To Defy God
The party was bustling, not even a good hour into the festivities. The guild had done quite the amazing job getting the word around, drawing hundreds to the hastily put together festival. So thoroughly were the guests engrossed, imbibing the various assortments of liquors and fine foods, none seemed to even remotely recall the rumors flitting about the city.
The courtyard in front of Babel Tower was, at this point, a veritable smorgasbord of adventurers and Deities. Groups were gathered here and there around the actual smorgasbord of food, chatting and chewing the fat in the flickering light of the braziers dotting the surroundings. Despite the cold of Freeze gripping the land, the festival was warm with chatting bodies who seemed not to have a care in the world as they mingled with one another.
Yet, one Goddess in particular did in fact care about the rumors swirling around these last few days. One Goddess knew they were not mere rumors, but in fact a great calamity right beneath everyone's feet. Yes, one Goddess, whose sapphire eyes burned with determination, was in uninvited attendance among this crowd. Unnoticed, she slipped expertly through the thronging masses as she made her way for a proper vantage point.
This little Goddess, whose heart burned with a mixture of fury and worry, was about to bring the festivities crashing down. She had absolutely no intention of letting this slide, of letting a blatant cover-up go unchallenged, while her own children were likely in unfathomable danger. No, she would set this straight and blow the lid off the entire debacle, no matter what consequences it might bring her. There was not even room in her mind to spare a thought for the trouble a certain half-elf might face from her actions.
Hestia weaved her way through the crowd, gently nudging the occasional person or Deity out of her way, until she came to stand before the great fountain at the courtyard's center. It was a mighty fixture, standing easily four times the little Goddess' own height. Carved of snow-white marble, it glistened delicately in the combination of moonlight and the firelight cast by the raging braziers placed around it.
She looked up at it for a moment, the wall around its basin standing as high as her ample bosom. Those sapphire eyes, practically glowing with the reflected moon, were on the verge of tearing up. She had indeed come this far, and not without a large degree of anxiety, but here her heart wavered somewhat. She knew her plan was risky, foolhardy even. Yet, she had to do it, for Bell's sake chiefly though she did not forget Lincoln or the others.
With a few quick, deep breaths, little Hestia bade her heart to calm. It was now or never, so she closed her eyes and steeled herself for the coming storm. When she was done, her heart calm and her mind cleared, the Goddess careful climbed over the fountain's basin-wall. Taking care not to slip on the still wet marble, mostly dried since it had been turned off for the festival, she climbed to the top of the mighty fixture.
Taking a moment to steady herself, she looked around the bustling crowd. From here, she could see everything. Every rowdy adventurer telling tales of their exploits, every Deity chittering on about their Familia. Every single person and Divinity that seemed as though they couldn't care less about the obvious placation going on. The nearly blatant bait and switch made Hestia's stomach turn as she watched the crowd.
At last, the little Deity could stand no more. She tightly clutched the old leather book in her tiny hands, taking one more deep breath.
"Hey!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, startling almost everyone with her unrealistic volume.
Had her voice been any louder or higher of pitch, it may very well have broken the various glasses all over the place. So intense and commanding it was, all eyes turned away from their various fixations in search of the voice's source. One by one they fell upon her, all eyes within the formerly thronging group of party-goers. Hestia's anxiety was in no way assuaged by this, welling up in the back of her mind once more as they stared.
She waited for a few minutes, allowing the crowd to focus as well as her nervousness to subside somewhat, before beginning her attack.
"Of all my fellow Gods and Goddesses I see here… Of all the mighty and brave adventurers…" she stopped, filling her lungs with air so she could yell once more, "Do none of you give a shit?!"
There were quite a many gasps and curious stares in response to her vulgarity, many mouths agape at the words and tone of this childish looking Goddess. Hestia let her words sink in a moment for maximum effect before going on.
"I know there are quite a few powerful Familia here tonight. I know you must have, at least, some idea what's going on!"
Her eyes searched the crowd as she went on.
"The missing adventurers, the closed dungeon, the closed guildhall for crying out loud! So, either you're all stupid and slacking off or you just don't give a flying damn about your children! Well, which is it?!"
Hestia paused her accusing tirade, sapphires scanning the crowd frantically for any sign of like-minded reactions. Only bemused stares greeted her, a few on the verge of becoming enraged here and there. That is, until one particular set of emerald eyes caught her attention.
They swelled with the teary look of guilt and shame, the pointed ears framing the face seeming to droop. It was the very same half-elf she'd become rather well acquainted with these last two months. The advisor for her troublesome pair of adventurers, Eina Tulle, was possessed of the same look of worry and fury that gripped Hestia's own heart, though clearly overshadowed by shame as well.
She began to nudge her way through the crowd as well, pushing aside one or two of her confused coworkers in the process. Before a minute came to pass, Eina was climbing atop the fountain's basin-wall as well. She went no higher, standing below the Goddess as an act of deference, and instead turned to face the crowd. Hestia had no idea what was running through the young woman's mind as she watched her open her mouth to speak.
Yet, before the half-elf could utter a word, a burly hand grabbed her arm. An older gentleman, regal in appearance and bearing, slipped from the crowd and stood before the startled Eina. His face was twisted with anger and embarrassment.
"Miss Tulle, you will get down at once!" He hissed in a commanding and threatening tone.
He was about to pull her down, not even giving her a chance to respond, when Hestia's voice seemed to ring through the very heavens themselves.
