Chapter 28: Holy Moon Festival – Night
“Elio meticulously drilled more knowledge into me as more time passed. At least three seasons by my count. Every spirit had preferences and quirks, but because they couldn’t communicate with words the one responsible for recognizing the signs was the other party.
I understood that his lessons were important. But as a child who noticed her brother’s hair getting longer, that he was aging right before her eyes, I began to feel anxious that… that he really did trade his future for mine. So, I begged Elio to at least let me prove I knew what I was doing, hoping to show that I was ready to be able to use Magic.
To my surprise, he agreed.”
—Elio’s Lessons in Magic III: Preparations
Lefiya found it difficult to sit still as she stared at the rising moon.
Stars lined the night sky, glittering diamonds strewn across the dark curtain of the boundless expanse. The luminous pale-blue moon that was revered since before the descent of the divine was larger than usual, close enough that from a distance it seemed to almost be touching the tower that rose to the heavens. Its silvery-blue rays were cast down strongly upon the Labyrinth City, leaving the streets and buildings awash in the gentle hue.
She should be here soon. The Half-Elf felt impatient despite the calming babbling of the water fountain just behind her drowning out the ambient noise of the other people loitering about in various states of excitement and nervousness within the Central Square. Because the Tower of Babel was at the heart of Orario, the plaza around it served as a common gathering place during events like these where individuals from different lots in life would meet before heading off to be with one another.
Lefiya’s appearance drew the gaze of others as a natural consequence of the measures she took in preparation for the occasion after she finished her training session with Alicia. Her hair, lustrous thanks in part to a conditioner, was set in a flowing ponytail and kept bound by a silver hairband. It matched the choker around her neck and armbands just beneath her shoulders, each one of them emblazoned with ivy and floral designs that caught the light from the moon and the magic-stone lamps nearby. Just beneath it was the pendant that Lord Hermes gifted her, which she took advantage of to disguise her clothing as to not draw attention from her Familia on the way out.
Her skin, pristine with a healthy glow from the use of the cream Alicia lent her, was adorned in a pale-green corset dress with a longer skirt in lieu of her usual pink one. Her blouse and skirt were a matching cream-colored pair, and her shoes were a dainty green set that fit comfortably over somewhat more revealing stockings than her normal pair. Altogether her appearance emphasized the elegance and beauty of the Elven race to the eyes of many there.
There were more lustful looks from younger men whose dates would be very displeased with them. But none of them dared approach her carelessly since if a woman was dressed in such a manner here it meant she was awaiting someone. Plus, she had her spare wand in her lap as a silent deterrent from anyone getting funny ideas.
A general rule of thumb in Orario was to pay attention to anything that looked like it could also be used as a weapon when you planned to approach someone. That was one of the key methods of seeing if they were an Adventurer since even a child could be a threat with the Falna. What seemed to be a hairpin keeping one’s hair up could easily double as a stiletto, and metal bands could double as knuckledusters. There was an entire part of the fashion industry in Orario that catered to female Adventurers that catered to combat accessories, after all.
Step. Step… Step… Step. Step…
Soft, uncertain footfalls reached Lefiya’s ears as she continued to wait while staring up at the moon above. They were a notable contrast to the playful steps, excited jaunts, and eager shuffling off in the distance as couples and friends gathered to head off and enjoy the festivities. And as they came closer, she finally turned her head towards the sound and registered her date had arrived.
The Elf with the moniker of Maenads stood at the edge of the fountain, a few meders of distance between them that may as well have been a world away with how reluctant she seemed. Her very posture exuded an air of nervousness that seemed almost foreign for one who had braved the depths of the Dungeon as she had. More so from the slight tremors rolling through her figure as she clasped the hem of what was an entirely different garment than her usual set, or even the one she wore in the Spirit Forest.
“Cute…” The words slipped out without conscious thought on the Half-Elf’s part as she rose to her feet. And the way they made her date fidget as crimson blushed upon her alabaster cheeks only accentuated how cute she was. “You’re so cute, Filvis!”
“My Lord… gave it to me…” she muttered so softly that Lefiya strained to catch her voice. “I was going to wear the clothing I had from the Spirit Festival, but he said that they were more suited to his colors. And I should dress to match my partner, so…”
It wouldn’t surprise Lefiya if Lady Riveria had that in mind when she had the outfits prepared, should she choose to continue to wear them outside of the festival. It was practical for Dungeon wear as well, being made of very durable materials. But given that Filvis confessed to Lord Dionysus, and he seemingly rejected her, it would probably have been perceived as a slight to present herself to Lefiya while in them.
So, he arranged for her to get an outfit that came closer to Lefiya’s preferences, as she had once told Lady Hestia. That was to say it was a layered dress suitable for nobility. And lots of frills.
Her outermost layer was a purple cowl in the same color as the ribbon Lefiya normally wore, with a large pink bow nestled over it. It had long sleeves that came down to a decorative white hem with long gloves of the same color preventing her bare skin from exposure. Resting on top of the dark lustrous strands of her raven black hair was a hairband of plain design that was also purple, like the rest of the first layer of the dress.
The second layer was a thinner, pink fabric with a white horizontal line near the edges that fed into frills beneath it. That design complimented the next layer, which inverted the colors to have mostly white fabric with a pink vertical line before coming to yet another set of frills that were purple like the outermost layer. The white stockings and purple shoes rounded out her outfit, making it perfect for a romantic evening like this.
“It doesn’t suit me, does it?” asked the Cute Elf, her scintillating crimson eyes averting from the dazzling azure pair fixated on her.
“That’s not true,” Lefiya said without hesitation as she closed the gap between them and grasped her hands. “You look so gorgeous that I can’t help but feel my heart jump in my chest when I see you like this.”
Her words only served to deepen the red on Maenads’ cheeks. It spread out to encompass her face and steam poured out of her ears. “H-How can you admit that with a straight face!?”
The Elegant Half-Elf simply giggled. “Ehehe… since you’re here tonight I don’t have to hide how I feel, right?”
Those words seemed to have the opposite effect than intended, as rather than loosen her up, her expression soured ever so slightly. “That’s right… I owe you an explanation, don’t I?”
Lefiya’s head tilted slightly at the sudden change as her partner looked around for someplace quiet and then pulled her along. “Filvis, what’s wrong?”
It was only once they were alone that she took a breath and explained things. “Lefiya, you… must understand even before what happened to me in the past, I never really considered the notion of falling in love. Not with Lord Dionysius. Not with you. Not with anyone. It was… something I just never considered as a priority.”
