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

Chapter 16: The Castle Siege – Part 1

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

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

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

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

So I begged him not to leave me behind.”

—Don’t Leave Me Behind

[-|-|-|-]

“Your child did good work, Miach.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was only the second swing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Twilight Manor-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer my call, winds of the forest—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOM!

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

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

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

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

CRACK!

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

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

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

THWACK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was a mistake,” Finn noted immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

CHING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, you still breathin’?

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

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

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

She had found the man she was meant to love.

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

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

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

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

Just watch me, Bete Loga!

[-|-|-|-]

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

Only now do I understand why that is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dagger held forward. Stiletto perched reversed.

I charge into the fray to meet my fate.

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

“UROOOOO!?”

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

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

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

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

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

“URROOOOOOO!!!!”

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

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

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

CRASH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-|-|-|-]

My lungs burn for every breath I take.

My muscles ache with every move I make.

My heart pounds from every skirt with death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ROOOOOOOOOOO!!”

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

“—Hm!?”

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

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

Chime. Crunch.

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

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

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

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

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

Toll.

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

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

Gong.

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

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

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

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

“TOLL!”

GONG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-|-|-|-]

I only knew a single, simple spell.

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

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

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

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

But it’s all I have left now.

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

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

I listen to my instinct and rush in anyway.

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

“ROOOOOOOOOHHHH!!!!!”

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

“RRRRRHHHHHHAAAAAAA!!

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

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

GONG.

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

Did you watch me until the end, my love?

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had enough scars to bear.

[-END-]

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

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

Other Notes:

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

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

Chapter 15: Let The Games Begin

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

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

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

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

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

—Who Were You, Argo?

[-|-|-|-]

“Sorry if I’m late!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least under normal circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefiya did not agree with that.

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

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

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

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

However, Lefiya was also his older sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Babel Tower-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Shreme Castle-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…clank.

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

One of his men literally sleeping on the job.

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

There was no response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOOOOOMM!!!!

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

The castle siege was underway.


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

Chapter 14: Last Preparation

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

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

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

—The Lonely Nights

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefiya shook her head. That was not an option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Apollo Mansion-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if that did not include him.

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

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

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


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

Chapter 13: A Transcendent Promise – Part 2

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

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

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

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

—When Laughter Was Needed The Most

[-|-|-|-]

“Firebolt!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By how much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little,” he said while nervously chuckling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And her consciousness was ripped from her.

[-Some Time Later-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Welf’s Workshop-]

Thonk.

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

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

Thonk!

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

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

THONK!

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

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

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

THONK!!

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

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

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

THONK!! THONK!!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 12: A Transcendent Promise – Part 1

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

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

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

—The First Steps Into The Unknown

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was actually thinking about it.

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

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

Because Lefiya sure couldn’t.

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

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

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

Crack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His stomach happily growled again in lieu of words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure!”

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

[-Hostess of Fertility-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Babel Tower-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 11: Declaration of War

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

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

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

His words that day saved me.

He became my hero.

My brother.

Argonaut.”

—The Boy with White Hair and Red Eyes

[-|-|-|-]

“RRAAAAAAHHHHH!!”

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

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

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

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

Purple rushed in from their side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They ran right past them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there was no time for rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thunder rumbled in his chest.

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

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

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

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

He moved to thrust the sword—

“You look like shit.”

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

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

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

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

CRUNCH.

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

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

Bu…Bu—

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

Then he began to walk away.

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

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

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

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

His sister was gone.

Then there was a light that rose into the air and then erupted with a shower of colors. It was a Flare Gun. Movement happened as the members of the Soma Familia began to disengage and run.

“Lili!” Welf called out. Bell turned to see that she was going with the silver-haired man from before. There were tears in her eyes as she looked back towards him.

Then she was gone as well.

“Hyacinthus!” Miss Daphne called out next as the confusion that had settled over the battlefield began to wane. “The Ganesha Familia is on the way!”

“Bastard took the distraction with him!” Hyacinthus exclaimed. Then it made sense why the Ganesha Familia hadn’t been there despite the commotion causing problems for the public. They had numbers and used it to cause distractions elsewhere—even if they were caught and fined, the Apollo Familia could pay it.

Then, with his handsome face contorted in pain and beads of sweat lining his brow, his gaze fell onto Hestia and Bell. “Capture them!”

The remaining members of the Apollo Familia began to move in when the smoke erupted around them, a thick and colored plume that obstructed their vision. Bell fell something grab him and heard his Goddess squeak in surprise as the wind suddenly howled in their ears.

They were flying. “My apologies for the delay.”

Bell recognized her. “Miss Asfi… why are you…”

“Lord Hermes saw the commotion and sent me to retrieve you,” she said bluntly by way of an explanation. “He told me to drop you off wherever you wanted, whether it be in the city or outside of it.”

In other words, it was a chance to go wherever they wanted. If they wanted shelter, they could be dropped off at the Guild. If they wanted to leave Orario and run away, they could be dropped off past the gates. The wings of Perseus would carry them to wherever their hearts desired.

And yet…

The look of his Goddess as she stared down at his defeated form. The vision of his sister’s battered form being carried away. The look in Lili’s eyes as she departed. The faces of his friends who had come to his aid without a moment’s hesitation when he was in trouble.

Shame. Hatred. Misery. These emotions roiled in his chest along with the thunder and became a violent storm that raged within him as everything was taken from him. His home. His friends. His family.

No more running.

I understand, Bell.” Three words, spoken instantly with the softest and caring tone his Goddess had spoken in some time as her eyes met his. An unspoken message carried between them. Then she looked up to their savior and gave her instructions. “Take us to Apollo’s Manor.”

It was time to declare war.

[-Twilight Manor-]

Lefiya Viridis emerged from the office with her head hung low now that she had returned to the Twilight Manor.

She had been reprimanded for her actions by the Captain, due to getting involved in a scuffle between two Familia (or three considering the Soma Familia present as well). As a member of the Loki Familia, and the student of the Nine Hells, her actions represented them as a whole. Taking a side would basically be stating that whatever actions they took were endorsed by the Loki Familia as a whole, which was something that wasn’t acceptable—especially not at the moment.

They knew she knew that as well, so she had been asked why she still got involved despite that.

For the second time, she weighed the option of whether to just tell them the truth. That he was her brother, and she was defending him. It would not have been a full justification or even a solid excuse from the perspective of a Familia, but it would have justified her actions on a personal level better than anything else.

All it would cost was Bell’s attachment to his current Familia.

Like she had told him before, it was a conflict of interest having family in different Familia within Orario. Her actions today had all but proven that when she came to his defense. He could be used against them and so the only available options would be to either completely cut ties with him or bring him into the fold.

Lefiya had already tried the former. And she realized how bitter the taste of regret was the moment that she watched him nearly die because of her. She refused to ever do that again.

And the latter would involve a Conversion between the Hestia Familia and the Loki Familia. He wasn’t lacking in terms of Level, but the knowledge and experience that could be provided given he had been in the city for at best two months. She knew that some of the stronger members liked him, so he would probably be welcomed a bit warmly by them as well.

But she recalled the expression that he made when she propositioned him the first time. She recalled his words when she offered a chance for them to be family openly and without worry. He had all but said it then:

Lady Hestia has become family to me as well. I can’t abandon her.

Bell wouldn’t abandon her. Not when he had lost the home they shared. Not when someone else tried to take them from one another. Losing her first and only child would disband her Familia and leave her with absolutely nothing.

And Lefiya didn’t want to do that to either of them. Not to her brother who found someone else he could call family when she wouldn’t. Not when that Goddess had shown him nothing but concern even when it would have been easier to give him up.

But if she told the others then the decision would be taken out of their hands because he was that big of a liability. The Loki Familia was a lot more of a threat than the Apollo Familia ever could be. If they really wanted Bell to close a security risk, they would get him on the Captain’s orders—and she would be the perfect justification for doing that.

Their relationship being anonymous was the only reason things could be the way they were now. But that also meant that she could only protect him with her own strength instead of that of her Familia. And her strength had been found… lacking.

That man had been faster than her. They might have been the same Level, but she was a dedicated Mage from the time she gained her Falna and had focused on that since then. Her Status was catered to that end and the invisible base that made it up was focused on what made her a powerful caster.

The moment she entered into the melee range of someone on the same Level and had been focused on growing as a frontline fighter, she was in trouble.

She noticed a presence in the hallway and looked up. Her lips pulled back into a frown as she met the gaze of Bete. He was leaning against a wall casually with his hands behind his head.

“Don’t give me that look,” he said before straightening himself up. “You were too weak and ended up on your knees in front of an enemy because you were trying to protect that rabbit. You’re lucky that you only got off with a warning because you were a good girl before you got involved with him. Don’t push your luck.”

His warning given, Bete began to walk off.

Her fingers curled around her skirt. She gritted her teeth as she struggled to form words. But what could she say when he wasn’t wrong?

As much as she hated it, he wasn’t wrong.

Time and again the others had defended her whenever he called her a weakling. Whether it was when she botched the spell or when he compared her to Filvis being able to fight on the frontlines as a vanguard. Those words had comforted her, but he wasn’t wrong.

And she knew that. It was the reason she had practiced hard to learn Concurrent Chanting with Filvis. It was the reason she pushed herself to try to get a step closer to people on his Level. Yet, no sooner than she thought she was making progress, it had been proven to herself that it hadn’t been enough.

The moment she tried to protect her brother on her own she had failed.

She had been forced to kneel. She had been forced to watch as her brother once more got injured trying to protect her. She had been forced to watch as he laid on the ground bleeding in front of her, unable to move or speak.

There were no words to encompass what she felt at that moment.

That was when another person approached her after he turned the corner and vanished from view. It was a girl with long, black hair that was braided into a tail and crowned with a headband. She had hazel eyes that were partially obscured by the glare of the light reflected in the lenses as she approached with a staff in her hands.

“Umm… don’t take what Mister Bete said the wrong way,” said the girl softly. “I think that’s just his way of saying he cares.”

“Could have fooled me, Leene.”

Leene Arshe was a Level Two who doubled roles as a Supporter and Healer in the Dungeon. Apparently, Bete had brought Lefiya straight to Leene and told her to make the Half-Elf look presentable before she was brought before the others. Though she was a Level Two, she possessed the Treatment Development Ability on top of some potent healing magic. She was able to deal with the worst of the wounds before Lefiya had been brought to Lady Riveria and the others, though she still felt a little sore.

The apparently part was because she had only regained consciousness later.

“Still, it’s amazing you were able to keep up with the Captain of the Apollo Familia and take so few injuries,” Leene said, trying to salve her wounded pride. “I heard he led the Quest against the Goliath that earned them their D-Rank with the Guild.”

It only damaged it further because the only reason she hadn’t been cut down after that first slash was due to what happened. Despite the situation and the pain, a sense of calm had washed over her as something that felt like a flame burned in the lower back of her Status. Then, all of a sudden, his motions became more manageable… just enough for her to keep up with his sword if she focused on it, even while Concurrent Casting.

She could only guess that it was due to her Skill: Vow of Elcos.

It was a situational Skill that raised her attributes when working in tandem with certain individuals. She thought it had something to do with her Familia, but the name of Elcos belonged to a kingdom that had vanished long before the Age of the Gods. Fina had lived there with her family before fleeing the kingdom as it fell to the monsters with another boy.

His name was Argonaut.

But what did that have to do with Bell? She ruminated on silently until Tiona came running into the hallway. She knew the Amazonian called him by that same name, but she hadn’t really been focusing on that at the time. Her biggest concern had been the fact that her brother had been fighting a Minotaur when he was Level One.

And then she learned he went and picked a fight with an entire Familia when Tiona shouted, “Little Argonaut went and declared a War Game against the Apollo Familia!”


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 10 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 10: The Opening of the Second Act

I can still recall the screams. I can still recall the roars. I can still recall the smoke, the flames, and the terror the night that the Kingdom of Elcos fell. Monsters had been building in numbers over the years. But that night they overran the city’s defenses before anyone knew what happened. The castle that had welcomed refugees from all races warmly was decimated in the blink of an eye and the city around it was left to burn.

My parents were torn to pieces protecting me and so I survived. But I was trapped beneath the rubble, half-buried as flames crawled over the city. As others ran to escape the monsters all I could do was cry out. But the others could only hear the voices of their own kind, and the only two people who would hear the voice of a half-breed like myself were no longer there.

As I cried out until my voice was hoarse, I almost gave up and was ready to join my parents in the next life. That was when I heard the words that I never thought I would hear. They were…

‘Don’t worry. I will save you.’

—The Night Elcos Fell

[-|-|-|-]

Being kidnapped had been a novel experience for Lefiya.

Her trip to Melen had been a lot more… violent than she had expected. They had gone to investigate the Violas and it turned out Amazons from Tiona and Tione’s homeland had arrived as well. Then she had gotten tricked by their Goddess, Kali, to be used as bait to lure them into a battle to the death.

Her Familia had managed to resolve the situation. But once more it reminded her of her own limitations. She hated that feeling of being helpless and weak. And while none of them would blame her, she still felt it weigh on her heart.

That was why she had decided to go into the Dungeon today on her own to train. But, before that, she wanted to give her brother his treat before she forgot… except she realized that she didn’t know where he lived. His Familia was rather obscure in contrast to the Loki Familia, meaning that she would need help finding it.

However, she recalled that they shared a mutual acquaintance in Miss Ryuu. The Elven Warrior worked within the Hostess of Fertility that the Loki Familia frequented often as a waitress. She hoped that the Elf would be able to tell her where she could find him.

The restaurant was both rustic and modern for Orario, made of stone but covered in timber framing with an artistic depiction on the central pillar. It towered at least two-and-a-half stories tall and was connected to a nearby building that she presumed served as lodging for the women who worked in it or storage. Outside of it was one of the waitresses, the silver-haired young woman who was slightly older than her.

“Hello,” she said upon recognizing her. “It’s unusual to see members of your Familia here this time of the day. Did you want to try the morning menu?”

The Hostess of Fertility changed its menu depending on the day or evening. The menu in the day catered to civilians as they were the ones who were the most prominent while Adventurers were heading to the Dungeon for the morning rush. It was in the evening, after they had visited the Exchange and gained valis for their work, that they would change the menu to cater to the Adventurers.

“Actually, I was hoping to speak to Miss Ryuu?” she asked.

“Oh?” The Human looked her over with a curious glance before giving her a nod. “Sure, let me go get her.”

It was only fifteen seconds or so before Miss Ryuu emerged from the entrance. The cool demeanor she possessed was far more placid to Lefiya, although that might be because she had seen her when she was operating as an Adventurer. If not for that she wouldn’t be able to put the dots together.

“You wished to speak to me, Miss Viridis?”

She nodded. “Forgive me if I pulled you away from your work, but I wanted to ask if you knew where Bell’s Familia was located?”

The question was met with a moment of silence. “…If I may ask, why do you wish to know?”

“Since I had a spare Spirit Nut, I—” That was as far as she got before the Elven Waitress’ expression shifted from placid to mildly surprised, which was notable for her. Then two Catfolk peered out of the doorway, ears twitching as though they had heard something that caught their attention. Even the Human waitress seemed to have been frozen in place for a moment with an uncanny smile upon her face.

“I was not aware you held that kind of interest in Mister Cranel,” Miss Ryuu said. That was right around the time Lefiya caught onto the implication. The Elven Warrior was aware of what giving a Spirit Nut to someone would entail and she had seen them together on the 18th Floor. Unaware of their blood ties, it must have seemed like she was seeking to express her interest in him romantically—not helped by those rumors.

Raul was still a dead man.

“It’s not like that!” She insisted, fighting down the bile in her stomach at the notion. “Remember, he helped me back then on the 18th Floor, so I’m paying him back—not many Humans get a chance to taste something like that, right?”

“Ah-ha, that is true…” said the Silver-Haired Waitress abruptly. “They were really something special.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that until she recalled the Elven Warrior’s plans for her own. “Oh, she shared it with you.”

“And Chloe and Anya,” she said, her smile still somewhat unnerving. “Bell comes by here every morning around this time. If you wait until then, you can give it to him in person. Meanwhile, why don’t you tell us more about how you and Bell know each other—”

BOOM!

The sound of an explosion ringing out was familiar to Adventurers. So was the natural response of immediately preparing for combat as she reached for her staff reflexively while her senses began to heighten in alarm. That was when she felt the familiar tang in the air of Magic coming from where a thick, dark smoke rose into the air.

It was possible to tell when one was casting Magic due to the accumulation of magical power. It set the senses alight even before the spell took form outside of the body, or in the case of someone with the Mage Development Ability became visible as the magic circle amplified the effects. And in the aftermath of the spells performing their work the discharge of the magic left behind enough magical energy that the air was saturated enough to quaver in her eyes.

There were two options. The first was that a Mage was at work and had unleashed a rather destructive spell in the middle of broad daylight. But she doubted that was the case because that kind of power was unnecessary here. Not to mention it would be a large expenditure of Mind so early in the morning when most were heading to the Dungeon.

The second was that there were multiple casters at work, discharging their spells around the same time. That was more familiar to Lefiya, given one the Loki Familia’s methods of dealing with waves of monsters that were thrown at them in the Dungeon involved coordinated bombardment with their spells. The end results left so much ambient magic energy present that for a Mage it was palpable, not unlike this situation.

That should also be unnecessary, but conflicts between Familia were a lot more common than one would expect. The Ganesha Familia would act as the peacekeepers, but the time it took to mobilize them would usually leave them to arrive only after things had gotten to a certain level of trouble. The Guild would then be in charge of levying fees against the responsible Familia involved—especially if civilians were hurt in the crossfire.

Self-preservation kicked in for those without the blessing as they began to seek shelter and safety while a plume of dark smoke rose into the air. Fire damage judging from experience and the sound of the second salvo of spell fire. But Lefiya was still uncertain which Familia would be causing that kind of trouble in the same sector as the Guild.

Then Anya spoke. “Nyaa… isn’t that around where white-hair comes from?”

That was all she needed to hear for Forest’s Teardrop to find its way into her grasp.

[-Bell Cranel-]

Bell! Bell!

As he struggled for breath while lying on the stone-laden ground, Bell heard the sound of his Goddess calling out for him. Her voice was faint over the blood pounding in his ears, each racing beat of his heart leaving him to experience the sharp, pulsing pain from where the tip of the Solar Flamberge had cut into his body after parting his breastplate that had been battered and beaten by the Goliath.

Won over.

He had been thoroughly won over in the battle against the Level Three in front of him—Hyacinthus Clio.

They had been ambushed the moment he stepped out of the Church they called home. Their casters and archers had set their home to flames and left both him and his Goddess covered in soot and ash as they fled through the back. The first place he could truly call home since leaving his mountain village after the death of his grandfather, the place where he slept, ate, and lived with his Goddess over the last two months since becoming a Familia—becoming family—gone in mere seconds.

Every turn he took he was accosted by members of the Apollo Familia. Their intention was made clear from Miss Daphne and Miss Cassandra. They were forcing him into joining their Familia, with those two making it clear that even if he ran, he would be hunted down until they finally brought him back.

Even so, surrender wasn’t an option. Getting caught wasn’t an option either. Neither was acceptable because of what would happen. Not to him, but Hestia—his family.

Apollo had lusted after her once. He had the nickname of the ‘Phallus the Passionate’ amongst the divine. Here on the lower world, where her divine powers were sealed, Bell didn’t want to think about what he would do to her if he got his hands on her—either she would be kept captive to force his surrender and likely remain that way or she would be killed and sent back up to Heaven.

His only option was to fight. He could hold his own against other Level Two adventurers, even if there were a lot of them. The addition of what he thought were members of another Familia was a setback, but he thought that he would at least be able to get Hestia somewhere they couldn’t get to her.

Then Hyacinthus showed up and decided to initiate him into their Familia by force.

Bell had fought his hardest—he had used his fastest speed and both weapons in hand. Putting everything he could into a relentless rush, pounding at the pavement with enough leg strength to crack it as he kicked off the ground, starving himself for air as he exhaled with a battle cry, Bell lashed out with a flurry of attacks meant to overwhelm via speed what he lacked in strength.

It still wasn’t enough. Hyacinthus avoided them all. Even when he began shifting his footwork to change angles without a moment’s pause, his reward for his relentless rush was a song of steel and shower of sparks as his bequeathed knife from his Goddess never found flesh, and the knife born from surpassing his prior limits was rebuked by the sword that glowed with the radiance of sun and flame. Each interception sent vibrations up his arm, either from the shape of the blade or the strength behind it, driving pain into his limbs.

Bell was not slow. His speed was his best attribute. His Agility was the one thing he was confident in. But the difference in a single level had been enough to make all of that meaningless as the Captain of the Apollo Familia intercepted his efforts with contemptuous ease—grinning in the process as if to mock his efforts.

That was the difference between Level Two and Level Three.

That was why he was dragging things out. That was why he was using a single hand on a two-handed longsword, which would only benefit from his Strength. He wanted to make it clear the difference in power.

On some level, Bell knew that as well. But he couldn’t stop. Not when Hestia was on the line. Not when his family was on the line. So he pushed past his limits as much as he could, ignoring the pain that he felt deep within his bones and looking for so much as the smallest opening to end things even as he screamed out with the strength of his will—

“Are you done howling, Little Rabbit?”

—and then it was over.

Clink. Clink. Splat. Three sounds accompanied the blur of steel, a single fluid motion that defanged the rabid rabbit.

The first two were the scraping of steel-on-steel. His sword flowed to the left to redirect the knife made of adamantite from the Minotaur he’d slain to become a Level Two. Then in the same motion it flowed to the upper-right to rebuke the knife given to him by his Goddess, leaving his chest unguarded. The last was a diagonal slash accompanied by a sickening, wet sound that rang out over the sound of parting steel.

A hot flash of pain coursed through Bell’s body and a pained cry crawled from his throat. “AGGHHHH!”.

His weapon had to be a Superior weapon of some kind because Bell could feel flames within it. Though there were no burns that could be seen, no scent of charred flesh or burning fat, wildfire consumed him as it cut through his flesh, muscle, and into the bone itself. It was probably only by the orders of their God that it stopped there and hadn’t gone to the vital organs.

Hyacinthus wasn’t done. He stepped in, bringing his empty arm’s elbow into Bell’s throat. It cut off his air and would have crushed his throat if it had been just a little harder. Then he slammed his fist into his sternum to drive  it further into his solar plexus, hoping to rip his consciousness away from him—fortunately, it only knocked the wind out of him.

But that still left him on the ground, helpless. He couldn’t breathe with his diaphragm was spasming. He couldn’t speak and thus couldn’t cast a spell with his throat bruised. He had gone from the Rabbit Rush to being rendered completely docile in a single moment.

That was the difference of experience between them—one who had only been fighting against monsters for two months versus one who had been fighting against monsters and other people for years. That increased Status only made it absolute rather than advantageous.

There were no words to express the shame that washed over Bell at that moment as he laid there, tears streaming down his face in a slowly growing pool of his own blood as several sets of eyes were peering down on his defeated form.

There were eyes of concern from his Goddess who was calling out to him. Even after having their home burned down and everything they owned turned to ashes, it was the sight of him injured and bleeding on the ground that pulled the strongest reaction from her. He could hear her footfalls as she stumbled her way towards him while he was unable to shout for her to run, lest she be captured.

There were eyes of pity from Miss Cassandra as she stood on a nearby rooftop with a staff in hand. She must have been there to make sure he didn’t die from his wounds given her healing magic. He’d managed to fire off three shots of Firebolt with a single call of the spell and leave three of their Familia burned and injured, and she had managed to get them back up in seconds.

There were eyes of sympathy but conviction from Miss Daphne as she looked at him from the corner of her eyes, not making direct contact with him. Those eyes were instead fixed onto Hestia. There was no doubt they had Bell captive now, but it would only take her to grab the defenseless Goddess.

Then there were the eyes of jealousy and resignation from Hyacinthus as he approached with his blade in hand. “Even if you aren’t worthy of his love, I will fulfill my Lord’s will. You will become part of our Familia.”

Stand up! That thought permeated every fiber of his being. He had to stand before Hestia was taken. He couldn’t lose his family. Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! STAND UP!

Thunder rumbled in his chest. Blood escaped from his mouth as he forced himself to breathe and found the strength to get his arms beneath him. His fingers curled around his daggers as he raised his head, the lower half of his mouth covered in blood, and fixed his crimson eyes onto Hyacinthus.

The man stopped in his tracks for a moment. His lips curled into a scowl. “Such an unsightly face.”

Then he lashed out to kick him and Bell felt something break. Probably a rib or two as the impact sent him tumbling down the street further. Hestia said something but it was drowned out by another cough of blood.

“Your arms. Your legs. I’ll severe the tendons in each of them before having Cassandra close your chest wound so you don’t bleed out. Then… I will make sure to thoroughly carve into you that making such a face in front of our Lord is simply inexcusable. You will be domesticated before we present you to him, Little Rabbit.”

As he approached with the intention of doing so, Hestia moved to get in front of Bell with her arms held outwards. Bell also felt a familiar sensation beginning to leak from her that he did on the 18th Floor, the last time she bore witness to him being attacked. He also spotted Miss Daphne getting ready to ensure she didn’t go through with it.

The thunder in his chest intensified further.

BOOM!

That was when they heard the explosion nearby, muffled within it screams and shouts. It stopped Hyacinthus. It stopped Hestia. It stopped Miss Daphne. It drew every set of eyes to the entrance western section of the intersection as his senses began tingling from the presence of Magic like before.

Then his sister emerged with the final words of her song reaching his ears. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Her azure gaze fell onto them. There was a haunting chill within them as she spotted him. Then she immediately tilted her staff towards the one whose blade was stained with his blood.

Arcs. Ray.

Two words preceded a golden beam of light that shot out of the tip of her staff, howling as it rushed towards its target. It cut through the air, a beam roughly the width of a human torso sailing past Bell’s prone body and over Hestia’s short body, and straight towards his assailant.

Bell lost track as the Captain of the Apollo Familia vanished, but the beam apparently didn’t because it curved in zagging patterns like it was jumping between the walls, each pass scoring the surface until in the middle of the air there was a glint. Then he saw the man for a brief moment on the rooftop, down on one knee and swinging his sword towards the onrushing light.

It ruptured and a luminous explosion swallowed him on the rooftop.

“Hyacinthus!!” Miss Daphne called out, stunned by the development.

Then the smoke cleared as he swung his sword to reveal his immaculate white cape and uniform were charred and smoldering with entire sections missing. His unblemished skin was burned, and blood leaked from parts of his flesh where the force of the explosion had torn into him. There was an arrow in his Achilles Heel. “C-Cassandra!”

“Coming!” Miss Cassandra stepped forward with her staff in hand.

His sister reacted. He presumed it was because she felt the Magic more acutely or could hear her chanting more acutely than him, but she immediately aimed her staff at the woman while advancing towards him. She had every intention of silencing her before she could fix his injuries.

It was only because Miss Daphne immediately pulled her out of view that she didn’t, tossing her over to the opposite side of the rooftop. At the same time, an arrow buried itself into her shoulder with enough force that she was knocked onto the rooftop—her voice crying out as she clutched the wound. Hyacinthus gritted his teeth before kicking her over the opposite side where Cassandra had been pushed off, swinging his sword once to deflect a set of arrows aimed for him, and then joining them in escaping the marksman’s line of sight.

“Come on!” Lefiya’s hand grabbed Bell roughly and she pulled him onto her back. Then she grabbed his Goddess’s hand and ran them down the street until she spotted an alcove that could shelter them from view.

It wouldn’t far enough. He forced out the words. “There…others—”

“There were.” She emphasized that past tense as she dragged them over. “That’s how I heard they planned to box you in. Then I made sure they couldn’t and let the ones who were still conscious retreat with the ones who weren’t when I started casting for that shot.”

That explained the explosion earlier.

Once she made sure they were out of view, she crouched down and looked him over. Then she frowned in a way that didn’t suit her. “I thought he was an upper-tier Level Two, but if he’s a Level Three then I shouldn’t have held back so much. That sniper catching him in the leg was the only reason I caught him at that output… I won’t make that mistake again.”

It wasn’t an idle threat.

She had the Mage Development Ability, which meant she could actively increase the output and range of her spells and thus the damage she could inflict would scale exponentially. He had seen that firsthand back on the 18th Floor. That shot she fired before was a love tap compared to that because she hadn’t been intending to kill him if he had only been a Level Two—as anything she fired that was capable of catching up to and downing a Level Three would likely cripple or kill someone of a lower level.

As for the sniper, he could only assume it was Naaza.

Can’t you go day a without getting to trouble?” She murmured low enough for only him to hear as she grabbed the sides of his face and wiped away the tears that had come out. Then she began to sing. “Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.”

It was a soothing song. One that bathed him in light the color of the glittering sea, a blue veil decorated with glimmering stars. They sank into his flesh, and he could feel the wounds numbing. It was healing Magic. “You can—

“Not a word of this leaves this alley or I’ll take back everything I said on the 18th Floor,” she warned, her azure eyes narrowed as the light continued to wash over them. “Do you understand me, Bell?”

“Y-Yes…”

“I’d ask the same of you, Lady Hestia,” she said, without looking up at the Goddess. “I’m probably already in enough trouble getting in the middle of a conflict between Familia as is.”

“…Just heal Bell,” Hestia said softly. Her tone was a mixture of sadness and gratitude as she looked over them while dressed in her outfit to work for Lady Hephaestus. It had been covered in dust, dirt, ash, and blood. “Check his leg holster for potions as well.”

“We need to get you both somewhere safe, now,” Lefiya said as she did so once her spell ended, running her fingers along the holster until she found the potion and then splashed it upon him. “If that woman was a dedicated Healer with the Treatment Development Ability, he’ll be back on his feet soon. And now that they know someone capable of doing that to a Level Three will be with you, they’ll start attacking in more numbers and before the Ganesha Familia intervenes.”

He had heard they were supposed to be the peacekeeping force in Orario. Adventurers causing damage to the city would naturally draw them to the location soon enough. They had been planning to force his hand before that happened.

Lefiya’s ears perked up at that moment and she rose to her feet, her lips moving to begin another chant—

“Hestia! Bell!”

—he stopped her as he recognized the voice. “Wait, that’s not an enemy!”

She stopped as Lord Miach emerged from the backstreets. His sister stepped aside as the God of Medicine crouched down to look at him and see the empty bottle she had before nodding and then pulling out a second pair to splash over him as well. Made with the Mixing Development Ability, they were capable of healing on contact, and he felt the deep-seated injuries from the hunt vanish while Lord Takemikazuchi’s Familia joined up with them.

They had come to save him. Then when questioned on who Lefiya was, his sister simply said an acquaintance from the Loki Familia who saw him in trouble. They were all on the 18th Floor at one point or another, so no one questioned it. Then she suggested they left before they could be encircled, and no one complained as they started moving.

None of them were aware of the invisible observers that had been watching. Not the God of Travel and his Captain who possessed a myriad of magical tools. Nor the Goddess whose eyes could perceive the soul from a distance.

[-Twilight Manor-]

At the home of the Loki Familia, news of the attack on the Little Rookie had already reached them courtesy of Tiona. The Amazonian had gone out into the streets to get information about what was transpiring and had reported that the Apollo Familia was basically trying to hunt him down.

The news wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. Aiz had been to the dance and Loki had told them about the War Game itself being proposed and shot down. But Apollo wasn’t the type to give up apparently. Finn had already told Aiz not to intervene.

That was when the door opened and another member of the Familia entered the room, one with a rather nervous demeanor and huffing as though he had just run a great distance. “Pardon the intrusion, but I need to make a report about the current incident. It seems like there was a Mage attacking the Apollo Familia as well, and from the description of her appearance, spell, and magic circle… it sounded like Lefiya Viridis!”

Riveria looked up at that, her lips pursing as she put together the information. “She said that she was heading to the Dungeon this morning. If she happened to be around when the attack happened and knew he was the target, she likely intervened based on allowing them into the camp on the 18th Floor.”

Finn leaned back in his chair with a sigh before rubbing the bridge between his eyes. “…Bete, go bring her back. Now.”

Aiz rose to her feet for a second time at that. “But I can go instead.”

“We cannot afford to openly take a side and Loki told us not to interfere before she wandered off,” Finn stated before looking square at the Werewolf. If he had sent Aiz then she would have gone out of her way to help him and then bring her back. “Make it clear this is her acting on her own and bring her back—quickly.”

Why do I always have to babysit the weaklings…” The Werewolf scoffed as he rose to his feet, scratching his head before he made sure his boots were on properly. Then made his way to the window and pushed it open, allowing the morning breeze to enter.

He leapt out of it and took off running.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 9 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 9: Return to Orario

“Gentle. Wild. Tender. Chaotic. Magic is beautiful as we sing songs to weave spells. But we must never forget that Magic is dangerous. The Spirits bequeath to us what we desire, but never for a moment take it for granted—lest that boon becomes a bane.

I only understood what Mother meant by that when I first picked up a wand, sometime after our home fell. Though my brother picked himself up and smiled, I never forgot the blood that spilled from a wound born of my carelessness. And I swore to never let it happen again.”

[-|-|-|-]

The long night gave birth to a new dawn.

As Lefiya stepped out of the shelter provided by the Elder for Lady Riveria and her retinue, the morning rays reflected off the lingering ice to create beautiful refractions throughout the forest. There were still Spirits lingering about as well within the winter-land, basking in the unfamiliar chill.

“You’ve finally awakened?” She turned to see the sandy-toned hair with a wreath upon it. It was the diminutive Elf who reigned over the Spirit Forest. “The rest have already set out.”

“Good morning, Lady Lilo,” said the Half-Elf as she gave her a polite bow. “Do you know where the others have gone?”

“The one with the wooden sword has gone off with the rapscallion to see if they can figure out more about the ones who attacked us last night. As for the other, I have her asking questions to the other High Elves since they’ll likely be more receptive to her.”

She supposed that made sense. One good act scarcely changed deep-rooted perceptions. At best her actions last night only painted her as competent due to being the student of Lady Riveria. However, it was still progress, so she couldn’t complain. “Is there anything you would like me to do?”

The Elder Elf nodded. “Follow me.”

The Half-Elf did so and was led beyond the plaza and deeper into the forest, away from prying eyes. Their destination was a clearing within the brush, the short blades of grass crunching beneath their feet while surrounded by white-capped bushes. The nearby pond had a break in it that allowed for birds that didn’t mind the frost to perch themselves on the edge and then drink from the source.

“Now, then. You wished to learn of our Magic, did you not?” She raised her staff that glimmered with light, which beckoned forth one of the Spirits. This one had a bluish-white hue. “I will personally instruct you on the method.”

Her surprise was… palpable. “I-Is that alright? I know that only High Elves or those of specific families are taught.”

“In the past, when every life counted and every day was not promised, your standing did not matter so long as you were an Elf attempting to survive this harsh world and protect your kin. And given what happened last night we will have to return to that line of thinking to ensure the Spirit Forest remains protected. Besides, you know the ancient language, have the ambition to attempt to learn, and have performed deeds worthy of any Elf to perpetuate the bonds we share with the Spirits. You have at least earned the right to attempt to learn by my blessing.”

And considering the Spirit Forest was sacred lands and the one overseeing it was the equivalent of royalty, which was partially why she could speak to Lady Riveria the way she had without fear of reproach or consequence, it was the equivalent of stating that one of the highest authorities deemed her worthy. Not too dissimilar by the Nine Hells choosing her as her student. “Then please teach me well, Elder.”

“The first thing to understand is that words are meaningless to Spirits, especially these little ones with faint traces of sapience. It is simply noise to them in the same way the barking of a dog is to us. That is why I said the last time it would not be enough for you to merely recite an ancient pledge. It would not have worked, and you would have gotten frustrated, which the Spirit would sense being directed at it and responded to in ways that could be quite unpleasant to you and lethal to someone else.”

It would have been a worse repeat of last night, essentially. The Spirits had been agitated not because terrifying emotions had been directed towards them, but because they were in the general vicinity, and they didn’t know better. If they felt an Elf directly hostile towards them it would become a lot more focused, and while having a Falna meant that an outburst of their primordial Magic probably wouldn’t kill her outright, it would still strain the bonds of friendship between her kind and theirs.

“Then it isn’t the words, but the emotions tied to them?” guessed the Half-Elf as she recalled the moment they gathered under the Holy Tree. “The pledge is the verbal manifestation of the emotions we should approach them with and that tells them what we desire?”

She nodded. “Exactly. You have to sincerely mean it from the depths of your heart so that it can reach the Spirit. Even then it is not a guarantee since they can be fickle or non-responsive, hence why there are rituals to appease them beforehand. I am simply expediting the process while you have their favor and this applies mostly to Minor Spirits. Greater Spirits or those with enough sapience can understand words and be bartered with, though should you upset one of them…”

You’d likely be dead, Falna or not. She could guess that much considering the last time they had run into a Demi-Spirit it had made it clear just what kind of power one of those possessed. That might have been on the higher-end of things as far as the power-scale went for Spirits, but the general rule of not angering them was a solid one.

“The next thing to consider is the nature of the Spirit itself when you beseech them,” Lady Lilo continued. “Minor Spirits only understand simple concepts so they will often try to relate them to whatever they feel you desire of their wisdom. If you desire to attack something with a Spirit of Flames, you learn how to cast Burning Flare or Flare Burn or whatever variation of it the different forests use. The spells are themselves are limited but potent on their own as long as you don’t expect anything absurd like being able to summon a blizzard like that Elven Warrior they tell fairy tales about—he likely obtained that knowledge from a Greater Spirit.”

“I won’t,” she promised as the glimmer from the Elder Elf’s staff flew towards Lefiya and hovered there. The Spirit naturally followed it, more interested in it than her. But at least it didn’t float away when she shifted her head towards it.

“This little one is a child of water,” Lady Lilo began. “Water cleanses and nurtures all life. Thus, often we see it as the embodiment of medicine and spells that can be used to mend wounds. Release your magical power like last night but focus your mind on the child. Envision a moment where you wished that you possess it and hold in your breasts the desire for that Magic as you recite the words.

A moment when I wished to possess healing magic? That thought ran through her mind as she closed her eyes and held out Forest’s Teardrop, allowing her magical power to leak out. In her mind what surfaced in the void as she cleared her thoughts was… the memory of Miss Ryuu and how she possessed magic to mend as well as maim.

Unlike Lefiya, who could only destroy with her spells. If there was an obstacle she could blow it away, and if there was someone she needed to protect, she could only do so by obliterating the threat. But if they were injured and dying she could only rely on others, whether someone else being present or borrowing it through Elf Ring with a penalty of greater cost of Mind and extension of the incantation to the point where they may as well have been an Ultra-Long Chant.

Even then the Half-Elf Mage could do so little for her brother who fought to protect her while covered in blood. It was her duty to take care of her idiot brother if he got in over his head, not the other way around. To mend his wounds and ease his pains—so that he can one day stand on his own.

She fixated on that feeling of wanting to support and soothe her brother while she made her ancient pledge. “I beseech thee, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled. I beseech thee to sow the seed of thy essence within.

As the words flowed from her mouth like running water, Lefiya felt… strange. She opened her eyes to see the world around her was filled with rising tears that caught the sparkles of light as they drifted into the air.

It was the magic energy she was letting slip out. It was being changed in a way that felt foreign compared to the Magic granted by her Falna as the Spirit undulated in strange motions around her head. She reached out to it as she finished the pledge. “Let it be nurtured by the bonds we share. And bear the fruit of knowledge within me—so that bond can bloom for eternity.

Water and light gathered in front of her in the form of a small star, bright and radiant. She felt an impulse and gently cradled that light before bringing it to her chest. Then the words formed in her mind, and she found herself repeating them aloud.

Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.

That light encompassed her as it seeped into her body from head to toe. It felt cool like water washing over her from the inside, filling in every crease and crevice. Gentle and kind enough that it coaxed tears from her eyes as the light faded away. “Ahh…

“Take a deep breath,” said the Elder Elf as she gestured with her staff and wrangled the Spirit’s attention. “How do you feel?”

“I feel… strange, but touched,” Lefiya said, placing a hand on her heart. “It’s different from when I normally use Magic.”

“That’s because the Magic granted from your Falna suits you due to being born from your excelia, the experiences that shape you,” Lady Lilo explained. “The trigger for it is already within you and, as soon as it appears, all you have to do is recite the chant. Thus, it feels as natural as breathing. Everything else afterwards is learned.”

Magic that appeared with the Falna was benefited by the Falna. That was why it grew as one’s Magic Status increased, the effects and attributes strengthening it. The Mage Development Ability augmented it in different ways, expanding its capabilities even further.

“In the case of this Magic, it stems from something that you don’t fully understand,” she continued. “That’s why it feels foreign to you at the moment, whether that feeling is comforting or intense. That’s also why it’s a lot more difficult to manage than your normal spells. You’re giving up a lot of control and taking a bigger risk, but it can never be taken away from you even should your blessing be lost.”

