Chapter 5: The Cleric Beast
Bell had found the unlit Molotovs easily enough by scavenging off corpses. He wasn’t proud of it, but the dead didn’t need them and he did want to get things over with as quickly as possible. But oil was somewhat scarcer and eventually he decided to take his chances against the Beast with what he had.
He quickly learned that was a mistake as he suffered his second death at the hands of a monster bigger than him. Though in this case it was due to him underestimating just how fast the misshapen creature while trying to ignite the Molotov’s rag. The moment his eyes left the creature, glancing down at the rag hanging out of the bottle, the Beast leapt towards him rather than lumber like he expected for something that looked so top-heavy.
It managed to cross the distance fast enough that he was almost caught underfoot. He’d wager that it was only because of channeling blood echoes that he managed to spot it in time not to be utterly crushed. However, the earth-shaking impact knocked him onto his back, shattering the bottle as it fell from his hand, and the Beast brought down its mighty fist to give him his first unglamorous death by caving his head in.
Fortunately, through some trick he didn’t understand, upon his death Bell seemed to return to a moment before the engagement began. It was as thought the minutes were erased entirely or something like that. So the Beast was always waiting on the bridge for the next encounter, a second chance for him to succeed or fail.
After taking a moment to come to terms with that, he tried again at a different approach and lit the Molotov before it took notice of him. That time he managed to fling it further than he ever thought possible before, no doubt due to his increased physical strength. But the Beast agilely avoided it, leaving the bottle to shatter and the flames to harmlessly lick the cold stone as it once more came towards him.
He dodged this time, avoiding death by crushing. However, the Beast then swept its other hand out. The thinner arm proved more powerful than it looked as the impact had been enough that it backhanded him over the side of the Great Bridge. His screams as he fell to his death could be heard all over Yharnam.
The third time was another failure, and possibly the worst. The Beast managed to grab him and then opened its maw wide. Bell was battered with its putrid breath, foul enough to make him want to vomit, before it bit down. He spent a few moments in the Dream shuddering until he could force the memory into the back of his mind.
So, as he stood near the point where the bridge led to his last few deaths, Bell decided to search for help and find a place where the Old Hunter’s Bell would chime within his mind. He figured he had two options: explore more of Yharnam or find someone who would have experience with that, meaning Eileen.
He picked the latter option, but she wasn’t where they’d been before. So the choice really didn’t matter in the end since he had to press further ahead. Of course, he regretted it when he ended up on top of the waterway, where he had the delight of meeting the giant rats that decided they wanted fresh meat over the corpse of another hunter they’d already taken to pieces.
The fight was ugly, but in the end he prevailed and then searched the fallen hunter’s corpse for anything that could help him survive his own hunt. But the rats or the fall had shattered the vials of blood that they carried, leaving the only thing salvageable being the weapon. It was similar to his Saw Cleaver, but longer and unfolded into a spear.
He wanted to take it with him. Never knew when you would need a new weapon after all. But he only had two hands and, though the backpack he was carrying may have been enchanted to hold more objects inside of it, it was already nearly full. He decided to return to the Hunter’s Dream and store it there, envisioning the Hunter’s Mark in the back of his mind.
To his mild surprise, Messengers popped up around him. They must’ve been the ones that pulled him to and from the Hunter’s Dream when he visualized the rune. Given how eagerly they seemed to help him, Bell decided to ask if they could take the weapon back instead so that he could progress with his hands free for his pistol and cleaver. They happily did so, grasping it and then pulling it down into the void from which they appeared while he continued on.
He eventually reached a point where he had a choice between going up the ladder or going down further into the sewers. The sight of the rotting corpses below guided his hands and feet into going the opposite direction, where shrieking crows threatened to deafen him and the giant with a brick tried to bash his skull in. But his search for oil proved successful in the end, courtesy of another poor soul.
He climbed the ladder up further and opened a gate there that led back to plaza before the bridge. Standing in the empty plaza, Bell felt exhausted that his efforts hadn’t yielded any results so far in finding someone to help—not to mention all the twists and turns in the place. If the Doll had been right about other hunters going to and from the Hunter’s Dream, then surely one of them had a map that he could use somewhere too, right?