"You will release her at once, old man." She spoke forcefully, "That is, unless you'd like me to knock the tower behind us over like a domino…"
The little Goddess had inadvertently, in her nervousness and seriousness, opened up her Arcanum. Her pale skin no longer glowed simply from the reflected moonlight but now shimmered brightly with her own divinity. Her formerly sapphire eyes now shone a myriad of colors as they glared hatefully at Eina's superior, filling the old man with no end of dread almost instantly. As he beheld the sight of the infuriated Goddess, his hand let go of the half-elf's arm and his trousers slowly grew a damp spot.
He slinked back into the crowd slowly, never for a moment averting his eyes from the wild-looking Hestia.
"Now, since none of you cared enough to ask this yourselves…" she said in an otherworldly tone, "This brave woman is going to tell you all why this lavish festival was put up out of nowhere. Right, Miss Advisor?"
Hestia cast her gaze to the now shaking Eina, her countenance literally glowing with power. The woman gulped anxiously, cursing herself for not becoming a tailor or anything else besides joining the guild. Yet, with resolve to right this attempted wrong before anything worse happened, she straightened herself up and swallowed her uncertainty.
"Th- This gathering… That is, this party… Well, more of a festival I suppose…"
As she stammered, trying to get her words out with no real progress, a warm feeling suddenly resonated from her back. It was indescribable, rivaling the comfort of a mother's arms around her newborn babe. It filled her with confidence and resolve, burning away her trepidation and uncertainty in an instant. With that, Eina stood tall and straightened her glasses as her mind filled with exactly what she wanted to say.
"I apologize, to all of you in attendance, on behalf of the Guild. We have sought to fool you, this night, with the extensive banquet and festivities laid out before you. You see, there's been a problem in the dungeon and we wanted to hide it until we could figure out what caused it."
She had more to say but was at that moment interrupted by an inebriated Goddess, one whose voice was all too familiar to Hestia.
"Ish thish something ta do with why my shildren habn returned from their exshpetishun?!"
A particularly drunk Loki, who could only be distinguished as female by her dress, slung her slurred question at Eina as her glass of Soma wine sloshed all over the ground. Her normally shut eyes were wide open as they sat upon her, curiosity burning through her drunken haze.
"Yes, Goddess Loki." Eina continued without batting an eye, "The stairs from floor twelve to thirteen collapsed suddenly, nearly four days ago now. We have detained the few adventurers who witnessed this to try and curb the news while we investigated its cause."
She stopped there, not out of nervousness but out of her elven sense of loyalty. A loyalty, that is, to the Guild for which she had lost much respect these last few days. Swallowing it, she pressed on.
"We have gotten nowhere in our investigation in that time. Now, I fear for those who remain trapped below…"
Eina bowed her head in shame as the warm feeling left her back. Hestia straightened herself up, having bent over to calm the half-elf with her aura, and threw her gaze back to the rapt masses. Her glow subsided somewhat as she addressed them.
"There you have it, the reason your collective asses were kissed so much tonight. So, do any of you care now?"
Her words stung many hearts in the crowd, some that earnestly had not put two and two together. Others were stung by the fact that they had let themselves be lead on so. Yet, all were abashed for one reason or another as the tiny Goddess looked out upon them.
"Well, now that you know what's up I have a proposition for any willing ears." Hestia spoke up, earning more curious looks, "For anyone willing to defy the Guild's closure of the dungeon and help me undo the collapse, I have a substantial reward on offer."
The crowd met her words with disbelieving eyes and hushed whispers to one another. Hestia was not well known by her Familia or her fame, but for being one of the poorest Deities living on Gekai. It was no small surprise that her claim of reward would be doubted, if not outright disbelieved.
"You all know the name of that big sword stuck on floor fifteen, right?" Hestia asked flatly, silencing the murmuring crowd, "Titanic, the sword of Francis? The adventurer that made a mockery of the Gods everyone possessing Falna?"
Now the eyes of nearly every attendee began to shine with either rage or insult, especially those of the Deities. Even through drunkenness, as in Loki's case, the name of Orario's greatest pariah rang clearly.
"I don't know what you're trying to pull, Hestia, but I'm certain you're just blowing hot air!"
It was Loki whom bellowed those words, having recovered from her stupor quite expertly. Hestia only grinned in response, raising the leather-bound book she had been clutching high above her head.
"Oh, I'm full of hot, angry air right now, dear Loki…" she replied smoothly, her voice full of venom, "But there is quite a substantial reward to whoever is willing to help me, and it is quite real…"
With that, she lowered the book to her navel. After turning it sideways, she threw is like a Frisbee into the crowd. It spun a few times before coming to rest neatly at Loki's feet, a deed the clumsy Hestia would never be able to pull off again if she tried.
"That book, his journal, is just the tip of the iceberg. I have much more info on him and his sword for anyone willing to join me…"
Hestia spoke these words with more gravity and charisma than she had ever mustered before in her life. Her heart simply burned with the surety that Bell was in trouble, leading her to be willing to go to any means to aid him. A cold sweat began to form upon her as she awaited an answer with bated breath, hoping her lure would work.
As the Goddess watched Loki, the crowd huddled around her shoulders as she flipped through the book, a gargantuan quake began to rumble through the ground beneath them all. The fountain shuddered and cracked under Hestia's feet, spilling the little Goddess onto the ground beneath.
