Is It Jolly to have Cooperation in the Dungeon?

Chapter 1: First Rays

Most days in Orario, things were… peaceful.

Not without unexpected surprises, naturally- in a city of Adventurers and gods alike, that was impossible- but no incidents stood out. As for the past seven years, the Guild managed Adventurers, magic stones and the bureaucracy of running the city.

Eina Tulle, in her life so far in this city, had not encountered much else. For that, she was truly grateful.

But on some days… on some days, peace did not equal easy.

Eina narrowed her eyes behind her glasses, sitting at her deck. Stacks upon stacks of papers were on either side of her, keeping her workspace small to the point she had no room to move. She shot a look at the door to the Guild- lines upon lines of Adventurers queued up, waiting to be seen too.

The half-elf shook her head and turned her attention back to her current appointment. A Pallum with over-eager eyes and a misfitting helmet peered over the desk at her. In front of her, a set of scales glinted in the sunlight- one side filled with a magic stone, and a booklet opened to the middle.

"Sorry," she apologised to her customer, readjusting her scales and consulting her booklet, "now, what floor did you bring this one up from?"

"Floor 7!" The Pallum laughed, smiling widely and without a care. In a way, it was somewhat adorable, "I know it won't be a lot, but I'm getting better at diving into the Dungeon. As long as it's something to keep me afloat, y'know?"

Eina hummed noncommittally, taking note of the value the scales showed then opening the register. Counting out valis with machine-like efficiency, she handed the several hundred vali to the Adventurer, smiling gently.

"There you go, I hope it's enough," she began, before raising an eyebrow, "ah…"

The Pallum, having already turned with a wave to go out the door, looked back at her. "Is something wrong Miss Eina?"

Rubbing her gloved fingers together, she looked over his equipment. A helmet that didn't quite fit. An axe with numerous chips in the blade. Armour seemingly in good condition, but with an uneven surface- telltale signs of it being re-hammered from the inside.

Something unhappy fired up in her chest.

Another haphazard Adventurer.

"Your equipment…" she started, clearing her throat, "...are you going to get it repaired?"

The Pallum shook his head with great reluctance, his smiling falling a little. "I can't really. Not from a big Familia, so things are tight. But I'm sure things'll improve in the end!"

He threw her a thumbs up and pushed outside.

Briefly saved from the deluge, Eina pressed her head into her hands. Beside her, Misha shot her a sympathetic look in-between having an argument with a Chienthrope. Once the irate Adventurer left, the pink-haired girl leaned over.

"Another optimist?" she questioned rhetorically, shrugging her shoulders as her own customer left, "Don't worry, sooner or later those types always run from the Dungeon."

Eina spared her colleague a non-verbal glare before forcing herself up. What Misha said wasn't wrong. Hopeless optimists tended to either die in the dungeon, or end up too scared to go far down. She prayed most of her customers were the latter.

But she understood the truth of the Dungeon, underneath the glimmer of prosperity. The life of an Adventurer was like a coin flip- either you lived or you died, sooner or later.

It was always the same.

The door to the guild jingled. Eina and Misha squared their shoulders, sitting taller-

"Salutations! To adventurers old and new!"

In a moment, Eina's spirits lifted. A smile crept up her face. A chuckle rumbled in her throat as she waved at the new arrival.

Far from the equipment of the rabble around him, the new arrival was pristine. A steel box helmet with a feather hid his features, chainmail clinked together against steel boots and a scabbard when he stepped forward. He waved at everyone, though not all responded.

Upon spotting Eina and Misha, his hidden smile widened even further.

"Hello, my dear companions! It is very good to see you. I hope I am not late!"

He shot his arms out to the side, his chest puffing out. On the white cloth covering his front, a sun blazed proudly.

"Praise the sun for a fortuitous day!" he declared, booming yet welcoming, like a summer's pleasant Sun, "Best wishes to all!"