After spending some time going through the notes and other resources in the workshop, Bell lucked into finding an old map that he copied down into a notebook that the Messengers gave to him. Through that he managed to get a better grasp of the city’s structure and eventually found a place where the Old Hunter’s Bell chimed softly in his mind.
The tall hunter called Gascoigne was a man of few words. Then again, he was but a shade of the actual hunter that the bell managed to give life to. Even so, he supposedly mimicked the real one and because of that Bell could only conclude that he was utterly fearless as, the moment he saw the massive Beast standing there on the bridge, the shade of the old hunter ran towards it with a battle-cry rather than waiting to formulate a plan.
The Beast responded in kind, shrieking as it vaulted towards the shade. The deceptively quick creature attempted to crush him underfoot. But he was light on his feet as he avoided the lunge with a well-timed roll and a pivot that brought the axe he carried around. The heavy and thick metal that had rust encroaching on it met the hide of the Beast, and for the first time that night it bled.
The Beast bled and the dark crimson spattered over both the aged and well-walked bridge and the weathered cloth that covered the old hunter. The smell of it reached Bell’s nose even halfway across the bridge, poignant like the first rain of the season but pungent enough that the scent managed to cling to the back of his throat.
Bell swallowed and then spat it out before the bark of the pistol Gascoigne carried resounded alongside a shrill shriek that were prelude the earth-shattering pounding of the Beast’s balled up claws. The sound drew Bell’s attention back to the unfolding battle, where the shade swooped amidst the dust and broken stones that were patterned with sprays of blood. It was a chaotic hunt between hunter and beast, a role that the former refused to cow from.
Eventually, the Beast bound backwards, revealing new rends torn in its flesh that gleamed in the moonlight like a beacon. Gascoigne pursued, axe raised and ready to carve open new paths that would free the thick blood that it housed within it. The cornered creature fought back, revealing cunning as it flipped the carriage that was against the edge of the bridge, near the massive gate to the Cathedral Ward, forward with its engorged arm.
It crashed into Gascoigne, who only took a few staggering steps backwards. That was when the misshapen hand came down, the outstretched palm moving to crush down on the remnant of the carriage and the old hunter that had been distracted by it. However, the veteran rolled backwards before it could land and then got back onto his feet in time to avoid the follow-up swipe that left the statue in the path of that arm to take the full brunt, shattering in the wake of the Beast’s fevered attempt to turn the table on the hunter.
We can do this, Bell realized. If things worked out like this, they could prevail. He could get one step closer to getting home. The notion of hope blossomed in his chest and snapped him out of his hesitation.
Bell ran with his pistol in hand. He took aim at the back of the Beast as it desperately tried to crush the veteran hunter’s shade that viciously hacked away with his axe with every opening shown, steadily growing more aggressive. Then he pulled the trigger.
The bullet molded of blood and quicksilver sped forward. With a wet sound, it punched into the Beast’s shoulder and caused it to lurch for a moment. Bell prepared to reload for another shot when the creature shrieked and lunged for him instead. This time he knew how to respond.
He rolled forward to escape the thunderous crash before getting to his feet and capitalizing on second he had before it got over the shock of landing by changing his weapon to its cleaver form. Grasping the handle with both hands, digging his heels in as he spun into the swing, Bell brought the cleaver’s inner-blade upon the rear tendon of the Beast’s closest leg only to feel it give away under the force of the blow more than the sharpness of the aged hunter’s tool.
It cried out with a pained overtone, jerking away the damaged leg, and then proceeded to wheel around with its claws.
Bell didn’t make it out of range in time. The jagged points managed to tear the chest-piece that he’d worn into the dungeon off as well as gouge out a pound of flesh, leaving him hitting the ground in pain. The wound on his chest stung enough that it would bring him to tears if not for fear and adrenaline driving him to get back onto his feet as the Beast tried to grab him with that large left arm.
Gascoigne let loose a snarl as he hit it from behind with a powerful blow, the axe now extended into a halberd. Bell could hear the tendon in its leg be severed in half and the bone snapped. It fell forward, crippled no doubt, and made a futile attempt to twist around on its good leg to kill the one that had done so.
The old hunter promptly abandoned his weapon for some strange reason, tossing it down and chambering his hand. That hand then warped into a claw for a brief moment as he roared, plunging it into the Beast’s ribcage that had a thin layer of flesh over it. Bone snapped as it broke through, and Gascoigne pulled out everything he could grab in a bloody gout.
