My Trans-Dimensional, Overpowered Protagonist, Harem Comedy is Wrong, as Expected. (Oregairu/Danmachi)
"Hikigaya-san." You know something I never fail to find impressive? The fact that Japanese customs and titles transferred over into this world. The fact that all the gods and people of a world would speak Japanese really conveys the fact that I'm undoubtedly in some Light Novel I'd never gotten the chance to read. Unsurprisingly, the time taken up by studying and education continues to haunt me to this day. If only if I had the sense to not care for my grades, then I would be much better prepared for this. "I would very much appreciate it if you listened to me instead of becoming lost in thought, Hikigaya-san!"
"I am listening, Sophie-san." No, I hadn't been. I knew by heart, the words that were coming out of my Guild Advisor's mouth. No need to listen to a lecture after it's been memorized. By all means, I, Hikigaya Hachiman, no longer paid any attention to Sophie Vanna for the first ten minutes when she speaks to me. I harnessed the powers passed onto me by my corporate slave parents, the skill to pay attention without paying attention, to its fullest extent. Thank you, corporate slave parents, may you be happier without a deadbeat son. I leave everything I own to Komachi. Still, only hand over Laptop-chan and Vita-chan once you've wiped their hard drives, thank you very much, I can now die in peace. "Here, I already have the payment for trespassing on the Middle Floors. I apologize for the extra paperwork."
"Hikigaya-san, I'm telling you that you can't keep doing this. It's illegal for Level 1 adventurers to go into the Middle Floors. Even if you say your skills let you do it… you'll be overwhelmed sooner or later." I'd have put more stock in Sophie's words if she didn't just accept another ten percent of my day's earnings. Once upon a time, I'd been charmed by her cute, elfin features, but I rapidly realized that no matter her cuteness, she was as rotten as everyone else I'd met in this world. Always out for a quick buck to make their lives easier. I'd checked the cost of the fines in the Guild register. Unsurprisingly, my beloved Advisor has me paying more than I should. I kept track of every 'Valis' that she overcharged me with in secret. Blackmail, especially on a Dungeon Advisor, is very difficult to get. Hmmm… what was that? I'm a hypocrite? Well, I never said anything about not being rotten myself! I simply didn't like it when my territory was being intruded upon! "Please try to level up soon, you'll make me very happy if you do! I'll be much less worried about you, and I'm sure your Deity will be happier as well!"
"They'll be fine with it." Waving her concern away, I stood and made sure everything I had was in place. Too many damn thieves in Orario. The number of urchins running around looking to steal my items is too damn high. Unfortunately, despite my rotten disposition, I can't stand the thought of handing the clever brats their asses. Besides, they were probably running for some bigshots with heavy armor and massive swords. Even if they're compensating for something, I didn't want the trouble that came with tangling with a dozen assholes. Finding all my things where they're meant to be, I turned and gave Sophie a backwards wave. "See you next week, I'll keep out of your hair until then."
"I suppose that's all I can ask you to do." Sophie sighed. My Advisor must have shook her head and smiled in that particularly cute way. For the sake of keeping myself from exposing any weak points, I kept my head staring towards the door. Unlike many giant monsters, I preferred to not get hit by massive damage. "Oh, and the Hecate Familia has offered you another invitation! I know that you're very loyal to your god, and that they're the private sort, but please consider working with them for your own sake!"
I kept quiet after giving a grunt, but I was lying and I'd admit that. As always, being quiet solved a lot of problems.
While I managed to get ignored and unnoticed in my former world, the first and strongest of my 108 skills 'Stealth Hikki,' has evolved into an active skill in my new realm.
No longer is it limited to just blending into the environment, with a slight chance of detection by hopelessly energetic girls, but it also now inflicts status effect: Wrong Conclusion!
By staying quiet, I'd allowed an entire history for me to be created by the imaginative, cunning minds of my fellows! Truly, silence is a fearsome weapon indeed!
Suffice to say, I had no god. No Kami-sama as many other adventurers do. I handled things like updating, housing, and feeding myself on my own. No one else knew my abilities or skills, and that's how I liked it. If I'd been anything but the consummate loner that I am, I'm sure that I wouldn't have seen the advantages of my position.
That was how it started when I awoke in the gutters and that's how it still remains.
No god meant no gossip about me and no knowledge of my abilities and skills making their way across the city. For that level of anonymity, having no Familia or a chance for a 'title' was a decent price.
Besides, it's idiotic to believe that I'd put my life in the hands of other people. There's only a single person I'd entrust my life to here and that's me.
Ahh… enough with the depressing thoughts. I'd managed to get a few hundred thousand Valis, inched my stats upwards, and Sophie's amount of embezzling has reached a million Valis. I have a sizeable chunk of extra money, more power to leverage, and solid blackmail. In the standards of this world, I was a success.
By all means, it was a good day.
So, it's not to my surprise that the doors burst open before I reached them, and an idiot covered in blood tumbled into me headfirst.
