Danmachi: The Cure

DISCLAIMER: Danmachi belongs to its respective owners. Everything that occurs in this story is of my own creation and the characters abide by the fictional laws in the setting.

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Commissioned by: Palik

Chapter 15: Mistakes Were Made Part 2

Part 17 2/2

Candles dimly illuminated the interior of Hephaestus manor's library, the two users of said dim light were sitting huddled together – shoulder to shoulder – on an excessively decorated sofa. Both had an open book resting on their laps, but only one was used for Riveria had inclined forward to point at a magical verse on the book resting on Bell's lap.

"In this instance, a spell like these with four verses can be abbreviated into three by…"

Bell wanted to pay attention to Riveria's instructions, but he was already fighting three wars. His eyes fought two, one by trying to stay awake due to how late it was into the night already and they had yet to stop their latest lesson and the second by fighting to keep his eyes locked on Riveria's gaze and where her fingers pointed and not at her sleepwear.

"… as you can see, in this formula over here…"

If those two weren't enough to keep the boy's mind occupied, the third war he waged against his guilt over lying to his mother-like figure – Guilt, which still ate at him despite Alfia's forgiveness. As much as he liked repeating the words that he would do anything for Alfia, if such 'anything' ended up hurting his surrogate mother…

"…ell? Bell?"

Riveria poked his cheek, startling him awake and making him aware of his surroundings again.

"Sorry." Bell blinked several times, "You were saying?"

Riveria huffed and tapped with some pressure the book on his lap, "What was the last thing I told you?"

Bell winced and tried to recall Riveria's last few words but came up blank, "Um… Something about abbreviations?"

His response made Riveria deadpan and hum tiredly before she snapped close the book on her lap, "I believe we should stop the lessons for tonight…"

Bell wanted to say no, apologize, and say that he would pay attention, but it would be a blatant lie. His eyes could barely remain open and the only things that kept him going were hearing Riveria's voice so close and his drive to learn more; and, well… the bothersome thoughts in his head.

However, before he could even start to apologize. Riveria gently closed the book on his lap and tapped it against the top of his head, "I could see you fighting to stay awake during our lesson, are you sure you aren't pushing yourself too far? I've heard from Lady Hephaistos about your daily schedule…"

"I won't be able to achieve what I need if I don't push myself this muuu…" Bell immediately responded, but a yawn interrupted his mouth from finishing his thought.

Riveria's features softened and her hand came to rest on his knee, again. "I understand, but as it stands, you're merely wasting time, Bell."

Her words tickled negative emotions, but Bell suppressed any annoyance because he knew that Riveria was not the kind of person to talk down to someone. Still, he had to ask. "What do you mean?"

Riveria tapped his knee twice as she replied, "I taught you about abbreviations thirty minutes ago. So, for the last thirty minutes you've wasted both my and your time, Bell. If you had said that you were getting too tired to continue, we both could've gone to sleep earlier and be better rested tomorrow."

Blunt, but her words were true.

It would be too easy to make an excuse about how his day had been too hectic from the moment he woke up, but Riveria was already the second person to scold him for wasting time by running himself too ragged. Airmid had already warned him about the dangers of learning under her while tired, and while Riveria's lesson were mostly mind-focused – he still needed to be in his five senses to properly learn what he wanted to be taught.

Bell winced and bowed his head apologetically, "That…"

"Hey, don't be like that." Riveria lightly bumped their shoulders together and gained his attention. "I'll forgive you this time because I knew you were tired, and I still decided to teach you even when I knew there was a chance that you weren't paying attention."

Bell smiled bittersweetly, "You're really kind, Riveria. Thank you. I'll try not to waste our time together the next time."

Twice already had Riveria done something incredibly kind (and dangerous) for him today. Truly, if there was anybody else besides Alise and Ryuu with whom he was comfortable being around with, it would be no one else but Riveria.

"Hehe," Riveria laughed lightly and tucked her hair behind her long elven ear, "It sounds funny when you say it like that."

Bell blinked and his face turned red as he understood how his words could be taken, "That! No- I meant -"

"-I know what you mean, Bell. I'm just teasing you." Riveria giggled and folded her knees together to look directly at him. "Consider it my punishment for not listening to me for the last thirty minutes."

Bell covered his face with his hands and groaned, embarrassed. "Please don't play with my emotions like that…"

"I'll think about it if you pay more attention on our next lesson." Riveria teased him one last time before she looked away from him. Her gaze fell on the library windows where the starry night sky could be seen. "It's gotten quite late already…"

Bell glanced at Riveria and noted that she was slouching the fairest of margins which made him realize that he was not the only one to have a tiring day. Remorse and a sense of righting his wrongs made Bell utter, "Riveria, I'll take care of the cleanup for tonight, you should go rest."

The royal elf looked back at him and lightly shook her head, "Let's take care of it together. It'll be faster, and I can make sure you don't end up falling asleep midway."

Bell took the quip down with a huff, but accepted Riveria's words with a nod.

The first to stand was Riveria – and Bell was instantly reminded of why he had troubles paying attention to her lessons. Riveria's nightgown was simple, with an incredibly dark green tone, but it was such simplicity that made Bell's eyes follow Riveria's swift movements as she stacked the books they used together on the table.

Her gown wasn't loose per see, but every movement of her arms made the fabric reveal hints of her collarbone. And, unlike the robes she wore during the day, her gown did nothing to hide the fact that Riveria was well-gifted in not just the magical arts. The clothe covered down to her feet, yet it was tied tight around her waist which defined her shape more than Bell had normally seen.

So, he could be forgiven for staring if only for a moment longer before snapping out of his trance and helping Riveria retrieve the papers where they had written down some magical formulas.