That was understandable. There were plenty of reasons to become an Adventurer, whether it was for riches or fame or companionship. While she didn’t know Filivis’ reason for leaving her home forest to come to Orario, it had to be a reason great enough that she gave up the freedom to leave when she joined a Familia and gave her consent to the God who took her in.
Filvis’ gloved hands reached up to her upper arms and grasped them tightly, as if to hold herself as she diverted her gaze to the ground. “And after the Nightmare… I gave up on the notion entirely and put a wall around my heart. Unable to protect the Familia members I led into that trap, or even die with them, I was not worthy of anyone. I still don’t feel like I am, to be honest.”
Hearing her confession on her survivor’s guilt hurt to listen to. Lefiya reached up to touch her, but before her fingers could reach the Maenads shook her head. “Filvis…”
“Please, let me finish,” she begged. “If you console me now, I won’t be able to go on and I need you to hear this.”
She reluctantly agreed to do so. “Okay.”.
Filvis swallowed a lump in her throat and kept going. “Even today I am reminded by the empty rooms in our home of the Familia members I led that day to their deaths. Many other parties I worked with all perished while relying on me. Banshee is an appropriate title for me, in that regard.”
It hurt listening to her say that again. So much so that Lefiya had to bite down on her lower lip to avoid telling her she was wrong. But she had to keep her promise and let her get it off her chest.
“But, in spite of that, Lord Dionysus never abandoned me,” Filvis continued. “He accepted me, an empty shell of a ruined being that was impure beyond belief. He never stripped me of my position or blamed me. He was grateful that I came back, and he accepted that I was part of his Familia. That was when I fell for him, even though I knew those feelings likely wouldn’t be returned—his love for me was not the same as mine for him.”
Lost in grief with death surrounding her, yet he still extended his hands and embraced her with open arms. It was natural she would fall in love with him. Lefiya knew that and didn’t blame her for it, since she could imagine doing the same thing if the circumstances were the same.
The Maenads bought her hands to her chest. “But even though having him accept me gave me purpose and made living like this bearable, I had forgotten many things. How to smile. How to laugh. How to feel joy. I lost them all and felt like I didn’t deserve them in the first place, so I was fine with that. Then…”
Her voice cracked, leaving her to trail off for a moment to catch her breath. Her crimson eyes then met with Lefiya’s and bore into them. She was trying to convey the depths of her emotions in the event that her words failed her.
“Then… even knowing I was responsible for so much death… you took my hand. You opened your heart to me, put your trust in me, and continued to stay by my side no matter how much I tried to push you away. You accepted me and…for the first time in a long time… I felt happy and warm inside.”
The Half-Elf’s memories flashed back to that day on the Eighteenth Floor. It seemed distant for only being a short time ago, but the memory was still vivid. She recalled how Filvis had turned her back to her, telling her not to associate with her because she was tainted and would lead to her death as well.
Lefiya had struggled to find words. Any words that could help her. Any words that would stop her for her own sake, so that she didn’t continue to suffer. Anything to help her. So, when her mind failed her, she listened to her heart and let it speak where her mind couldn’t.
“You’re not sullied. You are the most beautiful person in the world.”
The words had no reason behind them. They had only met a short time ago and barely knew each other. But despite that those words came from her heart and continued to flow out. If she didn’t know much about her then she would find out more about her from that day.
And there, after an awkward and painful silence where she believed that she had humiliated herself, she saw it for the first time. She saw Filvis’ smile and knew that she was right. There had been nothing more beautiful to her.
“We’ve gone through so much since then and my feelings have only grown,” Filvis stated. “The darker part of me was always waiting for you to say you didn’t mean it that way or anything that would let me think it was just my heart playing tricks. But after the Spirit Festival, I couldn’t ignore the truth that it wasn’t just a friendship between brethren when you tried to… kiss me…”
Lefiya really had lost her self-control then. It could have turned out so much worse if she had read Filvis wrong. And in front of a bunch of other Elves when she was representing Lady Riveria. It would have been the Alicia incident all over, only this time she really would have felt like dying.
“I was torn between the two of you because I owe you both so much and you’re the only two who have coaxed these feelings from deep inside of me. However, I had no desire to be so greedy as to want both of you when I didn’t really feel worthy of either of you to begin with. You both deserve someone you can dedicate your hearts to in full, and while I still had reservations, I wanted to at least ensure I could do that much for at least one of you.”
The fact that Filvis was in front of her made it clear how that had gone. So Lefiya wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to remain silent. Rejection was hard, especially when it came to the heart. Even being here was no doubt difficult for her.
“Lord Dionysus told me that he loved me as Familia,” she confessed. “He loves us all in his own way, though it may not seem like it at times. To him, we are all important in our own way, and so long as he remained on the Lower World it would be wrong to accept my love jealously and steal my future from me when his life was eternal whereas mine was not.”
Elves lived a long time. Far longer than most other races on the Lower World. But the Gods and Goddesses lived for eternity. The gap between the lifespans was as vast as that of a Human and a Pure-Blooded Elf, but that didn’t mean such a gap couldn’t be breached—after all, Lefiya wouldn’t have been born if that was the case.
But it did mean that they would have to part ways, and one would have to live without the other until the end of their days. For Elves, grief and longevity did not mix well, but they would eventually die and be reborn. For an immortal being, that end would never come, and they would have only two options in the end.
The first was to put up with the pain of the loss for the rest of their existence, which would be agonizing considering how painful loss could be. The second was to decide to return to Heaven with them to keep their soul by their side, giving up on their place here below and the rest of the children they left behind. Knowing that, any single child wishing for their love to be returned would be seen as selfish when the deities were so much more than them.
Even so, many children did yearn for their deity’s affection. To have their love be truly returned in earnest. It was beautiful in its own way—painful and bittersweet, but beautiful.
“I had given up on thoughts of a future outside of serving Lord Dionysus, who accepted me despite my failings. But I want to see how a future would be with you,” Filvis finished. “I am sorry if it sounds like I’m clinging to you to feel something again, and if you wish to part ways with me for being so self—”
Unable to hold her tongue anymore, Lefiya finally slipped up and let her voice out. “Don’t finish saying that. Otherwise, I really will get mad at you.”
Her sudden warning caught the Maenads off-guard. “L-Lefiya?”
Even so, the Half-Elf let out her thoughts. “It’s only natural to feel the way you do after all you’ve gone through. To cling to someone who accepted you and give you even the little things that make life worth living. And it’s not like I don’t know what it feels like to have survived when others have died in your place. You were there too.”
She hadn’t even known the members of the Hermes Familia very well. Yet when she asked them to protect her, they did so without hesitation. As she stood there, unable to move due to the accumulation of magical energy while finishing her spell, she should have died when the attack came towards her.