"I know that you are being very reasonable, Hikigaya-san, but I'm afraid Cranel-kun cannot afford to recuperate you for the loss of your Salamander Cloak." Eina Tulle, a half-elf Guild member, bowed to me. I'd have been embarrassed if she was doing it in public, but I was in the shadow of one of the booths. "He has barely begun adventuring, and he's only reached the fifth floor! According to him, he was just attacked by a minotaur and was saved by a higher-ranked adventurer! Everything was merely a massive accident!"
"…It's not much to buy a new Salamander Cloak, Tulle-san." Shaking my head, I rejected the plea without mercy. Minotaur blood ruined Salamander Cloaks. They might be good for defending against the Lower Level's 'light' monsters, but Minotaur blood stains them and attracts more of the stupid meatheads. I needed to replace it if I didn't want to attract the walking bulls. Besides the matter of lost money, it didn't sit right with me to have another person apologize for someone else. 'Cranel-kun' must be quite the womanizer to have a Guild Member working in his favor. This world has no shortage of dangerously attractive people. "I'll even offer him one of my better deals."
"Ah, you're very kind, Hikigaya-san. However I must continue to ask you to forget about this matter." Tulle's smile became more strained. How attractive was this fellow? Was he a charmer like Hayama? Anyone who complained about that 'Perfect Boy' would've had a bloodthirsty legion of fangirls after their neck. This girl was seriously giving me the vibe that 'Cranel-kun' truly did no wrong. Basically she wanted me to find some goodness in my heart to just let bygones be bygones. No, thank you. "After such a harrowing experience, I doubt that Cranel-kun would wish to return to the Dungeon anytime soon. Though, I'm sure he'd benefit from having such an experienced adventurer such as yourself at his side! All your clients have nothing but praise for you!"
"The number of adventurers who've left the dungeon after a near-death experience can be counted on one hand, Tulle-san." I answered curtly, puncturing the base of her argument without qualm. Watching Tulle's smile fall elicited no reaction for me. Cute girls know that they're cute. In both this world and the last, I know for a fact that they don't hesitate to use their looks to their advantage. I had no problem just crushing their arguments. I've had plenty of practice. Also, leaning against the shadowed wall while doing so kinda made me feel cool. "If Cranel-san is a decent adventurer, he'll be going to the Dungeon every day. I'll skim off his profits until he pays off my Salamander Cloak. He'll learn his lesson and I'll get a new Cloak. You know it's better than what could have happened if he bumped into someone else."
"…I see." Tulle's face is stony as she raises her head. The brown-haired hybrid pushed up her glasses, the light glancing off them. Did you practice that? It would be intimidating if I hadn't seen it in a dozen anime series. With an otaku of my level, your action only wants me to beg you to teach me how to do it myself. Thankfully, society has successfully instilled in me a proper amount of shame for being an otaku, unlike a certain, wishy-washy Zaimokuza, so I can refrain from doing so. Your attack was respectable Tulle-san, but I was trained from birth to hate my life choices. "Then… I suppose you'll only listen to Cranel-kun's own words. Please excuse me then, I will find him and show you that he is truly terrified of going into the dungeon."
"You should let him handle himself. You didn't ruin my property, he ruined my property. I can shake him down for everything he owns and I'll be in the right. " In a normal world I'd have been reproached for my choice of biting, harsh words. In this one? Tulle could only look away in shame, chewing at her lower lip. It was obvious that the brown-haired hybrid was coddling the new adventurer. "I'm offering a chance for him to be stronger, pay off a debt, and gain experience… and you're going to try and use me to frighten him away from the Dungeon? You should be ashamed of yourself."
"You're right, I should be." Tulle, surprisingly, speaks up and agrees with me. The brown-haired hybrid's features eased into a sad smile. It painfully reminded me of a mother's smile. I chose to look somewhere on her face, instead of the sickly smile that gave me pangs of homesickness. After nearly two years, you'd think that I'd have a semblance of peace, but that wasn't the case. The bespectacled Guild Member brushed her hair behind her ear, giving a nod and a light huff. "…I'll recommend him simply taking up a debt to pay you back, but I won't speak against your own proposal. I don't want Cranel-kun to rely on you like your other customers."
"Oi, don't say it like I'm running a racket." Huffing, I turned away and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Still, Tulle was surprisingly respectable for a Guild Member. Not enough to trust, of course, but definitely someone I can go to 'express my concerns' about Sophie's embezzling of me. "I'm the best at what I do, and it isn't my fault if my clients think they're ready for floors they aren't skilled enough for."
"And then you save them from their mistakes out of the goodness of your heart. It's a mere coincidence that you're making sure that you have a steady stream of clients to train in the Lower Floors." Tulle rolls her eyes and attacks with her own, scathing barb while walking away. I'd heard it hundreds of times before, so I snorted at her words instead of ignoring them. "You stay there, Hikigaya-san, I'll go and see if Cranel-kun has finished scouring the Minotaur blood off himself."
