Is It Wrong To Crawl My Way Back Home, One Dungeon Floor At A Time?

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"You know, there are a lot more people here than I thought they would be considering the possibility of a monster rampage."

"The Ganesha Familia has it all in hand," Hestia waved off my concern as the three of us walked through the packed streets of Orario, the air filled with the shouts of stalls trying to sell their goods, wherever that be food or souvenirs, "They're the largest Familia in Orario, after all, and the monsters they've tamed aren't that strong that they can't handle it if something does happen."

"Still, I didn't expect this many people this early," Bell said in childish wonder that made me smirk slightly. We had barely left the cul-de-sac and already, Orario's wide and open streets were choking with the number of people out here.

Obviously, Bell and I left our weapons, armour and potions back home. I was wearing the new clothes that I had bought which were nice and baggy for my tastes. While neither Bell or Hestia had noticed, this was the first time I had ever worn clothes from here.

It felt...weird. Not the clothes themselves but something else. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but maybe it was the fact that the fashion in this world was quite frankly all over the place. There weren't any hoodies or the like that I had but it seemed like it was based on race, I guess?

Elves were prim and proper clothes, dwarves wore armour or thick, casual clothes while humans just wore whatever seemed to work.

There were these women that I kept seeing, with skin colour that ranged from tanned to olive-brown, that barely wore any clothes at all though. I didn't really get that but maybe it was a cultural thing.

Orario is basically a melting pot for everyone in the world, after all.

Hestia seemed happy that I was wearing the new clothes, strangely enough. Don't know why, but hey. Whatever makes her happy.

I slept last night but not for long. I stayed up last night, longer than I intended, because something really fucking weird had happened.

Due to Hestia updating my status last night, I had managed to gain two Minor Traits of WIS and END.

For WIS, I picked Mind Hog which gave me a very nice, very flat 25 MP. Now, here's the thing.

The other elemental traits that I had available to me were gone. Just like that. No warning, no nothing.

It confused me because I originally thought it was the Earth's Chosen Trait that did that but it specifically didn't. It only said that I couldn't pick the other Chosen Traits.

And shockingly enough, that wasn't the only Trait that was gone.

Shield-Wall was gone as well. Which means, as of this moment, I had no END Traits left to pick.

But I didn't get that Mantle Quest thing either.

The System itself didn't give me any message or anything to warn me. They were simply gone.

I spent all night thinking about it and I could only come to one conclusion:

It was me. I was getting rid of those Traits.

The shield was nice and useful but it didn't really click with me, unlike the warhammers that I'm enjoying. I had practically chosen to specialize solely on my earth magic, ignoring all of the other kinds available to me.

The System is using me and I'm using the System. So, with that line of thinking, it's reasonable to assume that due to my own actions and choices, certain things are going to be pruned off to make me stronger in the ways that work best for me.

The only real free choice I had to branch out was with my Jobs and well, I shot that down pretty quick. Not that I regret it, but the point stands nonetheless.

I had a bunch of theories on how to gain more Traits and whatever, future plans to make and just generally thinking of anything and everything that'll help me and by proxy, Bell and Hestia.

But honestly? I was just happy to have a day off right now.

"If it's packed here, imagine how it's going to be near the colosseum," I spoke up, making sure to keep an eye on Hestia and Bell so they don't get swept up in this sea of people. These two are so fucking small, especially Hestia. Someone could easily just pick her up and drag her off in a flash.

Also, Orario had a fucking colosseum. I didn't even know it had a colosseum but apparently, it was used quite a bit and right now, it was being used by the Ganesha Familia to effectively put on a bullfighting show but with monsters instead.

"We should probably set up a place to meet up if we get separated," I said to the other two, "What do you two think?"

"I think that's a good idea," Hestia said with a thoughtful look and it didn't take long for her to land on the obvious choice, "How about Babel? It's probably the easiest place to see from anywhere."

Bell gave a concurring nod but I could see that his thoughts were somewhere else, practically giddy as we walked down the familiar road. This was the route we took for Dungeon diving but it was practically a different street compared to its usual hustle and bustle.

I heard some Adventurers complaining about it but this Monsterphilia festival seemed pretty popular with people, at least with its...what do I call the non-Adventurers that live in Orario?

Civilian? Sure, that works. The whole civilian population of Orario seemed rather interested in Monsterphilia and I suppose that makes sense.

Orario is the city of Adventurers and people who live here are constantly reminded of that fact. It really isn't a shock to realise that the most common stores here are ones that cater to Adventurers like weapon and armour smiths, apothecaries and so on. But most of the stuff Adventurers deal with happen down in the Dungeon, so the nitty-gritty details aren't usually seen or even heard.

So a chance to see a real monster vs a real Adventurer is probably a treat that most people aren't going to miss out on.

Come to think of it, that's why this felt a little bit weird to me.

This wasn't an event for Adventurers but for everyone else. And from what I hear, it was the Ganesha Familia that worked with the Guild to set everything up.

Huh. No wonder they're the biggest Familia in Orario. This whole thing was basically one massive advertisement for them.

The wonders of being filthy rich, I suppose. I wonder how much valis they get out of this? Probably pays back double in the new recruits that they get.

"What do you think, John?" Bell's voice broke me out of my thoughts and I glanced down at the white-haired kid to see him looking up at me with those big red-ruby eyes of his.

"Sorry, I zoned out. What are we talking about?"

"Well, obviously we have to go and visit the colosseum," Hestia spoke up, excitement blatant in her words, "But in the evening, when it's over, Bell said we should go to that place you two like to visit for dinner."

"Oh, the Hostess?" I said and Bell gave me a quick nod, "Sure, that sounds good by me. Speak of the devil actually, we're just about to pass by it."

I jerked my head to the large two-floor building that stood out amongst the stores and houses along with it. Amongst the crowd, a pair of frilly maid uniforms could be seen sweeping the outside and I immediately recognized the duo.

Now, if someone asked me who I was closest with at the Hostess, I would have to say Ryu.

The simplest reason is that she saw through my bullshit and wasn't afraid to call me out on it. This was equal parts annoying and funny to me, but I digress. Through my time living at the Hostess and dealing with the girls, I had a pretty good handle on them. I liked to think, anyway. Especially on the stoic, nosy elf.

So when Ryu and Anya saw us, it was telling that Ryu narrowed her eyes at me ever so slightly and Anya's usual teasing smirk froze and turned apologetic for a flash before it was wiped away.

I must have an incredible talent for pissing off elves or something. I didn't even do anything this time.

"Cranel, John. Good morning," She greeted us calmly but I saw how her eyes flickered to Hestia and I took the cue.

"Morning Ryu, Anya. Hestia, this is Ryu and Anya, who work at the Hostess of Fertility. It's where I lived before I met you. As you two could probably guess, Hestia is my and Bell's Goddess."

The reaction from the two were both instantaneous and telling. Anya's eyes snapped wide open, her mouth gaping in shock while Ryu, the ever courteous and sassy elf, bowed deeply to an embarrassed looking Hestia.

"Lady Hestia. My name is Ryu Lion and this is my associate-"

"She's so sma-! Nya!"

I didn't blink an eye as Ryu, without looking, smacked Anya's pointing finger with her broom like she was swatting a fly, the teary-eyed cat woman pouting at the stoic elf as she held her smacked hand, "Anya Fromel. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Hestia gave a small smile to Ryu which was only a tiny bit forced, "Likewise, Miss Lion. So this is where John used to live?"

"It was alright," I spoke up and I glanced down at Hestia who looked far more interested than she should be, "If you're hoping for any stories like me walking in on the girls naked or whatever, I'm afraid to say that I was nothing less than the perfect gentleman."

"That's nyat true!"

I don't know what irked me more; Anya trying to pull one over on me or her constant use of 'nya' and variations of.

"When you left, Ryu and Syr were heartbroken!" Anya pointed at me with her broom and if it wasn't for the gleam in her eye, I would've been almost convinced by the tremble of her lips, "Nya, as a man, you have to take responsibility for that kind of thing!"

My only response was to stare blankly back at the cat maid while Hestia coughed softly in her hand when she caught my eye. Bell just looked like he wanted to shrink away while the elf in question gave out a long, suffering sigh.

"Hey, Ryu. Want to get married?"

The response took longer than I expected.

Anya just froze, her tail standing straight and her slitted eyes bulging out of her skull. Hestia's fake cough turned real for a short moment before she gave me an exasperated glare and Bell's spluttering almost broke the mask of seriousness that I had donned.

"N-Nya...so bold."

"J-John!" The kid blurted out, his cheeks a deep rosy red, "You can't just say that sort of thing!"

"But I was told to take responsibility, kid," I said gravely to Bell, forcing down the corners of my lips from lifting up, "Where I come from, that means you have to marry the person you've wronged."

That was complete and utter bullshit of course. Going by how Hestia rubbed her forehead, a complicated and constrained expression on her face, she no doubt knew I just lied as well.

Ryu, ever the cool and collected elf, gave me an unimpressed, almost icy look and simply turned her attention to my apologetic looking Goddess, "My deepest condolences, Lady Hestia. You have taken a shameless, prideful, stubborn and foolish man into your Familia."

I'm not foolish, you pointy-eared elf.

"It's fine," She gave a huff and she gave me a little side-eye, "John is a good person, but he takes some time getting used to. A lot of time."

Before I could say anything to defend myself, I think I heard something that almost sounded like a laugh and I gave Bell a look as he painfully faked coughing into his hand, refusing to meet my gaze.

Traitor.

"Anyway, moving on from bullying little old me," I said with a huff and I swear to fuck, Ryu's eyebrow moved an inch up at what I said, "We just came over to say hi. We're going to the Monsterphilia and we're probably gonna stop by for dinner at the end."

Anya's eyes lit up at that, "Nya, that's good to hear! Actually, we kinda need a favour…"

A favour? Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

"What's the matter?" Bell asked, painfully always ready to lend a hand. I could tell that as soon as Anya spoke, Bell would stick his nose in.

"Syr went to the Monsterphilia as well but she forgot her valis," Ryu explained to us as Anya dashes inside the Hostess, no doubt to retrieve said valis, "Usually, we would do it ourselves but Mama Mia has put us all to work and we're going to be too busy today to leave."

I can already see where this is going and no doubt Hestia could as well, looking a bit guilty.

I let out a huff as Bell gave me that terrible, awful look that only kids like him can give. I crossed my arms, looking down at the stoic elf.

"Isn't it better if her money stays here? When she realises it's gone, she'll just come back," I said bluntly, trying to needle our way out of being two errand boys and a Goddess.

Today was supposed to be a day for the three of us. I wasn't really interested in spending a large part of it trying to track down Syr, no matter how puppy-eyed looks Bell gives me.

"True, but I do not doubt by the time she'll notice, the Monsterphilia will have already come to a close," She explained calmly and I can't help but wonder why Syr decided to even bother going to the Monsterphilia.

Didn't Ryu say they were busy today? Why was Syr even allowed time off then? She should be here, doing her fucking job instead of bunking off. Is she on a date or something?