She took a moment to process that information when a green light filled her vision once more. Shifting her azure eyes to the left revealed the curious Wind Spirit had come to her once more. It had come closer than yesterday, lingering so closely that she could feel the air around her shift when it passed by.

“If you’re up for it, why don’t you try to beseech that little one next?” suggested the Elder Elf.

“But I learned one spell already. Is that really okay?”

“Minor Spirits do not concern themselves with the concept of sharing and that Spirit personally danced with you, did it not?” Lefiya nodded to the inquiry. “That was because it felt the emotions that you were giving off at the time, similar to how the other Elves being cheerful drew the others to them.”

The Half-Elf Mage recalled she had been dancing with Filvis, holding her close and staring into her eyes. Her cheeks grew red when she considered the intimacy of the moment and her own intentions. Then she noticed the Wind Spirit bobbed closer to her and puffed out her cheeks. I am not sure how I feel about that.

“Since it is already fond of you, it will likely be receptive enough that I won’t need to coax it. Others will not be so easy. Take advantage while you can.”

Sensing that the childish-looking Elder Elf was correct, Lefiya repeated what she had done before in releasing her magical power while envisioning the wind. When one normally thought of wind, they thought of the fair breeze that caressed the skin and whispered in your ear. But, in her mind, it was something else entirely—wild, yet beautiful.

Miss Ryuu was so elegant like the gale, slipping through the grasp of whatever tried to tie her down, able to ascend to the sky without wings as if it were a second home or sweep away her foes. Miss Aiz was a gorgeous tempest, her wind a shield and a sword, capable of sweeping away anything that stood in her path.

Lefiya coveted that wind, holding it tightly as she recited the ancient pledge once more. Then she felt it. She felt the wind envelop her body, a light breeze that gently caressed her at first before gradually becoming a gale that shook the frost-laden foliage around her and steadily grew more and more intense that she almost feared it would take her into the sky.

“Don’t let it run wild, whelp!” she heard beyond the gale. “It’s your Magic. Contain it and send it upwards!”

It was easier said than done. How did one contain the wind? Something so inherently free that it slipped through any crease or crevice? The answer was…with itself.

That’s right. The wind was not only gentle but harsh. It could be a light breeze or a gale that swept away all else. Ever shifting in form and intensity, the only thing that could contain it was itself. I need to twist it tight!

She gathered the wind. Not with her hands but her will itself, guiding her magic power that the Wind Spirit stirred to encircle itself. She couldn’t let it run wild, so she bound the wind tighter and tighter, listening to its howl intensifying as it struggled to break free.

And in those howls were birthed words that came to her lips as she seized control.

Answer my call, winds of the forest. Obey my will and tear apart our foes— She forced the wind to twist itself tighter and tighter until she could unleash it into the sky.Gale Blast!

Constrained wind sailed into the air before coming undone. The magical power that had been turned into raging winds came unbound into empty space and then scattered. The result was a fierce gale that shook every nearby tree free of its ice and frost, stripping more than a few of their leaves that were helplessly caught in its wake and now drifted down.

Haa… ha…” She was left panting as she collapsed onto her knees, staring up into the sky. She felt far more exhausted than she should. More so considering the little Wind Spirit circled her with what seemed to be excitement, a stark contrast if there ever was one.

“Magic with the intention of doing harm is a lot more unstable and requires your focus to bring under control than one meant to heal,” lectured the Elder Elf as she slowly came over. “One little slip and an Ignis Fatuus is almost inevitable… well, had you taken a moment longer I would have wrested the Wind Spirit from you to prevent that, but a little fear isn’t a bad thing to instill in youngsters so they know better than to take it for granted.”

She’s about as merciless as Lady Riveria when it comes to Magic, isn’t she? Lefiya belatedly realized. She may look like a child, but beneath that innocent veneer was someone to be feared. If Lady Loki called the Nine Hells a strict mother, then Lefiya imagined that she would be a stern grandmother.

But she couldn’t deny the lesson would stick. She knew the wind could be devastating in how the others used it, but they had control and that wind had never been directed at her. Magic that was wild and untamed from even before the Age of Heroes, meant to slay monsters that spawned from the Dungeon without the Falna.

Her respect for those ancient mages grew even more.

“Thousand Elf,” Lady Lilo said firmly and proud, addressing her by the title bequeathed to her. “I recognize both Her Highness’ words and your determination. So, with my blessing, take our culture, our Magic, and our history with you. And never forget that so long as a drop of our blood flows in your veins and you bear our pride, you are an Elf.”

She felt a swelling in her chest at that and responded with a cheerful, “Yes, ma’am!

After a few minutes to compose herself, Lefiya made her way back to the plaza. The other High Elves were about and making arrangements to return to their homes, distant forests that dotted the land. The events that transpired here would linger on their lips and from what she could perceive the Elder Elf was giving them instructions to carry out when they arrived.

However, to her surprise, one of those High Elves approached her. It was a woman who looked relatively… well she would like to say older. But considering how their races aged differently and the differences from an ordinary Elf like her mother, she couldn’t particularly say how old. Older than Lady Riveria, but younger than the Elder that looked like a child.

“May I help you, my lady?” Lefiya responded with mild caution mixed with politeness out of respect for her presumed station.

To her surprise, the High Elf bent her knees outward while placing one foot behind her. Her fingers held out her dress and she inclined her head as she spoke. “Allow me to express gratitude for your actions last night, child of our forest. I greet you humbly, as one who hails from the heart of Wishe.”

A momentary shock ran through the Half-Elf at the realization that she must have been one of the High Elves that hailed from the forests of her homeland. She hadn’t really considered that one of them would be in attendance given her own preoccupation, but Wishe itself was renowned for producing Elves who possessed high levels of magical power even without the Falna. As Magic could only be obtained from the Spirits without the grace of the divine, of course they would be in attendance at the Spirit Festival.

In haste, she replied with the same courtesy. “Forgive me for not recognizing one of my own. I am honored to be in your presence and apologize for any discomfort the events of last night might have caused you or the others of our forest in attendance.”

The high-born Elf graced her with a smile. “You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to bear witness to not only Lady Riveria’s presence, but also the knowledge that one of our own serves as her apprentice. It will make for a delightful tale to regale those who were unable to attend the festival this time.”

So she was the only one who came from Wishe this time, Lefiya realized while keeping her head bowed. “Will you be departing now?”

“Yes, my escort awaits me at the entrance of the Spirit Forest, but…” The woman brought her hands to the Half-Elf’s face and gently raised it so that she could look her in the eyes. Her eyes were a familiar shade of magenta. “Should ever find the time to return to Wishe, please do. I am certain your mother would love to hear of how talented you have become.”

Unsure of how to respond as the High Elf turned and departed, Lefiya considered her words. Then she realized that she had never told anyone here that her mother was the source of her Elven heritage. Then again it might just have been due to the preconception of beauty among their races.

Elvish beauty was considered the closest to the Gods and Goddesses on the lower world. Even then some would argue they were able to match them, such as Lady Riveria. Elven women were often sought after by other races for this reason and, while Humans could bear children with any of the other races to result in one that inherited traits from both, it was often the fathers who sowed the seed—so to speak.

However, it did remind her she should send a letter to her mother to let her know how she was doing and that she had reconnected with her little brother. Though the woman had only met him for a few hours at best, she saw in him their father’s eyes and there were moments where Lefiya knew that she still regretted not taking him in. His life wouldn’t have been easy being a human on the outskirts and Lefiya believed that he was happier living with his grandfather, but it had been a choice she took from both of them because of her petulance at that age.

Though she would leave out the situation on the 18th Floor—obviously.

[-Orario-]

It took roughly the same time to get back to Orario as it did to get to the Spirit Forest when they were finally done.

The trip back was thankfully uneventful, but silent as Lefiya mused on her new Magics and what she should do with that knowledge. Lady Riveria had abstained from teaching her them due to some very solid reasons considering she still had much to learn and would likely not want her practicing them before she perfected her own spells through the Falna and maximizing their potential with the Mage Development Ability.

But, at the same time, she couldn’t just sit on what she had just obtained. Even if it couldn’t benefit from the Mage Development Ability and thus would never be as capable in terms of raw output, it was still Elvish Magic. I should treat it like a hobby for now and practice it during my free time then.

“I’ll need to head to Loki to report our return,” Lady Riveria stated once they all finished turning over their mounts to the Ganesha Familia. “However, it would leave me feeling rather upset if I didn’t see you girls receive a proper reward for what you’ve done. And since Royman can’t be bothered to do so… take these.”

She presented them each with Spirit Nuts. They were fruit borne of the Spirit Tree, an event that occurred once every 30 years, making them among the rarest of delicacies. One only known to their people at that.

“Is this really okay, Lady Riveria?” Lefiya asked. “Aren’t there people who you wanted to give them to?”

“I only needed two to start with but some of the other Elves were insistent,” she said. “Since they can be used as a panacea for illnesses, I wanted to give one to a dear friend of mine to get better. As for the other, I believe I will give it to her daughter to do with as she pleases. She wanted to come with me, but circumstances wouldn’t be so kind to her. The rest will just be wasted for me, so take two of them each.”

“I have no personal use for them, but a dear friend of mine may like to have the chance to try them,” Miss Ryu said as she took the offering of royalty. “Thank you, Lady Riveria.”

As Lefiya and Filvis did the same before taking a moment to relax at a café on the Main Street, the pair silently pondered what it was they were to do with the two they each possessed.

Lefiya figured she would give one of hers to Bell, much in the same way Miss Ryuu and Lady Riveria would their friends. It was so he would have the chance to experience one of the pleasures known only to their people. It would be one of the little things she could do for him as an older sister—affection in the form of storge.

Her other choice would not be so innocent. “Filvis, would you like to split this one with me?”

The Elf who bore the title of Maenads nearly spilled her tea in an undignified manner as she registered the words of the Thousand Elf. “L-Lefiya… aren’t those also supposed to increase the feelings of affection between the two who eat them?”

In the fairy tale story based around the Holy Tree, the greedy girl who reformed shared a red nut that grew on the tree with a boy from the village. It made their love even stronger, and they were married by the end. It was the sort of thing that gave the story an ending befitting of a fairy tale.

Lefiya was certain she was in love with Filvis. But she also knew that those feelings may not be returned. At the very least she wanted it to be known, rather than leading her on.

“I know,” confessed the Half-Elf, a crimson blush spreading on her cheeks as continued. “After the dance, I… wanted to make my feelings clear that I’ve started seeing you as more than just a friend. Even if you don’t share that sam—”

“No, I…” The raven-haired Elf trailed off while looking away from the pair of azure eyes. “I’m sullied, inside and out to the point I’m used to being covered in blood. I don’t want to dirty you in that way, Lefiya.”

“You’re the most beautiful person I know, inside and out,” Lefiya told her. Whether it was covered in blood or standing valiantly in her defense, her affection for the woman in front of her did not change. “There is nothing you can do to sully me because you aren’t sullied at all.”

“…Lefiya…” Her breath caught in her throat as she looked down at the offering for the confession. “I intend to share one of mine with Lord Dionysus. But the other I want to share with you, both to acknowledge your feelings for me and… mine for you.”

She recognized the implication. Filvis returned her affection, but she also loved the one who graced her with his blessing dearly as well, despite knowing that it would likely be unrequited due to their natures. The divine often loved their children, a form of agape that could not be fully understood because of their nature. It was impossible to truly judge their affection by the standards of those of the lower world.

“Even so, how I feel won’t change,” Lefiya said in response. “If your feelings for him are returned, I’ll cheer for you. If they aren’t, I’ll cry with you. Even if I don’t hold that sole place in your heart, I still treasure you dearly, Filvis.”

Then…” She took the offered fruit from Lefiya and gave her one of her fruits in response. It was an exchange of affection in the form of eros, an affirmation of their feelings for one another. They cemented it upon partaking of the fruits that were the crystallization of the Spirits’ bond with their people.

And, at that moment, Lefiya couldn’t be happier. Her feelings were at least acknowledged. She hoped they would be reciprocated in full someday but, for now, it felt like she was floating on air.

[-Bell Cranel-]

Around the same time, Bell Cranel emerged from the depths of the Dungeon. It couldn’t have been a week, and yet he felt as though he was seeing the sun for the first time in a month or longer since he had seen the sun or felt the breeze of the wind on his skin. They had done it.

They had finally returned from the 18th Floor…

He knew they would need a few days to recover. But, hopefully, after that everything would go back to normal. He hoped they could all laugh and cheer at their fortune, and maybe even celebrate somewhere nice.

…Needless to say, he never expected they’d be going to war.

[-Arc 2 End-]


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 5 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 5: The End of the Opening Act

Mmmlast night was so hectic,” Lefiya said in a soft, somewhat sleepy tone as she proceeded through the line of trees within the 18th Floor. The next day had come and they had some time before they began their ascent back to the surface, so she was in the process of heading to Rivira to find some new boots for her brother. “The Captain scolded me, you know?”

Hehe… sorry about that,” Bell said apologetically as he walked alongside her. “If I was awake back then, I would have I would have been able to explain things more clearly.”

After they had blown through the very earth to get back to the surface, she had carried Bell back up after he lost consciousness from his injuries. They had then been attacked by members of Evilus and a group of Violas, but thankfully a mysterious Elven Warrior showed up to fend them off and heal the pair before she departed. Considering Violas were tough enough that Level Three was the bare minimum one should fight a single one at, and she managed to take out multiple of them on her own, it spoke highly of her abilities.

Lefiya could only see her as the epitome of beauty in frontline combat as she danced gracefully between the monsters that had assaulted them without fail—might, magic, and majesty all bundled into one. She could have fallen in love with the masked warrior if she didn’t have her heart set on someone else and thought she had a chance. “You’re lucky to know an Elf like that lady, Bell.”

“She’s a friend that’s been looking out for me for a while now,” Bell claimed. “It was her advice that allowed me to get this far. I owe her a lot.”

“Make sure you properly thank her next time you see her,” Lefiya told him. “Most pure-blooded Elves wouldn’t put themselves out there for someone from such an obscure Familia like yours. You need to make sure to treasure that friendship.”

“I will,” he promised. “Still, to think you guys fight monsters like that all the time. Your Familia is really amazing.”

“That’s another thing we need to talk about….” She paused in her steps at that. It was as good of a time as any for what she had decided after everything that transpired. “Bell?”

He stopped ahead of her and turned back. “Is something wrong?”

She took a deep breath before she broached a question that should have been a long time coming. “…Would you be willing to join me in the Loki Familia?”

His crimson eyes, the opposite of her azure pair, rose up in surprise at her offer. “Eh?”

“You might have only a month or so of experience, but you are a Level Two and no one can deny that you would be a good candidate after last night. You also get along pretty well with some of us from what I can tell, so with me vouching for you…”

She should have offered him that much the day he came to her. He might have been new but when she looked back on how far he had come in such a short time, it felt like she had cost them a valuable comrade. And he would be relatively safer considering how they operated. There hadn’t been a single casualty in the Familia since she had joined, which was due to how things were structured. He would be safe and she could watch over him easier with the others helping her.

He closed his eyes, his placid brow furrowed in thought. Then his features became apologetic as he opened them again and gave his answer. “Lady Hestia has become family to me as well. I can’t abandon her.”

The Half-Elf could only sigh. She honestly expected it. “Then, no matter what, you can’t tell anyone about us. Neither of us can.”

His expression dampened like a rabbit with its ears folded over. “Why?”

“The Loki Familia is one of the most powerful Familia and can more than defend itself, but we still have enemies. If they find out about you, they’ll use you to get to me and the Familia. I see my Familia as family, just like you—and I don’t want to be forced to choose between either one.”

Evilus was one such force. Their remnants were still causing problems and had almost claimed his life as collateral damage. The secret being kept between them was the only reason someone else hadn’t taken interest in him aside from the fact that he was the current Record Holder.

Then there was the fact that certain secrets were supposed to be kept among Familia members. Things like tactics, strategies, and other things that shouldn’t be told to outsiders. Having a family member outside of the Familia—especially in a rival Familia—would make her a liability. It may have already done so.

“It seems I’ve caused problems for you again,” Bell said. “Sorry.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s my fault. I should have brought you to Lady Loki the moment you showed up on our doorstep. But I was a bad older sister, and now both of us are paying the price for that. That’s something I’ll have to deal with eventually.”

“…One day I’ll become stronger.” He looked deep into her azure eyes. To the extent that she could see the gleam of resolve reflected within his own crimson pair. “Strong enough that you won’t have to keep it a secret to protect me. I swear.”

Idiot, you would need to be a least Level Six to do that.” Not that she didn’t believe it was possible he would reach that point. But she would prefer that he had a different reason to seek that strength than for her. “Until then, when we’re alone, you can call me your sister without any problem. That’s fine, right?”

His expression brightened in a way that reminded her of when he first saw her, back when they were kids. “Yes, sister.”

You don’t have to look so happy about it,” she said in a dismissive tone as she looked away, a slight crimson hue painting her cheeks. It was a crime he looked as adorable as he did every now and again, despite his age. “What a troublesome little brother you are. Come on, let’s get you some new boots.”

Visiting the town, she found him a relatively decent pair of boots to replace the set that had gotten lost in the acid. Then she had to leave him behind because she needed to head back to her camp. They were packing to go back up the surface now that everything was said and done, meaning that they would be splitting up for a bit.

However, on the way back she ran into the source of her previous problems in the form of a handsome being with a feathered hat. The God of Travel leaning against a tree with a book tucked under his slender arm waved her over just outside of the camp. It was because of him her brother had gotten handsy and she wasn’t exactly happy about that, but even though she could feel annoyed at him she couldn’t exactly ignore him. “Did you need something, Lord Hermes?”

“I just wanted to offer my apologies for whatever trouble you got into last night,” he said, straightening himself up. Then he presented the book he had to her. “I understand you’re something of a scholar when it comes to magic. You can read this, right?”

It was a book that looked aged, yet she could feel the workings of Magic upon it—likely to preserve it. There were words on the surface written in Old Elvish, a type of script that wasn’t taught publicly anymore to most of the Elvish population except for the more learned like scholars or the upper echelons of society. Even then the only reason she could read it was because her mother had taught her, though it certainly had impressed Lady Riveria to know when she had joined.

“It looks like it’s the memoirs of someone named ‘Fina’ from what I can tell,” she explained. “Is there something special about it?”

“My children found it some ancient ruins before we came back to Orario,” he began. “Due to some of the other things there, we thought it might belong to an ancient Elven Mage from the beginning of the age of heroes, before the descent of the Gods to the lower planes. As far as I am aware it might very well be the only copy. Do what you wish with it.”

She frowned as she considered that. Though Elves were long-lived, many had lost their homes when Rakia had burned their forests down. And, because they were so secular, that meant the knowledge they held onto from ancient times had been lost as well. Something from that age would be invaluable, even if it were only the memoirs. “I can’t accept something that valuable.”

“I insist,” he said. “Even if not because of this incident then as a thank you for what happened on the 24th Floor. It was because of you that any of my children returned. It is only proper that I reward you personally.”

A weight pressed down on her heart when she noticed his gaze seemed distant recalling that day. So many of his Familia had died there. Many of them to protect her. She could only assume that he was trying to state they would want her to have it. “Then I graciously accept your gift, Lord Hermes.”

He took off his cap before bowing towards her. “You have my thanks. They will be able to rest a little easier now.”

I’ll keep it for them, she thought to herself. Even if it was invaluable and could be sold for a lot, it would be wrong to do so in the memories of those who died that day. Besides, it’s not like I don’t read in my free time. And, if it really was from ancient times, I could learn something new.

“By the way,” Hermes began as he placed his cap back on. “I must say, I didn’t expect you two to get along so well considering what happened.”

Lefiya wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “Huh?”

“Well, when I asked around where you might have been a couple of people said they saw you sneak off with Hestia’s child in the middle of the morning. Last I heard there were whispers going around that the two of you might have had the sparks of romance enkindled after a dangerous encounter of some kind.”

Oh Goddess no! She felt her stomach churn at that the very thought that rumors about her being in a relationship with her brother were floating around the camp. Leaving aside the already present issues of their blood-tie, what if Miss Aiz heard them? What if it got back to Filvis somehow?

She had to stomp them out. Now! “ForgivemebutImustbeonmyway—BYE!

It would take her the entire day’s journey back to the surface to quell those rumors. Even after she personally blew the head off the Goliath on the 17th Floor after the others had knocked it down. But she wouldn’t have any time to rest as the next day she would set off on a new journey.

To sacred lands known only to Elves.

[-Arc 1 End-]

Lefiya Viridis (Level 3)

Status:

  • Strength: I86
  • Endurance: H184
  • Dexterity: G210
  • Agility: G271
  • Magic: B797
  • Mage: H
  • Abnormal Resistance: I

Skill:

  • Fairy Cannon: Increases the effects of Magic. The effect doubles when used with attack Magic.
  • Vow of Elcos: The birth of an everlasting bond. Raises attributes and allows for synchronization while working in tandem with those bound by fate to the Clown March.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 4 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 4: The Last Epic

The stage was set—the belly of a monster that had consumed many adventurers, their tales were forever written into fate as tragedies that were the old staples of the Gods and Goddesses’ entertainment.

The thespians were assembled—the younger brother who would act as the shield for the sister that could bring about the destruction of the beast as the comedy of eld had once upon a time did.

Now was the prologue—that which would determine whether the tale would be a tragedy, a comedy, or something entirely different written upon the canvas of fate. And the curtains rose on the opening performance as the smoke cleared.

The cyclopean eye cast its baleful gaze down upon the pair within its body, a monster that was potentially Level Four in terms of threat against a Level Three Mage and Level Two Vanguard. Its superiority should have been absolute, yet the proof of their defiance was forever etched into its body as its tendrils that had been cut and burned flailed above menacingly where those who came before never managed to do so. In fury, it renewed its assault by bringing the tendrils down towards them both once more.

The pair kicked off the ground. One to the left. One to the right. The whips came crashing down in the center with a splash that acted as a wall between them, obscuring their vision and splitting them apart.

Yet Lefiya felt calm compared to the last time and her mind felt clearer. She knew her role and his. Bell would be her vanguard and would protect her without fail.

However, as he was now, he would be unable to fulfill that role. His injuries had begun taking their toll. His blood was spilling out uncontested and making him light-headed. His legs were being eroded by the constant contact with the acid. So her first order of business should be to ensure her brother could do his job.

“I’ll act as a decoy until I finish the first spell to buff your defense! You look around for something that can help protect me by the end of my chant!”

“Got it!” The white rabbit darted through the acid as if his feet were on fire once the whips began focusing on him. It was most likely because his Magic as the last one used, following its species tendency to fixate on it.

She began a song just for him. “I beseech the name of Wishe! Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains.”

The melodic voice drew the eye of the monster towards her as it gave birth to a ring beneath her feet, golden in hue as it illuminated the dank chasm. Those whips that had been pursuing her brother then came towards her, readying to strike her down—

FIREBOLT!

—but as soon as its gaze left him behind, her brother let loose his electrical spear of flames that slammed against it once more and filled its vision with scarlet and smoke. The lack of sight provided her an escape as her lowered reaction was compensated for while she kept up her chant and her magic circle expanded with the accumulation of magical power.

Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance.”

The hunger for Magic like a ravenous animal left it to lash out towards her as the magical energy within her body seemed to course madly with every pulse of her heart. Denied its eye for exact targeting by the obscuring smoke, it relied on wild sweeps. But those she could avoid by the narrowest of margins as she kept up her chant.

Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

And with that the Summon Burst was complete. The gateway to a realm where the spells of all of Elvenkind were stored opened, a vast and expansive repository that had no guide and offered no guidance. Those who stepped into the realm could only bring with them the knowledge they accumulated on their own to reach in pluck at the weave of magic.

Among the spells stored within the infinite corridor of the Elves of the past and future, there was one she knew to compensate for her brother’s condition. If the flesh was weak, steel it. If injuries were present, mend them. She used that knowledge to pull from that collection a spell belonging to only the noblest of blood among their long-lived yet dying race.

And in reflection of that, the magic circle the hue of her soul turned a magnificent shade of jade.

The smoke cleared as Lefiya stopped moving. Her Magic had reached its crescendo and the cost was heavy on her in terms of Mind and focus alike. The entry fee of accessing her kin’s archives of knowledge was steep for one of mixed-blood. No longer running, magical energy densely surrounding her to the extent of rising into the air as glimmering motes, the whips immediately came rushing towards her to claim it even as they stirred the acid so that her vision of the world outside of her immediate area was narrowed.

She ignored the death closing in on her in favor of the sensation in her chest—of expectation and anticipation backed by the faintest sound of rapid splashes that grew closer. She could feel him coming towards her.

Gather, breath of the earth—in my name of Alf.” Extending her arms out as if expecting a loving embrace, she finished her song as it went from a solo performance to a duet once her mentor’s voice overlapped her own. “Veil Breath!

The magic took shape and leaped from her body as the curtain of acid was broken by a bulwark of silver, backed by a dark shadow. Jade light swaddled her brother’s body as he came rushing past her with a shield in hand, having reclaimed it. He raised it, intercepting the incoming whips with all his might, and a gong-like sound rang out as the shield buckled beneath the intense force even as it rebuffed the tendrils.

Then Bell tossed the shield away and bound into the air while bringing his onyx knife overhead at the tendrils and roaring the name of his spell once more. “FIREBOLT!

Flames erupted along the line of the swing. The explosion shook the air as the appendages recoiled from his assault as Lefiya knew it would. It really was amazing that he had such a Magic given his limited time in Orario. She wondered how far he would grow with enough time if he survived for all his recklessness…

No, she would make sure he survived. As long as he was in front of her, she would protect him without fail. She would dedicate her Magic and her soul to make sure that he could become all that he could be.

So she began her song anew, a hymn of destruction for the one who would rob him of his future.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree…

[-Bell-]

Bell felt thunder rumbling in his chest.

It had been there since he had lost consciousness from that last hit, the moment the back of his head hit the wall. He had descended into a dark place, the depths of which held the memory of when he first saw his sister. She had been pretty, her ears reminding him of a butterfly resting against the flower in bloom that was her face.

He was happy to learn that she was someone he could call family. Then she looked at him with hateful eyes and said that she never wanted to see him again. He had cried back then so much that he thought the tears would never stop.

But his grandfather had told him that it would be okay. She had a rough life because not everyone saw her the same as he had been. The blood that bound the two of them had also separated her from others.

He wanted to protect her like the heroes in the stories his grandfather told him would the girls around them.

Except that when he arrived in Orario his sister was already far ahead of him. Not only was she a member of the Loki Familia, one of the strongest Familia at present, but she was a Level Three. She didn’t need someone as weak as him to protect her. She wouldn’t even acknowledge him unless he caught up to someone who he had only heard whispers about when he tried to figure out where his sister was.

Then he had met Aiz in the Dungeon and understood why that was.

Her hair. Her eyes. Her figure. Her power. Everything about them seemed so transcendent that he felt something deep within him stir. He wanted her to acknowledge him too. He wanted to protect her too. For some reason, he wanted to…

He wanted to see her smile with his own eyes.

It could only be love.

But he was faced with the truth of the matter soon enough. Regardless of his own desires, he could never make them come true as he was. He couldn’t gain the acknowledgment of his sister, nor hope to do the same as someone like Aiz as he was. He was weak and needed to be protected by the very girls he wanted to protect.

It was no wonder his sister refused to acknowledge him.

That was why he threw himself into the Dungeon. He delved into the same depths that his sister and Aiz had in the hopes of catching up to them. He went on an adventure to seek the strength to make them recognize him as an equal and acknowledge him.

Then he had lost consciousness and, in those dark depths, he realized that he had still been too weak. He was still being protected by his sister. Even though she was in just as much danger as he was, she had been constantly protecting him while he couldn’t do anything.

For this moment I have earned the power that I do not deserve!

It was then he heard a voice. He heard a voice that sounded like his own. It sounded a little older and dramatic, but it felt like his own words being spoken as a golden radiance slowly revealed itself nestled within the depths. It seemed ancient and yet everlasting, drawing his eyes even as the air became charged.

“You and I are united for eternity.”

At that moment he understood it was power. Perhaps more power than he deserved as a failure who couldn’t even protect his sister on his own. In the end, every bit of power he had so far was all power that was bequeathed to him in the end.

His knife was bequeathed to him by his Goddess rather than something he forged on his own. His Magic was something he was bequeathed by a Grimoire he took for his own rather than something he earned as others do. Even now, before him was more power that he hadn’t done anything to deserve. But…

I’ll get stronger and stronger. Until one day I can protect my sister on my own. Until one day I can protect everyone with my own power. I swear it! But for now, I will borrow this strength for the sake of everyone else!

The moment he reached for that spark a jolt of electricity snapped his awareness back into consciousness. He saw his sister being swept up into the air and her death assured. He saw the axe nearby and he moved to protect her as the thunder rumbled in his chest.

Even now it continued to rumble within his chest as he stood in the defense of his sister so she could sing her next song, the lilt in her voice a melody that resonated in his heart as the whips closed in to silence her.

He cried out from the depths of his lungs as he gave his all to protect her. He slashed his blade of bequeathed power from his Goddess with all the force he could muster, offering the blade the flames of the bequeathed Magic he possessed from a Grimoire whose owner was unknown, while swaddled in the comfort and shelter of the protective veil bequeathed from his sister. “FIREBOLT!

The explosion rattled the air as sections of the tendrils were blown away, the wafting smoke and scattering embers of the appendages leaving a trail as it retracted them. Yet, it hadn’t learned to fear his blade or flame. It continued to seek out his sister as she wove her spell with intimate words, her lips illuminated by the golden hue of her Magic. “You are the master archer…

The whips lashed at his protected body as he fended the attacks off. Even then the blows that had been softened by the enchantment stung as they ripped away at the Salamander Wool. The pain tore deep even with the veil intact.

RRRRRAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!

But with a roar he bore with the pain and reached out to his spell, wielding a flaming sword even as he felt the onset of Mind Collapse from expending so much power. He continued to protect her without fail until he heard the final verse of her song. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Golden radiance filled the monster’s belly with its brilliance as her magic circle became all-encompassing as she let loose her nocked arrow woven of Mind and Magic. The monster that Bell had never encountered before, its sinuous vines and humanoid torso, seemed to sense the impending death and braced for it. “ARCS RAY!!!!

The air howled. The acid quivered and fled in endless ripples. The golden pillar ascended towards the roof of their prison, towards their captor who watched from above, and slammed into it like the divine returning to the heavens in the picture of what Bell imagined the Magic of Heroes to be through his dazzled vision—light that shunted away the darkness with absolute might.

There was an inhuman screech as the monster cried out while meeting the light head-on. It refused to bow to that light, even as it seemed to be pressed against its lid and was slowly being eaten away. It held strong even as the walls around them trembled and began to close in from every side, trying to crush them.

Nnnngghhh…” Bell could hear his sister’s strained voice as she continued to unleash everything that she had built up, her gaze unyielding and unshakable even as she gazed deep into the light. She raised her staff higher and gave it her all and more to open up a path for them.

You‘re really amazing, sister. Bell couldn’t help but feel that from the depths of his heart as he once more saw how far he had to go to catch up to her. And she could still go further if the idol they shared was still far ahead of them. He couldn’t let it end here for her.

His right hand began to shed white-and-blue sparkles of light that glistened as he raised it to the sky along with her staff. His sister’s eyes met his as seconds passed and a wordless message carried between them as the lights dancing around his palm and small chimes intensified. She nodded to him before directing her gaze up towards the monster once more put everything she could afford to into her own spell as he let loose his own.

All while both shared a single thought. “I won’t let you die here!

Light burst from his hand, a white radiance that wrapped around the lightning flame towards their enemy. But, along the way, the spell bent and twisted as it wove itself around the golden pillar until it was a beacon of white-and-gold that shone with the light of the sun.

That transcendent swallowed the monster and the world around them whole…

[-Hermes-]

As the pillar of radiance illuminated the night of the Under Resort, the God of Travel found it in himself to smile as the crystalline ceiling of the Dungeon reflected the light and gave the appearance of diamonds strewn upon a dark sky.

There was once a tale that Zeus had told him back before the Gods and Goddesses had descended. The comedy of a jester that would become known as the hero of the dawn. The first performance that had captivated the gods.

Zeus had on a whim observed the jester who was meant to be nothing more than a fool to be tossed away by the machinations of a king driven mad. Another victim of a long-standing tragedy in the making. Yet that jester ventured forth to the Spirit Shrine for the chance to turn the tragedy into a comedy.

So he beckoned a great spirit to form a contract with the jester to see what would come about.

And it had been his greatest joy to watch that grand performance.

The truth known only to the eldest of gods.

The dawn of the era of heroes.

The first heroic tale.

Hermes had missed the first performance. The heroic comedy that reached the gods and enraptured them so much that they turned their gaze to the lower planes wholly and eventually descended to give rise to heroes of their own—to be a part of their tales rather than mere observers. To miss that had been one of his greatest regrets.

That was why this time Hermes would be the choragus. He would see all the thespians assembled. He would see the finest theatron, Orario itself, be their stage. All for the sake of a new tale—not a comedy or a tragedy.

But a heroic epic that transcends all else.

The Last Epic.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 3 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 3: Lost Siblings – Part 2

Things had started simple enough once the two of them had caught their breath. They needed to make their way back to the campsite since it was too dangerous to linger about. Despite the 18th Floor not inherently spawning monsters, some did wander in from above and below. Monsters of that caliber were something she could deal with, but not a fresh Level Two like her brother.

For all Lefiya knew another Minotaur would show up and, after two encounters with them that should have been fatal, she didn’t want to risk the third time being when his luck ran out.

There was always the option of using her Magic to send up a signal. But she considered that the last resort. Leaving aside how shameful it would have been to go calling for help after she had chased him this far out, Bell had already caused enough problems. No sense in making things worse there.

The basics of survival in the Dungeon had been drilled into her by the Loki Familia since she had joined, to compensate for what wasn’t taught in the Educational District. Not every scholar there went on to join an Exploration Familia. The Dungeon was dangerous after all and there was no point in spending years learning for a single mistake to claim your life.

Lefiya took the lead with his Magic Stone Lantern to illuminate the path. The smaller crystals could be broken into pieces even with her mediocre strength. After all, as a Level Three she could easily punch cracks in the very floor of the Dungeon should she wish. She had him scatter them behind to leave a trail, so they didn’t walk in circles.

Bell himself supplemented that by marking certain trees as they passed with his odd knife that had the writing of the gods upon it, though such markings were only temporary given the trees could mend themselves rather quickly—but if they were still lost by then, she would accept they couldn’t get back and send up a signal flare. Still, it seemed he knew his way around mountainous terrain pretty well for a farm boy.

“I used to play on them when I was younger,” he told her, when she made the mistake of bringing that up.  It gave him leeway to tell her more about his childhood and he naturally seemed eager to, despite the situation. She considered telling him to shelve it for now, but…

Well, he didn’t even know much about their father or her. And she didn’t know much about him, all things considered. She still didn’t even know why had come here besides chasing after her or even about the Familia he ran off to join.

Then he told her and she felt her anger rising again. “Oh my Goddess… you joined up with the first Familia that offered you a spot? Without knowing anything about them?

After being turned away by her, it seemed her brother had gone from one Familia to another only to be rejected by them all until one goddess picked him up off the street like an abandoned kitten. She then took him to a bookstore of all places to place her grace upon his back and claim him as her own. Then they moved into an abandoned Church and lived in the same bedroom!

He scratched the back of his head when he saw the look she was giving him. “Well, Lady Hestia is kind and she was willing to accept someone like me. And I don’t mind our living circumstances, so I’m quite happy.”

She found it in her to start grinding her teeth when she considered the small goddess. It was clear she actually did care considering she risked entering the Dungeon for him once he had gone missing. But it could have gone so much worse considering how he was a know-nothing country mouse with such a babyface that someone could have taken advantage of him—in a lot of ways she didn’t want to think about considering their blood-tie.

“What about you, Sister?” Bell asked.

“I said not to call me that,” she reminded him before huffing. “And I spent some time scouting which Familia I wanted to join after my graduation. It just so happens that my first choice accepted my qualifications.”

She had left home and entered the Education District at the age of eight. Her mother had felt that she should be in the city where her father had lived. Perhaps it was so that she could escape the not-so-hushed whispers of the neighbors and the other children of her sullied blood.

Orario was a melting pot. People of all different races and careers gathered, so maybe she thought that it would allow her to escape those prejudices. The whispers still followed her—not every Elf was like that, but there were enough of them that she still heard the whispers.

Nevertheless, she studied hard to drown them out. To prove to herself that she was more than what they claimed. She had spent hours studying in the district and just as many in the Dungeon’s upper floors, where there were places where spellcasters could practice without the fear of damaging the city or having their chants overheard.

And once she had graduated, she had gone out of her way to scout and get a feel for the Loki Familia before she joined them. Her knowledge of the principles of magic was fairly solid and mages were something of a hot commodity, even if her original skill made it so that she was better suited to destructive spells by passively amplifying them. She had options, but… well, the Loki Familia had Lady Riveria.

Lady Riveria—a legend among Elves. For some, it was her royal birth. For others, it was her status as one of the strongest Adventurers in Orario. There were few far and between that didn’t revere her, even a Half-Elf like Lefiya.

And that was before she chose her to become her successor—regardless of her heritage.

“The Loki Familia has a lot of amazing people, huh?” Bell mused. “You managed to make it all the way to the 59th Floor. You’re just like the heroes of those stories that braved the unknown.”

“…Don’t let those stories mislead you,” she warned him. “The Dungeon is dangerous. Everything that you’ve experienced up until now can’t compare to what lays below this floor. You should quit being an Adventurer and find some other work to support yourself and your Goddess.”

Bell looked rather somber as he said, “But if I do that, I won’t be able to catch up to any of you. Even now, I’m still so far behind you all that I’m worried I’ll never be able to keep up.”

“…You’re such an idiot,” she muttered as the weight of those words lingered on her mind. It was stupid. Even though she told him he didn’t need to, he was still going to try chasing after them. All the way to an early grave at the rate he was going.

The two stayed silent after that as they continued until they found a tree that towered above all else. It was suitable to serve as a landmark, so she climbed to the top of it and was able to figure out a path back to the camp. But then she managed to spy something that made her blood run cold—members of Evilus.

Her obligation to her Familia demanded she follow them. It was an opportunity to get information that they lacked to prevent things like what happened before from happening again. They had already attacked this floor once before, so anything to prevent them from doing it again was the right course of action.

But there was the matter of her brother. Even if she wanted to return to their camp and gave directions, she couldn’t guarantee that Bell would make it back there on his own. The monsters they had crossed paths with and hid from until now to conserve their strength could still tear him apart considering he only had his Salamander Wool clothes and a knife. Or worse, he could run into Evilus along the way, and they would…

Her stomach twisted at the thought.

No, I have to protect him. That thought cemented in her mind. If we follow at a distance to discover their meeting place, we can then sneak back to camp and inform the Captain and the others. Two birds, one stone.

And so, they followed until they were close to the Crystal Grove and deeper into the forest. They only came to a stop when they were closer to the wall of the Dungeon. The entire time Lefiya was nervous as they followed along the way, her brother cluelessly but wordlessly following her despite the barest of explanations due to the fact that she said it was necessary.

Then the most terrifying moment in her life occurred.

The ground beneath her parted. The sensation of weightlessness and helplessness assailed her. The world around her returned to the Dragon’s Crucible on the 52nd Floor—the gateway of Hell.

Within that chamber where the heat sweltered from below as it rushed to escape the vents that were blasted in the floor, she fell. Without warning or prompt, from six floors below and on the border of the unexplored region, Valgang Dragons spread their leathery pinions to take flight. Ascending from the base of the crucible where the very earth jutted up like the fangs of an open maw waiting to snap close and from its vents belched acrid smoke and embers, they eyed her with flames slipping from their bared maws and ready to incinerate her.

It had been then that she had taken her first steps to catch up to the others. To stop being protected and instead to walk alongside them. She had managed to conquer her fear for those scant few moments, in order to rouse her magic to fend off her attackers then.

Yet that fear before was nothing compared to now…

Because this time her brother was falling into Hell with her.

“AHHHHHHH!”

Hearing his surprised scream had been like flipping a switch inside of her head. She reached out, caught his wrist, and pulled him into her before they could be split apart by the fall. The only thing that stopped her from rousing what strength she could to toss him back up was the fact that the opening closed up on its own.

Her gaze instantly shifted downwards and saw that there was a pool of something they were rushing towards. She couldn’t cushion the fall, but she could angle it so that they didn’t land flat in it. It was thanks to that both landed on their feet as the liquid splashed up around them.

The liquid was a sickly purple color that rose up to their waist. The vapors rising from it had a poignant and acrid smell that irritated the nostrils as they breathed it in. The foul fumes were nauseating enough on their own that they might have been poison.

Then it started to burn.

“Gah!” “Ugh!”

