Author's Note: Here we go, chapter two! The subchapters are going to be a bit longer this time around as this is where the real action starts.

Chapter 2A: Hearthstop

In a tower on Orario's outskirts, concealed from view by a powerful magic barrier, a seductress with long, white hair and a black, one-piece outfit sat on her throne. Before her, a scrying circle displayed a different woman, an elf in a white robe, chasing some illusory figure through Orario's dark side-streets. Beside the seductress, a tall, muscular Boaz ("Bearman/Bear-like Man") stood to attention. He opened his mouth to ask a question but quickly thought better of it.

"Ottar," said Goddess Freya. "I believe I've found something to relieve my boredom."

"Yes, Goddess," Ottar replied. Only his mouth moved.

"It's been just dreadful, you know," Freya picked up one of her many Bell Cranel dolls and stabbed its eye with a sewing needle. "I had high hopes for that boy."

"Of course, Goddess," said Ottar. "You and I both."

"Oh?" Freya grinned and placed her chin in her palm. "You're not delighted that I've stopped paying so much attention to him?"

"Goddess Freya is like a river," Ottar deadpanned. "Though she single-mindedly rushes to her destination, I'll still find her in the same place the next day."

"You're very attractive when you say things like that," said Freya.

"What would you like me to do with the elf?" Ottar finally met her gaze.

"Not the elf, Ottar," Freya leaned closer to her portal and pointed to a shadowy figure seemingly floating away from the woman in white. "Him."


"Tell me," Goddess Hestia sighed. "Why are we housing Orario's least responsible deity?"

Riveria Alf seemed to ignore her. The mage stared at the ground, bent down, and picked something up. Hestia walked to her side for a better view: it was the letter Bell had shown her.

"Goddess Loki," Riveria began. She ran her hand over the letter, perhaps looking for some magical, invisible text. "Will surely be killed if she remains in our care. Many in this city believe she, and our Familia, are responsible for the dungeon's decline."

"Dungeon's decline?" Hestia leapt to grab Riveria and put her in a headlock, but the elf side-stepped out of the way. "Stop being so dodgy - literally!"

"Ask your guest about it. I have business to attend to today."

Riveria walked off into the cold, dark morning. The door slammed behind her. Hestia pulled herself up off the ground after her failed Strangehold Technique and brushed off her night-gown.

"Goddess, remember how I asked you where monsters come from last night?" She had forgotten Bell Cranel's presence in the hall. "About that..."


Liliruca Arde stirred from her sleep. Light poured in through the window. Her room was small compared the master bedroom Hestia claimed, even after removing the other beds Apollo's adventurers used to sleep in. Not that she could complain: before now, she'd slept on hardwood floors and dungeon rocks. Indeed, she was living a lavish lifestyle now.

"Bell-" Lili clutched air. Did he wake up before her?

She got up, rubbed her eyes, and opened her clothing cabinet. Behind two changes of clothes hung her wedding dress: a small, white thing, maybe too small even for her, with a tiny, gemstone tiara. Her heart began to pound. They'd decided on a very humble wedding: her, Hestia, Bell, and Welf. Anyone in Loki Familia was out, Syr and Ryuu were working double shifts, and Hestia couldn't seem get her hands on Miach or Hermes recently.

Ever since the gods descended upon Orario, priests were a rare sight. To compensate, government officials in the Tower declared gods and goddesses able officiate weddings even outside their Familia. Their reasoning was such: previously, priests claimed to speak for gods when bestowing the sacrament of marriage, so the word of a god was at least as binding as that of a pastor. Marriage also took on a celebrity element. Young couples would reserve a wedding by Ganesha over a year in advance, and those less patient or thoughtful could always count on a lesser-known goddess like Amphitrite for a low-key, last-minute ceremony.