But even as they moved about in the dimly library to rearrange everything used for the lesson, Bell still found his eyes stray back to Riveria every so often and it was only when she suddenly glanced in his direction and their eyes met that Bell hurriedly looked away and hastened his pace to finish cleaning, all the while disregarding the unknown feeling welling up in him.

Then came the moment to turn off the candles and cast into darkness the library, with only the moonlight coming through the windows giving a hint of vision to any floor obstacle. Accustomed to lacking vision due to his harsh training with Alfia, Bell used his magic to sense his surroundings and instinctively moved to grasp Riveria's hand and guide her out of the library without stumbling upon any furniture's corner.

Perhaps, she may not have needed his guidance but neither seemed to bother taking their hand away from the other. Whether it was because they had already held hands for a good portion of the day, or because they had grown closer by sharing some of their darkest and most troublesome secrets they held within, neither knew the exact reason.

But there was no denying that they had grown closer…

Far too close for the comfort of the silver-haired maiden watching them from the end of the corridor, but… she would not get in their way. At least not when it seemed that both needed it.

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

The next day, Bell woke up with a start due with his lungs feeling as if they were on fire. The source of his lack of air was none other than his aunt possessively holding onto him, burrowing his face so deep into her cleavage that she was strangling him in her sleep. Several failed attempts followed before he successfully escaped her grasp and gasped for air while rubbing his sore neck in the safety of the bathroom.

It wasn't rare for Alfia to use him as a body pillow when they slept, so he wasn't all that troubled for the rude awakening. In fact, after he had washed his face and checked what time it was, believed her waking him up so early could be counted as a blessing since there was a lot he wanted to do during the day. Most of it were stuff he didn't manage to do the previous day due to how hectic it had become.

A quick wash, change of clothes, and he was down in the manor's kitchen looking for something to eat before checking whether his Goddess was awake or not, though he didn't need to look for her too far for said Goddess was already stirring a coffee cup and having breakfast.

"Good morning, Goddess." He greeted with a small nod of the head which Hephaestus returned by raising her cup.

He didn't join her immediately, as he scourged whatever remained from last night's dinner and heated it up before bringing his plate to the table and sat besides the pensative red-haired Goddess.

"I'd like to say its rare to see you up so early." Hephaestus was the first to speak; she set aside her cup and leaned into one hand to look at Bell eating. "But we both know that would be a lie. I even know what you're going to ask me now that you've seen me awake."

Bell smiled sheepishly and downed the mouthful he'd taken, "Then is it alright to start earlier today?"

Hephaestus snorted, "That drive of yours is really something. Sadly, today there's something I need you to do for me today."

Curious, his eyebrows rose, "What is it, Goddess?"

"Since the Monsterphillia starts tomorrow, I need some materials from the upper floors for simple trinkets to sell and promote our Familia to the visitors." Hephaestus grinned, "So, I was thinking that you could get me those materials while the rest of the Familia works on crafting with what we already have for the first few days."

Ever the opportunistic Goddess indeed, Bell thought to himself. He couldn't – nay, wouldn't refuse his Goddess request even if it meant cancelling their Runic lessons. Especially since she was one of his most important benefactors ever since arriving in Orario.

"Which are the materials you need, Goddess?"

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

And that's how Bell found himself near the stairs to the entrance of the Dungeon, a parchment in hand with the list of drops Hephaistos wanted to get. She did warn him that he shouldn't try to get the exact amount she requested, as that would require him to be extremely lucky, but that wouldn't stop him from trying.

Thankfully, all the drops she needed for the day came from monsters on the first and second level, so he wouldn't need to venture too deep to obtain them but there was still that fluttery sensation in his stomach since he would be entering the Dungeon on his own this time.

He would've asked Alise and Ryuu to join him again, but not only was it way too early from their usual meeting time at Mia's bar, but Ryuu had also told him that they would not be available for the day since they would be running errands for their Familia. He knew that if he asked Alise, she would ditch their Familia's errands just to mess with him some more, but Bell wasn't petty enough to cause troubles for Loki by using his friendship with Alise and Ryuu.

Huh, that might actually be a solid idea for something to do in the future in case Loki ever messed with him. He was certain Alise would be up for it, the only one that would need some convincing would be Ryuu… which he trusted Alise alone would be enough to convince her.

"Heh," he snorted at the thought and noted that the fluttery sensation in his stomach was gone. "Even when you two are not here, you still find a way to make me feel at ease." He wouldn't tell them that though, or at least not to Alise because he would not hear the end of it.

His anxiety gone; Bell made sure that all his equipment was in place before walking down the long steps into the first floor of the dungeon – Ready to tackle on his first solo run of the floor on his own. He came prepared, much more well-prepared than his first run with Alise and Ryuu. His Goddess had provided him with a bag full of supplies all adventurers normally carried, namely half a dozen potions for his health, stamina and mind, and a short knife to carve the cores off the monsters that hadn't dissipated after a fatal blow.

As soon as his boots settled on the unsteady rock of the first Dungeon's floor, Bell drew his longsword and let it rest comfortably on his right side at hip level; the tip barely away from touching the floor itself. His magic buzzed beneath his skin, giving him another sense with which to feel his surroundings. His path became clear then, and the white-haired adventurer traversed forward into the unknown.

Gone was the nervousness from adventuring alone, in its stead was the resolute firmness to use this opportunity to truly test whether he was moving forward towards his goal, or if his strength had stagnated – and if it had, then it would be perfect time for him to force his way beyond his limitations.

Alfia only had so much time left, and Bell couldn't afford stagnating for even a second if he wanted to attain the strength needed to repel her curse.

And he didn't have to wait long for the first test to his strength to appear from beyond the darkness of the dungeon's corridors. His opponent was something he'd already fought against with the company of his friends, its convoluted shapeless noise echoed inside his mind and Bell prepared to take care of it before it could see him.

His lungs deflated, his chest tightened, the grip on his sword increased as he lowered his center of gravity and prepared himself.

