Is it wrong to crawl my way back home, one dungeon floor at a time?
Bell Cranel was not having a good day.
He had entered the Dungeon in hopes of a great many things.
The boy dreamt of romance. Of cute girls and mayhaps even older women, these thoughts put inside of his head by his grandfather and exacerbated by his own young, naive and slightly corrupt mind.
He wanted to grow up and become a proper man. He wanted to become a legend like the stories he grew up.
Bell Cranel wanted a romance.
Fantasizing about a harem of young beautiful women as well is just part and parcel for being a young man. And who knows? Maybe even rescue a young maiden and fall in love?
Is that so wrong?
As the bullhead monster known as the Minotaur chases him throughout the labyrinthian corridors and stone hallways known as the Dungeon, mere inches away from the rampant furious rampant bull monster, Bell Cranel can only come to one conclusion:
Yes. Yes, these thoughts were wrong.
The hoof of the Minotaur comes crashing down behind him and Bell is sent flying forward, missing him by a small margin.
Face planting into the stone cracks of the Dungeon floor, Bell quickly rolls onto his back to see a cloven hoof just about to drop on him. With quick, rabbit-like reflexes, he rolls out of the way and scoots backwards frantically.
Only to have his back hit a wall. A dead end.
This is it, he realised.
He was going to die because of his naive thoughts. He was going to die and leave his Goddess all alone just like she was before they met.
The Minotaur looms over him, its shadow making it seem darker than it really is and its large glowing red eyes all the brighter. The Minotaur leans in close, close enough that its hot breath and snorts could be felt on Bell's face.
His teeth chatter uncontrollably and tears rolled down his cheeks freely. The Minotaur snout splits into a facsimile of a broken grin and raises his hoof above Bell, his body shaking all by itself.
Then Bell saw someone run around the corner.
It was not a grand entrance or even a graceful one. They ran around the corner so fast, they almost tripped up before catching themselves.
It was a man, Bell realised.
A portly looking man with black hair and wide brown eyes that had blackish bags underneath. He wore strange clothes that Bell wasn't familiar with, certainly not armour by the look of it.
He didn't even have a weapon.
Bell and the stranger locked eyes for a brief moment. Bell wants to shout at the man to run away and save himself but all that comes out of his mouth is a pathetic whimper. He pleads with his wet eyes for the man to run.
The stranger's jaw locks hard and his hands clench tightly into fists.
The man throws out his hand towards the Minotaur and from it, a ball of raging fire shoots out and hits the Minotaur in the back of the head.
A loud crack echoes around Bell and the feeling of scorching winds blast him in the face.
The Minotaur's inhuman grin falls. His hoof brought up high is smashed next against Bell and misses him by mere inches. The looming bull-man turns around, unhurt but not unbothered by the magic fireball, and faces down the stranger who looks back at the Minotaur, taking a shaky step back and his eyes wide as if he couldn't believe what he just did.
That was all the stranger said to Bell as he suddenly turns around run with the Minotaur chasing after him, having forgotten about Bell and blinded by fury and rage at being attacked.
As the man ran with the Minotaur rampaging behind him, Bell Cranel's head was awash in a sea of thoughts that all jumbled together.
He had been saved. He had the chance to run and live. To see his Goddess again, safe and sound.
The only thoughts that ever crosses his mind are about the man who saved him.
The man who may have just given his life so he could live.
Bell Cranel's body moved on its own. He forces one foot in front of the other, slowly at first until he picked up speed and then running straight towards the roars of the Minotaur and the rapid expletive stream of swears of the man.
His grandfather used to tell him that the hero always saves the girl. But what kind of hero doesn't repay a favour?
Bell Cranel wouldn't realise that his hands stopped shaking until much later.
The comforting weight of his knife held within in his grip gave him comfort, no matter how small or little it truly was.
Running after the Minotaur and the stranger, Bell runs through the myriad and confusing hallways of the Dungeon, going deeper and deeper and the roars getting louder and louder.
"Move, you stupid cunt! Get the fuck out of the way!" The man yells at someone that Bell couldn't see. He sprints across the corner to see the Minotaur had chased the man all the way back to the entrance of the Sixth Floor.
With a wordless yell, Bell Cranel sprints towards the Minotaur, knife at the ready.
Only to be stopped as he noticed something strange about the Minotaur.
A thin line had cut across the Minotaur diagonally, from the neck all the way down to its thigh, cutting through its thick pectorals like they were nothing.
The Minotaur made a strange sort of noise and looks down on its self. As if it couldn't comprehend what just happened to it.
Then the blood starts spraying.
With a surprised dying roar, the raging monster known as the Minotaur which neither the stranger's magic nor Bell's knife couldn't even scratch is sliced up into little more than chunks of meat, its red viscera spraying over Bell like a baptism of blood.
And then he sees her.
Long, blond hair that seems like it was spun from real gold and a thin petite frame that radiates femininity, her chest constrained by her armour and light blue clothing. An emblem was engraved on her armour and that same emblem graces her graves and razor-sharp sabre. Her doe, gold eyes staring at him and he felt his heart almost explode at her stare.
"Are you two...okay?"
With a quiet, almost ethereal, voice, Aiz Wallenstein stands between the two male Adventurers.
Bell felt his heart go thump thump and his face heat up at the sight of this goddess that stood in front of him. Any moment, he felt like his legs would give way underneath him.
No, he was not okay, Bell Cranel thought.
This was definitely not okay, the young boy with snow white hair thought.
His soul was no longer his. It was hers.
Bell Cranel had fallen in love with Aiz Wallenstein.
A member of the Loki Familia and the person who had achieved the highest rank out of all the female races, Level Five.
Bell Cranel came to a different conclusion to his question:
Is it wrong to pick up girls in a Dungeon?
No. No, it isn't wrong.
Holy shit, what the fuck just happened?
One moment I was running for my life from that thing called a Minotaur and then I ran into this girl who looks vaguely familiar. I may have been a bit abrasive towards her, but I did have a Minotaur right on my goddamn tail.
Then she proceeded to kill it and turn it into shish kebab faster than it takes my heart to beat.
Which, considering its currently hammering in my chest, is pretty bloody fast.
"Uhmmm...are you sure you two okay?" The young blond girl asks again, her worried stare that keeps changing between me and the kid currently dripping with Minotaur blood.
Which begs the question of why the hell is he here? I purposefully saved his scrawny little ass at the expense of my own and he comes back to fight the fucking thing that almost flattened him into a pancake?
He's alive though. I'm alive. I suppose that's all that matters in the end.
"I'm fine," I say, though not without a shaky voice, and I look over to the kid, his snow-white hair now drenched in black blood, "Kid? Are you hurt?"
"Eh!?" The kid squeaks and tears his intense gaze away from the girl to look at me with those ruby red eyes of his.
"I asked if you were hurt," I frown at the kid, "If you are, I can heal you if you want."
Now, I don't know how Soothing Waters reacts on other people, but I sure it'll work with the same basic principle.
"U-uh, no th-thank you!" The kid can't even look me or the girl in the eye and suddenly spins around and runs off without warning.
I could barely piece together what he said in that rush of words, but I think he said thanks?
Just as he runs around the corner, I could've swore he trips and lets out a squawk or something similar.
"What a bloody day…" I mutter under my breath and the blond girl turns to look at me, "Thank you for-"
"Pfthahahahaha!" A sudden burst of laughter from up ahead interrupts me and I turn my head to see someone walking towards us.
He was a man with light grey hair and amber eyes. He has some sort of tattoo across his right eye and…
Dog ears? And a tail? Where have I-
These two were with Loki. Back at the Hostess of Fertility a couple of weeks ago.
Ah, fuck me sideways.
At the man with white dog ears laughter, the blond girl's face lights up in a blush and she glares right at him.
"Did ya see that kid trip over himself when ya looked at him, Aiz?!" The man says in hysterics, barely able to get a word out before he starts howling with laughter.
I don't see what's so funny about a kid being traumatized by a near-death experience, but hey. Whatever floats your boat, mutt.
"Thanks for saving the kid and me," I get the blond girl's attention and give her a brief nod, "I don't really want to think about what could've happened if you didn't get here in time."
Without waiting for her to say anything, I turn around and go towards-
I feel something clasp on my shoulder and I try my best not shoot off any Earth Spikes.
"You can't go down."
I turn my head to see the blond girl's face close to mine with a slightly worried frown.
Before I could snap at her, I bite down on my tongue. This girl just saved my life and not to mention just killed that beast over there like it was nothing.
"And why is that, exactly?"
"Because ya weak is one reason," The man behind the girl tells me bluntly, "Ya won't last long any further down in the Dungeon."
Well, that doesn't make much sense considering I've been down on the Sixth Floor by myself before but whatever I suppose.
"Are you telling me there are more of those bloody things down there?" I point to the pile of kibble that was the Minotaur the girl had chopped up.
It was only for a brief moment but I saw the man scowl if only for a second.
As if that wasn't enough evidence, the blond girl looks away as if in shame.
"Listen to me small fry, just leave the Dungeon and-"
"No," I interrupt the dog man who scowls at me even more, "I'm not going to inconvenience myself just because you guys made a mess of things."
This can't be happening. My last day, my last fucking chance, to go home and there are bloody Minotaurs roaming about underneath me.
"And why do ya think it's our fault, fat ass?" The dog man growls at me and gets right in my face, scowling and baring his teeth, walking slowly towards me.
"Because I'm not stupid," I snap at him, my hands clenching into fists, "I know what spawns on Floors One to Six and none of those Floors spawns fucking Minotaurs. You and your little 'Familia' screwed something up on the lower Floors and this is the result. Do what you want about it or not, but I am going to down into the Dungeon."
"It's not safe," The blond girl says softly, frowning at me and I couldn't help but scoff, "You could die."
"It's the Dungeon. Of course it isn't safe," I lock eyes with the growling mutt in front of me and I couldn't help but scowl at him, "My safety is my responsibility so worry about your own. Either clean up your mess or don't, but you're not going to stop me from going down."
Without waiting for an answer, I turn around and start making my way to the Sixth Floor as I feel the dog man's glare a hole through my head.
I didn't make it two steps before I feel something gently hit me in the back of my head.
I slowly turn to meet face to face with the blond girl from before, looking up at me with wide eyes and even the dog guy looks shocked.
What took the cake of this situation was the handle of her sword currently at eye level.
"Did you…" I quickly reach the back of my head as if to check that I was bleeding or if I had a bump, "Did you just try to knock me out?"
We stared at each awkwardly for far too long. It was like neither of us really knew how to react. I think she expected to knock me out but because of my 'Gamer Mode' I can't physically be knocked out.
I've been thrown against enough walls to know that little tidbit.
What she did do though, is nearly kill me.
"...Why did you just try that?"
"...You said your safety is your responsibility," The girl says softly and quietly as if trying to find the right emotions was something hard for her, "But...I saw that Minotaur chasing that person from before. And then I saw it chasing you…Why did you put yourself in danger?"