Doubt it, honestly. She teased Bell but her affections seemed genuine, at least to me and I doubt Ryu would be friendly with a woman that strings along men.

"John, it's fine. It won't really take long anyway," Bell said to me, ever the shining knight. I gave a glance to Hestia who seemed to give me a defeated smile. I gave a huff as Anya came charging out, clutching on a small but full looking purse.

That was a bit quick for my liking. But whatever, I'm probably being paranoid.

"Fine, fine, whatever," I said, resisting the urge to physically throw my hands up in defeat. Bell gave me a thankful smile but it turned into a look of confusion as I all but snatched the pouch from Anya's hands.

"But I'll do it. You two on the other hand," I pocketed the pouch and placed my hands on the shoulders of Bell and Hestia, both of them looking surprised at my actions, "Go out and enjoy yourselves without me for a little bit. We can meet up later."

For some reason, I could see some emotion flicker across Ryu's eyes as she stared intently at me. I ignored it in favour of focusing on Bell and Hestia.

"Eh? John, are you sure?" Hestia asked me and I could see Bell thought the same thing, frowning slightly but I gave a strong nod.

"Yeah, it'll be fine. You two just go off and enjoy yourselves," I gave the two a light push, "And I got something to talk about with Ryu. Bell, you look after Hestia now. Make sure she doesn't spend all of our money."

Hestia gave me a pout but I could see her thankfulness that she flashed with a wide smile as she tugged on Bell's arm, basically dragging him along.

"Come on, Bell, we'll meet up with John by the colosseum," She said, giving a blushing Bell a wide, excited grin, "See ya later, John!"

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," I gave those two happy idiots a shooing motion with my hand as Bell just gave me a look that didn't go well with his rosy red cheeks.

"Alright then. See you later, Miss Ryu, Miss Anya!"

We waved goodbye to Hestia and Bell as they disappeared into the crowds. With that done, I turned my attention back to the two maids.

"Serious question. What's the age of consent in Orario?"

Anya seemed to choke on air at my question, staring at me with wild, wide eyes while Ryu just narrowed her eyes a tiny bit at me, no doubt trying to search for something on my face.

Eventually, she gave a suffering sigh, "It's 16, John. Do I dare ask why you have to know that?"

16? That's not too bad. Britain has the same age of consent and while I don't agree with it, I can live with that.

"I don't know if you're experienced with romance or not, but I'm not a blushing virgin myself," I answered bluntly and I ignored Anya's fake gasp of shock, "And I've been living with Bell and Hestia long enough to see what she thinks of the kid. I'm just trying to gauge whether I should get involved or not."

"...Do you disapprove of her feelings?" She asked me in a curious tone and I can't tell what her point was with the question.

"I mean," I said with a huff, scratching my head, "It's not black and white. I know Hestia well enough and she wouldn't ever dare hurt Bell, but the kid is 14. At least Syr is a normal girl but Hestia is a Goddess. That sort of thing can only end badly."

"Do you really think so? A mortal and a God in a relationship?"

"Hestia told me all about Aphrodite and her thing," I saw Ryu give me a nod of acknowledgement so I just presumed that was a famous story and carried on, "But where I'm from, when a mortal and God get involved, it can only end badly for the mortal. It has never, ever worked out well in the end."

That was sort of an excuse and a lie folded in one. I honestly don't know where I should stand in terms of Bell's romantic prospects. I don't want him hurt but I can't make his decisions for him.

God, fuck sake Bell. Out of fucking everyone you could've wooed, you had to choose our Goddess? Fucking hell.

"Nya...could it be that you're a romantic, John?" Anya asked me, surprisingly genuine in her...well, surprise.

"I like a good romance story," I admitted shamelessly with a shrug, "But I like them more when there is a happy ending instead of a tacky, forced on tragic ending."

Seriously, fuck those sorts of endings. I read hundreds of pages of drama and plot just for the two love interests not to get together? Eat shit.

"Unbelievable, nya! The infamous fuddy-duddy John is a romantic!"

"Fuddy duddy?" I muttered under my breath, more confused than offended but I decided to ignore the cat person with a shake of my head.

"If you're so against it, then your actions right now just went against what you're saying," Ryu pointed out to me and I admitted to her words with a slight nod.

"Well, Bell hasn't ever gone to an event like this before. He should be able to enjoy it fully without being an errand boy for the first time," I said with a shrug, "Anyway, I think we're getting off-topic with this whole romance talk. That wasn't related to what I wanted to ask you."

"Oh?"

"So what did I do to piss you off this time?" I asked bluntly and Ryu blinked at me, "When you first saw me, you looked like you wanted to say something but you stopped when you saw Hestia."

Was it the hand thing? I bet it was the hand thing.

Ryu just gave me this look that I wouldn't say was blank but more guarded than anything else. Anya seemed to realise something and her normal teasing expression twisted into a look of concern that put me off guard.

"It's not worth talking about right now," Ryu said calmly and dare I say it, a bit sheepishly? It was hard to tell with this elf sometimes.

"Go out and enjoy yourself, John," She told me and for some reason, her usually stoic face seemed to soften up a bit with those words, "But don't forget to find Syr."

Well, if it's like this, I don't think she's that pissed off. Maybe a bit peeved but whatever. We'll talk later if that was the case.

"Fine then," I gave a shrug and started walking off, "See you two later."

"See nya, John!"

God damnit. Is this just a cat person thing? Riri didn't say anything but I have trouble believing anything about that little thief anyway.

"Until later," Ryu waved me off which I returned and I walked down the road towards the colosseum.

Shouldn't be too hard to find Syr. Just give her the money back and get back to Bell and Hestia.

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Okay. This is fucking ridiculous.

This entire place was packed with people; couples on dates, families on outings and so on. Stalls practically filled up what spots they could around the colosseum which was alive and vibrant with vivid anticipation. I moved through the crowds of people, keeping an eye for a head of silver hair and a frilly green maid outfit but I couldn't find the hide or hair of the girl.

It was...weird, being around this many people again. I'm not really a fan of big crowds, honestly. I like either being with people that I know and like or being by myself. Being here by myself just felt awkward.

Eventually, the colosseum event started and I knew my time limit was up. Frustrated with the sea of people, I moved into an alleyway to try and find a shortcut towards the colosseum and join back with Bell and Hestia.

Taking a moment to breathe, away from that massive crowd of people, I started walking towards the towering colosseum and-

"Come on, Aiz! It just started!"

I felt my heart skip a beat as I recognized that voice. A crooked smile flashed across my mind and my feet stopped, just in time so I didn't crash into the small, petite body that ran across from where I was gonna go.

They didn't stop, thank fuck and I saw a flash of golden blond hair for a brief moment. It wasn't like I was hiding but, well. I didn't think it was worth making myself known so I just waited for a brief second or two until I started walking again. I went around the corner-

HP: 89

I was forced to take a step back as I felt something run into my chest. I looked down to see a pair of golden eyes looking back up at me blankly, widening slightly. Quicker than I could blink, she was off and staring at the ground.

God damnit. Why the fuck did she come back?

"You!" A voice that I wish I never heard again spoke up and I took in a quick, deep breath before looking over to see another taller, but still mini-Goddess making her way to me with a head of flaming red hair.

"Get yer hands off of my Aiz, ya pervert!" Loki, the Goddess of Trickery said to me with a comical snarl and a pointing finger. Aiz gave Loki a dubious look with a slightly furrowed brow while I just rolled my eyes.

"She's the one that ran into me," I told her bluntly and she adopted a hurt expression without opening her eyes, somehow.

"Aiz! Don't fall for this womanizer! He already broke my heart, he'll break yours as well!"

"Is she always like this?" I asked Aiz who gave me a suffering nod of her head, causing Loki to whimper pathetically, "Anyway, enough of the comedy routine. I'm surprised either of you remembers me."

"Well, how could I forget the one that got away and went to Loli Big Tits instead?" Loki said to me and I blinked at Loki's use of the word.

"I'm sorry, can you just repeat that for me?"

Loki gave me a weird look along with Aiz, though hers was more curious than anything, "Repeat what? Did ya not know that we call yer Goddess Loli Big Tits? Or Loli Big Boobs? Or-"

"Loli? Really?"

Loli. Fucking...loli? Really? These motherfuckers are spreading around Japanese words now? Aren't we speaking english? What the fuck?

As if it was possible, Loki narrowed her eyes at me, "And what? Do ya even know what that means?"

"It means prepubescent girl," I said plainly and Loki froze for some reason, "So you're essentially calling Hestia a prepubescent girl with massive tits. I would prefer if you stop that, by the way."

"Oh? And why should I?"

"Because she's my Goddess," I said sternly, trying to keep my flashes of anger down, "And I don't take kindly to someone I care about being insulted in front of me."

I didn't let Hecate walk all over Hestia. I'm sure as fuck not letting this flat-chested midget do it either.

Loki gave me a frosty look for a couple seconds and while I would say I was unwilling to break eye contact, that would actually require her to fucking open them. So I just stared at her face, looking down at her.

"Loki...stop it," Aiz softly spoke up, frowning down at her Goddess who seemed to bite back a response before letting out a huff and throwing up her arms in defeat.

"Bah, why am I being ganged up on? Ya should've been in my Familia, not hers! What does she have that I don't, anyway?"

"My trust."

I almost wanted to say boobs, but I had to restrain myself greatly.

That actually seemed to get a grin out of the trickster Goddess, "Geez, ya can be really cutting with yer words there, John. And with such a serious look on yer face, ya gonna scare away the ladies."

"I'll survive," I said with a shrug, "So what do you two want with me anyway? I presume you're here for the Monsterphilia?"

"Yep! Me and Aiz are on a date!"

"You have my sympathies."

"Thank you…"

"What the hell was with that exchange right now!?" Loki all but shouted out and that got a smirk out of me, but with Aiz, it was hard to tell. She was worse than Ryu in how her facial expression or lack thereof made it hard to tell what she was thinking exactly.

"Anyway!" Loki shouted out and pointed her finger at me, "I was just curious why someone like you was here, but I didn't care that much. Aiz was the one here that wanted to talk with ya."

Aiz? Really? I looked at the young girl and she seemed...embarrassed? She wasn't looking at me, so much as past me and I think she was trying hard not to look away.

"Uhm...are you okay now?" She asked me simply but there was a lot in that question, I could tell. It didn't take a social expert to realise that Aiz had trouble putting her thoughts into words. I gave the kid a smile, chuckling lightly.

"Sure, kid. I'm in a better place than when we last met," I told her truthfully, smiling warmly.

"I'm not a kid…" She told me and I swear I could see her pouting but her cheeks remain unpuffed.

"Sounds like something a kid would say," I said, smirking, "But still, I just want to say thanks for that day. It wasn't just killing the Minotaur that saved me, you know."

It really wasn't. If it wasn't for Aiz here trying to knock me out from going deeper in the Dungeon, I would've just kept marching on until it killed me.

If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have met Bell or Hestia. I wouldn't be able to come as far as I have now.

I owe her a lot for that, whether she knows it or not.