Left foot slid forward, right ankle lifted and pushed against the ground, "Ha!"

The distance between him and the grotesque hip-sized monster disappeared with his lunge; wide dilated eyes became alert of his presence when it was far too late. Small arms raised to defend, but the steel cut through the limbs as if they weren't even there.


The cut was made, and his body shifted to the side, bringing his entire momentum to pull as much weight into his slice and cut clean through the monster's middle-section. His attack carried him forward until his back was to the monster; the convoluted noise in his mind pulsed before exploding with a screeching echo.


Bell regarded the remains of the goblin, spotting the single nail-sized crystal it left behind. A sense of satisfaction came in before he squashed it down. His prey was weak, there should be no sense of entitlement coming from something so simple – or so he reasoned, as he picked up the crystal and pocketed it.

The fight was over before it even started, which was all the more reason for him to focus further and continue without deviating from his initial rationale. He was not here to make himself feel better about his abilities; his journey had a reason, and it would do him well to always strike with that fervent idea in mind lest he make a fool of himself and pay dearly for his lack of discipline.

Time was of essence, his legs responded in kind and moved with purpose towards the continued darkness of the Dungeon. He would've worried over getting lost, were it not for the teachings of his two good friends about keeping mental track of where he went and marked the ground with his equipment at every intersection.

Two more convoluted noises of the same size as the previous one rang in his mind, their bodies hidden behind rocky stalagmites that would put him in their direct line of sight were he to continue forward. His pace slowed down; muscle memory from his training with Alfia made him rise his left hand, his fingers pointed in the direction of the two convoluted noises.

A whisper of his magic, "Serenitas Eden."

And the two beings exploded as their physical bodies could not contain the shape of their distorted souls. Again, his pace hastened to find the two small cores with an added drop: a goblin fang. That brought a smile to his face, and he didn't squash the satisfaction this time as it was one of the items his Goddess asked him to obtain from the upper floors.

A stroke of good luck raised his spirits further and hastened him. In no time he was finding his next target all by itself under a well-lit section of the veritable maze. Unlike the first three, it had a dagger in its tiny hand which Bell took note was far too cared for to be a simple drop or discarded gear and upon drawing closer, the reddened state of the blade revealed it had not come without a fight which the survivor obviously won.

Whether it had taken a life, Bell didn't know – didn't need to know. His target was already locked, its convoluted noise shifted as it spotted him.

Bell lunged forward again, intent on ending its life and leaving for his next target, but an echo of steel rang loud, and Bell's eyes widened as the goblin not only blocked his preemptive strike, but grinned and reached for his face with its other hand.

Only to miss, as their arm length difference was far to wide for the armed goblin to compensate for.

The second of surprise passed, and Bell rose his own free hand with a grin and imitated the goblin's swipe.

An explosion of dust followed after the monster dissolved into whatever the hazy mist represented; the dagger and its stone falling to the floor where Bell safely picked them up. As soon as the white-haired adventurer stood up, something like needles pricked at his temple, a sensation he had come to understand as his body alerting him of the first sign of Mind depletion.

Two uses of his magic, three if he were to count by the numbers of targets, and his Mind already felt the first signs of minor strain. It was far from debilitating him in any way, but Riveria had taught him to always pay important attention to any shift to his Mind, as subtle as it could be, for in it was the true knowledge of how he could refine his employment of his magic.

"Gye! Gyaga!"

- Interrupted, Bell turned to the monsters to see three packed together with different adventurers' tools in hand. All as bloodied as the dagger he recovered earlier and told him more of the story about where they could've picked such items from.

"Focus, you're in the dungeon." He told himself after his momentary lapse and readied to engage the three monsters. Even if they were weak, their numbers left him at a disadvantage. Sure, his magic could take care of all three, but then where would be the learning opportunity in that?

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

Deep down where Bell fought, monsters howled in agony as they were culled like lambs to the slaughter, gleeful laughter and taunts echoed as the novice members of the Loki Familia worked in tandem to clear their executives' path. An exploration made to train the newest members teamwork and clear the 17th floor boss.

The training went well, with members working exactly as the Braver expected them to. Even when there were only the troublesome bunch of the Familia as the one calling the orders, there hadn't been any moment where the Familia slacked off. Perhaps, the news of the possibility of a new member joining their ranks in the year to follow had lit a fire inside the Familia – Or so, the Braver thought.

And speaking of such news, two of the most problematic members seemed to be the most troubled of the whole bunch. In the Braver's mind, accepting those two into the Familia had been a gamble that mostly paid off, as both members were incredibly skilled and could hold their own well enough, but their past actions could cause trouble were other Gods to try and justle control from the Loki Familia.

That was not to say that the Familia wouldn't fight for and with them, but rumors could only be hidden for so long before most of the Familia knew of some of the actions taken by those two… which led to the same scene of them walking alone and acting away from the main group on all explorations.

Justice was what they fought for, and the Braver respected them for that, enough for him to approach them again.

"Is something the matter, Alise, Ryuu?"

"Oh, hey boss. Not really, no." Alise replied with her vibrant smile, as she always did. "We just don't see any reason for us to involve ourselves in the newbies training."

That much was true, but… "That again? Haven't you given it any thought over what I told you two on the last exploration?"

"We have, Mister Finn." Ryuu replied curtly, "However, I believe it is not needed for us to learn to work with all members of the Familia. Especially not when certain members wouldn't hesitate to act in prejudicial manners during a fight."

Right, that had happened before and Riveria had made certain Bete was always ten meters away from these two since the last time him and Alise had butted heads during the last Familia exploration.

"Hm, I guess I won't be able to convince you today either about working with the new members, then?"

Both Alise and Ryuu shook their heads, though Alise rubbed the back of her head whereas Ryuu kept a blank stare that would made lesser adventurers squirm in place.

