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Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 23 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 23: Story of Growth – Part 1

Elio called the forest we sat at the entrance of his current home, the sole resident along with a host of Minor Spirits that followed him around. Apparently, he belonged to a clan of Elves that worked to commune with many, but their home had fallen to the monsters, and he was the only one left. It was not an uncommon tale by any stretch of the imagination.

The Spirits stirred at my presence, it seemed. Like little animals sniffing at something curious they found on the ground, he likened. Something he said that he had not seen in a long time, which I could only presume was more than a hundred years given his maturity.

So, he made me an offer: he would teach me the magic of our kind. Even if I were Half-Man, he felt that preserving what remained of their race, the teachings and culture and magic, was more important. So long as I had Elven blood inside of me.

However, it came with a condition.

I had to part ways with Argo.

—Elio’s Ultimatum

[-|-|-|-]

“—Arcs Ray!

The Fairy Sniper loosed her shot in a harsh whisper as her Elven eyes spotted their marks far off into the sky. Mind was converted into magical power and focused into the magic stones at the head of her staff before launching the magical arrow in the form of a golden beam of light. It speared from beneath the canopy of a coniferous forest and shot towards the ceiling that shed light as though it were a facsimile of the sky and sun on the surface, born of the Dungeon’s memory from before the gods descended and placed a lid upon it.

The marks were a pair of Pterosaurs that had been circling around for some time now. Even as far away as they were, they could easily swoop down and ensnare prey they spotted in the time it would take to count to three. That was part of what made them so dangerous.

Her golden arrow cut through the air and reduced the distance to zero as it pierced through the first’s body using searing heat and force as she condensed the beam into a narrow shot. But the second shifted its wings, carrying it off the original path it had been on. Had it spotted the glimmer of light that heralded the liminal speed at which it flew? Or had it simply shifted itself on a whim and thus managed to escape the beam of light by chance?

It didn’t matter as the backdraft of the near-miss left it to corkscrew in the air before righting itself. By then the arrow had curved around, swiveling faster than the normal eye could blink. The beam connected and ruptured, the explosion finishing it off as the magic stone within it was blown to pieces.

Her task done, Lefiya let out a soft sigh and then took a moment to catch her breath in the nook between the limb and trunk she was on within the massive tree that she was perched in. Her body was running hot and she needed a moment to wind down given she had been shooting down the fliers for a bit of time now. But she was the best suited for the job given her Spells and specialty.

“Lefy!” Her ears picked up her name being called from below and she looked down to see her roommate there, holding up a waterskin. She didn’t have her cloak, only her white tunic with her shawl arm sleeves clear as she waved up at her. “You can come down now!”

The Half-Elf descended the tree at that, bounding down between the branches before landing next to Elfy. Her fellow Mage offered her the waterskin to drink from, and she became aware of how thirsty she had been. It had been a few hours since she had gone up in the tree in order to turn it into her sniper’s nest. “Has everyone finished setting up camp?”

“Mm-hmm.”  Her green eyes fixed onto Lefiya as she watched her take a sip before continuing. “Everyone is accounted for, so you guys acting as the advance party can all head back to camp.”

It was roughly the day or so after she had finished instructing Primo. She and several other members of the Loki Familia were on the 28th Floor, just beneath the Water Capital. It was one of the Safe Floors of the Dungeon, present after the floors where the Monster Rexes often spawned, and so the number of monsters present was rather minimal.

However, just because the Dungeon did not spawn monsters didn’t mean they couldn’t wander from above. Or, in the case of the Pterosaurs, from below. Flying monsters could cover a massive amount of distance on their own and she couldn’t risk any of them spotting the small band busy setting up a light camp for what was turning out to be a Quest within a Quest.

Of course, the Quest that Lefiya was supposed to undertake was different from the others. But her skillset made her getting down and helping to clear the area ahead of them imperative, along with some of the others. They didn’t want another Poison Vermis incident that resulted in so many of them being laid up on the 18th Floor the last time.

Lefiya passed back the waterskin and gave her a grateful nod before heading back, with the Human Mage accompanying her. She could only assume that they would have one of the Beast Humans take her place on the lookout. They made small talk along the way. “I’m surprised so many people volunteered to come along for the quest issued by the Dian Cecht Familia.”

The Dian Cecht Familia had placed a request for a cornucopia of Bloodsaurus Eggs for one reason or another.  The region below was a vast stretch of verdant jungle. The vegetation often grew in layers, from dense bushes to rising shrubs to towering trees, all of which competed with one another for the light shed from above. Numerous fruits and resources foreign to Orario could be found there, but the primordial landscape was difficult to navigate even when you didn’t include the fact that dinosaur-like monsters considered the layer their home.

Since they were familiar with the terrain, and the last expedition had put the Familia within the red, the Captain had taken up the quest. To that end, the original intention was to send out a select few to handle it. But, to the surprise of many, when the call for volunteers Level Three and higher went out, there were a lot more who answered than expected to where they were—treating it as a sort of mini-expedition.

“Well, most of them are the guys who don’t want to be shown up by Cottontail,” Elfy said, shrugging her shoulders. “Not only did he pop up asking to see Aiz after you got involved, but then he went ahead and beat the War Game on top of achieving Level Three.”

Lefiya didn’t know whether to giggle at the fact that her little brother had managed to incur the jealousy of so many of her Familia’s members or sympathize with them because she knew exactly where they were coming from. Bell having a skill that accelerated his growth meant that, realistically, he would be able to surpass all of them in a relatively short amount of time in terms of raw numbers—even if he was lacking in actual skill or experience.

“We’re all Adventurers in the end,” Lefiya said, settling on the middle path. “We can only do our best.”

“I can’t say that I’m too sure on how to feel about him myself considering the peeping thing,” Elfy admitted, looking at her with an accusatory yet playful glance. “And you’ve been awfully close to him despite the fact that you were the one who wanted to chase him off the most back then. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he caught your eye.”

“Let’s just say that I realized I overreacted when we got into real trouble,” the Half-Elf responded, not rising to the bait. Elfy did, in fact, know better. “He means well, but he just gets in over his head at times.”

“I’d call ‘getting an entire Familia breathing down his neck’ a little more than over his head, but if you say so.” She folded her hands behind her head as she looked up towards the ceiling. There was a prolonged silence before she spoke again with a smile on her face. “Still, I guess at least I don’t have to worry about him stealing you away from the sound of it.”

Lefiya blinked in confusion. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Nothing~” Skipping ahead to her own playful tune, Elfy bound into the camp while Lefiya followed until they spotted Bete Loga.

The Werewolf had a perpetual frown on his face as per usual, but the moment his gaze faced in her direction he pointed back towards the bigger tent. “The Old Hag wants to see you. Get going.”

That said he continued along his way, leaving the Half-Elf to follow instructions after bidding Elfy farewell for now. Inside of the largest tent she found Lady Riveria sitting in front of a table that held on it maps of the floors lower than this one, her staff set aside while she held her chin in thought. Next to her was Gareth, who was stroking his beard while similarly in contemplation. She held her silence to avoid breaking their concentration, though she did take a seat on one of the cushions when the Royal Elf gestured for her to do so.

It only became apparent that they were waiting for one other person to enter when the flaps opened and Aiz entered. Her golden eyes shifted over to Lefiya and she gave a small nod in greeting before turning her attention to her superiors. “Bete said you wanted to see me?”

“The Guild approached us with an extermination request for an Irregular Monster,” the Royal Elf began. “It is a variation of an Obsidian Soldier, located on the 37th Floor, and with so few Familia capable of traversing so deeply into the Dungeon they felt we were their best option. Gareth and I were chosen to handle it, but we’ve decided to give you two a chance to deal with it in our place.”

The two younger women stiffened slightly at that. Irregular Monsters were capable of being born under two circumstances that were known. The first was that the Dungeon spawned them, though those were much rarer circumstances. The second and most common was that a monster had devoured the magic stone of another monster. It only took five or so for a monster to display a notable increase in strength, and in the Deep Floors that bode poorly.

“If you succeed, your debts will be wiped clean,” Lady Riveria continued. “However, I will add that it is optional. We suggested and cleared it with Finn that we believe you both are more than capable of handling it on your own. However, if you feel incapable, we would only ask that you keep watch over the camp while we go to handle it.”

Lefiya was silent as she considered the request. She was uncertain of whether or not she was capable of handling the situation if it was an irregular version of an Obsidian Soldier. Their bodies were highly resistant to Magic and her primary contributing factor in expeditions was exactly that, meaning that she would likely be dead weight…

Yet, Lady Riveria had specifically chosen her for some reason. She had never been shy about her expectations when it came to Lefiya as her successor. And, recalling what she had told Primo and how Bete had told her the same, she shouldn’t settle for simply living up to her expectations.

She should focus on surpassing her mentor, not living in her shadow. And the first step to doing that should be to find a way to deal with the problem in front of her. The fact that Lady Riveria suggested her meant that there was one, even if she couldn’t see it right now. “I’m willing to try.”

“Me too.” Aiz added. “Can you tell us more about this irregular?”

The question earned a look between the two elites of the Familia, a wordless message passing between them.

Then Lady Riveria answered her. “It’s far larger than normal of its kind, probably around six meders tall according to the reports. And rather than being black, it has a more crystalline and reflective color. It has also demonstrated a rudimentary ability to use a long-ranged magical attack in the form of a howl that creates a sonic boom. I believe the tentative name is a ‘Reflection Soldier’ for this particular irregular breed.”

The Half-Elf’s brows furrowed as she considered the information. Large as a Monster Rex and no doubt powerful in terms of strength, but if it was on part with a Floor Boss then they wouldn’t be sending the two of them alone to deal with it. She didn’t doubt that they could deal with the raw strength by just avoiding it in the case of the Vanguard and staying out of range for her.

The Magic is the biggest problem, she settled on. Considering that its howl was to be considered a magical attack it most likely operated somewhat like her Gale Blast in that it compressed air and then launched it—only using its throat as a cannon instead of a wand. If I had taken my Level Up then I would have Magic Resistance like Lady Riveria and soften the effect…

Her thoughts froze. Memories flashed. The pendant Bell received. The final clash of spells. The Obsidian Soldiers. She rose to her feet and asked, “How long do we have to complete the Quest?”

“Three days,” Gareth answered. “That should be long enough for the others to complete the request with the Bloodsaurus Eggs. It looks like ye got somethin’ in mind?”

“Um, I have an idea on how we can maximize our chances of success,” she said before turning to Aiz. “I believe that there are gemstones that can confer limited Magic Resistance to the wearers found in that region of the Dungeon, in the White Palace. If we can find at least one before we challenge it, then we’ll have a better chance of standing up to it. Can we spend one—no, at least two days searching for it?”

“Ah… that’s a good ideal, Lefiya,” Aiz agreed before turning to Riveria. “May we postpone challenging it for the first two days. If we don’t find it after that then we’ll return to rest before we challenge it on the third.”

The request received a nod of approval from the Dwarf. “Smart, use all your options before goin’ ahead. Fortunately, since Udaeus won’t show up any time soon, access to the 38th Floor and below is possible. My instinct as a miner tells me you’ll have a better chance finding them there, and ye can set up your own camp on the 39th Floor and search for ‘em. We’ll come to pay a visit around then.”

“What will we tell the others about our absence?”

“Gareth and I will tell them that you both are handling a separate request for us and aren’t to be bothered,” Lady Riveria answered. “There’s no need to worry them about what we’ve asked.”

“We won’t let you down,” Aiz told her. “Let’s go, Lefiya.”

The Sword Princess and Thousand Elf departed from the tent, intent on preparing what they would need for the trip. As soon as they were out of earshot, Gareth let out a slight laugh. “Looks like you were worried for nothin’.”

“Who said that I was worried about them?” replied the Royal Elf in her normally unflappable tone.

“If they had chosen to rush into it without askin’ then you would have had them go to the 38th Floor to find those stones beforehand. And if they had chosen not to do it, ya gave ‘em a way out without shame by keepin’ it a secret. No wonder Loki always refers to ya as ‘mother’ around ‘em.”

“…Hush you,” she responded before sighing. It was true that she had some misgivings about the pair and their recent behavior. But this and that were two completely different things. “They might have shown they’ve taken a step in the right direction, but they still have to beat it. As they currently are it’ll be difficult if they rely on a brute force approach. That will be the real test.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. “Still, I think I’ll go check up on ‘em later in. Neither one has swung a pickaxe in their lives. No cunning with stone between the lasses.”

[-38th Floor-]

Nnnn… why is it so hard to find them…

The whine slipped out of Lefiya’s dejected mouth as she leaned on the pickaxe that she had borrowed when they had gathered supplies in order to set out to the 38th Floor. It had been a day since they had broken from the other group and come further down, setting up on the Safe Floor beneath the White Palace. Though, to call it a camp was overdoing it since there were just the two of them, but it was nice in its own way.

Since they needed to collect gemstones that conferred the limited Magic Resistance they had two options to get it.

The first was to simply kill the Obsidian Soldiers and hoped that they dropped them. They were rare drops, of course. The material component of their bodies were effective as normal drop materials, but the gemstones were rare and far more potent. Add into the fact that they resisted Magic due to their body composition, Lefiya would have had to expend far more Mind to overpower it.

The second was to mine the walls around the floor. Since the Obsidian Soldiers were made of minerals composing the walls, occasionally they formed within the walls. If they got lucky they could find a decent chunk or two and that would hopefully be enough. But there was no guarantee.

So they had settled on a compromise of sorts. Aiz would kill the Obsidian Soldiers around the Floor, given she was Level Six and thus more than capable of dealing with them, while she would mine the wall where they spawned from consistently enough that they likely had the gemstones within them. If they were lucky they would obtain at least one that could be used to help the Sword Princess, given Lefiya most likely wouldn’t be able to do anything against the irregular.

I can’t let her do all the work, Lefiya thought to herself as she rose to her full height and took up the pickaxe once more. Even if the chances of her finding something were low, the thought of doing nothing when Aiz was going around and killing monsters because she couldn’t was something she couldn’t stomach.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Hammering away at the stoneface, Lefiya chipped away at the stone in search of the precious jewels nestled deep within.

Tink. Tink. Tink. The mining in itself was not only tedious but boring to the extent she was amazed that anyone would make a career out of it. But, because of that, she could allow her thoughts to drift onto other topics.

Tink. Tink. Tink. For her date with Filvis she needed to consider what it was that they would do. The Holy Moon Festival had several key events for people to enjoy themselves, dating back to ancient times. The dance that went on in Amor Square was more inclined towards couples, and she wanted to dance there with her if they had the chance.

Tink. Tink. Tink. But she knew the gorgeous Elf had a lot of boundary issues, even more than others of their kind. She considered herself filthy to the extent of not letting herself touch others with her bare hands. Lefiya had been making progress with her, but she wanted to see if she could get her over that hurdle without scaring her away—like at the Spirit Festival when she had tried tempting her into a kiss.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Holding hands would be a good place. If she could just get her to hold hands with her, no gloves or cloth between them, then she would consider it a success. Anything more than that would be too greedy, no matter how she occasionally thought about her beautiful pale skin or her soft lips and how she wanted to—

“That’s no good.”

The Half-Elf Mage jumped at the sudden voice, whipping her head around so fast that her hair could have counted as a potentially lethal weapon. There she spotted Sir Gareth, the Dwarven Warrior having arrived at some point. He was standing next to her while inspecting the rockface she had been working at with an appraising gaze.

“Lass, ya can’t just go at the stone with no thought in mind or else you’ll never find a thing. Each stroke needs to have purpose. Don’t go daydreamin’ in the middle of work.”

Hearing the Dwarf’s admonishment caused the Half-Elf to feel a surge of embarrassment. She quickly bowed her head and apologized. “I’m sorry. My thoughts just… drifted a bit. Mining isn’t really my forte.

“Youngster’s these days…” He let out a gruff sigh. “I suppose at least ye didn’t get started usin’ your spells to try to solve the problem.”

“That wouldn’t exactly be efficient,” she admitted. Since the gemstones repelled Magic she could in theory simply blast the walls and the stone in question should be fine so long as she didn’t go overboard. But compared to the expenditure of Mind and the area, it just wasn’t worth it.

“Then ye got a better head on your shoulders than Riveria had startin’ out,” he said in an elderly tone. “One time we ran across a place on the surface where gems could be found an’ Loki was lookin’ for quick valis. She got so impatient that she let loose her spell and didn’t consider the fact that thermal shock would shatter the gems an’ bring the whole thing down.”

I… I… see…” Or so she said. In truth, the undignified image of her mentor unleashing her full might on a rockface after having to sling a pickaxe for Lady Loki’s whims was so foreign her mind refused to process it. “But so far I haven’t had any luck finding them this way. At this rate, I’m worried that the time we took out to prepare will be wasted.”

“It would help if ya mined in the proper place,” Gareth told her as he looked at the ground around them that was covered with broken stone fragments from when she had been hitting away without rhyme or reason. “In this case, consider the nature o’ the Dungeon itself.”

“It’s nature?”

“No matter how many times it spawns the monsters, and they break through the walls, they always grow back, right?”

She nodded.

“An’ those monsters sometimes drop the gemstones after they have their magic stones removed, meanin’ that it was concentrated within ‘em. And gemstones themselves are born when the earth has been placed under enough pressure. What connects all three of ‘em?”

Her brows furrowed as she considered it. Drop items resulted from the concentration of magical energy within that specific part of the monster being coalesced and made dense enough to survive the extraction. By the fact that the surface from which Obsidian Soldiers were born also housed them meant that it had to come about as a result of the properties of the stone and the formation of the monster’s body. If the monsters kept respawning from the walls and breaking off then…

It clicked. “I should try working from the origin point where they consistently spawn and break off?”

Even if the wall broke it would just regrow itself to how it was before. Then another monster would form in it, acting as an incubator that would constantly be pushed aside by the growing fetus. But as long as it was connected to a point in the wall, like an umbilical cord until the magic stone was fully formed, it would constantly be a focal point for the magical energy.

“New stone would put pressure at the base of where it met the old stone an’ was compressed by the Obsidian Soldier as it grows into formation. The body bein’ constantly supplied with magical energy from the walls would be mixed into the base. Smashed all together long enough and it’ll crystallize.”

Her azure eyes looked down at the stone fragments around her and then towards the walls that had given birth to the Obsidian Soldiers that Miss Aiz had dealt with before. The Dungeon had already begun repairing the deepest parts, and it might have only been an educated guess on her end. “The stones that were older would look different from the ones that were newly regenerated because of that, right?”

He nodded. “Well, it’ll still be up to chance if ya find one. I’ll go an’ check on Aiz now before I head back up. Try not to daydream again, else Riveria will hear of it.”

She bowed her head in gratitude at the Dwarf. “I won’t. Thank you very much.”

Taking his advice to heart, she reconsidered her approach when it came to mining. Pulling out steel pitons and using the Strength of a Level Three, she drove into the wall at the spots that were regenerating since they would be the best points to start at one at a time. Then she proceeded to get to work at mining in earnest.

Tink. Tink. Tink. The first hole she dug into bore no crystallized fruit, but she could see the beginnings of where the stone’s hue turned a deeper shade and the texture shifted notably to the touch. She didn’t have a good baseline to work off of, but she gained a better understanding.

Tink. Tink. Tink. Nothing on the seventh hole either. She had to take a moment to actively break the wall where she had driven the pitons in earlier to make sure the Dungeon didn’t try to close them up. A check of the pocket watch she kept showed she had been at it for quite some time now. But she had hope.

Tink. Tink. Tink. She counted at least the thirteenth hole when she spotted glittering silt among the stone. It caught the light coming off the magic stone lantern she had as she peered into the darkness, faint sparkles of light. A push of her own magical energy into it and she felt the slightest of resistance.

A smile came across her face. Now she only had to widen the area she was in. Tink-tink-tink. Tink-tink. Scrape. Shuffle.

“Lefiya?” The soft, bell-like voice of an angel pulled the Half-Elf from the constant echoing of the pick against the stone. She pulled herself from her work and poked her head out of the hole that she dug to see that Aiz had returned. “Are you okay?”

“Miss Aiz, I found these!” She excitedly presented her prize. It was a few modest-sized, unpolished, rough gemstones. “I think these will work, won’t they?”

“Yes,” the Sword Princess acknowledged. “But it has gotten late. You were supposed to return an hour ago.”

“I was?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the silver pocket watch that had Elven embellishments upon it. It had been hours since the last time she checked. “I hadn’t realized that much time had passed.”

The loss of time weighed upon her as she considered that Aiz must have been worried to come seek her out. But, at the same time, she was happy that she managed to find a few of the gemstones they needed. She climbed out of her hole, only to realize just how covered in stone dust she was when some of it billowed out upon landing. Thank goodness no other Elf was around to see her looking so disheveled after being invested in mining, of all things.

“I suppose I should go wash up first,” she mentioned with some embarrassment as soon as they returned to the Safe Floor considering her state. The camping site they had chosen was a modest distance away from the entrance and had a stream of flowing water that served multiple purposes—including bathing.

To her surprise, Aiz decided to do the same. “I will join you.”

Lefiya’s mouth opened and closed as she tried to voice her thoughts. But no words came out as Aiz went downstream and began to strip down. Several emotions surged through the Half-Elf, even as she intentionally averted her eyes from the privilege. It wouldn’t be right to enjoy the sight when it was right in front of her when she was both looking for a committed relationship and perfectly aware Miss Aiz shouldn’t be leered at lecherously by anyone.

The last thing she wanted to turn into was Lady Loki.

So she kept her attention elsewhere even as she followed suit, sinking herself up to her neck within the water. Their weapons were nearby if a monster that wandered from above or below came close by. But, between the two of them, there was mostly silence as they let the water wash away the dirt, dust, and grime of the day.

It was the Sword Princess who eventually broke the silence. “You were working hard, weren’t you?”

“Y-Yes.” She cleared her throat. “I wanted to make sure that I could at least do something while you were out killing the monsters. Did you have any luck?”

“Only a few small ones from the hundreds I killed,” she claimed. Considering the drop rates were low for them, it was probably the best they could do between them. The question now was how they would approach the irregular itself. “Do you think that he’s doing well now too?”

“Who?”

“That boy,” she explained. “Bell Cranel.”

“Oh, him.” Lefiya shifted her eyes over towards the Sword Princess tentatively to see that her gaze was looking upwards. Not towards the ceiling itself, but further. To the surface. “For the most part. He’s had a lot of things to adjust to since the War Game. They also have a new member—an Elven child who wants to become a Mage. I gave them advice on how to train her and took her to get her supplies the day before we set out.”

Golden eyes turned back to her. Then her lips pulled back into a small smile. “Did you have fun?”

“I did,” she admitted. Then she recalled another matter she needed to address while they were alone. “Miss Aiz, I also owe you an apology.”

“What for?”

“For how I used the fact that you were helping Bell to train as an excuse to help me train as well,” she confessed. Back then she had not liked the two of them together, especially because she did not want him around anything to do with her Familia. And in doing so she had used that knowledge to essentially blackmail Aiz into spending time with her. “My reasons were selfish, and I didn’t consider your own feelings on the matter. For that, I owe you an apology.”

“Oh.” The Sword Princess’ expression turned pensive for a moment. The weight of her gaze seemed heavier on Lefiya as well, though that very well could have just been her imagination considering her smile returned. “It’s okay. My own reasons weren’t entirely honest as well.”

“What do you mean?”

“I… wanted to understand how he got so strong,” she confessed. It was not an easy thing to do either, considering how she looked away. “So that I could see if I could do the same. That was why I originally agreed.”

Lefiya found that difficult to believe, in a sense. She was already so strong. So beautiful. Graced with a wind that belonged only to her, the Half-Elf coveted that same thing at times. But, from that perspective, she supposed she could understand in a certain way. In the end, it had many forms.

It could be ugly at times, stirring up jealousy, hatred, and envy. It could be a beacon, instilling admiration that one looked. It could serve as a goal post, a marker for one to reach for. Or a benchmark for one to surpass.

“But I had fun helping him,” Aiz continued, her voice gradually lightening in tone. “I wanted to see him get stronger as well. And something about him sets me at ease, in a certain way. I think he’ll have a bright future ahead.”

Lefiya sincerely hoped so as well before the silence resumed.

The calm was welcomed.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 22 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 22: Lumine Pleiades

Floating. Bobbing. Dancing. The answer to my question came one night when I saw the little wisps of light that had gathered around us as we slowly drifted off to sleep. Close enough to be felt but fleeting to the touch, the lights hovered around us as we took shelter in the edge of a small forest of no note.

A slender figure emerged from the shadows. Tall, with sandy blonde hair and piercing green eyes, the Elf regarded me for a moment with an impassionate gaze when he spotted my ears. But as the Spirits flittered about with sounds that I couldn’t comprehend, resolution set upon his features.

His name was Elio. And he was the one who taught me the Magic of our people.

—My Magic Teacher

[-|-|-|-]

“The colors of the walls changed…”

Those were the words of the Neophyte Elven Mage as she gazed upon the Fifth Floor of the Abyss that spawned the bane of mortals upon the land, sealed off by the divine and races all collaborating in what became known as the start of the Age of Gods.

The First Floor of the Dungeon was stone with a light blue texture that caught the light, a vast hallway with several Adventurers flowing through it. But the monsters were in short supply given how recently broken the walls were. Their numbers had no doubt been trimmed by the flow of early morning Adventurers. Now, here on the Fifth Floor, she noted how the walls had taken on a slightly greenish hue and the design of the pathways was beginning to shift and become more complex compared to before.

“We’ll be heading to one of the rooms off the main route,” Lefiya told the younger Elf. Since they took a straight route and the morning rush had come through, a lot of the monsters had been dealt with. But as she knew from sweeping the floors as her punishment that traveling off the beaten path meant they would encounter danger. “Bell and I will be listening for danger but keep your senses sharp.”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” Primo answered dutifully as she traveled between the pair. Bell had taken to the front and Lefiya had taken to the rear, as the center was the safest location for the lower Level and less durable members of the group since the Dungeon could spawn monsters from its walls in any direction.

Her pointed ears flickered around nervously as they traversed a corridor of stone that was dimly lit. Her steps grew heavy with tension and slender fingers clutched the Oaken Staff in her grasp. Every sense was primed out of nervousness and fear…

…crack…                                                                                                         

That was when she heard it. The sound of a stone womb splitting open, wet and rough and dry at once as life emerged—a shadow born from the wall itself with claws meant to rend flesh from bone with an impassioned mirror-like orb. And not just one either.

Fear ran up her spine as more of them came into existence from behind and in front of them. It was primal fear. Born from the instinct to survive, driven into the surface races since before the descent of the divine. The living shadows fixed their gazes upon the Elf and she froze in place, unable to move or breathe.

Then one took a step forward as it flexed its claws… only to be reduced to ash. The shifting of the air was followed by gleaming of steel, a violet streak left against the ebon bodies that caused them to erupt into ichor and collapse into boneless heaps. And when her hair settled from the sudden wind, Bell had found his way next to her with his onyx blade held out in a reverse grip while his ruby gaze spanned the corridor.

“I’m going ahead to clear out the path,” Bell said. “Keep her safe.”

Then he darted off, leaving her behind. It was only when Primo felt a gentle brush on her shoulder that she regained motion—albeit with a startled jump.

“Breathe, Primo,” Lefiya told her, looming over her from behind with both hands resting on her shoulders. “Just breathe. It’ll be fine. I’m here.”

Ah…” Her lungs began to work at that and with the air tainted by the smell of monster ichor came a variety of emotions. Uncertainty. Shame. Relief. “Umm… sorry.”

“You’re supposed to be afraid of monsters,” Lefiya told her. “That’s a survival instinct. Especially considering you just received a Falna and this is your first time being down here. The transition from being an ordinary person to an Adventurer is learning how to act in spite of that fear. So, what do you think you should have done?”

She took a deep breath before answering. “I should have cast my spell?”

To her surprise, Lefiya shook her head. “First, you should assess whether or not we were aware of the danger. Bell and I are both Level Three and so we heard the Dungeon getting ready to spawn them, but not the entire party may not have been aware. This is especially important in larger parties when one side can be ambushed before another is aware or while dealing with a different threat. And after that…?”

Having been corrected once before, she took a prolonged moment to consider it. “To see if a spell needs to be cast at all?”

“That’s right,” she answered. “It’s really easy to fall into the mindset that when you have Magic you should use it as soon as possible. But not all Magic is equal, and some are more circumstantial than others. Offensive spells tend not to distinguish friend from foe and, considering a large number of your party will be close-ranged fighters, you have to be aware of friendly fire.”

Arcs Ray had a homing property, and she could control the size and output, so she had some leeway in using it to pick off priority targets like the Irregular Wyvern King. But her other spell covered a wide area even if she condensed it down as much as possible and so her party had to get out of the way, or else they were at risk as well. It meant that she had to be careful when she unleashed it.

“Not to mention you still need to get a feel for how many times you can cast a spell before exhausting your Mind,” Lefiya added. “Once you know that you can determine how best to work with your party. There’s also learning the basics of self-defense because at some point you’ll end up in a situation where you can’t use your spells.”

Her tiny brows folded in as she took that information in. “You mean like the War Game with that other Elf?”

“That was more of an exception to the norm. If I hadn’t been at a higher Level, then I wouldn’t have tried that and would have kept my distance at all times. Only Magic Swordsmen like Miss Alicia or Filvis are comfortable with using spells in the middle of a skirmish like that.”

Primo’s brows rose in confusion. It was then Lefiya realized they had never told her about how she was the one who had participated with Bell. Likely because she was new, and it was a topic that was still under wraps by large.

“I borrowed a magical tool that let me disguise myself like Bell’s Supporter so I could help him without my Familia being aware,” Lefiya clarified. “I couldn’t use my normal spells then since everyone would recognize them, so I had to rely on the spells I learned from the Spirits and the staff drills Lady Riveria taught me. It’s a secret between myself and your Familia, so you can’t tell anyone. Okay?”

She nodded. That’s when Bell reappeared and told them he’d cleared the path ahead. Lefiya counted at least twenty monsters, but she couldn’t be sure how many had been spawned from the walls as soon as he entered and how many had already been there. They were going to have to remove the magic stones to get rid of the bodies when they were done but, for now, they had the room to work with.

“Right then,” the Half-Elf began, having finished dragging a corpse into the center of the room while her brother and temporary charge were at the entrance. Then she left it there lifelessly before hopping away and landing next to them. “First, we need to see what your spell can do. Primo, aim for that corpse and focus on your chanting.  You’ll feel a little hot and uncomfortable but that’s normal the first time.”

Purple eyes narrowed on the corpse as she held out the staff with both hands. Then she began to sing for the first time in her life. “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash…”

The air was tinged with the sensation of magical power being focused through the staff as she continued her song, purple eyes folding with uncertainty from the power building up within her. It was a foreign yet familiar for the neophyte. But she swallowed and finished her song as she aimed at the corpse. “Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!

Seven glimmering stars formed above the center of the room. Their brilliance connected by lustrous strings intensified as though twinkling in the dim light as it passed from one star to the next. Then, all at once, their brightness grew dazzling as the constellation sent silvery beams down from each one that bathed the locale with the corpse at the center.

Ah!?” The child squealed in mild surprise as stone dust billowed out, lingering in the air to form a somewhat dusty veil. But when it thinned her eyes went wide in surprise as she found the corpse had been obliterated as there were a few indents in the ground. “I… I did it?

Bell was naturally quick to cheer her on. “Yeah. That was great!”

She bounced up on her feet as she looked upon the destruction that she had rained down. “Miss Lefiya did you see it?”

“Yes, I did,” she answered, her azure eyes taking in the sight as she tapped her chin. Filling in the role of her mentor for the time being she gave her initial impression of the spell. It was a simultaneous barrage of seven beams of light, roughly a meder across each, upon a designated target at a glance. But there were still unknown variables to take into account.

Was it specifically due to the fact she was focused on a single target that made them converge? Or would it work on multiple targets within an effective radius? What was the maximum range?

As she finished listing these off, Bell turned his attention back to Primo and asked, “Can you do it again to find out?”

“I’m not sure,” Primo admitted. “I feel funny.”

“She’s suffering from post-magic rigor at the moment,” Lefiya interjected, her eyes turning to the Elf to see the shivers running through her body. “Forcing a spell will only hurt her if it doesn’t backfire or fail.”

“Is that so?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve experienced that before.”

“The more Mind and magic power flowing through your body, the greater the rigor it causes,” she explained. “I mean, it’s not like Miss Mikoto can cast her spell back-to-back after she sustains it for a while, right? She needs time between casts to gather herself, unlike you or Mister Welf, whose spells come out so quickly but are either circumstantial or normally weak. Typically, the longer the chant the longer the rigor lasts.”

That was part of what made the Demi-Spirit so terrifying when they had faced it on the 59th Floor. It could not only use Ultra-Long Incantation spells, but it could also cast them back-to-back with next to lapse between them. By all accounts, that thing was a monster in might and magic alike.

Lefiya addressed her charge next. “Take a seat and take deep breaths to try to relax. Keep counting how long it takes for your body to normalize in your head so we’ll have a measure for how long you can go between casts. It’ll shorten as you get used to it and the Mage Development Ability will help… oh, and can I have permission to borrow your spell?”

Primo quirked her head in confusion. “Huh?”

“My title of Thousand Elf comes from the fact that I can use the spell of other Elves,” Lefiya clarified. “Specifically, my Elf Ring spell allows me to use any spell cast by an Elf so long as I know the chant and understand the effect. I’m asking permission more out of courtesy.”

Elf Ring was a one-of-a-kind spell that laid bare every spell of Elven kind, which meant she had access to every spell from the Elves within her Familia as well as any she came across if the requirements were met. The fact that this was known would naturally cause some level of friction with others, as what should have been something exclusive to them was just another option for her to pick and choose at her leisure. To be jealous was mortal, but Familia had to be able to work together, so to ease any potential tensions she placed a self-imposed rule that she would only borrow a spell if she had explicit consent—such as when Filvis gave her permission to use Dio Grail.

It also cut down on decision paralysis, as having too many options could be a detriment. If she needed to use an offensive spell her own came at much less of a cost. The only exceptions were when she needed to hit far above her weight or a specific scenario, in which case the best possible choices usually came from Lady Riveria’s spell list—offense, defense, and healing.

But it also gave her a rare opportunity to showcase just what Primo’s spell could do in the hands of someone with more experience and how to best instruct her. “So, may I use it?”

Primo bobbed her head. “Please do.”

“Thank you.” Turning her attention to the center of the room, Lefiya began her own song before her audience of two. “I beseech the name of Wishe! Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains. Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance. Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

The magic circle the hue of her soul, aureate in color, formed a stage around her feet. It shed mote of light into the air, which tingled from magical energy. The Summon Burst connected, the ring of faeries encircling her, and at that moment the gateway to her kin was thrust open as the cost was paid.

Glimmering purple eyes. A hitched breath. Ignorant of how the child was captivated by the sight, Lefiya continued to sing. “O dazzling stars crossing the jet-black sky. Hear my immature prayers and let them guide your streaking flash. Rain down, shine of tears, and purge the squalor below—Lumine Pleiades!

Her chant summoned the constellation once more, seven stars loitering in the air. However, unlike when Primo did so, the daystars were far brighter. Then, when those stars fell to earth, they did so within a row of luminous rays the size of columns, a soft hum birthing a roaring crash as the light seared the earth where it landed.

Lefiya exhaled while looking over her own handiwork. She took in the size of the area that had been blasted along with what she presumed was the cost to her Mind in the aftermath, slowly weaving together her thoughts on it—

THAT WAS AMAZING!

—when the Half-Elf Mage was ripped from her inner contemplation as Primo jumped up with a cheer. The girl who had only cast a spell that should have belonged to her and only her for the first time in her life responded to the near-instant appropriation and upstaging of said spell not with envy or infuriation. But, instead, she held youthful awe and jubilation in her glimmering eyes.

“You really can use the spells of others!” she continued.  “You have Lady Riveria’s spells too, right? All nine of them? Can you show me them as well? Pleasepleaseplease!”

“Maybe later,” Lefiya conceded, mildly surprised at her elation at the spectacle. It was… novel, but not unwelcomed. “But, before that, did you remember to keep count of how long until your post-magic rigor wears off?”

Her pretty face scrunched up as she realized she had lost count. “Ah… oops….”

“It’s fine this time,” Lefiya assured her. “Your spell is wonderful and has a lot of potential. Depending on how you use it you’ll be able to adjust depending on whether or not you’re dealing with a single target or multiple ones since you can aim each star before the trigger. And the higher your Magic, the more powerful it’ll be.”

“So I should try to get my Magic Rank to above S-rank then?” Primo asked.

“Just getting it to be high enough to reach the D-rank should be fine since after that you’ll only need an accomplishment to Level up and can go deeper into the Dungeon to avoid diminishing returns. Any higher than that will be incredibly difficult on the Upper Floors… besides, it takes years to reach the S-rank, and I’ve never heard of anyone getting higher than that.”

“But the Captain had Double S-ranks on most of his Status when he passed Level One and Level Two,” Primo pointed out without a shred of mockery or doubt. “Lady Hestia showed me his old Status sheets and I saw them.”

Lefiya… blinked at that. It was the sheer casual way she mentioned that which dumbfounded the Thousand Elf, who had seen much in her tenure as an adventurer. Then she turned towards Bell with her brow raised, the unasked question carried in her gaze.

“I’ll explain later,” Bell said from his position further back. There was a small collection of monster corpses that weren’t there before. He had been busy dealing with them attempting to sneak in whether drawn from the spellfire or recently born from the walls.

It wasn’t a denial.

Right…” Lefiya took a moment to process that tidbit before focusing on the impressionable young Elf in front of her. “Even if you can get above S-rank, Bell is an exception to common sense. It’s fine if you want to grind up your Magic, but it should be after you get the Mage Development Ability. Understand?”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” she answered dutifully. Then they continued to practice, one after another, as Bell began dragging corpses into the room to be used for target practice and dealing with clearing out their way back. It was after her fourth volley that the expected happen as Primo began to sway on her feet. “Did you see me that timeeee….”

“Looks like three times is Primo’s safe limit for the moment,” Lefiya said as she caught her before she could fall over. The girl was out cold, so she turned to address her younger brother. “Don’t let her fire off a fourth volley unless you absolutely need to do so, and keep in mind that doing that will pretty much leave her unable to cast a spell for the rest of the day even when she regains consciousness—her limit will increase with her Level and the Mage Development ability but, at that point, if she strains herself too much it’ll take more than a day to recover.”

If post-magic rigor prevented back-to-back spell casting until one became familiarized with the strain of it, then Mind exhaustion was what prevented one from overreaching when you were a Mage. Even with a Magic Potion to help replenish one’s reserves, the strain of it weighed heavy on the body and mind—a reminder she had from when Argonaut had pushed her Arcs Ray beyond her limit and left her with a headache for quite some time.

“Teaching her archery is also an option since that’ll help her with learning trajectories and you don’t have a lot of long-ranged options outside of your little friend and Firebolt. She needs to be able to do more than just cast spells to make it as a Mage, otherwise, she’ll be useless when she hits her limit.”

“That’s a lot to take in at once,” Bell said as he came over with a Magic Potion and carefully raised her chin so he could tip it into her mouth slowly. Primo swallowed on reflex. “Still, I really can’t thank you enough for all of this.”

“I’m just paying forward what I was taught and learned,” she told him before making sure that Primo was unconscious and they were alone. Then she asked the obvious question. “Now, about your Status going above S-rank?”

She had thought it to be a joke that Lady Hestia may have played on the girl as they laid her down to rest. Motivation to give her a number to aim for like how Lefiya admired Lady Riveria. But apparently it was not.

“It’s true,” he began. “Both times I’ve gone from one Level to the next all my Status have been S-rank or above. That’s part of the reason Lady Hestia also hurried with raising my Level and learned how to lock my Status after the Minotaur incident. The Loki Familia members who were there likely saw I had all S-Rank before the final update I had for Level One.”

Nnn…” Everything in her body wanted to believe he was joking. She knew he probably had a Rare Skill, but… to that extent was still hard to swallow. But it explained why everyone was so on edge before they went further into the Dungeon to deal with the Demi-Spirit. They knew all along but kept it a secret because they weren’t supposed to know. “SS-rank exists?”

He nodded. “It goes one rank higher too.”

Her slender fingers ran through her hair at that. The maximum had always been thought to be S-rank because going past that was so difficult. And, realistically, there should be no situation where you ended up gaining that much Excelia and not rising to the next Level…

Except, she was grinding up to get S-rank herself and holding off on going to Level Four. Every point counted, as Lady Loki told her. And then there were Bete’s words about surpassing Riveria. Why could they see beyond a limit that she couldn’t?

“Well, at least that explains why you were on par with Hyacinthus during the War Game,” Lefiya conceded. “And for you to get your points that high after a week of training… your Skill gives you accelerated growth by a ludicrous amount, doesn’t it?”

Her brother admitted to it. “It’s called Realis Freese. The description stated it was the ‘crystallization of an ancient pledge rekindled upon meeting one bound by fate’ and it gives me immunity to Charm as well.”

She had never heard of such a Skill, meaning it must have indeed been a rare one. But what caught her attention more so was the wording and how similar a part of it sounded. “Vow of Elcos… I obtained that after what happened in the Under Resort. The description reads ‘the birth of an everlasting bond. Raises attributes and allows for synchronization while working in tandem with those bound by fate to the Clown March’.”

Bell’s brows folded in at that. Recognition. “The Clown March… I’ve heard that before. Grandpa once referred to it as another name for the tale of Argonaut.”

“Which is the same name as your other Skill and the name of Fina’s brother, who shared the same homeland of Elcos,” Lefiya added. “They really are connected somehow. I figured that might be the case when Argonaut was passed onto me, but even the wording is similar—bound by fate.”

There really were too many coincidences at this point. She was still working her way through the memoirs at the moment, but she did have time to speak with Tiona about some of her versions of Argonaut that she had read. None of them referenced the homeland or the Clown March, so the fact that Bell’s Grandfather apparently knew a different version of more common stories held weight in itself.

She still refused to acknowledge that one on the High Elf Queen Celdia as anything short of blasphemous though. “This is starting to give me a headache at this point.”

“It does seem to be a bit complicated,” Bell admitted. “Lady Hestia felt it was important to keep the information a secret outside of our Familia. You’re the exception since we’re already in this deep and you’ve got a key to the place. But we still don’t want it to get out.”

“We’ve got at least two or three secrets between us that would cause problems if it got out, so what’s one more at this point…” The Half-Elf trailed off as she recalled something pertaining to said secrets and reached into her bag. “Speaking of which, Mother sent something for me to give you.”

Bell’s ruby eyes were half-folded in confusion as he grabbed the letter and heard the soft clink of metal within it. Then he opened it carefully with the non-bloodied knife he carried and from within he pulled out what looked to be a small pendant on a golden chain. There, embossed on the pendant, was an emblem that appeared to be a two-pronged spear with three lightning bolts to the left and right of it. “This is…”

The emblem of the Zeus Familia,” Lefiya murmured as the familiar sight brought memories to her mind. Times when her mother would sit her on her lap and regale her with stories she heard from their father. “But why did she send it?”

Azure and rubellite eyes shifted their attention to the letter where her mother had written in exquisite cursive to address her brother.

Bell Cranel.

Words cannot express the joy that I felt when I received my daughter’s letter that told me the two of you had reunited as brother and sister. I had always been worried about how you were fairing since that day we met and parted ways. Though I may not have been your mother, you were the child of the love of my life, and with his passing, you have become one of the few treasures that he left in this world.

It also makes me happy to hear you are following in your father’s footsteps. If your heart is as brave as his, I’m certain you’ll be a great Adventurer just as he was.

As Lefiya has told me you did not possess any memento of your father, I have included a pendant that he gifted me before parting ways. Though I am loathed to leave it, he has already gifted me something far more precious—my daughter.

So please treasure it. And should you find the opportunity, please write to me. I would love to hear how you were raised into being such a wonderful young man.

Also, from what my daughter has told me, you’ve become quite dashing as well. If you were anything near as charming as your father, I imagine you already have many suitors willing to take your hand. But should you find yourself looking for one such person, your sister should know plenty of Elven women who may catch your fancy.

I would love to see my grandchildren within the next few years.

G-Grandchildren…” The words clawed their way from Bell’s throat as he whipped his head around to find that his sister was blushing as she covered her eyes in embarrassment. “What does she mean by that!?”

“Well, we’re siblings because we share the same blood through our father,” Lefiya began, rubbing her ears that had turned as red as his eyes. “It doesn’t matter if she’s not your birth mother, you’re as good as her own child since you’re the child of the man she loved enough to have me with. We’re family, so your children would be her grandchildren and a way for her to remain connected to Father even as the centuries go on.”

And to be honest that was probably the best outcome considering how they were blood-tied and how their father was no longer around. Her mother having her and learning about Bell meant that his legacy lived on through them, from her half-Human features to his eyes. So she treated him more maternally, something that she would have loved to have done when he was younger if not for Lefiya’s insistence when she was younger and the guilt about her living circumstances.

But it would not be unheard of for an Elf who had lost a loved one to fall to their grief and become desperate to find some way to fill in that void. That included pursuing the child or sibling of said person if there was enough of a resemblance and they were at sexual maturity. There were Elven novels here in Orario that were best sellers with that premise for a reason—a taboo tale of a heroine falling in love with a hero only to find they were unattainable, so they shifted their attention toward a descendant.

“As for me playing matchmaker,” she continued. “I suspect that’s because of my own preferences when it comes to partners. Considering all Mother went through to give birth to me, it’d be hypocritical for her to tell me to find a male to have a child with if I wasn’t in love with them. But she still wants grandchildren and you being Human means that any children you have with another Elf will have Elven blood, and thus have a lifespan measured in centuries that she can dote on.”

Grandpa always said Elves had a different perspective but hearing that from you is another thing entirely….” Bell paused for a moment as a thought crossed his mind. “Wait, your mother was over a century old already when I met her that time?”

“Remember, the culture inside and outside of forests vary due to how long we live,” Lefiya said as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. “By those standards, around a century is the prime age to get married and start working towards having children since our race has such low birthrates that it can take a decade of effort to conceive. Her being pregnant with me so soon was because Father was Human, and she probably expects it to be the same for you… actually, how friendly are you with Miss Ryuu and that Guild Advisor of yours.”

Bell sputtered to form words as his face grew luminous. “Miss Ryuu is just a friend, and Miss Eina treats me like a little brother—Miss Flott even calls me as much. There’s no way they’d be interested in a guy like me.”

“It’d be more believable if you said that without blushing, but I’m not going to press you on it…” That being said she wasn’t sure how to feel about another Half-Elf stepping into her sororal duties. “Just avoid the Pleasure District. I can tell you right now that being kidnapped by Amazons is not fun.”

How would you… nevermind…” Her brother groused before looking down at the pendant that once belonged to their father. His expression softened. “The Zeus Familia…. Grandpa told me they were destroyed by the Black Dragon.”

“That’s the story I’ve heard,” she answered, her own expression softening. “They were one of the first Familia ever formed and among the most powerful. Grand Day celebrates their defeat of Behemoth and Leviathan fell to Hera. But that monster managed to kill both of them off, and then Zeus and Hera were both ran out of Orario by the Loki and Freya Familia.”

The Black Dragon—a monster that has existed since ancient times. One of the eldest and most powerful in existence, birthed from the Dungeon before the lid was placed upon it. It succeeded where its counterparts that covered the Land and Sea failed.

Her brother’s expression turned to surprise as he faced her. He didn’t know about that last part it seemed. “What do you mean?”

“Even though they failed, they reigned supreme in Orario for a thousand years,” she answered honestly. “They could rebuild in a few years if they had access to the Dungeon. So, the Loki Famila and Freya Familia exiled them to prevent that. It’s too hard to raise one’s Level outside of Orario that high barring very specific circumstances—let alone enough to compete with current status quo.”

Bell swallowed a held breath at that, while several expressions flashed on his face. For one who had been raised on stories of heroes, it probably seemed rather cruel that the reward for their heroism was to be beaten down when they were at their lowest and chased away so they couldn’t stand back up.

“It’s not like Lady Loki or the members of my Familia are bad people,” Lefiya said, knowing how her joining Loki’s Familia could be perceived as an act of betrayal in light of that. But the simple fact was that her father was dead by then, and she had no reason to be attached to a Familia that couldn’t keep him safe.

“I never said you were,” Bell told her, brushing his hair in the process. “Miss Aiz, Miss Tiona, you—all of you have helped me even when you didn’t have to. People call you heroes like the Braver. But I still don’t understand why they’d do that in the first place. Aren’t we all working towards making the world a place where everyone can smile?”

“That was fifteen years ago, so maybe things were different?” It was the only answer she could give him as she reached out and traced the emblem embossed on the pendant.  There were times after learning what she did that she wanted to ask Lady Riveria why they would have done so. It was underhanded in a way that didn’t suit her or the others. “At least, that’s what I want to believe.”

She wanted to believe that they had a good reason for doing so. She wanted to believe that the people who had been supporting and protecting her, even at the risk of their lives, had a reason for that. That it was for the betterment of everyone else.

