Chapter 12: A Transcendent Promise – Part 1
“Once we were out of the city, we needed to get to the next village for safety. Argo said the Kingdom would dispatch their knights to protect the villages and collect taxes, so he knew how to get to them. But, on foot, the journey would be at least two days or so to the nearest one that wasn’t in the same direction that the monsters came from.
My world was the four walls I had been born and raised in. Everything in the outside world was new and terrifying for me. But he held my hand and smiled at me every step along the way. Even knowing that there was a chance the next village could be overrun, or we could be gobbled up along the way, he kept smiling.
That smile kept me calm as I walked alongside him.”
—The First Steps Into The Unknown
“Whhhyyyyy….” An unladylike groan slipped out of Lefiya’s mouth as she sat down in a wooden chair, nestled by a small table with a flower vase that held forget-me-nots within them that basked in the sunlight that came through the window. She was in a small room within the manor that served as something of a study, with a couple of bookshelves that were lined with texts of all shapes and sizes. It was normally a nice and quiet retreat for the more studious of the Familia.
“It’ll be fun, Lefiya!” Tiona said with a smile that was commonplace on the Amazonian as she leaned over the back of a sofa, her feet kicking somewhat playfully while watching as Leene finished her earlier treatment. She had been nice enough to bring her a change of clothes so she could be more comfortable as the bespectacled nurse completed what she started earlier. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a War Game.”
Lefiya preferred whining instead. “But the whole reason we were running was that he didn’t accept the War Game in the first place, because it would be unfair. What was the point of being chased by more than a hundred people if he was just going to accept it?”
A War Game was essentially a small-scale war between different Familia. The differences of Levels, the number of members, their tactics, were all pitted against one another in a format decided by the Gods and Goddesses. Once the conditions were set, all that was left was to determine who would be the winner or the loser, and the wages of the war that would be paid.
However, you could not call it a war when one side had only a single combatant. It was more of a slaughter. Unless you were absurdly more powerful than the opposition, such as the King, there was little-to-no chance of winning in any format other than maybe a Duel. And even then, Bell had only been an Adventurer for two or so months. He had been a farm boy until then, living in a small village in the mountains.
Lefiya could not see any way for him to win as he was. Hyacinthus would slaughter him. She had watched him nearly do so twice already. She could not watch it happen a third time.
Yet, despite that being an obvious fact, Tiona seemed to think otherwise. “I think Little Argonaut will win. He’s beaten the odds before.”
“I wish I could share your optimism…” Lefiya sighed as Leene finished her work. “And why do you call him Argonaut?”
“That’s a story about a boy who wanted to be a hero but kept messing up, right?” Leene asked. “Tricked and betrayed by the King and all of that? He doesn’t seem the kind to be that silly, so the name seems a little misplaced.”
The normally enthusiastic Amazonian’s expression changed for a fleeting moment. It seemed almost foreign on her, a pensive look that came as quickly as it fled. Then she spoke. “Back on Telskyura, there was… an emptiness inside of me until I saw the pages of that story one day.”
For a moment both listeners had immediately regretted prying. The story of the Hiryute sisters was not a happy one. Those living in a culture that bred strong warriors by culling their numbers was not one kind to children.
“By the time I reached Level Two, I felt nothing. Even though I liked fighting, I felt empty after the first time I had to fight someone else. Then one day I just found a mere scrap of the page, a picture of a man facing a Minotaur in words I didn’t understand.”
She brought her hands to her chest for a moment and simply held them there. “I don’t know why, but I wanted to know more about it. Something from deep within my chest told me to read it, so I asked Bache to read it for me. And then, as I listened to it, a warm feeling started filling my chest.”
Silence lingered in the wake of her words as the two considered them. In a place where one would have to throw away everything for a life of combat and to become stronger, discarding everything that wasn’t necessary was probably the only way to keep moving. Kill your heart and become a weapon—a different person than they had ever known.
“It was a small feeling at first, but it grew the more I heard, and I felt like I needed to know how the story ended. And so eventually, when I was asked if there was anything that I wanted, I told Kali I wanted to know how the story ended. And she gave me the whole book the next day.”
Lefiya could only imagine how it seemed. Asked for anything with the power of a Goddess to grant, and your only desire was to know how a story ended. Not a reprieve or anything tangible, but a bedtime story that wouldn’t change anything. It must have seemed like the vestiges of childhood innocence clinging to a warrior who would continue to fight, suffer, and kill.
“By the end, I was smiling again,” Tiona finished, sporting a smile. “After that story, I could smile and laugh again, no matter what. I felt like, despite how dark things were, there would be light at the end if I kept smiling. And, eventually, we had the chance to leave.”
…Speechless. Listening to her story, the Mage and Nurse were speechless. Because they both realized that what Tiona had been given was… hope.
She felt hope when she had no reason to because of that story. Something fleeting and intangible within how cruel her life had been since birth. Yet so radiant that it shone like a distant star that refused to be extinguished, that hope was the catalyst for her to be able to smile and laugh.
