One day later.
Bell spent the entirety of yesterday in his bed. He wanted to spend the day doing something other than lying around in his bed, but Riveria had scolded him and told him that he needed to rest. Aiz had said something about 'convincing Ryuu', and for some reason, Bell felt like it would only end in bloodshed. Welf had visited him as well, and Lili seemed to be fine too, but it seemed like Helun could only leave him a note saying that she was okay. Party or not, they were still part of rival Familias, so she wouldn't easily be allowed to see him.
He got up out of his bed and noticed that his injuries had hurt a lot less than before. Wondering if that was due to the Level Up he had received the day before, he started making his way towards the cafeteria. Walking through the entrance, he suddenly saw that many pairs of eyes inside the cafeteria locked onto him as soon as he stepped forward. He jumped back a bit, wondering if he did anything wrong, when one of the members, Raul, called out to him.
"Hey, Bell! Come over here!"
As he passed by the other Familia members, he heard them whispering to each other, some of them even pointing their fingers at him.
"He's the one, right?"
"Our latest member… In only two weeks, he managed to reach Level 2?"
"Even Aiz-san's first Level Up took her a whole year you know? There's no way someone could beat her record by that much, super rookie or not…"
"He has to be cheating, right?"
Bell, upon hearing the various conversations around him, couldn't help but grimace. He knew that reaching a Level Up in only two weeks was unheard of, and he couldn't blame them for thinking that he was cheating. Bell knew that he was growing at an exponential rate, but he had absolutely no idea what caused him to grow so fast. Of course, he was thankful for it because that would mean he would reach his goal that much faster, however, it would also mean that many of the adventurers around him would look at him with jealousy. He knew his relationship with the other Familia members wasn't the greatest either, since the only time he actually interacted with them was during breakfast or at the Hostess of Fertility.
Sitting down next to Raul, he saw that a few other people were sitting with him looking at Bell in curiosity. He knew one of them as Aki, the cat person who often hung out with Raul. But he didn't know anything about the human girl with a bob cut, the chienthrope with light brown ears, and the elf with golden hair who were staring at him.
"So are the rumors that you reached Level 2 yesterday true?" Asked Raul.
"Y-yea…" Bell answered with a troubled expression.
Looking at how uneasy his expression was from all of the unwanted attention, the chienthrope of the group gave him a small smile.
"Relax. We won't hurt you or anything, we were just curious. That's all." He said.
"Knowing you, Bell, I don't think this is the case, but you aren't cheating, right? That kind of stuff will always come back to bite you back later." Aki said.
"I-I wouldn't do something like that!"
"I figured. You're too innocent to try anything like that." She laughed. "The rumors about you were pretty interesting though."
"Even before you hit Level 2, there were adventurers speculating about how you were getting stronger so fast. Things like how you were exaggerating how many floors you've been to, or how you spend all your time just walking around and not actually fighting monsters… There was even a rumor that you were using forbidden Arcanum."
"There's no way I can use something like that!"
"We know that, of course." The human girl spoke up. "Loki-sama wouldn't do something like that. But the rumors that you're partying with members from other Familias is true, right?"
"Y-yeah… is there something wrong with that?"
The elf chimed into the conversation as well. "It's rare for people to party outside of their Familia, you know? Even in our Familia, there isn't anyone eccentric enough to work with an outsider without permission."
"E-eh? Really?!" Bell showed a troubled face at the new information.
She nodded. "Well, Riveria-sama and the other executives seem to be fine with it, so there isn't really any issue but… You can rely on us, you know? We're your Familia."
Bell gave a sheepish laugh. "Ahaha… Sorry. I didn't want to bother anyone since everyone looked so busy, and I didn't think anyone would have the time to help out a rookie like me, so…"
The other members of the table looked at each other, then gave each other a small smile before turning to address the latest member.
"Don't worry about that! Now that I think about it, we haven't introduced ourselves, have we?" The elf said. "I'm Alicia. If you ever find yourself in a bind, you should come talk to me!"
The red-haired girl with a bob cut spoke up next. "Alicia's like the older sister of our Familia—everyone relies on her! I'm Narvi. Nice to meet you, Bell!"
"And my name is Cruz." The chienthrope said. "It's true that most of us are pretty busy, but you won't bother us too much if you any of us for help."
"Then um… please take care of me, Alicia-san, Narvi-san, Cruz-san."
Bell gave a slight smile to them, but it was clear that the whispering around them had caused him to look troubled. Seeing this, Aki frowned and turned to reprimand them, but someone else beat her to the punch.
"—Oi, what the hell are you weaklings howling about?"
An irritated voice came from the entrance to the dungeon. Turning their heads, they saw a certain werewolf scowling at them.
"If you have time to complain about that bunny brat, then you have time to get off your asses and do something about it! You're all just gonna sit there and be content with yourselves and wait for the rookie to surpass you? Huh?!" Bete spat out.
At the werewolf's words, some of the adventurers looked away in shame, some of them clenched their fists in anger, and others looked at him with discontent. It was a known fact that many adventurers both inside and outside of the Familia disliked him, yet they couldn't rebuke him because of his status. Seeing this, Bete scoffed at them before walking across the cafeteria to get some food. Bell was staring at him, but Bete didn't even look in their direction as he passed by him. The whispering about Bell had stopped and most of the adventurers left in the cafeteria were stewing in silence or murmuring about something else. Not wanting to break the silence, Bell's group began to speak in low voices as well.
"That Bete… He couldn't have possibly did that for Bell, right?" Aki whispered.
"He's actually a good guy, just rough around the edges… Really rough around the edges. He probably was more pissed at our members more than anything else, though." Raul said.
"…I kind of feel bad that this was my fault, so I think I should leave…" Bell murmured.
"It's not your fault, Bell. You don't have to leave, you didn't even have breakfast yet either." Cruz said.
Bell scratched his head before getting up anyways. "No, I don't have that much of an appetite, and I still have things to do today anyways…" Thinking of his party members and Aiz going to confront Ryuu about his training had caused him to be somewhat restless.
"I see… You're a go-getter, huh? That's fine and all, but make sure you don't overwork yourself. I don't think you should even be moving around with those injuries…" Alicia said, gesturing towards his bandages.
"Ahaha… I understand. Thank you for your consideration, Alicia-san." He bowed slightly to the group before turning to the exit. Before he left, he remembered something and asked them a question.
"By the way, have any of you seen Aiz-san today?"
"Aiz? I think I saw her leave this morning, but I didn't see where she was going. Is there any particular reason why you're asking?" Raul said.
They were slightly confused as to why he was asking for Aiz's whereabouts, but they didn't pry any further. He thanked them once more before he finally left the cafeteria.
"…He's a good kid." Narvi said as they watched him leave.
"He doesn't look like he could be an adventurer at all, with that straightforward attitude of his…" Cruz commented.
"His looks are too innocent as well. Not suited to be an adventurer at all." Alicia remarked.
"…Let's just look out for him in the future. Bell seems to be the type that attracts unwanted trouble, after all." Raul said with a wry smile. They agreed to his proposition, before turning to finish their food. Seeing the rookie Level Up in such a short time as well as hearing Bete's words had caused them to be fired up, and they immediately wanted to set out to the Dungeon to train.
Bell exited the cafeteria in search of his companions, but his Goddess was waiting there for him at the exit. She motioned for Bell to follow him and turned towards the stairs. Bell had a confused look on his face, wondering if he had done anything wrong, but complied and started followed her.
Bell's meeting with Loki was brief. He had received something called a Status Lock from her, which hid his status from any prying eyes. He supposed it was a precaution against people who wanted to know how he leveled up so quickly, but Bell had no idea how he did it either. After that, she warned him that he should be resting and shouldn't do anything too straining, otherwise Riveria would come and scold him later. Gulping in nervousness, he quickly agreed, and afterwards he asked if Lili was still at the manor. She pointed him towards the room where Lili was staying in, and Bell thanked his Goddess before heading over.
Once he got there, he saw that the pallum girl was resting on the bed while staring at the ceiling. Hearing the door open, Lili turned towards Bell and broke out into a relieved expression.
"Bell-sama, you're okay!"
"You too, Lili!"
Bell pulled a chair over next to Lili's bedside and sat down on it. Looking at her bandaged body, he frowned but Lili asked him a question before he could say anything.
"Bell-sama, should you really be up and walking already? It's only been two days since our fight with that Minotaur…"
"I'm fine, but what about you Lili? You got hit by that Minotaur pretty badly, and you're still in bed!"
"…Bell-sama, after that kind of fight, a normal person wouldn't be awake for a few days, let alone being able to walk around."
She sighed in disbelief at Bell's question. "I'm fine. I was actually able to walk a little two days ago, but I feel like that was more due to adrenaline than anything else. A healer from the Dian Cecht Familia said I'd be able to walk again after a week, and that I'd be completely fine after two weeks or so of rest."
The conversation hit a lull for a few moments before Lili addressed him again.
"So, it's true that you hit Level 2 then, Bell-sama?"
"You really are weird, Bell-sama."
"H-hey…" He pouted a bit.
"But congratulations on leveling up! Maybe it's because of your Level Up that you're able to move around already?"
"Maybe… I didn't really feel any changes from yesterday, though. I guess I'm still in that 'adjustment period' that Kami-sama was talking about."
"The adjustment period after leveling up? Lili has only heard about it in passing, but it seems like it could take a few days to a few weeks before you can adjust to it."
"Hmm… Well, either way, I'll only be able to figure it out after I fully heal."
Bell stood up from the chair and smiled at Lili.
"I'm going to go look around for Welf and Helun to talk to them as well. Ah, I promise I won't do anything strenuous, Riveria-san would scold me if I did…" Bell gave a sheepish laugh. "Since it looks like you're going to be staying here for a few days, do you want me to bring you anything?"
Lili looked at him with wide eyes before quickly blurting out an answer. "U-um, you don't have to bring Lili back anything."
"Are you sure? I don't think it would be a bother at all, you know?"
"N-no, Lili's fine."
"…? I see. Ah, by the way, did the Minotaur drop any items? I passed out right after, so I couldn't confirm anything."
"The Minotaur itself didn't drop anything, but the armor and the weapons it had were given to Welf-sama. Of course, Lili still has all the magic stones from our trip—she will have to exchange them all later."
"Okay. Then, I'll be going, Lili! I'll come back later, so make sure you actually rest!"
"Bell-sama, Lili is the one who should say those words to you." She said with a flat stare.
Giving her a wry smile, Bell left the room. After a few moments, Lili began to mutter her thoughts to herself.
"Bell-sama is too nice… Loki-sama and the others even let me stay here to recover, not even asking about Lili's circumstances… I wonder if everyone in Loki Familia is like that…?"
