Chapter 17: The Silverback
Henryk was dead.
Bell had no doubts about that as he felt the man’s echoes filling in a void that he’d never knew existed prior to the Hunt. Only this time it had a strange sensation affixed to it. Like something was oozing into the back of his mind, a pulsing throb that left him to shake his head as he fell to his knees.
He didn’t want this. He didn’t want the man dead. He was that child’s last living relative, the only family she had left now that her mother and father were gone. Yet now he joined them in death in this graveyard that seemed eager to drink the growing pool of warm, dark blood.
As he stared at it, Bell felt the burning sting of tears forming in his eyes as he found himself longing for a simpler time while gazing into the moonlight reflected on the blood. Of a time when he and his grandpa were together. It was only the ragged breathing now coming from Eileen that pulled him out of the fleeting, wistful moment.
He looked up to see the Hunter of Hunters panting through her mask, leaning with her back against a gravestone. The feather cowl painted with shades of deep crimson shifted up and down as she struggled to catch her breath after the fighting, blades still held within her grip. It had clearly been an exhausting endeavor for her.
“You hesitated,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
“He was the only family she had left,” Bell said. Not really in defense of himself, but as a fact. “Her mother was dead when I got here. And her father was…”
He couldn’t bring himself to finish as he slowly turned his head. His eyes found the corpse of the Beast that laid where it had breathed its last breath. Still staring in the direction of where Viola’s body laid. The graveyard had drunken deep the blood of that child’s family this night.
“It was you who killed Gascoigne then?” she guessed as Bell let out a pained sound. Not quite a cry or whimper, but somewhere in-between. It served as an admission of guilt. “He was falling apart well before now. The fact that he’d turned simply meant the leash snapped now rather than later.”
“We could have still probably reached this one though,” Bell said softly. “There was a chance he could have snapped out of it. That he could have made it through the night without it ending like this.”
“And if he’d survived tonight, I’d wager he would’ve become a Beast worse than any you’d faced so far,” she said bitterly. “You’ve seen how the people here prowl the streets half-turned already. They’re the ones who give in quickly, the weak-willed and unaware. The beast comes right out before it has time to really grow or become a more suitable predator.”
She then gestured with her dagger towards the corpse of Gascoigne. “But the more the person resists giving in, the fiercer the beast becomes. The more blood they take in, the more they hunt, the stronger it becomes until either they embrace it, or it overtakes them utterly. Henryk was one of the Old Hunters and he’d lost too much this night to be able to keep himself together any longer than he had. Believe me when I say we’ve done both a mercy tonight—nothing worse for a Hunter than to become what they once hunted and endanger those they wanted to protect.”
Part of Bell recognized the truth behind her words, as he had with Gehrman. The Little Girl had said her father had become a Hunter once more to protect her. The same was true for her grandfather no doubt, yet he’d tried to kill her all the same.
“Even so, I still took that child’s family away from her tonight,” Bell admitted in a hoarse voice as he stared down at his hands. They were dirty, meshed with grave soil, sweat, and blood. “I can’t forgive myself for that.”
“And that’s why you should keep your hands clean from now on and leave the hunting of hunters to me,” Eileen said firmly. “Beasts who’ve devoured the men and women from the inside out are nothing more than that. Hunters that go blood-craving mad are only a step away. What I do is not out of malice, but to stop folks like you from tearing yourselves apart over the necessity of it.”
Is that really better? Bell had to wonder to himself. The killing would still be happening. Parents and children separated by the morning’s light as those who went out to hunt instead became the hunted. The only difference was that he’d be turning his back on it and pretending that his hands weren’t the ones stained in blood.
But… what else could he do?
“Head back to the Dream,” Eileen said after she sighed wearily, looking past the slouching statue that towered over them and towards the Oedon Chapel. The Little Girl was in there no doubt, weeping over her losses tonight. “You’re in no condition to talk with the girl, and you’ll only rattle yourself further. Take a rest and spend some time getting your feet back on the ground.”
Bell didn’t contest it. The Little Girl would be safe in the chapel, at least for a little while. Long enough for him to get away from the blood and beasts. Long enough for him to go back to Hestia. To that end he closed his eyes as tears stung the corners and let the Little Ones embrace him…
Then the calm serenity that haunted the garden of gravestones washed over Bell.
Refreshingly clean air lathed his lungs with every inhalation. The dirt and grime and sweat and blood of Yharnam no longer blanketed him. It felt like he was being scrubbed clean both inside and out as he was pulled between here and there.
Breathing deep the scent that the luminous blossoms in the field nearby seemed to give off, Bell opened his eyes to see that he was one more in the tranquil, yet somber haven that seemed to be a world of its own. He supposed it was similar to what the Oedon Chapel was meant to be for other hunters—a place to escape the Hunt. At least for a short time.
“Welcome back, Good Hunter,” the Doll greeted him once more. Her serene, yet inhuman demeanor was a comfort after the throngs of beastmen with snarling visages Bell had faced tonight. Yet the uncanniness of it denied him something vital that he desperately needed at the moment.
“Has that gravestone appeared again?” Bell asked, hopeful yet wary. “The one that leads back to Orario?”
“Yes,” she answered, gesturing with her porcelain hand towards the direction of the misty flower field and the great tree. “Will you be taking another respite?”
If Bell had any say in things it’d be a permanent respite from this nightmare. He hadn’t planned on coming back in the first place. But the Silverback had taken him by surprise and his weapon had been broken before his body.
Now that I think about it, I do need a weapon more suitable for that thing, Bell thought to himself as he looked down at his hands. Echoes still reverberated deep within him. The memories and life of two hunters among them. As shameful as it was to use it for his own ends, he needed their strength now more than ever.
Going over to the fountain where he’d left the badges taken earlier, he peered into the depths of the crystalline waters and found several of them beneath the surface this time. But he only had eyes for the hammer with the hilt of a sword. He reached down into the fountain once more and felt his arm sink into the depths as the echoes within him formed a bridge until he wrapped his fingers around the handle and pulled.
The hammer came out without any problems at first. Despite its size, the water only rippled as it was pulled free, with even the massive head slipping out of the imaginary depths. Neither his arm nor the steel that the stone was actually made of were wet, leading Bell to presume that the water actually acted as some sort of portal.
It was only once the weapon had fully breached into the same plane of existence did it suddenly become heavy. As befitting of such a massive implement, Bell found himself struggling to swing it around with any measure of success. After merely two test swings he had to let the head hit the ground with a dull thump as he rubbed his arms.
“Even for those who partake in blood, the Kirkhammer has always been a rather unwieldy weapon.” Bell’s head twisted towards the top of the stairs at that and found Gherman looking down at him from his perch, aged eyes taking his measure. “I would suggest allowing the Doll to strengthen your muscles, raise your stamina, and draw from the skill of the echoes you have to spare. She’s seen enough use to do so efficiently for you, given you’re unfamiliar with such arms.”
Bell’s gaze turned to see that the Plain Doll had already take her place by his side, patiently waiting for him to allow her to fulfill her purpose. The ethereal echoes within him stirred and began to thread his muscles once more for the sake of granting him greater strength as the euphoric feeling spread over him. The moment she released her grasp and took a few steps back, Bell took up the hammer again and swung it from shoulder to hip with both hands thrice before rearing back to deliver a harder blow onto the ground that sent tremors through his legs.
“It’s somewhat easier to use,” he admitted as he let out a breath and set it back down with the hilt sticking up. He couldn’t swing the thing around a lot, and personally he didn’t think it suited him. But he could use it back home against the Silverback and that was enough for now. “Still, against something fast I don’t think I’d be able to hit them with it.”
Gherman nodded in agreement. “As the Hunter of the Church began to run afoul of larger beasts, they resorted to larger arms rather than refining their skill. But that limitation was evident from the start. Hence why I would suggest pressing the latch you’d find between the grip and the guard to deal with more nimble prey.”
Latch? He looked down at the hilt and traced the design with his fingers up to where he found a rounded section. As soon as he put some pressure into it he felt it shift, just a slight amount. Catching onto the gimmick, he then put all the strength he could into squeezing it and heard a mechanical click.
Then he took the hilt into his hand and pulled the sword from the stone.
Holding it up, the light of the moon gleamed off the silver of the blade. It revealed the elaborate intricacies and flourishes on the guard. Compared to the other weapons he’d seen in his time as a Hunter, there was a marked difference in the design.
He swung it around a few times to test it. The blade much lighter and faster to use, though how much of that was due to his increased strength wasn’t something he could be sure. And while he hadn’t used a sword before he felt somewhat more proficient with it than he suspected he would be otherwise—though nowhere near good enough to be remotely confused with a swordsman.
This should be enough, Bell thought to himself as he sheathed the sword and hefted the Kirkhammer over his shoulder. It didn’t really hinder him while moving, another boon from the echoes it seemed. He also felt like he could fight a touch longer as well without getting as exhausted,
With this he was certain he would prevail, so redonned his Hunter’s Grab once more. They been mended by whatever magic permeated the Dream while the armor that he’d worn remained rather battered but would still serve. Last he moved to reclaim Syr’s purse only for his gaze to settle on the Tiny Music Box. The weight in his chest sunk into his stomach as he left it behind.
Now that he was ready for battle once more, he bid the two residents of the Dream goodbye. Then he made off to the phantasmal gravestone that led him back to Orario. He’d kill the Silverback and return to his Goddess’ side to confess his sins.
Perhaps she could forgive him for what he’d done.
Because he wouldn’t forgive himself.
The roar of the Silverback was the first sensation that Bell was exposed to as he reappeared within the plaza of winding labyrinth of buildings that made up Daedalus Street. The simian monster that towered over him was as it was before his death, thick and powerful limbs wrapped in unmarred white fur. It bared its teeth as it glared down at him from behind the visor placed over its head and then exploded into motion.
But this time Bell expected it as he unslung the Kirkhammer from its perch on his shoulder and reared back. It may have looked as if he was readying to take a massive, overhead swing but he shifted his grip so that his fingers were pressing on the latch keeping the sword sheathed. Then he swung it with a roar of his own as he squeezed down and the lock keeping it tethered was undone. “RAAHHHH!!”
The momentum sent the head of the hammer rocketing towards the Silverback, which had been so devoted to its frantic gait that it couldn’t dodge it entirely. The hammer caught it between the shoulder and chest with an audible pop before being thrown askew on the impact. It went sailing behind the Silverback, which staggered back into the center of the plaza while clutching its shoulder.
The black coat billowed as Bell rushed in with his silver sword in a two-handed grip. He’d learned the last time it’d killed him that fighting defensively would drag things out, until he made a mistake or risked getting others involved. Since he already had the measure of his opponent, he would be aggressive and finish things as quickly as possible.
Seeing the silver blade and the Adventurer rushing towards it, the Silverback drew back its uninjured left arm and slammed it down in an attempt to turn him into a smear on the ground. The stone fractured as it broke beneath the force of the earth-shaking blow, stone-dust obscuring his figure from view until he jumped from within the dusty veil and swung towards the monster’s head. The silver steel scraped against the metal visor as the primate moved its head and reflexively avoided it.
Bell fell into a roll the moment his feet touched back down on the ground, narrowly avoiding the swing he’d expected after the last time. The chain affixed to the manacle rattled as it threw up stone fragments upon smashing the ground where he’d been. Coming out of the roll, he spun on the soles of his feet as he spotted the monstrous gorilla bringing its other fist around to slam into him and then rocketed at an angle while he swung with all his might.
The blade buckled in his grasp, nearly jostling out of his grip from the momentum as he narrowly avoided the metal knuckles. But in exchange he’d traced a path along the top of its thick, powerful arm. The white fur that had been unblemished before was steadily being dyed crimson as ichor flowed from the wound, and the Silverback howled from the red, hot sensation of corded muscle being split in twain.
“I’m not done yet!” Bell rushed towards its unprotected flank as the beast naturally recoiled from the pain. He had just enough time to get in a quick swing, so he pushed his left-hand inwards to angle the blade before he used his right to swing it back around as he went past it. The bloodstained silver managed to part only a sliver of flesh between its arm and waist, leaving a streamlet running down. It was the best he could do and still throw himself into a handspring to get out of range before the Silverback rolled over in an attempt crush him with its massive frame.
Coming out of the exchange with his heart racing and blood pounding at his ears, Bell quickly turned to see the Silverback rip the visor affixed to its face off and throw the thing with the force of a cannonball. Too late to dodge, he tried to block it and the sound of metal scraping metal rang out with a bloom of sparks as it broke through his guard. The sheer might of the blow knocked Bell for a loop, sending him tumbling backwards and leaving his battered armor and leather coat to scrape against the loose stone until he came to a stop.
Releasing a shuddering breath and strained groan, Bell stood back up as the clatter of steel rang out at feet. One of his leg guards had come off, strap torn from the impact against the ground. His Hunter Garb’s were torn into as well, covered in stone-dust with bits of it meshed into a slurry from mixing with the blood splashed around from the beasts’ injured arm. But he was still standing and still armed, unlike the last time—he could keep fighting.
“GRRGAAHHHHH!” The Silverback roared with unbridled fury at him, slamming its massive fists into the ground before beating at its chestplate hard enough to dent the steel. It sought blood for blood.
Bell swept the blade so that the monster’s ichor spattered over the ground. The world had shrunken down, everything drowned out by the beating of his heart. He held the longsword at the ready as he locked gazes with the monster.
Then both hunter and beast charged with intent to kill.
Syr struggled to get through the crowd that was forming at the entrances to the Plaza of Daedalus Street. At first it was idle curiosity that drew her towards it along the way back from the orphanage. Then she heard the roar and a shout went out that apparently a monster and adventurer were fighting it out in the plaza.
Daedalus Street was a destitute neighborhood. Constructed into a winding maze that was inconvenient to navigate unless you were intimately familiar with it, there were few reasons to visit unless you had business there. And, situated far away from the Main Streets where vendors would sell their wares at prices more suitable for those with heavy coin purses to wide-eyed visitors, the people there lived more difficult lives.
Many of them would have loved to visit the Monsterphilia that was being undertaken at the coliseum, but the price was more than they could afford. After all, if they were living here then they were barely scraping by as it was. So, the fact that something akin to it was happening naturally drew the eyes of the people there.
Not enough to get in harm’s way, of course. They wouldn’t risk the monster coming after them or helping the adventurer in question if he was in danger. Especially not when the people here didn’t have the luxury of being adventurers themselves. Leaving aside that there were people who came from all over to Orario for the sake of being in a Familia meant most were filled to capacity, the risk of being injured and losing the little coin they could work for would be stripped away.
But they were curious enough to look from safer places that were just out of view. Peering around of the shadows and corners, peeking over the sills of the windows of their homes, onlookers kept their tongues from wagging as they watched. Even Syr wasn’t an exception when she finally arrived and recognized the adventurer in question.
When Bell had caught her eyes, he seemed like a somewhat meek and young boy. The fact that he was an adventurer wasn’t much of a shock. Even though she herself wasn’t an adventurer, in this city even the smallest child could be stronger than a grown man. That was why so many flocked to Orario in the first place—for the power or the glory.
Now he was wearing a stained, black leather coat that had been covered in dirt and dust and bloody grime, scraped and torn apart. Half-missing armor that had seen many battles judging from the cuts and tears in it could be spotted through the tears from where she stood, a part of it broken off near his foot. And in his grasp was a sword, leveled in front of him as he stared down a monster that was more than twice his height and at least several hundred times his weight.
The moment the Silverback roared so loudly that she could feel the soundwaves rattling her bones and charged Bell down, vision of the boy being flattened into the ground played out in her mind. Death wasn’t unexpected for adventurers. Several of the patrons at the Hostess of Fertility had often left out with promises to return only to never grace their doors again. Even so, she felt herself about to shout for him to run despite knowing it wouldn’t make a difference. “Be—”
But then black boots pushed off the ground. The tail of the coat he’d donned billowed as Bell charged forward. The bloodstained silver sword in his grasp caught the light as he courted death itself in a display that she could hardly keep track of.
Someone had armed the monster with metal knuckles of all things. The heavy steel was joined to manacles that had torn chains at the ends. She didn’t know if it was trained intentionally or not, but upon seeing Bell charge it reeled one arm back before sweeping out with the chains like a whip to lash at him.
He parried it with the sword, a bloom of sparks cascading over his face fixed in a half-strained expression while he angled the blade. The length of the chain scraped against the steel on its way past him, before the tip snapped as it hit the ground and tore out a chunk while Bell leapt forward and swung for its body. A silver streak followed by a crimson tail tore through its side, ripping through the white fur and adding to the color that was staining it already from previous close calls.
Bristling from pain, the monster spun around with its arms extended. Bell managed to dart back from the massive fists, but the chains lengthened its reach and he was forced to put the sword between himself and the length. The end snapped as it battered the silver steel and knocked him off balance, sending him staggering back as the Silverback jumped forward with a metal-knuckled fist chambered.
Syr winced as he brought the flat of the sword in front of himself to intercept it and the ear-ringing sound of metal hitting metal was followed by his smaller body being sent skirting back until he hit the fountain. He then darted out of the way as the monster leapt, crashing into the fountain and sending a spray of water and rubble over the battlefield before coming to a stop as something that looked akin to stone hammer appeared out of the ground next to him like magic.
The boy then slammed the blade into the handle, wrapped both hands around the grip, and threw himself back towards the Silverback as it did the same to him with a metal-backed fist chambered. Both swung for one another with the intention of killing one another, and Syr’s expectations were decidedly in the monster’s favor. Even though she knew that the Falna was the great equalizer when it came to men and monsters, the rational part of her mind expected he would meet his end here.
Yet, the white-haired adventurer won out the moment they clashed. The metal knuckle shattered with an audible crunch and she watched as the bones and flesh behind them crumpled as blood stained the head of the hammer. The Silverback cried out with a bestial shout as it pulled back its mashed appendage and the pain eclipsed all of its other senses. “GRRAHHHHAHGH?!!?”
Bell ignored it as he spun on his heel and stepped forward, swinging the hammer around once more. This time it found the monster’s knee and there was a sickening crunch as bone shattered like glasswork under the pressure, jagged bits piercing through the sack of reddening fur as the limb was knocked out from beneath the simian and left it prone. Then he chambered the hammer and prepared to crush its skull with an overhead swing in a gruesome execution.
