Chapter 8: Outside of the Dream
“Nmm….” Bell Cranel groaned as he woke up on his sofa, opposite of Hestia’s. He didn’t recall when he’d fallen asleep, but there was a sheet draped over his body and his goddess was missing. Rubbing his eyes, he peered through the darkness towards the clock and found it was Noon, meaning she’d left for work already.
“I don’t think I’ve slept this late in years,” he said to himself, rising to his feet. As he had been raised in the countryside, tending to a farm with his grandfather, he was used to rising at the crack of dawn. For him to wake up so late was abnormal…
Then again, nothing had been normal for Bell since yesterday. He’d delved deeper into the Dungeon than he did before and ran into a Minotaur, of all things. He’d… he’d died too. It wasn’t a dream either, even if he did wake in the Hunter’s Dream. He could still recall the brief moment of pain before his first death and the more drawn out deaths that followed.
As tempting as it was to brush off, he had to accept that it was something that happened. He had traversed the streets of Yharnam, channeled the Blood Echoes through the Doll, received the guidance of Gehrman, and had been encouraged by Eileen to get through the Hunt as quickly as possible. He’d hunted beasts for a time, before slaying a great Beast with the shade of an Old Hunter, Gascoigne.
Then he came back. Back to the moment of his first death. A second chance to do things right and survive. So he fought and prevailed over the Minotaur, fighting with everything he had gained over the brief time he’d spent in Yharnam. While he wasn’t fully lucid when he’d done it, he’d definitely ripped the magic stone out of the monster before noticing that Adventurer—Ais Wallenstein—had seen him and reacted in fear.
That bothered him the most. Seeing her raise her blade at him out of fear had been the same as when he’d done so to Eileen, after being lost and confused. Had he brought some part of Yharnam with him when he’d returned? The viciousness that the Hunt required of him to survive… had it bled over into him without Bell even realizing it?
He shuddered at the thought. Things left in Yharnam should remain there, while he remained here. He wanted nothing to do with that… that nightmare. That place wasn’t meant for him. He would gain nothing from going back there, while here he could remain by Hestia’s side.
Reassuring himself of that fact, Bell stood up and stretched his limbs to start a new day. Then he felt a slight parch in his throat and rumble in his stomach. He looked over to the table where he found a plate of potato snacks and a letter for him, the former of which he devoured as he inspected the contents of the latter.
It seemed that Hestia had left for work and would be back later than usual. She also wrote that he didn’t have to go to the Dungeon today and could just rest. It was probably because of everything that’d happened to him prior.
Bell frowned at thought. He came to Orario to be an Adventurer—to be a Hero like those his grandfather told him tales about, which meant he had to make a living that way. Even with the extra money from the Minotaur he slew, it wouldn’t be enough for them to last for long since Hestia still had to pay taxes, as he was still registered with the Guild, and he had to pay off the loans he’d taken on his starting gear. He couldn’t afford to just leave her to shelter the burden of everything because he was lazy or afraid after she’d taken him in despite the costs to herself.
So he gobbled down the potato snacks, grabbed a glass of water to quench his thirst, and then dressed himself in a set of clothes that hadn’t been tainted by the scent of the moon, as Hestia called it. He couldn’t smell anything, but it apparently clung to him and the belongings he’d brought with him through the Dream. Then he went up the stairs and into the main part of the church to get ready to go back into the Dungeon, just long enough to earn his keep.
It was there he found the Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Pistol that he’d brought back with him from Yharnam. The scent of dried blood still niggled at the back of his throat when he looked at the Saw Cleaver, leaving him feeling uncomfortable when he recalled the weapons’ purpose—hunting down beasts. He made a mental note to wash the blade and change the wrapping before he stashed it away somewhere else, opting to stick with his knife as he walked out of the door.
Returning to the Dungeon only served to further prove that his stats had drastically improved in such a little time, actions speaking louder than words written on paper. Bell had entered with the intention of remaining on the Upper Floors, Levels One and Two specifically, in order to earn enough to at least pay off on the chest-piece he’d lost against the Beast on the bridge. Then he ran into a group of Kobolds.
There were eight of them that were birthed from the walls after he’d made it around the middle point of the path he normally took down to the lower floors. It was odd behavior, given that they normally hunted alone or in pairs. And according to the lessons Eina had driven into him beforehand, he should never face a group alone or he’d risk getting surrounded.
Yet… they were slower. They were much slower than they had been a day before. Slower than even some of the beasts he’d hunted in the streets of Yharnam, which he had to be more aggressive to deal with.
He could have easily escaped them, or at least he felt that he could if he wanted to. But he needed money and the fingernail-sized magic stone shards they had were still worth something, so he fought. While the twenty-celch long dagger had a shorter reach than the Saw Cleaver, meaning he’d had to get closer, he’d found it easier to slay them.
