Bringing you new stories for the ages

Fanfiction

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

Chapter 29: The Close of the Festival

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

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

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

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

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

Elio’s Lessons in Magic IV: The First Spell

[-|-|-|-]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At last, I found you.

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

And the spear came unbound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, I have no idea—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Living Room-]

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Take a Breath – Part 1 (Danmachi AU)

Hahhh…. Hahhh…Hahhh…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a family was formed.

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suuuuuuuuuu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Were you one of those families then?”

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

“Could you teach me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was, after all, a monster.

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

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

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

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

He brought a monster to the surface.

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

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

Not at least until she woke up and started crying.

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

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

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

“Where am I?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mm-hmm!” Wiene said. “All day!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded. “Mm-hmm.”                                                                                          

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

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

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

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

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

Rustle. Rustle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded enthusiastically at the affection. “Promise!”

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

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had to get stronger with what he could.

He had to protect his little family.


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

Chapter 28: Holy Moon Festival – Night

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

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

To my surprise, he agreed.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic III: Preparations

[-|-|-|-]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step. Step… Step… Step. Step…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Market Area-]

Wow, that’s so cute…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…crack…

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

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

Their lips pressed together.

The glass shattered.

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

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

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

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

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

Lefy will know I was here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I-I can’t,” she cried. “I can’t!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elfy Colette was just an ordinary Human.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She did just that.

[-Amour Square-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her question grabbed his full attention. “Huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Café Wishe-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filvis found it in herself to smile back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd did not agree. Loudly.

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

The spear didn’t budge.

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

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

But the spear refused to budge.

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

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

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

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

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

The thing still didn’t budge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 27: Holy Moon Festival – Afternoon

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

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

Elio’s Lessons in Magic II: Communion

[-|-|-|-]

 

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

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

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

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

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

Which only made the whole incident even more embarrassing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bounding back onto her feet, Lefiya began to sing. “Unleashed beam of light—

Alicia lunged forward, reaching out to grab the staff only for the Half-Elf to pull the hand holding it backwards, drawing it close to her body. Then the sword came around and narrowly missed Lefiya by the slimmest of margins due to a half-step before the Level Four allowed her momentum to carry through as she spun on the ball of her feet to bring her sheathed weapon around a second time. This time Lefiya received the hit unprotected and ended up staggering a few steps back, but her song continued uninterrupted.

There was pain, but it was mild compared to what she had gone through before. Hyacinthus had been a lot more aggressive than she was and hit harder despite being only a Level Three. But that was because he was a jerk and his fighting style was the opposite of Alicia’s fighting style.

Elves tended to have a better sense of perception, coordination, and grace compared to Humans. But because of their low birthrates engaging in close combat was a last resort, especially when their race had dominion over Magic and mastered the bow. It was normally ideal to use long-distance combat to minimize the chance of casualties by striking enemies from further away.

However, close combat was an inevitability whether the opponent be man or monster. And before the Falna granted even their slender limbs the strength to crush stone with little physical effort, they had to rely on their natural gifts. Thus, most Elven Combat Styles relied on being able to read movements and then respond with great dexterity or agility, whether to maneuver out of the way or to slash at an unexpected angle.

Alicia’s style was something of a more defensive-oriented one, closer to specializing in dueling. Her movements were like how a leaf would sway out of the way as you tried to catch it, only to twist around and brush against the back of your hand. If she was put against an opponent she would parry and counterattack by using her finely honed senses and dexterity, making up for a lack of raw Strength by using her hips in her swings when she could to generate momentum. But that also meant being on the attack and ruthlessly pressuring the opponent was not something she excelled in.

Similarly, Lefiya’s staff techniques were meant to take advantage of the fact that Elven spell casting mediums were long and durable. Keeping the weapon firmly in her grasp, taking advantage of the entire length and her body, the focus was more on keeping hold of it and striking with momentum to create distance. Her Level supplied raw Strength if needed to defend herself, but she was first and foremost a Mage, so her goal was to fend off her attacker and be able to cast a spell.

In contrast to both of them, a more aggressive style would be something similar to what Miss Ryuu practiced. Her movements were fast, like a harsh wind that washed over you before you knew it was coming. Taking advantage of her Agility, she focused on delivering the first blow with as much power as she could to debilitate or take out her opponent before they could fight back.

Readying her magic power as she entered the final verse of her song, Lefiya threw herself backwards and leveled the staff towards the Level Four. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy! Arcs Ray!

The reaction was instant as Alicia’s snapped out of the line of fire as the spell emerged, intent on attacking from her left side at a closer distance. It was pointless to run from Arcs Ray since it could track an opponent and the more distance there was the easier it was for her to chase them down. So, the smart thing to do was avoid the initial shot and then strike her down before she could bend it.

However, it wasn’t as though Lefiya was ignorant to that fact as Alicia discovered when the aureate glow of the spell illuminated her face as it emerged from behind the Half-Elf’s rear. Changing the trajectory of her loosed shot was something only the Fairy Sniper could do, and so she bent the beam right from the start so that it curved sharply around her back from the right. That meant her evasive maneuver had put her right into the path of the shot.

Alicia immediately began bounding backwards great distances, pivoting with graceful motions in the process. It was almost reminiscent of a nymph skipping off the surface of a lake. But there was no escape as the beam of light constantly chased after her.

Come, freezing chains of winter—” Now it was her turn to put her Concurrent Casting to practice as she sang her own song while an azure magic circle appeared at her feet and a wand found its way into her hand. The glimmering azure motes of magical energy that spawned from her magic circle wove themselves into a quintet of ice comets that loitered over Alicia’s head and shoulders as she pointed in Lefiya’s direction before she called out the trigger phrase to launch them. “—Sagittarius Grace!

Sagittarius Grace was a short chant that allowed Alicia to launch arrows of condensed cold. They streaked forward and left behind a frost-laden trail until they slammed into their target and erupted with encasing ice. Though it wasn’t nearly as potent as Lady Riveria’s spell, she could increase the number of arrows she could summon as well as their individual trajectories due to her Mage DA.

Lefiya broke off her own spell, leaving the onrushing light to fade away as she moved to dodge the ice comets as they fired forth. Each one slammed into the ground hard enough to throw up a spout of sod that was sealed within an icy coffin, five eruptions total buffering the area she was in to throw her off. She took a breath and started running as the numbness from the post-magic rigor began to wane, knowing the real assault was coming.

Like she told Primo, the longer the cast the longer the post-magic rigor because of the amount of magical energy that ended up coursing through the body. Practice and familiarity shortened it, but not only was Alicia’s cast far shorter than hers but she was far more comfortable getting close to an enemy. That meant she wouldn’t hesitate to keep casting.

“—rius Grace!” Sure enough, Lefiya felt the tingle in the air of discharged magical energy and heard through her sharpened hearing the sound of a second volley being loosed upon her, this time with the amount of magical energy composing them far denser along with their velocities and trajectories individually dictated. The result was that each one had a different flight path and would hit at a different time and location, forcing her to mentally run the calculations through her head as she moved.

She bound backwards to avoid the first and then had to immediately roll as the second had been one of the two targeted to where she could have potentially moved, based on what Alicia knew of her. People built habits in their movements over time and while she had sharpened her skills, they were still baseline. That had been how she fared so poorly against Hyacinthus the second time they fought—he may not have recognized her under her disguise, but he’d figured out how she moved too easily.

However, Lefiya had learned as well and so after the fourth and fifth impact resulted in small ice spires the size of trees blooming around her, she focused her hearing over the crackle of the ice hardening to make out the sound of footfalls and then wheeled around in time as Alicia appeared to her left, opposite of the spell that had been loosed. Taking advantage of her focus on the spell and where the magical energy was discharged, the more experienced of the two managed to move with a level of silence and speed that afforded her the opportunity to ambush the Half-Elf.

The tip of the sheathed blade was thrust forward like a rapier towards her chest, only to skim off the shaft of the staff as Lefiya tucked it close and shifted her footing so that she could twist her body and avoid it.  She used the line of attack to crank her staff upwards, using the rear to knock the blade upwards and it created an opening, which she immediately took advantage. Stepping back while rotating her upper body, she brought the head of the staff around for a clean hit…

Only for the Elleaf to gracefully arch backwards into a handspring that not only allowed the attack to pass over her head but was followed by an elegant motion that ended up with her behind Lefiya. She grabbed the shaft of her staff and then pulled it inwards, pinning it against the Half-Elf’s chest while using her slender arm with the Strength of a Level Four to brace it into place. Then she pressed the point of the blade against her throat.

What now?” Alicia asked softly of the girl whose neck was exposed and her sheathed blade at the ready. If they had been in a real battle, it would be the point at which she would have had her throat slit.

Yet, embraced as they were, Lefiya could feel the older girl’s bosom pressed against her back and feel the gentle brush of her hair against her skin. There was also a lovely evergreen scent coming from her as well. Only the fact that the scabbard started poking against her neck kept her mind from drifting to places it shouldn’t. “…I yield.”

The admission of surrender signaled the end of the first engagement, so Alicia lowered her weapon. But, rather than release her, she instead brought her now empty hand up and gently brushed the Half-Elf atop her head.

“You’ve really improved a lot in such a short time,” Alicia said while wearing a soft smile. “To be honest, I expected to knock you out with the first hit like the last time we practiced. Then we would have to spend several minutes waiting for you to snap back awake.”

The fact that Alicia said that with such complete sincerity took a sledgehammer to the Half-Elf’s pride as she pursed her lips before asking, “Do you have any advice for me?”

“Mmm… you’ve progressed well enough that I’m actually a little worried about giving instructions that go against what your new friend has been teaching you,” Alicia told her before quirking her head ever so slightly. “Or would romantic partner be more accurate, at this point?”

Lefiya’s spine went rigid as she felt heat rushing up from her chest to her head, leaving them a reddish hue that managed to reach the soft curve of her ears that marked her as a child of two races. “H-How did you know?

“You sent Elfy of all people to ask for my facial cream a little bit ago rather than asking me personally before tonight, and you’ve been awfully cheerful,” Alicia explained in a somewhat teasing and amused tone. “Being virtuous doesn’t mean I don’t take notice when one of my juniors has her heart set on another.”

As it turned out, in contrast to a lot of the girls within the Familia, Alicia Forestlight was notably similar to Miss Aiz in that she rebuked anyone who sought to make advances towards her. That was because she had dedicated her heart and soul to the service of Lady Riveria, having aspired since she was younger than Primo to become a Vanguard to the greatest Mage of their people. So great was her devotion that Loki had joked that she was the Garden of Chastity upon which Lady Riveria could tread without the worry of any lustful intentions, which she took as a compliment.

Mind you, Lefiya had only been informed of this after the incident. “W-Well, it would have been awkward if I went and had to explain myself, so…

The embarrassment in her tone only elicited a slight giggle from the older Elf. “Well, I’m honestly happy that you were able to move on. I know how embarrassing it must have been, and I was worried it might have left you emotionally scarred for a decade or so.”

It certainly felt that way, Lefiya would admit to herself. There were no words for how embarrassing that was to where she wanted to lock herself in her room and not come out. Thankfully everyone was mostly understanding and so they pretended it never happened. But it still was traumatizing for a girl her age. “It’s my own fault for not reading the cues, and I think of you like an older sister.”

Alicia’s disposition meant that a lot of the younger girls saw her in that light. But for Lefiya who had only been slightly older than Primo and was raised with Elven sensibilities, it was doubly so. She emulated a similar disposition when she was with Primo because it left such a huge impact on her, though she would ensure that her mistakes weren’t repeated.

“And you’re like a younger sister to me. So don’t be afraid to come to me more often, okay?” That said, she released the Fairy Sniper. “Now, on the topic of your Concurrent Casting, from what I can see that style you practice now is something you would only develop if you had to spend time without expecting anyone else to support you on the frontlines but could guarantee a kill with your Magic. I can only imagine how difficult of a time your friend must’ve had mastering it.”

Lefiya could imagine it very vividly herself. Filvis had been known as Banshee due to the fact she constantly survived incidents that killed other parties she was a part of after surviving the Nightmare on the Twenty-Seventh Floor. It was entirely possible she spent weeks or months all alone refining her Concurrent Chanting so that she could functionally fight on her own and didn’t need to drag others with her and endanger them—a lonely but effective method.

In contrast, the Fairy Force operated in a group and could be protected by Lady Riveria’s magic. So their focus was on Moving and Chanting. But, in the case of Alicia, Chanting wasn’t as large of an issue because both of her spells were Super-Short Chants. The possession of the Mage DA made it so that a Magic Swordswoman could increase the potency of their spell, but a spell with a short chant would rarely beat out one as long as Lefiya’s unless there was a significant Level gap.

If the Fairy Sniper managed to get her spell off then she could most likely kill anything attacking her that wasn’t above a certain threshold, so outside of the bare minimum of self-defense she didn’t need to worry about attacking or defending. “To that end, if you keep focusing on your observational skills during a battle, you’ll be able to better avoid attacks. You already showed as much when you managed to see through my sneak attack well enough to try countering me. However, I do believe the biggest hurdle is improving your chanting speed next.”

Outside of Lady Riveria, one couldn’t change the chant of their spell. However, the speed of the chant was also a factor that could influence the course of a battle. Against the Demi-Spirit, it had managed to go through an Ultra-Long Chant in a ridiculously short amount of time and it was only by the skin of their teeth they were able to hold on despite their efforts to cut it short.

“Since you have the basics down, we’ll spend the rest of practice working on reducing the time it takes for you to consistently cast Arcs Ray and avoiding getting hit for as long as possible,” Alicia decided. “I’ll be going a little faster to give you more of a challenge, so try to keep up.”

And, with that, the Fairy Sniper continued her dance with the Elleaf on the grassy field nestled beneath the earth.

[-The Seventh Floor-]

Uwaah…” A soft, tired whine escaped from the small lips of a young Elf slouched down on the Seventh Floor of the Dungeon. Primo Liberia was clutching her Oaken Staff in order to stay upright as her legs lost their strength, her body twitching as her muscles contracted and expanded while a pulsing numbness spread throughout with every beat of her heart.

The Neophyte Elven Mage was currently at her limit of using her third spell without rest and the post-magic rigor was taking its toll as she had exerted what magical force she could muster to handle the objective for today—clearing out the Seventh Floor Pantry. Pantries were a place within the Dungeon where a large quartz crystal would secrete food for monsters, thus leaving it often filled with them. That made it the best place on the Upper Floors for them to practice for numerous reasons.

The first was that for someone with a spell that fell into the category of Wide Area Bombardment, they really shined when clearing out swathes of enemies in a single area. Or against a singular but large target. Yet the floors prior to the Sixth Floor were much narrower and thus not quite the easiest to fire within considering Primo had yet to be able to manipulate the various aspects of the spell and lacked finer understandings of trajectories.

The second factor was the damage her spell caused. The rays of starlight did not distinguish friend from foe and all caught within it would be seared by the starlight until the spell ran its course. That meant they could very well be reduced to ashes, including drop items and magic stones. So her spell was limited in terms of usefulness depending on the amount of space and if they needed to gather up anything of value to be taken in the Exchange.

For a larger Familia like the Loki Familia, such small pickings weren’t worth the space they would take up on an expedition nor the effort to harvest them. So clearing them out was no problem. But, for a small Familia like theirs, it meant they had to also take that into consideration and was likely one of the other reasons that Lefiya had suggested Primo take up the bow as an alternative method of contributing.

The Seventh Floor was something of a compromise as the Killer Ants often attacked in swarms and they had enough space to where she could clear them out. That would earn her more excelia towards using her Magic with minimal assistance. Then, while she recovered, they could handle dealing with the monsters that held more valuable drop items, allowing them to hopefully make up for their expenses in a shorter amount of time—or so Lili said in her role as the Familia’s treasurer.

They had considered the Tenth Floor would probably be a decent alternative, as that was where larger Level One category monsters spawned. But they had to take into account the fact that the low visibility of the fog would hamper someone like Primo, who was just starting out as a Mage. She would be on edge at not being able to see, afraid of anything that could jump out at her in the fog and disrupt her concentration.

However, it seemed that by chance a larger variant of the Killer Ant emerged. It was called a Crystal Ant, larger than any monster on the top part of the Upper Floors and a rare spawn. Primo had been tasked with dispatching it, something that was still rattling her.

“Make sure she didn’t accidentally destroy the drop item from it,” Lili called out to Welf who had been keeping the monster at bay until she finished her cast. “A Crystal Block is worth a small fortune, and between the Blue Papillon Wings being worth 1,800 valis each and the Purple Moth Wings being worth 300 each, that should be enough to account for a fifth of what it cost to outfit Mistress Primo.”

The Blacksmith sighed before holstering his nameless sword on his back and then checking through the large deposit of ash within the smoldering crater left behind. That left Lili to use her Supporter Gloves to carefully harvest the wings into different glass containers given that they were both delicate and they shed powder that was valuable in itself. Mikoto, on the other hand, came over and gave the child a waterskin to drink from. “Here you go.”

Thank you,” Primo told her gratefully before indulging with small sips.

“You did well,” Bell said in a gentle tone as he crouched down and gently patted her on the head. In truth, he probably should have been the one to handle it, but Lili had pointed out that he would be better suited to taking out the second wave of monsters that had filed in when it did, given his Level, as the excelia for besting the rarer spawn would benefit her the most.

Mikoto then turned to him. “Sir Bell, perhaps after we are done we should head back to the surface to rest before this night festivities?”

“That would probably be—” His words cut off when the sound of a shrill cry reached his ears and he stood up abruptly. “Did you hear that?”

The kunoichi shook her head. “I didn’t hear anything, but our Levels are lower than yours.”

“It sounded like a girl screaming,” Bell said, legs tensing. “I’m going to check it out for myself. Stay here for now.”

Then like a coiled spring being let loose, he took off towards the direction of the scream that he’d heard. Since reaching Level Three, Bell had become fast enough that traversing the Dungeon’s Upper Floors in a very short amount of time wasn’t an issue. The problem was finding the origin of the voices he heard within the expansive floor before it was too late, the reverberations carried out by the cavernous walls themselves as he reached a crossroads and focused on listening—

Miss Kaede, watch out!

There! He pivoted towards the northern path and focused his eyes, catching a glimpse of a purple-haired woman who looked a few years his senior in the distance. For a moment he thought it was her that he had heard, but the chittering of Killer Ants and another scream told him otherwise. So he rushed past her as the air stirred like a gale before his superhuman perception registered the sight before him.

Lining the walls, skittering around the cavernous ground, threading the battered and slashed remains of their fallen brethren, a horde of Killer Ants were descending upon a group of three adventurers—all young women.

The first was a Hume Bunny, dressed in a shortened lavender kosode emblazoned with a maple leaf. It was torn in several places to expose a white sarashi around her chest. Her skin was dyed red from exertion and glistening with sweat, breaks in the flesh from which deep crimson ran and spilled out. Even so, she held onto a similar sword to Mikoto in a tight grip while her yellow eyes were furrowed in determination.

Next to her was a Pallum dressed in a jacket and shorts that were in warm tones but had golden hemming. She had the standard guild-issued breastplate and a Warhammer, both covered in purple goo, that shook in her grip as her blue eyes beneath her short, curly hair took in how surrounded they were by their enemies. Her injuries were relatively lighter by contrast, but the way she struggled to remain upright showed that she wasn’t exactly in fighting form.

Last was a girl with long, flowing dark hair adorned with a decorative maple leaf hairpin that rose up to a pair of fox ears and a tail—a Renard, from what he knew based on her appearance. It was the first time he had seen one and, judging from how her outfit resembled a stylized version of a priestess outfit that he heard the Far Eastern Gods and Goddesses had an affinity for, he suspected she was some kind of Mage. Of the three she was the only one who wasn’t injured as the two others seemed to be acting as her Vanguards, but her breathing was heavy and her golden eyes seemed to be dulled along with traces of purple powder covering her clothes.

The Killer Ants had surrounded them from all angles at this point, leaving them with their backs against the wall. The sheer numbers reminded him of what happened with Lili. Had they failed to kill some and then ended up getting swarmed due to the pheromones calling out for more to surround them?

…It didn’t matter. There were girls in front of him who were in danger. He could save the questions for later. “GET DOWN!

His voice, ringing loud and firm within the cavern, reached them. Their eyes—yellow, blue, and golden—turned in his direction. There was a momentarily flash of recognition even though he didn’t recognize them, and then the Hume Bunny grabbed them both and pulled their heads down as she covered them with her body.

Bell held out his hand and let loose his spell. “FIREBOLT!

Three blazing rays shot forward. His increase in both his Magic and his Level had made them far thicker and destructive compared to a short time ago. And because of his practice with his sister in preparation for the War Game he could now let loose three at once—a rapid Firebolt volley.

They detonated within the hordes of the Killer Ants. The bolts came loose, unbound as the force of the explosion tore apart those close by and the flames lashed out, consuming those within its reach and cooking them within their chitinous exoskeletons. Just like that, a path was opened for him to reach them. “Are you okay!?”

“Cottontail!” said the Hume Bunny in an accent that was somewhat rougher than he expected. “Ya gotta get Shino and Coco outta here! They breathed in too much of that powder before I could kill ‘em!”

That explained it. Their backline must have been poisoned by Purple Moths from above while their focus had been on dealing with the Killer Ants surrounding them, a risk when you were being attacked in all directions like in the Dungeon. Hearing that, Bell crouched down and then grabbed the two beneath his arms before he turned his back to the Hume Bunny. “Climb on!”

She did so, clinging to his back and wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as he rose to his full height. Then Bell ran as fast as he could back to the Pantry, leaving their equipment behind. He had already memorized the pathway so there was no hesitation as his motions became a blur that dragged the wind behind him, drowning out all sound and thought until he emerged through the mouth of the entry way.

The moment he breached the opening, he called out for his Familia as he set them down. “Lili, these three need Antidotes and Potions! Mikoto, I need your help to make sure that a horde of Killer Ants in one of the passages nearby gets cleared out. Welf keep them and Primo safe!

Even though she did not fully understand what was happening, the Absolute Shadow understood from Bell’s tone he was speaking as the Captain of the Hestia Familia. So Mikoto followed him out, reasoning that her part was due to her skills, which allowed her to track any monster she had encountered before. She could ensure that none were missed and left to secrete pheromones that could risk another horde descending upon the corridor as they killed the remaining ones.

The two of them moved ahead with Mikoto triggering her skill along the path where her senses registered the congregation of dozens of them to the spot he had been previously. The Killer Ants that hadn’t died swiftly to his Magic had released more pheromones and so the chittering had become loud enough that it bounced off the walls. Left unchecked they could cause a small-scale Monster Parade, an outbreak where a massive number of monsters surged through a floor.

With his blood pounding in his ears, Bell called forth his Magic and loosed his flaming lances one after another. “Firebolt! Firebolt! Firebolt!

The thunderous roar of rupturing stone. Intense flames scorching the air. The acrid scent of melting chitin and shrieks from inhuman maws. His senses congested with slaughter as he devoted himself to the eradication of the horde, the Caerbannog Cottontail bared his with his black and red fangs as he went into a Rabbit Rush.

Kinetic vision heightened to the point where they were moving as slow as molasses made it so that his knives could find their necks. Deceptively powerful legs crushed through exoskeletons as hard as armor with every step. Flashing violet and streaking crimson cut through chitin with the ease of slicing through bread. Flowing from one to the next with fluid motions as his momentum carried him through their ranks, the corridor was left awash in the shower of ichor as the blood pumped through the veins escaped loosely into the air while their severed heads were left behind in his wake.

Some escaped his fangs as he prioritized taking down as many as possible in a single passing. His ears caught the faint sound of the air being parted by the edge of Mikoto’s sword as she followed behind him to deal with the stragglers. The survivors had to be killed before their pheromones could compound and spread further, and with her skill she could pick out the dying from the dead with greater ease, ensuring they were swiftly eradicated.

Bell lost track of time as his blades flashed. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but it felt longer with his drawn-out perception of time that came from his heightened Level when in combat mode. It was only when Mikoto called out that there were no more he looked to see what was left in his wake.

The chamber and corridors were littered with enough corpses to resemble a mausoleum. The light-green walls were splattered with purple ichor without rhyme or reason, abstract to the point it seemed that someone had haphazardly thrown buckets of paint throughout the area. The discarded and half-empty containers left slowly growing puddles on the ground that filled in the cracks and crevices as a haunting silence was all that was left in their wake where before it was loud and cacophonic.

Finally, Bell breathed deep from his chest and looked around for their equipment. The Adventurer’s Backpack that one of them had been carrying was still intact, though torn in several places by the mandibles that had likely been attempting to gouge out flesh instead. The Warhammer that had been left behind was splashed in purple, droplets rolling off the metal and joining the growing puddle beneath it.

He picked them both up and returned to the Pantry along with Mikoto. When they arrived, they found the three of them being treated. The Hume Bunny was simply dousing herself overhead with three Potion without care while Welf looked on with a half-puzzled, half-amused gaze, while Primo was near the Pallum whose hands were shaking as she held a waterskin offered to her by the Elf. The Renard was lying on the ground, catching her breath with a bundled-up cloak being used as a pillow after her top had been stripped off with her upper body covered by Primo’s jacket, but her eyes had regained some of their luster.

“Are they going to be okay?” Bell asked Lili as he set their things down, given that out of all of them she had the best understanding of First Aid due to needing to look after herself.

“None of their injuries are crippling so the Potions can mend their wounds, but one had succumbed to poisoning to the point that even with the Antidote she will be fatigued and ill for a little while. We removed her clothes that were covered in the poison dust and had the other two split an Antidote just in case, but all of them will recover.”

“That’s good,” Bell said with a soft sigh before looking over to the Hume Bunny whose ears were folded downwards like she was exhausted. “Was it just the three of you? When I originally was heading that way I saw someone else, but I didn’t see them on the way back…”

Her head tilted at that. “Dunno bout that. Wasn’t anyone but us who came from the Familia.”

“Most likely it was just a random Adventurer who heard the commotion and went to see the situation,” Lili stated. “If you heard their screaming all the way here due to your Level then it must have been loud enough that Adventurers close by would have heard it too. In that case, it would not surprise me if they figured out what was happening and simply ran to the Fifth Floor since Killer Ants are one of the few species on the Upper Floors that can actually cause a Monster Parade to occur on their own.”

“Woulda been good to know beforehand.” She brought her hands to her hair and ran her fingers between her ears frustratedly. “Bastards never said anythin’ bout them or those flyin’ pests when they told us about this floor being a good one to farm.”

That earned a furrowed brow from Lili as Bell spoke. “Ah, right. Maybe we should introduce ourselves considering everything. We’re—”

“The Hestia Familia,” the Hume Bunny said before he could finish. “Saw most of ya’ll on the mirrors when we got here. Ya especially caught my eye, Cottontail.”

“…in what regard?” Lili asked in a tone that was a fair bit more serious than before.

“His title!” she exclaimed. “I wanna beat him and take it for myself!”

“That’s… not how that works here,” Mikoto said after briefly clearing her throat before elaborating to the rest of them. “In my homeland, sometimes warriors would challenge others of renown to best them and raise their own standing. Titles, weapons, and the like could be wagered, though it isn’t practiced as often that close to the capital from what I am told.”

Forgive her…” A soft voice came from the Renard. Her accent was similar to her companion’s, but it felt slightly more refined and formal. “That one speaks without thinkin’ too much… and gets on over her head if no one keeps an eye on her. In this case… we were misled and are kindly grateful for your aid.

Mikoto’s gaze softened. “Pardon if I am being presumptuous, but from your accent and explanations, it sounds as though you two are relatively new to Orario?”

“Uhmm… all three of us arrived around the same time as the War Game, which is how we recognized Mister Cottontail,” the Pallum said, having regained a level of composure as she reached into her pouch and pulled out a Familia Emblem. One with a crescent moon and wine glass. “My name is Coco, and these two are Kaede and Momiji. We’re new members of the Soma Familia.”

The moment the senior members of the Familia spotted the emblem, their eyes inadvertently were drawn back to Liliruca whose lips pursed thin. They had gone to rescue her from the Soma Familia’s compound after they had been attacked by them days before the War Game. But the fact that the girl openly admitted it and looked confused by the shift in tone made it clear she knew nothing.

For her part, Lili merely sighed before holding up a hand. “I think I understand what happened. Let me guess, some of the older members of the Familia gave you a map and told you it’d be easy to get down here to earn a lot of Valis quickly?”

“That’s right,” Coco continued before she pulled a roughly drawn map out next and laid it down for them to see. There was a spot circled. “They said here would be best.”

Bell’s blood ran cold. It was a sentiment shared by Mikoto and Welf as a scowl appeared on the latter’s face while the former’s eyes folded in. Primo simply looked puzzled, but that was because she hadn’t memorized the maps of the Upper Floors. She didn’t understand the implications.

And neither did Coco. “Is there something wrong?”

“That’s the Pantry we’re in now,” Bell stated. “The fact that they told you to come here without even telling you about how Killer Ants can draw others to them means…”

“Don’t sugarcoat it, Master Bell,” Lili said rather coldly. “It’s no different than what the others did to get rid of Mister Ged and tried to do to get rid of me. They sent them here to die.”

The atmosphere within the Pantry grew tense as that registered to the three. Coco’s expression was one of disbelief, while Momiji’ eyes closed in thought. Opposite them, Kaede’s grip on her sword became much tighter, to the point it shook in anger. “Yer kiddin’, right?”

She was not. “The Seventh Floor is arguably the most dangerous for new Adventurers because it introduces a wider variety of monsters. When Zanis was displeased with a new member of the Familia or the others wanted to avoid competition for Lord Soma’s Wine, they would often ‘suggest’ that they come to the Seventh Floor or give them a map marked with a spot that would be a good place to earn Valis. I have seen many people who only joined the Familia never come back.”

War Shadows on the Sixth Floor were dangerous because they were a singular spike in the difficulty when it came to monsters compared to Goblins and Kobolds. They were smarter and their claws were capable of cutting through armor easily. But Killer Ants had hard enough bodies that getting through their defenses to kill them so they couldn’t call for help was exceedingly difficult for new Adventurers. And without Abnormal Resistance or Antidotes, they could easily end up getting poisoned by the Purple Moths.

Ignorant of that, sending them down here alone was a death sentence.

“However, one thing doesn’t make sense,” Lili stated as she looked over their equipment. “Killer Ant bodies are durable enough that without high enough Strength none of you would even be able to get through their armor with these weapons. That should have stopped you from going deeper or wounding enough to draw too many in. And your wounds are light considering how Killer Ants can easily cut apart new Adventurers.”

She was right when Bell considered it. Miss Coco was using Guild-issued armor and weapons at the very least, and the other two didn’t seem to have any special equipment. Their clothes didn’t seem to be very durable considering the rips and tears, meaning that the wounds they had likely should have been deeper unless they had higher Endurance parameters.

“Renards are often known as Sorceresses and Sorcerers in our homeland for possessing the ability to use unique Magics even before the Gods descended,” Mikoto explained. Her violet eyes once more gazing upon the young woman holding her wand that was decorated by paper streamers. “However, judging from your accessory and Nusa, should I assume you were previously a priestess in the service a shrine and thus had a Falna?”

Momiji nodded her head. “The shrine my village had was under the care of Lady Tatsuta far in the countryside, an’ so my kin served her for generations. But after Tsukino went an’ got herself into trouble and had to leave, I begged the lady for her blessin’ to come to Orario with her in exchange for sendin’ back offerings to the shrine. We arrived a little bit ago an’ got wind of the Soma Familia lookin’ for new members.

In other words, her Goddess unlocked her Falna so she could do a conversion to another Familia when she arrived in Orario. Considering the city made it extremely difficult for Adventurers to leave the walls without going through a lot of paperwork, and with her home being so far away, she likely sacrificed any chance of going back. And while having a Falna and Magic might have made her more valuable, there was no guarantee whatever deity took her in would do the same for her friend or a Pallum.

That alone with how the Hume Bunny begged him to save the other two first made it clear they were rather tight-knit, unlike the rest of the Familia they had just joined. But they hadn’t known that and expected it to be the same. It would have gotten them killed if Bell hadn’t been nearby.

“In other words, you got careless because of it,” Lili said bluntly. “Whatever Magic you have might have allowed you to get down here sooner than you were supposed to, but because of that you didn’t have a full understanding of what awaited you. If you had realized early on that you couldn’t go any further, then you would not have gotten in deeply enough to be swarmed and risk a Monster Parade.”

Welf gave her a stern glance. “Hey now. That’s not on them.”

“If those bastards hadn’t lied ta us then we woulda never came this deep,” Kaede added.

The fault is our own,” Momiji said softly in contrast to those who were arguing in her defense. “We believed in them too easily an’ still mistook the threat we faced until it was too late because of it. Lesson learned for the future.

That seemed to be what Lili wanted to hear as she nodded her head. “Not everyone will give you bad advice but don’t believe everything you are told just because you are Familia. New Adventurers are easy prey, so at least verify things that put your life in danger.”

“I don’t understand though,” Coco said somberly. It was like the wind had been knocked out of her. “Lord Soma seemed so nice when he took us in. He told me that he was trying to take his Familia in a new direction and wanted us to help him. So why would they…”

“Most of Lord Soma’s current members are loyal to his wine, not him,” Lili pointed out. “Even if Zanis got put away and Lord Soma changed his policy, it doesn’t change the fact that the others have gotten used to the way things work. It would not surprise me if they intended to use your deaths as an excuse for why they should be given Soma to better guide newcomers, or perhaps they were trying to kill Miss Coco by proxy since they don’t dare come after me now that I’m under Master Bell’s protection.”

That said, she turned to her captain. “Master Bell. Forgive me for this selfish request, but may we head to the Soma Familia after leaving the Dungeon with these three?”

“I don’t mind, but would you really be comfortable with that?” Bell asked. He knew that place had a lot of bad memories for her.

“If Lord Soma sincerely wants to change his Familia for the better, he needs to be aware that it won’t be enough to simply change who is calling the shots and recruiting new members,” Lili told him. “He has to completely root out all traces of the old practices, otherwise his efforts will fail. And I have to be the one to convey that to him personally or else it won’t be clear, and his own children will sabotage him without him realizing it until it’s too late.”

Even if Lili hated her time in his Familia, it was clear she still had some degree of respect for her former God. These three were the signs he was making the first steps to change things sincerely rather than leaving them as they were. And whether it was by pure luck or fate she had borne witness to it and the Familia that took her in had stopped his efforts from being wasted.

“Okay,” Bell said. “We’ll go see Lord Soma. If anyone goes and tries to get in your way this time, I’ll step in.”

“In that case, I would like to contribute as well by introducing you both to Lord Takemikazuchi at some point, Madam Kaede and Momiji,” Mikoto said, looking to the pair. “He could at least explain some of the cultural differences, so you will not be so easily taken advantage of again. I can also show you where to find familiar foods and comforts.”

“…Why?” Kaede asked after a pause. “Not that it wouldn’t be appreciated, but ya just said not to trust everythin’ we hear.”

It was Primo who spoke on her new Familia’s behalf. “It’s because they’re all nice people. Lady Hestia and the others took me in when I had just arrived around the same time as you, and they’ve done so much for me without asking for anything in return. That’s why I want to pay it all back by becoming the best Mage I can be for them, even if it’s scary at times. It’s the same for you, right?”

Her question was addressed specifically to the Pallum who had spoken well of Lord Soma. Coco responded with a slight nod of her head. “He seemed really sincere, and he didn’t reject me for just being a Pallum either.”

“As for me, what guy would just sit back and let scum get away with sending three cute girls off to die because they’re petty over some wine?” Welf said while sporting a grin to Kaede. “They need their priorities checked, and since we’re heading that way there’s no harm in it, right?”

…Who ya callin’ cute?” murmured the Hume Bunny as her yellow eyes looked away. There seemed to be a spot of crimson color surfacing on her cheeks, but it seemed to go unnoticed.  “Gonna kill those bastards.

“In my case, as my original Familia hails from the Far East, we know of the struggles when it comes to acclimating ourselves to this place,” Mikoto added with her eyes on Momiji. “It would not do for your first experience in Orario to be one completely negative as this one. And, as we have walked the same path, it’s only natural we help those who come after, no?”

That would be much appreciated,” the Renard Priestess said. “I would be lyin’ if I said I don’t miss a meal from home about now.

That decided, the Hestia Familia brought the three to the surface and made their way to the Soma Familia. After some mild obstructions, including pulling Kaede off of the one who gave them the map in particular before she bruised her fists on their skull, a discussion was had between the God and his Captain, his old Familia member, and his new ones on the full extent of his Familia’s problems. It took a few hours before a decision was made that would leave the Soma Familia’s numbers drastically reduced by the week’s end in the hopes that they could start again.

Thus, the Hestia Familia headed back to their home where their Goddess of the Hearth awaited. They would put off going to the Exchange for the day so they could get ready for the festivities that were about to begin. After all, the sun was setting…

And the Holy Moon Festival was about to begin.


Fanfic Recommendation 108


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 25 – 26

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.

Rabbit of the Moon 20

Summary: In a different world, Bell Cranel died at the hands of the Minotaur on the Fifth Floor. The Moon Presence, searching for a new Hunter to bring the long night to an end, just so happened to stumble across his soul on the way to Heaven. Thus a contract was established.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

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


A Code Geass Fanfic

Summary: Lelouch had been quite happy with his life. Sure they were living in obscurity, but he and Nunnally were safe. All of that changes however, when his identity is revealed and Lelouch is forced back into the fold of the Imperial family.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 26 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 26: Holy Moon Festival – Morning

I began studying Magic with the forest we were guided to by the Spirits as our home for the time being. The first lesson was naturally the nature of the Spirits themselves. Understanding them were the key to cooperation and thus the wisdom they could bestow after all.

Spirits existed within the world, embodiments of nature given life by the Gods and said to be those closest to the divinities on the Lower World, as they could hear their voices and respond. The fact that we Elves could enter into a contract with them directly meant that we were a race favored by the Gods, unlike the other mortal races who should only be so lucky if the Gods deigned to turn their attention upon them. Or so Elio claimed.

I had reservations (naturally) but stilled my tongue. Argo placed his faith in me, relegating himself to sleeping on the outskirts of the forest and effectively doing all the manual labor for us so that the Elf could teach me without any distractions. If he could bear with that much for my sake, then I should be able to do the same for him.

I had to if I was going to be able to protect him.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic I: Spirits

[-|-|-|-]

 

Bell Cranel stirred awake as early as usual on the day of the Holy Moon Festival.

He had always been early to rise from the time he lived on the mountain and worked the farm along with his grandfather. Daylight was precious and tending to crops happened to be more time-consuming than one would expect. In Orario that translated to reaching the Dungeon relatively early enough to beat the morning rush…

At least that had been back when it had been only Bell and his Goddess as members of the Familia.

He exited his modest room set on the east side of the Hearth Manor’s third floor. The spacious estate had become their home, constructed of stone, wood, and glass, covered an expansive amount of space to where they had more room than they knew what to do with it. Cleaning it all alone would likely become a nightmare, to the point where Lady Hestia was considering hiring help to deal with it once everything settled down.

Bell made his way from his room out into an expansive corridor where the light from the sun poured in through the windows. At the end of the corridor was one of the larger bathrooms that he could use to get himself ready for the day. He took his time to wash himself clean, leaving out refreshed and invigorated as he stretched his limbs that had been loosened by the heated water.

Then he got dressed and proceeded a few doors down towards Welf’s room. Since it would be time for breakfast soon he figured he would wake him just in case he had stayed up too late at the forge. He knocked on the door a few times but there was no answer. “Welf, are you there?”

After listening for a response and hearing none with his Level Three perception, he tested the handle and found that it opened. Welf was nowhere to be found inside. Bell let out a sigh as he realized Welf had spent the night outside again.

Since Lady Hestia had the manor remodeled to suit their needs, she gave Welf his own personal forge since he lost access to the one he would have had with his original goddess when he transferred over. However, there have been cases where he would stay up late to practice his forging to an extent that bordered on obsession in Lili’s words. The fact that he slept in the forge didn’t exactly refute her claims, even if he stated he was just trying not to get rusty.

I’d better get him before Lady Hestia finds out, Bell reasoned. The Goddess of the Hearth treated them as they were her own children and, while she wouldn’t scold them, she could find a way to make them feel guilty for not listening at the expense of their own health. It never felt great to be on the receiving end.

He made his way towards the main foyer where the pair of winding staircases would lead him down to the first floor. However, on his way down, he spotted the other early riser within the Hestia Familia. “Good morning, Miss Mikoto.”

The kunoichi paused in midstride from the floor below and turned her head in his direction, giving him a glimpse of her eyes that looked rather satisfied. Her normally lovely white skin was flushed a red shade from residual heat from the morning bathing she did with one of the baths that had been converted to be more suitable to the Far East style on the lower floor so that all of them had access to it. It was divided into two rooms, of course.