Misha failed to hide her laughter, holding her sides. Not a cruel laugh, far from it- it was one of welcoming and joy. After all there was not a single person in the Guild not glad to see this Warrior of Sunlight.

"Mister Solaire!" Eina welcomed, forgetting her customers for a moment, "It's good to see you!"

Solaire walked forward, ignoring the envious looks directed at him. "And the same to you, Miss Tulle," he responded, peering around, "my, it appears to be a busy day."

"You have no idea," Misha huffed, closing an eye and shrugging, "but it always get busy in the summer."

"Indeed, indeed," Solaire agreed, turning back to the door, "fortunately, as always, a little jolly cooperation does no harm."

Through the door, numerous Adventurers poured in as if beckoned. About twenty walked in after Solaire, a mix of Pallums and Chienthropes and Dwarves and-if Eina strained to look- one or two elves. All of them bore sacks and sheafs of a manual.

Across the front of their tunics, a Sun smiled at them.

The Adventurers distributed themselves, walking among the various lines. Speaking to each awaiting Adventurer, they either reached into their bags for potions, or gave them several of the papers they carried. Eina thought she even saw a shield being brought out of a box at one of their hips, though that was impossible.

Bottomless Boxes were a myth after all.

Solaire chuckled as he watched his comrades help with the queues, an arm on Eina's counter. He waved at a few Adventurers who recognised him, and fidgeted when an Amazon winked at him, but soon enough turned back to the receptionists.

"I must be particularly incandescent today, to attract so many gazes," he mused, voice light and merry.

"Yeah, I'm sure that's it," Misha shot back, rolling her shoulders until they cracked. Letting out another sigh she leaned towards Solaire, "not the free loot and cheat guide."

Eina turned to her friend, scandalised, though Solaire chuckled to himself.

"Oh it's quite fine," he waved her criticism off, "it's what we Warriors of Sunlight are meant to do. Allow people to find their own suns."

Not a single falsehood cut through that confident statement, it was the simple and honest truth. As a familia, the Warriors of Sunlight were very much in the middle ground- not powerful, but not weak either. Compared to other familias as well, instead of dungeon diving or even finding some other means of employ…

From the corner of her eye, Eina saw the Pallum adventurer she'd been servicing. He stood before an elven Warrior of Sunlight. He offered his chipped ax, the elf glaring at it as if it offended them. Without a word he reached into a case at his feet and drew out a double-edged version of it.

The Pallum marvelled at his new weapon, bowing to the elf and marching away with a spring in his step.

Yes… philanthropy was rare in Orario.

Solaire and Misha glanced at her. A flush ran up Eina's neck as she realised she'd said that out loud.

"Ah, it is no issue," Solaire commented, "Truly. I was just stopping off before I took my leave."

Eina blinked. "You're leaving again? Isn't it too soon?"

Solaire dipped his helmeted head in acknowledgement. "Perhaps, but jolly cooperation does not wait. I'll be gone for some days- perhaps a few weeks. But I'm sure to return with more comrades."

Solaire really was an anomaly of a Familia Captain. Though he kept in Orario most times, frequent trips to the outside world for 'recruits' weren't uncommon either. With how his schedule was, it was a wonder his god hadn't replaced him.

Then again, if Solaire were replaced, there might very well be riots.

Solaire checked his sword, strapped to his waist, and his shield slung over his back. Nodding, he pushed off from Eina's desk.

"Well, if anything, I'm sure the Ivory King will enjoy the peace," he joked with a chuckle. "I shall be seeing you."

Eina waved him goodbye, the bright summer sun highlighting his form in yellow and white. The half-elf turned to her previous piles of paperwork, and with a renewed sense of calm, dove in.

Misha sighed beside her, cracking open her own ink well.

"If only I could pay him to do my paperwork. Huh…would it count as forgery?"

Sometime later, Solaire stood at the gate exit of Orario. Standing to the side, he watched the numerous processions coming in and going out. Some bore wagons and horses, others with simple sacks and walking sticks, eager to move.

