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.
—The Boy with White Hair and Red Eyes
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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!”
Chapter 11: Banquet of the Gods
Bell Cranel was on the move the next afternoon, on his way down the Main Street to the tower of Babel at a somewhat sluggish pace. Last night he’d had some trouble sleeping after taking a shower. And he had spent an hour beforehand settling potential issues over what happened in the Hostess of Fertility before heading to the Guild.
Keeping with his promise, he first went to apologize to Syr over the mishap that happened last night. He made it clear that his departure was because he had been uncomfortable with the Loki Familia due to an embarrassing event in the Dungeon. She didn’t really press him on the finer details, which was something that he was grateful for given that he didn’t want to lie to her, though she did manage to worm him into having brunch there.
The menu changed during the day, though the food remained very good. It was also more accommodating to his wallet, probably because it was catered to a more casual customer base then. Adventurers were the primary source of income in Orario, so they had the highest earning margins next to the ones who ran larger Familias and exported magic stones. He would have to take Hestia there some time.
After that was the matter of visiting Miss Eina at the Guild to ask about any places where he could buy armor today. When he brought up what his budget was like now that he had paid off his Guild-loaned equipment yesterday, Eina told him of a reasonably priced shop that was on the upper floors of Babel. She’d even given him written instructions to make sure he didn’t get lost by accident.
Going straight down West Main soon brought him into the Central Park, where Adventurers were coming and going. It was a nice day that was the same as usual for Orario as far as he could tell in the time he had been there, such a tight yet bustling feeling. The sensation of life and open movement all around him was a strong contrast to the coffin and blood-encrusted streets of Yharnam at night, where only the beasts that stalked the shadows lurked.
The memory of the Hunt stilled his feet as it briefly floated to the surface of his mind. But he shook his head vigorously, slapping his cheeks and letting the sting bury the memories once more. He wasn’t going back there.
I’m going to continue on my life as an Adventurer, not a Hunter. Resolve in mind, he was about to take another step forward—
“Move it you lousy Supporter! We’re running late!”
—when he heard someone commanding someone else to move just barely above the rabble of the Adventurers around him. He turned to the source of the sound to see a male adventurer, one in a party of four, complaining about being late to enter the Dungeon to a small figure that was dressed in a plain robe that looked ragged at the edges.
He couldn’t make out the person’s face to determine their race or gender, but they looked so tiny that they could’ve been a child. Yet, the backpack they were carrying looked to be the size of a person, thrice their height. It must’ve weighed a lot for them, even if it was empty. But their party was telling them to move faster as they forced their way past the other Adventurers into Babel.
Since their destination was the same, Bell could only follow in their footsteps into Babel until they mixed into the crowd that was heading down to the basement floor. That would take them to the spiraling staircase leading into the gaping maw of the abyss below. Into the Dungeon.
He went the other way, towards the wide lobby that was past one of the many arches that surrounded it. The blue-and-white, expansive floor never failed to impress him as he entered it, and it was there he found what he was looking for as a rough looking man stepped onto a circular pedestal and pressed a button on what looked to be a console. Glass rose up to wall him off from the rest of the lobby and he ascended on the elevator that Eina had mentioned in her instructions.
Bell approached one of the pedestals himself, intrigued as he tried to work out how it could function. He wasn’t all that accustomed to the conveniences of Orario compared to his village, but given it was the source of a good deal of the magic stones in the world he could reason out they had more chances to develop devices like this. Bell pushed the button to activate it and felt gravity being defied beneath his feet as he ascended the heights of Babel for the first time.
This is pretty cool, he mused silently as he pushed open the glass of the elevator when he found himself on the Eight Floor. It had a good number of Adventurers roaming around, weaving in and out of the various stores that had displays of weaponry and armor for those who would brave the Dungeon. Bell was naturally drawn to the various shops but had to stop himself from wandering off and went into the one on Eina’s instructions.
The inside of the shop that was that of stone and wood, lined with steel in the form of weapons and armor that had been forged in fire and tempered by the hands of the blacksmiths working under the name of the Hephaestus Familia. On the walls were weapons and shields, alternating as they decorated the solid stone, price tags placed in view at prices that weren’t drastically above what he had on him at the moment. Short shelves that the walls were used to support the smaller arms or unique pieces that drew in more than a few curious eyes.
Maybe it was just because he was still relatively new to Orario, but it still amazed Bell as he looked at all of it. Even with the fact that Hestia had told him before of how she and the Goddess of the Forge were old friends, and that her Familia was one of the best when it came to blacksmiths. It really highlighted the differences in their Familia that Bell couldn’t even properly grasp the perspective or the amount of valis it would take to rent out all these floors for their blacksmiths.