She brushed a stray lock of her raven hair that hung delicately in front of her face and gave him an amicable smile. “Good morning, Sir Bell. I was about to begin working on breakfast after waking the others up.”

“I can do that since I’m already up here,” Bell said, looking over to his left where the other set of stairs would lead him to the women’s wing. They had divided the third floor between the two sides to give both genders a level of privacy, though there was no real hard rule that prevented one side from visiting the other. And Lady Hestia’s room was actually located in the center as it was the largest, being what he presumed was the Master bedroom with a view of the courtyard.

“You have my thanks,” Mikoto stated. “I’ll have breakfast ready for everyone by the time they are all woken and have cleaned themselves up for the day.”

With that, the kunoichi headed towards the kitchen while Bell ascended to the opposite side. Mikoto’s room was the very first room by the stairway but, given that she was already awake, he skipped over it and went for Lili’s door. “Lili, are you up?”

There was the sound of wood scuffing the floor from what he presumed was a chair as smaller footfalls crossed the space. The door opened to reveal Lili dressed in a nightshirt and pants. “Master Bell, did you need something from me?”

“No, I was just coming to wake you up,” he said. “But it seemed like you were already up.”

“I woke a little while ago and thought I should look over the lesson plan for the day after we go to the Dungeon,” she explained. It turned out that due to her… circumstances, Lili had a pretty solid grasp of math compared to the rest of them. So not only was she the Familia Treasurer who kept track of their finances, but she was also helping Primo with the arithmetic portion of her studies.

Bell felt a little embarrassed that he couldn’t do much in that regard. He was literate and knew basic mathematics, but the rest was beyond him. So when she revealed that she could help he had asked her to without a second thought, but he didn’t expect it would interfere with her sleep schedule.

That done, he proceeded down the corridor to the next occupied room to wake up Primo. In contrast to the immediacy of Lili’s response to his knocking and call, he could hear the soft sounds on the other side of the door of the child slowly rising from her bed. Her steps were heavy as she staggered forward and fumbled with the handle. When the door opened it revealed the prepubescent Elf with her eyes still closed, hair disheveled, and her nightgown wrinkled as she and swayed on her feet.

Ish… redi… Cap’n…” Primo mumbled while still half-asleep, taking a step forward and bumping into Bell before reflexively bringing her arms around his waist to cling to him. Out of all of them, Primo was not used to waking up early. It was likely due to the fact that she was new to the lifestyle of an Adventurer in combination with her young age, so she was a little slower to rise than the others. “Mmnnn…zzz…

“Hey, don’t use Master Bell as a pillow!” Lili called out as she emerged from her room and pried the Elf off of him while Bell just laughed awkwardly. “I thought you Elves were supposed to be prim and proper.”

Only once she was pulled from Bell and back into her own room did Primo’s consciousness seem to spark awake fully. Her eyes snapped open and, seeing those ruby eyes upon her as Bell waved, she promptly shut the door before calling out, “I-I’m not decent, Captain! Please give me a moment!

“You don’t need to rush,” Bell told her over the sound of shuffling and light chastisement from Lili on the other side of the door. She almost sounded like an older sister in the way she was telling her she needed to be more aware of what she was doing when getting up. “We’ll have breakfast ready within an hour, so both of you can take your time.”

With those two up, Bell turned his attention to Hestia’s room located behind where the stairwells met. He knocked on the door and called out to her. “Goddess, are you awake?”

Bell, come inside. I want to show you something,” she responded through the door. Her dutiful child did so, opening the door and entering the room that was far larger than any of theirs. His ruby eyes spanned the room only to for his breath to hitch as he took in her appearance as she did a twirl with the morning sun coming from the balcony window behind her.

Hestia’s long and flowing black hair seemed glossy in the morning light while beneath a deep blue veil with gold trimmings. Elegant white fabric formed a collar around her neck to a sapphire pendant, which allowed the excess cloth to flow around her upper arms like ribbons. It was only because they were attached to golden shoulder bands that they didn’t fly freely, but left arches of flowing fabric that trailed after her.

Her voluptuous bust was cradled by more of the virgin white fabric with bands of gold acting as a pseudo-corset. They matched the ones circling around her hips to hug her waist, holding up the long skirt that was split into two sections, with the center being a long strip of blue rimmed with gold while the rest was white. The wind carried it up enough that he could see up to her knees as she spun around elegantly for him.

“What do you think?” she asked, coming to a stop with the flowing fabric following gently after her. “Isn’t it cute?”

Heat brimmed from his chest to his head. “Goddess, when did you get that?”

“I found it in in the closet when we moved in,” she explained. “It’s a perfect recreation of one of the outfits that I wore back in Heaven, so I can only assume that Apollo had gotten it made during the time he declared the War Game. He must have forgotten it when we took his home.”

Goddess, I’m pretty sure he didn’t forget it so much as he left it on purpose, Bell thought to himself with a bitter grimace. The fact that it was a perfect recreation of one of her outfits in Heaven and fit her so well spoke of the man’s obsession with her. Even so, he couldn’t deny it suited her somewhat in being more regal yet divine compared to her normal outfit. “You look beautiful, Goddess.”

She smiled at his praise. “The last time I wore it was when Artemis and I were up above. Aphrodite had come by to bug us as per usual. Since it’s been so long since I’ve seen her and the Holy Moon Festival was tonight, I felt nostalgic and thought I’d want to wear it for the dance.”

An unsettling sensation fell into his stomach. He had promised her that he would dance with her, even though he wasn’t any good at dancing. The last time he danced with Aiz it was more like they managed to avoid stepping on each other’s toes since they had practiced enough to read one another’s rhythm. Not to mention the fact that it was supposed to be a mostly couples affair…

His ruminations of the impending horror that was a moonlit dance amidst strangers and him embarrassing himself were cut short when he noticed Hestia beginning to remove the bangles, indicating she was getting ready to get undressed. He promptly turned away. “Anyway, I should go and finish waking up Welf. I’ll see you at breakfast!”

Bidding her farewell for the moment, Bell vacated the Master Bedroom and made his way down the stairs to head out to the forge. But before he did so, he peered out through one of the foyer windows towards the gates to see if there were any people were out there, beyond the fountain. They usually only appeared after breakfast and the numbers had been dropping as of late thankfully, but there were still more than he liked. It seemed that with the festival being today none were too eager to try to grab their attention, so the gate was clear for the moment.

Hopefully, it would stay that way.

He made his way out back, the morning air carrying with it a slight autumn chill. But it wasn’t cold enough to see his breath yet as he went close to the edge of the backyard where the trees and gates formed a perimeter. There a forge had been built for Welf’s sole use.

“Welf,” Bell called out as he opened the door. “Are you in here?”

A rough grunt was his answer as he reached over towards a magic stone lantern and turned it on to find the Blacksmith lying down on his workbench, turning from the light as if it was the bane of his existence. But then he forced himself up and ran his calloused hands through his hair before yawning. “Is it morning already?”

“The others are already getting up,” Bell answered. “If you don’t hurry, Lady Hestia will find out you spent the night here and be upset.”

“Don’t want that to happen,” he said, standing up before looking over to a hammer. “Hephaestus will hear of it too, and it’d just make me look like I still need to be looked after despite everything I said then. But the second one was so close that I just had to finish it.”

Bell’s ruby eyes traced his gaze over to the wall where he spotted a great sword. The steel was black, waves running along it in a way that made it seem like flames that were rimmed by fiery red hue. It was most likely a Fire Element weapon.

“In my dreams I see a sword of flames and lightning,” Welf explained as he reached over and picked up what looked to be a stiletto. It had a brass-toned handle, but the blade was a golden color. “I’ve been trying to get closer to that by experimenting with different types of blades and blacksmithing techniques, but none of them have come close to that yet. There’s something I’m missing.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure out what it is eventually,” Bell assured him. “And even if these ones are fragile, they’ll serve to keep our Familia safe. That’s what matters, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” He rose to his full height and stretched before moving to the door. As he passed by, he set a hand on Bell’s shoulder. “Sorry to make you go out of your way for me. It’ll be the last time.”

And with that, the rest of Hestia’s Familia were inside of the mansion they called home. The hour came and went, with their breakfast being a serving of eggs that were made in a Far East style that Mikoto called a rolled omelet accompanied by slices of ham and toast with fruit slices. They discussed their plans for the day over it.

“So, how deep will we be going today?” Welf asked from his seat on the right side of the table, positioned between Mikoto and Lili. Unlike the others, he was placing them between slices of toast and ham to make a sandwich while Mikoto was skillfully using a pair of chopsticks and Lili was using a fork and knife.

Bell finished chewing his slice of an egg before answering. “We’ll stick with the Upper Floors since we can handle the monsters and have a chance to work out our group dynamics with Primo. Besides, Goddess is expecting us to come home earlier today.”

“That’s right,” Hestia said. “The Holy Moon Festival is tonight, and we should all have a chance to celebrate and relax while things are finally winding down from the War Game. It’s the first time for myself, Bell, and Primo, so we should enjoy it together.”

The Elven Mage, who was happily eating her peach slices, perked up at hearing that. “Does that mean I can take a break from studying tonight?”

Lili rebuked that notion quickly. “Don’t be silly. We’ll simply study earlier and fit in time after your archery practice in the courtyard. You still can barely hit the target as is.”

Primo’s pointed ears comically deflated at that. “Uwaahh…

“A little break is fine, Miss Supporter,” Hestia said before brushing the child’s hair. “That goes for her and you. It’s nice you’re pushing yourself to meet Bell’s expectations since he’s relying on you, but it’s important to rest every now and again. Right, Bell?”

Bell was quick to agree with a beaming smile. “That’s right. You’ve earned as much of a break as anyone, Lili.”

Her chestnut eyes turned away from him as she sported a hint of crimson in her cheeks. “If Master Bell insists, we can take a break today…

The news that she would be let off for the day from her relatively hard schooling brightened Primo’s smile. “If we’re all going, does that mean Miss Lefiya will be there too?”

“We might see her there, but I think she has a date tonight,” Bell said, recalling his sister’s plans. It had come up during one of their talks considering the whole ‘I want grandkids’ message from her mother. “I don’t think she’d appreciate it if we interrupted her. At the very least it would get awkward between us again…”

Primo tilted her head quizzically at that. “Awkward?”

Well… ah…” Bell decidedly chose his words carefully given that he didn’t want to bring up the whole matter on the 18th Floor that involved women in various states of undress and then the groping incident. “Let’s just say things between us weren’t always as friendly and I don’t want things to go back to that way.

He had been on the receiving end of her wrath before. And, from his limited experience with women, he had a strong feeling that they would dislike interference with their romance. Thus, he felt it best if he stayed far away from her tonight if he could help it.

[-Twilight Manor-]

In the heart of a forest, nestled deep in the verdant green, laid a Great Tree.

The stalwart tree that stood as a sentinel was unshakable. It withstood the passing of ages and every obstacle that nature birthed. Its dark, thick, furrowed bark withstood pounding rains, frigid snow, torrential storms, and harsh heat, unmoved even as the world itself changed around it.

Should those rains turn into a fierce flood its roots would brace against the surging waves. Should the snow become a raging blizzard it would ward off the invasive frost. Should the storm become a hurricane it would be an unmoving bastion. And should the heat become a raging flame from the scorched bark would sprout life anew.

It was a foundation within her as a Mage.

Its resilience was her resilience.

Its fortitude was her fortitude.

Lefiya envisioned within the confines of her mind being the Unshakable Great Oak as she went through her meditation exercise for the morning. The imagery was vivid as she reinforced it with the memory of the Spirit Tree of legend. Even when the flames of a Dragon scorched it, the tree managed to cling to life and rejuvenate itself with a little help.

Such was the majesty of both the Royal Elf and a primordial Great Tree.

Truthfully, she never thought she would have the chance to lay her eyes on a Great Tree given her birth. Living with her mother on the outskirts of the Wishe Forest, the heart of the forest was beyond her wildest dreams of visit. She thought she would only have her mother’s tale of how during the tree’s flowering it would sport a crown of light with such majesty that it seemed almost like a halo ascending to the heavens. Seeing the Spirit Tree for herself was a luxury that she never could have imagined and would remain forever entrenched within her.

Recalling the sight as the spirits danced around it, Lefiya’s mind then shifted back to the memory of Filvis as they danced. Her soft breath washing against her skin, leaving it prickling with temptation. Her lovely eyes that she could just get lost in. Her tender, soft-looking lips that she came so close to finally…

“Ah, that’s not good!” Lefiya pulled herself from her mental world as she felt heat sweltering in her head, leaving her to shake it. “I can’t get distracted just because of tonight.”

Her date with Filvis would be later this evening, during the Holy Moon Festival. The moon would be amongst its brightest and largest, shining overhead for all to see. It would set a romantic and festive atmosphere, not unlike the Spirit Festival. But unlike then it would be a real date this time.

That meant she had to control herself and avoid the temptation to repeat her prior actions. She didn’t need to rush to get her feelings across now that she knew they would be returned. The last thing she wanted was to drive her off because she came onto her like some kind of Elven Fetishist.

Taking a breath to re-center herself a light chime that signaled the passing of an hour reached her ears. She opened her eyes to see her room bathed in the morning light and rose from her meditative position to get dressed in her battle clothes. Specifically, her regular ones rather than the ones that Lady Riveria had given her.

Those clothes were something she would reserve when acting as Lady Riveria’s successor rather than casual wear. After all, they would be very expensive to repair if damaged considering the materials used. And it would have more impact if she only wore them when she needed to act as the second to the Nine Hells.

Once she was dressed, Lefiya made her way down to the cafeteria to eat a light meal before she had to head out. There was an open seat for her with many of the other girls within the Familia who were up now—Elfy, Leene, and Anakitty specifically.

“Finished your mediation exercises?” Elfy asked as she scooted over to give her roommate just a little more room next to her.

Mm-hmm,” Lefiya hummed softly, not mentioning the distraction that she had around the end. The various scents that filled the table from everyone’s choice of a meal tempted her to expand on her choice of food, but she tamped down on it as she settled in to eat. “What about you?”

“I’ll do it later,” said the Human Mage as her green eyes skimmed over the light breakfast consisting of a bowl of oatmeal, fruit, and orange juice on the Half-Elf’s plate. In contrast, she had scrambled eggs and was using a butter knife to apply fruit jam across her slice of toast. “I wouldn’t be able to sit still for an hour on an empty stomach.”

“I suppose I should do the same,” said the soft-spoken Nurse, Leene. The quiet girl sat opposite the two of them, her morning meal consisting of cereal that had slices of fruit added into it. “By the way, was the book I loaned you helpful?”

Lefiya gave a short nod of her head. “I’m able to grasp the basics somewhat, but there are a lot more complexities than I expected so I’ll be needing it for a while.”

Healers, or specifically dedicated spellcasters who had the Treatment Development Ability, tended to be far rare than Mages. There was no guarantee over what kind of spell one obtained, if they ever obtained one. And even then, the study to earn the Treatment DA was practically the same to become a doctor or pharmacist.

As the Half-Elf was still learning and studying under Riveria and only had access to healing spells Elf Ring, it was largely impractical for her to even make the attempt. But since Lefiya did have access to a healing spell that she could use now with a relatively lower cost to Mind, she thought it would be best to make the most out of it. It would never be as good as Leene or Lady Riveria since the potency of the healing relied on the Magic attribute and Ancient Magic spells didn’t benefit from it, but it was still an option that she had wished for in the past and shouldn’t squander.

That was why she had asked Leene if she had any beginner materials she could study, which she allowed her to borrow. The basics operated on the principle that the user would not have the Treatment DA, so it taught the importance of diagnosing the nature of injuries beyond the level of basic first aid they were all taught and how to prioritize treating them. That gave her a better understanding of how to direct the flow of magic towards said areas rather than her usual method of simply letting the spell run on its own as that would be cost-inefficient—unless Argonaut was involved.

Then it effectively was an instant full heal and stamina booster considering how it worked during the War Game.

“I knew you had your head in a book most of the time you were home, but I didn’t think that you were taking up an entirely different branch of magic on top of all of your training with Lady Riveria,” Elfy said with a flat look. “You’re gonna burn out if you do all that.”

Anakitty agreed with a soft, yet worried expression. “She’s right. You should probably take it easy. At least for today. Do you want to come with us to the festival?”

“Sorry, but I’m heading out in a little bit to go train in the Dungeon and, as for this evening, I have other plans…”

It wasn’t as though she broadcasted her relationship with Filvis, nor the sudden change in their status from friendship to courtship. Elfy knew because they were roommates and best friends, but the others didn’t need to know that. There was nothing she could do if they spotted her by chance at the festival, but the last thing she wanted this morning was anyone to give her expectations or try to squeeze her for information.

“Oh, that reminds me, Elfy are you still using that primer of Elvish terms from the library?” Leene asked innocently. “It’s been out for a while, and your name was on the logbook last…”

Lefiya turned to her, head tilted inquisitively as the human winced. “I didn’t know you were learning Elvish. If you’d asked, I would have taught you.”

“Lefy, we just covered the fact that you were not only studying harder but spent most of your days buried in a book or otherwise busy,” Elfy pointed out. “Besides, it was just something I was doing in my free time so could learn enough to read some of the books in your language for when I eventually bump up my Mage DA. The Fairy Force has the best stuff on Magic outside of the books printed from Alterna, where they’re always written like a thesis and never get to the point. It’s enough to put a girl to sleep.”

The Fairy Force was the Elven Mage detachment for Lady Riveria consisting of a total of eleven female Elves who were Level Three or higher and possessed the Mage DA. The Royal Elf possessed the skill Alf Regina, or Seal of the Fairy Queen, which strengthened the effect of spells cast within her magic circle if they were cast by Elves. It also converted the expended magical energy back into Mind, effectively making it so that they could keep casting—minus the post-magic rigor and mental fatigue. Combined with the use of Concurrent Chanting, they were a mobile magical artillery force that specialized in hit-and-run.

Mind you, Lady Riveria hated the name in itself and Loki had come up with it. But most of the Elves were fond of it because they typically had skills related to Faeries and it was an honor to be part of it. Lefiya was the newest member of the Force, due to her not being exceptionally good at using Concurrent Casting—it was only recently she had become proficient with it due to her time training with Filvis.

Lefiya had to admit that it was a good idea on her friend’s behalf considering Elves had the most pronounced use of Magic throughout history until the Age of the God. The reference books from their race tended to have a fairly solid grasp on different aspects of the Art because of that, but there were also clear biases in the text towards Elves. She really didn’t appreciate how they referred to half of her parentage, so she couldn’t imagine that Elfy would have an easier time putting up with it.

“Anyway, Lefy’s not the only one with plans though, is she?” Elfy’s green eyes turned to their resident Healer teasingly and the bespectacled girl went rigid the moment she felt the collective eyes of the others fall upon her.

I-I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Leene said softly while fidgeting in place. Her face gained a splotch of crimson while she angled her head so that the sheen of the morning light hid her eyes. “I’m just going to be doing some independent studying myself. That’s all. Really.

Reaaalllly~” Elfy practically purred as she leaned forward with one elbow on the table as she propped up her head. “So, you’re going to spend the night of the festival just studying instead of going out with the rest of us on a girl’s night? That’s all? Nothing about makeup advice floating around or anythingggg~

Lefiya could almost swear that steam was coming out of the poor girl’s ears as she shrank in her chair. She felt compelled to do something about it, so she nudged her friend with her elbow and told her to stop. “Elfy, knock it off. You know full well rumors are just that. I still haven’t forgotten that one you guys bought into about me after the 18th Floor.”

“Yeah… sorry about that,” Anakitty said with her ears shifting. “I’ve told Raul time and again to think about what he says around others to avoid things like that happening, so we should stop it from going any further.”

“Just having a little fun,” the Human Mage said as she leaned back in her chair and shrugged. “But you have to admit it’d be interesting if either of those rumors panned out to be true. Just imagine if Cottontail actually managed to snag the heart of the Thousand Elf, or what kind of guy could make Lokolite swoon?”

“I disagree,” Lefiya noted flatly.

It was a sentiment Leene shared as she shifted her glasses by the frame with her hands. “So do I.”

Thankfully, the conversation drifted into other topics as she finished her breakfast in peace.

Then it was off to the Dungeon.


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 20 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 20: The Supporter’s Scheme

Lili had learned from a very young age that you couldn’t rely on anyone else to reach out and save you.

If you want to be saved, it had to be by your own hands. That was why she had embraced the fact that if she wanted to be free of the chains binding her to the Soma Familia, she had to do so by whatever means was necessary. That was what brought Lili to seek out the white-haired boy known as the Hero of the Streets.

She had been worried he would have brushed her off and she would have had to pry him into talking to her further by making a scene. But he had almost immediately brought her to the cafeteria on the second floor of Babel after she had greeted him out by the fountain. There were only a few adventurers around given that the early rush into the Dungeon had begun.

The Dungeon could spawn endless monsters, but not all at once. The walls had to regenerate and the magic stones forming their bodies had to crystallize, so there was actually a hard limit called a spawn time for the Upper Floors. And since most of the Exploration Familia adventurers in Orario were Level One, the early morning was a rush to kill as many as possible to harvest their magic stones before the main routes of the Upper Floors were picked clean.

It was also unlikely that Ged would come after them in public if he happened to stumble upon them at present. The last thing he should want to do was cause a commotion here on the surface where it would get him blacklisted. So it made for the perfect place to have a relatively innocent discussion between them once they were sure he wasn’t there.

“I’m glad you managed to get away from that guy safely,” said the boy with a soft sigh. His pure white hair was a strong contrast to the lustrous black of the coat he wore, and the light of the magic stone lamps above gleamed off his polished breastplate. “I had been worried that he might have gone after you, but I had no way of checking… how is your wound?”

“It’s all better thanks to Mister Hero,” she said in a saccharinely sweet voice as she showed him where the tear had been in her robes, now roughly stitched shut. There was a deep, red stain there from where her blood had trailed out. “Lili won’t even have a scar thanks to the Potion.”

Supporter clothes were made to be easy to clean, given they were supposed to be used while harvesting magic stones. It tended to be bloody work as you carved open the monster to get its magic stone, and often there were a number of different fluids depending on how long the body had been left to rot. The fact that the bloodstain was still there was because she had chosen not to wash it as a reminder of what occurred while he stood there and watched the man getting ready to kill her.

She wanted him to feel guilty about it after she had been hurt. And the fact that his gaze turned away from the sight showed it worked. “I’m so sorry about that. I should have been quicker.”

“Lili doesn’t blame Mister Hero,” she lied with a smile on her face. “In fact, Lili wants to ask Mister Hero for his help. Lili wants him to protect her from Mister Raish. She fears that he will come after her again, but if he sees Mister Hero with her enough he will surely give up.”

“I see…” His brows furrowed in thought for a moment before those red eyes that reminded her of rubies returned to her. “Not that I’m refusing, but why didn’t you report him? He tried to kill you.”

“Because it will cause problems with Lili’s Familia,” she explained. “The Soma Familia sees Lili, who is small and weak, as someone who is a burden since her parents died in the Dungeon. She can only make a living as a lowly Supporter, so if she reports it then they will find out. Then Lili will have no Familia and no way of working, so she will starve.”

Are there really Familia who would do that?” he muttered under his breath for a moment in what she believed was disbelief as his hand on the table balled into a fist. He must have been from one of those Familia that preached they were all family to each other. Those who swear themselves to the divine now shared the same ichor upon their back, so they were as good as brothers and sisters.

Empty words considering she’d seen how the members of her Familia were all too willing to stab one another in the back for a valis if it meant getting even a drop of Soma. “Ah, but Lili won’t ask for Mister Hero to protect her for free. She will become his Supporter in exchange for protection. With her bag and help any magic stones and drop items that Mister Hero had to leave behind before can be gathered and turned in at the Exchange. That valis can serve as Lili’s protection money. Lili will also not need any food or supplies and promises not to get in the way, so Mister Hero can focus entirely on fighting in the Dungeon.”

It would be a loss. But bringing more attention to the Soma Familia meant bringing herself to the attention of Zanis before she could earn enough to buy her freedom. And getting caught by Ged meant she would be dead.

That was why she was willing to sweeten the pot. He was supposedly the hero who protected the people of Daedalus Street. She would fatten him with praise, approach him as a maiden in distress, and even offer to work for free as a reward befitting a hero. He literally had to do nothing but let her be near him.

It would be the perfect bait to lure Ged to them.

He was a vengeful bastard so he wouldn’t let either of them go. The problem was that he only had a few opportunities to do so since Lili could hide herself well enough in the city between her Magic and having walked the dirtiest streets in order to survive since she was old enough to be put to work. He only got the drop on her because she had gotten caught faster than usual due to being too careless.

The hero here was also the talk of the town right now. Attempting something like before could draw the eyes of the Ganesha Familia, and they would take the words of the one who cleaned up their mess with the Silverback over some nobody adventurer. So his only option would be to try to get them both at the same time in the Dungeon, where accidents happen all the time.

Then it would all be over. Even if Ged managed to kill him while trying to get to her, it wouldn’t be without him taking a few injuries in the process. And even if Lili was weak, the Magic Sword she had on her was more than capable of killing a wounded Level One adventurer without any problem.

“I can’t ask you to work for free,” he said. “Even leaving aside what my Goddess would say, it just doesn’t sit right with me.”

“It’s fine.” She reached her small hands across the table, setting them on top of his as her chestnut eyes peered into his while folding softly. “Lili is sure she can get by with what little she has as long as Mister Hero can keep her safe. So please… please don’t leave Lili alone…

He bit his lower lip as emotions ran through his rubellite eyes that looked down on her like a small child. It became too much as her stare remained unwavering and he turned away. “I don’t mind protecting you, but… please stop calling me Mister Hero. That’s not something I deserve to be called. My name is Bell. Bell Cranel.”

She smiled brightly. “Lili has made it as far as the Tenth Floor and has also memorized the maps of the Guild, so she promises not to hold Master Bell back!”

“On certain days I won’t be available without contacting the party I’m working alongside,” the boy said. “We’ll need to talk it over with them—”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary, Master Bell!” she hurriedly insisted. Too many people knowing meant too many complications. That might either get Ged to reconsider or word about her may reach others and they could tell him. “Lili does not want to impede in Master Bell’s life. Instead, Lili will work whenever he is available.”

Nmm…” The white-haired boy replaced his hat onto his head and pulled the brim of it down to cover his eyes from view. “I was planning on heading down to the Sixth Floor today. Let’s see how things work out between us before we talk about the future. It’ll be all for nothing if I can’t even keep you safe down in the Dungeon.”

[R-M]

Bell had reservations about Lili’s claim about having delved down to the Tenth Floor. The Dungeon was a dangerous place after all. So he was always keeping an eye on her as they ventured from one floor to the next with the expectation of needing to keep monsters off of her most of the time.

But with each floor that they dove down those reservations lessened bit-by-bit. She may not have been capable of fighting on her own. But she proved that she knew how to perform her job with absolute competency.

There were logistics involved with dealing with monsters that Bell had never really had the time to consider. He would kill whatever appeared in front of him until the Dungeon decided to stop spawning monsters. Then he would go around and pluck the magic stones that made up their cores from the corpses, along with any drop items that might have been left behind. The moment his bag ran out of space, he would head back up to the Exchange and the day would end.

Since he had to prioritize killing the monsters before they could kill him, he left the dead where they lay. That had the consequence of making extra obstacles when he was fighting. And then there was always the risk of blood pooling on the surface and making it more slippery.

Lili effectively took care of those problems. She was fleet of foot as she dragged the corpses out of the way, placing them in corners while staying out of the line of sight of other monsters trying to kill him. He could only presume it was due to her career necessitating stealth if she had been a Supporter for as long as she had claimed.

Her expertise with harvesting really shined as she quickly cut into the bodies of the monsters to harvest the magic stone. Different monsters had different anatomies, so the magic stones tended to vary in position and depth. It was possible to end up damaging it if one was careless, but the way she did so was efficient and smooth. Her small body benefited her as a simple incision allowed her petite digits to pluck it from within and place it in a pouch that would later be stored in her bag.

The large backpack itself was invaluable as well since the different pouches accommodated different kinds of drop items. The small round side pockets were best suited for things like Goblin Nails. The longer and rectangular pockets were perfect for things like War Shadow Nails. There were also holsters for Potions and canisters of the more common medicinal ointment, compartments for rations, straps for sleeping bags and weapons, and more.

It made his dinky little bag feel inadequate.

“Lili apologizes for not being as useful as she would be normally,” said the Pallum Supporter as they sat close to the entryway of the Seventh Floor. “Master Bell’s Magic is more suitable than her for his belongings.”

He was quick to reassure her otherwise. “No, you’re a lot more helpful than that. You know more about the Dungeon and the monsters than I do.”

It was true that Bell’s access to the Dream largely rendered her services for carrying his things a non-issue when it was just him. Anything he needed could be called up by the Messengers fairly quickly and from any surface, especially weapons. He effectively had his own personal portable armory.

But that had the benefit of leaving more space for what they collected. If there were drop items from the monsters he killed then she carefully counted them, collected them in a set number of bundles, and then placed them inside of one of the different pockets of the large bag. That would make estimating the earnings much easier and speed up things at the Exchange.

And her knowledge was proving invaluable. Bell hadn’t bought any of the maps at the Guild since they were poor, having resigned himself to make maps on his own. But Lili’s memorization allowed them to travel off the main routes where she suspected monsters would gather and so they managed to make up for missing the morning rush by picking off those that weren’t likely to be take out until the Guild had a Dungeon Sweeper pass through.

“Master Bell is really kind,” she said while smiling at him from atop a stone, still smaller than her comically oversized bag that she pulled out a container from with bread and a salad. Her chestnut eyes looked over towards the entrance for a pause. “Will we be heading further down after Lunch?”

“I haven’t gone down further than this and promised my Goddess not to rush ahead without my party,” he explained while handling his lunch that was composed of what Syr had made him. He didn’t know if it was just because his exposure to Yharnam Blood had changed his taste palette, but every now and again the flavor varied.

He still ate it, of course. It was made in good faith and his grandfather taught him never to let food go to waste. “We’re supposed to be meeting up after making enough preparations to deal with the monsters on that floor.”

“Lili is surprised that Master Bell has not gone further than this.” She broke off a piece of the bread and brought it to her mouth to chew slowly as she continued. “The Silverback is a monster that spawns close to the Middle Floors. How long have you been exploring the Dungeon?”

“…About a month or so since I became an Adventurer,” he said after some thought. “I only arrived in Orario shortly before then and was taken in by Lady Hestia after a week of searching for one of the Gods or Goddesses to take me in. She found me right when I had run out of everything and was considering heading back home.”

That had been a sobering experience for Bell. When he’d arrived, Bell had thought he could find someone to take him in without any problems. As long as he was willing to put in the work, he was sure that he could eventually become a great adventurer.

But he had been turned away by nearly everyone. Some hadn’t even given him the time of day before they rejected him. That was part of why he took the seriousness of Lili’s claim that if she brought her assault up to her Familia she might have been kicked out and left on her own.

Being alone was painful in ways few really understood.

“From what Lili has seen Master Bell is a capable adventurer already despite such a short time,” she said between breaking off another piece of bread. “Did your hometown train to fight monsters before coming to Orario?”

He supposed from her perspective that made the most sense. From the stories his grandfather told him different places took up different ways to fight against monsters over the ages. Since he didn’t have the Falna before coming to Orario and she didn’t know about the Blood Echoes or the Plain Doll, it was only natural that he had trained to fight beforehand and simply carried the muscle memory over when he arrived.

“It wasn’t my hometown exactly, but I suppose it is where I had to learn to fight.” He looked over to Gascoigne’s Axe that was perched against the wall next to him. The pale light from the ceiling caught the aged steel, revealing years of battles from the little nicks and scratches that were embedded into its very frame. “There weren’t any Gods to bestow the Falna, so ordinary people had to take up weapons to protect their families by taking part in what they called the Hunt. But eventually, they all…”

He trailed off as a bead of dripping monster ichor caught his ruby eyes. The pearlescent reflection brought to his mind flashes of violence that had no doubt become commonplace to the men whose echoes had become his strength. The scent of pungent blood, the snarls and howls of beasts, the wavering flames of torches and the gleam of steel in its glow.

The imagery flickered in his mind for a moment with such vividness that he shuddered and nearly dropped his lunch that was steadily losing its appeal to his stomach. Then he noticed the inquisitive gaze upon him from the Supporter and gathered himself. “You could say the lives and memories of the fallen were passed down along with their weapons to the ones who took them up and I ended up being one of them. It’s thanks to those that I managed to get this far in such a short time. But it isn’t something that I earned or can even be proud of.”

His strength came from the Blood Echoes of two Hunters that had spent years killing the Beasts of Yharnam to protect their home and family. Their lives, their memories, their weapons, their strength. He’d taken them all into himself by robbing a little girl of her family and leaving her alone…

Syr’s food lost its taste entirely as he forced himself to finish eating.

After that, since he wouldn’t go any further down, they decided to explore some of the side routes before heading back up. Though Lili steered him away from what was known as a Pantry since she thought there might have been more monsters there than they could reasonably handle. It was probably a smart call since he didn’t want to put her at risk.

Then they headed back up to the Exchange while there weren’t many people around and got the valis for everything they’d collected. It was a process made much smoother thanks to Lili’s efforts in properly dividing them. That was when he gave her approximately half of that day’s earnings. “Here.”

Her chestnut eyes fell onto the bag, the glint of gold reflecting off the light that caught it. Then she looked back up to him. “But Lili said that Master Bell didn’t have to pay her.”

“And I can’t exploit someone who came to me looking for help like that,” he said. “Even if you don’t feel obligated to be paid, I wouldn’t be able to look at my Goddess if I did that. And at least with enough valis you should be able to look after yourself those days I can’t be there.”

Her tiny hands gripped the bag reluctantly before she put it away. “Master Bell?”

“Yes?”

“Lili thinks that Master Bell is wrong when he said he doesn’t deserve to be called a hero,” she told him. “He saved Lili without even knowing her. And even when she’s asking for protection, he still pays her. Even if Master Bell doesn’t think he is one… he is Lili’s hero.”

Bell opened his mouth to speak. But the words refused to come out to refute her claim. So his only response was to bring the brim of his hat down to cover his eyes as she got up to leave.

[R-M]

That worked out better than I expected,” Lili murmured to herself proudly as she walked down the backstreets of Orario after parting ways with Bell in a hurry after that last bit of praise. She had changed her appearance to that of an Elven child to disguise herself and kept the valis she received tucked away with plans for it later.

Lili had a lot of experience reading people. It was a necessity in order for her to live. And after spending a few hours with Bell she had gotten a better read on him than she could from watching at a distance or through the rumors. That made him so much easier to exploit.

He clearly had a protective instinct towards little girls. That was why she had played up her behavior, even if she hated speaking like someone half her actual age. And he wouldn’t be inclined to look too deeply into it by asking any of her Familia since she fed him that story about how complaining to them would end up getting her kicked out.

Still, she hadn’t expected the amount of self-depreciation and self-flagellation in his tone. It almost sounded like he was punishing himself for something and every praise she gave him only seemed to push further into that. It left a bitter taste in her mouth considering he didn’t even realize how easy it was to see, but…

She had already decided to make use of whatever she could to get free of the Soma Familia with her own hands. She had lied, cheated, stolen, all to survive in this cruel world where simply being born in the wrong Familia led to a lifetime of misery. So if she had to use him as a tool to deal with Ged then she would without a second thought.

Besides, Ged would have come in to attack him anyway after what happened, she reasoned. He should have expected it when he got involved. If he survived, then he’d learn from it. If he didn’t, well…

Lili refused to think about it further.


Fanfic Recommendation 107


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 22 – 25

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


The Beast of Beacon 40 – 41 (Complete) 

A RWBY Fanfiction

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



Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 25 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 25: Ambitions of a Mage

Elio wanted an apprentice who could focus on the Art to avoid letting it die out, but the time it would take to train could be measured in decades. I did not want to part ways with my beloved brother, but I lacked the strength to protect him. Neither of us would be able to attain what we wanted as things stood.

The Argo spoke up. ‘There is no problem. I will simply stay on the outskirts of the forest and assist you with whatever you need until Fina masters Magic. And then we will continue on our journey together.’

Elio asked if he was really willing to give up his dream to stay by my side. He would be leveraging his future for mine. I stated I couldn’t let him do that. Not when I already owed him so much.

Argo refuted us both with a smile.

‘I simply have faith that my little sister will be such a genius she’ll master whatever you can teach her well before then.’

…My brother was really a fool. But he said it with such confidence that it was like an unshakable truth. So confident that even Elio would admit later on that even he felt a spark despite his skepticism, which was why he bought into the compromise.

In the end, I felt like I had to live up to his expectations.

For his sake and the sake of his dream.

—Argo’s Compromise

[-|-|-|-]

A pained groan slipped from Lefiya’s lips as she awoke in the familiar comfort of a bed.

Specifically, her own bed from the scent she picked up. She cracked open her eyes to see behind the blurred veil that made up her vision was the décor of the room she shared with Elfy. As she sat up, she thought she was dreaming and pinched her cheek, only to feel the sting and realize that she really was back in the Twilight Manor that served as the home of the Loki Familia.

She had questions, of course. The last thing she remembered was that she had been calling forth Lady Riveria’s spell against the Reflection Soldier to weaken its shell. Then she blacked out, as expected of when one had exhausted their Mind.

Lefiya expected that Aiz would have finished the job. After all, she wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t. But there were the other things she wanted to ask her about…

“Lefy, you’re up now?” The familiar voice snapped azure eyes towards the desk and she found Elfy there, book and quill in hand. The Human Mage, dressed in her casual blouse and skirt, set them down before coming over towards the newly woken Half-Elf. “How are you feeling?”

Nnnnn… my head is still pounding…” Lefiya reached up and rubbed her temples to emphasize the point before noticing the pink sleeves of her nightgown sliding across her skin. “Were you the one who changed me into these?”

“Lady Loki offered to do it,” she claimed, sitting on the edge of her bed with her lips pulled back into a smile befitting of her mischievous green eyes when she noticed the shiver that ran up Lefiya’s spine. “Of course, Lady Riveria stopped her, and I’ve been watching over you since then. So no need to worry about anyone copping a feel—not that you have anything to be ashamed of.”

“You could have just said yes.” The last thing she needed to wake up to was learning that her patron deity had decided to get handsy. Again. “Did everyone make it back?”

She bobbed her head before holding up a finger. “You were the only one with a scratch on you. Imagine our surprise when we came back to camp with Lady Riveria and the others, only to learn that you apparently took out an enhanced Obsidian Soldier as part of a test. Honestly, she really does put you through your paces.”

Lefiya’s only response to that was to cover her mouth and softly yawn before rubbing her eyes. “Mnn… how long have I been out?”

“It’s only been a day since we’ve gotten back, so you haven’t missed anything important. Everyone is simply relaxing after the dive, though I think the guys are pestering Lady Loki to see if they’ve managed to get any decent growth from their Status out of it. I’ll go get Lady Riveria, so sit tight.”

And with that said the Human Mage hopped off the bed and ran out of the door, leaving Lefiya by her lonesome. She brushed the covers back and then turned around so that her feet were touching the floor. Then she straightened her back, closed her eyes, and tried to go through her meditative breathing to ease the headaches.

They wouldn’t make them go away, but it would at least allow her to put it at the back of her mind until she could get something else to take the edge off. She knew that this would be the consequence of pushing herself, but she couldn’t think of any other way. The only thing she could do to contribute was to go that far.

Still…she couldn’t help feeling embarrassed at thought of being dragged back to the camp wearing such extravagant battle clothes in an unconscious heap. Everyone probably saw her like that too. Somehow, she could just picture Bete saying something about no matter how much you dress up a piece of trash, it’s still a piece of trash that needs to be lugged around. “I really wasn’t worthy of clothes like that.”

“Then we’ll increase your training until you are.”

Her eyes snapped open at that to see her mentor standing at the door, a steaming cup in her hand that had a saucer beneath it. “M-My apologies. I just woke up, so I wasn’t aware of my surroundings…”

“It’s fine,” the Royal Elf insisted as she entered the room and held out the saucer and cup for her. “Drink this. It’ll help.”

The aroma from it alone nipped at the gnawing ache in her skull. The Half-Elf gingerly accepted the offering and brought it to her lips to find it was an herbal blend, the sweetness of the fruit used to tinge it delicately while the poignant tang of the herbs that were infused into it had an earthly flavor. She relished it with a relaxing sigh as the pulsating pain within her head lessened. “Thank you, Lady Riveria.”

“I would have preferred if you hadn’t ended up exhausting your Mind and winding up unconscious,” her mentor said in regard to her thanks. “But I suppose it couldn’t be helped considering the level of the threat was worse than we anticipated. This is the least I can do.”

With that, Lefiya turned her attention back to the topic at hand. “Elfy said that it was meant to be a test of some kind?”