Yet she lived because Miss Elilly threw herself in front of the attack. Covered in the woman’s blood and forced to watch the life fade from her eyes as she continued to sing, Lefiya still wished she had been better so that never needed to happen. And if she didn’t continue getting stronger, someday that scene could play out again… only for it be her brother or Filvis or someone else she cared about instead.
“…Filvis, it’s natural to cling to whatever you can to feel happy,” Lefiya said after a deep breath to rein in her emotions. “So don’t apologize for that ever again. If not for your own sake, then for those who aren’t there anymore. And for those who care about you, like me.”
Shame and guilt clouded Filvis’ beautiful face. It didn’t suit her, and Lefiya hated she had been the cause. But if she said nothing then it would have been the same as allowing her to keep thinking it was wrong to be happy. And that was wrong.
“To be happy, we cling to what we must. No matter what that might be… or the price of it.” It seemed like she was taking a moment to truly take the Half-Elf’s words to heart as she muttered softly. Then she finally looked Lefiya in the eyes again and asked, “And being with me makes you happy too?”
“Or course,” she said with a small pout at how obvious that should have been. Her mood had been somewhat soured by the discussion. “It’s natural to be happy with the people you treasure, right?”
The Cute Elf’s lips pulled back into a smile that truly suited her. “Then I suppose I’m the happiest person in the world right now. You truly are my dearest treasure…”
Lefiya felt her heart start racing at that. “Then shall we go enjoy the festival together?”
“Just a moment,” Filvis said, extending her left hand out and spreading her fingers wide. Then with her right forefinger and thumb, she reached over and did the one thing Lefiya didn’t expect her to do willing or without coaxing. She pulled free her glove to expose her pale, slender hand for her to see, one after the other.
Then those very same bare hands were extended for her to take. “Shall we pick up where we left off at the Spirit Festival, my dearest treasure?”
“Wow, that’s so cute…”
Elfy couldn’t help but be drawn to one of the stalls that had been set up in the market area located on the west side of Orario. She was one of ten young women who could all proudly claim to be part of one of the most prestigious Familia within the Labyrinth City, each of them an Adventurer who had braved the depths of the Dungeon. Those same fearless explorers of the depths where monsters awaited around every corner were currently mystified at the display set up in front of them.
It was an accessory shop, set up for the Holy Moon Festival. Such stalls weren’t uncommon given that the festivities were a prime time for artisans to ply their trade and market their goods at lucrative prices. But it was a chance for many different artisans to create masterpieces based around a theme, giving them a chance to express their creativity for the sake of making them unique at the same time.
From the top hung pendants that were strung up on cords, crystalline ovals in which were pressed silver flowers that shone lovely. Transparent bangles likewise were set on displays, petals from Ajura trees that carefully formed a wreath inside and somehow maintaining their sky-blue color that shone dimly in the night. Hairbands modeled after a crescent moon that glowed with a luminous, soft hue were present as well.
“I haven’t seen designs quite like this before,” said Anakitty Autumn, or Aki to her friends. She was heading the small band of girls, consisting of herself, Elfy, Claire, Sharon, Lisa, Remilia, Koko, Ruuni, Rhakta, and Shifon. “These flowers come from the Great Tree Labyrinth, don’t they?”
“That’s right,” answered a gentle yet buxom bovine beauty, sporting cow horns, ears, and a tail that was the same color as her long, brown hair. She wore a sleeveless sweater and arm warmers given the autumn chill. “All of the jewelry here was crafted using materials from the Middle Floors of the Dungeon with the help of our Captain and members.”
This stall in particular was manned by members of the Dia Familia, a relatively small Familia that operated within Orario. Though their members were Adventurers, they weren’t dedicated explorers who ventured into the depths and braved the frontiers. Rather they had their own professions and treated it more like a part-time career.
“It’s quite elegant work,” Shifon chimed in. As an Elf she was naturally drawn to the refined craftsmanship and more than a few would complement her silver hair. “And, if I’m not mistaken, the fragrance of the flowers comes through as well?”
Koko, Rahkta, and Ruuni brought their heads closer and took in the scent before confirming as such. “Mixed into the mold used, maybe?”
“But each one has the scent of the different flowers inside.”
“So they would have to use a lot of different ones, right?”
The inquiry was only met with a mischievous wink from the girl sporting her own handiwork in her hair. “That’s a trade secret. All I can say is that many sacrifices were made to get Daisy motivated, and Lady Dia was quite proud of the pieces we made. Especially the matching sets for couples.”
Rather than the mirth of excitement such a proclamation would make amongst buyers, the group instead largely withered with despondent looks amongst themselves. For you see, among the gathered none were in an active relationship due to the demands of the Familia between the Expeditions and various tasks that came with being part of one of the largest Familia within Orario. If they were in a relationship, they wouldn’t have gone together in a group like this.
“I planned on remaining virtuous for at last another five or six decades,” Shifon said, which was actually a pretty standard response for Elves considering their lifespans and birthrates. Adventuring being what it was meant that it was usually best to date another Adventurer if you were going to date at all. And since childrearing was time-consuming that was typically best left after retirement, given the complexities involved and the ever-present risk of leaving a child behind with no parents should the worst happen.
“Well, I was thinking about kids and grandkids someday, but right now there are pretty slim pickings…” Remilia trailed off when she considered her prospects largely within the Loki Familia. And while there were obvious prime candidates like Finn or Gareth, they were untouchable for a myriad of reasons. The rest of the guys were people she considered comrades-in-arms but settling down with them was more daunting than she liked.
“There’s only one among us who could make the most out of a matched pair,” Lisa whispered. Then, in unison, their eyes all fell onto the senior member of their group at Level Four. A certain Cat Person whose ears flapped back and forth in slight annoyance as she placed her hands on her hips.
“Oh, don’t start with that again,” Anakitty said, rolling her eyes in the process. She and Raul had heard it often enough that they didn’t even bother to refute the claims, being perfectly willing to let them believe what they wanted. But it was a different story when someone outside of the Familia could hear, like the young woman running said stall and her eyes were glimmering to the point where Aki could see the rumor starting to spread all over Orario.
Needling aside, some of the young women purchased accessories to keep among themselves. They wouldn’t wear them in the Dungeon, but for casual wear it would complement their outfits nicely. Then they spent some more time visiting the various other shopping booths before they decided that they should try out the festival-exclusive snacks.
“Wasn’t the Hostess of Fertility having a special menu for tonight?” Lisa suggested. It was a restaurant that several of the Familia frequented on occasion, though they all had their own preferential places like Hibachitei. “I remember last year the drinks were pretty nice.”