As it reeled back, Bell hastily downed a vial of blood. The burning in his chest cooled, flesh mending. Refreshed, filled with strength again, he pulled out the ceramic urn housing the oil and flung it as hard as he could. The urn shattered against the antlered abomination’s broad back and coated it with the flammable fluid.
The Beast paid it no mind. It was focused on stopping Gascoigne from catching it with his unfurled axe. However, the man’s attacks were growing increasingly aggressive as more and more blood covered him. It culminated in the Beast backing off only for him to try leaping after it and then bringing the halberd down, burying it into the massive thing’s shoulder before it grabbed him with its engorged hand and then proceeded to bite him in half.
Bell was horrified at the sight, a reminder of his third death. But part of his mind noticed that there was no spray of organs or viscera. The Old Hunter’s Bell only called for the man’s lingering thoughts of the hunt and gave it form, so the real one was still around and he hadn’t led someone else to their death for the sake of his desire to return to home and hearth.
He really hoped that was the case, but couldn’t pay it any mind as the Beast began to heal. The blood that had been spilled over the course of the battle was turning into mist and swaddling it. The efforts made by them would be undone if he didn’t do something.
He grabbed the Molotov and lit the rag. The sight of the flames seemed to enrage the Beast, as it stopped mending its wounds and then rushed over to him with a powerful bound of its mended legs. Bell put all the strength he could into throwing it as death closed in, and the bottle broke against its oiled torso as it landed.
The Beast burned as Bell was knocked away by the slam, hitting his head against the cold ground and seeing stars. It burned with an echoing shriek that tore through the night as it flailed about in an effort to extinguish the wild hairs became a curtain of fire. The frenzied flailing had made it more dangerous than before as it flung itself towards Bell on instinct.
He fell into a roll to avoid it, springing to his feet just past its hind legs. The acrid fumes from the burning hair choked his lungs as he swung unfurled Saw Cleaver like a man possessed. The pounding in his skull left only one thought clear: he had to kill it before it could get back up.
So he swung his weapon hard enough to chop through the wiry, tough muscles and rip open the veins beneath it. Blood painted him and his weapon, to the point of soaking into the bandages wrapped around the handle. At some point, the pain in his head stopped after the blood managed to soak his hair and face before the Beast let loose a final, desperate cry and reached out for him with its lean arm.
Bell brought the cleaver around and managed to sever the limb with a sickening crunch and wet sound. The low rumble in the Beast’s throat that followed petered out into silence as it fell limp afterwards. It laid dead, body broken and burned as the flames continued hungrily eat away at it.
Bell stood back and watched, weapon held at the ready while panting. If there was even the slightest twitch to mark that it wasn’t dead, he would resort to chopping it pieces. Not even the sensation of the blood echoes flowing into him was enough to assure him that it was over before a solid minute passed.
A long, heavy breath escaped his mouth. The adrenaline slowly bled out of his body with every heartbeat that deepened and slowed. He turned around and went to the gate, only to find that it was lock.
“Is someone there?” he called out as he pounded at the gate. “I need to ask you how to end the night of the Hunt!”
There was no answer to be found. No matter how long he pounded at the gate, no one opened it. No matter how hard, only silence met his pleas to tell him how to end the night so that he could get back home—where he belonged. When the remaining energy left his body, he ended up leaning back against the unyielding gate and sliding down.
All of that effort, all of that pain, all those deaths—it was all for nothing in the end.
Bell sat there. He sat there with despair weighing down on him like a mountain, crushing the blossom of hope he’d felt earlier. He just wanted to get back to his world, to the goddess that became his family after the death of his grandfather…
As if responding to the silent plea, a pale glow suddenly shone in front of him. He raised head to see that one of those ghostly lanterns now stood in the middle of the road, mere steps away. The feeling that washed over him, the feeling of calm that would be found in the Dream, beckoned him towards it.
He yearned for the Dream at this point, tired and wanting to rest. He just wanted to leave Yharnam and the beasts and the horrors behind. As he moved his arms to get back up, his hands brushed something and a scraping noise came from it grinding against the stone at the movement.