The Dungeon has rules and, as far as I know, it's up to the individual adventurer to figure them all out. Being successful in the Dungeon means either paying people for information, gathering the facts yourself, or learning on your feet while inside the dungeon. Since the number of monsters that spawn during the day is relatively low if one follows the 'rules' set by the Guild, people tend to keep locations of spawn areas and safe areas to themselves.
Many first-time Adventurers die if they go in alone. They have no information, rely too much on their blessings and powers, and wander into fights they can't win.
I made money by exploiting that fact. For a cut of my employer's profit, I help them along the dungeon. In an MMO, I'd be the veteran player pointing out facts in the beginner area for pocket change. However, in the case of this world, there's no system that keeps me from ranking up my stats by killing and killing hundreds of thousands of lesser monsters. Not only that, but there's always money in killing lesser monsters like goblins or giant ants.
By helping new adventurers out I feel better about myself, and get people to lug back my crystals and item drops.
Hmmm… maybe I just like seeing people carry my stuff for me? I doubted there was any part of me that liked the praises of the bland masses who I walked through the dungeon.
However, with this kid I'd pressed into my pack-mule for the day, everything was different.
For one thing, Bell Cranel is ridiculously powerful.
"…" Walking into the room where I told him to wait for opponents, I watched him fight. Armed with only a knife, Cranel cut through the goblins of the first floor like a man possessed. The white-haired boy launched himself into combat without a second thought. Any other rookie adventurer would've been killed if they acted like him, but he had the speed and strength to take on groups of six to seven goblins without my help. Other rookies would've been killed and torn apart by such a group. He was upon them like a wolf, and slashed through them with ease. "Oi, kid, you done?"
"H-Hikigaya-san! You're already done with the group you pulled?" Wiping sweat from his brow, Cranel looked upon me with innocent, scarlet eyes and very, very fair features. I'd have fallen for him right away, if not for the fact Totsuka already captured my heart. I'm sorry Cranel-kun, but the dark path that would've led my parents to hang their heads in shame is reserved for only one person. Wait, did I just admit that I'd gladly marry Totsuka? How embarrassing! "I-I mean yes I am! Thank you for bringing me such a manageable group!"
"Good." I nodded before tossing him his bag. The pouch was already filled to the brim with small monster crystals, but seven more shouldn't be much. I'd filled up six of the bags myself, but that was because I'm a cheating cheater who cheats. Running through the dungeon triggers goblins to spawn. By running through the entire dungeon, I trained my agility and gathered an immense mob. After funneling them into one of the longer hallways I simply killed them all. I set a few strays towards Cranel to make sure he was fighting and training at all times. "Are you ready to train?"
"Y-yes, I am Hikigaya-sensei!" Beaming too widely for someone who has just killed dozens of lesser monsters, Cranel enthusiastically nodded and walked towards me ready for training. I'm surprised he managed to destroy so many and is still capable of standing. I would be lying if I said I didn't plan on 'rescuing' him once he found himself overwhelmed. I made sure my laps were close enough to where the white-haired boy was to keep him safe. "Please take care of me, Sensei!"
"I'm too young to be called sensei, kid." The word sensei made me remember a certain chain-smoking, single teacher. I really hoped that someone married her already. I'd be depressed if I returned and found out she was still single. Taking out my own knife from its holster on my belt, I gestured for him to follow me. "I'm going to trigger a few goblins and show you how to fight them properly."
"Eh!?" Huh, Cranel's alarmed cry is pretty cute. No, back away dangerous thoughts! I have a job to do! The white-haired boy looked surprised. "But, I can do that already!"
"You're sweating and out of breath." I didn't bother looking at him. I examined the walls. Some were duller than usual, having produced their limit of goblins for the next hour or so. I preferred the levels with ants. They spawned by the hundreds and I'm the perfect bug zapper. "If you don't learn how to properly kill them, how do you expect to go to the next levels without tiring yourself out?"
"Ah! I understand!" Scarlet eyes wide with understanding, Cranel followed me eagerly. The amount of energy the white-haired boy had made me doubt my own words. Still, why was this guy so easy to please? Tulle was right to worry about you, Cranel-san, you're way too innocent for your own good! Too innocent for this world! Unless you're just acting! Then you're a bastard who I'll leave for dead! "You're correct, as expected, sensei!"
"Save the compliments, kid." Shaking my head, I decided against listening to Cranel any more than I needed to. If everything he's doing is an act, I want to make sure I can react accordingly. If I was making a mistake, and he really was innocent, my gruff, serious manner should warn him against being so nice and getting taken advantage of. Everyone wins! Soon enough, I found a part of the wall that was darker than the rest. Still plenty of juice in it to spawn a monster, and it did so once Cranel and I reached it. "Watch carefully."
"Goblins are scrawny, weak things but very dangerous in large numbers." I explained as the small, flimsy creature simply generated from the wall. Until the monster was fully released, it would be as hard as the rock. Not too difficult to break with a mace, but I was using a dagger. Looking over my shoulder, I was glad to see Cranel was paying attention. "They move in very specific ways, however with proper observation you can see how they'll attack."