Lili's Familia, Soma Familia, was nothing like an actual "family" at all. They lied, deceived, and used each other for their own gains—that is, standing out in the Familia in order to drink more of Soma's godly alcohol. Seeing Bell and the other Loki Familia members act completely different than what she was used to had caused her to sigh in envy.
She wondered if there would be a day where she could be the same as them. To one day have a Familia that cared for her like the way Loki Familia cared for all of their members. Maybe, after paying back her debt to Soma, she could join Loki Familia and stand by Bell's side…
She shook her head at the optimistic thought. "Bell-sama really is amazing… To be able to join Loki Familia on his first day in Orario. Lili…doesn't have that kind of talent."
Lili wanted to stand by her savior. She desperately wanted to be able to help the person who saved her life, the person who had helped her even after she had betrayed him. But even if she were able to leave Soma Familia after paying back her debt, there wouldn't be any guarantee that she could get into one of the strongest Familias in Orario right after. They wouldn't accept just anybody into the Familia, even if Bell had given her a recommendation of some sort.
"But at this rate… Bell-sama is only going to continue growing stronger… And Lili won't be able to stand by his side in the future…"
The boy had reached Level 2 in only two weeks. There was absolutely no way a lone supporter could hope to catch up to Bell's astounding rate of growth. She was sure there would come a time where he would grow strong enough that it would be impossible to support him without being a burden. But even so, she wanted to stay by his side no matter what. Lili clenched her fists in frustration, before silently calming herself. With a firm resolve, she vowed to grow stronger—strong enough to be by her adventurer's side.
The streets of Orario were as busy as ever, but as Bell walked around, he noticed that there were a lot of stares and pointing at him. He figured that this was something that he had to get used to because he felt the same kind of stares directed towards the other members of Loki Familia whenever he was with them. His destination was the close by Hephaestus Familia home, located in the northwest sector of Orario, where Welf lived. Bell wanted to immediately find out where Aiz was, but the only place that he could think of in regards to her location was the Stardust Garden, which was located on the other side of Orario. Helun's Familia's home was also located on that side, so he figured that it would be best to seek out Welf first before heading to the southern side of Orario.
On his way there, he picked up a Jagumaru-kun from the stall nearby to serve as a substitute for breakfast. The stall there had a new employee, and from what Bell gathered by the nearby whispers was that the new employee was a Goddess. He wondered why a Goddess would be working at some street stall in Orario, but he figured that even Gods and Goddesses have their own troubles to deal with. Munching on the Jagumaru-kun as he walked down the street, he finally reached the Hephaestus Familia home.
At the front entrance of their home, he asked the guards if Welf was available, and they made a small frown but pointed Bell towards his workshop. Wondering if Welf was disliked within his own Familia, Bell thanked them for their directions and moved towards his workshop. From inside the workshop, Bell could hear the clanging of metal and the sounds of fire, and after walking a short distance he reached the front door. Giving the door a few knocks, Bell asked a question.
"Welf? Are you in there?"
"Is that you, Bell?" The voice said inside.
Bell heard that the sounds of metal had stopped and heard a bunch of shuffling. The door opened and he saw Welf standing there with a few bandages covering his wounds. Because he was up and walking around already, Bell thought that he seemed to be fine.
Bell smiled at him. "You're okay, Welf! …Sorry, were you in the middle of smithing something?"
Welf responded with a grin of his own. "Don't worry about it. I was almost finished anyways. All I have to is add a few finishing touches. Come in!"
Bell stepped inside and gasped at the sight before him.
"This is my workshop! Sorry, it's kind of dirty."
The workshop inside was pretty small. There were rows of metal tools made for smithing lined up across the walls, as well as a few weapons being hung up. The fire that Bell heard earlier outside the workshop was coming from a furnace, and next to that furnace was an anvil and a workbench. On top of that workbench was the equipment that Welf was working on.
'Is that… Pyonkichi?'
The armor was similar to what Bell wore before it got shattered by the Minotaur. It still had that same silver glow as before, but its color was slightly more purplish than before.
"This workshop was provided to me by my Familia. It's a privilege of Hephaestus Familia to give every member their own workshop."
"Is it normal for people to be given separate workshops?"
"Not that I know of. It's cheaper and far more efficient to have joint workshops."
"It's to prevent others from seeing your own techniques. Your techniques are your own, after all. This is also Hephaestus-sama's policy: everyone competes against each other… Well, enough about the workshop."
He sat back down next to the piece of armor he was working on.
"This is the armor that I've been working on since yesterday. I'm making it using the obsidian armor that the Minotaur had on. As soon as I'm done my finishing touches on it, I'll give it to you, Bell."
"Of course. I already told you that I'll make any and all equipment you need for free."
Welf began to work on the armor once more, but as he worked on it he began to converse with Bell.
"…Do you have any other requests, Bell?"
"…Is it okay?"
"I already told you, it's fine… Plus, I already feel bad for your armor getting smashed up."
"When we were fighting that Minotaur on the 15th floor, I felt like I was useless. That Minotaur completely blew me away, and I wasn't able to defend Lil' Lili very well."
Welf shook his head. "No, it's true. I couldn't do much as a front liner, and most of the work was done by everyone else… By the way, I heard that you leveled up from that fight. You're pretty amazing, Bell… But anyways, the fact that I couldn't help much in that fight isn't the thing that bothers me the most."
Welf was sweating from the nearby heat of the furnace while he continued to work on the armor. His gaze hadn't left the armor the entire time he was talking to Bell.
"It's that the armor I made was completely destroyed by that Minotaur. As a smith, it's utterly shameful that my armor couldn't protect you."
Bell wanted to say something, but at the same time he didn't want to interrupt Welf.
"Because of my second-rate armor, you almost died, Bell. I hated how useless it was. That's why, this armor will be much better than that one—I promise this as a smith from Hephaestus Familia."
He finally finished the armor and held up the final product for Bell to see in its entirety.
"Here it is—Pyonkichi Mk-III! Using the obsidian armor from before, I was able to make it both effective against physical and magic attacks! Though, because of that, it's slightly heavier than the old armor."
Bell's eyes sparkled as he gazed at the new piece of armor. Its design was the same as before, but the purplish silver shined brightly in his eyes. Bell still thought Welf's naming sense was lame, but he didn't voice his opinion.
"It looks amazing, Welf!"
"Thanks! …But enough of that, I wanted to know if you had any other requests, Bell." Welf said as he handed the armor over to Bell. He put it on over his body, and the armor fit his body perfectly. Grinning at the familiar feeling, albeit slightly more weighty, Bell responded to Welf's question.
"Let's see… I noticed it in the fight with the Minotaur, but as I expected, a knife doesn't have enough range or strength. It was extremely difficult for me to break through his armor with only my knife…"
"So you want a weapon other than a knife?"
"Yeah… I was hoping for maybe a greatsword, if possible."
"Hmm… That's fine with me. I can toss you one of my spare ones for now." Welf said as he picked up one of the greatswords off of the wall and handed it to Bell. "I have enough leftover material from our earlier expeditions, but… are you sure?"
"Huh?" Bell asked as he fastened the greatsword on his back.
"…Bell, you don't have any interest in magic swords?"
He shook his head.
"…You heard about it from Li'l Lili, right? How the Crozzos were a family who made magic swords for the royal house of Rakia."
"Y-yes, but I don't want to pry…"
Welf gave a wry smile. "No, it's fine. I'm glad that you requested a normal sword rather than a magic sword. I'm going to start working on it right away."
"Huh?! You're not going to take a break?"
He shook his head. "After that day, I couldn't just stand still. I want to create the absolute best possible equipment for the party. I was thinking of creating a new crossbow for Li'l Lili and a new weapon for Helun so that she doesn't throw away that many knives. I recently heard some complaints from other adventurers about the amount of weapons lying around, saying that they were a bother to go around."
"Ahaha…" Bell made a troubled face.
"You look like you want to ask me something."
"It's alright, ask me anything. I don't want to keep secrets from the person I've formed a contract with."
"…Welf, why don't you create magic swords?"
He sighed. "There are several reasons why. One of the reasons is that 'Crozzo' is a name that most elves can't ignore."
"Our Family's magic sword blacksmiths used to serve Rakia, a militaristic nation located on the western side of the continent. We provided magic swords to them in order to gain status, and an army of soldiers with magic swords is no small threat. At that time, Rakia had tremendous firepower, capable of destroying most enemies without any strategy. Rakia kept conquering and conquering more and more land, until finally their flames of war reached the forests which the elves lived in…and their villages and the forests themselves were burned down to nothing."
"Afterwards, the elves who lost their villages received a Falna from a certain deity and attacked Rakia. By that time, Rakia lost their magic swords, resulting in large casualties that caused the war to end. That's why many elves hate the Crozzos."
Welf shook his head. "Many elves in Orario dislike me. I can't blame them, so all I can do is take their hatred. But the biggest reason as to why I don't create magic swords…is because I hate them."
Welf was going around his workshop to look for the materials he needed to craft the sword as he spoke.
"Most customers I have are people who want magic swords. But you know, those guys don't care a single bit about my work. Magic swords, magic swords, magic swords… That's what all of them say, except you, Bell. It makes me mad. That's why I reject those customers."
"…Still, that isn't everything, is it?"
"Do you know why the Crozzo were able to create magic swords in the first place? The first Crozzo was originally the name of a man that risked his life to save a spirit from a monster attack. That spirit gave some of its blood to that man in an effort to save the dying man's life."
"I feel like I've heard about something like that in one of the hero stories I read. But doesn't that mean the Crozzo have a spirit's bloodline?"
"Yep. After taking in the spirit's blood, the man became able to create magic swords. His descendants were unable to make magic swords until it manifested as a skill when the Gods came down to give people Falnas."
"Then… how did Rakia lose its magic swords?"
"During a certain war, the magic swords began shattering without warning, and the army which was dependent on them began to subsequently keep losing. The Crozzo, suddenly unable to create magic swords, had their status taken away and they fell into a decline. It's most likely that the Crozzo were cursed by the spirits."
"But can't you make magic swords, Welf?" Bell said with a confused face.
"Yeah. I don't know how, though. I'm grateful to my father and the others back at Rakia for teaching me how to be a blacksmith. Even if it was just to restore the Crozzo to their former glory. I wasn't against it—standing next to my father and grandfather, helping them as their assistant. However, when my father and the others discovered that I had the ability to create magic swords, they forced me to make them and nothing else. They told me to make tools in order to gain favor with the royal family."
Welf found all of the materials he was searching for and placed them near his workstation. He took out his tools and began to create the sword from scratch, picking up one of the materials he had.