Perhaps sensing the impending death, the Silverback lashed out a final time. It still had one good arm and good leg. It flailed its massive fist towards him, swinging with enough force to break stone as it backhanded him and managed to stagger him before he could execute it. Then it pushed off the ground with its remaining leg and lunged, hand outstretched to grab him between its stout fingers and wring the life out of him—
—and made no difference as Bell pivoted off to the side, twisting on his heel as he swung the hammer around in a downwards arch. It connected with another crunch that sent a shiver down her spine. And the offending limb was now nothing more than flattened, pulped meat that seeped into the cratered and broken earth.
“RRRHAHHHGHHGHGH!!!!” The Silverback raged in a desperate fury, trying to pull back its arm that was trapped beneath the weight of the hammer. Eventually it managed to wrench out a blooded stump with bits of white bone mixed into the mesh of vivid color that painted the fur clinging to what was left of its forearm.
The sight of it only served to send the monster into its death throes as it writhed around in pain, rolling and beating its stump against the ground. Its remaining leg tried to pick it up but failed, collapsing and unable to sustain its own weight. All it did was open up the wounds it had sustained further, letting blood escape and spatter out with every motion to paint the plaza further than the expanding boundary of the growing pool beneath it.
It was hard to look at. Not just for Syr. But for Bell as well, who she noticed had an almost shameful look on his face as he looked away. But then he closed his eyes and reached down for the point where his hilt and hammer met. The sword came out with a quick pull and a moment later he jumped onto the flailing monster’s back and drove the sword into its chest.
The pained sounds that filled the air were instead replaced with a deathly silence. The Silverback went still as its body slumped down with its final breath. Then it crumbled to dust and all traces of its massive corpse vanished as Bell’s blade was wedged between two halves of the magic stone.
He had won.
The cheering started about then now that the danger passed. The violence of the battle hadn’t been a deterrent for the people who lived there. It had been a thing of beauty for those who were unfamiliar with the depths of the dungeon and the dangers beyond a passing note, a clash where a monster and man fought tooth and nail against one another.
But there were no traces of happiness on Bell’s face as the crowd cheered at his performance. He simply averted his eyes from the crowd as he grabbed his weapon and then ran off down an alleyway. It seemed like he wanted to get away from it all—away from the crowd, and away from the moment itself. But that would be impossible given how quickly the rumor mill spread around here.
I suppose I could give him a little help in getting away, Syr decided upon realizing he’d be hounded all along the way the Main Street at this rate. She knew the streets well enough that she could intercept him, given that he didn’t know where he was going. And helping him slip away somewhere quiet until things died down later in the day was the least she could do after watching him make that expression…
Chapter 16: Tragedy of a Little Girl
“That wasn’t him,” Bell muttered to himself, breath coming out hot and heavy as he stared down at the corpse of Gascoigne where it laid. A great flow was rushing into his body, slipping into the void that shouldn’t be there. Blood echoes of the fallen. He repeated himself to stay sane. “That wasn’t Mister Gascoigne.”
That was right. He didn’t kill the father of the little girl who requested that he return the music box to her parents. He killed the thing that devoured the man from the inside out and wore his skin as he slaughtered the other hunters that were once here. He wasn’t the one who made her an orphan like he was after his Grandfather died…
The clamoring of the Little Ones was followed by a soft, pale glow washing over the darkened portion of the graveyard. There, where the oil lantern had been blown out, was a brand-new ethereal lamp. Just like when he’d killed the Cleric Beast. Did that mean he could go back now?
It was tempting. Even with the Silverback waiting for him, the thought of returning to his own world and getting back to his Goddess’ side was tempting enough that he reached out for the lamp without thinking until he saw the flames dancing within it. For the comfort her presence brought it would be worth the danger…
Except what would he tell her when he returned if he left that little girl waiting for her parents?
That thought made Bell retract his hand. Now that her father was gone, she only had her mother left in the world. He didn’t want to deny her even that and curse her with the agony of being alone.
So he turned his attention back to the corpse. The key that hung around its neck like a collar was likely the one to open the gate. He didn’t spot the little girl’s mother on his way here, meaning that she was likely on the other side of those gates. Hopefully safe inside the sanctity of hallowed grounds.
Bell’s boots made a wet, squelching noise as the stepped into the growing pool of blood that mixed with the grave soil and broken bits of cobblestone. He cut the rope and pulled the key free before shoving it into his pocket. Then he retrieved his hat and Hunter’s Saw, leaving the Messengers to take Gascoigne’s Axe.
Gherman mentioned that it was natural that the tools of the fallen be put to use. But he would see about having it cleaned up and repaired before anything else. Whether he decided to use it or hand it back to the girl’s mother, leaving it as it was would be an insult to the fallen hunter.
That done, he began his ascension of the stairs that ran along the side of the graveyard until he reached the top, past another row of chained coffins perched against the wall. The gates stood before him, broad and a little over twice his height. He was about to open it up with the key he’d taken when Bell spotted a gleaming patch of blood off to the side.
It could have passed as any other bloodstain. It was an unremarkable sight in this place, as he had the misfortune of learning. Some of the streets he had crossed were literally bathed in blood that refused to properly dry and seemed to quiver on occasion, despite the lack of wind. Under normal circumstances he would have continued on without a second glance—
Viola… forgive… me…
—but when he recalled the animal noise that could pass as speech in the Beast’s final moments, and the way it motioned towards the building that it led to in that direction, he felt a stirring in the very echoes he taken into himself. A rippling tinged with the bitter taste of regret. Unable to ignore it, Bell swallowed a lump in his throat and slowly walked down the side path.
The bloodstain was in fact a trail, one that was hard to notice with the oil lantern between the gate and the one that he could spot distantly at the end having been blown out. The space between each few steps had been marked by a small patter of the rich crimson that flowed like wine so easily within the city. He slowly followed the trail until he reached the last oil lantern where the small spatter had abruptly become a puddle of crimson pooled in a divot, where the stonework had been uprooted and a section of the fence meant to prevent any misfortunate tumbling down into the graveyard was conspicuously missing.
Bell found his heart beating heavily in his chest as he neared the edge. A single step would allow him to peer over to the rooftop of the building that had been fostered off to the side of the graveyard. Gathering his courage, he took the leap off the edge and landed onto the tiled roof.
And what was his reward for doing so?
It was to be greeted with the answer that he feared the most. A woman’s corpse laid pale and sprawled near the edge of the rooftop, her eyes that were already clouded over were fixed in the direction of where the Beast’s corpse laid. The color and warmth of her skin dyed the rooftop a vibrant shade that gleamed off the light of the oil lantern above.
“…please no…” he whimpered as he stepped over to the corpse, hoping for the absence of the only thing that would mark the woman as more than an unfortunate stranger. But that hope was crushed the moment he spotted the big, red jeweled brooch that hung off her chest. He reached down to pick it up and found an engraved name on the back: Viola.
Bell clutched the woman’s brooch to his chest as stinging heat prickled behind his eyes. Was it by the Beast’s hand that she laid dead? Or was it her death that ultimately served to let Gascoigne be devoured by the inside out by the creature?
He didn’t know. But what he did know was that he had to tell the child that her mother was dead, so he slipped the brooch into his pocket. Yet, when he prepared to hop down from the roof and return the way he came, he found that his legs refused to work.
Bell knew he had to tell the girl that her parents were gone. But the thought of explaining that the two people she loved the most in the world would no longer be there to greet her when the dawn came… the thought of seeing her face as he presented the brooch and explained where he found it… they became invisible fetters of fear that stopped him from going back.
It was wrong. Everything in his body was telling him to go back to that child when he thought of the loneliness that the she was experiencing. The uncertainty that gnawed away at her on the inside to the extent that she entrusted a precious gift to a stranger in the hopes delivering to her parents. But when he thought about telling her of their fate and his role in how it played out, he just…
He just couldn’t help but run in the hopes of losing himself for a moment.
Since his legs refused to carry him one way, Bell let them carry him through the gates of Oedon Chapel without looking back. He fled through the flooded basement and up the metal ladder until he emerged in what looked to be a reading room of some kind. Shelves of books ran along the sides of the room, with papers and the odd stacks to be found scattered about in a disheveled manner, while strange devices were on the tables were largely covered in dust.
He went past all of it and ran up the winding stairs at a frantic pace until his foot caught a rung near the top. He tripped and was sent barreling through the double doors that were nestled at the end. And what greeted him after the loud, riotous creak of the doors?
It was a grand hall bathed in fading light of the evening sun that had yet to be wrung out by the stark and uncaring moon, padding out the feeble candlelight within the vast structure of stone and steel. Dusty, decorative cloths hung from the pooled shadows that blotted out the ceiling, with dozens of statues reaching towards them or praying as they gazed towards the sky. And woven between those were a wafting, grey veil that was so pungent and rich that it clawed at Bell’s nose and throat on its way down to his racing lungs, forcing out a heavy cough.
“That was—” Bell jumped at the voice that was right across from him, pushing off the ground and clumsily reaching for his pistol while his heart pounded in his chest. It was already half-raised by the time he set his eyes on the source. “—quite a scare.”
It was… a man, Bell believed. Not a beast. He was covered in dirt and dust-crusted rags of deep red, pooling deeply around his thin and emaciated frame. His fingers were uncannily long and tipped with blackened nails that held a pebble, while his skin was gaunt, greyish, and sallow.
“For a second, I thought a beast had barreled in despite the incense. Worried me a good bit, it did,” he continued, rolling the pebble in his palm nervously. “The incense burns so thick that it masked your scent, but I can smell traces of moonscent now.”
He’s blind, Bell realized. At least to some degree, given his eyes were milky to the point the pupils couldn’t even be seen. Though, given how many things Bell had seen running around with little problem even though they were blindfolded or missing their eyes, it probably didn’t make him less capable. Someone had to light all the candles here. “…Do you… live here?”
“You could say that,” the…Dweller, he assumed the man to be, answered. “This here Oedon Chapel has been forgotten by most, but some of the hunters use it to get ready for the Hunt. Everyone else is all locked up inside and waiting for it to end, so they’d come here when they needed to get away from the stench of blood and snarl of beasts.”
The scent of the incense was quite thick, as he mentioned. And the atmosphere was quiet. If a pinch of incense in a lantern could ward away beasts, then this much would be a bane to any blood-addled thing looking for prey.
Bell lowered the pistol. Though he would admit the man’s appearance was somewhat startling, it was honestly not the strangest thing he’d seen in the last few hours. Especially not when he’d seen the rotting corpses in the canals that still moved at the presence of fresh blood. “I’m sorry for barging in.”
“No worries here about that,” the man said. “Since I heard the side door open, I take it you’re a new member of Gascoigne’s hunters?”
Bell’s throat went tight. “You… knew Mister Gascoigne?”
The emaciated man nodded. “His family’s been good to me. His wife is an especially kind one. She’d often bring me something to eat on her way back to her home and say a prayer for the hunt to be a safe one. Haven’t heard her come by as usual though. Did you see her on the way in?”
The words twisted in his chest like a knife to his chest. This man knew them all. He was waiting for them to come and they wouldn’t. “…dead…”
“They’re all dead,” Bell repeated, his voice cracking. “I was… was sent find Mister Gascoigne and Miss Viola by their daughter. She was worried about them and her incense were running low. So she asked me to find them, but when I went to the Graveyard… I found the hunters dead.”
“O…Oh…” The man’s voice became labored, its pitch a notch higher as if he was straining to breathe. “That can’t be. All of them dead? How?”
“It was… it was a Beast,” Bell told him, if only so that he could continue speaking. Gascoigne had died even before Bell had killed the monster wearing his body, so it may as well have been the truth. Or so the young hunter thought to himself as he took a staggered breath before he continued. “A big one. Took them to pieces. I found the key after I killed it.”
The man lowered his head to the ground, brought his hands together and mumbled under his breath before looking towards Bell with his blank eyes. “And what of his wife? Tell me she made it.”
Bell shook his head before he pulled out the brooch and stared down at it. The name on it said it all. “She didn’t.”
“Even her…” The man’s breathing was shaken as he took in the information and began to mourn the deaths. “All of them… savaged by a beast. Gods, why?”
“I don’t know what I supposed to tell their daughter,” Bell confessed, unable to stomach listening to the man cry without tears coming out his own eyes. “She’s alone and scared, waiting for them to come back. But they won’t.”
The Chapel Dweller drew in a breath and collected himself before he asked, “Di…Did you by chance come across Henryk’s body?”
“I don’t know who that is,” Bell said, wiping at his eyes. “I’d need to know what they looked like before I could say.”
“I… I don’t see much these days, but I heard that he wears an old, yellow hunter’s outfit,” the man explained. “It had a scent about it, though I can’t put it into proper words. His daughter, Viola, always said that no matter how often she washed it, it always stuck. Something about it being from a run in with a beast that gives off blue sparks.”
“I didn’t see anyone in that sort of outfit,” Bell said as he recalled the visceral scene he’d stumbled onto. The dead hunters, taken to pieces by the time he had arrived. Not one of them had worn such an outfit. None of the bodies he’d ran across so far had. “But if he’s the father of Viola, then… he’d be that little girl’s grandfather?”
The Chapel Dweller nodded his head, the rags covering him shifting with a sluggish flow. “The old man don’t like me much, but I can’t imagine from how the others spoke when they came in after a hunt that he’d have gone down without a fight. It’s possible he was running late and didn’t make it in time.”
Bell felt his heart stir with a fleeting hope. The little girl still had family then. If her grandfather was still around, then she wouldn’t be alone in the world. They still had each other, even after losing the other two. It would be hard, but…
“Kind hunter,” the Chapel Dweller called as hope began to flicker in Bell’s chest. “Could you bring her here? The little girl?”
“You want me to bring her here?”
“That’s right,” he said. “This night looks to be a long one and I bet it won’t end nicely. The least I can do for her folks is give her a safe place to wait out the Hunt until it ends. This here Oedon Chapel can be a safe haven for anyone who needs it tonight, so long as they have their wits about them.”
Bell sniffled as he considered the man’s proposition. She needed someplace safe to stay with her incense running low and asking someone else to give theirs up would be sentencing them to death. Though the pungent scent was almost rugged as it caressed his lungs inside and out, it would keep any beasts at bay.
More to the point, there was a faint sense of familiarity here that reminded Bell of the church that he and Hestia stayed at. Both forgotten little places of worship that was provided an escape from the trials and tribulations outside their walls. The warmth of the hearth and home was here, even if it lacked the presence of his Goddess.
“I’ll bring her,” Bell decided. “And if I find anyone else, I’ll bring them here too.”
“Oh, bless you, kind hunter.” There was notable elation in the man’s voice as he clasped his hands together and raised them towards Bell. “I know it’s asking quite a bit of you and I can’t offer much aid, but I think the other hunters have some sort of tool that you can use stored away in the trunk down the stairs. Take it with you if it’ll ease your troubles.”
Bell made his way back to the where the child’s home was and found the window still illuminated by the dull glow within it, casting the silhouette of the small figure on the inside. She was still there, waiting for the good news. Waiting for her parents to return.
He felt the urge to turn away before he came into her line of view. But it was his responsibility to see her to safety, and that meant he had to tell her the truth. So Bell presented himself to her, standing at the waist-high gate that served as a boundary between them along with barred window that was raised just enough for her voice to come through clearly.
“Mister Hunter, you’re back,” she said. “Did you find my mum?”
He took a deep breath as a lump formed in his throat, threatening to choke him with his own guilt. But he promised to get her to safety, which meant he had no other choice. Bell forced the lump in his throat down as he took out the brooch. “This is hers, right?”
Tiny hands reached out through the opening and gently grasped the brooch like the precious thing it was. She clearly recognized it, even before she turned to where the inscription was, as if she’d seen it countless times. “Where did you find it?”
Bell… lied again. He told that he went to the graveyard to see a Beast had finished killing several others, with her mother was among them. Her father’s axe was the only thing of his that he found next to a pool of blood with the key, giving the impression that he’d been devoured utterly.
He lowered his head once he finished reciting the lie and said, “I’m so sorry.”
A choking, heavy sob came from the other side of the window. The Little Girl’s mother and father were no longer among the living. In a meek, mournful voice she cried out, “Mummy… daddy… don’t leave me alone…”
Bell listened to her mourning for the mother and father that she lost, and pain stung at his eyes as he recalled the death of his own grandfather. His absence was felt with every moment Bell spent in their home alone afterwards. The memories of his grandpa reading him stories about heroes and holding his hand as they walked along the path to and from the farm now being all he had left.
Losing someone during the Hunt was probably a tale that was commonplace in this city where coffins lined the streets and blood painted the stones. But it didn’t ease the weight on Bell’s shoulders as he slouched with his back against the gate and looked down at his gloved hands that still had blood on them. These very same hands had been the ones to cut down whatever was left of her father, and now he was supposed to extend them to her in order to take her to the chapel?
“…Mister Hunter…” Bell looked over his shoulders to see that the child had lifted the window, revealing her appearance. She was such a small figure, perhaps half his height but with blonde hair that came down to her neck in waves. Her nightgown matched the white ribbon in her hair, tied in a bow. “Is… is it my fault Mummy and Daddy are dead?”
“Why do you think it’s your fault?” he asked.
“I still remember when one night I was scared by the scream of a beast,” she began. “Mummy told me it would be okay because it couldn’t get us inside while the incense was burning, and the Church would send hunters to make it go away. But it kept howling and prowling, and I was so scared.”
He could see the guilt wringing the tears out of her eyes for the sin of being scared of the Hunt. But to him it seemed only natural that she’d be terrified. He was terrified of the Hunt, and he was expected to go through the entire thing when he literally wasn’t allowed to die.
“Daddy… he-he grabbed his axe and said that it’d be quiet soon,” she continued. “Mummy begged him not to and said that he left the Church because he promised he’d be there for us. But he said he had to go because the Church wasn’t how it used to be. Then he left out and Mummy covered my ears until it was over. After that night, Daddy started going out more often with other men from the neighborhood, and Mummy would go with him and the music box.”
