Hey there. The cat is back with the very, very late chapter update.
First of all, I'm seriously sorry for the delayed update. 2017 was a very shitty year and the last few months have been just stupid in general. 2018 hasn't started out nearly as bad as 2017 but I'm not really getting my hopes up at this point.
I've been trying to write out anything in those months but anything I could type out was a steaming pile of elephant dung at worst and completely uninspired drivel at best, as some of you who message me would know.
This is a 4k chapter. Apologies for that, its honestly the best I can do at the moment. I've also somehow missed the major holidays that could have had a special chapter on their own as well, so if possible, I'd like to write something on that no matter how late.
Pretty much lost track of the reviews and some of the messages. Need to really find some time to catch up on that.
Second, thank you sincerely for the support. This fic has somehow almost reached 2.5k follows and 2k favs. That's a first for me really and someone even showed me that I've gotten a rec on tvtropes, so that's an old goal I never knew I would accomplish. Special thanks to NinMikey 01 for the rec!
Need to do better on the next chapter... and hopefully real life is kind enough to cut me some slack and let me do a Feb release.
==[The Forge, The hearth, and the Steel Sword]==
==[A sense of Foreboding - EMIYA]==
It was right before noon when I had entered the guild. The area was just as busy as always, with adventurers milling about, going from counter to counter as the employees did their best to serve them.
Adventurers were rather rambunctious in general so the liveliness of the place was common.
That's why I could feel the very slight difference in the atmosphere. I could feel an underlying sense of tension in the air. There were quite a few adventurers conversing in earnest among themselves. There were some who seemed armed far more than necessary compared to the quest they were taking.
I took note of it and made did a mental check of the equipment I had on.
Unlike before, I was armed with four common steel swords that I had bought from a certain Welf Crozzo just this morning. They were more or less practice pieces instead of products that were intended to be sold, so he gave them away for a fourth of what they were actually worth; saying it was some kind of congratulatory gift to welcome me into the familia.
There was also the fact that he seemed to have a tinge of pity in his eyes as he looked at me while we were conversing. It felt more like the swords were sold so cheaply due to some sort of misplaced sympathy on his part... that or an advanced apology for future grievances that I would be facing in the future.
I could hazard a few guesses as to why he was doing it. I haven't seen hide nor hair of Collbrande since I've joined the familia and I was entirely sure she wasn't doing a quest or traversing the dungeon. That one-eyed woman would be the first to make a commotion out of the whole thing and if the look on Hephaestus' face when I had asked about Collbrande's whereabouts were any indication, I should probably make sure to never appear anywhere near her stomping grounds.
Aside from the swords, I had the guild issued chest plate equipped and a small leather backpack that Hephaestus had thrown at me before leaving.
The agreement I had made with Hephaestus the last night was still fresh on my mind. In truth, I was expecting a more volatile reaction, something along the lines of Hestia's form of darkness. Though it would be interesting to see Hephaestus react in such a way, right now I'm just thankful that my goddess was far more calm and level headed than I had given her credit for.
I did feel like there was something more to her calm acceptance but I'd rather not provoke my goddess lest I'm dealt with far more limiting conditions.
I already intended to forge better equipment before proceeding to lower floors. The agreement with Hephaestus simply made it so that I have to accomplish the task earlier than planned.
"Hmmm... ah, Emiya-san?"
Approaching the counter, Tulle noticed me and gave a small smile. Her usual prim and proper appearance was slightly out of sorts.
Behind her, I could see Flotte frantically sorting through various documents.
"A-ah no, today's just a bit more busy than usual. We've been getting a lot of reports that monster on the upper floors were far more active recently. Though it doesn't really affect the veterans, it's become a grave concern for the new blood... so we're currently doing our best to consolidate the new data and amend the information we give out."
"... I see."
A disparity in information created incorrect assumptions and expectations. To new veterans, they could simply utilize superior skills, equipment, and experience to compensate. To beginners however, that small disparity could decide whether they live or die.
Based on the very limited amount of experience I've had with the dungeon, the guild would need to work far more to keep their information to up-to-date.
