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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.