Well hey there, took me a while to get back to this. A bit of a longer opening just to explain my absence.
(Apologies in advance to those that abhor long ones but this one is pretty necessary.)
Legit excuses this time at least. Got an offer to work in Japan several months ago, for a salary that was far better than my current work at the time.
Deciding that I might as well try and fail than not try at all, I did research on the offer and the company (To check if its legit) and went for it.
So I spent a month running documents to become an overseas worker(there were a lot, like seriously), then resigned from work and rendered my last month (which was a lot of finishing leftover projects and turning over the rest). Got to Japan and had to spent another month in super money conservation mode (was going on savings, waiting until I get my first pay, and even then it got to a point where I literally had nothing on my wallet ahahahah).
Then? Got the first salary, paid off debts accrued getting to Japan, and only after all that insanity did I finally manage to finally settle down and live like a normal human being (with actual non-convenience store food and all).
That was roughly four months of going from the home country to Japan. The other two months was just me adjusting to the country and the culture, and the fact that I now need to speak a language so radically different from my native tongue and English. That and a bit of writer's block (which I did eventually overcome by finishing Acting on a Dream and writing a story for a friend).
At the moment? Living pretty well honestly, still not used to using Japanese all the time but that's just something to get used to. If eventually I fail here in Japan... well I can say I tried my best. The locals in my area are really nice at least ahahaha.
Well that's the story of why I was gone for so long. Sincerest apologies for the ones that needed to wait for so long (especially the people who actually do support me on the P-site, which I made sure to freeze during my lack of activity and supporters were informed of my situation).
Okay, that's it for now. Any more and I might go into my trials and tribulations in adjusting to Japan and that could be made into an entire chapter lol.
Finally, thank you so much for the those that read this fic. Just over 5k follows and almost 4k favs! God, that's a lot! Seriously, THANK YOU!
I still haven't even caught up to half of the reviews (my god there's still a lot, sorry, seriously, and thank you!)
Off to the chapter; if it feels weird or a bit stiff please tell me. This one was difficult to write because of the writer's block.
==[The Forge, The Hearth and The Steel Sword]==
==[To be the Daughter – Hestia]==
Hestia could just feel the temperature of the room drop, like the heat was dispelled by some form of spell. She felt it, a tingle that started from the back of her neck going down her spine. Suddenly, she felt the need to rub her hands and blow on them to fight the sudden chill that was causing her body to tremble.
She wondered, truly, if it was just impeccable timing. For whatever reason, all the ambient sounds of steel colliding on steel, of the grinders and files, of the calming wisps of the fire from the forge below seemed to have all gone silent. As if sensing the goddess that presided over them had been angered and that they should all go silent lest they be a recipient of Hephaestus' wrath.
She observed her oldest friend, the fiery yet elegant strands of red seemed to be shaking in the air. She pondered, ever so briefly, if her friend was tapping into her divinity to achieve that effect.
"Hestia. Could you run that by me again… please?"
The deafening silence was broken by a plea for confirmation, which broke her out of her attempts to escape reality. However, she saw a silver lining to the utterly despairing situation she had found herself in.
Her old friend's voice was hollow but the small pause and attachment of politeness gave her some hope. Given, it was faint, small, fading fast, and would likely disappear in a few seconds if she were to screw up even more, but she didn't get through her endless life by being negative, so with a breath and discarding any thoughts of inevitable failure, she banked on her friendship with Hephaestus to hopefully survive this ordeal.
"I-I started a familia."
She praised herself for only stuttering slightly but remaining firm in responding. This time, instead of getting colder, the room actually warmed up just a tiny bit. Like someone had lit a small fire in the middle of the room.
"A familia? As in, you now have a child of your own?"
Again, the temperature felt like it increased just slightly. She could feel sweat trickling down her temples, tracing the curve of her cheeks.
"As in you now have to support the life of a child by your own power."
For whatever reason, she could feel Hephaestus' presence enlarge itself, and she felt like an ant speaking to a giant.
"With no resources to call your own? Without even any knowledge of how familia's properly function or work?"