The role of priest/priestess changed in other ways as well. Nowadays, a priest was often a messenger for a large Familia with many members spread out across the land - literally a "messenger of God." Occasionally, traveling priests claimed to speak for Gods who had returned to Heaven, but most people now believed such communication was impossible or unlikely. Either way, "priest" had become a mobile role, and nearly all the churches, temples, and altars in Orario were slowly abandoned following the gods' fall. Some gods claimed old churches, especially those originally devoted to them (if any), and used them as headquarters for their growing Familias.

Goddess Hestia was a special case: a "Hestia cult" existed long before the discovery of magic crystals, and her followers worshiped her exclusively at home. Hearths, now a novelty thanks to magical heating, burnt in every home, and among her devotees, allowing a hearth to die in the dead of winter was heretical. Because of this, Bell and Lili's little goddess had neither church nor temple, so when she claimed the downstairs room of of that overgrown relic, it was a building originally devoted to some other god. This wasn't the first time Hestia'd mooched off another god's assets, and it wouldn't be the last.

Lili could tell Hestia had developed a certain affection for the church, even though they no longer lived there. Hestia had asked Lili if she wanted to return to hold their wedding at the church, and Lili consented. Although she had no real nostalgia for the building, she knew Bell and Hestia did, and holding a wedding in a real chapel seemed "right," somehow, even though few people did so nowadays.

Lili thought about all this as she slipped on her day clothes and walked into the main hall. She heard voices from the dining room, including a voice she didn't recognize, so she turned a corner and peek around the door-frame. Bell and Hestia were sitting around the grand dining table with a red-haired boy - no, a red-haired girl - wait, Goddess Loki!?

"Hrmmmm," Hestia grumbled between sips of coffee (or "brown gold," a luxury for her even now). "I still don't get it. If the problem's getting worse then why dump you on us? Why not just take you out of town?"

Empty bottles lined the kitchen counters. Goddess Loki had a bit of a problem. She'd completely cleaned out Hestia's liquor cabinet before breakfast.

"Riri's prolly got some plan to fix us up," Loki said. She leaned back in her chair and sat her feet up on the table between Bell and Hestia's oatmeal bowls. "She's not the kinda person to just turn tail and run, y'know?"

"I'm kind of worried about your Familia," Bell said. He rested his elbows on the table and sat his head on his palms.

"AAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!" Loki fell forward, belly-laughing. "You're worried? About my Familia? That's rich! You're just a pipsqueak, but you're worried about the likes of Aiz! You realize the dungeon is their life, right? Orario's finest fighting machines!"

"Fighting machines...?" Bell blinked. Loki's depiction of her own Familia clashed with his image of the kind-hearted, compassionate Sword Princess. Then again... an image of Lili, bloody and bruised on the dungeon floor, Ais standing over her, flashed in his mind.

"Do ya think she got to Level 6 by sittin around stickin lil ships in bottles?" Loki shook a nearby bottle for any last drops of booze. "Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not some kinda drill sergeant like Ares was. I love each and every one of em! But they've each of em got enough fire in their heart to cook the city. My Second Class fighters alone could wipe the floor with a thousand knobs before breakfast."

"Um," Lili interjected. Everyone fell silent and stared at her.

"Morning, Lili!" Bell said after a moment.

"Good... morning?" Lili walked a lap around the table before choosing a seat. She had no idea how to talk to gods or goddesses. Hestia was a special exception since she knew her so well, but gods of other Familias took on a mythical status. Even Soma, back when she was in his Familia, was known to most only by his wine. To see Goddess Loki, head of the legendary Loki Familia, sitting legs-up in her dining room was a strange and uncomfortable situation, and she didn't know what to say. On top of that, the silent tension between their Familias seemed not to bother the fiery trickster goddess one bit, but she couldn't be sure.

"Ah, the rest of 'em's just now waking up, huh?" Loki crossed her arms and looked Lili up and down. "How many are there, anyway, Moo-moo?"

Hestia looked away and murmured to herself. Bell tapped his fingers on the table. At first, Lili didn't understand what she meant, but she then remembered the size of Loki's Familia.

"Ohhhhhh, I get it," Loki smirked. "You've only got the two of them, don'tcha?"