"Sorry boss, looks like you'll have to try again another time." Alise laughed awkwardly before turning serious. "We really appreciate you always trying to look out for us but believe me. We're doing alright, even if we still can't work well with most of the Familia."

The Braver knew that well, it was part of his job to know the performance of every member of the Familia and their standings in the Familia. Then again, it was not his job to push people out of their comfort zone unless Loki requested him to do so. So, he didn't push the issue further, at least not for today. He had almost turned away after feeling his conversation with the two was over when he noticed something out of the norm.

It was only a glimpse, for the smallest of seconds, that he saw an unknown emotion behind Ryuu's gaze. Usually, she was always aloof, somewhat cold and hard to approach, with the blankest of faces and monotones voices of all. So, it was a surprise to him to see worry in her normally apathic gaze. His senses told him there was an interesting story behind that, and his curiosity couldn't be contained.

"It's unusual to see you worrying over something."

Like a deer spotting the hunter, Ryuu's entire body clammed up.


She refused to speak, whether it was because she didn't trust him or because she simply didn't want to say, the Braver didn't know. But he could at least guess that it had something to do with Alise bemoaning for the entire morning about how they could've asked to be exempted from the exploration since they could've been doing something more important on the surface.

Seeing as how in sixteen floors, there had been no change in attitude from either the Familia or these two on working together, the Braver decided:

"If you wish, you can return to the surface."

"Huh?" Alise stumbled on nothing, "But I thought you needed us for the boss fight?"

The Braver shook his head, "Neither Riveria nor Gareth joined us for this expedition, therefore I won't push the group to exterminate the 17th floor boss this time." It would be dangerous if those two got into a fight with the other executives while they fought the boss, after all. "If there's something you left undone on the surface, take this opportunity to go back earlier and finish your errands."

Alise frowned and seemingly thought over the offer, however the one to reply was the elf whose stance returned into neutral.

"… Thank you, we'll take you up on the offer Mister Finn." Ryuu made a small bow before grabbing onto Alise's arm and dragging the redhaired woman away with her.

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

"For-" Bell dodged a claw swipe to his face, "-ty!" and cut the dog-like monster from shoulder to hip before having to jump back to avoid another swipe from another Kobold. Breathing was hard, his lung feeling as if on fire, but his body still moved despite the weakness settling in. There was no time to think his actions, as yet another Kobold ran at him with a weapon made of rock in hand.

He lowered his center of gravity again, knees bending forward as the monster approached before he lunged forward and tackled the monster with his shoulder. The Kobold tried to claw at him as it fell on its back, but he was quicker to drive the sword through the center of its chest and twist, causing the monster to explode before the remaining Kobold came at him again.

His shoulders pulled back, but the sword didn't budge. Confused, surprised, his eyes tracked the tip of the steel embedded on the stone before the Kobold rammed into his side and threw him down. His descent wasn't controlled – his shoulder hit the ground, hard – and the monster continued its attack by mounting his side and swiping at his face.

A scratch to the temple and to the cheek before he could gather his wits and punch the Kobold in the face, stunning it long enough for him to kick it off himself and scramble back to his feet. His hand rose, his Mind rumbled and threatened to split his head apart form the headache, but he still managed to grasp onto the Kobold's noise and twisted.

The monster exploded in a shower blood, pelting him with the viscous liquid before the remains exploded in a hazy dust. Weariness set in quickly as the ground shook beneath his feet – no, it was not the ground shaking but his legs barely keeping him upright after using so much Mind in the last fight. His fingers trembled as they searched within his adventurer pouch for his Goddess provisions and brought out two potions, one for his Mind and another for his Stamina.

His first liquid mouthful almost escaped his mouth after chugging too fast, but he held it down through sheer desperation as more convoluted noises encroached closer to his location. More than he could safely take on his own without severe injury or worse and he couldn't afford to get injured since he had no more health potions left.

Not because he had used them, but because of the accident that happened earlier.

He'd been fighting well on his own on the first floor until the Dungeon decided to spring a trap on him, or perhaps it was just his bad luck in action, but it did not change the fact that during one of his fights, the ground had given up from under him and sent him tumbling down a perilous tunnel. Had it not been for his quick reaction time before landing, he would have hit the ground headfirst.

Instead, he'd managed to righten his body and land on his side before rolling for several meters until he came to a stop with minimal injuries, or as minimal as several scratches to his arms and sides could be. Immediately, he had gone for his pouch to drink a health potion to help him recover from the fall – which while still hurt, it wasn't as bad as the pain Alfia inflicted on him during training – only to feel the bag was wet and upon closer investigation, see that most of the flasks had broken during the fall, leaving him with only two Mind and Stamina potions and a single health potion.

Then the game of cat and mice started.

The noise from the rockfall alerted several monsters in the vicinity, giving Bell barely enough time to down one of each potion and make a quick plan on how to escape the predicament he had found himself in.

That was over an hour ago, and he had yet to shake off the swarm of monsters that had followed after him. Sure, he had managed to take down over forty as he ran by using every little trick he could think of, but as the footsteps and convoluted noise drew closer en masse, he knew it was a losing fight.

Not that he would give up, but he knew his chances of making it out in one piece dwindled by the second.

Desperate and determined to live for another day, he freed his sword and ran in the opposite direction from where the monsters were coming from. More plans and ideas on how to continue dividing them and taking them down until it was safe for him to fight the main group.

So focused on his plans and the rumbling convoluted noise army in his mind, the adventurer had no time to notice the ones coming towards him until he smacked right dab into them.

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

"Y'know, since we said we wouldn't meet up with him, there's a chance he's not there today." Alise took wide steps with her hands crossed behind her head and tilted slightly to look at her best friend's response.