Seeing his daughter scared and frightened drove Gascoigne to take part in the Hunt. He wanted to make it so that she could sleep easier and, since the Church wasn’t doing that, he decided to take it into his own hands. Bell couldn’t say much about how the Church’s hunters operated since he hadn’t met any, but they certainly didn’t come out to help when he’d fought the Cleric Beast outside of the gates to their ward. Weren’t they supposed to be protecting these people?
“If… if I hadn’t been scared, then none of this would have happened.” The words came out ragged as she began to cry again. “Mummy… Daddy…”
“It’s not your fault,” Bell told her softly. “I think they wanted what was best for you, so they did what they could. I doubt they regretted that.”
His words offered little comfort as she continued to cry. But they were the best he could give her at the moment as he stared towards the moon that was rising now that the evening light was fading into a stark, cold luminescence. The scent of incense around her home was almost thin to the point of being absent too. If the Hunt would only get worse as the night dragged on, he had to hurry and get her somewhere safe.
“I’ll take you to Oedon Chapel,” he declared. “The Chapel Dweller said it was a safe place to wait out the Hunt, and it’s filled with incense to keep the Beasts away. Your grandfather will be there soon too, so you won’t be alone.”
“You… you don’t have to,” she said between cries. “I can make it on my own. You… you’ve got to finish the Hunt, don’t you?”
“I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t get you there myself,” he told her, rising to his full height. “It’s still dangerous out here, and I owe it to your parents to see you there safely.”
She wiped at the tears on her face as she stared at him for a long moment. It was then he realized that even though he tried to appear as nonthreatening as possible, no doubt the Hunter’s Garb covered in the blood, dust, and graveyard dirt gave off a bad impression. At the very least it served to make her hesitate at his offer.
Bell took off the coat, gloves, and hat to reveal himself. The armor he’d worn was slightly battered from the battles he’d fought since arriving and donning it to brave the streets. But it was still less ominous looking than covering himself up fully as he extended his hand towards her. “Please, let me do that much for you.”
She slowly nodded her head and reached out for his hand, gently laying it in his grasp through the bars. “Okay, Mister Hunter. I’ll come with you to see Granddad.”
His offer accepted, she closed the window and turned off the light before she came out of her door about two minutes after the Messengers took his discarded garments back to the Dream. Given the hurried pace she moved at, he was mildly surprised she had time to slip on clothes more suitable for venturing outside along with her mother’s brooch. Bell crouched down to allow her to climb on his back. “You might want to close your eyes. It’s not a pleasant sight along the way to the Chapel.”
“It’s okay,” she told him. “I’ve seen how it looks when Hunts end before.”
“Have the Hunts been going on long?” he asked, looking around while keeping one hand on his weapon. While he had been very thorough in making sure there was nothing that would possibly kill them along the route he took to get to the chapel, there was a chance that more beasts would show up in search of easy prey. “I’m not really from here, so I’m not really sure about the history of it or anything.”
“You mean you’re like auntie Eileen?” she asked, clinging to Bell as he began climb down the ladder at a careful pace. Her grip got tighter as she spared a glance to the giant thing that had been armed with a statue, now slouching against the wall. Its throat had been carved open. “You don’t speak the same way as her, but you both do have the same scent.”
“We came from different places,” Bell said. “The place I live in is far away and has its own monsters. I was being chased by one of them and things happened that led to me coming here.”
“Oh, you mean like the constables?”
He wasn’t familiar with the term. “The what now?”
“It’s a story Granddad would tell me about a group of men who chased a beast all the way here. He would tell me a lot of different ones when he came by—like about the League Hunters, who came from different places and became hunters to get rid of beasts.”
“My Grandpa would always tell me stories too,” Bell said. “I grew up in a village and worked on a farm with him, so he’d always tell me all sorts of stories of old heroes while I lived with him. I loved them.”
“Can you tell me one while we walk?”
He consented and began to regale her with stories of heroes as they trekked towards Oedon Chapel, his voice kept low and his senses at full alert for any sort of threat that could meet them along the way as early night settled into place. A sense of dread crept up onto him when they approached the entrance of the tomb where her parents had met their end. Finally, his footsteps came to a stop after entering the graveyard when he noticed a figure standing next to the corpse of the Beast—staring down at the remaining puddle of blood it laid in.
“That’s Granddad!” Her voice came out louder than Bell liked and drew the hunter’s attention. But the glow of the phantasmal lantern gave Bell the glimpse of his hunter outfit that consisted of a dingy, washed-out yellowish hue. Just like the Chapel Dweller said, he must’ve been late arriving and missed meeting the same fate as the others. “Granddad, it’s me!”
Bell knew how relieved she was to see family again, but he couldn’t shake the tension he felt as the man took a slow and tentative step forward. The fact that the night’s chill had left his breath visibly coming out at a quickening pace and the grip on his weapons tightened sent even more warning bells off. It was for that reason he stopped her from sliding off his back to rush over to her last family.
“Hold on, let me talk to him fir—” It happened before he could even finish the sentence. The Hunter’s Pistol was raised towards them and the tension within Bell’s body snapped at the memory of a scant hour ago when Gascoigne had done the same.
BANG!! The bark of quicksilver igniting and rocketing through the air was followed by a spray of stone dust and a child’s scream. Henryk had fired upon them with the intention of killing them.
The shot had only narrowly missed by the virtue of Bell springing into motion, ducking behind the gravestones that had already been riddled with the broken quicksilver of her father’s gun. Crouched and with little time to spare, he then dumped her from his back behind the headstone to stay safe. Then he rocketed himself out from cover and towards the old hunter, a series of shots that tore open the quiet of the night resounding until Bell got into range for him to use his other weapon.
Henryk’s Saw Cleaver came for his head with deceptive speed, a diagonal sweeping motion meant to kill. Bell narrowly managed to raise his arm and let the forearm-guards catch it at an angle, the scraping of metal and bloom of sparks accompanied by a painful jolt it was deflected over his head as he slid past Henryk. The Old Hunter naturally tried to swing wide to catch him, but Bell pivoted around and gripped his Saw Cleaver with both hands to catch the teeth of the opposite set and lock them into place.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” Bell demanded, blood pumping and heart racing as he struggled keep their weapons locked together. He had turned the man’s attention away from the direction of the little girl. Now he had to keep it that way. “That was your granddaughter you just shot at!”
“RAAAHH!!” was the response Henryk gave, still human but primal in its fury. He then followed with a jerk of his arm that showed that he was far stronger than the younger hunter when it tore Bell’s weapon from his grasp and sent him stumbling back. It was immediately followed-up with the pistol being raised towards his head.
Bell hastily brought his arms up as the trigger was pulled. The impact of the quicksilver bursting against his armguards left his world shaken as his own arms smashed into his forehead, knocking him over. The backplate of his armor scraped against the pebbles and shattered bits of headstones as the momentum backwards carried him into a roll that allowed him to escape the follow-up shot as he took cover behind the statue. He drew his Hunter’s Pistol from his belt and silently beckoned the Messengers when the Little Girl stuck her head out from cover.
Bearing witness to her grandfather trying to kill Bell, the last person she could call family trying to murder the boy who’d braved the night to get her to safety, wasn’t something she could sit by and let it happen. So she called out for him in a desperate plea that only served to put her in his sights. “Granddad, stop!”
Bell broke from cover to try and stop Henryk as he took aim at his own granddaughter. But before he could do anything the bark of the Old Hunter’s gun rang out. The Little Girl’s legs collapsed under her in fear as a chunk of the headstone next to her was blown apart.
He’d narrowly missed killing her. But it wasn’t through his own doing. No, the reason was because of the throwing knife that had been buried up to the hilt right into Henryk’s extended arm with pinpoint accuracy right as he’d pulled the trigger.
Snarling, Henryk whipped his head around to the side from whence it came as the raven of death descended, its wings spread wide and wicked talons that gleamed ominously in the moonlight bared. As if by instinct, he abandoned his firearm to grip his Saw Cleaver with both hands and brought it up. It was probably all that saved him as the gleaming blades going for his throat from both sides with the intention of tearing it out screeched, blooming sparks born from the scraping of metal-on-metal.
The rest of the avian’s body descended, crashing down and forcing him to the ground, before rolling off him before the retaliatory swing could tear into its flesh. Then the bundle of feathers gave way to human legs that darted towards the child. Scooping her up in a single motion, it then made for the stairs and called out, “Hold him off, boy!”
Bell recognized it was Eileen’s voice and his fear-addled mind put the pieces together. She’d thrown herself into a killing plunge in an effort to end the Old Hunter in a single stroke. When that failed, she put the rest of her weight into her legs to drive him to the ground and buy enough time for her to get the child out of harm’s way.
Time that she needed more of as Henryk ripped the throwing knife out of his arm and readied to shoot her in the back with his Hunter’s Pistol.
“Stop it!” Bell aimed to disarm him, bullet smashing into the opposing firearm and sending it toppling from his reach. It grabbed the man’s attention, a roar clawing its way out of the aged throat and past the high collar. Bell barely had time to grab the handle of the weapon the Little Ones brought with them before the man was rushing him down, Saw Cleaver already swinging for him.
The smell of half-dried blood assailed his nose as Bell pulled back, strands of his moon-white hair severed as the blade came centimeters of cutting open his face. But his retreating step was cut short as Henryk’s Saw Cleaver unfurled at the end of the swing and scooped low, the sharpened hook catching the back of his lower leg. A pained scream came out of Bell’s mouth as it tore into the muscle and tendon and forced him to the ground before the tip was swung down once more to break open his skull.
A horrendous screech bellowed out as it deflected against the head of Bell’s weapon, braced by his off-hand and angled so that it wedged itself into the dirt. Then he curled his abdomen and chambered his legs to kick upwards, ignoring the burning agony in his leg from where the butcher’s weapon had torn through the fabric and leather of his boots and pants. The sudden attempt at kicking in the older man’s face came up short but served its purpose as Henryk put three steps between them.
Bell got onto his knees, holding his weapon out in defense with one hand while the other plunged a syringe-loaded Blood Vial into his thigh to patch up the wounded leg as Henryk just stared for a moment. Not at Bell, but the weapon in his hand. It was Gascoigne’s axe.
Given that the two were partners for so long, Bell hoped that drawing it would at least drudge of some part of the man’s rationale. That it would allow the man to come back from the same insanity he’d seen too many times wandering the streets. So that he didn’t have to rob that child of her last remaining family as well.
“Please… Don’t make me do this…” Bell begged the man as he stood up. Her father was gone. Her mother was gone. Her grandfather was the only family she had left. “Your granddaughter needs you. Don’t leave her all alone.”
For a moment, the young hunter thought he saw the Saw Cleaver waver. For a moment, he thought he saw the aged eyes of a man on the verge of tears behind the hat and collar. For a moment, he had hope that for once things would end well tonight—
—but then Henryk roared at the top of his lungs in a manner that reminded Bell all too much of Gascoigne moments before his transformation. Casting aside any hopes of reclaiming his sanity, he charged Bell down with renewed vigor and the butcher’s weapon unfurled.
Bell braced the axe for impact, but the swings that followed were vicious enough to drive him back against the sloughing base of the leaning statue. And when he tried to swing the axe in retaliation to force him back, Henryk dodged the attempt and followed up with a short slash in the wake of his own that was aimed straight for the throat. It was a killing stroke, the crescent of the cleaver positioned to where it would tear off his neck before he could bring the weapon back to mount a defense.
His own reflexes saved him as he turned into the swing, twisting his body and raising his other arm up. It spared him an instant death as the forearm guard caught the bulk of the steel, with the impact instead slamming the rigid arm into his own head hard enough that his vision flashed as it staggered him to the side. He only regained his vision in time to see the overhead swing that came down when it was too late to dodge it fully.
“AHHH!!” The sound of bone and flesh rending under the heavy steel was drowned out by a scream of pain as the Saw Cleaver tore a gash from his chest to his stomach, ripping his chest-guard off in the process by tearing it free of the straps. Bell huddled over in agony, clutching at his wound with his right arm even as his blood began to pool beneath him and the axe.
Am… am I going to die again? Bell wondered as thick, rich crimson burbled up from his throat and slipped out of mouth to join the growing puddle. If I die and return to the Dream, what will happen to the others if I don’t stop Mister Henryk here?
It was the same thing with Gascoigne. If Henryk had truly gone mad, then the man would keep slaughtering his way through Yharnam. Yet, the thought of having to personally steal what was left of someone’s family hurt more than the wounds and broken bones, even as he laid on the verge of death.
The sound of footfalls nearing drew Bell’s eyes upwards, where he spotted Henryk had come to a stop in front of him, Saw Cleaver half-raised for the killing stroke. He was staring down at the blood as if in a trance, as if there was something there that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. But whatever held his attention for that moment vanished when Bell coughed and wheezed, trying to form words and beg him to snap out of it, leaving his executioner to bring the Saw Cleaver overhead…
Then a bell-like sound rang out and Henryk let loose a pained sound as he jumped back with his arm torn open by a streak of light, dark blood pouring down it. His former place in front of Bell was now filled by a dark figure with a dagger marred by fresh blood in one hand and a Blood Vial Injector in the other. The Hunter of Hunters had arrived.
Bell wheezed. Still bleeding out. Still dying when her arm swung backwards and stabbed the injector into his exposed chest. The moment she pushed down on the back of it, fresh blood shot into him. Just enough to pull him off of death’s door as she left it wedged inside of him before pulling on the dagger.
One blade became two as she advanced on Henryk. The wicked talons that were her weapons of choice seemed to be glint ominously in the cold and stark moonlight. She kicked her rear foot off the ground and dashed forward, blades leaving an almost ethereal cross in the air as they sped towards the mad hunter’s neck.
Henryk retreated, at the same time flicking his wrist out and returning the Saw Cleaver to its shortened form as she flowed from one strike to the next faster than Bell’s eyes could track. A diagonal sweep that ran from shoulder to hip with the right hand was narrowly avoided by twisting his body thanks to battle instinct inherited from the nightly hunts of untold years. They also moved his arm and brought up the furled weapon’s teeth in time to block a wide sweep towards the throat with the left dagger.
But she continued with her deft strokes, bringing her right hand to sweep from hip to shoulder and score a gash across his chest. He reached for and threw a knife straight for her head in retaliation, but Eileen darted out of the way and pivoted before launching herself into a stabbing thrust with both of the daggers. The blades barely found purchase before he swept his arm around, tearing them out before they could break through the rib cage and rip through the vital organs.
Still it was another wound, blood flowing out and onto the grave dirt. How many more could he take before there was simply no more blood left within him to continue the fight? How long until she claimed the decisive stroke to finish him off?
Bell wasn’t sure as he fumbled for a second Blood Vial of his own. He drank a bottle of it and felt his pain diminish. It wasn’t enough to be rid of it entirely, but it was still a soothing balm that seemed to melt into him with every last drop. Coughing as he tossed the bottle aside, he tried to fix his gaze on the sounds of battle past the gravestones to see that it was almost over already.
Henryk was bleeding from several more gashes, Eileen’s feather cowl draped in his blood as she avoided his instinctive and feral swipes that were enough to shear into the headstones while striking her blades against one another to make a riotous bloom of white sparks. The light hurt Bell’s eyes and only seemed to further irritate Henryk into becoming more aggressive. He continued to chase her down, despite every motion and quickened beat of his heart pushing him an inch closer to death as he began to fight for breath.
But then the unthinkable happened. Eileen seemed to stumble on her way back, falling to a knee as she sparked her blades together once more. It was an opening, one that no desperate predator would allow to pass unexploited and a death sentence as he pounced with an overhead swing, only for Eileen to extend one dagger above her head as if to block and then swept it back.
The killing stroke that had been directed towards her skull seemed to move with the blade, as if drawn in by some invisible force. It pulled Henryk forward and off-balance, opening him up at last. She abruptly stood and pivoted while bringing her other hand around towards his neck without hesitation or mercy, bringing the conflict to a decisive end.
And leaving a young child with no one to call family again.
Chapter 15: Father Gascoigne
Bell crouched before the entrance to the graveyard after following in the footsteps he had prior to his death.
Time spun backwards due to whatever strange magic kept him tethered to the Dream, and so the slain returned to life once more. Hence, he had to once again carve through the Maneater Boar in the sewers and those who stood in his way to get to this point. Yet, the Little Girl remembered him and the promise he made to give the Tiny Music Box back to her mother. There had to be some kind of checkpoint or condition he wasn’t aware of, but he couldn’t be bothered to think on it knowing that Gascoigne was on the other side of the entrance and waiting for him…
Without thinking, he brought his hands up to where the axe had found his neck. The sensation of the blade that had been caked in blood and fat and stone dust and dirt cutting through it had been brief. But the phantom pain lingered even now, and a tremor ran through his arm that held the reinforced Saw Cleaver.
Even now he could hear Gascoigne just beyond the corner. Pounding away at that same corpse from before. The moment Bell stepped past the threshold he would be attacked again. Overpowered. Killed.
Calm down. He pulled down the bandana and took a soft, deep breath. Then he forced his arm to stop trembling long enough to set the weapon behind his back and pulled out the Tiny Music Box instead. The Little Girl had told Bell that when he forgot his family, they used it to remind him of them.
Bell was certain that if he reminded him of his wife and child, he would return to normal. He wanted to believe that desperately. Because the only other option was to kill the man, since he was in the way.
Taking another deep breath, he gathered his courage and stepped into the graveyard. No sooner than his boots hit the ground and he spotted his Blood Echoes where his life had ended prior was Gascoigne alerted to his presence. The tall, aged hunter wheeled around and pulled out his modified pistol, firing without hesitation.
Bell darted to the side as fragments of stonework peppered his hat, tensing as he spotted the man closing in with his axe in hand. Resisting the urge to draw his weapon from his back, Bell instead tried to reason with him. “Gascoigne! Your daughter sent me!”
A snarl was the only thing that answered him as the axe came in from below. Sparks blossomed in the dark as the steel found the worn and weathered stone that was once part of a path for the living to walk without trampling over the dead resting below, carrying with the arch a spray of dirt and pebbles. They patterned down over Bell as the blade narrowly missed thanks to his rough and hasty steps to the side.
