AN: Here I am back again and with a brand new chapter for you!

Ideally, I'd have published this chapter quite a while ago, but unfortunately real-life does tend to get in the way.

But either way, I am back with a new chapter. Hope you enjoy it, and please leave a review etc. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to PM me.

Thanks for reading and please do leave a review, or feel free to PM, I am usually much better at answering those!

This story hasn't been betaed, so if you spot any major grammar, spelling mistakes or typos please do let me know. I am aware that there are probably quite a few that I've missed over the last 16 chapters, and when I have the time I will look through each chapter and try and find and correct them. Maybe run each chapter though Grammarly just to make sure.

Disclaimer: I do not own Last of his Kind or Elder Scrolls.

( - )

(Last Time)

"So long as I can blame you when Riveria comes lecturing, I don't care," Bete smirked, downing his glass of wine. "Plus, once we get outside, fancy having another brawl?" He continued grinning wolfishly over at Azoth.

"Sure, why not. The winner buys the first round," Azoth nodded.

From around him, he could see the mood in the room getting a bit more jovial as the wine continued to flow, and inhibitions and decorum took a backseat.

Loki especially, seemed to be getting into the rhythm of things as she laughed bawdily, and shared loud, innuendo-filled jokes with Hermes and Gareth. Much to Riveria's visible disapproval, and Finn's embarrassed amusement.

From what he could see, things were shaping up to be an interesting night.

( - )

(The Hostess of Fertility)

"Cheers!" The motley assembly of adventurers cheered as they clashed their tankards together.

Beer slopped onto the ground at their feet at the action.

Not that any of those present cared as they continued to prance about shouting, drinking, and cheering.

Looking around, he could see that the Hostess of Fertility was loud and noisy that night as the Dian Cecht, Hephaestus, Hermes and Loki Familias all drank and partied like there was no tomorrow.

The air within the inn was practically thrumming with excitement and anticipation. So much so that it had even started to affect the tavern's regulars, those not associated with any of the assembled Familias or the upcoming grand expedition.

In the background, working tirelessly behind the scenes, green-clad waitresses and barmaids did a roaring trade as they kept drinks topped up to the rim and shuttled back and forth from the backrooms to the front with new barrels of ale, amphoras of win and bottles of spirit.

What little restraint there had been during at the end of the formal feast the Loki Familia had hosted, had all but vanished now as a multitude of members from the different Familias' laughed together, argued with one another, arm-wrestled, and in some cases canoodled.

From where he was standing at the bar, Azoth could spot several members of his own Familia becoming very acquainted with their fellows in the Hermes and Loki Familias. Most of them weren't even being subtle about it either. Not that anyone present seemed to be judging them for their amorous activities.

Then again, why would they? Life was too short for such things, especially the lives of adventurers. It had been the same in the cold wastes of Skyrim. Love and courting had always been a short affair in his homeland. After all, with the life expectancy of adventurers and citizens alike as low as it was, there really wasn't much point in hanging around. The denizens of Skyrim lived life fast and hard, and treated love in much the same way.

Sometimes a relationship could last. Those ones generally ended up with a quick ceremony in the Temple of Mara to make things official. But more often than not such trysts only lasted a few weeks or months before they were cut short by either death, declining interest, or changing priorities. And many times, they didn't even last until the light of day.

Taking in the raucous laughter and drink-fuelled celebrations going on around him, he couldn't help but draw a lot of similarities between Orario and Skyrim.

The population in Orario was more diverse and accepting, and significantly less insular than it was in his homeland. But the culture, especially the culture around adventuring, had a lot of similarities to what he knew.

The reminder of home was almost comforting in a way.

"Come on you mopey fuck!" Bete Loga shouted as he crashed into his shoulder, "Get back to drinking!"

Sending him a wry smile, Azoth raised his freshly filled tankard of ale – courtesy of a resigned-looking Ryuu Lion – and chugged half of it in a single gulp.