"That's very likely the case." Ryuu monotonously replied, one hand resting on the hilt of her sword. "It's a shame we won't be able to eat Mama Mia's cooking today."

"Hmm…" Alise gauged Ryuu's face, "We could go visit him at his Familia residence."

Ryuu tilted her head slightly; a sign that she gave it some thought before replying in the negative, "No. I do not want to become a bother to Mister Cranel, less so if we go there and end up interrupting his training."

"If he's training, we can just join in and teach him too." Alise grinned, "I'm sure he won't mind it."

Again, Ryuu stayed quiet for a moment before exhaling through the nose – quite loudly. "You're not going to change my mind, Alise."

"Guess I'll be going alone then."

That stopped Ryuu and left her glaring at her redheaded friend, "You wouldn't."

"Oh, I would, and I will." Alise grinned, "I'll be like: Oh, hi Bell, I'm sorry it's just me but Ryuu said she didn't want to see you."


"And he'll be like: That's fine Alise, just you coming here to visit me is more than enough."


"And then the two of us will have a long training sess-" Alise crouched, dodging the sword strike of her red-faced friend. "Well then, I guess you're coming too?"

"I will not allow you to bother Mister Cranel." Ryuu dangerously warned and would've continued her warning were it not for the sound of fast footsteps coming their way. "Someone's coming."

Alise's attitude did a 180, her features became as stoic as her friend's; one hand came to rest on her weapon, ready to pull at a moment's notice in case the one running towards them was hostile. It was very unlikely that it would be someone hostile since they were already back up on the fourth floor, but lately, there had been more news about thieves and pass parades occurring on the upper floors more often, so neither would take their chances.

Their fears were unfounded, because what ran from the darkness of the corner was none other than person they were talking about just moments earlier; confusion manifested because he shouldn't be here on this floor yet, but they weren't given a chance to ponder the reason before Bell had quite literally run into them.

To be specific, he ran straight into Alise who was the vanguard of their two-woman team.


His face made a spectacular sound as it impacted with Alise's cold breastplate, though he didn't fall on his ass thanks to the Alise reaching out for his shoulders and holding him steady as he shook the stars of his vision.

They two female adventurers were even more confused – and worried – once they took in his appearance. Battered, with several cuts, and blood splattered all over his face and clothes.


Their voice made him clam up and look at them wide-eyed as he registered their appearances too, "Alise? Ryuu?"

"What are you doing here?" Alise asked him as she studied his injuries and noted none were fatal, thankfully.

"I-" He clammed up again and his face turned anxious, "No time to talk, come!"

He took them both by surprise as he grabbed onto both of their hands and started running again, his desperation as clear as day.

"Bell!? What the hell's happening?" Alise shouted at him as they ran.

"Monsters!" Was his quick response.

Ryuu narrowed her eyes and traded looks with Alise, a quick nod went between them before they both dug their feet and forced Bell come to a stop by almost dislocating his shoulders as his momentum carried him forward.

"Mister Cranel, breathe." Ryuu stepped into his comfort zone and made sure his attention was entirely on her alone.


"Breathe Bell," Her fingers pressed against his chest, "In."

He inhaled.


He exhaled.




"Good, now could you tell us what's happening?"

He opened his mouth to reply before closing it and took a moment longer to respond, "Dungeon trap, fell I don't know how many floors. Several monsters have been chasing me and they still are, they're getting closer."

"Oh yeah, they're closer indeed." Alise's quip made both adventurers look at her to see Alise pointing at the decently sized army of upper floor monsters coming at them from the direction they had been moments earlier. "Hmm, there's probably a hundred or so in there…"

"Damn it, I thought I had made more space between us." Bell growled out.

"It's impossible to lose a parade like that unless there's another target they lock in, Bell." Ryuu took the moment to teach him something he probably wasn't aware of. "I'm surprised, and glad, you've made it this far on your own." Ryuu tapped his chest lightly, before fully turning to Alise. "Alise, get ready."

"Hai, hai~" Alise rotated her sword hand before grinning like a child in a sweets store.

"Ryuu? Alise?" Bell called for them, his concern for their safety touching them but also annoying them, as in his panic he seemed to have forgotten something important.

"Bell, let this be another lesson to you." Alise exclaimed as she brandished her sword and took the vanguard stance again with Ryuu standing just behind her, "Don't underestimate us."

- 0 - T.C - 0 -


That's all Bell could think of as Alise and Ryuu dispatched in tandem the horde of monsters that had been chasing him for the better part of his day.

Their movements were any unlike he had ever seen, mostly because Alfia had always taught him how to fight on his own. That was not the case for Alise and Ryuu, who worked perfectly together from the years of adventuring together. Their pattern of attack quickly became visible to his studious mind, and he noted how both were offensive attackers who covered for each other's blind spot.

Where Alise cut straight through several monsters with one sword strike Ryuu dashed right after to annihilate any monsters that had not outright died, and between the two of them were carving a straight path through the monster parade.

He had half-expected that Alise's style would be stoic and somewhat crude due to her heavier equipment, and while her strikes were more on the powerful end, her movements were anything but such. Her feet moved with an agility he'd only seen Alfia move with, though Alfia was still faster, it said something about Alise if he could compare it to hers.

Then there was Ryuu herself, and that was such a mesmerizing sight to see. If Alise was already agile enough to surprise him, then Ryuu was outright dancing around the monsters every strike and Alise's own movements. At least he did expect Ryuu to be so lithe on her feet, but expecting something and seeing it on the flesh were entirely different situations, and he was incredibly impressed… and somewhat taken in.


Was all Bell could think of next as he continued watching Ryuu move about, her body twisting and contorting to strike from the least expected angles and show her flexibility through the lengths at which her feet stretched apart to control her next actions.