He looked down to see that it was some kind of silver badge shaped like the hilt of the sword. It was more on a whim than anything he took it with him as he crawled over to the phantom lantern and brushed his hand against it. The touch ignited a pale flame inside of it that called forth Messengers around it.
“Take me back,” he all but begged.
They complied. Grasping him and holding as tightly as they could with their bony fingers, the Messengers pulled the weary Moon-Haired Hunter back into the Dream….
Chapter 4: The Doll and Little Ones
“—ahhh!” Bell abruptly screamed as he stood in a half-crouch, one hand over his head as though to shield him from harm and the other clutching the paper that housed the sigil of the rune buried in the back of his mind. When death didn’t come for him and the horrendous screech that served as a hunting-cry was no longer tearing at his ears, Bell opened his eyes to find he was back in the Hunter’s Dream.
Even though he’d joined the Hunt, he hadn’t been expecting something like that. He hadn’t expected that which lurked on the great bridge, past the beasts and giant and birds towards the Cathedral Ward. He had been so close when a great Beast unlike anything he’d ever seen bound over the walls to confront him—an antlered titan with one misshapen arm covered in wild hair that seemed to writhe on its own.
It made his brain tremble at the mere sight.
Taking a deep breath, he wiped the sweat from his brow until he felt a tugging at his feet. When he looked down, he found that there were little… creatures there. They were humanoid in shape, but withered as if starved and desiccated. He jerked his feet away on reflex and then held his Saw Cleaver in front of him as though to defend himself.
A serene voice calmed him the moment it reached his ears. “Be not afraid, Good Hunter. The Little Ones mean you no harm.”
He looked up towards the source to see that the doll that had lain lifeless against the stones when he left before now stood there. “What… who are you?”
“I am a doll. I am here in this dream to look after you.” She gracefully extended her hand towards the little creatures that were seemingly sullen at witnessing his reaction. “As for the Little Ones, the hunters also call them the Messengers. They are born of a nightmare, given strength through the echoes of life, and given wisdom through knowledge of the kin. They worship the Hunter of the Dream and seek only to aid you during the Hunt.”
“Oh…” Staring at the grouping of despairing little creatures, Bell felt like he had done something wrong. He crouched down, extending his hand while he apologized. “I’m sorry. You just caught me by surprise. My name’s Bell.”
They immediately seemed to perk up at the apology and reached out with their thin arms and bony hands to touch his. The mere act seemed to placate them greatly as they touched him in awe. Bell couldn’t help but wonder if people felt the same way when the gods and goddesses descended from Deusdia a millennia ago. He looked up as the Doll continued to move with grace until she was next to him.
“Do you know where Gehrman is?” Bell asked as he rose to his full height, which was still beneath hers. “There’s something I need his advice on.”
“Gehrman is asleep at the moment and not easily roused.” She stepped around the Little Ones to be by his side. “But please, tell me what troubles you. I may not know of the Hunt personally, but I have heard what others have said as they traversed the dream.”
He told her of the Beast that stood in his way and how he was hoping that Gehrman could provide a solution or knew anything that could help him. The Doll told him of how fire had been the bane of beasts since the dawn of the Hunt and that he would likely be able to find urns that would ensure that the flames caught upon it. He did recall some of the crazed villagers throwing bottles that burst into flames when they broke, and there had to be oil somewhere.
“Thank you,” he said. “I guess I’d better get to looking.”
“A moment, Good Hunter.” Gingerly, carefully, the Doll grasped his hand. Though her porcelain skin held no warmth, her embrace was gentle. “I sense echoes of blood slumbering within you. I can channel them and turn them into a source of strength for your sickly spirit.”
He gave her a confused glance. “Blood… echoes?”
She clarified for him. “The echoes of blood are the memories of the fallen, which flow to you upon the being freed from the shackles of life. You may use them to become strong enough to hunt the beasts without fear of their claws and fangs. Or fortify the blood and power that sleeps within you.”
He assumed that were those mists that rose from the blood of those he slew on the way towards the bridge. Did… did that mean he was absorbing their excelia to use as his own? Fighting down the implications of that, he asked, “So it’s like updating your status with the Falna?”
She returned the confused glance he gave her, only more subdued.