"It's not like I haven't been trying!" Hestia was crimson with embarrassment. "B-besides, this way I can give both of them my full attention!"

"Is anyone going to tell me what's going on!?" Lili shouted at no one in particular.

"Lili," Bell motioned to the chair beside him. "Grab a seat."

Lili did so as everyone else carefully considered their words. Bell realized he wasn't really afraid of postponing the wedding until the problem was solved and Orario was peaceful again. His unspoken fear, the real core of the issue he knew Lili would immediately pick up on, was that maybe vicious monsters clawing their way outside the dungeon, held back by a stalwart brigade of warm bodies, were the "problem" in the first place. Maybe someone "solved" them, and there was no going back.

"Lili, remember the incident at the guild? And when Eina mentioned monsters were getting scarce?" Bell said.

"Yeah," Lili narrowed her eyes. "But what does that have to do with this?"

"There's a witch hunt going on outside. They think Goddess Loki is responsible somehow, so we're taking her under our wing for now."

"That's what you get when your Familia's a bunch of evil jerks," Lili sneered. Her sudden disrespectful attitude to Loki surprised even herself.

"Hey!" Loki raised her voice and pointed at Lili. "We ain't evil! We're, uh, opportunists! Completely different, y'see?"

"Beating up a supporter over some infantile jealousy isn't opportunistic," Lili said.

"Huh?" Loki looked genuinely puzzled. Lili wanted to call her out, say "you know what I mean," but she clearly didn't.

"Drop it," Hestia said, glaring at Lili. Bell looked surprised by his Goddess' intensity. "Don't stoop to the level of the desperate adventurers hunting her. Loki is the face of her Familia, but she's not responsible for her children's past mistakes. Otherwise, I'd be guilty of leaving Bell to die in the dungeon."

Lili hung her head at that last jab. Hestia was right. Now that she saw Loki close up, the redhead Goddess didn't seem like such an evil person after all. Maybe a bit unhinged, but not evil.

"Loli Big-boobs is defending me now?" Loki broke the silence. "Boy, this monster thing really did turn the world upside down!"

"Don't mention it," Hestia smiled briefly before scowling. "Seriously. If you do, I'll make you eat those liquor bottles you emptied. Now come help me clean up."


Bell and Lili sat, sunken-chested, in front of the roaring hearth fire, warming their backs. What was supposed to be a joyful and memorable morning had quickly devolved into a depressing and boring afternoon. They could hear faint fighting noises outside. This always happened in protests and witch hunts: a small spark ignites a hidden flame in the hearts of many, and before long, one backyard brawl becomes a flood of senseless raids, wild vandalism, and petty theft. If what Bell told her was true, Lili knew this wouldn't stop even if Loki and her whole Familia were sacrificed. Desperate adventurers and hungry laborers, seeking security and purpose, would create new "causes" for violence until the whole city burned.

"Bell," Lili said. She sat with her arms around her knees, an upright fetal position. "Do you know the story of Goddess Fiona?"

"Goddess Fiona?" Bell tapped his chin. "I guess not."

"Fiona was the warrior-goddess of the Prums," Lili said. "We were never the strongest race, or the smartest, or the best at magic, but having that sort of idol gave us faith, and that was enough to get through the day."

"What happened to Fiona Familia, then?" Bell asked.

"Nothing happened," Lili shrugged. "If you look back in history, 'Fiona' was just a group of Prum knights who became famous, and over time, the stories slowly turned them into a goddess. When the real gods came from Heaven, we found out the truth."

"Huh," Bell was wide-eyed. "I never considered someone could lie about gods."

"That's because you're naive," Lili let herself fall sideways against him. Bell blushed and ran his hand through her hair. "You always look for the best in people. Heee~"

"What happened after that?" Bell yawned. This fireside cuddling put him in the mood for a nap.