The liquid sizzled where their bodies touched it, bubbling and frothing as the caustic fluid began to nip away at their flesh with ravenous glee. The lantern that had fallen with them was already being corroded by the fluid, the stone inside of it already dimming. Her thoughts turned to acid as she found half-dissolved bone and corroded metal belonging to other Adventurers around them, and then she looked around to see the fleshy texture that made up the wall.

Then realized dawned that it was not a hole they fell into.

It had been a maw of a monster.

They were in its stomach.

She had killed them.

Above us!

Her eyes shot up at her brother’s words and she spotted what looked to be a humanoid torso that had bright, rich colors of red and yellowish-green that were often found in monsters and animals that indicated they were poisonous. The creature had a single eye that peered around from the long stalk that served as its neck, crowned by thin bristles, with two elongated tendrils that shifted in erratic motions as though alive.

It was a monster that reminded her of the Corrupted Spirit on the 59th Floor. It didn’t exude the sheer menace that one did, but it had similar enough traits to the same monsters that had been eating others to feed it the magic stones. It had to have been planted there as a security measure to eliminate witnesses or guard whatever they had near here.

And then its cyclopean eye finished skimming its surroundings before settling on them.

Time seemed to dilate as the senses of a Level Three Adventurer kicked into overdrive in the face of danger. And even that was barely enough for her to react to the incoming attack as instinct kicked in and her hand reached out to pull her brother away. She managed to leap back with him in her tow as far as her legs could carry her in a single bound as the pair of sinuous, massive whips came crashing down.

The entire chamber rumbled as the acid splashed up to nearly three-fourths the height of the chamber, scattering broken bones and abandoned armaments. She felt the acid splash against her hair and the sleeves of her combat clothes, the latter meant to serve as a moderate defense against the hazards of the Dungeon. She then turned to her brother behind her as he snapped up from having fallen backwards, only stopped from a full plunge by one of his hands that was now suffering from mild caustic burns.

He was lucky, considering he was only a fresh Level Two. If the acid had anywhere near the same potency as the ones on the lower floors, there wouldn’t have even been flesh left on the limb.

She tore the half-cloak of her outfit off and passed it to him. “Wrap it up!”

“Look out!” Bell shouted abruptly.

Lefiya whipped her head around to see that the whips were coming around once more. Her body moved, leaping away from the crash site as the wall of acid rose up in response. She quickly covered her face with her sleeve and felt the acid assail the durable fabric before lowering her arm to find her brother. “Bell!”

“I’m fine!” He was on the opposite side of the melting chamber, his legs moving with his injured arm wrapped up tight by the cloak and his other brandishing the onyx dagger that he had in a reverse grip. It seemed uncorroded despite the acid dripping from it. “What is this thing!?”

“Just focus on avoiding it for now!” The singular eye shifted between them before the whips began to stir once more and her grip on Forest’s Teardrop became iron clad. “I’ll come up with something!”

Then talk became a secondary concern to resolving the situation. The monster may have been an unknown, but she had seen similar kinds and had studied under the Loki Familia. They had to be prepared to deal with the unknown as they existed to explore the undelved depths of the Dungeon, so encountering new foes was expected and how to adapt to them.

She felt her thoughts racing as she tried to focus on those teachings. But she couldn’t help but have her thoughts drift back to her younger brother. He hadn’t trained for this—he wasn’t prepared to be an Adventurer. He was a farm boy who lived a simple, happy life in a safe place until a little over a month ago!

Even now he was darting around in a panic—a wild, white rabbit darting back and forth and only able to narrowly avoid the whips when they came towards him. If he wasn’t so fleet-of-foot then he probably wouldn’t have made it that long, but she didn’t know how long that would last before the acid ate away at his legs. The durability of a Level Two was nowhere near sufficient for this kind of environment.

Much less a boy who reached Level Two in less than a month.

It took her three years to reach Level Two. It was at eleven years old, after the examination where they had to put their Magic into practical use in the Dungeon. Students in the Education District who planned to pursue a career in Adventuring, or even to simply obtain access to Magic, received a Falna from one of the Gods who preside over the district. They acted as their instructors until they graduated before leaving the Falna open for them to transfer to a new Familia.

It took her two years after that to reach Level Three, just a year after joining Lady Loki’s Familia. Her growth would be considered rather good considering how far of a gap most others had to cross just to pass the threshold. She would probably reach Level Four soon enough, given how high-quality the excelia was from diving so deeply into the Dungeon and going against its threats.

But his growth was just absurd.

No other members of the Familia to support him. No education on what to expect. Just whatever he could scrounge together and pick up along the way. That carried a crippling weakness that killed new Adventurers often enough—the lack of experience on how to adapt to new situations.

Observation. Analyzation. Application. Those were beyond him as he was never taught. And that was because she hadn’t brought him with her. She hadn’t even asked her Goddess or told anyone about him, driving him away in the attempt to keep him out of her life.

Now she had dragged him into this as ill-prepared as possible.

She had as good as killed him herself.

Focus! She bit down on her lower lip as she forced her gaze back to it. There had to be some kind of tell, some kind of action that served as recognition to figure out what it was capable of before she went on the offense. What is it?

It was fortunate that she inherited the eyes of her mother’s race. Those eyes may not have been on par with a Pallum’s in such dim light, but they were perceptive enough that she could pick up the details.  That was what allowed her to see how it always shifted its eye to its current target before it attacked.

“Watch its eye!” Lefiya called out. “It needs to look to fix our position before it sends the signals for its whips to land! There’s enough of a delay to get out of the way!”

“Got it!” Bell responded as he fixed his gaze into its own and found the inhuman gaze staring right back. It served as the trigger for him to move with purpose rather than floundering around and reacting. The next swing that came in like a crushing pendulum missed by more than enough space.

“Stay aware of its tendrils!” she continued, feeling a weight off her shoulders as her analysis was complete. As long as they could predict its movements, he could focus on dodging with those legs of his while she could go on the offense—his little knife wouldn’t cut it since he could get close to the eye to cut into it, and they didn’t know where the magic stone was to hit. “I’ll look for an opening and start casting a spell!”

Sensing the change in how its prey operated, their floundering and narrow misses becoming far more focused and evasive, it became far more aggressive in its assault. Rather than simply crashing down to crush them into the acid and hasten their deaths, it lashed out in erratic methods such as curving its appendage, so it swept horizontal and skirted the acid along with the armaments. With that, the two lethal weapons had effectively multiplied.

Bell was momentarily cornered with a fleshy wall to his left and the tendril came up around to smash through his legs, breaking them to leave him to drown. But he bounced up as he twisted one foot facing it and then threw his outside shoulder towards the tendril. The twist carried him over the tendril and leaving it to sweep into the fleshy wall behind him as he took off running anew.

He really is nimble, Lefiya acknowledged even as she contended with the fact that she felt the acid eating away at her boots. Considering hers were of better quality than what he could afford, his feet must’ve been burning. If she didn’t do something soon, he would slow down and that would be the end.

But the question was… what could she do?

Her Concurrent Chanting required focus enough that her reaction and reflexes dropped as well. Enough that her Speed, which wasn’t her best attribute by far, would drop enough that she was effectively a sitting duck. And that was before the fact that others like this creature usually fixated on magical energy.

She needed a vanguard to be able to cast. But that required a level of coordination that had to be worked out in advance, something she and Bell lacked given they had only seen each other a scant few times. And even then the vanguard often…

She shuddered when she recalled the deaths back on the 24th Floor. The Hermes Familia had sacrificed everything to buy her enough time to cast. Even that massive Dwarven woman, Elilly, had used her very body once her shields had broken so she could finish her cast.

Bell was Level Two. He was her brother. She couldn’t do that to him.

Why couldn’t I have met you sooner, Filvis? If she met the graceful beauty years ago, she would have done everything in her power to walk that same path. They were the same Level, but she was someone who could manage both roles without needing someone to protect her.

Maybe then she would have learned spells that were more suited for that. Her spells were powerful, but their casting times were longer and the amount of magical energy that needed to be gathered made it extra difficult. Even if she borrowed Filvis’ super-short chant it would be extended due to how her Elf Ring worked.

And she couldn’t learn any new spells through her Falna because her slots were all taken up.

I can only do my best, she told herself as she remembered her training with Filvis. There was no need to accumulate the entirety of the magical energy from the beginning. She could start the chant and then rapidly gather it together in the latter half of her chant, leaving her mobile at the start and then planted in the end to fire.

However, before she could begin her chant the chaotic barrage of attacks… ceased entirely.

The two stopped moving as the crown around the monster’s eye grew luminous with a blue hue that indicated it was doing something new. Something had changed. Her mind raced when she considered what would come about—

SCRRRRRRREEEECCCCCHHHHHH!

—that was when a high-frequency soundwave resounded in the sealed chamber. It was a natural mechanism to deal with prey that had become too difficult to catch and it was expending too much energy to quell it. Using high-frequency soundwaves to assail the inner ear that helped keep one balanced, even the swiftest of animals would be forced to stall and reorientate themselves if they remained conscious.

Lefiya’s head felt like it was splitting open as she collapsed to her knees and clutched her pointed ears that had a rounded curve. They were the reason that anyone who had seen an Elf before could recognize her for who she was. That she was a half-breed.

…Half-Elf. Half-Man. Which half depended on whom it was that referenced her lineage.

The Humans would call her a Half-Elf, as if to elevate her heritage of being a member of the skillful, elite, graceful Elven race by how pointed her ears were despite the soft curve in them that was rigid in the pure linage. And in doing so it would be to the detriment of her other heritage. She was simply the product of a Human who managed to have a tryst with an Elf.

The Elves of her homeland called her Half-Man, as if to denounce that her blood was impure because of that. Humans were among the weakest of the races, after all. They had no special magic or attributes like an Elf’s longevity, a Dwarf’s strength, a Pallum’s eyesight, or a Beastfolk’s senses. The only thing that separated them from others was the fact that they could sire children with other races, with said offspring being barely above the Human but inferior to the other race.

Mother had called her a blessing of the gods.

She believed that what made Humans special was that they could cross the borders that divided the other races. They were the ones capable of tying an everlasting friendship between races. Lefiya and her ears were proof of that.

However, her brother was Human.

He lacked any inherent ability suitable for this life. Even now his Level was lower and he younger than her. So, if she was rattled by the assault, he was—

Her head snapped up towards the eye above as the screeching stopped. Expending whatever energy it kept partitioned away in reserve to unleash that attack, it would go back on the offense with its primary weapons. It would target whomever its gaze was fixed on.

And that gaze wasn’t on her.

She screamed at the top of her lungs even before her eyes naturally traced the gaze. “LOOK OUT!

Her brother’s attention snapped up at the warning in time to see the attack coming. The two lashing whips were coming from above and across. One would rip off his legs and the other would cave his skull into his chest and smear the remains into the acid to be dissolved away into nothing but shattered bones.

He could maybe dodge one. But not both. Not from that angle.

In a split-second decision, he leaped to the side with a twist while dragging something within the acid up with him, scalding his hands as the tendril that threatened to crush him slammed down below him. And as he raised his arms to defend himself from being slammed from the side, she could see that it was a shield. It must’ve been at least Silver or Mythril quality considering it was still solid despite the acid.

But, without purchase on the ground, nothing was bracing him from the hit.

She watched as the shield was sent flying into the air while her brother went rocketing into the fleshy wall hard enough that the entire chamber shook. She watched as his body, which by some miracle hadn’t broken open like fruit and spilled his innards, trembled against the wall as he gasped for breath. Then she watched him slide down into the acid that frothed vigorously to consume his quivering body as blood spilled from the back of his head.

BELLLLLLLLL!!!” She called out his name with a deafening cry, hoping for a response. It was okay if he called her name. it was okay if he called her his sister. As long as he responded, whatever he called her was fine.

He didn’t answer.

Then the creature’s appendages reared back as though to finish the job.

UNLEASHED STREAK OF LIGHT, BOW LIMBS OF THE HOLY TREE—

Never in her life had she chanted faster. The accumulation of magic was shoddy and erratic, ill befitting of a Mage of any caliber. Her voice was hoarse and disordered rather than the lilt that normally caressed her lips as she wove her spell. She was sure if any other caster saw her, they would look upon her in disgust.

But Lefiya didn’t care about any of that.

She just needed the spell to form to grab that monster’s attention from killing her little brother.

And it worked. The moment the golden magic circle formed its eye and focus turned from finishing off dying prey to that which had tantalizing magic that it yearned to consume. She became its only thought, its only desire, its only prey as those tendrils came for her.

She stopped the chant now that she had its attention, the magical energy dispersing around her rather than being woven into the spell. It was fortunate that the spells brought forth by the Falna were so appropriate for the caster that there was less of a risk of an Ignis Fatuus. Not because she cared about the backlash, but because the moment she went down her brother would follow.

But she knew she had to finish her next cast. She had to finish and kill it. She had to before he drew his last breath and his flesh melted from the bone.

Unleashed streak of Light—” She began her song anew, willing to throw away any notion of defense for that purpose. Her magic was geared towards the destruction of her enemies. It would have to serve as the salvation for her brother now that he could no longer move. “Bow limbs of the Holy Tree. You are an expert of the Bow.

But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. “Shoot, Sniper of the Faeriesaah!?

Her song faltered as one of the tendrils managed to snake around her leg now that her evasion had diminished. It ripped away the ground from beneath her, hauling her into the air and upside down. She could no longer run away.

And the other tendril was reared back, ready to be unleashed.

Ah… I’m going to die.

It would swing as hard as it could. Hard enough that it would tear her in half, or at least take off her leg. Even if her Falna and Status wouldn’t let her die so easily from that, it would have no trouble finishing her off. It was over.

Sorry, Bell. I was a horrible older sister. Now we’re both going to die and return to Heaven.

She knew of the fate of all that lived. Death would return their souls to the heavens above. Then they would someday be born anew, but only after they had faded from the living memory of mortals. Such was the way of the world.

I hope that when we’re reborn, it’ll be as siblings again. Lefiya prayed, so deeply that she hoped it would be etched into her soul. So thoroughly entrenched that it would persevere beyond the ages. I swear I’ll be there for you the next time. I’ll dedicate my soul to you, and I’ll always be by your side. That’s the only way for me to atone for robbing you of everything.

Then death closed in as the whip was unleashed—

RAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

—and a dull silver saw streaked past her so fast that her hair thrashed madly. The enclosing death was severed as it whirled past, the narrow part of the whip meant to tear through by placing an absurd amount of momentum into such a thin area torn clean off and left to fly away as a shadow leapt up from behind her.

It was Bell.

His immaculate white hair was blotched crimson as rivulets of blood trailed down his face. His lips were peeled back, and his mouth was wrenched open as he shouted at the top of his lungs while brandishing that onyx knife. It was a vicious expression that didn’t suit the placid visage he wore every other time she had seen him as he swung the knife that had the luminous blue writing of the gods upon it turn a vibrant shade of red—

FIREBOLT!

—and scarlet flames bloomed riotously as he brought it against the tendril holding her upside down. She could feel the heat and force of the explosion as the appendage keeping her aloft jerked before its grip went slack. She began to fall as the smoldering, cauterized section of the tendril retracted, leaving her to right herself almost on reflex as she descended while the portion that had kept her aloft splashed down into the acid.

Bell landed ahead of her and raised his right hand to the heavens, his left arm chambered beneath it as though to brace it while he called out that name again. “FIREBOLT!!

Fire erupted from his palm this time. It snaked like a lightning bolt right towards the cyclopean eye that seemed to reel back in pain or surprise. And where it connected the flames ran wild as they came unbound, savagely attempting to incinerate. She had thought for a fleeting moment the knife had been a magic sword with a fire spell bound into it, but…

FIREBOLT! FIREBOLT! FIREBOLT!

She realized that wasn’t the case at all as he shouted over, and over, and over again with a hoarse, powerful voice and the fire leapt to his call each and every time from his bare hand. It was magic—his own personal magic.

Not a short chant spell. Not even a super-short chant spell. There was no chant at all that proceeded the accumulation of the magical power.

Her brother had Magic that was instant.

“Sorry that I passed out for a moment!” Bell said as he panted while his blood continued to drip down into acid below with every hard breath he took, the smoke and embers from his instant flames obscuring the eye that had been glaring down on them as it whipped its tendrils above to try and clear its vision. “We need your Magic!”

“Huh?”

“Mine won’t be enough,” he said, taking an offensive stance as the smoke thinned. “Cast your spells! I’ll protect you this time! I swear!”

It was ludicrous to her. Even she could tell he was barely standing and could barely protect himself. She couldn’t put him at risk as the vanguard in that condition. Not as his older sister who needed to protect her younger brother…

Or so she thought until she noticed something as she stared at his back which seemed so much broader than she expected. Covered in blood, his flesh and clothes sizzling from the acid, he was no different from her. In that moment they were the same.

Younger brother or not, he was still someone who had faced danger to come this far. Even if he saw her as his older sister, he also saw her as an Adventurer. And between Adventurers there was something each should have that surpassed anything else:

Mutual Respect.

They had respect for one another because they were the same. They were the ones who braved the depths of the Dungeon in the hopes of conquering it. They were the ones who explored the unknown and defeated the monsters, risking life and limb to do so.

He respected her as an Adventurer, even if he saw her as his sister. Specifically, he respected her as a Mage in need of a Vanguard. But she hadn’t done the same for him—a Vanguard in need of a Mage capable of ending the battle.

She needed to respond to his respect with her own.

She needed to put her life in his hands.

“It’ll be drawn to my Magic, and I’ll be slower to respond,” she began to explain why she needed him to play the role that would thrust him into danger. “It’ll take time for me to accumulate the magical power to make sure I can kill it, but if you can keep it blind and distract it for me until I’m ready I swear I’ll get it done!”

It was a duty unbefitting of an older sister to assign her younger brother that needed to be protected. But for an Adventurer who was someone to be fought alongside as equals… there was no more fitting role.

Protect me and I’ll sing for you, Bell!!


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 2 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 2: Lost Siblings – Part 1

QUIT RUNNING!

Two words filled in the darkness threading the greenery of the forest around them. The crystals that lined the ceiling of the 18th Floor of the Dungeon had long since petered out. ‘Night’ had fallen for the floor and so those who were still milling about could be counted on one’s fingers.

Or just two in the case of the forest where they were at the moment.

I swear it was an accident!” Bell cried out as he looked back only for the cold sweat beading his brow to thicken as saw his older sister smoldering with anger to the extent her body seemed ablaze. Pure, unadulterated rage that had been a long time coming. “Lord Hermes made a weird face all of a sudden and I tripped!

For starters, Lefiya already had enough to worry about after the expedition to the 59th Floor. Things were already hectic enough between that and the red-haired monstrous woman who attacked them last time on this very floor. And then there was the fact that Aiz had the blood of Spirits within her and somehow that drew other creatures like that to her.

Her mood had gotten better once Filvis had come to visit her. It was unannounced and unexpected, but it brightened her day so much that she had forgotten all about how mad she was. That was the effect she had.

Filvis was so beautiful to Lefiya. It felt like every moment around her was warm and bright. Even now she could feel the lingering warmth of her touch. And she would have been content to just bask in it until they were back on the surface…

If not for the fact that fool who dared call himself her brother had the audacity to actually peep on herself and the others in the bath. Even if Lord Hermes had been the one who instigated him into it, he should have known better. To think she was related to someone like that.

When she had heard he was going around camp to make apologies, she had decided to wait until he was done and they were alone before getting on him about all the trouble he was causing. He should go back to living a life outside of the Orario or join a Farming Familia or something else that kept him out of the Dungeon and out of her life. But then he had groped her!

Her—of every other possible person!

I’M SORRY!!!” Bell promptly ran faster as the flames of rage seemed to intensify. But she was Level Three and fueled by a rage born from many different things at the moment, which left her more than capable of keeping up even with his absurd speed.

For once the chaser and the chased had swapped places, with her pursuing him to the limits of her ability and him running from her as fast as he could. They ended up deep in the Under Resort, a vast forest that sprouted crystals that were fed from the light above and shed it during the night to leave the pristine vegetation a majestic tint of blue. The maze of trees, its hearty foliage serving as blinders and dividers, swiftly punished the two for doing so as they both realized once they had reached the limits of their stamina.

Namely, they both got lost. The pair ended up leaning against separate trees, the hearty trunks supporting their weight as they caught their breaths. They were both sweaty and red-faced from the exertion.

This… is all… your fault…” Her breath came out heated as she stood across from him. The spirit was still enflamed. But the flesh was aching. She could run no more.

“I’m sorry, sister…” Bell said once more, his throat hoarse from the apologies. “I really didn’t mean to touch you like that.”

“It’s only because it was an accident you’re still breathing!” she snapped at him. She might have been more… liberal-minded than most elves who heralded from their homelands, partly because of her circumstances and her stay in the Educational District, but there were limits. “And you’d better not have told anyone else about us!”

The fact that they were related was a secret that only a handful of people alive were aware of—specifically, herself, her mother, and him. And she wanted to keep it that way to the extent that she never wanted him speaking of their connection.

Bell shook his head. “I haven’t.”

Lefiya huffed. “Good. It’s bad enough you decided to intrude on my life here. But then you have to get involved with my Familia and Miss Aiz! The fact that she saved you was already a miracle alone for a First-Tier Adventurer like her, but to have the nerve to ask her for training afterwards—as if you haven’t caused enough problems!”

Bell rubbed the back of his head as he looked away and muttered. “Well, you said that if I caught up to her then you’d acknowledge me, so… who better to learn from than her?

And with that the flames in her chest were rekindled. “For something so stupid, you…. went after a Minotaur of all things!? You nearly got killed by one and then you decide to reject her help so you can go fighting a second one!

It had really ticked her off to know he had done something so incredibly stupid intentionally, refusing the help of the others so he could fight it one-on-one! Of all the suicidal things he could have done! Even for Adventurers who had reached Level Two it was ill-advised.

And for good reason. They were among the Apex of monsters on the floors above the 18th for Level Twos. Speed, strength, stamina—they excelled at those attributes and could tear through Level One Adventurers like tissue. Especially one who hadn’t even been there for more than two months!

I had to wait until Level Three before I fought one on my own!” Bell was left cowering as his year-older sister now hovered over him with her eyes burning red, flames coming from her mouth as though she were a furious hellhound.  “And even then, it was with my Familia supporting me! You do not fight a Minotaur on your own!

The flames inside of her roiled madly like a wildfire. Everything that had been building up became kindling that was burning her from the inside out. She had to let it out before she exploded.

When are you going to realize this isn’t a game, Bell!? Four times! Four times since you’ve been here, you’ve been lucky to not die fighting things that should have killed someone else your level! What do you think will happen when your luck runs out!? Did you consider what’ll happen then to the rest of us? Your Goddess? Your Friends? My Mom!?

The thoughts of his gravestone resurfaced. There laid a fool who died entering the Dungeon, the most dangerous place in the world, just so that she would call him her brother. Just so that he would acknowledge that blood tie they had.

She could see it. That small Goddess who loved her child enough to chase him down to the 18th Floor, violating so many rules and facing so many dangers because of him, crying on her hands and knees in front of his gravestone. That Supporter, who had begged the others to help them against the Minotaur, weeping next to her. That Blacksmith with Spirit’s blood, who’d followed him all the way down here, his expression struggling not to break apart.

Her mother, whom she knew still regretted not taking him in that day, crying when she had to break the news that she lost one of the treasures left behind by the only man she had loved—her younger brother.

And it would be her fault because she said those words the first time they met as children.

Words that she couldn’t take back.

That imagery coerced stinging, hot tears from the corner of her eyes. “You have so many people who would miss you if you died. And yet you keep risking it all for something… so stupid…”

It hadn’t been his fault. The bullying. The discrimination. None of it had been his fault. But she saw in him that day everything she went through and piled it onto him. And since that day she saw those eyes of his and how they watered when he was rejected by her.

Even now she looked away, not wanting to see them again as the flames within her began to finally burn out. Everything she held back having finally been turned to ash and left to peter out. “You… don’t need someone as selfish as me as your sister…

A haunting silence loomed as she finished her tirade against the boy. She had said everything she had to say, where no one could hear them. She wasn’t happy to have said it, but she felt like if she hadn’t then she wouldn’t be able to keep it bottled up anymore. Maybe now he would get the message?

“… I… don’t know anything about our father,” Bell said after a moment, breaking the silence.

Lefiya’s mind froze for a moment as she processed what she heard. “Huh?”

“I don’t know what he looks like,” Bell continued. “Or his personality. Or anything. Nothing.”

It was absurd. So absurd that she couldn’t believe it. “Didn’t… didn’t your Grandfather tell you about him?”

He shook his head. “I only asked Grandpa about him once. Before we met. And… he told me that it shouldn’t be him telling me about him. That it should be my sister, since coming from her it would have more meaning. Because we’re family and it’s a bond that we share, regardless of circumstances.”

“…Unbelievable,” she muttered under her breath in simmering anger. She had never thought his grandfather would have kept information about their father from him. Then again, he was from Bell’s mother’s side of the family so he might not have known much about him to begin with. So he shunted it off onto her.

And… she didn’t even know her own grandparents. Albeit that was because it was forbidden. Her birth had made it so.

Still… had Bell spent his entire life waiting to hear about their father from her, because of what that old man had said? Had he spent nights and days, just wondering about his father? If she never said anything, who else was he going to ask now that his grandfather was gone?

Looking into those red eyes that seemed as innocent as the day they first met, she remembered his first words to her. How they were among the first kind words she had directed to her by someone other than her mother. How she had responded afterwards. It dropped a weight from her chest into her stomach as she clenched her teeth. He… deserves to know that much.

“I didn’t know him personally either,” she began, taking a seat next to him with the magic-stone lantern between them. “But Mom told me about him. About every little thing she knew about him and the time they spent together. It’d take too long to get into a lot of the details, but… I can tell you a little of what I know while we catch our breaths.”

His ears stood up in attention, almost like a rabbit. She’d say it was cute if not for the fact that it was… him.

“To start with, our father was like us,” Lefiya said. “He was also a member of an Exploration Familia. One that used to be here in Orario but frequented outside of the city often for quests. It was the Zeus Familia.”

He perked up at that. “Then, he was an Adventurer?”

She shook her head. “He was a Supporter. Nowhere near as glamorous or whatever ideal you’ve got in your head about him. In fact, Mom said the rumors from the other members of the Familia who stayed at the outpost when she was visiting at the time painted him as a coward who would run away at the first sign of trouble… and even then he’d still try to look cool in front of women.”

It was like watching a balloon deflate as whatever image he was forming in his head crumbled. Most people don’t think Supporter after all when they think of someone being part of a Familia. It carried a stigma even beyond Orario, and she could almost imagine that same look on her face when her mother told her the story of how they met.

“Still… he had saved Mom when it counted,” she continued before his image was ruined entirely. “Despite being a coward, he put himself in danger to save her from a monster that had come close to the forest. Despite there being others capable of dealing with it, he was there when they weren’t and ended up getting hurt for her sake.”

Her mother had described how terrified she was that she was going to die. How relieved she felt when he rushed in and put himself between her and it, only to be replaced with horror as the scent of blood and her vision turned red from the wound he sustained. It seemed like it would have almost been a mutual kill—the short sword he had plunged into the monster whereas the claws had torn into him, but he had only asked if she was okay.

“Mom said it was like a whirlwind of emotions had swept her up since then. She felt bad that he ended up being left behind, but he assured her they could get by even with a coward like him not being there since the only good thing about him was his running speed. She felt angry he talked about himself that way even as she ended up tending to his injuries while the rest of the Familia went on to finish their quest over the course of the month. But, by the end, she said it was the happiest month she had known—and well one thing led to another.”

That tryst had complicated things. A lot.

“…Grandpa told me a little about Elves,” Bell said. “He explained that she had a rough time because of it. And that might be why it would have been better if I stayed with him after we left. It must’ve been hard for you too.”

He wasn’t wrong. Being impregnated by a human, not even a strong Adventurer but a Supporter at that, had left a certain stigma with her mother. More so since she was unwedded. It left her sullied—and unable to return to the heart of the forest where she first hailed from. Working and living at the outpost was the only way she could remain even close to the forest.

Even so, her mother had loved her. And even though she never saw her father, her mother made sure that she knew he loved her. He had been the one who also provided part of her name—named after the leaves that danced in the air after being swept up in a whirlwind, just like how her mother had felt.

“…Anyway, that’ll have to do for now,” she said, bringing that to a close for the moment. “We’ve caught our breath. We should focus on getting back to the camp—”

GRRRRRRRR…

For a moment she thought she heard the growl of a monster lurking nearby. But then she heard it again and noted it came from next to her. Specifically, the stomach of her younger brother who had a crimson hue painting his cheeks.

She gave him a flat stare. “You’re hungry at a time like this? Really?”

Well, you chased me right before dinner time and I spent most of the day running around apologizing to everyone before that, so…

“…You are unbelievable,” she said with a sigh before looking around. No food she could spot with limited visibility. She scrounged around the pockets of her combat outfit until she came across the Crystal Drops that she found the day prior. She had thought to share them with Filvis, but desperate times. “Eat this one, it’ll at least tide you over until we can get back to camp.”

He beamed at the treat. “Really!”

It ranked her. “Only because we’re lost. Those are worth a lot on the surface, so make sure you savor it slowly!”

“Yes, sis—” He caught her glare. “–er, ma’am.”

Hmph…” She gave him a side-glance before taking the other one into her mouth and doing the same as she began to wrack her brain on how to get back to their group. As much as she hated to admit it, this was partly her fault rather than his.

She needed to see him back safely to his own Familia, at the very least. There were rumors that Adventurers who explored this part of the floor had gone missing, on top of monsters from other floors coming in, so it wasn’t safe for him to be here. Not when he was a fresh Level Two Adventurer.

It was her responsibility to see him to safety.

So she would.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 1 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 1: The Start of a New Tale

Few knew the “true” tale of Argonaut. For the one who was heralded as the “hero of the dawn” was a jester who wished for his tale to be a foolish comedy without tragedy. But, as his next great adventure took his life, there was one who stood by his side and made a solemn pledge:

To my dearest and beloved brother, Argonaut, I make to you this pledge.

Even though we part in this life, I will await you in the next.

May we be reborn as true siblings, so I can remain by your side.

And I vow as your sister to see the next chapter of your story be written…

As a heroic tale without a tragic end.

—Fina, Beloved Sister of a True Hero.

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

Of brother and sister.

Bell and Lefiya.

[-The Start of a New Tale-]

There were two things that Lefiya Viridis hoped would remain buried in her past.

The first was that she was born sullied. She was dirty by the distinction of her blood not being of two that heralded from the Wishe Forest. It was a rich paradise of greenery, where magic was woven into the very roots as rites and rituals from before the age of the gods were recorded and preserved. But beneath the veneer of its glamour laid an undeniable truth that was abundant to her from the first day she had been old enough to recognize the look that others cast upon her was one of scorn.

She, as a half-elf, was not welcomed. Born to a society that represented elegance and grace, one born between a non-elven father and an elven mother was not seen as an equal. That was something she had to live with as long as she called that forest her home.

There was little wonder why she set out for Orario and never looked back.

The second, however, chased her all the way there.

His name was Bell Cranel.

And he was her younger brother.

She hadn’t known about him until she was around four years old. It was only because she lived on the outskirts of the forest that such a meeting was even possible—that her birth was possible, for that matter. Their home claimed not to be as restrictive of visitors as that of the Alf’s Royal Forest, but few who were not of pure elven linage could claim to have laid eyes on the heart of the forest.

Travelers never made it past the edge of the forest. The outpost was where her mother worked, and it was through there she had met her father. It was a union that never should have happened, but it did and she had been born to an unwed mother.

That day there had been an old man waiting for them. Her mother recognized him. They talked alone for some time in a room as she sat outside with a little boy that looked like a small rabbit. He had a bed of white hair that looked soft like a cloud and spotless eyes that were as beautiful as rubies—and, with two little words, he made her heart flutter.

You’re pwetty.”

It was the first time someone had told her that. Not that she was sullied. Not that she was different. She was left with her cheeks flushed the color of a rose as she couldn’t meet his innocent gaze.

But then her mother came outside and told her. She told him that his name was Bell Cranel. She told him that his father was her father.

That he was her younger brother.

Then… she didn’t see him as the little boy that looked like an innocent rabbit, his round eyes widening with joy at having a sibling. She saw him as the sum of every problem she had. Her absentee father had left her mother alone, only to have a son with someone else. It stoked in her anger that she never knew she had as the man wanted her to take him in so that he would have a family.

“I never want to see you again.”

Those words came out on their own before she ran off and hid until he and the older man were gone. The sight of his eyes watering lingered in the back of her mind for years to come afterward.

She threw herself into her studies as she got older. Every second put forth to excel. To prove her worth. But even when she demonstrated talent befitting one of the Wishe Forest, it was seen as being despite her heritage. The lineage of her elven ancestors compensated for her human flaws, from her appearance to her magic.

Then she left the home and came to Orario. She managed to join one of the most prestigious Familia there. She managed to become the student of Elven Royalty, where others who were pure could only dream.

That was when she met Bell again.

He had come to Orario now that his grandfather had died and he was alone again. He wanted to join her Familia to be with her, because they were family, despite never seeing one another since that day. But once more words came out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

“You aren’t good enough to join this Familia. So go back to your farm.”

It was cold. But it was true. She had studied to get this far and went through hardships he hadn’t. Countless others wanted to join as well, so why should she use the fact that they shared a father to give him an easy ride?

“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”

“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”

It was nothing more than to humor him. The Sword Princess had become Level 6. It would be impossible for him to reach that level, so he should just go back to where he belonged.

But that was when the rumors started. Each one telling stories of the boy with white hair and red eyes. Each one telling how he was risking his life in ways that should have killed him over and over again.

And each one stirred different emotions within her.

The first threaded her chest with tension due to a Minotaur appearing on the upper floors, followed by relief when the white-haired boy had been saved by Aiz. She hoped he’d take it as a lesson and quit going into the Dungeon, to go back and live a safe life somewhere else. But she felt more grateful to Aiz than usual since that day.

Then was the fear and doubt upon hearing of the boy who fought the Silverback on Daedelus Street having silver hair and red eyes. That couldn’t possibly be him given that was a monster that upper-tier 1st Level Adventurers struggled with and he hadn’t been there for more than a few weeks.

It must’ve been someone else. But she felt that maybe she should make sure he isn’t getting in over his head before brushing it off. It wasn’t her fault if he did something stupid in the end.

Then bewilderment upon hearing that he was the one who beat Aiz’s record as the fastest to reach Level 2. It was insane. She struggled so hard to reach Level 2 and clawed her way up to Level 3. Yet here he was already and suddenly his words resonated in her chest.

The third time they saw each other was on the 18th Floor. She had heard the commotion and came out to learn that a party had come down from the 17th Floor, having been attacked by the Goliath. And one of those was a boy with white hair and red eyes who had no right being there.

There were no words to describe the feeling of pain in her chest when she opened the tent to see him lying there. She volunteered to watch over him until he woke up. No sooner did the flaps of the tent close did she curl into a ball as her mind flashed back to every time they had seen each other before then.

“You’re pwetty.”

“I never want to see you again.”

“You aren’t good enough to join this familia.”

“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”

“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”

Now, as she looked over his sleeping face, she pictured what their fourth time meeting would be. It would be her standing there and looking over a gravestone with his name on it. All because he was getting himself into so much trouble trying to catch up to her. All because he was putting himself in danger just for her approval.

It was so stupid. So suicidal. So why…

Why couldn’t she stop herself from crying when she thought about that?


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 19 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 19: The Sixth Floor Redux

Silver flashed, gleaming amidst the pale-viridian light of the Sixth Floor. It was the glint of swift steel. A slender blade with a single edge drew a vicious arch and painted the nearest wall with a streak of purple ichor.

The lifeblood erupted from an ebony humanoid that no longer drew breath. Its upraised claw with points as sharp as daggers descended limply to its sides. Its body followed the momentum and crumpled onto the floor, vital fluids seeping into the cracks of the ground from the mortal wound. The tip of the blade then plunged into its oval-shaped head to ensure the kill, as she had the corpses of its kin strewn along the floor that had already fallen to her blade.

Mikoto withdrew the sword as she panned her surroundings for any more the creeping War Shadows. The Sixth Floor had not been shy about greeting the three who’d treaded onto its grounds with monsters borne from its cavernous womb, and these in particular were ambushers that hugged the shadows while the unaware peered around or were distracted by other monsters. Then, once they found an opening, they would descend to claim their lives.

That was what made them so dangerous, she thought to herself before she crouched while sweeping the sharp end of her blade around. The cold steel found the ebony body of one of the War Shadows that had been looking to ambush her and tore through it, exiting from the opposite end. The upper half of its body slid down the slope before landing on the ground with a wet thump. She made sure to stab in the head to ensure the kill. But they aren’t the only threat.

Her attention turned back to Welf as the thick blade he swung tore through the body of a Frog Shooter after he had closed the distance. He was powerful, or at least in terms of raw strength, he could definitely go through the monsters on these floors. And he had enough awareness of his surroundings that he remained on the ball enough to avoid the follow-up attack as a Kobold attempted to ambush him from his rear and slay it.

Numbers were a luxury of the monsters as, even though he cut down another, others were making their way into existence to take its place. He wasn’t yet at the level where sheer numbers wouldn’t be sufficient. The walls were only so fruitful, and their bounty would dry up eventually, but if there were enough of them, they could swarm him—and with the Frog Shooters providing cover for them, they could get lucky even before then.

At least he wasn’t alone as blood sprayed in an arch, the iron-rich smell painting the walls as a shriek borne from an inhuman throat rang out. The death throes of a Kobold that had its heart carved out by steel fangs were glossed over as, pushing past the collapsing corpse, the black-clad youth with his weapon more befitting of a butcher rushed in. Not close enough to be right up on the back of the vanguard, his boots crunched the stone floor as he viciously unfurled the blade while swinging it into the pack of foes.

Coarse fur was sheared. Muscle was torn into. Arteries were ripped apart. In a single swing, strength unbefitting of his slender limbs allowed him to rip through more than one body as he drew a bloody swathe from right to left with one swing. Then, with a twist of the wrist, he swung the opposite way and cut down another pair as their blood filled the air and patterned on his long-sleeved coat.

But it was too shallow in the case of one of the Kobolds as it attempted to reach out with its remaining claws and gouge out his eyes with a feral swipe. The nails narrowly missed as he backstepped, sliding his hindleg back while bringing his weapon overhead. The cleaver broke open the skull and pink brain matter joined the blood as he ripped it out hard enough that the legs of the monster buckled forward and left the corpse to collapse on its own.

Then, with a snap of the wrist, the weapon folded in on itself before he whipped it and his head around upon hearing the slightest sound. The weapon’s jagged teeth found the tongue of a Frog Shooter, tearing into it and splitting it ragged before leaving it to flop on the ground. He raised his other arm holding his secondary weapon and—

BANG!

— pulled the trigger, resulting in a small plume of smoke leaving the barrel of his ‘gun’ as he had called it. The cyclopean eye of Frog Shooter that had lost its tongue burst open like an egg before its body went slack. Yet that was only a distraction for another Kobold that had opted to approach the boy with others coming from different angles as well.

He went to meet them while bearing his own fangs that were drenched in blood.

Aggressive. That was the mildest way she could put it as he threw himself towards his enemies with the ruthless weapon in his hand. Avoiding the claws that could tear his flesh that had yet to reach the point of being as tough as steel by the thinnest of margins, he sank his fangs deep into its body and then tore out its blood and flesh alike while seeking the next warm body he could bury them into.

It didn’t seem to suit the boy who on the surface seemed so placid. He seemed so aggressive that it was like he was a black wolf with iron fangs that sought to tear out the throat of anything that got close to him, leaving him covered in blood that caught the sheen of the light above. And yet, despite how it seemed to be unsuited for him, he was almost at home using such a reckless method of fighting…

But there was no time for the questions that danced on the edge of her mind. They were in battle. Everything that wasn’t necessary had to be shoved away to focus on what needed to be done and what she could do. That was why she took off running, her ponytail whipping in the wind as she crossed the distance with her blade in hand.

Silver streaked as she slashed through the dog-headed monsters along her path as she made for the more troublesome of the enemies on this floor. The Kobolds were easy enough for the two of them to deal with, but more troublesome enemies that could attack from a distance and ambush them were a different story—Frog Shooters and the War Shadows.

The former could provide a distraction or score a decisive blow that would change the tide, and the latter could score a kill with devastating ease. She had been prioritizing the latter until now, due to them being a bigger threat. But, now that there were no more that she could see, Mikoto would turn her attention to the remaining cluster of Frog Shooters bounding around.

Her approach didn’t go unnoticed by her targets. Their cyclopean gaze fixed onto her as one, and her hostile charge was met with lashing appendages. They fired their black tongues towards her like fleshy spears, each one capable of slamming into the frail human body hard enough to shatter bones. That much she could say from personal experience.

Back then they had been cautious. But she had been confident. Careless to underestimate them by appearance alone. And the price for that carelessness had been a broken arm from the bludgeoning lash striking her exposed limb. The pain she couldn’t remember after all this time—much less when she’d had worse since then.