The first swing seemed to come from nowhere, shattering the dungeon's rocky floor like brittle glass. The colossal monster had pivoted itself and swung its mighty mallet as though it were a feather. The group barely managed to separate in time, the gargantuan blow throwing them across the room like dolls.
Welf had managed to wrap Lily in his arms when he leapt, cushioning her impact with his own body. The two hit the ground some ten meters from where the mallet had landed, rolling many times before coming to a stop. It left them both fairly battered, despite Welf's attempted shielding, and unconscious on the ground.
Lincoln and Bell did not fare much better. The two were hurled in separate directions, both from each other as well as the smith and prum. They met with equally bruising tumbles across the stony floor, dings and scratches covering their armor in the process. The creature itself, towering above its easy prey, spared not a moment.
As the two still-conscious members recovered themselves, coughing and rasping for air, the monster began to saunter sinisterly toward their unconscious fellows. Each step shook the floor beneath them, occasionally knocking a stalactite loose from the ceiling. Its massive muscles rippled like taught rope under its jet-black skin as it meandered toward the two. Puffs of hot breath shot from its nose, white clouds in the cold dungeon air.
As Bell and Lincoln both watched, struggling to stand after the near miss, it stood at last before their friends. Crumpled and nearly motionless, knocked thoroughly silly by their flight, Welf and Lily stood no chance. The creature raised its mighty axe, rusted and stained with immeasurably bloody battles, as it readied a killing blow.
Lincoln's eyes never left that awful scene, playing out before him as though a dream. He couldn't look away, yet neither could he move. His body was tired and withered from lack of food and decent sleep. The young man was entirely powerless as he watched the monster ready itself to slaughter two of his friends. Though, even as he watched so intently, his eyes never caught the flash of silver and purple.
Bell had been watching as well, his muscles equally drained from the same conditions. Yet, unlike Lincoln, the boy was far from powerless to help. The drive to save his friends, the want to stop this beast, won out over his fear and fatigue.
As he watched it raise its axe, poising for the killing blow, the boy's heart glowed fiercely with an unknown feeling. The muscles in his legs bloomed with life anew, rested and rejuvenated by some unknown force. He gritted his teeth together hard as they flexed, readying himself to charge, and every nerve in his body flickered to life at once. He leaned down into a running stance and pushed off, never registering the inhuman speed with which he flew.
And fly he did, inasmuch as a human can that is. The moment he pushed from the ground and took that first step, Bell came upon the mighty creature with all the fury he could muster. Like a running stream of melted silver, he streaked through the air as the Hestia Knife glowed in time with his heart.
Before the creature's colossal weapon could make contact, Bell crashed into the cheek of the axe like a tsunami. It was knocked entirely from the creature's grasp, breaking a few of its fingers in the process. For the moment, Welf and Lily lived on as the gargantuan monster stumbled to its right a few steps.
Yet, Bell did not escape unscathed. In the impact, the boy had managed to shatter his new cuirass and right pauldron. His shoulder was also quite badly injured, rendering his right arm incredibly painful to move. This only occurred to the boy as he rose to his feet, readying himself to reengage the beast and dropping his knife in the process.
Jet-black and ruby-red eyes locked for only a moment, both opponents sizing up the will within each other. Bell quickly shot his left hand down to grab the knife, leaping to his left after grasping the hilt. He narrowly avoided another massive crash from the beast's mallet, shattered rock peppering him like angry hornets. Once more, Bell flew through the air like a ragdoll, his body coming to rest painfully hard against the dungeon wall.
Lincoln continued to watch the scene unfolding before him, his heart heavy as he leaned against his great-grandfather's sword. He wanted so badly to join in the foray, knowing fully well that Bell was as good as dead if he didn't. Alas, the older companion lacked his younger teammate's resolve to push through his pain. The initial flight and tumble had taken much more of a toll on Lincoln, his weaker body unable to withstand the aftermath of the monster's mighty blow.
So he only managed to watch as the boy struggled to his feet, doing his absolute best to ready himself. He could only look on as the beast lumbered menacingly toward his teammate, his friend, with its injured lower-right hand wrapping its good fingers around its sword. He could only bear witness as Bell readied himself to engage in mortal combat this towering colossus, death all but assured.
It was no engagement, not in any proper sense, as the monster raised its sword and swung with both right arms. The blade turned sideways before slicing into the dungeon wall, rending it like tissue paper, in an attempt to bisect the boy. There was no hope to counter or divert, much less to block, the massive blow. Instead, Bell leapt up with all he could muster, hopping over the massive blade like a jump rope.
After landing, the boy tried to line up a counter, running forward to slice at the creature's ankles. All his instincts told him this was the best bet, being so far outclassed in size. Yet, he did not react in time as it raised one leg, pivoting on the other and swinging its blade around along the ground. It cut neatly through the floor, headed straight for Bell as he landed his most recent step.
It was all so fast, so well executed, he could do nothing but catch that monstrous edge with his own powerful weapon. The boy braced himself appropriately, sure he would not survive, and lined the Hestia Knife up to bite the monster's blade as it made contact. Amazingly, surely by some miracle, his gamble paid off in a most bitter fashion.
The two edges made contact, neither giving any ground, as Bell felt his forearm crack under the pressure. In an instant he was thrown like never before, his life spared only by the knife his Goddess had given him. He cut a wide arc through the air, within a few meters of touching the ceiling at the apex of his flight. When he hit the ground, he did so fantastically and tumbled at least a good twenty times before coming to a stop.