"Without any official Prum religion, we sort of gave up," Lili said. "We'd sort of always known we'd gotten a bad draw at the start of life, but Fiona provided us an underdog fantasy of rising up against all odds and outdoing other races. This was all before I was born, but you can still see the effects. Most of us became grunt workers, and those who did join Familias, like me, always ended up supporters or rear-guards. You never hear heroic stories of Prums."

"That's weird," Bell wondered why Lili was telling him all this, but he didn't want to interrupt her any more by asking.

"It's weird?" Lili repeated.

"Yeah," Bell stared at the ceiling. "Even though Prums are small, it's clear you have potential to be as strong as anyone else. Just look at Finn Deimne, Loki's commander. He may not be a 'hero,' but the whole city respects him. In fact, look at yourself: just a few months ago, you held your own against Aiz Wallenstein. Believe me, I understand the need for heroes to look up to, but your whole identity doesn't have to revolve around your race. Wasn't the Argonaut story about a half-elf?"

"I guess you're right," Lili nodded. "But the history of Prums is like what's happening right now. Without monsters, adventurers are just nasty thugs. The dungeon gave them a future, an identity, and maybe even fame, but now someone's pulling the rug out from under them. Even though I still hate most adventurers, I understand what they're going through."

"It feels kind of weird being a side character in this, doesn't it?" Bell said.

"Yeah, but no matter how strong we are, we can't just go outside and start attacking people," Lili shook her head. "Besides, it's not a simple peasant revolt. Powerful adventurers are dangerous, even if you are a great fighter, Bell."

"Yeah," Bell slouched even further forward.

"Bell?" Lili took his hand.

Bell met his supporter's eyes. Her face was pale, even in the hearth's warmth, and her hand was trembling. Normally, anger or sadness just made Lili cuter, but not this time.

"If the hearth stopped burning," A tear ran down Lili's cheek. "Would you run away with me?"

Right then, Bell found he didn't care for anything in the world but this girl's feelings. He wrapped his arms around Lili and rocked her gently, back and forth, listening to her soft whimpers until finally, as the hearth grew cool, she couldn't choke up a single tear, and so they sat there together, quiet and alone and at peace.


Great God Zeus, far away from Heaven, regarded his growing city with pride. Before the gods descended, Orario was a no more than a small, Human fiefdom wrapped within in a stone wall. Now, after the "Great Dungeon's" appearance, Orario had become a center of commerce between normally-isolated races. Elves working with Prums, rabbit-people fighting alongside cat-people, Humans and Chienthropes researching crystal power! Zeus knew he was right to choose this place for his "special gift."

"Milord," said a white-haired boy, limping toward Zeus, clad in battered half-plate and carrying a chipped longsword. "The expedition was successful. We reached floor five. As expected, monsters are even stronger there - and their crystals are even bigger!"

"WAAA-HA-HA-HA!" Zeus slapped the boy's back. "That's great news, lad. How's the missus?"

"She's well," Zeus Familia's finest adventurer smiled and blushed. "But..."

"But?" Zeus' voice took on a violent tone.

"I wish to request leave in her place," said the boy.

"Hmm? Why can't she ask me herself?"

"She won't," The boy frowned and looked away. "That's just how she is, but I'm worried about her health, as well as the child's. What if she were hurt in the dungeon? If it's crystals you're concerned about, I'll happily work twice as hard in her stead!"

"I can only hope you'll pass on some of that fiery determination to your child," Zeus nodded. "Sir Cranel."


"Gods-be-damned, this is the BEST!"

Goddess Hestia seethed. She didn't have to explain the situation, but Loki just kept pressing and pressing, and Hestia was so excited and flustered and jealous and spilled everything! Now Loki had a veritable mountain of blackmail for the next Denatus.

"You - with him! And then the doggie! And now it's the three of ya, all stuck together like this! AHAHAHA!" Loki's laughter propelled her across the kitchen floor. "Even on Earth, you just can't get any action, can ya, Moo-moo!?"

"Shut up," Hestia grabbed pots and pans from the shelves and tossed them at Loki, but the trickster goddess rolled out of the away, still laughing.