Most of the monsters on the first five floors proved to be little challenge after that. The Goblins were more like pests than anything else. Hard to believe that he was nearly killed by one in the past compared to the ease at which they died now. Either way, he pressed on until he stood at the entrance leading down to the Sixth Floor.
He contemplated long and hard if he wanted to press on further. The Minotaur was an irregularity, but there were still monsters he hadn’t seen before further in. The risk was that he’d find something down there strong enough to actually pose a serious threat.
But, his job was being an Adventurer and that meant delving further into the Dungeon to earn money. True, he’d managed to gain a plethora of magic stones shards, but compared to the worth of the Minotaur’s they weren’t even close to enough. And he was strong enough that the Kobolds and Goblins weren’t as much of a threat, so it was natural to progress from here, right?
Just a little further, he told himself. A vow that he wouldn’t go past the floor, and that he wouldn’t go in too deep. Just deep enough to where he’d find one or two new monsters to familiarize himself with. So he ventured down the staircase and into the corridors of the unfamiliar floor.
The first thing he noticed was that the floor looked different than before, slightly wider and the color of the walls now a greenish hue. But it was surprisingly barren as far as monsters went. The walls looked somewhat broken, indicating there were others born from them earlier.
Maybe they were slain by others who’d came into the Dungeon and then moved deeper? Bell concluded. He had woken up late and it was a city filled with Adventurers. First come, first serve.
On one hand, it meant he’d have to go slightly deeper inside to find a monster to test himself against. Just to see where he stood in terms of strength. On the other, it meant the way back would be clear and easy to get through.
So Bell walked until he heard a cracking sound. His feet stopped moving and he turned his head to where it was coming from, off to one side and down a narrower path. The cracking continued until the pieces of the wall clattered onto the floor. Then there was a crunching sound as something landed on the shards, out-of-sight.
His fingers tightened around the handle of his knife as he waited for whatever the monster was to emerge from around the corner. Anticipation built up in his chest, quickening his heart as the seconds passed. Then Bell saw a black claw grasp the wall before the monster peeked around the corner.
It stood tall, a humanoid shadow that stood on two legs and had a silver orb as an eye. Its head came to a point that branched out to both sides, reminding Bell of a trident he had seen in a weapon’s store not too long ago. Its shoulders were laxed and the limbs attached to it hung low, the forearms lengthened until they came to three long claws that were like the blades of a knife.
A War Shadow, Bell knew. Not because he’d seen it before, but because Miss Eina had listed it as a reason for why he shouldn’t have gone down so far before. They started spawning on the Sixth Floor and were known as Newbie Killers, butchers of the inexperienced.
It emerged from the behind wall and stared at him with its silver orb for an eye, knees bent and arms hanging down from its shoulders. Then its silver eye turned crimson and gone was the idleness it had been projecting. The bent legs sprung forward with deceptive grace and silence befitting a shadow-turned monster, and its left arm was thrust forward with its knife-like digits closed in to form the point of a spear.
Bell tilted his head to the side. The spear brushed past where it was, shaving a few strands off of his hair that were slow to follow his movements. Then he brought his rear leg forward and pushed off it to advance with knife in hand.
Its right arm moved to stop his advance silently. With the claws spread wide like sickles that Bell had used to cut grain on the farm, the War Shadow’s arm swooped around to meet him. It had every intention of using it to reap his head from his shoulders.
Bell fell forward and into a roll, allowing for the arm to sweep over his head. Then he came up into a crouch before the living shadow and swung the knife affixed in a reverse-grip around in a rising arc. The blade should have cut it from hip to opposite underarm, opening it up.
But the War Shadow bound backwards, avoiding the worst of it. A line was drawn by the knife’s point to mark the path it had traveled, and black blood tricked from the wound to tinge the air with its scent. The monster landed as silently as the night near the mouth of the corridor it’d spawned from, having escaped death.
Too shallow. If the knife had been longer, it could have cut deeper or even severed it in half. Bell regretted that he’d only now considered the fact, since the other monsters had been slower to the point where it didn’t matter. Yet the War Shadow was much faster than they were. And it proved so by thrusting its left arm out again to go for his head as he stood up.
In a single motion, Bell rolled the handle in his grasp, so that the sharpened edge of knife was facing him, and moved his right arm outwards so that it met the monster’s wrist, stopping that set of claws from taking off his head. It wasn’t stronger than him in terms of pure strength with the increase in his status, at least. That established, Bell then jerked his hand down and backwards, twisting his hips and forward leg behind him in the process.