Fixating on that lone beacon kept her from being lost in the nothingness.
Forever following it allowed her to smile despite her situation being so cruel.
Then that star became the new dawn of a new day.
She turned around and leaned back on the sofa, staring up at the magic-stone chandler. “When I watched Little Argonaut fight the Minotaur, I felt the same thing that I did the first time I found that story. I want to see how his story goes from beginning to end, but I want to help make sure it’s a happy one.”
“It… almost sounds like you’re in love with him when you put it that way,” Leene said after a pause. Her tone suggested she was joking, but Lefiya thought she could hear a hint of curiosity. Then, to her mild concern, the Amazonian went quiet as her brows folded in.
She was actually thinking about it.
From what the Half-Elf knew, Amazons were the only other race besides Humans that could breed with others and produce children—even though the children would always be other Amazons. But based on what happened in Melen, and with Tione, once they fell for someone they fell hard.
Not to mention they tended to be aggressive in their pursuit at times, depending on the individual they fell for and their own personalities. If Tiona became anything like her sister with the meek rabbit that Bell was being the one in her sights, then… Loki help him.
Because Lefiya sure couldn’t.
I’m too young to be the aunt to a bunch of little Tionas and Tiones, she silently whimpered as she pictured little white-haired, tanned-skinned Amazons running about in the room, some pulling her hair and asking to see her staff while others wanted their parents to read them a fairy tale. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure she’d tear apart the Apollo Familia on her own if they tried to take Bell.
Before she could ruminate further on the horror of who would claim her brother’s presumed chastity, Tiona finally spoke. “He doesn’t give me the same feeling that the Captain does to Tione. It might be because he’s not strong enough… besides, wouldn’t Lefiya be the one in love with him since she helped him more than me?”
Then Leene said words she should not. “Y-You mean those rumors are true?”
There was the sound of glass cracking. Not from the windows in the room. Or the vase holding the flowers next to her. But rather the fragile restraint she had on her self-control when she recalled exactly how those rumors started.
“…Now that I think about it, Raul was the one who told the others it was me helping him, wasn’t he?” Lefiya said slowly, rising to her feet. “Where is he right now?”
“I think he’s in the Ca…” Tiona began until she saw Leene shaking her head vigorously and holding her arms together to form an ‘X’ sign. The message carried. “Uh, maybe he went out into town to get a grasp on the damage done in case the Guild wants us to pay them for your part in the battle?”
“Fine… I’ve got all day to wait for him,” she mumbled, making her way to the door. She could just imagine those rumors being rekindled now. Even when most of them knew her preferences, they’d probably think she was making an exception for Bell because of how delicate he looked. “Not like it can get any worse.”
No sooner than she opened the door did Tione, the eldest of the twins and decidedly more mature inform them about a certain someone at the Main Gate and wanting to speak with Miss Aiz and her. That naturally pulled them out of the room and into the hallway where they found windows facing the gate and spotted Bell there. The guards were currently trying to shoo him away to no avail as the Sword Princess went back into her previous room.
“That damn rabbit,” Bete snarled softly as he peered through the glass down at her brother. “I’ll get rid of him.”
“Wait.” A strong hand stopped him before he could. It was Gareth Landrock, one of the executives of the Familia and one of the very first Adventurers to bear the Falna of the Trickster. He looked out of the window while stroking his beard as he observed Bell. “Those aren’t the eyes of a man who has come to beg for our help. They’re the eyes of a warrior looking to sharpen their blade, wouldn’t you say?”
It took Lefiya a moment to pick up where he was going before looking towards where Aiz had gone. Her brother had gone off training with her before their expedition. She had tried to chase him to figure out why he was doing it and hadn’t really been pleased with his answer at the time.
The Sword Princess seemed to realize his intentions as well since she had already gotten her sword. “I’m going.”
“We can’t be seen taking sides,” Sir Gareth reminded her, causing her to pause in her step. Lefiya considered stating it couldn’t hurt if she went instead, given she was already involved, at least to see him off as far as everyone else was aware. But then he turned the other way and waved a hand. “But… you know what they say—out of sight, out of mind.”
Her golden hair tilted for a moment before she nodded. “We won’t be seen.”
“…Fine, if you want to help that weakling then suit yourself,” Bete said as he turned away. “But teach that rabbit to sharpen his own fangs. He can’t always be relying on others to do it for him.”
“Hey, Tione!” Tiona bounced up on her feet and then leaned on her toes to whisper something in her ears. Then the Eldest Amazonian nodded before her younger sister grabbed Lefiya’s and Aiz’s wrists. “Come on!”
“Huh?” Lefiya was pulled along, stammering for words until they reached one of the rooms in the back. There was a large window there. “What’s going on?”
“He’s here to see you two, right?” Tiona asked while opening the window and standing on the edge of the sill. “Since we can’t be seen helping him, we’ll go meet him where nobody will see us.”