"And to top it allllll off - the icing on your cuckold cupcake - YOU'RE doin THEIR wedding!" Loki was in tears. "Everything about this is juss per-fect-o!"

"If you don't get over here and help me with the dishes, I'll string you up to a flashing sign: 'FREE WITCH TO A GOOD HOME.'" Hestia scrubbed a pan with newfound fury.

"Fine, fine," Loki regained her composure and walked back over to the sink. "So when's this big event?"

"This evening, at our old church-home," Hestia replied. "But if things are like you say, then I guess we can't just walk outside, huh?"

"Yeah - if you listen close, you can still hear folk yellin in the street," said Loki.

Hestia leaned over the sink and sat her chin on the faucet. This was all happening so quickly, and she wasn't ready to accept a world without sinks and faucets and other magically-powered tools. Loki said her mage friend had a plan, but no one really controlled the dungeon, right? It always seemed to have a mind of its own. You couldn't just walk up and cast a spell to make it produce monsters again, could you?

"Hey, Washboard," Hestia said without moving her head.

"Eh? Wassup?" Loki grabbed a dish and moving her hand back and forth.

"You're doing that wrong - here," Hestia grabbed the dish and ran her cloth over its grime in fast, determined circles. "You're not used to doing this kind of thing, are you?"

"Nnnope! That's what maids are for," Loki proclaimed with pride. Only she could make a pampered, sheltered lifestyle look like an accomplishment.

"What if the dungeon really is going away?" Hestia handed her dish back to Loki and let her finish scrubbing. "What would we do if that happened?"

"Hmm," Loki stopped and put a finger to her nose. "I dunno. Who says we have to do anything? I'm only here for a little while, y'nkow."

"That's not what I mean," Hestia's cheeks puffed up. "I mean 'we' like 'we gods.' The only thing that separates us from Humans in this world is our Blessing, the Falna. If there's no need for adventurers, what's the point of us?"

"Seriously?" Loki giggled a little. "Moo-moo, adventurer Familias are just one sort. Look at Miach. All his Familia does is make medicine, and they use his Blessing somehow. I think what yer really askin is, 'what'll I do if I gotta move off to some farm and rough it with my kids?'"

Hestia wasn't quite comfortable with how quickly her guest got to the heart of the question. For her, this was a surprising display of empathy and listening skills. Or was Loki always like this but hesitant to show it?

"Actually," Loki grabbed another dish and stared off into space as she scrubbed, mimicking Hestia's circular motion. "I was thinking about Miach when you were spillin yer teeny heart out earlier. You know Naaza Erisius?"

"No," Hestia strained her memory but came up dry.

"She's a doggie-girl in his Familia," Loki made a bunny-ears sign with her hand behind her head. She likely meant it to be dog-ears. "A while back, she lost her arm, and he took a huge loan from Dian Cecht to get her some kinda silver arm made. I heard she fell for him cuz of that."

"Wow," Hestia was taken aback. "That is a lot like Bell and his supporter, I guess."

Truth was, Goddess Loki knew her one-sided "relationship" with Ais was a much better comparison to Hestia's situation, but she'd quite literally die before saying something like to this mini-deity. Anyway, Ais had been a lot colder in these last few months, rarely paying attention to Loki's behavior, perverted or not. She'd withdrawn into herself even more than usual, and her goddess wasn't sure how to deal with that.

"There ya go again," Loki leaned forward with her knees and narrowed her eyes. "'Supporter.' What's up with that?"

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about." Hestia scrubbed a pot with renewed vigor.

"That supporter's got herself a name, right?" Loki said. "But even though she's gonna be your daughter-in-law or sister-in-law or however this freaky family analogue works, you keep saying 'that dog,' 'that supporter,' 'that girl.' Now don't get me wrong, I love watchin you squirm, Moo-moo, but tell me: you're not still just thinking of her as your main boy's little helper, like a side character or somethin, are ya?"