This time, the warmth increased further. From room temperature to inside of a workspace with an idling forge.
It was only the pregnant silence that followed when she realized that she had already left her seat. Out of pure instinct, she had already moved to the floor, assumed a kneeling position, with her back straight, already prepared to utilize the ultimate forbidden technique that Takemikazuchi had once taught her.
However, the timing of such a potent technique was important, and she would need to find the chance to do so.
"Hestia. Are you a bloody idiot?"
Inside her head, she imagined a large conflagration of flames behind Hephaestus appeared as she felt the room turned scorching hot, as if she was thrown inside a burning forge.
"I-I can neither confirm nor deny such a statement."
With a shaky voice, she managed to reply. She was well and fully aware of the fact that she really was in no place to start a familia when she literally didn't have a single lien to her name. She knew that Bell was likely better off with a better established familia that could protect and nurture his talents far better than she could.
"Hestia do you even understand how absolutely-"
However, even then she had no intention of backing down. Because this was different.
"I know that I'm not in the position to start one! I know that the child will struggle because I'm an incompetent goddess… but even then…!"
She stood and raised her voice, letting her emotions pour out.
"Then tell me, this instant, how do you plan on raising that child? What about food and shelter? How about his equipment? "
In contrast, Hephaestus received her impassioned reply with calm and cold logic.
"I'll work with everything I have! I'll work till my arms fall of and my body collapses! I'll beg and plead! I'll do everything it takes! It's utterly selfish and completely unfair, but I want to be the one to do it! I want him to be my child! I want to be his goddess!"
By the end of her declaration, she had gone from speaking loudly to shouting. Taking several deep breathes to calm herself, she looked back on Hephaestus, who still looked at her critically.
"I… I know I've never really been motivated but this time… this time! I feel like I've found someone that's worth it! Worth every bit of my time! So… so please, Hephaestus… I've troubled you so many times before, but I want to help this child with everything I can…"
This time, she firmly planted her knees to the ground, her forehead touching the warm hardwood floor in a deep bow.
"Please help me!"
"Ugh… to go this far…"
She kept her forehead firmly pressed to the ground and simply hoped, not daring to raise her head.
Seconds turned into minutes and finally, after a long silence, she heard her old friend sigh in exasperation.
"Alright… fine. At the very least I can tell how strongly you feel about this…"
"But I want to meet whoever this kid is. I want to see the child you feel so strongly about. To be perfectly clear, I haven't agreed to anything understood?"
"Got it! Thank you! Thank youuuu!"
Somehow going from a deep bow to a flying tackle, she grabbed onto Hephaestus with everything she had.
"Wait—you! Hestia! Sit down!"
"O-okay, so where will I be working?"
"We'll save that for later. I'd need to make the proper arrangements for your work. For now, sit down."
"Eh? Do we have something else to discuss?"
"Yes. Since you're so intent on raising your own familia, I'll be making sure that you know everything required to be a proper goddess."
The pressure returned, and this time, somehow, it was even more oppressive.
"Errr… maybe I should get on to making preparations for Bell-kun's—"
"Sit down Hestia."
==[The Forge, The Hearth and The Steel Sword]==
==[On the path to Fate – Shirou Emiya]==
He gripped the hilt, still getting used to the strange 'impression' the sword held.
The swords that he saw, ones that were properly crafted, held a concrete history that he could immerse himself in, as if reading a book and seeing a story enacted out inside his head.
Swords created through his [Magecraft], in comparison, was something he likened to painstakingly copying each word in the original book by hand. Each material used would be made to look like the original; serving as a faithful, almost word-by-word recreation.
The [Phantom] pair of Kanshou and Bakuya on the other hand, felt like the information of the original was haphazardly transferred by an incompetent fool into another book as an act of plagiarism. A badly done counterfeit that imitates the original enough that the ignorant wouldn't be able to tell, but was so obviously fake to anyone who knew even the basics.
The material of the swords was still easy to identify but felt blurred. Bits and pieces could be gleamed from the sword but almost felt nonsensical when read as whole. It was effectively tearing apart two different books and trying to patch the torn pages into a single book and reading the mess that that results in.