Pieces of the boy's armor lay scattered about the dungeon floor, torn off by his graceless tumble across the chamber. He lay mostly still now, chest barely rising and falling, as the beast approached once more. Lincoln remained stilled as ever, his mahogany eyes sitting with despair upon his broken companion.
His body ached in ways he'd never felt before. It paled his memories of days long past, spent ringing his hammer on steel and iron in that faraway smithy. Those days, he'd always gone to bed feeling as though trampled by horses. At least as he imagined it would feel. Now, though, after that flight the monster's mallet had sent him on, he knew his imagination was sorely lacking.
Yet, as he watched the creature bear down on the crumpled boy, he wanted to push through it. He desperately bade his legs to move, to some small avail, despite the feeling of broken glass in his bones. With every haggard step though, the creature only grew further away. With each miniscule pace, the monster's wide strides easily put ever more distance between them.
Those mahogany eyes filled with tears at both the pain and a large amount of shame. He recalled Bell's smiling face on many occasions in his recent memory, always selfless and kind. His recent good fortunes stemmed mainly from the boy and his Goddess, whose face he also pictured as he sauntered along. They were not only the reason he was alive right now but also the source of hope that he and his sister could make it in this place.
He could not stand the thought of letting them down. He could not stand the image of the Goddess and his sister, destitute and mourning over the loss of their only family. Yet, most of all, he could not stand the thought of being the cause of it with his inaction and weakness.
The young man watched that horrid creature raise its mallet, never sensing the heat radiating throughout his body. The only thing that rang in his heart, the only thought that lay within his mind, was how much he wished to stop it all. The last image to bloom in his mind's eye, before his sight was filled with red, was of himself being too weak to stop his sister's tears.
Lincoln did not register his feet propelling him forward until he was upon the beast. As he flew through the air, his awareness returning to him mid-jump, the man seized his sudden opportunity to attack. Titanic displayed the sharpness of her edge as his swing struck true.
Welf regained consciousness to the sound of a terrible roar. A loud, pained sound that shook the very ground. It was beastly and monstrous, something which he'd never even imagined, as it carried throughout the room.
He opened his eyes slowly, taking in the dimly lit room around him as he came fully to. The first sensation to great him was pain, pain all over his body. An intense sort he had never quite felt, blooming like flowers in springtime. The next feeling was a tiny warmth pressed close to his chest, breathing slowly and irregularly. It felt sad and broken as he clutched it tightly to him, still mostly outside of himself.
He lowered his eyes to see it, still fuzzy as though he were quite drunk. The first thing he could make out was bloody, matted hair that still retained a slight chestnut hue. The face was towards him, as he discovered upon brushing the hair aside, and covered in even more of the red liquid. Alarm washed over him as he looked at her, the little prum supporter with which he'd shared playful banter on many recent occasions.
She was alive, this much was a relief, but only barely so. The redhead's silvery eyes glistened with tears as he looked at her face. Able to bear no more, he looked away and threw his gaze toward the source of the bestial roar. As he watched, his eyes widening in disbelief, he clutched the little prum slightly tighter to his chest.
There was the creature, the very same that had been born before their eyes, short an arm. It was howling wildly, writhing in pain as it clutched the stump of its top-left arm with its mangled right hand. The creature was thoroughly disrupted as it flailed about manically, clearly thrown off by this sudden amputation. Yet, strangely, no blood seeped between the fingers around the stump.
This little detail escaped his notice as he watched what happened next.
Lincoln stood, visibly unsteady on his feet, between the great beast and Bell. The boy lay huddled on the ground, now coughing as he tried to rouse himself to fight once more. However, despite the unsteadiness of Lincoln's gait, the man seemed to glow with an unnatural aura. It wasn't so much color as a distortion of the air around him.
Welf relaxed his grip on Lily somewhat, the girl stirring slightly as he did, and thought to reach for his sword. It was Bell's voice that stopped both his actions as well as the train of thought that spurred them.
"Welf, are you alive?!" Bell cried out.
"Yeah!" Welf replied, loud but weakly so.
"Is Lily ok?!"
Once more Bell shouted his concern, haggard coughing distorting his voice. Still, the words rang clearly enough for Welf to make out. He looked down at the prum once more, now able to see more of her as he removed his arms from around her. It dawned on him then just how bad a shape she was in, being the most fragile of their quartet.
"She's alive, but she's not doing well!" he shouted back, voice hoarse.
"Good enough!" Bell called out once more, beginning to stand on wobbly feet, "Protect her! If you get an opening, run for it!"
Welf had no idea how serious Bell was about the last bit, being that Minotaur blocked both exits from the room. All the same, he shouted his acknowledgement as he looked around for Lily's bag.
Another miracle perhaps, or maybe just dumb luck. Whatever the case, he managed to spot the rucksack she so diligently carried. It was only a few meters from where they lay, still in one piece by the looks of it. Welf had most likely never been so thankful as he was at that moment to see such an otherwise unassuming piece of equipment.
He gently laid Lily's head on the ground, praying he wouldn't jostle anything serious as he did so, before trying to stand. It was then he realized his legs were quite broken, the amazing pain flaring to life as he tried to move them. Knowing it would be no use, he gave up on standing and started to crawl for the rucksack. Bit by bit, to the tune of raging battle on his left, Welf inched ever closer as he crawled along the stony floor.
