fueled the destruction of so many forests that both Elves and Spirits called home, he will most likely be targeted to prevent the bloodline from being rekindled.”

Her blood froze. “You… you don’t mean they would…

“Assassinate him,” Riveria agreed without any hesitation. “I do not know why the ability was manifested within him when his predecessors had lost it for their actions, but it is by the protection of his Familia, Orario itself, and the fact that many believe that the blood has been purged from their lineage that he likely hasn’t been targeted yet. Speak carelessly of it in the presence of my kin and his blood will be on your hands.”

Her chest felt heavy. Her curiosity had nearly signed the death of one of her brother’s friends without even realizing it. “I’m sorry. I truly am.”

“It would be best if we all kept silent from now on,” her mentor suggested. “We don’t want to offend the Spirits by accident. I’ll give instructions so we don’t get lost, but other than that keep the discussion to a minimum until we reach the village.”

The suggestion was taken as an order, given the topic prior was so heavy that it killed the conversation. The moment they stepped past the trees the magic threading the entire area was palpable. She could only assume it was the presence of the Spirits that had been mentioned, so great in number that it could be felt.

And when they arrived their breaths were stolen.

Dappled sunlight peeked through the breaks in the canopy woven of verdant green leaves, rays of light bathing the village that seemed sewn into the trees themselves. Crystalline, pure water flowed through a babbling brook that fed into the center of the village. And it was there that laid a massive, majestic tree that seemed to brim with magical power.

Elves quickly took notice of them. They looked different from others of their race that Lefiya had encountered, which she learned was because they were of the High Elf lineage. They were essentially next to the Royal Family in terms of pedigree, each from different forests that remained.

Unfortunately, they weren’t so different from others once their gazes drifted from Lady Riveria onto her retainers. “Forgive me, Lady Riveria. But why have you only been accompanied by barbarous adventurers and a Half-Man to our village?”

“Yes. One of such radiance as yourself should be in the company of the Royal Knights. Surely they would have come in force had they known of your attendance?”

I suppose some things never change, Lefiya thought to herself bitterly as she kept her expression neutral. She had expected it the moment that she saw that look in the Guild Leader’s eyes when his gaze fell onto her ears and said he supposed it would be fine that she went as Riveria’s apprentice. He had been saying that if the alternative was no Elf, then half of one was the best he could manage.

That being said, at least he had the decency to not voice it aloud. Even others in Orario attempted to speak in hushed whispers when they thought she couldn’t hear them, which grew increasingly difficult as the more you leveled the more your senses sharpened. She could only assume it was because they dwelled within the heart of their forests and were so unused to Adventurers that they didn’t know any better.

Miss Ryuu herself seemed unbothered by it visibly, although the air around her felt different. Then she saw Filvis trembling slightly in place. Her beautiful red eyes were narrowed and cold in a way that didn’t suit her, and her gloved hands were balled into fists.

Lefiya clandestinely reached over and brushed her fingers over her dear friend’s knuckles, drawing her gaze as she slightly shook her head. They were here as part of Lady Riveria’s retinue. They had to mind their manners and words as they were representative of her as well. Even if their anger was justified, and they were more than capable of silencing them, they had to keep it to themselves as to not reflect badly upon royalty.

“…Speak that way again of my retinue and you will have offended me in ways that are unforgivable, Elf.” In a voice that was as cold and quiet as falling snow amidst the moonlight, Lady Riveria spoke. It was not her usual tone, but it held within it the tenor of authority that dared one to speak against it. “Have you forgotten that I am also one of those barbarous adventurers?

Though her expression was masked in neutrality, one could feel that the air had shifted. Whereas before Lady Riveria had tolerated their supplication, despite not having any desire to be treated in such a manner, it was clear now that she had deemed their words offensive enough to merit her intervention. And when royalty was offended there would be consequences.

“Not only are they my comrade in arms, but the Elf that you referred to as Half-Man happens to be my successor. A child of Wishe graced with the title of ‘Thousand Elf’ for her ability to command the Magic of Elvenkind through the same Grace that I have received and by her own efforts and merits. In her, I see the embodiment of the magical heritage of our dying race and the one that will carry it into the future along with our traditions and culture. So for you to deem her as lesser than one of our own is unacceptable. Do you understand me?”

“M-My apologies, Lady Riviera!” quickly begged the High Elf. “I spoke only out of concern for your safety. If they were chosen by you then each must have the worth of a dozen Royal Knights!”

Another joined him. “Forgive us for not considering the talent found in the Elven blood flowing through her. Only one such as yourself would have the foresight and wisdom to take notice of it at first glance. Truly, you are as the rumors say!”

They were all meaningless words. Mere platitudes being offered up to royalty to avoid incurring her ire. Backhanded apologies that dismissed half of her heritage while praising the part they only acknowledged to appease the Nine Hells.

Lady Riveria didn’t even pretend to entertain them before she turned away from them and spoke to the party. “Let us find the one responsible for the Spirit Festival before my patience runs thin…”

Likewise, Lefiya failed to notice one High Elf in particular took interest in her as she followed her mentor in silence.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 5 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 5: The End of the Opening Act

Mmmlast night was so hectic,” Lefiya said in a soft, somewhat sleepy tone as she proceeded through the line of trees within the 18th Floor. The next day had come and they had some time before they began their ascent back to the surface, so she was in the process of heading to Rivira to find some new boots for her brother. “The Captain scolded me, you know?”

Hehe… sorry about that,” Bell said apologetically as he walked alongside her. “If I was awake back then, I would have I would have been able to explain things more clearly.”

After they had blown through the very earth to get back to the surface, she had carried Bell back up after he lost consciousness from his injuries. They had then been attacked by members of Evilus and a group of Violas, but thankfully a mysterious Elven Warrior showed up to fend them off and heal the pair before she departed. Considering Violas were tough enough that Level Three was the bare minimum one should fight a single one at, and she managed to take out multiple of them on her own, it spoke highly of her abilities.

Lefiya could only see her as the epitome of beauty in frontline combat as she danced gracefully between the monsters that had assaulted them without fail—might, magic, and majesty all bundled into one. She could have fallen in love with the masked warrior if she didn’t have her heart set on someone else and thought she had a chance. “You’re lucky to know an Elf like that lady, Bell.”

“She’s a friend that’s been looking out for me for a while now,” Bell claimed. “It was her advice that allowed me to get this far. I owe her a lot.”

“Make sure you properly thank her next time you see her,” Lefiya told him. “Most pure-blooded Elves wouldn’t put themselves out there for someone from such an obscure Familia like yours. You need to make sure to treasure that friendship.”

“I will,” he promised. “Still, to think you guys fight monsters like that all the time. Your Familia is really amazing.”

“That’s another thing we need to talk about….” She paused in her steps at that. It was as good of a time as any for what she had decided after everything that transpired. “Bell?”

He stopped ahead of her and turned back. “Is something wrong?”

She took a deep breath before she broached a question that should have been a long time coming. “…Would you be willing to join me in the Loki Familia?”

His crimson eyes, the opposite of her azure pair, rose up in surprise at her offer. “Eh?”

“You might have only a month or so of experience, but you are a Level Two and no one can deny that you would be a good candidate after last night. You also get along pretty well with some of us from what I can tell, so with me vouching for you…”

She should have offered him that much the day he came to her. He might have been new but when she looked back on how far he had come in such a short time, it felt like she had cost them a valuable comrade. And he would be relatively safer considering how they operated. There hadn’t been a single casualty in the Familia since she had joined, which was due to how things were structured. He would be safe and she could watch over him easier with the others helping her.

He closed his eyes, his placid brow furrowed in thought. Then his features became apologetic as he opened them again and gave his answer. “Lady Hestia has become family to me as well. I can’t abandon her.”

The Half-Elf could only sigh. She honestly expected it. “Then, no matter what, you can’t tell anyone about us. Neither of us can.”

His expression dampened like a rabbit with its ears folded over. “Why?”

“The Loki Familia is one of the most powerful Familia and can more than defend itself, but we still have enemies. If they find out about you, they’ll use you to get to me and the Familia. I see my Familia as family, just like you—and I don’t want to be forced to choose between either one.”

Evilus was one such force. Their remnants were still causing problems and had almost claimed his life as collateral damage. The secret being kept between them was the only reason someone else hadn’t taken interest in him aside from the fact that he was the current Record Holder.

Then there was the fact that certain secrets were supposed to be kept among Familia members. Things like tactics, strategies, and other things that shouldn’t be told to outsiders. Having a family member outside of the Familia—especially in a rival Familia—would make her a liability. It may have already done so.

“It seems I’ve caused problems for you again,” Bell said. “Sorry.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s my fault. I should have brought you to Lady Loki the moment you showed up on our doorstep. But I was a bad older sister, and now both of us are paying the price for that. That’s something I’ll have to deal with eventually.”

“…One day I’ll become stronger.” He looked deep into her azure eyes. To the extent that she could see the gleam of resolve reflected within his own crimson pair. “Strong enough that you won’t have to keep it a secret to protect me. I swear.”

Idiot, you would need to be a least Level Six to do that.” Not that she didn’t believe it was possible he would reach that point. But she would prefer that he had a different reason to seek that strength than for her. “Until then, when we’re alone, you can call me your sister without any problem. That’s fine, right?”

His expression brightened in a way that reminded her of when he first saw her, back when they were kids. “Yes, sister.”

You don’t have to look so happy about it,” she said in a dismissive tone as she looked away, a slight crimson hue painting her cheeks. It was a crime he looked as adorable as he did every now and again, despite his age. “What a troublesome little brother you are. Come on, let’s get you some new boots.”

Visiting the town, she found him a relatively decent pair of boots to replace the set that had gotten lost in the acid. Then she had to leave him behind because she needed to head back to her camp. They were packing to go back up the surface now that everything was said and done, meaning that they would be splitting up for a bit.

However, on the way back she ran into the source of her previous problems in the form of a handsome being with a feathered hat. The God of Travel leaning against a tree with a book tucked under his slender arm waved her over just outside of the camp. It was because of him her brother had gotten handsy and she wasn’t exactly happy about that, but even though she could feel annoyed at him she couldn’t exactly ignore him. “Did you need something, Lord Hermes?”

“I just wanted to offer my apologies for whatever trouble you got into last night,” he said, straightening himself up. Then he presented the book he had to her. “I understand you’re something of a scholar when it comes to magic. You can read this, right?”

It was a book that looked aged, yet she could feel the workings of Magic upon it—likely to preserve it. There were words on the surface written in Old Elvish, a type of script that wasn’t taught publicly anymore to most of the Elvish population except for the more learned like scholars or the upper echelons of society. Even then the only reason she could read it was because her mother had taught her, though it certainly had impressed Lady Riveria to know when she had joined.

“It looks like it’s the memoirs of someone named ‘Fina’ from what I can tell,” she explained. “Is there something special about it?”

“My children found it some ancient ruins before we came back to Orario,” he began. “Due to some of the other things there, we thought it might belong to an ancient Elven Mage from the beginning of the age of heroes, before the descent of the Gods to the lower planes. As far as I am aware it might very well be the only copy. Do what you wish with it.”

She frowned as she considered that. Though Elves were long-lived, many had lost their homes when Rakia had burned their forests down. And, because they were so secular, that meant the knowledge they held onto from ancient times had been lost as well. Something from that age would be invaluable, even if it were only the memoirs. “I can’t accept something that valuable.”

“I insist,” he said. “Even if not because of this incident then as a thank you for what happened on the 24th Floor. It was because of you that any of my children returned. It is only proper that I reward you personally.”

A weight pressed down on her heart when she noticed his gaze seemed distant recalling that day. So many of his Familia had died there. Many of them to protect her. She could only assume that he was trying to state they would want her to have it. “Then I graciously accept your gift, Lord Hermes.”

He took off his cap before bowing towards her. “You have my thanks. They will be able to rest a little easier now.”

I’ll keep it for them, she thought to herself. Even if it was invaluable and could be sold for a lot, it would be wrong to do so in the memories of those who died that day. Besides, it’s not like I don’t read in my free time. And, if it really was from ancient times, I could learn something new.

“By the way,” Hermes began as he placed his cap back on. “I must say, I didn’t expect you two to get along so well considering what happened.”

Lefiya wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “Huh?”

“Well, when I asked around where you might have been a couple of people said they saw you sneak off with Hestia’s child in the middle of the morning. Last I heard there were whispers going around that the two of you might have had the sparks of romance enkindled after a dangerous encounter of some kind.”

Oh Goddess no! She felt her stomach churn at that the very thought that rumors about her being in a relationship with her brother were floating around the camp. Leaving aside the already present issues of their blood-tie, what if Miss Aiz heard them? What if it got back to Filvis somehow?

She had to stomp them out. Now! “ForgivemebutImustbeonmyway—BYE!

It would take her the entire day’s journey back to the surface to quell those rumors. Even after she personally blew the head off the Goliath on the 17th Floor after the others had knocked it down. But she wouldn’t have any time to rest as the next day she would set off on a new journey.

To sacred lands known only to Elves.

[-Arc 1 End-]

Lefiya Viridis (Level 3)

Status:

  • Strength: I86
  • Endurance: H184
  • Dexterity: G210
  • Agility: G271
  • Magic: B797
  • Mage: H
  • Abnormal Resistance: I

Skill:

  • Fairy Cannon: Increases the effects of Magic. The effect doubles when used with attack Magic.
  • Vow of Elcos: 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.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 4 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 4: The Last Epic

The stage was set—the belly of a monster that had consumed many adventurers, their tales were forever written into fate as tragedies that were the old staples of the Gods and Goddesses’ entertainment.

The thespians were assembled—the younger brother who would act as the shield for the sister that could bring about the destruction of the beast as the comedy of eld had once upon a time did.

Now was the prologue—that which would determine whether the tale would be a tragedy, a comedy, or something entirely different written upon the canvas of fate. And the curtains rose on the opening performance as the smoke cleared.

The cyclopean eye cast its baleful gaze down upon the pair within its body, a monster that was potentially Level Four in terms of threat against a Level Three Mage and Level Two Vanguard. Its superiority should have been absolute, yet the proof of their defiance was forever etched into its body as its tendrils that had been cut and burned flailed above menacingly where those who came before never managed to do so. In fury, it renewed its assault by bringing the tendrils down towards them both once more.

The pair kicked off the ground. One to the left. One to the right. The whips came crashing down in the center with a splash that acted as a wall between them, obscuring their vision and splitting them apart.

Yet Lefiya felt calm compared to the last time and her mind felt clearer. She knew her role and his. Bell would be her vanguard and would protect her without fail.

However, as he was now, he would be unable to fulfill that role. His injuries had begun taking their toll. His blood was spilling out uncontested and making him light-headed. His legs were being eroded by the constant contact with the acid. So her first order of business should be to ensure her brother could do his job.

“I’ll act as a decoy until I finish the first spell to buff your defense! You look around for something that can help protect me by the end of my chant!”

“Got it!” The white rabbit darted through the acid as if his feet were on fire once the whips began focusing on him. It was most likely because his Magic as the last one used, following its species tendency to fixate on it.

She began a song just for him. “I beseech the name of Wishe! Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains.”

The melodic voice drew the eye of the monster towards her as it gave birth to a ring beneath her feet, golden in hue as it illuminated the dank chasm. Those whips that had been pursuing her brother then came towards her, readying to strike her down—

FIREBOLT!

—but as soon as its gaze left him behind, her brother let loose his electrical spear of flames that slammed against it once more and filled its vision with scarlet and smoke. The lack of sight provided her an escape as her lowered reaction was compensated for while she kept up her chant and her magic circle expanded with the accumulation of magical power.

Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance.”

The hunger for Magic like a ravenous animal left it to lash out towards her as the magical energy within her body seemed to course madly with every pulse of her heart. Denied its eye for exact targeting by the obscuring smoke, it relied on wild sweeps. But those she could avoid by the narrowest of margins as she kept up her chant.

Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

And with that the Summon Burst was complete. The gateway to a realm where the spells of all of Elvenkind were stored opened, a vast and expansive repository that had no guide and offered no guidance. Those who stepped into the realm could only bring with them the knowledge they accumulated on their own to reach in pluck at the weave of magic.

Among the spells stored within the infinite corridor of the Elves of the past and future, there was one she knew to compensate for her brother’s condition. If the flesh was weak, steel it. If injuries were present, mend them. She used that knowledge to pull from that collection a spell belonging to only the noblest of blood among their long-lived yet dying race.

And in reflection of that, the magic circle the hue of her soul turned a magnificent shade of jade.

The smoke cleared as Lefiya stopped moving. Her Magic had reached its crescendo and the cost was heavy on her in terms of Mind and focus alike. The entry fee of accessing her kin’s archives of knowledge was steep for one of mixed-blood. No longer running, magical energy densely surrounding her to the extent of rising into the air as glimmering motes, the whips immediately came rushing towards her to claim it even as they stirred the acid so that her vision of the world outside of her immediate area was narrowed.

She ignored the death closing in on her in favor of the sensation in her chest—of expectation and anticipation backed by the faintest sound of rapid splashes that grew closer. She could feel him coming towards her.

Gather, breath of the earth—in my name of Alf.” Extending her arms out as if expecting a loving embrace, she finished her song as it went from a solo performance to a duet once her mentor’s voice overlapped her own. “Veil Breath!

The magic took shape and leaped from her body as the curtain of acid was broken by a bulwark of silver, backed by a dark shadow. Jade light swaddled her brother’s body as he came rushing past her with a shield in hand, having reclaimed it. He raised it, intercepting the incoming whips with all his might, and a gong-like sound rang out as the shield buckled beneath the intense force even as it rebuffed the tendrils.

Then Bell tossed the shield away and bound into the air while bringing his onyx knife overhead at the tendrils and roaring the name of his spell once more. “FIREBOLT!

Flames erupted along the line of the swing. The explosion shook the air as the appendages recoiled from his assault as Lefiya knew it would. It really was amazing that he had such a Magic given his limited time in Orario. She wondered how far he would grow with enough time if he survived for all his recklessness…

No, she would make sure he survived. As long as he was in front of her, she would protect him without fail. She would dedicate her Magic and her soul to make sure that he could become all that he could be.

So she began her song anew, a hymn of destruction for the one who would rob him of his future.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree…

[-Bell-]

Bell felt thunder rumbling in his chest.

It had been there since he had lost consciousness from that last hit, the moment the back of his head hit the wall. He had descended into a dark place, the depths of which held the memory of when he first saw his sister. She had been pretty, her ears reminding him of a butterfly resting against the flower in bloom that was her face.

He was happy to learn that she was someone he could call family. Then she looked at him with hateful eyes and said that she never wanted to see him again. He had cried back then so much that he thought the tears would never stop.

But his grandfather had told him that it would be okay. She had a rough life because not everyone saw her the same as he had been. The blood that bound the two of them had also separated her from others.

He wanted to protect her like the heroes in the stories his grandfather told him would the girls around them.