"That's different," I immediately say, "He's a kid. He shouldn't be here in the first place."
"Hmph," The dog man snorts, "Even if he is a weakling, he's an Adventurer. He should know what he signed up for."
"He's a fucking kid," I was surprised at how I intense that came out and going by how the mutt started blinking at me, so was he.
"He probably had his head filled with stupid stories or whatever about being an Adventurer and he decided to become one for some godforsaken reason. Say what you want about knowing what he signed up for, it doesn't change the fact that he almost died because of something you guys did."
The man scowls at me something fierce, his teeth bared like a growling dog, "In the Dungeon, anythin' can happen-"
"That doesn't make it okay!"
My shout echos out and beats against the stone walls, causing the girl to jump slightly. My beating heart and the rush of blood in my veins are almost overpowering in my ears.
"Try and justify it all you want, but at the end of day, whatever you and your Familia did on the Lower Floors caused this and it almost got a kid killed! You may not be responsible for his safety but you are responsible for almost getting him killed!"
I just don't get it.
How can he stand there and act like it's no big deal? How can he stand there and justify it by saying the Dungeon isn't safe? Like I don't know that already, like no one knows that already.
I've had enough of this place. I've had enough of everything.
With a deep breath, I calm myself down and ignore the two onlookers, bringing my hands up to me.
Just like last time, a large globule of water forms in between my hands and starts to spreads across my arms, the familiar bone-chilling sensation of icy cold waters causing me to hiss.
"What the hell kinda spell is that?" The mutt asks me. The blond girl was staring at me intensely for some reason.
"The best kind of spell. The one that's none of your fucking business, you twat."
"You fat shi-!"
Before he could do anything, the girl steps in front of him and gives him a stern glare from which he backs down, but not before giving me a glare with gritted teeth that could kill me if it was filled with any more hate and scorn.
50 MP left. I can cast two Soothing Waters or five Earth Spikes. That's not even taking into account my now drastically lowered HP, low enough for a single hit from a War Shadow to kill me.
...I really can't win, can I?
A heavy sigh escapes my lips and my shoulders sag as if something was pressing down upon them.
Because of course she would try to knock me out. Because why wouldn't she? Why would she even care about some nobody?
"I'm going back up to the surface," I bluntly tell the two Adventurers in front of me, the girl looking at me with wide surprised eyes, "That spell I just casted along with the other spell I used on the Minotaur means I'm too drained for Floor Six."
And it was true. I can't risk waiting for my MP to regenerate, especially with a possible Minotaur or even Minotaurs running around. And if I was honest to myself…
The Fireball from earlier already took a big chunk out of my MP. I was probably screwed over the moment I threw it.
I know when I'm beaten. And if this isn't being beaten, I don't know what is.
I had my chance to go back home.
And I lost it.
That kid is alive. He has a family to return to. A mum and a dad like anyone else. They won't have to bury an empty coffin because their son didn't return home one day.
It could be worse, I think. I think I could've done a lot worse.
My shoulders start to feel like they're full of lead. For the first time since coming here, I just want to sleep for the sake of resting instead of passing the time.
Ironic that I had to be homeless to feel that again.
"What's your name?" I ask the girl suddenly who blinks at me with those big gold pupils of hers, "I would at least like to know of the person I owe my life to and the woman who tried to knock me out."
"O-oh!" The girl blushes up something fierce and gives me a meek nod, "My name is...Aiz Wallenstein. Sorry for hitting you..."
The mutt lets out a 'tch!' but I ignore it for just giving Aiz a small smile and a laugh, "I've already said it, but thank you for saving that kid and me. Tell Loki that I'll have to decline her offer though. I don't think I'll be that good of a member anyway considering your friend here."
"Eh?! What the hell are yer talkin' about!?" Bete snarls at me from behind Aiz who just gives me a nod, "What offer?"
"Nothing important," I wave him off and start making my way to upstairs, "Happy hunting."
I want to go deeper into the Dungeon. I want it more than anything. But, that girl that barely comes above my shoulders almost killed me in one lovetap to the head. And that Minotaur would've killed me if it wasn't for her.
I can't do this. I simply can't.
It's liberating, in a way. To finally realise how much I was deluding myself into thinking I could conquer the Dungeon alone simply because of a few quirks.
But if it was so liberating…
Why do I have to force myself to walk back up? Why does every footstep filled like they're filled with lead?
Stupid question. I already know the answer. I wonder how far I could've gone if I just joined with a real Familia instead of getting impatient and just carried on lying non-stop?
"Wait," I hear Aiz's quiet voice say behind me and turn around to see her handing something to me.
"You forgot this...back at the tavern."
I hold out my hand to her, confused as to what she meant until she drops a familiar looking black talon onto my hand.
"Huh," I mutter as I look at the War Shadow's Finger Blade, "Why did you keep it?"
"Loki wanted...to give it back to you," Aiz tells me and I couldn't help but lift my brow.
Another trick from the trickster God?
Well, whatever. At this point, does it even matter?
"Thank you," I give Aiz a small nod and stuff the finger blade into my pouch and carry on going back up to the surface.
The finger blade burning a hole through my hoodie all the while.
In a room much like the one John and Eina sat in when handed his notice, Bell Cranel sits down with a nice warm towel around his shoulders and his adviser sitting opposite him.
"Miss Eina, there's someone else I want to ask you about…" Bell Cranel asks his adviser with an awkward smile. He already knew he was pushing boundaries with questions about Aiz Wallenstein but he needed to know about the stranger that saved him.
He didn't even want to know anything personal this time!
Miss Eina, his adviser at the Guild merely lifts her delicate eyebrow at him before letting out a sigh, "That depends, I suppose, on what you want to know. I hope this isn't about Miss Wallenstein again?"
"N-no!" Bell feels his face light furiously before trying and failing to calm down at the thought of his crush, "B-before that, there was someone else that saved me, He...he drew the Minotaur away from me."
Eina's frown softens as Bell describes the man in question, how he drew the ire of the Minotaur and how he possibly saved his life at the expense of his own had it not been for the intervention of Aiz Wallenstein.
As Bell tells Eina what the stranger looked like, her pretty face goes through a multitude of emotions, not least of all anger and worry. She lets out a tremendous sigh and her slender gloved hand clenches into a fist for a small moment.
"John, you stupid idiot…"
"Eh? Is that his name?"
Eina bites her lips in thought before she lets out another sigh and pushes up her glasses.
"The person you just described...He's probably John, an Adventurer that signed up about a month before you did. Only he wears the clothes you just described and he is a mage. I didn't expect him to be on the Fifth Floor though…"
John. Bell finally had the name of the man who saved him.
"Miss Eina, I know you're not supposed to tell me but...I really want to thank him. Can you tell me where his Familia is at least?"
Bell didn't know if John had left the Dungeon or if he was still in it but he at least wanted to leave a letter or something for him if just to express his thanks in some way.
Though going by how Eina bit her lip, that may not be possible.
"I'm sorry, Bell but John's Familia...from what I can tell and from what John told me, he's the only member and that's assuming he isn't...he isn't lying about that."
"Lying...about his Familia?" Bell mutters, unable to see what his adviser was getting at. To Bell, a Familia was like a family. Why would someone lie about their family?
Eina bites her lip yet again, her mind swirling with thoughts and what to tell Bell.
In truth, despite being his adviser, she and John had only talked at length about the Dungeon and what kind of monsters in there. It was a professional, almost cold, relationship as it should be, but...
She shouldn't get involved with an Adventurer so personally. Not when it has almost nothing to do with her.
But, if she simply left it alone, what would happen? What would John do?
John always gave her warm thanks whenever she helped him. He never boasted even as a human mage, which is rare enough and he doesn't try to flirt with her or her coworkers needlessly. She was convinced he isn't a bad person or at the very least, non-antagonistic.
But he was hiding something about himself. Something he didn't want others to find and he went to such lengths as to lie about his God and his Familia.
Which neither exist.
He said he was part of 'Yahweh's Familia'.
She had never heard of Yahweh before and at first, didn't think much of it.
However, as time passed and she never received a letter or anything from this 'Yahweh' and John did nothing but say 'he's secretive' and kept dodging the issue.
And so she did some digging and found out that no one, not even the other Gods had heard about this 'Yahweh'.
The idea of a God using an alias crossed her mind, but she doesn't think the other Gods would even allow that to happen. And even if he did exist, the way he treated John was not only cruel but also completely non-sensical.
She heard the rumours about a lone stone flinging mage in strange clothes around the Fourth or Fifth Floor. The idea of such a person going so deep so fast was unheard. It practically spoke of suicidal overconfidence.
He couldn't have gotten there by luck alone but his God did nothing to reign him in? Did they even do anything besides update his Falna?
And Eina keeps asking herself:
Would the blacklist even keep John from going into the Dungeon? If he was so desperate to reach whatever his goal was, would he let the law stop him?
She doesn't know.
And so, Eina Tulle makes her decision. Even if she isn't his adviser anymore, that doesn't mean she can't help him from killing himself.
"Tomorrow, due to a lack of involvement from his Familia and a lack of documents that are meant to come from his God, John will be blacklisted from the Guild and Adventuring as a whole because his 'Familia' is unable to pay the Familia Tax."
"...Eh?" Bell simply says as he didn't hear her the first time, "B-But why?! He didn't do anything wrong!"
"That's debatable, Bell," Eina says softly like an older sister trying to calm down her younger brother, "But John's God has been unable to prove that his Familia and by extension John himself are, by the Guild's standard, worth keeping around and supporting their endeavours. There's simply nothing I can do."
Bell's face drops as his heart sinks down to the depths. The person who had almost given his life to save his is to be thrown away like he was nothing.
He was alone. Just like how he was before he met Hestia.
Bell's hands tighten into hard fists, the knuckles turning white. His teeth clenched hard and the flames of determination flared to life in his rubellite eyes.
"There is something John can do though," Eina carries on talking and Bell snaps his eyes to hers, "If he joins a different Familia, a Familia that is known to the Guild...He won't be blacklisted as he is no longer part of the blacklisted Familia."
And like lightning, it struck Bell.
"So all that needs to happen is-!"
"-Is for John to simply join another Familia today, yes. If he is unable to find another Familia by tomorrow, it'll be too late though."
Bell bites his lips in thought but says no more. Both he and Eina silently got up from their sofas and make their way back to the Guild's front door.
At that moment, Bell made a choice.
Though they both may have been saved by Ainz Wallenstein, one of the strongest Adventurers in Orario, how could that be anything but pure luck? It was far more likely that they would've encountered other level 1 Adventurers. Would they have done the same as John and try to help?
He doesn't know. But he does know one thing.
"Miss Eina...would you know where John would be right now?"
His adviser gave him a small frown before letting out a sigh, "If I had to guess...He would still be in the Dungeon."
With a smile, the boy with snow white hair runs off, determination flooding his veins.
He needs to go back in the Dungeon and find John as soon as possible.