"Down in one you mighty warrior!" Tiona shouted from his other side; her face flushed as she repeatedly punched his arm while repeatedly shouting 'Chief, chief, chief!'.

Rolling his eyes, he happily gave in to peer pressure and finished off the tankard.

It wasn't like it would have much effect on him in the long run. His constitution was naturally pretty high given his nature. Which in turn meant he could drink most people he met under the table without an issue.

As if reading his thoughts, Gareth gazed over his own mug of ale – his moustache was covered in a layer of froth. There was a competitive and anticipatory gleam in his hazel eyes.

Holding back a grin, Azoth lowered his now empty tankard and turned it on its head allowing the last remnants of froth to drain out of it, even as he proved to all those around him that it was finished.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on the situation, the immunity from diseases and the supernatural constitution that he had inherited courtesy of both his Blessing from Hircine and nature as a Dragonborn didn't protect him from poisons, like alcohol. This meant that getting drunk was still a very real possibility, even if it would still take an 'ungodly' amount of the stuff to get him properly hammered.

"Another!" Bete bellowed from beside him, slamming his mug down next to Azoth's and gesturing for the both of them to be refilled post-haste.

Rolling her eyes at Bete's obnoxious demands, Ryuu took both of the proffered cups and started to refill them. Only for Tiona, Agil, and Beckendorf to add their tankards to the queue of drinks waiting to be re-filled.

From where he was sitting Azoth could spot the narrowing of Ryuu's eyes.

His fellow elf looked to be getting displeased with the rowdiness.

Not that her landlady, Mia, seemed to be of a similar mind as the dwarf barkeep just grinned and pulled out yet another oversized barrel of ale from the backrooms and shouted that it was 'first come first served'. Her voice was clearly audible, even above the chatter of the crowds, the beat of the background music, and the loud, chorus of drunken singing that unsteadily followed the ongoing arias.

Considering how many people were crammed into the inn and how much they were collectively drinking, he wasn't at all surprised by her good cheer. Her coffers would likely be full to bursting by the end of the night.

Tearing his gaze away from the grinning Mia and irritable Ryuu, Azoth instead surveyed the rest of the inn, easily ignoring Tiona as she continued to lightly punch his arm – the short Amazon seemed to be a mildly aggressive drunk, unlike her sister who had spent most of the night throwing herself at Finn and being roundly, if politely, rejected.

Taking in the chaos before him, Azoth's gaze easily found the members of his own Familia and some of the more recognisable faces from the Hermes and Loki Familias as well.

Lisabeth and Hephaestus had both excused themselves after the feast had ended, as had Armid from the Dian Cecht Familia.

But other than those three, almost everyone else was still present.

Including surprisingly; Riveria, Ais and Lefiya. He really hadn't expected those three to stick around, especially considering the loud and boisterous atmosphere. Riveria had always come across as too refined and noble for such excesses. While Lefiya hadn't stuck him as much of a drinker or partier. As for Ais, well, she had always come across as completely detached and disinterested in anything other than fighting.

But surprisingly, they had all subverted his expectations, as at present the three of them were sat in a group off to the side, with Lefiya repeatedly trying to engage the taciturn Ais in conversation, even while Riveria babysat the ever-raucous Loki.

It made for quite an entertaining juxtaposition, especially as Loki seemed to weave between desperately grabbing at passing trays of wine and beer and flinging herself – both physically and emotionally – at the impassive Ais, much to Lefiya's visible displeasure.

Considering he had once met, drank with and later tactically avoided the Daedric Prince of Debauchery. He wasn't at all shocked by Loki's behaviour. Nor by Hermes' either for that matter. The messenger god was currently trying his luck with a number of attractive-looking women, only to get immediately slapped down by his Familia Captain, Asfi.

His lips twitched upwards in amusement as he watched the two Divines being so easily curtailed by mere mortals.