But she could remember the faces. The looks of fear from her brothers and sisters in arms as it could have been worse given that losing her blade meant a War Shadow’s claws could find purchase much easier. The guilt gracing the handsome face of their god at sending them off into the dungeon, even though it was their choice. The sympathetic gaze of Miach as he provided healing without asking for compensation.

Those memories—as well as the memories that came before—compounded into experience. They shaped her and the others. And it showed as, even though she hadn’t reached Level 2 as of yet, she could weave between the lashing tongues while flicking her sword in passing to sever them. Leaving the useless fleshy lumps slopping onto the ground, she rushed in and—

“Haah!”

—silver once more parted the air as her blade drew an arch that neatly sliced through a pair of the Frog Shooters as they prepared to bound backwards to retreat. The third one managed to escape in a single bound that carried it far out of her blade’s range as the viscera of its counterparts painted the floor with a wet splat and purple ichor. However, no sooner than it landed, did the sharpened tip of three throwing needles pierce it and its body turned to dust.

I must’ve hit the core by mistake, Mikoto chastised herself softly. Though they were largely just small fragments no larger than a finger at this level, every one of them counted for a Familia like theirs. Her thoughts didn’t linger on it as the dying whelp of a Kobold brought her attention back to the others and found that there were no foes left standing.

The blacksmith was even going around and driving his sword into their heads. It was to make sure none were feigning death. Not many of the simpler monsters would intentionally do that. But a killing blow falling just short enough to leave them on the verge of death was enough to stab an unsuspecting Adventurer in the chest when they came to harvest their stones.

Though considering how much blood now pooled beneath the corpses she doubted any that had met with the jagged teeth of Hestia’s child were among the living. Unlike swords that were meant to cut through the flesh and sever the vital organs or parts of the body, his weapon of choice for these six floors had been that one. It wasn’t designed to go through cleanly, but rather bite into the flesh and break through the bone before tearing its way out with everything it could drag in the process.

Like she had thought earlier it didn’t seem to suit him at all—yet there were a few things about him that seemed out of place as she observed him, to grasp just how much experience he had. It was more than she expected for someone who had not ventured into the Dungeon for more than a month.

She could not claim to be an expert martial artist, but she could recognize things about the body that happened as one gained experience. Muscle memory built up as you familiarized yourself with a weapon. Such as how you brace for impact, posture yourself to react against an opponent, adjust after a swing for the next one—and so on.

Roughly a month of practice will allow one to use a weapon on a basic level. The more complex the weapon, the longer it would take. True mastery was the work of years, if not a lifetime, as different encounters and experiences tempered your capabilities. Adventurers with the Falna could make that experience manifest from what she heard via certain skills such as Spearman or Swordsman, as it represented their single-minded focus on attempting to achieve mastery and take it as a commitment to continue along that path.

That weapon was irregular compared to a knife or other simple weapons. It was made so he could adjust the length and thus change the amount of force one could put behind it, even shifting the engagement range or which vital parts it targeted. That would require a lot of experience to wield as effectively as he had so far.

Then there were the stories going around of his battle with the Silverback. The heavy hammer he wielded to crush its limbs and could also become a silver sword to stab through its heart. The more weapons one used with any level of proficiency meant the more time one had to spend practicing with them, which brought the question of when he obtained the training to fight on par with one of the higher-tier 1st level Monsters like it.

He didn’t have a martial background from what she knew. His goddess had said he had no experience prior to Orario. But his body and prowess spoke where words said otherwise as he had without a doubt proven he was capable of handling the first six floors of the Dungeon without any problems in terms of combat. He simply lacked experience with dealing with them, not the capability to fight against them.

Even so, she found it a bit concerning as she watched him stand there while staring down at the growing puddle of blood. That which painted the floor would eventually be swallowed by the cavernous maw as readily as it regenerated its walls—the Dungeon took life as readily as it gave birth to it.

There was a small, almost nostalgic smile on his face. It was similar to the expression Lord Takemikazuchi would have while ruminating on times in the past he found to be happy. Then the blacksmith came over and tapped him on the shoulder, causing him to jerk his head slightly and turn to face him. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he said hastily. “Just… gathering my thoughts after all of that. There were a lot more monsters this time compared to the last time. But they were a bit easier to deal with.”

“That’s why parties are valued,” Welf told him before looking to her. “Leader, are there any more monsters here?”

Mikoto took a deep breath before she closed her eyes. Then she spread her awareness out in the form of black, illusionary feathers. They scattered unseen to all but her as they blanketed the area in search of her foes.

Yatanokurogarasu—the Eight-Span Black Crow whose feathers could span the eight cardinal directions. It was one of two skills that were born from her experiences in the Dungeon, divination techniques that tied her awareness to the world around her. It was akin to a third eye that manifested in her mind as black feathers that would reach out and brush the limits of her range, clinging to any monsters that she was made aware of so long as she had encountered them before.

Her senses picked up nothing. There were no foes hidden in wait for them to pass by and ambush. The Dungeon could possibly spawn more given it required an active trigger and effort on her part to activate, but for the moment they were in the clear.

“…There are none within my range,” Mikoto finally said. “We should be able to focus on gathering our spoils and heading back to the surface. There we can discuss how we are going to progress the next time.”

“We’re heading back already?” Bell asked. “There’s still time in the day.”

She shook her head and spoke firmly. “The time spent in the Dungeon differs in groups, but this expedition was only to gauge our capabilities. And while you have proven your competency with the Sixth Floor and above, the Seventh is where things change. To go there ill-prepared and before we can practice synergizing ourselves a little more could spell death even for someone who has ventured as far as the Tenth Floor.”

The blacksmith agreed. “She’s right. The variety of monsters change and so do how they start acting in tandem with one another. You noticed that part of why the Sixth Floor happens to be so deadly is because the War Shadows typically attempt ambushes when you least expect it, right?”

Hestia’s child nodded slowly. “In some cases, even the walls they spawn from tend to be far enough away that you don’t hear them breaking. One of them even managed to trick me into stabbing into a wall when I had thought I backed it into a corner with a dagger and nearly took my arm off before another two surrounded me from the walls.”

Welf’s eyebrows rose at that. “How’d you get out of that one?”

“I waited until one made the first move and then slammed into it with all my strength so that we tumbled over, breaking the circle and springing up at the same time so I could run away long enough to summon a new weapon.”

That was another thing they had learned on the way down. He apparently had some kind of Skill that allowed him to effectively store away certain belongings that were exclusive to him. It shouldn’t be unusual since Skills could appear at any time upon gaining a Falna, based on one’s experiences or heritage or any other factor. However, it only compounded the mystery of who he was…

No. I do not need to think further on it, she decided in the end as she flicked her sword with a practiced grace before using a cloth to rid it of most of the excess blood and fat from cutting through the bodies of the monsters. It would need to be properly cleaned later, but she didn’t know if they would need to make use of it for the rest of the day. My Lord trusts the word of his goddess and he has proven he is capable. His secrets and how he obtained them does not matter.

That decided she proceeded to help them with the extraction of the Magic Stones. None of the monsters on this level had particularity caustic or harmful bodily fluids, so extracting them wasn’t much of an issue. The lull in activity, however, did open up the opportunity for her to gather up her thoughts on the formation of their little group. “Crozzo. I believe you would be best suited for the role of the vanguard in our three-man cell.”

He looked over to her from the dissipating corpse of a Kobold. “Me?”

“Your strength is notable, and you are experienced with these Upper Floors,” she explained. “You can adjust to dealing with threats upfront based on your judgment. That would also allow for more flexibility for the rest of us in dealing with the lesser threats, so they do not overcrowd you.”

He nodded to her assessment. “I can do that.”

“Then what about me?” Bell asked.

“I would prefer you to be the skirmisher of the formation,” she said. “Your fighting style is quick and aggressive, best suited for bringing down enemies quickly. It would also provide you with a chance to gain experience with unfamiliar monsters by seeing how they are engaged by the Vanguard and then adapting to them.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” he said in compliance.  “So does that mean you’ll be the support then?”

“It would seem so,” she admitted. “My talents lean more towards dexterity and agility rather than raw strength and endurance. In addition, while I prefer the blade I have for engaging enemies, I can use most ranged weapons—which will be essential on the next floor considering what we will be encountering.”

Welf chimed in. “The Moths, you mean?”

“Yes,” she answered. “The Purple Moths are capable of spreading poisonous powder with their wings and are fond of using it while adventurers are engaged with the other threats. They are priority targets that need to be eliminated and I have some proficiency with the Shortbow. But fixing your eyes on them while the Needle Rabbits are present will end up getting you killed. Then there are the Killer Ants, which need to be ideally killed in a single blow, and the regular monsters like Goblins and Kobolds that will be stronger and smarter than before.”

Not only did the enemy variety increase but so did their numbers and tactics. That was why venturing any lower alone or without preparation was such a hazard. It was very easy to become cornered and killed if you were careless or simply unlucky.

“With your skill, you would be able to pick them off while remaining aware of your surroundings enough that you could keep us from running into trouble or being caught off-guard…” Welf looked down intently at the body of a War Shadow before asking, “If you guys don’t mind, can I take some of the drop items to make some weapons to help out?”

“We’ll have to set some kind of rule in place in the future about how we split those in the future, but I have no qualms if you intend to use them for our expeditions,” she said offhand. Drop Items had more value than the magic stone fragments at these levels. They could compensate for the potential losses from not going with their normal partners, so it might cause conflict in the future. “What about you, Cranel?”

He was the one who would benefit the most, being the only one who hadn’t gone further and the only one with a single member of his Familia. Yet he only shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure.”

“Thanks. Since our numbers are fewer, we’ll need to make up with better experience, abilities, and equipment. I can only provide a little of the former and both of your skills beat out mine, but the latter I can do something about. The War Shadow Finger Blades can be shaped into daggers and throwing knives that will cut deeper than their regular counterparts with less strength. And the Kobold Nails can be fitted onto arrows that have a little more penetrating power.”

“That would be beneficial, but would that not be taking advantage of your services?” Mikoto remembered that it was his role as a smith that had caused issues prior. She didn’t want this to be the cause of problems in his current group.

“This is simple and benefits all of us,” he reasoned. Then he tilted his head towards Cranel. “Plus, it’ll give me a chance to show off my talents to a potential Contract. I’d like to be able to study his weapons since they’re a rather unique concept, but before I go asking I need to pull my own weight. We will need Antidotes and Potions though—ideally at least two for each person.”

“I can get those,” Bell offered. “I had been meaning to visit the Blue Pharmacy anyway, so I can go after asking Miss Eina more about the Seventh Floor.  That way you two could focus on the other stuff.”

“If you two are offering to obtain the equipment and supplies, I would be willing to handle keeping the finances secured,” Mikoto said. “We can take the Magic Stone fragments and any of the drops we collect to the exchange and create a budget for what will be split and what will be left for the group’s supplies. We won’t need them right away, as I would like at least two more trips through the Dungeon to improve our teamwork before we set foot on the Seventh Floor, and we can save up until then.”

Neither found seemed to find issues with that.

“That’s fine by me,” Welf said before extending one fist out to them both. “I’m looking forward to working with you both.”

Mikoto looked to it for a moment before extending her own fist as Bell did the same, solidifying their partnership.

[R-M]

Bell was in a fairly good mood by the time he left the Guild. He was a little tired mentally, given it was late evening. Eina had decided she was going to grill him on the monsters inhabiting the Seventh Floor every day before he stepped foot there—starting today. But he had been in a good mood as he approached the usual side-street on West Main that would lead him back home.

Then the smell hit him.

It was the all-too-familiar scent of blood. It was faint, barely above the hint of the iron aroma that niggled the back of his throat. But its sudden introduction into the clean air of Orario still reached his nose with such sharpness that he couldn’t help but take notice before the pained cry reached his ears as he turned the corner…

And found himself on the streets of Yharnam once more.

The familiar old street was now darkened with gloom. Its architecture turned imposing and enclosed as caskets that were sealed shut with chains lined the walls. The shadows themselves seemed to move with an eerie foreboding as they seemed eager to lap at the blood dripping onto the ground from…

It was the Little Girl. The Daughter of Gascoigne. She was there, laying on the ground with her back against the wall and clutching her right arm as vibrant crimson seeped from her fingers. Her eyes were filled with fear, helpless as she stared down at the bloodied Saw Cleaver from which tantalizing ruby beads dripped down.

Then its wielder looked to him. The tall figure dressed Hunter’s clothing that was a dingy and washed out yellow. A man who was dead risen from the grave looked to him and his mouth moved, but what came out were guttural sounds and growls—animal noise that didn’t register with Bell as he stood there for a moment in frozen silence.

Not until Henryk looked back to his granddaughter and raised the weapon while she looked back to him with a pleading look in her eyes that said she didn’t want to die.

Then it was like the trigger had been pulled. “STOP!

He rocketed forth as fast as his legs could carry while reaching out to the Hunter’s Mark in the back of his mind to call out to the Little Ones. They answered his call, producing from the wall to the right along his path the handle of his Saw Cleaver. In a single motion and without a pause in his sprint he grabbed it and swung it forward as the Old Hunter turned to him and did the same—

CLANG!!

—and the scraping of steel-on-steel caused the world to revert. No longer was he on the streets of Yharnam but the familiar road leading him back home. The one facing him wasn’t the aged Hunter, but a man who looked a few years his senior and was wielding a longsword.

And by his side was not the Little Girl he knew, but a female pallum that had short, chestnut hair that was messy and untamed. The beige cloak she had on looked frayed and worn, the tear in the sleeve from which blood ran anew to adorn the stitched ones. She looked a mix of surprised and confused at the scenario in front of her.

“The hell you think yer doing, brat!?” the man demanded, drawing Bell’s attention back to him. “I thought I told you to stay outta this!”

“I’m not going to let you kill a little girl in front of me!” Bell shouted right back as he jerked his arm, leaving the teeth of his saw to scrape against the edge of the blade and leave sparks in their eyes before thrusting his foot forward to plant his boot into the man’s chest. The flat of his blade intercepted it but he let the momentum carry him so that they were disengaged.

It may not have been Gascoigne’s Daughter. He may not have been on those streets that had gloom seeped into the very stone. But that did not change the fact that he wasn’t just going to let someone get murdered right in front of him.

He took a protective stance in front of her, never letting his gaze leave the man with his weapon in one hand and the other reaching for a potion stashed in his pouch. He then tossed it back to her and said, “Use that and run!”

The nameless pallum grabbed it with her good hand before she promptly scurried to her feet and took off running. The sound of the bottle being uncorked and splashing over the wound reached his ears as her footsteps hastened. But he didn’t have time to focus on that anymore as the man’s face grew angrier than before.

“So you were workin’ with that scum all along!” If Bell had to express his visage in words it would be the picture of a hellhound on two legs, ready to breathe out a wave of fire. The intent to kill was palpable. “Fine, I’ll carve you to pieces and then drag ‘em to her!”

Then he went on the attack. His blade swung through the air, a streak lingering as the setting sun caught its descent angled towards Bell’s neck for what was meant to be a fatal blow as he raised the Saw Cleaver in a guard to defend himself—

ARRGGGHHH!!

—and then the sword clattered onto the ground, steel scraping the stonework mingling with the surprised and pained cry of the assailant as he huddled over with his right hand clutching his left hand. The fingers of the latter were bent out of shape, broken bits of bone jutting out and piercing the bruised skin.

And at the base of his feet was a small stone that was bloodied.

“Leave,” a soft but firm voice spoke. It was commanding and drew Bell’s attention to an entrance of the alleyway where he spotted Ryuu standing there with her arm outstretched and eyes narrowed. “Now.”

The Adventurer’s baleful gaze fixed onto her. Then onto the stone at his feet. And lastly, at Bell, his eyes lingering for what felt like a lifetime before he sucked in a sharp breath, grabbed his blade with his good hand, and exited without another word.

Despite his absence the tension in the alleyway seemingly lingered as Bell lowered his Saw Cleaver and looked down at the bloodied stone. It was an ordinary stone that you could find anywhere on the streets. That man had been an Adventurer who was at least more experienced than him. He could put the pieces together well enough.

Even so, he turned to thank his savior. “Thank you for that. I hadn’t seen you when I was at the Hostess of Fertility.”

She only shook her head. “I was running errands when I overheard what was happening. However, it would seem I only bought you a reprieve. He will most likely attempt to come after you again.”

That information took a second to process. Then Bell felt a weight in the pit of his stomach. “What do you mean?”

“Just now he was memorizing your features,” she pointed out as she slowly walked towards him. “Your exchange was brief, but it became clear the two of you would not have resolved that fight without one dead. You recognized that as well, did you not?”

…His grip on the Saw Cleaver tightened and his stomach twisted into a knot because Bell did know. Yharnam had not been kind to him, but because of it he recognized from both the intent and the motions that man fully intended to kill him. There was no doubt in his mind. “…I couldn’t let him kill that girl. But I didn’t want to kill him.”

“I am not criticizing you for your decision,” Ryuu told him. “Merely stating that you should be prepared to defend yourself adequately next time rather than simply intending to fend such a person off without harming them. Even passivity can have consequences, Mister Cranel.”

The message carried. “I’ll keep my guard up.”

“Then I wish you a good evening,” Ryuu said before making her way out of the alleyway. He wondered just how strong of an Adventurer she was to do that kind of damage. But it wasn’t his place to ask—not when she had done it to protect him.

Once she was gone, Bell looked back to the wall where that girl had been. The cut had been deep from the blood there despite her clutching the wound. The potion was one of Miach’s so it should work, but…

He could still see Gascoigne’s Daughter in that moment. “I didn’t really save you, did I?”

The alleyway remained silent as he made his way back home.

But an answer came to him the next day as he was outside of Babel once more, in Central Park. Hestia said to leave the details of scheduling more parties with the other two Familias to her since they all had different schedules to keep and obligations on their own ends. It was just him today, strapped up in his new armor and his weapons a mere thought away.

It was then he felt a tug on his sleeve from behind. He turned his head around to see that they belonged to a tiny set of hands gingerly holding him. Then he had to crane down to meet with the beige hood obstructing the bed of disheveled, chestnut hair. But it was only when his eyes trailed down until they met a set of eyes that matched her hair, nestled over a saccharine smile, that recognition dawned.

And, in a small voice that tickled his ear, she said five little words he hadn’t expected to hear:

“I’ve found you, Mister Hero!”


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 18 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 18: The Blacksmith and the Swordswoman

 

The sun was setting over the horizon of a grassy field.

The green carpet was only split by a dirt path, carved out by countless feet tracking over the same path until it became a road. The evening breeze was cool and refreshing as it gently caressed the cheeks of a young boy with hair as white as the moon in full and eyes as crimson as blood.

Bell Cranel was just a boy. He was short, adorned by a plain shirt and baggy pants that hung off his frame. His tiny fingers that weren’t even large enough to grip a hoe instead clung to the pants of the tall figure next to him, his only family in the world.

“I hope today wasn’t too hard on you, Bell,” said his Grandfather, tone wrapped in a gentle voice. “I know you aren’t used to working on the land just yet.”

The tiny boy shook his head. “It was fun helping you, Grandpa.”

The aged face bore a smile before the thick fingers came down and rustled his hair affectionately. “That’s good. How about I tell you another story tonight?”

The smile that came across his face was like the blooming of a flower under the sun. “Can you tell me about the Argonaut again?”

“You really like that one, don’t you?” When Bell nodded his head like an excited puppy, his grandfather only chuckled a bit more before hoisting him onto his shoulders. “Let’s hurry home then.”

As Bell clung to his grandfather’s head, he looked back towards the setting sun. The light suddenly grew brighter. It swelled with radiance until it became so bright that it devoured the world…

And then the light dulled to become the glow of a magic stone lamp. Bell Cranel woke from his dream to find himself once more in the confines of the space beneath the Church. The place the Hestia Familia called home.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Grandpa lately, Bell realized as he sat up, causing the sheets clinging to him to slide down and pool around his waist as he looked down at his hands. The imagery of blood painting them flickered in his mind for a moment before the pale hue reasserted itself.

It had been a few days since he’d returned from Yharnam and fought the Silverback. Since then he’d been laying low, so to speak. He’d been so focused on the fight that he’d been ignorant of his surroundings and a large crowd had borne witness to his battle when he really didn’t want the attention right now.

Eina had visited to apologize for the incident after the first day and offered compensation on behalf of the Ganesha Familia for destroying the monster before it could cause more collateral damage and kill civilians. They were apparently taking responsibility for the incident and were working on reparations and repairs to the damage caused by the monsters, including Daedalus Street. They weren’t sure how all the monsters got loose, or why that one in specific had managed to slip away unnoticed until it attacked him, or even the identity of the thief who’d led him to that place. But they were still grateful he went above and beyond what was expected for an adventurer of his Level.

The goddess residing there called Penia also asked that her thanks be extended to the ‘Hero of the Street’ as they were apparently calling him. Bell wasn’t aware of that goddess, but Hestia seemed to know her from the reaction she gave. The moniker made his stomach turn and it took all the effort he could not frown when the two of them were watching him at the time.

After all, how could anyone at all call someone like me a Hero?

He hadn’t been thinking of the people around him when he fought the Silverback the second time. He was only thinking about how it stood between him and returning to his Hestia’s side. Not to mention how he’d left that Little Girl in Yharnam with no one else in the world to call family after plundering the echoes of her grandfather just so he could return to his family.

Maybe the dreams were meant to be a punishment for that. To have the memories of simple times when he had been at his happiest with his Grandpa, only to wake with the knowledge that those times were now gone forever. To never forget the pain his absence brought and be reminded of what he could never regain.

It’s probably what I deserve. He brought a hand to his head and let out a soft sigh as he gathered his thoughts. Then he looked at the clock, pulled aside the sheets, and stood up to stretch his body.

Even with the sins on his back weighing him down, Bell couldn’t keep hiding away in the Church. Even with the generous consideration of the Ganesha Familia, their finances were still tight. He had work to do and today was going to be a busy day given everything that he needed to do.

He had to go thank Syr for helping him get away that time. Then there was a meeting with the members of the Hephaestus and Takemikazuchi Familia that Hestia arranged to see if they had good enough compatibility. The news about the Silverback had likely given both a little more consideration of his talents, which would probably be the only good thing that came out of it.

Once he was limbered up and dressed, Bell left the confined comforts of the Church behind with his broken armor in his bag. The sun’s rays touched down and heated the stone streets while its radiance lit up the sky. The air was crisp as it whistled through the buildings that made up the cul-de-sac. Not a bad morning all things considered.

Yet, as he walked the path there was a slight sense of wariness in his stride. He found himself feeling more alert than before. The streets of Orario should be safe, yet that had been proven not to be the case.

The sense of unease he felt made him realize just how much he’d taken for granted the sense of safety he felt during the days prior to the Monster Feria. He wondered if this was how the people of Yharnam felt every day and night. Never knowing when a beast or giant rodent would pop out of the shadows to end their lives even before the night of the Hunt.

Calm down. He took a deep breath to try and rid himself of the tension he felt. That incident with the Silverback was probably just due to some unusual circumstances at the time. Even if it wasn’t, Bell wasn’t unarmed even if he didn’t carry his weapons with him at the moment.

The Messengers could retrieve his Hunter’s Pistol, Saw Cleaver, Saw Spear, Kirkhammer, or Gascoigne’s Axe from the Dream with a thought—no matter where he was. It was undeniably a convenience that he couldn’t exactly ignore.

But it did little to comfort him as he finally reached the Hostess of Fertility and walked through the doors, whereupon the ladies greeted him on sight.

“Bell, it’s been a few days,” Syr said, wearing her uniform that was a pale-green skirt and white blouse. There was an empty tray in her hand from delivering a plate of what looked to be sausages to a dwarf. “I was starting to worry I scared you off.”

“I was just laying low for a bit until things settled down,” he said. “I wanted to thank you for helping me get back home.”

Syr shook her head. “It was the least I could do since you only got caught up in it doing me a favor.”

Mya, but who would have thought little white-hair could make a mess like that,” Arnya spoke up, leaning over his shoulder with a cheshire smile on her face as she gently poked his cheek. “You know they’re still talking about how brutal you were even now, meow~?”

Bell flinched slightly at that. “I… didn’t really have a choice at the time.”

“No one is questioning your actions, Mister Cranel,” Ryuu assured him as she walked past, having finished busing a table. “How you won doesn’t change the fact that you adapted to an unforeseen circumstance and prevailed against an opponent that was stronger than you, all while keeping those around you safe. It was admirable considering your short time as an Adventurer.”

Mama Mia nodded in agreement. “You fought. You won. Hold your head up with pride.”

“…Thank you,” he said, feeling a weight somewhat lifting off his shoulders.

“So, Bell, what are you up to today?” Syr asked. “Are you heading back to the Dungeon?”

“I plan to after handling some other things like getting my armor repaired,” he said. “I’ve been gone from it for a while now, so I don’t think I’ll go that deep inside. But I’ll probably be there until nightfall.”

“In that case, how about I give you a lunch to eat later on?” she offered. “Just give me a moment and I’ll get it from the back.”

Before he could say anything, she was already gone and came back with a basket that she held out for him with a soft smile on her face. He couldn’t find it in him to exactly refuse, while either willfully or blissfully ignorant of the pitying look that briefly crossed some of the girls’ faces as he accepted it. “Thanks. I’ll bring it back later tonight.”

That done, they bid him farewell and he set back out towards Babel from West Main.

Eventually, Bell made it to Central Park just outside of the white tower that rose to the sky. The cultivated greenery of the park, along with the numerous fountains that were constantly spouting crystalline water, made for a refreshing spot to take moment to relax. The westernmost fountain would serve as the meeting place.

Hestia had told him that Hephaestus mentioned one of her children would meet Bell here, but it’d be up to whoever it was if they wanted to form a party. Same with Takemikazuchi. It hadn’t been long since he’d arrived in Orario and, despite all of the horrible things that happened after the Minotaur, he was grateful for the chance to meet so many new people and interested in seeing just what it’d be like to fight alongside others.

Still, Bell honestly had some reservations about working with others due to the secrets he and his goddess shared about his status. He could pass off being able to retrieve his weapons and items from the Dream as a form of magic. It was rare for those who only recently obtained a Falna to have access to magic, but not unheard of.

But he’d need to avoid letting them know about the fact that blood was something that could mend his wounds or revitalize him if he could help it. No matter how he thought about it, there was just nothing good about how it looked. Besides, he shouldn’t take on any wounds if he could help it.

I’ll probably have to be careful with the Quicksilver and Blood Bullets too, he thought to himself with a sigh. The Hunter’s Pistol allowed him some range when it came to dealing with more annoying monsters that hovered out of his range. But… what if he shot a monster and didn’t kill it?

In the end, his blood was the same as that of the Hunters. There was a Beast dwelling deep inside of him as well, just like Gascoigne and Henryk. If he was careless and let someone else consume or come into contact with it, was there a chance that it’d turn whatever it flowed through into a Beast as well?

A shudder ran through his body when he thought back to the Minotaur that had killed him once before.  If it had ran back into the depths after he’d shot out its eye, would it have become an even more terrifying blood-slathering monster? An Abnormal?

Deep in thought, Bell only realized that someone was closing in on him when their shadow offered shade from the sun. He looked up to see what looked to be a young man, at least a few years older than himself, with hair that was red like flames while being dressed in black. There was also a small box under one of his arms.

“You wouldn’t happen to be from the Hestia Familia, would you?” he asked. “I mean, Hephaestus mentioned I’d recognize you from your hair and eyes. But…”

“Y-Yes—” Bell stood up and nodded. “I’m Bell Cranel, part of the Hestia Familia. Are you, um, here to form a party with me?”

“Well, I’m hoping that’ll be the case,” he said. “When my goddess mentioned someone with white hair and red eyes killed that Silverback, I kind of pictured someone a little older. But it’s not like age matters much to Adventurers, right?”

He had a point. The Falna was the great equalizer. Even a child with one could, in theory, kill monsters five times their height with ease if their stats were high enough.  Then he extended his unoccupied arm and held out his hand. “I’m Welf Crozzo.”

“Welf… Crozzo?” Bell froze for a moment. Then his voice picked up a notch. “Welf Crozzo, the blacksmith?”

Welf let out a sigh. “…Yeah. That one.”

[R-M]

“I can’t believe my luck!” the white-haired boy said with a smile as he slung off his bag. “I’ve wanted to meet you if I could!”

Hearing how ecstatic Bell sounded, Welf couldn’t help but feel a sense of apprehensiveness building up in his chest that was tinged by expectation. He had some hope that, with Bell supposedly being new to the city, he wouldn’t have heard of the Crozzo name. That cursed name that had more than once drew ire and expectation towards him that he hoped wouldn’t rear its ugly head once more.

Yet, it seemed that he wasn’t so lucky. The next thing he would do would be to ask for a magic sword no doubt. Better to get it over with now than drag it out. “Look, I’ll tell you right now I’m not making any Mag—”

The blacksmith’s words were cut short when Bell set the bag down on the edge of the fountain. The sound of rattling betrayed the contents that glimmered with dull-toned steel and battered metal. He recognized it, because what blacksmith couldn’t recognize their own work, and a lump formed in his throat as he swallowed the rest of his previous words and hesitantly asked, “Is that…my armor?”

White hair shifted as the younger boy nodded. “I wanted to see if I could get it repaired or replaced by more of your work later today, because of how beat-up it got during the fight against the Silverback. It helped me out a lot before that too.”

Welf set down the box he was holding on the edge of the fountain before slowly reaching into the bag next to it. He pulled out the chest-piece of the armor set and found that it had been put through no small amount of damage. It had only been a few days since the armor had been sold but it had seen more use in that time than some armors had seen in years.

“…This was literally the second armor that I sold,” Welf began, running his thumbs over the ragged and battered chest-piece. “I made it out of Metal Rabbit Hair, so it would be both durable and light. It was as high-quality as I could make it, but the price was set so that a beginner could afford it while covering the costs of manufacturing it. To see it like this is…”

Since the armor was sold through the storefront no names were exchanged, so he wasn’t privy to any information about the customer. He couldn’t ask them what they thought about it, or if any adjustments could have been made to make it more comfortable, or any special considerations.

The fact that it hadn’t been immediately returned had given him something of a sense of elation, but also sparked his curiosity as he’d wondered who it was that bought his armor and why they’d done it. Was it by chance or after some serious consideration? Was it because the quality was just right for the price range or the aesthetic of it?

It had to be Fate that the one who bought it was standing here in front of him to answer those questions. “Sorry I ruined it so soon. I…”

Bell trailed off when he noticed Welf slowly shaking his head.

“You used it in the battles you fought and came back alive,” he said. There was always a single question every blacksmith dreaded thinking about as they worked the forge: would this fulfill its purpose and keep the one who bought it alive? “That’s all that matters.”

Welf couldn’t guess that the chest-piece had saved Bell’s heart from being gouged out by a spear backed by inhuman strength. Or the fact that it caught some of the explosive fragments of fast-flying quicksilver that scoured the pristine surface. Or how it’d stopped him from being opened up from shoulder-to-hip by the fangs of a Saw Cleaver.

Likewise, Welf couldn’t even fathom how the forearm-guards had warded away claws that had shredded away half of the young adventurer’s innocent-looking face prior. Or how they kept him from losing his head to the axe of a Beast clad in the flesh of a man. Or even the fact that they’d held out against the steel teeth of a maddened Old Hunter.

The only thing he could tell was that the armor he’d crafted had saved the life of this adventurer more than once. It had held up as best it could until he was in a position to get back with his life intact. And it still hadn’t crumbled to dust despite all of that—a fact that brought a soft smile to his face.

The boy looked as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders before asking, “So, you think it’s possible to get it fixed?”

“Honestly, with it being in this condition, it’d be easier to just replace it,” Welf said after assessing the cumulative damage. Then he set the chest-piece down and reached over towards the box he’d brought with him. “I guess you really are in luck considering I was just going to put my latest version in the armor series on sale after the meetup was done.”

He removed the lid to show off his latest work. Since the armor Bell had bought was the first one that wasn’t returned right away, he’d decided to make a similar model one to it. The Pyonkichi Mk III was a little more durable than the first due to the composition of its materials making it thicker, with a few embellishments  on it to make it somewhat more aesthetically pleasing.

Bell picked up the armor pieces and turned them in his arms. He seemed drawn to the pieces, pulled into the silvery glint of the morning sun being reflected off the polished surface of it. The blood-hued rubies on the wrist guards matched his eyes upon looking into them, almost like staring into a mirror.

“How much?” he asked, looking up to Welf with eager eyes.

The blacksmith struck a deal. “You can have them for free, if you’re willing to make a Direct Contract with me.”

Upon seeing the boy’s head tilt quizzically, he remembered that Bell had only been doing this for such a short time he likely wouldn’t know. So Welf explained the notion to him that in a direct contract the drops and loot from the Dungeon would be brought back to Welf, who would then use them to make things for Bell at a reduced cost. For adventurers at a low-level, the reduced price made armor and weapons more affordable so they could go deeper into the Dungeon, where they had a better chance to Level Up.

“Oh, that’s convenient,” Bell said. “But would it really be okay to make a contract with me? I haven’t gone that deep into the Dungeon, so the items I can bring back aren’t really that good.”

“And I’ve only gone down to the Tenth Floor and haven’t even unlocked my Blacksmith Developmental Ability yet,” Welf told him. “You’ve been down to the Fifth Floor at the very least, despite having been here only a little while, so from my perspective you’re moving pretty fast even though we’re both low-level Adventurers. Even so, we still have room grow and I think that’s part of why our Goddesses agreed to let us meet like that.”

Part of that was due to the fact that he wasn’t a dedicated adventurer. He was first and foremost a blacksmith, so his time was mostly spent in the forge rather than the depths of the Dungeon. But he had trouble joining parties because of his name and had reached the limits of what he could do alone, which was why when his goddess told him about the offer instead of the others in her Familia he’d jumped on the chance.

And he was rewarded by meeting the very person who bought his armor and used it to its fullest. More than anything Welf wanted this battle party to work out. “By the way, do you know who the third person we’ll be partying with will be?”

Bell looked up from the armor pieces that he was fitting onto himself. “It’s a member of the Takemikazuchi Familia. Their god is on good terms with Goddess, even though they both work for different potato puff stands. I think they’ll be here soon too.”

Welf hadn’t heard of the Familia before, so it was likely a small one. More so if their god worked in such a place. Even so, the prospect of being able to form a three-man cell was something he was looking forward to, so he tried to spot their potential ally when he saw a pair of eyes staring back at them.

It was a young woman approaching them. She had raven-black hair tied into a ponytail that contrasted her milk-white skin, the front of which draped and parted over eyes that were a shade of blue and purple. Her choice of clothing and weaponry reminded Welf of a little of Tsubaki’s, only with it being somewhat more modest and painted a shade lavender with a red shoulder-guard that had the emblem of a sword planted in the ground.

Her eyes settled onto Bell’s hair and she hesitated for a single step before walking towards them. Then she came to a stop in front of them and asked, “Are you Bell Cranel of the Hestia Familia and the member of the Hephaestus Familia?”

“That’s us,” Welf said. “And you must be our last party member?”

She nodded and gave a slight bow. “My name is Yamato Mikoto. I am of Lord Takemikazuchi’s Familia.”

[R-M]

Mikoto came at the agreed upon meeting place at the appointed time with her back straight as she took in the appearance of the two adventurers in front of her. It was at the behest of her Lord that she agreed to at least see if the formation of this party would be to the benefit of them all.

“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Mikoto,” said Hestia’s child as he looked up to her with a smile. The formality of his speech, the curvature of his face, and the brightness in his eyes gave her the impression of him being far less…imposing than the recent stories floating around would tell.

“I’m Welf Crozzo,” said the other adventurer. He flashed her a grin as he extended his hand. “Pleasure to meet you too.”

As she shook it, she felt how calloused and rough they were. Not surprising given he was part of a Crafting Familia. It was a clear sign of his dedication to his craft at the very least, but she didn’t believe it was a perfect reflection one’s capabilities as an adventurer.

Even without forming a party, relationships between adventurers were fickle things at the best of times. But there was a reason mixed parties were complex things to form even in the short-term after all. You had to factor in the relationship between the gods and goddesses. Then there was the imbalance in experience. Last was the dispositions of their Familia members.

In the case of their deities, Lord Takemikazuchi held a friendship with the Goddess Hestia despite the fact that their potato snack stands were rivals. He did not seem particularly close to the Goddess Hephaestus, but there was no animosity. Hestia was seemingly close to her if the story about her staying with the former for a time after her arrival was true, and all three ultimately consented—so there wasn’t a problem there at present.

Next was the question of experience and disposition that Mikoto herself had to address as she broached the topic. “Forgive me for asking this abruptly but, since we are not familiar with one another very well, may we discuss matters like how long we have been exploring the Dungeon, the deepest floor we’ve explored, and our previous experience with parties?”

It was somewhat blunt outright asking them. But she felt it would be the best way to judge them. Since she’d arrived in Orario she had seen many kinds of adventurers. Those that boast of their strength and accomplishments, those that embellished their abilities, and so on. Letting them speak before she made judgement was paramount.

Hestia’s child spoke up first. “Ah, well… I’ve been an Adventurer for less a month now since I arrived in Orario. Since then I’ve only made it as far as the Sixth Floor. And this will be my first party.”

“You’re really selling yourself short,” Welf said. “Most people don’t make it that far down in months, let alone weeks.”

Bell only shook his head at the compliment and his tone of voice shift slightly to a somber one. “I think I was mostly just lucky. Both my advisor and Goddess warned me, but I didn’t really understand until a little while ago how reckless and dangerous it was doing that alone.”

…Neither were wrong. Most adventurers, or at least the ones who tended to live longer, paced themselves. Exploring the Dungeon was a gradual thing and so it was best to acclimate yourself towards becoming familiar to its habits while gaining experience during the earlier period, when the growth was accelerated.

That being said, going that deep after a few days was indeed reckless. More so when you were alone. Especially if he had no combat experience prior to arriving in Orario, as his goddess mentioned. Luck might have played a part in that, but the fact that he was still alive and whole after going that deep said something of skill and dedication as well.

The blacksmith scratched the back of his head. “Well, in my case, I’ve been here for seven years but I’ve only made it as far as the Tenth Floor. I’d like say that’s because I spent most of my time working in the forge since my Goddess only allows for us to put the best of our things on sale, but part of that’s due to an issue with forming a party.”

“Why’s that?” Bell asked. “From what I heard, most of the larger Familias form a party with other members, right?”

“That might be the case in Exploration-Type Familias, but with us it’s different…” He went silent as he closed his eyes and grabbed his chin in thought. “You probably don’t know, but we lower-level blacksmiths tend to have our work cut out for us in getting customers. It’s no lie when I say that sometimes we have to steal and undercut each other because there are so many of us and so few customers. Because of that forming a party between members of our Familia can be difficult at times, so we have to group up with people outside of it…”

After a moment, he opened them and looked to Bell. “I’ve been with a lot of different parties, but none of them has ended well. They would ask me to do something that I wasn’t comfortable doing. And when I refused, they’d try to leverage my status as a member of their party to get it. Because of that we would break apart on bad terms, but I honestly want this to work out for us.”

In other words, he was a serial party-jumper. It wasn’t strange for one person to move between them occasionally, to see if there was good compatibility. But doing so consistently and leaving on bad terms often meant that there was some kind of problem with the individual.

“Will whatever it is that caused the animosity between yourself and the others interfere with us while venturing into the Dungeon?” Mikoto asked.

He shook his head as he faced her. “It was centered around my role as a smith, not an Adventurer. I can pull my weight in the Dungeon.”

Were they perchance trying to get him to make them free equipment? Mikoto silently wondered. Equipment cost was a heavy expense for a smaller Familia and larger ones would have their own dedicated smiths to maintain their gear.

Regardless, he looked frank and firm in his gaze. The implication of what he told them was clear enough and he had to know how it sounded. Yet, the fact that he was openly admitting it when he didn’t have to meant he deserved the benefit of the doubt.

“I cannot judge your relationship with other groups in the past,” she said, crossing her arms. “I have no right to comment or pry into what happened with them either. Instead, I will look to contributions in the Dungeon.”

Bell agreed. “You don’t seem like a bad person and I doubt our goddesses would let us meet up like this if that was the case.”

“Thank you,” he said with a look of relief on his face. “Both of you. I won’t let you down.”

Next, it was Mikoto’s turn. “As for myself, I have been exploring the Dungeon since my Familia relocated to Orario two years ago. We are small with only six members, so we often partied with one another. But one of our members has achieved Level 2 and so we were able to go as deep as the Thirteenth Floor consistently.”

“That’s incredible,” Welf said earnestly while staring at her. “I’ve known Familias that never make it that deep despite being more than twice the size. Honestly, you can live relatively comfortably at that point without going much deeper as a smaller group.”