Hopefully without any Minotaurs this time...
Well, this could've gone better.
I jump away from the three lunging Kobolds as the three sharp stakes of stone pin them against the wall like mantels.
I feel something rake painlessly across my back and without hesitation, I bring my knife around in a reverse grip. It finds purchase as warm red blood splatter all over my hand. The Kobold that had run around me lies dead on the ground, blood pooling around its now cut open throat.
Three Kobolds trying to circle me let out a sudden welp of agony when they find their chests burst in a shower of red when my stone stakes embed themselves in their chests, their bodies hitting the ground with a dull thud.
4 remaining Kobolds circle around me like vultures, their glowing red eyes reminding me of that Minotaur that nearly ended my life.
It's not like the Dungeon cared for that though. As if sensing my weakness, it was like every step I took gave birth to a new Kobold or Goblin.
Was the Dungeon reacting to what was going on the Lower Floors? Does this have something to do with the Minotaurs?
Or maybe this thing is smarter than I gave it credit for and it knows when to take advantage.
Though I might have taken a bit longer than usual to reach through the Floors and back to the surface. So lost in my own thoughts, I forgot where I was.
Dying on the First Floor. What a joke.
"Talk about kicking me when I'm down," I say to myself, a grim smirk on my lips at the irony of it all. The irony of this being my last day isn't lost on me.
Not at all.
The four Kobolds carry on circling around, growling and gnashing me, their dog heads reminding me of rabid dogs.
If only Aiz didn't try to knock me out, I would've been done already.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" I say to the vultures gathering around me, spreading my arms out wide with a mocking smirk on my face, "I've been coming down here for weeks now and I haven't met anything that can hurt me yet. You're supposed to be monsters, right? Start acting like it."
As if they could understand my words, I hear a Kobold behind me start to growl like something that came from the depths of hell itself. Snapping around, I come face to face with a lunging dog man, red eyes glowing with rage and a hunger for flesh.
Of which, I'll admit, I have quite a lot of.
I bring my left arm up just in time as I feel its strong jaws clamp down around it and like the ravenous mutt that it is, starts trying to rip my arm away, glaring at me all the while with those glowing red eyes.
I bring my blood-caked knife up right into the things neck, spraying my face with warm metallic-tasting blood. With a grimace, I roughly tore my knife through one side of its neck to the other side, its ironclad grip of the jaw around my arm slacking with each visceral, wet push of the knife.
The red glow of its eyes dim to lifelessness and it slumps to the floor-
Something big smashes into my side and in a sort of a macabre show of wrestling, I end on my back, my knife skidding far away out of my reach. I look up to see a rabid snarling dog head uncomfortably close to me, drool dribbling down onto me and the hot rancid air of its breath hitting my face.
Just a few more seconds. Just hold out for a few more.
A blue screen opens up just as the Kobold goes for my throat.
As quickly as I could, I grab its jaws and snap them shut, but my arms shake like crazy as I try to both keep its jaw shut and push it back.
Snarling its teeth at me, it raises up a clawed hand only to bring it down on my head.
Snapping my head to one side, it barely misses me as the claws scratch the stone floor and leave deep claw marks into the blood-stained stone floor of the Dungeon.
My eyes dash to a small, thin black talon in my inventory. My last remaining item and the only thing that could possibly help me now.
Through the flurry of claws and snarls, I position my legs-
Only to find something clamp down on the both of them hard.
...Oh fuck, I forgot about the other two.
So. This is it.
I suppose I should be thankful that it doesn't hurt? I wonder how it'll be? Will I just turn off like a machine? Will a big red 'game over' hang over me?
If there's one thing I regret…
It's the fact that I was kind of a massive asshole to Syr and Ryu simply because they wanted to help me in their own ways.
'Do not go gentle into that good night'.
I always was a fan of that phrase even if this isn't anywhere close to what it meant originally. I like to think I put up a good fight at least. I made them work for it.
No one can say I didn't try.
My face twitches into a snarl of my own.
I shove my thumb into the glowing red of the Kobold. I couldn't keep the grim smirk off my face as more blood splashes onto me and it releases an ear-deafening howl that echos out throughout the Floor.
My hands free, I shove-
"Get off from him!"
The one-eyed Kobold is suddenly thrown off me by a kick that came out of nowhere. It rolls against the ground and the other two gnawing on my legs suddenly look up to see my saviour.
Quicker than I could react to it, he quickly stabs one of the Kobolds right through the skull and kicks the other right to the face, its head quickly snapping to one side at an awkward angle with a wet crack. Both of them slump to the ground like dolls without strings, falling to the side.
I look up to the person who saved me and they looked down at me, their ruby eyes filled with worry and his kiddy face marred with fear.
"Kid?" I say aloud in shock at the kid with snow-white hair who the last time I saw him was covered in Minotaur blood.
Shit, how long have I been down here?
The kid goes to say something before a growling behind him caused him to snap around and lifting up his knife in a reverse grip. The one-eyed Kobold that the kid kicked growls at the both of us, blood dripping down its face.
The Kobold doesn't have a chance as its body is peppered with three sharp stalagmites that tear themselves from the stone walls, two through the chest and one through its skull.
The kid snaps back to me, his mouth hanging open and his eyes wide.
"Sorry if I scared you with that," I shove myself up with a grunt of effort, "But that was probably my last spell. I'm kinda running dry here after the whole thing with the Minotaur."
"U-uhm, no it's fine!" The kid looks up at me, his not so subtly shifting away from looking at my eyes.
"Still though, thanks for the help," I let out a sigh and rub a hand through my blood-caked hair, "If you didn't turn up when you did, I probably wouldn't be alive."
The kid lets out some stutters that are quite frankly adorable and try not to smile at him considering how I'm drenched in blood. I doubt it would be seen so much as comforting as shit pants terrifying.
Until I realised something.
He's back. In the Dungeon.
"Kid," I suddenly speak, trying my best to be stern and his whole body suddenly goes rigid like a soldier being addressed by an officer, "You're not thinking of going back down there, are you? There could still be Minotaurs-"
"Ah! N-no, it's not like that. I'm, uhhhh...I wanted to...thank you?"
The kid cringes at every word as if he was thinking of them just as he was saying them.
I give him my best unimpressive stare and the poor thing just touches the tips of his fingers together with a small blush, looking up at me with those big round eyes of his.
"Kid, what's your name?"
"O-oh, sorry! Uhm, it's Bell Cranel! Nice to meet you, John!"
...Gods walk around like it's no big deal but it seems like someone up there is fucking around with me regardless.
"Nice to meet you, Bell," I give him a nod and he brightly smiles at me, "I'll ignore how you already know my name despite us only meeting today-"
"-But, if you're not going back down, we should probably start making our way up then."
"Uhmm…" Bell eyes me with a worried frown, looking over me, "Are you okay? Those Kobolds were on you and-"
"Don't worry about me. I'm tougher than I look, trust me."
The kid doesn't look convinced, but he does give me a small nod at least. He looks around us, taking in the numerous bodies of dead Kobolds and Goblins, most with an Earth Spike in them in some vital area.
Ah. I forgot. This kid is an Adventurer after all.
And he did just save my ass.
"Kid, if you want the magic stones, help yourself."
He looks back to me, eyes wide with shock, "A-are you sure? I mean, I only killed two…"
"But those two you killed saved my life," I couldn't help but smile at the honest kid, "So it balances it out. Plus, how many stones did you get before the whole Minotaur thing happened?"
At the mention of the Minotaur, I could see his body go still for just a moment before he glances towards his pouch on his hip.
"Come on, I'll give you a hand," I say to the kid and make my way to my knife that I dropped, "If you wanna talk about this more, we should probably get out of here and back to the surface where it's safe. Don't know about you, but I don't fancy being jumped on by some monsters again."
The kid gives me a weird stare with a furrowed brow but he gives me a nod and we get to work.
It's...disturbing seeing someone so young basically carve out monsters like a butcher. I understand that's how Adventurers get their money, but still…
Tearing my eyes away from the concentrated look on the kid's face, I got started on my work.
With the two of us working together, it was over pretty quick compared to when I used to do it by myself.
There are about 15 monsters in total, most of them the Kobolds that I had killed along with some stray Goblins that decided to intrude my little party with the dog men.
Fuck Goblins. Seriously.
If I had more MP, this wouldn't have been nearly as much as an issue, but considering my near death at the unwitting hands of Aiz, I had to spend most of it on healing myself.
What a day.
"And that's the last of it," I watch as the green Goblin turns to ash and I pick up the small purple shard, putting it with the rest of the magic stones in my hand.
"You good, kid?"
"Mhm!" He looks up to me with a big smile before looking confused at my outstretched hand.
"The rest of the stones," I tell him which just cause him to splutter, "Kid, trust me. They'll do you more good than me, at least until tomorrow comes around. Then they'll be useless to me."
Whatever I said caused him to drop his cheery smile and replace it with a frown and shakes his head, "No, it's fine. Uhmm...there's something I want to speak to you about."
"Really now?" I raise my brow at the kid, "I don't mind, but let's get out of here first. We can talk then."
The kid gives me a nod and after standing up, I finally got a good look at him.
He isn't wearing a lot of armour, instead going for a short leather coat, black trousers and a small dull grey chest plate.
All without the Minotaur blood.
"So, kid, how did you manage to clean off all that blood?" I ask Bell as we both walk through the giant stone hallways of the First Floor of the Dungeon.
"Ehehehe…" Bell scratches the back of his head as he awkwardly chuckles, "I kinda...ran all the way back to the Guild? My adviser wasn't happy about that and forced me to have a shower…"
"You ran to Eina covered in Minotaur blood?"
"Eh? You know Miss Eina?" The kid looks up to me with curious round red eyes and I couldn't keep the smirk off of my face.
God, the look on her face when she must've seen Bell run through those doors…What I would've given to have seen it.
"Yeah, I'm acquainted with her. She was my adviser before the Guild decided to drop me," I say with a shrug to his worried look, "She'll do right by you, kid. She's smart, if a bit intense, but she offers sound advice."
Now if only I had taken it.
"So...it's true then?" The kid asks me, "Your Familia abandoned you and now you're being blacklisted by the Guild because you can't pay the Familia Tax?"
With a raised brow, I stare at the kid, "Eina tell you that?"
The kid suddenly blushes up a storm and decides it's better to look at the Dungeon wall behind me, "Uhmm...no?"
"Hah! Don't worry about it kid. Though I do wonder why you even care to mention that in the first place."
If he wanted to thank me, he's already done it tenfold by saving my life. I guess he was just curious or something?
The kid bites his lip and keeps glancing at me. Eventually, he lets out a breath and gives me a surprisingly determined stare.
"I just...I want to say thank you, for saving me from that Minotaur. You didn't have to, but you did."
"Well, I mean…" I rub the back of my head as the kid has determination radiate off of him for some reason, "I didn't really do anything special. If I didn't help you, that girl, Aiz, would've done. I just got there before her, is all and she ended up saving both of our lives. If there's anyone to be thanking, it's her."