“Right,” was the only answer Miss Aiz gave as the Amazonian leaped down and landed without any problems. Then she followed her with a smooth jump to the ground.
Lefiya sighed before she followed after them, scaling the walls after the other two. Tiona guided them to an alleyway that was roughly two blocks down from the Manor. No one should be looking for them. All that was left was to wait for Bell to arrive.
While she waited, Lefiya thought to herself what she was going to bring up with him when the other two were around. The War Game had been declared so there was no turning back now. Not to mention they didn’t know anything about the terms or conditions. Everything was against him.
Then he arrived and his crimson eyes widened when he spotted her. He ran over immediately. “Are you okay?”
“Better than you,” she said, consciously stamping down on her emotions as she looked him over. His wounds had been mended but his clothing was still stained in ash, dust, and the blood that had been shed earlier. The disheveled appearance made it clear he hadn’t even had time to change his clothes or anything else, meaning he probably ran straight here after going to Apollo’s place to make the declaration of war. “Explain yourself. Now.”
“…That guy, Mister Bete, was right,” Bell said, his voice carrying a hint of steel in it. “I can’t just run away from the problem. Not when it dragged you and the others into it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I just kept running knowing that. That’s why I have to meet it head-on with all I can.”
If he started running, then he would have to keep running until Apollo gave up or someone made him give up. The Gods wouldn’t intervene unless they had a reason to, which would take time even if they did. Even with the rules set into place to make travel in and out of Orario difficult for Adventurers, it was entirely possible to get around that by hiring outside help or some other method.
“But you aren’t strong enough,” Lefiya pointed out, even understanding that. “Even in a best-case scenario, if you go against that guy again the same thing is going to happen. Did you think about how they’d feel knowing that you decided to throw yourself into a mess just to try to spare their feelings?”
“I know.” There was a hint of pain in his voice as he admitted to his own weakness. “In the end, I’m not strong enough to protect anyone and everyone else had to protect me. That’s why I want to be strong enough so that never happens again. But I don’t have enough time to do so on my own, so I came here.”
His crimson eyes fell onto Miss Aiz before he bowed his head. “I know I’m asking a lot, especially after Miss Lefiya did so much for me. But please, I need you to train me so that I can face them. I’ll be in your debt and do whatever you want afterward.”
Her golden eyes softened as she brought a hand to her chest. “You don’t…. need to repay me anything. Rather, it would feel wrong to abandon you. I want to help you grow stronger.”
“And I want to help out too!” Tiona chimed in with her usual enthusiastic voice. All while sporting the same smile as she looked towards Leifya. “Don’t you?”
“Well, I’m already in enough trouble…” She rubbed her arm as she tried to figure out how she could help her idiot little brother. “How much time do you have?”
“Lady Hestia said she would try to give me a week,” he answered.
“That’s not a lot of time…” She frowned when she considered that he would not make too much progress even if he trained around the clock. Not unless they did something absurd like took him down to the Deep Floors and helped him grind monsters after they softened them up. Even then he had only hit Level Two not too long ago. What can I do…?
Before she could dwell on it, Tiona gave her a pat on the back. Considering how strong she was, that was enough to make her stagger forward. “We just need to give it our all and it’ll work out! Right, Aiz?”
Golden hair bobbed as she nodded her head. “Right.”
“I really wish I shared your enthusiasm,” she repeated with a sigh before looking her brother in the eyes. Those same eyes were those she had seen on the 18th Floor, filled with resolve in them befitting an Adventurer. Mutual Respect was due.
If he wanted to get stronger, she should help him. “I can’t help with raising your physical Status like they can, but I can help with your Magic and how to deal with other casters in the morning before you go off to train with them the rest of the day. And I can also see about getting you some clothes and supplies since you’ve lost all of yours, along with the necessities.”
It was enough for her brother to smile at her with appreciation. At all of them. “Thank you. All of you.”
“We’re all in this together,” Tiona proclaimed before grabbing his hand and Miss Aiz’s hand, bringing them together, and placing them on top of her own. Miss Aiz smiled softly. Tiona smiled cheerfully. Bell blushed vividly. “You too, Lefiya.”
“Fine…” Lefiya said gently as she joined in. There was a slight tingle in her lower back, but she brushed it off as Tiona raised her hand up, sending theirs into the air as well to give a cheer—with the Amazonian naturally being the loudest.
“I’ll go get Urga,” Tiona said before running off towards the mansion to get her overly large weapon. “We’ll try not to hurt you too badly~”
“I will go and make sure our usual place is ready,” Miss Aiz said to Bell before spinning on her heel and going off. “Don’t keep me waiting.”
Bell nodded before meeting Lefiya’s azure set of eyes and waiting for them to be out of earshot before he said, “Thank you, Sister. For everything.”
“You can thank me when this is all over,” she said exasperatedly while thinking about the logistics needed so they could train him. Sleeping bags would be more affordable than a room in an Inn, then there were food costs, clothes, weapons, equipment, and hiding it all from Loki without raising suspicion. “Is that fire spell the only one you have?”