"You can predict how they'll attack you?" Cranel seemed shocked, but I was used to it. No one in this world has ever played a videogame. Every monster has a specific moveset, just like any other game. I doubted they're actually living things. They're more like machines generated by the dungeon that left behind bits when killed. No point in making something clever if you intend to throw endless waves of them at your enemies. "That's amazing, Hikigaya-sensei!"
"Stop talking and pay attention, brat." I grunted out what was basically Hiratsuka-sensei's own words to me. The words had their intended effect and Cranel went silent. Hopefully the albino kid will get the message. Better his optimism gets crushed early, before he runs into the other adventurers that come into the Dungeon. Learning to automatically distrust others is an integral part of life in my previous world and that hasn't changed in this one. The goblin dropped onto the floor, got up, and snarled. It was ready to kill people. I kicked it across the hall. "They're resistant against blunt force, but they take more damage from edged attacks. The same goes for any fleshy opponent you'll come across. Now, describe to me how it gets up."
"Ummm... it's coming to run at you?"
"Wrong~" I , before kicking away the charging goblin. It got up a second after I threw it back. Monsters felt no remorse or pain. No matter how wounded they are, if they can try to kill you, they'll pursue you to the ends of the earth. "Look at its arms, legs, and posture. Describe them."
"Err… Its hands are stretched forward and its knees are bent. It's crouching forward."
"Correct. That's its special move, pounce. It does that when it's really threatened." I backhanded the goblin flying towards me, making sure to leave it just struggling to get up. Cranel audibly swallowed as he watched it get up, bloodied and bruised. I looked at him over my shoulder. "Oi, brat, monsters aren't sapient. The only thing they want in life is to end yours." Turning my gaze back to the goblin, I frowned as I saw it on its haunches. Quick learner, this one. "Spare your worry for actual, living people. Now, describe what it's doing."
"It's on its haunches, Hikigaya-sensei. I… don't know what it's about to do. I've never seen it do that before."
"You wouldn't since this only happens if you toy with your enemies, but you're still correct." Despite watching the goblin, I spared a glance towards Cranel. As I suspected, he was completely focused now. The energy that used to be dedicated towards killing monsters was now entirely focused on me. My, my you're a scary kid aren't you? You're more dangerous than I expected, Cranel-san. Tulle was certainly worrying too much about you. "It's about to summon more of its kind."
"That's its second special move." I answered Cranel's unvoiced question. The goblin raised its clawed hands and slammed them onto the stone floor. Monsters didn't usually spawn from the actual floor, but the goblin's 'Reinforcement' skill made it happen. Oddly enough, the giant ants couldn't do the same despite their theme. Whoever developed this game must've switched their features by accident. Hilarious. "Now, as you can see, there are five goblins instead of one. They also spawn quicker than they do from the walls. So, remember to make sure to kill goblins quickly and efficiently. Don't allow them to run away."
"Hikigaya-sensei, they're all pouncing at you! Get back!"
I didn't bother answering that, even though I was surprised to see him immediately act to help me. Maybe he was an actual nice person? I'm sure he saw how many pouches of drops and monster crystals I had. Most adventurers would try and see if I'd get killed so they can get my things.
Anyway, I didn't need him to worry about me. If seven pouncing goblins could kill me, I'd be dead a long time ago.
Huh, that was a really, really cool thing to say.
Taking my knife, I strode into their pouncing formation. Goblins have a tendency to make synchronized attacks, but they're slow. Well, slow compared to someone with a Blessing and who trained in just about everything. Even with the… additions I have on me, unlike monsters in the Middle floors, they were still too slow to actually hit me.
Smacking two to the side, I made an opening for myself. Grabbing the 'lead' of the jumping pack, my knife embedded itself into its skull before I pried it off and threw it at its fellows.
The body existed just long enough to throw one of the still-flying goblins into its compatriot, exploding into a fine mist and leaving behind a monster crystal.
Dazed and confused, the goblins died as I simply crushed their bodies beneath my weighted foot. One good stomp or kick for each one of them, depending if they were against the wall or on the floor.
"See how I did it?" The bodies exploded into fine crystals as I looked towards Cranel. I waved aside the dust floating in the wind. Augh, I hated breathing in dead monsters. "Efficient and quick. Every attack must end your opponent with just the right about of effort. Doing this saves your strength for later floors and stronger monsters."
"…" My white-haired pseudo-student's mouth was agape, and I felt some pride at seeing his surprise. A little praise for the ego never hurts. Turning away, I began to look for another spot where a goblin could still spawn. "…Are you sure that I can do that, Hikigaya-sensei? I barely saw you move…"
"Well, not with that attitude." I shrugged. Cranel probably could. If my red-eyed debtor could slash straight through a goblin, he can most certainly break its skull beneath his boot. I didn't do complicated 'techniques.' If your opponent is a machine, you needed to become a machine, and the Dungeon is most certainly a very devilish machine. "Come now, you've made enough money for today, but there's still plenty of time before sunset. We won't go to the next floor until you can do what I just did."