The clawed hand was severed as a result, flopping onto the ground. The monster pulled back a stump while Bell had lined up with it to make it easier to avoid another attack. That proved to be correct as it attacked with even more vigor, lunging and swiping at his head horizontally with a primal sort of vigor, only to dart to the side as Bell retaliated with a stabbing lunge for its head.
I can do this. It was maybe on par with the beasts he’d seen on the bridge before the large one, and its nails were no doubt sharp enough to do some damage. But Bell felt he could definitely match it with little trouble as their exchange continued…
At least, that was what it allowed him to think for a time. Eina had said that these things were Newbie Killers, but that wasn’t based on strength alone. The War Shadow wasn’t stupid or as simple-minded as the Kobolds.
Its cunning was revealed as it led him into the thrust when its back was against the wall, before twisting its body so that the blade of the knife met with the wall itself and was wedged deep within. Bell was quick to kick it as hard as he could before it could swing down its remaining claws with the force of axes and cleave off the limb. But that was when the wall in front of him burst open and something black shot out.
Bell abandoned his knife to hop back as a second War Shadow twisted its arm around to scythe his head from his shoulders. That was when his mind registered the cracking sound and the brief break in the constant light coming off the wall behind him as something to react to. Instinct drove him to fall to the side, making it into a full roll to carry himself further out. Not a breath later did a third War Shadow descend like a guillotine meant to execute him where he would have landed, if he hadn’t chosen to roll to the side instead of further back.
The one-armed War Shadow swiped at his knife still wedged deep into the wall. It snapped under the force, permanently depriving Bell of his weapon in exchange for the hand that Bell had lopped off. The other two took positions to the rear and side, forming a triangle to surround him.
Which one? Time seemingly stood still as a bead of sweat rolled down from Bell’s forehead to his cheek. His eyes see-sawed between them to determine which one would make the first move. If he could determine that much then he could break through the triangle. Which one?
The answer came with a blur of motion from his left side. The War Shadow leapt with claws extended to pin him down. That would allow for the other two to take him to pieces, turning him into a pile of shredded meat whose blood would soak the Dungeon’s floor—as many before him had.
Bell saw it as an opening and took it. He lunged towards the ebon monster with all the might he could muster and rammed into it, ignoring the stinging sensation of the claws scrapping against his shoulders and arms to bowl it over. They toppled over, but Bell was prepared for it and rolled off the monster before it could do anything.
Breaking through the triangle, he took off without looking back. He was heading back towards the entrance of the Dungeon’s floor without slowing down, lest the War Shadows would catch up to him. The only reason he broke his gait was because the sound of something tearing through the air reached his ears and his instincts told him to act to survive.
He slid to a stop and pulled his head back in time to watch as a black appendage speared through where it had been. The sinuous thing then snapped back as he ducked down when a second one tried to punch his skull in from behind. That one he traced back to some kind of frog monster emerging from the wall, just in time to see the one-armed War Shadow on his back.
Maybe it was faster than the others with only one arm missing. Or maybe it was more motivated. Either way, it was ahead of the others and lunging for him in mid-air.
Jerking his head to one side and twisting his body to avoid its swipe, Bell barely got off with only the sting of a nail slicing into his cheek as the monster passed by and tumbled onto the floor. A Frog Shooter lashed out to ensnare him before the ebon monster rose back up and the others made their move, spearing its tongue towards him again. Bell grabbed the appendage with his gloved hands and jerked it forward, pulling the bulb-eyed monster towards him. He then grabbed it by the head and tossed it towards the one-armed War Shadow’s single eye.
A wet sound was followed by black blood splashing out as the War Shadow cut through the lesser monster in an effort to catch Bell in the attack. But he had already ducked, fingers chambered as the rain of oozing black liquid covered his hair and bordered his red eyes. He shot his arm out like a bullet for its core and his bolstered strength allowed for him to pierce past its smooth, black surface to the innards, breaking through everything its path until it found something solid: the magic stone.
“Rrrrgaaahhh!” He shouted as he coiled his fingers around it and pulled back as hard as he could. The wound burst open in a glamorous spray as he pulled the magic stone free, followed by dust as the body disintegrated where it stood. But there was no time to hesitate as the second pointed tongue speared out for him from the other Frog Shooter.
Bell threw himself to the side while flinging the magic stone towards it as hard as he could. His effort was rewarded by the tongue going limp before it could spring back as the single-eye of the frog was punctured and it went limp. One-shot, one-kill.
Exhaling a breath he hadn’t even realized that he’d been holding in, Bell then turned towards where the other War Shadows were closing in faster. He took a step back, gritting his teeth and clenching his fist as he heard the sound of the walls cracking further in the direction he was going. If he tried to run again, he’d have enemies waiting and his back would be exposed to the more dangerous of them.