Bell figured that he could spend hours just window shopping if he didn’t already know what he’d come in for. It was lightweight armor to replace the breastplate he’d lost setting foot into Yharnam. Something stronger than the one he’d gotten from the Guild, given that a sickly beast in Iosefka’s clinic had torn into it, while the claws of the Cleric Beast ripped it apart completely and took a pound of flesh with it.
Lacking any armor when he’d gone into the Dungeon and met the War Shadows could have been a death sentence. It would have been if not for the fact that blood still healed him since he’d gone in without any potions either. He couldn’t skimp on the armor from here on out.
So, Bell ventured towards the back of the store where the armor was placed on mannequins. From the look of it, the more expensive and extravagant items were closer to the front of the store, where more people would be inclined to buy them. That meant the more practical pieces would be further back.
The backside of the store had larger shelves that rose up above his head, sorting into aisles that had different items. More of the customers were looking through them, paying little mind of Bell as they inspected the different pieces. There were also barrels at the ends of some of them, containing larger weapons like spears.
Bell went past them, moving further back to where the lightweight equipment was. Most of them didn’t have mannequins but were instead housed in boxes of equipment pieces. Each one had a different style of handwriting on the tags, so if he had to guess the ones who made the armor were the ones who stocked it.
He went past the different pieces until he found one that drew him in. The polished metal that was pure white like the moon glinted in his ruby-toned eyes with an almost enthralling allure. Bell pulled out the main piece and just stared down at the breastplate meant to shield the vitals of the chest, including his heart.
It felt light. Even lighter than the one that he’d gotten from the Guild when he joined. Yet, he got the feeling that it was harder despite that. It was probably made from a different kind of metal than the standard one used for Guild-issued armor. But would they bother putting something like that in a box not even worth displaying?
They probably might in a shop run by this Familia, he figured before looking at the rest of it. There were guards for the joints, knees, and forearms along with plates for the lower back, shoulders, and hips. Additional bits and pieces that didn’t have the same grade of protection that full armor would give, but more than necessary for simple lightweight armor. And all of that at only 9,900 valis.
Flipping it over, he spotted the signature beneath a stamp that had a rabbit silhouette. The name “Welf Crozzo” didn’t ring a bell to him, but he hadn’t been there for very long. And if he was famous then there’s no way they would have put it back here. He must’ve been a novice blacksmith then.
Well, if this works out then I’ll keep that name in mind. Decision made, he took the box with him to the counter and paid for his new armor before heading back to show it off to his Goddess.
Once night fell, it was Hestia’s turn to venture out from the small but homely comfort that was her room beneath the Church.
Her destination was the home base of the Ganesha Familia, which had been established within a massive statue surrounded by a stone wall, with the entrance being the statue’s crotch. The various Gods and Goddesses had gathered for the celebration being hosted, a cacophony of communion between the different deities that made their home here in Orario. That made it the best place to gather information on Achelois’ whereabouts.
Hestia started her search at the buffet table, where she spotted Hermes and Takemikazuchi. The latter was being egged on by the former on in trying to finish a large plate of meat, dressed in his formal montsuki kimono adorned with his Familia’s emblem. The Goddess of the Hearth looked down to her own ordinary clothes and fought down the slight feeling of inferiority that she felt upon seeing how well he’d dressed when she didn’t even have celebratory clothes.
But Hestia shook her head to drive away those thoughts before touching the ribbon that had been elegantly tied into a bow around her neck. She wasn’t here for her own reasons, but for Bell’s sake. That thought allowed her to approach them both with a somewhat cheerful, “Take! Hermes!”
Takemikazuchi forcefully swallowed his meal upon noticing her and then cleared his throat so he could speak. “Hestia, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Hestia’s response was a good-natured retort. “The same could be said with you. Don’t you have a bunch of children waiting for you at home?”
“My children actually insisted that I come, citing that I should mingle with the others instead of working tirelessly for them.”
“What considerate children you have.” She then turned to Hermes. “And Hermes, I was looking for you too. I don’t think that we’ve seen each other in a long time.”
“Well, my Familia does travel a lot so I’m usually out running message and errands.” He snapped his finger as if something came to mind. “Though, I’ve heard you have a child in your Familia now. Mind if I ask who?”
“His name is Bell and he’s a very sweet boy. He’s only been at it for a short time, but he’s hard-working and even managed to get down to the Sixth Floor on his own.” She puffed out her chest in pride as she boasted of how special her child was, even though she was frustrated that he’d gone deeper than that on his own. It was a complicated feeling, to be honest.
That was partly why she had come. She didn’t have much to her name and she had few friends. But if she could at least have them help her keep him safe, then that would be something she could do as his Goddess.
Hermes only smiled in a mischievous manner. “He sounds like an adventurous one. You’ll have to introduce me some time.”
Then I’d be worried you would rub off on him, Hestia thought to herself before moving onto her first question now that the pleasantries had been done. “Anyway, I was wondering if either of you had seen Achelois? I’ve been looking for her, but I can’t seem to find any trace of her.”