It bothered him to a certain extent, to hold such a sword that was in such disarray with a history that was nearly illegible, but he ignored it.
Because as disconcerting as the sword in his hand was, his instincts told him he needed to focus on the dungeon itself.
He could still feel a pressure on his body, not unlike before, but this time it wasn't quite as oppressive. From the moment he entered, he could still feel the presence of the dungeon, but instead of being directly stared upon by a hungry predator like before, it felt tamer – or better put, the aggression was still there, but it was tempered, focused.
Before, he had dealt with brute force, aggression and power through overwhelming numbers thrown down with reckless abandon. This time, it felt like the opposite.
It felt like a storm was brewing; like they were spending the moments of calm right before a torrential rain would pour down from the sky.
'It would be best for these two to leave before anything occurs.'
Focusing on the surroundings, he observed Cranel and Arde; the former doing combat with a group of Kobolds and Lizards, the latter observing and making sure the former wasn't being ambushed.
He surveyed the area, observing the flow of monsters that were focusing on Cranel.
'No irregularities so far…though that may change soon.'
"Cranel-san, good work! Lily will gather the magic stones, so please take a bit of a rest!"
He turned to glance at the parum, who he had learned was named Liliruka Arde, approaching the white haired boy, Bell Cranel, with a rather proud smile.
The parum was the very same one he helped out during the Killer Ant Incident; which meant she was the same one that had watched his battle with Ottar. The girl had been quick, almost frantic, in her need to express how grateful she was for his aid and promised to payback the debt.
He refused and simply asked for the girl to keep quite regarding his involvement in the Killer Ant Incident – to which the parum responded with a grave nod and swore never to speak of it. From the expression of the girl and how she had gone about making the promise, he felt the girl had every intention to keep it.
Cranel on the other hand, was apparently the one to help Arde after her escape from the dungeon. A new adventurer and on his first dungeon trek, the boy didn't have too much experience in battle. The fact was easy to see, both from what he could gleam from the equipment the boy wore, which were the standard fare provided by the guild to all beginners.
The boy adapted fast however, a mark of talent and potential.
"O-oh. I'm not that tired yet though… so maybe we could…?"
He was about to approach when Cranel decided to speak; words that likely every beginner had spoken before.
It was understandable, considering the fact that the boy had yet to properly see what the dungeon had to offer but unfortunately, it was one of those simple yet critical mistakes that needed to be corrected; one he wouldn't need to comment on since he could see the smile on Arde's face become menacing despite her face not changing in any noticeable way, not unlike Hestia in those rare moments that the goddess seemed to tap into her inner beast.
Briefly, he wondered if all females in existence were capable of such a feat but quickly dismissed it; he had the strangest notion that it was only those that he personally knew. He had long suspected that Tulle and Lyon could perform it with ease.
He felt that Hephaestus was fully capable of it as well but had yet to see it, something he attributed to the fact that Hephaestus was more of the calmer sort.
"Cranel-san… though I'm only a supporter, I have experienced the perils of the dungeon for far longer than you have, so please listen to my advice now…."
Taking a cautious step back to avoid the blast radius, he observed that Cranel had already assumed a kneeling position and a face of fear as Arde was about to start on her lecture.
Good. That proved that the boy's instincts was good enough to know when he was in a potentially dangerous situation. That would be a boon for the boy in the long run.
"As Lily has told you before entering the dungeon, you set a realistic target. Once you've met that target, you stop and leave the dungeon. If you do not meet it, you stop, you retreat and adjust. If you achieve it with ease, you stop, go back, and set a higher target in your next run and prepare accordingly. Understood?"
The parum had spoken just as politely as she had before; but her delivery made it clear that any opposition was going to be swiftly and decisively shot down by a large steel bolt.
"Yes ma'am! We're gathering the magic stones and returning ma'am!"
With a properly apologetic face that showed remorse, accompanied with frantic nodding, Cranel agreed with all his strength.