A weapon. I need a weapon. That thought occupied his mind more than anything. He would be able to fend them all off if he had a weapon. It didn’t matter what kind. As long as he had something to deal with their reach and range. Without one, he’d be overwhelmed and he’d…
He’d die. He’d die again, having made the same mistake. He’d die again and return to the Dream. To the Hunt. The Hunter’s Mark, the rune burned into the back of his skull, came to mind at the thought.
An ideal followed. Bell focused on it, trying to pass on a message to the Little Ones who pulled him to and from the Dream. They’d taken the weapon from Yharnam to the Dream, didn’t they?
“Bring it to me,” he asked. Pleaded. Begged as the two War Shadows closed in to the point he could make out the points of their nails targeting him. “Please, bring me the weapon you took to the Hunter’s Dream!”
His fervent desire for his weapon reached as the sound of the Little Ones voices graced his ears. He looked up to see a pair of Little Ones emerging seamlessly from a portal of some kind in the ceiling above, Saw Spear in their frail-looking hands. One waved to him as though craving his acknowledgement, and the weapon fell from the other’s grip as it was too heavy to hold any longer.
“Thanks!” Bell’s reached up with his dominant hand. His fingers wrapped around the grip tight. It was just in time for him to bring it around to intercept the broad swipe of the War Shadow’s claws and stop it from taking off his head.
That was when he noticed that a shadow was being cast from above him. The War Shadow following the one in front of him had leapt over it and was now at his unprotected back. It promptly tried to gouge out his heart in a precision strike.
Bell pushed hard so that his blade rebuked the first War Shadow’s claw and sent it back a few steps, while pivoting around so that he avoided the killing thrust. It was still a close call. Instead of having his heart pierced, there was only a sharp pain as his clothes and flesh were sliced into by the nails as they raked across his unprotected back.
He gritted his teeth, a guttural growl slipping out brought his Saw Spear around with both hands. The thick metal cut through its torso diagonally from the hip to the opposite shoulder—sawing through the bone in the process through strength rather than the sharpness of the blade. Monster blood gushed out, but Bell paid it no mind as he then spun back around on that same foot in the opposite direction.
Rather than risk the Saw Spear being too slow to intercept the coming attack, he brought other foot around in an arc and the sole of his boot caught the second one in the head. The War Shadow was sent smashing against a wall with a sickening crunch before flopping down onto the floor. The Saw Spear descended and split its skull open afterwards, ensuring the kill.
The immediate threats dead, but more being born ahead, Bell exhaled and removed his glove to feel for how deep the cut had gotten on his back. His finger brushed through the tear in his shirt beneath it, but only found unblemished flesh.
He then looked back to the back-attacking War Shadow to find it lying in a pool of its own blood, tracing the patterns and location of the drops to see how far it had sprayed. There was no doubt about it. Its blood had healed the cut it made, meaning that it wasn’t just blood from Yharnam that could heal wounds and mend flesh.
A part of him felt it shouldn’t have been a surprise. His body’s reaction to having a drop of Hestia’s blood wash against him was sharp enough to give him a boost of energy that far outclassed any blood he’d been in contact with. While the War Shadow’s didn’t have much of a feeling to it, it did heal the minor wound.
That being said, he wasn’t all that eager to try tasting either one to see if drinking it was the same as Yharnam blood. Partly because he wanted nothing to do with it. The other part was because he was afraid that he’d end up associating his goddess as a source of blood, turning her into what amounted to a resource… or prey.
But it did bring a question to his mind on if the different kinds of blood had different effects. Was the blood of an average mortal different from an Adventurer? Was the blood of a monster affected by the magic stone’s size and quality? That line of thinking led him back to Blood Echoes and his increased Status, leaving him wondering on how they transitioned from what had been done to him by the Doll in the Hunter’s Dream.
Normally, an Adventurer gained excelia based on their actions and that led to an increase in certain attributes. But all he had to do was ask the Doll what he wanted to be strengthened and it was embolden by a substantial amount. Was she pulling certain excelia from the Blood Echoes, binding their memories related to those attributes into his Falna? Or was there something else involved?
He didn’t have the answer. And he wouldn’t return to the Dream to find them. Really, was there even a point in pondering these things when he had no intention of returning to Yharnam and the Hunt at all? The price of that power was just too steep for him.
Pushing it aside when he caught the sound of shuffling feet, Bell turned toward the direction of the exit. The resident monsters of the Sixth Floor were coming to greet him. The Dungeon’s welcome for an overambitious Adventurer’s first visit to the floor.
Bell tightened his grasp on the Saw Spear and charged in.
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.