When at last he'd reached it, the smith gripped a strap with his teeth and began the painful journey back. He prayed fervently that something useful would be in there. Anything at all he could use to better Lily's chances of surviving this.
Bell shook his head side to side a few times, trying to shake off the ringing and blurry vision. The same roar that had roused Welf back to consciousness had also stirred Bell from his stupor. Being directly underneath the monster, the boy had received the full force of its pained roar. He had wasted no time regaining himself, standing on wobbly legs as quickly as he could manage.
The horrid creature loomed over him still, though it had stumbled a few massive steps back by this point. It clutched at the stump where its mallet wielding arm had been, fuming and thrashing around in a combination of fury and shock. Bell didn't notice the lack of blood from the creature's sudden amputation, being more focused on the sight standing directly before him.
It was just a little over a head taller than Bell himself, covered from head to toe in scratches and bruises. Dark brown hair, indistinguishable from black in the dim light, floated lightly in a soft breeze carrying through the room. It took the boy a few moments of concentrating on the figure to finally realize it was his comrade, Lincoln, standing there like some sentinel.
The man was shaking like a leaf, his exposed back covered in splotches of his own blood. The falna upon his back seemed to be shifting as well, wriggling around like worms or snakes. His battered legs were wobbly and unsure, giving off an air of uncertainty to his stance. Yet, this uncertainty was imperceptible when he opened his mouth and addressed the boy.
"You good to go, Bell?" he asked calmly.
The boy only stared in awe at first, more than a little shocked at the dissonance between the man's voice and his posture. It was more than a few moments before he managed to compose himself and respond.
"I'm alive and standing." He replied flatly, "Think we stand a chance?"
Lincoln didn't move, his gaze locked with the monster's as he stood there. He trembled and shook heavily as though very cold, which would be little surprise considering the weather. At last he responded, never turning to look at his comrade.
"They still alive?" he asked, still unsettlingly calm.
"Yeah, they're still breathing." Bell responded in kind.
"You live up to that skill, you know?"
Bell was at first confused by this statement, being not entirely sure what the man was referring to. It dawned on him after a tad bit of consideration that his recently acquired skill, 'Argonaut', was the subject. He remembered the heroes in those tales his grandfather used to tell him, how he'd wanted to be like them since he was a child. The compliment sunk in warmly as he chewed over the words.
"I saw what you did, throwing yourself into that axe like a madman." Lincoln piped up again, moving his hands to grip Titanic in a ready position, "Guess I should learn from you if I'm ever gonna get the hang of this adventuring stuff…"
Bell's eyes watered just a tad as he heard those words, remembering the treatment he'd first received upon arriving in Orario. He felt, then and there, that the distance between he and the Kenki might not be quite so monumental after all.
He took a few steps and stood beside Lincoln, both adventurers locking gaze with the massive beast before them. There, he settled himself into a ready stance before repeating his last question.
"So, think we stand a chance?" he asked once more, confidence washing through his voice.
"I think we can mess it up pretty bad before it gets us…" Lincoln replied with the same eerie calm.
"Well, here's hoping you haven't got a clue what you're talkin about."
The boy smiled bravely as he spoke those words, nudging his partner's shoulder playfully.
"I'll take the legs, you go high." Lincoln said, a hint of rage bubbling into his voice.
"Too old to jump anymore?" Bell teased.
The two shared one more grin, this one akin to the sort that might decorate the faces of soldiers charging to their death, before tearing off toward the beast. The short distance it had retreated, perhaps about ten meters, was covered in an instant. The two fell upon it like a furious hurricane of lacerating swipes and jabs, pushing it even further back at first.
Lincoln went for its legs as he had said, swinging Titanic around recklessly like a piece of driftwood. It felt alarmingly light in his hands, as if it weren't there at all, and sang with every bite that found purchase. The monster's flesh was indeed tougher than steel, yet still it gave way satisfyingly with every true hit. Tufts of fur came loose of parted skin, not a drop of blood spilling for the man's effort.
Bell had gone high, leaping upon the creature's blade when it hit the ground on its first retaliatory strike. He ran up it like an acrobat, ignoring the various screams of pain resounding throughout his body. When he'd reached its hand he dug the Hestia knife in deep, leaping and committing a sort of spin around the critter's forearm.
The beast tried to swat Bell off, missing wildly with its remaining left arm. The boy circled its forearm two full times before his blade came free of its flesh, his momentum carrying him high into the air. The creature grabbed for him twice before managing to wrap a massive hand around Bell. It squeezed him hard for only a moment, intent on popping him with its deathly grip, before releasing him and roaring in pain once more.
As it had held the boy, Lincoln reared Titanic back like a baseball bat and swung with all his might. So powerful was his swing that his broadsword had nearly fallen free of his belt. The sword found ample purchase just above the massive monster's left hoof, piercing flesh and muscle to bite deeply into the bone. This elicited another pained roar, loud as before, as it dropped Bell from its grip.
Both combatants were thrown off by this, stunned and a bit deafened by the report from the creature's maw. Lincoln didn't see the massive hand headed for him, swatting him away like a bug before he realized it. Titanic was left behind, still cleaved into the creature's shin, as Lincoln flew across the room.
Bell hit the ground, released from the monster's grasp, with a sickening thud. He'd landed on his feet with improper form. He felt the bones in his shin and feet splinter and crack, wincing and gritting his teeth as the pain washed through him. He fell over almost immediately, recoiling from the shock, and was rendered powerless to stop what came next.
