Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? - Volume 1-Chapter 5
Read Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 1 Chapter 5 : THE G♥DDESS’S PRANK
Those claws missed by a mile. Just watched them go by my face.
I’m back in the bluish halls of the dungeon. This goblin is so loud, the echoes of his cries tell me where he is even when I’m not looking.
I can see it in his eyes. He’s frustrated. He’s coming back for more. One, miss, two, miss, three, also a swing and a miss.
Left, right… diagonal!
Here comes a sideswipe. Step back and he hits nothing but air.
As long as I keep my eyes open and this floor has wide hallways that make sense, I can keep dodging like this all day. It is surprisingly humid in here, though. I’m already soaked with sweat.
This goblin sure is a tenacious little guy. He just keeps coming after me, flailing his stubby little arms. I keep my own arms up and out of the way, let the rest of my body twist to dodge his attacks. My leg might not be at 100 percent just yet, but I’m more than capable of dancing with him.
I think I just saw something. Not the goblin—he’s shaking his fist in frustration.
There is a shadow stuck to the wall right there!
It jumps in front of the light specks, casting a large shadow. Incoming!
I roll backward just in time to avoid its surprise attack. My eyes are still a bit hazy, too much blood to the head… Looks like four legs, some kind of lizard, maybe?
Scaly brown skin, a tongue flicking in and out of its mouth—yep, this is a lizard. Including its tail, it might be as long as I am tall.
A Dungeon Lizard.
It shows up on lower Levels Two though Four, same class as goblins and kobolds.
The moment I was waiting for! The goblin can wait. I have to finish off this one first.
It has sucker disks under its feet. It’ll climb back up the wall to line up another attack if I don’t take it out now. If it gets away… Ah, what a pain.
The goblin jumps in for another attack. Sidestep. I’ll take care of you in a moment. I’ve got to repay this lizard for his sneak attack.
The Dungeon Lizard must have sensed my blade. It made straight for the wall. However, I’m faster.
Dagger to the other hand, jump forward, there! I plunge my blade deep into the lizard’s back.
It howls in pain, limbs thrashing. Did I hit the magic stone shard…? Hee-hee, looks like I just made a liz-kabob. In its last gasp, it bends backward, trying to bite my face. Not even close. A second later it falls limp on the floor. Its body is still here; magic shard is still okay!
Oh yeah, the goblin is still here, too.
Got my dagger out of the Dungeon Lizard’s corpse, good defensive stance… I’ve got an idea.
I unclip my backpack from my arm and hurl it straight at the incoming goblin.
Projectile baggage, not bad. Wide-eyed goblin never saw it coming.
Time slows as I watch my bag slice through the air and slam into the goblin’s face.
The sound of impact booms through the hallway. The goblin flies backward like a bug flicked off a shoulder.
My Strength has reached the point that I’m able to not only carry heavier drop items through the Dungeon but can also use the backpack itself as a weapon against lower-tier monsters.
He’s still rolling like a snowball, clutching my bag.
Snap! Ouch, that crack sounds like it hurt… He’s stopped rolling, but his body is convulsing… and now he’s not moving anymore.
Don’t let down your guard just yet, Bell… Yep, it’s dead. Take a deep breath, relax those shoulders. Battle is over for now.
Flicking the lizard blood off my dagger, I slide it back into its sheath.
“… All right.”
Stretch out the arms and legs a bit. The knee’s not too bad.
I finally have my full range of motion back; still stings a bit, though. I don’t want to test it more than I have to.
This means I’m stronger, right?
I mean, I’m in the lower fourth. Cleared out the monsters in this area, too. That last battle went very well, now that I think about it.
I didn’t have any trouble dispatching the Dungeon Lizard and the goblin, even though it was two on one. I even favored my good leg and still dodged all of their attacks with ease.
That alone proves it; I’m getting stronger. Just as the goddess said, I’m improving very fast.
… But am I catching up to Ms. Wallenstein?
From the bottom of my soul, I really hope so.
She’s Level Five, but I have no idea beyond that just how strong she is. There is a flame burning within me that keeps me going. It tells me I can get there.
That should be enough for today, though. I need to get the magic stones from the Dungeon Lizard and the goblin. I might be attacked on the way home, too, don’t forget. I made three trips up to exchange shards for money earlier today. My pack was too heavy to keep going. Time to start number four.
The path from lower Level Four to lower Level One has been engrained in my memory. Lots of twists, turns, and three stairwells sit between the Dungeon entrance and me.
I encounter a few kobolds and goblins on the way there, but they’re no big deal. It’s got to be evening by now. The sky should be turning orange.
I start seeing other adventurers halfway through lower Level One. There is only one entrance and exit, so I’m used to seeing a few on my way home.
Look at their armor! It’s amazing! That elfess, hers is so sleek and poised. And that dwarf, his armor looks like a mobile fortress. Then there’s me… in my crappy little “outfit.” Daahhhh… I should get through here as quickly as I can. Please don’t notice me…
I wonder if the goddess will come back today.
She left to go to a friend’s party two days ago. She said she’d be gone for a few days, so I’m not too worried, but still.
I probably miss having her around more than she misses me.
I wonder what she’s doing right now…
Ah, almost there.
A long, wide tunnel connects the upper part of the Dungeon with the outside world. Many people call it the Beginning Road. There is a large hole in the ceiling at the head of the road.
Unfortunately, I have to climb ten meters of a spiral staircase to get out of here. The hole’s diameter is about ten meters as well, just one giant tube.
I join countless groups of adventurers as they climb the winding silver staircase. After the last few steps, everything changes. The walls look man-made; even the smell is refreshing.
This is the basement of the white tower, Babel.
The room is like a giant wheel resting on its side, but with no spokes. Seriously, thousands of adventurers could be in here and still have room to breathe.
It’s hard to believe I’m standing directly above the most dangerous place in the world. The monsters are right below me. Maybe that’s why it looks like a giant shrine. If someone told me this place was supposed to be used as an altar in a ceremony to honor the gods, I’d believe it.
The walls are a mix of blue and white. They’re dotted with stone plaques inscribed with names. Probably adventurers from a time gone by.
There are many long, thick pillars scattered all around. I can’t count them all, too many. A grand mural covers the ceiling of the chamber from end to end. It is the most subtle and soothing picture of the sky I have ever seen.
I’m perfectly safe from this point on. I can feel adrenaline leaving my body. Unfortunately, it was keeping the pain from my injuries at bay… Gonna be sore tonight…
… Huh? What’s that?
All the adventurers and supporters are clearing a path… What’s behind them?
Isn’t that a cargo box…? It’s very large; several people could fit inside. It’s on wheels with a long handle wrapping around the front. There’s another one! A whole row of them!
Aren’t they used when groups go on “expeditions” to the lower floors?
I suppose they would be handy to carry food and supplies. It takes a long time to come back up.
Did that one just move?!? I heard it!
The adrenaline’s coming back…
Okay, calm down. Let’s watch it, see if I’m just hearing things…
It moved again! Something inside is alive and trying to get out. Should I go take a peek?
Wait… What if…?
The cargo box looks more like a cage. Now why would there be a moving cage? Unless…
There’s a monster inside it?
I just hear a soft growl coming from within the box. It has to be a monster.
Is it okay for a monster to be… here?!?!
The Guild manages this tower. They control the lid of the Dungeon. In ancient times, the monsters would emerge almost every day—I’m sure that caused a lot of problems! So this tower was built to keep them down there. It’s our guard tower.
Nowadays, adventurers have Falna, so we go and hunt them. On the other hand, they can still come at us in waves. I’ve heard that the Guild is very strict about the tower, their base. They do many things to keep us safe.
So they would never allow anyone to bring a monster out of the Dungeon.
Monsters should not be in here, ever.
Here comes another cargo box, coming up the spiral stairs! This is insane! What do I do? What do we do?
“They doing that again this year?”
“Is there a point to it? I’m surprised people haven’t gotten bored.”
“Yearly freak show… Pointless.”
“Ganesha Familia puts a lot into it. Even the Guild goes along with this, every single year.”
“Sounds just like Ganesha, doesn’t it?”
All these voices in the crowd. They’re not frightened… they’re bored?
So the monsters that are being pulled up here one after another have something to do with this fair?
All of the people pulling the cargo boxes are wearing an emblem with an elephant’s head. Looks like I’m not the only one interested—everyone’s eyes are on them.
Wait a minute… Isn’t that Eina?
Mid-length brown hair, pointy ears…
Yep, that’s my boss standing over there. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
She looks really serious. Ah, another Guild worker. I guess they’re talking about where these monsters need to go?
She must be on the job.
She’s even got paperwork in her hand. I’d better leave her alone.
If that guy I overheard was right, the Guild is in charge of these cargo boxes.
The fact that Guild workers like Eina are here proves that something is going on, but it’s under control.
There are so many things I want to ask her, but I’ll wait for another chance.
She’ll be angry at me if I get in the way. Don’t really want to ask anyone else around here, though… They’ll just laugh at me for not knowing.
I should just go. I can get answers later.
Besides, I probably smell horrible. My clothes are still soaked with sweat.
With one last glance in Eina’s direction, I go up the stair and to the showers.
“Thank you for your hard work today.”
A Guild receptionist saw me off as I left.