Except that when he arrived in Orario his sister was already far ahead of him. Not only was she a member of the Loki Familia, one of the strongest Familia at present, but she was a Level Three. She didn’t need someone as weak as him to protect her. She wouldn’t even acknowledge him unless he caught up to someone who he had only heard whispers about when he tried to figure out where his sister was.

Then he had met Aiz in the Dungeon and understood why that was.

Her hair. Her eyes. Her figure. Her power. Everything about them seemed so transcendent that he felt something deep within him stir. He wanted her to acknowledge him too. He wanted to protect her too. For some reason, he wanted to…

He wanted to see her smile with his own eyes.

It could only be love.

But he was faced with the truth of the matter soon enough. Regardless of his own desires, he could never make them come true as he was. He couldn’t gain the acknowledgment of his sister, nor hope to do the same as someone like Aiz as he was. He was weak and needed to be protected by the very girls he wanted to protect.

It was no wonder his sister refused to acknowledge him.

That was why he threw himself into the Dungeon. He delved into the same depths that his sister and Aiz had in the hopes of catching up to them. He went on an adventure to seek the strength to make them recognize him as an equal and acknowledge him.

Then he had lost consciousness and, in those dark depths, he realized that he had still been too weak. He was still being protected by his sister. Even though she was in just as much danger as he was, she had been constantly protecting him while he couldn’t do anything.

For this moment I have earned the power that I do not deserve!

It was then he heard a voice. He heard a voice that sounded like his own. It sounded a little older and dramatic, but it felt like his own words being spoken as a golden radiance slowly revealed itself nestled within the depths. It seemed ancient and yet everlasting, drawing his eyes even as the air became charged.

“You and I are united for eternity.”

At that moment he understood it was power. Perhaps more power than he deserved as a failure who couldn’t even protect his sister on his own. In the end, every bit of power he had so far was all power that was bequeathed to him in the end.

His knife was bequeathed to him by his Goddess rather than something he forged on his own. His Magic was something he was bequeathed by a Grimoire he took for his own rather than something he earned as others do. Even now, before him was more power that he hadn’t done anything to deserve. But…

I’ll get stronger and stronger. Until one day I can protect my sister on my own. Until one day I can protect everyone with my own power. I swear it! But for now, I will borrow this strength for the sake of everyone else!

The moment he reached for that spark a jolt of electricity snapped his awareness back into consciousness. He saw his sister being swept up into the air and her death assured. He saw the axe nearby and he moved to protect her as the thunder rumbled in his chest.

Even now it continued to rumble within his chest as he stood in the defense of his sister so she could sing her next song, the lilt in her voice a melody that resonated in his heart as the whips closed in to silence her.

He cried out from the depths of his lungs as he gave his all to protect her. He slashed his blade of bequeathed power from his Goddess with all the force he could muster, offering the blade the flames of the bequeathed Magic he possessed from a Grimoire whose owner was unknown, while swaddled in the comfort and shelter of the protective veil bequeathed from his sister. “FIREBOLT!

The explosion rattled the air as sections of the tendrils were blown away, the wafting smoke and scattering embers of the appendages leaving a trail as it retracted them. Yet, it hadn’t learned to fear his blade or flame. It continued to seek out his sister as she wove her spell with intimate words, her lips illuminated by the golden hue of her Magic. “You are the master archer…

The whips lashed at his protected body as he fended the attacks off. Even then the blows that had been softened by the enchantment stung as they ripped away at the Salamander Wool. The pain tore deep even with the veil intact.

RRRRRAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!

But with a roar he bore with the pain and reached out to his spell, wielding a flaming sword even as he felt the onset of Mind Collapse from expending so much power. He continued to protect her without fail until he heard the final verse of her song. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Golden radiance filled the monster’s belly with its brilliance as her magic circle became all-encompassing as she let loose her nocked arrow woven of Mind and Magic. The monster that Bell had never encountered before, its sinuous vines and humanoid torso, seemed to sense the impending death and braced for it. “ARCS RAY!!!!

The air howled. The acid quivered and fled in endless ripples. The golden pillar ascended towards the roof of their prison, towards their captor who watched from above, and slammed into it like the divine returning to the heavens in the picture of what Bell imagined the Magic of Heroes to be through his dazzled vision—light that shunted away the darkness with absolute might.

There was an inhuman screech as the monster cried out while meeting the light head-on. It refused to bow to that light, even as it seemed to be pressed against its lid and was slowly being eaten away. It held strong even as the walls around them trembled and began to close in from every side, trying to crush them.

Nnnngghhh…” Bell could hear his sister’s strained voice as she continued to unleash everything that she had built up, her gaze unyielding and unshakable even as she gazed deep into the light. She raised her staff higher and gave it her all and more to open up a path for them.

You‘re really amazing, sister. Bell couldn’t help but feel that from the depths of his heart as he once more saw how far he had to go to catch up to her. And she could still go further if the idol they shared was still far ahead of them. He couldn’t let it end here for her.

His right hand began to shed white-and-blue sparkles of light that glistened as he raised it to the sky along with her staff. His sister’s eyes met his as seconds passed and a wordless message carried between them as the lights dancing around his palm and small chimes intensified. She nodded to him before directing her gaze up towards the monster once more put everything she could afford to into her own spell as he let loose his own.

All while both shared a single thought. “I won’t let you die here!

Light burst from his hand, a white radiance that wrapped around the lightning flame towards their enemy. But, along the way, the spell bent and twisted as it wove itself around the golden pillar until it was a beacon of white-and-gold that shone with the light of the sun.

That transcendent swallowed the monster and the world around them whole…

[-Hermes-]

As the pillar of radiance illuminated the night of the Under Resort, the God of Travel found it in himself to smile as the crystalline ceiling of the Dungeon reflected the light and gave the appearance of diamonds strewn upon a dark sky.

There was once a tale that Zeus had told him back before the Gods and Goddesses had descended. The comedy of a jester that would become known as the hero of the dawn. The first performance that had captivated the gods.

Zeus had on a whim observed the jester who was meant to be nothing more than a fool to be tossed away by the machinations of a king driven mad. Another victim of a long-standing tragedy in the making. Yet that jester ventured forth to the Spirit Shrine for the chance to turn the tragedy into a comedy.

So he beckoned a great spirit to form a contract with the jester to see what would come about.

And it had been his greatest joy to watch that grand performance.

The truth known only to the eldest of gods.

The dawn of the era of heroes.

The first heroic tale.

Hermes had missed the first performance. The heroic comedy that reached the gods and enraptured them so much that they turned their gaze to the lower planes wholly and eventually descended to give rise to heroes of their own—to be a part of their tales rather than mere observers. To miss that had been one of his greatest regrets.

That was why this time Hermes would be the choragus. He would see all the thespians assembled. He would see the finest theatron, Orario itself, be their stage. All for the sake of a new tale—not a comedy or a tragedy.

But a heroic epic that transcends all else.

The Last Epic.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 3 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 3: Lost Siblings – Part 2

Things had started simple enough once the two of them had caught their breath. They needed to make their way back to the campsite since it was too dangerous to linger about. Despite the 18th Floor not inherently spawning monsters, some did wander in from above and below. Monsters of that caliber were something she could deal with, but not a fresh Level Two like her brother.

For all Lefiya knew another Minotaur would show up and, after two encounters with them that should have been fatal, she didn’t want to risk the third time being when his luck ran out.

There was always the option of using her Magic to send up a signal. But she considered that the last resort. Leaving aside how shameful it would have been to go calling for help after she had chased him this far out, Bell had already caused enough problems. No sense in making things worse there.

The basics of survival in the Dungeon had been drilled into her by the Loki Familia since she had joined, to compensate for what wasn’t taught in the Educational District. Not every scholar there went on to join an Exploration Familia. The Dungeon was dangerous after all and there was no point in spending years learning for a single mistake to claim your life.

Lefiya took the lead with his Magic Stone Lantern to illuminate the path. The smaller crystals could be broken into pieces even with her mediocre strength. After all, as a Level Three she could easily punch cracks in the very floor of the Dungeon should she wish. She had him scatter them behind to leave a trail, so they didn’t walk in circles.

Bell himself supplemented that by marking certain trees as they passed with his odd knife that had the writing of the gods upon it, though such markings were only temporary given the trees could mend themselves rather quickly—but if they were still lost by then, she would accept they couldn’t get back and send up a signal flare. Still, it seemed he knew his way around mountainous terrain pretty well for a farm boy.

“I used to play on them when I was younger,” he told her, when she made the mistake of bringing that up.  It gave him leeway to tell her more about his childhood and he naturally seemed eager to, despite the situation. She considered telling him to shelve it for now, but…

Well, he didn’t even know much about their father or her. And she didn’t know much about him, all things considered. She still didn’t even know why had come here besides chasing after her or even about the Familia he ran off to join.

Then he told her and she felt her anger rising again. “Oh my Goddess… you joined up with the first Familia that offered you a spot? Without knowing anything about them?

After being turned away by her, it seemed her brother had gone from one Familia to another only to be rejected by them all until one goddess picked him up off the street like an abandoned kitten. She then took him to a bookstore of all places to place her grace upon his back and claim him as her own. Then they moved into an abandoned Church and lived in the same bedroom!

He scratched the back of his head when he saw the look she was giving him. “Well, Lady Hestia is kind and she was willing to accept someone like me. And I don’t mind our living circumstances, so I’m quite happy.”

She found it in her to start grinding her teeth when she considered the small goddess. It was clear she actually did care considering she risked entering the Dungeon for him once he had gone missing. But it could have gone so much worse considering how he was a know-nothing country mouse with such a babyface that someone could have taken advantage of him—in a lot of ways she didn’t want to think about considering their blood-tie.

“What about you, Sister?” Bell asked.

“I said not to call me that,” she reminded him before huffing. “And I spent some time scouting which Familia I wanted to join after my graduation. It just so happens that my first choice accepted my qualifications.”

She had left home and entered the Education District at the age of eight. Her mother had felt that she should be in the city where her father had lived. Perhaps it was so that she could escape the not-so-hushed whispers of the neighbors and the other children of her sullied blood.

Orario was a melting pot. People of all different races and careers gathered, so maybe she thought that it would allow her to escape those prejudices. The whispers still followed her—not every Elf was like that, but there were enough of them that she still heard the whispers.

Nevertheless, she studied hard to drown them out. To prove to herself that she was more than what they claimed. She had spent hours studying in the district and just as many in the Dungeon’s upper floors, where there were places where spellcasters could practice without the fear of damaging the city or having their chants overheard.

And once she had graduated, she had gone out of her way to scout and get a feel for the Loki Familia before she joined them. Her knowledge of the principles of magic was fairly solid and mages were something of a hot commodity, even if her original skill made it so that she was better suited to destructive spells by passively amplifying them. She had options, but… well, the Loki Familia had Lady Riveria.

Lady Riveria—a legend among Elves. For some, it was her royal birth. For others, it was her status as one of the strongest Adventurers in Orario. There were few far and between that didn’t revere her, even a Half-Elf like Lefiya.

And that was before she chose her to become her successor—regardless of her heritage.

“The Loki Familia has a lot of amazing people, huh?” Bell mused. “You managed to make it all the way to the 59th Floor. You’re just like the heroes of those stories that braved the unknown.”

“…Don’t let those stories mislead you,” she warned him. “The Dungeon is dangerous. Everything that you’ve experienced up until now can’t compare to what lays below this floor. You should quit being an Adventurer and find some other work to support yourself and your Goddess.”

Bell looked rather somber as he said, “But if I do that, I won’t be able to catch up to any of you. Even now, I’m still so far behind you all that I’m worried I’ll never be able to keep up.”

“…You’re such an idiot,” she muttered as the weight of those words lingered on her mind. It was stupid. Even though she told him he didn’t need to, he was still going to try chasing after them. All the way to an early grave at the rate he was going.

The two stayed silent after that as they continued until they found a tree that towered above all else. It was suitable to serve as a landmark, so she climbed to the top of it and was able to figure out a path back to the camp. But then she managed to spy something that made her blood run cold—members of Evilus.

Her obligation to her Familia demanded she follow them. It was an opportunity to get information that they lacked to prevent things like what happened before from happening again. They had already attacked this floor once before, so anything to prevent them from doing it again was the right course of action.

But there was the matter of her brother. Even if she wanted to return to their camp and gave directions, she couldn’t guarantee that Bell would make it back there on his own. The monsters they had crossed paths with and hid from until now to conserve their strength could still tear him apart considering he only had his Salamander Wool clothes and a knife. Or worse, he could run into Evilus along the way, and they would…

Her stomach twisted at the thought.

No, I have to protect him. That thought cemented in her mind. If we follow at a distance to discover their meeting place, we can then sneak back to camp and inform the Captain and the others. Two birds, one stone.

And so, they followed until they were close to the Crystal Grove and deeper into the forest. They only came to a stop when they were closer to the wall of the Dungeon. The entire time Lefiya was nervous as they followed along the way, her brother cluelessly but wordlessly following her despite the barest of explanations due to the fact that she said it was necessary.

Then the most terrifying moment in her life occurred.

The ground beneath her parted. The sensation of weightlessness and helplessness assailed her. The world around her returned to the Dragon’s Crucible on the 52nd Floor—the gateway of Hell.

Within that chamber where the heat sweltered from below as it rushed to escape the vents that were blasted in the floor, she fell. Without warning or prompt, from six floors below and on the border of the unexplored region, Valgang Dragons spread their leathery pinions to take flight. Ascending from the base of the crucible where the very earth jutted up like the fangs of an open maw waiting to snap close and from its vents belched acrid smoke and embers, they eyed her with flames slipping from their bared maws and ready to incinerate her.

It had been then that she had taken her first steps to catch up to the others. To stop being protected and instead to walk alongside them. She had managed to conquer her fear for those scant few moments, in order to rouse her magic to fend off her attackers then.

Yet that fear before was nothing compared to now…

Because this time her brother was falling into Hell with her.

“AHHHHHHH!”

Hearing his surprised scream had been like flipping a switch inside of her head. She reached out, caught his wrist, and pulled him into her before they could be split apart by the fall. The only thing that stopped her from rousing what strength she could to toss him back up was the fact that the opening closed up on its own.

Her gaze instantly shifted downwards and saw that there was a pool of something they were rushing towards. She couldn’t cushion the fall, but she could angle it so that they didn’t land flat in it. It was thanks to that both landed on their feet as the liquid splashed up around them.

The liquid was a sickly purple color that rose up to their waist. The vapors rising from it had a poignant and acrid smell that irritated the nostrils as they breathed it in. The foul fumes were nauseating enough on their own that they might have been poison.

Then it started to burn.

“Gah!” “Ugh!”

The liquid sizzled where their bodies touched it, bubbling and frothing as the caustic fluid began to nip away at their flesh with ravenous glee. The lantern that had fallen with them was already being corroded by the fluid, the stone inside of it already dimming. Her thoughts turned to acid as she found half-dissolved bone and corroded metal belonging to other Adventurers around them, and then she looked around to see the fleshy texture that made up the wall.

Then realized dawned that it was not a hole they fell into.

It had been a maw of a monster.

They were in its stomach.

She had killed them.

Above us!

Her eyes shot up at her brother’s words and she spotted what looked to be a humanoid torso that had bright, rich colors of red and yellowish-green that were often found in monsters and animals that indicated they were poisonous. The creature had a single eye that peered around from the long stalk that served as its neck, crowned by thin bristles, with two elongated tendrils that shifted in erratic motions as though alive.

It was a monster that reminded her of the Corrupted Spirit on the 59th Floor. It didn’t exude the sheer menace that one did, but it had similar enough traits to the same monsters that had been eating others to feed it the magic stones. It had to have been planted there as a security measure to eliminate witnesses or guard whatever they had near here.

And then its cyclopean eye finished skimming its surroundings before settling on them.

Time seemed to dilate as the senses of a Level Three Adventurer kicked into overdrive in the face of danger. And even that was barely enough for her to react to the incoming attack as instinct kicked in and her hand reached out to pull her brother away. She managed to leap back with him in her tow as far as her legs could carry her in a single bound as the pair of sinuous, massive whips came crashing down.

The entire chamber rumbled as the acid splashed up to nearly three-fourths the height of the chamber, scattering broken bones and abandoned armaments. She felt the acid splash against her hair and the sleeves of her combat clothes, the latter meant to serve as a moderate defense against the hazards of the Dungeon. She then turned to her brother behind her as he snapped up from having fallen backwards, only stopped from a full plunge by one of his hands that was now suffering from mild caustic burns.

He was lucky, considering he was only a fresh Level Two. If the acid had anywhere near the same potency as the ones on the lower floors, there wouldn’t have even been flesh left on the limb.

She tore the half-cloak of her outfit off and passed it to him. “Wrap it up!”

“Look out!” Bell shouted abruptly.

Lefiya whipped her head around to see that the whips were coming around once more. Her body moved, leaping away from the crash site as the wall of acid rose up in response. She quickly covered her face with her sleeve and felt the acid assail the durable fabric before lowering her arm to find her brother. “Bell!”

“I’m fine!” He was on the opposite side of the melting chamber, his legs moving with his injured arm wrapped up tight by the cloak and his other brandishing the onyx dagger that he had in a reverse grip. It seemed uncorroded despite the acid dripping from it. “What is this thing!?”

“Just focus on avoiding it for now!” The singular eye shifted between them before the whips began to stir once more and her grip on Forest’s Teardrop became iron clad. “I’ll come up with something!”

Then talk became a secondary concern to resolving the situation. The monster may have been an unknown, but she had seen similar kinds and had studied under the Loki Familia. They had to be prepared to deal with the unknown as they existed to explore the undelved depths of the Dungeon, so encountering new foes was expected and how to adapt to them.

She felt her thoughts racing as she tried to focus on those teachings. But she couldn’t help but have her thoughts drift back to her younger brother. He hadn’t trained for this—he wasn’t prepared to be an Adventurer. He was a farm boy who lived a simple, happy life in a safe place until a little over a month ago!

Even now he was darting around in a panic—a wild, white rabbit darting back and forth and only able to narrowly avoid the whips when they came towards him. If he wasn’t so fleet-of-foot then he probably wouldn’t have made it that long, but she didn’t know how long that would last before the acid ate away at his legs. The durability of a Level Two was nowhere near sufficient for this kind of environment.

Much less a boy who reached Level Two in less than a month.

It took her three years to reach Level Two. It was at eleven years old, after the examination where they had to put their Magic into practical use in the Dungeon. Students in the Education District who planned to pursue a career in Adventuring, or even to simply obtain access to Magic, received a Falna from one of the Gods who preside over the district. They acted as their instructors until they graduated before leaving the Falna open for them to transfer to a new Familia.

It took her two years after that to reach Level Three, just a year after joining Lady Loki’s Familia. Her growth would be considered rather good considering how far of a gap most others had to cross just to pass the threshold. She would probably reach Level Four soon enough, given how high-quality the excelia was from diving so deeply into the Dungeon and going against its threats.

But his growth was just absurd.

No other members of the Familia to support him. No education on what to expect. Just whatever he could scrounge together and pick up along the way. That carried a crippling weakness that killed new Adventurers often enough—the lack of experience on how to adapt to new situations.