"That isn't right. That's not what weapons are about."
He carefully placed the material inside of the furnace and powered it up with a magic stone. The furnace roared back to life as the flames heated up the core of that material.
"They aren't a political tool. Nor a way to gain favor with someone. Weapons are part of their wielder. A weapon should never betray its wielder. No matter what situation they're in. The wielder and the weapon are one from the time its hilt is grasped—I want to focus on those types of works!"
He took the material out of the fire and began hammering away at it. Each swing of his hammer molded the weapon into the shape that Welf desired.
"We fight the metal to the limit using the hottest fire. A weapon is created when we face metal head on. What good does it do to label it as a hobby? What good does it to do create a weapon with blood? What good does it do to forget the long-cherished desires of a blacksmith?"
His hammering grew faster and stronger with each swing. Welf's entire body was dripping with sweat, but he didn't mind it one bit.
"I hate magic swords. They always leave the wielder behind. I really hate magic swords! Their power rots people, their dignity, a smith's pride… everything! I won't make magic swords. Even if I do make one, I won't sell it!"
His words showed his deep resolve to his commitment, but in the next moment, he swung at the material at an awkward angle and caused it to completely bend out of shape.
Welf sighed. "I messed up, huh… I got a little too heated. Sorry, Bell."
"N-no, it's fine… But thank you for telling me about you, Welf."
"It's fine. We have a contract after all. I'm going to be sitting here until the party completely recovers, so you can go and do whatever else you need to do."
Bell walked towards the entrance of the workshop. Hesitating for a moment, he opened the door and was about to leave, but the words of the smith were ringing in his mind. Welf saying that he hated magic swords was not a lie, but the reason that he hated them had bugged Bell somewhat. Turning around at the entrance, he called out to Welf once more.
"Welf… You said before that you wanted to make a weapon that surpasses the level of Hephaestus-sama, right?"
If Welf wanted to create a weapon that surpasses the level of the Gods, then there was no way he could do that without making the best use of everything he had. Alfia had once told him that if he wanted to be a hero, then he has to use all of his abilities and improve them every day. There didn't exist a hero who stubbornly refused to use their own abilities out of pride or for some other reason—those people would soon find themselves dead in their pursuit to become a hero. Bell didn't want Welf to be the same way—he wanted him to obtain his dream in the same way that Bell aspired to become a hero.
"…I have one more request, Welf."
"…? Okay, I don't mind, but—"
Bell's eyes turned serious. "—Please create a magic sword."
"Huh?! Bell, I already told you—!"
"I have a friend, you see. He's a really good person, but he's stubborn to a fault. He has a dream he wants to achieve—but there's no way he can achieve that dream without throwing away his pride. I want you to make a magic sword for him."
Welf glared at him. "You're starting to sound like Tsubaki, Bell! Did she put you up to this?! I won't create a magic sword, no matter what!"
"You want to surpass Hephaestus-sama, right? There's no way you can do that without making use of every single one of your abilities!"
"I said—!" Welf tried to retort, but Bell interrupted him again.
"I have a dream, Welf. I want to become a hero—I want to help the people who can't be helped, I want everyone to have a smile knowing that everything will be okay, and I want to save people from their inescapable fate!"
"To do that, I can't afford to waste anything! You don't want to create magic swords because they break and leave their wielders behind?! Then just create a magic sword that doesn't break! If you can't even do that, then what hope do you have in creating a weapon that surpasses the level of the Gods?!"
Welf scowled. "But, even if you say that, all magic swords will eventually break, no exceptions! That's just one of the properties of a magic sword!"
"Then make an exception! So what if you fail?! So what if you create magic swords that break in the beginning?! I've failed so many times in the past that I never thought I would get even close to the level that I'm currently at! The only way you can create an unbreakable magic sword—something that has never been seen before—is if you try and create magic swords in the first place! If it's you, Welf, then you can definitely do it! Believe in yourself!"
Welf stared at Bell with wide eyes in silence. He hadn't expected Bell to want him to create a magic sword for his own sake, nor did he expect Bell to be this persistent. He also knew about Bell's dream of being a hero, but he didn't expect Bell to be that intent on becoming one.
"…You really are unreasonable, Bell. Asking me to do the impossible so suddenly." Welf let out a wry smile, to which Bell returned with a timid smile.
"…Sorry. But I want you to be able to achieve your own dreams."
"I get it already…Sorry, let me think about it for a while, Bell."
"…Okay. Of course."
"You're surprisingly assertive despite your looks and personality, Bell. It actually surprised me."
"Ahaha… then..." Bell started fidgeting awkwardly because he realized how embarrassing his speech had been. "…if you need anything, don't hesitate to call out to me, okay?"
Welf smiled at him. "Yeah. Thanks, Bell."
Bell scratched the back of his head and smiled back at him, then left Welf to his workshop. Looking at the bent material of the weapon he was beginning to make for Bell, Welf sighed in disappointment at himself. Welf said he was ashamed that his armor wasn't good enough against that Minotaur. At the same time, if he wanted Bell and the others to have the best equipment possible, then he couldn't afford to not use his own ability. Otherwise, they could possibly die in the same way that they almost lost to that Minotaur. The contradiction caused Welf's feelings to become somewhat complicated.
"An unbreakable magic sword, huh…?"
Aiz Wallenstein was a person who didn't show much emotion to other people. In the past, she was once called the Doll Princess because of how many monsters she killed with an expressionless face. Like a well-oiled machine, her only purpose was to kill monsters over and over. It wasn't until years later that she would show more emotions to everyone, thanks to the other Loki Familia members—particularly, it was Tiona, Tione, and Lefiya that brought her out of her shell. Though even today, she found it hard to express her thoughts to other people.
So when that boy, Bell Cranel, had shown up out of nowhere and caused her to smile and laugh in front of him, she couldn't help but become more curious about him. Not only that, but he also leveled up in only two weeks—completely smashing her own level up record. She wanted to know more about him, so she offered to train him, however…
'Why does it make me this mad… that he's being trained by Ryuu?!'
Bell was already being trained by Ryuu Lion, the Level 6 elf from Astraea Familia—as well as Aiz's rival. For some inexplicable reason, knowing that had caused a fire to be lit under Aiz's heart. It caused her to even seek out Ryuu herself to settle this matter. Yesterday, Aiz went to the Stardust Garden to challenge Ryuu to a duel. Ryuu, thinking that Aiz wanted to duel because she recently leveled up, accepted the challenge without question. But in reality, Aiz just wanted the right to train Bell, and she thought the only way to do that was to beat Ryuu in a duel to show Bell that she was better than her.
Her current location was on top of the northern walls of Orario. She was waiting for Ryuu to show up any minute now, but she also knew that this location was on the complete other side of Orario, so she might have run into some complications on the way here. Ryuu was part of Astraea Familia, after all. It wasn't unlikely that she may have run into someone committing some kind of petty crime and decided to take care of it herself. It was one of the things that Aiz admired about her, considering how tiresome that kind of work is and how most adventurers wouldn't bother interfering unless it directly involved them. As Aiz was deep in thought, a voice called out to her, causing her to look towards the voice's direction and find the person who she had been waiting for.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Aiz-san."
Ryuu Lion stood in front of her wearing her usual garb, albeit slightly frazzled. It seemed like she had rushed over here, and knowing the straight-laced girl, there was no reason to believe she had been late due to oversleeping or some other nontrivial reason.
Aiz shook her head. "It's fine."
"Then, shall we get started immediately? Same rules as usual?"
Aiz nodded, and they both took their stances. The usual rules included restricting the use of magic due to its destructive power, using only their weapons to fight, and having the fight end when one person drops their sword or they get into a position where they have no choice but to yield. There was no need for any pleasantries between them. It was a usual friendly spar like they had always done—or so it should have been.
Aiz immediately dashed towards Ryuu with her new Level 6 speed. That was something that Ryuu had expected, but what she hadn't expected was how aggressive Aiz's first strike was. Ryuu blocked it with her own sword without much trouble, but it was clear from that one strike that she was more serious than normal. From there, every time they continued to trade blows, Aiz's hits became fiercer and fiercer, and at some point Ryuu began to wonder if she did anything wrong.
"Um… Aiz-san." She said as they continued to battle. "Are you… mad at me?"
Aiz's next slash was fiercer than ever before, to the point where Ryuu's weapon was almost knocked out of her hand.
"…You're training Bell."
Aiz's eyes hardened. "I'm going to convince Bell that I'm the teacher best suited for him… and to do that, I will beat you. Right now."
Ryuu's eyes widened. 'She wants to train Cranel-san?'
"This is a Familia matter. I'm sure that Bell is thankful for your training, but there is no need for your assistance anymore."
And with those words, Aiz rushed forwards with another fierce attack, attempting to knock Ryuu's sword out of her hands with one decisive blow, except—
At the moment Aiz tried to attack, Ryuu dodged at the very last second under her sword and landed an astonishingly powerful hit onto Aiz's abdomen with her wooden sword.
The blow knocked Aiz across the ground and sent her back quite a distance, but she grit her teeth and withstood it without getting knocked down. When she looked up again and saw Ryuu, she noticed that her entire countenance had changed completely.
"I won't let you. That boy is my student, and mine alone."
With a glare that surprised even Aiz with how much ferocity was behind it, she continued speaking with a frigid tone.
"You want the right to train him, Sword Princess?" The glare on Ryuu's face somehow grew even more intense. "Then bring it on."
Bell was standing in front of the Stardust Garden's front gate. When he remembered his last meeting with them, Bell couldn't help but hesitate, but he shook it off and steeled himself. He was about to call out to see if anyone was in there, but someone caught sight of him first and ran up to him to open the gate. When he saw who it was, Bell couldn't help but leak his true thoughts out.
"Bell-kun! …What, you aren't happy to see me? Alise-onee-san's heart is broken!" Alise said with a smile on her face, but Bell couldn't help but think she was pouting a bit.
"N-no, that's not…"
"I bet you wanted to see Ryuu, right? Bell-kun, you meanie! I know that you're infatuated with her, but you could at least look a little happy to see your older sister!"
"I-I-I'm not infatuated with Ryuu-san!" Bell denied with a red face. "I just admire her because she's really strong… and the way she moves is super cool… and her gallant figure when she's fighting is really captivating…"
Alise gave him a half-lidded glare at hearing his words. Seeing this, Bell quickly cleared his throat and changed the subject.
"A-anyways! I came to say thanks to you and the other Astraea Familia members!"
"For carrying me back home, and also for escorting the rest of my party out of the Dungeon."
Alise grinned. "Awh, don't worry about that, Bell-kun! It's only natural for our Familia to help out other people! Besides, even if we weren't there, your Familia would have picked you right up!"