"B-but still!" The kid suddenly yells out, his ruby red eyes lighting up fierce, "You saved me! S-so it just doesn't seem fair that your Familia, your family, isn't willing to do anything about you being blacklisted by the Guild just because something that's their fault!"
...Ah, I see what you've done now, Eina. You sneaky beautiful elf.
"And so that's why-!"
"Bell," I suddenly slam my hands down upon his shoulders and he jolts up to look up at me with wide eyes, "You seem like a good kid and I owe you my life. So let me offer you some advice: Give up being an Adventurer."
Ignoring his heart broken look, I carry on:
"This isn't the life for someone as young as you. I don't know how old you are, but you're probably the youngest Adventurer I've met by looks alone. Go back home. Go back to your family, your mum and dad and any siblings you have. The life you get there may be boring but trust me; just enjoy being a kid a little longer, okay?"
With each word, Bell just looks more and more downcast to the point of not even looking at me anymore and just looking dejected at the floor.
I didn't want to hurt him like this. It's probably something he doesn't want to hear.
But I refuse to let him throw his life away at such a young age. Not if I can help it.
I slowly remove my hands-
Only for Bell to snap up from the looking down at the floor to look up at me, his fiery ruby eyes almost boring into my own.
"I…" Bell starts before letting out a small breath, "I...never knew my parents. My Grandfather was the one who raised me…"
"But a year ago...he died."
...Oh, this is so much worse than I thought it was going to be.
"He used to tell me all sorts of stories about Adventurers, about the Dungeon and about...other things," Bell says the last bit with a small blush but carries on anyway.
"I came here to become an Adventurer, just like the ones he used to tell me about," Bell carries on, his fists clenching tight, "But...but almost every Familia I tried to join rejected me. I was alone...I didn't have anyone until I met my Goddess. She was the same as me, alone and no one she could call Familia."
I don't say anything as Bell keeps going. It's not that I don't feel sorry for him, but I just don't know why he's telling me-
"Aren't you the same?"
I flinch back as if I had just burnt myself. My hands fly off his shoulders and I take a step back. Despite my reaction, Bell stands still and looks up to me, his fists clenched and his eyes hard.
"...And what exactly do you mean by that?"
"You're a part of a Familia," Bell says the words that calm down my sudden beating heart, "But...I don't think it's a Familia anyone would like to be a part of."
...He's wrong. He's wrong about one thing at least because of my lies.
My mouth moves but no words come out. It would be so easy to just lie and say it isn't like that and he's mistaken. And if he doesn't believe me, so what? So what does one more lie matter?
But I don't want to. It was my lies that outed me to Loki. It was my lies that allowed her to almost trap me and force me into her Familia. It was my lies that got me into my current situation.
"God," I mutter under my breath and shake my head and give the kid a stare of my own, "You're wrong about one thing, Bell. My Familia hasn't abandoned me."
"I don't have a Familia in the first place. I don't even have a Falna."
And with that, I finally tell the truth or at least a big part of it.
To a kid that I haven't even known for more than 5 minutes.
Well. I guess the fact he saved my life alleviates that fact a bit. The Minotaur thing was more of Aiz's thing than mine.
Silence rings out in the Dungeon. Bell looks at me with wide, disbelieving eyes. His whole body is rigid and stiff like a statue. His mouth opens and closes repeatedly as if he was a fish gasping for air.
I didn't want to lie to this kid. He's just so...honest and open. It's only fair that I repay that with my own honesty.
Then the walls around us started to crack open, like yawning abysses.
"Oh, bollocks," I grab my knife and give my HUD a quick glance:
Bell quickly grabs his knife in a reverse grip and backs up close to me, our backs to each other.
5 furry Kobolds drops to the ground around us in a circle, feasting their hungry red glowing eyes on us, their maws dripping and growling.
"Kid," I say aloud to Bell, the both of us moving slowly around as the Kobolds circle us like before, "I can use a spell that can kill three of them at least. Can you handle the other two?"
I feel Bell stiffen up for a moment, but relax just as fast.
"You can count on me."
And isn't that pathetic?
"On the count of three…"
The monsters circle around us, moving ever closer.
One of the Kobolds goes down to all fours, its fur bristling, eyeing me with those bloodthirsty red eyes.
They stop moving. And so do me and Bell.
Without warning, they spring forward and I feel Bell shoot off from behind my back.
The three familiar stone spikes rip themselves from the walls of the Dungeon and home in on the sprinting, slobbering Kobolds, each one yelps loudly as two stone spikes pierce through their chests and one embeds itself right into the skull of a very unfortunate Kobold.
I snap around to sound of blood gushing.
Bell swiftly removes his knife from the eye of a Kobold, jumping away from the now dead monster just as sprays out its life fluid and its brother swipes at Bell with its claws but Bell rapidly dodges and weaves around it like it was nothing. With a thrust and a hop, Bell quickly shoves his knife right underside the Kobolds lower jaw, the blade going all the way to its brain.
...Well, he's quick on his feet. I'll give him that.
"Good work," I give Bell a nod and he gives me a smile that is way too cheerful after being splattered with blood, "Let's get the magic stones before more come."
"Right," Bell gives me a nod and starts to get work.
Before he jumps up and snaps around to me, his eyes wide and his mouth agape.
"Waitwaitwaitwait!" He says rapidly, waving his arms around, "You're trying to change the subject!"
"I'm not trying to change anything," I tell Bell with my back turned to him.
Which is good because I don't think my smirk would help matters.
"Yes! Yes, you are! You can't just tell me something like that and expect me to forget about it!"
Oh, if only it was so easy.
Letting out a sigh, I stand back and turn around to Bell, looking up to me with wide eyes.
And I give him a shrug.
"I honestly don't know what to tell you, kid. You're the only person I told, so if you have anything you want to ask, now would be the time."
It was interesting to watch Bell's face go through almost several motions at once. A mixture of incredulous shock and splutters.
"W-why would you ever go into the Dungeon without a Falna?! Why wouldn't you join a Familia?!"
"Because I have something to do here," I give a shrug to more of the kid's shock, "And it's a bit personal. And for the whole Familia thing? Well...Honestly? I just don't trust the Gods. Any of them."
The thing about the Gods isn't that they're imperfect. It's that they're imperfect and yet wield so much power for no reason other than they're Gods.
Which made sense. Gods, at least back home, were generally made in the image of man and as ways to explain certain things that they couldn't explain back then so they were never really meant to be perfect but merely aspects of a world that people didn't understand.
At least with the old Gods like Greeks and Norse.
But they weren't real. Not unlike these Gods.
How could I ever trust something that holds so much power and controlled by their whims?
My meeting with Loki really didn't help me in that regard.
Bell looks downtrodden at my words, casting his eyes down and biting his lip. I let out a sigh and clasp Bell on the shoulder, causing him to look up at me.
"Bell, you're a good kid and I can see what you're trying to do. But if something like this gets out, I'll just bring trouble for you and your Familia."
"I…" Bell bites his lip for a moment but looks back up at me, his eyes practically blazing.
"Miss Hestia isn't like what you think she is. She...she took me when I had no one to turn to. I know she'll do the same for you!"
"Hestia?" I mutter under my breath and I couldn't help but frown in thought.
That...can't be a coincide.
"S-she may not be very famous...and it's just the two of us, but-!"
"It's not like that, kid," I couldn't help but smile at him, "I'm just raking my brain for what I know of her; Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, Architecture and Domesticity, right? That her?"
Bell looks up to me, mouth agape and his ruby eyes wide, "Uh, I don't know about those other two, but yeah, that's her! Did you already know about her?"
"In a fashion," I give a shrug, "I may not trust Gods but I did a lot of reading about them back home. They're...interesting to read about."
That wasn't all though.
Hestia isn't just the Goddess of those three.
She's also the Goddess of Family.
Now that's just funny.
I give an almighty sigh and look down at Bell who looks back up me, his jaw set, his red eyes blazing and his back straight.
He barely even reaches above my shoulders.
"Bell...How old are you, exactly?"
Bell blinks at me, probably not expecting my question and he shuffles on his feet for a bit before looking back up with an embarrassed look.
I could feel my brain empty at the words. Anything I was going to say is torn away from me as the fourteen-year-old kid starts to blush under my stare.
No parents. No one to look after him besides his Goddess who he has to support by going into the Dungeon and put his life on the line for Valis by killing monsters.
...Fuck it. Just fuck it at this point.
"Alright then," I let out a sigh, "I'll do it."
"Eh?" He looks up to me, his eyes wide and full of hope before a bright, wide smile breaks out like the sun among dusky clouds, "Really?!"
"I'll tell your Goddess what I told you. If she's alright with it...Sure. I'll join your Familia."
I won't lie to myself; I still want to go back home...But I don't want to cause this kid any trouble.
But that's just it. He's a kid. He shouldn't be here but where else does he have to go?
So fuck it.
I'll join his Familia, get a Falna and see where it goes from there. I plan on reaching the bottom one way or another.
But...it just might take a while longer now. And next time, I'll prepare for the Dungeon properly. I have someone else to worry about besides myself now.
"Now come on," I went back to the monster's corpse, "Let's get these magic stones and get out of here already."
...And maybe get a shower. I think the blood is dying my hair now.
"Oh fresh air, how I have missed thee," I take a deep breath of the clean outside air and let it all out in a single sigh.
The sun hangs high in the sky, about little after than afternoon. Various Adventurers of all races and type walk around us, with some of them giving me odd and cringed looks.
Don't blame them. You get used to the smell of blood after a while but that still doesn't change the fact no one wants to see someone come out of the Dungeon covered in dried crusty blood.
"Do...do you want to get changed?" Bell asks me awkwardly, "The Guild has some clothes if you want and some showers."
"Tempting," I say to Bell but I start walking down the steps and Bell hastily follows alongside, "I would love to see Eina's face if she sees me like this, but I think it would be better to meet Hestia as soon as possible if you don't mind."
"Uhmmm...John, I don't mean to judge but are you sure it's okay to walk through the city covered in blood?"
"Well," I grin at Bell as I put my hood up, "Not all of us can be so lucky as to run through the city covered in Minotaur blood. Some of us have to do with just plain old Kobold blood, you know?"
Bell's face lights up in a massive red blush and I couldn't help but chuckle at his expression, ignoring the stares that we're getting.
"Don't worry, Bell. This isn't the first time I've been covered in blood, I know how to handle it. Just give me a minute or two and I'll show you."
"If you say so…" Bell mutters unconvinced, his blush dying down and he shakes his head from side to side, his messy white hair swinging wildly about.
I physically force my hand down so I don't pet it.
It does look damn fluffy though.
I follow Bell through the crowded streets of Orario, all kinds of people going about their daily lives. Some humans, some with animal ears or even elves.
Some brown-skinned women wearing some skimpy clothes though. I wonder what's that about?