“Eh, Nevermind…” He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Still, if it’ll help then I’ll take whatever you can give me.”
“Then close your eyes,” she beckoned him softly. When he did so, he felt the mystifying feeling within him ripple through his body the same way that the blood of his goddess did when she applied it to his Falna to update his status. “Now, picture what you seek to be emboldened and the echoes will become your strength.”
If I’m going against something of that size, I need to be stronger to start with. The moment he settled onto that, the mystifying feeling solidified somewhat. It echoed, rippling through him and threading his muscles with an almost euphoric sensation that left him feeling… more.
“Echoes remain within you. What do you wish to embolden next?” Enlivened by the sensation, he continued until there were no more left. The Doll rose and asked, “How do you feel?”
“Better than ever,” he said. Then he noticed the Messengers nearby, holding a bell of some kind. He crouched down as they pushed upwards, as though they wanted him to take it. “What’s this?”
“It is a gift they want you to have,” the Doll said in their place. “The bell will chime softly in your mind when it crosses a place where one who yearns for the hunt felt strongly enough to leave a mark. Use it to call Old Hunters that would join you in your own hunt.”
“Uh… Thanks,” Bell told them as he picked it up. Then he turned to the headstone which marked the path back to Yharnam. Hesitation stilled his feet as he recalled the sight of what stood in the way. But when he looked back, he found the Doll and Little Ones there staring at him with a look of expectation. “I guess I should get back there, huh?”
“May you find your worth in the waking world,” the Doll said sweetly, with the Little Ones waving at him. “I will be here for you when you return.”
“Right…” He imagined that Hestia and Miss Eina were waiting for him to return to. When he thought of that, resolve moved his feet towards the headstone. He had to get back to them.
“A hunter must hunt. Do what needs to be done to get home and then put it all behind you like a bad dream.” Parroting the kindly woman who gave him advice the first time in, he prayed for a return to the Hunt and clutched his Saw Cleaver tightly.
Chapter 3: A Hunter Must Hunt
“A shame you chose tonight to begin your first hunt. It looks to be a long one.”
Those were the words of the strangely dressed woman with a beaked mask that called herself Eileen the Crow. They were sitting in front of a hand lantern that she tossed incense into in order to give him a reprieve from the beasts that lurked about. Bell was grateful for that much tonight as he regaled her of how he shamefully stumbled across her.
His tale started simple enough. He told her of how he ended up in the Dream, met the friend of hunters called Gehrman, took his advice to pray to the gravestone, and was taken to what looked to be a medical room of some kind, albeit it disheveled and partially ransacked.
Confusion and the sense of unease that came from being in an unfamiliar place lingered until he heard the tearing of flesh and the wet sound of meat being chew coming from ahead. The sound was sickening, sending a chill up his spine and tightening his grasp on the handle of his cleaver. Yet it drew him towards it out of a morbid sense of curiosity.
That was when he saw his first beast. It was large enough to rival Bell while huddled down, a broad frame wrapped in torn cloth and mangy, untamed and coarse hair. And it was in the midst of feasting on one poor soul, tearing chunks of bloodied meat out of the corpse.
He couldn’t help but back away for a pause in revulsion at the sight that was before him so suddenly, but the floorboards splinted under his weight. He fell backwards with a loud thump and the beast’s head snapped up to lay eyes on him. He got back onto his feet just in time for it to lunge for fresh meat with claws that were longer than his fingers and yellowed fangs dyed the color of blood.
It was sluggish though, looking somewhat ill or sickly. He managed to elude it and swung his weapon around like he had been taught. The fangs of his saw bit into the thin flesh and then tore it asunder, releasing a spray of crimson that painted the aged wood beneath them and caused the beast to step back.
But it was undeterred from trying again. The beast snarled as it circled around and then swiped at what looked to be a table meant to lay a person. When he backed into the room he came from to let the frame of the door catch it, the beast closed the distance and swiped at him with more success this time.
The claws slid down the chest-piece and opened a gash in the cloth beneath it that felt like a hot brand, earning a pained sound. Blood cascaded down his stomach and stained his shirt. The pain forced a reaction and Bell swung his cleaver in a panic before it could do so again.