Mikoto only shook her head. Perhaps they could, if they simply kept the valis they earned for themselves. But it wasn’t just themselves they were supporting. “Leaving aside our financial circumstances, we have our own reasons for going as deeply as we do. ”

Perhaps out of respect for them not pressing him for further details, the blacksmith didn’t press further either. He merely nodded. “Either way, you’re probably the most experienced of us from the sounds of it. Are you going to be the party’s leader then?”

“So it would seem,” she settled on. If it was based purely on experience, Welf had the greatest in terms of years. However, he admitted that he was more dedicated to his craft and he often left parties because of incompatibility. Plus, he didn’t seem to want to call the shots so much as he simply wanted to be part of a party.

Likewise, Bell had less than a month’s worth of experience diving into the Dungeon and had only gone as far as the Sixth Floor. Plus, he had no experience with fighting in a group. That lack of experience was something that couldn’t be overlooked.

“Bell Cranel, I have heard that you managed to slay a Silverback,” she said. “But if we are to commit to this battle party we need to know the measure of your abilities personally, as well as demonstrate our own. Are you aware of what a three-man cell formation is?”

Bell shook his head.

“It’s a standard formation where one acts as the vanguard, the other covers them, and the last one provides rear support,” Welf explained. “The Vanguard would deal the initial offense, drawing the enemy aggression while their support prevents counterattacks and look for the opportunity to end the enemy as quickly as possible. The rear support usually brings up the rear using long-range weapons, preventing surprise attacks and holding onto healing items, but they need to be able to defend themselves and contribute.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Bell said. “So which role are we all going to be?”

“We will determine that by the end of the day,” Mikoto declared while looking over to Babel. “For now, prepare yourselves. Before we take a risk that would dishonor my Lord, we’ll go down to the last floor that you ventured to so that we may see what you are capable of—the Sixth Floor.”

 


Rabbit of the Moon: Interlude 2 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Interlude 2: The Growing Insight of Three

 

For a second time Aiz felt like she’d run straight into a brick wall. She’d been tasked with dealing with the last monster that had escaped—a Silverback—when a pungent scent met her head on. The aroma dug into her mind and clouded her thoughts for only a moment, but that still brought her sprint to an abrupt halt.

“Huh…” The sound of interest came from her Goddess next to her. “You can smell it too?”

“Yes.” Her eyes spanned the street, searching for the source of the scent she knew to be the boy that had killed the Minotaur. Her senses, augmented by her Level, attuned to the noise of the street until she heard a single set of running footfall and heavy pants, along with the moonscent—as Loki had told her—tinged with blood.

Then, once more, Bell Cranel came into view as he burst out of a side alley that was nearby.   The young boy was covered in battle-ravaged leather that had been sheared and scraped to the point where bare skin and battered metal were on display. Sweat from exertion dotted his brow where strands of his white hair clung desperately.

Aiz let out a small groan and held a slender hand to her head that began to pound with his approach. She didn’t know what it was about him that she was feeling. She couldn’t know how to register it. All she could do was wait for him to pass by her without a word as he continued to flee, the pulsing sensation lessening somewhat as his footfalls continued past her.

“Ugh…” Loki was holding her nostrils closed, so her voice came out a bit childish as she said, “It’s pretty thick compared to at the tavern, huh?”

Aiz nodded as they turned and watched him continue to run until a girl emerged from a side-street and grabbed his hand, eliciting a brief look of shock on the boy’s face before recognition set in. Then words were exchanged, an offer to ‘help him escape from sight’ from what Aiz could hear, before she pulled him into the alley. The footfalls that she could hear belonging to them took them away from the Main Street.

“It’s strange,” Aiz settled on after a moment of thought. “But something about it… makes me nervous…”

“Hmm…” Loki crossed her arms and hummed lightly in thought. “Call it a hunch, but I feel it my bones that sumthin’ about its off too…”

As she contemplated that to herself, Aiz picked up on the activity on the street and how it seemed to have blossomed. People were excitedly talking about an adventurer dressed in leather who fought and slew a monster right in the plaza. She had her suspicions that it was the boy they were talking about, so she approached a pair of children that were in the middle of playing.

“Ah, excuse me?” she said, crouching down towards one of the children. “Could you tell me about what happened just now with a monster?”

The child didn’t hesitate. “It was amazing! This big monster went ‘RAAAHHH’ and tried to squish this white-haired mister with its big arms! But he was so fast, and he had this hammer that had a sword in it! He went ‘swish’ and blood flew everywhere, and the monster went ‘GAAHHH’ and then—”

Aiz listened on as he continued on in an excited manner until an adult called for him and he said goodbye. Then she turned back to her Goddess, who was conversing with an elderly woman. When the woman parted way, Loki cradled one arm while holding a hand to her chin.

Suspicious…” Loki mused. “That young lady was kind enough to tell me a bit about what just happened. It seemed that boy killed the Silverback with a weapon that could go between a hammer and a sword, or something that he could call back to him even when separated. I’d say it’d be an enchanted weapon, but Cow Tits can’t afford sumthin’ like that. Could it possibly be some form of magic?”

It wasn’t unheard of that someone who was just given a Falna would have access to magic. Outside of a Grimoire it was something that seemed to happen sporadically, with some species being more likely to manifest it or exceptions like Aiz, who had Aerial since she received Loki’s blessing. For all they knew it was something the boy was capable of since he became an adventurer—he did kill a Monster that Level 2s would struggle against the first time she’d seen him, so a Silverback wouldn’t be that much of a threat.

But from the colorful way the boy had described the fight, it sounded like it had dragged out for a bit. That was strange, considering that someone who could kill a Minotaur should be able to kill a Silverback within mere seconds at worse. But, at the same time, she didn’t think it sounded like he was making a show of it when there was a chance of civilians being caught in the crossfire.

He didn’t seem all that polished when it came to fighting from what she’d seen the last time either. He wasn’t quite helpless and seemed to know enough not to wound himself with the butcher’s weapon he had, but he didn’t seem anywhere near expertise in terms of skill wielding it or when facing off against the Minotaur considering how sloppy his movements were. He’d barely avoided most of the hits and the ones he tried to block had broken through his guard utterly.

That was expected for the Upper Floors—in fact, it was almost what she’d expect from a new adventurer who hadn’t refined their combat skills out of the Dungeon like some of the former soldiers or hunters she’d seen. But against Silverbacks that lived close to the Middle Floors and the Minotaurs that came from the floors below it, that was another story. Simply surviving to the point that you could venture down there would require countless battles, during which you’d build up experience with fighting subconsciously.

So how did he manage to kill the Minotaur then? Her head began to ache as she thought back to it. He seemed almost confused that he’d managed to prevail, or the fact that he had the magic stone. Could it have been that he wasn’t aware of the fact that he’d done it?

Aiz thought back then when their eyes met. She didn’t quite grasp what she heard with the whispers that seemed to give her a headache, but before then she recalled thinking that his weapon was his fangs and his hands were his claws. The primal way he’d cried out as he ripped out its magic stone had been almost…bestial.

It didn’t really suit him at all from how timid and small he looked when not cloaked in tattered clothes, fresh blood, and broken steel. But somehow that was part of what caused her to feel on edge. Not completely, but the sensation that she was staring down a predator for that moment does seem close to how she could best describe it.

“Well, either way, the Silverback was taken care of and no civilians got hurt from the sound of it,” Loki said abruptly, changing the topic and pulling Aiz from her thoughts as the Goddess grasped her arm and pulled it against her smaller body. “Let’s go back to the others, Aizuu.”

“Ah… sure…” She nodded before turning on her heel and following after her Goddess. Bell Cranel was a mystery to Aiz now more than ever, but there were other mysteries she needed to focus on. Other things she needed to do and other people waiting for her.

She’d put the mystery of the Moon-scented Boy to the back of her mind for now.

[R-M]

Freya moaned softly as she cradled her head from the throbbing pressure that nestled itself right behind her eyes, a crystal ball situated on the table next to her. The cloak she normally wore out to avoid drawing the gaze of men and women by the virtue of her sheer beauty laid on her lap, unneeded. She’d rented out the entire restaurant for the moment in order to ensure her privacy while she observed her ploy at work.

It hadn’t been something she’d explicitly planned out. But rather a spontaneous opportunity that crossed her mind the moment that she noticed that Bell and Hestia were out for the festival and in possession of Syr’s Purse. The wheels in her mind began to whirl and she foresaw an opportunity to potentially lure out the one who stole her prize away from her.

After all, many of the Gods and Goddesses were out and about during the Monsterphilia. She was sure that the one who’d tainted his soul with that infuriating color would be too. If they’d come to Bell’s aid when he faced off against a monster within the Dungeon via some unknown means, then she was sure they’d do the same here.

She set the plan into motion within an hour. Her Familia had a collection of many talented individuals, all of whom had captured her eye to some extent. Pickpockets and swift runners among them were perfectly capable of pulling him away from Hestia and the Guild member, baiting him to a suitable stage that would be far enough from any meddling adventurer and freeing the others to act as a distraction—not that she intended for them to harm anyone intentionally.

She’d slipped into where they’d kept the monster and used her Charm to enthrall them after leaving the members of the Familia watching over them senseless. Men. Women. Monsters—the way her beauty ensorcelled them was simply overwhelming and she’d been careful not to be seen while having the monsters act as puppets, keeping the other Familia who would be out and about busy while the Silverback she’d chosen to be her instrument slipped away.

Her headache had begun shortly after that, before he’d engaged the Silverback while donning a coat and wielding a hammer that didn’t seem to suit him at all. For a brief moment, she had a flicker of a scene where he laid broken on the ground and bleeding as his own weapon was left lodged in his chest. It had been faint and fleeting, leaving her to assume it was her imagination of a possible outcome that awaited him.

Really, it would have been expected considering how short his tenure as an Adventurer had been so far. But it wasn’t that she wanted to kill him. After all, it had been so long since she’d felt such a strong attachment to someone at first sight. She should’ve snatched him right up rather than allowing him to pass her by, but she wanted to see him grow from a distance.

Alas, where there was love there was envy and jealousy. For someone to take what she claimed for herself was simply unacceptable. And so, as punishment, the boy would now become the bait by which Freya would find the one that dyed the unblemished color of his soul and laid claim to the one she’d seen first.

She’d use him to find them. Then she would break them. Take everything that was theirs and destroy them for daring to take what she’d claimed for herself while reveling in the carnage—she was a Goddess of Love and War in equal parts after all.

Loki had said that she smelled the scent of the moon on him when they talked the night of the banquet. There were few who descended and held dominion over the moon, thus few who could grace him with their presence—likely being either Artemis or Achelois.

She had her doubts that it was Artemis, even if she knew that the goddess was on friendly terms with Hestia. Not only was she the head of a Hunting Familia that was far beyond the walls of Orario, which Hermes confirmed once she coaxed him into talking, but her Familia’s policies were well-known in regards to men and love. Men were never allowed to join, and those seeking to start a relationship had to leave the Familia behind. The thought that she would somehow bless Bell shortly after his arrival in Orario was too farfetched.

That only left Achelois. She was a minor goddess who had seemingly all but vanished some time ago. Freya hadn’t paid the disappearance any thought until now, given that the woman was struggling to simply find followers and simply wasn’t of interest to her. But considering the circumstances…

Well, perhaps she should put some effort into finding out just where she’d vanished to?

Either way, as her headache began upon dismissing that vivid imagery, Bell revealed he possessed a magic that she had been unaware of. A method by which he could call his arms and items to him. There were magical items that could do so, but she had the distinct feeling that it was magic.

More than that, there as something unique about it. When he called for his weapon, she could have sworn she’d something there. Thin, translucent things anxiously and eagerly groping the weapons from where space seemed to ripple around him.

Her head shuddered thinking about it. And the pressure behind her eyes felt like it was a living thing, squirming softly. She needed a moment of peace and quiet to get herself together and wait for it to pass.

A few hours to settle her head…

[R-M]

Hestia had her suspicions that something was amiss when that silver-haired woman approached both her and Eina by the coliseum.

Not because she was suspicious in herself. But because of the faint trace of a familiar moon-scented fragrance that was on her. It set off warning bells and a sense of dread gnawed at Hestia’s stomach.

Then the young woman pulled out her purse. It was the one that had been stolen from them, only now it was steeped in the scent of the moon. Hestia had realized in that instant that he’d died again, and only learned how once the young woman showed them the a magic stone that had been cleaved in half and explained that Bell had slain the Silverback.

He’d died again. He’d been sent back to that place again. He’d died and returned again.

And she’d failed to notice again until it was too late.

The moment she realized that, Hestia felt her legs lose strength and collapsed onto her knees. Eina had asked if she was okay, but Hestia only wanted to know where her child was. The moment the young woman said that she helped him slip away from the crowd so that he could go back home, Hestia made her way back there without a second thought.

It was there she found Bell.

Light spilled down from the windows to illuminate his white hair that was pattered with dull red from blood. Next to him on the pew was discarded leather clothing and battered armor that looked to be in horrendous condition, silently telling an adventurer’s tale of trials and tribulations. He sat with his face buried in his hands, quietly muttering between labored breaths and sobbing to himself.

She treaded carefully, feeling her heart breaking when she recalled how happy he looked the day he first set out to the Dungeon. There had been a smile on his face that could melt the coldest of hearts not even two weeks ago, sweetly complimenting the young boy eager to answer the call of adventure and become a hero. The moment she came to a stop in front of him and laid her hands onto shoulders, Bell’s arms snaked around her slender figure and he buried his face against her.

Goddess… forgive me…” his voice came out hoarse and worn. His body shuddered as he wept. “Forgive me.”

Feeling the stinging tears in her eyes now, Hestia didn’t allow herself to cry. Not when he needed her to be strong. She wiped away her own forming tears and then forced a smile as she gently brushed his hair to console him. “It’ll be okay, Bell.”

After that Bell took a shower before he confessed what had happened in the confines of their room. He confessed to her of the Little Girl and her request; his attempt to fulfill the wish of a child who was left all alone. He confessed of Gascoigne and Viola; a husband and wife torn apart by the curse of Beasthood. He confessed of the Dweller and Henryk; an attempt to do good leaving a child with no family left in the world.

She’d listened to it all before peering into his Falna as he laid prone in bed, unraveling what he lacked the heart or mind to tell her outright. The foreign words hammered into her mind of a tragic tale writ with blood and regret, images that left the scenes to come to mind with a vividness as if she was there at some point. It hurt enough that she felt pulsing pain in her skull, but it was nothing compared to what Bell had undergone.

She owed it to her child to accept his story and his pain. It was the least she could do for him.  For that reason, Hestia bore with the sensation writhing over her brain, all so that she could learn and could gain the wisdom needed to help Bell.

Taking in his sorrow and grief, his tribulations and triumphs, she immersed herself in his tale. She took in the details that may have escaped his mind, grabbing hold of whatever knowledge he’d taken it and committing it to her own memory. It was only when she’d read his tale from that faithful Minotaur attack until before they’d reunited above that she pulled herself free of the engrossing tragedy…

Only to find that Bell had fallen asleep beneath her.

She looked towards the clock. It was nearing midnight. The entire day had been lost to her, and the moment she realized that the exhaustion caught up to her all at once.

Her mind was weary from the knowledge. Her body sore from sitting in place for hours on end, hunched over Bell’s backside and head angled down to read his story. The allure of sleep was too strong to resist for her as well, another downside to being relegated to a physical form.

Limited as she was to her mortal body, Hestia could only do so little for Bell. How she yearned to unleash her Arcanum and free him from the shackles that bound him to that nightmarish world. But after peering so deeply she understood that doing so would rob him of the solace that her presence would bring him.

Steeped as he was in loneliness and regret, Bell clung to her as family and found meaning in the life they now shared together. He would never forgive himself if she gave up her life here to liberate him from that nightmare. And she would never forgive herself for leaving him in such a state.

There has to be another way to free you and remain together, Hestia thought to herself as she laid next to Bell on the bed and gently brushed his cheeks. I promise I’ll find it for you, Bell. No matter what.

[R-M]

 

Bell Cranel

Level One

Strength: F-392 > C-601

Defense: F-373 > D-592

Dexterity: I-96 > F-321

Agility: E-487 > A-903

Magic: I-0

Skills:
Blessing of Flora

Beasthood

Heir (Murky)


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 17 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 17: The Silverback

Henryk was dead.

Bell had no doubts about that as he felt the man’s echoes filling in a void that he’d never knew existed prior to the Hunt. Only this time it had a strange sensation affixed to it. Like something was oozing into the back of his mind, a pulsing throb that left him to shake his head as he fell to his knees.

He didn’t want this. He didn’t want the man dead. He was that child’s last living relative, the only family she had left now that her mother and father were gone. Yet now he joined them in death in this graveyard that seemed eager to drink the growing pool of warm, dark blood.

As he stared at it, Bell felt the burning sting of tears forming in his eyes as he found himself longing for a simpler time while gazing into the moonlight reflected on the blood. Of a time when he and his grandpa were together. It was only the ragged breathing now coming from Eileen that pulled him out of the fleeting, wistful moment.

He looked up to see the Hunter of Hunters panting through her mask, leaning with her back against a gravestone. The feather cowl painted with shades of deep crimson shifted up and down as she struggled to catch her breath after the fighting, blades still held within her grip. It had clearly been an exhausting endeavor for her.

“You hesitated,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but a statement.

“He was the only family she had left,” Bell said. Not really in defense of himself, but as a fact. “Her mother was dead when I got here. And her father was…”

He couldn’t bring himself to finish as he slowly turned his head. His eyes found the corpse of the Beast that laid where it had breathed its last breath. Still staring in the direction of where Viola’s body laid. The graveyard had drunken deep the blood of that child’s family this night.

“It was you who killed Gascoigne then?” she guessed as Bell let out a pained sound. Not quite a cry or whimper, but somewhere in-between. It served as an admission of guilt. “He was falling apart well before now. The fact that he’d turned simply meant the leash snapped now rather than later.”

“We could have still probably reached this one though,” Bell said softly. “There was a chance he could have snapped out of it. That he could have made it through the night without it ending like this.”

“And if he’d survived tonight, I’d wager he would’ve become a Beast worse than any you’d faced so far,” she said bitterly. “You’ve seen how the people here prowl the streets half-turned already. They’re the ones who give in quickly, the weak-willed and unaware. The beast comes right out before it has time to really grow or become a more suitable predator.”

She then gestured with her dagger towards the corpse of Gascoigne. “But the more the person resists giving in, the fiercer the beast becomes. The more blood they take in, the more they hunt, the stronger it becomes until either they embrace it, or it overtakes them utterly. Henryk was one of the Old Hunters and he’d lost too much this night to be able to keep himself together any longer than he had. Believe me when I say we’ve done both a mercy tonight—nothing worse for a Hunter than to become what they once hunted and endanger those they wanted to protect.”

Part of Bell recognized the truth behind her words, as he had with Gehrman. The Little Girl had said her father had become a Hunter once more to protect her. The same was true for her grandfather no doubt, yet he’d tried to kill her all the same.

“Even so, I still took that child’s family away from her tonight,” Bell admitted in a hoarse voice as he stared down at his hands. They were dirty, meshed with grave soil, sweat, and blood. “I can’t forgive myself for that.”

“And that’s why you should keep your hands clean from now on and leave the hunting of hunters to me,” Eileen said firmly. “Beasts who’ve devoured the men and women from the inside out are nothing more than that. Hunters that go blood-craving mad are only a step away. What I do is not out of malice, but to stop folks like you from tearing yourselves apart over the necessity of it.”

Is that really better? Bell had to wonder to himself. The killing would still be happening. Parents and children separated by the morning’s light as those who went out to hunt instead became the hunted. The only difference was that he’d be turning his back on it and pretending that his hands weren’t the ones stained in blood.

But… what else could he do?

“Head back to the Dream,” Eileen said after she sighed wearily, looking past the slouching statue that towered over them and towards the Oedon Chapel. The Little Girl was in there no doubt, weeping over her losses tonight. “You’re in no condition to talk with the girl, and you’ll only rattle yourself further. Take a rest and spend some time getting your feet back on the ground.”

Bell didn’t contest it. The Little Girl would be safe in the chapel, at least for a little while. Long enough for him to get away from the blood and beasts. Long enough for him to go back to Hestia. To that end he closed his eyes as tears stung the corners and let the Little Ones embrace him…

Then the calm serenity that haunted the garden of gravestones washed over Bell.

Refreshingly clean air lathed his lungs with every inhalation. The dirt and grime and sweat and blood of Yharnam no longer blanketed him. It felt like he was being scrubbed clean both inside and out as he was pulled between here and there.

Breathing deep the scent that the luminous blossoms in the field nearby seemed to give off, Bell opened his eyes to see that he was one more in the tranquil, yet somber haven that seemed to be a world of its own. He supposed it was similar to what the Oedon Chapel was meant to be for other hunters—a place to escape the Hunt. At least for a short time.

“Welcome back, Good Hunter,” the Doll greeted him once more. Her serene, yet inhuman demeanor was a comfort after the throngs of beastmen with snarling visages Bell had faced tonight. Yet the uncanniness of it denied him something vital that he desperately needed at the moment.

“Has that gravestone appeared again?” Bell asked, hopeful yet wary. “The one that leads back to Orario?”

“Yes,” she answered, gesturing with her porcelain hand towards the direction of the misty flower field and the great tree. “Will you be taking another respite?”

If Bell had any say in things it’d be a permanent respite from this nightmare. He hadn’t planned on coming back in the first place. But the Silverback had taken him by surprise and his weapon had been broken before his body.

Now that I think about it, I do need a weapon more suitable for that thing, Bell thought to himself as he looked down at his hands. Echoes still reverberated deep within him. The memories and life of two hunters among them. As shameful as it was to use it for his own ends, he needed their strength now more than ever.

Going over to the fountain where he’d left the badges taken earlier, he peered into the depths of the crystalline waters and found several of them beneath the surface this time. But he only had eyes for the hammer with the hilt of a sword. He reached down into the fountain once more and felt his arm sink into the depths as the echoes within him formed a bridge until he wrapped his fingers around the handle and pulled.

The hammer came out without any problems at first. Despite its size, the water only rippled as it was pulled free, with even the massive head slipping out of the imaginary depths. Neither his arm nor the steel that the stone was actually made of were wet, leading Bell to presume that the water actually acted as some sort of portal.

It was only once the weapon had fully breached into the same plane of existence did it suddenly become heavy. As befitting of such a massive implement, Bell found himself struggling to swing it around with any measure of success. After merely two test swings he had to let the head hit the ground with a dull thump as he rubbed his arms.

“Even for those who partake in blood, the Kirkhammer has always been a rather unwieldy weapon.” Bell’s head twisted towards the top of the stairs at that and found Gherman looking down at him from his perch, aged eyes taking his measure. “I would suggest allowing the Doll to strengthen your muscles, raise your stamina, and draw from the skill of the echoes you have to spare. She’s seen enough use to do so efficiently for you, given you’re unfamiliar with such arms.”

Bell’s gaze turned to see that the Plain Doll had already take her place by his side, patiently waiting for him to allow her to fulfill her purpose. The ethereal echoes within him stirred and began to thread his muscles once more for the sake of granting him greater strength as the euphoric feeling spread over him. The moment she released her grasp and took a few steps back, Bell took up the hammer again and swung it from shoulder to hip with both hands thrice before rearing back to deliver a harder blow onto the ground that sent tremors through his legs.

“It’s somewhat easier to use,” he admitted as he let out a breath and set it back down with the hilt sticking up. He couldn’t swing the thing around a lot, and personally he didn’t think it suited him. But he could use it back home against the Silverback and that was enough for now. “Still, against something fast I don’t think I’d be able to hit them with it.”

Gherman nodded in agreement. “As the Hunter of the Church began to run afoul of larger beasts, they resorted to larger arms rather than refining their skill. But that limitation was evident from the start. Hence why I would suggest pressing the latch you’d find between the grip and the guard to deal with more nimble prey.”

Latch? He looked down at the hilt and traced the design with his fingers up to where he found a rounded section. As soon as he put some pressure into it he felt it shift, just a slight amount. Catching onto the gimmick, he then put all the strength he could into squeezing it and heard a mechanical click.

Then he took the hilt into his hand and pulled the sword from the stone.

Holding it up, the light of the moon gleamed off the silver of the blade. It revealed the elaborate intricacies and flourishes on the guard. Compared to the other weapons he’d seen in his time as a Hunter, there was a marked difference in the design.

He swung it around a few times to test it. The blade much lighter and faster to use, though how much of that was due to his increased strength wasn’t something he could be sure. And while he hadn’t used a sword before he felt somewhat more proficient with it than he suspected he would be otherwise—though nowhere near good enough to be remotely confused with a swordsman.

This should be enough, Bell thought to himself as he sheathed the sword and hefted the Kirkhammer over his shoulder. It didn’t really hinder him while moving, another boon from the echoes it seemed. He also felt like he could fight a touch longer as well without getting as exhausted,

With this he was certain he would prevail, so redonned his Hunter’s Grab once more. They been mended by whatever magic permeated the Dream while the armor that he’d worn remained rather battered but would still serve. Last he moved to reclaim Syr’s purse only for his gaze to settle on the Tiny Music Box. The weight in his chest sunk into his stomach as he left it behind.

Now that he was ready for battle once more, he bid the two residents of the Dream goodbye. Then he made off to the phantasmal gravestone that led him back to Orario. He’d kill the Silverback and return to his Goddess’ side to confess his sins.

Perhaps she could forgive him for what he’d done.

Because he wouldn’t forgive himself.

[R-M]

GRRAAHHH!!!

The roar of the Silverback was the first sensation that Bell was exposed to as he reappeared within the plaza of winding labyrinth of buildings that made up Daedalus Street. The simian monster that towered over him was as it was before his death, thick and powerful limbs wrapped in unmarred white fur. It bared its teeth as it glared down at him from behind the visor placed over its head and then exploded into motion.

But this time Bell expected it as he unslung the Kirkhammer from its perch on his shoulder and reared back. It may have looked as if he was readying to take a massive, overhead swing but he shifted his grip so that his fingers were pressing on the latch keeping the sword sheathed. Then he swung it with a roar of his own as he squeezed down and the lock keeping it tethered was undone. “RAAHHHH!!”

The momentum sent the head of the hammer rocketing towards the Silverback, which had been so devoted to its frantic gait that it couldn’t dodge it entirely. The hammer caught it between the shoulder and chest with an audible pop before being thrown askew on the impact. It went sailing behind the Silverback, which staggered back into the center of the plaza while clutching its shoulder.

The black coat billowed as Bell rushed in with his silver sword in a two-handed grip. He’d learned the last time it’d killed him that fighting defensively would drag things out, until he made a mistake or risked getting others involved. Since he already had the measure of his opponent, he would be aggressive and finish things as quickly as possible.

Seeing the silver blade and the Adventurer rushing towards it, the Silverback drew back its uninjured left arm and slammed it down in an attempt to turn him into a smear on the ground. The stone fractured as it broke beneath the force of the earth-shaking blow, stone-dust obscuring his figure from view until he jumped from within the dusty veil and swung towards the monster’s head. The silver steel scraped against the metal visor as the primate moved its head and reflexively avoided it.

Bell fell into a roll the moment his feet touched back down on the ground, narrowly avoiding the swing he’d expected after the last time. The chain affixed to the manacle rattled as it threw up stone fragments upon smashing the ground where he’d been. Coming out of the roll, he spun on the soles of his feet as he spotted the monstrous gorilla bringing its other fist around to slam into him and then rocketed at an angle while he swung with all his might.

The blade buckled in his grasp, nearly jostling out of his grip from the momentum as he narrowly avoided the metal knuckles. But in exchange he’d traced a path along the top of its thick, powerful arm. The white fur that had been unblemished before was steadily being dyed crimson as ichor flowed from the wound, and the Silverback howled from the red, hot sensation of corded muscle being split in twain.

“I’m not done yet!” Bell rushed towards its unprotected flank as the beast naturally recoiled from the pain. He had just enough time to get in a quick swing, so he pushed his left-hand inwards to angle the blade before he used his right to swing it back around as he went past it. The bloodstained silver managed to part only a sliver of flesh between its arm and waist, leaving a streamlet running down. It was the best he could do and still throw himself into a handspring to get out of range before the Silverback rolled over in an attempt crush him with its massive frame.

Coming out of the exchange with his heart racing and blood pounding at his ears, Bell quickly turned to see the Silverback rip the visor affixed to its face off and throw the thing with the force of a cannonball. Too late to dodge, he tried to block it and the sound of metal scraping metal rang out with a bloom of sparks as it broke through his guard. The sheer might of the blow knocked Bell for a loop, sending him tumbling backwards and leaving his battered armor and leather coat to scrape against the loose stone until he came to a stop.

Releasing a shuddering breath and strained groan, Bell stood back up as the clatter of steel rang out at feet. One of his leg guards had come off, strap torn from the impact against the ground. His Hunter Garb’s were torn into as well, covered in stone-dust with bits of it meshed into a slurry from mixing with the blood splashed around from the beasts’ injured arm. But he was still standing and still armed, unlike the last time—he could keep fighting.

GRRGAAHHHHH!” The Silverback roared with unbridled fury at him, slamming its massive fists into the ground before beating at its chestplate hard enough to dent the steel. It sought blood for blood.

Bell swept the blade so that the monster’s ichor spattered over the ground. The world had shrunken down, everything drowned out by the beating of his heart. He held the longsword at the ready as he locked gazes with the monster.

Then both hunter and beast charged with intent to kill.

[R-M]

Syr struggled to get through the crowd that was forming at the entrances to the Plaza of Daedalus Street. At first it was idle curiosity that drew her towards it along the way back from the orphanage. Then she heard the roar and a shout went out that apparently a monster and adventurer were fighting it out in the plaza.

Daedalus Street was a destitute neighborhood. Constructed into a winding maze that was inconvenient to navigate unless you were intimately familiar with it, there were few reasons to visit unless you had business there. And, situated far away from the Main Streets where vendors would sell their wares at prices more suitable for those with heavy coin purses to wide-eyed visitors, the people there lived more difficult lives.

Many of them would have loved to visit the Monsterphilia that was being undertaken at the coliseum, but the price was more than they could afford. After all, if they were living here then they were barely scraping by as it was. So, the fact that something akin to it was happening naturally drew the eyes of the people there.

Not enough to get in harm’s way, of course. They wouldn’t risk the monster coming after them or helping the adventurer in question if he was in danger. Especially not when the people here didn’t have the luxury of being adventurers themselves. Leaving aside that there were people who came from all over to Orario for the sake of being in a Familia meant most were filled to capacity, the risk of being injured and losing the little coin they could work for would be stripped away.

But they were curious enough to look from safer places that were just out of view. Peering around of the shadows and corners, peeking over the sills of the windows of their homes, onlookers kept their tongues from wagging as they watched. Even Syr wasn’t an exception when she finally arrived and recognized the adventurer in question.

When Bell had caught her eyes, he seemed like a somewhat meek and young boy. The fact that he was an adventurer wasn’t much of a shock. Even though she herself wasn’t an adventurer, in this city even the smallest child could be stronger than a grown man. That was why so many flocked to Orario in the first place—for the power or the glory.

Now he was wearing a stained, black leather coat that had been covered in dirt and dust and bloody grime, scraped and torn apart. Half-missing armor that had seen many battles judging from the cuts and tears in it could be spotted through the tears from where she stood, a part of it broken off near his foot. And in his grasp was a sword, leveled in front of him as he stared down a monster that was more than twice his height and at least several hundred times his weight.

GGGRRRRRAGGGGHHH!!

The moment the Silverback roared so loudly that she could feel the soundwaves rattling her bones and charged Bell down, vision of the boy being flattened into the ground played out in her mind. Death wasn’t unexpected for adventurers. Several of the patrons at the Hostess of Fertility had often left out with promises to return only to never grace their doors again. Even so, she felt herself about to shout for him to run despite knowing it wouldn’t make a difference. “Be—”

But then black boots pushed off the ground. The tail of the coat he’d donned billowed as Bell charged forward. The bloodstained silver sword in his grasp caught the light as he courted death itself in a display that she could hardly keep track of.

Someone had armed the monster with metal knuckles of all things. The heavy steel was joined to manacles that had torn chains at the ends. She didn’t know if it was trained intentionally or not, but upon seeing Bell charge it reeled one arm back before sweeping out with the chains like a whip to lash at him.

He parried it with the sword, a bloom of sparks cascading over his face fixed in a half-strained expression while he angled the blade. The length of the chain scraped against the steel on its way past him, before the tip snapped as it hit the ground and tore out a chunk while Bell leapt forward and swung for its body. A silver streak followed by a crimson tail tore through its side, ripping through the white fur and adding to the color that was staining it already from previous close calls.

Bristling from pain, the monster spun around with its arms extended. Bell managed to dart back from the massive fists, but the chains lengthened its reach and he was forced to put the sword between himself and the length. The end snapped as it battered the silver steel and knocked him off balance, sending him staggering back as the Silverback jumped forward with a metal-knuckled fist chambered.

Syr winced as he brought the flat of the sword in front of himself to intercept it and the ear-ringing sound of metal hitting metal was followed by his smaller body being sent skirting back until he hit the fountain. He then darted out of the way as the monster leapt, crashing into the fountain and sending a spray of water and rubble over the battlefield before coming to a stop as something that looked akin to stone hammer appeared out of the ground next to him like magic.

The boy then slammed the blade into the handle, wrapped both hands around the grip, and threw himself back towards the Silverback as it did the same to him with a metal-backed fist chambered. Both swung for one another with the intention of killing one another, and Syr’s expectations were decidedly in the monster’s favor. Even though she knew that the Falna was the great equalizer when it came to men and monsters, the rational part of her mind expected he would meet his end here.

Yet, the white-haired adventurer won out the moment they clashed. The metal knuckle shattered with an audible crunch and she watched as the bones and flesh behind them crumpled as blood stained the head of the hammer. The Silverback cried out with a bestial shout as it pulled back its mashed appendage and the pain eclipsed all of its other senses. “GRRAHHHHAHGH?!!?

Bell ignored it as he spun on his heel and stepped forward, swinging the hammer around once more. This time it found the monster’s knee and there was a sickening crunch as bone shattered like glasswork under the pressure, jagged bits piercing through the sack of reddening fur as the limb was knocked out from beneath the simian and left it prone. Then he chambered the hammer and prepared to crush its skull with an overhead swing in a gruesome execution.

Perhaps sensing the impending death, the Silverback lashed out a final time. It still had one good arm and good leg. It flailed its massive fist towards him, swinging with enough force to break stone as it backhanded him and managed to stagger him before he could execute it. Then it pushed off the ground with its remaining leg and lunged, hand outstretched to grab him between its stout fingers and wring the life out of him—

CRUNCH!!

—and made no difference as Bell pivoted off to the side, twisting on his heel as he swung the hammer around in a downwards arch. It connected with another crunch that sent a shiver down her spine. And the offending limb was now nothing more than flattened, pulped meat that seeped into the cratered and broken earth.

RRRHAHHHGHHGHGH!!!!” The Silverback raged in a desperate fury, trying to pull back its arm that was trapped beneath the weight of the hammer. Eventually it managed to wrench out a blooded stump with bits of white bone mixed into the mesh of vivid color that painted the fur clinging to what was left of its forearm.

The sight of it only served to send the monster into its death throes as it writhed around in pain, rolling and beating its stump against the ground. Its remaining leg tried to pick it up but failed, collapsing and unable to sustain its own weight. All it did was open up the wounds it had sustained further, letting blood escape and spatter out with every motion to paint the plaza further than the expanding boundary of the growing pool beneath it.

It was hard to look at. Not just for Syr. But for Bell as well, who she noticed had an almost shameful look on his face as he looked away. But then he closed his eyes and reached down for the point where his hilt and hammer met. The sword came out with a quick pull and a moment later he jumped onto the flailing monster’s back and drove the sword into its chest.

The pained sounds that filled the air were instead replaced with a deathly silence. The Silverback went still as its body slumped down with its final breath. Then it crumbled to dust and all traces of its massive corpse vanished as Bell’s blade was wedged between two halves of the magic stone.

He had won.

The cheering started about then now that the danger passed. The violence of the battle hadn’t been a deterrent for the people who lived there. It had been a thing of beauty for those who were unfamiliar with the depths of the dungeon and the dangers beyond a passing note, a clash where a monster and man fought tooth and nail against one another.

But there were no traces of happiness on Bell’s face as the crowd cheered at his performance. He simply averted his eyes from the crowd as he grabbed his weapon and then ran off down an alleyway. It seemed like he wanted to get away from it all—away from the crowd, and away from the moment itself. But that would be impossible given how quickly the rumor mill spread around here.

I suppose I could give him a little help in getting away, Syr decided upon realizing he’d be hounded all along the way the Main Street at this rate. She knew the streets well enough that she could intercept him, given that he didn’t know where he was going. And helping him slip away somewhere quiet until things died down later in the day was the least she could do after watching him make that expression…


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 16 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 16: Tragedy of a Little Girl

That wasn’t him,” Bell muttered to himself, breath coming out hot and heavy as he stared down at the corpse of Gascoigne where it laid. A great flow was rushing into his body, slipping into the void that shouldn’t be there. Blood echoes of the fallen. He repeated himself to stay sane. “That wasn’t Mister Gascoigne.”

That was right. He didn’t kill the father of the little girl who requested that he return the music box to her parents. He killed the thing that devoured the man from the inside out and wore his skin as he slaughtered the other hunters that were once here. He wasn’t the one who made her an orphan like he was after his Grandfather died…

The clamoring of the Little Ones was followed by a soft, pale glow washing over the darkened portion of the graveyard. There, where the oil lantern had been blown out, was a brand-new ethereal lamp. Just like when he’d killed the Cleric Beast. Did that mean he could go back now?

It was tempting. Even with the Silverback waiting for him, the thought of returning to his own world and getting back to his Goddess’ side was tempting enough that he reached out for the lamp without thinking until he saw the flames dancing within it. For the comfort her presence brought it would be worth the danger…

Except what would he tell her when he returned if he left that little girl waiting for her parents?

That thought made Bell retract his hand. Now that her father was gone, she only had her mother left in the world. He didn’t want to deny her even that and curse her with the agony of being alone.

So he turned his attention back to the corpse. The key that hung around its neck like a collar was likely the one to open the gate. He didn’t spot the little girl’s mother on his way here, meaning that she was likely on the other side of those gates. Hopefully safe inside the sanctity of hallowed grounds.

Bell’s boots made a wet, squelching noise as the stepped into the growing pool of blood that mixed with the grave soil and broken bits of cobblestone. He cut the rope and pulled the key free before shoving it into his pocket. Then he retrieved his hat and Hunter’s Saw, leaving the Messengers to take Gascoigne’s Axe.

Gherman mentioned that it was natural that the tools of the fallen be put to use. But he would see about having it cleaned up and repaired before anything else. Whether he decided to use it or hand it back to the girl’s mother, leaving it as it was would be an insult to the fallen hunter.

That done, he began his ascension of the stairs that ran along the side of the graveyard until he reached the top, past another row of chained coffins perched against the wall. The gates stood before him, broad and a little over twice his height. He was about to open it up with the key he’d taken when Bell spotted a gleaming patch of blood off to the side.

It could have passed as any other bloodstain. It was an unremarkable sight in this place, as he had the misfortune of learning. Some of the streets he had crossed were literally bathed in blood that refused to properly dry and seemed to quiver on occasion, despite the lack of wind. Under normal circumstances he would have continued on without a second glance—

Viola… forgive… me…

—but when he recalled the animal noise that could pass as speech in the Beast’s final moments, and the way it motioned towards the building that it led to in that direction, he felt a stirring in the very echoes he taken into himself. A rippling tinged with the bitter taste of regret. Unable to ignore it, Bell swallowed a lump in his throat and slowly walked down the side path.

The bloodstain was in fact a trail, one that was hard to notice with the oil lantern between the gate and the one that he could spot distantly at the end having been blown out. The space between each few steps had been marked by a small patter of the rich crimson that flowed like wine so easily within the city. He slowly followed the trail until he reached the last oil lantern where the small spatter had abruptly become a puddle of crimson pooled in a divot, where the stonework had been uprooted and a section of the fence meant to prevent any misfortunate tumbling down into the graveyard was conspicuously missing.

Bell found his heart beating heavily in his chest as he neared the edge. A single step would allow him to peer over to the rooftop of the building that had been fostered off to the side of the graveyard. Gathering his courage, he took the leap off the edge and landed onto the tiled roof.

And what was his reward for doing so?

It was to be greeted with the answer that he feared the most. A woman’s corpse laid pale and sprawled near the edge of the rooftop, her eyes that were already clouded over were fixed in the direction of where the Beast’s corpse laid. The color and warmth of her skin dyed the rooftop a vibrant shade that gleamed off the light of the oil lantern above.

“…please no…” he whimpered as he stepped over to the corpse, hoping for the absence of the only thing that would mark the woman as more than an unfortunate stranger. But that hope was crushed the moment he spotted the big, red jeweled brooch that hung off her chest. He reached down to pick it up and found an engraved name on the back: Viola.