A family of dwarves marched past him, a father and a mother, with a small child between them. Hidden in the shade, the parents didn't glimpse him. The child's eyes swept to the side, out of instinct or something else, and caught onto his.

He chuckled as wonder filled their face. He held a gauntleted hand to his lips, the child nodding in response. They disappeared into the throng the next moment.

Solaire peered up into the sky. No clouds, a beaming sun. The perfect weather for a good, fruitful journey.

"Ah, what a pleasant day," he voiced to himself, holding his pack tight over his shoulder, "t'would be a shame to waste it."

He made to walk to the outpost-

Steps echoed behind him, metal clanging against metal.

"And yet…" a deep voice, regal and pointed, interrupted his musings, "you continue to do so, Solaire."

Preemptively, Solaire bowed his head in apology as he turned to face who had approached him. He didn't need a special sense or to see them to know who accosted him.

Gods rarely needed such fanfare anymore.

The new arrival was tall, even taller than Ottar, even by only half a head. Tattered, flayed rags covered a suit of armour. Unlike Solaire's, it was more akin to the style of Jupiter's pantheon- a long, segmented baltea fell down his front and sides, cloth wrapped around his arms and fists. White hair fluttered in the wind, seemingly held aloft by the zephyrs and a three-pronged crown covering his forehead.A large, crimson scarf hid most of his features from view, though it could not hide his shining, golden eyes.

Eyes that sought to pierce into any who met them. Eyes that could only belong to a true god of war.

"Quite right, Lord Faraam," Solaire apologised, stepping back to his full height, "my journey should not be so wasteful, but is it not wrong to admire the simple beauties of life?"

Faraam stayed in the shadow, glancing over the throng of people. The shadows seemed to claim him even more, to the point only his golden eyes gave away his presence.

"Perhaps," Faraam allowed, tapping his hand against his armour, "but the ugliness of the world should not be ignored either."

Solaire held up a hand, nodding in acknowledgement, "ah, but do the ugly, burnt patches not enhance those pearls?"

Not a word escaped Faraam, the god becoming the image of a chiselled statue. Solaire allowed him that- his god, as formidable as he was, wouldn't venture out for a simple light ribbing.

Faraam glanced at the Ganesha guards at the gate. With a moment of peace in between the caravans leaving, the Ganesha Familia members seemed to spot Solaire and him. To his Captain, they offered a shining glance. To him, however, their brows deepened and furrowed, mouths twisting unpleasantly.

He didn't begrudge them. His bloodline hadn't earned the world's adoration.

"The Ivory King is already making plans for the Warriors," Faraam forced himself out of the distant past, looking up and down Solaire's form, "he wants to know how long you will be this time."

Solaire checked his pack one last time, making sure his papers were in place before nodding in understanding. "Oh ho, I imagine he would. Well, I shall aim to return before the Denatus, at the very latest- it wouldn't do to miss the crowning of new comrades!"

A rumble of displeasure, like roiling thunderclouds, rose in Faraam's throat. "A month or more, then."

"Maybe even longer," Solaire admitted, "I may try and get as far as Olympia or Rakia. Those are always interesting places to search."

At that, a rare chuckle- this time like sparks of a fire- sounded from his god. "If you take so long, then, I may need a new captain."

"I would imagine the Ivory King would be very pleased with that!"

Not a hint of sarcasm tainted Solaire's words. Such a thing was completely impossible to express- why would he garnish compliments with biting barbs? He could just mean what he said instead!

A long silence stretched between Captain and God. A familiar one, borne from years upon years of working together. Solaire stared up at his god, and Faraam likewise stared down at the adventurer.

A bird chirped, and the silence ebbed away. Faraam turned to go back to their residence, having said his piece, though his march stopped abruptly.

"Do not believe you shall find willing comrades, Solaire," Faraam warned, the old and tried words a routine between them than anything else, "you cannot offer salvation to everyone. Some may need a sword to the gut to have that."