Please let this work! The young hunter flipped the lid on the Tiny Music Box as the veteran readied to charge in with his Hunter’s Axe. The cylinder within it began to spin and scrape against the comb, giving rise to a soft lullaby that played out between them and tickled the ears.
The melody took hold of Gascoigne, stalling his legs mid-step so that his murderous gait turned into a stumble. The hand that gripped his axe released the bloodied steel and came up to his head that tremored. Murmurs left his haggard lips.
“Remember who you are, Gascoigne,” Bell said, swallowing the lump in his throat. It was working. He was remembering. “You have a family. A daughter, waiting for you at home.”
“Nnngh… the blood…” His head rolled, body buckling as though he was waging a war within. “The voice… calls me…”
“Fight it!” Bell begged, taking a step closer. “Your daughter is waiting for you and your wife to come back!”
“Vv…vii…vii…!!” The shaking grew worse as the man’s head started jerking. His body hunched over, and pained sound clawed its way out of his clenched jaw, teeth gnashing together. “Vi…violaaahhhh!!”
All at once, Gascoigne lashed out with his arm. The axe that had been dropped was absent, but the Hunt had made the aged hunter strong. Strong enough that his flailing backhand felt like a sledge-hammer as it cracked against the side of Bell’s head.
The world flashed with pain as Bell’s vision whited for a moment. Then something hard, a gravestone, met his lower back and cost him his balance. He fell over to the ground where the impact forced the air out of him lungs. “Huhhh…”
Ignoring the pulsing sting of the forming bruise, Bell heard the stomping of boots and then scrabbled to get off to the side in time to avoid the overhead swing of the axe that came down with the intent of butchering him. His Hunter’s Hat, left behind in the fall, was torn in two.
Rising to his feet, his eyes frantically began to search for the music box that had fallen from his grasp only for him start running for cover. No sooner than he’d gotten behind a monument that held the two burning oil lamps over his head and spotted it did Gascoigne open fire. Quicksilver scattershot sparked and ruptured as they bit into the stone and shattered the lamps, leaving embers, shard, and stone dust to fall onto Bell’s exposed, moon-white hair as he started to run again.
The man’s longer legs gave him a faster gait, even without whatever benefits the blood coursing through his body added to him. He was on Bell’s back in a matter of seconds and pounced while bringing the axe down. The ground ruptured in a loose cloud of grave dirt as the young hunter rolled out of the way at the last minute, right next to where the rippling phantasm of blood echoes marked his previous grave.
Bell reclaimed what he had lost, echoes once more filling the gap that had been left behind, only to suck in a sharp breath as he felt a pained sting below the waist. The axe had grazed his leg before he got out the way entirely, trousers torn and exposing pale and parted flesh with a crimson glint. Painful, but not crippling and soon to be numb from the adrenaline as Gascoigne pulled his axe free of the ground.
The young hunter now realized that he would never be able to get back to the music box and wind it up to play again without being caught and killed. So, he reached out for help through the Hunter’s Mark branded in the back of his mind. Space rippled beneath the Tiny Music Box as the Messengers arrived at his beckoning.
As the Little Ones inquisitively pondered and touched the device, Bell shouted for them to wind it up as the earthen and copper scent of the axe invaded his nose. A horizontal swing going for his head that came too close for comfort as white tufts of hair were left behind. The message carried as they gripped the handle with emaciated fingers and began to wind it up.
“Mister Gascoigne, stop!” Bell said, finally reaching behind his back and drawing his Saw Cleaver. He gripped the reinforced weapon with both hands and used the saw teeth to parry the incoming stroke of the axe, only for the bones themselves to feel the weight of the impact as the axe’s head grated against his saw with a horrendous screech of metal-on-metal.
With a strained grunt, he diverted the axe into the ground next to him hard enough to knock up the dust. Then Bell shot backwards with quick steps, intent on luring the larger man towards the music box as the Little Ones waved for him to come. He didn’t see the scattershot coming through the dirty veil until the bark of the modified pistol spat out the broken Quicksilver and he felt a sharp, piercing pain in his gut as fragments struck where his armor wasn’t present.
“Ngh!” He stumbled over and fell, clutching the spot as it felt like boiling lava was coursing through where the rounds spread the taint of the quicksilver and veteran hunter’s blood inside of him. Only the fact that he could hear the stomping of boots gave him the shot of adrenaline needed to whirl around and block the crescent blade of the axe that was getting ready to carve open his head with the flat-side, braced by his forearm guard to stop it.
His good leg then came up with as much force as he could muster to kick Gascoigne in the stomach. It was like hitting a stone wall, barely enough to push him a step back. All the same, it gave Bell room to roll away from the follow-up swipe and land near the Messengers. “Play it!”
The music box played its lullaby a second time, the melody stopping Gascoigne in his tracks from unloading another round of scattershot into Bell’s crouched form. He shoved the blood vial injector into his abdomen and let the contents push out the acrid mixture while regrowing the damaged tissue and intestinal walls. Then he got back to his feet and tried to reach out to the man again.
“Your wife is somewhere out here, looking for you,” he said, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “I’ll help you find her! You can go home with her! Be together with your daughter! She’s waiting for you both!”
“V-V-Viola,” he mumbled, head shuddered. “For…forgive… AaaaaaahhhhHHHHHHH!!”
Gascoigne raised his pistol towards Bell for another shot, but he quick-stepped by pushing off his rear leg while his front was angled so he was offline from the shot. Then, pivoting his body on his front leg, he swung the Saw Cleaver down with the additional momentum in order to slam it into the firearm with all the strength he could muster. The barrel of the gun buckled as it was wrenched free of the older man’s grasp, rendering it useless. “Stop it! I just want to help you!”
“RAGH!” Gascoigne’s response was to backhand the young hunter with his now empty fist, hard enough that an arch of blood left his mouth as he stumbled back. Then he grabbed the neck of the axe and held it in place as he jerked the bottom, wrenching loose the telescopic handle to extend the weapon into a halberd and swinging it around.
Bell barely caught the glimmer of the dust-encrusted blade in time to bring his reinforced Saw Cleaver around to shield him from the blow. The fact that it was reinforced was probably the only reason that Bell didn’t lose his head by having the weapon shatter from the sheer force. Instead, he nearly felt his arms jerk out of their sockets as he was knocked along the path of the blade and bumped against another slouching grave.
“Wind it again!!” he urged the Little Ones while leaping behind the grave to put distance himself and the polearm as it came scything around for his head again. That last hit had made it clear that blocking wasn’t possible from how his shoulders ached. He just wasn’t strong enough, so he had to avoid instead.
Which was just as well, given Gascoigne’s attacks were coming in more aggressively. Every swing packed enough punch that it could carve a human in two with each hit. The force and speed of his halberd was enough that if he didn’t use the terrain to his advantage he would be swept up unless he fought back.
“You need to remember why you hunt!” Moving between one section of slouching and worn gravestones to another, Bell continued to try and reach the veteran hunter. “It’s for your family, isn’t it!?”
The sound of crashing stone was the only answer he received as the telescopic axe knocked over the grave in an attempt to silence the rabbit darting behind cover with every move, trying and failing to reach him. Gascoigne grew more aggressive whereas Bell grew fatigued, the former’s swings growing more violent as time progressed while the latter’s legs burned from the exertion. Soon the number of places where he could take cover dwindled until there were none left between them by the time the Little Ones finished winding the music box.
Breathing heavily, Bell’s fingers quickly found their way around the Hunter’s Pistol as Gascoigne advanced on him before he could reach the music box. He opened fire, letting the firearm bark as the Quicksilver bullet flew towards his leg to slow him down. It did nothing as Gascoigne leapt instead, roaring as he brought the axe down with an executioner’s swing, forcing Bell to get out of the way as it shattered the cobblestone beneath where he stood.
Lethargy caught up with him then. Before he could even get back onto his feet, Bell saw the horizontal sweep of the transformed axe coming in to kill him. He brought not his weapon but his forearms to shield himself with the forearm guards again as he leapt back, instead using the force to launch himself towards the music box.
It came at the expense of the impact knocking his own weapons from the grasp, leaving him to tumble over the earth with a jarring sound as the pieces of light armor scraped it. But he came to a stop near the Tiny Music Box and flipped the lid, letting the melody play for a third time. The heavy boots that had trampled across the hardpacked earth and worn stones stopped for a third time.
Only this time, Gascoigne fell to his knees and dropped his weapon to clutch at his ears with both hands. As if trying to drown it out. Trying to resist.
“Please… stop…” Bell begged the man, tired as he stood back up. “I don’t… I don’t want that little girl to lose someone like I did. I don’t want to be responsible for that. Please.”
Bell had never felt as alone in his life as he did when his grandfather died. The man who had raised him and saved him when he was in trouble, only to leave an emptiness within him when he disappeared from his life. He didn’t want to make anyone else feel that way.
“Viola…” Gascoigne muttered as he fell over, his head hitting the ground and the hat revealing aged and disheveled hair. For the third time, the hunter clashed with the beast within him. Only this time the man lost, and an ear-splitting screech tore open the night sky as his flesh was ripped apart with such violence that the air itself expanded. “Forgive MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!”
Clothing were stretched and torn as they tried to strangle the beast within that emerged. Lengthened claws tore through leather gloves and footwear, warped and corded muscles split skin and long hair bristled. The lips were torn off by the emergence of razor-sharp fangs coated in the blood, and the wrap that kept his eyes hidden was now woven into the wild mane.
The newborn Beast lunged into the air and dropped down on top of the younger boy, paralyzed by exhaustion and defeat upon bearing witness to the transformation. Death followed as the Beast wasted no time in tearing him apart with such savagery that when he awoke in the Hunter’s Dream, it was weeping and screaming at the memory of having his eyes torn out and flesh flayed until his throat was finally ripped out. And, as the Doll came over and offered him comfort, Bell recalled the words of Eileen, Gehrman, and even Gascoigne.
That is the duty of the Hunter connected to the Hunter’s Dream, else the night will go on and the innocent will slowly be devoured until none remain.
Show him mercy as only a Hunter can and free him from the shackles of his own making.
Forgive me, Viola.
Even if Bell allowed Gascoigne to escape, even if he stole the key to the gate and progressed on, the fact that he’d transformed meant that he would do so again. Maybe even around his wife or daughter if they found him. No one would want to be responsible for ending the lives of their own family.
“Hestia, forgive me,” Bell said, tears streaking from his eyes. Not for himself, but for what he would have to do next. Whether those tears were for that little girl who was waiting with hope in her heart for her father to return, her mother that was still out there somewhere after spending nights working to keep the beast within her husband at bay, or for the hunter who spent years fighting against the beastly plague only to succumb before the night even began, went unspoken.
He gathered his thoughts as the Messengers finished returning his belongings that had been left by the place that marked where he was slain. He recalled the two encounters that had vividly ended his life. The way Gascoigne…no, the Beast wearing his flesh moved and hunted him down. Then he donned his hat that was knitted together through the magics of the Dream, armed himself once more, and set out to resume the Hunt.
This time… he left the Tiny Music Box behind.
The first time Bell stepped through the archway that marked the Tomb of Oedon, he was caught by surprise. The battering of flesh and the sickening aroma of pungent blood in the air had been enough to stall his feet and clamp a vice around his heart. The resting place of the dead had been turned into a butcher’s shop for the citizens who had gathered there, other hunters from what he could guess based on Gehrman’s explanation of them going through it on the night of the Hunt.
The second time Bell stepped through the archway that led into the graveyard it had been with the intention to reason with Gascoigne within the tomb. He stayed his hand, held off on attacking for the sake of trying to reach the man whose daughter he promised to deliver the music box. His reward for the grueling effort was bearing witness to the Beast shedding its human visage, revealing the man had died sometime before they had ever met.
It was entirely possible that one of those men the Beast killed while wearing his flesh was the little girl’s grandfather. They were meeting up here according to her. But he hadn’t spied a woman among the corpses that could still be made out, so she would still have family once the Beast was slain. She wouldn’t be alone.
That thought gave Bell a small thread of hope to cling to. That he wouldn’t leave a child with no one else in the world as he had been when his grandfather died. He held onto it with an iron grip as he stepped through the archway a third time, Saw Cleaver in one hand and Hunter’s Pistol loaded with a Quicksilver bullet in the other.
The Beast noticed him. Still wearing the flesh of the man like a mask after devouring him from the inside out, it turned to him as the scent of a hunter reached its nose. Bearing teeth as if enticed by the prospect of fresh prey, the Beast charged forward with its stolen legs in a gait and raised the modified pistol to fire.
Bell darted to the side and allowed the scattershot that was meant to wound and cripple prey break and combust against the stone. Then he raised his own firearm and had it spit out a bullet in turn. The Beast dodged the shot, bounding to the side abruptly and continuing its charge over the graveyard dirt and broken cobblestone as Bell did the same.
Then it lunged, axe still covered in viscera and blood from the battered corpse it had been taking to pieces for the third time tonight. The crimson covered blade reflected in the light of the oil lamps as it came down with an executioner’s swing. But, instead of fresh blood and broken bone, only dirt and bits of stone spouted as it missed its target.
Coming out of his roll behind what was once a man, Bell immediately swung the Saw Cleaver before the Beast could heft the weapon from its perch in the ground. Across the back. Shoulder to opposite waist. He swung twice and felt the teeth of his weapon bite into the body from behind, ripping through leather and flesh before tearing its way out.
The Beast snarled with a guttural sound in its throat as first blood was drawn. Sweeping the axe around as it spun on its feet, a trail of stone dust marked the blade’s path. It brushed against the leather of Bell’s garbs as he escaped and kept his weapon that gleamed with fresh blood between them.
The attacks kept coming. Sparks patterned out the dirt and dust as the Beast swung the axe upwards, biting into the ground to give chase as Bell rolled out of the way of another decapitating swing. On his feet once more, he pivoted on his foot and swung the Saw Cleaver down in a diagonal slash that bit into front flesh, drawing more blood.
The Beast didn’t flinch despite the cut, instead bringing the axe around from the side. He couldn’t dodge it, so Bell raised his arm with the pistol and guarded his head at an angle. The axe coming in from his left met with the slanted forearm protector and sparks blossom as the steel was guided over his head while Bell counterattacked with his opposite hand.
The Saw Cleaver came around twice. Once to the left to rip open a new tear in fabric and flesh at the stomach. Then, with a twist of the wrist, he pulled his arm back and brought the teeth diagonally from waist to shoulder, ripping through the chest and cape of the ulster coat.
Pain and blood ran like a waterfall to soak the front of the stolen flesh. The wounded Beast flailed by swinging the axe down from above to drive Bell away from its front, succeeding as he bounced back off his leading foot. Panting as it slouched forward, the scent of its own blood reached its nose.
“Oh… what’s smell?” it mumbled. “The sweet blood, oh it sings to me. It’s enough to make a man sick.”
Bell ignored the words as he ducked down behind a grave for cover in order to reload his Hunter’s Pistol. The effort was made more difficult from his arm shaking from the impact of the axe and his gloves covered in the dark blood that made the quicksilver slippery to fit inside. He barely managed to get it in and close the chamber when he heard the clank of the axe being turned into a halberd. Then he broke cover to run the opposite way in time to avoid the heavy swing that was enough to topple over the gravestone.
Turning around to avoid keeping his back to the enemy, Bell’s reward was only to not have a sharpened tip pierce his heart from behind. Gascoigne used the extra length and point for a thrust, with the chest guard glancing the tip into instead sinking into the unprotected region between it and his shoulder guards. Baring teeth at having caught its prey, the Beast then pushed it further in.
“Auaahh!” Something broke within his body as the tip punched through the back and elicited a louder cry. It then twisted its hips and swung the weapon around to jerk the young hunter off his feet and fling him off to the side. His hair was exposed to the night air as his hat was knocked loose on impact.
It hurt. It hurt to try and even move his left arm. But Bell bit down on the pain to focus as the Beast came in for the execution and turned along his spine, narrowly avoiding the downward cleave that cut into the ground as he got back to his knees. Then he barred his right forearm beneath the left to raise it and pulled the trigger of the pistol before the Beast could pull its weapon up.
The Beast staggered back a step before falling to its knees as the mixture of the bullet gnawed at the inside of its chest, its own blood fighting back. Long enough for Bell to press the clasp of the Saw Cleaver and unfurl the butcher’s weapon. He chambered it back behind him as he stood, tensing the muscles in his right arm to the point it felt like the tendons would snap, and swung it down.
The cleaver end of the weapon broke through the Beast’s collarbone as it came down before it could recover, knocking it to the ground as Bell put all his strength into the swing. The Hunter’s Axe clattered to the side as it struggled to get back up when he wrenched the cleaver free. But before it could, the weapon came down again with the saw-teeth first and buried themselves into the Beast’s back that arched as it cried out.
Bell brought his left boot up and stomped down on the broken shoulder in order to jerk the Saw Cleaver free, opening out a spout of blood to join the rest pooling on the ground. Stumbling back several steps, his body tremored from the pain as he collapsed onto his knees by a tree and jammed the vial injector near the wound. Fresh blood flowed into his body and was used to repair broken bone, mend torn muscle, and regenerate damaged blood vessels.
That was when the Beast shed its human guise. Flesh and fabric tore open as it took on its true form once more. Standing tall once again, it stretched its elongated limbs while howling into the night as a key hung from a rope around its neck.
Bell stood, his breath and body still shaking. This was it. The Beast had come out in full once more. Now he would lay it to rest.
Snarling, the Beast whipped its head around towards Bell and bared its teeth. Then it lunged forward, a mass of fur and muscle shooting towards him with an arm chambered for a swipe. The ebony claws tore out chunks of the twisted bark of the tree as Bell ran behind it.
With something put between them, he reached into his pouch for another bullet and reloaded as he moved before the Beast darted around to try and get him. Then he lined up barrel for another shot the moment he was done and pulled the trigger when he had a clear line to hit. The Quicksilver bullet smacked it in the shoulder, jerking the limb back for a breath before it snarled and then lunged for Bell again.