To my utter 'shock', everyone gave me and Bell a wide berth, most of them looking at me in either quiet disgust or just plain bewilderment. Who knew blood was such a good deterrent?
Maybe it's because I never really leave the Dungeon until midnight but was the city always this populated?
It's not even the fact that some of them aren't human, it's just the sheer number. Almost every time I turn my head, I see a new face or a new stall selling their goods, yelling and all that other nonsense.
Was Orario always this populated?
Bell leads me through the Main Street and the multiracial crowd, my head swivelling from side to side almost non stop.
"You know, I'm surprised," I say aloud and Bell looks up to me curiously as I carry on staring at all kinds of people and shops that I've never noticed before, "This place is more livelier than I thought."
"What do you mean?" Bell tilts his head quizzically at me.
"Orario," I clarify for the kid, "I never really come out of the Dungeon this early, I usually stay in till midnight when all the shops are closed so I've never seen them open and with so many people...Sure is shocking, to say the least."
Bell frowns at me when the Dungeon came up only to change to a curious look, "Where are you from anyway? I don't think I've ever seen clothes like yours before…"
"You wouldn't have heard of it," I ignore Bell's frown and carry on watching a blacksmith hammer something into shape, "But I'll tell you that I grew up in an...isolated village. Small place, the kind where everyone knew each other. What about you? What kind of place did you grow up in?"
"Oh!" Bell looks surprised at me asking and thinks for a bit, "I guess the same as you then? But, it wasn't isolated. My grandfather was a farmer and our village is north of here, just in the mountains. I'm surprised though, I didn't think you would've come from a village like me."
"Life's full of surprises, kid," I give him a shrug, "Like running into a Minotaur on the Fifth Floor and getting saved by a girl that's younger than me."
And then she tries to knock you out but instead almost ends up killing you.
A slight blush creeps up on Bell's face at the mention of Aiz, though I wonder why.
Eh, he's probably embarrassed about getting saved or something. He's a young kid, he'll get over it sooner or later.
Which reminds me…
"Ah, this way, John," Bell catches my attention and leads me away from Main Street into a little back street, far less crowded and the din of people chattering and bartering fade out as we walk down the small street. After some twists and turns, we come to a dead end.
A cul de sac with an old run-down church.
Which Bell leads me to.
We stop outside the church and I give it a look over before looking at Bell, who just chuckles nervously.
"Bell, do you and your Goddess live here?" I simply ask the kid who gives me a nervous nod.
"I-I know it isn't much-"
"I don't care about that," I tell him plainly, "I care if it's safe to live in. I can understand being tight on money, but this church looks like it's going to crumble down any minute. Are you sure you two should be living here?"
With a massive hole in the roof, cracks in the stonework and the crumbling angel, or something similar, with half a face looking down with a crooked smile, I can't imagine this is safe.
Ignoring the irony of a God squatting in a church, I watch as Bell lets out a small sigh and looks up to me with a smile.
Hestia couldn't be forcing Bell to live here, could she? Is there something egotistical to a God living in a church meant for them? Though Bell did say it was only him and Hestia so maybe they really are just that poor.
"I think it might be better to show you, but don't worry, it's safe," Bell gives me a look over, his smile going just a bit strained, "Uhmmm...John, you're still covered in blood…"
...I had honestly forgotten about that. I wonder what that says about me?
Well, my HUD just went off but I should have enough MP for some spells.
"Right, sorry. Give me a minute," I bring my hands up like usual and Bell watches curiously.
A large globule of water, about the size of my head, forms slowly inside my hands. I hear Bell let out a 'Uwahhh…" as the droplet fully forms.
I glance down to see Bell peering into the water globule that I held, his eyes shining like rubies and getting his face close to it.
I slightly move my hands and the large water droplet along with it directly towards Bell's face, getting the tip of his nose inside it.
"Ah!" Faster than I could even blink and with a high-pitched girly scream, Bell hops away like some sort of rabbit, clutching his nose all the while and his eyes wide and wild.
"C-cold! Why is it so cold!?"
"I have no idea," I shrug at him, unable to contain my smirk, "Despite its name, it's anything but soothing. And trust me, this is going to suck more for me than for you."
I then raise my hands above my head.
And the water drops.
"Jesus H Christ!" I hiss aloud as the icy water fully envelops every inch of my upper body. Goosebumps instantly surface everywhere the waters soak in my clothes and skin.
God, I hate that fucking spell so much at times.
"John, are you okay?!" Bell runs up to me with a worried look, only to stop and stare at my bloody clothes.
Well, formerly bloody.
"The blood is gone?"
"Y-yeah," I ignore how my stutter due to how balls to the walls freezing I am right now, "I don't really u-understand it but it sure as hell saves up on c-cleaning. It also heals as well, which is what I mainly use it for."
"Wh-why not just change into other clothes and have a shower? Seems easier than casting a spell..."
"I don't, uhh…" I rub the back of my head and I try not to look Bell in the eye as he looks up to me, "I don't actually...own any other clothes besides these…"
Bell looks at me blankly. So blankly as if what I just said didn't compute with him in anyway. His stare bores into my very soul, burning it with those eyes of his.
I want the Minotaur back. At least the Minotaur wouldn't torture me like this.
I think at least.
I don't even have an excuse for this one that doesn't involve me looking like I'm insane.
The twitching corners of his mouth told me enough of what Bell was thinking.
"Whatever, I've been busy doing stuff," I ignore Bell and go back to staring the crumbling church.
"Bell, before we do this, I just want to know something," Bell stops just short of opening the doors and looks back at me, "Are you doing this because you feel like you owe me? For what I did back at the Minotaur?"
Bell looks down for a brief moment, biting down on his bottom lip. No doubt trying to find the right words to convince me.
He didn't need to do that though. I already made up my mind to at least talk to his Goddess and no matter what he says now won't change that. I just want to know if he really just does feel indebted to me because of what I did back at the Minotaur and that's why he's trying so hard about this whole thing.
"W-when I asked about you from Miss Eina, I just wanted to thank you. But when she told me about the blacklist...it didn't really seem fair, especially when you put yourself in danger for me…"
Bell looks up at me, his jaw set and his hands clenched, "I would be lying if I said it didn't involve what happened back in the Dungeon, but that's not the only reason. It just...didn't seem fair and I can help you like you helped me, so why shouldn't I?"
Oh Bell. You're such an idiot.
"Bell, there are so many other reasons I could've been blacklisted, that I don't think I can count them all. You've barely known me for more than an hour and you invite me to your Familia. You can't trust someone so easily, you'll hurt yourself if you just open up to everyone."
"But I do trust you," Bell tells me the stupidest thing I've heard since coming to this world, "I don't think trusting people is a wrong thing to do."
"Trust is earned, not given, Bell. What have I done exactly to earn your trust?"
"Saved me from the Minotaur," Bell says so quickly and certainly that I have to do a double take. I hold my ground at his surprisingly intense stare.
"That girl, Aiz, saved both of us if I remember correctly. Especially you, in particular, considering that you came back for some reason."
"I couldn't just leave you! I-I had to do something!"
I stare down Bell while he glares up at me. I let out a sigh and run my hand through my hair.
An idiot. This kid is nothing more than a lucky idiot. He won't last that long in the Dungeon if he comes across any of the more shady Adventurers. Who the hell knows how they could take advantage of him?
"You're a good kid, Bell. Too good for my liking though," I grumble at him and he blinks wildly at me with a small blush on his face, his mouth opening and closing, "Well come on then. Let's talk to your Goddess and see what she says about me. We still don't know if she'll let me join yet."
"Uhmm, I think she will. She took me in when all the other Familia's rejected me so I know she'll do the same for you."
Giving me a bright smile, Bell opens up the mouldy doors of the down-trodden church, giving me the inside view.
It was just what about I expected. Bits of the roof look like they're barely hanging on if they haven't already fallen. Me and Bell step on the weeds growing out of the cracked stone tiles while the sunlight beams down from up above and straight through the hole in the roof, providing some natural light. A thin layer of dust cover the pews and the painted windows lay broken and dirty from years of disuse and neglect.
Still though. If I knew about this place, I wouldn't have slept in that alleyway. That place sucked.
No God or Goddess though. The place is empty.
"Is your Goddess out? I don't see her around anywhere."
"No, she's downstairs," I lift my brow at him and he gives me a small smile like he knew something I didn't, "Come on, I'll show you."
Following Bell as we weave our way through the wreckage of fallen rubble, he leads me towards the back of the altar up on the stage and into a small. Various shelves line the wall though they were all empty.
He went towards the empty shelf at the back. I watch as Bell grabs it and pulls it back, revealing a staircase that goes down, though I don't know how far or how long it goes.
"Bell, I'll be honest with you. If you were quite literally anyone else, I would think you're just leading me into your nefarious sex dungeon."
I almost had to catch Bell as he nearly trips down the stairs before catching himself on some shelves and swivelling around to look at me, his shocked face an adorable shade of bright red.
"H-How can y-you just say something like that?!" He shouts at me, his face bearing more than a passable resemblance to a very big tomato.
I fight to keep the smirk off my face to give Bell a genuine look of confusion. Which was of course bullshit.
"Bell, I don't know why you're getting so wound up. If all parties consent before going into your nefarious sex dungeon-"
"Stop saying that!"
"-Then there isn't much trouble, is there? I think at least. Not really an expert on stuff like this. I guess my only advice to have safe words and-"
"Bell? Is that you?" We both hear a woman's voice call out to him and he snaps around to the staircase where it came from. The sound of pitter patter could be heard like bare feet meeting stone as the person runs up the stairs.
The first thing I noticed is that she's short. Shorter than Bell by a substantial amount, just barely coming up to his shoulders and about chest height for me.
With silky black hair tied with two white bows, the two twintails reached her thighs and her bright blue orbs peered at me and Bell, her pretty face looking at me with curiosity. She wore a short simple white dress that hugged her surprisingly voluptuous figure despite her stature and…
And a string runs under her bulging breasts, tied to both of her arms.
And my clothes are weird? When you people have god damn string bras? Just wear an actual bra, Jesus.
She gives off the same feeling as Loki though. Despite everything, the image of her insufferable smirk still flashes through my mind.
I ignore it.
This girl is a Goddess, no doubt about that.
"G-Goddess!" Bell yelps out with a red face and looks between me and her with a wildly swinging head, "Uhhhh, T-this is John, and errrr…"
Oh wow, what I said really got to him, huh?
"Miss Hestia, I presume?" I take over from the poor kid and step up, the mini Goddess looking up to me with those ocean blue eyes of hers and she gives me a cautious nod, "My name is John, it's a pleasure to make your acquittance."
"O-oh!" Hestia looks surprised at me for some reasons and looks up to me with a smile, "It's nice to meet you too! But, uhmmm...are you an Adventurer like Bell?"
"I am. There was...an incident in the Dungeon today that involved Bell. I think Bell might be able to explain it better than me though."
Quicker than I thought she could move, she snaps over to Bell, touching him all over and inspecting him with a worried frown.