Solaire nodded grimly, walking back into the throng. "Then I shall give it to them. Spreading camaraderie, no matter the form, is our purpose in this life."

Many thought Solaire an unreservedly kind man, willing to lend a smile and a hand to those that needed it. Naive, most would say, or at the very worst unaware of the 'real world' as some called it.

That was a false impression, Faraam mulled as he watched his 'child' get his pass stamped and acquire a wagon for travel.

It was not that Solaire was ignorant of reality. It was that he knew how the world worked… and would soldier on despite that. The sun could be harsh, but it could be nurturing also- a perfect expression of his captain.

Even so, something apprehensive pumped in Faraam's veins. Old instincts twitched to life as the shadows of the alley swallowed him, his heartbeat echoing like his steps were.

"Something is going to happen," he muttered, "but what…"

He pushed past a white-haired boy thrust from a closed door, drifting with his thoughts.

Only one image remained in his mind, seared into his memory of that day.

The black sun blazed.

Numerous people walked around him, faceless and aimless. Some had children by the hand, others carried tools. Even more wore armour, a circle lined with red emblemed into their chest plates.

Their names drifted off his tongue until they were but ash.

He wandered through the city. He spoke with faceless people. He welcomed scarred children. He avoided the silver-clad knights. He did everything to keep his life moving, feet walking, time passing.

If he did… perhaps the nightmare of 'life' might come to a pleasant end.

He blinked. He found himself within a throng of people, silver knights boxing them in towards the foot of the mighty castle. Hot breaths assailed him at every corner, a cacophony rising in his ears to the point he believed they would bleed.

Soon, the crowd of them- nearly all the city- reached the castle.

In front of the castle stood people, though not as lowly and humble as humans. Clad in armour, weapons clasped in their hands, they looked upon them with disgust and arrogance.

He felt it within his heart of hearts, the awe and fear and anger these beings invoked.


A hooded woman. A boy clad in white robes and a sun helmet. And before them…

An old man watched them, lightning clasped in his hand and a greatsword in another. His glare burned into each and every one of them. The lightning dissipated, tongues of flame leaping between his fingers.

His back burned, then his heart.

The God's lips moved, whispering words that drifted to the wind. Even so, shouts rose up in the crowd. Babies whimpered, children cried and people began to panic. The silver knights moved forward, blades glimmering.

The God's hand rose, a flame bursting to life in his palm. Far in the sky, a ring of fire pulsed from the sun.

He felt something burn into his back. Not a wound, nor an ache or a blessing of the gods. It reached deep into his soul…

A brand.

The water rose halfway to his thighs. To another person, wading through the river with full armour on would inevitably cause them to take it off and run away, seeing no sense in pursuing his course of action.

He was not most people. He never would be.

Trees encroached around, twisted, gnarled and reached as far as the eye could see. Fog obscured the sun- the normal sun- and even the clouds. A large structure stabbed through the veil, tall and pointed.

He lowered his torch, the cloth white and charred from the journey he'd made to this point. His gauntleted hand fell to the scabbard at his left hip, the worn and yet oh so familiar metal almost a comfort.

He marched on, his armour glinting in the light that still somehow shone through the fog. Howls and snarls echoed around him, but he paid them no heed. If they came for him, he would dispatch them as he had others in his journey here.

The knight slogged through the water for hours, his torch's light ebbing away until with a last crackle, the flame died out. He let it fall from his grip, dropping into the water with a slosh.

As he ventured, black night reached across the sky. The howls and roars grew more numerous, more wrathful, though nothing reached out to render him asunder.

His back started to burn. With every step the sensation grew more intense, and feeling began to roil in his gut. He was near one of them, once more. Yet no satisfaction filled him- only a grim resolve.

The knight drew his sword with a ring and clasped his shield in his left hand. It was bent, slashed and cracks ran along its surface, a victim to centuries-old rust. It remained serviceable for what was to come.