After my shower, I made the trip to Guild headquarters to exchange my magic stones and drop items for money.
I knew Eina wasn’t there, so I got in and out as fast as I could.
“The sun is already going down…”
Golds and reds fill the evening sky.
From the front, headquarters really looks a lot like the basement of Babel Tower, now that I think about it. One step out the door and the noise of Main Street is already surrounding me.
Going around the monument on the front lawn, I pass through the front gate and into the throng of people already outside. There’s a good mix of races out on Main Street tonight.
Actually, there are eight Main Streets in Orario. Every one of them starts at Babel and stretches all the way out to the city wall. I like to think of the city as a big cake with eight slices.
Each Main Street is named for the direction it goes from Babel Tower, like North Main or Southeast Main. The goddess and I live under a church between Northwest Main and West Main. The Benevolent Mistress, where Syr works, is located on West Main. The Guild headquarters is here, too, so most people on this street are adventurers.
Adventurers and their supporters need the Guild for many things like paperwork, the Exchange, etc. I’m in here a few times a day, everyone else at least once a day, I’m sure. Out of all the Main Streets, West Main has by far the most adventurers.
Therefore, there’s a lot of competition for shops and bars to get a spot on this street. Adventurers need supplies and a good place to relax, and they have money. This street is lined with weapon shops, armor shops, item stores, and lots of bars. The places off of Main Street are a little shady, but you never know what you’ll find in one of them. There are a few hotels here and there as well.
Adventurers are going in and out of shops all over the place. I’ve got some time to kill, let’s see what’s around. The goddess isn’t home, so no rush.
“Hm? Oh, if it isn’t Bell?”
“Ah! It’s nice to see you again!”
A person walking toward me on the stone road called out.
Tall with a strong chin and a high nose, the young man has the look of royalty. His presence feels different from a human or demi-human, even in a plain gray robe.
His absolute perfection sets him apart from everyone else on the street. Anyone can tell immediately he’s a god. He’s the only god I know personally—other than Hestia, of course. His name is Miaha. I’d better bow and say hello properly.
“Hello, Miaha. Are you out shopping?”
“Yeah, picking up a few things for dinner myself today. What are you up to?”
“I’m just looking around… I don’t have any money, so I’m window-shopping.”
“Ha-hamm, I can relate. Everyone in a small Familia has to work hard, even the god.”
He smiles at me from above two large paper bags, one in each hand. His smile is very soothing; he’s an all-around cheerful god. Add in his ocean-blue hair, and he’s an attractive man. I have to admit it.
The gods all look different—some very young, while some look almost middle-aged—but one thing they all have in common is an absolutely perfect face. A lot of us are jealous of them because of it; include me, just a little.
His wide smile is infectious, just like Hestia’s. Wait! Maybe he knows something about her.
“Can I ask you a question, Miaha? Do you know where Hestia is right now? She went to a friend’s party two days ago, and she still hasn’t come home.”
“Hestia… hmmm. No, I’m sorry. I haven’t seen her, either. I don’t think I can be of much help.”
“It’s okay. Please don’t worry about it.”
A god apologized… to me? And he lowered his head! No no no. Head down, now!
“Two days ago… That’s most likely Ganesha’s Celebration. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the event myself. If I had, I might have more to tell.”
“Miaha, were you not invited to attend?”
“Ah, no. I got an invitation. But my Familia is struggling for money at the moment. I can’t leave them at this stressful time, it wouldn’t be right. I was hard at work creating a new compound. No time to go to a drinking party anyway.”
I’ll be frank when I say his Familia is a lot like mine, struggling to make ends meet.
That’s half the reason I know Miaha—we are both in bottom-of-the-barrel Familias.
“Bell, I’d like you to have these. It’s a sample of what I was working on the other night.”
“Are you sure?!”
Transferring both bags to one arm, he casually reaches into the fold of his robe and takes out two small test tubes filled with a dark blue liquid and hands them to me like it was nothing. I take them almost as a reflex.
The syrupy potion slowly swishes around in the vial. Looks like deep ocean molasses.
“Miaha, are you sure this is okay?”
“What’s wrong with giving a neighbor a cup of sugar? It’s no problem.”
He ignores my bewilderment and lets out a hearty laugh.
He pats my shoulder with his free hand and steps to the side.
“Well, I hope to be seeing you at my Familia’s shop again real soon, Bell.”
He waves one more time before turning around and continuing on his way.
Did that really just happen? I’m so happy! There he goes, into the crowd. I bow one more time as a send-off.
These potions recover physical strength. I’m sure they’ll come in handy. Now where to put them…? Ah! My leg holster would be good. There we go.
Miaha’s Familia makes items like this. Their store is very small, but they are a very specialized group.
I don’t know too much about what goes on behind the scenes, but I know that each Familia in this business has its own recipe. They constantly look for new ways to get an edge on the competition. I like Miaha Familia’s potions. I go there when I have enough money to pick one up.
His Familia is a good example, but there are many Familias doing the same thing with other items and weapons.
Some Familias produce items, and some are filled with smiths who make armor and weapons. I even heard about one that brings in fresh fish from the ocean. At first, I thought that Familias were just groups of adventurers, but that’s not always the case.
Gods need to make a living. How they do it is completely up to them.
The god chooses exactly what their Familia is going to do. That decision in turn affects the market they go into. “Gekai’s food is delicious, so I’ll open a restaurant!” Kind of like that. They could even start their own country. They can do almost anything.
But competition among members within a Familia and from other Familias is also very strong. Fights tend to break out. Without some strong adventurers to keep the peace, a Familia can fall apart. It might not even get off the ground. Familias need strong leaders, and adventurers fill that role pretty well.
Becoming an adventurer was perfect for me because it’s a good way to make money. Okay, okay, I had a few more romantic reasons for wanting to be one, too. But I’m not trained to do anything else.
Here I am, walking to the left down Main Street, thinking about how I’d look working in one of these shops… Ha-ha, don’t think so.
Getting close to the good weapon shops now. There are some really strong-looking adventurers around today. Ah! There it is!
The weapons shop in front of me is twice the size of its neighbors.
Not only that, it’s painted to look like an inferno. It’s impossible to miss this place.
There is a strange-looking sign above some really thick doors. “Hφαιστος”
I can’t read those characters, but I know their meaning. It’s the logo used by a world-famous Familia of smiths.
I don’t think anyone’s watching me… Let’s have a look-see at their display window.
One sheet of clear glass is between me and all sorts of sharp, shiny objects. Oh yeah, they make weapons, good ones. That one’s got an emerald green blade! Those twin swords look awesome! The reach on that buster sword… it’s huge! There’s even a rapier inlaid with gold plating!
Ohhhhh, there it is!
This display is genius. The tip of the dagger’s white blade is thrust into the center of a treasure chest–like box. Magic stone lamps light it up from the top down. It’s like that dagger itself is the treasure, and I just found it. Its finely honed edge looks just as potent as the claw it was forged from. Not only is the blade a thing of beauty, it’s just as powerful as the longer blades on display.
That’s a lot of zeros on the price tag…
I would look so awesome with this…
Kind of sad to admit, but I’ve been coming by this window on my way home for a while now. Just to look at this work of art.
It’s a top-class weapon used by the average adventurer.
I know, I’m a dirt-poor adventurer using a weapon purchased with money borrowed from the Guild, but I want to touch that one. Just once, just to see how it feels.
… I want it bad.
I’m sure other adventurers would laugh and say, “Yeah, in your dreams!” if I told them I want this dagger.
If I keep trying to catch up to Ms. Wallenstein, maybe the day I can hold this amazing weapon will come.
With that dagger in my hand, I’d be unstoppable. Slash this way, cut that way, monsters dropping like flies.
I’ve been staring into the glass for so long, I’m surprised it hasn’t started melting…
“How long do you plan on doing that?”
While Bell was drooling over a weapon on display on the first floor of the weapons shop, a very irritated red-haired goddess was sitting behind a desk on the third floor above him.
Hephaistos, dressed in her Familia’s uniform, had had enough. Her frustration poured into every syllable of her words.
The source of her annoyance was on the other side of her desk, a goddess on her hands and knees with her face pressed onto the floor. It was none other than Hestia.
They were on the third floor of Hephaistos Familia’s main store located on Northwest Main.
The store was the base of operations for her Familia’s world-famous brand. The third floor was devoted to management and currently packed with tension.
“You realize I’m very busy?”
“You may be very quiet, but I can’t concentrate on paperwork with you there. Don’t you get it?”
Hephaistos could only sigh at the lump of a goddess on the floor, at her friend who had not moved from that position.
For an entire day.
That’s how long Hestia had kept her head down, plastered to the floorboards.
On the night of the Celebration, Hestia had asked her to have her Familia make a weapon for one of her members. Hephaistos dismissed it immediately.
Even though she didn’t brag about it, the smiths of Hephaistos Familia were known as the best in the business. She had a reputation to uphold. Run-of-the-mill adventurers and Familias didn’t have the resources to buy her weapons.
To have her smiths make a weapon just for a friend was out of the question. To request her smiths’ sweat and blood to produce anything under those terms would be an abuse of power. Completely taboo.
Hephaistos had told Hestia many times, and as directly as possible, to come back with some money if she wanted to make a custom order.