“Oh yeah, when one of the guys got a little too drunk and booted out, only to have to return the next day and beg for forgiveness,” Sharon said with her eyes closed as she recalled the memory vividly. Of the Demi-Human races, some were more… susceptible to alcohol than others and thus got hammered really quickly. “We probably won’t be able to get a table, but it couldn’t hurt to see what they have to-go before visiting the stalls along the way.”
With their destination set, the group made their way northeast. Their path would eventually lead them to the Main Street that the restaurant was located on, which allowed for a straight path to Babel and was likely brimming with festival-goers who were in a celebratory mood and thus plenty of food stalls that managed to get permits to set up along the roadside.
But as they traveled, Elfy found herself stalling for a moment as her gaze was drawn eastward. Her mind strayed as a nagging curiosity began to swell within her. The idle thoughts she had pushed down since her roommate had left without saying a word and her closet was missing a particular garment.
“Elfy.” Her eyes were drawn back to Anakitty upon hearing her name being called. “It’s this way. Let’s go.”
“…You guys go ahead,” she said after some thought, taking a few steps back. “I think I saw some cute crystal slippers back there that I wanted to reconsider getting before they end up getting sold. I’ll catch up in a bit.”
Aki’s brows folded in slightly and her mouth opened as if she wanted to say something. But then she reconsidered and sighed. “Just don’t take too long, okay?”
“I’ll be back before you know it,” promised the Cheerful Mage before she ran back the way she came. Not all the way. Just far enough to where she could double back eastward while they continued northeast. Those shoes she spotted were cute but there was something more pressing occupying her thoughts and there was a compulsion to just… see it for herself.
It wasn’t like she didn’t know what she was going to see. But not knowing and leaving it to her imagination would be worse. All she needed to do was take a quick peek to ease her mind and then she could return to the others and have fun without those thoughts taking up the back of her mind.
That desire, to rest her curiosity so she could have fun with the rest of her friends, was what led Elfy Colette to Amour Square. The square had long been known as a meeting place for those passionate encounters, where couples could gather to express their love. There was even history behind it, said to be the very site where one mortal child, in the early days of Orario, spotted a Goddess whose very presence stole his breath away. It was not an uncommon tale by any stretch, but his efforts to earn her affection were a different story.
He delved into the Dungeon, back before those who ventured within were known as Adventurers. He fought and scraped and earned his riches there, even as his body gradually succumbed to the dangers nestled deep within the gaping hole. And with his hard-earned wealth, he finally commissioned the Square and the statue in the center of it be built in her honor and asked for her hand in marriage. It was said the Goddess was so moved that when he succumbed to his injuries and perished, she followed him up to Heaven and the square was left behind as a testament to their romance.
Or so the legends say anyway. Whether or not it was true was beyond the knowledge of someone as young as Elfy, and likely any of the living mortals within the city. She had found the tale interesting, so she preferred to think that it was true.
The square was paved with brightly colored stones in a rather lovely pattern that all drew attention to the massive statue within the center. It was bordered by one of the more vibrant gardens within Orario, with flowers from both the surface and the Dungeon blooming along with the rose bushes and trees. The sweet fragrance that wafted throughout combined with the soft light from the magic-stone lamps around the square, which were made more vivid by the cords that ran between them with lanterns further illuminating the square.
There were dozens of couples there, dancing hand-in-hand to a slow melody from a band of well-dressed Pallums that had placed themselves at the base of the statue. Many were dressed with romance in mind, but some looked as though they had wandered by chance. Smiles could be seen on the various couples of various races.
Elfy’s green eyes scanned the sea of bodies drifting amidst the tempo for one in particular. She had burned the image of that dress into her memories and so she was confident she would be able to pick out one person from the horde so long as it crossed her gaze. And though it took some time, she eventually found her roommate sporting that gorgeous outfit.
Lefiya was there with the Elf from the Dionysus Familia, who was also dressed stunningly. Even though they had people around them it seemed like the two of them were off in a world of their own. Their bodies were close together to share warmth between them, with the Half-Elf resting her head on her dance partner’s shoulders while their fingers were entwined as they moved gracefully and without a single misstep.
Her lips were nestled in a content smile while the pink hue coloring her cheeks was visible even at that distance. It was clear at a glance that she was so…happy….
The sound of glasswork splintering. That sound rang out deep within the Mage as the thought crossed her mind.
Her breathing became shallow as she watched her roommate’s lips pull in for a moment, only to come back out ever so slightly glistening beneath the ambient light. Her pulse began to race as she raised her head from its comfortable perch, azure eyes fixed on the crimson pair that regarded her warmly. Then she saw her lean forward on the top of her toes….
Their lips pressed together.
The glass shattered.
A gnawing sensation attacked her green eyes, like a thousand small insects chewing on them. Then a sharp pain found its way into her chest like someone had plunged a poisoned dagger into her heart. Yet, when she reached up to wrench it free, her fingers only dug into her flesh and crystalline tears rolled down her cheeks in glistening streamlets when she tried to blink away the vermin.
The pain became more intense. It seemed to worsen with every beat of her quickening pulse that drummed louder in her ears while watching the two Elves, smiling while holding one another close. The pain grew so agonizing in mere moments that she almost dug her nails into her chest to rip out her own heart to stop it.
She would do anything to escape this pain she was in.
The world blurred until she couldn’t see the two of them anymore. Her legs shivered as strength bled out of them. Her stomach felt like it was about to turn inside out. Her lungs failed to expand, and she struggled for breath.
The Mage felt like she was about to pass out. She would almost welcome unconsciousness. At least then she wouldn’t feel the pain. But that would draw a crowd as people noticed her lying there.
Lefy will know I was here.
The same compulsion that brought her there moved her legs in the opposite direction. She didn’t want to be seen. She didn’t want Lefiya to know that she had seen her there.
It was then she understood the source of her pain. The stinging, unrelenting pain came from her heart breaking into pieces. Not all at once, which would mercifully kill her instantly. But slowly enough that the shards could stab into the beating remains and make her suffer.
Elfy didn’t have a destination in mind. She just knew she had to run as far away from the square as possible before the strength to stand fled her. Thus, the once Cheerful Mage ran desperately and clumsily, her vision wavering between clarity and obscurity.
There were voices as she bumped into things and people. But she kept running. And running. And running.
She ran until someone finally grabbed her firmly. They pulled her close and when she threw her hand out to push them away, they caught it. Even mustering her remaining strength, she couldn’t get away.
“Elfy, it’s me!” said a familiar voice. “Aki!”