Observation. Analyzation. Application. Those were beyond him as he was never taught. And that was because she hadn’t brought him with her. She hadn’t even asked her Goddess or told anyone about him, driving him away in the attempt to keep him out of her life.

Now she had dragged him into this as ill-prepared as possible.

She had as good as killed him herself.

Focus! She bit down on her lower lip as she forced her gaze back to it. There had to be some kind of tell, some kind of action that served as recognition to figure out what it was capable of before she went on the offense. What is it?

It was fortunate that she inherited the eyes of her mother’s race. Those eyes may not have been on par with a Pallum’s in such dim light, but they were perceptive enough that she could pick up the details.  That was what allowed her to see how it always shifted its eye to its current target before it attacked.

“Watch its eye!” Lefiya called out. “It needs to look to fix our position before it sends the signals for its whips to land! There’s enough of a delay to get out of the way!”

“Got it!” Bell responded as he fixed his gaze into its own and found the inhuman gaze staring right back. It served as the trigger for him to move with purpose rather than floundering around and reacting. The next swing that came in like a crushing pendulum missed by more than enough space.

“Stay aware of its tendrils!” she continued, feeling a weight off her shoulders as her analysis was complete. As long as they could predict its movements, he could focus on dodging with those legs of his while she could go on the offense—his little knife wouldn’t cut it since he could get close to the eye to cut into it, and they didn’t know where the magic stone was to hit. “I’ll look for an opening and start casting a spell!”

Sensing the change in how its prey operated, their floundering and narrow misses becoming far more focused and evasive, it became far more aggressive in its assault. Rather than simply crashing down to crush them into the acid and hasten their deaths, it lashed out in erratic methods such as curving its appendage, so it swept horizontal and skirted the acid along with the armaments. With that, the two lethal weapons had effectively multiplied.

Bell was momentarily cornered with a fleshy wall to his left and the tendril came up around to smash through his legs, breaking them to leave him to drown. But he bounced up as he twisted one foot facing it and then threw his outside shoulder towards the tendril. The twist carried him over the tendril and leaving it to sweep into the fleshy wall behind him as he took off running anew.

He really is nimble, Lefiya acknowledged even as she contended with the fact that she felt the acid eating away at her boots. Considering hers were of better quality than what he could afford, his feet must’ve been burning. If she didn’t do something soon, he would slow down and that would be the end.

But the question was… what could she do?

Her Concurrent Chanting required focus enough that her reaction and reflexes dropped as well. Enough that her Speed, which wasn’t her best attribute by far, would drop enough that she was effectively a sitting duck. And that was before the fact that others like this creature usually fixated on magical energy.

She needed a vanguard to be able to cast. But that required a level of coordination that had to be worked out in advance, something she and Bell lacked given they had only seen each other a scant few times. And even then the vanguard often…

She shuddered when she recalled the deaths back on the 24th Floor. The Hermes Familia had sacrificed everything to buy her enough time to cast. Even that massive Dwarven woman, Elilly, had used her very body once her shields had broken so she could finish her cast.

Bell was Level Two. He was her brother. She couldn’t do that to him.

Why couldn’t I have met you sooner, Filvis? If she met the graceful beauty years ago, she would have done everything in her power to walk that same path. They were the same Level, but she was someone who could manage both roles without needing someone to protect her.

Maybe then she would have learned spells that were more suited for that. Her spells were powerful, but their casting times were longer and the amount of magical energy that needed to be gathered made it extra difficult. Even if she borrowed Filvis’ super-short chant it would be extended due to how her Elf Ring worked.

And she couldn’t learn any new spells through her Falna because her slots were all taken up.

I can only do my best, she told herself as she remembered her training with Filvis. There was no need to accumulate the entirety of the magical energy from the beginning. She could start the chant and then rapidly gather it together in the latter half of her chant, leaving her mobile at the start and then planted in the end to fire.

However, before she could begin her chant the chaotic barrage of attacks… ceased entirely.

The two stopped moving as the crown around the monster’s eye grew luminous with a blue hue that indicated it was doing something new. Something had changed. Her mind raced when she considered what would come about—

SCRRRRRRREEEECCCCCHHHHHH!

—that was when a high-frequency soundwave resounded in the sealed chamber. It was a natural mechanism to deal with prey that had become too difficult to catch and it was expending too much energy to quell it. Using high-frequency soundwaves to assail the inner ear that helped keep one balanced, even the swiftest of animals would be forced to stall and reorientate themselves if they remained conscious.

Lefiya’s head felt like it was splitting open as she collapsed to her knees and clutched her pointed ears that had a rounded curve. They were the reason that anyone who had seen an Elf before could recognize her for who she was. That she was a half-breed.

…Half-Elf. Half-Man. Which half depended on whom it was that referenced her lineage.

The Humans would call her a Half-Elf, as if to elevate her heritage of being a member of the skillful, elite, graceful Elven race by how pointed her ears were despite the soft curve in them that was rigid in the pure linage. And in doing so it would be to the detriment of her other heritage. She was simply the product of a Human who managed to have a tryst with an Elf.

The Elves of her homeland called her Half-Man, as if to denounce that her blood was impure because of that. Humans were among the weakest of the races, after all. They had no special magic or attributes like an Elf’s longevity, a Dwarf’s strength, a Pallum’s eyesight, or a Beastfolk’s senses. The only thing that separated them from others was the fact that they could sire children with other races, with said offspring being barely above the Human but inferior to the other race.

Mother had called her a blessing of the gods.

She believed that what made Humans special was that they could cross the borders that divided the other races. They were the ones capable of tying an everlasting friendship between races. Lefiya and her ears were proof of that.

However, her brother was Human.

He lacked any inherent ability suitable for this life. Even now his Level was lower and he younger than her. So, if she was rattled by the assault, he was—

Her head snapped up towards the eye above as the screeching stopped. Expending whatever energy it kept partitioned away in reserve to unleash that attack, it would go back on the offense with its primary weapons. It would target whomever its gaze was fixed on.

And that gaze wasn’t on her.

She screamed at the top of her lungs even before her eyes naturally traced the gaze. “LOOK OUT!

Her brother’s attention snapped up at the warning in time to see the attack coming. The two lashing whips were coming from above and across. One would rip off his legs and the other would cave his skull into his chest and smear the remains into the acid to be dissolved away into nothing but shattered bones.

He could maybe dodge one. But not both. Not from that angle.

In a split-second decision, he leaped to the side with a twist while dragging something within the acid up with him, scalding his hands as the tendril that threatened to crush him slammed down below him. And as he raised his arms to defend himself from being slammed from the side, she could see that it was a shield. It must’ve been at least Silver or Mythril quality considering it was still solid despite the acid.

But, without purchase on the ground, nothing was bracing him from the hit.

She watched as the shield was sent flying into the air while her brother went rocketing into the fleshy wall hard enough that the entire chamber shook. She watched as his body, which by some miracle hadn’t broken open like fruit and spilled his innards, trembled against the wall as he gasped for breath. Then she watched him slide down into the acid that frothed vigorously to consume his quivering body as blood spilled from the back of his head.

BELLLLLLLLL!!!” She called out his name with a deafening cry, hoping for a response. It was okay if he called her name. it was okay if he called her his sister. As long as he responded, whatever he called her was fine.

He didn’t answer.

Then the creature’s appendages reared back as though to finish the job.

UNLEASHED STREAK OF LIGHT, BOW LIMBS OF THE HOLY TREE—

Never in her life had she chanted faster. The accumulation of magic was shoddy and erratic, ill befitting of a Mage of any caliber. Her voice was hoarse and disordered rather than the lilt that normally caressed her lips as she wove her spell. She was sure if any other caster saw her, they would look upon her in disgust.

But Lefiya didn’t care about any of that.

She just needed the spell to form to grab that monster’s attention from killing her little brother.

And it worked. The moment the golden magic circle formed its eye and focus turned from finishing off dying prey to that which had tantalizing magic that it yearned to consume. She became its only thought, its only desire, its only prey as those tendrils came for her.

She stopped the chant now that she had its attention, the magical energy dispersing around her rather than being woven into the spell. It was fortunate that the spells brought forth by the Falna were so appropriate for the caster that there was less of a risk of an Ignis Fatuus. Not because she cared about the backlash, but because the moment she went down her brother would follow.

But she knew she had to finish her next cast. She had to finish and kill it. She had to before he drew his last breath and his flesh melted from the bone.

Unleashed streak of Light—” She began her song anew, willing to throw away any notion of defense for that purpose. Her magic was geared towards the destruction of her enemies. It would have to serve as the salvation for her brother now that he could no longer move. “Bow limbs of the Holy Tree. You are an expert of the Bow.

But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. “Shoot, Sniper of the Faeriesaah!?

Her song faltered as one of the tendrils managed to snake around her leg now that her evasion had diminished. It ripped away the ground from beneath her, hauling her into the air and upside down. She could no longer run away.

And the other tendril was reared back, ready to be unleashed.

Ah… I’m going to die.

It would swing as hard as it could. Hard enough that it would tear her in half, or at least take off her leg. Even if her Falna and Status wouldn’t let her die so easily from that, it would have no trouble finishing her off. It was over.

Sorry, Bell. I was a horrible older sister. Now we’re both going to die and return to Heaven.

She knew of the fate of all that lived. Death would return their souls to the heavens above. Then they would someday be born anew, but only after they had faded from the living memory of mortals. Such was the way of the world.

I hope that when we’re reborn, it’ll be as siblings again. Lefiya prayed, so deeply that she hoped it would be etched into her soul. So thoroughly entrenched that it would persevere beyond the ages. I swear I’ll be there for you the next time. I’ll dedicate my soul to you, and I’ll always be by your side. That’s the only way for me to atone for robbing you of everything.

Then death closed in as the whip was unleashed—

RAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

—and a dull silver saw streaked past her so fast that her hair thrashed madly. The enclosing death was severed as it whirled past, the narrow part of the whip meant to tear through by placing an absurd amount of momentum into such a thin area torn clean off and left to fly away as a shadow leapt up from behind her.

It was Bell.

His immaculate white hair was blotched crimson as rivulets of blood trailed down his face. His lips were peeled back, and his mouth was wrenched open as he shouted at the top of his lungs while brandishing that onyx knife. It was a vicious expression that didn’t suit the placid visage he wore every other time she had seen him as he swung the knife that had the luminous blue writing of the gods upon it turn a vibrant shade of red—

FIREBOLT!

—and scarlet flames bloomed riotously as he brought it against the tendril holding her upside down. She could feel the heat and force of the explosion as the appendage keeping her aloft jerked before its grip went slack. She began to fall as the smoldering, cauterized section of the tendril retracted, leaving her to right herself almost on reflex as she descended while the portion that had kept her aloft splashed down into the acid.

Bell landed ahead of her and raised his right hand to the heavens, his left arm chambered beneath it as though to brace it while he called out that name again. “FIREBOLT!!

Fire erupted from his palm this time. It snaked like a lightning bolt right towards the cyclopean eye that seemed to reel back in pain or surprise. And where it connected the flames ran wild as they came unbound, savagely attempting to incinerate. She had thought for a fleeting moment the knife had been a magic sword with a fire spell bound into it, but…

FIREBOLT! FIREBOLT! FIREBOLT!

She realized that wasn’t the case at all as he shouted over, and over, and over again with a hoarse, powerful voice and the fire leapt to his call each and every time from his bare hand. It was magic—his own personal magic.

Not a short chant spell. Not even a super-short chant spell. There was no chant at all that proceeded the accumulation of the magical power.

Her brother had Magic that was instant.

“Sorry that I passed out for a moment!” Bell said as he panted while his blood continued to drip down into acid below with every hard breath he took, the smoke and embers from his instant flames obscuring the eye that had been glaring down on them as it whipped its tendrils above to try and clear its vision. “We need your Magic!”

“Huh?”

“Mine won’t be enough,” he said, taking an offensive stance as the smoke thinned. “Cast your spells! I’ll protect you this time! I swear!”

It was ludicrous to her. Even she could tell he was barely standing and could barely protect himself. She couldn’t put him at risk as the vanguard in that condition. Not as his older sister who needed to protect her younger brother…

Or so she thought until she noticed something as she stared at his back which seemed so much broader than she expected. Covered in blood, his flesh and clothes sizzling from the acid, he was no different from her. In that moment they were the same.

Younger brother or not, he was still someone who had faced danger to come this far. Even if he saw her as his older sister, he also saw her as an Adventurer. And between Adventurers there was something each should have that surpassed anything else:

Mutual Respect.

They had respect for one another because they were the same. They were the ones who braved the depths of the Dungeon in the hopes of conquering it. They were the ones who explored the unknown and defeated the monsters, risking life and limb to do so.

He respected her as an Adventurer, even if he saw her as his sister. Specifically, he respected her as a Mage in need of a Vanguard. But she hadn’t done the same for him—a Vanguard in need of a Mage capable of ending the battle.

She needed to respond to his respect with her own.

She needed to put her life in his hands.

“It’ll be drawn to my Magic, and I’ll be slower to respond,” she began to explain why she needed him to play the role that would thrust him into danger. “It’ll take time for me to accumulate the magical power to make sure I can kill it, but if you can keep it blind and distract it for me until I’m ready I swear I’ll get it done!”

It was a duty unbefitting of an older sister to assign her younger brother that needed to be protected. But for an Adventurer who was someone to be fought alongside as equals… there was no more fitting role.

Protect me and I’ll sing for you, Bell!!


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 2 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 2: Lost Siblings – Part 1

QUIT RUNNING!

Two words filled in the darkness threading the greenery of the forest around them. The crystals that lined the ceiling of the 18th Floor of the Dungeon had long since petered out. ‘Night’ had fallen for the floor and so those who were still milling about could be counted on one’s fingers.

Or just two in the case of the forest where they were at the moment.

I swear it was an accident!” Bell cried out as he looked back only for the cold sweat beading his brow to thicken as saw his older sister smoldering with anger to the extent her body seemed ablaze. Pure, unadulterated rage that had been a long time coming. “Lord Hermes made a weird face all of a sudden and I tripped!

For starters, Lefiya already had enough to worry about after the expedition to the 59th Floor. Things were already hectic enough between that and the red-haired monstrous woman who attacked them last time on this very floor. And then there was the fact that Aiz had the blood of Spirits within her and somehow that drew other creatures like that to her.

Her mood had gotten better once Filvis had come to visit her. It was unannounced and unexpected, but it brightened her day so much that she had forgotten all about how mad she was. That was the effect she had.

Filvis was so beautiful to Lefiya. It felt like every moment around her was warm and bright. Even now she could feel the lingering warmth of her touch. And she would have been content to just bask in it until they were back on the surface…

If not for the fact that fool who dared call himself her brother had the audacity to actually peep on herself and the others in the bath. Even if Lord Hermes had been the one who instigated him into it, he should have known better. To think she was related to someone like that.

When she had heard he was going around camp to make apologies, she had decided to wait until he was done and they were alone before getting on him about all the trouble he was causing. He should go back to living a life outside of the Orario or join a Farming Familia or something else that kept him out of the Dungeon and out of her life. But then he had groped her!

Her—of every other possible person!

I’M SORRY!!!” Bell promptly ran faster as the flames of rage seemed to intensify. But she was Level Three and fueled by a rage born from many different things at the moment, which left her more than capable of keeping up even with his absurd speed.

For once the chaser and the chased had swapped places, with her pursuing him to the limits of her ability and him running from her as fast as he could. They ended up deep in the Under Resort, a vast forest that sprouted crystals that were fed from the light above and shed it during the night to leave the pristine vegetation a majestic tint of blue. The maze of trees, its hearty foliage serving as blinders and dividers, swiftly punished the two for doing so as they both realized once they had reached the limits of their stamina.

Namely, they both got lost. The pair ended up leaning against separate trees, the hearty trunks supporting their weight as they caught their breaths. They were both sweaty and red-faced from the exertion.

This… is all… your fault…” Her breath came out heated as she stood across from him. The spirit was still enflamed. But the flesh was aching. She could run no more.

“I’m sorry, sister…” Bell said once more, his throat hoarse from the apologies. “I really didn’t mean to touch you like that.”

“It’s only because it was an accident you’re still breathing!” she snapped at him. She might have been more… liberal-minded than most elves who heralded from their homelands, partly because of her circumstances and her stay in the Educational District, but there were limits. “And you’d better not have told anyone else about us!”

The fact that they were related was a secret that only a handful of people alive were aware of—specifically, herself, her mother, and him. And she wanted to keep it that way to the extent that she never wanted him speaking of their connection.

Bell shook his head. “I haven’t.”

Lefiya huffed. “Good. It’s bad enough you decided to intrude on my life here. But then you have to get involved with my Familia and Miss Aiz! The fact that she saved you was already a miracle alone for a First-Tier Adventurer like her, but to have the nerve to ask her for training afterwards—as if you haven’t caused enough problems!”

Bell rubbed the back of his head as he looked away and muttered. “Well, you said that if I caught up to her then you’d acknowledge me, so… who better to learn from than her?

And with that the flames in her chest were rekindled. “For something so stupid, you…. went after a Minotaur of all things!? You nearly got killed by one and then you decide to reject her help so you can go fighting a second one!

It had really ticked her off to know he had done something so incredibly stupid intentionally, refusing the help of the others so he could fight it one-on-one! Of all the suicidal things he could have done! Even for Adventurers who had reached Level Two it was ill-advised.

And for good reason. They were among the Apex of monsters on the floors above the 18th for Level Twos. Speed, strength, stamina—they excelled at those attributes and could tear through Level One Adventurers like tissue. Especially one who hadn’t even been there for more than two months!

I had to wait until Level Three before I fought one on my own!” Bell was left cowering as his year-older sister now hovered over him with her eyes burning red, flames coming from her mouth as though she were a furious hellhound.  “And even then, it was with my Familia supporting me! You do not fight a Minotaur on your own!

The flames inside of her roiled madly like a wildfire. Everything that had been building up became kindling that was burning her from the inside out. She had to let it out before she exploded.

When are you going to realize this isn’t a game, Bell!? Four times! Four times since you’ve been here, you’ve been lucky to not die fighting things that should have killed someone else your level! What do you think will happen when your luck runs out!? Did you consider what’ll happen then to the rest of us? Your Goddess? Your Friends? My Mom!?

The thoughts of his gravestone resurfaced. There laid a fool who died entering the Dungeon, the most dangerous place in the world, just so that she would call him her brother. Just so that he would acknowledge that blood tie they had.

She could see it. That small Goddess who loved her child enough to chase him down to the 18th Floor, violating so many rules and facing so many dangers because of him, crying on her hands and knees in front of his gravestone. That Supporter, who had begged the others to help them against the Minotaur, weeping next to her. That Blacksmith with Spirit’s blood, who’d followed him all the way down here, his expression struggling not to break apart.

Her mother, whom she knew still regretted not taking him in that day, crying when she had to break the news that she lost one of the treasures left behind by the only man she had loved—her younger brother.

And it would be her fault because she said those words the first time they met as children.

Words that she couldn’t take back.