Aiz looked at me for a moment, this time right in my eye. I don't know what it was exactly that she was looking for, but for the first time I've met her, she gave me a small but genuinely happy smile, like she was relieved or something.

"Oi oi, stop flirting you two," I rolled my eyes at Loki's words and Aiz frowned at her Goddess, "So what are ya doing here anyway? I thought someone like ya, a Dungeon fanatic, wouldn't be anywhere near here."

"That's because I'm with Bell and Hestia. Some stuff happened recently so we decided to take today off to enjoy the Monsterphilia," I said plainly before I realised something.

"That's the kid you saved from the Minotaur by the way," I said to Aiz whose eyes widened slightly at that, "White hair, red eyes. He invited me to join his Familia, as a matter of fact after that whole debacle."

"Oh, Tomato Boy!" Loki said all of a sudden, grinning widely. Before I could even respond, Aiz gave Loki a stern, almost angry stare and the Goddess wilted under it, mumbling an apology.

"Should I even ask?"

"It's nothing…" Aiz told me so I just gave a shrug before she shot me a weird look, "But...what about your old Familia?"

"My old Familia?" I repeated dumbly, not really seeing her point. I didn't have an old-

Oh. Oh.

"Don't worry about that," I waved Aiz off, ignoring Loki's grin, "If you two are going to the colosseum like I am, we should hurry before it's over."

"Awww, are ya offering to escort us, John?"

"I'm sure you'll be fine," I said dryly as I started to walk down the alleyway, towards the colosseum. Aiz and Loki started walking in the same direction as me, so I wouldn't say they were following me.

"Oi, show me some magic," Loki said to me, making me cock a brow at her, "Come on, Aiz here told me that she saw you soak your head with a ball of water and ya didn't even chant!"

"What do I get out of it?" I asked bluntly.

"I'll pay ya."

"How much?"

"Let's say...2000?"

"Make it 200,000 and we have a deal."

Loki spluttered at my offer before giving me a shaky grin, "Oi, oi. Do ya even know who exactly is in my Familia?"

"Riviera? I know about her," I said plainly, taking the wind out of her sails, "She has like, nine spells or something right?"

"Nine spells! And ya don't even sound a tiny bit impressed! So why should I pay 200,000 valis to see yer crummy magic?"

"Because I don't have to chant for my magic. She does," I couldn't resist the tugging of my lips as Loki gave me a glare, "She has quantity, I have quality. A fair trade, I think."

She gave me a snort, "I can't believe a no-name Level 1 like yerself thinks ya can even compare to my little Riviera. Yer an arrogant one, aren't cha?"

So I have been told, but I didn't voice that out loud. I thought that was the end of it before I felt an intensely curious stare on the side of my head. I glanced at Aiz who quickly looked away, finding the grimy alley wall far more interesting.

She might be a powerful fighter, but she really was just an awkward kid in the end. Still though, I didn't want to expose my abilities so early. They'll just have to wait and see.

When we got near the colosseum, I could feel the roar of the crowd within its walls that seemed to shake. But that wasn't the only thing that caught my attention.

"Eina?" I said with no small amount of surprise as I saw my former advisor for the first time in what felt like years. She was wearing her Guild suit and she wasn't the only one here. A bunch of other Guild officials had gathered together with her, looking like they just shat themselves. Around us, a bunch of armed and armoured Adventurers seemed to be on guard, setting out into different parts of Orario.

"John?" She said, surprised at my presence before her eyes popped wide open at the girl by my side, "A-Aiz Wallenstein?"

"I'm here too~"

"Yeah but you're not as impressive," I muttered under my breath and I could feel Loki stiffen at my words for the briefest of moments, making me smirk slightly.

"What's up, Eina? You look worried," I asked her after wiping my smirk off and her constrained expression lightened up a little.

"...Some monsters have escaped from the Ganesha's Familia holdings for the colosseum," She admitted to me and by proxy, Loki and Aiz. At that moment, I felt my blood go cold and my chest grew tight.

One day. One fucking day. That's all I ask for. That's all I want.

"Well that's a massive fucking disaster," I said bluntly to Eina and my words seemed to make her colleagues flinch as she gave me a grim nod, "What the fuck are these stupid cunts doing? Holding these monsters in fucking pillow forts?"

Fuck. Fuck. I need to find Bell, Hestia and Syr ASAP.

"Geez, do ya kiss yer mother with that mouth?" Loki grunted at me and I didn't bother to give her a response as I started getting some dirty looks from the Adventurers nearby, which I couldn't give less of a shit about.

"We're trying to quietly evacuate any civilians but this isn't a situation we can handle ourselves. Please, help us," Eina asked us, looking like she was on the verge of a meltdown.

I don't think I've ever seen Eina so frantic before. It makes sense, obviously. This whole thing is a fucking mess. If people die from this, jesus christ. I can't even begin to imagine.

I let out a frustrated huff and I looked at Aiz, holding tightly onto the sword on her waist, looking at Loki who scratched her head with a rueful smile.

"Alright, I'll let Ganesha borrow ya for a bit," Loki said and I could feel a collective mental sigh of relief come from everyone around us. Loki craned her head to look at me, an obvious question that she didn't have to ask.

It didn't help that Eina was basically pleading with me with her eyes either.

Fuck. Fuck everything right now.

"Eina, Bell and Hestia are here. Do you know where they are?" I asked quickly, getting the most important information first.

"I just met with them a little while ago, at the eastern side. They said they were looking for you," She told me and I chewed the inside of my cheek for a moment.

If they were together, which I'm sure they are, then Bell would be smart enough to run away from any monster he can't handle, especially with Hestia in tow.

They would be fine, hopefully.

I gave out another huff, "You're lucky it's you that's asking for my help. I'm not sure how much use I can be killing these sorts of monsters, depending on how strong they are but I have healing magic. If anyone gets injured, I can handle it."

That was the truth of it, really. If it was just some no-name Guild worker, I would've just ignored them and hunted down Hestia, Bell and Syr. But Eina was...well, I wouldn't say a friend? But more than an acquaintance for sure. I'm pretty sure it was her who told Bell about me in the first place anyway.

Eina gave a massive sigh of relief and flashed me a very tired, very thankful smile while some of the Adventurers and Guild members seemed surprised by what I said, "Thank you, John. Really."

I just gave a wordless nod, resisting the urge to sigh. What a complete fucking mess. Speaking of which, where are the injured right now? If they got past the guards, then where are they?

"So what got loose? Where did they go?" Loki asked and someone else piped up to answer.

"About nine monsters in total. A Hard-Armoured, a Swordstag, a few Orcs, a Troll, a Crystal Mantis and a Silverback."

Holy fucking shit. Some of those were beyond the 12th Floor. What kind of fucking operation are they running here?

"A-Ah, we saw a group of them going to the East Main!"

"Of fucking course they did," I muttered under my breath and I saw Eina snap her head in the direction as we both shared a look. I grimaced but I couldn't run off now. I just promised I would help.

I felt the wind pass by me as I spoke, "And the injured? Where the fuck are they?" I asked bluntly but the response I got wasn't what I thought it was.

"Uhm...there are no injuries. Not as far as we can tell."

"What?" I turned my attention to the Guild worker that had spoken, a pink-haired woman who seemed somewhat familiar to me, "What the fuck do you mean there are no injuries? That's not what monsters do."

"It's true, John," Eina spoke up as Loki adopted a pensive look, "None of the guards were injured and none of them are missing."

"That can't be right. All of ya, double-check right now!" Loki shouted, quickly whipping the Guild workers into shape. I ignored the flurry of activity as I finally noticed that Aiz was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is Aiz?" I asked Loki who just gave me an arrogant look with a crooked grin.

"Heh, yer still green, John. Don't worry about that for now," Loki told me but I couldn't really find it in myself to care about Aiz right now, so I just let it go with a shrug, "But ya look like ya have something to say."

"This whole situation stinks of bullshit," I said bluntly, finding my gaze drawn to the east, "Monsters wouldn't leave anyone alive, not if they weren't ordered to by tamers. But if someone did do this, why not just let the monsters kill them and cover their tracks? It would make things easier for them."

"Yer sharper than ya look," Loki groused out as if the words were a bit bitter for her to say, "But just because there aren't any injuries now doesn't mean there won't be later. How powerful is your magic, anyway?"

"I know, I know," I sighed out, hating myself for agreeing with this Goddess, "As for my magic...well, if they're not dead or any limbs are amputated, I'm confident in it. Let's just hope it doesn't come to that."

"Ya and me both," She said and I had a slight feeling that she was being genuine. When we finished speaking, I went deep into my thoughts, trying to think of what the fuck I can do besides just sitting here and waiting.

Right now, my priority is Syr. While I cared more personally about Bell and Hestia, Syr did give me a roof over my head and is a sweet girl. Bell can protect Hestia but I need to find Syr and get her to safety.

Except I didn't have a fucking clue where she was. I asked around the stalls where I thought she would be but I got nothing. Was she even here anymore? Who is to say she didn't go back to the Hostess when she noticed her money missing?

But the Hostess is all the way over to the opposite side of Orario. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

"Hey! Are you John?" A perky, young voice of a girl broke me out of my stormy thoughts and I turned my gaze to see a pair of twinkling brown eyes staring at me.

The one who called me out was a small, petite girl but taller than Loki. She was wearing...honestly scandalous clothes? A stripe of cloth covered her small chest but her stomach and navel were bare to the world. Luckily, her lower half was far more modestly covered with a long tunic that skirted around her ankles where gold bracelets were enclosed. Her skin was a toned chocolate colour while her messy hair was a dark brown.

I glanced past her to see that we've been joined by three more Adventurers, including the little girl that was right in my space. One of them I recognised as Riveria's apprentice, I believe. Lefi or something? She seemed surprised to see me but I don't quite know why.

The third figure, another woman this time but one that seemed a tiny bit older than the rest and actually with a curvy figure, was like the opposite of the girl in front of me right now. She had long flowing hair, both that and her skin the same shade as the little girl. Her...fuck it, her bra pushed up the cleavage of her full breasts and left little to the imagination. Thankfully, she was wearing a skirt that wasn't too bad.

I wasn't too shocked by this fashion. I've seen it before on women like these two with the same colour skin.

Like I said, the fashion sense is all over the fucking place here.

"You know it's rude to talk to a stranger without introducing yourselves first," I said blandly and the little brown girl blinked owlishly at me, adopting an embarrassed expression.

"Sorry about that. My name's Tiona! And this is my big sis, Tione and this here is Lefiya!" She said energetically which could almost be considered infectious if I wasn't so fucking worried right now.

"Not Lefi then," I said with a cock of my brow and the young elf girl's face seemed to bloom red.

"Lefi? Do you two know each other?" The small brown girl, Tiona, seemed mighty interested for some reason but I shook my head.

"Not really and that isn't important right now," I glanced at Loki who was relaxed despite the chaos around us, "I presume these three are yours?"

"Yep! Tiona and Tione here are Level 5 while Lefiya is the best Level 3 mage in Orario!"