Despite Orario having a number of similarities with Tamriel, the relationship between gods and mortals, was completely alien to him.

Taking his freshly filled tankard he quaffed half of it without even thinking, his mind instead on the hypothetical scenario of what would have happened if he had treated his patron, Meridia, with such familiarity… a shiver ran through his body at the thought of what her reaction would have been.

"Aww, is the big, bad, Level Six, Snow Prince a lightweight?" Tiona grinned from beside him, noticing his shiver and mistaking it as a possible sign of weakness.

Taking her words as a challenge, Azoth lazily met her gaze and downed the remainder of his tankard, and then grabbed Bete's freshly poured mug before the werewolf could and drained that one too – it was a clear breach of tavern decorum but considering Bete was his victim he doubted anyone would call him out on it.

"Oi!" Bete snarled.

Or at least anyone important.

Glancing at the high-strung werewolf, Azoth cocked an eyebrow, his violet eyes flashing and his canines visibly sharpening as he drew on just a slither of Hircine's Blessing.

Bete in his inebriated state, scowled at the clear challenge and grabbed Tiona's drink instead of trying to wrestle his own from Azoth.

"Stupid wolf-elf," The grey-haired werewolf grumbled to himself. "What even are you anyway?"

"Either very lucky or unlucky," Azoth replied cheerfully as he snagged another fresh drink from the bar and offered it to the now-sulking Tiona. "Depending on how you look at it."

"Do you always have to be so damn cryptic!" Bete growled.

"No, but it is entertaining," Azoth smiled wryly. He was starting to feel all the ale he had drunk now as it percolated in his stomach and started to muddy his mind and play tricks on his senses and inhibitions.

"Asshole," Bete shook his head.

"I don't know, I like his whole mysterious albino elf thing," Beckendorf said, inserting himself into the conversation. "It keeps things interesting and makes every new little fact we can tease out of him all the more exciting. I mean, me and some of the others have even started a bit of a betting pool on him."

"Huh, can I get in on the action?!" Bete grinned, his eyes locking with Azoth's challengingly. "What kind of things are we talking about here?"

Beckendorf exchanged a look with Agil and shrugged. "Eh, some of it is simple stuff like where he is from and what he did to get to his current Level. Other stuff has to do with his forging techniques. The main thing though is what brought him to Orario, as let me tell you, whatever it was, must have been pretty fucked!"

"How do you mean?" Bete frowned.

Azoth raised an amused eyebrow. Contrary to expectations, he wasn't too fussed about people digging into his history and trying to guess at his origins. If anything, he found the multitude of theories they came up with entertaining. Especially one of the more popular theories which claimed that he was the long-lost prince of an ancient elven civilisation.

"Well," Beckendorf took a swig of his ale and loudly smacked his lips together. "His armour for one. I've been a smith for a few years now, and although I'm not as high level as Tsubaki or Azoth, I'm still pretty experienced. But that armour he was sportin' when he first arrived… that was high-class gear, worth tens of millions. It was the kinda thing I'd expect from Tsubaki, or maybe even Hephaestus herself on a bad day…." He frowned and scratched his chin with his free hand. "It was the kind of armour that would see even a brute like Gareth through the deep levels with nary a scratch. I mean hell, I couldn't even work out what alloy was used to make it."

Beckendorf frowned unsteadily as he paused for a moment in thought. "It was pretty annoying actually. Especially, since the pointy-eared fucker wouldn't give us any clues." He scowled at Azoth.

In response, Azoth shrugged. "What can I say. I was told when I first arrived that the different smiths of the Hephaestus Familia jealously guarded their craft, even from each other…."

Beckendorf rolled his eyes but didn't gainsay him.

Agil however, just snorted with laughter. "That is the way. There wouldn't be much of a rivalry if we all just gave away our trade secrets, would there?"

"You Hephaestus lot get bent out of shape about the weirdest things," Tiona drunkenly complained.