The great monster huffed angrily, its nostrils flaring wide with each breath, as it watched Lincoln sail through the room. It completely ignored the boy rolling around in pain at its feet. When it saw Lincoln finally land, the man coming to rest against the far wall, it passed its gargantuan club to its good right hand. With the sword held haphazardly in its mangled hand, the creature took a pose as though it were about to throw a javelin.
Bell watched in horror as it did this, unable to stand on his battered legs. Before his eyes, the creature heaved the massive club at his comrade. It flew somewhat straight, not at all made for such an attack, and managed to crash almost directly where the man had landed. Bell couldn't make anything out through the thick cloud of dust stirred up by the brutal attack, his heart sinking low into his gut as he all but assured himself Lincoln was lying dead under the massive weapon.
The creature stared for a moment at the cloud kicked up by its weapon, watching for any sudden stirrings therein, before turning its attention back to the boy.
Lincoln had been knocked thoroughly unconscious upon his initial impact with the wall. It was when the massive club had made impact, thrown at him like a spear, that he was immediately brought back to wakefulness. The sudden pain was far more than anything he'd ever felt before, tearing through every inch of his body instantaneously.
By some miracle or sheer dumb luck, the club had managed to miss him almost entirely. Yet, though his life was momentarily spared, it had found part of him as it dug into the wall. The man's left arm, draped across a boulder after his own impact, had taken the attack in his body's stead. It was now stuck between the bulb of the club and the rocky wall against which he lay.
Needless to say, his arm was completely ruined from the impact. He felt every bit of it as he sat there, so pained he could not even scream. Like an animal stuck in a snare, his first response was to pound away at the massive hunk of wood. This was, unsurprisingly, to no avail as the thing would not budge even a millimeter.
Lincoln's shock wore off after a few minutes of this, though the pain did not subside in the slightest. His attention was eventually caught by the sounds of battle raging in the distance. The loud clangs and crashes of steel against rock pulled his focus away from the ruined arm. The dust stirred up by the club had at this point settled enough that he could see through it. The sight was not a pretty one either, only furthering the man's panic as he watched.
Bell was locked in a losing game of attempting to dodge the massive beast's sword. The creature had by now lost all sense of tactic, swinging the colossal blade around wildly as it tried to land a hit. Bell was fast, of this there is no doubt, but he was steadily losing ground to the frantic creature. Blow after blow, swing after swing, it pushed him ever further back without leaving room to counter. The boy could only continue to try and lead it away from his comrades, desperately avoiding footfalls and being cornered.
Lincoln's heart, filled with such burning bravado only minutes earlier, began to sink like a rock. He could see no way around this, his ruined arm pinning him in place as his comrade fought a losing battle. He felt there was nothing left and was on the verge of submitting to the despair when a sound caught his ear.
A sudden clang resounded from his right side, drawing the man's teary eyes almost instantly. It was his broadsword, still in the scabbard somehow. It had fallen free of the frog on which the scabbard hung from his belt. He looked at it for a few moments, lost in his despair as he stared at the blade, before a sudden idea lit up his mind.
He gritted his teeth hard and turned his gaze to his left arm. The sight was grisly to say the least, the pain coming back with a vengeance as he beheld it. But, somewhat to his satisfaction, he could clearly see that the better portion of his upper arm was in sight. He considered to himself exactly what he was about to do, noting that it would likely be unimaginably painful.
"Gods…" he hissed, turning his view back to the blade.
He reached for it with his right hand, wanting to scream as a fresh wave of agony washed through him. He managed to wrap his fingers around the handle, his grip exceedingly weak as he fought the pain. He tentatively picked up the blade, still tightly in its scabbard, and laid it between his legs. Gripping the scabbard with his knees, squeezing it with all his might, he managed to pull it free of its carrier in one go.
Lincoln's mind was ablaze as he pondered his idea, his stomach doing all sorts of acrobatics as his imagination went wild. He cursed to himself as he looked upon his ruined arm once more, pinned as ever by the great club. He wanted to stop right there, uncertain that he could actually manage the pain. Yet, as he considered what his inaction might bring, the man decided it was damned if you do or don't at this point.
He clenched his teeth together, pressing his tongue against them so as not to swallow it, and lifted the razor-sharp broadsword. With all the strength he could beckon to his muscles, he brought the blade crashing down upon the exposed bit of his arm. He shut his eyes just before it made contact, a flurry of colors blooming behind his eyelids once it had.
The young man's mouth flung open that moment, a scream the likes of which he'd never uttered tearing its way from his throat. He bellowed almost loud enough to be heard over Bell's melee, tears pouring from his eyes as the pain rang through his form.
He took a few haggard breaths as he regained himself, readying for the next blow. He opened his eyes to look for only a moment, shutting them before the horrid sight could fully register. With all the confidence he was likely to muster, Lincoln raised the broadsword once more. He shook as if a seizure were possessing him as he brought the blade down again.
The pain was not as intense this time, thankfully, as shock had now begun to set itself upon him. The blade found purchase once more, informing Lincoln again just how bad of a decision this was. He cursed and spat, dropping the blade as the agony shook him to his core. Yet, beyond the raging pain, there was a deep sensation welling up in the bottom of his heart as well.
It began to burn like a candle at first, as he cursed and raved at the agony, gradually coalescing into a raging blaze. When at last it overtook him, the man spat a few more vulgar words and picked up his broadsword once more. His eyes betrayed him as his vision darkened.