"Are you telling me or bragging?" I asked Loki who I swore preened brightly under my tepid stare.

"Can't I do both?"

Whatever, I thought with a roll of my eyes. Loki gave them a quick rundown on what was going on as it seemed like they were just here out of happenstance. I was still thinking deeply about this whole thing, where Syr, Hestia and Bell might be and what might happen until my attention was drawn by someone nudging me in the ribs.

"Aiz just found the monsters" Loki told me and my spine straightened up. For some reason, Tiona was grinning widely at me while Tione was shaking her head and Lefiya was...blushing?

"And considering that everyone seems fine here, yer probably better off following her."

"Same," I agreed with a nod, "I'll go and-"

"Actually," Loki grinned with far, far too much amusement for my liking, "I decided yer gonna be taking the express route. Ya should be happy, not a lot of men get this experience."

I wasn't stupid. I knew exactly what she was going for. I didn't like it too much but I really couldn't give less of a shit right now about a man's pride or whatever.

"Fine, let's get going," I said with an uncaring shrug, looking at the three girls and the disappointed Tiona pouting, "Sorry to disappoint, kid but I'm older than 16. It'll take more than you carrying me to make me blush."

"Geez, you're no fun. And I'm not a kid!"

"Sounds like something a kid would-"

Whatever I would've said was lost in the world suddenly turning into a blur. One moment, I had my feet planted solidly on the ground and safe.

The next, I had a sense of weightlessness about me as my heart lurched in my chest and I was lying flat on a tilted surface. I glanced over to see Lefiya climbing on the building which I'm pretty sure is two stories off the fucking ground.

"Well," I spoke up and I saw Tiona grinning toothly down at me, "That was terrifying. Thanks for that."

"No problem!"

This girl, I swear to god. I sat up just in time to slash one weird looking bear monster apart, not even bothering to save their magic stones as they turned to a fine black ash. A quick look told me all I needed to know for my part in this.

"Hahaha...we were sent to bait them but it looks like the fish was already biting," Tiona said what was possibly the weirdest saying I've ever heard but I ignored it in favour of looking for Bell, Hestia or Syr.

They weren't here because of course they're not.

"So I can't be the only one noticing here that the monsters are acting strange, right?" I spoke up as I kept myself from trying to slip down and make an idiot of myself, "Like, they didn't kill any of the guards and they didn't even try to defend themself before Aiz cut them up."

"...You have a point," The tall brown-skinned sister said, giving me a sideways glance, "But we should be glad that no one was hurt at all."

"Don't jinx it now," I groaned out, slowly pushing myself up. Standing up on top of the building, I looked over to the colosseum to see it far, far away. More than I expected what must've been a couple of seconds at best.

Shit. Level 5s don't mess around, huh?

"None of you happened to see a silver-haired girl in a green frilly maid outfit while jumping over here, did you?" I asked the girls who exchanged a look and shook their heads at me. I let out a sigh, deep in thought.

Damn it, Syr. Where the fuck are you?

I was about to say something but something stopped me. Something that I really, really didn't hope to see.

[Quest issued!]

Oh fuck.

[Coronation.]

Oh double fuck.

[The Usurper has finally shown her hand. Her parasites have been born upon the soil of the Earth, defiling it and Orario with their tainted presence.]

[Announce yourself, John. Show them that their sacrilege will not be suffered in your presence. They are anathema to you as you are to them. Steel your spirit and assert your sovereignty. In doing so, you take one step closer to your long journey's end.]

[Rewards.]

[Active Skill: Touch Of The Uncrowned Heir.]

[You can not refuse this Quest. It is your duty. Fail and your way home will be barred.]

Before I could understand what a single fucking word any of that actually meant, I felt the earth beneath me move.

"Hey...is it me or is the ground shaking?" Tiona spoke up but it was a faint background noise as I felt my organs lurch around inside my body. My head swam with thoughts and feelings that came out of nowhere and fuck, it hurt.

My head felt like it was going to split open. My skull felt far too tight around my thrumming, pulsating brain. With a dull thud, I had fallen to my knees and my neck felt like I had a lead brick tied to it, strangling my breathing. White-hot flashes of pain streaked across my eyes, making it painful to even have them open though closing them just subjected me to a bleak darkness.

It wasn't as painful as when I got my Mantle Quest. But it was close enough.

"H-Hey! Are you alright!?" I felt a pair of hands grab my shoulders suddenly, trying to pull me up but I just wave them off, trying to steady myself.

"I'm fine," I lied through my fucking teeth.

"B-But you're bleeding!" The elf girl said and slowly, I touched my nose but I couldn't find anything.

"Your forehead," Tione said with a slightly shaky voice and when I blinked, I could feel a dripping hotness down my face and cheeks, "Tiona, he's only Level 1! You should be more careful!"

Oh. Oh that can't be a pretty sight.

"I-I was!"

"Forget about me for now," It was a fucking awful effort just to get the words out of my numbing mouth, waving off their concern, "We need to move. Now."

"Forget about you!? What do you mean-!?"

The earth shook again and this time, everyone felt it. A second of reprieve was what we were given until the sound of crashing buildings and the sounds of screaming echoed out amongst the whole of Orario. I could already see it in my mind but miles away from here, we could see a massive plume of dust and crushed stone rise up in the air.

"Alluvial Endowment."

MP: 258

HP: 133 (+33)

Grim Endurance: 51 Seconds

I knew it wouldn't actually heal whatever the fuck was going on right now but it was worth it just for the HP buff. I have a feeling like I'm going to need it.

"What was that?!" Lefiya gasped out, looking out at the current fucking disaster that we just witnessed.

"Bad fucking news is what it is," The words slipped out of my mouth in a low voice as I made my shirt a bloody mess when I wiped my forehead, "Like I said, we need to go now."

"We?" Tione gave me a dubious look, "You're injured, we can't-"

"And how many people do you think just got hurt over there?" I couldn't hold back and snapped at the woman who seemed surprised at my tone of voice, "Stop worrying and wasting time on useless shit already."

She opened her mouth to say something but whatever she was going to say didn't matter because I found myself being lifted up like I weighed absolutely nothing and I watched Tione's shocked expression fade from a vastly shrinking view.

Thank god. At least someone can act decisively.

"Just drop me when we get close," I said blandly to the small girl currently carrying me who flashed me a grin, "You guys are going to have trouble with this."

"Huh? How do you know that?"

I didn't answer back. I couldn't.

Bell. Hestia. Please, for the love of god, be safe.

.


.

Bell Cranel was scared. He was terrified. But most of all, he was angry.

Angry at himself. It was like nothing had changed from the time of the Minotaur attack. That, all of his efforts, all of his growth was for nothing.

Bell looked behind him, his hand firmly clasped around the small, warm hand of his Goddess whose face was filled with pain but she bared it with a contorted expression. His legs felt like they were on fire and his lungs burned heavily like there were lit coals inside his chest.

He took some heavy hits from the monster that seemed intent on chasing them down and tearing them from limb to limb. With no armour, none of the blows he took were lessened. It was only his raw Endurance from the Falna that meant his bones didn't break.

That didn't mean that every step he took was agony. That didn't mean that with every breath, his chest didn't rattle and creak with fiery pain.

It was simply that the thought of slowing down and letting the monster catch up to them was inexcusable. It simply couldn't be allowed to happen.

He almost didn't stop when he felt Hestia trip. Still holding onto her, he managed to catch her so she didn't fall to the cobblestone pavement.

"B-Bell…" She said in a hoarse breath and a red face. She gave him a look that was hard to identify but he didn't have much time as he heard the distant bellowing of the monster that was chasing them. Its roar ricocheted off the walls of Daedalus Street, as if trying to hunt them down.

Bell was scared. He was so, so scared that it was almost pitiful. And he felt pitiful. He must've looked just as pathetic as well.

In a small way, he was glad that John wasn't here to see this. He didn't want John to see him right now.

Because to Bell Cranel, John was a hero. John was the person that seemed almost destined to do great things and be remembered.

He had braved the Dungeon without a Falna. He could cast not one, not two but three spells without a Falna. He had managed to gain two incredibly rare and powerful Skills. He strode fearlessly into the Dungeon, letting nothing stop him. He treated each Floor like it was simply another milestone, a mark to be ticked off rather than an accomplishment.

Was it so wrong for Bell to feel jealous then? Was it so wrong to realise that, if John was here and not Bell, then Hestia would be safer? That they didn't have to run?

But John isn't here. And Bell hates that he wishes he was.

Looking to the side, he found an open entrance to a drain. A flicker of light could be seen at the end and he knew that it wasn't a dead end. The iron gate's bars seemed rusted and aged but still strong.

He also knew what he had to do.

"Goddess," He said softly, looking deep into her tired, blue eyes, "I'm sorry."

Before she could say anything, he pushed her into the open drain and slammed the gate, hard. The stone cracked under the force and the bars rattled loosely in Bell's shaking hands.

"Bell!" Hestia cried out, her voice terribly scared that made Bell feel just that more ashamed, "What are you doing!? Let me out right now!"

"I'm really sorry, Goddess but I can't," Bell stood firm in his decision, despite how it twisted and churned in his stomach.

"Bell, open this gate right now or so help me! What are you planning to do!?"

It was all so unfortunate. Bell didn't have any weapons or armour on him, not even any potions. Why would they? It was supposed to be a fun day for all of them. It was the first time Bell had even been to something like this and he was looking forward to spending it with Hestia and John.

Well, that all went up in flames.

He was worried about John, but he knew that he would be fine, in the end. At the very least, they would have each other.

"I'm going to act as a decoy," He said calmly, Hestia's eyes bulging out in shock and shaking terror, "If you run down this drain, you can escape. I'm sure of it."

"No! No, you can't do that!" Bell hated how Hestia's voice quaked with her frantic shouting as she started trying to jostle the gate open angrily, "What do you think you're doing, Bell!? You're going to get yourself killed!"

Bell didn't have a way with words. He was a straightforward boy with a straightforward goal in life. He couldn't string together any words that would convince Hestia that this was the right course of action to take.

"I...I can't lose my family again."

So he spoke from the heart.

And that's what they were. A family. Three people who, all by different circumstances, only really had each other. John, who had said he had been all but kidnapped and sent on an impossible mission so he could see his own family again. Bell, who only had his grandfather until he was tragically killed by a monster.

And Hestia, their Goddess. The one who, without her, Bell and John might have never met. The one who gave Bell a chance to chase after his dream and the one who helped John when he had nowhere else to go.

Surely John could understand why it would be better for him to sacrifice himself than let Hestia die.

He was sorry. And he was trying to be better. But everything just seemed so hopeless and he didn't know what else to do.

So he'll do what he can. For Hestia and for John.

Another roar echoed out and it was so much closer now. Bell's shoulders froze in petrified fear and he forced himself to calm down with a shaky breath as he looked at his Goddess behind the creaky, rusted iron bars.

"Meeting you and becoming part of your Familia was one of the best things to happen to me, Goddess," He said with a low, choked voice, "And I'm scared of losing you or John, just like how I lost my grandfather. John, he...he's always there for me. When the Soma Familia attacked. When the Minotaur almost killed me. When we were almost overwhelmed in the Dungeon."