“Ah, actually a new spell did appear on my Falna when Goddess updated it before we parted ways,” Bell said. “She had updated my Status after we made the declaration, so I would know where I stand before I left off to come here.”
“I can help you with that at the very least then,” she said before a low growl reached her ears. “You haven’t eaten anything since we did all that running around, did you?”
His stomach happily growled again in lieu of words.
She only rolled her eyes as Bell softly, nervously chuckled. Then she reached into her belt pouch to find the Spirit Nut. Since the pouch was made for exploring the Dungeon or holding potions, it was thankfully durable enough that the contents weren’t bothered by all the activity. “Here.”
“Oh, a Spirit Nut,” he said as he held it gingerly. “These taste really good.”
Her brow rose. “You’ve had one before?”
He nodded. “Miss Eina shared one with me after I got back from the 18th Floor. She said it was to help me recover.”
The Half-Elf’s mind began to run through what she knew. Miss Ryu had shared hers with her coworkers, and she was fairly sure that Filvis had given the one they hadn’t shared to her God. So that only left Lady Riveria’s second one, and whoever that was gave it to Bell. “Did this Eina tell you anything else about it?”
He tilted his head at the question. “It’s an exotic treat for Elves, right?”
“…Sure,” she said after a moment. Either she didn’t know, she did know and didn’t tell him, or she was treating it like Miss Ryuu had and giving it to him as a treat between friends. His love life came second to the current situation. “Anyway, I’ll go get started gathering what you’ll need and meet you later.”
That said she walked out of the alley as the sound of energetic footfalls reached her ears. It was only when she was out of the mouth of the alley that she realized her mistake as Tiona passed her by with a wave. Then she heard. “Time’s a-wasting—oh, that looks yummy. What is it?”
“It’s called a Spirit Nut,” Bell replied. “Do you want to share?”
She sighed once more as the image of little Amazons running around briefly entered her mind a second time. It would probably be fine. Probably.
[-Hostess of Fertility-]
Lefiya treated gathering together the basics of what her brother needed like she was getting ready for a mini-expedition into the Dungeon. The members of her Familia all learned how to pack what was necessary, and she did the same for Bell. But since they were going to remain within the city rather than dive deeply, she decided to take some liberties by getting him some decent food.
It was the least she could do at the moment considering he’d lost everything else and was focusing on a sole objective rather than worry about what would come after. He still wouldn’t have a home once the War Game was done. Not unless the damages were covered in the bet wager, which honestly hadn’t been set yet. And whatever things he owned that had sentimental value were nothing but ashes now.
Once more she couldn’t help but think that she really should have pleaded his case back when he first arrived to prevent things like this from happening. Lady Loki would have probably taken him in as a Supporter or something. Or at the very least she could have arranged it so he would have stayed out of trouble and avoided the eyes of the other divinity who had taken notice of him.
But there was nothing she could do about her own past mistakes aside from learning from them. As for the present, she could support him. The others could train his body, but she could handle the logistics of taking care of him and refine whatever knowledge of Magic he had.
When she arrived at the Hostess of Fertility, it was just some time in the afternoon. The menu had not shifted to accommodate Adventurers, but she figured there was a chance she could order a lunchbox or something for him. The silver-haired Human Waitress was on her almost instantly.
“How is Bell?” she asked. “I heard that he went to challenge the Apollo Familia after they had chased him, but nothing after that. Was he hurt?”
“He’s fine,” Lefiya told her, watching as a sense of relief spread across her features. “He’s training until the War Game, so I’m running some errands for him. He hasn’t really eaten today, so I thought I would get him whatever he normally orders?”
“I still have the lunch that I made for him this morning,” said the waitress. “I’ll be right back with it.”
Lefiya watched her head to the back of the kitchen. The woman seemed friendly enough when the Loki Familia was there, but never to this extent. Between that and this morning, she began to ponder how well acquainted she was with her brother.
“And how are you fairing, Miss Viridis?” asked the Elven Warrior. “I understand that you were taken back to your Familia and given a punishment before the declaration was made.”
So the news made it all the way here, huh? She couldn’t help but scratch her cheek at that. “Well, I was scolded and I’ll have to deal with whatever punishment Lady Loki gives me. But, other than that, I’m fine. My injuries have all been treated.”
“Glad to hear that much. It looked bad when you were carried off by that wolf guy,” another party cut in, drawing her attention to the familiar voice. It was the same Blacksmith who had been a member of Bell’s party on the 18th Floor and joined in the fight. “Yo.”
“Mister Crozzo, are you and the others doing well?” Lefiya asked. “The last thing I remember was you and the rest were still fighting.”
“Calling me Welf is fine,” he said before getting into an explanation of what transpired once she had departed. “Bell managed to get away right after you left, and the Soma and Apollo Familia scattered without any of us getting too banged up. The Ganesha Familia detained us for a bit but treated the injuries we had before letting us go in light of their God stating that the whole thing was to be tied into the War Game. All the fallout will be wrapped up between the Gods’ wager, so us children should just go back living our normal lives, essentially.”