However, Hestia hadn’t given up and kept on asking. Every time she asked, her head bowed lower and lower. She’d been persistent since the start of the Celebration, and Hephaistos was at her limit.
Hestia showed no signs of giving up, or of even raising her head.
Hephaistos had told her to do whatever she wanted and gone back to her Familia’s home base. She’d been planning to ignore Hestia until she gave up. Hestia was bound to get hungry and go home at some point.
That was two days ago.
Hestia was still pleading.
Why is she doing this…?
Hephaistos looked down on her with a questioning eye.
She couldn’t understand what drove Hestia to keep that pose, even while Hephaistos was trying to sleep. It was quite a shock when she woke up. She nearly fell out of her bed.
She’d asked for many things before, but something was different this time.
Hestia’s strong will, her obsession, was shining through.
“Just what is that pose? You’ve been doing it since yesterday.”
“Také told me this pose has the power to make people forgive whatever you have done and grant any request.”
“Aaa…,” said Hephaistos as the face of the god in question floated into her mind. She knew that if Hestia was taking his advice, this could be a real pain.
I can’t take this anymore…Hephaistos sighed. She couldn’t focus on her paperwork. So, she set her feather pen on the side of her desk and piled up the papers that still needed her signature.
The sun cast long, golden shadows across the room. Night was almost upon them.
Hephaistos glanced outside before straightening her always perfect posture. Taking a deep breath, she cast her gaze onto the back of Hestia’s head.
“… Hestia, tell me. Why are you going this far?”
Her finger lightly scratched her eye patch as she posed her question.
“… Because I want to help him!”
Hestia didn’t look up, only raised her voice loud enough to be clearly understood.
“He’s changing, and quickly. He—Bell has a goal, and he’s chosen the hardest path to follow. It’s a dangerous path, that’s why I want to help! I want to give him the strength he needs! A weapon that will clear a path for him!”
Hestia kept talking with her face to the floor, never looking up.
A god asking another god for help. Hestia had to reveal her true intentions. It was impossible to hide anything from a god. She bared her entire being in an attempt to persuade Hephaistos to change her mind.
“He is always helping me! I feel like I am living off his hard work! I’m his goddess, but I haven’t done anything godlike for him!”
Hestia’s whole body tensed as she squeezed out her next words:
“… I hate being useless…”
Her voice was weak, but it was enough to reach Hephaistos’s ears.
At that moment, the truth in Hestia’s words convinced her to act.
“… All right. A weapon shall be made for this… boy.”
Hestia’s eyes shot open as her head popped up. Hephaistos shrugged.
“If I didn’t say yes, you’d never move.”
“… Yes. Thank you, Hephaistos!”
Hestia tried to jump to her feet, but after spending a day facedown on the floor, her limbs weren’t ready. She fell back to her knees, an innocent smile on her face. Hephaistos sighed again, but this time it was lighthearted.
She knew she was being too nice to her, but Hephaistos saw a change in Hestia. She felt no animosity helping her like this.
At least Hestia wasn’t shut up in a room in her shop anymore. Thinking of the difference between those days and now made her smile despite herself.
“But let me say this: You will pay back every single val, understood? I don’t care if it takes one hundred years, you will repay me.”
That didn’t mean she was going to give the weapon to her for free.
Even though Hestia was taking advantage of her own resources to get what she wanted, the world-famous Hephaistos Familia was taking action. Hestia had to work for it.
However, Hestia had shown resolve. Hephaistos nodded to herself as she stood up from her chair, walked over to the still-kneeling Hestia, and softly poked her nose.
“I know, I know. I can do it if I try. And I’ll prove to you that my feelings for Bell are the real thing!”
“Ha-ha, I’m looking forward to it.”
Hephaistos was only half listening to Hestia’s bold words as she walked over to a shelf at the other side of the room. Mostly used for decoration, the shelf held a line of brand-new short hammers of varying colors.
“What does he use?”
“Umm… He uses a knife…”
Hephaistos muttered, “Is that right,” under her breath as she picked up a vermilion hammer from the display shelf.
The hammer had no useless decorations or markings—it was designed to be used, not seen. Hephaistos slid the tool into a pouch strapped around her waist.
Next, she walked farther down the shelf to a clear crystal case and opened the lid. The case contained a mix of assorted metals and alloys. She selected one that sparkled a light silver hue, mythril.
Lighter and stronger than iron, mythril was also far more malleable and easier to work with.
It was the best metal for a female blacksmith’s thin arms, with no special abilities, to shape.
“H-Hephaistos? Are you going to make it yourself?”
“Yes, of course. That should be obvious. This has nothing to do with my Familia. It’s a private request between us. I can’t let them get involved.”
This was the main store of her Familia’s business, but it was equipped with a rather small forge and workshop on the first floor. Hephaistos was planning to go there to make the weapon herself.
She shot Hestia a look with her good eye as if to say, “You have a problem with that?”
Hestia shook her head and arms, indicating, “Not one.” Her face beamed with youthful energy.
“Why would I have a reason to complain? Bell will get a weapon made by the most famous blacksmith in all of Tenkai! In fact, I couldn’t ask for more!”
“Have you forgotten? This isn’t Tenkai, I can’t use my ‘power’ here.”
The gods and goddesses had a mutual agreement. All of them were forbidden to use Arkanam while on Gekai.
Hephaistos had made hundreds of weapons and pieces of armor for gods while living in Tenkai. But down here, the Goddess of the Forge was on par with an unblessed child, just a human in terms of strength.
“You think I care? I’m so happy you’re doing this!”
She didn’t doubt Hephaistos’s skill. Accepting her work with no conditions still made Hephaistos uneasy. It was written all over her face.
What bothered her most was that she didn’t care.
“… You will be lending me a hand. I’m not going to let you just sit around.”
“You can count on me!”
Hiding a small smile with her fingers, Hephaistos turned to leave.
Hestia followed her, bouncing up and down like an excited puppy.
Got to follow the customer’s wishes, don’t I?
Hephaistos was changing her mind-set from the leader of the Familia to that of a craftsman.
The blade that Hestia desired…
A blade that would clear the path for an adventurer.
A blade worthy of the name “Hephaistos.”
… Easier said than done…
Hephaistos dug through her memory to recall as much information about the boy as she could.
Bell Cranell. Human. A barely fourteen-year-old boy.
He was the only member of Hestia Familia. He’d received his Falna little more than two weeks ago.
Basically, he was a greenhorn as far as adventurers were concerned.
A high-quality blade useable by the most inexperienced of adventurers…
This was a very difficult problem.
Adventurers who tried to use too strong of a blade suffered for it. Their growth stopped as they tried to master the weapon. They couldn’t wield it in battle. To put it simply, they were not ready.
On the other hand, if she made a poor blade, it would damage the name “Hephaistos.”
Hephaistos considered herself a smith before a god. She took a lot of pride in everything she made. She wouldn’t allow herself to produce anything less than the best. It was her policy.
Anything worth making was worth making well. She decided to put her heart and soul into making the perfect blade.
She was between a rock and a hard place.
Well… how shall we do this?
She called on the knowledge that came from making countless other pieces.
It may be for a friend, but this order is a real pain in the ass…
Hestia looked on with bubbly eyes as Hephaistos went to work, cursing the whole thing.
The goddess left three days ago. She’s still not back.
I felt a little lonely eating breakfast in an empty room this morning. Going back to the Dungeon again today.
I have a job to do; it doesn’t matter if she’s here or not. Besides, I want to surprise her with a big pile of loot when she gets back. “Hey! Look how much I earned while you were away!” I can see her face now… Got to get the loot first, though. Quick check in the mirror; everything looks in order.
My leg holster has the two potions I got last night. My dagger is strapped to my lower back. Slip the backpack on over my armor, and I’m ready. Come on, Bell, you can do this!
“I’m heading out.”
There’s no one to hear me, but I feel like I should say good-bye anyway. Here I go.
My leg’s back to normal. Today’s the day I go back to the lower fifth.
A few days ago, I got carried away and went down there. It didn’t turn out so well. I ran away crying, literally. It’ll be different this time. I don’t know exactly how much, but my status is much higher now. Well, just to be safe, maybe I should talk with Eina before going into the Dungeon today…
Before I know it, I’ve climbed out of the hidden room under the church and walked my usual path through the ruins. I love how morning feels, so fresh and ready. Ah, already on West Main. Time is flying this morning.
Should loosen up a bit before getting to the Dungeon… A morning jog sounds good. This morning looks a lot like the morning I met Syr. The sun is in the same place, people are going about their business. I can run faster than this—speed up, man, speed up.
Yep, there’re the same two animal people talking on the corner. Someone’s setting up the terrace. The girl who was in the second-floor window of that shop isn’t here today, though.
“Oi! Wait up nya, white-head kid!”
White-head kid…? I haven’t heard “kid” since… Where did that voice come from?
Isn’t that The Benevolent Mistress? And that’s the catgirl waitress. Running over, her thin tail swishing, waving her arms like a maniac…
… Behind her, isn’t that the elfess who works there, too?
I remember the voice that called me “kid” all too well. It was that or “tomato boy,” and other things I’d rather not think about.
Is she really talking to me…? I returned Syr’s basket on my way home last night…
I point at myself and mouth, “Me?” The catgirl is still coming this way at full speed, nodding.
“Good morning, nya! Sorry to call nyou out like that, nya!”