The young hunter sidestepped mass of fur and rage, pivoting on his foot to keep it in sight. As it landed, he swung the unfurled Saw Cleaver and carved into the leather that clung tight to its hide twice. The weapon didn’t go very deep from what he could feel, its muscles even thicker than before, and was knocked from his grasp into a mound of gravestone as Beast whirled around and swept out with its claws.
Rearing back, the Beast roared at Bell before bringing both its arms down to crush him. Dust and stone spouted from the ground as the young hunter avoided the attack, making for his weapon in the mound. But it pounced into the air and dove to catch him, forcing him to abandon the attempt or be killed.
Unable to get his Saw Cleaver back as it now laid buried beneath a broken heap of gravestones, Bell gritted his teeth. The Hunter’s Pistol needed reloading as well, which would take time. Time the Beast wouldn’t give him as it rose to its hind legs and came after him with a storm of swipes and slashes.
Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t dodge the flurry entirely and had to use his armguards to shield his head since if he took a hit there, he wouldn’t be getting back up. His armor was torn into by the points and his legs staggered, nearly buckling upon being struck twice before the Beast put as much effort as it could in the final swipe. Bell ended up being forced to block with his arms crossed as it sent him airborne until he tumbled on the ground some distance away.
“Ugh…” Getting back onto his feet, Bell shook his head and tried to gather his thoughts when he took a step back and felt something there. He glanced down and saw Gascoigne’s extended Hunter’s Axe, now laying forgotten. He reached down, grabbed it with both hands, and slammed the bottom against the ground to return it to a short weapon before he rolled out of the way of the Beast as it dove down from the air to try and crush him once more.
Armed again, he abandoned his firearm and whirled around on his knees to draw crescent with the axe using both arms. Imitating the shade of the hunter the Beast had eaten from the inside out, the heavy head and momentum buried the blade just above the ankle and snapped the rear tendon. Then Bell stood while pulling the axe with all his might to topple it over.
The Beast howled upon falling onto its back, one leg useless and in pain. But before Bell could retreat to strike again, it twisted around to the source of its pain and its claws found the soft flesh of his cheek. It managed to tear it away, along with the bandana, blood painting its claws as he stumbled back.
The boy cried out, tears stinging his eyes from the hot pain just beneath his right eye. But it didn’t stop him from extending the axe once more as he got into a stance, left leg forward and right foot back as it was angled to the side. He swung the axe back and gripped the shaft with both hands, chambering it for powerful swing.
“SCREEE!!” With a frenzied, feral snarl, the Beast dug its right claw into the ground for purchase as it pushed off the ground with its left leg. A desperate, primal attempt to take off the young hunter’s head with its left claw this time.
“YYYYAAAHH!!” But it amounted to nothing as Bell shouted at the top of his lungs and swung the halberd down with all his might. The weapon severed the limb at the shoulder with enough force that the Beast’s entire body was hammered into the ground as its remaining arm gave out.
It made pathetic animal noises as it rolled around in agony while Bell reared back for another swing and buried the axe into the Beast’s back. This time it hit the spine at an odd angle and you could hear the vertebrae snap, leaving it truly crippled from the waist down. Desperate to escape the pain, it pushed off the ground with its arm violently and twisted onto its back to get the axe out.
But that was the last of the strength it could muster as dark, crimson blood pooled around it from the missing limbs. The heart within its chest that pumped frantically to fuel its rage and bloodlust had little left within the body to spare as it escaped the wounds. Panting, chest heaving, all that was left now was to put it out of its misery.
Bell raised the axe to do so, his breath coming out wet and haggard with the taste of copper in his mouth as the Beast limply reached out a final time. Not to him, but to the building that was next to the slouching statue that towered over the graveyard. His mind that was flooded with the scent of blood and adrenaline even hallucinated its mouth moving, as if to mutter a final set of words.
But then none of it mattered as the Hunter’s Axe came down a final time.
The Beast didn’t get back up again.
Chapter 14: A Little Girl’s Request
Run-off waters sloshed underfoot as the next leg of Bell’s journey took him into a damp corridor that stretched into darkness beneath Central Yharnam, transitioning from the aqueducts to sewers.
He was sheltered from the cold by the garbs he’d taken to wear. The material repelled not only the red of the crows and yellow of the corpses that continued persist through rotten blood, but the water pattering down from the roof and splashing beneath his boots.
The lantern that dangled from his belt only provided a little illumination that gleamed off the wet, slime-slickened stone walls. Even so he could see the silhouette of something that lurked behind the veil of mist further ahead. His grip on his Saw Spear tightened as he slowly pressed forward, wondering what beast he would have to kill this time to advance into the Tomb of Oedon….
And then a wet, shrill shriek nearly deafened him as it echoed off the walls, rattling his bones down to the core and making the filthy water beneath his boots shudder. Ears pounding as he clutched his head with his off-hand. He knew that sound, or at least he could match it to the pigs that lived on the farm he worked with his Grandpa on before he came to Orario only a little while ago
So, when the ringing in his ears gave way to the hooves thundered through the water towards him and the growing silhouette, Bell promptly started running the opposite way to avoid being trampled. He didn’t look back as the presence of something massive closed in, instead working his legs as fast as he could to bring him to the mouth of the tunnel. The moment he breached the entrance, then threw himself to the side.
The rushing mass of unshapely, bloated flesh that was the Maneater Boar charged right by. Larger than any man and even most of the monsters he’d faced in the Upper Floors of the Dungeon so far. How something this large had gotten into the city unnoticed was a mystery, but a voracious squeal revealed bloodstained, yellowed teeth with scraps of cloth wedged between them as it swung its head around to face the young hunter—
—and was met with the bark of a Quicksilver bullet bursting on impact as it struck the bulbous part of its head. It stumbled back a step, squealing as it shook off the shot. Then it charged for Bell once again.
Bell stepped out of the way of its charge, water splashing against his trousers as the boar hit the stone bridge hard enough that dust and bits of stone by the ladder were wrenched loose. He got around to the side, tensed the muscles in his arm holding the furled Saw Spear until it felt like they were going to snap, and swung downwards at an angle with all his might. “RAAAGH!!”
The broad side of the swine was torn into by the serrated teeth. Ripping through the hide and letting a loose spray of crimson that buried the fluids already present on the blade and gloves, the impact struck bone and buckled the boar’s knees. It collapsed, shrieking.
Bell unfurled the Saw Spear as he reared back for a thrust with the sharpened tip. He’d seen how to slaughter hogs before; a stun to the head and then cutting open the arteries to bleed it out. But there was no way he was going to be able to roll it over, so he instead tried to stab through its throat by brute force.
The Maneater Boar belched before he could, spitting out a cloud of noxious fumes. It was like acid had been splashed into his eyes. Stinging and gnawing away at them to extent that he couldn’t bear the pain, his thrust was thrown off and resulted in a grazing cut through the back of its neck.
Bell blindly ran out, crying hot tears until he hit a wall and added to the pain. He braced it while hoping to blink away the pain even as it gnawed on the inside of his eyelids. Then he spun so that his back was to the wall and forced his eyes open to see the blurred mass charging him again.
Gritting his teeth, Bell pushed off the wall into a charge of his own. Abandoning the pistol in his off hand, he grabbed the Saw Spear with both hands and dragged it behind him. Though blurred and anguished vision, he saw the saggy, grey flesh closing in and then quickstepped out of the way while swinging the unfurled length of jagged teeth with as much force as he could.
His arms nearly buckled and broke as his weapon found its flesh. Between the strength of its wielder and momentum of its prey, the weapon sheared through the hide, fat, and muscle. The metal teeth cut it from cheek to leg bone before Bell finished the swing with his own power, ripping it forward to take the hind leg out as well.
Death throes followed as Bell then stumbled away from the boar, leaving it to bleed out as he found another wall to put his back against. Only when he felt the echoes flowing into him did he drop the Saw Spear into the water and pull off his backpack, where he kept a cloth inside along with a canteen. Necessities for an adventurer, Eina had told him.
They provided relief as he poured the clean water over his eyes to wash out the acrid particles and dried his face. Then he picked back up his Saw Spear, reloaded his Hunter’s Pistol, and gave the massive boar a final glance before he pressed on into the tunnels that had apparently been its lair. It was there he saw just what it had been fattening itself up on—corpses of other people, including another hunter.
“Grandpa always said pigs would eat anything, but still…” Bell searched the gnawed corpse and came across another badge. It looked like a saw. He put it away and then moved onto the other one, where his gloved hands brushed over something beneath the half-bloated body.
It gave him a similar feeling to when echoes were flowing into him, only concentrated at the point where he touched rather than being taken into his body. He lifted the torn cloth and found a droplet that refused to fully harden or dry out, making it somewhat gelatinous and malleable. Was this what Gehrman mentioned before? He decided to ask the veteran later as he stored it away.
Then he moved on.
Bell was greeted with a slaughter when he finally reached the Tomb of Oedon.
It was a graveyard of barren dirt and mangled trees, a chill permeating the air starved of light as the oil lampposts were dimly-lit and the towering buildings that laid beyond the outer gates cast an eerie shadow over the enclosure that hid the evening sun. Headstones were placed without regard for order or respect, erected in seemingly random ways that left them cluttered as they leaned in exhaustion like the stone monument that was in the center of the graveyard, worn down by its timeless vigil over the amassed dead that laid beneath the surface.
The scent of blood hung richly in the air, stemming from the bodies of the recently dead. Men who were once among the living joined the long-time residents in pieces, butchered with their limbs strewn in random directions and their blood bringing vibrant splashes of color to the worn stones, parched dirt, and thirsty bark.
“Hah. Haaaah. Hhhaaah.” The wet, sticky sound of meat being pounded was padded out by the sound of heavy, hard breathing that made Bell’s stomach churn as he spotted bloodied steel being raised and then slammed down. A hunter with his back facing the novice to the Hunt finished striking at a corpse once he’d severed the head, a final splash of the lifeblood to decorate the half-cape he wore.
Then he stood straight, the scarf around his neck caked in dirt and blood swaying its frayed and torn ends as he spoke. “…Beasts all over the shop… You’ll be one of them, sooner or later…”
The blood within Bell’s body froze in place and his heart stalled as the man with gray hair slowly turned his head, the light of the oil lamp catching the white of the bandages over his eyes and beneath his hat. The knot in his gut tightened as the man let out a half-snarl while he baring his teeth, his raspy and haggard breath coming out as a plume. Recognition moved the young hunter’s lips as he muttered, “Mister Gascoigne?”
He found himself frozen like a deer in the headlights until the veteran hunter raised his pistol. Then he threw himself to the side as the trigger was pulled. What should have been a single Quicksilver bullet was broken into a wide-spread that patterned the stone arch by where he stood, bursting on impact.
Bell scrambled to get back up as he noticed the man now closing the distance, axe in hand. He tried to call out to him from beneath the bandana covering his mouth. “Wait, I’m not a beast! I’m a hunter like you!”
The man’s response to that was to bring his bloodied axe around for Bell’s neck. It caught the steel of the Saw Spear as Bell raised it in defense, being all that saved him from losing his head. Even so, the impact of the blow shot through his arms and made them buckle as he was sent staggering to the left and off-balance.
Bell barely had time to get the Saw Spear and his balance back up as the axe came around again. The blow was even heavier this time, resulting in blooming sparks and jolting pain. His arms were nearly jerked from their sockets while his weapon was sent flying from his grasp.
He could hear it land somewhere to the left, but he didn’t have time to look as Gascoigne chambered the axe for a follow-up. The primal fear of death drove his feet and threw him backwards. That was all that saved him as the cleaving swing that would have split him right down the middle to hit the ground hard enough to throw dirt askew.
“Please, stop!” Bell half-cried as he got back on his feet and stepped back only to feel hard bark against his back. “I came here because your daughter—AHH!”
His words turned into a frantic cry as he spun on his foot and got behind the tree. The gnarled, dense wood twice as thick as Bell shook as it caught the blade, albeit only after it managed to bury itself all the way to the back. The fact that he managed that with a single swing of the arm said everything that needed to be said.
Before Gascoigne could jerk it free, Bell broke into a sprint towards where he heard his weapon fall. It was somewhere between the haphazardly placed headstones and the monument slouched over in the ground like a weary sentinel. He made it halfway there when the sound of the tree cracking and collapsing behind him left him to glance back and then shout as he twisted around and brought his arms up in time to intercept the Hunter’s Axe.
“AAHH—” His brief scream was drowned out by the headstones shattering as his shoulder-guard plowed through it, leaving him to tumble forward and land face-down. Glass shattered as he hit the ground hard enough to bounce before he came to a stop at the foot of the monument. Everything hurt, the broken fragments from the hand lantern buried into his waist and the world bending and swaying as groaned softly.
Bell’s fingers twitched, revealing his hands were still attached. The forearm guards stopped him from losing his arms, but that only meant that instead of being cleaved in two he was sent flying instead. He poured whatever strength he could into them as death closed in with weapon raised to fire the Hunter’s Pistol he somehow managed to keep a grip on and the Quicksilver bullet caught the veteran hunter in the chest, leaving him to stagger.
The young hunter took the chance to liberate his vial injector from its holster and then drove the needle straight into his body to let the blood vial do its work. His vision cleared to the dark hues of the world around him and enough strength returned so that he could get back on his feet and run as Gascoigne threw himself forward with the axe to try and split him in two again, cutting down into the base of the monument. He nearly stumbled over his feet to get to the Saw Spear, taking its metal shaft into his grip and holding it out with shaking hands as the man jerked his axe free and slowly rose back up to his full height.
“Please, stop! I don’t want to fight! I—”
“RAAH!!” The words were drowned out by the roar of the man as he went back on the attack, whipping around his pistol and pulling the trigger. Quicksilver barked out of its mouth and the metal sprayed out.
“Ugh!” Bell lurched, forced to his knees as it caught and ruptured inside his thigh and abdomen. He only saw the axe, stained with blood that was meshed with stone dust, splinters, and dirt, as it came around in a blur.
Then there was pain as it found his unprotected neck at last.
Bell awoke with a jerking motion, instinctively clutching his neck. When his fingers found it was still attached, he let out a sigh and then fell to his knees as he took in his surroundings. He was in the Hunter’s Dream once more, having suffered the first death of the night.
He’d been killed by the person that he’d been asked to find—a man much stronger than him, relentless and brutal. No matter how much he’d begged, his words just wouldn’t reach him. Then that only left one alternative and the very thought left him frozen when he considered what that would mean for the Little Girl.
The Plain Doll naturally inquired into his silent dismay from her perch by the stairs. “Are thou not well, Good Hunter?”
“I… I’m fine,” he lied, rising to his feet. He needed to see Gehrman before he could do anything else. Maybe he would have a solution.
He began to ascend the stairs when the mewlings of the Little Ones reached his ears and he remembered the badge he’d found. He fished it out and then gently tossed it to them, only for the emaciated limbs to snatch it and then dunk it into their bath. A light haze wafted up from the surface but he passed up the chance to peruse the new weapons and instead made his way up to the Workshop.
The aged hunter stared up at a weapon that hung high on the wall until he noticed Bell. His seasoned eyes took in Bell’s appearance and a sound bubbled up in his throat. “Ah, I see you’ve found yourself proper Yharnam Hunter attire. It was made for new recruits who joined in the Hunt under Ludwig’s banner. Freedom of movement while keeping the blood away.”
“The person they belonged to had died and I needed something to wear since my own were soaked.” His throat felt tight, so he took a moment to swallow after admitting his theft and looked down to see the garments were cleaned of the grime and filth, holes from where the bullets had punched through patched. His armor was still battered though, untouched by whatever magic of the Dream had mended them.
“You’ve no need to feel shame. In taking up the Hunter’s task, it’s natural that the tools of the fallen be put to use,” the elderly hunter assured him. “Did fortune favor your search for bloodstone?”
“I think so.” Bell moved over to the table and set his backpack down onto it. Then he fished out what he’d found and set them down next to his broken weapon. The sole exception was the Tiny Music Box, forgotten in his desperate attempt to survive. She said they used this to remind him, didn’t she?
“Yes. These are Bloodstone Shards,” Gehrman said as he wheeled himself over and peered at the white and red stones with a helix in the center of each. Then he touched the droplet that Bell had pocketed. “And a Coldblood Dew. We can repair your weapons with these if you crush the droplet to take the echoes into yourself.”
Bell took the droplet between his gloved fingers and then put strength into it. The droplet broke open and then the light, misty feeling of echoes flowing into him followed. It was a piddling amount compared to that which was left behind at the site of his death, but it was better than nothing. “What now?”
“Now you fortify it.” Gehrman placed three of the shards he’d gathered onto the broken Saw Cleaver. “Here. Extend your hand over them and will them into it. The Dream will do the rest for you using the echoes you’ve taken in.”
Bell did as told and held his hands over the broken steel that had snapped. The weapon had carried him throughout his first attempt and helped him prevail against the Minotaur that had killed him. It was his carelessness that left it in this state, so he silently willed for it to be made whole. Willed for the shards to be one with the weapon. For it to be stronger.
The echoes within him began to bleed out like a crimson mist that circled around the weapon and shards in response. Bloodstone shattered into dust that mixed in with the haze and both sank into the Saw Cleaver. It snapped back into its original state as if by magic, the only visible alteration being a slot that had formed at the base of the steel.
“There we are.” Gehrman lifted it up and tapped the handle against the workbench. Rather than the sound of wood-on-wood, it sounded more like metal striking wood. “The moment bloodstone gets introduced into the material, all of it becomes harder. Sharper and more suitable for the Hunt.”
“Is that normally how that works?” Bell asked. He’d never seen a blacksmith at work, but he had the distinct impression that it wasn’t like this.
“The true method takes much longer,” the aged hunter explained. “In the early days of the Hunt it was much rarer to find these materials and hunters had to make do with what they had—wood and steel with some exceptions. This Saw Cleaver is a relic from that time, an older model rather than the more recent one. But the first hunters knew how to refine the technique they had and learned to be agile since those who never took a claw never needed blood to heal. Then, and only then, did it become a matter of making sure that the weapon could keep up with them.”