“It’s good that no one got seriously hurt or punished then.” She went through the motions of giving him a bow as she thanked him. “But thank you for coming to help him when you did.”
“That’s my line,” he said in turn. “We were friends, so I wouldn’t have hesitated to help him. But you actually got in trouble for helping out. I hope your Goddess won’t be too harsh on you.”
Knowing Lady Loki, she doubted it would be too severe for a minor scuffle. The Captain, Sir Gareth, and Lady Riveria were the ones who were more likely to issue a stricter punishment for things like that. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“Then forgive me for asking this, but I originally came here looking to see if anyone knew where he went to give him some replacement armor and weapons since I knew he was going to be training. Since you’re going to see him, could you give him these along with a message?”
He presented what looked to be a small box that had items within it wrapped up in white cloth. She could catch the scent of metal coming from them, so it was the equipment that he had mentioned. “I’ll take it to him. And what was the message that you wanted me to pass along?”
“Tell him that Lady Hestia is safe with Lady Hephaestus,” he began. “Tell him to just focus on getting stronger while leaving the rest to us. We’ll do what we can to help him, so he won’t have to bear the burden alone. Please.”
“I’ll tell him, Mister Welf,” the Half-Elf promised. “You have my word.”
He nodded in gratitude before heading off. As he left, she noticed there was a look in his eyes like a flame had been lit. Not to mention there was not a shred of doubt in his eyes that she would see the message and equipment delivered to him.
“…Mister Cranel is quite fortunate,” Miss Ryuu noted. “Such an earnest friendship is a difficult thing to acquire in such a short time. Yet, in his words, I sensed no deception or hesitation.”
Lefiya could only agree with the assessment. Though she had only seen him twice, she could tell from his tone that in the time they had known one another he had become close to her brother. A genuine comrade not unlike those she possessed, willing to stick with him through every trial he’d face.
“We’ll do our parts as well to help Bell out too,” Miss Syr said, as she arrived with her basket in tow. “Won’t we, Ryuu?”
“Should my services be required I will assist in whatever manner I can as well, Syr,” the Elven Warrior claimed. “I too wish to see how he progresses as an Adventurer.”
As she listened to her, Lefiya felt the simmer in her lower back for a brief moment once more. But as quickly as it came, it faded. Once more she was left wondering if it had something to do with her Skill, but for the moment she had to see the food and other supplies to her brother while he was training with Tiona and Miss Aiz.
“Interesting,” purred a soft, feminine voice that was liquid honey to the ears of those who could hear it. Silver eyes that stared distantly out of the highest vantage in Orario peered with more depth than any mortal could fathom. Those same eyes were now fixed on the soul that slowly made its way through the city as though following a string that marked a path to an even purer soul than any she had seen since she descended. “Another pair of threads have appeared on that child.”
Her name was Freya. The Goddess of Beauty that possessed the strongest Familia in Orario. Nestled within her room on the upper level of Babel, she was in a world of her own within that dwelling of luxury few could fathom.
“A thread, My Lady?” inquired her Captain, Ottar. He was the sole person accompanying her within her room, standing attentively and ready to enact her very will the moment they left her lips.
“That little girl who was assisted my Bell,” Lady Freya spoke. “Since then there had been a thread connecting the two of them. Then more appeared, all bound to her.”
Bell. Sword Princess. Crusher. Jormungand. Elgarm. Vanargand. Gale Wind. Crozzo.
One-by-one those threads had appeared linked to her. The threads differed in how dense they were, with the thickest being that between her own soul and Bell’s. But those threads represented something that linked them all together.
Something that bound them together from the very depths of their souls, as if by fate—a normally invisible tether crystalized by the Falna into something that could be perceived by her eyes alone.
“Should we do anything pertaining to that matter or the War Game?” Ottar asked. Should she will it, the matter could be resolved in mere moments. The Apollo Familia could be crushed and forced to disband through sheer force.
As for the girl, it was not as though Freya hadn’t attempted to issue a warning against the Sword Princess before. Sending a similar message to the young Half-Elf was not off the table. Just a warning to keep her distance from him.
“I think I will leave them for the time being,” the Goddess of Beauty decided. “This is a trial that will polish his soul further. So long as they continue to do so, I will tolerate their presence around him and allow the War Game to come to pass when it does.”
She too was looking forward to the War Game. Not merely as one who would observe him from the confines of her own room, but as one of the divinities that had come down from upon high to the lower world. Entertainment was something that they all craved and though their tastes varied, no one barring perhaps Hestia considering the circumstances would attempt to impede the games.
Once more the Gods and Goddesses were watching. Not from the heavens above, but the theatron that was Orario. Though some speculated and others deliberated on the upcoming performance, all of them were waiting with bated breath to see if the Little Rookie’s performance would be a comedy of a fool trying to fend off an army, or a heroic tale of overcoming adversity.