That imagery coerced stinging, hot tears from the corner of her eyes. “You have so many people who would miss you if you died. And yet you keep risking it all for something… so stupid…”

It hadn’t been his fault. The bullying. The discrimination. None of it had been his fault. But she saw in him that day everything she went through and piled it onto him. And since that day she saw those eyes of his and how they watered when he was rejected by her.

Even now she looked away, not wanting to see them again as the flames within her began to finally burn out. Everything she held back having finally been turned to ash and left to peter out. “You… don’t need someone as selfish as me as your sister…

A haunting silence loomed as she finished her tirade against the boy. She had said everything she had to say, where no one could hear them. She wasn’t happy to have said it, but she felt like if she hadn’t then she wouldn’t be able to keep it bottled up anymore. Maybe now he would get the message?

“… I… don’t know anything about our father,” Bell said after a moment, breaking the silence.

Lefiya’s mind froze for a moment as she processed what she heard. “Huh?”

“I don’t know what he looks like,” Bell continued. “Or his personality. Or anything. Nothing.”

It was absurd. So absurd that she couldn’t believe it. “Didn’t… didn’t your Grandfather tell you about him?”

He shook his head. “I only asked Grandpa about him once. Before we met. And… he told me that it shouldn’t be him telling me about him. That it should be my sister, since coming from her it would have more meaning. Because we’re family and it’s a bond that we share, regardless of circumstances.”

“…Unbelievable,” she muttered under her breath in simmering anger. She had never thought his grandfather would have kept information about their father from him. Then again, he was from Bell’s mother’s side of the family so he might not have known much about him to begin with. So he shunted it off onto her.

And… she didn’t even know her own grandparents. Albeit that was because it was forbidden. Her birth had made it so.

Still… had Bell spent his entire life waiting to hear about their father from her, because of what that old man had said? Had he spent nights and days, just wondering about his father? If she never said anything, who else was he going to ask now that his grandfather was gone?

Looking into those red eyes that seemed as innocent as the day they first met, she remembered his first words to her. How they were among the first kind words she had directed to her by someone other than her mother. How she had responded afterwards. It dropped a weight from her chest into her stomach as she clenched her teeth. He… deserves to know that much.

“I didn’t know him personally either,” she began, taking a seat next to him with the magic-stone lantern between them. “But Mom told me about him. About every little thing she knew about him and the time they spent together. It’d take too long to get into a lot of the details, but… I can tell you a little of what I know while we catch our breaths.”

His ears stood up in attention, almost like a rabbit. She’d say it was cute if not for the fact that it was… him.

“To start with, our father was like us,” Lefiya said. “He was also a member of an Exploration Familia. One that used to be here in Orario but frequented outside of the city often for quests. It was the Zeus Familia.”

He perked up at that. “Then, he was an Adventurer?”

She shook her head. “He was a Supporter. Nowhere near as glamorous or whatever ideal you’ve got in your head about him. In fact, Mom said the rumors from the other members of the Familia who stayed at the outpost when she was visiting at the time painted him as a coward who would run away at the first sign of trouble… and even then he’d still try to look cool in front of women.”

It was like watching a balloon deflate as whatever image he was forming in his head crumbled. Most people don’t think Supporter after all when they think of someone being part of a Familia. It carried a stigma even beyond Orario, and she could almost imagine that same look on her face when her mother told her the story of how they met.

“Still… he had saved Mom when it counted,” she continued before his image was ruined entirely. “Despite being a coward, he put himself in danger to save her from a monster that had come close to the forest. Despite there being others capable of dealing with it, he was there when they weren’t and ended up getting hurt for her sake.”

Her mother had described how terrified she was that she was going to die. How relieved she felt when he rushed in and put himself between her and it, only to be replaced with horror as the scent of blood and her vision turned red from the wound he sustained. It seemed like it would have almost been a mutual kill—the short sword he had plunged into the monster whereas the claws had torn into him, but he had only asked if she was okay.

“Mom said it was like a whirlwind of emotions had swept her up since then. She felt bad that he ended up being left behind, but he assured her they could get by even with a coward like him not being there since the only good thing about him was his running speed. She felt angry he talked about himself that way even as she ended up tending to his injuries while the rest of the Familia went on to finish their quest over the course of the month. But, by the end, she said it was the happiest month she had known—and well one thing led to another.”

That tryst had complicated things. A lot.

“…Grandpa told me a little about Elves,” Bell said. “He explained that she had a rough time because of it. And that might be why it would have been better if I stayed with him after we left. It must’ve been hard for you too.”

He wasn’t wrong. Being impregnated by a human, not even a strong Adventurer but a Supporter at that, had left a certain stigma with her mother. More so since she was unwedded. It left her sullied—and unable to return to the heart of the forest where she first hailed from. Working and living at the outpost was the only way she could remain even close to the forest.

Even so, her mother had loved her. And even though she never saw her father, her mother made sure that she knew he loved her. He had been the one who also provided part of her name—named after the leaves that danced in the air after being swept up in a whirlwind, just like how her mother had felt.

“…Anyway, that’ll have to do for now,” she said, bringing that to a close for the moment. “We’ve caught our breath. We should focus on getting back to the camp—”

GRRRRRRRR…

For a moment she thought she heard the growl of a monster lurking nearby. But then she heard it again and noted it came from next to her. Specifically, the stomach of her younger brother who had a crimson hue painting his cheeks.

She gave him a flat stare. “You’re hungry at a time like this? Really?”

Well, you chased me right before dinner time and I spent most of the day running around apologizing to everyone before that, so…

“…You are unbelievable,” she said with a sigh before looking around. No food she could spot with limited visibility. She scrounged around the pockets of her combat outfit until she came across the Crystal Drops that she found the day prior. She had thought to share them with Filvis, but desperate times. “Eat this one, it’ll at least tide you over until we can get back to camp.”

He beamed at the treat. “Really!”

It ranked her. “Only because we’re lost. Those are worth a lot on the surface, so make sure you savor it slowly!”

“Yes, sis—” He caught her glare. “–er, ma’am.”

Hmph…” She gave him a side-glance before taking the other one into her mouth and doing the same as she began to wrack her brain on how to get back to their group. As much as she hated to admit it, this was partly her fault rather than his.

She needed to see him back safely to his own Familia, at the very least. There were rumors that Adventurers who explored this part of the floor had gone missing, on top of monsters from other floors coming in, so it wasn’t safe for him to be here. Not when he was a fresh Level Two Adventurer.

It was her responsibility to see him to safety.

So she would.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 1 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 1: The Start of a New Tale

Few knew the “true” tale of Argonaut. For the one who was heralded as the “hero of the dawn” was a jester who wished for his tale to be a foolish comedy without tragedy. But, as his next great adventure took his life, there was one who stood by his side and made a solemn pledge:

To my dearest and beloved brother, Argonaut, I make to you this pledge.

Even though we part in this life, I will await you in the next.

May we be reborn as true siblings, so I can remain by your side.

And I vow as your sister to see the next chapter of your story be written…

As a heroic tale without a tragic end.

—Fina, Beloved Sister of a True Hero.

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 written in Orario…

Of brother and sister.

Bell and Lefiya.

[-The Start of a New Tale-]

There were two things that Lefiya Viridis hoped would remain buried in her past.

The first was that she was born sullied. She was dirty by the distinction of her blood not being of two that heralded from the Wishe Forest. It was a rich paradise of greenery, where magic was woven into the very roots as rites and rituals from before the age of the gods were recorded and preserved. But beneath the veneer of its glamour laid an undeniable truth that was abundant to her from the first day she had been old enough to recognize the look that others cast upon her was one of scorn.

She, as a half-elf, was not welcomed. Born to a society that represented elegance and grace, one born between a non-elven father and an elven mother was not seen as an equal. That was something she had to live with as long as she called that forest her home.

There was little wonder why she set out for Orario and never looked back.

The second, however, chased her all the way there.

His name was Bell Cranel.

And he was her younger brother.

She hadn’t known about him until she was around four years old. It was only because she lived on the outskirts of the forest that such a meeting was even possible—that her birth was possible, for that matter. Their home claimed not to be as restrictive of visitors as that of the Alf’s Royal Forest, but few who were not of pure elven linage could claim to have laid eyes on the heart of the forest.

Travelers never made it past the edge of the forest. The outpost was where her mother worked, and it was through there she had met her father. It was a union that never should have happened, but it did and she had been born to an unwed mother.

That day there had been an old man waiting for them. Her mother recognized him. They talked alone for some time in a room as she sat outside with a little boy that looked like a small rabbit. He had a bed of white hair that looked soft like a cloud and spotless eyes that were as beautiful as rubies—and, with two little words, he made her heart flutter.

You’re pwetty.”

It was the first time someone had told her that. Not that she was sullied. Not that she was different. She was left with her cheeks flushed the color of a rose as she couldn’t meet his innocent gaze.

But then her mother came outside and told her. She told him that his name was Bell Cranel. She told him that his father was her father.

That he was her younger brother.

Then… she didn’t see him as the little boy that looked like an innocent rabbit, his round eyes widening with joy at having a sibling. She saw him as the sum of every problem she had. Her absentee father had left her mother alone, only to have a son with someone else. It stoked in her anger that she never knew she had as the man wanted her to take him in so that he would have a family.

“I never want to see you again.”

Those words came out on their own before she ran off and hid until he and the older man were gone. The sight of his eyes watering lingered in the back of her mind for years to come afterward.

She threw herself into her studies as she got older. Every second put forth to excel. To prove her worth. But even when she demonstrated talent befitting one of the Wishe Forest, it was seen as being despite her heritage. The lineage of her elven ancestors compensated for her human flaws, from her appearance to her magic.

Then she left the home and came to Orario. She managed to join one of the most prestigious Familia there. She managed to become the student of Elven Royalty, where others who were pure could only dream.

That was when she met Bell again.

He had come to Orario now that his grandfather had died and he was alone again. He wanted to join her Familia to be with her, because they were family, despite never seeing one another since that day. But once more words came out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

“You aren’t good enough to join this Familia. So go back to your farm.”

It was cold. But it was true. She had studied to get this far and went through hardships he hadn’t. Countless others wanted to join as well, so why should she use the fact that they shared a father to give him an easy ride?

“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”

“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”

It was nothing more than to humor him. The Sword Princess had become Level 6. It would be impossible for him to reach that level, so he should just go back to where he belonged.

But that was when the rumors started. Each one telling stories of the boy with white hair and red eyes. Each one telling how he was risking his life in ways that should have killed him over and over again.

And each one stirred different emotions within her.

The first threaded her chest with tension due to a Minotaur appearing on the upper floors, followed by relief when the white-haired boy had been saved by Aiz. She hoped he’d take it as a lesson and quit going into the Dungeon, to go back and live a safe life somewhere else. But she felt more grateful to Aiz than usual since that day.

Then was the fear and doubt upon hearing of the boy who fought the Silverback on Daedelus Street having silver hair and red eyes. That couldn’t possibly be him given that was a monster that upper-tier 1st Level Adventurers struggled with and he hadn’t been there for more than a few weeks.

It must’ve been someone else. But she felt that maybe she should make sure he isn’t getting in over his head before brushing it off. It wasn’t her fault if he did something stupid in the end.

Then bewilderment upon hearing that he was the one who beat Aiz’s record as the fastest to reach Level 2. It was insane. She struggled so hard to reach Level 2 and clawed her way up to Level 3. Yet here he was already and suddenly his words resonated in her chest.

The third time they saw each other was on the 18th Floor. She had heard the commotion and came out to learn that a party had come down from the 17th Floor, having been attacked by the Goliath. And one of those was a boy with white hair and red eyes who had no right being there.

There were no words to describe the feeling of pain in her chest when she opened the tent to see him lying there. She volunteered to watch over him until he woke up. No sooner did the flaps of the tent close did she curl into a ball as her mind flashed back to every time they had seen each other before then.

“You’re pwetty.”

“I never want to see you again.”

“You aren’t good enough to join this familia.”

“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”

“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”

Now, as she looked over his sleeping face, she pictured what their fourth time meeting would be. It would be her standing there and looking over a gravestone with his name on it. All because he was getting himself into so much trouble trying to catch up to her. All because he was putting himself in danger just for her approval.

It was so stupid. So suicidal. So why…

Why couldn’t she stop herself from crying when she thought about that?


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 19 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 19: The Sixth Floor Redux

Silver flashed, gleaming amidst the pale-viridian light of the Sixth Floor. It was the glint of swift steel. A slender blade with a single edge drew a vicious arch and painted the nearest wall with a streak of purple ichor.

The lifeblood erupted from an ebony humanoid that no longer drew breath. Its upraised claw with points as sharp as daggers descended limply to its sides. Its body followed the momentum and crumpled onto the floor, vital fluids seeping into the cracks of the ground from the mortal wound. The tip of the blade then plunged into its oval-shaped head to ensure the kill, as she had the corpses of its kin strewn along the floor that had already fallen to her blade.

Mikoto withdrew the sword as she panned her surroundings for any more the creeping War Shadows. The Sixth Floor had not been shy about greeting the three who’d treaded onto its grounds with monsters borne from its cavernous womb, and these in particular were ambushers that hugged the shadows while the unaware peered around or were distracted by other monsters. Then, once they found an opening, they would descend to claim their lives.

That was what made them so dangerous, she thought to herself before she crouched while sweeping the sharp end of her blade around. The cold steel found the ebony body of one of the War Shadows that had been looking to ambush her and tore through it, exiting from the opposite end. The upper half of its body slid down the slope before landing on the ground with a wet thump. She made sure to stab in the head to ensure the kill. But they aren’t the only threat.

Her attention turned back to Welf as the thick blade he swung tore through the body of a Frog Shooter after he had closed the distance. He was powerful, or at least in terms of raw strength, he could definitely go through the monsters on these floors. And he had enough awareness of his surroundings that he remained on the ball enough to avoid the follow-up attack as a Kobold attempted to ambush him from his rear and slay it.

Numbers were a luxury of the monsters as, even though he cut down another, others were making their way into existence to take its place. He wasn’t yet at the level where sheer numbers wouldn’t be sufficient. The walls were only so fruitful, and their bounty would dry up eventually, but if there were enough of them, they could swarm him—and with the Frog Shooters providing cover for them, they could get lucky even before then.

At least he wasn’t alone as blood sprayed in an arch, the iron-rich smell painting the walls as a shriek borne from an inhuman throat rang out. The death throes of a Kobold that had its heart carved out by steel fangs were glossed over as, pushing past the collapsing corpse, the black-clad youth with his weapon more befitting of a butcher rushed in. Not close enough to be right up on the back of the vanguard, his boots crunched the stone floor as he viciously unfurled the blade while swinging it into the pack of foes.

Coarse fur was sheared. Muscle was torn into. Arteries were ripped apart. In a single swing, strength unbefitting of his slender limbs allowed him to rip through more than one body as he drew a bloody swathe from right to left with one swing. Then, with a twist of the wrist, he swung the opposite way and cut down another pair as their blood filled the air and patterned on his long-sleeved coat.

But it was too shallow in the case of one of the Kobolds as it attempted to reach out with its remaining claws and gouge out his eyes with a feral swipe. The nails narrowly missed as he backstepped, sliding his hindleg back while bringing his weapon overhead. The cleaver broke open the skull and pink brain matter joined the blood as he ripped it out hard enough that the legs of the monster buckled forward and left the corpse to collapse on its own.

Then, with a snap of the wrist, the weapon folded in on itself before he whipped it and his head around upon hearing the slightest sound. The weapon’s jagged teeth found the tongue of a Frog Shooter, tearing into it and splitting it ragged before leaving it to flop on the ground. He raised his other arm holding his secondary weapon and—

BANG!

— pulled the trigger, resulting in a small plume of smoke leaving the barrel of his ‘gun’ as he had called it. The cyclopean eye of Frog Shooter that had lost its tongue burst open like an egg before its body went slack. Yet that was only a distraction for another Kobold that had opted to approach the boy with others coming from different angles as well.

He went to meet them while bearing his own fangs that were drenched in blood.

Aggressive. That was the mildest way she could put it as he threw himself towards his enemies with the ruthless weapon in his hand. Avoiding the claws that could tear his flesh that had yet to reach the point of being as tough as steel by the thinnest of margins, he sank his fangs deep into its body and then tore out its blood and flesh alike while seeking the next warm body he could bury them into.

It didn’t seem to suit the boy who on the surface seemed so placid. He seemed so aggressive that it was like he was a black wolf with iron fangs that sought to tear out the throat of anything that got close to him, leaving him covered in blood that caught the sheen of the light above. And yet, despite how it seemed to be unsuited for him, he was almost at home using such a reckless method of fighting…

But there was no time for the questions that danced on the edge of her mind. They were in battle. Everything that wasn’t necessary had to be shoved away to focus on what needed to be done and what she could do. That was why she took off running, her ponytail whipping in the wind as she crossed the distance with her blade in hand.

Silver streaked as she slashed through the dog-headed monsters along her path as she made for the more troublesome of the enemies on this floor. The Kobolds were easy enough for the two of them to deal with, but more troublesome enemies that could attack from a distance and ambush them were a different story—Frog Shooters and the War Shadows.

The former could provide a distraction or score a decisive blow that would change the tide, and the latter could score a kill with devastating ease. She had been prioritizing the latter until now, due to them being a bigger threat. But, now that there were no more that she could see, Mikoto would turn her attention to the remaining cluster of Frog Shooters bounding around.

Her approach didn’t go unnoticed by her targets. Their cyclopean gaze fixed onto her as one, and her hostile charge was met with lashing appendages. They fired their black tongues towards her like fleshy spears, each one capable of slamming into the frail human body hard enough to shatter bones. That much she could say from personal experience.

Back then they had been cautious. But she had been confident. Careless to underestimate them by appearance alone. And the price for that carelessness had been a broken arm from the bludgeoning lash striking her exposed limb. The pain she couldn’t remember after all this time—much less when she’d had worse since then.

But she could remember the faces. The looks of fear from her brothers and sisters in arms as it could have been worse given that losing her blade meant a War Shadow’s claws could find purchase much easier. The guilt gracing the handsome face of their god at sending them off into the dungeon, even though it was their choice. The sympathetic gaze of Miach as he provided healing without asking for compensation.

Those memories—as well as the memories that came before—compounded into experience. They shaped her and the others. And it showed as, even though she hadn’t reached Level 2 as of yet, she could weave between the lashing tongues while flicking her sword in passing to sever them. Leaving the useless fleshy lumps slopping onto the ground, she rushed in and—

“Haah!”

—silver once more parted the air as her blade drew an arch that neatly sliced through a pair of the Frog Shooters as they prepared to bound backwards to retreat. The third one managed to escape in a single bound that carried it far out of her blade’s range as the viscera of its counterparts painted the floor with a wet splat and purple ichor. However, no sooner than it landed, did the sharpened tip of three throwing needles pierce it and its body turned to dust.

I must’ve hit the core by mistake, Mikoto chastised herself softly. Though they were largely just small fragments no larger than a finger at this level, every one of them counted for a Familia like theirs. Her thoughts didn’t linger on it as the dying whelp of a Kobold brought her attention back to the others and found that there were no foes left standing.