With a slight nod before she began, Lady Riveria explained the situation. “I referred to it as a test, but the truth is a bit more complicated than that. I’ll trust that you’ll keep this between the two of us?”

The Half-Elf nodded. “Of course.”

“After what happened on the 59th Floor, we had to consider the future of the Loki Familia if the worst happens,” Lady Riveria began. “Namely, who would be our successors among the younger generation. Naturally, the Hyrute Sisters and Bete would be among our choices since they’re all aware of their shortcomings and what’s needed to shore them up. If they were asked to lead a squad of Familia members, they would be able to do so without any problems. However, leading the entire Familia would be a bit much for them, meaning we had to consider other choices beyond Level.”

The weight of the topic left Lefiya to go still as she considered the implications. The battle with the Demi-Spirit had been one of the hardest fought battles in their lives. They had only escaped by the skin of their teeth, and all three of their mentors had given their all along with everyone else just to survive. But it seemed that in the aftermath, faced with the potential threats and the remnants of Evilus, they had to consider what would happen the next time.

Tiona was a fun person to be around. She was always smiling and possessed a big heart, able to look at even the most challenging of circumstances with optimism. But she was the kind of person who operated more on instinct and was better directed at a problem that she could deal with physically rather than mentally.

Tione was a cool, older sister figure to a lot of the younger girls. She was strong, beautiful, and looked after them. But when she got angry, she was terrifying. Not to mention that she was in love with the Captain, so if he was retiring then she would follow him. And if he died then…

And then there was Bete. He was strong, and fast, and he could protect others if he needed to. But… well, he was harsh even when he was trying to be supportive. It was hard to get a read on him some of the time, and he usually didn’t like interacting with others more than necessary. More than a few of their Familia complained about him out of earshot.

“Then was the Captain who suggested Miss Aiz?” Lefiya asked. Among the entirety of the Loki Familia’s younger generation, Aiz’s title as the Sword Princess was the most well-known. She was also the previous Record Holder, only beaten out by Bell due to his own Rare Skill and the circumstances that he found himself in. Between that, her ties to the Familia, and her strength, no one would be surprised if one day she succeeded Finn as the Captain of the Loki Familia.

“Gareth, actually,” Lady Riveria answered. “Without a doubt, she is as much a central pillar to the Loki Familia as it is her own family. And her strength is undeniable, even among the veterans within our ranks. But there are still too many qualities she lacks at present in terms of leadership ability, and she’s…”

She paused for a moment, as if deliberating her words. “Aiz is driven at times by an impulse to try and take things onto her shoulders alone. While she has gotten better about it over the years, it’s still there. And, at the worst of times, it can take hold of her and make her lose sight of the world if someone isn’t there to pull her back.”

Lefiya’s mind went back to the pain she felt. The dark flame that burned her from the inside. She had a feeling that was what her mentor was referring to, considering how long she had known her and their relationship. Even now Aiz wouldn’t hesitate to break ranks to assist one of them if they were in trouble, all to avoid losing someone else—she’d done so for Lefiya’s sake more than once.

If she was in the leading position, she wouldn’t be able to focus on the bigger picture or make half of the calls that Captain Finn would to ensure the success of the mission. She would feel pressured to get strong enough to defend them all and take that burden on her shoulders. And when she couldn’t, those dark flames would tempt her once more.

“And, obviously, I suggested you and pushed strongly for it.”

“Because I’m your apprentice?” Lefiya asked cautiously. She had to admit she was worried that it was nepotism when she was nowhere near as capable as the rest of the others who could have been potentially chosen.

“Part of the reason I took you on as my apprentice was because you have the Gift,” the Royal Elf admitted. “Elven blood gives way to an affinity with Magic, but there are no guarantees. In the end, it boils down to whether or not you have the Gift or not.”

She was referring to in-born Talent. Though it may be unfair, the simple reality is that not every person will be equal in terms of ability, even if they started the same. There were always people who were Rare Gems—like Aiz or Bell or Welf Crozzo.

“But it can be a double-edged sword,” she continued. “There are those who were born with the Gift, but it brought them nothing but misery and isolation, or others it led to self-destruction because they weren’t mature enough to handle it nor had the ambition to see it to its full potential. Hence why I wanted to see for myself how you were progressing. To be honest, I was proud to see how far you came.”

A fluttering feeling in her stomach surfaced then. She couldn’t take credit for any of that. “That’s only because Sir Gareth gave me advice on both how to find the gemstones and how miners would break rocks by heating and then cooling them rapidly. If not for those then I would have been at a complete loss at what to do other than using your support magic. None of it was by my own efforts.”

To her surprise, jade hair wavered as the Royal Elf shook her head slightly. “We’re your mentors. Our job is to instruct you, but how that knowledge is used is what matters. The fact that it saw practical use was something to be proud of and, going forward, others might be able to do the same in a similar circumstance. So don’t diminish the value of what you’ve learned so easily.”

“My apologies,” Lefiya responded to being scolded. “But what if I hadn’t been able to succeed back then?”

“You still supported Aiz to the best of your ability,” was the answer she received. “It would have been all too easy for the past you to leave it up to her because of the gap in your strength and the opponent. But the two of you supported each other, and when you fell you still got up and pulled Aiz from going over the edge by pouring your all into the next attempt. That was the last thing I was looking for that made me confident that I wasn’t wrong about what I said in the Spirit Forest.”

A slender hand found its way on her shoulder, while a soft smile graced the Royal Elf’s lips as she spoke matter-of-factly. “Whether or not it was by fluke or by birthright, it doesn’t change the fact that you were born with the Gift. You could easily be one of the greatest Mages in history under the right circumstances—able to stand right there along with Queen Celdia or the Silence of the Hera Familia, Alfia. That’s why you will be my successor in both the Loki Familia and the one who will carry our magical heritage into the future.”

Lefiya felt a shock run through her at the proclamation. Every Elf knew of the Queen who reigned one thousand years ago, a virtuous saint who fought against the One-Eyed Black Dragon. But the other was considered one of the greatest Mages in Orario at Level Seven, known for defeating Leviathan and thus completing one of the Three Great Quests.

Two legendary Mages. One Elven. One Human. For her, who straddled the line between the races, it was as if Lady Riveria was saying she could stand at the pinnacle of both.

The words of Bete encouraging her to surpass Riveria rang in her mind. The words of Lady Lilo to carry their heritage and legacy. The words of Primo to surpass the known limits. The words of her Lady Riveria to succeed her.

Much like what she felt in the Spirit Forest, she wanted to live up to those expectations. For the sake of Familia and friends. For the sake of her brother.  For her own sake.

“I’ll do my best to live up to that,” she vowed, her voice unwavering. “I promise.”

“That’s all I ask,” her mentor responded before pulling away. “Now, you’ve woken up in time for dinner. Come and join us.”

“Yes ma’am.” She rose to do so, admittedly eager to see the others after she had been unconscious since the trip to the Dungeon. But then a lingering thought occurred. “…Wait, if Sir Gareth suggested Miss Aiz and you suggested me, then who did Captain Finn suggest?”

“Raul Nord, of course.”

Lefiya tried not to show her sheer bafflement at that. She really did. But from the expression her master was making, it was perfectly clear she did a poor job of hiding it. But who could blame her?

Even leaving aside those rumors he spread, he was so… plain. His title was effectively the High Novice, a beginner who somehow made it all the way to Level Four. That didn’t exactly instill the sort of awe or commanding presence as the ‘Braver’ did.

“A leader isn’t someone in charge, but someone who takes care of those in their charge,” Lady Riveria said in a sagely tone, as if reading her mind. “Raul already acts as the substitute commander when needed and gives his time and effort to others who need it. He’ll ask if there’s anything they need to make their jobs easier, even if he never receives praise or thanks for it. His empathy means that most members of the Familia will reach out to him when needed, and if someone makes a mistake under his watch, he’ll take responsibility for it. By that metric, he has the potential to be a great leader if not for the matter of his self-confidence…”

The Half-Elf reconsidered her interactions with him in light of that perspective. It was true that while he was unimposing, Raul was constantly seen doing something for someone else or to the benefit of the Familia. When the Captain or the others needed something handled among their ranks but lacked the time to do so themselves, it was often better to delegate it to Raul, and he did see it done. And prior to him spreading those rumors, she really didn’t have a problem with him.

In fact, he would offer to assist her in negotiations or haggling for drop items. It was his advice that had helped her in the past. He virtually acted as the senior among the Second-Class Adventurers along with Aki. So he would naturally be the best fit if he could cross the hurdle and have the same confidence that Captain Finn did.

Though that was a long time away considering Aki off-handedly mentioned his absence during dinner being due to sitting curled up on the floor and muttering to himself. But she had other things on her mind to be worried about instead of him at the moment. Like the fact that the Holy Moon Festival was on the way.

And she had a date to keep.

[-Arc 4 End-]

Primo Libera (Level 1)

Newest Member of the Hestia Familia. Informal Student of Lefiya Viridis. A neophyte Elven Mage who hails from the outskirts of Libera, she grew up on tales of Lady Riveria and came to the City of Adventurers to become one herself after losing her parents to monsters. She was taken in by Hestia and strives to diligently become their primary Mage as the others train with her physical attributes.

Strength: I-5 | Endurance: I-3 | Dexterity: I-17 | Agility: I-10 | Magic: I-31

[Magic]

Lumine Pleiades (Illuminating Seven Stars): Wide Area Bombardment Magic, Offensive-Type Light Element spell that creates a cluster of sevens of stars that rain down beams of starlight at an area. Scales with user’s Magic Stat.

Chant: “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash. Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!”

[Skills]

None

[Equipment]

Tiny Bow: A small bow made from springwood retrieved by Bell while Lefiya was on her quest. Primo has been learning the basics of marksmanship from Lili between her Magic studies.

Oaken Staff: A beginner’s staff that acts as a conductor for spellcasting. It was treated to be durable enough to double as a bludgeoning weapon and Mikoto has started teaching the basics of staff fighting.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 24 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 24: Story of Growth – Part 2

“The moment that Elio made his offer, I recalled the memory of how entranced I was at the thought of Magic when I first saw it. Of Mother’s words and how one day she would teach me. Of how all that was taken from me.

Now, one of Mother’s race was offering to teach me the Art of our people. Even though I had human blood flowing through my veins. Even if it was only because of his own circumstances, that didn’t change the fact that it was probably the chance of a lifetime.

…But the price of accepting that was too steep. We weren’t blood, but Argo was my family. He was the one who took my hand when the others who would had been lost to the flames and monsters. He held me at night and kept me warm when it was cold.

What good was the power I sought after if the one I would use it to protect was no longer there?”

—Too Steep A Price

[-|-|-|-]

These new clothes are going to take some getting used to…

The Thousand Elf found herself feeling butterflies in her stomach as she walked through the ashes left behind in the wake of the Sword Princess as they proceeded along the 37th Floor towards where the Irregular monster was last spotted. There had been monsters that were standing in their way, Spartoi and regular Obsidian Soldiers. But the latter stood no chance against a Level Six and the former she could mow down well before they got within range.

Once the time they had to search for the gemstones that conferred Magic Resistance passed, the two returned to their camp. The others had greeted them with new battle clothes to their surprise. It turned out that Lady Riveria and Sir Gareth had gone out of their way, with Captain Finn’s blessing, to procure them ahead of time.

Aiz looked absolutely dashing, befitting of one who could claim the title of Sword Princess. The clothing themselves was predominately white-rimmed with blue that depicted a sword while the emblem of the trickster was beneath it. Her arm covers and stockings were black and covered by arm and leg guards that were silver so well polished that the light of the Dungeon reflected off them, while an azure cowl fell down her back. Attached to her breastplate and her tiara were the gemstones that conferred Magic Resistance, a deep azure that drew the eyes.

Meanwhile, Lefiya didn’t think her own suited her. The colors were red and white and looked more regal than anything she owned. If anything, she thought it would better suit Lady Riveria, an actual Royal Elf. She honestly felt a little unworthy of them, considering the fact that she wouldn’t likely be able to deal with the Irregular they had to face.

I still haven’t come up with any way to really help, she lamented silently as she unfurled the map of the floor and used the landmark to identify the path that they were on. One of the others would have been better suited to deal with this kind of enemy than her, but she still didn’t want to betray the faith the others had in her. “The corridor to the left will lead us to where it was last spotted.”

“Let’s go then,” Aiz said, her voice soft and calm even though they were going to face such an intimidating foe. Lefiya wished she had the same level of confidence that the Sword Princess did, or even the confidence she had during the War Game. But that was the difference between then and now.

The enemy was specifically something that was the bane of Mages, and she was a Mage. Her confidence was tied to her ability to use her Magic to contribute to protecting those around her. At least with the Apollo Familia she knew she could technically handle them because of the Level disparity, and the rules of engagement were different…

Thump… Thump…

Heightened senses detected the sound of distant footfalls from the mouth of the corridor entrance. They were deep and rough, breaking stone underfoot with slight tremors emanating from the impact. And, more to the point, they told Lefiya that she might have been underestimating just how large it was.

Combat training kicked in at that point. Aiz raised a hand to stall their advance and then sharpened her gaze further ahead to take in the scope of what would become the battlefield. Her golden gaze eventually spotted something even beyond Lefiya’s Elven perception and then extended her hand for Lefiya to take while her other hand brought a finger to her soft lips.

The Half-Elf accepted her hand and wound up being taken into her arms and carried as Aiz used her superior speed to move them along the outer rim. The Sword Princess then deposited her in a section where stone outcropping provided them a better look at the monstrosity that they would have to face. An Obsidian Soldier was by itself a rather bulky and large monster, but the Irregular took that concept and ran with it.

The Reflection Soldier, as it was dubbed looked to have been born not of the same obsidian materials as its kin, but chunks of polished metallic stone melded into a vaguely humanoid shape that was top-heavy enough that it was hunchbacked. The lower half of its body was as close to normal for a bipedal as possible, but its torso was much larger despite being hollowed out to form what looked to be a mouth as it fanned out to limbs more akin to massive gauntlets attached by the smaller arms. The place where there was a gemstone to represent its eye was instead an orb of light that burned with a malicious flame of such intensity that it strained her eyes to stare into it.

Worse, there were the shattered remains of Obsidian Soldiers around it. The thing was bringing the bodies into its mouth and crushing them to consume their magic stones, meaning that not only had it been born an Irregular monster, but it was also cannibalizing them for the sake of increasing its own power further. If it only took five or so magic stones for a normal monster to show a notable increase in strength, then it would be much stronger than that.

Tension threaded Lefiya’s body as instinct honed by experience alone told her that this thing was probably one of the worst matchups they could face. The dense shell that made up its body would provide it with a level of raw brute strength and defense beyond what either of them could output in terms of sheer capacity. Adding the fact that it was devouring other monsters as well, she was starting to wish they had let Sir Gareth take care of it.

“…We have to go.” The declaration snapped her attention from the monster and back towards the Sword Princess. “Before it can get any stronger, we have to stop it.”

Her golden eyes were fixed onto their target, but unlike the Half-Elf they lacked any hesitation or doubt. She had no uncertainties that she could prevail.  Seeing her resolution reminded Lefiya of why she had fallen for her once upon a time, and why she envied her even now.

It quelled the uncertainty within her stomach and her heart as she once more decided to do what she could. “I understand. But please let me cast a protective spell before you go ahead.”

Aiz nodded her head and kneeled next to the Thousand Elf as she clutched her staff in one hand and began to sing. “I beseech the name of Wishe. Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains. Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance. Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

The magic circle the hue of her soul bathed the two in pale light as it encompassed them, rising motes of magical energy washing over them and leaving their hair to waver aloft as the Summon Burst was complete. The spell opened the gateway and connected her to the ancestry of Elvenkind, every spell that flowed through their history at her disposal. In spite of that, she reached out to one of the most familiar to her—one of those nestled away in a private shelf befitting of royalty.

Her magic circle turned from aureate to jade as a voice more befitting of her garments overlapped her own. “Gather, breath of the earth. In my name of Alf—Veil Breath!

The words left them to be swaddled within a shroud that acted as a dense second skin that sheltered them within its protective embrace and would soothe any aches and pains that may result. Her Mage Development Ability limited the number of people she could cover in a single cast in comparison to Lady Riveria. But for the moment it was the best defense she could provide to one who was heading off to the battlefield as she breathed out a soft sigh at her success.

“That should at least be able to give you a little extra protection on top of your Wind and Magic Resistance,” she said, meeting the golden eyes with a smile.

Aiz nodded before she closed her eyes. Her chest rose and fell as she straightened her posture and turned towards her unaware foe. Then she jumped high into the air, as if flying towards her foe, before she called forth her wind. “Awaken, Tempest.

Her birthright stirred. Her azure cowl billowed madly as the gale gathered around her, the swirl of the air catching her body at the apex of her height. Then, as she turned her body and focused her gaze on the monster below her, the gale turned into a violent storm that fixated around her blade and sent her rocketing forward towards the Reflection Soldier.

“LIL RAFAGA!

All sound and sight were lost to the Half-Elf after the announcement as the location where the Irregular Reflection Soldier erupted into a maelstrom of stone, dust, and sand. Opening the battle with her strongest technique to maximize the damage to her unaware foe, the Sword Princess’ raging wind unfurled. It sent everything that was nearby hurdling away at dangerous speeds that eroded the nearby landforms as it gave rise to a curtain of dust hiding everything else from view.

She really is amazing, the Thousand Elf thought to herself before there was loud reverberation, a droning sound that expanded as a shockwave billowed out and swept away the obscuring veil. The shockwave washed over Lefiya even at her distance as the stone outcropping she was behind had nearly crumbled from the sheer force. What was that?

Her unspoken question was shelved when she noticed the giant rising up from the cratered earth, unbroken by the living projectile fired at speeds that would have shattered ordinary stone or steel. It only sported webbed fissures beneath its malformed mouth that were shallow enough that it hadn’t even exposed the magic stone of the Irregular Reflection Soldier she was aiming for. The massive construct then slammed its fist down as its burning gaze fixed on something amidst the sunken ground and the room quaked as the earth erupted.

Uncertainty wormed its way into Lefiya’s mind until a white-and-blue blur emerged from the rubble. Her heart began beating again as she noticed it was the Sword Princess, cowl fluttering amidst the debris that had been sent skyward. She had been stripped of her protective veil and her wind in itself seemed unstable. At least until she caught her breath as she backflipped onto a piece of airborne rubble that was twice her height and kicked off it.

Turning herself into a missile for a second time she cleaved through the dust and earth that had been thrown about and dragged the sharpened edge of her blade along the exposed head of the Reflection Soldier. The sound of metal scraping against something akin to itself shrieked briefly in the air along with a bloom of sparks marking her passage. It was short-lived given the speed at which she moved, but flared up once more as she darted across its frame the moment after she touched the ground.

Shrieks and sparks flittered about as the giant found itself under assault from all angles. Its massive limbs attempted to crush her, but Aiz’s superior speed made such large and unwieldy attempts futile in every sense of the word. The only thing it served to do was to create more openings as she used them as a springboard to reach higher and drive her blade against its torso.

It only took Lefiya a moment to realize that she was gradually carving deeper with each pass, skillfully targeting where she had inflicted the greatest amount of damage in her first assault. Even if it was relatively shallow, each blow would gradually widen the wound as the wind riding along her sword would force itself deeper and attempt to pry it apart from the inside out, wrenching bits of its stone body loose. Eventually, she would reach its magic stone if she kept it up.

But that was impractical. Her blade was too shallow if they took into account the size and mass of the Irregular. And re-establishing her wind that was worn away from mere contact with the Reflection Soldier’s body took away from her Mind. She could effectively run dry the well that she possessed even with Spirit Healing gradually restoring it as time passed.

Aiz should know that as well. There was too little chance of success if they relied only on that approach, and the longer it took the greater the chance for something to go wrong. The Dungeon could respawn more monsters to hinder them, or the Reflection Soldier could get in a lucky blow. Not to mention its breath weapon could recharge and fire in that time. So why was she taking such an impractical approach?

…Lefiya only came to her answer when those golden eyes turned back towards her direction for a moment. Time seemed to freeze as she registered behind them was a wordless message. One that slowly clicked into place before Aiz turned her full attention back to her foe.

I know that your magic can penetrate it, so I’ll create an opening for you to take your best shot.

A soft sound escaped her mouth as she felt the sensation in her lower back that signaled that Vow of Elcos was active. The two of them were connected here and now, on the same battlefield, and she felt the trust that was being placed within her by her idol. She would tear open a path for her to take a shot that would pierce its body and strike through to its magic stone.

If you’re going to place that much faith in me then I have to do it then,” she murmured before taking a deep breath. She could only respond as a Mage by ending the battle for her. Tightening the grasp on Forest’s Teardrop, her mind began to run through the calculations to make the shot.

The amount of magical energy needed. The trajectory and optimal distance. The best position to make the shot. She confirmed them in her mind three times over to make sure that it was as accurate as possible.

And with that done, the Fairy Sniper moved towards the battlefield.

[-Aiz Wallenstein-]

Level Six hearing picked up footfalls as Lefiya shifted her position, the steps having a sense of purpose behind them. It seemed her message carried. Good.

Aiz had thought that she noticed that her friend had some uncertainty in what way she could contribute for a while now. And she couldn’t blame her given the enemy they were facing. It was the bane of Magic-users after all.

Desperate was a First-Class weapon created by the Goibniu Familia. It had the Durandal property that made it impossible to break, even if it could dull. Even though Aiz herself did not have a focus on the development of her Strength attribute, as a Level Six she was still more than capable of easily cutting through solid steel depending on its make and composition. Her Swordsman Development Ability, the proof of her dedication to the blade, only further refined her capabilities.

And yet she couldn’t cleave through the monster in front of her even with the boons of both her blood and efforts—Ariel and her Falna. If she had the raw strength of Bete, Tiona, or Tione then she could break through its mass for certain. But as she lacked that she had to make up for it by putting her faith in Lefiya.

The Fairy Sniper could output a great deal of power within a single shot. And even with its massive size contributing to its resistance to spells, it was not flat-out immunity. If given a straight path towards the magic stone with her maximum output, Aiz was certain that she could force it through until she hit the mark and killed it.

Thus, it was Aiz’s duty to keep it in place long enough for that to happen on her own. Her awareness of Lefiya’s presence was relegated to focusing on her footfalls until they came to a stop, telling her of the girl’s chosen position to take the shot. So, she performed her duty by keeping its attention as she circled around it and maneuvered it into an optimal position to be fired upon as she felt the quivering in the air—the sensation of a spell being cast along with the song.

That was when things went… wrong.

The Irregular seemed to have sensed the presence of the spell as well, given its burning gaze turned in her direction. Then Aiz felt the wind around her take shape, likely due to her birthright. It was pulling itself towards the Reflection Soldier before becoming rigid and unyielding with a deceptive amount of quickness.

“Lefiya, wa—” Her words failed to reach as a solid, translucent wall took shape around the monster right as Lefiya finished her chant. Light burst from the top of the Thousand Elf’s staff and the golden arrow slammed into the invisible shield, creating a horrible screeching noise as the two clashed briefly with the bright intensity of a miniature sun. The dense torrent of light that was meant to bore through with pinpoint precision was met with an unexpected obstacle, an invisible canopy that threw off the precise calculations that were made by the Half-Elf to ensure the kill.

The spell smashed through the Wind Shield at the expense of its composition, unraveling the rudimentary defense with a hot gale that left Aiz’s hair to billow wildly even as she shielded her eyes from the resulting lens flare effect. But the angle of the shot was bent, hitting to the side and lower than expected. And the loss of power itself meant that, even as it attempted to push through the reflective body and left the impact zone crackling and orange from the intensity, the beam came undone and sent out golden streaks that threatened friendly fire.

One knocked Aiz backward—her own Magic Resistance and wind preventing serious injury. But it was still enough to leave Lefiya horrified as she immediately halted the spell and called out to her. “Miss Aiz, are you all right?

In response, she shouted out a warning of her own as she got back to her feet and tried to rush towards her companion. “Move, Lefiya!

Turning its mouth into the barrel of a cannon, the Reflection Soldier launched a compressed ball of air towards the Fairy Sniper. Though Aiz tried to intercept it, she couldn’t before the creature’s ‘Howl’ slammed into the ground as Lefiya barely managed to avoid it upon hearing her warning. But even though she missed being crushed by the sheer force of it in a direct blast, the shockwave it unleashed swept them both up.

Her vision of the Half-Elf was lost beneath a wall of force and debris. The sound of her voice was lost beneath an unrelenting droning. The expanding wall denied her approach until she drove Desperate into the ground and called forth her wind. “Tempest!

Magic stirred the wind to form a swirling veil to brace against it, allowing it to wash over her while the stone and rubble interspersed within it were guided around her. Then she spread it out, sending the wind rushing outwards to scatter the dust obscuring her view.

The Mage she was supposed to be protecting was nowhere in sight. Her heart stalled. The blood pumping in her veins froze. Color fled from the world as she called out, her eyes rampantly searching amidst the aftermath. “Lefiya! Lefiya!”

There was no response except the distant rumble of the monster.

Ba-thump. The haunting silence began to burn in her chest, a gnawing ache that fed the dark flame within her at the absence of the girl’s voice. Biting down on her lip, the grasp on her sword tightened and her blood began to boil as that flame seared its way through her flesh.

This… this was why she hated monsters. They always took the people she cared about from her. Any bond she forged was taken. Every warm smile she recalled was lost. The bright future that awaited the Half-Elf was stolen just like that.

They all were fuel thrown into that dark flame that had nearly been smothered, feeding it to where it grew larger once more as the thundering steps of the monster’s footfalls shook the ground. She whirled around towards it and her throat tensed as she called for her wind. “Awaken, Tempest!

Her wind rekindled from its dormancy. No longer mere armor that rolled around her, it instead became a sheering gale that ripped and tore away at the ground around her like countless blades. Bringing her birthright under her control, she billowed it forth towards the Reflection Soldier.

The vicious wind barreled forth as it tore apart the earth and swept it along, lacing the gale that slammed into the Irregular. Like countless daggers, they slashed away at its massive body. The sheer force and sharpness of the wind slowed its advance and tore gouges into its shell even as its Magic Resistance properties eroded the wind.

But that was fine. She could simply summon more. The cost was only her Mind. “RAGE, TEMPEST!

So she called forth her wind to supplement what was lost. The chaotic wind, born anew, surged forward even more violently. So much so that the previous wave was akin to only a light gale while this was a hurricane-force blast with thousands of invisible swords. The sheer force of the impact rebuked its advance entirely and staggered the giant as the gouges within its body deepened and grew more numerous.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Her hatred was a black flame that grew hotter and hotter as it churned the wind, turning her anger into the invisible blades that would tear it apart. Those flames would grow hotter and hotter until it robbed her of all sense beyond the heat, drowned out all sound barring the crackle of relentless flames, and left the world only black-and-white…

That was when she felt it washing against her.

The soft-touch of magical energy being shed, a great deluge being gathered and pulled along. It felt… familiar. Her unblinking eyes that had become dull slowly turned to the source and spotted as a fairy fluttered past her, covered in grime and dust with her lips moving.

She was singing. Even though Aiz couldn’t hear with the howling wind and crackling flames, she could feel deep down that Lefiya was singing a song. Her eyes, the bright azure being the only color in the world as it contrasted the greyscale, now carried the wordless message that she had conveyed once before.

Then she turned her head forward and started to rush straight ahead. Straight into the path of the razor wind that Aiz had called forth. The wind as it was didn’t distinguish friend from foe. It was simply a surging torrent of invisible blades that wouldn’t hesitate to tear her apart. There would be nothing left of her but kindling for the dark flames to stir her anger, the key to break the seal on her lower back that had been chained down.

A flip switched in Aiz at that moment. She had no choice but to smothering the dark flames with her own will to avoid burning away the smile and future that she thought had been lost. She quelled the wind, stripping it of its blades and turning it into a rushing zephyr as color and sound bled back into the world, white-and-red clothes billowing amidst jade motes that swirled like fireflies as she took to the sky.

Then the final verse of the flying fairy’s song reached her. “—Wynn Fimbulvetr.

Ice ran.

A cone of white mist and blue frost swept through the air as the crackle of rime devouring space billowed forth. Crystallizing every surface. Leaving even the dust that lingered in the air suspended by hoarfrost that could trace a chain to the surface somehow. The spell that harbored the essence of a winter that could herald the end of the world swept forward like a tidal wave.

It turned the crater where the razor gale had buffeted the Reflection Solider into a frozen wasteland. The sentinel that had been slouching within it was encased within a frozen coffin, from where the frost-laden winter chill met with it. The light from above refracted off the surface as the mist rolled down its shell.

A breath escaped Aiz as she exhaled a plume of the fog and called out the girl’s name. “Lefiya…”

Those azure eyes faced her once more with a determined expression. “I’m going to create an opening for you, Miss Aiz. Please prepare to finish it with a single strike then!”

[-Lefiya Viridis-]

Lefiya had lost consciousness for a bit after being caught in the blast.

Veil Breath and the inherent Magic Resistance of her clothes had protected her. In fact, it was safe to say they had prevented her from being killed outright. But the blast had nearly been point-blank, and she had been tossed around like a rag doll until she came to a stop.

While she was unconscious it almost felt like she had been adrift until she felt it. An insidious burning in her lower back that was so painful and searing that it pulled her from her unconsciousness. Her immediate thought before she remembered what she had been doing had been that Bell had gone mad again due to that knife that Mister Welf had given him, only much worse somehow.

But then she pulled herself out of the rubble she had been entombed under and saw otherwise. There had been a windstorm brewing and the eye of that storm was Aiz. The maddening flame was coming from her, flowing through Vow of Elcos that bound her to the Sword Princess in a similar manner it had her brother.

The Half-Elf didn’t know why something like that was coming from Aiz. It felt overwhelming to the extent that she feared it would burn away something important if it was allowed to run rampant. That the person she admired would be burned away in her entirety with regret and loss being the very thing that fueled it.

“M-Miss Aiz!” she called, barely able to catch her breath before shouting at the top of her lungs. “MISS AIZ!!

But it was clear that she couldn’t hear her. The wind that was more powerful than anything Lefiya had seen before was also deafening her to the world as the flames grew even hotter. They were smothering her words to such an extent that even if she shouted at the top of her lungs right next to her, they would never reach. And with every passing second the flames themselves seemed to grow more intense.

Yet, that was all that stopped the Irregular from having a chance to counterattack. That menacing wind that barreled down upon the massive construct was stopping it from even shielding itself, tearing apart the wind it could use to form a shield at the same time as it was having gouges torn into its body. Stopping Aiz meant it would have freedom of movement again.

Even so, allowing Aiz to burn herself away would be the worst outcome and she wouldn’t forgive herself if she let that happen. So she had to find a way to reach her and deal with the monster at the same time. She had to cast a spell that could do both, but what?

Wracking her brain as her body felt burning hot, the desire for something to quench the flames drudged up a memory from only a little while ago and a solution to do both. It’ll be a long shot, but if it stops her then I’ll do it.

Rising to her feet, Lefiya poured strength into her legs and rushed forward. Fighting the wind that seemed to push her back as a consequence of simply being on the same battlefield, she instilled within herself the unshakable will of a great tree as she called forth her Summon Burst. Her magic circle shed magical energy freely as she pushed it out, steadily accumulating what would be needed until the gateway opened and her circle turned jade.

That was when she felt Aiz’s attention on her. Even if sound wouldn’t reach her, the permeation of magical energy within the air was something that adventurers such as them became acclimated towards and she was accumulating as much as she could in order to send out a signal towards her. It was when she looked into her golden eyes that seemed to have lost their luster that she could see the toll of using that flame within her and the despair that fueled it.

That despair bred a sense of yearning for strength from what passed through their connection. It was familiar and yet foreign to Lefiya when she compared it to her own desire for strength. She yearned for strength to not only catch up to those who had constantly protected her, but to avoid losing her brother. But for Aiz, it felt like something irreplaceable had already been lost, leaving an emptiness inside of her and a yearning for the strength to avenge it.

That wasn’t something that Lefiya felt she could fill in. Not on her own. But she wanted to help see if she could, if not because they were Familia then to return every bit of kindness that she had shown her. That was why she wanted Aiz to instead give her a chance rather than relying on that flame.

Please have faith in me, Miss Aiz.’

She continued her song, fighting to shrink the distance between her and the monster. Since the wind itself was rushing forward she could ride it to get close enough that she could maximize the output of her spell while taking the distance out of the equation. Even though every instinct she had told her that the wind as it was would tear her apart, she knew that same wind could be gentle. So she put her silent words into action and placed her faith in Aiz to adjust it as she allowed it to sweep her up.

The fierce wind cradled her almost protectively as it swept her along, her chant unbroken until it finally petered out when she was at the edge of the mouth of the crater that had been carved into the stone floor from the ruthless wind that had tried to tear the stone asunder. The burning gaze of the Reflection Soldier fixed onto her once more now that the wind had died but she didn’t give it the chance to protect itself as she unleashed the borrowed spell. “—Wynn Fimbulvetr.

It was the first level of Lady Riveria’s offensive spell. It was said to create cold so potent that it could freeze even time itself. Whether or not that was true, Lefiya would never be able to reach that level of power when she was so far beneath the Royal Elf in terms of ability. She normally constrained it to lines of ice to prevent sweeping up her allies along the path, regulating the intensity of the cold to being just enough to stop the living in their tracks or freezing everything inside and out if necessary.

But Lefiya knew that if she dedicated her Mind to increasing the duration and intensity, she could make it work. After all, she didn’t need to freeze time itself. She just needed to plummet the entire space in front of her into temperatures where everything solid within it was frozen, an exchange that was remorseless in its cost as it kicked aside the laws of thermodynamics to make her wish come true.

Winter’s chill stifled all life and smothered every surface with rime. Had the Irregular been a normal monster, the cold would have invaded every inch of its body inside out and killed it. But the composition of its body on top of its Magic Resistant nature meant that she had only bought a minute at best before it escaped.

Ngh…The exertion and post-magic rigor took root then, a headache already settling in. She had emptied more than half of her remaining Mind to ensure that the result she wanted. And considering what she would have to do next to make sure that this worked, Lefiya was sure that she would be chastised by Lady Riveria once she was dragged back to her afterward.

“Lefiya…”

The voice of the angel reached her before she could show any sign of the toll it took though, leaving her to remain upright rather than slouching. In the face of the person that she wanted to have faith in her the most right now, showing exhaustion was inexcusable. She couldn’t allow herself and her uncertainty to be seen through a second time—not here and now.

So Lefiya only showed her resolve in the face of those golden eyes as she declared, “I’m going to create an opening for you, Miss Aiz. Please prepare to finish it with a single strike then!”

Confusion seemed to be present within her gaze. Miss Aiz wanted to question what it was that she could do. But the Thousand Elf didn’t have time to tell her. Her ears could pick up on the sound of the thick ice covering the Reflection Soldier already starting to crack as it moved to break free of its prison of ice. So she chanted anew her Summon Burst for the third and last time today, waiting until the very end to accumulate the magical energy to cope with the strain of the rigor.

Like she had told Primo and Bell, the greater the chant and power the greater the rigor. It would be painful to push through it and she knew for a fact that she was probably going to be feeling it for the next few days, but she wasn’t willing to let Miss Aiz rely on that dark flame again. She could put up with having aches, pains, and migraines for a little under a week if that was the alternative.

With that in mind, she sang a song of destruction that followed in the wake of three winters. “Soon, the inferno shall be loosed. Creeping flames of war, inevitable destruction heralded by battle horns and bloodshed that resound throughout the battlefield…

Red, hot static shot through Lefiya’s mind as the surge of magical energy began to eat away at her. It spoke of how demanding the spell she was calling forth was, a level above that which she cast before—the second level of Lady Riveria’s attack spell, meant for wide-scale annihilation. It was so taxing that she nearly felt her own body was turning into a raging blaze as she focused on channeling it into her staff.

She would have lost herself to it, if not for her mindset to be the Great Oak that could weather such an inferno. No, even greater than that was the Spirit Tree that could weather the flames of a dragon consuming it, a testament to Elvenkind’s pride and its resilience despite all that they had lost. That same resilience dwelled within herself, so she latched onto it and finished the spell with pride in her voice.

Come, crimson flames of the ruthless inferno. Sweep through, avatar of hellfire, and bring the battle to its end. Incinerate all before you, Sword of Surtr—in my name of Alf.

The magic circle at the base of her feet swelled. The jade circle dictated the range of the spell, overlapping the stone and rime, and bestowed upon her the presences nestled within—of human and monster. With only one target in her mind, she pulled the trigger of the spell. “REA LAEVATEINN!!

A deafening explosion resulted.

An eruption akin to a volcano’s awakening.

A natural disaster that would spell the destruction of all life within its boundaries.

Calling upon the full might of Lady Riveria’s spell, bathing the entirety of the 37th Floor with columns of fire, was beyond the Thousand Elf even if she expended every drop of Mind she possessed. But if she focused only on a singular enemy and a singular location, then that was different. She could focus the intensity and duration all upon the frozen Irregular Reflection Soldier.

The result was a chant that unleashed a column of hellfire that surged from beneath the frozen wastelands and high into the sky. Ravenous, merciless flames constrained to a singular pillar spouted forth and slammed into the ceiling above, turning it a golden hue as if attempting to melt through it. Permafrost from the three-fold winters that had sunken beneath surface evaporated in a flash, steam violently erupting to unleash a hellish and scalding wind as the area within it was turned into a layer of the Nine Hells.

The eruption knocked away the Half-Elf who had been closer to it. The new battle clothes were well made given that she barely felt the intense heat as it rolled over her with such ferocity that her skin was reddish, even though she was on the higher end of Level Three. She had her suspicion that Lady Riveria had taken into account her choice of spells and tailored them to account for that, so she wasn’t seared from head-to-toe from the superheated air.

But she knew that was her limit as she felt a soft, firm embrace upon her. Her Mind had been bottomed out. Mental exhaustion quickly set upon her as the world was devoured by darkness.

The rest she would leave to Miss Aiz.

[-Aiz Wallenstein-]

Aiz managed to grab the Half-Elf as she was blown back from the sudden expansion of air, superheated from the spell that she had unleashed. Cradling her as it rolled past them, her golden eyes spanned over her prone form and realized she had mentally collapsed. Other than that she was alive and relatively unharmed.

Relief flooded her like a splash of cold water washing over her. But it was short-lived as she heard the droning cry coming from the inferno as the pillar of fire died with the consciousness of its caster. She turned her eyes back to the source and tension replaced the relief.

It was still alive.

The heat of Rea Laevateinn had melted the ground beneath its origin like wax. The Reflection Soldier had sunken within due to being more durable and heavier, submerged in the molten earth until the flames ceased. Now that the hellfire had cut off and the charred and blackened slag around them was still crackling hot, it was pulling itself out of that molten pit like it was emerging from the depths of Hell.

But Lefiya’s efforts were not in vain.

Its polished and reflective body had been burnt black while still glowing hot. Steam leaked from the countless fissures threading its form. It was still whole, but its body had been greatly weakened, and its structure was compromised—reducing its defense drastically.

That was the result of being chilled to the point of absolute zero and then suddenly superheated to molten temperatures. That hard body that resisted her strongest blow before would not be able to do so a second time. Her comrade had banked everything on that to the point of leaving her to finish up.

I understand, Lefiya,” muttering that as she set her companion down to the ground, she stepped forward and called forth her wind while leaping into the air with all her might. The wind stirred gathered around her sword once more for a final assault.

That was when its burning gaze fixed onto her a final time. Perhaps sensing her Magic posed a threat to it once more, it wrested control of the air that was around it. Instinctive fear formed the Wind Shield meant to oppose her assault—a reflexive defense that had prevented the Mage’s killing shot prior.

But there was no problem. She would focus all of Aerial’s wind into a single point and then pierce it. Resolve solidified, Aiz shot forth towards the Reflection Soldier.

LIL RAFAGA!

Her ultimate attack was unleashed. Her mother’s wind reinforced her unbreakable sword, rocketing her forward fast enough to split the air. She brought all of that momentum to bear on the wall in front of her—

BREAKTHROUGH!

— and shattered it before she plowed through the monster that summoned it faster than the eye could see. One moment she had been aloft in the air. The next the lance of wind had broken through its weakened body, leaving Aiz standing distantly on the ground as Aerial petered out.

Eventually, the world around her caught up. The air that should have been pulled along roared as it surged past her, leaving her blue cowl to thrash as the wind continued into the distance…

Carrying along with it the ashes of her slain foe.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 23 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 23: Story of Growth – Part 1

Elio called the forest we sat at the entrance of his current home, the sole resident along with a host of Minor Spirits that followed him around. Apparently, he belonged to a clan of Elves that worked to commune with many, but their home had fallen to the monsters, and he was the only one left. It was not an uncommon tale by any stretch of the imagination.