“Anyway, we should head back to the surface,” Lefiya said, rising to her feet and scooping up the still sleeping Neophyte Elven Mage. “We’ll let Primo rest for a bit while we head to the Great Gnome Library. She can use some of the books there for a reference with her Magic studies.”

Bell kept his gaze on the pendant for a moment longer. Then he tucked it and the letter in his pouch before joining them. He was the vanguard and so he had to clear the path of the monsters that were waiting for them to emerge after all.

Still, the thoughts that came to his mind would linger for a time as they said goodbye.

It would be a few days before they saw one another again.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 21 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 21: Shopping Trip

The rest of the journey only grew more difficult. Argo had no talent for fighting monsters, but he still fought them only to get hurt more and more. If it were just him alone, he could probably run away, but I was not as fast as him and would be left behind. That was why he fought.

 More and more it felt like I should have remained behind in the safety of the village, but I could never bring myself to tell that to him. Not when he was forcing himself to smile so much. Not when he brought me along and took on wounds for me.

There had to be something I could do for him. But what was it? What could I do to help my brother?

—What Could I Do For Him

[-|-|-|-]

Hmm… it suited the forest but the festival is…

Peering at herself in the mirror, she who bore the title of Thousand Elf creased her lips into a soft frown as she gazed at her reflection.

It was early morning of the day after meeting Primo Libera, the Elven Child with grand aspirations. All that was left was to head over to Bell’s home since she had already eaten a light breakfast ahead of the others, having made her intentions of going out for the rest of the day known to her Familia. That was to say she intended to do some training and studying after retrieving Forest’s Teardrop.

But before that, she wanted to take into consideration her choice of garments for her date with Filvis. It was the outfit that she had worn to the Spirit Forest, provided by Lady Riveria herself to protect her purity as per tradition when venturing to the sacred location filled with Unicorns and Spirits. It was more elegant than anything she owned and so she thought it would be perfect for the occasion, showing just enough skin while being tasteful enough to not offend Elven sensibilities.

Plus, she already knew that Filvis appreciated the sight.

A soft whistle rang out as she did a twirl. She looked over to see that her roommate was there, having opened the door at some point. The fact that she didn’t hear her meant she was deeper in thought than she expected.

Elfy’s green eyes were raised in mild surprise as she took in the normally conservative Half-Elf’s appearance. “When did you get that outfit?”

“Lady Riveria gave it to me for a special occasion,” Lefiya explained. The situation in the Spirit Forest was a secret, so it was the best she could give. “I was planning on wearing it for my date at the Holy Moon Festival.”

Elfy’s lips quirked slightly at that. “So that Elf from the Dionysus Familia asked you out?”

Mm-hmm~” And Filvis had done so completely out of her own desire rather than being led into it. That fact still left Lefiya’s chest to flutter.  “She asked me yesterday evening, right in front of the fountain outside of Babel and everything. It was so romantic when I think back on it.”

Granted, Filvis ran away right afterward. It must have been hard for her to admit as much, given her past and the association with the name of Banshee. Lefiya had been working hard to get her away from that mindset. Even if her feelings had been rejected, she would have put aside her broken heart for the sake of remaining her friend so that she could continue to smile.

Or so she told herself.

“I’m happy for you, but won’t that complicate things in the long run?” There was a note of caution in Elfy’s voice as she said that. “I mean, being friendly with a member of another Familia is one thing. But a romance is…”

“Lady Loki already gave me her blessing to pursue the relationship since she and Lord Dionysus are on such good terms,” Lefiya mentioned while holding out the sides of the dress, offering her a better view. “Mind giving me a second opinion?”

“Sure.” The Human Mage made a twirling motion with her finger and watched as Lefiya did so slowly, eyes drawn to the way the materials elegantly flowed with the motion. “You look… gorgeous just how you are. I’m sure she’ll love it.”

“Thanks,” Lefiya said with a grateful smile before heading over to a privacy screen, her normal clothes hanging on top of it. She made light conversation while changing behind the diving screen. “If it isn’t a bother, would you mind asking Alicia if I could borrow her Elven Cream?”

“Ah… the burning stuff, you mean?” There was a noticeable disdain in her voice. The Secret Elven Cream shared between them was great at clearing one’s complexion, but it was quite… unpleasant as it did its work. “I’m guessing you don’t want to ask her yourself because it’d be awkward to do so to get ready for a date given the whole incident.”

Lefiya recoiled as if struck before peeking her head around the divider, blushing. “We all agreed never to bring that up again!”

The infamous Alicia Incident—born of what she interpreted were mixed messages from the forestborn, inebriation, and budding sexuality. Alicia did embody all of the physical traits she liked in a partner, so it was natural she held some attraction. But attempting to clumsily seduce her was purely because she had not been in her right mind.

It was embarrassing for all parties involved and was the reason she swore off both drinking and dating within the Familia ever again.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said, lightly waving her hand with an expression that said otherwise. Then she held up a letter. “This is for you. It was in the morning mail.”

“That must be from Mother…” She finished changing before receiving the letter. Sure enough, it was set to address her in their native script, but it felt heftier than normal. Taking it over to her desk, she used a letter opener to slit it and pulled out not only the letter inside but a second smaller envelope.

It was addressed to her brother in the common script and there was something inside of it.

Lefiya quickly shuffled it into her bag before reading her own letter to grasp the context. Her mother was responding to her previous letter about the Spirit Forest and taking after looking over her brother. She asked that Lefiya give it to him, which made sense.

But then she noticed something about the contents didn’t make sense. Wait, I didn’t write to Mother about the Dragon we fought in the Spirit Forest.

“Is something up?” Elfy asked before she could linger on it.

“Nothing,” Lefiya said before shuffling the letter into the desk drawer, next to Fina’s Memoirs. “Do you have any plans for the festival?”

“Me, Rakta, and a few of the others were just going to go in a group,” she said casually while playing with the stuffed animal Lefiya kept nearby. Even though she didn’t need to sleep with it anymore, she still thought it was cute and so she left it out. “I think Leene does have someone else in mind given how she reacted when Aki mentioned it, but she was being all quiet about it.”

That grabbed Lefiya’s interest given the kind-hearted Healer was rather subdued. She could only imagine what man had managed to capture her interest enough to warrant her making such a bold move. If she’s keeping it a secret then she has her reasons, I’m sure.

Ruminating on romantic partners aside, Lefiya finished getting ready and made for the door. “I’ll be going now. Oh, and thanks for letting me borrow your Vanishment Rod. I’ll pay you back some time.”

Elfy just waved goodbye as she closed the door and went about her way.

If the Half-Elf had been a second slower to shut the door, she would notice her roommate looking enviously at the dress while brushing the curve of her ears.

[-Outside of Hearthstone Manor-]

“I really didn’t think it’d be this bad…”

Lefiya admitted as she watched with muted horror at the throng of bodies outside of what had once been the stronghold for the Apollo Familia. Now that the renovations had been done, the newly christened Hearthstone Manor had become the publicly known chief location of the Hestia Familia. And thus, it had also garnered a lot of attention.

There was a myriad of people—men, women, big, small, Dwarves, Humans, Cat People, Elves, and even more outside of the gate. There were enough people to where she couldn’t see past them unless she got to a higher elevation from the alleyway a modest distance away. Thankfully she didn’t need to do so.

“Me neither,” said her brother, having appeared mere moments ago with Lady Hestia in his arms and Primo hanging off his back. He was stupidly fast for a Level Two, so at Level Three not a single person beneath that Level would be able to see him if he really moved. Taking advantage of that, he managed to slip out faster than any of the crowd had noticed with his goddess and charge.

“They’re annoying, but there isn’t much we can do about it right now,” Lady Hestia said in a bitter tone that did not suit the Goddess of the Hearth as her child let her down. Such was her annoyance at her current predicament as she straightened out her white apron that stood out against the red beneath it. But there really wasn’t much they could do about the situation so long as none of them stepped over the boundary of the gates uninvited.

At that point, they were trespassers and could be dealt with accordingly. But until then their solicitations were entirely legal—annoying, but legal.

Still, Level Three senses on top of Elven hearing afforded Lefiya a lot of leeway in making out what the crowd was saying and thus gathering the type it was. None of them were of any importance as any merchant or official representative of a respectable establishment or organization would forward them mail or schedule a meeting. They would not crowd around like a pack of Hellhounds waiting for the chance to feast.

There were three camps right now—those there to join, those there for Bell, and those for Welf.

A good majority of them were trying to join the Familia, knowing that it was the prime time to do so since they had risen in rank and thus a higher tax bracket. The fact that Hestia took him in without a Falna meant she was open to just about everyone, which was a great prospect for all of them. The fact that Primo had just been registered probably did not make things better on that front—and they weren’t going to broadcast her circumstances.

Bell’s solicitations were… generally expected of him being the Record Holder. Some were prospective recruits for other Familia from the sound of it, wanting to pull him into their net since he was on the rise. They had about a snowballs’ chance in the Dragon’s Urn, but they were still going to try for the sake of saying they did.

But the worst by far were the Amazons among their numbers, whose intentions were seduction. They weren’t lovestruck like Tione but they knew they were attractive and Bell was a young man, so an invitation to the Pleasure District was not off the table. The problem was they were not shy about voicing it among themselves either.

She had never even heard of some of the things they were suggesting, leaving her red in the face. And a glance at her brother, covering Primo’s ears while nursing a brighter blush, told her that he heard them loud and clear as well. Level Three hearing had its downsides.

Those for Welf were divided into two groups as well. The first were those who wanted to make a deal for one of his Magic Swords, muttering about how low of a price they could get or how high they could go, either for use or resell. Most likely the latter given how infamous they were meant that having an authentic Crozzo Magic Sword would go for enough that a small country would need to clear its treasury for it.

The second were those who hated him for them. The latter spoke in low, hushed whispers or Elvish—she was used to mocking whispers due to her heritage, but it had never been outright malicious like she could hear. And she suspected the only reason it didn’t escalate beyond muted threats was because it would be picking a fight with their entire Familia, which they had gone through great pains to demonstrate why that was a bad idea.

Most buildings were a lot less sturdy than a castle that fell in less than an hour and a lot more flammable.

Still… he really put himself into the fire for Bell’s sake, didn’t he? Lefiya felt obliged to do something for him, but there was nothing she could really do. Unless Lady Riveria herself told them to leave him be, they would likely continue to just quietly harass him, and throwing her name around wasn’t something she liked to do unless absolutely necessary.

“Miss Lefiya, are we going to get my staff now?” Primo asked innocently, bringing the Thousand Elf’s attention back to why she was there in the first place.

Lefiya nodded and put on a smile just for her. “That’s right. We’re not far from where my own has finished being repaired, so we’ll pick them up together. Then we’ll take you to get your battle clothes before we head into the Dungeon.”

The child smiled brightly in response, eager and excited to take her first steps in becoming a Mage. It reminded Lefiya of her younger self back in the Educational District. And that same smile elicited one from her goddess and Captain.

Guiding them northwest and away from the mansion, Lefiya led them to a shop located off the side street that branched from the Northwest Main Street. The streets twisted, almost like a maze, to where shadows cast from the buildings surrounding it dimmed the light until they found a staircase heading further downwards. The child momentarily faltered from the unfamiliar air of the location, but Bell squeezed her shoulder ever so lightly as if to say that it would be all right when they finally came to a stop in front of a wooden door that was slightly warped and looked as though it were carved into the trunk of a tree.

“Good morning, Miss Leona!” greeted the Half-Elf Mage as she opened the door with a slight groan of the hinges, and strange yet poignant scents washed over them as they were cast in the dim light of magic stone lanterns designed to resemble fireballs hanging overhead. Shelves lined with magical reagents, drop items from monsters, and expensive concoctions filled in empty space to give it a slightly confined feeling.

In the back, opposite the store entrance, was a figure clad in dark robes, with a pointed hat that slouched over haggardly adorned their head. Her white hair was long and frayed, her nose long and slightly hooked, and around her neck were dozens of crystals strung into necklaces.

Her head craned upwards, and her leathery lips pulled back into a smile. “I was expecting you to come alone, but I see you have company—an infamous one at that.”

Bell realized he was the latter when her eyes fell onto him. “Me?”

“Many eyes are on you child,” she said ominously. “The ability to augment one’s spells or another’s is not something that goes unnoticed to us who practice the Art. And then there is the Mage Bane as they call him, inflicting an Ignis Faatus on that poor girl. Dreadful.”

Lefiya sighed at her teasing. “Miss Leona, you’re not going to tell me Alterna is coming after them next are you?”

“I imagine they would not be the first on that list,” she brushed off before reaching behind the counter and pulling out Lefiya’s beloved staff. “All of the magic stones have been replaced. Though I have to question how you managed to break so many at once—mirroring your master a little too much now?”

“The situation was complicated,” Lefiya said as she strode over and gingerly took her precious staff in hand once more. The cool touch of the Seiros and dazzling hue of the Forest’s Tear in the center, surrounded by the azure magic crystals, were a sight for sore eyes.

“And who do we have here?” Leona inquired, staring towards the child whose nervousness was palpable.

“Her name is Primo,” Lefiya said. “She was anointed by Lady Hestia and received a Magic Slot, so I brought her here in order to receive her first staff since she’ll have to grow into it. Please be patient with her for the time being.”

She then turned to the child. “And Primo, Miss Leona is a very talented Mage. But unlike us, she specializes in the creation of magical implements and other items. It’s a different path but it all comes from the same basis, and only others who study the Art of Magic can create such things. That’s why you need to study hard. Understand?”

“Yes, Miss Lefiya,” the Neophyte Elven Mage said while nodding in understanding. “And it’s nice to meet, Miss Leona. I’ll be in your care.”

“A polite child. I wonder if you’ll turn out to be as monstrous as your mentor here.” She then extended her clawed hand towards the wall that was lined with staves. “You’ll find the beginner staves at the far end. I’m sure Little Miss Thousand can help you pick out an appropriate one.”

Primo’s eyes turned to them before scurrying over as Lefiya followed afterward. That left Bell and Hestia to take in their surroundings. Unlike the other two, they were more familiar with rows of weapons and armor from their jobs, so it was a novel experience.

That was when Bell’s gaze fell onto a leather-bound book that had embellishments upon it in gold and was tucked behind a glass case on a high shelf—visible and meant to be an item of importance. “Is that a Grimoire?”

Miss Leona’s eyes perked up at that. “Oh, you recognize one?”

Well, I may have seen one from a distance before…” He scratched his cheek even as his eyes fell onto the price tag. The current rate was around 99,575,000 Valis, and it was clear the price had been marked down a number of times, which was honestly even more terrifying. “Goddess, you weren’t kidding when you said they were expensive.”

“Hephaestus mentioned that creating something like that required an extremely gifted Mage,” Hestia mused as she stared at their surroundings in part curiosity and part fascination. “You must be fairly talented, Young Lady.”

“You humor me, goddess,” said the elderly Human with a chuckle. Only those whose lifespans could be measured beyond centuries would refer to her as young. “My talent is modest compared to those who have much longer to refine their talent. An acquaintance merely gifted it to me, but should your little Mage ever need the push to develop a new spell…”

It was a valid option. Gaining a single spell upon receiving the Falna was fortunate and the circumstances where they appeared were also completely random. It was entirely possible she would not gain a second spell throughout her long life. And considering how much Bell had benefited from the Grimoire he had seen from a distance and did not read… it would be a lie to say that it was not worth the price.

“As for the boy, though we typically cater to Mages, we do provide some things for individuals such as yourself.” She gestured towards a collection of magic crystals that were on display in a myriad of scintillating colors. “A magic crystal of the corresponding element affixed to your gauntlet can enhance the power of your offensive spell and creating dual ones are within my ability. But, considering how you can increase the output of your spell on a whim, I’ve no doubt they would suffer the same fate as the crystals I just had to replace.”

In other words, the magic crystal would just break after a single boost while used under Argonaut. And considering how much those cost it was an expensive one-shot use. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Miss Leona, we’ve picked out one,” Lefiya called, drawing their attention to the one that Primo had gotten. It was an Oaken Staff but the wrapping around it was a slight lavender hue. “Can you pre-treat it, so it’ll be more durable in case she needs to use it as an emergency weapon and blood won’t soak into it?”

“Taking inspiration from that Elf from the War Game, are you?” The wizened witch humored before applying some kind of solution to it and then ran a cloth over it, giving it a sheen that wasn’t present before. “The treatment would normally be another three thousand valis, but since I’m gaining a loyal customer, I will do so for free this time.”

“Thank you very much,” Primo said cheerfully as her eyes glimmered while cradling her new staff. She brought it to her cheek and smiled. “I’ll take good care of it.”

That done, they left the Witch’s Secret House and ventured towards the clothier to arrange for Primo to have some clothing to wear into the Dungeon. There was one she was familiar with from before she joined the Loki Familia—and had originally designed her current outfit.

Guiding them to a clothier boutique that had mannequins on display with garments and accessories that catered to multiple races rather than exclusive ones found on most of the clothing shops. That was because it was showcasing that they provided the same designs to accompany many different races, rather than conforming to a specific sensibility. They even had signs written in the different native written languages listing the materials that they were made out of and pricing for the different sizes.

A chime rang as the door opened. “Hello. Lucia, are you in?”

In the back of the shop, a flower shifted from just behind what looked to be a loom in the process of being worked to create a patterned design in some delicate-looking cloth. Then the flower was revealed to be nestled in a bed of luxurious, honey-brown hair. It framed the visage of a girl whose eyes held the same hue as the locks that flowed down her back, a warm smile coming into bloom on her face.

“Lefiya, back so soon?” she asked, rising up to come around and greet her guest. Her eyes fell onto Bell and recognition dawned. “Oooohhh~”

“Just. Rumors.” Lefiya preempted her, knowing full well what those glimmers dancing in her eyes were representative of. The fact that her regular battle clothes needed repair after the initial chase with the Apollo Familia meant she brought them here and naturally the rumors had spread by then. Then she set a hand on Primo’s head. “We’re here to pick up some battle clothes for her. She just joined Lady Hestia’s Familia and I decided to walk them around as a favor.”

Ahh, how drab.” She could have sounded less disappointed before she came closer and took in the sight of the Elven Child holding a staff preciously. Then she leaned over and gave her a gentle smile as she extended her hand. “Hello, I’m Lucia Ramirez—I provide adorable girls like you clothes for inside the Dungeon and out. And you are?”

“Primo Libera,” she answered reaching out and shaking it. “Nice to meet you, Miss Ramirez.”

“Just Lucia is fine, Sweetie.” She then looked to Bell and Hestia. “Did you have any specific needs for her, such as if she’ll be heading further down into the Middle Floors? Or a particular design in mind for her Familia Uniform?”

“No, she’s just received her Falna so I don’t think we’ll take her below the 10th Floor anytime soon,“ Bell answered. “And we don’t have a uniform.”

“I would suggest letting Primo decide on what she wants,” Lefiya offered. “She uses her forest as a communal name so she might not be aware of any designs that have cultural significance, so keeping it simple is better. Then once we know that much, we can give our opinion on if anything needs to be added.”

Lucia nodded in compliance before gently taking Primo’s hand. “Let’s take a look at the designs that have light fabrics without hindering your movements. Almiraj fur tends to work pretty well for the inner lining, so you’ll feel comfortable while casting.”

As Primo followed her, Lefiya decided to look around to see if there were any new designs that she herself was fond of. Not that she planned on buying any new clothing, but she did window shop occasionally and there might be something else that she found to accompany her date outfit. Eventually, she came across a dress that was nestled in the back and on display.

It was a gorgeous dress with the torso being a soft teal color and shoulder-less, open sleeves tethered with crystalline bands that had golden chains adorned by gemstones. The skirt rose and fell, gossamer frills that allowed the pure-white stockings to be displayed, and the floral patterns having blue and white roses. There was also a bonnet to go along with it, adding to the cute aesthetic.

“You really like frilly stuff, don’t you?” The Half-Elf was pulled from her gaze upon the gorgeous work on display by the Goddess of the Hearth. The divinity and her brother had come over to see what had grabbed her attention. “Is that what Elves consider fashionable?”

“It’s my personal preference,” she explained. “Typically, Elves prefer just enough lace and frills to accompany a simpler design that covers the skin to project modesty while also emphasizes the existing features. For women, that would be things that make us appear cuter, while men’s clothing would make them handsome. Something with this many frills and designs would be considered an excessive and it’s not practical to wear in the Dungeon, so I would only be able to wear it on special occasions like the one coming up.”

“There’s an occasion like that coming up?” Hestia asked.

“You only recently descended, and Bell only arrived a little while ago, so I suppose you wouldn’t know,” Lefiya realized. “The Holy Moon Festival is a pretty well-known celebration that has been around since before the descent of the divine. It’s often considered a romantic event as well—Amor Square typically turns into a dancing floor for couples, for example. I’m actually looking forward to attending it this time.”

“That sounds fun,” Hestia mused wistfully before turning to her first child. “Bell, take me that day, will you?”

His reaction was to be shocked, crimson spreading along his cheeks. “Eh?”

“What are you blushing for?” Hestia teased. “You’re just going to take the Goddess your revere so much to have a dance. That’s all.”

Well, I’m still not much of a dancer but I guess I can try…” Feeling awkward, his rubellite eyes turned elsewhere and fell onto the changing room where Lucia and Primo were in. “What will we do if Primo wants to wear something like this to wear into the Dungeon though?”

“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that,” Lefiya said. “Lucia an Adventurer, so she knows to consider the practical needs of others on the Upper Floors at the very least. She would never let her wear something that could let her get hurt.”

Bell seemed astonished at that. “She is?”

“Well, I suppose it would be more accurate to say she’s a part-time one,” Lefiya clarified. “Unlike us, she isn’t a dedicated Adventurer so she doesn’t spend all her time in it and works primarily as a stylist and clothier. She’s probably closer to Mister Welf in that she has a lot of technical knowledge on the different materials in the Dungeon and how they are used to make fabrics and cloths for her profession. I think she’s still a Level One.”

“Which Familia does she belong to?” Hestia asked.

“The Dia Familia,” she answered. “It’s a small Familia, but they’ve been longer established than yours and most of the members have jobs outside of being Adventurers. They don’t have a high rank so they won’t be forced to go on expeditions or anything, but they have a single Level Two Captain who is more a researcher or chemist.”

“So that’s how Dia handles things down here, huh…” Hestia tapped her chin at that bit of information. Then the changing room curtains parted and out came her newest child. “All done?”

“Yes, Goddess,” Primo said as she revealed her outfit. It was a light purple dress with matching cuffs and a collar with a red gemstone adorning it. Around her left leg was a pair of holsters for small items and potions, while a small pouch that clamped onto her from the back accompanied it. “How do I look?”

“You look very pretty,” Bell told her gently. “Don’t you think so, Goddess?”

“It feels like something is missing…” Hestia rubbed his chin in thought before going over to a small stand and grabbing two hair ties before walking over. Then she tied her long, blonde hair into a set of twin-tails, not unlike the Goddess of the Hearth. “There we go.”

She brushed the hair ties with her gloves before smiling. “Thank you, Lady Hestia!”

“I would also like to commission a jacket for her similar to mine, but in her own colors,” Lefiya added. “It’s not good to leave too much skin exposed in the Dungeon after all. You can put it on my tab.”

“I can do that, but the materials to make it and the final design won’t be ready for a few days,” Lucia stated.

“I’ll be in the Dungeon at the time, so Bell will have to come to get it then.” She looked to her brother. “Is that okay?”

Bell nodded as Hestia placed Primo’s lavender robes on over her new battle clothes. “I’ll pay you back for it. For all of it.”

“Then come back in about three days,” Lucia told them. “And if there are any adjustments or you want any other clothes tailored, please don’t hesitate to come back.”

That done and their farewells bid to the clothier, they made their way towards Babel. Hestia bid them goodbye and to have a nice day in the Dungeon as she ascended the Elevator to Hephaestus’ storefront. Her children and Lefiya ventured down below the winding staircase and into the depths below.

Soon enough Primo took her first steps into the Upper Floor of the Dungeon.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 20 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 20: The Cost of a Mage

The first major obstacle in our journey came when we had our first encounter with a monster in years. The village had somehow been spared from trouble for the time we had been there, so a part of us forgot just how terrifying even a Goblin could be. But we were reminded when two of them attacked us along the way.

Argo managed to take out one with his sword. But the other managed to knock him down with a stick that it considered a club of some kind. I saw his blood and the next thing I knew I had picked up his sword and had stabbed it deeply to where it collapsed on the ground. I pulled back with my fingers trembling as I couldn’t let the sword go until Argo gently set his hands on mine and soothed me with kind words.

‘Being covered in blood is unsuitable for a flower like you. Leave that to your big brother from now on, okay?’

I started crying in his arms then and there.

—A Random Encounter

[-|-|-|-]

The cavernous, intertwining maze that was the 14th Floor of the Dungeon was filled with hunting noises.

The expansive network of tunnels naturally carved of bedrock held many rooms away from the beaten and well-trodden paths taken by those that normally trespassed upon their dominion. Thus, it provided a quiet den for monsters that had been born to rest until their trek brought them to where they could hunt. Yet their den was in an uproar as a fairy had somehow wandered right into their nest.

A pink-clad sylph had somehow gotten lost from the forests. Now it flew through the dimly lit halls illuminated by the moss that crawled along the wall and ceilings. Its chestnut hair fluttered as it bound away, delving deeper into their lair as slithering serpentine women gave chase with snarls and screeches to let others know that the game was afoot and the hunt was on.

At the same time, in the distance, another fairy was being herded by their kin. A white-clad nymph with long and luxurious black hair.  On its heels were a herd of bunnies brandishing landform blades, hopping as they gave chase.

The walls buckled and crumbled as more were born to fill in their ranks. Hounds from the bowels of Hell, huffing heated embers, fell free from the bedrock. Landing on the heel of the fleeing fairies, they rushed ahead of hunting parties to pincer them both.

With their retreat blocked, the fairies ran towards the only path available. It was a corridor to the side that ran deep but led to a decisive end. For shame, it seemed their chase had come to an end and, when the monsters rounded the corners, they would no doubt find the two fairies embracing one another as they awaited the end.

Perhaps they would slaughter one before the other. Their lovely voices keening would ring throughout the halls as a fine accompaniment to the feast that would take place. It would be a monster party consisting of roasted nymph meat to be washed down by sylph blood tea—prepared by all the participants.

The Lamia Mormos would rip free their wings so they could longer escape and pierce their flesh so that blood colored the cold décor of bedrock. The Almiraj would bound forth and bury their axes within their bodies, butchering them so they could be served up on plates. And the Hellhounds would cook the meat succulent and supple until it fell from their bones.

However, the Hellhounds could not wait. Newborns had no concept of patience, only the unyielding yearning to devour. And so, they hurried to the entrance of the corridor faster than any of their other kin and huffed their heated breaths, bellowing out a sea of flames that ran down the enclosed corridor to turn it into an oven rather than waiting for the others to prepare the meat.

The roar of the flames drowned out all sound as the monster party came to a halt at the mouth of the corridor until the fire abated. The bedrock itself, which was uneven as though the surfaces had been broken or carved into, glowed a bright orange color that crackled softly as smoke rose up. They had overdone it, as such merciless heat would certainly leave only fairy dust behind without a scrap of meat or cup of blood.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer…

That was when they heard it, loud and clear.

From behind the curtain of dark smoke, they heard the voice of the fairy. But it was not a voice twisted from the agony of searing heat charring the flesh and setting every nerve alight. Instead, it was a lilt that had no place being sung within the hellish flames.

It riled their anger to new heights and inflamed their inherent bloodlust to its peak. Not only was their prey still alive, but at least one was well enough to sing joyously when cornered and entrapped. It offended their very nature as the bane of living mortals, such a grievous offense that they could not stand it.

Ignoring the prickling from the still heated stones, they rushed through the smoke with the murderous desire to turn the sylph’s melody into a dirge—

Hrk?!

—and met a wall of light obscuring their path. It was a white mirror that kept away all that stood against it, a stalwart shield brought out by the nymph who was in truth a fairy knight.

And behind that knight was not a defenseless sylph waiting to have her wings plucked, but a fairy sniper whose bow was a staff, and her arrow was being nocked by the golden magic circle spinning beneath her. “Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Hearing the song entering its final verse, the white-clad fairy knight fell behind her charge and dropped the shield that kept them at bay.

And the pink-clad fairy sniper loosed her nocked arrow. “Arcs Ray!

Golden light washed away everything.

[-14th Floor-]

“I didn’t expect Hellhounds of all the things to spawn.”

A soft sigh echoed over the soft cracking of stone as the wall opposite of the corridor laid blown out. Bits of stone fell onto the ash-laden ground beneath it. There were some modest-sized magic stones strewn about, though most had been eradicated by the magical attack.

Bringing her slender fingers to the back of her pale neck, Lefiya Viridis rubbed the spot tenderly as she stood alongside Filvis Challia within the corridor and inspected her work. Their senses were on full alert, listening for the sound of distant footfalls or cracking stone. But it appeared that there were no more threats incoming and so she allowed her guard to fall just a touch as she considered how things had turned out that way.

They had scouted out the rooms stealthily enough that they had a good guess as to the number of monsters and the species. It would have taken them more Mind and time to deal with all of them individually, which was why they had decided to funnel them down the narrow corridor where she could finish them off in a single blast. To that end, they had made the effort to break the walls on all sides and the ceiling itself to create a safe zone before luring them in.

Only death awaited those who would follow a fairy sniper into a narrow corridor.

But no plan survived first contact untested it seemed.

The Hellhounds were not expected since none had been present. They had a ranged magical attack that could have potentially altered the plan. It was only due to being constantly driven to attack mortals by their instinct as monsters and their undeveloped minds compared to the ones that roamed the Deep Floors that they fell into the trap so readily.

“…This strategy has merit but depending on the circumstances there are risks involved that can turn it into a death trap,” Filvis said after consideration. “Had we not thought to break the walls of this corridor ahead of time we very well could have been trapped on both sides. And while we most likely would have prevailed, there was a chance I may not have been able to protect you from getting hurt.”

Being surrounded by all sides was not uncommon for adventurers who delved deeper into the Dungeon. For if there was one thing that was never in short supply, it was monsters who would use their numerical superiority to bring down their foes. Even using a narrow corridor to funnel them was a valid strategy provided you had the means to eliminate them en masse.

The cleansing chalice that offered protection from magical and physical attacks was perfectly suited for keeping them at bay long enough for the fairy sniper to nock and loose an arrow of unyielding accuracy to wipe them out. But there was always a chance for something to go astray. Her shield could break or something else could go awry and the one meant to be protected would be vulnerable, a thought that clearly unsettled the one meant to do the protecting. Such was the ever-present fear of the fairy knight…

“You would have.”

There was no hesitation or uncertainty in the fairy sniper’s voice at the declaration, said with a beautiful smile unfitting of the Dungeon. Such was the depths of Lefiya’s faith in the one who bore the title of Maenads. A faith proven time and again on both the 24th Floor and in the Spirit Forest.

So long as the Elven Magic Swordswoman had breath in her body, she would uphold her duty to protect the Half-Elf Mage. “And I would have protected you as well, of course.”

Deep red eyes shifted away from the beaming smile, as if unworthy to gaze upon it. “I see… still, is it normal to have to take on this kind of Quest as a punishment?”

The Quest in question was that of a Dungeon Sweeper—a person who would travel to paths off the usual routes of the Dungeon to exterminate the monsters there. The floors grew massively in size the deeper you went, and the paths became expansive to the point where exploring every inch of a single floor was time and resource-consuming. The most expedient thing to do was to use a mapped travel route to get straight through.

But monsters born from the Dungeon walls could survive and thrive and build up their numbers. If their numbers were allowed to build up too much then, under the wrong circumstances, they could all at once start a Monster Parade—an irregular outbreak that would create a situation where a lot of adventurers could die. It would be a naturally reoccurring situation like the Nightmare on the 27th Floor.

That was why the Guild regularly called for adventurers to cull their numbers off the beaten paths. If the situation was desperate enough then sometimes it was mandatory for one of the higher-ranked Familia to deal with it, as they had the manpower and strength to traverse deep enough. But this was only on the Middle Floors, and it was more or less selected to be a humbling experience for her on Lady Riveria’s orders.

“Well, even if it was on the Upper Floors, it was still a careless thing for me to do,” Lefiya noted, unable to reveal the exact reason her staff had broken and her Mind had been drained to the point of collapsing. “Making me do this as part of my punishment is only fair, and she did tell me that I could bring someone I trusted along to help instead of having one of the others babysit me. Plus, I can use the magic stones that are leftover to help pay off the loan I took out to get Forest’s Teardrop repaired.”

In her hands was a borrowed staff, an older one from her roommate that was considered a spare. It had not really been tailored for her personal use, so she had to be careful to keep the magical energy funneled through it at a level manageable to avoid breaking it. Though it may not have been expensive compared to her own, it would not do to damage something she borrowed from a friend.

And while Filvis had been her first choice, the number of other vanguards she could have called were limited. Since the results of the War Game and announcement of Bell’s ascension to Level Three, many of the members of her Familia had entered something of a training spree. Such was the depths of their envy that he had gotten to the point where many of them had struggled to reach even after going on an expedition some time ago.

Even she was a little envious of how fast he could grow, but her primary concern was how detrimental his exceptional growth was to what he knew of the Dungeon and the city itself. She had been in Orario for nearly half her life now since entering the Educational District. Bell had been there for two or three months—the Dungeon or the city itself could very well eat him alive if he got over his head.

If Filvis had been busy I suppose I could have asked him, but if news got back to the others then it would have probably caused an uproar, Lefiya thought to herself before turning her attention back to the matter at hand. “Anyway, since this was the last Floor for today we can head back up to the Exchange once I collect the magic stones and drop items. Then we can split it before I report to the Guild.”

“I’ll help you,” insisted the fairy knight, chivalrous before her charge.

The gallantry was welcomed as they took what they could and packed it away in her backpack before finally ascending from the bedrock to the Upper Floors. Though there were a few random encounters along the way they effectively posed no challenge before the pair and by the time evening arrived, they had finished their climb and stood in Central Park. The rays of the setting sun painted the city a glorious golden hue as it washed over the ivory and marble.

It was only once the obvious threat that the Dungeon posed was no longer a factor that the demeanor of a fairy knight faded, and the Maenads revealed herself to be flustered as she came to a stop at the fountain where the clean water glimmered. “L-Lefiya…”

Azure eyes fell onto her at that, their owner pausing mid-step and regarding her body language with an inquisitive tilt of the head. “Is something wrong, Filvis?”

A light shade of red crept up from her cheeks to her ears as she meekly looked away, bringing one of her gloved hands to her heart while the other covered her mouth. Then, in elvish words so soft that the recipient almost couldn’t hear it, she asked, “W…Would accompany me to the Holy Moon Festival?

…Lefiya’s mind froze for a prolonged pause as her mind processed what she heard.

The Holy Moon Festival was also one of the first festivities to mark the coming autumn, a celebration dating back to the Ancient Times. Grand Day would follow some time afterwards. And then there were the winter holidays that were always cold but festive in their own ways.

But the key factor here was that Filvis was asking her on a date.

Though Lefiya had been awaiting a response to the confession and sharing of the Spirit Nut, she had also been content to wait until Filvis was comfortable enough to broach the topic given how guarded she was. And there was the fact that she was competing against Lord Dionysus on whether Filvis’ affections would be returned. That could be interpreted in a number of ways—exclusivity was complex when one of the divine was involved, given what receiving their benediction entailed.

And while she probably should have asked the result of that, Lefiya’s reaction to seeing the meek way her gallant partner was flustered coaxed the warmth from her chest to her head and forced out a response faster than she could think. “Yes! Yesyesyes!”

“Th-Then…ummm…farewell!” Just giving a response seemed to have left her even more flustered as she sprinted away with the speed afforded to a Level Three with clearly higher parameters in Agility than Lefiya. Not quite as fast as her brother by any stretch, but she still managed to clear the park and vanished down the Main Street.

It was only then Lefiya remembered the weight on her back. “Ah… the… Exchange…”

She would have to go alone, it seemed. But she had a notable skip in her step as she did so, crimson stickers plastered on her cheeks as she considered that she had made a breakthrough in reaching the target of her affection. Her gamble in making her feelings clear had been at least rewarded in some measure.

That was almost enough to send her over the moon as she arrived in the Guild Hall and reported the completion of the Dungeon Sweeper Quest to Miss Flot.

That done, she was prepared to head to the Exchange that would be crowded at this time of day as many other adventurers prepared to turn in their goods. While she could wait until morning, she still wanted to see to it the Familia Treasurer applied the portion she earned to her loan before she kept the rest to return to Filvis the next time she saw her.

Do I even have any clothes that are good enough for a date? That question haunted her when she realized how limited her wardrobe happened to be. Dating had been one of her least concerns after the Alicia incident and living up to Lady Riveria’s expectations, so a round of shopping might be in order. Wait, I still have the dress from the Spirit Festival.

“Ah, Lefiya?”

That was when she heard a voice that she recognized calling her from the lobby. She turned to see that her brother in casual clothes, standing in front of an older Half-Elf member of the Guild she thought she might have recognized, wearing a tense but tired expression on her face. And next to him was a young-looking Elf with blonde hair, standing around fifteen celches shorter than him and clad in a traveling cloak.

She approached him. “Bell, I thought you were going to take things easier for a while?”

“Ah… well, things got a little complicated…” He looked over to the child who clenched the hem of his shirt as she looked between them. “Do you have some time to speak with us in a private room?”

[-Private Guild Room-]

“I have… so many questions that I don’t know where to start,” Lefiya began after they had relocated to one of the private rooms within the Guild, guided by the Half-Elf that Bell referred to as Miss Eina. “Starting with why your Guild Advisor was looking so upset?”

“Ah that’s because a lot of things happened last night at the Grand Casino and I ended up getting banned,” he explained, slightly withering beneath her raised brow. “It was for a good reason—to help Miss Syr and Miss Ryuu.”

She remembered the silver-haired Human and the Elven Warrior. The two waitresses that served at the Hostess of Fertility did not strike her as the sort to go to a gambling establishment, but it was not as though she knew them that well. “Why were you even there in the first place?”

“Some of the people who won big by betting on us during the War Game decided to treat me and I ran into them there,” he began. “Then things got complicated and… well, I did owe them both. Plus, we helped people if that nice lady who came by to leave Miss Ryuu flowers and a note was any indication. It’s a shame she apparently left the city before morning.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Lefiya decided before turning her attention to the child sitting off to the side, eating a small treat rapturously. The girl was above average for what Lefiya presumed her age was as an Elf, but her features made it clear she was on the younger side of puberty. Then again, Lady Lilo had to be probably three or four times Lady Riveria’s age, so there were exceptions. “And who is she?”

He scratched his cheek as the girl’s purple eyes suddenly looked up. “This is Primo Libera. She came to Orario last week and just joined our Familia this morning, so I came to have her registered at the Guild.”

Lefiya blinked. “She can’t be older than nine, Bell.”

“How rude,” said child’s ears twitched expressively. “I’m ten!”

“My apologies,” Lefiya said. “It’s just that the last time I spoke with Lady Hestia she stated she did not intend to do a recruitment drive given the complex situation of their Familia. Between this and Bell being banned from the Grand Casino, I am simply trying to sort things out.”

“Why do you even know about that much?” she demanded. Lefiya believed it was not out of anger but concern towards her newfound Familia.  “Who are you and what Familia are you from?”

“Now, now,” Bell said gently. “You don’t need to be suspicious. Her name is Lefiya Viridis and she’s a good friend of mine. She’s also known as ‘Thousand Elf’, making her the student of Lady Riveria,”

The dark misgivings were instantly replaced by sparkles akin to starlight as those purple eyes fell back onto her. “Really!?”

“That’s right,” Lefiya answered, extending her hand to the child. “Again, I apologize if we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s start over. I am Lefiya Viridis of the Wishe Forest.”

The child had no hesitation in shaking it vigorously. “Nice to meet you, Miss Viridis of Wishe! My name is Primo of the Libera Forest!”

No clan name and she isn’t hand-shy either. Not to mention she isn’t being overly formal. Her mind ran through the implications as she continued. “Just Lefiya is fine. It’s nice to meet you, Primo Libera.”

“Then you can call me Primo… umhmm…” She shifted in place for a moment, looking nervous as she gathered her courage to ask the question that Lefiya knew was coming. “What is Lady Riveria like in person!?”

She would have sighed at that if she hadn’t gotten used to it. Just about every one of them, whether half-blooded, full-blooded, or high-blooded, held the Royal Elf in reverence. Still, it was better than the envious looks that came from those who felt she had no business as her student or that they could do better.

Lefiya was about to give her some breadcrumbs to go off of when there was a knock on the door.

“It’s fine to enter, Miss Eina,” Bell called out.

Sure enough, it was the Half-Elf Advisor. “We’ll need Miss Libera for a few final parts of the registration. It’ll only be a minute and then she’ll be registered.”

Bell nodded before turning to the child. “Go ahead. Miss Eina is kind, so she’ll make sure everything is fine.”

“Oh… okay.” The Elven child obediently followed as the advisor gave her a gentle smile before taking her hand. The door shut closed.

Once they were out of earshot, Lefiya broached a question that had formed in her mind. “Bell, is she an orphan?”

His expression flattened for a moment. Then it softened and he nodded. “How did you know?”

“Given how low the birthrates are for full-blooded and high-blooded members of our race, a child of ten years would not be allowed to venture from the boundaries of her homelands to become an adventurer if there were even a single relative to take her in, no matter how distant. She isn’t hand-shy despite being new to Orario or have the same decorum as a Forestborn or raised, meaning they weren’t instilled or assimilated. The fact that she doesn’t have a clan name but uses her homeland as a communal name also has implications.”

Most likely her parents had lost their right to use their clan name somehow. There was also the chance that they willingly surrendered it in order to relocate to a different Forest, for one reason or another. After Rakia burned down a number of them that supposedly happened to several Elves from what she heard secondhand, and the act of surrendering their clan name to become a part of the community was the first step in being assimilated into that particular one—eventually they would be tied into existing clans.

“Before I left out and ended up at the casino, there were a number of different people outside of the gates of our home,” Bell began. “She was one of them, apparently. By the time I made it back late at night, she was the only one there and falling over asleep. I couldn’t leave a child out there, so I brought her in and listened to her story with Lady Hestia.”

The child had apparently arrived with the expectation of becoming a great mage like Lady Riveria. Not uncommon among their race by a stretch. But she had no money, no Magic, and no Falna, meaning she was just an ordinary ten-year-old child to be taken care of.

Even for Elves, receiving Magic upon receiving benediction was not promised. And they could not control what spell appeared if it did. Not to mention the upkeep for a solid Mage was expensive. Since the moment their Falna was on her back and she would be their responsibility, it was simply out of the question for most smaller Familia and not worth the hassle for the larger ones—more so since it was another mouth to feed and one you would be taxed on.

“Lady Hestia would not turn away a child in need of a home when she is right outside of the gate,” Lefiya figured. “Especially not one whose story was so similar to yours. I wouldn’t be surprised if she picked your Familia after what you said if she was rejected time and again, and since you can’t lie to the divine, she would have meant every word.”

“Lady Hestia figured that, even if she did not develop Magic, then we could find something for her to do and still have a home…” Bell rubbed the back of his head. “It isn’t like we were all that comfortable with letting her go into the Dungeon so soon. But she had an Offensive-Type spell right away, and now she wants to become a Mage like Lady Riveria. I was actually planning to ask you for advice on that if possible.”

The Half-Elf crossed one of her legs over the other at that as she drummed her fingers against the table. “Well, I don’t mind explaining things and helping you when I have the time. But there’s a lot involved, so I would prefer to explain it to both of you in a single go and let you relay that back to your goddess.”

Her brother smiled in gratitude. “Thank you, Sister.”

“I did say that I was willing to help in any way I could to Lady Hestia, so this is only contributing to that.”

That said, silence loomed until the door opened once more and the child came back inside with a paper in hands, marking it as her copy of their records. “I’m done, Captain.”

“That’s good,” he said, giving a slight nod to the Guild Advisor that she returned with a small smile and wave before she closed the door. Bell then tapped the seat next to him. “Primo, have a seat here. Lefiya is going to tell us something important, so be sure to listen.”

She hurried over and excitedly plopped in her seat, sitting rigidly with her hands on her knees.

It was safe to say that Lefiya had her attention. “So, Bell tells me you want to be a Mage. Is that true?”

Her blonde hair rose and fell in waves as she bobbed her head up and down. “Yes! Just like Lady Riveria.”

“It’s a lot of hard work,” the Half-Elf Mage began. “Not only do you not know what kind of spells you’ll develop, but you have to start studying a ton of topics starting today in order to earn your Mage Development Ability. That’s what gives us our magic circles and makes us Mages compared to someone like Bell, who would be someone who just uses Magic.”

“Like magic stuff?” she asked.

Lefiya shook her head. “Not just magical knowledge, though that is mandatory starting out. For example, in my case, I had to learn things like estimating distances by sight, planning trajectories, and other fields of study in order to properly make the most out of my first spell even before I had the Mage Development Ability. Once I had it the number of topics increased to handle the flexibility it provides with manipulating your existing spells—expanding the distance, increasing the radius, manipulating the output, and so on. In contrast, Bell probably learned to recognize the distance his spell can go by sight but putting numbers to it beyond him.”

You don’t have to put it like that,” Bell mumbled. “Not that you’re wrong. I can tell how far out of range something is depending on how well I can perceive it. After a while you start to recognize whether something is too far or not.”

“And that’s fine for you because you’re not a dedicated Mage,” Lefiya said, before turning back to Primo. “But not for us. The decrease in Mind cost and efficiency are more bonuses compared to the flexibility that the Mage Development Ability gives us, and I went through the Educational District for three years so that I reached Level Two and unlocked it when I was a year older than you are now. You aren’t just someone who uses Magic, but an intellectual who knows it inside and out.”

From how her expression shifted she hadn’t considered that. Magic was mesmerizing when you saw it at work. But the real majesty laid in the underlying complexities of it, of how it worked. That was a gateway you could only peer into with study and certain Development Abilities such as Mystery or Mage.

“And then there are the costs involved,” she continued. “An Oaken Staff, which is a commercial beginner’s staff, costs around 10,000 Valis without any modifications. The quality is low, and it is really only good to act as a conduit so you can practice focusing on learning the basics. Then constantly pushing spells through them will wear them down and they are expensive enough to repair because only a Mage can craft them, which means that you’d be better off replacing them, which isn’t cheap for a small Familia.”

In contrast, the Guild-issued Dagger that Bell started with cost around 3,500 Valis. It could be easily repaired or replaced, but it still required a loan for a new adventurer to obtain. Staves were nearly three times that and were far less durable than steel. Hitting something with it was the last thing you should want to do unless it was specially treated, so it was effectively only good as a rudimentary focus to help you as you began.

“Once you have the basics, you move on to a proper Mage’s Staff, which costs 20,000 Valis and only slightly increase the magical power output. But that increases the strain and damage it takes if you use it roughly. After that, there’s the Grim and Harmony series depending on if you have offensive or healing spells, and not only are they the last commercially available models but they cost 50,000 Valis. Everything after that, even the typical Vanishment Rod, starts at 100,000 Valis without any modifications tailored to the type of magic, and then you have to factor in the cost of labor, materials, and other things.”

She tapped the staff she had borrowed from Elfy, which was a variation of the Vanishment Rod. It was cheaper than her current one, but it was still tailored to better handle Offensive-Type Fire spells. That alone had bumped up the price to close to 300,000 Valis.

“My regular staff, Forest’s Teardrop, cost me a total of 37,800.800 Valis. Due to a mistake, it suffered a great deal of damage and the repairs have totaled up to 20,300,000 Valis. I had to get a loan from my Familia to get it fixed because it’s essential to me, and the longer it takes the more interest will build.”

Primo’s eyes were boggled at the costs. She probably had never even heard of such a cost for what looked to be a very nice-looking blasting stick. But it was crucial and thus warranted her having it repaired as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, her brother that neglected to inform her about Argonaut’s little side-effect looked as though he was about to have a heart attack. “Urk…

“But, in a larger Familia or with stronger members, it’s entirely possible to make that back in a relatively short amount of time,” she said before either of them could dwell on it. “For example, Miss Aiz and I could easily make around 10,000,000 Valis in a week if we went deep enough into the Dungeon for rare Drop Items and then pawned them off on the 18th Floor at higher prices since they would be resold anyway. But she is a Level Six, and I am capable of shooting above my Level because I specialize in Offensive-Type spells.”

Her role during expeditions was that of artillery or a sniper. The moment she was pointed at an enemy, she would loose a rain of flaming arrows or a shot that never missed. Concurrent Casting had only made her more mobile in the process and Elf Ring gave her additional options when the primary person capable of casting the spell was not there or she needed to fill in an auxiliary role.

“And that’s only the basics. There’s additional studying materials, magic stones, accessories and other things that can augment your abilities or provide protection, a Grimoire if you want to have a little control over what your next spell might manifest as or when you get it, and keep in mind that your Familia have other members with their own expenses as well and the Middle Floors are the deepest your Familia can go—with Bell realistically being the only one capable of doing so comfortably, and even then a mistake can cost him his life.”