"It's good that you're quick to understand Cranel-san! Okay, Lily will gather the stones so please watch out for any monsters coming nearby."
Quickly switching from menacing to sweet, Arde gave perfectly reasonable instructions and Cranel ran off to check the perimeter.
"Emiya-sama…. Can you feel it?"
As he approached the parum while she was busying herself with harvesting the magic stone, Arde called out to him. Her hands were busy deftly carving out the stone from the chest of the Kobolds.
He could see the grimace on her face.
"It would be best if you and Cranel were to leave soon."
Because he could feel that something was approaching. It had the inkling of the same sensation that he felt right before he learned of the of the Killer Ant situation; though it didn't feel nearly as pressing.
It had been slight at first but it had gradually been increasing in intensity as time passed.
"Lily agrees… the dungeon has been… strange of recent. Leaving out the Killer Ant incident aside, Lily has heard very worrying information."
"You mean aside from the increase in monster spawns throughout the entire dungeon?"
He responded while keeping an eye on Cranel, who was checking out the paths connecting to the junction they were currently in. The boy's knife was drawn, and he kept a healthy distance from the wall; a tactic the boy had learned to adopt after a close encounter with a monster birth on the former floor.
Despite the lack of monsters, a normal circumstance after the defeat of a monster group in any area, he felt compelled to turn his body towards Cranel's direction, preparing himself to race towards the boy if necessary.
Because at the moment, he felt like some kind of mental alarm was signalling off in his head.
"Yes. Adventurers from that frequent the middle floors have recently returned with reports of monsters with different appearances and level of strength."
He could hear a slight sound of the earth cracking apart. His eyes zoned in on the very slight movement of the wall nearby Cranel.
He prepared to move.
"[Strengthened species]… not just one, but in groups, appearing after a certain amount of monsters had been slain."
"Consider the information confirmed then. Arde, prepare yourelf."
The crack propagated, the sound causing Cranel to jump back and come into a stance.
"…? Emiya-sama, what do you—"
Arde stood up to look at the same direction as he was.
Cranel was preparing to engage the jet-black kobold that was coming out of the wall.
He felt that Cranel could likely handle it, but the crack propagated even further, separating into four, and didn't stop until it covered almost the entire wall between the two openings in the junction.
"That's…Cranel-san! Please draw back now! Lily will cover you!"
With a shout, Arde drew on her arm mounted ballista. Cranel turned and jogged towards them, before quickly facing back to the wall and the group of monsters coming out, returning to his combat stance.
However, instead of advancing towards them, the monsters froze in place.
Then they began devouring each other.
The sound of teeth sinking with a crunch, the sound of skin and muscle being forcefully torn apart, the screeches from the monsters that seemed to have gone mad.
"Ummm… Lily? Emiya-san? Is… is this normal?"
"N-no. This isn't! Are they… eating the magic stones of other kobolds…!?"
He could heart the undercurrent of panic in Cranel and Arde's voice. The former out of caution, while the latter was still likely rather shaken upon being reminded of the almost endless wave of monster birth from of Killer Ants.
In contrast, he felt something a bit more than just the monsters in front of them.
A different presence entirely. Distinct from the monsters that were taking part in some weird cannibalistic ritual.
"I'm not aware what this is leading to and I'd rather not stand around to find out. Arde, Cranel, we need to move."
"Got it! Exit directly south from us should give us the shortest route out! Cranel-san, please stay close!"
As the Kobolds continued to eat their fellow monster, he waved his hand to signal them to move as he covered their retreat, following closely after.
'Where is it…?'
He glanced around the area as they ran through the passageway, sensing the strange presence getting fainter as they moved.
"W-what was happening there?"
"Well… from what Lily knows, the [Strengthened Species] are born when a monster consumes enough magic stones… but I've never heard of them doing anything like that. Lily had always thought they were freak occurrences than anything else…"
They passed through several junction at an even pace, only to find several monster corpses strewn around the area.
Two Dungeon Lizards remained, both turning towards them.
They had a certain presence that made them more dangerous.