“Achelois?” Takemichizuki put his hand on his chin and looked up in thought. “Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen her at all since I arrived in Orario two years ago.”
“Miach said the same thing, so I thought that she might be outside of Orario. So, if anyone of us would know, it’d be Hermes.”
Hermes held his hands out and shrugged. “Well, I’m flattered you think so highly of me, but I’m afraid that I don’t know where she is either. The last time I heard from her she was still searching for someone to join her Familia with little luck. As I’m sure you know, it’s fairly difficult to start a successful Familia these days if you don’t have much to offer.”
Yes, Hestia knew that very well. The more established Familia within Orario were the ones everyone wanted to join. And if you didn’t have much to your name to start with then few would take the gamble to help. “That’s true, but I can’t imagine that she went back above. So, she has to be somewhere.”
“Well, I could try sending some feelers out when I leave again. But why exactly are you looking for her?” he asked.
“Ah… that’s… a bit private, actually…” It wasn’t like she could just say what was going on with Bell to them. Especially not in such a crowded event. “Let’s just say we need to have a Goddess-to-Goddess talk.”
“Aww, yer worried she’s gonna poach yer child?” Hestia tensed, a shiver running up from the base of her spine to the top of her head. That voice was the last one she’d wanted to hear tonight.
“Loki.” The Goddess of the Hearth practically hissed that name as she turned to find said Goddess right behind her, grinning in her sleek, black dress. “What do you want?”
“Just saw the crowd and came to say hello,” she claimed. “Well, that and I heard ya talkin’ about your child. That’s the one that ran into a minotaur a while back, wasn’t it?”
“And I think we both know who’s responsible for that,” Hestia said. “Bell could have died!”
“That’s the risk of goin’ in the Dungeon.” Loki’s small shoulders rose and fell before she took a sip of the drink she held in her left hand. “Besides, kid made it out fine under his own power, despite being a Level 1. Makes a lotta sense that ya’d hafta worry about him falling into the arms of another Goddess when a shrimp like ya can’t even afford a decent dress.”
Hestia’s temper flared. She rose on the tips of her toes to get right in Loki’s face and struck her weakness. “This coming from one who can’t even grow a decent pair to fit in a dress!”
Then Loki’s temper flared. She scowled, baring her teeth. “Them’s fightin’ words!”
“Bring it on!” she answered in response, but before either of them could act on the animosity, the guys stepped in. It wouldn’t do to have the two come to blows after all. Takemichizuki put his hands onto Hestia’s shoulders and gently pulled her away as Hermes did the same for Loki, albeit with a lot more effort.
“Easy, Hestia,” he told her. “Your child would be disappointed if he learned about you getting into a needless fight.”
“Hmph.” Hestia folded her arms and looked away. “She’s the one who started it.”
“Sparks still fly like fireworks whenever you two meet each other, huh?” a third voice spoke, their tone lacking in surprise while drawing their attention. There stood the Goddess of the Forge, Hephaestus. “Goodness, the others were starting to take bets.”
Hestia’s frown was replaced with a brighter smile. “Hephaestus! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for a while now.”
“If it’s for a loan, I’ll tell you right now that I’m not giving you one,” she said, setting one hand on her hip.
“No, not that,” Hestia insisted. “Since you and Take are both here, I just wanted to talk to you about a few things, like if you have any children who might want to join in a party with mine?”
“What’s so great about just having two lumps of meat hanging off your chest,” Loki muttered indignantly as she grabbed another drink from a passing member of Ganesha Familia and leaned against a wall, watching bitterly as Hestia tried to arrange a playdate for her child.
Then the sound of high-heels clicking against the floor drew her eyes up to the approaching beauty. With skin as white as ivory and smooth as silk, her dress hugged her body sinfully tight and showed off her mature shape. It was the Goddess of Beauty in the flesh.
“Having a bad night, Loki?” Freya said with a soft, naturally-seductive smile.
“Whaddya want?” Loki demanded, pointedly looking away from the cleavage on display in front of her.
“I overheard your discussion with Hestia and something you said caught my interest. Mind telling me more about it over a drink of Soma?”
In stark contrast to the clamor of the Gods and Goddesses in Orario, there was only a single conversation that permeated the absolute, serene silence of the Hunter’s Dream.
The Plain Doll, her pale and porcelain body dressed in clothing that were finely-crafted and exuding a benign warmth that had been woven into the stitch, sat among the luminous flowers that rested on a hill by the phantasmal headstone. Her head was bowed before it as her soft voice rang out ephemerally in prayer.
“Oh, Good Hunter. I pray your suffering spirit has found comfort in your fleeting respite. I pray your tender heart has been soothed. But the Dream beckons thee to bring the long night an end. And the Hunt awaits your presence once more…”