The Elven child withered at the thought, signs of budding tears welling up. It was so easy to say that you wanted to be the next Lady Riveria, but it was a different story when you knew the costs associated with it. Not just Valis, but the cost in blood, sweat, and tears. Many had learned too late.

She got up from her seat and then crouched down in front of the sitting girl, setting her hands gently on her shoulders as she met her gaze with a soft one of her own. “I’m not telling you this to scare you. I’m telling you this so that you know that the fact that they have taken you in to become their Mage means they have invested a lot in you, Primo. They have that much faith you’ll become invaluable to them, so you can never take that for granted. Understand?”

Slender fingers wiped away the tears as she bobbed her head slowly. “Y-Yes…

“Then study hard to become the Mage they need,” Lefiya told her. “Don’t settle for being like Lady Riveria. Try to surpass her for the sake of this small Familia who have taken you in as a member of their family.”

She needed to understand that Bell and Lady Hestia were not a means to an end. They were not just a way to get her Falna via the benediction of the Goddess of the Hearth’s Grace. They were giving her everything they could to make her a member of their family, so she should devote herself to them from now because once she gained her Mage DA she would become valuable, and thus there were those who would attempt to poach her from them.

And Bell needed to understand the costs involved and that he would need to treat her as such. He needed to understand she would be under a lot of pressure to become the best she could be. Lady Hestia was kind but she would have to make sure that the child did not stray once she set on that path and, as the Captain of his Familia, he needed to think how to best make use of her.

I will,” she said, continuing to wipe away the tears. Her dream had been formed out of hope but hearing the costs of it meant that if she still wanted to pursue it then she would dedicate her everything to that goal. “I promise, Miss Lefiya. Captain… I swear….

The urge to nurture the crying child apparently ran through both their veins since they brought her in for a hug. The mesh of bodies lasted probably longer than it should have, but the child seemed to be happy to receive it. She almost seemed upset when Lefiya pulled away to stand properly.

“After tomorrow I’m going to be away for a while,” she told the pair. “I’d like to get her started with what she needs tomorrow. Are you free to bring her with me?”

Bell nodded. “After I help Goddess get to work, we can go together.”

“Good.” Lefiya smiled before clapping her hands together. “In the meantime, you should go take her to go buy a nice and big stuffed animal once you leave here. She probably needs one.”

Primo was quick to say otherwise as she finished wiping the tear trails. It was unbecoming of an Elf to look so improper after all. “I don’t need one!’”

“You say, but I’m guessing you had trouble sleeping when they brought you in last night until one of them slept with you?”

“She stayed with Lady Hestia,” Bell confirmed, oblivious to the child’s shock. “Why?”

“Both culturally and instinctively, Elves tend to nurture strong ties and a need for companionship. That tends to be why we have tighter relationships with family and friends if we know them long enough, and part of why outside of those with more exposure to the outside world we don’t take well to others touching us. Otherwise staying secluded in a Forest for the better part of a century would drive us up the wall, and it’s why being kicked out of a Forest can be difficult to handle without a support system.”

There was a reason Elven Friendships were considered to be as close to lovers as one could get without any sexual attraction. It was a form of affection that skirted the line to other races. By that same metric, losing someone dear to them tended to end… poorly.

Longevity and grief did not mix well.

“If that’s the case then Primo probably slept better than she has in a long time since she was with Lady Hestia,” Bell realized before turning to her. “Is that right?”

A crimson blush painted her cheeks at that as she looked away. It was not a denial.

“There’s no shame in it,” Lefiya assured her. it was natural to sleep with parents or siblings until puberty kicked in. “I used to sleep with Mother since it was just the two of us until I left to study in the Educational District and had to make do with a large stuffed animal to cope. I adapted by the time I joined the Loki Familia.”

Said stuffed animal was still in her room, and she still slept with it until she hit Level Three at the age of twelve, one year after she hit Level Two and graduated. Then Dungeon crawling and puberty happened, which shifted her concerns to survival and the feminine form.

Since Primo lacked any familial bonds she would likely try to compensate instinctively. But it would not be proper for her to wander into her Goddess’ or companion’s bedside all the time. A stuffed animal would help her until she adapted, which probably would not take too long to be honest.

Orario had a way of forcing you to mature quickly compared to other places—especially some of the Forests from what she heard from others.

“We’ll go pick up one on the way home,” Bell promised, even as Primo grew redder in the face. “I’ll still need to speak with Welf, Lili, and Mikoto too. They’re still at their old places until the renovations are done.”

“Then we’ll meet tomorrow to test Primo’s spell in the Dungeon after we shop for clothes and your basic supplies… oh, right.” She cleared her throat and then, in eld tongue, she asked, “Do you speak Old Elvish?

The way Primo’s brows folded in as she tried to process the words made it clear she did not.

“I should probably also teach you Old Elvish if I get a chance, if only because some of the older text requires it…” The Elder Elf would probably have her head if she discovered she didn’t if they met in thirty or so years. The language itself was not commonly taught among their race, and so teaching Primo while she was young would be a way to contribute. “Having a student might be fun.”


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 19 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 19: Aftermath of the War Game

“It worked out somehow.”

Relief flooded Hestia as she stared into the Divine Mirror as the bell sounded, signaling the end of the War Game and victory for their Familia. She had gone through a myriad of different emotions as she watched the battle progress and bore witness to the resolve of her children.

She certainly hadn’t expected Bell to go so wild. Even looking at him now, it was clear he was struggling just to stay standing. Thankfully, before he could fall over onto his face right after claiming victory, his sister came over next to him…

And promptly shoved a Potion down his throat while lecturing him about focusing on himself before his enemy. “You should have drunk the one you had instead of splashing it over that jerk. Why are you trying to look cool now, huh?”

Loki laughed at the sight. “Slappin’ one minute, frettin’ the next—classic Tsundere.”

They had not heard what was muttered between the two of them after she’d slapped him earlier to snap him out of… whatever that was. Hestia would have words with Bell about it later. But it looked… incriminating when coupled with her reaction to the accusation of them flirting.

Hestia gave the girl a silent apology considering more of her peers joined in the guessing game about how Bell had somehow seduced one of Astraea’s children in less than a week.

As for her other children, Welf and Mikoto were leaning against the Inner Ward’s walls as they caught their breaths. Lili was ferreting between them and looking over their injuries. She apparently knew a little First Aid since she had to take care of herself until recently and Potions were expensive normally. Though Bell’s sister had tended to them it was clear they would be sore for quite a while.

Hestia could see from the look on Takemikazuchi and Hephaestus’ faces that they were warring between the pride they felt in their accomplishment and concern over the fact that they had taken quite a beating to claim the win. Miach had his personal Divine Mirror zoomed in on them as he assured them that there would be no lasting damage. He would see to it.

It was a clean victory in that aspect. They had met the challenge set before them with flying colors and fought long and hard. She truly was blessed with wonderful friends and gifted children.

There was just one thing left to do now. “…Oh, A-po-llo~? Going somewhere ~?

“Geh?!” A yelp came from the God of the Sun who had been trying to sneak out while everyone else’s attention was diverted in discussing Bell’s current predicament. Naturally, no sooner than he was called out, did the others swarm him to prevent his escape before he paid what he owed. That was the reason all of this began, and part of their entertainment as well.

She slowly walked up to him, the muscular hands of Ganesha on his shoulders to keep him in place. “I believe your terms were that I could have whatever I wanted, weren’t they?”

H-Hestia, let’s be reasonable here,” Apollo pleaded. “We’re all civilized beings. I offered to share—

Whatever. I. Wanted.” Hestia placed punctuation on each point. “Right?

“Those were the terms I heard,” Hephaestus agreed, while Takemikazuchi and Miach nodded quietly. “I guess it’s time to pay up what you owe.”

M-Mercy,” he begged. “I’m sure you understand how this city can make you get a little carried away. Have mercy. Please.

Hestia would have considered his words… if not for the fact that she had seen Bell broken, bloody, and beaten just for him to have a shiny new toy. And after today she was sure several others would get the same idea. An example had to be made.

Thus, she had no mercy to give. “Since you took away my child’s home, I’m taking everything you own. On top of that you’re going to disband your Familia so those children you forced into it can go free. And since you’re right about the city not helping your case, how about you go into exile too and learn what it’s like outside of Orario—FOREVER!”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!“

A scream bellowed as Divine Judgement was passed. The God of the Sun was dragged off to be forced into compliance. His fate would be a testament to the woe that would befall one who took the home from the Goddess of the Hearth.

And thus, one issue was resolved…

Only for another to begin.

“So,” began the Trickster Goddess, addressing the room. “Since we have today and another two whole days set aside… why don’t we discuss what Shortstack’s Little Rabbit’s going to be named?”

Hestia’s head whipped around so fast her twin ponytails could have been classified as a deadly weapon. “Loki, what are you doing!?”

“Even if he hasn’t hit Level Three before now, I’m pretty sure he’s met the requirements for it,” Loki said with a grin that pulled her lips back to her ears. “And since your child is soooo exceptional, so why not make an exception to the rules? After all, we have two more days to get everyone else’s opinion and most of us have already set aside the time for it.”

Hestia winced as though she had been punched in the gut. The requirement for raising one’s Level was a minimum of a D-rank in one attribute and a feat that was worthy of the Gods. Bell had a minimum of S-rank stats across the board when she updated his Status. And her Familia had just toppled a castle with not even a fifth of the same numbers.

They may have had Welf’s swords and outside help, but that had just trimmed the numbers down. It had been Bell who had chosen to enter a duel with the Captain of the Apollo Familia. Someone who had bested him twice before, without help from anyone else—and he’d won.

The only way he wouldn’t hit Level Three is if she withheld it.

And who would be more bitter about that fact than the one who had the title of Record Holder stolen from them twice over? The one who had tried to get her to reveal what made Bell such a Rare Gem in the first place. The one who was still bitter over having her precious Sword Princess dance with him at Apollo’s little trap.

The jealousy of a goddess was not to be underestimated. “W-Wait, we need still need a Denatus and it’s only been a month since the last one—”

Loki shouted into the air like a spoiled child before she could finish. “HEY, OLD GEEZER! LET US HAVE AN EMERGENCY DENATUS WITH THE MIRRORS SINCE WE ALREADY HAVE THEM OUT!”

The response that came sounded like that of an exasperated parent giving in rather than dealing with them throwing a tantrum later on. “…I will allow it.”

No sooner than he uttered those words did more Divine Mirrors pop up, revealing Gods and Goddesses who had chosen to stay at home to watch. If she tried to hide it the Guild would likely be on her tail after this, especially given the Calamity on the 18th Floor. She wouldn’t be surprised if that was why Ouranos allowed it in the first place since she only had to pay a small amount compared to Hermes.

Hopeful of some way to avert what was happening, she looked over to the peers of her group. The ones who had supported her until now. Surely, they could talk some reason into them…

All of them slowly shook their heads apologetically in perfect unison.

Slowly, like the cogs of a gear, Hestia turned her head back to the gathering where everyone else had assembled. Those she had ignored. Those whose requests she had denied. Those who had gambled and lost. Those who just wanted to keep the entertainment going.

She had only one word for them. “…M-Mercy…

Much like with Apollo, there was none to be had.

I, GANESHA, SUGGEST WE GO WITH VORPAL RABBIT!

“Of course you’d choose to name him after the monster!”

“…He does kind of look like an Almiraj. Cute but deadly—Lightning Almiraj.”

“Dia, you traitor! And you why are you nodding, Demeter!?”

“There was madness within his earlier motions, and he was quite nimble—the Mad Rabbit, March Hare.”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!!“

[-Central Park-]

Outside of the tower of Babel, the rising spire of unblemished ivory that ascended to the heavens from below within the heart of Orario, there was an innumerable number of spectators as the series of Divine Mirrors finished broadcasting the War Game.

The final bell had sounded. In less than thirty minutes after the starting bell, victory had been declared for the unexpected underdog. A Familia that now consisted of four beneath a goddess of no note and two outsiders had somehow done the impossible and bested a force consisting of over a hundred numbers strong, toppling an ancient castle in the process before engaging in a duel with the enemy general.

Movements faster than the eyes could see.

Shocking sparks and shrieking steel.

A climatic clash of casting.

It felt like a scene ripped straight out of an epic tale that they had the chance to bear witness to right in front of them. And now that the battle had come to an end laughter, cheers, and general mirth abound as those same countless eyes that had been glued to the mirrors watched the victor rising back to his feet and apologizing to the Elf lecturing him. The comedy that came after the epic.

However, amidst the crowd, there was a small figure who stood on the rim of the fountain to get a better view of the match.

Her slender figure was obscured by a lavender traveling cloak that managed to just fall short of her ankles due to her height that was just above average for her age. Her sun-kissed blonde hair fell into the collar of the cloak and half-covered a set of pointed ears. Her expressive purple eyes glimmered with the faint sparkles as her mind played back the words that had proceeded the devastating display of violence.

A Goddess who had so little, and still accepted me even when every other Familia rejected me… the home we shared as a family…

Acceptance. Home. Family.

Those words kindled a feeling that she feared had been buried by the crushing weight of reality as her week in this city had been met with rejection time and again. If the leporine Human boy who was only a few years older than her had faced the same and turned out to have been a rare gem, then she should shine even greater as an Elf that hailed from the outskirts of the forest of Libera after all. She simply needed a patron who would be willing to bless her with their grace and one day she could become known as a genius mage on par with the revered Royal Elf with the alias of Nine Hells.

Clapping her round cheeks, the young Elf made her decision.

I’m going to join the Hestia Familia.

[-Deep Forest-]

“Poor Hestia. They must be having a field day with her about now.”

“You could at least look apologetic if you really mean that.”

Banter took place between two of the divines that were far away from the Labyrinth City.

One was a handsome man whose features were hidden behind a feathered hat. He sat with his arms perched behind him on the crest rail of a wooden bench, leaning back with one leg crossed over the other. Relaxed and comfortable, his orange eyes were dancing with amusement, and he sported a smile as he stared at the events unfolding on his Divine Mirror.

The other was an immaculate goddess sitting next to him, carrying herself with a graceful poise unbefitting of such modest surroundings that a large tent provided. The nature of the divine left her skin and clothes flawless, but it was her character that gave the shoulder-less kirtle and long skirt she wore the regality they possessed. With long, brown hair and indigo eyes that held warmth in them as her own mirror observed the final combatant standing on the Outer Curtain Wall and watching the display between the two below.

The God of Travel—Hermes.

The Goddess of Justice—Astraea.

Flanking them were their respective Captains—Asfi and Cecil.

These four were nestled within a forest that was located on the other end of the continent, sitting in a large tent that had been erected for them. Separated from the numerous children who sat beneath the canopy outside where other mirrors had been willed into existence, the unfiltered arcanum that provided clairvoyance permitted a view even on the opposite side of the continent. And Hermes himself had obtained permission before he had set out to fulfill this Quest for Ouranos, so there was no violation of the rules to keep the “game” fair.

“Crozzo’s handiwork is something to be noted,” Asfi said while observing the Half-Elf she knew to be Bell Cranel’s sister under the disguise of her workmanship. Her patron had not sought to keep that a secret from her when she inquired as to why she had to work for hours straight recreating a form of magic that one of his companions possessed. He had been certain that he could enlist her aid and that of the Gale, and so she had labored. “Even that dagger was terrifying from what I could tell.”

Though she did not have the Blacksmithing Development Ability, Asfi was well-versed in different crafting methods. The fact that she possessed multiple Development Abilities related to crafting spoke of all the excelia she had accumulated in those relevant crafts and so she had an appraising eye for magical implements and equipment. That knife she was certain he crafted had most definitely given Cranel a level of Strength he did not possess before, but it came at the cost of his ability to reason.

Strength gained by being swallowed up by their anger. Throwing caution to the wind in order to kill your enemy, tearing apart your own body in the process.  It reminded her of a little too much of how her Cithara worked.

“That certainly won’t be something Ares will ignore once the news of the War Game spreads,” Astraea stated. “Conquest through unbridled power is something he always lauded. Worse, I fear others may take matters into their own hands to prevent that power from falling into his hands once more.”

“You can only move an army by making a lot of noise and Orario won’t be willing to give up such a prize so easily,” Hermes stated calmly. “Though I suppose some others might try something desperate now that he isn’t visibly under Hephaestus protection.”

“I will admit that I haven’t seen something like that being so casually swung around in all the time I have been with Lady Astraea…” Cecil seemed somewhat conflicted as she looked down, face slightly scrunched in thought. “But was it really okay to allow them to use our emblem?”

“That child would not allow another to use it so wantonly,” Astraea assured her while looking to Ryuu as she deigned to join the others below and shook hands with the young boy. In truth, they had only learned of Hermes schemes after he had arrived at their location. Her girls took pride in their association to her name and what the wings of justice represented, so it being used for deception was an affront. “Of course, I trust that you will honor the promises you made as compensation for your actions, Hermes?”

The God of Travel removed his hat and placed it over his chest as he sat properly. “Of course. I had Asfi already see to it that the letters have been sent out. Lulune should deliver the one to Lyon as soon as she gets back to Orario. And my puppy and kitten should be wandering around searching for your child’s missing sister. Miss Flores, wasn’t it?”

Hermes had not brought the entirety of his Familia with him as it would mean losing a means of staying aware of what was happening within Orario. Among them were a Cat Person and Chienthrope that served as their ears on the ground. Both had different means of obtaining information and they were both useful in their own ways.

“I will be taking my leave now that the War Game is over, so I should be able to bring back some good news after the Holy Moon Festival,” Hermes finished before looking over his shoulder to where there was a carefully prepared weapon case. Inside of it was what looked to be an argent spear of a simple but elegant make, with the head flaring out into two wings while in the center was a blue moonstone.

But to the two divine beings sitting in that tent, they knew it was something different.

It was… an arrow.

[-Deep Floors-]

He heard it.

It should have been impossible given how deep within the Dungeon he was. Surrounded by bovines of which he was one of many, born from the same womb moments ago, that sound should never have reached him. But it had.

A thunderous roar that kindled a fleeting memory and the feelings it wrought deep from the spirit within him. A moment in time where he experienced what it truly meant to live and die with his heart pounding and thunder rumbling in his ears. An unbridled glee as he lost himself in battle, rejoicing as their steel clashed amidst a raging inferno and chaotic lighting.

A white-haired blur smiling while clad in lightning and flames.

His one and only enemy.

His spirit roused at hearing that roar that should not exist.

It was a sign. It was a sign that his dream was within reach. His dream was awaiting him on the surface.

His massive, corded muscles buried beneath a hide of black and bristle fur gained strength. His grip on the Landform Ax tightened. And his lips pulled back to make an expression that was foreign to the kin around him—a smile.

And then he roared. “URRRROOOOOOOOOAAAAHHHHH!!

He let out a thunderous roar in reverence to the promised duel. He roared with every ounce of resolve he had to relive that memory here and now. He roared from the bottom of his heart with the desire to see it come about.

It shook the very core of those around him. Their wills wavered in the face of that roar. And in doing so they had proven themselves unworthy as anything more than nourishment to prepare him for that day, and so they would be mowed down.

And, just like that, the raging black bull entered the backstage of the Last Epic.

[-The Former Apollo Manor-]

Three days passed after the end of the War Game.

The moment that victory had been claimed and Lefiya had seen to it her brother would not collapse because he was too busy acting cooler than he had any right to be, she and Miss Ryuu returned to Orario. It was not their moment of victory and so they had to step off the stage, so to speak. Not that she was really in a condition to remain standing.

She had healed the worst of her wounds, but the entire endeavor had been more exhausting than she expected. Her Mind had been drained by quite a bit and her stamina just as much. She had no business fighting as she had, and if not for the fact that she knew she was capable of handling a few Level Two adventurers by raw Status alone she never would have attempted it.

Thankfully, Miss Ryuu had allowed her to rest in her arms as they flew back to Orario on the dragon that they borrowed. Her supple body was surprisingly comfortable, and it would be lying to say she hadn’t enjoyed it. Mild and probably unrequited sexual attraction aside, her heart was set on Filvis and she had spent the rest of the day with her.

It was nice.

Now she found herself within what was once the home of the Apollo Familia. Lady Hestia had claimed it as her prize and the residents had been escorted out with their belongings. It would serve as the new home of the Hestia Familia once the renovations were complete, but it was not officially known as of yet since the results of the War Game wager had yet to make their rounds.

They wanted to tie it in with the other big news. “So, you’re a Level Three now?”

Her brother was sitting next to her. He and Lady Hestia had retired to a private room that was presumably a study once upon a time, with Lady Hestia opposite them behind a marble desk. She was in her Feena guise since it would look strange if the Thousand Elf went into the same house alone with Bell after everything else until now.

She was not helping those rumors along.

He smiled in a way that befitted his adorable, rabbit features. “Yes. Lady Hestia updated my Status, and we plan to take it to the Guild in an hour or so to have it be formally announced.”

“If I don’t then they’d probably accuse me of withholding information given Bell’s performance,” the Goddess of the Hearth said with a frown as she cradled her head with one hand, elbow perched on the desk. There were bags under her eyes as she had only recently returned from the sudden Denatus that was announced due to the results. “If not for the fact that you kids can’t lie to us, and Bell said he hadn’t reached Level Three, it might have happened anyway.”

“Sorry for the trouble, Goddess,” Bell said before turning to Lefiya. “But we’re the same Level now.”

“Only because I’m still holding off on reaching Level Four,” she reminded him, but her tone was a lot less certain. Bell really had no right to be as strong as he was or rising as quickly as he had been. But, as she said, they could not tell a direct lie to the divine. And even if he possessed some Rare Skill, no one could force him to disclose it.

He was just a rare gem—highly sought after and valuable.

She supposed that made him like Miss Aiz. Or Mister Welf considering how monstrous the things he could create were at Level Two alone. But at least those two had the explanation of having a Spirit’s blood flowing through them.

Bell was just… Bell.

Considering everything, I should at least have an A-Rank in Magic by now, Lefiya thought to herself. She had not had a chance to update her Status because she was waiting for a group update session, as Lady Loki would have less time to pry her with questions or grope her still-developing breasts. Once I hit S-Rank I’ll be ready to push ahead, though I would like more options for my Development Abilities than what was offered last I checked…

Thoughts of somehow obtaining Spirit Healing aside given it would mean she practically never had to worry about running out of Mind again, she turned her attention back to the topic at hand. “Did they decide on a new Title for Bell?”

Lady Hestia let out an unladylike groan. “They decided on… [Caerbannog Cottontail] for him. As soon as I submit the proof of his Level they will announce it to officially cap off the War Game.”

“That’s… a clever Title,” Lefiya muttered as she rolled that title over in her head. “No wonder it took them three days to decide on it.”

“It is?” Bell asked, oblivious as his Goddess acted as though her words had been a punch directed towards her.

She nodded. “Based on the Elvish etymology, ‘Caer-’ refers to a castle or stronghold, ‘-bannog’ means important, prominent, or high, and a Cottontail is naturally a kind of rabbit. They’re basically immortalizing the fact that you took down a castle despite looking so much like a bunny, and I can only assume they used two elvish words because a pair of elves helped you. Your Goddess must have really worked to get you that name.”

Having it broken down to him made Bell smile even more. “Thank you, Lady Hestia! I’ll wear it with pride!”

Don’t blame me for this,” Hestia whimpered as she held her head down, attempting to hold back what they presumed to be tears of joy. “Loki was the one leading the charge. It’s all her fault.

Lefiya tilted her head in mild surprise at that. “I suppose she could have learned from Lady Riviera about the Elvish tongue since she’s known her for so long, but I didn’t expect she would have come up with something that clever for someone else’s Familia. You must have really impressed her, Bell.”

“That’s only because of everyone else,” Bell claimed. “I’ll have to find some way to thank all of you now that this is over, especially since your Familia has really been helping me in a lot of ways.”

With a final sigh of resignation, Hestia reached into the pouch of her apron from her work clothes and pulled out a pair of keys. “Speaking of which, these are for you two.”

Lefiya blinked. “Me as well?”

“Well, this is Bell’s home as much as it is mine,” said the Goddess of the Hearth before straightening up. “We have more rooms than we could need in a lifetime, and any family of his has the right to come and go as they please. That means one of them is yours.”

A jolt of surprise ran through Lefiya as she caught the implication. Then she turned to Bell, a look of betrayal on her face. “You told!”

“Bell did not tell me about you,” Hestia said as Bell shook his head, just as surprised. She then followed by explaining her reasoning behind deducing their relationship. Bell had only once told her that he had family in the city and kept her name out of it. The Goddess of the Hearth had only figured it out by how she reacted during the chase and Lefiya asked for her promise of silence.

The Half-Elf’s notable ears fell as though deflated while she held her head, a cloud of gloom hanging over her head. “I didn’t think I was that obvious, but so many things were happening at the time.

Hestia only smiled gently. “Just like a rabbit, Bell is sociable and cute, so people are naturally drawn to him. And considering the circumstances and my relationship with Loki, it’s completely understandable why you would want to keep it a secret. I just had more information to work with, so I put it together.”

“Sorry, Sister,” Bell apologized. “If I had been a little stronger then I wouldn’t have needed your help back then.”

“Not your fault,” Lefiya told him, feeling worse she jumped to blaming him immediately. “Honestly, as mortals, we can’t really control when we catch the eyes of those above. And honestly, more people will take notice now. Lady Hestia crushing the Apollo Familia so thoroughly should at least discourage them from another brute force approach.”

Hestia nodded. “Just so you know, I have no intention of using that information to get back at Loki or anything. I just felt I should at least let you both know that I was aware so you wouldn’t have to keep pretending when we’re alone. It must already be difficult to explain things away all the time, so having at least one other person in the know will make things easier.”

Oh, Goddess, it has been,” Lefiya agreed softly, feeling somewhat lighter that some of the pressure taken off her shoulders. She could vent a little now. “Even if I strung up Raul a hundred times those rumors are never going to go away after that day. And then Lady Riveria still expects me to take on Quests as punishment for breaking my staff on top of additional training.”

Her winnings had only been enough to pay half the cost of the loan she took out, which spoke a lot about the odds against Bell considering how little she had to place on the match. She had gambled and won but Lady Riveria had been quick to remind her that she was not done drilling the basics into her since she so clearly forgot them. She would be sore once those staff drills were done, and her brain would be pudding by the time she finished reviewing her study materials and practicing her Magic.

Even so, she rose to her feet before tapping the necklace to remove her disguise and present herself as she truly was. Then she bent her knees outward, placed one foot behind her, held out her skirt, and finally gave a bow to express her heartfelt thanks. “Let me thank you formally for taking in my beloved little brother. If you had not been there to pick him up when I failed him, he wouldn’t be where he is now. For that, you have my gratitude for as long as I live, and I swear on my name of Viridis and as his sister, I will repay that kindness in whatever way I can.”

Hestia regarded her with a warm smile befitting of a hearth. “You really are too sweet of a child for Loki. I was simply fulfilling my role of providing a home for those in need of one. And I consider myself blessed to have found such a wonderful child to call my family.”

“And I am happy to call both of you my family as well,” Bell added. “I’ll keep getting stronger, so one day we won’t need to hide things and I can take that burden off both of your shoulders.”

Lefiya would have rolled her eyes if she was not in the presence of a goddess. “If you want to do that then maybe you should slow down for both of our sakes. You haven’t even been below the 18th Floor and you’ve already gotten to the point where you would be capable of going to the Lower Floors. You need more experience in how things work, or else you’re going to run into a situation above your head…again.”

“And you are officially the Captain of our Familia now,” Hestia added. “You’re going to have more responsibilities to grow into, Bell.”

He nodded in acceptance that his next story would be one of growth.

[-Arc 3 End-]

 

 

Bell Cranel (Level 3)

[Caerbannog Cottontail]

Captain of the Hestia Familia. Half-brother of Lefiya Viridis. Two-Time Record Holder. The reincarnation of Argonaut and bound by fate to those who became a part of his legend, Bell Cranel has always held an admiration for heroes that was instilled in him by Zeus. Now, after 1000 years since the first Heroic Comedy, a new tale is being written.

Strength: I-0 | Endurance: I-0 | Dexterity: I-0 | Agility: I-0 | Magic: I-0

Luck: I | Abnormal Resistance: I

[Magic]

  • Firebolt: No Chant, Offensive-Type Fire spell that releases blazing bolts of electric flames. Scales with user’s Magic Stat. Argonaut increases all attributes at an increased cost to Stamina and Mind.
  • Jupiter: Super-Short Chant, Enhancement-Type Lightning spell that causes electricity to rampage within the user to increase physical attributes for a duration of (10) seconds at a great cost to the self. Increase scales with user’s Magic Stat, self-inflicted damage offset by user’s Endurance Stat. Repeated or extended use can cause lasting damage. Argonaut increases the duration.
    • Activation Trigger: “Shine!

[Skills]

  • Realis Freese: Crystallization of an ancient pledge rekindled upon meeting one bound by fate. Provides Accelerated growth. Immunity to Charm.
  • Argonaut: Heroic desire made manifest. Provides the ability to “charge” actions. Maximum charge time of (3) minutes.

[Equipment]

  • Pyonkichi MK-IV: The latest of Welf Crozzo’s light armor series that takes into consideration Bell’s fighting style. Decent quality and capable of withstanding a decent amount of abuse, it was sufficient for the War Game combined with the Salamander Wool innerwear and cloak.
  • Ushiwakamaru-Nishiki (Ushi-Nishi): A crimson dagger forged from the second half of the Minotaur’s Horn, vestiges of an ancient memory that resided in it were brought to the surface by a combination of the Crozzo Blood and Blacksmith DA during the forging process to enhance the destructive potential. Provides an increase in Strength and Agility by pushing the body beyond its limits in proportion to bloodlust unless one represses its nature. After the War Game Bell resolves to only use it when necessary and instead uses Ushiwakamaru (Ushi-Waka) along with the Hestia Knife.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 18 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 18: The Sun Sets

“Leaving the village with no destination in mind, I felt a little afraid. It had become like the home that I shared before with Mother and Father, four walls that made up my world. It honestly felt like I was that little girl who was still terrified of everything two years ago.

And perhaps that was true, given that I came because I was terrified of losing Argo. But because he was with me. Because he was not just the boy who rescued me, but my beloved brother, tears were nowhere to be found as he took my hand once more. We weren’t two children running to escape monsters as our home burned.

We were siblings who were off on an adventure where the wind would take us. Even though it sounded silly at the time, I was happy that we weren’t going to be separated. I wanted us to be together for as long as we could.

I still feel that same way to this day, Argo.

—To Adventure, Hand-in-Hand

[-|-|-|-]

Take it and heal yourself.

Those were Bell’s first words to Lefiya as he held her close, staring at the gash in her abdomen. His fingers that were shining softly with the light of Argonaut hovered over it. The deep crimson hue of her wound had seeped out enough that it clung to his glove settled on her corset.

Lefiya shook her head at that. According to the plan he had spent a minute charging that at the very least. It was the key to his victory, so for him to give it up now was to basically surrender the match. “It’s not that deep, and you need that to—

Please,” Bell insisted. His ruby eyes had softened to the point of almost begging her. The tone of his voice was laden with guilt and desperation, so poignant that she felt it through their connection. It was the same feeling she had when she called out to him upon seeing him fall that day on the 18th Floor.

That was why her hands moved over his almost reflexively in response to his wish.

The light transferred.

“I thought I would need to take hostages to lure you out of your rabbit hole but to think you were foolish enough to take to the field yourself.”

The hushed whispers between them came to an end when Hyacinthus landed at the base of the Western Outer Curtain Wall. He took the time to flick the blade that still had Lefiya’s blood on it, leaving the loose scarlet to spatter over the stone as Welf Crozzo came into view with the disguised Pallum. Lefiya could tell from his eyes he was assessing what to do next.

An injured Level Three Mage. Three Level Twos, one of whom was still injured. And a presumed Level One with Luan, whom his eyes lingered on for a moment longer as they assisted the forementioned Mikoto.

“Hyacinthus Clio…” Bell called as he handed Lefiya off to Welf, whose arms were nowhere near as comfortable. Then he stepped forward and drew his adamantite daggers. “As the Captain of the Hestia Familia, I challenge you, as the Captain of the Apollo Famila, to a duel.”

“…Is your pride so damaged that you’ll risk everything to salve it?” his opponent asked in an insultingly exasperated manner that kindled a spark of anger in Lefiya’s chest. “Sabotage. Crozzo Magic Swords. Adventurers at least on par with a Mid-tier Level Three. You’ve been handed every advantage possible to have a chance to obtain victory, and yet you are choosing to throw all of that away by trying to face against me on your own?”

“…I’d be lying if I said that part of it wasn’t for the sake of my pride,” Bell admitted to the accusation. It was natural. He had been trampled and humiliated, beaten down not once but twice by the man in front of him. “But… it was you… wasn’t it?”

Lefiya watched as Bell leaned forward at that, putting his weight into his forward leg. Then in a single moment where she had blinked… it happened.

The ringing of metal scraping metal.

The crushing of stone underfoot.

The bloom of sparks.

In the single moment where her concentration lapsed Bell had devoured the distance between himself and his opponent. The longer of his two knives, forged from the horn of the Minotaur that was the manifestation of his ascendance to Level Two, was pressed against the flat of the Sun’s Flamberge. Battle-honed reflexes were the only thing that stopped the razor-sharp blade from completing its arc and biting into his breastplate as Hyacinthus braced the blade with the forearm-guard of his off hand.

The handsome visage of the Captain of the Apollo Familia had warped into a certain expression. Lefiya recognized it. How could she not when she wore the same one?

It was a mesh of surprise and confusion, born of witnessing what should have been impossible right in front of them.

Bell displayed his speed before them both in the most desperate of times. He had been left thoroughly and utterly beaten before both of their eyes. It had been only a little more than a week since then and even knowing he must have been in training…

He had moved at a speed that shattered their expectations entirely.

“You were the one who ordered the home of a Goddess who had so little, and still accepted me even when every other Familia rejected me… the home we shared as a family, burned to the ground just to take me from her, weren’t you?” They could hear it in his tone the driving factor and determination for standing here and now, his reason for fighting. “That’s why I have to be the one to defeat you.”

The moment of shock passed. Hyacinthus exerted his Strength into his sword and knocked aside Bell’s weapon. Then, in less than the span of a blink, the sword came back around. A scarlet streak cleaved through the space where the Little Rookie had been only to slice through empty air.

Bell had already exited his threat range and was now several meders away.

Lefiya’s head went blank in confusion as the ping coming from the dancing lights in her hand chimed. She had acclimatized herself to his base speed while helping him train. Yet if she had not been focusing her undivided attention onto him at that moment, something she only did when facing against a fellow Second-Class adventurer or above, she would have lost track of him entirely.

The only explanation was…

Record Holder,” Hyacinthus uttered, his grasp on his blade tightening as he asked the question that entered the minds of every single adventurer and divine alike that was watching through the Divine Mirrors. “Have you Leveled up again?”

That was the only thing that Lefiya could think to be true. Bell had somehow done the impossible and claimed that title once over. He had to have ascended to the same Level as they had to move that quickly.

Bell’s answer was straightforward. “I haven’t.”

If it had been anyone else, it would have been impossible to believe such a blatant lie. But to the Gods and Goddesses watching, to whom the children could not lie… to those who knew him and how straightforward and sincere he was…

It was the truth.

Her brother had only recently reached Level Two. So logically it should be impossible for him to ascend to the next one so quickly unless he accumulated enough excelia and performed a feat so grand that it merited his ascension to Level Three. At least not in the week and few days between their last encounters.

But there were only three more alternatives to explain the shift in his speed.

The first was that Magic was used to raise his Agility. Lefiya knew for a fact that Bell possessed such a spell and the plan had been to use it to overwhelm Hyacinthus and defeat him by combining it with Argonaut. But he had uttered no such chant and none of their senses that could detect magical energy went off.

The second was that he possessed a Skill that raised his Agility under circumstances. Such things did exist, even if not commonplace. Hyacinthus knew for a fact that Daphne possessed one such Skill herself, so it was natural he would make that estimation.

The third was nearly as absurd as if he had Leveled once more. For him to have been moving that fast with neither a Skill nor Magic, he would have had to accumulate enough ability points as a Level One and Level Two in his Agility to rival that of at least a Level Three adventurer. That would mean he had to have at least hit S-rank once and possibly B-rank in the other—minimum.

And that was impossible in the short time he had been in Orario.

“…I see,” Hyacinthus said, eyes narrowed upon the white-haired boy in a fighting stance. “Fine. I accept your terms.”

That was when Daphne regained her voice. “But what about the—”

“Deal with the others,” he ordered without allowing his gaze to leave his opponent. It was a judgment call made considering new information, which spoke of the disparity in their abilities at this point. He leveled the sword towards Bell. “Come then, Little Rabbit.”

Then there were no more words.

Only the sounds of weapons crashing.

The Captains of the two Familia entered a world of their own.

[-Top Floor of Babel-]

“Shoot, was he that kid one of my guys told me about?”

“Well, if I had known he was going to turn out this way I would have said yes!”

“I can’t even see the fight at this point!”

Within the theatron a ripple of envy surged throughout the ranks of the various deities watching through their Divine Mirrors at Bell’s declaration. Those who descend for amusement naturally sought what was not within their possession. The fact that a rare gem had been tossed away like a common pebble naturally caused them to comb over their recollection to figure out if he had been one of the many hopeful kids who tried to join an established Familia only to be turned away by them.

Joining and starting a Familia in Orario was a nightmare, as both Hestia and Bell had the opportunity to discover.

For Hestia, there were simply too many already here that could bestow their blessing and the children wanted to join an established Familia for fortune, fame, safety, and security. Like Loki had told her when she had first descended, the easiest solution would have been to start a Familia outside of the city and then relocate within it. Outside of Orario more children were looking for a Falna so they could obtain the strength to defend their homes, rather than anything else.

For Bell, there were too many people who could take his place and were more qualified. He lived in a mountain village in the countryside tending to a farm, meaning that his only skill would be there. And while Demeter would love to have him no doubt, that was not the path Bell wanted to walk. He had been chasing the dream of being a hero and reuniting with his family but had nothing to offer other than a sincere desire to work towards it—which meant next to nothing to most of the deities present.

Even now her peers attempting to recall whether Bell had been someone their Familia turned away was not because they cared about his circumstances. Most of them did not even bother to reject him in person but let their children do so. It was because they sincerely hoped they weren’t the ones who risked losing a child who had gained such a reputation.

If they had only seen the eyes of that lonely boy who she had watched be rejected time and again…

His hopes of obtaining the strength to have a chance at accomplishing his dream…

His desire to have a family by both blood and bond…

Then they would never attempt to split them apart like Apollo. They would never revel at the thought of a War Game meant to split a family. They may have come to the Lower World for a vacation, but that didn’t mean they should have forgotten their role in guiding the children.

It’s this city, Hestia couldn’t help but think to herself. She understood why they were so eager to enjoy its wonders, given she had fallen prey to that same desire and wasted so much of her time after descending to the pleasant distractions. Even knowing that her time was limited.

She owed so much to Hephaestus. If the Goddess of the Forge hadn’t asked her if she really wanted to spend the time she had left lazing around, rather than experiencing what it really meant to start a Familia, then she would be no different. And the boy who would have become her first child would…

Hestia didn’t want to think about it.

“So he found the place he could shine after all,” a wizened voice said over the chittering of the others, lacking the envy but instead containing rough sincerity. Hestia looked over to see the God of Smithing, Goibnui.

“You turned Bell away as well?” she asked.

“I did after hearing him out,” he answered bluntly and without shame in comparison to the others. “I informed him that he needed a Familia that would bring out the best in him and that mine was not for him. He would never be where he is now if I had simply accepted him when he was looking for anyone.”

There was no hesitation or uncertainty in his words. He had not rejected Bell because he had more smiths than possible, but because accepting him would deny him the chance to find a suitable place and not benefit either of them. But he had remembered his role as a God and guided him before parting ways with words of wisdom.

Those words stuck with him.

“…Your Familia also does renovations, doesn’t it?” Hestia asked him after some thought, to which he nodded. “I may have a job for you after this is over.”

The Hearth and Home were one and the same after all.

And her Familia would have one after this.

Nn…” A strained grunt slipped out from Hephaestus, drawing Hestia’s gaze back towards her Divine Mirror. The moment the Captains of the two Familia began their match, the remaining commander had opted to cast a spell upon herself and follow orders. As Welf was the only one in prime fighting condition, he stepped in to confront her with his greatsword in hand.

The most she could see were flashes of silver.

Daphne’s Agility had clearly been boosted by her spell. That, combined with her greater parameters than Welf, meant that he was on the defensive against her onslaught of attacks. As a result, he was using a half-swording technique to better control the flat of the blade to hold off the worst of the assault, spots of crimson spilling from the black clothes he wore.

That was when Hestia noticed the secondary reason he was on the defensive, as Loki’s child made her way over to where Mikoto was along with Lili. Her wound hadn’t been healed, even though Bell had given her the light of Argonaut to do so. Instead, she crouched down and held that shining hand over Mikoto before the lilt of foreign words escaped from her mouth.

That same shimmering veil that had treated Bell’s wounds enough to where Potions could get him back up to fighting fitness encapsulated her in its entirely. The bruises and injuries she suffered melted away in their entirety and, as if she was filled with vitality, her eyes snapped open and she got back onto her feet.

The moment Lili handed her a blade she shot forward. Using Welf’s broad body as a blind spot to slip into the fray, she delivered a rising diagonal slash that ran from the commander’s hip-to-shoulder. It was only stopped from drawing blood by the fact that her shroud seemed to cushion the slash.

“Why you—” Daphne’s weapon came around as a silver streak, the sharpened edge threatening to catch her if Mikoto hadn’t rolled to get around to her back. But the moment she turned her head, Welf’s sword descended. A blade meant to use its weight to carry it through with the strength of a Level Two adventurer came crashing down hard enough that it bit into the stone floor of the Inner Ward as Daphne hastily avoided it by pivoting on her heel at the last moment.

“I’m not done yet!” Welf claimed as he angled the blade and twisted his hips to follow through, a cleave meant to cut through at the hip. Even with that shroud of hers, it would at least bite deep into her abdomen from the amount of muscle he was putting into it and the weight of the blade.

Daphne prepared to bound backward to escape it while bringing her own blade around. Evasion and a riposte all in one. However, that was cut short as Mikoto’s leg extended outwards and she hooked Daphne’s foot with her own. That which was meant to be the lead-in for an escape was turned into a stumble as the dark steel drew a gray arch and found her center of mass.

The result was that she was sent flying, her body cutting through the air until she slammed into a column and bounced off it. Her battle clothes sported a new gash and bruised flesh could be seen beneath it. She winced before swiftly twisting her body and using it for cover to escape as a flash of steel from Mikoto’s blade cleaved into the stone surface.

That’s the way,” Takemikazuchi muttered. “Read their movements. Anticipate their next action. Create an opening if there isn’t one for your allies.”

Mikoto might be a fresher Level Two along with Welf, but she had the training of a War God under her belt since she was a child. If she and Welf worked together then, even if the opponent was somewhat stronger and faster, they could attack from both directions. And that would provide an opening avenue for one another to exploit.

Hestia then turned her mirror back to the other girls. Lili had taken to using her wrist-crossbow to pin down Cassandra, leaving her huddled behind a column on the other side of the Inner Ward. Loki’s child had focused on healing herself now.

Loki is never going to let this go if she figures out, the Goddess of the Hearth couldn’t help but think. Neither Bell nor his sister had told her, but she had figured it out due to Bell’s words to her about having family within the city. The way she had looked to him as she healed him that day when he normally shies away from other women had been enough for her to piece things together.

Even now most of the disguised Elf’s attention was on the Outer Ward, watching her brother’s fight. She would love to talk to the girl when everything was said and done. But until then she would have to silently cheer her and the other children along. Do your best, everyone.

[-Twilight Manor-]

The ringing of steel rang out once more in the lounge of the Loki Familia’s high-ranked members as they observed the clash between the two Captains.

Their fight was as close to a deadly battle as possible without skirting the line as the white rabbit rushed forward in a blur of motion. With Agility unbecoming of a Level Two, his crimson daggers caught the light of the sun and left streaks in the air like twin tails. Then all at once they came around and drew a bloody cross as they converged on the Beloved of the Sun to carve through his chest from above and below to the center of his back—

Haah!

—and the crimson cross was shattered by a scarlet streak as the flamberge came around. Lashing out at the point where the blades would have intersected and backed by a proportional level of Strength, the blade broke through the convergence and should have cut through the white rabbit.

Yet amidst the shower of orange sparks that blossomed from the clashing of high-quality steel there were only strands of white hair. By the narrowest of margins, the white rabbit avoided losing its head as it narrowly slipped past. But no sooner than one had managed to slip past the other did both figures spin around like whirlwinds.

Crimson and scarlet flashed in arcs as they came around from the left and right. Another ear-splitting ring resounded. A profusion of furious sparks was born as the two Captains clashed their blades once more. The air itself shook from the impact of their blows to where their capes billowed madly as they tried to free themselves from their hosts.

But then the Little Rookie rode the wind while Phoebus Apollo remained firmly rooted as he swung his weapon around, disengaging until there was a vast distance between them. One of his daggers, the shorter of the pair, was wedged between his thumb and forefinger of the same hand that held the longer one’s handle with its three other digits. That left his left-hand extended outwards with fingers splayed towards his opponent.

“FIREBOLT!!”

And, with a shout, the bud of colorless magical energy that formed in front of his open palm turned into a blazing sphere that lanced out as three scorching rays. Flames woven into beams rocketed across the empty space between them in the time it would take for a Level Two to blink, and the face of the target was illuminated as they converged.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

The air quivered. A wave of heat billowed. The scorching rays erupted and swallowed the Hyacinthus’ form beneath the fierce flames that seemed to devour him whole, leaving only acrid and stygian smoke in its wake.

However, the smoke parted as the warrior emerged from the smoke with the speed afforded to a Level Three. His silver light armor was lightly scorched and blackened from the flames, but his body showed no signs of burns. The members of the Loki Familia could only assume it was a combination of the materials being magic resistant and the cape he donned being similarly resistant to fire as he crossed the distance and then delivered a slash that left sparks to bloom as it scored across the breastplate Bell wore.

Undeterred, the crimson blades came around from the left and right. The smaller of the knives would break through the collarbone and then flesh. The larger of the two would carve open his abdomen beneath his breastplate. Both were valid felling targets that would kill a lesser man and so would force him onto the defensive—protect one at the expense of the other.

Sure enough, the larger of the blades met with the steel of the long sword, the edge of the blade screeching as the dagger bit into it instead of flesh. However, the shorter was caught by the protective armguards that Hyacinthus had donned as he brought his arm up to protect his neck. It sported a visible gouge that spoke of the danger it presented, but the materials still held and no blood was spilled.

Then came the surprise attack as Hyacinthus’ foot shot out like a lance before Bell could retreat. A blow that could shatter stone with a single kick aimed to cave in his breastplate and then shatter his ribs from the impact. Only by crossing his arms, relying on his armguards, Endurance, and Strength, did the warhammer-like blow fail to break through the defensive maneuver as it was driven into Bell’s shorter frame.

Gareth stroked his beard as he watched the impact drive the younger lad into the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall. The stone broke and buckled under his body at the site of the impact, a cratered impression with dozens of fissures from which stone dust belched out and grains of sand fell of his figure. Yet even then he managed to kick off the wall and roll away as the follow-up thrust pierced through where his shoulder and arm would have met. “His Endurance has reached at least A-Rank to still be able to move after that blow.”

“He has probably reached S-rank in his physical parameters once more to fight on par with a Level Three,” Finn acknowledged as Bell recovered and delivered a series of slashes that forced his opponent to retreat and then attempt a counterattack when he tried to compensate for the elongated distance by stepping in. “Given that he has only been an adventurer for such a short time, it’s most likely a unique Skill.”

“Even so, his inexperience is showing,” the Royal Elf noted while craning her head slightly in observation. In contrast to his approach against the Minotaur he was most definitely at a point where brute force would work against a monster. But he was fighting an opponent who had intelligence and could recognize an attack pattern. “His anger is working against him.”

“If he was a woman he’d be about as rabid as Amazon out for blood,” Bete agreed. Amazons were known for their brutality and strength. Often shrugging off armor for the sake of bare flesh, throwing themselves headfirst against their opponent, the only weapons they needed were their fists. However, they compensated for technique through instincts honed by a lifetime of battles since they could crawl—something he did not have.

The uncertainty that Aiz felt in her chest grew as she watched him grow even more aggressive. The fight was turning into more of a match between an adventurer going against a monster, rather than another adventurer. Like he was turning into a beast as he continued to lash out with a relentless display of speed and strength.

His crimson daggers were beginning to resemble claws as he swung them around to tear into his opponent. Built for Agility rather than Strength, he was pushing himself to the point where his breathing was becoming labored. He had to leave his mouth open to take in as much air as possible as his number of swings increased drastically.

The sound of scraping steel increased as Hyacinthus was forced onto the defensive. The impacts that were blocked began to eat into his well-forged blade that was starting to chip as the force of the strikes traveled up from the base to rattle his bones. The ones that found his armor began to carve gouges out of it, long trails where the metal had been parted by the hardness native to adamantite focused into a sharpened edge.