The Spirits stirred at my presence, it seemed. Like little animals sniffing at something curious they found on the ground, he likened. Something he said that he had not seen in a long time, which I could only presume was more than a hundred years given his maturity.

So, he made me an offer: he would teach me the magic of our kind. Even if I were Half-Man, he felt that preserving what remained of their race, the teachings and culture and magic, was more important. So long as I had Elven blood inside of me.

However, it came with a condition.

I had to part ways with Argo.

—Elio’s Ultimatum

[-|-|-|-]

“—Arcs Ray!

The Fairy Sniper loosed her shot in a harsh whisper as her Elven eyes spotted their marks far off into the sky. Mind was converted into magical power and focused into the magic stones at the head of her staff before launching the magical arrow in the form of a golden beam of light. It speared from beneath the canopy of a coniferous forest and shot towards the ceiling that shed light as though it were a facsimile of the sky and sun on the surface, born of the Dungeon’s memory from before the gods descended and placed a lid upon it.

The marks were a pair of Pterosaurs that had been circling around for some time now. Even as far away as they were, they could easily swoop down and ensnare prey they spotted in the time it would take to count to three. That was part of what made them so dangerous.

Her golden arrow cut through the air and reduced the distance to zero as it pierced through the first’s body using searing heat and force as she condensed the beam into a narrow shot. But the second shifted its wings, carrying it off the original path it had been on. Had it spotted the glimmer of light that heralded the liminal speed at which it flew? Or had it simply shifted itself on a whim and thus managed to escape the beam of light by chance?

It didn’t matter as the backdraft of the near-miss left it to corkscrew in the air before righting itself. By then the arrow had curved around, swiveling faster than the normal eye could blink. The beam connected and ruptured, the explosion finishing it off as the magic stone within it was blown to pieces.

Her task done, Lefiya let out a soft sigh and then took a moment to catch her breath in the nook between the limb and trunk she was on within the massive tree that she was perched in. Her body was running hot and she needed a moment to wind down given she had been shooting down the fliers for a bit of time now. But she was the best suited for the job given her Spells and specialty.

“Lefy!” Her ears picked up her name being called from below and she looked down to see her roommate there, holding up a waterskin. She didn’t have her cloak, only her white tunic with her shawl arm sleeves clear as she waved up at her. “You can come down now!”

The Half-Elf descended the tree at that, bounding down between the branches before landing next to Elfy. Her fellow Mage offered her the waterskin to drink from, and she became aware of how thirsty she had been. It had been a few hours since she had gone up in the tree in order to turn it into her sniper’s nest. “Has everyone finished setting up camp?”

“Mm-hmm.”  Her green eyes fixed onto Lefiya as she watched her take a sip before continuing. “Everyone is accounted for, so you guys acting as the advance party can all head back to camp.”

It was roughly the day or so after she had finished instructing Primo. She and several other members of the Loki Familia were on the 28th Floor, just beneath the Water Capital. It was one of the Safe Floors of the Dungeon, present after the floors where the Monster Rexes often spawned, and so the number of monsters present was rather minimal.

However, just because the Dungeon did not spawn monsters didn’t mean they couldn’t wander from above. Or, in the case of the Pterosaurs, from below. Flying monsters could cover a massive amount of distance on their own and she couldn’t risk any of them spotting the small band busy setting up a light camp for what was turning out to be a Quest within a Quest.

Of course, the Quest that Lefiya was supposed to undertake was different from the others. But her skillset made her getting down and helping to clear the area ahead of them imperative, along with some of the others. They didn’t want another Poison Vermis incident that resulted in so many of them being laid up on the 18th Floor the last time.

Lefiya passed back the waterskin and gave her a grateful nod before heading back, with the Human Mage accompanying her. She could only assume that they would have one of the Beast Humans take her place on the lookout. They made small talk along the way. “I’m surprised so many people volunteered to come along for the quest issued by the Dian Cecht Familia.”

The Dian Cecht Familia had placed a request for a cornucopia of Bloodsaurus drop items for one reason or another.  The region below was a vast stretch of verdant jungle. The vegetation often grew in layers, from dense bushes to rising shrubs to towering trees, all of which competed with one another for the light shed from above. Numerous fruits and resources foreign to Orario could be found there, but the primordial landscape was difficult to navigate even when you didn’t include the fact that dinosaur-like monsters considered the layer their home.

Since they were familiar with the terrain, and the last expedition had put the Familia within the red, the Captain had taken up the quest. To that end, the original intention was to send out a select few to handle it. But, to the surprise of many, when the call for volunteers Level Three and higher went out, there were a lot more who answered than expected to where they were—treating it as a sort of mini-expedition.

“Well, most of them are the guys who don’t want to be shown up by Cottontail,” Elfy said, shrugging her shoulders. “Not only did he pop up asking to see Aiz after you got involved, but then he went ahead and beat the War Game on top of achieving Level Three.”

Lefiya didn’t know whether to giggle at the fact that her little brother had managed to incur the jealousy of so many of her Familia’s members or sympathize with them because she knew exactly where they were coming from. Bell having a skill that accelerated his growth meant that, realistically, he would be able to surpass all of them in a relatively short amount of time in terms of raw numbers—even if he was lacking in actual skill or experience.

“We’re all Adventurers in the end,” Lefiya said, settling on the middle path. “We can only do our best.”

“I can’t say that I’m too sure on how to feel about him myself considering the peeping thing,” Elfy admitted, looking at her with an accusatory yet playful glance. “And you’ve been awfully close to him despite the fact that you were the one who wanted to chase him off the most back then. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he caught your eye.”

“Let’s just say that I realized I overreacted when we got into real trouble,” the Half-Elf responded, not rising to the bait. Elfy did, in fact, know better. “He means well, but he just gets in over his head at times.”

“I’d call ‘getting an entire Familia breathing down his neck’ a little more than over his head, but if you say so.” She folded her hands behind her head as she looked up towards the ceiling. There was a prolonged silence before she spoke again with a smile on her face. “Still, I guess at least I don’t have to worry about him stealing you away from the sound of it.”

Lefiya blinked in confusion. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing~” Skipping ahead to her own playful tune, Elfy bound into the camp while Lefiya followed until they spotted Bete Loga.

The Werewolf had a perpetual frown on his face as per usual, but the moment his gaze faced in her direction he pointed back towards the bigger tent. “The Old Hag wants to see you. Get going.”

That said he continued along his way, leaving the Half-Elf to follow instructions after bidding Elfy farewell for now. Inside of the largest tent she found Lady Riveria sitting in front of a table that held on it maps of the floors lower than this one, her staff set aside while she held her chin in thought. Next to her was Gareth, who was stroking his beard while similarly in contemplation. She held her silence to avoid breaking their concentration, though she did take a seat on one of the cushions when the Royal Elf gestured for her to do so.

It only became apparent that they were waiting for one other person to enter when the flaps opened and Aiz entered. Her golden eyes shifted over to Lefiya and she gave a small nod in greeting before turning her attention to her superiors. “Bete said you wanted to see me?”

“The Guild approached us with an extermination request for an Irregular Monster,” the Royal Elf began. “It is a variation of an Obsidian Soldier, located on the 37th Floor, and with so few Familia capable of traversing so deeply into the Dungeon they felt we were their best option. Gareth and I were chosen to handle it, but we’ve decided to give you two a chance to deal with it in our place.”

The two younger women stiffened slightly at that. Irregular Monsters were capable of being born under two circumstances that were known. The first was that the Dungeon spawned them, though those were much rarer circumstances. The second and most common was that a monster had devoured the magic stone of another monster. It only took five or so for a monster to display a notable increase in strength, and in the Deep Floors that bode poorly.

“If you succeed, your debts will be wiped clean,” Lady Riveria continued. “However, I will add that it is optional. We suggested and cleared it with Finn that we believe you both are more than capable of handling it on your own. However, if you feel incapable, we would only ask that you keep watch over the camp while we go to handle it.”

Lefiya was silent as she considered the request. She was uncertain of whether or not she was capable of handling the situation if it was an irregular version of an Obsidian Soldier. Their bodies were highly resistant to Magic and her primary contributing factor in expeditions was exactly that, meaning that she would likely be dead weight…

Yet, Lady Riveria had specifically chosen her for some reason. She had never been shy about her expectations when it came to Lefiya as her successor. And, recalling what she had told Primo and how Bete had told her the same, she shouldn’t settle for simply living up to her expectations.

She should focus on surpassing her mentor, not living in her shadow. And the first step to doing that should be to find a way to deal with the problem in front of her. The fact that Lady Riveria suggested her meant that there was one, even if she couldn’t see it right now. “I’m willing to try.”

“Me too.” Aiz added. “Can you tell us more about this irregular?”

The question earned a look between the two elites of the Familia, a wordless message passing between them.

Then Lady Riveria answered her. “It’s far larger than normal of its kind, probably around six meders tall according to the reports. And rather than being black, it has a more crystalline and reflective color. It has also demonstrated a rudimentary ability to use a long-ranged magical attack in the form of a howl that creates a sonic boom. I believe the tentative name is a ‘Reflection Soldier’ for this particular irregular breed.”

The Half-Elf’s brows furrowed as she considered the information. Large as a Monster Rex and no doubt powerful in terms of strength, but if it was on part with a Floor Boss then they wouldn’t be sending the two of them alone to deal with it. She didn’t doubt that they could deal with the raw strength by just avoiding it in the case of the Vanguard and staying out of range for her.

The Magic is the biggest problem, she settled on. Considering that its howl was to be considered a magical attack it most likely operated somewhat like her Gale Blast in that it compressed air and then launched it—only using its throat as a cannon instead of a wand. If I had taken my Level Up then I would have Magic Resistance like Lady Riveria and soften the effect…

Her thoughts froze. Memories flashed. The pendant Bell received. The final clash of spells. The Obsidian Soldiers. She rose to her feet and asked, “How long do we have to complete the Quest?”

“Three days,” Gareth answered. “That should be long enough for the others to complete the request with the Bloodsaurus drop items. It looks like ye got somethin’ in mind?”

“Um, I have an idea on how we can maximize our chances of success,” she said before turning to Aiz. “I believe that there are gemstones that can confer limited Magic Resistance to the wearers found in that region of the Dungeon, in the White Palace. If we can find at least one before we challenge it, then we’ll have a better chance of standing up to it. Can we spend one—no, at least two days searching for it?”

“Ah… that’s a good ideal, Lefiya,” Aiz agreed before turning to Riveria. “May we postpone challenging it for the first two days. If we don’t find it after that then we’ll return to rest before we challenge it on the third.”

The request received a nod of approval from the Dwarf. “Smart, use all your options before goin’ ahead. Fortunately, since Udaeus won’t show up any time soon, access to the 38th Floor and below is possible. My instinct as a miner tells me you’ll have a better chance finding them there, and ye can set up your own camp on the 39th Floor and search for ‘em. We’ll come to pay a visit around then.”

“What will we tell the others about our absence?”

“Gareth and I will tell them that you both are handling a separate request for us and aren’t to be bothered,” Lady Riveria answered. “There’s no need to worry them about what we’ve asked.”

“We won’t let you down,” Aiz told her. “Let’s go, Lefiya.”

The Sword Princess and Thousand Elf departed from the tent, intent on preparing what they would need for the trip. As soon as they were out of earshot, Gareth let out a slight laugh. “Looks like you were worried for nothin’.”

“Who said that I was worried about them?” replied the Royal Elf in her normally unflappable tone.

“If they had chosen to rush into it without askin’ then you would have had them go to the 38th Floor to find those stones beforehand. And if they had chosen not to do it, ya gave ‘em a way out without shame by keepin’ it a secret. No wonder Loki always refers to ya as ‘mother’ around ‘em.”

“…Hush you,” she responded before sighing. It was true that she had some misgivings about the pair and their recent behavior. But this and that were two completely different things. “They might have shown they’ve taken a step in the right direction, but they still have to beat it. As they currently are it’ll be difficult if they rely on a brute force approach. That will be the real test.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. “Still, I think I’ll go check up on ‘em later in. Neither one has swung a pickaxe in their lives. No cunning with stone between the lasses.”

[-38th Floor-]

Nnnn… why is it so hard to find them…

The whine slipped out of Lefiya’s dejected mouth as she leaned on the pickaxe that she had borrowed when they had gathered supplies in order to set out to the 38th Floor. It had been a day since they had broken from the other group and come further down, setting up on the Safe Floor beneath the White Palace. Though, to call it a camp was overdoing it since there were just the two of them, but it was nice in its own way.

Since they needed to collect gemstones that conferred the limited Magic Resistance they had two options to get it.

The first was to simply kill the Obsidian Soldiers and hoped that they dropped them. They were rare drops, of course. The material component of their bodies were effective as normal drop materials, but the gemstones were rare and far more potent. Add into the fact that they resisted Magic due to their body composition, Lefiya would have had to expend far more Mind to overpower it.

The second was to mine the walls around the floor. Since the Obsidian Soldiers were made of minerals composing the walls, occasionally they formed within the walls. If they got lucky they could find a decent chunk or two and that would hopefully be enough. But there was no guarantee.

So they had settled on a compromise of sorts. Aiz would kill the Obsidian Soldiers around the Floor, given she was Level Six and thus more than capable of dealing with them, while she would mine the wall where they spawned from consistently enough that they likely had the gemstones within them. If they were lucky they would obtain at least one that could be used to help the Sword Princess, given Lefiya most likely wouldn’t be able to do anything against the irregular.

I can’t let her do all the work, Lefiya thought to herself as she rose to her full height and took up the pickaxe once more. Even if the chances of her finding something were low, the thought of doing nothing when Aiz was going around and killing monsters because she couldn’t was something she couldn’t stomach.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Hammering away at the stoneface, Lefiya chipped away at the stone in search of the precious jewels nestled deep within.

Tink. Tink. Tink. The mining in itself was not only tedious but boring to the extent she was amazed that anyone would make a career out of it. But, because of that, she could allow her thoughts to drift onto other topics.

Tink. Tink. Tink. For her date with Filvis she needed to consider what it was that they would do. The Holy Moon Festival had several key events for people to enjoy themselves, dating back to ancient times. The dance that went on in Amor Square was more inclined towards couples, and she wanted to dance there with her if they had the chance.

Tink. Tink. Tink. But she knew the gorgeous Elf had a lot of boundary issues, even more than others of their kind. She considered herself filthy to the extent of not letting herself touch others with her bare hands. Lefiya had been making progress with her, but she wanted to see if she could get her over that hurdle without scaring her away—like at the Spirit Festival when she had tried tempting her into a kiss.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Holding hands would be a good place. If she could just get her to hold hands with her, no gloves or cloth between them, then she would consider it a success. Anything more than that would be too greedy, no matter how she occasionally thought about her beautiful pale skin or her soft lips and how she wanted to—

“That’s no good.”

The Half-Elf Mage jumped at the sudden voice, whipping her head around so fast that her hair could have counted as a potentially lethal weapon. There she spotted Sir Gareth, the Dwarven Warrior having arrived at some point. He was standing next to her while inspecting the rockface she had been working at with an appraising gaze.

“Lass, ya can’t just go at the stone with no thought in mind or else you’ll never find a thing. Each stroke needs to have purpose. Don’t go daydreamin’ in the middle of work.”

Hearing the Dwarf’s admonishment caused the Half-Elf to feel a surge of embarrassment. She quickly bowed her head and apologized. “I’m sorry. My thoughts just… drifted a bit. Mining isn’t really my forte.

“Youngster’s these days…” He let out a gruff sigh. “I suppose at least ye didn’t get started usin’ your spells to try to solve the problem.”

“That wouldn’t exactly be efficient,” she admitted. Since the gemstones repelled Magic she could in theory simply blast the walls and the stone in question should be fine so long as she didn’t go overboard. But compared to the expenditure of Mind and the area, it just wasn’t worth it.

“Then ye got a better head on your shoulders than Riveria had startin’ out,” he said in an elderly tone. “One time we ran across a place on the surface where gems could be found an’ Loki was lookin’ for quick valis. She got so impatient that she let loose her spell and didn’t consider the fact that thermal shock would shatter the gems an’ bring the whole thing down.”

I… I… see…” Or so she said. In truth, the undignified image of her mentor unleashing her full might on a rockface after having to sling a pickaxe for Lady Loki’s whims was so foreign her mind refused to process it. “But so far I haven’t had any luck finding them this way. At this rate, I’m worried that the time we took out to prepare will be wasted.”

“It would help if ya mined in the proper place,” Gareth told her as he looked at the ground around them that was covered with broken stone fragments from when she had been hitting away without rhyme or reason. “In this case, consider the nature o’ the Dungeon itself.”

“It’s nature?”

“No matter how many times it spawns the monsters, and they break through the walls, they always grow back, right?”

She nodded.

“An’ those monsters sometimes drop the gemstones after they have their magic stones removed, meanin’ that it was concentrated within ‘em. And gemstones themselves are born when the earth has been placed under enough pressure. What connects all three of ‘em?”

Her brows furrowed as she considered it. Drop items resulted from the concentration of magical energy within that specific part of the monster being coalesced and made dense enough to survive the extraction. By the fact that the surface from which Obsidian Soldiers were born also housed them meant that it had to come about as a result of the properties of the stone and the formation of the monster’s body. If the monsters kept respawning from the walls and breaking off then…

It clicked. “I should try working from the origin point where they consistently spawn and break off?”

Even if the wall broke it would just regrow itself to how it was before. Then another monster would form in it, acting as an incubator that would constantly be pushed aside by the growing fetus. But as long as it was connected to a point in the wall, like an umbilical cord until the magic stone was fully formed, it would constantly be a focal point for the magical energy.

“New stone would put pressure at the base of where it met the old stone an’ was compressed by the Obsidian Soldier as it grows into formation. The body bein’ constantly supplied with magical energy from the walls would be mixed into the base. Smashed all together long enough and it’ll crystallize.”

Her azure eyes looked down at the stone fragments around her and then towards the walls that had given birth to the Obsidian Soldiers that Miss Aiz had dealt with before. The Dungeon had already begun repairing the deepest parts, and it might have only been an educated guess on her end. “The stones that were older would look different from the ones that were newly regenerated because of that, right?”

He nodded. “Well, it’ll still be up to chance if ya find one. I’ll go an’ check on Aiz now before I head back up. Try not to daydream again, else Riveria will hear of it.”

She bowed her head in gratitude at the Dwarf. “I won’t. Thank you very much.”

Taking his advice to heart, she reconsidered her approach when it came to mining. Pulling out steel pitons and using the Strength of a Level Three, she drove into the wall at the spots that were regenerating since they would be the best points to start at one at a time. Then she proceeded to get to work at mining in earnest.

Tink. Tink. Tink. The first hole she dug into bore no crystallized fruit, but she could see the beginnings of where the stone’s hue turned a deeper shade and the texture shifted notably to the touch. She didn’t have a good baseline to work off of, but she gained a better understanding.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Nothing on the seventh hole either. She had to take a moment to actively break the wall where she had driven the pitons in earlier to make sure the Dungeon didn’t try to close them up. A check of the pocket watch she kept showed she had been at it for quite some time now. But she had hope.

Tink. Tink. Tink. She counted at least the thirteenth hole when she spotted glittering silt among the stone. It caught the light coming off the magic stone lantern she had as she peered into the darkness, faint sparkles of light. A push of her own magical energy into it and she felt the slightest of resistance.

A smile came across her face. Now she only had to widen the area she was in. Tink-tink-tink. Tink-tink. Scrape. Shuffle.

“Lefiya?” The soft, bell-like voice of an angel pulled the Half-Elf from the constant echoing of the pick against the stone. She pulled herself from her work and poked her head out of the hole that she dug to see that Aiz had returned. “Are you okay?”

“Miss Aiz, I found these!” She excitedly presented her prize. It was a few modest-sized, unpolished, rough gemstones. “I think these will work, won’t they?”

“Yes,” the Sword Princess acknowledged. “But it has gotten late. You were supposed to return an hour ago.”

“I was?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the silver pocket watch that had Elven embellishments upon it. It had been hours since the last time she checked. “I hadn’t realized that much time had passed.”

The loss of time weighed upon her as she considered that Aiz must have been worried to come seek her out. But, at the same time, she was happy that she managed to find a few of the gemstones they needed. She climbed out of her hole, only to realize just how covered in stone dust she was when some of it billowed out upon landing. Thank goodness no other Elf was around to see her looking so disheveled after being invested in mining, of all things.

“I suppose I should go wash up first,” she mentioned with some embarrassment as soon as they returned to the Safe Floor considering her state. The camping site they had chosen was a modest distance away from the entrance and had a stream of flowing water that served multiple purposes—including bathing.

To her surprise, Aiz decided to do the same. “I will join you.”

Lefiya’s mouth opened and closed as she tried to voice her thoughts. But no words came out as Aiz went downstream and began to strip down. Several emotions surged through the Half-Elf, even as she intentionally averted her eyes from the privilege. It wouldn’t be right to enjoy the sight when it was right in front of her when she was both looking for a committed relationship and perfectly aware Miss Aiz shouldn’t be leered at lecherously by anyone.

The last thing she wanted to turn into was Lady Loki.

So she kept her attention elsewhere even as she followed suit, sinking herself up to her neck within the water. Their weapons were nearby if a monster that wandered from above or below came close by. But, between the two of them, there was mostly silence as they let the water wash away the dirt, dust, and grime of the day.

It was the Sword Princess who eventually broke the silence. “You were working hard, weren’t you?”

“Y-Yes.” She cleared her throat. “I wanted to make sure that I could at least do something while you were out killing the monsters. Did you have any luck?”

“Only a few small ones from the hundreds I killed,” she claimed. Considering the drop rates were low for them, it was probably the best they could do between them. The question now was how they would approach the irregular itself. “Do you think that he’s doing well now too?”

“Who?”

“That boy,” she explained. “Bell Cranel.”

“Oh, him.” Lefiya shifted her eyes over towards the Sword Princess tentatively to see that her gaze was looking upwards. Not towards the ceiling itself, but further. To the surface. “For the most part. He’s had a lot of things to adjust to since the War Game. They also have a new member—an Elven child who wants to become a Mage. I gave them advice on how to train her and took her to get her supplies the day before we set out.”

Golden eyes turned back to her. Then her lips pulled back into a small smile. “Did you have fun?”

“I did,” she admitted. Then she recalled another matter she needed to address while they were alone. “Miss Aiz, I also owe you an apology.”

“What for?”

“For how I used the fact that you were helping Bell to train as an excuse to help me train as well,” she confessed. Back then she had not liked the two of them together, especially because she did not want him around anything to do with her Familia. And in doing so she had used that knowledge to essentially blackmail Aiz into spending time with her. “My reasons were selfish, and I didn’t consider your own feelings on the matter. For that, I owe you an apology.”

“Oh.” The Sword Princess’ expression turned pensive for a moment. The weight of her gaze seemed heavier on Lefiya as well, though that very well could have just been her imagination considering her smile returned. “It’s okay. My own reasons weren’t entirely honest as well.”

“What do you mean?”

“I… wanted to understand how he got so strong,” she confessed. It was not an easy thing to do either, considering how she looked away. “So that I could see if I could do the same. That was why I originally agreed.”

Lefiya found that difficult to believe, in a sense. She was already so strong. So beautiful. Graced with a wind that belonged only to her, the Half-Elf coveted that same thing at times. But, from that perspective, she supposed she could understand in a certain way. In the end, it had many forms.

It could be ugly at times, stirring up jealousy, hatred, and envy. It could be a beacon, instilling admiration that one looked. It could serve as a goal post, a marker for one to reach for. Or a benchmark for one to surpass.

“But I had fun helping him,” Aiz continued, her voice gradually lightening in tone. “I wanted to see him get stronger as well. And something about him sets me at ease, in a certain way. I think he’ll have a bright future ahead.”

Lefiya sincerely hoped so as well before the silence resumed.

The calm was welcomed.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 22 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 22: Lumine Pleiades

Floating. Bobbing. Dancing. The answer to my question came one night when I saw the little wisps of light that had gathered around us as we slowly drifted off to sleep. Close enough to be felt but fleeting to the touch, the lights hovered around us as we took shelter in the edge of a small forest of no note.

A slender figure emerged from the shadows. Tall, with sandy blonde hair and piercing green eyes, the Elf regarded me for a moment with an impassionate gaze when he spotted my ears. But as the Spirits flittered about with sounds that I couldn’t comprehend, resolution set upon his features.

His name was Elio. And he was the one who taught me the Magic of our people.

—My Magic Teacher

[-|-|-|-]

“The colors of the walls changed…”

Those were the words of the Neophyte Elven Mage as she gazed upon the Fifth Floor of the Abyss that spawned the bane of mortals upon the land, sealed off by the divine and races all collaborating in what became known as the start of the Age of Gods.

The First Floor of the Dungeon was stone with a light blue texture that caught the light, a vast hallway with several Adventurers flowing through it. But the monsters were in short supply given how recently broken the walls were. Their numbers had no doubt been trimmed by the flow of early morning Adventurers. Now, here on the Fifth Floor, she noted how the walls had taken on a slightly greenish hue and the design of the pathways was beginning to shift and become more complex compared to before.

“We’ll be heading to one of the rooms off the main route,” Lefiya told the younger Elf. Since they took a straight route and the morning rush had come through, a lot of the monsters had been dealt with. But as she knew from sweeping the floors as her punishment that traveling off the beaten path meant they would encounter danger. “Bell and I will be listening for danger but keep your senses sharp.”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” Primo answered dutifully as she traveled between the pair. Bell had taken to the front and Lefiya had taken to the rear, as the center was the safest location for the lower Level and less durable members of the group since the Dungeon could spawn monsters from its walls in any direction.

Her pointed ears flickered around nervously as they traversed a corridor of stone that was dimly lit. Her steps grew heavy with tension and slender fingers clutched the Oaken Staff in her grasp. Every sense was primed out of nervousness and fear…

…crack…                                                                                                         

That was when she heard it. The sound of a stone womb splitting open, wet and rough and dry at once as life emerged—a shadow born from the wall itself with claws meant to rend flesh from bone with an impassioned mirror-like orb. And not just one either.

Fear ran up her spine as more of them came into existence from behind and in front of them. It was primal fear. Born from the instinct to survive, driven into the surface races since before the descent of the divine. The living shadows fixed their gazes upon the Elf and she froze in place, unable to move or breathe.

Then one took a step forward as it flexed its claws… only to be reduced to ash. The shifting of the air was followed by gleaming of steel, a violet streak left against the ebon bodies that caused them to erupt into ichor and collapse into boneless heaps. And when her hair settled from the sudden wind, Bell had found his way next to her with his onyx blade held out in a reverse grip while his ruby gaze spanned the corridor.

“I’m going ahead to clear out the path,” Bell said. “Keep her safe.”

Then he darted off, leaving her behind. It was only when Primo felt a gentle brush on her shoulder that she regained motion—albeit with a startled jump.

“Breathe, Primo,” Lefiya told her, looming over her from behind with both hands resting on her shoulders. “Just breathe. It’ll be fine. I’m here.”

Ah…” Her lungs began to work at that and with the air tainted by the smell of monster ichor came a variety of emotions. Uncertainty. Shame. Relief. “Umm… sorry.”

“You’re supposed to be afraid of monsters,” Lefiya told her. “That’s a survival instinct. Especially considering you just received a Falna and this is your first time being down here. The transition from being an ordinary person to an Adventurer is learning how to act in spite of that fear. So, what do you think you should have done?”

She took a deep breath before answering. “I should have cast my spell?”

To her surprise, Lefiya shook her head. “First, you should assess whether or not we were aware of the danger. Bell and I are both Level Three and so we heard the Dungeon getting ready to spawn them, but not the entire party may not have been aware. This is especially important in larger parties when one side can be ambushed before another is aware or while dealing with a different threat. And after that…?”

Having been corrected once before, she took a prolonged moment to consider it. “To see if a spell needs to be cast at all?”

“That’s right,” she answered. “It’s really easy to fall into the mindset that when you have Magic you should use it as soon as possible. But not all Magic is equal, and some are more circumstantial than others. Offensive spells tend not to distinguish friend from foe and, considering a large number of your party will be close-ranged fighters, you have to be aware of friendly fire.”

Arcs Ray had a homing property, and she could control the size and output, so she had some leeway in using it to pick off priority targets like the Irregular Wyvern King. But her other spell covered a wide area even if she condensed it down as much as possible and so her party had to get out of the way, or else they were at risk as well. It meant that she had to be careful when she unleashed it.

“Not to mention you still need to get a feel for how many times you can cast a spell before exhausting your Mind,” Lefiya added. “Once you know that you can determine how best to work with your party. There’s also learning the basics of self-defense because at some point you’ll end up in a situation where you can’t use your spells.”

Her tiny brows folded in as she took that information in. “You mean like the War Game with that other Elf?”

“That was more of an exception to the norm. If I hadn’t been at a higher Level, then I wouldn’t have tried that and would have kept my distance at all times. Only Magic Swordsmen like Miss Alicia or Filvis are comfortable with using spells in the middle of a skirmish like that.”

Primo’s brows rose in confusion. It was then Lefiya realized they had never told her about how she was the one who had participated with Bell. Likely because she was new, and it was a topic that was still under wraps by large.

“I borrowed a magical tool that let me disguise myself like Bell’s Supporter so I could help him without my Familia being aware,” Lefiya clarified. “I couldn’t use my normal spells then since everyone would recognize them, so I had to rely on the spells I learned from the Spirits and the staff drills Lady Riveria taught me. It’s a secret between myself and your Familia, so you can’t tell anyone. Okay?”

She nodded. That’s when Bell reappeared and told them he’d cleared the path ahead. Lefiya counted at least twenty monsters, but she couldn’t be sure how many had been spawned from the walls as soon as he entered and how many had already been there. They were going to have to remove the magic stones to get rid of the bodies when they were done but, for now, they had the room to work with.

“Right then,” the Half-Elf began, having finished dragging a corpse into the center of the room while her brother and temporary charge were at the entrance. Then she left it there lifelessly before hopping away and landing next to them. “First, we need to see what your spell can do. Primo, aim for that corpse and focus on your chanting.  You’ll feel a little hot and uncomfortable but that’s normal the first time.”

Purple eyes narrowed on the corpse as she held out the staff with both hands. Then she began to sing for the first time in her life. “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash…”

The air was tinged with the sensation of magical power being focused through the staff as she continued her song, purple eyes folding with uncertainty from the power building up within her. It was a foreign yet familiar for the neophyte. But she swallowed and finished her song as she aimed at the corpse. “Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!

Seven glimmering stars formed above the center of the room. Their brilliance connected by lustrous strings intensified as though twinkling in the dim light as it passed from one star to the next. Then, all at once, their brightness grew dazzling as the constellation sent silvery beams down from each one that bathed the locale with the corpse at the center.

Ah!?” The child squealed in mild surprise as stone dust billowed out, lingering in the air to form a somewhat dusty veil. But when it thinned her eyes went wide in surprise as she found the corpse had been obliterated as there were a few indents in the ground. “I… I did it?

Bell was naturally quick to cheer her on. “Yeah. That was great!”

She bounced up on her feet as she looked upon the destruction that she had rained down. “Miss Lefiya did you see it?”

“Yes, I did,” she answered, her azure eyes taking in the sight as she tapped her chin. Filling in the role of her mentor for the time being she gave her initial impression of the spell. It was a simultaneous barrage of seven beams of light, roughly a meder across each, upon a designated target at a glance. But there were still unknown variables to take into account.

Was it specifically due to the fact she was focused on a single target that made them converge? Or would it work on multiple targets within an effective radius? What was the maximum range?

As she finished listing these off, Bell turned his attention back to Primo and asked, “Can you do it again to find out?”

“I’m not sure,” Primo admitted. “I feel funny.”

“She’s suffering from post-magic rigor at the moment,” Lefiya interjected, her eyes turning to the Elf to see the shivers running through her body. “Forcing a spell will only hurt her if it doesn’t backfire or fail.”

“Is that so?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve experienced that before.”

“The more Mind and magic power flowing through your body, the greater the rigor it causes,” she explained. “I mean, it’s not like Miss Mikoto can cast her spell back-to-back after she sustains it for a while, right? She needs time between casts to gather herself, unlike you or Mister Welf, whose spells come out so quickly but are either circumstantial or normally weak. Typically, the longer the chant the longer the rigor lasts.”

That was part of what made the Demi-Spirit so terrifying when they had faced it on the 59th Floor. It could not only use Ultra-Long Incantation spells, but it could also cast them back-to-back with next to lapse between them. By all accounts, that thing was a monster in might and magic alike.

Lefiya addressed her charge next. “Take a seat and take deep breaths to try to relax. Keep counting how long it takes for your body to normalize in your head so we’ll have a measure for how long you can go between casts. It’ll shorten as you get used to it and the Mage Development Ability will help… oh, and can I have permission to borrow your spell?”

Primo quirked her head in confusion. “Huh?”

“My title of Thousand Elf comes from the fact that I can use the spell of other Elves,” Lefiya clarified. “Specifically, my Elf Ring spell allows me to use any spell cast by an Elf so long as I know the chant and understand the effect. I’m asking permission more out of courtesy.”

Elf Ring was a one-of-a-kind spell that laid bare every spell of Elven kind, which meant she had access to every spell from the Elves within her Familia as well as any she came across if the requirements were met. The fact that this was known would naturally cause some level of friction with others, as what should have been something exclusive to them was just another option for her to pick and choose at her leisure. To be jealous was mortal, but Familia had to be able to work together, so to ease any potential tensions she placed a self-imposed rule that she would only borrow a spell if she had explicit consent—such as when Filvis gave her permission to use Dio Grail.

It also cut down on decision paralysis, as having too many options could be a detriment. If she needed to use an offensive spell her own came at much less of a cost. The only exceptions were when she needed to hit far above her weight or a specific scenario, in which case the best possible choices usually came from Lady Riveria’s spell list—offense, defense, and healing.

But it also gave her a rare opportunity to showcase just what Primo’s spell could do in the hands of someone with more experience and how to best instruct her. “So, may I use it?”

Primo bobbed her head. “Please do.”

“Thank you.” Turning her attention to the center of the room, Lefiya began her own song before her audience of two. “I beseech the name of Wishe! Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains. Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance. Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

The magic circle the hue of her soul, aureate in color, formed a stage around her feet. It shed mote of light into the air, which tingled from magical energy. The Summon Burst connected, the ring of faeries encircling her, and at that moment the gateway to her kin was thrust open as the cost was paid.

Glimmering purple eyes. A hitched breath. Ignorant of how the child was captivated by the sight, Lefiya continued to sing. “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash. Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!

Her chant summoned the constellation once more, seven stars loitering in the air. However, unlike when Primo did so, the daystars were far brighter. Then, when those stars fell to earth, they did so within a row of luminous rays the size of columns, a soft hum birthing a roaring crash as the light seared the earth where it landed.

Lefiya exhaled while looking over her own handiwork. She took in the size of the area that had been blasted along with what she presumed was the cost to her Mind in the aftermath, slowly weaving together her thoughts on it—

THAT WAS AMAZING!

—when the Half-Elf Mage was ripped from her inner contemplation as Primo jumped up with a cheer. The girl who had only cast a spell that should have belonged to her and only her for the first time in her life responded to the near-instant appropriation and upstaging of said spell not with envy or infuriation. But, instead, she held youthful awe and jubilation in her glimmering eyes.

“You really can use the spells of others!” she continued.  “You have Lady Riveria’s spells too, right? All nine of them? Can you show me them as well? Pleasepleaseplease!”

“Maybe later,” Lefiya conceded, mildly surprised at her elation at the spectacle. It was… novel, but not unwelcomed. “But, before that, did you remember to keep count of how long until your post-magic rigor wears off?”

Her pretty face scrunched up as she realized she had lost count. “Ah… oops….”

“It’s fine this time,” Lefiya assured her. “Your spell is wonderful and has a lot of potential. Depending on how you use it you’ll be able to adjust depending on whether or not you’re dealing with a single target or multiple ones since you can aim each star before the trigger. And the higher your Magic, the more powerful it’ll be.”

“So I should try to get my Magic Rank to above S-rank then?” Primo asked.

“Just getting it to be high enough to reach the D-rank should be fine since after that you’ll only need an accomplishment to Level up and can go deeper into the Dungeon to avoid diminishing returns. Any higher than that will be incredibly difficult on the Upper Floors… besides, it takes years to reach the S-rank, and I’ve never heard of anyone getting higher than that.”

“But the Captain had Double S-ranks on most of his Status when he passed Level One and Level Two,” Primo pointed out without a shred of mockery or doubt. “Lady Hestia showed me his old Status sheets and I saw them.”

Lefiya… blinked at that. It was the sheer casual way she mentioned that which dumbfounded the Thousand Elf, who had seen much in her tenure as an adventurer. Then she turned towards Bell with her brow raised, the unasked question carried in her gaze.

“I’ll explain later,” Bell said from his position further back. There was a small collection of monster corpses that weren’t there before. He had been busy dealing with them attempting to sneak in whether drawn from the spellfire or recently born from the walls.

It wasn’t a denial.

Right…” Lefiya took a moment to process that tidbit before focusing on the impressionable young Elf in front of her. “Even if you can get above S-rank, Bell is an exception to common sense. It’s fine if you want to grind up your Magic, but it should be after you get the Mage Development Ability. Understand?”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” she answered dutifully. Then they continued to practice, one after another, as Bell began dragging corpses into the room to be used for target practice and dealing with clearing out their way back. It was after her fourth volley that the expected happen as Primo began to sway on her feet. “Did you see me that timeeee….”

“Looks like three times is Primo’s safe limit for the moment,” Lefiya said as she caught her before she could fall over. The girl was out cold, so she turned to address her younger brother. “Don’t let her fire off a fourth volley unless you absolutely need to do so, and keep in mind that doing that will pretty much leave her unable to cast a spell for the rest of the day even when she regains consciousness—her limit will increase with her Level and the Mage Development ability but, at that point, if she strains herself too much it’ll take more than a day to recover.”

If post-magic rigor prevented back-to-back spell casting until one became familiarized with the strain of it, then Mind exhaustion was what prevented one from overreaching when you were a Mage. Even with a Magic Potion to help replenish one’s reserves, the strain of it weighed heavy on the body and mind—a reminder she had from when Argonaut had pushed her Arcs Ray beyond her limit and left her with a headache for quite some time.

“Teaching her archery is also an option since that’ll help her with learning trajectories and you don’t have a lot of long-ranged options outside of your little friend and Firebolt. She needs to be able to do more than just cast spells to make it as a Mage, otherwise, she’ll be useless when she hits her limit.”

“That’s a lot to take in at once,” Bell said as he came over with a Magic Potion and carefully raised her chin so he could tip it into her mouth slowly. Primo swallowed on reflex. “Still, I really can’t thank you enough for all of this.”

“I’m just paying forward what I was taught and learned,” she told him before making sure that Primo was unconscious and they were alone. Then she asked the obvious question. “Now, about your Status going above S-rank?”

She had thought it to be a joke that Lady Hestia may have played on the girl as they laid her down to rest. Motivation to give her a number to aim for like how Lefiya admired Lady Riveria. But apparently it was not.

“It’s true,” he began. “Both times I’ve gone from one Level to the next all my Status have been S-rank or above. That’s part of the reason Lady Hestia also hurried with raising my Level and learned how to lock my Status after the Minotaur incident. The Loki Familia members who were there likely saw I had all S-Rank before the final update I had for Level One.”

Nnn…” Everything in her body wanted to believe he was joking. She knew he probably had a Rare Skill, but… to that extent was still hard to swallow. But it explained why everyone was so on edge before they went further into the Dungeon to deal with the Demi-Spirit. They knew all along but kept it a secret because they weren’t supposed to know. “SS-rank exists?”

He nodded. “It goes one rank higher too.”

Her slender fingers ran through her hair at that. The maximum had always been thought to be S-rank because going past that was so difficult. And, realistically, there should be no situation where you ended up gaining that much Excelia and not rising to the next Level…

Except, she was grinding up to get S-rank herself and holding off on going to Level Four. Every point counted, as Lady Loki told her. And then there were Bete’s words about surpassing Riveria. Why could they see beyond a limit that she couldn’t?

“Well, at least that explains why you were on par with Hyacinthus during the War Game,” Lefiya conceded. “And for you to get your points that high after a week of training… your Skill gives you accelerated growth by a ludicrous amount, doesn’t it?”

Her brother admitted to it. “It’s called Realis Freese. The description stated it was the ‘crystallization of an ancient pledge rekindled upon meeting one bound by fate’ and it gives me immunity to Charm as well.”

She had never heard of such a Skill, meaning it must have indeed been a rare one. But what caught her attention more so was the wording and how similar a part of it sounded. “Vow of Elcos… I obtained that after what happened in the Under Resort. The description reads ‘the birth of an everlasting bond. Raises attributes and allows for synchronization while working in tandem with those bound by fate to the Clown March’.”