In the distance, light glinted across steel. The knight followed the speck, ignoring the foliage that sought to tie him down, or the water attempting to drown his feet.

The light disappeared behind a curtain of leaves. He cut them down without stopping. Looking forward, he stopped his march, squaring his shoulders.

He'd found himself in a small glade, moss gracing the top of the water, lilies floating harmlessly. The trees encircled the entire space, offering the clearest view of the decrepit castle in the distance.

None of that mattered to the knight. Nothing did, apart from the thing in front of him.

Chainmail covered its form, straps and rotten bags tied to the ruined trousers covering its lower half. A rounded shield sat strapped to its left arm, and a rusted near-broken blade in its right.

Its flesh was the colour of tar, stretched and sunken to the bones beneath it, no muscle or fat to thicken it up- the very image of a rotted, desiccated clung bravely to its lips, dead all the same. Groans echoed out of its gaping maw, red eyes looking aimlessly around.

It was not a man. Once, it had been. He may have even had drinks with him, or been friends. If he had, he did not know.

It didn't change what had to be done.

He raised his sword higher, his shield in a guard position. The sensation on his back intensified, and as if it were a signal, the Hollow turned to peer at him. For a single moment, recognition flickered within the sunken features before dimming.

The Hollow screamed, rushing forward swinging its blade with a fury insanity had not taken.

The knight dove forward, rolling through the water. The blade passed over harmlessly, the Hollow stumbling from overextending. It gaped at itself, spinning sluggishly on its heel to rush back.

The knight got to his feet in time to see the Hollow slash down in an overhead strike, intending to split him down the middle. He raised his shield to intercept. A clang rang out from metal striking metal. The impact ran down his arm, bones cracking but not breaking.

Good. He could still fight.

Without letting the stalemate continue, the knight smashed his sword hand into the side of the Hollow's knee. Blood, flesh and cartilage went flying. The Hollow tipped forward, an agony-filled scream leaving its lips.

His fist sunk deeper into the wound, knuckles twisting to drive it in even deeper. More blood and flesh gave way, until the knee fell apart in ruined chunks. The Hollow slouched, attempting to alleviate the pain. It drew its blade back and swung sideways at his unprotected arm.

With a grunt he shoved his shield into the Undead's face with as much force as he could. Bone cracked and shattered beneath the blow. The Hollow's sword blurred- steel sunk into his side.

Pain began to blossom before being snuffed out.

The sword bit deeper into his flesh, more blood spilling and tainting the water red. The Undead opened its maw and threw its head forward, trying to bite his shoulder off. The knight reeled back, pulling his shield to protect him.

The Undead's shield, unfortunately, caught in the straps of his own- with a savage stroke, the Undead batted it away. Its smaller shield smashed into his life forearm, nearly caving it in. Ironically, doing so freed him- the knight punched the Hollow's face away, sending it stumbling back.

For a moment, they took stock of each other. The Hollow remained mindless and instinctive, its equipment subpar, with its face more resembling a slab of tenderised meat than a face- as well as a ruined knee. On the other hand, the knight had been divested of his shield, a heavy wound on his side and a near-broken forearm.

It could go either way, he knew, but he would not allow it to do so.

He could not.


The knight clenched his left hand tight. So tight the steel stabbed into his palm. The sensation on his back intensified, a familiar but needed pain. He raised his fist to his chest, just over his heart, tongues of sparks escaping from his fist.

The Hollow swayed, mad gaze narrowing at its opponent. It caught sight of the fire however, watching the tongues swirl and come together until a single flame formed.

Deep within what remained of who it had been, it recognised that flame.

It screamed and rushed forward, swinging its blade with renewed vigour. The knight ignored it, feeding the fire in his palm. Once his fist was swallowed, his teeth grinded together then pushed the flame farther into his chest.

Into his heart.

Steam washed over the knight, water rising in clouds. From within his helmet, red lights blazed to life.

The Hollow reached its opponent. Its sword swung down, edge ready to rend the knight from shoulder to hip-

It halted. No… it was stopped.