While he would have loved to continue simply staring at the performance of his friends, the rational part of his mind reminded him that it was his fault that they were even having to fight in the first place. His admiration quickly turned into self-admonishment, and while he knew he couldn't match either of the girl's pace, he could still afford to give them support in the only way he could.

He kneeled, one hand helping to maintain his balance, and the other extended forward in Alise's and Ryuu's direction.

His magic thrummed again and seized the opponents out of their reach, and with a mental pull, twisted the noise within the monsters. His eyelid twitched, his temple started heating, but he continued twisting every monster noise he could get his mental hands on.

"Woohoo!" Alise shout came as a surprise, "That's our Bell, hell yeah!"

"Alise, focus." Ryuu spared a second to glance in Bell direction and smiled at him – a true, honest to god's smile because he could see the snow fairy grinning from ear to ear. "Thank you."

To hell with running out of Mind! If he could earn another smile like that again, he wouldn't care getting a Mind Down.

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

Dispatching the remaining monsters of the pass parade took them no time at all between the three, more so since all the monsters came from the upper floors and posed absolutely no threat to either Alise or Ryuu. Maybe if the numbers had been thrice that, then there would've been a chance that they would've gotten injured, but such was not the case.

As it was the norm between Alise and Ryuu; the redheaded adventurer kept her guard up while Ryuu prepared three sets of potions, one for each of them, and drank hers first before giving Alise her set.

"I'll keep watch for any straggler, go see how he's doing." Alise wiped the liquid residue from her lips and nodded to Ryuu in Bell's direction.

She needn't be told twice before leaving Alise to her own machinations and heading to check on Bell's condition and wasn't that a sight to see on its own. Ryuu had seen him kneel to provide them support with his magic, but now that she could get a closer look at him, there was no doubt in her mind that he had pushed himself far beyond his limits to help them – not that they needed it, but the sentiment was very well appreciated.

As she approached him, she could see him better; covered in blood – half of his own, half of the monsters he took care of– all his limbs trembled, even the muscles on his face looked strained from the Mind overload, but what had her focus was the stupid smile of self-accomplishment dancing on his lips.

She couldn't help matching his smile with one of her own; then she finally crouched next to him, fingers coming to comb through his fringe and clean some of the blood from his temple.

"How are you feeling?" Her voice came out soft.

"Tired, battered, and I think I'll pass out soon." Bell replied unsteadily.

Ryuu saw how his eyes flickered with every blink, and quickly uncorked the potion Bell direly needed in that moment. His face looked weak, so her fingers moved to support his head, her thumb pressed against his lips to silently ask him to open his mouth which he did, then she gently placed the Mind potion over his lips and helped him drink it at an even pace.

His eyes regained focus, "Oooh, thanks…"

"Here, drink this one next." Ryuu held the second potion to his lips – a stamina potion for his exhausted body– then repeated the process for the third that helped mending the numerous minor wounds all over his body. "Better?"

"Much," Bell replied more heartily, though his body still seemed to be out of sorts since he had yet to move out of Ryuu's hold.

Ryuu didn't seem to mind, her fingers continued wiping away at the blood coating his face until there was more skin than liquid marring it. "How long were you running?"

"Not sure, lost count after the hour."

Ryuu frowned, "And I'm guessing you tried fighting your way out several times?"


Her frown deepened before she sighed and scuttled closer to Bell, then surprised him when she pulled his head to rest over her shoulder. "Please don't do something so stupid next time, if there ever is. Just run and avoid putting yourself in danger, please."

"I'll try not to…"

"Good, that's all I can ask for."

"Sorry to interrupt you two," Alise dropped a bag next to them, making both scamper off away from one another. "But I say we get out of here."

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

"So, you were getting materials for your Goddess when the ground gave up beneath you?" Alise asked from his left side; his left arm was over her shoulder as she had refused to let him walk on his own, even after they were back on the safety of the surface.

"Yeah, I hadn't planned on leaving the first floor because I was on my own, but then that happened…"

"We did warn you that the Dungeon could spring a trap on you at any moment." Ryuu scolded him from his right side, but she was not holding him like Alise. Instead, she had locked elbows with him after he had said that he would return to his Familia on his own. "However, I am glad that you came out of it alive, Mister Cranel."

Oh yeah, and she was back to calling him so politely…

He blamed Alise for that, he didn't know why but he just blamed her for it.

"I guess I'll need to pay more attention to my surroundings when I go to the Dungeon on my own again…" Bell resigned himself to continue being the source of stares as the two well-known adventurers effectively escorted him back to his Familia.

"Or, you could just tell us and we can keep going with you until you feel you're strong enough to be on your own." Alise supplied for him; his eyes turned to her and spotted a nonchalant expression, "I meant it when I said we wouldn't mind ditching some Familia errands to help you out some more, or at least that's the case for me, I can't speak for Ryuu…"

Then his eyes turned to Ryuu and saw the snow fairy glaring at Alise, "I… If we could avoid having to choose between the Familia and Mister Cranel, I'd appreciate it."

Her answer prickled something in his chest, but he didn't dwell on it – didn't want to dwell on it, to be precise.

He already knew, or at least expected, that Alise would drop off whatever the Familia assigned her to do just to cause more trouble and be with her friends – friends that she would kill others for – but…Ryuu's response… her words were diplomatic and avoided an actual response, but Bell could see through her Snow Fairy bashing its head with its hands that the idea was giving her great trouble.

If only he was closer to Ryuu, he would've been brave enough to ask her why she avoided a response, but their current friendship only went so far before he was overstepping his boundaries.

Sure, they had a rocky start, but a few meals togethers and it felt like there was almost nobody else in Orario that he could trust more than Ryuu… though that did not mean she felt the same way for him, so… he wouldn't risk it.

He… care-

"Bell? Is that you? Oh Goddess, what happened to you!"


"Alise, Ryuu, what happened!?"