"Why, because we compete with our craft and not our fists like you lot?" Beckendorf shot back snidely.

"Booooo!" Tiona booed.

"So, what was it about the condition of Azoth's armour that made you so surprised?" A soft and suspiciously sober voice cut into the conversation.

"Riveria!" Tiona cheered at the sight of the green-haired elf.

Bete instinctively flinched at the sound of the voice and raised his hands to show his innocence – just what he was innocent of wasn't clear.

"What about his armour bothered me," Beckendorf hummed to himself contemplatively, "Well aside from it being a masterpiece and being made out of some unknown alloy, it was mainly the fact that it was completely fucked."

Riveria's eyes narrowed a fraction at his cursing, but she didn't immediately reprimand him like those present expected.

"Oh ho, and how was it fucked?" Loki forced her way into the conversation, her arms slithering around Riveria for a moment only for the green-haired elf to swiftly put paid to her attempts with a single downward chop of her hand.

"Ow…." Loki moaned from the floor.

Letting out a slight sigh at her goddess behaviour, Riveria pushed a loose lock of her verdant hair behind her point ear and frowned down at Loki.

"I know you're having fun, Lady Loki. But could you try and maintain at least some semblance of propriety," She continued, her expression hardening for a moment before softening an instant later as Loki looked up at her like a kicked puppy.

Behind the newly arrived duo, Azoth could see Lefiya taking full advantage of Loki's absence as she moved to fully monopolize Ais's attention. Not that Ais seemed to be giving her much to work with, as the blonde instead looked over at the bar curiously.

Violet-coloured eyes met gold, and he cocked an eyebrow.

In response, she tilted her head to the side.

Giving her a wry smile and a wink, he returned his attention to his current conversation, even as Beckendorf – seemingly oblivious to the byplay between Loki and Riveria –took another swig of ale and continued talking. Happily sharing his views and opinions with the surrounding members of the Loki Familia

"It was definitely weird," the cheerful young smith continued, his brow furrowing as he crossed his heavily muscled arms. "Not only was the breastplate all but crushed. But the rest of his armour was rent in more than a dozen places, and these weren't just minor cracks either. Whatever did that damage had ridiculously sharp claws and had the strength to back it up. And I can't for the mind of me work out what it was especially considering the amount of damage that was done and the fact that he must've run into whatever did it while on the surface, as nobody had even heard of him in Orario before. I even asked Silena if she had any ideas and she didn't have a clue-"

"Silena?" Agil interrupted with a grin.

Beckendorf's face suddenly went red, and his eyes quickly shifted down to his beer.

"A monster on the surface that would be powerful enough to rip apart high-level armour," Riveria mused easily ignoring Agil as he swiftly started teasing the younger smith. Instead, her sharp green eyes locked with Azoth's.

Seeing the question brewing up within her, Azoth grinned.

Her eyes narrowed.

"Oh, I know!" Loki cheered as she once again butted into the conversation. "Did you get into a fight with another adventurer?"

"An adventurer with claws?" Bete said snidely.

Loki frowned at his response and lunged at his drink.

"Nice try short stack," Bete grinned as he pulled his drink away in time and then held it above Loki's head, even as the red-haired goddess started jumping to get it.

"Don't you have claws though?" Tiona piped up as she hopped onto the bar and tried to join Loki in stealing Bete's drink.

"Fuck off!" Bete snapped his brows furrowing as he found himself double-teamed by his goddess and his Familia mate. "And yeah, I can, but only when I go all out."

"Then maybe he had a run-in with another werewolf?" Riveria said as she deftly scooped two tankards off of a passing tray and gave them to both Tiona and Loki – it seemed she had given up on restraining them and had instead just decided to enable their bad behaviour for the moment, even if only to stop them from further acting out.

"Nah," Beckendorf re-entered the conversation, his face still a little pink. "To cause the amount of damage I saw an adventurer would have to be First Class, and I'm talking high Level Five or Level Six, and what's the chance of their being an unknown Level Five or Six outside of Orario?"