And if Cranel did manage it, well… he's already ticked off 'cute girl hanging off his arm' and 'running after an unreachable goal.'
If my newest student grows stronger at a ludicrously fast pace, that just means it's time for me to stop screening through the idiots entering this dungeon as my search for this Light Novel's protagonist has just met its end.
When I awoke in this world nearly two years ago, two pieces of information were in my mind. The first was that to return home, I needed to reach the end of the Dungeon. The second was how to manipulate the 'Blessing' that I had on my back since I lacked a god and a familia.
I never forgot either piece of information either. Both are always at the forefront of my mind. Blinking, neon lights in the corner of my vision that never ceased flashing. Trash in the edges of my vision. An irritating spot that never leaves. Dammit, I memorized it already, just freaking leave!
I won't go into depth about my first month in Orario, but suffice to say there are parts of town I don't go into without covering my face. Can't stand people recognizing the 'insane adventurer,' who I used to be.
Anyway, what I needed was a reflective surface to get a drop of my own blood onto the tattoo that stretched across my back. The first few times got me a bit queasy, but I'd since grown used to pricking a particular spot on my thumb. After that, all I had to do was fiddle around and let the Blessing settle down and show my progress. I'm sure it's a lot easier than it's supposed to be, since gods are the only ones supposed to be capable of it.
By habit, I did it in front of the bathroom mirror after I bathed.
I grew at a steady pace due to some techniques I kept to myself and excessive farming. Because of that, it always took a while for the 'power' I amassed to finish adjusting into my body.
Since I had to stay still, it was also a good time to evaluate my day, go over expenses, and basically start on the bookwork I used to keep myself from going crazy due to boredom.
Conscienta Strenuissium, my Level 1 skill, Tireless Consciousness was something I would've appreciated back in my old world. Mentally, I couldn't get tired, despite the fact that my body could. The amount of sleep I needed was always just the right amount to rest my body. I held the serious advantage of being able to cast as many spells as I wanted, analyze situations during combat, and study for hours on end.
Helpful inside the Dungeon, and hellish outside of it. I always needed something interesting to consider, think about, and look over. If I had my phone, or any other recreational device, I wouldn't have a problem. However, I did not, and so after updating my stats, I spent my nights going over notes, reading books, and writing notes by the crystal lights until dawn's just an hour or two away.
However, that isn't the case tonight.
Tonight, I'm going to follow my Cranel to his home and wring out… err… persuade a familia member of his about his secrets.
A lie about Cranel dropping his knife and my wish to return it got me Cranel's home address in a single conversation.
Isn't that too easy of a way to get someone's address, Tulle-san? Do you really trust me so much since you saw your Cranel-kun so happy with the sacks of money he received because of my help? I am truly worried for the safety of people's private information!
Imagine what someone could do with such knowledge! For example, someone could go to their home and extract their secrets from their god! You know gods are mostly human here, right, Tulle-san? It's very dangerous to do something like that!
Oh well, I'll be sure to tell her someday.
Teaching Cranel-san is proving to be a goldmine. My plot-relevance is going up by the minute just asking questions about him. I bet, in an anime series, I'm the shifty man in the shadows who surprisingly turns out to be looking out for the adventurer.
Perhaps Cranel and I have our fates bound together?
Ugh, sounds like something Ebina would write. Mind purge. Focus on something else. Totsuka? Yes! Totsuka's purity and smile cleanses away the rotten thoughts that defile me!
Wait. Isn't there something wrong with that line of thought?
Anyway, I managed to find out where Cranel lived after lying to Tulle-san about needing to get him his weapon back. Since I appeased her by showing her that I made her chosen adventurer happy, she was more than happy to trust me with vital information.
As I said earlier, I'm a tad worried that all it takes is a single day's worth of work to get such important information from a Guild Member.
The 'Abandoned Church' was almost directly west of Babel, and just a few blocks east of the Miach Familia Pharmacy. Though I do not love Orario enough to memorize any of its streets, as I did in my hometown, Chiba, I'm good at keeping landmarks. Tulle-san's directions were terrible, but with the building's description in mind, I found it relatively quickly.
"You there! Shady, creepy guy! Who are you!" Immediately, I was beset by a woman clearly straight out of an eroge! Twintails, Loli-shaped, and with womanly assets that would send Yukinoshita falling into depression! Oi, oi, oi! Did I misjudge the type of literature this is? Was this one of those Light Novels that sought to pander to NEETs who had body-pillows? Zaimokuza, I swear if you wrote this swill I'll kill you the moment I return! "You better answer quickly, or I'm going to call for help! The City Guard might be useless, but I know the Familia close by very well!"