Bell’s brows folded in at that. Recognition. “The Clown March… I’ve heard that before. Grandpa once referred to it as another name for the tale of Argonaut.”

“Which is the same name as your other Skill and the name of Fina’s brother, who shared the same homeland of Elcos,” Lefiya added. “They really are connected somehow. I figured that might be the case when Argonaut was passed onto me, but even the wording is similar—bound by fate.”

There really were too many coincidences at this point. She was still working her way through the memoirs at the moment, but she did have time to speak with Tiona about some of her versions of Argonaut that she had read. None of them referenced the homeland or the Clown March, so the fact that Bell’s Grandfather apparently knew a different version of more common stories held weight in itself.

She still refused to acknowledge that one on the High Elf Queen Celdia as anything short of blasphemous though. “This is starting to give me a headache at this point.”

“It does seem to be a bit complicated,” Bell admitted. “Lady Hestia felt it was important to keep the information a secret outside of our Familia. You’re the exception since we’re already in this deep and you’ve got a key to the place. But we still don’t want it to get out.”

“We’ve got at least two or three secrets between us that would cause problems if it got out, so what’s one more at this point…” The Half-Elf trailed off as she recalled something pertaining to said secrets and reached into her bag. “Speaking of which, Mother sent something for me to give you.”

Bell’s ruby eyes were half-folded in confusion as he grabbed the letter and heard the soft clink of metal within it. Then he opened it carefully with the non-bloodied knife he carried and from within he pulled out what looked to be a small pendant on a golden chain. There, embossed on the pendant, was an emblem that appeared to be a two-pronged spear with three lightning bolts to the left and right of it. “This is…”

The emblem of the Zeus Familia,” Lefiya murmured as the familiar sight brought memories to her mind. Times when her mother would sit her on her lap and regale her with stories she heard from their father. “But why did she send it?”

Azure and rubellite eyes shifted their attention to the letter where her mother had written in exquisite cursive to address her brother.

Bell Cranel.

Words cannot express the joy that I felt when I received my daughter’s letter that told me the two of you had reunited as brother and sister. I had always been worried about how you were fairing since that day we met and parted ways. Though I may not have been your mother, you were the child of the love of my life, and with his passing, you have become one of the few treasures that he left in this world.

It also makes me happy to hear you are following in your father’s footsteps. If your heart is as brave as his, I’m certain you’ll be a great Adventurer just as he was.

As Lefiya has told me you did not possess any memento of your father, I have included a pendant that he gifted me before parting ways. Though I am loathed to leave it, he has already gifted me something far more precious—my daughter.

So please treasure it. And should you find the opportunity, please write to me. I would love to hear how you were raised into being such a wonderful young man.

Also, from what my daughter has told me, you’ve become quite dashing as well. If you were anything near as charming as your father, I imagine you already have many suitors willing to take your hand. But should you find yourself looking for one such person, your sister should know plenty of Elven women who may catch your fancy.

I would love to see my grandchildren within the next few years.

G-Grandchildren…” The words clawed their way from Bell’s throat as he whipped his head around to find that his sister was blushing as she covered her eyes in embarrassment. “What does she mean by that!?”

“Well, we’re siblings because we share the same blood through our father,” Lefiya began, rubbing her ears that had turned as red as his eyes. “It doesn’t matter if she’s not your birth mother, you’re as good as her own child since you’re the child of the man she loved enough to have me with. We’re family, so your children would be her grandchildren and a way for her to remain connected to Father even as the centuries go on.”

And to be honest that was probably the best outcome considering how they were blood-tied and how their father was no longer around. Her mother having her and learning about Bell meant that his legacy lived on through them, from her half-Human features to his eyes. So she treated him more maternally, something that she would have loved to have done when he was younger if not for Lefiya’s insistence when she was younger and the guilt about her living circumstances.

But it would not be unheard of for an Elf who had lost a loved one to fall to their grief and become desperate to find some way to fill in that void. That included pursuing the child or sibling of said person if there was enough of a resemblance and they were at sexual maturity. There were Elven novels here in Orario that were best sellers with that premise for a reason—a taboo tale of a heroine falling in love with a hero only to find they were unattainable, so they shifted their attention toward a descendant.

“As for me playing matchmaker,” she continued. “I suspect that’s because of my own preferences when it comes to partners. Considering all Mother went through to give birth to me, it’d be hypocritical for her to tell me to find a male to have a child with if I wasn’t in love with them. But she still wants grandchildren and you being Human means that any children you have with another Elf will have Elven blood, and thus have a lifespan measured in centuries that she can dote on.”

Grandpa always said Elves had a different perspective but hearing that from you is another thing entirely….” Bell paused for a moment as a thought crossed his mind. “Wait, your mother was over a century old already when I met her that time?”

“Remember, the culture inside and outside of forests vary due to how long we live,” Lefiya said as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. “By those standards, around a century is the prime age to get married and start working towards having children since our race has such low birthrates that it can take a decade of effort to conceive. Her being pregnant with me so soon was because Father was Human, and she probably expects it to be the same for you… actually, how friendly are you with Miss Ryuu and that Guild Advisor of yours.”

Bell sputtered to form words as his face grew luminous. “Miss Ryuu is just a friend, and Miss Eina treats me like a little brother—Miss Flott even calls me as much. There’s no way they’d be interested in a guy like me.”

“It’d be more believable if you said that without blushing, but I’m not going to press you on it…” That being said she wasn’t sure how to feel about another Half-Elf stepping into her sororal duties. “Just avoid the Pleasure District. I can tell you right now that being kidnapped by Amazons is not fun.”

How would you… nevermind…” Her brother groused before looking down at the pendant that once belonged to their father. His expression softened. “The Zeus Familia…. Grandpa told me they were destroyed by the Black Dragon.”

“That’s the story I’ve heard,” she answered, her own expression softening. “They were one of the first Familia ever formed and among the most powerful. Grand Day celebrates their defeat of Behemoth and Leviathan fell to Hera. But that monster managed to kill both of them off, and then Zeus and Hera were both ran out of Orario by the Loki and Freya Familia.”

The Black Dragon—a monster that has existed since ancient times. One of the eldest and most powerful in existence, birthed from the Dungeon before the lid was placed upon it. It succeeded where its counterparts that covered the Land and Sea failed.

Her brother’s expression turned to surprise as he faced her. He didn’t know about that last part it seemed. “What do you mean?”

“Even though they failed, they reigned supreme in Orario for a thousand years,” she answered honestly. “They could rebuild in a few years if they had access to the Dungeon. So, the Loki Famila and Freya Familia exiled them to prevent that. It’s too hard to raise one’s Level outside of Orario that high barring very specific circumstances—let alone enough to compete with current status quo.”

Bell swallowed a held breath at that, while several expressions flashed on his face. For one who had been raised on stories of heroes, it probably seemed rather cruel that the reward for their heroism was to be beaten down when they were at their lowest and chased away so they couldn’t stand back up.

“It’s not like Lady Loki or the members of my Familia are bad people,” Lefiya said, knowing how her joining Loki’s Familia could be perceived as an act of betrayal in light of that. But the simple fact was that her father was dead by then, and she had no reason to be attached to a Familia that couldn’t keep him safe.

“I never said you were,” Bell told her, brushing his hair in the process. “Miss Aiz, Miss Tiona, you—all of you have helped me even when you didn’t have to. People call you heroes like the Braver. But I still don’t understand why they’d do that in the first place. Aren’t we all working towards making the world a place where everyone can smile?”

“That was fifteen years ago, so maybe things were different?” It was the only answer she could give him as she reached out and traced the emblem embossed on the pendant.  There were times after learning what she did that she wanted to ask Lady Riveria why they would have done so. It was underhanded in a way that didn’t suit her or the others. “At least, that’s what I want to believe.”

She wanted to believe that they had a good reason for doing so. She wanted to believe that the people who had been supporting and protecting her, even at the risk of their lives, had a reason for that. That it was for the betterment of everyone else.

“Anyway, we should head back to the surface,” Lefiya said, rising to her feet and scooping up the still sleeping Neophyte Elven Mage. “We’ll let Primo rest for a bit while we head to the Great Gnome Library. She can use some of the books there for a reference with her Magic studies.”

Bell kept his gaze on the pendant for a moment longer. Then he tucked it and the letter in his pouch before joining them. He was the vanguard and so he had to clear the path of the monsters that were waiting for them to emerge after all.

Still, the thoughts that came to his mind would linger for a time as they said goodbye.

It would be a few days before they saw one another again.


Fanfic Recommendation 106


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 17 – 21

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated



The Beast of Beacon 37 – 39

A RWBY Fanfiction

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


An Unexpected Greeting
A Pokemon Fanfiction

Summary: The Champion of the Sinnoh region visits Alola, and while there, she agrees to participate in an exhibition match. Professor Kukui manages to score tickets to the match for himself and his students, and they are all immeasurably excited to attend.

After the battle is over, the Professor and his students run into Champion Cynthia herself – and she quickly shocks them all when she greets Ash and Pikachu like old friends!


Fate Reach Out 47

A Persona 4 x FSN Fanfiction

Summary: A chance decision leads to an unlikely discovery. The mention of a rumor leads to an unbelievable mystery. And the connection to a long forgotten family leads to an unforgettable experience. Welcome to Inaba, Yu Narukami… or should I say Shirou Emiya? (Co-Authored by Nameless Flame Wielder up to Ch.21).


Shattered Reflection 28

A Fire Emblem Awakening Fanfiction
Summary: In one world, Robin died abandoned by those she thought friends, with the sword of her lover driven into her chest. In another world, a young man with no memories of his past was trusted to guide Ylisse in war. Given a new chance, the broken queen will make sure this young tactician survived, no matter the cost.



Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 21 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 21: Shopping Trip

The rest of the journey only grew more difficult. Argo had no talent for fighting monsters, but he still fought them only to get hurt more and more. If it were just him alone, he could probably run away, but I was not as fast as him and would be left behind. That was why he fought.

 More and more it felt like I should have remained behind in the safety of the village, but I could never bring myself to tell that to him. Not when he was forcing himself to smile so much. Not when he brought me along and took on wounds for me.

There had to be something I could do for him. But what was it? What could I do to help my brother?

—What Could I Do For Him

[-|-|-|-]

Hmm… it suited the forest but the festival is…

Peering at herself in the mirror, she who bore the title of Thousand Elf creased her lips into a soft frown as she gazed at her reflection.

It was early morning of the day after meeting Primo Libera, the Elven Child with grand aspirations. All that was left was to head over to Bell’s home since she had already eaten a light breakfast ahead of the others, having made her intentions of going out for the rest of the day known to her Familia. That was to say she intended to do some training and studying after retrieving Forest’s Teardrop.

But before that, she wanted to take into consideration her choice of garments for her date with Filvis. It was the outfit that she had worn to the Spirit Forest, provided by Lady Riveria herself to protect her purity as per tradition when venturing to the sacred location filled with Unicorns and Spirits. It was more elegant than anything she owned and so she thought it would be perfect for the occasion, showing just enough skin while being tasteful enough to not offend Elven sensibilities.

Plus, she already knew that Filvis appreciated the sight.

A soft whistle rang out as she did a twirl. She looked over to see that her roommate was there, having opened the door at some point. The fact that she didn’t hear her meant she was deeper in thought than she expected.

Elfy’s green eyes were raised in mild surprise as she took in the normally conservative Half-Elf’s appearance. “When did you get that outfit?”

“Lady Riveria gave it to me for a special occasion,” Lefiya explained. The situation in the Spirit Forest was a secret, so it was the best she could give. “I was planning on wearing it for my date at the Holy Moon Festival.”

Elfy’s lips quirked slightly at that. “So that Elf from the Dionysus Familia asked you out?”

Mm-hmm~” And Filvis had done so completely out of her own desire rather than being led into it. That fact still left Lefiya’s chest to flutter.  “She asked me yesterday evening, right in front of the fountain outside of Babel and everything. It was so romantic when I think back on it.”

Granted, Filvis ran away right afterward. It must have been hard for her to admit as much, given her past and the association with the name of Banshee. Lefiya had been working hard to get her away from that mindset. Even if her feelings had been rejected, she would have put aside her broken heart for the sake of remaining her friend so that she could continue to smile.

Or so she told herself.

“I’m happy for you, but won’t that complicate things in the long run?” There was a note of caution in Elfy’s voice as she said that. “I mean, being friendly with a member of another Familia is one thing. But a romance is…”

“Lady Loki already gave me her blessing to pursue the relationship since she and Lord Dionysus are on such good terms,” Lefiya mentioned while holding out the sides of the dress, offering her a better view. “Mind giving me a second opinion?”

“Sure.” The Human Mage made a twirling motion with her finger and watched as Lefiya did so slowly, eyes drawn to the way the materials elegantly flowed with the motion. “You look… gorgeous just how you are. I’m sure she’ll love it.”

“Thanks,” Lefiya said with a grateful smile before heading over to a privacy screen, her normal clothes hanging on top of it. She made light conversation while changing behind the diving screen. “If it isn’t a bother, would you mind asking Alicia if I could borrow her Elven Cream?”

“Ah… the burning stuff, you mean?” There was a noticeable disdain in her voice. The Secret Elven Cream shared between them was great at clearing one’s complexion, but it was quite… unpleasant as it did its work. “I’m guessing you don’t want to ask her yourself because it’d be awkward to do so to get ready for a date given the whole incident.”

Lefiya recoiled as if struck before peeking her head around the divider, blushing. “We all agreed never to bring that up again!”

The infamous Alicia Incident—born of what she interpreted were mixed messages from the forestborn, inebriation, and budding sexuality. Alicia did embody all of the physical traits she liked in a partner, so it was natural she held some attraction. But attempting to clumsily seduce her was purely because she had not been in her right mind.

It was embarrassing for all parties involved and was the reason she swore off both drinking and dating within the Familia ever again.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said, lightly waving her hand with an expression that said otherwise. Then she held up a letter. “This is for you. It was in the morning mail.”

“That must be from Mother…” She finished changing before receiving the letter. Sure enough, it was set to address her in their native script, but it felt heftier than normal. Taking it over to her desk, she used a letter opener to slit it and pulled out not only the letter inside but a second smaller envelope.

It was addressed to her brother in the common script and there was something inside of it.

Lefiya quickly shuffled it into her bag before reading her own letter to grasp the context. Her mother was responding to her previous letter about the Spirit Forest and taking after looking over her brother. She asked that Lefiya give it to him, which made sense.

But then she noticed something about the contents didn’t make sense. Wait, I didn’t write to Mother about the Dragon we fought in the Spirit Forest.

“Is something up?” Elfy asked before she could linger on it.

“Nothing,” Lefiya said before shuffling the letter into the desk drawer, next to Fina’s Memoirs. “Do you have any plans for the festival?”

“Me, Rakta, and a few of the others were just going to go in a group,” she said casually while playing with the stuffed animal Lefiya kept nearby. Even though she didn’t need to sleep with it anymore, she still thought it was cute and so she left it out. “I think Leene does have someone else in mind given how she reacted when Aki mentioned it, but she was being all quiet about it.”

That grabbed Lefiya’s interest given the kind-hearted Healer was rather subdued. She could only imagine what man had managed to capture her interest enough to warrant her making such a bold move. If she’s keeping it a secret then she has her reasons, I’m sure.

Ruminating on romantic partners aside, Lefiya finished getting ready and made for the door. “I’ll be going now. Oh, and thanks for letting me borrow your Vanishment Rod. I’ll pay you back some time.”

Elfy just waved goodbye as she closed the door and went about her way.

If the Half-Elf had been a second slower to shut the door, she would notice her roommate looking enviously at the dress while brushing the curve of her ears.

[-Outside of Hearthstone Manor-]

“I really didn’t think it’d be this bad…”

Lefiya admitted as she watched with muted horror at the throng of bodies outside of what had once been the stronghold for the Apollo Familia. Now that the renovations had been done, the newly christened Hearthstone Manor had become the publicly known chief location of the Hestia Familia. And thus, it had also garnered a lot of attention.

There was a myriad of people—men, women, big, small, Dwarves, Humans, Cat People, Elves, and even more outside of the gate. There were enough people to where she couldn’t see past them unless she got to a higher elevation from the alleyway a modest distance away. Thankfully she didn’t need to do so.

“Me neither,” said her brother, having appeared mere moments ago with Lady Hestia in his arms and Primo hanging off his back. He was stupidly fast for a Level Two, so at Level Three not a single person beneath that Level would be able to see him if he really moved. Taking advantage of that, he managed to slip out faster than any of the crowd had noticed with his goddess and charge.

“They’re annoying, but there isn’t much we can do about it right now,” Lady Hestia said in a bitter tone that did not suit the Goddess of the Hearth as her child let her down. Such was her annoyance at her current predicament as she straightened out her white apron that stood out against the red beneath it. But there really wasn’t much they could do about the situation so long as none of them stepped over the boundary of the gates uninvited.

At that point, they were trespassers and could be dealt with accordingly. But until then their solicitations were entirely legal—annoying, but legal.

Still, Level Three senses on top of Elven hearing afforded Lefiya a lot of leeway in making out what the crowd was saying and thus gathering the type it was. None of them were of any importance as any merchant or official representative of a respectable establishment or organization would forward them mail or schedule a meeting. They would not crowd around like a pack of Hellhounds waiting for the chance to feast.

There were three camps right now—those there to join, those there for Bell, and those for Welf.

A good majority of them were trying to join the Familia, knowing that it was the prime time to do so since they had risen in rank and thus a higher tax bracket. The fact that Hestia took him in without a Falna meant she was open to just about everyone, which was a great prospect for all of them. The fact that Primo had just been registered probably did not make things better on that front—and they weren’t going to broadcast her circumstances.

Bell’s solicitations were… generally expected of him being the Record Holder. Some were prospective recruits for other Familia from the sound of it, wanting to pull him into their net since he was on the rise. They had about a snowballs’ chance in the Dragon’s Urn, but they were still going to try for the sake of saying they did.

But the worst by far were the Amazons among their numbers, whose intentions were seduction. They weren’t lovestruck like Tione but they knew they were attractive and Bell was a young man, so an invitation to the Pleasure District was not off the table. The problem was they were not shy about voicing it among themselves either.

She had never even heard of some of the things they were suggesting, leaving her red in the face. And a glance at her brother, covering Primo’s ears while nursing a brighter blush, told her that he heard them loud and clear as well. Level Three hearing had its downsides.

Those for Welf were divided into two groups as well. The first were those who wanted to make a deal for one of his Magic Swords, muttering about how low of a price they could get or how high they could go, either for use or resell. Most likely the latter given how infamous they were meant that having an authentic Crozzo Magic Sword would go for enough that a small country would need to clear its treasury for it.

The second were those who hated him for them. The latter spoke in low, hushed whispers or Elvish—she was used to mocking whispers due to her heritage, but it had never been outright malicious like she could hear. And she suspected the only reason it didn’t escalate beyond muted threats was because it would be picking a fight with their entire Familia, which they had gone through great pains to demonstrate why that was a bad idea.

Most buildings were a lot less sturdy than a castle that fell in less than an hour and a lot more flammable.

Still… he really put himself into the fire for Bell’s sake, didn’t he? Lefiya felt obliged to do something for him, but there was nothing she could really do. Unless Lady Riveria herself told them to leave him be, they would likely continue to just quietly harass him, and throwing her name around wasn’t something she liked to do unless absolutely necessary.

“Miss Lefiya, are we going to get my staff now?” Primo asked innocently, bringing the Thousand Elf’s attention back to why she was there in the first place.

Lefiya nodded and put on a smile just for her. “That’s right. We’re not far from where my own has finished being repaired, so we’ll pick them up together. Then we’ll take you to get your battle clothes before we head into the Dungeon.”

The child smiled brightly in response, eager and excited to take her first steps in becoming a Mage. It reminded Lefiya of her younger self back in the Educational District. And that same smile elicited one from her goddess and Captain.

Guiding them northwest and away from the mansion, Lefiya led them to a shop located off the side street that branched from the Northwest Main Street. The streets twisted, almost like a maze, to where shadows cast from the buildings surrounding it dimmed the light until they found a staircase heading further downwards. The child momentarily faltered from the unfamiliar air of the location, but Bell squeezed her shoulder ever so lightly as if to say that it would be all right when they finally came to a stop in front of a wooden door that was slightly warped and looked as though it were carved into the trunk of a tree.

“Good morning, Miss Leona!” greeted the Half-Elf Mage as she opened the door with a slight groan of the hinges, and strange yet poignant scents washed over them as they were cast in the dim light of magic stone lanterns designed to resemble fireballs hanging overhead. Shelves lined with magical reagents, drop items from monsters, and expensive concoctions filled in empty space to give it a slightly confined feeling.

In the back, opposite the store entrance, was a figure clad in dark robes, with a pointed hat that slouched over haggardly adorned their head. Her white hair was long and frayed, her nose long and slightly hooked, and around her neck were dozens of crystals strung into necklaces.

Her head craned upwards, and her leathery lips pulled back into a smile. “I was expecting you to come alone, but I see you have company—an infamous one at that.”

Bell realized he was the latter when her eyes fell onto him. “Me?”

“Many eyes are on you child,” she said ominously. “The ability to augment one’s spells or another’s is not something that goes unnoticed to us who practice the Art. And then there is the Mage Bane as they call him, inflicting an Ignis Faatus on that poor girl. Dreadful.”

Lefiya sighed at her teasing. “Miss Leona, you’re not going to tell me Alterna is coming after them next are you?”

“I imagine they would not be the first on that list,” she brushed off before reaching behind the counter and pulling out Lefiya’s beloved staff. “All of the magic stones have been replaced. Though I have to question how you managed to break so many at once—mirroring your master a little too much now?”

“The situation was complicated,” Lefiya said as she strode over and gingerly took her precious staff in hand once more. The cool touch of the Seiros and dazzling hue of the Forest’s Tear in the center, surrounded by the azure magic crystals, were a sight for sore eyes.

“And who do we have here?” Leona inquired, staring towards the child whose nervousness was palpable.

“Her name is Primo,” Lefiya said. “She was anointed by Lady Hestia and received a Magic Slot, so I brought her here in order to receive her first staff since she’ll have to grow into it. Please be patient with her for the time being.”

She then turned to the child. “And Primo, Miss Leona is a very talented Mage. But unlike us, she specializes in the creation of magical implements and other items. It’s a different path but it all comes from the same basis, and only others who study the Art of Magic can create such things. That’s why you need to study hard. Understand?”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” the Neophyte Elven Mage said while nodding in understanding. “And it’s nice to meet, Miss Leona. I’ll be in your care.”

“A polite child. I wonder if you’ll turn out to be as monstrous as your mentor here.” She then extended her clawed hand towards the wall that was lined with staves. “You’ll find the beginner staves at the far end. I’m sure Little Miss Thousand can help you pick out an appropriate one.”

Primo’s eyes turned to them before scurrying over as Lefiya followed afterward. That left Bell and Hestia to take in their surroundings. Unlike the other two, they were more familiar with rows of weapons and armor from their jobs, so it was a novel experience.

That was when Bell’s gaze fell onto a leather-bound book that had embellishments upon it in gold and was tucked behind a glass case on a high shelf—visible and meant to be an item of importance. “Is that a Grimoire?”

Miss Leona’s eyes perked up at that. “Oh, you recognize one?”

Well, I may have seen one from a distance before…” He scratched his cheek even as his eyes fell onto the price tag. The current rate was around 99,575,000 Valis, and it was clear the price had been marked down a number of times, which was honestly even more terrifying. “Goddess, you weren’t kidding when you said they were expensive.”

“Hephaestus mentioned that creating something like that required an extremely gifted Mage,” Hestia mused as she stared at their surroundings in part curiosity and part fascination. “You must be fairly talented, Young Lady.”

“You humor me, goddess,” said the elderly Human with a chuckle. Only those whose lifespans could be measured beyond centuries would refer to her as young. “My talent is modest compared to those who have much longer to refine their talent. An acquaintance merely gifted it to me, but should your little Mage ever need the push to develop a new spell…”

It was a valid option. Gaining a single spell upon receiving the Falna was fortunate and the circumstances where they appeared were also completely random. It was entirely possible she would not gain a second spell throughout her long life. And considering how much Bell had benefited from the Grimoire he had seen from a distance and did not read… it would be a lie to say that it was not worth the price.

“As for the boy, though we typically cater to Mages, we do provide some things for individuals such as yourself.” She gestured towards a collection of magic crystals that were on display in a myriad of scintillating colors. “A magic crystal of the corresponding element affixed to your gauntlet can enhance the power of your offensive spell and creating dual ones are within my ability. But, considering how you can increase the output of your spell on a whim, I’ve no doubt they would suffer the same fate as the crystals I just had to replace.”

In other words, the magic crystal would just break after a single boost while used under Argonaut. And considering how much those cost it was an expensive one-shot use. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Miss Leona, we’ve picked out one,” Lefiya called, drawing their attention to the one that Primo had gotten. It was an Oaken Staff but the wrapping around it was a slight lavender hue. “Can you pre-treat it, so it’ll be more durable in case she needs to use it as an emergency weapon and blood won’t soak into it?”

“Taking inspiration from that Elf from the War Game, are you?” The wizened witch humored before applying some kind of solution to it and then ran a cloth over it, giving it a sheen that wasn’t present before. “The treatment would normally be another three thousand valis, but since I’m gaining a loyal customer, I will do so for free this time.”

“Thank you very much,” Primo said cheerfully as her eyes glimmered while cradling her new staff. She brought it to her cheek and smiled. “I’ll take good care of it.”

That done, they left the Witch’s Secret House and ventured towards the clothier to arrange for Primo to have some clothing to wear into the Dungeon. There was one she was familiar with from before she joined the Loki Familia—and had originally designed her current outfit.

Guiding them to a clothier boutique that had mannequins on display with garments and accessories that catered to multiple races rather than exclusive ones found on most of the clothing shops. That was because it was showcasing that they provided the same designs to accompany many different races, rather than conforming to a specific sensibility. They even had signs written in the different native written languages listing the materials that they were made out of and pricing for the different sizes.

A chime rang as the door opened. “Hello. Lucia, are you in?”

In the back of the shop, a flower shifted from just behind what looked to be a loom in the process of being worked to create a patterned design in some delicate-looking cloth. Then the flower was revealed to be nestled in a bed of luxurious, honey-brown hair. It framed the visage of a girl whose eyes held the same hue as the locks that flowed down her back, a warm smile coming into bloom on her face.

“Lefiya, back so soon?” she asked, rising up to come around and greet her guest. Her eyes fell onto Bell and recognition dawned. “Oooohhh~”

“Just. Rumors.” Lefiya preempted her, knowing full well what those glimmers dancing in her eyes were representative of. The fact that her regular battle clothes needed repair after the initial chase with the Apollo Familia meant she brought them here and naturally the rumors had spread by then. Then she set a hand on Primo’s head. “We’re here to pick up some battle clothes for her. She just joined Lady Hestia’s Familia and I decided to walk them around as a favor.”

Ahh, how drab.” She could have sounded less disappointed before she came closer and took in the sight of the Elven Child holding a staff preciously. Then she leaned over and gave her a gentle smile as she extended her hand. “Hello, I’m Lucia Ramirez—I provide adorable girls like you clothes for inside the Dungeon and out. And you are?”

“Primo Libera,” she answered reaching out and shaking it. “Nice to meet you, Miss Ramirez.”

“Just Lucia is fine, Sweetie.” She then looked to Bell and Hestia. “Did you have any specific needs for her, such as if she’ll be heading further down into the Middle Floors? Or a particular design in mind for her Familia Uniform?”

“No, she’s just received her Falna so I don’t think we’ll take her below the 10th Floor anytime soon,“ Bell answered. “And we don’t have a uniform.”

“I would suggest letting Primo decide on what she wants,” Lefiya offered. “She uses her forest as a communal name so she might not be aware of any designs that have cultural significance, so keeping it simple is better. Then once we know that much, we can give our opinion on if anything needs to be added.”

Lucia nodded in compliance before gently taking Primo’s hand. “Let’s take a look at the designs that have light fabrics without hindering your movements. Almiraj fur tends to work pretty well for the inner lining, so you’ll feel comfortable while casting.”

As Primo followed her, Lefiya decided to look around to see if there were any new designs that she herself was fond of. Not that she planned on buying any new clothing, but she did window shop occasionally and there might be something else that she found to accompany her date outfit. Eventually, she came across a dress that was nestled in the back and on display.

It was a gorgeous dress with the torso being a soft teal color and shoulder-less, open sleeves tethered with crystalline bands that had golden chains adorned by gemstones. The skirt rose and fell, gossamer frills that allowed the pure-white stockings to be displayed, and the floral patterns having blue and white roses. There was also a bonnet to go along with it, adding to the cute aesthetic.

“You really like frilly stuff, don’t you?” The Half-Elf was pulled from her gaze upon the gorgeous work on display by the Goddess of the Hearth. The divinity and her brother had come over to see what had grabbed her attention. “Is that what Elves consider fashionable?”

“It’s my personal preference,” she explained. “Typically, Elves prefer just enough lace and frills to accompany a simpler design that covers the skin to project modesty while also emphasizes the existing features. For women, that would be things that make us appear cuter, while men’s clothing would make them handsome. Something with this many frills and designs would be considered an excessive and it’s not practical to wear in the Dungeon, so I would only be able to wear it on special occasions like the one coming up.”

“There’s an occasion like that coming up?” Hestia asked.

“You only recently descended, and Bell only arrived a little while ago, so I suppose you wouldn’t know,” Lefiya realized. “The Holy Moon Festival is a pretty well-known celebration that has been around since before the descent of the divine. It’s often considered a romantic event as well—Amor Square typically turns into a dancing floor for couples, for example. I’m actually looking forward to attending it this time.”

“That sounds fun,” Hestia mused wistfully before turning to her first child. “Bell, take me that day, will you?”

His reaction was to be shocked, crimson spreading along his cheeks. “Eh?”

“What are you blushing for?” Hestia teased. “You’re just going to take the Goddess your revere so much to have a dance. That’s all.”

Well, I’m still not much of a dancer but I guess I can try…” Feeling awkward, his rubellite eyes turned elsewhere and fell onto the changing room where Lucia and Primo were in. “What will we do if Primo wants to wear something like this to wear into the Dungeon though?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,” Lefiya said. “Lucia an Adventurer, so she knows to consider the practical needs of others on the Upper Floors at the very least. She would never let her wear something that could let her get hurt.”

Bell seemed astonished at that. “She is?”

“Well, I suppose it would be more accurate to say she’s a part-time one,” Lefiya clarified. “Unlike us, she isn’t a dedicated Adventurer so she doesn’t spend all her time in it and works primarily as a stylist and clothier. She’s probably closer to Mister Welf in that she has a lot of technical knowledge on the different materials in the Dungeon and how they are used to make fabrics and cloths for her profession. I think she’s still a Level One.”

“Which Familia does she belong to?” Hestia asked.

“The Dia Familia,” she answered. “It’s a small Familia, but they’ve been longer established than yours and most of the members have jobs outside of being Adventurers. They don’t have a high rank so they won’t be forced to go on expeditions or anything, but they have a single Level Two Captain who is more a researcher or chemist.”

“So that’s how Dia handles things down here, huh…” Hestia tapped her chin at that bit of information. Then the changing room curtains parted and out came her newest child. “All done?”

“Yes, Goddess,” Primo said as she revealed her outfit. It was a light purple dress with matching cuffs and a collar with a red gemstone adorning it. Around her left leg was a pair of holsters for small items and potions, while a small pouch that clamped onto her from the back accompanied it. “How do I look?”

“You look very pretty,” Bell told her gently. “Don’t you think so, Goddess?”

“It feels like something is missing…” Hestia rubbed his chin in thought before going over to a small stand and grabbing two hair ties before walking over. Then she tied her long, blonde hair into a set of twin-tails, not unlike the Goddess of the Hearth. “There we go.”

She brushed the hair ties with her gloves before smiling. “Thank you, Lady Hestia!”

“I would also like to commission a jacket for her similar to mine, but in her own colors,” Lefiya added. “It’s not good to leave too much skin exposed in the Dungeon after all. You can put it on my tab.”

“I can do that, but the materials to make it and the final design won’t be ready for a few days,” Lucia stated.

“I’ll be in the Dungeon at the time, so Bell will have to come to get it then.” She looked to her brother. “Is that okay?”

Bell nodded as Hestia placed Primo’s lavender robes on over her new battle clothes. “I’ll pay you back for it. For all of it.”

“Then come back in about three days,” Lucia told them. “And if there are any adjustments or you want any other clothes tailored, please don’t hesitate to come back.”

That done and their farewells bid to the clothier, they made their way towards Babel. Hestia bid them goodbye and to have a nice day in the Dungeon as she ascended the Elevator to Hephaestus’ storefront. Her children and Lefiya ventured down below the winding staircase and into the depths below.

Soon enough Primo took her first steps into the Upper Floor of the Dungeon.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 20 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 20: The Cost of a Mage

The first major obstacle in our journey came when we had our first encounter with a monster in years. The village had somehow been spared from trouble for the time we had been there, so a part of us forgot just how terrifying even a Goblin could be. But we were reminded when two of them attacked us along the way.

Argo managed to take out one with his sword. But the other managed to knock him down with a stick that it considered a club of some kind. I saw his blood and the next thing I knew I had picked up his sword and had stabbed it deeply to where it collapsed on the ground. I pulled back with my fingers trembling as I couldn’t let the sword go until Argo gently set his hands on mine and soothed me with kind words.

‘Being covered in blood is unsuitable for a flower like you. Leave that to your big brother from now on, okay?’

I started crying in his arms then and there.

—A Random Encounter

[-|-|-|-]

The cavernous, intertwining maze that was the 14th Floor of the Dungeon was filled with hunting noises.

The expansive network of tunnels naturally carved of bedrock held many rooms away from the beaten and well-trodden paths taken by those that normally trespassed upon their dominion. Thus, it provided a quiet den for monsters that had been born to rest until their trek brought them to where they could hunt. Yet their den was in an uproar as a fairy had somehow wandered right into their nest.

A pink-clad sylph had somehow gotten lost from the forests. Now it flew through the dimly lit halls illuminated by the moss that crawled along the wall and ceilings. Its chestnut hair fluttered as it bound away, delving deeper into their lair as slithering serpentine women gave chase with snarls and screeches to let others know that the game was afoot and the hunt was on.

At the same time, in the distance, another fairy was being herded by their kin. A white-clad nymph with long and luxurious black hair.  On its heels were a herd of bunnies brandishing landform blades, hopping as they gave chase.

The walls buckled and crumbled as more were born to fill in their ranks. Hounds from the bowels of Hell, huffing heated embers, fell free from the bedrock. Landing on the heel of the fleeing fairies, they rushed ahead of hunting parties to pincer them both.

With their retreat blocked, the fairies ran towards the only path available. It was a corridor to the side that ran deep but led to a decisive end. For shame, it seemed their chase had come to an end and, when the monsters rounded the corners, they would no doubt find the two fairies embracing one another as they awaited the end.

Perhaps they would slaughter one before the other. Their lovely voices keening would ring throughout the halls as a fine accompaniment to the feast that would take place. It would be a monster party consisting of roasted nymph meat to be washed down by sylph blood tea—prepared by all the participants.

The Lamia Mormos would rip free their wings so they could longer escape and pierce their flesh so that blood colored the cold décor of bedrock. The Almiraj would bound forth and bury their axes within their bodies, butchering them so they could be served up on plates. And the Hellhounds would cook the meat succulent and supple until it fell from their bones.

However, the Hellhounds could not wait. Newborns had no concept of patience, only the unyielding yearning to devour. And so, they hurried to the entrance of the corridor faster than any of their other kin and huffed their heated breaths, bellowing out a sea of flames that ran down the enclosed corridor to turn it into an oven rather than waiting for the others to prepare the meat.

The roar of the flames drowned out all sound as the monster party came to a halt at the mouth of the corridor until the fire abated. The bedrock itself, which was uneven as though the surfaces had been broken or carved into, glowed a bright orange color that crackled softly as smoke rose up. They had overdone it, as such merciless heat would certainly leave only fairy dust behind without a scrap of meat or cup of blood.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer…

That was when they heard it, loud and clear.

From behind the curtain of dark smoke, they heard the voice of the fairy. But it was not a voice twisted from the agony of searing heat charring the flesh and setting every nerve alight. Instead, it was a lilt that had no place being sung within the hellish flames.

It riled their anger to new heights and inflamed their inherent bloodlust to its peak. Not only was their prey still alive, but at least one was well enough to sing joyously when cornered and entrapped. It offended their very nature as the bane of living mortals, such a grievous offense that they could not stand it.

Ignoring the prickling from the still heated stones, they rushed through the smoke with the murderous desire to turn the sylph’s melody into a dirge—

Hrk?!

—and met a wall of light obscuring their path. It was a white mirror that kept away all that stood against it, a stalwart shield brought out by the nymph who was in truth a fairy knight.

And behind that knight was not a defenseless sylph waiting to have her wings plucked, but a fairy sniper whose bow was a staff, and her arrow was being nocked by the golden magic circle spinning beneath her. “Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Hearing the song entering its final verse, the white-clad fairy knight fell behind her charge and dropped the shield that kept them at bay.

And the pink-clad fairy sniper loosed her nocked arrow. “Arcs Ray!

Golden light washed away everything.

[-14th Floor-]

“I didn’t expect Hellhounds of all the things to spawn.”

A soft sigh echoed over the soft cracking of stone as the wall opposite of the corridor laid blown out. Bits of stone fell onto the ash-laden ground beneath it. There were some modest-sized magic stones strewn about, though most had been eradicated by the magical attack.

Bringing her slender fingers to the back of her pale neck, Lefiya Viridis rubbed the spot tenderly as she stood alongside Filvis Challia within the corridor and inspected her work. Their senses were on full alert, listening for the sound of distant footfalls or cracking stone. But it appeared that there were no more threats incoming and so she allowed her guard to fall just a touch as she considered how things had turned out that way.

They had scouted out the rooms stealthily enough that they had a good guess as to the number of monsters and the species. It would have taken them more Mind and time to deal with all of them individually, which was why they had decided to funnel them down the narrow corridor where she could finish them off in a single blast. To that end, they had made the effort to break the walls on all sides and the ceiling itself to create a safe zone before luring them in.

Only death awaited those who would follow a fairy sniper into a narrow corridor.

But no plan survived first contact untested it seemed.

The Hellhounds were not expected since none had been present. They had a ranged magical attack that could have potentially altered the plan. It was only due to being constantly driven to attack mortals by their instinct as monsters and their undeveloped minds compared to the ones that roamed the Deep Floors that they fell into the trap so readily.

“…This strategy has merit but depending on the circumstances there are risks involved that can turn it into a death trap,” Filvis said after consideration. “Had we not thought to break the walls of this corridor ahead of time we very well could have been trapped on both sides. And while we most likely would have prevailed, there was a chance I may not have been able to protect you from getting hurt.”

Being surrounded by all sides was not uncommon for adventurers who delved deeper into the Dungeon. For if there was one thing that was never in short supply, it was monsters who would use their numerical superiority to bring down their foes. Even using a narrow corridor to funnel them was a valid strategy provided you had the means to eliminate them en masse.

The cleansing chalice that offered protection from magical and physical attacks was perfectly suited for keeping them at bay long enough for the fairy sniper to nock and loose an arrow of unyielding accuracy to wipe them out. But there was always a chance for something to go astray. Her shield could break or something else could go awry and the one meant to be protected would be vulnerable, a thought that clearly unsettled the one meant to do the protecting. Such was the ever-present fear of the fairy knight…

“You would have.”

There was no hesitation or uncertainty in the fairy sniper’s voice at the declaration, said with a beautiful smile unfitting of the Dungeon. Such was the depths of Lefiya’s faith in the one who bore the title of Maenads. A faith proven time and again on both the 24th Floor and in the Spirit Forest.

So long as the Elven Magic Swordswoman had breath in her body, she would uphold her duty to protect the Half-Elf Mage. “And I would have protected you as well, of course.”

Deep red eyes shifted away from the beaming smile, as if unworthy to gaze upon it. “I see… still, is it normal to have to take on this kind of Quest as a punishment?”

The Quest in question was that of a Dungeon Sweeper—a person who would travel to paths off the usual routes of the Dungeon to exterminate the monsters there. The floors grew massively in size the deeper you went, and the paths became expansive to the point where exploring every inch of a single floor was time and resource-consuming. The most expedient thing to do was to use a mapped travel route to get straight through.

But monsters born from the Dungeon walls could survive and thrive and build up their numbers. If their numbers were allowed to build up too much then, under the wrong circumstances, they could all at once start a Monster Parade—an irregular outbreak that would create a situation where a lot of adventurers could die. It would be a naturally reoccurring situation like the Nightmare on the 27th Floor.