"But John isn't here and I am," He declared with a surge of confidence that didn't feel right, "And at the very least, I can make sure that you and John will be alright."

"You idiot!" Hestia was all but throwing herself at the iron gate now and it hurt to watch, "Bell, please don't do this! We can still run, we can-!"

"Look after John, Goddess. I-I know you will but I just figured it was worth saying," Bell said to Hestia and couldn't quite keep his voice as steady as he wished.

"Thank you, Hestia. For everything."

"Bell!"

Bell's feet were a blur as he ran as fast as he could down a twisting alleyway. He ran and ran, far faster than he's ever ran before. He ignored the throbbing pulses of pain in his chest and ribs as he did what he did best and ran.

It didn't take long for him to track down the monster. Its roars were constant and loud, as if to let the whole of Orario know of its rage.

It was the second-largest monster that Bell had ever seen and that terrified him.

On a wall, its burly thick fingers digging into the wide of an old, dilapidated building and pulling itself up was a monster that Bell had never seen before but knew what it was. It was in the shape of an ape with arms that seemed too long and thick. Its silver-grey hair shone in the sun's rays and from its wrists dangled two iron cuffs, still linked with two heavy looking chains.

Bell went to yell something but his words were caught in his throat and he found that he couldn't say anything. It didn't matter anyway as the monster known as the Silverback swiftly moved its bestial head back and growled deeply upon seeing Bell. A few of its teeth were broken or missing, its saliva tinged with red as it dropped off the building, smashing into the ground that cracked under its weight.

Bell glanced down at his clenched fist, the hand feeling sore and the white knuckles flecked with blood.

No weapons. No armour. No potions.

He wondered, before running deeper into Daedalus Street with the Silverback howling at his heels, if this is how John felt when his warhammer broke.

No, that was silly, Bell thought to himself. John would've fought back.

.


.

Everything was going to hell in a handbasket and I was in the fucking middle of it.

"Alluvial Endowment!"

MP: 223

The man currently clutching his broken, twisted leg gritted his teeth as an earthly green glow miraculously started knitting his flesh and popping his bones back into place. It was quite the sight to see but I didn't have time to admire it as I felt the earth tremble again.

"Can you walk!?" I shouted over the din of battle and crashing buildings. It was hard to hear myself think, rather than talk and the injured man who had floppy dog ears gave me a shaky nod.

"Then start fucking running already, you useless cunt! Or I'll break both of your legs myself!"

"B-But my daughter, she-!"

He was interrupted by the very simple fact that I threw myself over him. An explosion of cobblestone happened quite literally within arms reach of us and my body was pelted with a shower of sharp stones.

A slithering snake-like thing rose up into the air behind me but I didn't have time to admire how its presence made my head pulsate with a flash of fury and pain, "Just go! You're not gonna see your kid again if you're fucking dead!"

It's not as if I don't understand the reason. But I can't let him get himself killed.

I tried hard not to think about what he said and frantically got out of the skeletal structure that was left in the aftermath, not so subtly pushing the guy to move his fucking arse.

Luckily it seemed that most people had been evacuated but no one was expecting this fucking parasite to pop up from underground. Some people had been hurt by the wild thrashing of the parasite, buildings crumbling and barely held up on their broken foundations. Some were knocked to the ground by others panicking but I did what I could.

My head was a mess, both from the pain and the chaos going around me. I moved on autopilot as I trudged through the collapsing building onto the thankfully empty road.

My forehead was still bleeding and it only got worse when I looked at the parasite that had shown itself.

It was hard to see due to constantly thrashing about but it was a massive, snake-like thing with no mouth and a bulbous tip. Tione and Tiona fought it in a blur of strength and speed but they weren't doing any damage. It wasn't a thing I so much as knew but felt.

I wanted to help by healing them but I couldn't. They didn't stay on the ground long enough for me to cast Alluvial Endowment. So I did my best in order to clear the area of any civilians as best as I could. I don't know how many I helped but everyone counted right now.

"Unleashed streak of light, bow limbs of the holy tree."

An electrical tingle filled the air as I heard the words. My head pounded hard against my skull like a hammer on a bent nail. It hurt to open my eyes, flashes of piercing white-hot flashes going across my mind.

My forehead was still bleeding. Infact, I think it's gotten even worse. It was to tell but considering that I constantly wipe my eyes of the flowing blood just so I could see what was going on probably wasn't a good sign.

I didn't think it had to be said but I didn't have a single fucking clue on what to do. I didn't even know why I was reacting the way I was. Thoughts and feelings that mixed with my own flooded my brain. I can't tell where my own thoughts ended or these new ones started.

But I can't think about myself right now. The truth was, I only helped people here as a by-product of what I wanted to do, which was to find Bell, Hestia and Syr. Everything else was secondary really but as far as I can tell, they're not here.

And I was glad for that because one, that means they're literally anywhere else right now. And they don't have to see the fucking complete and utter mess that I've become.

I didn't want them to see me like this. Bleeding, hobbling, barely able to stand on my own two feet. It was a pathetic look. I was supposed to be stronger than this.

"You are an expert of the bow. Shoot, sniper of the fairies."

I leaned on a wall, barely able to hold myself up as I heard the almost musical melody that came from the small elf. It was almost soothing, in a way. Compared to how Circe chanted, it was a smooth, soft voice rather than a harsh, commanding tone.

It was also the worst thing she could've done. I opened my mouth to yell but I was stopped as I felt my words stuck themselves in my throat and something cold gripped my beating heart.

Shaking, I fell to my knees. Blood dripped down my face and onto the broken ground. My entire face felt hot, wet and sticky with the blood that poured down from my forehead. I smelled something burning and a barren wasteland flashed before my eyes. When I blinked, it was gone and I watched as the ground cracked by the elf kid and they were killed right in front of my eyes.

It was like slow motion to me. I watched as this kid, no more than...16, I guess, is smacked aside like a dirty rag and smashes into some stalls. Her body twitched as no sounds escaped through her lips.

My stomach dropped. My heart beat dully in my chest and numb shock overcame me.

The parasites were attracted to magic power, a thought not my own came into my pounding head. They just couldn't detect mine because...because…

Fuck. It hurts to think. It hurts to even move. It was just getting worse and worse by the min-

A sound managed to break me out of my thoughts. It wasn't the two sisters desperately yelling and trying to fight their way out of a bundle of thick, twisting limbs. It wasn't the fact that the parasite had shown its true form, its bulbous tip blooming into a vicious flower that roared with a cavernous hunger and deep rage. It wasn't the ground cracking open to let loose its numerous tendrils deep from underground.

She was crying. Lefiya, that elf kid was crying out. I couldn't see her body because the parasite blocked my view but out of everything that was happening, that single thing planted itself deep in my mind.

With gritted teeth, I slowly pulled myself up. I could feel the throbbing get worse as if red-hot pokers were being slowly shoved into my eye sockets.

I've said it once and I'll say it again:

I do not consider myself a bad person. But I don't consider myself a good person either. I'm just a normal guy, thrown into situations I have no control over and forced to deal with bullshit that I would really rather just fucking ignore.

I'm not a hero. Not by any stretch of the largest fucking imagination possible. Nor will I ever be

I'm just a guy. I'm not suited for heroics. Bell is, he just hasn't gotten there yet. I'm not Bell nor will I ever be.

I wasn't even all that special, not compared to the people around me or even the people in front of me at this very moment.

Oh sure, I could be considered special. Someone who was thrown across to a world where gods walk among mortals and monsters that prowls the earth's crust, bestowed upon massive and esoteric power that I didn't really know what to do with beyond trying my hardest to go back home. That sounds fucking special to me.

But the reality is that I was a person with low ambitions in life. That still holds true now, even. Even if I want to reach the end of the Dungeon, it's not because I care about whatever the fuck lurks down at the bottom or whatever secrets it holds.

Orario was full of people that held loftier ambitions than I did and yet they'll just either fall by the wayside or die, eventually forgotten.

And more than likely, I'll be the same as them. I already have my hands full right now. What was the point of trying to be something I'm not?

I'm a lot of things.

I take in a deep, burning breath.

"Alluvial Endowment."

MP: 209

I'm not a hero nor will I ever be.

"Hey, you piece of fucking shit!" My voice which I forced out of my throat felt raw and bloody but the parasite froze.

MP: 199

[Parasite Taunted.]

Slowly, deliberately it turned towards me and though it had no eyes, I could feel its gaze on me. The throbbing in my head reaching a terrible crescendo, but it wasn't as painful for some reason. Removing my hand from my bleeding forehead, I could hear someone yelling at me but it was a distant thing.

The parasite gave out a low, trilling noise as it slithered closer to me. It was like the Minotaur and Bell all over again. But for some reason, I didn't feel afraid.

I felt angry. Furious.

I'm not a hero. I don't have it in me to be one.

But was that really a reason to just stand back and watch a kid get killed? Was that something to be proud of? How could I look Bell and Hestia in the eye and tell them that I just watched someone not much older than Bell himself get fucking munched because I was drowning myself in self-pity?

It's not a reason to do anything. It was an excuse. A coward's one.

So fuck it. If no one else can do it, I will. I'll step up to the plate until someone more suited can do it. Until then?

I'll see what I can do.

It said a lot that the parasite wasn't immediately trying to kill me. It said a lot that it almost seemed...apprehensive, for the lack of a better word. That isn't how Taunt was supposed to work but I didn't care right now. Its attention was on me and I was going to keep it there for as long as I could.

I don't know where it came from. I don't even know what it is. But what I do know is a very simple fact:

This thing knows me. It knows me and it hates me.

"Well? This is your best shot," I spat out, glaring at the growling flower parasite, "You'd better kill me now. Or otherwise, I'm going to find whoever made you, you ugly fucking excuse of a failed abortion and I will snap her fucking neck with my own two hands. It doesn't matter in what fucking hole you crawled out of it, I'll find it. And when I do, there won't be a single fucking thing you can do about it."

It was hard to tell where the words came from, honestly. But they felt right to say. I don't know why, but they just did.

The air shook with the parasite's enraged roar, the throbbing in my head no longer painful. I felt rejuvenated as the migraine that had forced itself into my skull was kicked to the fucking curb.

[Quest: Coronation Complete!]

[Active Skill: Touch Of The Uncrowned Heir acquired.]

[Touch Of The Uncrowned Heir: The Uncrowned Heir will be known by his cleansing touch and his words of steel. By taking this Skill, you have come one step closer to fulfilling your calling.]

[This Skill will allow you to cleanse the magic stones of the Usurper's corrupted creations. In doing so, you will be able to either empower yourself further.]

As damning as this Skill was.

It really didn't help me right now. Mostly because I wasn't strong enough to kill this thing. I was hoping for some sort of massive power buff that would let me kick arse and take names.

The other thing was simply because, before it lunged down at me and ripped me in half, its head fell to the ground, right by me. Its long, snake-like body flopped to the ground in a heap and a flash of golden hair waved in the whipping winds.