"Still, it doesn't change the fact that you were the one to carry me back, so um… thank you." Bell said with an embarrassed look on his face.
Alise stared at his face for a short while. Her mouth slowly turned into a huge grin as she watched Bell fidget in place uncomfortably.
With speed beyond anything he could see, the red-haired girl scooped up the smaller boy into her arms.
"A-Alise-san! What are you—!"
"You came all the way down here, injuries and all, just to thank us?! You're too precious!"
She held up Bell in a princess carry as she began to walk towards the garden.
"Come on, let's go! Everyone will be really happy to see you!"
"W-wait! Alise-san! Put me down!"
"No can do, Bell-kun! You'll definitely try to escape as soon as I put you down!"
"N-no, I won't! I still have something to ask you!"
Sensing the slight urgency in his voice, Alise reluctantly put him down. He took a moment to calm himself down from being held in an embarrassing position, and then turned to her to ask his question.
"Have you seen Aiz-san or Ryuu-san at all today?!"
From what Alise told him, Aiz had met Ryuu yesterday and challenged her to a duel, located on top of the northern wall of Orario. He hurriedly asked Alise what time they agreed to fight, before checking the time and realizing that the battle had already begun a short while ago. Panicking, he started dashing back towards the direction he came from while apologizing to Alise. She looked a little miffed and yelled that he should come visit them later to make up for it as he was already through the front gate.
He ran as fast as he could to get to the other side of Orario, and in the process he almost tripped a few times because he was going faster than he thought he was. The people around him were surprised at the sudden appearance of the latest super rookie tripping over himself, some of them telling him to be careful as he apologized for getting in their way.
'My body is faster than my mind…? Is this part of the adjustment period?'
There was an uncomfortable sense of disharmony that Bell couldn't really shake off, but he couldn't afford to slow down so all he could do was bear with it. Though, because of his carelessness, he accidentally knocked someone over as he turned a corner.
In front of Bell was an elf girl with long golden yellow hair and dark blue eyes. Looking at her, Bell couldn't help but feel like she was familiar, but he quickly went to apologize to the girl.
"I-I'm sorry! I was in a rush, and I didn't see you!" He held out a helping hand to her. "Are you alright?"
She stared at his face for a short while, and in that time Bell came to a realization.
"…Ah." He withdrew his hand slightly from her. He started looking around unsurely, hesitating on whether he should help her up or not.
'Oh… He knows that elves typically don't like to be touched.' The elf girl smiled. 'Still… all elves aren't like that.'
She took his hand and stood up with his help. "I'm sorry as well, I wasn't looking properly when turning that corner.
"N-no! I'm also at fault for appearing so suddenly! Um… right!" He started scrambling through his pockets. "A towel… I mean, I have a handkerchief, so please wipe off any dirt with it!"
Seeing him look so flustered, Lefiya couldn't help but giggle a little mischievously. 'What's this? Is he not used to women…? He seems to be humble and honest, and he looks kinder than most now that I take a good look at him…'
"Hey, you're Bell-san, right? Our Familia's latest member, and the one who fought that Minotaur on the 15th floor."
"Our?" Bell took a closer look at her, before he suddenly realized who the girl was. "…Ah, you're Lefiya-san, right? The one who always hangs around Tiona-san and Tione-san!"
She smiled. "Well, I'm not always around them, but it's true that I'm good friends with them. …That's right, I actually wanted to ask something. Have you seen Aiz-san at all today? I've been searching for her since this morning since I saw her outside early in the morning, and I was wondering where she was going…"
"…Ah! That's right, Aiz-san! I can't just stand around here!" He ran past Lefiya while yelling back at her. "I know where she is, but we have to hurry! I'll explain on the way!"
"H-huh?! Wait a second!"
But Bell had already taken off, and Lefiya didn't have any other choice but to follow after him. It took her a bit to catch up with him, but when she did Bell explained the situation to her without hesitation. They were currently in the northern section of Orario, so the top of the wall was only a short distance away.
"I see, so that's why Aiz-san ran out earlier this morning…" Lefiya said.
"Yes, and that's why I'm so worried…"
"Aiz-san wants to train you?! That beautiful Aiz-san!? Do you know what kind of honor that is?! You're pretty impudent for someone who only joined two weeks ago!" Lefiya started berating him out of nowhere.
"Not only that, but you're also already being trained by Ryuu-san! That super cool Ryuu-san! Do you know how lucky you are?!"
Bell could only wither under her glare, but just as he was about to respond, the sound of sharp wind could be heard in the distance. They turned towards the direction of the noise and saw Ryuu and Aiz battling each other on top of the wall, except…
"T-they're using magic?!" Lefiya gaped. Aiz currently had her wind enhancement surrounding her, and Ryuu was in the middle of chanting her own magic while they continued with their swordplay.
"Q-quickly! Let's get over there and stop them!" Bell frantically said.
They increased their speed, determined to prevent any incident from happening. A serious fight between two Level Sixes could literally cause the destruction of Orario if left unmonitored. They were even using magic on an unsuited training ground—on top of the Orario walls where one accidental misfire or stray bullet could hit some random person or building. Though thankfully, it was also because they were Level 6 that their degree of control over their magic would make it unlikely of that scenario ever happening.
Ryuu called out the name of her magic, and suddenly orbs of green stardust light appeared around her. Lefiya noted that it looked like she didn't summon as many orbs as she had in the Dungeon on their joint expedition together, and that Aiz's enhancement looked weaker than normal as well. It was a relief that they were both still holding back, but it was clear that in every passing moment that their strikes began to get stronger and stronger as they continued to glare at each other, barely aware of their own surroundings.
Bell and Lefiya ran up the stairs that went to the top of the walls as the battle escalated. They were about to finish everything in one attack, indicated by Aiz surrounding her entire body with her wind enhancement and Ryuu preparing to bombard Aiz with every single sphere of light she had available. But the moment before they clashed, Bell's frantic voice called out to them.
"—Stop, you two!"
The two of them stopped and turned towards the sudden voice, and Bell sighed in relief once he saw that. However, in the next moment, both of them turned their weapons and magic towards Bell.
"H-huh?!" Bell took a step back as he saw the expressions on their faces.
""Between her and I, who do you want to be trained by?!""
Bell could only take a small step back as both of them advanced towards him with a glare.
"Y-you two, calm down, okay?!" He tried to pacify them, but it was to no avail. They were already right in front of him, and he had no chance of escaping from two first class adventurers.
""Like hell we can!""
Once the two of them settled down, they all stood on top of the castle walls, facing each other. Bell's face had gained an extra two bandages on it, and he sat there rubbing them slightly.
"I-I'm sorry, Cranel-san, I overdid it a little…" Ryuu apologized.
Aiz apologized as well. "Me too… Sorry..."
"N-no, it's also partially my fault. But um, as for my response to the previous question…"
Both of them leaned forward anticipatingly towards Bell, waiting for his answer.
"I-I was hoping I could train with both of you…"
""Absolutely not."" Their response was almost instinctual. Both of their faces turned frigid upon hearing his words.
Lefiya's mouth dropped open. "H-how presumptuous can you be, Bell Cranel?! It's already an honor to be trained by Ryuu-san, and now you're asking for Aiz-san as well?! There's a limit to how shameless someone can be!"
"Cranel-san, are you saying that my training isn't good enough!?"
"Bell. You're only going to be training with me alone."
"Hyiiiiiii?!" The three girls glowered at him and the only thing he could do was shrink back in fear. Ryuu sighed and held up her hand to rub her forehead, before calming down again to address Bell.
"Is there a reason why you want to be trained by both of us, Cranel-san? Surely you know how brazen that request is."
Bell looked down to the ground and took a deep breath.
"I… want to become stronger."
"You've already become a Level 2, haven't you? You're growing plenty strong already—in fact, I'd like it more if you slowed down more so you can gain more experience equal to your actual level." Ryuu said.
Bell shook his head. "Even so, I don't think it's enough. I need to be even stronger than I am right now. I want to become stronger as fast as possible."
Aiz stared at his downcast expression. 'It really is just like looking at a mirror… He looks so much like my previous self, it's uncanny…'
The boy in front of her had said similar words to what Aiz had said in the past, when she first entered Loki Familia. His desperate running towards a distant goal was exactly the same as her, but unlike Aiz, Bell hadn't tried to throw out everything else besides that goal. And that was the way that Aiz had wanted to keep it—she didn't want Bell to become like her past self.
"You said that the reason you wanted to become stronger… was because of those people you admire, right?" Aiz asked.
Bell nodded, while the other two looked at them with confusion. "I want to stand by them. I want to surpass them. And most of all… I want to save them. I don't even know how much time I have left to do that, so…"
He bowed towards both Aiz and Ryuu. "Even if I end up embarrassing myself. Even if I have to shamefully beg others to help me. I want to become stronger—so please train me, Aiz-san, Ryuu-san."
Desperation leaked into his voice, but his intentions were sincere. Lefiya was taken slightly aback, while both Ryuu and Aiz looked at him and then at each other. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity to Bell, they both sighed to each other and Ryuu spoke up.
"Raise your head, Cranel-san."
But he kept bowing, even after hearing those words. Seeing as he wouldn't do as she said, she sighed once again before continuing.
"…I don't like it, but… we'll accept your request." Ryuu said with her hand on her forehead.
"Me neither, but if you're that determined, I guess there's no helping it…" Aiz said.
Bell rose his head slightly. "…Really?"
Ryuu frowned. "Don't tell me you're having second doubts already."
"N-no, I was just surprised both of you accepted! I was just kind of sure that my request was going to get rejected…"
"—But," Aiz cut in. "I have a condition, if you're going to be training under both of us."
She nodded. "If either of us says that you have to take a break, then you aren't allowed to train or do anything else that's strenuous."
Bell looked like he wanted to protest, but the glare from Aiz quickly shut him up.
"…I was like you in the past. Training day in and day out, just to get a tiny bit closer to my goal. There were days where I wouldn't eat anything unless Riveria forced me to—just so I could continue swinging my sword."
"…Aiz-san was like that? I can't imagine it." Lefiya murmured.
"I didn't have a care for anything else besides that. I broke hundreds of swords because of how reckless I was being. If Riveria and the others hadn't stopped me…" Aiz trailed off, before shaking her head. "Anyways, if you don't accept this condition, then it won't be happening."
Bell reluctantly nodded in agreement, and Aiz turned to Ryuu.
"What about you, Ryuu? Do you have any other conditions for him?"
"Hmm… Nothing for now. If I think of any in the future, I'll let you know. Are these terms agreeable, Cranel-san?"