The blacksmith was even going around and driving his sword into their heads. It was to make sure none were feigning death. Not many of the simpler monsters would intentionally do that. But a killing blow falling just short enough to leave them on the verge of death was enough to stab an unsuspecting Adventurer in the chest when they came to harvest their stones.

Though considering how much blood now pooled beneath the corpses she doubted any that had met with the jagged teeth of Hestia’s child were among the living. Unlike swords that were meant to cut through the flesh and sever the vital organs or parts of the body, his weapon of choice for these six floors had been that one. It wasn’t designed to go through cleanly, but rather bite into the flesh and break through the bone before tearing its way out with everything it could drag in the process.

Like she had thought earlier it didn’t seem to suit him at all—yet there were a few things about him that seemed out of place as she observed him, to grasp just how much experience he had. It was more than she expected for someone who had not ventured into the Dungeon for more than a month.

She could not claim to be an expert martial artist, but she could recognize things about the body that happened as one gained experience. Muscle memory built up as you familiarized yourself with a weapon. Such as how you brace for impact, posture yourself to react against an opponent, adjust after a swing for the next one—and so on.

Roughly a month of practice will allow one to use a weapon on a basic level. The more complex the weapon, the longer it would take. True mastery was the work of years, if not a lifetime, as different encounters and experiences tempered your capabilities. Adventurers with the Falna could make that experience manifest from what she heard via certain skills such as Spearman or Swordsman, as it represented their single-minded focus on attempting to achieve mastery and take it as a commitment to continue along that path.

That weapon was irregular compared to a knife or other simple weapons. It was made so he could adjust the length and thus change the amount of force one could put behind it, even shifting the engagement range or which vital parts it targeted. That would require a lot of experience to wield as effectively as he had so far.

Then there were the stories going around of his battle with the Silverback. The heavy hammer he wielded to crush its limbs and could also become a silver sword to stab through its heart. The more weapons one used with any level of proficiency meant the more time one had to spend practicing with them, which brought the question of when he obtained the training to fight on par with one of the higher-tier 1st level Monsters like it.

He didn’t have a martial background from what she knew. His goddess had said he had no experience prior to Orario. But his body and prowess spoke where words said otherwise as he had without a doubt proven he was capable of handling the first six floors of the Dungeon without any problems in terms of combat. He simply lacked experience with dealing with them, not the capability to fight against them.

Even so, she found it a bit concerning as she watched him stand there while staring down at the growing puddle of blood. That which painted the floor would eventually be swallowed by the cavernous maw as readily as it regenerated its walls—the Dungeon took life as readily as it gave birth to it.

There was a small, almost nostalgic smile on his face. It was similar to the expression Lord Takemikazuchi would have while ruminating on times in the past he found to be happy. Then the blacksmith came over and tapped him on the shoulder, causing him to jerk his head slightly and turn to face him. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he said hastily. “Just… gathering my thoughts after all of that. There were a lot more monsters this time compared to the last time. But they were a bit easier to deal with.”

“That’s why parties are valued,” Welf told him before looking to her. “Leader, are there any more monsters here?”

Mikoto took a deep breath before she closed her eyes. Then she spread her awareness out in the form of black, illusionary feathers. They scattered unseen to all but her as they blanketed the area in search of her foes.

Yatanokurogarasu—the Eight-Span Black Crow whose feathers could span the eight cardinal directions. It was one of two skills that were born from her experiences in the Dungeon, divination techniques that tied her awareness to the world around her. It was akin to a third eye that manifested in her mind as black feathers that would reach out and brush the limits of her range, clinging to any monsters that she was made aware of so long as she had encountered them before.

Her senses picked up nothing. There were no foes hidden in wait for them to pass by and ambush. The Dungeon could possibly spawn more given it required an active trigger and effort on her part to activate, but for the moment they were in the clear.

“…There are none within my range,” Mikoto finally said. “We should be able to focus on gathering our spoils and heading back to the surface. There we can discuss how we are going to progress the next time.”

“We’re heading back already?” Bell asked. “There’s still time in the day.”

She shook her head and spoke firmly. “The time spent in the Dungeon differs in groups, but this expedition was only to gauge our capabilities. And while you have proven your competency with the Sixth Floor and above, the Seventh is where things change. To go there ill-prepared and before we can practice synergizing ourselves a little more could spell death even for someone who has ventured as far as the Tenth Floor.”

The blacksmith agreed. “She’s right. The variety of monsters change and so do how they start acting in tandem with one another. You noticed that part of why the Sixth Floor happens to be so deadly is because the War Shadows typically attempt ambushes when you least expect it, right?”

Hestia’s child nodded slowly. “In some cases, even the walls they spawn from tend to be far enough away that you don’t hear them breaking. One of them even managed to trick me into stabbing into a wall when I had thought I backed it into a corner with a dagger and nearly took my arm off before another two surrounded me from the walls.”

Welf’s eyebrows rose at that. “How’d you get out of that one?”

“I waited until one made the first move and then slammed into it with all my strength so that we tumbled over, breaking the circle and springing up at the same time so I could run away long enough to summon a new weapon.”

That was another thing they had learned on the way down. He apparently had some kind of Skill that allowed him to effectively store away certain belongings that were exclusive to him. It shouldn’t be unusual since Skills could appear at any time upon gaining a Falna, based on one’s experiences or heritage or any other factor. However, it only compounded the mystery of who he was…

No. I do not need to think further on it, she decided in the end as she flicked her sword with a practiced grace before using a cloth to rid it of most of the excess blood and fat from cutting through the bodies of the monsters. It would need to be properly cleaned later, but she didn’t know if they would need to make use of it for the rest of the day. My Lord trusts the word of his goddess and he has proven he is capable. His secrets and how he obtained them does not matter.

That decided she proceeded to help them with the extraction of the Magic Stones. None of the monsters on this level had particularity caustic or harmful bodily fluids, so extracting them wasn’t much of an issue. The lull in activity, however, did open up the opportunity for her to gather up her thoughts on the formation of their little group. “Crozzo. I believe you would be best suited for the role of the vanguard in our three-man cell.”

He looked over to her from the dissipating corpse of a Kobold. “Me?”

“Your strength is notable, and you are experienced with these Upper Floors,” she explained. “You can adjust to dealing with threats upfront based on your judgment. That would also allow for more flexibility for the rest of us in dealing with the lesser threats, so they do not overcrowd you.”

He nodded to her assessment. “I can do that.”

“Then what about me?” Bell asked.

“I would prefer you to be the skirmisher of the formation,” she said. “Your fighting style is quick and aggressive, best suited for bringing down enemies quickly. It would also provide you with a chance to gain experience with unfamiliar monsters by seeing how they are engaged by the Vanguard and then adapting to them.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” he said in compliance.  “So does that mean you’ll be the support then?”

“It would seem so,” she admitted. “My talents lean more towards dexterity and agility rather than raw strength and endurance. In addition, while I prefer the blade I have for engaging enemies, I can use most ranged weapons—which will be essential on the next floor considering what we will be encountering.”

Welf chimed in. “The Moths, you mean?”

“Yes,” she answered. “The Purple Moths are capable of spreading poisonous powder with their wings and are fond of using it while adventurers are engaged with the other threats. They are priority targets that need to be eliminated and I have some proficiency with the Shortbow. But fixing your eyes on them while the Needle Rabbits are present will end up getting you killed. Then there are the Killer Ants, which need to be ideally killed in a single blow, and the regular monsters like Goblins and Kobolds that will be stronger and smarter than before.”

Not only did the enemy variety increase but so did their numbers and tactics. That was why venturing any lower alone or without preparation was such a hazard. It was very easy to become cornered and killed if you were careless or simply unlucky.

“With your skill, you would be able to pick them off while remaining aware of your surroundings enough that you could keep us from running into trouble or being caught off-guard…” Welf looked down intently at the body of a War Shadow before asking, “If you guys don’t mind, can I take some of the drop items to make some weapons to help out?”

“We’ll have to set some kind of rule in place in the future about how we split those in the future, but I have no qualms if you intend to use them for our expeditions,” she said offhand. Drop Items had more value than the magic stone fragments at these levels. They could compensate for the potential losses from not going with their normal partners, so it might cause conflict in the future. “What about you, Cranel?”

He was the one who would benefit the most, being the only one who hadn’t gone further and the only one with a single member of his Familia. Yet he only shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure.”

“Thanks. Since our numbers are fewer, we’ll need to make up with better experience, abilities, and equipment. I can only provide a little of the former and both of your skills beat out mine, but the latter I can do something about. The War Shadow Finger Blades can be shaped into daggers and throwing knives that will cut deeper than their regular counterparts with less strength. And the Kobold Nails can be fitted onto arrows that have a little more penetrating power.”

“That would be beneficial, but would that not be taking advantage of your services?” Mikoto remembered that it was his role as a smith that had caused issues prior. She didn’t want this to be the cause of problems in his current group.

“This is simple and benefits all of us,” he reasoned. Then he tilted his head towards Cranel. “Plus, it’ll give me a chance to show off my talents to a potential Contract. I’d like to be able to study his weapons since they’re a rather unique concept, but before I go asking I need to pull my own weight. We will need Antidotes and Potions though—ideally at least two for each person.”

“I can get those,” Bell offered. “I had been meaning to visit the Blue Pharmacy anyway, so I can go after asking Miss Eina more about the Seventh Floor.  That way you two could focus on the other stuff.”

“If you two are offering to obtain the equipment and supplies, I would be willing to handle keeping the finances secured,” Mikoto said. “We can take the Magic Stone fragments and any of the drops we collect to the exchange and create a budget for what will be split and what will be left for the group’s supplies. We won’t need them right away, as I would like at least two more trips through the Dungeon to improve our teamwork before we set foot on the Seventh Floor, and we can save up until then.”

Neither found seemed to find issues with that.

“That’s fine by me,” Welf said before extending one fist out to them both. “I’m looking forward to working with you both.”

Mikoto looked to it for a moment before extending her own fist as Bell did the same, solidifying their partnership.

[R-M]

Bell was in a fairly good mood by the time he left the Guild. He was a little tired mentally, given it was late evening. Eina had decided she was going to grill him on the monsters inhabiting the Seventh Floor every day before he stepped foot there—starting today. But he had been in a good mood as he approached the usual side-street on West Main that would lead him back home.

Then the smell hit him.

It was the all-too-familiar scent of blood. It was faint, barely above the hint of the iron aroma that niggled the back of his throat. But its sudden introduction into the clean air of Orario still reached his nose with such sharpness that he couldn’t help but take notice before the pained cry reached his ears as he turned the corner…

And found himself on the streets of Yharnam once more.

The familiar old street was now darkened with gloom. Its architecture turned imposing and enclosed as caskets that were sealed shut with chains lined the walls. The shadows themselves seemed to move with an eerie foreboding as they seemed eager to lap at the blood dripping onto the ground from…

It was the Little Girl. The Daughter of Gascoigne. She was there, laying on the ground with her back against the wall and clutching her right arm as vibrant crimson seeped from her fingers. Her eyes were filled with fear, helpless as she stared down at the bloodied Saw Cleaver from which tantalizing ruby beads dripped down.

Then its wielder looked to him. The tall figure dressed Hunter’s clothing that was a dingy and washed out yellow. A man who was dead risen from the grave looked to him and his mouth moved, but what came out were guttural sounds and growls—animal noise that didn’t register with Bell as he stood there for a moment in frozen silence.

Not until Henryk looked back to his granddaughter and raised the weapon while she looked back to him with a pleading look in her eyes that said she didn’t want to die.

Then it was like the trigger had been pulled. “STOP!

He rocketed forth as fast as his legs could carry while reaching out to the Hunter’s Mark in the back of his mind to call out to the Little Ones. They answered his call, producing from the wall to the right along his path the handle of his Saw Cleaver. In a single motion and without a pause in his sprint he grabbed it and swung it forward as the Old Hunter turned to him and did the same—

CLANG!!

—and the scraping of steel-on-steel caused the world to revert. No longer was he on the streets of Yharnam but the familiar road leading him back home. The one facing him wasn’t the aged Hunter, but a man who looked a few years his senior and was wielding a longsword.

And by his side was not the Little Girl he knew, but a female pallum that had short, chestnut hair that was messy and untamed. The beige cloak she had on looked frayed and worn, the tear in the sleeve from which blood ran anew to adorn the stitched ones. She looked a mix of surprised and confused at the scenario in front of her.

“The hell you think yer doing, brat!?” the man demanded, drawing Bell’s attention back to him. “I thought I told you to stay outta this!”

“I’m not going to let you kill a little girl in front of me!” Bell shouted right back as he jerked his arm, leaving the teeth of his saw to scrape against the edge of the blade and leave sparks in their eyes before thrusting his foot forward to plant his boot into the man’s chest. The flat of his blade intercepted it but he let the momentum carry him so that they were disengaged.

It may not have been Gascoigne’s Daughter. He may not have been on those streets that had gloom seeped into the very stone. But that did not change the fact that he wasn’t just going to let someone get murdered right in front of him.

He took a protective stance in front of her, never letting his gaze leave the man with his weapon in one hand and the other reaching for a potion stashed in his pouch. He then tossed it back to her and said, “Use that and run!”

The nameless pallum grabbed it with her good hand before she promptly scurried to her feet and took off running. The sound of the bottle being uncorked and splashing over the wound reached his ears as her footsteps hastened. But he didn’t have time to focus on that anymore as the man’s face grew angrier than before.

“So you were workin’ with that scum all along!” If Bell had to express his visage in words it would be the picture of a hellhound on two legs, ready to breathe out a wave of fire. The intent to kill was palpable. “Fine, I’ll carve you to pieces and then drag ‘em to her!”

Then he went on the attack. His blade swung through the air, a streak lingering as the setting sun caught its descent angled towards Bell’s neck for what was meant to be a fatal blow as he raised the Saw Cleaver in a guard to defend himself—

ARRGGGHHH!!

—and then the sword clattered onto the ground, steel scraping the stonework mingling with the surprised and pained cry of the assailant as he huddled over with his right hand clutching his left hand. The fingers of the latter were bent out of shape, broken bits of bone jutting out and piercing the bruised skin.

And at the base of his feet was a small stone that was bloodied.

“Leave,” a soft but firm voice spoke. It was commanding and drew Bell’s attention to an entrance of the alleyway where he spotted Ryuu standing there with her arm outstretched and eyes narrowed. “Now.”

The Adventurer’s baleful gaze fixed onto her. Then onto the stone at his feet. And lastly, at Bell, his eyes lingering for what felt like a lifetime before he sucked in a sharp breath, grabbed his blade with his good hand, and exited without another word.

Despite his absence the tension in the alleyway seemingly lingered as Bell lowered his Saw Cleaver and looked down at the bloodied stone. It was an ordinary stone that you could find anywhere on the streets. That man had been an Adventurer who was at least more experienced than him. He could put the pieces together well enough.

Even so, he turned to thank his savior. “Thank you for that. I hadn’t seen you when I was at the Hostess of Fertility.”

She only shook her head. “I was running errands when I overheard what was happening. However, it would seem I only bought you a reprieve. He will most likely attempt to come after you again.”

That information took a second to process. Then Bell felt a weight in the pit of his stomach. “What do you mean?”

“Just now he was memorizing your features,” she pointed out as she slowly walked towards him. “Your exchange was brief, but it became clear the two of you would not have resolved that fight without one dead. You recognized that as well, did you not?”

…His grip on the Saw Cleaver tightened and his stomach twisted into a knot because Bell did know. Yharnam had not been kind to him, but because of it he recognized from both the intent and the motions that man fully intended to kill him. There was no doubt in his mind. “…I couldn’t let him kill that girl. But I didn’t want to kill him.”

“I am not criticizing you for your decision,” Ryuu told him. “Merely stating that you should be prepared to defend yourself adequately next time rather than simply intending to fend such a person off without harming them. Even passivity can have consequences, Mister Cranel.”

The message carried. “I’ll keep my guard up.”

“Then I wish you a good evening,” Ryuu said before making her way out of the alleyway. He wondered just how strong of an Adventurer she was to do that kind of damage. But it wasn’t his place to ask—not when she had done it to protect him.

Once she was gone, Bell looked back to the wall where that girl had been. The cut had been deep from the blood there despite her clutching the wound. The potion was one of Miach’s so it should work, but…

He could still see Gascoigne’s Daughter in that moment. “I didn’t really save you, did I?”

The alleyway remained silent as he made his way back home.

But an answer came to him the next day as he was outside of Babel once more, in Central Park. Hestia said to leave the details of scheduling more parties with the other two Familias to her since they all had different schedules to keep and obligations on their own ends. It was just him today, strapped up in his new armor and his weapons a mere thought away.

It was then he felt a tug on his sleeve from behind. He turned his head around to see that they belonged to a tiny set of hands gingerly holding him. Then he had to crane down to meet with the beige hood obstructing the bed of disheveled, chestnut hair. But it was only when his eyes trailed down until they met a set of eyes that matched her hair, nestled over a saccharine smile, that recognition dawned.

And, in a small voice that tickled his ear, she said five little words he hadn’t expected to hear:

“I’ve found you, Mister Hero!”


Fanfic Recommendation 103


My Fanfics


Calling Card 24

Summary: Shinji Matou had been looking to redeem himself after the Holy Grail War, but wasn’t certain how to. Then he learned about a crimson calling card labeled Psyren. Saving the future would be a good starting point. A pseudo-crossover using elements of Psyren, it will contain characters from several Nasuverse works, including Tsukihime. Based on a Challenge by FateOnline.

A Lily Blossoms In Kanto 19

Summary: Lillie’s adventure in Kanto to become a Pokémon trainer begins with an attempted kidnapping in the Sevii Islands while reconnecting with her mother, Lusamine. Not the best start, but she’s still determined to become a great trainer even as things left in Alola start following her into the wider world and a new villainous organization sets its eyes on them.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated



The Beast of Beacon 29 – 30

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Blake had fled, making it clear she couldn’t trust him to change. She thought him inhuman, lost, a beast. He was going to prove her wrong. Getting into Beacon was hard enough, but fitting in would be harder still. All those… humans. Will a man fuelled by hate truly be able to let go and move on; or is suffering the only thing Adam Taurus can ever bring to those around him?


A Rabbit Among Wolves 36 – 37 

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Jaune wanted nothing more than to become a hero – and in a way he got his wish. One man’s criminal is another’s hero and the faunus of Remnant need a champion. Who better to take the mantle of leader of the White Fang? Not a faunus? Not a terrorist? No aura, training or leadership skills to speak of? Minor details. All hail supreme leader Jaune Arc. Long live the resistance!


With Friends Like These 10

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Sequel to My Own Worst Enemy. On all of Remnant, Atlas—the pinnacle of law and order, and the kingdom he committed an open act of war against—is the place Roman least wants to go. So of course, it’s where Ozpin decides they have to go.

Content Warning for M/M.


Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 5 – Chapter 24

Chapter 24

Nemesis Q’s appearance didn’t startle me.