"Emiya-san, you should take care as well. Even when working with your familia, it's still dangerous for a new adventurer to be careless on the field..."
I didn't grace her statement with a response and simply kept silent. It seemed like it was the conclusion she had arrived to after I had returned to the guild with item drops and an amount of magic stones that a first time adventurer had absolutely no business possessing nor have the capability of obtaining.
The fact that I was alone seemed to have registered to her as 'being tasked with the grunt work because I was the new blood on the familia' as well.
It was a perfectly logical assumption in normal circumstances. It was completely incorrect but due to the convenience, I had no intention of confirming or denying it.
"I'm here for the information regarding the gathering spots for ores. Has that piece of information been changed as well?"
"No. Though the dungeon's layout does change in certain ways, those characteristics don't haven't been observed on the upper floors. For the most part, the only observed changes you'll see are the floors that serve as a 'shortcut' to the lower floors and even those can't be seen unless you proceed beyond the 10th floor."
I took particular note of that piece of information. My last trip into the dungeon proved that that was incorrect. I had made sure to memorize the layout of the fourth floor and a wall had been conveniently appeared at a place where an army of monsters was able corner me.
Had that been a sign of the guild's outdated information or was it an exceptional case?
"Well here's the information you've requested. It should list all the gathering spots that are known for the first ten floors. The ores you can obtain there should be enough for you to forge a decent set of armor for a new adventurer."
Pushing away that line of thought, I took the documents and skimmed through them. Even now, the language felt foreign to me still, Hestia had taken joy in playing the teacher during my recovery period so I was fully able to comprehend everything without trouble.
Among the list of obtainable ores, none of them were really noteworthy. Hence, save from a rare drop from rare monster spawns, I could make equipment that was only marginally better than what I have now.
It was unfortunate, however I needed to abide by the agreement. At the very least, it could serve as effective practice.
"Understood. Thank you, I'll be sure to make to take advantage of this information in full."
"No problem. It's rare for new adventurers to be as diligent as you, so I'm confident you'll be fine. Regardless, please be careful and keep my words in mind."
I gave a nod of acknowledgement before turning to head towards the dungeon.
The moment I stepped outside, I almost stopped in place.
It was that stare again.
It was different.
It was far heavier this time.
The raw desire, the sheer amount of expectation in that stare told me that today wasn't going to be simple.
I grimaced, a sense of foreboding overcoming me as I approached the entrance of the dungeon.
==[The Forge, The hearth, and the Steel Sword]==
==[Adventurer's Instincts - Liliruka Arde]==
"This... isn't right..."
She calculated the estimated worth of the items she had stored inside her bag. From every bit of magic stone to the item drops from the monsters her 'marks' had slain, the equivalent worth they've gotten had already reached that amount.
"Lili... shouldn't have miscounted..."
It wasn't exactly noteworthy. Even a level 1 adventurer could reach such an amount farming on the first five floors.
However, that was when someone farmed for it.
The fact that she and her 'marks' had already obtained that when they were taking routes that avoided known monster paths and spawn points, when they were explicitly avoiding wasting any time confronting any of the monsters in the first five floors, when it had barely been a 2 hours since they had started, that amount was simply ludicrous.
For one reason or another, they had encountered a far greater amount of monsters than necessary. Her 'marks' were experienced enough that they were able to compensate for the unexpected change. They were confident enough in their abilities, experience, and equipment, that they had no qualms proceeding with their quest to hunt [Killer Ants].
She was worried for a completely different reason.
Her brows furrowed, trying to gauge the current situation.
The discrepancy in her knowledge and the current situation was large. That, in and of itself was strange. She had made sure to double check all the information last night as she prepared the equipment she would need for today's little event. There had been nothing that indicated that her existing knowledge of the upper floors were incorrect in any way.
The guild was largely reliable in keeping their information up-to-date and her own sources had nothing more than reports of increased monster activity.
All that information was necessary for her to succeed.
This wasn't the first time she was doing one of her 'heists'. She knew how the upper floors worked like the back of her hand. She knew the exact locations and approximate amount of monsters as well as the estimated amount of adventurers at a particular floor, at a certain time of day.