A pair of golden eyes flashed back at me with a slight, worried frown that only increased when she saw my blood-drenched face.

I think my grin might have made it worse but I couldn't help myself, "We really need to stop meeting like this, kid."

"Are...you alright?" Aiz asked me quietly and I gave a strong nod, already feeling much stronger with the migraine I just had finally gone.

"This isn't my blood," I lied to her face but it didn't seem to lessen her worry, "Look after your Familia, Aiz. Lefiya took a pretty bad hit."

I didn't even see her move before she leapt over to where the elf was. I glanced at the two sisters who had managed to tear themselves free but they were rushing over to Lefiya rather than me.

Good. Their Familia should come first rather than someone like me and it seems they didn't hear what I said. With that thought in mind, I didn't waste any time approaching the fallen head and sticking my hand in its gaping, sharp mouth.

All I had to do was-

The ground beneath my fit shook like it was having a seizure. I felt my heart drop along with a familiar shape in my hand. I ripped out my fist and started running before the earth beneath me exploded.

It kinda reminded me of how those action movies had people walk away from explosives. Now, I've had the very lucky pleasure of never being near a literal explosion. But I imagined that if I ever was, it wouldn't be at all what I experienced in that moment.

Three more of those fucking parasites bursted through the ground, right below me and I watched as the world tipped and turned and curved. My feet and hands only found air as I was forced up high into the air, unable to control myself. I twisted my head to see three, sharp-toothed maws shooting straight for me.

Oh. That's not good.

MP: 0

"Geōmanteia!"

The buildings had already been abandoned, so I didn't feel too bad when I used them as a weapon. Glass shattered and wood cracked as the nearest building's roof twisted and turned like clay. A trio of stalagmites as thick as a tree trunk shot out, spearing towards the parasites.

See, here's the funny thing with Geōmanteia. I couldn't use it before due to lacking enough MP but it seemed that certain things were out of my price range as it were. I couldn't say, build a tunnel in the Dungeon or underground. But if I kept it small, I could make a small dagger easily enough and still have some MP left over. It seemed proportional to what I'm actually doing rather than having a set cost.

It was a big trump card of mine and I didn't want other people to know about it.

But it's either that or I risk getting chomped. I didn't really have a choice.

Of course, despite the sight of it which was quite astonishing no doubt to some people, the three spears of stone were broken into dust, the trio of parasites easily overcoming the wrought earthen spears.

Oh. Right. Two Level 5s couldn't break through the skin with their bare fists.

Well. Fuck.

I didn't shut my eyes because fuck that. You don't shut your eyes and hope everything gets better.

Which I guess, is what made the next few moments, incredibly fucking odd to my eyes.

I felt the wind whip itself into a frenzy. The remains of my spears were swept away in the sudden tornado that had erupted out of nowhere and the parasites were suddenly changing course, no longer going for me but for what I could only describe as a large ball of verdant winds charging straight for me.

It didn't reach me because like a pack of hungry piranha, they fell upon the ball of wind and smashed it into the ground. I felt something jerk me by the collar and I felt myself all but launched to the ground.

You know, I never did find out if I can take fall damage. Or if I can drown.

Things to experiment with. If I survive this, that is.

HP: 108 (+33)

Grim Endurance: 21 Seconds

It was a weird filling, smashing into the ground. I could feel the shock reverberate throughout my body but there wasn't any pain or broken bones. Just one and done deal of being smashed into the ground like a human pancake.

I didn't waste any time shooting myself up from the cracked ground. My plan right now was very simple:

Run the fuck away.

Bell and Hestia aren't here and I have no MP left. There's no point in me staying here any longer than I should. I thought the new Skill would give me some sort of edge but I have no idea what it does. Even if it can help me, I doubt I'll get a power boost big enough to make a difference.

But before I could even get one foot out of the fucking ground, I froze on the spot and my blood chilled.

She must've been 5, 6? Possibly even younger. A little girl, teary-eyed and shaking, was hiding behind a large wooden box in the alleyway I was knocked into. She was holding her two dog-like ears on the top of her head, curled into a ball as she cried and cried which went unheard over the sounds of fighting.

I think it doesn't need to be said but I have a soft spot for kids. Children, really. Always have and probably always will. I wanted to have a family of my own one day, settle down with a woman that I loved, even if I'm fucking useless in romance.

So, when I saw there was a kid in this fucking warzone, I don't think it needed to be said that I didn't run away. I, in fact, ran towards the lone, crying child.

Poor kid must be fucking terrified. I felt my heart lurch in my chest at the sight and I tried to think of what I could do, a million thoughts going through my mind. I was already in arms reach when I saw the trio of parasites speed around the corner, chasing that weird ball of verdant winds. But it was lesser now, weaker.

And I saw that, inside of that mystical sphere of wind, Aiz. I didn't really bother thinking about that small detail because I was already desperately trying to shield this scared child with my own body.

I might die. It could be very likely. I didn't want to die, not really.

But my body was just moving on its own at this point. There was a child, an actual child, in danger and right in front of me.

I'm willing to do a lot of selfish things. Maybe even morally dubious things, if I had enough of a reason to do it.

But I have never and will never just sit back and watch a child in danger and do nothing about it. I refused to sink that low when I was younger and at my lowest point and I refuse to sink that low now.

I threw myself over the crying kid, closed my eyes and waited. It was like a physical weight upon my back, the wind and the fucking parasites bearing down on me like a guillotine.

Then the air exploded behind me and I struggled to remain grounded. The small shaking person in my arms would've been blown away, no doubt about it. I waited until I felt those sharp teeth sink into my back but nothing happened. I opened my eyes and risked a glance behind me.

My throat grew tight when I saw that the parasites had converged upon the sphere of wind, like a ball of snakes intertwined with each other.

I guess a real hero did decide to show up, in the end.

I'll admit, I wanted to help. But with no MP, I really was useless. At some point, you have to recognize when and where you're useless. And this is exactly one of those times.

And I can't risk the life of this kid. So with a grimace, I held on tightly to the kid and ran away. I didn't really pick any direction besides anywhere fucking else. I've never been to this part of Orario so I really didn't know where the fuck I was.

It was only when the sounds of fighting grew dim and faint did I finally take the time to stop. Letting my back hit the wall, I glanced down at the shaking child in my arms.

Fuck. She was so light. It was unreal.

And this was a really, really bad scene right now.

"Hey," I said softly, gently placing her down on a random wooden box. I got on my knees and got on level eye contact with the child. Or tried to, at least considering that she was sniffling into her hands.

"Hey, it's alright now. The scary monsters are gone. You're safe now," My voice was low and soothing. I didn't want to initiate physical contact if I didn't have to. The kid was scared shitless and I'm a stranger. The last thing I need for her to do is start panicking because some guy covered in his own blood started trying to give her a hug.

Her eyes were puffy, red and wet. Her clothes, a simple dress, were covered in dirt and grime. Her sleeves were damp with her tears and snot which glistened on her face. She had two dog ears on her brown hair and she gave me a frightened look.

"It's tomato juice," I told the boldest fucking lie and by god, she looked like she believed me, "I was enjoying a nice cup of it before the monster showed up, so don't be scared."

"R-Really?"

"Really," I lied again with a nod and she seemed to calm down, if only a tiny bit, "My name's John. What's yours?"

"...K-Katherine…"

"Katherine. That's a cute name," I smiled a little bit and her cheeks turned red and she ducked her head, embarrassed, "Okay Katherine, where are your mommy and daddy?"

"I-I don't know," She all but whispered, her small voice hitching, "T-There was a lot of noises and I got scared and then there were monsters and, and-!"

"It's okay, it's okay," I said soothingly before she could burst into tears, already seeing where she was going. Her parents panicked along with probably everywhere else and they must've lost sight of her. Without her mom or dad, she did what kids do when scared shitless and waited in one place, hoping they would come back and find her.

Still, there weren't any dead from what I could see. The Guild was already evacuating the people before those fucking parasites showed up. It's more than likely they're still alive which made me thankful.

Seriously, I'll have to tell Eina about this at some point. She just saved a family. I bit my lip for a moment, thinking over what to do.

I still haven't found any sign of Bell, Hestia or Syr. Which means they're either lost, dead or safe.

Which, you know. Made me feel all warm and fucking fuzzy inside.

I looked at the sniffling kid in front of me and I realised that my choice was already made. Putting on a small smile, I touched her small shoulder and she gave me a wet, scared look.

"How about we find your mommy and daddy, eh?" I said gently and her puffy wet eyes went wide, "I'm also looking for people, so why don't we look together?"

It was bullshit, of course. I'm not going to drag this kid around and look around for my people. But it'll make her feel better if she's helping me. Hopefully, anyway.

"B-But there are monsters…"

"And they're scary," I gave a sagely nod which she returned, "But would you believe that I'm actually an Adventurer?"

"R-Really?!" She asked, wide-eyed with such childish joy that it made me smile.

"Really. I might not look like much but no monster can get past me, you can count on that," I said with full confidence, "So how about it, Katherine? Want to find your mommy and daddy together?"

Obviously, she did but she didn't say so straight away. She couldn't look me in the eye, deciding that the floor was much more interesting.

"...M-Mommy always told me not to go with strangers…"

There it was. I'm probably the strangest person in Orario as well.

"She sounds like a smart woman," I said softly and her head practically almost tore itself with how fast she nodded, "And she's right, you can't trust strangers. But sometimes, you have to take a risk and I promise, I'll help you find your parents."

It wasn't much. But that was all I can offer right now.

"...Promise?"

"Promise," I said with a smile and she seemed to cheer up a little, "So let's go and find your parents, alright?"

"...Alright," She said softly and she put her arms out to me. I understood the gesture so I lopped my hands under her arms and went to set her on the ground.

Except I didn't because she wrapped her arms around my neck, burying her head into my shoulder.

"...Don't wanna walk."

What a selfish brat. Despite that thought, I couldn't stop myself smiling ruefully. Shifting my hands and arms a bit, I was able to carry her easily enough. I didn't know where people would be, but if I had to guess, the colosseum? If not that, either Babel or the Guild. It had to be one of those places, you don't just let evacuees run rampant through a city. You set up a location and keep them there until something can be done.

So either one of those three. If I find someone from the Guild, I can hopefully ask them.

There wasn't any conversation between me and the kid. I don't think they would appreciate them and I don't blame them. Katherine probably just wants her parents back and to go back home. Fuck, I hope I didn't destroy it earlier.

She shook slightly while I was holding her but I knew it wasn't from the cold. Poor thing must be fucking terrified and I wondered how scared she was of me. It hurt to think about but I pushed it to the back of my mind.

I need to find her parents. I did make a promise, after all.

I was using Babel as a landmark because that was the only thing I recognized in this part of Orario, so I started walking towards that.

Unfortunately, that didn't last long.

I heard something scrape against stone, like a knife on a chalkboard and Katherine practically froze in my arms. My instincts screamed at me to stop, so I did. In front of me, something inhuman came around the corner.

And it was the most beautiful monster I've ever seen.