Either way, all awaited the tale that would be told.
Interlude 2: The Growing Insight of Three
For a second time Aiz felt like she’d run straight into a brick wall. She’d been tasked with dealing with the last monster that had escaped—a Silverback—when a pungent scent met her head on. The aroma dug into her mind and clouded her thoughts for only a moment, but that still brought her sprint to an abrupt halt.
“Huh…” The sound of interest came from her Goddess next to her. “You can smell it too?”
“Yes.” Her eyes spanned the street, searching for the source of the scent she knew to be the boy that had killed the Minotaur. Her senses, augmented by her Level, attuned to the noise of the street until she heard a single set of running footfall and heavy pants, along with the moonscent—as Loki had told her—tinged with blood.
Then, once more, Bell Cranel came into view as he burst out of a side alley that was nearby. The young boy was covered in battle-ravaged leather that had been sheared and scraped to the point where bare skin and battered metal were on display. Sweat from exertion dotted his brow where strands of his white hair clung desperately.
Aiz let out a small groan and held a slender hand to her head that began to pound with his approach. She didn’t know what it was about him that she was feeling. She couldn’t know how to register it. All she could do was wait for him to pass by her without a word as he continued to flee, the pulsing sensation lessening somewhat as his footfalls continued past her.
“Ugh…” Loki was holding her nostrils closed, so her voice came out a bit childish as she said, “It’s pretty thick compared to at the tavern, huh?”
Aiz nodded as they turned and watched him continue to run until a girl emerged from a side-street and grabbed his hand, eliciting a brief look of shock on the boy’s face before recognition set in. Then words were exchanged, an offer to ‘help him escape from sight’ from what Aiz could hear, before she pulled him into the alley. The footfalls that she could hear belonging to them took them away from the Main Street.
“It’s strange,” Aiz settled on after a moment of thought. “But something about it… makes me nervous…”
“Hmm…” Loki crossed her arms and hummed lightly in thought. “Call it a hunch, but I feel it my bones that sumthin’ about its off too…”
As she contemplated that to herself, Aiz picked up on the activity on the street and how it seemed to have blossomed. People were excitedly talking about an adventurer dressed in leather who fought and slew a monster right in the plaza. She had her suspicions that it was the boy they were talking about, so she approached a pair of children that were in the middle of playing.
“Ah, excuse me?” she said, crouching down towards one of the children. “Could you tell me about what happened just now with a monster?”
The child didn’t hesitate. “It was amazing! This big monster went ‘RAAAHHH’ and tried to squish this white-haired mister with its big arms! But he was so fast, and he had this hammer that had a sword in it! He went ‘swish’ and blood flew everywhere, and the monster went ‘GAAHHH’ and then—”
Aiz listened on as he continued on in an excited manner until an adult called for him and he said goodbye. Then she turned back to her Goddess, who was conversing with an elderly woman. When the woman parted way, Loki cradled one arm while holding a hand to her chin.
“Suspicious…” Loki mused. “That young lady was kind enough to tell me a bit about what just happened. It seemed that boy killed the Silverback with a weapon that could go between a hammer and a sword, or something that he could call back to him even when separated. I’d say it’d be an enchanted weapon, but Cow Tits can’t afford sumthin’ like that. Could it possibly be some form of magic?”
It wasn’t unheard of that someone who was just given a Falna would have access to magic. Outside of a Grimoire it was something that seemed to happen sporadically, with some species being more likely to manifest it or exceptions like Aiz, who had Aerial since she received Loki’s blessing. For all they knew it was something the boy was capable of since he became an adventurer—he did kill a Monster that Level 2s would struggle against the first time she’d seen him, so a Silverback wouldn’t be that much of a threat.
But from the colorful way the boy had described the fight, it sounded like it had dragged out for a bit. That was strange, considering that someone who could kill a Minotaur should be able to kill a Silverback within mere seconds at worse. But, at the same time, she didn’t think it sounded like he was making a show of it when there was a chance of civilians being caught in the crossfire.
He didn’t seem all that polished when it came to fighting from what she’d seen the last time either. He wasn’t quite helpless and seemed to know enough not to wound himself with the butcher’s weapon he had, but he didn’t seem anywhere near expertise in terms of skill wielding it or when facing off against the Minotaur considering how sloppy his movements were. He’d barely avoided most of the hits and the ones he tried to block had broken through his guard utterly.
That was expected for the Upper Floors—in fact, it was almost what she’d expect from a new adventurer who hadn’t refined their combat skills out of the Dungeon like some of the former soldiers or hunters she’d seen. But against Silverbacks that lived close to the Middle Floors and the Minotaurs that came from the floors below it, that was another story. Simply surviving to the point that you could venture down there would require countless battles, during which you’d build up experience with fighting subconsciously.