"Y-yes! Both of you, thank you so much!"
Bell bowed once again towards both of them, but when he got up, he saw that Lefiya was glaring at him in the corner of his eye. He gulped in nervousness and quickly spoke up once more.
"A-actually, this might be another shameless request but…" He tried hard not to shrink back at all three of their glares. "C-could you include Lefiya-san as well?"
"H-huh?" Lefiya widened her eyes at his request.
"…I don't really mind. Ryuu?" Aiz said.
Ryuu crossed her arms. "I am partially interested in the successor to Riveria-sama. I don't necessarily mind either."
"Eh?! Really?!" Lefiya looked astonished.
"I have no qualms about it, as long as you agree to the same conditions as him." At that, Lefiya vigorously nodded in agreement and excitement. "However, may I ask why you're making this request, Cranel-san?"
"Um… It's just that Lefiya seems to admire both of you..." Lefiya blushed in embarrassment at that. "So I um… just wanted to help her?"
Lefiya opened and closed her mouth dumbly at his straightforward answer, but she finally settled down and responded. "…Thank you, Bell-san."
Bell shook his head. "I should be the one thanking you, Lefiya-san. I forgot how famous Ryuu-san, Aiz-san, and everyone else is. I didn't realize how lucky I was compared to most people, and I might have been taking it for granted."
They smiled apologetically to each other, and Aiz smiled at her Familia members getting along. Coughing into her hand to get their attention, Ryuu spoke up.
"It's good that we're all agreed upon this matter, but there's still the matter of scheduling the training and other various details."
"Ah, that's right…" Bell scratched his cheek.
She continued. "I'm sure we all have vastly different schedules, so we should take some time to figure out when we want to do this. Since Cranel-san and I have been training at six in the morning, I propose that we do it at that time."
"That's fine with me." Aiz said.
"S-six in the morning… B-but, if it's with Aiz-san and Ryuu-san, I'll do my best!" Lefiya said, trembling a tiny bit.
"Ahaha…" Bell laughed awkwardly.
"As for the location… would this place be okay, Aiz-san?"
Aiz tilted her head. "That's fine, but I think it would be better if we trained at either your Familia's home or ours."
"A-ah, well…" Ryuu glanced over at Bell, who looked like he didn't want to do either of those options. "There are some… 'complications' at our home so we would prefer if it would be elsewhere."
Bell sent her a grateful look before continuing. "And I have a feeling that I'm not very well liked by the other members of our Familia, so…" He said while thinking about the looks the other members sent him this morning in the cafeteria. "…sorry."
Aiz and Lefiya sent both of them confused looks but didn't press any further. Coughing once again, Ryuu went on to the next topic.
"Since Aiz-san and I are both first class adventurers, there will be times when either one of us or both of us will be unavailable. Of course, the same applies to both of you, but it will be more frequent for the both of us. In those cases, it would be best to inform each other in advance about your absences, if possible." They all nodded in response to her. "Now then, does anyone here want to report about any upcoming absences? As for me, I'll generally be free in the upcoming weeks since our Familia has been assigned guard duty with Ganesha Familia."
"With Ganesha Familia?"
Ryuu held her hand up to her forehead and groaned. "It seems like Rakia is planning another invasion in the near future, so the Guild wants us to patrol the walls and the surrounding Orario territory for a while until they actually declare war again."
Aiz shot her a sympathetic look. It was pretty unpleasant having to deal with Rakia, for the simple fact that it was extremely tedious and time-consuming to deal with them. The last invasion that Aiz had participated in had lasted around a month or so, and it was a complete waste of time considering the huge level gap between Orario and the rest of the world.
"A-another invasion? From Rakia?"
'That was where Welf was originally from.' Bell thought.
"Is this a normal occurrence?" He asked.
Lefiya answered him. "Rakia's main God, Ares-sama, is a God of War after all. If this invasion goes through… I believe it'll be the sixth invasion of Orario? They've failed miserably every single time, so there isn't any need to worry. The power difference between the nations is too big."
"I-I see…" Bell said with a dazed expression.
"I've been assigned a post inside Orario, so I don't think I'll have many absences for a while. What about you, Aiz-san, Cranel-san, Viridis-san?" Ryuu asked.
Aiz answered for them. "We should be free up until our Familia's expedition."
"Huh? Our expedition?"
"Ah. That's right. It hasn't been announced yet…" Aiz shook her head. "Loki will announce it soon, but we'll be going on an expedition in the upcoming weeks. We'll have time to train until then."
"I-I see…" Bell and Lefiya tensed up in anticipation of the upcoming event. Aiz was a Loki Familia executive, after all. It would make sense for her to have information about it before they would.
"Then, it's settled. Let's start the training a few days later. Until that time, you are to rest, am I understood, Cranel-san?" Ryuu said with an intense expression.
"Y-yes, of course…"
"Good. I have some business to take care of right now, so I'll be taking my leave now." Ryuu started walking down the stairs. Before she could leave entirely, Aiz called out to her.
"—I'm not going to lose to you, Ryuu-san."
Not even turning around, Ryuu continued to walk down the stairs. With a small smile, she responded to her with a declaration of her own.
"Bring it on, Aiz-san."
Bell and Lefiya watched the spectacle, wondering what was going on between them. Aiz turned to the both of them and asked them what their plans would be from here.
"I'm planning on checking up on one of my party members." Bell said.
"Tiona-san invited Amid-san and I to go shopping later! Um, Aiz-san, do you want to come as well?" Lefiya asked.
"Okay. Where are we going to meet up?"
Lefiya looked elated that she accepted her proposition. "At Central Park! Around an hour or so from now!"
Aiz faintly smiled. "I'll see you there then, Lefiya."
They all bid each other farewell. Bell and Lefiya made their way south towards their own destinations, and Aiz started going towards the nearest Jagumaru-kun stall to get something to eat. She took her normal shortcuts through various unpopulated alleys, when suddenly she felt that someone was watching her. She had her hand on her sword in case something would happen, and in the next moment, a voice called out to her.
She turned around and saw a ghostly figure covered in a robe. She couldn't tell what was under its robe or what its intentions were, but it was clear that it didn't have any ill will.
"I have a quest for you."
"There is a high possibility that it's related to the person with the jewel that attacked Rivera."
'…This is bait… in order to pique my interest, but… Sorry Lefiya. It looks like I might not be able to go shopping with you today.'
The Freya Familia home, Folkvangr, was located at the southernmost part of Orario. It was somewhat fitting that the two top Familias of Orario lived on the exact opposite sides of it, but it also made the trek down there harder for the white haired boy who was already covered in injuries. There was also the fact that he probably shouldn't even be stepping foot anywhere near the rival Familia's home, but his desire to make sure Helun was okay overrode his hesitance.
On his journey there, Bell felt a gaze on him—the same gaze that had been watching him a while ago. He tried looking around towards his surroundings, but other than some of the passersby who recognized him as the new rookie from Loki Familia, he couldn't sense anyone else. They had been watching him longer than last time, and Bell couldn't help but feel a sense of paranoia because of it. He briefly considered hiding in an alleyway, but he reasoned that it would be more unlikely for something to happen to him on the main roads where there were people everywhere.
Bell was so preoccupied with the gaze that he didn't even notice the person in front of him who he bumped into. He was about to apologize to them, when he looked up to them and found the person he was looking for.
"Helun-san!" Bell smiled.
She nodded to him in acknowledgement. "Bell-san. I'm glad that you're okay, but you shouldn't be moving around with all of your injuries."
"Haha… sorry. A lot has happened, and well… I just wanted to make sure you were okay." He said, smiling at her.
She looked away, and Bell couldn't see her expression because it was covered by her hair. "Really… you shouldn't say those kinds of things so carelessly."
As Bell looked confused at her, he suddenly realized something.
'…? I don't feel that gaze anymore…'
But before Bell could ponder any further about it, Helun spoke up again, turning her head towards him.
"About the Minotaur… sorry." She bowed towards him slightly.
"N-no, it was an unexpected event after all, you don't have to feel bad about anything!"
She made a pained face at hearing his response, but she couldn't exactly resolve his misunderstanding. The two of them awkwardly stood there, not knowing how to continue the conversation after that.
"Ahem…" Helun cleared her throat to break the silence. "I know that things didn't go as planned and that we didn't manage to get to the 18th floor, but I'm hoping that I can remain on your party. I promise that I won't be as useless as I was down there."
Bell scratched his cheek and gave her a troubled smile. "I didn't plan on kicking you from the party though… But if it weren't for your help, I don't think I could have won, Helun-san."
She showed a relieved expression upon hearing his words.
"Though… I'm not sure if we can party up again any time soon."
"It seems like my Familia is going to go on an expedition soon, so… Ah." Bell put his hands over his mouth.
Helun sighed. "You really need to learn how to not be so trusting of other people. Or maybe how to keep silent…" Bell looked somewhat ashamed. "Well, either way, don't worry. Even if it's not publicly available information until a Familia actually goes on one, a Familia going on an expedition isn't really valuable information. Especially if it's from a top Familia like Loki Familia."
Bell shot her a confused look.
She continued. "It's illegal to attack other Familias here in Orario, but down in the Dungeon, it's nearly impossible to tell what goes on down there. I've heard of some cases where an entire Familia has gone missing in the Dungeon after someone requested information about them, but those cases are few and far between. More people are concerned about surviving in the Dungeon, after all."
"I see… So the reason why it doesn't matter if people know about our expedition…"
Helun nodded. "No one's dumb enough to attack one of the top Familias in Orario. Of course, there's us, Freya Familia, but it would be quickly found out if we ended up fighting each other in the Dungeon. That, and well…" She held her hand up to her forehead. "Most of our time is spent infighting, rather than dungeon exploring. Honestly, I can't remember the last time we went on an actual expedition together…"
"O-oh. That must be rough… The infighting, I mean."
She closed her eyes. "Every day of our life is spent getting stronger. If it's for that person's love, then we… I will do absolutely anything to receive it."
Bell widened his eyes, unsure of how to respond to her. He felt like he just saw an unknown part of Helun herself, but the moment vanished as soon as it appeared when she opened her eyes.
"…Sorry. Forget what I said just now." She turned around, away from Bell. "When you want to party up again, just come searching for me and I'll find you." Without even turning around, she began to walk forward. "…I hope you get better soon, Bell-san. Take care."
Bell couldn't stop her as she disappeared into the crowd of people in front of him.
"…Really, how troublesome." Riveria muttered.
The day after Aiz returned from her quest along with Lefiya and Bete. Finn, Gareth, and Riveria were gathered in the Loki Familia executive room after hearing Aiz's report of what happened during the quest.