Bell was throwing himself into a frenzy where his intentions devolved into a rampage. He was hyper-focusing solely on defeating his opponent without care for defense. He was losing track of the notion of strategy for the sake of raw fury—a Rabid Rabbit Rush.

Back when she had been a child, Riveria had once told her that according to Elven teachings a battle between warriors could be seen as more of a dialogue. One would make an argument to be met with a counterargument in response, an exchange between the two until one submitted in defeat. Finn had put it in less flowery terms that it meant one needed to reconsider their strategy if it isn’t working and read their opponent to counter them until they ran out of options.

Bell, that hard-working and earnest boy she had been training until now in secret, was simply shouting with every move he made. It was like a rabbit howling as it rushed the opponent, screaming one thing over and over: ‘I want to hurt you!’

In contrast, his opponent had switched to a completely defensive approach. Instead of peppering counterattacks as he created distance between them, he was focused completely on evasion and observation. He was recognizing his attack patterns, gradually getting a read on his opponent that thrashed wildly.

That was when she heard it.

“Ah…?” She heard a cry that echoed deep in her soul as their blades clashed in a shower of sparks. A sound that should not exist on the surface or in the room they were in. A sound that shook her like an ancient memory. It can’t be…

Her sense of time elongated while she focused her senses. She focused on that sound and the feeling it elicited as Bell’s relentless assault culminated in him finally howling as he swung the larger blade with murderous intent as his opponent brought the flamberge up to guard vertically and reinforced it with the forearm protector.

“RRRRAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!”

And then she recognized it. She recognized it the moment the dagger shattered the Sun’s Flamberge above the neck with unrelenting strength. She heard it overlapping his voice from the very blade that was in his hand, the source of his relentless anger and bloodlust that she had felt uneasy about before.

It was the thunderous roar of a Minotaur.

But she didn’t have time to do anything with that knowledge as Hyacinthus slammed his foot into the ground as hard as he could. The Strength of a Level Three was more than enough to break the ground around his foot into pieces of stone. He kicked that up with his leg as he disengaged, forcing Bell to shield his eyes as he leaped back as far as he could while pulling his cape over his right side as he drew his shortsword behind the curtain.

Then he stood ready as Bell’s legs tensed to launch him towards his opponent in fury. The moment he charged in for his assault it would be over. The shortsword would plunge itself into him as he cut through the cape to get to his opponent whose foot was already angled to pivot out of the way of the charge. His rage would cost him everything as she feared.

Ba-thump.

…For just a moment she saw herself in him. She saw her younger self, driven by that black flame within her.  Driven into a frenzy no different than the monsters she killed for strength. She would have been dead if the others hadn’t been there to pull her back before she could go over the edge.

But no one could pull him back at this moment.

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT!?

That was when foreign words were followed by a shout as a gale came unbound in the center of the battlefield between them. It hit the empty ground and the harsh winds threw up a cloud of dust even as the force of it caused both Captains to brace themselves as the Elven Mage rushed towards Bell….

[-Bell Cranel-]

Bell’s world was dyed crimson as an insidious poison swallowed him inside out as he continued to swing his arms.

It was a stinging, searing heat that ate away at his chest as the vision of his sister bleeding in his arms flashed in his mind. The cold gaze of the one who’d done so staring down at her once more. Just like before she had been brought low by his blade that ran red with her blood.

The small abode he shared with the Goddess of the Hearth, who had accepted him when all others had refused, put to the flame. The place where the two of them just sat together eating potato snacks and eggs after a great run in the Dungeon, talking about their day, buried beneath a hail of spell-fire. The chapel where dappled sunlight from the morning warmed them blotted by the scent of smoke and the embers flittering in the air while the statue of the false goddess crumbled beneath the ceiling that toppled over.

The tiny figure whose heart eclipsed her size, trembling in his arms as they ran. The sorrowful tears in her eyes, staring down at his battered and beaten form. The undaunting way she tried to stand in front of him, ready to sacrifice herself for his sake.

The poison was rage.

A rage so potent it swallowed him whole as it seeped into his pores, a molten heat that caused pain so intense that his mind began to melt. He wanted to scream but his throat had long since been burned away by the heat. The only thing he could do was swing knives at the figure in front of him that had distorted to losing all details amidst the sparks that continued to bloom.

…il…

Faster—he needed to swing the blades faster. Throwing away any semblance of strategy as the blistering heat swelled his head, uncaring if he overstretched his muscles to the point where they tore themselves apart, he worked his arms even faster. The sound of steel clashing intensified as the number of swings grew.

…kill…

Stronger—he needed to swing his blades harder. The flesh of his fingertips melted over the handle of the knives until they had become an extension of his arms. The lean muscles within his arms turned into corded steel and made it so that every stroke of the blades rattled the bones in his arms and his opponent.

KILL!

Fiercer—he needed to throw away any other thought besides tearing the thing in front of him apart. Its body would be torn apart, the entrails and organs splayed out with the bright colors standing out against the gray stone. The vivid imagery was enough to fill him with a searing excitement that burned away even more of his sanity.

MMRRROOOOOOOOOO!

A mad howl of excitement bellowed from his mouth as steel shattered in front of him and caused the blood within him to boil. A crazed roar that set every inch of his body alight with flames from the inside out. A bovine shout that had been engraved in the back of his mind and etched so deeply that it was instantly recognizable to his fleeting intellect.

Only then did he realize he was melting away. He was becoming one with the all-consuming molten heat that was insatiable. His sanity was being eaten away by the sea of bloodlust and would soon be smothered in it.

But… so what?

So what if he could kill the one who hurt his sister twice over? So what if he could kill the one who stole his home from him? So what if he could kill the one who threatened his Goddess? If becoming one with the inferno of rage was enough to give him the strength to take revenge, then why shouldn’t he sink into it?

Even now his prey fled as his sanity waned, bounding backward to escape as he loomed over it. It was the most natural thing in the world to charge down a fleeing enemy, taking advantage of his strength and speed that eclipsed the human. He would run him down, plunge his horns into his chest before ripping them out and tearing him in half, reveling in the act.

His legs tensed as he prepared to lunge—

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT!?

— when a familiar voice stalled his legs before he could take the final step over the edge. It was followed by the quavering of Magic at the last moment, as a constrained ball of wind slammed into the middle of the battlefield between them and forced the two of them to remain apart. That was when she entered his view with an arm chambered…

SLAP!

It was as if what struck him was a bolt of lightning, delivered via an open palm slap. One that was loud enough that it drowned out the roar of discontent as his vision flashed. Then he spotted the expression his sister was making as she grabbed him by the cowl and pulled his head to hers until they butted.

Synchronization, remember?” Her eyes glimmered for a moment with tears that almost seemed born of rage as she spoke in a harsh whisper. “How could I not feel what you were planning when my back is practically burning up!?

Lefiya had mentioned that her Skill allowed her to feel more in-tune with him back when they were on the 18th Floor, which was why they were so in sync with one another at the time. It was why she felt calm and certain of his next action, even before it had fully manifested. That meant the murderous intention had seeped out of him and into her, burning her from the inside out.

What would everyone think seeing you like that?” she continued, her voice softer. “Your Goddess? Your friends? All of us who helped you?

His thoughts froze at that as their faces flashed in his mind. His friends who joined his Familia and were still fighting, willing to sacrifice their Grace to give him a chance to win. Lord Miach, Miss Naaza, Lord Takemikazuchi, and his Familia, all of whom had come to aid him when he was being chased and even now. Miss Ryuu, Syr, and all the ladies at the Hostess of Fertility, all of whom gave him what support they could on the battlefield and off it.

Lady Hestia, who had given him a home when he had none and her everlasting Grace.  Miss Tiona, who said she would cheer him on no matter what. And Miss Aiz…

Ah…” A delicate memory flashed in his mind, a transient moment where a soft smile graced her lips. For others, it was something common and natural to her. But for him, it was something that stole away his breath away and enraptured his heart.

Just the memory of it quelled his boiling blood. It drowned out the roar bellowing from within his knife. It cleared his mind and allowed him to envision once more what he wanted and fought for.

Sensing that he had calmed down, Lefiya quickly released him and cleared her throat as she took a step back. “Make sure you apologize properly to everyone once this is over.”

“I will,” he promised while sporting a slight, adorable smile. “Thank you, Miss Feena.”

His heartfelt gratitude was followed by both of their expressions and eyes shifting as their senses registered the enclosing threat. Without a word, Lefiya darted back as far as she could while Bell brought both of his blades up and formed a cross. The resonance of steel rang out as they caught the silver blade that came in to strike him down overhead.

It was Hyacinthus, who could not look more offended at the moment. “Flirting in the middle of our battle. Really?”

“Miss Feena is simply a dear friend who helped me cool my head,” Bell said over a bellow of pure rage that followed from his sister at that for some reason before kicking off the ground as he spotted the second weapon in his opponent’s off-hand come around. He put a large swathe of distance between them as it narrowly avoided cutting into his Salamander Wool shirt. “I’ll owe her and the others who helped me get this far an apology after this. You as well.”

“Is that right?” Hyacinthus inquired as used his eyes to measure the distance between them while flipping his grip on the broken blade to a reverse grip. There were only about six inches of blade left from the guard itself, but that was still enough to use as an improvised dagger.

“I was so angry that I denied you a proper fight as the Captain of my Familia,” Bell clarified. “This is supposed to be a duel, and yet I almost forgot that and only saw you as an obstacle to be torn apart like a rampaging bull. I still have much to learn as an Adventurer it seems.”

“…You really are a fool,” his opponent said bluntly. “We’re in the middle of a battle. Using whatever means to win should be sufficient to bring eternal glory to your patron and their name.”

“Would you really be okay with that?” Bell asked. “Would you have been happy that the deity you worship earned their eternal glory in a one-sided match against a Familia that you forced to accept, just to split them apart?”

His lips moved to respond. But no words came out even as his throat strained. Instead, his fingers wrapped around the hilt of his blades tightened to the point of them shaking. Then, as quickly as it came, it vanished as he let out a heavy sigh. “…I have heard enough of your howling, Little Rabbit.”

Then he took a stance. His right leg was facing forward while his left leg was facing the side from behind. The whole blade of Intimacy was held vertically towards his opponent, and the broken remnants of the Sun’s Flamberge was held horizontally to guard.

Come, Bell Cranel!” declared the Captain of the Apollo Familia.

The Captain of the Hestia Familia responded in kind. “Keep up, Hyacinthus Clio!

Then two men shouted as they charged one another.

[-Daphne Lauros-]

Why am I fighting so hard?

That thought lingered in the back of Daphne Lauros’ mind as her blade flashed. It met with a slender, Far Eastern sword, and a series of blue sparks emerged as the edges scraped each other hard enough that the steel trembled. The cold expression of the girl who owned the opposite blade tensed as it shook her bones from the force of the impact.

Daphne couldn’t even feel that much. Her fingers had already gone numb from the impact of her blade crashing against those of her opponents more times than she could count. Her muscles were overstretched to the point that she could feel them tearing. Her Mind was being eaten away by her own protective spell that bolstered her Endurance and Agility.

Everything was starting to ache as she swung her arm the other way and slammed the pommel of her guard into the side of the girl’s face hard enough that her body followed it and twisted off to the side. Then she felt solid steel starting to cut into her and pivoted on her foot as the thick slab of heavy metal that the redhead called a sword only tore through her battle clothes and drew a slight line of blood instead of splitting her in half. As it bit into the ground next to her foot instead she used the momentum to bring her rear leg around. “Go down already!”

Guh!” His expression turned into a grimace as her heel slammed into the upper arm that had been raised to protect his head. The metal of the armguard used was impacted while his softer underarm slammed into his skull. The force left him to stagger as her weapon came around to cut into his dark robes, but the thick slab of metal he used as a blade came up and intercepted with its broadside before it could cut in deep.

At the same time, two snakes entwined her. One wrapped around her sword-arm that had been outstretched. The other found its way behind her neck as she barely managed to shove her wrist inside before it constricted her in a stranglehold as another braced it. They were the limbs of Mikoto, placing Daphne in a martial arts grapple that locked her arm while strangling the life out of her.

Why am I doing all of this for a God I hate?

That question surfaced as her legs tensed like springs and she threw herself with all of her might against the solid wall nearby. She felt the impact of the stone breaking under the girl who’d gotten on her back and heard her cry out in pain. But even that was only just enough to loosen her legs constricting her arm so she could use her greater Strength to forcibly free the limb and then switch her grip on the blade to aim for the slender body clinging to her.

That was when Mikoto twisted her body so that the arm around her neck was used to twist and drag Daphne down. Using her own body as a lever, she threw them both to the ground. But then Daphne released her sword and gripped Mikoto by the back of the skull to slam her head into the solid stone next to them.

That was finally enough to get her to release her chokehold as her head bounced back. “AHH!”

Taking a desperate gasp of air as whatever monstrous instinct drove the warrior into rolling back and away while she was prone, Daphne barely had time to retrieve her sword and roll out of the way as the greatsword came down to crush her. The ground beneath her cracked into dozens of small fissures as it wedged itself into place while she got onto her feet and took a fighting stance as her vision swam…

“Daphne!”

Then she heard her name being called by a voice she had known for too long. Her vision cleared and she knew the answer to the question that kept nagging at her.

That was right. It was all for Cassandra.

The two of them had known each other for so many years now. The girl was so airheaded, lost in her dreams, and in need of a caretaker since they were children. The girl whom she swore to look after and protect when that God’s eyes turned to them.

There was a saying that some people would pray that those above would not notice them. To most that sounded like insanity when the divine were the reason that the dark ages came to an end. But she remembered vividly why it was such an earnest prayer when she recalled how they ended up in this situation.

The daughter of lower nobles. One who hated formality and a ditz whose head was lost in the clouds and always spoke of fanciful dreams. Two opposites who seemed to get along for one reason or another.

Daphne never believed the dreams that Cassandra had. Not even when she desperately begged for her to believe them. Not even when, in some way or form, those dreams seemed to come to pass.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to. Daphne really did want to believe what Cassandra was saying at times. It was just that she… couldn’t.

Not until it was too late.

That was why she hadn’t listened to her that day she told them not to go out shopping, or else the sun would swallow them both whole. If she had listened that day, then the God of the Sun would have never laid his eyes on them while traveling. He never would have exchanged a promise of favors and gifts and valis for them to be welcomed into his Familia.

There were no better suitors for them than a wealthy God.

That was what both of their fathers had told them since they had reached the age where they were eligible to transition into adulthood by being married. Finding men to marry them had already been difficult because of their personalities and quirks as it was. The benefits that Apollo could provide were better than anything that a mortal husband could provide even without the claim of it being marriage—after all, a marriage entailed children and the divine could not sire with mortals.

They had been as good as sold for the prestige of being in a Familia and they both knew it.

She hated it. She hated that her future was taken from her at the whims of a God who had only laid eyes on her. She hated that it was the same for Cassandra. So, the night before he came to claim them, Daphne did the only thing she could.

She ran away and took Cassandra with her.

They ran. And ran. And ran. And ran.

Until she couldn’t run anymore.

Resigned to her fate, hating that she lacked the strength to protect either of them, she accepted that this was their new life. The best they could do was make the most out of it—never wanting food or shelter or anything else. It was a life better than they had even lived before.

But she never forgot that she had been too weak to protect Cassandra or herself. That they were in a gilded cage. That was why she fought to get stronger, pushed herself to reach Level Two, and then go further.

And now here she was fighting to the point of her body breaking down…

All to do the same to someone else.

What a joke… She would have laughed if she had the breath for it. The sight of that rabbit fleeing his cage with his Goddess reminded her so much of how she had been before with Cassandra. Now she was the one attempting to place him in that same gilded cage, telling herself it was inevitable and for his own good.

Throwing herself over the edge to avoid her own hypocrisy, she lashed out at the two in front of her who dared to take to the field. The clothes they wore sported dozens of gashes and blood dyed them a deep shade of crimson, yet they still kept charging her. She clenched her teeth at their foolish resilience before striking out with Fencer Laureate to bring them down before her body gave out….

Heavenly light, once rebuked. Merciful arms that embrace my foolish self…

She recognized Cassandra’s chant. Not by voice but by the weight that it carried and how it resonated in her ears. It was a plea from the heart reaching out to her as the tinge of Magic that was colored her soul began to brush the edges of Daphne’s senses.

Cassandra was in the middle of casting, dedicating everything to focusing her Mind into the staff for as strong of a heal as she could manage, leaving the orb atop it to glow vibrantly. It would soothe her aching muscles, melt away her pain, and restore strength to her limbs. But with her eyes closed as she concentrated there was no way she could defend herself if one of them attacked her, so why now?

The moment the Blacksmith turned towards Cassandra and extended his hand, Daphne found the energy to keep moving and darted to stab him in the back before he could do anything. “Don’t touch her!”

And yet her thin blade buried itself through the shoulder blade of the Shadow, who had thrown herself between them. Her eyes narrowed in pain before resolve surfaced. And then she performed some kind of technique that drove Daphne down to the ground once more. “Nnngghh!”

Reach out where my words cannot, and give salvation to these miserable souls—”

Burn out, illegal work—Will-o-Wisp!

Silvery mist shot like tendrils from the palm of his hand and into Cassandra before she could finish casting the final verse of her spell. All at once, her visible eye widened as that mist slinked its way into her staff where her magical energy had been focused until crackles formed as the staff that she had bought and treasured was turned into a bomb.

KA-BOOM!

It was a forced Ignis Faatus with Cassandra on the receiving end. Her slender body was thrown back by the explosion and hit the solid stone wall, leaving her to collapse into a heap on the ground while the remnants of her staff clattered on the ground. She was unmoving.

Rage took Daphne. She twisted the sword wedged into the other girl’s arm and the pain forced loose her grapple before Daphne kicked her aside and then lunged for the Blacksmith with a shout. “DAMN YOU…!

A flurry of stabs that cared nothing for defense. Throwing away strategy or anything resembling fear, she lashed out at the Blacksmith with a volley of slashes that forced him onto the defensive, even as she felt pricks of bolts attempting to bury themselves into her back through her protective spell that drained away the vestiges of her Mind, she attacked with a relentless rush until he leaped away from her—

War God’s Strike—Futsu no Mitama!

—right as a pillar of light descended upon her and was followed by the world itself pushing down on her like she was being crushed beneath the palm of a giant. It was subjugating her through sheer might, making her grovel in supplication as the stone beneath her began to crack and shatter from the pressure that refused to relent.

Daphne could barely force her head to turn and see the girl holding her hands outstretched with her at the center. There was a violet ball of magical energy compressed as though she held the weight of the world in her trembling hands. Sweat poured down her brow and blood seeped from her wounds, but her face was the picture of concentration as she shouted.

Now, Sir Welf!

“Uwwwooooooo!!!” The battle cry drew her eyes up where she saw that the Level Two High Smith had climbed partway up the stairs leading to the wall walk of the Inner Curtain Walls and then jumped right towards the barrier with the flat of the blade being swung. The moment he hit the field of intensified gravity, he and the blade were dragged down right towards her.

She knew that the moment they came crashing down on her backside it would be over. Her spell would give out beneath the force of the blow and the ground beneath her would be cratered. Everything that had been building up until now would come flooding out as an unrelenting pain that would finally rob her of her consciousness.

And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

Pinned down by the weight of the world being thrust upon her, she only had time to lay eyes upon Cassandra one final time before her vision whited.

CRRRRAAAAAASHH!!

[-Hyacinthus Clio-]

There was nothing wrong with what I did.

Hyacinthus swung Intimacy with all the force he could manage towards the boy while moving his broken blade to fend off the incoming attack from his left. But the silver sword and parried by the white rabbit’s longer dagger, right as the shorter one was blocked by the rouge blade, both giving rise to a parade of sparks and a song of clashing steel.

Frustration clawed its way out of his clenched teeth as his arms trembled from the impact jostling its way from his grip up through his arms. The earlier blows had been ludicrously strong, but they had come at the compromise of the boy’s ability to reason. He thought it to be a Skill of some kind that increased one’s Strength and Agility the angrier one became, but even now that he had regained his ability to use reason the impacts still sent shocks up his forearm.

Unable to allow himself to succumb by remaining on the defensive, Hyacinthus went on the offense. Diagonal, horizontal, and straight thrust—slashing away with Intimacy to force the boy on the defensive with the first two strokes, he thrust the broken blade forward to pierce him with the jagged tip. It was a three-hit combination executed with all the speed he could muster as a Level Three.

And yet… each and every one missed.

The Little Rabbit weaved to the side to avoid the first. Bobbed low to avoid the second. Brought his short dagger up to parry the third. And then the longer crimson blade came around to launch a counterattack, the crimson arch angled to cut through his breastplate and into his chest—

Tch!

—Intimacy rose to greet it and parried the assault. The sheering sound of the shortsword weapon being cut into by the adamantite strained his ears as yet another gouge adorned the metal. But then Hyacinthus barely caught the way he shifted his posture, leaning back and pivoting as he brought his leg around for a kick that could shatter stone.

He used his arms to protect his head. Between the forearm-guard backed by the Strength he had as a Level Three, nestled within the C-rank, the boy couldn’t break through his guard. But the fact that he still felt the impact said what did not make any sense from every logical standpoint since only a little over a week had passed since their first clash.

A mere boy was matching him.

A youth who hadn’t even been in a Familia for more than two months.

A whelp who hadn’t even spent a year as an adventurer or delving into the Dungeon.

He, who bore the alias of Phoebus Apollo. He, who had spent years working towards the goal of making the Apollo Familia great. He, who faced the Goliath on the 17th Floor and dragged them up to the D-Rank when before they had barely been above the rank-and-file. He, who had painstaking crawled his way up to Level Three to stand as the Captain of his Familia.

All to prove his devotion to Lord Apollo.

He was driven by love for his God. Whereas the other children lived to serve the one who blessed them with their Grace, he existed to bring glory to His name. That was how he showed his love to the God who enraptured his heart and set his soul aflame.

So why can’t I shake his words?

Cranel’s words had wormed their way into his head. Because he knew deep down, before they had become so large and powerful, things had been different. When it was just himself, Lissos, Marpessa, and the few others who had taken his Falna.

Apollo had been different. He desired many things, but he gave as much as he took and never by force—persistent but not by force. Back then that which he could hold in his hands had been so little, and they wanted to gift him with so much more.  Hyacinthus had wanted to see him happy and was willing to do anything.

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

His throat tightened as he recalled her words once more. He had thought it to be a warning of unrequited love. But had there been another meaning after all?

He lashed out with his blade in a fury to drown out the thoughts of someone who had left the Familia behind, right as they had risen to prominence because of him. She had always been holding them back, while he had been the one pushing ahead. That was why he had replaced her!

But his barrage of attacks was dodged flawlessly as the rabbit wove between them. Unlike before he never once allowed their blades to lock. It was a terrifying thought because it meant one thing.

Bell Cranel was adapting.

He was learning to read his movements. Knowing that he lacked the raw Strength Hyacinthus had, he was putting his Agility that somehow exceeded a mid-tier Level Three to work. Even in a battle where each blow could shatter bones or severe a limb, he was fixating on reading his attacks and adjusting to them.

But it would end soon.

His breathing was growing haggard. His rampage from before had worn him down. His stamina was less than someone who was a Level higher than him, even if he was faster. That meant even if he kept dodging, he would eventually slow down.

Then, once his sole advantage was gone, it would end.

The War Game would be brought to a swift end.

Confident in that assessment, Hyacinthus kept to maintaining the engagement distance that he had with Intimacy. Taking advantage of the longer reach of his weapon and focusing his footwork on keep it so, as long as he remained out of the reach of the boy’s daggers he would not have to worry about them. And if he closed in that distance his broken blade would serve as a deterrent.

…That was when he felt the release of Magic coming from the Inner Ward. A violet dome erupted and the air itself seemed to quake from that spot. Then there was a shout, a battle cry, and then a crashing sound that was followed by silence as the dome and the magical energy holding it in place collapsed.

Then the Elven Mage standing at the edge and looking over into the Inner Ward spoke. “Bell, the others have dealt with the last two. We’ll get to healing them, so finish up!”

So, even Cassandra and Daphne are down now? Those two had been a handful, but he at least acknowledged their potential. Between them, a couple of Level Twos should have been no issue. Perhaps he should have taken the others out first… but no matter.

The only ones who mattered in this fight were the Captains of the Familia at this point. That in mind, his silver sword flashed as he spotted the Little Rabbit moving to enter his engagement range…

Yet, then he did the opposite and hopped away right as he readied the attack.

It was not an evasive maneuver as he bound backwards three hops, purposely putting a massive distance between them. The only thing he had for ranged attacks was his Super-Short Chant spell, which his equipment could ward off as demonstrated before. The boy should have known that, so why retreat so far?

Muted confusion crossed Hyacinthus’ features as he tried to grasp his opponent’s intentions until he shouted, “Shine, Jupiter!

Magical energy exploded out from his body that became wreathed in a shroud of lightning. Wild streamers danced over his slender frame, boring into his body and illuminating his white hair and red eyes. The sound of thunder could be heard rumbling from within the boy’s body as if a thunderstorm was rampaging within him as he crouched down into a sprinter’s stance.

…A chill ran down Hyacinthus’ spine. He readied a stance and prepared for a charge, never once taking his eyes off of the boy in front of him. That was when he twisted his head behind him on a hunch, born from the current surprises he bore witness until now.

If he had not had his expectations subverted until now, then he would have kept his eyes forward. He would have been expecting a straight charge and been blindsided as the boy was already behind him. He was at an angle that suggested he had touched ground at least three times to circle around to his back with his blade upraised.

Hyacinthus pivoted on his foot and swung Intimacy around in a full circle that left a silver halo in the air as it came around… and nearly had his sword-arm torn from the socket from the hasty defense. The silver steel met with a crimson streak, creating a shower of blue sparks as the white rabbit brought down his shorter dagger that was stronger than it had any right to be.

It was an Enchantment-type spell. There was no doubt about that given how much his Strength had increased from that blow alone. Even so, he stomped his foot into the ground hard enough to embed it as he stopped himself from staggering as the weight of the blow passed. Then he lashed out in response almost reflexively with the rouge blade only to cut through empty space as the boy had vanished once more—

Ngh!?

—as a warhammer slammed into him from the side, the impact of which was so hard that he felt the bones in his upper arm fracture as they were all that stood between his ribs being shattered. And that was before the momentum caught up and sent him skirting off the ground and into one of the Outer Curtain Walls hard enough that the broken bits of the wall exploded out from around him.

Fear crept into his chest as he let his instincts take over to remove himself from the wall immediately, falling to the ground and then pushing off with all his strength as the rest of the wall erupted in a cloud of stone dust and sand as the white missile slammed into it like a cannonball.

Getting back onto his feet, Hyacinthus dedicated everything he had to mount a solid defense. In that single moment, he knew that counterattacking was no longer an option. Bell had gotten so fast that he would be stricken down the moment he attempted to retaliate, so he wired himself to guard only as his senses as a Level Three kicked into high alert.

That and his instinct were all that saved him as the white comet slammed into his sword that he braced with his forearm-guard as the crimson dagger came around once more. It struck like a mace rather than a blade, breaking the shortsword just from the impact alone as the protector he used to brace it visibly cracked. Then he jumped back as the second crimson streak cut into his breastplate and left a visible rend in it, the bottom half only hanging on by a fourth of its form.

And even that fell off as the hammer blow from a fist clenched around the handle of the crimson dagger slammed into his breastplate before he could set a foot down. His scream of pain was lost as steel shattered, the metal mixed in with Obsidian Soldier matter broken to pieces as it absorbed the force of a momentum-backed punch. Even then he felt a jolt running through the countless fractures lining his ribs before the wind rushing past him came to an end as he hit the ground some distance away.

…Won over.

Lying on the ground, struggling to cope with the pain, he had no choice but to admit that he had been thoroughly won over in a battle against the Level Two in front of him—Bell Cranel.

Tactics. Strategy. Technique. Even though he had spent years accumulating them to reach his current Level, all of those meant nothing at that moment. A spell that increased his Status that had somehow already broken even with a mid-tier Level Three just made it an absolute rather than advantageous.

He hated it. Clenching his fists as he laid on the ground with his body aching, there were no words to describe the feeling within his chest. It was unbearable, knowing that his Lord was watching him from above as he was beaten down by a mere boy.

Stand! He screamed in his head for his body to stand. He wasn’t done. Not yet. Not yet! He still had a trump card to play. STAND DAMN YOU!

His body responded. Slowly. Agonizingly. He rose to his knees with a desperate gasp of air, half-surprised that his opponent hadn’t taken the chance to simply finish him off while he was downed. But the reason for that had not been mercy, which he realized as he peered across from the Outer Ward to see that his beating had at least one silver lining.

The boy was also on one knee, an eye wincing and lips slightly contorted in pain. Tremors ran through his body, small convulsions that ate away at him. That power came at a price, it seemed. Maybe his Endurance couldn’t handle the backlash at his Level.

Good. Then he still had a chance to play his final card.

Invigorated by the opportunity, Phoebus Apollo rose to his full height and got into a stance. His opponent seemed to realize the match was not over and rose up as well. His muscles were still slightly convulsing, a damper for someone who fought with Dexterity and Agility. Then his only option would be to use his own ranged Spell then.

And that was the one thing Hyacinthus knew he had an overwhelming advantage in.

He drew in a deep breath and began to chant. “My name is love, child of light. Glorious sun, I offer you my body!

The boy bristled as his right hand clenched into a fist upon realizing what was happening. Then blue-and-white motes of light began dancing over it. Had he a final card to play as well?

No matter. He had faith in this Magic and its majesty. “My name is sin, jealousy of the wind. This body calls forth your gust!

Hyacinthus knew a single spell, born of the love for his Lord.

It was the same as his devotion to Apollo, all-consuming in its entirety. His Mind would be expended from the strain, but that was fine. It would serve as the embodiment of his purpose—to bring glory to His name.

Come forth, ring of fire on westerly winds!

Magical energy flowed upwards as he raised his left arm that still moved toward the sun. Though he should be prepared to throw it like a discus, that was merely a formality. The moment the spell was complete the disc would home in and hit its target so long as his concentration remained unbroken.

His hand turned as burning red as the overbearing rays that he basked in turned into a solar flare. The searing gale that blew from the west wove it into a spiraling ring. Bound together as one, a blazing disc that embodied the passionate worth of Phoebus Apollo was born. He threw the discus forward with all the energy he had left in his body as he said the trigger words for the spell.

ARO ZEPHYROS!

Searing the air as it cut the space between them, his magical energy concentrated within the spell, the discus was unleashed at a blistering speed. Even if he somehow dodged it then it would follow due to the homing properties within the makeup of the spell. Even if he somehow put an obstacle between them or someone tried to throw themselves on it, he could detonate it to expand the area of effect. There was no escape…

“—twenty-second charge.” That was when he heard the boy’s voice beneath the howling wind as he raised that glowing hand towards the incoming burning disc. Planting his foot to the ground, he extended his right arm and braced it with the left as he uttered his spell. “FIREBOLT!

What burst from his hand was not a simple flaming bolt like before. It was electricity and flame woven together by a white radiance. The white bolt that was close to plasma split the air between them as it sped straight ahead.

The two met midway. The burning ring that was the height of a small child slammed into the javelin of electricity and flames. The lesser of the two Magic should have been consumed utterly and the greater should have pushed on to secure victory for their caster…

Aro Zephyros shattered. The empowered Firebolt pierced deep within the shell of the burning ring, the magical energy constraining it breaking open as it bore through and then sped forth to slam into the Outer Curtain Wall behind Hyacinthus where it blew through a massive section of the wall.

Time seemed to move slow as his world vanished once the wrath of the sun was unleashed upon the Outer Ward, no longer bound. He no longer had the strength to move or evade. It was his defeat at the very blaze gifted to him by his God’s grace and born of his passion.

Only then did he finally grasp the meaning of Marpessa’s final words. It was not a warning that his love would be unrequited. It was a warning that his unconditional love would bring ruin to everything that had been built up. For when his God’s passions ran wild, it should have been he who quelled them rather than inflame them by giving him what he desired no matter what it took.

It was only fitting then that he be consumed by them utterly…

[-Bell Cranel-]

Everything hurt as Bell forced himself to walk forward.

Pain consumed his muscles from the inside out. He could tell that they were overstretched and torn.  Using his Enchantment spell normally caused some strain but that was manageable. The problem was that he had lost control before then.

The blade that Welf had forged for him housed the bloodlust of the Minotaur within it. He had given into that destructive power it brought out because of his anger. A minor lapse in control had pushed his body beyond its limits for that strength and the spell only worsened it.

But that was fine.

The blame laid with him. He would accept the pain as his punishment for forgetting who he was and what he was fighting for. It was a lesson learned.

Still, it was the right choice to wear Salamander Wool. The flames that had washed over him were hot enough to bake the stone to where steam wafted off of them, but he only felt mildly warm. Then again, it might also be because of the gift that Syr had given him. The stone was cracked beyond repair now as it dangled from his neck from beneath his cowl.

He would owe her an apology and a replacement.

Bearing that in mind, he took pained steps forward until he came to a stop in front of the supine figure of Hyacinthus. His skin had been charred and his clothes were smoldering rags. But the Level Three Captain of the Apollo Familia was still alive, of course.

He exhaled in a rasp as his heavy eyes cracked open halfway. “It seems you… are more of a Vorpal Rabbit… than an Almiraj…

Bell did not know what that was, but he didn’t have the will to argue against him. “It’s my win.

It was not a question. But a fact. One was still standing and the other was on the verge of unconsciousness and unable to move. It was mostly formality at this point as the overseers of the match were waiting to see if he would pull something else out of his hat at the last minute or if Bell would finish the job.

Even Hyacinthus could not argue the point as he exhaled a rasped, crooked breath. “…Your home was my call…do as you wish.

“…Fine then.” Bell reached for his holster as the defeated Captain closed his charred eyelids and awaited the finishing blow. Then he pulled out an unbroken vial and popped the cap before splashing the Potion over his fallen foe. The medicine began to eat away at the charred skin and replaced it with healthy flesh, just enough to make sure that he didn’t die by chance from his own injuries.

I still… hate you…” His final, spiteful words uttered at being shown mercy by his sworn foe, the Captain of the Apollo Familia finally lost consciousness.

And the final bell rang.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 17 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 17: The Castle Siege – Part 2

To this day I still recall just how much I loved that small village that welcomed my brother and me when we were desperate. That kindness saved us, even if things were a little rough in the beginning. It was tough to say goodbye to the place we stayed with for two years of our lives, building friendships and memories with the people there that would last a lifetime.

As parting gifts, Argo was given a short sword that he could use to keep us safe and a diary he could use to record his story. He boasted that his newfound Hero Diary would one day be the manuscript of the hero, Argonaut. The others said they would love to hear the story sometime when he returned.

Sadly, the village would one day share the same fate as many smaller pockets of civilization while monsters continued to spread throughout the land…”

—Parting Gifts for Argonaut

[-|-|-|-]

“Ah, so Gryne ended up getting beaten after all.”

An expectant but somewhat disappointed voice broke the silence of the afternoon doldrum within the room modeled in a Far Eastern aesthetic. It belonged to a woman with tanned skin, nestled on a futon that laid on a tatami-styled floor. She was sitting upright, her body a sleek masterwork figure of smooth muscle and shapely curves hidden beneath the gossamer-thin lavender cloth. Her long, luxurious raven-colored hair ran down the right side of her face before falling behind her back as she stared at the looking glass hovering in the air in front of her.

“She was the one who was redeemed by Lord Apollo for her talent, was she not?”

A soft, polite inquiry followed from the figure next to her, sitting on her knees. A young woman dressed in a flowing red kimono, accentuated by golden hair that mirrored the fur-laden vulpine features serving to enhance her beauty. Her emerald eyes also gazed softly at the floating disc that revealed the siege of the castle.

“He enjoyed her hobby as much as her body,” the Amazon explained. Gryne had been redeemed by Apollo specifically because she was talented with a Harp, which was a rarity among the Amazons who preferred more physical means of recreation, and he had something of an appreciation for the musical and visual art. The sex and fighting ability she possessed were bonuses more than anything. “Don’t get your hopes up, Haruhime.”

The warning was only met with a soft shake of her head. “I understand even doing this much for me may be more than I deserve from you, Lady Aisha. I will not cause you any more trouble.”

Her vow, spoken with an air of solemn defeat, only served to tease out a frown from the Amazon as what went unsaid lingered between them.

Aisha and Haruhime—an Amazonian Warrior and Renart Kamuro were sitting side-by-side within the room deep within the Pleasure Quarters. It was afternoon to the outside world, meaning it was effectively dawn to those within it and so their meeting was as clandestine as it could be while others slept. Not that there was anything illicit happening now, but rather it would be tedious to explain the presence of the Arcanum at work.

More so when it was not the work of Ishtar.

Gods frequented the Pleasure Quarters during the night. It was not hard for a woman of Aisha’s various talents to find one who’d be willing to set up a private little Divine Mirror this afternoon in exchange for pleasure the night prior. Her sisters might have questioned her choice of whom she hunted, but it ensured that she did not have to share so her request went unheard to all.

Aisha’s left arm rose and gently reached around Haruhime’s shoulders. There was a moment where she felt a slight tension running through the girl’s body and considered pulling away. But soon the Renart leaned over and allowed herself to be embraced, and Aisha stroked her hair with the fragility of glasswork. “It was no trouble at all for you.”

The two stayed like that until Haruhime’s ears shot up upon seeing a figure clad in dark clothes creep through the Northern Outer Curtain Walls that had been devastated by the first assault and abandoned. Her face was briefly visible as she bound from the crevice that had cooled from the harrowing winds, revealing features common to Far Eastern females. The maiden then slipped into the shadows as the sound of voices rushing about could be heard from the Apollo Familia who remained within the layer between the outer and inner curtain walls.

“…Is she the one?” Aisha asked.

The Renart slowly nodded.  “It has been five years but, without a doubt, it really is Lady Mikoto.”

Then it wasn’t a waste, the Amazon thought to herself while staring up at the mirror as the girl pulled out a magic sword as she slinked through the shadows until she could spot another unit of Apollo Familia attempting to mobilize themselves to deal with the Elven Mage that had landed atop the Western Outer Curtain Wall. They were emerging from the castle storage rooms, arming themselves to deal with the threat.

The Absolute Shadow emerged from the darkness and swung the blade. Lightning blossomed, a crackle that split the air as voltage shot forward and consumed everything within its path. Screams rang out as electricity bore into them like carnivorous worms, leaving burn marks as they ripped and tore at the muscles beneath their skin. Their bodies convulsed in an attempt to fight off the effect, but the potency of the magic sword overpowered them until they collapsed onto the ground.

The shouts grabbed the attention of others who had been circling the Wall Walks to get to the Elf, meaning those above could see the magic sword in her grasp. Fear set in. They switched priorities, arrows raining down from above as the shouts of others led to them starting to seal in the area between the outer and inner curtain wall from above.

“She moves well,” Aisha acknowledged. In her eyes, it was clear that she was an actual Level Two and not one with exceedingly high attributes in her Agility, which made sense given she had only recently received her alias.

She could not dodge all the arrows coming from the walls above at different angles. But in her off-hand was a small, Far Eastern blade that she used to deflect the arrows that were likely to hit someplace vital or crippling, accepting the gashes and cuts that managed to slice her skin in grazing as they buried themselves into the stone ground. Then she would swing the lightning-imbued blade around and lash out with a serpentine bolt that caught one archer, a massive animal person, square in the chest.

“Urgh!” He grunted as the bolt speared through him and electricity wormed its way throughout his body and left him collapsing over the side. He hit the ground next to her before she grabbed hold of him and then flipped him over herself to be used as a meat shield. They promptly stopped firing lest they hit one of their own.

Then there was a howl of the wind, born from the spell from the Elven Mage as it slammed into the Inner Curtain Wall. Its hurricane-like force reduced to merely being fearsome winds still sent those archers toppling over the edge and into the narrowed space. Perfect for her to swing her electrified blade once more as she emerged from cover, sending an arc of lightning down the pathway that branched out like the roots of a tree and left them writhing on the ground helplessly.

She then broke from cover and proceeded south, leaving the narrow enclosure to skirt around the entrance to the Inner Curtain Walls that led to the Inner Ward before the Keep. It was there that the seemingly last line of defense that awaited her—a red-haired young woman dressed in white-and-orange hues standing at the ground-level entrance of the Keep. She stood in front of the door like a sentry, weapon at the ready to make a valiant last stand.

Measuring the distance with her gaze, it was clear that Mikoto would need to move through the opening in the Inner Curtain Walls to place her in range. So she stepped forward with purpose, her magic sword in one hand and Far Eastern blade in the other. The other young woman tensed.

That was when Aisha spotted the five Apollo Familia members waiting in the shadows and above, a viewpoint granted only by the Divine Mirror. The sleeping members of the Familia were all tucked away in the building behind the commander, so taking the fight into there would only serve to make the situation far more chaotic if she was allowed to breach those defenses. The outside afforded more room to maneuver as well, so if they covered her from multiple angles then they should be able to either overpower her, due to being a confirmed Level Two, or at the very least disarm her.

That was when four ceramic looking containers were flung by one of the ambushers, a Pallum. The containers didn’t head towards the Absolute Shadow, but instead the other Apollo Familia who had been in hiding. And when the containers hit the solid surfaces, they shattered while scattering a green cloud of something.

Screams broke out as the ambushers gave away their positions, breaking from their cover while holding their noses and violently coughing. The animal person who had been among their ambushers had outright begun rubbing their noses against the nearest wall in a desperate attempt to get the scent out of it. That was when the Pallum broke for cover and ran past the Absolute Shadow with no sign of animosity or that she would cut him down.

The pieces lined up as the commander shouted, “Traitor!”

Their ambush failed and with tears in their eyes from whatever was in those containers, the animal person produced a ball-and-chain weapon that they wheeled around before throwing it towards the Pallum’s fleeting form. From the angle of the throw, which may as well have been in slow motion to Aisha, it appeared like it would strike the Pallum from behind until Mikoto stepped in.

With the shorter weapon, she deflected the sphere by putting her body into it enough to guide it off to the path it was on, so it slammed into the wall hard enough to crack it. Then her magic weapon was swung, sending a line of lightning rushing forward. It slammed him in the chest and his agonized cry served as the signal to remind everyone who the real threat was as she charged into the Inner Ward to finish what she started while Pallum ran off towards the south gate.

Haruhime went rigid as she watched her dearest friend deflected what appeared to her eyes to be three glints of steel from the front, throwing knives aimed high as the red-haired woman fell back towards one with long, black hair that was on the ground coughing. Then she spun on her heel and ducked to avoid a halberd being swung by one of her assailants, the broadhead catching the end of her ponytail. She brought her leg up and kicked him off to the side before using the magic sword to disable him.

Then another dagger grazed her shoulder and with it came a new crimson line as blood began to pour out before she raised her blade to deflect the follow up as a Human with a pair of short swords emerged from the sickening cloud. He pressed in on her while a woman with a spear joined in, at the same time narrowly avoiding a bolt fired from a Hume Bunny perched behind cover with a crossbow.

Undeterred, the Mikoto swapped her grip on both her blades and went back on the assault. Using the reverse grip to rest the flat of the Far Eastern blade against her underarm she deflected the slashes of the short swords, the grey steel catching the light of the sun and leaving sparks where it scraped against her blade. Then she brought her opposite fist forward and slammed it into his face to stagger him back.

It was just long enough for her to pivot her foot and drop down while driving the shorter of the blade into the stone to catch the spear coming to sweep her legs. The resonance of steel-on-steel rang as she reached up with her now empty hand and grabbed the woman’s collar before jerking it down while bringing her head up. Aisha could hear the bone break even before the woman dropped her spear, leaving it to clatter on the ground as she spun around and did a shoulder throw to toss the spearwoman into the swordsman.

Then the magic sword came around again. The bolt of lightning lanced forward and plowed through the pair as streamers of electricity burst free and ran over their bodies. They collapsed onto the ground as the blur of a crossbow bolt slammed into the Absolute Shadow’s shoulder holding the magic sword causing the blade to fall free of her grasp.

But before it could hit the ground, ignoring her pain and mounting injuries, her other hand caught it and then swung the blade to send yet another lightning bolt snaking towards Hume Bunny in the process of reloading. The hue of their eyes was illuminated as the lightning did its work, a direct hit that left them screaming in agony. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, Mikoto let loose another slash towards the commander helping the black-haired young woman onto her feet.

It was on a reflex that the red-haired woman pushed her companion out of the way. Hard enough that she was sent a few meders away, falling onto her side with her staff clattering from her hand. Thus, she was spared as the lightning bolt caught only one of them instead of both. “AGGHHH!!!”

“Daphne!” She watched the enemy commander fall to the ground, her body convulsing in place as the electricity savaged her muscles without mercy. But when she rose to her feet and looked like she was getting ready to reach out to her, a steel blur cut through the air and slammed into the wall between them. The scattering of stone dust and shrapnel left her to yelp and fall backward as the spear that belonged to one of her companions had narrowly missed her outstretched hand, thrown by the Hestia’s Familia’s invader.

Covered in injuries that stained her black outfit red, with cold eyes that were half-lidded, Mikoto removed the bolt wedged in her shoulder with only a strained grunt and left the bloodied bolt to drop onto the ground along with the glasswork that was once the magic sword. It must have exerted its magic at that point, which was the only reason that she had not used it to finish the job. Even so, with the sword she had stabbed into the ground now back in her hand, she would have no trouble finishing the job.

“…I like her,” Aisha said, brushing her hair over her shoulder slightly at the coordinated display of violence. It was clear she had nowhere near the raw power of the others they had seen so far acting on behalf of the Hestia Familia. But she was well-trained and showed no hesitation in moving to disable the helpless girl scrambling to get back onto her feet—

“I am starting to see why Lissos hates those swords so much.”

— and then the Absolute Shadow was suddenly sent flying, her slender figure blown back towards the entrance of the Inner Ward as her sprint was intercepted. Her body hit the ground and fell into a rough tumble before got her feet under her and lifted her head. Crimson escaped between her split lips while the signs of a bruise appearing on her cheek were becoming vivid.

H-Hyacinthus…” whimpered the dark-haired woman as she looked up with nervous eyes at the figure with gleaming light armor and a cape draped across his back that softly drifted down behind him. The Captain of the Apollo Familia that deigned to finally appear before them slowly retracted his outstretched fist before reaching into the holster on his hip and then tossed an Elixir into her lap.

“Use that on Daphne,” he ordered. “The rest of the supplies in storage were contaminated and, at this point, she’s the most useful one of you left. I’ll deal this one and then take care of the traitor and that fairy dancing around the castle like she owns it.”

As there was no one he could trust fully without being aware of the traitor, he had gone to fetch the medical supplies himself. It was then he discovered that the traitor in their ranks had managed to contaminate them, likely around the time that Breakfast had been at work. Among those who had been missing at that point had been Luan, who had complained about needing to continue running his tasks since he arrived so late last night.

As the girl moved to get onto her feet, Aisha spotted as he drew what looked to be a short sword and brought it around. There was a soft phink that could be heard as a throwing spike that had been aimed at the bottle within the girl’s hands was deflected by the blade now within Hyacinthus’ grasp. It was a third-tier quality blade only known as Intimacy.

He stepped forward with the short sword in hand as the Absolute Shadow got back onto her feet, wakizashi in one hand as she drew a knife tucked into her outfit to dual wield it. No sooner than she had in her grasp was he on top of her. Wearing a placid expression and attacking with what as may as well have been practice swings, his short sword came down and met with Mikoto’s longer blade—

CRACK!

and the shattering of metal rang out with a bloom of sparks reflecting in shards of steel. The swing was causal from Aisha’s perspective as a Level Three. But it was still enough that the Absolute Shadow’s arm was knocked aside from the sheer might of the Captain whose Level was above her own, disarming her by destroying her lower quality weapon.

It was probably only by the virtue of her training that she saw the next incoming slash that flowed from the first one. The horizontal slash would have cut her across the chest if she had not brought the knife up in time to intercept the second slash while leaping back, the impact of the steel enough that it was akin to being hit by a Warhammer. She was forced backward as the knife snapped under the force of the blow, sending her into a roll until she got back onto her feet near the discarded weapon of one of the still twitching bodies left in the wake of her magic sword.

Mikoto picked up the battle-ax and then rushed right back in to confront him with a battle cry to embolden her spirit. “Haaaah!!

It was sad to watch if Aisha had to put it into words. The girl was trying her best with a decent level of proficiency with the weapon that was different from her usual, but the difference in power was so severe that he casually avoided the first three swings before catching her wrist on the fourth. Her valiant efforts were only rewarded by pain when he thrust his foot forward like a spear and she was sent flying once more.

But this time there was no roll. It had been faster than she could have prepared for it or anticipated, completely overwhelming her to where she hit the ground, bounced off it once, and then landed prone. Her entire body trembled as she curled over onto her side while huddled over the point of impact, violently coughing as a spattering of blood came out along with gastric fluids. “Urr…ghh…

“Lady Mikoto…” Crystalline tears slipped from Haruhime’s emerald eyes. Her slender fingers curled on her lap into fists and her shoulders trembled as she watched someone she had known since her childhood was being beaten bloodied and broken as her assailant approached. A memory that likely overlapped with one that was too fresh, all things considered.