"It's alright, Syr. We just had a tough time in the dungeon, that's all." Alise waved in attempt to appease the silver-haired barmaid. "Right, Bell?"



The connection was there.

But she was not her.


She couldn't be her.


The shape of her face, the allure in her eyes, the small swell of her lips, even the intoxicating noise that thrummed from her…

Everything was the same.

H a t e.

But it couldn't be her because she couldn't hate him – No! She wouldn't hate him… unless…

"Who are you?"

"Ara, how could you say that, Bell?" 'Syr' smiled sweetly, "Oh! You didn't recognize me because I'm not I'm wearing the apron today, is that it?"

"… Sorry, yeah." He felt for her, and felt her respond back, but it did not come from the one in front of him. "Sorry, you…"

"Mm?" Syr smiled even more sweetly, so excruciatingly and nauseously sweetly that it repulsed him even more so than his first time seeing her in the flesh.

"Syr, I'm sorry but it seems like Mister Cranel is still out of it, perhaps we can speak more the next time we meet in the Hostess?" Ryuu cut in between, literally putting herself in between Bell and Syr with her usual aloof expression. "We've had a long day and it would be greatly appreciated if we could continue on our way back home to rest."

"Ara, you're right. You certainly seem like you need it." 'Syr' fanned herself, "Don't let me stop you any further! But I want to hear all the details the next time, okay?"

He had no more words to speak to… whatever that was, so he chose to remain silent and twitch his left arm until Alise got the idea and started moving along.

"Yeah, I'll be sure to tell you all about it. See ya' Syr!" Alise, ever the smiling and tolerant one, bid goodbye to the waitress for the three of them.

Freya, we need to talk.

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

"And what, pray tell, have you gotten yourself into this time."

Ah, shit.

Yeah, he should've expected this to happen the moment Alise and Ryuu refused to let him return home alone.

Now… how to get out of this one…

"Bell! What happened to you!"

Ah, shit.

"Lady Riveria?" Alise almost dropped him; had it not been for Ryuu still locking elbows with him, he would've fallen. "What are you doing here?"

Though falling might've been the better option if his aunt's glare was anything to go by.

"I'm here for personal reasons," Riveria regally replied before approaching Bell, "Now answer the question, what happened to you?"

"About that…" Bell awkwardly laughed.

"You did something stupid again, did you not?" Alfia crossed her arms.

"That is not the case, Miss." Ryuu put herself between him and Alfia, which also put her between Riveria and him, and neither seemed too pleased about that. "Mister Cranel was taken by surprise by a Dungeon trap and fell to the fourth floor of the Dungeon where he successfully survived on his own a monster's parade until we came into contact with him and helped him out of his ordeal."

Oh, well… Ryuu was definitely starting to become his favorite of the two friends. Alfia's glare lessened and he spotted concern, which he was certain would later translate into more painful training if his previous experiences were anything to go by.

"Yeah, what she said." Alise grinned as she put her hands on her hips, "He's one tough guy that survived what many others wouldn't, so it's unfair to say he did something stupid, miss!"

Alfia's full blown glare returned, though this time it was set on Alise which seemed to not care about it and proceeded to anger Alfia further with: "I don't know who you are miss, but you can't go calling our friend stupid for something out of his control."

Alise, please… shut up or mom will find a way to silence you.


"Hm, is that so?" Alfia smiled.

Ah, shit.

"If you need to know, I am that boy's-"

"Teacher! She is my teacher." Bell finally found his balls to blurt out words and quickly weaved around the surprised Ryuu and the concerned Riveria to stand in front of Alfia. "Uhm, teacher these are my friends… Alise Lovell and Ryuu Lion, they're from…"

Ah, shit.

"They're from my Familia, Miss Al- err, teacher." Riveria coughed into her hand, "I believe I've told you before about them…"

"Oh," Alfia blinked, and her hostility disappeared, surprising Bell as he expected another altercation like the one when she met Riveria again. "So, it's these two? Hm," Alfia looked at them both up and down with a clinical eye before humming again, "… In that case, please come inside. I believe we have a lot to talk about."

Ah, shit.

"Nine Hells, if you could be a dear and lead them to the lounge while I speak with my… disciple… alone."

"Yes. Miss Alise, Miss Ryuu, follow me." Riveria's tone became that of the Loki executive; a tone which left no room for argument.

"But, Bell-"

"Now." Riveria smiled sweetly at Alise who had retorted and crumpled the redheaded's will. "Come on."

"Guess we'll see you in a bit, Bell." Alise patted his back before joining Riveria's side by the door.

Ryuu though, Ryuu moved to his side again, ignoring the stares given to her by the other three and grasped his hand and turned his palm upside and down several times, "Don't take long, you're still weak."

"Ah, uhm," Bell felt the piercing stares on his back, "I will… try to."

Ryuu held his gaze for a moment longer; a tiny smile on her lips, before her blank and stoic look came back, and she joined the grinning Alise and the curious Riveria. Bell watched them enter the manor, a conflicted feeling boiling in his chest –


Which drowned in pure fear as he felt his mom's noise switch into something dangerous.

"You have a lot to explain, my son."


And explain he did, leaving no details out of his ordeal. He had promised his mom that he would try to not hide things from her though that didn't stop her from adopting the motherly scolding stance and make him feel as if walking on eggshells with every sentence that left his mouth. He held no secrets, every tiny interaction was explained from his point of view, which included explaining what Ryuu's last actions meant.

To him, it meant she was checking his Mind through an elven skill she possessed, or so he believed.

Which was fine all on its own, were it not for Alfia pointing out Ryuu's tiny smile.

"I… uh, I'm not sure… We just…"

"You just?"

"I guess… we're close?" Bell found himself troubled, confused, perplexed, and even slightly anxious to think what it could mean. "I mean, I trust Alise and Ryuu just as much as I trust Riveria and Lady Hephaistos…"

"And is that trust reciprocated?"