"I suppose it gives us more incentive to go to the 59th floor, no?" Gareth commented.
Their original plan was to go to the 59th floor because they wanted to surpass the former top Familia's record floor. With Aiz's new report, it seemed like the red-haired woman that they had met before was inviting them to the 59th floor to find out the answers to their questions—particularly, regarding the Violas and how she knew the name 'Aria'.
"Yes, it does. If that's the case though, it seems we'll need more manpower down on the lower floors in case anything goes wrong." Finn said.
"That also means bringing Bell down further than planned, doesn't it?" Riveria groaned.
"Do you object, Riveria?" Finn asked.
She sighed. "I'd like to, but I have to agree with you. I suppose this means the entire Familia will be staying on the 50th floor?"
He nodded. "That's the plan. From there, we'll take a smaller group composed of the higher level members and journey down to the 59th floor from there. It's fortunate that Dian Cecht agreed to lend us Amid for the expedition, it'll help make the entire expedition smoother."
"He charged us a ridiculous price for only a single loan. How greedy can that God be?" Gareth complained.
Finn gave a wry smile. "It'll be worth it in the end. She is the best healer in Orario, after all. Plus, we may actually save money from not having to spend as much on potions."
"That girl is exceedingly capable. I wouldn't doubt it." Riveria agreed with him. "Should we have Loki announce the expedition tomorrow morning?"
"Yes. It'll take some time for the news to reach the members who are currently in the Dungeon or elsewhere, after all. Speaking of which, where is Loki right now? I thought I called her to this meeting earlier today." Finn inquired.
"That idiot Goddess is punishing Aiz for taking off on that quest all of a sudden without telling us. She was muttering something about maid outfits, that crazy woman." Gareth said.
"…What a troublesome Goddess." Riveria grumbled.
Finn and Gareth couldn't help but agree with her.
Many of the members from Loki Familia were currently sitting in the cafeteria eating breakfast. It was a surprise to Bell to see all of the executives and Loki there at the same time since they usually came and went whenever they had time. Perhaps the other members had noticed that something was going on as well, since some of them were stealing glances at them while eating their food. Some of them were even finished eating but hadn't made any move to leave the room. Bell was currently sitting with Raul's group, and most of his injuries had already healed after resting for around a week. Nearby, he saw that Lefiya was sitting with the amazoness sisters, Aiz, and another cheery-looking girl with red hair tied up into a small side ponytail. If he remembered correctly, the girl was Lefiya's roommate.
"The captain and the other executives are all here… You think another expedition is going to be announced?" Cruz said in a low voice.
"From the looks of it, I wouldn't doubt it. Though, I wonder if something happened? It hasn't been long since our last expedition, after all…" Alicia pondered.
"The last expedition… Ah. You mean around the time when I first joined?" Asked Bell.
Aki nodded. "It's only been a few weeks since then. We didn't manage to make it to the 59th floor last time because of some complications, so maybe we're attempting to go there again?"
"Haah… That's fine and all, but I don't want to run into another unexpected complication like those monsters from before…" Raul grimaced.
"Those monsters?" Bell asked.
"They were named Virga, if I remember correctly." Narvi chimed in. "Whenever we killed one of them, it would explode into some kind of corrosive liquid. It actually burned right through Tiona-san's Urga."
"E-eh…?" Bell's face turned frightened at the description of them.
"I distinctly remember Tione punching right through those monsters though… Her face is scary enough when she gets pissed off, she looked like an actual demon with her face burnt off…" Cruz shivered.
"You shouldn't say something so rude, Cruz." Alicia scolded him. "But anyways, I agree with Raul. It was the reason we had to go back, with everyone's injuries and all. It'd be great if we don't run into any complications like that, but it can't be helped. It is the Dungeon, after all."
It is in fact rarer for nothing to go wrong during a Dungeon expedition. There were too many variables to consider, added on top of the fact that the Dungeon itself was an existence that changes every moment. Bell himself already had two Dungeon diving experiences gone wrong in the few weeks he had been in Orario, and they weren't even full-scale expeditions.
"Alright, settle down now kids!" Loki's voice suddenly boomed out, silencing the ongoing chatter in the cafeteria. "I'm sure most of ya understand why we're all gathered here, so I'll cut the pleasantries and get on with it. We're going on another expedition to the 59th floor exactly one week from now!"
The roars of approval rang out from every direction, and even Bell couldn't help but grin in excitement at the official announcement. Finn and Riveria went over the details for planning the expedition, which involved divvying up tasks such as food gathering and equipment maintenance amongst all the members. Bell himself was to help with some of the tasks Raul and the others were assigned to do. He gave them a nervous smile as they turned to him with reassuring grins on their faces.
Another important detail was that they would travel through the Dungeon in two main groups—one lead by Riveria and Finn, the other lead by Gareth. Each group would consist of multiple parties, and the actual assignment of which party goes into which group would be announced later, it seemed.
The final detail they went over was that they would be working with two other Familias—Hephaestus Familia and Dian Cecht Familia—for the duration of the expedition. Bell could hear some soft murmurs of approval throughout the room after that was announced. He felt like he heard the name of the Dian Cecht Familia before, but he put that thought to the back of his mind as they finished the announcement and everyone began making their way out of the cafeteria. He stood up to join Raul and the others to help with the tasks, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him before he could leave.
Turning around, he was met face to face with Aiz and Lefiya.
"You look well, Bell." Aiz said.
"Looks like you actually took the time to rest, Bell-san." Lefiya noted as she looked over his appearance.
"Ahaha… Everyone would scold me if I didn't… So, what's up?"
"We're going to begin training tomorrow morning. Be ready, you'll still be needed after training for the tasks you were assigned."
Bell's face bloomed into a smile. "Great, I can't wait!" He heard Raul and the others call for him outside of the cafeteria, so he quickly wrapped up the conversation to go along with them. "Then, I'll see the both of you there!"
Aiz watched Bell go towards the other group of Familia members with a small smile on her face.
"It's good that he's making friends within the Familia."
"…It's hard to hate someone as stupidly honest as him, once you get to know him. Ugh… it would be easier if I could actually hate him…" Lefiya mumbled.
"?" Aiz tilted her head in confusion, but Lefiya didn't elaborate any further.
Training with two Level Sixes (and an elf girl) that didn't know how to hold back was not a great idea, the white headed rabbit boy decided. It had started off fairly smoothly, with Bell learning how to use a greatsword from Aiz, and Lefiya practicing her concurrent chanting with Ryuu. Bell felt himself getting better at using the sword by sparring with a master swords user, while Lefiya was getting advice from quite literally the best concurrent chant user in Orario. It wasn't until Aiz had accidentally knocked out Bell in one hit while they were sparring that things began to turn for the worse.
When he regained consciousness, for some reason, his head was placed on top of Aiz's thighs as she caressed his hair with her hands. Her eyes were somewhat unfocused with her cheeks dyed slightly red, and she couldn't even tell that Bell had woken up already and that the other two members of the training group had stopped and started gawking at them.
"W-w-what are you doing, Aiz-san?!" Bell's face turned completely red as he got a grasp of his surroundings, and he quickly tumbled forward onto the ground and began backing away from her.
"Ah…" She pouted.
The expression on her face was like a kid who had a pet bunny taken away from her. Bell was surprised at how disappointed she looked as soon as he got up.
"Y-y-you shameless bunny!" Lefiya finally broke out of her stupor. "I'm so jealous—Uh, I mean, Aiz-san! You shouldn't do something like that so carelessly!"
"Eh? But Riveria told me that this is how you should wake someone up if you want to get closer to them…"
'Riveria-samaaa! What kind of things are you teaching Aiz-san?!' Lefiya internally screamed.
Bell suddenly felt an intensity directed towards him like no other, and when he turned to the source of it, he found Ryuu staring right at him with an odd look on her face.
"Aiz-san. We're swapping." Ryuu said.
"Cranel-san. Come over here."
"O-okay…" Bell responded with a dubious look as he stood up and went over to Ryuu.
In the next moment, Bell found himself knocked out, hearing something about 'always being aware of a sudden attack at any moment' in the last drops of his consciousness. But for some reason, that felt like an excuse to Bell.
He woke up once again, but this time on Ryuu's lap as he refused to open his eyes. She had the exact same expression as Aiz did, gently brushing Bell's hair back and forth.
"W-why is this so relaxing…" Ryuu muttered fervently.
His heart was beating out of his chest, but he had a feeling if he opened his eyes and got up, there would be a much worse fate in store for him.
"…Bell Cranel." The voice of a certain angry golden-haired elf reached his ears.
"You're awake, aren't you?"
His body gave off a subtle twitch, which Lefiya caught onto instantly.
"I knew it! You perverted bunny, get off of Ryuu-san's lap this instant!"
Bell immediately got up, surprising Ryuu (and Aiz who was watching on with a sullen face), trying to run away from the angered elf girl by jumping down the walls into Orario. But it was no use—the girl had already begun chanting the moment he got up. She let out the name of the one magic that would never miss its target.
The undodgeable blast of energy traveled through a few alleyways, landing right on its target as Lefiya chased after him. Bell wanted nothing more than the 'training' to be over already as the blast hit right on the back of his head. He fell straight onto the floor headfirst, hoping that this time, he would wake up in a much safer environment than the one he was currently in.
"Ah." Lefiya let out a small noise, not expecting it to actually be that effective against him.
"T-that won't leave a mark or anything, right…?"
She looked around nervously, trying to see if anyone was in the vicinity (both Aiz and Ryuu were still on the city walls, wallowing in despair over the bunny escaping their grasps).
"…W-well, just to be safe…"
She cautiously went up to the boy's unmoving body and poked it a few times, making sure he was actually unconscious. Sitting down in a seiza position, she turned Bell's body face up and carefully put his head on top of her thighs.
"…I don't see what Aiz-san and Ryuu-san found so interesting about this… it's just plain embarrassing…" Said Lefiya after a few moments.
She rubbed his forehead with her hands, trying to make the injury not as painful, but then she brushed a lock of hair away from his forehead and felt it.
His hair was extraordinarily soft. It was like nothing Lefiya had ever felt before.
"W-what the heck is this…?!"
Lefiya brushed away another lock of hair.
"I-it's softer than my own hair…"
She began to stroke his hair thoroughly, and before Lefiya knew it, she unknowingly gained the exact same expression as Aiz and Ryuu had moments before.
A few minutes later, Bell woke up to the red face of the elf who had shot him with magic earlier, stroking his hair.
Bell's red eyes stared straight up at Lefiya, who suddenly realized he was awake. He was shaking in place, wondering whether it would be better to run away or stay in place, but Lefiya suddenly got up in embarrassment, causing Bell's head to hit the floor again.