Cranel had readied himself to fight but Shirou felt like it was a bit too dangerous for the boy and had immediately closed the gap; tearing the lizards into two with a swing from his [Phantom] blades.
Calling to the parum, he took the remaining magic stones from the strengthened lizards and threw it towards her.
"Cranel-san, let's keep moving!"
Deftly catching the two stones, Arde nodded as she pulled on Cranel, and he allowed the pair to run ahead of him; still carefully absorbing the surroundings.
"Looks like the guild's info will need an update. Arde, will you be able to escort Cranel out? This much isn't a problem, but it might be dangerous for both of you if more are to come."
"Y-yes. It should be simple enough to do so. Will you be staying behind Emiya-sama?"
There were likely people getting caught up in the situation.
Higher leveled adventurers would be fine. The more experienced level 1 adventurers would also be fine provided they weren't doing anything stupid.
What concerned him was any of the true beginners like Cranel who wouldn't know better.
"I'll help you get to the first floor. Cranel, make sure to stay with Arde as much as you can. Both of you, keep a lookout for other adventurers."
It was that sensation again. He felt his body calm down as he focused on a single thing.
There were lives he needed protect.
==[The Forge, The Hearth and The Steel Sword]==
==[In the depths – Finn Deimne]==
"What… what the hell is this?"
He could hear the disbelief mixed with a hint of fear and maybe a bit of disgust in Bete's voice. The werewolf was the first to speak when even he couldn't quite find the right words to react to the sight before them.
The 49th floor, bearing the name [Moytura]. The desolate floor that was painted in red; the veritable hell before the safety point of the 50th floor that every Adventurer needed to overcome. The huge open area was a challenge purely because it meant having to deal with [Formoires] and whatever monster accompanied them en masse.
Which was why the moment they entered the area from the 48th floor, the lack encounters raised alarm bells in his head.
As they proceeded, the reason was promptly revealed.
Looking at the distance, there were still indeed [Formoires] running about the floor but they were far lesser in number.
Their skin however was jet black, as with the large goat-like horns that protruded from their heads. Even further was the red tint on their eyes.
Some of them carried what looked like large hammers and axes made from the crimson boulders; chipped and fashioned into makeshift weapons.
Just looking at them made him grimace. Though they didn't have full information, documentation up to the 59th floor existed. Data from it had been confirmed several times over and expanded upon by the Loki familia themselves.
Yet now, they find something completely different.
"That's… encounters with them are rare to begin with but to find an entire legion of them?"
He could feel the tension in Riveria's voice as she spoke of the enemy with a bitter voice. A cursory glance on the offensive live told him that she was gripping her staff far more tightly than normal even when her usual calm countenance seemed to remain unchanged.
Lefiya, who stood on the opposite end of the support line, was trembling from the sight. Looking at the others, Bete's feet were firmly planted on the ground, prepared to charge at a moment's notice. Both Tiona and Tione showed none of their usual liveliness that persisted even in the more chaotic battlefields. Meanwhile Ais' face showed no emotion, with [Desperate] held firmly in hand.
Gareth approached, with a grave face, a stark contrast to his usual joviality. In his personal experience, Gareth that was far too serious was a clear sign that they were indeed in a pressing situation.
Thankfully, they had yet to reach the 'panicking Riveria' point, which essentially meant they were doomed, so that was a nice silver lining.
"Yes… this is quite a troublesome situation…"
Looking at the other members of the familia, from the vanguard, to the supporters.
They could feel it. All of them did.
They could feel the threat to their lives.
'Formoire's, even strengthened, would still be simple enough to deal with…'
They would survive without doubt. The army could push through to the 50th floor should they engage; the only real problem was doing so without casualties. Wounded and injured would be the least they could get away with considering the enemy.
'The 50th or the 39th.'
The choices were presented to him. The safety point just beyond the horizon or the safety point that had been left far behind.
On one hand, they were at the 49th floor, ten entire floors separating them from the past safety point. Choosing to return would mean forcing the army to backtrack and deal with ten entire floor's worth of monsters when they were already tired, their equipment already worn, and with no proper point of rest all throughout.