"You're not hurt are you? What happened?"
"I-I'm fine, Goddess," Bell tells her with a smile, holding up his hands for her to stop which slowly does, "It's kinda a long story though….we should probably go back into the main area."
Hestia's frown just deepens but she does give Bell a nod. We all walk back into the main area by the broken altar.
"Well, it starts with a Minotaur…"
And that's how Bell 'smoothly' started telling his Goddess about how the whole Minotaur incident.
I remained silent through the whole exchange as Bell tells Hestia about the whole thing. It was kinda funny watching this short Goddess all but pull her twintails in frustration at Bell's story. She does give me a look when I came up but Bell then goes on to tell her the rest, about Aiz and such.
Funny how he lightly blushes when Aiz came up. Also funny how he didn't include the stuff with the Kobolds.
I then have a Goddess bowing to me.
"Thank you for protecting my child, John!" Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth, bows to me without warning. I stand there and just stare at her.
Because what else could I do?
A God is bowing to me.
How the hell do you react to something react like that?
"Well-I, i-it really isn't that big of a deal," I hate how I stutter like some sort of kid as Hestia frowns at me, "In the end, I didn't do a whole lot besides just leading it towards Aiz Wallenstein who killed it."
"You still helped Bell when he was in trouble when he needed it most," Hestia bows to me again, and gives me a bright smile, the natural sunlight from the open roof making it seem just that much warmer, "Thank you for saving my only child."
...Is this really a God?
She squats in a run-down church in a culdesac, lives in the basement of all things and...bowed to me? All because I helped out Bell that didn't need my help in the first place?
Loki, despite being a woman than a man like I thought, is what I thought a God would be like:
Controlling. Forceful. Used to getting their own ways and insufferable in almost every sense of the word, even if we only talked for a little while.
Because what else could a God be?
If I had to guess, the church was no doubt a place of worship for the Gods. But, I don't see her mural anywhere but maybe that's just the disrepair of the church itself.
And when Bell talked about the Minotaur, she was afraid.
Afraid for Bell. Worried about him.
Why would a God ever bother worrying about a human? She said he was her only child and Bell did say it was only her and him in their Familia…
But, it didn't seem like she was afraid of losing her only Familia member because it would mean no more money.
It seemed like she was genuinely worried for Bell.
Or maybe, it just seems like that, because it actually is like that.
The image of Loki's grin flashes faintly in my mind as I stare down with wide eyes at the Goddess in front of me that barely comes up to my chest who looks up to me with a bright smile that lights up the room.
The image of Loki vanishes without a trace in my mind.
I glance at Bell, my eyes probably pleading for help.
He smiles that 'I told you so' smile that people do when they're arseholes.
"Uhmmm, I'm sorry but we don't have money if you're looking for a reward…" Hestia frowns sadly up at me before cute determination takes ahold of her.
"B-but! If y-you come by my stand tomorrow, I'll give you all the Jagamarukun that you want! For free!"
...What the hell is a Jagamarukun? Is that a sort of food? It sounds German. Why the hell is there German sounding food in this medieval world?
Wait, did she just say stand? As in, like those stalls on the main street? Does she run one?
...Nah, I must've misheard that.
"Uhhhh...Don't worry, I'm not here for money or anything. Even if you could pay, I'm not really interested in money anyway."
At my words, Hestia lets out a tremendous sigh of relief and her little shoulders sag, "Oh, that's good. We can't really afford giving out stuff like for free…"
She looks up to me with a curious look, her brows knitted cutely, "But...do you really want nothing? I have to thank you somehow."
"Ah, well, yes," I briefly look to Bell for help but all he gives me is just a stupid fucking smile.
I clear my throat rather loudly and prepare myself for what might amount to suicide by God.
"So, I said I'm an Adventurer like Bell. But, there were some things I left out…I guess the first thing would be that I have no Familia."
"...And I don't have a Falna either."
Oh boy. This may have been a terrible idea.
...Bell trusts her though. I should at least see how it goes.
I quickly explained that I could use magic to defend myself and that's how I managed to make a living as an Adventurer and that seemed to calm her down if only a tiny bit. I went on to tell her pretty much what I told Bell. That I don't trust the Gods and that I have something to do in the Dungeon.
And how I was about to get blacklisted because my 'Familia' was unable or unwilling to pay the Familia Tax and that means I'll be unable to go into the Dungeon.
During most of this, Hestia remains silent, her ocean blue eyes peering up at my face, her pretty young face marred with a knitted brow and her mouth a thin line.
"And the reason I'm telling you all of this is because of Bell over there," I nod at Bell who Hestia looks at and he gives an awkward smile, "For some reason, wants to help me and he decided that me joining your Familia and keeping me from being blacklisted was how to do it."
And there we go.
Two people know the truth, more or less and one them is even a God. I can never tell them about the 'Gamer Mode' or they would think I'm insane, let alone telling them I came from a different world.
Hestia doesn't say anything. She merely keeps staring up at me with a knitted brow.
Maybe she'll do the smart thing-
"Why wouldn't I accept you into my Familia?" Hestia frowns up at me like I was the weird one, "I can't just turn my back on someone in trouble! What kind of Goddess would I be if I didn't accept someone into my Familia just because they're a bit weird?"
As I stare down at the puffed up mini Goddess, what Bell said to me back in the Dungeon rings out in my head:
"I was alone...I didn't have anyone until I met my Goddess. She was the same as me, alone and no one she could call Familia."
I glance at Bell who has the biggest smile on his face and then back down to Hestia who's puffing out her chest out, the string not doing a very good job of keeping her breasts contained.
Christ. Birds of a feather really do flock together, don't they?
"Then...I'll be in your care, Miss Hestia."
"...Eh?" Hestia blinks up at me, apparently not expecting such a fast answer, "R-Really?!"
"Why are you second guessing now?" I ask her with a raised brow.
"W-Well, it's just that, as a natural mage, y-you could probably join a better Familia…"
"I've already been offered to join another Familia, but I refused that one," I shrug at Hestia and Bell's shocked look, "And I've slept in worst places than this, trust me. Hell, I even said to Bell that if you said yes, I would join. If I didn't want to join, I wouldn't be here."
Hestia looks up to me with quivering lips and watery eyes before her face splits into a massive smile.
"Yes! Second Familia member secured! And a mage as well!" Hestia pumps her fist in the air. Snapping towards Bell, she almost tackles him to the ground in a flying hug.
Bell lets out a loud 'oof!' as he barely holds onto the missile known as Hestia, "Good work, Bell!"
"Ehehehe...G-Goddess, John is standing right there," Bell says with a blush as I look on the weird display of affection.
Is getting another Familia member that big of a deal?
"Right!" Hestia detaches from Bell and looks to me with a fire in her eyes, "Come on, I'll give you the Falna downstairs!"
With a quickness that belayed her small stature, Hestia reaches out and grabs my hand with her own and pulls me along like some kind of dog.
There's something familiar I recognized in her tone, but this time it was a lot more obvious.
It was greed.
Just like Loki.
But...I shouldn't be so high and mighty. It's not like I haven't been greedy before. It's hardly a sin to want something or someone in your group because of their skills. And looking around, her being a bit greedy for money isn't that hard to understand.
And so, with a grinning Bell behind me, I let Hestia pull me along downstairs. I shift my head down so I wouldn't bang it against the low doorframe but she leads me down the winding staircase until we reached the bottom.
In the shape of a P, it was a small storeroom turned into a bedroom, with a small section for the entrance. Two old looking sofas sit opposite each other with a small wooden table in between them. A single cupboard is present but that's about it.
It was pretty barren and small all things considered. I could see two people living here but three? I'll just sleep upstairs. Not like I need much else.
I could always go back to the Hostess, but...I don't think Mia will let me back in.
Call it a hunch.
"Okay!" Hestia finally lets go of me and turns around, her hands on her hips and looking up to me.
I get that she wants to seem commanding...but she has to crane her neck to look up at me and she is just so cute, that it feels like a kid trying to command an adult or something.
"John, start stripping!"
Please, please, don't do this to me. I've been through enough already!
"J-Just your top!" Hestia's face suddenly lights up in a blush and she mildly glares at me, "I-I need to write on your back for the Falna!"
"I was about to say," I mutter under my breath and start taking off my hoodie and shirt underneath it, "So how does this work exactly? A Falna I mean."
"Lie down on your front and I'll do the rest," Hestia goes to one of the sofas with a big smile on her face.
A smile that turns brittle when I take my shirt off. Bell sputters behind me and I look back to see him staring at my back.
"S-So hairy…" I hear Bell mutter behind me and I couldn't help but chuckle at his tone.
"Don't worry, Bell. Give it a couple of years and you'll have hair on your chest soon enough."
I hear Hestia say something under her breath before shaking her head. With a determined frown, she gestures for me to lay down on the sofa, which I do.
Not a moment longer, I feel a certain someone crawl onto my back and a heavy feeling dropping in my gut.
I wonder what it says about me that I have a literal Goddess on my half-naked body but I only feel an impending sense of dread?
After some shuffling around and grumbling, Hestia finally sits still on top of me.
"Right! Let's start!
Her small fingers then trace...something across my hairy back. It's warm and...wet?
God, this is so weir-
[Falna detected. Engaging trait 'Outsider'.]
I open my mouth to-
[Warning: Consent also detected. 'Outsider' not in effect. Integrating Falna…
...Well. Okay then?
My mouth closes and I watch as a small green bar quickly fills up and the percentage raises up quite quickly, already hitting 20%.
Looks like I have some time for it to finish...integrating I suppose?
That means I can ask some questions.
"None of that," I feel Hestia lightly smack the top of my head with a chiding voice, "We're Familia now so no more 'miss'. Besides, that makes me sound so...so old! I'm still a maiden I'll have you know!"
"Hmph," I let out a snort and I feel my lips curl upwards, "What is the proper way to address you then?"
"Goddess works," Hestia hums as her delicate fingers dance on my back, "Oh! You can call me Lady Hestia!"
"Yeah, I'm not going to do that," I ignore Hestia's little 'humph!' and carry on looking at the green bar that I only I can see, "I have two questions really; How does the Falna really work? I saw Bell fight some Kobolds in the Dungeon and he moves a hell of a lot faster than I thought he would. Is that because of his Falna?"
And so, with a short stack Goddess on my back, an albino kid by my side and a very weird bar filling up in front of me, they explain how Falna's work and what they do.
Falna's are basically contracts between mortals and Gods. Mortals get stronger, the ability to use magic and among various other things by giving them a 'status'. In return for their blessing, mortals would go into the Dungeon and basically support their Gods financially.
The way this works is through excellia or 'experience'. Excellia can raise my status and make it, and by proxy me, stronger depending on what I do. If I use spells, my spells get stronger, if I run a lot, I get faster and if I get hit a lot, my defence rises. However, the excellia I gathered can only be put to use when my status is updated by my God, IE Hestia.
This is starting to sound very familiar.