Alfia expected the immediate answer, but still didn't like hearing it. A defeated sigh escaped her lips before she spread her arms; the sign that she had heard enough and was satisfied with his response. He didn't waste a second to embrace his mom who was quick to place a kiss at the top of his head.

"I'm glad you're okay." Alfia whispered into his hair, "Try to be more careful next time, alright?"

"Yes mom…"

"Also, please for the love of us. Stop bringing more women to the manor, you're still too young to be thinking of that."

"Wha-" Bell spluttered and would've backpedaled from his mom had her arms not held him tight against her bosom. "Mom!"

"We're going to have a long talk tonight about these actions of yours."

Aww, sh-

- 0 - T.C - 0 -

To say Hephaistos was surprised to see so many members of the Loki Familia congregated on her lounge was an understanding, then to see Alfia of all people having a cordial conversation with them – though it looked more like an interview with the Silence asking the questions – was another surprise in and of itself.

The Goddess' curiosity was spurred by the scene, and she silently joined the group to hear more of the ongoing interrogatory, but curiosity quickly turned into disinterest as she realized Alfia only wanted to know how the two girls met Bell and what they thought of him.

Mostly because both girls shared the same thought she had of Bell, and that was that his drive to do things for Alfia (or his teacher, as both girls called Alfia) was one of the most admirable features of him but also his biggest weakness, as he often did things that put his body's health at risk.

After all that, Alfia had essentially driven out the girls from the manor with the exception of Riveria who would stay for another night of training with Bell, and in the case of Riveria, sent away to start Alfia's workout list on her own.

Hephaistos did see how neither Alise nor Ryuu seemed too happy with being bossed around like that, but Bell's promise to see them another day appeased them enough to leave without causing more trouble…

Alise did put Bell a bit in hot waters with her goodbye hug – Hephaistos snickered at Alfia's barely hidden murderous intent for someone touching her son – then openly laughed harder when Ryuu also gave Bell a quick goodbye hug with a reddened face which Bell mimicked all the way until he was back at the table with his Goddess and Alfia.

"Hephaistos, not a sound."

"Uhuh." Hephaistos grinned happily, "Now that they're gone, there was something I wanted to ask of you two."

"As long as it does not involve Bell with another God's scheme-"

"No, no, nothing of the sorts." Hephaistos waved her hand, "You know I sent Bell to collect materials from the Upper Floors, right?"


"You're also aware that the Monsterphillia starts tomorrow, right?"


"Then, would you mind being the guard for one of our stalls? I plan on having Bell try and sell things to see how he fares when dealing with possible customers."


Hephaistos grumbled before clapping her hands together in a prayer sign, "Please?"


The Goddess glanced in Bell's direction and with a look, begged for help which made Bell smile awkwardly, but he still complied.

"Mom?" Bell reached for Alfia's hand.

"…" Alfia took a deep breathe, and with her son's safety in mind: "Fine."

- 0 - T.C - 0 -


The sky was clear~

The birds were singing~

The city folk marched about~

And she was right in the middle of it~

With her prettiest, handsomest, most sought after child~

The one and only Sword Princess, and in a casual outfit to boot! Oh~ what a sight to behold~

But her blonde haired princess was not the sole receiver of her attention, no! For today and for the remainder of the week, Orario was filled to the brim with beauties pulling all stops to lure their partners during fair dates!

She may not be able to touch them but watching was fair game!

She was living the dream! Having a date with her cherished, prized, child and filling her eyes with the riches of Earth. She was spoiled, albeit scolded at times, but the fun she was having was second to none!

Then her radar went off; two glorious mountains worth their weight in Orichalcum!

Oh! The beauty that she was, standing by her lone self. No, that could not be. She deserved company, nay! Her treasures deserved only the finest of hands to hold – her hands to be precise!

Mischief mixed with wanting drove her near the stall the beauty stood guard, and she waited for customers to approach and gain her attention, as hard as it was to obtain. Then whoever she was guarding told her something…

And the opportunity presented itself!

Alabaster skin, gorgeously exposed from the back, arms at the perfect angle for her to slide right in through the present crack in her defense!

She went in for the kill.

"Miss, don't you need some help holding these!?" Loki gleefully cried out and squeezed hard, the most unimaginable sensation filled her hands to the brim with nothing but joy, o' the heaviest of joys.

Then the beauty slowly turned around.

Silver hair.

Mismatched eyes.

And a hatred that ran deeper than Hera's hate of Zeus's concubines stared back at her, under the darkening visage of The Monster of Talent.


- 0 - Part 17 End. - 0 -

Author's Note: Hello, I apologize for the delay in the updates. There's a lot of stuff going on for quite a few months already but I'll only focus on what's happened for the last two months, here's a for those interested:

- Another one of my cats died from an STD (I had 8 at the start of this year, and I'm down to 4 cats– Unlucky year, I know.).
- A family member left me some important legal stuff to take care for her while she's out of the country, so I had an entire month dealing with court stuff for her.
- Got sick from overworking my body (around nov25'ish) and (probably) had covid [one test came negative, another came positive so mixed results].
- Had to put down my oldest dog (had 2, now 1) because she was already presenting too many health problems and I'd rather not have her suffer with more meds, buried her while I was sick.
- I'm updating the cure about five days after I've woken up without fever. Currently, I'm only dealing with a clogged nose that has yet to go away and minor headaches from time to time, but I'm definitely better than I was a while back.

So yeah, there's a ton of delayed stuff I'm finally getting to update. Here's hoping I make a complete recovery and I don't have to deal with more tiresome/stressful situations until next year… which isn't saying a lot since there's so few days left, lol.

Anyways, see you in the next update! I'll try to churn out as many as I can during the xmas month to make up for the lost time.

- Jas / Shiiva