On the other hand, there was the 50th floor that was just beyond the group of [Strengthened Formoires]. They would only need to clear this one floor to get to the safety point; but they lacked information on how to deal with the large number of strengthened monsters.
They've fought countless before, but not an entire legion, in a completely open space. There were no narrow passages to limit the movement and point of engagement, or any obstacles they could use as cover for the supporters and casters in the case the any of the monsters break through.
'Risky either way, both with a high possibility of casualties depending on how it's handled…'
He looked at the condition of his army. The combatants were already showing clear signs of exhaustion, not to mention the supporting group that were on the brink of collapse. The unexpected amount of monsters they've had to face had clearly worn everyone both physically and mentally. Seeing a legion of strengthened species, with the very real possibility that they could be reinforced by more monster births, had likely brought down morale quite a bit.
'Not good. It's highly doubtful that the army could make the trek back to the 39th with the current condition…'
Their expedition had already encountered several logistical problems from the notable increase in monsters they fought, and the frequency of encounters. As it was, they had already blown through the margin of error and were skirting the line in terms of resources.
He had already given up on achieving their objective of breaking through the unexplored floors of the dungeon; an act that would be plain suicidal in their current. As it was, the reason for pushing through was to reach the next safety point, and perhaps at least to attempt to clear the [Request] from the [Dian Cecht familia]; a quest that would also likely needed to be failed at this point.
Furthermore, even if everyone was able to push through physically, there was no telling how well the weapons and armours could last. It would take one simple broken weapon, shield, or armour and the vanguard could collapse; which would expose the rear and the supporting groups, and just like that they would all be wiped out.
'Stuck between a rock and a hard place… however…'
He looked at the distance, at the legion of [Strengthened Formoire] and hardened his resolve.
As it stood, facing them was the most realistic option they had.
'Clear the path and breakthrough. The 50th floor is within reach, so if we can allow the supporters and casters to safety…'
This was not the first time they would face uneven odds nor was it the first time they would face such adversity. Everyone who had reached this floor were experienced in their own right.
"Everyone… prepare yourselves!"
Straining his voice he addressed the entire army, [Combat Howl] in full display. In sync, the army responded in turn. Weapons and shields were raised as the anxiety and fear seemed to wash away. The grimaces on their faces were replaced with determination.
Just like before the Loki Familia would stand strong and proud, and overcome whatever challenge they needed to face.
==[The Forge, The Hearth and The Steel Sword]==
==[Room of Prayers – Ouranos]==
His hands shook as he could feel the dungeon trembling. An occurrence that had alarmingly grown in frequency in recent days. He could feel it struggle, as if trying to break free from the restraints that his divinity provided.
Like before, he tightly grasped the armrest of the throne he sat on. Focusing himself, breathing in and out, he tempered his divinity, strengthening its grasp on the dungeon.
He could hear the voice of one of his children call out to him, but the task before him held precedence.
"Call upon the familia. The dungeon has grown irate and I'm afraid we need to take action soon."
"U-understood! I shall inform the others!"
Without a response, he refocused himself on his hold on the dungeon.
It had been a long time since he had had to put so much effort in suppressing it.
A worrying thought, as the last had led to the catastrophic escape of monstrosities that could create calamities just by existing.
He could only hope that no other calamity like that would come to pass.
==[The Forge, The Hearth and The Steel Sword]==
==[Chapter - End]==
Well this one's finally done. Transitions were particularly difficult during the block but I guess I managed somehow?
From this chapter on, the ball will start rolling and we will finally be fully deviating from cannon (then again, I guess I never really got to the cannon story point I guess).
A bit more mechanics for how No Name will work. He's going places, soon, I promise. Both in skill usage and in his memories.
The intended main conflict that I've been trying to build up from the start is gonna have it's pay off soon enough as well.
Anyway, that's all for now. Would appreciate comments on the writing (because it really was a bit hard to write this one out, The Forge does take a bit more consideration to write compared to any other story I have).
Thank you once again for all the support! See you next chapter (which I'll be working on today)!