"Ah—Sorry…" She held out her hand to help him up. He accepted it gratefully and stood back up, then began to dust off his clothes with his hands.
"N-no, it's fine, but um, about before…"
"I-I'll treat you to something later, so just forget about it already!" Lefiya glared at him with red cheeks.
Bell straightened his back. "O-okay!"
She began stomping off towards the direction of the Twilight Manor after leaving him with those words. Bell checked the time by looking up at the sky and realized that he would have to go back as well, in order to make it on time for the daily preparations required for the upcoming expedition. As he started making his way back there, he couldn't help but think that maybe he was going to regret his decision to request two trainers.
The preparations for the expedition were going smoothly, and Bell was learning how the whole process went from Raul and the others. He was thankful that they took the time to teach him where everything was and how to do certain tasks, but it really surprised him how much preparation and thought went into a single expedition. For example, one of the tasks assigned to his group was to gather the best food supplies from various vendors across Orario. When Bell asked the other members why they had bothered with only the best and generally more expensive food instead of going for the cheaper alternatives, Aki laughed and responded that it was simply to keep up morale in the Dungeon. It's a lot easier to keep having the will to move forward when you can come back to a delicious meal if you survive. Bell agreed with that line of thinking.
It wasn't easy having to do preparations for over 100 Loki Familia members. Finn lightened the load for everyone by splitting the preparations across most of the members over around a week timeframe, though the splitting also caused them to take some extra time to make sure everything was in order from all the members contributing. It also had one other advantage in that Finn and the other executives used the time to observe them to see if there were any complications between Familia members, and if there were any, they would shuffle around the members or step in to fix the complications themselves. In an expedition with over 100 people, Finn had to accommodate every single party within it and ensure that each party had the best chance of survival in case they split off from their assigned group.
Having finished his own daily tasks, Bell wiped off the sweat from his brow and waved to Alicia and Narvi in thanks. They were helping Bell with his own task when he couldn't figure out where to leave the supplies in the Twilight Manor. They both waved back and then set off to help Raul out of whatever unlucky streak he had this time. Bell remembered that earlier in the day, Raul messed up an order on the equipment they needed for some of the vanguard members, causing Riveria (and later Aki when she found out about it) to scold him quite a bit. Thankfully, it seemed that it wouldn't delay the expedition at all, but Bell couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
As he left the room, Bell caught sight of Lefiya waiting for him at the front entrance of the manor and quickly made his way over to her.
"Sorry for making you wait." Bell said.
She huffed, but didn't say anything as she walked out of the manor into the streets of Orario. Bell quickly caught up to her and began to walk beside her, but she didn't even glance over at him.
"So um… Where are we going, Lefiya-san?" Bell said, attempting to make conversation.
"…It's a café known as Wishe."
"What, do you have a problem with that?" Lefiya finally turned to him with a small glare.
"N-no! No problem at all!"
'…She looks mad enough already… I can't tell her that I'm bad with sweet things!' Bell gulped in nervousness and decided to suck it up.
"U-um… Lefiya-san…" Bell began nervously.
"A-are you possibly… mad at me? D-did I do anything to upset you?"
"Not at all! I'm not upset about the fact that you got a lap pillow from Aiz-san and Ryuu-san! Not! At! All!" Lefiya said through gritted teeth.
'That's what you're upset about?! You even joined in and also gave me a lap pillow, didn't you?!' Bell chose wisely not to voice those thoughts.
He decided to change the topic for the time being. "U-um, so… how was training with Ryuu-san?"
Lefiya's face did a whole 180. "It was amazing! She taught me a different way of thinking about concurrent chanting which made it a lot easier for me to use it! Though I still have a long way to go before I can do it consistently…"
Bell smiled. "Ryuu-san's amazing like that, isn't she? Her way of teaching definitely makes things a lot easier to learn!"
"She's honestly so cool… I really do admire magic swordsmen the most!" Lefiya gushed.
"Hm? Lefiya-san, do you want to become a magic swordsman in the future?"
"Ahaha… It would be nice if I could become one, but I'm training to be a mage first and foremost, so I'm focusing on getting stronger as a mage."
"I see… Actually, I admire mages like you and Riveria-san the most."
"…Huh? You're a weapon user that prioritizes speed like Finn-san, right? You even have no chant magic to go along with it. That's the complete opposite of a mage's fighting style." Lefiya asked confusedly.
Bell scratched his cheek. "Well, part of the reason why is because I've always thought magic was super cool when I was younger. Some of it is because mages can always turn around a bad situation with their magic, no matter what. But I guess if I had to pick only one reason, then—"
He showed a gentle expression that Lefiya never saw on his face before.
"—the person I admire the most in the world is a mage."
"I'm thankful that I can use magic to the degree I can right now, but I don't think I'll ever be as good at magic as you are, Lefiya-san."
"…You're only a Level 2, Bell-san. You still have a lot of room to grow into something else, you know?" Lefiya pointed out.
"Ahaha… That's true. But the path I'm set on right now is much more like a magic swordsman, like Ryuu-san."
She sighed at those words. It was true that the skills Bell had were suited towards a magic swordsman. Bell's no chant magic allowed him to not have a need for concurrent chanting (though if he gained another magic requiring a chant in the future, it would be necessary), and he could amplify his own magic with his charging skill, thus making the only real requirement for him to be considered a proper magic swordsman the actual sword (or other weapons) skills.
Now that Lefiya thought about it, she hadn't ever heard of a magic spearman or a magic axeman user before, but she supposed it was because swords were much easier to use and/or enhance with magic than any other weapon, due to the blade taking up the majority of the weapon. Shaking off that train of thought, she wondered how strange it was that their admirations and their actual paths were the opposite of each other. A mage in training who admired magic swordsmen, and a magic swordsman in training who admired mages.
"Bell-san, your reason for becoming stronger is related to those people you admire, right?" Lefiya suddenly asked.
He nodded. "That's right."
"I'm the same. I admire Aiz-san and the other executives from the bottom of my heart. But…" She clenched her fists. "I'm always dragging them down. They're always protecting me so I can finish chanting my magic."
"Recently, I was on the search party to search for Aiz when she disappeared a few days ago. We ran into some of the remnants of Evilus, and in the end, some of the members from Hermes Familia had to sacrifice themselves to protect me so I could save everyone else."
"I can't forgive myself. Not for being this weak. If I wasn't so weak, I would have been able to save everyone down there! That's why I have to get better at concurrent chanting, no matter what. I'm no good as I am right now. I have to think of what I can do, what should I do—so I won't get left behind by them. So one day, I can catch up to those people I admire so much."
Lefiya took a moment to catch her breath.
"Did you know? Aiz-san's magic is supposed to be a short chant enhancement magic… She's not a native magic user like other elves. Yet her magic is stronger than most mages… Her wind—it's completely abnormal. A floor boss level monster that Bete-san, Filvis-san, and the other Hermes Familia members struggled to fight was completely annihilated in only one hit from Aiz-san."
"It's frustrating! More than anything else in the world! And now a certain cheeky rookie comes out of absolutely nowhere, levels up in only two weeks, and catches the attention of that dazzling Aiz-san! Kuuuuu!" She suddenly started glaring at him with tears of frustration in the corner of her eyes.
"That's why, Bell Cranel!"
She stopped moving all of a sudden, turning to him, and pointed a single finger towards him.
"I definitely won't lose to you!"
The intensity and seriousness behind her eyes left Bell speechless for a moment. Staring into her eyes, Bell responded back with a grin.
"I have no plans to lose to you either, Lefiya-san!"
She scowled. "Hmph. Big words coming from some impudent rabbit. Come on, we're here already, let's go inside."
They were standing in front of a small building located at the corner of a narrow path. On the signboard embedded into the building, the name "Wishe" was engraved into it in Koine, and there was also a small subscript under it in a language that Bell recognized as elven. Lefiya walked inside of the café and Bell followed right behind her.
The café was relatively unpopulated, but it was very stylish. It was somewhat small, and it was made entirely out of wood, but it was bursting with the sense of cleanliness. Flowers and other plants were placed across the café, and bookshelves were located at the walls of the café, filled with thick, difficult-looking books. Bell's first thought was that this place looked exactly like the type of place that elves would like. The customers there were mostly elves sipping on tea and reading books, and the owner of the shop was also an elf reading leisurely by the counter.
The owner glanced towards Lefiya and Bell, to which Lefiya only nodded to him, gesturing that she wanted the usual. She walked towards an empty table in the corner of the café, and Bell awkwardly followed behind her and sat down across from her.
"The food and drinks will come soon, just wait." Lefiya whispered to him.
"H-huh? We didn't order anything, though…?" Bell whispered back.
"The owner handpicks everything for the customers. Don't worry, I guarantee the taste!"
She picked up a book from a nearby shelf and began to read, while Bell looked around the room and wondered if it was okay for him to even be here, since he was a human amongst an elven cafe. It looked like nobody would pay him any mind as long as he stayed quiet, so he let out a brief sigh of relief.
The food and drinks came a few minutes later. The owner set down some coffee and a slice of coffee cake on Bell's side of the table, and on Lefiya's side he set down some vanilla tea and a slice of strawberry cake. Lefiya and Bell thanked him with a nod, and he went back to his counter to continue reading.
"He gave you coffee without any sugar or milk… Bell-san, do you perhaps like bitter food?"
"Rather than liking bitter food… I'm just not particularly fond of sweets." Bell scratched his cheek in embarrassment. "I'm surprised he picked up on that though."
Lefiya smiled. "I don't know how he does it, but the owner somehow manages to guess customers' preferences accurately."
She picked up a fork and began to dig in while gesturing for Bell to do the same. Taking a bite out of the cake, he found that it was only mildly sweet, but still delicious all the same.
"T-this is really good…" Bell murmured, and Lefiya grinned at his reaction.
"You're lucky that I'm treating you to this. Haah, if only Aiz-san wasn't so obsessed with Jagumaru-kun so I could invite her here more often…" She lamented. "Instead, I'm stuck here with someone like you."
Bell looked somewhat sulky at her words. "I-I'm sorry… I'll treat you the next time we come here."
She raised an eyebrow. "Already making plans to come here again? Bell-san, are you perhaps trying to court me?"
"N-n-no!" Bell frantically denied with a red face.
The sudden outburst caused some of the customers there to glare at him, which he quickly apologized for before turning to Lefiya again.
"Hehe." Lefiya giggled with a mischievous face. "You really are easy to tease, Bell-san."
"Y-you were just teasing me…?"
"Of course. Still, I'll go ahead and take you up on that offer in the future. Being treated to the food here is something I don't want to miss out on." She said with a smile.