Standing at what must've been two, two and a half meters tall, I could simply call it a giant mantis. Because that's exactly what it was; a giant mantis.

But that didn't really do it justice just how unearthly beautiful it was. Its carapace wasn't a simple green exoskeleton but one made out of pure, multifaceted crystal. Even its eyes were made out of crystals that seemed to blend in vibrant colours of rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Its long two claws of emerald and amethyst were jagged and sharp as they cut grooves into the side of stone buildings. Its onyx-black pupils honed in on me and I could feel its rising bloodlust.

Oh. So that's where the Crystal Mantis was.

That's fucking...fuck me.

Fuck today. Seriously.

"Katherine, hold on. And whatever you do, don't let go. Can you do that for me?" I kept my voice calm and soothing as I took a hasty step back. I could feel her shakingly nod into the crook of my shoulder, her small hands balling tightly onto my clothes.

And without a single word, I turned heel and fucking ran. The Crystal Mantis screeched behind me and I felt the hairs on my neck raise.

God, I fucking hate this place.

.


.

Her chest felt tight. Her arms and legs felt heavy. The shield and the sword that she carried were like lead weights attached to her body. Alone, she knelt on the grimy, dirty floor, heaving and wheezing.

Her heart pounded in her chest, trying to leap out of her dry throat. She had to swallow it back every second.

For Iris Bennett, this was quite possibly the most scared she has ever been. She couldn't remember being this scared, not when she first had to cut the throat of a pig, not when she had to bleed it and gut it at the tender age of six.

Because a pig couldn't kill her. It was just a pig.

Despite her best efforts, she still hadn't found a Familia willing to take her in. While the words were different, the reason remained the same:

She was told that she wasn't fit to be an Adventurer. Again and again, over and over, she was told that she didn't have what it took to become an Adventurer.

She didn't know why. She's killed animals before so she wasn't squeamish about blood or guts. She actually thought that was a desirable trait considering Adventurers needed to cut open monsters to gather magic stones.

Was it her lack of experience in real-life combat? But she can't have been the only untrained Adventurer in Orario. And it's not like she can't get more experience.

In the end, it had to do with her goal:

She wanted to become an Adventurer to make money. That was it.

It's not like she lived in poverty or needed to send money to her family. She just always dreamed of making money as an Adventurer. She had no grand plan, no overarching goal.

She can't lie to the Gods. And if she tried, they wouldn't accept her anyways. Who wants a liar in their Familia in the first place?

Was that really so wrong? To become rich off of the Dungeon?

She thought about that older looking man she met when she was...perusing the wares of that book shop. She had been invited to join his Familia, the...Hestia Familia, was it? But even then, she dithered on it.

She didn't want to be dragged into conflict with another Familia, frankly. And she didn't think that was wrong, not really. There was no reason or benefit for her to get involved in that sort of squabbling.

But he was very upfront about everything. She could've been tricked into joining or lied to but he decided to tell her the truth which she respected and appreciated greatly. She eventually learned that the Soma Familia wasn't exactly looked on well and she could only deduce this was a simple if a violent case of bullying.

Still. She didn't feel truly convinced. She thought about going back home, greatly ashamed but at least she could say she did her best.

Using her dwindling funds, she decided to stay for the festival which turned out to be the worst decision she could've made.

She still remembers the feelings. Of cold, gripping fear. When she heard that bone-shaking roar, her entire body froze on the spot, her mind clamming up.

And she watched as this young man, a child really, punched a monster. With his bare fist.

She found her legs after that and she ran. She ran and ran and ran. She, who was much older and had a weapon, ran from the monster a child of barely 15 years punched.

And she realised; they were right. She really didn't have what it took to become an Adventurer.

Was it so wrong to seek riches in the Dungeon?

Yes, she decided glumly. Yes, it was.

She shakily stood up and decided it was time to leave. Not this dead end, dirty hole she had hidden in but Orario. Her dream was nothing more than a fantastical delusion and she was told straight out. She simply refused to listen.

She barely started to make her way out before she suddenly found an intruder in her hiding hole. Whoever it was sped around the corner, almost losing their footing with how fast they were going.

A pair of dark brown eyes found hers, a man that towered over her by quite a bit. It was the man known as John, she recognized faintly and was shocked by his sudden presence. She wasn't expecting to see him again, certainly not now.

She almost didn't recognize him due to him being covered in his own blood.

"Get back up against the wall, now!" He shouted, his voice carrying an iron-clad command. Iris' body reacted before her mind did, a foreboding feeling turning around her gut. As she did so, she heard something that made her stomach drop into a black gulf.

What she could only describe as a noise mixed with buzzing and the clinking of glass could be heard as a shiny glint went through the man's neck.

Or, it almost did but he dropped his head at the last moment and the sound of the air being cut ripped against her eardrums as she felt her knees go weak and her hands sweated with fear.

A giant monster, almost as big as the one that went after the child, stood between her and freedom. Instead of an ape-like creature, it was a giant mantis, carved from jewels and glass. Its two long claws had been cleanly stabbed into the stone.

The older man, holding his arms to his chest, looked wildly around him and she could see the desperation in his eyes as he realised that this was a dead end.

"Oh, give me a break!" He hissed angrily under his breath, turning his attention back to the bejewelled monster. He glanced back at Iris, a rueful glint in his eyes.

"Didn't expect to meet like this again, I'll be honest," The older man, John, said like it was all some sort of joke and she swore she could see him smirking, "Your luck must be as bad as mine, Iris."

Oh, he remembered her name. She didn't expect that. That caught her off guard, so her mouth just opened and closed uselessly. Any words she tried to say were caught in her throat, dying.

"Iris, even if you have a Falna, you're not gonna be of any help in fighting. This thing is from the Fifteenth Floor, at least," John told her without any hesitation, his voice clear and cut. The sound of stone being sheared could be heard as the crystal beast removed itself from the building and looked coldly at John.

Iris had done her research in preparation for her time as an Adventurer which would now never happen. She didn't memorize most monsters but she knew that the Fifteenth Floor was home to incredibly strong ones.

It was too much. Her shaking legs gave out from under her and she fell to the ground in a numb heap of dead limbs and a terrified mind.

She didn't want to die. She didn't want to die like this, in this dirty hole.

"Iris, look at me. Don't look at it. I need you here," John's calm voice did more for her state than his actual words but it was only a little. The older human stood between, his posture sure and strong. Slowly, he walked backwards as the jewelled monster stalked towards him, scraping its claws against the ground, leaving grooves in the floor.

Without taking his eyes off the monster, he slowly took his arms off his chest and gently placed something on the floor that she couldn't see, "Go to the lady behind me. Don't worry, she's nice."

It was such a juxtaposition that it would've been comical. The blood-stained Adventurer standing off against this monster that had just carved stone like a knife through butter spoke like he was trying to soothe a child.

She blinked when she saw an actual child clinging to his leg, her whole body shaking. Her mouth went dry at the sight, her throat clenching.

"Katherine, do as I say. Please," John's voice was urgent but he maintained its calm. The small child, who Iris noticed was a Chienthrope, looked like she was going to break down any moment and she couldn't blame her. Slowly, she disentangled herself from John's leg and approached Iris who just looked on dumbly.

"Iris, listen to me. I need you to take Katherine and run away," John squared off against the bejewelled beast, putting up two fists like they were going to do anything, "I'll distract this thing. On my mark, go."

"B-But," She finally found her voice, hoarse and dry, "But what about you?!"

She couldn't see his face but she imagined that he had a rueful, wistful look on his face as he spoke in a defeated tone, "In the end, I am an Adventurer and it is my job to take care of monsters. Whether they're in the Dungeon or up here is just semantics. So do as I say and make sure that the kid can find her parents. I'll be fine."

It was a bare-faced lie. He won't be fine. He was already greatly injured. He had no weapons, no armour. Did he have spells? Skills? Gods, a trick up his sleeve or something to make sure they could get out of this alive, that's all she wants.

She found a small thing gripping onto her and she realised that the child, Katherine, had latched herself on Iris, her entire body shaking. A feeling welled up within her and she realised that this crying, scared child was in just as much danger as the rest of them. Protectively, she felt her arm go around the child, tightly.

She tried to force herself up. In her mind, she screamed at her frozen legs to move. She tried to do anything even resembling bravery, just an iota of it would've been enough.

But every clinking step of the mantis monster made her heart stop. Every time the sun glinted off its crystal carapace, her breath hitched. Her arms shook and her lungs felt empty of oxygen.

John, even as the mantis all but loomed over him, glanced back and his disappointed expression was like a thousand daggers in her heart. Letting out a breath, it seemed like his eyes burned like a bonfire as he turned his attention back to the monster.

"Alright then," He said calmly, looking at the monster that was going to kill him without fear or hesitation as he reached into his pocket.

"Plan B."

.


.

[Quest Issued!]

[To Rescue Fair Maidens; The Butcheress, The Prince And Their Child.]

[Iris Bennett has been paralyzed by fear, little more than a sitting foal for monsters. Katherine is but a child, scared and alone. You and you alone are all that stand between them and a messy, gory death.]

[The Crystal Mantis is a powerful monster. Its jewelled carapace can easily shatter blades and its front legs can carve stone and iron with impunity. It can claim the lives of even the strongest of Level 1s and the weakest of Level 2s.]

[The question isn't whether you can kill it or not. The question is, are you once again willing to put yourself on the line for two strangers? Even if it could mean your own death?]

[Rewards.]

[+200 Allocatable Excelia.]

[+20 Stat Points.]

[Title: Sentinel.]

[Passive Skill: Surmounting Fortitude.]

[NOTE: To Rescue Fair Maidens; The Butcheress, The Prince And Their Child has been automatically accepted due to User's actions and emotions.]

[NOTE: If you fail this Quest, Iris Bennett and Katherine will die.]

I really didn't care about the Quest. It was useless to me right now. Didn't even get the chance to reject.

Not sure if I would, honestly.

This fucking thing nicked me in the back earlier and I could tell that if it wasn't for Thick Skin, I would've been dead. I can't fuck around here. Especially with Iris and Katherine behind me.

Poor kid. She didn't deserve this. But if I live through this, maybe it'll be a good lesson for her in what kind of life she's getting herself involved in. She might not become an Adventurer but maybe that was for the best.

It's not a lifestyle I would pick for anyone, honestly.

She wasn't going to run, I think. She's too scared. She's shaking just as bad as Katherine and I can't force her to run right now. She has a sword and shield, but well. Honestly, she might as well have nothing at all.

I'll say it once and I'll say it again:

I do not consider myself a bad person. Nor do I consider myself a good person. I'm certainly not a hero, certainly not someone that's willing to put my neck out for strangers.

But I can't just let these kids die in front of me. Not when I can do something about it. And what's the point of this System thing if I'm just going to stand back and watch shit like this happen?

So fuck it. Aiz ain't here to rescue me again. All that stands between this fucking monster and the death of two innocent young girls is me.

And I am nothing if not a really fucking good meatshield.

[Touch Of The Uncrowned Heir: Activated. Violas Magic Stone Cleansed.]