So how did he manage to kill the Minotaur then? Her head began to ache as she thought back to it. He seemed almost confused that he’d managed to prevail, or the fact that he had the magic stone. Could it have been that he wasn’t aware of the fact that he’d done it?
Aiz thought back then when their eyes met. She didn’t quite grasp what she heard with the whispers that seemed to give her a headache, but before then she recalled thinking that his weapon was his fangs and his hands were his claws. The primal way he’d cried out as he ripped out its magic stone had been almost…bestial.
It didn’t really suit him at all from how timid and small he looked when not cloaked in tattered clothes, fresh blood, and broken steel. But somehow that was part of what caused her to feel on edge. Not completely, but the sensation that she was staring down a predator for that moment does seem close to how she could best describe it.
“Well, either way, the Silverback was taken care of and no civilians got hurt from the sound of it,” Loki said abruptly, changing the topic and pulling Aiz from her thoughts as the Goddess grasped her arm and pulled it against her smaller body. “Let’s go back to the others, Aizuu.”
“Ah… sure…” She nodded before turning on her heel and following after her Goddess. Bell Cranel was a mystery to Aiz now more than ever, but there were other mysteries she needed to focus on. Other things she needed to do and other people waiting for her.
She’d put the mystery of the Moon-scented Boy to the back of her mind for now.
Freya moaned softly as she cradled her head from the throbbing pressure that nestled itself right behind her eyes, a crystal ball situated on the table next to her. The cloak she normally wore out to avoid drawing the gaze of men and women by the virtue of her sheer beauty laid on her lap, unneeded. She’d rented out the entire restaurant for the moment in order to ensure her privacy while she observed her ploy at work.
It hadn’t been something she’d explicitly planned out. But rather a spontaneous opportunity that crossed her mind the moment that she noticed that Bell and Hestia were out for the festival and in possession of Syr’s Purse. The wheels in her mind began to whirl and she foresaw an opportunity to potentially lure out the one who stole her prize away from her.
After all, many of the Gods and Goddesses were out and about during the Monsterphilia. She was sure that the one who’d tainted his soul with that infuriating color would be too. If they’d come to Bell’s aid when he faced off against a monster within the Dungeon via some unknown means, then she was sure they’d do the same here.
She set the plan into motion within an hour. Her Familia had a collection of many talented individuals, all of whom had captured her eye to some extent. Pickpockets and swift runners among them were perfectly capable of pulling him away from Hestia and the Guild member, baiting him to a suitable stage that would be far enough from any meddling adventurer and freeing the others to act as a distraction—not that she intended for them to harm anyone intentionally.
She’d slipped into where they’d kept the monster and used her Charm to enthrall them after leaving the members of the Familia watching over them senseless. Men. Women. Monsters—the way her beauty ensorcelled them was simply overwhelming and she’d been careful not to be seen while having the monsters act as puppets, keeping the other Familia who would be out and about busy while the Silverback she’d chosen to be her instrument slipped away.
Her headache had begun shortly after that, before he’d engaged the Silverback while donning a coat and wielding a hammer that didn’t seem to suit him at all. For a brief moment, she had a flicker of a scene where he laid broken on the ground and bleeding as his own weapon was left lodged in his chest. It had been faint and fleeting, leaving her to assume it was her imagination of a possible outcome that awaited him.
Really, it would have been expected considering how short his tenure as an Adventurer had been so far. But it wasn’t that she wanted to kill him. After all, it had been so long since she’d felt such a strong attachment to someone at first sight. She should’ve snatched him right up rather than allowing him to pass her by, but she wanted to see him grow from a distance.
Alas, where there was love there was envy and jealousy. For someone to take what she claimed for herself was simply unacceptable. And so, as punishment, the boy would now become the bait by which Freya would find the one that dyed the unblemished color of his soul and laid claim to the one she’d seen first.
She’d use him to find them. Then she would break them. Take everything that was theirs and destroy them for daring to take what she’d claimed for herself while reveling in the carnage—she was a Goddess of Love and War in equal parts after all.
Loki had said that she smelled the scent of the moon on him when they talked the night of the banquet. There were few who descended and held dominion over the moon, thus few who could grace him with their presence—likely being either Artemis or Achelois.
She had her doubts that it was Artemis, even if she knew that the goddess was on friendly terms with Hestia. Not only was she the head of a Hunting Familia that was far beyond the walls of Orario, which Hermes confirmed once she coaxed him into talking, but her Familia’s policies were well-known in regards to men and love. Men were never allowed to join, and those seeking to start a relationship had to leave the Familia behind. The thought that she would somehow bless Bell shortly after his arrival in Orario was too farfetched.
That only left Achelois. She was a minor goddess who had seemingly all but vanished some time ago. Freya hadn’t paid the disappearance any thought until now, given that the woman was struggling to simply find followers and simply wasn’t of interest to her. But considering the circumstances…
Well, perhaps she should put some effort into finding out just where she’d vanished to?