Hyacinthus gave her an uninterested glance. Then, deeming her no longer able to fight, he turned his attention towards the Pallum in the distance and his eyes narrowed. He proceeded to walk past her…

N-Not… yet…” Somehow, Mikoto managed to unfurl her arms and clung to his leg. She held it in as tight of a grasp as possible, even though she couldn’t even catch her breath in a desperate attempt to stop him.

His only response was to lash out with that very same leg, knocking her into the wall with the same effort as one who was kicking aside a pebble in the road. Then, in that very same moment, he spun on his heels and turned his attention to the Outer Western Curtain Wall above. He must have sensed the building magic as the Elven Mage stood there with her staff trained on him and the foreign words on her lips.

Then the spell was fired, her staff bucking as the constrained wind curled into a ball rocketed forth.

Hyacinthus leaped back as it hit the ground where he had been. The winds came unbound and then a wall of air slammed into everything within its radius, carrying along with it the convulsing bodies of the Apollo Familia who had ended up at the mercy of the magic sword in the process. Hyacinthus himself was swept up until he flipped himself midair and used his legs to absorb the shock as he hit the Eastern Outer Curtain Walls.

Then his feet touched the ground and, to the eyes of a Level One or below, they simply lost track of the man.

Only those on the higher end of Level Two would have been able to catch the blur of motion that a Level Three was capable of. And the fact that his Agility had a modest investment of ability points was evident as in the space of a breath he covered the length of the Outer Ward, bounced between the inner and outer curtain walls, and then ended up on the Wall Walk along with the Elven Mage who only noticed his presence when he was already moving to strike her down.

The hollow ring of eleven wood and silver steel resonated as the charge and swing of the short sword carried enough momentum that the Elven Mage was left staggering backward. But before she could even regain her footing the Captain of the Apollo Familia had already sheathed his short sword and drew his rouge flamberge instead. Then he was on her once more, swinging his sword diagonally in a vicious arc that would cut her from shoulder to hip.

The Elf narrowly managed to step back to avoid the attempt only to have to bring the staff around to deflect the follow-up. And then she was forced to bring the opposite end around to parry his attempt to punch her in the throat with his unarmed fist, which left her abdomen open as he spun on his hind leg and swept the blade around, leaving a silver streak that met with her unprotected abdomen.

“Aghh!!” A pained sound slipped out of the mage’s mouth as she staggered back a few more steps, one eye wincing as scarlet began to dye her overbust corset. Blood was coming from where the blade had found her abdomen through her battle clothes. But she didn’t have time to dwell on it as he charged her again with a thrust that would have gone through her shoulder if she hadn’t narrowly avoided by pivoting on her feet, leaving it tearing into the flowing sleeve of her outfit and parting the flesh instead of piercing it.

After that, it was a flurry of attacks that followed one after another. Red streaks of light lingered in the air as he put his all into a relentless assault that forced her on the defensive. Or rather being defensive was the only option left to the Elven Mage as she frantically tried to survive while blood began to stain the stone.

The sight left the Renart to bring her hands to her mouth and mutter, “How horrible.”

“Those cuts are mostly shallow,” Aisha said to alleviate her fears, slightly craning her head around at the sight as she caught the motions with a level of clarity that her companion couldn’t. If the Amazonian Warrior had to guess, her Status must be higher than average for a dedicated mage since if there was a huge gap in their ability points then he would already have ended things. But there was still enough of a difference that she was being won over as the number of cuts in her battle clothes piled on and fresh blood gradually died the whites and bright colors their shade.

It was just a matter of seconds now.

[-The Hostess of Fertility-]

“That bastard! Doesn’t he know cute girls should be treasured!”

The declaration from one angry patron of the restaurant was met with a resounding roar from a numerable portion of the restaurant’s male customer base. It was a packed afternoon in the Hostess of Fertility. They had the luxury of being one of the few establishments that had access to a set of Divine Mirrors even though no Gods or Goddesses were present, which meant that the audience had both a meal and a show.

Nyaah… they’re getting so worked up,” Anya muttered while watching them get into a rage as the Elf dressed in somewhat frilly clothes was being attacked so relentlessly.

“It doesn’t look like she’s doing all that well compared to before,” Syr mentioned while observing the match. She was not an adventurer, so the other waitresses supposed that from her perspective all she could see was the Elven Mage being covered in blood as her clothes began to stick to her flesh from the wounds she had accumulated.

“It’s a bad match-up,” Chloe chimed in. “Until now she was going against adventurers who were a lower Level that her own, so she could walk over them. Now the best she can do is fending off the worst of it.”

They watched as more of her flesh was parting. From the expression that the Elf was making red hot stinging pain flooded the wounds as she was subjected to death by a thousand cuts. Her attempts at raw evasion and bare basic defense were less than effective as well, almost as if….

“He must have encountered another Mage who fought like this one in close range,” Lunoire said after a moment. “There’s a gap in their Status, but the way he’s adjusting to her means he can read her movements a lot easier so he can be more aggressive.

Her words were accurate, an assessment born of experience. There was a reason that having to face a fellow adventurer was far more dangerous than facing a monster. They learned from their previous encounter and applied that the next time they faced a similar foe, making overcoming them that much easier.

Even if he did not recognize the Half-Elf under her guise, he recognized her movements from the last time they had encountered one another. Under his period of convalescence, he had time to think them over and analyze them in his mind. The advantage compounded until—

AHHHHHH!!

—sympathetic cries rang throughout the crowd as without a shred of mercy or hesitation he baited her staff into diverting a slash and instead drove his fist into her stomach. He had targeted the area where he had first injured her and thus would be the most effective. She was forced to lean on her staff to remain standing as she brought one of her arms to the wound involuntarily, which was when his rouge blade came around in a horizontal that offered no chance to avoid and no chance to parry as she desperately brought the staff up only for it to slam into her like Warhammer and send her flying over the edge of the Wall Walk.

“Bastard!” “How dare you!?” “Didn’t anyone teach you how to treat a woman!” Various enraged shouts and cries bellowed out from the audience as they watched as the sylph plummeted from the sky to the cold and hard embrace of the stone that awaited her…

Then silence replaced the outrage as white and red rushed into the Outer Ward and leaped into the air.

Polished steel glinted from the afternoon sun against black clothes that drank the light. A scarlet cape billowed as the wind held it aloft while descending with the feminine figure nestled safely within a pair of firm arms that held her close. The soft ping of chimes lightly rang as one of the gloved hands that held onto her glowed softly with white-and-blue sprites.

The falling fairy had been caught by the white rabbit.

The Captain of the Hestia Familia had arrived.

The climax of the siege was underway.


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

Chapter 16: The Castle Siege – Part 1

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

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

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

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

So I begged him not to leave me behind.”

—Don’t Leave Me Behind

[-|-|-|-]

“Your child did good work, Miach.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was only the second swing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Twilight Manor-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer my call, winds of the forest—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOM!

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

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

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

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

CRACK!

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

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

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

THWACK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was a mistake,” Finn noted immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

CHING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 15: Let The Games Begin

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

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

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

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

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

—Who Were You, Argo?

[-|-|-|-]

“Sorry if I’m late!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least under normal circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefiya did not agree with that.

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

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

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

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

However, Lefiya was also his older sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Babel Tower-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Shreme Castle-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…clank.

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

One of his men literally sleeping on the job.

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

There was no response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOOOOOMM!!!!

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

The castle siege was underway.


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

Chapter 14: Last Preparation

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

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

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

—The Lonely Nights

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lefiya shook her head. That was not an option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Apollo Mansion-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if that did not include him.

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

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

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


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

Chapter 13: A Transcendent Promise – Part 2

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

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

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

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

—When Laughter Was Needed The Most

[-|-|-|-]

“Firebolt!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By how much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little,” he said while nervously chuckling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And her consciousness was ripped from her.

[-Some Time Later-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Welf’s Workshop-]

Thonk.

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

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

Thonk!

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

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

THONK!

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

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

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

THONK!!

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

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

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

THONK!! THONK!!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 12: A Transcendent Promise – Part 1

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

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

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

—The First Steps Into The Unknown

[-|-|-|-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was actually thinking about it.

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

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

Because Lefiya sure couldn’t.

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

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

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

Crack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His stomach happily growled again in lieu of words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure!”

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

[-Hostess of Fertility-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[-Babel Tower-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Chapter 11: Declaration of War

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

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

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

His words that day saved me.

He became my hero.

My brother.

Argonaut.”

—The Boy with White Hair and Red Eyes

[-|-|-|-]

“RRAAAAAAHHHHH!!”

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

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

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

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

Purple rushed in from their side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They ran right past them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there was no time for rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thunder rumbled in his chest.

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

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

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

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

He moved to thrust the sword—

“You look like shit.”

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

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

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

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

CRUNCH.

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

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

Bu…Bu—

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

Then he began to walk away.

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

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

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

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

His sister was gone.

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

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

Then she was gone as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

No more running.

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

It was time to declare war.

[-Twilight Manor-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His warning given, Bete began to walk off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Could have fooled me, Leene.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

His name was Argonaut.

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

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


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

Chapter 10: The Opening of the Second Act

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

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

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

‘Don’t worry. I will save you.’

—The Night Elcos Fell

[-|-|-|-]

Being kidnapped had been a novel experience for Lefiya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raul was still a dead man.

“It’s not like that!” She insisted, fighting down the bile in her stomach at the notion. “Remember, he helped me back then on the 18th Floor, so I’m paying him back—not many Humans get a chance to taste something like that, right?”

“Ah-ha, that is true…” said the Silver-Haired Waitress abruptly. “They were really something special.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that until she recalled the Elven Warrior’s plans for her own. “Oh, she shared it with you.”

“And Chloe and Anya,” she said, her smile still somewhat unnerving. “Bell comes by here every morning around this time. If you wait until then, you can give it to him in person. Meanwhile, why don’t you tell us more about how you and Bell know each other—”

BOOM!

The sound of an explosion ringing out was familiar to Adventurers. So was the natural response of immediately preparing for combat as she reached for her staff reflexively while her senses began to heighten in alarm. That was when she felt the familiar tang in the air of Magic coming from where a thick, dark smoke rose into the air.

It was possible to tell when one was casting Magic due to the accumulation of magical power. It set the senses alight even before the spell took form outside of the body, or in the case of someone with the Mage Development Ability became visible as the magic circle amplified the effects. And in the aftermath of the spells performing their work the discharge of the magic left behind enough magical energy that the air was saturated enough to quaver in her eyes.

There were two options. The first was that a Mage was at work and had unleashed a rather destructive spell in the middle of broad daylight. But she doubted that was the case because that kind of power was unnecessary here. Not to mention it would be a large expenditure of Mind so early in the morning when most were heading to the Dungeon.

The second was that there were multiple casters at work, discharging their spells around the same time. That was more familiar to Lefiya, given one the Loki Familia’s methods of dealing with waves of monsters that were thrown at them in the Dungeon involved coordinated bombardment with their spells. The end results left so much ambient magic energy present that for a Mage it was palpable, not unlike this situation.

That should also be unnecessary, but conflicts between Familia were a lot more common than one would expect. The Ganesha Familia would act as the peacekeepers, but the time it took to mobilize them would usually leave them to arrive only after things had gotten to a certain level of trouble. The Guild would then be in charge of levying fees against the responsible Familia involved—especially if civilians were hurt in the crossfire.

Self-preservation kicked in for those without the blessing as they began to seek shelter and safety while a plume of dark smoke rose into the air. Fire damage judging from experience and the sound of the second salvo of spell fire. But Lefiya was still uncertain which Familia would be causing that kind of trouble in the same sector as the Guild.

Then Anya spoke. “Nyaa… isn’t that around where white-hair comes from?”

That was all she needed to hear for Forest’s Teardrop to find its way into her grasp.

[-Bell Cranel-]

Bell! Bell!

As he struggled for breath while lying on the stone-laden ground, Bell heard the sound of his Goddess calling out for him. Her voice was faint over the blood pounding in his ears, each racing beat of his heart leaving him to experience the sharp, pulsing pain from where the tip of the Solar Flamberge had cut into his body after parting his breastplate that had been battered and beaten by the Goliath.

Won over.

He had been thoroughly won over in the battle against the Level Three in front of him—Hyacinthus Clio.

They had been ambushed the moment he stepped out of the Church they called home. Their casters and archers had set their home to flames and left both him and his Goddess covered in soot and ash as they fled through the back. The first place he could truly call home since leaving his mountain village after the death of his grandfather, the place where he slept, ate, and lived with his Goddess over the last two months since becoming a Familia—becoming family—gone in mere seconds.

Every turn he took he was accosted by members of the Apollo Familia. Their intention was made clear from Miss Daphne and Miss Cassandra. They were forcing him into joining their Familia, with those two making it clear that even if he ran, he would be hunted down until they finally brought him back.

Even so, surrender wasn’t an option. Getting caught wasn’t an option either. Neither was acceptable because of what would happen. Not to him, but Hestia—his family.

Apollo had lusted after her once. He had the nickname of the ‘Phallus the Passionate’ amongst the divine. Here on the lower world, where her divine powers were sealed, Bell didn’t want to think about what he would do to her if he got his hands on her—either she would be kept captive to force his surrender and likely remain that way or she would be killed and sent back up to Heaven.

His only option was to fight. He could hold his own against other Level Two adventurers, even if there were a lot of them. The addition of what he thought were members of another Familia was a setback, but he thought that he would at least be able to get Hestia somewhere they couldn’t get to her.

Then Hyacinthus showed up and decided to initiate him into their Familia by force.

Bell had fought his hardest—he had used his fastest speed and both weapons in hand. Putting everything he could into a relentless rush, pounding at the pavement with enough leg strength to crack it as he kicked off the ground, starving himself for air as he exhaled with a battle cry, Bell lashed out with a flurry of attacks meant to overwhelm via speed what he lacked in strength.

It still wasn’t enough. Hyacinthus avoided them all. Even when he began shifting his footwork to change angles without a moment’s pause, his reward for his relentless rush was a song of steel and shower of sparks as his bequeathed knife from his Goddess never found flesh, and the knife born from surpassing his prior limits was rebuked by the sword that glowed with the radiance of sun and flame. Each interception sent vibrations up his arm, either from the shape of the blade or the strength behind it, driving pain into his limbs.

Bell was not slow. His speed was his best attribute. His Agility was the one thing he was confident in. But the difference in a single level had been enough to make all of that meaningless as the Captain of the Apollo Familia intercepted his efforts with contemptuous ease—grinning in the process as if to mock his efforts.

That was the difference between Level Two and Level Three.

That was why he was dragging things out. That was why he was using a single hand on a two-handed longsword, which would only benefit from his Strength. He wanted to make it clear the difference in power.

On some level, Bell knew that as well. But he couldn’t stop. Not when Hestia was on the line. Not when his family was on the line. So he pushed past his limits as much as he could, ignoring the pain that he felt deep within his bones and looking for so much as the smallest opening to end things even as he screamed out with the strength of his will—

“Are you done howling, Little Rabbit?”

—and then it was over.

Clink. Clink. Splat. Three sounds accompanied the blur of steel, a single fluid motion that defanged the rabid rabbit.

The first two were the scraping of steel-on-steel. His sword flowed to the left to redirect the knife made of adamantite from the Minotaur he’d slain to become a Level Two. Then in the same motion it flowed to the upper-right to rebuke the knife given to him by his Goddess, leaving his chest unguarded. The last was a diagonal slash accompanied by a sickening, wet sound that rang out over the sound of parting steel.

A hot flash of pain coursed through Bell’s body and a pained cry crawled from his throat. “AGGHHHH!”.

His weapon had to be a Superior weapon of some kind because Bell could feel flames within it. Though there were no burns that could be seen, no scent of charred flesh or burning fat, wildfire consumed him as it cut through his flesh, muscle, and into the bone itself. It was probably only by the orders of their God that it stopped there and hadn’t gone to the vital organs.

Hyacinthus wasn’t done. He stepped in, bringing his empty arm’s elbow into Bell’s throat. It cut off his air and would have crushed his throat if it had been just a little harder. Then he slammed his fist into his sternum to drive  it further into his solar plexus, hoping to rip his consciousness away from him—fortunately, it only knocked the wind out of him.

But that still left him on the ground, helpless. He couldn’t breathe with his diaphragm was spasming. He couldn’t speak and thus couldn’t cast a spell with his throat bruised. He had gone from the Rabbit Rush to being rendered completely docile in a single moment.

That was the difference of experience between them—one who had only been fighting against monsters for two months versus one who had been fighting against monsters and other people for years. That increased Status only made it absolute rather than advantageous.

There were no words to express the shame that washed over Bell at that moment as he laid there, tears streaming down his face in a slowly growing pool of his own blood as several sets of eyes were peering down on his defeated form.

There were eyes of concern from his Goddess who was calling out to him. Even after having their home burned down and everything they owned turned to ashes, it was the sight of him injured and bleeding on the ground that pulled the strongest reaction from her. He could hear her footfalls as she stumbled her way towards him while he was unable to shout for her to run, lest she be captured.

There were eyes of pity from Miss Cassandra as she stood on a nearby rooftop with a staff in hand. She must have been there to make sure he didn’t die from his wounds given her healing magic. He’d managed to fire off three shots of Firebolt with a single call of the spell and leave three of their Familia burned and injured, and she had managed to get them back up in seconds.

There were eyes of sympathy but conviction from Miss Daphne as she looked at him from the corner of her eyes, not making direct contact with him. Those eyes were instead fixed onto Hestia. There was no doubt they had Bell captive now, but it would only take her to grab the defenseless Goddess.

Then there were the eyes of jealousy and resignation from Hyacinthus as he approached with his blade in hand. “Even if you aren’t worthy of his love, I will fulfill my Lord’s will. You will become part of our Familia.”

Stand up! That thought permeated every fiber of his being. He had to stand before Hestia was taken. He couldn’t lose his family. Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! STAND UP!

Thunder rumbled in his chest. Blood escaped from his mouth as he forced himself to breathe and found the strength to get his arms beneath him. His fingers curled around his daggers as he raised his head, the lower half of his mouth covered in blood, and fixed his crimson eyes onto Hyacinthus.

The man stopped in his tracks for a moment. His lips curled into a scowl. “Such an unsightly face.”

Then he lashed out to kick him and Bell felt something break. Probably a rib or two as the impact sent him tumbling down the street further. Hestia said something but it was drowned out by another cough of blood.

“Your arms. Your legs. I’ll severe the tendons in each of them before having Cassandra close your chest wound so you don’t bleed out. Then… I will make sure to thoroughly carve into you that making such a face in front of our Lord is simply inexcusable. You will be domesticated before we present you to him, Little Rabbit.”

As he approached with the intention of doing so, Hestia moved to get in front of Bell with her arms held outwards. Bell also felt a familiar sensation beginning to leak from her that he did on the 18th Floor, the last time she bore witness to him being attacked. He also spotted Miss Daphne getting ready to ensure she didn’t go through with it.

The thunder in his chest intensified further.

BOOM!

That was when they heard the explosion nearby, muffled within it screams and shouts. It stopped Hyacinthus. It stopped Hestia. It stopped Miss Daphne. It drew every set of eyes to the entrance western section of the intersection as his senses began tingling from the presence of Magic like before.

Then his sister emerged with the final words of her song reaching his ears. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Her azure gaze fell onto them. There was a haunting chill within them as she spotted him. Then she immediately tilted her staff towards the one whose blade was stained with his blood.

Arcs. Ray.

Two words preceded a golden beam of light that shot out of the tip of her staff, howling as it rushed towards its target. It cut through the air, a beam roughly the width of a human torso sailing past Bell’s prone body and over Hestia’s short body, and straight towards his assailant.

Bell lost track as the Captain of the Apollo Familia vanished, but the beam apparently didn’t because it curved in zagging patterns like it was jumping between the walls, each pass scoring the surface until in the middle of the air there was a glint. Then he saw the man for a brief moment on the rooftop, down on one knee and swinging his sword towards the onrushing light.

It ruptured and a luminous explosion swallowed him on the rooftop.

“Hyacinthus!!” Miss Daphne called out, stunned by the development.

Then the smoke cleared as he swung his sword to reveal his immaculate white cape and uniform were charred and smoldering with entire sections missing. His unblemished skin was burned, and blood leaked from parts of his flesh where the force of the explosion had torn into him. There was an arrow in his Achilles Heel. “C-Cassandra!”

“Coming!” Miss Cassandra stepped forward with her staff in hand.

His sister reacted. He presumed it was because she felt the Magic more acutely or could hear her chanting more acutely than him, but she immediately aimed her staff at the woman while advancing towards him. She had every intention of silencing her before she could fix his injuries.

It was only because Miss Daphne immediately pulled her out of view that she didn’t, tossing her over to the opposite side of the rooftop. At the same time, an arrow buried itself into her shoulder with enough force that she was knocked onto the rooftop—her voice crying out as she clutched the wound. Hyacinthus gritted his teeth before kicking her over the opposite side where Cassandra had been pushed off, swinging his sword once to deflect a set of arrows aimed for him, and then joining them in escaping the marksman’s line of sight.

“Come on!” Lefiya’s hand grabbed Bell roughly and she pulled him onto her back. Then she grabbed his Goddess’s hand and ran them down the street until she spotted an alcove that could shelter them from view.

It wouldn’t far enough. He forced out the words. “There…others—”

“There were.” She emphasized that past tense as she dragged them over. “That’s how I heard they planned to box you in. Then I made sure they couldn’t and let the ones who were still conscious retreat with the ones who weren’t when I started casting for that shot.”

That explained the explosion earlier.

Once she made sure they were out of view, she crouched down and looked him over. Then she frowned in a way that didn’t suit her. “I thought he was an upper-tier Level Two, but if he’s a Level Three then I shouldn’t have held back so much. That sniper catching him in the leg was the only reason I caught him at that output… I won’t make that mistake again.”

It wasn’t an idle threat.

She had the Mage Development Ability, which meant she could actively increase the output and range of her spells and thus the damage she could inflict would scale exponentially. He had seen that firsthand back on the 18th Floor. That shot she fired before was a love tap compared to that because she hadn’t been intending to kill him if he had only been a Level Two—as anything she fired that was capable of catching up to and downing a Level Three would likely cripple or kill someone of a lower level.

As for the sniper, he could only assume it was Naaza.

Can’t you go day a without getting to trouble?” She murmured low enough for only him to hear as she grabbed the sides of his face and wiped away the tears that had come out. Then she began to sing. “Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.”

It was a soothing song. One that bathed him in light the color of the glittering sea, a blue veil decorated with glimmering stars. They sank into his flesh, and he could feel the wounds numbing. It was healing Magic. “You can—

“Not a word of this leaves this alley or I’ll take back everything I said on the 18th Floor,” she warned, her azure eyes narrowed as the light continued to wash over them. “Do you understand me, Bell?”

“Y-Yes…”

“I’d ask the same of you, Lady Hestia,” she said, without looking up at the Goddess. “I’m probably already in enough trouble getting in the middle of a conflict between Familia as is.”

“…Just heal Bell,” Hestia said softly. Her tone was a mixture of sadness and gratitude as she looked over them while dressed in her outfit to work for Lady Hephaestus. It had been covered in dust, dirt, ash, and blood. “Check his leg holster for potions as well.”

“We need to get you both somewhere safe, now,” Lefiya said as she did so once her spell ended, running her fingers along the holster until she found the potion and then splashed it upon him. “If that woman was a dedicated Healer with the Treatment Development Ability, he’ll be back on his feet soon. And now that they know someone capable of doing that to a Level Three will be with you, they’ll start attacking in more numbers and before the Ganesha Familia intervenes.”

He had heard they were supposed to be the peacekeeping force in Orario. Adventurers causing damage to the city would naturally draw them to the location soon enough. They had been planning to force his hand before that happened.

Lefiya’s ears perked up at that moment and she rose to her feet, her lips moving to begin another chant—

“Hestia! Bell!”

—he stopped her as he recognized the voice. “Wait, that’s not an enemy!”

She stopped as Lord Miach emerged from the backstreets. His sister stepped aside as the God of Medicine crouched down to look at him and see the empty bottle she had before nodding and then pulling out a second pair to splash over him as well. Made with the Mixing Development Ability, they were capable of healing on contact, and he felt the deep-seated injuries from the hunt vanish while Lord Takemikazuchi’s Familia joined up with them.

They had come to save him. Then when questioned on who Lefiya was, his sister simply said an acquaintance from the Loki Familia who saw him in trouble. They were all on the 18th Floor at one point or another, so no one questioned it. Then she suggested they left before they could be encircled, and no one complained as they started moving.

None of them were aware of the invisible observers that had been watching. Not the God of Travel and his Captain who possessed a myriad of magical tools. Nor the Goddess whose eyes could perceive the soul from a distance.

[-Twilight Manor-]

At the home of the Loki Familia, news of the attack on the Little Rookie had already reached them courtesy of Tiona. The Amazonian had gone out into the streets to get information about what was transpiring and had reported that the Apollo Familia was basically trying to hunt him down.

The news wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. Aiz had been to the dance and Loki had told them about the War Game itself being proposed and shot down. But Apollo wasn’t the type to give up apparently. Finn had already told Aiz not to intervene.

That was when the door opened and another member of the Familia entered the room, one with a rather nervous demeanor and huffing as though he had just run a great distance. “Pardon the intrusion, but I need to make a report about the current incident. It seems like there was a Mage attacking the Apollo Familia as well, and from the description of her appearance, spell, and magic circle… it sounded like Lefiya Viridis!”

Riveria looked up at that, her lips pursing as she put together the information. “She said that she was heading to the Dungeon this morning. If she happened to be around when the attack happened and knew he was the target, she likely intervened based on allowing them into the camp on the 18th Floor.”

Finn leaned back in his chair with a sigh before rubbing the bridge between his eyes. “…Bete, go bring her back. Now.”

Aiz rose to her feet for a second time at that. “But I can go instead.”

“We cannot afford to openly take a side and Loki told us not to interfere before she wandered off,” Finn stated before looking square at the Werewolf. If he had sent Aiz then she would have gone out of her way to help him and then bring her back. “Make it clear this is her acting on her own and bring her back—quickly.”

Why do I always have to babysit the weaklings…” The Werewolf scoffed as he rose to his feet, scratching his head before he made sure his boots were on properly. Then made his way to the window and pushed it open, allowing the morning breeze to enter.

He leapt out of it and took off running.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 9 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 9: Return to Orario

“Gentle. Wild. Tender. Chaotic. Magic is beautiful as we sing songs to weave spells. But we must never forget that Magic is dangerous. The Spirits bequeath to us what we desire, but never for a moment take it for granted—lest that boon becomes a bane.

I only understood what Mother meant by that when I first picked up a wand, sometime after our home fell. Though my brother picked himself up and smiled, I never forgot the blood that spilled from a wound born of my carelessness. And I swore to never let it happen again.”

[-|-|-|-]

The long night gave birth to a new dawn.

As Lefiya stepped out of the shelter provided by the Elder for Lady Riveria and her retinue, the morning rays reflected off the lingering ice to create beautiful refractions throughout the forest. There were still Spirits lingering about as well within the winter-land, basking in the unfamiliar chill.

“You’ve finally awakened?” She turned to see the sandy-toned hair with a wreath upon it. It was the diminutive Elf who reigned over the Spirit Forest. “The rest have already set out.”

“Good morning, Lady Lilo,” said the Half-Elf as she gave her a polite bow. “Do you know where the others have gone?”

“The one with the wooden sword has gone off with the rapscallion to see if they can figure out more about the ones who attacked us last night. As for the other, I have her asking questions to the other High Elves since they’ll likely be more receptive to her.”

She supposed that made sense. One good act scarcely changed deep-rooted perceptions. At best her actions last night only painted her as competent due to being the student of Lady Riveria. However, it was still progress, so she couldn’t complain. “Is there anything you would like me to do?”

The Elder Elf nodded. “Follow me.”

The Half-Elf did so and was led beyond the plaza and deeper into the forest, away from prying eyes. Their destination was a clearing within the brush, the short blades of grass crunching beneath their feet while surrounded by white-capped bushes. The nearby pond had a break in it that allowed for birds that didn’t mind the frost to perch themselves on the edge and then drink from the source.

“Now, then. You wished to learn of our Magic, did you not?” She raised her staff that glimmered with light, which beckoned forth one of the Spirits. This one had a bluish-white hue. “I will personally instruct you on the method.”

Her surprise was… palpable. “I-Is that alright? I know that only High Elves or those of specific families are taught.”

“In the past, when every life counted and every day was not promised, your standing did not matter so long as you were an Elf attempting to survive this harsh world and protect your kin. And given what happened last night we will have to return to that line of thinking to ensure the Spirit Forest remains protected. Besides, you know the ancient language, have the ambition to attempt to learn, and have performed deeds worthy of any Elf to perpetuate the bonds we share with the Spirits. You have at least earned the right to attempt to learn by my blessing.”

And considering the Spirit Forest was sacred lands and the one overseeing it was the equivalent of royalty, which was partially why she could speak to Lady Riveria the way she had without fear of reproach or consequence, it was the equivalent of stating that one of the highest authorities deemed her worthy. Not too dissimilar by the Nine Hells choosing her as her student. “Then please teach me well, Elder.”

“The first thing to understand is that words are meaningless to Spirits, especially these little ones with faint traces of sapience. It is simply noise to them in the same way the barking of a dog is to us. That is why I said the last time it would not be enough for you to merely recite an ancient pledge. It would not have worked, and you would have gotten frustrated, which the Spirit would sense being directed at it and responded to in ways that could be quite unpleasant to you and lethal to someone else.”

It would have been a worse repeat of last night, essentially. The Spirits had been agitated not because terrifying emotions had been directed towards them, but because they were in the general vicinity, and they didn’t know better. If they felt an Elf directly hostile towards them it would become a lot more focused, and while having a Falna meant that an outburst of their primordial Magic probably wouldn’t kill her outright, it would still strain the bonds of friendship between her kind and theirs.

“Then it isn’t the words, but the emotions tied to them?” guessed the Half-Elf as she recalled the moment they gathered under the Holy Tree. “The pledge is the verbal manifestation of the emotions we should approach them with and that tells them what we desire?”

She nodded. “Exactly. You have to sincerely mean it from the depths of your heart so that it can reach the Spirit. Even then it is not a guarantee since they can be fickle or non-responsive, hence why there are rituals to appease them beforehand. I am simply expediting the process while you have their favor and this applies mostly to Minor Spirits. Greater Spirits or those with enough sapience can understand words and be bartered with, though should you upset one of them…”

You’d likely be dead, Falna or not. She could guess that much considering the last time they had run into a Demi-Spirit it had made it clear just what kind of power one of those possessed. That might have been on the higher-end of things as far as the power-scale went for Spirits, but the general rule of not angering them was a solid one.

“The next thing to consider is the nature of the Spirit itself when you beseech them,” Lady Lilo continued. “Minor Spirits only understand simple concepts so they will often try to relate them to whatever they feel you desire of their wisdom. If you desire to attack something with a Spirit of Flames, you learn how to cast Burning Flare or Flare Burn or whatever variation of it the different forests use. The spells are themselves are limited but potent on their own as long as you don’t expect anything absurd like being able to summon a blizzard like that Elven Warrior they tell fairy tales about—he likely obtained that knowledge from a Greater Spirit.”

“I won’t,” she promised as the glimmer from the Elder Elf’s staff flew towards Lefiya and hovered there. The Spirit naturally followed it, more interested in it than her. But at least it didn’t float away when she shifted her head towards it.

“This little one is a child of water,” Lady Lilo began. “Water cleanses and nurtures all life. Thus, often we see it as the embodiment of medicine and spells that can be used to mend wounds. Release your magical power like last night but focus your mind on the child. Envision a moment where you wished that you possess it and hold in your breasts the desire for that Magic as you recite the words.

A moment when I wished to possess healing magic? That thought ran through her mind as she closed her eyes and held out Forest’s Teardrop, allowing her magical power to leak out. In her mind what surfaced in the void as she cleared her thoughts was… the memory of Miss Ryuu and how she possessed magic to mend as well as maim.

Unlike Lefiya, who could only destroy with her spells. If there was an obstacle she could blow it away, and if there was someone she needed to protect, she could only do so by obliterating the threat. But if they were injured and dying she could only rely on others, whether someone else being present or borrowing it through Elf Ring with a penalty of greater cost of Mind and extension of the incantation to the point where they may as well have been an Ultra-Long Chant.

Even then the Half-Elf Mage could do so little for her brother who fought to protect her while covered in blood. It was her duty to take care of her idiot brother if he got in over his head, not the other way around. To mend his wounds and ease his pains—so that he can one day stand on his own.

She fixated on that feeling of wanting to support and soothe her brother while she made her ancient pledge. “I beseech thee, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled. I beseech thee to sow the seed of thy essence within.

As the words flowed from her mouth like running water, Lefiya felt… strange. She opened her eyes to see the world around her was filled with rising tears that caught the sparkles of light as they drifted into the air.

It was the magic energy she was letting slip out. It was being changed in a way that felt foreign compared to the Magic granted by her Falna as the Spirit undulated in strange motions around her head. She reached out to it as she finished the pledge. “Let it be nurtured by the bonds we share. And bear the fruit of knowledge within me—so that bond can bloom for eternity.

Water and light gathered in front of her in the form of a small star, bright and radiant. She felt an impulse and gently cradled that light before bringing it to her chest. Then the words formed in her mind, and she found herself repeating them aloud.

Answer my call, deity of the sea. Obey my will and heal the wounds—Light Healing.

That light encompassed her as it seeped into her body from head to toe. It felt cool like water washing over her from the inside, filling in every crease and crevice. Gentle and kind enough that it coaxed tears from her eyes as the light faded away. “Ahh…

“Take a deep breath,” said the Elder Elf as she gestured with her staff and wrangled the Spirit’s attention. “How do you feel?”

“I feel… strange, but touched,” Lefiya said, placing a hand on her heart. “It’s different from when I normally use Magic.”

“That’s because the Magic granted from your Falna suits you due to being born from your excelia, the experiences that shape you,” Lady Lilo explained. “The trigger for it is already within you and, as soon as it appears, all you have to do is recite the chant. Thus, it feels as natural as breathing. Everything else afterwards is learned.”

Magic that appeared with the Falna was benefited by the Falna. That was why it grew as one’s Magic Status increased, the effects and attributes strengthening it. The Mage Development Ability augmented it in different ways, expanding its capabilities even further.

“In the case of this Magic, it stems from something that you don’t fully understand,” she continued. “That’s why it feels foreign to you at the moment, whether that feeling is comforting or intense. That’s also why it’s a lot more difficult to manage than your normal spells. You’re giving up a lot of control and taking a bigger risk, but it can never be taken away from you even should your blessing be lost.”

She took a moment to process that information when a green light filled her vision once more. Shifting her azure eyes to the left revealed the curious Wind Spirit had come to her once more. It had come closer than yesterday, lingering so closely that she could feel the air around her shift when it passed by.

“If you’re up for it, why don’t you try to beseech that little one next?” suggested the Elder Elf.

“But I learned one spell already. Is that really okay?”

“Minor Spirits do not concern themselves with the concept of sharing and that Spirit personally danced with you, did it not?” Lefiya nodded to the inquiry. “That was because it felt the emotions that you were giving off at the time, similar to how the other Elves being cheerful drew the others to them.”

The Half-Elf Mage recalled she had been dancing with Filvis, holding her close and staring into her eyes. Her cheeks grew red when she considered the intimacy of the moment and her own intentions. Then she noticed the Wind Spirit bobbed closer to her and puffed out her cheeks. I am not sure how I feel about that.

“Since it is already fond of you, it will likely be receptive enough that I won’t need to coax it. Others will not be so easy. Take advantage while you can.”

Sensing that the childish-looking Elder Elf was correct, Lefiya repeated what she had done before in releasing her magical power while envisioning the wind. When one normally thought of wind, they thought of the fair breeze that caressed the skin and whispered in your ear. But, in her mind, it was something else entirely—wild, yet beautiful.

Miss Ryuu was so elegant like the gale, slipping through the grasp of whatever tried to tie her down, able to ascend to the sky without wings as if it were a second home or sweep away her foes. Miss Aiz was a gorgeous tempest, her wind a shield and a sword, capable of sweeping away anything that stood in her path.

Lefiya coveted that wind, holding it tightly as she recited the ancient pledge once more. Then she felt it. She felt the wind envelop her body, a light breeze that gently caressed her at first before gradually becoming a gale that shook the frost-laden foliage around her and steadily grew more and more intense that she almost feared it would take her into the sky.

“Don’t let it run wild, whelp!” she heard beyond the gale. “It’s your Magic. Contain it and send it upwards!”

It was easier said than done. How did one contain the wind? Something so inherently free that it slipped through any crease or crevice? The answer was…with itself.

That’s right. The wind was not only gentle but harsh. It could be a light breeze or a gale that swept away all else. Ever shifting in form and intensity, the only thing that could contain it was itself. I need to twist it tight!

She gathered the wind. Not with her hands but her will itself, guiding her magic power that the Wind Spirit stirred to encircle itself. She couldn’t let it run wild, so she bound the wind tighter and tighter, listening to its howl intensifying as it struggled to break free.

And in those howls were birthed words that came to her lips as she seized control.

Answer my call, winds of the forest. Obey my will and tear apart our foes— She forced the wind to twist itself tighter and tighter until she could unleash it into the sky.Gale Blast!

Constrained wind sailed into the air before coming undone. The magical power that had been turned into raging winds came unbound into empty space and then scattered. The result was a fierce gale that shook every nearby tree free of its ice and frost, stripping more than a few of their leaves that were helplessly caught in its wake and now drifted down.

Haa… ha…” She was left panting as she collapsed onto her knees, staring up into the sky. She felt far more exhausted than she should. More so considering the little Wind Spirit circled her with what seemed to be excitement, a stark contrast if there ever was one.

“Magic with the intention of doing harm is a lot more unstable and requires your focus to bring under control than one meant to heal,” lectured the Elder Elf as she slowly came over. “One little slip and an Ignis Fatuus is almost inevitable… well, had you taken a moment longer I would have wrested the Wind Spirit from you to prevent that, but a little fear isn’t a bad thing to instill in youngsters so they know better than to take it for granted.”

She’s about as merciless as Lady Riveria when it comes to Magic, isn’t she? Lefiya belatedly realized. She may look like a child, but beneath that innocent veneer was someone to be feared. If Lady Loki called the Nine Hells a strict mother, then Lefiya imagined that she would be a stern grandmother.

But she couldn’t deny the lesson would stick. She knew the wind could be devastating in how the others used it, but they had control and that wind had never been directed at her. Magic that was wild and untamed from even before the Age of Heroes, meant to slay monsters that spawned from the Dungeon without the Falna.

Her respect for those ancient mages grew even more.

“Thousand Elf,” Lady Lilo said firmly and proud, addressing her by the title bequeathed to her. “I recognize both Her Highness’ words and your determination. So, with my blessing, take our culture, our Magic, and our history with you. And never forget that so long as a drop of our blood flows in your veins and you bear our pride, you are an Elf.”

She felt a swelling in her chest at that and responded with a cheerful, “Yes, ma’am!

After a few minutes to compose herself, Lefiya made her way back to the plaza. The other High Elves were about and making arrangements to return to their homes, distant forests that dotted the land. The events that transpired here would linger on their lips and from what she could perceive the Elder Elf was giving them instructions to carry out when they arrived.

However, to her surprise, one of those High Elves approached her. It was a woman who looked relatively… well she would like to say older. But considering how their races aged differently and the differences from an ordinary Elf like her mother, she couldn’t particularly say how old. Older than Lady Riveria, but younger than the Elder that looked like a child.

“May I help you, my lady?” Lefiya responded with mild caution mixed with politeness out of respect for her presumed station.

To her surprise, the High Elf bent her knees outward while placing one foot behind her. Her fingers held out her dress and she inclined her head as she spoke. “Allow me to express gratitude for your actions last night, child of our forest. I greet you humbly, as one who hails from the heart of Wishe.”

A momentary shock ran through the Half-Elf at the realization that she must have been one of the High Elves that hailed from the forests of her homeland. She hadn’t really considered that one of them would be in attendance given her own preoccupation, but Wishe itself was renowned for producing Elves who possessed high levels of magical power even without the Falna. As Magic could only be obtained from the Spirits without the grace of the divine, of course they would be in attendance at the Spirit Festival.

In haste, she replied with the same courtesy. “Forgive me for not recognizing one of my own. I am honored to be in your presence and apologize for any discomfort the events of last night might have caused you or the others of our forest in attendance.”

The high-born Elf graced her with a smile. “You have nothing to apologize for, my dear. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to bear witness to not only Lady Riveria’s presence, but also the knowledge that one of our own serves as her apprentice. It will make for a delightful tale to regale those who were unable to attend the festival this time.”

So she was the only one who came from Wishe this time, Lefiya realized while keeping her head bowed. “Will you be departing now?”

“Yes, my escort awaits me at the entrance of the Spirit Forest, but…” The woman brought her hands to the Half-Elf’s face and gently raised it so that she could look her in the eyes. Her eyes were a familiar shade of magenta. “Should ever find the time to return to Wishe, please do. I am certain your mother would love to hear of how talented you have become.”

Unsure of how to respond as the High Elf turned and departed, Lefiya considered her words. Then she realized that she had never told anyone here that her mother was the source of her Elven heritage. Then again it might just have been due to the preconception of beauty among their races.

Elvish beauty was considered the closest to the Gods and Goddesses on the lower world. Even then some would argue they were able to match them, such as Lady Riveria. Elven women were often sought after by other races for this reason and, while Humans could bear children with any of the other races to result in one that inherited traits from both, it was often the fathers who sowed the seed—so to speak.

However, it did remind her she should send a letter to her mother to let her know how she was doing and that she had reconnected with her little brother. Though the woman had only met him for a few hours at best, she saw in him their father’s eyes and there were moments where Lefiya knew that she still regretted not taking him in. His life wouldn’t have been easy being a human on the outskirts and Lefiya believed that he was happier living with his grandfather, but it had been a choice she took from both of them because of her petulance at that age.

Though she would leave out the situation on the 18th Floor—obviously.

[-Orario-]

It took roughly the same time to get back to Orario as it did to get to the Spirit Forest when they were finally done.

The trip back was thankfully uneventful, but silent as Lefiya mused on her new Magics and what she should do with that knowledge. Lady Riveria had abstained from teaching her them due to some very solid reasons considering she still had much to learn and would likely not want her practicing them before she perfected her own spells through the Falna and maximizing their potential with the Mage Development Ability.

But, at the same time, she couldn’t just sit on what she had just obtained. Even if it couldn’t benefit from the Mage Development Ability and thus would never be as capable in terms of raw output, it was still Elvish Magic. I should treat it like a hobby for now and practice it during my free time then.

“I’ll need to head to Loki to report our return,” Lady Riveria stated once they all finished turning over their mounts to the Ganesha Familia. “However, it would leave me feeling rather upset if I didn’t see you girls receive a proper reward for what you’ve done. And since Royman can’t be bothered to do so… take these.”

She presented them each with Spirit Nuts. They were fruit borne of the Spirit Tree, an event that occurred once every 30 years, making them among the rarest of delicacies. One only known to their people at that.

“Is this really okay, Lady Riveria?” Lefiya asked. “Aren’t there people who you wanted to give them to?”

“I only needed two to start with but some of the other Elves were insistent,” she said. “Since they can be used as a panacea for illnesses, I wanted to give one to a dear friend of mine to get better. As for the other, I believe I will give it to her daughter to do with as she pleases. She wanted to come with me, but circumstances wouldn’t be so kind to her. The rest will just be wasted for me, so take two of them each.”

“I have no personal use for them, but a dear friend of mine may like to have the chance to try them,” Miss Ryu said as she took the offering of royalty. “Thank you, Lady Riveria.”

As Lefiya and Filvis did the same before taking a moment to relax at a café on the Main Street, the pair silently pondered what it was they were to do with the two they each possessed.

Lefiya figured she would give one of hers to Bell, much in the same way Miss Ryuu and Lady Riveria would their friends. It was so he would have the chance to experience one of the pleasures known only to their people. It would be one of the little things she could do for him as an older sister—affection in the form of storge.

Her other choice would not be so innocent. “Filvis, would you like to split this one with me?”

The Elf who bore the title of Maenads nearly spilled her tea in an undignified manner as she registered the words of the Thousand Elf. “L-Lefiya… aren’t those also supposed to increase the feelings of affection between the two who eat them?”

In the fairy tale story based around the Holy Tree, the greedy girl who reformed shared a red nut that grew on the tree with a boy from the village. It made their love even stronger, and they were married by the end. It was the sort of thing that gave the story an ending befitting of a fairy tale.

Lefiya was certain she was in love with Filvis. But she also knew that those feelings may not be returned. At the very least she wanted it to be known, rather than leading her on.

“I know,” confessed the Half-Elf, a crimson blush spreading on her cheeks as continued. “After the dance, I… wanted to make my feelings clear that I’ve started seeing you as more than just a friend. Even if you don’t share that sam—”

“No, I…” The raven-haired Elf trailed off while looking away from the pair of azure eyes. “I’m sullied, inside and out to the point I’m used to being covered in blood. I don’t want to dirty you in that way, Lefiya.”

“You’re the most beautiful person I know, inside and out,” Lefiya told her. Whether it was covered in blood or standing valiantly in her defense, her affection for the woman in front of her did not change. “There is nothing you can do to sully me because you aren’t sullied at all.”

“…Lefiya…” Her breath caught in her throat as she looked down at the offering for the confession. “I intend to share one of mine with Lord Dionysus. But the other I want to share with you, both to acknowledge your feelings for me and… mine for you.”

She recognized the implication. Filvis returned her affection, but she also loved the one who graced her with his blessing dearly as well, despite knowing that it would likely be unrequited due to their natures. The divine often loved their children, a form of agape that could not be fully understood because of their nature. It was impossible to truly judge their affection by the standards of those of the lower world.

“Even so, how I feel won’t change,” Lefiya said in response. “If your feelings for him are returned, I’ll cheer for you. If they aren’t, I’ll cry with you. Even if I don’t hold that sole place in your heart, I still treasure you dearly, Filvis.”

Then…” She took the offered fruit from Lefiya and gave her one of her fruits in response. It was an exchange of affection in the form of eros, an affirmation of their feelings for one another. They cemented it upon partaking of the fruits that were the crystallization of the Spirits’ bond with their people.

And, at that moment, Lefiya couldn’t be happier. Her feelings were at least acknowledged. She hoped they would be reciprocated in full someday but, for now, it felt like she was floating on air.

[-Bell Cranel-]

Around the same time, Bell Cranel emerged from the depths of the Dungeon. It couldn’t have been a week, and yet he felt as though he was seeing the sun for the first time in a month or longer since he had seen the sun or felt the breeze of the wind on his skin. They had done it.

They had finally returned from the 18th Floor…

He knew they would need a few days to recover. But, hopefully, after that everything would go back to normal. He hoped they could all laugh and cheer at their fortune, and maybe even celebrate somewhere nice.

…Needless to say, he never expected they’d be going to war.

[-Arc 2 End-]


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 8 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 8: The Pride of Elves

“Mother told me of why the Elves danced and sing. Even when others would fear for their lives in this land where the monsters roamed, the Elves would sing and dance within their forests. Not because they felt safe or protected. But because the Spirits were there and felt what we felt. No matter how great our fear and sorrow, what reached them must not be that which we wished to run from—it needed to be that we wished to be passed on.

For they will live beyond even the oldest of Elves and carry our prayers to the future.”

[-|-|-|-]

The defensive spell woven by the melody of Lady Riviera was all that saved the majority of the High Elves that were mingling amidst the Spirits, so lost in merry and mirth that it was only once the dome went up that they realized that something was amiss.

That was when at least ten Humans burst through the trees that ringed the plaza where the little lights from before that had been dancing now bobbed in erratic motions that highlighted their confusion. Armed with weapons and shouting of plunder and murder, they moved with motions that were beyond the norm for their race as they rushed towards the barrier. There was no doubt in Lefiya’s mind—they all had Falna.

That was when the wind billowed as a gale ran past each one, a blur of motion almost difficult for even the eyes of a Level Three to keep track of. The vicious, brutal sound of broken bones and shattered skulls reached her ears. The corpses fell one after another, legs going limp midstride as if they were puppets that had their strings cut with glistening blood leaving their mouths and the gashes where the skull had been split open.

Then came the confused, terrified screams as the Elves spotted the corpses while the one responsible stood outside of the barrier with a wooden sword in hand.

The Elder Elf looked absolutely aggrieved at the presence of the bloodshed and death before demanding, “What’s going on?”

“We had thought something was amiss with the number of monsters, but this was more than I expected,” Lady Riveria said before addressing Miss Ryuu. “Lyon, what’s the situation?”

“From the looks of it a criminal Familia intends to launch an assault upon the village,” the Elven Warrior stated factually. “Wave tactics with forces composed of what seem to be rearguards of Level Ones while the Vanguards are at least Level Two. I eliminated the first group that launched the initial assault, but I picked up on more along with the sound of Wyvern snarls deeper in the forest.”

Tamers as well,” Lady Riviera muttered. “That’s less of an assault and more of an invasion.”