Bell clutched the woman’s brooch to his chest as stinging heat prickled behind his eyes. Was it by the Beast’s hand that she laid dead? Or was it her death that ultimately served to let Gascoigne be devoured by the inside out by the creature?

He didn’t know. But what he did know was that he had to tell the child that her mother was dead, so he slipped the brooch into his pocket. Yet, when he prepared to hop down from the roof and return the way he came, he found that his legs refused to work.

Bell knew he had to tell the girl that her parents were gone. But the thought of explaining that the two people she loved the most in the world would no longer be there to greet her when the dawn came… the thought of seeing her face as he presented the brooch and explained where he found it… they became invisible fetters of fear that stopped him from going back.

It was wrong. Everything in his body was telling him to go back to that child when he thought of the loneliness that the she was experiencing. The uncertainty that gnawed away at her on the inside to the extent that she entrusted a precious gift to a stranger in the hopes delivering to her parents. But when he thought about telling her of their fate and his role in how it played out, he just…

He just couldn’t help but run in the hopes of losing himself for a moment.

Since his legs refused to carry him one way, Bell let them carry him through the gates of Oedon Chapel without looking back. He fled through the flooded basement and up the metal ladder until he emerged in what looked to be a reading room of some kind. Shelves of books ran along the sides of the room, with papers and the odd stacks to be found scattered about in a disheveled manner, while strange devices were on the tables were largely covered in dust.

He went past all of it and ran up the winding stairs at a frantic pace until his foot caught a rung near the top. He tripped and was sent barreling through the double doors that were nestled at the end. And what greeted him after the loud, riotous creak of the doors?

It was a grand hall bathed in fading light of the evening sun that had yet to be wrung out by the stark and uncaring moon, padding out the feeble candlelight within the vast structure of stone and steel. Dusty, decorative cloths hung from the pooled shadows that blotted out the ceiling, with dozens of statues reaching towards them or praying as they gazed towards the sky. And woven between those were a wafting, grey veil that was so pungent and rich that it clawed at Bell’s nose and throat on its way down to his racing lungs, forcing out a heavy cough.

“That was—” Bell jumped at the voice that was right across from him, pushing off the ground and clumsily reaching for his pistol while his heart pounded in his chest. It was already half-raised by the time he set his eyes on the source. “—quite a scare.”

It was… a man, Bell believed. Not a beast. He was covered in dirt and dust-crusted rags of deep red, pooling deeply around his thin and emaciated frame. His fingers were uncannily long and tipped with blackened nails that held a pebble, while his skin was gaunt, greyish, and sallow.

“For a second, I thought a beast had barreled in despite the incense. Worried me a good bit, it did,” he continued, rolling the pebble in his palm nervously. “The incense burns so thick that it masked your scent, but I can smell traces of moonscent now.”

He’s blind, Bell realized. At least to some degree, given his eyes were milky to the point the pupils couldn’t even be seen. Though, given how many things Bell had seen running around with little problem even though they were blindfolded or missing their eyes, it probably didn’t make him less capable. Someone had to light all the candles here. “…Do you… live here?”

“You could say that,” the…Dweller, he assumed the man to be, answered. “This here Oedon Chapel has been forgotten by most, but some of the hunters use it to get ready for the Hunt. Everyone else is all locked up inside and waiting for it to end, so they’d come here when they needed to get away from the stench of blood and snarl of beasts.”

The scent of the incense was quite thick, as he mentioned. And the atmosphere was quiet. If a pinch of incense in a lantern could ward away beasts, then this much would be a bane to any blood-addled thing looking for prey.

Bell lowered the pistol. Though he would admit the man’s appearance was somewhat startling, it was honestly not the strangest thing he’d seen in the last few hours. Especially not when he’d seen the rotting corpses in the canals that still moved at the presence of fresh blood. “I’m sorry for barging in.”

“No worries here about that,” the man said. “Since I heard the side door open, I take it you’re a new member of Gascoigne’s hunters?”

Bell’s throat went tight. “You… knew Mister Gascoigne?”

The emaciated man nodded. “His family’s been good to me. His wife is an especially kind one. She’d often bring me something to eat on her way back to her home and say a prayer for the hunt to be a safe one. Haven’t heard her come by as usual though. Did you see her on the way in?”

The words twisted in his chest like a knife to his chest. This man knew them all. He was waiting for them to come and they wouldn’t. “…dead…”

“Pardon?”

“They’re all dead,” Bell repeated, his voice cracking. “I was… was sent find Mister Gascoigne and Miss Viola by their daughter. She was worried about them and her incense were running low. So she asked me to find them, but when I went to the Graveyard… I found the hunters dead.”

O…Oh…” The man’s voice became labored, its pitch a notch higher as if he was straining to breathe. “That can’t be. All of them dead? How?”

“It was… it was a Beast,” Bell told him, if only so that he could continue speaking. Gascoigne had died even before Bell had killed the monster wearing his body, so it may as well have been the truth. Or so the young hunter thought to himself as he took a staggered breath before he continued. “A big one. Took them to pieces. I found the key after I killed it.”

The man lowered his head to the ground, brought his hands together and mumbled under his breath before looking towards Bell with his blank eyes. “And what of his wife? Tell me she made it.”

Bell shook his head before he pulled out the brooch and stared down at it. The name on it said it all. “She didn’t.”

“Even her…” The man’s breathing was shaken as he took in the information and began to mourn the deaths. “All of them… savaged by a beast. Gods, why?

“I don’t know what I supposed to tell their daughter,” Bell confessed, unable to stomach listening to the man cry without tears coming out his own eyes. “She’s alone and scared, waiting for them to come back. But they won’t.”

The Chapel Dweller drew in a breath and collected himself before he asked, “Di…Did you by chance come across Henryk’s body?”

“I don’t know who that is,” Bell said, wiping at his eyes. “I’d need to know what they looked like before I could say.”

“I… I don’t see much these days, but I heard that he wears an old, yellow hunter’s outfit,” the man explained. “It had a scent about it, though I can’t put it into proper words. His daughter, Viola, always said that no matter how often she washed it, it always stuck. Something about it being from a run in with a beast that gives off blue sparks.”

“I didn’t see anyone in that sort of outfit,” Bell said as he recalled the visceral scene he’d stumbled onto. The dead hunters, taken to pieces by the time he had arrived. Not one of them had worn such an outfit. None of the bodies he’d ran across so far had. “But if he’s the father of Viola, then… he’d be that little girl’s grandfather?”

The Chapel Dweller nodded his head, the rags covering him shifting with a sluggish flow. “The old man don’t like me much, but I can’t imagine from how the others spoke when they came in after a hunt that he’d have gone down without a fight. It’s possible he was running late and didn’t make it in time.”

Bell felt his heart stir with a fleeting hope. The little girl still had family then. If her grandfather was still around, then she wouldn’t be alone in the world. They still had each other, even after losing the other two. It would be hard, but…

“Kind hunter,” the Chapel Dweller called as hope began to flicker in Bell’s chest. “Could you bring her here? The little girl?”

“You want me to bring her here?”

“That’s right,” he said. “This night looks to be a long one and I bet it won’t end nicely. The least I can do for her folks is give her a safe place to wait out the Hunt until it ends. This here Oedon Chapel can be a safe haven for anyone who needs it tonight, so long as they have their wits about them.”

Bell sniffled as he considered the man’s proposition. She needed someplace safe to stay with her incense running low and asking someone else to give theirs up would be sentencing them to death. Though the pungent scent was almost rugged as it caressed his lungs inside and out, it would keep any beasts at bay.

More to the point, there was a faint sense of familiarity here that reminded Bell of the church that he and Hestia stayed at. Both forgotten little places of worship that was provided an escape from the trials and tribulations outside their walls. The warmth of the hearth and home was here, even if it lacked the presence of his Goddess.

“I’ll bring her,” Bell decided. “And if I find anyone else, I’ll bring them here too.”

“Oh, bless you, kind hunter.” There was notable elation in the man’s voice as he clasped his hands together and raised them towards Bell. “I know it’s asking quite a bit of you and I can’t offer much aid, but I think the other hunters have some sort of tool that you can use stored away in the trunk down the stairs. Take it with you if it’ll ease your troubles.”

[R-M]

Bell made his way back to the where the child’s home was and found the window still illuminated by the dull glow within it, casting the silhouette of the small figure on the inside. She was still there, waiting for the good news. Waiting for her parents to return.

He felt the urge to turn away before he came into her line of view. But it was his responsibility to see her to safety, and that meant he had to tell her the truth. So Bell presented himself to her, standing at the waist-high gate that served as a boundary between them along with barred window that was raised just enough for her voice to come through clearly.

“Mister Hunter, you’re back,” she said. “Did you find my mum?”

He took a deep breath as a lump formed in his throat, threatening to choke him with his own guilt. But he promised to get her to safety, which meant he had no other choice. Bell forced the lump in his throat down as he took out the brooch. “This is hers, right?”

Tiny hands reached out through the opening and gently grasped the brooch like the precious thing it was. She clearly recognized it, even before she turned to where the inscription was, as if she’d seen it countless times. “Where did you find it?”

Bell… lied again. He told that he went to the graveyard to see a Beast had finished killing several others, with her mother was among them. Her father’s axe was the only thing of his that he found next to a pool of blood with the key, giving the impression that he’d been devoured utterly.

He lowered his head once he finished reciting the lie and said, “I’m so sorry.”

A choking, heavy sob came from the other side of the window. The Little Girl’s mother and father were no longer among the living. In a meek, mournful voice she cried out, “Mummy… daddy… don’t leave me alone…

Bell listened to her mourning for the mother and father that she lost, and pain stung at his eyes as he recalled the death of his own grandfather. His absence was felt with every moment Bell spent in their home alone afterwards. The memories of his grandpa reading him stories about heroes and holding his hand as they walked along the path to and from the farm now being all he had left.

Losing someone during the Hunt was probably a tale that was commonplace in this city where coffins lined the streets and blood painted the stones. But it didn’t ease the weight on Bell’s shoulders as he slouched with his back against the gate and looked down at his gloved hands that still had blood on them. These very same hands had been the ones to cut down whatever was left of her father, and now he was supposed to extend them to her in order to take her to the chapel?

“…Mister Hunter…” Bell looked over his shoulders to see that the child had lifted the window, revealing her appearance. She was such a small figure, perhaps half his height but with blonde hair that came down to her neck in waves. Her nightgown matched the white ribbon in her hair, tied in a bow. “Is… is it my fault Mummy and Daddy are dead?”

“Why do you think it’s your fault?” he asked.

“I still remember when one night I was scared by the scream of a beast,” she began. “Mummy told me it would be okay because it couldn’t get us inside while the incense was burning, and the Church would send hunters to make it go away. But it kept howling and prowling, and I was so scared.”

He could see the guilt wringing the tears out of her eyes for the sin of being scared of the Hunt. But to him it seemed only natural that she’d be terrified. He was terrified of the Hunt, and he was expected to go through the entire thing when he literally wasn’t allowed to die.

“Daddy… he-he grabbed his axe and said that it’d be quiet soon,” she continued. “Mummy begged him not to and said that he left the Church because he promised he’d be there for us. But he said he had to go because the Church wasn’t how it used to be. Then he left out and Mummy covered my ears until it was over. After that night, Daddy started going out more often with other men from the neighborhood, and Mummy would go with him and the music box.”

Seeing his daughter scared and frightened drove Gascoigne to take part in the Hunt. He wanted to make it so that she could sleep easier and, since the Church wasn’t doing that, he decided to take it into his own hands. Bell couldn’t say much about how the Church’s hunters operated since he hadn’t met any, but they certainly didn’t come out to help when he’d fought the Cleric Beast outside of the gates to their ward. Weren’t they supposed to be protecting these people?

“If… if I hadn’t been scared, then none of this would have happened.” The words came out ragged as she began to cry again.  “Mummy… Daddy…

“It’s not your fault,” Bell told her softly. “I think they wanted what was best for you, so they did what they could. I doubt they regretted that.”

His words offered little comfort as she continued to cry. But they were the best he could give her at the moment as he stared towards the moon that was rising now that the evening light was fading into a stark, cold luminescence. The scent of incense around her home was almost thin to the point of being absent too. If the Hunt would only get worse as the night dragged on, he had to hurry and get her somewhere safe.

“I’ll take you to Oedon Chapel,” he declared. “The Chapel Dweller said it was a safe place to wait out the Hunt, and it’s filled with incense to keep the Beasts away. Your grandfather will be there soon too, so you won’t be alone.”

“You… you don’t have to,” she said between cries. “I can make it on my own. You… you’ve got to finish the Hunt, don’t you?”

“I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t get you there myself,” he told her, rising to his full height. “It’s still dangerous out here, and I owe it to your parents to see you there safely.”

She wiped at the tears on her face as she stared at him for a long moment. It was then he realized that even though he tried to appear as nonthreatening as possible, no doubt the Hunter’s Garb covered in the blood, dust, and graveyard dirt gave off a bad impression. At the very least it served to make her hesitate at his offer.

Bell took off the coat, gloves, and hat to reveal himself. The armor he’d worn was slightly battered from the battles he’d fought since arriving and donning it to brave the streets. But it was still less ominous looking than covering himself up fully as he extended his hand towards her. “Please, let me do that much for you.”

She slowly nodded her head and reached out for his hand, gently laying it in his grasp through the bars. “Okay, Mister Hunter. I’ll come with you to see Granddad.”

His offer accepted, she closed the window and turned off the light before she came out of her door about two minutes after the Messengers took his discarded garments back to the Dream. Given the hurried pace she moved at, he was mildly surprised she had time to slip on clothes more suitable for venturing outside along with her mother’s brooch. Bell crouched down to allow her to climb on his back. “You might want to close your eyes. It’s not a pleasant sight along the way to the Chapel.”

“It’s okay,” she told him. “I’ve seen how it looks when Hunts end before.”

“Have the Hunts been going on long?” he asked, looking around while keeping one hand on his weapon. While he had been very thorough in making sure there was nothing that would possibly kill them along the route he took to get to the chapel, there was a chance that more beasts would show up in search of easy prey. “I’m not really from here, so I’m not really sure about the history of it or anything.”

“You mean you’re like auntie Eileen?” she asked, clinging to Bell as he began climb down the ladder at a careful pace. Her grip got tighter as she spared a glance to the giant thing that had been armed with a statue, now slouching against the wall. Its throat had been carved open. “You don’t speak the same way as her, but you both do have the same scent.”

“We came from different places,” Bell said. “The place I live in is far away and has its own monsters. I was being chased by one of them and things happened that led to me coming here.”

“Oh, you mean like the constables?”

He wasn’t familiar with the term. “The what now?”

“It’s a story Granddad would tell me about a group of men who chased a beast all the way here. He would tell me a lot of different ones when he came by—like about the League Hunters, who came from different places and became hunters to get rid of beasts.”

“My Grandpa would always tell me stories too,” Bell said. “I grew up in a village and worked on a farm with him, so he’d always tell me all sorts of stories of old heroes while I lived with him. I loved them.”

“Can you tell me one while we walk?”

He consented and began to regale her with stories of heroes as they trekked towards Oedon Chapel, his voice kept low and his senses at full alert for any sort of threat that could meet them along the way as early night settled into place. A sense of dread crept up onto him when they approached the entrance of the tomb where her parents had met their end. Finally, his footsteps came to a stop after entering the graveyard when he noticed a figure standing next to the corpse of the Beast—staring down at the remaining puddle of blood it laid in.

“That’s Granddad!” Her voice came out louder than Bell liked and drew the hunter’s attention. But the glow of the phantasmal lantern gave Bell the glimpse of his hunter outfit that consisted of a dingy, washed-out yellowish hue. Just like the Chapel Dweller said, he must’ve been late arriving and missed meeting the same fate as the others. “Granddad, it’s me!”

Bell knew how relieved she was to see family again, but he couldn’t shake the tension he felt as the man took a slow and tentative step forward. The fact that the night’s chill had left his breath visibly coming out at a quickening pace and the grip on his weapons tightened sent even more warning bells off. It was for that reason he stopped her from sliding off his back to rush over to her last family.

“Hold on, let me talk to him fir—” It happened before he could even finish the sentence. The Hunter’s Pistol was raised towards them and the tension within Bell’s body snapped at the memory of a scant hour ago when Gascoigne had done the same.

BANG!! The bark of quicksilver igniting and rocketing through the air was followed by a spray of stone dust and a child’s scream. Henryk had fired upon them with the intention of killing them.

The shot had only narrowly missed by the virtue of Bell springing into motion, ducking behind the gravestones that had already been riddled with the broken quicksilver of her father’s gun. Crouched and with little time to spare, he then dumped her from his back behind the headstone to stay safe. Then he rocketed himself out from cover and towards the old hunter, a series of shots that tore open the quiet of the night resounding until Bell got into range for him to use his other weapon.

Henryk’s Saw Cleaver came for his head with deceptive speed, a diagonal sweeping motion meant to kill. Bell narrowly managed to raise his arm and let the forearm-guards catch it at an angle, the scraping of metal and bloom of sparks accompanied by a painful jolt it was deflected over his head as he slid past Henryk. The Old Hunter naturally tried to swing wide to catch him, but Bell pivoted around and gripped his Saw Cleaver with both hands to catch the teeth of the opposite set and lock them into place.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Bell demanded, blood pumping and heart racing as he struggled keep their weapons locked together. He had turned the man’s attention away from the direction of the little girl. Now he had to keep it that way. “That was your granddaughter you just shot at!”

“RAAAHH!!” was the response Henryk gave, still human but primal in its fury. He then followed with a jerk of his arm that showed that he was far stronger than the younger hunter when it tore Bell’s weapon from his grasp and sent him stumbling back. It was immediately followed-up with the pistol being raised towards his head.

Bell hastily brought his arms up as the trigger was pulled. The impact of the quicksilver bursting against his armguards left his world shaken as his own arms smashed into his forehead, knocking him over. The backplate of his armor scraped against the pebbles and shattered bits of headstones as the momentum backwards carried him into a roll that allowed him to escape the follow-up shot as he took cover behind the statue. He drew his Hunter’s Pistol from his belt and silently beckoned the Messengers when the Little Girl stuck her head out from cover.

Bearing witness to her grandfather trying to kill Bell, the last person she could call family trying to murder the boy who’d braved the night to get her to safety, wasn’t something she could sit by and let it happen. So she called out for him in a desperate plea that only served to put her in his sights. “Granddad, stop!

Bell broke from cover to try and stop Henryk as he took aim at his own granddaughter. But before he could do anything the bark of the Old Hunter’s gun rang out. The Little Girl’s legs collapsed under her in fear as a chunk of the headstone next to her was blown apart.

He’d narrowly missed killing her. But it wasn’t through his own doing. No, the reason was because of the throwing knife that had been buried up to the hilt right into Henryk’s extended arm with pinpoint accuracy right as he’d pulled the trigger.

Snarling, Henryk whipped his head around to the side from whence it came as the raven of death descended, its wings spread wide and wicked talons that gleamed ominously in the moonlight bared. As if by instinct, he abandoned his firearm to grip his Saw Cleaver with both hands and brought it up. It was probably all that saved him as the gleaming blades going for his throat from both sides with the intention of tearing it out screeched, blooming sparks born from the scraping of metal-on-metal.

The rest of the avian’s body descended, crashing down and forcing him to the ground, before rolling off him before the retaliatory swing could tear into its flesh. Then the bundle of feathers gave way to human legs that darted towards the child. Scooping her up in a single motion, it then made for the stairs and called out, “Hold him off, boy!

Bell recognized it was Eileen’s voice and his fear-addled mind put the pieces together. She’d thrown herself into a killing plunge in an effort to end the Old Hunter in a single stroke. When that failed, she put the rest of her weight into her legs to drive him to the ground and buy enough time for her to get the child out of harm’s way.

Time that she needed more of as Henryk ripped the throwing knife out of his arm and readied to shoot her in the back with his Hunter’s Pistol.

“Stop it!” Bell aimed to disarm him, bullet smashing into the opposing firearm and sending it toppling from his reach. It grabbed the man’s attention, a roar clawing its way out of the aged throat and past the high collar. Bell barely had time to grab the handle of the weapon the Little Ones brought with them before the man was rushing him down, Saw Cleaver already swinging for him.

The smell of half-dried blood assailed his nose as Bell pulled back, strands of his moon-white hair severed as the blade came centimeters of cutting open his face. But his retreating step was cut short as Henryk’s Saw Cleaver unfurled at the end of the swing and scooped low, the sharpened hook catching the back of his lower leg. A pained scream came out of Bell’s mouth as it tore into the muscle and tendon and forced him to the ground before the tip was swung down once more to break open his skull.

A horrendous screech bellowed out as it deflected against the head of Bell’s weapon, braced by his off-hand and angled so that it wedged itself into the dirt. Then he curled his abdomen and chambered his legs to kick upwards, ignoring the burning agony in his leg from where the butcher’s weapon had torn through the fabric and leather of his boots and pants. The sudden attempt at kicking in the older man’s face came up short but served its purpose as Henryk put three steps between them.

Bell got onto his knees, holding his weapon out in defense with one hand while the other plunged a syringe-loaded Blood Vial into his thigh to patch up the wounded leg as Henryk just stared for a moment. Not at Bell, but the weapon in his hand. It was Gascoigne’s axe.

Given that the two were partners for so long, Bell hoped that drawing it would at least drudge of some part of the man’s rationale. That it would allow the man to come back from the same insanity he’d seen too many times wandering the streets. So that he didn’t have to rob that child of her last remaining family as well.

“Please… Don’t make me do this” Bell begged the man as he stood up. Her father was gone. Her mother was gone. Her grandfather was the only family she had left. “Your granddaughter needs you. Don’t leave her all alone.”

For a moment, the young hunter thought he saw the Saw Cleaver waver. For a moment, he thought he saw the aged eyes of a man on the verge of tears behind the hat and collar. For a moment, he had hope that for once things would end well tonight—

RAHHHHHH!!!

—but then Henryk roared at the top of his lungs in a manner that reminded Bell all too much of Gascoigne moments before his transformation. Casting aside any hopes of reclaiming his sanity, he charged Bell down with renewed vigor and the butcher’s weapon unfurled.

Bell braced the axe for impact, but the swings that followed were vicious enough to drive him back against the sloughing base of the leaning statue. And when he tried to swing the axe in retaliation to force him back, Henryk dodged the attempt and followed up with a short slash in the wake of his own that was aimed straight for the throat. It was a killing stroke, the crescent of the cleaver positioned to where it would tear off his neck before he could bring the weapon back to mount a defense.

His own reflexes saved him as he turned into the swing, twisting his body and raising his other arm up. It spared him an instant death as the forearm guard caught the bulk of the steel, with the impact instead slamming the rigid arm into his own head hard enough that his vision flashed as it staggered him to the side. He only regained his vision in time to see the overhead swing that came down when it was too late to dodge it fully.

“AHHH!!” The sound of bone and flesh rending under the heavy steel was drowned out by a scream of pain as the Saw Cleaver tore a gash from his chest to his stomach, ripping his chest-guard off in the process by tearing it free of the straps. Bell huddled over in agony, clutching at his wound with his right arm even as his blood began to pool beneath him and the axe.

Am… am I going to die again? Bell wondered as thick, rich crimson burbled up from his throat and slipped out of mouth to join the growing puddle. If I die and return to the Dream, what will happen to the others if I don’t stop Mister Henryk here?

It was the same thing with Gascoigne. If Henryk had truly gone mad, then the man would keep slaughtering his way through Yharnam. Yet, the thought of having to personally steal what was left of someone’s family hurt more than the wounds and broken bones, even as he laid on the verge of death.

The sound of footfalls nearing drew Bell’s eyes upwards, where he spotted Henryk had come to a stop in front of him, Saw Cleaver half-raised for the killing stroke. He was staring down at the blood as if in a trance, as if there was something there that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. But whatever held his attention for that moment vanished when Bell coughed and wheezed, trying to form words and beg him to snap out of it, leaving his executioner to bring the Saw Cleaver overhead…

Then a bell-like sound rang out and Henryk let loose a pained sound as he jumped back with his arm torn open by a streak of light, dark blood pouring down it. His former place in front of Bell was now filled by a dark figure with a dagger marred by fresh blood in one hand and a Blood Vial Injector in the other. The Hunter of Hunters had arrived.

Bell wheezed. Still bleeding out. Still dying when her arm swung backwards and stabbed the injector into his exposed chest. The moment she pushed down on the back of it, fresh blood shot into him. Just enough to pull him off of death’s door as she left it wedged inside of him before pulling on the dagger.

One blade became two as she advanced on Henryk. The wicked talons that were her weapons of choice seemed to be glint ominously in the cold and stark moonlight. She kicked her rear foot off the ground and dashed forward, blades leaving an almost ethereal cross in the air as they sped towards the mad hunter’s neck.

Henryk retreated, at the same time flicking his wrist out and returning the Saw Cleaver to its shortened form as she flowed from one strike to the next faster than Bell’s eyes could track. A diagonal sweep that ran from shoulder to hip with the right hand was narrowly avoided by twisting his body thanks to battle instinct inherited from the nightly hunts of untold years. They also moved his arm and brought up the furled weapon’s teeth in time to block a wide sweep towards the throat with the left dagger.

But she continued with her deft strokes, bringing her right hand to sweep from hip to shoulder and score a gash across his chest. He reached for and threw a knife straight for her head in retaliation, but Eileen darted out of the way and pivoted before launching herself into a stabbing thrust with both of the daggers. The blades barely found purchase before he swept his arm around, tearing them out before they could break through the rib cage and rip through the vital organs.

Still it was another wound, blood flowing out and onto the grave dirt. How many more could he take before there was simply no more blood left within him to continue the fight? How long until she claimed the decisive stroke to finish him off?

Bell wasn’t sure as he fumbled for a second Blood Vial of his own. He drank a bottle of it and felt his pain diminish. It wasn’t enough to be rid of it entirely, but it was still a soothing balm that seemed to melt into him with every last drop. Coughing as he tossed the bottle aside, he tried to fix his gaze on the sounds of battle past the gravestones to see that it was almost over already.

Henryk was bleeding from several more gashes, Eileen’s feather cowl draped in his blood as she avoided his instinctive and feral swipes that were enough to shear into the headstones while striking her blades against one another to make a riotous bloom of white sparks. The light hurt Bell’s eyes and only seemed to further irritate Henryk into becoming more aggressive. He continued to chase her down, despite every motion and quickened beat of his heart pushing him an inch closer to death as he began to fight for breath.

But then the unthinkable happened. Eileen seemed to stumble on her way back, falling to a knee as she sparked her blades together once more. It was an opening, one that no desperate predator would allow to pass unexploited and a death sentence as he pounced with an overhead swing, only for Eileen to extend one dagger above her head as if to block and then swept it back.

The killing stroke that had been directed towards her skull seemed to move with the blade, as if drawn in by some invisible force. It pulled Henryk forward and off-balance, opening him up at last. She abruptly stood and pivoted while bringing her other hand around towards his neck without hesitation or mercy, bringing the conflict to a decisive end.

And leaving a young child with no one to call family again.


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 15 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 15: Father Gascoigne

Bell crouched before the entrance to the graveyard after following in the footsteps he had prior to his death.

Time spun backwards due to whatever strange magic kept him tethered to the Dream, and so the slain returned to life once more. Hence, he had to once again carve through the Maneater Boar in the sewers and those who stood in his way to get to this point. Yet, the Little Girl remembered him and the promise he made to give the Tiny Music Box back to her mother. There had to be some kind of checkpoint or condition he wasn’t aware of, but he couldn’t be bothered to think on it knowing that Gascoigne was on the other side of the entrance and waiting for him…

Without thinking, he brought his hands up to where the axe had found his neck. The sensation of the blade that had been caked in blood and fat and stone dust and dirt cutting through it had been brief. But the phantom pain lingered even now, and a tremor ran through his arm that held the reinforced Saw Cleaver.

Even now he could hear Gascoigne just beyond the corner. Pounding away at that same corpse from before. The moment Bell stepped past the threshold he would be attacked again. Overpowered. Killed.

Calm down. He pulled down the bandana and took a soft, deep breath. Then he forced his arm to stop trembling long enough to set the weapon behind his back and pulled out the Tiny Music Box instead. The Little Girl had told Bell that when he forgot his family, they used it to remind him of them.

Bell was certain that if he reminded him of his wife and child, he would return to normal. He wanted to believe that desperately. Because the only other option was to kill the man, since he was in the way.

Taking another deep breath, he gathered his courage and stepped into the graveyard. No sooner than his boots hit the ground and he spotted his Blood Echoes where his life had ended prior was Gascoigne alerted to his presence. The tall, aged hunter wheeled around and pulled out his modified pistol, firing without hesitation.

Bell darted to the side as fragments of stonework peppered his hat, tensing as he spotted the man closing in with his axe in hand. Resisting the urge to draw his weapon from his back, Bell instead tried to reason with him. “Gascoigne! Your daughter sent me!”

A snarl was the only thing that answered him as the axe came in from below. Sparks blossomed in the dark as the steel found the worn and weathered stone that was once part of a path for the living to walk without trampling over the dead resting below, carrying with the arch a spray of dirt and pebbles. They patterned down over Bell as the blade narrowly missed thanks to his rough and hasty steps to the side.

Please let this work! The young hunter flipped the lid on the Tiny Music Box as the veteran readied to charge in with his Hunter’s Axe. The cylinder within it began to spin and scrape against the comb, giving rise to a soft lullaby that played out between them and tickled the ears.

The melody took hold of Gascoigne, stalling his legs mid-step so that his murderous gait turned into a stumble. The hand that gripped his axe released the bloodied steel and came up to his head that tremored. Murmurs left his haggard lips.

“Remember who you are, Gascoigne,” Bell said, swallowing the lump in his throat. It was working. He was remembering. “You have a family. A daughter, waiting for you at home.”

Nnnghthe blood…” His head rolled, body buckling as though he was waging a war within. “The voicecalls me…”

“Fight it!” Bell begged, taking a step closer. “Your daughter is waiting for you and your wife to come back!”

Vv…vii…vii…!!” The shaking grew worse as the man’s head started jerking. His body hunched over, and pained sound clawed its way out of his clenched jaw, teeth gnashing together. “Vi…violaaahhhh!!”

All at once, Gascoigne lashed out with his arm. The axe that had been dropped was absent, but the Hunt had made the aged hunter strong. Strong enough that his flailing backhand felt like a sledge-hammer as it cracked against the side of Bell’s head.

The world flashed with pain as Bell’s vision whited for a moment. Then something hard, a gravestone, met his lower back and cost him his balance. He fell over to the ground where the impact forced the air out of him lungs. “Huhhh…

Ignoring the pulsing sting of the forming bruise, Bell heard the stomping of boots and then scrabbled to get off to the side in time to avoid the overhead swing of the axe that came down with the intent of butchering him. His Hunter’s Hat, left behind in the fall, was torn in two.

Rising to his feet, his eyes frantically began to search for the music box that had fallen from his grasp only for him start running for cover. No sooner than he’d gotten behind a monument that held the two burning oil lamps over his head and spotted it did Gascoigne open fire. Quicksilver scattershot sparked and ruptured as they bit into the stone and shattered the lamps, leaving embers, shard, and stone dust to fall onto Bell’s exposed, moon-white hair as he started to run again.

The man’s longer legs gave him a faster gait, even without whatever benefits the blood coursing through his body added to him. He was on Bell’s back in a matter of seconds and pounced while bringing the axe down. The ground ruptured in a loose cloud of grave dirt as the young hunter rolled out of the way at the last minute, right next to where the rippling phantasm of blood echoes marked his previous grave.

Bell reclaimed what he had lost, echoes once more filling the gap that had been left behind, only to suck in a sharp breath as he felt a pained sting below the waist. The axe had grazed his leg before he got out the way entirely, trousers torn and exposing pale and parted flesh with a crimson glint. Painful, but not crippling and soon to be numb from the adrenaline as Gascoigne pulled his axe free of the ground.

The young hunter now realized that he would never be able to get back to the music box and wind it up to play again without being caught and killed. So, he reached out for help through the Hunter’s Mark branded in the back of his mind. Space rippled beneath the Tiny Music Box as the Messengers arrived at his beckoning.

As the Little Ones inquisitively pondered and touched the device, Bell shouted for them to wind it up as the earthen and copper scent of the axe invaded his nose. A horizontal swing going for his head that came too close for comfort as white tufts of hair were left behind. The message carried as they gripped the handle with emaciated fingers and began to wind it up.

“Mister Gascoigne, stop!” Bell said, finally reaching behind his back and drawing his Saw Cleaver. He gripped the reinforced weapon with both hands and used the saw teeth to parry the incoming stroke of the axe, only for the bones themselves to feel the weight of the impact as the axe’s head grated against his saw with a horrendous screech of metal-on-metal.

With a strained grunt, he diverted the axe into the ground next to him hard enough to knock up the dust. Then Bell shot backwards with quick steps, intent on luring the larger man towards the music box as the Little Ones waved for him to come. He didn’t see the scattershot coming through the dirty veil until the bark of the modified pistol spat out the broken Quicksilver and he felt a sharp, piercing pain in his gut as fragments struck where his armor wasn’t present.

Ngh!” He stumbled over and fell, clutching the spot as it felt like boiling lava was coursing through where the rounds spread the taint of the quicksilver and veteran hunter’s blood inside of him. Only the fact that he could hear the stomping of boots gave him the shot of adrenaline needed to whirl around and block the crescent blade of the axe that was getting ready to carve open his head with the flat-side, braced by his forearm guard to stop it.

His good leg then came up with as much force as he could muster to kick Gascoigne in the stomach. It was like hitting a stone wall, barely enough to push him a step back. All the same, it gave Bell room to roll away from the follow-up swipe and land near the Messengers. “Play it!”

The music box played its lullaby a second time, the melody stopping Gascoigne in his tracks from unloading another round of scattershot into Bell’s crouched form. He shoved the blood vial injector into his abdomen and let the contents push out the acrid mixture while regrowing the damaged tissue and intestinal walls. Then he got back to his feet and tried to reach out to the man again.

“Your wife is somewhere out here, looking for you,” he said, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “I’ll help you find her! You can go home with her! Be together with your daughter! She’s waiting for you both!”

V-V-Viola,” he mumbled, head shuddered. “For…forgive… AaaaaaahhhhHHHHHHH!!

Gascoigne raised his pistol towards Bell for another shot, but he quick-stepped by pushing off his rear leg while his front was angled so he was offline from the shot. Then, pivoting his body on his front leg, he swung the Saw Cleaver down with the additional momentum in order to slam it into the firearm with all the strength he could muster. The barrel of the gun buckled as it was wrenched free of the older man’s grasp, rendering it useless. “Stop it! I just want to help you!”

“RAGH!” Gascoigne’s response was to backhand the young hunter with his now empty fist, hard enough that an arch of blood left his mouth as he stumbled back. Then he grabbed the neck of the axe and held it in place as he jerked the bottom, wrenching loose the telescopic handle to extend the weapon into a halberd and swinging it around.

Bell barely caught the glimmer of the dust-encrusted blade in time to bring his reinforced Saw Cleaver around to shield him from the blow. The fact that it was reinforced was probably the only reason that Bell didn’t lose his head by having the weapon shatter from the sheer force. Instead, he nearly felt his arms jerk out of their sockets as he was knocked along the path of the blade and bumped against another slouching grave.

“Wind it again!!” he urged the Little Ones while leaping behind the grave to put distance himself and the polearm as it came scything around for his head again. That last hit had made it clear that blocking wasn’t possible from how his shoulders ached. He just wasn’t strong enough, so he had to avoid instead.

Which was just as well, given Gascoigne’s attacks were coming in more aggressively. Every swing packed enough punch that it could carve a human in two with each hit. The force and speed of his halberd was enough that if he didn’t use the terrain to his advantage he would be swept up unless he fought back.

“You need to remember why you hunt!” Moving between one section of slouching and worn gravestones to another, Bell continued to try and reach the veteran hunter. “It’s for your family, isn’t it!?”

The sound of crashing stone was the only answer he received as the telescopic axe knocked over the grave in an attempt to silence the rabbit darting behind cover with every move, trying and failing to reach him. Gascoigne grew more aggressive whereas Bell grew fatigued, the former’s swings growing more violent as time progressed while the latter’s legs burned from the exertion. Soon the number of places where he could take cover dwindled until there were none left between them by the time the Little Ones finished winding the music box.

Breathing heavily, Bell’s fingers quickly found their way around the Hunter’s Pistol as Gascoigne advanced on him before he could reach the music box. He opened fire, letting the firearm bark as the Quicksilver bullet flew towards his leg to slow him down. It did nothing as Gascoigne leapt instead, roaring as he brought the axe down with an executioner’s swing, forcing Bell to get out of the way as it shattered the cobblestone beneath where he stood.

Lethargy caught up with him then. Before he could even get back onto his feet, Bell saw the horizontal sweep of the transformed axe coming in to kill him. He brought not his weapon but his forearms to shield himself with the forearm guards again as he leapt back, instead using the force to launch himself towards the music box.

It came at the expense of the impact knocking his own weapons from the grasp, leaving him to tumble over the earth with a jarring sound as the pieces of light armor scraped it. But he came to a stop near the Tiny Music Box and flipped the lid, letting the melody play for a third time. The heavy boots that had trampled across the hardpacked earth and worn stones stopped for a third time.

Only this time, Gascoigne fell to his knees and dropped his weapon to clutch at his ears with both hands. As if trying to drown it out. Trying to resist.

“Please… stop…” Bell begged the man, tired as he stood back up. “I don’t… I don’t want that little girl to lose someone like I did. I don’t want to be responsible for that. Please.”

Bell had never felt as alone in his life as he did when his grandfather died. The man who had raised him and saved him when he was in trouble, only to leave an emptiness within him when he disappeared from his life. He didn’t want to make anyone else feel that way.

Viola…” Gascoigne muttered as he fell over, his head hitting the ground and the hat revealing aged and disheveled hair. For the third time, the hunter clashed with the beast within him. Only this time the man lost, and an ear-splitting screech tore open the night sky as his flesh was ripped apart with such violence that the air itself expanded. “Forgive MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!

Clothing were stretched and torn as they tried to strangle the beast within that emerged. Lengthened claws tore through leather gloves and footwear, warped and corded muscles split skin and long hair bristled. The lips were torn off by the emergence of razor-sharp fangs coated in the blood, and the wrap that kept his eyes hidden was now woven into the wild mane.

The newborn Beast lunged into the air and dropped down on top of the younger boy, paralyzed by exhaustion and defeat upon bearing witness to the transformation. Death followed as the Beast wasted no time in tearing him apart with such savagery that when he awoke in the Hunter’s Dream, it was weeping and screaming at the memory of having his eyes torn out and flesh flayed until his throat was finally ripped out. And, as the Doll came over and offered him comfort, Bell recalled the words of Eileen, Gehrman, and even Gascoigne.

That is the duty of the Hunter connected to the Hunter’s Dream, else the night will go on and the innocent will slowly be devoured until none remain.

Show him mercy as only a Hunter can and free him from the shackles of his own making.

Forgive me, Viola.

Even if Bell allowed Gascoigne to escape, even if he stole the key to the gate and progressed on, the fact that he’d transformed meant that he would do so again. Maybe even around his wife or daughter if they found him. No one would want to be responsible for ending the lives of their own family.

Hestia, forgive me,” Bell said, tears streaking from his eyes. Not for himself, but for what he would have to do next. Whether those tears were for that little girl who was waiting with hope in her heart for her father to return, her mother that was still out there somewhere after spending nights working to keep the beast within her husband at bay, or for the hunter who spent years fighting against the beastly plague only to succumb before the night even began, went unspoken.

He gathered his thoughts as the Messengers finished returning his belongings that had been left by the place that marked where he was slain. He recalled the two encounters that had vividly ended his life. The way Gascoigne…no, the Beast wearing his flesh moved and hunted him down. Then he donned his hat that was knitted together through the magics of the Dream, armed himself once more, and set out to resume the Hunt.

This time… he left the Tiny Music Box behind.

[R-M]

The first time Bell stepped through the archway that marked the Tomb of Oedon, he was caught by surprise. The battering of flesh and the sickening aroma of pungent blood in the air had been enough to stall his feet and clamp a vice around his heart. The resting place of the dead had been turned into a butcher’s shop for the citizens who had gathered there, other hunters from what he could guess based on Gehrman’s explanation of them going through it on the night of the Hunt.

The second time Bell stepped through the archway that led into the graveyard it had been with the intention to reason with Gascoigne within the tomb. He stayed his hand, held off on attacking for the sake of trying to reach the man whose daughter he promised to deliver the music box. His reward for the grueling effort was bearing witness to the Beast shedding its human visage, revealing the man had died sometime before they had ever met.

It was entirely possible that one of those men the Beast killed while wearing his flesh was the little girl’s grandfather. They were meeting up here according to her. But he hadn’t spied a woman among the corpses that could still be made out, so she would still have family once the Beast was slain. She wouldn’t be alone.