Either way, as her headache began upon dismissing that vivid imagery, Bell revealed he possessed a magic that she had been unaware of. A method by which he could call his arms and items to him. There were magical items that could do so, but she had the distinct feeling that it was magic.
More than that, there as something unique about it. When he called for his weapon, she could have sworn she’d something there. Thin, translucent things anxiously and eagerly groping the weapons from where space seemed to ripple around him.
Her head shuddered thinking about it. And the pressure behind her eyes felt like it was a living thing, squirming softly. She needed a moment of peace and quiet to get herself together and wait for it to pass.
A few hours to settle her head…
Hestia had her suspicions that something was amiss when that silver-haired woman approached both her and Eina by the coliseum.
Not because she was suspicious in herself. But because of the faint trace of a familiar moon-scented fragrance that was on her. It set off warning bells and a sense of dread gnawed at Hestia’s stomach.
Then the young woman pulled out her purse. It was the one that had been stolen from them, only now it was steeped in the scent of the moon. Hestia had realized in that instant that he’d died again, and only learned how once the young woman showed them the a magic stone that had been cleaved in half and explained that Bell had slain the Silverback.
He’d died again. He’d been sent back to that place again. He’d died and returned again.
And she’d failed to notice again until it was too late.
The moment she realized that, Hestia felt her legs lose strength and collapsed onto her knees. Eina had asked if she was okay, but Hestia only wanted to know where her child was. The moment the young woman said that she helped him slip away from the crowd so that he could go back home, Hestia made her way back there without a second thought.
It was there she found Bell.
Light spilled down from the windows to illuminate his white hair that was pattered with dull red from blood. Next to him on the pew was discarded leather clothing and battered armor that looked to be in horrendous condition, silently telling an adventurer’s tale of trials and tribulations. He sat with his face buried in his hands, quietly muttering between labored breaths and sobbing to himself.
She treaded carefully, feeling her heart breaking when she recalled how happy he looked the day he first set out to the Dungeon. There had been a smile on his face that could melt the coldest of hearts not even two weeks ago, sweetly complimenting the young boy eager to answer the call of adventure and become a hero. The moment she came to a stop in front of him and laid her hands onto shoulders, Bell’s arms snaked around her slender figure and he buried his face against her.
“Goddess… forgive me…” his voice came out hoarse and worn. His body shuddered as he wept. “Forgive me.”
Feeling the stinging tears in her eyes now, Hestia didn’t allow herself to cry. Not when he needed her to be strong. She wiped away her own forming tears and then forced a smile as she gently brushed his hair to console him. “It’ll be okay, Bell.”
After that Bell took a shower before he confessed what had happened in the confines of their room. He confessed to her of the Little Girl and her request; his attempt to fulfill the wish of a child who was left all alone. He confessed of Gascoigne and Viola; a husband and wife torn apart by the curse of Beasthood. He confessed of the Dweller and Henryk; an attempt to do good leaving a child with no family left in the world.
She’d listened to it all before peering into his Falna as he laid prone in bed, unraveling what he lacked the heart or mind to tell her outright. The foreign words hammered into her mind of a tragic tale writ with blood and regret, images that left the scenes to come to mind with a vividness as if she was there at some point. It hurt enough that she felt pulsing pain in her skull, but it was nothing compared to what Bell had undergone.
She owed it to her child to accept his story and his pain. It was the least she could do for him. For that reason, Hestia bore with the sensation writhing over her brain, all so that she could learn and could gain the wisdom needed to help Bell.
Taking in his sorrow and grief, his tribulations and triumphs, she immersed herself in his tale. She took in the details that may have escaped his mind, grabbing hold of whatever knowledge he’d taken it and committing it to her own memory. It was only when she’d read his tale from that faithful Minotaur attack until before they’d reunited above that she pulled herself free of the engrossing tragedy…
Only to find that Bell had fallen asleep beneath her.
She looked towards the clock. It was nearing midnight. The entire day had been lost to her, and the moment she realized that the exhaustion caught up to her all at once.
Her mind was weary from the knowledge. Her body sore from sitting in place for hours on end, hunched over Bell’s backside and head angled down to read his story. The allure of sleep was too strong to resist for her as well, another downside to being relegated to a physical form.
Limited as she was to her mortal body, Hestia could only do so little for Bell. How she yearned to unleash her Arcanum and free him from the shackles that bound him to that nightmarish world. But after peering so deeply she understood that doing so would rob him of the solace that her presence would bring him.
Steeped as he was in loneliness and regret, Bell clung to her as family and found meaning in the life they now shared together. He would never forgive himself if she gave up her life here to liberate him from that nightmare. And she would never forgive herself for leaving him in such a state.
There has to be another way to free you and remain together, Hestia thought to herself as she laid next to Bell on the bed and gently brushed his cheeks. I promise I’ll find it for you, Bell. No matter what.
Strength: F-392 > C-601
Defense: F-373 > D-592
Dexterity: I-96 > F-321
Agility: E-487 > A-903
Blessing of Flora