That would explain where the rest of the monsters came from, Lefiya mused as she awaited instructions. The joy from before was replaced with anxious tension. Not for merely herself but for the Elves around them. Someone who just received a Falna inherently gained better attributes, such as higher perception and baseline strength. Level Twos would tear through this village with absolutely no problem.

“Ah, the spirits are perturbed!” Lady Lilo noted as the dancing lights from before were moving agitatedly now. The air around them was far more oppressive and dangerous, like a terrified animal ready to lash out at the nearest thing in self-defense. If they started attacking then it’d force them to fight on multiple fronts.

“Elder, please keep the Spirits calm as best you can to avoid them becoming hostile,” the Nine Hells spoke in the authoritative tone befitting one of the commanders of the Loki Familia. “Everyone else, gather around the Holy Tree so I can shrink down the area I need to protect you all. The expenditure of Mind to keep it up over such a large area is inefficient even with my ability. As for the enemy, I’ll leave it to you girls to eliminate them.”

Lady Lilo’s eyes narrowed at that, even as her staff danced with radiant light as she tried to calm the Spirits that were around the tree while the High Elves hurried towards it to the point of nearly tripping over themselves. “You’re sending the whelps out to fight alone!?”

“I have no other choice because none of you can defend yourselves,” Lady Riviera said bluntly. The politeness from before was shelved for the sake of expediency. “With Magic it would be possible to fend off the monsters and even Level Two Adventurers with proper tactics. However, from how every one of you reacted, not one of you has even the basics of Elven Combat Training, do you?”

Her inquiry was met with silence. Those gathered there were from higher society among the Elves. They had no need for protecting themselves because someone else would be protecting them, as the Royal Knights would protect her. They had been relying on the secrecy of the Spirit Forest and the wards that should have been in place to keep them safe.

The fact that they managed to get past them without even setting one off means that there’s another problem as well, the Royal Elf thought to herself before continuing. “That makes every last one of you liabilities in this situation. And, as royalty, allowing you to die here or losing the Spirit’s favor will deal such a severe blow to our race that we may never truly recover. So yes, I’m sending these girls out to fight in your place to avoid that happening.”

The Elder’s response was to chide her right back. “Now you pretend to care about us? How many of our children have spilled their blood inside of the Abyss when the lid had already been shut? They leave their homes, unable to come back after binding themselves to those fickle Gods that dictate how they live! Even if they don’t die in that meat-grinder they never return to their forests to defend them!”

It wasn’t as though Lefiya didn’t understand her emotions, nor could she say that the Elder Elf was incorrect. When you became an Adventurer, you became bound to your God or Goddess. They bequeathed their blessing, and they can just as easily take it away by sealing one’s Falna. You were literally placing your freedom in the hands of whatever deity you swore yourself to, which was why she had been worried when she heard Bell had gone to such an obscure Familia.

He had been lucky, all things considered. Many weren’t.

Then, once you became an Adventurer in Orario it became a lot more difficult to leave the City unless you jumped through several legal loopholes or were on missions for the Guild. Lady Riveria managed to get them permission to leave because of her status, but that was only four of them. Lady Loki also intended to arrange for a trip to Melen and even she mentioned she would have to leave half of them behind to avoid the city losing too many of its higher-tier Adventurers.

In addition, all the children born to a member of a Familia become members of said Familia to avoid complications like conflicting loyalties—as she mentioned to Bell. Had the Zeus Familia not been wiped out then Bell and she would likely both be made members of the Familia because of their father. The forests of their ancestors did not matter as they would likely never see them—not even the outskirts for a half-blooded Elf such as her.

Even they didn’t die to the Dungeon, their numbers would inevitably shrink and so too would those who followed Elven culture. For one who had lived for centuries and could see the pattern from above, it was as if she was watching the end of her people. And there was nothing she could do about it.

Lady Riveria responded to the accusation with a calm voice. “…Elder, you are not the first to chastise me for leaving my forest. Nor what it has wrought for our race. I know full well many have chased after me and perished for the attempt. However, much as how a comrade of mine has taken it upon himself to bear the mantle of hope for his race after they lost their faith, for both the good and ill that it brings, I too have chosen to do the same. I can’t claim to be aiming for something so ambitious, but at the very least I hope to break the isolation that binds our people.”

Lady Lilo went silent even as her teal eyes glared at her. She wanted to hear it. She wanted to hear her justification for abandoning what should have been her duty to stay within her forests rather than enter into the outside world and encouraging so many others to do so.

“We may stay safe in our forests, but by staying isolated we also suffer. We never make allies who would aid us in our darkest hours. We remain stagnant and so we leave ourselves blind to our flaws and weaknesses. We cling to beliefs and prejudices of other races that are wrong because nothing is there to challenge them, such as one’s blood being inferior due to mixed heritage.”

The Half-Elf felt the gazes on her but said nothing as she awaited her instruction. She already knew that. She already knew from the day that Lady Riviera had taken her as her apprentice what she intended. Why her mentor had ensured her title would be that of ‘Thousand Elf’ when she reached Level Three.

Lefiya wanted to live up to those expectations.

“I’ll deal with the majority of the enemy combatants,” Miss Ryuu said. “If the other two focus on the Wyverns, we should be able to deal with them without any reaching the plaza or the Holy Tree.”

“Sorry to put the burden upon you girls,” Lady Riveria said to the three. “Now go.”

[-Deep Forest-]

The vicious, barely constrained snarls stood out to the Half-Elf’s ears as she ran through the darkness.

Her senses were already sharpened by the danger. The famed perception of the Elves and her own enhanced senses due to her Level was more than capable of allowing her to navigate the dark forest where the dense canopy obscured the natural light. The familiarity with the monster native to the Deep Floors of the Dungeon made it was easier for her to track her target as well, giving her an idea of the distance and direction.

She spun on her heels and then darted towards the right where the sound emerged from, a chant gracing her lips as the magic circle with its golden hue springing up beneath her feet and glided along with her pace. “Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree. You are the master archer…

Filvis hastened her own steps, darting out in front of her. Her Agility was higher than Lefiya’s, likely because she often acted as a vanguard, so being able to dash and disengage was essential. That additional speed allowed her to rush forward with her short sword in hand as the sound of Human voices accompanied the source of the snarl.

Loose your arrows, fairy archers. Pierce, arrow of accuracy—” The monster came within view within moments, behind one-third quarters cover of a thick tree with its bark gouged from the sharp talons that were attached to a bluish-purple draconic creature with scales that glistened in the light of magic-stone lanterns as two Humans attempted to uncover a muzzle on its mouth.

She came to a stop and finished the formation of the spell along with the chant. “Arcs Ray!

Light burst forth from the magic stone within her staff, Forest’s Teardrop. The golden beam shot forward, its radiant glow briefly illuminating Filvis’ fleeting form as she followed to keep pace with it. There was enough time to see the Wyvern rear back at the light reflecting in its red eyes and spread its forelimb wings before her spell connected, the beam rupturing and tearing the monster asunder.

The surprised sounds of the Humans were cut short as Filvis’ blade flowed in two silver arcs, each one leaving splashes of crimson hanging in the air as the throats of the men were cut instantly. The blood splashed over the blue and gold hues of her outfit that matched her God rather well, some droplets even decorating her cheeks. Her eyes then turned back to Lefiya before she turned away.

She pulled out a handkerchief for her to use. “Here.”

Filvis shook her head. “I am used to the blood. And right now we need to keep up. That woman volunteered to deal with the criminals, but I cannot allow her to do everything.”

Lefiya’s ears picked up short, hard sounds and recognized what she meant. Wood against flesh and bone, followed by bodies collapsing. Even the sound of scales shattering from the blunt force of the impact. The sound then came from the northwest and then the west, the direction shifting after each set of three-to-four impacts.

She must be Level Four, minimum,” she heard Filvis say beneath her breath. And Lefiya found herself agreeing with her assessment as Miss Ryuu took out more of the Tamers and their monsters in that direction. She was fast—faster than either of them by a very wide margin that could only be the equivalent to both a Level and the compounded Agility that made up the invisible base.

The Half-Elf had known the woman was talented the moment she had seen her attack the Violas. But it was kind of terrifying how efficient she was in dispatching the brigands who had come to despoil the forest and the monsters accompanying them. Not to mention she was a master of Concurrent Chanting, capable of driving off multiple attackers and fending for herself despite being attacked from every possible angle while calling forth immense magical power that could match an upper-tier Mage without a magic circle from what Lefiya recalled on the 18th Floor.

She was clearly one of the best Elven Adventurers in Orario. Yet, before a little while ago, she had never known that, despite realizing that she was the very same Elf who worked in the Hostess of Fertility now that she had plenty of time to see her face uncovered and hear her voice. What were the circumstances that left her to settle for such a life?

Lefiya wanted to know. There had to be a reason that she lived a life in obscurity. But to bring that up was most likely crossing boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. Still, I wonder why Bell knows her well enough that she came to save him with the rescue party?

“Lefiya,” Filvis called out to her, drawing her azure eyes to her crimson ones. “I can hear wings beating from above.”

The Half-Elf diverted her senses upwards and could do the same. Multiple wings beating at a frantic pace and snarls as the air hissed. So far they had managed to take them out before they could get airborne, but it seemed some were ready to fly towards the plaza to unleash their hailstones of flame. She had to intercept them. “I’ll take care of the ones above—”

“And I’ll take care of the ones below,” the Elven Magic Swordsman finished with a nod. Then she moved, delving into the dark forest to take care of the rest. They had managed to cover the majority of the forest now, so these should be the few that remained between them.

Lefiya pulled out a magic potion to replenish the expended magical energy as she ran to get ahead of the wings flying above. Her mind that had been gradually growing heavier from the continuous spell casting cleared. Then she began a new song, her melodic voice ringing out in the dark. “Proud warriors, marksmen of the forest. Take up your bows to face the marauders…

There was a tree ahead of her that was moderately larger than the surrounding ones. Its upper limbs reached beyond the blanket of leaves. It would serve as a foothold as she darted up it while continuing her chant. “Answer the call of your kin and nock your arrows. Bring forth the flame, torches of the forest—

As she reached the upmost limb, she steadied herself as she held out Forest’s Teardrop. Her enemies were in sight, flying closer to the plaza. Her magic circle pulsed as particles of reddish Magic drifted upwards with golden light as she built up her magical energy until her body thrummed, the spell primed for release. “Release them, flaming arrows of the fairies. Fall like rain, burn the savages to ash—Fusillade Fallarica!

The particles of flames ignited as they gathered together, weaving into flaming stars that streaked forward towards the airborne units while leaving a gleaming trail behind. Though they were kin to them, wyverns lacked the same ability to simply absorb the flames that Valgang Dragons had on the 58th Floor. And because they were surface-born they were even weaker than those counterparts she had already faced off against—let alone the Wyvern King, which had forced her to use a maximum output Arcs Ray as the two did battle in freefall.

The flaming arrows burst into scarlet explosions. Her Magic immolated the wyverns without mercy, leaving only dust mingled with ash as the mediocre-sized magic stones that gave them life were obliterated in the process. It fell like snow over the expanse, a light coating added to the dark-green hues that would be swept away by the morning wind.

Resting her hand against the narrowed trunk of the tree crowning the immediate surrounding canopy, Lefiya strained her eyes and ears for any more signs of foes to be dealt with. But none were within her senses. She let out a sigh and allowed the tension to bleed out of her body…

ROOOOOOOOAAAAAAARRRRRRRR!!!

Then the night shook as a roar birthed from the maw of something truly menacing rang out. Her balance was nearly compromised, and she was forced to cling to her perch with her free arm as she peered out towards the source of the familiar sound. It was one she had heard on the 58th Floor too many times to count. “I-It can’t be…”

Her fears were unfortunately well-founded as a pair of pinons burst from beyond the edge of the trees into the air, wings unfurling into the sky. A single beat of them rattled the leaves at the edge before the massive body made of corded muscle and covered in red scales brought the monster into view. It was easily ten meters in height, but with its wings spread it cast a deepening shadow as it took flight over the canopy.

Worse, she felt that something about it was wrong. The closest feeling that she could relate it to was an Irregular of some kind. Something above average even for its kin was lurking here on the surface world, drawing closer as an ominous glow slipping from between the rows of fanged teeth. Her heart froze when she realized what was going to happen.

Then fire leapt from its maw in a stream so hot that the air screamed as it came rushing in her direction. Not for her personally, but because she was between the dragon and its target—the Holy Tree. Swallowing her vision, the flames would have consumed her if she hadn’t let go and allowed for gravity to drop her to the floor of the forest even as the flames turned the sky into an image of Hell.

The landing was rough. Not enough to actually harm her, but the discomfort was notable. It was still better than being turned to ash considering her Endurance was nowhere near that of other members of her Familia and so she couldn’t take a hit of that nature head-on and remain whole. “Nhh….”

“Lefiya!” came from some distance away, drawing her eyes to the approaching figure of Filvis. The Elf came to a stop by her side, hovering over her with a hand extended to get her on her feet. “Are you okay?”

“Ah… ah, yes.” Her voice trembled a little as she accepted her hand and rose back up. Then she noticed the smoke filling the air and the burning leaves falling from the sky. The beautiful forest around them was burning down.

There was a rush of air as the Elven Warrior appeared by the both of them. “Are you unharmed, Miss Viridis? Miss Challia?”

“Yes, somehow,” she said. “But where did that Dragon come from?”

“My apologies. I failed to deal with the leader of this band before he unleashed that monster. Apparently, it’s an irregular that they fed other monsters to while keeping it sedated, all so they could unleash it. Then once it got loose it consumed him and took flight.”

Consuming others of its kind for their magic stones, compounding its own power, that Dragon was easily on par with those on the Deep Floors. It should be of a caliber that Lady Riveria could handle on her own, but not while she needed to protect the others. “We need to hurry and get back!”

[-Spirit Village Plaza-]

The village was burning.

Flames were lapping at the wooden homes lovingly carved to endure the ages. The smoke filled the air with its acrid fumes and the crackling of the blaze padded out the despondent cries of the Elves. To those who knew of the burning of their lands by Rakia, what laid before them now was nothing more than history repeating itself.

Riveria could only frown as her barrier flickered. The moment the flames had met with it, she felt it strain and threaten to buckle under the weight of what she could only assume was a Flare Breath. That and the roar from before gave her an idea of what had transpired from her own experiences. It was manageable…

However, the sound of the Spirits screaming foretold of a different problem. Though they may be weak compared to the Great Spirits, their fear, panic, sorrow, anger could manifest in the form of primordial displays of Magic. If the Demi-Spirit, which had enough sapience to weave Magic into spells through song, was directing its power towards a fixated target, then this was simply lashing out at everything around them.

It wasn’t something she could deal with on her own. Eliminating them would be the same thing as if she allowed the flames or the monsters to do so. The only one who could do something would be…

Clack…

A staff clattered to the ground as the Elder Elf observed her home being put to the torch. Its baleful light reflected in her eyes ravenously consumed the hope within as the cries of the Spirits rang out. The rampant flames would consume everything at this rate. “It’s over now… it’s all over now…

“You need to stand, Elder,” the Royal Elf said. “You’re the only one who can quell the Spirits right now. If you don’t then it really will be over.”

The ground shook as the Dragon descended at the edge of the plaza, looking over the rest of the Elves trapped within the protective circle where the ground was scorched black. Its gaze fixed beyond the barrier and onto her. And in recognition of her strength as one who had raised their Level and gotten five steps closer to the divine, it began to step forward.

Having been born on the surface it had no doubt thought it was among the strongest, a fledgling that had grown fat in its secluded dwelling and yet to run into anything that it felt could match it. It wanted to pit itself against that strength to prove itself superior. Everything else was secondary and could be left to its flames as fire pooled in its mouth to unleash another blaze upon them.

High Elves screamed. Many would have likely fled if the flames offered them an avenue to do so. The rampant Spirits calling forth elements would soon be a threat as well.

“…This is what we deserve,” Lady Lilo muttered, defeated with her voice like broken glass. “Those children were in that direction, weren’t they? We sent them off in to defend us without a second word. Instead of having them run away, we sent them off to their deaths. We sacrificed our future for just a few more seconds of life, and now…

Even as the monster took another step forward and the flames began to slip through its opening maw with the intention of incinerating them all, the Nine Hells could only respond with a voice like steel. “…Aren’t you underestimating those girls?”

That was when a shard of the stars fell from the heavens.

Coming down like a hammer of the Gods, a blue comet with a green tail fell from the sky above into the Dragon’s mouth hard enough that its maw that prepared to unleash its flare breath was clamped shut as it was driven to the ground. Intense jets of flames slipped through the gaps in its maw to blacken the earth and leave scorched sand. But they failed to so much as singe a single Elven hair.

It was the Gale. Her wooden blade, carved from a branch of the sacred tree of her home forest that had been smuggled in by Evilus and then reclaimed, was wreathed in a cerulean hue as she held it out. Then she vanished as her form left a streak upon meeting with the Dragon’s head once more, this time knocking it aside before its gaze could shift back to Royal Blood.

“—Arcs Ray!!

—Dios Thyrsos!

And from its rear two voices rang out above the crackling of the flames, heralding a golden beam and lance of lighting. They slammed into the hind of the Dragon, eliciting a roar from the beast that was wracked with pain. And though those scales might have warded off flames, they gave way to the Magic of the Half-Elf Mage and Elven Magic Swordsman.

“Sorry for the delay, Lady Riveria!” Lefiya called as she emerged from the trees with Maenads. “We can handle the Dragon! Please use your Magic to put out the flames in the forest!”

The children…” The Elder Elf’s eyes regained a spark of hope until she saw they had earned the Dragon’s ire. Its claws that could tear down through stone due to its muscle went straight towards the Elven Warrior, while its massive tail lashed out towards the casters who would lack the defense to bear with it. “Hurry and run!”

None of them did. The Elven Warrior moved like the breeze, slipping through its grasp as she retaliated with an upwards strike that forced its sinuous neck to bend. Yellowed, blood-stained fragments of its fangs scattered among the dirt in the process.

The Elven Magic Swordsman placed herself in front of the Half-Elf Mage while the lyrics of a chant escaped both of their lips in harmony. In the darkness gleamed a white mirror, a shield that was erected against the incoming tail that threatened to crush them both. The bulwark rebuked it as the white magic circle was overlapped by a ring of gold before a ray of brilliance was fired once more from the staff at the point where its tail was connected to its body with such speed and force that it penetrated the base before rupturing, tearing it apart from the inside out.

“Despite those children leaving their forests behind and swearing their fealty to different Gods and Goddess while calling Orario their home, they’re still fighting in order to protect this place,” Lady Riveria continued from where she left off as the Dragon staggered, its blood flowing from the missing appendage. “That’s because they still have their pride.”

The words caught her by surprise. “Huh?”

“None of those girls call this forest their home. Yet they are still defending it because they refuse to allow a part of our people to perish because they sat there and did nothing.  Even if I hadn’t given the order to do so, they would have run out to fight because they see our culture as our pride and won’t surrender them—not to the flames, monsters, or the Gods themselves.”

Her words were conjoined with the screech of the Dragon as the Gale continued her relentless assault, going faster and faster. Moving faster than the eyes of a non-Adventurer could track, she unleashed a flurry of strikes with her weapon that slammed into the scales of the Dragon and shattered them. At the same time, rays of light and lightning lanced out towards the pinons of the monster, shredding its wings and denying it the right to flee after treading upon their sacred lands—affording it not even a moment’s rest or opportunity to unleash another sea of flames.

“You lack the strength to face that monster whereas they do not. But you have the knowledge and ability that they lack at this moment. We must all do our part. I will do mine and quench the flames that are consuming our homelands, but if the Holy Tree is incinerated and the Spirits aren’t quelled all will still be lost. What will you do, Elder?”

It was the first and only barb from the Nine Hells directed to the one who held the title of Elder of the Spirit Village. This venerated place held as much weight as royal blood amongst the Elves of the world, where the Spirits congregated. She who had vented her frustration and sorrow about the circumstances of their people could only give one response.

“…Tch, as if I need a royal rapscallion telling me what to do.” Her tiny hands found their way around her staff as she rose back onto her feet and turned the rest of the High Elves. “I will calm the Spirits! All of you, douse the flames around the Holy Tree! Call the earth and sky and rain and ice—prove to the Spirits on this, the night where our bonds are reaffirmed, that by our ancient vow we will not let the lands we share be lost again!”

That’s right. Though there are many parts of our culture I find in need of change, there are those we should take pride in and protect. Holding that thought to her chest, she called out to her apprentice. “Lefiya, I’m beginning. Protect yourselves!”

As the songs of Elves rang out in a choir amidst the flames and the howls of the Dragon, a jade-toned magic circle encompassed them. The workings of the Elven arcane expanded as if by royal decree, conjured wind and ice and water and earth intensified to battle the flames that threatened to consume their home. Such was the effect of her Skill: Alf Regina.

And leading the choir was the song of four Adventurers.

Distant sky above the forest. Limitless stars set into an eternal night. Listen to my feeble voice and grant the protection of starlight—” With Alvs Lumina in her grasp serving as both her sword and wand, the Elven Warrior began her chant to the stars and the wind even as she continued her relentless assault. One could feel the magical power being focused within her weapon with every second and every verse. As she leapt into the air above the Dragon, the light of the stars and kiss of the wind gathered before her upraised sword. “Light of stardust, tear my enemies asunder—Luminous Wind!

An emerald storm fell from above. Sheering wind and searing light weaved together to shower the scaled beast. Relentless and without mercy it carved bloody gouts into the hide of the dragon, ripping through flesh and muscles without mercy as it could do nothing but howl.

Filvis then joined in the performance, her magic circle the color of pure snow her stage as she pointed her wand at that Dragon. “Purge, cleansing lighting! Dio Thyrsos!

From the tip of her wand that served as the focus of her Magic, lightning was unleashed. The bolt pierced through its battered hide, blood and flesh bursting as it exited through its hind and tore apart its legs. Crippled, it collapsed with a crash upon the battered ground, and its blood filled in the divots torn out as well.

And no sooner than the beast had been crippled did the Half-Elf Mage finish connecting the ring of elves and her golden circle matched the hue of royalty. “Materialize, mighty barrier of forest’s light, and lend us your protection—in my name of Alf! Via Shilheim!

The same shimmering barrier that kept the High Elves sheltered was bequeathed to those not of noble birth. Though her power couldn’t match that of the Nine Hells due to both her Level and her Mage Development Ability lacking compared to the original, it was still the strongest defense she could muster. It would be a bulwark as the winter that preluded the end of the world fell upon the forest from its heart.

All from the euphonious song of the Nine Hells’ lips. “Harbinger of the end, white snow. Gust before the twilight. Fading light, freezing land. Blow with the power of the third harsh winter—in my name of Alf! Wynn Fimbulvetr!!

Ice ran from the magic circle at the decree. An unyielding, merciless frost that spread with even greater ferocity than wildfire swallowed the land, snuffed the flames, and blanketed the charred and verdant alike. Even the Dragon that presumed it surpassed their pride and bonds with the Spirits until the very moment it had been brought low was shrouded in the unforgiving rime from the inside out.

Winter’s chill robbed all sound and motion until there was nothing but the cold.

Phew…” Letting out a sigh that birthed a plume of fog from the drop in the temperature, Riveria called out to a dome opposite the corpse of the Dragon. “Are you girls all right?”

We’re safe, Lady Riveria,” was the muted reply of her student before the front of the ice dome exploded outwards from a swing of the Gale’s weapon. The soft crunching of ice rang out as the girls emerged one-by-one, taking in the scope of it. “Ahh… you managed to spread it all the way throughout the forest?”

“I kept the base power to its minimum but expanded the range to encompass the Spirit Forest,” she said. That was one of the perks of her Mage Developmental Ability, allowing for both passive and active increase in the spell’s range provided one had the Mind to compensate for the difference and experience to make the adjustment so precisely. “By morning it’ll begin to thaw.”

“And the Spirits?” asked Maenads.

She turned to see the diminutive Elder at work, her staff aglow as she focused her magical energy to weave not spells but words and soothe their fears. Their motions had become docile compared to before. “They seemed to have calmed down. Now all that’s left is the Holy Tree.”

They had prevented it from being turned into cinders, but the damage was extensive. Its former glory was a thing of the past, a charred husk of what it once was. The tree that represented their bond to the Spirits, the pride of their village would be forever marred… that is, if it were an ordinary tree.

“What are you whelps waiting for!?” Lady Lilo called out as she guided the other High Elves into a ring around the tree. “We need to supply the Holy Tree with magic power! Nine Hells, this is the reason you came here so you can supply the Mind for it!”

“As you wish, Elder,” Riveria said, walking over to join the circle that had formed. With her apprentice on one end and the small grasp of the Elder Elf in the other, she allowed her Magic to flow. The ring accumulated it all as in an ancient prayer they called for a miracle.

And the Spirits stirred from their docile nature to join in with a dance. For what they responded to in the age’s past were their earnest emotions and desire to live and see their traditions passed on. Those were the first origins of Magic for the Elves.

It was why their chants were songs.

The tree mended itself as the songs of the Elves resonated with the dance of the Spirits. The charred bark was replaced with a healthy covering, greenery sprouting where it had been blackened and burned away. The magic power overflowed as every branch of the tree bustled with ripe, red fruits.

“A bounty of Spirit Nuts,” one of the High Elves said. “More than in the last 90 years!”

As the cheers rang out, the Royal Elf parted from the circle to allow them their pleasure. Her mind was slightly ringing between maintaining the barrier, the expansive spell, and then helping to restore the tree to glory. So enraptured by the sight, even her most enthusiastic supplicants had forgotten her along with the terror from moments before.

“You have my thanks, Your Highness,” Lady Lilo said as she approached with staff in hand, taking a position next to her. She calmly looked over the reborn tree as she continued to speak. “No amount of pride would have saved us from a creature like that. However, no mere bandit or brigands would bring such a thing to attack a place they intended to pillage.”

“No,” Riveria agreed. There would be no need to bring something like that if they intended to simply pillage the Spirit Forest. Someone had attempted to just kill every High Elf and burn down the Spirit Forest by unleashing a creature like this. “And considering the location of this forest has been concealed for centuries without being found before, there’s only one conclusion I can draw…”

One of our own betrayed us,” the Elder Elf finished in a small, bitter voice as her throat went taut. One could almost hear how it pained her to admit so. “Surrendering one of our most sacred secrets to exterminate us and the anger the Spirits at the same time. We would never recover from that.”

“Were there any of the families that normally attended absent this year?”

“The numbers had been going down every thirty years for various reasons, but there were a few who couldn’t make it and sent the message ahead of time…” Her teal-eyes closed as her grip on her staff tightened. “Stay the night so the others will feel safer that way. I’ll investigate which one of them did this after we see everyone home tomorrow and see justice done.”

They had salvaged their home for the night. But now that the secrecy of the Spirit Forest was compromised, they would have to steel themselves from now on. And she couldn’t provide them with protection as her duties as a member of the Loki Familia would scarcely bring her back here. “…My apologies for placing another burden on your shoulders.”

“This place is a treasure of the Elves, so no one should complain if we pull from every forest and defend it ourselves.” Her eyes opened once more and settled onto the Half-Elf Mage staring up at the tree now bursting with crystallization of the Spirit’s blessing. “Your Highness… if you meant a single word that you said earlier, do not let those children die in that Abyss.”

“I have no intention of letting that happen, Elder,” the Royal Elf stated with sincerity. “They are our future, after all.”

I watched as Mother weaved a spell in front of my eyes and spoke words lovingly on her lips while her fingers hovered over Father’s hand, injured and bleeding. The light enclosed the wound and knitted it shut as the two never broke their gaze. It was at that moment that I felt my blood stir and wanted to perform Magic, asking Mother to teach me.

One day, she promised. One day, when we can head to a place where Spirits rest. But until then I will teach you the pledge of our kin—passed down from parent to child.

— 7th Month of Year XXXX

[-|-|-|-]

“I didn’t expect monsters to be here, of all places.”

When they were told it would be an escort mission to what was supposedly a fairy tale village, Lefiya had not expected that they would be forced to put down monsters. While it was true that monsters could be found nearly everywhere in the world from ancient times, before Babel had been created to serve as a lid on the Dungeon, somehow the notion of them being here hadn’t crossed her mind. It somewhat ruined the immersion.

“Do you not have to constantly deal with the creatures in the Abyss?” asked a voice that was more youthful than it had any right to be. “Their presence should be second nature to you whelps by now.”

It also turned out the Elder was a child. Or at least had the appearance of one to where you might believe her to be a Half-Elf, Half-Pallum. Not that such a thing was possible.

She had sandy blonde hair that was crowned with a wreath of the local flora. Her teal eyes were seemingly fixed into a flat stare. Her white robe was hemmed in green hues and the staff she bore was partially wrought wood that held within it what was presumed to be a natural gemstone.

And even more seemingly impossible was her clear disdain for Lady Riveria, going so far as to refer to her as a tomboy and a rapscallion.

It was so disrespectful that it caught Lefiya and the others by surprise. But Riveria seemed to not mind. If anything, she seemed to respond to her with greater comfort than accepting the supplications of the other High Elves even as they pressured the Elder into allowing her to participate due to her magical prowess.

Hence why they were killing monsters. Since no one could object to Lady Riveria’s magical ability, she had decided to put them to work instead to earn their right to participate. And that involved removing monsters that had somehow wandered into the forest.

“Though they were weak, they came out in such large numbers,” Miss Ryuu pointed out. Monsters on the surface multiplied by duplicating their magic stones and so they also divided their strength—quantity over quality. For Adventurers of the group’s collective Levels it was easy to deal with them, but they were still more than capable of being a threat to ordinary folks.

Lady Riveria agreed as she addressed the Elder. “Do they normally appear in such numbers?”

“Occasionally the foul creatures do slip by the wards of the forest, but this is the first time I’ve seen this many in all my time living here,” admitted the Elder Elf. “Even so, we are capable of using Magic to defend ourselves against monsters of this caliber. If not for your arrival I would have finished removing them, but since you are all such capable adventurers there is no need for me to do so. They will serve as your contribution to earn your right to participate in the Spirit Festival.”

She’s not even attempting to hide the sarcasm in her voice, Lefiya thought while a nervous chuckle escaped her lips. Even the other High Elves wouldn’t dare hold such a tone to her, but the Half-Elf could only assume that with age one had less need to feign fealty within their own forest. Lady Lilo must be more than a few centuries old. I’m kind of envious she still looks so young.

“We are grateful for the opportunity,” Riveria responded without missing a beat, her tone humble. “I am aware that our abrupt presence may have caused problems. If contributing in this manner eases your burden and ensures the festivities go well, it is the least we can do.”

“…Tch. Well, at least some manners were drilled into you.” She pouted like a child before she spun on her sandals and began to walk away. “Come. If you really want to ease my duties, then you can help elsewhere.”

Lefiya followed after her mentor along with the rest of the retinue when she felt a presence loitering just over her shoulder. She turned her head and found a floating wisp, a gathering of light and magic the hue of the wind—pale green. She sensed no hostility as it drifted over her with what felt like pure curiosity, similar to how a dog would sniff someone upon meeting them.

Her slender fingers reached out, only for it to drift further out of her reach hurriedly. It lingered there once she retracted her hand, keeping pace but ready to flee. It’s kind of adorable in its own way.

“That one is simply curious about your presence, but it is also skittish,” Lady Lilo said, looking over her shoulder. “Leave it be. Even weak spirits with no real sentience like it can injure a whelp like you before I can pacify them if you frighten or rile them.”

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said hurriedly. “I meant no disrespect to the Spirit.”

“You seem to have a firm understanding of its nature,” Riveria said as she followed behind her. “Is that the wisdom of your age?”

“Anyone could do so if they lived around them for long enough,” she said before raising her staff into the air towards it. The jewel within its core glimmered and the Spirit hurriedly drifted over to her. “They gather in the forest all times of the year, but during the Spirit Festival, their numbers swell as the Holy Tree bears its fruit. Some of the stronger ones with their own will and personalities show up as well, so to live here one needs to receive training on how to handle them.”

The little green light danced around her for a moment as she made motions with the staff. It was as if she was playing with it. Then she flicked her staff out and the glimmer within it went deeper into the forest like a shooting star.

The Spirit followed it eagerly, chasing after it.

“That’s amazing, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said earnestly. “You really do know what placates them.”

The Elder bore a small smile before quickly flattening her expression and then turning back ahead. “Save your praise, whelp. There are still more monsters to attend to.”

As she said, there were. Enough that they found it more efficient to split up to deal with them. The moment one received a Falna their baseline abilities effectively became well above their kin. And as their Levels went up and they grew closer to the divine, that difference in ability would only grow further.

Lefiya sighed as she watched a monster in front of her turn to dust that scattered in the wind. There was no need to collect the magic stones so she had purposefully targeted them to avoid leaving the corpses in this serene and beautiful forest. Then she took a moment to just look around for any remnants and found there were none to be had.

“I suppose I should head back now to report I’m done…” She trailed off as the flicker of the green caught the corner of her eyes. She turned her azure gaze towards the hue and found the curious little spirit there, fluttering around her once more. “Ah, you’re back?”

The Wind Spirit, as she guessed, bobbed around her back and forth. It circled her as if taking in her shape and figure, though it lacked eyes as far as she could tell. Such things were not necessary, and yet it responded to her motions with caution.

“It was little ones like you that the ancient mages drew their blessings from, wasn’t it?”

There were greater Spirits, like Aria according to the tales. Those that fought alongside and aided heroes of the past. If she had to guess, the little one here only possessed a fragment of such power. The easiest comparison would be how one of the monsters here had magic stones compared to an Apex like the Goliath.

But her ancestors drew their wisdom from the smaller ones. Though they lacked in what one would consider sapience, their words could reach them. Their pleas for their knowledge, a pledge of friendship for the wisdom. And… if even a Half-Elf like Fina could gain Magic from them back then…

Couldn’t she do the same?

Licking her lips as she considered that prospect, Lefiya took a deep breath before placing her hand on her chest and fixating her attention on the curious little Wind Spirit flittering around her. Her mouth moved and from her throat emerged the Elven tongue of eld as she allowed magical energy to leak from her body. “<I beseech, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled—>”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

The voice stifled her own as Lefiya jumped in place. The motion started the Wind Spirit into flittering away as she spun around to see the diminutive Elder Elf standing there. “Lady Lilo!”

She bit down on her thumb lightly as she mumbled, “To think that arrogant rapscallion would go so far as to teach a whelp the ancient pledge. Just how much further will she trample on our traditions!”

This is bad. Even full-blooded Elves of her standing weren’t supposed to be aware of that pledge. Let alone a Half-Elf like her. The natural conclusion was that, as Lady Riveria’s successor, she had been given it willingly. It may have even made it seem like the purpose of them coming here was for that reason.

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo!” Taking a pose of supplication, Lefiya begged for her forgiveness as she at least tried to absolve her mentor of accountability. “Even if I may sound unbelievable, I discover the pledge along with the rites on my own and acted out of my own initiative and curiosity. I will accept any punishment you deem fit, but please do not lay the blame on Lady Riviera. She really does only want the Spirit Festival to go undisturbed.”

She could feel the weight of the Elder’s gaze on her even as she kept her head low.

“Even if I believe that you speak the truth, the fact that you managed to do so without her knowledge is a failure on her part,” she said. “It would have been more acceptable if she had taught you that merely chanting the words will not reach the Spirits. The fact that she didn’t leaves me only to question her qualifications as a mentor and claim of you to be our future.”

It was a barb at Lady Riveria, even when she had taken the blame. Any other Elf would have gladly settled for her being responsible, a Half-Elf taking advantage of the situation to get ahead. There were those who she knew already considered her as such, even citing her ability to use the Magic of other Elves as theft that went beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable. That was why she only used the spells she had been given permission for and been personally taught.

Yet the Elder seemed so determined to fixate on the Royal Elf as being responsible for everything. It just didn’t make sense as Lefiya raised her head and spoke. “…I will take full responsibility for my actions. However, if I may ask, Lady Lilo…. why it is that you dislike Lady Riveria so?”

The diminutive Elder Elf gave her a flat stare for a very pregnant pause. Then she asked a simple question. “How old are you, child?”

“Fifteen as of this year, Elder.”

Her expression soured. “That’s barely out of the crib. Even the others are no different than toddlers from my point of view. So can you imagine what it feels like to hear about whelps your age throwing themselves into the Abyss that gives birth to calamities needlessly? All because a slightly older brat of royal blood forgot her role and decided she wished to venture forth into danger?”

“But if we don’t cull the monsters then they’ll eventually come out to the surface,” Lefiya began. “Orario was made for that purpose, to avoid those dark times from resurfacing when horrible monsters ran free and uncontrolled.”

The Elder Elf’s rebuttal was instant. “Are there not others who do not have the blood of our dying race to do so? Are there not the Gods who watch as you lose your lives for amusement? Why must our numbers that are already so thin be diminished further when they walk the same earth as us?”

Lefiya was taken aback by how sharp her voice had become. The glare of her teal eyes had become a lot firmer. “Ah… that’s—”

“Our kind’s birthrate has always been low,” Lady Lilo continued before she could say anything else. “Monsters reduced those further until we were on the brink. If not for the Spirits, we would not have had the means of defending ourselves until the Age of the Gods. Even then, after more than a thousand years, our numbers are nowhere near what they were before. Yet we persevered so far by staying in our forests even as the world around us changed.”

The Age of the Heroes had ended when the Age of the Gods had begun. They descended to the Lower World and established Familia, which gave the races of the time the ability to fight back without relying on Spirits. Then the divine placed a seal on upon the entrance to the Dungeon and bottled it up.

“But now, once more our numbers have begun to dwindle faster than we can be born. Rakia, burning our homes down with those damnable magic swords—turning the blessings of the Spirits against us. Royalty fleeing her forest to put herself headfirst into danger, encouraging so many of our own to do the same without regard for how their spirits would be broken if she perished from her rebellious phase. Worse, more of our numbers sought to emulate her and died before they even made it to their first century and passed on our bloodline.”

She slammed the butt of her staff into the ground. “You, our future?” You aren’t even a quarter of her age and yet you also willingly dive into that Abyss so often and take such foolish risks as attempting to obtain our Magic without the full understanding. How long before death claims you too? Then who will be our future? The next whelp she manages to keep alive for a few years?”

The expression of anger startled the Half-Elf. But only for a moment. Because she recognized the source of that anger in how she had been with her brother and his foolishness. That chastisement of one’s action for endangering herself. “…I understand now, Lady Lilo.”

“What are you on about?” demanded the Elder Elf.

Lefiya found it in herself to smile softly. “Your anger for Lady Riveria is because you grieve for all those Elves who have died before their time. Those who die before they can bear witness to our traditions and inherit the knowledge of our ancestors. Even those like myself are no exception, are they?”

“Half-Man. Half-Elf. Those things do not matter to the Spirits and so they do not matter to me,” the Elder Elf said. “What does matter is that you are an Elven child—a stupid child playing with things they do not comprehend and risking their lives needlessly, but an Elven child all the same that at least speaks the eld tongue when some of the whelps I call kin do not.”

For one who has lived long enough to be considered an Elder of their race, she had seen more deaths of her kin than one could count. Though those dark ages of the past had long ended, the scars remained to this day. The devastation was especially impactful for them, whose longevity was mitigated by the effort it took to conceive a child.

Despite Miss Ryuu and Filvis being a few years older than Lefiya herself, they were simply really powerful children to someone like her. Children who hadn’t even truly lived long enough to experience the Spirit Festival or any other traditions that would be upheld with more than a decade or two in-between. Anything that endangered children brought into this world would be something that would naturally offend someone who constantly worried about the future of their race—such as becoming an Adventurer.

…You really are kind, Lady Lilo.”

The diminutive Elder’s face turned red, her lower lip scrunching up while her cheeks bulged. Then turned away and slammed the butt of her staff onto the ground. “Silence, whelp. Follow me back to the others without a word and I will overlook what you were doing here once and only once.”

[-Later That Evening-]

Night fell upon the forest and with it raised the curtain of the Spirit Festival.

The sun’s bright rays were replaced by the slivers of moonlight that peeked through the openings in the dark canopy. The silvery rays were padded out by dozens upon dozens of little lights that filled the center of the village. The High Elves mingled with the Spirits, dancing with them while sounds of laughter and cheer rang out.

The Royal Elf only sighed at the sight. “How ironic that most Elves hold disdain for the Gods after their descent for not being in the image that they imagined, yet they love the children most favored by those same Gods.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that. “What do you mean, Lady Riveria?”

Jade hair shifted as the Nine Hells shook her head. “Just a memory. For the moment, you should all enjoy the festival.”

“I will remain vigilant and check the outskirts of the plaza, Lady Riveria,” Miss Ryuu said with her wooden sword sheathed on the side of her belt. “The number of monsters that were in the forest has left me feeling uneasy. If something were to happen now…”

She regarded her with a single opened eye before speaking from her experience as an Adventurer. “You may have a point. I’ll go speak with the Elder while the others are busy entertaining themselves.”

Filvis stood at attention next to Lefiya at that. “If that’s the case, then we will—”

“No,” the Royal Elf insisted. “Escorting me was your duty, but now the two of us are acting out of what may very well be paranoia. You should both take the time to enjoy the festivities and unwind.”

That said, the two split apart at a casual pace. Lefiya could only assume it was done to avoid tipping anyone else off that something might be amiss. It really might be nothing in the end, so there was no sense in riling everyone else up.

“Is there a reason that Elf keeps looking towards you, Viridis?” Filvis asked her after a minute of nervous silence while Lefiya attempted to act natural.

She glanced around at that. “You mean the Elder? I kind of made her mad earlier, so she might be keeping an eye on me.”

The Elven Magic Swordsman’s brows furrowed at her. “Not her, but what exactly did you do to earn her ire if that were the case?”

She waved it off with a nervous laugh. “It’s nothing, really. And why have you stopped calling me by my name, Filvis? We’re alone.”

“I… don’t think that I should anymore,” she muttered. “Forgive me.”

Lefiya frowned softly. “Is this about the Unicorns?”

After she had been escorted back to the others, Lady Lilo had wanted to extend the duties that she put Lady Riveria through by gathering up Unicorns for the Spirit Festival. They came to her as if they were drawn in by her mere presence, a sight right out of a fairy tale. But when Filvis attempted to approach one it fled from her.

It appeared that weighed on her mind even now.

Lefiya regarded her dear companion’s melancholy with a heavy heart. She hated seeing her like this. Especially when she knew a smile suited her so much more. Even the memory of the first time that she smiled back in the Dungeon still moved the Half-Elf’s heart and brought warmth to her face.

“Right then…” Her decision made, Lefiya grasped Filvis by the hand with a smile on her face. “Let’s dance as well.”

“Eh… ah…” It was cute how she could face down monsters so readily in the Dungeon as a vanguard but grew flustered when the Half-Elf was close. Her cheeks were painted a rosy hue and her eyes were wide. “N-No, I shouldn’t. I’m not pure—”

“If we’re in a place like a fairy tale then we should act the part.” Her second hand reached for Filvis’s own and entwined those lithe fingers before pulling her close. Lefiya took the lead in the dance as they grew closer to the Spirits. The air itself seemed to be filled with a refreshing aura about it as the colors swayed in mesmerizing motions, the light from them reflecting in their gaze as azure eyes remained fixed onto crimson.

“You’re really good at dancing,” Lefiya said in the midst of their motions. The atmosphere was so serene and enchanting that she felt herself being swept up, her inhibitions lowering just for a moment.  “And these clothes really suit you. I’m happy I had the chance to see you in them.”

Ah…”  Filvis remained flustered with her cheeks rosy while matching her partner’s steps, a slight hitch in her throat as she swallowed. “I… I feel the same… Lefiya.”

Hearing her name brought a smile to the Half-Elf’s lips. Then she noticed how those beautiful eyes fell just a slight bit lower towards them and she felt her pulse began to through their connected hands. She tightened her grasp just enough to feel it even more as she moved her face just a little closer to where she could feel the older girl’s breath delicately washing against her skin.

Then, in a voice as soft and smooth as velvet, she spoke asked. “Do you really?

The bright red in Filvis cheeks spread to every inch of her face. Her lips parted inadvertently while a heavy, staggered breath escaped. Tremors ran throughout her body as her fingers grew tenser around Lefiya’s slender digits. “I-I…

Then a green light was cast over them. It drew Lefiya’s eyes to the side where she spotted the little Wind Spirit from before. It was once more fluttering around her, closer than the last few times. Was it due to how the others were around the other Elves?

Haaaaahhh…” The sound of a held breath escaping from Filvis’ mouth drew azure eyes back to the other girl. She had her head turned to the side, panting as though she needed to catch her breath. Her fingers escaped from Lefiya’s and she brought them to her chest before she turned away. “Forgive me. I-I need a moment.”

“Of course…” Lefiya masked her conflicting feelings of disappointment and satisfaction as her partner began to walk off. The green dancing light seemed rather eager to take her place, rotating about in the same motions they had been. “You really are a curious little one, aren’t you?”.

She humored it for a moment until the presence of Magic stirred on her senses. Familiar Magic at that. Her senses immediately sharpened towards the source, Lady Riveria, and her ears caught the spell on her lips even before the magic circle finished spreading out. “—Alf! Via Shilheim!

Pale green light wove an ethereal barrier around the dancing Elves, a glimmering dome that overcast them as black darts slammed against it a moment later. Danger-sharpened eyes pegged them for what they were, arrows fired to pepper the dancers before they knew what happened. Forest’s Teardrop was immediately in Lefiya’s hand with a practiced motion as the sound of shouts and footfalls reached her ears just beneath the unsheathing of Filvis’ short sword.

They were under attack.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 7 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 7: The Spirit Festival

I watched as Mother weaved a spell in front of my eyes and spoke words lovingly on her lips while her fingers hovered over Father’s hand, injured and bleeding. The light enclosed the wound and knitted it shut as the two never broke their gaze. It was at that moment that I felt my blood stir and wanted to perform Magic, asking Mother to teach me.

One day, she promised. One day, when we can head to a place where Spirits rest. But until then I will teach you the pledge of our kin—passed down from parent to child.

— 7th Month of Year XXXX

[-|-|-|-]

“I didn’t expect monsters to be here, of all places.”

When they were told it would be an escort mission to what was supposedly a fairy tale village, Lefiya had not expected that they would be forced to put down monsters. While it was true that monsters could be found nearly everywhere in the world from ancient times, before Babel had been created to serve as a lid on the Dungeon, somehow the notion of them being here hadn’t crossed her mind. It somewhat ruined the immersion.

“Do you not have to constantly deal with the creatures in the Abyss?” asked a voice that was more youthful than it had any right to be. “Their presence should be second nature to you whelps by now.”

It also turned out the Elder was a child. Or at least had the appearance of one to where you might believe her to be a Half-Elf, Half-Pallum. Not that such a thing was possible.

She had sandy blonde hair that was crowned with a wreath of the local flora. Her teal eyes were seemingly fixed into a flat stare. Her white robe was hemmed in green hues and the staff she bore was partially wrought wood that held within it what was presumed to be a natural gemstone.

And even more seemingly impossible was her clear disdain for Lady Riveria, going so far as to refer to her as a tomboy and a rapscallion.

It was so disrespectful that it caught Lefiya and the others by surprise. But Riveria seemed to not mind. If anything, she seemed to respond to her with greater comfort than accepting the supplications of the other High Elves even as they pressured the Elder into allowing her to participate due to her magical prowess.

Hence why they were killing monsters. Since no one could object to Lady Riveria’s magical ability, she had decided to put them to work instead to earn their right to participate. And that involved removing monsters that had somehow wandered into the forest.

“Though they were weak, they came out in such large numbers,” Miss Ryuu pointed out. Monsters on the surface multiplied by duplicating their magic stones and so they also divided their strength—quantity over quality. For Adventurers of the group’s collective Levels it was easy to deal with them, but they were still more than capable of being a threat to ordinary folks.

Lady Riveria agreed as she addressed the Elder. “Do they normally appear in such numbers?”

“Occasionally the foul creatures do slip by the wards of the forest, but this is the first time I’ve seen this many in all my time living here,” admitted the Elder Elf. “Even so, we are capable of using Magic to defend ourselves against monsters of this caliber. If not for your arrival I would have finished removing them, but since you are all such capable adventurers there is no need for me to do so. They will serve as your contribution to earn your right to participate in the Spirit Festival.”

She’s not even attempting to hide the sarcasm in her voice, Lefiya thought while a nervous chuckle escaped her lips. Even the other High Elves wouldn’t dare hold such a tone to her, but the Half-Elf could only assume that with age one had less need to feign fealty within their own forest. Lady Lilo must be more than a few centuries old. I’m kind of envious she still looks so young.

“We are grateful for the opportunity,” Riveria responded without missing a beat, her tone humble. “I am aware that our abrupt presence may have caused problems. If contributing in this manner eases your burden and ensures the festivities go well, it is the least we can do.”

“…Tch. Well, at least some manners were drilled into you.” She pouted like a child before she spun on her sandals and began to walk away. “Come. If you really want to ease my duties, then you can help elsewhere.”

Lefiya followed after her mentor along with the rest of the retinue when she felt a presence loitering just over her shoulder. She turned her head and found a floating wisp, a gathering of light and magic the hue of the wind—pale green. She sensed no hostility as it drifted over her with what felt like pure curiosity, similar to how a dog would sniff someone upon meeting them.