“Ah, um, morning… Can I help you…?”
She’s bowing to me. Okay, I can do that, too…
That’s a very rehearsed bow, must be for work. She’s about to say something.
“Got a favor to ask nyou. Here, nya!”
“Syr is nyour friend, white-head kid. So I want nyou to give this to her, nya!”
It’s a cloth coin purse with a metal clasp. I’ve seen this style before. It’s popular.
There’s an unfamiliar emblem engraved on the clasp, and I can tell right away it was made by one of the Familias. The purse itself is purple, kind of cute and girlie.
Yeah, it’s cute and all, but I don’t understand…
Give this to Syr? What’s going on?
“Ahnya. You are not being clear. Mr. Cranell is confused.”
Ah, the elfess. She was the one on the terrace this morning. Maybe she can tell me what’s up…
… Hang on, she said, “Mr. Cranell”! She remembered me. Me!
“Lyu, nyou’re stupid! Syr forgot her wallet, playing hooky to go to Monsterphilia, nya. She nyeeds it, so I’m asking him to take it to her. Nyou knew that, right, white-head kid?”
“That is how it is. I apologize for the confusion.”
“Ah, no, I got it now. That’s what’s going on.”
The elfess named Lyu ignores her coworker’s pouting face and gives me a short, repentant bow. I lower my head, too; she sorted it all out for me.
The catgirl looks dejected, like she was left out in the cold. Her tail hangs limp, and she looks at the ground. I hear a small “hm” come from her nose. Is she angry at me?
“Please pay her no mind. Are you sure it is okay to accept our request? Ahnya, the other employees and I are too busy preparing to go after Syr ourselves. I know we are interrupting your plans for today…”
“It’s not that big of a deal, but is it true Syr is skipping out on work?”
“Ahnya did not choose her words well. Syr is not playing hooky. Her situation is different because she doesn’t reside at our establishment like we do.”
I knew Syr wouldn’t skip work. She seemed to really enjoy it. Sounds like she has a day off or something. She doesn’t live at the bar, which means that she doesn’t need to work every day like these two. I bet that dwarfess, Mama Mia, had to give permission, though.
So she’s bound to have a day off here and there, right?
And it sounds like she went to some kind of festival…
“Yes. She went to see the opening events today.”
I heard those words in the basement of Babel Tower.
“Do you not know? All residents of Orario know about this event.”
“Actually, I haven’t lived here very long… Could you tell me about it?”
“—Nyay! Me will tell nyou about it, nya!”
As soon as I asked, the catgirl suddenly jumped in between us. She looked so depressed two seconds ago… Where did this energy come from? She’s talking really fast, too!
“Monsterphilia is an event put on once a year by Ganesha Familia, nya! We fill the stadium for a day and tame the monsters, nya!”
What the hell is she talking about?!?
Taming the monsters? Keeping those vicious beasts as pets?!?
“It’s nyot really that strange, nya? Nyou’re an adventurer, nya, aren’t cha, white head? Nyou have seen when a slain monster wakes up with a look in its eyes. It wants to be our friend, nya!”
“Uh… no. I can’t say I have…”
Should I believe her? Can I? I must look confused, because Lyu speaks up again.
“Taming has been recognized as a skill. I am being brief, but a person proves him- or herself more powerful than a monster. In turn, the monster obeys that person’s commands.”
“The monster obeys their commands.”… Sounds like I’m in another world.
“The monsters in the Dungeon have bad tempers, nya! So usually monsters already above ground are tamed. But Ganesha Familia’s tamers are good! They break the Dungeon-born monsters, too, nya!”
Ganesha Familia… I’ve heard that name before. They are probably the most influential Familia in Orario. I’ve heard there is a ton of members, too.
“So, basically these tamers fight a monster until it submits. And people watch?”
“That’s right, nya! Like a really big circus!”
Except much more dangerous… Yeah, I got it.
“We wanted to go, too, nya! But Mommy Mia said nyo nyo… Syr said she’d buy us syomething, but she forgot her wallet, nya! She smiled and waved, but nyo money! Careless girl, nya!”
“Ahnya, I don’t believe you are correct…”
Ehh, I got this figured out. Syr can’t buy souvenirs, or anything else, without her wallet. I owe her, so it’s the least I can do to take this to her.
“I believe that the area around the stadium on East Main will be very crowded. If you head in that direction, you should find the stadium easily.”
“Syr just left, nya! Nyou can catch up!”
My heavy backpack would get in the way, so I ask them to keep it at The Benevolent Mistress. I can swing by later to pick it up.
Clutching Syr’s wallet in hand, I make my way toward Babel Tower. I’ll need to go beyond it, but it should be a straight shot from here.
Monsterphilia… I wonder what it’s like…
Maybe I should check it out later?
East Main Street was alive with the songs and voices of the citizens of Orario.
It was now nine o’clock in the morning. While most adventurers were already prowling the Dungeon, throngs of townspeople were gathering on the streets.
A line of food stalls ran down the middle of the street, another two lines along the sides. Sounds and smells of their various confections spread out over an ocean of humanity. The street itself was decorated with long ribbons and vibrant flowers. Flags of many colors flew in the morning breeze. Some of them had the silhouette of particularly vicious monsters printed on them. The others had an elephant’s head, the emblem of Ganesha Familia.
A young animal boy, his face red with excitement, pulled his mother’s arm as they plunged into the crowd. The sun itself seemed to be celebrating the day, its bright yellow beams lighting up the sky.
East Main had been completely transformed by the fair.
The line of fairgoers ran from the east gate all the way up to the stadium itself. A pair of silver eyes watched them inch along from above the street.
From the second floor of a café, to be exact.
The café had a wooden interior and a very laid-back atmosphere. One woman was sitting at a table next to a glass window facing the street. She was wearing a navy blue cloak to prevent her face, and snowy-white skin, from being seen.
However, one layer of cloth was not enough to contain this person’s beauty.
Even though her face was well hidden under a hood, every set of eyes in the café was trained on her. Whenever she would trace the lip of her cup with her delicate fingers or her elegant chin peeked out from under her hood for a moment, everyone around her held their breath. Many people who happened to see her stopped and stared.
All of them were fascinated by someone doing almost nothing. Freya, the Goddess of Beauty, ignored them and kept her eyes on the street below.
She was watching the many people of Gekai, the children.
Humans, animal people, dwarves, elves. A few adventurers were sprinkled in among the colors of these different races.
Freya thoroughly scanned them with her sharp eyes.
Creaks in the wooden floor announced the arrival of a few customers.
Freya stopped the examination and turned to great the newcomers.
“Yo! Sorry to keep ya waitin’!”
“Not at all. I just got here myself.”
Freya smiled under her hood at the person waving at her from the head of the stairwell.
The newcomer’s hair was not the bright flame of Hephaistos’s, but a more subdued shade of red, the hue of an evening sky. It was tied back into a small ponytail. Her shirt and pants were worn out and faded. If Freya had not known her, she might have thought this person was male.
Fighting back a yawn and with tears in her eyes, Loki smiled back at the cloaked figure.
“Haven’t had breaky yet. Mind if I grab a bite?”
“Do as you please.”
Loki pulled up a chair across from Freya and sat down. Freya continued to smile her usual smile, not reacting to Loki at all. The two of them had an air about them, like friends who had known each other for a very long time.
“I heard you had quite the night after the Celebration. Crawled into a bottle and passed out, did you? Hee-hee-hee, Hestia’s something else, isn’t she?”
“Where’d ya hear that, boobs for brains?”
“I overheard some of your cute children. They had themselves quite the laugh.”
“Those bastards, always havin’ a good time without me!”
Freya had invited Loki to this café to talk at nine in the morning.
It had been a few days since the Celebration. The two goddesses were only here because of Freya’s request.
“So when are you going to introduce that girl standing behind you?”
“Eh, ya need introducin’?”
“This is the first time for us to meet face-to-face.”
Loki had not been alone when she entered the café.
Standing like a guard behind Loki with her sword’s sheath clutched in her hand was a young girl with blond hair and golden eyes that even Freya, the Goddess of Beauty, had to notice.
“’K then, this is my Aiz. That ’nough for ya? Aiz, this is a goddess, ya should at least say ’ello.”
“… Nice to meet you.”
Freya muttered, “Kenki,” under her breath as her eyes skimmed over the girl.
Aiz Wallenstein. She was the female swordsman who was responsible for Loki Familia’s sudden rise to notoriety, even among the gods. Her name and reputation were known not just in Orario but were spreading around the world. Indeed, she needed no introduction.
A girl with her looks did not usually go into a dangerous profession like adventuring. Someone who didn’t know her face would never guess that she had slain countless monsters and trodden on just as many of their corpses.
“Ya can take a seat,” said Loki as the girl with a thin, delicate face nodded and pulled out a chair to sit down.
“She is very cute. And also… Yes. I can see why you have taken a liking to this one.”
Aiz’s golden eyes met Freya’s silver ones. Aiz kept her face emotionless as she lowered her head in a polite bow.
Her nickname was perfect in some ways, completely wrong in others. Freya’s smile flexed for a moment thinking about it.
“Can I ask why you brought the kenki here with you?”
“Fu-he-he-heee… It’s the Fair, yah? What better time for a date with my Aizuu?”