Her base of knowledge was a compilation of everything she's learned from the information she had gathered, painstakingly updated, and the personal experience she'd accumulated since her first day as an adventurer.
That's why it made no sense.
Her instincts told her that they shouldn't have had this many encounters.
Her instincts told her that they shouldn't have fought this many monsters.
Her instincts told her that those monsters shouldn't nearly be this aggressive.
Her instincts were telling her proceeding any further was a bad idea.
Considering the fact that they were going to hunt down [Killer Ants] of all things, she agreed wholeheartedly with her instincts.
She was a supporter... and whether she liked it or not, it meant she didn't have the raw stats that would allow her to survive in most situations if she found herself surrounded by most types of monsters.
"No... the Loki familia had recently gone on an expedition. Maybe they had cleared the path and messed up the spawn points and levels when they passed through the floors..."
She did her best to rationalize the current state of affairs. Several days ago, the Loki familia departed for an expedition to the [Deep Floors]. Large scale expeditions required a massive amount of supplies to accomplish, which meant that they had to clear monsters to protect the supplies.
Large scale expeditions usually messed up monster spawn patterns and paths for a day or two. Mass clearing off monsters and destroying floor bosses effectively lead to a 'reset' of floors. In most cases, the spawn points, spawn numbers, and monster paths return to normal after a day or two.
Of course, she was fully aware that with the amount of time that had passed, she was just grasping at straws, but it gave her a way to calm her mind at least.
"Tch... the hell is with today."
"Those things War Shadows were a lot wilder than normal too."
She let out a sigh as her grip tightened on the straps of her bag from the casual exchange of words as they went down to the 6th floor. She named each piece of equipment and item inside the bag, her crossbow, the the items used for attracting monsters, various tools she could use for escape, all in the attempt to calm her nerves.
In the absolute worse case scenario, she might just have to abandon the plan and make a run for it.
In fact, she was contemplating on just turning back now.
"Oi, supporter, don't lag behind. It'll be annoying if you get caught by the ants."
The gruff voice of one of her 'marks' broke her out of her thoughts, and for the first time, they had spoken to her without any of the usual arrogance, posturing, or condescension.
The fact that her 'marks' actually expressed even a bit of concern for her despite their usual behavior almost made her decide to abandon her 'heist' then and there.
Thankfully, she had one more floor left to decide.
==[The Forge, The hearth, and the Steel Sword]==
==[By Her Command - Ottar]==
"GIIIII!" "GIIIII!" "GIIIIIIIII!"
Ear piercing screeches resounded in the area. Several dozens of severed heads and bodies of killer ants littered the ground.
Despite that, the majority of the heads were still twitching, crying out as if desperately crying for help. Soon, the cries of the severed heads would be answered as the pheromones they were releasing would call upon more of their kind.
[Killer Ants] were a unique entity in the upper floors. Unlike the [War Shadows] that tended to deal most new adventurers their first near death experience, the [Killer Ants] were infamous for being the monster with the highest rate of outright killing new adventurers.
They were monsters that possessed surprisingly high attack stats that took new bloods by surprise. They possessed hard shells that gave adventurers a preview of the [Hard Armored] in the lower floors, ones that beginner equipment can't easily pierce.
However, what truly made [Killer Ants] dangerous was their ability to call for reinforcements.
Once they were dealt a certain amount of damage, the ants would secrete a pheromone that attracted more of ants in the area for as long as their heads were intact. It was common practice to kill an ant, damage the head, and collect the magic stone as fast as possible to prevent their ability from posing a danger.
To the ignorant or the careless, engaging and damaging a killer ant could easily lead to getting surrounded and mobbed to death.
Of course, to someone like him, that wasn't something worth worrying about. Whether it was a dozen or even a thousand, no amount of ants would ever pose a threat to him.
"... Compared to the numbers he had faced yesterday, this is still insufficient."
His rust colored eyes surveyed the amount of ants present. His face blank, not a hint of emotion present.
He had entered the the dungeon fairly early and had started his task of provoking the [Killer Ant] numbers for several hours. There was roughly over a hundred ants present.