Her slender fingers reached out, only for it to drift further out of her reach hurriedly. It lingered there once she retracted her hand, keeping pace but ready to flee. It’s kind of adorable in its own way.

“That one is simply curious about your presence, but it is also skittish,” Lady Lilo said, looking over her shoulder. “Leave it be. Even weak spirits with no real sentience like it can injure a whelp like you before I can pacify them if you frighten or rile them.”

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said hurriedly. “I meant no disrespect to the Spirit.”

“You seem to have a firm understanding of its nature,” Riveria said as she followed behind her. “Is that the wisdom of your age?”

“Anyone could do so if they lived around them for long enough,” she said before raising her staff into the air towards it. The jewel within its core glimmered and the Spirit hurriedly drifted over to her. “They gather in the forest all times of the year, but during the Spirit Festival, their numbers swell as the Holy Tree bears its fruit. Some of the stronger ones with their own will and personalities show up as well, so to live here one needs to receive training on how to handle them.”

The little green light danced around her for a moment as she made motions with the staff. It was as if she was playing with it. Then she flicked her staff out and the glimmer within it went deeper into the forest like a shooting star.

The Spirit followed it eagerly, chasing after it.

“That’s amazing, Lady Lilo,” Lefiya said earnestly. “You really do know what placates them.”

The Elder bore a small smile before quickly flattening her expression and then turning back ahead. “Save your praise, whelp. There are still more monsters to attend to.”

As she said, there were. Enough that they found it more efficient to split up to deal with them. The moment one received a Falna their baseline abilities effectively became well above their kin. And as their Levels went up and they grew closer to the divine, that difference in ability would only grow further.

Lefiya sighed as she watched a monster in front of her turn to dust that scattered in the wind. There was no need to collect the magic stones so she had purposefully targeted them to avoid leaving the corpses in this serene and beautiful forest. Then she took a moment to just look around for any remnants and found there were none to be had.

“I suppose I should head back now to report I’m done…” She trailed off as the flicker of the green caught the corner of her eyes. She turned her azure gaze towards the hue and found the curious little spirit there, fluttering around her once more. “Ah, you’re back?”

The Wind Spirit, as she guessed, bobbed around her back and forth. It circled her as if taking in her shape and figure, though it lacked eyes as far as she could tell. Such things were not necessary, and yet it responded to her motions with caution.

“It was little ones like you that the ancient mages drew their blessings from, wasn’t it?”

There were greater Spirits, like Aria according to the tales. Those that fought alongside and aided heroes of the past. If she had to guess, the little one here only possessed a fragment of such power. The easiest comparison would be how one of the monsters here had magic stones compared to an Apex like the Goliath.

But her ancestors drew their wisdom from the smaller ones. Though they lacked in what one would consider sapience, their words could reach them. Their pleas for their knowledge, a pledge of friendship for the wisdom. And… if even a Half-Elf like Fina could gain Magic from them back then…

Couldn’t she do the same?

Licking her lips as she considered that prospect, Lefiya took a deep breath before placing her hand on her chest and fixating her attention on the curious little Wind Spirit flittering around her. Her mouth moved and from her throat emerged the Elven tongue of eld as she allowed magical energy to leak from her body. “<I beseech, o kin born of nature. By thy breath the world moves, its wisdom and grace instilled—>”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

The voice stifled her own as Lefiya jumped in place. The motion started the Wind Spirit into flittering away as she spun around to see the diminutive Elder Elf standing there. “Lady Lilo!”

She bit down on her thumb lightly as she mumbled, “To think that arrogant rapscallion would go so far as to teach a whelp the ancient pledge. Just how much further will she trample on our traditions!”

This is bad. Even full-blooded Elves of her standing weren’t supposed to be aware of that pledge. Let alone a Half-Elf like her. The natural conclusion was that, as Lady Riveria’s successor, she had been given it willingly. It may have even made it seem like the purpose of them coming here was for that reason.

“Forgive me, Lady Lilo!” Taking a pose of supplication, Lefiya begged for her forgiveness as she at least tried to absolve her mentor of accountability. “Even if I may sound unbelievable, I discover the pledge along with the rites on my own and acted out of my own initiative and curiosity. I will accept any punishment you deem fit, but please do not lay the blame on Lady Riviera. She really does only want the Spirit Festival to go undisturbed.”

She could feel the weight of the Elder’s gaze on her even as she kept her head low.

“Even if I believe that you speak the truth, the fact that you managed to do so without her knowledge is a failure on her part,” she said. “It would have been more acceptable if she had taught you that merely chanting the words will not reach the Spirits. The fact that she didn’t leaves me only to question her qualifications as a mentor and claim of you to be our future.”

It was a barb at Lady Riveria, even when she had taken the blame. Any other Elf would have gladly settled for her being responsible, a Half-Elf taking advantage of the situation to get ahead. There were those who she knew already considered her as such, even citing her ability to use the Magic of other Elves as theft that went beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable. That was why she only used the spells she had been given permission for and been personally taught.

Yet the Elder seemed so determined to fixate on the Royal Elf as being responsible for everything. It just didn’t make sense as Lefiya raised her head and spoke. “…I will take full responsibility for my actions. However, if I may ask, Lady Lilo…. why it is that you dislike Lady Riveria so?”

The diminutive Elder Elf gave her a flat stare for a very pregnant pause. Then she asked a simple question. “How old are you, child?”

“Fifteen as of this year, Elder.”

Her expression soured. “That’s barely out of the crib. Even the others are no different than toddlers from my point of view. So can you imagine what it feels like to hear about whelps your age throwing themselves into the Abyss that gives birth to calamities needlessly? All because a slightly older brat of royal blood forgot her role and decided she wished to venture forth into danger?”

“But if we don’t cull the monsters then they’ll eventually come out to the surface,” Lefiya began. “Orario was made for that purpose, to avoid those dark times from resurfacing when horrible monsters ran free and uncontrolled.”

The Elder Elf’s rebuttal was instant. “Are there not others who do not have the blood of our dying race to do so? Are there not the Gods who watch as you lose your lives for amusement? Why must our numbers that are already so thin be diminished further when they walk the same earth as us?”

Lefiya was taken aback by how sharp her voice had become. The glare of her teal eyes had become a lot firmer. “Ah… that’s—”

“Our kind’s birthrate has always been low,” Lady Lilo continued before she could say anything else. “Monsters reduced those further until we were on the brink. If not for the Spirits, we would not have had the means of defending ourselves until the Age of the Gods. Even then, after more than a thousand years, our numbers are nowhere near what they were before. Yet we persevered so far by staying in our forests even as the world around us changed.”

The Age of the Heroes had ended when the Age of the Gods had begun. They descended to the Lower World and established Familia, which gave the races of the time the ability to fight back without relying on Spirits. Then the divine placed a seal on upon the entrance to the Dungeon and bottled it up.

“But now, once more our numbers have begun to dwindle faster than we can be born. Rakia, burning our homes down with those damnable magic swords—turning the blessings of the Spirits against us. Royalty fleeing her forest to put herself headfirst into danger, encouraging so many of our own to do the same without regard for how their spirits would be broken if she perished from her rebellious phase. Worse, more of our numbers sought to emulate her and died before they even made it to their first century and passed on our bloodline.”

She slammed the butt of her staff into the ground. “You, our future?” You aren’t even a quarter of her age and yet you also willingly dive into that Abyss so often and take such foolish risks as attempting to obtain our Magic without the full understanding. How long before death claims you too? Then who will be our future? The next whelp she manages to keep alive for a few years?”

The expression of anger startled the Half-Elf. But only for a moment. Because she recognized the source of that anger in how she had been with her brother and his foolishness. That chastisement of one’s action for endangering herself. “…I understand now, Lady Lilo.”

“What are you on about?” demanded the Elder Elf.

Lefiya found it in herself to smile softly. “Your anger for Lady Riveria is because you grieve for all those Elves who have died before their time. Those who die before they can bear witness to our traditions and inherit the knowledge of our ancestors. Even those like myself are no exception, are they?”

“Half-Man. Half-Elf. Those things do not matter to the Spirits and so they do not matter to me,” the Elder Elf said. “What does matter is that you are an Elven child—a stupid child playing with things they do not comprehend and risking their lives needlessly, but an Elven child all the same that at least speaks the eld tongue when some of the whelps I call kin do not.”

For one who has lived long enough to be considered an Elder of their race, she had seen more deaths of her kin than one could count. Though those dark ages of the past had long ended, the scars remained to this day. The devastation was especially impactful for them, whose longevity was mitigated by the effort it took to conceive a child.

Despite Miss Ryuu and Filvis being a few years older than Lefiya herself, they were simply really powerful children to someone like her. Children who hadn’t even truly lived long enough to experience the Spirit Festival or any other traditions that would be upheld with more than a decade or two in-between. Anything that endangered children brought into this world would be something that would naturally offend someone who constantly worried about the future of their race—such as becoming an Adventurer.

…You really are kind, Lady Lilo.”

The diminutive Elder’s face turned red, her lower lip scrunching up while her cheeks bulged. Then turned away and slammed the butt of her staff onto the ground. “Silence, whelp. Follow me back to the others without a word and I will overlook what you were doing here once and only once.”

[-Later That Evening-]

Night fell upon the forest and with it raised the curtain of the Spirit Festival.

The sun’s bright rays were replaced by the slivers of moonlight that peeked through the openings in the dark canopy. The silvery rays were padded out by dozens upon dozens of little lights that filled the center of the village. The High Elves mingled with the Spirits, dancing with them while sounds of laughter and cheer rang out.

The Royal Elf only sighed at the sight. “How ironic that most Elves hold disdain for the Gods after their descent for not being in the image that they imagined, yet they love the children most favored by those same Gods.”

Lefiya tilted her head at that. “What do you mean, Lady Riveria?”

Jade hair shifted as the Nine Hells shook her head. “Just a memory. For the moment, you should all enjoy the festival.”

“I will remain vigilant and check the outskirts of the plaza, Lady Riveria,” Miss Ryuu said with her wooden sword sheathed on the side of her belt. “The number of monsters that were in the forest has left me feeling uneasy. If something were to happen now…”

She regarded her with a single opened eye before speaking from her experience as an Adventurer. “You may have a point. I’ll go speak with the Elder while the others are busy entertaining themselves.”

Filvis stood at attention next to Lefiya at that. “If that’s the case, then we will—”

“No,” the Royal Elf insisted. “Escorting me was your duty, but now the two of us are acting out of what may very well be paranoia. You should both take the time to enjoy the festivities and unwind.”

That said, the two split apart at a casual pace. Lefiya could only assume it was done to avoid tipping anyone else off that something might be amiss. It really might be nothing in the end, so there was no sense in riling everyone else up.

“Is there a reason that Elf keeps looking towards you, Viridis?” Filvis asked her after a minute of nervous silence while Lefiya attempted to act natural.

She glanced around at that. “You mean the Elder? I kind of made her mad earlier, so she might be keeping an eye on me.”

The Elven Magic Swordsman’s brows furrowed at her. “Not her, but what exactly did you do to earn her ire if that were the case?”

She waved it off with a nervous laugh. “It’s nothing, really. And why have you stopped calling me by my name, Filvis? We’re alone.”

“I… don’t think that I should anymore,” she muttered. “Forgive me.”

Lefiya frowned softly. “Is this about the Unicorns?”

After she had been escorted back to the others, Lady Lilo had wanted to extend the duties that she put Lady Riveria through by gathering up Unicorns for the Spirit Festival. They came to her as if they were drawn in by her mere presence, a sight right out of a fairy tale. But when Filvis attempted to approach one it fled from her.

It appeared that weighed on her mind even now.

Lefiya regarded her dear companion’s melancholy with a heavy heart. She hated seeing her like this. Especially when she knew a smile suited her so much more. Even the memory of the first time that she smiled back in the Dungeon still moved the Half-Elf’s heart and brought warmth to her face.

“Right then…” Her decision made, Lefiya grasped Filvis by the hand with a smile on her face. “Let’s dance as well.”

“Eh… ah…” It was cute how she could face down monsters so readily in the Dungeon as a vanguard but grew flustered when the Half-Elf was close. Her cheeks were painted a rosy hue and her eyes were wide. “N-No, I shouldn’t. I’m not pure—”

“If we’re in a place like a fairy tale then we should act the part.” Her second hand reached for Filvis’s own and entwined those lithe fingers before pulling her close. Lefiya took the lead in the dance as they grew closer to the Spirits. The air itself seemed to be filled with a refreshing aura about it as the colors swayed in mesmerizing motions, the light from them reflecting in their gaze as azure eyes remained fixed onto crimson.

“You’re really good at dancing,” Lefiya said in the midst of their motions. The atmosphere was so serene and enchanting that she felt herself being swept up, her inhibitions lowering just for a moment.  “And these clothes really suit you. I’m happy I had the chance to see you in them.”

Ah…”  Filvis remained flustered with her cheeks rosy while matching her partner’s steps, a slight hitch in her throat as she swallowed. “I… I feel the same… Lefiya.”

Hearing her name brought a smile to the Half-Elf’s lips. Then she noticed how those beautiful eyes fell just a slight bit lower towards them and she felt her pulse began to through their connected hands. She tightened her grasp just enough to feel it even more as she moved her face just a little closer to where she could feel the older girl’s breath delicately washing against her skin.

Then, in a voice as soft and smooth as velvet, she spoke asked. “Do you really?

The bright red in Filvis cheeks spread to every inch of her face. Her lips parted inadvertently while a heavy, staggered breath escaped. Tremors ran throughout her body as her fingers grew tenser around Lefiya’s slender digits. “I-I…

Then a green light was cast over them. It drew Lefiya’s eyes to the side where she spotted the little Wind Spirit from before. It was once more fluttering around her, closer than the last few times. Was it due to how the others were around the other Elves?

Haaaaahhh…” The sound of a held breath escaping from Filvis’ mouth drew azure eyes back to the other girl. She had her head turned to the side, panting as though she needed to catch her breath. Her fingers escaped from Lefiya’s and she brought them to her chest before she turned away. “Forgive me. I-I need a moment.”

“Of course…” Lefiya masked her conflicting feelings of disappointment and satisfaction as her partner began to walk off. The green dancing light seemed rather eager to take her place, rotating about in the same motions they had been. “You really are a curious little one, aren’t you?”.

She humored it for a moment until the presence of Magic stirred on her senses. Familiar Magic at that. Her senses immediately sharpened towards the source, Lady Riveria, and her ears caught the spell on her lips even before the magic circle finished spreading out. “—Alf! Via Shilheim!

Pale green light wove an ethereal barrier around the dancing Elves, a glimmering dome that overcast them as black darts slammed against it a moment later. Danger-sharpened eyes pegged them for what they were, arrows fired to pepper the dancers before they knew what happened. Forest’s Teardrop was immediately in Lefiya’s hand with a practiced motion as the sound of shouts and footfalls reached her ears just beneath the unsheathing of Filvis’ short sword.

They were under attack.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 6 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 6: The Spirit Village

My dearest brother has finally departed the stage and gone beyond the curtain of the heavens to have his play for their rulers judged. I am certain that it will be met with applause and that he be crowned with a wreath of ivy for his performance. Yet, as our comrades spread his comedy around the land to inspire hope for heroes to come, I wish to preserve his performance as one who viewed it from the skene.

Thus, I pen this memoir of my life from birth to the final moments I spent watching over my beloved brother, Argo.”

—Fina of Elcos

-|-|-|-

“Is this the Spirit Forest?”

That question broached the silence that had until then been padded out with the whistle of the wind that billowed against the ears of the Half-Elven Mage until just a moment ago. It was a bright and clear day, unblemished barring the scant white clouds that were haphazardly scattered across the endless canvas that was the sky. They had just finished soaring in that endless road and come to a gentle landing on the outskirts of a forest, whose trees seemed to stand as ever-vigilant sentinels as they marked a border between the outside world and all that lay within.

“That right,” said the one leading the group of four as she lowered her aerial mount, one of the tamed monsters of the Ganesha Familia that they had borrowed for the journey. “The village is deep within, so we’ll be going on foot the rest of the way.”

With regal jade hair that flowed down her back and crowned by a tiara of unblemished silver adorned with a precious gem, the High Elf of Royal Blood deigned to dismount her airborne steed as she graced the grasslands with presence. And as if the grasslands were rejoicing the wind blew and the long blades shuddered in applause. The very earth seemed to rejoice as she stood there and cried out:

Here stands upon us non-other than she who bore the title of Nine Hells.

Here stands the strongest of the Elven Adventurers alive.

Here stands she of regal, royal blood.

Here stands Riveria Ljos Alf.

Even Lefiya seemed taken by her beauty as she tenderly caressed said beast on its snout. No Elf wouldn’t. Such was the magnificence of her lineage that the eyes were drawn to her regardless of one’s gender or station. Even some Goddesses could never compare to her.

“You can go ahead,” she said to it in a gentle tone. “I’ll call for you when we’re done.”

Said monster took flight at her beckoning, to be joined by the other three as the rest of the group dismounted. They possessed heightened hearing and were trained to respond to the sound of a whistle produced by the goldsmiths of the Ganesha Familia, which daintily hung around each of their necks. Once they were done with the Spirit Festival they would fly them back to Orario.

She truly is amazing,” said a hushed whisper that barely reached the Half-Elf Mage’s ears. She turned to see her dear companion Filvis standing in awe of Lady Riveria, a respectful distance away from both the High Elf and Lefiya herself. “I am unworthy to be in her presence.

Filvis had forgone her pure-white outfit that had its edges marked by light-blue boundaries for one more suitable as a retainer of the royal family. The half-cloak and cuffs had deep-blue hues with gold edges while the torso framed them in a white short skirt. Her arms and legs were clad in dark fabric and gloves, and her raven-black hair was adorned with a golden headband that had a single feather bound to it while her blade was nestled on the back of her waist, partially obscured by her waist-length hair.

The Elven Magic Swordsman looked absolutely lovely. But it hadn’t escaped Lefiya’s notice that even when they would be in the presence of other Elves, she still wore gloves to ensure her fingers would not touch their skin. And she refused to come much closer to either of them unless necessary.

She spun on her heels and marched towards her to correct that, clasping her hands so abruptly that Filvis seemed shocked. “Eh… Viridis…?”

Lefiya remained silent as she folded her lips into a frown and just stared into her deep red eyes. Unlike her brother’s eyes that had a lighter hue, hers were deep and dark. But they were beautiful all the same as she kept her gaze firm to drive the unspoken message into her mind.

You are not sullied. You are one of us. Don’t run away from us.

Don’t run from me.

The message carried as the Elven Magic Swordsman relented after a moment and whispered under her breath. “I understand, Lefiya…

That coaxed a smile out of her. “Then go ahead with Lady Riviera. You and Miss Ryu are going to be our vanguards, right?”

“R-Right…” She held her gloved hand preciously once Lefiya released her before slowly making her way towards the royalty they were supposed to be protecting. The crimson blush across her cheeks complimented her eyes nicely.

“The incident that scarred her heart must have been truly grievous to have left her in such a state,” came from next to Lefiya before she realized it. She twisted her head around so quickly it might have snapped if she had gone any faster to see the Elven Warrior from the 18th Floor standing there. It was only last night that they had been somewhat formally introduced. “She is lucky to have a friend such as you.”

I didn’t even hear her move, Lefiya noted before taking a step back and recalling her manners. “We were in such a rush before to get here that I never got a chance to thank you for everything you did.”

She faced the woman with her knees bent outward and one foot behind her, fingers delicately holding out the skirt of her clothing that had been provided for her by her mentor. Then she gave a slight bow of her head as she expressed her heartfelt thanks. “You have my sincere gratitude for saving that boy and I two nights ago. I know that most of our kind would not have gone so far that night for those such as ourselves, and I swear on my name of Viridis that I will repay that kindness someday, Miss Ryuu.”

Ryuu observed the gesture in silence for a moment. Then her expression shifted into a soft smile.  “I see why Lady Riveria covets you so dearly. It makes me happy to know that I saved an Elf like you.”

Lefiya’s head rose from its bow. “What do you mean?”

“Though you possess the pride of our race in everything from your clothes to your behavior, you carried that boy on your back and put yourself in front of those monsters to protect him without hesitation. And when I chastised him for his injuries as he laid unconscious, you took the blame without a second thought. Even in Orario and amongst other Adventurers, there are few of our kind who have recontextualized that which has been so thoroughly ingrained within our race into something that covers all of them.”

Elves were prideful—even those who were only half as such. Everyone understood that. Everyone accepted that because it was something that had been instilled in their race since the dawn of history. The wise race that remained sequestered in their forest to be pure and unsullied, remaining as such even as seasons changed and centuries passed.

To be unsullied ran so deeply as a custom that every aspect of their life was dictated by it. Everything in the world outside of their homes was impure and thus they often donned gloves and clad their skin from head-to-toe to avoid having it blemished by their surroundings. They would never even allow one who was not of their race to touch their bare skin without their consent.

That was why Elves were rare in a Familia. To devote oneself to their patron deity was to give consent, which was part of why she tolerated Lady Loki’s advances—as long as they didn’t go too far. But it gave partial consent to other members of the Familia as well, which not every Elf was capable of doing unless they were willing to be touched by different members of what many considered inferior races.

The fact that she let Bell touch her when they were not of the same race or Familia was significant for that reason. The fact that she bore him upon her bare back as her clothes melted away was significant to someone who didn’t know that they were family. As far as everyone else knew she had basically forgiven him for accidentally groping her and then all but gave her consent before running off together with him in the morning.

That was why those rumors took a bit of time to put down, even for the people who knew she was much more tolerant of others touching her because of her upbringing.

Raul is still a dead man when I get back, she set firmly into the back of her mind as Ryuu walked ahead to join Filvis in the front. Lefiya would remain behind her mentor in order to obstinately protect the rear, though it was largely only out of formality that they were bothering with the escort.  There was no one present more powerful than Lady Riveria, who was the pinnacle of Elven Mages alive.

“…Goodness, this is already tiresome,” spoke the Nine Hells as they began venturing towards the woodlands. Magic tinged the air even before they reached the first of the trees, an enchantment of some kind woven into them. “Being forced to walk in the center like I’m some princess that needs to be coddled at my age.”

A slight giggle slipped from Lefiya’s lips. “I know you dislike such treatment, but please bear with it for our sake, Lady Riveria.”

The Elven Mage gave her apprentice a side-glance. “You’re enjoying this far too much.”

“Well, I can’t really help but be a little excited. I grew up on Elven fairy tales like ‘The Greedy Girl and The Holy Tree.‘ Anyone my age would be happy to know that there was truth to the stories and want to see it for themselves.”

Her mother had often read her fairy tales related to their heritage. Among them was this story, a story about a girl who was so greedy that she wanted to pluck the stars from the heavens themselves. It was a cautionary tale, but also a romantic tale. She practically had the entire thing memorized at this point.

“I am honestly more surprised that such a tree and village exists,” Filvis stated as she trod the path ahead, eyes in front and alert for any danger. She would unsheathe her sword and stand ready to protect her charge at the first sign of trouble.

“That was the point.” The High Elf crossed her arms as she explained. “For those as long-lived as our race, things that we wish to hide from the outside world but remain unforgotten could easily be concealed within stories. For the members of the higher ranks of our society, knowledge of the village itself is known. After all, the Spirit Festival is an important celebration and has happened every thirty years for hundreds of years.”

“…Using the tale to hide the truth provides secrecy while ensuring that the knowledge remains to those who can discern the truth,” Ryuu said after a moment of silence to contemplate that. “Other races would have no reason to pursue an Elven tale and thus no reason to look for it. Children of lower standing would see it as a lesson to be remembered but nothing more, while those aware would remember to pay respect when the time of the Spirit Festival arrives. It accomplishes everything one could want in a single motion.”

“It also prevents any chance of an incident whereupon the Spirits could be so greatly offended that they take back their knowledge. It is only because our ancestors forged a friendship with them that our race was capable of using magic in the time before the Age of the Gods.”

“…You mean because of the rites that bestowed magic upon those who curry favor with the Spirits?” Lefiya asked cautiously.

She received a mild look from her mentor. “I’m surprised that you know of those.”

“I read about them in an old book,” was her answer.

It had been true as well, given that it was from the tome that Lord Hermes had gifted her. She had only gone through a handful of the pages in the time she had between getting back to their home, getting her Status updated, and then using her free day to go spend time with Filvis. They happened to stumble upon the request written in the old Elvish script during that time and ended up accompanying Lady Riveria and Miss Ryuu afterward.

But the pages she had gone through started with the youth of the Ancient Mage, Fina. It turned out that she was a Half-Elf, a rarity considering the customs and divide between the races as each struggled for survival. Her mother had apparently been an Elven Mage who had fallen in love with a Human but had to give up living in the forests that she called home once Fina had been conceived.

Lefiya felt… sad realizing the parallels between then and now. Even though more than a thousand years had passed, their union was still looked down upon. She could understand the feelings of that Ancient Mage, which was probably why she ended up developing her new Skill upon having her Status updated—Vow of Elcos.

It was apparently a Skill that Lady Loki had never heard of, meaning it was a Rare Skill. She hadn’t even heard of the name of Elcos, as it was a kingdom that Fina had lived in before the Age of the Gods. The rulers of the heavens only turned their attention fully to the lower plane sometime after it was destroyed by monsters—one of many forgotten kingdoms of no importance during those dark times.

Her brother, whom she penned her memoirs about, hadn’t been born yet from what Lefiya could tell. But considering how she described her parents’ relationship he was probably well on the way soon enough. It was a shame that there weren’t any tales of Half-Elven heroes among the fairy tales she was told by her mother, but their kind would never want to spread such stories since it encouraged the intermingling of races.

As for the Clown March, she could only speculate that it had something to do with her Familia. The Trickster could also be considered a Jester or Clown, and she was the Trickster Goddess. Since it didn’t have an Active Trigger, that meant it would be passive until the situation turned up and Loki wanted to experiment with it when they had a chance to see if it operated similar to how some of the others had Skills that boosted their attributes temporarily.

“Spirits of old were the ones who bestowed Magic upon our ancestors as a token of friendship,” Riveria began, as though starting an educational lecture. “At the dawn of the world, when monsters from the Dungeon spilled out freely, our ancestors beseeched their wisdom through certain rites and thus became capable of calling upon Magic that could fend them off. To this day it remains one of the few methods to obtain Magic without the Falna—often only taught to the nobility of our race and the Royal Family in lieu of receiving the Grace of the divine.”

“I was unaware of that,” Filvis said with a hint of shame in her tone. Considering how she prided her Elven heritage it was something that she probably felt she should have known.

“There are a few reasons for that. The first being that Ancient Magic is largely inferior to either Acquired Magic or Congenital Magic manifested by the Falna and thus outdated. Since the Falna essentially tailors the Magic one receives through it for them, it reduces the risk of an Ignis Fatuus. And because the Magic comes about due to the Falna it can benefit from the Mage Developmental Ability.”

The Mage Developmental Ability was basically what determined whether or not one was simply using Magic or one was considered a Mage. It increased the efficiency of the spell cost, improved its range, and several other things that improved with its ranking. If one had to provide a comparison, Filvis was a Magic Swordsman because she possessed the Mage Developmental Ability, while Miss Ryuu was an Elven Warrior that simply knew Magic.

“Then you have to consider that one has to beseech the Spirit and earns its favor to gain the knowledge, much like only select few weavers receive the aid of Spirits to make Spirit Fabric. To this day only those such as members of the Royal Family, the Royal Knights, and those of high standing are graced with this knowledge and many do so by either calling upon a Spirit within their forest or such a gathering as the Spirit Festival. Others are not permitted to know, hence why I have not bothered teaching you them if you were curious. Your attention would be better spent elsewhere.”

I suppose Lord Hermes was unaware of that when he gave it to me. She was not of high standing and a Half-Elf at that. That knowledge would never be known to her under normal circumstances. She could only assume that he couldn’t read the language when he handed it to her given that those memoirs held some of that knowledge, taught from mother to her young daughter.

…Still, when her thoughts turned to those ancient mages, she imagined how difficult it must have been for them. Singing until their voices were hoarse and scraping together whatever they could in a bid to survive that harsh time. And she felt a kinship with them when she considered her own circumstances. “…Is it similar to receiving a Spirit’s Blood like Mister Crozzo?”

She had been surprised to learn there were people with the blood of Spirits within them. On the 18th Floor, not only had she learned that Miss Aiz was one such individual but one of Bell’s party members as well. That same blood made him capable of creating magic swords that had been used to devastating effect, apparently. It hadn’t affected her homeland so she had been ignorant of it.

The High Elf shook her head. “No. Spirits would offer their power to heroes of eld in different manners, via contracts. But doing so involved placing such a burden on the body that, for that power, they would pay with their life. Many great heroes from that age have perished at the end of their stories because of that. It is their descendants that inherit that blood and thus a mere portion of the original’s power.”

That made sense then. He had mentioned that his ability was simply a byproduct of having a direct connection with a Spirit. It was most likely the same for Miss Aiz as well. Yet, even after centuries, it was still enough that it made them both capable of so much—inherited gifts from great ancestors.

“…Forgive me if I speak out of turn, but I suggest you not bring up that name again, Miss Viridis,” Miss Ryuu said in a serious tone. “That boy has not done anything to warrant the grudge Elvenkind has against his family, but it will still be weighed against him. Should others of high standing learn that he still possesses the power to make the same weapons that fueled the destruction of so many forests that both Elves and Spirits called home, he will most likely be targeted to prevent the bloodline from being rekindled.”

Her blood froze. “You… you don’t mean they would…

“Assassinate him,” Riveria agreed without any hesitation. “I do not know why the ability was manifested within him when his predecessors had lost it for their actions, but it is by the protection of his Familia, Orario itself, and the fact that many believe that the blood has been purged from their lineage that he likely hasn’t been targeted yet. Speak carelessly of it in the presence of my kin and his blood will be on your hands.”

Her chest felt heavy. Her curiosity had nearly signed the death of one of her brother’s friends without even realizing it. “I’m sorry. I truly am.”

“It would be best if we all kept silent from now on,” her mentor suggested. “We don’t want to offend the Spirits by accident. I’ll give instructions so we don’t get lost, but other than that keep the discussion to a minimum until we reach the village.”

The suggestion was taken as an order, given the topic prior was so heavy that it killed the conversation. The moment they stepped past the trees the magic threading the entire area was palpable. She could only assume it was the presence of the Spirits that had been mentioned, so great in number that it could be felt.

And when they arrived their breaths were stolen.

Dappled sunlight peeked through the breaks in the canopy woven of verdant green leaves, rays of light bathing the village that seemed sewn into the trees themselves. Crystalline, pure water flowed through a babbling brook that fed into the center of the village. And it was there that laid a massive, majestic tree that seemed to brim with magical power.

Elves quickly took notice of them. They looked different from others of their race that Lefiya had encountered, which she learned was because they were of the High Elf lineage. They were essentially next to the Royal Family in terms of pedigree, each from different forests that remained.

Unfortunately, they weren’t so different from others once their gazes drifted from Lady Riveria onto her retainers. “Forgive me, Lady Riveria. But why have you only been accompanied by barbarous adventurers and a Half-Man to our village?”

“Yes. One of such radiance as yourself should be in the company of the Royal Knights. Surely they would have come in force had they known of your attendance?”

I suppose some things never change, Lefiya thought to herself bitterly as she kept her expression neutral. She had expected it the moment that she saw that look in the Guild Leader’s eyes when his gaze fell onto her ears and said he supposed it would be fine that she went as Riveria’s apprentice. He had been saying that if the alternative was no Elf, then half of one was the best he could manage.

That being said, at least he had the decency to not voice it aloud. Even others in Orario attempted to speak in hushed whispers when they thought she couldn’t hear them, which grew increasingly difficult as the more you leveled the more your senses sharpened. She could only assume it was because they dwelled within the heart of their forests and were so unused to Adventurers that they didn’t know any better.

Miss Ryuu herself seemed unbothered by it visibly, although the air around her felt different. Then she saw Filvis trembling slightly in place. Her beautiful red eyes were narrowed and cold in a way that didn’t suit her, and her gloved hands were balled into fists.

Lefiya clandestinely reached over and brushed her fingers over her dear friend’s knuckles, drawing her gaze as she slightly shook her head. They were here as part of Lady Riveria’s retinue. They had to mind their manners and words as they were representative of her as well. Even if their anger was justified, and they were more than capable of silencing them, they had to keep it to themselves as to not reflect badly upon royalty.

“…Speak that way again of my retinue and you will have offended me in ways that are unforgivable, Elf.” In a voice that was as cold and quiet as falling snow amidst the moonlight, Lady Riveria spoke. It was not her usual tone, but it held within it the tenor of authority that dared one to speak against it. “Have you forgotten that I am also one of those barbarous adventurers?

Though her expression was masked in neutrality, one could feel that the air had shifted. Whereas before Lady Riveria had tolerated their supplication, despite not having any desire to be treated in such a manner, it was clear now that she had deemed their words offensive enough to merit her intervention. And when royalty was offended there would be consequences.

“Not only are they my comrade in arms, but the Elf that you referred to as Half-Man happens to be my successor. A child of Wishe graced with the title of ‘Thousand Elf’ for her ability to command the Magic of Elvenkind through the same Grace that I have received and by her own efforts and merits. In her, I see the embodiment of the magical heritage of our dying race and the one that will carry it into the future along with our traditions and culture. So for you to deem her as lesser than one of our own is unacceptable. Do you understand me?”

“M-My apologies, Lady Riviera!” quickly begged the High Elf. “I spoke only out of concern for your safety. If they were chosen by you then each must have the worth of a dozen Royal Knights!”

Another joined him. “Forgive us for not considering the talent found in the Elven blood flowing through her. Only one such as yourself would have the foresight and wisdom to take notice of it at first glance. Truly, you are as the rumors say!”

They were all meaningless words. Mere platitudes being offered up to royalty to avoid incurring her ire. Backhanded apologies that dismissed half of her heritage while praising the part they only acknowledged to appease the Nine Hells.

Lady Riveria didn’t even pretend to entertain them before she turned away from them and spoke to the party. “Let us find the one responsible for the Spirit Festival before my patience runs thin…”

Likewise, Lefiya failed to notice one High Elf in particular took interest in her as she followed her mentor in silence.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 5 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 5: The End of the Opening Act

Mmmlast night was so hectic,” Lefiya said in a soft, somewhat sleepy tone as she proceeded through the line of trees within the 18th Floor. The next day had come and they had some time before they began their ascent back to the surface, so she was in the process of heading to Rivira to find some new boots for her brother. “The Captain scolded me, you know?”

Hehe… sorry about that,” Bell said apologetically as he walked alongside her. “If I was awake back then, I would have I would have been able to explain things more clearly.”

After they had blown through the very earth to get back to the surface, she had carried Bell back up after he lost consciousness from his injuries. They had then been attacked by members of Evilus and a group of Violas, but thankfully a mysterious Elven Warrior showed up to fend them off and heal the pair before she departed. Considering Violas were tough enough that Level Three was the bare minimum one should fight a single one at, and she managed to take out multiple of them on her own, it spoke highly of her abilities.

Lefiya could only see her as the epitome of beauty in frontline combat as she danced gracefully between the monsters that had assaulted them without fail—might, magic, and majesty all bundled into one. She could have fallen in love with the masked warrior if she didn’t have her heart set on someone else and thought she had a chance. “You’re lucky to know an Elf like that lady, Bell.”

“She’s a friend that’s been looking out for me for a while now,” Bell claimed. “It was her advice that allowed me to get this far. I owe her a lot.”

“Make sure you properly thank her next time you see her,” Lefiya told him. “Most pure-blooded Elves wouldn’t put themselves out there for someone from such an obscure Familia like yours. You need to make sure to treasure that friendship.”

“I will,” he promised. “Still, to think you guys fight monsters like that all the time. Your Familia is really amazing.”

“That’s another thing we need to talk about….” She paused in her steps at that. It was as good of a time as any for what she had decided after everything that transpired. “Bell?”

He stopped ahead of her and turned back. “Is something wrong?”

She took a deep breath before she broached a question that should have been a long time coming. “…Would you be willing to join me in the Loki Familia?”

His crimson eyes, the opposite of her azure pair, rose up in surprise at her offer. “Eh?”

“You might have only a month or so of experience, but you are a Level Two and no one can deny that you would be a good candidate after last night. You also get along pretty well with some of us from what I can tell, so with me vouching for you…”

She should have offered him that much the day he came to her. He might have been new but when she looked back on how far he had come in such a short time, it felt like she had cost them a valuable comrade. And he would be relatively safer considering how they operated. There hadn’t been a single casualty in the Familia since she had joined, which was due to how things were structured. He would be safe and she could watch over him easier with the others helping her.

He closed his eyes, his placid brow furrowed in thought. Then his features became apologetic as he opened them again and gave his answer. “Lady Hestia has become family to me as well. I can’t abandon her.”

The Half-Elf could only sigh. She honestly expected it. “Then, no matter what, you can’t tell anyone about us. Neither of us can.”

His expression dampened like a rabbit with its ears folded over. “Why?”

“The Loki Familia is one of the most powerful Familia and can more than defend itself, but we still have enemies. If they find out about you, they’ll use you to get to me and the Familia. I see my Familia as family, just like you—and I don’t want to be forced to choose between either one.”

Evilus was one such force. Their remnants were still causing problems and had almost claimed his life as collateral damage. The secret being kept between them was the only reason someone else hadn’t taken interest in him aside from the fact that he was the current Record Holder.

Then there was the fact that certain secrets were supposed to be kept among Familia members. Things like tactics, strategies, and other things that shouldn’t be told to outsiders. Having a family member outside of the Familia—especially in a rival Familia—would make her a liability. It may have already done so.

“It seems I’ve caused problems for you again,” Bell said. “Sorry.”

She shook her head. “No, it’s my fault. I should have brought you to Lady Loki the moment you showed up on our doorstep. But I was a bad older sister, and now both of us are paying the price for that. That’s something I’ll have to deal with eventually.”

“…One day I’ll become stronger.” He looked deep into her azure eyes. To the extent that she could see the gleam of resolve reflected within his own crimson pair. “Strong enough that you won’t have to keep it a secret to protect me. I swear.”

Idiot, you would need to be a least Level Six to do that.” Not that she didn’t believe it was possible he would reach that point. But she would prefer that he had a different reason to seek that strength than for her. “Until then, when we’re alone, you can call me your sister without any problem. That’s fine, right?”

His expression brightened in a way that reminded her of when he first saw her, back when they were kids. “Yes, sister.”

You don’t have to look so happy about it,” she said in a dismissive tone as she looked away, a slight crimson hue painting her cheeks. It was a crime he looked as adorable as he did every now and again, despite his age. “What a troublesome little brother you are. Come on, let’s get you some new boots.”

Visiting the town, she found him a relatively decent pair of boots to replace the set that had gotten lost in the acid. Then she had to leave him behind because she needed to head back to her camp. They were packing to go back up the surface now that everything was said and done, meaning that they would be splitting up for a bit.

However, on the way back she ran into the source of her previous problems in the form of a handsome being with a feathered hat. The God of Travel leaning against a tree with a book tucked under his slender arm waved her over just outside of the camp. It was because of him her brother had gotten handsy and she wasn’t exactly happy about that, but even though she could feel annoyed at him she couldn’t exactly ignore him. “Did you need something, Lord Hermes?”

“I just wanted to offer my apologies for whatever trouble you got into last night,” he said, straightening himself up. Then he presented the book he had to her. “I understand you’re something of a scholar when it comes to magic. You can read this, right?”

It was a book that looked aged, yet she could feel the workings of Magic upon it—likely to preserve it. There were words on the surface written in Old Elvish, a type of script that wasn’t taught publicly anymore to most of the Elvish population except for the more learned like scholars or the upper echelons of society. Even then the only reason she could read it was because her mother had taught her, though it certainly had impressed Lady Riveria to know when she had joined.

“It looks like it’s the memoirs of someone named ‘Fina’ from what I can tell,” she explained. “Is there something special about it?”

“My children found it some ancient ruins before we came back to Orario,” he began. “Due to some of the other things there, we thought it might belong to an ancient Elven Mage from the beginning of the age of heroes, before the descent of the Gods to the lower planes. As far as I am aware it might very well be the only copy. Do what you wish with it.”

She frowned as she considered that. Though Elves were long-lived, many had lost their homes when Rakia had burned their forests down. And, because they were so secular, that meant the knowledge they held onto from ancient times had been lost as well. Something from that age would be invaluable, even if it were only the memoirs. “I can’t accept something that valuable.”

“I insist,” he said. “Even if not because of this incident then as a thank you for what happened on the 24th Floor. It was because of you that any of my children returned. It is only proper that I reward you personally.”

A weight pressed down on her heart when she noticed his gaze seemed distant recalling that day. So many of his Familia had died there. Many of them to protect her. She could only assume that he was trying to state they would want her to have it. “Then I graciously accept your gift, Lord Hermes.”

He took off his cap before bowing towards her. “You have my thanks. They will be able to rest a little easier now.”

I’ll keep it for them, she thought to herself. Even if it was invaluable and could be sold for a lot, it would be wrong to do so in the memories of those who died that day. Besides, it’s not like I don’t read in my free time. And, if it really was from ancient times, I could learn something new.

“By the way,” Hermes began as he placed his cap back on. “I must say, I didn’t expect you two to get along so well considering what happened.”

Lefiya wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “Huh?”

“Well, when I asked around where you might have been a couple of people said they saw you sneak off with Hestia’s child in the middle of the morning. Last I heard there were whispers going around that the two of you might have had the sparks of romance enkindled after a dangerous encounter of some kind.”

Oh Goddess no! She felt her stomach churn at that the very thought that rumors about her being in a relationship with her brother were floating around the camp. Leaving aside the already present issues of their blood-tie, what if Miss Aiz heard them? What if it got back to Filvis somehow?

She had to stomp them out. Now! “ForgivemebutImustbeonmyway—BYE!

It would take her the entire day’s journey back to the surface to quell those rumors. Even after she personally blew the head off the Goliath on the 17th Floor after the others had knocked it down. But she wouldn’t have any time to rest as the next day she would set off on a new journey.

To sacred lands known only to Elves.

[-Arc 1 End-]

Lefiya Viridis (Level 3)

Status:

  • Strength: I86
  • Endurance: H184
  • Dexterity: G210
  • Agility: G271
  • Magic: B797
  • Mage: H
  • Abnormal Resistance: I

Skill:

  • Fairy Cannon: Increases the effects of Magic. The effect doubles when used with attack Magic.
  • Vow of Elcos: The birth of an everlasting bond. Raises attributes and allows for synchronization while working in tandem with those bound by fate to the Clown March.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 4 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 4: The Last Epic

The stage was set—the belly of a monster that had consumed many adventurers, their tales were forever written into fate as tragedies that were the old staples of the Gods and Goddesses’ entertainment.

The thespians were assembled—the younger brother who would act as the shield for the sister that could bring about the destruction of the beast as the comedy of eld had once upon a time did.

Now was the prologue—that which would determine whether the tale would be a tragedy, a comedy, or something entirely different written upon the canvas of fate. And the curtains rose on the opening performance as the smoke cleared.

The cyclopean eye cast its baleful gaze down upon the pair within its body, a monster that was potentially Level Four in terms of threat against a Level Three Mage and Level Two Vanguard. Its superiority should have been absolute, yet the proof of their defiance was forever etched into its body as its tendrils that had been cut and burned flailed above menacingly where those who came before never managed to do so. In fury, it renewed its assault by bringing the tendrils down towards them both once more.

The pair kicked off the ground. One to the left. One to the right. The whips came crashing down in the center with a splash that acted as a wall between them, obscuring their vision and splitting them apart.

Yet Lefiya felt calm compared to the last time and her mind felt clearer. She knew her role and his. Bell would be her vanguard and would protect her without fail.

However, as he was now, he would be unable to fulfill that role. His injuries had begun taking their toll. His blood was spilling out uncontested and making him light-headed. His legs were being eroded by the constant contact with the acid. So her first order of business should be to ensure her brother could do his job.

“I’ll act as a decoy until I finish the first spell to buff your defense! You look around for something that can help protect me by the end of my chant!”

“Got it!” The white rabbit darted through the acid as if his feet were on fire once the whips began focusing on him. It was most likely because his Magic as the last one used, following its species tendency to fixate on it.

She began a song just for him. “I beseech the name of Wishe! Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains.”

The melodic voice drew the eye of the monster towards her as it gave birth to a ring beneath her feet, golden in hue as it illuminated the dank chasm. Those whips that had been pursuing her brother then came towards her, readying to strike her down—

FIREBOLT!

—but as soon as its gaze left him behind, her brother let loose his electrical spear of flames that slammed against it once more and filled its vision with scarlet and smoke. The lack of sight provided her an escape as her lowered reaction was compensated for while she kept up her chant and her magic circle expanded with the accumulation of magical power.

Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance.”

The hunger for Magic like a ravenous animal left it to lash out towards her as the magical energy within her body seemed to course madly with every pulse of her heart. Denied its eye for exact targeting by the obscuring smoke, it relied on wild sweeps. But those she could avoid by the narrowest of margins as she kept up her chant.

Come, ring of fairies. Please, give me strength—Elf Ring.

And with that the Summon Burst was complete. The gateway to a realm where the spells of all of Elvenkind were stored opened, a vast and expansive repository that had no guide and offered no guidance. Those who stepped into the realm could only bring with them the knowledge they accumulated on their own to reach in pluck at the weave of magic.

Among the spells stored within the infinite corridor of the Elves of the past and future, there was one she knew to compensate for her brother’s condition. If the flesh was weak, steel it. If injuries were present, mend them. She used that knowledge to pull from that collection a spell belonging to only the noblest of blood among their long-lived yet dying race.

And in reflection of that, the magic circle the hue of her soul turned a magnificent shade of jade.

The smoke cleared as Lefiya stopped moving. Her Magic had reached its crescendo and the cost was heavy on her in terms of Mind and focus alike. The entry fee of accessing her kin’s archives of knowledge was steep for one of mixed-blood. No longer running, magical energy densely surrounding her to the extent of rising into the air as glimmering motes, the whips immediately came rushing towards her to claim it even as they stirred the acid so that her vision of the world outside of her immediate area was narrowed.

She ignored the death closing in on her in favor of the sensation in her chest—of expectation and anticipation backed by the faintest sound of rapid splashes that grew closer. She could feel him coming towards her.

Gather, breath of the earth—in my name of Alf.” Extending her arms out as if expecting a loving embrace, she finished her song as it went from a solo performance to a duet once her mentor’s voice overlapped her own. “Veil Breath!

The magic took shape and leaped from her body as the curtain of acid was broken by a bulwark of silver, backed by a dark shadow. Jade light swaddled her brother’s body as he came rushing past her with a shield in hand, having reclaimed it. He raised it, intercepting the incoming whips with all his might, and a gong-like sound rang out as the shield buckled beneath the intense force even as it rebuffed the tendrils.

Then Bell tossed the shield away and bound into the air while bringing his onyx knife overhead at the tendrils and roaring the name of his spell once more. “FIREBOLT!

Flames erupted along the line of the swing. The explosion shook the air as the appendages recoiled from his assault as Lefiya knew it would. It really was amazing that he had such a Magic given his limited time in Orario. She wondered how far he would grow with enough time if he survived for all his recklessness…

No, she would make sure he survived. As long as he was in front of her, she would protect him without fail. She would dedicate her Magic and her soul to make sure that he could become all that he could be.

So she began her song anew, a hymn of destruction for the one who would rob him of his future.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree…

[-Bell-]

Bell felt thunder rumbling in his chest.

It had been there since he had lost consciousness from that last hit, the moment the back of his head hit the wall. He had descended into a dark place, the depths of which held the memory of when he first saw his sister. She had been pretty, her ears reminding him of a butterfly resting against the flower in bloom that was her face.

He was happy to learn that she was someone he could call family. Then she looked at him with hateful eyes and said that she never wanted to see him again. He had cried back then so much that he thought the tears would never stop.

But his grandfather had told him that it would be okay. She had a rough life because not everyone saw her the same as he had been. The blood that bound the two of them had also separated her from others.

He wanted to protect her like the heroes in the stories his grandfather told him would the girls around them.

Except that when he arrived in Orario his sister was already far ahead of him. Not only was she a member of the Loki Familia, one of the strongest Familia at present, but she was a Level Three. She didn’t need someone as weak as him to protect her. She wouldn’t even acknowledge him unless he caught up to someone who he had only heard whispers about when he tried to figure out where his sister was.

Then he had met Aiz in the Dungeon and understood why that was.

Her hair. Her eyes. Her figure. Her power. Everything about them seemed so transcendent that he felt something deep within him stir. He wanted her to acknowledge him too. He wanted to protect her too. For some reason, he wanted to…

He wanted to see her smile with his own eyes.

It could only be love.

But he was faced with the truth of the matter soon enough. Regardless of his own desires, he could never make them come true as he was. He couldn’t gain the acknowledgment of his sister, nor hope to do the same as someone like Aiz as he was. He was weak and needed to be protected by the very girls he wanted to protect.

It was no wonder his sister refused to acknowledge him.