"…" I considered the situation. Hanging around in front of destroyed church? Yes. Me, clad entirely in black and with my face covered in the middle of the night? Indeed. Scantily dressed fetish fuel before me? A third, and final, positive. I needed to answer this quickly, before I'm labeled as some sort of insane pervert with very deviant tastes towards busty middle-schoolers. The shame that will arise from the depths of my Japanese ancestry will manifest as a yellow-eyed version of myself and seek to kill me! "Do you happen to know Bell Cranel-san?"
"Bell-kun!?" The twintailed, walking fetish loli's eyes latched onto me quicker than any monster I'd ever encountered. "Are you that Ainz Whattelsten he never stops talking about!?
"No." Oh no, I've encountered Cranel-san's First Girl! She's going berserk! After having known that white-haired, pretty boy for just a day, I should've known that he probably told this girl all about his crush. The density of my student is worse than the center of the sun! This isn't supposed to be my Death Cut Scene, Cranel, get over here and receive your just punishment! "My name is Hikigaya."
"Hmmm? Sure it is." The loli placed her hands on her hips and… what the hell is that string supposed to be doing? Is that a boob string? I did not know whether to applaud Zaimokuza for creating a new fetish or send him off towards Yukinoshita for a slow, painful death. With narrowed eyes and pouting lips, she leaned forward and made it very difficult to keep my eyes on her eyes. "So, Hikigaya… what are you doing here? Traveling? Just looking around? Ferrying secret, romantic love letters between my Bell-kun and Ainz Whattelsan!?"
"…I'm looking for Cranel-san to give him a knife I found." Judging from this odd girl's dress, her obvious attraction to Cranel, and the blatant suspicion and jealousy… well, she's set to be the girl everyone roots for but will forever go unnoticed by the dense protagonist. Cranel-san, perhaps you can share some of that luck along to some of us regular men? Producing the knife from my back pouch, I presented a knife of similar quality as my white-haired students. It's completely terrible, I would never use it myself. Shitty knife, I shall sacrifice you to save my own skin. You will be never remembered. "We are currently venturing in the Dungeon together. He will fight better with a second knife, so I purchased one for him. I will teach him how to use it, tomorrow."
For a moment there was only silence. My words, linking together with some earlier facts. C'mon, Cranel-san, if you're ditzy enough to tell this girl about your crush you should've told her about me as well!"
"Eh? You're Bell-kun's sensei!? The one who made it so that he made so much money today!?" The suspicion and, frankly terrifying, intensity dissolved in an instant. It was replaced by an immense smile and… happy movements. Bouncy, bouncy. Heh. Heh. Dammit, focus on something else, my stupid skill! They may move quickly and are infinitely dangerous, but they're not enemies you need to keep track of at all times! "Oh goodness! I'm so happy to meet you!" The girl began to sniffle! "My Bell-kun finally has a reliable, male friend that won't take him away from me! My only Familia member now has a friend I fully approve of!"
Of course, she's a god.
"I'm sorry that we can't offer much, but our finances… aren't good." Hestia scratched her cheek as she laid out some croquettes and salt before the two of us. I focused on monster tactics and movements to distract my mind from her… form. Her unofficial title was the 'Oppai Loli Goddess' and she certainly lived up to it. "Bell-kun is already asleep, he was really tired after today, but his stats grew… very well, so please continue to teach him, Hikigaya-sensei!"
"It's no problem, Hestia-sama. Thank you for the food.". Unfortunately microwaves did not exist, so they were very cold. Still, whether hot or cold, I was receiving food for free. Free food is always delicious. While I considered methods on how to verify Cranel's status as the Protagonist, I noticed that the goddess was staring at me. "Is something wrong, Hestia-sama?"
"Bell-kun told me that you're very… gruff and coarse, even when you mean well, Hikigaya-sensei. From Bell-sun's words, I imagined you to be less… cultured." Oi, don't give me a nice smile like that! Especially, after telling me you thought I'd be some musclebound buffoon with a heart of gold! I'm as wiry as they come and my heart is made of lead! It seems I'm going to have to watch myself better around Cranel-san, he's more perceptive than I thought. "Bell-kun was very happy when he returned home, and he really appreciates all your help, Hikigaya-sensei."
"I'm not completely altruistic, I'm doing this to pay for a new Salamander cloak." My real reasons behind this are far less… palatable. In reality I wanted to get close to Cranel to make sure that I wouldn't simply be written off. This world, undoubtedly, is a Light Novel aimed at people who wanted their chosen avatars to gain immense power, be the object of desire, and be greatly respected. Standing by that person's side is in my best interest. "Cranel-san speaks too highly of me, truly."
"That's what I would believe, if I only heard Bell-kun's words. But, I made sure to ask around about my Bell-kun's newest friend." Hestia's smile brightened, and I felt myself stiffen up. Forcing myself to relax, I took some measured bites of the food I had been freely given. Oddly enough, they didn't taste good as I expected them to. "Miach had nothing but praise about you! His Familia told me that you always go out of your way to help new adventurers, even though you can go on to the next levels, and you make sure that they know how the dungeon works!"
"For a price." I tacked on, feeling oddly embarrassed by the praise. I usually took praise with a grain of salt. Compliments are free to give. They're just words. "And, I never follow them into the Middle Floors."