There was almost nostalgic look on the veteran hunter’s face as he spoke. But as quickly as it came, it vanished. He turned the weapon in his hand and held it out to Bell. “That should serve you well enough for now, but larger beasts will no doubt prove difficult should they arise. Remember to keep your steel sharpened and seek out larger shards and chunks.”
“I’ll try…” Bell took the weapon into his grasp with some hesitation. If his weapon was repaired then he had no excuse not to set out again, following the same path he did until he returned the place where he’d met his demise. He would try to reach the hunter again, this time with the music box.
But… what would he do if it didn’t work? Gascoigne didn’t seem like he would just let Bell walk past him to get into the Cathedral Ward through the Tomb of Oedon. And leaving him alone if he was truly blood-drunk meant more people would be in danger. But what was he supposed then? Kill him?
If I did that, what will I tell his daughter or wife? Bell felt sick to his stomach at the thought. What would I tell Hestia?
“Is there something that still troubles you?” Gehrman asked.
“…There’s a Hunter who’s blocking the way to the Cathedral Ward,” Bell confessed. “He has a wife. And a daughter who’s waiting for him to come back. I don’t want to kill him if I can help it.”
“I fear your kindness is misguided if he has gone mad, young hunter,” he said. “No Hunter desires to become that which he once hunted. But as the years go on some succumb and become beasts. And beast must be hunted.”
Bells lips pressed thin. He already knew that some people became beasts when drunk with blood. He knew that. But Gascoigne couldn’t have been that far gone if it had only been hours since his daughter last saw her parents. “I think he can still be reasoned with.”
“You are free to try,” Gehrman said. “That is a luxury that you have that others do not. But should you find that words will not reach him, then show him mercy as only a Hunter can and free him from the shackles of his own making.”
Chapter 13: The Hunt Resumes
“Nonononono!” Bell stood up, spinning on his boots and stirring the dirt underfoot as he searched for the headstone that had led him home before. It was nowhere to be found on the hill of flowering moonlight, where Bell and the Doll stood alone. He was trapped in the Hunter’s Dream again. The moment he realized that, he collapsed onto his knees. “Not again.”
The Plain Doll regarded his misery with a passive expression as she crouched down, joining him there. “Why do you despair, Good Hunter? Was your respite not pleasant?”
“Why am I back here?” Bell asked. He knew that died for a second time in his world. Killed by the Silverback after he chased a cloaked thief. It was an inelegant death, brought about by his blade breaking under the weight of the metal-backed fist and finished by crushing for a second time. But why did he have to be here again?
“This night, this dream will not end unless you hunt, as the countless hunters who came before you have, Good Hunter,” she told him. It could have been reproaching, but her tone made it seem as though she were trying to gently encourage him to pursue the task.
Bell still shook head at the thought of having to go through the Hunt again and again, until he heard the Little Ones clamoring. Arriving in a group, they bore his weapons that had been left behind upon his death. His broken Saw Cleaver still stained with his own blood and the Hunter’s Pistol that had been lost. They were it. They were his ticket out of this nightmare.
“Take me back!” he begged them, falling over to the point of bowing. “Please!”
The Messengers, in contrast to their usual behavior, only seemed to be able to regretfully shake their heads and make noises that were indecipherable to Bell.
“The Dream holds firmly to you with shackles they cannot break,” the Doll told him. “Should it not will your return, they cannot contest it. For they draw nourishment from the Dream itself, of the echoes that ripple throughout it and the wisdom that becomes a part of it with each hunter’s passing. They are bound to its will as well.”
She spoke as though this place had a will of its own. Bell couldn’t find it in him to doubt it, because he didn’t know anything about it. He didn’t know how he originally got here, or why he constantly returned when he died, tethered to it. He didn’t know anything, except that it was expecting him to continue to search for a way to end the scourge of the beasts.
But he’d tried that. He’d followed those words of advice from Eileen, using them as a guideline as he slew the beasts he crossed, seeking it to bring an end to the night. He tried learning from the Healing Church, who hosted prior hunts according to Gilbert, only for the gates to Cathedral Ward to remain closed and silent to his pleas. He’d suffered three additional deaths in the process of doing so, the memory still engrained within his mind.
“I can’t go through all of that again.” His voice came out hoarse as he admitted his weakness. His last hunt, the pain and suffering, had been for nothing. Now she was telling him to do it again. The very thought drove his fingers planted in the dirt to dig in as they clenched into fists. “I just can’t do all of that again.”
“But you must, Good Hunter.” Her serene voice was backed by cool, artificial fingers that brushed the tears that began streaming down his cheeks. “For only once the night has come to an end, will you truly awaken in the waking world. And then this dream will be nothing more than a distant memory that will fade one day.”
The choice was ultimately out of his hands. Either he hunted and found his way back to Hestia, or he stayed here in this moonlit haven meant for hunters. It was the same thing he’d been told time and time again: A hunter must hunt.
“Come now,” she said, rising to her feet. Her hand extended outwards to the workshop resting at the top of the hill. “Gehrman has awakened. I am sure he will be able to guide you.”
Reluctantly gazing up at the Doll, with the moon hanging high behind him and casting its celestial light down on the hillside of flowers, Bell grasped his broken Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Pistol in hand. Crying about how unfair it was wouldn’t get him any closer to returning to his world and leaving this nightmare behind. So, he rose up and made his way up the flowered slope to the workshop.
It was there he found the wheelchair-bound old hunter, awake. “You’ve returned.”
“I went home,” Bell said. “I went home after killing a large Beast unlike any other I’d seen, and I tried to leave it all behind. But I died again and ended up here again.”
Gehrman only chuckled softly. “I cannot fault you for doing so. Many would have liked to do the same. But there is no escape, and even a reprieve is but for a fleeting moment, unless you finish the Hunt.”
“…I need to know how to get into Cathedral Ward then,” he said. “I tried going through the main gates, but it was locked.”
“That gate remains locked during the time of the Hunt, I’m afraid…” Aged eyes looked up to the map that Bell copied it into the notebook he’d left behind. “Your best bet is to try and reach it through Oedon Chapel, if the main gate is blocked. There’s a lock, but hunters come and go through it enough that it may be opened, or they’ll at least have a key.”
It was as close to a plan as he had, so Bell would see if the Messengers could retrieve his notebook and the other things he’d left behind that were suited for this world. Like the lighter, the blood vial injector, and the hand lantern. Maybe even his armor that had been newly bought.
“Your weapon seems to have broken,” the older man said, wheeling closer to take a look at it. “It was an older piece, and those can only last so long during the hunt, I’ll admit. But rarely have I seen the metal break so badly.”
“The monsters I fought back in my world have pretty tough hides,” Bell said. Minotaurs and Silverbacks were both Level 2 category monsters. He’d mostly relied on brute strength to force the teeth in, so he probably had been pushing his luck all things considered. “The fact that it had held up as long as had was more of a miracle than anything.”
“Ah, I suppose so considering you never repaired it, did you?” White-hair shifted as he shook his head at the question. “Well, fortunately for you, in this Dream one’s weapons are never truly broken if you have the echoes to repair it. Though I suspect if these beasts of your homeland are hardy enough to wear it down to this extent, you’ll need better armaments or to fortify them into being stronger. You’ll have to make use of materials taken from beasts to do so.”
“What kind?” Bell asked. If it was anything like the drops he normally got, then he could grasp the concept well enough.
“The blood of beasts and those taken by the scourge is an interesting thing,” Gehrman explained as he gestured for him to place the broken weapon on the workshop table. “Echoes sometime course through droplets that have yet to dry, but sometimes you’ll find when they die their blood solidifies into a shard called a Bloodstone, or a crystal called a Blood Gem. Hunters use these to make their weapons stronger to slay greater beasts.”
“Why do they form in the blood?” The monsters in his world at least had the excuse of the magic from the magic stones concentrated into the body parts left behind, which was why they remained upon the removal of the magic stone.
The veteran of the Hunt only shrugged. “I was only a mere hunter, not one who deals with blood ministration or a scholar, so I cannot answer why. I can say that they’ll look like either white bits of bone with a weaving pattern, or oddly shaped crystals. Just bring whatever you find to me and I’ll identify which ones we can use to fortify your weapons, so that they can handle the strain of whatever beast you face. Also, keep an eye out for a tool that’s used to embed the gems into an imprint that forms on the weapon as well.”
Bell grimaced. If they formed on the bodies of the beasts he slew and the dead, that meant he’d have to go back and scavenge the corpses that he’d left behind. If they were still there. More than likely, he would have to kill them again unless time had decided to progress, rather than rewind…
He really didn’t want to have to kill the Cleric Beast he’d killed before again. Not when he was lacking a weapon meant to fight something that size. He looked to see his Saw Spear on the storage box. It had a longer reach than the Saw Cleaver, but he got the feeling it wasn’t meant for something that size either, whether a beast or monsters like the Silverback.
“What about a weapon meant to kill something larger?” Bell asked, picking up the elongated serrated weapon. Heavy, solid steel meant for thrusting would be better, a sword or something more like it that could pierce through to the magic stone or heart to kill it.
“Those who came before you took what was left when they did,” Gehrman said. “If you need something else, scavenge any ones that can still be used off dead hunters or through the Messengers. Being the odd things that they are, metal badges seem to stir up memories within them that they can then seek out for echoes. However, you don’t look like you have much experience in wielding such a thing.”
“I don’t,” he admitted. He’d always considered it before becoming an adventurer, on the path to be a hero. But he’d never held a sword before, let alone used one.
“Worry not, young hunter, for that is what the Doll is for,” he said. “The echoes of the fallen can grant you finesse of the hands and deftness in foot, making you more skillful for the sake of the Hunt. Likewise, they can increase the tinge of your blood so that the bullets they dye can do further harm. And, if you ever run out, you can also make more by solidifying your own fresh blood in an act of will once it leaves your body.”
“They can improve dexterity too, huh?” That was his lowest status next to Magic, last he checked. And that one he couldn’t improve until he got an actual spell, if Bell remembered right. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
“I’m sure the rest will come with the night, as you hunt the beasts and their ilk. If you find something that has to do with the Hunt but do not know what it is, you can also bring it to me. But, aside from that…” The veteran rubbed his chin in thought a bit more before he continued. “There’s also the runes, but that tool has been lost for some time and I doubt you’ll easily come by the strange symbols. Few do.”
“Okay.” Bell looked down to the teeth of his Saw Spear. He’d worked on cleaning it, but it still had the faint scent blood it. Soon it’d be rich in the color to match, a thought that left him more bothered than anything since it would be covered with squalid blood once again through his hands.
That in mind, he bid Gehrman farewell for the moment and then stepped outside to see the Doll standing at the base of the stairs. Left of her, the Little Ones had taken to a birdbath that was filled with a shaded liquid of some kind. He approached them to ask if they could bring him his backpack and armor from his world, so he could hunt the beasts.
They did so, and soon he was clad in the purchased armor that seemed like solidified moonlight. It wouldn’t hamper him during the hunt, being light. And if it withstood even a single swipe of a claw then it had done its job.
His belt and pouch were next, containing the blood vials and quicksilver bullets. He attached the hand lantern attached to the left side of the belt, and syringe injector holster to the right. The latter hadn’t seen use, as he wasn’t a fan of jabbing it into his thigh when he could drink the blood straight, but if the need came up the option was there.
After a moment of deciding between whether to use Iosefka’s vial or a standard one, he loaded a standard vial into it. Hers was special, considering that she was a doctor, and not easily replaced. It would be best to save it for a real emergency, like one would a High Potion.
His backpack for collecting the materials was last, from which he pulled out the badge he’d gotten on the Great Bridge. He didn’t know if it fell off the Cleric Beast at some point, or if it had been left behind. But what he’d taken on a whim would now serve to stir up the memories of the Little Ones, whatever that meant.
He presented it to the ones in the bath. “You can use this, right?”
They clamored over it, thin and emaciated fingers embracing it tight. The shiny bobble held more meaning to them than one would think possible as they dunked it into the bottom of the bath. Then the waters rippled, a light haze steaming up, and Bell could make out items within it.
There were two weapons beneath of the surface—one that looked to a massive hammer with the hilt of a sword, and the other a different kind of firearm. But when he reached down to take them and disturbed the water, the images vanished. His fingers only brushed the badge at the bottom of the fountain.
“I don’t suppose I have enough of these echoes within me to claim them either?” Bell asked as he pulled back his hand, whereupon the memories of two weapons housed within it returned. It had to be due to how they could just move between worlds somehow, even if he didn’t know why.
They shook their heads and hands. A regretful ‘No’ again. There was only one solution for all his problems, it seemed. He sighed through flared nostrils before turning to the headstone that would lead him back to Yharnam.
Back to the Hunt.
The moment he finished praying at the headstone, Bell resurfaced at the Central Yharnam lamp. He could have went to the one where the Cleric Beast had been, admittedly. But since he had to find materials to upgrade his weapon, along finding a potential new one, he figured it would be easier to retrace his footsteps from here.
Find the weird things that could useful first. Then find his way to Cathedral Ward. That was the plan.
Along the way he met with Gilbert again. The sickly man told Bell that he should go through the aqueducts to reach the place where Gehrman had directed him. Bell knew of the place, as it was where he had gotten his Saw Spear. However, Gilbert gave Bell a warning that there were two entrances, so he would have to check them both.
He went to the aqueducts through the alley entrance first, climbing down the ladder until wood creaked beneath his feet. It was aged. Some of the boards were broken, and there was nothing that would prevent a straight drop off the ledge to the bottom of the canal below. He spotted some men who had already begun their transformation into beasts that walked on two legs, wielding torches and weapons as they patrolled the stone walkways next to it.
Bell killed them the moment he dropped down onto the walkways. Not because he was eager, or because he needed the Blood Echoes. But because there was no other choice. The moment they spotted him, their weapons tried to find his way into their flesh with the same ease as the Saw Spear found theirs.
Blood painted his shirt and armor as the corpse of the last one dropped down to feed the giant rats that festered in the water. The sound of flesh being torn into, the squelches of their bodies being devoured with a ravenous zeal, was more than he could stand. He let them clamor around the corpse before he did a plunging attack that impaled one through the head for a clean kill and then focused on the rest.
The last one put up more of a fight, lunging for Bell with chipped teeth that forced him to back off to near the edge of a deeper drop to the canals below. Water splashed as his boots kicked the grimy fluid around until he saw an opening as it lunged for him again. He brought the serrated teeth around in a wide arc and caught its underbelly, tearing it open and adding visceral fluid into the slurry they were wading in.
The fact that the water was being audibly displaced behind him was what saved Bell from getting killed by another beastman that was sneaking up on him with a spear raised. The spearhead clanged as it hit his chest-plate, backed by inhuman strength that left Bell staggering. It had been going for his heart, which would have been a killing blow had he not been wearing the armor. Reflex then kicked in as the head of the spear shot out again for his forehead, leaving him to pivot on his foot and twist his body as he whipped his Saw Spear around in a diagonal stroke.
Dark blood was left behind to mix with the tainted fluids below as the beastman was opened up with a thin gash from hip to shoulder. It was shallow though, leaving it capable of maneuvering around. It now warily made a half-circle with the spear facing him, waiting for an opening as it splashed the water around noisily—
—then came the pain, a searing, jagged thing that dug into his tendon and nearly brought him to his knees as he lashed out at the source of pain with the Saw Spear in hand. The sharpened tip and bloodied teeth tore through the spine of the last rat that had yet to die, despite its belly being opened up, truly killing it.
That was when the beastman went for the kill with his spear again, a thrust for the head once more. Unable to pull his leg free without tearing through the tendon entirely, it forced Bell to bring the serrated teeth around again in defense. The moment the iron shaft of the spear met the serrated teeth, the beastman parried away the Saw Spear and brought its other claw around.
“AGGHH!!” There was a flash of searing, hot pain as crimson eclipsed the left side of Bell’s face. It forced a wet shout out of his mouth as blood clogged his nose and throat. He would have doubled over in agony and fell down rolling if not for spotting the beastman pouncing forward with his remaining eye, invigorated by the scent of fresh blood—
—and letting out a single shot that barked from the wide mouth of his Hunter’s Pistol, quicksilver bullet mixed with blood giving it enough stopping power to drop the beastman to its knees. The riposte that followed had Bell thrusting his hand out, bones breaking open as it was buried in wet heat, forced through the rib cage and wedged inside just above the heart.
A normal man would have gone into shock, but the beastman was still functional. Beasthood made it resilient and vicious enough to still try to fight back. It brought its bloodied claws for his throat, trying to tear it out before its heart could be taken.
But Bell was ready for it this time. The protector on his left forearm met the claws, backed by adrenaline to hold it off as his embedded hand wrapped around its heart in a crushing grip. Then he pulled and tore it right out with all the strength he could muster.
The beastman wailed a final death throe as it was thrown back. Blood flowed as the thick arteries around the heart were severed, pouring out of the deep furrow while bone stuck out past the hide and hair. It fell over the edge of the drop into the canals, landing among a group of drowned and rotting corpse with their elongated bodies covered in glistening, gangrenous flesh. They promptly woke and clamored over the fresh beast corpse that had just been delivered, proving that his intuition the last time had been wise.
Injured, panting, and hand wrapped around what felt like pulped fruit until it dropped from his grasp, Bell limped over to where a corpse was strewn out. Then he collapsed with his back against the wall next to it, whimpering as stinging agony encompassed his leg and sticky blood flowed down the side of his face to soak his shirt beneath it. His head was going light, vision swimming. Ne…ed…vial…
Fumbling fingers reached for the blood vial injector to be safe. The needle plunged into the thigh of his wounded leg, and a press of the thumb forced sweet relief into the limb. Tainted fluid was expelled before the severed muscles and blood vessels knitted shut. A second vial hastily followed, taken through the lips and ingested to restore his face and bring vision back into his left eye.
Coughing as the healing blood finished going down his throat, Bell set the empty vials on the ground and tried to start wiping the rest off his face, only for him to notice that the sleeve he intended to use was already covered in beast’s blood. He let his head fall back, venting the frustration with a deep exhale as he undid his forearm protector on the other arm so that he could use the clean fabric beneath it. When he was done, he looked over to the corpse next to him to see if it had any more vials to replace the two he’d used.