Loki’s eyes twinkled, a vulgar smile on her lips.
“Well, that and she’s finally back from an expedition. She’ll be back in the Dungeon in no time. That’s just her.”
“Someone’s gotta tell ’er to relax, don’ they?”
Loki patted the girl’s head as she spoke. Aiz looked down, deciding not to speak up.
Freya looked at the warmth in Loki’s thin eyes and couldn’t help but remember how she was before coming here. Loki had been quite the troublemaker in Tenkai.
“Well, then, I think it’s about time ya tell me why I’m here.”
“I just wanted to chat. It’s been a while.”
“Lyin’ through yer teeth.”
Loki sent a smirk at Freya, still smiling under her hood. She matched Freya’s tone to the letter. The “old friends” aura was gone.
A waiter was unlucky enough to come to take their order at that very moment. Stuck between two lightning rods, he stood silent and motionless at the head of the table as if he had been chained down.
As for Aiz, she kept her face devoid of emotion and chose to watch quietly from the side.
“I’ll ask ya again, why?”
“I don’t understand. What’s the matter, Loki?”
“Come on, moron.”
Freya turned to the waiter, still motionless at the head of the table, and flashed him a smile. The man’s eyes opened like floodgates, his face turning beet red. He broke out in a cold sweat before quickly turning around and wasting no time leaving the area.
Loki watched him leave for a moment before returning her raptor-like gaze back to Freya.
“Ya been strange recently. Ya claim not to be interested in the Celebration, but poke yer head in at the last minute. Say yer there for information? Ya don’ care about that, ya never have… What are ya scheming?”
“Scheming…? Why do you make it sound so evil?”
“Shut ya mouth.”
Loki followed it with saying that strange things happened when Freya acted like this. She went on to say that if it got in her way, she’d end it herself. Loki didn’t blink, her red eyes adding weight to her words.
Freya didn’t back down, meeting Loki’s eyes with her own. The look on Loki’s face could have killed a serpent, but Freya took it head-on, smiling. Invisible sparks flew; the pressure of their conversation filled the room. The café emptied in no time flat.
Aiz had a front-row seat to the clash of goddesses that seemed to go on forever. Until…
Loki got tired and backed down.
The tension instantly evaporated, and Loki continued in a more relaxed voice: “A man, isn’t it?”
Freya didn’t answer, just kept smiling.
Loki took it as an affirmation.
She let out a deep, long sigh. She had seen this too many times already.
“So… Ya got an eye for a child already in another Familia, I take it?”
All of the gods and goddesses knew about Freya’s “habits” when it came to men.
Once a male on Gekai caught her eye, she made a move. Her beauty was powerful enough to make her target her own. Exactly how many men had fallen under her spell, no one knew.
Loki reasoned that Freya’s target was most likely not in her Familia. Therefore, the reason she came to the Celebration in the first place was to figure out whose Familia the target was in.
Obviously going after someone already in another Familia, to take them away from it, would not go over well. The god of the other Familia would not sit by and do nothing. Freya was picking a fight. If the other side was strong, she’d get rejected and wallow in despair until she found her next target. She was being cautious, gathering information before she made her move. That was what Loki was thinking, anyway.
Freya didn’t try to deny Loki’s words.
“Jeez, woman. Is that all ya think about? Ya’ll go after anyone, young or old?”
“How rude. I do have standards.”
“Leaving out all the bumbling idiots on Tenkai you pull fast ones on?”
“They have their uses. I’m quite skilled at getting money out of them.”
Loki cleared her throat. The witch was putting up all of her dirty laundry. Loki raised an eyebrow at her fellow goddess. Freya shrugged, but only just enough for the fabric on her cloak to bend ever so slightly.
Thinking that there was nothing left to be said, Loki put her hands behind her head and leaned back in her chair so much that the front feet came off the floor.
Freya also let her guard down and took a sip from her now-cold cup. They both had an answer, and the mood finally cleared.
A clear, sunny sky spread out from the window beside them. The noises of the street were pouring into the café.
Freya’s navy blue cloak swayed in a light breeze rolling in from an open window.
“Who’s the guy? What child are ya after now? When’d ya find ’im?”
Loki leaned her head to the side as if to say, “Spill it.”
Now she was interested. Unlike Freya, Loki loved details.
If she didn’t get the goods now, she’d leave.
“I came all this way, changed my plans. I have the right to know.”
Freya looked away from the goddess giving her demands and cast her gaze back out onto the street.
The hood of Freya’s cloak opened enough for Loki to see her silver eyes go clear, as if she was thinking about something in the past.
“… He’s not that strong. Weak if you compare him to the children in our Familias. Easily upset, he starts bawling at the simplest of problems… That kind of child.”
The word “but” was on the tip of her tongue.
“He was beautiful, pure. I’ve never seen anything like him.”
And that was why she’d fallen for him.
She heard a melody that most could not, coming from a flame within him. A soprano.
“I found him by accident. He just happened to walk across my line of vision.”
As she talked, Freya thought about every detail of the second she’d first laid eyes on him. She kept her eyes on the busy street, searching for him. This was how she’d found him last time. Maybe today would be the day.
“It was just like this…”
Early morning, brisk air, fresh sunlight, West Main.
He’d come from the other end of the street—just like right now.
He ran into her line of sight, just like he had that morning.
Freya stopped breathing.
Her eyes had found a white-haired human boy in light adventurer’s armor.
He jumped between people, jogged for a bit, and then stopped before doing it all again.
The boy was moving toward the stadium. Monsterphilia.
Riding the river of people, he was well on his way to the circular building not too far down the road.
Freya watched him for a moment. A new smile, a scary smile, grew on her lips.
“I apologize. Something has come up.”
“Let’s do this again soon.”
Loki collapsed to the table in stunned disappointment. Freya was already out of her chair.
She adjusted her cloak as she went down the stairs and out of the building.
Only Loki and Aiz were left in the café.
“What kinda person just leaves ya hangin’ like that…?”
Loki stared at the staircase for a moment, her eye twitching.
A small “hmm” escaped her throat as she turned to face the girl one seat away from her.
Aiz had her eyes glued to the window.
“What’s up, Aiz? Somethin’ wrong?”
She went on to say, “It’s nothing,” but she didn’t look away.
Her golden eyes, just like the silver eyes of the goddess before her, saw a familiar white head moving through the crowd to the stadium.
“Here it is.”
Hephaistos, still dressed in her work gear, handed Hestia a small case. Hestia let out a squeal of delight. She had bags under her eyes, but her face still beamed with energy.
“Does it meet your expectations?”
“Yes, yes! Very much so! No complaints!”
The hinges of the case squeaked as Hestia opened it to have a look inside.
The case contained a dagger with a black handle and sheath.
The entire weapon was black from top to bottom. It might have looked like a simple blade, but Hephaistos had put her soul into making this weapon… with a little help from Hestia.
Completing Bell’s new weapon in just under a day gave Hestia a look of happiness and satisfaction, the likes of which Hephaistos had never seen.
“Ah! Hephaistos, the blade needs a name! Can I give it one?? Let’s see, how about something that binds Bell and me together? ‘Love Dagger’ or something like that?”
“Please, no… This dagger is worth more than that. But this is your blade now…”
Hephaistos suggested “Hestia Knife,” but Hestia wasn’t too excited by that name.
More like she was embarrassed by it. She blushed and scratched her head. But her level of delight was still as high as ever. Even the long ponytails on each side of her head were full of energy, swishing from side to side.
“I’ll say this again: Do not go back on the loan.”
“I won’t! I won’t!”
Hephaistos took her hair out of the tight bun she had made yesterday and started putting in pins. Hestia’s energy was infectious, and she couldn’t help but smile and nod at her.
However, Hestia was busy adjusting her clothes, as if she were getting ready to go.
She couldn’t just sit here now. Hestia made for the exit.
“You should rest before you go!”
Hestia didn’t turn around or respond, just waved her hand as she headed out the door.
She had been waiting in a small room behind Hephaistos Familia’s main store. She walked right past it and onto Main Street.
I can’t wait to give this to him!
Just thinking about his face the moment she gave him the dagger made her so happy she could die.
First, he would simply smile at her, look at her with respect and admiration, and he would hold her…
Hestia’s cheeks puffed up as she thought of how to set up that moment. She was walking down the middle of the road, her face stuck in the same expression, giggling to herself.
She calmed down a bit as she walked farther down Northwest Main. She decided to wait for Bell at home, rather than trying to find him in the city. Of course, she wanted to give it to him as quickly as possible, but she didn’t know where he was at the moment.
Probably somewhere in the Dungeon, knowing him.
“Hmm?… Ha-ha-ha, I see…”
She’d had a plan, until she happened to see a poster on the side of a shop. No one showed it to her. It was just there. A triumphant grin grew on her face.
The poster detailed the schedule for Monsterphilia, opening today.
The yearly festival is today! Bell just came to Orario. If he knows about Monsterphilia, that’s where he’ll be!
Therefore, if she went, too, chances were she could see him there. She was in such a good mood that the idea of searching for Bell in a massive crowd didn’t bother her at all.
She’d figured out how he thought. Or so she declared to herself via her new (slightly unfounded) confidence. She knew where she needed to go.
Turning on a heel, she made her way toward East Main.
She flagged down a horse cart that was passing through by waving her small hand.