She stopped struggling when she recognized Anakitty’s voice. But then the pain seeped into her lungs and stalled her from taking more than a shallow breath. It burned like poison that was slowly spreading from her punctured heart. “…Aki, I… I can’t breathe…”
A gentle reassurance reached her ears. “I’m going to take you somewhere you can catch your breath. It’ll be just the two of us. Just hold on, okay?”
The next thing Elfy knew, her legs were no longer under her. Her head was nestled against Aki’s chest, her knees and back supported by the Level Four’s arms. The air was rushing past them so fast that even if her vision hadn’t gone completely blurry her eyes probably would have been crushed.
Then, as quickly as they started, they came to a stop. The sounds of the crowd and other people were distant. Her legs were gently allowed to lay on a soft surface that felt like grass, but her head was allowed to remain pressed against the soft bosom of her senior among the Second-Tier Adventurers as the arm supporting her back remained in place.
Anakitty’s voice came out quiet and soothing. “You need to breathe, Elfy.”
“I-I can’t,” she cried. “I can’t!”
“Yes, you can.” The arm wrapped around her back shifted into a slow, circular motion. “It’ll be painful, but you need to breathe so it can all come out. It won’t go away otherwise.”
The Level Three Mage struggled. Her throat and chest strained to expand. But, eventually, she managed to take a deep, haggard breath that forced the slightly chilled air down into her lungs. Then she exhaled and what came out was a painful, mournful cry.
“That’s it,” the Level Four whispered in an encouraging tone. “You did well holding it in all this time, but don’t need to hold back anymore. Let it all out.”
Her voice came haggard as she sucked in a heavy breath. “… I… t-thought I could han-handle it, but… it h-h-hurts so muchhhh…”
Elfy knew that Lefiya would be there from the start. She knew that she would be happy at having the chance to finally go on a date with the other Elf after how often she talked about her in their room. But she didn’t think that she would be wearing a smile like that or that she would have kissed her.
She didn’t think that it would hurt so much seeing her with someone else. “I hate Lefy… I hate her! She’s horrible!”
“You don’t hate her,” the Level Four told her, voice remaining calm as the hand gently rubbing her back started patting it instead. “You’re just in pain from having your heart broken. No one likes seeing the person they love with someone else.”
No sooner than those words were uttered did the pain bubble back up inside of her. It felt like it would never end. She reached around behind Anakitty’s back and pulled as hard as she could, desperate for a shoulder to cry on as she continued to pour out her feelings. “I wa-wanted to… to tell her… B-but I knew she wouldn’t even lo…ok my…w-way!”
“Why do you think she wouldn’t?” Anakitty asked. It was important to keep her talking so that she could get everything in her chest out. “You’re best friends, aren’t you?”
People often thought it was easy to tell someone how they felt. But that was never the case. The fear of rejection was an ever-present entity looming over them like a colossal shadow, whispering of how things would never be the same once those words came out. That was why she tried to signal her interest. That was why she always smiled for her. Always tried to be close to her side.
But she realized that no matter how hard she tried there was an impassable gap between them. “I’m… not an Elf like her! Or special like her! I’m just…just… a normal Human.”
Elfy Colette was just an ordinary Human.
Her mother had given her that ironic name because she hoped she would be beautiful as an Elf. But she didn’t have a drop of Elven blood in her veins, meaning she could never hope for such a thing. She had already finished puberty and would be lucky if she got a few celches of growth into her figure before she grew older and then died.
Everyone knew Elves were good-looking, talented with Magic, and graceful without fault. If you weren’t born an Elf then there was nothing you could do but accept that. It was just the way of the world, and she thought she had come to terms with that when she decided that she would be one of the best Human Mages she could be.
That was why she was excited to have been able to join the Loki Familia. She could take pride in being part of one of the most powerful Familia in Orario. It meant they recognized she at least had the potential to be a great Mage.
Then she met Lefiya and realized reality just wasn’t so kind. Just being Half-Elf put her in an entirely different class, even though she was Half-Human. She was still growing, still becoming beautiful, and by the time Elfy was dead and gone, she would still look like she was around her early twenties.
On top of that, her Magic was powerful. She had not only unlocked her third spell slot in such a short time, but the spell was one-of-a-kind. It allowed her to access as many spells as there were Elves, meaning the number of spells she had was more than even Lady Riveria herself.
There was no denying it that among either race she was a special person, and they treated her as much. Lefiya got to hang around with the Executives as often as she liked. She got to receive special training from the most powerful Mage in Orario. She got beautiful clothes gifted to her that were more valuable than probably their weight in gold.
She was already a Level Four but was actively holding off just to squeeze in a little extra excelia. As if it was no big deal. Normal people like Elfy had to claw and scrape to reach that far. But it was different for special people who stood above them.
Even among Humans she wasn’t anything special. Not compared to Aiz Wallenstein, the Sword Princess whose Wind allowed her to be so powerful. Or Welf Crozzo, who had an ancestor gain the favor of a Spirit and could make Magic Swords stronger than any spell the majority of the world could cast. Or the Record Holder that managed to already reach Level Three in mere months—Bell Cranel.
That boy not only impressed the Executives, but he even managed to get Lefiya on his side when she was ready to tear his head off the night before. She would constantly tell Elfy bad things about him, to the point where she seemed to hate him. Yet she suddenly changed after the Eighteenth Floor, to the point where she was even willing to fight the Captain of another Familia for him when she hated him mere hours before then.
Was it because he was special? He had to be given how he was the two-time Record Holder. That was probably why she was willing to defend him—because he was special like her.
The worst part was that Elfy couldn’t even be mad at her because Lefiya was her best friend. They were roommates and shared their secrets, so she knew how hard Lefiya had struggled to get where she was. She knew how many Elves loathed her for her position while being Half-Human. Yet she put up with it all and tried her best to live up to the expectations placed on her with a smile.
“If I was an Elf… if I was special… it would have been me dancing with her and making her happy…” She took a moment to catch her breath as she confessed the root of her issues. “But I’m not. And I can’t ever be.”
She wasn’t lucky enough to be born with an Elven parent. She wasn’t lucky enough to be born special. That meant she couldn’t be the kind of person Lefiya was attracted to. The most she could do was be her best friend, no matter how much she wanted to be seen otherwise.
“I know… how it feels to not be special,” Anakitty told the younger girl with her voice wavering slightly as her ears flattened down. “To be surrounded by amazing people and heroes, but not be able to be just like them. But… I can do things like being there for one of my juniors when they need a shoulder to cry on, and that’s enough, isn’t it?”
Considering she was the one weeping in the older girl’s arms, Elfy wasn’t exactly able to refute that. Moreover, if she wasn’t allowed release or some way to let out the pain she was in, it would tear her apart until she wanted to die.