I felt something hot and boiling rush through me, like molten lava was injected into my veins. It was a good, refreshing feeling that made my spine tingle.

Okay. That was new.

[Please pick your Reward.]

[Any Minor Trait of your choosing, regardless of conditions.]

[+10 Stat Points.]

[+5 Spell Upgrades.]

[+150 Allocatable Excelia.]

[Permanent +50 to your maximum HP and +50 to your maximum MP.]

[+2 Skill Upgrades.]

[Reveal a Major Trait's requirements.]

Oh my fucking god.

For a single moment, I felt fucking cheated.

I got this from one fucking magic stone? There were three fucking more back there! I could've stayed and fucking scavenged them when they were killed!

Fuck sake. Either way, I knew what I had to pick and I had to do it fast.

[HP and MP have been increased by 50.]

HP: 150

MP: 328

Okay. Okay. That's good. Wasn't expecting to fully restore my HP or MP but fuck me, I'll take it.

Maybe I can actually do this now. Think about all the wacky shit that's happened later. All that matters is that Iris and Katherine get out of this alive. That's all I have to worry about right now.

I glared at the looming monster, its movements jerky yet clean as I could feel its bloodlust like a physical weight on me.

It didn't really have anything on the Minotaur, honestly. Not even close.

Alright. Let's fucking do this.

MP: 318

Taunt Used on: Crystal Mantis.

[Crystal Mantis resisted Taunt due to Charm.]

What the fuc-

HP: 78

A blow that should've sliced me in half drove me into the right-hand wall, the stone cracking and falling on me like little pellets of rain. I heard two screams echo out and I didn't waste a second.

MP: 128

Overwhelming Smash: 120 MP Spent.

Bloody-Handed: Activated.

Iron Grit: Activated.

Battle-Mind: 8 Seconds.

I flung myself from the caved-in wall, a plume of dust following me as I reared back my fist and threw my body behind the blow, crashing it against the bejewelled chest of the Crystal Mantis.

[Target has resisted Broken Bones.]

[Target has been inflicted with Bloody-Handed (1) for ten seconds.]

The Crystal Mantis skidded back from my fist, its legs unable to find proper anchorage on the ground. It didn't crash into the other wall but it smacked against it, a little web of cracks spreading out.

The Crystal Mantis stared at me with its unblinking eyes of black onyx. A razor-thin crack could be seen on its chest, where my fist had struck. I felt my face twist into a scowl and I put my fists up once again.

I can now safely say.

That today officially fucking sucks.

"Alright," I spat out at the overgrown bug, "Let's see how long it'll take to crack you open."

.

.


So I'm actually quite unsure about this chapter. It's gone through a few rewrites, let me tell you guys. The main issue was with the whole Uncrowned Heir thing and trying to get to that bit without everything dragging on.

Now, I bet some people are going to have some issues and I'll like to address them:

Is John going to be involved in the Sword Oratoria story?

The answer is, somewhat. While there will be some overlap, for a good portion, this is a Danmachi Fic, not a Sword Oratoria one. Now, this is where things get a bit iffy for me because while I was writing this, I suddenly started having doubts, like some major ones.

The problem is, I don't want John to be involved in every little mess because that's bad writing. But I realised that with how I planned stuff, it was almost kinda inevitable and I was a fucking moron for not realising it sooner. I decided to change my plans to be something a little less drastic and I'm...well, not pleased but I'm content with how it turned out.

With that, I would like to make an announcement. I know I write big A/Ns and people only probably skim them so I want to write this while it's near the top.

I'm gonna take a break from Crawling. A...hiatus, if you will.

A scary word, I know.

This doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing overall, I hate myself too much to stop that. No, it just means I'm gonna take a small break from writing this story almost exclusively for...months now, really. I've always been upfront with you guys, so I'll be upfront here as well. I just have this urge to write other stuff other than Crawling and it's interfering with my muse as it were. For instance, while writing this, I kept writing Demon Of The Sword Chapter 2 (Crawling x Shield Hero for those that don't know) which is currently at 15k words. Silver Fist Chapter 3 (GSP Exalted) is at 18k words and there is currently the Loki IF Route and Creature If Route which is at a meagre 3k words and 5k words, respectively.

So yeah. I'm gonna take a break from Crawling and write some other stuff for a while. Hell, I might even make Demon Of The Sword and Silver Fist fics in their own right. I quite enjoyed writing them, a lot even, and I know people watch the Landfill for other stuff.

Of course, at least this time, you guys know. Some of the older readers probably know what I'm talking about when the yearly hiatuses struck.

That was a fun time for them, I'm sure.

Right, with that out of the way, let's get talking about this chapter.

So, this is probably where you can once again see some of the AU stuff peek its head out, giving a little teaser. Now, I have a few fan theories about the whole thing in Sword Oratoria but I'm like 99% sure that the corrupted-

Spoilers by the way.

Corrupted Spirits, cloudy magic stones and shit aren't natural to the Dungeon. I don't know about other people, I don't really read stuff that people have said about Danmachi like a sub-reddit or like a thread, so this is just me talking but yeah, regardless of the actual canonicity of it all, I've basically made it into an AU and while there aren't a lot of clues, you guys can probably pick up what I'm writing down.

I cringed while writing that sentence and it's your fault.

Now onto other stuff, like reviews. I'm glad that people seemed pleased by the choice of Terra Knight. I deliberately haven't released it on the Landfill and I probably won't until John actually gets it. The reason for this?

Simple. It gives me wiggle room to do what I want and not box myself in. I admit this without any fucking shame whatsoever so bite me. I ain't showing everything behind the fucking curtains in which I'm not pulling pipes or whatever but I'm actually curled up into a ball, crying and using my tears to write down ideas that might or might not work out.

A pretty natural state of being for all fanfic writers, I think.

Now, I did see one massive review which I read and it got me thinking about something that I wanted to mention.

Specialization vs Generalization.

So, I'll come out and say it: I much prefer Specialization over Generalization. Like, massively. So I'm biased but don't tune me out just yet.

I think this is called Author Appeal, actually? Is that a term? I saw it on Tv-Tropes, so fuck it, I'm using it.

Anyway, back to my point, there are a couple of reasons why Terra Knight was chosen, both in character and out of character.

The first is simple and a reason stated before is that I simply enjoy it a lot more when characters, main characters that is, are really, really fucking good at this one thing and this one thing alone. It defines them, gives them character. You can look at a character and go "oh shit it's that one guy with a massive fucking cock that can spew lava" you know? This in turn, also makes them weaker in other areas but that is completely fine. That also gives them character and depth that I think Generalizing a character's skill set takes away.

You can see it in my other fics (strangely, despite writing so much, I only have like...four fics total? For now at least. Overlord's Dragon, DxD, Crawling and Wayward Blade.) In Dragon, Dracul is someone who swords good and fires good. In DxD (which is now dead by the way I fucking strangled it in the crib, no remorse) Adam sworded good, magic good and light thingy that never went anywhere because I got bored.

I do miss DxD though, it was kinda stupid fun to write even if I do think it was an irreparable mess. Moving on, I don't think I have to talk about Crawling and Wayward Blade is actually a bit more...complicated?

I won't go into detail but Solar Exalted are bullshit and it's a long complex thing. Basically, Atsali had big lion-horse pet which could fly and he also sworded good (see a pattern here yet? Because I just did, holy shit) but I think you guys get the idea now.

In any sort of fic that I write, you guys will almost always see this kinda thing because I just enjoy it, honestly. Now, that isn't to say Generalizing can't do the same. Everything that I have just said can apply to a character that has a more generalized skill set if it makes sense for him to. It can be a thing in and out of itself where he can ever become a master of one or a jack of all trades.

Another out of character reason is a Motif. I'm a fucking sucker for motifs. Obviously, I don't like putting them willy nilly but I like em when they work. For John, it's two-fold; Bears and Earth. Bell, Rabbits and Fire. You get the idea. John is a stubborn mother fucker, he can take a hit and dish it out but he's also more emotional and caring then he lets himself show. He's also incredibly fucking grumpy, so there's that.

Speaking of which, I listen to music while I write and I just listen to whatever. I found a song that really quite fit John which is Walk by Saint Chaos if anyone is interested. It was actually a really good song but I listen to anything and everything, so you know.

So far, these two reasons are just things that I like. So what about in character?

In character, John enjoys the stableness of Earth Spikes and he's always trying to increase his survivability and his MP usage. Terra Knight offers him that and more without making him crippled in a way that he can't handle, like not punching monsters or not using maces that he's grown accustomed to using. Earth magic itself has already proven to be John's biggest ally and magic in general, to John, is way too useful for him to throw away. What's the point of going Elemental Knight if Geōmanteia is only going to partially benefit him when it could do so much more?

Second reason is, John can already punch above his weight now. And to him, making himself that much stronger by concentrating on what he's good at and what he could be fucking great at will make him that much stronger and be able to blindside people that could prove a threat to him or the people he cares about. While he could do this in, honestly anything he chose, he's already set in his ways and there's no real shaking them.

The third is, strangely enough, healing. This ties into the second reason pretty heavily but as it's shown, John's strongest spell isn't an offensive one but the one that can heal damage. It's the one he uses the most of and would probably already be dead without it. That's why he didn't care much for Death Knight, despite the potential army rising he could do. Paladin itself had stronger heals but it wouldn't benefit from his Skill but he was willing to ignore that for its general buffs.

With that in mind, Terra Knight was chosen. Also, I just feel like Earth Magic gets kinda under-used in general. Like, it's always Fire, Thunder or Air stuff, you know? Whatever happened to just beating a motherfucker with a rock? Caveman style.

A bit serious here but if anyone here reads this and wants some advice on writing, don't take any of what I said as gospel or even advice. I've actually been PMed a few times for advice (not a lot but hey) So I'll give this for free but you can't really know what you like until you do, if that makes any sense.

Like, I didn't really know I enjoyed characters that I wrote until I actually did it. For instance, in Silver Fist, the main character is a martial artist. I originally did this because I wanted something a bit different but I actually really enjoyed writing it. Same thing with John, I didn't originally plan for Terra Knight But it happened and I liked it.

So go out, experiment. See what works and what doesn't. Writing is supposed to be fun, have fun with it. God knows not much else is fucking fun today. I haven't bought any video games in like, a year? All that comes out is uninteresting shit, honestly. I used to play WoW a lot, got pretty into raiding and then fucking WoD dropped and holy shit. Legion was fun but then BFA and Shadowlands and christ.

I'm actually a big fan of WoW, believe it or not. So. Yeah. You know.

(Warlock is the best class, by the way. Miss me with that DK and DH shit.)

I believe that's everything? Can't think of anything else right now.

Oh right! I just realised! I've been fucking writing Excelia wrong this entire time! Nice!

Let me take this time to just say, trying to edit chapters on this site is torture. You have to copy the chapter, edit it and then replace it with the new chapter all for like, a typo or something. It's really annoying.

But hey, the jokes on me for writing here.

Right, that's most certainly everything. I think. I hope.

See you guys later.