"O-Of course she has a name!" Hestia put the pot away and turned her back to Loki. "Anyway, what's with this interrogation? You're just some intruder who doesn't know anything about our situation."

"Whatever," Loki held her arms out, palms up. "I just think from all you said that maybe you'd oughtta go get some different adventurers once this is over, insteada mullin over one you got waaaay too attached to."

Hestia said nothing, but a little voice in the back of her mind whispered: "maybe I am too attached to him."


"Eina, I'm hungryyy. Do we have any food in the back?" Misha Flott's stomach grumbled furiously. The pink-haired girl in a two-piece suit was perched on a counter, watching like a bird-dog through glass windows for any signs of the raiding and rioting slowing down.

No one had come in to work this morning. Understandable: all the adventurers were busy fighting near Loki Familia's resort or bullying citizens into giving up their food and weapons for "the war effort," and no adventurers meant no business. Obviously, there wasn't an actual war on, just a bunch of frightened adventurers with slim prospects. Most had given up on raiding Loki Familia and moved on to working over smaller Familias and businesses.

"The mini-fridge in the back should still be working," Eina Tulle said. She sat diligently at her desk, awaiting messages from Reverend Eria's magic notebook.

Eina and Misha were in the opposite situation: they'd stayed overnight at the Guild HQ and, now that trouble had started, they didn't dare leave. It was only a matter of time before the Guild itself was raided for food, gold, and spare magic crystals. Eina knew of a back exit in case of trouble, but she'd rather wait here than risk crossing Orario to get home.

"Oooh, I can't stand sitting around here all day!" Misha said as she grabbed a sandwich from the ice magic-powered refrigerator. "Do you think they'll cut off the power?"

"The Tower provides a lot of crucial functions to the city," Eina remarked, tossing a stress ball up and catching it. "Even though there's a crystal shortage, I think this'll be one of the last places shut down."

"Hey, catch!"

Eina swiveled her chair around and tossed her arms up just in time to catch a flying dagger between her palms. She turned blue in the face. The tip was just inches away from her eyes.

"Misha, are you insane!?" Eina sat the dagger on her desk and balled her fists. "You don't just throw weapons at people! Where did you find that, anyway?"

"It was back here in a crate, 'open in case of emergency.'" Misha said nonchalantly. "They never finished installing alarms, so I thought it would be okay to look inside."

Eina picked the dagger up again. On closer inspection, the blade was ironwork striped with red, glowing markings. She immediately recognized it as a "magic item," a special kind of weapon imbued with a powerful spell. These kind of weapons normally break after a small number of uses.

"I'm not an adventurer! I- I-" Eina's heart raced just looking at the weapon. This messed-up situation was starting to seem very real and frightening.

"We have to protect ourselves," Misha puffed her bottom lip out as she spoke. She probably thought it look authoritative, but she really just looked silly. "Even if we're not adventurers - even if we don't have a God's Blessing, one weapon is better than nothing. Right?"

"I guess so," Eina said, but her thoughts protested: no, no, no, this couldn't be happening! Eina couldn't even imagine herself hurting, much less killing, some desperate person with a magic weapon. She'd worked very hard to stay out of that sort of life, and watching her clients die in the dungeon was plenty enough pain for one life time.

Just as she touched a finger to the edge to test its sharpness, the sound of shattering glass echoed across the Guild.

"Misha, run!"


"This is so touching, I'm going to cry!" Goddess Loki pulled a handkerchief from her belt. "If I had a tiny violin, I'd play it for your love life, Moo-moo."

Bell and Lili had lied down together on the stone floor below the main hall's hearth. Even though Hestia and Loki had just prepared lunch, these ungrateful soon-to-bed-weds were already sleeping again. What slouches! Just where was their old dungeon-crawling ambition? What of their fiery, up-and-at-em attitude? Hestia thought about saying all this but decided against it. After all, they'd been working plenty hard recently, and they might as well take a break on their wedding day.

