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

Chapter 31: The First Night

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

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

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

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

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

—Consequences

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Twilit Manor-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-??????-]

She was dreaming again.

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

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

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

A child’s voice called her name.

A banshee shrieked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They would be together again—all three of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 30: The Opening of the Third Act

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

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

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

—The Cost of Hubris

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never knowing when it would be the last time.

[-Twilight Manor-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Backstreets-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 29: The Close of the Festival

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

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

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

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

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

Elio’s Lessons in Magic IV: The First Spell

[-|-|-|-]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At last, I found you.

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

And the spear came unbound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, I have no idea—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Living Room-]

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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