The knight's left, reddened gauntlet clasped the edge of the sword. It shook as the Hollow screamed, wrenching with all its might to get its weapon free. The knight did not move or let his grip slack.

The Hollow didn't see his sword arm pull back, the edge glistening in the fading flame's light. The next moment, the knight swung true.

The only sound to grace the glade was of a body falling into the water.

The knight looked down at his opponent. The maddened eyes dimmed into darkness, its muscles ceasing to spasm apart from a low groan leaving its mouth. Its blade fell from its grip, splashing into the water.

The victor stood tall, the taste bitter on his lips. The first part was done, now came the rest.

He bent down, taking hold of the Hollow's corpse. Stumbling over to the centre of the glade, hollowed words echoed out, his frame shaking with every step.

" can rest now."

Solaire hummed a song as he sat atop the bustling wagon, watching the scenery pass him by. The horses neighed occasionally, picking their way over rocks and ponds. He jostled the reins, giving them some slack. There was no need to hurry after all.

"Well," he voiced to himself, peering back into the wagon through the curtain, "not as bountiful as I had hoped."

Not a single person sat in the back of the wagon- just food and supplies, some new weapons and potion materials too. There were some barrels of wine from Melen, courtesy of a favour he did a Catarinan, but even that failed to ignite his hopes.

"I suppose the Ivory King will have choice words," he muttered, smiling despite his failure, "well, 'tis like the old saying isn't it?"

The horses paid no attention to his ramblings. Far in the distance, a crumbling castle came to view before disappearing into oncoming fog.

Solaire continued humming as they drove into the forest, trees rising imperiously around him. They weren't so threatening in the daylight, just a little cumbersome to work around. The branches smacked into the horses' sides, stabbing into the wagon's protective canopy.

Solaire didn't sigh as he spotted a flash of green further into the bog. After all, that was part of living- failures were bound to happen every now and then. Even the sun falls every day only to rise the next morning.

Though he wasn't sure if Faraam and the Ivory King would see it that way.

His head perked up at the same time the horses neighed louder, bodies shaking at something beyond them. Solaire raised a hidden eyebrow, reaching into the wagon to pull out a few apples.

"There you go," Solaire consoled them, letting them bite into the apples huge chunks at a time, "no need to be afraid, is there?"

Even so, he peered through the brush at the patch of green he'd seen. Rather than a freak occurrence, he now saw it was a whole glade. White flowers rose at the edges, cresting the small hill that rose out of the water.

Atop the small hill, a bonfire crackled. A figure sat beside it, watching the flames.

Solaire beamed. A new companion! Very jolly indeed!

He took hold of his sword, keeping it at his waist, and strapped his shield to his back- in the world outside Orario, you couldn't be too careful!. After a moment the knight of the sun ventured through the glade and up to the bonfire.

As he got closer, it became clearer it wasn't a bonfire at all. Rather than kindling or fuel, a small flame burned without stopping. It devoured the grass around it, rising taller. In the middle of the flame, a half-rusted sword stabbed into the hill.

A bonfire couldn't be made in such a way. But he'd heard of traditions of weapons being used to mark graves. Did that mean this person was in mourning? Perhaps not, but the Sun rises for everyone.

The shadow- no, a knight rather- kept staring into the flames. He made no movements as Solaire approached, apart from a tilt of the head. His weapon lay beside him, bits and pieces chipped off.

Whoever he was, Solaire guessed, he was a warrior of some experience.

"Hello!" Solaire greeted, raising a hand to wave, "my, I didn't expect to see someone else here! From where do you hail, my good fellow?"

The knight didn't respond. Solaire reached to grab his shoulder, thinking perhaps he wasn't aware of him.

"Are you alrig-"

The knight's shoulders tensed. His hand reached down. The flames grew taller and wilder. Solaire recoiled in surprise. Something glinted in the corner of his eye. He turned to face it-

The ruined blade rose, slashing towards his throat.