I simply exercised the natural precaution of getting out of the way the moment it appeared, in the event one of the others decided to attack the administrator of this death game. It was justified given how emotional some of them were prone to being. The fact that I just so happened to not take notice of the pebble-sized piece of rubble on the dust-laden floor and ended up falling back into Saegusa was just unfortunate.

It serves to break everyone else out of their shock.

Himuro places herself between it and Saegusa. Her crystals that make up her Burst are already forming. She probably knows attacking it would be fruitless, but a token show of defiance is better than standing there slack-jawed.

Makidera springs forward and closes the distance. With “token” being a word missing from her vocabulary, she simply goes in to kick the one who pulled them into this.

I can attest from a botched sparring session that the snap of her leg can topple a tree while under Rise, so she doesn’t lack the strength to defend herself if she runs across trouble in this trip.

But this is Nemesis Q.

And before it, all PSI is meaningless.

Her entire limb sinks through Nemesis Q without any sign of connecting. There is no sign of displacement via some form of spatial manipulation like with the Student President’s ability. No signs of it simply shrugging off the hit due to immense strength.

Her leg just passes through it and out the other side. She might have braced her leg expecting the impact, but the follow-through leaves her nearly tripping over herself if not for her reflexes kicking in. She manages to jump back in several feet and put up her guard in anticipation of a reprisal…

None comes.

Nemesis Q merely stands there as its head quirks slowly back and forth with no indication that it noticed she had attempted to break it in half. Left. Right. Up. Behind. The motions remind me of a clockwork bird observing its surroundings with…mechanical… precision…

I can practically hallucinate the sound of gears turning until it clicks in my mind. The only times I’ve seen Nemesis Q has been under three very specific circumstances: when I received my card the first time, when we receive our orders in the future, and when we attempt to break the terms of the contract.

Time and again it has shown itself to be too uncanny for it to be human. No fear of an attack from legs that can shatter centuries-old trees. No sadistic pleasure from forcing the role of soldiers in its war upon us. No consideration or compassion for those under its banner. No sympathy for those who yearn to be free.

But… when you consider that it might be a constructed entity then things make a lot more sense.

Nemesis Q is a tool meant to carry out a specific purpose. It exists to carry out that directive with the necessary resources and is optimized to do so. Its human-like form is simply to interact with other humans—an avatar to carry out its functions.

Then there’s the fact the others have mentioned that only those with cards can see Nemesis Q. The same as how we have a limited form of Clairvoyance to perceive PSI-based abilities. That means that it is most likely some kind of PSI construct as well—Burst or Trance or something in-between.

But if I take into account that a creator of a construct must have the knowledge or ability to bestow the same upon their creation, it brings to mind two questions:

Who could create something capable of shifting souls through time and modifying them to enable the use of psychic abilities?

And why go about things in such a roundabout way to do it if they have that much power?

“This thing is so creepy,” Makidera states after a few more seconds of the construct just standing there craning its head around in angles that were impossible for anything living. The apparent lack of consequences to her actions causes her to lower her guard and relax her stance.

Then she looks back at me and scowls. “Get off of her already!”

The reprimand makes me aware of Saegusa’s tiny body beneath me. The same realization dawns on her as I look down and see her face flushing red. I get back on my feet before things get awkward and give her a moment to rise as well before asking. “Why didn’t you say something?”

She fidgets in place sheepishly while avoiding my eyes “You had that look on your face you get when you start thinking about something deeply. I figured it might be important and I wasn’t hurt or anything, so I didn’t want to interrupt you…”

Makidera scolds her for that line of thinking. “You have to speak up or guys like that will take advantage of you. He can wrack his brain just fine standing up.”

“Enough,” I say before she goes further, in recognition of the known fact it might have been the influence of her powers again. I should probably snap back at the insinuation about my character, but this isn’t the time for that.

That can wait until we’re back where we belong. “Gotou, did you send word to Mitsuzuri?”

His silence to this point ends as he relays her message. “She said not to bother Nemesis Q if isn’t doing anything, and not to leave the building or broadcast with Telepathy. It seems like there’s a lot of Taboo scouting for something or someone, including one that can sense Trance waves, and she doesn’t want to do anything to give us away too soon.”

“Did she spot any other humans? Drifters?”

He takes a moment to relay that question and gives a shake of the head. “Nothing.”

If there’s no one screaming for their lives, then chances are it’s not a recruitment mission to bolster our numbers. Then that makes it a kill mission or some other objective. Considering those dolls and abominations running around searching for something, it might be we’re expected to run some kind of interference or beat them to whatever it is they’re after.

I only have a moment to ruminate on it before Nemesis Q suddenly becomes active. Its clockwork motions give way to defying gravity as it flies into the middle of the room. Then it snaps its fingers and my consciousness is ripped from my body once more.

There’s some disorientation as I suddenly find myself in a room somewhere on the first floor of a building that has a massive hole in the wall, courtesy of a rusted car that crashed through it maybe decades ago. Glancing around the room reveals nothing of importance, but it becomes clear that the location itself is meaningless a moment later. That’s when the stalwart silence becomes broken by soft panting that draws my attention back to the unintended entrance.

A slender figure presses against the gap between the hole and the car. White fabric tears as a figure slips into the dark confines of the room, the slight scrape of metal from the barrel of a gun that looks nearly unblemished pinging against the surface. Obscuring the faint rays of the already dim light that barely offer visibility, it takes a moment before I can get a clear view of who it is.

The first thought that crosses my mind when I see her face is that of a lone flower amidst the ruins of steel, battered by the harsh winds.

It’s probably because of the hair that I take an interest in her. The shade immediately reminds me of Sakura and so I can’t help but fixate on how familiar the sight of it is. The unkempt and ragged appearance, clinging to her sweat-slicked face that was flush from exertion as she struggled for breath…

The visage churns within me an unsightly feeling that’s akin to a coal tar mired in lust, steaming with a sinister hatred and desire. To pluck that lone flower that survived the end of the world and defile it. To leave it forever stained black as it wilts.

And it unsettles me.

The lust I can understand to an extent, even though I haven’t had much of a sex drive since the nightmares began. The hair color and the exhausted state naturally associate themselves with moments of joy and exhilaration that dominating a woman in a bedroom provides in my mind. That’s why I can probably rationalize it as being an acquired taste due to my time with Sakura and Rider.

The hatred is a different story.

I hate her in ways I’ve never hated someone before without any reason. Just seeing her wells up in me the desire to do horrific things to her and revel in it. It takes active effort to not picture stripping her of the white clothes that the Homunculi usually wear and violating her just because it’d be one of the cruelest things I can think of to do.

And I don’t know why that is since I’ve never seen her before.

Emotional attachments are a combination of experience and associations. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the association. The memories of victims and victimizers that haunt my nightmares, and the enjoyment derived from their pain and suffering, are something I can vaguely understand at this point due to how they associate themselves with some meaningful experience.

But she has nothing to rationalize why I hate her to this extent.

If she’s someone who escaped the enemy and has useful information, then she’s a valuable asset that needs to be secured. If she’s associated with the Homunculi and needs to be killed, then her death becomes a means to an end. Unless her name happens to be Einzbern due to the whole rigging the Grail War and demon thing…

But until I know why Nemesis Q brought me to her there should be nothing but cold indifference. So why do I feel such irrational hatred towards her? And why does it feel so right?

I just don’t know why…

At least not until she speaks.

“—ey’ll be here soon, Ries. Then it’ll be over.

The irrationality becomes clear the instant I hear her soft, broken voice.

It’s almost like a revelation that expels all doubts when I realize that there’s one specific time that irrationality is expected. And it’s the very same logic I imagine drives Emiya to be such a fool, pursuing the ambition that he does. That being… well…

You don’t need a reason to do what you believe is right.

I feel my lips stretching apart into something wicked as I see the one who violated my mind and body for the first time and drink in every detail of her appearance. Even if I didn’t know it consciously at a glance, I must’ve known it was her on some level. Therefore, the hatred I feel is completely natural because my intention is exactly what I promised to do.

I’m going to kill her.

Drifters—” Nemesis Q speaks as it hovers over her and looks towards me. “—behold she who holds the key to change the future. Receive the knowledge of the Day of Rebirth and ferry it to the past. Thus, breaking the chains binding the future in place.

I lock eyes with the construct if it has any beneath that mask it bears. I already guessed its intention when I realized it was Atlasia, so I can only assume the stare is meant to be a warning. Is it telling me that my vengeance will not come to pass?

Or perhaps it’s a silent warning to prioritize getting the knowledge before I kill her? It is not human and if we change the future nothing that happens here will matter because. So why should it care if I kill her so long as the mission is completed?

I don’t have an answer as we’re transported back to our simulacrum bodies and—

Time slows.

—I extend the seconds out for as long as possible to come up with a plan before the others start speaking. I have to get on top of this and come up with a method to accomplish everything at once. There are three objectives to start with:

Find Her. Receive Her Knowledge. Kill Her.

Finding her needs to be the priority for obvious reasons. That means I need to do so before both the Homunculi and the others. The rest of the group won’t just stand back and let me kill her, so it has to be me alone who finds her first if I want to get my revenge without them knowing.

The expedient thing to do will be to split up the group to search for her. But there is no way Ayako is going to let any of us wander around alone when we’ve got inexperienced people in the group, so I’ll have to suggest pairs. If I stress the urgency of the situation and make it seem reasonable enough, she shouldn’t have any logical complaints.

Not when Nemesis Q practically dangled the chance to end things once and for all like bait on a hook.

I take a moment to figure out how to divide the group up before moving onto the next issue.

Information retrieval.

I’ll assume based on her tampering with my head that she has enhanced mental capabilities on par with an eidetic memory. If the Day of Rebirth is truly the point of no return then she probably has every piece of information retained with absolute certainty and clarity. I can rip it out of her mind with the Mind Jack, but if she specializes in Mental Interference she’ll likely have some kind of safeguard.

I’ll have to think of some way around that.

Killing her will also be an issue. I’ll need to find a way to make it look like one of the abominations or homunculi did it, so that none of the others suspect me. I can justify it if necessary by revealing the fact that she had been the one who took over my body and claim self-defense, but considering how creative I intend to be with the right amount of time…

I really would prefer not to deal with the looks that Ayako and Saegusa would give me in the aftermath.

But at least finding her will probably be the simplest part.

I’ve already thought of how to do that.

I just need to put it into action—

Time normalizes.

—and quickly spool out a Mind Jack that flies straight into Gotou’s head. He winces as it goes in roughly, but I can feel the connection to the Mind Jack that Ayako made. I float my thoughts straight through it to her. ‘Mitsuzuri, we need to split up. Tell me everything you’ve seen so far so I can come up with a plan.

How did you—

Using Gotou’s mind as a router since you’re still too afraid to tether your mind to mine directly. Normally, I wouldn’t go through the effort of doing things this roundabout, but it’s the best compromise I can make given we’re pressed for time.

Shinji, it wasn’t like that.

‘Maybe not intentionally, but right now isn’t the time to get into that. Just send the information so I can focus on having things planned while you listen through him. That way we can move out by the time you get back, because if Nemesis Q spoke true this is the one chance we’ll have to finally be done with all of this.

I picture the first time I saw her in this terrible future as I gnaw at the hidden hope buried in her chest to be free of all of this. The hope that she’ll never have to see any other people she knows dying here. The guilt she has for looking into my head and getting a hint of just what lays there and how it put up a wall between us. I use it as a weapon to manipulate her emotions and put pressure on her to get my way.

It’s necessary. I’m doing this for her sake as well. I’ll succeed in getting the information and killing Atlasia, so we can change the future and be done with Nemesis Q’s game.

So that she can just go back to living her life and leave all of this behind, I’ll stomp on whatever buttons of hers I have to.

‘…Fine. There’s some chalk in my bag. Take it and use it to map things out on the floor. I’ll be back in five minutes.

Her mental voice carries a hint of weakness before the information comes rushing in. The working memory of what she’s seen to this point flows into my mind and reveals the number of the Taboo and Homunculi. I can make out it’s a net being closed in from the composition and formation of their search parties.

They’ve been working from the outside inwards, using Hounds to sniff her out and the Catchers to capture her or anyone else they find. They’re actively destroying the areas they’ve been through so she can’t double back and hide. Time isn’t on our side after all.

I take special note of the creatures in the air that I’ve never seen before. They float in the air via what I’m assuming to be Telekinesis with their bat-like wing membranes outstretched, the combination of which reminds me of a satellite dish hanging low to the surface of the earth. I can only assume these are the ones that can track Trance waves if not in a self-contained system like the Mind Jack.

Then I set to work with outlining the terrain and begin briefing the others once I have enough information. Since Ayako’s still connected to Gotou’s mind but doesn’t object, I take the silence from him as her consent with the plan. I just about finish up explaining things to the three girls right as she returns to our temporary hideout. “—which is why we’ll be moving in pairs of two, with one experienced member going with one inexperienced. The moment any of us find the target, we’ll converge and retrieve them to accomplish the mission.”

The three of them take a moment to process the information. For once, even Makidera’s expression carries the weight of seriousness as she seems to be taking into consideration just how high the stakes are. This is their ticket out of this after all.

Himuro adjusts her glasses before giving me a firm look. “What criteria will determine who we will be partnered with?”

“Capability. You will be going with Gotou to shore up his lack of aptitude in Trance. You have a ranged Burst as well, based on what you demonstrated early. I’m sure you can deal with things like the Hounds and anything he can’t from a distance, right?”

She closes her eyes and nods. “It’ll be done.”

Truthfully, I don’t think he’s gotten over his aversion to killing the Homunculi. He might have, but if he hasn’t we don’t have time to work him into it. That is why I’ll leave that to Himuro.

If she’s true to the words that she uttered that night at the School Gate, she’ll do what needs to be done. If not, he’ll kill them to protect her. And if he doesn’t and she isn’t capable, they’ll die.

It’d be a loss that we could do without. It’d hit both Ayako and Saegusa hard. But I’ve given them every advantage I can, so it’ll be their fault alone if it happens.

I turn to Makidera next. “You’re with me. Just kick what I tell you to and I’ll handle everything else. You can do that much without the others holding your hands, right?”

She scowls and looks like she’s going to say something. But Himuro taps her on the shoulder and shakes her head before she can get a word out. The message carries and she just huffs in silent anger.

“Saegusa, you’ll be with Mitsuzuri. She has no weaknesses and is the most experienced among us, capable of killing anything she can see at any range and protecting you if need be. That will free you up to where you can fulfill the role of being at the center of our wired network.”

I draw six circles on the floor in two pairs of three and tap on the bottom-center circle to indicate her. I run a line between the bottom-center circle to the bottom-left and bottom-right for her connection to the other Trance users. Then I run a line between the Trance-users to the Rise-users.

“You will be connected to myself, Himuro, and Mitsuzuri. Then Himuro and I will run our Mind Jacks to our partners. That way we can remain in communication with each other without risking being overheard and without them expending unnecessary energy trying to do something that doesn’t suit them.”

Saegusa brings her hand to her chin in thought before she asks an innocent question. “Wouldn’t it be better if I ran my own lines to the other two as well? That way we’d all be connected.”

I shake my head. “You’d need to be able to process multiple trains of thought with perfect clarity while remaining aware of your surroundings. Even I can’t handle that kind of parallel processing with so many people—it’s a limitation of the mind. But this formation should work out best for everyone.”

It shores up the weaknesses of our Rise-users by giving them support. It places the center of our network with our best line of defense. And it gets everyone else who could interfere out of my way.

We’ll all get what we want by the time this is over if everything goes well.

“If there are no more questions, let’s get started…”


(Pokemon Sun and Moon Fanfic) A Lily Blossoms In Kanto: Chapter 19

Chapter 19: Conquering The Bridge

“Hang in there, Shuckle!” Lillie called out. “Just a little more!”

“Shuuckkkklllleeee!” was the response to her words of encouragement as the Mold Pokémon clung to a log, his appendages coiled around the hefty hardwood as it spun in the air. It was shrouded in the cerulean hue of psychic energy as Bill’s Kadabra, Bard, moved his hand in a circle and the log followed the motions.

It was part of his training, having finally learned how to use Wrap by maintaining his grasp on the log. Not that Bard was turning it that fast to begin with, but the fact that it was moving meant that he needed a stronger grip to hold onto it than Constrict. Though in the event he was going to fall, they did have some soft materials laid out beneath him.

Since Lillie could only bring three pokémon into the battle against the former Gym Trainer to conquer Nugget Bridge in a few days, she had thought long and hard about who her choices would be. The fact that a Gyarados was their opponent basically meant all of her pokémon were pretty much at a disadvantage due to how small they were and how well-trained it most likely was, given who raised it.

But Shuckle was easily the most durable of all her pokémon. He had weathered a hit from Bewear and remained conscious, plus he knew Protect. With his help, they could come up with some way to win. Hence why he was her first choice.

“You’ll be able to rest after this,” Lillie promised. “I’ll give you as many sour pokéblocks as you want too, so just hold on for a little longer, okay?”

An elongated sound of affirmation escaped as he continued spinning while Lillie turned her attention to the next of her choices—Bellamy. Her Flower Pokémon was currently holding a small cup with his vines and drinking water from it, taking a break from his own training while watching Viri watering her lovely berry trees. He would also be a lynchpin in her plans.

“Bellamy, are you ready to keep going?” Lillie called out to her Flower Pokémon. The shy Bellsprout bobbed his bell before setting down the cup and rising onto his tiny roots. “Okay, let’s go with Sunny Day again!”

Sprouuttttt—” His beady eyes furrowed in concentration as he raised his leafy appendages towards the sky. He had been diligent in trying to learn how to use the technique from Viri, and as proof of his hard work pale white sparkles of light rose from his frame and gathered up into the air, clumping together into a bright and shining sphere like a small sun.

“Now, use Growth!” Lillie ordered. The miniature star shone down upon him, and sparkling beads of light swaddled his body until it was shining like morning dew. Lillie clapped before turning to Viri, who gave a nod to show she was ready. “Good job! Now show me your moves!”

Bellamy then proceeded to move while under the influence of Chlorophyll, showcasing how much faster he was as he bounced around when Viri sent small leaves woven of energy, Razor Leaf, flying towards him. His lithe and slender frame nimbly avoided them all, leaving him to wriggle in pride at the improvement.

“Don’t get too complacent, Bellamy,” Lillie warned as the leaf of the Viri’s tail began to shift between hues with an almost kaleidoscopic effect. “Heads up!”

On cue, the Verdant Pokémon released the shimmering, whirling projectiles like miniature saws toward the Flower Pokémon. He attempted to dodge them, only for them to curve around after passing him by before closing in. He then began to flail his leafy appendages around as he ran in a circle while they gave chase. “Sprout, sprout, sprout!”

“Magical Leaf won’t stop until it hits,” Lillie said. “Try hitting them instead with Acid Spray.”