One final time, Lincoln lifted the sword and brought it down on the last few tethers holding him pinned to that massive club.
Bell stepped and twisted, throwing his weight around like a sack of grain to avoid the chasing death. The great monster, both heads sneering in rage, was relentless in its attacks. It flung its remaining weapon, the massive great-sword, through the air with wild abandon. Every time the boy managed to dodge a killing blow, his legs and feet screaming in absolute agony, there was no time to try and launch a counter. The beast recovered and swung again before he could react, leaving the boy to simply continue the deathly dance.
It carried on this way for what felt like ages as fatigue began to settle in Bell's form. His breathing was becoming ragged and stressed, his eyes burning as blood trickled into them. Step by step, twist and turn, he was pushed to the wall before he'd realized it.
The monster roared loudly at him, the nasty breath from its maws washing over him, as it raised its sword high over its heads.
The voice was familiar but the identity failed to register to the boy. His mind was preoccupied with the blade about to crash upon him, nowhere left to run or dodge. It was when the creature's remaining left hand landed beside him that Bell's attention was garnered.
The blade came crashing down a few meters beside him, knocked off course when the creature's hand was taken. Bell turned his gaze from the monster to see Lincoln standing at its feet, his shattered broadsword clutched tightly in his bloody right hand. The man's left arm was gone from just past the deltoid muscle, the stump bleeding copiously as the boy stared in shock. The man turned his wild, inhuman gaze to him.
"Got this?" he asked, his tone startling.
Bell shook his head absentmindedly, not fully comprehending what the question had meant. The man didn't seem to be interested in the nature of his response though, turning and throwing the broken sword into the distance.
Lincoln ran up to the monster, still recoiling in its own shock, and reached his remaining hand out for Titanic. He grabbed hold of her, pulling the blade free to the sound of the monster's cracking bone, and leapt back immediately afterward. The creature fell to one knee, wrapping its only good hand tightly around the wounded leg. Lincoln looked back to the wide-eyed Bell, flashing a sickly grin as he spoke.
"S'up to you after this, Hero." He said, turning his gaze back to the creature.
The monster had not managed to recover itself yet, still agonized over the treatment of its shin. Both heads stared hatefully at the man, perhaps somewhat curious why he wouldn't seem to die. It stood no chance when he launched his next attack.
Lincoln leaned down, still bleeding wildly as his consciousness began to fade completely, and launched himself at the monster. He ran faster than he ever had, leaping at the last moment and swinging Titanic with all he had left. The strike was true and found its target with insane precision. In a flash, the right head was removed entirely and flew through the air as Lincoln leapt past the creature.
The head burst into a cloud of black dust before it hit the ground. Lincoln landed not long after this, breathing raggedly as he stumbled forward a few paces. He stopped suddenly, dropping Titanic with a loud clang, and fell to his knees. From there he keeled over and passed out like a light, leaving Bell unsure whether he yet lived.
The boy watched the monster react violently to the loss of one of its heads, standing up despite the pain and flailing around wildly. It now possessed nothing of its former intelligence, if it had any to begin with, and was little more than a raving pile of hate and fury. Bell was too shocked by what he had seen to react to this at first, simply standing in dumb awe as the beast flailed and roared.
When his mind returned to him, realizing his chance was here and now, the monster had turned and picked up its sword once more. Bell leapt aside and readied himself for the final charge. It was now or never, win or die, as he stared the frantic creature down.
Ruby eyes locked with endless blackness as the two charged for one another, the monster raising the blade over its head furiously. It brought it crashing down in the blink of an eye, biting hard into the ground beneath. Bell leapt expertly to the side, the pain in his legs entirely gone from his mind, and flung himself atop it once more.
He found firm footing and began to run up the blade, the soles of his shoes falling apart as it cut into them. Before he could make it to the top, the monster raised the sword once more and flung the boy into the air. He spun and twisted in mid-air, turning himself to look the creatures its wild eyes.
As he began to fall, positioned like he was diving into water, the boy could here bells ringing all around him. He failed to notice the glow consuming his hands as he came down upon the beast. It thrust its blade upward to try and pierce the boy, Bell pushing his blade against it to shift himself out of the way.
As he plummeted, covering the last of the distance, he lined up the Hestia Knife and thrust it out with all his might. The blade glowed a vibrant violet as it found its mark in the massive monster's skull. Bell could not retain his grip after this, his hands coming loose of the handle as he rolled over the head and down the creature's back. He hit the ground hard and rolled a few times before coming to a stop.
Now disarmed, the boy spun around as soon as he could only to be greeted with an awe-inspiring sight. He leapt to his feet in time to see the creature come crashing its knees, deader than a doornail. It sat on its knees for only a moment before exploding into a massive cloud of black dust, two enormous stones dropping to the ground in its stead. Bell could hardly believe his eyes as he watched.
One final item was left behind in the creature's wake, though the boy didn't spy it as his consciousness left him. An enormous, jet-black horn, curved like a scythe, fell to the ground and teetered there.
The hodge-podge of adventurers and Deities ran briskly through the halls of floor fifteen, following the sounds of raging combat ringing throughout. All were quite winded by this point, having been running for the last hour to get here so quickly. Yet, the desire to reach the source of the commotion burned enough to keep them moving. All wanted to find the combatants alive, for one reason or another, and had no intention of giving up due to fatigue.