That was why the Guild regularly called for adventurers to cull their numbers off the beaten paths. If the situation was desperate enough then sometimes it was mandatory for one of the higher-ranked Familia to deal with it, as they had the manpower and strength to traverse deep enough. But this was only on the Middle Floors, and it was more or less selected to be a humbling experience for her on Lady Riveria’s orders.

“Well, even if it was on the Upper Floors, it was still a careless thing for me to do,” Lefiya noted, unable to reveal the exact reason her staff had broken and her Mind had been drained to the point of collapsing. “Making me do this as part of my punishment is only fair, and she did tell me that I could bring someone I trusted along to help instead of having one of the others babysit me. Plus, I can use the magic stones that are leftover to help pay off the loan I took out to get Forest’s Teardrop repaired.”

In her hands was a borrowed staff, an older one from her roommate that was considered a spare. It had not really been tailored for her personal use, so she had to be careful to keep the magical energy funneled through it at a level manageable to avoid breaking it. Though it may not have been expensive compared to her own, it would not do to damage something she borrowed from a friend.

And while Filvis had been her first choice, the number of other vanguards she could have called were limited. Since the results of the War Game and announcement of Bell’s ascension to Level Three, many of the members of her Familia had entered something of a training spree. Such was the depths of their envy that he had gotten to the point where many of them had struggled to reach even after going on an expedition some time ago.

Even she was a little envious of how fast he could grow, but her primary concern was how detrimental his exceptional growth was to what he knew of the Dungeon and the city itself. She had been in Orario for nearly half her life now since entering the Educational District. Bell had been there for two or three months—the Dungeon or the city itself could very well eat him alive if he got over his head.

If Filvis had been busy I suppose I could have asked him, but if news got back to the others then it would have probably caused an uproar, Lefiya thought to herself before turning her attention back to the matter at hand. “Anyway, since this was the last Floor for today we can head back up to the Exchange once I collect the magic stones and drop items. Then we can split it before I report to the Guild.”

“I’ll help you,” insisted the fairy knight, chivalrous before her charge.

The gallantry was welcomed as they took what they could and packed it away in her backpack before finally ascending from the bedrock to the Upper Floors. Though there were a few random encounters along the way they effectively posed no challenge before the pair and by the time evening arrived, they had finished their climb and stood in Central Park. The rays of the setting sun painted the city a glorious golden hue as it washed over the ivory and marble.

It was only once the obvious threat that the Dungeon posed was no longer a factor that the demeanor of a fairy knight faded, and the Maenads revealed herself to be flustered as she came to a stop at the fountain where the clean water glimmered. “L-Lefiya…”

Azure eyes fell onto her at that, their owner pausing mid-step and regarding her body language with an inquisitive tilt of the head. “Is something wrong, Filvis?”

A light shade of red crept up from her cheeks to her ears as she meekly looked away, bringing one of her gloved hands to her heart while the other covered her mouth. Then, in elvish words so soft that the recipient almost couldn’t hear it, she asked, “W…Would accompany me to the Holy Moon Festival?

…Lefiya’s mind froze for a prolonged pause as her mind processed what she heard.

The Holy Moon Festival was also one of the first festivities to mark the coming autumn, a celebration dating back to the Ancient Times. Grand Day would follow some time afterwards. And then there were the winter holidays that were always cold but festive in their own ways.

But the key factor here was that Filvis was asking her on a date.

Though Lefiya had been awaiting a response to the confession and sharing of the Spirit Nut, she had also been content to wait until Filvis was comfortable enough to broach the topic given how guarded she was. And there was the fact that she was competing against Lord Dionysus on whether Filvis’ affections would be returned. That could be interpreted in a number of ways—exclusivity was complex when one of the divine was involved, given what receiving their benediction entailed.

And while she probably should have asked the result of that, Lefiya’s reaction to seeing the meek way her gallant partner was flustered coaxed the warmth from her chest to her head and forced out a response faster than she could think. “Yes! Yesyesyes!”

“Th-Then…ummm…farewell!” Just giving a response seemed to have left her even more flustered as she sprinted away with the speed afforded to a Level Three with clearly higher parameters in Agility than Lefiya. Not quite as fast as her brother by any stretch, but she still managed to clear the park and vanished down the Main Street.

It was only then Lefiya remembered the weight on her back. “Ah… the… Exchange…”

She would have to go alone, it seemed. But she had a notable skip in her step as she did so, crimson stickers plastered on her cheeks as she considered that she had made a breakthrough in reaching the target of her affection. Her gamble in making her feelings clear had been at least rewarded in some measure.

That was almost enough to send her over the moon as she arrived in the Guild Hall and reported the completion of the Dungeon Sweeper Quest to Miss Flot.

That done, she was prepared to head to the Exchange that would be crowded at this time of day as many other adventurers prepared to turn in their goods. While she could wait until morning, she still wanted to see to it the Familia Treasurer applied the portion she earned to her loan before she kept the rest to return to Filvis the next time she saw her.

Do I even have any clothes that are good enough for a date? That question haunted her when she realized how limited her wardrobe happened to be. Dating had been one of her least concerns after the Alicia incident and living up to Lady Riveria’s expectations, so a round of shopping might be in order. Wait, I still have the dress from the Spirit Festival.

“Ah, Lefiya?”

That was when she heard a voice that she recognized calling her from the lobby. She turned to see that her brother in casual clothes, standing in front of an older Half-Elf member of the Guild she thought she might have recognized, wearing a tense but tired expression on her face. And next to him was a young-looking Elf with blonde hair, standing around fifteen celches shorter than him and clad in a traveling cloak.

She approached him. “Bell, I thought you were going to take things easier for a while?”

“Ah… well, things got a little complicated…” He looked over to the child who clenched the hem of his shirt as she looked between them. “Do you have some time to speak with us in a private room?”

[-Private Guild Room-]

“I have… so many questions that I don’t know where to start,” Lefiya began after they had relocated to one of the private rooms within the Guild, guided by the Half-Elf that Bell referred to as Miss Eina. “Starting with why your Guild Advisor was looking so upset?”

“Ah that’s because a lot of things happened last night at the Grand Casino and I ended up getting banned,” he explained, slightly withering beneath her raised brow. “It was for a good reason—to help Miss Syr and Miss Ryuu.”

She remembered the silver-haired Human and the Elven Warrior. The two waitresses that served at the Hostess of Fertility did not strike her as the sort to go to a gambling establishment, but it was not as though she knew them that well. “Why were you even there in the first place?”

“Some of the people who won big by betting on us during the War Game decided to treat me and I ran into them there,” he began. “Then things got complicated and… well, I did owe them both. Plus, we helped people if that nice lady who came by to leave Miss Ryuu flowers and a note was any indication. It’s a shame she apparently left the city before morning.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Lefiya decided before turning her attention to the child sitting off to the side, eating a small treat rapturously. The girl was above average for what Lefiya presumed her age was as an Elf, but her features made it clear she was on the younger side of puberty. Then again, Lady Lilo had to be probably three or four times Lady Riveria’s age, so there were exceptions. “And who is she?”

He scratched his cheek as the girl’s purple eyes suddenly looked up. “This is Primo Libera. She came to Orario last week and just joined our Familia this morning, so I came to have her registered at the Guild.”

Lefiya blinked. “She can’t be older than nine, Bell.”

“How rude,” said child’s ears twitched expressively. “I’m ten!”

“My apologies,” Lefiya said. “It’s just that the last time I spoke with Lady Hestia she stated she did not intend to do a recruitment drive given the complex situation of their Familia. Between this and Bell being banned from the Grand Casino, I am simply trying to sort things out.”

“Why do you even know about that much?” she demanded. Lefiya believed it was not out of anger but concern towards her newfound Familia.  “Who are you and what Familia are you from?”

“Now, now,” Bell said gently. “You don’t need to be suspicious. Her name is Lefiya Viridis and she’s a good friend of mine. She’s also known as ‘Thousand Elf’, making her the student of Lady Riveria,”

The dark misgivings were instantly replaced by sparkles akin to starlight as those purple eyes fell back onto her. “Really!?”

“That’s right,” Lefiya answered, extending her hand to the child. “Again, I apologize if we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s start over. I am Lefiya Viridis of the Wishe Forest.”

The child had no hesitation in shaking it vigorously. “Nice to meet you, Miss Viridis of Wishe! My name is Primo of the Libera Forest!”

No clan name and she isn’t hand-shy either. Not to mention she isn’t being overly formal. Her mind ran through the implications as she continued. “Just Lefiya is fine. It’s nice to meet you, Primo Libera.”

“Then you can call me Primo… umhmm…” She shifted in place for a moment, looking nervous as she gathered her courage to ask the question that Lefiya knew was coming. “What is Lady Riveria like in person!?”

She would have sighed at that if she hadn’t gotten used to it. Just about every one of them, whether half-blooded, full-blooded, or high-blooded, held the Royal Elf in reverence. Still, it was better than the envious looks that came from those who felt she had no business as her student or that they could do better.

Lefiya was about to give her some breadcrumbs to go off of when there was a knock on the door.

“It’s fine to enter, Miss Eina,” Bell called out.

Sure enough, it was the Half-Elf Advisor. “We’ll need Miss Libera for a few final parts of the registration. It’ll only be a minute and then she’ll be registered.”

Bell nodded before turning to the child. “Go ahead. Miss Eina is kind, so she’ll make sure everything is fine.”

“Oh… okay.” The Elven child obediently followed as the advisor gave her a gentle smile before taking her hand. The door shut closed.

Once they were out of earshot, Lefiya broached a question that had formed in her mind. “Bell, is she an orphan?”

His expression flattened for a moment. Then it softened and he nodded. “How did you know?”

“Given how low the birthrates are for full-blooded and high-blooded members of our race, a child of ten years would not be allowed to venture from the boundaries of her homelands to become an adventurer if there were even a single relative to take her in, no matter how distant. She isn’t hand-shy despite being new to Orario or have the same decorum as a Forestborn or raised, meaning they weren’t instilled or assimilated. The fact that she doesn’t have a clan name but uses her homeland as a communal name also has implications.”

Most likely her parents had lost their right to use their clan name somehow. There was also the chance that they willingly surrendered it in order to relocate to a different Forest, for one reason or another. After Rakia burned down a number of them that supposedly happened to several Elves from what she heard secondhand, and the act of surrendering their clan name to become a part of the community was the first step in being assimilated into that particular one—eventually they would be tied into existing clans.

“Before I left out and ended up at the casino, there were a number of different people outside of the gates of our home,” Bell began. “She was one of them, apparently. By the time I made it back late at night, she was the only one there and falling over asleep. I couldn’t leave a child out there, so I brought her in and listened to her story with Lady Hestia.”

The child had apparently arrived with the expectation of becoming a great mage like Lady Riveria. Not uncommon among their race by a stretch. But she had no money, no Magic, and no Falna, meaning she was just an ordinary ten-year-old child to be taken care of.

Even for Elves, receiving Magic upon receiving benediction was not promised. And they could not control what spell appeared if it did. Not to mention the upkeep for a solid Mage was expensive. Since the moment their Falna was on her back and she would be their responsibility, it was simply out of the question for most smaller Familia and not worth the hassle for the larger ones—more so since it was another mouth to feed and one you would be taxed on.

“Lady Hestia would not turn away a child in need of a home when she is right outside of the gate,” Lefiya figured. “Especially not one whose story was so similar to yours. I wouldn’t be surprised if she picked your Familia after what you said if she was rejected time and again, and since you can’t lie to the divine, she would have meant every word.”

“Lady Hestia figured that, even if she did not develop Magic, then we could find something for her to do and still have a home…” Bell rubbed the back of his head. “It isn’t like we were all that comfortable with letting her go into the Dungeon so soon. But she had an Offensive-Type spell right away, and now she wants to become a Mage like Lady Riveria. I was actually planning to ask you for advice on that if possible.”

The Half-Elf crossed one of her legs over the other at that as she drummed her fingers against the table. “Well, I don’t mind explaining things and helping you when I have the time. But there’s a lot involved, so I would prefer to explain it to both of you in a single go and let you relay that back to your goddess.”

Her brother smiled in gratitude. “Thank you, Sister.”

“I did say that I was willing to help in any way I could to Lady Hestia, so this is only contributing to that.”

That said, silence loomed until the door opened once more and the child came back inside with a paper in hands, marking it as her copy of their records. “I’m done, Captain.”

“That’s good,” he said, giving a slight nod to the Guild Advisor that she returned with a small smile and wave before she closed the door. Bell then tapped the seat next to him. “Primo, have a seat here. Lefiya is going to tell us something important, so be sure to listen.”

She hurried over and excitedly plopped in her seat, sitting rigidly with her hands on her knees.

It was safe to say that Lefiya had her attention. “So, Bell tells me you want to be a Mage. Is that true?”

Her blonde hair rose and fell in waves as she bobbed her head up and down. “Yes! Just like Lady Riveria.”

“It’s a lot of hard work,” the Half-Elf Mage began. “Not only do you not know what kind of spells you’ll develop, but you have to start studying a ton of topics starting today in order to earn your Mage Development Ability. That’s what gives us our magic circles and makes us Mages compared to someone like Bell, who would be someone who just uses Magic.”

“Like magic stuff?” she asked.

Lefiya shook her head. “Not just magical knowledge, though that is mandatory starting out. For example, in my case, I had to learn things like estimating distances by sight, planning trajectories, and other fields of study in order to properly make the most out of my first spell even before I had the Mage Development Ability. Once I had it the number of topics increased to handle the flexibility it provides with manipulating your existing spells—expanding the distance, increasing the radius, manipulating the output, and so on. In contrast, Bell probably learned to recognize the distance his spell can go by sight but putting numbers to it beyond him.”

You don’t have to put it like that,” Bell mumbled. “Not that you’re wrong. I can tell how far out of range something is depending on how well I can perceive it. After a while you start to recognize whether something is too far or not.”

“And that’s fine for you because you’re not a dedicated Mage,” Lefiya said, before turning back to Primo. “But not for us. The decrease in Mind cost and efficiency are more bonuses compared to the flexibility that the Mage Development Ability gives us, and I went through the Educational District for three years so that I reached Level Two and unlocked it when I was a year older than you are now. You aren’t just someone who uses Magic, but an intellectual who knows it inside and out.”

From how her expression shifted she hadn’t considered that. Magic was mesmerizing when you saw it at work. But the real majesty laid in the underlying complexities of it, of how it worked. That was a gateway you could only peer into with study and certain Development Abilities such as Mystery or Mage.

“And then there are the costs involved,” she continued. “An Oaken Staff, which is a commercial beginner’s staff, costs around 10,000 Valis without any modifications. The quality is low, and it is really only good to act as a conduit so you can practice focusing on learning the basics. Then constantly pushing spells through them will wear them down and they are expensive enough to repair because only a Mage can craft them, which means that you’d be better off replacing them, which isn’t cheap for a small Familia.”

In contrast, the Guild-issued Dagger that Bell started with cost around 3,500 Valis. It could be easily repaired or replaced, but it still required a loan for a new adventurer to obtain. Staves were nearly three times that and were far less durable than steel. Hitting something with it was the last thing you should want to do unless it was specially treated, so it was effectively only good as a rudimentary focus to help you as you began.

“Once you have the basics, you move on to a proper Mage’s Staff, which costs 20,000 Valis and only slightly increase the magical power output. But that increases the strain and damage it takes if you use it roughly. After that, there’s the Grim and Harmony series depending on if you have offensive or healing spells, and not only are they the last commercially available models but they cost 50,000 Valis. Everything after that, even the typical Vanishment Rod, starts at 100,000 Valis without any modifications tailored to the type of magic, and then you have to factor in the cost of labor, materials, and other things.”

She tapped the staff she had borrowed from Elfy, which was a variation of the Vanishment Rod. It was cheaper than her current one, but it was still tailored to better handle Offensive-Type Fire spells. That alone had bumped up the price to close to 300,000 Valis.

“My regular staff, Forest’s Teardrop, cost me a total of 37,800.800 Valis. Due to a mistake, it suffered a great deal of damage and the repairs have totaled up to 20,300,000 Valis. I had to get a loan from my Familia to get it fixed because it’s essential to me, and the longer it takes the more interest will build.”

Primo’s eyes were boggled at the costs. She probably had never even heard of such a cost for what looked to be a very nice-looking blasting stick. But it was crucial and thus warranted her having it repaired as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, her brother that neglected to inform her about Argonaut’s little side-effect looked as though he was about to have a heart attack. “Urk…

“But, in a larger Familia or with stronger members, it’s entirely possible to make that back in a relatively short amount of time,” she said before either of them could dwell on it. “For example, Miss Aiz and I could easily make around 10,000,000 Valis in a week if we went deep enough into the Dungeon for rare Drop Items and then pawned them off on the 18th Floor at higher prices since they would be resold anyway. But she is a Level Six, and I am capable of shooting above my Level because I specialize in Offensive-Type spells.”

Her role during expeditions was that of artillery or a sniper. The moment she was pointed at an enemy, she would loose a rain of flaming arrows or a shot that never missed. Concurrent Casting had only made her more mobile in the process and Elf Ring gave her additional options when the primary person capable of casting the spell was not there or she needed to fill in an auxiliary role.

“And that’s only the basics. There’s additional studying materials, magic stones, accessories and other things that can augment your abilities or provide protection, a Grimoire if you want to have a little control over what your next spell might manifest as or when you get it, and keep in mind that your Familia have other members with their own expenses as well and the Middle Floors are the deepest your Familia can go—with Bell realistically being the only one capable of doing so comfortably, and even then a mistake can cost him his life.”

The Elven child withered at the thought, signs of budding tears welling up. It was so easy to say that you wanted to be the next Lady Riveria, but it was a different story when you knew the costs associated with it. Not just Valis, but the cost in blood, sweat, and tears. Many had learned too late.

She got up from her seat and then crouched down in front of the sitting girl, setting her hands gently on her shoulders as she met her gaze with a soft one of her own. “I’m not telling you this to scare you. I’m telling you this so that you know that the fact that they have taken you in to become their Mage means they have invested a lot in you, Primo. They have that much faith you’ll become invaluable to them, so you can never take that for granted. Understand?”

Slender fingers wiped away the tears as she bobbed her head slowly. “Y-Yes…

“Then study hard to become the Mage they need,” Lefiya told her. “Don’t settle for being like Lady Riveria. Try to surpass her for the sake of this small Familia who have taken you in as a member of their family.”

She needed to understand that Bell and Lady Hestia were not a means to an end. They were not just a way to get her Falna via the benediction of the Goddess of the Hearth’s Grace. They were giving her everything they could to make her a member of their family, so she should devote herself to them from now because once she gained her Mage DA she would become valuable, and thus there were those who would attempt to poach her from them.

And Bell needed to understand the costs involved and that he would need to treat her as such. He needed to understand she would be under a lot of pressure to become the best she could be. Lady Hestia was kind but she would have to make sure that the child did not stray once she set on that path and, as the Captain of his Familia, he needed to think how to best make use of her.

I will,” she said, continuing to wipe away the tears. Her dream had been formed out of hope but hearing the costs of it meant that if she still wanted to pursue it then she would dedicate her everything to that goal. “I promise, Miss Lefiya. Captain… I swear….

The urge to nurture the crying child apparently ran through both their veins since they brought her in for a hug. The mesh of bodies lasted probably longer than it should have, but the child seemed to be happy to receive it. She almost seemed upset when Lefiya pulled away to stand properly.

“After tomorrow I’m going to be away for a while,” she told the pair. “I’d like to get her started with what she needs tomorrow. Are you free to bring her with me?”

Bell nodded. “After I help Goddess get to work, we can go together.”

“Good.” Lefiya smiled before clapping her hands together. “In the meantime, you should go take her to go buy a nice and big stuffed animal once you leave here. She probably needs one.”

Primo was quick to say otherwise as she finished wiping the tear trails. It was unbecoming of an Elf to look so improper after all. “I don’t need one!’”

“You say, but I’m guessing you had trouble sleeping when they brought you in last night until one of them slept with you?”

“She stayed with Lady Hestia,” Bell confirmed, oblivious to the child’s shock. “Why?”

“Both culturally and instinctively, Elves tend to nurture strong ties and a need for companionship. That tends to be why we have tighter relationships with family and friends if we know them long enough, and part of why outside of those with more exposure to the outside world we don’t take well to others touching us. Otherwise staying secluded in a Forest for the better part of a century would drive us up the wall, and it’s why being kicked out of a Forest can be difficult to handle without a support system.”

There was a reason Elven Friendships were considered to be as close to lovers as one could get without any sexual attraction. It was a form of affection that skirted the line to other races. By that same metric, losing someone dear to them tended to end… poorly.

Longevity and grief did not mix well.

“If that’s the case then Primo probably slept better than she has in a long time since she was with Lady Hestia,” Bell realized before turning to her. “Is that right?”

A crimson blush painted her cheeks at that as she looked away. It was not a denial.

“There’s no shame in it,” Lefiya assured her. it was natural to sleep with parents or siblings until puberty kicked in. “I used to sleep with Mother since it was just the two of us until I left to study in the Educational District and had to make do with a large stuffed animal to cope. I adapted by the time I joined the Loki Familia.”

Said stuffed animal was still in her room, and she still slept with it until she hit Level Three at the age of twelve, one year after she hit Level Two and graduated. Then Dungeon crawling and puberty happened, which shifted her concerns to survival and the feminine form.

Since Primo lacked any familial bonds she would likely try to compensate instinctively. But it would not be proper for her to wander into her Goddess’ or companion’s bedside all the time. A stuffed animal would help her until she adapted, which probably would not take too long to be honest.

Orario had a way of forcing you to mature quickly compared to other places—especially some of the Forests from what she heard from others.

“We’ll go pick up one on the way home,” Bell promised, even as Primo grew redder in the face. “I’ll still need to speak with Welf, Lili, and Mikoto too. They’re still at their old places until the renovations are done.”

“Then we’ll meet tomorrow to test Primo’s spell in the Dungeon after we shop for clothes and your basic supplies… oh, right.” She cleared her throat and then, in eld tongue, she asked, “Do you speak Old Elvish?

The way Primo’s brows folded in as she tried to process the words made it clear she did not.

“I should probably also teach you Old Elvish if I get a chance, if only because some of the older text requires it…” The Elder Elf would probably have her head if she discovered she didn’t if they met in thirty or so years. The language itself was not commonly taught among their race, and so teaching Primo while she was young would be a way to contribute. “Having a student might be fun.”


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 19 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 19: Aftermath of the War Game

“It worked out somehow.”

Relief flooded Hestia as she stared into the Divine Mirror as the bell sounded, signaling the end of the War Game and victory for their Familia. She had gone through a myriad of different emotions as she watched the battle progress and bore witness to the resolve of her children.

She certainly hadn’t expected Bell to go so wild. Even looking at him now, it was clear he was struggling just to stay standing. Thankfully, before he could fall over onto his face right after claiming victory, his sister came over next to him…

And promptly shoved a Potion down his throat while lecturing him about focusing on himself before his enemy. “You should have drunk the one you had instead of splashing it over that jerk. Why are you trying to look cool now, huh?”

Loki laughed at the sight. “Slappin’ one minute, frettin’ the next—classic Tsundere.”

They had not heard what was muttered between the two of them after she’d slapped him earlier to snap him out of… whatever that was. Hestia would have words with Bell about it later. But it looked… incriminating when coupled with her reaction to the accusation of them flirting.

Hestia gave the girl a silent apology considering more of her peers joined in the guessing game about how Bell had somehow seduced one of Astraea’s children in less than a week.

As for her other children, Welf and Mikoto were leaning against the Inner Ward’s walls as they caught their breaths. Lili was ferreting between them and looking over their injuries. She apparently knew a little First Aid since she had to take care of herself until recently and Potions were expensive normally. Though Bell’s sister had tended to them it was clear they would be sore for quite a while.

Hestia could see from the look on Takemikazuchi and Hephaestus’ faces that they were warring between the pride they felt in their accomplishment and concern over the fact that they had taken quite a beating to claim the win. Miach had his personal Divine Mirror zoomed in on them as he assured them that there would be no lasting damage. He would see to it.

It was a clean victory in that aspect. They had met the challenge set before them with flying colors and fought long and hard. She truly was blessed with wonderful friends and gifted children.

There was just one thing left to do now. “…Oh, A-po-llo~? Going somewhere ~?

“Geh?!” A yelp came from the God of the Sun who had been trying to sneak out while everyone else’s attention was diverted in discussing Bell’s current predicament. Naturally, no sooner than he was called out, did the others swarm him to prevent his escape before he paid what he owed. That was the reason all of this began, and part of their entertainment as well.

She slowly walked up to him, the muscular hands of Ganesha on his shoulders to keep him in place. “I believe your terms were that I could have whatever I wanted, weren’t they?”

H-Hestia, let’s be reasonable here,” Apollo pleaded. “We’re all civilized beings. I offered to share—

Whatever. I. Wanted.” Hestia placed punctuation on each point. “Right?

“Those were the terms I heard,” Hephaestus agreed, while Takemikazuchi and Miach nodded quietly. “I guess it’s time to pay up what you owe.”

M-Mercy,” he begged. “I’m sure you understand how this city can make you get a little carried away. Have mercy. Please.

Hestia would have considered his words… if not for the fact that she had seen Bell broken, bloody, and beaten just for him to have a shiny new toy. And after today she was sure several others would get the same idea. An example had to be made.

Thus, she had no mercy to give. “Since you took away my child’s home, I’m taking everything you own. On top of that you’re going to disband your Familia so those children you forced into it can go free. And since you’re right about the city not helping your case, how about you go into exile too and learn what it’s like outside of Orario—FOREVER!”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!“

A scream bellowed as Divine Judgement was passed. The God of the Sun was dragged off to be forced into compliance. His fate would be a testament to the woe that would befall one who took the home from the Goddess of the Hearth.

And thus, one issue was resolved…

Only for another to begin.

“So,” began the Trickster Goddess, addressing the room. “Since we have today and another two whole days set aside… why don’t we discuss what Shortstack’s Little Rabbit’s going to be named?”

Hestia’s head whipped around so fast her twin ponytails could have been classified as a deadly weapon. “Loki, what are you doing!?”

“Even if he hasn’t hit Level Three before now, I’m pretty sure he’s met the requirements for it,” Loki said with a grin that pulled her lips back to her ears. “And since your child is soooo exceptional, so why not make an exception to the rules? After all, we have two more days to get everyone else’s opinion and most of us have already set aside the time for it.”

Hestia winced as though she had been punched in the gut. The requirement for raising one’s Level was a minimum of a D-rank in one attribute and a feat that was worthy of the Gods. Bell had a minimum of S-rank stats across the board when she updated his Status. And her Familia had just toppled a castle with not even a fifth of the same numbers.

They may have had Welf’s swords and outside help, but that had just trimmed the numbers down. It had been Bell who had chosen to enter a duel with the Captain of the Apollo Familia. Someone who had bested him twice before, without help from anyone else—and he’d won.

The only way he wouldn’t hit Level Three is if she withheld it.

And who would be more bitter about that fact than the one who had the title of Record Holder stolen from them twice over? The one who had tried to get her to reveal what made Bell such a Rare Gem in the first place. The one who was still bitter over having her precious Sword Princess dance with him at Apollo’s little trap.

The jealousy of a goddess was not to be underestimated. “W-Wait, we need still need a Denatus and it’s only been a month since the last one—”

Loki shouted into the air like a spoiled child before she could finish. “HEY, OLD GEEZER! LET US HAVE AN EMERGENCY DENATUS WITH THE MIRRORS SINCE WE ALREADY HAVE THEM OUT!”

The response that came sounded like that of an exasperated parent giving in rather than dealing with them throwing a tantrum later on. “…I will allow it.”

No sooner than he uttered those words did more Divine Mirrors pop up, revealing Gods and Goddesses who had chosen to stay at home to watch. If she tried to hide it the Guild would likely be on her tail after this, especially given the Calamity on the 18th Floor. She wouldn’t be surprised if that was why Ouranos allowed it in the first place since she only had to pay a small amount compared to Hermes.

Hopeful of some way to avert what was happening, she looked over to the peers of her group. The ones who had supported her until now. Surely, they could talk some reason into them…

All of them slowly shook their heads apologetically in perfect unison.

Slowly, like the cogs of a gear, Hestia turned her head back to the gathering where everyone else had assembled. Those she had ignored. Those whose requests she had denied. Those who had gambled and lost. Those who just wanted to keep the entertainment going.

She had only one word for them. “…M-Mercy…

Much like with Apollo, there was none to be had.

I, GANESHA, SUGGEST WE GO WITH VORPAL RABBIT!

“Of course you’d choose to name him after the monster!”

“…He does kind of look like an Almiraj. Cute but deadly—Lightning Almiraj.”

“Dia, you traitor! And you why are you nodding, Demeter!?”

“There was madness within his earlier motions, and he was quite nimble—the Mad Rabbit, March Hare.”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!“

[-Central Park-]

Outside of the tower of Babel, the rising spire of unblemished ivory that ascended to the heavens from below within the heart of Orario, there was an innumerable number of spectators as the series of Divine Mirrors finished broadcasting the War Game.

The final bell had sounded. In less than thirty minutes after the starting bell, victory had been declared for the unexpected underdog. A Familia that now consisted of four beneath a goddess of no note and two outsiders had somehow done the impossible and bested a force consisting of over a hundred numbers strong, toppling an ancient castle in the process before engaging in a duel with the enemy general.

Movements faster than the eyes could see.

Shocking sparks and shrieking steel.

A climatic clash of casting.

It felt like a scene ripped straight out of an epic tale that they had the chance to bear witness to right in front of them. And now that the battle had come to an end laughter, cheers, and general mirth abound as those same countless eyes that had been glued to the mirrors watched the victor rising back to his feet and apologizing to the Elf lecturing him. The comedy that came after the epic.

However, amidst the crowd, there was a small figure who stood on the rim of the fountain to get a better view of the match.

Her slender figure was obscured by a lavender traveling cloak that managed to just fall short of her ankles due to her height that was just above average for her age. Her sun-kissed blonde hair fell into the collar of the cloak and half-covered a set of pointed ears. Her expressive purple eyes glimmered with the faint sparkles as her mind played back the words that had proceeded the devastating display of violence.

A Goddess who had so little, and still accepted me even when every other Familia rejected me… the home we shared as a family…

Acceptance. Home. Family.

Those words kindled a feeling that she feared had been buried by the crushing weight of reality as her week in this city had been met with rejection time and again. If the leporine Human boy who was only a few years older than her had faced the same and turned out to have been a rare gem, then she should shine even greater as an Elf that hailed from the outskirts of the forest of Libera after all. She simply needed a patron who would be willing to bless her with their grace and one day she could become known as a genius mage on par with the revered Royal Elf with the alias of Nine Hells.

Clapping her round cheeks, the young Elf made her decision.

I’m going to join the Hestia Familia.

[-Deep Forest-]

“Poor Hestia. They must be having a field day with her about now.”

“You could at least look apologetic if you really mean that.”

Banter took place between two of the divines that were far away from the Labyrinth City.

One was a handsome man whose features were hidden behind a feathered hat. He sat with his arms perched behind him on the crest rail of a wooden bench, leaning back with one leg crossed over the other. Relaxed and comfortable, his orange eyes were dancing with amusement, and he sported a smile as he stared at the events unfolding on his Divine Mirror.

The other was an immaculate goddess sitting next to him, carrying herself with a graceful poise unbefitting of such modest surroundings that a large tent provided. The nature of the divine left her skin and clothes flawless, but it was her character that gave the shoulder-less kirtle and long skirt she wore the regality they possessed. With long, brown hair and indigo eyes that held warmth in them as her own mirror observed the final combatant standing on the Outer Curtain Wall and watching the display between the two below.

The God of Travel—Hermes.

The Goddess of Justice—Astraea.

Flanking them were their respective Captains—Asfi and Cecil.

These four were nestled within a forest that was located on the other end of the continent, sitting in a large tent that had been erected for them. Separated from the numerous children who sat beneath the canopy outside where other mirrors had been willed into existence, the unfiltered arcanum that provided clairvoyance permitted a view even on the opposite side of the continent. And Hermes himself had obtained permission before he had set out to fulfill this Quest for Ouranos, so there was no violation of the rules to keep the “game” fair.

“Crozzo’s handiwork is something to be noted,” Asfi said while observing the Half-Elf she knew to be Bell Cranel’s sister under the disguise of her workmanship. Her patron had not sought to keep that a secret from her when she inquired as to why she had to work for hours straight recreating a form of magic that one of his companions possessed. He had been certain that he could enlist her aid and that of the Gale, and so she had labored. “Even that dagger was terrifying from what I could tell.”

Though she did not have the Blacksmithing Development Ability, Asfi was well-versed in different crafting methods. The fact that she possessed multiple Development Abilities related to crafting spoke of all the excelia she had accumulated in those relevant crafts and so she had an appraising eye for magical implements and equipment. That knife she was certain he crafted had most definitely given Cranel a level of Strength he did not possess before, but it came at the cost of his ability to reason.

Strength gained by being swallowed up by their anger. Throwing caution to the wind in order to kill your enemy, tearing apart your own body in the process.  It reminded her of a little too much of how her Cithara worked.

“That certainly won’t be something Ares will ignore once the news of the War Game spreads,” Astraea stated. “Conquest through unbridled power is something he always lauded. Worse, I fear others may take matters into their own hands to prevent that power from falling into his hands once more.”

“You can only move an army by making a lot of noise and Orario won’t be willing to give up such a prize so easily,” Hermes stated calmly. “Though I suppose some others might try something desperate now that he isn’t visibly under Hephaestus protection.”

“I will admit that I haven’t seen something like that being so casually swung around in all the time I have been with Lady Astraea…” Cecil seemed somewhat conflicted as she looked down, face slightly scrunched in thought. “But was it really okay to allow them to use our emblem?”

“That child would not allow another to use it so wantonly,” Astraea assured her while looking to Ryuu as she deigned to join the others below and shook hands with the young boy. In truth, they had only learned of Hermes schemes after he had arrived at their location. Her girls took pride in their association to her name and what the wings of justice represented, so it being used for deception was an affront. “Of course, I trust that you will honor the promises you made as compensation for your actions, Hermes?”

The God of Travel removed his hat and placed it over his chest as he sat properly. “Of course. I had Asfi already see to it that the letters have been sent out. Lulune should deliver the one to Lyon as soon as she gets back to Orario. And my puppy and kitten should be wandering around searching for your child’s missing sister. Miss Flores, wasn’t it?”

Hermes had not brought the entirety of his Familia with him as it would mean losing a means of staying aware of what was happening within Orario. Among them were a Cat Person and Chienthrope that served as their ears on the ground. Both had different means of obtaining information and they were both useful in their own ways.

“I will be taking my leave now that the War Game is over, so I should be able to bring back some good news after the Holy Moon Festival,” Hermes finished before looking over his shoulder to where there was a carefully prepared weapon case. Inside of it was what looked to be an argent spear of a simple but elegant make, with the head flaring out into two wings while in the center was a blue moonstone.

But to the two divine beings sitting in that tent, they knew it was something different.

It was… an arrow.

[-Deep Floors-]

He heard it.

It should have been impossible given how deep within the Dungeon he was. Surrounded by bovines of which he was one of many, born from the same womb moments ago, that sound should never have reached him. But it had.

A thunderous roar that kindled a fleeting memory and the feelings it wrought deep from the spirit within him. A moment in time where he experienced what it truly meant to live and die with his heart pounding and thunder rumbling in his ears. An unbridled glee as he lost himself in battle, rejoicing as their steel clashed amidst a raging inferno and chaotic lighting.

A white-haired blur smiling while clad in lightning and flames.

His one and only enemy.

His spirit roused at hearing that roar that should not exist.

It was a sign. It was a sign that his dream was within reach. His dream was awaiting him on the surface.

His massive, corded muscles buried beneath a hide of black and bristle fur gained strength. His grip on the Landform Ax tightened. And his lips pulled back to make an expression that was foreign to the kin around him—a smile.

And then he roared. “URRRROOOOOOOOOAAAAHHHHH!!

He let out a thunderous roar in reverence to the promised duel. He roared with every ounce of resolve he had to relive that memory here and now. He roared from the bottom of his heart with the desire to see it come about.

It shook the very core of those around him. Their wills wavered in the face of that roar. And in doing so they had proven themselves unworthy as anything more than nourishment to prepare him for that day, and so they would be mowed down.

And, just like that, the raging black bull entered the backstage of the Last Epic.

[-The Former Apollo Manor-]

Three days passed after the end of the War Game.

The moment that victory had been claimed and Lefiya had seen to it her brother would not collapse because he was too busy acting cooler than he had any right to be, she and Miss Ryuu returned to Orario. It was not their moment of victory and so they had to step off the stage, so to speak. Not that she was really in a condition to remain standing.

She had healed the worst of her wounds, but the entire endeavor had been more exhausting than she expected. Her Mind had been drained by quite a bit and her stamina just as much. She had no business fighting as she had, and if not for the fact that she knew she was capable of handling a few Level Two adventurers by raw Status alone she never would have attempted it.

Thankfully, Miss Ryuu had allowed her to rest in her arms as they flew back to Orario on the dragon that they borrowed. Her supple body was surprisingly comfortable, and it would be lying to say she hadn’t enjoyed it. Mild and probably unrequited sexual attraction aside, her heart was set on Filvis and she had spent the rest of the day with her.

It was nice.

Now she found herself within what was once the home of the Apollo Familia. Lady Hestia had claimed it as her prize and the residents had been escorted out with their belongings. It would serve as the new home of the Hestia Familia once the renovations were complete, but it was not officially known as of yet since the results of the War Game wager had yet to make their rounds.

They wanted to tie it in with the other big news. “So, you’re a Level Three now?”

Her brother was sitting next to her. He and Lady Hestia had retired to a private room that was presumably a study once upon a time, with Lady Hestia opposite them behind a marble desk. She was in her Feena guise since it would look strange if the Thousand Elf went into the same house alone with Bell after everything else until now.

She was not helping those rumors along.

He smiled in a way that befitted his adorable, rabbit features. “Yes. Lady Hestia updated my Status, and we plan to take it to the Guild in an hour or so to have it be formally announced.”

“If I don’t then they’d probably accuse me of withholding information given Bell’s performance,” the Goddess of the Hearth said with a frown as she cradled her head with one hand, elbow perched on the desk. There were bags under her eyes as she had only recently returned from the sudden Denatus that was announced due to the results. “If not for the fact that you kids can’t lie to us, and Bell said he hadn’t reached Level Three, it might have happened anyway.”

“Sorry for the trouble, Goddess,” Bell said before turning to Lefiya. “But we’re the same Level now.”

“Only because I’m still holding off on reaching Level Four,” she reminded him, but her tone was a lot less certain. Bell really had no right to be as strong as he was or rising as quickly as he had been. But, as she said, they could not tell a direct lie to the divine. And even if he possessed some Rare Skill, no one could force him to disclose it.

He was just a rare gem—highly sought after and valuable.

She supposed that made him like Miss Aiz. Or Mister Welf considering how monstrous the things he could create were at Level Two alone. But at least those two had the explanation of having a Spirit’s blood flowing through them.

Bell was just… Bell.

Considering everything, I should at least have an A-Rank in Magic by now, Lefiya thought to herself. She had not had a chance to update her Status because she was waiting for a group update session, as Lady Loki would have less time to pry her with questions or grope her still-developing breasts. Once I hit S-Rank I’ll be ready to push ahead, though I would like more options for my Development Abilities than what was offered last I checked…

Thoughts of somehow obtaining Spirit Healing aside given it would mean she practically never had to worry about running out of Mind again, she turned her attention back to the topic at hand. “Did they decide on a new Title for Bell?”

Lady Hestia let out an unladylike groan. “They decided on… [Caerbannog Cottontail] for him. As soon as I submit the proof of his Level they will announce it to officially cap off the War Game.”

“That’s… a clever Title,” Lefiya muttered as she rolled that title over in her head. “No wonder it took them three days to decide on it.”

“It is?” Bell asked, oblivious as his Goddess acted as though her words had been a punch directed towards her.

She nodded. “Based on the Elvish etymology, ‘Caer-’ refers to a castle or stronghold, ‘-bannog’ means important, prominent, or high, and a Cottontail is naturally a kind of rabbit. They’re basically immortalizing the fact that you took down a castle despite looking so much like a bunny, and I can only assume they used two elvish words because a pair of elves helped you. Your Goddess must have really worked to get you that name.”

Having it broken down to him made Bell smile even more. “Thank you, Lady Hestia! I’ll wear it with pride!”

Don’t blame me for this,” Hestia whimpered as she held her head down, attempting to hold back what they presumed to be tears of joy. “Loki was the one leading the charge. It’s all her fault.