Most floors were known to have monster spawn limit, however no one had ever really tried to see how if there was a maximum number of [Killer Ants] that could be gathered at a particular area.
"Call for more."
His commanded as he severed every head in the immediate vicinity with one attack.
He had a large build, he towered over most with a height over 2 meders tall and possessed a rock like body that looked like it could easily withstand the strike of Goliaths without as much as a flinch. Logic would dictate that a such a body would rely on raw power, it would certainly be slow, sluggish, and would lack any hint of grace.
However, Ottar was anything but.
His movement were seamless. They were smooth, as if every movement, every action he took, no matter how small or large, was measured and calculated. Despite his size, the speed at which his attacks moved were incomparable.
The large buster sword he carried was swung at such a speed that it looked like he was attacking with a whip, bending and weaving as it tore through the air and through the shell of the ants. The weapon that was meant to cleave, to have its weight used to tear apart anything in its path, was being swung so fast that it was instead cutting and slicing its targets apart like a saber or a katana.
Perhaps, what was even more absurd than the speed of his attacks was the sheer precision it had. Every strike he unleashed was made to simultaneously sever all the approaching [Killer Ant's] heads from their bodies. Something he was able to do regardless of what point of attack the ants would take, regardless of the number that charged at him, and with as minimal movement as possible.
It was a testament to his abilities. The abilities of the man whom held the right to be command the Freya familia as its head and the abilities of the only adventurer to reach level 7.
He spoke the boy's name with curiosity.
It had been a long time since he had seen his goddess so taken with someone. In most cases, his goddess would never fail to remain calm. She would freely move everyone around her, both gods and mortals, with nonchalance, using her charms and connections without fail, until she could obtain her target of interest. She had never failed before, having stolen many mortals and put them into their familia.
This time however, what would usually be a vested interest was turned into an obsession. The calm and relaxed smile his goddess would usually wear was replaced with a rapturous smirk. Her curiosity, usually controlled, was being expressed without reserve. Her actions were aggressive and it was easy to see that the goddess was barely holding herself back from simply using her full [Arcanum] to obtain the boy.
Whatever his goddess had seen through her [Discerning Eyes] was likely something that she had never encountered before.
In his case however, he saw the boy as something else.
"A veteran warrior. One that had fought many battles long before he had stepped into the dungeons of this land."
He could recall every detail from the battle he had seen through the [God's Mirror] that his goddess had set. Though his enemy was far too weak, they were numerous, and it was enough for the boy to show his prowess in combat.
From the way he had calmly dealt with the army of monsters, to the way he wielded his weapons, to tactics he had displayed in battle, to the speed, skill, and power of every strike he unleashed... he was sure that the boy wasn't just a newly minted greenhorn that was simply blessed with talent and fortune at birth.
No... he was sure that those movements were measure, calculated, and practiced. They were optimal, movements that resulted from hundreds and thousands of painstaking repetition, formed through a never ending cycle of violence, and polished through countless life and death battles.
To a warrior like him, that much was apparent.
His countenance didn't change but the intensity of his movements increased.
He neither felt jealousy nor envy for the boy for holding the attention of his goddess. His goddess wasn't an existence whose love could be held by a single being nor should she ever be obligated to do so.
For the first time in a long time he felt an emotion he hadn't felt in a while. He felt a hint of excitement, of expectation.
"From what I've seen... this much should not even pose a challenge. However, our goddess had expressed her wish to see you perform your magic once again... so Shirou Emiya, for the sake of the goddess... show your mettle!"
He severed more heads, again and again. The action was done repeatedly, tirelessly, until the number of ants reached well over two hundred.
Shirou Emiya would surely survive, that was beyond doubt. Something of this level would never fell him.
The only point of concern was if the amount was enough to force him to once again show the goddess what she aims to see.
==[The Forge, The hearth, and the Steel Sword]==
==[Discard and Draw - Liliruka Arde]==
"Oi... what the hell is going on here?"
The voice of one of 'marks' almost echoed on the empty pathways of the seventh floor. She could see all three of them them tense up and ready their weapons.