There were none to be found on the dead hunter, only broken glass nearby that was suspiciously empty. His weapon was nowhere to be found either, likely knocked over the edge and into the waters below. As for his death, it seemed to be from a single puncture wound to the head, likely from the spear-using beastman Bell just killed.
If I hadn’t turned around then, would I have been killed the same way? Bell couldn’t help but wonder as his fingers ran over the material of the dead hunter’s garb. They didn’t retain blood like his current clothes. And they were largely intact, likely due to the fact that the kill had been done efficiently. They were salvageable.
…It took him a while to convince himself. He added facts in, like walking around while soaked in blood, in a city that had countless things that seemed to be out for him because of it, bode ill for his chances of survival otherwise. That if he was going to be a hunter he should look the part.
But, in the end, it still didn’t sit well with him about stealing the clothes off a dead man’s body before retrieving his weapons.
“Oh, are you a hunter?” The four words stalled Bell before he could pass through a set of iron gates that were now opened.
He had changed his clothes, putting on the dead man’s coat and boots and gloves and hat. They were worn and in need of a wash, but they were warm and did well in repelling the yellowish-fluid that made up the rotted corpses’ blood as he continued his journey through the waters and to the ladder leading out of that side of the canal. He didn’t dare go through the other side of the canals again, near where he’d found the Saw Spear, until he had more Molotovs considering how much of a pain to kill the ones on this side had been.
Bell thought he was hallucinating again. Like when he’d ran into another corpse below, just past the bridge. It had been guarded by Carrion Crows, slouching against an iron fence next to a row of coffins.
After killing the loud, vicious birds, a near-silent cracking sound came from the head of the corpse and a silvery mist leaked out of it. The gas seemed almost alive as it writhed outwards, practically crawling out in the form of… well, he wanted to call it a slug, but it was more of a wisp or an outline, ethereal in presence and form.
Allured and intrigued by the sight of it, he moved to pick it up. But the moment he touched it, the misty phantasm vanished. Disappeared in the blink of an eye as a gentle wiggling sensation in his skull left him scratching his head until it settled down, and Bell went along his way.
“You’re a hunter, aren’t you?” asked the young, feminine voice again from the nearby window, where a lit lamp burned incense. He could make out a small outline from behind the iron bars that covered the windows, tinted to hide the person behind it. “I know that smell from auntie Eileen.”
“You know Eileen?” Bell asked, his voice was half-muffled by the bandana covering his mouth.
The silhouette shifted. “Yes. I-I see her every now and again when she comes to talk to daddy and granddad. It doesn’t smell nearly as strong on her, but she said it was the scent of a hunter.”
Bell figured he shouldn’t be surprised that people who lived here had met others who smelled the scent that only Hestia and a few others could smell in his own world. Eileen said that she had been like him at some point in the past. Likewise, the Doll said countless hunters passed through as well. He lowered the bandana covering his face and removed the cap so that he could properly addressed the young-sounding girl. “Yeah, I’m a hunter.”
“Then, will you look for my mum?” she asked. “Daddy’s a hunter, like you, but he didn’t come home when he was supposed to. Mum went to find him before he met with granddad, but she hasn’t come back either. Now I’m alone and scared, and the incense are running low…”
Bell felt a heavy weight fall into his stomach. He’d seen so many corpses scattered already. What if they’d been among the dead? For all he knew, he was wearing her father’s clothes as of now.
He was horrified to even entertain the thought. But, at the same time, he knew what it was to be alone, waiting in an empty home for someone who wouldn’t come back. So, he had to at least check to see so that he could tell her.
“I’ll look for her,” Bell said. “What does she look like? And what’s her name?”
“Thank you!” Her silhouette jumped up. “My mum’s name is Viola. She’s wearing a pretty black dress and has blonde hair. Oh, and a big and beautiful brooch with a red gem inside of it that Daddy got for her. They’re the same shade as your eyes, actually.”
A small, fleeting sense of relief came over him. He hadn’t seen any corpses like that. There was a chance that she was still safe. “What about your father? If she went looking for him, I’m guessing there was somewhere she’d check?”
“Yes. Daddy’s name is Gascoigne, and he would meet up with granddad in a place called the Tomb of Oedon. It’s near an old chapel, a different one than the church daddy used to work with until I was born. She may have gone there in search of him.”
“I’m heading that way now, so I’ll go look for them both,” he told her, again feeling some relief as he recalled the shade who’d helped him slay the Cleric Beast. Even if it had been a dead-end, he wouldn’t have beaten it without the help. The least he could do is help reunite their family. “Just stay here until I get back.”
“Wait,” the young girl called out as he moved to leave. She raised the window halfway, giving Bell a view of her white nightdress as she then managed to slip a tiny box through the gap in the bars for him to take. “If you find my mum, give her this music box. It plays one of daddy’s favorite songs, to help him remember when he forgets us.”
Bell removed the glove on his right hand, so he didn’t get any grime on it. The metal box fit in it, but it had a bit of weight to it. Flipping open the lid revealed there was aged paper fixed to the underside, but he couldn’t make out any of the words in the native script. So, he closed it and then slipped it into his backpack. “I’ll be sure to get it to her, so sit tight and keep your window shut and locked to be safe.”
“I will,” she told him. “You be careful out there too, mister hunter.”
Chapter 12: Return to the Dream
And the Hunt awaits your presence once more…
Bell found himself staring up at the moon as those words whispered in his ears on the wind, unable to move. Unable to think.
A scent that he couldn’t comprehend permeated the air. Celestial in nature. Thickening to the point of suffocating as the luminous white orb hanging in the night sky seemed so close that the glimmering moonlight reflected in his unwavering gaze.
The alluring face of the moon eclipsed his vision until he couldn’t see where it began and ended, and he was unable to look away even if he wanted to. The ivory rays themselves were like countless, tender hands grasping his head. Refusing to let him turn away, refusing to let him ignore the orb of night that seemed to swallow up the distance between Heaven and Earth just for him—
—only to vanish as the night sky was replaced with solid stone. The moonlight that had been radiating down, leaving him awash in its silvery rays, turned to artificial magic-stone lights. The irrefutable presence that loomed over him now took the form of a round face, sapphire eyes gazing into his own with a concerned frown.
Hestia. His Goddess. Entrancing in a different way than… what exactly?
Bell sat up, rising on the couch and turning so that his feet touched the ground. Blinking. His head felt misty and tired. Adrift somehow. “Was I sleeping?”
Hestia took a seat next to him on the couch. “I thought you were, but your eyes were open and distant.” Fingers soft as silk reached up to brush his forehead. “Were you having a nightmare?”
“I…” He tried to find words. But the memory had already slipped from his mind. Gone like mist that evaporated in the morning light. He brought his hands to his eyes and rubbed them. “I’m not sure. I don’t even remember when I fell asleep.”
The way her frown deepened showed that answer didn’t please her at all. “Just in case, we’ll see Miach about getting you some sleeping medicine. I know he makes some that can bring about a dreamless sleep.”
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I just need to get up and move around today. That’s all.”
Hestia’s expression softened upon hearing that. “Just wait a little longer for my sake, Bell. Hephaestus told me that she would have one of her children available soon to form a party with you. Then you can go back in the Dungeon without worrying me so much.”
It had been a few days now since the Banquet of the Gods. Her proposal wasn’t exactly rejected by the two. But there were complications involved.
In the case of Take’s children, they operated as a group and had tactics, so introducing Bell into their cohesion might complicate things. And his children had to work hard given that they were also poor, on top of supporting an orphanage back in their home country. So, while he stated he could see if he could arrange something, Hestia had to admit that it would likely interfere with his own Familia’s survival unless Bell took up a role like a Supporter.
Hestia didn’t think Bell would settle for that. He wanted to be an Adventurer after all. And, while she could beg him to do so, she would be trampling on his dream more than she already had. Besides, having him be a Supporter meant that Bell would receive less valis than he would earn on his own and hamstring Take’s income as well.
It was different in the case of Hephaestus. She had several children who wanted to travel further down in the Dungeon, in order to reach Level 2. That way they could gain the Blacksmithing Developmental Ability.
But Bell had only been doing this for around two weeks, so naturally most people wouldn’t think he had that kind of ability. Hephaestus wouldn’t just order one of them to put up with Bell for Hestia’s sake, so she had to find children willing to work with someone who didn’t have nearly as much time or experience as them. That was easier said than done without exerting more pressure than she was comfortable with.
In both cases, it was a matter of Bell not appearing experienced enough. Hestia’s words that he could pull his own weight weren’t enough. While Bell could prove that he was more than capable enough, it would take time to reach that point. So, in a worst-case scenario, Hestia really might have to let him go back into the Dungeon on his own.
Still, I should find something for him to do… Oh, right! Her pigtails shot up in excitement as an idea came to mind when she remembered what today was. “You know, I have today off work and there’s a festival going on, meaning there’s a lot of food vendors and game booths out.”
Bell was naturally surprised, since he hadn’t been in the city long. “There are?”
“Yep!” Hestia hopped up onto her feet and extended her hand for him to take. “Since you need to get out, how about you and I spend the entire day together?”
A festival with just the two of us, huh? Between both of their jobs, they rarely spent time together outside of this homely little room. So how could he refuse the offer to spend time together as a Familia? “Of course.”
“Then let’s go have a lot of fun,” Hestia said before her expression bloomed into a radiant smile while their fingers intertwined. It carried a warm affection within it.
It was almost enough to make the lethargy in his mind melt away until Bell abruptly felt like he was being watched again, leaving him snap his head around for the source. Then he remembered it was just the two of them there and was left wondering if the lack of sleep really was getting to him. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it before getting dressed for their adventure outside.
In order to get to the Monster Feria, also known as the Monsterphilia, they needed to head down the road so that they got back onto the Main Street. From there, they could head straight to the far east side of the city. That was where the festival was being held, at the colosseum, but since it was going to be busy they would likely have to forgo a Tax cart and instead go on foot.
“White-hair! Over here, meow!”
It just so happened that, while on the West Main, Hestia stopped them when she heard someone calling for him. “Bell, I think that girl is calling you.”
“Huh?” He looked over to see that there was a catgirl in one of the waitress uniforms for the Hostess of Fertility, waving for him to come over with her ears pointed up. Since it would have been rude to ignore her, he hurried over. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you!”
“Mya, it’s no good if kids don’t go to bed on time,” she told him after looking him over. Then she turned to Hestia and gave her a polite bow, as was etiquette Bell suspected. “Oh, you must be his Goddess. It’s nice to meet you, meow.”
“Good morning,” Hestia said, approaching her. “How do you know Bell?”
“This is the place I told you about,” Bell answered in her place. “The place with the really good food.”
“Myama will be glad to hear it.” She then produced a coin purse and handed it over to Bell. “Syr needs this. Can you give it to her, meow?”
Bell eyed it for a moment. It was a purse that definitely suited a girl, and he could picture her holding it. But he wasn’t exactly sure where to find her in the first place. “Uh…”
“Arnya, if you’re going to make a request you should at least make it as clear as possible,” said a new waitress as she appeared from behind the catgirl. It was the elfess who had chased Bell down that night to return his belongings. “Good morning, Mister Cranel and Miss Goddess. My apologies for her calling you out so early.”
“It’s not a problem, but what’s this about Syr?” he asked. “Is she not here?”
“She has the day off and went to the Monster Feria for the opening event, but she left her purse here. The rest of us are preparing to open up for the day so, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you return it to her if you see her?”
“We were heading in that direction, but the festival itself is pretty active from what I’ve heard,” Hestia said. “Will we be able to find her?”
“She just left, so I’m sure white-hair can find her.” Arnya flashed Bell a smile. “Right, meow?”
If they have that much faith in me then I’ll try. Besides, Bell knew what it was like to be walking around in a big city like this with practically no money to your name. It had been like that when he had first arrived, and there was no point in making her walk back to get it if necessary.
He turned back to Hestia and said, “Sorry, but I really should give this back to her.”
Black twin-tails swayed as Hestia shook her head. She liked the fact that he was a good boy. “I don’t mind since we have the entire day. Besides, if this Syr person is a friend of yours, we should help if we can.”
Eina was one of several other members of the Guild currently outside of the colosseum for the sake of the festival, acting as informants to the citizens as well as assisting the Ganesha Familia in whatever way possible to make it a success.
By far, the biggest and most important event was the monster taming that was already underway beyond the massive stone walls that rose to towering heights. As things stood, it was a unique experience that came once a year for the citizens of Orario, who likely had scant few encounters with monsters in their lives. Because, even though the Dungeon was located within the labyrinth, the average person would never set foot into it and thus had far less exposure to monsters than those who made a living out of it.
Eina was not a fan of the idea that monsters were brought out of the Dungeon for taming during the festival. Monsters, especially Dungeon-born ones, were terrifying beings who existed to kill without regard for anything but their baser instincts. She’d filed enough reports on dead adventurers to know that having even one aboveground and unchecked would spell a huge problem.
But it was not her call to make. Instead, it was that of her superiors. They were the ones who decided the Monsterphilia was necessary for the citizens, because it gave them a chance to view adventurers in a more romanticized light.
Not all adventurers were friendly. Not all people were friendly. It was the way things were in general, that the experiences and personalities of the individual determined how they acted with others. The problem was that supermortals with strength above that of the norm naturally went by their own rules, so long as it didn’t fringe on the rules of their Familia.
Maybe they decide they don’t want to pay a tab, or maybe tempers flare and a fight breaks out. The difference in strength between an ordinary citizen and an adventurer meant they couldn’t raise a hand to them and needed someone to complain to. They needed someone to deal with problems that arose, which was what the Guild existed for. So they had to manage both the frustrations of the citizens and the adventurers, trying to placate both.
That was what the festival was for. Citizens would see these highly publicized adventurers putting on a show for their amusement and think to themselves that maybe these were the norm and the ones that caused them problems were the outliers. At least until enough time passed and the next year came around, where they would do it again.
Even now, a skilled Tamer was elegantly in the process of taming one of the monsters in a show of charisma and skill. It painted the scene as a mortal dominating a monster, making it submit without seriously raising a hand or slaughtering it for its magic stone, as was ordinary. An extravagant way of undercutting the actual dangers of the profession, setting a standard for the unaware that adventurers had class and dignity.
Eina didn’t exactly blame the Ganesha Familia for giving people the wrong impression of just how dangerous both monsters and the job were. They were merely doing it at the request of the Guild in the first place, who approved and managed it. But it would have consequences later on, when those who saw them tried to replicate their feats and have their dreams, and possibly their lives, dashed.
She took a deep breath, not at all satisfied that the reservations she had about the festival, until she spotted a familiar bed of white hair and ruby eyes scouring the crowd. She hadn’t seen him in days, so a part of her had been worried that something happened to him. Seeing him in the distance, still alive, was enough for now to put on a smile on her face as she called out on him. “Bell!”
His name being called attracted the eyes of not him but the smaller girl at his side. The divine aura that was leaking out, naturally present to all the Gods and Goddesses, made it clear what she was. The relatively smaller goddess tugged on his sleeve to grab his attention and pointed to her.
Bell then spotted her, his mouth moving in a familiar enough way that Eina could make out that he was referring to her as his Advisor, and then walked over. “Miss Eina, I didn’t know you’d be out here.”
“The Guild has set aside a good deal of staff for the festival, so I’m currently acting as someone who helps guest find their way inside of the stadium,” she explained, taking in his appearance. He looked tired. Slight bags around his eyes that wouldn’t be out of place for someone four times his age. “Are you not sleeping well, Bell?”
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been by lately. My goddess wants me to start working with others and forming a party before I start going deeper into the Dungeon.”
That bit of news actually made her somewhat happy. Rather than risking himself, if he worked with others his chances of survival increased drastically. “That’s excellent. Would you like for me to a make a posting for it through the Guild? I can’t guarantee when you’ll meet someone, but I’m sure eventually someone will apply.”
“I’ve already gone out of my way to arrange for that,” Hestia said, approaching them. “But, if you’re acting as an usher, then can we ask if you’ve seen a specific person?”
“There have been a lot of people who have come and gone, so I’ll need you to be specific.”
Bell recalled Syr’s appearance. “She’s a human girl with hair and matching eyes that are sort of ash-colored. She left her wallet behind at her workplace, but we were told she came this way not too long ago.”
Eina placed a hand on her chin in thought. There had been a lot of people, but the hair and eye color on a human were rare enough that if she had seen her then she would have remembered. Not to mention that if she had lost her wallet then she either would have doubled back and ran into them or she would have went elsewhere, since there was an admission fee to the main event.
“I can’t say that I have seen her, I’m afraid—” She was cut off when someone violently pushed past Bell, splitting him and his Goddess apart while knocking them onto the ground. She crouched down to help the two up while turning back to the figure. “Hey, apologize to them this instance!”
The figure, wearing a black cloak of all things at this time of day, turned around and smirked. Then he held up what looked to be a woman’s pouch. He tossed it up and down in his hand twice before running off to the southwest.
Bell’s eyes widened with realization before he rose to his feet. “That’s Syr’s!”
“Bell, wait!” His Goddess tried to grab him before he could give chase, but he moved faster than Eina thought would be possible for an adventurer who only started out a short time ago. Despite that, the thief moved just as quickly, and both cleared the plaza of the stadium in short order.
“Are you alright ma’am?” Eina asked, helping Hestia to her feet. She couldn’t believe that someone would so blatantly steal in front of her, wearing something so conspicuous. “I’ll have someone go after them right away.”
She didn’t have the chance before shouts of monsters being on the loose reached her ears less than a minute later.
Bell may have been tired, but the spike of adrenaline that coursed through his system as he gave chase after the cloaked thief helped offset that. It was enough to keep his mind focused on the present. That was the only reason he didn’t lose track of the thief, as whoever it was had to at least have been a high-end Level 1 as he ditched the Main Street for the alleyways. It was an intricate network full of twists and turns, where it would be so easy for Bell to lose track of them if he didn’t stay on top of them.
He didn’t know why the thief had chosen to take Syr’s wallet, but he knew he had to get it back. He would have probably left it to someone else if it had just been his money that was taken. But that had been entrusted to him by the others at the Hostess of Fertility, who put their faith in him to get it to her.