Lefiya tilted her head in mild surprise at that. “I suppose she could have learned from Lady Riviera about the Elvish tongue since she’s known her for so long, but I didn’t expect she would have come up with something that clever for someone else’s Familia. You must have really impressed her, Bell.”

“That’s only because of everyone else,” Bell claimed. “I’ll have to find some way to thank all of you now that this is over, especially since your Familia has really been helping me in a lot of ways.”

With a final sigh of resignation, Hestia reached into the pouch of her apron from her work clothes and pulled out a pair of keys. “Speaking of which, these are for you two.”

Lefiya blinked. “Me as well?”

“Well, this is Bell’s home as much as it is mine,” said the Goddess of the Hearth before straightening up. “We have more rooms than we could need in a lifetime, and any family of his has the right to come and go as they please. That means one of them is yours.”

A jolt of surprise ran through Lefiya as she caught the implication. Then she turned to Bell, a look of betrayal on her face. “You told!”

“Bell did not tell me about you,” Hestia said as Bell shook his head, just as surprised. She then followed by explaining her reasoning behind deducing their relationship. Bell had only once told her that he had family in the city and kept her name out of it. The Goddess of the Hearth had only figured it out by how she reacted during the chase and Lefiya asked for her promise of silence.

The Half-Elf’s notable ears fell as though deflated while she held her head, a cloud of gloom hanging over her head. “I didn’t think I was that obvious, but so many things were happening at the time.

Hestia only smiled gently. “Just like a rabbit, Bell is sociable and cute, so people are naturally drawn to him. And considering the circumstances and my relationship with Loki, it’s completely understandable why you would want to keep it a secret. I just had more information to work with, so I put it together.”

“Sorry, Sister,” Bell apologized. “If I had been a little stronger then I wouldn’t have needed your help back then.”

“Not your fault,” Lefiya told him, feeling worse she jumped to blaming him immediately. “Honestly, as mortals, we can’t really control when we catch the eyes of those above. And honestly, more people will take notice now. Lady Hestia crushing the Apollo Familia so thoroughly should at least discourage them from another brute force approach.”

Hestia nodded. “Just so you know, I have no intention of using that information to get back at Loki or anything. I just felt I should at least let you both know that I was aware so you wouldn’t have to keep pretending when we’re alone. It must already be difficult to explain things away all the time, so having at least one other person in the know will make things easier.”

Oh, Goddess, it has been,” Lefiya agreed softly, feeling somewhat lighter that some of the pressure taken off her shoulders. She could vent a little now. “Even if I strung up Raul a hundred times those rumors are never going to go away after that day. And then Lady Riveria still expects me to take on Quests as punishment for breaking my staff on top of additional training.”

Her winnings had only been enough to pay half the cost of the loan she took out, which spoke a lot about the odds against Bell considering how little she had to place on the match. She had gambled and won but Lady Riveria had been quick to remind her that she was not done drilling the basics into her since she so clearly forgot them. She would be sore once those staff drills were done, and her brain would be pudding by the time she finished reviewing her study materials and practicing her Magic.

Even so, she rose to her feet before tapping the necklace to remove her disguise and present herself as she truly was. Then she bent her knees outward, placed one foot behind her, held out her skirt, and finally gave a bow to express her heartfelt thanks. “Let me thank you formally for taking in my beloved little brother. If you had not been there to pick him up when I failed him, he wouldn’t be where he is now. For that, you have my gratitude for as long as I live, and I swear on my name of Viridis and as his sister, I will repay that kindness in whatever way I can.”

Hestia regarded her with a warm smile befitting of a hearth. “You really are too sweet of a child for Loki. I was simply fulfilling my role of providing a home for those in need of one. And I consider myself blessed to have found such a wonderful child to call my family.”

“And I am happy to call both of you my family as well,” Bell added. “I’ll keep getting stronger, so one day we won’t need to hide things and I can take that burden off both of your shoulders.”

Lefiya would have rolled her eyes if she was not in the presence of a goddess. “If you want to do that then maybe you should slow down for both of our sakes. You haven’t even been below the 18th Floor and you’ve already gotten to the point where you would be capable of going to the Lower Floors. You need more experience in how things work, or else you’re going to run into a situation above your head…again.”

“And you are officially the Captain of our Familia now,” Hestia added. “You’re going to have more responsibilities to grow into, Bell.”

He nodded in acceptance that his next story would be one of growth.

[-Arc 3 End-]

 

 

Bell Cranel (Level 3)

[Caerbannog Cottontail]

Captain of the Hestia Familia. Half-brother of Lefiya Viridis. Two-Time Record Holder. The reincarnation of Argonaut and bound by fate to those who became a part of his legend, Bell Cranel has always held an admiration for heroes that was instilled in him by Zeus. Now, after 1000 years since the first Heroic Comedy, a new tale is being written.

Strength: I-0 | Endurance: I-0 | Dexterity: I-0 | Agility: I-0 | Magic: I-0

Luck: I | Abnormal Resistance: I

[Magic]

  • Firebolt: No Chant, Offensive-Type Fire spell that releases blazing bolts of electric flames. Scales with user’s Magic Stat. Argonaut increases all attributes at an increased cost to Stamina and Mind.
  • Jupiter: Super-Short Chant, Enhancement-Type Lightning spell that causes electricity to rampage within the user to increase physical attributes for a duration of (10) seconds at a great cost to the self. Increase scales with user’s Magic Stat, self-inflicted damage offset by user’s Endurance Stat. Repeated or extended use can cause lasting damage. Argonaut increases the duration.
    • Activation Trigger: “Shine!

[Skills]

  • Realis Freese: Crystallization of an ancient pledge rekindled upon meeting one bound by fate. Provides Accelerated growth. Immunity to Charm.
  • Argonaut: Heroic desire made manifest. Provides the ability to “charge” actions. Maximum charge time of (3) minutes.

[Equipment]

  • Pyonkichi MK-IV: The latest of Welf Crozzo’s light armor series that takes into consideration Bell’s fighting style. Decent quality and capable of withstanding a decent amount of abuse, it was sufficient for the War Game combined with the Salamander Wool innerwear and cloak.
  • Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki (Ushi-Nishi): A crimson dagger forged from the second half of the Minotaur’s Horn, vestiges of an ancient memory that resided in it were brought to the surface by a combination of the Crozzo Blood and Blacksmith DA during the forging process to enhance the destructive potential. Provides an increase in Strength and Agility by pushing the body beyond its limits in proportion to bloodlust unless one represses its nature. After the War Game Bell resolves to only use it when necessary and instead uses Ushiwakamaru (Ushi-Waka) along with the Hestia Knife.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 18 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 18: The Sun Sets

“Leaving the village with no destination in mind, I felt a little afraid. It had become like the home that I shared before with Mother and Father, four walls that made up my world. It honestly felt like I was that little girl who was still terrified of everything two years ago.

And perhaps that was true, given that I came because I was terrified of losing Argo. But because he was with me. Because he was not just the boy who rescued me, but my beloved brother, tears were nowhere to be found as he took my hand once more. We weren’t two children running to escape monsters as our home burned.

We were siblings who were off on an adventure where the wind would take us. Even though it sounded silly at the time, I was happy that we weren’t going to be separated. I wanted us to be together for as long as we could.

I still feel that same way to this day, Argo.

—To Adventure, Hand-in-Hand

[-|-|-|-]

Take it and heal yourself.

Those were Bell’s first words to Lefiya as he held her close, staring at the gash in her abdomen. His fingers that were shining softly with the light of Argonaut hovered over it. The deep crimson hue of her wound had seeped out enough that it clung to his glove settled on her corset.

Lefiya shook her head at that. According to the plan he had spent a minute charging that at the very least. It was the key to his victory, so for him to give it up now was to basically surrender the match. “It’s not that deep, and you need that to—

Please,” Bell insisted. His ruby eyes had softened to the point of almost begging her. The tone of his voice was laden with guilt and desperation, so poignant that she felt it through their connection. It was the same feeling she had when she called out to him upon seeing him fall that day on the 18th Floor.

That was why her hands moved over his almost reflexively in response to his wish.

The light transferred.

“I thought I would need to take hostages to lure you out of your rabbit hole but to think you were foolish enough to take to the field yourself.”

The hushed whispers between them came to an end when Hyacinthus landed at the base of the Western Outer Curtain Wall. He took the time to flick the blade that still had Lefiya’s blood on it, leaving the loose scarlet to spatter over the stone as Welf Crozzo came into view with the disguised Pallum. Lefiya could tell from his eyes he was assessing what to do next.

An injured Level Three Mage. Three Level Twos, one of whom was still injured. And a presumed Level One with Luan, whom his eyes lingered on for a moment longer as they assisted the forementioned Mikoto.

“Hyacinthus Clio…” Bell called as he handed Lefiya off to Welf, whose arms were nowhere near as comfortable. Then he stepped forward and drew his adamantite daggers. “As the Captain of the Hestia Familia, I challenge you, as the Captain of the Apollo Famila, to a duel.”

“…Is your pride so damaged that you’ll risk everything to salve it?” his opponent asked in an insultingly exasperated manner that kindled a spark of anger in Lefiya’s chest. “Sabotage. Crozzo Magic Swords. Adventurers at least on par with a Mid-tier Level Three. You’ve been handed every advantage possible to have a chance to obtain victory, and yet you are choosing to throw all of that away by trying to face against me on your own?”

“…I’d be lying if I said that part of it wasn’t for the sake of my pride,” Bell admitted to the accusation. It was natural. He had been trampled and humiliated, beaten down not once but twice by the man in front of him. “But… it was you… wasn’t it?”

Lefiya watched as Bell leaned forward at that, putting his weight into his forward leg. Then in a single moment where she had blinked… it happened.

The ringing of metal scraping metal.

The crushing of stone underfoot.

The bloom of sparks.

In the single moment where her concentration lapsed Bell had devoured the distance between himself and his opponent. The longer of his two knives, forged from the horn of the Minotaur that was the manifestation of his ascendance to Level Two, was pressed against the flat of the Sun’s Flamberge. Battle-honed reflexes were the only thing that stopped the razor-sharp blade from completing its arc and biting into his breastplate as Hyacinthus braced the blade with the forearm-guard of his off hand.

The handsome visage of the Captain of the Apollo Familia had warped into a certain expression. Lefiya recognized it. How could she not when she wore the same one?

It was a mesh of surprise and confusion, born of witnessing what should have been impossible right in front of them.

Bell displayed his speed before them both in the most desperate of times. He had been left thoroughly and utterly beaten before both of their eyes. It had been only a little more than a week since then and even knowing he must have been in training…

He had moved at a speed that shattered their expectations entirely.

“You were the one who ordered the home of a Goddess who had so little, and still accepted me even when every other Familia rejected me… the home we shared as a family, burned to the ground just to take me from her, weren’t you?” They could hear it in his tone the driving factor and determination for standing here and now, his reason for fighting. “That’s why I have to be the one to defeat you.”

The moment of shock passed. Hyacinthus exerted his Strength into his sword and knocked aside Bell’s weapon. Then, in less than the span of a blink, the sword came back around. A scarlet streak cleaved through the space where the Little Rookie had been only to slice through empty air.

Bell had already exited his threat range and was now several meders away.

Lefiya’s head went blank in confusion as the ping coming from the dancing lights in her hand chimed. She had acclimatized herself to his base speed while helping him train. Yet if she had not been focusing her undivided attention onto him at that moment, something she only did when facing against a fellow Second-Class adventurer or above, she would have lost track of him entirely.

The only explanation was…

Record Holder,” Hyacinthus uttered, his grasp on his blade tightening as he asked the question that entered the minds of every single adventurer and divine alike that was watching through the Divine Mirrors. “Have you Leveled up again?”

That was the only thing that Lefiya could think to be true. Bell had somehow done the impossible and claimed that title once over. He had to have ascended to the same Level as they had to move that quickly.

Bell’s answer was straightforward. “I haven’t.”

If it had been anyone else, it would have been impossible to believe such a blatant lie. But to the Gods and Goddesses watching, to whom the children could not lie… to those who knew him and how straightforward and sincere he was…

It was the truth.

Her brother had only recently reached Level Two. So logically it should be impossible for him to ascend to the next one so quickly unless he accumulated enough excelia and performed a feat so grand that it merited his ascension to Level Three. At least not in the week and few days between their last encounters.

But there were only three more alternatives to explain the shift in his speed.

The first was that Magic was used to raise his Agility. Lefiya knew for a fact that Bell possessed such a spell and the plan had been to use it to overwhelm Hyacinthus and defeat him by combining it with Argonaut. But he had uttered no such chant and none of their senses that could detect magical energy went off.

The second was that he possessed a Skill that raised his Agility under circumstances. Such things did exist, even if not commonplace. Hyacinthus knew for a fact that Daphne possessed one such Skill herself, so it was natural he would make that estimation.

The third was nearly as absurd as if he had Leveled once more. For him to have been moving that fast with neither a Skill nor Magic, he would have had to accumulate enough ability points as a Level One and Level Two in his Agility to rival that of at least a Level Three adventurer. That would mean he had to have at least hit S-rank once and possibly B-rank in the other—minimum.

And that was impossible in the short time he had been in Orario.

“…I see,” Hyacinthus said, eyes narrowed upon the white-haired boy in a fighting stance. “Fine. I accept your terms.”

That was when Daphne regained her voice. “But what about the—”

“Deal with the others,” he ordered without allowing his gaze to leave his opponent. It was a judgment call made considering new information, which spoke of the disparity in their abilities at this point. He leveled the sword towards Bell. “Come then, Little Rabbit.”

Then there were no more words.

Only the sounds of weapons crashing.

The Captains of the two Familia entered a world of their own.

[-Top Floor of Babel-]

“Shoot, was he that kid one of my guys told me about?”

“Well, if I had known he was going to turn out this way I would have said yes!”

“I can’t even see the fight at this point!”

Within the theatron a ripple of envy surged throughout the ranks of the various deities watching through their Divine Mirrors at Bell’s declaration. Those who descend for amusement naturally sought what was not within their possession. The fact that a rare gem had been tossed away like a common pebble naturally caused them to comb over their recollection to figure out if he had been one of the many hopeful kids who tried to join an established Familia only to be turned away by them.

Joining and starting a Familia in Orario was a nightmare, as both Hestia and Bell had the opportunity to discover.

For Hestia, there were simply too many already here that could bestow their blessing and the children wanted to join an established Familia for fortune, fame, safety, and security. Like Loki had told her when she had first descended, the easiest solution would have been to start a Familia outside of the city and then relocate within it. Outside of Orario more children were looking for a Falna so they could obtain the strength to defend their homes, rather than anything else.

For Bell, there were too many people who could take his place and were more qualified. He lived in a mountain village in the countryside tending to a farm, meaning that his only skill would be there. And while Demeter would love to have him no doubt, that was not the path Bell wanted to walk. He had been chasing the dream of being a hero and reuniting with his family but had nothing to offer other than a sincere desire to work towards it—which meant next to nothing to most of the deities present.

Even now her peers attempting to recall whether Bell had been someone their Familia turned away was not because they cared about his circumstances. Most of them did not even bother to reject him in person but let their children do so. It was because they sincerely hoped they weren’t the ones who risked losing a child who had gained such a reputation.

If they had only seen the eyes of that lonely boy who she had watched be rejected time and again…

His hopes of obtaining the strength to have a chance at accomplishing his dream…

His desire to have a family by both blood and bond…

Then they would never attempt to split them apart like Apollo. They would never revel at the thought of a War Game meant to split a family. They may have come to the Lower World for a vacation, but that didn’t mean they should have forgotten their role in guiding the children.

It’s this city, Hestia couldn’t help but think to herself. She understood why they were so eager to enjoy its wonders, given she had fallen prey to that same desire and wasted so much of her time after descending to the pleasant distractions. Even knowing that her time was limited.

She owed so much to Hephaestus. If the Goddess of the Forge hadn’t asked her if she really wanted to spend the time she had left lazing around, rather than experiencing what it really meant to start a Familia, then she would be no different. And the boy who would have become her first child would…

Hestia didn’t want to think about it.

“So he found the place he could shine after all,” a wizened voice said over the chittering of the others, lacking the envy but instead containing rough sincerity. Hestia looked over to see the God of Smithing, Goibnui.

“You turned Bell away as well?” she asked.

“I did after hearing him out,” he answered bluntly and without shame in comparison to the others. “I informed him that he needed a Familia that would bring out the best in him and that mine was not for him. He would never be where he is now if I had simply accepted him when he was looking for anyone.”

There was no hesitation or uncertainty in his words. He had not rejected Bell because he had more smiths than possible, but because accepting him would deny him the chance to find a suitable place and not benefit either of them. But he had remembered his role as a God and guided him before parting ways with words of wisdom.

Those words stuck with him.

“…Your Familia also does renovations, doesn’t it?” Hestia asked him after some thought, to which he nodded. “I may have a job for you after this is over.”

The Hearth and Home were one and the same after all.

And her Familia would have one after this.

Nn…” A strained grunt slipped out from Hephaestus, drawing Hestia’s gaze back towards her Divine Mirror. The moment the Captains of the two Familia began their match, the remaining commander had opted to cast a spell upon herself and follow orders. As Welf was the only one in prime fighting condition, he stepped in to confront her with his greatsword in hand.

The most she could see were flashes of silver.

Daphne’s Agility had clearly been boosted by her spell. That, combined with her greater parameters than Welf, meant that he was on the defensive against her onslaught of attacks. As a result, he was using a half-swording technique to better control the flat of the blade to hold off the worst of the assault, spots of crimson spilling from the black clothes he wore.

That was when Hestia noticed the secondary reason he was on the defensive, as Loki’s child made her way over to where Mikoto was along with Lili. Her wound hadn’t been healed, even though Bell had given her the light of Argonaut to do so. Instead, she crouched down and held that shining hand over Mikoto before the lilt of foreign words escaped from her mouth.

That same shimmering veil that had treated Bell’s wounds enough to where Potions could get him back up to fighting fitness encapsulated her in its entirely. The bruises and injuries she suffered melted away in their entirety and, as if she was filled with vitality, her eyes snapped open and she got back onto her feet.

The moment Lili handed her a blade she shot forward. Using Welf’s broad body as a blind spot to slip into the fray, she delivered a rising diagonal slash that ran from the commander’s hip-to-shoulder. It was only stopped from drawing blood by the fact that her shroud seemed to cushion the slash.

“Why you—” Daphne’s weapon came around as a silver streak, the sharpened edge threatening to catch her if Mikoto hadn’t rolled to get around to her back. But the moment she turned her head, Welf’s sword descended. A blade meant to use its weight to carry it through with the strength of a Level Two adventurer came crashing down hard enough that it bit into the stone floor of the Inner Ward as Daphne hastily avoided it by pivoting on her heel at the last moment.

“I’m not done yet!” Welf claimed as he angled the blade and twisted his hips to follow through, a cleave meant to cut through at the hip. Even with that shroud of hers, it would at least bite deep into her abdomen from the amount of muscle he was putting into it and the weight of the blade.

Daphne prepared to bound backward to escape it while bringing her own blade around. Evasion and a riposte all in one. However, that was cut short as Mikoto’s leg extended outwards and she hooked Daphne’s foot with her own. That which was meant to be the lead-in for an escape was turned into a stumble as the dark steel drew a gray arch and found her center of mass.

The result was that she was sent flying, her body cutting through the air until she slammed into a column and bounced off it. Her battle clothes sported a new gash and bruised flesh could be seen beneath it. She winced before swiftly twisting her body and using it for cover to escape as a flash of steel from Mikoto’s blade cleaved into the stone surface.

That’s the way,” Takemikazuchi muttered. “Read their movements. Anticipate their next action. Create an opening if there isn’t one for your allies.”

Mikoto might be a fresher Level Two along with Welf, but she had the training of a War God under her belt since she was a child. If she and Welf worked together then, even if the opponent was somewhat stronger and faster, they could attack from both directions. And that would provide an opening avenue for one another to exploit.

Hestia then turned her mirror back to the other girls. Lili had taken to using her wrist-crossbow to pin down Cassandra, leaving her huddled behind a column on the other side of the Inner Ward. Loki’s child had focused on healing herself now.

Loki is never going to let this go if she figures out, the Goddess of the Hearth couldn’t help but think. Neither Bell nor his sister had told her, but she had figured it out due to Bell’s words to her about having family within the city. The way she had looked to him as she healed him that day when he normally shies away from other women had been enough for her to piece things together.

Even now most of the disguised Elf’s attention was on the Outer Ward, watching her brother’s fight. She would love to talk to the girl when everything was said and done. But until then she would have to silently cheer her and the other children along. Do your best, everyone.

[-Twilight Manor-]

The ringing of steel rang out once more in the lounge of the Loki Familia’s high-ranked members as they observed the clash between the two Captains.

Their fight was as close to a deadly battle as possible without skirting the line as the white rabbit rushed forward in a blur of motion. With Agility unbecoming of a Level Two, his crimson daggers caught the light of the sun and left streaks in the air like twin tails. Then all at once they came around and drew a bloody cross as they converged on the Beloved of the Sun to carve through his chest from above and below to the center of his back—

Haah!

—and the crimson cross was shattered by a scarlet streak as the flamberge came around. Lashing out at the point where the blades would have intersected and backed by a proportional level of Strength, the blade broke through the convergence and should have cut through the white rabbit.

Yet amidst the shower of orange sparks that blossomed from the clashing of high-quality steel there were only strands of white hair. By the narrowest of margins, the white rabbit avoided losing its head as it narrowly slipped past. But no sooner than one had managed to slip past the other did both figures spin around like whirlwinds.

Crimson and scarlet flashed in arcs as they came around from the left and right. Another ear-splitting ring resounded. A profusion of furious sparks was born as the two Captains clashed their blades once more. The air itself shook from the impact of their blows to where their capes billowed madly as they tried to free themselves from their hosts.

But then the Little Rookie rode the wind while Phoebus Apollo remained firmly rooted as he swung his weapon around, disengaging until there was a vast distance between them. One of his daggers, the shorter of the pair, was wedged between his thumb and forefinger of the same hand that held the longer one’s handle with its three other digits. That left his left-hand extended outwards with fingers splayed towards his opponent.

“FIREBOLT!!”

And, with a shout, the bud of colorless magical energy that formed in front of his open palm turned into a blazing sphere that lanced out as three scorching rays. Flames woven into beams rocketed across the empty space between them in the time it would take for a Level Two to blink, and the face of the target was illuminated as they converged.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

The air quivered. A wave of heat billowed. The scorching rays erupted and swallowed the Hyacinthus’ form beneath the fierce flames that seemed to devour him whole, leaving only acrid and stygian smoke in its wake.

However, the smoke parted as the warrior emerged from the smoke with the speed afforded to a Level Three. His silver light armor was lightly scorched and blackened from the flames, but his body showed no signs of burns. The members of the Loki Familia could only assume it was a combination of the materials being magic resistant and the cape he donned being similarly resistant to fire as he crossed the distance and then delivered a slash that left sparks to bloom as it scored across the breastplate Bell wore.

Undeterred, the crimson blades came around from the left and right. The smaller of the knives would break through the collarbone and then flesh. The larger of the two would carve open his abdomen beneath his breastplate. Both were valid felling targets that would kill a lesser man and so would force him onto the defensive—protect one at the expense of the other.

Sure enough, the larger of the blades met with the steel of the long sword, the edge of the blade screeching as the dagger bit into it instead of flesh. However, the shorter was caught by the protective armguards that Hyacinthus had donned as he brought his arm up to protect his neck. It sported a visible gouge that spoke of the danger it presented, but the materials still held and no blood was spilled.

Then came the surprise attack as Hyacinthus’ foot shot out like a lance before Bell could retreat. A blow that could shatter stone with a single kick aimed to cave in his breastplate and then shatter his ribs from the impact. Only by crossing his arms, relying on his armguards, Endurance, and Strength, did the warhammer-like blow fail to break through the defensive maneuver as it was driven into Bell’s shorter frame.

Gareth stroked his beard as he watched the impact drive the younger lad into the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall. The stone broke and buckled under his body at the site of the impact, a cratered impression with dozens of fissures from which stone dust belched out and grains of sand fell of his figure. Yet even then he managed to kick off the wall and roll away as the follow-up thrust pierced through where his shoulder and arm would have met. “His Endurance has reached at least A-Rank to still be able to move after that blow.”

“He has probably reached S-rank in his physical parameters once more to fight on par with a Level Three,” Finn acknowledged as Bell recovered and delivered a series of slashes that forced his opponent to retreat and then attempt a counterattack when he tried to compensate for the elongated distance by stepping in. “Given that he has only been an adventurer for such a short time, it’s most likely a unique Skill.”

“Even so, his inexperience is showing,” the Royal Elf noted while craning her head slightly in observation. In contrast to his approach against the Minotaur he was most definitely at a point where brute force would work against a monster. But he was fighting an opponent who had intelligence and could recognize an attack pattern. “His anger is working against him.”

“If he was a woman he’d be about as rabid as Amazon out for blood,” Bete agreed. Amazons were known for their brutality and strength. Often shrugging off armor for the sake of bare flesh, throwing themselves headfirst against their opponent, the only weapons they needed were their fists. However, they compensated for technique through instincts honed by a lifetime of battles since they could crawl—something he did not have.

The uncertainty that Aiz felt in her chest grew as she watched him grow even more aggressive. The fight was turning into more of a match between an adventurer going against a monster, rather than another adventurer. Like he was turning into a beast as he continued to lash out with a relentless display of speed and strength.

His crimson daggers were beginning to resemble claws as he swung them around to tear into his opponent. Built for Agility rather than Strength, he was pushing himself to the point where his breathing was becoming labored. He had to leave his mouth open to take in as much air as possible as his number of swings increased drastically.

The sound of scraping steel increased as Hyacinthus was forced onto the defensive. The impacts that were blocked began to eat into his well-forged blade that was starting to chip as the force of the strikes traveled up from the base to rattle his bones. The ones that found his armor began to carve gouges out of it, long trails where the metal had been parted by the hardness native to adamantite focused into a sharpened edge.

Bell was throwing himself into a frenzy where his intentions devolved into a rampage. He was hyper-focusing solely on defeating his opponent without care for defense. He was losing track of the notion of strategy for the sake of raw fury—a Rabid Rabbit Rush.

Back when she had been a child, Riveria had once told her that according to Elven teachings a battle between warriors could be seen as more of a dialogue. One would make an argument to be met with a counterargument in response, an exchange between the two until one submitted in defeat. Finn had put it in less flowery terms that it meant one needed to reconsider their strategy if it isn’t working and read their opponent to counter them until they ran out of options.

Bell, that hard-working and earnest boy she had been training until now in secret, was simply shouting with every move he made. It was like a rabbit howling as it rushed the opponent, screaming one thing over and over: ‘I want to hurt you!’

In contrast, his opponent had switched to a completely defensive approach. Instead of peppering counterattacks as he created distance between them, he was focused completely on evasion and observation. He was recognizing his attack patterns, gradually getting a read on his opponent that thrashed wildly.

That was when she heard it.

“Ah…?” She heard a cry that echoed deep in her soul as their blades clashed in a shower of sparks. A sound that should not exist on the surface or in the room they were in. A sound that shook her like an ancient memory. It can’t be…

Her sense of time elongated while she focused her senses. She focused on that sound and the feeling it elicited as Bell’s relentless assault culminated in him finally howling as he swung the larger blade with murderous intent as his opponent brought the flamberge up to guard vertically and reinforced it with the forearm protector.

“RRRRAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!”

And then she recognized it. She recognized it the moment the dagger shattered the Sun’s Flamberge above the neck with unrelenting strength. She heard it overlapping his voice from the very blade that was in his hand, the source of his relentless anger and bloodlust that she had felt uneasy about before.

It was the thunderous roar of a Minotaur.

But she didn’t have time to do anything with that knowledge as Hyacinthus slammed his foot into the ground as hard as he could. The Strength of a Level Three was more than enough to break the ground around his foot into pieces of stone. He kicked that up with his leg as he disengaged, forcing Bell to shield his eyes as he leaped back as far as he could while pulling his cape over his right side as he drew his shortsword behind the curtain.

Then he stood ready as Bell’s legs tensed to launch him towards his opponent in fury. The moment he charged in for his assault it would be over. The shortsword would plunge itself into him as he cut through the cape to get to his opponent whose foot was already angled to pivot out of the way of the charge. His rage would cost him everything as she feared.

Ba-thump.

…For just a moment she saw herself in him. She saw her younger self, driven by that black flame within her.  Driven into a frenzy no different than the monsters she killed for strength. She would have been dead if the others hadn’t been there to pull her back before she could go over the edge.

But no one could pull him back at this moment.

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT!?

That was when foreign words were followed by a shout as a gale came unbound in the center of the battlefield between them. It hit the empty ground and the harsh winds threw up a cloud of dust even as the force of it caused both Captains to brace themselves as the Elven Mage rushed towards Bell….

[-Bell Cranel-]

Bell’s world was dyed crimson as an insidious poison swallowed him inside out as he continued to swing his arms.

It was a stinging, searing heat that ate away at his chest as the vision of his sister bleeding in his arms flashed in his mind. The cold gaze of the one who’d done so staring down at her once more. Just like before she had been brought low by his blade that ran red with her blood.

The small abode he shared with the Goddess of the Hearth, who had accepted him when all others had refused, put to the flame. The place where the two of them just sat together eating potato snacks and eggs after a great run in the Dungeon, talking about their day, buried beneath a hail of spell-fire. The chapel where dappled sunlight from the morning warmed them blotted by the scent of smoke and the embers flittering in the air while the statue of the false goddess crumbled beneath the ceiling that toppled over.

The tiny figure whose heart eclipsed her size, trembling in his arms as they ran. The sorrowful tears in her eyes, staring down at his battered and beaten form. The undaunting way she tried to stand in front of him, ready to sacrifice herself for his sake.

The poison was rage.

A rage so potent it swallowed him whole as it seeped into his pores, a molten heat that caused pain so intense that his mind began to melt. He wanted to scream but his throat had long since been burned away by the heat. The only thing he could do was swing knives at the figure in front of him that had distorted to losing all details amidst the sparks that continued to bloom.

…il…

Faster—he needed to swing the blades faster. Throwing away any semblance of strategy as the blistering heat swelled his head, uncaring if he overstretched his muscles to the point where they tore themselves apart, he worked his arms even faster. The sound of steel clashing intensified as the number of swings grew.

…kill…

Stronger—he needed to swing his blades harder. The flesh of his fingertips melted over the handle of the knives until they had become an extension of his arms. The lean muscles within his arms turned into corded steel and made it so that every stroke of the blades rattled the bones in his arms and his opponent.

KILL!

Fiercer—he needed to throw away any other thought besides tearing the thing in front of him apart. Its body would be torn apart, the entrails and organs splayed out with the bright colors standing out against the gray stone. The vivid imagery was enough to fill him with a searing excitement that burned away even more of his sanity.

MMRRROOOOOOOOOO!

A mad howl of excitement bellowed from his mouth as steel shattered in front of him and caused the blood within him to boil. A crazed roar that set every inch of his body alight with flames from the inside out. A bovine shout that had been engraved in the back of his mind and etched so deeply that it was instantly recognizable to his fleeting intellect.

Only then did he realize he was melting away. He was becoming one with the all-consuming molten heat that was insatiable. His sanity was being eaten away by the sea of bloodlust and would soon be smothered in it.

But… so what?

So what if he could kill the one who hurt his sister twice over? So what if he could kill the one who stole his home from him? So what if he could kill the one who threatened his Goddess? If becoming one with the inferno of rage was enough to give him the strength to take revenge, then why shouldn’t he sink into it?

Even now his prey fled as his sanity waned, bounding backward to escape as he loomed over it. It was the most natural thing in the world to charge down a fleeing enemy, taking advantage of his strength and speed that eclipsed the human. He would run him down, plunge his horns into his chest before ripping them out and tearing him in half, reveling in the act.

His legs tensed as he prepared to lunge—

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT!?

— when a familiar voice stalled his legs before he could take the final step over the edge. It was followed by the quavering of Magic at the last moment, as a constrained ball of wind slammed into the middle of the battlefield between them and forced the two of them to remain apart. That was when she entered his view with an arm chambered…

SLAP!

It was as if what struck him was a bolt of lightning, delivered via an open palm slap. One that was loud enough that it drowned out the roar of discontent as his vision flashed. Then he spotted the expression his sister was making as she grabbed him by the cowl and pulled his head to hers until they butted.

Synchronization, remember?” Her eyes glimmered for a moment with tears that almost seemed born of rage as she spoke in a harsh whisper. “How could I not feel what you were planning when my back is practically burning up!?

Lefiya had mentioned that her Skill allowed her to feel more in-tune with him back when they were on the 18th Floor, which was why they were so in sync with one another at the time. It was why she felt calm and certain of his next action, even before it had fully manifested. That meant the murderous intention had seeped out of him and into her, burning her from the inside out.

What would everyone think seeing you like that?” she continued, her voice softer. “Your Goddess? Your friends? All of us who helped you?

His thoughts froze at that as their faces flashed in his mind. His friends who joined his Familia and were still fighting, willing to sacrifice their Grace to give him a chance to win. Lord Miach, Miss Naaza, Lord Takemikazuchi, and his Familia, all of whom had come to aid him when he was being chased and even now. Miss Ryuu, Syr, and all the ladies at the Hostess of Fertility, all of whom gave him what support they could on the battlefield and off it.

Lady Hestia, who had given him a home when he had none and her everlasting Grace.  Miss Tiona, who said she would cheer him on no matter what. And Miss Aiz…

Ah…” A delicate memory flashed in his mind, a transient moment where a soft smile graced her lips. For others, it was something common and natural to her. But for him, it was something that stole away his breath away and enraptured his heart.

Just the memory of it quelled his boiling blood. It drowned out the roar bellowing from within his knife. It cleared his mind and allowed him to envision once more what he wanted and fought for.

Sensing that he had calmed down, Lefiya quickly released him and cleared her throat as she took a step back. “Make sure you apologize properly to everyone once this is over.”

“I will,” he promised while sporting a slight, adorable smile. “Thank you, Miss Feena.”

His heartfelt gratitude was followed by both of their expressions and eyes shifting as their senses registered the enclosing threat. Without a word, Lefiya darted back as far as she could while Bell brought both of his blades up and formed a cross. The resonance of steel rang out as they caught the silver blade that came in to strike him down overhead.

It was Hyacinthus, who could not look more offended at the moment. “Flirting in the middle of our battle. Really?”

“Miss Feena is simply a dear friend who helped me cool my head,” Bell said over a bellow of pure rage that followed from his sister at that for some reason before kicking off the ground as he spotted the second weapon in his opponent’s off-hand come around. He put a large swathe of distance between them as it narrowly avoided cutting into his Salamander Wool shirt. “I’ll owe her and the others who helped me get this far an apology after this. You as well.”

“Is that right?” Hyacinthus inquired as used his eyes to measure the distance between them while flipping his grip on the broken blade to a reverse grip. There were only about six inches of blade left from the guard itself, but that was still enough to use as an improvised dagger.

“I was so angry that I denied you a proper fight as the Captain of my Familia,” Bell clarified. “This is supposed to be a duel, and yet I almost forgot that and only saw you as an obstacle to be torn apart like a rampaging bull. I still have much to learn as an Adventurer it seems.”

“…You really are a fool,” his opponent said bluntly. “We’re in the middle of a battle. Using whatever means to win should be sufficient to bring eternal glory to your patron and their name.”

“Would you really be okay with that?” Bell asked. “Would you have been happy that the deity you worship earned their eternal glory in a one-sided match against a Familia that you forced to accept, just to split them apart?”

His lips moved to respond. But no words came out even as his throat strained. Instead, his fingers wrapped around the hilt of his blades tightened to the point of them shaking. Then, as quickly as it came, it vanished as he let out a heavy sigh. “…I have heard enough of your howling, Little Rabbit.”

Then he took a stance. His right leg was facing forward while his left leg was facing the side from behind. The whole blade of Intimacy was held vertically towards his opponent, and the broken remnants of the Sun’s Flamberge was held horizontally to guard.

Come, Bell Cranel!” declared the Captain of the Apollo Familia.

The Captain of the Hestia Familia responded in kind. “Keep up, Hyacinthus Clio!

Then two men shouted as they charged one another.

[-Daphne Lauros-]

Why am I fighting so hard?

That thought lingered in the back of Daphne Lauros’ mind as her blade flashed. It met with a slender, Far Eastern sword, and a series of blue sparks emerged as the edges scraped each other hard enough that the steel trembled. The cold expression of the girl who owned the opposite blade tensed as it shook her bones from the force of the impact.

Daphne couldn’t even feel that much. Her fingers had already gone numb from the impact of her blade crashing against those of her opponents more times than she could count. Her muscles were overstretched to the point that she could feel them tearing. Her Mind was being eaten away by her own protective spell that bolstered her Endurance and Agility.

Everything was starting to ache as she swung her arm the other way and slammed the pommel of her guard into the side of the girl’s face hard enough that her body followed it and twisted off to the side. Then she felt solid steel starting to cut into her and pivoted on her foot as the thick slab of heavy metal that the redhead called a sword only tore through her battle clothes and drew a slight line of blood instead of splitting her in half. As it bit into the ground next to her foot instead she used the momentum to bring her rear leg around. “Go down already!”

Guh!” His expression turned into a grimace as her heel slammed into the upper arm that had been raised to protect his head. The metal of the armguard used was impacted while his softer underarm slammed into his skull. The force left him to stagger as her weapon came around to cut into his dark robes, but the thick slab of metal he used as a blade came up and intercepted with its broadside before it could cut in deep.

At the same time, two snakes entwined her. One wrapped around her sword-arm that had been outstretched. The other found its way behind her neck as she barely managed to shove her wrist inside before it constricted her in a stranglehold as another braced it. They were the limbs of Mikoto, placing Daphne in a martial arts grapple that locked her arm while strangling the life out of her.

Why am I doing all of this for a God I hate?

That question surfaced as her legs tensed like springs and she threw herself with all of her might against the solid wall nearby. She felt the impact of the stone breaking under the girl who’d gotten on her back and heard her cry out in pain. But even that was only just enough to loosen her legs constricting her arm so she could use her greater Strength to forcibly free the limb and then switch her grip on the blade to aim for the slender body clinging to her.

That was when Mikoto twisted her body so that the arm around her neck was used to twist and drag Daphne down. Using her own body as a lever, she threw them both to the ground. But then Daphne released her sword and gripped Mikoto by the back of the skull to slam her head into the solid stone next to them.

That was finally enough to get her to release her chokehold as her head bounced back. “AHH!”

Taking a desperate gasp of air as whatever monstrous instinct drove the warrior into rolling back and away while she was prone, Daphne barely had time to retrieve her sword and roll out of the way as the greatsword came down to crush her. The ground beneath her cracked into dozens of small fissures as it wedged itself into place while she got onto her feet and took a fighting stance as her vision swam…

“Daphne!”

Then she heard her name being called by a voice she had known for too long. Her vision cleared and she knew the answer to the question that kept nagging at her.

That was right. It was all for Cassandra.

The two of them had known each other for so many years now. The girl was so airheaded, lost in her dreams, and in need of a caretaker since they were children. The girl whom she swore to look after and protect when that God’s eyes turned to them.

There was a saying that some people would pray that those above would not notice them. To most that sounded like insanity when the divine were the reason that the dark ages came to an end. But she remembered vividly why it was such an earnest prayer when she recalled how they ended up in this situation.

The daughter of lower nobles. One who hated formality and a ditz whose head was lost in the clouds and always spoke of fanciful dreams. Two opposites who seemed to get along for one reason or another.

Daphne never believed the dreams that Cassandra had. Not even when she desperately begged for her to believe them. Not even when, in some way or form, those dreams seemed to come to pass.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to. Daphne really did want to believe what Cassandra was saying at times. It was just that she… couldn’t.

Not until it was too late.

That was why she hadn’t listened to her that day she told them not to go out shopping, or else the sun would swallow them both whole. If she had listened that day, then the God of the Sun would have never laid his eyes on them while traveling. He never would have exchanged a promise of favors and gifts and valis for them to be welcomed into his Familia.

There were no better suitors for them than a wealthy God.

That was what both of their fathers had told them since they had reached the age where they were eligible to transition into adulthood by being married. Finding men to marry them had already been difficult because of their personalities and quirks as it was. The benefits that Apollo could provide were better than anything that a mortal husband could provide even without the claim of it being marriage—after all, a marriage entailed children and the divine could not sire with mortals.

They had been as good as sold for the prestige of being in a Familia and they both knew it.

She hated it. She hated that her future was taken from her at the whims of a God who had only laid eyes on her. She hated that it was the same for Cassandra. So, the night before he came to claim them, Daphne did the only thing she could.

She ran away and took Cassandra with her.

They ran. And ran. And ran. And ran.

Until she couldn’t run anymore.