Bellamy turned around, his tiny roots sliding around the dirt before he reared back and fired purple globs of acid at them. They managed to catch three of the four of them, leaving one heading towards him. He panicked and sent his vines lashing out at the ground, launching him into the air and thus leaving him aerial as the remaining whirling leaf curved towards him until he managed to get a final Acid glob out and hit it…

Right as the artificial sun winked out. The period of hyperactivity was replaced with lethargy, born from how unfamiliar it was to him. Thus, exhausted while in the middle of the air, he could only let out a cry as he was left plummeting to the ground. “Sprouuuuuuu—”

His cries were cut short when the cerulean veil of psychic power shrouded him. He levitated slowly to the ground where Shuckle had been set down, his elongated head slowly turning in spirals while still wrapped around the log sitting upright. It was safe to say he’d learned Wrap at this point as Lillie came over and checked on them both.

“…Good job, both of you,” she said after making sure neither were injured. A bit tired, scared, and dizzy, but unharmed. As they got their bearings again after being sent for a loop, she presented them with their treats.  “We’ll still need more work before we can say you’ve mastered your moves and abilities, but it’s safe to say we might have a shot of beating Gyarados if everything goes well.”

Bellamy’s expression turned doubtful as he carefully held a pokéblock between the tips of his leaves. His being frightful was natural given his disposition. But she saw he was probably the one who had the most potential to shine if everything went right because of how helpful he was.

She gently brushed him on his bell. “I have faith in you, Bellamy. Just do your best and I’ll be proud, no matter what.”

He nodded, beady eyes gaining some measure of bravery in the hopes of living up to her encouragement. “Sp-Sprout.”

She smiled at him and left the two of them to get some rest before heading to check on her third and final choice. Sliding down the hillside that housed the trees under Viri’s care, she came to a stop at the base of the incline and spotted Koko bouncing up and down on the surface of one side of the pond that had been frozen along with Glacian. “Koko, how’s practice going?”

The Alolan Vulpix whirled around and then darted over to her trainer. Her icy blue paws nestled against Lillie’s legs as she stared up with her crystalline eyes and barked excitedly while wagging her tail. “Pix! Pix!”

“Okay, I’ll come to look.” Lillie obliged her by picking her up and then heading over to see that the layer of ice was thicker than when she first managed to perform Icy Wind. That meant she had used it at least twice, back-to-back. It was praiseworthy progress and the bundle of white fur wriggled as Lillie brushed her affectionately in the process of doing so.  “Good job. I’m so proud of you!”

BOOM!

Their playing came to a standstill as the sound of a distant, semi-muffled explosion came from the side of the building and out of view. “Looks like he’s woken up from his nap and started practicing again, huh?”

“Pix.” Koko nodded before the pair ventured over towards the edge of the house and peered around the corner to spot the Fairy Pokémon already hard at work after his brief nap.

Snnnnubb…” Snubbull growled and his pink fur bristled as he stared down what was left of a log that was nearly as tall as her several meters away. It had been set up as a training post for him to practice Fire Fang on and he had been nothing if not diligent on that part. The main body was blackened, charred bark and splinters resting around it as smoke rose from places where there was a dull, orange glow.

Flames began to lick at the corners of his mouth as he snarled, embers drifting off the side before he took off into a sprint towards the log. Not a direct line, but rather zigzagging as though avoiding invisible attacks while the flames grew more intense to where his entire mouth seemed encased in flames. Then, once he was within lunging distance, the flames seemed to expand from his mouth and push out a mold of fangs that were slightly larger than his own as they crashed together against the bulk of the log’s body. “BULLL!!”

BOOM!

The explosion knocked loose charred splinters and gouged out pieces of it as the entire thing trembled from the force of it. Snubbull himself emerged from the resulting smoke with his fur covered in patches of soot from the burnt bits. Panting, he wobbled back towards his starting point and took deep breaths to ready himself to try it again.

He’s going to need a bath before bedtime, Lillie thought to herself as she watched him. Snubbull had been her third choice for the match, partly to synergize with her other two choices but also because of his own insistence. He was so prideful that even the thought of facing down Gyarados wasn’t enough to shake him.

Even so, there wasn’t enough time for him to learn Thunder Fang from Arks and he was insistent that he used Fire Fang. She had conferred with Professor Kukui on the subject of refining his favorite technique and he had suggested that instead of forming it solely around his own fangs, he should visualize the fangs that he wants them to become. That seemed to be having an effect given the results, but part of that could also be how much he’d been throwing himself into his training.

Lillie looked down to Koko and smiled. “I guess we should get back to our own training, huh?”

The Fox Pokémon yipped. They still had three days of training left. It would have to be enough for them to conquer the bridge.

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

Lillie and her pokémon trained. And trained. And trained some more.

Then the day of the match approached. The neophyte trainer returned to the Nugget Bridge and found herself standing at the end of the bridge where the former Gym Trainer stood with an expectant grin on his face. There was an audience as the other bridge trainers and spectators had gathered to watch from just beyond the bridgehead, the flower-strewn field nearby serving as the seat for the small crowd.

I didn’t think there’d be so many people… Lillie found it a little awkward having so many eyes on her even as she tried to keep her focus on her opponent. At least with Lt. Surge only her mother and Astra and her grandfather had been there to see her defeat. I hope I don’t embarrass myself.

“Don’t focus on the crowd,” Azuria said, placing a hand on Lillie’s shoulder as she came to a stop next to her. It seemed that she’d decided to come along for moral support. Lillie wouldn’t be surprised if she managed to pick up from her body posture just how nervous she was. “Instead, focus on the ones cheering for you to have a good match.”

Lillie followed her gaze back to where Lilligant and Koko were off to the side with Rotom, since they weren’t participating this time. The trio cheered her on in their own way and encouraged her. She felt her lips forming into a soft smile as she placed a hand on her chest and took a deep breath, settling her nerves as the Coordinator went to join them. “Right. We can do this.”

The brown-haired man with glasses who had given her the card at the start of the gauntlet took to the center of the field. It seemed he would be acting as the referee for the battle. His voice came in loud and clear as he declared the start of the match. “Then let the final battle of the Nugget Bridge Gauntlet begin!”

MATCH START!

“It’s your time to shine, Shuckle!” Lillie said as she tossed his ball out and the Mold Pokémon emerged on her side of the field.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a match, so let’s make it a good one!” Kado said in an enthusiastic tone as he enlarged his partner’s ball before tossing it up into the air. “Gyarados, let’s get started!”

The ball broke open, light spilling out and swelling to comparatively massive size as the details filled in once the conversion was done. The long, serpentine body of the Atrocious Pokémon landed on the Gym Trainer’s side of the field with its blue scales reflecting the sheen of the morning light off its back, while its yellow underbelly cast a shadow that stretched over Shuckle’s tiny frame. Then those piercing red eyes fixed onto his beady black ones and it let out a roar.

Gyarados used Intimidate!

Shuckle promptly (and understandably) withdrew into his shell.

“I-It’ll be okay, Shuckle!” Lillie tried to reassure him. “Just do like we practiced!”

“Sorry, but the match has started, we’re not going to hold back just because he’s holed up in his shell,” Kado said. “Gyarados, Water Gun!”

“Shuckle, it’s coming!” Lillie shouted as the cheeks of the Atrocious Pokémon swelled until they were bulging. “Protect yourself!”

If there was one thing that Shuckle didn’t really a prompt on, it was protecting himself. No sooner than what came from the Gyarados mouth was a lancing stream of water did it hit a solidified wall of air that cracked beneath the force of the impact. But it managed to hold against the attack long enough to leave the water scattered before the barrier itself shattered.

“Whew.” Lillie let out a breath of relief as Shuckle stuck his head out of one of the holes to reveal he was okay. “Now, Sticky Web!”

His tiny cheeks swelled as he spat out a glob of bug glue. It expanded into a web towards the massive Gyarados that promptly avoided it with contemptuous ease using its serpentine body. The webbing then smacked into the bridge behind it, where it remained.

“Sorry, but he isn’t so slow something like that could hit it,” he said. “And that weak Protect won’t stand up to an attack that has our full power behind it. Close the distance and use Bite, Gyarados!”

The Atrocious Pokémon’s fangs grew luminous and then multiplied. Rather than four fangs, there were instead glowing teeth running along the length of its upper and lower lips. Then it did as told by using the muscles beneath its scales to not slither but lunge at the tiny prey.

“Withdraw!” Lillie called out as Shuckle naturally tucked his head back into his shell out of fear. The shell then grew luminous right as the similarly hued fangs came crashing down upon him. Then Gyarados reared back, leaving Shuckle’s shell stuck between the fangs that were clenching like they were trying to bite into Rock Candy. “Now, Wrap!”

To the surprise of the Gyarados, Shuckle’s appendages burst from four of the holes and stretched so they could coil around its head in similar manner to a muzzle, leaving it unable to let go. The moment of confusion as it shook its head to try and get him to let go turned to anger when it was clear that Shuckle wouldn’t budge. It began to clamp down its grip tighter on the shell. “Grysshaa!!

“It’ll be okay,” Lillie called out to Shuckle as his concerned cries emerged from the confines of the shell even as he held firm. That shell was hard enough to take a hit from Bewear without using Withdraw back when they’d first met. Strengthening his naturally high defense meant that it wouldn’t crack under the pressure, and as long as he held on it couldn’t toss him away—locking down one of its strongest weapons.

Now it was time to lock down the other advantage it had. “Now, use Sticky Web below!”

Shuckle’s head emerged from the rear hole, lips tinged by the hue of his Berry Juice that he’d probably drank after getting bitten—he probably hadn’t taken nearly enough damage to warrant it, but such was his nature. His tiny cheeks swelled before spitting out another glob of natural adhesive, only this time it aimed straight at the base of the bridge where Gyarados was touching it. There was a squishy sound as the Atrocious Pokémon pressed into it further inadvertently, thus leaving it stuck as it tried wrestling itself free.

“So that’s your gimmick,’” Kado said as the realization dawned. It brought a smile to his face. “Clever, but we’re not out of the fight yet. Water Gun!”

Gyarados’ extra fangs dissipated as its cheeks began to swell again, leaving Shuckle to crane its head back in concern and meet with the red, narrow eyes of the Atrocious Pokémon. Then he promptly tucked his head back into his shell as the Gyarados let loose the attack. One second there were sharp streamlets of water going around the shell.

Then next Shuckle was launched like a cannonball and slammed into the surface of the bridge. His shell bounced off the hard surface once, four long limbs trailing after him before their natural adhesiveness tethered him, and he promptly snapped back down. His head emerged from the top-most orifice in the shell, swaying after being thrown for a loop. “Shuuuccckllllee….

“Don’t let up, Shuckle!” Lillie called out, leaving the Mold Pokémon to shake his head and regain his senses. “Stick with the plan and keep going!”

Shuckle proceeded to do just that as he took aim at the Atrocious Pokémon that was struggling to pull itself free of the gob of bug glue on the right side of its body, where its underbelly met the bridge. He then reinforced it by firing yet another glob on the opposite side, the left side it was leaning on to try and get free. It smushed into it and glued him there further.

GYASSHHAAA!!” Gyarados screeched in fury before reeling around towards Shuckle in time for another Sticky Web to come flying towards it, this time expanding from the air resistance and covering a portion of its upper body. In retaliation, its cheeks swelled.

“Shuckle, Protect!” Lillie ordered. The protective wall went up just in time to meet with the streaming blast of the Water Gun that smashed into hard enough this time to shatter it whole, leaving the blunted hit to reach Shuckle. But he weathered the assault and returned fire with yet another Sticky Web, coating the Atrocious Pokémon with another layer on the center and causing it to start struggling more violently. “Just a little more!”

“Gyarados, calm down!” Kado commanded. “If you get angry and start thrashing around, you’ll only send up stuck further until you can’t move. Temper your rage and then wait for your moment!”

It was as though the atmosphere shifted in a single moment. The Gyarados quelled its furious motions and went stock still as its eyes focused on Shuckle as the Mold Pokémon’s cheeks swelled once more. Then it clicked. “Shuckle, wait—”

Gyarados used Dragon Rage!

No sooner than the Sticky Web came flying outwards did its maw opened wide. Then, in a manner that was too akin to how Koko would charge a Moonblast, but much faster, what formed from its maw was a reddish-orange sphere. The sphere was launched from Gyarados and cut through the air towards Shuckle who hastily attempted to weave his Protect once more to act as a bulwark against the onrushing attack. The two met and the air howled as the half-formed shield shattered under the concentrated essence of a dragon’s rage—

BOOM!!

—and Shuckle was swallowed by the flash of red and orange as the force contained spilled out with a shockwave that knocked him loose and sent him flying. There was a loud conk as his shell hit the bridge’s surface, spinning in place upside down while his limbs and head were splayed out.

He was out cold.

“Shuckle is unable to battle!” declared the referee after observing his supine form. “Challenger, choose your next pokémon.”

We didn’t manage to get enough of the Sticky Web on it to stop it completely, but that should at least slow it down, Lillie reasoned as she recalled Shuckle back into his ball. Then she pulled out her second choice. “Your turn, Bellamy!”

The Flower Pokémon emerged onto the field and took stock of the situation, somewhat nervously fidgeting as the Gyarados glared at it, and then turned back to his trainer. “S-Sprout?”

“We have a little time while he’s still stuck!” she encouraged him. Then the referee announced they could begin, so she gave her order. “Use Sunny Day!”

Bellamy raised his leaves to the sky and began to gather energy into a sphere above him. Once it was a fairly modest size, he launched it further up transforming it into a miniature star. It shone down upon the battlefield and radiated strong sunlight.

Bellamy used Sunny Day! The sunlight turned harsh!

“Oh, that might be a problem,” Kado admitted. “Gyarados, use Dragon Rage!”

Obeying orders, the Atrocious Pokémon spat out another orb of concentrated rage at the Flower Pokémon. However, the moment it left its mouth, Bellamy was on the move. Shrouded in the viridian veil of Chlorophyll his tiny, root-like legs moved surprisingly fast and carried him out of the range of the blast as it hit the surface of the bridge and the shockwave made it tremble a little.

“Good job!” Lillie praised him. “Now, stay at a distance where you can dodge if it tries that again and start using Growth!”

“Sprout!” Bellamy bobbed his bell and then raised his leaves to the artificial sun, drinking up the light. Unlike when they fought the Bronzor and Geodude, they knew that it would be a lot faster when Sunny Day was in effect and it would be twice as effective if he had enough time. Strong enough to even take out a Gyarados.

Unfortunately, they would have the time to get that strong as Kado turned his attention to his Gyarados that was struggling to get free, and commanded, “Use Ice Fang on webbing holding you down and then close the distance to attack!”

Ice crackled as dense, glistening frost encroached over its lips and formed a jutting maw composed of two rows of razor-sharp icicles as it craned its head towards the base where it was stuck and then plowed them into the adhesive. The ice froze the globs of bug glue keeping it pinned down, leaving the Atrocious Pokémon to break free of its binding. It then lunged for Bellamy as sparkles danced off his frame from the Growth-in-progress.

“Bellamy, go up!” Lillie shouted as she saw the ice-laden maw closing in on him like a rushing train while he seemed stuck in place like a Stantler caught in headlights. Thankfully, he roused at her voice and shot his vines at the ground, using them to send him into the air as the maw of ice slammed shut where he’d been and sent shards spraying everywhere.

Bellamy winced as some of the shards slammed into him as he retracted and then launched his vines downwards again to land behind the Gyarados some distance away. It naturally reared upwards to turn and then attack him, but it began to strain as the webbing that had been layered on its underbelly caught the surface of the bridge. Bellamy took the chance to go on the offense, dredging up some of his natural gastric juices and suddenly spitting out a Growth-imbued Acid Spray towards the Gyarados. “Sprout!

A Critical Hit!

GYASSHHAAA!!” Gyarados screeched as the moment it hit the scales covering its backside, the caustic fluids began to froth. It strained harder against the thin layer until the bond gave way under his muscles, right as another Acid Spray from the Flower Pokémon splashed against its massive body and left it in even more infuriating pain. It whirled around onto Bellamy as the Flower Pokémon began to ready another Acid Spray and fired a Dragon Rage in retaliation.

In the midst of launching another attack, Bellamy wasn’t prepared to move as the reddish-orange sphere of draconic rage closed the distance—

BOOM!

—and ruptured, consuming the Flower Pokémon as Bellamy’s short cry of pain was drowned out by the violent release of the condensed fury. Smoke billowed up from where the attack had landed, obscuring Lillie’s pokémon until a breeze thinned it out and revealed his prone form as tendrils of smoke wafted off of him.

“Bellsprout is unable to battle!” the referee declared after a moment. “Challenger, choose your final pokémon.”

Lillie returned Bellamy into his ball before pressing it against her forehead and whispering, “Thank you, Bellamy.

He had done a marvelous job considering that they hadn’t managed to completely pin down the Gyarados. Just from the way it was wheezing and tremors ran along its body she could tell he managed to do a lot of damage thanks to Shuckle’s webbing holding it down long enough for him to strengthen himself a little. And the sunlight was still harsh so Gyarados’ Water Gun would be hampered for a little while longer.

We still have a chance, Lillie believed with all her heart as she enlarged the ball of her final choice and tossed it out. “It’s all up to you now, Snubbull!”

The Fairy Pokémon emerged onto the field, landing on his hind legs. He met the fierce gaze of the Atrocious Pokémon without flinching or fear. Instead, he fell on all fours and barked in defiance.

Gyarados snarled in response.

Then the referee announced, “Let the final match begin!”

Snubbull took off running towards the comparatively massive pokémon that had taken down two of his peers without fear or even waiting for Lillie’s command.

His weapons were his fangs. He couldn’t use those without getting closer to his enemy. Even if it put him directly in threat range of the Gyarados, all he could do was approach the enemy and attempt to tear it apart regardless of what kind of pokémon it was.

Likewise, in the presence of an approaching enemy, Gyarados attempted to defeat it with the same method it had done the others. It let loose the reddish-orange sphere that was its rage made manifest and sent it flying towards Snubbull. The resulting explosion swept up his tiny body entirely…

Snubbull was unaffected!

Only for Snubbull to emerge from the smoke unperturbed while flames began to crawl from between his lips with a fiendish vigor until they completely shrouded his maw. Unhindered by the ineffectiveness of his attack, the Fairy Pokémon quickly closed the distance until Gyarados was within lunging range. Then he pounced with a roar. “SNUBBULLL!!

The temperature spiked as flames that had been caged were unleashed. They shot out and took the form of a pair of fangs that were almost twice as large as Snubbull. Then he snapped his maw together and the Fire Fang slammed down upon the surprised Gyarados.

BOOM!

I didn’t think it’d be that strong, Lillie thought as the sudden flare of intense heat enshrouded the pair with such intensity that she had to avert her eyes while the sound of the explosion was deafening. Snubbull had been practicing with his Fire Fang, specifically on concentrating the intensity of the flames. But the addition of Sunny Day had intensified them a lot more as the artificial sun slowly faded as the last of its energy was expended.

“GYAAAASSSSSSSHHHHAAA!!”

That was when the roar of the Atrocious Pokémon shook the air before a pink blur was launched from the dissipating smoke and landed on the surface of the bridge near Lillie, having been knocked away. Lillie saw the Fairy Pokémon was slow to get back onto his feet and asked, “Are you okay?”