She could almost hear her heart beating from the tension she was feeling as they gradually made their ways to the eerily silent pathways.
She could feel a bead of sweat trickling down her temples. She reached to her crossbow, preparing for anything to happen.
At the moment, she couldn't afford to just turn around and run. Doing so was just too risky to do.
After all, right now, the area they were in was empty.
Consistently empty areas in a non-safe area was one of the most alarming things an adventurer could ever encounter.
It meant one of three things.
The first was that someone had very recently killed all the monsters nearby and that a 'reset' could happen at any point of time. That meant a random mass spawn could happen without warning.
The second was a rare spawn. Which meant, though could be a unique opportunity, meant that would need to face a monster that was significantly more powerful than what they were equipped to face.
The third was that something very wrong had happened, something far beyond anything they've faced before.
Her heart sank at the sound of the wall breaking from behind them.
"DAMN IT! MOVE, NOW!"
"Why the hell is a mass spawn happening now?! They're all Killer Ants!"
Every single one of them broke into a sprint as they heard the sound of monsters being born from every direction.
Being right near a spawn point was dangerous. Monsters could come out of nowhere and reinforcements would come out fast for [Killer Ants].
Being near a mass spawn point spelled death and demise. They would be surrounded in seconds without any path to escape.
"Hurry the hell up! We need to get to a narrower path way without those damned things spawning!"
They weaved, entered, and exited through different paths in the floor, desperately trying to find an area that was relatively safer.
However, it seemed that the dungeon was intent on refilling its floors with monsters as fast as it could.
To the seasoned adventurers, outrunning [Killer Ants] or running for a long period of time wasn't much of a problem.
However, her stats as a supporter couldn't exactly compare so she lagged ever so slightly behind, trying her level best to keep the pace.
Her eyes widened as she realized exactly how serious a predicament they were in.
In front of them, she could see [Killer Ants] crawling out of the wall.
From behind, she could hear the sound of dozens of ants marching towards them.
Her head went into overdrive as she considered her options.
On one hand, she had enough monster meat to distract the monsters for a significant amount of time that she could make an escape. However, she absolutely had no idea on how many ants there were nor did she even have a clear and sure path she could use to escape unscathed. There were still five floors worth to traverse afterwards and she could afford to be injured when there were [War Shadows] and [Frog Shooters] to go through on the sixth floor.
On the other hand, she could grit her teeth, swallow her pride, and do everything in her power to assist her 'marks' so that they could be able to escape the damned floor. They were the scum of humanity but they also possessed enough skill to cleave a path to escape.
"Tch... this isn't what Lili planned but..."
Seeing no other choice, she decided to call out to her 'marks'.
"Mr. Adventurer! Please listen. The- grk...!?"
Before she could finish her plea, she felt her cloak being pulled up from the neck.
Her eyes widened in realization as she looked at one of her 'marks' while he lifted her in the air, her feet flailing, as she tried to use her arms to prevent herself from being choked.
"Alright, supporter, do your damn job and support us! Distract the one from behind while we force our way forward!"
The next moment, she felt her body being thrown into the air as she saw her 'marks' running ahead.
She fell hard on the ground, her bag spilling its contents. She quickly scrambled to stand up but as she got to her knees, she found herself face to face with a [Killer Ant].
Right behind it was over a dozen more.
At that very moment, she cursed every single adventurer in existence.
==[The Forge, The hearth, and the Steel Sword]==
The ball is now officially rolling. Lili gets literally thrown to wol- I mean... ants. Mumei will face the machinations of the yandere for the first time and Ottar shows that he has his own thoughts on the matter.
Action is inevitable in the next chapter at least and unfortunately, Bell's intro will be delayed because I can't find a decent way to plug him in without breaking flow and tension. Sorry Bell, you're part of this arc and I'll find a way to intro you soon.
Belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!
Thank you for all the support, the reviews, the favs, the follows, the recs! Seriously, its one of the few good things I had in 2017. (If some of my close net friends that I always hang out with are actually reading this, the guys I play fighting games with to pass the time, you guys are awesome and thank you for making 2017 bearable.)
See you next chapter!