Resigned to her fate, hating that she lacked the strength to protect either of them, she accepted that this was their new life. The best they could do was make the most out of it—never wanting food or shelter or anything else. It was a life better than they had even lived before.

But she never forgot that she had been too weak to protect Cassandra or herself. That they were in a gilded cage. That was why she fought to get stronger, pushed herself to reach Level Two, and then go further.

And now here she was fighting to the point of her body breaking down…

All to do the same to someone else.

What a joke… She would have laughed if she had the breath for it. The sight of that rabbit fleeing his cage with his Goddess reminded her so much of how she had been before with Cassandra. Now she was the one attempting to place him in that same gilded cage, telling herself it was inevitable and for his own good.

Throwing herself over the edge to avoid her own hypocrisy, she lashed out at the two in front of her who dared to take to the field. The clothes they wore sported dozens of gashes and blood dyed them a deep shade of crimson, yet they still kept charging her. She clenched her teeth at their foolish resilience before striking out with Fencer Laureate to bring them down before her body gave out….

Heavenly light, once rebuked. Merciful arms that embrace my foolish self…

She recognized Cassandra’s chant. Not by voice but by the weight that it carried and how it resonated in her ears. It was a plea from the heart reaching out to her as the tinge of Magic that was colored her soul began to brush the edges of Daphne’s senses.

Cassandra was in the middle of casting, dedicating everything to focusing her Mind into the staff for as strong of a heal as she could manage, leaving the orb atop it to glow vibrantly. It would soothe her aching muscles, melt away her pain, and restore strength to her limbs. But with her eyes closed as she concentrated there was no way she could defend herself if one of them attacked her, so why now?

The moment the Blacksmith turned towards Cassandra and extended his hand, Daphne found the energy to keep moving and darted to stab him in the back before he could do anything. “Don’t touch her!”

And yet her thin blade buried itself through the shoulder blade of the Shadow, who had thrown herself between them. Her eyes narrowed in pain before resolve surfaced. And then she performed some kind of technique that drove Daphne down to the ground once more. “Nnngghh!”

Reach out where my words cannot, and give salvation to these miserable souls—”

Burn out, illegal work—Will-o-Wisp!

Silvery mist shot like tendrils from the palm of his hand and into Cassandra before she could finish casting the final verse of her spell. All at once, her visible eye widened as that mist slinked its way into her staff where her magical energy had been focused until crackles formed as the staff that she had bought and treasured was turned into a bomb.

KA-BOOM!

It was a forced Ignis Faatus with Cassandra on the receiving end. Her slender body was thrown back by the explosion and hit the solid stone wall, leaving her to collapse into a heap on the ground while the remnants of her staff clattered on the ground. She was unmoving.

Rage took Daphne. She twisted the sword wedged into the other girl’s arm and the pain forced loose her grapple before Daphne kicked her aside and then lunged for the Blacksmith with a shout. “DAMN YOU…!

A flurry of stabs that cared nothing for defense. Throwing away strategy or anything resembling fear, she lashed out at the Blacksmith with a volley of slashes that forced him onto the defensive, even as she felt pricks of bolts attempting to bury themselves into her back through her protective spell that drained away the vestiges of her Mind, she attacked with a relentless rush until he leaped away from her—

War God’s Strike—Futsu no Mitama!

—right as a pillar of light descended upon her and was followed by the world itself pushing down on her like she was being crushed beneath the palm of a giant. It was subjugating her through sheer might, making her grovel in supplication as the stone beneath her began to crack and shatter from the pressure that refused to relent.

Daphne could barely force her head to turn and see the girl holding her hands outstretched with her at the center. There was a violet ball of magical energy compressed as though she held the weight of the world in her trembling hands. Sweat poured down her brow and blood seeped from her wounds, but her face was the picture of concentration as she shouted.

Now, Sir Welf!

“Uwwwooooooo!!!” The battle cry drew her eyes up where she saw that the Level Two High Smith had climbed partway up the stairs leading to the wall walk of the Inner Curtain Walls and then jumped right towards the barrier with the flat of the blade being swung. The moment he hit the field of intensified gravity, he and the blade were dragged down right towards her.

She knew that the moment they came crashing down on her backside it would be over. Her spell would give out beneath the force of the blow and the ground beneath her would be cratered. Everything that had been building up until now would come flooding out as an unrelenting pain that would finally rob her of her consciousness.

And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

Pinned down by the weight of the world being thrust upon her, she only had time to lay eyes upon Cassandra one final time before her vision whited.

CRRRRAAAAAASHH!!

[-Hyacinthus Clio-]

There was nothing wrong with what I did.

Hyacinthus swung Intimacy with all the force he could manage towards the boy while moving his broken blade to fend off the incoming attack from his left. But the silver sword and parried by the white rabbit’s longer dagger, right as the shorter one was blocked by the rouge blade, both giving rise to a parade of sparks and a song of clashing steel.

Frustration clawed its way out of his clenched teeth as his arms trembled from the impact jostling its way from his grip up through his arms. The earlier blows had been ludicrously strong, but they had come at the compromise of the boy’s ability to reason. He thought it to be a Skill of some kind that increased one’s Strength and Agility the angrier one became, but even now that he had regained his ability to use reason the impacts still sent shocks up his forearm.

Unable to allow himself to succumb by remaining on the defensive, Hyacinthus went on the offense. Diagonal, horizontal, and straight thrust—slashing away with Intimacy to force the boy on the defensive with the first two strokes, he thrust the broken blade forward to pierce him with the jagged tip. It was a three-hit combination executed with all the speed he could muster as a Level Three.

And yet… each and every one missed.

The Little Rabbit weaved to the side to avoid the first. Bobbed low to avoid the second. Brought his short dagger up to parry the third. And then the longer crimson blade came around to launch a counterattack, the crimson arch angled to cut through his breastplate and into his chest—

Tch!

—Intimacy rose to greet it and parried the assault. The sheering sound of the shortsword weapon being cut into by the adamantite strained his ears as yet another gouge adorned the metal. But then Hyacinthus barely caught the way he shifted his posture, leaning back and pivoting as he brought his leg around for a kick that could shatter stone.

He used his arms to protect his head. Between the forearm-guard backed by the Strength he had as a Level Three, nestled within the C-rank, the boy couldn’t break through his guard. But the fact that he still felt the impact said what did not make any sense from every logical standpoint since only a little over a week had passed since their first clash.

A mere boy was matching him.

A youth who hadn’t even been in a Familia for more than two months.

A whelp who hadn’t even spent a year as an adventurer or delving into the Dungeon.

He, who bore the alias of Phoebus Apollo. He, who had spent years working towards the goal of making the Apollo Familia great. He, who faced the Goliath on the 17th Floor and dragged them up to the D-Rank when before they had barely been above the rank-and-file. He, who had painstaking crawled his way up to Level Three to stand as the Captain of his Familia.

All to prove his devotion to Lord Apollo.

He was driven by love for his God. Whereas the other children lived to serve the one who blessed them with their Grace, he existed to bring glory to His name. That was how he showed his love to the God who enraptured his heart and set his soul aflame.

So why can’t I shake his words?

Cranel’s words had wormed their way into his head. Because he knew deep down, before they had become so large and powerful, things had been different. When it was just himself, Lissos, Marpessa, and the few others who had taken his Falna.

Apollo had been different. He desired many things, but he gave as much as he took and never by force—persistent but not by force. Back then that which he could hold in his hands had been so little, and they wanted to gift him with so much more.  Hyacinthus had wanted to see him happy and was willing to do anything.

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

His throat tightened as he recalled her words once more. He had thought it to be a warning of unrequited love. But had there been another meaning after all?

He lashed out with his blade in a fury to drown out the thoughts of someone who had left the Familia behind, right as they had risen to prominence because of him. She had always been holding them back, while he had been the one pushing ahead. That was why he had replaced her!

But his barrage of attacks was dodged flawlessly as the rabbit wove between them. Unlike before he never once allowed their blades to lock. It was a terrifying thought because it meant one thing.

Bell Cranel was adapting.

He was learning to read his movements. Knowing that he lacked the raw Strength Hyacinthus had, he was putting his Agility that somehow exceeded a mid-tier Level Three to work. Even in a battle where each blow could shatter bones or severe a limb, he was fixating on reading his attacks and adjusting to them.

But it would end soon.

His breathing was growing haggard. His rampage from before had worn him down. His stamina was less than someone who was a Level higher than him, even if he was faster. That meant even if he kept dodging, he would eventually slow down.

Then, once his sole advantage was gone, it would end.

The War Game would be brought to a swift end.

Confident in that assessment, Hyacinthus kept to maintaining the engagement distance that he had with Intimacy. Taking advantage of the longer reach of his weapon and focusing his footwork on keep it so, as long as he remained out of the reach of the boy’s daggers he would not have to worry about them. And if he closed in that distance his broken blade would serve as a deterrent.

…That was when he felt the release of Magic coming from the Inner Ward. A violet dome erupted and the air itself seemed to quake from that spot. Then there was a shout, a battle cry, and then a crashing sound that was followed by silence as the dome and the magical energy holding it in place collapsed.

Then the Elven Mage standing at the edge and looking over into the Inner Ward spoke. “Bell, the others have dealt with the last two. We’ll get to healing them, so finish up!”

So, even Cassandra and Daphne are down now? Those two had been a handful, but he at least acknowledged their potential. Between them, a couple of Level Twos should have been no issue. Perhaps he should have taken the others out first… but no matter.

The only ones who mattered in this fight were the Captains of the Familia at this point. That in mind, his silver sword flashed as he spotted the Little Rabbit moving to enter his engagement range…

Yet, then he did the opposite and hopped away right as he readied the attack.

It was not an evasive maneuver as he bound backwards three hops, purposely putting a massive distance between them. The only thing he had for ranged attacks was his Super-Short Chant spell, which his equipment could ward off as demonstrated before. The boy should have known that, so why retreat so far?

Muted confusion crossed Hyacinthus’ features as he tried to grasp his opponent’s intentions until he shouted, “Shine, Jupiter!

Magical energy exploded out from his body that became wreathed in a shroud of lightning. Wild streamers danced over his slender frame, boring into his body and illuminating his white hair and red eyes. The sound of thunder could be heard rumbling from within the boy’s body as if a thunderstorm was rampaging within him as he crouched down into a sprinter’s stance.

…A chill ran down Hyacinthus’ spine. He readied a stance and prepared for a charge, never once taking his eyes off of the boy in front of him. That was when he twisted his head behind him on a hunch, born from the current surprises he bore witness until now.

If he had not had his expectations subverted until now, then he would have kept his eyes forward. He would have been expecting a straight charge and been blindsided as the boy was already behind him. He was at an angle that suggested he had touched ground at least three times to circle around to his back with his blade upraised.

Hyacinthus pivoted on his foot and swung Intimacy around in a full circle that left a silver halo in the air as it came around… and nearly had his sword-arm torn from the socket from the hasty defense. The silver steel met with a crimson streak, creating a shower of blue sparks as the white rabbit brought down his shorter dagger that was stronger than it had any right to be.

It was an Enchantment-type spell. There was no doubt about that given how much his Strength had increased from that blow alone. Even so, he stomped his foot into the ground hard enough to embed it as he stopped himself from staggering as the weight of the blow passed. Then he lashed out in response almost reflexively with the rouge blade only to cut through empty space as the boy had vanished once more—

Ngh!?

—as a warhammer slammed into him from the side, the impact of which was so hard that he felt the bones in his upper arm fracture as they were all that stood between his ribs being shattered. And that was before the momentum caught up and sent him skirting off the ground and into one of the Outer Curtain Walls hard enough that the broken bits of the wall exploded out from around him.

Fear crept into his chest as he let his instincts take over to remove himself from the wall immediately, falling to the ground and then pushing off with all his strength as the rest of the wall erupted in a cloud of stone dust and sand as the white missile slammed into it like a cannonball.

Getting back onto his feet, Hyacinthus dedicated everything he had to mount a solid defense. In that single moment, he knew that counterattacking was no longer an option. Bell had gotten so fast that he would be stricken down the moment he attempted to retaliate, so he wired himself to guard only as his senses as a Level Three kicked into high alert.

That and his instinct were all that saved him as the white comet slammed into his sword that he braced with his forearm-guard as the crimson dagger came around once more. It struck like a mace rather than a blade, breaking the shortsword just from the impact alone as the protector he used to brace it visibly cracked. Then he jumped back as the second crimson streak cut into his breastplate and left a visible rend in it, the bottom half only hanging on by a fourth of its form.

And even that fell off as the hammer blow from a fist clenched around the handle of the crimson dagger slammed into his breastplate before he could set a foot down. His scream of pain was lost as steel shattered, the metal mixed in with Obsidian Soldier matter broken to pieces as it absorbed the force of a momentum-backed punch. Even then he felt a jolt running through the countless fractures lining his ribs before the wind rushing past him came to an end as he hit the ground some distance away.

…Won over.

Lying on the ground, struggling to cope with the pain, he had no choice but to admit that he had been thoroughly won over in a battle against the Level Two in front of him—Bell Cranel.

Tactics. Strategy. Technique. Even though he had spent years accumulating them to reach his current Level, all of those meant nothing at that moment. A spell that increased his Status that had somehow already broken even with a mid-tier Level Three just made it an absolute rather than advantageous.

He hated it. Clenching his fists as he laid on the ground with his body aching, there were no words to describe the feeling within his chest. It was unbearable, knowing that his Lord was watching him from above as he was beaten down by a mere boy.

Stand! He screamed in his head for his body to stand. He wasn’t done. Not yet. Not yet! He still had a trump card to play. STAND DAMN YOU!

His body responded. Slowly. Agonizingly. He rose to his knees with a desperate gasp of air, half-surprised that his opponent hadn’t taken the chance to simply finish him off while he was downed. But the reason for that had not been mercy, which he realized as he peered across from the Outer Ward to see that his beating had at least one silver lining.

The boy was also on one knee, an eye wincing and lips slightly contorted in pain. Tremors ran through his body, small convulsions that ate away at him. That power came at a price, it seemed. Maybe his Endurance couldn’t handle the backlash at his Level.

Good. Then he still had a chance to play his final card.

Invigorated by the opportunity, Phoebus Apollo rose to his full height and got into a stance. His opponent seemed to realize the match was not over and rose up as well. His muscles were still slightly convulsing, a damper for someone who fought with Dexterity and Agility. Then his only option would be to use his own ranged Spell then.

And that was the one thing Hyacinthus knew he had an overwhelming advantage in.

He drew in a deep breath and began to chant. “My name is love, child of light. Glorious sun, I offer you my body!

The boy bristled as his right hand clenched into a fist upon realizing what was happening. Then blue-and-white motes of light began dancing over it. Had he a final card to play as well?

No matter. He had faith in this Magic and its majesty. “My name is sin, jealousy of the wind. This body calls forth your gust!

Hyacinthus knew a single spell, born of the love for his Lord.

It was the same as his devotion to Apollo, all-consuming in its entirety. His Mind would be expended from the strain, but that was fine. It would serve as the embodiment of his purpose—to bring glory to His name.

Come forth, ring of fire on westerly winds!

Magical energy flowed upwards as he raised his left arm that still moved toward the sun. Though he should be prepared to throw it like a discus, that was merely a formality. The moment the spell was complete the disc would home in and hit its target so long as his concentration remained unbroken.

His hand turned as burning red as the overbearing rays that he basked in turned into a solar flare. The searing gale that blew from the west wove it into a spiraling ring. Bound together as one, a blazing disc that embodied the passionate worth of Phoebus Apollo was born. He threw the discus forward with all the energy he had left in his body as he said the trigger words for the spell.

ARO ZEPHYROS!

Searing the air as it cut the space between them, his magical energy concentrated within the spell, the discus was unleashed at a blistering speed. Even if he somehow dodged it then it would follow due to the homing properties within the makeup of the spell. Even if he somehow put an obstacle between them or someone tried to throw themselves on it, he could detonate it to expand the area of effect. There was no escape…

“—twenty-second charge.” That was when he heard the boy’s voice beneath the howling wind as he raised that glowing hand towards the incoming burning disc. Planting his foot to the ground, he extended his right arm and braced it with the left as he uttered his spell. “FIREBOLT!

What burst from his hand was not a simple flaming bolt like before. It was electricity and flame woven together by a white radiance. The white bolt that was close to plasma split the air between them as it sped straight ahead.

The two met midway. The burning ring that was the height of a small child slammed into the javelin of electricity and flames. The lesser of the two Magic should have been consumed utterly and the greater should have pushed on to secure victory for their caster…

Aro Zephyros shattered. The empowered Firebolt pierced deep within the shell of the burning ring, the magical energy constraining it breaking open as it bore through and then sped forth to slam into the Outer Curtain Wall behind Hyacinthus where it blew through a massive section of the wall.

Time seemed to move slow as his world vanished once the wrath of the sun was unleashed upon the Outer Ward, no longer bound. He no longer had the strength to move or evade. It was his defeat at the very blaze gifted to him by his God’s grace and born of his passion.

Only then did he finally grasp the meaning of Marpessa’s final words. It was not a warning that his love would be unrequited. It was a warning that his unconditional love would bring ruin to everything that had been built up. For when his God’s passions ran wild, it should have been he who quelled them rather than inflame them by giving him what he desired no matter what it took.

It was only fitting then that he be consumed by them utterly…

[-Bell Cranel-]

Everything hurt as Bell forced himself to walk forward.

Pain consumed his muscles from the inside out. He could tell that they were overstretched and torn.  Using his Enchantment spell normally caused some strain but that was manageable. The problem was that he had lost control before then.

The blade that Welf had forged for him housed the bloodlust of the Minotaur within it. He had given into that destructive power it brought out because of his anger. A minor lapse in control had pushed his body beyond its limits for that strength and the spell only worsened it.

But that was fine.

The blame laid with him. He would accept the pain as his punishment for forgetting who he was and what he was fighting for. It was a lesson learned.

Still, it was the right choice to wear Salamander Wool. The flames that had washed over him were hot enough to bake the stone to where steam wafted off of them, but he only felt mildly warm. Then again, it might also be because of the gift that Syr had given him. The stone was cracked beyond repair now as it dangled from his neck from beneath his cowl.

He would owe her an apology and a replacement.

Bearing that in mind, he took pained steps forward until he came to a stop in front of the supine figure of Hyacinthus. His skin had been charred and his clothes were smoldering rags. But the Level Three Captain of the Apollo Familia was still alive, of course.

He exhaled in a rasp as his heavy eyes cracked open halfway. “It seems you… are more of a Vorpal Rabbit… than an Almiraj…

Bell did not know what that was, but he didn’t have the will to argue against him. “It’s my win.

It was not a question. But a fact. One was still standing and the other was on the verge of unconsciousness and unable to move. It was mostly formality at this point as the overseers of the match were waiting to see if he would pull something else out of his hat at the last minute or if Bell would finish the job.

Even Hyacinthus could not argue the point as he exhaled a rasped, crooked breath. “…Your home was my call…do as you wish.

“…Fine then.” Bell reached for his holster as the defeated Captain closed his charred eyelids and awaited the finishing blow. Then he pulled out an unbroken vial and popped the cap before splashing the Potion over his fallen foe. The medicine began to eat away at the charred skin and replaced it with healthy flesh, just enough to make sure that he didn’t die by chance from his own injuries.

I still… hate you…” His final, spiteful words uttered at being shown mercy by his sworn foe, the Captain of the Apollo Familia finally lost consciousness.

And the final bell rang.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 17 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 17: The Castle Siege – Part 2

To this day I still recall just how much I loved that small village that welcomed my brother and me when we were desperate. That kindness saved us, even if things were a little rough in the beginning. It was tough to say goodbye to the place we stayed with for two years of our lives, building friendships and memories with the people there that would last a lifetime.

As parting gifts, Argo was given a short sword that he could use to keep us safe and a diary he could use to record his story. He boasted that his newfound Hero Diary would one day be the manuscript of the hero, Argonaut. The others said they would love to hear the story sometime when he returned.

Sadly, the village would one day share the same fate as many smaller pockets of civilization while monsters continued to spread throughout the land…”

—Parting Gifts for Argonaut

[-|-|-|-]

“Ah, so Gryne ended up getting beaten after all.”

An expectant but somewhat disappointed voice broke the silence of the afternoon doldrum within the room modeled in a Far Eastern aesthetic. It belonged to a woman with tanned skin, nestled on a futon that laid on a tatami-styled floor. She was sitting upright, her body a sleek masterwork figure of smooth muscle and shapely curves hidden beneath the gossamer-thin lavender cloth. Her long, luxurious raven-colored hair ran down the right side of her face before falling behind her back as she stared at the looking glass hovering in the air in front of her.

“She was the one who was redeemed by Lord Apollo for her talent, was she not?”

A soft, polite inquiry followed from the figure next to her, sitting on her knees. A young woman dressed in a flowing red kimono, accentuated by golden hair that mirrored the fur-laden vulpine features serving to enhance her beauty. Her emerald eyes also gazed softly at the floating disc that revealed the siege of the castle.

“He enjoyed her hobby as much as her body,” the Amazon explained. Gryne had been redeemed by Apollo specifically because she was talented with a Harp, which was a rarity among the Amazons who preferred more physical means of recreation, and he had something of an appreciation for the musical and visual art. The sex and fighting ability she possessed were bonuses more than anything. “Don’t get your hopes up, Haruhime.”

The warning was only met with a soft shake of her head. “I understand even doing this much for me may be more than I deserve from you, Lady Aisha. I will not cause you any more trouble.”

Her vow, spoken with an air of solemn defeat, only served to tease out a frown from the Amazon as what went unsaid lingered between them.

Aisha and Haruhime—an Amazonian Warrior and Renart Kamuro were sitting side-by-side within the room deep within the Pleasure Quarters. It was afternoon to the outside world, meaning it was effectively dawn to those within it and so their meeting was as clandestine as it could be while others slept. Not that there was anything illicit happening now, but rather it would be tedious to explain the presence of the Arcanum at work.

More so when it was not the work of Ishtar.

Gods frequented the Pleasure Quarters during the night. It was not hard for a woman of Aisha’s various talents to find one who’d be willing to set up a private little Divine Mirror this afternoon in exchange for pleasure the night prior. Her sisters might have questioned her choice of whom she hunted, but it ensured that she did not have to share so her request went unheard to all.

Aisha’s left arm rose and gently reached around Haruhime’s shoulders. There was a moment where she felt a slight tension running through the girl’s body and considered pulling away. But soon the Renart leaned over and allowed herself to be embraced, and Aisha stroked her hair with the fragility of glasswork. “It was no trouble at all for you.”

The two stayed like that until Haruhime’s ears shot up upon seeing a figure clad in dark clothes creep through the Northern Outer Curtain Walls that had been devastated by the first assault and abandoned. Her face was briefly visible as she bound from the crevice that had cooled from the harrowing winds, revealing features common to Far Eastern females. The maiden then slipped into the shadows as the sound of voices rushing about could be heard from the Apollo Familia who remained within the layer between the outer and inner curtain walls.

“…Is she the one?” Aisha asked.

The Renart slowly nodded.  “It has been five years but, without a doubt, it really is Lady Mikoto.”

Then it wasn’t a waste, the Amazon thought to herself while staring up at the mirror as the girl pulled out a magic sword as she slinked through the shadows until she could spot another unit of Apollo Familia attempting to mobilize themselves to deal with the Elven Mage that had landed atop the Western Outer Curtain Wall. They were emerging from the castle storage rooms, arming themselves to deal with the threat.

The Absolute Shadow emerged from the darkness and swung the blade. Lightning blossomed, a crackle that split the air as voltage shot forward and consumed everything within its path. Screams rang out as electricity bore into them like carnivorous worms, leaving burn marks as they ripped and tore at the muscles beneath their skin. Their bodies convulsed in an attempt to fight off the effect, but the potency of the magic sword overpowered them until they collapsed onto the ground.

The shouts grabbed the attention of others who had been circling the Wall Walks to get to the Elf, meaning those above could see the magic sword in her grasp. Fear set in. They switched priorities, arrows raining down from above as the shouts of others led to them starting to seal in the area between the outer and inner curtain wall from above.

“She moves well,” Aisha acknowledged. In her eyes, it was clear that she was an actual Level Two and not one with exceedingly high attributes in her Agility, which made sense given she had only recently received her alias.

She could not dodge all the arrows coming from the walls above at different angles. But in her off-hand was a small, Far Eastern blade that she used to deflect the arrows that were likely to hit someplace vital or crippling, accepting the gashes and cuts that managed to slice her skin in grazing as they buried themselves into the stone ground. Then she would swing the lightning-imbued blade around and lash out with a serpentine bolt that caught one archer, a massive animal person, square in the chest.

“Urgh!” He grunted as the bolt speared through him and electricity wormed its way throughout his body and left him collapsing over the side. He hit the ground next to her before she grabbed hold of him and then flipped him over herself to be used as a meat shield. They promptly stopped firing lest they hit one of their own.

Then there was a howl of the wind, born from the spell from the Elven Mage as it slammed into the Inner Curtain Wall. Its hurricane-like force reduced to merely being fearsome winds still sent those archers toppling over the edge and into the narrowed space. Perfect for her to swing her electrified blade once more as she emerged from cover, sending an arc of lightning down the pathway that branched out like the roots of a tree and left them writhing on the ground helplessly.

She then broke from cover and proceeded south, leaving the narrow enclosure to skirt around the entrance to the Inner Curtain Walls that led to the Inner Ward before the Keep. It was there that the seemingly last line of defense that awaited her—a red-haired young woman dressed in white-and-orange hues standing at the ground-level entrance of the Keep. She stood in front of the door like a sentry, weapon at the ready to make a valiant last stand.

Measuring the distance with her gaze, it was clear that Mikoto would need to move through the opening in the Inner Curtain Walls to place her in range. So she stepped forward with purpose, her magic sword in one hand and Far Eastern blade in the other. The other young woman tensed.

That was when Aisha spotted the five Apollo Familia members waiting in the shadows and above, a viewpoint granted only by the Divine Mirror. The sleeping members of the Familia were all tucked away in the building behind the commander, so taking the fight into there would only serve to make the situation far more chaotic if she was allowed to breach those defenses. The outside afforded more room to maneuver as well, so if they covered her from multiple angles then they should be able to either overpower her, due to being a confirmed Level Two, or at the very least disarm her.

That was when four ceramic looking containers were flung by one of the ambushers, a Pallum. The containers didn’t head towards the Absolute Shadow, but instead the other Apollo Familia who had been in hiding. And when the containers hit the solid surfaces, they shattered while scattering a green cloud of something.

Screams broke out as the ambushers gave away their positions, breaking from their cover while holding their noses and violently coughing. The animal person who had been among their ambushers had outright begun rubbing their noses against the nearest wall in a desperate attempt to get the scent out of it. That was when the Pallum broke for cover and ran past the Absolute Shadow with no sign of animosity or that she would cut him down.

The pieces lined up as the commander shouted, “Traitor!”

Their ambush failed and with tears in their eyes from whatever was in those containers, the animal person produced a ball-and-chain weapon that they wheeled around before throwing it towards the Pallum’s fleeting form. From the angle of the throw, which may as well have been in slow motion to Aisha, it appeared like it would strike the Pallum from behind until Mikoto stepped in.

With the shorter weapon, she deflected the sphere by putting her body into it enough to guide it off to the path it was on, so it slammed into the wall hard enough to crack it. Then her magic weapon was swung, sending a line of lightning rushing forward. It slammed him in the chest and his agonized cry served as the signal to remind everyone who the real threat was as she charged into the Inner Ward to finish what she started while Pallum ran off towards the south gate.

Haruhime went rigid as she watched her dearest friend deflected what appeared to her eyes to be three glints of steel from the front, throwing knives aimed high as the red-haired woman fell back towards one with long, black hair that was on the ground coughing. Then she spun on her heel and ducked to avoid a halberd being swung by one of her assailants, the broadhead catching the end of her ponytail. She brought her leg up and kicked him off to the side before using the magic sword to disable him.

Then another dagger grazed her shoulder and with it came a new crimson line as blood began to pour out before she raised her blade to deflect the follow up as a Human with a pair of short swords emerged from the sickening cloud. He pressed in on her while a woman with a spear joined in, at the same time narrowly avoiding a bolt fired from a Hume Bunny perched behind cover with a crossbow.

Undeterred, the Mikoto swapped her grip on both her blades and went back on the assault. Using the reverse grip to rest the flat of the Far Eastern blade against her underarm she deflected the slashes of the short swords, the grey steel catching the light of the sun and leaving sparks where it scraped against her blade. Then she brought her opposite fist forward and slammed it into his face to stagger him back.

It was just long enough for her to pivot her foot and drop down while driving the shorter of the blade into the stone to catch the spear coming to sweep her legs. The resonance of steel-on-steel rang as she reached up with her now empty hand and grabbed the woman’s collar before jerking it down while bringing her head up. Aisha could hear the bone break even before the woman dropped her spear, leaving it to clatter on the ground as she spun around and did a shoulder throw to toss the spearwoman into the swordsman.

Then the magic sword came around again. The bolt of lightning lanced forward and plowed through the pair as streamers of electricity burst free and ran over their bodies. They collapsed onto the ground as the blur of a crossbow bolt slammed into the Absolute Shadow’s shoulder holding the magic sword causing the blade to fall free of her grasp.

But before it could hit the ground, ignoring her pain and mounting injuries, her other hand caught it and then swung the blade to send yet another lightning bolt snaking towards Hume Bunny in the process of reloading. The hue of their eyes was illuminated as the lightning did its work, a direct hit that left them screaming in agony. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, Mikoto let loose another slash towards the commander helping the black-haired young woman onto her feet.

It was on a reflex that the red-haired woman pushed her companion out of the way. Hard enough that she was sent a few meders away, falling onto her side with her staff clattering from her hand. Thus, she was spared as the lightning bolt caught only one of them instead of both. “AGGHHH!!!”

“Daphne!” She watched the enemy commander fall to the ground, her body convulsing in place as the electricity savaged her muscles without mercy. But when she rose to her feet and looked like she was getting ready to reach out to her, a steel blur cut through the air and slammed into the wall between them. The scattering of stone dust and shrapnel left her to yelp and fall backward as the spear that belonged to one of her companions had narrowly missed her outstretched hand, thrown by the Hestia’s Familia’s invader.

Covered in injuries that stained her black outfit red, with cold eyes that were half-lidded, Mikoto removed the bolt wedged in her shoulder with only a strained grunt and left the bloodied bolt to drop onto the ground along with the glasswork that was once the magic sword. It must have exerted its magic at that point, which was the only reason that she had not used it to finish the job. Even so, with the sword she had stabbed into the ground now back in her hand, she would have no trouble finishing the job.

“…I like her,” Aisha said, brushing her hair over her shoulder slightly at the coordinated display of violence. It was clear she had nowhere near the raw power of the others they had seen so far acting on behalf of the Hestia Familia. But she was well-trained and showed no hesitation in moving to disable the helpless girl scrambling to get back onto her feet—

“I am starting to see why Lissos hates those swords so much.”

— and then the Absolute Shadow was suddenly sent flying, her slender figure blown back towards the entrance of the Inner Ward as her sprint was intercepted. Her body hit the ground and fell into a rough tumble before got her feet under her and lifted her head. Crimson escaped between her split lips while the signs of a bruise appearing on her cheek were becoming vivid.

H-Hyacinthus…” whimpered the dark-haired woman as she looked up with nervous eyes at the figure with gleaming light armor and a cape draped across his back that softly drifted down behind him. The Captain of the Apollo Familia that deigned to finally appear before them slowly retracted his outstretched fist before reaching into the holster on his hip and then tossed an Elixir into her lap.

“Use that on Daphne,” he ordered. “The rest of the supplies in storage were contaminated and, at this point, she’s the most useful one of you left. I’ll deal this one and then take care of the traitor and that fairy dancing around the castle like she owns it.”

As there was no one he could trust fully without being aware of the traitor, he had gone to fetch the medical supplies himself. It was then he discovered that the traitor in their ranks had managed to contaminate them, likely around the time that Breakfast had been at work. Among those who had been missing at that point had been Luan, who had complained about needing to continue running his tasks since he arrived so late last night.

As the girl moved to get onto her feet, Aisha spotted as he drew what looked to be a short sword and brought it around. There was a soft phink that could be heard as a throwing spike that had been aimed at the bottle within the girl’s hands was deflected by the blade now within Hyacinthus’ grasp. It was a third-tier quality blade only known as Intimacy.

He stepped forward with the short sword in hand as the Absolute Shadow got back onto her feet, wakizashi in one hand as she drew a knife tucked into her outfit to dual wield it. No sooner than she had in her grasp was he on top of her. Wearing a placid expression and attacking with what as may as well have been practice swings, his short sword came down and met with Mikoto’s longer blade—

CRACK!

and the shattering of metal rang out with a bloom of sparks reflecting in shards of steel. The swing was causal from Aisha’s perspective as a Level Three. But it was still enough that the Absolute Shadow’s arm was knocked aside from the sheer might of the Captain whose Level was above her own, disarming her by destroying her lower quality weapon.

It was probably only by the virtue of her training that she saw the next incoming slash that flowed from the first one. The horizontal slash would have cut her across the chest if she had not brought the knife up in time to intercept the second slash while leaping back, the impact of the steel enough that it was akin to being hit by a Warhammer. She was forced backward as the knife snapped under the force of the blow, sending her into a roll until she got back onto her feet near the discarded weapon of one of the still twitching bodies left in the wake of her magic sword.

Mikoto picked up the battle-ax and then rushed right back in to confront him with a battle cry to embolden her spirit. “Haaaah!!

It was sad to watch if Aisha had to put it into words. The girl was trying her best with a decent level of proficiency with the weapon that was different from her usual, but the difference in power was so severe that he casually avoided the first three swings before catching her wrist on the fourth. Her valiant efforts were only rewarded by pain when he thrust his foot forward like a spear and she was sent flying once more.

But this time there was no roll. It had been faster than she could have prepared for it or anticipated, completely overwhelming her to where she hit the ground, bounced off it once, and then landed prone. Her entire body trembled as she curled over onto her side while huddled over the point of impact, violently coughing as a spattering of blood came out along with gastric fluids. “Urr…ghh…

“Lady Mikoto…” Crystalline tears slipped from Haruhime’s emerald eyes. Her slender fingers curled on her lap into fists and her shoulders trembled as she watched someone she had known since her childhood was being beaten bloodied and broken as her assailant approached. A memory that likely overlapped with one that was too fresh, all things considered.

Hyacinthus gave her an uninterested glance. Then, deeming her no longer able to fight, he turned his attention towards the Pallum in the distance and his eyes narrowed. He proceeded to walk past her…

N-Not… yet…” Somehow, Mikoto managed to unfurl her arms and clung to his leg. She held it in as tight of a grasp as possible, even though she couldn’t even catch her breath in a desperate attempt to stop him.

His only response was to lash out with that very same leg, knocking her into the wall with the same effort as one who was kicking aside a pebble in the road. Then, in that very same moment, he spun on his heels and turned his attention to the Outer Western Curtain Wall above. He must have sensed the building magic as the Elven Mage stood there with her staff trained on him and the foreign words on her lips.

Then the spell was fired, her staff bucking as the constrained wind curled into a ball rocketed forth.

Hyacinthus leaped back as it hit the ground where he had been. The winds came unbound and then a wall of air slammed into everything within its radius, carrying along with it the convulsing bodies of the Apollo Familia who had ended up at the mercy of the magic sword in the process. Hyacinthus himself was swept up until he flipped himself midair and used his legs to absorb the shock as he hit the Eastern Outer Curtain Walls.

Then his feet touched the ground and, to the eyes of a Level One or below, they simply lost track of the man.

Only those on the higher end of Level Two would have been able to catch the blur of motion that a Level Three was capable of. And the fact that his Agility had a modest investment of ability points was evident as in the space of a breath he covered the length of the Outer Ward, bounced between the inner and outer curtain walls, and then ended up on the Wall Walk along with the Elven Mage who only noticed his presence when he was already moving to strike her down.

The hollow ring of eleven wood and silver steel resonated as the charge and swing of the short sword carried enough momentum that the Elven Mage was left staggering backward. But before she could even regain her footing the Captain of the Apollo Familia had already sheathed his short sword and drew his rouge flamberge instead. Then he was on her once more, swinging his sword diagonally in a vicious arc that would cut her from shoulder to hip.

The Elf narrowly managed to step back to avoid the attempt only to have to bring the staff around to deflect the follow-up. And then she was forced to bring the opposite end around to parry his attempt to punch her in the throat with his unarmed fist, which left her abdomen open as he spun on his hind leg and swept the blade around, leaving a silver streak that met with her unprotected abdomen.

“Aghh!!” A pained sound slipped out of the mage’s mouth as she staggered back a few more steps, one eye wincing as scarlet began to dye her overbust corset. Blood was coming from where the blade had found her abdomen through her battle clothes. But she didn’t have time to dwell on it as he charged her again with a thrust that would have gone through her shoulder if she hadn’t narrowly avoided by pivoting on her feet, leaving it tearing into the flowing sleeve of her outfit and parting the flesh instead of piercing it.

After that, it was a flurry of attacks that followed one after another. Red streaks of light lingered in the air as he put his all into a relentless assault that forced her on the defensive. Or rather being defensive was the only option left to the Elven Mage as she frantically tried to survive while blood began to stain the stone.

The sight left the Renart to bring her hands to her mouth and mutter, “How horrible.”

“Those cuts are mostly shallow,” Aisha said to alleviate her fears, slightly craning her head around at the sight as she caught the motions with a level of clarity that her companion couldn’t. If the Amazonian Warrior had to guess, her Status must be higher than average for a dedicated mage since if there was a huge gap in their ability points then he would already have ended things. But there was still enough of a difference that she was being won over as the number of cuts in her battle clothes piled on and fresh blood gradually died the whites and bright colors their shade.

It was just a matter of seconds now.

[-The Hostess of Fertility-]

“That bastard! Doesn’t he know cute girls should be treasured!”

The declaration from one angry patron of the restaurant was met with a resounding roar from a numerable portion of the restaurant’s male customer base. It was a packed afternoon in the Hostess of Fertility. They had the luxury of being one of the few establishments that had access to a set of Divine Mirrors even though no Gods or Goddesses were present, which meant that the audience had both a meal and a show.

Nyaah… they’re getting so worked up,” Anya muttered while watching them get into a rage as the Elf dressed in somewhat frilly clothes was being attacked so relentlessly.

“It doesn’t look like she’s doing all that well compared to before,” Syr mentioned while observing the match. She was not an adventurer, so the other waitresses supposed that from her perspective all she could see was the Elven Mage being covered in blood as her clothes began to stick to her flesh from the wounds she had accumulated.

“It’s a bad match-up,” Chloe chimed in. “Until now she was going against adventurers who were a lower Level that her own, so she could walk over them. Now the best she can do is fending off the worst of it.”

They watched as more of her flesh was parting. From the expression that the Elf was making red hot stinging pain flooded the wounds as she was subjected to death by a thousand cuts. Her attempts at raw evasion and bare basic defense were less than effective as well, almost as if….

“He must have encountered another Mage who fought like this one in close range,” Lunoire said after a moment. “There’s a gap in their Status, but the way he’s adjusting to her means he can read her movements a lot easier so he can be more aggressive.

Her words were accurate, an assessment born of experience. There was a reason that having to face a fellow adventurer was far more dangerous than facing a monster. They learned from their previous encounter and applied that the next time they faced a similar foe, making overcoming them that much easier.

Even if he did not recognize the Half-Elf under her guise, he recognized her movements from the last time they had encountered one another. Under his period of convalescence, he had time to think them over and analyze them in his mind. The advantage compounded until—

AHHHHHH!!

—sympathetic cries rang throughout the crowd as without a shred of mercy or hesitation he baited her staff into diverting a slash and instead drove his fist into her stomach. He had targeted the area where he had first injured her and thus would be the most effective. She was forced to lean on her staff to remain standing as she brought one of her arms to the wound involuntarily, which was when his rouge blade came around in a horizontal that offered no chance to avoid and no chance to parry as she desperately brought the staff up only for it to slam into her like Warhammer and send her flying over the edge of the Wall Walk.

“Bastard!” “How dare you!?” “Didn’t anyone teach you how to treat a woman!” Various enraged shouts and cries bellowed out from the audience as they watched as the sylph plummeted from the sky to the cold and hard embrace of the stone that awaited her…

Then silence replaced the outrage as white and red rushed into the Outer Ward and leaped into the air.

Polished steel glinted from the afternoon sun against black clothes that drank the light. A scarlet cape billowed as the wind held it aloft while descending with the feminine figure nestled safely within a pair of firm arms that held her close. The soft ping of chimes lightly rang as one of the gloved hands that held onto her glowed softly with white-and-blue sprites.

The falling fairy had been caught by the white rabbit.

The Captain of the Hestia Familia had arrived.

The climax of the siege was underway.


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.