Bell smiled back at her and they settled into a comfortable silence as they went back to eating their pastries. As he was munching on the cake, he couldn't help but feel like he was glad to have a training partner like Lefiya.
The morning of the expedition. The various members of Loki Familia began their last-minute preparations at the Twilight Manor. Tiona, Tione, and Lefiya were in a supply room looking for some items.
"Let's do this!" Tiona said as she searched through the room for her belongings.
"Be quiet while you prepare, Tiona." Tione said.
"I want to catch up to Aiz during this expedition! I won't lose to Argonaut-kun, either!"
She finished packing her supplies and turned to Lefiya.
"I'll be going ahead, Lefiya!"
"Got it." Lefiya said.
Lefiya had finished packing already, but she needed time to mentally prepare herself. She took a few deep breaths before resolving herself.
"Alright! Time to go!"
Aki, Raul, Bell, and a few other members were dragging the food supplies, extra weapons and armor, and other items from the manor to the courtyard. For an expedition with over 100 members from three Familias, they needed to pack as many supplies as they could in order to survive their journey. Bete, having finished his own preparations, walked out into the courtyard and called out to everyone.
"You guys better not slow us down! Oi, are Aiz and the others not here yet?"
"…Good morning to you too, Bete." Aki said under her breath.
"Tiona-san and the others are in the cafeteria, but Aiz-san's apparently still in her room." Raul informed Bete.
"Huh? Is she not planning on eating? …Tch, I guess it can't be helped." Bete muttered before leaving towards the cafeteria as well.
"…What did he even come here for?" Aki asked Raul.
"He looks after others in his own way, I guess…" Raul said with a nervous laugh.
'I wonder… Is this what grandpa means by describing someone as a "tsundere"?' Wondered Bell as he watched Bete walk away.
She took out her sword, Desperate, out of its sheathe and stared at her reflection in its metal. Confirming her resolve in her eyes, she placed it back in the sheathe and turned to walk out of the room.
'It's finally time.'
The Loki Familia executive room. Finn was praying to a mural depicting the pallum Goddess Phiana, wishing for their Familia's success in the expedition.
"We're coming in, Finn." Gareth's voice came from the other side of the door. After saying that, Gareth and Riveria entered the room.
"Did we bother you?"
"It's fine, I just finished."
"All of the preparations are complete." Riveria reported.
"Thanks for taking care of the final checks, Riveria. How's everyone doing?" Finn asked.
"They're doing good, their morale is high as well."
"Aiz and the others have grown… It feels nostalgic to think back when the three of us were the only members." Gareth said, stroking his beard.
"We've finally come this far. If we reach the unreached area that the Zeus and Hera Familias left behind, our fame will increase even further." Finn declared.
"Aren't you famous enough? There isn't a pallum that doesn't know who you are, Finn."
"The only famous Pallum in Orario are me, Lyra, and the Bringar from Freya Familia… I don't even know the names of most of the Pallum across the world."
Finn walked to the statue of the Pallum Goddess and stood in front of it.
"The Pallum need a light, a flag known as 'courage'. I can't stop here—I'm going to keep going on no matter what lies ahead." Finn resolved.
"Heh. You really haven't changed since we first met. You always had an ambition bigger than your body, and you were never afraid to talk about it. I like to think that you mellowed out, but I guess not." Gareth said.
"To think that we're now on the front lines of Dungeon exploration… Remember the past? All we used to do was argue with each other. It's a strange feeling…" Riveria said with nostalgia.
They reminisced about the beginnings of Loki Familia. They were all from different races and had their prejudices against each other because of it.
"…You're right about that."
They all smiled at each other as they remembered all of the times they had been together. It had been 28 years since the formation of Loki Familia, and their journey together had been long and arduous.
"…Why don't we do 'that' to liven things up?" Gareth suggested.
"If I recall correctly, Loki was the one that started it." Finn said.
"She forced us to do it. I recall you two were grimacing… I guess I was too." Riveria said with a smile.
They formed a circle and all placed their hands on top of each other, and they each declared their resolutions.
"For passionate battles."
"For the world yet unseen."
"For the restoration of my race."
The first time they had done this ritual, they were all scowling and couldn't even look at each other. Loki forced them to do it, but their differences hadn't been settled at all at that time. Now, they looked at each other with proud smiles on their faces as the strongest Familia in Orario.
"Aiz and the others are waiting. Let's go." Finn said, being the first one to take his hand off the pile.
"Come to think about it… How's your other goal going?" Gareth asked.
"Oh, his successor… In other words, his search for a wife." Riveria recalled.
"Unfortunately, I haven't met anyone worthwhile yet. My only real option is Lyra, and that's something I prefer to be a last resort. Would you two introduce me to a good pallum?"
They began to walk out of the door, into the future that would lie before them.
"I'll pass." Riveria said. "I don't want to risk getting killed by Tione."
"Same here." Gareth said with a laugh.
Finn let out a wry smile. "That's too bad."
At Central Park, where the expedition members were waiting to depart.
"Hey, Sword Princess!" A voice called out to Aiz. She turned around and saw Tsubaki waving at her.
"Long time no see, have you been doing well?"
Aiz nodded. "Thanks for coming, Tsubaki-san."
"No need to be humble, we're only coming along because we want to!" She finished her greeting before spotting a certain werewolf in the crowd.
"There you are, Bete Loga! How dare you force me to fix your Flosvirt on such a short notice?!"
"Don't come near me, you nasty woman!"
As Aiz watched the two of them bicker, another familiar voice reached her ears. In the corner of her eye, she could see Lefiya chatting with Amid. The healer had changed into a battle dress, ready for the expedition, and it was somewhat strange seeing her outside of her normal attire since she usually wore the same outfit every day. It seems that she also brought her own set of potions and elixirs in a suitcase, and Aiz couldn't help but wonder if they would have to pay for those as well.
In a different area, Lili and Welf came to see Bell off for the expedition.
"Here it is, Bell! A brand new greatsword—I just finished the final touches yesterday!"
Welf handed him the greatsword, to which Bell checked by taking it out of its sheathe. The handle was dark gray in color and felt comfortable to the touch, while the blade was polished to the point where it was completely white.
"Welf, this looks amazing!"
"Of course it is! It's my work, after all. This sword is actually made using the base of the greatsword that the Minotaur was using, modified to fit the exact measurements of the greatsword you were training with the last week. I used some of the leftover ore I had to enhance the durability and strength of it, and while it can't conduct magic like your dagger can, it's definitely strong enough to serve you by itself!"
"I love it! What's it called?"
"Pyonken MK-1! It goes along well with your armor, doesn't it?!"
"…I-I guess it does..." Bell said with a strained smile.
"…Welf-sama, your naming sense is absolutely horrendous." Lili said with a deadpan voice.
"What do you mean?! It's perfectly fine, isn't it?!" Welf said with an indignant tone.
"Leaving aside Welf-sama… make sure you come back alive, Bell-sama! Lili will be waiting right here for your return!"
"What do you mean 'leaving me aside', huh, Li'l Lili?! But anyways, when you come back, we're definitely going to party up again, alright Bell?"
He smiled at both of them. "Thank you, Lili, Welf. I'll definitely come back so we can party up again! Just wait for me!"
The three of them felt someone staring in their direction, and when they turned to look, they found Helun standing in the distance, making sure not to be noticed by any Loki Familia members. She gave them a brief nod before turning around and disappearing.
"That Helun… She can't be honest with herself, can she? She should have just come over and sent you off with us." Welf complained.
"Idiot. She's part of Freya Familia, remember? She can't just walk up to Bell-sama in front of so many Loki Familia members." Lili rebuked him.
"Ahaha… Still, I'm glad that she came at all." Bell said.
Finn, Gareth, and Riveria began to walk up towards the front of the crowd to get everyone's attention. Seeing that, Bell turned to say goodbye to his other party members.
"I'll be going now! Take care, you two!"
"That's what we should be saying, Bell-sama."
They sent him off with a grin, which Bell returned before heading towards Raul's group—the party members that he had been assigned for the duration of the expedition. They smiled at him in acknowledgement before turning to the front of the crowd where the executives stood.
"—We will now begin our expedition!" Finn's voice boomed out across Central Park as everyone turned to him. "Like we said before, we'll split our force into two groups! One led by Riveria and I, the other led by Gareth. Make sure to stay with your assigned group! We will regroup on the 18th floor, then we'll immediately head down to the 50th floor! Our goal is the unreached area, the 59th floor!"
The excitement and tension from the expedition members were growing as Finn continued to speak.
"You all are courageous adventurers and warriors like the heroes of old! We'll gain wealth and fame from exploring the unknown! We don't need false glory at the cost of others! I want you all to swear by the light on the surface that you'll come back alive!"
The roars of excitement that came from the Loki Familia adventurers could be heard all across Orario. Bell began to shake in nervousness, but Cruz put his hand on Bell's shoulder to calm him down. He smiled at him in thanks and turned back to look at Finn.
"Now, let's depart on our expedition!"
Author Note: Man, I love the Loki Trio. When I was rereading the Sword Oratoria manga to see how I should adapt certain scenes into this fanfic, I remembered the BD side stories for the Sword Oratoria anime that was about the formation of the main trio. Probably the funniest part to me was when they were trying to convince Gareth to join them. Loki came up with some "Three Beautiful Girl Seduction Plan" or something (I don't remember the actual name), and Loki, Riveria, and Finn (who was cross-dressing as a girl in the sauna) were the three "girls". I'm pretty sure he was only flustered by Finn, though mainly because Finn was crossdressing on the male side of the sauna. I'll have to go back and reread them someday.
Somehow, I didn't realize that in the past few chapters I keep switching between Ais/Aiz and Alise/Alize, so I'm trying to centralize all of it. Whenever I'm writing, I just naturally write down whichever sounds right to be at the time, so I apologize for that. I went back and replaced everything with Alise/Aiz, though I'm sure that I'll mess it up again in the future and put Alize/Ais. I'm sorry. I should also probably turn every "Ryuu" into "Ryu", but I'm undecided on that for now. I also fixed a bunch of other grammar mistakes, but it's hard to get every single one.
I don't play much DanMemo outside of the events, but I noticed that in the crafting weapon section that there's already a weapon called 'Magic Eater', and its description says that it's a weapon that shoots magic bullets. Maybe I should have been a little more creative when naming Bell's weapon in this story.
Final note—sorry for not updating in a while. I was able to update relatively fast up until now, but school has started once again (actually, as of finishing this chapter, it's only one more month until the semester is over) so I don't have as much time as before to dedicate myself to writing this. I can't promise frequent updates due to a lot of stress in my life, but I'll do the best I can do.