"Perhaps, but you save them if they're in danger. You've saved many lives, Hikigaya-sensei." Hestia suddenly strode before me, and the urge to eat the food diminished as she bowed. A god bowed to me. Nearly, I forgot to breathe. "Hikigaya-sensei, please keep my child safe. Please, continue to take as much money as you need from my child's spoils, even after his debt has been repaid." Raising her head and standing once more. I was entirely caught unprepared by Hestia's calm, collected demeanor. For the first time since we'd met, I had no doubt the woman before me was an immortal god. "You can protect him from anything I can imagine. From his fellow mortals and monsters alike, if you're at his side, he'll grow to be a fine adventurer."
My refusal left my lips the moment she stopped speaking.
Consider a situation.
A man strives to find a way back home, however he is too weak to do it by himself. So, he must band together with others. Luckily, his goals coincide with many, many others. Easily, he finds people to accompany him.
Yet, even though he's weak, they're weaker.
However, that can be changed, so he chose to change them.
But, only enough to cover for his own inadequacies.
Always at their side, he guided them through the dungeon. Foolishly, he took the brunt of the work, as he always did.
With him always at their side, they were filled with false courage. A facsimile of courage. His companions never learned how dangerous the places they went into were.
And, one day, when he could not be at their side, they died.
That idiot of a man never considered a simple fact.
If you're handed everything in life, there's no way you can value anything.
So, without true fear, they didn't have real courage. Lacking absolute challenges, they never gained proper power.
In this world there is no 'minimum' requirement when it comes to power. There is only 'more than enough' and 'not enough.'
You live or die, depending on what you experienced, what skills you've honed, and the tools you have at your back.
In this unforgivable world, your life is in your hands, but lacking power means death.
Might is everything.
And so, Hestia's plea fell upon my ears and reminded me of that little, quaint fable.
If I protected him, made him to 'only' be a 'fine adventurer' then that would be the same as killing him with my own hands.
Not even a god's most earnest plea can change my mind about that.
"I refuse." Curtly, I answered Hestia. I placed the offered food aside and stood up. My mouth tasted of ash and copper. I walked past the bowing god. Cranel was still on my mind. My priorities were still in order. However, talking to his god isn't the way to go about it. I can wait. I've waited two years. One day, he'll have other Familia members for me to speak to. "I will not do it."
"Please! You're strong! Capable! You care very much about others, I know, and I'm asking you to leave them behind!" A hand, small and frail, caught onto my sleeve. Easily, I could've taken my hand away. When gods were not in their Divine Realm, they are but simple humans. Between myself and Hestia, the winner was clear. "This request is beyond selfish, but please consider protecting my only child. Bell-kun is my only family! He's all I have."
"Hestia-sama…" I didn't turn to look at Hestia. Her voice told me enough. The tremble in her tenor. Her lack of breath. If I met her gaze, my will would crumble, since I hated to see anyone weep. I couldn't muster the strength to continue walking forward further than her reach. I'd have to act against her to do that. I did not act against decent people. "…please let go of my sleeve."
"I will not. Not until you agree." Unyielding will and determination, despite the fact she was begging for my aid. "Hikigaya, you're my child's best hope of surviving." She tugged upon my sleeve, probably intending to pull me back. I stayed completely still. "Would you not wish the same if you had a child of your own? To have someone powerful looking after them, protecting them when you cannot?"
"You're asking for too much. Just like many other gods." How impossibly selfish this god is. Hestia, who believes that I help newcomers, is ever unwavering in her request. The fact that I save others from death routinely is one of the labels she placed upon me. The goddess told me herself, moments ago, that she completely believed I was a good person hiding behind pretenses. Yet, she wants me to devote all that time to a single boy. "I've heard many pleas like that. Yours is nothing special. No. Yours is the absolute worst, since you know of what I do."
"For my Bell-kun, for my child, I would risk everything." If I'd heard such a declaration from anyone else, I'd have laughed and left. However, Hestia's words gave me pause. There was no sign of sorrow or despair in her tone. I glanced upon her; there were no traces of tears. In her eyes was only undeniable will. For a moment, I wondered if this god behind me was truly sealed away. "After all my years alone, without anyone or anything, when I had nothing to offer, Bell-kun still chose to become my Familia. I will do anything to see him safe."
"…" I said nothing, I only watched the endless confidence and life in her eyes. Such fastidiousness, with no room for compromise. For what the goddess believed in and wanted, she was willing to be hated and to go to any lengths. There was only one person who I'd known with such resolve before. Someone who I hoped already went on with her undoubtedly extraordinary life. "Anything? You'll do anything for me to protect him?"
"Yes." No hesitation, consideration, or anything that would suggest a single weakness. Ha, and I thought that I had an ego. The moment I saw her face again, I knew that I'd already lost. As she spoke, pleaded, and begged… I turned against myself. I compromised. I planned around my own rules. If I could do that to others, then I most certainly can do it for myself. "I will."