Though, doesn't that mean Hestia can effectively hold me hostage by choosing not to update my status? I suppose you could always change Familia, but Hestia also expanded on that a bit due to what I told her.
The process itself is called Conversion, the act of a person changing from one Familia to another and it can only be done once a year to prevent essentially Familia hopping. While she was coy about it, I don't think Hestia would've taken me so easily if I really was part of another Familia. I don't really blame her though. She can't exactly be under pressure from a bigger Familia right now anyway.
In any case, I don't get the impression Hestia would do that.
Can't say the same for the other Gods though.
Moving on from that, I asked about the Gods themselves.
Gods can't use their powers while on the 'Lower World' due to a pact they all made. If one of them use their powers or Arcanum as they call it, they get sent back to heaven, forbidden from coming down here again.
I tried my best not to let out a sigh of relief at that.
All that worry about the Gods and it was only half justified.
Another thing that caught my attention is why Hestia or Loki call their Familia 'children'.
It's because Gods can't have kids.
Or any kind of spirit for that matter. It just doesn't work.
Which throws a bunch of shit in my face.
How the hell does that work? If Gods can't have kids, where did Hestia come from? Her mother and father are the Titans Rhea and Cronus respectively. Does that mean they don't exist? What about Gods like Ares or Athena? Did they just literally pop out of nowhere?
I don't know if they're actually here but considering the trend of Gods so far, it wouldn't shock me if they were.
Damn it. Maybe my knowledge of Gods isn't all that foolproof as I thought it was.
God damn, am I an idiot.
My bar has almost filled all the way to 100% so I had asked one more question.
A question about magic.
Though surprised at my apparent lack of knowledge on the subject, I just outright admitted that I wasn't formally educated on the subject and was interested in learning more about.
Specifically how Hestia called me a 'natural mage'.
Apparently, there are two types of magic:
Congenital magic which is based on a persons race and one own ability and acquired magic based on the Falna given to Adventurers by the Gods.
There was...something that I couldn't quite place in Hestia's voice when I told her that I had never been formally trained in magic. She asked me if I could always use magic and I just told her that I could. Not a total lie, magic was one of the first things I used when I got here.
I couldn't turn my head to look at her but as soon as I tried to ask her, something happened.
A large cobalt blue screen pops up in front of me, filled with text:
[Checking eligibility for Skills…]
Oh what fresh hell is this.
[Insufficent use of weapons]
The hell are Skills? Something to do with my status?
[Sufficent WIS. Checking...]
[Insufficent use of Fireball]
[Insufficent use of Soothing Waters]
[Sufficent use of Earth Spikes]
[Skill: Geōmanteia obtained]
The hell is Geōmanteia? It sounds...greek? What the hell are Skills-
[By taking on a Falna and becoming part of a Familia by your free own will, you have taken your first step on the road to becoming a proper Adventurer! Had you not wanted this, the feedback from the 'Outsider' trait would've killed both you and the God! Maybe. Probably. Most likely. You would've died, the God would just go back up to Heaven.]
[But it didn't! And that's good! With this Falna, you can now gather excellia to increase your status! Unlike the stats of the 'Gamer Mode' A Falna's status can make you faster, stronger and more durable in an almost superhuman way! It can even increase the proficiency of your spells! Not to mention the added benefits of Skills and Developmental Abilities!]
Wait, hold on for a god damn minute.
What the actual fuck does it mean by 'unlike the stats of the Game Mode'.
Does that mean my stats aren't what I thought they were? But, my WIS stat has increased since coming here through using my spells.
But, come to think about it…
Did my spells actually get stronger? Earth Spikes always have three spikes, Soothing Waters has always healed a set amount and I barely, if ever, use Fireball.
Come to think about it, despite my END increasing, I don't really take any decrease in damage either…
Have I just literally been wrong about...everything?
"All done!" I hear Hestia say happily above me, breaking me out of my thoughts, "Uhmmm...wait a minute…"
Hestia sounded...unsure for some reason. That probably wasn't a good sign.
"Is something the matter?" I ask the short stack Goddess who does something that I can't see.
"Hestia, I can't see your face but I can hear your lies," I tell her dryly and she lets out a cute little 'Humph!' in return.
"If it isn't urgent, can it wait? I need to tell the Guild that I'm part of your Familia now so they won't blacklist me anymore. Plus, I'm pretty sure that's a thing I have to do anyway."
"Oh! You're right!" Hestia climbs off of me and I stand back, stretching my arms up above me. I twist my head around to look at my back, catching a glimpse of what seemed like a massive tattoo on my back.
"Is that my Falna?" I ask Hestia and she gives me a rapid nod with a beaming smile.
"Yep! And with that, you're officially the second member of the Hestia Familia!" Hestia cranes up her neck upwards to look at me with a big smile on her face. I glance towards Bell who also had a bright smile on his face.
Idiots, the pair of them.
I still think they're too trusting of someone they barely know.
But trust has to start somewhere and if they're willing to make the effort…
What kind of asshole would I be if I didn't do the same?
"Thank you for taking me in, Hestia. I'll do my best to make sure you won't regret it."
She may not know it, but with this, she's done a lot for me. Maybe I should get something while I'm out as a gift? Or a sacrifice?
Wait, do Gods even accept sacrifices here?
And what do I even get Bell? Can't get him a bottle of alcohol, kid's too young.
I'm sure I'll figure out something.
"Ehehe," Hestia giggles childishly and puffs her chest out in pride, "Now! Don't be out for too long! You've joined on a good day, John! Don't expect much sleep tonight!
I raise my brow at the energetic Goddess, but I shrug my shoulders and try to ignore the unfortunate phrasing, "I'll be back soon, don't worry."
Saying goodbye to my...Familia members, I make my way to the topside to inform the Guild about my recent 'Conversion'.
Don't know if I'll get used to saying that any time soon.
By the time I made it to the Guild, the sun had settled into a mellow yellow afternoon, almost dipping into the evening. During my walk here, I had tried various new phrases to get a new menu to pop up. Stuff like Skills, Developmental Abilities and status are among the ones that I tried.
And I got nothing in return.
No new menu, no new nothing.
I tried everything I could think of that correlates to my new found Falna and none of it worked.
Out of curiosity, I tried Stats again.
To my shock, something about it was different:
In truth, I don't know how useful knowing how much excellia I have is but it's better to have it and not need than need it and not have it.
From what Hestia and Bell told me, excellia is distributed automatically on my status depending on what actions I take. Considering my 'fighting style' consists of spamming spells, I'm probably stuck as a ranged spell caster.
There was one thing I noticed though.
Despite even calling excellia 'experience', they never said anything about levelling up which I know is a thing. So does that mean levelling up is irrelevant of the amount of excellia gathered? How does someone even level up in the first place then?
Questions for another time. I've learned a lot today, hell I've learned more about Adventurers today than the past weeks I've spent mindlessly crawling around in the Dungeon.
For now, it's time to take one thing at a time.
And that involves not being blacklisted by the Guild.
I push open the double doors of the relatively empty Guild. Not counting the Guild clerks, only a few Adventurers remain and they were probably just here to drop off their magic stones and go home. The clean, shiny surface of the marble floor reflects the gentle yellow light of the evening, giving the whole Guild a sort of cozy feeling.
And as luck would have it, the person I'm looking for is currently free and manning an open desk, idly sorting out some paperwork before catching me and giving me a stiff smile.
Oh boy. I've only just walked through the door and already I did something wrong.
"John, mind explaining what you were doing walking around Orario in dried blood?"
...Ah, that would do it.
"I felt like making a new fashion statement," I give Eina a shrug and I see her slender brow twitch, "But unfortunately someone already beat me to it. In Minotaur blood, no less while I could only make do with Kobold. What a shame as well, I think it could've become popular."
I see Eina try her very hardest not to crumple the papers in her hands, no doubt thinking of them wrapped around my throat, "Yes, that is a…'shame'. You've already met Bell then?"
"Yeah, we talked. Eina, give to me straight. Did you really send him after me?"
Pushing up her glasses, Eina stoic mask of a face keeps up as she shuffles papers around, "I have no idea what you mean, John. From what Bell told me, he simply wanted to thank you for helping him with the Minotaur. Speaking of which…"
The corners of Eina's mouth curl stiffly into a facsimile of a warm smile and she places her clasped hands onto the counter.
"Would you tell me what was exactly going through your mind when you attacked a Minotaur of all things?"
"A lot of things and nothing for innocent ears," I shrug at Eina's intensifying glare, "Look, Eina, you're not going to make me feel guilty about helping out the kid. If I had to, I would redo the whole thing over again. Plus, we were both saved by a girl named Aiz so it all worked out. Kinda."
To my surprise, Eina's glare softens up and her long ears droop downwards a little while her stiff smile melts away into guilty looking frown.
She lets out a tired sigh and her slender shoulders drop just a little, "I suppose it ended the best way it could. Still though, there aren't a lot of Level 1 Adventurers that would willingly engage with a Minotaur just to save someone else…"
"It really isn't that big of a deal. If I didn't jump in, Aiz would've. She was already behind Bell when he was being chased. All I did was just get its attention."
Seriously, I didn't even help beyond just unknowingly herding it towards Aiz. She did all the work.
"If you say so," Eina just gives me a smile for some reason, "I expect you came to talk about something else though?"
"Yeah, I came here to keep my promise. Remember how I told you that you would be the first to know about me changing Familias?"
It might have been the trick of the light, but I swear her eyes glinted for a second but she yet again pushes up her glasses with a smile.
"I do indeed. Should I take a guess as to which one you joined?"
"I'll give you a hint: It starts with H and the only other member is a kid that's too trusting for his own good."
Eina giggles at my dry tone, "In that case, you'll need to bring Bell here tomorrow so he can verify that you've joined his Familia. After that, the Guild will officially recognize you as a member of the Hestia Familia."
"And that'll stop me from being blacklisted?" I ask Eina who gives me an affirmative nod. I feel my shoulders sag with relief as if a weight had been taken off.
Thank god. This could've gone a lot worse, all things considered.
"Thanks for your help, Eina. I honestly don't know what I would do without you."
Eina's cheeks light up in a small blush and I feel my lips curl up as my former advisor just tries to tell me she's just doing her job.
"W-Well, it's nothing really," Eina cutely stammers which I try and fail not to grin at, "I'm just doing my duty to help Adventurers…"
I smile at her bashfulness as I start to actually feel like things are going right for once.
Loki, you can suck a bag of dicks.
"In that case, I need to ask you something I probably should've asked you before."
"Do you know where to buy weapons and armour?"
"It's getting pretty late...I wonder what could be taking John so long? I hope he hasn't run into any trouble," Bell mutters thoughtfully as he puts his shirt back on after his Goddess had updated his status.
"Hmmm," Hestia lets out a low hum as her thoughts wander, "I'm sure he's fine, Bell. He doesn't seem like the type to get into trouble."
She hopes at least.