The young driver neatly pulled right up at Hestia’s feet. She climbed into the cart and said, “To East Main, please!” and pointed that way for good measure.
“Ha-ha, loud and clear. Are you by chance going to Monsterphilia, Miss Goddess?”
“Something like that.”
The young man flicked the reins, sending the cart into motion. The sound of wooden wheels hitting the rock pavement bounced in her ears. Her seat shook with each stone.
This was a huge city. Home to the most adventurers and Familias in the world, Orario distinguished itself from the rest of the larger cities. Inside a city this large, walking wasn’t the most efficient form of transportation. Horses had been brought in to help transport supplies to businesses around the city as well as assist private citizens.
The term “taxi” was first used by a god trying to flag one of them down. The name stuck and had been used ever since.
“I want to get there as fast as I can. I know it’s crowded today, but can you speed up?”
“Do I look like a man who would refuse the request of a goddess?”
The young man was more than happy to oblige and urged his horse to run faster.
Since the main streets were full of people and food stands, he veered off the main road and went into the backstreets. Sometimes their path was so narrow that the cart barely fit through the gap as they rode toward East Main.
The driver, who couldn’t have been more than five years older than Bell, was very friendly and kept a lively conversation going during the trip. Hestia got into the festival spirit watching all the decorations fly by their cart.
“A-ya-ya. I’m sorry, Goddess. Looks like I can’t go any farther.”
They had been making great time, but suddenly the cart came to a halt. East Main was only a block away, but the number of fairgoers had increased to the point that the taxi couldn’t proceed.
The driver lowered his head in apology, but Hestia figured this was close enough and started getting ready to disembark from the cart.
“It’s okay, Mr. Driver. I’ll walk from here.”
“I really do apologize. It may be a little dark, but if you use that side road, you should be able to get to East Main.”
“Thanks! How much do I owe you?”
“It comes to ninety vals.”
Hestia turned her purse inside out and emptied the entire contents into the driver’s hands, her face glowing with excitement.
“Hee-hee. Keep the change! It’s your tip!”
“Um, Goddess, this is exactly ninety vals…”
His words fell on deaf ears as Hestia half danced her way onto the side road he had suggested. He watched her for a moment, a slightly lonely look on his face. Giving up on the tip, he turned his cart around and set off to find another customer.
The side road was dark and narrow. But unlike the main street, no one was back there, and Hestia moved quickly down the path. She skipped forward, humming a happy tune and cradling the weapon case in her arms.
It was at that moment she realized she wasn’t alone.
“Huh? Is that you, Freya?”
Hestia almost ran into a woman covering her entire body with a navy blue cloak at a small intersection. Hestia could tell it was the Goddess of Beauty from a few locks of silver hair sticking out from the neck of the hood and the woman’s posture.
“Did you come to watch Monsterphilia, too? Taking a back road like this, you must be in a rush.”
“… In a sense, yes. There are many children on the main street, so I’m staying out of sight. Sneaking around back here is the fastest way to get around.”
“Ah! Must be difficult being the Goddess of Beauty!”
Everyone who saw Freya had a different reaction, but many tended to stop and stare. She could avoid a lot of hassle by staying out of sight. That meant she couldn’t ride a taxi to get around, either. This had to be her only way.
Freya smiled her usual smile. Hestia gave her an affirming nod.
“Oh, Freya, while I’ve got you here. Have you seen the boy in my Familia? I’m looking for him.”
“He’s a human with white hair and ruby-red eyes… Kind of looks like a rabbit!”
Hestia mimed out her explanation of Bell, arms becoming rabbit ears. Freya stopped smiling and went silent.
But her smile soon returned, and she told Hestia what she knew.
“Now that you mention it, I have. On East Main, not too long ago.”
“Yes. He was heading toward the stadium. So if you take a left up there, you should be able to avoid the crowd completely.”
Accepting her directions without a second thought, Hestia thanked her with her biggest smile yet and set off.
Freya smiled a different kind of grin before continuing on her own path.
Hestia followed the road and turned left. More and more sunlight reached the street as she got closer to East Main.
It wasn’t long now. Hestia picked up speed and burst out of the side street and into the throng of people on the main street.
The fairgoers didn’t have any time to waste, either.
But in the waves of people, she immediately found Bell’s white head trying and failing to move forward through the crowd.
Is that who I think it is over there…? Oh, wow.
Haven’t seen the goddess for days, and suddenly she shows up here, in the middle of this mess?
“Goddess?! What are you doing here?”
“Hey, don’t be stupid! I wanted to see you, why else?”
She comes all the way up to me, her ridiculously large boobs leading the way.
That’s not really an answer… She’s making me a bit nervous.
“Yeah, I wanted to see you, too, but not that. Where have you been…?”
“What a wonderful coincidence, don’t you think? I wanted to see you, and here you are! We must have some kind of special connection! Hee-hee-hee!”
She’s not listening… at all.
She’s gone into her own little world. Where does that leave me?
“G-Goddess, you seem to be in a really good mood. What happened?”
“Hee-hee… You wanna know? The reason why I’m happy…”
I swear she’s smiling hard enough to power all the magic stone lamps in Orario… She’s also hiding something behind her back. What could that be? Well, I’ll just have to wait. She’s really drawing this out.
“The truth is…”
I wait for her to continue, but she just stops.
She looks around the fair, taking in the sights and sounds. But I don’t think she’s really here, in the real world. Now she’s staring up at the sky. What is going through her head?
“… Hmm. We’re already out here, so I’ll tell you later!”
“Look forward to something really special!”
My shoulders drop; pretty sure my jaw does, too. What is she trying to do to me? Wait, what? She grabbed my hand?!
My heart skips a beat as she takes my right hand. Her skin, it’s so soft… She’s pulling!
“Let’s have a date, Bell!”
She turns her back and looks over her shoulder with a cute little smile.
“… A date?!”
“Yep, yep! Just look at the city! Everything looks so fun! We’ll have a great time!”
“Sure, but what do you mean, a date?”
“Hee-hee! Let’s go, Bell! Let’s go!”
I’m blushing like mad; I can feel it in my cheeks. But the goddess looks so happy.
Her silklike fingers clamp down on my hand, and she leads me straight into the crowded street.
The street vendors show no signs of slowing down. They are selling so many things! Meat on a stick; easy to carry, I suppose. Oh! Small souvenirs, key chains, accessories with Ganesha Familia’s emblem or a monster on them are in that one! Aren’t those… real weapons?? Not the highest grade, but they’re very real. Only in Orario…
Fireworks fired off from the stadium dot the sky. I can barely hear them over the noise on the street.
“Wait, Goddess. I have to tell you, I’m in the middle of something!”
“Oh, like what?”
“I was asked to find someone.”
“Okay, then, we’ll look for them while on our date! I think the phrase is two birds with one stone? Hey! Mister! Two of those crepes, please!”
She brushes me off again… I’m in trouble now.
I can’t go back to The Benevolent Mistress without getting Syr’s wallet to her and say it was because I was on a date! Is this a date…? Anyway, if those ladies find out, they would hate me for sure!
And then there’s…
The goddess. I can’t take my eyes off her.
My hand won’t relax, damp with sweat. That’s nothing compared with all these new looks from the goddess.
It is strange to think, but she’s acting the age she looks, going from vendor to vendor, her eyes sparkling as she points to a pastry or clothes like a teenager. She’s completely different at home, more grown-up. Her smile is always contagious, but now it’s… cute.
The goddess really is a beautiful young lady. Seeing this side of her proves it.
My heart is beating a rhythm now… What have I gotten myself into?
She’s a goddess!!
“Ah, yes. What is it?”
She’s making this a whole lot more complicated…
She’s holding one of the crepes that we just bought up to my mouth with that radiant grin on her face…
While she finally lets go of my hand, she’s on tiptoes holding the crepe with both hands and trying to get me to open my mouth.
My arms flail as I struggle to get words out, eyes locked on the confection now inches away.
“Goddess, what are you doing?!”
“What do you mean? Say ‘ah’! Ready, ahh-nn. I always wanted to try this.”
My whole body is twitching… How pathetic…
I forgot what I was going to say, great. All right, maybe if I don’t say anything, she’ll get the message. My cheeks are on fire!
I know she’s in a good mood, but this is absurd! Maybe it’s the festival that’s giving her these ideas.
“Aww, what is it, Bell? Is it because I took a bite first?”
“N-no! It’s not that, it’s just…”
It’s a little embarrassing… and you are a goddess!! I have to respect you! Respect!
Being fed like that by an otherworldly deity? I have no manners at all!
Avoid eye contact! I already look pathetic enough! Come on, think! There has to be a way out! Ah! My own crepe!
“I bought that for you! To take a bite of your crepe would be disrespectful because I have my own. Please have a bite of mine instead!”
“… You got away…”
Her smile is gone, pouting a bit. At least she lowered the crepe.
But she shrugs it off. “Oh, well.” Her smile is back!
“Okay, we’ll do it your way. I’ll have a bite of yours.”
She closes her eyes. Her thin lips are open.
Okay, I can handle this. Just bring the crepe close to her mouth…
Her cute cherry-blossom lips jump forward as she takes a small bite. She looks like a cute, innocent child… Stop looking at her like that! I’m blushing again!