"Then, I want three things." Now, at least, I won't have to wait until they managed to get another Familia member. The wait would've been a great pain. Looking into her gaze, as expected I found Hestia already ready to agree. "But, before you hear them, I want you to know that I won't be protecting him." Confusion flitted across her features, and an argument was already on her lips. I raised my hand to stop it. "I'll be teaching him, making sure he can fight. I'll stay at his side, teaching him, and learning more things to teach him."
"That is… far from what I wanted."
"Hestia-sama, adventurers who find no reason to fear the Dungeon die." Bluntly, I told my reason. I did not elaborate. This was what I wanted, anyway. I was modifying her own plan for my own sake. With this, I secured a spot by Cranel's side and three favors from a god. "The best protection I can offer is to train him and stay at his side. I will ensure that he doesn't get killed through accidents or misfortune… everything else depends on him." A stray thought entered my head, to make sure that Hestia agreed. "Hestia-sama, do you have faith in Cranel-san?"
"I…" There, my underhanded words hit the correct mark. Though Hestia was definitely doing this out of Cranel's best interest, my question made a simple logical connection that the goddess probably did not want to acknowledge. In truth, by asking me to protect him, she implied that Cranel could not be trusted with his own life. That he needed a minder. Lips pursed and mind awhirl with my implication, she broke her gaze from mine. "I… understand, Hikigaya-sensei. I will put more faith into my Bell-kun. Still, please, teach him as well as you possibly can."
"Acknowledge the cost of my aid, and I shall do so." I broke away, and she let me go without resistance. Meeting her eyes, I began to dictate terms that the goddess could not refuse. No. Would not refuse. Truly, this girl's… love for Cranel was immense. So, this is what a god is? I couldn't help but be both impressed and worried. They're far too easy to manipulate with the correct set of information. "The first is a tenth of his spoils in crystals, for as long as I'm with him, no matter how many Valis he begins to haul in."
The goddess nodded her assent, and I continued.
"The second is first claim to any items for mages we come across." Worth hundreds of thousands of Valis at least, they are the rarest of any 'gear' that people came across in the Dungeon. Parties of adventurers fell into ruin fighting over a single one. "My specialty lies in magic, they'll allow me to protect Cranel-san better."
Without hesitation, she acceded to my claim.
"And for the last…" This one, I knew would be difficult. This last demand I had for this god was the reason I was here in the first place. "I want to know what Bell Cranel's first skill is."
Surprise and shock flitted across her features.
"He grows too quickly, and learns too fast. Cranel is talented and clever, but that does not explain his growth." She broke her gaze from my own, and her eyes grew glassy with busy thought. "Hestia-sama, I swear that I will not share such a fact with others."
No response. The goddess was listening, but she was lost evaluating dangers. Hestia bit at her lip. As I suspected, Cranel had something that was dangerous. Something that would make him wanted by other Familia. People who could take Hestia's child from her.
"Hestia-sama…" Truth. This goddess can only be placated by sincerity, and she would see through my lies. I needed to give up the truth, but I couldn't say it. My truth was insane. Unbelievable. Telling the truth wasn't an option. A half-truth then. "I need… someone who I can follow into the dungeon. Cranel's growth, the reason why I followed him here, tells me that he can be that person. Already, I believe he will become great, but the same goes for many others." I hesitated. Was I making a mistake of admitting that I needed Cranel? "But if my suspicions are correct, and if he has the type of skill I believe he does, then he will stand head and shoulders above anyone else in this generation."
"…" My plea was met with silence, but the goddess slowly raised her head. The look of defeat upon her face made my stomach churn. Undoubtedly, I'd relentlessly torn at her with what she wanted for something she never wished to admit. A good person would've been placated by suspicion and the information I'd already gathered, but I needed to know. With a weak voice that made me grit my teeth, Hestia told me what I suspected, but couldn't go about without verifying. "It's called Realis Phrase…"
Walking away from the abandoned church, I couldn't help but be both sick and overjoyed.
In one hand, I'd just forced the most decent person I'd met since coming in this world to spill secrets about her own Familia.
In the other, I could finally begin to work towards returning home.
Realis Phrase. Rapid growth as long as strong feelings last. No matter how you looked at it, that was a skill of a Protagonist. Cranel, striving after the impossible goal of reaching the Sword Princess's side, will become impossibly strong.
Strong enough to clear the dungeon. Mighty enough to get me home.
All I needed to do was make sure that Cranel was always challenged, and that Aiz Wallenstein forever remains out of his reach.
What I had said about what I was going to do to him is true.
I had no intention of keeping Cranel safe.
There's no way Cranel could become as strong as I needed him to be, if I merely taught him.
For me to return home, I needed to both teach him and have him meet his challenges head on.
That meant that despite everything Hestia gave up, she didn't gain anything that she begged and pleaded for.
During the moments where he needed me to be at his side, the moments that Hestia wanted me to be at his side, I will not be present.
I'm far from the person anyone wanted me to be.