That thought gave Bell a small thread of hope to cling to. That he wouldn’t leave a child with no one else in the world as he had been when his grandfather died. He held onto it with an iron grip as he stepped through the archway a third time, Saw Cleaver in one hand and Hunter’s Pistol loaded with a Quicksilver bullet in the other.

The Beast noticed him. Still wearing the flesh of the man like a mask after devouring him from the inside out, it turned to him as the scent of a hunter reached its nose. Bearing teeth as if enticed by the prospect of fresh prey, the Beast charged forward with its stolen legs in a gait and raised the modified pistol to fire.

Bell darted to the side and allowed the scattershot that was meant to wound and cripple prey break and combust against the stone. Then he raised his own firearm and had it spit out a bullet in turn. The Beast dodged the shot, bounding to the side abruptly and continuing its charge over the graveyard dirt and broken cobblestone as Bell did the same.

Then it lunged, axe still covered in viscera and blood from the battered corpse it had been taking to pieces for the third time tonight. The crimson covered blade reflected in the light of the oil lamps as it came down with an executioner’s swing. But, instead of fresh blood and broken bone, only dirt and bits of stone spouted as it missed its target.

Coming out of his roll behind what was once a man, Bell immediately swung the Saw Cleaver before the Beast could heft the weapon from its perch in the ground. Across the back. Shoulder to opposite waist. He swung twice and felt the teeth of his weapon bite into the body from behind, ripping through leather and flesh before tearing its way out.

The Beast snarled with a guttural sound in its throat as first blood was drawn. Sweeping the axe around as it spun on its feet, a trail of stone dust marked the blade’s path. It brushed against the leather of Bell’s garbs as he escaped and kept his weapon that gleamed with fresh blood between them.

The attacks kept coming. Sparks patterned out the dirt and dust as the Beast swung the axe upwards, biting into the ground to give chase as Bell rolled out of the way of another decapitating swing. On his feet once more, he pivoted on his foot and swung the Saw Cleaver down in a diagonal slash that bit into front flesh, drawing more blood.

The Beast didn’t flinch despite the cut, instead bringing the axe around from the side. He couldn’t dodge it, so Bell raised his arm with the pistol and guarded his head at an angle. The axe coming in from his left met with the slanted forearm protector and sparks blossom as the steel was guided over his head while Bell counterattacked with his opposite hand.

The Saw Cleaver came around twice. Once to the left to rip open a new tear in fabric and flesh at the stomach. Then, with a twist of the wrist, he pulled his arm back and brought the teeth diagonally from waist to shoulder, ripping through the chest and cape of the ulster coat.

Pain and blood ran like a waterfall to soak the front of the stolen flesh. The wounded Beast flailed by swinging the axe down from above to drive Bell away from its front, succeeding as he bounced back off his leading foot. Panting as it slouched forward, the scent of its own blood reached its nose.

Oh… what’s smell?” it mumbled. “The sweet blood, oh it sings to me. It’s enough to make a man sick.”

Bell ignored the words as he ducked down behind a grave for cover in order to reload his Hunter’s Pistol. The effort was made more difficult from his arm shaking from the impact of the axe and his gloves covered in the dark blood that made the quicksilver slippery to fit inside. He barely managed to get it in and close the chamber when he heard the clank of the axe being turned into a halberd. Then he broke cover to run the opposite way in time to avoid the heavy swing that was enough to topple over the gravestone.

Turning around to avoid keeping his back to the enemy, Bell’s reward was only to not have a sharpened tip pierce his heart from behind. Gascoigne used the extra length and point for a thrust, with the chest guard glancing the tip into instead sinking into the unprotected region between it and his shoulder guards. Baring teeth at having caught its prey, the Beast then pushed it further in.

“Auaahh!” Something broke within his body as the tip punched through the back and elicited a louder cry. It then twisted its hips and swung the weapon around to jerk the young hunter off his feet and fling him off to the side. His hair was exposed to the night air as his hat was knocked loose on impact.

It hurt. It hurt to try and even move his left arm. But Bell bit down on the pain to focus as the Beast came in for the execution and turned along his spine, narrowly avoiding the downward cleave that cut into the ground as he got back to his knees. Then he barred his right forearm beneath the left to raise it and pulled the trigger of the pistol before the Beast could pull its weapon up.

The Beast staggered back a step before falling to its knees as the mixture of the bullet gnawed at the inside of its chest, its own blood fighting back. Long enough for Bell to press the clasp of the Saw Cleaver and unfurl the butcher’s weapon. He chambered it back behind him as he stood, tensing the muscles in his right arm to the point it felt like the tendons would snap, and swung it down.

The cleaver end of the weapon broke through the Beast’s collarbone as it came down before it could recover, knocking it to the ground as Bell put all his strength into the swing. The Hunter’s Axe clattered to the side as it struggled to get back up when he wrenched the cleaver free. But before it could, the weapon came down again with the saw-teeth first and buried themselves into the Beast’s back that arched as it cried out.

Bell brought his left boot up and stomped down on the broken shoulder in order to jerk the Saw Cleaver free, opening out a spout of blood to join the rest pooling on the ground. Stumbling back several steps, his body tremored from the pain as he collapsed onto his knees by a tree and jammed the vial injector near the wound. Fresh blood flowed into his body and was used to repair broken bone, mend torn muscle, and regenerate damaged blood vessels.

That was when the Beast shed its human guise. Flesh and fabric tore open as it took on its true form once more. Standing tall once again, it stretched its elongated limbs while howling into the night as a key hung from a rope around its neck.

Bell stood, his breath and body still shaking. This was it. The Beast had come out in full once more. Now he would lay it to rest.

Snarling, the Beast whipped its head around towards Bell and bared its teeth. Then it lunged forward, a mass of fur and muscle shooting towards him with an arm chambered for a swipe. The ebony claws tore out chunks of the twisted bark of the tree as Bell ran behind it.

With something put between them, he reached into his pouch for another bullet and reloaded as he moved before the Beast darted around to try and get him. Then he lined up barrel for another shot the moment he was done and pulled the trigger when he had a clear line to hit. The Quicksilver bullet smacked it in the shoulder, jerking the limb back for a breath before it snarled and then lunged for Bell again.

The young hunter sidestepped mass of fur and rage, pivoting on his foot to keep it in sight. As it landed, he swung the unfurled Saw Cleaver and carved into the leather that clung tight to its hide twice. The weapon didn’t go very deep from what he could feel, its muscles even thicker than before, and was knocked from his grasp into a mound of gravestone as Beast whirled around and swept out with its claws.

Rearing back, the Beast roared at Bell before bringing both its arms down to crush him. Dust and stone spouted from the ground as the young hunter avoided the attack, making for his weapon in the mound. But it pounced into the air and dove to catch him, forcing him to abandon the attempt or be killed.

Unable to get his Saw Cleaver back as it now laid buried beneath a broken heap of gravestones, Bell gritted his teeth. The Hunter’s Pistol needed reloading as well, which would take time. Time the Beast wouldn’t give him as it rose to its hind legs and came after him with a storm of swipes and slashes.

Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t dodge the flurry entirely and had to use his armguards to shield his head since if he took a hit there, he wouldn’t be getting back up. His armor was torn into by the points and his legs staggered, nearly buckling upon being struck twice before the Beast put as much effort as it could in the final swipe. Bell ended up being forced to block with his arms crossed as it sent him airborne until he tumbled on the ground some distance away.

Ugh…” Getting back onto his feet, Bell shook his head and tried to gather his thoughts when he took a step back and felt something there. He glanced down and saw Gascoigne’s extended Hunter’s Axe, now laying forgotten. He reached down, grabbed it with both hands, and slammed the bottom against the ground to return it to a short weapon before he rolled out of the way of the Beast as it dove down from the air to try and crush him once more.

Armed again, he abandoned his firearm and whirled around on his knees to draw crescent with the axe using both arms. Imitating the shade of the hunter the Beast had eaten from the inside out, the heavy head and momentum buried the blade just above the ankle and snapped the rear tendon. Then Bell stood while pulling the axe with all his might to topple it over.

The Beast howled upon falling onto its back, one leg useless and in pain. But before Bell could retreat to strike again, it twisted around to the source of its pain and its claws found the soft flesh of his cheek. It managed to tear it away, along with the bandana, blood painting its claws as he stumbled back.

The boy cried out, tears stinging his eyes from the hot pain just beneath his right eye. But it didn’t stop him from extending the axe once more as he got into a stance, left leg forward and right foot back as it was angled to the side. He swung the axe back and gripped the shaft with both hands, chambering it for powerful swing.

SCREEE!!” With a frenzied, feral snarl, the Beast dug its right claw into the ground for purchase as it pushed off the ground with its left leg. A desperate, primal attempt to take off the young hunter’s head with its left claw this time.

YYYYAAAHH!!” But it amounted to nothing as Bell shouted at the top of his lungs and swung the halberd down with all his might. The weapon severed the limb at the shoulder with enough force that the Beast’s entire body was hammered into the ground as its remaining arm gave out.

It made pathetic animal noises as it rolled around in agony while Bell reared back for another swing and buried the axe into the Beast’s back. This time it hit the spine at an odd angle and you could hear the vertebrae snap, leaving it truly crippled from the waist down. Desperate to escape the pain, it pushed off the ground with its arm violently and twisted onto its back to get the axe out.

But that was the last of the strength it could muster as dark, crimson blood pooled around it from the missing limbs. The heart within its chest that pumped frantically to fuel its rage and bloodlust had little left within the body to spare as it escaped the wounds. Panting, chest heaving, all that was left now was to put it out of its misery.

Bell raised the axe to do so, his breath coming out wet and haggard with the taste of copper in his mouth as the Beast limply reached out a final time. Not to him, but to the building that was next to the slouching statue that towered over the graveyard. His mind that was flooded with the scent of blood and adrenaline even hallucinated its mouth moving, as if to mutter a final set of words.

But then none of it mattered as the Hunter’s Axe came down a final time.

The Beast didn’t get back up again.

 


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 14 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 14: A Little Girl’s Request

Run-off waters sloshed underfoot as the next leg of Bell’s journey took him into a damp corridor that stretched into darkness beneath Central Yharnam, transitioning from the aqueducts to sewers.

He was sheltered from the cold by the garbs he’d taken to wear. The material repelled not only the red of the crows and yellow of the corpses that continued persist through rotten blood, but the water pattering down from the roof and splashing beneath his boots.

The lantern that dangled from his belt only provided a little illumination that gleamed off the wet, slime-slickened stone walls. Even so he could see the silhouette of something that lurked behind the veil of mist further ahead. His grip on his Saw Spear tightened as he slowly pressed forward, wondering what beast he would have to kill this time to advance into the Tomb of Oedon….

WEEEEEEEEE!!

And then a wet, shrill shriek nearly deafened him as it echoed off the walls, rattling his bones down to the core and making the filthy water beneath his boots shudder. Ears pounding as he clutched his head with his off-hand. He knew that sound, or at least he could match it to the pigs that lived on the farm he worked with his Grandpa on before he came to Orario only a little while ago

So, when the ringing in his ears gave way to the hooves thundered through the water towards him and the growing silhouette, Bell promptly started running the opposite way to avoid being trampled. He didn’t look back as the presence of something massive closed in, instead working his legs as fast as he could to bring him to the mouth of the tunnel. The moment he breached the entrance, then threw himself to the side.

The rushing mass of unshapely, bloated flesh that was the Maneater Boar charged right by. Larger than any man and even most of the monsters he’d faced in the Upper Floors of the Dungeon so far. How something this large had gotten into the city unnoticed was a mystery, but a voracious squeal revealed bloodstained, yellowed teeth with scraps of cloth wedged between them as it swung its head around to face the young hunter—

BLAM!

—and was met with the bark of a Quicksilver bullet bursting on impact as it struck the bulbous part of its head. It stumbled back a step, squealing as it shook off the shot. Then it charged for Bell once again.

Bell stepped out of the way of its charge, water splashing against his trousers as the boar hit the stone bridge hard enough that dust and bits of stone by the ladder were wrenched loose. He got around to the side, tensed the muscles in his arm holding the furled Saw Spear until it felt like they were going to snap, and swung downwards at an angle with all his might. “RAAAGH!!”

The broad side of the swine was torn into by the serrated teeth. Ripping through the hide and letting a loose spray of crimson that buried the fluids already present on the blade and gloves, the impact struck bone and buckled the boar’s knees. It collapsed, shrieking.

Bell unfurled the Saw Spear as he reared back for a thrust with the sharpened tip. He’d seen how to slaughter hogs before; a stun to the head and then cutting open the arteries to bleed it out. But there was no way he was going to be able to roll it over, so he instead tried to stab through its throat by brute force.

The Maneater Boar belched before he could, spitting out a cloud of noxious fumes. It was like acid had been splashed into his eyes. Stinging and gnawing away at them to extent that he couldn’t bear the pain, his thrust was thrown off and resulted in a grazing cut through the back of its neck.

Bell blindly ran out, crying hot tears until he hit a wall and added to the pain. He braced it while hoping to blink away the pain even as it gnawed on the inside of his eyelids. Then he spun so that his back was to the wall and forced his eyes open to see the blurred mass charging him again.

Gritting his teeth, Bell pushed off the wall into a charge of his own. Abandoning the pistol in his off hand, he grabbed the Saw Spear with both hands and dragged it behind him. Though blurred and anguished vision, he saw the saggy, grey flesh closing in and then quickstepped out of the way while swinging the unfurled length of jagged teeth with as much force as he could.

His arms nearly buckled and broke as his weapon found its flesh. Between the strength of its wielder and momentum of its prey, the weapon sheared through the hide, fat, and muscle. The metal teeth cut it from cheek to leg bone before Bell finished the swing with his own power, ripping it forward to take the hind leg out as well.

Death throes followed as Bell then stumbled away from the boar, leaving it to bleed out as he found another wall to put his back against. Only when he felt the echoes flowing into him did he drop the Saw Spear into the water and pull off his backpack, where he kept a cloth inside along with a canteen. Necessities for an adventurer, Eina had told him.

They provided relief as he poured the clean water over his eyes to wash out the acrid particles and dried his face. Then he picked back up his Saw Spear, reloaded his Hunter’s Pistol, and gave the massive boar a final glance before he pressed on into the tunnels that had apparently been its lair. It was there he saw just what it had been fattening itself up on—corpses of other people, including another hunter.

“Grandpa always said pigs would eat anything, but still…” Bell searched the gnawed corpse and came across another badge. It looked like a saw. He put it away and then moved onto the other one, where his gloved hands brushed over something beneath the half-bloated body.

It gave him a similar feeling to when echoes were flowing into him, only concentrated at the point where he touched rather than being taken into his body. He lifted the torn cloth and found a droplet that refused to fully harden or dry out, making it somewhat gelatinous and malleable. Was this what Gehrman mentioned before? He decided to ask the veteran later as he stored it away.

Then he moved on.

[R-M]

Bell was greeted with a slaughter when he finally reached the Tomb of Oedon.

It was a graveyard of barren dirt and mangled trees, a chill permeating the air starved of light as the oil lampposts were dimly-lit and the towering buildings that laid beyond the outer gates cast an eerie shadow over the enclosure that hid the evening sun. Headstones were placed without regard for order or respect, erected in seemingly random ways that left them cluttered as they leaned in exhaustion like the stone monument that was in the center of the graveyard, worn down by its timeless vigil over the amassed dead that laid beneath the surface.

The scent of blood hung richly in the air, stemming from the bodies of the recently dead. Men who were once among the living joined the long-time residents in pieces, butchered with their limbs strewn in random directions and their blood bringing vibrant splashes of color to the worn stones, parched dirt, and thirsty bark.

“Hah. Haaaah. Hhhaaah.” The wet, sticky sound of meat being pounded was padded out by the sound of heavy, hard breathing that made Bell’s stomach churn as he spotted bloodied steel being raised and then slammed down. A hunter with his back facing the novice to the Hunt finished striking at a corpse once he’d severed the head, a final splash of the lifeblood to decorate the half-cape he wore.

Then he stood straight, the scarf around his neck caked in dirt and blood swaying its frayed and torn ends as he spoke. “…Beasts all over the shop… You’ll be one of them, sooner or later…”

The blood within Bell’s body froze in place and his heart stalled as the man with gray hair slowly turned his head, the light of the oil lamp catching the white of the bandages over his eyes and beneath his hat. The knot in his gut tightened as the man let out a half-snarl while he baring his teeth, his raspy and haggard breath coming out as a plume. Recognition moved the young hunter’s lips as he muttered, “Mister Gascoigne?

He found himself frozen like a deer in the headlights until the veteran hunter raised his pistol. Then he threw himself to the side as the trigger was pulled. What should have been a single Quicksilver bullet was broken into a wide-spread that patterned the stone arch by where he stood, bursting on impact.

Bell scrambled to get back up as he noticed the man now closing the distance, axe in hand. He tried to call out to him from beneath the bandana covering his mouth. “Wait, I’m not a beast! I’m a hunter like you!”

The man’s response to that was to bring his bloodied axe around for Bell’s neck. It caught the steel of the Saw Spear as Bell raised it in defense, being all that saved him from losing his head. Even so, the impact of the blow shot through his arms and made them buckle as he was sent staggering to the left and off-balance.

Bell barely had time to get the Saw Spear and his balance back up as the axe came around again. The blow was even heavier this time, resulting in blooming sparks and jolting pain. His arms were nearly jerked from their sockets while his weapon was sent flying from his grasp.

He could hear it land somewhere to the left, but he didn’t have time to look as Gascoigne chambered the axe for a follow-up. The primal fear of death drove his feet and threw him backwards. That was all that saved him as the cleaving swing that would have split him right down the middle to hit the ground hard enough to throw dirt askew.

“Please, stop!” Bell half-cried as he got back on his feet and stepped back only to feel hard bark against his back. “I came here because your daughter—AHH!”

His words turned into a frantic cry as he spun on his foot and got behind the tree. The gnarled, dense wood twice as thick as Bell shook as it caught the blade, albeit only after it managed to bury itself all the way to the back. The fact that he managed that with a single swing of the arm said everything that needed to be said.

Before Gascoigne could jerk it free, Bell broke into a sprint towards where he heard his weapon fall. It was somewhere between the haphazardly placed headstones and the monument slouched over in the ground like a weary sentinel. He made it halfway there when the sound of the tree cracking and collapsing behind him left him to glance back and then shout as he twisted around and brought his arms up in time to intercept the Hunter’s Axe.

“AAHH—” His brief scream was drowned out by the headstones shattering as his shoulder-guard plowed through it, leaving him to tumble forward and land face-down. Glass shattered as he hit the ground hard enough to bounce before he came to a stop at the foot of the monument. Everything hurt, the broken fragments from the hand lantern buried into his waist and the world bending and swaying as groaned softly.

Bell’s fingers twitched, revealing his hands were still attached. The forearm guards stopped him from losing his arms, but that only meant that instead of being cleaved in two he was sent flying instead. He poured whatever strength he could into them as death closed in with weapon raised to fire the Hunter’s Pistol he somehow managed to keep a grip on and the Quicksilver bullet caught the veteran hunter in the chest, leaving him to stagger.

The young hunter took the chance to liberate his vial injector from its holster and then drove the needle straight into his body to let the blood vial do its work. His vision cleared to the dark hues of the world around him and enough strength returned so that he could get back on his feet and run as Gascoigne threw himself forward with the axe to try and split him in two again, cutting down into the base of the monument. He nearly stumbled over his feet to get to the Saw Spear, taking its metal shaft into his grip and holding it out with shaking hands as the man jerked his axe free and slowly rose back up to his full height.

“Please, stop! I don’t want to fight! I—”

“RAAH!!” The words were drowned out by the roar of the man as he went back on the attack, whipping around his pistol and pulling the trigger. Quicksilver barked out of its mouth and the metal sprayed out.

“Ugh!” Bell lurched, forced to his knees as it caught and ruptured inside his thigh and abdomen. He only saw the axe, stained with blood that was meshed with stone dust, splinters, and dirt, as it came around in a blur.

Then there was pain as it found his unprotected neck at last.

[R-M]

Bell awoke with a jerking motion, instinctively clutching his neck. When his fingers found it was still attached, he let out a sigh and then fell to his knees as he took in his surroundings. He was in the Hunter’s Dream once more, having suffered the first death of the night.

He’d been killed by the person that he’d been asked to find—a man much stronger than him, relentless and brutal. No matter how much he’d begged, his words just wouldn’t reach him. Then that only left one alternative and the very thought left him frozen when he considered what that would mean for the Little Girl.

The Plain Doll naturally inquired into his silent dismay from her perch by the stairs. “Are thou not well, Good Hunter?”

“I… I’m fine,” he lied, rising to his feet. He needed to see Gehrman before he could do anything else. Maybe he would have a solution.

He began to ascend the stairs when the mewlings of the Little Ones reached his ears and he remembered the badge he’d found. He fished it out and then gently tossed it to them, only for the emaciated limbs to snatch it and then dunk it into their bath. A light haze wafted up from the surface but he passed up the chance to peruse the new weapons and instead made his way up to the Workshop.

The aged hunter stared up at a weapon that hung high on the wall until he noticed Bell. His seasoned eyes took in Bell’s appearance and a sound bubbled up in his throat. “Ah, I see you’ve found yourself proper Yharnam Hunter attire. It was made for new recruits who joined in the Hunt under Ludwig’s banner. Freedom of movement while keeping the blood away.”

“The person they belonged to had died and I needed something to wear since my own were soaked.” His throat felt tight, so he took a moment to swallow after admitting his theft and looked down to see the garments were cleaned of the grime and filth, holes from where the bullets had punched through patched. His armor was still battered though, untouched by whatever magic of the Dream had mended them.

“You’ve no need to feel shame. In taking up the Hunter’s task, it’s natural that the tools of the fallen be put to use,” the elderly hunter assured him. “Did fortune favor your search for bloodstone?”

“I think so.” Bell moved over to the table and set his backpack down onto it. Then he fished out what he’d found and set them down next to his broken weapon. The sole exception was the Tiny Music Box, forgotten in his desperate attempt to survive. She said they used this to remind him, didn’t she?

“Yes. These are Bloodstone Shards,” Gehrman said as he wheeled himself over and peered at the white and red stones with a helix in the center of each. Then he touched the droplet that Bell had pocketed. “And a Coldblood Dew. We can repair your weapons with these if you crush the droplet to take the echoes into yourself.”

Bell took the droplet between his gloved fingers and then put strength into it. The droplet broke open and then the light, misty feeling of echoes flowing into him followed. It was a piddling amount compared to that which was left behind at the site of his death, but it was better than nothing. “What now?”

“Now you fortify it.” Gehrman placed three of the shards he’d gathered onto the broken Saw Cleaver. “Here. Extend your hand over them and will them into it. The Dream will do the rest for you using the echoes you’ve taken in.”

Bell did as told and held his hands over the broken steel that had snapped. The weapon had carried him throughout his first attempt and helped him prevail against the Minotaur that had killed him. It was his carelessness that left it in this state, so he silently willed for it to be made whole. Willed for the shards to be one with the weapon. For it to be stronger.

The echoes within him began to bleed out like a crimson mist that circled around the weapon and shards in response. Bloodstone shattered into dust that mixed in with the haze and both sank into the Saw Cleaver. It snapped back into its original state as if by magic, the only visible alteration being a slot that had formed at the base of the steel.

“There we are.” Gehrman lifted it up and tapped the handle against the workbench. Rather than the sound of wood-on-wood, it sounded more like metal striking wood. “The moment bloodstone gets introduced into the material, all of it becomes harder. Sharper and more suitable for the Hunt.”

“Is that normally how that works?” Bell asked. He’d never seen a blacksmith at work, but he had the distinct impression that it wasn’t like this.

“The true method takes much longer,” the aged hunter explained. “In the early days of the Hunt it was much rarer to find these materials and hunters had to make do with what they had—wood and steel with some exceptions. This Saw Cleaver is a relic from that time, an older model rather than the more recent one. But the first hunters knew how to refine the technique they had and learned to be agile since those who never took a claw never needed blood to heal. Then, and only then, did it become a matter of making sure that the weapon could keep up with them.”

There was almost nostalgic look on the veteran hunter’s face as he spoke. But as quickly as it came, it vanished. He turned the weapon in his hand and held it out to Bell. “That should serve you well enough for now, but larger beasts will no doubt prove difficult should they arise. Remember to keep your steel sharpened and seek out larger shards and chunks.”

“I’ll try…” Bell took the weapon into his grasp with some hesitation. If his weapon was repaired then he had no excuse not to set out again, following the same path he did until he returned the place where he’d met his demise. He would try to reach the hunter again, this time with the music box.

But… what would he do if it didn’t work? Gascoigne didn’t seem like he would just let Bell walk past him to get into the Cathedral Ward through the Tomb of Oedon. And leaving him alone if he was truly blood-drunk meant more people would be in danger. But what was he supposed then? Kill him?

If I did that, what will I tell his daughter or wife? Bell felt sick to his stomach at the thought. What would I tell Hestia?

“Is there something that still troubles you?” Gehrman asked.

“…There’s a Hunter who’s blocking the way to the Cathedral Ward,” Bell confessed. “He has a wife. And a daughter who’s waiting for him to come back. I don’t want to kill him if I can help it.”

“I fear your kindness is misguided if he has gone mad, young hunter,” he said. “No Hunter desires to become that which he once hunted. But as the years go on some succumb and become beasts. And beast must be hunted.”

Bells lips pressed thin. He already knew that some people became beasts when drunk with blood. He knew that. But Gascoigne couldn’t have been that far gone if it had only been hours since his daughter last saw her parents. “I think he can still be reasoned with.”

“You are free to try,” Gehrman said. “That is a luxury that you have that others do not. But should you find that words will not reach him, then show him mercy as only a Hunter can and free him from the shackles of his own making.”


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 13 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 13: The Hunt Resumes

“Nonononono!” Bell stood up, spinning on his boots and stirring the dirt underfoot as he searched for the headstone that had led him home before. It was nowhere to be found on the hill of flowering moonlight, where Bell and the Doll stood alone. He was trapped in the Hunter’s Dream again. The moment he realized that, he collapsed onto his knees. “Not again.”

The Plain Doll regarded his misery with a passive expression as she crouched down, joining him there. “Why do you despair, Good Hunter? Was your respite not pleasant?”

“Why am I back here?” Bell asked. He knew that died for a second time in his world. Killed by the Silverback after he chased a cloaked thief. It was an inelegant death, brought about by his blade breaking under the weight of the metal-backed fist and finished by crushing for a second time. But why did he have to be here again?

“This night, this dream will not end unless you hunt, as the countless hunters who came before you have, Good Hunter,” she told him. It could have been reproaching, but her tone made it seem as though she were trying to gently encourage him to pursue the task.

Bell still shook head at the thought of having to go through the Hunt again and again, until he heard the Little Ones clamoring. Arriving in a group, they bore his weapons that had been left behind upon his death. His broken Saw Cleaver still stained with his own blood and the Hunter’s Pistol that had been lost. They were it. They were his ticket out of this nightmare.

“Take me back!” he begged them, falling over to the point of bowing. “Please!”

The Messengers, in contrast to their usual behavior, only seemed to be able to regretfully shake their heads and make noises that were indecipherable to Bell.

“The Dream holds firmly to you with shackles they cannot break,” the Doll told him. “Should it not will your return, they cannot contest it. For they draw nourishment from the Dream itself, of the echoes that ripple throughout it and the wisdom that becomes a part of it with each hunter’s passing. They are bound to its will as well.”

She spoke as though this place had a will of its own. Bell couldn’t find it in him to doubt it, because he didn’t know anything about it. He didn’t know how he originally got here, or why he constantly returned when he died, tethered to it. He didn’t know anything, except that it was expecting him to continue to search for a way to end the scourge of the beasts.

But he’d tried that. He’d followed those words of advice from Eileen, using them as a guideline as he slew the beasts he crossed, seeking it to bring an end to the night. He tried learning from the Healing Church, who hosted prior hunts according to Gilbert, only for the gates to Cathedral Ward to remain closed and silent to his pleas. He’d suffered three additional deaths in the process of doing so, the memory still engrained within his mind.

I can’t go through all of that again.” His voice came out hoarse as he admitted his weakness. His last hunt, the pain and suffering, had been for nothing. Now she was telling him to do it again. The very thought drove his fingers planted in the dirt to dig in as they clenched into fists. “I just can’t do all of that again.”

“But you must, Good Hunter.” Her serene voice was backed by cool, artificial fingers that brushed the tears that began streaming down his cheeks. “For only once the night has come to an end, will you truly awaken in the waking world. And then this dream will be nothing more than a distant memory that will fade one day.”

The choice was ultimately out of his hands. Either he hunted and found his way back to Hestia, or he stayed here in this moonlit haven meant for hunters. It was the same thing he’d been told time and time again: A hunter must hunt.

“Come now,” she said, rising to her feet. Her hand extended outwards to the workshop resting at the top of the hill. “Gehrman has awakened. I am sure he will be able to guide you.”

Reluctantly gazing up at the Doll, with the moon hanging high behind him and casting its celestial light down on the hillside of flowers, Bell grasped his broken Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Pistol in hand. Crying about how unfair it was wouldn’t get him any closer to returning to his world and leaving this nightmare behind. So, he rose up and made his way up the flowered slope to the workshop.

It was there he found the wheelchair-bound old hunter, awake. “You’ve returned.”

“I went home,” Bell said. “I went home after killing a large Beast unlike any other I’d seen, and I tried to leave it all behind. But I died again and ended up here again.”

Gehrman only chuckled softly. “I cannot fault you for doing so. Many would have liked to do the same. But there is no escape, and even a reprieve is but for a fleeting moment, unless you finish the Hunt.”

“…I need to know how to get into Cathedral Ward then,” he said. “I tried going through the main gates, but it was locked.”

“That gate remains locked during the time of the Hunt, I’m afraid…” Aged eyes looked up to the map that Bell copied it into the notebook he’d left behind. “Your best bet is to try and reach it through Oedon Chapel, if the main gate is blocked. There’s a lock, but hunters come and go through it enough that it may be opened, or they’ll at least have a key.”

It was as close to a plan as he had, so Bell would see if the Messengers could retrieve his notebook and the other things he’d left behind that were suited for this world. Like the lighter, the blood vial injector, and the hand lantern. Maybe even his armor that had been newly bought.

“Your weapon seems to have broken,” the older man said, wheeling closer to take a look at it. “It was an older piece, and those can only last so long during the hunt, I’ll admit. But rarely have I seen the metal break so badly.”

“The monsters I fought back in my world have pretty tough hides,” Bell said. Minotaurs and Silverbacks were both Level 2 category monsters. He’d mostly relied on brute strength to force the teeth in, so he probably had been pushing his luck all things considered. “The fact that it had held up as long as had was more of a miracle than anything.”

“Ah, I suppose so considering you never repaired it, did you?” White-hair shifted as he shook his head at the question. “Well, fortunately for you, in this Dream one’s weapons are never truly broken if you have the echoes to repair it. Though I suspect if these beasts of your homeland are hardy enough to wear it down to this extent, you’ll need better armaments or to fortify them into being stronger. You’ll have to make use of materials taken from beasts to do so.”

“What kind?” Bell asked. If it was anything like the drops he normally got, then he could grasp the concept well enough.

“The blood of beasts and those taken by the scourge is an interesting thing,” Gehrman explained as he gestured for him to place the broken weapon on the workshop table. “Echoes sometime course through droplets that have yet to dry, but sometimes you’ll find when they die their blood solidifies into a shard called a Bloodstone, or a crystal called a Blood Gem. Hunters use these to make their weapons stronger to slay greater beasts.”

“Why do they form in the blood?” The monsters in his world at least had the excuse of the magic from the magic stones concentrated into the body parts left behind, which was why they remained upon the removal of the magic stone.

The veteran of the Hunt only shrugged. “I was only a mere hunter, not one who deals with blood ministration or a scholar, so I cannot answer why. I can say that they’ll look like either white bits of bone with a weaving pattern, or oddly shaped crystals. Just bring whatever you find to me and I’ll identify which ones we can use to fortify your weapons, so that they can handle the strain of whatever beast you face. Also, keep an eye out for a tool that’s used to embed the gems into an imprint that forms on the weapon as well.”

Bell grimaced. If they formed on the bodies of the beasts he slew and the dead, that meant he’d have to go back and scavenge the corpses that he’d left behind. If they were still there. More than likely, he would have to kill them again unless time had decided to progress, rather than rewind…

He really didn’t want to have to kill the Cleric Beast he’d killed before again. Not when he was lacking a weapon meant to fight something that size. He looked to see his Saw Spear on the storage box. It had a longer reach than the Saw Cleaver, but he got the feeling it wasn’t meant for something that size either, whether a beast or monsters like the Silverback.

“What about a weapon meant to kill something larger?” Bell asked, picking up the elongated serrated weapon. Heavy, solid steel meant for thrusting would be better, a sword or something more like it that could pierce through to the magic stone or heart to kill it.

“Those who came before you took what was left when they did,” Gehrman said. “If you need something else, scavenge any ones that can still be used off dead hunters or through the Messengers. Being the odd things that they are, metal badges seem to stir up memories within them that they can then seek out for echoes. However, you don’t look like you have much experience in wielding such a thing.”

“I don’t,” he admitted. He’d always considered it before becoming an adventurer, on the path to be a hero. But he’d never held a sword before, let alone used one.

“Worry not, young hunter, for that is what the Doll is for,” he said. “The echoes of the fallen can grant you finesse of the hands and deftness in foot, making you more skillful for the sake of the Hunt. Likewise, they can increase the tinge of your blood so that the bullets they dye can do further harm. And, if you ever run out, you can also make more by solidifying your own fresh blood in an act of will once it leaves your body.”

“They can improve dexterity too, huh?” That was his lowest status next to Magic, last he checked. And that one he couldn’t improve until he got an actual spell, if Bell remembered right. “Is there anything else I need to know?”

“I’m sure the rest will come with the night, as you hunt the beasts and their ilk. If you find something that has to do with the Hunt but do not know what it is, you can also bring it to me. But, aside from that…” The veteran rubbed his chin in thought a bit more before he continued. “There’s also the runes, but that tool has been lost for some time and I doubt you’ll easily come by the strange symbols. Few do.”

“Okay.” Bell looked down to the teeth of his Saw Spear. He’d worked on cleaning it, but it still had the faint scent blood it. Soon it’d be rich in the color to match, a thought that left him more bothered than anything since it would be covered with squalid blood once again through his hands.

That in mind, he bid Gehrman farewell for the moment and then stepped outside to see the Doll standing at the base of the stairs. Left of her, the Little Ones had taken to a birdbath that was filled with a shaded liquid of some kind. He approached them to ask if they could bring him his backpack and armor from his world, so he could hunt the beasts.

They did so, and soon he was clad in the purchased armor that seemed like solidified moonlight. It wouldn’t hamper him during the hunt, being light. And if it withstood even a single swipe of a claw then it had done its job.

His belt and pouch were next, containing the blood vials and quicksilver bullets. He attached the hand lantern attached to the left side of the belt, and syringe injector holster to the right. The latter hadn’t seen use, as he wasn’t a fan of jabbing it into his thigh when he could drink the blood straight, but if the need came up the option was there.

After a moment of deciding between whether to use Iosefka’s vial or a standard one, he loaded a standard vial into it. Hers was special, considering that she was a doctor, and not easily replaced. It would be best to save it for a real emergency, like one would a High Potion.

His backpack for collecting the materials was last, from which he pulled out the badge he’d gotten on the Great Bridge. He didn’t know if it fell off the Cleric Beast at some point, or if it had been left behind. But what he’d taken on a whim would now serve to stir up the memories of the Little Ones, whatever that meant.

He presented it to the ones in the bath. “You can use this, right?”

They clamored over it, thin and emaciated fingers embracing it tight. The shiny bobble held more meaning to them than one would think possible as they dunked it into the bottom of the bath. Then the waters rippled, a light haze steaming up, and Bell could make out items within it.

There were two weapons beneath of the surface—one that looked to a massive hammer with the hilt of a sword, and the other a different kind of firearm. But when he reached down to take them and disturbed the water, the images vanished. His fingers only brushed the badge at the bottom of the fountain.

“I don’t suppose I have enough of these echoes within me to claim them either?” Bell asked as he pulled back his hand, whereupon the memories of two weapons housed within it returned. It had to be due to how they could just move between worlds somehow, even if he didn’t know why.

They shook their heads and hands. A regretful ‘No’ again. There was only one solution for all his problems, it seemed.  He sighed through flared nostrils before turning to the headstone that would lead him back to Yharnam.

Back to the Hunt.

[R-M]

The moment he finished praying at the headstone, Bell resurfaced at the Central Yharnam lamp. He could have went to the one where the Cleric Beast had been, admittedly. But since he had to find materials to upgrade his weapon, along finding a potential new one, he figured it would be easier to retrace his footsteps from here.

Find the weird things that could useful first. Then find his way to Cathedral Ward. That was the plan.

Along the way he met with Gilbert again. The sickly man told Bell that he should go through the aqueducts to reach the place where Gehrman had directed him. Bell knew of the place, as it was where he had gotten his Saw Spear. However, Gilbert gave Bell a warning that there were two entrances, so he would have to check them both.

He went to the aqueducts through the alley entrance first, climbing down the ladder until wood creaked beneath his feet. It was aged. Some of the boards were broken, and there was nothing that would prevent a straight drop off the ledge to the bottom of the canal below. He spotted some men who had already begun their transformation into beasts that walked on two legs, wielding torches and weapons as they patrolled the stone walkways next to it.

Bell killed them the moment he dropped down onto the walkways. Not because he was eager, or because he needed the Blood Echoes. But because there was no other choice. The moment they spotted him, their weapons tried to find his way into their flesh with the same ease as the Saw Spear found theirs.

Blood painted his shirt and armor as the corpse of the last one dropped down to feed the giant rats that festered in the water. The sound of flesh being torn into, the squelches of their bodies being devoured with a ravenous zeal, was more than he could stand. He let them clamor around the corpse before he did a plunging attack that impaled one through the head for a clean kill and then focused on the rest.

The last one put up more of a fight, lunging for Bell with chipped teeth that forced him to back off to near the edge of a deeper drop to the canals below. Water splashed as his boots kicked the grimy fluid around until he saw an opening as it lunged for him again. He brought the serrated teeth around in a wide arc and caught its underbelly, tearing it open and adding visceral fluid into the slurry they were wading in.

Splish. Splish.

The fact that the water was being audibly displaced behind him was what saved Bell from getting killed by another beastman that was sneaking up on him with a spear raised. The spearhead clanged as it hit his chest-plate, backed by inhuman strength that left Bell staggering. It had been going for his heart, which would have been a killing blow had he not been wearing the armor. Reflex then kicked in as the head of the spear shot out again for his forehead, leaving him to pivot on his foot and twist his body as he whipped his Saw Spear around in a diagonal stroke.

Dark blood was left behind to mix with the tainted fluids below as the beastman was opened up with a thin gash from hip to shoulder. It was shallow though, leaving it capable of maneuvering around. It now warily made a half-circle with the spear facing him, waiting for an opening as it splashed the water around noisily—

Ngh!?

—then came the pain, a searing, jagged thing that dug into his tendon and nearly brought him to his knees as he lashed out at the source of pain with the Saw Spear in hand. The sharpened tip and bloodied teeth tore through the spine of the last rat that had yet to die, despite its belly being opened up, truly killing it.

That was when the beastman went for the kill with his spear again, a thrust for the head once more. Unable to pull his leg free without tearing through the tendon entirely, it forced Bell to bring the serrated teeth around again in defense. The moment the iron shaft of the spear met the serrated teeth, the beastman parried away the Saw Spear and brought its other claw around.

AGGHH!!” There was a flash of searing, hot pain as crimson eclipsed the left side of Bell’s face. It forced a wet shout out of his mouth as blood clogged his nose and throat. He would have doubled over in agony and fell down rolling if not for spotting the beastman pouncing forward with his remaining eye, invigorated by the scent of fresh blood—

BLAM!!

—and letting out a single shot that barked from the wide mouth of his Hunter’s Pistol, quicksilver bullet mixed with blood giving it enough stopping power to drop the beastman to its knees. The riposte that followed had Bell thrusting his hand out, bones breaking open as it was buried in wet heat, forced through the rib cage and wedged inside just above the heart.

A normal man would have gone into shock, but the beastman was still functional. Beasthood made it resilient and vicious enough to still try to fight back. It brought its bloodied claws for his throat, trying to tear it out before its heart could be taken.

But Bell was ready for it this time. The protector on his left forearm met the claws, backed by adrenaline to hold it off as his embedded hand wrapped around its heart in a crushing grip. Then he pulled and tore it right out with all the strength he could muster.