That was why he threw himself into the Dungeon. He delved into the same depths that his sister and Aiz had in the hopes of catching up to them. He went on an adventure to seek the strength to make them recognize him as an equal and acknowledge him.

Then he had lost consciousness and, in those dark depths, he realized that he had still been too weak. He was still being protected by his sister. Even though she was in just as much danger as he was, she had been constantly protecting him while he couldn’t do anything.

For this moment I have earned the power that I do not deserve!

It was then he heard a voice. He heard a voice that sounded like his own. It sounded a little older and dramatic, but it felt like his own words being spoken as a golden radiance slowly revealed itself nestled within the depths. It seemed ancient and yet everlasting, drawing his eyes even as the air became charged.

“You and I are united for eternity.”

At that moment he understood it was power. Perhaps more power than he deserved as a failure who couldn’t even protect his sister on his own. In the end, every bit of power he had so far was all power that was bequeathed to him in the end.

His knife was bequeathed to him by his Goddess rather than something he forged on his own. His Magic was something he was bequeathed by a Grimoire he took for his own rather than something he earned as others do. Even now, before him was more power that he hadn’t done anything to deserve. But…

I’ll get stronger and stronger. Until one day I can protect my sister on my own. Until one day I can protect everyone with my own power. I swear it! But for now, I will borrow this strength for the sake of everyone else!

The moment he reached for that spark a jolt of electricity snapped his awareness back into consciousness. He saw his sister being swept up into the air and her death assured. He saw the axe nearby and he moved to protect her as the thunder rumbled in his chest.

Even now it continued to rumble within his chest as he stood in the defense of his sister so she could sing her next song, the lilt in her voice a melody that resonated in his heart as the whips closed in to silence her.

He cried out from the depths of his lungs as he gave his all to protect her. He slashed his blade of bequeathed power from his Goddess with all the force he could muster, offering the blade the flames of the bequeathed Magic he possessed from a Grimoire whose owner was unknown, while swaddled in the comfort and shelter of the protective veil bequeathed from his sister. “FIREBOLT!

The explosion rattled the air as sections of the tendrils were blown away, the wafting smoke and scattering embers of the appendages leaving a trail as it retracted them. Yet, it hadn’t learned to fear his blade or flame. It continued to seek out his sister as she wove her spell with intimate words, her lips illuminated by the golden hue of her Magic. “You are the master archer…

The whips lashed at his protected body as he fended the attacks off. Even then the blows that had been softened by the enchantment stung as they ripped away at the Salamander Wool. The pain tore deep even with the veil intact.

RRRRRAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!

But with a roar he bore with the pain and reached out to his spell, wielding a flaming sword even as he felt the onset of Mind Collapse from expending so much power. He continued to protect her without fail until he heard the final verse of her song. “—Pierce, arrow of accuracy!

Golden radiance filled the monster’s belly with its brilliance as her magic circle became all-encompassing as she let loose her nocked arrow woven of Mind and Magic. The monster that Bell had never encountered before, its sinuous vines and humanoid torso, seemed to sense the impending death and braced for it. “ARCS RAY!!!!

The air howled. The acid quivered and fled in endless ripples. The golden pillar ascended towards the roof of their prison, towards their captor who watched from above, and slammed into it like the divine returning to the heavens in the picture of what Bell imagined the Magic of Heroes to be through his dazzled vision—light that shunted away the darkness with absolute might.

There was an inhuman screech as the monster cried out while meeting the light head-on. It refused to bow to that light, even as it seemed to be pressed against its lid and was slowly being eaten away. It held strong even as the walls around them trembled and began to close in from every side, trying to crush them.

Nnnngghhh…” Bell could hear his sister’s strained voice as she continued to unleash everything that she had built up, her gaze unyielding and unshakable even as she gazed deep into the light. She raised her staff higher and gave it her all and more to open up a path for them.

You‘re really amazing, sister. Bell couldn’t help but feel that from the depths of his heart as he once more saw how far he had to go to catch up to her. And she could still go further if the idol they shared was still far ahead of them. He couldn’t let it end here for her.

His right hand began to shed white-and-blue sparkles of light that glistened as he raised it to the sky along with her staff. His sister’s eyes met his as seconds passed and a wordless message carried between them as the lights dancing around his palm and small chimes intensified. She nodded to him before directing her gaze up towards the monster once more put everything she could afford to into her own spell as he let loose his own.

All while both shared a single thought. “I won’t let you die here!

Light burst from his hand, a white radiance that wrapped around the lightning flame towards their enemy. But, along the way, the spell bent and twisted as it wove itself around the golden pillar until it was a beacon of white-and-gold that shone with the light of the sun.

That transcendent swallowed the monster and the world around them whole…

[-Hermes-]

As the pillar of radiance illuminated the night of the Under Resort, the God of Travel found it in himself to smile as the crystalline ceiling of the Dungeon reflected the light and gave the appearance of diamonds strewn upon a dark sky.

There was once a tale that Zeus had told him back before the Gods and Goddesses had descended. The comedy of a jester that would become known as the hero of the dawn. The first performance that had captivated the gods.

Zeus had on a whim observed the jester who was meant to be nothing more than a fool to be tossed away by the machinations of a king driven mad. Another victim of a long-standing tragedy in the making. Yet that jester ventured forth to the Spirit Shrine for the chance to turn the tragedy into a comedy.

So he beckoned a great spirit to form a contract with the jester to see what would come about.

And it had been his greatest joy to watch that grand performance.

The truth known only to the eldest of gods.

The dawn of the era of heroes.

The first heroic tale.

Hermes had missed the first performance. The heroic comedy that reached the gods and enraptured them so much that they turned their gaze to the lower planes wholly and eventually descended to give rise to heroes of their own—to be a part of their tales rather than mere observers. To miss that had been one of his greatest regrets.

That was why this time Hermes would be the choragus. He would see all the thespians assembled. He would see the finest theatron, Orario itself, be their stage. All for the sake of a new tale—not a comedy or a tragedy.

But a heroic epic that transcends all else.

The Last Epic.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 3 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 3: Lost Siblings – Part 2

Things had started simple enough once the two of them had caught their breath. They needed to make their way back to the campsite since it was too dangerous to linger about. Despite the 18th Floor not inherently spawning monsters, some did wander in from above and below. Monsters of that caliber were something she could deal with, but not a fresh Level Two like her brother.

For all Lefiya knew another Minotaur would show up and, after two encounters with them that should have been fatal, she didn’t want to risk the third time being when his luck ran out.

There was always the option of using her Magic to send up a signal. But she considered that the last resort. Leaving aside how shameful it would have been to go calling for help after she had chased him this far out, Bell had already caused enough problems. No sense in making things worse there.

The basics of survival in the Dungeon had been drilled into her by the Loki Familia since she had joined, to compensate for what wasn’t taught in the Educational District. Not every scholar there went on to join an Exploration Familia. The Dungeon was dangerous after all and there was no point in spending years learning for a single mistake to claim your life.

Lefiya took the lead with his Magic Stone Lantern to illuminate the path. The smaller crystals could be broken into pieces even with her mediocre strength. After all, as a Level Three she could easily punch cracks in the very floor of the Dungeon should she wish. She had him scatter them behind to leave a trail, so they didn’t walk in circles.

Bell himself supplemented that by marking certain trees as they passed with his odd knife that had the writing of the gods upon it, though such markings were only temporary given the trees could mend themselves rather quickly—but if they were still lost by then, she would accept they couldn’t get back and send up a signal flare. Still, it seemed he knew his way around mountainous terrain pretty well for a farm boy.

“I used to play on them when I was younger,” he told her, when she made the mistake of bringing that up.  It gave him leeway to tell her more about his childhood and he naturally seemed eager to, despite the situation. She considered telling him to shelve it for now, but…

Well, he didn’t even know much about their father or her. And she didn’t know much about him, all things considered. She still didn’t even know why had come here besides chasing after her or even about the Familia he ran off to join.

Then he told her and she felt her anger rising again. “Oh my Goddess… you joined up with the first Familia that offered you a spot? Without knowing anything about them?

After being turned away by her, it seemed her brother had gone from one Familia to another only to be rejected by them all until one goddess picked him up off the street like an abandoned kitten. She then took him to a bookstore of all places to place her grace upon his back and claim him as her own. Then they moved into an abandoned Church and lived in the same bedroom!

He scratched the back of his head when he saw the look she was giving him. “Well, Lady Hestia is kind and she was willing to accept someone like me. And I don’t mind our living circumstances, so I’m quite happy.”

She found it in her to start grinding her teeth when she considered the small goddess. It was clear she actually did care considering she risked entering the Dungeon for him once he had gone missing. But it could have gone so much worse considering how he was a know-nothing country mouse with such a babyface that someone could have taken advantage of him—in a lot of ways she didn’t want to think about considering their blood-tie.

“What about you, Sister?” Bell asked.

“I said not to call me that,” she reminded him before huffing. “And I spent some time scouting which Familia I wanted to join after my graduation. It just so happens that my first choice accepted my qualifications.”

She had left home and entered the Education District at the age of eight. Her mother had felt that she should be in the city where her father had lived. Perhaps it was so that she could escape the not-so-hushed whispers of the neighbors and the other children of her sullied blood.

Orario was a melting pot. People of all different races and careers gathered, so maybe she thought that it would allow her to escape those prejudices. The whispers still followed her—not every Elf was like that, but there were enough of them that she still heard the whispers.

Nevertheless, she studied hard to drown them out. To prove to herself that she was more than what they claimed. She had spent hours studying in the district and just as many in the Dungeon’s upper floors, where there were places where spellcasters could practice without the fear of damaging the city or having their chants overheard.

And once she had graduated, she had gone out of her way to scout and get a feel for the Loki Familia before she joined them. Her knowledge of the principles of magic was fairly solid and mages were something of a hot commodity, even if her original skill made it so that she was better suited to destructive spells by passively amplifying them. She had options, but… well, the Loki Familia had Lady Riveria.

Lady Riveria—a legend among Elves. For some, it was her royal birth. For others, it was her status as one of the strongest Adventurers in Orario. There were few far and between that didn’t revere her, even a Half-Elf like Lefiya.

And that was before she chose her to become her successor—regardless of her heritage.

“The Loki Familia has a lot of amazing people, huh?” Bell mused. “You managed to make it all the way to the 59th Floor. You’re just like the heroes of those stories that braved the unknown.”

“…Don’t let those stories mislead you,” she warned him. “The Dungeon is dangerous. Everything that you’ve experienced up until now can’t compare to what lays below this floor. You should quit being an Adventurer and find some other work to support yourself and your Goddess.”

Bell looked rather somber as he said, “But if I do that, I won’t be able to catch up to any of you. Even now, I’m still so far behind you all that I’m worried I’ll never be able to keep up.”

“…You’re such an idiot,” she muttered as the weight of those words lingered on her mind. It was stupid. Even though she told him he didn’t need to, he was still going to try chasing after them. All the way to an early grave at the rate he was going.

The two stayed silent after that as they continued until they found a tree that towered above all else. It was suitable to serve as a landmark, so she climbed to the top of it and was able to figure out a path back to the camp. But then she managed to spy something that made her blood run cold—members of Evilus.

Her obligation to her Familia demanded she follow them. It was an opportunity to get information that they lacked to prevent things like what happened before from happening again. They had already attacked this floor once before, so anything to prevent them from doing it again was the right course of action.

But there was the matter of her brother. Even if she wanted to return to their camp and gave directions, she couldn’t guarantee that Bell would make it back there on his own. The monsters they had crossed paths with and hid from until now to conserve their strength could still tear him apart considering he only had his Salamander Wool clothes and a knife. Or worse, he could run into Evilus along the way, and they would…

Her stomach twisted at the thought.

No, I have to protect him. That thought cemented in her mind. If we follow at a distance to discover their meeting place, we can then sneak back to camp and inform the Captain and the others. Two birds, one stone.

And so, they followed until they were close to the Crystal Grove and deeper into the forest. They only came to a stop when they were closer to the wall of the Dungeon. The entire time Lefiya was nervous as they followed along the way, her brother cluelessly but wordlessly following her despite the barest of explanations due to the fact that she said it was necessary.

Then the most terrifying moment in her life occurred.

The ground beneath her parted. The sensation of weightlessness and helplessness assailed her. The world around her returned to the Dragon’s Crucible on the 52nd Floor—the gateway of Hell.

Within that chamber where the heat sweltered from below as it rushed to escape the vents that were blasted in the floor, she fell. Without warning or prompt, from six floors below and on the border of the unexplored region, Valgang Dragons spread their leathery pinions to take flight. Ascending from the base of the crucible where the very earth jutted up like the fangs of an open maw waiting to snap close and from its vents belched acrid smoke and embers, they eyed her with flames slipping from their bared maws and ready to incinerate her.

It had been then that she had taken her first steps to catch up to the others. To stop being protected and instead to walk alongside them. She had managed to conquer her fear for those scant few moments, in order to rouse her magic to fend off her attackers then.

Yet that fear before was nothing compared to now…

Because this time her brother was falling into Hell with her.

“AHHHHHHH!”

Hearing his surprised scream had been like flipping a switch inside of her head. She reached out, caught his wrist, and pulled him into her before they could be split apart by the fall. The only thing that stopped her from rousing what strength she could to toss him back up was the fact that the opening closed up on its own.

Her gaze instantly shifted downwards and saw that there was a pool of something they were rushing towards. She couldn’t cushion the fall, but she could angle it so that they didn’t land flat in it. It was thanks to that both landed on their feet as the liquid splashed up around them.

The liquid was a sickly purple color that rose up to their waist. The vapors rising from it had a poignant and acrid smell that irritated the nostrils as they breathed it in. The foul fumes were nauseating enough on their own that they might have been poison.

Then it started to burn.

“Gah!” “Ugh!”

The liquid sizzled where their bodies touched it, bubbling and frothing as the caustic fluid began to nip away at their flesh with ravenous glee. The lantern that had fallen with them was already being corroded by the fluid, the stone inside of it already dimming. Her thoughts turned to acid as she found half-dissolved bone and corroded metal belonging to other Adventurers around them, and then she looked around to see the fleshy texture that made up the wall.

Then realized dawned that it was not a hole they fell into.

It had been a maw of a monster.

They were in its stomach.

She had killed them.

Above us!

Her eyes shot up at her brother’s words and she spotted what looked to be a humanoid torso that had bright, rich colors of red and yellowish-green that were often found in monsters and animals that indicated they were poisonous. The creature had a single eye that peered around from the long stalk that served as its neck, crowned by thin bristles, with two elongated tendrils that shifted in erratic motions as though alive.

It was a monster that reminded her of the Corrupted Spirit on the 59th Floor. It didn’t exude the sheer menace that one did, but it had similar enough traits to the same monsters that had been eating others to feed it the magic stones. It had to have been planted there as a security measure to eliminate witnesses or guard whatever they had near here.

And then its cyclopean eye finished skimming its surroundings before settling on them.

Time seemed to dilate as the senses of a Level Three Adventurer kicked into overdrive in the face of danger. And even that was barely enough for her to react to the incoming attack as instinct kicked in and her hand reached out to pull her brother away. She managed to leap back with him in her tow as far as her legs could carry her in a single bound as the pair of sinuous, massive whips came crashing down.

The entire chamber rumbled as the acid splashed up to nearly three-fourths the height of the chamber, scattering broken bones and abandoned armaments. She felt the acid splash against her hair and the sleeves of her combat clothes, the latter meant to serve as a moderate defense against the hazards of the Dungeon. She then turned to her brother behind her as he snapped up from having fallen backwards, only stopped from a full plunge by one of his hands that was now suffering from mild caustic burns.

He was lucky, considering he was only a fresh Level Two. If the acid had anywhere near the same potency as the ones on the lower floors, there wouldn’t have even been flesh left on the limb.

She tore the half-cloak of her outfit off and passed it to him. “Wrap it up!”

“Look out!” Bell shouted abruptly.

Lefiya whipped her head around to see that the whips were coming around once more. Her body moved, leaping away from the crash site as the wall of acid rose up in response. She quickly covered her face with her sleeve and felt the acid assail the durable fabric before lowering her arm to find her brother. “Bell!”

“I’m fine!” He was on the opposite side of the melting chamber, his legs moving with his injured arm wrapped up tight by the cloak and his other brandishing the onyx dagger that he had in a reverse grip. It seemed uncorroded despite the acid dripping from it. “What is this thing!?”

“Just focus on avoiding it for now!” The singular eye shifted between them before the whips began to stir once more and her grip on Forest’s Teardrop became iron clad. “I’ll come up with something!”

Then talk became a secondary concern to resolving the situation. The monster may have been an unknown, but she had seen similar kinds and had studied under the Loki Familia. They had to be prepared to deal with the unknown as they existed to explore the undelved depths of the Dungeon, so encountering new foes was expected and how to adapt to them.

She felt her thoughts racing as she tried to focus on those teachings. But she couldn’t help but have her thoughts drift back to her younger brother. He hadn’t trained for this—he wasn’t prepared to be an Adventurer. He was a farm boy who lived a simple, happy life in a safe place until a little over a month ago!

Even now he was darting around in a panic—a wild, white rabbit darting back and forth and only able to narrowly avoid the whips when they came towards him. If he wasn’t so fleet-of-foot then he probably wouldn’t have made it that long, but she didn’t know how long that would last before the acid ate away at his legs. The durability of a Level Two was nowhere near sufficient for this kind of environment.

Much less a boy who reached Level Two in less than a month.

It took her three years to reach Level Two. It was at eleven years old, after the examination where they had to put their Magic into practical use in the Dungeon. Students in the Education District who planned to pursue a career in Adventuring, or even to simply obtain access to Magic, received a Falna from one of the Gods who preside over the district. They acted as their instructors until they graduated before leaving the Falna open for them to transfer to a new Familia.

It took her two years after that to reach Level Three, just a year after joining Lady Loki’s Familia. Her growth would be considered rather good considering how far of a gap most others had to cross just to pass the threshold. She would probably reach Level Four soon enough, given how high-quality the excelia was from diving so deeply into the Dungeon and going against its threats.

But his growth was just absurd.

No other members of the Familia to support him. No education on what to expect. Just whatever he could scrounge together and pick up along the way. That carried a crippling weakness that killed new Adventurers often enough—the lack of experience on how to adapt to new situations.

Observation. Analyzation. Application. Those were beyond him as he was never taught. And that was because she hadn’t brought him with her. She hadn’t even asked her Goddess or told anyone about him, driving him away in the attempt to keep him out of her life.

Now she had dragged him into this as ill-prepared as possible.

She had as good as killed him herself.

Focus! She bit down on her lower lip as she forced her gaze back to it. There had to be some kind of tell, some kind of action that served as recognition to figure out what it was capable of before she went on the offense. What is it?

It was fortunate that she inherited the eyes of her mother’s race. Those eyes may not have been on par with a Pallum’s in such dim light, but they were perceptive enough that she could pick up the details.  That was what allowed her to see how it always shifted its eye to its current target before it attacked.

“Watch its eye!” Lefiya called out. “It needs to look to fix our position before it sends the signals for its whips to land! There’s enough of a delay to get out of the way!”

“Got it!” Bell responded as he fixed his gaze into its own and found the inhuman gaze staring right back. It served as the trigger for him to move with purpose rather than floundering around and reacting. The next swing that came in like a crushing pendulum missed by more than enough space.

“Stay aware of its tendrils!” she continued, feeling a weight off her shoulders as her analysis was complete. As long as they could predict its movements, he could focus on dodging with those legs of his while she could go on the offense—his little knife wouldn’t cut it since he could get close to the eye to cut into it, and they didn’t know where the magic stone was to hit. “I’ll look for an opening and start casting a spell!”

Sensing the change in how its prey operated, their floundering and narrow misses becoming far more focused and evasive, it became far more aggressive in its assault. Rather than simply crashing down to crush them into the acid and hasten their deaths, it lashed out in erratic methods such as curving its appendage, so it swept horizontal and skirted the acid along with the armaments. With that, the two lethal weapons had effectively multiplied.

Bell was momentarily cornered with a fleshy wall to his left and the tendril came up around to smash through his legs, breaking them to leave him to drown. But he bounced up as he twisted one foot facing it and then threw his outside shoulder towards the tendril. The twist carried him over the tendril and leaving it to sweep into the fleshy wall behind him as he took off running anew.

He really is nimble, Lefiya acknowledged even as she contended with the fact that she felt the acid eating away at her boots. Considering hers were of better quality than what he could afford, his feet must’ve been burning. If she didn’t do something soon, he would slow down and that would be the end.

But the question was… what could she do?

Her Concurrent Chanting required focus enough that her reaction and reflexes dropped as well. Enough that her Speed, which wasn’t her best attribute by far, would drop enough that she was effectively a sitting duck. And that was before the fact that others like this creature usually fixated on magical energy.

She needed a vanguard to be able to cast. But that required a level of coordination that had to be worked out in advance, something she and Bell lacked given they had only seen each other a scant few times. And even then the vanguard often…

She shuddered when she recalled the deaths back on the 24th Floor. The Hermes Familia had sacrificed everything to buy her enough time to cast. Even that massive Dwarven woman, Elilly, had used her very body once her shields had broken so she could finish her cast.

Bell was Level Two. He was her brother. She couldn’t do that to him.

Why couldn’t I have met you sooner, Filvis? If she met the graceful beauty years ago, she would have done everything in her power to walk that same path. They were the same Level, but she was someone who could manage both roles without needing someone to protect her.

Maybe then she would have learned spells that were more suited for that. Her spells were powerful, but their casting times were longer and the amount of magical energy that needed to be gathered made it extra difficult. Even if she borrowed Filvis’ super-short chant it would be extended due to how her Elf Ring worked.

And she couldn’t learn any new spells through her Falna because her slots were all taken up.

I can only do my best, she told herself as she remembered her training with Filvis. There was no need to accumulate the entirety of the magical energy from the beginning. She could start the chant and then rapidly gather it together in the latter half of her chant, leaving her mobile at the start and then planted in the end to fire.

However, before she could begin her chant the chaotic barrage of attacks… ceased entirely.

The two stopped moving as the crown around the monster’s eye grew luminous with a blue hue that indicated it was doing something new. Something had changed. Her mind raced when she considered what would come about—

SCRRRRRRREEEECCCCCHHHHHH!

—that was when a high-frequency soundwave resounded in the sealed chamber. It was a natural mechanism to deal with prey that had become too difficult to catch and it was expending too much energy to quell it. Using high-frequency soundwaves to assail the inner ear that helped keep one balanced, even the swiftest of animals would be forced to stall and reorientate themselves if they remained conscious.

Lefiya’s head felt like it was splitting open as she collapsed to her knees and clutched her pointed ears that had a rounded curve. They were the reason that anyone who had seen an Elf before could recognize her for who she was. That she was a half-breed.

…Half-Elf. Half-Man. Which half depended on whom it was that referenced her lineage.

The Humans would call her a Half-Elf, as if to elevate her heritage of being a member of the skillful, elite, graceful Elven race by how pointed her ears were despite the soft curve in them that was rigid in the pure linage. And in doing so it would be to the detriment of her other heritage. She was simply the product of a Human who managed to have a tryst with an Elf.

The Elves of her homeland called her Half-Man, as if to denounce that her blood was impure because of that. Humans were among the weakest of the races, after all. They had no special magic or attributes like an Elf’s longevity, a Dwarf’s strength, a Pallum’s eyesight, or a Beastfolk’s senses. The only thing that separated them from others was the fact that they could sire children with other races, with said offspring being barely above the Human but inferior to the other race.

Mother had called her a blessing of the gods.

She believed that what made Humans special was that they could cross the borders that divided the other races. They were the ones capable of tying an everlasting friendship between races. Lefiya and her ears were proof of that.

However, her brother was Human.

He lacked any inherent ability suitable for this life. Even now his Level was lower and he younger than her. So, if she was rattled by the assault, he was—

Her head snapped up towards the eye above as the screeching stopped. Expending whatever energy it kept partitioned away in reserve to unleash that attack, it would go back on the offense with its primary weapons. It would target whomever its gaze was fixed on.

And that gaze wasn’t on her.

She screamed at the top of her lungs even before her eyes naturally traced the gaze. “LOOK OUT!

Her brother’s attention snapped up at the warning in time to see the attack coming. The two lashing whips were coming from above and across. One would rip off his legs and the other would cave his skull into his chest and smear the remains into the acid to be dissolved away into nothing but shattered bones.

He could maybe dodge one. But not both. Not from that angle.

In a split-second decision, he leaped to the side with a twist while dragging something within the acid up with him, scalding his hands as the tendril that threatened to crush him slammed down below him. And as he raised his arms to defend himself from being slammed from the side, she could see that it was a shield. It must’ve been at least Silver or Mythril quality considering it was still solid despite the acid.

But, without purchase on the ground, nothing was bracing him from the hit.

She watched as the shield was sent flying into the air while her brother went rocketing into the fleshy wall hard enough that the entire chamber shook. She watched as his body, which by some miracle hadn’t broken open like fruit and spilled his innards, trembled against the wall as he gasped for breath. Then she watched him slide down into the acid that frothed vigorously to consume his quivering body as blood spilled from the back of his head.

BELLLLLLLLL!!!” She called out his name with a deafening cry, hoping for a response. It was okay if he called her name. it was okay if he called her his sister. As long as he responded, whatever he called her was fine.

He didn’t answer.

Then the creature’s appendages reared back as though to finish the job.

UNLEASHED STREAK OF LIGHT, BOW LIMBS OF THE HOLY TREE—

Never in her life had she chanted faster. The accumulation of magic was shoddy and erratic, ill befitting of a Mage of any caliber. Her voice was hoarse and disordered rather than the lilt that normally caressed her lips as she wove her spell. She was sure if any other caster saw her, they would look upon her in disgust.

But Lefiya didn’t care about any of that.

She just needed the spell to form to grab that monster’s attention from killing her little brother.

And it worked. The moment the golden magic circle formed its eye and focus turned from finishing off dying prey to that which had tantalizing magic that it yearned to consume. She became its only thought, its only desire, its only prey as those tendrils came for her.

She stopped the chant now that she had its attention, the magical energy dispersing around her rather than being woven into the spell. It was fortunate that the spells brought forth by the Falna were so appropriate for the caster that there was less of a risk of an Ignis Fatuus. Not because she cared about the backlash, but because the moment she went down her brother would follow.

But she knew she had to finish her next cast. She had to finish and kill it. She had to before he drew his last breath and his flesh melted from the bone.

Unleashed streak of Light—” She began her song anew, willing to throw away any notion of defense for that purpose. Her magic was geared towards the destruction of her enemies. It would have to serve as the salvation for her brother now that he could no longer move. “Bow limbs of the Holy Tree. You are an expert of the Bow.

But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. “Shoot, Sniper of the Faeriesaah!?

Her song faltered as one of the tendrils managed to snake around her leg now that her evasion had diminished. It ripped away the ground from beneath her, hauling her into the air and upside down. She could no longer run away.

And the other tendril was reared back, ready to be unleashed.

Ah… I’m going to die.

It would swing as hard as it could. Hard enough that it would tear her in half, or at least take off her leg. Even if her Falna and Status wouldn’t let her die so easily from that, it would have no trouble finishing her off. It was over.

Sorry, Bell. I was a horrible older sister. Now we’re both going to die and return to Heaven.

She knew of the fate of all that lived. Death would return their souls to the heavens above. Then they would someday be born anew, but only after they had faded from the living memory of mortals. Such was the way of the world.

I hope that when we’re reborn, it’ll be as siblings again. Lefiya prayed, so deeply that she hoped it would be etched into her soul. So thoroughly entrenched that it would persevere beyond the ages. I swear I’ll be there for you the next time. I’ll dedicate my soul to you, and I’ll always be by your side. That’s the only way for me to atone for robbing you of everything.

Then death closed in as the whip was unleashed—

RAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

—and a dull silver saw streaked past her so fast that her hair thrashed madly. The enclosing death was severed as it whirled past, the narrow part of the whip meant to tear through by placing an absurd amount of momentum into such a thin area torn clean off and left to fly away as a shadow leapt up from behind her.

It was Bell.

His immaculate white hair was blotched crimson as rivulets of blood trailed down his face. His lips were peeled back, and his mouth was wrenched open as he shouted at the top of his lungs while brandishing that onyx knife. It was a vicious expression that didn’t suit the placid visage he wore every other time she had seen him as he swung the knife that had the luminous blue writing of the gods upon it turn a vibrant shade of red—

FIREBOLT!

—and scarlet flames bloomed riotously as he brought it against the tendril holding her upside down. She could feel the heat and force of the explosion as the appendage keeping her aloft jerked before its grip went slack. She began to fall as the smoldering, cauterized section of the tendril retracted, leaving her to right herself almost on reflex as she descended while the portion that had kept her aloft splashed down into the acid.

Bell landed ahead of her and raised his right hand to the heavens, his left arm chambered beneath it as though to brace it while he called out that name again. “FIREBOLT!!

Fire erupted from his palm this time. It snaked like a lightning bolt right towards the cyclopean eye that seemed to reel back in pain or surprise. And where it connected the flames ran wild as they came unbound, savagely attempting to incinerate. She had thought for a fleeting moment the knife had been a magic sword with a fire spell bound into it, but…

FIREBOLT! FIREBOLT! FIREBOLT!

She realized that wasn’t the case at all as he shouted over, and over, and over again with a hoarse, powerful voice and the fire leapt to his call each and every time from his bare hand. It was magic—his own personal magic.

Not a short chant spell. Not even a super-short chant spell. There was no chant at all that proceeded the accumulation of the magical power.

Her brother had Magic that was instant.

“Sorry that I passed out for a moment!” Bell said as he panted while his blood continued to drip down into acid below with every hard breath he took, the smoke and embers from his instant flames obscuring the eye that had been glaring down on them as it whipped its tendrils above to try and clear its vision. “We need your Magic!”

“Huh?”

“Mine won’t be enough,” he said, taking an offensive stance as the smoke thinned. “Cast your spells! I’ll protect you this time! I swear!”

It was ludicrous to her. Even she could tell he was barely standing and could barely protect himself. She couldn’t put him at risk as the vanguard in that condition. Not as his older sister who needed to protect her younger brother…

Or so she thought until she noticed something as she stared at his back which seemed so much broader than she expected. Covered in blood, his flesh and clothes sizzling from the acid, he was no different from her. In that moment they were the same.

Younger brother or not, he was still someone who had faced danger to come this far. Even if he saw her as his older sister, he also saw her as an Adventurer. And between Adventurers there was something each should have that surpassed anything else:

Mutual Respect.

They had respect for one another because they were the same. They were the ones who braved the depths of the Dungeon in the hopes of conquering it. They were the ones who explored the unknown and defeated the monsters, risking life and limb to do so.

He respected her as an Adventurer, even if he saw her as his sister. Specifically, he respected her as a Mage in need of a Vanguard. But she hadn’t done the same for him—a Vanguard in need of a Mage capable of ending the battle.

She needed to respond to his respect with her own.

She needed to put her life in his hands.

“It’ll be drawn to my Magic, and I’ll be slower to respond,” she began to explain why she needed him to play the role that would thrust him into danger. “It’ll take time for me to accumulate the magical power to make sure I can kill it, but if you can keep it blind and distract it for me until I’m ready I swear I’ll get it done!”

It was a duty unbefitting of an older sister to assign her younger brother that needed to be protected. But for an Adventurer who was someone to be fought alongside as equals… there was no more fitting role.

Protect me and I’ll sing for you, Bell!!


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 2 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 2: Lost Siblings – Part 1

QUIT RUNNING!

Two words filled in the darkness threading the greenery of the forest around them. The crystals that lined the ceiling of the 18th Floor of the Dungeon had long since petered out. ‘Night’ had fallen for the floor and so those who were still milling about could be counted on one’s fingers.

Or just two in the case of the forest where they were at the moment.

I swear it was an accident!” Bell cried out as he looked back only for the cold sweat beading his brow to thicken as saw his older sister smoldering with anger to the extent her body seemed ablaze. Pure, unadulterated rage that had been a long time coming. “Lord Hermes made a weird face all of a sudden and I tripped!

For starters, Lefiya already had enough to worry about after the expedition to the 59th Floor. Things were already hectic enough between that and the red-haired monstrous woman who attacked them last time on this very floor. And then there was the fact that Aiz had the blood of Spirits within her and somehow that drew other creatures like that to her.

Her mood had gotten better once Filvis had come to visit her. It was unannounced and unexpected, but it brightened her day so much that she had forgotten all about how mad she was. That was the effect she had.

Filvis was so beautiful to Lefiya. It felt like every moment around her was warm and bright. Even now she could feel the lingering warmth of her touch. And she would have been content to just bask in it until they were back on the surface…

If not for the fact that fool who dared call himself her brother had the audacity to actually peep on herself and the others in the bath. Even if Lord Hermes had been the one who instigated him into it, he should have known better. To think she was related to someone like that.

When she had heard he was going around camp to make apologies, she had decided to wait until he was done and they were alone before getting on him about all the trouble he was causing. He should go back to living a life outside of the Orario or join a Farming Familia or something else that kept him out of the Dungeon and out of her life. But then he had groped her!

Her—of every other possible person!

I’M SORRY!!!” Bell promptly ran faster as the flames of rage seemed to intensify. But she was Level Three and fueled by a rage born from many different things at the moment, which left her more than capable of keeping up even with his absurd speed.

For once the chaser and the chased had swapped places, with her pursuing him to the limits of her ability and him running from her as fast as he could. They ended up deep in the Under Resort, a vast forest that sprouted crystals that were fed from the light above and shed it during the night to leave the pristine vegetation a majestic tint of blue. The maze of trees, its hearty foliage serving as blinders and dividers, swiftly punished the two for doing so as they both realized once they had reached the limits of their stamina.

Namely, they both got lost. The pair ended up leaning against separate trees, the hearty trunks supporting their weight as they caught their breaths. They were both sweaty and red-faced from the exertion.

This… is all… your fault…” Her breath came out heated as she stood across from him. The spirit was still enflamed. But the flesh was aching. She could run no more.

“I’m sorry, sister…” Bell said once more, his throat hoarse from the apologies. “I really didn’t mean to touch you like that.”

“It’s only because it was an accident you’re still breathing!” she snapped at him. She might have been more… liberal-minded than most elves who heralded from their homelands, partly because of her circumstances and her stay in the Educational District, but there were limits. “And you’d better not have told anyone else about us!”

The fact that they were related was a secret that only a handful of people alive were aware of—specifically, herself, her mother, and him. And she wanted to keep it that way to the extent that she never wanted him speaking of their connection.

Bell shook his head. “I haven’t.”

Lefiya huffed. “Good. It’s bad enough you decided to intrude on my life here. But then you have to get involved with my Familia and Miss Aiz! The fact that she saved you was already a miracle alone for a First-Tier Adventurer like her, but to have the nerve to ask her for training afterwards—as if you haven’t caused enough problems!”

Bell rubbed the back of his head as he looked away and muttered. “Well, you said that if I caught up to her then you’d acknowledge me, so… who better to learn from than her?

And with that the flames in her chest were rekindled. “For something so stupid, you…. went after a Minotaur of all things!? You nearly got killed by one and then you decide to reject her help so you can go fighting a second one!

It had really ticked her off to know he had done something so incredibly stupid intentionally, refusing the help of the others so he could fight it one-on-one! Of all the suicidal things he could have done! Even for Adventurers who had reached Level Two it was ill-advised.

And for good reason. They were among the Apex of monsters on the floors above the 18th for Level Twos. Speed, strength, stamina—they excelled at those attributes and could tear through Level One Adventurers like tissue. Especially one who hadn’t even been there for more than two months!

I had to wait until Level Three before I fought one on my own!” Bell was left cowering as his year-older sister now hovered over him with her eyes burning red, flames coming from her mouth as though she were a furious hellhound.  “And even then, it was with my Familia supporting me! You do not fight a Minotaur on your own!

The flames inside of her roiled madly like a wildfire. Everything that had been building up became kindling that was burning her from the inside out. She had to let it out before she exploded.

When are you going to realize this isn’t a game, Bell!? Four times! Four times since you’ve been here, you’ve been lucky to not die fighting things that should have killed someone else your level! What do you think will happen when your luck runs out!? Did you consider what’ll happen then to the rest of us? Your Goddess? Your Friends? My Mom!?

The thoughts of his gravestone resurfaced. There laid a fool who died entering the Dungeon, the most dangerous place in the world, just so that she would call him her brother. Just so that he would acknowledge that blood tie they had.

She could see it. That small Goddess who loved her child enough to chase him down to the 18th Floor, violating so many rules and facing so many dangers because of him, crying on her hands and knees in front of his gravestone. That Supporter, who had begged the others to help them against the Minotaur, weeping next to her. That Blacksmith with Spirit’s blood, who’d followed him all the way down here, his expression struggling not to break apart.

Her mother, whom she knew still regretted not taking him in that day, crying when she had to break the news that she lost one of the treasures left behind by the only man she had loved—her younger brother.

And it would be her fault because she said those words the first time they met as children.

Words that she couldn’t take back.

That imagery coerced stinging, hot tears from the corner of her eyes. “You have so many people who would miss you if you died. And yet you keep risking it all for something… so stupid…”

It hadn’t been his fault. The bullying. The discrimination. None of it had been his fault. But she saw in him that day everything she went through and piled it onto him. And since that day she saw those eyes of his and how they watered when he was rejected by her.

Even now she looked away, not wanting to see them again as the flames within her began to finally burn out. Everything she held back having finally been turned to ash and left to peter out. “You… don’t need someone as selfish as me as your sister…

A haunting silence loomed as she finished her tirade against the boy. She had said everything she had to say, where no one could hear them. She wasn’t happy to have said it, but she felt like if she hadn’t then she wouldn’t be able to keep it bottled up anymore. Maybe now he would get the message?

“… I… don’t know anything about our father,” Bell said after a moment, breaking the silence.

Lefiya’s mind froze for a moment as she processed what she heard. “Huh?”

“I don’t know what he looks like,” Bell continued. “Or his personality. Or anything. Nothing.”

It was absurd. So absurd that she couldn’t believe it. “Didn’t… didn’t your Grandfather tell you about him?”

He shook his head. “I only asked Grandpa about him once. Before we met. And… he told me that it shouldn’t be him telling me about him. That it should be my sister, since coming from her it would have more meaning. Because we’re family and it’s a bond that we share, regardless of circumstances.”

“…Unbelievable,” she muttered under her breath in simmering anger. She had never thought his grandfather would have kept information about their father from him. Then again, he was from Bell’s mother’s side of the family so he might not have known much about him to begin with. So he shunted it off onto her.

And… she didn’t even know her own grandparents. Albeit that was because it was forbidden. Her birth had made it so.

Still… had Bell spent his entire life waiting to hear about their father from her, because of what that old man had said? Had he spent nights and days, just wondering about his father? If she never said anything, who else was he going to ask now that his grandfather was gone?

Looking into those red eyes that seemed as innocent as the day they first met, she remembered his first words to her. How they were among the first kind words she had directed to her by someone other than her mother. How she had responded afterwards. It dropped a weight from her chest into her stomach as she clenched her teeth. He… deserves to know that much.

“I didn’t know him personally either,” she began, taking a seat next to him with the magic-stone lantern between them. “But Mom told me about him. About every little thing she knew about him and the time they spent together. It’d take too long to get into a lot of the details, but… I can tell you a little of what I know while we catch our breaths.”

His ears stood up in attention, almost like a rabbit. She’d say it was cute if not for the fact that it was… him.

“To start with, our father was like us,” Lefiya said. “He was also a member of an Exploration Familia. One that used to be here in Orario but frequented outside of the city often for quests. It was the Zeus Familia.”

He perked up at that. “Then, he was an Adventurer?”

She shook her head. “He was a Supporter. Nowhere near as glamorous or whatever ideal you’ve got in your head about him. In fact, Mom said the rumors from the other members of the Familia who stayed at the outpost when she was visiting at the time painted him as a coward who would run away at the first sign of trouble… and even then he’d still try to look cool in front of women.”

It was like watching a balloon deflate as whatever image he was forming in his head crumbled. Most people don’t think Supporter after all when they think of someone being part of a Familia. It carried a stigma even beyond Orario, and she could almost imagine that same look on her face when her mother told her the story of how they met.

“Still… he had saved Mom when it counted,” she continued before his image was ruined entirely. “Despite being a coward, he put himself in danger to save her from a monster that had come close to the forest. Despite there being others capable of dealing with it, he was there when they weren’t and ended up getting hurt for her sake.”

Her mother had described how terrified she was that she was going to die. How relieved she felt when he rushed in and put himself between her and it, only to be replaced with horror as the scent of blood and her vision turned red from the wound he sustained. It seemed like it would have almost been a mutual kill—the short sword he had plunged into the monster whereas the claws had torn into him, but he had only asked if she was okay.

“Mom said it was like a whirlwind of emotions had swept her up since then. She felt bad that he ended up being left behind, but he assured her they could get by even with a coward like him not being there since the only good thing about him was his running speed. She felt angry he talked about himself that way even as she ended up tending to his injuries while the rest of the Familia went on to finish their quest over the course of the month. But, by the end, she said it was the happiest month she had known—and well one thing led to another.”

That tryst had complicated things. A lot.

“…Grandpa told me a little about Elves,” Bell said. “He explained that she had a rough time because of it. And that might be why it would have been better if I stayed with him after we left. It must’ve been hard for you too.”

He wasn’t wrong. Being impregnated by a human, not even a strong Adventurer but a Supporter at that, had left a certain stigma with her mother. More so since she was unwedded. It left her sullied—and unable to return to the heart of the forest where she first hailed from. Working and living at the outpost was the only way she could remain even close to the forest.

Even so, her mother had loved her. And even though she never saw her father, her mother made sure that she knew he loved her. He had been the one who also provided part of her name—named after the leaves that danced in the air after being swept up in a whirlwind, just like how her mother had felt.

“…Anyway, that’ll have to do for now,” she said, bringing that to a close for the moment. “We’ve caught our breath. We should focus on getting back to the camp—”

GRRRRRRRR…

For a moment she thought she heard the growl of a monster lurking nearby. But then she heard it again and noted it came from next to her. Specifically, the stomach of her younger brother who had a crimson hue painting his cheeks.

She gave him a flat stare. “You’re hungry at a time like this? Really?”

Well, you chased me right before dinner time and I spent most of the day running around apologizing to everyone before that, so…

“…You are unbelievable,” she said with a sigh before looking around. No food she could spot with limited visibility. She scrounged around the pockets of her combat outfit until she came across the Crystal Drops that she found the day prior. She had thought to share them with Filvis, but desperate times. “Eat this one, it’ll at least tide you over until we can get back to camp.”

He beamed at the treat. “Really!”

It ranked her. “Only because we’re lost. Those are worth a lot on the surface, so make sure you savor it slowly!”

“Yes, sis—” He caught her glare. “–er, ma’am.”

Hmph…” She gave him a side-glance before taking the other one into her mouth and doing the same as she began to wrack her brain on how to get back to their group. As much as she hated to admit it, this was partly her fault rather than his.

She needed to see him back safely to his own Familia, at the very least. There were rumors that Adventurers who explored this part of the floor had gone missing, on top of monsters from other floors coming in, so it wasn’t safe for him to be here. Not when he was a fresh Level Two Adventurer.

It was her responsibility to see him to safety.

So she would.


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 1 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 1: The Start of a New Tale

Few knew the “true” tale of Argonaut. For the one who was heralded as the “hero of the dawn” was a jester who wished for his tale to be a foolish comedy without tragedy. But, as his next great adventure took his life, there was one who stood by his side and made a solemn pledge:

To my dearest and beloved brother, Argonaut, I make to you this pledge.

Even though we part in this life, I will await you in the next.

May we be reborn as true siblings, so I can remain by your side.

And I vow as your sister to see the next chapter of your story be written…

As a heroic tale without a tragic end.

—Fina, Beloved Sister of a True Hero.

As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be written in Orario…

Of brother and sister.

Bell and Lefiya.

[-The Start of a New Tale-]

There were two things that Lefiya Viridis hoped would remain buried in her past.

The first was that she was born sullied. She was dirty by the distinction of her blood not being of two that heralded from the Wishe Forest. It was a rich paradise of greenery, where magic was woven into the very roots as rites and rituals from before the age of the gods were recorded and preserved. But beneath the veneer of its glamour laid an undeniable truth that was abundant to her from the first day she had been old enough to recognize the look that others cast upon her was one of scorn.

She, as a half-elf, was not welcomed. Born to a society that represented elegance and grace, one born between a non-elven father and an elven mother was not seen as an equal. That was something she had to live with as long as she called that forest her home.

There was little wonder why she set out for Orario and never looked back.

The second, however, chased her all the way there.

His name was Bell Cranel.

And he was her younger brother.

She hadn’t known about him until she was around four years old. It was only because she lived on the outskirts of the forest that such a meeting was even possible—that her birth was possible, for that matter. Their home claimed not to be as restrictive of visitors as that of the Alf’s Royal Forest, but few who were not of pure elven linage could claim to have laid eyes on the heart of the forest.

Travelers never made it past the edge of the forest. The outpost was where her mother worked, and it was through there she had met her father. It was a union that never should have happened, but it did and she had been born to an unwed mother.

That day there had been an old man waiting for them. Her mother recognized him. They talked alone for some time in a room as she sat outside with a little boy that looked like a small rabbit. He had a bed of white hair that looked soft like a cloud and spotless eyes that were as beautiful as rubies—and, with two little words, he made her heart flutter.

You’re pwetty.”

It was the first time someone had told her that. Not that she was sullied. Not that she was different. She was left with her cheeks flushed the color of a rose as she couldn’t meet his innocent gaze.

But then her mother came outside and told her. She told him that his name was Bell Cranel. She told him that his father was her father.

That he was her younger brother.

Then… she didn’t see him as the little boy that looked like an innocent rabbit, his round eyes widening with joy at having a sibling. She saw him as the sum of every problem she had. Her absentee father had left her mother alone, only to have a son with someone else. It stoked in her anger that she never knew she had as the man wanted her to take him in so that he would have a family.

“I never want to see you again.”

Those words came out on their own before she ran off and hid until he and the older man were gone. The sight of his eyes watering lingered in the back of her mind for years to come afterward.

She threw herself into her studies as she got older. Every second put forth to excel. To prove her worth. But even when she demonstrated talent befitting one of the Wishe Forest, it was seen as being despite her heritage. The lineage of her elven ancestors compensated for her human flaws, from her appearance to her magic.

Then she left the home and came to Orario. She managed to join one of the most prestigious Familia there. She managed to become the student of Elven Royalty, where others who were pure could only dream.

That was when she met Bell again.

He had come to Orario now that his grandfather had died and he was alone again. He wanted to join her Familia to be with her, because they were family, despite never seeing one another since that day. But once more words came out of her mouth before she could stop herself.

“You aren’t good enough to join this Familia. So go back to your farm.”

It was cold. But it was true. She had studied to get this far and went through hardships he hadn’t. Countless others wanted to join as well, so why should she use the fact that they shared a father to give him an easy ride?

“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”

“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”

It was nothing more than to humor him. The Sword Princess had become Level 6. It would be impossible for him to reach that level, so he should just go back to where he belonged.

But that was when the rumors started. Each one telling stories of the boy with white hair and red eyes. Each one telling how he was risking his life in ways that should have killed him over and over again.

And each one stirred different emotions within her.

The first threaded her chest with tension due to a Minotaur appearing on the upper floors, followed by relief when the white-haired boy had been saved by Aiz. She hoped he’d take it as a lesson and quit going into the Dungeon, to go back and live a safe life somewhere else. But she felt more grateful to Aiz than usual since that day.

Then was the fear and doubt upon hearing of the boy who fought the Silverback on Daedelus Street having silver hair and red eyes. That couldn’t possibly be him given that was a monster that upper-tier 1st Level Adventurers struggled with and he hadn’t been there for more than a few weeks.

It must’ve been someone else. But she felt that maybe she should make sure he isn’t getting in over his head before brushing it off. It wasn’t her fault if he did something stupid in the end.

Then bewilderment upon hearing that he was the one who beat Aiz’s record as the fastest to reach Level 2. It was insane. She struggled so hard to reach Level 2 and clawed her way up to Level 3. Yet here he was already and suddenly his words resonated in her chest.

The third time they saw each other was on the 18th Floor. She had heard the commotion and came out to learn that a party had come down from the 17th Floor, having been attacked by the Goliath. And one of those was a boy with white hair and red eyes who had no right being there.

There were no words to describe the feeling of pain in her chest when she opened the tent to see him lying there. She volunteered to watch over him until he woke up. No sooner did the flaps of the tent close did she curl into a ball as her mind flashed back to every time they had seen each other before then.

“You’re pwetty.”

“I never want to see you again.”

“You aren’t good enough to join this familia.”

“Then, if I get strong enough will you accept me?”

“If you can get as high of a Level as Miss Aiz, maybe I will.”

Now, as she looked over his sleeping face, she pictured what their fourth time meeting would be. It would be her standing there and looking over a gravestone with his name on it. All because he was getting himself into so much trouble trying to catch up to her. All because he was putting himself in danger just for her approval.

It was so stupid. So suicidal. So why…

Why couldn’t she stop herself from crying when she thought about that?