"Hey, why don'tcha just hold it here?" Loki asked. "Like, it doesn't matter where they get hitched, yeah? One time, I did a big wedding in a swimmin-pool. After they said their vows, a bunch of horned beetles came pourin out of the drain pipe. Now that's a trick! Boy, you shoulda seen the looks on those folks' faces! I wonder why people don't ask me to host stuff like that more, though..."

"I guess we could," Hestia sighed, defeated. "Still, I told Welf to come to the church around sunset. I hope he doesn't try to make it through the mess outside only to find the place empty."

"You worry too much, Moo-moo," said Loki, defiant. "I'm sure this Worf guy'll be fine. Just apologize later!"

"I wonder if I should wake them up...?" Hestia put her hands to her hips and surveyed the room. She hadn't decorated at all, but if it was just the four of them, so it didn't matter much, and anyway neither Bell nor Lili cared for frou-frou.

From the hall's other end, Hestia heard someone bang on the door several times. The sound echoed through the mansion, and after she turned to look, she heard Bell and Lili stir from behind her. The two goddesses walked over to the door and pressed their faces against it, wary of danger.

"Who's there?" Hestia asked. "What do you want?"

"Open up!" A gruff voice shouted. She could make out several other grumbling voices as well. "Else we'll blow it open!"

"Raiders-" Loki started, but Hestia put a hand over her mouth.

"Shh! What if they're looking for you?" Hestia whispered.

"We're here to requisition resources for the rebellion," The people outside resumed knocking. "Just come out nice and easy, Apollo, and we'll make this painless!"

Argh, that's right! Lord Apollo was famous for his excessive wealth. He'd challenge weaker Familias to "War Games," illegal skirmishes between two gods' children, and take all their assets when they lost. While Bell was working to buy Hestia a mansion, Demeter Familia beat Apollo's War Game against all odds and auctioned off his old residence. Apollo tried to prevent word of this from spreading, and obviously he'd had some success if these ruffians thought he still lived here.

"Just who are you rebelling against, anyway!?" Hestia tried her best male-voice imitation. It wasn't very convincing. Loki suppressed a giggle.

"Didn't you hear? After the assault on Loki Familia, our glorious, elected governor closed the city gates. They're trying to starve us out!" The man's voice was louder and angrier now. "We're gonna storm the Tower, open the gates, and take back the city! If you won't help us, we'll send you back to Heaven where you belong!"

Hestia shook. If these grunts opened the door, they'd see Loki for sure. She reached, almost instinctively, for her hairpins but stopped when she remembered unleashing her true Goddess powers in public risked a ticket back to Heaven once this was all over.

"Goddess! Loki!"

Hestia's heart skipped a beat. She turned to see Bell gripping his double-daggers in an attack stance. His supporter - no, Liliruca - stood behind him, holding the massive, wrought-iron blade Welf had made just for her.

"B-Bell-kun, what are you doing?" Hestia said, under her breath. The runes on Bell's "Hestia Knife" glowed brighter than ever.

"Goddess, I've decided," Bell bared his teeth and bent forward a little further, preparing for whoever awaited behind the grand door. "Even if Realis Phrase is gone - even if there's no monsters to fight - even if I can't be an adventurer any more, I can still protect the people I love! That's not just the job of an adventurer. It's the job of a husband, and it's my job as your child!"

"It's the same for me," Lili smiled sweetly, a dissonant sight with the giant sword in her hands. "Just because I'm a Prum doesn't mean I have to play second fiddle all the time, you know? I'll fight for Bell no matter what, even if it means leaving our life here."

"You guys are too dramatic," Loki scoffed.

"Bell-kun, Lili-sama...!" Hestia held back tears of joy.

The grand doors swung open. Bell and Lili charged forward while Loki and Hestia ran for their lives. A cold wind blew in and down the hall, speeding and swirling unnoticed until it reached the flickering fire down the hall and choked the life from the flames. Hestia Mansion's once-magnificent hearth fire finally cooled to a stop.