So he continued giving chase after the thief until they eventually left the web of alleyways and came into a plaza that was surrounded by rising buildings that seemed to be piled on top of one another. Bell hadn’t been in the city for long, but even he knew of this place. A maze within the city in itself, a manmade labyrinth that touched the city wall—Daedalus Street.
If he lost them here, he’d never find the thief again. But the thief didn’t seem to have any interest in continuing their chase at this point. They instead opted to drop the wallet onto the ground in the center of the district’s plaza and then, with a flourish of their cloak, disappear in the blink of an eye, leaving Bell there alone and confused until he felt that sensation again, like he was being watched.
Bell looked around once again for the source but didn’t find a single person in the plaza. It was starting to make him feel paranoid. So, he picked up Syr’s belongings, intent on getting out of there right away—
—only for something massive to come leaping down from over the perimeter of the buildings. It landed onto the ground in front of Bell with a thunderous crash that cratered the stone beneath them. The force alone had been enough to blow him off his feet, and Bell bounced backwards while slamming his head into the ground before coming to a stop several feet away.
“Ngh…” Bell’s head was pounding now as he forced himself to look up, whereupon he spotted pure muscle wrapped up in a cloak of white fur and a silver mane of hair falling down its back that glinted in the light. Thick arms and legs tensed with rage as they pounded at a steel plate that was fixed over its chest. Metal knuckles and manacles with chains clanked and rattled as it glared down at him with red eyes hidden behind a visor.
Miss Eina had told Bell of some of the monsters on the lower floors, as a warning for him not to venture deeper. This was one from the deeper floors, around the Eleventh Floor. A Silverback that had somehow gotten all the way to the surface was in front of him, murderous and animalistic intention fixed on him.
How had no one noticed this thing running around? That question loitered in his mind until he saw the massive primate rushing for him with a primal gait that was faster than it had any right to be. He barely had time to roll out of the way as it closed the distance with upraised arms and then brought both its massive fists down with the intention of crushing him.
The ground shook. Stone was upturned. Jagged bits of displaced rock were sent flying outwards to pelt Bell as he got back to his feet and considered his options.
The first was that he could run. He didn’t know where the monster came from, but he was unarmed and unarmored. In the city filled with more adventurers than any other in the world, chances were he’d run into someone capable of dealing with it.
But if he fled while it was attacking him then someone innocent could be hurt. More so if it chased him while the festival was going on. He could possibly get away, but only if he were willing to sacrifice people he didn’t know. And, while he may have had his dreams of being a hero tested, battered by the time he spent in that nightmare, that was something he just couldn’t do.
I have to kill it. Bell envisioned the Hunter’s Mark in the back of his mind and called forth the Little Ones across the boundaries of this world and the Hunter’s Dream. “Please, bring me my weapons!”
“GYRAAH!” His declaration carried the intention to fight, and so the Silverback responded with a roar in acceptance of his challenge. What drove it was unknown to the young adventurer, but whatever it was that keyed him onto Bell now took firm root. It would not stop until he was crushed, and with another quick gait it moved to do so.
This time, on his feet, Bell sidestepped the initial slam of the monster’s fist as it brought the right one down. But there was no time to remain stationary as it then swung the arm outwards to knock him back. Bell leapt back while bringing his own arms up to shield his chest and head, whereupon the chains that were still attached to its manacles caught him in glancing.
The thick steel that was meant to keep it bound was dense enough that he could feel the lashing it gave his forearms and felt its sting. But fortunately, his arms didn’t break from such a passing strike, even if they throbbed and he could tell it was likely to bruise. He could still fight then.
Bell’s ears then caught the unintelligible voices of the Little Ones answering his plea as a ripple in space formed just behind him. They emerged from the nearest building, sticking out of it horizontally with the Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Pistol in hand. In a conjoined effort, the grouping of Messengers tossed them towards Bell with as much strength as their emaciated arms could muster.
Well-worn wood wrapped in fresh bandages for a grip met one hand while the curved grip shaped to fit comfortably filled the other. Both set of fingers wrapped around them tight before Bell rolled once more out of the way as the Silverback attacked with another punch that blew open the wall with a spray of stone dust.
Screams bellowed out from within. Someone’s home had just been broken into. Collateral damage in its attempt to kill Bell.
I have to lure it the center! He turned his back to the monster, presenting an opening despite his fear. Then he ran towards the center of the plaza and lure it that way, bringing the fight into safer territory.
The Silverback took the bait. Corded muscles in its lower legs released like a coiled spring and sent it forward. It lunged for Bell with its hand outstretched, intent on wrapping those stout fingers around his body to crush him like ripe fruit.
The young adventurer threw himself to the side, getting away with only his leg being clipped in escaping the fingers as they closed into a fist. The Silverback’s momentum carried it forward a little further, into the center of the plaza. It’s back was to Bell, so he rushed in with the Saw Cleaver to hack away at it.
The last he checked his Strength had just made it to E-rank after the War Shadows, even higher than before he fought the Minotaur with the Doll’s update. It had been just enough for his saw’s teeth to tear rents into its flesh deep enough for him to get its magic stone free somehow. Yet, now he couldn’t even manage to dig it past the hide beneath the silver fur before he gripped it with both hands and tensed his own muscles that seemed heavy with exhaustion to rip the metal out through the side.
The Silverback snarled as crimson ran free from a tear in its flesh, blood vessels above its thick muscles torn open so that they could start dotting that white fur with its blood. Retaliation followed. It began to move forward, pounding its strong fists down over and over again.
Bell raised the pistol loaded with a Quicksilver Bullet and fired, hoping the stopping power would be enough to halt it. The sound of caged thunder was drowned by the shattering of earth, the faint pinging of the bullet hitting metal that either guarded its eyes or chest barely reaching his ears. Then Silverback finished its rampage with a double-hammer strike that hit the ground hard enough that it blew Bell off his feet before he could get out of range.
“Ah…ahh…” Bell struggled for breath as haze of pain permeated his body, blood pounding beneath his skull as he got back onto his feet. Then he made out the glint of metal from the knuckles on the Silverback’s fist as it readied to strike. He moved to dodge, but he couldn’t.
His legs felt like they had gone to liquid. His insides felt like they were shaking from the previous hit without it even touching him directly. He couldn’t dodge like this, so he brought the Saw Cleaver’s flat around to act as a shield and braced it with his other hand to withstand the impact—
CRUNCH!! KRIK!! The sound of splintering wood and fracturing iron followed. Then came pain, a sharp and jagged thing that dug into his flesh along with a heavy weight that carried him further until Bell hit the ground a final time. Agony took on a tangible form as he struggled to breathe, only to feel something sharp tearing him apart.
With his vision blurred he looked down to see that the Saw Cleaver had been broken. The butcher’s weapon was embedded within his chest diagonally with the broken handle a little distance away. His pistol was nowhere to be found, lost on impact as something hot and wet bubbled up in his throat while crimson seeped out of his flesh around the wound and soaked his shirt.
The blood, with its scent thick, glossed over his mind as the Silverback approached slowly, as if giving him time to realize that he’d been won over before it came to deliver the killing blow. His weapons hadn’t been enough. They had broken, and his body had followed suit.
He struggled to move but couldn’t as the strength had left his body. He couldn’t even speak as blood bubbling up in his throat drowned any words that could have slipped from the orifice. With tears stinging his eyes while his vision dimmed on the sight of the Silverback raising up its fist once again, Bell realized he was going to die again and could only apologize to Hestia silently. Goddess… I’m sorry…
Then, for a second time, a fist descended. For a second time, there was a moment of pain amidst the spreading numbness, followed by the absence of every other sensation. For a second time, he woke to find himself laying amidst the moonlit flowers in bloom that were strewn over the hillside.
There, he was greeted by a sincere and serene voice that said, “Welcome Home, Good Hunter.”
Chapter 6: Return to the Fifth Floor
Bell’s first sight upon returning to the Hunter’s Dream was once more the Plain Doll, who stood at the base of the stairway that led to the flower-strewn field. The soft, unblemished features of her porcelain face contrasted the downtrodden and bloodstained visage that Bell wore. Exhaustion and hopelessness were all that composed him beneath the blood that covered him from the Cleric Beast as his Saw Cleaver hacked through its skin.
“Welcome Home, Good Hunter,” she said in greeting. “The Little Ones have been making quite a stir recently. It would seem that something has caught their attention within the field.”
Bell looked over to the field from his perch to see there, in the middle of the moonlit flowers, stood a new headstone. It was a phantasm, much like the lanterns, and shrouded in pale flames that danced beneath the gaze of the moon that watched over the Hunter’s Dream. His sorrow and exhaustion were forgotten as it enthralled him, drawing his feet closer to it of their own accord.
Where Bell went, the Doll followed. She tilted her head as she observed the new fixture that was before them. “…How strange. I have never seen this particular headstone, nor do I recognize the words.”
“I recognize them,” Bell said as the Messengers parted so that he could kneel in front of it. “It’s the language of my home. The top reads my name, so I think it’s mine? The words beneath it… ‘A Hunter’s Respite’ from the look of it.”
The moment he brushed his fingers over the words, a vision flashed into his head. It showed him the moment when the Minotaur first accosted him on the Fifth Floor. He jerked his hand back and the vision faded.
Was… was that the moment of his death, in the Dungeon? If the headstones were the method by which he could leave the Dream, did that mean it was his way home too? The thought left his hands trembling, with the very idea of returning to his Goddess’ side threatening to spill crystalline tears from his eyes.
“Is there something that ails you, Good Hunter?” the Doll asked as she kneeled beside him.
“N-No…” He wiped his eyes with his forearm as he stood up. If he really was returning home, at the point where he died, then that Minotaur would be there, just like with the Beast when he died there and returned to the Dream. He needed to be ready for it. “Can you channel the Blood Echoes I gained from the Beast?”
“Of course.” She reached for his hand and tenderly took it into her grasp. The warm, all encompassing sensation of the echoes thrumming to life spread across his body. “What do you wish to be emboldened?”
His thoughts shifted to the Minotaur and how it had ran him down. Compared to the Cleric Beast, it was slower. But it was still capable of overtaking him if he wasn’t faster. And he needed to be stronger, so that his body didn’t break under the weight of its fist a second time. The need called to the roused echoes and they rushed to fulfill that desire, leaving him feeling more than he was before.
“I’m going back home,” he told her after she’d finished.
She nodded. “I will be here when you return from your respite, to continue the Hunt.”
Bell didn’t exactly intend to return to the Dream or Yharnam at all if he could help it. He wanted out of the Hunt. So once he crossed that threshold, he wouldn’t come back. But all the same, he was grateful to her and the Little Ones. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
“There is no need to thank me, Good Hunter,” she said humbly. “I exist to aid you.”
Bell pressed his hand against the headstone and then focused on the vision that came to his mind. Diving into it, Bell felt like he was falling and the world melted. Then he opened his eyes again with a heavy gasp to find he was back in the Dungeon.
It was the wide-square room where he’d met his end before, after being chased on the Fifth Floor by the Minotaur. He’d run through hall after hall, screaming for help and doing his best to survive. And it had all been for naught.
He wanted to think it had all been a nightmare, a hallucination bought on by the stress. That made the most sense. He’d simply passed out and had a bad dream… except, he could feel the weight of the Saw Cleaver in his hand.
He brought it closer to his face. The scent of the blood from the giant Beast was still lingering on it, wafting off it with a poignant scent that prickled his tongue for what he decided was an inexplicable reason. He shut his eyes, exhaling a staggering breath.
The sound of a deep, bovine roar snapped his eyes opened. The Minotaur stood off ahead of him, a bull-headed creature composed of corded muscle that towered over him by almost twice his height. It bore the same crimson eyes of rage that shone like devilish stars as it peered down upon him, took the same heaving breaths that made its chest rise and fall, and frothed at the mouth from a long chase.
It was the moment of his death, beneath its mighty fist. His head had been utterly crushed, the pain brief but memorable. That was when the Hunt began for Bell for the first time, a fate from which he had just escaped.
Would dying here a second time send him once more into those filthy and beast-laden streets? Would he once more have to face abominations like the Beast? He could still recall the three deaths he suffered at the hands of the creature that towered over him even more than the Minotaur—death by crushing, death by falling, and death by devouring.
His fingers trembled in his grasp at the thought of returning to the Hunt. Then fear turned to anger as the monster responsible lumbered forward. It sought to send him back that place he’d just escaped.
“URROOAARRR!!!” roared the Minotaur before charging him once more.
“RRRRAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!” Bell roared right back, determination and fury threading his vocal cords and muscles as he met its charge with one of his own. He wouldn’t die a second time. He wouldn’t go back there!
Ais’ legs carried her through the Sixth Floor with haste towards the exit, where one of the Minotaurs that fled from the lower floors had gone. A number of them had ran from her Familia on their way back from an expedition, and now the race was on to stop them before they ended up killing some unfortunate upper-floor adventurers,
Waiting for her along the way were Wall Shadows, numerous and right in her path. The Dungeon had been spawning monsters left and right as though to stall her, fodder they may have been. They’d cost her seconds already on the way up, and every one counted from this point on.
“Blow Through!”Churning winds veiled her in armor as she pressed ahead, tearing apart the claws of solidified shadows as they tried to strike her down. Rocketing forward through the halls and up the stairs, the wind wrapping Ais dispersed as she came to an abrupt stop.
An overwhelming scent slammed into her like a brick wall. It was one she’d never encountered before, powerful enough to leave her ears deaf and her vision blurred, all while her brain throbbed. Was it some kind of magic?
She held a hand to her head as the sensation lessened, even though the scent was still lingering in the air. Her ears caught the sound of a hide being torn into, a roar of indignation, and a fevered shout. The sounds of battle—someone had met with one of the Minotaurs. Ais forced herself towards it, vaulting through the halls until she came across the battle being waged in slow-motion at her level.
The Minotaur was there. Its massive frame was dotted with red lines, crimson streamlets flowing freely in the air as it swung its massive arm with all the strength its corded muscles could afford to unleash. The fist came within a hair’s breadth of smashing in the smaller figure that rolled out of the way, allowing it to hit the wall of the Dungeon and leave a crater in its wake.
The adventurer, a boy, rose to his feet from the roll and brought his butcher’s weapon around. The teeth of the slab of metal were like fangs that forced themselves into the thick hide of the monster, biting into it on impact. With a roar, he pulled it out the side and the fangs tore themselves free with a spray of crimson that painted his white-hair with splotches of red.
Pain and fury and spittle left the Minotaur’s throat as it kicked back with its hoof. The boy brought the weapon around to intercept it with the flat of the blade, only for it to carry him along and send him flying through the air. He cried out as he hit the ground, curling up to vomit a mixture of blood and stomach fluids. The monster leapt for his downed form, both arms chambered to crush him on impact.
Ais’ legs tensed to move and cut it down mid-flight. The only reason she stalled was because she saw the boy falling back into a roll that would carry him out of the way of the crushing attack. There were unwritten rules against kill-stealing between adventurers, or at least those that sought to honor them, so she wouldn’t intervene unless he needed it.
Sure enough he escaped in time from the attack, getting back to his feet as the monster realized it missed. It then charged for him with the intention of goring him on its horns. He wavered for a moment, wincing in pain from the hoof, and then he leaned forward onto the balls of his feet and jumped over its charge.
His empty hand came up and grasped a horn, allowing him to remain on its back. The other slid up the weapon to flick a switch on the handle, unfurling it with a click. Bracing himself, he brought the backside down on the opening between the Minotaur’s neck and shoulder.
The sound of bone breaking reached Ais’ ears before the roar of the Minotaur. It flailed its arms in retaliation, trying to knock him free. The boy ducked under the first grasp, but was forced to bring his arm up to shield his head as the other fist came around and knocked him loose.
He fell onto the hard ground headfirst; blood seeping from the gash where his skin was ripped open before his skull. It sounded like he was crying as he rose up again, struggling onto his feet as the Minotaur pulled the weapon out of its body and then threw at him. He narrowly avoided being split open as it sawed past his head and clattered onto the ground behind him.
Huffing, the Minotaur readied for another charge at the boy as he reached another object tucked away on his person and raised it up to meet the incoming threat. With the sound of caged thunder, a piece of metal left the opening of the weapon with a burst of smoke. The Minotaur’s right eye burst open on contact as it crossed the distance between them. It roared in agony, bloody fingers coming up to cradle the wound as it dropped to its knees, its charge halted for the moment.
The boy rushed in. Deprived of his fangs, he used his claws. Shoving his hand into the furrow he carved into the thick hide of the Minotaur, widening the wound to where it’s very life cascaded over him, he grasped something deep within the monster. Then he pulled, mouth gaping wide as a scream forced itself out with the blood-soaked arm to reveal the Minotaur’s magic stone within his clinched fingers as its body turned into dust.
Haggard, heavy breaths left his mouth like that of a ragged beast. His body remained tensed, ready to spring into action as his eyes scanned the room for anymore signs of danger. Then they settled onto her.
The moment those red eyes peered at Ais, a shiver crawled up her spine. Her mind flickered as his figure turned into something that she couldn’t register, something so alien that the whisper of an inhuman threat came to mind. She brandished her blade on instinct; shifting one foot back and lining herself up so that she could easily kick off the ground and launch herself into a thrust.
The whisper faded when she blinked, only to see the figure was a boy again, staring at her in confusion. He looked down at the weapon in her hand, pointed at him, and then to his blood-drenched arm and the magic stone in it. Horror painted his face in that instant as he took a few steps back, only for his foot to brush the discarded weapon and tripped him onto the ground.
The sight of disarmed her entirely. Ais let loose a breath she didn’t know she had been holding as the ominous feeling that riled her on an instinctive level vanished. She lowered her sword and opened her mouth to ask if he was alright, but the words didn’t come out before he snatched his weapon up and ran towards the floor exit.
There was a knot of guilt in her chest at scaring him off. She didn’t mean to react like that. Whatever that abnormal scent clinging to him was must’ve done something to her. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t properly place it. In fact, just thinking about it too much made her head ache.
Ais shook her head once and then brushed it off. She had to make sure that no other Minotaurs were left. That abnormal scent and an apology could come later on.
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.