Back and forth, uncaring of where he cut so long as it did, blood sprayed from the beast. It painted Bell’s front as he cut and cut and cut until the beast let loose a pained shriek. That gave way to a dying breath as it collapsed in front of him and went still.
Panting, Bell stepped away from the corpse and the remaining blood that slowly flowed in streamlets from it. A hazy crimson mist wafted off of the growing puddle and slithered in the air until it sank into his body. The creeping sensation of it slipping through his pores and trickling into a void within him that he never knew existed was terrifying, with a hint of jubilation in the back of his mind.
He shuddered at it before looking around and seeing movement behind the glass of a door at the top of the stairs. The fighting had been noisy enough to draw attention from the doctor there, enough for her to inquire what he was doing. She wouldn’t let him in since it was the night of the hunt, but she was kind of enough to give him a vial of her blood.
Outside of the clinic was little better. Three crazed men with elongated arms forced him to climb a ladder to escape, and even then they gave chase until they were partway up the ladder and suddenly raised their heads, as if sniffing the air. Whatever scent they caught drove them to go back down, but he couldn’t go back that way.
Moving away from the ledge, Bell spotted an uncanny lamp that seemed out of place in the middle of the road. It gave off a strange vibe, similar to that of the Dream, and when he pressed his hand against it a pale flame suddenly sprung to life within it. Already on edge after the crazed men, Bell ended up let out a startled sound of surprise.
It caught the attention of a man resting behind a nearby window that was thick with the pungent scent of burning incense nearby. The sickly man, Gilbert, had never heard of the Dream. But he was kind of enough to tell him that his best chance to learn how to end the scourge of beasts would be to talk to the Healing Church across the great bridge, as they were the ones that led the charge against beasts and handled ministrations of blood.
With nowhere else to go, desperate to find an escape, he made his way towards it and met more of the same. More crazed people that wouldn’t talk and yelled accusations of beasthood as they stood around a pyre with a crucified beast. More feral dogs that were rabid and gave chase as he leapt down an opening in a fence to escape what looked to be a small giant. And more beasts that chased him with a ravenous thirst that made escaping hard.
It was too different from the dungeon. A different sort of madness that couldn’t be found in the heroic tales his grandpa told him of. He couldn’t stand it.
So he ran as far as he could, until somehow he stumbled upon Eileen. The woman had been alarmed when he came rushing out, stumbling as he tried to put as much distance from the others that gave chase a while ago. Her blades were ready to go until he stopped and held up his marginally clean cleaver in defense and just stood there, panting and afraid.
The scent of the moon that apparently wafted freshly off him broke the tension, leading to her asking if he was a Hunter and the subsequent talk.
“Even though you’re scared enough to tremble in your boots, you have no other choice,” she told him with a sigh. “A hunter must hunt, even one so young.”
“But these aren’t monsters or beasts I’m hunting. They’re people.” He could rationalize killing monsters; it was the job of an adventurer after all. But people were a different story.
She shook her head and laid a hand on his shoulder. “No child, those that wander the streets during the night of the hunt are no more than flesh-hungry beasts. The people are like that sickly fellow you mentioned, locked away inside and burning incense to ward them away, waiting for the night to end. And that is the duty of the Hunter connected to the Hunter’s Dream, else the night will go on and the innocent will slowly be devoured until none remain.”
Which meant it was up to him to end it. That meant going up the bridge to the Cathedral Ward to see if they knew anything about ending the scourge of the beasts, cutting through everything trying to kill him. There was no way around it… and that thought depressed him more than anything.
“Take a look here.” Eileen presented an aged parchment that had a drawing written on it in faded ink. “Do you see something in the back of your mind becoming clearer as you stare at it?”
He nodded. “What is it?”
“That is the Hunter’s Mark, a rune that shows you are dreaming, proof of the contract.” She pressed it into his hand. “By wishing to return to the dream with it in mind, you can be pulled back to it from wherever you are. For one who still dreams, having a reminder of it to look at keeps it clear in the mind. Take it to use when you need to—from one hunter to another.”
“But don’t you need it?”
“I haven’t had any use for it now for quite some time.” She looked up into the distance for a spell. “No more dreams for me now. Better you use it when you need to.”
“You needn’t mention it.” She rose to her feet and shook off the bottom of her crow-feather cape. “Well then, I must be off. I have my own hunt to attend to, but you’ll be safe here as long as the incense burns.”