“Just please… please don’t tell anyone,” Elfy begged her while pressing her head deeper into the welcoming bosom. “I don’t want to lose her. Lefy is my best friend…”
“I won’t tell a soul,” Anakitty promised. “Now go ahead and can cry as much as you like.”
She did just that.
“I think I recognized that crying girl who ran off just now.”
Bell Cranel looked off into the distance where a young woman had fled after bumping into him. He and Lady Hestia had only recently arrived at Amour Square, even though it was closer to their current home than their previous one. He hadn’t minded the fact that she bumped into him but the fact that he had seen her somewhere naturally left him wondering if he should give chase.
“I knew you had a thing about saving girls, but I didn’t think you’d leave your date here all alone to do it.” The Goddess of the Hearth’s teasing tone and the soft sensation as she pressed her voluptuous chest against his arm snapped Bell’s attention back to her. “What will you do if some stranger comes and takes me away, hm?”
“I wasn’t going to leave you.” He had given her his word that he would dance with her and would keep it. That being said, the outfit she had chosen made her divinity all the clearer and so he felt out of place next to her dressed in his ordinary clothes. And the suit he had been loaned for the Banquet ended up not surviving the destruction of their home. “I just thought I should see if there was something I can do, Goddess.”
“I know. I know.” Hestia looked up towards his face and smiled as she offered him guidance as one of the divinities that walked the Lower World. “It’s good that you want to help but, considering where we are, it’s very likely she just had her heart broken if she ran off in tears. If you don’t know the right things to say to a crying woman, you’ll only make it worse. Their hearts are fragile, after all.”
“I suppose so.” His grandfather had taught him to be cautious when approaching a woman whose heart had been broken. He even regaled him with stories of heroes who faced even more turmoil because they had incited the wrath of a woman inadvertently, so there was merit to her wisdom. Even so, he still felt that sympathy for that girl. “I hope she’ll be okay.”
“I’m sure she will,” Hestia told him. “You children are resilient in heart and soul, even compared to us. After all, we’ve seen how you all manage to bounce back even through the darkest of times. That’s part of why we love you all so much.”
That said, they entered the square properly and Bell found himself feeling even more at risk than in the Dungeon itself. So many couples, a mix of different races and people in a proper romance as they looked one another in the eyes and clasped hands. And none of them were clumsy like he would be, given he wasn’t a dancer.
At the banquet, he had managed somehow because of the advice the others had given him. But the fact that Miss Aiz had been an Adventurer and they had trained helped a lot, since it made it possible for them to read one another’s movements. They could convey words without speaking, but he wasn’t sure he could do the same for his Goddess. The thought of embarrassing himself and Hestia made Bell want dart of there like a fleeing rabbit, but then he really would be abandoning her
“Good, it’s a slow song.” Hestia’s slender fingers wrapped around his wrist as she pulled him forward and into the throng of bodies where there was an open space for the two to join in. Then she turned to face him before cupping his shoulder blade with her right hand and grabbing his hand with her left. “I’ll take the lead, so just do what I do and say, okay?”
She seemed so assertive that Bell could only swallow his nerves and do so. Lift his right elbow. Roll his shoulders back. Stand straight and tuck his stomach in. All of that made for a solid frame to maintain the connection between them.
Then she began to take her first steps. They were decisive, initiated from her core rather than her arms. It made it easier to see where she was going, so Bell could follow after her to match her pace. “Like this?”
“That’s right,” she said while continuing to lead. He followed up nicely. “If you’re in the lead then listen to the beat of the music and think before you take the first step. Don’t hesitate after you make that decision. If you’re following, then trust their motions and follow without second-guessing it. You don’t need your grip too hard since the only time you lead with your hands is when you want to spin your partner.”
Bell took the advice and found himself matching her soon enough. “Goddess, did you always know how to dance?”
“Not quite like this,” Hestia told him. “After your dance with Loki’s child, I wanted to do the same. But since I didn’t think I would be able to move the same way, I asked for some advice from Take and Miach after Miss Thousand told us about this one. I’m happy it’s working out well.”
She really was looking forward to it. Bell felt even worse for not giving it the same consideration as she smiled with childish happiness. He knew he needed to work on his dancing, but the new duties he had as the Captain of their Familia had been pressing.
Her blue eyes scanned her surroundings for a moment, likely to ensure she was matching the rhythm of others. Then they widened slightly before she leaned her head in and whispered in his ears. “Bell, look over there…”
He followed her gaze and did a double-take when he realized that his sister was there as well. She wasn’t paying him any attention or bothering to look around her. Her attention was solely on her date, another Elf with glossy black hair and deep red eyes. The longer he stared at them, the more of an impression he got that something romantic might happen, so he wisely looked away lest things become awkward.
“Bell,” Hestia muttered. “Do you wish that was you?”
Her question grabbed his full attention. “Huh?”
“That you were dancing with someone you liked in that same way,” Hestia clarified, pulling her head away. “Rather than me, you’d prefer it was Loki’s child again, right?”
“Ah, that’s… different,” Bell said, a blaze painting his cheeks the color of his eyes. Hestia made it possible for him to get this far but to even have remotely romantic thoughts of his patron deity, a virginal goddess at that, was borderline blasphemous. “I’m happy to do this with you because I revere you.”
Her cerulean eyes closed at that, and a smile came across her face. Not the same childish happy one or the motherly one she would often give him. It felt somewhat… melancholic. “Bell, I know I teased you about revering me. But remember that what I said about a girl’s heart being fragile applies to Goddesses as well.”
“W-w-what does that mean?” Bell stuttered as his mind refused to piece together what she was getting at.
“We might be different in some ways to you children and driven by our natures a bit, but we still want you to validate us rather than revere us,” she continued in the same tone as a mother lecturing her child patiently. “It’s one thing to reject us if you don’t feel the same way, but to not even acknowledge or understand why we feel the way we do because you think we’re above you can hurt more than anything else.”
Her words resonated within his chest. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“It’s fine,” she told him. “Losing someone is hard, but for those of us who live forever that pain will never leave. That’s why the thought of inflicting that onto a Goddess is one of the worst things you can imagine, right?”
…She wasn’t wrong. The loss of family stuck with him, but everyone above and below knew all mortals would eventually die and reincarnate. It was a part of the cycle of life, a mere step that you had to acknowledge. Nothing could stop it, so you made the most out of the time you had with the people you cared about.
Lovers were a deeper relationship than family. He knew that much. And remembering how painful it was losing his grandfather, he was terrified of inflicting something even worse onto someone else. Let alone the divine, whose lives would never end. They had to suffer that pain forever, all for what amounted to a mere moment of happiness.
What right did he have to inflict that on one of the Goddesses?