He barked in confirmation and turned his attention back to the Gyarados, whose underbelly sported a large scorch mark that was spread out over a large section as it writhed in place from pain. It had done a lot of damage, no doubt due to Gyarados being caught by surprise and Sunny Day. Along with its other injuries, it didn’t look like it could take another hit and remain standing.

But with Sunny Day down now, Gyarados can use his Water Gun again, she realized. Snubbull could only attack any enemy that was in front of him. If Gyarados abused the fact that he had a ranged option, then it could simply wear him out. Then Shuckle and Bellamy’s sacrifices would be for nothing. There’s nothing else we can do but push ahead.

“Go for it, Snubbull!”  Lillie ordered. The Fairy Pokémon unhesitatingly charged towards the towering pokémon with the intention of toppling the titan. The Atrocious Pokémon rose straight in response, taking aim at the oncoming threat that had wounded it.

Gyarados used Water Gun!

Water spouted from Gyarados’ mouth towards the small target, spearing through the air to strike it down. But Snubbull bound side-to-side as he had during practice, the imaginary targets now replaced by bludgeoning gouts of water. Though it slowed him down, both were aware that the moment that Gyarados had to take a breath and gave pause to his attack it would be decided.

That was why Kado forewent stalling things out longer.  “Meet it head-on with Ice Fang, Gyarados!”

“Fire Fang, Snubbull!” Lillie responded in kind with the attack Snubbull was proficient with the most.

That sound of the crackling ice and sizzling flames filled the air as the two pokémon bared their fangs. Frost-laden mist roiled around the Gyarados’ head as its maw was filled with icicles that glinted in the sunlight. Tongues of flames rolled around Snubbull’s protruding maw that left the air quivering with heatwaves. Baring their respective elemental fangs, the two lunged for one another—

“BULLL!!”

“GYASHAA!!”

—and the resulting clash filled the air not with smoke but instead steam that left the air hissing as fire and ice attempted to dominate one another. The hissing overtook all sounds as the white veil spread to the edges of the bridge and was slow to thin, thus obscuring the two combatants as trainers and audience alike looked on with anticipation (and a little worry).

But then the steam thinned to where a large silhouette on the ground slowly filled in with color to reveal them. The prone form of the massive Atrocious Pokémon was strewn on the bridge surface, sporting scorch marks anew. As for Snubbull, his tiny body was also prone with his pink fur covered in thick patches of frost as his breath came out in cold puffs.

“Did they knock each other out?” Lillie wondered. Then Snubbull stirred. The Fairy Pokémon’s stubby arms slowly shifted themselves until they were underneath his tiny frame. The patches of ice began to flake as he trembled to push himself back onto his hindlegs. “Snubbull, are you okay?”

Snn…Snnn…” Straining, he managed to get back up only to nearly fall over once more. But before his legs could give out, he caught himself and stood up slouching. Then he took a deep breath, straightened his back, stuck out his arms, and shouted to the heavens. “BBBBBBUULLLLL!!!”

The referee then took a moment to look over him. And then the still downed Gyarados. Then he declared the match. “THE WINNER IS THE CHALLENGER’S SNUBBULL!

The nervous silence that had filled the air prior was replaced with clapping and cheers while Lillie approached Snubbull standing there while Kado recalled his partner into his ball. She crouched down as he turned to her with a little smile on his face and saw how badly he was trembling from just trying to stand upright. And then she extended her hands to catch him as he promptly fell over, conscious but without the strength to stand.

“You can be so stubborn sometimes,” she told him as she cradled him against her chest. Honestly, she wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d just stayed down considering how exhausted he was. Yet she gave him a grateful smile because that stubbornness was what let him stand back up again and made it so that Shuckle and Bellamy’s efforts were rewarded as well. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Now that was a match,” Kado said as he approached with the pair with the referee. “It’s been so long since we’ve had a challenge. I felt like I was back in the Gym.”

“Sorry we were hard on your Gyarados,” Lillie apologized. “There really was no way we could beat it without going so far.”

He brushed it off. “Anything less and you wouldn’t have won. It’s an insult for a trainer to not give their opponent their very best, and you managed to make the most out it. Let me see your card.”

She shifted her grip on Snubbull so that she could give him it, and he gave it the final stamp.

Lillie received the Blue Stamp!

After everything was said and done, Lillie made for the Pokémon Center immediately to get her team checked out. The news had apparently reached Nurse Joy as the caretaker asked to see her card after taking her pokémon into her care. Then she produced a small box and said, “Here are your rewards for completing the challenge. We hope that it spurs you into further greatness in the future.”

Lillie opted not to open it until the rest of her pokémon were healed. They were the ones who did the work. It was only fair that they got to see the prize together.

“Great job, everyone,” Lillie began once they were all patched up and gathered around the table for lunch. “We only managed to win because you all worked together. I’m proud of all of you.”

Shuckle took to the praise with his usual stoicism, befitting of his role as the wall that stood the longest and slowed Gyarados down. Bellamy found himself scratching his bell with the tip of his leaf somewhat abashed, still surprised that his contribution made that much of a difference. He was underselling himself considering how effective he’d been thanks to Sunny Day and Growth. As for Snubbull…

“Snub! Bull! Bull!” chuffed the Fairy Pokémon as he stood on the table, posing proudly that his fangs had brought low the mighty water serpent. “Snubbull-snub!”

“Yes, yes, you were wonderful too.” She pampered him with a head pat as Azuria, who had decided to join them, stifled a laugh. Lillie then set the box on the table so they could all see as she pulled the top off and revealed the contents. There was a TM inside of it, along with a badge that had a golden bridge on it.

Lillie received the TM for Hidden Power!

Lillie received the Nugget Bridge Badge!

“Oh, Hidden Power,” Azuria said with a rather amused note in her voice. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen that one.”

“You know what it does?” Lillie asked. Though she had worked under Professor Kukui for a bit, she didn’t know all of the moves that were out there.

The coordinator nodded. “It’s a technique that draws out the inner strength of a pokémon and converts it into a different nature. It, along with Secret Power and Nature Power, made for interesting combinations when coordinators would set the terrain and then make the most of it with their teams.”

“That sounds interesting,” Lillie mused before noticing Snubbull picking up the badge with his stubby little arms and holding it up to the light to get a better look at it. “Do you want to go show Miss Melanie when we’re done with lunch?”

He gave an enthusiastic bob of his head. “Bull!”

That decided, they finished their lunch before heading back over to the Cerulean Abandoned Pokémon Shelter where they rang the doorbell. Melanie answered in her same overalls and apron that effectively served as her own uniform. Snubbull immediately ran inside and held up the badge in his stubby paws to show it off and barked for attention.

“So that’s the badge you managed to earn, huh?” Melanie crouched down while sporting a soft, gentle smile as she patted him on the head. She then looked back up to Lillie. “I heard about how you won over the radio. You can imagine my surprise when I heard he fought a Gyarados and managed to walk away standing.”

Lillie could only nod her head. “It still feels a little unreal. But all of my pokémon did their best in their own way, and because of them supporting each other they managed to make it a reality. I think we might be able to win our next badge soon enough.”

“Don’t tell me you’re heading out to do the Gym Challenge tomorrow or something?” Azuria asked. “The Contest Hall’s grand opening is coming up and I’ve got seats for you, A.J., Miss Lusamine, Melanie, and Mister Bill.”

“I know,” Lillie said. “Mother said that there was some upcoming event on the night of the opening, so we were planning on visiting your show before heading to Mt. Moon for it.”

“That night on Mt. Moon?” She ruminated on the thought before something seemed to click and she smiled brightly. “Oh! I see. It’s around that time now, isn’t it?”

Lillie tilted her head in confusion. “Do you know what is it?”

Maybe~” Azuria teased. “But if your mother hasn’t told you then she probably wants it to be a surprise, so I’ll keep quiet. But I’m sure you’ll love it.”

Now Lillie’s curiosity was really peaked. She turned to Lilligant who seemed just as clueless, but then they heard the familiar sounds of cooing coming from the gap in the doorway and spotted Mime Jr. now trying to slip out of the door. There was a smile on his tiny face as he tried to reach out for Lilligant, only for Melanie to scoop him up.

“It’s your nap time, Mr. Mime,” she scolded him gently. The child squirmed lightly in her grasp as she brought him back into the main room where there had been a small bed set aside in the little play area where he usually was.  “You weren’t too fussy a few minutes ago, so be good and get some rest.”

Mime Jr. writhed in his bed until Lilligant came over and took a seat next to him, speaking in a soft tone. “Lili. Lili.

He yawned before he could start mumbling and she began to softly brush him with her leafy appendage to coax him into sleep. “Mimi…”

Melanie seemed content to let her do so before coming back over to them and Lillie apologized. “Sorry for the trouble. It seems he really likes her.”

“I don’t really mind. He’s a good boy and it’s clear she’s not inexperienced with nurturing younger pokémon,” Melanie said. And it was true enough that her mother’s Clefable, Mismagius, and Lilligant pretty much took after that side of her. “My only concern is that it’s going to make it harder when he has to say goodbye eventually.”

That was right. The pokémon here were under her care until they could be placed into more suitable locations back in the wild. Eventually, he would be forced to say goodbye once they found a colony that would accept him since baby pokémon needed someone to look after them in the wild. That bittersweet thought lingered as Lillie watched Lilligant rock the Mime Pokémon to sleep until the door opened anew.

“Excuse me,” a young woman that looked around Azuria’s age said as she entered the room. “This is the Pokémon Shelter, isn’t it?”

She was dressed in what Lillie presumed to be rather trendy clothes, a contrast to the young man who entered along with her. His attention immediately turned to the small pokémon in the enclosures as though he were searching for something in particular. Then his eyes lingered on Koko as she looked into the one that had the Paras in the middle of regrowing their mushrooms.

It unsettled Lillie for some reason.

“Yes, it is,” Melanie said, putting on a professional smile as she greeted the pair. “How can I help you?”

The girl clasped her hands together as she asked, “Pardon me if this sounds weird, but we were looking for a particular pokémon and heard that someone spotted it wandering around here.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be specific,” Melanie said. “If it was an owned pokémon then we would report them to the Pokémon Center so they can be returned to their trainers. But if they were abandoned or stray pokémon then they might have been in our care for a time.”

“It’s a Vulpix.”

No sooner than those words left her lips did an unseen tension thread the room. They all recalled the Vulpix that A.J. had brought to her before dawn and sent off, even though it was supposed to be registered to someone else. The fact that they knew about it when no one else had come looking since then meant…

Vullllllllll….”

Lillie snapped out of her thoughts when she felt the air grow chillier and heard the low growl slipping out of the Alolan Vulpix. “Koko, come here.”

Koko kept bristling at them, a sight that caused the young man to frown as he seemingly reached for a Great Ball on his belt. The young woman looked taken aback but it felt forced.

Now, Koko,” Lillie said in a tone that was far firmer than ever in her life to one of her pokémon. It almost seemed to shock the Fox Pokémon and even Snubbull, who only now seemed to realize something was amiss. She flinched and looked at Lillie with somewhat hurtful eyes before slowly coming over.

I’m so sorry, Lillie silently thought as she picked her up and held her close before she apologized to the pair while keeping her voice level. “I’m sorry. She isn’t normally like this and I don’t know what’s gotten into her.

“Please take her out back,” Melanie said before turning to Snubbull. “You go too, Snubbull.”

Snubbull was just as confused about what was going on but he seemed to register between how the girls were acting, and even how Lilligant had risen up from Mime Jr.’s side that something was amiss. “Bull?”

Please, be good,” Melanie pleaded with him. He let out a low grumble in confusion as he seemed to pick up that she was asking him something serious. He then let out an affirmative nod and made his way over to Lillie as they went to the back door.

“Now then,” Melanie said, grabbing their attention in an effort to de-escalate the situation. “If it’s a Vulpix then we haven’t taken one into our care as of late. However, this particular one does visit with her trainer often to play with the others, so there’s a chance someone saw that and misunderstood.”

Lillie listened to them until she slipped through the door and closed it shut. Then she went off to the side and crouched down, holding Koko to her chest and apologizing to her softly. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

“Pix?” Koko inquired. “Vulpix?”

Just give me a minute before doing anything,” Lillie whispered to them both as she set her partner down hastily and reached for her Pokégear. Something about the situation was off and if something happened then a lot of innocent pokémon could get hurt, so she had to clear out of the way to do what A.J. said when he gave her his number the last time. She had only finished dialing the number and heard it ringing on his end when—

CHHHHAAAAABOOOK!

—there was a loud sound from the inside followed by surprised pokémon noises that drew the attention of not only Lillie but the other pokémon out in the yard as she dropped the device. She immediately rose to her feet and went back to the door and opened it to see that an Arbok, not unlike the one that had attacked them in the Pokémon Center in the Sevii Island was glaring down at Melanie and Azuria while Lilligant stood between them and it.

And it clearly belonged to the young man who was sporting a deeper frown. “Enough of this.”

“What. Are You. Doing?” said the woman who looked irritated more than anything.

“We don’t have time for this,” he said in a pointed tone. “There’s no point in dragging this out and you could tell from their reaction compared to the other places they know about the Vulpix. Or do you want to pay the price for losing it?”

The girl rolled her eyes and let out a sigh before reaching into her purse and then pulling out another ball. It burst open and out came a very angry looking Primeape that looked around menacingly towards the surrounding pokémon within their enclosures. “Primeape tends to be a bit jumpy so he’s prone to attacking recklessly. It’d be better for everyone if you just tell us what we want to know.”

“I told you, that Vulpix hasn’t been in our care,” Melanie said in a tone that was both firm and cold despite having the eyes of both the Arbok and the Primeape on her. “Now leave.”

The young woman looked at her with an irritated expression. “Ugh, I hate your type. Whatever. I’ll say that it ended up in a ditch somewhere but that I got her a new one.”

The message carried the moment her eyes fell onto Koko.

BULLL!” Snubbull might have been slow on the uptake earlier but he recognized a threat. His response was just as reflexive and so he lunged with flames licking at his lips—

APEE!

—and was immediately hit hard enough that he was sent sailing into the door frame, his small body hitting it hard enough that the wood splintered and he collapsed onto the ground. The hit hadn’t been enough to knock him out cold, but his body trembled in pain and he couldn’t stand up anymore.

SNUBBULL, NO!” Lillie shouted as she picked him up while the Primeape bristled as though it was going to continue attacking, with all the pokémon recognizing that violence was occurring and started trying to get free of their enclosures to scamper off and hide.

WHOOSH!

That was when there was a rush of pink petals. So numerous that they obscured the Pig Monkey Pokémon and Cobra Pokémon entirely, the pair were swept up so abruptly that even their surprised and pained cries were drowned out by the sound of cracking wood as they were blown through the door and slammed into the tree there hard enough that it broke under the force of the attack. As the remaining petals slowly drifted down over their prone and unmoving bodies, silence filled the air once more as all eyes turned to the source.

And bore witness to Lilligant slowly striding forward with the air around her quavering from the hue of a Battle Aura.

The two trainers themselves seemed stunned at the reaction until she turned her gaze towards them and then immediately reached for more balls. But without missing a beat, Lilligant aimed her flower towards them and sent out a spume of yellowish powder—Stun Spore.

They hit the ground with their bodies twitching as their muscles went numb. Helpless as Lilligant hovered over the two and looked down at them without any expression while the aura around her seemed to swell…

MMMIIIIIMMMMIIIIAAAA!

…Then, as quickly as it came, it vanished as Lilligant turned towards the crying Mime Jr. He had crawled out of his bed and hidden behind it, scared at everything that had happened and thus followed his instinct to hide and go unnoticed. But now that the immediate threat had seemed to have been dealt with, he did what came naturally to scared baby pokémon.

The rest of the pokémon followed suit.

[-A Lily Blossoms in Kanto-]

A.J. braced himself as he strode upon the wind atop a canine that was covered in a pelt of orange with a wild mane that was taller than him. He’d gotten the call and answered but Lille had dropped her Pokégear so he was only able to hear what came through the other end and piece it together. Now he was rushing as he silently chastised himself.

Naïve. I was too naïve. I’d only thought about the main objective and kept their home under watch, but even if they didn’t spot me I should have known they would have started checking the shelters and left a guard!

He could only chew himself out silently as Arcanine came to a stop with a tug on his mane the moment he spotted the broken tree with its sign splayed on the ground, the countless petals, and heard the cries of wild pokémon in a panic from the inside. He dismounted and went bursting in through the broken door where he found them all.

“There, there. It’s okay, it’s okay now.”

“Easy there. No one is going to hurt you now.”

“Shhh. It’s all over now.”

“Lilli. Lilli.”

Melanie, Azuria, Lillie, and Lilligant were all hurrying around and trying to calm the pokémon within the shelter. Azuria’s pokémon were all out of their balls, either contributing to the process or standing in alarm as though they were awaiting reprisal. It was only the fact that they recognized him that some of the tension in their bodies left.

“What happened?” he demanded of Melanie as she paced around while trying to round up the pokémon and set them into their cages to keep them safe and take count.

She stopped with a Poliwag in her arms and scowled at him. “Some thugs who owned that Vulpix came in here. When I said we didn’t have it they tried to steal Lillie’s instead.”

He frowned. “Where are they?”

“Tied up, knocked out, and stripped of their pokémon and belongings,” Azuria said, nodding her head towards a closet near a dresser that had a bag and several poke balls of differing kinds on it. She had her Slowbro keeping an eye on them and the balls themselves were covered in a thick layer of ice. “The police are on their way.”

He went over and took the bag, dumping the contents on the table before rummaging through it for a moment. Then he pulled out what looked to a small, miniature ball that was black and found a badge that left him scowling. He held the ball up to the device on his wrist and watched as it lit up before immediately pocketing them and scooping the rest back into the bag.

Then he turned to the Azuria and Melanie who just watched him and said, “When the cops get here, you don’t know anything about the Vulpix or what I just took. I know it’s a lot to ask and I’ll explain later, but if our past means anything to you, don’t say a word to them—”

“If our past meant anything, you’d come clean.” Melanie demanded as she marched up to him with her arms crossed and then stood in front of him wearing one of the coldest expressions that he had seen. “My shelter was just attacked. The pokémon in my care were endangered. My friends were endangered. And while I don’t know why that is, it’s clear you do and you’ve been hiding it from us.”

As he looked into her eyes, he saw the frustration that she felt. She’d had always been caring for abandoned pokémon and valued them above all else. She knew he was asking a lot and knew something was off when he came to her that morning and begged her to keep an eye on the Vulpix. But he knew she’d still do it without reporting it as she should have because he asked.

Because they were friends.

And she’d paid for it. “I know something happened in the last year. I’ve tried to be patient and understanding, figuring you’d tell us. But if you can’t be honest with us about this… I’m going to have to ask you to put back what you took and then leave.”

“…I’m working with the International Police on an assignment,” he admitted before he reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather case. Then he flipped it open to reveal a badge. “And they’re the only lead I’ve got to finding the ones who stole my Nidoking and Tyranitar from me.”