The entire group suddenly looked at Azoth.

"What's the chances indeed," Azoth nodded sagely.

Rolling her eyes at his response, Riveria shook her head. "There are still some strong adventurers outside of Orario. There are likely a few in Rakia I'm sure, and I can certainly think of a pair of very dangerous Amazons that have reached that level of power."

"Those bitches would never leave Telskyura," Tiona cut in, her green eyes sharpening.

"True," Riveria allowed, her expression softening as she slapped away Loki's wandering hand and gave Tiona a gentle look.

Meeting her gaze, Tiona nodded and forced a smile. Her shoulders slowly untensing, even as she resumed drinking, only more furiously this time.

"You really don't like not knowing, do you?" Azoth cut in breaking the silence that had sprung up within their small group.

Riveria's sharp eyes locked with his own. She didn't look amused. "I enjoy a mystery as much as the next person."

"Yes, I'm sure," Azoth nodded amiably, placing his tankard back on the bar and grinning at Ryuu as she took it off him.

"A dragon," Syr said from beside Ryuu as she eyed him curiously.

Her grey eyes were unusually sharp and focused as they met his own, before shifting up and around him.

Azoth's lips twitched at her words.

There was something disarming about the way Syr was looking at him. It was difficult to categorise the intensity of her gaze. There was no love or hate in her eyes. Instead, there was something else hidden deep within them. It was unnerving.

Ryuu seemed to think the same as he could see her giving the other barmaid the side eye. She didn't look pleased, either.

"A dragon could work in theory. But there aren't any dragons on the surface strong enough to deal that kind of damage," Riveria said abruptly. "If his armour was as impressive as I am led to believe then it would require travelling down to the Deep Floors to meet a foe capable of causing such levels of damage."

"That's what I thought," Beckendorf nodded. "Which is part of the problem. If I could examine it, I might be able to tell but that's easier said than done."

Azoth could hear the accusation in Beckendorf's tone. "There would need to be an equivalent exchange. Tell you what, I've heard that you've been working on a new type of armour with Asfi from the Hermes Guild, let me examine that project and I'll give you access to my old armour."

"How the hell-" Beckendorf began his eyes narrowing as he glanced over at where Asfi was currently lecturing Hermes. His words were still a little slurred, but some semblance of clarity seemed to have returned to him as he shifted his attention back to Azoth. "-no, don't tell me. It was that little shit Leo, wasn't it?"

"I don't know what you mean," Azoth said innocently.

"A new project you say?" Agil jumped into the conversation, his thickly muscled arm locking around Beckendorf's neck.

"A personal project," Beckendorf snapped back defensively as he fought the larger smith off.

"Ah, you mean your chameleon armour?" Agil grinned.

"How in the-" Beckendorf growled only for his expression to darken even further. "Leo!"

On the other side of the room, Leo flinched and turned to look at who called his name. Upon seeing the expression on Beckendorf's face he let out a manly squeak and dived underneath the table he had been sitting at.

"You stunted little goblin," Beckendorf snarled as he broke free of Agil and started hunting his errant friend.

Laughing, Agil chased after him and continued his goading.

"Huh, you Hephaestus lot are so weird," Tiona muttered under her breath.

"I like it," Azoth smiled, and he really did. They weren't as boisterous as the Companions were, but they had their own charm. Besides, for all that the Hephaestus Familia was a competitive environment, a proving ground for craftsmen and women, it was also a very supportive and friendly place to be. The different members kept their carefully honed techniques secret, but they still shared materials and supplies, and gave one another innocuous tips to help each other out, even if they didn't give away any of their more important techniques.

Taking a large gulp of ale, a satisfied smile slipped across his face.

For all that his arrival in this world was unexpected, and for all that he missed his old friends and acquaintances, he was still beginning to enjoy his time in it. He could actually see himself settling down in this world. It was peaceful in a way that Skyrim wasn't.