“You’re a good boy, Bell,” she whispered while reaching up and pulling his head down onto her shoulders. “I’m really happy that my first child was someone like you. That alone eases my heart going ahead. But remember that if we wanted to remain separated from you to be revered, we never would have come down in the first place. We might be Familia because of my blessing, but we’re family because we love and care for each other—and that bond transcends death and divinity. So love us as you would you any other, otherwise, you’re going to make some poor Goddess cry someday.”
As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t make that promise. The best he could do was acknowledge that he would try. “I’ll do my best, Goddess.”
And that was good enough for her to release him as a new song began to play. Her smile returned to its cheerfulness. “Okay, now that we’ve gotten that gloomy topic out of the way, why don’t you try to take the lead this time?”
As the various dances wound down so that the band could take a break, the various couples split off from the square. Some would return in an hour once they began playing anew, while others would go off to enjoy the other activities. But, in general, all those who had been in attendance were in a great mood.
Lefiya especially as she and her date decided to rest their legs and get something to slake their thirsts. Fortunately, since she was a little more familiar with the area due to it being so close to Bell’s home, the Half-Elf knew a place they could go. It was called Café Wishe.
It was a small but apparently popular café that was frequented by young couples due to being relatively close to Amour Square. It had a more modernistic aesthetic rather than the rustic or sylvan that Elves preferred, but the irony of the name did not escape Filvis. “Was this place named after your home?”
Lefiya licked her lips to savor the stray droplets of the drink she had been served before she answered. “The owner of the café lived there on the outskirts for a time after their home was burned down and used it as their communal name. Some time ago she moved to Orario and chose to get married, taking her spouse’s name and naming the café in honor of that instead. Her husband is Human.”
She had found it after receiving her key to the Hearth Manor and learned the owner was actually the Elven hostess who had welcomed her in. Her husband was the one who handled the drink preparations, and the pair seemed friendly enough to her. But she could guess why that was considering any children they had would be effectively no different than her. Their employees were of different races as well and the last time she was her the server had been a Cow Person, but it seemed that she was absent today.
“I see…” Filvis looked down in her own drink and stared into her reflection. She had placed her gloves back on now that the dance was over. Even if she had willingly laid her hands bare for Lefiya, she still refused to interact with other things without them.
But that was fine with Lefiya since it meant she was special enough to her to do so. That was all she wanted from tonight. The kiss was just a very, very welcomed extra. “There are a lot of small, out-of-the-way places that you never would notice if things were different.”
The Half-Elf tilted her head at that. “Hm?”
“I was just thinking of an out of the way bar that I discovered some time ago,” she explained. “My Lord was in search of a certain kind of wine, and I had to scour Orario to find it. Eventually, I discovered a place where they made it from grapes taken from the Great Tree Labyrinth. It wasn’t really to my tastes, but he was pleased… even if Aura wasn’t.”
“I suppose you taste a lot of wine because of your God, huh?” Lefiya mused. She would abstain from drinking if she could help it, given her low tolerance and other things that happened. But maybe she should consider if Filvis had a favorite kind to gift her some time. “But who is Aura?”
“She is my… Vice-Captain,” Filvis explained. “She an Elf like me, and we started around the same time. We were on fairly decent terms until the Nightmare happened, and now we’re pretty much the surviving senior members. She took over the duties of handling operations with the Familia while I handle Lord Dionysus’ personal needs and protection, so in a way, she would be the proper Captain if she wasn’t only Level Two—her devotion is no less than mine to him, after all.”
Ah, so that’s probably another reason she was rejected by him, Lefiya realized. If she loved their God to the same extent as Filvis, and she no doubt had strong feelings of animosity due to losing so many of their comrades while Filvis survived, returning her affections would have probably fractured them further. Perhaps Filvis even felt that the Vice-Captain was more worthy of his love than her from the way she spoke…
Reaching out to touch her hands cradling her drink, the Half-Elf gave her a reassuring smile that conveyed her feelings. I’m here for you now and will continue to be. Your past doesn’t change that in the slightest.
Filvis found it in herself to smile back.
Then they finished their drinks and departed from the café. The side-streets were somewhat winding but they managed to navigate it easily enough to get back to one of the main roads that would lead back to Babel. It was then they noticed that a crowd was building further ahead. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not certain,” Filvis answered. “Should we go take a look?”
The Half-Elf nodded and the two ventured into the growing crowd until they spotted what looked to be a stage that had been set up. On it was what looked to be a crystalline substance not unlike the Quartz in the Dungeon with a rather beautiful spear lodged inside of it. And Lord Hermes was there too while flanked by members of the Ganesha Familia—including their Captain—as he gave a speech.
“I CALL TO YOU, ADVENTURERS OF ORARIO. WHO AMONGST YOU CAN PULL THIS SPEAR FROM ITS CONFINES AND BE THE CHOSEN ONE TO RECEIVE THE BLESSING OF THE GODDESS OF CHASTITY, ALONG WITH AN ALL-EXPENSES-PAID TRIP AROUND THE WORLD?”
Murmurs went out at that. An all-expenses-paid trip around the world was a big deal considering how most were confined to the city once they received a Falna. It seemed a little too good to be true but, looking at the text on the document he held up, it was pre-authorized by the Guild and thus legitimate.
“Step aside!” “Me first!” “Shove off!” Mild chaos broke out as several of the Adventurers began to tussle among themselves for the right to go first. The Captain of the Ganesha Familia sighed softly, as if she had expected as much, before motioning for her men to establish an order to things.
“If it’s simply a competition of raw physical strength, then it’ll be over the moment a First-Class Adventurer steps up,” Filvis pointed out. It was a logical assessment, and why the fighting was on the verge of breaking out. If the Ganesha Familia didn’t make them take turns, then there was nothing stopping a Level Six from coming up and putting an end to things first of all.
“An all-expenses-paid trip does sound nice though,” Lefiya mused while considering whether or not she should attempt it herself. She wanted to visit her mother since it had been quite some time, and if she could bring Filvis or Bell that would be all the better. But then there was a shout as a person she recognized lost their patience and promptly kicked down a group of five. “Mister Bete?”
The Werewolf snarled in annoyance. “Guy can’t even get to where he’s going with all your weaklings around. Clear a path, goddamn it!”
“He’s as crass as always, I see,” Filvis noted. Most of the people wisely got away from him, considering his reputation. Though, strangely enough, Lefiya could spot there was a girl not too far behind him that seemed more apologetic than anything. She had long black hair and brown eyes, and while her clothes didn’t really stand out Lefiya could see makeup had been applied carefully to accentuate her features rather than overdo it.