“What about your lantern?”
“I’ve got a spare, so you keep it.” She turned to leave. “And take this old woman’s advice: do what needs to be done to get home and then put it all behind you like a bad dream. But don’t let the blood get to you. It’s all too easy for the hunter to become the hunted.”
His hand rose as if to bade her to stop, but fell. Even if he wanted to avoid being alone in this place, he didn’t have the right to ask her when she had something to be done. Left behind with only the flame and lingering scent of the burning incense, Bell simply gathered his thoughts.
This place was a nightmare in itself, ripped out of the pages from a horror story. It was riddled with corpses and madness and coffins strewn about, a far cry from Orario and the life he’d live before it as a country boy. It only served to make him more determined to get back to Orario.
But that likely meant killing people that were slowly turning to beasts. While Bell had reconciled that he couldn’t be like the heroes in the tales his Grandfather told him some time ago, he never imagined that he would have to do that. Yet, to get back home, he had to find a way to end the scourge of the beasts and that meant getting past them.
He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but if he didn’t go back then what would happen? Would someone find his corpse? What about his goddess and Miss Eina? How would they react to his death?
When he thought about them, he didn’t really have a choice in the end. He had to get back to where he belonged. He had to do what he had to get through it as quickly as possible, so he could pass it all off one day as a bad dream. He had to be a hunter.
And a hunter had to hunt.
Chapter 2: Hunter’s Dream
Bell felt heavy as he slowly regained awareness. He was resting on the cold ground, lying in a bed of flowers that were silver and luminous, like moonlight sprouting from the earth. As he regained strength in his frail body, he lifted himself up slowly to take in the world that surrounded him—an isolated speck of land made of hillside and flowers, stones and graves worn by time, with the sole building being the one perched at the top of the slope ahead of him.
Confusion floated within Bell’s mind as he struggled to recall how he had gotten there. Then the vivid memory of the Minotaur striking him down flashed into his mind. He staggered backwards a few steps, grasping where the fist had stricken to find that the pain was gone and his head was whole.
“I… died,” he said in a soft whisper. Looking around at the tranquil surroundings that couldn’t be the Dungeon, a cold weight fell from his chest to his stomach. If he had died, was this was the afterlife that awaited him? He fell to his knees and started to silently sob amidst the flowers.
Miss Eina told him ‘Adventurers shouldn’t go on adventures’ so many times, by which she meant he shouldn’t go further than his level and without preparation. And then there was his goddess. Hestia had taken him into her Familia when others had refused and bestowed upon him her blessing, while he had vowed to support her. He took light of Miss Eina’s words and put his fantasies of meeting cute girls over supporting his goddess.
This was the end result of those less than pure thoughts, in a place where many died every day. Yet he could only regret it now, when it was too late.
“I’m sorry, Goddess. I’m sorry, Miss Eina.” Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes and dripped down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry!”
He sat there weeping for who knows how long, until the squeaking of metal wheels being pushed forward reached his ears. He lifted his head upwards towards it. There was an old man there that had seen many nights, looking down at him.
“Ah… the new Hunter, are you?” the older man said. “A bit young, I suppose, but welcome to the Hunter’s Dream. It will be your home, for now.”
“The Hunter’s Dream?” He wiped the tears from his face with his sleeve. “Then this isn’t Heaven?”
“I doubt such a dream could be called such.” He gestured for Bell to rise. “I am Gehrman, friend to you hunters. And you are?”
“Bell… Bell Cranel.”
“Well then, Bell. Do you remember how you arrived here?”
“I died… fighting a monster.” The boy could only imagine how his goddess would take his death once she felt the connection to his Falna vanish. “I died before I managed to do anything I set out to do and left someone behind. Now I can’t even apologize to her, or thank her for all she did for me.”
“…Do not give up hope so easily, young hunter.” Gehrman said with some hesitation. “There must a purpose that brought you here, a purpose that drove you to sign a contract. Many hunters have come and gone through this dreadful dream in exchange for something to be gained. Perhaps you too will gain what you seek by fulfilling your end.”
A fleeting hope welled up in his chest at that. If this wasn’t Heaven then maybe this was his second chance? He didn’t remember signing any contract, but if there was a chance to go back he’d take it. “How do I do that?”