"You know," Syr spoke up again, her voice cut through his musing. "There is at least one dragon that I can think of who lives on the surface and who is more than strong enough to tear through high-level equipment with ease…."

"There is?" Riveria asked sharply, her gaze speculative as she eyed Syr.

At Syr's side, Ryuu also looked surprised at her friend's admission.

"I've only heard stories," Syr continued slyly, her eyes locked unerringly on Azoth. "But then again that's all most people have heard. I mean to say, who hasn't heard of the legendary and infamous, One-Eyed Black Dragon."

Azoth's eye twitched in spite of himself, and whatever warmth he'd been feeling was suddenly doused in cold water, at the mention of Alduin.

He could hear the great dragon's Thu'um ringing in his ear, and feel both the overwhelming heat of its flames and the pain that came with it.

His hands clenched into fists, shattering the wooden tankard in his hand and dousing himself in warm ale.

Those around him likewise reacted to Syr's words, Bete froze mid-drink, Tiona let out a surprised 'eep', Ryuu's expression hardened, and Riveria's eyes widened a fraction as she glanced over at where Ais was sitting. Loki, meanwhile, just smiled. All semblances of her previous 'drunkenness' vanished in an instant as she instead brought her full attention onto the ongoing conversation.

"Methinks you reacted a little too violently there, Azzy," Loki said slyly. A fox-like smile slowly started to spread across her face.

Azoth's eyes narrowed, more in reaction to the name she used than the implications of her statement. In reality, he didn't care much who knew and had only not mentioned it to others because of Hephaestus's advice.

"What can I say?" Azoth shrugged.

Silence engulfed the group, even as those around them continued to chat, sing and dance along oblivious.

"Well, saying something would be good at least," Loki finally said, pouting a little.

Tilting his head to the side, Azoth smiled. "Something."

Loki's eye twitched, "Being tricksy is only cute when I do it."

Bete snorted into his hand.

Loki sent him a scowl. "Whose side are you on?"

Ignoring her goddess, Riveria watched him curiously.

Smiling, he sent her a wink and turned back to the bar and smiled at Ryuu, "My apologies, it seems I broke my tankard. Could I get another to go? I think I'm going to need to rescue Leo from Beckendorf's wrath."

"Of course," Syr answered for her friend, quickly grabbing a new tankard and filling it up for him. "I'll add the cost of a new tankard onto your tab."

His eye twitched at the 'sincere' smile on the grey-haired girl's face.

"Thanks," he replied dryly, taking the mug and raising it to those around him. "I'm sure we'll catch up again soon."

"Byeeee!" Tiona cheerfully called out as he started heading over to where Beckendorf was trying to drag Leo out from under a table.

"Yes, I'm sure we will," Riveria added softly her gaze tracking him as he passed, even as Loki and Bete started to squabble behind her.

Behind Riveria, he could see that Ryuu had rounded on Syr and seemed to be sharing some sharp words with her, though just what she was saying was lost on him due to the surrounding noise in the tavern.

Forcing his gaze away, he quickly allowed himself to be swept away in the chaos as the assorted members of the four different Familia had their last big hurrah before the start of the expedition.

( - )

The day following the feast ended up being a difficult one for all those who had attended the festivities. Headaches and queasy stomachs were the norm for most. So much so that it wasn't long before the Familia's supply of spare potions was raided by those seeking short-term relief.

Despite the air of suffering that hung over all but the most stalwartly or sensible of their number, however, things still continued at pace as the final preparations were made for the upcoming expedition.

Those few that were going spent most of their time checking and rechecking their gear. Armour, weapons, spare weapons, potions, forging equipment, all of it was meticulously gathered and catalogued. During the days that followed more than a dozen members of the Loki and Hermes Familia visited the Hephaestus Familia's compound as final arrangements were made with the supporters for the transportation of small anvils, portable forges and all manner of personalised and specialised smithing tools.