The Goddess of the Hearth found herself wondering if she was cursed or something with her Familia. She wouldn't trade Bell for the world and now she has taken another child into her Familia, a mage of all things as well.
Even if it was a tiny bit selfish, she felt happy that Bell wouldn't go alone into the Dungeon anymore, even if John is...weird. And not just in demeanour or his strange clothes that she, a Goddess, has never seen before.
When she first laid eyes on the towering spell caster, her first thoughts is that something was...off about John. Something just wrong. She thought it was simply because he was offputting with those black bags under his eyes and his almost dead stare, not to mention his bulky clothes that made it seem like he was a thug.
Despite all of that though, she didn't get the feeling that John is a bad person, not really. That notion was only enforced when she was told about the Minotaur and how the thuggish-looking spell caster put his life on the line for Bell, even if he did say he didn't do much.
She ignored the pangs of frustration and jealousy in her heart when that woman came up in her mind.
But that feeling of wrongness she couldn't help but feel only intensified when she talked more and more with John. That feeling then skyrocketed when he told her about his 'Familia'.
Or lack of one.
True to his word, his bare back didn't have the Falna of a God imprinted upon it and as such, he wasn't part of a Familia. What convinced her wasn't the lack of Falna, however.
It was his lying.
Whether John knew about a God's ability to tell when they were being lied to or not, he was being completely honest when he said he wasn't part of a prior Familia or that he didn't have the Falna.
She only wished he was so open with everything else.
She had asked Bell about John but all she got was vague descriptions of a village that John claims he came from. She doesn't know if that village was fake like his name but she intends to find out, one way or another.
When John told her that Bell had promised him entry into the Familia, she wanted to scold Bell for promising such a thing. She would'at leastast liked some forewarning about a potential new member.
That feeling was quickly swept aside with a mixed feeling of greed, desperation and pity.
She won't lie to herself, her Familia is in a bit of dire straights right now. Having a second member, let alone a magic caster with prior experience who wasn't even part of another Familia, would do wonders and is a blessing she couldn't simply just turn down.
And though John tried to hide it, Hestia could only imagine why he would delve into the Dungeon with no one but himself for support. It was clearly for a reason beyond money but what reason that was, she had no idea. For that alone, it was only after a moment of talking with the spell caster that Hestia realised how alone he must feel.
Just like how she was. Just how like Bell was.
With all that, it was only obvious what her answer was.
Though she does wonder what Familia he rejected...
But when she actually bestowed John a Falna. It was then, that Hestia knew that John is just fundamentally wrong.
He felt...hollow. Empty. More than that, she swears she felt something push back against her and the Falna.
She would've never noticed it if she wasn't concentrating so hard but just as that something pushed back, it gave in and the process went smoothly as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
She had hoped that the Skill that popped up on his status would answer her questions.
It did not.
[Geōmanteia: User can manipulate Earth in exchange for vast amounts of Mind. Decreases Mind usage for Earth-type spells. Increases Earth-type spells effectiveness. As long as user's feet remain on the Earth, their Mind will regenerate.]
She couldn't help but compare it to Bells' newfound Skill that she, in a moment of childish jealousy, hid from him. She didn't know what was worse:
That John may have had a hand or that woman, Aiz, did.
Unlike Bell, she planned on telling John but he left before she could. Going by how he had to ask about magic when he himself is a mage, she doubts he even knows about Skills and Development Abilities much like how he knew almost nothing about magic.
Which just added to John's already glaring weirdness.
Just then she heard heavy footfalls come from the stone stairwell and she turns her head towards the noise.
"I'm back," She heard John's voice as he walks down the stairway, "Sorry for being late, I had some errands to run."
"Ah, John! Did everything go alright at the Guild?" Bell asks his fellow Familia member and Hestia tries to make sure her smile isn't so stiff.
"Yeah, it went okay. We're going have to go there tomorrow though just to show the Guild that I'm not lying but after that, this whole mess should be sorted finally."
"That's good to hear," Hestia gets up to greet the mage just as he comes into view. Her slightly stiff smile drops when she sees what he was carrying in his hand.
"John, what is that?" The Goddess points towards the large wrapped bundle that John is carrying with his hands.
"Ah, this is...well," As Hestia stares up at the usually sarcastic mage, she notices he couldn't look her in the eyes, unlike last time.
"I guess this is my thanks? For helping me out and stuff," John says like he was embarrassed to admit that he had got them a gift, "Look, let me show you."
Moving out of his way, Hestia and Bell watch with wide eyes as John places his gift onto the single wooden between the two old sofas. Unwrapping the paper bundle, both Hestia and Bell smelled a sort of salty scent coming from the bundle.
"Ohhhh…" Bell lets out a noise of wonder as the paper unwraps to reveal a large dry-cured ham, the inside bright red with small white veins of fat coursing through it. It's dull brown skin glistening with specks of salt as the light reflects off of it.
"So, I wanted to get like a cake or something but all the bakeries were closed. I gave up to try again tomorrow but I managed to find a butchers open up this late so I thought this would work instead. Grumpy old bastard made me pay extra for it, but I think this works better."
"Huh?" Hestia swivels her head upwards to look John straight in the eyes, which he subtly shifts to look behind her, something which Hestia herself did not miss.
"Well, it's just...a cake last for like what, a week before going off? With this, if we hang it up, it could last a good while. I think, at least."
"Hey, John...how much did this cost?"
"...Well, it wasn't the only thing I bought but I am flat broke right now," John shrugs uncaringly at Bells' shocked look, "And before you say anything Bell, don't worry about it. Just think of it as thanks for helping me out."
John glances down at Bell as the child's face lights up in a blush and John tries but fails to hide his smirk.
"It doesn't look you guys have eaten yet so why not just dig in already? Besides, didn't Hestia say something about joining on a good day or something?"
"Oh! That's right, I got these potato snacks from a customer of mine today as thanks!"
"Potato snacks?" John mumbles under his breath with a frown and Hestia turns towards him, looking up with a big smile on her face.
"Yep, that's right! With this, we'll have a bigger celebration that I thought! Good work, John!"
With a flurry of activity, Hestia and Bell manage to get the utensils and wooden plates while John took it upon himself to prepare the food and disposing of the wrapping paper. Before long, the three of them sat around the small wooden table, thin strips of dried ham being carved by Bell with his knife and mugs full of water.
"Don't worry about me, Bell. I'm not that hungry."
"Eh?" Bell turns towards the mage, his sharp knife stopped just before he started slicing. Hestia stops nibbling on her strip of ham to frown at her new child.
"I had something to eat on the way over here-"
Yet again, another lie.
He wasn't lying about not being hungry, but he was lying about eating something.
Why? Why would he lie about such a thing? What could he gain from it? Why does he keep lying about small things like his name and now this, but tell her the truth about his lack of Falna?
John, is without a doubt in her mind, probably the weirdest human she's ever met.
"That won't do at all, John! Tonight is a celebration for welcoming a new Familia member! For you! Are you really going to rude enough to not eat at something meant for you?"
John's eyes shift quickly from Hestia to the water-filled mugs, the potato snacks and strips of salty dried ham. A complex set of emotions that Hestia couldn't decipher flicker across his face until it settled on resignation.
"Well...It would be really rude if you're gonna put it like that," John lets out a sigh and gives Bell an apologetic smile, "Sorry for that. Can you dish me up some ham?"
With a warm smile, Bell carries on carving and passes John his own plate filled with food along with a mug of water.
"Now that's all settled," Hestia speaks up to catch Bell's and John's attention and lifts up her own mug with a grin.
With a smile, Bell lifts up his own mug and clinks it against Hestia's.
With a roll of his eyes but a small smile on his lips, John lifts up his own and clinks it against the other two:
And with that, the meal started in full.
Though Hestia notices John taking only the smallest sips of his drink and only tiny nibbles of ham, she didn't mind.
Instead of a sardonic smirk or a cynical smile like she saw before, instead, John was smiling without a hint of cynicism. It might be small and minute, but it's there. And that's good enough for her.
Yes, John may be a weird human.
But, she never once got the feeling he was bad. That he meant her or Bell harm.
She hopes in time, he'll trust them fully. But, that's for another day.
With smiles and laughter, the Familia talk well into the night. John's small but heartfelt smile never once dropping even as he falls asleep.
While it may not be as comfortable as sleeping on a bed like back the Hostess of Fertility, John fell asleep just as easily and, for once, hopeful for the future.
I can already hear you guys groaning.
I played around with the idea of the SI joining an OC Familia or even the Loki Familia but I decided against it. The reason for joining Hestia is simple: For the themes of the fic, Hestia being the Goddess of Family and Home is simply too good to pass up and as some of you guys have already guessed, Bell acts as a foil to the SI which was kinda of the point. It may be a bit cliche, but it's not like cliches are bad.
One thing I want to talk about is the Outsider trait that some of you guys have misunderstood but the wording of it is kinda vague:
Let's talk about an example: Say a God wanted to kill the SI and use their Godly powers, or Arcanum as it's known in universe. They tried to smite him down with a lightning bolt or something but that wouldn't work as the Outsider Trait would react to it. That's the most blatant example of it, but there are more subtle effects that come to light as the fic moves along, some of which you can probably already see in the two chapters.
As for the lying thing. Considering that all Gods leave their powers back in the Heavens, I never really saw that as the Gods using their powers but more like a racial ability of Gods. Like Elf ears or something and from what I've read, both in the LN and the Wiki, no one really knows either.
But Anco, what about the Falna? How can the SI even have one? I hear you guys ask. Well, the answer is simple:
While the Outsider Trait is the SI's thing, the 'Gamer' takes higher priority. When it detected that John wasn't being forced into the Familia, it basically turned it off for a moment and let it happen.
Shitty reason? Maybe. But honestly, the 'Gamer' part of this fic is small compared to what I want to write as a story. I actually considered deleting the first chapter and this chapter to start over again, but I don't want to get into that habit. If I start getting rid of chapters because I think they can be better, nothing will get out.
The reason for this one taking so long is simple:
DMC 5. That game is amazing. Currently have it running in the background on Bloody Palace, 30th floor. Also, getting this chapter out was...frustrating to say the least. Lack of motiviation and all that, but that's all fixed.
Speaking of video games, I reinstalled Vampire the Masquerade because of the sequel and I forget how fun that game is, especially with mods and patches.
I'm very cautiously hopeful for the sequel though. I've read some of the things that the Devs have said and well...Let's just say there are some really big red flags popping up. Remember guys. Don't pre-order, wait for it to come out. Let other people pay for it and see if it's just another cash grab by Devs using a brand name.
You know, I'm kinda sad by the small amount of World of Darkness fics. You would think there would be more, but no. I'm not going to ramble for much longer, but after reading some of the editions for the table top, I have that writing bug again. Going to concentrate on my current fics though rather than on a whimsy.
I will write a vampire fic one day, mark my words.
Next fic update is going to be one that I haven't updated for months now, since November. I've neglected that one for too long and I want to get back into Overlord again.