“You must halt the scourge of beasts and end the night of the hunt, if you wish to leave this dream,” he said, turning the wheelchair around. “Come now. The night may be long, but there is much for you to learn.”
Bell followed the elderly man to the workshop at the top of the slope, past the doll that laid still. It was there that he was made to choose a longer weapon and a tool called a firearm, as the dagger he had at present was unsuitable for the prey that he was to hunt. The old hunter revealed how to unfurl the Saw Cleaver with a flick of the wrist, fire the pistol for a speedy response, and dye bullets with a Hunter’s blood to harm beasts.
Then he told him the value of blood, of how it could heal and strengthen both body and steel, and mentioned that while the blood that flowed through Bell’s veins was weak at the moment, it would become more potent a weapon in time. Then he sent him off to pray at the headstone and find some beasts to kill.
Bell didn’t think anything special of being told to go kill some beasts. In the last two weeks he’d been in the dungeon, facing off against monsters like Goblins and Kobolds. If beasts were just monsters, he didn’t think he’d have any trouble with learning how to deal with them.
He would learn that the Hunt was quite different than the Dungeon.
Chapter 1: An Answered Prayer
“Someone help!” Bell Cranel screamed as he stared death in the face. He had run as far as his legs could take him and resorted to crawling backwards, constantly moving out of desperation to escape, until his back was literally against the wall. “Help!”
His screams only served to further spur the monster chasing him. Towering over his small frame like an imposing giant, the mass of muscle and the head of a bull that was known as the Minotaur advanced slowly. What it was doing on the upper floors Bell had no idea, but it had given chase to Bell the moment it saw him and he had been running ever since.
“H-Help…” Bell said in a whimpering voice as he cowered. It was all he could do now that he was backed into a corner and unable to escape.
The bull-headed humanoid’s red eyes glowed with rage. It frothed at the mouth after having chased him for so long. Stomping forward, it let loose a bestial roar loud enough to make Bell’s bones rattle until the shadow of death it cast washed over him.
“Anyone…” he called again futilely. There would be no help. The savior that would spare him from death’s cold embrace was a minute away. The dungeon itself hindered her advance in an attempt to claim the life of a young adventurer this day and would not be denied.
“I...” Time slowed in front of Bell as the chambered fist of the monster began to rocket forward. “I don’t want to die.”
There was a flash of pain for a moment as the mighty fist of the Minotaur met his arms, raised in a desperate attempt to defend himself. Frail human bones snapped like hardy twigs. Flesh tore like paper. Last was a flash of pain as the blow connected to his head and his awareness ended…
I don’t want to die.
The next thing he knew, he was floating. His consciousness was in a daze and his body felt like it was being cradled by a gentle pressure. It was as though he was within the murky depths of the deep sea.
Someone, help me.
There was a distant light that seemed to start filtering in from above. Was it the Heavens? Was this it? Would he leave behind the goddess that took him in, the lone goddess that cared for him since he arrived? Would he disappear without accomplishing anything?
Not yet. I’m not ready to go yet.
He didn’t want that. But no matter how hard he struggled to move, he couldn’t. The strength just wasn’t there. All he could do was float there towards the inevitable end, praying silently for someone to give him a second chance.
Can anyone hear my prayer?
There was no God or Goddess that would overturn the cycle of life and death. It was an irrefutable law of nature that even they couldn’t easily interfere with. However, there was a being that was sympathetic to his plea.
It could not be defined as by the terms of the Heavens or the Earth. But rather it existed outside of them both and dwelled within the Cosmos itself. It reached for the colorless soul, cradling it tenderly against its bosom. Such a frail thing that it was… so fragile that it could likely be shattered with a hard touch. Yet, it held the potential to be tempered into an adequate Hunter that would bring the night of the Hunt to an end.
Thus it proposed a contract: An escape from death for as long as it served the will of this ‘Great One’ and a respite to the waking world for every great feat befitting a ‘Hunter’ chosen by it, until the night of the Hunt is brought to an end.
The colorless soul quivered in acceptance to escape death, yearning to return to life no matter what. So the Great One dyed the colorless soul the hue of paleblood and the contract was established, bringing the Moon-Haired Hunter to the Dream…