She opens her eyes with her teeth still in my crepe and smiles like a mischievous fox before taking another massive bite from the pastry. She pulls back, her cheeks stuffed like a pretty little chipmunk’s.
Just what does my face look like…?
There’s a spot of cream on her cheek.
Must have come from the inside of the crepe. I can take care of it for her real quick.
I stop my hand in midair. What am I doing?! She’s a goddess!!!
She doesn’t want to be treated like this! Especially not by a human like me! Get her a napkin, idiot!
I start to pull my hand back, but she grabs my wrist with those delicate fingers.
“Hee-hee-hee, I want you to.”
She smiles sweetly at me, blushing with eyes full of trust.
I slowly run my finger up her cheek. Her eyes clench and her body wiggles as if it’s ticklish.
Blood is pounding into my head.
My whole body is on fire, an itch I can’t scratch. This is so embarrassing… or am I just shy?
She’s got me wrapped around her finger.
“Well done, Bell! Next up, potato snacks! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
“W-we’re going to keep going?”
“Of course! We almost never have time to enjoy something together!”
She takes my hand again and leads me back down the street.
I may have one foot in the grave, but for some reason I’m smiling, too.
Come to think of it, she’s right.
We are a two-person Familia. We’re always busy trying to make enough money to see tomorrow. I’m in the Dungeon; she’s at her part-time job.
I can count the number of times we’ve been outside the room together on one hand.
We weave in and out of the many races of people flooding East Main.
I may look very out of place, but the goddess is happy. That’s exactly what I want.
It started with a big roar from the crowd.
Released from its chains, a monster howled as it charged forward into the arena, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. The Battle Boar stood more than two meters tall. Only a short-haired female tamer stood in its path. She nimbly rolled out of the way, her hair swinging around her head.
The crowd erupted at the display of sheer athleticism. Fifty thousand strong in the stands create a whirlpool of energy all flowing to the stadium floor.
The stadium, Anphiteatom, was located in Eastern Orario.
The curtain had just been lifted on Monsterphilia’s main event. Thousands of citizens filed into the stadium to witness the spectacle.
The Battle Boar had been captured for just this purpose. It kicked off the stadium floor, intent on mauling the woman in its way. The beast’s overwhelming power left cracks in the surface of the floor with each step. However, Ganesha Familia’s tamer was unfazed. She adeptly dodged all of the boar’s charges, much to the delight of the crowd.
This battle was very similar to a bull fight. An attractive person in flashy clothing faced down a beast armed with a whip and a cape. The beast charged many times, but the tamer dodged by the smallest of margins.
It was her mission to tame the beast, not kill it. Seeing her calm demeanor in the face of life-threatening danger inspired awe and respect among the audience. They wanted to see more. They applauded every time the tamer emerged from a charge without a scratch on her.
The monster’s bloodcurdling roars were amplified throughout the stadium by magic stone microphones to make sure even people in the upper deck seats got the full impact of the show. The stadium was absolutely electric.
“They’ve started…,” Eina muttered to herself after hearing the noise erupt behind her.
She was stationed outside the stadium but could feel the vibrations of the monster’s howls in her skin. She looked over her shoulder at the stone wall between her and the action.
Eina had been assigned this post by the Guild. She and a few other coworkers were in charge of directing fairgoers into the stadium as well as supporting Ganesha Familia’s members.
Monsterphilia was not an event held by the gods just for the fun of it. Ganesha Familia supplied the monsters and tamers for the show, but the Guild itself was responsible for setting up everything else.
It’s not my place to question it, but why is there a Monsterphilia in the first place?
The managers of the Guild approved it. Eina had no input in the decision and simply had to do what she was told. She was not entirely comfortable with it.
While there was almost no risk to the city, monsters should not have been brought out of the Dungeon. Eina would have objected if she could. If the Guild was as concerned with city management and safety as they claimed to be, then they should have done more to restrain the monsters themselves. Declawing them would have been a good start.
The monsters were scary beasts, after all.
The main purpose of this event couldn’t be taming the monsters. It had to be for amusement. Creating this potentially dangerous situation just for fun was something that should have been brought to an end. At the very least, the Guild shouldn’t have been involved. Eina’s thoughts continued through to this conclusion.
“And now… the freak show. That hurts a bit.”
“Huh? You say something, Eina?”
Eina shook her head. A coworker had overheard her grumbling to herself.
Orairo was home to many Familias and their adventurers. This might have sounded like a good thing, but most adventurers were not the friendliest of people. They had a tendency to play by their own rules. Their lack of manners around townsfolk caused a lot of problems for the Guild. It was up to employees like Eina to smooth things over.
In order to reap the benefits of the Dungeon, the Guild had to keep their adventurers in line as well as protect them. This festival was the only way to get the average citizen to see adventurers in a good light, so the Guild turned a blind eye to the danger. It couldn’t be helped.
The words “yearly freak show” still lurked in the back of Eina’s mind. She knew the Guild’s reputation was on thin ice, and the festival was the best way to relieve the pressure.
Just as long as nothing goes wrong…
Fair season always made her nervous. She wouldn’t be able to relax until the final curtain fell. Or maybe she was just too uptight.
Her friends and coworkers complained about not being able to see the show. She was busy contemplating the place of the Guild and massaging her temple.
“No, not here, either…”
“Maybe they’re already inside?”
Someone she knew was walking toward her. It was Bell.
His head was on a swivel as he walked around the outside of the stadium, as if he was looking for someone. The goddess walking next to him must have been the head of his Familia.
Eina took a quick look at her coworkers. Seeing that they were still griping, she figured they could hold down the fort for a few minutes. She walked forward to greet the adventurer in her charge.
“Ah, Ms. Eina?”
“Bell, who is this half-elf?”
Eina chuckled for a moment at the blank look on his face before making a polite bow to Hestia and introducing herself.
“My name is Eina Tulle. I am a member of the Guild’s secretariat and also Bell’s adviser for Dungeon activities. It is nice to meet you in person, Goddess Hestia.”
“Oh, that’s how you know each other. Bell’s counting on you.”
Satisfied with the explanation, Hestia shook Eina’s hand. Eina gave another bow while Bell watched in silence. He snapped out of his trance and asked a question:
“Why are you out here, Eina?”
“The Guild is in charge of the fair, so all employees have a job to do. I’m an usher of sorts, helping guests to their seats. So did you come to see the opening event, Bell?”
“Not yet, I’m looking for someone, actually. Um, she’s a waitress… but she wouldn’t wear her uniform out here. Ha-ha… Have you seen a human girl who doesn’t have any money?”
“Not too sure I have…”
Eina couldn’t hide a chuckle at Bell’s way of describing the girl. Bell looked away, scratching his head. “Should have known…”
Eina went on to tell him that there was a small entrance fee to get into the stadium, so the chances a girl with no money got inside were slim. Bell nodded and lowered his head in a thank-you.
“Well, then, I’ll keep looking around outside the stadium before heading back to East Main. She might not know about the fee and wind up here anyway.”
“Sounds good. If I see a girl like that, I’ll tell her to wait here.”
Bell bowed one last time and turned to leave. Hestia saw an opportunity to speak with Eina privately and stepped forward once Bell was out of earshot.
Eina was a little confused but turned to face the goddess.
“Yes, what is it?”
“You wouldn’t use your position to try to make a move on Bell, would you?”
Hestia didn’t break eye contact. Eina knew in a moment Hestia was serious.
“I like to keep my personal and professional lives separate…”
“Okay, I’ll trust you.”
Hestia patted her lightly on the arm, a solemn look in her eyes.
Bell, noticing the goddess was not behind him, came back looking very confused. Hestia walked out to greet him before the pair went on their way.
Eina felt like she had been pricked by a needle. She watched the two of them walk away, a trickle of sweat running down the back of her neck.
Massaging her temple again, she went back to where her coworkers were stationed at the base of the stadium.
“What the hell’s going on over there?”
“Complain all you want later, get some people over there now.”
The mood had changed; voices were raised everywhere.
Eina’s eyes narrowed as she walked up to the group. “Excuse me, what’s going on?”
“Guild staff stationed at the west gate collapsed for some reason.”
“They’re awake, but they’re all sitting down on the job or lying on the floor… Could just be a bad hangover from last night. But everyone’s too far gone to do their job, so we’re sending some more people over there.”
The animal people Guild employee rolled his eyes in frustration.
But Eina felt a cold chill in her chest. She wasn’t just nervous now, her whole body started to tense up.
Am I overreacting…?
Another roar from the crowd echoed over the stone wall behind her. She looked up at the top of the wall, trying to steady herself.
However, a different echo, one from a monster’s roar beneath the ground, reached her ears as well.
It was a dark, dirty room with almost no light.
A single magic stone lamp hung from the ceiling, casting long shadows over everything in the room. Boxes standing a square meter tall lined the dusty, dank storage room. Different types of weapons and items hung on the walls.
Many cages were in here as well. The sound of chains echoed as the beasts inside the cages fought against their restraints. The iron cages were built in a lattice pattern. Monsters stuck their snouts out of the openings, baring their fangs and howling.
The room was under the stadium’s main stage. It was being used as the monsters’ waiting room.
Their cages would be moved to the surface by a staff member when it was their turn onstage. A tamer would be waiting for them when their chains were broken.
“What are you doing? We’re ready for the next one! Why won’t you raise it?!”