The sight brought a smile to the God of Travel’s face as he stopped Shakti from telling him off. “IF IT ISN’T ONE OF THE LOKI FAMILIA’S EXECUTIVES. CARE TO TRY YOUR HAND TO SEE IF YOU’RE THE CHOSEN ONE?”
He scoffed. “Tch. As if I’m interested in proving anything to these chumps for a trip out of town. Keep me out of your scams, swindler.”
Lord Hermes took the insult in stride. “OH, I THINK YOU’LL FIND IT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN THAT. AFTER ALL, IF ONE OF THE STRONGEST ADVENTURERS IN ORARIO CAN’T MOVE IT, THEN IT SHOULD BE CLEAR ONLY THE CHOSEN ONE CAN AND ORGANIZE THEMSELVES SINCE LEVEL ISN’T THE DETERMINING FACTOR. AND IF YOU DO MANAGE IT, THE CROWD WILL DISPERSE. WIN-WIN EITHER WAY, RIGHT EVERYONE?”
The crowd did not agree. Loudly.
Much to the Werewolf’s annoyance, which Lefiya suspected was Lord Hermes’ aim. Bete would be inclined to try and shut them up, and since he couldn’t kick everyone here without getting in trouble the easiest solution would be to assert his dominance by grabbing the spear anyway. So, he jumped onto the stage and grabbed hold of it, intent on jerking it out in one swift motion.
The spear didn’t budge.
Hermes bore a wide smile and muttered. “Not so easy, is it?”
“Rrrrr….” His lips pulled back and a snarl slipped out. The eyes of even the unblessed could see his arm was visibly straining, meaning he was actively pulling away at it in earnest.
But the spear refused to budge.
The crowd, who had been intimidated before, began drawing amusement from the sight of the Werewolf’s impotent efforts to move the weapon from its foundation. And considering his race and Level, he could hear every word. It only served as kindling that stoked his desire to prove them wrong, but considering his temper…
“You can do it, Mister Bete!” Then Lefiya heard something she never expected. It was the sound of someone cheering for him amidst the crowd. And it came from that same girl she had seen before. “I believe in you!”
It can’t be… Lefiya recognized her voice. Giving her full attention to the girl who cheered the Werewolf on, the Half-Elf’s mind pictured her hair tied in a braid, glasses framing her face, and the lack of blush from the makeup on her. It was a perfect match to Leene. Oh dear Loki, Elfy was right…
“THE STAGE IS MADE OF ADAMANTITE, BY THE WAY,” Hermes said somewhat whimsically but loud enough for everyone to hear. “GO ALL OUT IF YOU WANT! THERE’S A FULL MOON OUT TONIGHT TOO, SO—”
“With all due respect, Lord Hermes, please stop provoking him!” Shakti said as the sound of metal groaning began in earnest. He had braced his legs against the ground and had the shaft in an iron-grip with both his hands, fully intent on putting all of his strength into pulling the spear out. That same strength was not to be underestimated.
The thing still didn’t budge.
“What are they made of?” Filvis muttered in curiosity. “The spear itself hasn’t broken, nor the crystal. Only the stage is straining, which means that it would have to be even stronger than that. On par with Orichalcum.”
And Orichalcum was the strongest substance available on the Lower World, its origins and crafting dating back to before the descent of the Gods. There was no stronger substance to be found or made by mortal hands. Yet they were looking at it, and Lefiya wouldn’t be surprised if every artisan and blacksmith in the crowd wasn’t wondering the same thing when all was said and done.
But not the Adventurers. No, they started heckling Bete even louder, as if they forgot he was literally one of the strongest people in the entire city. “NOT SO TOUGH NOW!” “ALL BARK AND NO BITE!” “SOME LEVEL SIX YOU ARE!”
His amber eyes narrowed, and violent intention filled them. “SAY THAT AGAIN! I DARE YOU!”
“Vanargand, you’re better than this,” Shakti said when she noticed he was about to lose his cool. She was obligated to try to stop him if he did go out of control, but after so many years within Orario she clearly expected he would have enough common sense not to attack them. “Don’t give into their provocation. Just walk away.”
To his credit, Bete refused to let the words of the weak get to him. So, after kicking the crystal hard enough that it should have been launched to the top of Babel itself only for it to remain in place, thus leaving every single craftsman and smith no doubt even more interested, he scoffed and then jumped off the stage. “…some bullshit…”
“Is something wrong, Lefiya?” her date asked, crimson eyes following her gaze towards where Bete departed.
“I’m just a little… shocked,” she explained.
Filvis nodded in understanding. “Yes, the fact that an Adventurer of Bete Loga’s physical prowess was unable to remove the spear is difficult to believe. Either it would take the Conqueror, or there are some other criteria we are not aware of… if it isn’t some kind of scam, that is.”
That wasn’t quite what Lefiya meant. But she decided against saying anything as she watched Leene heading off in the direction Bete had gone. The Half-Elf had so many questions that they occupied her thoughts as people lined up to try their hand where a Level Six failed. She combed through her memories for any signs that Leene had a thing for him. She did speak well of him when she was healing me from the chase and he brought me right to her, so maybe…
“OH, IF IT ISN’T THE RECORD HOLDER—” Her ears perked up as Lord Hermes announced the arrival of the current person to hold that prestige. She looked back to the stage where her brother had arrived, nervously rubbing the back of his head.
“You can do it, Captain!” said a small voice at the top of tiny lungs from further to the side of the crowd. It was Primo, sitting on top of Welf’s shoulders with the rest of the Hestia Familia around them. It was adorable. “Good luck!”
Of course, Bell pulled it out. He succeeded where a Level Six failed, the spear coming free and the crystal shards scattering. The sororal part of Lefiya’s mind was proud of him, of course. But the cynical part of her mind noted that it was the sort of thing that would cause him problems when he should still be laying low.
And, sure enough, she was proven correct when the sponsor of the contest arrived, who turned out to be the Goddess of the Moon, Artemis… who promptly rushed the stage and threw herself into his arms while he stood there with a dumbfounded look. And then declared him her Orion and kissed him on the cheek in front of the crowd for everyone to see…
Well, the peace was nice while it lasted. That fleeting thought crossed Lefiya’s mind as cries for blood began to go out from the less romantically fortunate amongst the crowd. She had the distinct feeling that her date would be coming to an end in very short order, if only because she was probably going to have to help the Ganesha Familia deal with the mob of jealous men likely to be coming for her brother’s head over the next few days.
…Only you could go from having a literal War Game fought over you by a God of the Sun to being declared the lover of a Goddess of the Moon in less than a month, Bell.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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—
—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.
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.
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—
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…
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!!!”
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.
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.
- 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.