The sheer amount of organisation that had taken place in those final preparations was awe-inspiring, and that was just for those few who would be accompanying the expedition.

After all, those that were to remain were just as bus as the departing members offloaded some of their extra work and duties onto those that would be left behind, even as Hephaestus redistributed the Familia's responsibilities for running the workshops and stores in the Tower of Babel onto some of the less overworked members.

For those last few days, it had been all hands on deck, and even Azoth as one of the newer members of the Familia was not spared from the bureaucracy as he quickly found himself being put in charge of organising the loading of the different custom-made wagons they would be taking down with them into the Dungeons. From what he had been told, the wagons would be accompanying them down to the lowest safe area where most of the supporters would remain, even as the most elite members of the expedition continued ever downwards into the deepest depths of the Dungeon.

It was not particularly fun work. Especially considering he had previously preferred adventuring through the many tombs, abandoned temples, bandit-controlled caves and dungeons of Skyrim alone. Or when he did have company with only one or two others. Being a part of a big group wasn't something he had much experience with aside from the few times he and the Companions had ridden out to battle.

Additionally he also still had his own preparations to make as he put the finishing touches to his armour and finished crafting his most important smithing tools, and gathering up some of the monster soul gems he'd be taking down with him into the Dungeon to use as fuel for his enchanted weapons.

Still, needs must and with the expedition so close at hand, he'd had no choice but to pitch in and help out as much as he could – it was the least he could do considering all that Hephaestus had done for him over the last month.

( - )

Pulling the last buckle of his armour tight, Azoth took a few seconds to twist and turn going through all the normal motions one would usually do when fighting.

It was a good fit.

Nodding to himself in satisfaction he slotted Dawnbreaker and his dagger onto his belt and slung Wuuthrad onto his back.

He was ready for an adventure.

All of his specialised smithing gear was packed up and on one of the wagons that would be accompanying them, and everything that he would need personally was on his person.

Taking one last look around his forge he eyed the dying embers for one last moment before grabbing his helm and exiting his workshop, and heading over to meet the other five members of the Hephaestus Familia that would be joining the expedition.

They were all waiting in the courtyard, with several lower-levelled members of the Hermes and Loki Familia with them – they were the ones that would be looking after the wagons.

"You look ready for a war," Tsubaki greeted him cheerfully as he met up with her in the centre of the paved courtyard.

Azoth cocked an eyebrow in response. His gazing roving up and down her form and taking in her sparse, brightly coloured clothing, and the large curved sword at her hip – her clothing and weapons were similar to that of an Alik'r warrior only without the cape and headscarf.

It was a far cry from the Orismer-styled heavy plate he was wearing and not the kind of thing he would expect an adventurer, even a powerful one like Tsubaki to wear on such a dangerous expedition. In the upper levels sure. The monsters were very weak. But from what he had learned of where they would be going cloth armour didn't seem like a great idea.

Glancing around at the others, he saw that Beckendorf, Lisabeth and Agil all at least wore some sort of armour.

Though annoyingly none of them wore helmets, nor did they look to be carrying any with them either.

Instead, Lisabeth wore a red and white dress-like thing, with half-plate armour on her chest, and covering one shoulder. Her legs were covered at least, but not by any armour, or at least none that he could see. Agil meanwhile wore a black cuirass, but left his shoulders and arms bear, along with his shaved head. His legs at least were covered with thick cloth and armour plates.

It wasn't great as far as armour went, but it at least looked to be good quality and seemed to protect most of the vital points on their torsos.

Beckendorf on the other hand was wearing a heavier set of bronze-coloured armour, which although having distinctly more flash and flare than the others, did at least provide full protection for his arms, legs and torso. Hanging off his belt was a shortsword, while on his back, over the top of his small backpack, was a round, bronze shield.