The beastman wailed a final death throe as it was thrown back. Blood flowed as the thick arteries around the heart were severed, pouring out of the deep furrow while bone stuck out past the hide and hair. It fell over the edge of the drop into the canals, landing among a group of drowned and rotting corpse with their elongated bodies covered in glistening, gangrenous flesh. They promptly woke and clamored over the fresh beast corpse that had just been delivered, proving that his intuition the last time had been wise.

Injured, panting, and hand wrapped around what felt like pulped fruit until it dropped from his grasp, Bell limped over to where a corpse was strewn out. Then he collapsed with his back against the wall next to it, whimpering as stinging agony encompassed his leg and sticky blood flowed down the side of his face to soak his shirt beneath it. His head was going light, vision swimming. Ne…ed…vial…

Fumbling fingers reached for the blood vial injector to be safe. The needle plunged into the thigh of his wounded leg, and a press of the thumb forced sweet relief into the limb. Tainted fluid was expelled before the severed muscles and blood vessels knitted shut. A second vial hastily followed, taken through the lips and ingested to restore his face and bring vision back into his left eye.

Coughing as the healing blood finished going down his throat, Bell set the empty vials on the ground and tried to start wiping the rest off his face, only for him to notice that the sleeve he intended to use was already covered in beast’s blood. He let his head fall back, venting the frustration with a deep exhale as he undid his forearm protector on the other arm so that he could use the clean fabric beneath it. When he was done, he looked over to the corpse next to him to see if it had any more vials to replace the two he’d used.

There were none to be found on the dead hunter, only broken glass nearby that was suspiciously empty. His weapon was nowhere to be found either, likely knocked over the edge and into the waters below. As for his death, it seemed to be from a single puncture wound to the head, likely from the spear-using beastman Bell just killed.

If I hadn’t turned around then, would I have been killed the same way? Bell couldn’t help but wonder as his fingers ran over the material of the dead hunter’s garb. They didn’t retain blood like his current clothes. And they were largely intact, likely due to the fact that the kill had been done efficiently. They were salvageable.

…It took him a while to convince himself. He added facts in, like walking around while soaked in blood, in a city that had countless things that seemed to be out for him because of it, bode ill for his chances of survival otherwise. That if he was going to be a hunter he should look the part.

But, in the end, it still didn’t sit well with him about stealing the clothes off a dead man’s body before retrieving his weapons.

[R-M]

“Oh, are you a hunter?” The four words stalled Bell before he could pass through a set of iron gates that were now opened.

He had changed his clothes, putting on the dead man’s coat and boots and gloves and hat. They were worn and in need of a wash, but they were warm and did well in repelling the yellowish-fluid that made up the rotted corpses’ blood as he continued his journey through the waters and to the ladder leading out of that side of the canal. He didn’t dare go through the other side of the canals again, near where he’d found the Saw Spear, until he had more Molotovs considering how much of a pain to kill the ones on this side had been.

Bell thought he was hallucinating again. Like when he’d ran into another corpse below, just past the bridge. It had been guarded by Carrion Crows, slouching against an iron fence next to a row of coffins.

After killing the loud, vicious birds, a near-silent cracking sound came from the head of the corpse and a silvery mist leaked out of it. The gas seemed almost alive as it writhed outwards, practically crawling out in the form of… well, he wanted to call it a slug, but it was more of a wisp or an outline, ethereal in presence and form.

Allured and intrigued by the sight of it, he moved to pick it up. But the moment he touched it, the misty phantasm vanished. Disappeared in the blink of an eye as a gentle wiggling sensation in his skull left him scratching his head until it settled down, and Bell went along his way.

“You’re a hunter, aren’t you?” asked the young, feminine voice again from the nearby window, where a lit lamp burned incense. He could make out a small outline from behind the iron bars that covered the windows, tinted to hide the person behind it. “I know that smell from auntie Eileen.”

“You know Eileen?” Bell asked, his voice was half-muffled by the bandana covering his mouth.

The silhouette shifted. “Yes. I-I see her every now and again when she comes to talk to daddy and granddad. It doesn’t smell nearly as strong on her, but she said it was the scent of a hunter.”

Bell figured he shouldn’t be surprised that people who lived here had met others who smelled the scent that only Hestia and a few others could smell in his own world. Eileen said that she had been like him at some point in the past. Likewise, the Doll said countless hunters passed through as well. He lowered the bandana covering his face and removed the cap so that he could properly addressed the young-sounding girl. “Yeah, I’m a hunter.”

“Then, will you look for my mum?” she asked. “Daddy’s a hunter, like you, but he didn’t come home when he was supposed to. Mum went to find him before he met with granddad, but she hasn’t come back either. Now I’m alone and scared, and the incense are running low…”

Bell felt a heavy weight fall into his stomach. He’d seen so many corpses scattered already. What if they’d been among the dead? For all he knew, he was wearing her father’s clothes as of now.

He was horrified to even entertain the thought. But, at the same time, he knew what it was to be alone, waiting in an empty home for someone who wouldn’t come back. So, he had to at least check to see so that he could tell her.

“I’ll look for her,” Bell said. “What does she look like? And what’s her name?”

“Thank you!” Her silhouette jumped up. “My mum’s name is Viola. She’s wearing a pretty black dress and has blonde hair. Oh, and a big and beautiful brooch with a red gem inside of it that Daddy got for her. They’re the same shade as your eyes, actually.”

A small, fleeting sense of relief came over him. He hadn’t seen any corpses like that. There was a chance that she was still safe. “What about your father? If she went looking for him, I’m guessing there was somewhere she’d check?”

“Yes. Daddy’s name is Gascoigne, and he would meet up with granddad in a place called the Tomb of Oedon. It’s near an old chapel, a different one than the church daddy used to work with until I was born. She may have gone there in search of him.”

“I’m heading that way now, so I’ll go look for them both,” he told her, again feeling some relief as he recalled the shade who’d helped him slay the Cleric Beast. Even if it had been a dead-end, he wouldn’t have beaten it without the help. The least he could do is help reunite their family. “Just stay here until I get back.”

“Wait,” the young girl called out as he moved to leave. She raised the window halfway, giving Bell a view of her white nightdress as she then managed to slip a tiny box through the gap in the bars for him to take. “If you find my mum, give her this music box. It plays one of daddy’s favorite songs, to help him remember when he forgets us.”

Bell removed the glove on his right hand, so he didn’t get any grime on it. The metal box fit in it, but it had a bit of weight to it. Flipping open the lid revealed there was aged paper fixed to the underside, but he couldn’t make out any of the words in the native script. So, he closed it and then slipped it into his backpack. “I’ll be sure to get it to her, so sit tight and keep your window shut and locked to be safe.”

“I will,” she told him. “You be careful out there too, mister hunter.”

 


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 12 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 12: Return to the Dream

And the Hunt awaits your presence once more…

Bell found himself staring up at the moon as those words whispered in his ears on the wind, unable to move. Unable to think.

A scent that he couldn’t comprehend permeated the air. Celestial in nature. Thickening to the point of suffocating as the luminous white orb hanging in the night sky seemed so close that the glimmering moonlight reflected in his unwavering gaze.

The alluring face of the moon eclipsed his vision until he couldn’t see where it began and ended, and he was unable to look away even if he wanted to. The ivory rays themselves were like countless, tender hands grasping his head. Refusing to let him turn away, refusing to let him ignore the orb of night that seemed to swallow up the distance between Heaven and Earth just for him—

“Bell?”

—only to vanish as the night sky was replaced with solid stone. The moonlight that had been radiating down, leaving him awash in its silvery rays, turned to artificial magic-stone lights. The irrefutable presence that loomed over him now took the form of a round face, sapphire eyes gazing into his own with a concerned frown.

Hestia. His Goddess. Entrancing in a different way than… what exactly?

Bell sat up, rising on the couch and turning so that his feet touched the ground. Blinking. His head felt misty and tired. Adrift somehow. “Was I sleeping?”

Hestia took a seat next to him on the couch. “I thought you were, but your eyes were open and distant.” Fingers soft as silk reached up to brush his forehead. “Were you having a nightmare?”

“I…” He tried to find words. But the memory had already slipped from his mind. Gone like mist that evaporated in the morning light. He brought his hands to his eyes and rubbed them. “I’m not sure. I don’t even remember when I fell asleep.”

The way her frown deepened showed that answer didn’t please her at all. “Just in case, we’ll see Miach about getting you some sleeping medicine. I know he makes some that can bring about a dreamless sleep.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I just need to get up and move around today. That’s all.”

Hestia’s expression softened upon hearing that. “Just wait a little longer for my sake, Bell. Hephaestus told me that she would have one of her children available soon to form a party with you. Then you can go back in the Dungeon without worrying me so much.”

It had been a few days now since the Banquet of the Gods. Her proposal wasn’t exactly rejected by the two. But there were complications involved.

In the case of Take’s children, they operated as a group and had tactics, so introducing Bell into their cohesion might complicate things. And his children had to work hard given that they were also poor, on top of supporting an orphanage back in their home country. So, while he stated he could see if he could arrange something, Hestia had to admit that it would likely interfere with his own Familia’s survival unless Bell took up a role like a Supporter.

Hestia didn’t think Bell would settle for that. He wanted to be an Adventurer after all. And, while she could beg him to do so, she would be trampling on his dream more than she already had. Besides, having him be a Supporter meant that Bell would receive less valis than he would earn on his own and hamstring Take’s income as well.

It was different in the case of Hephaestus. She had several children who wanted to travel further down in the Dungeon, in order to reach Level 2. That way they could gain the Blacksmithing Developmental Ability.

But Bell had only been doing this for around two weeks, so naturally most people wouldn’t think he had that kind of ability. Hephaestus wouldn’t just order one of them to put up with Bell for Hestia’s sake, so she had to find children willing to work with someone who didn’t have nearly as much time or experience as them. That was easier said than done without exerting more pressure than she was comfortable with.

In both cases, it was a matter of Bell not appearing experienced enough. Hestia’s words that he could pull his own weight weren’t enough. While Bell could prove that he was more than capable enough, it would take time to reach that point. So, in a worst-case scenario, Hestia really might have to let him go back into the Dungeon on his own.

Still, I should find something for him to do… Oh, right! Her pigtails shot up in excitement as an idea came to mind when she remembered what today was. “You know, I have today off work and there’s a festival going on, meaning there’s a lot of food vendors and game booths out.”

Bell was naturally surprised, since he hadn’t been in the city long. “There are?”

“Yep!” Hestia hopped up onto her feet and extended her hand for him to take. “Since you need to get out, how about you and I spend the entire day together?”

A festival with just the two of us, huh? Between both of their jobs, they rarely spent time together outside of this homely little room. So how could he refuse the offer to spend time together as a Familia? “Of course.”

“Then let’s go have a lot of fun,” Hestia said before her expression bloomed into a radiant smile while their fingers intertwined. It carried a warm affection within it.

It was almost enough to make the lethargy in his mind melt away until Bell abruptly felt like he was being watched again, leaving him snap his head around for the source. Then he remembered it was just the two of them there and was left wondering if the lack of sleep really was getting to him. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it before getting dressed for their adventure outside.

In order to get to the Monster Feria, also known as the Monsterphilia,  they needed to head down the road so that they got back onto the Main Street. From there, they could head straight to the far east side of the city. That was where the festival was being held, at the colosseum, but since it was going to be busy they would likely have to forgo a Tax cart and instead go on foot.

White-hair! Over here, meow!

It just so happened that, while on the West Main, Hestia stopped them when she heard someone calling for him. “Bell, I think that girl is calling you.”

“Huh?” He looked over to see that there was a catgirl in one of the waitress uniforms for the Hostess of Fertility, waving for him to come over with her ears pointed up. Since it would have been rude to ignore her, he hurried over. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you!”

“Mya, it’s no good if kids don’t go to bed on time,” she told him after looking him over. Then she turned to Hestia and gave her a polite bow, as was etiquette Bell suspected. “Oh, you must be his Goddess. It’s nice to meet you, meow.”

“Good morning,” Hestia said, approaching her. “How do you know Bell?”

“This is the place I told you about,” Bell answered in her place. “The place with the really good food.”

“Myama will be glad to hear it.” She then produced a coin purse and handed it over to Bell. “Syr needs this. Can you give it to her, meow?”

Bell eyed it for a moment. It was a purse that definitely suited a girl, and he could picture her holding it. But he wasn’t exactly sure where to find her in the first place. “Uh…”

“Arnya, if you’re going to make a request you should at least make it as clear as possible,” said a new waitress as she appeared from behind the catgirl. It was the elfess who had chased Bell down that night to return his belongings. “Good morning, Mister Cranel and Miss Goddess. My apologies for her calling you out so early.”

“It’s not a problem, but what’s this about Syr?” he asked. “Is she not here?”

“She has the day off and went to the Monster Feria for the opening event, but she left her purse here. The rest of us are preparing to open up for the day so, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you return it to her if you see her?”

“We were heading in that direction, but the festival itself is pretty active from what I’ve heard,” Hestia said. “Will we be able to find her?”

“She just left, so I’m sure white-hair can find her.” Arnya flashed Bell a smile. “Right, meow?”

If they have that much faith in me then I’ll try. Besides, Bell knew what it was like to be walking around in a big city like this with practically no money to your name. It had been like that when he had first arrived, and there was no point in making her walk back to get it if necessary.

He turned back to Hestia and said, “Sorry, but I really should give this back to her.”

Black twin-tails swayed as Hestia shook her head. She liked the fact that he was a good boy. “I don’t mind since we have the entire day. Besides, if this Syr person is a friend of yours, we should help if we can.”

[R-M]

Eina was one of several other members of the Guild currently outside of the colosseum for the sake of the festival, acting as informants to the citizens as well as assisting the Ganesha Familia in whatever way possible to make it a success.

By far, the biggest and most important event was the monster taming that was already underway beyond the massive stone walls that rose to towering heights. As things stood, it was a unique experience that came once a year for the citizens of Orario, who likely had scant few encounters with monsters in their lives. Because, even though the Dungeon was located within the labyrinth, the average person would never set foot into it and thus had far less exposure to monsters than those who made a living out of it.

Eina was not a fan of the idea that monsters were brought out of the Dungeon for taming during the festival. Monsters, especially Dungeon-born ones, were terrifying beings who existed to kill without regard for anything but their baser instincts. She’d filed enough reports on dead adventurers to know that having even one aboveground and unchecked would spell a huge problem.

But it was not her call to make. Instead, it was that of her superiors. They were the ones who decided the Monsterphilia was necessary for the citizens, because it gave them a chance to view adventurers in a more romanticized light.

Not all adventurers were friendly. Not all people were friendly. It was the way things were in general, that the experiences and personalities of the individual determined how they acted with others. The problem was that supermortals with strength above that of the norm naturally went by their own rules, so long as it didn’t fringe on the rules of their Familia.

Maybe they decide they don’t want to pay a tab, or maybe tempers flare and a fight breaks out. The difference in strength between an ordinary citizen and an adventurer meant they couldn’t raise a hand to them and needed someone to complain to. They needed someone to deal with problems that arose, which was what the Guild existed for. So they had to manage both the frustrations of the citizens and the adventurers, trying to placate both.

That was what the festival was for. Citizens would see these highly publicized adventurers putting on a show for their amusement and think to themselves that maybe these were the norm and the ones that caused them problems were the outliers. At least until enough time passed and the next year came around, where they would do it again.

Even now, a skilled Tamer was elegantly in the process of taming one of the monsters in a show of charisma and skill. It painted the scene as a mortal dominating a monster, making it submit without seriously raising a hand or slaughtering it for its magic stone, as was ordinary. An extravagant way of undercutting the actual dangers of the profession, setting a standard for the unaware that adventurers had class and dignity.

Eina didn’t exactly blame the Ganesha Familia for giving people the wrong impression of just how dangerous both monsters and the job were. They were merely doing it at the request of the Guild in the first place, who approved and managed it. But it would have consequences later on, when those who saw them tried to replicate their feats and have their dreams, and possibly their lives, dashed.

She took a deep breath, not at all satisfied that the reservations she had about the festival, until she spotted a familiar bed of white hair and ruby eyes scouring the crowd. She hadn’t seen him in days, so a part of her had been worried that something happened to him. Seeing him in the distance, still alive, was enough for now to put on a smile on her face as she called out on him. “Bell!”

His name being called attracted the eyes of not him but the smaller girl at his side. The divine aura that was leaking out, naturally present to all the Gods and Goddesses, made it clear what she was. The relatively smaller goddess tugged on his sleeve to grab his attention and pointed to her.

Bell then spotted her, his mouth moving in a familiar enough way that Eina could make out that he was referring to her as his Advisor, and then walked over. “Miss Eina, I didn’t know you’d be out here.”

“The Guild has set aside a good deal of staff for the festival, so I’m currently acting as someone who helps guest find their way inside of the stadium,” she explained, taking in his appearance. He looked tired. Slight bags around his eyes that wouldn’t be out of place for someone four times his age. “Are you not sleeping well, Bell?”

“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been by lately. My goddess wants me to start working with others and forming a party before I start going deeper into the Dungeon.”

That bit of news actually made her somewhat happy. Rather than risking himself, if he worked with others his chances of survival increased drastically. “That’s excellent. Would you like for me to a make a posting for it through the Guild? I can’t guarantee when you’ll meet someone, but I’m sure eventually someone will apply.”

“I’ve already gone out of my way to arrange for that,” Hestia said, approaching them. “But, if you’re acting as an usher, then can we ask if you’ve seen a specific person?”

“There have been a lot of people who have come and gone, so I’ll need you to be specific.”

Bell recalled Syr’s appearance. “She’s a human girl with hair and matching eyes that are sort of ash-colored. She left her wallet behind at her workplace, but we were told she came this way not too long ago.”

Eina placed a hand on her chin in thought. There had been a lot of people, but the hair and eye color on a human were rare enough that if she had seen her then she would have remembered. Not to mention that if she had lost her wallet then she either would have doubled back and ran into them or she would have went elsewhere, since there was an admission fee to the main event.

“I can’t say that I have seen her, I’m afraid—” She was cut off when someone violently pushed past Bell, splitting him and his Goddess apart while knocking them onto the ground. She crouched down to help the two up while turning back to the figure. “Hey, apologize to them this instance!”

The figure, wearing a black cloak of all things at this time of day, turned around and smirked. Then he held up what looked to be a woman’s pouch. He tossed it up and down in his hand twice before running off to the southwest.

Bell’s eyes widened with realization before he rose to his feet. “That’s Syr’s!”

“Bell, wait!” His Goddess tried to grab him before he could give chase, but he moved faster than Eina thought would be possible for an adventurer who only started out a short time ago. Despite that, the thief moved just as quickly, and both cleared the plaza of the stadium in short order.

“Are you alright ma’am?” Eina asked, helping Hestia to her feet. She couldn’t believe that someone would so blatantly steal in front of her, wearing something so conspicuous. “I’ll have someone go after them right away.”

She didn’t have the chance before shouts of monsters being on the loose reached her ears less than a minute later.

[R-M]

Bell may have been tired, but the spike of adrenaline that coursed through his system as he gave chase after the cloaked thief helped offset that. It was enough to keep his mind focused on the present. That was the only reason he didn’t lose track of the thief, as whoever it was had to at least have been a high-end Level 1 as he ditched the Main Street for the alleyways. It was an intricate network full of twists and turns, where it would be so easy for Bell to lose track of them if he didn’t stay on top of them.

He didn’t know why the thief had chosen to take Syr’s wallet, but he knew he had to get it back. He would have probably left it to someone else if it had just been his money that was taken. But that had been entrusted to him by the others at the Hostess of Fertility, who put their faith in him to get it to her.

So he continued giving chase after the thief until they eventually left the web of alleyways and came into a plaza that was surrounded by rising buildings that seemed to be piled on top of one another. Bell hadn’t been in the city for long, but even he knew of this place. A maze within the city in itself, a manmade labyrinth that touched the city wall—Daedalus Street.

If he lost them here, he’d never find the thief again. But the thief didn’t seem to have any interest in continuing their chase at this point. They instead opted to drop the wallet onto the ground in the center of the district’s plaza and then, with a flourish of their cloak, disappear in the blink of an eye, leaving Bell there alone and confused until he felt that sensation again, like he was being watched.

Bell looked around once again for the source but didn’t find a single person in the plaza. It was starting to make him feel paranoid. So, he picked up Syr’s belongings, intent on getting out of there right away—

GRRAAHHH!

—only for something massive to come leaping down from over the perimeter of the buildings. It landed onto the ground in front of Bell with a thunderous crash that cratered the stone beneath them. The force alone had been enough to blow him off his feet, and Bell bounced backwards while slamming his head into the ground before coming to a stop several feet away.

Ngh…” Bell’s head was pounding now as he forced himself to look up, whereupon he spotted pure muscle wrapped up in a cloak of white fur and a silver mane of hair falling down its back that glinted in the light. Thick arms and legs tensed with rage as they pounded at a steel plate that was fixed over its chest. Metal knuckles and manacles with chains clanked and rattled as it glared down at him with red eyes hidden behind a visor.

Miss Eina had told Bell of some of the monsters on the lower floors, as a warning for him not to venture deeper. This was one from the deeper floors, around the Eleventh Floor. A Silverback that had somehow gotten all the way to the surface was in front of him, murderous and animalistic intention fixed on him.

How had no one noticed this thing running around? That question loitered in his mind until he saw the massive primate rushing for him with a primal gait that was faster than it had any right to be. He barely had time to roll out of the way as it closed the distance with upraised arms and then brought both its massive fists down with the intention of crushing him.

The ground shook. Stone was upturned. Jagged bits of displaced rock were sent flying outwards to pelt Bell as he got back to his feet and considered his options.

The first was that he could run. He didn’t know where the monster came from, but he was unarmed and unarmored. In the city filled with more adventurers than any other in the world, chances were he’d run into someone capable of dealing with it.

But if he fled while it was attacking him then someone innocent could be hurt. More so if it chased him while the festival was going on. He could possibly get away, but only if he were willing to sacrifice people he didn’t know. And, while he may have had his dreams of being a hero tested, battered by the time he spent in that nightmare, that was something he just couldn’t do.

I have to kill it. Bell envisioned the Hunter’s Mark in the back of his mind and called forth the Little Ones across the boundaries of this world and the Hunter’s Dream. “Please, bring me my weapons!”

GYRAAH!” His declaration carried the intention to fight, and so the Silverback responded with a roar in acceptance of his challenge. What drove it was unknown to the young adventurer, but whatever it was that keyed him onto Bell now took firm root. It would not stop until he was crushed, and with another quick gait it moved to do so.

This time, on his feet, Bell sidestepped the initial slam of the monster’s fist as it brought the right one down. But there was no time to remain stationary as it then swung the arm outwards to knock him back. Bell leapt back while bringing his own arms up to shield his chest and head, whereupon the chains that were still attached to its manacles caught him in glancing.

The thick steel that was meant to keep it bound was dense enough that he could feel the lashing it gave his forearms and felt its sting. But fortunately, his arms didn’t break from such a passing strike, even if they throbbed and he could tell it was likely to bruise. He could still fight then.

Bell’s ears then caught the unintelligible voices of the Little Ones answering his plea as a ripple in space formed just behind him. They emerged from the nearest building, sticking out of it horizontally with the Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Pistol in hand. In a conjoined effort, the grouping of Messengers tossed them towards Bell with as much strength as their emaciated arms could muster.

Well-worn wood wrapped in fresh bandages for a grip met one hand while the curved grip shaped to fit comfortably filled the other. Both set of fingers wrapped around them tight before Bell rolled once more out of the way as the Silverback attacked with another punch that blew open the wall with a spray of stone dust.

Screams bellowed out from within. Someone’s home had just been broken into. Collateral damage in its attempt to kill Bell.

I have to lure it the center! He turned his back to the monster, presenting an opening despite his fear. Then he ran towards the center of the plaza and lure it that way, bringing the fight into safer territory.

The Silverback took the bait. Corded muscles in its lower legs released like a coiled spring and sent it forward. It lunged for Bell with its hand outstretched, intent on wrapping those stout fingers around his body to crush him like ripe fruit.

The young adventurer threw himself to the side, getting away with only his leg being clipped in escaping the fingers as they closed into a fist. The Silverback’s momentum carried it forward a little further, into the center of the plaza. It’s back was to Bell, so he rushed in with the Saw Cleaver to hack away at it.

The last he checked his Strength had just made it to E-rank after the War Shadows, even higher than before he fought the Minotaur with the Doll’s update. It had been just enough for his saw’s teeth to tear rents into its flesh deep enough for him to get its magic stone free somehow. Yet, now he couldn’t even manage to dig it past the hide beneath the silver fur before he gripped it with both hands and tensed his own muscles that seemed heavy with exhaustion to rip the metal out through the side.

The Silverback snarled as crimson ran free from a tear in its flesh, blood vessels above its thick muscles torn open so that they could start dotting that white fur with its blood. Retaliation followed. It began to move forward, pounding its strong fists down over and over again.

Bell raised the pistol loaded with a Quicksilver Bullet and fired, hoping the stopping power would be enough to halt it.  The sound of caged thunder was drowned by the shattering of earth, the faint pinging of the bullet hitting metal that either guarded its eyes or chest barely reaching his ears. Then Silverback finished its rampage with a double-hammer strike that hit the ground hard enough that it blew Bell off his feet before he could get out of range.

Ah…ahh…” Bell struggled for breath as haze of pain permeated his body, blood pounding beneath his skull as he got back onto his feet. Then he made out the glint of metal from the knuckles on the Silverback’s fist as it readied to strike. He moved to dodge, but he couldn’t.

His legs felt like they had gone to liquid. His insides felt like they were shaking from the previous hit without it even touching him directly. He couldn’t dodge like this, so he brought the Saw Cleaver’s flat around to act as a shield and braced it with his other hand to withstand the impact—

CRUNCH!! KRIK!! The sound of splintering wood and fracturing iron followed. Then came pain, a sharp and jagged thing that dug into his flesh along with a heavy weight that carried him further until Bell hit the ground a final time. Agony took on a tangible form as he struggled to breathe, only to feel something sharp tearing him apart.

With his vision blurred he looked down to see that the Saw Cleaver had been broken. The butcher’s weapon was embedded within his chest diagonally with the broken handle a little distance away. His pistol was nowhere to be found, lost on impact as something hot and wet bubbled up in his throat while crimson seeped out of his flesh around the wound and soaked his shirt.

The blood, with its scent thick, glossed over his mind as the Silverback approached slowly, as if giving him time to realize that he’d been won over before it came to deliver the killing blow. His weapons hadn’t been enough. They had broken, and his body had followed suit.

He struggled to move but couldn’t as the strength had left his body. He couldn’t even speak as blood bubbling up in his throat drowned any words that could have slipped from the orifice. With tears stinging his eyes while his vision dimmed on the sight of the Silverback raising up its fist once again, Bell realized he was going to die again and could only apologize to Hestia silently. Goddess… I’m sorry…

Then, for a second time, a fist descended. For a second time, there was a moment of pain amidst the spreading numbness, followed by the absence of every other sensation. For a second time, he woke to find himself laying amidst the moonlit flowers in bloom that were strewn over the hillside.

There, he was greeted by a sincere and serene voice that said, “Welcome Home, Good Hunter.”


Rabbit of the Moon: Chapter 11 [DanMachi/Bloodborne]

Chapter 11: Banquet of the Gods

Bell Cranel was on the move the next afternoon, on his way down the Main Street to the tower of Babel at a somewhat sluggish pace.  Last night he’d had some trouble sleeping after taking a shower. And he had spent an hour beforehand settling potential issues over what happened in the Hostess of Fertility before heading to the Guild.

Keeping with his promise, he first went to apologize to Syr over the mishap that happened last night. He made it clear that his departure was because he had been uncomfortable with the Loki Familia due to an embarrassing event in the Dungeon. She didn’t really press him on the finer details, which was something that he was grateful for given that he didn’t want to lie to her, though she did manage to worm him into having brunch there.

The menu changed during the day, though the food remained very good. It was also more accommodating to his wallet, probably because it was catered to a more casual customer base then. Adventurers were the primary source of income in Orario, so they had the highest earning margins next to the ones who ran larger Familias and exported magic stones. He would have to take Hestia there some time.

After that was the matter of visiting Miss Eina at the Guild to ask about any places where he could buy armor today. When he brought up what his budget was like now that he had paid off his Guild-loaned equipment yesterday, Eina told him of a reasonably priced shop that was on the upper floors of Babel. She’d even given him written instructions to make sure he didn’t get lost by accident.

Going straight down West Main soon brought him into the Central Park, where Adventurers were coming and going. It was a nice day that was the same as usual for Orario as far as he could tell in the time he had been there, such a tight yet bustling feeling. The sensation of life and open movement all around him was a strong contrast to the coffin and blood-encrusted streets of Yharnam at night, where only the beasts that stalked the shadows lurked.

The memory of the Hunt stilled his feet as it briefly floated to the surface of his mind. But he shook his head vigorously, slapping his cheeks and letting the sting bury the memories once more. He wasn’t going back there.

I’m going to continue on my life as an Adventurer, not a Hunter. Resolve in mind, he was about to take another step forward—

“Move it you lousy Supporter! We’re running late!”

—when he heard someone commanding someone else to move just barely above the rabble of the Adventurers around him. He turned to the source of the sound to see a male adventurer, one in a party of four, complaining about being late to enter the Dungeon to a small figure that was dressed in a plain robe that looked ragged at the edges.

He couldn’t make out the person’s face to determine their race or gender, but they looked so tiny that they could’ve been a child. Yet, the backpack they were carrying looked to be the size of a person, thrice their height. It must’ve weighed a lot for them, even if it was empty. But their party was telling them to move faster as they forced their way past the other Adventurers into Babel.

Since their destination was the same, Bell could only follow in their footsteps into Babel until they mixed into the crowd that was heading down to the basement floor. That would take them to the spiraling staircase leading into the gaping maw of the abyss below. Into the Dungeon.

He went the other way, towards the wide lobby that was past one of the many arches that surrounded it. The blue-and-white, expansive floor never failed to impress him as he entered it, and it was there he found what he was looking for as a rough looking man stepped onto a circular pedestal and pressed a button on what looked to be a console. Glass rose up to wall him off from the rest of the lobby and he ascended on the elevator that Eina had mentioned in her instructions.

Bell approached one of the pedestals himself, intrigued as he tried to work out how it could function. He wasn’t all that accustomed to the conveniences of Orario compared to his village, but given it was the source of a good deal of the magic stones in the world he could reason out they had more chances to develop devices like this. Bell pushed the button to activate it and felt gravity being defied beneath his feet as he ascended the heights of Babel for the first time.

This is pretty cool, he mused silently as he pushed open the glass of the elevator when he found himself on the Eight Floor. It had a good number of Adventurers roaming around, weaving in and out of the various stores that had displays of weaponry and armor for those who would brave the Dungeon. Bell was naturally drawn to the various shops but had to stop himself from wandering off and went into the one on Eina’s instructions.

The inside of the shop that was that of stone and wood, lined with steel in the form of weapons and armor that had been forged in fire and tempered by the hands of the blacksmiths working under the name of the Hephaestus Familia. On the walls were weapons and shields, alternating as they decorated the solid stone, price tags placed in view at prices that weren’t drastically above what he had on him at the moment. Short shelves that the walls were used to support the smaller arms or unique pieces that drew in more than a few curious eyes.

Maybe it was just because he was still relatively new to Orario, but it still amazed Bell as he looked at all of it. Even with the fact that Hestia had told him before of how she and the Goddess of the Forge were old friends, and that her Familia was one of the best when it came to blacksmiths. It really highlighted the differences in their Familia that Bell couldn’t even properly grasp the perspective or the amount of valis it would take to rent out all these floors for their blacksmiths.

Bell figured that he could spend hours just window shopping if he didn’t already know what he’d come in for. It was lightweight armor to replace the breastplate he’d lost setting foot into Yharnam. Something stronger than the one he’d gotten from the Guild, given that a sickly beast in Iosefka’s clinic had torn into it, while the claws of the Cleric Beast ripped it apart completely and took a pound of flesh with it.

Lacking any armor when he’d gone into the Dungeon and met the War Shadows could have been a death sentence. It would have been if not for the fact that blood still healed him since he’d gone in without any potions either. He couldn’t skimp on the armor from here on out.

So, Bell ventured towards the back of the store where the armor was placed on mannequins. From the look of it, the more expensive and extravagant items were closer to the front of the store, where more people would be inclined to buy them. That meant the more practical pieces would be further back.

The backside of the store had larger shelves that rose up above his head, sorting into aisles that had different items. More of the customers were looking through them, paying little mind of Bell as they inspected the different pieces. There were also barrels at the ends of some of them, containing larger weapons like spears.

Bell went past them, moving further back to where the lightweight equipment was. Most of them didn’t have mannequins but were instead housed in boxes of equipment pieces. Each one had a different style of handwriting on the tags, so if he had to guess the ones who made the armor were the ones who stocked it.

He went past the different pieces until he found one that drew him in. The polished metal that was pure white like the moon glinted in his ruby-toned eyes with an almost enthralling allure. Bell pulled out the main piece and just stared down at the breastplate meant to shield the vitals of the chest, including his heart.

It felt light. Even lighter than the one that he’d gotten from the Guild when he joined. Yet, he got the feeling that it was harder despite that. It was probably made from a different kind of metal than the standard one used for Guild-issued armor. But would they bother putting something like that in a box not even worth displaying?

They probably might in a shop run by this Familia, he figured before looking at the rest of it. There were guards for the joints, knees, and forearms along with plates for the lower back, shoulders, and hips. Additional bits and pieces that didn’t have the same grade of protection that full armor would give, but more than necessary for simple lightweight armor. And all of that at only 9,900 valis.

Flipping it over, he spotted the signature beneath a stamp that had a rabbit silhouette. The name “Welf Crozzo” didn’t ring a bell to him, but he hadn’t been there for very long. And if he was famous then there’s no way they would have put it back here. He must’ve been a novice blacksmith then.

Well, if this works out then I’ll keep that name in mind. Decision made, he took the box with him to the counter and paid for his new armor before heading back to show it off to his Goddess.

[R-M]

Once night fell, it was Hestia’s turn to venture out from the small but homely comfort that was her room beneath the Church.

Her destination was the home base of the Ganesha Familia, which had been established within a massive statue surrounded by a stone wall, with the entrance being the statue’s crotch. The various Gods and Goddesses had gathered for the celebration being hosted, a cacophony of communion between the different deities that made their home here in Orario. That made it the best place to gather information on Achelois’ whereabouts.

Hestia started her search at the buffet table, where she spotted Hermes and Takemikazuchi. The latter was being egged on by the former on in trying to finish a large plate of meat, dressed in his formal montsuki kimono adorned with his Familia’s emblem. The Goddess of the Hearth looked down to her own ordinary clothes and fought down the slight feeling of inferiority that she felt upon seeing how well he’d dressed when she didn’t even have celebratory clothes.

But Hestia shook her head to drive away those thoughts before touching the ribbon that had been elegantly tied into a bow around her neck. She wasn’t here for her own reasons, but for Bell’s sake. That thought allowed her to approach them both with a somewhat cheerful, “Take! Hermes!”

Takemikazuchi forcefully swallowed his meal upon noticing her and then cleared his throat so he could speak. “Hestia, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Hestia’s response was a good-natured retort. “The same could be said with you. Don’t you have a bunch of children waiting for you at home?”

“My children actually insisted that I come, citing that I should mingle with the others instead of working tirelessly for them.”

“What considerate children you have.” She then turned to Hermes. “And Hermes, I was looking for you too. I don’t think that we’ve seen each other in a long time.”

“Well, my Familia does travel a lot so I’m usually out running message and errands.” He snapped his finger as if something came to mind.  “Though, I’ve heard you have a child in your Familia now. Mind if I ask who?”

“His name is Bell and he’s a very sweet boy. He’s only been at it for a short time, but he’s hard-working and even managed to get down to the Sixth Floor on his own.” She puffed out her chest in pride as she boasted of how special her child was, even though she was frustrated that he’d gone deeper than that on his own. It was a complicated feeling, to be honest.

That was partly why she had come. She didn’t have much to her name and she had few friends. But if she could at least have them help her keep him safe, then that would be something she could do as his Goddess.

Hermes only smiled in a mischievous manner. “He sounds like an adventurous one. You’ll have to introduce me some time.”

Then I’d be worried you would rub off on him, Hestia thought to herself before moving onto her first question now that the pleasantries had been done. “Anyway, I was wondering if either of you had seen Achelois? I’ve been looking for her, but I can’t seem to find any trace of her.”

“Achelois?” Takemichizuki put his hand on his chin and looked up in thought. “Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen her at all since I arrived in Orario two years ago.”

“Miach said the same thing, so I thought that she might be outside of Orario. So, if anyone of us would know, it’d be Hermes.”

Hermes held his hands out and shrugged. “Well, I’m flattered you think so highly of me, but I’m afraid that I don’t know where she is either. The last time I heard from her she was still searching for someone to join her Familia with little luck. As I’m sure you know, it’s fairly difficult to start a successful Familia these days if you don’t have much to offer.”

Yes, Hestia knew that very well. The more established Familia within Orario were the ones everyone wanted to join. And if you didn’t have much to your name to start with then few would take the gamble to help. “That’s true, but I can’t imagine that she went back above. So, she has to be somewhere.”

“Well, I could try sending some feelers out when I leave again. But why exactly are you looking for her?” he asked.

Ah… that’s… a bit private, actually…” It wasn’t like she could just say what was going on with Bell to them. Especially not in such a crowded event. “Let’s just say we need to have a Goddess-to-Goddess talk.”

“Aww, yer worried she’s gonna poach yer child?” Hestia tensed, a shiver running up from the base of her spine to the top of her head. That voice was the last one she’d wanted to hear tonight.

Loki.” The Goddess of the Hearth practically hissed that name as she turned to find said Goddess right behind her, grinning in her sleek, black dress. “What do you want?”

“Just saw the crowd and came to say hello,” she claimed. “Well, that and I heard ya talkin’ about your child. That’s the one that ran into a minotaur a while back, wasn’t it?”

“And I think we both know who’s responsible for that,” Hestia said. “Bell could have died!”

“That’s the risk of goin’ in the Dungeon.” Loki’s small shoulders rose and fell before she took a sip of the drink she held in her left hand. “Besides, kid made it out fine under his own power, despite being a Level 1. Makes a lotta sense that ya’d hafta worry about him falling into the arms of another Goddess when a shrimp like ya can’t even afford a decent dress.”

Hestia’s temper flared. She rose on the tips of her toes to get right in Loki’s face and struck her weakness. “This coming from one who can’t even grow a decent pair to fit in a dress!”

Then Loki’s temper flared. She scowled, baring her teeth. “Them’s fightin’ words!”

“Bring it on!” she answered in response, but before either of them could act on the animosity, the guys stepped in. It wouldn’t do to have the two come to blows after all. Takemichizuki put his hands onto Hestia’s shoulders and gently pulled her away as Hermes did the same for Loki, albeit with a lot more effort.

“Easy, Hestia,” he told her. “Your child would be disappointed if he learned about you getting into a needless fight.”

Hmph.” Hestia folded her arms and looked away. “She’s the one who started it.”

“Sparks still fly like fireworks whenever you two meet each other, huh?” a third voice spoke, their tone lacking in surprise while drawing their attention. There stood the Goddess of the Forge, Hephaestus. “Goodness, the others were starting to take bets.”

Hestia’s frown was replaced with a brighter smile. “Hephaestus! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for a while now.”

“If it’s for a loan, I’ll tell you right now that I’m not giving you one,” she said, setting one hand on her hip.

“No, not that,” Hestia insisted. “Since you and Take are both here, I just wanted to talk to you about a few things, like if you have any children who might want to join in a party with mine?”

[R-M]

What’s so great about just having two lumps of meat hanging off your chest,” Loki muttered indignantly as she grabbed another drink from a passing member of Ganesha Familia and leaned against a wall, watching bitterly as Hestia tried to arrange a playdate for her child.

Then the sound of high-heels clicking against the floor drew her eyes up to the approaching beauty. With skin as white as ivory and smooth as silk, her dress hugged her body sinfully tight and showed off her mature shape. It was the Goddess of Beauty in the flesh.

“Having a bad night, Loki?” Freya said with a soft, naturally-seductive smile.

“Whaddya want?” Loki demanded, pointedly looking away from the cleavage on display in front of her.

“I overheard your discussion with Hestia and something you said caught my interest. Mind telling me more about it over a drink of Soma?”

[R-M]

In stark contrast to the clamor of the Gods and Goddesses in Orario, there was only a single conversation that permeated the absolute, serene silence of the Hunter’s Dream.

The Plain Doll, her pale and porcelain body dressed in clothing that were finely-crafted and exuding a benign warmth that had been woven into the stitch, sat among the luminous flowers that rested on a hill by the phantasmal headstone. Her head was bowed before it as her soft voice rang out ephemerally in prayer.

Oh, Good Hunter. I pray your suffering spirit has found comfort in your fleeting respite. I pray your tender heart has been soothed. But the Dream beckons thee to bring the long night an end. And the Hunt awaits your presence once more…