Clop-clop-clop. Sharp steps in high heels echoed off the stone floor outside the storage room just before the door opened to reveal a female member of Ganesha Familia.
She was the team manager for monster transportation. Her assistants never missed a beat, so when the next cage failed to show up on time, she rushed to investigate.
She was ready to scold them, but no one responded.
“W-what’s wrong? Hey!”
Her team members were on the floor all over the room.
The four men she had left in charge were sitting down, leaning against boxes with absent looks on their faces.
She ran to the closest one, fearing the worst. He was breathing. No injuries, either. Going to the rest of the team, they were in exactly the same aloof state. However, they were alive.
The only problem was that all of them looked like puppets that had their strings cut. There was no strength in their bodies at all.
Monster poison…? No, it can’t be… What the hell did this?!?
All of them were murmuring something. Their faces were beet red. Their eyes weren’t focusing.
She had never seen anything like this. A chill crept through her body as she realized she didn’t know how to help them. How could she cure what she was seeing for the first time?
What happened here…? She stood up and scanned the room, ignoring the howling and thrashing beasts still locked in their cages.
The air behind her suddenly shifted.
It was not an aggressive sneak attack, more like one friend creeping up on another. There was no intent to harm, which was why the woman was too slow to react.
Someone was standing behind her.
“Please stand still?”
A quick swish of cloth, and suddenly she couldn’t see.
Her eyes were covered by delicate fingers that were smooth to the touch.
A heartbeat later, her whole body froze in place, limbs shaking ever so slightly.
A sweet smell licked her nose, a soft body pressed against her back, warmth enveloped her skin. All of her senses were paralyzed by a “beauty” she couldn’t see.
It was an overwhelming “charm.”
A “charm” she couldn’t comprehend.
She couldn’t fight back, she couldn’t resist.
Her mind was going blank, thoughts evaporating all at once.
Her freedom was gone.
“Where is the key?”
“The key to the cages—where is it?”
The voice whispered lightly into her ear, but the sound consumed her consciousness. Her head leaned forward, her neck unable to support it.
She could not fight the words in her head, and she obeyed.
Her shaky right arm reached behind her back to grab a key chain strapped to her belt. The keys shook violently in her jittery hand. She raised the keys up to her shoulder.
The hands covering her eyes left as the keys were taken from her hand. But her eyes didn’t trigger. The girl did not see anything.
The presence behind her withdrew. Without its support, her knees buckled, and she fell to the floor, landing softly on her rear end.
She had fallen victim to the same “charm” as her team and joined their fate.
Freya left the girl behind and walked farther into the storage room.
Guild staff and the “fierce members” of Ganesha Familia had been guarding the west gate. She had rendered them all helpless in order to come this far.
Freya didn’t have the ability to fight anyone. She was just one of the many gods on Gekai. She had no special powers.
But she had her beauty. She literally was beauty itself.
She had a power that couldn’t be controlled by reason. Other gods fell under her spell; humans and demi-humans didn’t stand a chance. She had the overwhelming ability to put anyone in a trance on a whim.
This time she was using it to have a little fun.
The gender of her victims didn’t matter. Their consciousness would leave them; they would forget they had bones to stand on. They became infatuated with her “charm.”
As long as she was careful not to be seen, this level of infiltration was well within her power.
Freya stopped in the middle of the storage room.
Monster cages were lined up all around her, their occupants howling with renewed vigor. She listened to the explosion of beastly roars around her.
However, as soon as she lowered her hood, all of the beasts went silent.
Her beauty had ensnared them, too.
Skin the color of freshly fallen snow filled their eyes. Freya’s silver hair and silver eyes hypnotized the monsters into a passive state, their muscles shutting down.
Even vicious monsters were not safe from her “charm.”
“… You’ll do well.”
She looked over all of them individually before stopping at one particular cage.
That monster was covered in a thick white coat of fur. Its arms were massive and its shoulders broad with bulging muscles. A line of longer, thread-like fur that matched Freya’s hair color perfectly ran down its back ends in what looked like a stubby tail.
The wild silverback locked eyes with the Goddess of Beauty, its breathing getting heavier and heavier with each passing second.
She opened the lid of the cage with the key in her hand.
The monster obeyed Freya’s instructions and stepped out of the lattice cage. The chains restraining its arms and legs jangled at its feet.
She had released a monster. She knew how dangerous this could be.
While she was pulling the strings, little details like that meant nothing to her.
She’d come here for one reason.
That boy is right outside…
Her target was Bell Cranell.
Ahh, but it’s a pity. I wanted to watch him grow a little while longer…
She knew Bell was growing at an alarming rate. She didn’t know why, but she could see he was improving by leaps and bounds.
No one could keep a secret from a god.
… I want to play with him.
Freya laughed to herself like a little kid.
She wanted to play a joke on the one she loved, just as if she were an immature child.
But she couldn’t stop. Her love at first sight was driving her forward like a twinge of pain deep in her chest every moment she couldn’t be with him.
She wanted to see him scared, see him cry, but above all, she wanted to see his courage.
Freya lovingly stroked the cheek of the silverback, its nose flaring with each swell of air. She paused for a moment as a new thought went through her mind.
What if this monster accidentally killed Bell because she let it loose?
She hadn’t thought of that but quickly shrugged it off.
If Bell died today…
I’ll go after him.
If his spirit left Gekai, she would chase it to the ends of time and space.
I will hold him.
Once she caught him, she would hold him against her passionate breasts.
Her eyes glowed with love and tenderness, but her face showed a love of cruelty. An absolutely evil smile unrolled from her lips.
She held the silverback’s head with both hands, evil smile and all. Every muscle in the monster’s body pulsed with energy.
She leaned forward and placed her lips on the creature’s forehead.
Wait for me?
A roar erupted from the storage room.
“Goddess, what were you talking about with Eina?”
“Ah, this and that.”
The goddess and I have already done one lap around the stadium in our search for Syr. Now we’re back on East Main. The streets are emptier now. Everyone’s probably inside watching the tamers at work.
“Hey, Bell. This person you are looking for is a girl, isn’t she?”
“Eh? Ah, yes, with hair and eyes the color of ashes. She looks grown-up and is a little taller than me…”
She wasn’t asking about how Syr looks. Her eyes are only half open, staring at me. She’s not blinking…
Why’s she looking at me like that…? Got a bad feeling about this.
“… Just like that adviser, you really have no clue.”
“Eh…? What do you mean?”
At least she’s not staring at me, but she’s pouting…
I swear her ponytails are alive, and they’re flexing. Like they want to choke me…
What did I do? Why is she like this…?
We walk in silence for a small eternity.
“… What is it, Bell?”
I feel something in the air and stop walking. The goddess still looks as angry as before when she looks over her shoulder at me.
Just now, something…
Something reaches my ears.
It’s not the din of the festival; it’s sharper, tenser.
“… A scream?”
Just as the words leave my mouth, a tidal wave of sound overtakes us.
The peaceful street erupts into an explosion of panic at that one word.
There it is.
A monster is at the end of the street, coming from the stadium.
It’s charging down the stone road, all of its white fur standing on end.
The monster, the silverback, was enraged.
A storm within, muscles firing off at full strength, it breathed with enough force to blow everything out of its way. It wanted her, and it wanted her now.
It was looking for a goddess.
The last it saw of her silver hair was outside the stadium, disappearing into a crowd. The completely charmed monster rushed after her with more strength and power than it had ever had before, almost as though it was being pulled by an invisible chain.
The goddess’s affection!
The monster’s purest, most basic instincts had taken over its body and driven it forward.
A monster’s instincts didn’t waver. Its quest for a goddess’s love consumed it.
The silverback advanced down the street, swatting carts and boxes out of its way.
A crying horse managed to get out of the way. The driver of its cart wasn’t so lucky. He was launched skyward and tumbled to the ground. The horse wheeled the empty cart back around to its master as the silverback charged by.
It was losing the scent of the goddess. Her sweet aroma was gone. Had it made a wrong turn?
The silverback stopped for a moment and tried to find her scent again. It looked in every direction, taking in big huffs of air.
Many people filled the streets once again—people running, people in shock, people screaming at the top of their lungs. The silverback was enclosed in a circle of humanity.
The silverback’s eyes skimmed the crowd before suddenly coming to a stop.
Its eyes had locked onto a point, a certain someone.
It saw “her” with bloodshot eyes.
A small girl with black hair and blank eyes staring right back at him.
A being clearly different from the others around her.
Someone on a whole other plane.
Someone with the same qualities as the “goddess” he pursed.
A voice climbed into its ears:
“—Could you chase the small one?”
Those words whispering in its ear were hers.
The silverback took one big step toward the wide-eyed little girl.
It takes a step forward.
I grab the goddess’s hand and take one, two steps back.
Every hair on my body is standing up. I haven’t felt like this since “that” day.
A white body, silver hair running down its back. Its presence is overwhelming.
It has the eyes of a beast, no rhythm or reason. And it’s looking at me and the goddess.
I can’t breathe.
Why is there a monster here? What is happening? I’ve asked those questions before…
I’m facing something that shouldn’t be here. It’s the Minotaur all over again. I’m sweating, shaking just as hard as last time.
One of us is going to get overrun!
“—Do your best.”
Where did that voice come from…?