Nyssa and Leo however both seemed to follow Tsubaki's lead. Nyssa wore some leather armour and carried an axe – though it wasn't as big as Wuthraad or Agil's great axe instead it was closer in size to Lisabeth's flanged mace. Leo meanwhile wore lightweight cloth with a heavy leather apron on top and a pair of hammers swinging from his belt along with a number of other pouches and doodads

All five of them had small packs on their back and were armed with both their main weapons, and also some spare weapons like short swords and daggers.

As a seasoned adventurer and a veteran of many a harrowing dungeon trawl and Falmer cave the lack of proper preparation annoyed him.

Wearing a helmet was just common sense, especially in a dark, underground environment where rockfalls and ambushes could happen at any moment. Likewise, decent armour was also a must when it came to fighting monsters with claws, poisons and weapons.

Not that he gave voice to his displeasure.

This was not his world, and unlike him, the other five going with him had a lot more experience dungeon diving in 'the Dungeon' than he did. Which meant that it was only right that he bowed down to their greater experience. Or at least that he didn't outright dismiss them as underprepared fools.

Biting his tongue, he gave Tsubaki a forced smile. "And you look like you're ready for a picnic in the park."

Okay, maybe he didn't completely restrain his initial reaction to their assorted garb.

Taking his comment as a jest, Tsubaki gave him a wink… or just blinked… it was difficult to tell with the eyepatch. "Well, we might as well be. The first twenty-five floors are piss. Especially compared with the numbers and talent we're taking with us. You, me and the rest, we're going to be hanging back for the most part with the baggage train while the Loki Executives run their lower-levelled members ragged."

"Training I assume?" Azoth asked.

"It is a good way of blooding their newer recruits. Mainly those that aren't strong enough to make it to the middle floors alone. It also allows the expedition leaders to conserve the strengths of the elites until the lower floors." Tsubaki nodded agreeably, before gesturing over her shoulder at the others. "We're all over Level Three, so we won't be getting too stuck in either. Though I might send Leo and Beckendorf out to get stuck in and gather some materials from the slain monsters."

Tsubaki paused in thought, "And both Agil and Lisabeth will be taking some Hermes minions with them to mine out some Ore on the lower-middle and upper-lower floors."

"Oi!" One of the Hermes Familia minions shouted behind them.

Tsubaki didn't even glance in his direction.

"But that'll all be explained on the way. Finn is in command, and will probably be near the front with most of Loki's front-liners and the lower-levelled members. But Riveria and some of the Loki Familia's stronger supporters and spell casters will be sticking with us near the middle of the pack. The remaining Loki Executives will be bringing up the rear." Tsubaki said, quickly setting out the general formation they would be taking. "Once we get to the lower floors, and later the deep floors, the formation will of course change. But it'll take us more than a week before we make it to the lower floors."

"Makes sense," Azoth nodded.

Tsubaki clapped him on the shoulder and nodded. Her lips curved up into a wide grin as she looked out over their assembled group. "Right, now we're all here and assembled, let's be off. We're meeting the rest outside the Dungeon in an hour, and I'm not sure about you, but I'm bored of the waiting. The sooner we get down to the Dungeon and get stuck in, the better!"

At her words, those present all cheered.

From behind her, and standing in the doorway to the manor, Azoth could see Hephaestus watching them leave.

Sparing a moment to send her a wave, he quickly filed in behind Tsubaki as they all set off towards the Tower of Babel, and the formidable Dungeon that sat beneath it.

( - )

AN: So the next arc begins. The next few chapters will be pretty action-heavy and will touch on some of the storylines from some of the Danmachi side stories like Sword Oratoria. It will also have some further character work, development and some worldbuilding too. So it should be a fun arc, and hopefully one which will be well-paced.

Either way, thanks for reading and have a good rest of your days.

Please do drop a review if you fancy, and check out my other stories too if you're bored and fancy reading something.

Cheers and catch you later.