It was when the sounds suddenly stopped, the melee seeming to come to an abrupt end, that all stomachs in the group did a simultaneous flip. Hestia was likely the most worried of the bunch, her own divine heart sinking like a stone when the commotion ceased. The little Goddess threw caution to the wind at this point, running like mad into the depths.
After a few more twists and turns, the seemingly endless hallways finally opened up upon a gargantuan room. Hestia bolted in without a second thought, the rest of the group catching up shortly after. She ran straight to where her two children lay, only about a meter apart from each other, and was immediately overcome.
Bell was in rough shape, to say the least. What remained of his clothing was bloody and tattered, his body covered in bruises and jagged lacerations. His snow-white hair was matted and nearly the ruby color of his eyes. Said eyes, closed as the boy lay unconscious, were sunken and off-color. His chest rose and fell steadily, though this was little comfort to Hestia.
When she looked to Lincoln, her stomach turned circles instantly. He lay in a veritable pool of what she could only assume was his own blood. His left arm was missing almost entirely, the remainder a sickening sight. His shirt was entirely missing, along with every last piece of his armor, and his back was more or less one enormous bruise. He looked like a broken doll as he lay there, barely breathing.
"They alive, Hestia?" a familiar Goddess asked, placing a concerned hand on the worried Hestia's shoulder.
The little Deity turned to see Loki's concerned face, eyes uncharacteristically open and full of sympathy.
"I think so…" she muttered in reply.
Loki kneeled down and looked the two over, sizing up their wounds and situation with unusual gravity. After a moment of this, she looked back to Hestia.
"Guess breakin the rules every now and again ain't no harm, eh?" she whispered.
With that, Loki stood and rubbed her hands together. Hestia wasn't sure what she'd meant at first, being that Loki tended to retain a hands-free policy. It was when her fellow Goddess began to glow, her Arcanum manifesting physically around her, that Hestia understood. She straightened up, releasing her own divinity as well, and the two gave a little helping hand to the battered adventurers.
The worst of their wounds were closed up then and there, Lincoln's stump ceasing its bleeding. Hestia might've gone on, throwing the rules out the window and healing them fully, had Loki not stopped her.
"Whatever they fought, they did it well." She stated calmly, "Best we not go too far, or you might leave em without a Goddess after this."
Hestia wanted to protest but decided to leave well enough alone. She had already defied the guild, stomping all over their authority in the process, and stood poised to be sent back to Tenkai as it was. Loki's wisdom reached her and the little Goddess resealed her Arcanum, leaving the two to recover on their own from there.
"Are you going to search for your familia too, Loki?" Hestia asked, changing the subject.
"Nah, they probably didn't even notice any of this." She replied with a grin, "They'll be back in their own time"
The Goddesses looked at the two lying on the ground, now in somewhat better condition. Hestia cursed in her mind as she watched their unconscious forms. She knew it would only get more complicated from here on out.
The quartet was removed from the enormous room by the group that had followed Hestia's mad campaign into the dungeon's depths. It was a relatively uneventful return, all four battered and unawares for the entire trip. Yet, the whole group made some note that the dungeon itself seemed oddly empty and calm as they returned. It left a few unsettled, though none were much affected in the long run.
When they had at last made it to the surface, the battered party was brought to the guild for treatment. Some few heated exchanges occurred, in relatively little time, before they were admitted and treatment rendered. Here, the group formed after Hestia's display parted ways. The Goddess spoke with them, assuring the promised reward would be given before long, and was left to tend to her children.
Titanic was left in the little Goddess' charge as well, though not without some spiteful and jealous glares. This, along with the two enormous magic-stones and the horn, would serve to greatly improve the tiny familia. Yet, that is for another story at another time.
Here and now, we must end our tale. The group survived their first true challenge, though the road would only become rockier from here. For the moment, however, the glory of this conquered challenge would shine brightly upon them. Especially Lincoln and Bell, whose fates were intertwined at this crossroad.
The man and boy lay sleeping in that clinic-room for some time after, both haunted with dreams of a vast emptiness occupied by a single monolithic stone fixture.
Allow me to thank everyone who has read my work and finished it, along with those who may have grown bored and abandoned it. Whether you have finished this piece or only read a portion of it, I thank all of you who gave it a chance from the bottom of my heart. I hope that those of you who have finished it are satisfied, perhaps even interested in the sequel. Whichever is the case, thank you once again.
This is the first bit I've written in well over nine years, as well as the first story I've ever finished. I'm not entirely satisfied with it, unfortunately, as I find my own style to be droll, boorish and longwinded. Alas, we are likely our own worst critics. Well, now it's finished and it's out there so I hope it is somewhat up to snuff.
I'd like to thank a few people for this, being that so much effort and inspiration went into the composition of this piece. Firstly, to RagingRider and all others that review hereafter, thank you for your critique and your time. One must have feedback if ever to improve in any endeavor. Secondly, thank you to my great-grandmother and uncle, who convinced me to actually return to writing and helped me brainstorm. Also, I want to thank my parents for lending me books for reference and study as well as giving me their veteran opinions.
Lastly, though perhaps chiefly, thank you Fujino Omori for coming up with this wonderful world. Without the original creators, whose imaginations birth the fandoms we adore, there would be no place for our fan-based pieces. I'd like to give credit where credit is due, being that I only rearranged the story and added a few of my own characters.
Well, thank you once more to all of you that have read this story of mine. I hope you enjoyed it and will read the sequel once I start on it.